Tales of the Kirgeur

By the Bluedragon

We had decided it was best to be away from the area when the lone survivor returned from his dreams. We mounted and rode. Sal had tied the reins of the three horses to her saddle. They were excellent beasts and followed easily. Obviously the other two men had not been lowly apprentices but hired swords.

At dusk we stopped to camp. We had skirted around a village. Neither of us wanted to repeat the previous night. This camp was not near water, but we were too tired to seek a sight elsewhere. The river had stopped paralleling our course several leagues ago.

"I must say one thing." Sal handed me rations from the merchant's saddlebags. "Life with you is always interesting."

"Only on the trail, my friend. Only on the trail." I told her. My upbringing had not been what others would call exciting. However, it had suited me well.

That night we talked about our childhoods. Sal was barely a season behind me in years. Aside from the loss of her parents and sister, she had a normal youth. She admitted to choosing the life a kirgeur for a chance to redeem her family and her village.

"We had one kirgeur in our village. She was a true oldster and could barely lift a sword, but she would entertain all who would listen to tales of her youth." Sal smiled at the memory. "It sounded so exciting when she talked of it. I knew when I started my training I wanted to bear the mark as well. It was my belief our village would not have fallen had an active kirgeur been present at the attack. My father's brother was proud. I am the first of our family to become a kirgeur. How did you become one?" She passed the wine skin we had found in the merchant's saddlebags. The man must have enjoyed his wealth.

"My mother had been a kirgeur. Kayla is my mother's sister. It seemed the natural choice. I am not made for hearth and babes." It was true. There were no underlying motives behind my life choice. There was simply nothing else I had been born to do except breed horses. I could not do that without the mark.

"No suitors then?" Sal took the wineskin back.

"Nothen. You?" I know not what prompted that question other than polite manners.

"None I have wanted. The only one I have wanted was far more interested in someone else." Sal related her woes in a quiet voice. The wine was affecting us greatly.

"I was not interested in the men at our village, and the one person I have loved was betrothed to my brother." I decided to stop drinking the wine. It really did loosen the tongue more than I had wanted. "My mother was killed in the raid. Tre is not her daughter, but the child of my father's first wife. I have a duty to rescue her for my father. Luiciak was my mother's son and my true brother. It is my duty to return his betrothed since he is unable. He was to marry Kierian two moons hence. I swore the bonds of friendship with her. I cannot let her lose her freedom either."

"Not many men can afford two wives. Not many would answer a challenge they were not by custom dictated to accept." She looked at me for a long moment. "Have you formulated a plan yet?"

"I have. The idea entered my head during the tangle with the merchant." Briefly I outlined my plan to rescue the others. Sal was highly impressed and entertained by the idea.

"Since you seem to have exercised your brilliant ability at strategy, I shall take first watch." Sal generously offered.

I accepted both her compliment and her offer for first watch with aplomb. Rest came easy for me, though my dream patterns were scattered. I dreamt of many things those hours. I dreamt of Kierian and of the merchant. They were not happy dreams. I woke to my watch with gratitude.

The earth and air were both silent. Necimius was quiet in his sleep, and Solisiric in her watch. Nothing stirred and I was left alone with my thoughts. My thoughts reflected my dreaming. They were chaotic and full of doubts. I prayed for a sign from Biaderi, my chosen goddess of war. She had honored my mother and Kayla well during their service in battle. She had no answer for me that night. I had not expected one.

When I could first see the sun's light hit the plains, I woke Sal. She had the talent of rising effortlessly. The wine we had consumed last night showed no ill effects in the light of day. We were both able to eat and break camp with no apparent difficulties.

We rode that morning in silence. Both of us were consumed with personal thoughts. We did not share them with one another. Some things are too private to put into words.

We had a leisurely ride; neither of us felt the need to push our pace. We had a week before we were due in Creasinda. It was a full week worth of riding ahead, and we were not anxious for the monotony.

