By the Bluedragon
As soon as we were finished, Roshimama returned to her duties. I left the room so she could change the bedclothes. Following the general rules of hygiene I had become accustomed to at the school, I found my way to the bathing chamber. To my surprise, Sal was there.
"I wish to apologize again for my behavior earlier." She was resting in the pool for relaxing.
"It is accepted and forgotten." I was in too good a mood to let a baseless argument bother me.
She was quiet as I undressed and entered the pool for bathing. I washed quickly. I could still feel Roshimama's hands on my body. Though I was not regretting the brief interlude, as I had needed the relief, I was eager to cleanse myself. In some vague way, I felt as if I had violated some precept. Something felt intrinsically wrong. It was not the exchange of coinage for passion. It was something deeper. I could not name it.
Sal was still in the same position when I joined her in the pool for relaxing. She did not look as stressed or as frustrated as she had earlier. The time apart must have been good for both of us. At least I thought that was the reason. Then I noticed the markings on her neck and shoulders. Apparently Sal had enjoyed the same type of interlude I experienced with Roshimama. I knew not how to take it, though it was fair enough. In truth, I found myself jealous. Though of whom I knew not. It was as baseless as our argument. I reckoned it was a product of our frustrations.
"Enjoy the ale?" I asked.
"Very much so, it was as sweet as nectar." She did not seem embarrassed. "How was Roshimama?"
"As sweet as your ale." I saw no reason to deny the actions if she knew of them. "How did you know?"
"I tried the door, but it had been locked from the inside. I was able to piece together the information." She did not smile, but looked serious for a moment. "It seems as if we both received what we had needed despite our wants."
"All but information." I laid my head back on the side of the pool. Her other comment puzzled me until I assumed she referred to Kierian. "Shall we return to the market, or do you have other plans?"
"I have no plans save finding our lost ones." She had apparently rejoined the cause. The serious tone of her voice impressed her earnestness on me.
"Than we are of like purpose again, for that is my only plan as well." I rose from the pool and began drying myself. "Shall we to the market?"
We spent the remainder of the day searching the market for signs of our lost ones. As before, we found no trace of them. We returned to the inn with the resolve to stay and search another day. In truth, it was our only option.
We had another wonderful meal at the tavern. It was fortunate we did not have to go elsewhere for nourishment. We would not have known where to try. Though Sal might have wished otherwise; her serving wench was eager for another private moment or two. I witnessed Sal redden for the first time in our association. It was an amusing sight.
After our meal and ale, we returned to our room. Nothing had been disturbed since I had left it. Roshimama had performed her room keeping functions as if nothing had occurred between us. I was grateful, though it still sat ill with me.
"You know this bed could sleep my father's brother's entire family." Sal commented as she climbed in the bed.
"It is rather large." I stated the obvious. I was tired and had run out of words.
"There is no sense in sleeping separately. That stone pallet is not comfortable in the least, and we both need to be at our best. We can hardly afford to lose more sleep." She argued. "As it is, we have stretched ourselves too far already. We might break if we keep at this pace."
"You are suggesting?"
"Just get in the bed Tor." She gave me a fierce look. "I promise I will stay on my side."
I could not fault her logic. I gave in to her as I remembered just how comfortable that bed had been. I eased into it, staying close to the far side. I had latched the door before I undressed, and Sal blew out the room's only lit candle. I lay awake for several moments as I heard her breathing shift. Soon I was walking in dreams as well.
We woke that morning to sunlight streaming in through the window. Sal and I had not moved so much as the width of one hand during the night. We could have fit several more people in the bed between us. At least nine people would have been comfortable there, or so it seemed.
We dressed quickly and found our way to the common room. More travelers had arrived during the night, and the tavern was full. If it were a sign of the inn's population, it was full to capacity. It took several minutes to get service, but the food was worth the wait.
After we had eaten, we left the inn and headed toward the market. Again, it was filled with people gathering around to stare at the slaves. More had arrived during the night; still we saw no sign of Kierian or the others. We were starting to lose heart.
However, we tarried in the market for what seemed like most of the day. The people of this region closed everything down for a few hours during the heat of the day. During the tirnetny of their custom, we returned to the inn. Neither of us left the common room. We had our midday meal and ale before returning to the market. We were intent on our mission.
The market was not as crowded upon our return. We walked to the section reserved for the slave trade. Even more wagons had appeared during the tirnetny. We estimated that hundreds of humans were on display in one market. It staggered our imaginations.
"Be you Alsounthia?" We heard a voice behind us. The language was familiar, but it was not the regional one.
"We are." I turned and saw a young boy chained to the wagon in front of us. He had the look of a Poulantie so I answered him in his own tongue.
"How came you to be so far south if you are not slaves as we are?" He asked in a quiet voice. Sal and I moved closer and pretended to examine him in interest.
