One of the buildings in the Kerebos compound is devoted solely to exercise and training. Sixty-foot square, the structure is open on the sides save for the Olympian columns holding up the roof. A bas-relief depicting Lapis engaged in various sports runs around the perimeter of the roof lintel, and there is a dirt track and sports field nearby, along with several large circular areas filled with sand.
After washing off Tasha's Vykarin-kisses in a fountain, Aaron takes the Hydron does and visitors over to the main Gymnasium, where riding training is going on. The practice field has been set up like a miniature battlefield, with young (but big) bucks defending a crudely built wall and young (but bigger) does facing them on Vykarin-back with lances. An old and heavily scarred buck is instructing the defenders, while an armored Warrior doe leads the attackers.
Tasha takes in the sights with an air of wonder. It seems to her like every hour she finds something that reminds her just how far from home she is, and just how alien the culture is that surrounds her. She's even a bit disconcerted by her speech, changed as it has to almost constant, if mangled, Olympian, "I saw one o' them bands o' riders in the city," she remarks as she points to the does. At least, her accent hasn't changed a bit.
"Those are just warriors in training," Aaron explains, and points out the simple armor hardened leather instead of bronze and blunted weapons. "Even the Vykarin are in training, but by this level they've all passed the basic stuff."
The armored doe gives a signal, and the first rank of riders lower their lances and charge forward towards the wall.
"Is tha' what I'm wearin' then? Trainin' armor?" Tasha waves a hand to her own leather armor, a gift from Calli's house. "You know, I saw some o' them knights in … " she glances at the does with her, grins, then quickly changes her mind and says, " … another one of them tribe outposts, it was! Oi, Aaron," she leans over to the buck and takes one of his ears so she can whisper in it like a phone, "if I'm supposed to be a doe, wha' am I supposed to say abou' my tribe an' travelin'?"
The defenders hold up heavy wooden shields and blunted swords, and prepare to meet the attack. Aaron winces at the yanked ear, and he switches to Standard to say, "Say… uh… say you're from a Roams tribe, and can't talk about it."
Tasha switches to standard, too, and asks, "Roams tribe? Is tha' goin' to get me in trouble? I'm on to you an' your tricks, I am!" Her eyes shift away from the buck to the warriors, watching them as they hurtle towards the defenders.
Laia and Lia 'ooo' and 'ahh' over the trainees, which are close to their own ages. There are a few mishaps in the charge, as does shift their lance awkwardly and throw their mounts off balance, causing a few collisions and wipeouts.
"The Roams tribes are… uh, scattered and fairly impoverished," Aaron explains quickly. "They follow the mana from the sky gardens, and track the Goliaths, and tend to have a lot of mutations. They don't fight much."
"So I'm poor again, I am? Fair 'nuff, been there, done that. Doesn't soun' like it'll win me any friends, though," Tasha whispers. She laughs when the does wipe out, then elbows Aaron. "Reminds me o' the time I tried to ride a ptera. Fell a couple 'undred feet until I got me wings!"
When the remaining attackers and defenders meet, the air is suddenly full of splintered wood, loud barks and the screams of injured Lapi. Those that weren't knocked out start going at one another with swords.
One Vykarin runs back across the field in panic, its rider clinging to its tail and being dragged along behind.
Aaron just covers his eyes with his black hand and shakes his head. Meanwhile, Roland returns, along with a group of stretcher-bearing, normal-sized Lapi who begin to collect the wounded. "Hmmm, not bad for a first time battle," the big buck says, all smiles. "And it doesn't look like anybody ran or got killed… although a bit more trampling than usual."
"I'm glad I'm no' much o' a warrior," Tasha whispers to Aaron, then winks at him even if he can't see it. After that she leans away and resumes Olympian, waving to Roland. "Tha' looked right painful, it did!"
Once the dust settles, only two of the combatants are still going at it. The doe's head it covered in blood, and half of her shield is missing, but she's still managing to gain ground on the buck with the obviously broken arm.
