Shahin Esca Yusuf-ja
She slid across the estate with purpose and familiarity. A surprising familiarity considering how quickly the usual Emanai estate turned into something else entirely.
This place, once idyllic, was swallowed by noises of machinery and busy servants. And his hand was visible everywhere. Shahin could understand with a glance what each contraption did, but there was always something that set them drastically apart from similar constructions elsewhere, even in her own Yusuf.
The water wheel was an obvious example: Erf hounded Wrena for days demanding these curved paddles and the result spoke volumes. She did manage to listen in on some of his explanations but this ‘turbine’ of his could easily accommodate even more water and produce sufficient ‘power’ for the time being.
Her lips smirked as she looked at the eagerly spinning contraption that powered not only the smithy of Enoch’s girl but Wrena’s workshop and even had power for Keivan too. And all that was powered by the water coming from the aqueduct.
Sufficient, her tail.
It also implied that Erf didn’t see it as enough at all and she was extremely curious how he will struggle to wrest more water from the Pillar Manors. For now, Aikerim’s Manor was getting the overflow — the excess water that the Seven didn’t need. She was not so daft as to demand an equal share.
She glanced at the lump of glass in her hands. An onlooker might see it as a failed piece or a discarded one, but it took her a few trials to achieve this purity and cleanness. Something that Shahin had never attempted to do before — it made the glass look boring and without character.
But, for some reason, Erf wanted it to be just like that.
And that is what made it so interesting to her as well. Shahin wasn’t a child to chase after everything that drew her attention. Esca didn’t need better water wheels either. But insight about glass? That was important.
He also requested to speak with her. That was another thing she could not ignore. When not in a confrontational mood, Erf was a veritable chest of insights. All she had to do was ask the correct questions.
Hopefully, this wasn’t about her current residence. She had grown fond of this ‘sauna’ structure. There was a lot of space for her to stretch, accessible water for any necessities and plenty of heat for her to actually dream at night.
There was another part. After giving that place to her, Erf issued orders to make another one for himself and his wives. It was so tiny that Shahin wouldn’t fit inside even if she tried. She didn’t know exactly what had caused him to build it intentionally smaller than the one she resided in but it still felt gratifying.
And she didn’t feel like moving anymore.
Guided by Yeva’s instructions, Shahin found him in one of the work sheds. Working. Alone.
Stirring some white mash in a large vat.
Her smirk grew wider. The Alchemist was prone to get his hands dirty if he was presented with an opportunity for it. He had done so plenty of times at the kilns, or in the kitchen of all things. But these were done to teach someone else.
Working alone meant he was making something for himself or Domina. And it was likely secret too. But she would find out soon enough.
“Greetings, Erf. I have received your summons. Only to find you working on a menial task once again. Especially when Domina has given you more servants.”
“Can’t.” He sighed without stopping or turning around. “All that help I’ve gotten is already busy with hauling resources. Moreover, this concoction is not exactly safe to handle without care. And I don’t have nor want any alchemists for the time being.”
“And that makes you look like a worker, not a master.” She slithered around to the tub, looking inside. “Or is this another task you wish for me to handle.”
“No. I already made plenty of paper pulp.” Erf put aside the stick and checked the substance with his fingers. “I don’t want to deal with another project that isn’t crucial.”
“Well, a replacement for parchment.”
She shook her head. “Why don’t you simply purchase some, if you do not wish to bother with it so much?”
He grimaced. “Parchment is expensive. I need material I can use, discard, or even recycle. Especially if I am going to use it as others use wax tablets.”
Shahin opened her mouth to argue further but a new thought made her say something else. “How much is in here?”
The tub in question was rather large, after all.
The Alchemist shrugged. “A few hundred sheets at least. Possibly more. I will need to figure out their thickness later.”
Her mouth closed shut, as she once again cursed Aikerim Adal for her luck. To buy a daimon on a slave market of all things!
The quantity was staggering and not something his Domina would ignore, especially if he was honest and would use it for making notes of everyday affairs. Parchment was affordable if you used it for important tasks: writing down things that should be remembered for years to come, or sending missives to important people.
Shahin looked at him, her mind racing fast about his intentions. Usually, something like this was a mere brag to highlight their own status, but she knew Erf’s capability for inventing outrageous things. He likely spoke the truth. The question was: why?
Did he somehow find out that her sisters just arrived in Samat?
“Why are you telling me this?”
He had the gall to look at her askance. “You did ask.”
Shahin pursed her lips. “I would imagine that is not something one would divulge easily even if asked.”
He sighed. “And you will see the first batch drying outside by tomorrow. And know their purpose with a single glance.”
