Sifadis, Shore House Heiress
The huge double doors opened, a holde to either side holding them as if the great weight of the doors was insufficient. Breken Lafard entered. Two more holden trailed him, their pikes crossed between them. Sifadis had had to rant till hoarse to gain this audience and seeing this she wanted to sneer: Crud and crusts, did they fear she’d suddenly lunge and kill him? Or was it her companion they feared?
Jonesi was taking a chance in coming here. Abettor of the usurper, he could be arrested. But Jonesi had insisted—also insisting he carry the evidence for her, but there she refused. If they whizzed him away that precious page would go with him. She had dressed him; this time not in her mother’s kirtle and shift but in cotton trousers and an unadorned silken smock-shirt. She didn’t tell him these had also been her mother’s (her nightwear). The digitalis-purple suited his complexion to perfection.
“I grant this audience as a personal favour, Sifadis Lafdi,” Breken said while still walking the length of the cavernous chamber. “Gowen Sivator has begged more time in order to question you.”
“Gowen Hadd has yet to visit me,” Sifadis said with more acerbity than perhaps was wise, “and I cannot wait longer to see my husband.”
That halted Breken Lafard mid-step. His guard with their crossed pikes blundered into him. Fast to recover with mumbled apologies, the holden stepped back.
“Sifadis,” he tutted, his tift head sparkling, “you have no husband.”
“I beg to correct you, Hadd Leef, but Boteras Rookeri Sharmin is my husband—legally bound—and I want to see him.”
“You mean . . .?” Breken’s tongue stumbled; he seemed unable to order his words. He tried again with better success, yet clearly he was astounded by what she had said. “Are you telling me that stench of a runman was right? That you, Sifadis, are conspiring to-to-to dislodge me? If I had sense, I would have you arrested and thrown in that cell along with him.”
“Hush, Hadd Leef. Peace,” Sifadis said, her hands held up in appeasement. “That ‘stench of a runman’ was wrong, I swear it. If you knew Lubanthan society . . . My husband has no desire for this; he hates wealth. Ay, he is the legere elect’s adopted nephew but that means nothing to him. He is a humble playwright, a poet, a singer, a dancer and musician. An entertainer. I had to trick him to wed me, so afraid was he of my wealth.”
“This is true, Hadd Leef,” Jonesi added while Sifadis theatrically wrung her hands.
“And who is this?” Breken asked, now looking at him.
“I am his choreographer, Hadd Leef,” Jonesi responded with no cheek to his voice. “And I swear it’s true, to Boddy Felagi gold in a purse is Mercury’s Curse. He didn’t know that by wedding this bel hade, here, he would become heir to your chair. He would have run one million miles to avoid it.”
“But you knew of the chair?” Breken turned on Sifadis.
How could she deny it. She had told Gowen of it—though at the time the notion of finding the heir had been little more than a dream. She certainly hadn’t intended to wed him. Such action entirely defeated her original plan.
“I knew, ay,” she ceded, “but he did not—not when we wed in Raselstad. He knew nothing, not even the truth of my identity. It was your Mallen told him that.”
Breken Lafard said nothing to that little twist, instead holding silent until he had completed the distance to his legere-chair though he still didn’t sit.
“Why did you wed him?” he asked. “Was it to thwart me? Because I had promised to find you a husband, one more . . . suited to your position?”
This wasn’t going the way they had planned it. They seemed to be stuck in this puddle of wrangling. She had to break the tangle before Breken could have Jonesi and her arrested as well. She’d been controlling her tears, but now she allowed to seep. It added veracity: the weeping wife. Breken Lafard held out a cloth to her. Ay, his wife Affalind reportedly cried as a daily event.
“But what I don’t understand is why Gowen didn’t tell me of this—that you two are wed.”
“With respect, Hadd Leef,” Sifadis sniff back the tears, “I have yet to give my report to Gowen.”
“Yet he had the reports of Lorken and Kullt.”
“And you think I’d invite simple holden to my wedding?” She didn’t hold back on the outraged invective. She offered Breken the paper Eshe had hastily prepared. “Here. The legal record of it.”
Breken Lafard waved it away. She could see him squirm. For a long moment he said nothing. So now was the time to be more persuasive.
“I am told Mikel Awis wasn’t here to witness proceedings.”
Breken Lafard looked up, his face horror-stricken.
“It isn’t legal,” she continued as suggested by Eshe. “This that you do to my husband. Are you in the thrall of that Kalamite creature? What will the other Houses say when they hear of it? And you can be sure that I will bring it to their attention at the next Witan. Or will you have me killed as well, to keep my silence? With respects, Hadd Leef, how busy then will be the common-jaw?”
