Arai and Maeloryn sat on the divan, drinking bloodflower tea and eating the rest of the bread and roast hare. Arai handed Maeloryn a parchment she had tucked inside her sand-colored tunic- which was emblazoned with the black falcon in flight outlined in red on the shoulders, symbol of the Sable Sentry. She had removed her stiff black riding boots and unlaced the legs of her grey breeches up to the calf so she could sit cross-legged on the cushions beside Maeloryn. Maeloryn took the parchment and squeaked when she saw the writing within.
“Lina! She is on her way back from Ghoresh!”
“Prodigal wife finally coming home, eh?”
Lina was indeed Maeloryn’s wife- in Dakkar culture, women were allowed both wives and husbands, as it was believed that women could be spiritually married to one of the same sex as well as physically married to a man. Though some unions were indeed physical as well as spiritual, Lina and Maeloryn were more like sisters, soul mates, than lovers. When she had met Lina a week after she arrived to D’Harr Estate in the market the Dakkar Outpost- in reality a large city with a market rivaling even Glynniere’s expansive marketplace, having apartments and workshops, even an arena where people traded stock as well as fought in contests during festivals. She felt a connection to her as she had never felt to anyone before.
Lina ran a small storefront that sold incense, spices, herbs, fancy scarves and filmy robes for the gentile ladies of the Outpost and desert regions. Maeloryn had wandered into her shop, looking much like she did at the Keep- men’s tunic, breeches, and hair in a warrior’s topknot. Lina coaxed her into trying on a beautiful purple sari- a filmy thing that brushed past her ankles, the fabric feeling like feathers against her skin, making her feel self-conscious even though it draped her stocky frame like a mantle of amethyst mist. Lina situated a matching scarf around her hair, a diadem of silver coins to hold in place, a choker and anklet of the same, and walked her over to the mirror.
Being raised in the Keep, her mother a warrior and not given the luxury to be gracious with her dress, Maeloryn had emulated her mother in every way- from her Spartan dress to the way she wore her hair, very plain and utilitarian. When she looked into the mirror, she hardly recognized herself, the way her red-gold hair peeked out of the scarf delicately, the way her body flowed with the fabric, accentuating rather than disguising her ample curves.
“My Desert Princess,” Lina had remarked, yet Maeloryn felt like nothing of the sort until Lina had showed her that being a woman and a warrior could go hand in hand. It was out of this love for her revealing what Maeloryn had all along that led her to accept Lina’s proposal and vowing to be hers forever.
Maeloryn sighed as she clutched the letter to her- it had been three moons since Lina had gone to Ghoresh market to acquire new goods for her store and stock up on the rare spices found there- she was glad that at last she was coming home. She needed someone to tell about Miya, and Lina was the only one she could trust not to think her mad for feeling what she did, not to shout Miya’s return from the rooftops.
“Miss her, don’t you?” Arai asked, smiling.
“Yes, I do.” Maeloryn blushed.
“So, tell me about this Ziyan.” Arai sipped her tea, wondering if it was the tea or the fact she was exhausted from helping with the preparations ofr the Treaty Council that made her feel like she was floating.
“Nothing to tell really.” Maeloryn avoided Arai’s eyes as she made herself another cup of tea. The stuff was addicting, yet she had not Miya’s skill of the whisk and she more often than not got a few droplets on the table.
“Come on, Mae, I know when you’re lying.” Arai got one of the cushions from the divan and threw at Maeloryn, almost making her drop her cup as it landed in her lap.
“Not lying, Ara, just…. I don’t know he was so….”
Maeloryn giggled. “Did it to you too, eh? Tell me, what prolific declaration did he make to you?”
“Something about we had met before and would meet again blah blah blah….” Arai leaned back on the cushions, closing her eyes sleepily and putting a small throw pillow over her face.
“Careful, there, if you fall asleep you’ll miss the grand entrance of the Ka-Ziyan himself.”
Arai threw the pillow to the side, looking at Maeloryn, her eyes wide. “Ka-Ziyan?”
“The one and only.”
