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Wind Rider's Oath: Chapter Twenty Four
Last updated: Monday, April 12, 2004 22:13 EDT
Garlahna, Leeana decided, had a pronounced gift for apt description.
Lots worse than Erlis had made it sound was exactly how her first day had been.
The thought took almost more energy than she had as she dragged herself out of the kitchen. The sun had set over an hour ago, but shed been up since at least an hour before dawn. And she didnt believe shed sat down for more than five minutes in a row all day long. Well, maybe with Lanitha. But it still didnt feel as if she had.
Yesterday had been bad enough, but today had set a new record.
Garlahna had led Leeana about Kalatha yesterday afternoon like some sort of fresh exhibit in a freak show. Not that the older war maid had treated her like a freak or done anything but her very best to make Leeana feel welcome. Yet that hadnt kept Leeana from realizing that it wasnt just her imagination when she thought that other eyes watched closely. She and Garlahna had found themselves in a bubble of moving silence, surrounded by peoplealmost all of them women, though no more than half of them wore the chari and yathuwho watched them with almost frightening intensity.
Leeana knew where it had come from, of course. Mayor Yalith had put it into words during their interview, but she hadnt really needed the mayor to do so. Of course her very presence here in Kalatha had to be seen as a threat. She might be certain that the parents and family shed fled wouldnt hold her actions against the war maids in general or Kalatha in particular, but there was no way the other inhabitants of Kalatha could share her assurance. They had to be wondering how her choice to come here would affect Baron Tellians decisions if it finally came to a showdown between them and one of his vassals. And at least some of them had to be wondering what could possibly have possessed the daughter of the man who was arguably the most powerful noble of the entire Kingdom to flee to join them. Why would she have given up the wealth, the prestige? The power of a father whose rank would have protected her from the things which had driven them into flight? What had he done to her to make her flee from him? What could have made her hate him that much?
Shed wanted to turn around and scream at them. To tell them they were wrong to worry about her fathers reaction and fools to believe for one instant that hed ever hurt her. To shout that shed run away from Hill Guard not because she hated her parents, but because she loved them so much. But that would only have made things worseor convinced them she was insane. And so, like Garlahna, shed pretended not to notice the way they stared or their whispered speculations.
She doubted that shed fooled very many of them.
She certainly hadnt fooled Garlahna. Her mentor had never commented directly upon the watching eyes, but shed taken the opportunity to raise her voice in conversation with Leeana from time to time and let slip a few, pithy observations about small-minded, small-town gossip-mongers and people with nothing better to do with their time than make idiots out of themselves by gawking at other perfectly ordinary people or events. At least some of the watchers had taken Garlahnas none-too-subtle hints and gone off to find other things to do. Most of them hadnt, but Leeana had appreciated the other young womans efforts.
Their first stop had been Administration, located in the Town Hall, on the opposite side of the building from Mayor Yaliths office. Leeana had been a bit surprised by the quiet, orderly efficiency of the office. She shouldnt have been, she told herself, but it appeared that, despite herself, shed absorbed more of the traditional prejudice against the war maids on a subconscious level than shed thought. The sight of the orderly rows of filing cabinets, each drawer neatly tabbed and filled with folders or note cards, had astounded her.
Baron Tellian was one of the most progressive members of the Sothoii nobility, and he had only begun the transition from the old, cumbersome scrolls on which all important documents had traditionally been stored. It was an awkward proposition for him, given how many of his ridings original documents were on those same old-fashioned scrolls, but he was determined to change over as much of his record-keeping and administration as possible. The original idea had come from the Empire of the Axe, like so many administrative reforms, but hed recognized its manifold advantages as soon as he saw them.
Yet Kalatha must have completed the same process he was only just beginning at least several years ago. Leeana had never expected that. On the other hand, shed reminded herself, Kalatha had many fewer records and carried far less of an administrative burden than her fathers responsibilities entailed. No doubt it had been enormously easier for such a small town, with such a minuscule jurisdiction, to make the transition.
Shed been just a bit shocked at how spitefully shed told herself that. The strength of her need to defend her father by denigrating anyone whod accomplished a similar task sooner than he had astonished her. It had also made her feel more than a little bit ashamed of herself , but shed managed to shake that emotion off by the time Garlahna hauled her in front of Dalthys Hallafressa, the Town Administrator.
