We had set off in an unusual procession, especially if anyone was aware of what was going on. Anaise recovered pretty quickly and was quite eager to see the new mirror nowhere else but in her rooms.
As such I was walking first, carrying the bulky and veiled object in my hands. She was walking slightly behind me, almost in deferential formation if not for her noble poise and loud, obvious to anyone, orders and directions. Viter was trailing quite a far distance back, on the orders of the Lady of the House no less. So that we could have a quiet conversation or something.
Obviously, none of that was because someone still had no shift under her kaftan, that I had to carefully obscure using my cargo.
I did steal glances at her whenever someone would walk by us. The sudden pause in our dialogue, a conscious hand at her neckline pulling the sides together, or the bushy tail that made sure to never leave the cut in the back uncovered. She was not in her comfort zone as this was definitely the first time she had tried to do it, and clearly hadn’t thought of the consequences as much. Nevertheless, Anaise managed to soldier on, relying on my cover and distraction.
Just as I was looking back at her, I would notice the green of her eyes finding mine from time to time. Either to confirm my presence, to make sure I still have her present in my arms, or perhaps even to appreciate my own response.
Her lips would twitch upward every time that I couldn’t keep my eyes on her face.
Damn minx. Irje was just like that too, even Yeva at certain times. It felt like I was surrounded by peacocks preening themselves as soon as I would pay attention.
Although, if I would look from the social aspect, females of Emanai, especially of the magical variety, were much more proactive in their everyday life. They were the business owners, traders, and rulers. They were the decision-makers of this land, and someone like Albin was an oddity of the highest calibre. Most likely only achieving his status and rank through sheer power of his magic and sharpness of his mind.
And yet he was tolerated in his status, not respected. An oddity or worse — an upstart. I could see why he would act as he did.
Unlike Virnan, who chose to seclude himself in his studies and support Kiymetl from within.
But, returning back to the women in question, they grew up in a society that expected them to reach and take whatever they needed, instead of waiting for opportunities. And that showed in their way of living and even treating their amorous ventures.
Once they were interested in me, their behaviour changed into ‘capture’ mode.
Anaise wasn’t trying to please me with her stunts, she was actively learning what caused me to have favourable reactions and then she immediately acted on them. Fishing for my response. And subsequently preening when she succeeded in doing so.
We ditched Viter as we passed the inner chambers and Anaise breathed a sigh of relief. She picked up the speed and easily sent away any servants that dared to approach us. Allowing us to reach our final destination without any issues.
Anaise’s chambers weren’t as I imagined them to be. These were her resting quarters. As such, all they catered for was her sleep and the early morning hours of the day. If not for the quality and style of the very few items present it could even be seen as spartan.
The walls were covered in soft and fuzzy carpets with intricate embroidery. So that is what Farshat looked like. I guess I could see the appeal of having something like that too - not only each one of them looked like a painting, each screamed of wealth yet muffled the noises both in and out of the room.
The rest of the room was equally comparable. A very ornate bed with soft bedding, intricate windows made out of the wooden lattice, and a well-made chair to sit on. Knowing their reluctance for sitting in chairs, I expected that it was only used when she had her hair done in the morning.
And that was it. There were no closets full of intricate clothing or chests with jewellery. These were likely stored elsewhere and brought in the morning by slaves. Nor were there any tables to write or ponder upon, just a tiny nightstand to put a bowl of fragrant water. The room was rich by being very specific in its role — her family was wealthy enough to afford multiple rooms for multiple activities. And accessibility to amenities meant nothing if said amenities were brought to her by the servants.
“It feels weird watching myself in this mirror,” Anaise murmured as I finally placed it near the chair, just as she ordered me to.
“What do you mean?”
“I see myself in it, but there is no feeling of a Spark. It is quite vexing.”
“Like seeing a murk?”
“What? No!” She turned to me, “It is not the absence of the Spark that does it, I have no feelings like that when I look at you. But seeing myself is somehow different.”
“Uncanny,” I nodded, “Your mind tells you what you should see, but your eyes do not. And it creates a dissonance inside of you.”
“Perhaps, but we do not ‘see’ Sparks. We feel them. As long as they are close enough it is like a knowledge in your mind that another one is near.”
