“First position, second position, third position,” Under each breath her legs shifted, movements reflected back at her in the dance studio, visible in the leather pants she wore. Beside her other women wore black tights, both adorned in satin slippers. A hand on the bar, they all stood along the wall, toes pointed downward and knees twisting. They were to be perfection, not a single thing out of place.
Navyri kept her head high, back straight as her feet shifted to practiced movement. She wanted her posture to be perfect, because she had to be. The Naer watched herself in the floor length mirrors like a woman possessed, observing every detail from the angle of her arms to the point of her toes. The scrutiny face was evident by the sharp frown upon her lips. How many times had she failed? How many times would she continue to do so?
First position. Second position. Third position.
Dark hair broke free of its bun, trickling over her eyes as the group of dancers moved on in their practice. They began slowly at first, beautiful flowing of positions to create seamless steps - Adagio, as the instructor had called it, even the swan like grace testing her endurance. But did she not have an upper hand? Did she not know the graceful ways in which the swan dipped, arching its neck in compliance to its mate. Look at me, it said. Remember the face of your lover. Forever. Always.
A light sweat began to build upon the small of her back and Navyri took a deep breath, putting effort in the act of looking effortless. Her feet ached and her leg muscles cried for rest and yet she stood like a tree unshaken by the roaring winds of fatigue.
She could do this.
Dancing, in all its forms, had fascinated the young woman. Even as a wee babe in the caves of Augiery, she has wanted to express herself in ways outside of fighting. Her mother had thought it less important than actual training, but on very special occasions and only behind locked doors, Deshira had shared a moment with her father, the two gently swaying together while she watched. So rare were these memories that they almost felt like dreams, and so the Naer stretched outwards, fingers reaching.
Reaching. Reaching to the past; to the nostalgia, dipping low. Lower. Stretch. Almost there. Gauis turned. He smiled and reached outward for her to join them. He smelled like oak and cinnamon, a splash of salt water. Happiness. She had thought him happy then, content in the arms of his mate. Hadn’t they a complex relationship? Endless and yet defined by cruel roles - master and slave. A freeborn bowing his head to the will of his woman, bound by chains unseen, locked in a cage so tight, he had forgotten how to fly.
“My two favorite lasses,” he crooned, as if captivity was as welcoming as freedom, pulling away from his wife to fold across his little shadow, enveloping the dark girl with a fatherly affection, nuzzling her cheek before tossing her in the air. She shrieked, just as her mother clapped her hands.
Gaius, in his attempt, continued to tease his daughter, trying to hold her in the dim room. It barely occurred to the Naer how much he must have struggled to see in the darkness, “That’s enough,” Deshira stated, “Navyri, go prepare for you lessons.”
She had wanted to protest - why couldn't she stay a bit longer? But to disobey was punishable by lashes and she held her tongue, Gaius patting her on the back assuredly. He had lost this fight before and leaned close, “One day,” he whispered, “I’ll take you dancing, under the stars and on the waves. Even U’frek will want to see you move.”
Her mother lunged.
Navyri fumbled, her balance dipping too quickly and she nearly toppled. Some dancers turned, others ignored her. She didn’t belong, why waste effort in acknowledging someone who would never beat them at their own game? Why was she even trying? So many memories of her past pressed to the forefront of her mind, like a pounding in her head aggitated by things long forgotten. She couldn’t think.
“Get it together,” she grumbled, ripping the ponytail from her hair and racking her nails across her scalp. Snatching at the strands, she tugged them back and tied off the cord, no hairs left falling in her face. How long would she tolerate failure?
Navyri slipped away from the group, refocusing on her stretches. Then to each position, making a dance of them alone, gaining confidence as she stepped. Even her en pointe was held and she tried to tiptoe forward. Small steps. Dainty steps. Unassuming.
“Do you need a partner?”
She turned, spotting a man holding out a hand. Blue eyes dropped from his arm to his face and then down again, “I should probably practice more.”
“Are you sure?” He shrugged, “You have the basics down. If you’re practicing for a solo, you’re doing great, but dancing is about finding a partner, right? Just because you’re here on your own volition and not being sponsored doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to enjoy dancing.”
Other women in the class turned, noses wrinkling when one of the few male ballet dancers continued to talk. He had a point. How long would she stay alone? What if someone asked her to dance outside of this studio? “Fine,” Navyri allowed him to take her hand, “but I’m not very good at following.”
He laughed, and placed a hand on her hip. When the music began to play again, they moved through practiced steps, the Naer stumbling once or twice with quiet vehemence. Her partner, whose name she learned was Nikolai, didn’t miss a beat, and led with stern fluidity. He spun her and soon the Naer was smiling. It was hard not to enjoy the practice.
She had forgotten how much fun something like this could be, “You’re good. How long have you been a student?”
“Five arcs or so… You’re not bad yourself,” he stepped with her and soon reacting to his steps seemed like second nature. There was no time to second guess, and while she found him too lean for her tastes, he was more relaxed than the other ballerinas in training. Their footsteps were barely dull thuds along the wooden studio floor, her own abilities in stealth keeping her feet light.
The two spun and they chased one another, their bodies moving in reaction to each beat, the music flowing through them. It grew louder, louder than their breathlessness, louder than their beating hearts. Nikolai took a different turn and then there was a gap between them, Navyri suddenly pulled from her spell. Their hands broke like shattered chains and she blinked in recovery, confused. Dazzled by the experience.
Then she saw his hands. They extended, arms outward, waiting. Blue eyes met his. ’C’mon,’ his gaze said, [/i]’Jump. Jump. You can do it. Jump. Trust me.’[/i]
Navyri hesitated, ribboned feet unsure to run or settle into place. She felt excitement, a thrill of dancing not often felt. The craft was still a foreign, forbidden activity, and shackles of guilt weighed her in place.
And then they did not exist, the dark haired Naer launching herself forward with renewed energy, legs pumping to throw her across the stage. She felt the attention of those around her, the jealousy, the disbelief, but it only lifted her higher on the wings of euphoria.
She was flying.
Flying before she knew what flying felt like.
Toes pointed, arms out like graceful wings, Navyri began to descend, her partner materializing beneath her and suddenly strong hands caught her hips, stopping time. Nav was delighted, arms wobbling as she feared he would drop her, but he reassured her, “I’ve got you.”
Breathless, she pointed her toes, their centers of gravity lining up and she tilted her head and stretched her arms backwards so that they created the most graceful alignment of imaginary arches. She felt beautiful - not just physically, but in a refined way not familiar to her. Graceful, elegant, desirable. Like a swan perched proudly, her thighs burned and her lungs ached, but when he lowered her to the ground, she still felt as if she were flying.
Nav’s toe touched the ground en pointe, and then her foot relaxed, lowering her to her flattened height. She held onto the biceps of her partner for a moment, the two looking into each other’s eyes. Look what they had done, look what they had achieved! The Naer didn’t need a tutu riding up her ass to know she had surprised them all, and with a sudden turned, looked into the shocked expression of the room. The music has stopped as well.
Someone clapped, and the room turned to face the instructor whose eyes were alight with something unknown, “That was quite the performance. A bit… uncouth… Non-traditional, but it shows quite the promise.” The older woman turned her sharp gaze to Nikolai, sucking on her teeth in contemplation, “Do try to stick to what I tell you next time?”
She snapped her fingers and gave a wave of her arms as the magic of the moment faded, and Navyri pulled free, returning to her bar. Back to basics, only this time with a smile on her face.