It was late morning at the Keep of Magnir, and Bronwyn again found herself stalking restlessly past the stout rows of stone barracks, through the small cluster of shops at the center of the keep, all the way to the gatehouse and portcullis at the keep's western entrance. Though the party had only been at the keep for a few days, and though her muscles still ached and her wounds still throbbed, Brownyn was already feeling restless and bored. True enough the party's mission had ended when the half-fiend Erick fell beneath Grimhild, but that was no reason to be idle. The evil that lurked just beyond the gate was certainly not resting.
As Brownyn turned to head back across the keep, her eyes caught sight of a familiar figure, practicing with an axe and shield beneath a tree in an empty area opposite the gatehouse. The fluid movements and dizzying quickness dispelled any doubt about who it was: Aeschere, the taciturn wild elf whose arrows had flown to the party's rescue on many occasions. As she approached, Brownyn saw that Aeschere was swinging what appeared to be a new weapon. It was beautifully-crafted battleaxe, its blade polished and symmetrical, its handle reinforced with steel wire at the top and curved gracefully forward at the bottom to provide a perfectly-balanced swing. Aeschere caught sight of her and paused in his practice.
"That's a beautiful axe," Brownwyn said. "That dwarven blacksmith is no joke."
"I like it," Aeschere said, giving the axe a quick swing.
"Do you want to swing it at something besides the air?" Brownyn asked.
Aeschere nodded. He never said much, and he rarely smiled, but Brownyn caught a flash of enthusiasm in his eyes. She grinned, and drew Grimhild. "I'll try not to ding it up too badly," she said, clasping Grimhild with both hands. Then, without a word of warning, she lunged at the elf with a powerful overhand blow.
Instead of avoiding the attack, Aeschere brought his shield up to block. He was too eager to try out the new axe; Brownwyn had counted on that. Grimhild slammed down on the shield, splitting it in two and forcing Aeschere back a step. Her second blow sent him back two more steps, and her third sent him tumbling backwards onto the ground. He was on his feet again in a flash, his eyes wide with surprise. Brownyn was far stronger than her slender frame betrayed, and she had used her enemies false assumptions against them many times.
As Aeschere tossed his ruined shield onto the ground, Brownyn attacked again, this time with an upward slash. Aeschere watched her move toward him impassively (was he going to block again?) but just as the point of her sword seemed about to connect with him, he was gone. Brownwyn checked her blow, which arched wildly through the space where the elf had been, and spun just in time to parry a strike from the axe. If Aeschere had underestimated Brownwyn's strength, she had underestimated his speed and agility. Even with the heavier axe, his blows came so quickly and relentlessly that Brownwyn was forced to dodge backwards to avoid them. Each time she attacked, Aeschere would duck or dodge, and put her back on the defensive. He wielded the axe like she had never seen, spinning it and parrying her blows with the bottom of the handle as well as the head. Still, Brownyn held her own, and could tell from the elf's dark expression that he was fighting just as hard as she was.
By the time they finally stopped, both of them soaked in sweat and thoroughly exhausted, a small crowd had gathered to gasp and cheer as the advantage shifted back and forth. Brownyn sheathed Grimhild and slapped Aeschere on the shoulder. "That's the best fight I've had in a long time, elf."
"Same here," Aeschere said. He held up the axe, turned it so that the blade caught the sunlight. There were a few dings, but fewer than one would expect from such a fierce fight.
"Sorry about those," Brownwyn said with a half-smile. "I tried my best,"
Aeschere almost smiled. "I think I like it," he said.
"It's a lot better than that little baby sword you used to use," Brownyn said.
Aeschere looked up at her, this time a smile flickering at the edge of his mouth.
"I'm thirsty," Brownyn said. "What do you say we go have a drink and I buy you a new shield?"
Aeschere looked down at the shield, split nearly in two by Grimhild. He laughed - the first time Brownyn had heard him do that - gave Brownyn a playful shove and started toward the tavern.