by A. Melchor and N. Kolm
The sun fell upon the royal gardens in a beautiful morning that Gisako
would have much preferred to pass with her private tutor. It was one
of the advantages of her father being a rich merchant from the Guild;
when the city closed the schools for girls, even the noble schools,
Gisako had no trouble convincing her parents to hire a private tutor
Nevertheless, she still had to play the part of the dutiful daughter
and accompany him to these pointless parties that the governor was so
fond of throwing in the middle of the week.
"Father...do I really have o go there?" she said quietly
as they went. She didn't much enjoy the thought of the party, not at
all, to be precise.
"Of course, dear." Her father said, hurrying his step. "I
have to talk with some of my fellows from the Guild, and it is a perfect
chance for you to meet a suitable young man..."
He let the words trail off. They had already talked about how good it
would be for the family if she could marry a noble. For all the money
that the Gizaletzi name was worth, it could not buy a noble title. She
nodded slightly, biting down the remark about how she loathed most of
the young nobles she had met so far, and she had met quite a few.
They nodded politely to the guards flanking the entrance to the palace's
main hall, and already the sound of music promised Gisako yet another
day of dull events. At least the food was good, and she was even allowed
to drink wine.
"Now, dear..." Her father stopped in front of her inspecting
her appearance. "You look lovely... just like your mother when
she was your age... Go ahead and have fun, daddy has boring business
to attend to."
She nodded and gave him a gentle smile, knowing how much it meant for
him and doing her part of her role. She entered the palace main hall
slowly, looking around, changing her bearing to that which suited these
Little groups gathered by age as parents brought their sons and daughters
mostly for the same reasons that her father had brought her. She spied
a couple of her so-called friends, a few girls who were tolerable and
kept Gisako appraised of the court's gossip. Not that she had a particular
fondness for gossiping, but she had discovered that if she could add
two and two together, she could have some insight into what the nobles
were actually up to.
One sight surprised her most of all... Lady Tzie, the governor's daughter
was there. She hadn't had much chance to interact with the princess,
but she liked her. She always looked like she was out of place in these
parties too, her eyes always darting side to side, as if saying that
she too would rather be somewhere else.
She smiled lightly and headed towards the young princess slowly.
"Greetings my lady." she said as she was within hearing distance.
Minding protocol, she bowed low before the girl.
"Ah... good morning." The princess said and narrowed her
eyes. "Gizaletzi... Gisako, am I right?"
"Yes m'lady..." she nodded and smiled lightly as she straightened
again. "We hadn't had the chance to talk much yet. And I do not
wish to intrude upon you."
"Ah... no, no... it's not... you're not, I mean." Gisako
couldn't help but notice that the princess was a little agitated and,
when she bowed, she also noticed that the hems of the royal dress were
wet. Gossip spoke of the princess being a bit too shy for her royal
position, a bit too easy to scare. No one spoke of such things in the
presence of important people who could report it back to the governor's
wife, of course.
"I couldn't fail to notice that you have a certain... hmmm... dislike
of these kind of parties?"
"Yes..." The princess sighed readily. "I... would rather
be in my quarters; I received yesterday a copy of 'The Seven Golden
Journeys' and I just began reading it..."
"Really? That's fascinating!" Gisako said a little louder
than she had intended to. She liked reading up on old history herself
and often persuaded her teacher to go through the history of the land
during their hours.
"You... you've read it?" Tzie's eyes seemed to lighten a
bit, her eyes even stopped looking around to finally focus on Gisako
"Yes... I like it a lot actually." Gisako smiled and inclined
her head slightly.
"I wonder though, why a princess like yourself would find such
things of interest. Not to be rude, but....you know..."
"I..." Tzie sighed again, something she seemed fond of doing.
"I like reading... It's like opening a window to another, better
world... have you... have you ever felt like you are in there? I mean...
in the world the book describes... not being yourself..."
"Yes... I love that. To enter the tale... to dream of being there,
to relive it in my mind..." she smiled brightly.
"I... I just began the tale of the first meeting between Edarra
and Petrigai..." Tzie seemed in a much better mood, almost eager
to keep talking with Gisako.
"Ohhh..." Gisako nodded and smiled, but didn't want to talk
about the book, not wishing to spoil it for the princess. "How
far have you come? And do you like it?"
