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DRAGONMOUNT

A WHEEL OF TIME COMMUNITY

On the Theme of Pacifism


Guest Estel
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Covered in mud, scratches, leaves and lugging a wagon behind her over a great many stumps, Aleeza stumbled and swore her way through the woods to the Tracker Lounge.  Needless to say, it had not been a pleasant trip.

 

It had started out well enough.  In fact, she had been almost pleased for the excuse to visit the Tracker Lodge and for the “nice walk” through the forest lugging a dozen saplings in a wagon behind her.  Shouldn’t be too hard, right?  Oh how very, very wrong.

 

Now, if the Wolfkin had a proper path to the Tracker Lodge, instead of the foot track that was utilitarian enough for the almost entirely unhorsed, carry-your-possessions-on-your-back Wolfkin, Aleeza would not have had to struggle and pull the little wagon over tree root after tree root.  She tugged that thing through ditches and ever over a plank bridge, whose unfortunate turn-out was that she ended up crawling out of the stream muddy and wet.

 

All the same, her mood brightened considerably when she caught sight of the quaint little log cabin with its numerous outbuildings still mostly under construction.  While the Howling often turned even some of the most social Wolfkin shy and reserved, Aleeza had avoided contact with nearly all Wolfkin except Owen during her time in the Stedding.  Owen was her mentor though, and that mentor-mentee relationship remained so that while she could talk to him, he wasn’t really her “friend”.  Not that her few meetings with Anton could really count but even those few were more than she had with any of the other Kin in the Stedding.

 

Of course, muddy and wet was no way to meet the closest thing to a friend she had, but even if she jumped in the nearby stream, it wouldn’t change the state of her clothing.  Oh well... At least Anton would get a laugh.

 

 

It was a particularly good day, as far as Anton was concerned.  Today he was having a visitor, Aleeza, and since it'd been about a week since he'd seen her last, it would be good to catch up.  Despite their rather rocky start, they'd patched things up rather nicely and while they weren't firm and fast friends yet, they were on their way in that direction.  It was true that she'd done some damage to him in the past, but to be fair he had also brought it on himself, even if unintentionally.  She'd been perfectly fine since then, they even traded songs on occasion though more often than not, it was her teaching him.

 

But today she was also doing him a great favour.  Today, she was bringing seeds and saplings for the garden he had spent the past couple of weeks preparing.  A large fenced off area behind the Lodge was the place for them, not just the herbs but vegetables as well.  He wanted a decent supply of food so the Lodge was as independent as possible.  He wouldn't need to travel into the Stedding as much then, saving him time in his day to do other important things.  Like sitting down... Laughing at the inner thought of what Aran would have said, Anton shook his head.

 

But at least lunch was prepared, a couple of sandwiches apiece and an apple for each of them out on the porch, they each had a mug of water set aside.  Not the richest fare, but it was filling enough and he was fairly sure that Aleeza would appreciate having a meal waiting for her when she arrived.

 

Of course, he didn't expect her to arrive in such a state of disrepair.  Getting up when she came into sight, Anton jogged over with a smile on his face.  Light help her, she didn't seem to have any luck at all.  "Here, let me take that."  Relieving her of the wagon, Anton began to haul it to the Lodge even as he added.  "Lunch is on the porch as well as a drink.  What happened to you?  You look like you decided to take on the forest and lost."

 

 

Blushing slightly, though hardly noticeable beneath the thin crust of mud covering her face, she gladly let him take the wagon.  Aleeza was hard-pressed not to give the damn thing a kick as it trundled along happily enough for Anton.  If inanimate objects were capable of smirking, it would have been positively sneering back at her.  ‘Give your head a shake girl, the wagon is not mocking you!’

 

“In my defence, it was the forest that attacked me.” she answered with a wry grin.

 

Tossing her ruined coat on the porch, she sat down and tried to wipe most of the mud off her face with the back of her sleeve.  To little avail.  Grimacing, she attacked a sandwich.

 

 

Laughing as Aleeza made her quip, Anton hauled the wagon around the back of the Lodge as she sat down on the porch.  Rather than walk around the Lodge back to the porch, he instead went inside through the back door.  Retrieving a bucket of water he'd had set aside for washing some vegetables later, he also took a cloth and brought them out to the porch, sitting them next to Aleeza as he in turn sat beside her.  "You might find this handy."

