By the Bluedragon
"I am not a slave?" He asked after we had finished with the meal.
"No, you are not a slave, nor shall you be treated like a servant." I told him. "You and Iolaine are friends. Though Iolaine must play the part of a servant, he is not a slave."
"Why must he play one then?"
"Because that is how this world, this region works. You shall understand fully when I have the time to explain it." I promised. "However, you cannot let anyone know that we are not what we seem to be. Think of it as a game we are playing."
"I promise I shall not tell anyone anything." He held his hand above his heart. "They need not know anyway." I could tell he understood that these were the same types of men who had kidnapped him. He did not trust as many his years did.
"You are a good boy." I smiled at him. He smiled and looked pleased with the compliment.
Two servants arrived then. They knocked softly on the door. I let Sevianth answer it. One took the tray from the room and the other bid me follow. I requested she send someone to lead the boy to Iolaine. I knew he would be safe there.
The servant led me to an indoor practice ring. It was two floors down and in
an older section of the palace. There were two guards at the entrance. They
admitted me with reluctance. Having been given the approval of the Jilhsaed,
I had donned my sword belt. My mother's sword was a comforting presence at my
Soliumant was waiting inside. He had changed his attire to an outfit more fitting the sword practice. He had been in the midst of warming his muscles when I entered.
"How do you find yourself now, Torienne?" He asked as he stepped outside the chalk ring.
"Very well kept, rohirm." I bowed.
"Good, we should not waste a warrior with such skill as you possess." He flattered me. "Now, you shall show me that defense."
"As you wish, rohirm." I bared my sword.
I had taught the younger girls at my school during my final two seasons. I learned then that it is not easy to teach those unaccustomed to much physical labor. I was surprised and pleased to learn that Soliumant was already well versed in the art of the sword. He had a natural grace and agility. Had he not been his father's only heir, he would have made a fine warrior. Still, there were some areas he was lacking skill in, much to his dismay. His previous tutors had been light with him in the art of defense as well as heavy offense.
"Rohirm, you have a great follow through, but will you permit me to speak freely?" I asked as I waved him to a halt. He was already winded from only a few minutes work.
"Yes, Torienne, you shall speak freely." He seemed intrigued by the request.
"You have had a disservice done to you, rohirm. Your left side is weak and open to attack, and you have much to learn of defense." I told him. He seemed gladdened by the news.
"Finally, an instructor who wishes to treat me as a man of flesh and not of minarina." He laughed. "It was a blessed day when Johianei found you."
"It was as the gods decreed." I replied. I did not want to show my ignorance and ask what minarina could be; I would ask a servant when I could.
"My father has forgotten that as his heir I have the duty to defend myself as well as him, but as the Jilhsaed, I shall have to rely on others. I wish to learn to defend myself and my father." He said earnestly.
"I shall teach you so, rohirm." I promised. He was fertile ground. With the right attention paid to his form and defense, soon even I would be unable to defeat him. "You already have the makings of a fine warrior, rohirm, but I shall help you become so."
"My gratitude, Torienne." He at least called me by my name. It was a welcomed compliment.
"Shall we continue, rohirm?" I asked. I wanted him to still feel in control of the situation, though I was the only master in the practice area.
"Yes, I believe we shall." He picked up his sword.
I had lost track of the hour as I ran him around the chalk ring. He showed real promise, and I kept telling him so. I had made him learn one of the basic sword dances all children in my village are taught. We ran through it together many times before he was able to do it on his own. Only then did he face me again. It was the only way for me to ascertain the extent of what I would need teach him. We were both winded when a servant interrupted us. It was almost time for court again.
I bowed and left him to his own devices. I managed to find my chamber again. The gods alone know how I did so. I changed into another set of my finer clothing. Had I time; I would have taken a bath. However, time was short. I contented myself with a quick wash. Sevianth was absent from the room. I guessed that he had been led to Iolaine. My thoughts were confirmed upon the arrival of the house servant.
"Jesisenia, the boy with you has been delivered to your friend's servant as asked." The servant informed me. "I am to be your house servant if you desire it so." I hid my grin as I finished dressing for she had not quite managed to keep the disappointment from her tone. It was obvious she had believed that she would serve a male warrior.
"Your name?" I asked.
"Sandunia." She bowed.
