It is possible that Uotani's right elbow saved Keiko's life.
That elbow, strategically applied when Uotani thought (correctly) that no one would notice to Minor's left side, caused Minor to double over briefly as she marched beside her mother in the procession to the Royal Palace of Wroland, with ancient King Sigisimund II in the lead under the banner of the Phoenix and the Pegasus.
(The maker of the banner, for what it was worth, was incompetent, rather than artistically ambiguous, and the slightly cock-eyed Phoenix symbolizes nothing beyond an unsteady hand, as does the difficult of deciding whether Phoenix and Pegasus are fighting, dancing, or preparing to mate.)
Because of the elbow, which doubled her over (because Uotani was stronger than her, and because she was not expecting it), because her angle of vision shifted, because of the angle of the sun, because of how the wind pulled a flag (red phoenix, blue field) to one particular position at that moment, she saw the man with the crossbow (because though he was in the shadows of the high tower, because the angle of the sunbeam caught a spark upon the bolt's tip), and from there her mind mapped out--one, two, three, four, five, six--the likely positions--seven, eight, nine--while the procession went on in that part of a second when she paused for a moment to double over just a little--ten, eleven, twelve--and the most advantageous time for them to strike--which was now, with the angle of the sun just for a moment glaring into the eyes of the representatives from Amber
(For far future reference, a chart:
so that for a moment they would be just slightly less, slightly less perceptive than normally so, and, helpfully, Uotani, having taken that perfect moment of distraction (with the sun in their eyes) to elbow Minor just even slightly less perceptive than she should have been.
One two three four crossbows twangingly let fly, all on a summer's day, in Wroland. A careful, cunning, connivance, and all aimed at Keiko, the one judged weak enough (had she not nearly died before, of only two, and lost one child, and nearly lost another?) that four bolts all together, at the right moment and time and instance, could kill her then and there before her husband's eye and her daughter's eye and then
Two bolts sparked from the cobbles and one went into the back of Minor's left shoulder and stopped there and one got into an argument with the flesh of her lower back and won that, but lost the argument against the rib, which held firm and did not snap. Keiko's ribs did snap (two of them) as her daughter (adopted) drove her to the ground in the same tackle she'd used in rugby back at Ohtori.
when her family and every single other person in the procession paused in the wake of horror, the red on the white high-collared dress with gold-trim-and-puffed-sleeves-seen-but-not-yet-purchased-up-until-four- days-ago, they would let fly with the true
Hanajima turned and gestured and the winds rose up at her call and the little black spheres went back where they came from, explosively. A tower trembled and nearly fell.
weapon, so long in the making: the heart of a tree, blast-blackened by lightning, shaped and shaped at the lathe and the forge, tooled with silver, thrice thrice written with the prince's true name
plenty of time to get it off before the tall blond burst into his hiding place under the podium, where he had sweated for hours--should have hired someone to do it, was his last thought, but no, of course not, the son of the son of the daughter of much-wronged Duke Zymanowski has to be there to where in the name of all the pegasi did she get that bat--
"You broke my ribs, Minor," Keiko said, sounding both dazed and annoyed.
Another four crossbow bolts let halfhearted fly. Ramon turned and swatted them like gnats from the air. The procession had dissolved into a panicked stampede, with the Royal Guard trying to cover the king and his family and all the important dignitaries at once, except for those in the Royal Guard who were apparently a part of the conspiracy, like the half-dozen running with drawn swords towards them shouting (this was truly stupid) "DEATH TO THE AMBERITE OPPRESSORS!!!" and then just as quickly turning and running the other way as Ramon howled like a man who just saw his wife nearly cut down right before his eyes (because, of course, he was exactly like such a man) and came to meet them.
Under the podium, Uotani's bat rose and fell, and her fist, and her feet.
"Some of the perpetrators are getting away," Hanajima said calmly. Wind and the crackle of ozone swirled round her. "I cannot stop them and ensure your safety at the same time."
"You are aware you have two crossbow bolts in your back."
Hanajima nodded. Lightning flashed briefly through her eyes. Uo emerged from under the podium, dragging something by the hair. "Oh," Hana said mildly. "It's the son of the son of the daughter of Duke Zymanowski."
It is possible that Uotani's right elbow saved Keiko's life. It is also possible that it did not. That four crossbow bolts would not have been enough to kill her if they had hit. That all four wouldn't have hit. That the contingency spells Keiko always carried for defense would have stopped them (unless she had forgotten to renew them that morning because she was trying on different dresses). That Ramon or Uotani or Hanajima would have spotted something. That if Minor had not been there, to receive Uotani's right elbow in her left side, and double over, and in combination with that and the wind's pull at a flag and the angle of a sunbeam, seen the telltale glint, nothing would really have changed; that Minor's presence made no real difference at all; that the outcome was already woven; that the shape of things to come were altered just a little by her being there, then, in that space in space and that time in time, to greet the elbow with her side, to be there so that Uotani would throw an elbow in the first place.
