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(Split from Return To Clearwater: Derron And Niko)

As Derron walked away, Niko looked briefly at Aerin, a quizzical expression upon his face. But he was again quickly distracted as the maids led him to his room. He noted the girl's continued presence, but being doted upon by so many young women left him with a heady feeling, and he didn't dwell upon it.

Niko didn't imagine that his dwelling would be much to look upon, but compared to camp life, it was positively sumptuous. Other than the non-lived in state, it was pristine... A simple bed, table, and chair the only adornments. Being a free standing building, there were no need for rushes- the ample air through the three high windows provided enough ventilation to keep the place fresh. A fireplace was in the corner of the building, and the thatched roof was in good repair. What else could he ask for after being mostly on campaign for years.

"Thank you for your help, ladies," Niko said formally inclining his head to them. "I'm sure you have enough duties, so if you could bring me a broom, bedclothes, and a couple of buckets, I won't impose upon you any more."

As they rushed off, Niko looked towards Aerin. "Did your father have any other messages for me?"

Aerin tilted her head as she looked at the sellsword. "He told me to ask you about the bells in your hair," she said from the doorway of his room.

"He told you to ask..." Niko started incredulously. He looked at her quizzically, and something caught his eye, arresting the mirth that the statement brought on.

"...ok. Easy enough," he said. "Come with me," he beckoned her as he walked past her out of the room. "I need to get some things from my horse. If you follow, we can talk, no?"

Without awaiting a reply, Niko started towards the stables, talking as he did.

Aerin fell into step next to the sellsword as he left to go to the stables. She didn't interrupt as Niko began his explanation.

"Across the narrow sea, past the Free Cities, lies a desolate land called the Dothraki sea. Inhabiting this desert is a people who take their name from the area- the Dothraki. They are a fierce people, for whom battle is a way of life, roaming the desert in tribes called khalasar that are each led by a khal." It was apparent that he was immersed in the story, and in the memories that it brought. "I fought against them, as they raided towards the Free Cities. And found them just as fierce as I had been told. But also possessed of a strange sense of honor that had not." He had stopped outside of the stables, and now looked at her. But he didn't see her- his eyes were far away. "One day, I resigned my commission, and decided I had enough blood and iron. That I wanted more. I sought out the khalasar of one of my former enemies. I was a na´ve fool. But a brave one, and the Khal saw that, and tested me rather than having me killed outright. I passed all of their tests, and earned the first of my bells that day from the riders that I killed." He looked at her again. "You see, the Dothraki wear their hair in braids, entwining the bells in them from their fallen enemies. So is the strength of their enemies reflected in the one that defeats them. They cut the braid only when defeated."

Aerin looked slightly non-plussed at the explanation of the bells entwined in his hair. And more than a little bewildered at talk of seas and deserts. But the honor and fightings she nodded at, as if that she did indeed comprehend.

He absently ran his fingers through his hair, the bells tinkling softly. "But for all that I was accepted, I was not Dothraki. So I wore no braid, but braided the coin of my victory in my loose hair."

"And now a question for you," he said. "Why did your father tell you to ask?"

"My father wanted me to understand you," Aerin answered. "He told me I could earn my own sword if you taught me." There was a hint of hunger in her voice at the second part, as if it was something desperately precious to her.

"He was right. It was luck I knocked you off your horse with a stick." She looked at his hair, her eyes going over his loose hair and his trophies.

"I won't have you cut anything off," she added, realizing after the fact as was her want when she'd opened her mouth and stuck her foot in it.

"Do you," he asked after a moment's silence. "Think you understand me, that is."

Aerin looked at Niko, then shook her head.

"No," she said, her tone, muted, almost subdued. "I don't. I don't know what deserts are. I've hear of seas and islands, but I don't understand them."

She shrugged, looked around at the inside of the stable.

"I grew up here," she told Niko. "With my father and my brother Tomlin. And now he's gone to Barrowtown to foster."

The last was said with a trace of pain, or anger, in her voice.

"All I know is I want to learn to use a sword," she said bitterly. Aerin's eyes moved from the roof of the stables to the hay covered floor, a resentful expression crossing her face. "And my father says I can't even do that unless you say so," she forced out, her expression scrunching as if she were pained.

"Why?" Niko asked. "Why do you want to learn. And why do you think he said this?"