 

Taking up one of his sandwiches, Anton grinned at her.  "So, the forest attacked you hmm?  It reminds me of something we were talking about the other week.  How is your training going?  With weapons, you still avoiding it?"

 

 

Aleeza laughed as he set the bucket and cloth down beside her.  Thanking him, she set about getting as much of the mud off her face and out of her hair as possible while Anton munched on his own sandwich.  Finally getting exasperated with the slow process of trying to wipe mud out of her hair, she simply dunked her head in the bucket and spent as long as she could underwater, scrubbing her nails through her hair.  Surfacing with a gasp, the former Tinker flipped her sopping hair back over her head.  She blushed again when she inadvertently sprayed Anton with water.  Muttering an apology Aleeza stuffed a sandwich in her mouth before she could say anything to make the situation more embarrassing.

 

“Is it still avoiding if you’ve been flat-out refusing to take the lessons?  I don’t want to learn to kill, not in any situation and not even if it’s “unavoidable”.” she said using her fingers to mark the quotations.

 

 

"You know, defending yourself isn't the same as learning to kill."  Finishing his first sandwich, Anton picked up his second as he sought to elucidate on his point.  After all, there was a very important difference, and maybe it would help her understand that she could learn without breaking with the spirit of the Tuatha'an.  "For example, amongst the Trackers we learn how to subdue people while doing as little harm as possible.  Some wanderers when found are violent, it’s not their fault, they just need to be restrained until they regain control of themselves.  Or simply learning how to defend yourself from blows and dodge them."

 

 

Attempting to talk through a mouthful of sandwich was generally not considered good manners.  While Aleeza may be socially inept, she hadn’t forgotten the basics of normal etiquette and so waited until she was finished chewing before trying to get her point across.  “And if you misaim you blow and accidentally kill you opponent, is he any less dead?”

 

 

"Who said anything about punching someone?  Or flailing at them with a sword?"  Grinning as he poked Aleeza's arm, Anton elaborated further.  "What I'm talking about is learning how to block or knock aside blows, to preserve yourself from harm.  Perhaps from there, learning how to grapple with an attacker.  To disarm them, to put them in a position where they can't hurt you, arm locks and that sort of thing.  Ways to nullify an attacker while doing the least harm possible."

 

 

She shrugged.  “But I’m not that good with a weapon.  How can I say I won’t injure him permanently or fatally?  I don’t believe I have the right to take that chance.  I’m a healer, not a fighter.  It’s unlikely I’ll ever leave the Stedding for extended periods of time.”

 

 

"That’s the point of practicing, so you do become good enough that you can be sure you don't hurt someone.  And there is more to the training than simply fighting, it’s up here as well."  Tapping his temple, Anton continued.  "It’s also not just weapons, it’s learning how to use your hands and feet.  Just because you're a healer doesn't mean that someday you won't need to know how to defend yourself.  If not for your own sake, then for the sake of whoever you are with if they can't defend themselves.  That’s one of the reasons Trackers train, not just for our own defence but of that of the Wanderers we find."

 

 

Aleeza stuck her tongue out jokingly at him when he mentioned fighting being about the mind.  Sighing, she stuffed the remainder of her final sandwich in her mouth before answering.  “It’s still like meeting violence with violence, though.  I don’t see how that will solve anything.  It’s like trying to put out fire with fire, you just end up making it worse.”

 

 

"Yes, but it’s the argument of minimising harm.  Let me pose this question to you."  Finishing his second sandwich, Anton had a sip of water before he explained the conundrum.  "Let’s say for example, there is you, someone who is ill, and someone with a sword.  If you run, you live and the swordy lives, but the person who is ill gets stabbed and dies.  Or, you stay and fight, you might break the swordsman's arm in the process, but everyone lives because the swordy is disarmed and unable to harm you or the patient who couldn't defend themselves and couldn't flee.  Which option involves the least harm and the greatest benefit?"

 

 

“And if I stay and fight and lose?  Two are dead.  And in the first place, why would swordy be there to kill me or my patient?  Even the most evil of human being will have a reason to want to kill and why is it not a real possibility that swordy can be talked out of killing either one of us?  Should swordy see another weapon, it will immediately put his back up and he will be more likely to attack to make the first move.  If there were no other weapon in the room, he knows he has control of the situation and is less likely to lash out immediately in anger.”

