Tales of the Kirgeur

Part 14

By: Bluedragon

"Gods of my tribe." Lyliane asked as she opened the door. My arms were full of my bleeding partner. My knock was the toe of my boot meeting the wood. "What happened?"

"We encountered two tirgeaurs." I told her as we made our way to a bed. Sal was not conscious and my wound had begun to keep time with my heart.

"Two?" She seemed amazed. "There will be great feasting on the morrow. It is rare one tirgeaur is killed. I have yet to taste the meat, as the last hunt was before I had been taken."

"You shall soon have plenty." I told her. "Where is everyone?" Iolaine, Sevianth and Tre were not in the chambers.

"Iolaine had to assist Julaniant in disappearing, and Tre escorted Sevianth to the river. He wanted to hunt like his mother, so he went fishing with his sling." She smiled. "He is very excited that we are his family. If he knew the language well enough, he would speak the news to all who would listen."

"He is a smart boy." Sal roused a little. "Gods of my tribe, my head aches. I feel as if I am badly over hung."

"As long as you do not hear drums in your head again." I gently reminded her of the last time she had overindulged.

"Nothen. There are no drums this time." She smiled weakly. "Though I could wish this was a consequence of ale."

"I am confused." Lyliane did not understand the jesting.

"Before we entered this realm, we remained the night in a village and spent the evening gaming to earn more coinage." I explained. "Sal played at cards while I played at hoops. She was required to consume more ale than she had reckoned on, and woke up the next morning over hung."

"I see, sounds as if it were a hardship." Lyliane gently jested with her sister.

"It was a great hardship." Sal responded.

"Well met, Torienne and Salenia." Siveruian applauded as he entered the chamber. "I have with me two of our mediacios as requested by Soliumant. It seems as if you have garnered even greater reputations." He smiled broadly.

"How so?" I asked as the mediacios began to examine us. The one who examined me was confused for a moment by the rent in my tunic, but soon discovered the shirt beneath it was whole. It was my thigh that needed attention.

"It seems as if young Soliumant has informed his father you both saved his life." He imparted the news to us. "The feast the next eve shall be in your honor, and all your household may attend."

"My gratitude, Siveruian, though it was our duty." I was awed. It was a great honor. As long as the Jilhsaed did not wish me to become a muted guard, I felt as if I could handle the honor with as much grace as I had been trained to show.

"Where is the rest of your household?" He asked. The mediacios had begun to treat and cleanse the wounds. The chamberlain continued to make conversation in an effort to distract us.

"Iolaine was assisting Johianei's servant with delivering viniare. Tre escorted Sevianth to the river. He had a wish to hunt fish." I told him. My thigh had begun to tingle in a strange way. The man kneeling beside me had both hands over the wound. He used no such healing implement as even a bandage. The flesh was whole when he removed his hand. Only four thin lines remained of the wound. I would bear them until the day I parted this orb for the realm of the gods and spirits.

"Perhaps." The chamberlain grinned. "You should consolidate chambers and all stay together."

"We had thought on that, Siveruian, however, not all of us rest here." I answered.

"True enough." He laughed. "It makes sense for partners to spend time together when not on duty."

"Is that so?" I asked. The mediacio was attending to minor scrapes and cuts. I was not allowed to watch as the other healed Sal. "It is not seen as strange?"

"Nothen, Torienne. It is not. Several of the guards arrived in manners similar to your own. They are assigned to different cordermers though they are often found together when off duty." He was serious in his reply. I was relieved. It would not do well to raise suspicion by keeping close association.

"I have returned with bad tidings." Iolaine staggered into the room and collapsed in a chair. "I have informed Johianei of the occurrence, but I must need tell you all. Julaniant and I were made to deliver viniare outside the palace. We were attacked. I was rendered unconscious. When I woke, the viniare and Julaniant were missing. I hastened back here to the palace to inform our faelida. He bid me inform Salenia and bid the chamberlain to speak with him."

"That is the second servant in three days who has gone missing." Siveruian made as if to curse. In truth, I could not tell if he were play-acting or not. "My gratitude for the message. See to his wounds." He told the mediacios as he departed.

The mediacios did not speak as they tended our wounds. They did not seem to be of this realm, though I had not heard of any that produced such talented shaman. They were skilled in mysterious ways. My wounds had been made flesh and Iolaine's bruises and scrapes were once again unmarred skin.

"I must speak with her servant or one in keeping of her." The mediacio who attended Sal left her side and crossed to us.

"We have the keeping of her." My heart felt encased in stone. "If you need speak to one, speak to us. She is my partner." The phrase came slowly. In truth, I stumbled over it for I wished to claim more.

"She shall need to remain in bed until the morrow. I would not attempt the feast this eve. She may, after examination attend the one next eve. She should not move. Have her servant fetch all she desires. I shall send one with a healing broth for her meal. She should not consume more with her injuries."

"Shall she be well? She shall heal?" Lyliane asked the question I could not.

"She shall be fully healed soon. I have done what I am able. Rest will cure her fully now." He was not a native. I could tell by his speech patterns. I concentrated more on the cadence of his speech than I did the words. "I shall return on the morrow to examine her again." He left with no more than that.

"I am grateful Sevianth did not witness this." Iolaine said. "It would not do him well to see us so wounded."

"It is truth." I answered before turning to Iolaine. "You were attacked?" I needed to concentrate on normal matters. I knew not how to handle my fears.

"Aight. Torienne." He grinned. "It seemed a more likely story."

"Johianei was not suspicious?"

"Nothen. He took my words as truth." He answered. "I believe it was the wounds I wore that convinced him."

"It was good thinking." I complimented him on his foresight.

"It was what I believed you would do, Torienne. Julaniant was loath to strike me until I pointed out the reasoning." He grinned. "Tell me, was the hunt successful?"

