In the cottage assigned to the Sky-wind elder and Fiola, Rusza Tate crouched in the middle of the floor, holding little Soren up in the air. The boy lay on his belly on Rusza’s palm, arms spread wide and legs kicking. “Again,” the child giggled.
“So you can make noise,” Rusza laughed. He sprang to his feet, still holding Soren up at arms-length over his head.
Soren giggled again in excitement.
Rusza sat down and dropped Soren onto his lap. “I want to hear another story from Nana Friga,” he declared.
“A story about Sanna!” Soren crowed.
Nana Friga gazed at them in fond enjoyment. “Another story about Sanna,” she murmured. “Did you know, then, that she started showing her sympathy in the winter just short of her fifth birthday? She was ill, and she kept getting worse, with a fever that turned into a seizure and a rapid drop in body temperature, over and over. Her mother and father were fearful, so I sent for a doctor from Cavern. We feared Sanna would die before he could reach us. Her condition kept getting worse. Your Uncle Axel went out to stand at the turn of the road, watching for the doctor, even though it was sleeting sideways and the temperature was falling. It was past midnight, and the sleet turned to a full blizzard, before Axel returned. He kicked the door open because ice had piled up against the threshold outside. He had found the doctor. Inside the house, it was nearly as cold as outside. We had a fire burning, but that was a struggle because it was so cold that every ember that rolled off the heap was extinguished at once. Sanna’s sisters, Anna and Hanna, were in charge of feeding fuel onto the fire, just to keep them out of the sickroom.”
“Anna, Hanna, and Sanna?” Rusza asked.
“Yes, Erno, their father, was a methodical man who liked patterns and symmetry,” said Nana Friga with a reminiscent smile. “Quite different from his brother Axel. He was a man of measured words, but a stern and courageous man all the same. He stayed in the sickroom with Sanna the entire time, sending me and his wife out at intervals to warm ourselves at the fire for our safety. Well, the doctor arrived and went straight to the sickroom. He was a human body sympathist, but he recognized Sanna’s illness as a difficult first manifestation of her sympathy. He carried Sanna out into the village square and told her to push all the cold she was feeling away from her. She threw out her hands. The air became suddenly, achingly cold. The snow stopped falling. A window cracked in the Taivas house behind them, where Anna pressed her hand to look outside. The wind was raw. But when he brought Sanna back into the house, her eyes were clear for the first time in days, and the inside of the house started to warm up. He told us that she had a thermal energy sympathy, which most folks in the village had never seen before. We were astonished. He warned us that Sanna needed to be trained in her sympathy, or else it would become a danger to us and to her.”
“Wow,” Rusza said. “And she wasn’t even as old as you are now, Soren. Just imagine that!” He tossed the boy in the air and caught him.
A knock at the cottage door stirred the fourth member of the party to action. “I’ll answer it,” said Crystallin Locke. She opened the door. “Hello?”
Rusza said, “Hi, Dr. Zuma. What’s happening? Did Sanna Taivas send for us?”
“Not Sanna, but Father Locke. There’s to be a duel between Sanna and Mr. Guslin in order to settle the business permanently. Father Locke wants Elder Rohkin to be there as a witness.”
“Sanna Taivas is going to fight? For real?” exclaimed Rusza. “Oh, I want to see, I want to see!”
“Father Locke didn’t give any instructions on that point,” said Dr. Zuma. “You were asked to stay with Soren, weren’t you?”
Rusza wilted. “Yep.”
“I wanna see.” This time, it was Soren who spoke. He stood on Rusza’s thigh and wrapped his arms around Rusza’s neck.
Nana Friga said, “The people who frightened you before will be there. Are you sure you want to go anyway?
Soren released his hold around Rusza’s neck just long enough to grab Rusza’s hand and lift his arm to drape it around himself. “Rusza Tate’ll p’tect me,” he insisted.
“I surely will,” laughed Rusza. He stood with Soren in his arms. “Let’s go together!”
