With buildings as tall as four stories and streets of hard-packed gravel, this wasn't some little village. This was a city. Rare as they are, hard to come by as they might be, this was a city where a huge number of people, of all different races, came together to live, work and raise families. Carts and buggies pressed the dirt harder into the ground as they entered, their leads eventually sounding the clacking noises that hooves make on cobblestone roads. It was, all at once, picturesque and overbearing. A light, wafting breeze took with it the scent of the ocean, wet and salty and fishy all at once, and carried it through the city.
But there were only the scents of perfumes and incense in the lavish setting about her. The young womyn shifted her weight, her eyes no longer taking in the rich collection of lavish draperies, finely crafted rugs and potteries, painstakingly carved furniture and commissioned paintings of the young man and his mother that decorated this room. A wisp of smoke from one such lit incense stick wafted into her grey eyes, causing her to blink and the white of it to redden slightly, stung by the powerful scent it carried. She leaned against the bedpost, knowing her battle was lost the minute she saw a spark of excitement in the young man's eyes. And it annoyed her. But he was always annoying her.
Naya placed her hand over her face, closing her eyes and shaking her head as she spoke through the bathing room door. "Your Highness. Are you sure you want to do this? As your mentor, I don't agree that your latest... brainstorm... is a good idea." There was nothing said on the other side and she removed her hand from her face, crossing her arms under her breasts and shifting in her stance so that one knee bent toward the door. "I understand you are eager to show off what you have learned. But, honestly, Prince, you can't go looking for trouble. That's not what the martial arts are about." She was really regretting taking this job. Sure, the comforts were nice. Her own set of rooms to live in, fine food and wine, a really good paycheck. So much better than a couple of years in prison. Or maybe not. This royalty business was bunk. If he was any other student, she'd smack him around and forbid him to leave. But he was a prince. And she had to treat him like a delicate egg, lest she impugn his honor or assault his delicate sensibilities. "Really, I must object."
The door opened and a young man, about 14 years old and barely beginning to grow the hardened features of a man, walked out of the bathing room, wearing a pair of commoner's pants and a towel thrown over one of his nude shoulders. "Master Naya," he spoke in an uppity tone she knew meant he wasn't going to obey her. "What good is having a teacher, even one of your significant reputation, if I can't go out to defend my people?" He sat on his plush bed, tying up his long boots, never once looking her way.
Defend his people. Yeah, sure. If that was what he wanted, he could start weeding through all the bad guards under his mother's employ. "There is a difference, my prince, between defending your people and going out to pick a fight." But her words fell on deaf ears as she watched him pull on his shirt and cinch the whole thing together with a belt. He raked his fingers through his hair and turned to her, having to look up to look into her plain grey eyes. Her voice changed from bargaining with him to one with no whine, no pleading. "Look, you're going out to get your arse kicked. It's that simple."
"No. I am being trained by the best of the best. Besides, you're coming with me. You won't interfere, but you're coming with me, to make sure that nothing goes wrong." Naya closed her eyes. It was a lot better than grabbing a handful of her rich brown hair and pulling it out of her head. Her fingers quaked on her arm in their crossed position and she sighed as he exited the room. Stupid child had more testosterone than most of her past students. Maybe it was the blue blood flowing through his veins that made him so... annoying.
She turned, following him through the castle and out the door, too aware of the way the castle guards watched as she left the palace with their only heir, their precious prince. Her arse was going to get chewed in the morning. And, if he were injured, she'd likely be punished. Killed and she didn't even want to think about it. He headed straight for a small tavern in the dingier part of town, the Ship and Shore. Where the sailors hang out and beat up on one another, find a whore or make a new one out of an unsuspecting girl or boy. Great place for an unpracticed student to pick a fight.
Throughout the streets of the city, business took place and continued on as it would any other day. Shops opened their doors to patrons and visitors alike, fisherman displayed their latest and most prized catches upon bins filled to the brink with cubes of melting ice. The steady, rhythmic sounds of metal being tempered rang from the blacksmith area, the different and distinct odors of food whiffed through the air, mingling with the salty breeze of the ocean. Overbearing and yet terribly exciting as well, especially to a young boy who had seen nothing even remotely resembling a village for days on end.
Aahz walked through the streets of the city wide-eyed and mouth agape, his shining jade eyes devouring the sites hungrily. "Oooh!" He cooed, his steps turning to a quick skip as he all but darted forward, throwing open his arms as if he meant to embrace the spirit of the city itself. "Look at this place! It's so huge!" He spun, the long braid of his red hair swinging around, nearly striking a passerby like a whip. The boy paid no mind to the annoyed stare. Instead he smiled, a grin large enough that it threatened to crack his face. "Look! Vondearan, look! They have a bakery here. Can we get something, please, please?!"
