|Background for Io and Leda for the (relatively) minor roles they played in the Arena. Still has some logic errors, but I like it.|
I - The Captain's Daughters
"Hold it right there, old man!"
It echoed across the training grounds even better than she'd planned, stopping him in mid-sentence and drawing the startled attention of two knight-trainees across the yard. The air was brisk but not too cold, the barest hint of winter to come, and the suns were both high in the sky -- clear, without even a wisp of cloud. The perfect conditions for a challenge.
To her dismay and irritation, however, her father continued his speech almost before the echo of her voice died away and acted very much as if he hadn't heard her at all. It was a very small satisfaction that only a handful of the new recruits were still listening to him.
Giving a strangled growl of fury, she sprang down from where she'd stood in the window stomped out into the yard, walking up behind him to grab his arm. "I said --"
Before she could finish her statement, she found herself in freefall -- and giving what amounted to an extremely girly shriek, to her embarrassment. Only a split second she was flat on her back in the dirt, her father releasing her and saying in his blandest tones, "I heard you quite clearly, Iowyn, and unless I'm mistaken, you're missing your history tutor. I suggest you be on your way -- they're easily offended and hard to replace."
Iowyn sat up sharply, ignoring the small throb in her spine from where she'd struck the ground, and glared at his back. He was addressing the recruits again. Of all the things she had inherited from her father -- his flame-red hair (admittedly now graying) and piercing eyes most notable -- the one people lamented most was his stubborn temper. She stumbled to her feet, the throb in her back echoing clearly in the back of her head, and straightened, drawing her sword with a steely hiss.
"I'm not going back to any musty old history books until I receive satisfaction!" she barked, putting on her best battle scowl. "Draw your sword, old man!"
This time there was a distinct pause, and a sort of resigned annoyance flickered across his face. "Pups," he growled finally. "Never know what's good for 'em."
She maintained her stubborn posture as he turned to her, but she was unable to keep a horrified gape from her face when he actually drew on her and settled into a fighting stance. She followed in suit almost immediately, but she didn't move, watching him warily until he roared at her.
"Well, girl, you wanted it -- don't just stand there looking pretty!"
The verbal barb spurred her to action, and she charged him, belatedly remembering it was approximately the stupidest thing she could have done. That fact was illustrated almost immediately when he side-stepped her and slapped her rump with the flat of his sword, making a disgusted noise. "What was that? I'm embarrassed to think I trained you! Try it again."
The recruits were watchin the exchange with what probably amounted to horrified silence. Not exactly the glory and awe she'd been looking for, but it would have to do. She huffed in a deep breath, reining in her temper, and approached him with more caution the second time, darting in and darting out again as if testing the waters.
"That's more like it," he said approvingly and to her immense frustration.
They exchanged one or two more cautious blows, steel clashing against steel in the autumn air, and her father continued his lazy instruction as they went. "That one wasn't bad, but for heaven's sake watch your posture -- surely a month with the etiquette instructor taught you that. Then again, you did chase her off at the end of it -- oh, that was clumsy. What have you been doing in your spare time?" Which was all bad enough, but he was also backing her up against the wall, inch by inch.
A sound of frustration escaped her throat, and she suddenly jumped backward a few feet, nearly colliding with the wall.
He arched an eyebrow. "I'm sure you must have an excellent reason for that, but you'll forgive me if I fail to grasp it."
Iowyn bit her lip. She hadn't wanted to bring this out until later, but she was doing so poorly now that she didn't much choice. Without responding, she rushed him, and before he could even bring his sword up in defense, she sprang, leaping with all her strength to flip over his head and land solidly in the dirt on the other side of him. Almost before her feet touched the ground, she charged him, but he spun in time to parry -- and well enough to send her staggering backward.
"Not bad, not bad," he remarked, pressing her, "you've been training in the off hours, I see. Certainly explains your grades." His blows fell heavier and heavier as he pushed, shaking her arms with every strike. "There is, however, one thing you forgot --" With this he struck a shattering blow, numbing her arms almost to the elbow, then flipped the blade between the hilt and her hands and ripped it free from her grip to send it skittering halfway across the yard. "Fancy moves and cleverness are no substitute for plain, hard work!"
This last he punctuated with a solid blow to her gut, dropping her to the ground for a second time. On this occasion, though, she chose to lie still and gulp for air, as she wasn't completely certain she could make it to her feet again at all.
Her father, meanwhile, had turned back to the recruits, who were dividing their time between staring at her in sympathetic horror and staring at him in stark terror. "That was my daughter, Iowyn," he said crisply, "and she's a match for any one of you. If there's any moral to be gained from our little display, let it be this: If I'd do that to her, rest assured I'd do the very same to you -- and probably more thoroughly."
Oh, hell, she thought, utterly disgusted. I didn't challenge you so you could use me as a teaching tool, you sanctimonious old fart!
Almost as if he'd heard her thought, he turned his head in her direction, arching an eyebrow. "What are you doing still lying there, girl?" he snapped. "I want thirty laps, and I want them before your class is over!"
"THIRTY?!" she exploded, jerking upright and glaring at him with something akin to righteous indignation.