No, not the Mayor, Dalthys had informed her gruffly. Leeana had blinked, surprised by the Administrators response to the question she hadnt asked. Dalthys, a heavyset woman in her late thirties or early forties, with graying brown hair, had given her a weary yet somehow conspiratorial smile.
Mayor Yalith has the honor and dubious pleasure of governing Kalatha, Dalthys explained. I only run it. You might think of it as if she were, oh, a baron, say, and I were her seneschal. Her brown eyes had glinted with amusement at Leeanas expression. Put another way, she has to take all the political headaches, and I get to get on with the everyday business of executing policy. Does that make sense?
Uh, yesyes, Maam, it does.
No need for maams, my girl, Dalthys had told her with a slight frown. We dont talk to each other that way, and we dont bow and scrape, either. Job titles or given namesor military ranks, for the Guardwork just fine for any war maid, shed half-growled.
Yes, Ma Leeana had blushed, but shed also managed to stop herself in time, and Dalthys had snorted.
Not trying to bite your head off, Leeana, shed said more gently. As a matter of fact, the fact that you meaning, Leeana had realized, someone from your background, although Dalthys had been too tactful to put it into so many words feel that we incorrigible war maids deserve to be addressed courteously just indicates that you were well brought up. But its best to get into the proper habits of thought from the outset, dont you think?
Yes, Administrator Dalthys.
Good! I can always spot the smart ones. Theyre the ones who agree with me! Dalthys had chuckled, and Leeana had smiled at her.
All right, all right, Dalthys had said then, opening a huge ledger and frowning at the pages. We need to find you a room.
Excuse me, Dalthys, Garlahna had said.
Yes? Dalthys had looked up, over the top edge of the ledger, to fix Garlahna with her sharp eyes.
At least for now, Erlis would like Leeana to room near me. Im her assigned mentor, and since shes here on a probationary basis, well
Shed shrugged, and Dalthys had nodded, slowly at first, then more rapidly.
That makes sense, shed agreed, and looked back down at her ledger, flipping pages. Then shed stopped and studied a column of entries. I have one roomits technically a double, but theres no one else assigned to it right nowthree doors down the hall from yours, Garlahna, shed said after a moment. Is that close enough?
That will be fine! Garlahna had agreed, and Dalthys had looked back at Leeana.
Most of the people in Kalatha own their own homes, or rent, just like in any other town, shed explained, but any war maid is entitled under the charter to one full year of free housing and meals when she first joins us. For someone like you, Leeana, who has to serve a probationary period first, thats extended to a year and a half. And we also try to look after our own people if they find themselves unable to pay their own way through no fault of their own, of course. Shed shrugged. At any rate, the town owns several dormitories where that free housing is provided. In addition, we rent rooms in the dormitories at what I like to think are very reasonable rates for war maids whove used up their free months. Thats what Garlahnas been doing for several years now.
Leeana had nodded her thanks for the explanation, and Dalthys had chuckled.
Dont get to feeling too grateful for your room till you see it, the administrator advised her. Its adequate, but not all that huge. Although, now that I think about it, the fact that were giving you a double with no roommate will tend to offset that somewhat. But however free it may technically be, I assure you that youll do more than enough work to compensate us for our generosity.
I understand Dalthys, Leeana had said with a wry smile.
Well, Dalthys had said with a slow smile, if you dont now, you will after your first night working in the dining hall!
Shed chuckled again, then found the key to Leeanas new room and shooed both young women out of her office.
The next stop had been Housekeeping.
Ermath Balcarafressa, who held the title of Housekeeper, was like no housekeeper Leeana had ever met. Leeana rather doubted that Ermath had done any manual labor in years, because hers was an administrative title, like Dalthys. Housekeeping was apparently one of Kalathas larger municipal divisions, with responsibility for a wide range of maintenance, cleaning, and service dutiesincluding the dining hall.