“Just like Viter did,” I smirked, making her blush, “So wers can feel it, right? I know they have Sparks, they are even called Wersparks for a reason. What makes them different from wermages?”
She hummed in thought and pushed me onto her bed. Before I could ask what she was doing or comment on the softness of the silks, Anaise cuddled in.
“Because the Sparks is all they have. While wermages can use theirs to affect the Flow around them. The things that you can see as magic. Just as we can feel the Sparks, so we can feel the ebbs in the current. That is how the runes were formed by the way. Originally they were used to teach the young or to preserve the rare spells that weren’t used often. But it was quickly noticed that they helped to form the spells themselves. And they quickly became a common aid, especially for things that you needed quickly.”
She stretched her hand away, creating a small ball of fire in her palm, “I will not lie, wer have some magic within them. It is what makes them strong. What they don’t have is the ability to project it out of their body.”
I listened quietly as my thoughts whirled around. Irje was probably not a full wermage, I have heard of her complaints that my explanations of runic shapes meant nothing to her. Which meant that she didn’t feel them as wermages did. Yet she could ‘expel’ her magic outward. Which also pushed her away from being mere wer too. At least by the descriptions, I was given.
“Have there been any attempts at teaching wer to cast spells?” I asked instead.
“How would you teach the colour to the blind?” She answered my question with her own.
“What about the free wer of the Manor?” I kept digging as something was still nagging at me. Things didn’t fit right somehow. “Aren’t they somehow related to the wermage family? They look alike and have similar features.”
“Sometimes the Gods smile on wer mothers so that they could give birth to wermages. It is a great honour and they are usually educated by the wermage family they were subordinate to. It would eventually result in a new wermage line appearing within the House. These young lines usually have a mix of children of both types and they would rely on the other families for education since they usually lack the funds to hire teachers themselves. Only when they start to have wermage-only children do they form a separate household.”
Anaise sighed and continued, “Quite often many of them would have ‘accidents’ during childbirth, resulting in the death of a child. Even more established families do. Both as the natural way of life and to preserve the purity of their line, lest someone will think their power is waning.”
“A rather harsh approach, but I can understand the reasons behind it.” I nodded seriously.
The family was paramount. And all members would strive to push its glory to the higher ground. And a wer child in a wermage-only household would be a source of shame and weakness. Most likely have a cruel life if they were to remain alive.
That is if you valued the status of your family above the life of a newborn.
But all that paled with the revelation I have finally achieved. The wer and wermages weren’t just related. They might see themselves as gifts of their gods to their weaker cousins, but this was a single race! They were selectively breeding themselves to achieve the progeny with all the ‘Flow’ or ‘Magic’ mutations or even brand new genes that would allow them to feel, sense, and manipulate Flow.
No wonder I couldn’t pinpoint whether Irje was wer or a wermage. There was a gradient of power with multiple steps being easily detectable by the affected perception of the individual or their ability. Perhaps there were many ‘wer’ just like Irje, who could cast magic but were blind to what they were doing. Only to be labelled as wer because of that blindness.
Or maybe all wer could cast it since they had the Spark.
Which begat the next question. What about Sparks? Did murks have Earth origins and lacked these mutations or were there silent wermages among our kind. Blind and deaf to the power on their fingertips? Labelled at murks simply because they lacked the ‘Spark’ mutation that turned others into beacons for everyone?
“What about murks? Have they ever had wer or wermage children?” I asked.
I knew that murks often were used for the sexual needs of the upper classes. We had all the proper plumbing to satisfy our masters anyway. And I knew that children were born from such affairs. What I didn’t know was their future. The faint memories of my past told me that some were left with the mothers while some were killed or taken away.
All those that were left with mothers were murks. If there was a mother still alive by then.
She shifted in my arms, “Wer children are common between the slaves and wermage males. Since the first have the Heat quite often and males are fertile year around. Mothers usually don’t survive them. Some of the children are brought into the family, but they are rarely presented as slaveborn. That would make them slaves themselves, and most Families tend to frown upon their kind in chains. Especially within the same Manor.”
So there was that.
Hordes of other questions remained, but some parts were finally fitting into places. There were no three races at all, there were just humans and mutated super-humans with variable sets of magical genes. Or if one would look at the world from their point of view there were wermages and their weaker cousins.