"FORTY," he bellowed back.
She staggered to her feet, glaring at him mutinously.
"It'll be fifty if you're not out there by the time I turn around!" he barked at her, then turned back to his recruits with a snap.
Hissing a curse under her breath, she stumbled toward the outer ring of the training grounds and started running, just in time to hear him give his last orders to the trainees. "What are you all standing there for?! I want the same forty from you, and if she beats you, you'll be doing it again in the morning!"
They stood there blinking stupidly for a moment, giving Iowyn just enough time to get to the track and start running before they realized he actually meant it. What followed was more like a stampede than any organized fitness run, and Silas Wyndham watched with something akin to satisfaction as his younger daughter outran the entire pack.
Later in the day, when the yard was clear of everyone except for one or two sparring groups and a rather ugly dog that appeared to have gotten away from the beast tamers, a young, blond girl ambled out to join them, managing to look more at home there in her skirt and shawl than the trainees had in all their gear. She paused at the fence for a moment to watch a pair of swordsmen exchange blows, then waved to one of the combatants and moved on to the tall, muscular man who'd spent his morning torturing recruits. He was in the process of critiquing one of them, and she walked up behind him to slip her arm around his, winking at the recruit when he didn't so much as notice her until he found himself unable to make a sweeping gesture with his right arm.
"Afternoon, Alli," he said crisply and without missing a beat, "I'll need that, if you don't mind."
"Oh yes, I think the walls might fall down if you couldn't point off into space, Dad."
"Yes, in fact, they would." Then he continued his lecture as if she hadn't interrupted.
Aliya listened politely for a few minutes, occasionally glancing around the yard, curiously. When she couldn't find what she was looking for on her own, she waited until he had to stop for breath to pose her question. "Where's Iowyn?"
Her father pointed vaguely toward a figure off to the edge of the yard, lying spread-eagled in the dirt and to all appearances staring blankly at the sky.
"Oh, Dad --"
"She started it!" he retorted gruffly. "I was supposed to just swat her bottom and send her upstairs?" He snorted. "Issued a proper challenge, too. Little snip."
"She actually did that?" The girl's face lit up with a grin. "I heard her grumbling about it over breakfast, but I didn't think she'd actually do it --"
"And she didn't think I'd actually accept it." He gave the recruit a sharp look when, thinking he'd been forgotten, he attempted to sneak away. "Go talk to her, girl, I'm busy here."
She waved a hand absently, starting toward Iowyn, who didn't so much as twitch until Aliya crouched down next to her and poked a finger at her cheek. "All right, down there?"
The response was a lazy shrug, and she continued to stare skyward.
"You beat 'em?"
Iowyn glanced at her sideways and grinned (a little stupidly), lifting her right hand in a thumbs-up.
Aliya snorted, sitting down in the dirt next to her and settling her skirts. "You missed history again, you know."
"Feh," said Iowyn.
"I did the best I could, smiling, nodding, and agreeing that you were an impossible little savage, but she gave you more homework anyway -- and you know she's meeting with Dad next week."
The girl's gaze finally wandered her way, and it was irritably resentful. "What, you're gonna lecture me, too?"
She sniffed. "Why would I do that? I, at least, know there's no point in it." She leaned back on her hands, grinning a little dreamily, much to her sister's annoyance. "I just thought I'd tell you, since I won't be home when you two get back."
Iowyn sat up, tugging her gloves off and giving Aliya a suspicious look. "Why not? It's your night to make dinner --"
"I already made it," the blond girl snipped. "It's on the stove -- stew." The grin returned almost immediately. "I have a date tonight."
"Ugh." Iowyn rose slowly, testing her somewhat creaky joints. "How did I know ..."
"Just because you haven't got any use for the opposite sex --"
"I've got plenty of use for them -- they make good sparring partners." She stretched lazily and continued before Aliya could counter her -- probably with something perverted. "Does Dad know?"
Aliya froze, halfway to her feet, and made a show of dusting her skirts off. "Erm.."
"I'm not making up an excuse for you this time!" Iowyn snapped, tossing her hair. "He nearly figured it out the last time I had to --"
"He already knows I'm going to be out!" Aliya said hurriedly, hushing her frantically. "He just thinks I'll be studying! My partner cancelled on me, and I figured with the extra time --"
"Why do I have to be related to you?"
"Bad luck," Aliya said crossly. "Same as me."
"Huh, well maybe I'll just tell him." She sniffed dismissively.
"You do, and I'll tell him about your little weapons cache --"
"Yeah? Let's see it -- HEY, DAD -- mph!" She staggered violently sideways as her sister grabbed her in a headlock and clamped a hand over her mouth.
Their father stopped in mid-sentence, glancing over at them briefly. "Ten more laps, Iowyn, I've told you not to interrupt me. Aliya, let her go or you'll be joining her."
"But Dad --"
"Do you want it to be twenty?"
