The grass was soft underneath my bare feet, and the wind was gentle, blowing against my skin and lifting my long hair away from my shoulders. I kept my eyes closed as I turned my head to the sky, letting the bright sun shine down on me, heating the bare skin of my legs, arms, and shoulders.I concentrated on the sounds around me, I heard birds singing, the leaves on the trees rustling with the gentle breeze, the gentle running of water from the river and the movement of every blade of grass around me.
There was a splash, and before I could open my eyes, I gasped in shock as cold water covered me from head to toe. I opened my eyes, shivering, and saw Akila choking on the water she had jumped in to as she laughed, her long hair, so much like my own, clinging to her skin.
“Akila!” I shouted angrily, shaking my head to get the water out of my eyes. For such a small girl, Akila could make a big splash when she wanted to.
“It wasn’t me!” She denied before she burst out laughing again, nearly going under the water.
“It’s not funny! That's cold!” I yelled at her.
She said nothing, just laughed, choking on some water again.
“I hope the water snakes bite your bum!”
She stopped laughing instantly and squealed as she tried to swim out of the water away from the water snakes that weren’t there.
I giggled a little as she crawled up the small grassy slope and then sat down, facing the water with her knees hugged to her chest.
“You got lucky. Those things are poisonous.”
Akila turned her wide-eyed eyes on me. “Really?” She squeaked.
I nodded and then she got a far-away look in her expression. I knew she was thinking about all the times she had gone swimming in the river that ran around out mansion.
I stifled my laugh as she got to her feet and, after one last glance at the river, walked away. I followed her across the wide space of grass, listening to her mumble under her breath. I continued to stifle my laugh behind my hand as we stepped onto the long pebbled driveway and headed towards the large, looming, old mansion. It wasn’t long up the drive when we stepped into the large shadow of the building.
We both shivered simultaneously as goose bumps covered our wet skin. I rubbed my arms but Akila continued to walk with her arms straight down and her hands curled into fists.
We reached the stairs leading up to the large double doors and quickly went into the main entrance hall. I sighed as my body began to warm up instantly, and followed Akila across the large area and through an archway near the stairs, leading into another area. I knew where she was going before she got to the room.
“You’re wet, you can’t go in there.”
She ignored me, striding straight into the large room.
I stopped at the door, watching her walk past high stall after high stall of books, reading the list of references on the side until she found the one she wanted. Then disappeared. I sighed and looked around, seeing if anyone was near before I quickly walked into the room and headed for where Akila had disappeared. I found her sat at one of the many tables with a large book open in front of her.
“You can read?” I asked, a little surprised.
Akila looked up from the book and gave me a dirty look. “Yes, jealous?”
I snorted. “I can read too you know. I just thought you were allergic to books, I’ve never seen you near one.”
“Just because I don’t like reading, doesn’t mean I can’t, Layla.”
“Just because I don’t like reading, doesn’t mean I can’t, Layla.” I mimicked in a fake voice that sounded nothing like Akila’s. “What you reading then?”
She ignored me.
She continued to ignore me as she flipped through the pages.
I sighed and stood behind her, looking at the page she was reading. And laughed, making her jump slightly.
“You're reading up on water snakes?” I laughed again and she frowned.
“Well of course I am. Wouldn’t you?”
“Not really. I already know about snakes.”
“Clearly not, water snakes aren’t poisonous—no snake is poisonous in fact, they're venomous. Water snakes though, are harmless.” She closed the book and turned to look at me with a smug look on her face. It soon disappeared when I folded my arms and raised one of my eyebrows.
“You're an idiot, Akila.”
I sighed. “I wasn’t lying when I said I already know about snakes. I know they're not poisonous and I knew that water snakes were harmless. In fact, we actually don’t have any snakes in our river.”
Akila’s mouth opened as she stared at me. Then she burst. “Then why did you say it!”
I smiled widely and put my arm around her shoulder. “Because you got me wet.” Then I laughed when someone cleared his throat.
Akila and I looked around at the same time and groaned when we saw Father standing with his arms folded and with a frown on his face.
“Why are you wet? And most importantly, why are you wet and in the library?”
I stepped away from Akila as she stepped away from me and we both pointed to each other.
Father raised his eyebrows, looking from Akila to me and then back again. He didn’t say a word, he didn’t move, except to look at us both in turn.
“Layla said we had poisonous snakes in the river.” Akila burst out.
“Loser! She jumped into the river and got me wet.” I told Father.
“And you're calling me a loser? Do you know how lame that sounds?” Akila said to me.
