Kalimè Silverthorn sat on the wooden steps and fidgeted nervously. Behind her was a simple wood-framed cabin; tucked into the darkest recess of a bamboo forest on the western edge of the Valley of the Four Winds. Inside, her Uncle Forosuul sat with a purple-haired Kaldorei woman, drinking tea, of all things. Though she strained her keen ears, she could glean nothing of the content of their conversation. She knew only that her uncle meant to leave her here, that this woman was to be her Shan’do, to train her in the ways of the Pandaren. Why she had to come and live in this remote place to get trained by another Kaldorei was something no one had bothered to explain to her. She had not even met the woman yet. Her uncle had told her curtly to stay out here. That was an hour ago. So she fidgeted.
“You are correct, Forosuul Silverthorn, this child lacks all patience.” Kalimè leapt to her feet and whirled around as the voice rang out, just inches behind her. On the rough wood steps, the sudden motion almost sent her sprawling into the dirt, but by pinwheeling her arms and throwing her weight forward she just managed to keep her feet, albeit awkwardly. Looking up into the face of her new Shan’do, she froze.
Kalimè’s face went slack as a maelstrom of other memories threatened to overwhelm her. She saw that face as it had drifted past each week, coming to be tutored by her mother in a world that never happened. She felt the thrill she had felt every time she saw that flawless magenta skin and that ever-present little sardonic smile. In a life that had been erased, her legs had turned to water every time she saw this face. In a life she had never lived, she’d had the mother of all crushes on this woman.
“Kali!” Her uncle’s rasping voice dragged her back to reality. She was suddenly very aware she had been standing there like an idiot with her mouth hanging open as she was presented to her Shan’do.
“I’m sorry! I…ah…um…”
Eyeing her sidelong, her uncle said, “Kalimè, are you unwell? Do I need to take you back home?”
“This is her home now,” interjected the purple-haired woman, “You have made me her Shan’do, this is her home until her time with me ends.”
“Estelæth, if she is sick…”
“If she is sick, I will tend to her, as is my duty.”
Kalimè spoke up, “I’m all right, Uncle Foro, it was..”
“Uncle Foro?” Estelæth said incredulously. “He is family, bandu, so you may address him as such, but you will use his name, not some childish…”
Forosuul interrupted, “Estelæth, please! Most of the family calls me Foro. She has grown up with it.”
“Is she mine to teach or not, Forosuul Silverthorn?”
Taking a deep breath Forosuul replied calmly, “She is, Estelæth, but she has been here one hour. She has received no training in proper etiquette, so try to be a little flexible.” Glancing at Kalimè, he gave her a reassuring smile and a hint of a conspiratorial wink.
Estelæth thought it over a moment, then nodded and replied, “I shall make allowances, at least for now, for her parents’ failures. She must apply herself if she wishes to overcome them, however.”
Kalimè, hearing her parents disparaged, began to make a retort, but her uncle quickly put a hand on her shoulder and cut in, “She will, Estelæth. She will be an excellent student.”
The violet-haired woman looked down her nose at Kalimè, sniffed slightly and said, “We shall see. Gather your things, child, and come inside.” With that she turned and strode into the small house.
Forosuul looked at his niece and asked, “You are sure you are all right?”
“I’ll be fine, Uncle,” Kalimè answered sullenly.
“Trust me, Kali. You will be in the best hands.”
Kalimè blushed incongruously at the comment, but said simply, “Yes, Uncle Foro.”
“Good. Now, you better get inside. Be respectful, Kali, but stand your ground, do you understand?”
“I guess so…”
Chuckling, Forosuul replied, “No, you don’t, but you will. Farewell.” He then descended the steps and walked away into the thick bamboo.
Kalimè watched him walk away for a moment, then sighed in resignation and went inside the house. After her eyes adjusted to the comparative darkness, she saw her Shan’do standing at the far side of the room, facing away, apparently preparing another pot of tea. The small quiet moment gave Kalimè a chance to look over her Shan’do more throughly. Estelæth was dressed simply, in trousers, a shirt and a vest. Looking more closely, Kalimè realized she was not merely dressed simply, but shabbily. Her clothing was old, and patched many times over. It was immaculately clean, but worn out. She wore no shoes, but the house was so clean her small feet were not dirty. Watching the woman perform the simple task, Kalimè found herself blushing for no reason she could name. She shook herself, thinking, stop being stupid, Kali, that was a childhood crush. It never even happened.
