Eara peered through the bushes at Fabian and Gad. The boys, who were each her own age, whispered together, hidden away from the gazes of adults and girls. While Fabian and Gad were sometimes nice to Eara, they also had a tendency to exclude her on occasion.

That day seemed to be one of those in which the boys would exclude Eara for no reason other than because she was a girl and they were boys. Eara settled down into a somewhat comfortable crouching position and watched her sometime friends, wondering what they were doing.

Unfortunately, Eara seemed to have rather tragic timing, for Fabian looked up just moments after she'd arrived to watch, and yelled, "Hey! A girl!"

Eara backed away, almost stumbling in her rush, but in a moment, Fabian and Gad had caught up to her. Gad wrapped his arms around her in an attempt to keep Eara from escaping, and Fabian smirked as he crossed his arms and looked upon the girl. "What are you doing?" he asked.

"I want to play," Eara answered.

"This is boys only," Gad protested.

"Yeah," Fabian agreed. "Girls can't join."

Eara pouted, thrusting her lower lip in the same way she did when she wanted her mother to give her something. Unfortunately, the expression was lost on the boys, for Fabian announced, "We don't let girls play with us. You're just going to have to go back home and play with your dolls or something."

Gad released Eara's arms, and followed up with a shove. "Go home," he ordered her, following his friend's lead.

Eara stuck her tongue out at the boys before declaring, "That's fine. I don't want to play with a couple of stinky boys anyway."

Despite her declaration, Eara cried a little bit as she wandered through the woods on her way home. There were few children to play with in the tiny village of Nob, and when the boys chose to pick on her, Eara's existence became very lonely.

Back home, Eara found the ordinarily empty streets to be filled with her neighbors, chattering excitedly. Eara also noted the presence of several strangers on horseback. Confused and frightened by the unfamiliar sights, Eara's tears flowed even more freely as she called, "Mommy?"

Eara's mother burst from the crowd with a cry of "Eara! I've been looking everywhere for you! Where have you been?"

Holding up her hands so that her mother would lift her, Eara sobbed out the story of how she had been excluded from what was surely and incredibly fun game. Eara's mother stroked her dark hair and murmured, "Don't worry about that. There's no time for play now, I need you to help me."

Eara smiled at the thought that she could somehow be useful to her mother, and rested her head on the older woman's shoulder. Her mother carried her home, and explained the situation.

Eara's help was needed because a group of travelling soldiers calling themselves the Trav'shi had arrived in the village of Nob a few short minutes before. The hungry and thirsty soldiers had requested food, drink, and a place to rest, and the villagers had hurried to comply.

All afternoon, Eara hustled back and forth, fetching water for the mysterious Trav'shi with markings on their face, and helping her mother to back bread and to cook a giant pot of fish stew.

Finally, when evening arrived, Eara received permission to go outside and play. She darted through the Trav'shi camp, listening to warriors who traded stories and sang songs.

Eara found two Trav'shi fighting each other, demonstrating the fighting styles they had learned during their training. When the girl found them, the fighters held long poles and swung them at one another. Each tried to dodge the others' attacks.

As Eara watched, the woman knocked the pole from her opponent's hands. Eara had never seen a woman beat a man at anything before, and she gasped, fearing the man would hit her for her impudence. The man, however, lifted his hands to show that he conceded, and the woman bowed. The audience, which consisted mostly of Eara's fellow villagers, grumbled in disgust.

The woman shook her head, clearly used to better receptions, then turned to trudge away. Eara followed the woman, asking, "How did you learn how to fight?"

The woman turned around, and her sharp eyes found the girl in her shadow. "What's your name?" the woman asked, kneeling over.

Upon closer inspection, Eara saw that the woman had a dragon tattooed on her face. All the Trav'shi had markings on their faces, but Eara wasn't certain what they meant. She stared up at the woman, then said, "My name is Eara, and I want to learn to fight like you do."

The woman smiled, then said, "You're too young. The Trav'shi do not accept fighters who are younger than nineteen. Our masters believe anyone younger would be unable to concentrate or show commitment."

"I could," Eara assured the woman. "I want to fight. I want to prove to the boys that I can do anything they can."

The woman laughed, then said, "We'll see if you still feel the same way when you are nineteen. After all, if you join the Trav'shi, you may never marry. You must focus all of your attention on the goals of the Trav'shi, and nothing else."

"I'll never marry," Eara assured the woman, although she knew she would have no say in the matter. According to the traditions of Nob, any amorous gentleman could claim any single woman as his own, and the woman was required to marry him, regardless of her own wishes. After the way her male friends treated her, however, Eara was certain she would never marry.

The woman laughed once more, rustled Eara's hair, then mused, "A pretty thing like you? We'll see." Then she turned and walked away into the night.