Sea Season 1616, 9 years old
On Priestess Mirava’s Family Estate, outside Nochet
Varanis’ father was Sestar Saiciae. Sestar was the oldest of four. His sister Samastina died without children, but his sister Valinyr had four of her own, including Xenofos. Varanis and Xenofos also have another uncle – the youngest of his line, who is called Desdel.
Given the matrilineal nature of Esrolian families, maternal uncles are significant relatives for boys. For Xenofos, Sestar was a hero. He reminisces: “Sestar was my childhood hero. First time I remember being on a horse he lifted me there. Dad was watching, smiling and joking with Sestar.”
Xenofos’ father, Xenotar rode with mounted militia when called, but he was ever too much horselover to be a really good cavalryman. He would pity the mount too much. Uncle Desdel was the one who taught Xenofos the most. He is much sterner and has less sense of humour than either of the other gentlemen.
In 1613, when Varanis and Xenofos were both about nine, Sestar went to join Starbrow’s rebellion. Before he left, he teasingly told Xenofos to look out for his cousin. Sestar didn’t make it home. He died en route to Kallyr’s armies, in a conflict with Tusk Riders.
Varanis was daddy’s girl and was sometimes jealous of the attention Xenofos and his brothers got from Sestar, especially when she wasn’t allowed to join in. She hadn’t really had to compete with her own brothers, because they were so much older. Sestar might have let her train, but his mother, grandma Mirava discouraged it, wanting Varanis to follow her sister along Ernalda’s path. And a man never argues with his mother. Varanis’ own mother was too obsessed with her own worries to pay much attention to her youngest and most unexpected child, so the raising of the girl fell to Mirava.
The following incident took place in Sea Season, just after Sestar left and before word of his death reached the family. Varanis and Xenofos are at the family estates, outside of Nochet.
“Of course men ride horsies Ranie, that is just the way it is. Ladies rule and men ride and fight. And you can’t ride anyway. Not as well as I do.” Brown eyes peering out from a mop of curly black hair meet the stormy grey eyes of his cousin.
Where little Xenofos already carries himself with dignity, Varanis’ grandmother regularly calls her a hoyden. At this moment her red hair is coming loose from her plaits, there’s a smudge of dirt on her cheek, and the knees below the hem of her tunic are skinned. Her thunderous expression suggests a vehement disagreement is about to erupt.
“Come on Ranie,you can’t wrestle me and win,” says Xenofos confidently.
“Can too,” she yells, charging at him, intending to push him over. As her hands connect with his thin chest, he wraps one hand around her neck and uses her forward momentum to throw her. They hit the ground together and suddenly Xenofos cries out and tears begin to fall.
“You bit me! That’s not fair.” The boy sounds outraged.
“Well yeah, Xeno. Of course I bit you! You tricked me.” She’s defiant, but the look on her face suggests that she knows grandma is going to be mad again. But grandpa will secretly applaud and tell her to use all her weapons. “Grandpa says real fighting isn’t fair and has no rules.”
Xenofos lectures her after he swipes at his tears. “In wrestling you don’t hit. Or pull hair or use nails or bite. Gentlemen play by the rules… And don’t fight girls or ladies.”
“I’m not a gentleman. I’m going to be a warrior, not a gentleman.”
He doesn’t argue with her about her not being a gentleman.
“You’re just complaining because I made you cry,” she says, taunting him.
“Grandma says you have to follow Ernalda and she is no warrior,” he reminds her stubbornly.
She gives him a mulish glare. “Nuhuh. I’m going to be a Vingan.”
“BUT Grandma says…”
A red ball of fury tackles Xenofos again, but as she closes, he once again snakes a hand around her neck. He plants his foot in her narrow chest, dropping his weight to the ground and before she knows what’s happening, Varanis is flying up and over him, howling with rage and fear. Her howls cut off abruptly as she lands flat on her back, the air knocked from her.
“Ranie! Are you alright?” She stares up at him, her bottom lip wobbling and her eyes glassy with unshed tears. She has the resilience of a child. So while it hurts, nothing is actually damaged and she’s more scared than anything else.
“Get up please,” Xenofos says urgently.
Her response is delayed as she catches her breath.
“I’m…” she inhales and the air catches on a sob that she doesn’t let out, “fine.” She pulls herself to her knees and stares at him. “Show me.”
“Are you alright?” He is staring at her with worry.
“M fine. Show me.”
Xenofos is a bit slow now, trying to figure out if he broke his cousin, not registering what she wants.
She stands, wobbles slightly, wipes away the unshed tears, and advances on him. “Show me how you did that, Xeno.” It’s definitely a demand and not a request.
“Ranie, I can’t teach you wrestling when Grandma says no…?” He brushes his hair out of his eyes, looking frustrated.
“Do you want someone else to be able to do that to me?” She gives him a stubborn glare.
“But you can’t push people like that as a lady.” He looks a bit lost because it is quite obvious that Ranie sure can and her future transformation to someone like Mirava remains a mystery.
“Xeno. Come on. I won’t tell grandma.”
“If you promise,” he says uncertainly.
“I promise.” Her reply is solemn, her expression a mixture of eagerness and determination.
He is looking very apprehensive. “You tried to push me with your hands to my chest.”
She stands directly in front of him, a little taller than him and a lot more bedraggled.
“I gripped one hand like this. And behind your neck with another.” He demonstrates, then says “Try that.” He is imitating his teacher on palestra, without realizing it.
She follows the instructions. Then looks at him. “Don’t you have to push me too?”
“For this to work, yes,” he says. “But before that you have to raise your left foot, and let your weight drooop….” She plants her foot in his chest and drops, attempting to lift him up and over. Her own landing isn’t terribly graceful, but Xenofos is flying. The Air rune path brings him forth.
Earth receives. And it’s his turn to be flat on his back on the earth.
She scrambles into a seated position to better see her cousin on the ground. Where he looked worried before, she looks triumphant now. “Again!”
“No. Girls should not wrestle but learn to be ladies…”
“But…” She scowls. “I did it right didn’t I?” She stands over him, offering a hand to pull him up.
“Yes, quite right.” Although he practically spits the words at her, the admission earns him a brilliant smile from his cousin. He accepts the hand but keeps his guard. She pulls him up.
“I have a wobbly tooth. See?” She shows him. One of her canines is indeed wobbly. “Maybe if we do more wrestling, it can get out and then I don’t hafta have grandma do it.” She blithely ignores both his irritation and his refusal to do it again. She is not like any other girl Xenofos knows.