 

 

"You're making assumptions about the nature of the attacker.  Therein lay the problem."  Anton took up the apple but didn't go so far as to take a bite just yet.  In the end, it was about being prepared and being in control.  "The problem is, you can't assume that the attacker will be less likely to hurt you if you don't resist.  Before I became Wolfkin, I was a thiefcatcher.  You meet a lot of ugly people in that line of business, and I can tell you that half the people I caught...  They wouldn't have hesitated to do whatever they wanted to you or anyone else they came across.  You can't assume or control what your attacker will be like, you can only work on yourself.  Ensure that you can take care of yourself, take care of those around you.  Let me ask you something, if there was a patient who couldn't move and someone came with a sword, you abandon them?"

 

 

“You would give up humanity so easily?” Aleeza sagged, struggling to make him understand.  Was there any way in which she could shake his firm belief that violence was a reasonable alternative?  Was there any way he could shake hers?  Not likely.  Words were just words when all was said and justified, it was the deeds that proved the believer right or wrong.

 

“Are you not also making assumptions about the nature of the attacker if you say he or she cannot be swayed?  There will always be a reason.  Human creatures aren’t logical creatures by any means, but we act based on motivation or what we see as motivation.  Is there any human being so inherently evil that he or she would have no scrap of dignity or conscience left in them?  To hurt those that would defend themselves it one thing... but to hurt those that would not?  How do they justify that?”

 

 

"Always assume the worst, that way you can be pleasantly surprised."  Anton grinned as he finally took a bite of his apple.  Aleeza was so optimistic about people, it was the Tuatha'an way of course, but he'd spent enough years as a thiefcatcher to know better about people.  Some could be turned about, but others, others were scum.  "There are people who will kill simply for the sake of killing, they derive pleasure from it, feel more powerful, better about themselves.  Killing others is their way of confirming they are better.  Some people feed off it.  They aren't many, but they're going to be the sort of people that will come at you with a weapon.  I caught enough of them to learn that over the years."

 

 

“There is always a reason and no matter what, there is always some remnant of humanity left when all is said and done.  You cannot just cease to be human and no matter how battle-hardened the veteran or twisted the serial killed, human beings were not made to kill on another- we are above that.”  Gulping down the last of her water, Aleeza was surprised that her throat was so dry.  Had she really been talking that long?

 

 

"Alright, let’s assume for a moment that every single person is redeemable and that you would never need to stop someone from harming others.  Forget psychopaths who are completely amoral, no emotional content."  Anton was calm, it was just because Aleeza didn't have any experience with such people that she didn't know.  It was nice to be able to believe in people in such a way, but the truth wasn't quite so inspiring.  "What about those things that aren't human?  What about shadowspawn?  You ever been north to the Borderlands before?  I can tell you now, running away won't achieve anything.  And with the way things are going in the world, one day we will come up against them, perhaps even here."

 

 

Aleeza’s face darkened.  “Shadowspan are more animal than human.  They were created as weapons and unlike human beings are incapable of remorse or pity.  Trollocs, Myrdraal and the whole lot of them have but one thing in mind: kill.  A Trolloc is a rabid dog on two legs with a sword.”

 

 

"Well, what are you going to do then when the time comes?  Run?  I can tell you now, I've tried outrunning trollocs before, only reason I lived was because a couple of fighters on horseback stumbled on by and took them out."  Anton shrugged at her.  "We can't hide here forever, sooner or later we will be needed, every person who can defend themselves, to help those who can't.  As much as I don't get along with the Rangers, that much is true."

 

 

She slumped in her chair as if that might get her out of this.  Every time she touched those weapons to strike out or shoot at anything other than an animal, she was reminded of what she was capable with those weapons.  Taking the life of another...  Tears crept to her eyes and she wanted to shudder.  How anyone could stand to watch the life leave another’s eyes, knowing that they were the cause, she could not understand.  It was a person!  Another living, breathing, thinking human being!  Just like her, just like Anton, just like anyone else!  Did she have knowledge of the future?  Could she say how much more her life was worth than the life of the person she had killed?  Could she definitively say that she would do more good than he would?