We had stopped for a midday meal and then resumed the trail. We were both starting to tire of trail life, but saw no stop for it until we reached our goal. We decided to continue on until we found a village. Bedrolls are not sufficiently padded for extended usage.

We happened across a village a short time before dusk. We were both in unfamiliar territory and were weary of riding. We decided to stop for the night. The horses needed the rest as well. The weather was still scorching and no clouds had offered any respite that day.

The inn was a small one and did not have rooms. Patrons had to make do with pallets on the floor after the last customer had left for the evening. At least it had a stable with decent grain for the horses, and it was reasonably priced. We decided to stay for that reason. Neither of us wanted to eat something we had cooked either.

"Well, this should suffice for one night." Sal took the optimistic route. "At least they do have a bathing facility."

"It sounds rather small. I will let you go first and watch our things." We had chosen a table in the back of the crowded inn. One night's lodgings were accompanied by food, one mug of ale and the use of the bathing room. This was a very fair establishment.

Sal left her saddlebags on the bench with me. She knew they were safe there. I watched the other patrons as I waited for her to return. The inn was filled mainly with locals. Sal and I were the ones who were visible as travelers. However, there did seem to be a few from villages a day's ride or more staying the night as well. I picked up enough of their conversations to learn that they were also heading for the festivals.

The patrons were no threat to our safety. I was able to ascertain that immediately. In fact, they seemed rather plain. Even the ones traveling to Marlkina were simple farmers. To give me something to do, I began counting the mud caked bricks which formed the inn's walls. The large common room was too dark and smoky for much counting of bricks. I had moved to counting the rings in the rough wooden table when Sal returned.

"Anything interesting happen while I was away?" She asked as she sat down beside me.

"There are thirty-two rings in this table." I told her as I slid off the bench. "I shall have my bath now. Will you order the meal?"

"Aight." She was looking at the table in puzzlement. "I must warn you, the bathing room is quite small and not in the best condition."

"I shall survive." I told her.

I walked down the dark corridor with all senses alert. An unprepared kirgeur was often a dead kirgeur. I had no intention of meeting Necimius soon. I honored the gods, but felt they could wait for me to join them.

The bathing room was similar to one from my grandfather's tales. It was nothing more than an old looking glass, a rough-hewn rock bath, and an old stool. Cleanse towels were piled neatly in one corner, and the dirty ones were thrown in the opposite one. A large pump was used to fill the bath with water. There was no way to heat the water. Needless to say, I took a very short time to wash.

I rejoined Sal at the table right before the food arrived. It was hot and fresh, but tasteless. We would have gotten more flavor from the merchant's rations. However, we were grateful it was not half raw or burned. We were more grateful we were not the ones required to prepare it.

"I think we may need to visit the local market on the morrow." I told my traveling companion as we finished our meal.

"Why fore?" She was still nursing her mug of ale. Obviously she did not want to repeat her previous experience with port.

"After our incidence with the merchant, I believe we may be lacking certain items we may need at a later date."

"Ah, such as the distance viewer?" Sal asked. She had remembered my comment from the day previous.

"That would be one, yes." I finished my ale. "It seems as if we still have time before the locals clear out. Shall we have another?"

"Aight, it shall at least make this more interesting. They do not appear even to play games." Sal almost complained.

It was true. The patrons of the inn's tavern showed no signs of vacating the premises. They seemed content to sit with their ale or port and exchange news with their neighbors. Most of their news consisted of personal stories or tales of familial exploits. We soon learned these villagers and farmers were indeed simple people. My village had been much like it not long ago. As they did, we had played at war.

Finally, the innkeeper shooed the locals from their mugs. The common area's floor was cleared of tables and chairs. Sal and I spread our bedrolls in a corner of the establishment. We felt no need to set watch, though both of us had scant sleep. The bare earth with its covering of sand was more comfortable then the wooden planks we laid upon.

A rostick chimed his call an hour before dawn. We rose as one and assisted the innkeeper in resetting the common area for the morning meal. His gratitude provided us with a complimentary morning meal. It was sufficiently better than the previous meal. The innkeeper also informed us the village did indeed have a market. It opened it at dawn.