It had been apparent that Ermath discharged her duties efficiently, but Leeana had been unable to warm to her as she had to Dalthys. Physically, Ermath was the antithesis of the Town Administrator in many ways. She was much older, with hair so white it was probably painful to the eye in direct sunlight, and thin as a rail. She was also sharp featured, and had a tongue to match, with little of Dalthys lurking humor.
So, youre the one, shed said as soon as Garlahna delivered Leeana to her office.
Leeana had obviously looked more taken aback then shed meant to, and Ermath had laughed. It sounded more like a cackle than a laugh, especially compared to Dalthys warm chuckle.
The one all the fuss is over, girl! the Housekeeper had told her. Lillinara! There hasnt been this much excitement over a new candidate in Well, in as long as I can remember! Shed cackled again. This ll hit that bastard Trisu right where he lives. Dont you think for a minute it wont!
Leeana hadnt had any notion of how to react, so shed watched Garlahna from the corner of her eye and taken her cue from her mentors lack of expression. Since she was the one actually talking to Ermath (or, at least, being talked to by Ermath), shed settled for nodding pleasantly and saying as little as a she possibly could in response to the Housekeepers comments and questions. It hadnt actually taken very long, but it had seemed much longer, before they got out of Ermaths office with the required vouchers for bed linens, towels, washcloths, and the one years worth of clothing the charter required the town to provide to any new war maid.
At least Leeana had grown up accustomed to being measured, poked, and prodded by dressmakers and seamstresses. That had helped at their next stop, when Garlahna delivered her into the hands Johlana Ermathfressa.
Johlanas face would have made it obvious she was the Housekeepers daughter even without her war maid matronym. But she was no more than half her mothers age, and the bright, humorous intelligence behind her eyes softened her sharp features remarkably. Leeana had been grateful for the difference between mother and daughter as Johlana discussed her wardrobe needs with a cheerfully earthy pragmatism that carried over into things like monthly cycle choices, and from there to homilies about sex, contraceptive techniques, and young women away from watchful families for the first time, even as she measured busily away. Shed seemed mightily amused by Leeanas obvious reservations about the chari and yathu she was expected to wear, but shed also taken pity upon her.
Oh, for Lillinaras sakeyou wont be expected to wear them all the time, Leeana! shed scolded. I know. I know! Scandaloussimply scandalous!until you get used to them. But youll find theyre more practical than you might think just yet. And, when youre not in uniform for physical training or some sort of heavy labor, you can wear whatever you want. In fact, well actually provide you with a couple of pairs of trousers and shirts or smocks in the colors youd prefer. And once you find a way to earn a kormak here or thereand all of our girls do that eventually, dont they, Garlahna?you can spend them on whatever you want. Including something nice to wear. We may be war maids, but were still females, too. Trust me, theres always a market for pretties of one sort or another here in Kalatha!
Garlahna had nodded in enthusiastic agreement, and Leeana had smiled. Then Johlana had gathered up her jotted-down notes on Leeanas measurements and needs.
Youre a tall thing, shed observed. Good thing charis and yathus are fairly easy to fit! Shed shaken her head. The biggest problems going to be lacing a yathu tight enough until you fill out, girl! At least holding the chari up wont be a problem. Good breeders run in your family?
Leeana had turned an interesting shade of redagainat about that point, and Johlana had laughed.
Dont pay me any attention, Leeanano one else does, thats for sure! Just run along now. Ill have something for you to face Erlis in tomorrow morning.
Shed made waving motions with both hands, and Garlahna and Leeana had made a hasty escape.
Leeana had been astonished as they emerged from Johlanas office to discover that the sun had already set. But her surprise had faded quickly as she realized just how tired she was. She and Kaeritha had ridden hard all morning to reach Kalatha, and she hadnt really stopped moving from the moment she dismounted here. None of which even considered the sheer emotional stress of all shed been through in the last twelve hours or so. Worn out was a pale way to describe her physical condition, and shed wanted to weep in sheer exhaustion as she realized she and Garlahna still had to drag her bed linens to her assigned room and make up her bed before she could tumble into it.
Shed concluded later that Garlahna had known exactly how she felt, but her mentor had allowed no sign of that awareness to color her voice or her manner. Shed moved briskly along, simply assuming that Leeana would keep trotting along at her side, and because Garlahna had assumed that, Leeana had discovered she had no choice but to meet her mentors expectations.