"We are looking for women from our village, stolen several days ago." Sal replied.
"I know of such women. We were in the same group. Those who took us met with them outside of Houcense."
"Know you then where they are being kept?" I asked. So far it was our best lead since we had entered the Jilhsaed's territory. Actually, it was our only lead.
"Not entirely, but I know where they are not." He answered. "If you save me, I will tell you."
"How are we supposed to do that?" Sal asked. She seemed a bit skeptical.
"Buy me if you have to, but please release me." The poor boy could not yet have seen his eighth season. He seemed frightened at the very thought of enforced servitude. I could not find it in me to blame him.
"If we can?" I asked. I was becoming desperate for news. At least he knew that there had been women taken. It was a place to begin.
"I will tell you all I know." He promised. "In haneithea." He gave his oath on it.
"We give our oath on thinking of it. We are not wealthy, but I pledge we will do what we can to help." Sal was as affected by the boy's plight as I.
We walked back to the inn in silence. We both had too much on our minds for casual conversation. Instead of taking our meal in the tavern, we asked for a tray to be delivered to the room. We had no wish to be overheard.
"What shall we do?" Sal asked as soon as she latched the door behind the retreating servant. I set the food onto the table.
"Do you object to buying him if we have the coinage?" I asked.
"I have no objections, though I doubt we have the necessary goldens."
After the meal, we counted our coinage. While we still had enough to see us to Marlkina, we doubted it was enough to buy the boy's freedom and continue our search. We could not think of ways to earn more coinage honestly. Neither of us wanted to test the legal system in this region.
"If we cannot afford both, what do you suggest?" I asked for Sal's input.
"I have an idea, if you care to hear?" Sal seemed like she had given some thought to the matter. I nodded and she continued. "We should inquire as to his price, if we cannot afford it, then we should find the man who can. We should follow your original suggestion of invading the palace legitimately."
"Offer our services to the boy's faelida?" I was not against the plan, but wanted no master save myself.
"It was your original plan. We are huntresses are we not?"
"We are, of a sort."
"Aight. Sal, my color is black, not blue."
"Dagthen. True? It explains those secret lessons you were receiving." She did not seem as shocked as I would have thought.
"It is truth. I am not allowed to wear the black unless I am performing a duty that requires it. This does not, so I wear the blue." I explained. I could not confirm or deny her assumption about the lessons. Two other girls received the same. We were sworn to guard the information we received from Kayla and from one another.
"How many know this?"
"My mother, Kayla and you."
"I am honored you shared your confidence. However, this shall not change the plan." She looked thoughtful. "We may have need of your skills. Let us pray we shall not."
"Agreed. How does it not change it?"
"Let us be hunting leaders or body guards. We have the skills and the training to command a high price and an easy entrance to the palace itself." Sal seemed to be excited by the idea. She was more animated than I had remembered seeing her since we were taught the art of exotic dancing in school.
"That is if the boy is bought by someone of rank." I found the one flaw in the plan, but soon found a way around it. "Though we can still try to follow that plan. If the boy is bought by a resident of Creasinda, we can still rescue him."
"Sound thinking. We should tell him on the morrow." Sal stood. "I am for a bath since we have the luxury. There is no sense in not using it."
"I agree." I stood as well. "Our clothes have been returned. We should go as our disguises. We should not tip our hand yet."
"Agreed." She unlatched the door and exited. I followed and locked the door behind me.
We took our time bathing. The dust of this place coated our very skin. Now we understood the meaning for the strong soap. It was to remove the grime of daily existence. Even walking from the inn to the market covered our clothing and our selves in grit and sand. We decided to have our kirgeur clothing laundered on the morrow.
"Did you wish to learn to swim?" Sal asked as we were soaking in the relaxing pool.
"Now?" I asked. It seemed an unusual place to learn.
"We have the time and the use of the pool." Sal shrugged her shoulders.
"I would if we would be in an area with more water. Perhaps when we return home, you can teach me in the river near my village." I compromised. I did have the desire to learn the art of swimming, but did not feel this was the time or place for lessons.
"Understood. Should we dress as kirgeurs, or design our own uniform for this part of the mission?" She turned her attention back to the quest.
"I am open to suggestion." I was in a lazy mood. The heat from the water was forcing all thoughts from my mind.
"Then I suggest we dress as outlandish barbarians and seek employment through attitude and perception." She grinned.
"Attitude and perception?" I was puzzled.
"Of course. If we look the part of wild, untamed huntresses, then we will have a reputation made for us and not need to earn one." Her logic was sound. "We should chose our new apparel with care so we present the right illusion."
"Ah, Chelstea would be proud. You seemed to have absorbed her lessons in the art of subtlety and perception." We had been taught to use even the insignificant details as weapons.
