Reality Skimming

Sam Meets Alivda from Avim’s Oath

Note: In the excerpt below, Princess Samanda O'Pearl is newly arrived on Gelion and dressed as her brother, sword and all, to assume his place as errant to Princess Luthan. She picked up her new servant, Jack, at the space port where he latched onto her as a meal ticket.

"It's a story," Sam told him. "I made her up, to motivate me."

"So she's not dying, that's good," said Jack, and remembering the food on his plate, took a huge bite of bun stuffed with flavored vat protein. "Go ahead," he said around his meal.

"The story of how I came to be an errant serving Princess Luthan of Fountain Court is not as grand as the lives of the people it has become my job to serve. My story is the size and texture of Jewel County in the Lakes District of Clara's World, a quiet Demish district with traditions as well-worn and comfortable as the heavy velvet drapes of my grandmother's four-poster bed, so old that even the patches have histories.

Let me start, in fact, with my grandmother's bed. As a child it seemed so large that it was easy for my twin brother Dan and me to transform it, in our imaginations, into a grand and mighty battlewheel in which we toured the universe righting wrongs. I was a Golden Soul, and he my paladin. We researched our missions in my father's library, abandoned for as long as I can remember except for our excursions. Dan was always better at describing the cultures we visited on our imaginary battlewheel, although as my brother he took care to shelter me from knowledge of the less wholesome elements in the universe - a detail I now find ironic given the events which have made us both exiles. But my brother strove to be the model prince in those happy days."

"So you don't really have a brother, either," Jack interrupted her again.

"What!" she exclaimed, irritated by his lack of reverence for her storytelling. "Of course I do. Samdan O'Pearl."

"You called him Dan."

"Yes, because Samdan and Samanda sound too similar. My mother always called us Sam and Dan."

"People shouldn't name twins things that sound similar," Jack told her in an accusatory tone.

"Oh! By all the Muses of the Watching -" Sam was in the middle of complaining, when a sword-bearing man interrupted both of them.

"You!" the man accosted Jack, with a jerk of his big thumb. "What do you think this is? A Monatese hanger? Servants don't eat in the cafe! Scat."

Sam rose with a jolt of anger. The intruder was a solid looking, swaggering man in the livery of a Seniorlord Silver Demish house from the Apron District. Sam was well enough educated in braid and heraldry to pin him within six relatives and knew his birth rank. "This boy is with me," she insisted, downspeaking him firmly enough to have quelled any inferior gentleman of the Lakes District on Clara's World who sought to tell her where her servant could and couldn't eat a meal.

"Fine. You can eat in the back with him," said the bully, in rel-peerage, "unless you're game to take the matter up with me," he added, and pulled his sword.

Jack scrambled to his feet. "On my way, Your Grace!" he sang out, flattering the errant through his choice of pronouns.

Sam was flushed with indignation. "I don't have to duel you!" she exclaimed, in a squeaky voice, although she managed to reject his grammatical insult and continued to downspeak him properly. "You aren't in my challenge class! You're nobleborn. I'm highborn."

"True," said the errant, with an evil grin. "But I don't think you are even a real man which makes you less than a Fractional to me."

Sam's heart missed a beat. "H-how do you know I'm..." she stuttered, in horror, convinced he had seen through her disguise.

"So I'm right," the bully jeered. His expression turned ugly, as if she disgusted him. She backed up a step, sword still in its sheath. Drawing it never occurred to her. She looked for Jack but he had disappeared.

"It's legal enough to kill a slaka'st of any rank," the horrible man declared, and whipped his sword at her.

Sam flinched and turned away, feeling a sting across her shoulder as she let out a frightened shriek.

"Draw your sword!" the man exclaimed. "You fight like a farm girl!"

Sam could barely think. Her mouth had gone dry. Her upper arm screamed about a kind of damage new in her experience - not the weary, grainy feeling of an overflown pilot but the hot, stinging alarm of a fresh hurt. For all she knew, she might have been fatally struck and was about to keel over dead. She couldn't get breath into her chest.

Then a woman's voice claimed her attacker's attention. "So tell me," the newcomer asked, "do you have lots of experience fighting with farm girls?"

"Who are you?" the bully demanded. But at least he turned his attention elsewhere, encouraging Sam to open her eyes - once she realized she had them closed tight - and stare.

The woman in snug flight leathers confronting them was blue-eyed and blond-haired. She was calm. She was sleek. Her features were as well-proportioned and delicate as a Golden Princess's but her hands were large and capable. Strangest of all, she looked like she was enjoying herself.

"If you like fighting women," the bizarre apparition with no house braid on her leathers said, with a dazzling grin, "try me. I'm Alivda D'Ander D'Aur Lor'Vrel," the icy vision of lethal beauty introduced herself. "Daughter of Ayrium, Liege Barmi, and Ameron Lor'Vrel, Ava of the empire." She smiled again. "Nice to make your acquaintance. Short as it is going to prove to be. Now, shall we have this out by Sword Law, since we've got the witnesses? I'm happy to condescend to accept your challenge if you're still game to take on a highborn."

The remark about witnesses made Sam glance around her. They had attracted a circle of about twenty people, half of them sword-bearing Sevolites of roughly the same stock as her tormentor, and probably there from the Apron District in the hope of catching sight of Princess Luthan when she put in an appearance, which made her hopeful Luthan was indeed about to arrive.

The bully sized up how much face he might lose if he declined Alivda's offer, and scowled, his breath coming deeper and faster. "I've heard of you," he ground out, reluctantly allowing her rel-peerage, which still wasn't even accurate but was better than the grammar he had offered Sam. "I've heard you are a wild one, despite your blue eyes. And I've heard your father, Ava Ameron, would be glad to see you safely out of the way."

Alivda considered this. "Possible," she said, neutrally. Then drew her sword with a quick, economical motion. "Decide."

"I accept! It's a pity to kill a woman who looks like you, but I don't like your kind of freak any more than I like his!" he jerked his head in Sam's direction.

"Ack rel," Alivda said.

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