The market was small, but the stalls had plenty variety to offer in custom. This village owed its existence to travelers as well as to farmers. A good quarter of the stalls were dedicated to custom for travelers. We found those easily. Searching for the equipment we desired took a little more time.

"Can I assist you?" An aged man asked from one of the stalls.

"We are looking for distance viewers." In truth, neither of us had seen one. We had heard of them through travelers in the village near the school.

"I can show you several." He pulled out a tray with many cylindrical rolls of leather. Each had a thick piece of glass at the largest part of the leather and a smaller piece of glass at the opposite end.

"What is the difference between them?" I asked.

"The thickness of the glass varies. The thicker the glass, the farther the view." The man knew he had a sale. "Which would you like?"

"How much for the one the longest distance?" Sal asked.

"Four goldens." He smiled in victory.

"We will give you six for two of those." Sal jingled her pouch.

"Six? I cannot sell two such fine items for three goldens each." He protested.

"As you wish." Sal turned. "We will buy them in the next village."

"Seven goldens for two." The man made one last try.

"Six goldens and two silvers for two distance views and a map of the Jilhsaed's territory." Sal held firm. The map idea was a stroke of genius.

"What do you have need of a map for?" The old man let his curiosity over come him.

"We have beasts to sell as a favor to our father." I covered. There was no reason to tell him differently.

"You are robbing me, but I shall accept your terms. Six goldens and four silver for both viewers and the map." He tried to catch us off guard.

"That was six goldens and two silvers, old man." Sal pulled the correct coinage from her leather purse. We both kept them in hard leather pouches on our belts. They were designed to foil thieves, though we had no proof of it.

"Accepted." The old man muttered under his breath about foreigners as he wrapped our purchases into oiled leather pieces. We could use the scraps of leather for oiling swords at a later time.

We returned to the inn and claimed our horses. All five of them were in good health and eager to move. They had been kept in stalls all night and were ready to return to the trail. We were eager as well and wasted no time returning to our quest.

Though we were still leagues from Creasinda, the distance viewers brought it into clear relief. Through the leather and glass implement, we were able to see it as if we were standing a league from its walls. We did not regret the coinage spent on such a valuable asset.

Creasinda was the largest village either of us had seen. It looked more like one of the cities my grandfather told us of as youngsters. Our people had once built such places as this. Our ability and desire to do so had disappeared through the generations.

Bricks made from compressed sand walled the city in and kept the unwanted at bay. The buildings inside had dome shaped roofs. We had never seen the likes of them. It was an impressive and awe-inspiring site. The sun's rays bounced from roof to roof and made the city appear to glow.

It had taken us a full seven days of travel to reach the eastern most city in the Jilhsaed's territory. We hoped we had beaten the slavers. Though neither Sal nor I could reckon the reasons why it would have taken them longer. They had been ahead of us the entire way. Our one asset was our speed. We doubted it helped much.

"Shall we camp here or do you wish to find an inn there?" Sal asked. She was taking the shock of seeing the city rather well.

"We have been three days eating our own cooking, sleeping under the stars and smelling as if we were horses. I wish a bed, bath and meal." I was sore and tired. Apparently Sal was as well. She lit up like a babe at a Gersonma celebration.

"Then we are agreed in our wishes. Beds for the night." She mounted her horse. "Sounds like the best offer anyone has made me in three days."

"Agreed." I laughed and mounted my horse.

We rode slowly to the walled city. We did not see a gate to use on our approach. We angled our course westward. It had been a good choice. There was a large gate patrolled by several young men in some type of uniform. They were bare of chest, wore billowy pale red pants of a thin, shimmery material and a deep red sash across their chests. Each one kept a hand on his sword hilt.

An older looking man in the same style of dress stopped us just outside the gate. We answered each of his questions in a mixture of his tongue and the one of the Poulantie. Our ruse was to be ignorant but fairly competent young women selling horses for our sick father. It worked and we were allowed inside the massive gate.