Iowyn spluttered in fury as Aliya released her, an angelic smile on her lovely features. They lit up further when a tall and fairly familiar stepped out into the yard, prompting another groan from Iowyn, who ran for the track before she had to bear witness to any gushy mutual adoration. They were still chatting at the door when she flew past on her first lap, so she felt obligated to make a remarkably rude gesture at her sister -- which Aliya returned without missing a beat -- and call out, "Hey, Devan! I know what she got you for your birthday --"
Unfortunately, Silas heard her before she could finish and roared out, "If you have breath enough to chit-chat, you're not running fast enough!" which forced her to double her speed and hurry out of hearing range. The positive side to this was that Aliya didn't have the chance to pound her into the dirt, and they were gone by the time she reached the doorway again.
Twenty laps and three spars later, she was limping hurriedly back to their rooms to check on the stew and her homework, which was probably at least double what she'd received the day before. With only her twin goals firmly in mind, she failed to see the rudely out-thrust leg that sent her sprawling face-first into the hall. She gave a remarkably undignified squawk when she landed, turning slowly to see what had tripped her up and apologize if it was a person, but she changed her mind when she caught sight of the culprit.
"You," he said cheerfully, "are the most pathetic chick I have ever seen pick up a sword."
"Get out of my face, Garver," she growled, standing up and firmly resisting the impulse to dust herself off.
Aaron Garver, brown-haired, green-eyed, and muscular, did no such thing -- in fact, he very deliberately sneered at her and said several insulting things regarding her, her chosen profession, and her likelihood of attaining knighthood. This was, of course, his usual routine, and she returned in kind, suggesting that his baby sister could handle a sword better than he could and he'd be better off following his brother to a monastery and becoming a eunuch. This, of course, annoyed him, and he expanded his repertoire by including a few remarks about babies, kitchens, and where she ought to be, which drove her promptly over the edge.
By the end of it, she was nursing several new bruises and a black eye, but he was bleeding profusely from the nose and limping badly from a well-placed kick. And she still made it home in time to check on supper and start on her homework.
She was still working on it -- and taking up half of the kitchen table -- when her father walked in at nine, having completed his duties in the office and on the training grounds.
"Good evening, Iowyn," he said crisply. It usually took him several minutes before his military demeanor dropped off at home. "Where's the food?"
Still scribbling with one hand, she pointed at the kitchen, and he nodded agreeably, walking over to kiss her on the top of the head and retrieve her now-empty bowl to put in the sink. "Stew again? Girl's almost as lazy as you."
"Pfeh," said Iowyn, somewhere between a splutter of indignation and a snort of amusement.
"Didn't do too badly today, you know -- silly bit at the beginning, but I guess I surprised you."
Iowyn grumbled something.
"If you're going to speak," he remarked, dishing himself some stew, "speak clearly and enunciate. And come by tomorrow to spar with a couple more of them -- there are so many hopeless ones I can't keep up." He paused, then added thoughtfully, "But not during history this time."
"Let me join the guards," Iowyn suggested irritably as he made his way back to the table. "You said yourself I'm better than most of them."
"You've also been doing that sort of thing a lot more years than most of them -- and be that as it may, you're still too young."
"Half of them are my age!" she nearly shouted, and he ignored her, eating a few bites of stew before responding.
"Two more years, Iowyn -- you've already had sixteen. Lucky I haven't married you off."
This struck a little too near what Garver had been ribbing her about earlier, so her response was a little sharper than usual. "If you have to marry somebody off, marry Aliya off -- she'd at least enjoy it."
Silas snorted, attempting to restrain a chuckle as he still had a mouthful of food. "From the look of things, she's going to marry herself off, and I don't have to worry about it."
Iowyn grumbled again.
"Someday you'll remember you're a girl," he shrugged. "I, personally, can't wait to see your face when it happens."
"Oh, shut up."
He snorted again, but he finished his meal in relative silence, letting his younger daughter finish her homework. He considered once telling her how surprised he was she was actually doing it, but he instead retired to his room with a book and told her to remember to leave a light on for Alli. "Late study session," he remarked.
"Probably had a lot of stuff to cover," she said shortly, scribbling down another answer and making a mental note to hit her sister with something when she walked in.
Unfortunately, the opportunity never arose, as she went to bed early and curled up with a book, where she remained until after midnight, when her stomach insisted that dinner hadn't been enough. Night raids on the cookie jar were as natural as breathing in her family, though they each solemnly swore not to partake, and her father frequently threatened dire punishment for the crime. Not that he hadn't done it a number of times himself, she reasoned, heading back to her room, when a gasp from the front hall stopped her in mid-step.
She slithered over rapidly, keeping out of the light -- one lamp was lit in the hall, as she'd promised -- and nosed her head around the corner, a cookie still balanced carefully half in her mouth. She was just in time to see her sister fling her arms around Devan Teal -- who else, remarked the part of her brain that didn't promptly shut down when the pair engaged in a kiss that didn't seem quite tame enough for the front hall.
She managed to stay quiet until they'd pulled apart, both looking as self-conscious as if they'd never kissed before -- bullshit, in Iowyn's opinion -- but when Teal murmured a sheepish "I'll take that as a yes, then?" she promptly spat her cookie across the hall.
The only satisfaction Iowyn garnered from the entire affair was the fact that they both jumped a mile high and had utterly picturesque expressions of horror on their faces. Aliya, unfortunately, recovered a little more quickly than her companion, and she bore down on her sister like a stormcloud.
"What the hell are you doing up?!" she hissed, looking alternately furious and embarrassed.
Iowyn was indignant. "I got hungry! Geez, you think I wanted to walk in on that?!"
"Keep your voice down, you'll wake Dad up --"
"What, were you planning on not telling him about that --"
It probably would have gone on for several minutes in a similar vein had Teal not cleared his throat uncertainly. Iowyn seized the opportunity.
"Don't let me keep you -- I was just going to bed anyway."
"Well, you already ruined the mood," sniped Aliya.
Iowyn considered this for a moment, then stuck her tongue out. "It's your own fault," she retorted. "Should've picked a quiet corner for that, instead of the front hall --"
"You have a point."
She startled, as the response had come from a wholly unexpected source. She gave Teal a long, suspicious look. "You chickened out 'til the last minute?" she suggested.
He gave her an annoyed look, but after a moment, he sighed and shrugged. "Something like that --" A grin flitted across his features as he glanced at Aliya. "But I did finally ask."
Aliya smiled, a look dangerously close to adoration rising into her eyes, and Iowyn grimaced and waved a hand. "Look, if you two're gonna start mushing on each other again, I'm out of here --"
"Sounds like a good idea to me."
"Shut up, Alli."
"Actually, ah, I should probably go.." The note of regret in his voice was almost tangible.
Iowyn rolled her eyes and started back to her room, barely listening to her sister's half-hearted protests. What's she going to do, anyway? I mean, we share a room ... She shuddered, flopping down on her bed and poking through her book again, nibbling on the rest of the cookies and reflecting on the wasted one in the front hall. It was several minutes before Aliya made her way back, sighing a little as she pushed inside.
"Long kiss good-night," Iowyn remarked, not looking up from her book. "No.. wait.. let me guess, it was several."
Aliya threw a pillow at her.
The following morning found Iowyn bolting out the door without any breakfast, miserably late to her one class of the day and deeply irritated to find herself accosted by Aaron Garver for the second time in as many days. Generally, she could avoid him for at least a week before he felt compelled to harass her again.
"Back off, Garver!" she snapped, attempting to push past him, but he would have none of that, shoving her back so that she was forced to stumble away from him.
"What makes you think I was here to see you?" he growled. "Got as much right to be in the hall as you do --"
"Then stay out of my way!" she snarled back, dashing off again as the clock bonged the hour.
She was just disappearing around the corner when Aliya stepped out of the room, stretching lazily. She glanced at the young man standing practically on her doorstep with bemusement until she saw the expression on his face and the direction it was glaring in.
"Aaron Garver, right?" she asked lightly, and he jumped, half-turning.
"Yeah?" he said defensively.
"You've picked an excellent method to get her attention, I'll admit to that, but I don't think calling her bad names is going to win her young heart."
"Wh-what are you talking about?!" He looked mortified for a split second, then slapped on his surliest expression, though he was unable to prevent a sudden rush of color to his face.
"Try being honest with her," Aliya continued with relish, watching his jaw unhinge and snap back up once or twice as she went on. "You'd be surprised how well it works -- I mean, she is a girl, in spite of herself." She ambled past him and gave him a slap on the shoulder. He staggered badly. "Good luck!"
She offered no further explanation as she walked up the hall, having more important things on her mind -- and an appointment to keep. She wasn't quite late, but it was easy to tell Devan had been there a while, loitering nervously outside her father's office.
"Guarding the gate?" she asked, the cheer in her voice a bit forced. Asking permission to marry wouldn't have been so bad, she reasoned, but this wasn't exactly asking permission.
He chuckled, swallowing. "Ah, somewhat -- he is in there. Apparently has a lot of paperwork.."
"That's his usual excuse when he delegates his unpleasant work to someone else." She grinned, and he gave a weak smile in answer. She sighed slightly. "Relax, Devan -- he knows you, and I know he at least approves of you -- would have chased you off ages ago if he didn't."
"How comforting." His voice was heavily ironic.
She didn't respond, instead banging on the door and calling, "Dad! We're coming in -- hope you're decent!"
"We are not amused," her father remarked, not looking up from his paperwork as she pushed the door open. "Close the door and wait a minute."
Aliya did so, standing with hands folded in front of the desk and watching Devan try not to fidget until her father got bored with his intimidation game and looked up. "Ah, and exactly the 'we' I was expecting -- what is this time?"
There was a protracted silence as Aliya digested that remark. Silas glanced between the two of them, and he was just beginning to look testy when Devan decided to speak up.
"Ah, that is -- we.. I mean, I.. I'd like to ask permission -- to marry Aliya."
Silas gave him a level stare. "A little late for that, isn't it?"
"You did know!" Aliya exploded, flinging her arms up in disgust.
The old man grinned at her -- a grin disturbingly like his younger daughter's -- and drummed his fingers on the desk. "Alli, at times I'm hurt by the level of stupidity you assign me. How could I have possibly not seen it coming, pray tell? And how could anyone but the dead have slept through all that ruckus last night?"