Somehow, shed managedwith a lot more help from Garlahna than she suspected a mentor was supposed to provideto get her room more or less ready for occupancy. But then Garlahna had refused to allow her to collapse across the thin, hard mattress of the narrowest bed she had ever contemplated sleeping in. Instead, shed marched a staggeringly tired Leeana to the meal hall, sat her down on one of the benches, and bullied one of the kitchen workers into providing a huge bowl of thick, delicious vegetable soup despite the lateness of the hour. Leeana had never tasted anything so wonderful in her entire life she only wished shed been awake enough to remember it later.
Things hadnt gotten any better the next morning.
Garlahna turned out to be one of those disgusting people who were bright and cheerful the instant they got out of bed. Leeana had nothing against mornings, but she usually preferred to at least let the sun get up before she did. Garlahna, however, had rousted her out of bed over an hour before sunriseand not with the welcoming cup of hot chocolate Marthya would have brought herand helped her into the new garments one of Johlanas minions had deposited outside Leeanas door during the night.
There was quite a difference, Leeana had discovered, between seeing the chari and yathu on someone else, or even worrying about how they would feel on her, and actually finding herself dressedif that wasnt too strong a verbin them for the first time. Shed been certain she was about to fall right back out of them! And despite the fact that she was far less bountifully provided for by nature then Garlahna, shed been appalled by the amount of cleavage that showed once the yathu was laced snuglyvery snuglyinto place. If its designed function was to support her bosom during physical exertion, it was admirably fitted to the job, shed decided. In fact, shed rather thought that one of her fathers steel breastplates had to have more flex to it. She wasnt quite certain how something could be simultaneously so confining and so humiliatingly revealing, but the yathu had managed just fine.
Not that the chari had been any better! The amount of leg it showed was bad enough, and shed made a firm mental note to be very careful how she sat down in it. But she hadnt realized quite how low on the hips it sat, either, and the notion of displaying her navel for the entire world to see had not been a comfortable fit for the girl who had been the daughter of the Baron of Balthar. As for how her mother would have reacted to the sight!
And it had been cold! The least they could have done was to provide her with shoes, shed thought plaintively as Garlahna urged her out into the windy predawn darkness. Shed shivered convulsively as the chill breeze nipped at all that conveniently exposed skin, but that had been little more than a minor inconvenience compared to the wet, muddy, occasionally gravel-strewn ground under her bare feet.
My feet are freezing! shed whispered to Garlahna.
Hah! Only your feet? Garlahna had laughed. Sweetheart, I came to Kalatha in early winter. I froze my sweet young arse offnot to mention something a bit higher!
You would have to mention that! Leeana had groaned, reaching down to tug uselessly at her charis hem as another cold breeze blew up it. She was accustomed to long skirts or trousers, and the predawn winds chilly kisses on places it had no business kissing made her wish desperately that she was wearing them now.
Oh, stop whining! Garlahnas cheerful snort had robbed the words of any offense. I bet you dont even have icicles down there yet!
No, but theyre forming nicely. And why cant I even wear shoes? Leeana had moaned, too miserable, for the moment at least, to remember her aristocratic pride.
Anything that doesnt kill you will only make you stronger, Garlahna had replied with an oddly sympathetic chuckle. Thats what they told me, anyway! And even if it werent true, its a matter of tradition. Shed shrugged. Personally, I always figured it was just our way of proving how much tougher than mere men we are.
Id rather have warm feet and let them sneer at me for being weak, Leeana had muttered back.
Hush! Garlahna had said, and Leeana had looked up to discover that they had just joined at least forty or fifty other war maids.
At first, shed assumed that mandatory morning calisthenics for everyone must be part of the same bizarre, self-mortifying philosophy which had denied her shoes. She certainly couldnt think of any other reason for so many women, of all agesshe even saw Dalthys and Johlana among themto be standing around semi-naked and barefooted in the icy predawn wind! It had taken her several shivering minutes of listening to scraps of other conversations to discover that most of them had chosen to be there. That they actually enjoyed these brisk morning workouts together.
At that moment, Leeana had begun to seriously consider the possibility that all of those who insisted any woman had to be mad to choose to be a war maid were right.