Arai threw the pillow at Maeloryn, who laughed as she caught it deftly in one hand. “That was what you were not telling me! Damn you, woman, now I know why Lina is prepared to towel you half of the time!”
Maeloryn snickered at the joke that she, Arai, and Lina had from the night that all three encountered some undesirables at a local tavern- one of them tried to make unwarranted moves on Lina, so she had taken the barmaid’s towel as she walked by and proceeded to wrap it around the man’s neck, threatening to tear it off with her bare hands if he did not “vacate the premises” while he was still able.
“You did not ask,” replied Maeloryn batting her eyes sweetly.
Arai grumbled and glared as she rose from the divan, hurrying out the door as Mealoryn snickered uncontrollably. “One of these days…..”
“Ka-Ziyan, I am honored you accepted my request.”
“‘Twas my honor, my Queen.”
Miya took Sarhilla’s proffered hand and kissed the signet ring reverently, locking her eyes with is. After freshening up from the days ride, he was now dressed in a light grey hooded cloak over a marigold tunic lined in silver, black suede boots and grey leggings completing one of the Ziyan’s many official costumes. His ebony hair was pulled back into an elegant half-ponytail with two hair sticks holding it in place, his silver braids framing his face gracefully.
“I could think of no one better to officiate this Council.”
Sarhilla sat in the chair behind her, extending her hand for Miya to sit as well. They were in her drawing room- really a library with shelves of books and tomes from floor to ceiling, the picture window centered by French doors that lead onto a balcony overlooking the Keep’s gardens. Miya marveled at the gilt molding around a ceiling painted with visions of the conquest of Glynniere by the late King Hroagarth. The chair in which he sat was decidedly uncomfortable, being of stiff gilt wood and equally stiff cushions, but he was glad for the tea which the servant boy poured over ice and a cube of sugar even if he wished for the less formal setting of Maeloryn’s residence.
“I fear you put too much stock in my talents, Your Grace.” Miya waited politely for Sarhilla to pick up her cup before picking up his and sipping the sweet raspberry tea. “Kythos may not be so willing a participant given your unreasonable terms.”
Sarhilla frowned, eyes widening briefly. “How do you know of the contents of the Treaty?”
“You forget who I am, Your Grace.” Miya’s grin was neither pleasant nor malicious. “I had to know what I was getting into before making the decision to come here. I do not like walking into a hornets nest blind- no disrespect, mind you.”
“Understood.” Sarhilla made note that she was going to have to have a talk with the young Ziyan novice that came to the Keep. He requested to see the Treaty, acting like an excited child just wanting to see an historical document, and through his charms convinced her to show him. “So, Ziyan, what about the Treaty do you find unreasonable?”
“The fact that the Dakkar Plateau is to remain open to Glynniere troop movements, even though there has been no active outpost in the area for years.” Miya set down his cup, folding his hands in his lap. “The fact that you prevent Kythos from patrolling the Plateau- even though it will in a sense be theirs- to stave off attacks from the Maju raiders.”
“Dakkar will remain neutral, Ziyan,” Sarhilla replied, waving off the servant boy’s offering of pastries. “They will not wish Kythos interference.”
“Then let Dakkar make that decision, not the Treaty.” Miya looked over the tray of pastries, and chose a flaky biscuit with a dollop of jam in the center, placing it on the small plate in front of him.
“But Glynniere will protect….”
“Repeated requests from the D’Harr Clan have been all but ignored.” Miya broke off a piece of the biscuit and dropped it in his mouth delicately, savoring the buttery taste and light texture. Oh! How he had loved these as a boy….. “And Kythos has been unable to protect them for fear of reproach from the Crown.”
“D’Harr approached Kythos?” Sarhilla exclaimed. “Preposterous!”
“After repeated failures of support from Glynniere, do you truly fault them?” Miya was cutting the Queen no slack- she had asked him to be here for his “wise council” and he was going to give it, no holds barred. “The Maju have stepped up their activity in the area, and even though Maeloryn D’Harr is a formidable warrior in her own right, she and her cluster of Herders are not a match for a full-on assault when it happens.”
