Tales of the Kirgeur

Part 20

By: Bluedragon

As usual, evening court contained more cordermers than morning court. It seemed high rank encouraged sloth. We watched the assembly with care. I may have seen it only in my mind, but one of the cordermers seemed surprised at our good health. I knew him for one of Soliumant's brothers. He favored the Jilhsaed. I resolved to watch him closely.

"I have an announcement." The Jilhsaed rose and addressed the court. "My son has chosen his bride." Though he had made the announcement before, it seemed important to reiterate it. "In keeping with Kierian's heritage, we shall celebrate a custom of her people. Soliumant." He reclaimed his chair.

"My gratitude, father." Soliumant stood before the court. "It is important for those born to the Alsounthia to have a formal statement of betrothal and a ceremony celebrating it before the joining commences. One week from this day, my intended and I shall stand before the court and declare our intentions before the Jilhsaed. According to custom, one shall stand with us each to represent the joining of families. My esteemed brother, Tominent shall stand at my side as Torienne, the one responsible for the return of my beloved, shall stand for Kierian." It surprised me. I wondered where he had learned of the full custom for I had not mentioned it to him.

"The festivities shall continue as planned." The Jilhsaed addressed the court again. "The betrothal ceremony shall occur during afternoon court. Announcements have been made. We shall now resume business as usual."

The cordermer I had watched smiled slightly. I would not have noticed it had I not watched him closely. He leaned down, for he was a tall man, and spoke softly to a servant near to him. The servant glanced in our direction, nodded his head and departed in haste. I knew then our plan had little chance of success. Perhaps it was my training as an assassin. I believed we were not free from danger. The zealot I had encountered in the harem had taught me to recognize the look of one wishing violent, dishonorable death to those near to him. The cordermer had the same look about him. His servant had the swagger of a killer, not a warrior.

I paid little heed to the events of court, though I kept my senses open for danger. My mind was full of plans, concerns and half-formed thoughts. All I had learned seemed unable to assist me. It was then I placed my thoughts of my schooling behind me. Kayla, for all her wisdom, had not offered advice for such a situation. The ways of our people were more open. We were not subtly deceitful and lusted not for power. We had learned from the mistakes of our forbearers. Such actions, thoughts and deeds had assisted our downfall. We no longer placed trust in one leader.

Tominent and I escorted the Jilhsaed to his chamber as court ended. Salenia and the mute escorted Soliumant to his. We met again in the corridor near to our chambers. We bid Tominent to join us for the meal. It would be the first I had consumed that day. I noticed not my hunger.

Rul had roused for the meal. She seemed recovered from her experiences enough to join our companions in conversation. Regardless, she remained near to Tre. I knew not what disturbed my cousin more, her enslavement or the taking of life by her hand. She had not trained for war, though she was of an age to choose a husband or the brand of a kirgeur.

"Notice you the cordermers during court?" I asked my companions. I paid little heed to the plate Tre placed before me.

"It is our duty." Tominent gave a small laugh.

"Notice you one in a white shirt, no tunic and pants of a dark brown?"

"I did." Salenia spoke. "He seemed surprised to view us behind the Jilhsaed and Soliumant."

"That is Crumelent. He is my oldest living brother. He is in disgrace. It is why he wears white and brown. Those are the colors of ones out of favor with the Jilhsaed."

"Why is he out of favor?" It would explain much if perhaps he faulted the Jilhsaed and not himself for his fall from favor.

"Only children of the Jilhsaed's wife may inherit the seat of power. Soliumant is the only one born to his mother. Crumelent has resented our brother because of this I believe. Several seasons ago, Crumelent was a guard to Soliumant. They had gone hunting for Ostiopocks. The group was attacked by a young tirgeaur. The mute saved Soliumant's life. He was muted after he proved his loyalty. It is an honor to be given the choice to be muted. Regardless, the tirgeaur came close to killing both. Crumelent did nothing to halt the tirgeaur though he was in position to do so. The Jilhsaed was not pleased. Crumelent was relieved of guarding duty and given a position to assist another cordermer in trade. Crumelent worked little, if at all, and only spent the goldens given him. All of this the Jilhsaed suffered until Crumelent did that which is unforgivable. He took a member of the harem for his own violently. The girl perished as a result of his attack. Because of his rank, he was reprimanded, stripped of possessions in reparation, and given little responsibility. A lesser man would have been put to death for such an act. He resents the restrictions placed upon him, though I would not have thought him capable of organizing a coup."

