Eshe Parlan, Femella
Kunnadi Bachelor, tall, thin and blond, wore the Two Boars’ colours, red and blue. But, as Eshe was quick to notice, his coat and brecks were only of wool. Neither, though tift, did he sparkle with gems–not even with glass; painted beads and coloured embroidery, his all. After a slight hesitation he inclined his head—incidentally revealing a central bald spot from around which his beaded plaits fell. “Femella.”
Eshe was fast not to react, yet . . . what had betrayed her? She brushed it aside, it didn’t matter; she would have introduced herself as such.
“I seek a meeting with Trefan Ledhere.”
Kunnadi tilted his head like a bird considering a worm. What were his thoughts; was he weighing the danger? Would he now say that Trefan wasn’t there?
“You have Breken Lafard Hadd’s permission?” he asked, head still atilt and questing.
Eshe offered a smile, sufficient to be polite without the suggested need to ingratiate. “I am sent by Sifadis Lafdi; she has an arrangement with Breken Lafard, it covers many such things. You might have heard of his recent grievous offence against her? He tries to make amends.”
There was no lie in her words, though, well, she doubted that arrangement extended to her being at Churen Manse with Trefan. But what he doesn’t know . . . ho-hum, hey and tra-la.
Kunnadi looked up at the sky disturbing Eshe with his dark blue eyes. The common Rothi blondness of hair she now understood (a matter of dyes, repeatedly applied) but what of their eyes—so many were this same dark blue.
She followed his glance up at the sky. “Aye, you assess it correctly. Heli has set and the light is fast dimming. It would be most impolite to send me away.” She flashed him a charming smile.
With not a tic of his lip or his lid, Kunnadi Bachelor stepped aside. A silent invite, though no welcome in it. And it had taken a sprat, the seleman and the sivator to answer her query and take her this far. She glanced back outside. “We have ponies.”
“I will inform the marsled,” Kunnadi said. “I shall inform the kamerlinc and the cook; a room will be made ready for you.”
“We are not married,” she hastily said.
Kunnadi sniffed as he looked at Jonesi. Of his own desire Jonesi wore scholarly drab.
“Then your companion must sleep with the sprats.”
“Sorry, Jonesi,” Eshe said.
Jonesi shrugged a single shoulder. “Hey, if it’s out of the cold I’ll go where I’m told.”
“Trefan Lafard may not return before late,” Kunnadi said. “He makes a visit of the hamlets.”
“There is the morning.” A verbal shrug—yet Eshe doubted she’d sleep if she must wait so long. She dreaded the meeting; what was she to say to him? And would he think her a tiresome tot come chasing after?
Kunnadi pulled on a toggle, one of dozen arrayed on the wall of the entrance hall. In some place other she heard a bell ring. A smile escaped her. Hey, this smacked of Mathon’s clever making. She must tell her mother of this device, she would approve it. Much kinder on the throat than having to call.
Feet pattered along the flag-floor. Not marble here as it was at Two Boars House, but a charcoal grey sandstone. She hadn’t seen clearly the house-design, the evening gloom obscuring it some, yet she’d the impression of it more resembling the houses along Chiparin Lane than those within the citadel warison. Built around a courtyard, yea—but of brick with a slivered stone veneer.
A woman appeared from a distant corner, introduced by Kunnadi, almost dismissively, as Mercred Kamerlinc.
“We have guests this night,” he said and thereafter left them to her care.
The kamerlinc began with a swift tour of the building—or did she merely say which chambers they passed on the way to wherever she was leading them? Walls whizzed past, each covered with woven grasses, some left their natural colours, though most dyed bright. Those bright ones reminded Eshe of Luban; she ached to go home. In no time at all Mercred Kamerlinc deposited them in a huge dining hall.
“We have already eaten,” she explained, “but I’ll find something for you. Thereafter I’ll take you each to your chambers. You—”
“Jonesi,” he introduced himself.
“You,” she repeated as if he’d not said, yet she smiled. “I regret to say you must doss with the sprats.”
“Yea, bon-dam,” he said. “I’ve been told.”
“Bon-dam,” she repeated and blushed. “I shall return with your food.” Flustered, now, she hurried away.
The food she returned with was simple fare, too heavy on meat, too light on veg—but then they had arrived unannounced. Eshe, used to Rothi offerings, ate without hesitation. Jonesi slowly joined in.
~ ~ ~
They had finished eating and were wondering what next—ought Eshe or Jonesi go seek out the kamerlinc?—when the door was pulled opened. Eshe turned, expecting it to be she and the seeking saved. Instead, her heart lurched.