We rode through the wide, paved streets in search of an inn. Several establishments were on the main rode and each bore a sign telling or picturing its name for all to see. The row of inns went from the real impoverished to the luxurious. We attempted to find one in the middle category.

We chose an inn that boasted a stable on the sign out front. It was named appropriately enough, the Flying Flame. We took it as a good omen. Before we examined the inside of the inn, we decided to see if we approved of the stables. My father was wont to say he could tell the state of a place by the condition of the stables.

The stables were actually a large building and an enclosed paddock. Two nondescript men met us at the entrance to the large building. In our guise as horse breeders, we toured the building before agreeing to their fee. The building had an open wall where the more tame horses could enter the paddock without restriction. The wilder horses were kept penned. The stable smelled of cleanse hay, leather and harmless cleanser. The men in turn inspected our beasts. They obviously knew and respected horseflesh. They were as impressed by our mounts and the spares as we were with the stables.

We paid for several nights stabling. The price was more reasonable than we had reckoned. We were given the impression that this inn catered to travelers. We agreed if the inn itself were lacking we would still stable our horses there.

The inn was a large multifloored establishment. It was enormous compared to the smaller two floored inns we were accustomed to in our land. The first floor was devoted entirely to a tavern. The innkeeper was also the keeper of the tavern, and we inquired about rooms to let. He informed us he had several available. We paid for one night with an option to extend our stay. He was amiable.

One meal each day was included in the price of the rooms. We sat in the back of the tavern and waited for ours. The tavern was full of travelers, merchants and those attending the festivals in Marlkina. None of them paid us the least attention. We were grateful.

The tavern wenches in this establishment were from a different breed than those we encountered farther north. They wore revealing clothes and had knowing swaggers. We assumed they sold more services than the tavern boasted. When we saw one accompany a prosperous looking traveler upstairs, our assumptions were proven true. At home there are separate establishments for that sort of trade. The one outside the school was where Kayla had found our amorous instructors.

In short order, we had been given food and a dark type of ale. The ale was thick and rich. It tasted as if they used sweeteners in it. It was surprisingly refreshing, however we drank ours slowly. We did not yet know how it would affect those unaccustomed to it. The food was as different to our pallet as the ale. What we were served was unnamable and spicy. However, it was edible and pleasing to our northern tongues.

"I wonder what they call this?" Sal held up a nut that was used in the meat and vegetation mix.

"I have no idea, though I believe if we stay long enough we will learn." I finished the plate of food in front of me.

"I believe you are correct. Shall we claim the room and the bathing chamber?" Sal had picked out all the nuts from her food. They were the only items still on her plate.

"I think that is a good plan." We left the table.

Our room was on the third floor of the inn. We could see the paddock from our window. The window was another major difference. It was open and had no glazed glass like those in the north. It was also of a strange shape. It was roughly square, but the top and bottom edges were rounded. It also illustrated the thickness of the walls of the inn; the wall was at least a hand and a half wide.

The room itself was nicely arrayed and cleansed of previous occupants. It contained one large bed, a fire pit, and a table made from some unnamable substance that was as hard as wood but shone like stone. It had a high sounding ring to it when I wrapped my dagger on it. The entire room was furnished in the same type of material. The setting for the looking glass, the shelves and the cupboard for clothing were all made from similar stuff. We could only guess what the substance could have been.

We left all the saddlebags in the room and carried our change of clothing to the bathing chamber. We only had our kirgeur clothing to wear; we needed to cleanse the clothes we were wearing. We decided to search out a laundress on the morrow. At the moment we were feeling our stench.

The inn had two bathing chambers, one for men and the other for women. The scarcity of female travelers assured us we would have the room to ourselves. The bathing chamber was truly more than a room. It was carved from the stone like substance we had discovered in our sleeping room.

