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Water and Steel

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“Do not fight the water,” Hu tells her. “It is not fighting you. You are fighting yourself.” Baru pauses mid stroke, lowering her sword, raising her eyebrows. Hu wades towards her in the waist-deep pond, skimming the tip of her blade over the surface. She moves like she is made of water and steel, and Baru believes it.

“Tell me again,” Baru demands, impetuously. She sounds like a child right now, but she is tired and sore and somehow Hu looks as exquisite as ever, even after hours of sparring. “Why are we standing in a pool right now?”

Hu smiles in that marvelous, deadly way of hers. Baru is glad she has never been on the wrong end of that smile. “You cannot change the world directly. All you can do is change yourself and watch as the ripples spread.”

Baru lifts Aminata’s rapier again, muscles automatically moving into the familiar stance of the Navy, but in the midst of her routine Hu splashes her in the face. Baru’s eyes instinctively close against the onslaught, and Hu takes advantage of that split second of confusion to kick out the back of her knees.

The world spins. Baru feels her bare feet scrape against the rocks, then the cool water swells under her soles. Her hands seek purchase, but there is none to be found. Something rips Aminata’s sword away from her. Her mouth opens of its own accord to cry out, but instead of filling with water, she feels steel against her face, an arm stretched across her chest, and a warm body behind her.

Baru sputters, taking account of her situation. Aminata’s sword is at her lips and Hu’s hand is at her breast. She has no power here. Hu’s little finger moves downwards slowly, purposefully. Baru’s breath catches. From the deliberate calculation behind each miniscule movement, Hu knows exactly what she is doing to Baru.

“Beware of the ripples,” she whispers into Baru’s right ear. “They will turn into waves stronger than you can imagine.”

“Do not fight the moon,” Hu tells her. “Night comes and night goes, and not even you can manipulate the moon into giving you more time.”

Baru laughs. “Not on my own, perhaps,” she says, leaning into Hu’s shoulder. “But I am not alone.”

It is a dangerous game she plays. The various dukes and duchesses are camped so closely that Baru can still see smoke from their fires. Xate Yawa is nearby, and wouldn’t she love to hear this and cement her hold over Baru. She cannot take that chance. The rebellion cannot be squashed, not here, not now, not like that. It is one thing for a queen to consult her field-general on matters of importance during the day, and quite another thing for them to sneak off, holding hands and giggling like children, in the middle of the night. But Baru is the Fairer Hand, and she has the weight of a rebellion and more on her shoulders, and it is only fair that she should be able to lighten her load if only for the night, Yawa be damned. The night only has so many hours and she is determined to spend them happy, here with Tain Hu.

“Not alone?” Hu says. “Of course you are not alone! But who amongst your people would join you in fighting the moon?” she smiles, her eyes sparking.

“Amongst my people?” Baru asks, enjoying the game. “Why, none, of course. They do not follow just me. They follow us, and we will lead them all in fighting the moon. Who would dare stand against us? Even the moon would fall from the sky if you and I together asked it to.”

Hu smiles. “Well then, if I am all you need to—”

“You are,” Baru cuts her off. “You are all I need.”

Hu does not fight the water. She does not fight the moon. The waves are stronger than she could have ever imagined, and she is alone, so terribly alone. But Baru has listened to her, and she is waging her war, and that is all Tain Hu needs.