The Red Hand Part 19
by Shane Migliavacca
The Red Hand Part Nineteen Eleventh Tyro
I lie on my bed waiting. Waiting for a visitor that never comes. After storming out of training this morning I expected Tenth, Ninth or maybe Maebh to show up looking for me. Perhaps they’d try to sweet talk me back or at least scream at me for being an idiot. Hours pass and they never materialize. Instead I lie here staring at the ceiling. I try not to think about how I felt back there. When I had that girl pinned. I was going to break her arm. What my face must have looked like. All that anger. I try closing my eyes and I see her terror filled face looking back at me.
Unable to sleep, I get up. Well if they won’t come to me I’ll go to them. Lay it out for them. I don’t care about any of this, I just want to go home. I pull open the fur blanket covering the entrance. I jump back a little, surprised. Standing there is my opponent from this morning.
“Come to haunt me in the flesh?”
“I’m sorry I did not mean to-” She starts.
“No. No. I’m the one that’s sorry. What can I do for you?”
“I came to tell you that I am sorry for being a weak opponent.” She says earnestly.
This makes me laugh loudly as I let out all the pent up tension in my gut.
“You were great, you just caught me on a bad day. What’s your name anyway?”
“I am Sixth Tyro.”
“Sixth Tyro, we are not allowed a single name or a clan name until we’ve passed.” She says. Her eyes are bright green almost the same color as a new leaf. Her light purple skin is less rough looking then Tenth’s. Her scales or markings are whatever are less pronounced. The way she wears her short black hair is a lot like a military buzz-cut.
“How old are you anyway?”
“I hatched one cycle ago.” She says matter-of-factly.
Damn. They do age different. She’s only a year old but looks sixteen. Now I really do feel shitty for trying to break her arm.
“What are you up to now?” I ask.
“I am free for the rest of today.”
“Cool. What to hang?”
“Hang from what?”
“Never mind. Just follow me for a while.”
I take her outside with me when I go to feed Wolfie. Sixth Tyro gets scared when she sees the guards at the entrance. But I convince her to follow me out. They just give us a quick glance, not saying anything. She tells me this is the first time she’s seen the outside since hatching. Her eyes widen as she takes in the desert stretching out around us. She really is only a child. Yet they’re already training her to be a warrior. Their childhood appears to be brief from what I’ve seen. I haven't seen very many really young ones. Maybe they keep them somewhere till they’re a little older.
As we approach Wolfie starts howling in anticipation. I think he’s been hunting in the desert at night. I’ve found small bones littered about. Hopefully they’re from some kind of animal. I haven’t heard of any guards reported missing. Sixth Tyro is even more terrified by Wolfie then she was of the guards. After a little reassuring I get her to throw him a piece of food. We stay out here a little while until she gets fidgety and wants to go back inside. I bid my farewells to my friend and the two of us head back in.
“And he does not try to eat you?” She asks.
“Not so far. I kind of saved his life. I like hanging out with him up there. You know? Get away from it all.”
“Some place to be alone?”
She smiles warmly at me. “There is a place I go to be alone. Would you wish to see it?” I can hear the nervous anticipation in her voice. She really wants to impress me.
“Sure, lead on.”
I follow her through the large open community center towards the back of the cavern. Not far from the tunnel that leads to The Bleeding Ground is another pathway. One that arches upwards along a stone ledge and then into a tunnel. She tells me eagerly that she comes up here often to get away from her fellow tyros. They’re expected to live together do things as a group during their training. But she prefers to be on her own sometimes. This she tells me is why she hopes to become a scout.
The tunnel finally opens into another large cavern. This one is filled with green. Plants of all kinds line the walls and floor. It smells a little musty and a bit like pine. The ceiling here is low. There are large skins tied to the ceiling in spots. Set about the plants are large crystals like the ones used for lighting. There are a few lizards milling about spaced out here and there. They appear to be tending the various crops. Some tend to the crystals. Standing next to them with their arms outstretched. They appear to be using the light created for the plants. I wonder if they chose this job or did they flunk out at being warriors?
“This is amazing.” I tell her. And really it is. I don’t have to fake the wonder in my voice. I would have never guessed they’d have anything like this.
“The plants comfort me. I like to nap here among them.” She says. Her voice is so earnest. I feel a bit sorry for her and the other “children” here. I know it’s not my culture and I shouldn’t judge them, but it’s hard not to. These guys should be able to experience being children. Not just growing up warriors in training, but this world is harsh, maybe that’s just a foolhardy thought.
“It took our ancestors much time and work to find the plants that would grow and thrive here. Back then it was greener above then below.”
“You know a lot about this.” I say, indicating the plants.
“Oh yes, it is very fascinating.” She answers as she bends down and touches a large leafed plant. “They are so peaceful.”
I feel like I’m intruding here. Watching her with the plants. “Why don’t you do this instead, of you know…being a warrior.”
“I was not chosen for this. It was deemed I would best serve as a warrior or scout. Each is picked by how they can best serve.”
They really don’t get any choice. And Sixth here doesn’t care whatsoever. But then they’re raised not knowing anything else. I could tell her that there’s another way. Be what she wants to be. But in truth I’m not some champion of social change. This isn’t my world, my culture. Would they be better off? Who says our way is better? Besides all I want to do is go home. I’m not here to change their society.