“Hm,” he said, “And who else did you expect when you come asking for me?”
His cheeks were red. She could smell the cold on him. Within her, her heart hammered like drums—he had come straight to her! But now she didn’t know what to say, licking sudden-dry lips, looking down, looking away. All the words she’d rehearsed, all blown away.
He looked from Eshe to Jonesi. “The choreographer?” One eyebrow twitched as if it would rise.
“That was my task in Raselstad, yea,” Jonesi said. “Though I rather would say I trained thought and action to function in a unified way.”
“Hm, that’s some feat if achieved,” Trefan said in a light amused tone which totally upset Eshe’s innards. “Are you a magician? Could you, perhaps, train a heart to conform to thought?”
“I wish that I could,” Jonesi said and scraped back his chair as he stood.
“Wait. And sit,” Trefan said. “I would rather you stay. As witness.”
Eshe didn’t like the sound of that. Jonesi sat.
“To keep it polite,” Trefan said in answer her questioning look, “and following the vein of the previous talk, I’ve a body too willing to respond to what my heart wants.”
Oh. It was unexpected. A shudder of pleasure whispered through her. Yet she couldn’t reply in like tone, for her head held both the reins and the whip. She must return to Raselstad. And it wouldn’t work anyway. How long before he said she was picky, never happy with his ways, his habits, his friends, his stinky boots? How long before he treated her with the same indifference with which her father treated her mother? And then another heart would crumble and she’d brush it away.
He sat on a chair, too wretchedly close to her. “Eshe – Femella . . .” He was straining forward. She thought he was going to reach for her hand. What ought she to do? Allow it? He paused while he took a deep breath. “Femella Parlan, I . . . before the tattagoose’s untimely pounce I was . . . I was close as a wisp to proposing we wed. I defended you, defended us, against his accusations.”
“But Mikel Awis found my journal,” Eshe said. “It proved your innocence.”
“Oh, is that what it was? Yet still I was banished to here, forbidden to enter the citadel. And may I say, wisely so. I hear, via the common jaw, that there is indeed a man come from Luban, from your own Raselstad, seeking to take my brother’s chair. It would seem Kalamite was correct.”
Eshe wanted to laugh, but she wanted to kick. “It’s not—”
“Peace. Let me speak, it’s been brewing. When I was told you were here, aye, my thoughts raced, trying to accommodate you—you, and what my heart wants of you. We could leave Lecheni—at first there seemed no other way. Yet to leave, to go where? Not to your Raselstad. What have I to offer you there? I am a warrior, my only skill is in the War Games. You think I could serve in your Lubanthan Dragons? But I am unused to being commanded. Then I asked, could we not go to another Rothi citadel? Ledheren die—after all, we are warriors—and in death they must be replaced. But would you have me be like Dryastil, with nothing to my name, answering aye, Hadd Leef, nay, Hadd Leef, fearing where I put my feet? What life is that?”
“Trefan, you have no need to say any of this. Once this with Boddy is done, I shall return to Raselstad. I am my father’s heir.” Had she really said that? But she must. Her decision was made. It would be best for him, anyway.
Yet he wouldn’t be told. “Aye. Yet, Eshe Femella, I beg you to stay. Should your friend—is this ‘Boddy’ your friend? Aye, I thought so. If he has, as he claims, the right to that chair, and he kills my brother . . . I cannot defend him, I cannot be there. But then the very next thing will be challenges sent from those around us. Argutil Lafard, legere at Citadel Bokene. Aithis Lafard at Citadel Cordoen. Cates Lafard at Citadel Kordahen. Ramarik Lafard at Citadel Tesecret. Does your friend understand of tributes? A new hierarchy must be decided. And no doubt my nephew will also challenge.”
“Boddy is wedded with Sifadis Lafdi. Does that not help secure his claim?” Jonesi said—which startled Trefan; he turned sharply to him. “And I know what’s in Mallen’s mind. I spent a day bending knee in his company.”
“You did?” Eshe cut in, surprised that he’d not said.
“He abducted Disa—paid to kill her but preferred to use her. It was an enlightening, informative day.”
“Aye, I can imagine. Then you know his plans better than I,” Trefan said.
“And you know that your friend shall have need of a ledhere as soon as he sits on that legere-chair? But please, don’t ask me yet. I can do nothing till then.”