The begging question was directed to a paused figure, cloaked, his features concealed from the passing sight of the city's inhabitants. A dark cowl shadowed his features, indeed one would have to be looking very earnestly to get a good glimpse of the man beneath the cloth, unfortunately if one was to be so bold, Vondearan would make certain that they would never be able to tell what they saw. A heavy, annoyed sigh pushed from beneath the hood and with the simplest shake of his head he replied, "No." Aahz's face dropped, his smile faded away as a pout came to take its place on his lips. The boy knew it was useless to play the pity card with his shaded companion, but it never stopped him from trying. "But-"
"No. Be thankful I've let you come at all. Find whatever lodgings you wish to stay in and let us be done with it." The boy sighed and turned reluctantly on his heels, taking the lead with a bowed head. Vondearan followed after him, watching the path and any oncoming persons who would soon cross it. Being within the city, near civilization in general, caused the Drow to be nervous. If not for Aahz's persistent whining to stay in what he called "comfortable environments" they would not be making this trip, or the dozens made before, at all. Beneath the hood Vondearan's eyes focused intently on the boy, watching his back rise and fall with heavy, near sobbing breaths.
Aahz was nearing his fifteenth year on earth, seven of those years were spent in Vondearan's care, or rather, keep. This was his second human to train beneath the lich's command, the child of a family slaughtered at the same being's request. The lich had a sick obsession with making slaves and soldiers of the children of those that dared to oppose him. At the very least, training Aahz was much easier than the other, who was older than he when given into the Drow's charge. The boy's excited cry rose again and Vondearan snapped himself from his memories to see Aahz pointing eagerly towards a rough looking establishment, the Ship and Shore. "There! There! Can we please, please?" The drow sighed and waved his gloved hand in approval.
Naya paused at the doorway, taking a quick, sharp breath. The scents of burning tobacco and weed, spilled blood and alcohol and filthy men straight off the waves brought back more than a few memories. In her own days of training, her masters insisted they travel. The days of walking and nights without food hardened her body almost more than the teachings. The confrontations with other travelers and adventurers, as well as the wary glances and careful actions of actual village folk as they finally entered a town made her a little more socially sharp. She'd have taken the prince on such a training exercise, if she could have talked the queen into letting him completely under her charge. Obviously, it didn't happen. At least not until the brat decided he wanted to cause trouble.
She was so annoyed at the moment that she could spit. Hell, like that had never before happened here. Naya turned, spitting beside the door, trying to let the action dispose of the anger and annoyance and despair she was feeling inside her stomach. It didn't work. The prince, dressed as a civilian, but noticeably cleaner, strode proudly into the tavern. He got no more than four steps inside the building before a large sailor made a grab for the young pretty-boy.
Still standing in the doorway, Master Naya snatched the man's wrist, pushing her strong fingers deep into the skin. His hand went limp and she yanked him forward, bringing his throat down on her knee. She didn't break his windpipe. She'd do that later, if he persisted an attack. But, for now, as he gasped for air and writhed around on the floor at her feet, he'd been warned.
"Watch your back," she snapped at the 14 year old. He simply glanced over his shoulder, that 'better than thou' look in his eyes. Naya's upper lip shivered on one side, the corner of her mouth and that same side of her nose joining in on the slight show of anger. But her face fell back into the unemotional mask she wore a lot lately. It used to be easy to smile. But, since taking this job three years ago, Naya found herself smiling very rarely. She must hate it. And, if not for the deal already struck, she might leave.
Her charge took a seat at a table near the hearth, his uncloaked form looking odd among the rougher, rowdier patrons here. He smirked and she thought he'd have made a good high elf as she watched his delicate featured face make the look. "Naya, order us a few drinks." She shook her head, scolding the child with a silent action. She wasn't a servant, something this little shit hadn't figured out just yet. A smirk came to her mouth and she crossed her arms over her chest, her posture becoming cocky. "What do you think you are, a prince?" He opened his mouth to point out that he was, but no words came out, his lips falling loose and making his face appear stupid.
"Tavern Wench!" Naya glared. But someone came along. "I'll take an... ale. She only drinks water." He made a dismissive gesture towards Naya and she knew it was the same as he gave his servants. Besides. She did NOT only drink water.
Aahz entered the doorway of the tavern almost with dramatic flare, his arm outstretched as if he meant to swing open some phantom door. "Ahoy!" Despite his loud greeting, the boy's voice fell into the jumble of talk, laughter, argument and other questionable noises that filled the tavern to the brim. He stepped and paused, his foot landing on something fleshy, and found a man writhing on the floor beneath at his feet. While the sight might have turned the sane away Aahz only smiled delightfully, turning to look over his shoulder at Vondearan's entrance. "We missed a fight, but, by the looks of this place, there's bound to be another!" He laughed giddily and pressed his foot into the man's back, using his body to vault a couple steps further into the rowdy establishment.
Vondearan's hand slipped beneath his cowl, the leather fingers of his glove pinched at the bridge of his nose. Of all the places to pick in the large city Aahz discovered, as always, the one where they were most likely to find trouble. The Drow stepped around the fallen man with a graceful step, catching up to his young novice. He grabbed the boy by the shoulder, holding him still for a moment while he bent to speak quietly into his ear. "I know what you're thinking and it's best for you to abandon those plans."
