In the spirit of shameless self-promotion, here is a chapter from GOD OF RAIN, to be released officially on March 13. This is fairly early in the novel.
I would not exercise with young Toare today. I had been going too long without rest and might have no more opportunities to spend a day napping and drinking beer. Alas, those pastimes lost their charm by mid-afternoon so I walked in the garden, between rows of tall banana and papaya.
“Might I walk with you, sir?” came a soft voice.
“Certainly, my Lady Mehetu,” I answered. She was very formal, was she not? That was not a bad thing.
We walked a while in silence. “I have no place here,” she said finally. “I stay only through the kindness of Lord Marareta.”
I knew that but had not thought on it. “He would never turn you out, my lady.”
“No, he would not. He wants me here, I think. But not — not as a wife, you understand.”
Was she thinking of marriage with the taona? I did not see that happening. Mehetu went on. “And that is fine. But it leaves me with no official status.”
“Va’aru would always welcome you if things changed.”
She nodded. “I know this, Hito. But I would be a ghost flitting through the house of Va’aru, with no station and no substance.”
I could not help smiling. “It would seem your son is not the only one in your family who can turn a poetic phrase.”
Mehetu laughed outright. “Was it too dramatic? I listen to the storytellers too much, I think.” Then she added, in a more sober tone. “But it is true that I am no one now, and lonely.”
“That is not right, my lady,” I told her. “Not right at all.” For a moment our eyes met and made promises.
Promises kept that night when Mehetu came to my bed chamber. She was gone when I awoke and I had no time then to think of all that had happened and all that it meant.
Marareta kept only a small troop of warriors here. Fewer than twice ten were practicing their skills in the exercise yard when I joined them and Toare that morning.
The boy greeted me by taking up a pose of challenge, brandishing his club and sticking his tongue far out, as did the warriors of old, in an attempt to look fierce. I would not tell Toare he only succeeded in looking ridiculous.
Men of the kingdom of Anana and other lands to the north sometimes strike such a pose, but more frequently in dance than in actual combat. I had seen them and had no doubt Toare had learned it there. We practiced for a while with spear and then with club; the youth was skilled enough but over-eager. That sort of thing gets one killed, unless one is Aranu. Toare would never be Aranu.
Pairs of men wrestled nearby. One large fellow watched us for a while before calling, “Come face a real man, Toare.” There was scorn in his voice and in the look he gave me.
“Who is that?” I whispered to the boy.
“Taki. He sees you as a rival for my mother.” Toare glanced at the man with undisguised distaste and went on. “But she does not like him. She should tell the taona to dismiss him from his service.”
She would not, would she? Mehetu did not want to assert herself in a house where she and her son were now guests. Beggars, almost. I knew how that was; yes, I knew it well.
The boy continued, giving me a bit of a sideways look. “Mother likes you. You are serious.” That he — and Taki — knew of the previous night, I had little doubt, but neither of us was likely to bring it up.
Perhaps I might discreetly mention the man to Marareta. Perhaps I could deal with him right now. “Toare does not confuse boasting with ability,” I called back. It might have been foolish to do so. Taki was big.
And I am not, not by the standards of my people. It is true. The man did not reply but only motioned me toward him. The warriors formed a ring around us as I stepped forward. A silent ring — I suspected that Taki was not well liked by his companions. But I was unknown to them. The bulky warrior towered over me, hands opening and closing, ready to pull me into an inescapable embrace. I would not play that game with Taki.
I slipped to his left, took a thick wrist in both hands, put my foot against his ankle and took the man down. In a moment more, that wrist was behind his back and my arm wrapped around his throat. Ah, but it was not to be so easy.
Taki was fat but he was also powerful. He struggled back to his feet, with me clinging to his back like a child being given a ride. This would not do; the big man had all the advantage when we were both standing. Even more when he was the only one standing!
I slipped off and drove my knee into the back of his, taking him down again. This time I made sure to capture a leg, wrapping my own around it, and interlocked my fingers under a gargantuan jaw. Taki would not escape this, strain though he might. The powerful muscles of his neck fought surprisingly long against my grasp, his hands tried to reach back and claw at my face, but at last one wide palm slapped the dirt in surrender.
I have had opponents last far longer, men who knew how to wrestle. Yes, and some of those have defeated me but Taki had no skill, only size and strength. That can be deadly enough.
“Enough exercise for today,” I told young Toare. “I need beer.”