"Not very far." The princess nodded sadly. "Edarra's
husband just died when confronting the Demon Prince Kailung and is receiving
Petrigai's band of fighters. I'm not a very fast reader, I'm afraid...
I like to savor every page."
"Of course..." Gisako smiled, relieved that she had at least
found some enjoyable company. "I'm glad to have spoken to you m'lady,
if I may say so. Until then, this had promised to be just another boring
"Definitely." Tzie smiled back. "I... I'm glad you found
me before the others... I really don't know much about jewelers and
don't care much for fiancées and affairs."
"Ahhh, just like me..." Gisako winked and smiled, then suddenly
noticed that she was indeed behaving almost as if speaking to an equal
and quickly bowed. "I...didn't mean any disrespect."
"No, no.. it's fine, really." The princess pulled gently
on Gisako's shoulder, who noted once again the trail of water drops
the princess' robe was leaving on the marble floor.
Gisako smiled and nodded, then inclined her head.
"Ummm...maybe you want to change that robe m'lady?" she said
quietly nodding to the water drops.
"Uh?" The princess looked down and blushed. "How...
careless of me... I was in the baths earlier this morning..."
"Ah, I see..." Gisako smiled and nodded. "I can wait
here for you if you like to change?"
"I can't..." She said, but closed her mouth quickly as if
she was revealing a state secret. "I mean... I have to stay here...
my mother's orders... until... uhm..."
"Oh… I see." Gisako smiled and nodded. She knew how
it was to have to follow parental guidance. "So...should I get
us something to drink maybe?"
"Uhm... right... yes... I think I can." Tzie nodded shyly.
"Allow me, ladies." A male voice interrupted them, jarring
Gisako's attention. She turned to the male voice, inclining her head
faintly to the side, looking who was interrupting them.
She knew this man; tall and in his late twenties, he was dressed relatively
plainly compared to the rest of the party's attendants; long, well-groomed
hair framed a handsome but determinate face. But the most prominent
feature in his attire was the sword hanging from his waist. Leial Azpikeri,
son of Diru Azpikeri whom Gisako's own father kowtowed to as the leader
of the Merchant's Guild.
"Well...." she turned to look to Tzie, for she was of higher,
much higher rank and had the honor of ordering first.
"Just... water... peach-scented?" The lady said timidly.
Gisako had heard that the governor intended to betroth her to this man,
matching the Guild leader's desires, but that Lady Matzidari would have
none of it, and Leial himself looked less than interested in marrying
"And red wine for me, please." Gisako smiled politely.
"Certainly." The man smiled gently and walked over to catch
one of the servants waiting on the guests.
"Are you OK?" Gisako turned to Tzie, inclining her head.
"Er... yes?" Tzie looked back at her, her eyes a pool of
"So tell me, which books have you read so far?" Gisako smiled
softly and nodded.
Glad to be back on familiar territory, Tzie began to speak an impressive
list of titles, going from adventure novels such as 'Rise of the Thunder
Chosen' to more scholarly texts like Tai Zan's 'The Twelve Princely
Mandates'. Her cheer was soon abated as Leial returned with their drinks.
"Here you go, ladies. Lady Tzie and...." He look at Gisako.
"I think we have met before, but I apologize for not remembering
"Gizaletzi...Gisako Gizaletzi." she nodded and bowed politely
as she took the drink.
"Ah, yes... it must have been during one of the Guild reunions...
I am Leial Azpikeri."
She nodded and smiled, again, politely. There was nothing of the cheerful
smile that she had shown Tzie earlier however.
"Don't tell me." Leial smiled. "You are here too by
your father's orders, paraded like a slab of meat in the market, if
you pardon the comparison."
"Is it that obvious?" Gisako smiled lightly and shook her
"Let us just said that my ears caught a conversation not dealing
with the latest doings of somebody's husband on somebody else's wife
and I was drawn like a drowning man to a piece of driftwood." Leial
chuckled slightly, nodding in the girls' direction.
"Oh indeed?" A little of the cheerfulness returned to Gisako's
features and she nodded to Tzie. "I was lucky to find Lady Tzie
"A lucky find, definitely." He nodded, and Tzie blushed slightly.
"Although I'm afraid I am not as cultured as my lady... my days
are taken with the steps along the way of the sword."
