"The price of your head, ha! Don't make me laugh!"
"Swords are like dance partners, while one leads, the other follows effortlessly to complete the job."
"Call me a Half-breed, I dare you, because no matter what blood flows through my veins; your already dead, you just don't know it yet."
~ Ajani Kai ~
Ajani Kai: A Lesson Learned
Two long years of working from dawn till dusk in the fumes of the Blacksmith's hut. Ajani Kai held the steel as the Blacksmith pounded the other end with skilled ringing hits.
It had been a trying two years, but Ajani could not feel happier. That strange day when she'd first walked into the Blacksmith's hut seeking to become an apprentice in order to survive had turned out to be the best thing she ever did. The Blacksmith's name was Alfred, he was a hard man, but he was not cruel towards her. Because she pretended to be a boy, Alfred had been gruff and treated her as though she were really just a boy of hire. As time passed, Ajani had revealed her true identity to him one morning as she came into work with her hair pulled back in a ponytail and her work clothes on.
"A girl!" Alfred had exclaimed in shock, as Ajani explained more about the situation to him, he listened silently and patiently waited for her to finish. Ajani finally fell silent, her body bracing for an attack, but when none came she grew puzzled. "Sir, aren't you upset with me?" Her voice had barely been above a whisper. Fear had filled her, but when Alfred's face broke into a toothy grin, she was stumped.
"Well I'll be a horses shoe maker! I've been teaching a woman how to make steel and what's more! She hasn't complained! Haha, mad, child? No! Certainly upset about the deception, but not mad! More surprised! For sure, for sure." He rubbed his balding head and chuckled more and more to himself. "Well, no sense in letting you go now! Your good, so I'll keep ya on, but it's not right for a woman to handle this kind of task. This is, by all means, a man's job. But even though your a woman, since you've been pulling a man's load, I'm not about to change it." Alfred had given her a steady gaze as he spoke those words.
Ajani had remained since. She'd grown attached to the Blacksmith, he had become like family to her. Even though she hardly understood the meaning of the word. Today was a special day, for it was once again her birthday. Of course, she did not know her real birthday, she had always celebrated it right after the first day of Spring. She held the steel tightly with the tongs, turning it every few minutes to allow Alfred to shape the steel into a finely crafted sword. When it was time to let it cool after the final shaping, it was mid afternoon.
Sweat coated both of them, drenching their clothes and bodies. When Alfred smiled at her. Ajani smiled back. "It's your birthday again, young lady. What kind of gift can I give you this time?" Ajani looked away. The Blacksmith had given her a birthday gift for the last two years, though she felt she didn't deserve it. Alfred had always insisted. Last year he had bought her a beautiful dress - that she never wore for fear of getting it dirty but she loved it just the same.
This year, she didn't know what he had planned.
Alfred got to his feet a few minutes later and walked over to the wall of custom made swords. These, Ajani had found completely captivating. She loved swords, always had - but did not truly understand why. Alfred looked over his shoulder at her. She stared at him wide eyed and mouth open in shock, as he picked up a pair of twin blades with beautiful engraved designs on them. "I think your old enough, your twelve now, it's time you learned to protect yourself." He handed one to her, she merely looked at it in his hand. "Go on, take it. I am going to teach you how to use a sword. When your older, you'll know how to protect yourself and those you love. It will be a great day when you've found your heart." Alfred smiled genuinely pleased to give her the second twin sword. He kept the other one.
Ajani took the sword with great care and examined it. Alfred watched a moment. "B-but, Alfred, sir, wont your son want these?" Ajani questioned, looking perplexed and completely off guard. Alfred shrugged, his aging body no longer held the fluid grace of his youth, but he was strong. "I suppose so, but I didn't make these for him." He smiled again with a knowing twinkle in his eyes. Ajani looked confused. "Then, why did you make them? I thought you made only tools that were to be used for a purpose?" Ajani couldn't put it in her head that Alfred had made them for anyone other than for a very prestigious person.
Since she'd worked under his skillful watch, she had seen several dignitary people enter into this hut. Their flowing robes and silken clothing showing off how lavishly they lived in their wealth. Ajani shook her head. "Then, who are they for?" Ajani's small heart beat fast as Alfred's gaze grew direct, with one finger he pointed to her.
Almost automatically she looked over her shoulder to see if the owner stood behind her, but there was nothing. "I have watched you practice day and night, I have watched your eyes hunger for these blades. But most of all," He paused, Ajani blushed bashfully at his words. I never knew he was watching me! I wasn't careful enough! Oh, he's probably so mad, he's just taunting me! Ajani thought to herself as she waited for the silence to end. Alfred looked at the blade he held with a critical eye. "These blades also want to be yours." Ajani felt faint, she couldn't have heard him right, could she?
Six months later...
"Kai! I need some coal in here!" Alfred called from inside the hut. Ajani paused mid movement. The oranate custom swords glittered in the moonlight. She took a deep breath and relaxed. Both blades could become one blade if they are brought together, it is how they are stored in their sheath as well. Six months have passed since she received them for her birthday from the Blacksmith, Alfred. She treasured them above all other things she owned. Which, even now, was not much.