“He is my friend, Hadd Leef,” Jonesi put in. “And mayhap he trespassed upon the Runman’s castellation, but he is innocent of your allegation. I wonder what the nobles’ reaction when word of this reaches the Council at Regionalstad—in Luban.”
“I want only to see him, Hadd Leef,” Sifadis persisted.
“To see him might gratify the bel hade,” Jonesi said. “But to release him would satisfy better. Or do you want to bring about this lanterloo whimsy of a Lubanthan siege, Breken Hadd Leef?”
“Holde!” Breken Lafard shouted to the guard on the door. “Find Mikel Awis. And tell him, no excuses from him of his woes. I want him here, now!”
While he waited on Mikel Awis, Breken Lafard paced. Every time he turned Sifadis caught his wistful glance at his chair. Ay and fy and let him yearn for it. Unless she and Jonesi sat upon chairs he could not either, and his offering them seats could be construed that he’d lost the advantage. So Breken Lafard anxiously strutted from legere-chair to the door while Sifadis and Jonesi patiently waited.
Finally the door was yanked open and in burst Mikel looking like a tarnished Heli or a raging fire, all coppery silks and oxblood red, all topaz and citrines, the same as her own, all trapped in tan-and-cinnabar-spotted toad-skin (skins she had gifted to him). He held out his black-banded copper staff an arm’s length from him. Hay la, see how his cloak spread. He tried to impress, but she knew him too well and Jonesi would more likely scorn him.
“Ah, Disa! Returned I see. Has Gowen told you yet all the news? That tattagoose Kalamite has killed my Kilda.” Unusual for Mikel, he openly displayed his anger. He pointed his staff at Breken Lafard. “And he will not have the man arrested!”
“It cannot be proven,” Breken snapped.
“It mighty-well can if you’d but allow me five minutes alone with him. I’d torture it out of his red-stained soul.”
“I’m sorry to hear of it,” Sifadis said. “Rokke has yet to relay all the news to me. But I understand the stew was helping the Lubanthan woman. Is that right?”
“And that Lubanthan woman was neither a spy nor conspiring. She was gathering information on that deserter holde Ryal.”
“In which case, Mikel, the woman was spying,” Breken asserted, and grunted.
“Aye, aye, aye, Hadd Leef, but not against you. Well, not directly. And why now have you called me? I have little orphans to attend.” Anger expressed, Mikel flopped onto a chair.
“I need your advice—” Breken began.
“Aye and that is why we hold the Witan. What hour is it now? Aye, and I suppose it’s too early. But, with respect, Hadd Leef, can it not wait?”
“Mikel . . . peace,” Breken bid him none too pleasantly. “Hold your tongue for two winks of a moon while I speak. Now. Tell me, am I legally bound to allow a wife to visit her husband while he is awaiting execution?”
Mikel jumped to his feet, his anger returned. “With respects Hadd Leef, this hardly seems urgent.”
“Would you care to tell that to Sifadis?”
Mikel cast a frown in her direction. “But Disa has no husband. And if she had one, why would we execute him?”
“My husband, Boteras Rookeri-Sharmin, was accused yesterday—by that same stinking tattagoose—of intending to usurp the legere-chair.”
Mikel turned his frown on to Breken Lafard. “You had a trial? But I have the key to the Law Court.”
“I’m told the hearing took place here,” Sifadis told him. “In this same chamber.”
That set the Jacobs amongst the horses. Mikel bristled. “With respects, Hadd Leef, but that is most irregular. And nay, nix, never is it legal. What, accused by the tattagoose? I’d like to string that hindling up by his balls—begging your pardon for the slack-jaw, Disa. And what did he give as the evidence?”
Breken Lafard looked suddenly flustered.
“Well?” Mikel pushed.
Breken’s face reddened. Mikel continued his attack.
“You were going to execute a man on that accursed runman’s say?” Mikel rolled his eyes. “Breken Lafard, please tell me that’s not so.”
Sifadis frowned. Breken wouldn’t have bent to the wants of the stinking runman, she knew that. Which meant Breken had evidence of his own against Boddy. And that evidence could only be the soaked and dried wad of mace-paper that Lorken had taken from her—she’d have killed him for that had she been armed. But then why didn’t Breken produce it and show it to Mikel? There could be but one reason for it. Hay la, he’d destroyed it. Crud and crusts, what a lorel! And he thought that crumpled wad the only evidence to support Boddy’s claim? Nay! What Lorken took from her was only a copy; the original had remained safely stashed in her travel-pack. She glanced at Jonesi. Did he understand what was happening here?