Sarhilla leaned back in her chair, her years showing as her fingers massaged her brow. “How do you know the Maju want Dakkar anyway? It is nothing but a scorching wasteland half of the year, the other half freezing, not to mention it only rains three months out of the year.”
“They want control of the j’des,” Miya replied. “It is that simple. Control of the j’des trade means power and stability- something that the nomadic Maju have had none of in their centuries of raiding and pillaging.”
“Then the question is, why do nomads all of a sudden want stability?”
Miya looked up to see Brayden walk through the doors of the drawing room, looking bigger, rougher, and a sight older than Miya expected with his greying temples and streak of grey in his goatee.
“The new Hajar, Garrick, is a power-hungry brute, but he is no fool,” Miya smiled. “He knows to expand the Maju Empire, his Horde will have to be more precise in their conquests.”
“Hmmm, interesting theory,” replied Brayden, taking his place beside the Queen. “I must apologize for my Lieutenant’s tardiness in escorting you- she is quite often, well, difficult.”
Miya chuckled. “It is I who must apologize- she indeed met me at the D’Harr Estate, but I fear I took off without her. She seemed eager to see her friend, so I gave her leave to do so.”
“You yourself said the Maju have been more active in the region lately,” Brayden frowned. “Why risk traveling without at least one escort?”
“I’m a big boy, sir,” even though he was seated, when Miya drew himself up to his full height, eyes flashing, Brayden noted he was an imposing individual. “Ziyan are more than capable of taking care of themselves.”
“Still, if something had happened-“
“Pay him no mind, Ziyan.” Sarhilla chuckled, putting up a hand to still Brayden’s protest. “My Commander is often a bit over protective.”
Miya opened himself up to See Brayden and Sarhilla, but the way they interacted told him already what his Reading indicated, that they were lovers. He frowned inwardly, though, at the black gauge that appeared on Brayden’s heart- usually a sign of treachery. He searched Sarhilla’s heart for the same, yet only found the age-old scar from when Evrynn was killed. He almost felt sorry for the weariness that permeated her soul, for the guilt that ate her up inside ever since that day, but his attention turned to Brayden. He could not sift through the quicksand of his psyche, which told him that Brayden or someone else was maintaining a Ward on that part that he tried to access, more than likely someone else as Brayden’s chi was not strong enough for that task to be accomplished alone.
“It is quite alright, Your Grace.” Miya popped the last bit of pastry in his mouth and dabbed his lips with the cloth napkin beside the plate. “Now, if you will excuse me, I would like to take a walk in the gardens before I retire- it will be a long day tomorrow.”
“Of course.” Sarhilla rose and held out her hand, Miya rising and kissing the ring with a smile. “Have a good rest.”
“You as well, my Queen.” Miya nodded slightly to Brayden before turning on his heel and walking out of the drawing room.
“Find out what he was doing at D’Harr.” Sarhilla said to Brayden. “I am curious why he did not meet Arai at the Fresada Crossroads as planned.”
Maeloryn paused on the trail that led around her fields, the small sprouts of corn, beans, carrots, and other foodstuffs that supplied her and half of Dakkar Outpost with rations for the winter just coming up through the parched earth. She frowned, feeling that with the lack of rain, these might not last until harvest and that she could not allow. She stood straight, closing her eyes and opening herself up to the night air around her, feeling the humid air that was ripe for moisture, yet sensing the lack of coolness to bring it forth. Reaching deep within her chi, she filled her lungs with air and her voice with song.
“Rain and cloud
Hear my song
You have been away
Far too long
Shower my fields
With your precious dew
Make them live again
Make them sprout anew.”
She felt the clouds forming above her, answering to her Call, heard the rumble of thunder as lightning snaked through the clouds in the heated atmosphere, then finally felt the first drop of rain upon her cheek and she smiled, whispering a thank you to the clouds for hearkening to her plea.
“You could have waited til I got home, wife.”
Maeloryn’s heart raced with joy as she turned to see Lina’s tall, stauesque form approaching her, the wind billowing around her blue sari, making her long, chestnut hair flow about her like a cape. She skipped over to her, giggling, and threw herself into her arms, hugging her tight and kissing her lips tenderly.
