Minakas shook me and cried. He cried even though he thought nobody could see him through the tent he was wearing but I could hear him sniffle. But he was smiling too. He wouldn’t let go of me. I didn’t want to let go of him. Urapahlia got me all cleaned up after she got me out of the toilet spot between the two buildings but Kefas needed help and he was very dirty.
We went into the guardpost and I tugged on Min’s hand. “Minakas! Are you going to buy my knife now?”
I didn’t understand why he just sat down on a bench and started to laugh.
I couldn’t let go Ili’s hand, and it only took a moment or two to finish signing off on the report and give my profound gratitude and thanks to the Mirmida and her troops. I would have to send them an anonymous gratuity, since I had made such a big deal of not having any more bribe money for them.
We went back through the market and bought Ili a knife so he wouldn’t do this again and Gannara said he and Ili would get something to eat while I napped. I carried my brother in my arms part of the way, even though he was truly too big for it because I could not put him down.
I was dead on my feet by the time we got back to the inn since I hadn’t slept for two nights, while Ili was gone, and I barely had time to rip off my blood-smeared, much-hated veil and collapse into bed. I didn’t even feel the pillow under my head before I was asleep.
I am going to practice writing to you, even if I cannot send any of the letters, and I sincerely hope you will not send me any, since I will be required to report them to the special investigator from the Marble Palace.
They came and took me up there to question me and I told them the truth as I must. He did not truth drug me. Minis, I hope you have changed all that I knew. I am doing a tapestry of our exile and escape in single images about the size of my hand, all separate, all jumbled in case someone wonders. I hope one day that I will be able to stitch them together in the correct order. So far the investigator is not interested in my sewing.
My marital status is once more in question. Mother is concerned that I will be too old soon to make a good match, but my little brother likes having me home so he isn’t looking for someone to take me away; and to be honest mother is happy to have me home. I’m just as happy to not start on the round of the marriage market myself. I have a rather notorious reputation because of our exile.
I have found one of my friends, Laisa, is safe. And she and Mila and I have been having kaf together every day, and we take turns to read to each other, since we no longer have to have a reader hired in for us.
Mother is officially scandalized but she and the aunties often sit in the room to listen to us and then we talk over what was read. Can you imagine? A women’s reading group in Arko, however informal! I even wrote a note to Ailadas and asked if he and his sister would join us and they have been coming occasionally as well. He is very busy at the University and his sister, Ela, is a very good reader already.
It is astonishing how fast we are learning this once forbidden skill! One might even suspect that some women might have known before it was legal. But certainly no one proper would ever be so boorish to suggest such a scandalous idea, of course.
You know, there is a new writer for the pages whose work I quite like… a fessas, the one whose name you borrowed for a time? Minakas Akam. Perhaps you might find his articles interesting. He writes about things to do with the Imperators, sometimes.
Mother is calling me for our afternoon salon so I will write more later.
My prayers are with you. My thoughts are with you… all. Ky.
I miss you. I’ve been having recurring dreams of our dance by the creek… But not about what happens afterwards… some good, some bad… all unsuitable for a young lady’s thoughts… I have to tell you all about what happened to us in Hyerne. I learned to wear a veil and be addressed as ‘sweetie, baby, honey, poppet’ and all manner of diminishing endearments… I can’t send this letter, it wouldn’t be safe… and I’d be so embarrassed. She’d giggle at that and I’d blush…
Anyway, Ili got lost and we were three days getting him back safe, and he’s got a fading rash on his… I’m not sending this…. So I can write anything… butt because he sat in hiding in a dirty alley all the first day, but he’s just fine.
We had to wait for another ship heading to Yeola-e and I’d prefer it to be a Yeoli ship since it’s better for Gannara. I’m starting to think I need to get back to the Empire once Gan is home safe. Even after the conquest and sack, there are enough people who hate Arko and Arkans I’ll be safer at home, even with the Marble Palace and my own Mahid looking for me. I wonder if 2nd Amitzas has figured it out yet that I led him astray?
I hope Ailadas and his sister have settled into the house and that Pishpish hasn’t pishpished all over the back hall floor again.
I just realized something. I can send you things…
I dream of you…
“Serina,” The butler tapped upon the library door. “There is a… parcel… er, a delivery for you.”
“That’s odd,” Mother said as everyone looked. I set my book down.
“Can it be fetched, Bilabas?”
“Er, no serina.” There was an odd smile upon his face. “It is at the front door.”
“I’m coming, directly.” I set the book down. What is going on?
There was a tiny Enchian ladies carriage in front of the door with a bright, tiny gold and white pony drawing it. In the carriage there was an ivorywood box with my name on it.
“For the serina Kyriala Liren,” the groom said. He was a Hyerne boy, but not a slave. “I have been hired to deliver this, serina.” He held out the key to the box, to me, on a fine gold chain, holding onto the bridle of the pony with the other.
“How lovely! Who sent it?”
“The person in question sent a note, serina, in the box.” The key was ivorywood to match the box and when it opened it released a beautiful cloud of scent. The top was a drawer full of tiny bottles… Spice from Laka, Perfume from Tor Ench. Under that was a bolt of Selestialis blue and gold silk from Hyerne and the bottom of the box was full of books.
“Oh my, oh dear, goodness—“ My friends and my mother were ooing and exclaiming. “Who sent it, Kyriala, oh goodness, it’s a princely gift… and except for the books, very proper for an unwed girl to receive!”
Princely. Yes. I suspected I knew. The note merely said. “To the Magnificent Serina Kyriala Liren. A few tokens for her enjoyment.” It was signed by a cartoon of a child’s toy, a soft bear wielding… no, brandishing, a sword. And two initials K.B.
“Goodness, Kyriala, you never mentioned that you might have a mysterious admirer! Who might it be? Oh my, it could be Kuriren Betharan? No, no… his father would never allow him to gift you without speaking to your brother—“ They fluttered and cooed and exclaimed, and offered other candidates for the mysterious K.B.
I folded the note carefully back into its sealed shape and tucked it into my sleeve. It’s too dangerous… but Kefasbear is sending me gifts. I can say I do not know for sure it is from him… for sure… and even if, how could they find him? Would they look in Tor Ench? In Laka? In Hyerne?