"If you consider being wounded, losing four of our number but returning to the palace with two adult tirgeaurs successful, then aight. It was." I answered. "I have accomplished a feat most dream of, and I shall not do so again."

"Why?" Lyliane asked.

"The tirgeaur is a glorious beast and I will never again be a party to its destruction. One should not die for food." I paused for a sip of water. The excitement had left me parched. "I should like to hear how the tale will be told at the feasting. I believe Sal would as well."

"I should like to hear how the tale will be told." Lyliane answered.

"As should I." Iolaine added his agreement.

"I shall see if perhaps you will be allowed to attend." I promised. "Though unless I misheard, Siveruian informed us you may. Forgive me, I am weary."

"Perhaps you should rest. It is said healing takes its energy from the wounded as well as the healer." Lyliane counseled.

"Nothen. First I hunger. It has been a long day."

Sevianth returned with a tray laden with baked fish. He was proud of his catches and would not rest until we partook. Tre smiled indulgently at him. She had escorted him and his three small fish to the kitchens. The cooks had taken the time to bake them for him. He was quickly endearing himself to all the palace servants. The four of us praised his skill. He was pleased.

"Tell me of the hunt." He was eager to hear of it. "We saw them preparing part of the tirgeaurs. It was bigger than my horse. How did you kill it?"

"We were extremely fortunate." I told him. "We managed to stab them to death with swords. The Ostiopocks were fun to hunt." I was eager to relate that tale. It had been an entertaining hunt.

Lyliane and Tre claimed the evening meal. Sevianth's fish were well cooked, but not large enough to suffice as more than a teaser. Sal did not stir as we ate. A servant entered before we were finished. She saw to Salenia's needs and ensured the injured one consumed the herb-laden broth. Sevianth was confused by her condition. Tre in her gentleness as one born to mother babes explained the situation to him. I was grateful. My mind was not on my meal. Rather, my thought remained near by Salenia. I could not shake my concern for her.

I had performed my duty, accomplished much most in my homeland would dream about, and was tired by the day. After the meal, I wished a bath and my bed. I was not allowed either. As soon as Iolaine departed with the evening tray, a servant appeared. I was summoned once again to Kierian's chambers.

I bid the others guard Salenia. They needed no encouragement. For the night, I knew we would consolidate our households. I followed the servant to Kierian's rooms. To my surprise, Soliumant was waiting for me. I had thought Kierian upset with me since I had not visited her as promised. Instead, the heir to the realm wished me translate his words.

"How fares Salenia?" Soliumant inquired as I approached.

"She shall be well on the morn, rohirm. My gratitude for your asking."

"She is as gifted as you claimed. She is worthy of your praise."

"I shall tell of the compliment, rohirm. It shall please her."

"I wish my intended to know more of my heart. I wish to speak to her through you again. I could not rest until I informed her of the hunt." He seemed as a child.

"I shall do all you require, rohirm." I bowed as he entered the door. Kierian had been expecting us. She was dressed and sitting at her table. She rose as we entered and bowed before Soliumant.

"What is amiss? You do not look well, Torienne. Are you harmed?" She asked as she regained her footing.

"Nothen. I am not harmed. Soliumant wishes you to know of the hunt." I turned to him. "She wishes to know what is amiss." Neither of us had changed from our hunting attire.

"Nothing is amiss. My father has given his permission, based on the success of the hunt, for us to wed." He bounced as he imparted his tidings. "If she agrees, we are to be wed one moon hence."

"If you agree you are to be married in a moon's time, Kierian. What say you?"

"I say aight, though after I tell you both my last secret, he shall say nothen." She did not look content. "I need for you to translate fully what I say. He needs to know what he is receiving. I am not fit for his bride, but his harem."

"Rohirm, you may need sit. Kierian has a tale she wishes to relate. She believes it may turn your heart from her." I knew it was best to speak truly to him. I did not wish to see him injured. I did not wish to speak falsely either.

"There is nothing she can say that will turn my heart." His voice was firm, but he sat at the table.

"He will listen. What have you to say?" I found myself curious.

"I am not virtuous. One day upon leaving you at your father's stables, Jaridic encountered me. He claimed my virtue in a willing encounter. I wished to escape my mother's house. Her husband was not a father, though he reared us as such. I thought the encounter would lead to my escape. It did not. I am sorry for it. Remember you the journey I took with my sister?"

"Aight." I did not wish to translate yet. "Rohirm, I must hear the full tale before I can relate it properly."

"If you need. Continue." He gave his consent. I could tell he wished to delay the moment of truth.

"Continue." I was caught in the tale. I did not feel betrayed. I wondered at that before I realized I had reconciled my feelings for her. I no longer felt more than friendship to a stranger.

"I was sent to Houcense, to distant kin of my true father's, to bare a child. My son was taken from me at birth. I was not allowed to see him. I was not allowed to raise him." She began crying. I realized why Sevianth's eyes seemed familiar. They were hers. My heir was the son of my brother. "Jaridic never knew. I was forbidden to speak of it to anyone. Lu knew. It is why he wished me. He wished to find and raise the child as his heir. He was similar to you in his wishing. I knew you would wish the same. Find him for me, Torienne. Raise him. I know his name. Sevianth."

"I know the boy." My heart was heavy. I wondered if she would wish to claim him. I was bound by honor to tell her. "He is part of my household."

"In truth?"

"Aight. I have made him my heir. The slavers who caught you took him as well. They raided Houcense. Wish you to see him?"

"Nothen. I gave him life. You give him all else. Shall you relate my words to Soliumant? I do not speak of this to raise your hatred. I wish understanding from you both. I have fallen a little I think for him. I wish him to know why he should not join with me."

"If you allow me, I know a way to salvage this. You are a widow. Your husband and son were killed in the invasion when you were taken. Will that suffice?" I know not where the inspiration for my tale came from, but I would not question it. "I am saddened by the news. In truth, I am gladdened you do not wish to see your son."

