Raisse is asking all the questions explicitly that Athal only asks in his mind, or when they come up in a conversation. It’s increasingly clear that he did really marry the right woman.
The next morning we awoke to the now familiar sounds of the parting ritual. Something was different though. Something was missing. It must be connected to how we freed Hinla last night. All the vile terror that rushed though us got burned away by the walls of fire set up to protect Hinla while we performed our rescue. Were those the ancestor spirits? Or maybe just her ancestors? I don’t know, but Rikhi’s shrug confirmed it. Something was missing and there was no longer much point to the ritual.
I went to see Hinla that next morning and have kept her with me ever since. To all intents and purposes I am her mother now. Athal and Vurian, even Rovan have accepted her without a problem. But three days after we adopted her the nightmares started. She screamed in a language none of us could understand, but she was terrified. I guess that’s only to be expected after all she went though, but it’s heart-wrenching nonetheless. When things were at their worst only I could console her. The nightmares happened about every three or four nights and after the third we discussed them with Dushtan. She said she called out in the women’s language in her dreams. I decided to ask a local woman to sleep in our room so we could maybe figure out what she was saying. The woman ran, stumbled and then crawled away screaming into the night. And I still have not had a chance to find out what she heard.
Then the masts arrived. Giant straight trees with a few animals hung from them for bounty. Great, this meant we could go soon, food was getting scarce as most of it was preserved for the journey to Albetire. Athal was presented with a lion skin and he really did look like something of a lion wearing it. I was presented with a lion cub. Fiercely alive and that presented a bit of a problem. Later I was informed that they could be tamed with enough cruelty, but as they suspected I wasn’t happy with the idea. I went to visit the little animal for a while, for I had to leave it behind. The ships we were to depart on before dawn really were no place for it. So I declared that it would remain here to guard the village. I’m not sure if anyone believed that, but at least it had a change to survive, hunting the rodents and birds around here. It gave me and others an excuse. I know others were worried about taking it along.
That night when dark had fallen we had a secret visitor: Mernath came and said we had to talk. Soon we would be in Iss-Peran and in opposite guilds again. It was a dark and difficult conversation, but Athal convinced him that we were here on a mission from Timoine most of all. He also extracted a promise for Athal not to attack any of their their grand masters without him or his people being attacked by them. And I sure hope it doesn’t come to that.
Then we went aboard and set sail for Albetire. Our cabin was packed and the rest of the ship even more so. Hinla got almost as seasick as Athal, but he had a distraction in getting Rikhi and his wife to join us. He was miserable on board, even more so than Athal. And seeing the conditions in the cargo hold it was surprising his wife was still well. The trip was relatively uneventful. We saw some ships in the distance and they managed to convince the one that came alongside that we had been captured by the Khas and not the other way around. Then we flew our own colours and sailed into the port of Albetire.
As we approached port, a ship came along carrying what must have been some kind of official, for his headgear was more complicated and less practical than Athal’s crown. At first he seemed a bit sceptical of our titles, but when he finished our meeting he left bowing backwards and tripping over his elaborate costume. We docked at a marble quay! Using huge lead-ropes made of silk. And down below soldiers dressed up proclaiming they were not worthy to be stepped on. Sigh.
The Khandihan met us at the gate to the Enshah’s palace. And he grovelled even more than usual, though he seemed genuinely pleased to see us. Athal asked me if he could help the Khandihan up, so I said he should. Though favour and intrigue run deep here, I figure they will either see us as backward savages or a power in our own right, so let’s act like the latter. In spite of that I did defer to Athal at least in how I acted, since that was how I was told things were in Iss-Peran and I would not want to make him look bad somehow. We were yet to see any woman in a position of importance.
That proved to set the tone for much of the rest of the day. We walked over rich carpets, through halls with children holding strange bowls of sweet-smelling smoke, through richly decorated halls. And it would have been even more impressive if they had not been trying to impress us so much. I had to carry Hinla until my arms hurt. It was a kind of opulence that wasn’t very comfortable. Walking over the same carpet two or three times along the way spoiled the effect a little.
Then we were led in front of the Enshah. Everybody bowed or fell flat on the floor, so I bowed our way like Athal. He was an old man and probably senile. Being fed by girls and encased in some robe that seemed to be made of metal, though he was able to walk in it somehow. And in the shadows, courtiers. Lots of them old and shrewd and probably scheming. The Enshah was very taken by the lion-skin Athal had carried in, so he gave it to the Enshah and he retired.
Then, after another long walk, we came to a wing of the palace of a design that had clearly been inspired by Valdyas. There even was a temple. Nicely octagonal, but Anshen and the Nameless were opposite each other and really far too close. We were served food in the centre courtyard and later a bath with the most relaxing sort of rubdown. The Khandihan joined us after a while and offered to advice us on courtly matters here. Advice we very much need. I’m sure it will benefit him at least as much as us, but he is the only one we know and can trust to some extent. For now we seem to have similar goals. Oh, and during dinner there were some dancers who really would not have looked out of place in a brothel, except perhaps they were a bit young. If I didn’t know Athal as well as I do, I might have sent them away. And as if the erotic dancers weren’t enough, they also think Senthi is another wife of Athal’s. We’ll let them think that. Just as long as Athal isn’t getting any funny ideas.
Athal also held a sort of council, even before the Khandihan showed up, to prepare everyone for eventualities. And set up guards of our own to make sure the Enshah was not killed and we framed for it.
Now I’m left with a couple of questions besides our mission here. How is the food supply and how far along is the rebellion? How far away are the Khas? What schemes are brewing in the palace and what did Hinla shout out in her dreams? And soon I am to meet the Enshah’s wife or wives. To meet on the female side of things. Don’t know what to think about that.