Aerin was silent, looking at the floor at her feet for a moment. Then, "I think he expects me to fail," she finally said quietly. "I think he doesn't want me to continue training."

"But I'm good!" Aerin looked up at Niko, her eyes reflecting her inner fury. "I'm better than Tomlin! I'm better than half the men on the training yard! I can do this!" she announced fiercely to Niko, her hands clenching at her sides.

"A girl should learn to control her temper before she touches steel," Niko said. Though he was berating, his tone was gentle. "What would you do with this training?"

Aerin glared at Niko. "Defend the Lady Draupaud to start with," she told him. "And why should a =girl= learn to control her temper before handling steel?" she asked with narrowed eyes.

Oblivious to the faux paus in his speech, or the change in the anger in hers, Niko answered, "Because in combat, anything you show to the enemy can be used against you, and anything that limits your ability to see will get you killed."

Aerin's frown deepened at Niko's words. Her brow furrowed as she tried to follow and understand what Niko was saying to her, not sure if she should be mad or not at this stranger who thought he could tell her anything. In spite of the fact her father sent her here for that very purpose.

"What a swordsman sees with his eyes, feels with his body, hears with his ears, smells with his nose- that s what separates the living and the dead."

He looked at her measuring. "Defending those who can't defend themselves is good. But that can't be all." He shrugged. "Understand that the one that teaches you will be responsible for what you do- for good or ill."

Aerin's expression grew more confused at that, as if that was a foreign concept to her.

"This one," he indicated himself, "cares not that you are a girl. He needs to see other things to see if you can be taught."

"Like... Others will care. You will insult them as men, and start fights just for being a woman. If this 'Tomlin' were to become ... upset because you are being taught, and tell you that you are stupid for wanting a sword and could never beat a man, what would you do if you had skill?"

"Tomlin is my younger brother," Aerin told Niko, crossing her arms as she spoke. "He's gone now, so it doesn't matter what he thinks about me being better than him." Her posture was a mixture of arrogance with a hint of uncertainty.

"Besides, if I don't keep learning sword, I'll have to go study with the Septa. And I don't want to get married yet..."

Suddenly Aerin shut her mouth, her expression turning bright red.

Niko looked at her all the more intently, silence reigning for a moment. Then he continued, seemingly ignoring the last exchange. "So. Not Tomlin- it was merely a ... an example. What if someone did insult you because you were a girl- insulted your skills. What would you do?"

"Challenge him," Aerin said without a hesitation. "I might lose, but I know I would acquit myself well," she said confidently, her expression returning to its normal tanned color.

Niko shook his head. "You have nothing to prove to anyone," he said. "Not other swordsmen, not me, not your father... And not to yourself."

"But..." Aerin looked confused at Niko's sudden tact.

"If you will be good with steel, it must be here," he pointed to her chest, "and here," he pointed to her head. "Nothing else. Forget Sers. Forget Lords. When you are in battle, only your blade and your body separates you from a shallow grave in some forgotten ground."

"If a girl can tell this one that she wants to learn because she wants to learn the way of the blade, then this one will test her to be sure that her words are true. The way of the blade is not easy, and running away from anything- be it a Septa's robe or a father's matchmaking will not keep her on the path when every muscle hurts and she can't think beyond the pain in her body."

"So, what say you?"

Aerin was silent for a long moment, her gaze pulled inward by her thoughts.

She opened her mouth to answer, then closed it. Took a breath, looked at Niko, then exhaled it. She was obviously flustered by Niko's offer.

"May I... think on it for a day?" she asked in a smaller voice than she'd used before. "Or do you need an answer now?" she asked uncertainly, glancing up at Niko.

Niko smiled, and nodded. "When this one was in a similar situation, he said the same thing. And will now give you the same words that were given to him."

"Your caution serves you well, and no matter what you choose, always remember that,"

His smile then disappeared as he continued. "A right decision is more important than a hasty one. But tomorrow. No later. If you cannot decide by then," he shrugged. "Then you cannot decide."

Aerin looked up at Niko, stared at him for a long moment. Then nodded once. "I'll let you know by tomorrow at dinner then," she said, her voice quiet but resolute.

Then she turned and left, leaving Niko alone in his new quarters.

Categories: WinterChillsGameLogs, Clearwater

Page last modified on February 15, 2006, at 12:05 AM