Tominent led us to a tavern that did not boast an inn. It was single floored and seemed not to attract attention to itself. It appeared the place well skilled guards would frequent. Those who sold their swords wished to retire from their earnings. They did not wish for fighting beyond their duty. We would be welcomed as equals in such places.
The inside of the tavern was dark, smoky, but smelled only of ale. It seemed well cared for and contained many patrons. Most were either palace guards or gieashetha. I knew we would be safe in the tavern. Tales of our reputations had spread through the city. Sal and I commanded great regard from our fellow guards. Tominent laid claim to a table in the far corner. We were safe enough to sit with our backs to the other patrons.
"Have you seen much of the city?" Tominent inquired as he bid a wench bring our drinks.
"We have not had much opportunity. We have explored it but little after our duties." I answered.
"It seems a wondrous place." Sal commented.
"It is a place of wonder, though I grow weary of it. You have journeyed far. What wonders have you seen elsewhere?" He seemed curious.
"We have not seen such wonders elsewhere." I told him. "There is not much worth the viewing between our homeland and this realm."
"You have seen fields of grass and large rivers of water have you not?"
"We have. Such an arid climate is strange to us." Sal joined the conversation. "There are many fields of grass, wheat and hay where we are from."
"I would wish to view such. I see such land often in my dreaming." He handed the wench a silver for the ale. "I would view such sights as wondrous as you view our city so."
"It is said that one does not appreciate their hearth until they have seen the fires of others." Sal echoed a phrase from our schooling. "There is wisdom in such a phrase."
"There is in many phrases the elders set down for the young." Tominent agreed. "Tell me, Torienne, how like you this new duty?"
"It is well, though it is not easy to teach those unaccustomed to such labors." The servants we had charge of were not accustomed to sword work.
"I have given thought on the matter. I wonder if we should separate them. I shall handle those fit only for watching if you handle the teaching of those with skill and desire to learn steel."
"It is a good plan." I agreed. "There are few who are fit enough to learn the blade, though many are good for standing watch."
"Have you thought of who is stealing the servants?" Sal asked.
"No. I have given much thought on that as well. I was not of rank to assist last season, though I heard the tales of the missing. I was a palace guard only, not a guard to Soliumant or my father."
"It is strange they should attack a cordermer." I kept innocence and bewilderment in my voice.
"It is. They are becoming bold in their deeds. I have a wish to catch them. They are making the court appear in bad light."
"They are. I wonder how they perform their deeds. We have seen no sign of their presence the few times we have journeyed from the palace." Sal remained impassive. We did not wish to draw him into our plans.
"Perhaps they are closer to the court than we are led to believe. I am certain if they are able to steal servants from beds, they are within reach of the palace if not inside it." I gave voice to my suspicion.
"I think perhaps you are correct." He agreed.
"It would be within reason to think they were servants or perhaps others." Sal added.
"If it is indeed a conspiracy from the palace itself, we need watch our own servants and watch for signs. Perhaps we should form a watch together and seek these thieves." Tominent suggested.
"Perhaps the fewer we involved, the greater our ease." I did not wish several guards and cordermers involved. "Need we inform the Jilhsaed or Soliumant?"
"I believe we should not yet inform them. It would be within reason to assume one near to them would find us out. Perhaps they would wish to make it seem as if we are the thieves." Sal cautioned. It was an element of danger I had not considered.
"I believe you correct as well. We have need of secrecy. I doubt it should be believed we are thieves, as there is no evidence to support the matter. Regardless we should take care and ensure our plan is not known." Tominent assured us he did not think us thieves. I did not appreciate our deception, though I appreciated his trust in us.
"You are correct. I have no wish to lose my head for an imagined wrong."
"Forgive the asking, Tominent, though we require it. Shall we trust in you? We have known you but little, can you ensure you are not attempting to ensnare us?" Sal gave voice to the question I had wished to ask.
"I forgive the asking. In truth, I had not trusted in you until I had speech with Siveruian on the matter. He believes you to be kirgeurs and sent by our gods to aide us in this season. He knows little of the ways of such warriors, as we have had but one here before. She was also a guard to my father in his youth, and was the mother to one of his sons. It is said she took a blade for him and gave her life for his in her duty." He drained his ale. "I wish to see the marks."
"What has been said of kirgeurs and their assistance to this realm?" I did not wish to believe his tale without further proof. I looked to Salenia for confirmation of his tale. She knew no more than I.
"It is known to few guards but many cordermers. I shall tell you of it. If you wish more proof of my words, it is scribed on the wall in the chamber Soliumant gave to his bride as well as in the library of the palace. There is a scroll written at the time of Soliumant's birth that contains the tale and the foresight of those who practice the arcane ways." He stood suddenly. "Come, I shall show you. Perhaps you shall believe your eyes rather than your ears."
"We shall follow. You have intrigued us." I stood as one with Sal. I doubted little his words. I knew not why. I knew I should have been on guard against them. I could see Salenia's struggle as well as my own. We wished to believe him, though it was against our nature.