She thought for a second and nodded along. “And it has a much greater effect if you were to tell me in person too. Am I correct?”
Erf shook his head. “Perhaps, but I didn’t think too much about it. Especially since it came to my attention that my recent success with my family was caused, at least partially, by you.”
Shahin glanced at the tub and pulled the lump out. “Enticing as it is, I think I am more curious about projects that are pertinent to my family. Like this one.”
“Oh, the first batch is ready? Great! Right on time too: I will carve lenses from them.”
“Lenses?” She frowned. “Like the ones made out of quartz? You can buy them, you know. Unless you also need a thousand of those too.”
“I am not going to scour markets and mountains to find quartz clear enough for my needs. And yes I will likely need a lot of these in the future. The market quality isn’t that great either.”
“The demand is small. Wermages struggling to read scrolls are few and far between, yet they still can read on sand or have a slave reader.” Shahin chuckled. “I probably should have picked the paper instead; it would be more successful.”
“It is quite peculiar that wermages can be farsighted, but I am not planning to make glasses.”
“The healing spells do not work.” She brought the tip of her tail and checked on her scales. “They can heal injuries or other sicknesses, but not that.”
Erf didn’t respond. Glancing back, she saw him staring at her in silence.
“What is it?” She checked her tail again trying to see what caused his scrutiny.
“Aikerim forced you to swear an Oath of Silence to her Manor. You can’t speak of her secrets without her knowing about it. And my secrets are her secrets. Your recent actions do make me want to say more, even if it is something that won’t be given to you.”
Shahin closed her eyes and thought of a spell. The best one to cast silence around them. “Go on.”
“If you arrange specifically carved lenses inside a tube, they can make far objects look as if they are near.”
“Like the spell of farsight?”
“Perhaps.” He shrugged. “But it can be used at any time and by anyone. I wouldn’t be surprised if it could be used by a wermage with a farsight spell too.”
“How far could it see?” She licked her dry lips.
“Depends on how large it is. If it is something you can wear on your belt — as far as the horizon. Build it as large as a house and you can look at the stars. Especially the planets — the wandering ones. You will be able to see with your own eyes they aren’t just bright spots but actual places. Did that satisfy your curiosity? You aren’t just making trinkets here.”
“Did it satisfy, indeed,” she mumbled. Yusuf was famous for her merchant and naval fleets. Pirates too. While Esca concentrated on glass, Shahin Esca Yusuf-ja was sufficiently aware of how useful sight was at sea.
And how influential this invention might be.
“I am not allowed to speak of this to my family, am I?”
“Not yet. You definitely will be, once your service is over, but for now, this is the secret of Kiymetl.”
She sighed. “I wish to ask you for a boon.”
“My family… They have already arrived in Samat. And I wish to speak to them in person. Before they are to meet with Kiymetl proper.”
Erf considered her words. “You have a way to contact them directly. Or you wouldn't be the first to tell me about it.”
Shahin bowed her head and said nothing. He was sharp enough to notice, but that was something she had expected from him.
“You are free to do so. As long as you do not speak of my secrets. Don’t make me regret it.”
“You will not.” She spread her arms around. “I will not be able to return here if I do. My stay here would be more beneficial to my family — I just need them to recognise it as well before it is too late.”
Her current status wasn’t desirable in any way, but that was the risk of being an envoy. Shahin was aware of possible struggles when she had chosen to be one, but chose to do so anyway for the benefit of her family.
Just as she would remain his servant. The trail on the sand was obvious to her — Aikerim was set to rise as a new power and would eclipse not just the rest of Kiymetl, but would likely match other Pillar Houses of Emanai.
And she would not offend the future Matriarch. Shahin had already tried that and was unfortunately too late. What she could do now was borrow that rising fame and have it lift her family along with it.
Anaise Kiymetl Hilal
“Who are you going to invite to your procession, Anaise?”
The question made her grimace. She had become the centre of attention among their group after that incident with the table, but today was the worst. They had found another question she had no answer to.
The invitation to her procession after the Entrance Feast was a not-so-subtle way of showing her intentions to potential husbands. A gesture of benevolence as the young Lady was willing to share her celebration with the first she had set her sights on. It was not exactly expected, but it was common enough.
She didn’t bother with that issue once Erf walked into her life. Even her mother didn’t bother her about it. Likely for a different reason, however.
The reason was most obvious today: the eyes looking at her from every sofa around the table told her everything. Even Mushaf and Lita’af had stopped their conversation to glance at her.