I still was pretty sure that they were from Earth or even the First Colonies. But how they found themselves on this planet, and how they developed magical abilities was still a mystery. Most likely to be lost to time millennia ago.
Maybe some human developed a magical mutation or even engineered the first genes only to teleport themselves here with an experimental spell gone wrong. Or they were the ancestors of my own ship? Perhaps I was carrying passengers back then. Host Navigators had no human crew.
The tiny hand disturbed my pondering.
“Do not worry, Erf. I will take care of you,” Anaise confidently nodded, misunderstanding my prolonged silence, “I won’t let anything like that happen to you. My mother might shower you with gifts, and even give you freedom. But I will take you in. And I will make sure that no other wermage would dare to take you. Whether with gold or with force.”
“You can’t Anaise,” I gently pushed her hand away, “A murk taken by a wermage? First of all, your mother would be livid. Might even disown you for even suggesting something like that. And I have no desire to sour my relations with my owner. You don’t need to worry — I will teach you no matter what. For that is my desire.”
“Yes I can,” She stubbornly replied ignoring my other arguments, “If anyone tries to stop me, my mother or anyone else, they will quickly learn how truly strong I have become. As a future Domina, I will make them consider my decisions.”
“And you will alienate everyone in the process,” I argued back, “Anaise, I am not going anywhere, don’t burn bridges for something that you already have.”
The green eyes narrowed, “Anyone would be jumping in joy at my proposition. Especially a murk. Why are you still trying to find excuses? Do you consider me beneath your notice? Or do you have plans to be taken by a ‘real’ Domina?”
“No wermage would willingly take me, Anaise,” I quietly spoke anticipating the upcoming eruption, but unwilling to keep it hidden from her either, “For I already have sadaq.”
For a moment she looked at me as if my head fell off. Her mouth open yet without another stream of rebukes.
“What?” Anaise asked hoarsely instead.
“I had sadaq before your mother told me to teach you all I could…”
“Who? It is that cougar wer isn’t it? Don’t listen to the tales of an opportunist! You can’t have sadaq with just one person! And my mother wouldn’t hear of it!” She angrily interrupted.
“There are two, and your mother had already stated that she heard of it.”
“Why?!” The tiny arms yanked me and shook me back and forth, the grimace of pain on her face, pulling at my heart. “Why did you choose them and not me!”
“I didn’t, back then I didn’t even know you.”
“Then leave them! They are nothing but leeches on your prestige! Why are you burdening yourself with them.” She growled at me.
I shook my head, “I can’t. They were there when I was alone. When I didn’t have the Gestr, when the Domina didn’t even know my name or my face. They were there for me when I craved for support. When I was just a new companion slave, desperately trying to avoid the fate of a bed warmer for one of your fathers.”
“And maybe you should have been given to him anyway!” Anaise pushed me away and got up from the bed. She stood in the centre of the room, looking at the window and away from me in silence. A tiny frame with the eyes of fantastic beasts watching her from the rugs.
“Out,” She choked out.
“Anaise…” I tried to say something, unsure what to say myself.
“I said. Get, Out, Of, My, Sight.” Her words rang like a hammer to my ears, “I do not require your services anymore, you may be informed if I change my mind in the future.”
Whatever I tried to say or do stalled as she changed her tone of speech. With a conflicted mind, I walked out as quietly as I could. There was little else I could do to fix the problem on the spot. I couldn’t talk to Anaise for only the Lady of the House was here right now.
And even if I could, what would I say? What else I did expect from this whole endeavour? I could try to blame my girls as this was their idea, and probably should grill Irje specifically about the minimum amount required for sadaq. But, in the end, it was me who chose this path. And it will be me who will bear the consequences.
Irje and Yeva didn’t seduce the young and very impressionable girl, wermage or not. Domina-to-be or not.
Even if I had the approval of her mother too. Three women plotted and planned and now a young lady was hurt and heartbroken. And all could have been avoided if Erf kept the head on his shoulders.
And now Erf needed to reap what he had sown.
Aikerim Kiymetl Adal
A loud bang of the door made her ears drop in pain as the parchments flew from her table.
“Mother, I require an audience.” Her daughter bit out.
She lifted her eyes from the missive she had been writing onto the irate daughter of hers, “You do not look like you are in a state for a proper audience. Come back once you have made yourself proper.”
