Tales of the Kirgeur

By the Bluedragon

Johianei led us to the palace. It overshadowed all around it. We could see greenery overflow the containers on the balconies. It sat like a great cat hunched in play, and the greenery added to the impression. A sandstone pale cat with green stripes was the image it formed for me. I was curious to know the impression it formed to Sal. We were all wonderstruck by the sight.

Johianei led us to the palace stables. It had many such buildings as each level of society had their own. That much our faelida had informed us as we entered the city. We were led to a large open building with many stalls. Even my father's herd could not fill it. There was a stable hand for every stall in the building, and a paddock for the horses to run and play. I attempted to memorize the design. We would do well to have one built as such at home.

Johianei bid us wait as he went to seek servants for assistance. We busied ourselves by instructing Iolaine and Sevianth in the proper ways to unload and settle horses into stalls. The stable boys protested, but desisted when we over rode their arguments. No hands but my own would see to Kier as long as I had the opportunity. I attempted to instill the same sense of responsibility into our two charges. Sevianth showed great promise as a horseman.

We had finished grooming, feeding and watering and unloading the horses when our faelida returned. He was accompanied by a string of servants. Several took our packs and we were made to follow them. Iolaine and Sevianth had to do nothing but follow as well. I laughed quietly at the thought of servants for the servants.

Had I the ability to paint my thoughts on paper, I still could not do justice to the palace. It had long, wide hallways. The floors were a deep polished blue and the walls pale sandstone. Our boots echoed on the stone. The columns placed artistically through out were not for support, but a gesture of grandness. They had the look of freshly quarried graseleth and were as round as Sevianth was tall.

We were lead to a stairway carved from the rock the palace stood upon and made to traverse it to the second story. This side of the palace consisted of four buildings placed one on top of the other. All save the doors were made or cut from stone. Only the doors were wooden, though they were still massive. It was an impressive sight.

We were led to a room at the very corner of the palace. The four of us were to share since servants were boarded with their faelidas. We were not in a position to complain. As it was, the room was larger than my father's house. It had many beds but no bathing chamber.

"So, the journey ends, but the real duty begins." Johianei grinned at us. "I trust the room is acceptable?"

"Yes, faelida." I answered. Sal was still in amazement.

"Very well." He pulled a young girl to the fore. "This is a house servant, she shall assist you in settling in and acquaint you with the palace grounds." He did not name her.

"Thank you faelida." I half bowed. I was falling too far into my part for comfort. "Shall you require our services any more this day?"

"No, I shall send for you both on the morrow. You shall be presented to the Jilhsaed then." He turned and went back down the steps. It angered me when he did not even call me by name.

We entered the room and looked around it awe. It gave the impression of being cylindrical. I made a mental picture of the palace and concluded we were in one of the smaller towers. A look out the large window proved I was correct, it also showed a river behind the stables. I was pleased with the image the view allowed.

The ceiling was a large dome; the top was covered with a thin clear substance we could not identify. It seemed to be glass, though it was not made as the glass used in our homeland. It allowed light without allowing weather to enter the room, as did our glass, though the substance we encountered was clear and thin. The smooth flooring absorbed the light and muted it as it was reflected. We would only need few candles for light against the darkness. The very design of the room amplified light in a calm manner.

"What is your name?" I asked the girl our faelida had left with us as I set my saddlebags on one of the beds. We could each claim a bed and a spare. Two of the beds had thin cloths hanging from the frames. I assumed this was for privacy, though it was not hard to see through it.

"I am called Reinea, jesisenia." She bowed.

"Well met, Reinea. I am Torienne, my companions are Salenia, Iolaine and Sevianth." I indicated the others. "What are your duties?" I knew not what to ask of a house servant.

"Whatever you require, jesisenia." She bowed again. I rolled my eyes and laughed as I saw Sal do the same.

"I require a bath." Sal told her. "And the others do as well. Can you show us the way?"

"Yes, jesisenia, though the boys should bathe in another place for servants, I can show you to your bathing chamber first."

