"Ojan! You're up." The Master kneeled before the proving ground; to either side of him were the Masters from the other villages and islands. Two lines of clean white river-stones six paces apart marked out the space; young students moved back and forth with palm-fan brooms, sweeping the sand smooth once more.
Ojan took his place to the Master's left. A lanky youth not yet at his full growth, Ojan had only passed through the manhood rites only the previous moon, and still had the scabs on his penis to show it. Today he was dressed in a red kilt, all ornament discarded. He held his club with his left hand, the tip towards the ground, as he had been taught. Safety first. It was two arm-lengths long, and widened from two-finger-lengths at the hilt to four finger-lengths at the widest part, narrowing down to a point, the edge divided into six striking-points on each side, the whole thing of hardwood and fire-hardened at the point.
Across the expanse of fresh-swept sand stood Mulan, of the Far Island. He was bigger than Ojan by a head, and had the sleek muscles of a diver; they said that the masters on the Far Island made their apprentices swim the length of a channel, holding their clubs above their heads so they wouldn't get wet... He wore only a diver's loincloth, a pale-colored thing held together with laces, showing off the sweeping lines that were the outline of his manhood tattoos, to be filled in as he completed them. His club was a curved shillelagh an arm's length long with a knob shaped like a whale's head.
The apprentices from the other islands sat and waited their turns, clubs held at their knees.
The Master held up one nut-brown hand up, then dropped it down.
Mulan rushed to the assault, a scream beginning in his throat, swinging the club above his head. Ojan stepped forward, careful of his footwork in the sand and stabbed his longer club out; the tip caught Mulan beneath the sternum, bringing his rush to a sudden halt and cutting his war-yell off in a rush of air. The smaller youth took a step forward to try and press the advantage with a sweeping arc of his club, but Mulan beat the thinner club off with a back-handed swipe and shakily backed out of range.
That set the stage for the next few tense passes; Ojan using the longer reach against Mulan's greater raw power, always keeping the taller youth from closing. Finally, after a parry where Ojan had slightly overextended himself, Mulan launched himself forward and attempted to grapple, sweeping his club low to hook Ojan's left knee while the Far Islander's left hand closed on Ojan's right wrist. The slighter youth seemed caught for a moment, but planted his club as deep as he could in the sand and straightened up on his right leg, his forehead smacking straight into the bigger youth's nose with a crunch. Blood dripped onto the sand, and the Masters tapped the white stones nearest them.
Tired and breathing hard, Mulan's blood still dripping from his forehead, Ojan realized he had won.
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