"It seems as if he has been trained to do so. It is not easy to think of one you know as capable of such deeds. It seems also that if he is not organizing the coup, he is contemplating causing trouble."

"Perhaps you are correct, Torienne." He seemed resigned to the truth.

"I think perhaps we shall need guard against this man. His servant has the look of a killer." I wished not to frighten my companions, though I needed to warn them. "We shall set watch through the night hours. Tominent, I know it breeches protocol, though I care not. Perhaps you should consolidate your household and remain near to our chambers."

"I believe you are correct, shehala. We shall guard as we did on the journey. Two shall guard while two dream." Sal agreed to the plan.

"I could wish we had no need of such precautions, though I trust in your judgment. I shall do as you ask."

"Such speech may cause you to plan, Torienne. Consuming food will give you the strength to carry the plan to fruition." Lyliane pointed at my plate. "You need to eat. You have not eaten much this day."

"My sister is correct, keytheda. You would do well to heed her advice. We have no need of you becoming ill due to lack of food."

"Concern for my well being seems a familial trait." I attempted to jest at their concern. Two similar shaped eyes regarded me in serious manners. They differed only in color. "A good warrior knows the value of surrender. I shall do as you both bid." I made great show of consuming several bites of food. Those bites awakened my hunger. It was not long before I requested more.

"You should know not to argue with a healer and her sister." Sal grinned.

"I know not to argue with my shehala and her sister." I corrected. "I have no wish to share Kier's bed."

"That is wise, though I would not bid you dream in the stables. I have heard floors do well for backs."

"Nothen, Sal. They do not." I remembered with ease the uncomfortable pallets I had made on floors during our journey. "I shall endeavor to remain in your good favor."

"I shall hold you to that pledge." Had our companions not surrounded us, I would have proven my words and met the challenge her tone held.

"We have duty. We are required to meet the others in the library. We shall all journey there." Finished with the meal, I stood. I had a thought to keep Lyliane, Tre and Sevianth safe. The library was the safest chamber in the palace.

The old man was not present when we entered the library. Soliumant, Kierian and few queriane were. Sevianth carried the virithen to a table and watched the creature crawl along the surface. Tre and Rul chose a scroll to study. It was well. I felt they need not know of the dangers.

"Have you news?" Soliumant asked.

"We have. We have seen one we believe may be involved in the coup." In brief, I spoke of what I had noticed during court.

"I had not thought Crumelent the brains for such planning." Soliumant's words echoed the disbelief on his face.

"He may only be a player in the game, not the one who designed it, rohirm." Salenia spoke.

"Have we a need to fear assassination?"

"No, rohirm. I believe they shall wish to exile or assassinate you during court. It would harm their plan to do so in secret." I made a small attempt to reassure him.

"What makes you believe such?" He seemed curious.

"They have need of triumph. They would wish to rule, though would require fear to do so. You are the only heir. They would need a public declaration of either your death or your surrender." I paused for thought. "It seems to me that they would kill the Jilhsaed and grant you freedom if you would surrender to their leader the seat of power. To ease the transition, they would need this to occur in full view of the court. However, Tominent, Salenia and myself are seen as expendable. The ones they would wish assassinate would be us three."

"How shall we prevent it?" Tominent asked. He seemed concerned.

"Would the queriane grant sanctuary to those of my household?"

"We shall, Torienne. We have conferred. We believe you are correct. Gone are the days to only guard texts. We have agreed we shall guard the life of Soliumant and those who so willingly assist him. If you wish it so, we shall install them in the inner chambers. They shall be guarded as well as our scrolls."

"For that, I thank you." I knew not his name. In truth, I never learned of it. The queriane, as the Jilhsaed, surrendered their names when granted their duty. "I wish all save Iolaine remain in the inner chamber. I think perhaps this shall please you. My sister Tre is a scholar. Perhaps she can assist in research or scribing."

"We shall make use of her skills. Wish you install them now?"

"I wish it so. Iolaine, take Lyliane and fetch clothing and belongings for our companions. They shall remain in the inner chamber until we have halted the coup."

"Shall I fetch my belongings as well?" He asked.