"Well, it's supposed to be painful," Roland notes, coming over and putting an arm around Tasha's shoulder and the other around Aisha's, the golden doe still staring at the carnage.
Tasha doesn't seem to mind she even shifts her weight to lean against Roland a bit. "I jus' guide animals through the air. I'm a decent 'and wit' a bow, an' I've go' me whip an' me fists, bu' I've never 'ad to do anythin' like this. Thought I was all mighty in tha' pit in Abu- … the … Roams, beatin' tha' ti- … man up somethin' fierce, bu' I'm rethinkin' tha' now."
Finally, the squad trainers move in and separate the two determined fighters, who look like they're about to fall on each other. "Hmm, that's Euphrosyne's daughter Doreen," Roland notes. "She's getting better, but it's not good that she and Roald are always fighting one another like that."
"Rivals, is it," the pseudo-doe Vartan asks. "Isn't tha' kind o' fightin' wha' you want?"
"No, fighting should be impersonal," Roland says. "Otherwise you make mistakes."
Tasha's ears askew, her head tilting. "I think I get it. Never really 'ad to fight like this, come to think o' it. Bar fights an' … do you 'ave bars? … Bar fights an' some pirates don' count."
"This is how you train?" Aisha asks, finally breaking her silence. "With live combat?"
Roland nods to the smaller doe, and says, "Of course, it's what they're going to facing after all." He turns his face to Tasha then, and asks, "Bar fights? With metal bars or wooden ones?"
"We've never seen so many in a fight before," Agalaia pipes up. "It wasn't like the Coliseum at all! They were just kids like us."
"We jus' shoot at whatever floats in the sky an' ain't alive. Cap'n-" Tasha's ears switch position, her head tilting the other way, a bit like a confused Vykarin. "Wha'? Bar- … Oh! I get it, you keep makin' me think you've been aroun' wha' with talkin' like Xavier. Bars are these places where we drink an' 'ave a good time. Met Calli in a bar, I did. Almost had at her, bu' she was a looker an' I let 'er go." Tasha winks, then gestures at the bloody warriors to indicate how well THAT would have gone.
Roland laughs, and musses up Tasha's hair. "You are trying to fool me! A special place just to drink, when one can simply go to the dining hall?"
"She means spirited drinks, Roland," Aaron explains. "Strong enough to make you dizzy."
Tasha laughs too, then grins widely. "I'm tellin' the … Oh 'ell, you got me! I was tryin' to fool-" she sticks her tongue out at Aaron.
"Hah," Roland laughs again. "How can you have fun if you are dizzy in the head? I can't picture Calli doing that!"
"Oh, she was just there to kill someone," Aaron explains. "It looks like the practice is over for the day, what with everyone being taken to the healer. What's next, cousin?"
"Don' 'ave to, she won' drink. She was jus' there to give some fool 'is business. We like a good buzz out there, we do. 'Elps us unwind like," Tasha explains. "I was there doin' jus' tha' until Calli arrived. Then she up an' dazzled me, an' I followed 'er out 'ere!"
"Unwind?" Roland asks, and starts leading everyone back towards the main Villa.
"You know, relax. Take a breather. Maybe find some company or 'company'," the Vartan tries to explain. "It's like a … rrr, what's it like Xavier?"
"There is nothing like it here," Aaron explains. "Or rather, you can get the same thing at home here."
"Tha' wasn't 'elpful," Tasha complains.
Aaron just shrugs and grins at the hybrid. "Lapi's don't need alcohol, and they have ways of being intimate without… being intimate."
"You're a strange peopllll-" Tasha pauses to look around, grins nervously, then just shrugs. "Strange! I don' get it, maybe I will some day, an' maybe I won'."
"The outer world is a cold and lonely place, it sounds!" Roland declares, and takes everyone through a side entrance into the Villa, across the entry hall (which is suitably huge and ornate enough to befit a palace) and then down some stairs into an underground hallway, and from there to a bedroom.
