Into darkness, p.13
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       Into Darkness, p.13

           Patricia Scholes
 
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Salettin regarded her with a mocking grin. “I’m sure I have no idea what you just said, except for the escaping part. Isn’t that a bit immature?” The grin vanished. His next words came with deadly seriousness. “You were born to rule, Mistress Chalatta. It is your ‘profession,’ if you will, to learn how to govern people. Don’t you realize how fortunate you are to have a mother willing to take you on as a page? You get all the necessary instructions first hand rather than through boring instructors.”

  Tadessa stared at him, open-mouthed, angry at herself for revealing her purpose to him. He stared back as if waiting for her to reply, but she could find nothing to say. She fought against shadows. She felt as if everyone expected her to speak in a language she had never learned. I’m so sorry, Grandmother, she said. I will come to you right now. I seem to have no control at all today.

  She wrapped herself in Null, ignoring his protests. Besides, it was time to see Zilla, regardless of who saw her use Null.

  “Is that all you know how to do, run away?”

  The lock to Mama’s garden clicked as she left him, indicating he had left also. She failed to hear him right behind her until one arm slammed against her shoulder, startling her out of Null.

  “You are hard to find in Null,” he said, grabbing her wrist. “I have no idea what you hoped to accomplish by that nonsense, but I’m returning you to your suite.”

  “You have no right to return me anywhere,” she said, trying to twist free.

  He laughed. “Oh, my dear, but I do. We’ll talk about this later, this evening after dinner.”

  She twisted away, returned to Null, and fled for the elevators. She heard Salettin right behind her. When she reached them, the moment it took to press the button, put him at her back. He slammed into her.

  “You will not run from me.” This time his grip carried enough force to bruise her.

  “I wasn’t…”

  He smiled and marched her inside the elevator to take the next floor down, her floor.

  Zilla! she called.

  I heard. This evening must play itself out after all, she said, adding to Tadessa’s confusion.

  When they reached the door to her suite he opened it, and shoved her inside.

  She faced a flurry of activity.

  “Young Mistress!” Sentille, along with two others she had never seen before, descended on her. “Why did you wait so long to get here? We have much to do to get you ready for this evening. And where have you been? Your guards have reported your absence, and that of Prince ba Tir, to your father, and to his. Neither parent is pleased. I would not like to be in your slippers this evening.”

  Sentille wasted no more time lecturing. She ordered a bath to be drawn, and began at once helping Tadessa out of her clothing.

  “Mistress, let me introduce your new maids to you. Raeta is your personal assistant. She will bathe you and see to all your appointments. From what I understand, she is also an excellent masseuse. Emree, I’m told, is your personal dress designer. She will dress you for every occasion. She will also see to your hair, nails and makeup.”

  Makeup? What did she need with cosmetics? She’d never worn any before. Why did she need them now? Instead, another question pushed past her thoughts.

  “Where will you be?”

  “I have been reassigned to your mother, but I will come by your suite to check in on you occasionally.” She bowed a farewell.

  Tadessa stared at her two new maids. They bobbed in return. They were of a race she never knew existed, even with her course in Interplanetary People and Their Cultures. Both had copper skin, golden eyes with vertical pupils, and pointed ears. Emree’s hair was a light brown with streaks of blonde running through it. Raeta’s hair was in shades of green. Green!

  “Pleased,” she said, not knowing what else to say.

  “She is pleased with us!” Raeta chirped as she led her into the bathing room.

  She stripped her charge down to her skin. Tadessa tried not to squirm as the woman’s hands brushed against her bare body. Holding her in a firm grip, Raeta eased Tadessa into a full tub. Her hands became very intimate as she bathed her, bringing her to a height of feeling she never knew possible. Tadessa’s cheeks flamed in embarrassment. When she finished, as if to keep her from running away, the maid brought her to her feet, then turned on the shower to shampoo her hair.

  Helping her out of the shower, the servant dried her body with a large towel. “No, you must let me,” she said as she blotted every patch of bare skin dry, after which she applied lotion, smoothing it into her body in disturbingly sensual motions.

