Tales of the Kirgeur

Part 21

By: Bluedragon

The door to our chambers locked from the inside, though no key would grant access. I did not lock it after they departed. I knew not if I would be dreaming when they returned. Despite my bravado, my side did pain me. I was fortunate. The dagger did not mark me deeply. In truth, the dagger was longer than I was wide. It would have ended my life with haste had it entered to the hilt.

I allowed my mind to reflect on the most recent encounter. As according to my nature, I painted the scene in my mind, noting where I had been marked. I knew then had we not fallen, the dagger would have missed me or killed me. It was a fraction of difference. I thanked the gods I had stumbled. It seemed strange. I had could not recall what I stumbled over as I pictured the scene. The stone had not been loose, nor had I stumbled over my own feet. There was little in life I viewed as happenstance. I knew not if my fortune were divinely directed or merely an accident.

I knew I did not excel at speculation. I reigned in my thoughts and made my way to the bathing chamber. I wished only for a few moments in the pool for relaxing. The muscles in my shoulders were tight with concern and more. My responsibilities laid heavily upon me. It was not a burden I shouldered with the ease I displayed.

I shed my clothing in haste, taking care to leave the wound undisturbed. As I poured a mug of viniare, I wondered again what I could have stumbled on to survive the encounter. The wound was merely a thin, reddish line just below my ribs on my right side. I was gladdened it would fade completely. I knew from Kayla's words, scar tissue would hinder my abilities as I aged. The mediacios of the realm allowed no scar tissue to form in or around a healing wound. I knew not how, I knew only it was truth. The wounds I received in the realm of the Jilhsaed would not pain me. In truth, I only bear two great marks from that time. Four lines still mar my thigh, my personal reminder of the mighty tirgeaur. The other causes only slight pain when the seasons change.

As the heat from the water eased the small aches of my body, I allowed my thoughts to drift. When I had begun the quest to free those taken from my village, I had followed the ways of Biaderi. As the quest progressed, I had thought more on Solisiric. In truth, it seemed as if my thoughts had been pulled to her. I halted those thoughts. I had no wish to be directed by a goddess, no matter how benevolent.

My thoughts drifted in another direction. They drifted to doubt. It seemed we had encountered several obstacles in our journey. We had not succeeded with skill, more with fortune. I gave no allowances for our youth. I knew not what I expected then. I knew we had not the experiences to face such trials with calm, understanding, and confidence born from time. We had the confidence of youth and the arrogance of the untested. Though it was some years after I realized the ways the journey had changed us. Then I knew only a desire to succeed, to prove myself worthy of the mark I bore and the trust my companions had placed in me.

I knew the person who had bid the assassin end my life thought me dangerous. It seemed oddly flattering. It seemed to indicate the dangers we faced as well. I had not thought to perform my true duty. I had not thought to use my hidden skills for more than rescuing those taken from my village. I felt perhaps it was wise to embrace my training completely.

In truth, I enjoyed not parting a man from his soul. I merely excelled at it. The first to die beneath my blade had been one who had used a companion of my youth. I had not related the tale to anyone, not even Kayla knew of it. I avoided thinking on it. The heat from the water, the wound on my side and the mug of viniare in my hand relaxed more than my body. They relaxed the section containing that encounter in my mind. I allowed myself to think on it. I doubted not my action, nor did I pity the man. Instead, I witnessed the true application of my training. I viewed it then, as I view it still, the birth of my life as a warrior and a true function of my duty. I wondered then what Salenia would make of the tale, a young breeder of horses, no more than ten and three summers, killing a traveling merchant. I wondered if she would view it in the same manner.

I gave up thought when my flesh began to seem as if I had bathed a year. My wound pained me but little. I dried myself with care and dressed in normal attire. The tunic and shirt I had worn during the encounter needed mending and cleansing. I knew Lyliane would see it done. She had taken on the role of mothering us all with ease. It suited her well and I could not fault her for it.

I was weary, though not overly so. I heard the entrance of someone in the chambers. Thinking perhaps it was my companions; I disregarded my tunic and boots, remaining clad in pants and a loose shirt. I was eager to hear of the others. I know not how he accomplished such a feat, but the assassin had entered.

"Come to complete your duty, have you?" I asked in a calm manner. I had my sword in my hands, though it was attached still to the pants I had worn. I had not attached the sword belt when I changed my attire. I had thought only of rest.

