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Finishing lunch, Con had to admit that it didn't feel the same to not have Arette with him.  Ever since Arette had become Queen Sofia's advisor, she was away during the days more often than not and wasn't present.  It irked him slightly, but he knew that she would be home for when they ate and that was the main thing.  It hit him a little more than usual though for his children were not present either, Cina and Rana both being with their grandmother.  It did her good to be able to spend time with the children, and more importantly it also gave them a chance to spend time with other children, their cousins.  At one time it would have worried Con and he would not have allowed the children out of his home at all, but his men had helped restore order to the Docks even when the pretender held the throne, and now the Docks were safer than they had been since even before Con was born.


Knowing something would undoubtedly be said about not having used a plate for his sandwich, Con swept the crumbs into his hand and shook them off over the bin.  There was no point in dilly dallying, if he remained idle then his mind would wander, if he had something to do then he would be able to press other concerns out of his mind.  Like being Lord Stavros and having to talk with nobles.  A duty he let Arette handle at every opportunity, he had little desire to play with politics when there were things that genuinely called for his attention, but it was something he couldn't entirely escape.  But, Sofia had known that when she'd made him a Lord, she'd known that he would never have aspirations of his own, only a concern for his home.


Stepping outside and into the courtyard, Con was surprised to see a familiar face that wore colours that weren't of Illian.  Jatasha Danica, only seventeen and her life had been quite an unhappy one already if what he had been told was true.  He had to admit, he perhaps wouldn't have made the effort he had to learn more about her if not for the incident in her old home that had involved him.  That had been a terrible day, not one that Con cared to think upon overly, and had resulted in him giving up the sword for good.  The thought of what she had gone through while she lived there had not sat well with Con at all, and even if he had never known her himself, that his family accepted her was enough for him.  Even if she did travel with the Band of the Red Hand, they had proven themselves but he still remembered the first meeting clearly enough.  The ones who had spoken later should have been the ones to speak first.


Maybe there was something he could do for her, and in turn Con would find a way to evade other responsibilities for a time.  That suited him perfectly, he couldn't be faulted for not attending useless meetings if he had been busy 'building diplomatic ties'.  That was how Arette had described it anyway, it was a particularly nice phrase and one that Con was about to flog for all it was worth.


"Jatasha!"  Smiling slightly as she turned around, Con approached her as he continued.  "Do you be requiring any assistance?  Perhaps you do be here to visit someone or?"  Stopping a couple of feet from here, Con couldn't help but realise how old he was.  When he'd been her age, he'd left home for the Tower Guard.  She now wore the colours of the Band of the Red Hand.  Would it always be the way of the Perfumed Quarter that those who wished to aspire to more would leave?  He hoped one day it would change.  Then again, standing in the middle of the courtyard of his own home and headquarters of his men, perhaps it already had.

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Jatasha turned at the sound of her name and was rather surprised to find herself face to face with Con Stavros.  No matter that she had fight along side his men to help free Illian from one of the Forsaken, she still felt intimidated in front of the man.  She had been no great warrior on that day, had not had any training that would warrant notice, except in her inability.  For all her time around the Band the only instruction she had received had been from Carnhain and while those lessons brought a smile to her face, they tended to end rather abruptly for other types of lessons. 


She had come to the Stavros home hoping to find one of the boys she had run around with as a girl.  She thought she might be able to find one to help her out a little.  Light, she wanted Carnhain to think well of her in more than just the bedroom but she wasn't getting anywhere with training.  She had been thinking about it as she had wandered the streets of her old home.  She could only do what she was doing for so long before Carnhain was bound to find out.  She needed to get out before he did which meant she needed to feel like she could give something back to the Band.  One of the boys was sure to be able to help her so that she could show someone that she was worthy.  Miria and Corlinny had both told her that she didn't need to be trained before joining the Band, that they'd train anyone, but Jatasha couldn't ignore the feeling that she wasn't worth the trouble.  Maybe if someone else helped train her a little, she'd be able to push past her own fear and finally find a place within the Band.


She curtsied to Con, not sure if he would want it or not.  He was Lord Stavros now, not just Con Stavros and she was certain that the Aes Sedai wife of his would demand the formalities be performed.  She smiled at him since his tone seemed to be warm.  She had seen different sides of him int he time she'd spent in Illian.  She'd seen the loving father, the warm husband,  and even the cold military man.  She wasn't sure what to expect, but the smile made hers all the brighter. 


"Oh no My Lord, I mean.. yes My Lord.  I do be here to find one of the boys, but I do no be seeing them around today.  I did no mean to interrupt  you though." She was babbling now and she couldn't seem to help herself.  "I do be thinking on of the others could be up for some lessons.  Fighting that is." She said realizing that he might not like his family associating with a whore.  "For me.  I did make it through the fighting, but I be thinking if they do be having time they do no be minding teaching me better.  Do you know where they be?"

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Frowning as Jatasha finished speaking, Con had to say he wasn't pleased with the title that she had used.  People may have taken to using it, but that didn't mean that Con had become used to it and indeed, he didn't want to become used to it either.  Well, maybe not all nobles were bad, Sofia had proven to be a good girl in the end, but Con was still leery of the title.  There was always the lingering fear that if he ever became comfortable with it, with giving orders, that he might forget what it was like to be the one given orders and forget the people that were 'below his rank'.


"They do be on patrol currently.  And please, no be calling me Lord, just Con."  Lessons...  Now that was something that Con could help with, not only to get him out of some other things he didn't want to attend to but also because he knew that they were needed.  It would do her good to be able to defend herself, maybe it would give her some confidence when dealing with people.  Light knew that she was nervous enough around him and she had no reason to be.  Maybe it was because she had left Illian, but just because she had left did not mean she was not welcome.


"While they no be here, there do ne be need to wait for them."  Taking a step back, Con settled into a simple stance as he looked at Jatasha and gestured for her to come forward.  "Do be showing me what you be capable of.  No be worried, I no be hurting you and you no be hurting me.  Just be doing your best, and I do be able to see what do be needing improving and we do be going from there."

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Jatasha was surprised by the offer, but his words had put her at ease quite a bit.  If he didn't want to be called Lord, maybe he wasn't going to be like those nobles that all turned their noses up at people.  Maybe he wouldn't change his mind about his family running around with the likes of her.  She wasn't sure how long the Band of the Red Hand would be required to stay but she was trying to take advantage of the time.  Where at first she had been worried about being in her old stomping grounds, now she was visiting places and making her peace with it.  Life had been hard for her in Illian, but things had turned for the better with the Band.  It was easier to see the old home and visit with people now. 