Eshe hadn’t counted, not expecting so many refusals of help. Yet she was sure this was the third, though this was coupled with an offer. Jonesi was nodding. He seemed to understand what Trefan was saying. She wished that she did. She was feeling herself tangled in Ledheren-words. How much had Jonesi and Boddy discussed while at Mathon’s Manufactory, readying the equipment for the tree’s revival? Had Disa told Boddy of the War Games? Or had he already known of them? Had Mallen told Jonesi and Jonesi Boddy? And knowing he must fight, Boddy was still proceeding with his plans? That made no sense. Boddy fight? But Boddy was against fighting and killing, she’d heard him say it so many times. How relieved he’d been when Count Slemba made him an angel, thinking then he’d be away from the killing. How disappointed when he found that he wasn’t.
“You may tell your friend, if he successfully takes the legere-chair then I shall remain to be his ledhere.”
Jonesi nodded acceptance of Trefan’s message.
“But would that not be treasonous, against your brother?” Eshe asked, and frowned.
“My loyalty is to the House, to the citadel, and to Lecheni’s holdings and hindlings. If your Boddy has the chair I shall assume that’s because he has a right.”
“He has,” Jonesi said quietly.
Eshe agreed. “Aye, Mathon and Gowen believe it too, it’s not only Sifadis. It has to do with the tree in Wood Tower.”
“Tree?” Trefan gawped. “So that’s what the runmen are keeping us from. A tree?”
‘There is a legend,” Eshe said. “that it’ll bloom when the rightful heir sits on the chair. But at the moment it’s dying. And, believe me, I knew nothing of this when I first came here—I swear I didn’t deceive you.”
“Other than to pretend to be Ryal’s sister.” He smiled.
She turned her head to hide her blushes.
“Will you stay?” he asked, holding out his hands to her. But she remained looking away.
How could she stay when her father and Raselstad waited for her? And what would she do here? Be a warrior’s wife, languishing in his stone box of a chamber, complaining of this and that. While in Raselstad, she would one day be judge.
He must have read it all in the set of her body. The heat she had felt radiating from him turned to sudden cold. He turned on his heel, stormed out of the chamber, doors slammed behind him.
“Ho-hum, hey, Eshe Femella,” Jonesi tried to make light.
“Yea, ho-hum,” Eshe said, her tone decidedly glum.
Kalamite, Keefer-Papa of the Runman Order
Aiya, Kalamite complained, what an uncomfortable night; never again try to sleep in a hay-loft. He had debated on whether to return to the citadel after Trefan Lafard had clattered out of the manse, clearly raging, to again mount his horse. But nix, it would be deuced difficult to find his way in the dark. Nay, despite the discomfort, it was better to stay.
He stretched—blessed relief in easing out kinks. But he needed to pee. Aiya, he needed to eat and he needed—most of all he needed—to commune with his lover, his mother, his queen. Aiy, he relaxed into the bliss brought by the memory of her yielding body, her red beaded nipples, her clefts that opened to admit him.
Aiy soon, my lover, my mother, my queen. I soon shall be with you. Aiy, he breathed deep at the prospect of the ecstatic re-union—and was disturbed by the clatter of the manse-door. It was those Raseltops.
He held still as a frozen jasckte, no longer daring to breathe. He could hear her sniffing, the fish-fleshed woman.
“Jonesi, do you smell anything nasty?”
“The stables need cleaning,” said the Javan grassling.
“Yea,” the woman said. “Maybe it’s that.”
And still he dared not to move, not while Churen’s marsled attended the Javans’ ponies.
Fy and hist, a sudden shudder of horror. What if they noticed his mount, slipped into the stable late last night? What a drip-headed jert. He ought to have been away before this.
He let out his breath, relieved to see through the crack between hay-door and wall the spy and her companion now ride away. He started to make the climb down—but had to hurry back up to the loft. Another had clattered out of the manse.
Kalamite peeped out.
Nix! Nix-nix-nix, this was not possible. When did he . . . ? How did he . . . ? Why hadn’t he seen? Not seen, not even heard him! The hap ‘n’ hope traitor, creeping around in the dead of night. Aiya, likely he spent the night nestled into the heat of the spy’s eager thighs. Aiya, the things he had to tell to the legere.
Again, he watched through the crack. He had given no thought to its prospect when choosing his bed, but now . . . it was as if Rubel herself had guided him there. And mayhap she had. He found it was excellently angled to watch the folk depart the manse. There was the ledhere, following the Raseltops. Though, strange, he seemed in no haste to ride along with them.
Bah! This called for further investigation. Aiy, my lover, my mother, my queen, I soon shall be with. But first, I agree, I must follow them.
~ ~ ~