So they all followed Dr. Zuma to one of the nearer training fields. There, staff were staking out an area twenty feet by thirty feet and cordoning off the long sides with stakes and rope. Military personnel were already drifting closer, sensing that some event was soon to begin. Rusza waved to his cousin Aug.
“What’s going on?” Aug asked. “No one seems to know.”
“Sanna Taivas is going to fight a duel,” Rusza answered.
“Against who? Not Falgrim Hilston,” said Aug in dismay.
“No,” said Dr. Zuma with a wry smile. “Not this time. This is a professional matter, as I understand it. A formal duel between northern fighting schools. Sanna against the head of the Guslin style school.”
“That’s bad,” said Aug, “isn’t it? She’s so young.”
Nana Friga observed, “There will be no shortage of witnesses, I see.”
Rusza said, “Here comes Aunt Coralie. She’ll know what’s going on.”
And as soon as Coralie arrived, she said, “Friga Rohkin, we have a section set apart for witnesses over there, if you’ll follow me. Rusza, I’m putting you and Linnie in charge of making sure no one of that nasty family gets near Soren.”
“They are nasty, aren’t they? It’ll be my pleasure to protect Soren from them.”
Coralie stroked Crystallin’s hair. “Help Rusza however you can.”
Coralie took Nana Friga across to the opposite cordon. “Isn’t that the general?” said Rusza.
Dr. Zuma answered, “General Murren, Elders Sarand and Teglas, and the chief of the Harbor Guardians Guild. They have a complete collection of Leeward’s authorities as witnesses.”
“Sanna!” Soren shouted.
Sanna was walking into the cordoned area from their left. She smiled in their direction but neither stopped nor spoke. She wore her winter uniform, as usual, gloves and boots and hood included.
“And that’s Stolle Guslin,” said Rusza in disgust.
“He does give off a strong sense of nastiness,” Dr. Zuma observed. “Bad-tempered.” Her gaze tracked the man as he entered the cordoned area from their right.
Lieutenant Jock ducked under the cordon from the witness area opposite Rusza. “As a North Territorial familiar with the rules of inter-style conflict,” he announced, quieting the crowd, “I will be refereeing this duel. In accordance with the rules, each school head must declare the main principles of his or her style before the duel begins. Mr. Guslin?”
“Guslin style principle number one: use your opponent’s own body and movements against him. Principle number two: fight until your opponent can no longer resist.”
Sanna spoke in a ringing voice. “Sky-wind style, first principle: Fight in such a way that the Only One is honored. Second principle: fight with your unique sympathy at the core of your strategy. Third principle: use only the minimum required force to subdue your opponent.”
“I call on the witnesses to confirm that each duelist has made clear to the other what to expect,” said Lieutenant Jock, turning to address the witnesses.
They nodded and spoke their affirmations, but all that carried across the cordoned area was an indistinct murmur.
Lieutenant Jock raised his hand. “Then, in accordance with the rules, I declare this duel is begun, to conclude when one of the duelists is unable to continue.” He lowered his hand and backed away from the center area, but did not exit the cordon.
Stolle Guslin and Sanna circled around each other, eyeing each other, in no hurry. Sanna led with an experimental jab, and Stolle Guslin tried to grab her wrist. She struck an open-handed blow to the side of his head with her other hand, and they parted, with Guslin shaking his head irritably.
“She provoked him,” said Aug, “but she hasn’t got him going yet. Neither wants to be the first to engage seriously.”
“Why’s that?” Rusza asked.
“It’s just my guess, but Taivas is the less experienced of the two. Taking the initiative isn’t to her advantage. And the other… he isn’t taking her seriously, maybe because she’s young.”
“Then he’ll break the stalemate first,” Rusza pondered, “because he doesn’t think she’s a threat?”
“Probably. Taivas is a thinking fighter. Oh!”
They both jumped. A flurry of movements brought the duelists together and apart again in seconds. Sanna spat on the grass.