"Nothen. If you wish, you shall remain and assist with our plan."

"I shall remain near to you. We shall return in haste." He waved to Lyliane and departed.

"We are under siege it seems." Sal commented.

"Aight, shehala, I believe we are. We require information. Is it possible to discover who Crumelent speaks to and the topic of their conversations?"

"There is perhaps a way to watch him without being seen." The queriane seemed thoughtful. "We have few you deemed of little use due to their birth. They are known to cordermers and others of the court since they were born of rank. Perhaps we shall employ them to watch and take note of Crumelent's deeds."

"Can they do so without Crumelent's knowledge?" I had no wish for our plans to be known.

"I believe they shall be able to, Torienne. I shall bid them begin." He departed for the inner chamber.

"Sal? Would you explain to our companions the need for them to remain here?" I knew not what to tell them.

"I shall, shehala." She knew of my inability. I watched as she joined them.

"Are you well, rohirm?" Soliumant seemed ill at ease with the situation we discovered around us.

"As well as I can be. Kierian, perhaps you should speak to Tominent of the details of our ceremony." He gently pushed her in his brother's direction. Tominent understood. "We have known of the prophecy for many years. None have discussed it fully with me, as they had concern of my age. I know not what to think of it."

"Do you trust in us to keep you safe?"

"I trust in you, Torienne. I know not why, though you have proven both your loyalty and your training on several occasions. You are but two years younger than I. You seem to possess knowledge and skills out of keeping with your years."

"As you possess wisdom and compassion out of company of your years, rohirm." It was truth. He seemed more than capable to lead his people.

"It seems strange to me at times, that those of us still in our youth should shoulder this burden. At times I seem to lack the strength to complete this trail."

"In my homeland, we have no tests for those coming of age. I am unaccustomed to several of the customs of this land. It seems to me we are in the midst of testing we should not face. I know not if we are prepared for it. I know only we shall triumph. We shall be changed for it, though it shall strengthen us. This realm shall have no leader better suited for the seat of power than you when we have halted this coup. This is our trial by fire. Much as the kir of old is reborn from flames, so shall we be."

"This kir you speak of, it is our phoenix?"

"It is, rohirm."

"Torienne, my name is Soliumant. I would wish you to use it." He smiled. "I count you as a friend. When this is completed, you shall return to your homeland?"

"I shall. I have duty to my tribe and to my family. I am required to return my sister and my cousin. When I was marked as a kirgeur, I pledged my sword to protect the Alsounthia. I shall not forgo that pledge."

"I would not wish to ask it of you. I wish you to know only this. If you have need, I ask you to call upon me. I shall assist as I am able." He offered his hand.

"I ask you the same. Have you need of my blade, I wish you to call upon me. I shall return and offer you the protection I can grant." We clasped forearms in the tradition of greeting and pledging between warriors. It was a pledge that would bind us until one of us met with the gods. I regret it not.

"Torienne?" The small voice at my thigh caused me to look down. Sevianth's eyes were full of unshed tears. I noticed Kierian watching us closely.

"Aight?" I lifted him to my hip. Small arms wrapped themselves around my neck.

"Why are we to remain here? You are not leaving us?"

"Nothen, young one. I merely wish to keep you safe. The queriane shall guard you as Salenia and I rid the palace of men who wish harm to Soliumant and the Jilhsaed. When we have accomplished our duty, we shall stay near to one another again."

"Salenia said it was dangerous. Can you not stay with us? You may be harmed." I met the eyes of my shehala. She wore a soft smile that seemed made of sadness and some other emotion I could not name. I would learn later it was the peaceful gaze of trust and motherhood.

"I cannot stay until my duty is complete. I pledge to you I shall return. We shall breed many horses in my homeland." I held him close. "Shall that suffice? I need for you to remain here. Tre and Rul shall require your comfort."

"It is my duty?"

"It is. Your duty is to remain with Tre, Lyliane and Rul. The four of you shall need to remain safe and hidden. I believe you shall assist them greatly." I appealed to his boyish sense of duty.

"I shall do as I am able." He was flushed with pride.

"It is all I ask. Go you now and see to your virithen. You shall need to care for it as well." I returned him to his feet. He hastened his steps to the table where he had left the virithen.

"It is as I have thought. You are fully his mother, Torienne." Kierian seemed saddened. "Once I would have wished to care for him. He can find no better mother. He is fortunate to have such parents as you and Salenia."