"My gratitude." I unpacked my last change of cleanse clothing. "Reinea, have you the ability to have our clothing cleansed?"

"Yes, jesisenia, I can have it done as you bathe. It shall be brought to you after the evening meal."

"Iolaine, Sevianth, keep only one set of clothing to wear after your baths, we need all of it cleansed." I instructed them. We wished to make a good impression during our stay.

Reinea gathered towels and then bid Sal and I follow her. We passed several other rooms as we followed the hallway to the bathing chamber. Reinea informed us that this section was rarely in use by anyone other than minor dignitaries. It made little sense, but I was too sore, tired and anxious to question. Sal and I both were feeling the effects of the trail. I hoped the bathing would restore both our minds to order.

The bathing chambers made the one at the Inn of the Flying Flame seem trite. There were two large sections, larger even than our rooms had been at our last inn. Each section had a pool the horses could have bathed in with ease. All of the horses could have fit into it with room to spare. The whole chamber was of the same design as the palace itself. More stone columns and more of the ubiquitous blue flooring were present through out it.

"Did we depart our bodies and enter Jarndinia?" Sal had a look of rapture on her face.

"I do not think we did, however, if I were to imagine paradise, it would look like this." I too was in awe of the chamber.

"This is the pool for bathing." Reinea regained our attention. "The chamber beyond contains the pool for relaxing. Shall I return and show you to the room?"

"No, but our gratitude for the offer." Sal told her. "We shall find our way to the room."

"I shall then instruct the other servants to their bathing chamber and see to your laundry." She bowed her way out of the room.

"This will take some adjusting to." Sal shed her clothing and climbed into the pool for bathing.

"Which part, or meant you the entire situation?" I slid into the pool across from her.

"The entire situation. The things we do for love." She teased. I felt myself redden. "How is the shoulder?" The question directed the topic to more comfortable matters. I was gladdened.

"I have regained full movement." I flexed it to show her. "It is healing nicely, you are quite the healer."

"You could have had full range of movement had you not taught young Sevianth the sling." She looked stern. "Have you the cleanser?"

"Aight, though there is some in a shell behind you." I answered as I lathered the small piece of cloth Reinea had given us with the towels. "Sevianth should learn some form of weaponry. He is a season or two young for it, but I leaned the sling early as well."

"He is quite besotted by you." She smiled. "I am done with bathing. Shall we soak?"

"That is a good suggestion." I rose from the pool and led the way to the one for relaxing.

"You are not as bruised." Sal said from behind me. When she had changed the bandages on my shoulder the morning after, we had discovered a large bruise from when I had hit the sand during my fight with the bandit leader. It had stretched from my knee to my shoulder.

"Time heals all things, I shall survive." I slid into the pool. "Oh, gods of my fathers, this is wonderful."

"I cannot agree more." Sal said as she joined me in the pool. "What magic did you work upon Sevianth?"

"None. I just took the time to talk to him." Even I had been surprised at the changes in the young boy.

"Shall we put the plan in motion on the morrow?" Sal looked hopeful.

"Aight. It is for the best. We should be able to observe much at our introduction to the Jilhsaed."

"That is the truth. How shall we act other than competent? We should wear our silks." Sal sat up in the water. It enveloped her to her shoulders.

"I believe we should take our cue from others and learn what we are able." I placed my arms on either side of the pool edge and leaned back. "That can wait, I am enjoying my brief trip to Jarndinia."

"I am in full agreement." She echoed my position, which caused her breasts to be level with the water. I turned my head and stared beyond her shoulder. "At the inn, I overheard others speaking of conducting trade talk in bathing chambers. I can understand why. Is something amiss Tor?"

"I wish only to find her, them." I was ready return to my village. The journey had been hard on every part of me. "We shall ask Reinea about the customs and protocol of the palace." I stood up and crawled out of the pool. "Shall we find the room?"

