Oi, dont fling those around in here, the duty armsman snapped.
I pulled up, lowering the points of the swords.
My apologies, Armsman, I said quickly. It was the skinny, sallow one who liked giving lectures. I held out the two hilts to him, angling the blades down. I saw his hand clench briefly into the ward-evil sign before he took them.
Any damage? he asked, holding one out flat to check the steel.
These are expensive tools, you know, not playthings. You have to treat them with respect. Not hack away with them indoors. If everyone -
Thank you, Armsman, I said, backing toward the door before he could go into a full tirade. He was still talking as I cleared the steps.
The easiest way out of the school was back across the arena and through the main gate, but I didnt want to walk over the sand again, or draw the attention of Ranne. Instead, I took the steep path down to the schools southern gate. My left hip ached from the strain of the practice session and the cramping in my gut made me breathless. By the time I reached the south gate and was passed through by the bored guard, I was sweating from the effort of not crying out.
A dozen or so house-shops lined the road behind the school, forming the outer edge of the food market. The smell of roasting pork fat and crispy-skinned duck oiled the air. I leaned against the wall of the school, letting the stone cool my back, and watched a girl in the blue gown of a kitchen maid weave through the tight knots of gossiping marketers and pause at the hatch of the pork seller. She was about sixteen - my true age - and her dark hair was scraped back into the looped braid of unmarried girl. I touched the end of my short queue of black hair, the candidate length. If I was chosen tomorrow, I would begin to grow it to my waist until I could bind it into the double-looped queue of the Dragoneye.
The girl, keeping her eyes down, pointed at a cured haunch on display. The young apprentice wrapped the meat in a cloth and placed it on the bench. The girl waited until he had stepped back before laying the coin beside it and picking up the package. No conversation, no eye contact, no touching; it was all very proper. Yet I sensed something between them.
Although part of me knew it was not honorable, I narrowed my eyes and focused on them as I did with the dragons. At first there was nothing. Then I felt a strange shift in my minds eye, as though I was stepping closer, and a surge of orange energy flared between the girl and boy, swirling around their bodies like a small monsoon. Something soured in my gut and spirit. I dropped my gaze to the ground, feeling like an intruder, and blinked away my mind-sight. When I looked back, the girl was already turning to leave. There was no sign of the energy around them. No sign of the pulsing brightness that had left a searing afterimage in my mind. Why could I suddenly see such intimate human energy? Neither my master nor any of my instructors had ever spoken of it; emotion was not the province of the dragon magic. Another difference to keep hidden from the world. I pushed away from the wall, needing to work the backwash of power and shame out of my muscles.
My masters house was three roads away, all uphill. The pain in my hip had changed from the familiar ache of overuse to a sharper warning. I needed to get to a hot bath if I wanted any chance of practicing the approach sequence. The alley beside the pork seller was a good shortcut. If it was empty. I shaded my eyes and studied the narrow walkway. It seemed safe; no dock boys sharing a quick pipe or waiting for a limping diversion to chase. I took a step out but hesitated as a familiar wave of motion moved through the crowd; people scrambled to the edges of the road and dropped to their knees, their chatter suddenly silenced.
Excerpted from Eon by Alison Goodman. Copyright © 2008 by Alison Goodman. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Group. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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