Toy Soldiers

These things I know from my mother.  Once, when I was seven, the year before the death and change, mom and I watched from a tall, high window above as Ithan and Koso sparred.  Koso’s hair was golden then, long and tied back into a ponytail.  He was scrawnier than Ithan, only fifteen, but had the Gift of Body.  His naturally blond hair could grow to jet black in a week, should he desire, and in fights like these, he could make himself a little faster, a little stronger, a little more adept.  My brother was certainly the more imposing figure, and if Koso had had a different sort of affinity, Ithan would have had no problem getting three touches on him.  As it stood, though, Ithan had to rely on more than superior strength.  Koso made him skillful.  Mom and I could hear their taunts to each other from our perch above them. 

“Oh, shut up.  You know how this is going to go,” Ithan says, cheerful, arrogant.

“We’ll see.”

“I’m telling you, Koso, you’re not going to get three on me.”

Koso replies in a low voice or with a terse smile, nothing we can hear from up here.  They take their stances in the short grass and wait, frozen there for a moment.  A circle surrounds them, its edge of dirt a foot wide, so that they can prove if either steps out by the brown on their feet.  Another moment passes, and then they are flying, brilliant in the sun.  I watch, enchanted, as Ithan spins to avoid Koso’s wooden sword, then blocks another swing.  Their feet move just as quickly, ever gaining ground, then falling back.  Koso looks so small compared to my brother, though really his posture, lower to the ground, constitutes most of the difference.  Ithan scores one tap, but is whapped twice for slowness.  I can feel Koso’s Gift in use, like a flexing muscle.  He is getting tired, his Gift muscle shaking a bit with the exertion.  I concentrate on the feel of his Gift.  He loses the power for a moment, failed by his overwork.  Ithan scores a hit as Koso struggles to regain awareness and control.

I look up at mom.

“Can I help?” I ask in a whisper, as if the boys could somehow hear me.

“Go ahead and try,” she says, smiling a little, “Ithan needs some humility.”

I am not sure then what she means by humility, only that she has said yes.  I concentrate again on Koso’s Gift.  It is panting, like a man who has run too hard for too long.  I watch them fight, and Ithan has by now taken the upper hand.  Koso’s feet are close to the edge; he will lose if he steps out.  His Gift is a heartbeat, and mine is blood.  It is hard, but I focus on tired feelings, on depleting myself of energy and giving it to Koso.  I know Koso, my Gift knows him, and finally we connect.  He is startled at first, as am I, always, and he is nearly hit.  I can feel his body like I am inside of it, but I have no control over it.  I give away my energy to him, and as soon as I feel his Gift restart in its aid, I get out. 

I come back to myself and mom is watching me, her eyes warm, her arms on my back.  I only hear her congratulate me before I drop to sleep.  

Later, I wake up in my bed, warm and sleepy still.  Koso opens the door, in different clothes from earlier.  Maybe his knock woke me up.  He comes and sits on the edge of my bed, but I pull my covers up over my head. 

“Hey, Tomas.  Thanks for helping earlier.”

I bring my covers away from my eyes, but still leave the rest of my face covered.  Koso doesn’t look mad, but he isn’t smiling, either.  He nods at me, something nice in his expression, then gets up to leave.

“Are you mad at me?” I ask before he walks out.  He turns around.

“Of course not.  I came in here to say thanks, didn’t I?”

I nod, and mumble some agreement.  Koso smiles now, a small gift to me, and leaves.  I am sure that Ithan would have been mad if it was him that I had helped.  There is this pride with him that I don’t understand.  I never quite understood him.

The End

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