"I have." He brandished a sword. He seemed dazed as if not fully healed from the wounds on his head.

"You are mad to attempt this. Why wish you to end my life? How much is it worth in gold?"

"It is not gold I seek. I shall be well rewarded by the gods for removing one such as you from this life." Zealots exist the orb over.

"Wish you death to all warriors?" I knew from his condition I could kill him with ease. I wished knowledge, not understanding. I cared little for his reasoning; only his actual quest concerned me.

"Women should bear babes, not steel. They should join with men, not other women. You are anathema to the gods. I accepted no coinage for this." His eyes seemed to glow from within. I knew not if it were the effects of ignorance or fever.

"You were not employed to seek my death?"

"I was not. I was informed only of your existence." I knew then Crumelent was not leading the coup. He merely knew of one to provoke to seek my death. He had not the courage to employ an assassin. He used words, not deeds to his end.

"Tell me, do your gods reward the killing of innocents?"

"They reward the killing of abominations to their decrees." He was not native to the realm. I had read the decrees of the gods of the Jilhsaed. I was not an abomination to them.

"You are not of this land. Would your gods reward killing of others, ones not ruled by their decrees?" I knew not why I attempted to reason with him. I think perhaps I wished to understand his devotion and ignorance. It seemed so different from what I perceived as normal.

"I shall be well rewarded for this."

"Perhaps. Perhaps you shall die without a reward. The gods of my tribe award not such acts. They are seen as abominations." I used his words to illustrate the contrast. "Tell me, Crumelent informed you of my existence, did he not? Why?"

"I know of none named Crumelent. I know only one in court told me your tale. You are talkative for a warrior." He seemed confused by the conversation. He verified my thoughts. Crumelent had not the courage to employ one to end my life. I knew if he had not the courage, he had not the intelligence to plan a coup. He required questioning.

"Nothen. My shehala is a talkative warrior." Mentioning Salenia was not wise. It seemed to remind the man we were not merely partaking in casual conversation. Regardless, she stood behind him. I wished only to distract him, as he heard not her entrance.

"I have little concern for her. She shall follow you soon." He tensed and prepared to attack. He moved only the length of one stride before his life ended.

"I knew somehow you would not rest if I were not here to ensure it, keytheda."

"Conversing with the mad is not taxing, shehala." I jested. "He knew not Crumelent's name. We have no proof, though I have a plan to obtain it."

"I heard much of the conversation through the door. He did not close it properly upon his entrance." She cleansed her sword on his shirt. "I wonder how he managed to escape?"

"I know not. Perhaps we should send for Tominent. He shall ascertain it since I am forbidden and I believe you would not depart until duty bid you."

"You know me well." She grinned. "I shall find a servant and send for Tominent. Sit and wait. You should not be standing." I reclaimed my chair at her words. She departed and returned in haste. In truth, she had not left for long.

"You found a servant quickly."

"I did. It seems one was sent to rouse the mute in my absence. I bid the man fetch Tominent. He agreed to do so." She looked at me closely. "You seem thoughtful. Is more amiss than a second attempt? You were not harmed?"

"Nothen. I am not harmed. I have much to think on it seems." I felt my responsibilities settle at my shoulders like a cloak I had yet to grow into. "It seems I am not popular with zealots."

"Shehala, none are popular with zealots. Even they do not like one another." Sal claimed a chair near to mine. "Perhaps you need to speak of your thoughts?"

"In truth, I know not most of them. I had contemplated my duty as I bathed. I am weary. It is nothing more." I attempted to shrug away her concern.

"Torienne, I have said before I know your nature. It is truth. We have turned to you for guidance, for you possess the skill to lead us through this. It is not a burden you need carry alone. I am capable of assisting." It seemed my reticence to share my thoughts offended her.

"I know, shehala. I merely am not at my ease discussing such things." My words did not ease the disappointment from her eyes. "I shall attempt to speak of them after we have had speech with Tominent. Tell me how is Tilithia?"

"She fares better, though she is not yet whole. I doubt she shall be again the girl she was before she was taken. The wounds that still pain her are in her mind and heart. I have not the knowledge to heal such."

"Perhaps when we return a shaman can assist where we cannot. It is their duty."

"Aight. They are better trained for such wounds than I." She seemed to accept it with ease. Part of our schooling had been to learn of our limitations. While there was much we could do, there was much still we could not.

