In the rural communities, most people never travel more than two leagues from their homes. This law is to improve that. I must blend my people together and make them strong.
— The Silver Monarch, On the Young Journeys Mandate
By the time Garèo returned with Jinmel’s wagon, Kanéko sat on the boulder pretending to read her book, Ramus and the Thrice-Blessed Rose. Printed on cheap paper and filled with unrealistic fight scenes and simple characters, the adventures brought a smile to her every time she read it. Her copy was well-worn: the edges curled up and the binding had cracked repeatedly. Even though she had the words memorized, she couldn’t focus on them. Every time she tried to read, she started to fear that someone would see through her ruse and find her tools.
The horses came to a halt next to the boulder and chest. There were only the two of them; Ojinkomàsu didn’t return with Garèo.
He stood up. “Ready?”
Kanéko redoubled her efforts to focus on the page, afraid to say anything.
He hopped off and began to shove the chest on the wagon. While he lifted the trunk, she strained to hear a clink of metal. It hit the wagon with a thump and she was relieved not to hear her tools.
Folding her book, she hopped off the boulder and onto the wagon. She sat down heavily on the bench, crossed her arms over her chest, and closed her eyes. She was tired, but mostly she didn’t want him to ask her questions or insist she answer in Miwāfu.
To her surprise, Garèo continued to say nothing. He finished loading the wagon and got on next to her. The weathered wood creaked from his weight.
Without him making another sound, the two horses started forward and soon they were heading to Rock River, the nearby village.
Exhaustion gnawing at her senses, from the ache in her joints to the burning sensation behind her eyes. Her frustration and sorrow were a knife in her gut. Jinmel’s injuries and the destruction of the water screw left her feeling helpless. She desperately wanted to go back home and fix the water screw.
Frustrated, she focused on the pump instead. She imagined in detail, remembering how it was drawn on the pages in the stable. When she couldn’t puzzle it out, she imagined the gears coming off the page and arranged them in space inside her head.
Kanéko didn’t want to open her eyes. She minutely shifted her body to look more like she was sleeping.
Garèo chuckled dryly. “I know you are awake. Sleeping people move differently with the wagon’s movements. They breathe in a rhythm and don’t turn way.”
Kanéko groaned and cracked open her eyes. She looked over at the dark-skinned man. “Yes, Great Waryoni Garèo?” She poured her sardonic dislike for him in every word. She still didn’t know why she had to call him “great.”
“When I was at the keep, your father was looking for your tools. Apparently they were supposed to be somewhere? Do you know what happened to them?”
Kanéko’s body tensed. She immediately thought about her cloth-wrapped tools hidden in her chest. A sick feeling pooled in her gut. She saw Garèo searching her face and she turned away. “No.”
Garèo grunted. “I was hoping to leave a message in Rock River. Oh well, if you remember, just tell me before we leave.”
Kanéko nodded her head quickly. “Yes, Great Waryoni Garèo.”
Another chuckle. “Now that you are talking, we need to discuss my plans for this trip.”
Kanéko sneaked a look at Garèo, but the man’s face was unreadable.
Garèo caught her looking and gave her a thin smile. “We are to continue our lessons. This is a great time to improve your riding and archery. Your brawling and knife fighting also need improvement. So, every night, plan on spending an hour or two with me before you go to sleep.”
Kanéko’s mouth opened in surprise. “But, this is supposed to be fun. A trip to see the country and learn more about the rest of Kormar.”
Garèo narrowed his eyes and Kanéko realized she had switched to Lorban.
She cleared her throat but didn’t repeat herself.
He held up his hand in a gesture of explanation. “You are ignorant of your heritage. Your mother realized it which is why she asked me to teach you. You speak like a toddler, and you have none of the social graces the desert demands.”
His jaw tightened while he paused for only a heartbeat. Then he said, “No, you have been sheltered at your father’s home for far too long. Not only are you going to travel beyond your comfortable little world, I will do everything to teach you how to be a woman of the desert and one of this sand-damned country as well. You may not have pale skin, but at least you should be able to pretend to be one.”
The muscles in Kanéko’s back and arms tightened, which also caused her various injuries to ache from the movement. She squirmed for a moment before folding her arms over her chest. “Mama is making you do this, isn’t she?”
Garèo shook his head. “No, not your mother or father. You.”
Garèo folded his hands in his lap and gave her a hard look. “You spent your entire life within four leagues of the keep. Two bells travel at most. You have only dealt with two small villages and your father’s people. You’ve never lived in a world where you weren’t known by everyone and respected by force because of your father. It’s pretty obvious that you are completely unprepared for adulthood and taking over your father’s legacy.”
Kanéko shot a dirty look at him and folded her arms tighter across her chest. “I can take care of myself.”
Garèo grinned. “Really? I’ll have to test that. But, in the meantime, we will continue your lessons. And the first one will be to teach you how to survive with less luggage.” He gestured with his chin to her trunk. “That is a shameful amount to carry with you.”
“Because if feels like you have loaded the entire thing with those tools your father is looking for.”
Kanéko blanched. A muscle in her arm began to throb in time with a headache.
Garèo shrugged. “Of course, only an idiot would carry so much heavy metal with her.” He looked back at the chest.