"If this is not a test of our training, then we shall never have one." She stated. She was correct. The quest tested even the slightest of our skills and training.
The room was cool and felt comfortable after the heat of the water in the pools. We still had not determined how the water had been heated; though the faint metallic taste in the air led us to believe the inn was located over springs of hot water. In our territories, such springs were rare.
Once again, we shared the bed. Sal had been correct, there was no reason why only one of us should have a decent dreaming. As always, dreaming sped up reality and what felt like minutes after I had closed my eyes I was awakened. Sal was still lying with her eyes closed so she had not been what pulled me from my dreams. I lay staring at the ceiling in an attempt to determine what it had been. That was when I heard the knock at the door.
"Yes?" I unlatched the door and opened it just enough to see the person in the hallway.
"Oh, my apologies." A male servant was standing outside the door. "I was sent to wake a merchant at dawn, but you are not him."
"No. I am not a merchant nor a he." I smiled at him. "Apologies are accepted."
"My gratitude, jesisenia." He bowed. "I shall have to return and recheck the room number." He did not look happy about that fact. "May the gods shine on your day."
"And your own." I answered back. I watched as he walked back to the stairs and disappeared beyond the weak sunlight.
I dressed in the outfit I had bought for a disguise before we had entered the Jilhsaed's territory. My bracers were black and did not seem to match the brown of the outfit, however, they were all I had. I checked the effect in the looking glass. It did not look barbarian enough for our plan, but the black of the kirgeur was too obvious an attire. In fact, I looked too much a horse breeder to be a convincing huntress. Sal had been correct again. We had to buy clothing. I was not pleased with the concept.
"Sal." I stood over her and called her name. "Salenia, wake and greet the day." She stirred at my call.
"What no food?" She grinned. "Remind me to wake before you." It was a slightly subtle reprimand. She had provided food when she had awakened before me previously.
"I have not been awake long." I told her in excuse for my oversight. "A servant knocked on the wrong door. He was sent to awaken a merchant."
"That would have been the wrong door then." Sal rolled out of the bed. The feather filled mattress would not allow any other type of exiting the bed. "Normal attire?" She asked when she had a chance to look at my clothing.
"We do need something more barbaric." I told her. "We look too tame in this style of clothing."
"That you do." She grinned. "No one would think you could trail a rabbit in that costume. You look too much a farmer's daughter."
"Shame, I was under the impression I appeared as a horse breeder." I took another look in the glass.
"You are a horse breeder so that is what you see. Do you see that in yourself as you are dressed for duty?" Sal pulled on her boots. Her green looked as earthy as my brown attire. It made her look as unassuming as mine did me.
"Not entirely. At least I do not always see myself in such a way. It is difficult to remember that we are not playing at this at times. I have been a horse breeder longer than I have been an active kirgeur." I sat down at the table while Sal took her turn in front of the glass. The green of her attire matched her eyes and contrasted the red in her hair. She looked guileless and sweet. "How do you feel you look in that?"
"As if I am about to tend the crops." She grinned and turned to face me. "We would convince any who saw us that we only knew our farms. We need to change that and the market is the place where we can do so."
"Agreed. Shall we go after the meal?" I stood and headed to the door.
The tavern was half full at this hour. It was still early for most travelers resting at an inn. The only ones in the common room were hardened travelers, merchants in the process of earning their reputations, and us.
The morning meal was quite good. It was a thick bread like substance laden with fruit and a sauce. The sauce was rich and sweet. It was a pleasant contrast of tastes. Sal was pleased until she discovered the nuts hidden under the sauce. She placed those on the edge of her plate and continued to eat slowly. I could tell she was on guard against the nuts. It was amusing to watch her lift each piece of the bread like substance and check for her enemy.
"They do not bite." I teased as I held up a nut. "In fact they are quite tasty." I grinned and placed the nut on my tongue.
"I know they do not bite, but I cannot understand how you can consume one." She looked disgusted as I chewed slowly. I made a great show of enjoying it.
"It is not bad." I reassured her. "Are you finished with your meal?"
"I am." She put down her utensils and took a final sip of her morning drink. We were not served ale with the morning meal. It was a lightly flavored reddish liquid. It was smooth and pleasing.
"Shall we?" I stood up and walked around the table.
"We shall." She joined me.
"Think you it ever rains here?" Sal asked. The sky showed no clouds and the sun was already bright and hot.
"I have no idea. We should ask one of the merchants in the fabric market." I suggested. Weather would always play a large role in how we dressed. It was a precept of a youth spent on farms.
"Good plan." Sal commented as we turned toward the slave market. "See you the boy?"
"Not at the moment. Dear gods, there are more here than previously." I exclaimed. Creasinda must have been the starting point for the slave trade in this region.
