“I’ve already told you I’m not going to do that!”
“And I’ve already made it clear that you don’t have a choice in the matter. Move!”
Glaciem grit her teeth as she stared down Strong Heart from across the courts. The idiot was asking things she knew neither one of them would be capable of doing. Strong Heart raised his eyebrows as he deftly swung his wooden sword from one hand to the other, his legs wide in a defensive stance.
“And what do you suppose will happen to me when your parents find out I stuck an ice dagger through your heart because you were too slow to block it?” She asked as she walked toward him, her steps slowed by the sand.
Strong Heart rolled his eyes. “You know I’m perfectly capable of blocking your throws.” He retorted as he watched her draw near.
“When they’re controlled and not aimed at your chest.” She snapped.
She was obliged to look up at him now that he had surpassed her height, the five years that had passed having done much to change the son of the First. Though he was still somewhat thin compared to what he would surely become once he had reached adulthood, he was extremely well built. His muscular frame threw Glaciem’s own lithe body into shadow as his shoulders blocked the light above them.
“You need to start learning how to take orders.” Strong Heart growled, looking down at her.
His black hair had come loose from its tie in the back, and it obscured his face, giving him the appearance of being much older than seventeen.
“You need to start learning how to give good orders.” Glaciem replied evenly.
She knew how to rile him and questioning his authority was by far the best way to do it quickly.
“Listen, Elemental. Narratus is not here to tell me to stop this time. He put you in my care and it is high time you understand I am an authority figure over you whether you like it or not. You will do as I say and you will do it graciously. I have given you an order. You are obliged to obey it. Now move!” Strong Heart hissed as he bent down to sneer in Glaciem’s face.
Glaciem let a defiant smile creep over her face. “No.” She whispered.
Strong Heart’s leg moved faster than Glaciem could block it and the kick sent her back several feet. She yelled as the air rushed from her lungs, grunting when she fell into the sand. Strong Heart ran towards her as fast as the ground would allow him, and she was forced to roll to the side before he could bring the sword down where she had been.
“What on earth is wrong with you?” She snarled as she stood up, holding her side.
“If you will not obey the commands of the Son of the First, then you will be punished according to the Laws of the Village!” He shouted back.
Glaciem’s eyes darkened. She had suffered enough of his arrogance. If he wanted to fight with her, then so be it. She stretched out a hand and the water from the bin in the corner rushed up to meet her. As it met her hand, it stiffened and formed into a curved sword. Strong Heart, seeing she had armed herself properly, ran at her again. She ran to meet him.
Their swords vibrated from the impact of their blows, but both Strong Heart and Glaciem ignored the sharp pangs that wracked their hands and arms as they continued to hack into one another’s weapons. Glaciem grit her teeth, moving as quickly as she could, forcing Strong Heart to block her blows more quickly than he was comfortable doing. She was intent on wearing him down and was well on her way to achieving her goal when Strong Heart threw his sword with such force that it shattered her own weapon. The bits of ice melted and sunk deep into the sand.
The sand had been put there by Narratus’ request. He knew it would make it not only difficult to walk, thereby strengthening both Strong Heart and Glaciem, but it would also suck away any water Glaciem had been foolish enough to drop. There was no way she would be able to retrieve it from each individual grain quickly enough.
For a moment the two froze, staring at one another, Glaciem poised, but without water, and Strong Heart with a badly splintered training sword. She knew he rightfully didn’t see her as being completely helpless while unarmed. They had both been well-trained in hand to hand combat as well as with weapons and Strong Heart’s actions showed he was not beyond attacking her without a sword to aid her. They had a choice; either stop or continue, though how it would continue would solely depend on Glaciem’s next choice of action.
She weighed her options. Currently, she was closest to the hall leading to the entrance of the House of Meeting. She could run and try to make it to the stairs before Strong Heart could drag her back down. After that, she would attempt to disappear until Strong Heart had calmed down. The risk would be him overtaking her before she made it to the stairs and forcing her to continue their fight which, without water, would be extremely difficult. The alternative would be attempting to fight Strong Heart without water now. Strong Heart had grown powerful and was just as skilled if not more so than she, let alone the fact that he was stronger simply by virtue of his size in comparison to hers.
Glaciem bolted towards the hallways and to the stairway that would eventually lead her to the streets of the Village. She would do her best to lose Strong Heart by taking alleys and turning back as often as she could. She prayed she would be able to find Narratus before the son of the First succeeded in his quest to destroy her.
As she flew down the hall, she could hear Strong Heart shouting in raged protest as he followed. She chanced a look behind her shoulder. For all the speed and advantage she had in being closer to the exit, Strong Heart was catching up far too quickly for her own comfort. She looked forward and pushed her legs as hard as she could, gaining an extra sprint of speed.