“He’s going for her face,” Aug said. “Hit her in the mouth the second try, and she took it square.”
“She’s tough,” Rusza agreed.
Sanna bobbed left to avoid another jab to the face. This time, she closed her fingers around Guslin’s wrist and pulled him off-balance to drop him with a leg sweep. He rolled as he fell and was on his feet again the next moment. He was slightly behind her when he came up.
“Sanna, turn,” Rusza shouted.
She did turn, but in a spinning whip kick that only narrowly missed its target. She landed lightly on her feet and threw a left cross that glanced off Guslin’s shoulder when he spun away from her attack.
For several minutes, they attacked and blocked like this, neither able to land a serious attack. The crowd had gotten caught up in excitement. The shouting drew other spectators. Rusza suddenly found Moor at his elbow. “Is that the one trying to take Soren away?” he yelled in Rusza’s ear.
“Why are they fighting?”
“Duel,” Rusza shouted back, “between schools, or something like that.”
The duelists grappled suddenly, and Sanna threw Guslin to the ground on his back, but again he rolled with the fall and was up again immediately.
“Human body sympathy,” Moor yelled. “Body mechanics fighter.”
“Is that why it’s taking her so long to beat him?” shouted Rusza. “Whoop, her sympathy’s slipping!”
Fog started to build around Sanna. Her quick breaths were white in the hot sunshine. But rather than pull back from the fight, she started to unzip her uniform jacket. She shed gloves, hood, and jacket in succession. A wave of cold swept the training field. Sanna unleashed a series of kicks and punches that Guslin blocked or dodged, and still the air grew colder. The grass crunched under the duelists’ feet, made audible by the awed hush that fell upon the spectators.
“Man alive, that’s cold,” muttered Aug. “Even I think it’s cold, and you know I never feel cold.”
Sanna finally landed a flat-palm thrust to Guslin’s solar plexus that he couldn’t shake off. The gust of his exhale came out as a jet of fog as he staggered a step back. Sanna cut his feet from beneath him with another leg sweep. This time, Guslin was slower to regain his feet.
In the crowd, it became easy to see who possessed thermal energy sympathy by the steam that rose above them. Rusza warmed Soren in his arms. “Our Sanna is strong, isn’t she?” he said in the boy’s ear.
Soren nodded vigorously.
The sky started to cloud over, dimming the bright sun. With the accumulation of clouds, the temperature dropped yet further. Spectators were huddling close around the thermal energy sympathists among them, but no one looked away from the duel.
“Impatience,” said Dr. Zuma. “And anger. It isn’t going his way. He’s close to losing his temper.”
At the end of another long exchange of attacks and parries, Guslin had a strong grip on Sanna’s right wrist, and he finally had the leverage to attempt a wrist lock. Several among the crowd, including Aug, groaned in dismay, but as the duelists stood for a few seconds in that pose, Rusza said, “She just baited him into this, didn’t she.”
“Yep,” said Moor. “This is going to be good.”
Guslin applied pressure to force Sanna to bow forward. She complied quickly. As she lowered her upper body, her right leg rose in back and her boot grazed the side of Guslin’s head in passing. Her free hand touched the ground. Abruptly she went into a one-arm handstand as she jammed her right boot under Guslin’s chin and hooked her left toe behind his neck.
“Yeouch!” said Aug. “That’ll hurt.”
Guslin released his hold on her wrist and tried to back away, but now Sanna had both hands free. She grabbed his near ankle with her freed hand and pushed off with her planted hand to tip her weight toward him. Both fell full-length on the ground, but Guslin took the worst of the impact. He rolled, but only onto his side as he coughed and choked.
Sanna jumped to her feet. Blood beaded dark from an abrasion on her pale forehead. “Do you yield?” she asked.
Guslin was spitting blood into the grass. He shook his head violently, but more as if to clear it than to reply to the question. He got to his knees and then to his feet.