"He is there." Sal pointed to the light-headed urchin chained to the wagon's bars. "Boy?"
"Yes, jesisenia?" He edged closer to the wagon.
"Who is your faelida?" I asked.
"The merchant in the red tunic." He pointed him out.
"We shall see what we can accomplish." Sal promised him.
We walked slowly over to the merchant. We were casually looking at the slaves. We wanted to give the merchant the impression we were interested in purchasing one.
"May I assist you?" He turned as he heard our boots on the ground.
"We have need of a house boy." Sal told the merchant.
"Have you?" He grinned. "Any particular type?"
"We have seen one we would like further to examine." I told him. "The boy over here." I pointed to the Poulantie youth. I felt as it I were negotiating to purchase a horse.
"Is he not a little young for your needs?" The merchant inquired.
"He seems as if he is old enough for our needs." Sal assured the merchant.
"Surely you require an older boy for a bedmate." He grinned in a manner that sent shivers up my spine.
"My sister and I do not require a bedmate." I told the merchant. "We are looking for a boy who can assist us with the breeding of horses. It is our livelihood. That one looks young enough to learn and strong enough to assist."
"You are no more sisters than I am a horse. I do not sell to those of your ilk." His polite disdain became real disgust.
"You do not sell to horse breeders?" I asked innocently.
"Oh, I sell to horse breeders, but not to riwilshia."
"And what pray tell is riwilshia?" Sal did not sound pleasant. Neither of us had ever heard the term, but we knew it for an insult.
"An abomination of the gods." He looked as if he were about to strike one of us.
"I think we shall do no business here, sister." I leveled all the hate I felt for slavers into the look I gave the merchant.
"It is your loss. Our father is deathly ill and this was our last errand for him. One last adventure before we consummated our betrothals at home and moved to different villages." Sal told the merchant as we walked away. She had quite obviously given thought on our cover story. I was impressed.
We walked slowly away from the slave market. We saw no reason to let the merchant know how close he had come to upsetting us. He did upset me more than he could have known. I had been close to the edge of my tolerance level. Knowing I could not afford to lose control is all that kept me from attacking the thongnacious baderema.
"Now for clothing." Sal led me to the fabric market. Both ready to wear clothing and unused fabrics were available.
We took our time browsing through this section of the market. We noticed shirts of silk, muslin and a strange type of wool in various colors and designs. The more obnoxious the designs, the more often the merchants and seamstresses had pants and tunics to match. We agreed to be understated.
The attire we chose was close in style to our kirgeur uniforms. We chose similar costumes to illustrate our partnership. We each purchased several pants and tunics of a dark blue and long sleeved shirts of both the strange wool and silk. The shirts were of a lighter blue, matching the ones we wore as kirgeurs. The only difference between them, aside from material, was the silk shirts had small lines of a darker blue running the length of them. I was pleased with our selections. We could continue to wear the black bracers and not suffer societal disdain from the clash. As an added bonus, my black boots fit much better than my brown ones.
We returned to the inn for tirnetny and the midday meal. As I found a table and acquired food, Sal went upstairs. She had volunteered to find the laundress and have our clothing cleansed. She also carried our purchases to the room. She was avoiding the tavern wench fully as much as I was avoiding Roshimama.
"So?" She asked as she joined me at the table.
"We keep watch and learn who buys him." I wanted to stick to the plan.
"Seems to me that I have heard that somewhere before." Sal teased. "Any nuts in this?"
"Not that I have seen." I assured her.
We had fallen into a routine that was as disconcerting as it was comfortable. Repetition could find us dead, however it was the routine that kept us sane. Without some form of order to our days, we surely would have given in to our doubts and returned home. We both had too much pride to fail, and I only prayed to Biaderi that pride would not be our downfall. I was under the impression Sal had as well.
For two days we watched the slave market. During those two days we changed our ruse to one more fitting the plan we had made. We also learned more about the customs of these strange people, refined our mastery of the language, and garnered a reputation.
As we were watching the potential buyers pass the wagons of human cargo, Sal and I noticed a tussle. A prosperous looking man we had been following was in the midst of bargaining for a slave when a street urchin snatched his moneybag from him. Sal and I gave chase. It was too good an opportunity to pass, though we had avoided two such entanglements already that day. Good merchants hated to be in anyone's debt, and we planned to exploit that fact.
We caught the thief in a seedy side of the city and attempted to haul him back to the market between us. He fought the entire way back. Both of us were covered in scratches, bruises, and in Sal's case bite marks. He had gotten a good hold on her arm with his teeth. I watched as she pulled a dagger and rendered him unconscious.
"Dagthen. That hurt." She swore. "This baderema is heavy."
"Let me assist." I grabbed one of the boy's arms and we dragged him unconscious back to the merchant.
