Bob Bosset took us through the correct way to handle a dagger, my main difficulty with which was an urge to grip too tightly. He also demonstrated killing techniques on a dummy, the target points gruesomely marked with red paint. The next step lay in practicing on less lifelike dummies formed of sacking stuffed with straw. The coarse fabric showed clear signs of repeated stabbing, and clumsy repairs.
“It looks as though your dummies are just about due for replacement,” Lisa-Louise observed.
“I like to keep repairing the old ones, Miss Lisa-Louise,” Bob Bosset said. “Once in a while, Cornelius Lock comes down to see how I’m spending the tax money – and patched dummies make him smile.”
“I’ve never seen him smile, General Bosset.”
“When I say smile, I don’t mean the word as someone might with other men. What I had in mind was the grasping the look a tax gatherer gives to economies.”
Unexpectedly, Tipsi was by far the quickest to learn. Less of a surprise was that Lisa-Lisa proved the second most promising student. There was little to choose between Barguin and me, while Diqui had the greatest difficulty. Naturally, I began to doubt whether she would be the most useful slave to protect my back – but it seemed prudent not to reach hasty conclusions, especially not before we had tackled all four weapons.
“How do you think it went?” Lisa-Louise asked, on the way back to my rooms. The rain had ceased, and we strolled slowly.
“I cut myself,” Diqui replied, “quite badly.”
“It went better than I expected,” Tipsi said. “All the same, when it comes to stabbing people instead of dummies…”
“I know, Tipsi.” Lisa-Louise sounded concerned, “you see in yourself more of love than warrior, when it comes to the warriors of love.”
Warriors of love, Lisa-Louise?”
“That’s what we’ll be, Tipsi.”
“Wasn’t that a set of stories about men?” Diqui pronounced the word men with obvious loathing and contempt. “With Richard the Lionheart and… oh, I forget the rest of them.”
“Never heard of the stories,” Tipsi said, “nor Richard the… what was it?”
“Lionheart,” Diqui replied. “You’re from Surrey, I don’t think they tell those stories in civilisation, and who’s to blame them?”
“We had plenty of stories when I was growing up in Surrey,” Tipsi said defensively, “ones about warriors too – Gwyneth Gay and her Laughing Lasses…”
“Perhaps,” Diqui responded, “we should call ourselves laughing lasses, instead of warriors of love.”
“No!” Barguin sounded genuinely alarmed. “That would be just asking for the ladies of lamentation to…”
“I don’t suppose,” Diqui admitted, “that we’ll have so very much to laugh about.”
“In any case,” Lisa-Louise diverted us from laughter and lamentation, “when she was a little girl, Tuerqui changed the warriors of love stories in her head – making them all women.”
“So,” I explained “Sir Greenwood became Lady Greenwood, and…”
“I’ll be Lady Yearning,” Diqui said hurriedly.
“You so are,” Barguin replied.
“What was special about Lady Yearning?” Tipsi asked. “Or should it have been Sir Yearning?”
“He,” I said, “or she in my version, felt for the princess what my nanny called a suitor’s love.”
“And, when it comes to loving girls,” Diqui added with a little laugh, “that suits me just fine.”
The Warriors of Love fight for real: