Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language.
Author's Notes: 1,595 words. I love me some Gunnerkrigg Court references in my chapter titles.
“That’s what I missed?” said Katerina playfully, propping her elbows on a box and her head on her hands. “You’ve got yourself an enemy.”
“Does she have to be an enemy?” Eremia said, turning her head around. The hour she’d spent practicing with Iasquam drain her (it didn’t help that she wasn’t a morning person), and the drills that he was attempting to teach her had already become lost in the tangles of her memory. For his part, he was sitting cross-legged on the ground, waiting patiently for their break to end. She could feel his soft eyes on the back of her head, as if wanting to say something. She’d let him do so later.
Katerina thought for a moment, staring at the early morning sky. Pinks and reds tinged the edge of the vast, empty landscape. “Terasu holds grudges, and the word is that she blames you for Rowland’s death.”
Scoffing, Eremia turned back. Iasquam nodded and rose, his stick at the ready. “Why does she think that of me? I have little reason to hate her, cross as she might be, but I would not like to play this spiteful game.”
The clack! of wood against wood emanated into the surroundings as the exercise started.
“You were the closest when Jonah – well – you know,” Katerina said slowly.
Eremia hated thinking about that ugly night and all of its bitter consequences. She scowled as Iasquam parried a shot aimed for his legs. “Does she believe I caused it?”
“Maybe?” said Katerina.
“She visits the hospital often,” Yorew said, striding from behind a tent to where the rectangular training grounds had been set with posts. “She’s not well. Don’t worry yourself about her.”
Iasquam bowed to Yorew as the latter entered. This gesture led Iasquam to lose his focus long enough for Eremia to hit him over the head. She blushed and retreated, but said nothing.
“Why couldn’t I hear you?!” Katerina said in alarm as Yorew sat on the ground next to her. She instantly composed herself. “I guess you’ve come to watch?”
“Be that as it may,” Eremia said, as the exercise resumed, “Terasu is still a general. I have suspicions Alarick does not much like me either.”
“Hah, he’s pissed,” Katerina said, laughing. “He hates it when things go on behind his back.”
A warm wind blew from the south, sprinkling sand into Eremia’s eyes. She raised her hand for Iasquam to halt. Wiping the sand from her eyes, she blinked out the tears and moved so that her back would face the wind. Iasquam took an opposing position in response. “I have my own cause,” said Eremia, dodging her opponent’s stick and narrowly clipping a wing with her own, “And, though I may be trained here, I have my own authority.”
After making one more attempt at a strike, Iasquam suddenly stopped. He took a few steps back and sat down, sighing.
Eremia raised an eyebrow. “Something amiss?”
He looked up from the ground to her, eyes slightly red. “Am I doing well? I don’t know how experienced you are, but I’d like to think you shouldn’t be able to hit me at all.”
Sighing, Eremia said, “I was given cursory lessons by the teachers in my castle. Besides, I just grazed you, and only once.”
His eyes brightened. “We may continue, then” he said, voice still tinged by depression. “Ready?”
Eremia took a battle stance. “As you will.”
They resumed. Eremia tried to strike Iasquam, but he deflected the blows handily. It surprised Eremia that he thought so little of himself. Were they holding real swords, and had he not been restraining himself (his attacks were too slow and unwieldy for a hawk), she would have fallen almost immediately. That she managed to land a blow at all was impressive, and she was certain that she would’ve never had the chance if he stopped holding himself back. His prowess seemed to be clear to everyone but himself, as Eremia could see Katerina nodding in approval beside her. Then again, he judged himself against his sister. How strong had she been?
The air lit up as colors spilled from the heavens. When the edge of the sun burned its way into the sky, Yorew looked off to the side and said, “Your young man is here.”
“Jonathan?” Eremia said all too happily. She completely ignored Iasquam’s accidentally hitting her on the shoulder with his stick as she watched a familiar shape step into the clearing.
Jonathan waved. There were bags under his eyes; his steps were frail and somewhat erratic. He slouched, and his hair was a mess. “Training?” he said to Eremia, raising an eyebrow.