“Do you yield?” Sanna repeated.
Guslin shook his head again. “To you? Never.”
Her sigh was audible and visible in the frosty air. Sanna took three strides toward her opponent. “Do you know why Doc abandoned Guslin style? He said it was useless in a real fight. He taught me every counter to prove to me that it was useless.”
Guslin charged her, trying to retake the grip he had gotten before.
Sanna sidestepped and swung a knifehand strike to the side of his neck that threw off his stride. In another fraction of a second she was behind him, one arm around his neck and the other under his arm and up to brace her hand against the back of his head.
It took only a second before he went scarlet and he started beating against her choking arm. In a few more seconds, he sagged in her grasp.
Sanna dropped him. She stood over him, watching with clinical interest as he gasped for air. “Do you yield?”
“Never to you,” he spat.
“Don’t be a fool,” Sanna said. “Yield.”
“No!” Guslin bellowed. “I’ll never give control of my school to a woman, a child!”
“If that is your choice, then I have no choice but to continue.” Sanna waited for him to stand before she downed him with the same open-handed thrust to the solar plexus that had knocked him down earlier. Then she waited again while he got to his feet. She followed with a front kick that just clipped his chin.
Guslin stepped back to dodge. His foot slipped on the icy grass and he fought for balance.
In this moment of vulnerability, Sanna waited until he barely had his feet under himself before she charged him, grabbed his wrist, and forced him into the same wrist lock he had tried on her earlier. Guslin was not able to escape it as she had. She forced him to the ground on his stomach and lifted his straight arm to the very limits of his flexibility. “Yield.”
Sanna exerted a slight pressure on the locked arm she controlled, raising it higher behind him. Something popped, and Guslin roared.
Moor uttered a soft exclamation of dismay. “That’ll take a while to heal.”
“Yield,” Sanna said again.
Guslin was beating the ground with his free fist. He did not answer.
Sanna knelt with her knee in the small of his back. “If you will not yield, then can you continue fighting like this?” She raised her eyes to Lieutenant Jock.
“According to the rules of inter-style dueling,” Lieutenant Jock announced, “Duelist Guslin is no longer able to continue. The duel is over. Sky-wind school is the victor and has authority now over Guslin school. Do the witnesses agree?”
The assembled witnesses called out their agreement.
Sanna released her hold on her opponent and stood up. When Guslin tried to get up from the ground, the arm that Sanna had injured hung uselessly at his side. He glared his rage, but Sanna turned away from him to face Everard and Coralie’s approach. “It’s over,” she said. Then she spat blood on the grass.
“We’ll have a medic look at you,” Coralie said.
Sanna shook her head. “It’s just a cut in my mouth. It hasn’t stopped bleeding yet.”
Rusza stepped over the cordon, still carrying Soren. The little boy had his arms outstretched toward Sanna and was leaning forward. Crystallin, trotting beside Rusza, said, “Soren, be patient. We’ll get you to Sanna.”
Ragata Guslin and her two younger relatives were bearing down on them from Rusza’s left, the young man in the lead. “Whoa there,” Rusza said, holding out his left hand. “That’s far enough. Sanna settled this. You won’t get near Soren.” When the younger Guslin man seemed ready to ignore this, Rusza let electricity gather around his outstretched hand. “Don’t make me do it,” he warned. Then he jabbed the Guslin man with two fingertips, shocking him.
“You won’t dare,” said Ragata Guslin. She stepped over her grandson on a straight line toward Soren.
“I won’t touch you,” Rusza agreed. “Soren, shut your eyes and cover them with your hands.” After the little boy had obeyed, Rusza released a pulse of blinding sunlight from the palm of his hand immediately in front of Ragata Guslin’s eyes.
The flash caught everyone’s attention. Even injured, Stolle Guslin hurried toward them. “How dare you!” he barked.
Linnie stepped in front of Rusza with her arms spread wide. “No. Don’t come near Soren.”
“Get out of my way, little girl.”