"We shall." She seemed confused by my abrupt exit

We were able to retrace our steps without incident. Our abilities to track prey translated themselves nicely into tracking our room. There were no room numbers as there had been at the inn, though since we inhabited the smaller tower room, we had no need of such. I was hoping Reinea would assist Iolaine and Sevianth back to the room.

"I think I shall try this very comfortable looking bed, you?" Sal threw herself down on the bed. "Tor, you have to try this." She was lying on her back and had her arms above her head.

"If it pleases you that much." I laughed to hear the groan emanate from my companion. I lay down on the other bed and it pulled me into a deep embrace. "Oh, gods of my tribe." I could not keep my groan inaudible. Sal laughed to hear it.

How long I let my thoughts drift I know not. I think I had begun to dream when the evening meal appeared. Iolaine and Sevianth had returned from their bathing. It took me several heartbeats to separate the dreaming and the reality. I had not been aware the two had returned.

"How was your dreaming, Tor?" Sal asked from the table under the center of the dome.

"It was well. Why did you let me dream so long?" I asked as I rose and joined them at the table.

"In truth, we attempted to wake you. You were dreaming so deeply that we could not." She informed me. "Perhaps you had an important dream to see."

"Perhaps." I answered. In truth, I had forgotten all but one part of my dream. Sal, Sevianth and I had been on a farm near my village. We raised horses as well as crops. Our horses had been the finest horses in the land. It was an interesting and unlikely dream. "Though I doubt it was a sign of life to come."

"This food looks and smells great." Sevianth was happily filling his plate.

"Leave some for the rest of us." I laughed and began filling one of my own. "How was your bathing?"

"It was wonderful, Torienne." Iolaine imparted happily. "I had not seen such a chamber with pools and the like."

"I had not either." Sal said as she sat to her meal. "As long as there are no nuts in here, all shall be perfect."

"I agree, though I like the nuts." I stated.

We ate and talked as we did so. It was a nice meal, a nice time together. We had formed a small family like situation while we had been journeying. We were attempting to let the feeling live despite our roles in this society. We were the only people we could trust in this palace.

"Jesisenias, here is your laundry." Reinea entered the room. She took one look at the four of us dining together and dropped the pile of clothing in her arms.

"Is everything fine, Reinea?" I asked as I rose to assist. Iolaine waved me back to my seat and went to assist in my stead.

"I am truly sorry, jesisenia." Reinea bowed and looked ashamed at her mistake. "I had not expected two such warriors as yourselves to sit with slaves."

"We saw no reason to make them wait." Sal excused our breach in protocol. "We are warriors, that is true, but we are unaccustomed to having servants. Perhaps you can assist us all in learning proper behavior."

"It is not my place to do as such, jesisenia." She bowed again.

"Surely you are well versed in the ways of running a household, are you not?" I asked. Wordlessly she nodded. "Then perhaps you can instruct Iolaine in the proper procedures." I attempted to make her agree. We could not afford to let even Reinea see us as we truly were, unaccustomed to such trappings.

"I shall be pleased to instruct him, jesisenia." She seemed pleased by the compromise. I knew Iolaine would assist us in maintaining the proper illusions.

"I shall be pleased to learn." Iolaine sat the laundry on our beds.

Reinea proved true to her word. She showed Iolaine the proper way to store our clothing. We allowed Sevianth to finish his meal before sending him to assist as well. Sal and I felt useless. Our roles in the game required us to let the others work. It was an uncomfortable situation for us both.

"Shall we continue our lessons?" Sevianth asked hopefully as Reinea departed from our room. She remained with the other palace servants in another part of the palace.

"I think perhaps we shall." I smiled at him. "We shall go check on the horses and perhaps check the design of the palace from the outside. Would you two wish to join us?" I asked Sal and Iolaine.

"I would appreciate a chance to walk after the meal." Sal looked thoughtful. "However, would that be improper?"

"We are barbarians." I grinned. "What barbarian would not at least make sure their horses were well settled? Come, we shall all go and see what we can."

