Fallajon gasped. Îra looked at her, wondering what was so shocking, and saw her friend’s face turn white. “What is it?” she asked.
“Marquísa,” she said in a barely-audible voice, “you will never guess what just happened,” and burst into tears.
Îra was off the bunk in an instant and at her side. She peered into the darkened courtyard below. Gradually, she came to make out two lovers kissing in the shadows. Disgust filled her like a bitter taste. Why do people feel the need to kiss where other people can plainly see them? Honestly, they have no common courtesy for the feelings of others who strangely as it seems may not take enjoyment from the spectacle. Still, what upset Fallajon so?
A stray ray of light from a torch moving across the top of the battlements brushed over the man’s hair. It shone ruddy for a second before the shadows took hold of it once more.
There was only one man in the Bethjuedt division with red hair. Aichan! she nearly yelled in recognition.
“How DARE he!” she whispered, her arms tightening around Fallajon’s shoulders. “Dear, I’ll kill him,” she told her friend, heading towards the door with deadly purpose.
Fallajon grabbed her arm. “Don’t, Îra,” she begged, eyes red and still crying.
She softened a little. “And why not?”
“I need you,” she cried. “And I love him.”
Îra sighed. “Alright. But only because you keep me from it, and you’re like my little sister.” she acquiesced. “But that’s why I will not let him get away with this.” Clearly, Fallajon was in no state for promises of revenge. “Come on, dear,” Îra prompted, leading her to the lower bunk. “You just cry it out.”
“You told me so,” Fallajon whimpered after a while.
“Did I?” Îra murmured absently. “Let’s forget about it, shall we?” She petted Fallajon’s raven hair comfortingly and felt her nod. “Shall I tell you a story?” Another nod. “Once, there was a beautiful young girl who was the daughter of a true Raiite and a kât. Her name was Kâtirai, and she had long, shining hair the color of honey and eyes as grey as the sky on a gorgeous cloudy day. She was an orphan, and she lived among the kâtes of the river…”
In the training room, Aichan dueled with one of the quísa. Îra strode at him from behind and grabbed his shoulder. Whirling him around, she punched his cheek with her left fist so hard, his head swung to the left. Even as he turned back to face her, her fist repeated the blow. Then she swung up with her right fist. There was a loud click as his jaw snapped together.
By then, hands were grasping her, pulling her back. Other hands reached for Aichan to steady him. “Are you crazy?” one of the quísah shouted at her.
Her rage was up, though. She would not back away. “How dare you treat Fallajon like you did!” she screamed at Aichan.
He looked confused. “What?”
“Don’t think we don’t know. We saw you last night, kissing another girl,” she accused, finger pointed at him.
“What has that got to do with anything?” he asked.
“‘What has tha—’ Normal people don’t go around kissing other girls when they’re seeing someone already!” A few of the onlookers murmured agreement.
“Seeing her? Wait a minute,” he held up his hands, “we weren’t seeing each other. Just a bit of harmless fun, that’s all.”
“Harmless? Really? Then you didn’t see her cry herself to sleep last night! You got her to fall in love with you, and you don’t even care.”
“Wait now, marquísa, I never meant for her to take things that way.”
“Does it matter? You’ve hurt my best friend and I’ll hate you till the day I die,” she swore.
“Go ahead. You really think a little hate from some puny, ugly man-hater bothers me?” He crossed his arms and gave her a disdainful look, the effect of which was somewhat lessened by the blood on his cheek and bruise already forming around his left eye.
“Well you’re an ignorant, selfish jerk who thinks women are just toys to amuse you and then throw away,” she retorted.
“Proud nobody,” he shot back.
“Both of you be silent or I’ll take a whip to you,” the piercing voice of Çawl cut the fight short. “I do not care what the problem is, this is not the right place to deal with it, nor the right manner. Îra, go muck the stables. Aichan, go to the armory and clean the pile of armor against the last wall.”
“But it’s the middle of the day, and the forge is heated,” Aichan protested. In the summer, the armory was like an oven.
“That is my final judgment,” the Commander declared. “Move on, the rest of you. There is nothing here for you to see.”
Îra scowled as she stalked off to the stables. At least I didn’t whine like Aichan did, she comforted herself as she began the nasty task.
“The Commander sent me to muck the stalls,” she told the stable keeper. He pointed her to a wheelbarrow and a shovel with a grunt.
As she shoveled the stinking piles out of the stables, however, Aichan’s words kept repeating in her head. “Puny, ugly”… “nobody”… “puny”…nobody…ugly…puny…ugly… ugly… She shook her head. Stop that! she screamed at herself. It doesn’t matter what he thinks. Still, a quiet voice in her whispered, ugly. It would not go away.
“Îra, I need to see you in my office immediately,” Çawl ordered.
“Yes, Commander.” She followed him into the room next to the gate.
“Have a seat, Îra,” he instructed as he sat down behind his desk. She obeyed. “I know Aichan and your squad lost yesterday.” She looked away from him, embarrassed. “Now, rumors have begun coming my way as to why you lost. Would you care to tell me what truly took place?”
Knowing better than to try to hide the truth from the Commander, she told him everything. As she spoke, her actions in retrospect appalled her. There goes any chance of me becoming a captain. What was I thinking? What sort of leader breaks out into a personal dispute in the middle of battle? She finished with, “I am sorry, Commander. I know I was utterly wrong to do what I did. Please give me whatever punishment you see fit.”
His expression was grave. “I had hoped you two would learn to get along in the past weeks,” he said, “but I see now that it is not so. I am expecting two spies with vital information. When they have come, I am sending you two on a mission into Rai the province together. In the mean time, you two will take your squad to the Bethindrê division, where they will stay until you return. In Bethindrê you will deliver this sealed envelope to the General there. You will leave immediately after dinner. During the time remaining, prepare yourself and your squad for the journey; and also, you will utter an apology to the squad and Aichan.”
That is it? Surely that is too easy! part of her said. The other part protested, Apologize to Aichan?! How humiliating and wretched. It’ll only encourage him. Torn, she simply stood and with a look inquired to Çawl for permission to leave.
“Here is the letter you are to carry.” Çawl handed her the parchment and she placed it inside her pouch. “Let no one know of it. You are dismissed.”
She bowed to him and left to obey his orders.
 Erna í Cí: A classic Maraian novel of war and love.
 “Take My stone of time to the Isle of the Stars. Look there for Fallabâ (“Mother of Beauty”) so as to save her for—”
 Bethindrê: “City of the Indrê/the Stars”