Glancing down at the uncharacteristically silent child beside him, Gerrard chewed over just how best to handle the current situation. Naomi was watching the sword match being played out with a thoughtful expression, her brow furrowed deeply and mouth drawn together in a tight line. She wasn’t usually given to tantrums, despite her tender age, but it didn’t take much to see that she wasn’t happy in the slightest.
Her father had summoned her that morning, along with her lady mother and Gerrard himself, and declared that she was to begin training as a knight effective immediately. Both he and Lady Midori had known it was coming, but at only six years of age now, the little girl hadn’t truly understood what she was being told to do. When she had tried to ask in that inquisitive way of hers, her father had lost his temper in a manner Gerrard thought was ill-befitting a man of his station, for all it wasn’t the guardsman’s place to say so. Her mother had tried to defend her, which hadn’t ended well, and Gerrard hadn’t had a great deal of choice but to hold the distraught child back from her angry parents.
Lady Midori was a gentle woman, not raised to the sort of violence and turmoil her life had become, but she still braved the anger of her husband in defence of her daughter. She was from Tsumetai, where the balance of power between men and women was very different to here in Ffion, and she held herself with a great deal of dignity because of it.
Unfortunately she had very little power here, and eventually her husband delt her a vicious blow that knocked her to the ground whilst bellowing about her dishonourable conduct. She wasn’t able to do much more than watch with Gerrard as Naomi was dragged forward and given a swift lashing for questioning the will of her father. It had been hard to watch, the child not understanding what she had done to deserve it as she cried and screamed in pain, but Gerrard knew that to interfere would help no one in the end. It was hard, but to lead the life now laid out before her he knew the little girl was going to have to learn sooner or later. It was better now, he tried to convince himself, when she was chastised with nothing more than a birch switch a couple of times, and not in any real danger of injury.
When her punishment was done, her father had handed her over to Gerrard and told him to see to her education until she was old enough to enlist properly in six years. He tried not to show how relieved he was to be given charge of the girl, and wasted no time in taking her out of the Keep, still sobbing, and towards the garrison. Lady Midori, however, he had no choice but to leave to her still furious husband, and prayed to the Gods that the poor woman had the sense to hold her tongue and spare herself any further torment.
Gerrard frowned darkly, watching the sword match with only the barest interest. They would spectate for a while, give the lass a chance to calm down, and then he planned to take her to be fitted for clothes that would serve her better than the pretty dresses she was used to. She had stopped crying a while ago at least, but he could see a storm brewing in those eyes, and knew she was going to have it out sooner or later. When she did speak, it was far more quietly than he’d expected.
‘Will mama be alright?’
Gerrard looked back down at her again, but she hadn’t moved a muscle. She just continued to watch the swordplay with that deep little frown, and so Gerrard turned back to do the same.
‘She’ll be alright, lassie,’ he nodded. ‘She might not look it, but your mama is as strong as Tsumetese steel.’
The little girl nodded once, quite solemnly, then hesitated a moment before asking another question in that same quiet voice. ‘Does he hate us?’
It was a damn complicated question, that was the problem. Gerrard didn’t think much of her father, but he owed him allegiance, and it felt wrong to speak ill of him no matter how justified it was. Aside from that even, Naomi was only six. Was there any way to explain the situation to a six year old that she would understand? In a way that wouldn’t damage her forever? Not likely. He had to find a middle ground.
‘He’s your father,’ Gerrard answered simply. ‘What he thinks and feels isn’t your concern, nor mine. All you need to know is that when he tells you to do something, you just get along and do it, as well and as quick as you can.’
She looked at him now, her brow knit together tightly and her eyes alight with an anger not suited to someone her age. ‘Why?’
‘You’re a soldier now, lass,’ he said. ‘At least until you’re old enough to take up your father’s mantel, but until then you do as he tells you. That’s your lot, just as it’s mine. We do as we’re ordered and that’s all there is to it.’
‘I don’t think that’s right.’
Gerrard didn’t really know what to say to her, and instead kept his silence. She turned back to watch the fighting, less slumped than she had been previously, her little hands clenched into fists over her knees. The silence stretched on a while longer, but as the matched ended, the victor standing over his opponent decisively, she spoke again.
‘Mama says only cowards hurt people weaker than them.’
Trying not to look skywards for patience, Gerrard wished her mother would be more careful, but still some part of the guardsman felt a pride for both females. Lady Midori wasn’t going to be cowed by her husband, and she was already instilling the same sense of right and wrong into her child. It was going to be trouble, but if Naomi was going to learn how to command others then it would serve her well to have a strong backbone in the face of adversity. Gods knew she was going to have a lot of that before her time was done.
Taking a deep breath, Gerrard turned to the girl and touched her shoulder with his large, rough hand. She looked up at him again, her bottom lip trembling slightly as she tried not to cry.
‘That’s why you’ve got to be strong, lassie. You work hard and learn all you can, and you get strong,’ he nodded encouragingly. ‘Because there are bad people in this world, people who don’t think like your mama, and people who need to be protected from them. You get strong, lass, and you can make sure that the weak have a champion.’
‘A champion?’ she asked, green eyes wide.
Gerrard nodded again, giving her shoulder a squeeze. ‘That’s right. It’s your job to look after those that can’t look after themselves. Your duty. In this life that’s all that counts.’