The chamber, for that was all we could think to call it, was round and cavernous. It was tall with a hole near the ceiling for light. Candles were also lit throughout it. The light bounced off the walls and the pillars and cast an interesting half glow on the scene. There were two pools of water in the chamber. One had a sign depicting two bathers, the other a sign depicting two women relaxing. At the least, it is what we made of the signs. They did not contain written descriptions.

We undressed slowly. Both of us were slightly stiff from spending so much time in the saddle. Sal was quicker, and was immersed to her neck in water before I had finished. She watched through have closed eyes as I slid into the water.

"You have lost weight, Tor." She observed.

"Must have been all the squirrels and rabbits." I let myself sink into the water. It was wonderfully hot and lightly scented.

"I shall have to tell certain women in my village that secret." She grinned as she reached for the dish of scented foam. It was slick and easy to spread. We were cleansed before we realized it. It was stronger than the cleanser we had used at the school. It was not as harsh either.

"Shall we soak?" I asked Sal when we were both done washing.

"Aight, I think my body could use it." She grinned and climbed out of the bathing pool.

I watched as she walked across the chamber to the soaking pool. She had lost weight as well. It only served to accentuate her lean frame and the muscles beneath her skin. She looked as hard as steel in this light, yet soft as silk. She was definitely fully female.

"Oh, gods of my tribe, this is wonderful." Sal looked blissful in the steamy pool. "Hasten Tor, you are missing a piece of Jarndinia."

I laughed at her description and slide into the pool. It was degrees hotter than the pool for bathing. I could feel the soreness ease and the low level anxiety I had been feeling since I had left my village lessen even more. It truly was as close to Jarndinia as I hope to be until my time ended.

"We have come this far. Shall we look for the lost on the morrow?" Sal leaned her head back against the side of the pool. We were both sitting on carved seats. Her movement exposed her chest to the air. The air was considerably cooler than the water.

"I think we should find the laundress and then search for them. We should try the market first." The Jilhsaed endorsed slavery. It was legal throughout his territory. People were bought and sold in the same markets as beasts and fabrics.

"Are we dressing as ourselves?" Sal sat up at the thought.

"I believe we should. I am willing to wager most people know nothing more than folk tales of kirgeurs here. Much the same as we know almost nothing of this area." I reasoned. It was also my belief that those who recognized us would be our lost ones. Perhaps they would find a way to get word to us.

"I can see the logic there." Sal stated. "This pool is easily a small lake. Care if I swim?"

"No, by all means carry on." I told her. I could not understand her obsession with swimming. I did not mind bathing and relaxing in water, but only swam for survival.

Sal pushed off the seat and glided through the water. She swam the breadth of the pool twice before rolling over mid-stroke and floating on her back. I was awed by her grace and agility. She had the ability to attract attention to her other assets as well. Her assets were considerable.

"You do not swim well?" She asked as she returned to her seat.

"Kayla taught me well enough to survive. I share not your enthusiasm for it." I told her.

"If you could swim well, you would appreciate it more. If we have time, I shall teach you." She offered.

"My gratitude. I now am for sleep." I struggled not to yawn.

"I am with you." Sal pulled herself out of the pool right after I had done the same. "I am tired down to my bones."

"As am I." I used one of the towels provided to dry myself.

We pulled our clothes on in silence. I kept my eyes and my mind on the motions of dressing. My weary mind was intent on providing me with images of Sal sliding through the water. Had I been fully coherent, I would not have let my thoughts drift in that direction. Sal was not Kierian. She was a friend and was also kirgeur. Such thoughts had no base in reality.

The room was quite warm when we returned. It was my guess that a fire was rarely lit in the pit provided. This land had no winter season, as we knew the term. The open window made more sense with that observation. It allowed the breeze free movement through the room.

"Bed or floor?" I asked, as Sal locked the door behind us.

"Neither. That strange looking sleeping platform will suffice for tonight. I will take the bed the next evening." She pointed to a long piece of furniture I had not noticed earlier. It was as long as my eldest brother is tall, and half again wide as a person. It had a thin layer of pillows on it.

"Very kind of you." I said sincerely. I would have allowed her claim the bed if she had but asked. "May your dreams be free of danger."