"This shall prove I am worthy of your trust." He led us back to the palace. We were much in thought and paid little heed to our surroundings.
As many stories as Kayla, Chelstea, my grandfather and our other instructors had related to me, I knew none of a kirgeur entering this land a generation before us. The idea intrigued me. I wished to know the thought, the deeds and the adventure such a woman would encounter. I wished also to know of the circumstances that would bring a kirgeur leagues from her homeland and her duty.
The library of the palace was a large chamber inside the smaller dome on the highest floor. Shelving of wood and stone lined the walls. Tables of stone with chairs of wood were beneath the highest point of the dome. Lanterns were lit four to a column. There was little need for more light.
"These are but copies of the original scrolls. The originals are hidden and protected by certain guards." Tominent led us to a corner of the library. "In this shelving you will find the chronicles of my father's reign. Each Jilhsaed has similar shelving. Those scrolls pertaining to other legends, tales and deeds of the rest of the realm are stored through out the library. They are not given such treatment." He pulled a scroll case from a place on the shelf. "This is the story of Soliumant's birth. It contains the prophecy." He ran his hand along the top of the case. We could see the inscription. It was indeed the tale of Soliumant's birth. "You may read it if able."
"My gratitude." Sal gently took the case from his hand. I followed her to a table near a lantern. "Shall I give it voice?"
"If you wish." I could not read much of the text over her shoulder. The light did not fall right upon it.
"Hear you the tale of the birth of our son, Soliumant, son of Ibenument and his bride Ketrident. During Ketrident's struggles to bring her babe, the heir of Ibenument into the realm, a prophecy was made by one who was well versed in the arcane arts. This prophecy caused great concern to the Jilhsaed who wished his son, Ibenument to disregard such counsel. The seer was the same who had given counsel regarding Ibenument's birth. The prophecy was seen as false by the Jilhsaed. He still lived and Ibenument was not heir. As the time grew near to Soliumant's birth, news of Fadelent's death reached the palace. Ibenument was heir on his brother's death. Upon hearing the news, Ibenument sent forth his servant to fetch the seer. The seer returned and upon beholding the babe newly given life, related the following prophecy." She paused. "This is a lengthy way to relate a tale."
"All scroll are written as such." Tominent informed us. "Continue and give voice to the prophecy."
"It was said by the seer that two maidens bearing steel would enter the realm at need. They would be attired in colors not befitting their calling and they would bear the mark of the phoenix upon their arms. The mark would be visible in their attire, black with shirts of red for one and black for the other. They will ensure the line of the Jilhsaed and see Soliumant to his destiny. They shall call themselves kirgeurs, warriors of the phoenix, and be female warriors of skill and beauty. The seer imparted more words to the heir upon Soliumant's birth. The kirgeurs would be preceded by one of their kind. The first would give her life to save her faelida's. The two would ensure the death of the Jilhsaed and the rising of his heir."
"That is rather cryptic." I was in awe. The prophecy had one mistake. Sal wore the blue, not the red. It was then I remembered she had forgone the red to follow on this quest.
"Are you not kirgeurs? I wish to see the mark." Tominent looked upon us with an eager gaze.
"We are." I lifted the sleeve of my shirt and let him see the mark. "We have no wish to end the Jilhsaed's life."
"Read on. There is more pertaining to the prophecy." He reclaimed his chair and appeared weary.
"The kirgeurs shall not take the life of the Jilhsaed, that must be remembered, though their arrival in the realm will signal the end of his reign." Sal placed the scroll in its case. "That is most strange."
"You know us as we are. What are you to us?" I asked. If the prophecy were truth, I knew the Jilhsaed would wish our deaths or our departure.
"I am the son of the first kirgeur. My mother sacrificed her life to save my father. That part of the prophecy is truth. I wish not to see my father's death, though I wish to see Soliumant inherit that which is his by right."
"I think there is something you have yet to relate to us." It seemed suspicious. More was amiss than we believed.
"There is. Long have I feared few in the palace would give rise to their anger and frustration and rid the realm of both my father and my rightful brother. There are some who wish themselves as Jilhsaed, though I have not proof of their deeds. I wish your assistance for I fear the thieves are more than they seem." He gave himself to the embrace of his chair.
"You wish our assistance to ensure Soliumant becomes the Jilhsaed?" Sal wished clarification.
"I do. There are few of us who are banded together in secrecy to ensure Soliumant inherits. We have no wish for my father's death. We wish only to ensure tradition. There are others who wish otherwise, though we know them not by face."
"These thieves then, perhaps they are more than they seem?" I did not wait for an answer. "Perhaps they are stealing slaves for warriors or to sell them again to fund their desires."
"It has long been my belief they are reselling the servants for profit. It is known Soliumant thinks little of slavers. Perhaps the slavers themselves are assisting the thieves." Tominent had given the matter much thought. "It is dangerous for you to reveal yourselves. All of rank know the prophecy. You would either be assassinated or tried for treason. Guard your identity well. The mark is known, let it not been seen."