By such small things are we often, or not, saved.
Minor tosses another one into the pile.
"He'll live," she says unecessarily. They all will, for a time, at least. This one with two broken arms and eight cracked ribs.
Various important Wroland nobles and officials flutter around, offering reassurance, apology, contritition, regret, shock, horror, and all other emotions diplomatically necessitated by the circumstances. A particularly bold one approaches Minor with an offer of assistance ("Pardon, Princess, but you seem to have, err, crossbow bolts...") and gets a look of such withering contempt that he nearly staggers.
Uotani comes into view, dragging two men by the heels. "Seven," she says, sounding both very angry and rather triumphant.
Minor points to her new additions. "Eight."
"That is all of them," Hanajima says quietly, assuredly. Distant thunders move in her gaze as she stands like a spire near a pacing, dour Ramon and a pale, seated Keiko. "Uo-chan, you lose this time."
"It ain't a damn competition," Ramon mutters.
"You got six, Dad," Minor comments. Ramon shoots a glare at her. She shoots one back.
Keiko says, "Minor, please let someone pull those bolts out of you."
"All right," Minor says eventually. Keiko nods to Uotani. Uotani approaches, rolling up her sleeves and making a pretense of wiping off her bloodied knuckles against her bloodied uniform. Every instinct Minor has bristles at the thought of letting Uotani get behind her under any circumstances, but with the gazes of Ramon and Keiko on them both, there is really no objection to be raised. Nor any reason to worry, she tells herself.
There is no painless way to pull crossbow bolts out of someone's back, but some are less painful than others.
"Sorry, Princess," Uotani says. "Didn't hurt too much, did it?" She tosses the bolts to the cobblestones.
"No," Minor says. Truthfully. Though Uotani made it hurt more than it had to; this she knows.
"They are not poisoned," Hanajima says, as though in response to an unasked question.
"Wouldn't bother me if they were," Minor says pridefully. "Mom, you got a healing spell? I'm leaking a bit."
"Of course," Keiko says. "Come here, Minor."
Minor kneels down before her mother (adopted), who places, briefly, a hand atop her head, and speaks the necessary words.
"You three ought to go back to Amber," Uotani says. "Hana-chan and I can handle things here."
"We're staying," Keiko says firmly. Ramon nods. There is no sense, in either of them, of the possibility of compromise.
Minor rises and looks around at the remains of the parade route. Guards are hauling prisoners away, some of them on stretchers. "I'm taking a walk," she declares. "Gotta make sure we didn't miss anybody."
"I said you and Uo-chan and Prince Ramon got all of them," Hanajima says mildly.
Minor regards her levelly. "Yeah," she says after a moment, with just a hint of condescension. "You did, didn't you?" Then she walks off.
Keiko frowns. Ramon begins as though to move after her. But now King Sigismund II is approaching, ancient, doddering, a shrunken shape piled under layers of gold-embroidered robes.
"My friends... my dear, dear friends... We are appalled at... will do everything We can..."
Uotani bites her lip for a moment, then shoots a glance at Hanajima and strides off after Minor as she turns off into a side street.
"Hit me." Minor stopped but did not turn. "C'mon, hit me. You want to and I--"
"You just stumbled."
(This carried, as such statements could, other statements: I know this is a lie, I know it was what you would have said if caught, I would have agreed. This way hate sometimes went: finishing each other's sentences, perpetuating one another's lies, maintaining each intricate, intimate act of spite.)
Uotani moved in, almost growling her words. "Princess (she managed to make the title into an insult), at least look me in the face when you--"
Minor turned her whole body in one movement. The point of her left foot came up and slammed into Uotani's right side, into the soft spot under the ribs. Uotani stumbled one step to the left, then another, and gasped.
"Feel better?" Minor asked sweetly. She remained poised on the ball of her right foot, left leg raised off the ground and bent slightly at the knee.
Uotani spat onto the cobblestones. A gust of wind blew a tangle of crepe paper and crumpled posters and ashes across the street.
Minor smiled, lightly, cruelly. Uotani snarled and lunged.
Rain began to fall.
Keiko looked up at the sky. A raindrop hit her directly on the tip of her nose. Ramon was astonishing her by managing to be diplomatic with poor old Sigisimund and his court. Normally, she would be the one smoothing things over, but all she could think about was a small body, wrinkled, unbeautiful, laid in earth and locked in stone, on the slopes of Kolvir. Did rain fall there as well, in that space, at this time?
"They're fighting, aren't they?" she asked Hanajima.
Hanajima's nostrils twitched slightly. "They are working out their anger," she said, mostly with honesty. "It is not serious." She paused and sniffed the air again. Rain began to fall more heavily. Hanajima produced, from somewhere, a large black silk umbrella, and unfolded it over herself and Keiko. "Would you like me to stop them?"
