Tag Archive | lanesh

Chapter Nineteen – Taslin – Duck

“Duck!”

Taslin and Lansesh were serving as backup for the six-year Gladiator Rantoness Kallesh-Red in a five-on-three match against another Pit’s lead team. It wasn’t a fair fight. It wasn’t even in the same league as a fair fight. But Taslin was having more fun than she’d had in any match so far.

She ducked at Lanesh’s call, and took the prompt to swing out with her mace. Her attacker’s sword swung over her head, clipping off a few curls of hair and nicking her ear. Taslin’s mace slammed into the shorter woman’s knee.

“Swarm!” The woman’s curse was short, and she swung at Taslin again even as she went down. Taslin took that one on her shield, fell backwards, and squirmed to the side just in time to catch a hammer-blow meant for Ranton.

She caught it the way Ganlenrel had taught her, on her shield and rolling with it, using the spike just so on the edge of the hammer so she disarmed the man. “Up,” she called to Ranton, and nearly missed the damn woman with the longsword coming at the back of her knees.

It didn’t matter. Ranton got the man Taslin had disarmed, and that freed up Lanesh to shield-bash the second man of the team in the face. The woman’s sword caught Taslin, not a major wound but a heavy enough nick to make her swear. That was going to bleed like a butchered deer.

Use it, Ganlenral was fond of saying. Bleeding? Use it. Limping? Using it. Screaming? Use it. So all right, she could use it. She finished her roll to her feet in front of the opposing team’s heavy hitter. Skuskrin Takrin: she knew rhi from the posters, yet another reason this wasn’t a fair fight. Rhi wore a goatee in two long, long beaded braids, and rhis hair the same way. It was said there was a bead on there for every opponent Skuskrin had beaten in the pit.

Taslin didn’t stop to count. She swung her shield in a feint – they were known for shield-bashes, people Ganlenrel taught – and caught Skuskrin’s beard-braids with the tip of her sword.

The fighter would have been on guard against a throat-cut or a proper thrust, but that caught rhi by surprise. Not as much surprise as Taslin was hoping for, but it was something. Skuskrin hollered as the braid went flying and flailed with one blade.

It was enough. Taslin got a backhanded swing in against the fighter’s face and a second one, quick and dirty, against Skuskrin’s throat. The big fighter went down, and Taslin rode rhi down to the ground.

She could see Lanesh and Ranton to her left, both of them taking down the lead from the other team. She rested the flat of her blade against Skuskrin’s throat with all her weight, moving quickly before the bigger fighter regained control of rhiself.

Skuskrin grabbed her wrist; she stepped on his wrist and ground her boot into the sand. He flailed and she pushed down harder, until rhi could feel the edge of the blade on his throat.

Skuskrin dropped both hands to the ground, flat-palmed, in surrender, just as rhis lead Gladiator fell to the ground with a thunk.

The Master of Ceremonies shouted, and shouted again. Taslin’s eyes went to the high box, where a First Circle woman sat, watching. She watched Skuskrin’s eyes roll back in rhis head, trying to see the woman. She let up on the fighter; rhi had surrendered, after all, and nobody who’d made it this far in the pit would ignore a proper surrender.

The First Circle woman held her hand out. Even from here, you could see she enjoyed it, the way her sleeve draped dramatically, the way she listened to the crowd roar.

This was the loudest crowd Taslin had heard yet, the biggest crowd she’d had at a fight. Of course, it wasn’t her crowd; they were here to see Rantoness Kallesh-Red. Taslin and Lanesh were, like the ribbons on her sleeves and the bright patterns on her armor, just part of the show.

The First Circle woman, too, was part of the show, and loving it. She waited for the crowd’s roar to reach its peak. They rarely called for death when the fight had been good – even if the fight had been mediocre – but if they paid for that box, they could make that choice.

“Come on…” She didn’t think she was supposed to hear Skuskrin’s mutter, but, given the circumstance, she also couldn’t blame rhi. “Come on.

The roar kept rising. The crowd was on its feet. It was an animal, a beast. Had it ever overrun the fighters? Had the mob ever carried out the judgment itself? They could take maybe twenty of them, thirty if they could work together as a team. There were hundreds there, maybe thousands. Even Ranton couldn’t handle that.

Suddenly, there was silence. The First Circle woman had held up both hands. A whisper grew from the far end of the amphitheater and moved like water across the crowd. Death? Or life? From here, it was just more noise.

