By the Bluedragon
I woke to a similar sight I had witnessed the day before. Lyliane had brought a tray for the morning meal. The three of them were happily consuming the meal. I dressed quickly and joined them. I almost feared they would finish the entire tray. My fears were groundless as there was plenty left for my meal.
Siveruian arrived as we were finishing the morning meal. The little chamberlain seemed in great haste. He nodded to the others and took a seat at the table. Lyliane handed him a mug of viniare. He smiled his gratitude.
"Torienne, today shall be a bit different than the usual day. Morning court shall be held as usual, however late court shall not on this day. From the midday meal on there shall be entertainment in the court, feasts and various other festivities." His tone made it clear he was not fond of festivities. "You shall still be required to instruct Soliumant in the art of the sword, but that shall now be before the midday meal. You shall only be required to attend the late festivities when the Jilhsaed attends them, as he will today. Someone will send for you in the case your presence shall be required."
"It sounds agreeable." I told him. "Will they be able to attend the festivities?" I nodded to my companions.
"They are not prohibited from attending the ones in the palace, however I should not let them wander through the city. Every festival cost us in servants. We know not who takes them, but several dozen are reported missing after every festival." He advised.
"I shall prohibit them to attend the festivities in the city as you suggest." I said gravely. I did not need any of my companions to disappear. It would take all of us to carry out the plan.
"Then I shall return to my duties." He stood to leave. "I have to rouse the mute. He will be needed for a meeting, as you will as well after the midday meal and before the start of the festivities. Meet me in the court chamber and I shall escort you both to the Jilhsaed."
"My gratitude." I bowed my head to him. "I shall be there promptly."
"Good." He left the chamber.
"And so it begins." I told my companions. "Someone have Sal and Iolaine meet us here for the midday meal."
"I shall see to that after I escort Sevianth to his lessons." Lyliane volunteered. "I shall have Tre stay with him and escort him back to the chamber."
"My gratitude." I told her as I pulled on my boots. "I shall see you for the midday meal."
The palace was quiet as I walked the hallway to the court chamber. The tame birds were sleeping in their cages. They only woke as the sun rose to its daily peak. Several twittered as I passed their cages. They repositioned themselves and buried their heads beneath their wings.
I took my usual place on the platform. The Jilhsaed had yet to arrive. A few people, mostly the higher-ranking cordermers were already gathered before the platform. Johianei and Sal were present. Sal was watching the crowd with a slight smile. I could tell the assembly amused her. Being reunited with her sister had restored her positive outlook.
Morning court was short. The Jilhsaed entered and mediated scant few petitions before dismissing the court in favor of the festivities. The feast for the cordermers was set to start before the normal midday meal. I escorted the Jilhsaed to the dining chamber before hastening my steps back to my chamber.
No one else was there. I changed quickly into less expensive attire for my lessons with Soliumant. He was already in the chamber warming his muscles when I arrived.
"Your form has improved, rohirm." I told him as I unsheathed my sword and started to loosen my wrists.
"It is my instructor." He seemed to be in a good humor.
"Nothen, rohirm, you are a gifted pupil." I turned the compliment back to him. "Now, shall we?"
"We shall." He grinned and took an aggressive stance.
We worked through the three sword dances I had already taught him easily. I could tell he had been practicing by himself. I showed him the fourth dance and then watched as he imitated my movements. Each dance in the series is longer, harder and faster than the one previous. When put together, the four seem a well-rehearsed dance of deadly skill. Soliumant excelled at them all.
We did not have a conversation while we practiced, but I was much surprised when he bid me accompany him. I walked with him as he led his guards to the fourth floor and down a different hallway than the one that lead to my chamber.
"What region do you hail from, Torienne?" He asked as we walked. Our steps echoed through the hallway.
"Poulantie region, rohirm." I told an untruth. I did not feel it prudent to confess my true heritage.
"Know you anything of the Alsounthia?" He asked.
"A little, rohirm. They peopled the region next to my homeland." I informed him.
"Know you their language?"
"A little, rohirm." I answered again. "The two are close enough we understand most of what we converse."
"Gladdened am I to hear it." He brightened. "Kierian is quite lovely and I feel strongly for her, but I cannot make it known to her what I wish. She does not speak much of my tongue."