"Well met, Sandunia." I told her. "I am for the court. Do as you will."
"Yes, jesisenia." She called out as I left her alone in the room.
Court was in a word, uninteresting. People gathered in the large circular chamber and vied for the attention of the Jilhsaed. No one worked, and the only excitement came when people petitioned their ruler for mediation or answers. It was tedious.
I managed to see Sal in the crowd. I was in my position behind and to the right of the Jilhsaed. The guard I had defeated was not in sight. I lifted a brow when Sal turned my way. She gave a barely perceptual nod of her head in answer. We would meet after court for the evening meal.
I escorted the Jilhsaed to the place where the cordermers took their meals. He bid me farewell, and kept with him one of the giant guards. This guard had been unable to speak since birth and had been taught only to guard the Jilhsaed's life. It was his reason for his existence and he took it seriously. The Jilhsaed was in good company.
I returned to my rooms to find Sal, Iolaine and Sevianth waiting outside the door. Sandunia had protested their visitations and forbid them entrance. I laughed and led them inside, sending the girl after food and drink for us all. She did not appear pleased, so I explained in patient tones that they were my friends and were allowed to enter my chamber. I could tell she was going to be a problem.
"How feels it to serve the Jilhsaed?" Sal asked as we sat at the table.
"Very strange indeed." I answered. "How goes it with Johianei?"
"I could dream through the guarding." She laughed. "At the least I could in court. On the morrow we are to go to market. Need you anything?"
"I think I have all I require. My gratitude for the asking." I turned to Iolaine. "And how goes your lessoning?"
"There is much here to learn, Torienne." He made a face at the thought. "I shall endeavor to learn all I can."
"You are a good man, and a true one." I told him as Sandunia returned. "How is your new chamber?"
"It is larger than our first, though not as nice as this one." Sal looked around in wonder. "The Jilhsaed shows you great respect."
"More so than I deserve." I made light of it. "Did Sevianth tell you he is to be schooled?"
"He told me." Iolaine grinned. "I think it is wonderful."
"As do I." I noticed Sandunia watching us intently. "Sandunia, can you perchance have the clothes I wore today laundered? I shall have to remember to wear less formal clothing while instructing young Soliumant in the art of the sword."
"Yes, jesisenia." She bowed and collected my clothing. "I shall return with this soon."
"She could be a problem, Tor." Sal said as Sandunia left the room.
"I shall have to ask the chamberlain to replace her unless she shows me otherwise. I do not trust in her." I informed my partner.
"Wise choice." Iolaine added his distrust of the house servant. "Of course, we are still burdened with Reinea." He rolled his eyes. "At the least she is well versed in palace gossip and eager to share."
"That is one bit of glad tidings." I answered. "Perhaps she will tell you where the lost ones are. Speaking of, how do you plan on searching for your sister?" I turned to Sal.
"I have not thought about it. I am not sure she could be in Marlkina." She shrugged. "Lyliane was beautiful, but perhaps she is not in a harem. She had learned womanly skills at the time she was taken. She was named for my mother, but my father changed the name to fit his family as well."
"Well, we shall attempt to find her." I reassured her. I could tell the thought of her missing sister still preyed on her thoughts. "Nothen, we shall find her."
"My gratitude, Tor." Sal looked gladdened by the news. She attempted to shrug off her foul thoughts. "How is young Soliumant with the sword?"
"He fairs well, though he needs work on defense and some on offense. Perhaps I can bespeak him and have you assist when permitted. He could see how a good bout is supposed to appear."
Iolaine and Sal remained and talked until Sandunia returned. They excused themselves and left Sevianth and I to find our own entertainment. Sandunia laid my attire out for the morrow and then laid Sevianth's out as well. I sent Sevianth into the bathing chamber first. He needed more time dreaming than I.
After his bath, Sevianth chose a bed. He was not in it long before he was dreaming gently. I took the opportunity to dismiss Sandunia. She had quarters with the other servants. I poured a mug of viniare. The flask from the evening meal had not been emptied.
I carried the mug with me into the small bathing chamber. I undressed and climbed in the small pool. It seemed strange to bath without Salenia. I had become accustomed to her presence in the pools. I quickly washed and moved to the other small pool. It was blessedly warm. I sipped my viniare and attempted to calm my thoughts. I had no plans save returning to my village with my companions and our lost ones all in good health.