The First Circle woman’s hands parted and dropped. Life. The crowd erupted. Taslin stood, finding her place by Raslin; she watched the opposing team – those that were conscious – find their feet. As a group, they faced the stands. And the stands faced them.

The applause was insane, starting from a roar and rising, louder, louder, until it seemed to shake the foundations. Taslin had been too close to a Flow Storm once, when a thunderstorm and Flow spurt had mixed. That sound, loud enough to pop her eardrums, had been nothing compared to this.

She’d heard cheers before. She’d won battles before. There was always a rush, always the warm feeling of success and the even-warmer feeling of all those people cheering, cheering for her.

This was a good match times a thousand. Her back straightened. She knew they were supposed to be solemn as they saluted the crowd – and especially when they saluted that First Circle woman, who might want to be a patron of one of them at some point – but a sidelong glance told her Ranton and Lanesh were grinning already. So she grinned, her fist over her chest in salute, all of her aches and bloody cuts fading under the rush and the noise.

It must have been a good match to watch, because the Master of Ceremonies had to quiet the cheering. Usually, it trailed off on its own. “Good gentles of New Indapala,” the M.C. bellowed, voice made to carry by a small application of magic. “I give you the Gladiators: Rantoness Kallesh-Red, Lanesh, and Taslin!”

One by one they bowed, and each time the crowd cheered. Even when the M.C. introduced the opposing fighters, the crowd cheered.

“We thank you for your cheers and your attendance. Please save your gifts and put them in the boxes as you exit; throwing them onto the Pit floor is not encouraged.” The M.C. was being pelted with flowers and gifts even as he encouraged people to do exactly the opposite; but that happened, in a smaller scale, even in the tiniest, least-attended matches. “Thank you, thank you.”

“Thank you, thank all of your for your attendance.” The M.C. continued to lavish praise on the crowd, and Taslin and the other fighters continued to bow and salute, to smile and wave, bow and salute again.

The gifts piled up around the M.C. and at their feet, the cheering shifted and flowed, first chanting Ranton’s name, then Skuskrin’s, and then, much to her surprise, Lanesh and Taslin’s names.

She was giddy by the time the crowd began to trickle away – giddy, and weary, beginning to sway on her feet and her wounds beginning to ache. Still, she smiled and waved, bowed and saluted, caught gifts and passed them to Ranton.

A normal match – a match that Taslin was used to – the crowd cleared right out, and the gladiators were free to go the medics, to go back to their dorms, or, as she had done a time or two, flop down on the hard dirt of the pit for a while.

When the last of this crowd faded away, Taslin wasn’t sure if she could move. But when Skuskrin, beside her, shifted his weight, she found her hand on her blade and a hand-width bared.

“Easy.” Rhi held out both hands, palms flat up, bare of weapons. In rhis left, the forlorn beard-braid was draped. “I am not one of those amateurs you have fought before.”

“You… you know who I’ve fought?”

“There are always amateurs.”

“Of course.” Taslin ducked her head. Why would Skuskrin Takrin know who she was?

“And I have watched your fights.”

Taslin kept her head down but didn’t even bother trying to hide the smile. “Ix.”

“I’m not an ix, I’m Suskrin. Especially to you, Taslin Gladiator.” Rhi held a hand. “You are a pleasure to fight against.”

She took the hand and shook it, as firmly as she could. “I am honored.”

“Then I will pile on the honors. You took this – you should keep this.” Suskrin put the beard-braid in Taslin’s hand and closed her hand around it. “Consider it your first Pit trophy – if indeed, it’s your first.”

“It’s my first.” She held the braid tight. “Thank you.” She turned her head-duck into a bow. “I hope you won’t take any offense if I say I hope I never see you in the Pit again.”

“And likewise. Good hunting, young fighter.”

Suskrin bowed to her, and Taslin bowed one more time.

“Good hunting, Gladiator Skuskrin Takrin, ix.”

Chapter 11 – Taslin – Choose

“Choose.”

The barracks for the new and un-Patronized Gladiators were, by nature, not at all private. Thus, while Vinroth held up tunics for Taslin, most of the rest of the women were watching with interest.

“I like the violet one. I think it brings out your eyes.” Marrhi leaned over her bunk and fingered the soft fabric.

“But it’s going to make her skin look yellow.” Sellen wandered over. “The blue is nice, though. Where did you get these lovelies?”