"You have my gratitude for his life." Sal approached. "We shall rear him as well as we are able."

"We have need of practice." I reminded them of our duty. The conversation had departed from my circle of comfort. It was fortunate Soliumant had no knowledge of our tongue. Kierian's true past would have been revealed.

"Ever the warrior." Kierian jested as she returned to Soliumant's side.

"I have bid those noticeable to the court follow Crumelent. They shall watch in pairs and report when able." The queriane returned. "What wish you now?"

"We have need of practice. Our skills need to be as sharp as our blades when the attempt is made." I informed him. "Rohirm?"

"I agree. What do you wish me to do?"

"I shall instruct Iolaine as Salenia instructs you in the ways of the dagger. You know much of the sword, though with fortune you shall not be required to use it. You need work on defense, I think. Salenia can assist you. We need to hasten Iolaine's schooling."

"It seems a good plan." Sal nodded her agreement as Tominent gave his voice. "What should I do?"

"See to the queriane. We shall change instructors next eve."

It awed me how well the three of us taught together. Our methods were different, though they complimented one another well. It put strange thoughts into my head. Thoughts of schooling others near to a village we would create. I had given no real thought to the future before that night. Thoughts of a future gave me confidence. It gave me a reason to continue, to sharpen my skills. More depended on my blade than I was aware. I knew not the reasoning behind my desires. I knew only I felt them. I had many reasons to live. I had a destiny that involved more than the realm of the Jilhsaed and halting the impending coup.

Iolaine seemed determined to learn each drill. He would master one then request another. I believe he was aware our lives might have depended on his blade. He showed no sign of wishing for a halt. We were soaked with sweat and abused muscles strained at the exercise. Soliumant, when I had a moment to watch the others, seemed in the same determined state. To give them rest, Tominent and I sparred. It was to illustrate to Iolaine and one of the younger queriane proper engaging technique. Though we knew actual battles held no time for good form, we knew it would benefit them to learn it. I knew as well, when the heat of battle consumes the mind, the body follows through with action. Learning the proper forms could save the lives of our companions.

"We have practiced enough for one night, I think." I called a halt. We had performed various sword dances and other basic drills for at the least three hours. It was a measure of our resolve that all protested the halt. "We have done much for one night. There is such thing as too much practice. We shall continue on the morrow. For now, we need rest."

"Agreed, shehala. We shall not learn all in one night." Salenia waved Soliumant to a halt. Kierian watched each movement he made. She had fallen for his charm. It gladdened me.

"We shall continue the lessons next eve?" Soliumant asked.

"We shall meet here each night and do so."

"It is a good plan. I shall see you on duty. Kierian, Tominent shall escort you to your chambers. I am for mine. I bid you all pleasant rest."

"Peace be your dreaming." I called to them as they departed. The mute escorted Soliumant from the library as Tominent did likewise for Kierian.

"I suppose he shall return to our chambers?"

"I know not, keytheda. Regardless, I wish to return. We should set watch until this is complete." It seemed sound reasoning.

"You are correct. We have become soft. I know not if I would wake at noise." Sal attempted to jest. "Unless it was a dropped tray."

"Let us return to our chambers. We can speak of it there." I turned to find Iolaine in conversation with Lyliane. The others had disappeared within the inner chamber. "Lyliane. Inform Siveruian that Sevianth is ill. I want him not at lessons until this is finished. Perhaps Tre can instruct him."

"It is well you mentioned it. I had wished to ask it of you. I think perhaps now the stable hand may have wished the boy fall." She seemed confident in her suspicions. It seemed reasonable. I had not given thought to it. My head was full of plans for battle.

"Iolaine, know you which servant it was?"

"Torienne, what have you planned?" Sal placed a calming hand on my shoulder.

"A conversation, shehala. No more than an innocent conversation." I could not stop the grin. I knew she would see the untruth of my words.

"We shall speak to the servant on the morrow when he has duty. It would not be wise to rouse him from his dreams. Since I mentioned dreams, we are overdue for ours."

"Aight. We are. Lyliane, you have my gratitude for your assistance. May the gods watch your dreaming and guard your safety."

"Likewise, Torienne. We have need of your safety." She smiled. "More so for your person than your sword arm. Seek you your rest. We shall remain hidden in the inner chamber."

