The Skies of Aurlin
Author: Caela Kings

Chapter 13
Chess


VII.

It was midday, and Iythara was not with Cane. She was with the black Wolf, instead. His wolf, Gretel, was with them, as well. She was darker than Trai, but not quite black, the same shade of the black Wolf's coal-grey hair. He used his hands to direct the eldritches, like waves of water. Yet, his presence disturbed them even more, making them move like whirlwinds about him. And as I moved forward, the waves nearly engulfed me, filling my lungs, my bones, my feathers with his soot-tainted, fiery magic as I was forced to leave.


Something tapped his shoulder. Feld jumped and turned, startled. But it was only Ter, standing patiently behind him, brow scrunching in slight confusion.

“I apologize for startling you, my lord.”

Feld shook his head, utterly nonplussed by Ter's own befuddlement.“By the Regent's land, Ter, why do you always walk so quietly?” In his pale grey servant's garb and dark eyes, he looked the benevolent ghost to the Regent's vengeful wraith.

“I apologize again, my lord.” Ter coughed a bit, sheepishly. “Stealth seems to be one of the few things that I enjoy much anymore. I'll attempt to be louder when I am near you, however.”

How the proud, straight-backed man managed to sound so pitiful, and yet still as unyielding as a brick wall had Feld reeling. He raised his eyebrows and attempted to hide it, however. “No, no, Ter, it's fine. What was it you wanted?”

“I was going to bring you to the suppliers, my lord,” Ter said. “I mean, if you are not busy, my lord. I would not want to interrupt.”

“Oh, right.” Feld had nearly forgotten. But he was in the middle of something. He had promised to meet with Ali today, though to what ends, he had no clue. He had seen her very rarely the past few days, and he'd been looking forward to it since lunch. Not to mention he'd been taking extra care to avoid both Warren and Sovan, which effectively banned him from half of the Mains. He was trying to find a way to Ali's chambers without risking a stroll through those halls, though that was looking more and more unlikely by the minute. Besides, he had promised Ter...

He gave a weak smile. “I'm not busy at all. In fact, I was getting relatively bored.”

Ter brightened near instantly, just a small light coming to his eyes, the rest of his face remaining schooled into passivity as a good servant's should. “Brilliant, my lord. I shall show you the way. Right over here.” He took off, walking so briskly it was quite nearly a run. Feld hated to make such a show of it, but Ter did not slow, even as they entered an unfamiliar part of Aurlin. Ter stopped them at a pair of very large, silver-lined doors, very much like those of the Avitorium. The interior was far less grand. The walls were less than white, stained by the moisture in the air. It all smelt of mineral and sand, as well as the wind before a storm. The ground made scratching noises as they walked across and the remnants of clay and plaster scrapped against the no longer white tile. It was large, descending into various halls past.

“Nel!” Ter called, and a mousy, brown-haired serving girl appeared from around one of the corners.

“Ter,” she said quietly, though her voice still echoed in the large room. “I haven't seen you in a good while. Your sections keeping you well?”

“Very well, indeed,” he answered. “And the Regent is treating you well I hope?”

The girl blushed a bit, but stood straighter under the other servant's scrutiny. “As well as I can expect, I am only a servant after all.” She hesitated, looking both men over. Then she brightened as if she remembered something, and darkened as she did not appear to like it. “Ah! Sorry, my lord. Forgive my manners. I am Nel, at your service, sir. Do you need something?”

Feld coughed. “We—I need clay. For a sculpture.”

The servant took a spiral-bound book from her brown-stained apron. “Sorry, sir. You'll need to be more specific than that, sir.”

Feld blinked as he tried to remember the figures Ter had mentioned from their other meeting, but just as he hesitated a second, Ter took command, giving Nel all of the measurements she needed, and probably many she didn't, and certainly a good amount more than he had ever mentioned to Feld. She nodded curtly, slapped the book shut, and retreated back to the storerooms.

“I should clarify a bit,” Ter said.

“Please?”

“Nel is one of the Regent's personal servants. She works here when she's needed; she has a quicker mind than most of us, if I do say so myself. I know her from when I used to work here.”