Unfortunately, unlike the lunatics whod been there voluntarily, Leeana had had no choice. Nor, shed discovered, had Garlahna. It didnt seem to bother the other young woman particularly, but as Leeanas mentor, she was expected to lead by example. Leeana suspected that it would have bothered her a great deal, if their roles had been reversed.
Shed still been standing there, shivering as she looked woebegonely about herself in the gray half-light, when Erlis and another, younger, war maid with chestnut hair had come bounding energetically up. Erlis had a whistle, which she had immediately begun to blow with revolting vigor, and thus had begun what was quite possibly the most hideous single morning of Leeana Hanathafressas life.
Leeana had always been an active girl. Shed ridden virtually every day of her life, from the time she could walk. Shed been an energetic hiker, and she and her maids had enjoyed swimmingat least when it was warm enough for the water not to turn them blue the instant they jumped into it. But shed never been particularly interested in exercise for exercises own sake. For her, physical exertion had been a way to get from one point to another, or a secondary cost of doing something that she enjoyed.
Erlis obviously came from a completely different tradition. It had been the first time Leeana had ever encountered a carefully planned exercise regimen, and shed hated it. And not just because shed been cold, miserable, and hungry, either. Leeana was accustomed to being good at what she did. She most emphatically was not accustomed to being clumsy or inept, and shed felt both of those things as she attempted to emulate the war maids around her.
It had lasted for a seeming eternity, but that had turned out to be just long enough to prepare her for an even more humiliating experience. At least the physical exertion had warmed her up, and it had also loosened up her muscles. Which was fortunate, since Erlis and the chestnut-haired woman, who turned out to be Ravlahn Thregafressa, had descended upon her for the promised evaluation of her general physical skills.
By the time their examfinallycame to a close, Leeana had concluded that she had no general physical skills. Shed done her best, and at least her examiners had maintained grave, nonjudgmental façades as she strove to meet their demands. But it had been evident to her that her life as an indolent aristocrat had left her woefully underequipped with the physical skills a war maid required. The only area in which shed felt shed performed with something approaching adequacy had been the sprints they required of her. She supposed that shed done at least semi-adequately in the longer runs, as well, but that was about the best she could say.
At least theyd released her in the end and allowed her to stagger off under Garlahnas guidance, limping on her bruised-feeling, bare feet, to the mess hall for breakfast. Back home in Balthar, Leeana had normally made do with hot chocolate or tea, a croissant or two, butter, some honey, perhaps, and a few pieces of fruit, when it was in season. But here in Kalatha, shed found herself devouring a third huge bowl of honey-laced porridge, and then wondering where she could find just a little bit more of it for dessert. To her amazement, shed actually felt almost human again when she finished.
Her relief had been brief, however. Theyd given her a half-hour, or so, for breakfast to settle, and then Garlahnathat traitor shed thought was becoming her friendhad borne her off to face Hundred Ravlahn in the training salle. The only real blessing had been that thered been no one there besides Garlahna and Ravlahn to witness her fresh inadequacy.
It hadnt really been her fault, and shed known it. Shed never been trained with a bow, although she was an excellent shot with the light crossbows with which Sothoii noblewomen hunted birds and small game. And however radical Tellian Bowmaster might have been, it would never have crossed his mind to have his daughter trained in swordsmanship, or in the most effective way to open someones belly with a dagger. Nor, for that matter, had it ever occurred to him to teach his only child the finer points of using a garrotte, or throwing a knife or throwing stars.
Her abilities when it came to hand-to-hand combat without weapons had been even more rudimentarynot to say laughablethan her clumsy efforts with the various wooden training weapons with which Ravlahn had provided her. The one thing Leeana had been able to say with a certain forlorn pride at the end of two and a half grueling hours, was that shed never stopped trying. Her efforts might simply have served to demonstrate that she was about as dangerous to another human being as a newborn kitten, but at least shed tried. And, she thought miserably, shed ended up with the bruises, the bloody nose, and the split lip to prove it, too.
