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Chapter Twenty-One

Leeana, this is Garlahna Lorhanalfressa. Shell be your mentor during your probationary period.

Leeana saw a very young war maid, no more than six years older than she was. Garlahna was considerably shorter than Leeana, with brown hair and brown eyes. She looked as if she ought to be smiling, but at the moment her expression and body language were soberly attentive, almost brusquely businesslike. She stood at a sort of parade rest, feet slightly spread and hands clasped behind her, her attention evenly divided between Leeana and Erlis Rahnafressa. Erlis was the fair-haired, brown-eyed Commander of One Hundredroughly equivalent to the rank of captain in the Empire of the Axes Royal and Imperial Armywho appeared to be in charge of training new war maid recruits. At forty-three, she was a bit old for her rank, but she looked like a competent, no-nonsense sort of person. Perhaps the left arm shed lost just above the elbow explained why shed risen no higher in rank. She reminded Leeana a great deal of a female version of Sir Jahlahan Swordspinner.

The three of them stood in the soggy grass behind the roofed exercise salle, and Leeana felt as if shed dressed inappropriately for a formal party. She wore the leather trousers and smock her mother had deplored with increasing frequency, yet this time she was the one who seemed dreadfully overdressed for the occasion. Erlis and Garlahna both wore the traditional war maid chari and yathu. The former was a short green kilt which fell barely to mid-thigh, and the latter was something which might have been described (in a moment of extreme charity) as a short, abbreviatedvery abbreviatedbodice. But it wasnt boned and happened to be made out of fabric-lined, glove-supple leather. Whereas the main support of a regular bodice came from below, with little or no weight actually bearing on the shoulders, the yathu was equipped with buckle-adjustable shoulder straps which crossed on the wearers shoulder blades. It was shorter, snugger, and stronger than any conventional bodice Leeana had ever seen. She could see where that support might come in handy, she supposed, but she hardly needed it. Not yet, at least. Garlahna, on the other hand, although shorter than Leeana, was considerably bustier, which her yathu made amplyone might almost have said abundantlyapparent.

Although Leeana had heard tales of the licentious and shocking war maid garments, shed never actually seen them until she reached Kalatha, and she found herself somewhat in two minds about them. They certainly seemed practical enough, but still The fact that both war maids were also barefoot, despite the chilly spring breeze and the muddy footing, whereas she still wore her riding boots, didnt make her feel one bit less overdressed, either.

Garlahna, this is Leeana Hanathafressa, Erlis continued calmly, and Leeanas entire body tensed.

Her concern for anything as unimportant as what she might or might not be wearing vanished instantly, and her head twitched as it tried to whip around towards Erlis. She stopped herself in time, but it was hard, hard. It was the first time anyone had ever called her that, and the loss of her fathers name hit her like an axe. Yet shed known it was coming. Every war maid was known legally by her mothers given name, not whatever surname she might have borne before she became a war maid. It wasnt as if Leeana had a choiceshe didntor as if she didnt love her mother or hated to be known as Hanathas daughter. But she still felt as if in that moment, when Erlis first used her matronym, she had somehow abandoned her father, and it hurt. Perhaps it hurt even more because, in a way, some small, deeply hidden piece of her insisted that that was precisely what she had done.

But much as it hurt, she refused to let herself look at Erlis in either surprise or pain. And certainly not in anger. She suspected that her reaction to that first, abrupt use of her new name was a test, or at least a part of the training process she was about to begin.

Im pleased to meet you, Leeana, Garlahna said after moment. Her voice was deeper than Leeanas, with a musical throatiness. I hope I can help you settle in here reasonably comfortably.

Leeana did glance at Erlis this time, out of the corner of her eye, and the Hundred nodded.

Thank you Garlahna, Leeana said then. I hope I can fit in quickly, but she flashed a small smile I wonder if any new war maid ever really settles in comfortably.

She heard something suspiciously like a smothered snort from Erlis direction, and Garlahna grinned. Then she smoothed the smile quickly from her expression and nodded with appropriate sobriety.

It does come as quite a shock for most of us, whatever we expected ahead of time, she agreed.

Most of us survive it, though, Erlis put in dryly, and Leeana looked back at her.

And youll have your opportunity to begin surviving it first thing tomorrow morning, Leeana, the Hundred continued briskly. Youll be joining us for calisthenics at dawn. Once youve had a chance to warm up, Ill evaluate the level of your current general physical skills. After breakfast, youll have your first session with Ravlahnthats Ravlahn Thregafressa, my assistant arms masterand me. Well see where you are in terms of self-defense and weapons skills. Then, after lunch, Erlis continued, apparently oblivious to Leeanas reaction, youll have an hour or two with Lanitha Sarthayafressa. Shes our archivist, but shes also the principal of our school here in Kalatha. Shell evaluate your basic literacy, your math ability, and your general knowledge. That should take you to an hour or so before supper, and youll be assigned to one of the dining hall crews for that. Im not sure which of the cooks will be in charge of the kitchen, but Garlahna will be responsible for finding that out and seeing to it that you report in the right place at the right time.

She paused and smiled at Leeana, possibly with a tiny edge of compassion.

Any questions? she asked then.

Ah, no, Hundred Erlis, Leeana replied after a moment spent womanfully throttling the dozensof questions she wanted to ask.

Good. Leeana thought she might detect a trace of approval in Erlis eyes, but if she had, the hundred let no sign of it show in her voice or expression. In that case, Ill leave you with Garlahna.

She nodded briskly, turned on her heel, and strode away, leaving the two young women alone.

* * * | Wind Rider's Oath | * * *