The Sword and Shield

When I was a child, my family lived atop a mighty mountain. The nights were cold and bitter and snow often settled on the land even in the middle of summer. At the time, I didn't know anything else. It was just my parents and me, alone for years.

Every weekend, my father would walk down the mountain to a local village and buy anything we needed for the week before returning late it the evening. One winter day, he didn't return, leaving my mother and I to fend for ourselves in the middle of a harsh snowstorm.

My mother used our last resources to keep me alive.

I was trapped in the house for days without food or water, only subsisting on snow and ice. Suddenly a huge gust of wind shook the house, and when I opened the door, I found all the ice had melted, leaving beautifully green grass sprouting from the earth below. I was so hungry, I contemplating eating it!

As I looked up, I saw a man, clad entirely in a blue cloak with black accents. His hat had a wide brim and a pointy tip and a huge gray beard covered his chest. He was old and wizened and put his full weight on his walking staff with every step. This was the first human I had seen in years, and I didn't want him to leave like my parents just had.

He was walking away at the time, clearly unable to see me. I tried to call out, but my throat was too dry to make any noise. I did the only thing I could think of: I ran.

My legs were shaking under me with every step, and the world seemed to warp around me due to my hunger. I swear I could even hear my bones creak. The next thing I knew, I was tugging at the man's cloak, filled simultaneously with fear and hope.

He looked down to me, and then to the house with the door ajar. His glasses obscured his expression, but he then knelt down, caressed the back of my head, and said, "I am sorry I missed you, dear. Here. Come with me."

He held out his hand and we walked together, slowly making our way to his cottage, which was made of pure stone. At the time, I remember being fascinated with all the luminescent, boiling liquids and assortment of ridiculous items, but I was most interested in a loaf of bread just sitting on the table.

Without asking for permission, I dashed and began gobbling it up as fast as I could while the older man laughed, "Ho ho! I see you were hungry! Never fear! My house is always welcome to you!"

I didn't say anything and was choking slightly on the bread.

He continued, "I'm Samuel. What's your name, little girl?"

I swallowed and said, "Beth." Before immediately asking for water.

Sam and I lived together for years. I was taught to hunt and fish while he stayed inside, constantly reading and trying to make different concoctions. When I was about 10 or 12, he asked for my help in building a simple wooden shield. He insisted it be perfectly circular and comfortable to hold. He then had me collect various items for him: some gold and silver from a mountain mine, frog's urine, and bear's fur.

When I returned, he was stirring a pot of blue acid and asked me to put everything I had found inside. I did so, and the combination became black and viscous. He then looked at me and said, "The final ingredient is you," before pricking my finger and putting a single drop of blood inside. The moment it touched the mixture, everything glowed gold before turning into a brilliant blue.

We laid the shield on the table and completely covered it with the goo. Sam smiled a bit and said, "As long as you live, this will protect you. Nothing can break it once it dries." He then poured a small amount in a vial. "I will keep this for myself so I will always know if you are safe."

From that day forward, I was constantly training with the shield, learning how to defend myself against any creature or human. At some point in the middle of training, Sam said, "I think it's time for you to go into town and compete!"

"Compete?" I asked, wiping sweat from my brow.

"Yeah, there is a tournament going on every weekend. I believe your father won almost every round and used the money to buy food for you when you were younger." Sam pursed his lips a bit. "I suppose he was defeated by Lan, the boy with the perfect sword that could pierce through anything. He was given that sword by my sister. I just I cannot stand magic being used to harm others."

I didn't know what to say. Memories of my childhood flooded through me, and I could not handle the pain. I remember crying and hugging Sam for what seemed like hours, while he apologized and rubbed my back.

"You do not have to compete." Sam said, "I wasn't thinking when I said that. I thought it might be a good way to earn some money and start living your own life."

I didn't say anything, but wiped the tears from my eyes.

"Look, Beth. I don't care what you do, but I think living here, alone with me, is not good for a girl like you. You need to go out and see the world! It's time for adventure!" He then pulled me off of him and held my shoulders, looking straight into my eyes. "Use the shield to protect those you care about, but first, go find those people."

He sighed a bit before continuing. "If you find Lan... Well, I added something to the shield mixture I don't think my sister would have thought of."

The next thing I knew, I found myself in a large stadium, competing in a battle royal with hundreds of opponents. I didn't bring a weapon besides my shield. I didn't intend to kill anyone, just survive the longest. I found the years of hunting and trapping animals gave be an advantage. I was more nimble than anyone else on the field.

In the chaos, I saw a man whose sword was glowing red. It sliced through anything and everything it touched. His chest was bare and covered in scars from the many battles he fought. With every swing, the bloodthirsty crowd cheered, desperately wanting more. It was Lan. I kept protecting myself and waiting for the moment he would come after me.

Strangely enough, he didn't. He slaughtered every other person on the field, leaving the two of us alone with a pile of corpses around us.

"You. Girl." He shouted, pointing his sword directly at me, "You don't belong here."

"Why not?" I yelled back

"I will not strike an unarmed woman."

"You killed my father and left me to starve atop a mountain. Every time you strike down another man, you kill their families as well."

I could see anger in his eyes and his sword flared a bright red. "I take back what I said. You deserve to die!" He leapt, lifting his sword high into the air and swinging it down onto my shield.

At that moment, I could feel the sword pierce into me. It had broken the shield. No. That couldn't be. I was still alive, so the shield must be unbroken.

I looked up, only to see Lan's sword resting on the surface of the shield. Time, itself, had frozen. Two simultaneous paths opened up: one where he won, and another where I did.

In that moment, I knew it was a battle of wills. I could still feel immense pain in my side, but also saw the sword and shield glowing a bright red and blue. I could win this. As my confidence grew, so did the blue aura of the shield, eventually engulfing the sword and Lan completely. The light became blinding, but when it vanished, Lan was gone.

I knelt down, grabbing my side where the sword had hit before, only to feel the wound closing on its own. By the time I looked down, there was no blood at all.

There were no cheers for me. No booing either. The crowd was completely baffled, as was I. As I left, I collected my prize money before buying a loaf of bread and climbing back up the mountain to ask Sam what happened.

In that moment, I genuinely felt happy -- as if I had redeemed my father from so many years ago. I also felt Sam was right. I was ripe for an adventure or two.

Prompt: You are the most skilled warrior in your kingdom & you are gifted by your impenetrable, magic shield that is given to you by a wizard. One day you are challenged to a duel by another warrior, who is known for his magic sword that is given to him by a witch, that can penetrate through anything

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