Lexa of the Trigedakru, or juvaiheda as most now addressed her, had visited the capital, Polis, only a handful of times before, in times where she was unplagued by the weight of expectation and responsibility. Now, however, she looked at the city differently; this was to be her city, her people. And yet, when she voiced these thoughts to Anya, her trusted mentor, the older woman scolded her.
“Do not use the future tense, juvaiheda. You must consider this place as your own now, and these your people now. You do not know when you will ascend to your position as Heda; it could be tomorrow, or it may not be for many years. Either way you must be ready without a second thought or the need for transition. Do you understand, Leksa?”
She found it a comfort for Anya to address her by her given name, rather than her title. The present was a daunting time, and with the ever escalating political unease between the clans Anya's training had intensified easily three-fold, if not more. With this in mind, Lexa was forced to adopt a stern, level-headed, countenance as she was guided though the metropolis of Polis, in its fusioned glory of metal, wood and stone upon the summit of the tallest mount on this side of the snowy mountains. She could not appear to be weak, in any sense of the word, although she did have to put in a little more effort than she would have liked to stride confidently without tripping over her coat; it was too big for her.
Despite the tension between her shoulders, her senses continued to be mesmerised by the colours that flashed in every direction; fresh flowers and their sweet aromas, newly dyed cloth and delicately hand crafted ornaments. She could almost hear the city’s heart drum in sync with her own as she walked through the streets, flanked by Anya and her guard, Gustus, a giant of a man, heavily tattooed and shoulders as wide as two of her.
After some mixed reactions to her presence in the street, eventually they reached the blacksmith’s hallow, hidden away in a quieter corner of the capital. The first thing that hit Lexa as she stepped inside the forge was the stifling heat, of the suffocating sort, the way a villainous prince may smother his father’s face with a pillow until his lungs were starved of oxygen, so the throne was now empty for his taking.
Anya announced their presence loudly, so that it may be heard over the rhythmic tinging of a moulding stone and the hissing of cool water as it hit metal fresh from the blacksmith’s flame. From out of the trio’s sight came the utterance of a low curse, the scurrying of soles against the dusty floor and then a distinctly female voice asking them to wait a moment.
A few seconds later the owner of the voice came into view, and, needless to say, the girl who stood in front of her made her momentarily forget why she was there.
The girl pushed her dark locks out of her face with a soot smudged hand, so Lexa could see the outlines her untensed biceps. It was at this point she also observed the simple attire of the girl, who couldn’t have been much older than herself, which was appropriate for tiring work she took pride in doing- her pants were slim fitting and almost black in colour, a hue not to dissimilar to her hair. These were tucked into study, yet dusty and well worn-looking, boots which stopped about half-way up her calf. On her top half she wore a lopsided sleeveless garment, faded grey in colour like a moon that shone from behind the dark clouds that obscured it, which revealed a defined collar bone. The young second couldn’t help but wonder whether the girl had slipped this on hurriedly after Anya announced her arrival, for, if as far from the flames were as hot as this, she wouldn’t have been able to withstand the heat in much clothing either.
As she bowed respectfully once she approached no further and, as she looked up, Lexa caught a glimpse of the girl’s eyes- an intense dark blue in colour, streaked with grey - which hinted at a previous wildness that had since been tamed.
In essence, she was not quite sure what to make of the blacksmith’s daughter, who smiled fondly at Gustus, albeit briefly, before addressing her.
“Is there something which I may assist you with, juvaiheda?” the girl asked, in accented Trigedasleng.
“We’re looking for your nontu, Kostia,” Anya told her in the same tongue and with a familiar formality, by which she assumed that the pair were already acquainted. As for Gustus, she wondered if he and the girl, Costia, were related- because for all his valuable guidance and protection she knew little, if not nothing, of the man’s family and there was something about the shape of their eyes that was startling similar.
“Nontu is away on business at present, and it is uncertain when he will return,” Costia replied.
There was a pause and a quiet sigh of frustration escaped from Anya’s lips. Costia picked up on this, and Lexa found herself surprised by the girl’s following response.
“If it is a matter of urgency, I will be able to help.”