"We shall assist you." I pledged my support without questioning my shehala. I feared for a moment she would protest.
"Aight. We have need here as well. We shall assist you. Perhaps we shall prevent the full prophecy from becoming reality. We have been in this realm over a moon, the Jilhsaed still lives."
"Grateful am I that he does. Perhaps you are correct. Regardless, I wish to find the thieves. I am of the opinion they are behind more than the missing servants." He stood. "Seek you your rest. You have my gratitude for your assistance. I shall see you on our duty."
"May the gods guard and guide your dream paths." I stood. "My gratitude for your trust in us."
"It is a small matter if we are correct. We have need and you have skills. Peace be your dreaming." He offered the customary night greeting in our tongue. It surprised and heartened us.
"I have a wish for a bath and a mug of viniare. My head is full of thought." I rubbed my temples. They ached under the strain of my knowledge.
"Aight. I have as well. Let us return to our chambers. We have much to think on."
The palace was quiet and the hour late when we returned to our chambers. Our companions were walking the paths of their dreams. We counted to ensure all were present. We had no wish to discover one of our own missing.
I took the flask of viniare from the table and gathered two mugs. We would ensure our privacy in the bathing chamber. We had learned soon in our quest why many conducted business in bathing. It was ideal for secrecy.
"Shehala, we are on dangerous ground. If the prophecy reads true, we may lose our lives if we let ourselves be known." Sal leaned into the pool's embrace. The heat of the water relaxed our frustrations and worry.
"We have no reason to believe the prophecy, though we have reason to be wary. It is within reason those of this realm put much faith in it." I poured a mug of viniare. "Regardless, I shall not allow any to harm you or our companions."
"I am concerned not for my own safety. I wish you to take precautions. I have no wish to return to our tribe without you."
"You shall not. We shall both return when our duty here is no more." I promised. I had no wish to make such a promise, though I did so. I knew not if I would regret it. "We need guard against the stealing of our companions."
"Aight. We need also to keep watch for sightings of the thieves. Perhaps we should steal your cousins but no more."
"I believe you are correct. We shall see to them and return our attention fully to this new duty." I saw it as another form of my duty. I was pledge to guard the life of the Jilhsaed. I would not deny my duty to him. There was no honor in halting duty. "I shall charge Iolaine and your sister with locating them. Perhaps Tre will assist."
"Perhaps she shall. What need think you brought a kirgeur to this realm?"
"I know not. I have been thinking on that as well. They knew of the mark. It must be truth."
"Aight. It speaks of why Siveruian knew of our tongue as well." She crossed the length of the pool. "We have found much that is strange in this land."
"We have. Perhaps when our duty is finished, we should inquire of the other kirgeur. Kayla told no tales of one preceding us."
"We shall think on that when we are able. I have a need to forget for a moment only we are more than two resting in a pool." She rose and stood before me. "Torienne, I know you wish not to promise on the future. Though I wish you promise me this. Stay safe and unharmed as you are able."
"I shall use all my knowledge to remain whole. That I pledge to you." I pledged to myself as well. I had no wish to return to our homeland damaged. I knew warriors missing limbs or use of abilities were warriors no more. I had no wish to be such. "You shall not pledge in kind?"
"I pledge." She straddled my thighs. "I pledge all that and
more. I am greatly in love with you, keytheda." She silenced my answer
with her lips on mine. There were no more words that night. For that, I was
"Greet the day, Torienne." Tominent greeted me as I entered the area designated for teaching the servants to use steel.
"How goes the day?"
"It goes well, though long." He laughed. We had a week of training the servants and little progress. His group was the larger with ten and seven. Mine contained only nine.
"It is long." I agreed. It had been a week since we stole our last servant. We had not located both my cousins. Rulirenne was missing, though we knew the whereabouts of Hildrenne. We took turns in watching for a way to steal Hildrenne from the palace. "Graneima, lead them through the first sword dance."
"I saw no signs of them last eve." Tominent informed me in a low voice. We spoke as we watched the new guards attempt the first dance of steel.
"I saw no signs either. It is strange. Three more are missing and we have seen no hint of their passing." I was frustrated. Had I been an illogical warrior, I would have believed night demons took them at will. "Perhaps this night we should watch together. We shall hide in waiting near to the river."
"It seems a good plan, though why the river?"
"Graneima, remain in stance while lunging. Those of you in the back, keep your feet level with your shoulders. You do not wish to unbalance your stance." I turned my attention away from the students. "It is a guess and no more." In truth, I knew if Iolaine and I were able to make use of the river to leave the palace, others would. "If they are close to Soliumant and the Jilhsaed, they would know where the guards are placed. We should watch where there is a lack of guards each night."
"You are correct. We should have begun with that thought in mind." We had watched the streets of the city each night.
