The king’s court
Not really a story, just a couple of thoughts from Ailin. To be continued, because we had to stop after the hunt but before we actually talked to the children.
Khas are strange people.
It’s true that I’m now in a Khas tribe, and I count as the tribe’s headman’s sister, so that makes me at least a little Khas, but still. All the real Khas –the born Khas– knew that we were at the king’s –well, court, camp, gathering, whatever– when we arrived but they hadn’t known where it was before we nearly fell into it.
And It’s also strange that we didn’t see the camp at all until we were almost upon it, not smoke from the fires and not the people either. Ferin did see some people but not by far so many! Perhaps their mages were hiding it! But I’ve seen lots of mages now, and none seem to be actually doing anything. They just walk around looking important, and most Khas men who aren’t mages themselves look down on them a bit and call them effeminate because they wear brightly coloured clothing and long robes.
But I’m learning to shoot with a bow! Ferin started it really when he took everybody outside the courtyard (we’re in with the really important people, it seems, and we’re not telling them that we have only the one tent that we’re in and not eighty tents in the camp) to train fighting. There were people shooting at targets there, so I just joined in but threw my knives at the targets. And found out that I had to get closer with a knife to hit, a bow has a much larger range!
It was a couple of days until the men started to accept me, not as a silly woman wanting to play along with the men, but as someone who could aim and hit. I did take one of the soldiers along, the one who has a bow, I forget his name, he’s the youngest. He wasn’t really protecting me, but he stayed behind me so I wasn’t a young woman alone among a lot of men who think that any woman who doesn’t belong to anybody is theirs for the taking. And indeed someone asked me who I belonged to and wouldn’t believe me when I said I belonged to myself, if I don’t have a husband or a father and I’m Ferin’s sister I must belong to Ferin! I should perhaps start saying that I belong to Anshen, that will be true some day anyway. But this same man lent me a bow and showed me how to hold it, and my first arrow went much too high (fortunately not wide, I might have hit someone otherwise) but the second bounced off the target, and the third stuck in the target though far from the mark painted on it.
I’m going to need a bow of my own. I think I can make arrows, but my teacher says it’s hard to make bows and you need the exactly right kind of wood, though the trees that grow right here are better for it than some other trees. Perhaps Sepideh and the others can swap some of the beads that Ferin’s been making for it. Also, I need a leather sleeve for my left arm because the bowstring keeps hitting my skin, and that hurts like being whipped! But I think I can make that myself, we have enough spare pieces of deerskin.
There was a tent next to ours now with a man and two women and two children, a boy about Fikmet’s age and a slightly younger girl. The children were very interested in us. That was different from the adults, they didn’t only not talk to us (I’d have understood that, we’re perhaps a bit strange) but the people from different tents didn’t even talk to each other! Where I come from, when you get new neighbours you go over and talk to them and see if you can help with anything. The women who went into the main camp every day said that people there talked more, it looks like it’s only the headmen who don’t want to have anything to do with each other. Perhaps they’re all really enemies, or very jealous, and only have to be there because they all want to see the king. Ferin talked to the man he wrestled (and even the man’s wife, because he took Ferin home to his tent) and I talked to the man who is teaching me to shoot with a bow, and the women are talking to the camp women all the time!
I taught the children that game where you make a circle in the sand and divide it and throw your knife in the other person’s bit to conquer it, I don’t even know what it’s called but we played it all the time when I was a kid (it taught me to aim and throw straight, and I told them so).
Ferin sent a soldier to the king’s hall to talk to the servants and find out things. “What things?” he asked and we all had suggestions: is he at home? if not, when is he coming back? how many more tribes are coming? does he have a wife? what is his favourite colour? what does he like to eat? He went, and came back in the evening with answers. “The king is out hunting,” he said, “and he’s going to be away for several days more” and that figured, because there were so many people in this camp that food might get scarce soon. And the king’s favourite food was meat, too! He had several wives, who were in the palace. I made a resolution to talk to those wives, or at least someone of us women should talk to them!
One thing I’m really worried about: the king is a mage. And he must be a really strong mage or he wouldn’t have beaten all the other kings. (Though of course you don’t have to beat all the kings to become king, only the one who currently is king.) Come to think of it, you might argue that the king of Valdyas is a mage too, though he doesn’t do horrible things like Khas mages, and he hasn’t become king by beating other kings.
Then Ferin saw Fikmet when he was looking out on his watch! And the other children too. They were at the pool where we’d camped just before we came to the king’s camp. Sepideh and I took the camel and went out on the plain, hunting for meat of course, but also passing the pool without anyone getting suspicious. They were all there! I went and hugged Fikmet at once, never mind if she was secretly Timoine as well, and we promised to come back after the hunt.
It wasn’t easy to find anything to hunt on the plain– there were so many people in the camp who all wanted to eat! But then we saw a small herd of jumping-deer, and sneaked nearby –I’m a bit better at that than Sepideh so I could get closer– but we didn’t want to risk killling just one and having the rest run away, so I picked up a rock and threw it as far as I could, making it land at the other side of the herd. They all stopped grazing and ran, right at us! I threw both of my knives without really aiming, I’d hit something anyway, and Sepideh threw her spear, and when the herd was past it turned out that one had also run so close to her that she’d killed it with her sword. So now we had four of the deer! Sepideh skinned hers and cut up the meat and wrapped it in the skin, but I left mine whole and only took out the entrails and left them for the birds with a prayer to Mizran. I knew that Ferin would want a whole deer to roast!