PodCastle 159: Judgment of Swords and Souls

by Saladin Ahmed.
Read by Stephanie Morris.
Originally appeared in Intergalactic Medicine Show.

Layla bas Layla’s breath came raggedly and her blue silks were soaked
with sweat, but she was pleased with her performance. Ten beheaded in
threescore water-drops. She lowered her forked sword.

The clay-and-rag dummy skulls littered the packed-dirt training yard
of the Lodge of God. Boulder-faced Shaykh Saif kicked one aside. He wore
the same habit of silk blouse and breeches as she – he had been a
member of the Order for thirty years longer than she — but even smiling,
his craggy features somehow made the bright blue garments seem muted.

“Only seven-and-ten years old, and you’re better with the forked
sword than I was as a Dervish in my prime. And I was the best, God
forgive me my boasts!”

Layla bowed and sheathed her sword. She ran a hand over her stubbly
head and wondered idly how it would feel to have long hair like the
women outside the Lodge of God.

As if he sensed her thoughts, Shaykh Saif’s smile faded. “Almighty
God willing, someday perhaps your soul will be as disciplined as your
sword arm!” There was a reprimand in his eyes as well as his words.
Layla fingered the red silk scarf wound around her blue scabbard, the
only difference between her garments and her teacher’s. It was the
cause of the discord that was tearing the Lodge of God apart.

She said nothing.

Rated PG.