"It shall be put right." I assured him. "Iolaine, that is not how you wish to hold your sword. Let me have Iolaine, Reinea, Graneima, Ruberient, and Wendelent perform the second of the sword dances. The rest perform the first again." I separated from Tominent and watched my students perform the dances with varying levels of humor and ill grace. Only Graneima, Wendelent and Iolaine showed talent. Reinea wished to assist as she wished her freedom.
Though several were ill suited for sword work, they were determined to learn. The Jilhsaed had promised freedom in exchange for their blades. I promised each I would teach them, as I was able. Tominent and I paired those with no skill for steel with others to keep watch. At night we stationed them around the reaches of the palace, hidden from casual eyes. Those chosen would need not blades but strong lungs. They were bid to fetch us before they alerted the other guards.
I bid my students practice two full hours. I wished for more. The heat bid us seek shelter from the punishment of the sun's rays. We practiced our sword drills near to the paddock. Shade was in great demand. We were hard pressed to find much of it.
I returned to my chambers with Iolaine and Reinea. I was not relieved from my duties to the Jilhsaed. I was required to teach and guard during court as well. Salenia was required to consume her meal with Kierian. They were in lessoning. Soliumant wished his bride to learn his language in time for their joining. Lyliane and Tre had watch over Sevianth. They took their meals with the students. It was Siveruian's wish to safe guard the youth by keeping them in lessoning until evening.
"Shall I fetch a tray?" Reinea asked as we entered the chambers. It seemed strange to partake of the meal without our companions.
"You shall have my gratitude." I responded. "Iolaine, I wish a bath. Mind you if I bid you wait?"
"Nothen. You need change your attire as well. I have no duties until evening watch." He seemed grateful for the chair he claimed.
"My gratitude. I feel as if I am no more than dirt and sweat." I bathed in haste. I was greatly hungered as well. When I returned to the main chamber, Tominent had entered though Reinea had not returned.
"Well met, Torienne. Lessoning went well."
"Aight. It did. Wish you join us for the meal?" I asked as I claimed my chair.
"I have but one servant and she is at market with others." He claimed a chair. "We should be near to the river this eve?"
"We should. I think perhaps Iolaine and Graneima shall assist in our watch. We shall place the others along the walls. We shall watch several hours each night, though we shall vary it. This night we shall begin one hour after evening meal."
"Perhaps we shall soon catch them." He seemed hopeful.
"Perhaps. We shall keep close watch for them." I did not wish to fuel his enthusiasm. "Well met, Reinea. We are hungered." I grinned at the tray she carried. It contained more food than we could consume.
The lessoning had heartened me. I was no longer as weary after evening court. My stamina had returned. It seemed so for all my companions. As we became accustomed to the heat and our duties, we discovered we had energy to spare before seeking our dreaming. I had not realized the drain the heat caused until I began lessonings.
We talked of unimportant matters as we consumed our meal. Reinea had not been entered into our plans, nor had Tominent. We trusted in them, but not so much as to inform them we were thieves as well. It seemed wise to keep our true quest hidden from them. I knew the sharing of such knowledge would endanger us all.
Regardless of my words of caution to Tominent, evening court proved tedious and long. My thoughts were near to the hunt, though I kept a close watch about the Jilhsaed. I had one cordermer in mind to watch as well. He seemed always in the back of the court, always watching the proceedings and rare did he voice his thoughts. Salenia remained watchful of him as well. We knew not how to inquire of him without seeming much intrigued by his behavior.
"I have a thought." Salenia asked as we returned to our chambers after court.
"Perhaps we should research the one before us and the cordermer we have noticed. We should not be forbid entrance the library."
"We are to meet Tominent an hour after evening meal. We have then to utilize Kayla's hidden weapon." I agreed. Kayla believed greatly in the advantage research provided kirgeurs. "It is a good plan, shehala."
"Perhaps such research would befit your sister?"
"If Tre were to gain entrance to the library, we would not see her for many days." I laughed at the thought. I knew Tre would not wish to depart from the library until she had read each scroll. "We shall ask if she would wish to assist, though we should inquire of Siveruian if we are permitted to enter."
"We should seek him before we return to the chambers." As one, we turned our steps and returned to the court chamber. Siveruian was speaking with several servants near to the festivities. The last days of the festivities surrounding Soliumant's coming of age were near, the festivities for the betrothal and joining were to begin within a fortnight or more.
"Ah, Torienne and Salenia. What need have you of my humble services?" He seemed in good humor.
"A question and no more, Siveruian. We wish entrance to the library. One of our servants is greatly learned and wishes to view the chronicles of the tirgeaur hunt. We wish to accompany her and view such scrolls as we are able." Salenia informed him.
"There is no custom prohibiting entrance for palace guards, though seldom are servants allowed in the library. If you wish her to gain entrance, you need accompany her during her stay there. Certain guards, the queriane, have keeping of the scrolls. They are well trained and of great rank though they do not guard more than their singular duty. You would be welcomed by them, I think." His smile seemed filled with secrets.