"A good plan, Torienne." Iolaine seemed cheerful. Sal had explained our quest to him during one of their watches while we were enroute to the palace. She assured me he had been in support of it. "I am in awe of this place."

"As am I." I said as we gathered by the door. "Shall we?"

"We shall." Sal seemed more at ease with the idea.

"Why shall we be presented to the Jilhsaed?" Sevianth asked as we walked to the stables.

"None is allowed to move freely within the court until the Jilhsaed has given his permission." I explained. Johianei had informed us of that the evening prior to our arrival.

"Is he a great man?" The child asked.

"I know not, but he is powerful and controls all." I answered. "We shall find out on the morrow."

The evening air was sweet. The river provided moisture to the air, and we reveled in the change. The majority of our journey had been traversing plains with little moisture and more heat than our homeland. The small moon was easily visible as we exited the palace. It was the light from the lanterns, torches and candles however, that guided us along our paths.

We found the paddock easily. None molested us as we approached. Kier and Lylien pranced to the wooden enclosure. They seemed happy, but nuzzled us contentedly. Kier was obviously hoping for sweets for she nuzzled my hand and snorted when she found I had none. I stroked her muzzle and almost wished for simpler times.

The river beckoned us and we obeyed. It was wide and appeared deep in its majesty. The greenery that surrounded it seemed out of place next to the leagues of sand that surrounded and enclosed the city. Already Marlkina had shown itself to be a place of wonders and we had not been there a day.

"Brought you your sling?" I asked Sevianth as we walked along the shoreline.

"I did, Tor." He pulled it from his belt and showed it proudly.

"Show Sal and Iolaine how well you have become with it." I placed a stone on top of another. "Knock this off." I instructed as I moved away.

He took an aggressive stance. He carefully chose his stone and readied his sling. He wore a mature look of concentration for so small a boy. He wished to impress the others. He took aim and let the rock fly. It was true and easily knocked the other from the stone I had placed it upon. The joy on his face was a welcome sight. It was the glow of accomplishment.

"That was well done, Sevianth." Sal tousled his hair. "You shall soon best your mentor at the sling."

"Nothen, jesisenia." His cheeks reddened.

"Well shown, Sevianth." Iolaine offered his praise. The two had grown closer during our travels. It had taken the journey to seal their relationship as it had with us all. We were closer for it.

We walked along the river enjoying the chance to be together, to be able to relax. It was peaceful there. We heard several birds sing in the trees, and witnessed several lights dim in the palace windows. We decided to return to our room on the chance someone would look for us there.

The room was empty when we return. Apparently we had not been missed. Each of us chose a bed. It was not long before the room was filled with light breaths. I laid awake for several hundred heartbeats. I was excited by the prospect of meeting the Jilhsaed. Perhaps I would see Kierian as well. With that thought in my mind, I was finally able to surrender myself to the dreaming.

I learned the next morning the ill effects of staying in a room with a domed ceiling. The sun woke us all as it rose to its glory. We were dressed and planning our day long before Reinea brought our breakfast. Apparently we were not allowed to even eat with the court until the Jilhsaed had approved of us.

After the morning meal, a servant escorted us to Johianei's chamber. His was actually several rooms each with beds and furniture. He housed more servants than I had seen at the inn in Creasinda. They were all busy preparing for the festivals. Johianei administered to his viniare trade from his chamber.

"Greet the day." He called to us cheerfully. "We shall present you to the Jilhsaed at late court. There are some items I need to discuss with you before then." He waved over a servant girl. "Here, read this as I dress." He instructed as he handed me a written notice.

"Yes, faelida." I took the heavy parchment and smoothed it out onto the table. Iolaine, Sal and Sevianth joined me. "Apparently we are not allowed to wear swords until we have been approved of." I began whispering the instructions to my companions. "We are not allowed to eat, mingle or do anything of any social nature with the servants, excepting those assigned, the cordermers and the common folk of the court; once approval has been given, we have the right to wear daggers but no swords unless acting in a protective capacity, we may move freely as our station permits, and may buy, sell and trade in the common markets." I read quickly through the rest of the document. "We are to obey the Jilhsaed and the laws governing this region, we are not to impugn honor, slander or liable members of the court, cordermers or the Jilhsaed himself, nor are we to use, abuse, discipline or molest servants assigned to the Jilhsaed or his heirs."