"So is it yes or no?" she demanded crossly. Devan appeared to be temporarily stricken dumb and was watching the interplay with apprehension.
"Oho, you're trying to tell me that I could stop you either way? I'm touched by the flattery, my dear daughter, but it isn't necessary." He rose and turned to Devan, and an expression of worry flitted once across Aliya's face. "Well, boy, I don't know what I think of your taste in women, but I suppose she isn't too bad once you get to know her."
"It's a father's duty to harass his daughters, Alli, and you'd think after eighteen years, you'd be used to it." He paused, expression going oddly serious. "Take care of each other. There's really nothing else I can think to say.." His expression went thoughtful. "I'm fairly good at calling names and shouting orders, but it doesn't seem appropriate in this situation."
Aliya sniffed. "You'd do it anyway."
He laughed, reaching across the desk to ruffle her hair (which made her somewhat indignant), then glanced at them both again, arching an eyebrow. "What else do you want from me? You have my blessing -- good enough?"
"Thank you -- sir," Devan managed to get out, evidently struggling with any number of reactions to his good fortune.
"Silas, if you like," the old man shrugged, then he fixed him with a sharp stare, "but don't call me 'Dad', or I'll tan your hide -- don't think you're too old for it."
Aliya rolled her eyes heavenward and led her now-stunned husband-to-be out into the hall. "He was just kidding." She paused. "I think."
He laughed -- weakly.
II - Fortune's Ill Favor
"That old cow!"
Iowyn regarded her sister with interest as she slammed the door to their bedroom shut, stomped over to her bed, and flopped on it. She remained silent for a moment, quietly running a cloth over the blade of one of her pilfered swords, then she grinned, cat-like.
"Let me guess -- 'You've been missing more classes, and the quality of your work is just declining -- I suppose you have other things on your mind, but really, this just isn't acceptable.' ... Right?"
Aliya glanced over at her, eyes suspicious. "Were you listening?"
The red-haired girl stuck her tongue out. "I've heard it all before -- remember?"
"She says unless my marks improve, I'll be taking the course again."
"She says that to me every week," Iowyn pointed out, swiping the slim blade one last time before she settled it back under her bed.
"Yes, but that's you."
She sniffed. "Fine, take it out on me -- it's not my fault."
Aliya sighed gloomily. "I guess I have had other things on my mind."
Iowyn gave her a very long stare, but she settled for rolling her eyes heavenward. "It's been a month. Have you two picked a date yet?"
Her sister hesitated. "No.. we wanted to wait until he has a steady position in the guard.. or he wants to wait, anyway." She gave another gloomy sigh.
"Guess he only wants the best for you," Iowyn said absently, glancing over her books for something to bury her nose in to escape the conversation.
Aliya propped herself up on her elbows and glared. "Stop being so damn philosophical! It's annoying!"
"Fine!" Iowyn snapped. "He's a jerk and you oughta just elope -- what do you want me to say?"
For a moment, she continued to glare, then she sighed again and flopped down. What she said next was extremely muffled, but Iowyn could just make it out. "At least he's in line for a promotion ..."
"Wonderful," she muttered, and Aliya gave her such a stare that she jumped to her feet and stomped out of the room, unwilling to tolerate her sister's mood any longer. She made her way, in a winding and desultory fashion, to the library -- it was an unusual place for her to go, but she figured no one would look for her there, and she might find their history tutor and deliver her a much-deserved kick to the rump. Not so much for upsetting Alli, of course, but for upsetting Alli in such a fashion that Alli came to annoy her.
She wandered idly though the histories, thumbing past one or two volumes on the Lesser Wars that followed the Cataclysm and exchanging a snarl with the old librarian. They'd never gotten along, particularly after she'd informed him in no uncertain terms that the Histories were the most boring things she'd ever read, because somehow historians managed to make even climactic battles dry and pedantic. He passed her twice more before she finally heard the voice she was searching for, but before she could skip around the edge to deliver the kick she'd been saving, another voice broke in, and she stopped, puzzled by its words.
"You're sure? I've got my men closing on them now, and we can't keep Wyndham occupied forever."
Her history tutor's voice was curt and, for some reason, trembling slightly with nervousness. "Of course, I'm sure -- I just sent the older girl back with a bad report, and the other one won't want to risk running into me."
"You'd better hope you're right -- I won't be the only one suffering if this falls through."
"I did my part," she said, sounding bad-tempered, "so if your men do their jobs, they'll be in his hands inside an hour."
Iowyn was completely still through the conversation, slowly turning over the idea that she and her sister could be targets of a kidnapping. She startled awake again when she heard them shifting their chairs in preparation to leave.
"I'll expect my pay." The history tutor.
"You'll get it." A pause. "If this works out, we'll have Wyndham out of the way and the guards in our back pocket. He's been working a long time toward this."
"I haven't bungled. Now go attend to those girls -- I was getting sick of teaching them anyway."
Iowyn turned and fled.
Such was her panic, she almost got lost on the way, spinning in place for a moment before remembering the right direction and charging up the steps, only to dive headlong into her arch-nemesis, who uttered a startled curse and stumbled backward.
"Out of my way, Garver!"