 

“I hate training.” she said bluntly, keeping back fears.  “I tried to take to it with fervour when I first came, tried to abandon my old ways...  I’m not a warrior Anton.  I’m a healer.  I don’t want to fight!”

 

 

"It’s alright, calm down."  Reaching over and taking hold of her shoulder, he squeezed it gently.  She just needed to calm down, perhaps he was pushing her too hard about it.  He needed to keep it simple for now, maybe later she would feel comfortable with learning more, maybe not.  Either way, she needed to at least learn how to avoid someone's blows.  "Well, let’s make a compromise then instead.  Will you at least let me show you how to avoid being hit?  Seriously, I worry about you Aleeza.  Feet only work if you can run faster than the other guy."

 

 

She would not let the tears fall.  She would not!  Not in front of Anton anyway.  So she tried to calm down.  Deep even breathing... in and out, in and out, in and out.  This was the Stedding, no one would or could hurt her here- and Anton certainly wouldn’t.  He worried about her.  Worried about her?  Why should that invoke so strong a feeling?  Was this really the first time anyone had expressed any sort of care for what happened to her since leaving the Tuatha’an?  Had is really been that long.  ‘Breathe girl, breathe.’

 

Timidly she nodded.

 

 

"That’s it."  Patting her arm reassuringly, Anton gave it a minute or so.  He knew it wasn't an easy thing for her to grapple with, it went against the very nature of her culture.  But she did need to learn, since he was young he had known that you had to be able to defend yourself.  You couldn't be reliant on the good graces of others, too many were willing to take advantage of those who could not stand up for themselves.  "Look, finish up your lunch and I will show you a few things.  How to hold yourself, how to tell when someone is going to attack, these things that will help you."

 

 

Biting her lip nervously, she took her time in finishing the last of her water as if procrastination would somehow make this entire mess go away.  But glancing over at Anton’s patient, knowing face, Aleeza screwed up her courage and got up.  “Alright Anton, let’s get this over with.”  Her entire body was tense, and no doubt her nervous scent permeated the air but right now, it was enough that she was consenting to this.

 

 

Getting to his feet, Anton gave Aleeza a hand and helped her up.  Leading her a bit away from the porch and onto the grass, he turned to her and took a step away.  "Now, watch Aleeza.  I'm going to stand like this."  Taking a step forward with his left foot, Anton bent his knees slightly as his weight rested evenly on both feet.  Smiling, he patted his thighs.  "You see how the legs are bent at the knees?  See how the weight is spread evenly?  It lets you move easily, means you can jump easily, your knees are already bent, the half second it saves you is important.  You can move about back and forth all too easily, like this."  Taking short, quick steps, Anton explained as he stepped back and forth.  "Never take large steps either.  Try it."

 

 

Butterflies threatened to storm right up from her stomach and out her mouth.  Hell, she half thought she might develop a serious case of hiccups at any moment and Anton’s reassuring hand was no real comfort as she eyed him like a deer eyed a crouching wolf.  She bent her knees like he said and spread her weight like she said but every movement was stiff and awkward.  Even the simple act of stepping was made a chore as every muscle in her body strained to keep up the tension.

 

 

"Ok, ok, stop for a moment."  Looking at her, Anton tried to think of a way to get around this.  She looked like she was going to crack at any moment her movement was so jagged.  How to get around it...  Eureka!  Now there was a thought, and being Tuatha'an she would know be good at this.  "You're too stressed about this.  You need to relax, think of it like dancing.  You dance, no?  When you dance, you must remain limber and yet have control as well.  All this is, is movement, it is dance.  Do not think of violence, do not think of any of that, simply think of it with music."

 

 

She was practically in tears by the time he called a halt.  Despite how little she liked or agreed with what she was learning, Aleeza was still frustrated by her miserable failure.  It wasn’t like she wasn’t trying, she just couldn’t do it!  His suggestion took her completely aback.  “Dance?” she spluttered.  “As in... like... the tiganza?  But that’s for...”  Blushing profusely, the former Tinker was boggling when he began clapping a rhythm.