"We shall accompany her after the evening meal, if we have your leave." I felt the need to gain his permission again.
"It is well. Many of the palace guards are literate. They depend much on notes telling them of their duty. Often they are seen in the library reading the legends of palace guards before them." He laughed. "Many wish to be inscribed in like manner and have their deeds passed through the generations."
"It is a proud warrior who wishes for fame." Sal intoned. "It is a good warrior who earns acclaim."
"You are correct. I must return to my duty. I bid you safe watch." He bowed and left our presence before we could comment.
"I believe you are correct, keytheda. We are in a tale."
"Aight. I wish we had knowledge of the ending." Sal agreed. "Shall we bid Tre to accompany us?"
"We shall. Perhaps she could scribe events and passages of note in her journal." It seemed a good plan.
"We would do well to keep copies close to hand. Come, I am hungered and we have not much time."
"Shehala, you become quite the master of the hunt when you are hungered." I jested though it was truth. Rarely did Sal guide our paths unless she was frustrated or hungered.
"You would not take meals properly if I did not keep watch over them."
"Aight, mother." I jested. I believe our arrival at the door to our chambers refrained her from striking me lightly.
Tre was much in haste to view the library. The whole of our household wished to see the wonders of such a room devoted only to scrolls. My sister could not consume her meal in her excitement. She bid us many times to hasten our bites. We allowed her to infest our selves with her haste. In truth, we had not much time before we were to meet Tominent. Reinea pledged to guard Sevianth. We wished not to rile the queriane by escorting a child in the library. We knew not if children were welcomed when not in lessons.
The library seemed as though it were deserted. Tre, Sal, Iolaine, Lyliane and I seemed too many for its quiet nature. We walked with light tread and spoke in hushed tones. It seemed as if we were intruding on the sacred. We were awed by it.
Tre was literate in the tongue of the realm. She could not give the words speech, though she understood their meaning. Salenia directed her to the scroll containing the prophecy. Iolaine, Lyliane and I looked among the legends, myths and chronicles of the realm. We wished to research all we were able. We knew even a small detail could aid our quest. No knowledge is ever wasted.
We saw no sign of the queriane as we wandered through the scrolls. Tre diligently scribed a likeness of Soliumant's birth scroll. We had not found much else of use. We resolved to visit the library each night. I had a desire to learn of the queriane. Their existence intrigued me. I had not heard of guards for knowledge only. Kirgeurs guarded texts, in truth, though they had other duties as well.
We escorted Tre and Lyliane to the chambers. Tre made the journey with great reluctance. Though she wished to scribe a description of the library in her journal, I knew she would take her rest and meals in the library if able. My sister was a true scholar. Had she not lacked skill with blades, she would have trained as a kirgeur.
We were within sight of the door to our chambers when Tominent appeared. He completed the journey with us, amiably speaking with Iolaine of lessons. Reinea lacked skill with her steel to the degree we wished her remain with the others. She had skill to give order to a household, though none of a warrior's nature was about her. She remained to fulfill her duty.
"Have we hope of catching glimpse of them this eve?" Tominent inquired as we journeyed to the river.
"Perhaps. We cannot yet guess the hour of their capture, though it will come." I felt certain we would trap the thieves. I knew not when, I knew only we would claim victory in our duty.
The moon was almost at its peak of brilliance. We were hard pressed to seek shelter for the four of us. Sal and Tominent swam the river and laid in waiting on the opposite shore. It seemed wise. Iolaine knew less of swimming than I. Tominent seemed as graceful as Sal in the water.
We watched the wall, the river and the moon. Hours passed as we lay in waiting for signs of the thieves. We spoke only at need. The wind carried voices with ease. As the hour grew late, our hope diminished. Sal and Tominent journeyed across the water at our sign. Our replacements had arrived at the appointed hour. It seemed as if they were late in resuming their watch. The moon confirmed their correctness. We had waited in vain for the set time.
"Take heart, Tominent. We shall find them. It was not fated for this eve." Sal reassured him.
"My gratitude for the attempt though I wish it had not been in vain." He seemed dejected.
"It takes patience to stalk wild prey. We shall set watch for this hour next." I knew not why I insisted to watch the river. It seemed logical to my mind that those we sought would make use of it.
"It is a good plan. We shall succeed." He seemed to take heart. "I shall see you on the morrow. May you have a good dreaming."
"May your dreams be free of danger." We bid him a good rest. He seemed very like his brother, though there were marks of outlander upon him.
"He is a good man."
"Aight, shehala, he is." I agreed. "Iolaine what say you of your watch?"
"Long. Torienne, I am for my dreaming. I knew not how exhausted watching could make me." He seemed drawn in his weariness.
"I believe I shall seek my dreams as well. Salenia?"
"Aight. The day has been long and we have duty on the morrow. I shall not be grateful for the sun's rising."