“Said the one who squealed about non-existent poisonous snakes,”
We both jumped at Fathers voice and looked at him.
He looked at us each in turn once more before keeping his eyes on Akila. “You know you're not allowed in the river. Go get cleaned up, I will be with you soon to have a word.”
“But Father,” Akila whined.
“Akila,” he gave her a stern look and she sighed before walking past me and across the room. Father watched her go before turning his attention on me.
“I didn’t do anything!” I said instantly.
“You are here, wet, are you not?”
“You tried to scare your sister, did you not?”
“Tried, I did scare—” I stopped speaking when I saw Fathers expression.
“Why did you scare her?”
“Because she got me wet.”
“That is no excuse, Layla.”
“I was meditating, have you ever had anyone throw freezing cold water over you when you're not aware of it?”
“No, I have not, but that is not an excuse.”
I sighed and looked down at my wet and bare feet. I noticed some blades of grass stuck to my skin and focused on them, when Father touched my chin gently, making me look up at him.
“You know your sister has a completely different sense of humour to you, just as you have to her, why do you both continuously annoy each other?”
I shrugged. “Boredom?”
“Layla,” he sighed. “Get cleaned up and meet me in the training hall. Its time you stopped hiding from your lessons.”
“Akila doesn’t have to do them!”
“Akila does not like violence, just as you do not like reading.”
“I still had to do it though.”
“And it has taught you well, has it not?”
“Akila still has much to learn, just as you have with training. Go.”
“Daddy!” I whined, making him chuckle before he framed my face with his large hands.
“Akila might be the oldest, Layla, but she needs someone to stick up for her if the time comes for it. If your mother, Nikalye, Doxiak, or myself are not here, who will look after her?”
“I will,” I mumbled.
“But how can you do that if you don’t know how to hurt someone?”
“I don’t want to hurt anyone though!”
“And no one will make you, but you need to learn.”
I sighed and turned my face away from Fathers hands before I walked away.
Father followed me out of the library and back into the entrance hall.
I stomped up the large stairs, choosing to go to the right when it split and walked across the landing and down a hall. Akila’s bedroom door, which was next to mine, was shut, but I could still hear her mumbling under her breath. I smiled as I walked into my large room, pulling my wet clothes off and dumping them on a pile on the dark wooded floor before I walked into the bathroom Akila and I shared.
I washed quickly and then dressed for training, knowing I wouldn’t be able to get out of it this time. I was pulling a brush through my tangled hair, when I felt Mothers soft and gentle touch on my hand—I let her take the brush from my hand so she could untangle it from my hair.
“You have lovely hair; you need to look after it.” Mother spoke in a voice that could calm down even the angriest of people.
“What's the point? I need to train, so I’m going to get all sweaty and my hair will fall out and I will go bald!”
Mother laughed and I couldn’t help but smile.
“You will get sweaty, I will not deny that at all, but your hair will not fall out and you most certainly will not go bald.”
“How would you know?”
“I train with your Father all the time, Layla. Am I bald?”
I giggled and shook my head. “You have beautiful hair,”
“As do you—and you must look after it. I will braid it for you so it does it get in your face while you train.”
“I don’t want to train,” I whined.
“Because I’m a girl,” I replied.
“So because you are a girl, you don’t have to train?”
“Nope,” I said simply.
“If that were true, Layla, then boys and men would walk all over you. Would you like that?”
“They could try.”
“And they would succeed—you would not be able to fend them off if you do not train.”
“But they won’t hit me, I’m a girl!”
“Again, that will not stop some people.”
“But that's not fair!”
“It is fair, but you can train to fight back and stop them from doing it again. If there is one thing all boys and men fear, it is a woman’s wraith.”
“But the only men I see are Father, Nikalye, Doxiak, and the guards.”
“That is true, but what will you do when the time comes for you to venture out of the safety of your home? There are far worse things out there, hurting us, and ruining our lives.”
“Like the humans?” I knew a little of the humans, but not a lot. Father was not very specific.
“Yes, the humans, they will harm you without a second thought. Your Father was right—Akila does not like violence, can you imagine what would happen if the humans were to get their hands on her? She would not be able to fend for herself.”
I stood up fast but Mother was quick and went with me, still clutching my hair in her hands as she twisted and moved each section of hair over the other.
“They can’t do that! I’ll protect her!”
“How can you if you do not even know how to protect yourself?” Mother asked as she twisted my braided hair and pinned it back.
“I will! I will train.”
Mother turned me around and smiled widely. “Then do not keep your Father waiting. You know how he hates to wait.”
I nodded and ran out of my room, nearly knocking Akila over.
“Wow, what's the rush?”