"I know. My son is dead as is my husband. My gratitude, Torienne." She wiped her tears.

"Rohirm, Kierian believes she is not virtuous enough for you. She was joined with a man and bore him a son. The husband and son perished in the invasion the day she was taken by the slavers who attacked her village. She wishes you to know her tale before you take her as a wife. She feels for you, though she still misses the family she lost." I almost believed my own words.

"I do not see that as losing virtue. I think her survival shows her strength. I still wish her to be my wife. Will she still have me?" He showed compassion I had only guessed he had possessed.

"Kierian. I am not angered. I think no less of you. Soliumant believes the tale. He wishes to make your bed of sorrow a marriage bed. He still wishes you as his wife. What say you?"

"He still wishes me?" She seemed surprised. "I shall have him. I shall be honored."

"Rohirm, glad tidings. She wishes you. She was frightened you would reject her since she had known a man before."

"Indeed those are glad tidings." He rose from his chair and pulled her into his arms. "I shall announce the news during court on the morrow. Seek you your rest, Torienne. You have need of it, and your partner needs you whole."

"May I make one suggestion rohirm?" He nodded. I could tell he was not concentrating fully. "There are others of her tribe here within the palace. Perhaps you should request one as her companion until she learns the language. I believe one named Graneima would be a suitable choice. My servant knows her as well."

"That is sound reasoning, Torienne. I shall have it done. Seek you your rest, now."

"Yes rohirm. Peace be your dreaming, Kierian. May the gods watch as you rest, rohirm." I do not believe they noticed my departure. In truth, I barely noticed the journey back to my chambers. I had exhausted my person so greatly; I merely removed my boots before seeking my dreams.

I woke suddenly, thrown from horrendous dreams back to reality. Sal was resting peacefully in a bed across my chamber. I rose to see if she were not the bloody, mangled mess I had witnessed in my dreams. She was whole. To reassure myself, I gently placed my hand over her heart. Her chest was rising as she breathed, and her heart was beating, as it should. I sat on the bed and placed my head in my hands. I was shaking still from the images I had seen. My heart was beating faster than a horse in full gallop. It took several heartbeats before I could steady my breathing.

"Torienne?" I heard Sal's concerned whisper as she parted from her dreaming world. "What is amiss?"

"I had a night terror. It was nothing." I attempted to reassure her.

"Wish to tell me about it?" She asked as she sat up. I shook my head in negation. I had no desire to revisit those images. "Gods of my tribes, you are soaked with sweat and chilled. Are you positive you are not harmed?"

"Are you harmed?" I asked.

"I am unharmed." She said. "I am concerned for you."

"I shall be fine." I said. "You should rest. Healer's orders dictate you are not to move until they examine you this morn."

"I am fine. You shall be." She agreed. "Tell me, did you dream of the hunt?"

"I did." I answered. My shakes had halted. I leaned into her as she put her arms around me.

"Look at me, Tor." She turned my head to face her. I could make out the lines of her face and the mess of her hair in the dim light filtered through the minarina. "I am unharmed. We defeated the tirgeaurs. Sevianth is fine as are Tre, Lyliane and Iolaine. This family is unharmed."

"I am more than grateful to the gods for that." I whispered.

"It was not the gods, Tor, it was your own skill." She kept contact with my eyes. "You saved my life and the life of Soliumant. It took great skill."

"Nothen. It was my duty." I shrugged away the compliment.

"How was it your duty?"

"Soliumant is my faelida. It was my duty to protect him or die in the process. You are my friend and partner. It was my duty to see you safe." I cursed then my inability to speak what I felt. I had a desire to tell her the truth of my heart. I could not form the words. "I would have died to have done so."

"You hold me in such high regard?"

"Aight. You should rest. I was charged by the mediacio to keep you from exerting yourself." I learned from her and changed the course of the conversation. I was not gifted with words. I could not think to do more.

"Stay here by me." She pulled me as I attempted to rise.

"You wish it so?"

"Aight. In truth, I have dreamt of the hunt as well. I have no wish to die for food or pride. Stay. Perhaps we shall not dream of it again if we protect one another's dreaming."

"I shall stay." I slide beneath the blankets on the other side. Her gentle plea had touched me deeply. Had I wanted to, I could not have denied her. I did not wish to deny her anything. "May your dreams be free of danger, Salenia."

"And yours as well, Torienne." She barely said the words before she was again walking her dream path. I was not long behind her.

I woke the next morning with a comfortable weight on my shoulder. During the night hours, Salenia had pillowed her head on my shoulder. I returned her to the bed with great reluctance. Duty beckoned and I was honor bound to obey.

I broke my fast in silence by raiding the store of food we had not delivered to our hiding place. The others were still walking in dreams. I had no wish to wake them. The previous day had been long. We were still suffering from it.

Not many presented themselves for morning court. The guards I relieved at the Jilhsaed's meal chamber imparted word of great festivities after the hunt. I was gladdened I had not been required to attend. The servants, guards, and those of rank who had not joined in the hunt for the tirgeaurs reveled in its success. Those who had merely sought the paths of their dreams upon our return. The feast after evening court would be one of celebration and mourning.

When I returned to my chambers, I found the mediacio had left moments prior. As any true sister would, Lyliane made careful note of his directions and suggestions. Salenia was allowed to attend the feast. She was under orders to carry only light duty. Johianei was required to miss his favorite and best guard for three days of afternoon court. She was allowed to escort him through morning court. The mediacio bore the message to Sal's faelida. I knew Iolaine would be grateful. He would not wish to carry Johianei bad tidings twice in as many days.

"Sevianth still at lessoning?" I asked after Lyliane imparted all of the mediacio's words.

"Aight. Salenia is in your bathing chamber and Iolaine is fetching her attire for the feast. Tor, may I beg of you a favor?" Lyliane seemed earnest.

"You have but to ask." I knew she would not request something trivial. It would be worthwhile.

