Tythel had nearly fallen asleep in the sun when she heard the crunch of footsteps on the grass approaching. She stretched and tilted her head back to see Tellias walking out of the mouth of the cave, blinking blearily in the sun. “Good morning,” Tythel said. Her voice still had a slight rasp from yesterday, like she was coming off a bad cold or had spent the night before screaming.
“Morning,” Tellias said, in the cautious tones of someone who had not been awake long enough to be certain of much else besides the fact that it was, in fact, morning. He settled into the grass next to her with a rough motion that was as much a fall as it was sitting. “Flath,” he muttered. “I’m not at my best first thing in the morning.”
Tythel rolled over on her side. “Give it a couple more months,” she said, stretching again, enjoying the languid feel of lounging in the grass with the sun beating down on her. “This war will make a morning person out of even the most hardened curmudgeon.”
“I’ll believe that when I see it,” Tellias said. He glanced at her, stretched on the grass, and his cheeks begin to redden. Tythel blinked in confusion, wondering what had embarrassed him. I suppose he sees his failure to be alert a personal failure, she thought. Tellias looked away, over to the flowing river in front of them. “I suppose you’re more used to sleeping in caves though.”
“I had a bed,” Tythel said in a tone of gentle reprimand. “My father knew how poorly human skin fares when sleeping on stone.” She tilted her head in thought. “Although I suppose the adjustment has been made easier in some ways. My skin is tougher now.”
“That can’t be all of it,” Tellias said. “It’s not just about skin. It’s also about aches and general discomfort.” He grabbed a small, flat stone and considered it for a moment. “I suppose it’s probably from growing up so damn pampered. I’ve slept on the softest mattresses of Shal’ah, with bedding of the finest silks of the Southern Isles. No adjustment in between.”
Tythel tilted her head again, blinking. “You sound almost bitter about that,” she commented, hoping she was reading the furrow of his brow correctly.
“It’s a stupid thing to be angry about. My childhood wanted for nothing. It just left me ill prepared to deal with the ravages of war – even the smallest ones.” Tellias stood up and tossed the stone at the water in a low, underhanded throw.
When it hit the surface of the water, it bounced. Tythel sat up in wide-eyed amazement. “How did you do that?” she asked, clapping her hands with sudden delight. “I didn’t think you were a lumcaster!”
“I’m…what?” Tellias laughed in sudden understanding. “Light and shadow, I never even thought about that. It’s called skipping stones. Children make a game of it. If you toss the right kind of stone just right, it will bounce on the water. One point per bounce, five if it skips at least once and makes it across.”
“That’s amazing!” Tythel said. “Can you teach me?”
“Of course,” Tellias said, motioning for her to stand up. She hopped up in an excited leap. “You want a stone that’s smooth. Flat stones are better, but smooth is what’s most important.”
Tythel glanced around and spotted a small boulder, worn smooth by water, about the size of her head. She lifted it with one hand and held it up for Tellias’ inspection. “Like this?”
“Erm,” Tellias said, giving the rock proper consideration. “Perhaps something smaller would be better? Large rocks just make an almighty splash.”
Tythel nodded, then gave Tellias a sly look. Before he could respond, she heaved, tossing the stone into the river. True to Tellias’ expectations, it tossed up a considerable plume of water before sinking to the bottom.
Tellias smiled. “Thus proving my hypothesis,” he said, chuckling as he did. He picked another stone off the ground and held it up for Tythel. “About this size.”
After a bit of searching, they’d collected six stones of varying size and shape. Tellias held one up. “Now. You hold it between your thumb and index finger, like this, and then you throw it from the side. Flick it as you do, and it’ll skip on the water.” He demonstrated the motion a couple times, then tossed the stone. It skipped four times before sinking.
Tythel stood the way Tellias had and tossed her own projectile. It hit the river and sunk with a gentle splash. “Damn,” she muttered.
“You have to throw with your whole body. It’s not just a toss of the arm, you want to pull it from the ground. Move your shoulders and your hips when you. Like this.” Tellias showed her the motion a few times. Tythel watched intently, but found it oddly distracting. Tellias was well muscled from years of sword practice, and his thin shirt clung to his chest and arms in the most interesting ways.
“Tythel?” Tellias said after a moment.
Tythel started, realizing he’d stopped the demonstration and was giving her an expectant look. It was Tythel’s turn to blush. I was admiring his form – I mean his technique, she chided herself, wondering why she’d gotten so distracted watching his motions, and why her heart was beating so rapidly. She’d experienced this before, watching Armin and the other soldiers on the practice field, but had put that to the rush of battle – even if simulated. Now that there was no such distraction, she found the sensation of distracted hypnosis to be more perplexing.
“Sorry,” she muttered, grabbing a stone and trying the throw again. Between the distraction and embarrassment, she dramatically overcompensated, hurtling the stone across the river with enough force it missed the river entirely. Distantly she could hear it clatter against the canyon wall.
Tellias barked with laughter. “Perhaps pull a bit less from the ground this time,” he said.
Still blushing, Tythel attempted another throw. This one didn’t go across the river. It didn’t even go to the river. She was so focused on releasing at the right time, she ended up throwing it almost perfectly horizontal to the river’s flow.
Tellias held a hand to his mouth to suppress the laughter. Tythel kicked a rock in frustration. This one, of course, flew perfectly into the water. She shot Tellias a glare.”I do only have one working eye, my depth perception…” she started to say in frantic justification.
It was too late. Tellias was shaking with the effort of holding in his laughter, and had to let a few chortles out to get it under control. “Maybe it would be better if I showed you a different way. Go ahead and get ready, like you’re going to throw.”
Tythel sighed and did so, her back to Tellias. He stepped up behind her, putting his hands on her wrists. “Like this,” he said, helping her move in the exact right way, walking her through the motion. Tythel found it incredibly distracting, and her next throw went so wild Tellias had to duck. Fortunately, that sent him into another burst of laughter, and this time Tythel couldn’t help from laughing with him