In which Antierra plays the game of “plans within plans” and trains Tiki for her first arena fight.
Now the truly difficult part: to detach from these momentous events so as not to get devastated if disaster strikes ‘tomorrow’ – if someone recants and sells out Tieka or if the lovers do something truly stupid. Win, lose or draw, I must carry on. Other equally weighty matters demand to be attended to.
End blog post #89
Begin blog post #90
The storm has blown over. The air is cooling and we return to our normal positions in our straw beds. Tiki is already lying down sleeping as if she had not a care in the world. And why should she carry any cares? This is her world, her way of life, what she is bred for. She has no other expectations but to be the best fighter to enter the arena. I envy her… often.
The morning comes, fresh and clear. We take our places at the wash troughs. The water is cold now but it feels good washing off the sweat of the night. We sit at the tables, following the established rule of rotation so no one gets used to a special place to get special treatment from kitchen staff. I do not see Tiki at the tables but I know she is no longer kitchen hand. I cannot identify Tieka in the daytime but I suspect she must be in the kitchens or one of the young ones passing out the bowls. I’ll find out what she looks like today sometime. It is imperative I know her better and also meet the ‘man’ in question. The plans I’m formulating for them need very careful attention in the near future.
There’s the matter of the corrupt judge to attend to. I send a message via a young trainee who has taken a liking to me, to the Cydroid in the kitchen. Soon the trainee passes by again and whispers, while laying her head on my shoulder, ‘Goronda says she give friend information about red man.’ I thank her gently for the message… and for trusting me. I know she is ecstatic from the recognition. Old fighters carry much power among the young ones. We are their only hope for possibility of a long life. They emulate as well as take energy from us.
That set in motion, I locate Tiki and arrange to continue her training, today with the long sword. We use old swords with rough and dulled edges but even so one can get badly cut or bruised by them. It requires as much skill to avoid contact in training as in the arena. We generally pull no punches here. In fact the opposite is often true: that fighters see each other even more competitively than they see their arena challengers. It is only the women’s equal skills that prevent more killings in training than in actual combat. Also, trainers and handlers like to see us draw each other’s blood and sense the hate that can flow sometimes between sparring partners. You play games here, it’s for keeps.
Tiki has no training on the long sword as yet. So I begin from scratch. I make her hold it steady, straight up to get the feel of its weight. Straight out in front, holding it firmly with both hands to feel it’s gravitational pull. To the side and above her head to feel how it can pull one off-balance, then ninety degrees straight down, point in a pavers crack to illustrate how easy it is to loose control of it for a short bodied person. If you try to swing and did not notice the end is embedded in the sand or floor of the arena, you lose that move and your life.
I can see her frustration and try to ease the tension. No pidgin from me now. “It’s not hard Tiki. Like the staff, make it a part of you. An extension of your arms. Know its length, weight and limits. Remember your opponent has the same weapon so except for body length and strength he has no other advantage.”
“But those mean everything! He reach me before I reach him. How I do this with clumsy sword?”
“Not clumsy, just unfamiliar. You are very smart and you are a bred fighter. Think sword. Your whole body is the sword. Tiki is the sword. Move with it, not against it. Make love. Don’t control, let it flow from your heart, your point of greatest desire. Swing with your body, not just your arm. Not just your sword. OK, this way, look.”
I demonstrate the imaginary pivot point while the sword tip moves one way, I the other while holding it two-handed at arms’ length. I can see the light come on in her face. She smiles and repeats my move. Brilliantly, better than mine. Now we carry on and she improves by the minute until she is a blur of slashing, parrying, stabbing steel and white flesh never in the same place for a second. Truly a work of art. I have to admire her style. I find her another partner to spar with and call a trainer’s attention. He saunters over, gloating over the nude female bodies as he walks along, choosing which ones he’s going to enjoy later.
“What you want, gora?”
“Please, I want you observe this one.” I point to Tiki in full fighting mode with her long sword. “I think this one very good. Worth much. Good bet on fight, even first. Not lose fight for long, long time. Natural fighter. Good gamble for you put money on.”
He looks at me slyly. With some of them I can make positive connections and be recognized as almost human. They rely on my expertise here since I’ve been fighting and training longer than anyone has, including staffers.
“This one you want protect huh? Lover.”
“Please sir, not lover. Just very good fighter, need for you to know. That one in my cage, yes, but not lover.”
“You think it ready for fight? Then we book fight for it. Not problem. We have young fool male in trouble for raping concubine of ‘chnoll’ (aristocrat of the generally hated social strata) and must pay fine cannot pay. Must fight in arena. We put him with this one.” Points at Tiki. “We book fight in one week. Challenger choose weapons three days from fight. Yes?”
“Please, yes, that is very good. Thank you.” I bow and remain without moving while he returns to the shade of an overhang where they installed a table for cards, dice and drinking.
I know that the match will be ‘fair’ in favour of the fighter in this case because they like me (but can never admit it of course) and because it’s Tiki’s first entry. They sometimes try to match new fighters with unskilled challengers. It will be good for Tiki to win her first match fairly easily and probably not get hurt in the bargain. A good deal, as well as I can manage with my limited bargaining influence.
Tiki has tired out her partner and is leaning on the sword, panting and covered in streaks of muddy, dusty sweat. She tosses her head proudly as I approach and salutes me with the sword, her eyes gleaming. The partner says to me in our throaty, low voice:
“That one very dangerous. Is killer. Please, I no fight it more.”
“You may find another partner, and thank you for testing her for me.”
Always when I say thank you to these women they remain surprised, even shocked. It is the word you use to men, not to women. For someone to thank them means recognition of their humanity, equality, worth. That simple word goes a long way anywhere it is used but never more so than here.
“Yes. I drink, I feel strong. Ready. More sword?”
End blog post #90