"I had figured..." she smiled and nodded to the sword. "But
you still prefer books over the most interesting developments in local
society?" she asked with a hint of sarcasm, not directed at him.
"I prefer anything to that." He laughed softly. "I can
count myself fortunate that 'anything' turned out to be actually interesting...
'Rise of the Thunder Chosen' is a particular favorite of mine."
"I haven't read it myself yet, as I stuck to history books mostly."
Gisako smiled and nodded to Tzie again. "But the princess has a
rather wide variety of books."
"I... yes..." Tzie smiled weakly. "The Thunder Chosen...it's
about the founding of the major fighting schools."
"Including the Hawk's Talons, which I follow." Leial nodded,
but then his expression changed. Gisako felt the subtle change of mood
in the entire room that meant that something had caught the guests’
A woman had literally stormed into the room, one Gisako had never seen
before. She was clothed in a very rich dress, but Gisako could tell
that she was missing its accompanying accessories. The woman had a fierce
beauty about herself, with her hair done in a very utilitarian fashion
and her skin tanned by staying under the sun for a prolonged time. She
was holding a sheathed sword in her left hand, and her whole stance
said that she knew how to use it.
"Ummm...who is that?" Gisako whispered quietly.
"Excuse me..." Leial nodded politely to them and walked towards
the newcomer, his gaze transfixed by her presence.
"That is... she is..." Tzie stammered a little. "Lady
Derrexi Tzelan... firstborn daughter of House Tzelan."
Gisako was very surprised at this. House Tzelan, the Keepers of the
Swords, one of the most important Noble Houses in the empire.
"Oh, wow..." she looked at the woman quietly, inclining her
head to take in the full presence.
"She sure doesn't look happy."
"I guess... she didn't like the dress..." Tzie spoke softly.
Just then, a servant girl arrived with a tray of drinks, which Gisako
found strange as they already had some.
"I... I'm sorry... I have to go now." Tzie said and left without
further explanation. The servant girl bowed to Gisako, waiting for her
"Uh....thanks, I'm OK." Gisako looked around at Tzie leaving
and back to the servant girl.
The servant girl nodded and faded back into the crowd of gossiping guests.
By now, Leial was talking with the Tzelan woman, and her expression
seemed to have mollified.
Gisako sighed and retreated to a corner of the room. Her only source
of interesting conversation gone, she now was no where nearly as cheerful
as before. There was already a lot of speculation that she could hear
about the strange newcomer. Jilted lover, wife of a swordmaster, even
pretentious prostitute was thrown around the gossip mill.
The woman, obviously a warrior to any who took the smallest interest
in actually looking at her seemed to enjoy Leial's company, even seemed
to briefly flirt with him before heading off into one of the hall's
side rooms. Leial was left there, with a thoughtful expression on his
Gisako sighed, taking a sip from the wine and remaining where she was.
She wondered why the swordmistress was here and what her arrival implied.
Leial too drifted off in his own direction. And then Gisako glimpsed
the same servant girl that had interrupted her and Tzie, walking off
towards a small door, without any tray in her hands. Nobody paid any
attention to her, as nobles and rich scions were wont to do with anyone
they considered their inferior.
Gisako inclined her head and, curiosity overtaking her, she headed
after the servant girl quietly. The corridor beyond the door was dark,
perhaps too dark for being almost noon, and she thought she could hear
voices. As quietly as she could she walked along the corridor, trying
to hear what was being said.
"...make sure her meeting with Lord Matzidari is not as... pleasant."
A husky voice spoke barely above a whisper.
"Pfeh... the governor is quite capable of that by himself."
Another, clearer voice rebutted.
Gisako narrowed her eyes and edged closer slowly. This was very interesting.
She was startled by a sudden metallic sound, and she caught a glimpse
of something shiny reflecting what little light was available.
"Silence, girl! Speak not of what you only suspect!" The husky
voice sounded angry. "Now get to your task."
"Right, right..." The clear one was startled, but Gisako was
surprised at how she, for it was clearly a female, kept her composure.
"Don't get so... hmph..."
Gisako heard steps coming her way; one of the persons she had surprised
was walking back out.
'Damn!' she thought to herself and slowly edged back, trying to remain
in the shadows.
The servant girl stomped on her way out, obviously annoyed, but cleared
her throat and breathed deeply before going back out, putting on her
meek and servile mask. Fortunately for Gisako, she seemed too preoccupied
to notice her presence.