But despite her inner remonstrations, when Estelæth turned to face her carrying the tea tray, she felt her face go hot again. She’s so beautiful, she thought, how am I going to get through this?
“Why are you wearing shoes in the house,” Estelæth asked abruptly.
Taken aback, Kalimè stammered, “Wh..why…why wouldn’t I?”
Narrowing her eyes, Estelæth spoke slowly, as if addressing an idiot, “You are in Pandaria, bandu. One does not wear shoes indoors.”
Swallowing, Kalimè replied, “Oh. I didn’t know, Est..”
“Shan’do!” barked the older woman. “You address me as Shan’do!”
Kalimè took a step back, shocked at the harsh tone. “Y…yes, Shan’do,” she said, hanging her head.
“Now take off your shoes, and for the love of Elune look me in the eye!” Wide-eyed now, Kalimè snapped her head up and pushed her shoes off. She stood awkwardly, staring at her Shan’do. “Well, that is somewhat better. Now, sit down.”
Kalimè did as she was bid, saying quietly, “I…um…I don’t really drink tea.”
Estelæth, without emotion, replied, “And yet you are about to drink it anyway.”
Kalimè simply stared, her mouth slight agape, completely unable to respond. She did as she was told.
It was the longest hour of her life.
Late in the morning, Estelæth brought Kalimè outside, to the pond behind the house. They sat side-by-side on a rock overlooking the water. Estelæth sat cross-legged, her hands on her knees, palms upward. Her eyes were closed and she was taking long, slow breaths. Kalimè had been instructed to mimic her.
She was trying, but it was difficult. Normally, Kalimè was in perpetual motion. So while she was trying, little movements crept in. Her heel thumped, her fingers tapped. And with each little sound and movement, she could feel the tension radiating from the woman seated next to her. Outwardly Estelæth might seem serene, but a careful observer would have seen the corded muscles in her neck, the way her hands, normally relaxed, had balled into fists, the knuckles going white.
Finally, she snapped, “Elune! Are you ever still, child?”
Kalimè jumped at the sudden eruption, stammering , “Uh…no…um…not really…” Estelæth’s head snapped around, a look of astonishment and fury on her face. Belatedly, Kalimè added, “uh..no…Shan’do?”
Scowling deeply, Estelæth replied, “Are you asking me a question?”
Estelæth bellowed incoherently, fully at the end of her patience. For a moment, she looked almost embarrassed by her outburst, but that faded quickly. Visibly, she calmed herself, taking several deep, measured breaths. When she spoke again, the fury was gone, replaced with a tone of quiet contempt. “Forosuul Silverthorn says you have potential, bandu, and I respect his opinion, but frankly, your potential is difficult to see. You behave like a child. You have no discipline.”
As the harsh words rolled over her, Kalimè shrunk into herself. She hung her head, thinking only, I’ve been here less than a day, and she hates me already. Is this how mother felt?
Relentlessly, Estelæth went on, “It is obvious that no one in your life has bothered to purge this bad behavior from you. I suppose it is fortunate that Forosuul Silverthorn left you with me.” She turned and faced Kalimè again, a strange look of near-pity on her face as she proclaimed, “It will be difficult, bandu, but I promise you, as I promised your uncle, that I will overcome your parents’ deficiencies. They may have been derelict in their duties, but I shall not.”
It took Kalimè a moment to parse the words. The woman spoke almost like her father, but even Kalithil was not this brusque. As the unkind words about her mother and father sank in, she jumped to her feet, stabbing a finger at Estelæth as she prepared to defend her parents’ honor.
She never got the chance. The moment Kalimè’s aggressive intent became clear, Estelæth was on her feet, unfolding from her seated position like a water lily; albeit a lily faster than anything Kalimè had ever seen. Before she could react, Estelæth had thrust her left hand forward, palm out. The gesture seemed almost casual, despite the blinding speed, but when the palm struck Kalimè’s chest, she went flying backwards through the air, slamming into the side of the house. She rebounded from the house and flopped into the mud beside it. Leaping to her feet, Kalimè assumed a fighting posture. Still standing on the rock, Estelæth faced her, rigidly upright yet still relaxed, her right hand behind her back and her left still held in front, palm outward.