Hatred replaced her annoyance and exhaustion. Kanéko clamped her mouth shut and turned away from Garèo. She had despised him since the day he had turned up begging her mother for a job. Her mother told Kanéko Garèo would teach her skills and language of the desert. His introduction had started with a brutal four-hour horseback ride to “test her skills” which had left her aching for days. When they weren’t riding horses, he was beating her to the ground with brawling lessons or chasing her across the fields with a knife. And all the while, insisting on her answering every stupid question in Miwāfu, a language she would never need.
Neither said anything to each other and soon Kanéko was bored. She let her mind drift, wishing the long hours would pass quickly.
Garèo cleared his throat once, and then burst into song.
Kanéko winced at the sound of it. Garèo’s singing was just as bad as her mother’s cooking. Maybe it was some desert trait that everyone had to be horrible at something that they desperately thought they were great at.
In Garèo’s case, he took a popular song of a warrior defeating a dragon and brutalized it. He sang the wrong words to music that poorly spanned at least three octaves and had the rhythm of a chaotic storm. Groaning, Kanéko wished she could close her ears. Instead, she tilted her head to the best position to lessen the abuse and stared out into the forest.
She considered jumping off the wagon and running home, but her father would just send her back. She wanted to avoid Ronamar’s rage as much as Garèo’s lessons.
When Garèo continued to sing, she had to do something to distract herself. She let her mind drift and imagined different ways of escaping Garèo. There weren’t many options, she hadn’t been beyond her father’s land, but eventually she settled on daydreams of running to Jinto Panzir, the largest town near the route they would be taking. Panzir also just gained a mechanics guild, the first in the area and somewhere Kanéko dreamed of visiting.
She amused herself by imagining about how she would run away to Jinto Panzir. With her skills, she knew that she could impress the mechanics there in a short time.
Garèo continued to sing.
They rode in torturous noise for a quarter bell. Then, Garèo turned the wagon off the main road to Rock River and headed down a rougher trail. Kanéko turned her head to read the sign as they passed. It said “Germudrir Sawmill” in thick, painted letters that had dripped.
“Where are we going?”
Garèo stopped singing, to Kanéko’s relief, and pointed forward. “To the mill. Maris, one of my students, is still there and we need to pick her up for the trip.”
When Garèo opened his mouth to sing, Kanéko rushed to prevent him. “How many students do you have? You’ve arrived only five months ago.”
He cocked his head, as if thinking. “Three, actually. You, Maris, and Ruben.”
Kanéko didn’t know anything about the other students, but after Garèo’s comment about her being unprepared for the world, she didn’t want to point that out.
“We have about sixty littles coming with us on the trip. Some of them are from the outlying farm communities but mostly they come from the village. There are six chaperons, including myself. Even though I only teach a few, I’ll be watching my fair share of all the students, so you’ll need to behave.”
Her curiosity got the better of her. “Only three students? Why so few?”
Garèo smiled. “I get the difficult cases, the students that require a delicate hand such as yourself.”
Kanéko prickled at the tone.
“Also, the ones that require more understanding or special training. My skills… were adept at handling you three.”
She looked down at her hands. Blisters and burns covered her fingers and palm. Despite her dislike for him, she wanted to know more. After a few minutes of riding, she asked quietly, “How do you survive on that? That wouldn’t pay much, does it?”
Garèo chuckled. “No, it doesn’t. I also do odd jobs during my hours. Painting, hauling, repairing, and generally running messages around. I don’t enjoy it, but at least I’m earning a warm bed at the school and food in my belly.”
“Why don’t you go back to the desert? Don’t you have a clan who would take better care of you?”
Garèo looked haunted for a moment. He reached around and scratched his back, right below the two empty dagger sheathes he wore. He wore the scabbards upside down, so he could draw them out from underneath his arms, but Kanéko never saw a weapon inside them. From their lessons, she knew he was adept at small blades, but he always borrowed them from her mother and never provided his own.
Kanéko prodded him when he didn’t answer. “Great Waryoni Garèo?”
He looked at her and the expression faded. He gave her a grin that looked slightly forced. “Did you know that Germudrir has a core-driven saw? It can cut through a tree in less than five minutes.”
Surprised, Kanéko gaped for a moment. She felt excitement quickening her pulse,. “Really? Can we see it? Do we have time?”
Garèo grinned. “Since we are at the sixth bell, I thought we would join the mill for lunch. That way, you can look at the core and get some food.”
Kanéko’s hatred of Garèo faded with sudden excitement. “When did they get it?”
“Three months ago.”
She switched to Miwāfu in hope for more answers. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
He shrugged. “You never asked.”
“You knew I would want to know!”
Garèo grinned and held up his palm as if that was an answer.
Kanéko pressed for more information about the manufacturer of the saw or how it was installed, but Garèo claimed not to know. After a few minutes, she realized he wasn’t going to tell her anything else.
Sitting back down, she stared forward to a haze gathered above the trees. She didn’t know there was anything else on her father’s land that used mechanical devices. The idea that the mill, which she had never visited before, had a proper example gave her hope. Maybe she could figure out what she and Jinmel had done wrong.
The fantasy of proving herself in Jinto Panzir became more of a reality. If she could solve her problem, then she would be able to find a master willing to teach her the rest. And then she could show her father she was still his daughter.