Every single year new apprentices came to train in the palace garden in hopes of one day becoming a royal guard. Those who trained in the palace were the most talented and determined the kingdom had.
This year Tristan was in charge of the apprentices. He knew the class would reduce in size soon, it always did, usually not because of failure but because of other opportunities. Many would discover they wanted to be a guards but not off the royal type. Others would work privately.
It was a part of it and because of that Tristan knew better than to grow attached, no matter how cute the newest and youngest apprentice’s were.
This year his oldest new apprentice was also his biggest.
Jack Garner, the son of nobility, he was just too young to become an apprentice last year and at the time Tristan expected him to choose something else, but instead he’d held on, kept training and come back the next year.
He had broad shoulders and short hair. He looked determined, as though he had something to prove. Tristan didn’t expect him to remain in a few years time, children of nobility often lacked a work ethic, at least for this kind of work.
He had a system to see how all of them handled themselves, basically a mini tournament to see how they fought and who was strongest.
He was surprised when Jack came out on top. But he put it down to size and the class being untrained for now.

Tristan was surprised when four days in, a guard approached with what looked to Tristan like a child.
Tiny in comparison to his apprentice’s, dark green eyes stared up at Tristan expectantly, she had short black messy hair and was dressed in sporty clothes.
“Tristan, this is Elizabeth. She’s technically too young to begin an apprenticeship but her birthday was yesterday so she insists making her wait a whole year, over a mere week, would be unfair. She did do the entrance exam without anybody noticing she was underage and had the highest score of the class, because of this higher ups say that with your approval an exception may be made.”
Tristan hummed. “I see. How old are you?”
“Fourteen as off yesterday.” She looked up at him. “But I’m very mature for my age.”
Tristan smiled. “I see, and how so?”
“I took care of my mother up until the age of six, she was an alcoholic and couldn’t take care of herself.”
Tristan’s smile vanished. “Is your mother doing better now?”
Elizabeth didn’t react in the slightest to Tristan’s words or her own. “She’s dead. I grew up in the orphanage but I knew from the day I left home I wanted to be a guard. So I’ve learnt everything, I know all the rules and all the types of weapons and I know how to fight!” She was determined.
Tristan nodded. “If I do not choose to make an exception for you, what will you do?”
For the first time there was a glimmer of tears in her eyes. “I’d wait for next year and come back. But I would come back more determined and it would be unfair on the other apprentices because I’m already going to be the strongest here.”
The confidence was adorable, Tristan wondered if it was merited though. “I see. How about this, I’ll make the exception, however, if it’s too much for you, you drop out and return next year? Do we have a deal?” he held out a hand.
She shook it nodding. “It won’t be too much for me.”

“Okay class, this is our a newest apprentice, Elizabeth.”
Elizabeth nodded.
“Continue as usual.” The class was practising hand to hand combat at the moment. Tristan pointed to Jack. “That is our top of the class right now. Avoid him. Go find a partner your size.”
“Is that an order or a suggestion?”
Tristan hummed. “A suggestion.”
He regretted those words when Elizabeth walked straight up to Jack with her head held high and shoulders hunched back. “You.”
Jack and the other boy stopped fighting. “New girl.”
“I am told you are the best, so fight me so I can prove I’m better than you.”
Jack looked down at her, a good head taller then laughed. “I’m not fighting you. You’re smaller and younger than me. Go pick on somebody your own size.”
Elizabeth didn’t know how to react watching as Jack began sparring once more with the guy. Once she truly processed his words she clenched her fists. “You’ll see.”
She walked over to the only other apprentice on their own. “Fight.”
The apprentice obliged, Elizabeth took them down with ease. “Next.”
A nearby fight stopped, one moving to help the defeated apprentice up and start a new fight while the other moved to fight Elizabeth.
Nobody expected Elizabeth to keep beating everybody.
Tristan watched with interest, Elizabeth was the only apprentice there who not only was physically fit but had actual fighting skills. She threw the people over her head and to the ground, used their strengths against them punched in specific weak spots.
Eventually she’d defeated everybody but one.
She marched up to Jack and he stopped his fighting.
“I’m younger and smaller than you, yet I’ve defeated everybody else. To deny me battle now would be to admit you’re scared of me.”
Jack huffed. “Fine, you asked for this.”
They got into position and the battle began. Elizabeth moved first trying to get a clean punch into his side. Jack dodged to the side and aimed a punch at her shoulder. She ducked down allowing him to fall. She could try to pin him but instead she waited for him to get back up, gesturing for him to make the next move.
He looked annoyed and tried to punch her again, she didn’t dodge this time, she jumped while grabbing his hand, twisting it and causing him to fall sideways so as to not hurt his wrist.
Once more he was on the ground with Elizabeth standing over him. He tried to grab her feet which did catch her off guard, she fell but she fell on top of him, moving to pin him. He threw her off with tease and she caught her footing.
He tried to stand but when he was halfway up Elizabeth tackled him, throwing him to the ground and pinning him.
Jack was disorientated, long enough that Tristan walked over. “Well done Elizabeth. Last victory of the day I should hope.”
Jack stared confused as the girl nearly an entire year younger and so much smaller got off of him, crackling her knuckles and dusting of her legs.
“Seeing as you two are the mos skilled, I expect you will be pairing up often.”
Jack’s shoulders sagged at the idea.
Elizabeth on the other hand smiled, nodding at Tristan. The class was declared finished and everybody began to make their way to the tent to get changed.
“What’s your name?” Elizabeth asked Jack, chasing him towards the tent.
“Why do you want to know?” he hissed at her.
“To address you by something that isn’t second best fighter in the class.”
Jack huffed. “It’s Jack.”
Elizabeth smiled. “Elizabeth,” and she pushed herself in front of him holding out a hand.
He paused, “Are you making fun of me?”
Elizabeth frowned. “No.”
“You come here, beat me and then act all friendly?”
Elizabeth tilted her head. “This isn’t a competition. We’re going to work together one day taking down criminals. Having a partner as good as me should be a good thing!”
“Partner?”
“Of course. If we’re the two best fighters then we’ll be partners eventually. We’ll get all the most difficult missions.”
Jack looked at her, he liked her optimism but wasn’t sure he believed it. Despite this he shook her hand.
Her smile returned. “I’m going to beat you up a lot in the next few years.” And with that she skipped off to get changed.
Jack did not like her, but he would.