"You sent for me?" Tominent appeared at the door. "Torienne? It is well to see you breathing. We have heard you departed from this life." He seemed relieved.

"Nothen. I am here still. I relinquish duty with great reluctance." I grinned in return. "Sit, we need have speech with you."

"First, why is there a dead man in your chambers?" He stepped around the man with care before claiming a seat near to the table.

"It is a zealot. He wished my life so he would earn reward from his gods. We need discover how he escaped from his captors. He is the same who harmed me in the stairway."

"He managed to journey here and you battled with him again?"

"Nothen. Salenia ended his life." I grinned at my shehala. "She saved me from doing so after I had bathed."

"I did so to avoid you being harmed again, or opening your wound." She corrected. She grinned as I shrugged.

"I know now the meaning of shehala." Tominent seemed envious. "Perhaps I shall find mine one day. What wish you me to do?"

"We need you to discover how the man eluded his captors and journeyed here. Perhaps all the guards involved in the coup were not present at the house." I knew he would be better suited to the action. "In truth, I am dead?"

"It is what is being said of you. Is there a way we can use it to our advantage?"

"I know not." Salenia seemed doubtful. "It would require much stealth and cunning. Where would we hide her?"

"I like not this idea." I had no wish to be elsewhere if someone threatened my companions. "We shall not make use of it. I shall recover this day and perhaps the next as well. I have a plan to garner information, though we shall put it into motion on the morrow. We shall face Crumelent. I believe him to be part of the conspiracy, though not in command. He seems as if he possesses not the intellect for it, merely the taste for power."

"I had wondered as well if he had the intellect to plan a coup. Perhaps he is merely a tool for another. Regardless, we shall discuss this on the morrow. You have been wounded and need rest. I shall see to the dead man and bid a servant cleanse the chambers of his presence."

"My gratitude, Tominent." Salenia offered her arm.

"It is merely what I believe you would do if I were in a similar situation. It is between friends. There is no need for gratitude." He seemed embarrassed.

"Regardless, my friend, you have ours. We shall send for you on the morrow. Perhaps Sal shall attend her duties, though I am forbid mine."

"For sound reasons, keytheda. We shall see you on the morrow, Tominent. May your gods guard the rest of this day for you."

"And yours for you." He hefted the corpse to his shoulder and departed. A servant entered as he departed. The healing broth had arrived. The girl placed it before me, nodded and hasted her steps away from our chambers.

"Wish you to tell me why Soliumant was late to court?" I had not thought to ask before then. The broth was warm and tasted pleasant.

"He wishes to show an irresponsible exterior to lull the conspirators into complacency. I think it shall fail. His virtues are well known and well proven." She watched as I consumed the bowl, smiling when I returned the empty container to the table.

"They are at that. He shall make a great Jilhsaed." I noticed then the absence of our companions. "Where are Lyliane and Iolaine?"

"They are courting. I departed after seeing to Tilithia. They remained to have speech with the others. Iolaine wished to show my sister the grandness of the city on their return."

"They should be safe."

"If you were not." She halted her speech and released a long breath before beginning again. "Tell me, how was the man able to strike you."

"He was in the stairway where one floor meets another. He lunged before I could bare my steel. We stumbled and he marked me as we fell. I know not what I stumbled over." I shook my head to clear those thoughts.

"It was well you did stumble. Had you not, he may have completed his goal."

"I am well. It should suffice." I attempted to ease her concern.

"Gladdened am I you are well. Come, perhaps you should rest on the bed." She stood and offered her hand.

"Are you to join me?"

"Perhaps."

"Perhaps it will not be resting, though it shall be relaxing." I accepted the proffered hand and stood.

"Nothen, shehala. I merely wish to converse in more comfort." She led me to the bed. "Lay back, I wish to view the wound."

"It has been healed." I protested by speech, but complied by action.

"It is merely curiosity. I have a plan to ensure it not happen again." Gentle hands traced the skin around the wound. "If we were to have speech with one who shapes steel, I think perhaps he could give life to my design."

"You have a design?" Her head rested on my shoulder as an arm draped across my stomach.

"Aight. I think if we were to make a metal shirt to wear it would ensure our safety by halting swords, arrows and daggers."

"A metal shirt?" The idea intrigued me. "It would be heavy. I know not how we would move in such, though the idea has merit. How came you to this design?"

"It entered my mind when I watched as they healed your wound. It seemed reasonable that you would not have been marked had you more protection than mere cloth."