Gisako let out a slow breath, relieved and waited for a bit until she,
herself left the darkened corridor.
Suddenly, the shadows came alive around her, or so it seemed. She felt
a small but strong hand grab her throat from behind, and something sharp
press against her lower back.
"How much did you hear, girl?" It was the husky voice.
"I...I heard nothing....just some voices arguing." Gisako
said, widening her eyes as she realized she was in a rather dangerous
"Don't lie." The voice approached her ear; it was coming
out muffled, as if the owner was wearing something over her mouth. Now
she felt something cold and metallic brush against her face.
"I'm not lying...just something about an encounter being unpleasant
Gisako whispered quietly, doing her best not to sound too afraid.
She blinked hard, it must be her imagination, or the corridor was getting
"Why did you come here?" The voice sounded practically next
to Gisako's ear, and she realized that the cold feeling must be some
kind of mask her assailant was wearing.
"I... saw that servant girl go in here... I was talking to Princess
Tzie and that girl seemed to... I don't know... cause her to leave...
I was just curious." Gisako answered truthfully.
"Really?" There was some slight irony in that question. "Are
you so interested in the comings and goings of servant girls?"
"Not in any servant girl... but in servant girls who cause princesses
to leave suddenly without explanation and quite hurriedly, yes."
Gisako found some of her usual resolve inside her and her voice sounded
more firm now.
"Aha." The voice chuckled. Gisako couldn't tell if it was
male or female, although she was leaning towards the latter. "Now...
give me a reason I should not kill you right now."
"There is no reason to kill me. I don't even know what's going
on here and I haven't done anything wrong."
"You have good eyes." The voice spoke softer, contrary to
her action of pressing the weapon a little harder against Gisako's back.
"What do you intend to do with those eyes?"
"For now, I intend to go back into the main hall and pretend to
enjoy myself." Gisako said quietly. She was still afraid, but she
managed to hold up a brave facade.
"Good... and if you see that servant girl again?"
"I'll probably order a drink..." Gisako said and narrowed
her eyes lightly.
The voice chuckled again, and now Gisako could tell it was female.
"I like you." She said. "You are observant, and smart...
maybe one day I or one of my sisters will look for you and take you
into the shadow of the Moon."
Gisako felt the pressure soften and disappear, and the corridor did
get lighter as she heard a soft rustle of clothing and then nothing.
She turned around slowly, her eyes darting from side to side.
The corridor was completely empty, stretching for several feet and
ending at a door she had not heard open or close. That she could now
see the end of the corridor and not before only added to the strangeness
of the encounter, until two words the strange woman had said clicked
together in Gisako's head. The shadow of the Moon... the Moonshades!
"Oh my..." she whispered and then quickly retreated from
the corridor, leaning against a wall in the main hall to breathe again
deeply, her eyes wide with shock.
"Gisako! There you are!" One of her infrequent friends spotted
her and walked over her in the company of two other girls. "Did
you see that woman walk in? I mean, that was -so- rude!"
"Rude?" Gisako blinked, her features chalk white and nodded
faintly. "Ah yes...that swordmistress you mean?"
"Oh, that's what she was?" The first girl pouted.
"Oh; you look pale!" Another girl laughed. "Did an ugly
and poor boy just propose to you?"
Quickly gathering up her usual facade, Gisako joined in the fake laughter
and then returned to her smile, which was just as false. Her mind was
still hovering on the events.
Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed the servant girl standing
near the entrance of that side room the swordswoman had walked into.
The voice of their friends was little more than an annoying buzz as
Gisako felt something cold run down her back; the servant girl had just
made a series of gestures with her hands and still no one was noticing
She remained calm, or tried to, but she couldn't help thinking that
this girl was a Moonshade, one of the spies and assassins that populated
many folk tales and legends.
A few moments passed before Lady Tzelan walked out of the room, apparently
even angrier than when she had arrived. Gisako narrowed her eyes slightly,
watching the woman and guessing that whatever the two Moonshades had
discussed back there had worked out as the husky voice had planned it.
"My name is Derrexi Tzelan of House Tzelan!" The woman stood
at the centre of the room and shouted, calling attention immediately.
"I am here on Imperial orders to found a cadre of Hawk Maidens
on orders by Empress Edarra!"