  Tadessa wasn’t allowed to do a single thing for herself, even though she wanted to. The caresses of a stranger’s hand all over her body nearly brought her to tears. Although not one of the woman’s caresses hurt her, Tadessa felt…

  She didn’t know how she felt. The strange touching both excited her and repulsed her. She wanted to protest, but found no words to say.

  After being patted dry, Raeta handed her off to Emree who put her in a sheer robe so revealing Tadessa felt exposed and uncomfortable. Emree sat her at her dressing table where she dried, ironed and styled her hair, leaving tendrils unbound that framed her face. No one in her social circle wore her hair this way. Everyone else’s would be upswept, styled in various ways, but with every strand away from her face and off her neck.

  To her surprise, Emree also added a white comb with white flowers edged in gold. The flowers cascaded down her left cheek, gracing her ear, just brushing her shoulder.

  What was this? She knew she should not be wearing any colors but blue and silver, her House colors, tonight.

  Then the maid applied makeup. When Tadessa looked at her reflection, she saw an exotic beauty staring back at her. She no longer looked twelve. Her large, dark eyes appeared even larger. Her brown skin, so unlike anyone in her family, seemed to glow slightly. She looked like a stranger, not the schoolgirl she had been just moments ago.

  Emree took over. Tadessa’s elegant gowns, like diaphanous clouds, lay spread across several chairs. Tadessa had chosen the clothing for tonight last mooncycle, but she saw not one of her beautiful gowns. The underdress, a sheer white drape of silk, all but covered her hands, bloused around her chest, and trailed behind her when they put it over her head. Over that they placed an opaque pale blue gown with bell sleeves that would show her arms to her elbows if she wasn’t careful. Furthermore, the pale blue gown only reached to her knees. Everyone would be able to see her legs!

  Her face felt hot suddenly as she looked at her legs, which were not hidden by the transparent cloth. She had spent the last eight years learning how to be Nevian, where clothing covered her neck to wrist to ankle in a variety of styles, but never revealed more skin than her face and hands.

  The silky sheer white cloth spilling past her hands and at her throat and chest hid nothing. To top off her ensemble was a deep blue velvet vest that laced just below her breasts. The lighter blue fabric blousing over the top of the vest gave the impression that she possessed a young woman’s chest, when everyone who dressed her knew she still possessed a child’s figure. The vest, which fastened close to her waist, also gave the impression she had hips as well.

  That part didn’t surprise her. She had been wearing clothing that made her appear more mature for years now. The gold embroidery on the vest and the white comb that spilled white, gilt-edged blossoms flowing down the left side of her head, worried her. Emree placed white blooms throughout her hair. Tadessa feared the dinner party more than ever now.

  “I can’t wear this,” she told her new maids.

  Raeta giggled, sounding something like wind chimes. “Surely the young Mistress will not go to a formal dinner naked!”

  Emree joined her, their laughter making a kind of strange harmony. “I have dressed the young Mistress in the clothing chosen for her by the Emperor himself. She will not in
sult the Imperial Guest.”

  Head high, because it was her only remaining defense, and escorted by blue-uniformed, A’nden House guards, she rode the elevator to the “the formal floor.”

  Colonel Motz, her mother’s personal bodyguard, bowed low as she entered the Grand Hall. The depth of his bow bothered her as well.

  “Colonel…” As usual he ignored her. Her mother’s Chief of D’ey Sol Security had not spoken to her ever since she discovered that he had been the one who killed Daddy Snake. He acted as if he couldn’t face her, walking away every time she had tried to tell him that she knew Motz had acted in self-defense.

  “I don’t have such status…,” she tried again, desperate for some answers. Why had he bowed so low?

  To her surprise, her mother’s Chief of Security, hesitated. He stared into her eyes. “I know you don’t hold me accountable for your father’s death. I am the one who can’t forgive myself. If you ever remember this conversation, please understand that I have always held the utmost respect for you, but I will not support…” He stopped speaking, and again bowed, even lower that before. “Forgive me, Mistress. I spoke out of turn.”

  That was so unlike Colonel that she stared, as confused as if he spoke in a foreign language. What was happening today? A worm of fear wriggled into her thoughts.