"And yours Tor. And yours."

We undressed again and climbed into our chosen beds. The actual bed was quite comfortable. The mattress felt as if it had feathers sewn into it. A few poked me in interesting places until I heard them snap. After that, it was a smooth surface that embraced my tired self. I was walking dreams instantly.

I woke that morning to a wonderful scent. Sitting up in bed to find the source, I noticed Sal sitting at the table. She had a tray laden with the morning meal on the table. She was watching as I stretched.

"Greet the day, Tor. Food?" She pointed to the chair across from her. "They used more of those nuts in this. They must use them for everything."

"They are not bad. Interesting flavor." I crawled out of bed and partially dressed. She had waited before breaking her fast until I had awakened. I quickly joined her at the table. "It smells appetizing."

"It does." She agreed. "I have learned two things this morning."

"How long have you been awake?" I could not see the sun from the window. I had no idea as to the time.

"Not long. Long enough to claim food. Do you wish to know what I learned?" She looked proud of herself. I nodded. "This stone is called graseleth and is quarried locally. Also, the inn has a laundry service. I have already asked for our clothing to be cleansed."

"You have been busy." I was impressed with her industriousness.

The morning's meal was as interesting as the previous meal. I was quickly developing a taste for the food here. I found it to be wonderful. As she had the night before, Sal picked all the nuts from of her food.

"Do you not like the nuts?" I asked. She had not been as picky about anything else so far.

"I do not. They do not seem to sit well with me. I thought it best to avoid them." She explained. "Shall we to the market first?"

"Aight, though in a place this size, we might need to inquire of the innkeeper its exact location. We should know if it would be easier to ride as well." I suggested.

"Sound logic." Sal commented.

We finished the meal in silence. It was too good a meal to talk much. I finished dressing after the meal. Sal was already fully attired for the day. As I was pulling on my bracers, a servant knocked on the door. She was a beautiful dusky skinned woman and wore slightly more clothing than the tavern wenches.

"Are you finished with the meal?" She asked as she demurely stepped into the room.

"We are." I smiled at her. "Tell me, where is the market located and what are the rules governing it?" I asked in her tongue. It was fortunate Kayla and Chelstea had taught us what they knew of the language of this people.

"There are no horses allowed in it. It is located farther down this street; the chimes strike upon the hour. Those will guide you." She looked closely at us both. "Also, no steel is to be worn openly on the streets except by the gieashetha." She informed us.

Sal shrugged and we both removed our swords and daggers from our belts. We took the comment about wearing steel openly at face value. Neither of us removed the daggers we had secreted elsewhere.

"What is your name?" I asked. It seemed only fair to call her something other than servant.

"Roshimama. I am to be your servant during your stay." She bowed.

"Well met, Roshimama." I broke protocol and returned her bow. "I am Tor, and my companion is Sal."

"Tor and Sal. Strange names for two such lovely warriors." She hid her face as she replied. Sal laughed.

"They are but shortened versions of our proper names, Torienne and Salenia." Sal informed the flustered woman. "You may call us by either."

"I thank you. I must return the dishes to the tavern. May the gods guard your day, Sal and Tor." She hefted the tray on her shoulder and left.

"We have a servant?" I was almost repulsed by the idea, though part of me was amused. I wondered what my siblings would think of it. The children of my mother would be amused. The rest would be scandalized.

"It appears so. Shall we go?" Sal asked.

"On foot it seems. I do not like the decree barring steel." I could see the logic behind the law, but it still sat ill with me.

"I do not either, but we must obey if we are to be successful." Sal made sure her small knife was not showing from her boot. "At the least, we must appear to obey."

"It is truth." I made sure all my daggers were out of sight. Sal was correct in her assessment of the situation. We would take care and appear to adhere to the local rules and customs.

We left the inn and followed Roshimama's directions. Already the street was blazing with heat and light. People were walking to the market in droves. Not a single person bore steel or was on horseback. They were also wearing brighter colors than I had known existed. It made me wonder who were the real barbarians. They were as outlandish to us as we were to them.