Gisako widened her eyes immediately. She edged closer to the woman,
not wanting to miss a single thing.
"All girls of teenage and older age are welcomed to join!"
The woman continued, venting some of her anger in her speech. "You
would be part of the premier order of girl warriors in the Empire, beholden
only to the Empress and the goddess Zuze'en herself!"
Her lips slowly spread into a smile as she thought about this. It sounded
too good to be true. Here was her chance to dive into the stories she
had read. To be different, to do something besides attending boring
"I shall take residence in the Lighthouse Fort at the Southern
cliffs and will begin recruitment in less than a week." The woman
was calming down, but Gisako could still feel the strength of her spirit
even at that distance. And she could even see a few little scars marring
the otherwise perfect skin of her arms. Here was a true noble lady,
not like Gisako who was only merely rich, yet she was holding her sword
proudly, rejecting the vestments of wealth that came with her station.
Gisako smiled and inclined her head, but her smile dropped a little
when she thought about what her father would say to such a thing. He
would never allow this, certainly.
"As one of the holiest warrior orders in the empire,” As
if reading her thoughts, the woman continued. “Once you are accepted
and you pledge your life to the Hawk Maidens, you are free from all
previous pledges and obligations; your life is Zuze'en's, not your parents',
not your fiancee's, not anybody else's."
This caused a lot of stirring in the crowd.
Gisako smiled brightly then and moved towards the exit of the main
hall quietly, hoping to intercept the swordmistress there. Her father
would not allow her going there and she was afraid he would go to any
lengths to keep her at home.
There were actually some jeers amongst the assembled fops, which did
nothing to calm the woman's mood. She walked out of the hall, ignoring
all the comments she was garnering on her way.
"M'lady..." she said as she passed her position, edging a
"Save it!" The woman barked, surely confusing Gisako's address
as just another of the piling insults.
"I...uh...I'm sorry..." she said, bowing softly. "I
just wanted to...apply...?"
That seemed to have an effect. The woman stopped and looked at her
with a mix of surprise and relief.
"Follow me." She said, nodding towards the nearby gardens.
"Yes..." she nodded and followed as the woman had said, walking
Gisako was used to lady-like steps and had to push herself to keep
up with the swordmistress' quick stride.
"What's your name?" Lady Tzelan asked.
"Gisako Gizaletzi, m'lady."
"And you wish to join the Hawk Maidens... why?" She slowed
and turned to face Gisako now that they were in the gardens.
"I...." Gisako swallowed lightly and looked up to meet the
"I am quite frankly interested more in being something other than...than
a show-around doll to gain my father a better position."
Lady Tzelan had a piercing gaze, reading GIsako up and down, as if
weighing the worthiness of her intentions.
"I've heard rumors about marauding demonspawn in the passes."
The warrior said. "You are aware that once I deem your training
sufficiently enough we may very well go and support the Watch in their
"I had figured as much m'lady." Gisako nodded and did not
flinch under the gaze, but held it as best she could.
"You also realize that this..." She touched Gisako's rich
dress with the handle of her sword, then did likewise with the dress
she was wearing. "This will be gone; you will sleep in a mat on
the floor, wake up early and work hard; no more parties, nor fine food,
nor fine wine."
"Which is the main reason I want to join." The girl said,
Lady Tzelan smiled and nodded approvingly. Her brown eyes softened
and gave Gisako the feeling that there was more to this woman than what
"Then I will welcome you gladly." She said finally.
Gisako heard soft running steps along the garden's walkways, coming
She smiled, bowed softly and turned to look at who was approaching.
It was, surprisingly, Lady Tzie.
"L-lady Tzelan... wait...!" The girl hurried and almost stumbles
to the ground.
Gisako was quick to support the girl as she stumbled, helping her keep
"Uhm... thanks..." Tzie muttered and then composed herself,
giving Gisako a very strange look before addressing the older woman.
"Lady Tzelan... my mother awaits..."
"Ah, yes, yes..." Lady Tzelan put a hand on her forehead.
"Well... no point in delaying the inevitable... let's go, Lady
Matzidari... Miss Gizaletzi, it was a pleasure to meet you."
"Thank you..." Gisako nodded, bowed softly to both of them
and watched as they left.
It was strange seeing the two side by side; both of noble blood and
yet neither behaving as Gisako had been taught to expect from nobility.
It was a refreshing sight.