As usual, however, he did no such thing, grabbing her hard by the arm. "Wait -- hey, Iowyn --"
She managed to keep from losing her balance and smashing into the steps, but it was a near thing, and she promptly rounded on him in a rage. "Leave me alone, stupid -- I don't have time to play!"
"Play?" To his credit, he looked honestly flabbergasted, but she had no patience for this either and attempted to wrench free. He protested for a moment, struggling to keep his grip. "Wait, come on -- I have to tell you --"
"Tell me what -- I'm a stupid girl and I don't belong in the guards?! You told me that last week, now let me --"
Before she could get any farther in either her demand or attempt at escape, he cut her off by yanking her close with his free arm and kissing her full on the mouth. For a brief moment, her brain completely ceased to function, but upon its recovery, she did the only thing that seemed appropriate: she punched him and ran away.
She was almost to her rooms when she remembered why she'd been running there to begin with, and she froze in place at the sound of voices around the corner. The first belonged to Aliya, and it sounded irritable.
"I don't see why I need an armed escort to go visit my father -- I go down to his office all the time, and I hardly even trip on the steps."
"It's for your own safety, Miss! There's strange things afoot -- he sent us himself ..."
"Where's Miss Iowyn?" queried a third voice, sounding worried (as much for his own hide as hers, Iowyn bet mentally).
"How am I supposed to know? She stomped out of here just a few minutes ago anyway --"
The owner of the second voice shifted impatiently. "We'll look for her on the way, Rich. There's no time."
"Oh, let go of me! I can walk on my own --"
"Alli!" Iowyn barreled around the corner at full speed, reaching for her sister. "Don't go with them!"
She ignored the expression of confusion on Aliya's face, ramming her shoulder into the man holding her arm and taking hold herself to pull the girl up the hall with her. They had rounded the bend and left the frantic shouting of the men far behind them when she repeated her question, sounding annoyed.
"They were going to kidnap you!" Iowyn snapped and was jerked suddenly backward when Aliya came to a halt.
"Don't be stupid," she barked, sounding amazingly like their father. "What the hell, are you five again?! Kidnap?!"
Iowyn stared at her in silent astonishment for a moment. "But.. but it's true! I heard -- in the library -- the history teacher --"
"The history teacher is involved in a plot to kidnap us?"
It was a sign of Iowyn's mounting frustration that tears started in her eyes, but she dashed them away quickly, shouting, "Fine, don't believe me -- but don't go with them!"
"God, whatever, just -- what was that?"
The sound that had caught her attention repeated itself rapidly, accompanied by other, also familiar noises: shouting and the sound of steel against steel.
Silas didn't glance up when the rap sounded at his door, barking a short "Enter" to whoever was out there half in the hopes that he or she would think better of bothering him. He was doing paperwork, his least favorite part of his job, and it always made him cranky -- particularly since there seemed to be more of it than usual today. His visitor, however, somehow found the courage to open the door, and it was just as well, since he'd asked him to come to begin with.
"You wanted to see me, sir?"
"Eh?" He looked up sharply, about to refute any claim that he'd wanted to see anybody, when he realized that it was Teal standing in the doorway. "Oh. Yes. Close it." He waved a hand absently at the door.
Teal nodded and did so, stepping farther into the room once he was done and standing in front of the desk. Silas gave him an irritable look.
"Sit down, would you?"
"Ah -- of course."
Silas snorted as he did, as the boy clearly would have stood at parade rest until the entire Arena fell down around him unless he'd said something. Weariness flickered across the older man's face.
"I hate beating around the bush," he said comfortably, setting his pen down, "so I'll make this quick -- I have a simple question for you." The boy nodded, a sort of unease creeping onto his face. Silas restrained a somewhat manic grin. "You want my job?"
"Wh.. what did you say, sir?" It was difficult to decipher the emotions competing for dominance in his expression -- disbelief seemed to be the most prevalent, though.
He smiled briefly. "Maybe it wasn't so simple." The weariness returned, and with it a sort of feverish energy that pulled him to his feet and started him pacing. "Well, the position's going to be open someday, you know -- maybe sooner, maybe later. And either way, I've got better people in mind than -- well." He scratched at his jaw and shrugged. "I need someone in the position I can trust to do things right."
"But --" Whether the hesitation was due to contradicting his superior officer or sincere worry about his question, Silas couldn't tell. "The chain of command --"
"To hell with it," snapped Silas, glaring fiercely at the far wall. "If they're going to cheat, by god, I can cheat, too." He stopped and looked back over at Teal. "Listen, boy, you're good for it. If you weren't, you wouldn't be marrying my daughter -- but it'll take a lot of extra work, at this point. But it's still up to you."
He jumped to his feet immediately, reminding Silas somewhat of a jack-in-the-box, and fashioned a smart salute out of what had probably been a gesture of pure startlement. "I would be honored, sir." He gave the captain of the guard a slightly doubtful look and was about to speak again when the door burst open to admit a pair of dishevelled and very nervous guardsmen.
"What the hell," growled Silas, slamming one hand down on the desk. "What's the matter with you two --"
"Sir --" The one on the left -- and the younger of the two -- darted him a terrified look. "We found Miss Aliya -- but before we could get her to come, her sister grabbed her and they both ran off --"
"What?!" Silas roared. "And you just let them GO?!"