"Faelida." Sal greeted the man as we lay the thief at his feet. Neither of us had touched the moneybag, it was still clutched tight in the boy's fist.
"My gratitude." He seemed impressed with our capture of the thief.
"Our pleasure, faelida." I kept my tone humble. He seemed a good mark for employment. In truth, it was why we had followed him. "You should guard against such occurrences in the future."
"If I had two such as you, I would not need concern myself over such matters." He smiled. He seemed a genuinely nice person. "Who is your faelida?"
"We have none at the moment. We have finished our last duty by escorting an elderly gentleman here to retire. We have been released and are at loose ends." I attempted to concoct a believable story.
"Truly?" He appeared to have bought the tale. "What inn are you patrons of?"
"The Flying Flame, faelida." Sal informed him. She had caught my hints.
"How fortunate." He grinned broadly. "I arrived there last evening. Over dreamed due to a mistake. Tell me, have you found the service there adequate?"
"Yes, faelida." I answered. It was not easy to hold back my laughter at his innocent question. Sal had to turn her head so she could regain her composure.
"If you two are at such loose ends, why do you not meet me for the evening meal? Perhaps I can help those ends meet." He smiled again. "Now, I shall take care of the legal matters this thief has caused."
"Our gratitude faelida." Sal and I both bowed. "We shall be there."
We walked back to the inn with lighter hearts. Our good deed had opened a realm
of possibility, as was our intention. Cleary the gods were in favor of the plan.
We took a table and ordered ale as we waited for the merchant. We decided he
could pay for our meal if nothing else.
"That was fortuitous." I commented upon reflection.
"It was at that." Sal agreed. "If he employs us and is journeying to Marlkina we shall have the blessings of the gods upon us." She echoed my previous thoughts.
"Agreed. However, it is likely that he may be able to recommend us to someone else." I was content to be the optimistic one this time.
"True, so what is our previous history?" Sal asked. "I have an idea, but we should be in agreement."
"I thought we would be hunt leaders and bodyguards as the plan dictates."
"So we were escorting an oldster here and are now searching for further employment?" At my nod she continued. "I like that. We can add the hunt leaders later. Perhaps we will be able to hunt the elusive tirgeaurs." She looked pleased with the possibility.
"Perhaps. It would be an honor." I agreed. Even in our land the tirgeaurs were legendary beasts. They were notoriously hard to trap and harder to kill. They were vicious carnivores and were a delicacy to many peoples. A claw from a tirgeaur was worth more than my horse; meat from one could purchase my family.
"It would." Sal looked up as the door to the tavern opened. "It seems as if our prospective faelida has arrived."
"Well met, jesisenias." He offered us the local term of respect. "The thief has been punished, and it seems I owe you a debt." He joined us at the table.
"Nothen, faelida, there is no debt owed." I fell into my part.
"On the contrary there is. You see I have need of bodyguards, though that would not be out of debt. My former bodyguard ran off with a slave some moons back and I have yet to replace him. Let me buy you a meal and you can talk yourselves into employment."
"Yes faelida, though first we have a question." Sal began.
"We have grown weary of this town. In truth, we took this occupation to seek adventure and see the mysteries of the world." I interjected.
"Exactly so." Sal took over again. "We would know where you were journeying or where you make your home first."
"Agreed. I am here on business with other merchants of my station. They are staying here for at least a few weeks. I would like to return to Marlkina in time for the first of the festivals. Young Soliumant is coming of age."
"So we had heard, and were looking for such employment to see us to Marlkina." I told him. It was the truth, just not the entire truth. It did seem as if the gods had a hand in this. I was not one to question their judgment.
"We are able huntresses, both, and apt bodyguards. Our training was extensive." Sal started listing our virtues.
"Where bouts were you trained, and what region do you hail from?"
"We are from some weeks journey north, faelida, north and to the west as well. An aging warrior and his beloved schooled us in an obscure village. We were taken there as orphans. Thaneel trained us as warriors despite customs so that we would have a station in life. Our people do not place much importance on a poor female." I invented our history. It sounded credible to even my ears, though I was hoping that the merchant would not have known of Thaneel the horse seller.
"Trained in steel from birth?" He asked. The idea seemed to intrigue him. "After the meal, can I see a demonstration?"
"I think we can arrange it, faelida." Sal assured him. "We can spar outside the paddock if it would please you."
"I think perhaps it would." He turned his attention to his meal.
As we were eating, Johianei, our prospective employer, told us of his trade. He was a viniare merchant and maker. His sweet port like drink was purported to be the only drink the Jilhsaed would accept on his table. His rank was a perfect fit to our plan. All we had to do was convince him to employ us.