"Um... alright, I do be giving it my best, but I no be knowing much.  Just what I learned on the streets here."  And although she had learned a bit of wrestling, come knife work, and a little self defense, it had always been just a matter of doing what she had to in order to get out of a bad spot.  She took what she thought was a good stance. She had watched others train before and had listened in as best she could.  She  tried kicking him first, hoping that it would be unexpected, but he blocked it easy enough.  A few jabs followed which didn't come close to hitting him.  She dropped the stance then and smiled.  "See, I do no know much about fighting.  There do be other things I know though." She said as she closed the gap between them.  She moved until she was standing partially beside him, one hand coming up to trace the width of his shoulders.  "Other things I do be at teaching..."  She put her foot behind his leg then and pushed on his shoulders then with all her might to knock him over.

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Raising an eyebrow at Jatasha as he stood firm against her shove, Con could see that there was a lot of work that could be done with her.  He hadn't been sure of her intention until she'd hooked her foot behind his leg, it wasn't the first time someone had tried to ply that trick on him.  Letting her step back, Con decided that there was no point in lying, she didn't even have anything that could credibly be described as the basics.  How she had ever been allowed to participate in their overthrow of the pretender he didn't know, but that was already done with and all that was left to do was make sure that she was prepared for the next time she ended up in a fight.


"First of all, stance.  Copy me."  Bending his knees so he lost a couple of inches in height, Con lifted his arms up before him, his left fist leading while his right stayed close to his face just before his mouth so it didn't impede his vision.  Watching her attempt to emulate his stance, he wandered over and moved her into the right positions, dragging her left leg forward a little further, adjusting her feet, making her bend her knees a little more, adjusting her arms, everything until it was corrected.  The result was no doubt something she would find a little uncomfortable, but comfort would come with familiarity and repeated use.


"Good.  Now, watch."  Standing so he was infront of her but she saw his side, he punched with his left and right alternately at an easy pace so she could see what he was doing while he explained it.  "All the power do be coming from your hips.  Each time I be punching, I no be simply using my fist, or my arm, my whole body do be giving it power.  It do be the same with kicks, the first of which you do be learning is this."


Pivoting on his left foot, his right leg came up as he spun and then hacked downward.  "This do be painful to be hit with, and if enough force do be behind it and placed right, you do be breaking someone's leg by smashing into the side of their knee.  We do be doing a simple drill now."  Con reassumed his position with his left foot leading.  "Left."  Con jabbed with his left fist.  "Right."  Con punched with his right fist.  "Kick."  Con lashed out and down with his right foot as if hacking someone's knees and let his right foot lead.  "Right."  Con jabbed with his right.  "Left."  Con threw a solid punch with his left.  "Kick."  Con replicated the kick but with his left foot, leaving him in his original position.


Turning to Jatasha, Con's hands joined behind his back as he spoke.  "When I do be calling out an action, you do be doing it.  Ready?  Left!"

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She had feared the sneaky approach wouldn't work on Con, but she had to try it.  No matter what else she might want to do, she meant him to know exactly what he was getting himself into.  She could get away from a street thug most of the time, but she wasn't fit to really fight anywhere.  She had known that before going into the battle.  In fact, everyone in the Band had known it as well which was why she had stayed as far away from them as much as possible.  People assumed since she came with the Band that she knew what she was doing, no matter where she had come from. 


She had nearly laughed when he had come to correct her stance but she managed to keep it down to a polite smile.  It was just odd trying to keep this sort of thing up and to be comfortable in it, but she had truly meant to learn so she was going to take it seriously.  She watched intently as he began hitting and kicking.  It all seemed easy enough, but she was sure that the practice of it wouldn't be.  As he began telling her what to do she tried to follow his example.  Her kick wasn't near as nice as his, but at least she didn't fall on her face as she did it.  The second was even worse though.  "I think I do be more work than you be expecting." She said with a grin.


"Well, I do be supposing that you do be needing to be come here every day and train while you do be here.  But, practice.  Left!"  Con walked her through the movements, only occasionally stopping her to correct something, aiming to get her to focus on what she was doing herself.  You could rely on a teacher all you wanted, but instruction only went so far, you had to focus and want something in order to achieve it.  The drill went for the better part of a half hour.  By that time she was needing a break, it was clear that she hadn't done this sort of exercise much and she needed time to build up to it.


"Take a break.  Be sitting down for a moment."  Leaving Jatasha in the courtyard, it wasn't long before Con returned with a waterskin.  Sitting down next to her, he handed her the waterskin so she could drink while he spoke.  "How much longer do you be in Illian for?  I do be running training at different times of the day, starting at dawn.  If you do be interested, you could be coming along and training alongside the rest of us.  It would be a good opportunity for you if you be wanting it."


Jatasha was surprised by the offer, but the fact that he was still willing to help her after having seen what a disgrace she was left her feeling better about the whole thing.  She took a long drink from the waterskin before answering.  "I do no know how long the Band do be staying here, but if you do no mind, I think I do be taking you up on your offer.  I do no know much and everything counts.  I do be learning that one a long time ago on the streets.  It do no be seeming like much sometimes, but sometimes little things get you out of a bad spot.  If I learn even a little bit now, I do be stronger than before and that be more than I be looking for when I found my way back to these streets." She said with a grin.


Nodding at what Jatasha said, Con liked her optimism.  But he couldn't bring himself to smile at it, not while there was something else that was on his mind about Jatasha.  Something that, well, maybe it didn't need to be said, but Con felt that it did need saying.  He also doubted that he was the first amongst his family to say it, but he needed to say it all the same.  "Jatasha."  His face expressionless as she regarded him with her grin, Con struggled with his words as he spoke.  "I...  we, the family...  We weren't there for you when you needed us."  There it was.  "I want you to know that, if you ever need help you need only come here and ask.  Ever.  Do you understand?"