"Loosen up." Aahz beamed, jerking from Vondearan's grip to skip over to a table, plopping into the hard seat as if he were a natural patron. The chair tilted back and his boots soon found a new resting place against the table, flicking caked dirt and mud onto the wooden table top. Vondearan guessed that the dirt from the boy's shoes was the least vile thing to be spilt there and slid himself into a seat opposite of his. "I'm hungry." The whine in Aahz's tone was something that the Drow was hearing a lot more these days as the boy was nearing the end of his childhood. Years ago, when first placed in his keep, Aahz followed and obeyed him loyally without so much of an argument. Now, the boy enthusiastically pushed his buttons, to see what he was able to get away with until the Drow broke. Luckily, Vondearan's temper was in check, any other of his race would have slain the child years ago.
A tavern maid, young, perhaps too young to be subjected to working in such a place, passed by and Vondearan reached out, taking hold of her arm. His fingers clasped the flesh of the thin limb firmly, yet the smooth leather of his gloves softened the grab to a tender hold. He didn't look towards her, his eyes remained set on the young boy across the table from him, now rocking in his chair. "Ale and water. And something for the child to eat, whatever is available."
The young woman's cheeks filled with a blush, the voice escaping the hood was cool, handsome in tone and if she were braver she might have tried to take a glance of the man speaking it. Yet, time working within the tavern taught her much and those that shaded their appearances meant not to be seen. "A-aye." she nodded, her arm slipping from his loosening grasp. Aahz leered as she skittered past them, then whistled once she was out of earshot. "Always the ladies man. When are you going to teach me to make them swoon like that?" "Shut up."
"There! There! Those two look like trouble," the prince nearly jumped from his chair, pointing at a well cloaked man and a young boy, not much older than the prince himself. Naya glanced at the two for a short moment, watching them order. Though the prince had watched the boy jump over her wounded sailor, Naya had missed it. "They are probably just a fisherman and his son," she corrected. "He's completely covered," the prince argued. "He's hiding himself. He's probably wanted and very dangerous." His excited manner hesitated and he reached out, aiming to push at his master's back, to jar her in the direction of the patrons. But she caught his fingers, bending them into his palm with the firm tightening of her hand.
"Firstly, he is probably afflicted, maybe a leper. Sickly people cover up too. And, secondly, it would be a disgrace to my masters if I just walked over there and started a fight." She glared hard down at him. For being grey, her eyes were incredibly expressive. And, right now, she was thinking about tying the young prince's hand behind his back so he couldn't at least physically push her around. Her lips were neither full nor thin, though they could be either, depending on if she found it proper to pout or scowl at the moment. Right now, they were pursed tight in her unhappy state. Her skin was paler than usual, from so many years locked up in a castle keep with a student that whined when the suns beat down too hard on them during practice.
He didn't get the deeper meaning of her words, that she was disgusted with his actions, just as her masters would be with her if she did as he wished. He simply slipped his hand from her grasp using a technique she taught him and yanked it back. "You aught not fight with me. I'll speak with Mother." Naya didn't react the way his other servants did when he leveled that threat at them. They usually backed away and bowed out of his presence, begging forgiveness as they did so. But the queen didn't scare her. She'd been in far worse trouble than the temper of royalty that might be handed down to her for not following a pup's orders to cause chaos. Good god, he wasn't a warlord. He was a pampered little prince.
"This was your idea. If you want to start something, you'll be doing it on your own," she spoke back calmly, never hesitating in her stance. "As a matter of fact, I'm going to sit down and watch you make an arse out of yourself." She pulled out a chair, the scraping of the wooden legs on the dirt and sawdust covered floor loud only to her. Though the excitement of doing this with her master, and alone or with other students in the past, was still sharp and pungent, like a welcomed scent in her nose, it made her nervous now. Last thing she wanted was a fight, for the spoiled prince to get one more thing he wanted.
She sat on the chair, straddling the backrest and leaning forward, her elbows at the top of it. She pulled a lock of brown hair back from her face. Naya was still in her practice clothing, the prince not giving her a chance to change. Not that it stood out in here. Her shirt was long sleeved and baggy, tied tighter by the strips of cloth acting as simple bracers at her wrists and the larger one around her waist. It wasn't a pull over shirt, open in the middle and pulled to fold around her body. Her pants were matching, off-white and baggy, held tight around her calves and ankles by the cloth banding again. She wasn't even wearing travel shoes, still in the padded cloth slippers she wore as she trained him on the castle grounds.
Only now did she think of the broken glass on the floor, looking down and tilting her feet to their sides, checking that she didn't have an impending problem stuck in the bottom of her foot. Again, not her biggest fear. A shard of glass couldn't do quite the damage as she once took, told by the old scar that cut the right side of her face, from the corner of her eye to the start of her lips. She sighed and leaned her face forward, resting her chin on her crossed arms. Even relaxed, she listened and watched the other patrons. Her masters stressed the importance of always being on guard. But Naya had let that slip a little in the time she'd been locked in a castle. So she relaxed.