 

Trying furiously to push thoughts of violence from her head, it was too easy to envision the wagons, the campfires and the instruments.  The men had all clapped when she and the other women and gone out to dance the tiganza.  The bass drums beat out a slow steady rhythm while a number of smaller drums played on the off-beat.  A violin sang overhead to the whooping of the various single men while Aleeza and her cousins rolled their hips to entice them.  The shy twenty-six year-old Wolfkin girl was lost in the memory of the boisterous seventeen year-old Tuatha’an whose favourite joy was the dance and music of her wagons.

 

Singling out one of the shyer males, she grinned sultrily, steadily letting the steps of the dance take her closer to him...

 

All of a sudden, it was Anton who was standing there again and she was bare inches away, dancing the Tuatha’an’s form of seduction and rolling her hips around him like she was still seventeen.  Shock lanced through her, paralysing her and turning her face the colour of the silk she had imagined herself to be wearing.

 

“Oh Light.” Aleeza whispered, horror struck, as she stumbled backwards so quickly it was all she could do to stay on her feet.  “Oh Light, I... I’m sorry!”

 

 

When Anton began clapping a rhythm, he had to admit that of all the dances Aleeza could have picked, he had not expected the tiganza.  Suspecting that she was trying to get a reaction out of him, he instead laughed as he continued the rhythmic clap, watching her as she moved.  Much more relaxed for one, much surer of herself, somewhat mesmerising too but Anton made sure not to let his eyes wander.  That would be bad form, that and he was teaching her at the moment, that would just be taking advantage of the situation.  If the tiganza was what it took for her to loosen up and allow herself to relax, then that was what mattered.

 

Of course, that only lasted until she came within a few inches of him and she seemed to wake up.  He'd thought she'd been doing it to relax, but instead she seemed to have drifted off and only now had just realised what she was doing and where she was.  Laughing as she apologised, Anton shook his head at her.  "It’s alright, I have to admit I didn't realise you were that limber though."

 

Laughing again the new red her cheeks turned, Anton raised a hand before him as he waved away what would be said next.  "Sorry, I shouldn't be cracking jokes.  Look, its fine.  But my point is, notice how differently you moved then?  Confident, relaxed, the same applies to this, well, not nearly as fine a dance.  You're capable of moving quite gracefully, use it with this.  Simple steps, simple movement, relax and just move smoothly.  Easy and slow, no need to leap about quickly here."

 

 

Aleeza’s face was on fire.  Even by the time he had her back doing the exercises, she couldn’t help but be completely flabbergasted by the she had just acted.  What had she been thinking?  Trying to convert dance steps to violence was bad enough but every time she threatened to drift back off into her own little world, she’s blush and stumbled and blush again.  In the end, there was a great deal more stumbling than actual useful footwork but at least the dance steps kept her from going stiff as a board.

 

 

Anton couldn't help but think that Aleeza was going to take a lot of work with this.  Her inherent resistance to the whole nature of the subject was what was holding her back, he was sure of it.  The moment she linked it with violence, she shied away from it.  But that was something they would take care of in time, when he figured out an answer or a solution to the problem.  That and she was doing a lot of blushing at the moment, probably wouldn't disappear anytime soon but he could always hope.  "Alright, the next step...  Wait, that was terrible, let me start again.  The next thing we're going to do is this.  I want you to hold your arms up like this."

 

Holding his own arms up before him, he curled his fingers into fists and held them up before his face, his elbows tucked in as he explained.  "You have to form fists because if something connects with your fingers, it could break them if they get snapped back.  Notice how they protect the face while the arms protect your chest?  Along with the side stance you're using, you make yourself as small a target as possible and you cover the places where you could be hit with your limbs.  Don't worry, I'm not going to start telling you to punch, this is to shield yourself."

 

"Now, what we're now going to do is this.  I'm going to try and tag your head, neck and stomach.  You're going to avoid this without running away.  Use your arms to simply shove aside my attempts to touch your face or neck, and move aside from the attempts to get your stomach.  You need to keep facing me the entire time, no running alright?"  Lifting his hands up, open palm, Anton grinned as he nodded.  "Let’s start, remember, don't let me tag you."