A bedroom in the Kerebos Villa
Beams of sunlight enter the room from the high, narrow windows, but most of the light comes from fish-oil lamps. The walls are bare stone, save for a few decorative tapestries, and the floor is made of clay tiles, which give off surprising warmth. An ornate wooden wardrobe stands near the entrance, easily big enough to hold the clothes of a small family, and next to it is a "bed" that could sleep one. The bed is composed of a layer of Rughrat furs covering hay, and covered with several woven blankets that look and smell like they are woven out of Lapi fur. The far wall holds a table and several chairs, along with a washbasin. Several decorated chamber pots are stacked near the washbasin.
"This is Lucia and Coeus' room, as I'm sure Xavier remembers," Roland says, and sits on the bed. "We can wait here for her and your servant Layth to return from the baths."
Aisha seems to be having trouble reconciling the finely crafted furniture with the chaotic bed, but sets it aside for now and sits down. "How long does it take for this Lucia to bathe?" she asks.
"I guess you don' call it the Demon Lands for nothin'," Tahsa tells Roland as they enter the room. "The outside, tha' is. No' tha' I'm not likin' you all, mind, it's jus' odd to me. 'Course, I almost feel like I fit in, wha' with everyone thinkin' I'm jus' another doe. Might stay, I might! 'Course, then I'd never get me ship an' … Right, might stay an' go an' come back again."
Aaron nudges Tasha, and reminds her, "Does don't chatter on and on like that. Try to use more… body language… hmm. Maybe not… "
Tasha reaches over and tugs Aaron's ears. "'Ow's this? You're no' bein' 'elpful again!"
The buck "Acks!" and sits down on the bed. The two Hydron girls are already poking through the wardrobe, while Chloe just stands by silently, as usual.
Tasha abandons Aaron for Roland, and asks him, "I guess I'm no' much of a warrior doe? Xavier says I'm unseemly like."
The big buck pats his leg, inviting Tasha to sit in his lap, and says, "Oh, Xavier is impossible to please. You make a very good barbarian mutant doe, I think."
The Vartan accepts the offer, then sticks her tongue out at Aaron again. "'Ere tha'? I'm jus' fine, I am. I bet no one in all the country can see 'alf as well as I can or fly!" She flops back against Roland.
Putting an arm around Tasha's waist to keep her steady, Roland whispers into her ear, "Just ask him to brush your hair sometime, and he'll be more docile."
"I'll try that," Tasha whispers back. Louder, she remarks, "This is a nice room!"
"Very rustic!" offers Lia. "It feels good to be underground," comments Chloe. "I hope you wiped your feet," notes Coeus, as he enters through the curtain that serves as a door, burdened with Lucia's heavy armor. Behind comes the warrior herself, cleaned, dried and fluffed but unclothed, with Layth helping her keep her weight off of her right leg.
Layth's brow goes up. "Did someone plan a party in this room, perchance?" the buck inquires as he helps Lucia into the room and looks for a chair to escort the doe to. He notices Tasha in Roland's lap, blinks, then asks, "So, you have accepted his offer?"
Tasha waves to Layth and Lucia from Roland's lap. "'Ad a good time, did you? We've been waitin' 'ere for you." She shakes her head in response to Layth's question, but leans against Roland anyway, perhaps just to be confusing. "I accepted 'is lap, an' it's comfortable. Unlike Xavier, he doesn' give me a time o' it."
Roland hops to his feet, and ends up cradling Tasha in his arm while she sits on his hand. He gives Lucia a kiss, causing the hybrid to be momentarily squished between the pair.
"What, you're bigger than I am," Aaron points out to the squooshed Vartan.
"Did your visit go well, Layth?" Aisha asks, noting the cleaner look to the buck's own fur.
The hybrid grins, though her grin comes off as rather distorted from the squishing. "You're pwain enwuf fwor twice your size," she replies to Aaron.
"Ah, I see Master Roland may have a warrior he favors?" Layth inquires and backs away from the doe. His head tilts towards Aisha and he then nods, "The four of us had a nice talk and I have convinced Lady Lucia to be careful of her injured leg."
