Not only did Mekel give her Brogo and and make her memorize an extensive set of commands to give him, he also picked out a riding horse for her, a high-backed saddle to put on it, and gave Ember her first lesson with both of those. Not just her first riding lesson in Salshira, but her first riding lesson ever.
Riding horses wasn’t something Garagrans did much.
She fell off three times. Immilene had kept a straight face each time and didn’t laugh. It seemed to be a mighty deed from her whitefaced expression. Halfway through she was replaced by another Tixerie in a guard uniform: Lahnria. Immilene explained that she only had the early shift and that Lahnria and one other Tixerie named Miri would be joining her in rotation as they figured out the best schedule for keeping Ember safe.
Ember felt a little unnerved for a moment at yet another new face, but then decided Lahnria was as good as Immilene. She was also a little less bubbly and earnest, which Ember preferred.
Lahnria’s hair was an iridescent storm of violet, lightning blue, pink and lavender–it was a long story, mainly involving a distant ancestor who was Aothani–which she kept contained in three braided tails rolled into tight loops at the back of her head. Her wings were almost as extravagant, black along the outer edges with outrageous flares of magenta toward the base and a few flashes of almost mirrorlike silver. She spread them out for her charge when she caught Ember looking.
Lahnria also had throwing daggers in sheaths all the way around the outside of both thighs, daggers in her boots, and a collapsible crossbow strapped to her lower back. She was a tiny little bundle of visual contradictions.
The two of them finally made it away from Mekel and back to Ember’s room just before sunset. Not that it mattered, as the continuing cloud cover had brought the outside into darkness a solid mark before. Learning to walk completely upright with a large kirtak stretched across her shoulders had been interesting, but she had it mastered by the time she was outside her door again.
It didn’t help that she was aching all over again.
A bundle of equipment was waiting for her. From a brief inspection it looked like a longsword, a companion dagger, a much smaller dagger that would probably be good for hiding somewhere, all sharp, and a set of lightweight boiled leather armor that was probably for practicing. Also, one of the compact, complicated bows she had seen Trin and so many other Salshirans using.
Ember picked up the bundle and took it into her room after Lahnria took a brief look inside ahead of her. Immilene had mentioned that the Tavarin family had dinner at six-thirty every night and Ean probably intended to take her, but she would worry about that when the Prince came to find her.
Until then, the only thing she wanted was another bath.
She told Brago to find a perch somewhere. He leapt off her shoulders and glided to a chairseat, then began sniffing the air. Ember ignored him and threw the bundle of equipment onto the bed.
Someone squeaked and a cat yowled.
Ember took a step back and then saw a little brown-haired Liltan girl, with small dove gray bird wings and wearing a white dress, sit up on the white bed and push the bundle off an angry gray-white shorthair. She picked the aggrieved cat up in her arms and hugged him.
Brago took off with a leap and a bat of his wings and landed on the bed next to the girl, giving her and the cat a deep once-over with his nose.
The girl saw the Kirtak, freed one arm from hugging the cat, and dragged Brago into a scrunch as well. He kirped an objection, but went with it.
“Hello?” Ember said in Tokal.
“Hello,” the girl replied in full Tokarien. “You’re the Garagran lady Ean’s marrying.”
News spread fast.
“You’re in my room,” Ember said, switching to the same language.
“Drax sleeps here.” The girl said and nodded at the cat.
Ember pondered what to do. The girl couldn’t be very old. Should she get Lahnria?
“My name’s Nanli. What’s yours?”
“Danya. Are you a Tavarin?”
The girl nodded, yawning again.
Ember approached the bed. Of course the little creature wasn’t dangerous. Nothing to worry about. She came around the side and looked into big wide blue eyes. Blue as a pure mountain lake. She remembered another set just like them. Now gone.
Ember sat down on the bed next to the girl.
“So Drax sleeps here?”
“And you followed him?”
“And you decided to sleep with him on my bed?”
“It was dark today.”
“Yes it was. Do both of your parents have wings?”
“No. Only me.”
“Neither of your parents has wings?”
“Grandfather has wings. Great-grananny has wings. Daddy says its ‘to-sha-ni’.”
The last word the little girl used sounded like Hahkaht and was one Ember had never heard before. Perhaps it didn’t have a Tokarien equivalent. Ember looked at the girl’s wings. They didn’t look as large as those of the Prince’s Shinalilt armsman had. She knew that Garagran wings started small and got larger. She had seen it when her younger brother was born. Perhaps Shinalilt were the same.
The door opened and Lahnria looked in. When she saw the child her face showed the sick embarassment of someone who knows they have completely failed at their job. Ember waved her away and Lahnria shut the door quietly.
Brogo began to struggle.
“I think he wants you to let him go,” Ember said.
The girl huffed but released the kirtak. He immediately swarmed over to Ember’s lap. The girl settled the cat better on her own lap, once again clutching him with both arms, and moved closer to Ember. Perhaps to stay close to the kirtak.
The cat mrowed.
The girl began to pet him and soon the soft vibration of purring sounded in the air.
Brogo looked up at Ember. Ember looked down at the kirtak. He patted her arm with a paw.
Ember sighed and scratched behind his ears. The higher sound of kirring joined the low tones of purring.
Then the girl leaned against Ember’s side.
Ember stiffened. Her hand stopped moving.
She started petting again. The kirring intensified.
The girl looked up at her.
“Your forehead has a rainbow on it.”
Ember was surprised.
“My scales change color sometimes.”
“That’s amazing! I wish I could change my wings. Gray is boring.”
“I think they’re fine just like they are.”
“Rainbow would be better.”
“Do you know what my daddy told me rainbows mean?”
“They mean Kai loves us.”
“They do, do they?”
“What else do you know?”
“I know the whole kahtakism.”
Another word Ember didn’t know. Did she want to?
“It’s a bunch of questions. Someone asks the question, and then I tell them the answer. I know the questions too, though. I could ask them and then you could try and guess the answer. Like a game.”
“Ask. I’m smart. I’ll figure it out.”
The girl scrunched her brow, thinking hard for a moment.
“Okay,” she said. “What is your only comfort in life and death?”
What kind of question was that?
Ember looked at the girl, studied those dark blue eyes. No. She was serious. That was the question.
Comfort in life and death?
There was no comfort in death, except not to die. Once you were dead, you were nothing. If that wasn’t obvious enough on it’s own, the Scales taught that the only conceivable goal of life was to overcome death and become a god.
Comfort in death?
Ember had none.
And little enough in life.
“You give up?” the girl asked.
“Yes. Tell me your answer.”