Protection

Breccan stood there sheepishly, holding a pot of something in his hands. Octavia looked up at him from where she was double-checking the edge on her sword.
“Brec?”
“I know you said your lorica would protect you…but…can I?”
She stood slowly, coming over to see what he held. It was a pot of something blue and paint-like. Then she processed the swirling designs painted on his face, chest and arms.
“What is it?”
“Woad. It protects me in battle.”
She smiled up at him and pulled him down into a quick kiss.
“Then of course.”

His fingers were warm against her bare flesh, drawing an echoing warmth deep in her. She resolved then and there that once this battle was over, she was going to bring him back to this house of his, throw him down on the blankets and have her way with him, if just his touch could make her feel like this. His free arm went around her waist and she looked up.
“What?”
“You were wiggling.”
“Oh, sorry.” She paused then. “What are you drawing, anyway?”
She could hear his smile even if she couldn’t see it.
“The symbols from your shield. The eagle, the spears, the lightning.”
She smiled and sat a bit straighter, letting him get to her lower back.
“You’re wonderful, Breccan. Thank you.”

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Practice

Octavia saluted Breccan with the wooden training sword he’d given her and snapped her shield up into place as he came at her. He fought like no one she had ever faced before, all shouts and spins. He was fast and mobile, leaving her spinning to try to keep up with him. Finally, she locked his blade between her blade and her shield and slammed him to the ground with both. He went with a whoop of surprise and the wind left his lungs as he slammed into the ground. He lay there for a moment, dazed. When he came to his senses again, he realized she was standing over him with her sword point at his throat.
“Alright, alright, I yield.”
She tossed the weapon aside and offered him a hand up. Instead, he pulled her down into the grass and she laughed, letting him.

Breccan held his shield as comfortably as ever but felt odd with this strange and much longer weapon in his other hand. Octavia promised him he’d like the spear once he was used to it, that the range was worth the time it would take to learn to wield it well. It was also hard to focus with her hands on his arm, on his waist, on his shoulder. She kept moving, repositioning him and helping him through the movements until he was sure he must be as red as an apple or the paint on her shield. But he had to admit, he was starting to like this, if only for the promise of a great many more days of practice to come.

Pentium

A bit, a byte
A tiny little nibble
I sit in the dark
And I learn
You are my teacher
And I am your friend
Your playmate, your workmate

Messages running
Math to be done
I build for you forests
And bring you your mail
My small rodent friend guides me along
As we float through a sea most vast
And I learn the way

A process, a packet
A little tiny pixel
All for you I make them work
It’s getting warm now
But I keep pushing on
Sprinting, running
Unable to take a rest

I fan myself
An attempt to stay cool
In this sweltering race for fun
You keep watching my face,
Seeing what I see
But never noticing as I start to fail
The heat is too great

Slowly, piece by piece
I forget the things I’ve learned
All the places we’ve been together
All the things I used to know
They are erased by the painful heat
But I continue ever onward
Trying so desperately to help you

In the end, all is ash
My mind is torn asunder
Burned and shattered
I pushed and pushed
But I was not strong enough
Not fast enough or new enough
So, I will be replaced with a younger model

Archery Camp

I spent a lot of time in the coffee shop on the corner during the end of that school year. I wish I could say it was because of the free wifi or the good coffee. Mostly, it was because I had nowhere better to be and the barista was hot. So, I did my homework there and tried to get her number. Unsuccessfully. But with the end of the school year approaching, I was paying more attention to the tack board by the door where people posted job listings. That day was mostly like all the others, at least until the man I’d never seen before walked in. He didn’t say a word to anyone, just strode over to the board in his heavy black boots. When he raised his arms to attach a small posting to the board, I noticed the arrow tattooed on one arm and the antlers on the other. He had jet black hair tied back in a ponytail and a black leather jacket over a t-shirt that seemed entirely at odds with the rest of him. It was a jarring almost dayglow blue with a bow-and-arrow camp logo. As he walked out, he turned to glance at me for just a moment and he seemed to grin.

So of course, I got up and checked out the posting, my interest piqued. It was for an archery camp looking for counselors, no experience necessary, just a desire to help kids. I could certainly do that. I jotted down the number and packed my things to head home and apply.

The head instructor was unfairly attractive. The kind of woman who could make a room full of nuns swoon just by smiling. Her hair was a chestnut brown that she kept in a messy ponytail, though wisps of it escaped to frame her eyes. I’d thought at first that they might be silver, but that was mad. They were just a very pure gray. She really cared about those kids. Each and every one of them. When one of the littlest boys was afraid of the big dog that followed her everywhere, she took time out of her day to help him work through his fears. I can’t blame the kid, though, I’d thought that was a wolf the first time I saw him.

I’d hoped her co-instructor was her brother or something. No such luck. I’ve met her brother. He’s a piece of work. Blond surfer type who comes on the weekends to help out at the lake with swimming. Not that he’s ever gotten in the water. I think he just likes laying in the sun all day. He’s alright, though. Nice guy and great with a guitar. I think he might have a crush on her co-instructor, which is too bad really because they’re definitely dating.