  Zilla! she cried, very near tears.

  You must see this through, Zilla said. Remember that everything you do from this point on reflects on your people.

  Another cryptic comment from the Krindarwee leader! She wanted to curse, even though she said nothing.

  The Colonel placed her in a receiving line with her parents on either side of her. She gave him a respectful nod of her head.

  Tadessa’s guards of the A’nden House, and her mother’s of the D’ey Sol House, stood behind them. Her mother wore the maroon and gold of her House, the D’ey Sol House, Home and Holdings, as did her guards. Tadessa was supposed to be wearing A’nden House colors.

  “We will talk later, daughter.” Her father did not look pleased.

  Neither did her mother. “Your behavior today was unacceptable.”

  Tadessa swallowed, wishing she had a legitimate excuse. They would never accept “feelings of being misunderstood” or of her constant confusion. Neither was this the place to voice her growing fears. All she could do was hold her head high and get through this evening. Somehow.

  She bowed to the next person who approached, a gracious smile plastered on her face, probably very like her mother’s fixed expression as she also greeted guests.

  In need of a distraction, Tadessa began concentrating on the Houses attending, running through her knowledge of them by the colors they wore, since all guests wore their House colors this evening. The incredible variety of House colors caused the Hall to look like a garden whose gardener cared less for organization and more about the varieties of flowers jammed into one space.

  The Al’daris wore yellow, as did the Bet’sus, but the Bet’sus’ yellow had an orange tint. The Taren Tis House wore orange, highlighted with a shade of red. The Cadswens’ orange was edged in brown. The D’ar Darens wore a vibrant pink, while the Wal’trens’ pink paled to near white. The Xanta House’s red was brighter than her mother’s maroon, and the Fortinati’s red held a purple hue. The Se Battin House edged their red with cream. The Enmis House wore green, while the D’in Garish’s green was almost blue.

  In some cases, it was hard to tell one House from another, their colors were so similar. To compensate, they also wore their secondary colors as trim and accessories. She wondered if that was why the gold had been chosen to accent her blue. A touch of gold highlighted her mother’s maroon, after all.

  Her father stood beside her, very handsome in his A’nden House attire. Because of the occasion, his dark blue dress uniform included silver ruffles at his neck and wrists, and edging his vest. In addition, tonight he wore his medals. His chest literally glittered with them.

  The ruffles at his wrists and throat reminded of the exquisite gown she had chosen for this evening. She wondered where it had gone, missing it as if it were a best friend and not just layers of cloth. Nothing felt right, certainly not her clothing. She wanted things to return to normal. She wanted to sit in a corner and braid S’ar’s hair, the way she used to as a child. She wanted to run through the halls and get into trouble again for running. She wanted to learn Nevian all over again, and feel the accomplishment in learning to use another language. She wanted Counselor B’sheer teach her. She wanted her life to be simple again, no longer strange and terrifying.

  Terrifying. She tasted that word, realizing that beyond all the confusion, it described her underlying emotion. Because she found herself unable to understand what was happening, she was frightened. She looked at her mother who returned her gaze with a flash of anger, an anger not directed at her, but at something else. A look at her father revealed a wave of helplessness, something she had never felt from him before.

  An orchestra played soft music, distracting her from her uncomfortable thoughts. She continued to greet the families as they arrived, relieved to be doing something she understood.

  Dr. Gilliam and his family enter without House colors. His social status had been elevated when he became her mother’s personal physician. In fact, because their position indicated the possible need a physician close at hand, her mother invited the Gilliams to every public function. He had no House affiliation, even though he wore the dark blue of the A’nden House. His wife and two daughters, however, entered wearing maroon velvet with sprays of silver lace, honoring the D’ey Sol House while acknowledging the silver of the A’nden House.

  Tadessa gave his daughters a special smile and touched their hands with the affection of a friend. She wished time permitted her to do more, wanting to renew their friendship. She had socialized with Dr. Gilliam’s two daughters when she was younger. They were very close to her in age, but once she started at the private women’s academy, she only saw them occasionally. Her holidays away from school never coincided with theirs. Being human, they looked like adults now, while Tadessa still appeared to be no more than thirteen.