"They ran really fast, sir," the older offered weakly.
"Commander Wyndham!" A third guard shoved past his two compatriots to lean against the desk, gasping.
Silas, completely fed up with being interrupted for one day, slammed his fist on the desk again, and the man stood up sharply, gulping in a deep breath. "There's fighting on the sixth and seventh floors, sir -- a riot -- we don't know what started it, but it's spreading too fast --"
"Shit," Silas said, voice going strange. "It's started already."
A heavy silence hung in the air for a split second, then the older man spun, snatching his sword off the wall. "I want everyone we've got to spare up there with that riot," he barked. "Pull everyone except Martin and Baene off dungeon watch and get them on the fifth floor entrances -- move!"
He vanished out the door, unaware of the rush of activity the followed in his wake.
"What -- is going on?"
"I don't know. Alli, Alli, we have to go -- Alli!"
Aliya, much to Iowyn's distress, was moving in the exact opposite direction she should have been -- toward the sounds of fighting, which were only intensifying as they moved up the hall. The younger girl hesitated, shifting anxiously from foot to foot, before she darted after her sister, grabbing her by the wrist as they rounded the bend and nearly dropping it at the sight that greeted their eyes.
The Market Hall was ransacked, its stores torn open and gutted. Fighting in the midst of it were merchants and warriors alike, no one seeming to know who had started the fight. Here and there, the uniform of the guard flashed into view, as the men tried -- mostly in vain -- to bring some sort of order out of the chaos.
Iowyn swallowed bile as she noticed, in the wreckage, the bodies of the dead and dying. Her grip on her sister's arm tightened spasmodically, but before she could speak, a low, rough voice growled near her ear.
"So this is where they are -- bitch was lying."
"Not so much lying as uninformed, I think," came another voice, this one nearer to Aliya.
Iowyn whirled just in time to escape the sudden grasp of a huge, bear-like man with a bristling beard. She stared at him in consternation as Aliya eluded the grip of his slimmer companion. There was a momentary pause as the two groups sized each other up, Iowyn tensing and slowly shifting her balance as she waited for some sort of signal.
It came when the second of their would-be captors spoke again. "Come on, girls, let's make this ea--"
She didn't give him the chance to finish, lunging at his midriff with a yell and giving him a spectacular headbutt that had her seeing stars for a split second. Aliya, however, took up the slack, grabbing her arm and bolting back up the hall as the bear roared behind them.
"Room --" Iowyn gasped, and Aliya steered them there, pushing inside and slamming the door shut.
"What now?" she panted, leaning against it.
"Lock it," muttered Iowyn, stumbling toward their room. "I'm getting a sword."
"Oh," said Aliya. "That's an excellent idea."
She had just turned to do so when the wood just in front of her face splintered, a violent blow echoing from outside. Uttering a squeak, she sprang backward, darting up the hall and nearly tripping over Iowyn, who was headed back her way, sword in hand. Another blow hammered against the door, and Iowyn gave her head a sharp shake, pointing toward their father's bedroom.
"Just come on," she hissed at Aliya's puzzled stare, and ran inside.
On following, Aliya discovered her poking around behind a tapestry, running her hand along the wall and muttering to herself. "I know it was here," she growled in frustration as another blow fell against the door, accompanied by the sound of splintering wood.
"Iowyn, what --"
"A passage -- Dad knows about it. It goes to the dungeons."
The red-haired girl turned on her sharply. "We have to get out of here, Alli! We can come back when it's safe!"
At the door, the pair of kidnappers was still working away, the sounds of splintering and tearing becoming more methodical. The same time as a particularly unpleasant wrench, Iowyn gave a triumphant cry, and the wall behind the tapestry shifted.
"Oh my," said Aliya.
Iowyn rolled her eyes and pushed into the tunnel, pausing only once when she heard voices from the door.
"We're coming for you, girls," trilled the smaller man, a feral edge to his voice. His companion gave a roaring laugh. "There's nowhere to run from there, you know -- we'll catch you!"
"Feh," said Iowyn.
Aliya paused, already partway up the tunnel. "So, you want to tell me how you know about this place?"
"Saw Dad use it once -- hurry up." Iowyn pushed ahead of her. "It gets dark, so stick close, okay?" She could feel the level stare directed at her back, but her sister's rapid footsteps told her she'd taken the advice.
"Where's it lead?"
The tunnel did indeed plunge into darkness when they rounded a bend away from the door, but the path was level, and the ceiling was, for the most part, high enough they were in no danger of bashing their unsuspecting heads. They moved at a brisk pace, not quite running, but no sounds of pursuit followed them. Somehow, this worried Iowyn more than the ruckus at the door. "I like an enemy I can see," her father had once remarked, "and I like him better if I can see he's not breathing." She was inclined to agree.
So wrapped in her worries she failed to check ahead of her in the dark, she let out a muffled howl of pain and surprise when her forward motion was arrested by what felt like a solid rock wall. Which it most probably was.