Sal and I begged permission to spar near the paddock from the innkeeper. He was agreeable and sent the servant who confused our room with a merchant's to make sure all was in readiness. A crowd followed us out to the newly created practice area. It was rare entertainment for the inn's patrons.
"We have to make this an impressive bout." I told Sal in our native tongue. I spoke in a low voice so none would hear.
"If the gods bless this, then it shall be." Sal stated.
The moon was full and bright. Solisiric offered us plenty of light to spar. We took opposite positions on the cleared area. Sal raised her sword in salute after we both ran through several limbering exercises. I returned the salute and waited in a defensive posture.
Sal and I had sparred against one another several times in school. Each time I had won the bout. At the least two seasons had passed since the last time we had faced one another. I was curious to see which of us would claim victory.
Our swords met and rang as we circled one another. Sal began a sword dance, a basic exercise for two warriors to exercise together. I followed her lead. She would parry my attacks with speed and grace, and I would avoid her sword physically. Several times we switched dances and quickened the pace. We were hard pressed to keep from injuring one another, but the dances looked as impressive as actual battle.
"Hold." Johianei called a halt to our bout. "Meet me inside when you have cooled yourselves." He told us.
"Yes faelida." Sal was panting. I was as well.
"I think that was impressive, you?" I asked as the last of the onlookers returned to the inn. I sheathed my sword and leaned against a post.
"I believe so. We shall soon know." Sal sheathed her sword. "Shall we?"
"Aight." I wiped my brow with my sleeve. We had worked up a sweat during our bout. "We need to do this more often. We do not need to get out of condition."
"In truth." Sal opened the door for the inn and held it as I entered. "Let us learn if we have been employed."
"Well met again." Johianei waved us to a seat at the table he had chosen. Fortunately he had chosen one in the back of the inn and Sal and I were able to sit against the wall. It was for our protection as well as his. "That was quite a show." He handed each of us a mug of ale.
"Our gratitude, faelida." I raised my mug in a salute.
"What would it take to employ you?"
"We shall have to consider our terms, faelida. A moment please?" Sal asked.
"Of course. I shall wait here."
"We shall return in moments, faelida." I informed him. Already the word was heavy on my tongue. Sal and I stepped outside. We could discuss this openly; as we had often seen others of our employment do the same.
"Our terms?" She asked.
"The boy? What of coinage? I have not reckoned a price for our skills."
"Let us negotiate for the boy. We can leave the price to him. If it seems unacceptable, we can negotiate for more."
"That is sound logic. We should make provisions for our horses and ourselves part of the agreement." I added. In this desert type area, it would be hard to find the coinage to provide for the horses.
"Agreed. Let us accept his terms." Sal grinned.
"After you." I opened the door and held it until she entered. Johianei was sitting where we had left him, talking to a servant.
"Have you come to terms?" He dismissed the servant with a wave of his hand as we returned.
"We have faelida." Sal nodded at me. She wished me to be the negotiator. "First, we have need of a servant to assist in the care of our horses. We were paid by our last faelida in horseflesh and coinage. We have not the time to train and care for them all."
"You have no servant?" He asked. "What of clothing and weapons?"
"No faelida, we have no servant. We do have the rest however." I answered him.
"That is fortunate. As for the rest, I offer two goldens and four silver a piece each week plus the servant. Room and provider for you and your horses will be included once we reach Marlkina. As part of my household you will be installed in rooms and fed with the rest. Is this worthy of your skills?"
"Very much so, faelida." Sal was as impressed as I. It seemed a generous offer.
"Good, on the morrow we will buy you a servant. We should leave for Marlkina the day after." He stood to leave. "This inn is safe, the innkeeper is well known to merchants. Have a good dreaming and I shall send for you on the morrow."
"Rest well, faelida." Sal and I called after him.
"Well we truly have the blessing of all the gods on this." Sal commented. She had a look of disbelief on her face. "Bath?"
"Aight, I think the heat would help soak in the events of the day." I told her.
"And soak out the bite mark from that baderema in the market." Sal rose and stretched. "We have tomorrow to launder everything including our boots."
"That we do."
We walked to the bathing chamber to again find it empty. Not many merchants traveled with females and the servants had their own place to wash. Women had no status of their own in this region. They did not even have the luxury of becoming kirgeurs as we did.
"Shall we talk Johianei into buying the boy?" Sal asked as we sank down in to the relaxing pool. We did not talk as we bathed. It felt too awkward.
"I believe we should. We have a horse for him, and he can be useful to help gather information." I had thought that part through. "Do you think this is the work of the gods? It seems as if we are living a tale."
"What do you mean?" Sal sat up.
"So far the plans we have formulated have come through. It seems a tidy plot in a tale my grandfather would tell us." I could not adequately explain the doubts I with which I had been consumed.
