December 5, 2014 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
Saydrie swung both his fists, his left connecting a moment before his right. The left hand hit the front-most Art House boy in the nose; the second fist hit him in the jaw.
Before anyone could say anything at all, Saydrie hit the next one behind the knee with a kick that Tairiekie hadn’t seen coming.
This was going to get messy fast. She stopped focusing on Saydrie, picked one of the remaining two Art House students, and dove at her new target.
She wasn’t a fighter, not by Martial House standards, not by the skirmishes she sometimes saw in the streets, but she’d learned a thing or two from her father and then, more quietly and in a back room, some more important things from her mother.
She grabbed the guy’s hair, pulled his face down, and head-butted him, before stepping hard on the insole of his foot and then, a moment later, shoving a hand in his throat. He hadn’t been expecting any of it, she thought, so he folded up like a letter.
She heard an oof-thud off to the other side of her, a couple meaty thumps, and then another oof. She kicked her target one more time, to be sure that he stayed down until she got away, and danced backwards.
Saydrie was wiping his mouth where a little line of blood had trickled down. Enrie was trying to rearrange the mess that had been made of her braids.
On the other side, their opponents were either down or backing away. “That was nasty,” the one in front complained. “I always knew Byitties fought dirty, but he must have been tainting the two of you with his fecal habits, too.”
“Some people just don’t know when to shut their mouths.” Enrie turned to the friend – an Art House girl who was bleeding from her nose profusely. “If I were you, I’d take him away from here before he gets you hurt again.”
“If I were you, I wouldn’t be fighting in the courtyard.” House Monitor Libkazaari’s voice rang across the open space. “This is not the sort of behavior we expect from first-year Pupils.”
“It’s not the sort of behavior they expect Pupils to get caught at.“ It was only when Tairiekie heard the familiar voice – either Riensin or Kietsaip – snickering in the background that she realized they’d attracted an audience. They hadn’t been fighting for that long, had they? It hadn’t seemed like long at all, at the very least.
“It’s not the sort of thing Pupils should be doing in the courtyard. All seven of you, to my office.” The House Monitor stopped, seeming to assess the situation. “The four of you – to the infirmary. When they are done with you there, then come immediately to my office. The other three of you, straight to my office.”
There was no point in arguing. They had been fighting. They had attacked, actually. Tairiekie wiped her knuckles off on the red part of her uniform, bowed to the House Monitor, and followed.
“That was pretty good, even if you did get caught.” Riensin-or-Kietsaip – probably Kietsaip, from the grin, and the pen stuck behind his left ear, whispered the praise at her as they walked by. When she glanced back at him, he was bowing. Actually, quite a number of students were bowing, although almost an equal number had turned their back.
“I think we made an impression.” Enrie’s whisper was barely loud enough to carry to the three of them, but she emphasized it with a few pointed hand gestures.
Not hand gestures per se, Tairiekie realized, but the gesture language she’d spoken of days earlier. Well, that worked, too.
Tairiekie just nodded. Yeah. That wasn’t really the impression she’d wanted to make, but they’d definitely gotten the attention of at least some of the Academy.
And, unfortunately, the House Monitor. She glanced over at Saydrie; he had his head down and his shoulders hunched… but he was smiling, and the thumbs of one hand were rubbing over the knuckles of the other hand.
It had felt good. It had felt really good to walk up to that obnoxious self-righteous broken horn of a lame goat and stomp on them. It had felt good to protect her teammate. It had felt good to just do what she wanted to do.
Maybe she was in the wrong House after all. Maybe she should transfer to Martial House.
No, that was stupid. She could punch someone in the nose, but she’d much rather ruin them from afar with a complicated and home-made device.
“Sit.” They reached house Monitor Libkazaari’s office far too quickly. And it had far too many very uncomfortable chairs, as if she was used to doing this sort of thing very commonly. “All of you, sit down, sit down. Now. Let’s see. Tairiekie, what do you think happened, in ten words or less, mm?”
Tairiekie held out her hands, counted out her words, and spoke carefully. “They were again calling Saydrie horrible names; we stopped them.”
“Saydrie chose to interrupt their ridiculous tirade; we backed him.” She gestured to Tairiekie and herself when she said “we.”
He counted twice, rattled off something in what had to be Bitrani, and then tried again in Calenyena.
“They called my friends the worst things. I made them pay.”
“That was eleven words.”
“It was only ten in Bitrani, ma’am. That was the translation.”
“Hrrm. I’ll give it to you. So, they were being insulting – to either Saydrie or to the girls, so I can hazard a guess as to the sort of thing they were saying. I can imagine why you reacted as you did, but, tell me – they didn’t actually offer you any violence?”
“It doesn’t need to be physical violence to make someone feel insulted and violated, ma’am.” Saydrie bowed deeply from the waist in his chair.
