Deadly

Haimler cut. Threads of pink descended silently from the scissors blade. They came to a gentle rest atop the polished work surface and Haimler lost himself in their simplicity. Small strings twined together, a basic material for a most intricate task.

Haimler looked up from the offcuts to examine his work. The embroidery was an uncomplicated design of spiraled roses, leaves and branches. Work that should have been left to one of his assistants, but Haimler needed the peace that the familiar task afforded him. His fingers knew the paths to take and it left his mind free to wonder.

Haimler stared at his work a moment longer before chuckling to himself. He had made the thorns far more pronounced, almost a dangerous warning, than he had intended. It seemed that his thoughts had led his fingers astray after all.

Haimler looked toward the door, his thoughts again betraying his motion. Lady Raegalynn would have returned from the Young Nobles Club by now. An event that Raegalynn despised, but her mother considered non-negotiable. The Ladies of the house were most likely arguing somewhere deep within the residence. It would not be long before both women crashed into Haimler’s office, the older of the two demanding an explanation.

Haimler put his work down and began to clean. The task did nothing to ease his growing apprehension.

 

The door swung open. Haimler jerked as it crashed against the opposite wall. Coloured offcuts fluttered out of his startled hands. The Lady Nisha stormed in, Raegalynn dragged in behind her. The mother had a fierce grip on her daughter’s wrist. Neither looked pleased.

 

“What is the meaning of this?!”

 

Haimler straightened, folded his hands behind his back and assessed the women. Lady Nisha was scowling. One hand swept the length of Raega’s dress, gesturing to the this of which she spoke.

And Lady Raegalynn… she was a vision! Dark red fabric hugged her body. It cut in tight at the waist and hips only to flare out, just slightly, as it cascaded down her legs. The skirt was made of alternating shades of ruby to wine to not quite black. Each swath of fabric ending in a jagged point. The neckline coasted the breastbone, a smaller echo of the jagged points below.

Over her shoulder was one delicate strap. She had chosen her jewellery well too. Beautiful, understated pieces that complimented the dress rather than competed with it… and her hair. Raega’s maids had done well. They had given her raven hair a new cut, daringly short on one side of her face and cascading layers against the other. Another echo to the sharpness in the dress.

“Well?” Lady Nisha demanded again.

Haimler kept his voice steady. “Lady Raegalynn needed a dress. I made her one.”

“This?!”

Lady Nisha gestured wildly. “This is not what I requested! This is not… respectable!”

Haimler shifted his weight. Respectable? No, the dress would not be considered respectable, not by Nortier standards, but that was not what he or Lady Raegalynn had been trying to achieve.

Deadly.

Lady Raegalynn had requested that Haimler make her look deadly and he had done it. Lady Raegalynn was a weapon. Haimler imagined how she must have looked at the Youth Club; a glistening dagger amongst a field of poof and lace. Magnificent, the kind of dress he had had dreamed of crafting.

It was too tight to the body, too lacking in the skirt. Within its embrace, Raegalynn boiled with a dangerous intensity.

The dress was not respectable.

 

Haimler returned his gaze to Lady Nisha. “It is what the Lady Raegalynn requested.”

 

Lady Nisha’s nostrils flared. She let go of Ragae’s wrist, her hand coming up to gesticulate fiercely. Haimler noted the red imprint of fingers on Raega’s arm.

“Her request? HER REQUEST? You know what is expected of the Ladies of Nortier. How could you allow her to leave the residence in such a state?! Raegalynn is a child! I expected more responsibility from you. How dare you entertain such foolishness!”

Haimler swallowed hard and readied himself to defend Raegalynn, but he did not have to. The young lady had stepped out from behind her mother. She spoke in deep, even tones, a bitter edge to every word.

“I am not a child.”

Lady Nisha turned, ever so slowly. “Excuse me?”

“I am Eighteen. Unless my lessons in Nortier Law have been an utter waste, I believe that that is the age of Majority, is it not?”

Lady Nisha rose above her daughter. “I am your mother! It is my responsibility to ensure you are presentable to society. These reckless acts tarnish my name. Tarnish our House. Your behaviour insults me. The other nobles will see me and see a fool. Is that what you want? Your mother to be a fool?”

Raega closed her eyes and clenched her fists. “This is not about you, mother…”

Raega did not get a chance to finish. A page stepped into the room. He coughed awkwardly. “Sorry to interrupt. Ah… an important message.”

Lady Nisha swung all of her anger toward him. “Well?!”

“Lady Raegalynn’s presence is requested at the castle. Tomorrow. For tea.”

Lady Nisha’s eyes became large. “Why? Does it say why?”

She did not wait for the page to answer. She grabbed the invitation from his hands. Her eyes darted across the square of parchment. First hurried and then slower. Finally, Lady Nisha looked up. She swallowed hard. Haimler cocked his head curiously as the Lady Nisha became suddenly unable to make eye contact.

“Well,” she said. “Well… It seems the princess would like to invite Lady Raegalynn and her Master of Wardrobe. To… discuss contemporary fashion.”

Lady Nisha rolled her shoulders. She handed the invite back to the page. “We accept the invitation. Now go.”

The page hurried out of the room. Lady Nisha followed. She paused in the doorway to gather herself and then gave both Lady Raegalynn and Haimler a piercing look.

“This discussion isn’t over.”

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Break

Chantal pushed up from the padded gym floor and sucked deeply against her mouth guard. She ran her tongue against the front of it. The plastic device was smooth, but bulky. It pushed on her upper lip and forced it into a pout. No you can’t pout with your top lip. This was an overbite. Chantal sucked at it again, swallowing the excess saliva it was so great at provoking.

I am never going to get used to wearing this thing… any of this stuff.

Chantal tilted her head back and rolled, shoulder to shoulder. The helmet wasn’t heavy, but the extra weight was enough that she could feel the shift in balance. The thick foam pads squashed her cheeks and turned her into a puffed up, sweaty mess. Chantal shook out her gloved hands and thickly padded shins and feet, took a deep breath, and steadied herself. She raised her gloves to head height, one slightly in front of the other, and looked toward her opponent. He was watching her, hands always at the ready, his stance steady. Getting used to the gear was hardly her biggest worry.

Chantal gave a short nod. Her muscles tensed.

Devon moved in. He closed the gap and struck, one fiery punch after the next. Chantal barely managed to block the first few, but she quickly recovered and was soon moving in a familiar rhythm, blocking and ducking and shifting away from danger. And that was a problem. As long as Chantal didn’t counter, didn’t land any blows of her own, Devon had the advantage. All he had to do was keep coming, keep moving with her, and eventually her guard would falter, eventually he would find ribs or stomach or one of a thousand other soft spots the body housed. And when he did, Chantal would find the floor. Again.

It happened quickly this time. Chantal misstepped, putting herself off balance. Devon saw it the moment it happened. He swept low, aiming his kick at Chantal’s faltering foot. Her leg buckled, and there was nothing she could do but tuck into the fall and brace for impact. Chantal’s forearm hit the ground first, swiftly followed by the rest of her. The contact reverberated through her bones.

“Bleh!”

Chantal rolled over onto her back and stared at the ceiling. Devon stood in the blurry periphery of her view. A giant from where she lay. A testosterone filled, muscly giant who had no issues with hitting anybody. It wasn’t fair. Why couldn’t she hit anybody? Why couldn’t she hit him?

“Do you need a break?”

Chantal shook her head. No. She didn’t need a break. She needed to break. That was the whole damn point of this exercise. They had tried the gentle approach. They had tried to ease into it, but that hadn’t worked. Chantal had learned the techniques: how to move, how to block, how to punch. But she still couldn’t hit people. Every time it came to actually striking another living, breathing human being, Chantal faltered. She seized up and held back. That’s why they were doing this. If Devon pushed her, she would push back. That was theory.

In practice, it wasn’t working.

Chantal let her frustration out in a low growl. She should want to hurt Devon, but the only aggression she felt was to herself. Why could she not break past this barrier? Had generations of patriarchal rule lodged so firmly in her mind that nothing could shake it? She was a feminist. She didn’t believe all that bullshit about women being passive and soft and needing men for protection. Hell, women needed protection from men. That was why she was here. That was why she had picked up that martial arts flier and called the number. She had had enough of girls’ night being interrupted by over entitle- jerks. Enough of smiling at them for fear that outright rejection would make them aggressive.

And then there was that Tinder date… why had she ever thought to go on a Tinder date?

Men were horrible. In so many different ways, and yet, there was this wall telling her that hitting someone was wrong, regardless of what that person was doing to her.

Turn the other cheek.

That was her church upbringing talking, but the church wouldn’t serve her here. It was as entangled with the patriarchy as any other institution. Chantal didn’t need the church. She needed a new God.

“Oh praise be to the feminine power,” she muttered under her breath.

“What was that?”

Chantal stood up and settled into her fighting stance, “I said, fuck the patriarchy.”

“That’s the spirit!”

Chantal didn’t wait for Devon to attack. She stepped in, feinted and landed a low jab to his side. The punch wasn’t hard, and she had hesitated slightly before impact, but it was a start.

Devon laughed as he countered her cross.

“Better!”

And then they were caught up in the dance once more. Devon pushed faster and Chantal kept up, this time adding her own attacks through the onslaught. Chantal lost herself to the rhythm. Lost herself to the idea that Devon would block any punch she threw at him. Her mind switched to autopilot and in one swift motion, she swept Devon’s attack aside and countered with a punch to the gut.

Devon’s stomach folded in as air rushed from his lungs. Chantal froze. She stared, wide eyed, as the “oomph” left Devon’s lips. Her mind screamed at her.

What have I done?

The punch came from nowhere. Chantal felt it like a distant echo in her ear, and she staggered back. Her brain fogged over, and she forgot to keep her guard up, forgot, for a moment what she was supposed to be doing. Devon came in fast, three shots to the abdomen and then a sneaky sweep that knocked her off her feet and back down to the floor once more.

Chantal blinked back the shock.

“Why did you stop?”

“What?”

“Why did you stop? That was good. But if you want to land my ass on the floor you can’t hes-”

Chantal lunged toward Devon’s ankle. She had his toes, for just a brief moment, and then he bounced out of harm’s way. He was smiling when Chantal got to her feet. She wasn’t. His last attack had been sneaky, low. It had quivered through her body and snagged against something important. Somewhere in the aftershock a part of her had come undone. Before, it had just been training. It had just been Devon doing his job, but the punch felt dirty. Chantal raised her gloves and began to circle. Devon mirrored her actions. He was grinning like an idiot. Chantal wanted to wipe that smirk off of his stupid, dirty face. She moved in.

“Yes! Playtime!” Devon cheered.

Chantal narrowed her eyes at him. “No,” she said. “Playtime is over.”

The blows came thick and fast. Each grunt a promise of the bruise to come. Chantal found her moment. She struck. Devon’s excited “Whoop!” echoed through the room as his body crashed to the floor.