"I am not one to greet the day with a smile. I believe the morrow shall be most difficult." In truth, I liked the sun's rising very little. "Peace be to your dreaming, Iolaine. You performed your watch well."
"My gratitude, Torienne. May the gods guard your dreams." He hastened to his bed.
"Aight. I shall seek my dreams with ease this night." Sal seemed as weary as I. "Shall you join me in the seeking?"
"The seeking, aight, I shall join you." I was greatly wearied. "We have need of rest."
"Speech does not give rest, Tor. Come, let us seek our dreaming."
I joined her on the bed. I was walking my dream paths moments after I surrendered
myself to the opportunity.
We had explored the wonders of the library two nights before we encountered one of the queriane. Salenia had been required to stand duty with Soliumant. He wished to speak with Kierian in the gardens. Sal was required to translate his words as Kierian had learned only simple phrases, not words of love in his tongue. Tre and I were the only two to seek the wisdom of the library.
Tre was scribing diligently the tale contained in the scroll before her. I had found no detail of importance in the one I had chosen. As I rose from my seat to claim another, I noticed the queriane watching from the shadows. At my look, he strode into the light.
He was attired in cloth of a darker red than I had seen. It was darker than shed blood. He wore a tunic, boots and pants all of like hue. He wore no shirt. His chest and arms were bare. He wore also a great sword at his side. It seemed made for two-handed combat for the hilt was long in length.
"Peace." I knew not how to greet him. I knew had he but wished, we would have been greatly harmed if not dead.
"We have watched you these past three nights. What brings you here?" His voice was deep and calming.
"Duty brings me to this land. Curiosity brings me to this house of scrolls."
"Curiosity bids you have your servant scribe our scrolls?" He approached. His hands were in front of him, though his left was near to the hilt of his sword.
"It is curiosity only. We have a wish to study these at our leisure. She is skilled in the art of scribing." I cautiously moved my hand closer to the hilt of my sword. "Have we committed an offense?"
"Not many who visit here scribe the tales in their own hand. You were bid journey here by a desire greater than curiosity, were you not?"
"I have said it was merely curiosity. It is all I shall answer."
"You are a cautious warrior, Torienne." I did not show my surprise. "We have knowledge of you, more than perhaps you would wish."
"I am at a disadvantage if you know of me. It is said that at times knowledge can claim more victories."
"Than the mightiest of sword arms." He finished the ancient saying of kirgeurs. "You are indeed a kirgeur. I know it without seeing the mark. Only a warrior of the phoenix would speak such a phrase."
"Only a kirgeur would know such a phrase." I countered. "How do you know such?" Despite my desire to remain cautious, I felt intrigued. He seemed to know much of kirgeurs. I wondered if I had found our answers. I wondered as well what knowledge Siveruian had imparted to him.
"You are not in the company of your partner."
"She is at duty." Regardless of the ways the queriane intrigued me, I would provide him with little information.
"Go you now and seek your duty. Return with Salenia. All questions shall be answered when both kirgeurs can hear." He retraced his steps and became as one with the shadows.
"Tre. Come, we must depart." I wished then to speak with Salenia. I also wished to have speech with Tominent concerning the queriane. I felt truly as if we were in a tale and the ending had yet to be written. I knew not the parts we played. I liked not the feeling.
It was two hours past the evening meal when we returned to the chambers. Tre had yielded without struggle. She was unnerved by the queriane and wished to depart from his watchfulness. I could not fault her. It was not his presence that concerned me. His knowledge of kirgeurs caused my concern. We knew not all we were required. Though our allies had spoke truth, they had not spoken the full truth. The palace hid many secrets.
"What is amiss, Torienne? You seem full of thought." Sevianth was seeking his dreams when we returned. The others were conversing at the table. Reinea was not present. I thought little of her absence.
"I am, shehala. How was duty?" We were not to stand watch then. We had perhaps an hour before we were required to take our places near to the river.
"Kierian has been besotted by Soliumant. She is much adored by him and is falling for the adoration." She smiled. In truth, she seemed relieved. "She is starting to wonder if he caused life to exist."
"I am gladdened to hear of it. He deserves a good and loving bride. If she has fallen for his charms, they will suit one another well."
"Perhaps they shall. You have not spoken on what is amiss."
"We shall speak of it on watch. Let us enjoy our companionship for now." I had not the words to give to my suspicions. I knew I required time for them to form in my mind. "Iolaine, have you a plan to rescue my cousin?"
"Aight. We have. We shall do so away from the palace when able. We need only an opening to do so." He seemed pleased. I had given him charge of liberating Hildrenne.
"We have yet to locate the other." Lyliane informed me.
"It is well. We shall locate her before we return to our tribe." I reassured her. I had wondered if she had been taken by the other thieves. We had not seen her amongst the palace servants or those claimed by the cordermers. "How fare the others?"