"I would wish Reinea disappear with the others."

"It seems a worthwhile request. We shall." Sal was still bathing. We were alone for the moment. "Perhaps we should, as the chamberlain suggested, consolidate our households?"

"Perhaps. Perhaps we should not. If two from our combined household were to disappear, then we should be seen as highly unfortunate. It would cause suspicion, would it not?" She showed her wisdom. It was a trait in her family.

"Perhaps it would, indeed. Tre shall not disappear if we consolidate. Reinea shall." It seemed ingenious. I had no wish for my sister to inhabit our hiding place. "She would be of greater assistance."

"Aight. I shall fetch the midday meal. It shall be light, as we are feasting tonight. Go you and see to Salenia. I think my sister missed you this morning." She wore an unreadable smile.

"She missed me?"

"She wished for your company while the mediacio imparted his instructions. Salenia does not relinquish duty easily."

"Nothen. I do not either. It is the way of the kirgeur. We are trained to carry out our responsibilities. Perhaps I will see to her." I rose from the table.

"It shall take much time to fetch the meal. There is a wait on days of great feasting." She smiled in a sly manner. "See you to my sister. I shall attend my duties."

"My gratitude, Lyliane."

"Nothen, Torienne. Gratitude is not warranted. That which I do for you, is done freely. You mean much to my sister. For that, I hold you in high regard. You are a good person and a true friend. For that, I hold you in the highest regard." She did not allow a return comment. She closed the door behind her as she imparted her last words. I was touched by them and wished similar skill. I was an assassin trained and a proven warrior. I had no skill with shaping words. I was better suited to action.

"Are you not supposed to be at rest?" Salenia was using the pool for resting as a means to swim.

"I am. This relaxes me." She pulled herself to the edge. The marks from the tirgeaur had faded to thin, pinkish lines. She would bear no great reminder of her wounds.

"What is amiss?" I sat beside the edge of the pool. I wished to join her, though I also wished to not. I wished for words to impart my feelings. Without the skill to do so, I had no wish to substitute my actions. I knew not how she would read them.

"I must relinquish full duty for three days. I feel as if I am an oldster. I have survived a battle we should not have fought. It was close, Tor. I do not like close without reason." She sat opposite me. It felt uncomfortable to sit above her.

"We had reason. We protected Soliumant." In truth, I felt great unease concerning the hunt. Had I delayed for a breath, I knew I would have lost my partner. I would have lost my destiny. I knew not how to speak of it. I knew it warranted at the least an attempt of the impossible. "It was closer than I wish to relive. I was enlightened and frightened during our hunt. I have no wish to be in such position again."

"What were you enlightened on?" I could tell she was only providing me with half her attention. She seemed to be counting tiles at the bottom of the pool.

"I have grieved for my mother. I have grieved for the brother born but an hour behind me. It is said sibs born together are closer even than mates, that they hold pieces of one another. I saw during the hunt the untruth of it." The words were not what I wished them to be. "To save you, I would have been gladdened to lose my life."

"Why?" It was a simple question. It had no simple answer.

"Kierian bid me grieve. Her counsel was if I were to let go of the pain in my heart I would see clearly that which surrounds me. I saw the truth of my heart in the water of the river. I know now what it says." I paused for air. My insides were quaking with fear and desire. I wished her to know my heart as I wished to know hers. I summoned my strength and forged the path I suddenly saw before me. "Salenia, I know not how to put my thoughts into words. I shall endeavor to speak of the truth I witnessed. When I let my mind and heart into accord by the river, when I held you in my arms after the hunt, I saw my destiny. I saw my heart. You inquired once if I were envious of Kayla and Chelstea. Aight. I am. I wished to find a shehala who would fit me as Chelstea fits Kayla. In the exuberance of youth, I deluded my mind with lust. Kierian is no more than a pleasant stranger. I no longer wish to find my keytheda. I have found her. I wish now for her to return my desires. I wish for a lifetime in her arms. I wish for you."

"Torienne." I had not been aware of her movement. I had watched the wall of the chamber as I spoke my wishes, my heart and my desires. Suddenly she was standing near to me. The wise suddenly had no words.

"What say you?" I held my heart in my hands and extended it to her. I knew her answer would complete me or shatter me.

"Long have I waited for this moment. I feared it would not come to pass. I have known our destiny lay together since our schooling. It came to me as a vision in training as a healer, though my heart knew of my love for you even then. In truth, it is why I volunteered for this task. It is why Chelstea agreed for me to be your companion." She smiled. "What say I? I say aight."

"All for love and duty? My heart has known of my love since Houcense. Forgive my mind. It was blind to the truth."

"I forgive your mind readily. You have had much occur within the past few moons. I do not blame your mind. I do not blame you. Aight it is all for love and duty. My love is yours. My duty is to you."

"Nothen, Salenia. Our duty lies on the same path." The weight around my heart lifted. I had not been aware of its existence until I felt its absence. "You hold my heart in your hands. I trust in you with my very soul."

"I am gladdened for you have mine as well."

"No more words. They suit not my heart or my desires." I pulled her close and silenced her attempt at a comment. For a moment, I was in Jarndinia. For a moment, I forgot our positions. In that moment, I joined her in the pool. "Dagthen."

"Nothen. Do not curse, Tor. You needed a bath." She seemed to be holding in her mirth. I believed she pulled me into the pool. For all her wisdom, Salenia possessed a wicked humor.

"Aight. Though my sword and boots did not." I could not but laugh. I resigned myself to the circumstances until I heard others within the chamber. "I would bathe if our companions were not returning from their errands."

"Dagthen. Stay. I shall bring you dry attire." She rose quickly from the pool. She wore only a robe as she entered the chamber to gather our clothing. The robe was similar to Kierian's in design. It felt as though the water had risen in temperature. Sevianth's arrival into the bathing chamber cooled it considerably.

