Asis wiped sweat from her brow and glared at her targets. They were eight wooden posts with wooden rings affixed to the top. Each ring was covered with cloth and crude faces were drawn on each one as if children made them. This wasn’t far from the truth, as Asis herself remembered painstakingly drawing on the cloth with charcoal when she was quite young. From the time they were very young, the youth purchased their food and protection with chores – and preparing young warriors for battle was a chore Asis now appreciated, even though she no longer participated in their construction. The targets made poor approximations of bandits. This was her fifth attempt that morning to hit all eight targets in order. No matter the fancy footwork she employed, she couldn’t seem to hit the last target. The first seven targets’ canvas faces were in various stages of disrepair, but number eight remained unscathed.
This spear is too unwieldy, she thought as she hefted the wooden shaft in her hands. She had just graduated from daggers. To her, the stone daggers wrapped in animal hide were a more effective way to fight. She imagined each step with the daggers to be a dance, an almost sensuous dance. The dance would last only a few songs. When she sparred with other students, she always kept eye contact until she landed the killing blow. It was as if she focused on dancing with a partner who was dancing to different music, and her arms and fists danced to yet a third melody. There were whispers that she had taken to the daggers with such skill, that the divine must’ve touched her.
The spear, on the other hand… Not a dance, she thought.
Whereas the daggers were extensions of her arms and fists, the spear was just a tool. No better than digging in the sand. She no longer moved with grace, but seemed to lumber around, flat-footed, flailing with the big stick. As was tradition immortal, she was to create and maintain her own spear just as she had with her daggers, but as many times as she had broken her spear, she devolved into only doing the bare minimum. The whispers of her prowess with the dagger turned to snickers and outright laughter when they thought she couldn’t hear. But hear she did, and each jilt or slight weighed on her heart.
“One more time, if you will.”
The sarcasm of Master Hunter Gahiji was evident. He told Asis of the many wonderful students he taught, and how Asis lacked their most elementary skills. Gahiji was known as one of the strictest instructors in the consortium, and everyone seemed to know it except Gahiji himself. He went on numerous sabbaticals in the desert. Moon or not, he’d always come back unscathed. Although students sought him out, he still felt it necessary to display his strength and cunning. Upon each return, he would declare that only masters of the spear had any business being warriors, and that all other disciplines only served to prepare potential warriors for the inevitable training with the spear. If his arrogance wasn’t so well deserved, Asis might’ve hated him more. As it was, Gahiji’s students were treated as indentured servants. Asis couldn’t believe that her parents swallowed the stories and forced their daughter to train with this man, no matter his reputation.
Gahiji informed Asis that she was the laziest student he had ever had the displeasure to instruct. But, her parents had paid his fee and he would turn her into a spear hunter even if it broke her. Despite her effort to the contrary, she was improving, but only because training with the spear was a means to an end. She avoided doing her chores, only completing them after several days’ worth had accumulated and she could no longer hide her laziness. When Gahiji assigned tasks to be completed, Asis did them as quickly as possible so she could end her day of training and return to spar with her dagger instructor. The sooner she became a hunter in the eyes of Gahiji and her parents, the sooner she could cast away the unwieldy weapon and accompanying skills.
Lately, Asis spent her time running to this glorious battle sight or from that famed training ground. Fording rivers without dampening her spear, or finding it in the sand after Gahiji threw it away had been her way of life. It was as if Gahiji was punishing her for daring to prefer any weapon to the spear. Master Gahiji was driving her to madness. He continually preached, “Practice your skills” or “Complete these steps within a fixed amount of time.” Asis considered just quitting, despite the shame it would’ve brought her parents.
Without warning, the smooth shaft of a spear crashed against the back of her legs, sending Asis to her knees. The impact elicited a cry of pain despite her attempts to the contrary.
“No daydreaming!” Gahiji bellowed. “You’ll learn nothing at this pace!”
Asis considered breaking her spear over her knee, but Gahiji would just laugh and instruct her to build a new one. She bit back the deluge of comments that flooded her head and staggered to her feet. She could bear no more humiliation today. Her dignity was was eroding as the sand ate away at the great wall that protected her city. If another thing went amiss that day, she was going to earn her way from the minor humility of a student to the grave humiliation of a failure – a failure in the eyes of her master, her family, and although it galled her to admit it: herself.
I must withstand his teachings if I am to prove my mettle as a warrior, the analytical portion of her mind whispered.
Asis focused and let loose her spear again and again. If nothing else, repetition would stave the wrath of Master Gahiji.
A smile formed as she appreciated her own play on words, and she loosed the spear once again.
Next: The Falls of Dawn