Chapter 15: Compacts and Understandings
Copyright© 2011 by Celtic Bard
Myka woke up long before dawn after a restless night. It had taken all the efforts Prince Kyftassa and she could muster to get Alyssa to go to bed instead of fleeing back to Meikar in devastation. Myka had then been rudely hauled into the room the prince was to use to be interrogated as to what was going on. By the time the handsome man deigned to let her leave, Myka was exhausted from the long ride and the explosion of emotion which she had to face that wearying day. The young Ce'al rose and picked her clothes carefully from the scanty wardrobe she had in her saddlebags. While she was still very irritated by the manner in which she was treated by Prince Kyftassa, he was quite handsome. She quickly braided two slim plaits at her temples and combed out the rest of her grass green hair. Concentrating, she shifted the coloring of her skin until the olive tinge was smooth and glowing with health.
Glancing in the mirror, the Ce'al matriarch smiled with satisfaction as she strode out of her room and down to the dining hall. Even at this early hour, the ever-hard working Gnomes were abuzz with industry. Myka smelled the aromas of breakfast before she was even halfway to the hall. Frying eggs, toasting bread, roasting meats, and baking fruit was mixed in with the aromatic herbs and heady liquors Gnomes soak their fuels in to improve the smells that permeate dwellings of the civilized races.
She was also not surprised when she saw Lord Yllgondahal sitting at the table finishing his breakfast over a sheaf of papers nearly as thick as his wrist. "Fair morn', my Lord," Myka said pleasantly as she sat down at the table a few chairs away from his place at the head of the table. "At work so soon?"
The gray eyes of the Gnome did not even budge from whatever it was he was reading, he merely grunted, quickly swallowed his mouthful, and scowled. "Work for a member of the Axeforger's cartel begins hours before dawn and only stops at midnight, my Lady," he grumbled politely. He shrugged with a rueful expression. "A Gnome only sleeps four hours anyway. Besides, your Princess Alyssa interrupted me last night and put me behind schedule on an important matter. I have to make up for the disturbance somehow."
Myka was about to retort when she heard heavy boot steps clomping down the stairs. She was very surprised to see Jonar struggling to get his tunic laced as he ran for the front door. A wide-eyed Illyana, fully dressed, stood at the head of the stairs, mouth open and hand outstretched as she watched Jonar run out the door.
Myka motioned for the Gnathar girl to join her. "What was that all about?" she asked quietly.
The blonde girl smiled knowingly as she sat down. "I'm not sure. He simply said he had to go," she said in a worried tone. "But you look like you were hoping for someone other than me and Jonar to be the first ones to come down."
Being a Ce'al with good control over her body, Myka was able to fight down the blush that threatened to wash over her. "I don't know what you mean."
She was saved from further probing by the arrival of trays of cheese, roasted meat, fresh bread, and baked fruit. The two ladies occupied themselves with breakfast and small talk until Jonar returned with a relieved look on his face. He ignored their inquiries and helped himself to a large portion of the meat and most of the bread and cheese. The Gnome servants brought out more food just as Sancyr and the other gnath lords arrived at the table. Throughout the whole time, a speculative gleam shimmered in Illyana's eyes as she watched her husband enthusiastically cram his breakfast into his mouth.
Myka frowned as the Gnathar men sat down. "I am going to go see if Alyssa and her brother are awake yet. They may not know how or where to go for breakfast."
She made it to the third floor without encountering either Meikari until colliding with Kyftassa rounding the first corner. Lost in thought as she was, Myka never saw the prince coming. "Ooof! Ouch!" The lithe Ce'al was knocked to the stone floor by the taller, more muscular Meikari prince. She looked up at him and groaned inwardly, cursing her bad luck.
Prince Kyftassa blushed and stretched forth a hand to help her up. "I'm sorry, my Lady Myka. I was just coming to find you," he mumbled, his eyes downcast. "I wanted to apologize, I just thought I would have a little more time to think of slightly more impressive words than 'I am sorry' for my behavior last night."
Myka accepted the hand and smiled at him. "I understand your overprotectiveness towards Alyssa," she replied graciously as he helped her to regain her feet. "I got to know her a little on our journey between Port Meikari and Hynost-Qaanzyr so I know she can be a little much to deal with. I can't imagine how you were able to make a four month journey with her all by yourself."
"It didn't take us four months, you turncoat," Alyssa said scathingly from behind them. The two jumped guiltily and turned to face the princess. She was still in the disheveled forester's garb from the night before, her hair wild and her eyes rimmed in green from weeping. The princess looked at them with a hateful glare as she slowly walked towards them, her boot heels ringing on the stone. "Where is Jonar? Still in bed with that flat-chested whore?"