"Tor? Why are you clothed in the pool?"

"I think it is time for you to learn a great lesson, Sevianth." I rose from the water, carrying a great portion of it, and resumed my previous position. My boots clung as I pulled at them. I knew then where the water had collected. Streams poured from each boot as I removed it. Sevianth laughed. "You must always take care when walking near to water."

"You fell in then?" He could not keep the mirth from his voice.

"Aight." Sal, dressed for the feast, reentered the chamber as I formed my answer. I caught her gaze. "It is a mystery how I fell." I pulled my sword from its sheath and laid them both to dry. "I shall be required to cleanse and oil these both before long."

"In light of your drowned condition, I shall do it for you." Sal gained hold on her mirth. "You could have been harmed. You would do well to watch your steps around water."

"Aight. I shall keep the warning in my mind. Brought you my attire?" I was creating another pool of water where I sat. "Sevianth, did you desire to speak with me?" He had not explained his presence in the chamber.

"Aight. Torienne, may I attend the feast this eve as well? Iolaine and Tre and Lyliane are attending."

"I do not believe ones so young are allowed. We shall send for Reinea and inquire." In truth, I did not wish for him to attend. It would not be easy to relive the hunt through the chronicler's words. I did not wish for him to believe it glorious.

"May I send Iolaine for her?" He seemed exited.

"You may ask Iolaine to fetch her. He is older in years than you. You should treat him with regard and respect." It was time to teach him of the ways of my people. Respect of elders by the young is a hard but basic lesson. "Go you and inquire if he shall favor you."

"Aight. My gratitude, Tor." He was learning strange behavior in the land. He bowed before exiting the chamber.

"I see much of you in him." Sal commented. "I brought you dry attire."

"My gratitude. I believe I shall bathe now. I am already wet." I loathed wearing sodden clothing. I quickly undressed and slid into the pool for cleansing. "You see not me in him. He has much of my father but none of my mother."

"What mean you by that comment?" Sal looked thoughtful. "He is not your brother?"

"Nothen. He is the son of my brother and Kierian. I wish him not to know. Kierian wishes him not to know."

"I wish to know. Tell me, how know you this?"

Without embellishment and with no wasted words, I told her the tale Kierian had related to me. Sal was silent through my telling. She sat at the side of the pool and pondered my words. For several breaths she did not speak.

"It was correct for you to speak of him to her. It was your duty to return him to his true parents. I admit though I am gladdened she wishes you to rear him. He is your heir and has come to see you as his rightful and true mother."

"He is our heir, Salenia." I gently reminded her of my promise to her. "We shall have the rearing of him and perhaps others as well."


"Aight. You once imparted your desire for a hearth and babes. One babe I have provided. The hearth I shall on our return. The others I cannot though I wish it otherwise."

"Perhaps we shall find a way." She smiled gently. "All kirgeurs do."

"I have been immersed in enough water this day. I shall not require soaking in the pool for resting." I exited the pool and began to dry myself. Sal had chosen my silk attire. I knew it would suffice for the feast.

"You should guard your steps around wet flooring." She imparted her advice mildly.

"Aight. Though I was not moving. I was pulled into the pool." It is said revenge is sweet as well aged ale. I would bide my time before tasting that ale.

"Nothen. You were not pulled. I wish you unharmed. I would not wish to pull you into a pool fully attired. Though I shall do as I promised and cleanse your sword." I knew it then for a jesting untruth. She did not meet my eyes.

"I shall cleanse my sword. You are to rest."

"Aight. If I must."

"You must. We must now see to our companions." I completed my dressing. "They shall believe you were attempting to drown me otherwise."

"I would not wish you drowned." She walked close. "I say again, I wish you unharmed. Stay that way for me."

"I shall attempt it." It was not a promise I could make. I knew I had not control over the end of my life if the gods had decreed it already. "If we are blessed, it shall not be for many years to come, regardless of the pools you pull me into."

"How else shall I ensure you follow?"

"Keytheda, I would much rather accompany than follow, though there is not a place on this orb I would not follow if you but led."

"For a warrior without the skill to shape words, you manage well. Come, shehala, let us see to our companions." She offered her hand. I accepted without reluctance.

We entered the main chamber to see our companions cease their conversation with haste. Iolaine, Lyliane, and Tre were sitting around the table. The meal was still on the tray. No one had touched it. Sevianth was sitting in his bed. He was attempting to oil his sling. I had no wish to view the results.

"Lyliane informed us you wish to consolidate our households." Iolaine attempted to deflect our suspicion.

"Aight. If it is possible, I believe it best." I answered as I claimed a seat at the table. "Perhaps you wish to tell us of what you were discussing before we entered?"

"I spoke of my desire to see Reinea free." Lyliane answered. "I had no wish for Sevianth to hear the plans."

"Commendable, but not truthful." Sal caught her sister's misdirection. "We shall let the matter rest if you wish."

"Agreed. I am hungered. Sevianth. Come and partake of the meal." He hastened his steps. "After the meal, I shall demonstrate how to cleanse and treat leather."

"I attempted to cleanse my sling. I do not believe it helped." He handed me the parts remaining.

"I shall show you how to make another. We have no duties until the feasting begins. Let us eat now."

The rest of the day before the feast was spent in idle pleasures. Reinea and Tre hastened to consolidate our households. They brought Sal and Iolaine's belongings to my chambers. I cleansed and oiled my sword. Sevianth watched closely. Salenia spent the time preparing her weapons as well. A great feast deserved our finest. As a result, I bid Iolaine and Lyliane journey to market. I knew my boots would not dry in time. I had no wish to wear wet leather. I knew as well that spending time together pleased them. I resolved to speak to Sal of their union.

An hour before dusk, a servant bid us join the feast. Reinea remained to keep watch over Sevianth. I had been correct. Young children were forbidden the great feasts. Tre accompanied us. She wished to write more in her journal. She was becoming a great chronicler. I felt at times as if we were living a tale and my sister was our scribe. Her deeds would ensure our tale would be remembered by those to come after.