After I finished my mug, I halted my attempts at strategy. Planning would wait until I had learned more about the palace and the people. I could not make plans with less information than I needed. I quit my attempts and chose a bed. Out of some inane thought, I chose the largest bed in the chambers. It appeared to be the most comfortable. I soon learned it was, but did not stay coherent long enough to appreciate it. I was soon in dreaming.
I woke the next morning to sounds of plates being set on the table. I dressed and awakened Sevianth for the morning meal. Sandunia had finished laying it out for us by the time we joined her in the common area. If nothing else, I would need the bouts with Soliumant to keep from gaining poundage. The food was spoiling my palate.
After we finished the morning meal, a servant appeared to lead Sevianth to his lessons. He seemed excited and followed willingly. I finished my dressing and headed to morning court. Sandunia remained behind to cleanse the rooms.
Morning court was more interesting than late court. The hall was barren of the masses. Only the truly dedicated or the more discreet came to morning court. As a result, more work was accomplished. I observed all from my position behind and to the right of the Jilhsaed's chair. He seemed to weigh both sides of a situation before making a decision. Anything he missed was brought to his attention by whispered words from Soliumant.
The petitioners were agreeable. They had no choice to be otherwise. The Jilhsaed's words were law and all must adhere to them. Even when he made suggestions, they were seen as writ, and obeyed. It amazed me how much stock this people put in their leader.
After morning court I returned to my chamber. Sevianth was already there as was a laden tray of food. I changed into less expensive attire before I sat down to eat.
"Are you finished with your lessons?" I asked him.
"Aight, Tor." He was attempting to reach across the table for a plate of meat. I grabbed it and offered it to him. He loaded his plate and then I added several pieces to mine.
"What have you learned?"
"They are teaching us to read. They say I am too young to learn weapons work as the older boys are doing." He seemed unhappy with that.
"I shall teach you the sword, and Sal can instruct you in the ways of the bow when we have time." I told him. Sal had better aim than I did with the bow. She rarely missed her mark. "Like you the instructors?"
"They seem kind." He brightened at my promise. "What shall I do after the meal?"
"I shall have Sandunia escort you to Iolaine. I think it best for you to stay with him when you are not in lessons." I knew Iolaine would keep him safe and help teach him as well. "Where is Sandunia?"
"I know not. She brought the tray and then said something about returning with another." He shrugged his slim shoulders. "They are to teach us of horses soon."
"Think they can add to anything you already know?" I asked him as I laughed at the concept. He had learned of horses the difficult way, by riding one for a fortnight.
"I know not. At the least I can ride." He was proud of that.
"That you can and very well." I was as proud of that as he.
Sandunia returned as we were finishing our meal. She had a tall male servant with her. She did not introduce him, and I did not ask. I did request that she escort Sevianth to Iolaine's care before I left for practice with Soliumant.
"Shall I be prepared if I need be by my investiture as heir?" Soliumant asked after he had learned the second sword dance. I had planned to teach him all fifty-seven solo sword dances.
"When is your formal investiture, rohirm?" I asked.
"Two weeks hence, Torienne. On the morrow I shall choose the first of my harem." He did not sound excited by the prospect. "I shall be twenty and one seasons then. Shortly after, I shall be required to chose my bride."
"Forgive my bluntness rohirm, but you do not sound excited about the prospect." I was hoping he would answer truthfully and not claim the privileges of rank. I had begun to respect him as a man.
"Forgiven. I am not excited about this. I do not desire a harem, nor do I." He stopped and waved his other guards out of the room. "Why do I feel as if I can speak to you and you will not judge me based on rank?"
"Perhaps because we are both warriors or you have not known me as long, rohirm. I do not stand on convention and protocol unless the situation demands it." I too felt I could talk to him as if he were a friend. He was not conscious of his station in life.
"How many seasons are you?"
"Nine and ten, rohirm."
"Have you seen much of the world?" He seemed wistful.
"I have journeyed far from my homeland, yes rohirm."
"Are slaves kept where you are from, Torienne?" He sat back on his heels. He did not seem to be in the mood for practice.
"No rohirm, they are not. We have no such leaders as the Jilhsaed either, but we have not such luxuries as this place offers." I too sat on my heels. "This is a wondrous place and I am gladdened the gods have brought me here."
