It’s fun watching an aspiring writer succeed, even if it’s sometimes difficult to watch what the pace of success means these days for many writers. Mari Ness is one of those writers I’ve been seeing here and there since we hung out in the same bits of writerly blogosphere once upon a time, I think before her first publications.

I slice the throats of the two I have faced, swiftly, whispering the proper words, and dance above their bodies in respect. When I am done, I turn to my daughter and the third combatant.

The third combatant is good. Damn. I should have taken a better look, should have taken this one myself, and allowed my daughter, who has never done this before, to take on either one of my opponents. That is doubtless what the priests expected, and what the three combatants planned against—and with a little luck, it could have worked. This woman is almost good enough to beat my daughter; may even be good enough to beat my daughter, with luck, and although I had taken down the other two without difficulty, this woman and just one of the others—even that unskilled male, who may never have held a blade before this—could have given me difficulties. I swallow, and hope the priests do not notice, do not see my concern.

I cannot interfere while my daughter still dances. Not only is it against ritual, but it is also dangerous. I force myself to stand in the nyaki pose, that I first learned to hold when I was four, and watch my daughter fight for her life. She is good; her combatant is better. But then my daughter leads the dance over the floor, over to the combatants I have already killed. Good; very good. Her combatant sees the bodies, hesitates, slips. My daughter is over her in a second, slicing her belly—too lightly, but I will discuss that with her later—a knife at her throat.

I try not to burst with pride. My second daughter, successful in her very first dance. And against an opponent with skill, as well! I must not show this. I must not. But I do step forward.

“Well done,” I say. I do not add “my daughter.” That is something I will say later, when we are away from the floor, and can rejoice as a family. “And now, finish it with honor. As you have been taught. A swift blade against the throat.”

Sometimes we dancers need that encouragement, the first time. My daughter certainly does. Her knife hesitates, trembles above her combatant’s throat.

“Kill her,” I say, but gently.

The knife still trembles, but does not sink down.

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