"She's not a-"
"Whore!" Alyssa shrieked, her yellow-green eyes blazing malice, her hands balled into fists. "What else do you call a child who worms her way into a man's bed on pretext? Where is that addle-pated, loose-hosed scoundrel?"
"Did I hear someone calling for me?" Jonar sighed regretfully, walking slowly around the corner with a glum expression. He looked at Alyssa and sighed again. "Are you all right, Princess?"
Alyssa looked about ready to strike him when Illyana walked determinedly around the corner, grabbed the princess by the elbow, and dragged her back to the room Illyana shared with Jonar, closing the door firmly. Jonar, Myka, and Kyftassa stood in the hall, mouths gaping, as the lock clicked.
"What the hell just happened?" Kyftassa asked almost rhetorically.
Myka looked at Jonar and was surprised to see the same shock she and Kyftassa felt. She was almost sure he had been behind what his Gnathar bride just did. "Uh, Jonar? Illyana isn't the violent type, is she?" The towering boy numbly shook his head, thought another second, and then shrugged his ignorance. "Then what is she doing dragging a woman who wishes her dead into a room all alone and locking it behind her?"
Alyssa felt herself being dragged away from the man she was about to try to pummel, despite the fact that he was over a foot taller than she. When the door to Jonar's room closed, she yanked her arm out of the grasp of Jonar's "wife" and drew herself up regally. She was surprised to realize that this "child" was slightly taller than she and quite muscular. She irritably noticed that she was also rather pretty, in a Gnathar sort of way.
"How dare you put your hands on me, child!" Alyssa hissed, her hatred only rising, now that she got a good look at her rival.
Illyana sighed, looking the princess up and down, shaking her head. "Now I see why he got so worked up over you," she said in a slightly envious tone. "Please, sit down. We ... need to talk."
"About what, bitch?" Alyssa shouted back, irritated that she could not get herself under control.
Illyana sat down in a chair near the smoldering fireplace. "I think we need to discuss Jonar," the Gnathar girl replied in a tiny voice, her eyes downcast.
Alyssa numbly stumbled to a chair on the opposite side of the mantle. "There is nothing to discuss," the princess retorted bitterly. "You were married legally. You have him, I don't. What else is there to say other than how you wish to die for stealing him from me?"
The blonde girl shook her head. "That's just the thing, I don't have him," she sighed, also sounding slightly bitter. She looked Alyssa in the eye, her expression sober. "You are a full grown woman; beautiful, smart, talented. You got to know him and you both stumbled into love just as you were separated. Then he showed up on my doorstep, my father grudgingly announcing that he had betrothed me to him before we were born. Nobody in town ever thought we would hear from the son of Telan Novarsson ... until he appeared at the head of a thousand man strong caravan with one of the most powerful Gnomes in the Empire at his side. He promptly strikes the head off of the Lord Mayor's son, I herd him into marrying me and we leave before Lord Arar has time to contemplate vengeance.
"That night, I made sure he would not leave me in the first town he came to and we happened to enjoy how that turned out," Illyana confessed shyly, a small smile quirking her lips. "But last night, after you left, he didn't even sleep in our bed. He sat in a chair before the fire all night long, brooding. I don't know the exact disposition of his heart, but I think we have him very much confused. He knows he loves you, but he thought you were out of his reach. He has me, but he isn't sure that he really loves me despite the feelings he does feel for me. That means we need to come to some kind of understanding where he is concerned."
Alyssa looked at Illyana for so long that the young Gnathar thought she was still going to try to kill her. Then a slow, grudging smile appeared, her beautiful face lighting up with its brilliance. "You think almost like a Ce'al, Lady Illyana," the princess said in a low voice tinged with respect. "If I understand you correctly, you want to share him with me, is that right?"
Illyana blushed and nodded, giggling naughtily. "My parents would have a conniption if they knew I was doing this. Gnathar women do not go out and find their husbands more wives. The fewer a man has the better, as far as the women are concerned."
Alyssa's eyebrow rose. "Do you mean to say that Gnathar men are allowed more than one wife?" she asked, outraged.
Illyana shrugged. "Usually only rich noblemen can afford more than one," she answered. She then giggled again, her eyes slightly vicious. "We tend to be expensive."
Alyssa stared at the attractive girl sitting in front of her for a long second before joining her in laughter. "I really do not believe I am even considering this! Ce'al and Meikari women are allowed more than one spouse, but a Ce'al woman consenting to be a second wife is ... antithetical. I shouldn't even be considering anything other than killing you so I can have him to myself."