"Dream well, sister. We shall see you on the morrow." Sal embraced her. "Come, Iolaine. Unless perhaps you wish to remain?"

"I shall accompany you, Salenia." He seemed reluctant to depart.

"We shall journey ahead. Meet us in the chambers." I wished to grant them time alone. Privacy was not easy to obtain.

"My gratitude, Torienne and Salenia." He bowed. "I shall meet you soon."

"Who shall set first watch?" Sal inquired as we journeyed through the corridors.

"I believe we shall allow Iolaine first watch in penance." It seemed appropriate. "Though we should wait for his return before seeking our dreams."

"I shall watch after then."

"The middle watch is not pleasant." I believed the broken dreams were the worst part of the watch.

"Nothen. Awaiting the rise of the sun is the worst." She gave no further explanation. In truth, she had no need. I knew her meaning. There is a time before the sun rises where shadows are long, the air is still, and it seems as if the sun shall not rise. It can cause concern to the weary.

"I shall watch then." I promised as we entered the chambers. "I shall search the main chambers if you do so for the bathing chamber."

"Agreed." With swords drawn, we searched our chambers for signs of intruders. Fortune was with us. We found no trace another had been within our living space since our departure.

"I have discovered nothing amiss."

"It is well we looked." Salenia joined me near to the table. "Shall we wait for Iolaine?"

"I believe we should. I wish to speak to him of the watch."

"Why? He stood watch during our journey. Torienne, you wish to control all." She laughed. "Very well, we shall wait for Iolaine, if only to inform him of his duty."

"I wish not to control all."

"You informed the old man you would control that which you were able. You have denied the prophecy."

"I believe not in the prophecy. What use have we of mutterings from an old man? He would have been old when my grandfather's father was a boy. He is merely mad, not gifted with foresight." I stood. I felt compelled to defend my thoughts and deeds. "We need not obey the gods of this realm, their wishes or their words. They are not ours. They care not if we live or die."

"I was jesting, shehala, though there is truth to it. You are correct, regardless. We need adhere to our own teachings. We should not discount the warnings in the prophecy, or all we have learned here. There is much we can implement upon our return. I merely jested at your defiance. It is a jest only, for I agree completely."

"I apologize for my outburst. I still am concerned for our safety. I feel as if I shall be unable to relax until we return to the village." I reclaimed my seat and looked at her.

"I know, keytheda. We must think on the future, though not plan for it yet. We may return and find we have grown too much to remain in one of our villages."

"If we discover your words are true, we shall choose our course then. Perhaps we shall teach at Kayla's school." It seemed logical. I knew Salenia felt required to finish training as a healer. It seemed reasonable we would all stay near to her as she did so.

"Perhaps we shall. It need not concern us until we reach your village." She looked at the door. "I wonder if they have admitted their feelings to one another?"

"If they have not, they shall soon. It seems imminent." I laughed. "In truth, you have no objections to the pairing?"

"I have none. I know not why I should. You?"

"Nothen. It shall not be easily accepted by few in our homeland, though neither would our pairing be acceptable to them." It was truth. Despite the decrees of Solisiric, all did not welcome cylingic pairings. In this, the realm of the Jilhsaed was more advanced. Such pairings were not shunned.

"Lyliane warned me you would bid me keep first watch." Iolaine grinned broadly as he entered the chambers. He seemed in rare good humor.

"My sister is a wise woman. She chooses wisely as well." Sal stood and briefly gripped his shoulder. "I am for dreaming. Wake me when you tire."

"Aight." He seemed embarrassed. "I shall. My gratitude, for this means you approve?"

"What are your intentions?" I could hear the jesting tone, though I doubt he could.

"My intentions are honorable, Salenia. On that, you have my pledge." He stood and bowed with his fist over his heart.

"Then you have my approval and my good wishes. Take care of my sister, Iolaine, or I shall bid Torienne remove your hands at the wrist." I believe had he been able, Iolaine would have paled. "I am only partially jesting. Have a safe watch."

"My gratitude, Salenia." We watched as she crossed the chambers. "She was serious, was she not?"

"About?" It was not easy remaining impassive.

"Her approval and her threat."