“I agree, but you weren’t actually attacked physically before you attacked them?”
“No, ma’am. As I said, they were being unbearably rude to my teammates, so I made them pay.”
“And girls? I saw that Saydrie wasn’t the only one swinging punches.”
Enrie once again beat Tairiekie to an answer. “We moved to neutralize the threats before they realized they were threats, ma’am.”
“You… ah, your parents are the diplomats, aren’t they?”
“Ambassadors, ma’am. Yes. Yes, we moved to do what we could do, as fast as we could, before it became four on one.” She paused, and then added, significantly, “again.”
“You three seem to enjoy the word ‘again.’ So, you wish me to know that this has happened before?”
“We wish you to know that this sort of thing happens quite frequently.” Enrie was doing very well at speaking for all three of them. Tairiekie let her go.
“You beat up other pupils all the time?”
“No, ma’am.” Enrie kept her voice very level. Tairiekie was impressed. Her fists were clenched in her lap. “People are cruel all the time. But you knew that.”
“Pupils are cruel beings. When it gets to the level of physical violence, then we have a problem.”
“Considering the bruises Saydrie has been wearing, ma’am-”
“And Gaikvya, and Eselania … also Tudines, just to name a few.” This time, Tairiekie had to interject.
“And many of the other students from far-flung regions-”
“I have been covering those bruises!” Saydrie interrupted their back-in-forth with a mortified whine.
“You missed the one on the back of your neck, the day I straightened out your braids.”
Saydrie colored and ducked his head. “Thank you, Enerenarie.”
“You’re in my team. That’s what I do.”
“All three of you take team very seriously. Is that why you attacked the boys from Art House?”
They shared a glance. Tairiekie nodded at Enrie, but Enrie gestured her on. Hunh, okay. “We didn’t attack them, ma’am. We were fighting back.”
“And yet they threw no punches.”
“They didn’t get a chance to throw many today, but isn’t that the way wars are fought? A skirmish here, a battle there?” Oh, by the Three, why was she doing the talking? She coughed, and looked the House Monitor in the eyes. “Just because we hit them before they had a chance today doesn’t meant their intent wasn’t cruel. Haven’t there been wars fought and won with words as the primary weapon?”
The Monitor smiled. “You have a way with words, Tairiekie. Have you thought of changing Houses?”
“I’m not the diplomatic sort, ma’am. I’m rather good at throwing punches, but I prefer a wrench.”
“Well, it’s lucky for them you didn’t have a wrench in your hand today.”
“Rather.” She couldn’t help but smile.
The Monitor smiled back – and then the smile slipped off her face. “You understand that, regardless of motivation, you will have to be punished.”
“Yes, ma’am.” They said it in ragged chorus.
“They will also be punished. It would help if you could tell me exactly what it is that they said.”
“‘And there’s the little Byittie Whore-boy with his mistresses. Do you take turns with him, or do you all crowd into the first-year dorm beds together?’” Saydrie’s voice was flat, entirely without tone, and his eyes were closed. Tairiekie flinched anyway. “‘It’s certainly our business how he’s tainting pure Calenyena lines, and, what’s more, how the two of yourself are whoring yourselves out for, what, a little tutoring in History and Literature? You can’t go around doing that sort of thing when there are pure Calenyena men around who need some relief.’”
“Aah.” The House Monitor pursed her lips and took a few notes. “You are certain of the wording, then? Whore-boy… with his…”
“‘Mistresses. Do you take turns with them…’ Yes, ma’am, I’m entirely certain of the wording. We learn quite a few memorization techniques in the enclaves, especially when we are studying religious texts.”
“And you took offense… ‘tainting pure Calenyena lines…’”
“‘…and, what’s more, how the two of you are whoring yourselves out.’ Yes, of course I did.”
“I hadn’t finished, my apologies. At what he said about your teammates?”
“Of course we did!” Tairiekie found herself half out of her seat. “Wouldn’t you take offense at someone calling your friend that?”
“Yes, of course, but I’m noting that what you took offense at was what they called Saydrie, and what Saydrie took offense at…”
Saydrie shrugged. “They can call me a Byittie all they want. It doesn’t hurt me any. But they brought Enerenarie and Tairiekie into their poison, and I can’t accept that. They’re my friends, and they don’t deserve that type of treatment.”
“And then Enerenarie and Tairiekie jumped into the fight…”
“To neutralize his opponents before it could get ugly, ma’am.”
“Well, we didn’t want them hitting him, did we?” Enrie looked so very innocent. “And besides, nobody should call our friend something like that.”
“You take your team formation very seriously.”
“We’re supposed to.” Tairiekie lifted halfway from her seat again. “We were told to. We were told that our teams were as important as our grades. We were told to support our teammates.”
“Sit down, Pupil Tairiekie.”
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