"They are well. We delivered more food and drink this day." Iolaine was not relieved from all his duties. Though we would have been gladdened to pardon him, he chose to stay in service of the plan. He had developed a friendship with Julaniant and saw the care of our stolen ones as befitting his honor and duty.
"The young one is not yet whole, though we believe she shall be healed fully upon our return." Lyliane eased our thoughts on Tilithia's plight. We were still much concerned for her.
"Gladdened am I to hear it. I will see to them as I am able." Sal pledged. "We must locate Tominent. We are to stand watch near to the river, are we not?"
"We are. Come. Let us find him. Iolaine, wish you to join us?"
"I shall accompany you. I find completeness in this duty." He grinned. "It is not as befitting me as cooking, though it suits me well."
Tominent seemed to have been searching for us. We encountered him in the hall. The four of us made for the river. We were almost beyond the shadow of the palace when the bells of warning broke the stillness of the night.
"Dagthen. Is there not an end to danger in this realm?" Sal asked as we directed our steps again to the palace.
"Those are the bells of attack. Someone has threatened the life of one of the cordermers." Tominent ran before us. We were not but a step behind.
The attackers were cornered in the hallway near to Soliumant's chambers. The mute stood at the end, holding them at bay with his sword. We were the only ones near to the scene. The walls made swords inconvenient. Sal and I had trained for such occurrences. Though I was not as skilled with short steel as Salenia, I was better trained than Tominent.
The mute gave way and let us pass. There were seven men trapped in section of the hallway. The window behind them had no balcony. It was a drop of three floors to the ground below. Regardless of the danger inherent in such a fall, one man departed from the window upon viewing us. The six remaining stood their ground. They seemed confident in their skills.
We wished one to live. We believed them as the thieves though they bore no slave or servant with them. They were clothed in pure black, as dark as the uniform of the kirgeur. Their faces were covered, as ours were when we performed our duty as thieves of servants. We could see their eyes only. It was enough. We knew them for natives by their eyes.
Sal drew the dagger from her belt. I drew mine as well. I could not reach the one in my boot without presenting my opponents with an opening for attack. We stood before them, clad in the outfit of our illusion, brandishing steel half again a hand long. The swords on our belts would have been more imposing.
"Wish you to surrender to the mercy of the Jilhsaed?" It was fair to give them an option.
"I shall not surrender to any. The Jilhsaed knows not of mercy." One of the infidels gave harsh words his voice.
"If you surrender you shall receive mercy from us. If you choose to fight, you shall die." I made my tone harsh. It did not frighten them.
"Then we shall die." The leader spoke again.
"If you wish it so and are prepared to have speech of your life with your gods." Sal offered them a last opportunity for surrender. "Surrender your steel or surrender your life."
They answered with action. It awed me that so many seemed prepared to die for a belief and not honor. Perhaps they viewed their actions as admirable. I know not what they believed or thought. I cared not to discover their reasonings. Like an animal left in the wild to go mad, such men were dangerous to the living.
We faced them in closed surroundings. I pushed all thoughts from my mind but the thought of my opponent. It is easier to kill with a sword, though not always so. Steel sticks at times. I lost my dagger with my second opponent. I could not free it in time to face the third.
We fought then my hand to his steel. I had but a moment to draw the dagger from my boot as I ducked beneath his lunge. He noticed not my motions. He was enraged at his miss. In truth, it was close. He marked my tunic at my shoulder, though not my flesh.
I hid the dagger behind and faced him again seemingly with empty hands. The illusion proved potent. He approached again and brandished his blade. It was not quite a sword yet of greater length than a dagger. It seemed a blade my youngest sister would bare in training.
I know not what he witnessed. Suddenly and with great haste he turned to flee. He ran to the window. He made it not. With a steady hand and good aim, my dagger pierced his back. He fell against the wall, half a length to his goal.
I turned to find my shehala well and unharmed. Two of the attackers had fallen at her feet. The third had fallen before the mute. The mute had not drawn his sword. He merely forced the man's life from his body with his hands. None were left to give speech of their errand. It was not fortunate.
Soliumant was roused by the alarm and the sounds of battle near to his chambers. Seemingly inured to the carnage, not like the time previous in the harem, he walked the length of the battle. He studied closely the men beneath the masks, for the mute removed the facial cloth after the last had fallen. None were known to me. They seemed strangers to the mute as well.
"I know not these men. Were none left to question?" He asked as he studied the man I had last killed.
"None rohirm. One fled, though we know not if he survived the fall to the ground." I reclaimed my long dagger from the man at my feet.
"Whom does this dagger belong to?" Soliumant inquired as he pulled mine free from the man near to the window.
"It is mine, rohirm."
"I have not seen one similar. It suits you, I think." He examined it closely after cleansing it.
"It was dearly bought." I placed it back in my boot as he returned it.
"You killed the man who bore it?"
"I did. One of us was required to die in battle. As the victor I laid claim to the weapon of potential death." It was not quite truth. I knew not if I had killed the man who bore the dagger before I claimed it. Regardless, he had met his death at the hands of a kirgeur. It was all that concerned me of the matter.