“I missed you,” Maeloryn beamed.
Lina chuckled, stroking Maeloryn’s hair. “As did I you. Now, let’s get inside before we’re both drenched.”
As if to agree with Lina, a crack of lightning followed by a crash of thunder announced a deluge of rain that indeed had them soaked as they ran laughing into the house. As Maeloryn stoked the embers back to life and placed the kettle upon the hearth, Lina sat and picked up the box Miya had left her upon the table before the divan.
“Sytharkh woodwork?” Lina mused, opening the box to inhale the contents within. “And bloodflower tea? Where in lands did you get this?”
“The Ka-Ziyan himself.” Maeloryn said proudly, plopping herself beside Lina and tweaking her nose.
“Ka-Ziyan?” Lina raised her eyebrows. “I am jealous- I hear he is quite handsome.”
“Beautiful.” Maeloryn replied, lowering her eyes and tracing the patterns on the divan’s jaquard cushions.
Lina took Maeloryn’s chin and raised it to meet her eyes. “Ah, my dear Mae, what did he do to you to make you so enamoured?”
“Nothing!” Maeloryn’s face turned beet red. “He merely stayed the night and-“
“Stayed the night!” Lina giggled. “Now I truly am jealous!”
“Oh, wife, it was nothing like that!” Maeloryn poked Lina’s arm. “I- I know him, Lina.”
“Well, of course you’d feel that way from reading all his manuscripts, dear.”
“Mother sent me those.” Maeloryn’s eyes glimmered with tears. “Miya- the Ka-Ziyan- is that same boy, Evrynn’s brother, he is the one that Mother took to the Ziyan fifteen years ago. He is the one officiating the Treaty Council.”
Lina’s face darkened. “You did not tell Arai?”
“No, no, I-” Maeloryn searched for the right words. “I couldn’t. He has every right to avenge his brother’s death if that is what he has come to do.”
“And send the Steppes in more chaos than it is now?” Lina shook her head. “No, Mae, you want him to do this for your own self satisfaction, not his.”
Maeloryn glared at Lina briefly, then her eyes softened. Lina had always known how to read her innermost thoughts, ever had a way of dragging out the truth even if it hurt.
“Maybe.” Maeloryn sighed, laying her head in Lina’s lap. “But he says he is here to negotiate a treaty, nothing more- that he is there to promote peace and not war. Oh, Lina, if you could see his eyes! Hear him sing….”
“He sang to you?” Lina stroked Maeloryns hair, chuckling. “Maybe I should file for divorce?”
Maeloryn pinched Lina’s knee. “He was playing Mother’s dulcimer, singing in the room I made for him- far from mine, mind you. And the smell of j’des- it was so strong yet soothing in concert with his voice. And there was the dream.”
“You dreamed him?”
“Ten tornadoes, all set to strike the Estate.”
“Ten trials, ten traitors.” Lina’s green eyes went milky white, her Seer’s Sight taking over spontaneously as she listened to Maeloryn’s description, stroking her hair methodically.
“He told me that he would protect me- whatever storm may come- that he would help me…..”
“He knows of your Talent for Calling the storms, knows that you will somehow play a part in the Council.” Lina’s eyes shifted back to their green-gold hue. “He was sent to you, wife- sent to aid you in controlling your Gift, sent to help you hone it and perfect it- though for what end I do not know and that makes me frightened.”
“What should I do?” Suddenly, the butterflies were again hatching in Maeloryn’s stomach.
“He is a Dreamwalker,” Lina replied, “and Ziyan- a most precarious and dangerous combination any way one looks at it. Let him teach you- to resist his forays into your dreams will prove to be futile and perhaps unhealthy for both of you- learn from him, take what you can of his knowledge, but be careful your emotions do not get the best of you.”
“Wise council as always, wife.” Maeloryn cuddled closer to Lina, closing her eyes sleepily. Calling the storms always took a lot out of her, why she did not do it that often.
“And if he dares harm you,” Lina bent down to kiss Maeloryn on the forehead. “I will towel him without question or regret.”