helun [ heh LOON ], (noun) — camaraderie, particularly among those in dangerous or difficult professions
"You don't belong here," I said.
Yes, I was so bad I was turning away students. And if he'd answered with defensiveness or anger...
...but he said, "I know."
I scowled. "Why are you here, then?"
"You're the only one who can teach me."
"I'm not the only armsmaster in the city," I said.
"No," he said. "But you're the best at what I need to know."
"And what is that?" I asked, ears flattening.
"Subduing the unarmed."
I really didn't want to be responsible for training yet another Guardian... for sending another Ai-Naidari out to ward the streets, the borders, the frontiers. I was sick of seeing them die and too young to die myself. But the way he waited so patiently...
"Fine," I growled. "Trial basis only."
He inclined his head.
So... we worked on it. He was ungainly in an unusual way: most youths tended toward too-long limbs; he put on bulk faster than he could coordinate. His body had a lot more momentum once it got going. It was a challenge. It interested me.
I tried to teach him weapons, but he refused.
"Guardians carry weapons," I pointed out.
"I'm not here to become a Guardian."
I arched a brow. "Priest?"
"Perhaps," he said. "If I'm worthy."
Which was a peculiar thing to say. Saresh's priesthood, the only one with a martial bent, didn't require arms training... so why the qualifier?
A few months later when he mentioned a desire to train against other students I told a surprised Head of Household that I wanted some. The first few weeks with them were awkward, but after that... ahhhh.
...you know, I thought those were the best years I'd get. When he excused himself from practice and said he wouldn't be back for a few weeks, maybe longer, I thought: "Well, this is the end."
And then I saw him doing the trial.
I turned in my resignation, the boys demanded an explanation when they found out and that's how all six of us ended up at the shrine after the formal announcement. He was exhausted from the ordeal and confused by our visit, but he smiled to see us anyway.
"You need Guardians," I said. "Every servant of Shame does, it's tradition."
He paused. Then said, "Yes." And then, happier, "Yes. Come in."
While the boys investigated their new living quarters, I said, "You were doing it to me, weren't you."
"Master?" he murmured.
"Just Vekken now," I said. "I'm right, aren't I. 'Subduing the unarmed.' " I guffawed.
"You were the best at it."
"Yes," I said. "But you wanted to see if you could rehabilitate me. One last test, eh? 'If I'm worthy.'" I grinned. "You're an arrogant pisser."
"It worked, didn't it?" he said, eyes merry.
"And you're reaping that harvest." I prodded him. "Get into the sauna or you're going to stiffen up. You've had a hard few weeks."
I watched him go, proud of him. Proud of the boys. Insufferably pleased with myself.
It's good to be back.
The Admonishments of Kherishdar.