War Maid’s Choice – Snippet 38

Twenty-one was the year of majority, the official beginning of adulthood, for a Sothōii noblewoman. For noblemen, it came two years earlier than that — just another of those little natural advantages which accrued to someone who’d had the good sense to be born male. Among those scandalous war maids, of course, the rules were somewhat different, and unlike Leeana Bowmaster, Leeana Hanathafressa had been legally an adult from the moment she completed her probationary period.

Several questions followed one another through Balcartha’s mind as she and the younger woman gazed at one another. But the only one who had the right to ask Leeana those questions was Leeana herself, and so —

“I don’t see any problem about arranging a couple of months of leave for you,” the five hundred said. “You’ll have to discuss it with Erlis, of course — make sure she’s covered while you’re away — but I feel confident we’ll manage in your absence somehow.”

* * *

“Leeana! Over here!”

Garlahna’s shout cut through the friendly, noisy, dimly lit din of The Green Maiden’s common room, and Leeana turned her head, peering through the rather smoky air until she spotted her friend at a corner table. Unlike her, Garlahna had exchanged her chari and yathu for a gown for the evening, and its amber silk clung to her like a second skin. It was interesting, Leeana thought, how the gown actually emphasized Garlahna’s undeniably curvaceous figure so much more…emphatically than the far more “revealing” traditional war maid attire did. It was a point she’d been paying more attention to of late herself, and she admired the embroidery on her friend’s deeply plunging bodice.

Of course, some people had more curves to emphasize in the first place, she reflected, although she had to admit she was less challenged in that area herself than she’d once expected to be. It was simply that Garlahna could have challenged anyone in that particular competition.

She smiled at the familiar thought as Garlahna waved, beckoning her over. Then she waved back and started working her way through the crowd.

The Green Maiden was always crowded, especially on the evenings like this one, when fresh rain clouds had come swelling up along the western horizon as the sun settled towards evening. It didn’t feel like it was going to be one of the Wind Plain’s tumultuous thunderstorms, but unless Leeana missed her guess, they were in for a long, steady soaking. In fact, the first drops had already begun to fall, although no one could possibly hear them pattering on the The Green Maiden’s roof through the chattering voices, the clatter of tableware, the calls for refilled mugs and glasses, and the preliminary tootling of the three musicians setting up for the evening’s entertainment on the tiny stage beside the huge fireplace.

Leeana reached the table Garlahna had snagged and paused to use both hands to slick beads of rainwater off of her bare shoulders and upper arms before she hooked a toe under the unoccupied chair on her side and pulled it out.

“Didn’t think you were going to make it before the floodgates opened,” Garlahna observed.

“I didn’t — quite,” Leeana pointed out wryly. “And I’ve got gate duty tonight. Third watch, in fact.” She grimaced. “It ought to be coming down nicely by then.”

“And Barlahn and I will be thinking of you with the deepest sympathy as we listen to the rain drumming on the roof and gurgling in the gutters,” Garlahna assured her, leaning comfortably against Barlahn Ironsmith’s shoulder. It was a well muscled shoulder, connected to powerful arms and calloused, capable hands, one of which was draped possessively around Garlahna at that very moment. “Assuming we can spare any of our attention from more…pressing matters, that is,” Garlahna added with a smile.

“Knowing you?” Leeana snorted. “Somehow I don’t think I’d better be counting on you to come make sure I haven’t come down with pneumonia.”

“Are you suggesting anything could possibly distract me from my deep and burning concern about my very best friend’s well-being on a dark and stormy night like this?”

“I’m suggesting it would take Chemalka’s own thunderbolt to get any ‘spare attention’ out of the two of you!”

“Well, that’s only because we’re going to be enjoying a few thunderbolts of our own,” Garlahna replied, arching her spine ever so slightly to round her bosom provocatively, then batted her eyes in Barlahn’s direction.

“Shameless hussy,” he remarked comfortably, smiling down at her, and she laughed and patted him on the thigh.

“Yep, and you love it,” she told him. “Don’t try to pretend differently to me!”

“Happen I’m not so likely to be doing that. ‘S long as you don’t take t’ taking me for granted, anywise.”

“Trust me, that’s not going to happen,” she purred, raising her head far enough to plant a kiss on the side of his neck.