Eremia stammered, “Yes, absolutely,” and turned to face Iasquam. She made a series of quick, furious strikes, aiming for his chest. Alarmed, Iasquam jumped a few steps back and swung outwards, knocking Eremia’s stick from her hands. It flew towards Katerina, who shouted and threw herself onto the ground.
“You don’t need to impress me,” Jonathan said softly, walking over to the tent where the stick was embedded and yanking it out.
“I had no plans to,” Eremia retorted, regaining her composure. “This is my training.”
Katerina, from where she hid behind the box, snickered. Handing Eremia the stick, Jonathan’s normal frown deepened. “Seems mean.”
“Apologies,” Iasquam piped in. “I hadn’t meant to do that.”
Eremia set down the stick and walked up to Jonathan. “I hope yesterday was not bothersome to you,” she said, looking up to him with a small frown. “We have not been around each other long, so I imagine I sounded presumptuous, and -”
Jonathan went around Eremia to approach Iasquam. “It’s fine,” replied Jonathan in a voice that cracked more than usual, raising an outstretched hand to Iasquam. “I feel the same.”
Curious, Iasquam reached out with a wing and enveloped Jonathan’s hand, shaking it. “What about Terasu?” Eremia said quietly, watching Jonathan. “I suspect she does not like me.”
Yawning, Jonathan retracted his hand and stretched. “Of course not,” he said simply, “she’s told me as much. But she’s a friend.” He sat down at the edge of the battlefield, picking up small pebbles and tossing them into the sky. “And she needs someone with her.”
When Eremia, not sure what else to say, picked up her stick again, Iasquam shook his head. “We’ve had too many interruptions,” he said. “Can we find a time when you’re less busy?”
Of course this would be the morning when everyone wanted to talk to her. With the number of friends and associates she was making, that made sense to her. Still, there wasn’t a better time she could think of - the afternoons were getting hotter, and there wasn’t much respite in the evenings. Then again, she may as well get used to the weather; she suspected it would only get worse from here. “You may,” Eremia said, cutting herself off as a stray thought entered her mind. “Can you do something for me?”
Iasquam nodded slowly, then cocked his head.
“Can you find Aquila? I last saw him yesterday, and I worry for him,” said Eremia, words becoming sterner as she saw Iasquam scowl and cross his arms. “He seems alone and depressed. So are you, as far as I can see. If nothing else, I would think you have some common ground.”
“He hates me,” Iasquam replied, looking towards the horizon, where the sun had mostly climbed into the heavens. “And I won’t respect someone as crude as him.”
“He was insecure. So are you.” Eremia gritted her teeth, causing her head to hurt slightly. “Find him and either ease his temper or bring him back, unless you would like me to kick you out of here.”
Puffing up his chest, Iasquam scowl hardened. “You wouldn’t dare.”
“I would,” said Eremia. “And I will not tolerate your little feud. I have had enough of those. Go.”
Iasquam threw his stick on the ground and walked off, grumbling to himself as he did so.
“Not a good idea,” Jonathan said when Iasquam disappeared.
Catching the pebble that he threw towards her, she scoffed. “They need to learn to tolerate each other.” Walking over to where Katerina had stretched out, Eremia sat on a box and glared at no one in particular.
Jonathan hurled a pebble to the sun as he said, “You hold them together. And you won’t be around. They’re both aggressive. This can’t end well.”
Eremia waved dismissively. “My hope is that their emotions are their common ground. Now, what were we talking about?”
“Terasu needs someone,” said Jonathan with a newfound coldness. “I am not that person. I told her as much.”
Eremia felt hurt; she decided to pull the conversation back to the original topic. “It is done,” she said hastily, trying to defend herself. “I would like them to at least stop being enemies.”
Jonathan sighed. “Pride is an ugly thing. They have it. So do you.” He stood up, a gust blowing through his hair. A long pause. “I hope you’re right. Katerina, joining me?”
He gestured towards Katerina, who shook her head. “Hunting parties are boring, and I think I need to stay here.” She reached up and patted Eremia on the knee; the latter stared up at the sky. It wouldn’t be right to focus on Jonathan.
“She told me not to talk to you, Eremia,” Jonathan said he walked off, shrugging his shoulders. “I didn’t listen to her. I hate breaking oaths. Don’t make me regret it.”