Siege (The Warrior Chronicles, 5)(4)

By: K.F. Breene

Sanders grunted and continued by, feeling the sentry’s gaze pound into his back. It was impossible to tell if Kallon was joking or being dead serious, but neither would change the constant, assessing stare that seemed to follow everyone and everything around. Annoying, that.

“Quit standing around, lollygagging!” Sanders yelled as he got within earshot of a bunch of chattering women standing in a line. A couple jumped, their hands flying to their chests. A few flinched and their arrows went off course. Three released their arrows, completely cool, as if unaware of him. The points of all struck the target. One was a bull’s-eye.

Those three were great finds. It almost made dealing with these training sessions worth it.

“Is it really necessary to yell like that?” Fabienne scolded.

Sanders gritted his teeth, refusing to answer the older woman at the end of the row. “Maggie, excellent shot. Alena and Ruisa, also great job. The rest of you, you need to work on blocking everything that’s going on around you when you’re focusing on the shot.”

Sanders felt a presence off to his right. He turned, belatedly spotting one of the female Shumas—Mela, he thought—crouching amongst the foliage. The woman was as quiet and still as the grave, watching him with luminous, sorrowful eyes. Turbulent eyes, desecrated by war. It was enough to make a man want to hug her. Almost.

“What are you staring at?” He let his hand rest on his sword.

“Not block out…take in.” Mela drifted closer with the graceful slide of a skilled swordswoman. “Try to ignore and all you do is hear. Accept your surroundings, and become one with it.”

Sanders clasped his hands behind his back and squeezed his eyes shut for one moment. Pulling patience out of his ass and hoping it would stick around, he forced a smile. “Thank you for your insight, but in our army, we have a chain of command. They answer to me, and you answer to Shanti. I’ll do my job; she’ll tell you what yours is. How does that sound?”

Mela’s eyes started to twinkle. “Chulan told me to help them. She is above you in this chain, yes?”

Ire started to rise, heating Sanders’ face. He leaned forward just a little, trying to keep from seeing how far he could throw her. “She is outside of my chain of command, actually.”

“Then we are partners.”

Sanders tilted his head and showed his teeth. Mela smiled at him. She clearly knew that he was rapidly losing his temper. “And have you made any progress?” he asked.

Her smile dwindled and she looked down the line. “Half of them are wasting time here. They are too old.”

“I beg your pardon?” Fabienne put her fists on her hips in indignation.

Mela gave her a flat look and glanced down the row. “A seasoned fighter can be retired to a mostly stationary position when hurt or old. When his body fails, he must move less. By then, aim and focus is second nature. These old women have not learned, they cannot move, and have trouble standing for long periods of time. It is a good hobby, but otherwise, they are wasting their time, and yours.”

“Maybe we could learn if you would show us!” someone shouted.

And here came the arguments.

Sanders willed calm, ready to try and lead these women in a few exercises, when Mela said, “Maybe. I do not know you. First, I watch. I learn how you move. Then I try to fix, teach, or tell you to go home, depending on what you need. It is Chulan’s way, and very effective.”

“Well…” Fabienne shifted, looking at the other women. “I would be content to just watch. But I want to make sure these women get their instruction. They are part of the army, too. Shanti said it was to be so, and the Captain agreed. It’s bad enough they are pushed out here in the trees like some kind of secret—I want to make sure they aren’t forgotten about entirely!”

“Fine. Would anyone else be more content to watch?” Sanders rocked back on his heels, then stepped to the side as a quarter of the line shuffled out of the way. Ten women stood their ground.

“Yes, that is better.” Mela stepped away and crouched again. “Those who need to learn should learn.” She braced her forearms on her knees. “Everyone who is not good should not distract the fighters. They should find something useful to do.”

Sanders couldn’t help a grin. “Okay. Looks like you got this. This is one of two groups. I’ll assume you’ll watch both.” He nodded at the ladies still on the line. “If you have a problem, take it up with the Shoo-lan. Looks like the Captain is letting her run this donkey show.”

“Now hold on just a minute,” Fabienne said, but Sanders didn’t wait around. He’d just been given a free pass and he intended to take it. He’d go back to where men did as he said, and if they didn’t, he was allowed to punch them in the ear.

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