The chamber the feasting took place in was referred to as the Feasting Hall. It was a long, roughly rectangular chamber. It contained seven long wooden tables and one table cut from stone. The Jilhsaed, Soliumant, the Jilhsaed's chief advisors and the princess of the harem took seats at the great table. The rest of the advisors and the ranking cordermers sat in order of their status. They claimed five of the remaining tables. The room was only used during feasts, but everyone knew his place.

Tre, Iolaine and Lyliane were made to sit with the guards and other servants at the last table. Kierian and Graneima were made to sit there as well. By custom, Kierian could not sit at the high table until she had been formally joined to Soliumant. Salenia and I were surprised to find ourselves escorted to a table near to the high one. Johianei was seated near to the Jilhsaed. He had a look of pride on his face. He must have been rewarded for giving us employment.

"I wish to begin this evening's feast with several announcements." Soliumant rose from his chair. "The first is that my esteemed father has given me permission to chose a bride. I have chosen the maiden, Kierian from the Alsounthia. My father has agreed to the union." He paused while part of the assemblage cheered. Sal and I cheered mightily. "The second is we have lost a true and worthy son of this realm during our hunt. I ask his esteemed father to accept the head of one of the tirgeaurs in memory. It is my wish we toast young Ridiericio's memory." He raised his glass. Every one present did likewise. "We have this feast in memory of a fine young man and in honor of two very worthy warriors. I present to them the coat of a tirgeaur, the horn from one, the paw Torienne removed before slaying the first beast, the feathers of several Ostiopocks, and as another token of my gratitude to them, I have requested the story of the day's events be chronicled. They shall be read to you now as we partake of this wonderful feast." The crowd cheered again.

"It is a little much, do you not agree?" Sal asked me in our native tongue.

"Apparently we have greatly impressed him." I answered. No one else commented on the appropriateness of the gifts. Others had spread word of our deeds during the hunt shortly after our return.

The chronicler read the scroll to the assemblage as the servants laid the first course before us. The chronicler had done well. He had begun the tale as we left the palace and built the story as he wove the setting. He told of the hunt for the fowl, the chasing and slaying of the Ostiopocks and finally the tirgeaur hunt. His audience gasped as he described both the beasts and the ambush. I was grateful he included the deeds of the rest as well. He did keep the story focused on Sal's actions and mine as the battle with the beasts began.

The telling of the events was timed to finish as the head of one of the tirgeaurs was brought into the Feasting Hall. The chronicler sat in his chair as the rest of the meat was brought into the chamber. The audience cheered again. Tirgeaur meat was considered a great delicacy. I attempted to taste it, but I no longer hungered. I made show of the attempt, however. Sal did not taste the meat, though she cleverly made it appear as if she had. She did so out of principal. I truly could not stomach more food. I was not the only person suffering from too much. Several of the cordermers had refused a course to keep an appetite for the tirgeaur meat.

"I trust you have enjoyed this feast?" The Jilhsaed rose from his chair and stood before the assembly. He continued. "My son has proven his worth and the trust the gods have placed in him. He was chosen heir at his birth when I was chosen so at the death of my brother. I bid you rise and swear allegiance to him as a validation to earlier oaths. Though my life may continue for years if the gods wish it so, I desire a peaceful transition between proud father and worthy son. Siveruian."

"We shall pledge to Soliumant as heir. This is a repetition of earlier vows to him, though there are some present who shall pledge for the first time, it shall all bind you to him." He began reading names from a scroll. Each cordermer indicated stood with his family and guards and pledged allegiance to Soliumant.

"Torienne and Salenia?" The chamberlain called upon us last. We stood as one. Iolaine and Lyliane stood as well. They were members of our household. Though it seemed odd we were called together, I rationalized it with ease. Siveruian knew of our partnership. In truth, he knew of more.

"We pledge our swords and our loyalty to you, rohirm. It is our duty to protect your life, protect your interest, and those of your household. We shall serve you as well as we are able." I knew not the words required.

"You have but to request our service. We two, and those of our households, shall uphold the laws and customs of this realm for the length of our duty to you. We pledge to give our lives for you if the need arises, rohirm." Salenia pledged. Siveruian smiled, and we felt able to reclaim our seats.

"As an added token of my son's stature and worthiness for the seat of the Jilhsaed, I present him with the token of the heir. This sword has been passed from Jilhsaed to son from the time the gods gifted us with steel. My brother bore it, as did my father. It was gifted me upon the death of my brother, upon the very hour my son took his first breath. I give it now to him." The Jilhsaed held aloft a large, curved sword. The sheath was bejeweled leather. The pommel was a giant green stone. It seemed worth my father's herd of horses.

"I thank you father, my people and the gods for the trust placed in me. I shall wield this sword to the best of my ability, only to part with it as I gift it to my heir. I pledge to you, my father and you, the people of this realm, that I shall endeavor to uphold the faith, trust and belief in me and in the Jilhsaed." Soliumant pulled the sword from its sheath. Never before had I viewed such a blade. It seemed made of gold, not steel, though it seemed sharp enough to bruise the very air around it. "We shall resume the feasting and the celebrating on the morrow." He resumed his seats to cheers from the cordermers. Only few did not give voice to words of praise and encouragement.

When we returned to my chamber, we found servants with the promised gifts. They had not been prepared in haste. We were awed by the workmanship. The pelt from the tirgeaur had also provided Ridiericio's father with a grieving gift. Soliumant would have the other cover his chair in court. It would contain the head much as his father's did.

We were awed by the size of the pelt. It easily covered my bed with parts hanging to the floor. We would need a horse to carry it back to the village. The paw from the beast weighed more than Sevianth. The boy was enamored of it and attempted to drag it across the room. His efforts were amusing.