Vinroth helpfully held up the three options – violet, blue, and a soft green color – for the other Gladiators to examine, and left answering that question to Taslin.

“The not-a-Patron. The first one, still.” Taslin took the green tunic from the valet and held it up to herself. “His gifts are getting more generous and less practical.”

“Why haven’t you picked him yet?” Lansesh plopped down on the bed next to Taslin. “Because, you know, there are others of us who are interested, too, and if you’re not going to take him, I’m sure he’ll start sending presents to the rest of us.”

“If Taslin is his type, Lan, do you really think you’ll be?” Corby shook her head. “Or me, for that matter. He’s clearly looking for a Tower sort and you, my dear, are a gate.”

“Hey! Take that back!”

“Nothing wrong with being a gate. You’re really good at what you do. The green’s good, Tas. I like the shape on it, if it works with the shape on you.”

The green one did have a nice shape. Taslin pressed it against her body, studying it. “This has to have cost him a fortune.”

“As I understand it, he enjoys spending his mother’s fortune quite a bit. And she indulges him, because he’s her only living child. His brother died climbing the Ladder a few years ago.” Vinroth had practice pitching his voice very low; Lansesh could probably hear him, but the rest of the barracks definitely couldn’t, not without magic. And while using the vepó in the barracks was not exactly forbidden, it was discouraged very strongly.

“So he has the money to spend. And he’s spending it on me.” The tunic was made out of thin silk, cut to skim along Taslin’s figure and end somewhere almost at her knees. It came with an under layer in a much darker green, and soft indoor boots the color of the walls. “I think I won’t really argue, although where am I going to wear something like this?”

“Well, today, to meet him. And you’re going to sit down and let me do something with your hair, too. Did you hack it with a knife?”

“Urm. Yes?” Her hand went to her hair. “All right. I’m meeting with him today, I take it?”

“Meeting? In that?” Lanesh reached over and touched the tunic. “You know this is embroidered in monk’s-tears, right? Nothing else makes that color.”

“How do you get thread out of monk’s-tears?” The multi-hued metal was generally found near Wellsprings of vepó; Taslin had never seen any before and now she was holding something embroidered in it.

“I think you liquify it?” Lanesh shrugged. “I’ve never seen it done, but my mother had a pair of slippers that were embroidered all over in that and silver.”

Taslin gulped a little at the excess that represented. “That’s… something.”

“They were very tough shoes, at least.” Lansesh stood up. “I like the green. Go with it.”

“She can go with whatever she likes, Lan. This is her engagement.” Corby swiped the air near Lansesh, not quite reaching her.

“Well, fine. If you’re not going to use the blue, I’ll buy it from you.” Lansesh grabbed the blue tunic and stood up.

“How do you have money if you don’t have a Patron either?” Sellen jumped off her bunk to look at the blue tunic.

“Well, my parents send me a little bit now and then. They’re not really happy about the whole Gladiator thing.”

“If your mom has slippers full of monk’s-tears, I can imagine they’re not. Wow.” Sellen shook her head. “You can afford this?”

“Maybe ten, twenty omeh? They can go as high as thirty, which would be pushing it. I can go up to seventeen with what I can get my hands on now.”

Taslin glanced at Vinroth. He nodded, a tiny movement. “Fifteen omeh, then.” She’d never had her hands on a tunic this nice before, so she didn’t know if it was a fair amount. But her mother could feed the family for at least two weeks on that, maybe as many as five if she stretched it. Or it would pay for a month of advanced classes for her brother and sister. Hel and Thet had promise, if they could just get a leg up.

“Fifteen it is! Hold on.” She fiddled around in her bodice and came up with a small packet of the spell-laced bills. “Seven, eight, nine… that’s a five, fourteen, and fifteen. Here. Oh, I know just where I’m going to wear this…”

“Should you be selling gifts your Patron gave you?” Sellen’s frown was purse-lipped and old-lady-ish.

“He’s not my Patron. Yet. And he said to me that I didn’t have to use them, that I could let my cat sleep in them. That I could give them to destitute Tenth Circle children.”

“People say things like that.” Sellen’s frown hadn’t unbent yet.

“Well, if he’s lying, then I’ll know he’s lying. If he’s telling the truth, then he won’t be in any place to mind. And if he minds anyway, then he can change what he says the next time he gives me tunics.” She stripped down to her britches and wrapping, then, giving it a moment’s thought, stripped all the way down to her skin. “Was there…”

“Of course there was.” Vinroth, his eyes on her face, passed Taslin the tiny silk breeches and the top-like thing that must be in place of her normal wrappings. “Here, let me show you how this one goes on.”