Aliya halted, voice going a little shrill. "Iowyn? What --"
The younger girl pushed away from the wall, grumbling irritably. "Nothing. End of the tunnel."
".. Oh." Her sister was clearly trying very hard not to laugh.
"Shut up and look for a switch."
Aliya had very little sympathy for her wounded pride, but she said nothing, only giving a haughty little sniff before heading for the wall and feeling around it carefully. "Ah.. any idea where?"
"No." The resigned sigh she received at the response annoyed her. "It's not my fault! I never went down the tunnel, I just knew where it was!"
"Right, right ..."
Iowyn grumbled, leaving the search of the back wall to her sister and turning to her left. "I hate it when you get old-sister superior, you know, especially since I'm the one who --" She cut off with a sharp yelp, jumping backward.
"What is it?" Aliya asked in alarm, though her voice had an edge of testiness this time.
"My foot sunk in --"
Both sisters fell silent at a sudden creak of mechanisms and rasp of stone against stone. With the aching slowness of gears that hadn't run regularly for years, the wall before them drew aside, bathing them in a wash of dull, yellow torchlight.
Iowyn blinked. "I found the switch."
"Good to see your grasp of the obvious isn't slipping." She paused, but not long enough for Iowyn to think of a good comeback. "I'm just glad the cell is empty."
"Dad doesn't let people use it," Iowyn said snippily, and she stalked inside.
Aliya laughed, but the sound cut off with a muffled shriek, prompting her to turn right back around.
"Too soon!" snapped a voice from inside the tunnel, and Iowyn charged, slashing her sword at the offending arm that had reached out of the darkness to snatch her sister. He dropped her with a roar as the sword snicked his flesh, and the girls took flight, his shouts echoing behind them.
With that sound encouraging her that she had left her enemies behind, it took Iowyn completely by surprise when someone grabbed her hard by the arm and wrenched her off-balance, sending her colliding with a wall. She didn't even have time to cry out, only giving a solid grunt when she struck stone. Her sword slipped from her grip and clattered to the floor, and before she could even sink to her knees to catch it up again, her assailant kicked her in the stomach -- twice -- then drew her upright to slap her across the mouth. "Stop that immediately."
Iowyn, in her daze, was surprised to realize that the voice was not her own. Her attacker's grip loosened, allowing her to slip free and fall bonelessly to the floor.
"What, you too?" She slowly identified him as the smaller man. "And here I thought at least one of you was a lady."
"Being a lady," Aliya replied harshly, "doesn't mean being unable to defend oneself."
"Take her out," came the bass rumble of the bear-man. "The redhead is mine."
"Don't you touch her!" Aliya shouted.
Out of the corner of her eye, Iowyn saw the smaller man take a step backward, and she began to inch unobtrusively toward her sister. Aliya took an aggressive step forward, whether because she'd seen Iowyn's idea or because she was really angry the younger girl couldn't tell.
"I swear, if you --"
"What's going on down here?"
For a split second, the air was still, as both parties attempted to ascertain the identity of the newcomer. Then Iowyn sat up with a yell, ignoring the splitting pain that shot through her. "Help us! They're trying to kidnap us!"
The small man swore and tried to grab her, but she lurched unsteadily away, and Aliya grabbed her with her free hand. They stumbled clumsily up the hall toward the guardsman, who had been joined by his companion on the watch, and the smaller man swore again.
"Kill 'em, dammit!" he finally roared at his companion, and the bear-man laughed, apparently only too happy to oblige.
The first guard rushed forward to intercept him as he charged, and their weapons clashed loudly in the narrow hallway, echoes bouncing crazily. Aliya attempted to move faster, Iowyn stumbling along as best she could, and the second guard stared for a moment.
"Miss Aliya -- Miss Iowyn --"
"Sorry to trouble you," Aliya murmured, and he chuckled.
"Hurry on -- we'll handle them."
She needed no second urging. The second guard joined the fray just as a strangled cry rang out from his companion, and the smaller man snarled something incomprehensible at their escape. Partway up the stairs, Iowyn pushed away from her sister.
"I can walk."
"Well, we have to run."
Iowyn glared at her. "I can run."
Aliya gave her a doubtful look, but she kept going up the stairs, quickening her pace, and her sister kept up with her well enough. "Where do we go, though?" she mused.
"Away," Iowyn said decisively, causing her sister to jerk momentarily to a halt.
"What are you talking about?"
"They want us." She paused, panting with the effort of walking and talking, but pushed away her sister's offer of support. "They want us to get to Dad. So we have to go away. We'll -- we'll send him a letter, but we have to get away, so that they can't get us and can't get him."
Aliya opened her mouth to argue that this was approximately the stupidest thing she'd ever heard, but as they stepped out into the open hall, a chill washed over her. It was empty, oddly devoid of its usual bustle and life, presumably due to the calamity six floors above them. She couldn't even hear the scuffle down below.
Suppressing a shudder, she turned back to Iowyn. "Then.. let's go. It isn't too far to the next town. They probably won't follow us." She looked at her sister's face for confirmation and received a nod.
Thus agreed, they slipped out the door, but neither would return to the Arena for years, after all that had transpired that day was filed away for dusty history.