 

 

One moment dancing, the next tag.  Not that Aleeza was complaining, anything was better than the violence she was supposed to be learning.  All the same though, she was stiff in her position, worried that she might somehow be tricked into committing some sort of violence.  She forgot to keep her knees bent and her shoulders and arms soon began to ache from holding the pose so stiff.

 

It was one thing when he tagged her head.  It didn’t hurt.  It didn’t matter.  It was a completely different matter when he tagged her stomach.  “Oof!”  She didn’t think anyone had thought to touch her stomach since Nathan had last tickled her.  Nearly ten years gone...  This time Anton’s fingers found her neck and she flinched.  Light, she had forgotten how horribly ticklish she was.

 

All of a sudden, it was all she could do to keep him from tickling her.  Giggling, her shoulders gradually loosened as she struggled to keep from being “tagged”.

 

 

Anton couldn't believe his stroke of luck, when he'd thought of this exercise he had simply hoped to distract her from the violent aspect of the exercise.  He hadn't thought to get her to relax so quickly, or to discover that she was very, very ticklish.  Laughing as they trained, or played, she slowly began to get better at the game.  Not just blocking with her arms, but also moving from side to side, around him.  It was a natural reaction, one that would serve her well as she trained it.  If you kept moving, it was harder to be cornered, harder to be attacked.  After a good twenty minutes of it, Anton finally desisted as he lowered his hands and grinned at her.  "You see?  You do not need to attack to be able to learn how to defend yourself.  How to avoid a blow is important, defend yourself, minimise the harm that can't be run away from.  See?"

 

 

Still laughing, Aleeza poked Anton’s own ribs.  “I’ll be sure to remember that next time anyone attempts to tickle me to death.”  Her giggling was suddenly cut short as her own words fell upon her ears.  ‘How easy it is to fall away from one’s difficult principles.’  But... it really wasn’t violence, was it?  It’d still be taking the hit, it’d just be taking it with less damage.  Lowering her eyes to the ground, she murmured “In all seriousness, thank you.”

 

 

"That’s alright."  Smiling as he clapped her on the shoulder, Anton was glad with how much progress had been made today.  He certainly hadn't been nearly so sure that it would happen.  But now that he'd gotten through, shown her it was possible to learn something without hurting someone, perhaps he would have luck with teaching her in the future.  There was certainly more for her to learn, even if it was going to be a strange way to teach.  He was used to teaching people how to disarm or disable an opponent so they could not attack, to simply evade by itself was possible, but a skill that should be taught in conjunction with others.  But, one thing at a time.

 

"Maybe we'll be able to make a habit of this?  There are plenty of other things I can show you, how to avoid someone's blows, how to shield yourself from them so you minimise the harm.  Perhaps one day how to disarm others so they cannot cause more harm, but that will be something you'll have to decide for yourself."  Frowning, Anton looked at his feet.  "Uh, there's also a, ah, a favour I wanted to ask you.  If you wouldn't mind."

 

 

While the idea of learning to defend one’s self still didn’t sit comfortable with her, Aleeza nodded anyways.  She supposed she did have to learn and well... that was it right?  She just had to learn?  Something was nagging in the back of her mind but she carefully avoided addressing it for fear of what she may discover.  Anton’s request seemed awfully vague and while she doubted it was anything she wouldn’t be comfortable with, she still found herself blurting out the question “With what?”

 

 

It was a simple thing really, well, except it wasn't.  It’s just that his training had never quite taken care of it for him.  Aleeza, on the otherhand, would have a much better idea than he would.  Not that he couldn't do it, but he had a feeling he would botch it.  Aleeza on the otherhand could help out.  "I, well, I know how to use herbs, I know how to identify them, how to prepare them.  One thing I don't know is how to plant them.  Not so they all grow, I'd mess it up.  Could you help me out with it?  I can get a few of my students to help with the digging, but we need direction.  Could you help?  I've already got the planting area fenced off and everything."

 

 

Aleeza smiled, pleased that it was something she could actually help with.  Pleased as well that he had asked her when he just as easily asked Miryana or one of the other Sages or Sages in training.  “Of course Anton.  What exactly did you have in mind.”  Keeping a mental tally was nearly impossible with the amount of herbs the Tracker wanted and she Aleeza ended up trekking back through the woods, paper in hand.  Whistling on her back, it was the bath and clean clothes she was looking forward to at the other end.

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