When she arrived at the door to the bath house, Callindra folded her garments and placed them on a shelf. When it came to her sword, she hesitated and glanced at the old woman who guarded the door.
“Is this going to be safe? If anything happened to it…” she let her voice trail off.
“No problem dearie, I will hold it behind the counter for you.” The woman said, “I’ll remember you and return it when you leave. Now go and get clean, you don’t want to look like that going outside you know.”
Callindra blushed and handed Brightfang over, “Thank you.”
Picking up a towel she walked into the baths. The steam momentarily obscured her vision, but she made her way to a washing bench. Dipping a bucket of water, she dumped it over her head and rubbed herself down with the heavy bar of rough soap, pouring another bucket on herself to rinse most of the grime off of her body before making her way to the main bath.
There were a few women here; most of them had the soft curves of city born folk who led easy lives. Almost by instinct, Callindra made her way towards the tougher looking women laughing raucously in the deepest, hottest part of the bath.
“An then he says somethin about me havin ta make do with the pommel of my sword an I says it’s more like ta give me pleasure than tha flaccid flesh flap tween his legs!” Said a woman with red hair and deep scars on her arms.
“Aint it th truth though?” Responded a chortling blonde whose beauty was marred by a puckered line that ran across her right eye, “Men jus don understand why we don swoon at their feet when they flaunt that little sword of theirs.”
Callindra was out of her element, but felt more comfortable here than with the shocked, tittering maids on the other side of the room. She tried to hover on the outside of the group, but was soon spotted.
“Hey now, no need to be shy! Here for the trials eh?” Said the blonde.
The redhead smiled, “Looks like ya got strong shoulders. Whas yer fighting style then?”
Callindra responded without thinking, using words Glarian had drilled into her psyche. “I fight one or two handed, single blade.” She took a breath, leaving out the name of her school and master, “My name is Callindra, I am just over a year old.”
“Ahh, I knew ya had a formal Master. No question about the base laid there.” The redhead reached out and grabbed Callindra’s upper arm, “Whoever yer master is, yeh got somethin ya can work with here.”
“Wha yeh lookin for? Merc? Army?” Said the blonde.
“Sorry, who are you?” Callindra asked, forcing herself to stand her ground.
“Bad form, ‘pologies.” The blonde stuck out her hand, “Kris.”
“Fen.” Said the other, “If yer lookin fer merc lemme know. I got leads in a couple companies myself.”
Callindra shook their hands, “I just want to look for a place I can continue to get stronger. I have some ground to make up.”
“Good answer.” Said Kris, “Yer a bit young fer most though. They don like ta let us women fight, let alone girls.”
“Torn tween wantin ta protect us an pay unwelcome court.” Fen said, rolling her eyes.
Callindra’s eyes narrowed, “I don’t intend to allow anyone to take advantage of me, especially a man.” She ducked under the water and came back up, wiping her ragged hair out of her face. “If they underestimate me they will pay a most costly price.”
“I bet they would a tha.” Kris’s eyes twinkled with amusement, “Yeh noble born? Yeh talk like a noble born.”
“I don’t remember my parents. My brothers tried to stuff me into a convent when they went their separate ways and I ran off to work for a Lord’s holding first chance I got.”
“Atta girl!” Fen clapped her hard on the back, “Yeh gotta get a couple more years though. Build some more muscle.”
“What I lack in strength I make up for in speed.” She said, “Besides, I’m not likely to gain a whole lot more muscle than this, at eighteen I’m probably done growing.”
The other women stared at her in shock for a moment before bursting into laughter, “Eighteen? If yeh wan
ta fool folk a least pic a age close ta whas real girl!” Said Kris.
“I’d mark yeh bout fourteen outside.” Said Fen, looking at Callindra’s slim form critically. “Yeh migh pass fer sixteen once yeh fill out a tuch up top.”
Callindra stiffened and folded her arms, “I don’t care what you want to believe. I AM eighteen and I have been training under a true Master for three years. Do YOU think a Master would train an eleven year old girl?” The wind swirled the thick mist away, leaving an open space around her before she could get herself under control.