"I thought of that as we were eating. It seems to me that if this were a tale, we would not have been attacked by that merchant, we would have found our lost ones either before we arrived here or right after, all the food would have been excellent and that baderema would not have bitten me." Sal examined her wound. It looked fearsome.
"I suppose you are correct. Perhaps one of the girls has a purpose the gods have planned for her." I was unable to let my childhood beliefs flow from me.
"It is possible." Sal conceded. "Though we are not finished yet."
"True, and it will be a long journey to Marlkina." I was slowly shedding my naivety. Sal was ahead of me in the process. We seemed to take it in turns to paint the world in optimistic shades.
"Best to rest while we can, we will be back to hard earth and night watches soon." Sal climbed out of the pool. "Are you joining me?"
"I will. I need a few moments though." I really did need the time alone. I had much to think on.
"As you wish. Guard yourself though." Sal dressed. "Do you wish for me to send you entertainment?" She gave a wicked grin.
"Nothen, I merely wish to be alone with my thoughts." I remained in the pool.
"I shall latch the door. You will need to wake me to let you inside." Sal called over her shoulder as she departed.
I remained sitting in the pool for several heartbeats after Sal had left. I suspected Sal had already accomplished what I had set out to do. I had to conquer the village girl, the horse breeder, inside me. It was not an easy task. Parts of my mind and soul were unwilling to relinquish themselves.
A true warrior, a true and good kirgeur can think and plan; however she cannot let indecision delay her actions. Doubt could and often did lead to indecision. Indecision has often led to death. I was in no hurry to meet the gods. I had to remind myself to let my training dictate my actions when it must, and leave my heart out of my decisions. It was not as easy as I had thought.
I am not nor have I ever been an emotional person. My mother was been dead a fortnight and I had yet to mourn. I loved two things in life, my horse and Kierian. I can feel injustice but only when presented with it. I became a kirgeur so I would not have to marry. At the least I had excelled at war play. This was no longer a game and I had to quit treating it as such. I resolved then not be overtaken, nor to let it happen to Sal or the boy.
I dressed and found my way to the room. I only had to knock once. Sal had been waiting for me. She still had her boots on. The candles through out the room were lit, and I saw two mugs of ale on the table.
"Am I interrupting?"
"Nothen. I thought you could use a drink. You look as if you have laundered your emotions. It is not an easy process." Sal had her sleeves up and was bandaging the bite mark.
"You are right." I took a seat at the table after removing my sword belt. "This has an interesting flavor. What is it?" I asked when the liquid in my mug proved to be something other than ale.
"It is viniare. Johianei gifted me with a flask out of gratitude." Sal took the seat she had vacated when I knocked on the door. "Wish to talk about it?"
"Did you." I paused. I knew not what to ask. "I was coming to terms with our mission and its implications."
"We are maturing into ourselves, Torienne, it is not easy." Sal understood. "If you had been born male, or if you had a choice other than motherhood or the sword, what would you do?"
"I would breed horses as my father does." I answered without hesitation. I had already killed fourteen men. I could do it and do it well, but I did not enjoy it. It was my duty as kirgeur. It was my right to protect what I held dear.
"Admirable. So you had to come to terms with being a true kirgeur?" Sal did not wait for an answer. "I had to do the same the night after we fought those three men. It is nothing like the tales that drew me to this life. However, we are gifted with the ability to do our duty, and it is the gods' decree that we use our abilities for the tribe. I believe that is why we are here."
"Think you this is divinely directed?" I had not known Sal had such depths.
"I do, as do you. We may be proven incorrect, though so far we are doing better than two half fledge kirgeurs should. Of course." She paused for a sip of her drink. "That could be thanks to our training or an innate ability we have. Or, it could be both."
"You show a remarkable gift for philosophy. Kayla would be proud." I complimented.
"As she would of you." Sal turned the compliment back to me. "We are both proving our training and our calling. It can be no accident."
"Remind me to thank Johianei for this." I held up my mug. "It truly is wonderful."
"It is." Sal agreed. "Enough philosophizing for one night. If you get the door, I will blow out the candles. Agreed?"
A loud crashing sound from in the hallway broke our dreaming. Sal and I quickly dressed and with our swords drawn, went to investigate. The sounds of a struggle could be heard downstairs. We followed the sounds to the empty common room.
The candles that were lit against the dark of night did little to dispel the gloom. The room was dark and deserted. The sound of someone sobbing led us beyond the common area of the tavern. More lights were lit and shone under a door. The voices led us to open it.
Inside what appeared to be the kitchen were three men. One was the tavern keeper; the other was his son. We had met him two days ago. He was a brash and impulsive youth who ignored the general tedium of inn duties. The third man was the servant who had mistaken our room for a merchant's. He was on the ground weeping in pain. The innkeeper's son had a whip in his hands. From the marks on the servant's back, the youth knew how to use it. The innkeeper looked as if he had just arrived and were attempting to stop whatever was going on.