"As am I." He laughed and stood. "I do not feel I would have learned half as much in a year as you have shown me in two days. Shall we continue?"
"As you wish, rohirm." I stood and took up my sword again.
I had a lot to think on as I walked back to my chambers after the lesson. Soliumant seemed a nice man, and one I was glad to know. His ideas were progressive for his people, and I knew they would not be well received. I resolved to teach him all I knew before I had accomplished my quest. He would need all the assistance I could offer.
I opened the door to my chamber to receive a shock. Sandunia had resorted to entertaining her male companion in my absence. I would not have minded as much had she chosen a bed other than my own. They stopped in mid-thrust as I entered. The male servant stood quickly. Sandunia lay indolently on the bed and did not have the shame to cover herself.
"Out." I gestured to the door. "Both of you, now."
Sandunia gathered her clothing around herself and favored me with a defiant look. I returned it with a stern one. Her companion dressed in haste and fled the room. Sandunia took her time and leisurely followed him. I resolved to speak to the chamberlain after late court. I knew I would dream in a different bed until the bedclothes had been changed.
I washed and dressed in the clothing I had worn that morning. I had scant few minutes before court, but I poured a mug of viniare. It was pleasing and a nice diversion. I finished it and headed to the court chamber.
Late court was tedious. The only change of pace came from a man who refused to accept the Jilhsaed's judgment. He had petitioned for the right to claim his deceased neighbor's property. The Jilhsaed ruled in favor of the dead man's heirs. The greedy baderema rushed the platform in fury. I do not think he intended to harm the Jilhsaed, but nevertheless, I had him on the ground in pain before he could realize what happened. Several guards escorted him to prison as I calmly took my place behind and to the right of the Jilhsaed. He did not express his gratitude; it was unnecessary. I had done my duty.
I had not had a chance to speak with the chamberlain. One of his duties was to oversee the meals. I left word with a servant that I required his assistance with a matter. I did not expound on the need, nor did the servant ask. I felt it best not to explain. It would reflect badly on me as well as on Sandunia. Though I cared not how it would affect Sandunia.
Sevianth and Iolaine were waiting in my chamber when I returned. There was no tray of food waiting. I sent Iolaine to have Reinea bring our meal and leave word for Sal to meet us for the meal. I poured a mug of water and sat heavily in a chair at the table. The water was cool and sweet. It eased my thirst greatly.
"Tor, we have good tidings." Sevianth could barely contain his excitement. "Iolaine and I discovered something great."
"Wait for Iolaine to return." I counseled him. I wanted nothing but peace for a few heartbeats.
"Aight, Tor." He seemed unhappy with the request. Fortunately for his patience, Iolaine returned quickly. "Can we tell her?" Sevianth asked when Iolaine had sat beside him.
"Yes, you shall let her know." Iolaine smiled at the boy.
"We have located Sal's sister." He announced gleefully. "She is a servant here at the palace. We got lost and ended where they do the laundry. She looks just like her so we asked her name. It was Lyliane."
"In truth?" I could not believe our fortune.
"It is true, Torienne, she has the same hair as Salenia. She claimed her name was Lyliane." Iolaine assured me. I was gladdened by the information.
"Let us not tell Sal this as of yet. We need to make sure it is her before we inform Sal." I counseled. A knock at the door interrupted our conversation. Iolaine opened the door to reveal the chamberlain. "Iolaine, why do you not take Sevianth for a walk. He has much energy still and it would do him good to rid himself of some before the evening meal."
"Yes jesisenia." Iolaine bowed to the chamberlain and escorted Sevianth from the room.
"Have a seat, misayla." I poured him a mug of viniare.
"My gratitude, Torienne. That was masterfully done with the petitioner during court." He took a seat. "I have heard that you have lost your house servant." At my quizzical look he explained. "Sandunia came to me and complained. I cannot credit most of what she said, as we have had problems with her before, but tell me is Sevianth your son?"
"No." I laughed. "He is the son of my heart though. He is an orphan we rescued from slavers in Creasinda."
"Ah, I had thought as much. You have not the years to be his mother." He removed the wire rings from his eyes and wiped them on his tunic. "It is a fancy of hers then."
"What would have been scandalous had Sevianth been my true son?" I could not help but ask.
