Azara’s earliest memory is of harsh sunlight and the smell of camels and blood. The following memories are all similar, with varying amounts of heat and cold, animals and death, but all involving movement (often rapid) and being surrounded by strangers. Some of the people were cruel, some kind, and some indifferent, but she doesn’t know any of their names. And the name she herself carries is probably not the one she was given at birth.
This all happened during the Dwimmerlaik War, obviously, but by the time she arrived in Trepezund her owner couldn’t say anything about her except her name and that she was five or six years old. Probably from somewhere northerly, by her fair coloring, but maybe not – there are always quite a few pale northerners living and visiting in this region. If she ever knew any language besides the local Turkish and a smattering of Persian (her name, which means “scarlet,” is Persian), it was already gone.
In her young life, being in Trepezund meant an end to constant travel, and thus a need to learn to get along with people, because they’d still be there next week and next month. It also meant security. Outside the capital and the area immediately around it, Dwimmerlaik raids, troop movements, banditry, and local revolts abounded for as long as the war lasted and even beyond. But inside the capital city’s walls, life continued, everybody said, pretty much as it always had.
When she was about eight, she belonged to a merchant family and was employed running messages. Literally running, even though that wasn’t really required of her; she liked running, and also liked the rewards of sweets or even a coin that she sometimes got for crossing half the city as fast as she could. And then one day she was informed that she’d been sold to a representative of the Bey of Trepezund himself. Before she knew it, she and her paltry handful of things were moving into a barracks-like structure full of other girls. Had she heard of the Great Games? Of course she had, but she’d never seen them. Now she was going to be in them – if she was good enough, strong enough, fast enough. Winners of the Great Games get their freedom if they’re slaves, along with fame and rich prizes.
After two years she was put into the training for the Women’s Tricathelon. This is one of the most difficult competitions, requiring expertise in unarmed combat, long-distance running, and dance, all done in that order on the same day. She learned quickly, and asked many questions. After a while one of the trainers had her taught to read and loaned her books on the things she was studying, and related subjects. It’s been an unusually sheltered and cloistered life, especially for a slave, but unlike many of the other girls she hasn’t complained about it.
Nor has she become particularly attached to anyone. Notwithstanding the stability of the last dozen years, she remains convinced that nothing in life is permanent, especially relationships. And quite a few of the girls she started training with have been pulled from it for one reason or another. The primary exception to this lack of attachment is Süheyla, the instructor who loans her books and talks to her about them.
Eight years into the competition training, and five years after the end of the war, it’s obvious that she’s the best in her age group. Every time it seems like another girl is getting a little stronger, a little faster, Azara finds another bit of strength and speed, and nobody’s ever been able to match her endurance. With the actual day of the competition in sight, the others are competing to see who’ll come second behind Azara. Of course, not everyone attends the same training school, and some of the competitors might even be free women (rare though that is). She’ll have to push herself harder than ever before to be sure of winning.