KAMI FOUND LITTLE to enjoy in Sahrdon, but she liked the palace courtyard, a square area surrounded by a heated marble portico. Melted snow left a ring of bare dirt around the yard, and Kami made a game of stepping barefoot from the warm ground to the cold.
A pole stood in the center of the courtyard, holding the flag of Darklaw and beneath it, a banner with the coat-of-arms of Sahrdon. She liked the blue eagle at its center. Two fish frolicked beside angels, and the same stylized image of the Blue Sun rested at the center. The coat-of-arms seemed familiar. The flag hung in every public room or audience hall, but she recalled seeing the banner only here.
A guard and an attendant always followed her. The attendant was a young woman who seemed more intrigued with her every day.
Malika was fifteen, a fair-haired girl with cloudy green eyes, but she didn’t have the cheekbones of a Sahr. Most Sahr had high cheek bones and greenish eyes, and only the descendants of the Architect had the distinctive blue the color of the sun. Kami glanced from Malika to the flags that hung limp on the pole, when a distant figure caught her attention.
The castle reached seven stories into the sky, sprawling across the foothills of the Arscid range of volcanoes. The massive structure had fourteen square bastions, battlement walls fifty feet thick, and over two-hundred stationary catapults that commanded the anchorage on Blue Sun Bay. The monstrous marble edifice of the castle with its magnificent rooms, vast warehouses, and rich workshops contrasted sharply with the delicate courtyard gardens of the inner palace where Kami spent much of her time.
As her eyes swept across the parapet, she saw a figure bundled in black, one leg resting in a loop atop the nearest bastion.
Malika had followed Kami’s gaze, and when Kami turned back, she was smiling. The attention startled Malika. “Uh, he always watches you, Lady.”
“Guest of the emperor, Lady.”
“Do you know his name? Where he’s from?”
“He seems familiar.” Kami smiled again, less interested in the man than grateful for Malika’s friendliness. “Do you have family here?”
Malika glanced at a guard as if to determine whether he was listening. “I’ve never had a family, Lady.”
“You must be a good servant to be allowed in the emperor’s residence.”
Malika seemed confused again. “I’ve been here since I was five.”
Kami nodded, wondering if Malika’s uncertain responses were the result of her own uncertainty with the Sahr language. She had been speaking it since she arrived. Few Sahr knew anything else. Then Kami realized she had been speaking to Malika as if she were a servant, rather than the slave she was. Although slaves were sometimes sold in the Trade Quarter, Kami had never known anyone the law considered property. “Are you from the Dark Quarter?”
“My parents were taken from the Demon Quarter.”
“The Demon Quarter?”
“A town called Elderwood, Lady.”
“I know it.” Kami nodded. “It’s along the coast, near Featherwood. Have you heard of Featherwood?”
Malika shook her head.
“Do you know anything about that part of the world?” After Malika shook her head again, Kami said, “Most of the villages border the Demonforest and serve fishermen, loggers, and trappers. Featherwood was known for honey. Elderwood was a busy port, though the town is small. Ships on their way to the Trade Quarter.”
“It doesn’t matter.” Malika glanced away. “I’ll be here the rest of my life.”
Kami imagined the years spent under the oppressive blueness and felt panicky. She had not thought of her future in those terms. Then she thought about the people she had forgotten. She found a bench and sat down. For many weeks, Kami had been drifting, as if in a dream, but like a ship leaving a fog bank, the thoughts of her past brought clarity.
“Malika, if you wanted to find someone brought to Sahrdon as a slave, how would you do that?”
“Better not to ask, Lady. The masters don’t keep that information. They give new names to slaves. Talk about the past is discouraged. They don’t even let families stay together.”
“I’ve seen the emperor’s two children, the boys. What about his daughter? Where is his daughter? Is she alive? She would be eleven or twelve now.”
“I’ve never heard of a daughter.”
Kami wondered how Avestar managed to hide a daughter from slaves. Servants usually knew everything. She looked into Malika’s cloudy eyes, wondering if they would always remain so. She reached out and squeezed her hand. “Just something I heard once. Tell me what you like, Malika.”
“What I like?”
“Yes. What you do when you’re not working. Who are your friends?”
“Friends?” Malika grew confused again, so Kami thought a moment, trying to imagine the life of a slave. “You’re always working,” she said to herself. “I see.” She thought some more. “Well then, what did you do before you were told to stay with me?”
“I was responsible for His Excellency’s boots.”
“Yes. His Excellency has five-hundred-and-twenty pairs of boots. I cleaned, waxed, and repaired them, and I spent a great deal of time finding where he left them so that I could ready them for the next day. He has many fine boots—horse, snake, bear. Every pair had to be ready at all times. His Excellency is quite impossible to predict.” She said the last part with a touch of humor.
“I suppose that would keep you very busy.”
“Do you miss it?”
She quickly glanced away, and Kami recognized the attempt to hide her true reaction until she could decide what to reveal. She turned back. “Until today.” Kami smiled. “Now you have a friend.”
Published in Darklaw |
Copyright © 2017 Teresa Wymore. All Rights Reserved. |