It had always been a more-or-less innocent game between them, a way that the two girls passed the time on the occasional evenings when the day’s work was done, their elders had no need of them, and they were left to their own devices until they and the other youths were ushered to their aravels. There were no real rules to the game beyond its basic structure: one challenged the other to complete some simple task, and upon doing so, the other gave a challenge of her own, repeated until one issued a task that the other could not complete. Sometimes these were tests of skill or knowledge; other times, they simply required courage or patience, but however it went, the game satisfied their competitive natures and kept their skills sharp.
Radha tossed the dagger she’d just nicked from Junar’s belt and caught it cleverly in her fingers, her lips a pensive half-moon as she looked Lyna over. Then, suddenly, her eyes darted towards the archery range, and she grinned like a fox.
“I dare you,” she said, and paused for dramatic effect, “to slap Taliesin’s arse.”
Lyna felt her cheeks instantly go red-hot. ”What? No!” She couldn’t, she simply couldn’t do it, not with the way he was always after her, always proposing suggestively that they go away from camp for a little while—he and his stupid smirks and charming smiles and gray eyes far prettier than they had any right to be. “Radha, please. He’d think that I—everyone would think—”
“They’d think what?” Radha asked wickedly. Lyna pressed her palm to her forehead and smoothed back the wisps of red hair that had come free from her braids, knowing that her whole face must be flushing as bright as a toadstool. “Well, it’s too bad. I dared you. Now you have to do it, unless you want to lose.”
Radha had said the magic words, and she knew it. Lyna squared her shoulders, took a bracing breath in through her nose, and stood.
With the grave dignity of one being led to her execution, Lyna approached the archery range. Taliesin’s shadow was stretched long over the bare earth in the evening sun; as she approached, he fired an arrow that struck an inch off of dead-center and began to nock a second. Several years older than she, he was nearly an adult, his form just beginning to fill out and his hands growing tougher and wirier with each day. In a year or two, he’d likely have his vallaslin, and she knew she’d see him less as he joined the older hunters more and more.
“Aneth ara, Lyna,” he said without looking away from his target. “Did you—”
She pursed her lips, held her breath, and did it, using all her strength. Her palm stung, and she supposed from the way his eyes went wide and a startled yelp slipped from his crooked mouth that it hurt a great deal. Not that she could bring herself to apologize; in some way, that seemed an admission of defeat, though whether it was to him or to Radha, she couldn’t decide.
He stared at her, dumbfounded, his eyebrows raised in helpless bewilderment. She returned the coldest, most venomous glare that she could muster, eyes dangerously narrowed, lips a deathly-serious line, and stalked back to the campfire.