As she wiped the edges of the blades across the whet stone, she looked up at the sky and grinned. Who would have thought she'd be this fortunate. She had become an apprentice to a Blacksmith, she now had dual wield swords and Alfred's wife was teaching her about different toxins. She was very thankful for the teaching, but one little thought niggled at her inner heart. Why?
Why did they want to teach her all this? Why were they so accepting of her Half-breed blood than anyone else had ever been? Ajani just couldn't figure it out. She finished with the first blade and quickly put it away. She stored the whet stone in a small pouch at her waist. She'd created it after her old pants had lost their usefulness. Alfred had bought her brand new pants then too.
"Coming sir!" Ajani rushed to the coal pile just outside the furnace cage. Rolling up her sleeves, she grabbed the shovel and began shoveling the coal into the furnace. Although people who came into the Hut rarely saw her, she was always referred to as Kai - because it sounded like a man's name. Which Alfred was grateful for. Because he was now slightly blind, he relied on Ajani more and more each passing month. He may do the heavier and heaviest things but Ajani was never too far away to help.
Ajani heard voices inside the hut and decided to keep hidden. Some officials of the states and provinces would be more critical of who she was if they were speaking of something confidential. But Ajani could not defeat the urge to eaves drop.
One thing about being half and half, she had incredible senses. She could hear a whisper a mile away, smell a flower ten feet away, even taste the air. But she rarely allowed herself to enjoy the one sense that seemed to mark her a freak more than anything else. Her fangs and eyes.
Although she was half human, only her looks remained human. Her eyes would turn red if she got too hungry, plus her fangs would glimmer in the lights if she smiled really wide. Alfred had not minded in the least, however, he did keep his distance if she didn't eat that day.
Ajani listened in on the conversation within the hut as she sat on a stump and began eating a meal, prepared for her by Alfred's wife.
"Sir, I'm sorry, but I can not." Alfred was saying, his voice was tightly controlled as if he were trying not to grow angry at the person he spoke with.
"I've heard of your apprentice, Kai, they say he's pretty good - a regular old chap with a strong back is always welcome in my ranks." A smooth voice responded as though Alfred had not said anything.
"He's not for sale! Now, if your not buying a sword or weapon, then get out! I don't sell my apprentices - not even for one hundred denaria!" Alfred exclaimed angrily. The other gentleman cleared his throat.
"Fine, then I'll take my business elsewhere! I hear the blacksmith in the next village is quite the expert on weapon making. I think I'll spend my Denaria there! Ajani heard the gentleman leave in a huff.
Coming out of her small little hiding place, she came to Alfred, who by the looks of him seemed ready to explode. "Sorry, to have caused you so much trouble." Ajani whispered as she came to stand behind Alfred's turned back. Quickly spinning, Alfred came face to face with her. Lowering his head so he could look her in the eyes. "You are not any trouble, little lady! I do not want to hear that again, understood!? He briskly turned and left the area. Ajani held her breath until everyone was gone. But he's getting really mean people angry at him. I don't want that for him... Ajani thought to herself.
Ajani watched the firelight dance across the walls of the hut. The earlier dispute between Alfred and the gentleman still rang in her head, clear as a bell ringing. It's been more than two years, Ajani thought as she pulled her knees up under her chin. Sitting in the quiet of the room helped calm her scattered thoughts. But tonight, she was more disturbed than ever. A small shuffling sound came to her ears. Looking over her shoulder she saw Alfred returning. His head was low and his steps were slow. When he joined her, he seemed to have a heavy burden on his shoulders. "Master Alfred, what troubles you?" Ajani asked quietly.
Alfred didn't speak for a long while, when he finally did, it was as if the entire world had grown silent just to listen. With a sigh and a heavy heart, he spoke. "Kai, I can't keep you here..." He paused as he looked at her. Ajani's heart stopped. She couldn't breath. It was as if all the air in the world had just been sucked out of it leaving her breathless and suffocating."It's time you stepped into the world, I've taught you all that I know, though I am very proud of you by your mastery over weapons and potions, but, you see, my wife and I are leaving this place. We are going to live with her family..." Alfred's words fell like daggers into Ajani's heart.
For two long years, two years of wonderful bliss and hope, now stripped away from her just like that. She didn't want to speak to anyone. Her eyes burned, the feeling was foreign to her after so long of not shedding tears. As a single tear slid down her cheek, she saw Alfred stand. "It's nothing against you, Ajani, but - my wife and I, well, I'm retiring and I can not keep this place. You've suffered enough, you do not need the wickedness of my wife's family taunting you about your mixed blood. But know this," Here he looked at her squarely. Meeting her gaze for the first time, "You will always be welcome in my home. I hope you can forgive me, also, I want you to continue your swordsmanship and potion making. Maybe, they will one day bring you peace once more." With that, Alfred turned and left the room. Closing the door with a soft click.
Ajani stared at the fire place, the fire had gone down a bit, but it still burned the coals. The tears finally came in a flood of sorrow and agony. She cried for her life's struggles, she cried for hope, she cried long into the night. When all her tears were spent, she wiped away the last vestiges with her hand and looked out the window. What's going to happen to me now?