There were times in her life that Jatasha Danica had doubted the good in the world.  There were times when she thought she should just give in and forget to look for the people who were worth caring for.  And then moments like these came and her breath was taken away.  The Stavros family had no claim to her, there were no ties except maybe that she had run with some of the kids when they were all younger, but Con was making something of her past anyway.  He hadn't been the one to kill her mother, or to put her on the streets.  Her father had done both of those things and she had stayed on the streets until he had died.  It wasn't anyone's fault really and she was shocked and slightly ashamed that someone like Con would try to take some guilt in all that.   


Her grin faded into a frown as she looked at him.  "I understand, but I do no blame you for what happened to me.  My father be the one making my life what it was.  You did no know me, nor did you be owing me anything."


"You should never have been made to be working the streets, especially at your age."  Laying a hand on her shoulder, Con squeezed it as he continued.  "Nothing can ever be undoing what be done, but I no be wanting to see you or anyone else of the Perfumed Quarters so helpless again.  If you ever do be feeling like you no be having anywhere to go, that there do be no one that you can be turning to, I want you to be remembering that you be able to come here.  You might feel like you be having no one, but from what my younger cousins do be saying, if they had known the truth of how things were, if you'd asked they would have been there for you.  Never hesitate to ask us anything."


Jatasha nodded, but she wasn't sure what to say to the man.  She was a whore.  Even when the Band and her friends within it had made it clear that there were other things she could do among them, she was still a whore.  She didn't know anything else and wasn't sure she ever would.  She hoped, of course she did, but somehow it never happened.  She would watch the others in training with the different corps but somehow she was never able to ask to join. 


"My Da would no have liked anyone coming to change things and he do be all I had back then." She said honestly.  "If he had no killed my Mother, or if I did be knowing it be he, maybe I do be having a different life.  But I do no regret my life so far.  The streets were hard but I do be a quick learner and for all that I do be getting in less trouble than some.  But I do be keeping your offer in mind.  It do always be good to know where your friends be."


"Back then, if your Da did be trying anything he would have had our entire family on his head."  Squeezing her shoulder again, he let it go and left his hands in his lap instead as he continued.  "Glad you do be remembering though.  But, you do be feeling like you do be having enough of a break?  Ready to start on the next drill?  A few of these, you do be doing them long enough and they do be becoming a part of you.  If you do be ready."  Con looked to her, waiting for her to tell him that she was indeed ready to continue.


It was comforting and with his hand on her shoulder she could almost remember what it had been like before her Mother had died and her father had still been loving and caring.  That had disappeared a long time ago though and now all that was left was a run down house and Jatasha's memories.  What would it have been like to have been taken away from all that though?  Who would she have been if her father hadn't been allowed to sell her on the streets when she had been twelve?  She didn't know and she had long ago stopped dreaming about it.  In reality, she had friends now and that was what mattered.  People that were willing to help her now and would support her in times to come.  Light she only hoped Carnhain was a part of that group.  She had to figure out what to do about that man. 


She shook the thought from her head and nodded at Con.  "I do be ready again." She said.  "What else be there to teach me?"


"You do be learning how to use your fists and your shins to strike.  Now we do be looking at your elbows and knees."  Settling into his stance, Con demonstrated two basic elbows.  The first came across the body like a roundhouse, and the second flashed upward like an uppercut.  Demonstrating both with each arm, he then demonstrated a simple knee to crotch with each leg in turn.  Simple things, things that could help when you were in close against someone.  Knowing how to hit hard in a small space was vital to defending oneself.  "Roundhouse elbows do be one and two, uppercuts be three and four, knees be five and six.  Start on left then do be going right.  Ready?  One!"


The more time she was spending around Con the more she liked him.  Unlike some people she had seen training, he worked at things that could count.  She wouldn't have the prettiest of punches for some time that was certain, but if it worked she wasn't likely to complain.  Each step he showed her was something basic that she could do with the skill she already had, not something that took hours to learn.  Basic and lifesaving if she found herself on the wrong street, that was what she was learning. 


She began imitating the man again, trying to do the moves as he called them out.  It was a little easier this time because she knew what sort of thing he expected.  He might not care about her form, but he was quick to point out if her balance was off or if she overextended herself.  Things that would give someone else the advantage.  As she completed the last set she looked over at Con and winked, catching her breath before they moved on to the next exercise.  Light, but she'd have a hard time remembering all these things.  She'd definitely have to come for more training in order to remember it all.


"You do be doing well."  Smiling, Con clapped Jatasha's shoulder, she was new to this and it showed but with time she would be as competent as anyone else.  Now it was time to make it interesting, and to give her an idea of what it would be like to use it on someone.  Settling into an easy defensive position, he gestured for Jatasha to step forward towards him.  "Now, I do be calling out different attacks and you do be doing them.  Left and right do be punches, kick do be your back leg.  One do be roundhouse elbow, two do be uppercut elbow, when I do be calling knee I do be wanting you to be grabbing my shirt as you be throwing the knee so you no be falling over, as you would be really doing it.  Ready?  Knee!"

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Pretending to try to hit someone, knowing you would one day use it to hit someone, and trying to hit someone you knew and liked were totally different things.  Jatasha was doing OK with the moves, and could imagine using them in her head on a good number of men she'd met over the years.  Trying to hit Con, even knowing that he would be able to block anything she did was a totally different matter. 


And yet she had already done it.  She could do it again and would.  Con was taking his time to train her and she had no doubts that she would do as he told her.  The session was turning out to be a lot different than her sessions with Carnhain that she almost always took off track as soon as possible.  She learned in those sessions, but she had a hard time concentrating on what Carnhain was trying to show her most of the time.  It was odd for her to get so distracted by a man, but he did it to her every time.  She just couldn't think when he was around. 


As Con called out different moves, she worked to do them right, trying to remember what he had said and shown her about each.  He told her it would come easier with practice, that the things she had to think about now would some day become second nature.  It seemed a long way off though.  As they finished this set and she was passed the water skin, Jatasha bit her lower lip for a second, thinking that though he had not asked it of her, she needed to repay him for what he was doing.  It was a little enough thing she could offer, but she wasn't a believer in charity and she was even more awkward with the idea of being in someone's debt.  As she handed the waterskin back to Con she let her fingers rest a moment longer than necessary.  She smiled at him then.  "I do be in your debt for this." She said, stepping closer to him.  "You say I do only need to let you know if I be needing something...." she bit her lower lip for him to see and looked up through batted lashes.