“I’m going to train.”
Akila burst out laughing, holding her stomach, and shaking her head. Until she saw that I was not laughing with her, then she stopped. “You're not joking?” She asked, shocked into seriousness.
“Of course I’m not. I have to protect you somehow and how can I do that if I can’t even protect myself?”
Akila looked at me for a long time before speaking. “You’ve been speaking to Mother.”
We both looked behind me when she laughed and walked out into the hall with us.
“Of course she has, but what she said is true. She wants to protect you from harm.”
Akila looked at me. “You don’t have to do that.”
“You don’t like violence, I have to. What if the humans come?”
“But they won’t.”
“I'm not taking the risk. I will learn how to fight so I can protect you. I promise.”
“Layla, that's so sweet. Thank you.” She hugged me tight and I hugged her back before moving away.
“I can’t keep Father waiting. He doesn’t like to wait, you know.”
Mother laughed as I walked away.
I headed down stairs quickly, and going back under the high arch. I headed straight for the door in front of me and quickly walked down the stone steps and into the training room.
“Ahh, young Layla has arrived to her lesson finally.” Doxiak spoke with humour as he stood with Father and Nikalye.
I ignored him and looked at Father, feeling butterflies in my stomach as my heart pounded in my chest with my nerves.
“There is no need to be nervous, my Dark Beauty; I will be the one to train you.”
I blew out a breath of relief, making Nikalye and Doxiak chuckle.
“No fear at all.” Father told Nikalye with a shake of his head, making Nikalye smile widely.
“I do not need fear when one cannot attack me.”
“That is true.” Father swept his hands out and walked across the room as he spoke. “You may start your lesson,” he looked at me. “Finally.”
“Right, now we are going to start at the basics.”
“Okay,” I nodded.
Nikalye smiled and held his hand out.
I placed my right hand in his left and he curled my hand into a fist.
“A fist will hurt them more than a slap. When you punch someone, always keep your thumb over your fingers, never under otherwise you will break your thumb and hurt yourself more than the enemy.” Nikalye moved to stand behind me, he bent my right arm, putting my fist close to my right eye, the moved my left hand underneath my left. “Always protect your face. You are incredibly fast, so you can dodge attacks and send one of your own.” He demonstrated by moving my right hand forward slowly, turning it as he moved until my fist was straight in front of me. “For full impact, you hit with your entire fist if you can.”
“Okay,” I said as Nikalye moved to stand back in front of me. I already knew this from countless times watching Father and Mother train.
“Hit your right fist to my right hand, and your left fist to my left hand. Try and hit me as hard as you can.” Nikalye said, putting his hands, palm facing me up. “Remember what I said about twisting your fist as you move it.”
I did, moving my right hand forward and turning it just as he had shown me. My fist hit his palm hard, knocking me back a step.
“You must stand right in order to achieve a strong hit.” Father called from across the hall as he made his way towards me.
I kept my fists in place as he moved my legs, putting my right foot in front of my left.
“Use this leg to keep you in place.” He said, tapping my left leg. “Use this one to prevent anyone from pulling you forward.”
“Again,” Nikalye said.
I took a deep breath before hitting his palm again, I clenched the muscles in my left leg to keep me in place when I felt the force push me back.
“Good, make sure you put all of your strength in that hit. You have the abilities to even knock down your father over there.”
Fathers rumbling laugh made me smile. “That, Nikalye, I would like to see.” Father said.
“You don’t think I can?” I asked as I turned to look at him with my arms folded.
Father smiled. “I believe you are capable of doing many things, but this is not one of them.”
“Huh,” I turned back to Nikalye, a plan forming in my head quickly, and smiled. I held my fists up and smiled wider. Nikalye held his palms up and I hit out quickly and as hard as I could and as soon as my fist hit his palm, I grabbed him, twisted his arm around, and knocked him to the floor.
Nikalye laughed as he lay on his back.
“Where did you learn that?” Doxiak asked, clearly impressed.
I shrugged and smiled widely. “Tag rugby. I’m smaller than everyone so the only way I can get them is by knocking them down. It’s allowed.”
“Incredible.” Nikalye murmured, bowing his head.
“You’re going to be a fast learner. I guess we don’t have to train you in running or dodging while doing so.”
“I think I have that covered. I might be small but I still had to learn how to jump over the big girls when they tried to tackle me.” I replied.
“Well, this is just marvellous.” Nikalye said to Father.
“Yes, quite.” He agreed.
“Right, hit me again, without the surprise attack. Once you have mastered your strength, then we can move on.”
I nodded and raised my fists once more.