Two pairs of brown eyes looked up at her.
Two tanned and wrinkled Bortin faces awaited their fate.
Why had he risked everything for his woman?
Why was he willing to die?
She inhaled, a deep, slow, deliberate breath.
“I forgive you, little Orilai,” he said. “We both do. Be at peace.”
She exhaled, and two hugging figures fell away into ash.
A bell tolled.
For a moment slivers of dreams rattled and shimmered, remnants of sharp edged memories she dared not touch.
Oh dear Antan. You fool.
She rolled belly down and buried her face in silky-soft fabric. Soft fabric?
The inn. She was at the inn.
But what about the train?
Ember shook her sluggish memories for information. The last sensation she had was of a somewhat coarser grade of cloth and a harder bed. There was only so much that could be done with a cot that folded down from a wall.
This was far too soft and smooth to be that bed.
Where was she?
Her head cleared and she pushed herself up to look around.
The light was dim, the gray of predawn and leaking through the wood-slat blinds covering two large windows, but she made out a room paneled in light silver-tone wood, with a pale heavy desk, four velvet upholstered chairs around a low dark tea-table, an enormous bookshelf filled with volumes, an armoire, an open closet, a vanity with a huge, brilliant mirror, two closed doors and the giant bed that she herself was in. There were also hanging scrolls and framed paintings on the walls, and several potted plants set where the sunlight would reach them when it came.
Was this the royal palace?
Ember fixed her eyes on one scroll, white kren-bark paper with a spare, black ink-painting of a tall tree filled with all kinds of animals, houses and people. Next to it was a framed silverpoint sketch of an Alleji. Shorter necked and stockier bodied than a Garagran, with a face more like a lion than a wolf and feathered all over rather than scaled. This one was male according to the great set of horns curving back from his brows and the beard of long wispy feathers on his chin. A small inset seemed to show the Alleji in human form.
She slipped from under the bedsheets to get a closer look and found she had a floorlength cotton shift on.
That was a surprise.
How exhausted had she been the night before?
Apparently exhausted enough that someone had carried her from the train to this room, then removed all her clothes and dressed her in nightwear, all without waking her.
Ember shivered at the thought of being so vulnerable.
She was not dead, however. She wondered if the Prince had done the undressing. She was his betrothed after all.
Probably not. He didn’t seem like that type of man. He definitely gave her the impression of another Antan. A brave, caring, fool.
She didn’t know which was more disturbing. The thought that someone might have taken advantage of her while she was asleep, or the surety that the Prince would not have.
Ember glanced around the room, slightly brighter now, but didn’t see her clothes anywhere. Unless they were hanging in the closet. She got up and went to the closet, where all kinds of dresses hung on neat little steel-wire hangers. None of them were hers, but several looked like they would fit. Most of them were high necked, which probably said something about the fashion in Salshira.
Was anyone else even up yet in the palace?
Should she bother dressing and going out?
Ember went to the windows and pulled the blinds away from one so she could look out.
The world was gray. It was still snowing. She could barely see anything.
She appeared to be looking out from high above a city that she could barely see below. A ways away she saw a curving cliff face, cut in half by a wide, frothing waterfall and covered in snow and glistening ice. The waterfall was coming through several circular holes cut in a concave wall of smooth, gray stone and appeared to fall free for at least a hundred heights. Maybe a little more or less. Scale was hard to judge through a blizzard.
She studied the smooth stone the water was falling through more closely.
A dam. A dam of manmade stone a hundred heights high.
Who were these people? She had heard of the Great Temple of Scales in the Draksin Empire, as well as a few other wonders scattered across the continent, but the Salshirans seemed to have wonders falling out of their too-numerous pockets.
She tried to get a good look at the city below for comparison to the dam, but only got a vague impression of hundreds of snowcovered rooftops above a few widely-separated glowing windows, all retreating quickly into another forest with trees of absurd size. Lilta and their forests. Glowing windows cut into the trunks told her that there were people living in the trees here too, just like the other city she had seen.
She wouldn’t be surprised if the capitol of Salshira outmassed Talkon, the capitol of Tenkreilla, by a factor of ten, but that would take clearer weather to tell for certain. The few glowing windows she had spotted did tell her that at least a few people out there were up and about. But what would she do if she left the room and joined them?
Eat, her stomach said.
Hunger asserted itself and reminded her that she had only had a few beef jerky treats the night before. Wonderful beef jerky treats spiced with exhausting emotional baggage. She needed something more than that.
Ember went back to the closet and found a practical, full-length loose-waisted dress in blue cotton twill that seemed like it would look good on her. Not that she was a reliable judge of human looks. She quickly pulled it on, grabbed a pair of slip-on shoes off a low shelf, and headed for the doors.
The first one opened into what was obviously a bathroom. Complete with giant enameled bathtub and carved basalt handwashing sink. Pipes with knobs on them emerged from the wall over the sink. She fiddled with one of the knobs and water came out. She tried not to be amazed yet again but it was hard.
Next to the wide counter containing the sink was a strange lidded box that looked like it was made to sit down on and had a large metal tank above it. She checked and the tank held water. She opened the lid on the low box and saw porcelain with water in it.
What was the purpose?
And where was the chamber pot?
She had a hunch the device in front of her was the answer, but didn’t want to take chances. She left the bathroom and opened the other door.
A tiny blond-haired woman with a pale, heart-shaped face and short, pointed ears, whose eyes were barely level with Ember’s stomach, looked up at her.
“Good morning, Lady Firrisskahv.”
A Tixeri. An armored Tixeri, suited from neck to toe in a sharp blue and silver uniform half-covered with white plate armor that didn’t look like metal. She had a long, thin sword on her right hip, a companion dagger on the other, and a smaller version of Trin’s wheel bow over one shoulder. A glance down at the woman’s back showed Ember a glimpse of fire-red iridescence that reached almost to the floor like a stiff cape. Her wings.
“Umm, good morning.” Ember replied.
The woman smiled at her, showing even, white teeth.
“Welcome to Dalintaf Tira, or Sunfire Falls in Tokal. My name is Immilene Arisithil, but you can call me Immi. I’m a Gar in the city guard and Princess Tavarin has made me your personal guard.”
She bowed, and as best Ember could tell the little woman actually considered her job an honor.
“My guard?” Ember asked.
“Yes. I’m supposed to keep you safe, in case anyone decides to take issue with you being a Garagran and tries to hurt you.”
“Not to keep me from getting out of hand?”
“You aren’t going to, are you? Please don’t! I really don’t want to fight a Garagran.”
Ember smiled instinctively at the honest distress that showed on the woman’s face at her suggestion. This woman was not here to hurt her. And Trin had picked her out, so she probably knew what she was doing. The fact that she was a Tixeri even made Ember feel a little safer. They had a reputation entirely contrary to their size.
“No, I don’t plan to cause any trouble. But I would like breakfast.”
The woman brightened.
“That I can do! Right this way!”
Ember’s stomach rumbled at the prospect of getting some food, but then something lower spoke up more urgently.
“One moment… could you show me where the chamberpot is first?”
The woman stopped and turned around, stunned.
“You don’t know how to use the toilet?”