“No. I won’t let you.”
Guslin punched with his usable hand, aiming at Linnie’s face. She squeaked and raised her hands in front of her face reflexively in defense. As soon as the punch landed against her hands, however, Stolle Guslin roared and jerked his hand back in agony.
They were surrounded now. Mica reached them before either of Linnie’s parents. “Linnie, are you all right? Did he hurt you?”
“I think it’s the other way around,” said Moor. “She broke four of his fingers. How did she do that?”
Mica and Rusza said, “Grandma Allimae,” in unison.
Everard grabbed Stolle Guslin by the back of the neck. “Stolle Guslin, I am placing you under arrest for assault and attempted kidnapping, and for breaking the terms of your probation as determined by the elders of Cavern.”
“Assault?” Stolle Guslin spoke through clenched teeth, his face pallid with pain and rage. “What assault?”
“The assault of Jan Kittla. You know very well the terms of your probation: if ever you should attempt to assault any non-fighter again, you would be charged with the full crime that you committed twenty years ago. Just now, you attempted to assault my daughter Crystallin, a minor and a non-combatant. The terms of your probation are broken. You will be held in Leeward for trial on the charges of attempted kidnapping, and afterwards you will be extradited to Cavern for trial on the assault charge. According to Elder Isha Vannhin, with whom I have been in correspondence regarding this matter, the case has been held ready for prosecution. The potential sentence for you would be as little as ten to fifteen years in prison and the forfeiture of leadership of your school— or as much as lifetime expulsion from Haazak.” Everard pushed the man through the crowd to where a set of four Harbor Guardians waited.
Rusza watched them go. Then he turned his head to find Sanna in front of him. “Sanna Taivas,” he said, “we didn’t let them near Soren.”
“Thank you, Rusza Tate. Thank you, Crystallin Locke.” She took Soren in her arms and hugged him firmly. Her sympathy was again in control, even without the extra pieces of uniform. Then she set Soren on his feet, holding his hand. “Let’s go to the army spa, my joy. I might need a stitch or two for the cut in my mouth.”
Rusza loped across the grass and grabbed her discarded uniform jacket. He returned to drape it over her shoulders. “Here, put this on.”
She raised her eyebrows. “That is courteous of you, Rusza Tate.”
“Mm, not really.” Rusza had his eyes on the cloudy sky. “It’s just really distracting without it.”
Moor broke into a raucous laugh. “Always a gentleman, Tate, always a gentleman. We’ll walk to the spa with you, Taivas. I wanted to tell you, about halfway through, that stopped looking like a duel and started resembling a public execution. You knew you could beat him from the first, didn’t you. Admit it.”
As she led the way toward the spa, Sanna said, “I wasn’t sure, actually. Doc had always told me that it was possible, but even knowing all the counters I always struggled to beat him. That made me doubt that I could… but he was right. Doc was right after all.”
Axel stood in their path, leaning on his cane and watching Sanna with a face full of mixed emotions. “Little Sanna,” he said when they met. “You did it. Marinen would be so proud of you if she had been here to see.”
“No,” said Sanna, “if she had been here, I wouldn’t have had a chance to do anything. She would have beaten that man into a bloody pulp herself.”
Axel laughed. “You’re right. But she would still be proud of you. As would Nilma and Doc. You need to start thinking about ways to build up the school they started and gave to you. The Sky-wind school,” he said pensively. “The name will continue.” He hugged Sanna with his free arm. “I am so very proud of my niece. Just think: you’re the head of a school now.”
“A school with no students,” Sanna returned dryly.
“There’s Soren,” said Rusza Tate. “He’s your student. He couldn’t take his eyes off you when you were fighting.”
“If that’s all it takes,” Moor quipped, “then you’re one of her students too. I want to be able to call myself a student of the Sky-wind style too. Haven’t I been learning it from you, Sanna Taivas?”
Axel laughed again. “There you go. Three willing students, ready-made.”