Day 4, Week 1, Winter-1
last updated: 18 September, 2004
"You give that back!" A young girl named Anithy yelled at an older boy. She was small, but looked wiry and tough. Her scraggly brown hair barely brushed her shoulders, which were ill-clothed to keep out the winter cold. The little clothing she was wearing was worn and had a few holes in it. The boy, whose face was dirty and scratched, held above her head a piece of ratty cloth that seemed to be the remains of a blanket. He was bigger, and better clothed. Although his clothes were also worn, the holes were patched, and his entire appearance gave the feeling of sturdiness.
"Who's going to make me?" the boy shot back. "You and how many warriors? Is your brother gonna come back from Dom Wafkon and protect you?" He continued to tease her by holding the blanket just high enough that it was out of her reach.
"You leave my brother out of it!" Enraged, she charged him, slamming into his stomach hard enough that she could hear the "oof" as his breath was knocked out of him. He fell backwards, landing on the street in front of a shack that appeared to be about to fall down, matching the appearance of the houses around it. Anithy followed the boy down to the ground, landing punches on his stomach, chest, and face with her small fists. As soon as he got some air back in his lungs, the boy retaliated, lashing out with his own fists.
Suddenly, Anithy caught a glimpse of the door of the hut opening as its inhabitant exited. Although Anithy had been by the run-down old hut many times before, this was the first time that she had seen him more than just a shadowy figure through the window. She could tell by his long grey hair that he was very old and wise. Children, both boys and girls, kept their hair short, no longer than shoulder-length, and began growing it out when they took their first step into adulthood, becoming an apprentice in their 12th or 13th year. The old man, however, though his hair was very long, had a lock of hair on his right side cut short, that was only now growing back down to his chin. A lock cut short was a sign of sorrow- he was mourning someone. "No," Anithy corrected herself, "the mourning-lock is on the left side. A short lock on the right is the shame-lock, a mark of punishment." The shame-lock was used for a fairly serious offence, as until the hair grew out, it announced the punishment to everyone. She wondered what he had done to deserve having his hair cut, and shivered slightly as he came closer to her.
"Let me go!" Anithy screamed as the man lifted her off the boy, out of the dirty snow.
"I won't permit fighting in front of my house," he said softly, but in a firm voice that demanded attention.
"That's not a house. It's a dump," the boy whom the girl had been fighting said defiantly, wiping blood from his nose with the back of his hand.
The old man turned to him. "Go home. I don't want want to see you around here again."
"Who's gonna stop me?" the boy muttered, but he slunk away down the alley.
"Come inside, child, and I will tend to your wounds," he said to the girl as he put her down. He had seen her around the city before, always walking, always alone, clothed in rags and picking up anything she might find useful.
"I'm not hurt bad," she resisted, but followed him inside after picking up the blanket, shaking snow from her hair. Although she was afraid of him since he had the shame-lock, she was even more afraid of what he might do if she disobeyed. She was surprised to see how neat and orderly his home was inside, belying its outer run-down appearance.
The old man sat her down on a short wooden stool before a roaring fire. While he made preparations to clean her up, she looked around the small room. The walls were wood, and bare except for one small bookcase that was packed with books. There was also an old wooden trunk. It was blackened with age, the wood worn smooth and the hinges tarnished. The floor was hardpacked dirt, and before the fire was a small woven rug, and something small and furry was curled up in the middle of it. Before Anithy could figure out what it was, the man brought a basin of hot water and a cloth, setting them down on the floor. He began to clean her cuts, and asked, "Where do you live?"
She made a sweeping, futile gesture. "Nowhere. Anywhere I can sleep out of the rain."
"Who are your parents?" he persisted. He had lived in this village since before she was born, so he knew her story, but he was interested in hearing how she told it, what she knew, what she had added over the years.
"I'm an orphan," she answered shortly. Mistaking the look in his eyes, she said, "Never mind. I'll leave. Wouldn't want to trouble you any more." She made to get up from the stool, but his large hand on her shoulder kept her in place.
"No, please stay. I would like to hear your story. How did you become an orphan?"
"Um, my parents died?" she said sarcastically, defensively. Most people in town knew only part of the story, and she had gotten tired of correcting them, so she preferred to let them believe whatever they chose, while she went on with her own life.
"Yes, but how did they die?" He was playing the part of the curious bystander, the person who wants to know all the details to satisfy his own need to know. This act didn't work for Anithy.
"None of your business!" She tried to squirm away, but he held her fast.
