Poison Study Page 43

“Bet you’re as glad as we are to see them go,” Janco said. Resting his wooden training sword on the fence, he rubbed the sweat off his face with the bottom of his shirt.

“Yes, I am,” I said.

Looking toward the east gate, the three of us stood in companionable silence for a moment, watching Brazell’s entourage disappear through the gate.

“We want to thank you, Yelena,” Ari said.

“What for?”

“The Commander promoted us to Captains. He said you gave us a good report,” Janco said.

Surprised and pleased that the Commander would heed my words, I smiled at them. I could see Ari and Janco shared a loyalty to one another, an obvious bond of friendship and trust. Three years ago, I had felt that kind of kinship with May and Carra at the orphanage, but Reyad had torn me away, and the empty space inside me still ached. Rand had given me friendship, but there was still a distance. I longed to connect with someone. Unfortunately, my life as the food taster made it impossible. Who would take the risk of connecting with me when my odds of living through the next year were little to none?

“We’re scouting for the Commander’s elite guard now,” Janco said with pride in his voice.

“We owe you one. Anytime you need help, just let us know,” Ari said.

His words gave me a bold idea. Brazell might be gone, but he was still a threat. I thought fast, searching for reasons why my plan wouldn’t be to my benefit.

“I need help,” I said.

Surprise flashed over their faces. Ari recovered first. “With what?” he asked warily.

“I need to learn how to defend myself. Can you teach me self-defense and how to use a weapon?” I held my breath. Was I asking too much? If they said no, I hadn’t lost anything. At least I had tried.

Ari and Janco looked at each other. Eyebrows twitched, heads tilted, lips pursed and hands made small movements. I watched their silent conversation in amazement as they discussed my request.

“What kind of weapon?” Ari asked. Again that hesitation evident in his voice.

My mind raced. I needed something that was small enough to hide within my uniform. “A knife,” I said, knowing I’d have to return Rand’s to the kitchen.

More facial expressions were exchanged. I thought Ari might be agreeing, but Janco looked queasy, as if the idea didn’t sit well with him.

Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. “Look,” I said. “I’ll understand if you refuse. I don’t want to get you into trouble, and I know how Janco feels about me. I believe his exact words were: ‘She’s a criminal.’ So, if the answer is no, that’s fine with me.”

They stared at me in astonishment.

“How did you—” Janco started to say, but Ari punched him on the arm.

“She overheard us in the forest, you dope. How close were you?”

“Fifteen feet.”

“Damn.” Ari shook his head, which caused his tight blond curls to bounce. “We’re more worried about Valek. We’ll train you if he doesn’t object. Agreed?”


Ari and I shook hands. When I turned to Janco, he seemed deep in thought.

“A switchblade!” he declared, grabbing my hand.

“What?” I asked.

“A switchblade would be better than a knife,” Janco said.

“And where would I carry this…switchblade?”

“Strapped to your thigh. You cut a hole in your pants pocket. Then if you’re attacked, you pull it out, hit the switch, and a nine-inch blade leaps to your disposal.” Janco demonstrated the motion to me and mock stabbed Ari, who clutched his stomach dramatically and fell over.

Perfect, I thought. Thrilled by the idea of learning to defend myself, I asked, “When do we start?”

Janco scratched his goatee. “Since Valek isn’t back we could start with some basic self-defense moves, nothing objectionable about that.”

“Moves she could have learned by watching the soldiers train,” Ari said, agreeing with his partner.

They decided. “Right now,” they said in unison.

Chapter Seventeen

Standing next to the two oversize soldiers, I felt like a plum wedged between a couple of cantaloupes. Misgivings crept into my mind. The notion that I could defend myself against someone of Ari’s build seemed ridiculous. If he wanted, he could pick me up and throw me over his shoulder, and there was nothing I could do about it.

“Okay. First, we’ll start with some self-defense,” Ari explained. “No weapons until the basic moves are instinctive. You’re better off fighting hand to hand than wielding a weapon you don’t know how to use. A skilled opponent would simply disarm you. Then your troubles would be doubled. Not only would you be under attack, but you’d have to counter your own weapon.”

Ari leaned his practice sword next to Janco’s, scanning the training yard. Most of the soldiers were gone, but small clumps of men still worked.

“What are your strengths?” Ari asked.


“What are you good at?”

Janco, sensing my confusion, prompted, “Are you a fast runner? That’s a handy skill.”

“Oh.” I finally understood. “I’m flexible. I used to be an acrobat.”

“Perfect. Coordination and agility are excellent skills. And…” Ari grabbed me around the waist. He threw me high into the air.

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