After the greeting, Lucia just flops down onto the bed. "Yes, I must 'take it easy' and suffer being tended to and fussed over," she says, trying to make it sound like some sort of punishment.
Roland just grins to Layth, and notes, "I won't be a priapus forever, and think Lucia will make a fine wife once I retire."
"But as a warrior, Lady Lucia will bear it with elegance and grace," Layth comments in a deadpan way that could almost be a joke, and almost not. With another look to Aisha, he asks, "I hope you had an enjoyable time in my absence?"
Coeus spreads out the pieces of Lucia's shiny armor on another part of the bed, and starts to clean and polish them while Tyche's two daughters watch over his shoulder.
Tasha's smile melts, though she doesn't frown. She just keeps a neutral expression as she looks around the room.
Aisha's smile is a bit forced when she says, "Oh… yes. We watched some young warriors practice."
"Ah, then you had a terrible time. I am sorry, Lady Aisha," Layth replies and bows to the doe.
Roland wiggles the fingers of the hand Tasha is sitting in, to show that he hasn't forgotten her, and sits back down and transfers her to his lap once more.
Aisha blushes brightly, and pulls her ears down. "No, it wasn't terrible!" she practically hisses, not wanting to offend Roland and the others. In Abu-Dhabi, to claim anything less than having a splendiferous time would be a grave insult.
Tasha's ears shoot up, and she blinks, then shoots Roland a 'you won't get off that easy' sort of look. Despite her look, she settles in to his lap and leans back heavily, making herself comfortable at the buck's expense. "We saw a few warriors 'it the dirt, an' a pair 'ave at each other like jilted loves or blood enemies," she remarks.
"It's okay, Aisha," Aaron says, grinning. "It's more of an insult to not tell the truth or hide your feelings here."
Layth crouches down near where Aisha sits and pats her leg comfortingly. "No deaths, then? I suppose that is something," he notes. He tilts his head and smiles playfully at Aisha, then asks, "So, should I participate in training?"
Roland reaches behind Aisha and tweaks her tail, causing the doe to practically leap forward onto Layth. "What?! No, you could get hurt!"
"They'll crush your skull Layth. They mean business, an' it's no' like the pit. The pit was swattin' a bloodfly," Tasha warns. "I'm 'avin' second thoughts, meself."
"Second thoughts about what, Aldara?" Roland asks Tasha.
"Wow, it's impressive enough when Tasha has first thoughts," Aaron says, grinning and staying out of range of Tasha's fists.
Layth lurches one leg back and steadies himself, partially catching the doe. "You do understand that my role is to is to defend you, which usually involves getting hurt, yes?" Layth reminds the doe, and then shrugs. "But in truth, I was jesting, Lady Aisha. I apologize."
"Bodyguards are just supposed to look like they can tear people apart," Aisha rationalizes, as she smoothes out her clothes and sits down again, albeit a little farther from Roland than before.
Tasha glances over her shoulder, answering, "Fightin'. I fight a pirate 'ere an' a drunk there, bu' Calli wasn't pullin' my tail when she said fightin' 'ere was somethin' different, like. I'm right good with a bow, an' I bet no one can see farther than me, bu' a lance an' a sword? Oi." Then she glares at Aaron and adds, "Can you 'it 'im for me? I can' reach 'im."
Roland chuckles, and promises, "I'll avenge you later, when he isn't expecting it. Ah, I understand now. It is like Anysia's 'boxing'. When you fight, you don't set out to kill one another, just to win. It is a game."
"All fights are violent; I've seen my share with caravans. There's usually no glory to it, just death. It's a lot different looking into the eyes and knowing one of you isn't going home, than shooting them from afar. And I shall leave it at that, it is not my place to lecture," Layth notes and then calmly leans back and swats Aaron for Tasha.
"Ow!" the swatted buck complains. "Everyone picks on me here."
