Tara set down the bale of hay and caught her breath. Her arms trembled, on the edge of exhaustion.
It wasn’t enough, though. She needed to be stronger. Needed to be able to defend herself better.
She touched the cut on her lip and winced. Still tender. As was her cheekbone and shoulder.
She’d at least gotten a few good hits in this time. Father had his own set of cuts and bruises to deal with. And not just from the one little wave that had escaped, before they hit her with the calm spell.
This was the way, though, she thought. Don’t rely on the waves. Be physically strong. Make him afraid of you on all levels. Give back the violence he dealt out.
It had to work. Had to.
Violence isn’t the way.
What was the way, then? Cower and take it? Agree to marry the next noble asshole they brought over for dinner?
Tara let out a small laugh. At least they’d stopped dragging her to every noble’s house. After the Buckingsmith fiasco, there’d been the Ashcrofts. Tara made herself vomit all over their table after eating half of a goat cheese wheel.
She’d followed up that visit with the one at the Yeomstons. That was her favorite. She’d bumped into every single delicate, and ancient, vase in their entryway and dining room. The sound of each one shattering had been music to her ears. They hadn’t even sat down to eat before they were kicked out.
If the beatings had stayed to just after ruined dinners with nobles, maybe she’d keep putting up with them. She could survive until she turned eighteen. Or, really, left sooner, as soon as she set aside a little more gold.
Father had escalated, though, and Tara needed to defend herself. Like Mom used to do.
Used to. Mom and Father weren’t fighting anymore. Something had changed.
That’s why he hits you instead.
They were getting along, for them, anyway. There had been no more arguments about selling the farm. Had they come together on a mutual goal? Found one thing they could agree on and put aside the violence. It seemed so.
Was it her? Were they so united in their desire to marry her off, they’d put aside their differences? Were they so afraid of her and what her waves could do?
Mira was gone. Living somewhere in Cyrodiil. Far away, out of their reach. Had she been a target, and now that she was unreachable, Tara was their only option?
Tara lifted the hay bale again, over her head, and back down again. She managed the lift three more times before her arms gave out. She slumped down against the back of the barn, where she was doing these exercises. Out of their view. In secret. She couldn’t trust them. Or anyone right now.
Maybe Hardan. Maybe she could trust him with the details of what Father was doing. After all, Father was the real reason she wanted to learn fighting skills from him.
What if Hardan told on her? What if he agreed with Father? Maybe he thought she deserved this, too. Maybe he thought she should be married off to a noble boy? He was an old, hardened warrior. Maybe his ideals were old and hard, too.
Who to trust? Anyone?
Safer for it to be no one.
Tara wiped her brow and took a deep breath. She looked out over the fields that was the farm, beyond that to the distant mountains. So far away. Away from all this.
The sky was beautiful, a rich blue with dancing clouds. A steady wind blew, cooling her off. She nearly dozed off, dreaming of those mountains, of lands away from High Rock.
The chickens clucking pulled her back to reality. Time to feed them again; do one more check for eggs. Always so much work to do on the farm.
She tucked the hay bale back along the far side of the barn, to use again tomorrow.
She was going to get strong. She was going to become a force to be reckoned with.