"I shall try to assist, rohirm." My heart pounded in my chest. These were dangerous waters.
"That is all that I ask." He waved the lone guard away from a wooden door. "Stay here and keep watch." He informed his guards.
He pushed the door open and preceded me into the room. It was a vast chamber and Kierian was the sole occupant. I quickly observed the room. It had a large balcony that overlooked the city. That meant it was on the opposite side of my chambers. It gave me an idea.
Kierian had been sitting on the large curtained bed when we entered. She stood quickly and closed her robe. It was from modesty, though it did not cover her completely. It was of fine silk and accentuated every curve. We did not have to see to paint the wonders of her in our minds.
"Speak to her now, Torienne, tell her what I wish to say." He asked.
"Yes rohirm." I kept my eyes on Kierian. For the first time she noticed my presence. Her eyes widened, but she gave no other sign of recognition. Soliumant did not notice.
"Tell her I think she is the most lovely creature I have ever laid eyes on." He commanded.
"Kierian, act naturally." I said in Poulantie. We were both fluent in our neighbor's language. "Soliumant wishes you to know he finds you as lovely as I do."
"What are you here for?" She asked.
"What did she say?" Soliumant was eager.
"She thanks you, rohirm, for the compliment." I carried out the pretense of translating fully. It was fortunate Soliumant and most of the people of this region knew only their own tongue. Iolaine was an exception. He was fluent in Poulantie. It made me wonder if he were part Poulantie.
"Good." He grinned happily. "Tell her I wish for her to be comfortable and welcomed here."
"He wishes you to be welcomed and comfortable here." I translated for her. "I think you have him quite besotted."
"Just what I always wanted. Though you have not explained what you are doing here." She told me.
"I am here to find you and return you home." I told her.
"Well?" Soliumant asked.
"She asked what region I hail from, I told her that your words were all I would repeat to her." I played my part.
"My gratitude, Torienne." He laid his hand on my shoulder before crossing the room to stand before Kierian. "Tell her I have never seen eyes so blue. They look as if she holds the sky there."
"Yes rohirm." His words were making me ill. "He thinks you have beautiful blue eyes. He says he can see the sky in them. How do you wish me to reply?"
"Tell him that I am grateful he thinks so." She returned his gaze. "I am flattered he pays such attention to a slave."
"Nothen, Kierian, I cannot say that to him." I told her. "Rohirm, she is grateful you find her beautiful, but she doubts her own face." I could not repeat the remark about the slave. It would have crushed him. I respected him too much to allow her to hurt him.
"Tell her she needs but look in the glass to see that she is lovely." He lifted her chin and forced her to meet his eyes. "I value her highly." My heart sank to my knees. I could not compete with the heir to the Jilhsaed's realm.
"He values you Kierian, you could do worse." I told her. "Of course, you do have a choice."
"And what is the choice?"
"Return home or be a part of a harem." I told her. "Rohirm, she claims you flatter her."
"It is not flattery when it is truth." He said. "Tell her I wish to kiss her."
"Yes rohirm." I turned the conversation to Kierian. It was not easy keeping two languages separate. "Pucker up, Kier, he wants a kiss."
"Torienne, behave yourself." She said to scold me. She demurely bowed her head. Soliumant lifted it again and leaned down to place a light kiss on her lips.
"Tell her I wish her to accompany me in the garden after evening meal." He said. "I wish for you to accompany us and relay my words to her."
"Yes, rohirm." Inside I was cursing. I had to sit and watch as he courted my love. "He wishes us to walk in the gardens after the meal this evening. Say yes in his language, Kier, make him happy."
"Yes, rohirm." Her words were halted, but he understood. A smile of pleasure lit his face.
"Marvelous." He exclaimed. "Torienne, we shall depart and let her dine in peace. I shall see you at late court." He opened the door to leave. "Tell her first that I look forward to our time together."
"He looks forward to your time together. We shall see you after the evening meal." Wordlessly she nodded. "Rohirm?"
"That is all, Torienne. You have my deepest gratitude." He said as his guards formed themselves around him.