"In our culture, an unmated female with babes is not seen as worthy of stature. You would have been stripped of rank and treated as a cast-off. The boy does favor you, but I assume it is a regional characteristic?"
"I had not thought about it, misayla. He is from a village near my homeland. I know not who his parents were, but I doubt they were kin. I have no kin in his village."
"That suffices as reasonable. I shall have to oversee Sandunia's punishment as well as find you a new house servant." He sighed.
"I have a suggestion." I caught his attention. "Iolaine claims he encountered someone he believes would fit my needs nicely." I let him infer what he would into that statement. "He told me of a servant called Lyliane."
"Ah, yes she is lovely." He smiled. I was amazed that he seemed to know every servant who worked in the palace. "She has been assigned to Graneishio at the moment, but I shall change that. Perhaps he can correct Sandunia's flaws." He grew thoughtful. "I shall do so before you have completed your evening meal. Have you requested one?"
"Yes, misayla, Iolaine bid Reinea to bring us a tray here, my companion shall join us when she is free of her duties."
"Very well, I shall go see to the change in duties. May you rest well." He said as he rose and departed from the chamber.
I sat back and contemplated the ceiling. The chambers were peaceful with no one else around. It was almost too peaceful. I had grown accustomed to their presence. It had been the same in the bath last evening. I had missed Sal. I thought it odd how close we had all become, but it was reassuring. It was a strange land and we held to the familiar.
"Jesisenia?" Reinea called through the door. I rose and opened it. Her hands were busy supporting the tray. It had enough food on it to feed my entire family. I assisted as she placed it on the table. "Salenia said to tell you she should be here shortly. She wished a change of clothing."
"My gratitude." I sat back down.
"May I ask you a question, jesisenia?" Reinea seemed anxious.
"Certainly." I was curious yet weary of conversations with strangers.
"Are there slaves where you come from?"
"No, there are not. Which is why we do not stand on conventions." I told her. I did not want to jeopardize our positions by telling her we did not approve of slaves. "We were unaccustomed to servants until we acquired Iolaine."
"Oh." She seemed disappointed. "You treat everyone as human much like the chamberlain." She explained her question.
"Everyone is human." I answered. "We were not raised to this life, we have much to learn, though I doubt we shall forget that lesson." I smiled gently at her. I could tell she wanted to say more, but her training forbid it.
"Enjoy your meal, jesisenia." She turned to leave.
"Reinea?" She turned back at my calling. "You may stay and eat."
"I have eaten, jesisenia. With your permission I shall depart and ready the room for your companion's rest." She relaxed in my presence.
"As you wish." I smiled as she bowed and left the room.
I was greatly tempted to partake of the meal before the others returned. It took great strength of will to wait. Fortunately my wait was not a lonely one. Sal entered and joined me in waiting for Iolaine and Sevianth. She had changed into the outfit she had purchased before we had entered this region.
"I heard you were quite the kirgeur during late court." She teased.
"I would not go that far." I shrugged off the implied compliment. "He was a simple man upset with a decision."
"Be that as it may, you have proven your worth to the Jilhsaed again." She looked around. "Where is your house servant?"
"Gone." I laughed and told her the whole story. She was as shocked as I had been. "It is of no consequence, the chamberlain has promised a replacement, and he does not believe that Sevianth is my son."
"That is to the good, since he is not." Sal poured three mugs of viniare a mug of water for Sevianth. "Though I must say that you do treat him as such."
"He is a charming child now that he is not scared we will treat him as a slave." I excused my feelings for the boy.
"It is true. In retrospect, I think his actions that first day were attempts for us to release him."
"I agree." I opened the door at the soft knock. The object of our conversation entered with Iolaine. "Well met. Now we can eat." I steered them both to the table. I was hungered.
"We would have returned sooner, but young Sevianth wished to practice his sling." Iolaine explained. "His aim has greatly improved."
"Very good." I said as I loaded my plate. Fortunately everything was still warm. "We shall teach him more weapons when we have time. Would you wish to learn the sword, Iolaine?"
"Is that an offer for instructions?" He seemed surprised.
"It is an offer. Have you accepted?" Sal took over. "We have decided you should learn to defend yourself as well as you are able."
"Yes, I would be pleased to learn." His surprise became pleasure.
