Wednesday Serial: Farther Part LXVIII

Anie fire_handANIE

“Up, up, up!” Rhian called as she pushed through the door. The yellow morning light fell in around her, and she strode to the windows to fling the shutters open. Her clear voice still woke more of the sleepers than the sudden rush of light.

“Up and out of bed!” she called. “We’ve got work to do!”

Nessim looked at her suspiciously, while Sevi just raised his head and squinted tiredly at her.

“Breakfast?” he murmured.

“You’ll only have time if you get up now,” Rhian told him, and every child in the room suddenly scrambled out of bed, some tumbling, some alert, some moving only because they couldn’t be the only one who stayed still. Anie moved slowly, not sure why, but hesitant to be at the head of that crowd. She was tired, she knew, but she felt as if she had stuck her nose out far enough of ahead of herself for the day.

They ran down the length of the hall and found a hot breakfast waiting for them, the same as it had been the day before. They sat at the tables, and they ate, and Anie watched the room. She looked up at Aled’s shoulder, and at Wynn, and all the others in their green coats, and she felt small.

Seryn was nowhere nearby.

Anie wasn’t sure whether that was sweet or sour. She would have liked to know where the woman was, at least. But maybe it was hard to find ghosts in daylight. Anie repeated what Seryn had said to herself. Once, then twice, and she smiled very slowly, remembering the stunned awe on Jeyd’s face. There was something sweet in it, Anie thought.

“Meet me outside the wall!” Rhian called as she left the table.

Cidra looked at her retreating back, blinking. Rhian didn’t look back, as if she didn’t need to, as if she knew that they would pick up her dishes and follow her. Denna got up first, and Sevi stayed close behind her. The others glanced around, and stood up too. Slow, uncertain, but moving in the same direction. They left their dishes with the washers, pushed through the double doors of the main hall, and tripped hesitantly through the fortress gate.

Rhian was waiting, all by herself, with a long staff in her hand. It was shorter than she was but just a few inches, one blunt end resting in the dirt by her toe, and the other capped by her hand next to her cheek. She leaned on it as if it were a lazy, comfortable thing, though Anie could see the dents in the hard-beaten wood. The stick had been used for a lot more than most.

“Do you know what this is?” she asked the group of them.

They shifted on their feet, and moved.

Rhian smiled. “This is a staff,” she said. “It’s the sort of thing your mother and your father probably told you not to play with, right? A very large stick that you hit things with.”

Anie snickered a little to herself, and so did some of the others.

“Do you want to play with it?” Rhian asked.

Anie watched some of the others nod, before she considered it and shrugged. Sevi was almost shaking his head, but probably only because Denna had wandered forward enough to reach for it.

“There are rules,” Rhian said. “To make sure you don’t hurt yourself.” She raised the staff in front of herself, shifting it into two hands. Tilting it to one side and then the other, she brought it close to her body and pressed it away in an elegant looping figure. “It’s very easy to get your fingers caught, when you run against someone else. But I can teach you.”

The nods came a little faster the second time around, and Rhian’s smile grew a little wider.

“Do you want to hear the first rule?” she asked.

“Yes,” Anie said. The others agreed just as quickly.

“Listen close,” Rhian said.

Anie waited, still and quiet, and felt the others lean forward to watch Rhian intently.

“The very first rule is: do everything I say.”

They blinked at her. Cidra’s eyebrows came down immediately and Nessim reeled back on his heels.

“Do everything I say,” Rhian repeated, as light and easy as she had the first time.

Denna nodded hesitantly, and everyone else stayed still.

“Got it?” Rhian asked.

Anie nodded very slightly.

“Everything,” Rhian said.

There were a few more nods, steadier, easier.

Rhian nodded over her shoulder. “Run all the way around the wall once, and stop when you get back to me.” When none of them moved, she laughed silently, grinning at them. “When you do, I’ll have one of these for each of you.” She shook her staff a little, moving it back into one hand. Then she nodded over her shoulder again. “Go.”

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