"I have heard of those who wear leather. Leather is not as easy to pierce, but it adds only slight protection." I stopped her hand. The motions she was making were not conducive to resting. "I think, shehala, you have a brilliant design. We shall inquire of a worker of metal on the morrow."

"Perhaps we shall, if you are well. Tell me, wish you give speech to your thoughts?" I knew she would recall my promise.

"I thought on my duty. I think we shall use my hidden skills to have speech with Crumelent. Perhaps if he complies, we shall learn who is behind this impending coup. We shall be able to halt it before it begins."

"You wish to assassinate the leader?" She raised herself on her free arm. "It is not honorable."

"It is duty. It would be protecting the life of the Jilhsaed. It may not be honorable, in truth. It would be expedient." I looked at her closely. I could not read her thoughts behind her eyes. "Shehala, I am weary of dancing to another's tune. We still know not whom it is we are guarding against. I think it a sound plan. If we can learn of the man, we can halt this before it begins in earnest. It would save lives. That is a function of my true duty."

"I know, keytheda. I know as well assassination is not pleasant. Have you killed in such ways before?"

"I have." I watched as her eyes registered her surprise. She remained above me, looking down in awe.

"In training?"

"Nothen. It was before I entered the school." I tugged on her shirt. "Lay. I cannot have speech when you are so positioned." In truth, I wished not to see her eyes as I related my tale. I waited until she complied before speaking of it. "I was ten and three summers. A friend of my youth had been used by a merchant. He was staying near to the inn. That night, after she had confided her tale to me and another, I borrowed a horse from my father and journeyed to the inn. I entered the man's room from the outside, using a tree and much courage to do so, for the inn boasted no balconies. Regardless, armed only with a dagger, I sought the man in his chamber. He was walking the path of his dreams."

"You were able to complete your goal?"

"Aight. It was not easy. The man jerked awake before I had marked him. We struggled a little before I ended his life." I pulled the sleeve of my shirt and showed her the burn on my right arm. "He used the candle as a weapon. I had been marked before in games and practice. None had pained me as that one did. I departed from the room in such haste I nearly departed without my dagger. Our farm is a good ride from the village. I had hidden the horse behind trees near to the river. Fortune smiled, he was there still. We returned home. I spoke of my deeds to none. Lu knew, for he waited near to the horses for my return."

"Who was the one used?"

"Graneima." I spoke softly. "She and I have never had speech of it past that next morning. The three of us, Lu, Gran and I pledged to keep it hidden from others. I think perhaps Kierian knew of it. If she knew, she never spoke of it. They searched for the man's killer, though none offered information. It seemed he was despised, for Gran was not the only one he had used."

"It must not have been easy to bear such a burden." She did not seem disappointed. I had wondered how she would accept the tale.

"In truth, I gave it little thought. I had known then I was to be a kirgeur. It seemed part of my duty. I knew the elders would not listen to us due to our youth. It seemed adequate justice."

"Perhaps it was."

"You think less of me?" I could not but ask.

"Nothen, Torienne. It is your nature to perform what you see as your duty. The tale is tragic, but only because you should not have shouldered the burden. It is a flaw in our homeland. Babes and children are cherished, though not always given heed when needed. The elders are often short of sight when it comes to things beyond their realm of comfort. I know not why our lives are so long." She gave a rueful laugh. "Perhaps it is the stubborn determination inherent in our people."

"Loath though I am to admit it, shehala, we are just as determined and stubborn if not more so."

"In truth, perhaps we are. We remained here upon completion of our quest." She raised herself again. "Are you weary, keytheda?"

"I am." The herbs in the broth seemed laden with sedatives.

"It is well. You have need of rest. I shall guard as you dream." She changed positions so I was lying on her shoulder. "Dream, Torienne."

"My gratitude, keytheda." My words trailed as I allowed myself to relax in her embrace. Vaguely I heard soothing sounds of childhood songs drift near to my ears. I fell into my dreams and did not wake until Iolaine and Lyliane returned for the evening meal.

"Well met, Torienne. Are you harmed still?" Lyliane greeted me as I joined at the table. Sal seemed withdrawn. I wondered at it.

"I am well. I spent time walking the path of dreams. I feel whole." In truth, I did. My side did not pain me. I felt well and full of health. "I think perhaps I shall send for the mediacio on the morrow to be pronounced fit for duty."