By the time we had reached the market, we were both covered in dust. Our black attire looked more brown than anything. It painted an oddly interesting picture in my mind. We were sure to use the laundress and the bathing chamber frequently. Some we passed were not accustomed to those luxuries. They were covered in layers of filth.

The market was an enormous piece of land covered with tents, stalls and booths. One or more of the merchant class manned each. All clamored for attention. If it were to be sold, it would surely be encountered in Creasinda's market. The sights, smells and noises were almost overwhelming for two such farm-bred kirgeurs. It took moments for us to adjust to the crowded bazaar.

We slowly made our way through the press of people. The farther we walked into the market, the more people we encountered. It was as if the entire population was there, and all were dancing and weaving along the narrow through ways. It was an intricate and complicated movement that required complete awareness. It would have been easy to have been overwhelmed by it all.

Finally, we reached the area marked for wares of the flesh. The sign over this section was clearly demarked in three languages. In each, it read simply the Slave Market. What I would have given for a bucket of paint. However, thoughts of vandalism were petty, and kirgeurs were trained to be above such petty acts. The simple horse breeder within me enjoyed the thought.

We made our way past several stalls and wagons full of human beast. Each person waiting to be sold was chained to either the bars of the wagon or to a stake in the ground. Crowds surrounded each enclosure and vied for the captive ones' attentions. Some were there to purchase, others there to ogle. We were there to rescue.

Sal must have pitied the captives fully as much as I. After all, her sister had once been treated like this. Those from my village had to be here, being pawed over by the crowds. I had to remind myself of our goal. We could not free them all. It was not easy to remember that.

We walked the large enclosure twice. Neither of us had spotted any of our lost ones. While Sal had not met Kierian or my sister and cousins, our style of clothing was as indicative of our tribes, as the black clothing was of the kirgeur. There were none here from our tribes, and only a few who looked Poulantie.

Wordlessly we turned back to the more normal part of the market. The foot traffic was less in that direction. It seemed as if everyone had to view the new slaves before beginning their day. It sickened us.

We took our time on the walk back to the inn. I watched the youngsters play in the dust and thought of how different customs could be and yet how similar youthful games could remain. I had no name for what I was feeling, but I could tell Sal was suffering from it as well.

I was amazed to realize it was midday when we stepped into the tavern. The dark room was cool and welcoming. The thick walls did much to keep out the heat, and the large windows made their presence appreciated. We sat at a table in the back of the common room and waited for a tavern wench. It was not yet crowded, so our wait was short.

Since neither of us felt much like eating after the sights we had seen, we ordered two ales and two bowls of stew. We knew we would have to keep up our strength regardless of appetite. Our success depended upon it.

"There are no nuts in this." I told my companion. She had waited until I had tasted the substance before she tried it. The stew was rich, thick and almost cool. It almost rivaled my grandfather's famous creation.

"Thanks be to the gods." Sal exclaimed as she tried the stew. "This is wonderful."

"It is indeed." I suddenly wanted more of the stew. We had asked only for small bowls of the substance.

A serving boy came to our table with our ales. We each asked him for another bowl of stew. Happily, he hurried off to fetch them. He returned in short order, and placed the bowls in front of us. He remained for several moments until we turned our attention from our meal to him.

"Is there anything else I can do for you?" He inquired in a clear tenor. It took me a moment to realize what he was asking.

"No thank you, we have all we require." Sal smirked as I answered. "Yes?" I asked when the boy returned to his duty.

"I was just wondering if you would have put off Roshimama or one of the serving wenches." She grinned evilly.

"Of course I would have." I decided to tease her a little. "It is too hot for passion."

"You provide your own heat?" She gave a nice rejoinder.

"If you must call it that, yes. Would you have taken the boy?" I was slightly curious. Sal was still a puzzle to me. I could not tell if she were cylinge or not. Not that it mattered. I did not care.