"Oi, no' like boxin' exactly. It's, rrr, mostly like a game. 'Cept when they attack me ship, then it's a war more like than not, an' then it's real. We jus' don't fight so often, an' when we do it's not close-like unless we really out of sorts tha' day. When you can fly, an' fly fast, you can 'it people from far away," Tasha insists. She also grins at Layth, and then winks at him. "Layth's me buddy, 'e is."
"So, you are not so much a warrior as a Guardian then, Aldara?" Roland asks.
Tasha runs a hand back through her hair as she thinks on how to explain. "I'm a … animal 'andler. I make the sky … " she pauses to search for the right Olympian word, not having had to explain what she does here before, " … dragons? Beasts? I tell 'em wha' to do, an' they do it, an' out vessel moves about. When we're attacked, we fight back, right? Layth? Am I a Guardian?" She blinks at the buck, looking bewildered by too much linguistics.
Even Aisha giggles at Aaron's discomfiture.
"I can give you some hand to hand training if you like, Tasha?" Layth offers, "Knowing how to massage and make someone feel good has a side 'benefit'. You know where to hit to cause significant pain too." He then considers the question poised, then answers, "You would be a different kind of warrior, I suppose. It is hard to draw exact comparisons."
"If you fight against raiders, you're a Guardian," Aaron offers. "The pirates would be the Warriors."
"I guess I'm a Guardian then. Is tha' bad?" Tasha chances a look around, for reactions.
Lucia reaches out and grabs Aaron's arm, then pulls him in for a hug. "It is good to see you again Xavier. How is my little sister doing?" "Hurf! Fine… she's got her gym going and… she's fine! Not so tight!"
"It means you are under my command," Roland declares, grinning.
Aisha suggests, "I think it means you get to stay behind with all the big muscular men while their women go off to raid another fortress."
"Which is doom for all," Layth adds.
Tasha squints at Roland, looking skeptical. "Is tha' it? Don' I get some rights as a visitin' war- … Guardian or somethin'? I guess I can't fight you for it, seein' as my bum fits in your 'and an' all," she tells him. She then turns to Aisha, stares at her for a moment, and then declares, "Aye, I'm a Guardian."
"That is silly," Lucia comments, after letting Aaron go so he can breathe again. "That means she would have to bathe with the Guardians after they stand their posts. And you men get all sweaty and smelly standing in the sun in your armor."
"And warriors do not?" Roland teases.
"It is a different kind of sweat," Lucia counters.
"I'm not seein' how this is silly," Tasha remarks.
Layth just shakes his head and looks to the ceiling. "This is a ridiculous conversation," he notes.
"Wouldn't you be embarrassed to be around a bunch of naked men like that though?" Aisha asks quietly. "Who knows what they get up to. Probably wrestling and towel-snapping and… inappropriate jokes."
"Consider who you are talking to," Layth reminds Aisha quietly.
"And you'd have to scrub their backs," Aaron points out.
"You do remember I work on an airshi- … rrr, wit' a lot of men, right Aisha?" Tasha tells the doe. To Aaron, she replies pensively, "It is a lot o' back … "
"And there's no fooling around allowed in the baths, either," Aaron notes, to see how Tasha will react to the news.
"Tha's not so good," Tasha complains.
Layth notes to Aisha, "The warriors in the baths were discussing how they would like to 'capture' particular guardians and bucks. Well, at least one was. Apparently, I'm small and uninteresting."
"Thank the First Ones for small favors then," Aisha says to Layth. "After seeing what a small, elderly woman did to Aaron, I would fear for your health."
Roland bursts into laughter on overhearing this.
"Yes, well, this is Aaron. He seems to like to be dramatic," Layth notes.
Tasha laughs too, shaking Roland's lap.
"She isn't elderly!" Aaron complains, looking miserable.
"See what I mean?" Layth says with a wave towards Aaron.
"Yeah, our mom is just really energetic," Basilia notes. "She says that it is important that when a man has been with a Circerae doe, he will always remember it."
At Basilia's comment, Tasha guffaws even harder.