"She was serious in her approval. We believe it to be a good match. I know not if her threat was serious. I believe my shehala capable of defending her sister. She would not require my assistance. Since I trust in you, I shall not add to her threats." In truth, I knew Salenia would not require my assistance. I trusted in Iolaine and his intentions. I believed she did as well. "I am for rest. Wake Salenia as you tire. Watch closely for sign of intruders or listeners. We need not be caught unawares. If there is trouble, wake us. I shall dream lightly."

"I shall, Torienne." He drew his sword and placed it near to him. "May we not be disturbed this night."

"Perhaps we shall not. Safe watch, Iolaine." Salenia had not entered her dreams when I joined her on the bed.

"He believed my threat?"

"He did. He knows as well you would not bid me harm him, you would do so yourself."

"He is intelligent as well. My sister did choose wisely." She laid her head on my chest. "Though not as wisely as I."

"I am the one fortunate in this. Regardless of wants, we need seek our rest." I reminded myself as well as my shehala. "Peace be your dreaming, keytheda."

"And to yours, Torienne."

The sun rose to start its daily journey across the heavens before I had expected it. I watched from the balcony as the first rays touched and warmed the sand, woke the trees, and played upon the water of the river. The night hours seemed shortened by duty. I knew it would remain so until we departed from the realm of the Jilhsaed. I could not complain. It was merely another aspect of my duty.

So intent was I on watching the sun begin its journey, I did not hear the knock on the door. I heard the door open and was on my feet with my sword drawn before Lyliane could fully enter. I believe she was more startled than I. With fortune, she did not drop the morning meal.

"Lyliane?" I sheathed my sword and assisted her.

"Torienne? In truth, you expected trouble." I knew not if it were a question or statement.

"We have been remiss in our guarding. We have become too comfortable in our surroundings. Let us wake the others and we shall discuss more as we break our fast."

"There is no need, shehala. We are awake." I envied Sal's instant coherence.

"We are, Torienne." Iolaine seemed rested.

"It seems none walked the path of dreams with ease." Lyliane commented. "I did not."

"When we have completed our quest, I shall dream for a day and night." Salenia commented as she stretched her muscles awake.

"I believe I shall do likewise, shehala. Let us consume the meal. We have much to attend to this day." I knew our days would be long until our duty ended.

We had not the time for idle pleasures. It was as if we were on the eve of a battle. It kept us alert for danger and made us appreciate more the simple pleasures of companionship. We ate and conversed as if nothing were amiss. For an hour, the threat seemed to lessen, though the absence of Tre and Sevianth forbid us from relaxing completely. Their empty chairs stood mute testimony to the situation we faced and the dangers we would encounter.

After the meal, we parted company and attended our separate duties. The festivities were completed for a time. I returned to my full duty to the Jilhsaed as Salenia claimed her complete duty to Soliumant. Lyliane returned to the safety of the library as Iolaine accompanied her. We planned to meet again at midday.

The Jilhsaed was in conference with Johianei and other ranking cordermers when I entered his chambers. They were breaking their fast together. I stood watch as they ate. My presence was not acknowledged by any save my fellow guards. Even they merely inclined their heads in greeting. We were not allowed to converse except on matters of duty.

I learned that day the advantage of guarding one such as the Jilhsaed. The cordermers censored not their speech in our presence. I heard much of their thoughts on the impending coup. Only Johianei believed a threat lived still. The others believed it vanquished. They knew not the details of our rescue; they knew only the results. Thirty and five had perished. Twenty and four of those had been palace guards and guards to various cordermers. The cordermers were suspected of further involvement. Johianei requested they be questioned to ascertain their loyalty. Though I agreed, I was forbidden to speak of my approval.

As the Jilhsaed readied for court, Johianei remained. He continued his attempts to persuade the Jilhsaed to guard himself and the court against insurrection. I know not why the viniare merchant seemed concerned. I knew only he seemed desperate to protect his faelida. I wondered if perhaps he knew of the prophecy and our role in it. Regardless, the Jilhsaed believed little in the forthcoming coup. I wished to understand his reasoning. It seemed as if he were blind to the truth.

Johianei accompanied us to the court chamber. Tominent had assumed my previous duties. He ensured the alcoves located around the chamber held no assassins and all was safe for his father's entrance. We stood behind the great chair as the Jilhsaed began the morning court. Soliumant timed his entrance to coincide with the Jilhsaed's speech. I knew not why, though Sal seemed amused. I knew she would speak of it when we had time to converse.