"Nothen, rohirm, it is no great feat." I was not eager to accept his praise. I followed the group and then departed at the proper hall. Sal and Iolaine were to meet me for the midday meal.
"How goes it, Torienne?" Sal asked as I entered my chambers.
"Interesting is a mild word for such circumstances." I told her as I took my customary chair. "Soliumant is besotted with Kierian. He wishes me to relay his words of love to her. She knows not the language."
"I know not what to say." Sal did not look upset, though she sounded sympathetic.
"Sevianth? How were the lessons?" I was eager for cheerful news.
"They were quite entertaining, Tor." He said around a mouthful of food.
"I can agree." Lyliane laughed. "Young Sevianth was chosen to demonstrate his proficiency with the sling. His instructors were rendered speechless by his skill."
"Are these good tidings?" I felt slightly apprehensive.
"Very much so, Torienne." She replied as she loaded a plate with food and passed it to me. "They had apparently gone to the river to learn of fish when one of the boys started throwing stones into the water. Iolaine and I were there to see the lesson." She explained. "In an attempt to work off their energy, the instructor bid them test their aim. Sevianth asked if he could use his sling. The fish we have for this meal were caught by his skill. His instructor was most impressed."
"Very well done, Sevianth." I smiled at him. I was gladdened by the news that he was doing well. His cheeks reddened with the praise.
"My gratitude goes to my instructor." He smiled back at me. "It was you who taught me the skill."
"I did, though you have almost mastered it." I acknowledged. "Shall we finish our meal before making further plans for the evening?"
"I believe we shall." Sal laughed. She had yet to touch her food.
"I am required to guard Soliumant as he courts Kierian in the gardens after the evening meal." I told them as I passed my empty plate to Lyliane. She placed it on the tray.
"Johianei wishes me with him this evening as well." Sal informed us. "He is attempting to court a lady of rank."
"Then what shall we do?" Iolaine asked.
"We shall all take the evening meal here." I told him. "Then you four shall go enjoy the festivities if you wish. Take heed of this though: do not leave the palace. Siveruian told me of dire occurrences during the festivities. Each time several servants are kidnapped from the streets."
"We shall stay all together and inside the palace." Lyliane promised. "Each festival we have been warned of such occurrences. Each time it has been proven true."
"I have no wish to go through this again." Tre added. She seemed more at ease during the meal. True to her nature, she did not speak much. I was left to assume it was a good sign and she was returning to herself.
"Very well then." Sal stood. "We should return to duty."
"Aight. I need to change first." I stood and walked over to where I had left my clothing earlier. "I shall see you in court."
"Agreed." She nodded and left the chambers.
I took my clothing into the bathing chamber. I had not time for a full wash, but I did have a chance wash off the sweat. I changed into my silk and strange woolen attire. I was not anxious about the late court. My mind was already painting pictures of what I would witness in the gardens as I guarded Soliumant and Kierian.
In the great chamber for court, Siveruian and the mute were waiting for me. As I joined them, the chamberlain bid us follow. We were escorted to a chamber off the main one. Soliumant, Johianei, the Jilhsaed and several others of rank were present with their own guards.
"As with every festival, we have to continue to guard ourselves and our property." The Jilhsaed told his courtiers. "We lost near sixty and five servants during the festival of the seasons. We shall attempt to keep such losses to a minimum this time. I ask that every one of you bid your servants to stay in the palace. If they must leave to attend the market, send them in groups or with a guard."
"Yes, Jilhsaed." They all agreed to his request.
"We have been searching women of the proper breeding to be introduced to Soliumant. Have we found many?" He asked.
"Yes, Jilhsaed. We have five and ten already chosen as potentials." The man who requested Graneima claimed. "We are continuing our search to present your heir with as many as he could wish." The look on Soliumant's face told them he did not wish for any.
"Very glad tidings." The Jilhsaed grinned. "We shall now enjoy the festivities this occasion demands."
One by one those of rank departed from the chamber. The muted guard and I remained to escort the Jilhsaed to the platform. Soliumant and his guards preceded us. The Jilhsaed knew the art of making a grand entrance.
The Jilhsaed opened the festivities with a small speech to the assembly. He thanked them for their loyalty and expressed his hopes for continued prosperity. After he had finished, he bid the festivities to commence. His wishes were eagerly obeyed.