"How are we to transport all this to the village?" Sal asked after the servants had departed.

"I have no idea." I laughed. "At the least everyone will believe our stories."

"In truth." She examined the feathers. They had given us enough to cover two of the flightless beasts.

"I have never seen the likes of these." Lyliane joined her sister in examining the feathers. She held up a tail feather. "I have seen the other types of feathers, but not these. What shall you do with them?"

"I have no idea." Sal answered.

"Tor, how did you manage to kill this?" Sevianth asked as he continued to examine the massive paw.

"It was not easy." I assisted him move the paw. "When you are older in seasons, I shall tell you the full tale."

"Older? That is not fair." He protested. I could not tell him life in our village was not always fair. Nor was it always fair in this realm.

"It is fair." I answered. "When you begin your warrior training, we shall tell you."

"Aight." He did not seem mollified. "May I keep a feather?"

"Aight. You may." I laughed. He ran to claim one before returning to his bed.

"Dream well, young one." I watched as he climbed into his bed and pulled the blankets over him.

"You as well." He said around a yawn. He was soon dreaming.

"Shall we venture forth and locate another victim?" I turned my mind back to the quest. Tre had accompanied Reinea. They had been sent to fetch Sal's attire from the palace laundress. We could speak freely.

"Aight." Iolaine grinned in a reckless manner. "Have you a target?"

"Nothen. Sal?" I turned the suggestion to my partner.

"Perhaps it would be wise to take one who had been here longer than the others. One who could assist and explain the plan to those of your village." She paused for thought. "Perhaps it would appear more random as well."

"I believe you are correct. Lyliane, have you suggestions?" She knew more of the servants than we. It was wise to ask.

"Aight. I know of several who wish for freedom. In truth, it is not bad if your faelida is pleasant. Few cordermers abuse servants as they do slaves."

"Tell me, what is the difference between servant and slave?" In all my time at court, I had not learned the true difference.

"Those who attend the duties of the palace are servants. I carry the mark of a slave. In truth, when I was brought to this realm, I was one. I was granted the status of servant upon my faelida's death. I serve the palace, not a man. Reinea and few others are likewise viewed. We have no duties but those assigned and we have scant freedom. We are given food, shelter and at times coinage. Though we are not slaves, we are not allowed to return to our homelands." It was the first time she had described her life as a servant.

"It is truth. I was a servant fell to slave." Iolaine explained. "The one I served wagered me. I lost my freedom but wear no mark save my ring. Sevianth carries the mark of a servant as well. Any other would have him branded."

"This is not a peaceful conversation." Sal leaned onto the table. "It does not sit well with me, this buying of human life."

"Nothen. It does not sit well with me either." In truth it did not. I could not equate one such as Iolaine with my horse. "We shall accomplish that which we are able. Perhaps it will suffice." It was spoken to appease myself. It did not. "Regardless, we must needs put the plan in action. Iolaine, shall we?"

"We shall." He looked pleased.

"Lyliane, who shall you bid us take?" It occurred to me that we should not have involved her. Her head was at stake fully as much as ours if we were caught. However, the law of the land dictated death to traitors as well as their servants, slaves and households. Even Sevianth's head would be forfeit. Her assistance was worth the risk. We would not consider defeat.

"There is one who arrived a season behind me. She is from the region to the west. She is called Beladico. She attends to the palace by servicing the kitchens." She informed us after much thought. "Beladico misses her homeland and the family remaining there. She would be pleased to be freed."

"Where would we find her?" Iolaine asked.

"She would be cleansing the plates from the feast."

"I think you and Iolaine should fetch a flask of viniare and perhaps some food from the kitchens." I suggested. I knew she could indicate our target to him without too much suspicion.

"Aight. I think we shall." She understood my meaning. They quickly departed. We were in haste to perform our chosen duty.

"I wish to accompany you." Sal seemed forlorn.

"I wish it also. I think you shall after you have healed." I attempted to appease her.

"Stay unharmed. Iolaine is a good man, but he is no warrior."

"We shall succeed. I have no wish to lose my head or cause you and the others to suffer the same fate." I was sincere. I had no wish for any to pay for my transgressions.

"Aight. Keep those thought near to you. My sword shall not be there to assist you though my thoughts shall be." I had not seen her so serious.

"I shall return unharmed. I have much to live for." Tre and Reinea's arrival tempered our speech. "Well met, how went the day?" I opened our conversation to them.

"It went well. I think we have completed our duties. I am for dreaming." Tre seemed tired. She was not accustomed to such duties. My father treated her as a scholar. Her mother encouraged her passion for words.

"Peace be your dreaming, sister."

"And yours." She smiled. "I think I shall have wondrous dreams this eve. I have seen much I wish to relate to our kin."

"I think she has much of her mother in her if you have any of your father." Sal observed.

"Aight. She possesses a wondrous demeanor. She sees the orb as a garden. She is the only offspring of my father's to view it such." I turned to Reinea. "Chose a bed. You shall stay in these chambers if you desire."

"My gratitude." She performed the customary bow. "Would I be remiss in begging a bath before I seek my dreams?" The ways of servitude were still deep within her.

"You shall do as you desire within these chambers." Sal reminded her. "It shall be no different than in my chambers."

"My deepest gratitude then. I am gladdened to serve two such as you. You seem to regard servants and slaves as you do those with freedom."

"We are unaccustomed to servants and slaves. Life has not changed so greatly since you were taken." She was from a village two days ride from Houcense. The Poulantie shared views similar to those of my tribe.

"It is not easy to remember a time before I was taken. I shall seek my bathing then my dreams." She waited a few heartbeats before seeking the bathing chamber. I knew not how to respond to her words. Sal was tiring else I believe she would have answered.

"Seek you your dreams, Salenia. I shall wake you on my return."

"I have no desire for dreams. I think my body does."