"It does not seem as if we can do anything until we have been presented to him." Sal shook her head in wonder after I finished reciting the list.

"Does it say what and what not I can do?" Iolaine had not yet learned enough to read more than a word or two in the document.

"It does not. Perhaps you can ask one of faelida's servants." I advised him. He was to be our ears among the servants. If those we were seeking, as well as Sal's sister, were in the palace, Iolaine was our best hope of finding them.

"I shall, jesisenia." He grinned. I thanked the gods again for his presence.

"Have you read the document?" Johianei asked as he returned.

"We have, faelida." I answered. "It is much to remember, but we shall endeavor to uphold your faith in our skills."

"Well said." He seemed pleased. "Now, Torienne and Salenia we have much to discuss. Let your slaves mingle with mine, they shall be instructed in the proper behaviors."

"Yes faelida." Sal answered in a calm voice. I could tell she was not pleased with his classifications. I was not either, but we could only pretend otherwise. Wordlessly she bid Iolaine and Sevianth to join Johianei's servants. I could tell that the young boy did not quite understand, but I knew also that Iolaine would explain the situation to him.

We joined Johianei at the table. He had another servant fill mugs of viniare for us. It was a small token of the esteem our faelida held us. We knew now that he was proud of his beverage and served it to those he felt worthy. We had impressed him greatly throughout the journey.

"Once the Jilhsaed approves of you, you will be installed in a set of chambers next to mine. I would have you stay here, but you shall only be on duty when I have need of you. That shall mostly be during court, meals and times I am to be away from the palace. Since you are in paid employment, you hold unique positions in the palace. You have more freedom than the servants, and total freedom when you are accompanying me. Otherwise, you must stay within the more common areas of the palace and its grounds." It did not seem to be harsh instructions, though it would make our plans more difficult. However, we were creative when it came to finding ways around rules and regulations.

"Faelida, what have we to expect as we are presented to the Jilhsaed?" I asked. It was important for us to follow the proper protocol.

"That shall be explained to you by the chamberlain, Siveruian. He shall be here as soon as his duties are completed. He shall tell you what to expect." Johianei informed us.

We sipped at our mugs of viniare as we waited for the chamberlain. When he finally appeared we were amazed at his appearance. He was a short, hairless man with rings of wire surrounding his eyes and an air of great haste surrounding him. He walked quickly into the room and joined us at the table. He seemed a busy little man.

"These are the two?" He asked Johianei. "Very well packaged, looks nothing like the barbarians Graneishio brought back with him from the east." He added at our faelida's nod. "Are they proficient with the steel they wear?"

"Yes, Siveruian, they are extremely proficient. They have saved my purse and my life." He lifted his mug to us.

"Know you the language?" The chamberlain asked us.

"Very well, misayla." Sal replied. I almost choked on my viniare when she offered him our term of respect.

"Ah, learned barbarians." He smiled. "The Jilhsaed shall be very pleased."

He verbally walked us through the court, explaining in detail how we were required to act, and what we could expect. He explained that the trappings of court were largely left to the Jilhsaed's whims. He could change the program whenever he wished.

"Has Soliumant chosen his bride or the first of his harem yet?" Johianei turned the conversation back to the approaching festivals.

"No, he has yet to see his choices. They have been waiting for the start of the festivities. He shall chose in two days when he actually comes of age." The chamberlain informed him. That gave us two days to find our lost ones and use the festivities to cover our escape. "You should remove your steel before court." He advised us.

"Yes, misayla." Sal stood and beckoned Iolaine to approach. "Take these to our room and then return." She handed him her sword belt. I stood and added mine to his load.

