Sifadis Lafdi shooed her seleman away. She had no need of a sedan-chair; she was a woman, not an invalid. And the past week had been dry, and the day was fine. It was less than ten steps across the Processional Way, twenty in all to the cluttered courtyard of Two Boars House. Used to the tip-an-tilt deck of a ship, her step wasn’t dainty.
Stup and Dizpeter, and the lesser (warrior) gods arrayed around the two colossi, failed to intimidate her. They were set on the courtyard’s chequered paving like pieces upon a chess-board, though the two queens were loud in their absence. Heli’s bright rays glanced off the silver hawk, seeming misplaced amongst the stone statuary, and made darker the veranda’s yawning arches. She ignored the many lateral doors set within them and headed instead to the “official” entrance with its flanking boars, very fierce-looking, painted upon the copper-red wall.
At her approach the two holden, uniforms a-sparkle, crossed their pikes.
‘Lorken, Kullt, you dare question me?’
‘We do our duty, Sifadis Lafdi, Bel Hade,’ said the older guard, Lorken.
‘Then consider it done. Now let me pass.’
With a glance at each other they swiftly obeyed.
She hiked up the skirt of her treacle-and-amber brocaded kirtle. With a deep trim of ginger minever its hem was heavy and she’d no wish to trip. It might be fashionable to wear knee-length kirtles elsewhere in Rothi, but not here on the east coast. Here, the Ram-and-Lambs’ weeks were as cold as full winter despite Heli’s return. And since nothing could chill the bones as deep as sea-mist, she wore a cloak too. It dragged behind her, heavy with its encrustation of golden embroidery. As she stooped to scoop up her hem, her blood-red hair fell like a veil around her. She swept it back with impatient hand.
The “official” entrance gave onto a circular chamber, three storeys high, that pulsed with light, the gleaming gold-veined marble that swept aloft with the stairs seeming its source. It was not. Sifadis barely looked at the spiral of arches with their part-hidden doors—Breken Lafard’s audience chamber was off to her right. A “path” of green marble tiles led her there.
Though not her first visit here, it was her first summons and, as with a passenger’s first time on the sea, her stomach lurched. Ay, she thought, and imagine how worse for those charged with treason. Restless and anxious, her gaze roved the cavernous chamber. Dark, though through no failing of Heli’s; the high-set green and blue glazed windows let in little light.
Breken Lafard-Legere was already present, sat on his low and round legere-chair. The chair wasn’t old but an imitation. With its circular canopy, it reminded her she needed a new summer parasol. No sign of Mikel Lafard Awis. But then this wasn’t to be a trial.
Her cloak softly shushed on the carpet in the otherwise silent chamber. Her shoes clipped. The multiple strands of her silver-gilt belt, where they hung behind her, set up an arrhythmic tinkle. Her bracelets jingled. The gold repoussé torc slipped but she resisted the urge to push it back up.
Though she wasn’t here in supplication, at the steps to the legere-chair she clasped her hands demurely before her.
‘Sifadis Lafdi of Old Shore House,’ announced Breken Lafard’s young cousin Garawen, which earned him a scowl.
Sifadis gave a cursory bow of her head.
‘Sifadis,’ Breken Lafard said in friendly, brotherly, tone. ‘You are not ignorant of why you are here.’
Ay, and how could she be when the entire citadel was abuzz with the talk. Ember, her most valued dulsind and kamerlinc, had reported only yesterday that the hindlings and urbs were wagering on it. She expected her hamlets fretted upon it, particularly the bachelor of Henet manse. Their concern she could understand; today’s decision could drastically alter their lives.
‘Impolite to ask a young woman,’ Breken Lafard hemmed, ‘but how many years have you?’
‘Twenty-three, Hadd Leef.’ She sounded child-like, her voice anxiety-weakened.
‘And how many years in Gowen Sivator’s ward?’ Breken Lafard asked as if his memory needed refreshing.
‘Five years, Hadd Leef.’ Five, since her father died. Though with her not a minor that ward-ship meant only that Gowen Sivator must co-sign her documents.
‘I take it you are aware that, if of a lesser birth, even though born of a House, you would have been married ten years since. You do know this? How much longer, then, do you expect to stay it?’
‘Until I meet a man who suits me, Hadd Leef. It is not intentionally stayed.’
‘But ten years and not a hint? Doubts begin to cluster. Particularly since you seem content to be alone with the Book. Now, were you of a lesser House, and not the last of your line, I would leave you to your studies. But your husband—when he appears—must become one with us. A stranger, invited in; you must appreciate how vulnerable that makes us. Therefore, for the sake of Lecheni, and the security of all, I now must press you. But, I am not unreasonable. I have chosen five suitable suitors. Five, that is more choice than most women have. All you need do is to wed one of them. Not unreasonable? What say you?’
She drew in a deep breath … only to discover her ability to argue had fled her. She held out her hands in mute appeal. But Breken Lafard was waiting and she had to say something.
‘Ay, agreed, Hadd Leef. That … is fair.’
Crud and crusts! Why did she agree it? Might as well drag her tombstone over her. And now a tear was welling. Well at least Affalind Lafdi-Legara wasn’t present to witness. She’d not hear the end of it: Lah! Proud Sifadis cried. Ha ha. She tried sniffing it back, but it now was too late. That recalcitrant tear coursed down her face.
Breken Lafard turned to his young cousin Garawen. ‘We will start with the geographical closest; an alliance with Cordoen is not to be poo’d at.’
He turned back to Sifadis. ‘Aithis Lafard-Legere of Citadel Cordoen has a nephew this year granted his sword. That makes him only a few years your junior.’
Sifadis held her poise though a grimace snuck near. Said nephew of Aithis Lafard was ten years her junior. And who were the other four chosen for her?
Taken from Roots of Rookeri, originally posted on crimsonprose in 2014