“You get a lot of practice with women’s underwear, Vin?” Corby’s tone was crude and the laugh she appended was even cruder. Vinroth, of course, ignored the tone.

“I am a valet to a stable of Gladiators. I have had more than enough opportunity to put such things onto to women, injured, indisposed, or simply wishing someone to do up the back fastenings. Here, Taslin, like this.” The vest wrapped around, holding each breast separately and buttoning in the back. It was nice, she mused, although a very different feeling from wrapped bindings. Probably not the best idea for the pit…

…but tonight was an entirely different sort of combat. She slipped the fifteen omeh into the vest and let Vinroth dress her.

Laces were laced, buttons were buttoned. The tunic was deceptive in its simplicity; if it weren’t embroidered in monk’s-tears, she could wear it under armor in the ring. But, like the vest, it fastened in the back, as if Jervennon wanted her to need help getting dressed.

“There.” Vinroth smoothed the tunic down and smoothed the boots up. “You look… very handsome. Here.” He steered her towards the barracks’ single mirror. “Don’t you think so?”

Taslin might have protested handsome; she had enough vanity and the thinnest urges of femininity. But looking in the mirror… “I do. I look sharp.” Something about the cut of the tunic made her look slender and minimized her already-small chest. “I don’t look sexy…”

“I think you’re hot.”

“You like boys, Sellen.”

“So? Maybe he does too.” Sellen threw a sock at Taslin.

Taslin dodged the sock and ignored Sellen. “What if he hates it on me?”

“Well, then you’ll wear something else the next time. There you go, you’re fine.” Vinroth did something to her hair with a bit of oil, and then something to her face with a bit of his pot of cosmetics. “You don’t look like a woman going on a date, but you look like a Gladiator on an engagement. And since that is what you are… it seems to be a good look. There.” He did something else to one lock of her hair, making it frame her face and somehow softening the sharp edges there. “Now, off to the meeting room with you, and good luck with your beau.”

“He is most definitely not my beau.”

“Oh, but he’d like to be. Remember what we talked about.”

“Are you her valet or her father?” Corby pinched Vinroth’s tush for punctuation. He barely twitched. “Neither. At the moment I’m the valet to the barracks. But not, I might point out, the barracks whore.”

“Soorrrr-eeee.” Corby held up both her hands and backed away slowly.

Vinroth smoothed Taslin’s hair. “You’re going to have a lovely conversation with him, and, with any luck, he’ll be as understanding as I think he is. Remember, he’s in a difficult position, and he’s going to have trouble thinking about anything else.”

“Difficult position.” Sellen’s scoff was soft enough that they could ignore it, so they did.

“And remember that you need to explain your position to him as carefully as you can. He doesn’t want to put you in a bad spot, or he’d be doing this far differently.”

“Can’t you explain it?”

“You know I can’t. Out with you.”

She fled, trying to make it look like a strategic exit and not an escape. Her boots sounded strange on the tile-and-rock floors: they were too soft to slap like sandals or thump like normal boots, but they weren’t bare-footed, so they made a shush-shush noise as she walked. She distracted herself by trying to make the movement silent. Shush, shush… nothing. She walked that way to the visitation room.

Oh. Oh, yes. She couldn’t ignore what she was here to do any longer. She took a measured breath, and then several more. The sword thrust is level. The opponent is clear. We step in, and we move the sword just so.

He was not the sort of opponent you could stab. Or, rather, she probably could, but her life would then be measured in hours and not years. Breathe. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, and center.

She had knelt for the collar. She could kneel again for Jervennon of Cecby.

His door opened. “Taslin Gladiator. Please, enter. You look wonderful in that tunic; is it the one I picked out for you?”

“Yes, s- Yes, Jervennon.”

“You remembered!” He clapped his hands together. “Lovely. I knew you were a good choice. I knew were brilliant.”

“I don’t know about brilliant, but I have a good sense of self-preservation.” Except when her mouth opened and words came out without running through her brain first; what had that been? Some suicidal bratty class-war remnant of her childhood?

Jervennon laughed. “I’ll take it. Come on in, please. Your valet sent word?”

Taslin dropped to one knee. “Jervennon. I am being pressured to choose.”

 

 


Sorry for the delay! (Nano <.<)

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