Time passed slowly on the rest of the ride to the capitol, and it lost all meaning to me completely. Later I learned that the journey had only taken a week, but it could have been an eternity in the monotonous and uniform days.
I rode behind Cadem the whole time, and when the mocrednam wasn’t around, he began to talk to me. I learned that he was married, but that it wasn’t a happy marriage, merely one of convenience. His wife was a scold, and I was surprised to hear that she was only a few years older than I.
He told me that he had a son and a daughter, and he missed them lots. I listened, kind of surprised by the humanity in this Rammulan soldier. He explained that he hadn’t chosen that profession, but that his parents had put him in military school when he couldn’t stay out of trouble at the grammar school that was mandatory for all Rammulan boys in the merchant class and higher.
“So your parents are merchants?” I had asked, surprised. He laughed, slightly amused.
“They sold things, yes, and they did have a store, but they were only merchants in profesion only,” he explained. “In all honesty, they would have been more at home behind the bar of a tavern than the counter of the store. It’s just a blessing from the gods that they weren’t arrested, with their side deals in the shadows.”
“I see,” was all I said as I bit my lip, curious, but not wanting to know more than I should. He glanced over his shoulder at me with a awry smile on his face.
“You don’t,” he said quietly. “You can’t.”
“Cadem, there is to be no talking with the prisoner,” the mocrednam’s voice came from behind, startling me. “You know that.”
“I’m sorry, mocrednam,” he said humbly as she spurred her horse, falling into pace with his horse.
“Don’t forget the rules,” she said, not looking at him. “I’ll be merciful this time, and not punish you like I should. But consider this a warning. Next time I will not be so lenient.”
“Yes, mocrednam,” he said, and she kicked her horse again, galloping to the side of the rider ahead of Cadem.
“What’s the punishment?” I asked in a whisper.
“Whipping,” he answered, also in a whisper. For the rest of the day we rode in silence, and the next day we entered the city. We kept riding, through the streets, to the palace in the center of the capitol.
Mama, Tristi and I were taken into a room in the palace- a dark, gloomy and empty room, where our rope bonds were exchanged for metal ones. As our shackles were being locked on, Cadem slipped a note to me.
I wrapped my fingers around it tightly, and smiled tensely at him. He started to move on, then paused for a second.
“May the Gentle Queen protect you,” he whispered. I nodded, acknowledging his well meaning intentions, even though I didn’t believe in his dieties.
As soon as mama and Tristi were bound, we were moved to a new room, a richly decorated room, in which the lighting was decidedly better. Glancing around I saw a desk against the wall, but the majority of the room waas filled with well upholstered chairs and couches.
A rustle of cloth and the floral scent of a strong perfume announced the arrival of the owner of the room. A plump Rammulan woman with a relatively light complexion for the tanned people stood before us, clad in laces and ruffles, her hair done up in a lot of loops and curls.
“What have we here?” her high voice was soft, much like the lines on her face. The mocrednam bowed, low, to the woman.
“The descendants of the Kashum,” she said, her voice respectful but the look on her face one of distaste.
“Well, I’ll be,” the noblewoman drawled. “I never thought you would be the one to do it.” I glanced at the mocrednam, who’s face was twitching badly.
“But I have, ni Daly,” the mocrednam said coldly. “With no support from you, Daly Rasimet.” The noblewoman smiled slightly at the mocrednam.
“Idana, you are dismissed,” she said with a fixed smile. “I think my guards can handle these women.”
“Yes, ni daly,” mocrednam Idana sneered,bowing again and leaving the room.
“Now,” Daly Rasimet said, seating herself on a rich red couch. “Let me tell you how things will be for you. You and your family are the slaves in this palace, and the other places of residence for my darling cousin’s court. Unless you have special skills or refuse to serve, you older two will become the lowest of the slaves. The child will be my living doll, naturally.”
“You have no right to take my child from me,” Mama snapped. The woman laughed.
“You have no rights at all,” Daly Rasimet said. “I take it you will not be serving?”
“You would be correct,” mama said haugtilly, standing tall and looking more like royalty than this woman could ever look in all her rich clothes and intricate hair styles.
“Guards,” Daly Rasimet called shrilly. I heard the sound of several people entering, but I fought the urge to look around.
“Yes, ni daly?” a man’s voice came from behind me.
“Amwet, darling, I need you to take this… woman to the dungeon,” she said, her voice sweet.”And you, Rolfens, can take this little girl to the baths.”
“Yes, ni daly,” this time a woman’s voice accompanied the man’s voice.
“As for you, Arlah, you will wait here,” Daly Rasimet kept talking, ignoring Amwet and Rolfens once they began to fulfill her orders. “Until this girl has answered my questions, you need to stay right here.”
“Of course, ni daly,” Arlah said, moving to stand beside me while grabbing my upper arm and pushing me to my knees. “Show some respect to Daly Rasimet. She’s your better.” I opened my mouth to make a rude comment, but Daly Rasimet cut me off.
“Arlah, there’s no need for that,” she said. “I’m sure that she’ll be willing to co-operate, won’t you, honey?”
“I-” I hesitated, weighing the costs. “I suppose I will.”
“Good, good,” she said smiling. “Then you understand your possition here.” I looked at her as she paused.
“Yes, ni Daly,” I said. With that she promptly began to question me, thoroughly. Finally she began to tire, and ended the questioning session with, “so can you do anything of use?”
“I can sew,” I said tiredly. Arlah hit me hard on the top of my head, making me bite my lip hard, drawing blood. “Ni Daly,” I added grudgingly as i tried to blink the stars out of my vision.
“Can you?” Daly Rasimet said, sitting up. “Well, how fortunate. The Graceful Queen must be with me today.” Quickly she rose to her feet and pulled a cord hanging beside the desk. “Are there any other talents you have, dear?”
“No, ni Daly,” I said, keeping my head bowed.
“I don’t suppose it matters, though,” Rasimet murmured. “How well do you sew?”
“Fairly well,” I said glancing at Arlah, who was scowling at me. Apparently she didn’t like this turn of events, the blood-thirsty cow.
“You’d better not be lying,” Rasimet said, fretfully. “Our darling Nirpsec’s ladies-in-waiting are in need of new dresses and we can’t afford to take anyone out of the kitchens to replace Paetidor. The silly girlo, carelessly dying in childbirth, right before the Niwret ball.” I bit my tongue, trying to keep a flood of acidic comments in.
Just then, thankfully, an older woman in the palace uniform entered, with a girl about my age following her. These two women bowed to Rasimet, who turned her attention to them.
“Risec, this girl claims that she knows how to sew,” Rasimet said, pulling a scroll out of her desk drawer. Deftly she scribbled something on it, and I glanced at the girl, who was staring at me.
Her eyes were a startling shade of emerald green, framed with long and thick lashes. Reddish brown hair escaped from the bun she had it pinned into, and her skin was pale from a life spent inside the palace.
Arlah took the chance to hit me again, and I refocused my attention onto the floor, tasting blood. ‘I hope that not all Rammulans are like she is,’ I thought, fighting the urge to reach up and touch the sore spot. I was sure that I had a bruise there at the very least.
“You will train her, and test her skills,” Daly Rasimet said, handing the scroll to Risec. “Arlah, release the girl. Risec and, oh bother, I don’t know your name-” she stared at the other girl expectantly.
“Nia, ni Daly,” the girl said meekly.
“Risec and Nia will take you to get your uniform and explain the palace rules to you,” Rasimet said quickly to me as Arlah unlocked the handcuffs. “Dismissed.”