  Did Salettin ba Tir actually think she looked twelve? And why was that man interested her in the first place? He surely had better things to do with his life than to hang around with a child who got him into trouble with his father.

  Some of her classmates arrived with their families, some with their spouses. She had attended more than one engagement party these last few mooncycles since graduation. Their engagements had been arranged, as was the Nevian custom. She felt sorry for them, being unable to choose their own husbands. She was glad she had already informed her parents she never intended to marry.

  Two classmates appeared pregnant, which delighted her. Too many of them were sterile. As a Lorekeeper she could heal their infertility, but her people forbade it.

  When they release the slaves in Sector One, then we will freely offer our healing, Zilla reminded her.

  She gave the Grandmother an internal nod as one of the pregnant women reached her.

  “You’re so lucky to be pregnant,” she said under her breath. “You will have a healthy daughter, with no defects.” Your daughter will be fertile, too, she kept to herself.

  “How do you know?”

  “I’m a Krindarwee Lorekeeper. It’s my job to know.”

  Zilla? she asked, surprised that the words came out so easily.

  You are coming into your own. It’s time people knew.

  Now?

  A little early, but yes.

  But I haven’t passed my Time of Crisis yet!

  You will. If you can’t come to me, I can help you, for a time, from here.

  Tadessa greeted family after family as they entered the Grand Hall, wearing a delighted expression as she received each one specially. All the while she searched for one person in particular, S’ar Wenda, her half-sister.
<
br />   When first brought to this part of the City, Tadessa knew her older sister lived here with her adoptive family. Her first request of her new father was to ask him to allow her to contact her. She knew the name: S’ar Wenda. Pleased when she mentioned the Wendas, one of the leading families in this Sector, Del A’nden offered no objection. They became best friends.

  To her delight she found the Wenda family next in line. It took all her resolve not to hug her sister, but she kept protocol and nodded, even though with more enthusiasm than appropriate. The Wenda parents wore sable edged in black. Their daughter, in a gown of sable and cream, held a splash of red interwoven in the fabric. S’ar was engaged! Why hadn’t her sister told her?

  As S’ar reached her, Tadessa fingered the cream and red addition to her clothing, raising one eyebrow in question.

  “Later,” S’ar hissed, evidently not pleased with her new status. “What about the white and gold in your gown?”

  “I don’t know.” But the thought caused a ripple of fear. Was she engaged too? If so, why had no one informed her? How could she not know if she was engaged?

  Finally, officially announced with trumpets, the Imperial House arrived, led by the new Emperor of Nevia II, his son, then his wife. All of them wore the white and gold of their office. What their House colors had been before the Intergalactic Faj had elevated them to the Imperial House for Nevia II, no one knew.

  Salettin, a quirk of a smile on his lips, made his bows.

  While Tadessa’s father and mother both offered very formal, deep bows, she kept her bow to Salettin as to an equal, which set off a series of murmurs to everyone who noticed. She didn’t care.

  Salettin almost laughed aloud. Only a nudge from his father kept him silent. Salettin received a meaningful look like the one Tadessa’s father had given her earlier, but he put on a mocking grin.

  For the first time, Tadessa witnessed the Xantis Tey familiar greeting. The Emperor grabbed her father’s hands, brought them to shoulder height, and leaned forward in a brief hug. The Empress did the same with her mother. Everyone, even Tadessa, stared at the unfamiliar gesture.

  “We are so pleased to be here,” the Empress said to K’arrala D’ey Sol, as if they were the only two in the room.

  “The pleasure is ours,” her mother responded as if she had rehearsed her words. Perhaps she has, Tadessa thought.

  The Emperor gave her father a similar address, which her father acknowledged with an appropriate reply. But Tadessa could tell by his body language that he spoke no more than a formality. General A’nden regarded the Emperor as an enemy, contrary to the familiar salute and his gracious words. Either the Emperor didn’t notice, or didn’t care. He ushered his wife and son to the center of the room.