Growling, Kalimè launched herself forward into a torpedo roll, her fists leading the way. Estelæth, with a slightly amused expression, simply sidestepped and let the girl careen off into a stand of bamboo nearby. A few moments later, Kalimè came crashing out, roaring frantically. She raced towards Estelæth, who simply watched the headlong rush with a slight smile on her serene face. Kalimè threw a punch, aiming for Estelæth’s chest. With a deft motion, Estelæth swept the blow to the side, but did not retaliate. Kalimè tried again, and was just as easily blocked. With growing frustration, Kalimè unleashed a flurry of kicks and punches. Through it all, Estelæth stood, almost placid, one arm still behind her back, using only modest motions of her left arm to deflect everything Kalimè could throw at her. A slight arching of Estelæth’s eyebrow, however, suggested she was not entirely displeased with what she was seeing.
Eventually, the younger girl fell to her knees, defeated and humiliated. She began to cry, huge wracking sobs choking out of her. Estelæth waited patiently for the crying to end.
Between sobs, Kalimè said in what she probably thought was a voice too small to hear, “Why was I ever infatuated with you?”
Estelæth frowned, thinking, that’s strange. We’ve never even met before today, then shook her head to dismiss the thought and said simply, “Perhaps Forosuul Silverthorn is right about you, bandu.”
Kalimè’s head snapped up. She looked confused and her eyes still leaked tears, but there was hope on her face too.
Giving her a small smile, Estelæth said, “Sit by the water again, bandu.”
Seeing the tiny mischievous smile, Kalimè thought, oh, that’s why, then scrambled over and sat on rock the overlooking the pond once more.
When her young charge was staring out over the water once more, Estelæth asked, “What do you see, bandu?”
Unsure of herself, the girl answered, “Um…water..and…bamboo?”
Sighing heavily and trying very hard not to show irritation, Estelæth said, “All right, bandu, first lesson. When I ask you a question, answer it. Do not ask another question. It is permissible to be wrong. It is not permissible to lack confidence.”
Swallowing, Kalimè replied, “Y-Yes, Shan’do.”
“Hmm. Now tell me again, What do you see?”
“I see a bamboo forest, and a pond.”
“You are not wrong, bandu, but you miss an important detail.”
Taking a deep breath, Kalimè asked, “What have I missed, Shan’do?”
“The pond is low.”
“Yes, Thero’shan, the water level is low.”
“Is..um..there a lesson in that, Shan’do?”
Estelæth laughed, a surprisingly musical sound. “There may yet be, Thero’shan, there may yet be.” Smiling broadly, she went on, “But for today, there is only this; the water in my pond is low, so you must fill it back up.”
“W-What? I mean..um…y-yes, Shan’do. But..um. How?”
“There are two buckets under the porch. Take them down the hill to the stream there, fill them up, then bring them back and dump them in the pond. Do this until I am satisfied.”
Kalimè sat for a moment, unsure. It was a simple task, nothing to do with training to fight. On the other hand, at least she couldn’t screw it up. Jumping to her feet, Kalimè bowed low and said, “Yes, Shan’do, right away.” She then bounded over to the parch to fetch the buckets. Once she had them, she went running down the hill, eager to please.
Estelæth resumed her spot overlooking the water, shaking her head and laughing at the exuberance of the young.
Many hours later, Kalimè struggled up the hill, a full bucket of water in each hand. This was her fifth trip, or was it the sixth? Her legs and back were sore, her hands ached, and she thought she was getting blisters.
The first trip, she had raced down the hill and back up nearly as fast, full buckets in hand. After emptying both buckets in the pond, she had looked expectantly at Estelæth. Her Shan’do was still sitting on that damn rock, legs crossed, hands on her knees, eyes closed and a beatific smile on her face. She did not acknowledge Kalimè at all. After hesitating a moment, Kalimè started back down the hill. Slower this time.