If I shall live to two hundred and twenty years, I shall never again see such opulent splendor. Entertainment we had in plenty. A range of agile acrobats, men who swallowed flaming swords, women who could contort themselves into a human ball, dancing simians and a choir of boys held us all in thrall. These were the first of the promised entertainers. The chamberlain claimed to the audience that the festivities should only get more entertaining. I could only wonder how.
The Jilhsaed motioned to leave after the dancing simians had fallen from their little wheel. He did not seem to share his courtier's enthusiasm for the entertainment. I escorted him back to his private chambers before returning to my own.
Sal had been unable to join us for the evening meal. She had to escort Johianei to a location outside the palace. We ate without her for the first time since we had arrived here. It did not feel right to do so.
I told them of the wonders I had seen during the entertainment. In truth, it was to continue all night. I bid them watch. I knew that Sevianth would enjoy the entertainment more so perhaps than the others. They all deserved a chance to relax, and I did not begrudge them their entertainment.
After the meal I escorted my companions to the great chamber. I excused myself and returned to my duty. A single guard was outside Kierian's chamber and I took a post near him. He did not speak, and I was not in good humor enough to initiate conversation.
Soliumant approached with but a single guard. This man had not been born mute. He had been made so when he had been chosen for his duty. I prayed to my gods that the Jilhsaed would not hold me in such high esteem. However, tradition dictated that the Jilhsaed and his heir have one guard they could completely trust to keep all in secret, hence the muting of the chosen ones. It was an honor I felt I could live without receiving.
The guard at the door quickly stepped inside the room and returned in short order with Kierian. She smiled at both of us. Soliumant seemed nervous, and we walked in silence to the gardens. Kierian gazed around her in wonder. I gathered she had not seen much of the wonders of the palace.
The gardens were truly a wonder to themselves. Hedges, trees and flowers were placed in well planned intervals. They had been made to grow and bloom in intricate designs. Stone seats and benches were placed amidst the more greenery filled copses. The flowers filled the air with fragrance and I almost wished to be alone here with Kierian. It was an ideal location for courting and other amorous activities.
"Torienne, impart my words." Soliumant sat on one of the stone benches and motioned for Kierian to do the same. The benches had thin layers of cushioning placed upon them. It looked as if they had been made for convenience not comfort.
"Yes rohirm." I remained standing.
"Tell her I wish her to know my heart." He gazed in her direction. She kept her head bowed.
"He wishes you to know his heart, keytheda." I translated his wish and reiterated my feelings as well.
"Do not call me that. I have no wish for you to know my heart or to know his." She replied. Her words were scornful, though her tone was not.
"She says she is honored by your words, rohirm." I could not tell him what she had truly said. It would not have sat well with him.
"Tell her I wish us to join." He surprised me. It was against custom to marry a slave.
"He wants to marry you, Kierian, and I do know your heart." I replied.
"He cannot marry a slave, even I know that." She protested. She ignored my comment.
"She protests that she is unworthy of so great a suitor, rohirm."
"Her beauty reveals a kind soul, tell her I wish to know her heart and mind as well." He was well and truly falling in love with her. I pitied him as much as I pitied myself.
"He feels as I do, Kierian. Your beauty echoes your soul." I almost felt as if I were betraying Soliumant. I was courting her for him fully as much as I was courting her for myself.
"My beauty hides a flawed soul, Torienne. You both would do well to admit that." Her words struck me as strange. She was not acting as she had in our youth. Then she had been full of joy and wonder. She seemed distant and cold. I let myself wonder for the first time if Sal had been correct. Perhaps we had both changed beyond recognition. I was determined to accomplish my goal. It ran in my family.
"She is flattered beyond words that you think so highly of her, rohirm."
"I would have her understand she has inspired great feelings in me." He continued to stare at her. She looked to me for translation.
"He loves you." It was all I could translate.
"Tell him I am flattered and will obey his wishes." She continued to look at me while she said it. She seemed to wish to say more, but the words did not come.
"Rohirm, she is very flattered and desires me to tell you she will obey your wishes." I related the message.