  Every family noted the discrepancy. Whispers of intrigue and questions buzzed around the room.

  Once the Royal family had passed, the Emperor and Empress began making small talk with several families. The receiving line broke up, and Tadessa was free to locate S’ar again.

  The guests began milling around in conversation groups, many of them looking for ways to approach the Royal family. The avenue to security, many believed, was to align oneself with the ruling authority. Waiters provided fruit drinks, teas and bits of food on plates. No alcoholic beverages appeared in the homes of the Talented. Alcohol dulled their ability to access the energies.

  Tadessa, her guards now at her heels, rushed to where S’ar stood leaning against a pillar. She ignored the guards’ hyper-attention. For all she cared, they could eavesdrop on her whole conversation with S’ar, and report every word to her parents.

  They hugged like schoolgirls. Tadessa, finally free to be herself, wanted to weep for joy.

  Then S’ar touched one of the curls brushing Tadessa’s shoulder, one eyebrow raised in question.

  “I don’t know. I have two new maids. My hair, clothing and make-up, can you believe make-up? were ordered by the Emperor himself, I was told. They bathed me as one would an infant…” She hesitated as the memory of the intimate probing caused her breath to catch. “I’m frightened,” she finally admitted. “I feel like I’ve been plunged into a deep well with no way out.”

  “Isn’t that a bit dramatic?”

  She hoped so. She felt so lost she wanted to weep.

  “So how did you spend your day? Weren’t you excited about hosting the Imperial Family?”

  I spent it trying to leave, she never said, but the statement burned in her chest and her eyes watered for a moment. “I don’t know anything about the Royal Family. I did get a chance to meet with Prince Salettin, though. We ate lunch in the alcove off the kitchen.”

  “Really? What’s he like?”

  “Arrogant, irritating, interesting, excellent in martial arts.”

  “You watched him do martial arts during lunch?”

  “No, he invited me to watch him spar with my father. It was a draw.”

  S’ar smiled. “He must be very good to come out even with a military general.”

  Tadessa nodded, wondering what would have happened if her mother had not stopped them. “I think my parents hate them.”

  “The Royal Family? Why?”

  “I don’t know, but all around them is an awful feeling of fear and anger. I don’t understand it, or them.” Or Salettin, she added to herself.

  “Well, you’ve always been more perceptive to surface thoughts and emotions than I am. My parents aren’t too impressed with the ba Tirs either, but I think that’s because the royals promote slavery, an attitude which will never succeed with the Sector Five families.”

  Tadessa laughed. “True.”

  “Has the prince said anything about slavery?”

  “Not a word, but I didn’t ask.”

  “I guess we’ll just need to wait until they make something public.”

  Tadessa touched the red and cream weavings in S’ar’s gown. “Tell me about these colors.”

  “The Se Battin family, Kadel Se Battin is my betrothed. My parents wouldn’t let me announce my engagement.”

  “So you are engaged, then.”

  “I am, but it’s not quite official. I am to wear his colors, but my Celebration of Glory won’t be until after the Faj officials leave this Sector. They wanted me to have my own parties all to myself. After all, a girl only gets engaged once in a lifetime.”

  “But you said you weren’t ever getting married.”

  S’ar took several deep breaths as if struggling for control. Her eyes watered slightly before she blinked them dry. “I almost made it, too. I will be twenty-five in nine more mooncycles and could have chosen to remain single.”

  “But your career! You excelled in botany…”

  “I think I can keep my career. At least that’s a blessing of sorts, unless he wants to adopt right away.”

  “Regardless, he’d have to adopt children since he chose to marry a Krindarwee. There are so few of them our age. Shouldn’t he be looking for a Nevian wife?”

  “He’s sterile. I guess they did some tests. None of the families with Nevian daughters will allow marriage to a sterile man.”

  “Their sterility is so unnecessary.”

  “Why do you say that? Did you study Nevian reproduction?”

  Not even S’ar Wenda, her sister and best friend, knew what being a Lorekeeper meant.

  At that moment a tiny bell chimed.

  “Someday maybe I’ll have a chance to explain it to you,” she said.

  14

  an unidentified wrongness

 
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