A few tendays ago, Anaise was almost a nobody in this circle. One among many without anything to stand upon that others didn’t already have. Likewise, her selection of preferable candidates was quite limited. The most prominent ones were snatched quite quickly by anyone with sufficient pull.
The ones in her position usually bid their time as their renown grew. Her mother did just that with her father — not only did she take it slow but she started by secretly meeting with him in advance. So that she could steal him from under the unsuspecting noses of everyone around.
“I believe that I should wait a bit for that.” Anaise smiled.
“Oh, but you shouldn’t! Who would say no after seeing your spellwork!?”
And that was the crux of it. She wasn’t a nobody anymore. And the power dynamic within their circle had reflected that. The ones in her previous position now urged her to make a choice.
So that she would compete with leaders, instead.
“If she wishes to wait, she should wait! Why are you bothering her?” Mushaf huffed.
And the leaders didn’t want any additional competition. Their game was of a different kind: with long traditions and extensive planning. Some would have their husbands decided at birth.
“Or are you that desperate to see her ask and receive no answer in return?”
Her ears twitched. Some habits refused to die, it seemed.
“Lita’af, I heard that your brother is still available, is he not?” She asked oh so sweetly.
“You!” Mushaf hissed, slamming her tail on the sofa. “Don’t you dare!”
“I believe he is already spoken for, I am afraid.” Lita’af shook her head. “Perhaps, someone else? I can ask around.”
“Do you think he would change his mind after seeing my spellwork?” Anaise pressed on.
“Enough of this!” Mushaf barged in. “Do you have no shame stealing one belonging to someone else!?”
“I don’t know.” Anaise innocently swirled her wine. “Why don’t you ask Litavis? In the end, I am my mother’s daughter.”
Mushaf glanced at the Samat girl in question, who sighed, “Aikerim Adal took Tarhunna Wafiq, despite years of planning between Enoch and Samat. Agrona hasn’t forgiven her since.”
The glare was back on her. “What do you want?”
“Not now, Lita’af. He is mine!” She turned back once again to Anaise. “So?”
“You wish me to stay silent? I can, as a favour. For a favour.”
“From me to you.”
Anaise shook her head. “That would be a small favour. We are talking about my Entrance Feast — an event that happens once in my life. From your Manor to mine.”
Mushaf gave her a long glare. She met it with an unflinching smile. This was a play she had already won.
“Splendid!” Anaise clapped her hands together. “Let everyone know that I, Anaise Kiymetl Hilal, will stay silent on my feast. For there are others that deserve to choose first!”
Whispers and grumbles spread across the room, but she paid them little attention. With just a single stint, she had managed not only to stop the incessant questions altogether but sow seeds of validity once her relationship became known.
Who would judge her for choosing a murk when she publicly stepped away from the invitation? The nights were long and cold after all.
The smirk refused to go away, she would need to work on that.
The wolf wermage leaned over. “You weren’t planning on showing your spellwork at all, were you?”
Yes, she really needed to work on that smirk.
“It is about respect, Lita’af. I am willing to forget the past, but I grow stronger. And I need to show that as well — my strength would be useless if I am still seen as weak.”
“You seek strength, yet you easily discard what strength is usually used for.” Lita’af frowned. “What are you afraid of?”
Anaise sighed, unwilling to tell her directly yet unable to blatantly lie about it either. “Fate, I guess? Now that I have what I always sought after, I have become extremely aware of how much I stand to lose.”
She couldn’t help but frown at the sound of the hammer. Isra had a strong arm but today there was anger in her strikes. Yeva wasn’t eager to speak with a wermage but this was a task she had made for herself. If she were to speak to unfamiliar wermages in the future, Yeva had to start with barely familiar wermages now.
The wermages that were unlikely to strike back at her for some perceived slight. Like the smith under her husband’s employ.
“You seem to be disturbed by something.”
“Wha-!” Isra Haleh jumped in surprise, dropping her hammer. “Who are you? Don’t sneak up on me!”
“My name is Yeva. His second wife. Your sight is in my heart, Isra Enoch Haleh.”
“And your name is on my lips.” She picked up the hammer. “Do you need me? I am busy with my work.”
The minotaur nervously glanced at the door. “Or did Erf ask for me?”
“I wished to meet you personally. He taught me alchemy and, as his apprentice, we are likely to work together in the future. Erf can be quite busy, after all.”
“Well, you should start by not sneaking up on me, like a Collector of some sort,” Isra grumbled, turning away. “Or demanding to know my personal matters.”
“I won’t ask further if they are personal,” Yeva spoke past the sound of the hammer. “I just couldn't help but notice that your trip today was rather short. And not very fruitful. I feared there was some problem with the task that Erf had given you.”