"Your mother talks to you about such things?" Aisha asks in astonishment. The two chocolate does just nod.
"Does your family have such goals, Lady Aisha?" Layth asks the doe, sounding a bit teasing.
"My mother says the same things some time, then she 'its me an' says there's more to life than men an' I won't be young forever," says Tasha.
"Certainly not… that I know of," Aisha admits. "Marriages are usually prearranged, so that there is not need to… be memorable."
"Ah. Who have they chosen for you, Lady Aisha," Layth inquires and shifts his weight a bit where he still crouches.
"Right, there's also children," Agalaia points out. "And fighting!" Basilia adds. "Food is nice too," Lucia notes.
Aisha crosses her arms against her chest and says proudly, "I'm unmarriageable, according to father."
"Not here," Layth notes with a half-smile.
Tasha looks only mildly interested at the thought of children, nodding slowly. She nods faster at the mention of food.
"He's right, we like spirited does," Roland says.
At that, Tasha reaches up and fuzzles up Roland's hair.
"And cake," Coeus says as he finishes with Lucia's armor. "Cake is best. Especially with raisins."
"Raisins are good," Chloe agrees. The Circerae sisters also nod in agreement. "Not as nice as plums though," Basilia adds quietly.
Several stomachs rumble, easily audible to Lapi ears.
"I would say it is probably time for lunch," Layth notes at the sounds of stomachs.
"A picnic, in the gardens," Roland announces.
"I like a good beer an' a steak," Tasha remarks. Her eyesight is as good as her ears are bad, at least in Olympia, and Tasha completely misses the rumbling of any stomach but her own.
"You can carry Lucia out," Layth tells Roland and winks at him, fully expecting complaints from the white doe.
"I don't know if we have any beers to hunt with stakes," Roland says, although he winks to Tasha this time. "But I'm sure we'll find something in the kitchen."
Lucia doesn't complain at all at the suggestion of being carried by Roland. Not a peep.
"Am I goin' to 'ave to move?" Tasha complains.
"I'll go get the net and ball!" Coeus offers, and then dashes out of the room.
"And, perhaps while we eat, we can discuss finding someone for Lady Aisha, yes? I'm sure her family would be pleased," Layth suggests next. "And Aaron can carry you, Tasha."
Aaron looks dubious at that suggestion.
Tasha snorts. "Xavier can't carry a tune in a wooden bucket, an' 'e'd drop me if 'e could. 'E's a wily one." She makes a grab at the buck's ears.
"Oh, well in that case we can tie Tasha to Aaron so he can't drop her," Layth offers with a grin.
"Ack!" Aaron says, and scoots out of range. He can certainly be fast when he wants to. "I thought you liked the tricky ones though?"
This time, Tasha reaches to tug on Layth's ears. "I ought an' knuckle the lot of you!"
"I shall have to tell you all the tale of when Xavier and I were little, and he was the water bearer for the Gymnasium, and thought there was a dragon in the well," Roland says, getting up and setting Tasha onto her hooves.
Layth ows and nearly tips over when one of his ears is pulled! "Such thanks I get for only trying to be helpful," he says with an exaggerated sigh. The buck then stands and offers his hand to Aisha.
Tasha straightens her leather armor up a bit, then clicks her hooves on the floor. "I'll jus' walk, I will! Show you all some doe spirit," she announces.
Aisha's mood seems a bit brighter as she accepts Layth's hand and gets up. Lia and Laia and Chloe stick close to her as well, maybe hoping someone will carry them.
Aaron leans next to Roland as the bigger buck helps Lucia up, and whispers, "Why that story?" Roland just waggles his eyebrows back at his cousin, and replies, "Well, it did turn out to be a dragon."
"I deal wit' dragons all the time," Tasha declares, half paying attention as she walks out. "It's all in what a brave doe sort such as meself does. I need a drink."
"A thousand apologies, but I could, at best, carry two of you and it wouldn't be comfortable," Layth apologizes to the does. "But please, accompany us up? I promise to make it up to you by feeding you fruits… "