Disclaimer: Unfortunately the MS&T characters don't belong to me but to Tad Williams alone. I promise to return them once I'm done playing ^.^

Since English isn't my native language I would ask you to be gracious concerning grammar errors. Let me know and I will correct findings ...

The gold-brown finger froze in its motion just before it could actually move the carefully carved shent-stone from its position on the game board. Although the owner of finger and stone didn't stir another muscle, his posture suddenly seemed rigid. Outside the sun started to sink toward the horizon and its dwindling beams created dancing shadows on the walls made of moving cloth. After long moments of complete stillness the sitha moved his head slightly to cast a glance over his shoulder. Beside himself, the shent board on the low table in front of him and a small crystal lamp, which started to glow softly within the darkening shadows, there wasn't much to be seen. In fact the chamber seemed strangely unoccupied, as though it had become a home to someone just recently.

The sound of whispering cloth behind him was so vague that a mortal ear wouldn't have noticed it but the lonely player jerked his head up. Though the assaulter had been giving away his hiding place by the small sound, the assaulted could do little more than bracing himself before something leapt out from the shadows and collided with his slender back. The power of the impact made him bump heavily against the low table, sending the shent board and stones tumbling to the grassy floor. After the muted clattering of the falling stones had passed, silence sank in once again. The sitha stared at his ruined game, for the moment undisturbed by the fact that someone clung around his neck.

Now the assaulters head poked over the sithas shoulder. Surprisingly enough the head, which came into view, did belong to a child. It was a small girl, who clung at the sitha like a little monkey. With her small stature and her face of babyish chubbiness she didn't look older as a mortal child of three or four summers. Compared to her prey she was tiny. But the inequality to her opponent didn't seem to impress her at all. Wearing a mask of childish excitement she giggled and peered into the face of her victim. Her 'prey' on his part struggled to keep a placid expression on his face, but eventually lost against his features. This was less a testimony to his anger but more to the fact that he, who had barely reached his adolescence, lacked decades of practice. So he neither could hinder a frown from appearing onto his narrow face nor the irritated sigh that escaped his lips. "Could you let go of me, Aditu?" he asked in a silent but tight voice, "this is kind of uncomfortable…" But the little girl didn't heed his request. Instead she hugged her victim's neck from her position on his back in an almost chocking manner.

"You were surprised, weren't you, ani'ue?" she giggled "I was moving all silent to surprise you. Father said that I'm good at moving all silent".

The eyebrows of her assaulted brother shoot up. "You didn't surprise him like that, did you?" he asked, trying carefully to keep his tone neutral.

"Oh, of course I did. It was so easy; he didn't look at all at the tree I was hiding in. So he was all surprised when I landed on his shoulders". Jiriki tried to restrain his lips from curling into a smile when he pictured the scene: his tall and serious father having his neck and shoulders clutched by a child, who barely reached his knee.

"You were just as easy" Aditu announced in childish pride. Then suddenly turning serious in a way only little children could muster, she gave her brother a dark look. "You should be more aware of your surroundings, you really should". Her brother didn't return her look. "I was occupied otherwise…" he muttered and glanced at the scattered shent stones on the grassy floor. His sister followed his glaze. "Oh…." she said in a small voice and apologetically rubbed her cheek against his, "I'm sorry…I didn't mean to ruin your game". "I know" he said, no longer sounding irritated, "but you should be more careful when it comes to jumping on people. They could do something dangerous". She nodded but didn't seem too concerned about the prospect of jumping on someone, who was handling a weapon or a crafting tool. Her brother sighed again. "Who is your playing opponent?" the little girl suddenly asked, "I should apologize to him or her too. Now the two of you have you start anew".

The older slightly shook his head. "There is no one. I was playing by myself."

