Winds of Change

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He wasn’t sure which way she had gone, but he caught sight of her petite bootprint in the dirt and the disturbance of the grass here and there. More of a mystery was what had upset her so. He was about as thrilled to be assigned to her as she was, but she seemed to have been fine over it until he’d opened his big mouth. And those looked liked tears to him, unless he missed his guess. Nothing made a man feel more like a jerk than making a girl cry, even one you didn’t like much.

After a league or so, Dar found her near the bank of the creek, sitting on one of the rocks in the shade, her arms wrapped around her knees, playing idly with the leather thong that had held her dark hair back. He took a deep breath. He had absolutely no idea what he was going to say.

Just as he took a purposeful step forward, he caught sight of a movement in the shade. His hand moved automatically for his sword hilt, but it was only Fiaz, standing guard. The zary’andu sat almost motionless, only the tip of his thick tail twitching. The disgust on the massive cat’s face was as clear as if he had screamed it aloud. Dar glared back at Fiaz. It wasn’t as if he’d meant to upset her, after all. Did he ever? Who wanted someone as fierce as Emanuella angry at them? Fiaz and Emanuella made a great pair with their beastly tempers, Dar thought darkly, and hoped Fiaz could hear that thought, since he seemed to hear all his others. Fiaz got up noiselessly and stalked away. Good riddance, Dar thought as he closed the distance between himself and Emanuella. He prepared himself for a blistering tirade.

As he neared her, she suddenly looked up, though he had taken great pains to be quiet in his approach. She sighed loudly and gestured with exasperation, whipping her hair around to hide her face.

“Can’t you just leave me alone!”

The playful bubbling of the creek overrode his usually acute sense of hearing, but he thought he detected a thickness to her voice that he had not heard before.

He cleared his throat awkwardly. “I came to say I’m sorry.” He found himself noting that a coat of oil would do his boots a world of good.

Emanuella sniffed grimly. “No, you’re not. You meant what you said.” Her face was still hidden by her hair, but he heard her voice clearly.

Ready to gainsay her, Dar paused suddenly and saw the contradiction in her words. He had meant to say what he said, but he was also sorry. Frowning, he picked his words carefully, though he recalled ruefully that that had been what had gotten him into this mess in the first place. “I’m sorry that I hurt you. But you’re right. I meant to say what I said." Taking a chance, he sat down on a rock nearby. She said nothing.

He took a deep breath. “You don’t have to like me. That’s never been a secret. But for this to work, you do have to get along with me. That’s all I was trying to say. I know you’re not happy about losing Gabriella as your teacher, especially with me as her replacement.”

Emanuella sniffled, confirming his worst fears. She turned to look at him, her face wet with tears. He felt instantly worse. He had never seen her cry before. He’d seen her angry, sad, and even in intense pain the other night from that leech bolt, and never once had she cried. He bit his lip.

“You know, that’s not it at all. And I – got over… that.” She looked down at the thong in her hands, a faint flush staining her cheeks. Dar knew that it cost her pride a great deal to admit that she had hated him due to a case of mistaken identity. His respect for her rose a notch. “And it’s not that I question your ability, because I don’t, as long as you’re fair. But that you both found it necessary to remind me not to have a… a temper tantrum during my training, as if I would… as if you see me as some small child…. I’ve never done that before. I’ve never done that anywhere. I resent that just because of – you – everyone assumes that I’m going to explode if I don’t get my way.”

As Dar was absorbing this, Emanuella humphed bitterly. “Fiaz says I am too sensitive, that I should consider everyone else’s feelings and see things from their points of view. Why don’t they see things from mine?”

For a moment, Dar was sure she was going to lurch to her feet and run down the creek. Instead, she sat there, her hands clenched. A season ago, Dar was sure she would have done just that.

“You know I’m the last to champion Fiaz. But I’ve never thought of you as someone to explode in public. You never did when we were on the trip. When those men at the Academy of Weaponry were trying your mettle, you just stood there and threw it back in their faces, made them look like bullies. It never occurred to me that you would act like a child. I don’t think any of us see you that way, not even me, and I’m the only one you ever explode at,” he said wryly.

Emanuella eyed him critically before she stared out over the creek. He wondered if she believed him. Well, time would tell, he supposed. He stood up, brushed his trousers off and headed home.

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