She reached the stairs just as Strong Heart grabbed at her tunic. She yanked herself free, managing to keep her speed and balance as she continued to bound up the stairs in twos and threes, sometimes using her hands to help propel her body forward. Strong Heart was gaining on her. She would have no choice but to lose him in the streets, her original idea of backtracking through side streets no longer an option with him right on her heels. Her lungs were on fire by the time she reached the door, but she had just enough of her wits to pivot and slam the door in Strong Heart’s face as he neared the top of the stairs. She careened through the small courtyard just before the gate that separated the House of Meeting from the rest of the Village.
“Move!” Glaciem barked at people as she raced through the ever bustling streets of the Village.
She overturned baskets and knocked roughly into those passing by as she weaved her way in and out of the crowds. She took as many sharp turns as she could, doing everything to make it impossible for Strong Heart to track her. She gave up on the idea of finding Narratus, her goal now was to simply make it to the home of the First. After that, she would get to her room and scale the wall to the library. The library was always locked and there was no way Strong Heart would be able to follow her seeing as he had never been successful in the past. She flipped around a corner and lost her footing, yelping as she rolled across the street and under people’s feet. She settled heavily in front of the large entry of the First Elder’s dwelling. She panted, desperately trying to fill her lungs with air as she pushed herself up.
A pair of brown boots stopped in front of her face.
Glaciem looked up and groaned.
“We’re not finished.” Strong Heart snarled, breathing heavily.
Glaciem stared at the stone ceiling of the infirmary. She couldn’t move, nor did she want to. Beside her, Strong Heart looked very much the same. Every part of her body screamed in pain, sharp twinges coursing through bones that had been broken and set and then reset once more when they had failed to set properly the first time. Her throat was parched, but she didn’t dare try to open her mouth to call for water for fear of reopening the deep cut in her bottom lip. It had only just begun to close.
She grimaced and closed her eyes, reliving the nightmare she and Strong Heart had put themselves through. What she thought was a wise decision in trying to get out in the open had turned out to be a grievous mistake. She might have given herself the advantage in resupplying herself with water, but Strong Heart had also been able to find new, deadlier weapons of his own.
They hadn’t held back; each throwing water and steel with the same intent; to maim. Strong Heart had managed to land the first blow. He had sliced her right forearm when she had misjudged a step that nearly ended with her falling into his blade. By that time, crowds had begun to gather, as well as the First, Second and Tenth Elders. Both Glaciem and Strong Heart had been deaf to the threats they collectively shouted, their rage and hatred for one another too great to listen to reason.
Strong Heart had hesitated when he saw the blood pouring out from her arm, as if shocked by the fact that they were in fact fighting with real weapons. Glaciem had taken full advantage of his hesitation and had thrown ice daggers towards him while somersaulting away from his sword. It did not escape her how ironic it was that she had been obliged to throw her daggers at Strong Heart’s chest in order to protect herself; the very thing she had refused to do earlier.
Glaciem sighed and gently let her head fall to the side, listening to the sound of Strong Heart rustling in his sleep. His face was twisted in pain and she could see his jaw clenching. Much to her surprise, as she studied him she felt a pang of sympathy at seeing his discomfort and though she herself had no desire to move, she shifted to slowly raise herself up to a sitting position, biting her tongue to keep from crying. She lifted an arm and nearly passed out, but still she persisted, breathing steadily to try and manage the pain.
From across the infirmary, she could see a basin full of life giving water. Glaciem whimpered as she gently called to it, begging it to come to her without too much of a fuss. The water obliged her and gently sloshed out of its bowl, languidly traveling across the open air to meet her hands. She breathed a sigh of relief as she relaxed her arms ever so, immediately tensing them back when the water threatened to drop to the ground.
As slowly as she could manage, she maneuvered the water to Strong Heart, forming it into a ball that rippled as it floated. He was only a few feet from her, but the effort took every bit of strength she had. She let it hover close to his mouth for a moment before gently grazing his lips with the water. Even in his sleep, he recognized what it was and, with his eyes still closed, slowly swallowed until the ball was half its size. Glaciem pulled the water back to her and sucked down the rest of it.
She turned to look at Strong Heart. His eyes were open and he was studying her.
“You’re welcome.” She said, her voice cracking.
Her lip immediately opened and began to bleed, but she didn’t care. She gently lowered herself back down, trying to ignore the spasms of pain in her wrists as she used them to bear her weight before settling back down underneath the covers of her bed.
Strong Heart looked back up at the ceiling. “What I did was…” He trailed off.
“Incredibly stupid.” Glaciem finished for him.
He chuckled. “Yes, it was. But you did deserve it.”
Glaciem returned his chuckle, oddly content at talking with him. “Yes, I did.” She conceded.