Shed hobbled off to the mess hall, still under Garlahnas escort, in time for lunch. Which, shed discovered, shed needed at least as badly as she had breakfast. Shed ravened her way through three heaping servings of buttered potatoes, baked beans, and fried chicken and been wondering wistfully if she quite dared to ask for a fourth helping of the potatoes, when a youngish-looking woman in a neat gray gown came over to her and Garlahna.
Yes? Leeana had looked up from her mostly empty plate suspiciously, her spoon still clutched in her hand, and something about her expression had made the other woman smile.
Im Lanitha, shed said.
Oh. Leeana had lowered her spoon. The archivist?
Thats one way to put it, Lanitha had agreed. Personally, I prefer librarian, but I suppose my duties do make archivist a better fit, these days. Shed grimaced. Im also, however, the principal of our town school here in Kalatha.
Oh, Leeana had said in a tone shed belatedly realized might have been described as less than wildly enthusiastic.
I see youve been having an interesting day, Lanitha had observed, her voice wavering oddly while she tried not to smile. Ill try not to make things any more difficult for you than I have to. But I do need to get some feel for your scholastic abilities.
Leeana had hovered on the brink of asking her why, but shed suppressed the question in time. Shed had no doubt she would discover the answer, probably sooner than she wanted to.
If youre finished eating, Lanitha had continued in a tone which, for all its politeness, had informed Leeana that she was finished eating, why dont youand Garlahna, of coursecome along with me? This shouldnt take more than two or three hours.
Of course, Leeana had replied, with only a trace of glumness. Then shed put her spoon down, given it a regretful pat, and followed Lanitha out of the mess hall.
Lanitha had been almost correct. In fact, her estimate of the time required had been only about an hour short. By the end of her examination, Leeana had felt as exhausted mentally as shed already been physically, but at least this time shed felt reasonably confident that shed acquitted herself well. Her father might not have seen any reason to teach her to lop the heads off of enemies, but he and her mother had both actively aided and abetted her in the pursuit of an intellectual curiosity other nobles might have found most unbecoming in a mere daughter. Leeana spoke six languagesfour of them fluentlyand could read and write in two more. She had a formidable education in geography, history, and literature, and a practical knowledge of politicsat least as practiced at the highest level of the Kingdomwhich was quite astounding in anyone her age, and especially in a daughter.
In fact, the main reason Lanithas original time estimate had proved overly optimistic was that the archivist/teacher had become too interested in discussing things with the subject of her examination. In the end, shed sent Leeana back off to the dining hall with Garlahna with the warning that she intended to request at least an hour or two of Leeanas time each afternoon as an assistant instructor.
Any temptation towards a swelled head which Leeana might have taken away with her had evaporated like snow in summer when she and Garlahna arrived almost twenty minutes late for her shift in the kitchen. The excuse that Lanitha had kept her longer than anticipated had done remarkably little to placate the head cooks ire, and neither had the fact that Leeana had effectively no kitchen skills at all. It wasnt exactly Leeanas fault, but she hadnt felt like explaining that she hadnt acquired those skills because her parents had employed others to perform those menial tasks. Partly because shed had a shrewd suspicion that the cook would not have responded well to the suggestion that her own skills were menial ones. But even more because Leeana had agreed that it was time she acquired them.
That willingness to dig right inenthusiastically, however ineptlyhad turned the trick. Shed wondered if perhaps part of the cooks prickliness had resulted from an expectation that someone whod been so nobly born would have dismissed her assigned duties as beneath her. It had seemed as if some of the other war maids assigned to Leeanas work crew had cherished some of the same suspicions, but if they had, their reservations had thawed quickly as her willingness sank in. Shed been restricted by her ignorance to more or less unskilled labor, but most of her fellow workers had paused in passing at least once to drop some little hint or encouragement upon her.
That had helped, but by the time supper was finished, the tables were cleared and scrubbed, the pots and pans and dishes were washed, and the cooking utensils had been laid out in preparation for the breakfast crews, shed been literally stumbling with exhaustion.
Shed thought her ride from Balthar to Kalatha had been exhausting, and no doubt it had been. But the fatigue shed felt then, even after that first hideous, sleepless night in the rain, was as nothing compared to what she felt now. She knew with absolute certainty that she had never been this tired in her entire life.