Breken had found his voice—or maybe he’d found an excuse. “The Lubanthan upstart abducted Sifadis, snatched her straight out of their care. They rescued her—he was trying to rape her.”
Mikel massaged his brow. Sifadis thought he might weep.
“Disa, tell me,” Mikel asked her, “did your husband—are you truly wed? Oh, I suppose that you are—did he, as accused, try to rape you?”
“My husband rescued me from Mallen.” Her increasing impatience crisped her words. “We were happy at being back together, we—there is no crime in it: we are married. We just wanted to . . .” She allowed another release of tears. Aye, Boddy would be so proud of her acting if only he were here to see it.
“Married?” Mikel repeated as if he’d only then heard it.
“Ay,” she said impatiently. Ay and fy, was his head that addled by his beloved stew’s unlawful demise?
“This husband, he wouldn’t be to do with this-this . . . Luban business?” Mikel asked.
“In a way, ay,” Sifadis admitted; how could she not, she’d not tell a lie.
“He is the nephew—” Breken began.
“Adopted nephew,’ Sifadis corrected.
“—of their legere-elect,” Breken completed his sentence.
“Is it legal?” Mikel asked.
Sifadis looked at him.
“The wedding, your union.”
Hap an’ hope! She wanted to scream. Boddy’s life hung by a rapidly fraying thread, and here she was, stuck on this while-a-way roundabout. She offered the document to Mikel. But as with Breken, he waved it aside.
“Hmm. Well. Congratulations, Bel Hade.”
“Ulfan- Sofrain, Awis,” she thanked him. “But he’s to be executed tonight, and all because of that stinking tattagoose.”
“Nix,” Mikel said in a tone that declared no counter-say. “I forbid it.”
“You might forbid it,” Breken said, “but he walks out of here and Kalamite will have him regardless of you.”
Sifadis looked at Jonesi. Had they a plan yet to deal with Kalamite? She supposed if need be they must leave Citadel Lecheni. Ay, yet she preferred if they didn’t. How would they live; by his songs, like a troubadour?
“Fetch him,” Mikel said to the same holde who had fetched him. “Fetch this Javanese Boteras-person here to me, now. Please, let us reunite the wretched Javan with his wife. I hold you responsible for this, Breken Lafard. All your doing in seeking an alliance with Citadel Pot, just so you can plot to kill that exiled rascal.”
“There will be no fetching without my command,” Breken said, a slight flinch at the mention of Mallen. But he need not have said it for the holde still stood by the door.
“Then give the wretched command, Breken Hadd Leef , else I shall wretchedly usurp your chair my wretched self. I am in no mood for this,” said Mikel Awis in an impatient snarl.
~ ~ ~
The holden set the corpse upon on the carpeted floor. Sifadis glanced at Jonesi. Nay-nix, this wasn’t right. Excused execution by the lafard-legere (who in the face of Mikel Awis couldn’t prove the charge) yet . . . Sifadis quickly replayed the details of the plan as given her by Eshe and Jonesi. Ask to see him. Or if it’s too late and he is executed, then claim his body. It was too late; he was already dead!
She felt the panic rising, and a scream too strong to hold down. She couldn’t control it, she threw herself upon his body. Nix! Nix-nix-nix-nix! The pain, the grief, it was tearing her apart. She wanted to hold him, to never stop holding him, to never let go, as if holding would make it all better. She rocked back and forth, her arms enfolding him, sobbing and sobbing.
She felt Jonesi’s tentative touch on her shoulder. “Bel Hade, we need to take him back to Shore House.”
She sat back on her heels and turned a fierce accusing glare at Breken Lafard
“You! You’ve killed him, my husband. You have made me a widow. You, you noleless nugget. Now I shall have reparation. You have ruined my House. Ruined it! Destroyed it forever. So now watch me destroy yours in return.”
Jonesi helped her to her feet, hushing her, fussing her, being her strength.
She turned next to Mikel. ”Seven days, allow me for grieving, although a lifetime will not be enough. Then call on me, please, if you will. I shall require your legal advice. And you,” she turned back to Breken Lafard who had neither moved nor made a sound but was looking aghast at Boddy’s corpse, “you will provide a chair to carry my husband back to my garden. Och! I must have a new tomb for him—you may pay for it, a gift to me. You realise now there will be no wedding alliance, I now cannot wed. Not ever. Don’t just stand there gawking. Do it!”
Breken, neck lost amongst his hunched shoulders, glanced at Mikel as if for assurance. Mikel nodded. Breken signed to his holden to obey the bel hade’s command.
While she waited she allowed Jonesi to hold her. Hay la, but the man have comforting arms.
~ ~ ~