I watched the cordermers closely as the Jilhsaed mediated arguments, counseled merchants, rewarded and freed two servants and brought closure to one feud. Crumelent was not present though the man I believed to be his servant was. I watched as the man watched me. I knew then his plan. I was marked for assassination, for the man's eyes wondered not far from me. I knew not when, I knew only it was truth. Once I managed to meet his eyes, the knowledge was in his smile. Never had I seen one so blatantly evil. It seemed he relished in his duty.

After court I escorted the Jilhsaed to the feasting chamber. He was well guarded during the meal by others. I hastened my steps to my chamber. I had little time to consume my own meal before the start of afternoon court. Morning court had lasted the full-allotted time. It was the first it had done so since we arrived in the realm.

The feasting chamber was on the first floor of the palace. The journey to my chambers required three sets of stairs. I had reached the top of the second set when I noticed the servant in the corner of the stairway. He had waited for my arrival.

Warriors are often prone to speak to their targets when not on the field of war. Assassins are not so inclined. The man before me gave no warning of his attack, save the slight movement of his eyes. He was armed with a dagger, fully as long as my forearm. I attempted to sidestep his lunge, as I did not have time to remove my sword from its sheath. It would not have assisted me had I the ability. The stairway was narrow. Hard stone broke my fall as we both fell back against the wall.

I felt a piercing pain in my side, under my ribs. Fortune was with me. It was opposite my sword arm. We struggled then as he attempted to complete his duty and end my life. He had bloodied me, though only because his weight countered my balance. Had we not fallen, I believed I would not have been harmed.

He regained his footing and lunged again. He held he dagger before him. With slight pain, I pushed his arm from me. I felt the arm snap in my hands. I used the motion to cause his head to meet the stone. I knew I could not part his soul from his body. We had need of information. I had no proof he was a servant to Crumelent. He was determined in his duty, for he knew his life was forfeit if he failed. Twice his head meet the stone. Twice he attempted to regain his wits and his feet. I did not allow a third opportunity. Using the strength I possessed, I pushed him harder against the stone. He collapsed at my feet. I was close to joining him on the stairway.

The dagger had harmed me more than I had realized. I was unable to drag the man for long. Fortune was with me. A guard was near to the entrance. I caught his attention and was given his assistance. He bid another fetch Siveruian and the mediacios. Both the assassin and I had need of their skills.

I knew not how long I waited. It seemed hours before I heard them approach. Fortune left me then. Salenia was among them. Though I was gladdened to see her, I knew the concern she would feel for my condition. I had wished to spare her the sight. Heedless of my condition and the presence of others, my shehala sat beside me on the stone stairs. I must admit laying back on them was not comfortable, though I did as the mediacio bid.

"What caused this?" Siveruian inquired as he noticed the scene before him.

"The man attacked as I was returning to my chambers. He was waiting for me here." I felt the healing energy flow through me.

"Know you why?"

"Nothen. I know only he wished me dead. I spared his life so we may question him." Sal's grip on my hand tightened. I could feel the concern radiating from her. I needed not see her face to know her feelings.

"I have seen him before, though I have no knowledge of him." Siveruian seemed confused. "Perhaps he was employed outside the palace. I know only those assigned to the palace and the cordermers who inhabit it."

"The house we invaded to rescue Salenia and Kierian, have you knowledge of it?" It seemed strange lying on the steps, speaking of conspiracies and battles.

"It was owned by an elder cordermer. He now walks with the departed. We had thought the house deserted until Tominent informed us otherwise. The gieashetha searched it the day after the rescue. Even those slain were removed. We know not how."

"It does not bode well, misayla." It was the first Salenia had spoken.

"Nothen. It does not." I agreed.

"Perhaps when this man wakes, we shall learn more." He indicated the assassin. The mediacio merely bandaged the wound. Prisoners were not healed completely. The man had attempted to end my life. Since I was a guard to the Jilhsaed, the crime was punishable by death. He would be healed enough to speak of his duties before he would be put to death. I felt no pity for him.

"Perhaps." I answered. I doubted his willingness to impart his knowledge. "May I return to my chambers?"

"You may. You know the instructions to follow, yes?" The mediacio smiled. He was the same who had healed my wounds from the rescue.