“Good.” He smiled again, then looked across the table at Leeana. “And a good evening to you, too, Leeana,” he said blandly.

“Why don’t the two of you just go ahead and get a room here at the inn?” Leeana asked sweetly. “It would save so much time. And I’d be happy to wait to order until you got back.”

“I tried, but they were all already taken,” Garlahna said mournfully. “Still,” she brightened, “I understand Raythas told Shallys she’d only need her room for an hour or so.” She smiled wickedly at Leeana. “I’m sure Barlahn and I could get it when she’s done…if you’d care to join us before you go on watch, that is.”

“Garlahna, if I thought you were really willing to share Barlahn for even one moment, you might actually manage to embarrass me,” Leeana told her with a smile of her own. “Since I know perfectly well what a greedy bitch you are where he’s concerned, I’m not really worried.”

“Spoilsport!” Garlahna laughed, then looked up as one of The Green Maiden’s servers appeared at the edge of the table. Like quite a few of the other war maids scattered around the common room, the woman had a pipe clasped between her teeth, and smoke curled up from its bowl to join the haze drifting overhead as she cocked an eyebrow at the three of them.

“So are you finally ready to order, Garlahna? Or do you and Barlahn want to sit over here in each other’s laps for another hour or so, first? Oh, and hi, Leeana.”

“Hi, Barthyma.” Leeana shook her head and jabbed a thumb in Garlahna’s direction. “You know the two of them are lowering the tone of your entire establishment, don’t you?”

“I keep telling them to get a room,” Barthyma Darhanfressa replied, and raised both eyebrows as Garlahna went into a fit of giggles. “I said something especially funny?” she asked.

“Only to someone like Garlahna,” Leeana assured her. “And since I’ve got the duty in another couple of hours, I’ll go ahead and order a beer now, if you don’t mind. And is that venison I smell?”

“Shallys’ special recipe,” Barthyma confirmed.

“Then I’ll have that, too. With the buttered potatoes and lima beans. Oh, and don’t forget the cornbread! And –”

“And make sure it’s a generous portion,” Barthyma finished for her with a smile, and shook her head. “Girl, it’s a good thing you’re as fanatical as you are about those morning runs of yours!”

“I’m just making sure I get to go on enjoying the good things in life,” Leeana replied with a smile.

“Some of them, at least,” Garlahna said. “Personally, I prefer to burn off the pounds without running around barefoot in the misty morn.”

Leeana shook her head fondly. Garlahna might miss the occasional morning, but the two of them ran together at least four days a week.

“So, are you two going to order?” Barthyma asked the dark-haired war maid, and Barlahn laughed.

“O’ course she is. In fact,” he smiled down at Garlahna, “I’m thinking you’d best fetch her an extra portion, too.” He looked up at Barthyma and winked. “Happen she’ll need her strength tonight.”

“Mother, take me now!” Barthyma rolled her eyes, and looked back at Leeana. “If it gets any deeper back here, you’re going to drown before you have to go out in the rain, Leeana. You’re always welcome at the bar if you need to escape.”

“Thanks,” Leeana said wryly, “but I think I’ll just stay here and take notes.”

“Take notes?” Garlahna sat up a little straighter, brown eyes narrowing slightly. “And the cause of this sudden curiosity of yours would be –?”

“Who said anything about ‘curiosity’?” Leeana retorted. “I’m just looking for blackmail material.”

“Blackmail material?” Garhlahna laughed. “You’ve got to be kidding! I was a farm girl, not a ‘noblewoman’ like someone I could mention, before I ran off to the war maids!”

“Oh, I know it wouldn’t have any effect on you,” Leanna shot back. “But Barlahn was a respectable fellow before he took up with you. He may still have a reputation to worry about, you know!”

She grinned at her friend, green eyes dancing, but Garlahna gazed back at her with that same speculative air for a heartbeat or two. There was something about Leeana’s tone, she thought. And was that the slightest edge of a blush along the other war maid’s cheekbones?

Their eyes met for just a moment, and then Garlahna snorted.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” she said, snuggling comfortably back down beside her freemate. “If Barlahn was going to worry about his ‘reputation,’ he never would’ve ‘taken up’ with me in the first place!”