"Very well, Sal can start you with daggers." I said. It seemed more logical. "She is very talented with them in close quarters."
We completed our meal over casual conversation. Iolaine showed his understated humor while relating palace gossip and tales of what he had learned throughout the day. Sevianth happily reported all he had learned in his lessons. He finally told us what that clear substance was in the domes of the palace: minarina. Craftsmen melted sand to make the substance. The process perplexed me. The glass we were accustomed to was harsh, thick and murky. I had never inquired how it was made.
After the meal, Sal and Iolaine returned to their chambers. I sent Sevianth to bathe and waited for the new house servant. I wanted to see for myself if it were indeed Sal's sister. I tried and failed to paint a picture of her in my mind. All I could envision was the reddish hair and perhaps the green eyes. Red hair was more rare in our tribe than my blonde. It was the heritage of outclanders. Sal's father had been foreign, as was my mother's father.
When she arrived, Lyliane did indeed favor her younger sister. However, where Sal was the steel of a warrior with a hint of woman, Lyliane was the pure softness of a female. Her hair was longer and redder, and her eyes were blue as most of our tribe's were. She was a delicate mix of Alsounthia and outclan. Unlike her sister, there was no confidence in Lyliane's steps. She carried herself as if she wanted to avoid notice.
"You are Lyliane?" I asked in our native tongue.
"I am, jesisenia." She bowed. "What do you wish for me to do?" She did not appear to notice we were speaking in our language.
"Look at me." I kept my seat and waited. "Are you Alsounthia?"
"I am, jesisenia." She briefly looked up before lowering her head again.
"I am as well. I am called Torienne, but you may call me Tor." I told her. "Have a seat, I will not harm you." I kept a soothing tone in my voice. She sat gingerly on a chair at the table. "You were taken from your homeland?"
"I was, jesisenia. My sister is still there, but I was taken."
"Has your sister a name?"
"Salenia. We would often call her Sal." She seemed unhappy with the conversation.
"Very well, I wish you to move your things in here, you shall stay in these chambers." I stood. "Sevianth is a young boy, he will need looking after when I am not here. I wish for him to be put in Iolaine's care after the midday meal. Chose a bed and may your dreams be plentiful." It was not my place to tell her of her sister. She would see Sal on the morrow. Also I knew not if her training had broken her spirit so much she would turn us in to the chamberlain.
"Is there nothing I can do for you?" She had no underlying meaning in her tone.
"No, Lyliane, unless you wish to change sheets on the large bed while I bathe." I was not comfortable giving her orders, but I needed to maintain the charade until Sal could explain the situation.
Sevianth went to his bed after his bathing. I quickly washed and let the water ease my body into a relaxed state. It was easier to drift into dreams that way. Lyliane had changed the sheets on the large bed and chosen one of the smaller ones. She was dreaming gently when I reentered the common chamber. I found my bed and let my mind drift. I was too tired to attempt to think.
I woke that morning to find my boots polished, my clothing for the day lying on a chair by my bed and the smell of food. Sevianth had been awaked and dressed. He was sitting at the table happily partaking of the morning meal. I pulled my clothing on and joined him. Lyliane was gathering the previous day's clothing and preparing it for cleansing.
"Lyliane, join us for the meal." I offered. As usual, the food was excellent.
"My gratitude, jesisenia, but I have already eaten."
"You should have no fear of us." I told her. "We are family here when that door is closed."
"I have not been treated as such for a long time, jesisenia." She still seemed to be holding herself into a small nervously shy bundle.
"I am called Torienne." I reminded her. "I would appreciate it if you call me that when we are alone. I am sick of jesisenia."
"Yes jesis I mean Torienne." She gave a small smile.
"Now, would you join us for the meal?" I knew she had not yet eaten. She seemed to be sickly she was so thin.
"My gratitude." She left the bundle of clothing on a chair and joined us at the table.
"You should try this." Sevianth handed her a plate. "It is my favorite." He grinned. His easy charm worked its magic on Lyliane. By the end of the meal, she had shown signs of the woman she would have been had she not been taken.
"I am late for court if I do not hasten." I stepped away from the table and pulled on my boots. "Behave in lessons." I tousled Sevianth's hair after I buckled my sword belt.
"I shall, Tor." He smiled as I left the room.
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