"Yes, jesisenia." He bowed and left. The chamberlain seemed pleased with our compliance and Iolaine's behavior.

As soon as Iolaine returned, we went as a group to the central part of the palace. It was where court was held. If anything, this vast open chamber was more impressive than anything we had seen in the rest of the palace. It had more of the ubiquitous blue tile flooring and columns that reached to the domed ceiling. The dome was covered in more of that unnamable clear substance. That same substance was in the chamberlain's wire rings. I was curious to discover the name of the substance and its other uses.

The chamber was filled with people of all ranks and stations. It was here I realized none of the men wore facial hair. They were all as clean-shaven as boys. The chamber was as quiet as possible with so many bodies pressed into it. The very air was heavy with sent and hushed conversations. It made me uneasy.

The chamberlain departed and worked his way through the press of people to the center of the chamber. There we could barely see a platform with two ornate chairs. The larger chair was carved of pure graseleth and inlaid with gold and various gems. The largest gem was a clear green one carved in the shape of a tirgeaur. The coat of a tirgeaur was draped as cushioning along the back and seat of the chair. On it sat a man of medium build and intense dark eyes. It was our first glimpse of the Jilhsaed.

Siveruian bent low and spoke in tones none could hear. The Jilhsaed nodded and Johianei pressed us forward. The crowd parted to let us pass, and we were stopped in front of two giant bodyguards. Sal and I knelt when we had approached the demarcation in the flooring. No one was allowed past the mark without invitation. For several long heartbeats, we remained on our knee and kept our heads bowed in subservience.

"So, these are the barbarians?" His deep voice carried a faint hint of amusement. "They do not look vicious to me. Rise and tell me of how you came to my land."

"Yes, Jilhsaed." We rose as one. Iolaine and Sevianth still knelt behind us as required by protocol. "We came seeking employment and adventure as there was none in our homeland." I replied.

"Employment you have, but adventure? Surely two such beautiful women as yourselves need not hunger for adventure when doubtless you have handfuls of suitors." He seemed to enjoy questioning us.

"We have no lack of suitors, but no desire for hearths, Jilhsaed." Sal bowed her head as she told him so. "Our land does not favor poor orphans."

"Poor? You have two servants I see." He scoffed. I was starting to feel real uneasy with the situation.

"One we bought with our wages from our last employment. The other was a gift from our faelida." I answered.

"Johianei told us of your feats with the bandits. He speaks so highly of your skills, that I wish a demonstration." He grinned. My heart sank. "Tell me, which of you is the better warrior?"

"My companion is better with steel." Sal quickly praised my skill. I could not wait to talk to her alone about it.

"Nothen, Jilhsaed, I am no great warrior, I do only what I must." I spoke the truth.

"Let me be the judge of that." He beckoned forth one of his bodyguards. "This man here is of great renown when it comes to the sword. I would wish to see you have a bout with him." The crowd backed away several paces at his words. "Hand the lady a sword, Siveruian."

The chamberlain took a sword from one of the giant men standing behind and to either side of the Jilhsaed. It was a well-balanced blade with a slight curve to it. I had never seen one like it. I backed away from the kneeling line and twirled the sword in my hands. It could be used with one or both hands. I resolved to claim one at a later time, if I survived.

My opponent was a large beardless man. He was at least three times my size, and taller than Iolaine by several hands. He was shirtless and wore only billowing pants of a light red much the way the gieashetha dressed in Creasinda. He grinned as he pulled his sword from his side, and I offered my thoughts in quick prayer to my gods.

The man rushed as soon as the Jilhsaed called for the bout to start. I sidestepped him easily. I turned and followed his movement, letting our swords start the dance. I was forced to use my other arm; my sword arm was still stiff from my wounds. Regardless, I used the speed of my blade and my momentum to push him off balance. He regained his proper footing and used his weight to drive me back to the crowd. I ducked under his sword and rolled behind him. I could not resist the swat of my sword to his unguarded back. It angered him greatly as I had hoped it would. Anger takes energy from concentration; I had learned that lesson long ago.