"Something we can help with?" I asked as Sal and I stepped into the light.
"No, jesisenias, I cannot tell yet." The innkeeper answered. He turned to his son. "What in the name of the gods is happening here?"
"This boy ruined my meal and then delivered it to the wrong room." The youth scorned the man at his feet. "I was punishing him, father."
"If he was disobedient or discourteous, you should have informed me, not taken it upon yourself to correct it. Go seek your bed, I will talk to you in the morning." He did not want to discipline his son in front of us. "You, boy are dismissed. If I could find someone to take you, I would sell you for a silver."
"Here, innkeeper." Sal handed the man a sliver. "We have need of someone to walk the horses. He will accompany us to Marlkina if you accept my offer."
"Take him, you shall regret the decision. He has been poorly trained." The innkeeper pocketed the silver.
"We shall see to his training." I told him. "Come boy, our sleep has been interrupted and we need to acquaint you with our desires." I attempted to sound as if we bought servants as we bought horses.
He followed us up the stairs and to the room. Sal lit the candles as I poured mugs of viniare. He stood in one spot and looked nervous. We were at a loss as to what we should tell him.
"Have you a name?" Sal asked as she sat at the table.
"Iolaine, jesisenia." He bowed.
"Sit, Iolaine." I waved him to a chair. "We shall not harm you. I am Torienne and this is my partner Salenia. We have been employed by a merchant, Johianei and shall be traveling to Marlkina two days hence. Shall you accompany us?" I thought it fair to give him an option.
"You have bought me, jesisenia, I shall go where you do." He took the change in masters well. It made us both uncomfortable.
"Have you attire, weapons, or belongings?" Sal asked him.
"I have but little. Slaves are forbidden weapons and allowed little in the way of belongings."
"Then fetch them and return here. You shall sleep there the rest of this night." Sal pointed to the stone pallet. "Go now and hasten your return."
"Yes, jesisenia." He bowed again and left to gather his belongings.
"We have a slave. Interesting turn of events." I mused as I swirled the liquid in my mug. The viniare was still as sweet, but I was in no mood to overindulge.
"I reacted to the situation." Sal began.
"I am not complaining, my friend. I was merely stating the obvious. However, what shall we do with him?"
"Take him to Marlkina, perhaps he can find employment there. Should we tell him of the plan?"
"Not yet. We should set ground rules for behavior though. He should be able to help us with the boy and the horses during the journey. We can teach him to survive." It was all I could think to do with him.
"Agreed. We may need him as an ally and servants can often hear what we cannot." Sal poured another round of viniare.
"That is true as well. We should learn why Iolaine has such trouble with room numbers as well. It may be something that could be turned against us later." Sal did not have time to respond. Iolaine knocked softly on the door at that moment.
"Come in." Sal held the door open for him. He had only a pair of footwear and a coarse length of fabric with him. The footwear was indicative of this region. Most did not wear boots but a strange creation of leather that covered the bottom of the foot but exposed the top to the elements.
"That is all you have?" I asked when he gingerly sat the bundle down on the floor by the stone pallet.
"Aight, jesisenia." He did not appear shamed of his meager belongings.
"Come, sit, Iolaine. We need to discuss the rules and requirements before our faelida sends for us. We are to purchase another at the market this morning." I poured him a mug of viniare.
"We wish you to help us with the new boy, with the horses and perform other functions of a servant. You are not our slave nor shall you be required to perform bed services. We pledge to treat you fair and not physically harm you, though I must confess we cannot as yet pay you. It would break the illusion we are employed under." Sal informed him. He seemed to relax when she promised we would not beat him.
"Tell me, Iolaine, why did you have such trouble with the room numbers?" I asked. Curiosity had overwhelmed me.
"I cannot read, jesisenia, not even numbers. They would tell me room five, but I know not what five is." It made sense. Not many people could read, though the servants here were required to do so. Roshimama had informed Sal of that fact two days ago. He must have not told them otherwise.
"Very well, Iolaine, but I wish you to call me Torienne or Tor in private. I shall soon tire of being called jesisenia." That was true. Already it was testing my tolerance.
"And of course, I am Sal or Salenia behind closed doors. I too am sick of jesisenia. You shall find that we do not stand on such conventions." Sal informed him. "However, you shall be properly clothed on the morrow. It is still dark and we have a long day ahead of us. Peace be to your dreaming, Iolaine." She rose and shed all but her shirt.
I watched Iolaine make himself as comfortable as possible on the stone pallet. I finished my mug and then followed Sal's example. Neither of us felt comfortable sleeping without clothing in his presence.
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