As far as Con was concerned, Jatasha was doing well enough but she needed to exercise more.  She wasn't fit enough, or strong enough, and she needed to develop both before she developed some real power in her blows as well as be able to stave off exhaustion.  She would definitely need to join them for training, if she were around for a few weeks then they would be able to get a bit done, at least get her on the right path.  But, she was doing well enough for now, the main thing was that she was focusing and trying, with enough willpower, the rest would follow with time.


Calling an end to the fighting exercise, Con shook his arms and hands to help them relax.  He was used to dodging blows, while he was trained to naturally relax as he was struck it was still instinctive to tense up to a degree.  Taking the waterskin as it was offered, Con took a sip of it even as Jatasha spoke.  Debt indeed.  "Yes, if you do be needing something then ask.  And you no be owing me anything for this, you did be fighting and throwing your life at the mercy of the wheel and fate to help us free our nation.  Especially when you did be knowing so little of how to fight.  Consider this a way of repaying that."

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She wasn't sure if he was deliberately trying to ignore her flirting or if he just didn't realize she was doing it.  It wasn't in her nature to back down quite so easily though.  Even if he wasn't going to admit the debt she owed, it was still in her mind and she needed to repay it. 


She smiled as she decided to take another tactic.  "Repayment?  I do be doing what I think be right, but I be just one person.  You be doing so much more and do be getting little more out of it than a headache, if I do be understanding how you feel about nobles." She took a step closer, draping her arms around his shoulders.  "I do no be a Queen or a Princess, but I do be able to thank a man properly for what he be doing for my home." She said, leaning up and kissing him lightly to gauge his reaction.


Jatasha :P

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Freezing as Jatasha's lips touched his, Con hadn't seen this coming.  He should have, hindsight was a wonderful thing though it was always useless until after the fact.  Reaching up, he gently disengaged her arms from around his shoulders and lowered them between the pair of them.  It wasn't something he could accept even if he wanted to, and he had a perfectly wonderful wife he loved and had gone through so much for that he was never, ever, going to risk hurting her.  As well meaning as Jatasha seemed to be, that was not something that Con was going to entertain, and more importantly it was something that Jatasha should never have felt like she had to offer.


"Jatasha, I could no be accepting something like that and you should never be feeling like you be having to offer.  I no be doing this because I be wanting to use you."  Releasing her wrists, Con sighed as he rested his hands on her shoulders instead.  Not something he had expected to deal with at all.  "I be offering to help you because I do be wishing to help, I no be expecting anything in return from you for it.  Light, you do be young enough to be my daughter."


She didn't look entirely settled about the matter, especially at the last thing he said, but an idea had already come to Con.  If she were able to get permission for it that was, but they would see about that.  "If you do be feeling like you do be needing to repay a debt though, then there are some things here that no doubt be needing doing.  Sweeping, cooking, cleaning, Arette would probably be having some use for you as well.  If you do be serious about repaying and no be able to accept the training freely that is."



Con Stavros

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It was a slight blow to her ego when Con took her hands away, but at the mention of his wife she relaxed a little.  Some men were good like that.  Not many that she'd ever met, but there were some.  Even her Da had been faithful to her Ma until he had killed her.  Still, it left her with a need to pay him back for training and without a sure way to do it.


She took a deep breath at his words, at his offer.  She nodded slightly, giving him a smile to let him know that she wasn't upset.  "You be a good man Con Stavros and your wife do be a lucky woman.  I do be knowing many men that no be worried about their women when my arms be around 'em.  But I do need to be paying you back for this.  I believe your wife do be able to find me something to help out.  I do be asking around tomorrow to see if she be having anything." 


She winked at him then.  "But if you be changing your mind, you be letting me know.  Maybe you be as old as you say, but I be a good judge of a man.  I do no think you be having any trouble keeping up with one like me." She said with a small laugh.



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Well, at least that settled the matter for the moment, even if Jatasha had decided to keep her offer open to him.  That and the nice compliment, but Con was still not going to take up her offer.  Far too young for him, she'd be better off with someone much closer to her own age.  Hopefully someone who could make her realise that she didn't have to offer herself in such a way, that she wasn't a commodity to be prostituted.  Restoring her confidence in such a way, Con wasn't sure how such a thing could be done, but hopefully the right man would come along and help her understand.


"When you do be willing to crawl into the Pit of Doom and back for someone, you do be sure that they do be the one person you be wanting to wake up next to.  Arette do be my one, one day you do be finding yours I do be thinking."  Squeezing her shoulders, Con let his hands fall to his sides.  He just hoped Jatasha wouldn't cause any problems while he trained her, she had a good enough heart but it was a slight worry nevertheless.  But, there would be no trouble, Arette knew him and he knew her, that was what mattered.


Leaning back slightly as he adopted a simple defensive stance, Con gestured for Jatasha to come forward.  "Same drill, with strength yet control, control is the most important thing.  One!"  Falling back as he began to call attacks and she launched them, they fell into a steady rhythm as the drill progressed.  She would get confidence with time, and confidence would fix everything else, Con was certain of it.



Con Stavros

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He was not jealous.  Definitely not jealous.  The fact that he was practically running through the Perfumed Quarter was because he had an excess of energy, not because he somehow thought that if he got there faster he might somehow stop something.  Something being absolutely nothing and absolutely nothing certainly didn’t have his heart pounding in his throat.


The Stavros house.  She’d been going every day.  For what?  Carnhain had broken the sleazy man’s nose for that smirk.  Jatasha wasn’t like that.  Jatasha was...  Confusing the hell out of him.  She had been in the battle?  He hadn’t found that out until he’d heard it from Kedyn who’d heard it from Miria who’d heard it from Light alone knew where.  Knowing that woman she’d probably made it up just to torture him.


There it was.  The headquarters for the militia that kept the Perfumed Quarters safer than any noble before Lord Stavros’ time ever had.  But then again, there had never been a Lord in the Perfumed Quarters itself either.  At least according to Jatasha... who was supposed to be in there...


It was nothing.  Nothing!


Carnhain broke into a jog.


“One!  Two!  Three!  Four!”


His heart dropped back to normal speed in the space of about a second.  Which left him peculiarly out of breath.  How was he supposed to explain that away?


‘See?  Nothing.’


He grinned as he watched Jatasha move through a series of punches, kicks and elbows.  She was finally learning something.  Something other than...  His ears turned red.