He spun on his heels and redoubled his attack. He had obtained another sword from someone in the crowd. I backpedaled and felt a hilt land in my empty palm. Without stopping to look or offer my gratitude, I advanced twirling both swords in my hands. The crowd gasped as they saw the two blades. I blocked them from my mind.

Letting my thoughts narrow to the bout and the opponent before me, I regained the offensive. He was a well-taught swordsman, but Kayla had been the best. She had taught me much during my time at her school. I thrust and parried, knocking one of his blades from his hand. Out of honor, I dropped the one I had started the bout with and kept a grip on the other.

He began to use his strength against me in ways not true to swordsmanship. I was a kirgeur; I could improvise as well. I ducked his sword and was caught off guard by his hand striking my face. I stepped back and shook my head to clear it. Blood flew from my lips. I was angered.

I kept my grip on the sword firm and ducked under for an attack. He swung his arm again, but he got only air. I dropped to one knee and pushed the hilt of my sword into his stomach. I knocked the wind from him. He grunted and yelled in rage. I rolled away and swatted him again with the sword blade. He turned for one last parry, and I avoided it. Once more I ducked beneath his reach and placed the pommel of the sword against his chin twice. He fell to his back unconscious.

I used my tunic to wipe the sweat from the hilt of my borrowed sword. That was the first time I had a chance to look at it. It was by all rights a beautiful blade. It was well balanced and finely honed from excellent steel. It was a better sword than even my mother's as it was light and of medium length. The pommel of the sword was a giant green gem. I turned and noticed the young man standing next to the Jilhsaed. The sheath on his belt was empty.

I dropped to one knee and bowed my head. I held the sword in both hands and offered it to the son of the Jilhsaed. I felt him reclaim it and risked raising my head. He placed the sword back into its sheath and then turned to face his father.

"I wish to employ this warrior as my personal guard and instructor." His clear tenor announced. The crowd behind us was in awe.

"A worthy warrior indeed, however, you have surprised me, Soliumant. I had thoughts of doing the same." The Jilhsaed grinned with pride at his son.

"As you wish then, father, though I beg of you to have her instruct me in disarming an opponent in such a manner as she disarmed your guard. I have never seen a maneuver its equal." He returned to his chair.

"It shall be so. Rise, warrior and tell me your name." The Jilhsaed instructed.

"I am called Torienne, Jilhsaed." I rose to my feet but kept my head bowed.

"Approach Johianei." He called into the crowd and beckoned the viniare merchant forward. "I have a wish to employ your warrior. Is that satisfactory? You shall of course be allowed to keep her companion as your guard."

"Yes, Jilhsaed, as you wish." He bowed.

"Very well, Siveruian take young Torienne and install her in the royal wing. Instruct her of her duties and assign a servant to see to her needs."

"As you wish." The chamberlain bowed and indicated I should follow. I bowed once again before the platform and turned to follow the chamberlain. Johianei, Sal and the others followed.

We returned to our original room. Servants had joined us along the way. Siveruian bid them pack our belongings. Iolaine assisted.

"Shall you keep one of the servants?" The chamberlain asked.

"I shall keep the boy." I answered as I raised a brow in question to Sal. She nodded. "Sevianth, gather your belongings."

"Yes, jesisenia." He hurried to pack his things.

"Pack it all, as Johianei's guard shall be moved into the chamber next to his." The chamberlain instructed. "Johianei, a word." He pulled our faelida into the hallway.

"What have we done?" I asked Sal in our own tongue.

"Apparently you have much impressed the Jilhsaed." She grinned. "The only thing we should be concerned with is how this should affect the plan."

"I have no idea." I replied. This turn of events had me slightly off center. "I shall keep Sevianth, so you may continue to teach Iolaine. We shall find some way to meet and discuss events." I told her.

"It should not be too hard, they are aware we are partners." She smiled. "It is a slight change, but we shall perhaps use it to fit our needs."

