Next morning I dragged myself out of bed before Gannara and Farasha were up. They’d finished packing for the summer the night before and I would have to excuse myself part way through training to run down and see them off.
I came up onto the training ground on the roof and found a… girl… sitting on a gear bag. She was dressed modestly enough, with boy’s shirt and trousers, but I couldn’t place where I knew her from, then she took a fan out of the bag she sat upon and somehow with the more feminine thing in her hand, even with her hair braided back and tied tightly, I recognized her as Laisa, Ky’s solas friend.
Kallijas had been… well… obviously attracted and… but… why was she here, instead of doing things like taking kaf with his mother and things like that?
“Good morning, Minis,” Chevenga said behind me. He and Kall took in the girl watching the warriors on the roof warming up.
“Kall it looks like your friend took you up on your invitation to spar with us.”
He didn’t say anything, just nodded and went over to speak to her. My stomach fell into my sandals, but I resolved not to say anything at all. Kallijas invited her? A girl? To train with him, with Chevenga, with us? With my luck, she’s probably better than I am.
She was better than I. It was a good thing I hadn’t opened my mouth. And Kallijas was as fascinated with her as if he were a moth and she a lamp-flame. How was Chevenga not jealous? She was smiling at his alesinas after all. But he had no wife. And if he wanted more sons than Kallijas Jr. he had to marry… but still. Wasn’t he married enough with Chevenga? Well. Not an Arkan woman in the lot. And he would want children with an Arkan woman.
It was odd. I wasn’t repulsed by Farasha. Or Gannara. But the thought of Kallijas with a dark or a foreign woman just turned my stomach.
“She’s good, especially since she’s mostly self taught,” Chevenga said. “See, Minis. That move was the one I was trying to show you. It’s not a direct block, strength on strength, though you’ll probably have the bulk and strength to do it when you fill out, until then… and even afterward its far easier to just deflect and use the force of the blow to spin you into the next strike… There. Just like that.”
It was more like dancing. Kall was better than her but she was twisting and sliding his strikes as if she were boneless. Very pretty. Forzak it.
“She is good.” I was still trying to slow my breathing down after Chevenga had run me through a dozen different warm ups and sent me off with Ilesias Mahid and a couple of the Arkan Elite guard. I was soaked with sweat and though I appreciated working with others... They were both working with her. I probably wouldn’t get to spar with either Kall or Chevenga today because I had to run off and say goodby to Gan and Fara soon.
“Did you know she was armed at the party?” He was grinning at me for some reason.
“No, all she had was her fan and perhaps some hairpins. Women don’t carry knives… well, Arkan women.”
“Her fan had steel spines in it. And her hairpins were sharpened.”
“Really?” I wasn’t really interested.
“Sheng,” Kallijas said, stepping back from the sparring circle and she stood there with a sword in her fist and a big smile on her face. “Laisa… Serina Si Rusa… she mentioned she would like to try something. Fan against sword.”
“Of course. Let’s see.” And off Chevenga went, leaving me standing. I racked my sword and watched as she showed them her ‘move’. I had a half tenth and my friends wouldn’t mind me being sweaty.
She stood, fan in hand as if she were using it to cool herself. No special stance. But when Kall lunged, with steel, I caught my breath because even at half speed he was deadly. She stepped sideways, caught the sword blade through the spines of her fan, seized it top and bottom and using her whole body, wrenched it out of his grip. Her whole body was stronger than his hand.
She was in a stance now, with his sword in her left hand, pulled out of the damaged fan, that fan in her right hand, exposed edges of steel glinting sharp. Forzak it, that is cool. I wonder if she can do it full speed?
Of course she could. It doesn’t matter that she’s a better warrior than I am. I’m not in competition with a girl anyway. Kallijas is my regent and I’m voted Imperator and that’s way more important than being just a sword swinger.
I think I’ll come up to practice by myself more, later though.
Gan and Fara were both waiting for me at the Steel Gate stairs, a presentation parasol being held over their heads to shield them from the sun and servants held their horses. They’d catch up to the Gybir caravans before they made the main gate.
“Heya heart’s brother!” Gan caught me in a hug, uncaring that I was all sweaty and in front of all the servants and other people. Hmph. I hugged him back. Then I made sure to hug Farasha just as firmly and thoroughly. Let people think what they liked. I might be agonizing over just how sinful I was, but she was not. Either sinful or agonizing about it.
“We’ll write you letters, ruksiri,” she said, grabbed my ears and kissed me. Oh gods. He clapped me on the back and kissed me both cheeks instead of on the mouth, eyes twinkling. “Ruksiri?” I asked her.
“I’ll explain when I get back, or you can look it up for yourself, if there’s a text in your precious archives!”
I looked down my nose at her as haughty as I could. “Young Serina, I’ll – ahem – have you know…” She pinched my behind so I jumped and dropped my trying to be the stuffy scholar act. “You just enjoy teasing me.”
“Of course. You’ll have something to look forward to.”
Her whole family wanted to meet Gannara. I wouldn’t be able to do this kind of caravan circuit, even next summer. Spark of the Sun’s Ray Elect going off to ‘be presented’ to a young woman’s family? Unheard of. Mortification. The shame, the shame. Assembly would never allow such a thing. Oh what am I going to do about that? I’ve not even met her in-city family. They probably think I’m too high-nosed or something…
She waved a hand in front of my nose. “You’re gathering barley grains, Minis. Come back to us.”
That was when a servant brought Nasty, along with Joras and Ienas on their horses, around for me. “I thought I’d ride with you till you join up with the caravan.”
“Good,” was all both of them said, simultaneously, glanced at each other and me, and giggled.
“You two are already thinking like marrieds. Finishing each others –“
“—Sentences!” They both said.
I laughed and we walked down the steps. I was going to miss them like… like I had a limb temporarily removed. I should attend one of Ky’s next salons to see her. I hadn’t seen her in two days.
I stroked Nasty’s nose, remembering how I’d had to punch him at one point to keep him from slashing at me. “Let’s not let the whole caravan get through the gate before we catch up… hmmm. I don’t have to be back till the next bead… we’ll see.”
“Yes, heart’sbrother, ride with us for as long as you can.” I grinned at him, but it hurt inside. They would be gone for two moons. It might as well be forever.