"Well, at least tell me what you and that boy were fighting about."
"Oh, I had something and he tried to steal it. So I punched him in the face. It was a good punch too! Did you see that bloody nose he had?" She grinned, then her smile faded as she said, "That's not all I would've bloodied if you hadn't stopped me."
"I don't like to see children fighting. All you kids seem to play nowadays is warrior, playing like you're going to go train at Dom Wafkon."
The girl's face brightened. "That's where I'm going, all right. I'm gonna follow my brother and then come back here and kill the man who killed my parents." She frowned, realizing she had said more than she intended.
"Tell me how your parents got killed."
"Why? Why are you so curious about it?"
"I... I don't know," he faltered. "It just seems important."
"They were murdered when I was real little. My big brother took me to live with our uncle. He was mean, though, so we didn't stay there too long."
"Where did you go?"
"We lived in the streets. No one wanted to take us both in, and we didn't want to get separated. After a while, my brother couldn't take it anymore, so he left for Dom Wafkon."
"And now you're going, too," he stated.
"Yeah. My brother said he'd come back for me, but he hasn't yet, and I'm tired of waiting. I'm gonna go to Dom Wafkon and find him, and train there myself."
The old man frowned. "How could you hope to get through an Impassable Region alive? And even if you do, how do you know the Masters will accept you for training?"
The girl frowned too. "Oh, I'll make it. I have to. And everyone knows that the Masters accept anyone who gets through a Region."
"That is false. The Masters have been known to reject people who, although they have passed through a Region, would not make good and honorable warriors."
"They'll accept me. I know they will! I'll make it, no problem. I'm survived on the streets for years. I think I can handle going through a Region."
"I can see that you have learned something of honor. Still, I would not like you to leave unprepared. Stay with me, and I will teach you some of what I know."
"Who're you to teach me anything?"
He drew himself up and said proudly, "I was once a warrior of Dom Wafkon. My warrior name is Hetul."
"Domjo Hetul," the girl said, adding the title that was given to such warriors. "Well, that's fine, but you're not gonna stop me going. I'll stay with you for two weeks only, then I'm leaving, no matter how much or how little you've taught me."
"Very well. Go fetch your belongings and say goodbye to your friends. Your quest for Dom Wafkon begins today."
"No point in me going anywhere."
"I don't have any friends, and if I owned anything and left it anywhere, I wouldn't own it anymore. I carry everything I have."
"Well, there is one thing you own which cannot be taken away from you. Tell me- what is your name?"
She smiled. "Anithy. It was my mother's name, too. One of the things I've got left from her," she said wistfully as she fingered a cord around her neck whose end disappeared under her tunic.
Although he was curious, Domjo Hetul did not ask about the necklace. "Come, then, and we will begin your training. But first," he said, walking over to a chest in the corner of the room, "you'll need something better on your feet than those cloth rags."
Anithy's face hardened. "I ain't rich. I can't afford- leather shoes!" she gasped as he took out a pair of short boots.
"These are no ordinary shoes. They are fighting boots, fit for even a High Master of Dom Wafkon. But they are yours now." He handed them to her. "They have magic in them as well. They will stretch so they will always fit you, no matter how big your feet grow, and strong enough that they will last your entire career as a warrior. The more you wear them, the better they will fit, offering superior protection while actually helping you fight. Plus, they're very warm and watertight."
"You sound like a shopkeeper."
"Well, go ahead, put them on."
"They're really for me? But why?"
"You are my student now. I will not have a student improperly clothed."
She nodded. It seemed as logical as anything else he had said to her. She began to unwrap the old, tattered pieces of cloth she had wound around her feet. As they peeled away from her skin, Domjo Hetul saw a multitude of old and recent injuries. "What happened to your feet?"
Anithy gave him a bit of a cold look, but replied, "It's kinda cold in the streets. I don't have a nice warm fire to sit in front of. Anyway, I don't know how to make one, and there's hardly anything to burn.
"I can teach you that. But let me first heal your feet."
"Like you could. Most of it's old scars."
"Let me try."
"Fine," she sighed.
Domjo Hetul placed the palms of his hands on the soles of her feet. Anithy felt her feet grow warm, and a dull light seemed to glow between his hands and her feet. Anithy was a little scared of this strangeness and shut her eyes.
When she felt Domjo Hetul lift his hands from her feet, she opened her eyes and looked down. Her skin was smooth; the scars and cuts had all disappeared. She looked up.
"How'd you do that?"
To be continued....
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