Never an end to it, Keiko thought. This is the other side of immortality for which I wasn't prepared. Foolish. It's not just the good things--love, friendship--that will last forever. All of it. Every single bit. Hate. Guilt. Regret. Failure. It scared her to think about. Where would she be when she was a thousand years old? What would she be like? If she was there at all. Not everyone made it. Ota, Lian, Moriya, Hiko, Morgan, Lucien, all in a dark span of months. Naomi, who should have been her first, who should have lived, who in any world where justice and righteousness and goodness really did prevail would have been the one taking crossbow bolts for her mother. David, who would have been her brother-in-law, except for some sickness that had turned his mother's body in upon him, from giver of life to bringer of death. Gone, all gone. How wonderful, how terrible, the vistas of immortality; how beautiful, how awful, to bring back the vanished with a step, with a thought, to fake the recovery of the irrecoverably lost.
"Would you like me to stop them?" Hanajima repeated. Rain tattooed the skin of the umbrella in a damp rhythm. Overhead the clouds were gathering thicker and thicker, bunching together into an irregular mass, like a flock of sheep huddling against the night or wolves.
"'A century of peace,' indeed," Keiko said distantly.
Hanajima said nothing, only stretched out her hand and held it cupped beneath the rainfall. Slowly, water began to gather in the hollow of her hand.
"My daughter showed good eyesight today," Keiko said eventually. Sigisimund's retainers had unfolded a panoply of umbrellas over the king and Ramon as they discussed... something. They seemed very far away. She rubbed her ribs, sore despite healing magics. "If not restraint."
"The princess and Uo-chan did it together," Hanajima said. The rainwater had almost begun to overflow in her palm. She tilted her hand to one side and mildly watched it run down over the inside of her wrist like a cataract.
"Oh," Keiko said. She paused, then smiled. "That's nice."
The fight, for those who may care:
Minor is faster; Uotani is stronger.
Minor is constantly in motion, coming in from one angle, and then another; Uotani moves to block, to grab, occasionally to strike.
If Uotani catches Minor and keeps a grip, it is over; if she does not, it will be over also.
A fight in the rain. Small feet splashing through puddles. Clothes clinging wetly to lithe bodies. A braid flapping in the wind at first, then becoming gradually so sodden by the downpour that it simply moves with each movement of the body like a whip.
The outcome of one particular fight out of any specific number of fights can only matter because of context, and in this context, this one does not matter. There is some equation: out of <x> fights, barring other factors, Minor will win <y> fights and Uotani will win <z> fights. y+z=x. (this equation does not account for the possibility of draws.)
There are, of course, always other factors. Decide the winner. Flip a coin. Roll dice. Count birds as they fly by your window. It does not matter. It alters, ultimately, nothing.
Eventually, Uotani Eventually, Minor Eventually, Prince Corey got lucky when the wore Uotani down, (how did he get here?) wind blew a scrap as inevitable as interrupted and beat both of a torn banner the ocean surge of them into the ground. aross Minor's eyes eating away the as she stepped in base of a cliff so Eventually, Hanajima, as for a blow. that the entirety requested by Keiko, made topples into the them stop. Eventually, Ramon sea (though showed up and considerably yelled at them both faster). until, shamed in their own individualEventually, they Eventually they got all ways, they stopped. realized they only sweaty and hot and Uotani fought so much pinned Minor down in the Eventually, they because they had so alleyway and was about to had to stop the much in common, and finish her off when she fight due to an really, how long canbegan to notice how very unexpected invasion you hold a grudge foretchingly her uniform of Vermicious before it becomes clung to her body, and, Krids. silly, just holding atrangely, she began to a grudge not becausefeel--XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX the grievance is still alive,XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX but because you've XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX _always_ held this stupidXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX grudge, and you know, theXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX the two of them would be really cute together, hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm? (it could happen! love conquers all!) Eventually
"Hi, Dad, I just got back from--oh. Didn't realize. I'll come back later when you're not busy, so we can spar."
"Hey, kid, why you looking so down?"
"Oh, hi, Corey."
"You wanted to spar with your dad, but he's occupied with that wench Uotani, eh? Don't worry, Uncle Corey will fix everything.
"YO, UOTANI, IT TRUE MIROKU'S SELLING YOUR USED PANTIES AT A DISCOUNT THESE DAYS?"
"IT TRUE OR NOT?"
"I told you you are BANNED FOR LIFE FROM MY DOJO!"
"Hi again, Dad."
"Yeah, you must be--ow! Hey!"
"For my sister."
"For my mother. You're slow."
"Yeah, well, you hit like a butterfly--ow!"
"For the Dowager Queen. You need to learn proper respect, street thug."
"You need to learn--ow!"
"For Uncle Demetrius. Come on, fight back. Hasn't my Dad been training you? I thought you were supposed to have potential."
"STOP DANCING AROUND AND I'LL SHOW YOU MY POTENTIAL, BITCH!"
"Minor, what the hell are you doing?"