"It is all I can ask for at the moment." He seemed pleased. "I have no wish to keep you from your rest, Kierian, I shall let you return to your chamber." He spoke directly to her. It was a great compliment.
"He says we can return to the palace for rest. You need your beauty sleep." I told her.
"Torienne, escort my lady to her chamber." He let go of her hand. I had not seen him take it.
"As you wish rohirm." I bowed. "Come Kierian, I am to escort you to your chamber."
She rose from the bench and followed. I waited to walk abreast with her. It would not seem to be in my station to lead her. We were silent as we navigated the gardens and entered the palace.
"Why are you really here, Tor?" She asked as we climbed the steps to her chambers.
"I came to rescue you." I told her the truth. "Sal and I decided to follow the slavers and return the taken to our village. Fortunately we made it here before you did."
"We had been journeying for many days, I have lost count of how long it has been since I have seen my family. Who is Sal?"
"My partner in this endeavor." I explained. "When I left, your family was well. Your father had been wounded in the battle, but he lived to see the morning. Your sister and her mate lived as well." Kierian's mother had departed from her body seasons ago. "However, Luiciak was killed during the battle with the slavers." I broke the news of the death of her betrothed.
"I am upset for you in that." She said. "I know the two of you were as close as could be."
"We were close." I acknowledged. I had yet to grieve for any I had lost in the attack. I had not the luxury to do so. "However, he was your betrothed."
"Only in name, he did not hold my heart." She said. Her father had arranged the marriage with mine. It had been at Luiciak's request.
"Who did hold your heart?" I asked as we reached the door. It would not be proper for me to enter her chambers without Soliumant. It was no matter; I had already found a way to do so.
"I shall explain all on the morrow if I may." She opened her door. The guard watched us intently. "Peace be your dreaming, Tor."
"And yours as well." I answered as she closed the door behind her.
I knew the others would still be busy watching the entertainment and Sal would be guarding Johianei as well. I retraced my steps and returned to the great chamber. The entertainers had stopped the general acts of awe, and exotic dancers had taken their place. I was trusting Tre, Iolaine and Lyliane would have removed Sevianth from the viewing of this sordid entertainment. I was determined to have him remain innocent in any aspect I could control. Seeing lustful dancers was beyond his years.
I had just decided to leave the chamber when I froze in mid step. The chamber had alcoves around it of various sizes and all were curtained. It was one of my duties to search them before the Jilhsaed entered the chamber. They made easy places for assassins to hide. In the alcove ahead of me, a well-dressed cordermer was forcing a slave to her knees. They had not closed the curtain enough to hide their actions. It was an appalling sight.
"Are all your servants and the boy accounted for?" Siveruian asked as he came behind me. He had made no sound so I had not heard him approach. I looked down at his boots and noticed for the first time that they had soft soles. His steps did not echo on the stone floor.
"They are, misayla." I replied.
"Nothen, Torienne, we are nearly on equal footing. You may call me by my name." He graciously allowed the intimacy. "I shall never become accustomed to such sights." He nodded toward the alcove I had been watching.
"Nor shall I, Siveruian." I replied.
"Have a good rest, Torienne, be grateful you are removed from this section, it will be hard to dream peacefully tonight." He took my hand in his as he said it. I felt a piece of parchment against my palm.
"May your dreams be free of danger." I gave him our customary evening greeting. I closed my fist around the parchment as he removed his hand.
"Perhaps they shall be so." He replied in my language. He smiled softly and returned the way he had come.
I slipped the piece of parchment into my bracer. I would not read it until I was safe from casual eyes. I took the steps and headed back to my chambers. No one was there so I read the note in privacy. It contained only a few lines and they were written in Alsounthian.
A true kirgeur would find a way. You shall accomplish what you will if you stay true to your training. It is all for duty.
I stared at the parchment until I heard sounds at the door. It had inspired a plan within me. Lyliane entered as I stuffed the ragged note back into my bracer. Sevianth was a step behind. He looked tired but contented. Tre's face was alight with a joy I had not seen.
"Torienne, that was wonderful entertainment. I have never seen such sights. I shall have to scribe them, so I can tell Dalin about them." My sister enthused. "I am too awake for dreams. Is there aught I can do while we wait?"
