Thursday, January 4, 2001
“Good,” Doug grunted, as Arnbjörg pushed back against his strike with a block and a shouted No. “Fun power.” He took a step backwards, nodded. “Again.”
Again, and again, and again, blocking and pushing with her power and striking back, until sweat drenched her hair and she felt like her arms and legs were made of rubber. “Good. Enough.” Doug leaned against the wall and gestured at her. “Walk.”
She paced the small training room, once, twice, until he gestured to her, enough, and leaned against the wall with him.
“Fun power,” he repeated, and then, “Aelfgar kids. Always have fun powers.”
Doug didn’t say anything without purpose. Doug barely spoke. Arnbjörg glanced at him, waiting to see what else he’d say.
Nothing, of course. Well, it was worth a try. “What’s an Aelfgar kid and why am I one?”
“Aelfgar’s this warrior. Big blonde guy. Lot of kids. You, Aelgifu, Yngvi, uh, Leofric – that one you were fighting – Ragnvaldr, uh, couple kids’re his grandkids too.”
“…I have sisters here? And brothers?”
“Sister. And a bunch of half-brothers. Look for blonde,” he added with a little smile.
“Half the school are blondes…!” She’d noticed that before, actually. Lots of blondes, and lots of brown-skinned people like Jamian and Magnolia. “Wait, Ragnvaldr’s redheaded. And Leofric’s hair is brown!”
Doug shrugged a bit. “Sometimes happens. Probably don’t want to talk to Leofric, but you could talk to the rest of them. All one suite, too.”
The last time she’d assumed Doug was telling her to do something, she’d ended up in a fight with Leofric. She studied him for a minute, but Arnbjörg couldn’t figure out for the life of her what he was getting at. “Think I should meet my family?”
“I think you should.” He nodded solemnly. “Be nice to them, though. Not like the last one.”
“Hey, he started that!” Doug gave her a pointed look. “He started the fighting!”
“Mm. Don’t start it with these ones.”
That led to her, at lunchtime the next day, giving Jaya a kiss and then wandering, as casually as she could, past the table filled with blonde people.
Not entirely blonde: one girl sitting at the table, the one with six arms, had golden-brown hair streaked with two lines of turquoise. Across the table from her, cuddled up with the blonde girl with nearly Arna’s face – Aelgifu, she’d met her before but not noticed the similarities – was a girl with orange-and-purple striped hair, her girlfriend. The rest of the table was light-haired: Ayla, a tall blonde boy with a burgeoning goatee and short horns, and Ragnvaldr: a redheaded boy in a collar who was looking at a plate and waiting, not so much patiently as resignedly, while the six-armed girl ate her own food and some of his.
He looked up, noticed Arnbjörg, and started to say something. One of three left-hand arms landed on his shoulder, pinning him in place.
“Hi,” Arnbjörg said, pointedly, to Aelgifu but to the whole table. “I hear we’re family.”
The blonde guy turned around first, of course. He turned slowly, eyebrows already doing a Spock thing, like he was asking who dares disturb our repast?
“Well,” he allowed, “you have the look. You’re, ah, Arna?”
“Arnbjörg,” she corrected. Why did everyone have a problem with the full name. “And you must be Yngvi. Aelgifu, we’ve already met.” She nodded politely. “And…?”
“He’s Rory,” the six-armed woman answered, just as the boy started to say “Ragnvaldr.”
“Ragnvaldr? That’s even more of a tongue-twister than mine. Sixth, what are they, Cohort, too? Fun place, isn’t it?” She tugged on her collar.”
“It’s an interesting place,” Yngvi answered, like she’d aimed the question at him, or like he was shielding Ragnvaldr. “It’s gotten better this year, though. A lot of the poisonous people graduated.”
“Yeah, I hear all about that, in my – well, in Jaya’s suite.”
“I imagine you would. But I was thinking a little more poisonous than Ty.” There was something tight and unfriendly about Yngvi’s smile. “Anyway, you were coming over to make family ties? Hello.” He held out his hand. “My name is Yngvi, and I’m a son of Aelfgar. Generally, the pale hair and ridiculous names give us away. If that doesn’t work, we tend to be a bellicose lot.”
“Hey!” Aelgifu, who was probably the only one at the table Masked – it was hard to tell with her girlfriend, since the hair might have been a dye job, and the orange eyes might have been contacts – glared at Yngvi. “Take it back! I’m not bellicose at all!”
“I did say ‘tend to be.’ didn’t I?” He looked far too amused by this exchange, and Arnbjörg couldn’t really blame him. “I’ve heard you’ve gotten in a fight or two already?”
“I didn’t mean to get into the last one,” Arnbjörg admitted, “but I don’t put up with fools or as- jerks easily, and this school has a few too many of each for my liking.” She found her eyes going back to Ragnvaldr. “What do you think about the place, half-brother?”
“Rory,” the six-armed woman offered, “you can call him Rory.”
“…But his name is Ragnvaldr.” Said half-brother winced. Shit, maybe she shouldn’t push. He looked like he hadn’t slept in a week, and he wasn’t touching his food at all. Neither of those could be good signs, could they? Even Zita had looked like she got to eat.
“It’s a bit of a tongue-twister,” the woman countered. “I’m Callista, this is Ioanna. And you know Ayla – Aelgifu, I suppose.”
Something in her voice, something snarky and unkind, combined with Arnbjörg’s bubbling frustration. “And what’s wrong with using someone’s full name? It’s not like anyone here has a normal name or anything? We’re all freaks of a few different sorts.”
Callista stood up slowly. “I’m sorry, did you just call me a freak?” Rory tugged on her lowest arm and she pushed him away with a backhanded swipe.
Arnbjörg felt her rage bubbling up into something nasty and palpable. “Lady, in case you didn’t notice, you have six arms. There’s enough horns around here to fill up a hunter’s trophy room, and there’s a purple girl over there and I’m pretty sure that guy’s a vampire. Yeah. We’re freaks and we have long unpronouncable freakish names in some cases. Especially, it turns out, my family. Who you really ought to let eat. Now.”
Callista stared at her. “Are you threatening me? Did you just call me a freak and then threaten me, little Keptie?”
“No.” Arnbjörg made sure her words were very clear. “I called all of us freaks. And I suggested that you ought to treat my brother nicely.”
She was expecting the attack this time. She managed to dodge the first hit and throw a really nice no at the second hit, but she was not used to fighting someone with six arms, and the third one caught her in the gut.
Then it was a series of flinging arms and ducking and spat-out no, no, NO, until suddenly Jaya was on one side of her and Sheba on the other.
She expected someone to tell her to stop. She didn’t expect everyone to stop.
“I think,” Jaya said very quietly, “the lady asked you to let her brother eat.”
And, just like that, Callista gestured with two of her arms to Rory. He fled the cafeteria, tray of food in hand. “Fine. He can eat, but I don’t have to watch it.”
“Fine with us. Arna, if you’re done here?”
Arna followed Jaya and Sheba back to their table, entirely confused.