"Perhaps you should not return to duty on the morrow." Sal advised. "I have been much in thought. Perhaps we should use the morrow to practice and ensure our plans. I have a bad feeling about this."

"In truth, Torienne, I have as well." Lyliane replied as Iolaine nodded.

"You think perhaps they shall not wait for Soliumant's ceremony of intention?"

"I think we are in the trap of tirgeaurs, shehala." I remembered then how one had entrapped us by his stare while the other attacked. "I think we shall send for the mediacio this night."

"Perhaps you are correct. What made you think so?" I was curious. Salenia was wiser than I, in truth. It seemed as if her instincts were stronger as well.

"I know not why I feel strangely about this. I only know I feel impending doom."

"I shall fetch the mediacio. I am suddenly not hungered." Iolaine pushed away from the table. "I shall return."

"Fetch Tominent as well, if you will." I asked.

"I shall, Torienne."

"Have we a plan?" Lyliane asked as Iolaine departed.

"A vague one. We shall discuss more the actions we need take when Tominent arrives."

"Tominent has arrived." He strolled confidently through the doorway. "I have news regarding the zealot and his escape from prison."

"What is this news?" Salenia's voice was tightly controlled. She seemed as if she were traversing the very dagger's edge I had traversed mere hours before.

"It seems the man killed one guard to escape. They had thought him harmless. Only two were sent to escort him to the prison. The other is wounded."

"What of Siveruian? Was he not to escort the man?" I doubted not my companions. I doubted every one who inhabited the palace, Tominent and Siveruian as well. I had no base for my suspicions regarding Tominent to blossom. He had ample opportunity to end my life, the life of my shehala and the life of his brother. He had shown only companionship and loyalty.

"He is not required to deliver the prisoners. He merely directs the guards to do so. He has many duties to attend." Tominent explained. "I have had speech with him. He is greatly upset. He suspects all, I think. It could drive him mad."

"This situation could drive any mad, regardless of duty." My comment did not ease the concern in the chambers. "Regardless, we shall triumph before madness knocks upon our doors."

"We need to have speech with a worker of metal, we need to have speech with the sable hand, and we need have speech with Crumelent." Salenia enumerated the bare details of our plan. "We need also ensure Torienne is well for duty."

"I am well, shehala."

"Nothen. We need ensure it. You were fortunate in the encounter. It was close, Tor." She declined further comment. She had no need to speak her thoughts. I had knowledge of them. My encounter with the zealot had frightened her. I understood the fear. I would have felt likewise had he attacked her.

"We shall ensure it." I attempted to place her at her ease. Her hand was cool in mine. It mattered not. "We need plan how to meet our needs."

"With ease we should have speech with the stable hand." Lyliane proved her loyalty.

"I think perhaps we shall divide our company. Perhaps we can accomplish much in such a manner." It seemed sound reasoning to me.

"Torienne, I have located a mediacio. I have been unable to locate." Iolaine spoke before he fully entered the chambers. "Well met, Tominent. I had searched for you."

"It seems as if I have located you first." It was a rare moment of jesting. We had need of it.

"Your servant informs me you wish to ensure your health? It is early for you to be healed completely." The mediacio, disregarding the others, knelt before me. I had yet to pull on my boots or my tunic. I seemed in a state of comfort. It belied the state of my thoughts. In truth, such attire, or lack thereof, would have been met with disdain in my homeland. One greeted company fully attired. Even boots were worn until one sought the path of dreams. Such was not the case in the land of the Jilhsaed. I had a thought to relax that tradition when I returned.

"I heal with ease and in haste. I have always done so." I replied as he examined the wound. His hands were warm and comforting. "I still offer a journey to those of you who wish to accompany us."

"Torienne, let us concentrate on this duty before we think on the future." Salenia laughed. "I mentioned once the wish to create our own village. You are already recruiting people to inhabit it."

"We have need of such skills." I protested.

"We have. Regardless, shehala, let us complete this duty before we look to another."

"I shall retain your offer in my memory. I must confess you are correct. You are healed. It is miraculous, though true." The mediacio seemed surprised. I merely shrugged my shoulders. I had no explanation for it then. "Wish you return to duty on the morrow?"

"Nothen. I have duty to attend to here."

"Very well. I shall pronounce you fit, though I shall not inform the Jilhsaed. I bid you farewell until you have need of my services again." He bowed once and departed. I was not the only one who thought the mediacios strange. Salenia and Iolaine were shaking their heads in wonder as well.