Anya replied without a trace of hesitation.
“With all due respect, Kostia, we seek the expertise of your nontu. A request from juvaiheda is one for only the most skilled of hands.”
Costia folded her arms across her chest in a sort of defiance, and Lexa thought she saw Gustus roll his eyes from the corner of her own.
“And what sort of request will you be making, juvaiheda?”
Now that Costia had addressed her directly, Lexa realised that she hadn’t uttered a word since she’d strode into her workplace. And needless to say, the first words she spoke to the girl weren’t exactly the memorable sort.
“A sword,” she replied simply, after the small delay in which her brain had to remind her how to talk.
Costia nodded, the cogs of intelligence churning behind her eyes. Lexa couldn’t help but notice the hints of gold in the girl’s dark irises, like their pigment had been swirled in amber.
“Kostia, Onya clearly said…” Gustus began, before her was cut off.
“Shof op, Oncl. I understand that.”
Lexa was shocked by the directness of her words, but her address informed her that Gustus was her uncle, though it soon became clear that Anya was not impressed with her attitude.
“Gada, you are not to address a superior guard with such rudeness. I do not care that he is your Oncl.”
Costia sighed, but did not appear too put off by the woman’s scolding.
“I was only going to say that, surely, I can at least aid in the early proceedings, so all it ready for Nontu’s return. Swiftness is key here, sha?”
Eventually Anya agreed, with some reluctance and chiefly because she knew Costia wouldn't have taken no for an answer.
Costia faced Lexa again, this time her arms unfolded.
“Do you have any preferences, juvaiheda? Curved, straight, leather of metal handle? Perhaps wooden?”
She observed how animated Costia was in her speech when she wasn’t frustrated, using both hands as she spoke.
The words that next escaped Lexa’s followed along the very intelligent lines of:
She felt a blush flush her cheeks, which Gustus and Anya appeared to notice by the look they gave each other, teasing the juvaiheda, but, Costia on the other hand, either didn’t notice or chose not to pay attention to it.
Costia waved her hand dismissively.
“No matter. It may not be clear at present what suits you best, though it can be judged. If you wouldn’t mind stepping forward beja, juvaiheda.”
Lexa did as she was asked without question, and found herself standing awkwardly under Costia’s critical gaze and staring at the floor, nervous she might be caught getting lost in her eyes again. As if it couldn’t get any worse, Costia asked her to raise her arms straight in front of her for further analytical purposes, and when she did, the girl took her dominant hand and turned it over with calloused, yet gentle, fingers so her palm faced upwards. She wondered how Costia had known that she was right handed.
Lexa was unsure whether hours or seconds passed this way before Costia stepped away and began frantically scribbling things on a scrap of parchment, with the stub of a pencil which had clearly seen its best days some time ago. From her angle, Lexa couldn’t see much but illegible words and a few brief sketches. It was another few moments before Costia looked up again at the trio.
“That is all I require from you today, juvaiheda. Unless there is anything else I can do for you?”
Lexa found herself unwillingly running through numerous scenarios in her mind before she shook her head.
“No, there is no more. Mochof, Kostia.”
She also tried to not note how pleasant it was to say the girl’s name.
Anya nodded, and with that she and Lexa departed, leaving Gustus behind momentarily. The pair spoke a rapid exchange in a tongue Lexa recognised as the language of the Boat People, but even through her limited understanding she caught a few words, enough to inform her that something was amiss.
“You are coping?”
“… Still no word?”
And with that Gustus came out from the door frame through which he had to duck. As Lexa turned back she saw how the muscle’s in Costia’s cheeks were clenched, her eyes set and determined. When she caught Lexa’s gaze, she didn’t smile but simply bowed her head. That was when she saw a different fight in this girl, the somewhat mysterious blacksmith’s daughter.
As the trio walked away, back towards the city’s centre, Lexa tripped over her coat- and thought she head a muffled laugh from behind her. She glanced back quickly to see that Costia was watching the three of them walk away. Only, this time, when their eyes met, albeit briefly, she didn't nod, but smiled and Lexa couldn't help but notice the slight dimples that formed either side of the corners of her mouth.