They stared at the ceiling in silence, both lost in their own thoughts. It was a few minutes before Strong Heart Spoke again. “They say we’ve both been out for a month.”
“Who said that?”
“The Third, Fourth, and Fifth.”
“Why was the Fifth Hominem here?” Glaciem asked.
“Because he’s the Keeper of Death. Apparently they weren’t sure we would make it.”
Glaciem turned her head to look at Strong Heart. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you that badly.” She said quietly. “It was foolish. It was selfish.”
Strong Heart let his head fall to the side. His eyes locked with hers. “You should have just listened to what I asked you to do.”
“What you were asking was unreasonable.”
“No, you were being unreasonable.”
“No, you were being an ass.”
“I am in charge of you.”
Strong Heart and Glaciem both stopped abruptly as pain shot through their sides from their raised voices. They both grimaced and held their breath, waiting for the agony coursing across their rib cages to subside.
“Why do you bicker with me about it?” Strong Heart asked, being the first to recover. “It’s not a question of your abilities, it’s simply a matter of positions of authority.”
“I bicker with you because it’s ridiculous to think that I have to listen to a boy when I am under no obligation whatsoever to stay in the Village in the first place.” Glaciem retorted.
Strong Heart’s eyes darkened. “I’m not a boy.” He said, his voice was low.
Glaciem stared back at him. “Neither are you a leader.” She swallowed. “At least, not yet.”
He studied her before clenching his jaws and looking back at the ceiling. “Regardless, you might just get your wish.”
“What do you mean?”
Strong Heart pursed his lips. “I overheard quite a bit yesterday, more than offhand comments regarding how long we’ve been asleep.” He looked back at Glaciem. “The Elders must decide whether or not to exile you.”
Glaciem blinked. “You can’t be serious. Why on earth would they exile me?” She scoffed.
“Because you attacked the Son of the First. Whether you would believe it or not, I am actually respected more so than you are in this Village.”
She grit her teeth. “You attacked me first.”
Strong Heart smiled at her, though his features were hard. “No, I sentenced you first.”
Glaciem stared at him. “You don’t hold the authority to sentence me by the Village Laws or any other law you can name.”
“I do.” Strong Heart said quietly, barely nodding his head. He paused before continuing. “Would it really be so bad if they did? You clearly hate me, hate the Village, hate my parents. The only person you tolerate is the Tenth Hominem and he is of no account. To be exiled would mean freedom for you.”
The thought hadn’t occurred to her before. Glaciem pondered what Strong Heart had said. As she considered the possibility of being exiled, Narratus’ blue eyes filled her thoughts. Could she leave knowing she would never be allowed to see him again? And what of Strong Heart’s claims, that she hated him? Even as she thought it, she realized she didn’t hate him entirely, but neither did she feel any great amount of love towards him.
“I don’t want you to be exiled.”
Glaciem looked at Strong Heart in surprise. “Why not? You don’t like me any more than I like you.”
Strong Heart opened his mouth, but closed it again, his jaw clenching. He opened his mouth again. “I think that, had we not been forced together, we might have been good friends.” He said finally.
“Why do you think that?” Glaciem asked.
“Because we are both bigger than the realities in which we’re living. We are both warriors. We are both obstinately loyal to those we choose to love.” He looked at her. “We’re too much alike to be considered mentor and student, but that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t have been close companions.”
Glaciem studied Strong Heart. “You’re being uncharacteristically insightful.” She said after a moment, though her tone was not unkind.
Strong Heart grinned. “Three broken ribs will do that to you, among other things.”
“I don’t like your name.” Glaciem said suddenly, changing the subject.
“What?” Strong Heart furrowed his brows.
“I’ve never liked it. It’s so…pompous.”
“It bears significant meaning to my parents. My mother especially.” Strong Heart bristled slightly at the possibility of someone criticizing his mother.
“I understand, but it just doesn’t suit you.”
He snorted. “Well then, what name would you have given me?”
She paused and grinned. “I would call you Bicker. No…Bick. I would call you Bick.”
“Bick?” He said incredulously. “Why on earth would you call me Bick?”
“It’s as you said before. We bicker all the time.”
“That’s a ridiculous reason for a name.”
“I like it. I shall call you Bick forever.”
“You’re welcome to try to stop me.”
Strong Heart pursed his lips, but his eyes were more kind than Glaciem had ever seen them before. He opened his mouth to mock protest, but before he could speak the door opened. They both gingerly turned their heads towards the door behind Strong Heart. Narratus entered the room. His eyes were heavy and Glaciem immediately knew something was wrong.
“Narratus?” She asked cautiously, the very real possibility of exile flooded her thoughts once more.
He looked at her a long while. “We have much to discuss. All three of us.” He said at length.