"You would do well to listen to your body and not your mind. You are still harmed. I wish you well and soon. We shall have need of your sword in this quest. Though that is merely duty. I wish you unharmed with my heart as well." Phrases of affection were new to me. I hoped Salenia would understand. I was fortunate. She knew my nature.

"I long for the end of duty though I do not begrudge it. Go you and see to our quest. I shall wait for your return." I knew then the true reason for her presence on this quest. She had followed me.

"Know you where my sister hid your attire? We should take all contraband this eve." I saw the truth of her heart. I did not have the skills to comprehend it. I turned our speech to duty. It made a convenient shield.

"Aight. I shall assist with packing. It is the least I am able to do." She rescued her attire for our task from the graseleth chamber she had claimed. "I think our companions are conspiring against us."

"Aight. I believe they are as well. They are like old women telling tales of love and betting on matches." We began sorting the attire and the other items needed for the venture into piles.

"I think it is to keep two of our number from their thoughts. They seem quite besotted." Sal added a large pouch designed to be worn across the shoulders and hang behind the wearer to the pile. We packed it with the contraband.

"They have a good union, a true love it seems." I agreed. I could find no fault with a union between Iolaine and Lyliane. However, Lyliane was not my sister. I had not a voice of approval; I could only counsel Salenia on the matter.

"It is truth. I am gladdened for my sister and wish her well. Love is not easy to come by." I was not schooled in the ways of the heart. In truth, I was not wise in the matters of love. I had not the knowledge or experience to feel confident in my words. I knew enough to realize Salenia required the hearing of those words. She seemed forlorn as she imparted her wishes for her sister. For all that she was a warrior Sal was still female.

"May they bless one another as you bless me. May they find their lives as full as I find mine. May they love one another as I love you." After my eldest brother had celebrated his union, I overheard my father say those words to my mother. Though she was not his first wife, she was the wife of his heart. He married first for duty and second for love.

"Aight, Torienne. It is my wish for them as well." She pulled me into an embrace. "Go now. I hear Iolaine in the chamber beyond. Return unharmed, shehala."

"I shall." It was a promise I gave willingly.

Iolaine was anxious to depart. In truth I was also. We walked first to the stables. It was under pretense. Several guards saw to their horses when not performing their duty. It would not seem suspicious. Iolaine carried the pack of attire, food and other contraband. The pack seemed as if it were laundry. It made for a good illusion.

We crept behind the paddock and journeyed along the river. We traded our normal clothing for that of our task in the shadow of the wall enclosing the palace grounds. We then crept the length of the wall, staying near to the shadows until we reached the palace kitchens. In truth, there were three such kitchens. One served only the Jilhsaed and the ranking cordermers, another the palace guards and lesser cordermers, the third served all other residents of the palace. Our target provided service to the second kitchen. We were fortunate it lay within easy reach from the palace wall.

We waited in silent darkness. Clouds obscured the rays of the moon. I offered my thoughts in a plea to Solisiric for the moon to retain its dressing. We would have need of darkness. As we waited, I formed a plan to escort Beladico from the palace grounds. It required much fortune and great stealth. I had no wish to elude guards were they to give chase.

Fortune smiled as Beladico exited the kitchen. She was alone though we heard others close behind. Using a piece of cloth, I muffled her face and pulled her into the shadows. Her struggle gave voice to her thoughts. I had not time to reassure her. I used the hilt of my dagger to send her to dreaming. It was unkind though it was necessary.

Beladico was stout of body. Iolaine assisted me carry her to the river. We exited the palace grounds by water. It was difficult walking waist deep in the current. It was fortunate the water lightened our load. Regardless of the river's assistance, we made slow progress. Several times we were made to halt as guards patrolled the water's edge. It was a precarious journey. A single ray from the moon would have unmasked us. We traveled beneath the wall, built in such a manner to accommodate the river's flow, and through to the city.

The cool wind revived Beladico as we exited the water. We had followed the river several leagues beyond the palace walls. We bid her listen and offered her freedom. We did not unmask ourselves lest she decline. She accepted as Lyliane predicted.

The journey to our hiding place was free of obstacles. It is why we had chosen such a place. No one was brave enough to question two warriors armed with well-made steel. The clouds had parted from the moon's embrace. We remained near the shadows though it was unnecessary. We would take no chances. I had a promise to keep.

Julaniant was gladdened to see us. We gave him the food we had kept and bid him welcome Beladico. He was gladdened for the companionship. She was gladdened to assist. We bid them both remain hidden. They agreed readily. I promised food and information again on the morrow. They could not depart to fetch their own.

Iolaine and I clothed ourselves in our normal attire for return to the palace. The guards were due to change at the midpoint of the night. We would enter the gate then under pretense of viewing the festivities in the city. It was not a trick we would use often. We would change entrance and exit points each time we took a target. We could not leave a pattern. The danger was too great.

The journey to the palace was easier than the journey from it. We encounter no dangers, nor did we encounter one who knew us. We felt our first success would bode well for the success of our duty. Though we knew each servant or slave freed would endanger our companions, the mission, and ourselves, we could not but feel pride at our first accomplishment. We had stolen a servant who had been stolen from her homeland. We would return her to her people. We felt it worth the risk.

The guards paid us little heed as we entered the palace. They knew of me by reputation or by sight. My rank was above theirs. I was asked no questions. Under pretense we did swagger as if we had consumed much ale. One guard expressed his envy at our freedom. He was required to guard the gate during the night hours. He could not attend the festivities in the city. I commiserated and offered to bespeak Soliumant on the matter. The guard was grateful.

Salenia was walking her dream paths when we entered the chambers. Quietly I traded my attire for my night tunic. The other beds were claimed as Sal had chosen mine for her resting. Without a qualm, I claimed the space near to her. It was a large bed and though we were not yet lovers, it was imminent. I fell to my dreaming in a grateful manner. The day had been long.

Continue to part 15

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