“Are you sure you don’t want to take a break?”
“I will—as soon as I get this!” Adif tried to use the element of surprise to gain an advantage, but Shayrow had no blind spots. He easily dodged her, and Adif ended up sprawled on the grass again.
“I think we could use a break,” Shayrow said, sheathing his blunted blade and holding out a hand to help Adif to her feet.
“I think I could use a break,” Shayrow emphasized.
Adif followed Shayrow to the shed, where Jelro had been busily tending to a large number of animals that had gotten ill over the past few days. Adif had helped him brew a potion to cure the illness, and Shayrow had managed to provide his assistance.
When Adif and Shayrow entered the shed, all the resident animals turned to look at them, stiffening as though warning them to be careful.
Adif immediately saw the reason. Jelro was sound asleep on one of the cots, still wearing his shoes. Refi was gently pulling a blanket over him.
“I suppose we’d better take our break outside,” Shayrow quietly said, backing out of the door.
Adif nodded and followed him back outside. She was really glad that Jelro was getting some rest, so she didn’t want to risk disturbing him. He had pulled a few all-nighters trying to keep the recent patients well, and he deserved to get some sleep.
It had been nearly a year since Adif had started training with Shayrow’s help. They were both eighteen now, and in their final year at The Academy.
On the last day, the top student in each class would select students from other classes to be a part of their groups, and each group would receive tasks to accomplish as a team, working as a unit while they traveled to try and achieve success in one way or another.
Adif kept telling herself that she didn’t care what happened on the day of choosing groups, but she knew that no matter what, she was going to miss Jelro. He would remain in Woei while Adif left with her group to travel throughout the Yaruid Kingdom—or even to other kingdoms.
Thanks to Adif’s shift in focus, she was nowhere near top of the alchemy class, but she was glad she didn’t have to choose who was in her group.
Shayrow, on the other hand, had been top of his class for nearly four whole years. He had already told Adif that she would be the first one he chose to be in his group.
Over the past months, Adif had learned a lot about Shayrow—including the fact that he was a phenomenal teacher. She could easily hold her own against the students in the swordbearer class, as long as they didn’t try and use “cheat” tactics, as Shayrow called them.
“They aren’t regulation moves,” he had explained, “but in a real fight, no one cares about regulations. That’s just how they get everyone to learn the basics before they start getting fancy.”
Adif had gotten close to Shayrow during their training, and now she saw him as a very reliable sort of brother. He acted like she was his sister, too, constantly teasing her and praising her with brotherly pats on the head.
“Where are you going?” Adif asked as Shayrow started walking down the road, away from the shack.
“I thought we were taking a break,” he responded.
“I just thought we were gonna sit out here or something,” Adif said.
“We can do that. But I figured we might as well obtain some sustenance from the market.”
“Oh. Erm, okay.” Adif shrugged. She sometimes forgot that not everyone could get their energy from the sun’s rays.
“Besides,” he said, “we’d better bring something back for Jelro. He’s bound to be hungry when he wakes up.”
“That’s true,” Adif agreed. “He probably forgot to eat breakfast again.”
They wandered the market for a few minutes, then Shayrow found a booth that was selling seafood of all kinds. It wasn’t Adif’s first choice for a purchase, since Jelro was bound to question how much the food cost, but she knew he would enjoy it nonetheless.
Shayrow eyed the prices with distaste.
“A copper bit for mere morsels,” he muttered under his breath. “We could get an entire loaf of bread for a fourth of that amount.”
Adif’s gaze fell on the bucket of winkles, silently cursing the merchant for pricing them at a copper bit for a single pouch. But the tiny whelks happened to be Jelro’s favorite snack, and Adif wanted to treat him after his long, hard week of work.
“Two pouches,” she told the merchant, who smiled and made sure to fill the pouches as full as possible—even jostling them a bit to make space to fit more.
Adif handed over one silver bit and took the pouches.
“Anything else?” the merchant asked, his blue eyes giving a friendly twinkle. He was an older man with graying hair, and kind lines etching his face.
“I’m willing to lower some prices since you bought those,” he said.
Adif seized the opportunity and purchased some oysters and a wapato. The merchant threw in a free box of lotus flowers and a jar of sea grape algae.
“What a haul,” Adif said as she and Shayrow headed back to the shack. “That merchant was surprisingly fair. How are your rolls?”
Shayrow finished swallowing his mouthful, giving a thumbs-up. He had gotten a few honey rolls for himself from another booth in the market, and he was already a sticky mess from the swirled rolls of bread.
Another thing that Adif had learned about Shayrow was that he had a major sweet tooth.
“You sure you don’t want one?” he asked Adif, trying to use his fingers to wipe the honey from around his mouth.
“I’m sure.” Adif pointed at the sky. “It’s a clear day.”
“Have you been drinking enough water?” Shayrow checked.
Adif nodded, although she knew she should have been drinking more water than usual with the way she had been sword fighting earlier. That amount of energy needed to be fed, and Adif got those nutrients as long as the sun was out and she drank plenty of water.
“I’m going to make some tea with these lotus flowers when we get back,” she decided.
Jelro was just waking up when Adif and Shayrow arrived at the shed, so it took him a second to realize what Adif was handing him when she presented the pouches of winkles to him.
