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Iremima was nine when she first saw ice. Growing up along the southern coast near Duurludirj, she had seen frost only once, and the short-lived sheen bore no resemblance to the fascinating solid chunks of water floating in her drink now.Author's Notes
It was shockingly cold, and it made her glass haze and become so slippery that it took a great deal of concentration to hold on to it. The sensation of drinking cold liquid on the hot day was a shock, and she had to switch hands frequently, staring at the neat squares that grew smaller as the drink got shorter.
"What, haven't you ever seen ice, dock-girl?"
Iremima recognized the tone before she saw the speaker: Umini, flanked by several of his weak-willed followers, who were sniggering in anticipation of new sport. Beside her, Royi flinched and looked for escape. Umini was the worst bully of the first form, the graduation from which was the reason for this celebration. Royi, a tall, thin and under-muscled boy of Raalyan decent, was one of their favorite targets. Umini was Duurludirj, and had the dwarf stature that so many of them did. While Royi could tussle with any of the other bullies and hold his own, he found it too awkward to take on Umini, and the bully had perfected a sniveling whine about being 'smaller than everyone' to take to the adults and get anyone who picked back at him into a pile of trouble.
"I've seen ice before," Iremima lied easily, eyes flashing at the implied insult. Ice was a decadence, expensive to ship from the north that supplied it so easily, and more expensive to make locally.
One of Umini's henchmen shoved Royi from behind, snickering. "Royi hasn't," he guessed. "Royi's parents never made it past lettered."
It was untrue, but close enough to the truth that Royi's face went red, and his hand balled in fists at his side.
"I can't believe that Royi's graduating with us," Umini added, in conspiratory tones. "I'm surprised he learned to spell his own name." Umini was graduating in the top rank of their class, which made his continued meanness even less palatable - they were supposed to be judged on their ability to get along with others, but no adults seemed to see beyond the fact that Umini could collect other children who would do what he said. Fortunately, everyone who graduated first form was able to move onto the next, regardless of their ability to pay.
Iremima resisted the urge to lean over to hear Umini better, and eyed the nearby adults, wondering if she could get away with stepping on his toes with her heel.
"Too bad your boyfriend won't be able to graduate the second form," Umini continued, smugly. "He won't even be able to get into a guild with that brain."
"He's not stupid," Iremima snapped before she could stop herself. Royi had trouble with numbers and letters, but had an excellent memory and was clever at solving problems.
Protests only fueled Umini, though, and his grin widened. "Dirty Iremima and the brainless Royi..."
Being called dirty didn't bother Iremima as much as the attack on her quiet friend, but she knew too well that throwing a punch at the bully would do no good, and might get her banned from going out on the ship with her father over the semester break. She gritted her teeth, frustrated that no adults were intervening -- probably the pokes the children were giving Royi looked no different than mild, friendly rough-housing from where the adults were eating and talking about grownup stuff.
The cold glass in her hand was making her fingers go numb, and as she switched hands, a thought occurred to her. While Umini was chuckling with one of his followers over some banal insult, she reached in and fished out one slippery chunk of ice. Easily reaching over Umini's head, she dropped it down the open back of the neck of his new orange robes.
The result was enormously satisfying. Umini's eyes went big, and his head went back in a howl of shock and surprise. His short limbs thrashed as he ineffectively writhed to try to reach the sliver of cold that was working its way down his spine. While his cohorts milled around in ineffective confusion, Iremima took Royi's hand and dragged him away.
She spent the rest of the celebration dodging the sullen boy with Royi, and waiting anxiously for an adult to take her to task, but to her relief, the act went unreported.
On the cablecar trip home, Iremima could not help smiling.
"What was your favorite part of the party, sweetheart?" her mother asked.
Iremima thought about the formal ceremony, the new orange robe that she could wear now, the music, the fancy dinner, and the entertainers. "The ice!" she answered, without hesitation.
A result of the October Muse Fusion, prompted by Deirdre Murphy and Kathleen Coburn.