Instead I ask her about the skins tied to the ceiling. She tells me they’re for moisture. The skins operate a lot like the water skins. Some of the workers here lower them and fill them with water. The water slowly trickling down to the plants.
“Where do the skins come from anyway?” I ask. It’s been something I’ve been wondering about for a while.
“They are from the great Holdo beasts that roam the northern deserts. They are said to be tall enough to block the sun. Hunting parties make the long trek to hunt them a few times a year.”
“Wow. This is quite the set up you guys have.” I bend down and touch one of the plants. Its green leaf feels rough and hairy. “What do you feed these suckers to get them to grow so well?”
“That’s what we use our excrement for.”
“Oh. Okay. That’s good to know.”
After a brief tour where Sixth Tyro tells me what the various plants are named and what they’re used for before we leave. We head back towards the main community area.
“Will you return to class tomorrow?” She asks me. It surprises me a little, I thought I was fairly clear about my intentions.
“Ganor called you a coward. Are you scared?”
“All the time.” I answer. “Aren’t you?”
“Yes. But I do what I must.”
When we reach the main area she bids me farewell. Telling me she hopes to see me at training tomorrow. My first thought is no chance. But as I walk back to my room I think about what she said: “Yes. But I do what I must.” I don’t want to care about this world, but damn it I do.
The next morning I go to class. Going early to look good. I walk in before Ganor has even arrived. Sixth and the other tyros sit silent in a circle. Their faces show surprise. Except for Sixth. Maybe the kid played me yesterday. If she did, she’s good. I’ve barely had time to walk towards the group when I hear that goddamn staff hitting the floor.
“Well, look who’s returned to us.” I don’t have to see his face to feel the contempt in his eyes. I turn around and see him standing there in the entrance. He looks especially pissed this morning. “I thought you didn’t need us Spider slayer.”
I take a deep breath. My hands feel clammy. “I was wrong. Okay? I was a little angry.”
“Do you know the most important thing I teach here?”
“Team work?” I answer.
“Correct. You do know something after all. A team needs to rely on every member. Each one taking responsibility for their assigned task. How do I know if you can take responsibility?” He points his staff at the class. “How do they? All you have shown us is that you cannot commit to an action. Will you take responsibility?”
“Ye-Yes. Of course.” I stammer.
“Good. Then take your place in The Rezar.”
I walk up the stone steps, my heart racing. Is he going to make me fight Sixth again?
“To your feet Tyros!” He brings the staff down loudly. “The Spider slayer wishes to train with us. Form a line at the steps.”
Oh god…He’s going to make me fight all of them. I can’t take two or three of them, much less all of them.
“If you want to rejoin my class you will stand your ground. You will commit to an action no matter the cost. Understood?”
“What do you want me to do?” I ask. My words sounding a little more desperate then I’d wanted them to.
“Sometimes we must make a choice not knowing the consequences. Will you stand your ground?”
“Yes! Yes. I will.”
“Fine. Each tyro will strike you once. If you quit or leave there’s no coming back here. To pass you will take each strike. I will make it easy on you. If you pass out after half of the class has hit you, you can still rejoin us.”
Is he serious? I look at the line of students. They look as surprised as me.
“Last chance to flee. Do you commit?”
“Yes damn it.” I say. I brace myself as the first tyro steps up. A burly looking male.
“You may strike her anywhere on the head or body.” The old bastard adds. “Commence.”
The first tyro hits me. Fire races across my cheek as the world goes bright for a second. I blink clearing my vision as he steps out of the ring for the next tyro. Quit. I should quit now. No! Commit. The second tyro a short girl hits me in the stomach. I stumble off-balance. The air forced out of me. I cough, my lungs burn. Again and again they hit me. Somebody replaces my legs with spaghetti by the fourth one. I can’t believe I’m still standing by the time it’s Sixth’s turn. She walks towards me. The color drained from her face.
“I’m so sorry.” She says hesitating.
“Failure to strike her will result in your being removed from class Sixth Tyro.”
“Just drop.” She whispers. “Pass out when I hit you.”
“Do it.” I say through gritted teeth. My lips feel moist, sticky. I think the last strike gave me a bloody nose.
She hits me in the ribs and I fall to my knees. But it’s not of my choosing. It feels like the weight of the world is tugging at my whole body. Get up Serena! I stand despite the floor wanting to slip out from under me. Just in time for the next student to hit me. Another hit and I stagger. Then another. I think I blacked out on my feet after the next hit because before I know it I fall back to my knees and the last tyro is walking out of the ring. The Bleeding Ground huh? Certainly is. Looks like its bleeding pretty good.
I look up at tyros standing outside the ring.
“Who-Who’s next?” I ask, spitting blood out of my mouth.
“You’ve passed Eleventh Tyro.” It’s the old bastard. But the world is dancing around me so much I can’t find him. “Sixth Tyro. Take our newest recruit to the old healer and make sure she’s cleaned up before you return here.”
I feel Sixth pulling me to my feet. I smile a bloody shit-eating grin as we leave. I did it you bastard. I did it.
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