"I shall return to my chambers, partake of the midday meal and return to my duty?" It was a statement and a question full of hope.

"No. You shall return to your chambers, partake of the healing broth, and rest. You shall not attend duty this day or the next."

"I must attend duty." It was a necessary protest.

"No. You shall do as bid, or I shall charge your companion to bind you to the bed." He seemed serious. I wished not to test his words. I knew Salenia would not hesitate to do as he suggested.

"I shall do as you bid."

"You have chosen wisely. Fortune accompanied you this day. You shall not bear a mark of this wound. It shall fade and disappear." He seemed pleased.

"My gratitude."

"As you well know, Torienne. Gratitude is not necessary when performing a pleasant duty. See you to your rest. I give you charge of her." He directed his final statement to Sal. He could not have chosen a more formidable guardian.

"Siveruian? Have you further need of us?" Sal stood and assisted me to my feet.

"I have not. Seek your rest. We shall interrogate the would be assassin."

"I wish to know his words, if perhaps he does favor you with his reasoning." I knew it would be knowledge worth possessing.

"I shall inform you. Go now and rest. I shall inform the Jilhsaed and Soliumant of the occurrence. Neither of you shall stand duty this day."

"My gratitude, misayla." Sal smiled at him. I knew his words gladdened her. In truth, I was gladdened by the promise of company.

The journey to my chambers was not long. I was gladdened. It seemed to weary me greatly. To my chagrin, I required Sal's assistance in traversing the corridor. None were about. Fortune had returned. Demonstrating vulnerability to my companions was one matter, it was another to be seen harmed by fellow guards or palace servants.

Lyliane and Iolaine were present when we entered. They rose and made to assist. I waved them away before claiming a chair near to the table.

"Shehala, I am well to sit." Sal seemed ill content with my desire to join my companions.

"You need rest. The healing heals only the flesh, it does not create blood to replace that which you lost."

"I shall rest. See, I am resting." I stretched my feet out beneath the table. I knew my insolence would be repaid after Iolaine and Lyliane departed. Regardless, it amused me.

"What occurred, sister?"

"Torienne was attacked in the stairway. It seems Crumelent wished her departed from this life to ease the way for the coup."

"Shehala, we know not who the assassin was employed by. Perhaps it is time we discovered the identity of the cordermer involved." It seemed fair. They had attempted to seek my death through means of stealth. I resolved to seek information in the same manner. I knew the difference between the attempts. I believed mine would succeed.

"Perhaps we shall on the morrow." The healer, not the warrior, answered.

"Aight. On the morrow." I knew it wise to agree. "Iolaine, what plans have you for this day?"

"I wish only to bring food to those we have hidden. With the servant girls, they have need for much supplies."

"It is well. Have you coinage?" We had halted the saving of food from the palace. We could not transport it with ease. Instead, we purchased supplies at market.

"I have." He held aloft his belt pouch.

"As have I. Think you it would be safe if I were to accompany him?" Lyliane seemed hopeful. I looked to Salenia. She shrugged. It was my decision.

"Aight. I think perhaps it should be well. Perhaps Salenia would wish accompany you both and see to Tilithia." I hid my grin. I knew the suggestion would not be well accepted.

"It is an unfair suggestion, keytheda. I have a wish to ensure your health as well as the health of our charges. It is an unevenly weighed duty."

"See to Tilithia, shehala. I am well. I shall merely rest until you return. Perhaps I shall walk my dream paths." In truth, I wished for time alone. I had no wish to be treated as an invalid.

"I have your pledge you shall not depart from these chambers? You will not seek out your horse?" She knew me well.

"I shall remain here. I pledge." The pledge sat ill with me. I was not given to lazing about the chambers, regardless of my health. Even during my schooling, I would attend lessons, bruised, wounded or over hung.

"I accept the pledge and hold you to it. I know your nature. You would seek out Kier or else engage in an activity not conducive to resting. We shall return with haste." She seemed reluctant, though I knew it would do her well. She required time away to concern herself with other matters. I hoped it would ease her worry and allow for a break in the night terrors I knew were imminent.

"Go. The three of you remain near to one another. I shall bath and dream in your absence." They seemed unable to argue with my reasoning. I watched as they departed. Sal turned at the door and seemed as if she wished to say more. She merely nodded and closed the door behind her.

Continue to part 21

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