Gosling swept up his stock clumsily. He was not much better at harundo than Rossamünd. Any other child, even many of the little ones, would have stepped out of the way, just as they should, and given Gosling a good crack on his back or shoulder. Instead, Goslings vehemence forced Rossamünd to take a clumsy backward step. By a small miracle, he got his stock up in time to swat away this first strike. The sticks collided with a deeply satisfying chock!
Gosling gave a furious curse as he was thrown back. He bared his teeth.
That felt right! Rossamünd thought, a tiny glow of triumph within.
No, dear boy! No! Left decede, then counteroffend with a culix! Instructor Barthomæus hollered at Rossamünd. Youve seen it done. Youve practiced it, lad! Just step away, then behind, then a jab-jab-jab with the handle! A halfhearted sustis is just not enough, boy!
Rossamünd was deflated. Just when he thought he was getting it right, he was actually doing things worse than ever.
Gosling was on him by then, chopping at his head again and again with his stock. Rossamünd blocked one strike, swatted away another, then let one through. It smacked him crunchingly hard across his cheek and mouth. His head bursting with agony, his face stinging, Rossamünd flung his own stock out wildly, skewering Gosling right under his ribs.
With a wheeze and a gurgle, Gosling lurched backward.
Some of the littlest children gave a tiny cheer, but quickly went silent as Gosling swung around and glared at them. Rage clearly boiled within him. He threw down his stock and leaped. Instructor Barthomæus tried to intervene, but Gosling darted beyond his grasp, tackling Rossamünd about his stomach. No one stops me! Gosling hissed through gritted teeth as he drove Rossamünd down to the glistening floor.
Thats not true, Rossamünd thought as they tumbled. The others beat you all the time!
Gosling smashed at him over and over with his fists. Rossamünd saw stars as Gosling struck him once, twice, three more times in the head. Instructor Barthomæus blustered sharp warnings that were ignored. Finally he grabbed at Gosling and dragged him off, but not before Gosling had landed cruel blows in tender places. The boy swatted at the air as the cudgel-master hefted and flung him to the other side of the ring.
Get back, you miserable child! roared Barthomæus.
Dazzled, his head ringing with pain, Rossamünd thought the instructor was shouting at him, and so he stayed down. Indeed, he found that he much preferred to lie still while the world swam.
Though clench-fisted and seething, Gosling did not move.
Rossamünd groaned. He felt powerful, serious pains he had never felt before.
Fransitart, the stoop-shouldered dormitory master, was called, and Verline, Madam Operas parlor maid, too.
The telltale sound of Verlines rustling skirts arrived well before her. When she saw Rossamünd stricken within the chalk ring, she gave a startled cry.
Rossamünds senses began to fade. He was vaguely aware of voices raised in shrill anger. He dimly felt a cloth dabbing at his face. Somehow Master Fransitart was already there. The old dormitory master was growling at Gosling as the other children were shepherded out of the dining hall with a loud scuffing of boots.
Instructor Barthomæus lifted Rossamünd to his feet and wrapped him in a blanket. Verline let him lean on her all the long, crooked way to the boys dormitory, murmuring soothing, almost wordless things as they went. The dormitory was very long and very narrow and very, very smelly. Side by side, end on end, was crammed a clutter of cotsthere was never enough room in Madam Operas. The dormitory was empty now. The other boys were still attending to classes and day-watch duties. Rossamünds own cot was at the farthest end from the short, narrow door. With the parlor maids help he stumbled through the inadequate gap between the beds, adding a stubbed toe to his woes. At last he could lie down, his head pounding, his cheek poundingthrob, throbsharp, iron-tasting.
Excerpted from Monster Blood Tattoo. Copyright 2006 D.M. Cornish. Reproduced with permission of the publisher, Penguin Group. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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