"Why would one do such a thing? Playing with a real opponent should be much more interesting" Aditu shook her head in incomprehension of adults. Her brother still starred at the board and stones in the grass and said nothing. Long moments passed in silence. "It is better to train by yourself when you wish to improve" Jiriki said suddenly, the voice full of some kind of grim determination. "I wish to become an interesting opponent after all". Aditu didn't seem to have noticed that her brother answered her question at last. She was completely absorbed by peering at his hairdo. With a careful hand, no human child would possess she extricated one braid from its place in the careful arrangement. "Mother allowed you to dye your hair" she whispered softly while admiring the lavender-blue braid she was holding in her hand. "It is really a pretty color. I want to dye my hair in the same color once I'm allowed to." She declared. Her brother softly sighed again and his shoulders lost some of their determined tension.

"Could you let go of me now, Aditu? This is really getting uncomfortable…" Something in his voice urged her to comply and so she abandoned her post on his back for the sake of his lap. From there she looked with careful eyes, as he placed board and stones back on the table.

"Why is being an 'interesting opponent' such an important thing?" she finally asked after she had observed her brothers careful actions for a while.

Jiriki had finished his rearrangements and starred now on the polished stones. When he spoke, his voice sounded small, as though as it belonged to a little boy and not to a youth. "What else would be left…?"

Hearing that, his sister laughed out loud. "That is nonsense, ani'ue!" she exclaimed "There are so many things to do! You could make daisy chains, climbing in trees, diving in forest fonds, collecting berries, sing with birds…"

"…or go home so your waiting parents could enjoy their evening meal without worrying about the whereabouts of their youngest". The voice, which spoke these words, belonged to neither of the siblings but to a woman with braids of coppery red, who stood in the room's entrance. "Haha'ue" Aditu beamed and struggled free from her place in her brother's lap, rushed over and clung herself to her mother's leg. As the woman's hand tenderly stroked over Aditu's white-haired head, the little girl seemed ready to bounce with happiness. "But before we can eat, you should give your excuses to your father for startling him like that" Likimeya's face and voice were gentle but firm. "Is father very upset with me?" her little one asked with her eyes now fixed on the floor. "You should ask him that by yourself, shouldn't you?" When Aditu nodded, Likimeya padded softly the girl's head. "Run along, then. I shall follow soon." Aditu turned to her older brother, who also had rose to greet their mother. She opened her arms for a goodbye hug and this time it was her brother who did comply. Needing no further encouragement the little sithi girl headed home, prepared to make atonements with her father. Jiriki didn't doubt for a second that Shima'onari's forgiveness would be quick and complete.

When the sounds of little footsteps had faded, Likimeya turned to her son. Her golden gaze was full of intent and seemed to scrutinize the sight of the tall youth in front of her. Then, her eyes narrowed for a fraction as through she had spotted something. She reached out and the gentleness, with which she rewove the discarded braid into her son's hairdo, would have surprised many. Something in the way her son turned his head to give her better access indicated that he wouldn't be counted among those.

"There" His mother's voice was deep. She took a step back and gave her son a little smile. "You, too, should think about your evening meal. Growing, in the way you recently do, needs a lot of nourishment. And since some of the things you grow in your garden look quite edible, you should be able to sate this need." She sharply nodded her head as if to agree with her own sentence. Then she brought forward something from her robe, which was wrapped in shimmering cloth and laid it into her son's outstretched palms. When Jiriki opened the small package, he found a fruit soft and pale like the moon above. With a last nod she turned to leave but once she reached the chamber's door she stopped. "Your sister is right, you know", she said without turning, "Playing with a real opponent is much more interesting. So once you are done with your training, your father and I will be quite willing to witness your improvement". With these words she left to rejoin her husband and her little daughter for the evening. In the darkening room, which she had just left, stood the young sitha, who was neither child nor adult, and starred at the fruit in his hands, which had been his favorite since the day he had been weaned.

Concerning sithi speech: I know that the language of the gardenborn doesn't show many parallels with japanese - if you ignore some of the names. But since there isn't a whole phase book for the language of the garden (I mourn this fact gravely) and I have no idea what else could be the fitting language in real, I decided to stick with what I know (at least a bit) and use the some modified Japanese terms instead :

Ani'ue: respectful way to address your older brother

Haha'ue: respectful way to address your mother

Please RR