Asa sighed and turned away. “No, Samara, you are the one that is right. Chastity is the most important thing. It would be wrong of me to presume and wrong of me to do anything to you. However, in this stage of your training there are only five of us who are allowed to see you until you are strong enough.”
Only five people? I thought it was quiet for a palace, but I didn’t realize it was intentionally restricted, Samara mused.
“I just don’t like seeing your pain. I want to stop the pain and fix the problem.”
“I’ve just always been like this. This is just me.”
“Don’t you realize, I’m the palace healer, Samara? Maybe I can do more for you than the abysmal place you were raised without the training you deserved.” Asa looked upset.
I think I’m just making everyone upset today. First Ethan. Now Asa.
“I promise, I need to help you with your alignment and help those muscles recover if you’re going to be meeting Ethan again tomorrow.”
“What do I need to do?” Samara asked.
“Come here.” Asa’s voice was silky soft. “Lay down on your stomach. It won’t necessarily feel good, I’m afraid, but I promise it’s helping.”
Samara padded over to the bed and lay down. She felt the tingle of Asa’s fingers as they delicately unlaced her tunic and opened her skin to the air. He gently traced a finger from the nape of her neck down to the small of her back, sending shivers down her spine. Samara let out a small gasp.
Asa leaned over as if he was going to whisper in her ear, but suddenly pulled back sharply. Samara heard footsteps entering the room.
“Asa. Here’s the castings you wanted.”
That sounded like Ethan. What was Asa going to say?
Asa sighed. “Thanks, Ethan.”
“Oh, I didn’t realize you had our prodigy warrior.” Ethan’s voice sounded strained.
“She needs healing.” Asa said, coolly.
“Oh, I’m sure she does.” Ethan did not sound happy. “Whenever you’re done, send her to Liron. If she can’t keep up with me for more of the day she will start training half days with him.” He turned and this time Samara heard the door shut.
“What’s happening, Asa?” Samara asked cautiously.
“It’s nothing. Ethan brought me some materials I asked for to help your hands. Now, relax and let me work on these muscles.” Asa’s voice was different now, more distant. He began deeply massaging her shoulders, back, and hips, and then migrating down her thighs.
Every time I think I’m getting somewhere, I realize I’m still the odd one out. Asa doesn’t have to be kind to me any more than Ethan does. Or anyone else. Samara was lost in her thoughts of loneliness. I don’t have to show them that I’m weak. Asa pulled her clothing closed again and gently tied it shut, his fingers ever so lightly brushing on her neck. His gentleness is not guaranteed. I need to be stronger.
Asa sighed slightly. “Samara, come here. I want to try something new.” He was looking at the things Ethan had brought over. “I need you to show me your hands.”
Samara walked over to the small table and saw Asa stirring two boxes of a soupy liquid.
“One hand in each box, please. And hold your fingers spread as far as you can, and still.” Samara followed the directions until she realized her hands were getting stuck.
“What are you doing? I can’t walk around with boxes on my hands.”
“Just a few minutes, Samara. I don’t know if this is going to work so I don’t want to tell you what’s happening. I’ll tell you about it later.”
After a few minutes, the boxes around her hands were very stiff and she could not move her fingers. Asa slipped up behind her and reached around her to disassemble the boxes, revealing a tan substance that was firm but not hard, the shape of the box, on each hand.
“I promise I’m not going to hurt you, but you need to be as still as possible.”
Asa pulled out a small but beautiful silvery knife from his waist. He began cutting into the substance on Samara’s hands, gently and carefully, until the knife kissed the skin of her finger. Then he traced the knife around her fingers, individually until the boxy shape fell apart into two pieces. Then he moved to the other hand.
Samara just stared. The knife was so beautiful. It was cutting through the hard substance easily, but Asa had held back so as not to even cut her skin. The feeling of it tracing all around her fingers had given her shivers, but it had not nicked the skin at all.
“All done.” Asa announced as the second one fell into two pieces. Suddenly he stepped back as if realizing how closely he had held her for the experience. “My apologies for being so close, but I wanted to be sure I didn’t hurt you.”
Why was this different than when he massages me? Samara couldn’t find the right words to say anything.
“Liron is going to begin tutoring you earlier than I expected, but it’s time to meet him. Let’s go.” Asa transformed from gentle and caring to brusque and businesslike.
Samara followed Asa out into the afternoon sun, and saw her staff leaning next to the door. I didn’t put it there, and Asa has been with me the whole time. It’s not at my room, and it’s not near the training area, so this must be a test to see if I will take it. “Asa, wait a moment.” Samara picked up the pole again, examining it’s weight and length. This is an awkward size to attach to myself but I don’t want to walk around like I’m going to hit anyone either. She put the pole back down to touch the ground and suddenly it came to her. It’s the right size for a walking stick. I don’t know if I have ever seen a guard with a walking stick, but it comes precisely from the ground to my shoulder. As if he had measured it.
Samara started walking, following Asa again, her thoughts slowly starting to tumble.
As if he had measured it.
How did they know my size of uniforms? They fit closer than anything I’ve ever worn before.