"You are well. Shall we now plan our new duties?" Sal asked.

"I believe it wise." I looked at my companions. "I believe we should divide our company. Perhaps Iolaine and Lyliane should question the stable hand, Salenia should have speech with the metal worker, and Tominent and I should question Crumelent. We should accomplish these this night. I wish not to wait until the morrow."

"Nothen, Torienne. I agree we have need of haste, though I believe we should speak to the metal worker together. If he can give life to my design, we should ensure it fit us as well as our shirts."

"What design have you in mind?" Tominent asked.

"I have in mind a shirt of metal to arm ourselves against steel." Salenia grinned. "It shall keep the close at bay, I think."

"I am intrigued. Think you can make a picture of it?"

"Perhaps." She shrugged her shoulders.

"It is a good idea, shehala. Iolaine, know you if Tre's scrolls remained here in the chambers?" The more I have thought to the idea, the more it intrigued me as well.

"I think perhaps there are some remaining." He stood and crossed to a chest. "Aight. We have few ones without scribing on them."

"They shall suffice. Salenia?"

"They shall." She unrolled a scroll and took up the quill. We watched as the image formed before us.

"Perhaps it should be of a single plate?" Tominent studied the design.

"Nothen. I believe it should be of more than one plate. We would have need of a plate for our backs." It seemed reasonable to me.

"Perhaps we shall inquire of the metal worker. I know not how such plates would fit beneath our attire." Salenia began another design. "Perhaps if we were to make it appear as scales from a fish?"

"If I may, Salenia?" Iolaine gingerly reached for the scroll. Sal handed it to him readily. "I have a thought. Perhaps it should be designed in such manner." He quickly sketched his thoughts. "It is almost woven in design. Would that not function better?"

"How came you to such a design?" Salenia's voice illustrated her awe. I peered over her shoulder. It seemed a good design.

"My mother was skilled in weaving. She would weave light shirts of wool for my father. They were of similar designs." It was the first he had spoken of his family.

"It may suffice." Salenia handed the scroll to Tominent.

"It may, indeed." He added his approval.

"Shall we have speech with a worker of metal this night?" I asked. An hour had not passed since the evening meal.

"Perhaps we should. It would be wise to be so prepared." Salenia replied.

"Tominent, know you of one who could give life to such design?"

"I do, Torienne. Such a challenge shall please him."

"Then we shall seek him out. We shall have speech with the stable hand and Crumelent on the morrow. Lyliane, perhaps you should return to the library. I believe our companions would be comforted by your presence."

"Shall you visit them? Sevianth seems to miss your company." Her voice held the slightest hint of reprimand.

"Aight. We shall see to them after we see to the design." I agreed. In truth, I had grown accustomed to our companions' presence. The chambers seemed to deny comfort without them.

"I have a wish to visit them as well." Sal imparted her desires.

"Then let us begin our quest to give life to this design." I stood.

"Shehala, perhaps if you were properly attired, we would have greater ease." She succeeded in disguising her amusement.

"Aight." I looked down at my state of undress. "I shall don my proper attire. Then we shall depart."

"I shall escort Lyliane to the library and return here." Iolaine offered his hand to his keytheda.

"Return in haste." I advised. "It shall not take much to dress adequately."

In truth, it took little time to attire myself properly. We were required to wait for Iolaine's return. Fortune was with him; he did not delay. The situation was wearing on our patience. We were all suffering from anxiety.

"I have returned." Iolaine announced as he entered the chambers.

"Then we shall depart." Salenia claimed the lead of our group. It seemed fair. It was her design we wished to give life.

"Kespearen is the most skilled of all the workers of metal in service to the Jilhsaed." Tominent explained as we journeyed to the palace chambers dedicated to industry.

"In truth, he is gifted?" The query seemed mere conversation. I doubted not Tominent's ability to chose one gifted for our purposes. He had greater knowledge of such people than did we.

The chambers designated for those who worked metal, leather, and minarina were several floors beneath the base of the palace. We traversed many steps in our journey. Gradually, the heat became greater than that of the full sun in the summer season. Several were attending duty in the area. We walked through many areas selected for various tasks such as the making of cloth, the forging of swords, and the making of minarina. It seemed we had discovered those of the palace who were not servants and who were not cordermers. They fell between the distinctions.

