Once we were in the hall Risec turned to face Nia.
“You’ll take her where she needs to be,” she said calmly and authoritatively. Nia nodded, looking resigned. “Start with getting her her uniforms, then you need to begin teaching her the back ways to get places. Daly Rasimet assigned her to dormitory E; section etregan, so you’ll be sharing a room.”
“Yes, Aunty Risa,” Nia said, turning to face me. “What’s your name?” she asked curiously.
“Kala Del Kasharllem,” I said, feeling overwhelmed.
“I’m Nia, though I’m sure you heard that,” she said conversationally. “Nia Del Irtas.”
“Nia,” Risec said warningly. “Get to work.”
“Yes, Aunty Risa,” Nia said cheerfully.”Come on, Kala.” With that she began to trot down the hall quickly.
“So, have you lived here your whole life?” I asked uncertainly. I was worried about what would happen to me and to my family. On one hand I knew that Tristi would be safe for a few years as Daly Rasimet’s living doll, but when she became a young woman things would become difficult.
If I could learn all there was to know about the palace, then maybe I could get away and get help, or start a rebellion or something. I had a few years while Tristi was young, but my mama was going to be in constant danger. Even at home we had heard rumors of what had happened to those who refused to serve the Rammulan rulers.
On the other hand, who knew what Daly Rasimet would tell Tristi. For all practical purposes Tristi would be living as her daughter, and every Kashumite parent lived in terror of the stories of how the dalse dolls would become Rammulan in attitude, hating and turning on their own families. IF Daly Rasimet wanted to, she could poison Tristi’s mind. Nia’s answer jerked me out of these thoughts abruptly.
“No, I was born in Ladro Leipsupil’s house,” she said, eyeing me. “Don’t worry too much, Kala. It’s not as terrible as everyone says.”
“But my mother is in prison and my sister just became Daly Rasimet’s living doll,” I said coldly.
“None of Daly Rasimet’s dolls have died or had anything terrible happen to them,” Nia said calmly. “She’s fair, and won’t try to make her dolls forget or hate their families.”
“Lovely,” I said, still worried about Mama, even though I was relieved to hear that nothing bad would happen to Tristi. “Who is this ladro, and how did you wind up here?” I knew that I needed to change the subject before I hurt someone.
“Ladro Leipsupil is Ersig Culrefi’s brother,” she said. “I was part of the peace gift when the ersig threatened to take Ladro Leipsupil’s land.” I wrinkled my nose, trying to understand this. While I was familiar with some of the Rammulan titles, I wasn’t sure what “ersig” meant.
“Ersig Culrefi?” I asked, hesitantly.
“The king,” she translated.
“Oh,” I said, feeling stupid. She glanced at me and smiled.
“Not everyone here can speak fluent Rammulan,” she said, obviously trying to make me feel better. “I only know it because the wodrega didn’t and wouldn’t speak the common tongue.”
“I see,” I said, confused by Nia. She seemed to be content with being a slave, but how could anyone accept it? I watched her, falling behind a couple of steps as she pulled a door open.
“Sojau, you osiv,” she whispered, her body tenseing up. Quickly she shut the door and turned around, looking terrified and horrified. When she looked at me I saw the fear drain from her face as she forced a smile.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“We’ll take a different route,” she said quietly, retracing our steps.
“Who’s Sojau?” I asked, struggliing to keep up.
“My brother,” she said, her jaw tight.
“And what’s an osiv?”
“A fool or a simpleton,” she said abruptly.
“So what was your brother doing?” I asked, unsure of whether I should even ask that. “That made you call him a fool?”
“You’ll find out soon enough,” she said, her face wrinkled with worry.
“Why can’t- won’t- you tell me?” I asked, mildly frustrated.
“Fine,” she snapped. “You’ll hear it soon enough, anyway. My brother and Nirpsec Masatna are having an affair.”
“What?” I gasped, stunned. What sort of place was I in, where the slaves would have affairs with those who forced them into their slavery?
“He’s not the only one,” Nia continued. “For many years Ladro Ulsic has enjoyed taking on girls about our age as mistresses, and even the ersig takes on a lover from time to time, when his uknee fights with him. However, my brother is flat out stupid, having an affair with the Nirpsec.”
“Oh?” I asked, trying to follow this. “Why?”
“It’s an unspoken law that you don’t have an affair with the royal ladies if you’re a slave,” Nia said darkly. “He risks death if her father finds out.”
“How is it that everyone knows about it, or seems to, except for the king?” I asked.
“I never said that everyone knows,” Nia said, pushing open another door and leading me into a corridor. “But almost all of the slaves and servants know, and a few of those close to the nirpsec know.” I rubbed my forehead, trying to make sense of everything as she opened the door into a rom, and stepped in.
Several women were sitting in there talking, all of them in palace uniform. As I followed Nia into the room, they fell silent, eying me suspiciously.
“Who’s this?” a middle aged woman asked, standing up.
“This is Kala Del Kasharllem,” Nia said. “Can you measure her, Taneela?”
“Absolutely,” the woman said, picking up a measuring tape. “Step behind the screen and take off all but your shift.” Blushing, I did as she said, ashamed of the dirt from travel that coated my skin. Mama had insisted that we’d bathed more than most people, and this was the dirtiest I had been for years.
It seemed that Taneela was also aware of the dirt, while she measured my height, waist and hips. Then she straightened up and handed me the tape.
“You’ll have to measure your chest,” she said, stepping away. I nodded and turned away, doing as she’d said.
“Thirty icnise,” I said quietly, not wanting to announce my size to everyone.
“Nia, can you take her to the bath?” one of the women, probably Taneela, asked as I began to redress.
“Yes,” Nia said, smiling at me as I stepped back into the main part of the room. “Come along, Kala. When will her uniforms be ready?”
“We’ll have some altered to her size by morning,” a woman who looked to be part Rammulan said. “Now run along.”
“Next order of business,” Nia said seriously, leading me out of the room and through another maze of corridors, hallways and steps. “To get you cleaned.”
“I know,” I said blushing slightly. “I heard those women talking.” Nia nodded.
“They’re nice people,” she said, leading me into a room with several curtained off areas. “But they don’t know how to hold their tongues when it’s not appropriate. Now tell me, have you ever taken a Rammulan style bath?”
“A what?” I was confused again. Nothing in this palace made any sense to me, and I was getting very homesick.
“It’s one of the few good things from their culture,” she said, walking over to one of the curtains and pulling it open. “Admittedly, we don’t have bath attendants like the nobility, but it’s still extremely relaxing. Put a robe on and come with me.” Motioning to the robes hanging in the curtained sections, she added, “we’ll have your clothes washed and returned to you tomorrow.”
“But won’t I be without clothes until this evening?” I asked, feeling like she was missing this blaringly obvious point.
“If you take a proper bath, then I wouldn’t worry about that too much,” she said. “Now in you go.”