To Murder Part 4

June 21, 2012 § 1 Comment

Hestalia parried, barely. She let the force of his swing push her back into a kind of controlled hop, rather than trying to meet force with force. She wasn’t going to overpower him, that much she had already determined.

He grunted, but instead of pursuing her, reoriented himself into a crouching style she hadn’t taught him. It wasn’t Naeth, and while she didn’t know much about the Hentre she didn’t think they used defensive moves very often. That left the Old Man, which meant the style could be from anywhere. Karnien, Aghat, Qiin, even from Aegi. The stubborn bastard had fought anywhere that Alron had interests to protect. Miaran kept his crouch, showed no sign of impatience, watching her intently.

Once they’d fed him, he’d grown even faster, becoming much broader and even taller, easily a match for the tallest Naeth now. Scythos had put the boy on a strict regimen of exercise and drills as soon as Hestalia realized she wasn’t going to be able to handle all of the boy’s training and do her own assignments, and while it was nothing like hard labor to a former slave it combined with the food. After her last job in Nullgate, she’d returned to Majenti’s fortified headquarters south of the Ebron to find the boy ridged with hard muscle.

“Not coming in on me?”

“You get paid to kill people.” Miaran’s voice had no mirth in it at all. “I’m not quite that stupid.”

The Old Man’s been teaching you even more than I thought, hasn’t he? Hestalia’s lips parted in a satisfied little smile, not quite a smirk. Still, his first months had been under her teaching, and she thought she saw that same flaw he’d had when she was the one giving him instruction, a lowered left elbow. Taking her time, she began circling to the right to pull him off balance.

Around the edges of the practice ring, a few of the Alronian troops, themselves often recruits from Naeth or Aghat lands who took the oath for citizenship as much as for gold, were lingering to watch. Hestalia’s eyes cataloged them without taking her attention off of her opponent, but Miaran wasn’t nearly so disciplined yet, and their presence distracted him slightly. Slightly, she noted with something that felt oddly like pride.

She rolled, palming a pebble as she did, and as she came to her feet lobbed the small stone directly at his face, then spung in at him, aiming for that lowered left arm. It was a beautiful, precise move, and she knew as soon as she left the ground that it was the wrong one. Only her years of experience allowed her to bridge up and over a vicious spin kick that would have caught her in the midsection, his left arm suddenly pulled into a perfect guard position. She cleared the leg by inches and delivered two slices with the short blades that he parried easily with the large curved Tarsan sword. Their momentum carried them apart before either could counterattack, and she outright laughed as she rolled in the gravel and came back to her feet.

“You clever little bastard.”

“I really thought that was going to work!” He snorted in disgust.

“It should have, it should have.” Outright smiling, she sheathed her blades, signaling the end of their bout. “That old grunt’s been working overtime on you! That was beautiful.”

He beamed despite himself, and she reached up to ruffle his hair, noting that he’d chopped it short while she was gone. Sensible. Less work to maintain it, less chance of it getting into the eyes.

“Did he tell you about the weak elbow?”

“Yeah, he showed me how I kept dropping it to get leverage for my right, that I swing dominant.” Miaran carefully placed the large curved sword into a wooden scabbard and slung it over his shoulder. “He also decided I should train with a bigger sword for a while, get some use out of how much food I’m eating. I’m always hungry now.”

“You were always hungry before, Mar.”

“I wasn’t eating then.” The two of them walked back to her large tent, the smell of the night’s cooking wafting everywhere. She wrinkled her nose at the smell. “Now I never feel like I get enough.”

“You’re growing and making up for lost time. It’s fine. Tell me about Scythos. Has he treated you well?”

“Better than you thought. He’s not friendly but he takes training seriously. Says if I get killed it won’t be because he didn’t think of how I could avoid it.” Mar folded himself into a cross-legged position on the floor of the tent, facing her. “It’s very different than what you were teaching me.”

“It’s probably better suited to your bulk. You got big, boy.” She sat on the edge of the only indulgence in her otherwise disposable quarters, the large iron wrought bed. She was fully capable of abandoning it if need be, but as long as the army needed her services, they could carry her bed around for her too. “I’ll work on some ways for you to take advantage of that. How’s archery going?”

“I was the best shot here yesterday.”

“What changed since yesterday?”

“You got back.” He grinned, self conscious, and it amazed her to see it on her wolfboy’s face. He’d been less a child and more a dog than those giant hounds when she’d first started with him. The better he got at killing (or at least at learning the ways to do so) the more at ease he seemed to become, the more like his actual age. Of course, neither of them were certain exactly what that was, even after a year together. “I don’t think I can beat you yet.”

“Well, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to find out.” She yawned, stretched, feeling her ribs sort from the claws of the strange bird/bear monstrosity the Aghat merchant she’d been sent to kill had in his bedroom. It had mostly healed, but the notches it had left on her ribs still ached. Rolling around in gravel probably hadn’t helped it, either. She felt a brief moment of resentment that her body should already be creaking. She wasn’t old yet. Her father had been a decade older when he’d died, and he hadn’t even been fully grey yet. She remember her mother chiding him for not letting the barber slap some noxious glop in his locks to hide the grey, remembered the two of them laughing.More than twenty years gone and I remember that.

He nodded, stood and walked out of the tent, turning quickly to the left and heading over to the shared tents the men all used. Apparently Scythos’ willingness to teach him had bought him entry among the rank and file. Or perhaps it was just that they hated and feared a woman who they knew could kill them a lot more than they did a boy, even one growing as fast as Mar was.

She settled into the sleep that wakes often that had been the only way she could sleep for years and was far too busy listening to dream. She preferred it that way. Dreams brought their own baggage with them.

§ One Response to To Murder Part 4

  • Matthew Care says:

    Definitely like the Nullgate material, between these four parts, and the others I think you definitely have the making of your next e-book. I really love fantasy fiction, so maybe it’s just me. Although I am enjoying Bottled Demon right now too, I’m not used to reading “alternate history, weird fiction, and never was scenarios” so I have nothing to compare it to, but I’m really liking it so far.

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