"Then may it serve you well. Know we what these men desired?"
"We know not, rohirm. They were given choice to surrender but chose instead death. Torienne and Salenia asked of them twice if they wished the mercy of the Jilhsaed." Tominent bowed before his brother.
"It is well, though I know not who these men were." He turned to a servant. "Fetch you Siveruian. I wish to know if he has knowledge of these men. Torienne, Salenia, and Tominent you may depart if you wish. The mute shall keep me safe. I desire only to have speech with Siveruian before I seek my dreams. See you to your rest. It has been well earned."
"Our gratitude, rohirm." We bowed before him. Perhaps it was the effect of love upon him. He seemed more confident, regal in his bearing.
"We shall not stand watch this eve." I informed them as we journeyed toward our chambers. "I desire a visit to the library."
"The library?" Tominent inquired.
"Aight. We have need of knowledge. There is much you have yet to speak of and I am weary of half truths and little information."
"Torienne, are you well?" I could hear the concern in Salenia's voice.
"Aight. I am well. My temper is wearing thin. For three nights we have studied in the library. Tonight was my only time to see a queriane. It sits ill with me. Much of this sits ill with me." I struggled to keep the frustration from my tone. I believe I failed. In truth, I cared not. The encounter with the queriane had begun a cycle of doubt and other thoughts that led me to question our roles in this tale. In truth, I knew not the scribe. It did not sit well with me.
"You encountered a queriane?"
"Tre and I encountered one, keytheda. He bid me return in your company. Tominent is accompanying us for validation. I wish answers to questions though I know not what they are." Tominent seemed not to have much knowledge of our tongue.
"We shall discover all. I doubt not the queriane know much that can assist us." Sal seemed confident.
"Perhaps. We shall soon discover if it is so." None were present in the library when we entered. "Tominent. Where hide the queriane?"
"You wish to do this?"
"I wish it so."
"As do I." Sal agreed.
"They have hidden a chamber where they rest and keep watch. This is the way." He led us to shelving in the corner opposite the one containing Soliumant's birth scroll. He removed a blue scroll case and knocked on the wall twice then tapped it with his fingers three times then again knocked twice. The wall parted though the way was blocked by a large man similarly attired to the queriane I had encountered.
"What do you desire?" He spoke in hushed tones.
"We desire entrance. My companions desire answers to their questions." Tominent stated formally.
"These are the two we have watched?"
"They are." I believed it wise to allow Tominent speak for us. Sal seemed to as well. "They are the ones we have been watching for as well. Torienne, show him the mark." I laid aside my suspicion and did as asked.
"Please, enter." He moved from the doorway and ushered us inside the chamber. "What need you ask?"
"We have several questions, though we have not formed many of them." Sal spoke for us.
"Have you read of the scroll containing the prophecy?"
"We have read Soliumant's birth scroll." I informed him. "Though my companion has read the inscription upon the wall in Kierian's chambers. There were lines missing from it. We wish to know how those lines read."
"Tominent has informed you that the scrolls beyond this chamber are but copies, has he not?"
"He has." Sal seemed to have lost her voice.
"The full prophecy was not scribed in the copy. Those before us thought it wise to keep parts hidden from casual eyes. We guard the original and complete text as we do all knowledge of this realm."
"Have you such need to guard the knowledge? Should it not be freely given to those wishing to learn of such occurrences?" Salenia discovered her voice.
"Is such knowledge readily available in your land?" Tominent seemed curious.
"It is. The kirgeurs have the guarding of sacred text, though they are made available to all who wish to learn from them. Copies are made concerning all our tales and deeds. Each village has a house of learning containing the copies. It is the originals we guard, though to keep the knowledge safe for those who come after instead of hiding it from those who would benefit from it." In this it seemed we were more advanced.
"There is some knowledge we guard that has been deemed dangerous for others to learn. It is why the queriane were formed. It is an honor to be chosen." Tominent informed us.
"It is a dishonor to relinquish such duty." The queriane before us seemed displeased.
"I have a duty to my family and to this realm. I am ill suited for the ways of the queriane, as I have conflicts in my interest."
"Regardless of personal choices, what has the prophecy to do with us and why have you been remiss in informing us of it?" It was the base root of my frustration. I liked not dancing to another's tune.
"Which are you?" The queriane asked.
"Which what?" The question had no logic.
"Wear you the red or the black?"
"So then it is true. We have been visited by the assassin and the healer. The prophecy shall come to pass." He seemed of ill humor.
"Of what importance is the color of our shirts?" Sal sounded confused. She echoed my thoughts.
"The prophecy contains more detail than the scroll you have studied. I cannot allow you to view it. It is forbidden for outlanders to see such knowledge. I can only speak of it, though that may cause dissension. I shall be required to ask one who knows more. Stay. I shall return." He journeyed through a corridor behind him.
Continue to part 18
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