Luck of the Dragon: Hedging Bets© 2011 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
The first year students had already left the school grounds, pelting through a chill early-morning downpour. The ones who were foolhardy enough to complain about the weather after three months were hurriedly shushed by their fellows. It did no good to complain, except to spur the Tutors to greater efforts.
The young women would learn, eventually.
Second year students on gate duty looked up at the sound of boots in the rain, and one dashed out to open the gates as Miss Devinski led the third year students back to Songmark.
Compared to the older canine woman, the third year students were grimy with mud, huddled together by dorm into small knots against the rain and propping each other up.
Other second year students preparing for their morning exercises paused to watch the procession. For their part, the third year students only stared ahead as they shambled through the rain. All of them looked as if it were willpower alone that kept them from dropping in their tracks from exhaustion.
Two members of one dorm were carrying four packs while their third member carried the fourth piggy-back.
Bringing up the rear was Red Dorm, Liberty and Brigit flanking Tatiana and Shin. The sable was giving the red panda a shoulder to lean on.
Shin was still wearing her sling, but was also wearing her backpack, determined to share the load with her fellows.
As they passed Crusader Dorm, the wolverine member of the second-year quartet turned her head and spat on the ground.
“Svetlana!” Miss Blande said.
“Yes, Miss Blande?” the Tsarist girl asked, straightening up.
“You and your dorm report to the supply room. You four are on cleanup detail.” The look on the feline’s face brooked no appeal or protest.
If looks could kill, the glares Crusader Dorm gave their nemeses would have been instantly lethal.
Shin and the others ignored it.
All of the third years deposited their wet, muddy and in some cases broken gear at the supply room, grateful this once that they didn’t have to clean it themselves, and stumbled upstairs to their rooms to clean up.
“Hurry up,” the canine Tutor ordered. “Breakfast will be waiting.”
It didn’t take very long before all twenty third year students were showered and dressed in their school uniforms. Of course, they had only been successful in removing one layer of their two weeks’ accumulation of dirt.
One girl muttered “It’s like an archeological dig” as she and her fellows went back downstairs.
Shin and the others found hot coffee waiting for them, along with a thick beef stew that had the same resemblance to Maconochie as the school’s Sand Flea had to a Schneider Cup race plane. The stew was accompanied by hot biscuits and hot breadfruit mash.
Later, none of them could recall what was on the menu.
All they knew was that they ate (some ate again) and went upstairs to get some sleep.
The rain had stopped by the time Shin and the others woke up, and from the look of the sun through the cloud cover it was late in the afternoon. The beds were as hard as ever, but were comfort themselves compared to a makeshift sleeping bag on rocks. After getting up, Tatiana had gone straight to the shower, Liberty a step behind her as Brigit tried to untangle her headfur.
Shin, still wearing her flannel nightshirt, slowly removed her sling and began stepping through her tai chi forms. She winced as the sore shoulder loudly demanded to know what the hell she was doing.
The door opened.
Shin paused before going back to concentrating on her exercises. One of the benefits of tai chi was that many of the defensive postures of the martial arts she knew could be reached from her current exercises without any hesitation. Brigit had tensed, though, and the sounds in the shower faded as the others waited expectantly.
The red panda turned and straightened as Mrs. Oelabe stood at the open door. The matron glanced at her critically while the other members of the dorm relaxed. “Tai chi?”
“Yes, Ma’am. I figured some light exercise – “
“You figured right.” The older feline had her go through a series of range-of-motion moves with her injured arm, nodding as the Chinese girl grimaced when the tendons pulled. “I read the doctor’s report from Ounalashka,” she said, “and the damage doesn’t appear very severe. However, I want you to come with me to Meeting Island Hospital for an X-ray. Once we see what’s going on, I’ll give you instructions.”
“Yes, Ma’am.” Shin shed her nightdress and started getting into her uniform.
Tatiana and Liberty came out of the shower and Oelabe said, “All three of you did very well in your first aid classes, and it shows.” She smiled. “Come along, Shin.”
“An Indian club?” Liberty asked.
“Yeah,” Shin replied, hefting the piece of wood. “I’m supposed to exercise with it every day – but not to hit people with it.” She grinned as Liberty looked at her. The canine grinned back, but her ears dipped a bit.
Tatiana looked up from her reading. “Did Mrs. Oelabe tell you how long you will be healing?”
“She said I’m supposed to participate in everything up until we reach our winter holidays. But, if it starts to hurt too much, I have to stop.” The red panda grimaced. “And to make sure I don’t cheat, she told me to tell you all that you’re supposed to keep an eye on me.”
“She said that, she did? An’ ye’re tellin’ us what she said as Gospel truth?” Brigit queried.
“I am, so,” and Shin did a very bad job of matching the Irish girl’s accent. “You can ask Mrs. Oelabe, if you don’t believe me.”
“We will,” Liberty said in Mandarin.
Shin said in the same dialect, “Your accent’s improving.”
“Penny for your thoughts.”
“Hm?” Hao asked, looking up at his fiance’s face. Xiu looked down at him. “What did you say?”
“I said, a penny for your thoughts,” she said with a grin. She ran the brush through his tailfur again. “You went awfully quiet for a while.”
“Well, I’ve been thinking.”
“I think we’re getting married.”
She grinned again. “Seems like a sure thing. And Honored Chu suggested January thirty-first.”
“Right. Where do you want to do this?”
The question seemed to take her by surprise. “I-I haven’t thought about that. Krupmark?”
Hao laughed at that. “I don’t think there’s ever been a wedding there, at least not the one we’re planning.” Since a traditional astrologer had been consulted for the date, it went without saying that the ceremony would also be traditional. “I can just imagine the reaction if we set off firecrackers.”
She paused in mid-laugh and looked down at him. “Will you be okay with that? The crackers, I mean.”
A day earlier, a snapping window shade had left him cowering under the dining room table.
He looked pensive. “I think I will. I think that as long as I know what’s happening I can brace myself. At least I won’t wet my pants.” He craned his neck and kissed her.
She chuckled. “You’d better not.” She thought for a moment. “I think I know a good spot.”
“Uh-huh. That spot on Spontoon. You know? Where you kissed me.”
He grinned up at her. “Sounds perfect.”
“Spontoon?” Hu Qing asked. “You want to be married there?”
“Please, Mother? Father?” Xiu asked, looking from one to the other. Hao sat with his parents, who looked a bit nonplussed. “It’s perfectly safe – “
“Xiu, dear, all of your friends are here, and they’ll want to attend,” Qing said. “Not to mention your relatives.”
“Can’t they come along?”
“That’s a bit expensive, Xiu,” her father said. “And despite what you may think, money doesn’t grow on trees.”
“Father, I know that. You taught me that, remember?” She glanced at her mother, and back at her father. “Please, Father?”
“Xiu, stop batting your eyelashes at me,” Renmin said with a tolerant smile. “That stopped working when you turned fifteen. Hei, you are truly fortunate to have had three children.”
Ni Hei laughed. “If you need help, Renmin, we’ll help see these two married properly.”
“I’m going to need the help, Hei, thank you.” Renmin paused to light a cigarette. “So. Spontoon South Island.” He smiled through his smoke as his daughter hugged Hao.
“Who’ll be the ‘good luck woman'?” Qing asked.
Peng put a paw to her chin and thought a moment. “I will have Shin ask the staff at her school if they can give her a little time away. I think she’ll be glad to play the part for Xiu.”