Later, after Vekken and Ajan have left, I say, “Why?”
“…did I take the training?” he guesses.
” ‘To subdue the unarmed,’” I quote from The Admonishments. “That’s what you told him. Is that really it?”
“Yes,” he says.
“And for that you needed to be trained in all of it,” I say, dubious. “The killing, the weapons-use, the… conversations.”
He says, “Subduing the unarmed is the most advanced form of Guardian training. I could not learn it without undergoing the rest.”
I suppose my puzzlement is too obvious, because he crouches in front of me and offers a palm. I glance at him, startled, then tentatively give him my hand and watch as he twists it until the tendons stand on end and my forearm shakes. It’s uncomfortable, but not actually painful.
“This,” he says, “is enough force to snap an Ai-Naidari wrist.”
“This?” I say, appalled.
“We are far lighter-boned than you are, and more fragile,” he says. “To hurt someone grievously is easy. To still them without harming them… that takes a mastery so complete that it must be practiced constantly. So I practice.”
“You’re serious,” I say, staring at his hand. “Just this? I knew you were brittle, but how do you keep from breaking an arm just bumping into a wall??”
He smiles. “You think our clothing is for warmth or decoration only?”
I think of the layers and layers of their robes and say, shocked, “Armor!”
“Just so,” he says and lets my hand go.
I stare at him in disbelief. “If you’re all so fragile, how do you keep from hurting one another all the time just… hugging each other?”
“We are used to our own bodies, you forget,” he says. “We know what they can and can’t take. It would not occur to us to behave otherwise. But now perhaps you see why we are so careful of violence, qiqirini. For Ai-Naidar, there is only peace… and annihilation. To fight is to die, so we pick our battles carefully.”
“And when you do pick them,” I say, trailing off.