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It was in the middle of a kick that Jatasha happened to catch the sight of something in her peripherial.  Someone that always caught her attention even in the thickest crowd.  She lost her balance completely and managed to fall straight on her butt.  She took a deep breath, though it hadn't hurt, it was humiliating to fall like that in front of both Con and Carnhain.  She didn't know what to say about it, but took the hand Con offered to help her back up. 


"Sorry... I ...  um... I be losing my concentration and my balance all at the same time." She said, with a small grin, trying not to make it obvious that it was Carnhain that had caused it but unable to look at him none the less.


He couldn’t help it.  Honestly, he would never had said what he said before he met her... except maybe to Kedyn.  Well... in umm... a different situation.  “Usually you’re not supposed to end up on the ground when you’re training Jatasha.”  As he usually did when she was around, he blushed harder the wider he grinned, and he was grinning fit to split his cheeks.


“Good morning Lord Stavros.  I see you too have taken a crack at training her.”


Inclining his head at Carnhain's greeting, Con realised that his drills with Jatasha were probably finished for the day.  The grin on Carnhain's face and the similar smile on Jatasha's told him full well what was between the pair.  But, at least he'd been able to make a start with her training, that would be something they would be able to build on with time, if she was willing to put the time into it.  "She wished instruction and I do be a trainer.  She do be grasping basics well enough, over the next few weeks I do be hoping to help her further, if the Band will be remaining in Illian for a time?  She could be joining the rest of the guard for training during the day."


Carnhain nodded.  It appeared as if Con was making far better headway that Carnhain had.  Jatasha had a way of... distracting him, rather quickly.  In the end, all learning was on his side.  “At least she’s learning from the best.”  Rumours of Lord Stavros’ previous occupations were rampant in the Band as everything from Arette Sedai’s Warder, to a Whitecloak, to Commander of the Tower Guard.  “And the Band will be in Illian until everything’s cleared up and settled.  Likely which will take another two weeks at least.”


"Two weeks?  Longer would be better but the Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills."  Looking at Jatasha briefly, Con knew that there was only so much that he could show her in that time, but he would do what he could.  He would simply have to make do with that time and hope that she continued learning after she left.  Turning back to Carnhain, Con smiled slightly.  "And I no be the best, I simply be old enough to be learning a bit.  And you?  I did be seeing your bladework, it no be the most refined but it no be nothing to be sneered at either."


Arrogant as Carnhain was, Jatasha’s presence generally loaned him a great deal of self-consciousness and doubt so he simply shrugged.  “It’s what I do.  I’m a soldier and to get to where I am it’s needed.”  Pausing for a moment, he remembered watching Lord Stavros and a few of the other men close to him fighting.  He had watched, amazed by the fluidity with which the flowed from move to move turning swordwork to more of a dance fit for a ballroom instead of a skirmish.  “It has none of the elegance you nor some of your other men possess, but it keeps me alive and that’s good enough for me.” He was no Blademaster, the scars across his chest spoke of that.


"Maybe."  Con frowned slightly as a thought came to him, it probably wasn't his place but he could make the offer.  After all, relations between Illian and the Band, having to do his part and all that.  He wasn't a silver tongued diplomat by any means, but there was something more practical he could do that would perhaps mean more to a member of the Band.  Well, if it wasn't taken as an insult that was. "I no be meaning it as an insult, but perhaps I could be offering a few pointers?  I would be needing to see how you fought to be understanding you though.  If you would be up for a spar?"


Carnhain considered it for a moment.  Considering how the better part of spars against people better than he was ended, he really should turn down the offer.  This was neither the place nor time to be losing control on his bloodlust simply because he was getting beat in a friendly spar.  Nightmares of sudden disintegration of relations between the Band and Illian because he had tried to kill their hero flashed through his mind while he lay dead and Bander fought Illianer in the streets turning the canals red with blood.


On the other hand, Jatasha seemed to be looking at him expectantly.  Would she think him craven for refusing the spar?  Would her interest in him suddenly fade when he turned down a chance to prove his ability as a soldier?  Fight a group of untrained toughs, but run when a better warrior asked for a fight?  And besides, Lord Stavors might think it rude of him to turn down a simple spar.


“Of course.”


"Then do be excusing me for a moment, I do be needing to fetch something."  Inclining his head to the pair of them, Con turned and left the pair to their own devices as he disappeared inside his home.  He had something to retrieve before they began, a couple of things actually.

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Jatasha had listened to the two going back and forth and her smile was as big as it could get.  She was glad Carnhain had come along when he had and not a few minutes earlier, and even though she'd like to ask why he was there, she didn't think it was a good idea to do it now.  As Con left to get something, she walked closer to Carnhain.  "I do no be seeing you fight before." She said.  "Even in the Battle, I do no see you there."  She stepped up and trailed her hand across his chest.  "I think I do be seeing something new from you now.  At least... I do no think this will end the way our sessions do be ending." She said, biting her lip slightly.


So she had been in the battle.  A part of him was furious that she had gone.  She wasn’t supposed to go!  She was supposed to be far away from there!  His anger confused him.  Why did it matter?  She hadn’t gotten hurt and everything was fine.  So why did part of him want to shake her and promise never to do that again?


“You weren’t supposed to be there.”  His smile and light tone were entirely too forced.  Being unsure of how to answer her last comment, he was afraid if he voiced the jealousy that had awaken she might push him away, and so leaned in closer to kiss her.


She was surprised when he kissed her, almost as surprised at the rebuke about the Battle, but she took both as they were offered.  When their lips parted she smiled.  "I do no be part of the Band really..." She said knowing that it wasn't really true.  She had never signed up with them but she had been there as a representative of the Band.  "I did no want to be left behind.  It be my city and my home they be fighting for.  But I do be smart enough to stay to the back when I could and I did no get hurt.  I do no be planning on doing that again anytime soon though.  Not until you be teaching me better." She said with another grin.


He grinned despite wanting to make her promise never to do that again.  A jape was on the tip of his tongue about her being too much of a distraction to get much training done but he stifled it, not wanting to give her any reason to put an end to their “training”.  He certainly wasn’t... complaining.  “As long as you don’t go getting in the middle of fights and battles without me there to keep you out of trouble.”


Jatasha leaned up, until her lips were almost against his.  "I do be promising you that.  Next time I be getting in a fight, I do be expecting you to watch my back."  She kissed him then.  When she backed away she laughed.  "If you do no behave yourself, this training session do be ending like our others at home." She added with a wink.


