Natat! Natat! Natat!
Ember fled down the halls, cursing mentally and convinced she was going insane.
What was happening to her?
She could’ve died! She almost had!
“What do you have, but your life?”
And for a human! But…
They could have destroyed her any time they wanted to. And that meant they didn’t need her either.
“If you have nothing to offer, you are expendable.”
So why had he…
Oh thek. Thekking natat!
She had no place here, but he kept giving her one. Which meant he could also take it away. Which meant he could take everything away, and she couldn’t stop him.
But he wouldn’t.
And she knew he wouldn’t.
And knowing that made her so terrified that she couldn’t breathe.
Ember realized she was standing with her head pressed against a cold window and swearing under her breath where there were people. She had to find a way out of the whirlwind she was in, and quickly. Before she convinced everyone in the palace that she really had gone insane.
Bethania. Bethania could help her get her head on straight.
She figured out where she was, the south solarium, and plotted a course to the old woman’s quarters. She walked there faster than she ever had before, but another woman was in the room with Bethania when she came to the door. A very loud woman.
Shouting in Hahkaht.
Ember waited just outside, listening to the woman’s shouts, followed by Bethania’s soft replies in the same language, followed by more shouts.
She knew that voice, didn’t she?
Tala. It was Tala.
She sounded angry. And sad. And maybe a little desperate.
Tala stopped suddenly with an exclamation that Ember knew meant “What?”
The door opened.
Bethania grabbed Ember by the arm and dragged her into the room.
Tala, standing with hands clenched and iridescent green-and-black wings fully extended, protested loudly, pointing at Ember and shaking the finger as she said a long litany of things that Ember couldn’t track at all.
Bethania shut the door without a sound, then gave Tala a cool stare.
“Manners,” she said in Tokarien.
Tala locked gazes with Bethania, holding her ground for a good thirty tikkits before dropping her gaze and unclenching her hands.
“Yes, Tan-tan,” she said.
Tala glared at Ember, who rocked slightly at the raw anger in her eyes.
Bethania returned to her hahx table, sat down again, and resumed drinking from a steaming cup sitting at her place. Another cup sat at the place across from her, abandoned and cold.
Ember looked from Bethania to Tala, then back again.
Tala just sizzled.
After a kella of that Bethania sighed.
“Tala, why don’t you just tell Ember what you were telling me? Without the yelling. She’ll understand.”
Tala snapped her head to Bethania.
“Her? A Garagran? A tashtani!?”
Tala clenched her teeth.
“No,” she said.
Bethania set her cup down and gave Tala a look that Ember could not fully make out. Tired, and sad, but also something else. Affectionate? Pained?
“Do you wish to invite the enemy into our home, dirsahri? Into your heart?”
Tala’s face lost all expression.
Bethania looked down at the table and shook her head. Tala fell silent.
“You are not the only one. Many have been crying out for the darkness to come here. Ean is one of the few who is not.” She paused. “Do you truly desire what you say you do?”
Tala’s shoulders fell.
“More than you desire Kai?”
Tala’s expression fell. Her wings curled up. A moment later she folded them at her back and bowed deeply to Bethania.
“I have sinned, Tan-tan.”
“Not against me. Apologize to your cousin-in-law and Aihay.”
Tala twitched. Then she straightened, turned to Ember, and bowed deeply.
“I apologize for insulting you. Please forgive me.”
Insulting her? That was what all those words had been? Oh.
Some of those had sounded very nasty.
“I… yes. I… forgive you.” She was not starting a fight with a Tavarin.
Tala straightened and walked past her without another word. Ember watched her go.
“Come sit down,” Bethania said, interrupting her.
Ember turned her attention back to Bethania and approached the table to sit down. Bethania took the cup of cold hahx and poured it on a nearby plant, then took a clean cup and started a fresh pot filled with one of her blends. Ember settled onto the kneeling cushion and watched the steam rise from the pot meant for her.
It smelled of roses.
“I sent you a message to come see me, but you are not here for that.” Bethania said.
Ember jerked and stared at her. Right. Still seeing far too much.
“Am I that obvious still?”
Bethania tapped her own forehead with one finger.
Ember groaned and began doing subtle breathing exercises.
“I haven’t seen bright red before.” Bethania smiled. “With flashes of yellow, green, blue, and… purple? Ah, there. You have it under control.”
“What is making you so colorful today?”
Ember opened her mouth, and stopped.
“I don’t know,” she said.
“Hmmm.” Bethania took Ember’s teapot and swirled it a few times. “Who is making you so colorful?”
That she could answer.
“He’s doing that to a lot of people these days.”
Ember hissed. She didn’t find it at all funny.
“What is he doing to you? Specifically.”
Ember searched, trying to find the emotions behind the confusion again, then the reasons behind the emotions. Without letting it explode on her face.
“He’s…” What? “He’s… defending me. Still.”
Bethania swirled the teapot again and another smile twitched at her lips.
“It’s not funny!”
Bethania looked at her and the obvious affection in her eyes silenced Ember.
Oh no. Here too…
Ember wanted to run out the door.
Bethania must have seen it. She poured the tea into the cup with honey and a little cream and set it before Ember.
Ember almost argued. Instead she drank the hahx. The rose scented hahx, strong with undercurrents of mountain daisies and lavender, and a touch of rhen bush, an expensive ingredient used for no purpose other than it’s delightful taste.
So good! The only other woman in the palace who even came close to brewing hahx like this was Mirza.
She set the cup down and let Bethania refill it, then met the old woman’s gaze.
“I’m not used to this. Any of it. Still.”
“Of course not.”
“Of course not?”
“You were the least of your family. The weakest. And if there’s one thing Garagran’s can’t stand, it’s someone in their own family who reminds them of weakness.”
Ember stared at her.
“How did you… oh.” The files.
Bethania shook her head.
“No, dirsahri. From snippets you’ve dropped since the day you arrived here. And from your size as a Garagran, and how you carry yourself, and so many other things. I don’t need the file to tell me what you’re struggling with.”
Ember felt entirely too naked again.
“Oh. I see.”
“Do you? Do you see how a woman who was hated, and taught to hate, for her entire life would find it difficult being loved?”
“Loved. Ean loves you. So do I. And Trin as well. I could list others, but the list is getting tediously long.”
“Ean? I told him I would never…”
Bethania threw her head back and laughed a bright, musical, laugh.
“No. No. There are many types of love. Right now what he feels for you is more like the kind that a protective brother has for a sister.” Bethania cocked her head to one side and smiled faintly.
Bethania shook her head.
“No. I will not say. But, I will say this. You love him back. And that is what is tearing you apart.”
Thoughts, comments, and critique greatly appreciated. If you can’t think of anything, then I would especially love to hear your answers to these questions: Is there anything you don’t understand? Anything that threw you out of the story? Places where it moved too fast? Too slow? What do you think of the characters? Thanks.