"Not at all. He is not the type I favor." She took a long sip of ale. "I think I am becoming accustomed to this ale. It is rather refreshing."

"It is indeed. Would you have taken the wench up on the offer?" I pressed the point. I had no reason other than idle curiosity. We were becoming friends.

"Perhaps. It is however, rather warm outside, so perhaps I would decline." She paraphrased my own words and turned them against me. I could not tell if she were teasing or not. "What shall we do now?"

"We should go back to the market before it closes. Perhaps they were late in arriving." In truth, I had not thought much beyond the first search of the market. Kayla and Chelstea would have been disappointed.

"Perhaps. What we need is an information source." Sal did not look cheerful. "We should have asked that baderema more questions days ago." She referred back to the merchant's hired sword.

"It is doubtful he could have told us anything more." I defended our rather limited skills at interrogation. "Though a name would have been nice."

"A name of the inn, the head slaver, even one of the horses would have been nice. Tor, I get the feeling we are chasing shadows. What shall we do if they have been and gone?" She seemed to be getting frustrated.

"Track them to Marlkina. I am not returning to my village empty handed." I protested. I knew not why she was getting upset. She was supposed to have accompanied me to search for her sister. "Do you not care to find your lost one?"

"I do care, though I at least have acknowledged the possibility that she is not the same person I knew. Have you thought about that with Kierian?"

"What does Kierian have to do with anything?" I did not like the way this conversation was turning. "We can not give up our quest now."

"No one will blame us either way. We have traveled farther than anyone in either of our villages since we fled the invasion generations ago. Have you really thought this through, or you just groping in the dark?"

"I am not groping in the dark. I will not return without Kierian, your sister, or any of the others missing." I held firm. "Why are you suddenly opposed to this?" I asked. I let my voice rise a little more than I should have. Other patrons were beginning to stare in our direction.

"I am not opposed to this. I just want to make sure you know your reasons for continuing this quest." Sal hefted her mug to find it empty. "I need more ale. You?" I nodded and she waved a tavern wench over to the table. "Better grab her quick, Tor. You might not get another chance."

"What has gotten into you?" I asked. Sal was acting out of character. Even in school she had been even tempered.

"I have no idea. It must be the heat. My apologies." She said.

"Accepted." We had been eight days without solid sleep and adequate food. It had to happen to one of us eventually. Everyone loses his or her calm at some point, kirgeur or not. "I am going to go up to the room and see if I can dream. Were you planning on accompanying me?"

"No, I think it best to finish another mug of ale or two." For the first time since I had met her at the school, Sal did not look content with the world.

We had each been given keys to the room. I unlocked the door to find Roshimama straightening the room. The servant left her post at the bed where she had been changing the bedclothes when I entered.

"Is there anything I can do for you?" Her voice implied that more than her services as a room servant were for sale.

"How much?" I asked. I need to work off my frustrations with the quest and the residual anger at Sal. It was a simple question and one I knew she would understand.

"For what do you require?" She sat the change of fabrics on the bed.

"An hour of your time." I did not worry if I were overstepping my bounds. Her responses did not make it seem as if she were opposed to the idea.

"Two silver for an hour, though when you have such a charming companion you should not be required to pay." She walked towards me. Her hips were swaying more than normal. It was the gentle gait of a horse at play. I was intrigued.

"Sal is a companion only. Not my shehala." She did not recognize the word. "We are not lovers."

"Her loss then." Roshimama stood right in front of me.

I fumbled into my belt pouch and handed her two silver pieces. She took them readily and latched the door. I watched as she walked to me again. What little she had been wearing was shed before she entered my arms. Her skin was as smooth as silk and smelled of flowers in bloom. Once again, I was on the precipice of Jarndinia.

Roshimama was well versed in the art of cylingic love. We took turns authoring each other's release. She was my first taste of this region's nectar. It was as sweet as the ale. Her hands and mouth were worth gold. It was an hour very well spent. She had managed to make the hired girls from the brothel by the school seem rank amateurs.

[part 4]

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