A metal cup rose up and, with a groan, folded into itself. Crumbling into tiny flakes like dry leaf released from a clenched fist. Aikerim goggled at the sight. That was not the power of Anaise that she knew.
In fact, that was not the power that she would expect from even the strongest mages!
They might achieve similar results, but none would be as quick in doing so. How fortuitous!
“I insist.” The young mage sweetly smiled. The smile didn't reach her eyes. The swept-back ears were just another confirmation.
Aikerim sighed and put the scroll away. While she was unlikely to humour her daughter’s tantrums that easily, but that display of power allowed for some concessions. She was unreasonable, but she was strong now, and strong people were allowed to be unreasonable from time to time.
“I see that the lectures with my uncle have been most fruitful,” Aikerim spoke in a calm manner, hiding her satisfaction at the display.
“The same lectures that I could only achieve with his help,” It was obvious to both about whom she spoke, “And his ideas helped too. So tell me why have you shackled him with parasites?”
Ah, his sadaq.
“Because I needed something to keep him,” She said instead, “I have met with countless people: murk, wer, or wermage alike. And I can tell a thing or two from a mere glance by now. Erf had no fear of me akin to other murk slaves, nor did he have greed for gold within his eyes. And his usefulness grew and grew with every day. Like a channelling spell that you need to control, yet have no idea when it will come undone.”
She shifted and looked straight into her daughter’s eyes, “So when he came asking for them, I took it. For the first time, he had shown some sense and with it the promise of stability. Of course, I would gladly accept his request if it meant that I didn’t need to break my head thinking about how could I make sure that he would bring me more and more gifts and revelations. By showing me that he cared for them he allowed me to be able to manipulate him through them. As long as I keep them happy and content I have no fear of his flights of fancy.”
“You could have given him to me instead!” Anaise butted in.
“Have you even thought about what you just said, foolish daughter!” Aikerim thundered.
“Yes! He is a daimon, isn’t he? All that knowledge and these numbers and ideas of his. No mere murk could know of this! It would take some time but other Houses will quickly learn of this. Add to it my newfound strength and no one would dare to question my choice. And then he will be mine.”
“He will be dead!” She yelled at her child.
And here she thought Anaise was less foolish than Amalric. The young fever was strong in both of them. Why couldn't they be like their oldest brother?
Aikerim sighed and continued, “If you even dare to speak about that I won't even have the time to punish you. My mother, the Matriarch, would simply dissolve my Manor for my inability to educate my children. And then she would be in charge of who will you take, and she would have even less patience for your insanity. Most likely would kill him too just in case.”
In the dead silence of the room, she spoke again, “Which means that you could only take him later, after you have taken your first husband, at least, or have become a Domina yourself. If you continue to grow in your skill I would give you seventy years to achieve that. Much faster than I did, mind you. But by that time he would be infirm and old. Or have been sent to Gods in the smoke of a pyre.”
“But…He is a daimon!” Anaise weakly protested, her eyes roaming as if she was trying to find something, and failing at it. Desperate.
“Yes. And he has a murk’s body. And I’ve seen him gawk at what I could do without effort. His body could contain the wisdom of a daimon, but not the magic.”
“Then why did you make him be my attendant? You could have made him teach my lectures and no more. Why did you make sure that I would get close to him while knowing that this wouldn’t last? Why are you torturing me so?” her daughter begged her for an answer.
She sighed yet again and pulled her daughter close, trying to hide old feelings in her heart, “When I was a child, my mother had gifted me a slave. Not as a servant but as a friend. We played together, watched the skies and leaves in the river together. We shared our laughs and sorrows. The years went by and we were inseparable still. But I grew strong and Maya withered away. And when I came crying to my mother, she told me that it was a lesson all along. Do not grow attached to the murks. For they might be beautiful to the eyes and pleasing to the ears but are ultimately fleeting. To do so means that you would burn a piece of your heart with the passing of each one.”
“This is why you never name a child until they breathe for two years. It hurts much less that way. And that is why I wanted him to catch your sight. It is better if you feel it now than to be grieving later.
“So what should I do, then?” Anaise sniffed.
“Observe him. Learn from him. Find enjoyment in his presence now, if you wish. A Daimon is a gift that should be cherished, even a murk one.”
She gently combed the loose locks away.
“But know, that this too won’t last for long.”