“Easy Callindra, easy. Yeh say yer eighteen then yer eighteen.” Fen reached behind herself and grabbed a tankard with condensation beading on its pewter surface. Taking a long drink she leaned back against the edge of the pool and sighed in satisfaction. “I been on tha road long nuf all I wanna do is soak an drink. I aint lookin ta scrap wi a youngster.”
“Where have you been?” Callindra asked, curiosity overcoming her anger. “I’ve been almost completely secluded from the outside world for the last few years.”
Fen took another drink and Callindra looked respectfully at the size of her biceps. It wasn’t fair that some women were built like that.
“I been a caravan guard fer six moons, but it’s painful boring. Now I’m lookin fer a place in a company headin North ta check out some trouble r nother. Suppose ta be some action there.”
“I’m jus gettin otta bedrest.” Said Kris, “I took a spear ta th guts an been healin up fer nigh on five moons. Now I’m out lookin fer some mercs what needs experienced infantry.” She stood and showed Callindra a nasty scar that dug through the lower left of her abdomen.
“What about your Company? Didn’t they take care of you when you were injured?” Callindra asked, confused.
“Eh, life aint like it is in th books hon. Commander didn’t like me ta begin wi and moved on afore I was healed up.” Her mouth thinned, “Ended bad fer ‘em too, wen north an ran inta somethin. Somethin took ‘em out ta a man.”
“Ya aint gonna talk me otta goin ya know?” Said Fen, “Thas jus tha kinda fight I wanna get inta. Somethin a girl can sink her spear inta.”
“How bout you Callindra? You lookin fer some action or jus a quiet spell wit a caravan?” Asked Kris.
“I dunno.” She said, picking up some of their speech unconsciously. “I just want to get out there and keep learning. Honestly I wouldn’t mind being in a regular company or force at a keep so I could train with experienced campaigners.”
“Well I could get yeh inta all kinds a trouble but I don think thas what yeh need.” Fen said, raising an eyebrow, “Where’s tha Master yeh trained wi?”
“I don’t know where he is. He wasn’t supposed to teach me; it’s because of me he’s in trouble and now he’s out there somewhere running for his life. I can’t even watch his back.” Callindra said, “I have to get stronger so I can stop being a burden.”
She stood up, steam rising from her skin. “I’d better get going if I’m gonna get around before the day’s out.”
“Good luck Callindra. If yeh need a vouch lemme know. Us girls gotta stick together ya know?”
“Thanks Fen, I appreciate it.”
Callindra looked at her clothes with a skeptical eye. With a sigh, she put them back on despite how dirty and worn they were. On her way out, the old woman handed Brightfang back with a nod.
“That’s quite the blade you have there. I can see why you wanted to take care of it.” She said with a knowing smile, “I haven’t seen work like that in an age.”
“Thanks for watching him for me.” She said, not sure what else to say.
“You watch that blade close you hear? Not many carry something forged by Belach.”
“He is my life.” Callindra said, “How do you know about Belach? Is he famous?”
“Infamous is more like it. He used to make swords for nobles and kings, but fell from favor after he refused to add unnecessary embellishments to weapons.” She clucked her tongue and shook her head, “Nobody says no to the royal court, he should have known that.”
“How do you know so much about it?” Callindra asked, and then winced, “No offense intended of course, I’m letting my tongue get the better of my discretion.”
The woman gave her a thoughtful look, then seemed to decide she hadn’t meant to be rude. “You would do well to remember that no one is born old youngling. I was a merc for years before I retired here. Nasty wound to my back laid me up for a couple years and when all was healed I decided I’d had enough fighting.”
“What are mercenary companies like? Are they as rough as…” she glanced toward the soaking pool, “As some seem to think they are?”
“Depends on which company you end up with. Most are, young girl like you needs to be careful around here.”
“I can take care of myself.” Said Callindra with a shrug of her shoulders.
“Since you own that sword I believe it, but they don’t always fight fair. In fact they almost never do. Besides, what recourse do you really have when you are out on campaign? You just watch yourself youngster, learn from the mistakes of your elders.”
“Thank you. My name’s Callindra by the way.”
“Meghan. Most call me Meg.”
“Thanks Meghan.” Callindra grasped the woman’s forearm and was pleased to see her eyes widen at the sign of respect. “I’m sure I’ll see you once or twice more before I sign on somewhere.”