We were out at the archery range one day, each of the kids lined up with their arrow to the string and their eyes on the target. That was the day we got the word that someone had snuck onto the grounds of the camp who very much should not have been there. She took one look at me and told me to take up my bow, I would hunt with her. The children would be safe in their cabins. I followed her, because what else could I do? We were miles out into the woodland of the camp before I heard a mix of howling and baying…and…laughter? There were other people now, all women like us…but green? They were carrying bows and running with the dogs that were ahead of us.
“He’s nearby. Keep your eyes out.”
That’s when I heard the twig snap and I whirled. There was a man there, a frantic look on his face and a gun in his hand. I had my bow up but panic was quickly setting in. He had a gun. I had a bow. This was not a fair fight. He raised the gun, aiming it right at my face. Just when he would have pulled the trigger, there was a pop like the world shifting and a stag stood in front of me, wheeling in panic.
“Take aim, little one.”
She was standing right behind me and I did as I was told now. My arrow loosed and found its mark quickly. She was laughing as she strode up to where the animal lay, bleeding.
“Never threaten one in my care.” Her voice was cold and harsh for an instant before she lifted the stag onto her shoulder. “Come along. I can leave this with the kitchens and we can have venison for dinner. You hunt well, but we need to work on your form a bit.”
“Of course.”

New kids come to the camp every year and it’s the safest place they could ever be, no matter what else happens in the rest of the world. And I would never leave here. Even if she’s in love with Orion. Even if her brother is too. It’s alright, this is home.

House Sharing

“Alright, you bloody wanker, we need to have words.”
The teenage specter stood with his arms crossed over his chest and glared at the old man who had just moved in with the small family. The old man turned slowly, his eyes hollow pits.
“I don’t need to talk to you, boy. They’re my family, not yours.”
“And it’s my house, Gramps. So we need to set up some boundaries or something.”
The boy took a step towards the old man, his gaunt face turning more skeletal than ever. The old man just laughed and dropped down through the floor.
“I told you, boy. I don’t have to talk to you.”

Pro Bono

It was my first job out of law school, working as an intern at a Pro Bono law office in the city. The place was run by two women. The first, my direct boss, was pretty much the poster child for female fire iron. She was the kind of woman who thinks nothing of staring down a judge and telling them that they’re wrong about a point of law. If you look up ‘she-demon’ in the dictionary, she’ll be there smiling out at you in a pantsuit and sensible flats. Her partner wasn’t exactly like her. She won every case she ever saw, but she also showed up late a lot of days wearing a tracksuit and carrying a gym bag.

It was your average Tuesday, which meant new cases coming our way and I got to deal with the clients in the waiting area. Make coffee, translate what Mrs. Gonzalvez was saying about her landlord, try to pretend I didn’t know the meanings for some of those words because those should not ever be written in anything official. Stuff like that. That was the day that the young man walked in. He was thin and pale, his clothing ill-fitting and his hair roughly cut like he’d done it himself. When he spoke, his voice was higher than I’d expected and light.
“Excuse me, but…can you help me file…something? I don’t know what I need. I just need to get away from my parents and keep them away.”
And my boss was there before I could call her, gray eyes flashing and her stance like she was ready to put a spear clean through someone.
“I’m sure we can help you.” She glanced at me. “A pot of coffee and order a pizza. Feta, olive.”
“Of course, Ma’am.”
Her partner was talking to the woman in the corner with the two toddlers and the black eye. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but that wasn’t important right now. I placed the order with the pizza place on the corner and they said they’d bring it as soon as it was ready. I heard my name called and stepped into the back deposition room.
“Yes, Ma’am? Did you need something?”
The young man was sitting at the table, tears of relief on his face as my boss presented him with papers and options and plans.
“How’s the coffee?”
“Coming right up.”
“Good. Can you also pull an official change of name form and…” She paused, thinking. “And call my sister and see if she needs an extra counselor at the camp of hers.”

There was something about that office. It wasn’t just that we tried to help people, or that my bosses always won their cases. It was like the women who walked through the door left stronger no matter what. Like they had a glow of confidence about them.

Assault

Octavia screamed, hurling curses in Latin at whoever it was who had grabbed her. He, it had to be a man with hands that large, tried to cover her mouth and she bit him as hard as she could. Then she slammed her head back into his face.
“Grab her, you idiot.”
Another set of hands grabbed her as her first attacker dropped. This time they were smart and more than one of them grabbed her, keeping themselves at a safe distance. Another man, one she recognized as disliking her presence in their village, came up in front of her and punched her in the gut as hard as he could. Her stomach lurched when she saw him pulling his fist back to do it again. But the blow never came. Instead, the man crumpled in a heap revealing Breccan standing behind him, casually spinning a staff.
“Let her go. Now.”
Octavia fell to her knees as they let her go and ran. When she looked up again, the sun was behind Breccan and he stood holding the staff in one hand with a raven on his shoulder. A shiver ran up her spine looking up at him and for a moment, she wondered if she’d been struck harder than she’d thought. But he really did look like a god in that moment, come down off his pedestal just for her. He knelt, gently wiping the blood from her lips.
“Are you alright?”
“I am now.”
He smiled and for a moment he lingered there, so close and yet so far. Then she reached out to put her arms around his neck and it was as though something in him broke. His lips crashed into hers. For half a second, she froze. She could feel him starting to pull back and clung to him, returning the kiss with an urgency she hadn’t known she had in her.