He was beginning to realise just how tightly she had him wrapped around her finger.  As it was, Carnhain would gladly follow her around all day just to make sure she didn’t end up in any form of trouble that didn’t involve him.  A great deal of viable excuses to follow her around through the Perfumed Quarter leapt to mind.  Stavros may have reduced crime here to next to nothing, but it was still the Perfumed Quarter and there was still that chance.


As usual, Jatasha’s comment earned her both grin and blush.  “I’d best be on my worst behaviour then.”


It was exactly the sort of encouragement she didn't need.  She laughed even as she wrapped her arms around his shoulders and kissed him soundly.  She didn't know how she had managed to get so completely out of her head over a guy, but she found she couldn't fight it and had no wish too.  It wasn't until she heard the scuffling of feet behind her that she remembered exactly where she was. 


She took a step back and looked over at Con, watching them both.  She looked back at Carnhain, feeling a little color in her cheeks.  Light!  She was a whore!  Why was she blushing over being caught with this man?  She cleared her throat.  "Um... I... I do think I be watching from over here." She said, pointing away from where she was.  She didn't make a move yet though in case Con chose to say something about her she didn't want Carnhain to hear.  Like she had just offered her services to him for training...


The fact that he was standing in the middle of a very public courtyard which could be easily seen out dozens of windows by dozens more people really didn’t register until Jatasha pulled away blushing.  In fact, even when she pulled away blushing, it wasn’t until she looked over at a very amused Con that Carnhain remembered he was supposed to be sparring the man in a few minutes... which would make that now.  Said minutes should have been spent stretching but there was really very little room for any regret whatsoever when a certain young woman was grinning and blushing not so far away.


Blushing brilliantly himself, Carnhain adopted a sheepish look for Con and shrugged out of both shirt and coat and started what should have started a few minutes ago.  The stretching... not the kissing.


Pulling his arms across his body and stretching his legs, he took the time to study Con a little closer.  The man was using a stick.  “A stick against live steel?” he raised an eyebrow.  “Should be interesting.

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Catching the pair, Con was outwardly amused at the embarrassment though he couldn't help but wonder if Carnhain suspected Jatasha.  Perhaps he knew and he was fine with it, but perhaps he didn't and that would be a tragic thing if he ever found out.  Not something that Con was going to broach with the man though, that wasn't his place.  Instead he simply smiled as the man commented on the stick and the steel.  "I no longer be using a sword.  At anyrate, do be coming at me when you do be ready."  At that, Con took a couple of steps back and settled into an easy stance, hands hanging by his sides, the stick resting against his left leg.


The words were barely out of Con’s mouth when Carnhain lunged, broadsword levelled at Stavros’ middle.  He had expected to catch the man’s unawares, but he had expected the blade to be met by the stick.  Instead, Con simply dodged the thrust, stepping to the side.  The man moved like a snake!


Despite the unexpected lack of contact, the cavalryman wasn’t so green as to put so much force behind the thrust as to be caught off balance.  Instead, he used the momentum to carry him forward and spun to end up behind Stavros.  He slashed at the man’s hamstring.


Lifting his leg above the attempt to hamstring, Con stepped back from the next attack.  Leaning to one side, Carnhain's blade occupied the place where his head had been just a moment earlier.  Leaning forward as the blade passed overhead, he then turned sideways as blade tried to touch his shoulder and stepped away as a return slash tried to tag him.  He could read Carnhain now, even as the man slowed and began to probe, testing him, Con was using every moment to become that much more aware of how the man moved and fought.  The more he could read the man, the more he could anticipate, the easier it was to not only read the particular movement that Carnhain would employ but the movements most likely to follow.


The slash turned into a jab turned into an attempt to decapitate.  An overhand cut at the shoulder became another slash.  Every time the man danced away.


Stepping back, Carnhain was forced to re-evaluate.  Usually it was the more offensive man who set the pace of the fight.  However, Con was evading his attacks too easily.  Burdened by the weight of the broadsword, he wasn’t nearly as quick as Con would be with his stick and being unable to control the pace of the fight, he was forced to settle down to probing for openings.


Rather than waste energy on large combinations, Carnhain relied on sudden jabs and slashes with the tip of the broadsword, meant more to slow Con down rather than incapacitate.  It must have been a rather boring fight for Jatasha to watch as rather than meet, the two men circled each other, probing for openings.


Calm, Con evaded Carnhain with a practiced ease.  Evasion was easy, all that was required was to step away, to the side, duck, he was able to move faster than Carnhain because he didn't try to outdo the man, he moved with him.  It was a subtle yet important difference that changed the entire nature of their combat.  Because Carnhain tried to move against him, out do him, he disadvantaged himself from the start because the standard he used was Con.  Because Con did not use Carnhain as his standard, he moved at his own pace, leaving Carnhain little choice but to chase, to probe, forcing Carnhain to try and understand him.  In the process, Carnhain revealed his own movements because they all linked together, though this did not mean that Con was by any means overly confident, simply confident.


But now Carnhain was wary, he needed an incentive to push, though Con suspected that Carnhain might eventually commit without such incentive.  Giving the incentives, the openings, these were things that allowed Con to determine the attacks that Carnhain could and would use.  Just half a second slower, hanging around the man a little further rather than slipping back, teasing him while ceding as little as he could.  Give him hope and tempt him into making his move.


At the first opening, Carnhain launched in.  Still keeping some distance because of the stick, he stabbed first at Con’s shoulder, continuing the momentum to bring a kick up at the other man’s knee.  Both were evaded and Carnhain quickly stepped back again to probe.  Another opening presented itself.  Trying a backhand cut along the man’s ribs that was jumped away from, he brought the sword up and tried an overhand blow.  As the sword came down, his left fist came up and around in a hook at the man’s jaw.


The opportunity presented itself even as Carnhain leaped on the opportunity he saw.  Lifting the stick high, Con slanted it so Carnhain's blade would slide down it even as he stepped to one side.  Snagging the swordhand with his own free hand, Con pulled the man forward and quickly jerked the hand back as he twisted, and within the space of several seconds, Carnhain was on his back and Con had his stick at the man's throat.  There was only a slight pause before Con pulled the man back up on his feet, he still seemed a little shocked by what had just happened, but then, Con doubted he had come across an opponent quite like him either.  "What do you be thinking just happened?"