Illyana rose and walked over to kneel between the princess' feet. "Maybe it would make you feel better if you thought about it this way: I am sharing you with him," she said softly, running a hand slowly up the Meikari's arm to caress her cheek, a smoldering look in her gray eyes. "You are, after all, quite beautiful."
Myka was having a hard time keeping Kyftassa from trying to break down the stout door when Alyssa wandered out, flushed and totally oblivious to the questions being asked her. She simply walked up to Jonar, pulled his head down into a deep, lingering kiss which took the young cordach's breath away, and continued on to the dining hall. Myka and Kyftassa were watching Alyssa's retreating back so they didn't see a similarly flushed Illyana exit her room and stumble, dreamy-eyed, over to Jonar.
"We are leaving today?" she asked, her voice slightly quivering.
Jonar looked down at her sharply, having gotten to know that note in her voice over the past two nights. "Yes. What were you two doing in there? We heard shouting and then nothing for a long while," he demanded, his pointed ears vibrating with his curiosity.
Illyana smiled a dreamy little smile before closing her eyes and shaking her head. When her eyes opened, they were more guarded and rational. "We just talked. I'm going downstairs to finish breakfast."
Jonar started when he turned to watch her go and saw Sancyr and Xavear watching them. The Meikari Lord walked over the Jonar with an amused smirk hovering about his lips. "What happened, young cordach? I thought for sure your wife was about to be assaulted, but I just saw Alyssa looking very ... euphoric and Illyana is very much alive."
Jonar's mouth opened several times as he tried to explain something he did not understand himself. "I am very confused. Can someone explain this?" the poor boy asked, looking around at the faces of his friends for enlightenment.
Sancyr slowly walked to stand behind Myka, an odd look in his eyes. "Those two females act too much like my eldest cousin's wives," he muttered darkly, folding his arms across his chest.
Xavear looked over at him with a raised brow. "What do you mean, Lord General?"
"Please, my Lord, Sancyr will suffice," the soldier said politely. "And I mean that those two may have done what my cousin's wives did when both realized that neither one of them would ever get him to ask their fathers what their bride price was unless the other was no longer a rival. The girls simply got their fathers together and pleaded for them to agree to offer the two girls for much less than they were worth in return for future considerations. When my cousin dazedly agreed, the girls looked much like those two just did."
They all stood staring at the Imperial officer until Xavear broke the spell by doubling over in laughter. "Congratulations, Jonar! You are a very lucky man!"
"But Jonar is practically a vagrant," Myka protested, stomping her foot in irritation. She glared at the Meikari Lord. "How is he going to afford to pay anyone for another wife, never mind afford to feed, clothe, and shelter them?"
"But Alyssa is not a Gnathar," Kyftassa mumble in a soft, soothing voice, patting Myka on the shoulder. "In Meikar, it is the woman's family who does the paying. For a man such as young Jonar seems to be, he would garner a large price among the Ce'al and Meikari matriarchs for his physical attributes alone."
"Would you like me to go away so you can talk about me amongst yourselves?"
Xavear patted the bewildered and agitated young man on the back and sighed. "I wish my wife had picked me like yours have apparently picked you," he sighed as he headed back downstairs. "Be grateful that yours wasn't a marriage made to heal old wounds."
Jonar was never sure what else went on that morning, but he came out of his daze as they left South Ilia, once more riding along the road that seemed to encircle Lake Ilia at a distance which suggested cyclical flooding. All of the Gnaths were loaded down with supplies, as Lord General Yothorinsson said they were cheaper in South Ilia than they would be in Gnathar, should they have a longer distance to go after the capital. Kyftassa and Alyssa rode their horses at either side of Gnusyl. The day went swiftly and they came upon a small stand of blue-leaf trees just as the sun touched the horizon to the west.
Needing some time to himself, Jonar volunteered to do some hunting and quickly disappeared on Gnusyl at a thundering run. "Looks like he was overeager to get away from us, if for just an hour or so," Sancyr remarked dryly as he set up his tent.
"If I had to deal with the three of them," Brandar chuckled, ignoring the glares the three women shot him, "I would need some time by myself as well."
Kyftassa stood, his small tent erected, and frowned. "I am unfamiliar with the ways of the Empire, but I was wondering what dangers there are in this region so that I may be prepared to aid in the defense of Lady Myka and Lady Illyana."
Sancyr shrugged, his face indifferent. "The only troublesome creatures in this part of the Empire are the oppidaians."