The second trip ended much the same. Estelæth did not even look at her. By the end of the third trip, Kalimè realized that pond was actually the source of the stream. Thinking herself very clever, she had tried to fill the buckets a few yards from the pond.
“From the bottom of the hill, Thero’shan,” called out Estelæth.
Confused, Kalimè replied, “Shan’do, the stream comes from the pond. It’s the same water.”
“I prefer the water come from the bottom of the hill.”
“But it’s the same water!”
Opening her eyes for the first time since setting Kalimè to her task, Estelæth swiveled her head around slowly, locking her gaze on Kalimè. “The bottom of the hill, Thero’shan. Until I am satisfied,” she said in a low, menacing tone.
Casting her eyes downward, Kalimè picked up the buckets and sullenly replied, “yes, Shan’do,” as she started back down the hill.
The complaints began shortly thereafter. Before long, a steady stream of muttered invective was flowing from Kalimè’s lips as she trudged up and down the hill. She was careful to keep it under her breath when she reached the pond, but she was pretty sure Estelæth heard it anyway. She was certain she had seen the older woman’s ear twitch a couple of time, but her Shan’do did not react. So by the fifth (or was it sixth?) trip, she no longer bothered keeping it quiet. She complained at length and with gusto about her blisters, her sore feet, and the general stupidity of the task to which she’d been set.
So she emptied the buckets for the fifth (sixth?) time. Turning, she looked towards the rock, hoping that her Shan’do would say she was done. Except Estelæth was not there.
“I guess she got bored not watching me,” the young woman muttered as she turned to go back down, only to bump her nose on her Shan’do’s chin. Kalimè yelped, falling backwards onto her rear, and cried out, “How did you get there?”
Scowling down at her, Estelæth replied, “By moving silently, Thero’shan. A skill you apparently lack.”
Swallowing hard and turning red, Kalimè cast her eyes downward as she regained her feet and murmured, “Sorry, Shan’do.”
“You whine as a child. You have been given a simple task, and apparently you cannot complete it without mewling like a starving kitten.”
Hot, tired, and sore, Kalimè lashed out, “It’s a stupid task! It’s pointless!”
There was a blur of motion and Kalimè found herself sprawled in the mud. Blinking in surprise, she slowly realized that Estelæth had back-handed her.
“Speak your mind as you will, bandu, but you will show proper respect! You will address me as Shan’do! Do not forget again,” Estelæth said in an ominous voice.
Stammering again, Kalimè could only reply, “Yes, S-Shan’do.”
“Now, back to your work.”
“What? I’m not done?” the girl cried, her voice rising in pitch. Seeing Estelæth’s glare, she added belatedly, “uh, Shan’do?”
Slightly mollified, the older woman replied, “Not remotely, bandu. I will tell you when you are done.” With that, she made her way back into the house.
Whimpering quietly, Kalimè fetched her buckets and started back down the hill.
Hours later, Kalimè lay beside the pond, one bucket empty, the other full, her hand still gripped on the handle. She had passed out in the mud along the bank. She had lost all count of how many times she had hiked up the hill, had no idea how much water she had carried. The sun had set hours before. Exhaustion had claimed her, and she slept in the mud, half her face in the water of the pond.
Scowling down at her, Estelæth nudged her with a sandaled foot. “Get out of the mud, Thero’shan,” she said, loud enough to wake the girl.
Kalimè jumped, then sat up blearily, replying, “I’m sorry, Shan’do. I couldn’t keep going.” She stared at the ground, shame-faced.
“I see that. Get inside, your task is done for the day.”
“For the day? You mean I am not finished, Shan’do?”
“No, Thero’shan, the pond does not have near enough water in it to suit me. After we break fast in the morning, you will resume your efforts,” she said and strode back to the house.
Sitting in the mud, Kalimè stared after her in despair and whispered to herself, “How could I have bean so smitten by this harpy?”
“Thero’shan!” came Estelæth’s voice from the porch, “Hurry up now!” Kalimè, exhausted, turned slowly to see her Shan’do leaning around the corner of the house. The moonlight washed over the woman and highlighted her perfect face. She favored Kalimè with one of her little smiles and said, “Unless you prefer the mud.”
Kalimè, staring at the woman, felt her face grow hot and thought:
Oh, that’s how.