It all happened too fast for it to register what went wrong.  One moment he was attacking, the next he was on the ground with a stick at his throat.  Even being pulled back to his feet, Carnhain was trying to work through everything that had happened in the space of a few seconds.  “I do be thinking I did be losing.” Carnhain smiled ruefully, imitating the Illianer accent... and butchering it.


Shaking his head, Con held onto the stick behind his back with both hands as he spoke.  "You did be having the illusion of having the initiative.  While you do be following me, I do be determining the intensity of the combat, you do be too reliant on trapping a person in your own pace, dictating combat to them.  I do be doing two things.  The first do be denying you the opportunity to be doing that, the second do be reading you.  Part of that do be simply the fact that I do be having a lot of experience, but most of it do be the fact that you did be wholly committed to finding any weakness I did be having and trying to use it.  By choosing to be giving you opportunities, you did be trapped in the pace of the fight I did be creating.  The moment you did be taking an opportunity and I did be reading the movement, then it did be over."


"Too much aggression." Con frowned, he would have said Ren'shai but at least Carnhain hopefully didn't believe that being stabbed somehow made him stronger.  "You do be needing to balance yourself further.  The entire time you did be chasing me, you no be waiting once to see whether I would be taking the attack to you.  The other point is that you do be trying to move against me, you do be trying to be faster, to blind me with speed.  I no be trying to outpace you, I simply do be moving with you, that way I do be staying one step ahead until I do be catching you out.  Do be grabbing a lathe, we do be trying again if you do be ready with that in mind now."

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Carnhain had never heard of Con’s philosophy before.  As a general rule, “strike first, be faster and exploit the weaknesses” were dogma drilled into every Private’s head from day one.  Watching and waiting were generally discouraged against most opponents unless you were facing someone far above your skill level or multiple opponents.  To simply wait out an entire fight was mind-boggling, especially for a cavalryman whose most dangerous weapon was the charge.


Replacing his broadsword with a similar lathe, Carnhain turned to face Con.  He itched to strike the first blow but waited dutifully as Stavros wanted.  Waiting for the other man to strike was a bit like waiting for the headsman’s axe to descend, a certain amount of powerlessness accompanied it.


Waiting and noticing that Carnhain was refraining from attacking, Con waited as he held his stick before him, just waiting and allowing time to work on the man.  It was one of the hardest things to learn, to simply watch and wait your opponent, waiting for them to move before you moved yourself.  It had taken Con nearly a quarter of a decade to reach the level of ability that he had now, a wide range of experience and years of instruction.  Watching, he knew that he had the advantage and strength and size, even if the man was a little quicker than him.  It was all about waiting, waiting even as he was alert to the man possibly launching an attack against him, yet there were no subtle shifts of movement that he knew to look for.  And so he waited.


Stepping forward quickly, Con watched as Carnhain brought his lathe up to defend and simply did nothing, his stick remaining where it was.  Waiting again, Con simply let time tick away as he remained aware of what was around him.  Letting time work on him, see how he bore it as he was forced to wait for Con's advance.  Suddenly Con came forward, this time with a high feint before taking another step and falling to one knee, slashing for Carnhain's thighs and missing as the man danced back.  Standing and settling into an easy position, Con began to repeat the process as he waited to see how Carnhain could read him, whether he would exercise caution or whether he would crack early and leap on a mistaken opportunity and leave himself exposed.


The waiting chewed at his nerves and when Con took just a step forward, Carnhain reacted immediately, bringing his blade up to defend a phantom attack.  Feeling particularly foolish when no attack came, he fought back the urge to utilise his nervous energy.  If their earlier spar had been boring, this trumped it.  It was almost a shock when Con did suddenly move to attack.  Jumping out of the way as he had seen the other man do before, Carnhain paid more attention to Con’s body movement than thinking about how best to defend and turn the attack to his advantage and read the other man’s feint.


After a few rounds of this, Carnhain was dying to do something more than dance around.  When Con came at him this time, Carnhain ducked under a cut meant to decapitate him and while dropping down, stabbed at the other man’s abdomen.


Twisting on the spot, the lathe barely whispered by Con's navel even as he caught hold of the man's sword hand with his free hand.  Lifting the man's sword arm upward to catch Carnhain's punch and left it clear to the left of Con's face, he barely touched the man's chest with his own stick to let the man know he had him before shoving him clear a step.  Not enough patience.  Once he was in Con's grasp he had him, wasn't using his distance effectively.  But, it was a new concept for the man to take and it would take a long time for it to settle in, it had certainly taken Con longer than just a lesson to fully grasp the nature of it.  But, that wasn't where the instruction ended on this day, there was something else he had noticed in Carnhain's bladework that could use some work, and his fighting in general.


"You do be needing to learn to be calm as you do be waiting for your opponent's attack.  You do be pressured too early into making your move when it no be the right moment.  But, there do be something else I do be wishing to show you.  Your style do be dominated a great deal by impact swordplay.  Your style be designed to disrupt your opponent, be letting your speedy swordwork be taking care of the rest.  It do be less about control and more about disrupting the other fighter's control.  You do be coming across someone who do be able to take your attacks and control them and you do be finding yourself beaten very quickly.  So, you do be needing to learn another aspect to your fighting, that elegance you did be mentioning perhaps.  It simply be contact swordsmanship."


"Be placing your lathe against my stick." Holding the stick before him, slanted across his body in a basic guard, Con nodded as Carnhain stepped forward and mirrored the stance with the lathe resting where it should be.  "The goal here do be to control the movement of the opponent.  To do this, you do be needing to keep your lathe in contact with my stick the entire time.  While you do be controlling my movement, pushing an attack away, you do be needing to try and strike me in turn and I do be moving to be redirect your attack and attack in turn.  Do be starting slowly at first, and then we do be building up speed, no be needing to move on your feet, just be focusing on your lathe's movements.  Starting now."  Con pushed against the lathe, straightening the lathe as it tried to slide around the lathe and thrust only for it to be pushed away sharply.  Smiling, Con as he twisted his grip on his stick and swept the counterattack low so it barely missed his leg and he riposted in turn.


It went very much like before.  One moment Carnhain was stabbing the man, the next he was at his opponent’s mercy.  The Bloodlust in his head pulsed against the mental grip he had on it, begging for release and the chance to try itself against the too-calm Con Stavros.  A glance over at Jatasha was all he needed to reinforce his control, knowing that she would never be able to look at him the same if she saw him surrender to his bloodlust.  It would be Miria all over again.