She staggered out of the mess hall towards the dormitory, then shambled to a halt as she realized someone was standing in front of her. It took her a moment or two to focus, then she straightened her aching back as she recognized Mayor Yalith by the light of the lanterns above the mess hall entrance.
I wont keep you long, Leeana, the mayor said. She smiled, and her voice was gently compassionate and understanding. I know all you really want to do at this moment is to go fall on your nose and stay there for as long as well let you. It may be cold comfort, but just about every war maid has been where you are right now, and most of us survived the experience.
I just wanted to tell you three things before you go collapse.
First, I feel confident that youre convinced you were an absolute and utter failure when Erlis and Ravlahn examined you today. Well, you werent. Leeana blinked in fatigue-foggy disbelief, and Yalith smiled again. Oh, I wont say you thrilled them with your incredible prowess. But given your complete lack of training, you actually performed quite well. And both Erlis and Ravlahn feel you have considerable native ability, which they confidently expect to be able to nurture.
Second, Lanitha was very impressed by both your native intelligence and the education youve already received. There are several places where you can probably still use a little polishing, but for the most part, youre already as well qualifiedfrom the perspective of your knowledge, at leastto teach as any of our present teachers. Do try not to let that go to your head, dear, the mayor added with a small chuckle.
And, third, she said after a moment, in a noticeably different voice, something happened yesterday which, to the best of my knowledge, has never happened before. Baron Tellian even now she did not permit herself the words your father, and Leeanas eyes fell as she felt a pang of pain left something for you.
Leeana looked back up into the mayors face.
He left you the title to your horse, Leeana, Yalith said quietly.
Leeana blinked, unable to understand for a moment, but then her heart leapt and incredulous joy blossomed across her exhausted face.
Its a princely gift, the mayor continued. To be perfectly honest, I was tempted to refuse it, because no one else in Kalatha has ever so much as ridden a horse half, or even a quarter, as good as that one, much less owned one. Theres an enormous amount of room for potential resentment in the gift he chose to bestow upon you, Leeana. I want you to be aware of that. But I didnt refuse it in the end for two reasons. First, and Id like to think most important, was the fact that I had no legal right to refuse it in someone elses name, and I wasnt prepared to violate the law. But, second, was the fact that Dame Kaeritha argued very strongly on your behalf. It speaks well of anyone that a champion of Tomanak should speak so forcefully on her behalf, and I think Ive seen enough of Dame Kaeritha by now to know that however much she might like you, she would never have argued your case so vehemently if she hadnt believed you truly deserved it.
Oh, thank youthank you, Mayor Yalith! Leeana whispered, tears spangling her vision.
I didnt do anything, Yalith replied. And dont think that this wont make problems of its own for you, even ifas I dont expect for a momentyou should be so fortunate as to find that no one else in Kalatha resents your good luck. Baron Tellian left sufficient funds, also as a gift for you, to pay for your horses feed for at least several months. He did notat Dame Kaerithas urging, I might addleave funds to pay its stable fees. You will have to come up with some way to cover those expenses yourself.
Leeana looked at her, and Yalith shrugged.
Dame Kaeritha was there when I worried aloud about possible resentment. She said, and I think she was right, that if you have to work harder and longer than anyone else in Kalatha to keep him, it should go a long way towards defusing the inevitable resentment. And I imagine it will also make you appreciate the Barons gift even more.
She paused, her gaze level as she looked into Leeanas face.
Do you understand all of that, Leeana?
Yes, Mayor Yalith. I understand, the exhausted young woman replied, jade-green eyes still glistening with tears of joy.
I believe you do, the mayor said, and nodded in dismissal. She turned away herself, then paused and looked back over her shoulder.
You know, she observed, Im not sure that its one Id like to have received myself, but you could look upon Dame Kaerithas insistence that you earn your horses stabling fees as a rather profound sort of compliment, Leeana.
Leeana blinked at her, and Yalith chuckled.
Of course it is! She wouldnt have wanted you to have the horse in the first place if she hadnt felt you deserved it and she obviously has immense faith in you. She must! If she didnt, she never would have wished that much extra exhaustion off on you.
Goodnight, Leeana. Get some sleep youll need it.
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