"Go fetch your parchment and scribe what you remember before it flees from your mind." I answered fondly. She rushed to find the writing implements. "Lyliane." I called softly. My mind was painting a grand plan. "Will you fetch Sal and Iolaine?" I gathered that he had returned to their chamber after witnessing the entertainment.
"I shall." She took one look at me. "I shall do so quickly." She added.
"Bring a pitcher of viniare with you, this may take some time." I informed her.
"As you wish, Torienne." She left the room in haste.
While I waited for her return, I sent Sevianth to the bathing chamber. He was almost asleep on his feet so I bid Tre to watch him. She agreed after locating parchment, ink and quill.
After Sevianth had been bathed, I bid him rest. He followed his previous nights examples and was soon dreaming softly. I bid Tre to do the same. Tre was walking in dreams when Lyliane returned. Sal and Iolaine were half steps behind her. They joined me at the table and waited for me to begin. They knew I would not have sent for them had it not been important.
"I have a plan." I removed the crumpled note from my bracer and showed it to them. Sal read it aloud for Iolaine's benefit. We had not taught him to read our native tongue.
"From where did this come?" Sal asked.
"Siveruian gave it me when we met in the chamber." I saw no reason to hide the truth from them. They were as deep in the plan as I.
"Can we trust in him?" She asked.
"He has no love of slavers or their trade." Lyliane informed us. "It is rumored he has a son by a slave who was stolen and sold."
"I believe we may trust in him." I told the group. "He knows us as we are and has not informed anyone."
"I agree. The servants speak highly of him." Iolaine added his approval.
"We shall trust in him. What is your plan?" Sal returned to the main topic.
"First we have needs to be met. Iolaine and Lyliane." I turned my attention to them as I burned the note. We did not need evidence. "You are to go to market on the morrow. We shall need pure black clothing for Sal, Iolaine and me. If you cannot find ready made clothing, get the cloth and we shall make do. Actually, get the cloth regardless; we shall need it. We shall also require black boots with soft soles. Make sure all is of a dark, true black."
"I think I know where you are going with this." Sal interjected. "If I am correct, than we shall need a room in a seedy part of town, some twine and cloth for blinders and bags."
"I think you have gotten the idea." I told her. "However, we shall need a small, private place. We do not wish to attract the attention of an innkeeper."
"This season we are to be the kidnappers are we not?" Lyliane correctly surmised the plan. "How shall we keep suspicion from ourselves?"
"With the greatest of ease." I grinned. In truth, this was my favorite part of the plan. "Tre shall be one of the taken ones while you and she are at the market."
"Ah, so we pretend to be as hurt by these events as the rest of the palace." Iolaine could not contain his glee. "Who shall we rescue?"
"Our lost ones as well as native slaves." I replied. "Julaniant shall be the first if we can convince him to agree, be subtle when you speak of this to him, Iolaine. If he agrees to the ruse, then he shall be the one who keeps them from harm and from sight at the room."
"I shall do my best." He pledged. "I believe he shall agree."
"Let us hope so." Sal said. "I like this plan, Tor. It has a great irony to it."
"How so?" Her sister asked.
"Maidens are stolen from our villages by slavers every season." She answered. "It is only fitting we steal back the slaves and give them freedom."
"And that my friends is the plan." I grinned. I was gladdened that they agreed to it. "Know you the list?"
"We do, Torienne, though we require coinage." Lyliane answered. I knew she would be pleased to spend time in Iolaine's company. "I returned the unused portion from the last trip to the pouch on your belt."
"Here then." I reached inside and found the coinage. I handed her several silvers and three goldens. "I am glad I can trust in you." I smiled at her.
"You have returned me to my sister." She said softly. "There is nothing I would not do in return." I felt my cheeks redden. Sal laughed.
"I think it is time for rest." Iolaine stood. "We should return to our chambers before Johianei becomes suspicious." His natural confidence had returned.
"Agreed." Sal stood as well. "We shall discuss this more on the morrow."
"We shall. May your dreams be free of danger." I called to them.
"And yours as well." Sal said as she closed the door behind her.
"Get your bath, Torienne, I have already bathed." Lyliane stood and stretched. "Peace be to your dreaming."
"And yours." I replied softly.
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