“Adi, I told you, you don’t have to spoil me--”
“I’m not spoiling you,” she firmly said, “I’m doing what any friend would do after you’ve just got through a week of hard work.”
Jelro sighed, but he smiled.
“Thanks, Adi. You’re a real great friend.”
“I definitely am,” she teasingly replied, pulling out the things she needed to start making the lotus tea.
Jelro put one of the winkle-filled pouches away in storage, along with the other seafood purchases that Adif had made, and then he sat down with the other pouch. He plucked out one of the small shells, briefly checking its quality before he eagerly sucked out its contents—and practically swooned with pleasure.
Shayrow averted his eyes, focusing on biting into his last honey roll like he couldn’t risk sparing a speck of his attention for anything else.
Adif couldn’t really blame Shayrow. It was mildly unsettling the way Jelro could just eat the whelks raw and straight out of their shells.
By the time the tea was ready, a pile of empty shells had amassed on the table in front of Jelro. He pushed them aside to make room for the kettle that Adif brought over.
“Looks like you enjoyed those,” Adif teased, eyeing the mound of discarded shells. “Here—you like lotus flower tea, right?”
Jelro gratefully accepted the steaming cup from Adif.
“You’re definitely spoiling me,” he asserted.
“Maybe a little,” Adif replied, grinning. “Do you want some tea, Shay?”
“I’ll give it a try.”
Adif poured a cup for Shayrow, then one for herself.
“To good friends,” she jokingly said, raising her cup.
Jelro and Shayrow laughed and then echoed her toast, carefully tapping their cups against hers so they wouldn’t spill the hot liquid.
“I can’t believe the group-choosing is only two months away,” Adif said, letting out a sigh. “It feels like it came so fast.”
“And two months will no doubt fly by,” Shayrow noted, taking a sip from his cup. “Huh. I’m not usually a fan of lotus, but this isn’t bad at all.”
“Adi’s a master at brewing,” Jelro cracked.
“Still can’t cook, though,” Adif said, laughing in spite of herself. “Or bake, for that matter.”
“But you can make potions and tonics,” Shayrow pointed out.
“And so can you,” Adif replied with a grin.
Shayrow glowed with praise. He had struggled in the beginning, but he was turning out to be an impressive apothecary. He knew all the symptoms of almost every ailment as well as what was needed to ease or cure each one.
Now, in addition to always having his sword with him, he was never seen without his trusty satchel of supplies—unless he set it aside for a sword fight. He did frequently practice his technique while wearing the satchel crosswise over his shoulder, since he insisted that if someone tried to attack him, it was unlikely they would give him a chance to set the satchel aside.
That was just the way Shayrow was. He considered the reality of situations and prepared himself accordingly.
It was something that Adif greatly admired.
“Well,” Jelro said once the tea was gone, “I think I’m gonna go stret’st my tail. Anyone wanna come?”
Refi immediately waddled over, but none of the other resident animals seemed to be in the mood for a swim.
Jelro glanced at Adif and Shayrow.
“We’ve gotta get back to our practice,” Adif said. “Sorry.”
“Suit yourself,” Jelro teasingly said, scooping the empty winkle shells into the pouch they had come in so he could dispose of them in the sea. He always insisted that the shells were to be returned to the earth, to help preserve the balance of nature—Rho’stsano, as it was called in most Merrowish languages.
Adif had once asked Jelro about his Keeilithe beliefs—Q’eilið in Merrowish languages—since Adif had grown up with teachings about Earth Mother and Sky Father and their children they called Star Weaver and Sea Spinner. Adif was always curious as to what others thought in terms of higher beings.
Jelro had explained that the core of his beliefs was in maintaining balance—which was an entity known as Rho’stsano.
“As long as Rho’stsano is upheld,” he had said, “the world runs properly. Everything has a counterpart that pulls away and pushes back with the same strength, and if Rho’stsano isn’t upheld... Things will collapse under each other or fade away to nothing.”
There were two sides to Rho’stsano, Jelro went on to explain, known as Chaos and Order. They weren’t gods or personified beings, but entities of power that had no form. They ruled everything, making the world consistent but never exactly predictable.
When Adif had asked Shayrow what he believed in, he stopped to ponder on the question before admitting he had never put much thought into it.
“See you later, Adi, S’ay,” Jelro said, breaking Adif out of her reminiscing.
“You know,” Shayrow said after Jelro had left the shed, “I think he’s getting closer to being able to pronounce my name.”
Adif laughed. Even after a year of practice, Jelro’s accent still made it hard to say Shayrow’s name correctly.
“Back to it?” Shayrow said, getting to his feet.
Adif nodded and followed Shayrow out of the shed.
“After the choosing of groups,” he suddenly said, “we’ll be able to buy you a real sword. I know some magnificent blacksmiths that can craft something perfect for you.”
Adif beamed. She had only been able to use a blunted practice sword thus far in her training, as only students in the swordbearer class were allowed to possess real swords before they graduated.
After graduation, she would have the ability to go and select a real weapon to have at her side.
“I can’t wait,” she said. “But I have to wait, so I guess we’d better make sure I’m ready.”
And with that, Adif and Shayrow resumed their practice.
Adif still couldn’t beat Shayrow, but that didn’t matter to her.
She was just happy to be doing something that she truly loved.
~ ~ ~