While all of Con’s advice seemed to work for him, none of it seemed to be helping Carnhain any.  All Carnhain was managing was to get beat every single time and with Jatasha watching, his pride and ego were taking a serious beating.  The Bloodlust strained once more against his control but he reined it back.  This was no Kedyn who would be understanding and forgiving afterwards.


Calm?  Easy for him to say when he could so easily beat his opponents.  Con didn’t seem even capable of frustration and anger the way he fought.  And he certainly didn’t have this bestial madness straining against his sanity and threatening to turn the courtyard to a bloodbath.


Standing opposite Con, Carnhain mirrored the other’s guard and when the man began pushing, he tried to force the lathe to slide down his lathe.  Forcing away the man’s thrust, Carnhain barely caught the low slash at his legs before trying Con’s trick of twisting the lathe to try and turn the locked blades and allow for a thrust of his own at Stavros’ thigh.


Barely averting the thrust at his thigh, Con smiled slightly as he turned the lathe as his own stick nearly caught the man's forearm.  It wasn't a skill that was picked up easily, it was much easier to smash an opponent's blade than it was to guide it.  But learning how to guide an opponent was to learn how to exert control, the greater amount of control a person could exert the safer and more sure of victory they could be while minimising the risk to themselves.  Some people were like candles that burned brightly, they were easy to watch but they also burned out much faster.  The slower flame was the one that lasted, and you were only useful to people while you were still alive.  Sheathing the Sword was something that was never to be done lightly, and only when the benefit truly outweighed the cost, anything less was cowardice.


It was a good twenty minutes before Con stepped away and lowered the stick.  That was enough for now, it would be a lot for the man to think about as it was.  The concept that the lighter touch was sometimes the more powerful one would be something that Carnhain would need time to grapple with.  "That do be enough for now I think, you do be needing time to be thinking about it and how it do be working.  Perhaps you would be coming here as well as Jatasha?  If you do be interested in continuing to learn this, a couple of weeks no be much time but I do be thinking that it would be useful for you to be learning."


By the end of twenty minutes, Carnhain’s muscles were so stiff and sore that he absently wondered whether he might simply collapse once the adrenaline wore off.  He hadn’t taken that many lathes to the stomach, thighs and arms since Officer Training School when he was still a green Private.  Groaning, though attempting to hide just how much his legs and arms were craving a break, he whimpered in relief when Con finally stepped away.  Apparently he had been in better shape when he was still just a Sergeant.


On the other hand, he had made some decent headway.


Nodding at Stavros’ suggestion that he come to training with Jatasha, he grimaced when he tried to bend over and pick up his broadsword.  Surreptitiously clutching a hand to the half-healed scar along his stomach, from which a thin line of blood was oozing where a particularly nasty thrust of Con’s had burst the pink flesh, Carnhain had to practically limp back over to Con to shake his hand.


“Well, on the plus side of things, I’m less likely to earn any more of these.” he said smiling stiffly and gesturing towards the pair of scars along his abdomen.  “But in the meantime walking may be a little on the difficult side of things.  Thank you, though.”



Frowning as he noticed the thin line of red that was oozing from Carnhain's abdomen, Con shook his head.  "You should be asking my wife to heal it when she do be returning later today.  In the meantime, I do be getting some bandages for that and a sponge to be wiping it clean.  Do be sitting down for a moment and be getting your breath." Not bothering to call Jatasha over as she was already bringing the waterskin, Con made his way to the house.  Inside there was a storeroom with bandages aplenty, why Carnhain had been wandering around without it being bandaged up to begin with, Con didn't know.

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It was fascinating to watch Carnhain and Con train and Jatasha was amazed sometimes at how fast things went.  She didn't know how either of them moved as gracefully as they did, nor had time to see what was coming to block it in time.  Not that every blow was blocked in time, but it did Jatasha a little bit of good to know that she wasn't the only one that could benefit from training. 


As it ended she grabbed the waterskin and hung back a little, waiting for the two men to be done.  When Con turned away she moved quickly to Carnhain's side.  She saw the line of blood as she handed him the waterskin and frowned slightly.  "You do no be taking very good care of yourself Carnhain." She chided him.  "You do be promising to watch out for me, but who be watching out for you?"


Dumping the waterskin into his mouth, which resulted in a great deal of water everywhere else as well, he grinned back at her.  He scolded her about lurking around the edge of battles and she scolded him as if a little blood was just as bad!  “I suppose that’s your job, isn’t it?  We wouldn’t want me uh... taking training too seriously.”


Jatasha smiled weakly at that comment.  "I suppose it do be my job then.  If you do no care enough to take care of this, I do."  She was reaching for the wound when she realized  what she had said and her face blushed brighter than it ever had.  "I... um... I... do be meaning... oh Light... I do no be meaning to say it like that..." she said practically burying her face in her hands to hide her flushed face.


It seemed that whenever either of them said or did anything particularly embarrassing, they’d try to out-blush each other.  This was no exception.  As if he hadn’t been sweaty enough from the training, the extra heat in his face threatened to set it alight.  But seeing her bury her face in her hands, invoked a knot of guilt in his belly.  Leaning forward, he kissed her forehead.  “It’s alright, Jatasha.”


She felt his lips on her forehead and though she wanted it to relax her, it didn't.  She looked up with a slightly panicked looked in her eyes.  "I... um... I... you do be needing bandages."  She said, trying to think of a way to back out before she said anything else she didn't mean to.  Like don't hate me for being what I am.  Don't hate me because I care far too much for you and I’m just a whore who can't find a better way.  Don't say it's OK because you're so much better than me and I don't understand why you look at me like that.  "I... I should be getting you some..."


He had been expecting a laugh or some teasing remark, not for her to look at him like... that.  What was wrong?  It was just a slip of the tongue, it was nothing!  Why was she looking at him like that?  He’d be flat out lying to say he wasn’t hurt.  Was it something he’d done?  Something he’d said earlier?  Something he hadn’t done or hadn’t said?  What was going on?


Just as she was spinning away from him, Carnhain wanted to reach out and stop her.  He wanted to know; wanted to fix whatever he’d done wrong!  But he hesitated.  Light burn him he hesitated because of his stupid fear for making things worse and before he could screw up the courage she was gone.

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