The hammer stopped.
“Is that a threat? What do you want?”
“I don’t want Erf to be caught unawares. And with him — his sadaq. I would like to know if there are issues as soon as possible, rather than learn about them once they are critical.”
“The dumps are closed off! There. Happy now? The lands they are on belong to Enoch Manor and my sister denied entrance even to me!”
That…was weird. And quite unusual.
“Your sister? What does she have to do with any of this?”
Isra looked away. “She is jealous.”
Yeva sighed. So that is what it was. Either Isra bragged to someone about her new job, or previous grudges followed her after moving to this Manor. Perhaps both. Her sister knew exactly where to strike and was willing to issue such an absurd order too.
And Isra was stubborn. She barely got this much out of her by correctly guessing the cause of her anger.
“I will speak to Anaise. Perhaps she can ask her fath—“
“No!” Strong arms grabbed her. “Anyone but him. I don’t want him to know it too!”
“Let. Go.” Yeva hissed. It took all her will not to scream in panic as a wave of anxiety washed over her. Pushing the memories of her past to the forefront of her mind.
“First. You will let me go. Now!” Yeva pressed. Feeling the strength coil inside her body. She wasn’t sure if her new knowledge about the mind helped her stay in control of her survival instincts or if the nanites were directly responsible. Or if it was the indirect result of her new strength.
Isra’s fingers finally let go of her shoulders. “Look, I…”
“Do not. I repeat, do not ever do that again, without my direct consent!” she hissed. “I am not Erf and I will not ignore this attitude of yours. Especially when I am trying to solve your own mistake, you braggart.”
“How do you…”
“I don’t wear this blindfold for nothing.” She kind of did. “I can hear the words you left unsaid. And I can hear your heartbeat, Isra Haleh.”
Isra swallowed loudly. “I am sorry.”
Yeva took a few calming breaths. Erf was right: she was almost like a child at certain things. “We will discuss this at a later time. Now, I assume you can still get iron ore? Coal?”
“Of course! I know plenty of merchants and can recognise the quality at a glance. None dare to swindle me.”
“Good, get both. Don’t worry about poisons that would ruin the bloom, Erf and I know of ways to circumvent that. Just get plenty this time around.”
“This time? What do you mean?”
Yeva pursed her lips. “I want you to get enough of each to fill this entire warehouse. To the roof.”
“You call that plenty!?” Isra gasped.
“Discarded iron lumps allow us to skip a step in the process. If we are forced to do it anyway, we might as well do it efficiently. What were you making when I walked in, by the way?”
“Er. Something for Erf. I know enough by now not to tell bad news empty-handed.”
Yeva shook her head. “It wouldn’t have worked on him. Especially if you told him about the shortage of iron while presenting him with a trinket. One that you used the iron on.”
“It was not a trinket,” Isra mumbled. There was hurt inside her voice. “I wanted to make him an armour. I knew that he would need it eventually and I wanted to create something.”
“Look, Isra. Can I call you that?” Hearing her agreement, Yeva continued, “Do you know why Erf needs metal?”
Isra sniffed. “He said that he needs a lot of steel, that means weapons.”
“He needs it for you, Isra. All that iron on the floor would be yours. Not weapons nor armours. Tools. Did you see the lathe that Wrena has? Erf said you were jealous about it. You will have one like that, made with steel. So you can carve metal just as she does wood, without relying on runes. You will have hammers that will strike metal for you and presses that will fold metal in a blink of an eye. Or stamp a piece outright as if it was a wax seal on a scroll.
“These machines need to be strong to do all that. To do it for you so that you can concentrate on creation rather than yelling at your apprentices to strike harder. They also need to be precise so they won’t hinder you in any way. So you can create even finer instruments. There will be a time when it is you, who will make lathes for Wrena.”
“For me? I…I think I need to run to the markets.”
“Yes, you should. It would be very bad if the new furnace didn’t have enough material to work with because you took your time.”
“Thank you.” Isra reached out, but managed to stop herself. “Can I hug you?”
“No. Now hurry while I inform Erf about the delay and the need to build yet another furnace. Unless, you want to be present during that.”
Yeva listened to the quickly disappearing clopping of hooves and sighed internally. This ‘carrot and stick’ method was rather exhausting. She didn’t know how Erf managed to do it almost daily, specifically with some of the people around here, but hoped it would be easier in the future. Even with newfound knowledge, she still had a lot to learn and master.
But needs must when the devil drives.
And their sadaq had a lot of devils after them, it seemed.