"I believe you may be correct." I grinned as well. "It is not everyday a lowly kirgeur gets attention from the Jilhsaed himself."

"True as well." She stopped what she was going to say as the chamberlain and her faelida reentered the room.

"Are we set?" The chamberlain asked. Wordless, we nodded.

Sevianth and I followed the chamberlain and several servants through the halls of the palace. We quickly lost sight of Sal and Iolaine. The royal side of the palace was grander than the part we in which had been housed. I could not have thought that possible, yet the section had mural painted walls, thick carpets that absorbed sound, and plants in large containers spaced throughout the hallway. We were awestruck by the grandeur.

The chamber we had been installed in was nothing short of miraculous. It was the largest set of rooms I had ever seen. Sevianth let his jaw drop to his knees. I was hard pressed not to let mine do the same. It made our previous room seem trite.

The ceiling was domed and we had a balcony that overlooked the river. The roof of the palace was within easy access as we were on the highest floor of this section. One of the rooms contained a large bed that was curtained with shimmery material. It was all a lesson in luxury. It even had a small bathing chamber.

Siveruian left us alone in the rooms. The servants sped through the unpacking with quiet efficiency. Then they too departed. The chamberlain had promised to send us the midday meal and another servant to instruct us in the protocol this section of the palace required. I was anxious to speak to Sal. I had no idea how to contact her or if it was appropriate to do so. I resolved to ask as soon as it was convenient.

Siveruian returned with another servant bearing a tray of food. He bid her set the tray on the table and serve Sevianth and I. He did not treat the boy as a servant as Johianei had. It was a pleasant surprise.

"I assume you have questions?" He asked as we sat at the table. "But first I have one as well. Is this boy a slave?"

"He is not." I answered. I knew not what possessed me to do so, other than I hated the thought of using that term. In truth, we had bought his and Iolaine's freedom. Iolaine had accompanied us out of gratitude. Sevianth was with us for we feared letting him roam alone. Also, I had promised to return him to his village.

"Very well, have you objections to his beginning schooling with other boys his years?" The chamberlain asked.

"No, I have no objections."

"Good, then on the morrow he shall begin his schooling. You shall begin your duties and your schooling this afternoon. Have you questions before we begin?"

"I do. Is it within the proper behavior for the boy and I to visit Salenia?" I asked. "And what shall I call young Soliumant?"

"After duties are finished, your time is your own. You shall call him rohirm." He replied in answer. "You will need a house servant to see to your laundry and rooms. I shall arrange for one to attend you. As to your duties." He bid the servant to leave. "You shall spend morning court guarding the Jilhsaed. He has food tasters, so you will not be needed at the midday meal. After the meal for one hour you shall instruct young Soliumant in the ways of the sword. Then you shall guard the Jilhsaed during late court. That lasts until the evening meal. You shall be relieved of duties at that time. The only time you shall be needed after the evening meal is if the Jilhsaed or Soliumant request your presence. Sometimes they both like to walk the gardens, and will require protection then. You shall soon grow accustomed to the day's labors." He smiled. "Of course, this begins today after the meal. I shall take my leave of you and find an appropriate servant. If you do not approve of one, do not think you cannot object. We shall endeavor to meet your needs. I shall send for you in an hour."

"My gratitude." I bowed. I was not sure what I was supposed to call him.

"Nothen, jesisenia, you have mine. We have not seen such sword work in an age." He half bowed and left.

"Sal would not like this." Sevianth informed me when we were alone.

"And why is that?" I asked as I turned my attention to the meal before us.

"It is filled with nuts." He laughed. "What is this schooling?"

"I know not, Sevianth. We shall learn more on the morrow. Let us now eat. This smells wonderful."

We ate our fill though not all of the food we had been given. The tray had been laden with different varieties. Most of the food had been better qualities and better-prepared versions of what we had been served in Creasinda. Some of it we could not name, but it was delicious. We tasted it all.

[part 8]

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