"Kespearen, how goes the day?" Tominent hailed the worker of metal as we approached. The swarthy man paused in his actions. He had been heating a long piece of metal in a large furnace.

"Well met, Tominent. You are accompanied by strange companions." The worker of metal grinned and took Tominent's hand. "How can my skills assist you?"

"I have brought outlanders to have speech with you. This is Torienne, Salenia and Iolaine. They have need of your skills, as you are a master at your craft."

"You flatter me, Tominent. Have you a challenge? I grow weary of my duty."

"We have, Kespearen." Salenia pulled the design from inside her tunic. "We have need of protection against steel. It seems to us only steel can deflect steel."

"This is an innovative design. I am impressed. You are more than mere warriors it seems." He nodded at our swords. "I think perhaps I can give it life. I have attempted such a design before, though not in such a manner. This perhaps can succeed." He scratched his chin. He seemed the first man we had encountered who was not clean-shaven. His sincere appearance, filthy with an honest day's labors, eased our anxiety.

"We have need of it. Perhaps we can assist to hasten the labors." Salenia offered our services.

"Have you experience working metal?" Kespearen seemed amused.

"My father's brother was a worker of metal. I have assisted him many times." Salenia's disclosure surprised our companions. We had speech of it during our conversations as we traveled to the Jilhsaed's realm.

"It shall suffice. This shall test our ingenuity." The man seemed pleased. "We have several hours labor. We should begin in earnest."

"We shall assist in any manner necessary." I added our support. It seemed important to obtain the design before we began our other duties. I knew as well, our success would be beneficial to many.

For hours we labored. We labored in pairs, heating and bending the metal in the forge and with hammers and other items Kespearen utilized. It was weary work. Twice we paused for refreshments. Salenia and I departed briefly to tend to our companions in the library. We had no wish to alienate their affections. Sevianth was pleased and proudly displayed the virithen for our approval. It seemed he had discovered its preferred nourishment with the assistance of the queriane. Already it had grown in length.

We returned to our labors near to the forge gladdened of heart and refreshed in spirit. It seemed the time we spent with Tre, Rul, Lyliane, Sevianth and the virithen had restored our belief and firmed our resolve. It was another lesson we had been unprepared to learn on our own. It is easy to lose heart in duty when one loses sight of those depending on the success or failure of the venture. It was disconcerting as well. They depended on our protection as much as we depended on their support. It was well balanced. As soon as we became accustomed to it, we looked to it for support and inspiration. It was a good fit.

As the hours grew long, our labors intensified. We had failed several times before Kespearen succeeded in creating the first piece of our metal shirts. Though we all assisted, he was required to weave the actual design and give it life. The first success strengthened our resolve. It seemed mere moments before we had completed one shirt. It was well made, though not perfect. It was a sample of things to come.

The first shirt was comprised of rings of metal joined and linked by more metal. It was, as Iolaine suggested, seemingly woven. We spent much time debating on further changes to the original design. The shirt clinked as it was moved. We had need of stealth. Even our bridles were leather and wood to keep noise from attracting undue attention to our movements. All kirgeurs were so taught and so cautious.

It was near the rise of the sun when we produced a shirt of metal that withstood our strenuous examination. It was made to fit Salenia. She appeared strange attired in a shirt of metal. It was heavy, though not overly so. It had been designed to wear beneath our tunics, over the cloth shirt. It contained no sleeves and was made to pull over the head. It was difficult to do so. However, it seemed to satisfy our demands. It turned my blade when I attempted to test its protection. We were satisfied. Kespearen was gladdened.

Kespearen pledged to produce more shirts of metal, or tanornela as we named it. I know not how the word came to exist. Perhaps it was the product of weariness. Regardless, it entered our tongue and the language of the Jilhsaed. We had created protection for warriors; it seemed appropriate we created a word to describe it.

We were wearied by our labors. All of us required rest. With the final design, Kespearen felt confident he could produce many shirts of metal before the moon rose again. He required little rest. He was excited at the challenge. It gave him the strength to continue. We however required rest and nourishment before our duties once again claimed our attention.

We sought our dreams with grateful spirits. The four of us took our rest in my chambers. Tominent was too weary to return to his own. It mattered not. Salenia and I were relieved of duty, as was Iolaine. Tominent sent a servant to beg leave of his morning duties. He would reclaim them after the midday meal.


Continue to part 22

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