Feld was shocked. “In the storerooms?”

“In the Mains,” Ter corrected.

“As a servant?”

Ter looked at him oddly. “What else, sir?”

What else, indeed! Feld rolled his eyes, thinking of the rumors his friends had once told him about the odd servant. The notion was almost laughable when he thought about, especially now that he knew Ter a tad bit better. “It's just,” he began, “there were these stories, back at home, that you were Risen, but you ended up insulting the Regent and sent to be a servant, instead.”

Ter started, “Excuse me, sir?”

Feld looked up, trying to remember any specifics. “Just silly things. That you were one of the Regent's guards, that you were once a paragon—some other, more ridiculous ones, too, which I cannot remember. Things of that nature.”

“Very ridiculous,” Ter agreed. His eyes had gone very dark, and blank, like the deep of midnight. “I must say, I did not know I was the object of such rumor.” He shook his head, blinked, and the dark look was gone for a more bewildered one. “Honestly.”

“You're just odd for a servant,” Feld concluded.

“And you, Feld, are odd for an Aurlinite.”

Nel came back, green eyes glinting in the yellow light. “It'll take a few days for us to get it all sorted together, Master Feld. We'll send someone when it is. Do you have a preference as to the room you would like it carted?”

“Any one big enough should be fine,” Feld said, and Ter nodded his approval. Nel scribbled it down in her book.

“Perfect.” And she headed back to the stores once again. “It was good to see you, Ter.”

“You as well, dear.”

“Is that it?” Feld asked.

“Quite.” Ter began going back to the entrance. “Very simple really, but dreadfully impossible without you.” He paused a bit, his uncertainty showing in his faltering steps. “Thank you, Feld,” he finally said.

“You are very much welcome,” Feld replied. The hall was silence, though he could hear the muffled whispers of various other Aurlinites, going about their business about the Mains. He thought he could hear the laughter of children, but it that was impossible. The children were kept strictly sectioned off form the visiting nobles, not even a few musicians were allowed to the dinners after the insane harpist had done her show. He could only remember visiting the Gathering as a student when he was just a few years from graduation and a noble in spirit if not in writing.

Something was bugging him, though...

“If I'm an odd Aurlinite,” he found himself wondering aloud, “then what is a normal Aurlinite?”

“Sovan,” Ter answered without hesitation.

“What?” Feld faltered for a moment, taken aback that he'd even bothered to answer the question, and with such a definite answer.

“Sovan is the perfect Aurlinite,” Ter clarified, stopping between each word. “Composed, intelligent, ambitious.”

“He is a cold, spiteful man,” Feld replied, surprised even by his own venom. “And he's only gotten moreso ever since we'd arrived here.”

“I never said he was a good man.” Ter sighed. “I said he is the perfect Aurlinite...” His voice trailed away, like wind in a dark cave.

“Ter?”

“Nothing, my lord.” He had such dark eyes for an Aurlinite. “Don't you have lunch soon, my lord?”

“That was an hour ago.” Feld peered at the servant. Outwardly, he looked no different, and his voice held the same, intelligent confidence it always did. Yet, he'd said something false. Whenever did Ter say something wrong? About something so menial?

“Ter?”

“Yes, my lord?”

This was going to be difficult. “About Sovan, Ter.”

Ter frowned. “Truly, sir, I meant nothing of it. I said all that I wished to say.”

“You will not lie to me, Ter.” Feld felt his jaw tighten and let out a heated breath in an attempt to relax. It did not help.

“Or you will do what, noble?” Ter asked, taking on a sudden, inexplicable ferocity. “Go and tell on me to the Regent and get me executed, my blood drawn into a bowl?” He stopped in his tracks, and stood directly in front of Feld. For the first time, Feld noticed that Ter was, in fact, taller than him. It was quailing, but he stood straighter, chin angled out.

“Perhaps not, but I can always stop your order of clay.”

Ter did not reply, but stared at Feld straight in the eye, dark blue to light.

“With just one word,” Feld continued, the heat from his stomach going to his head. His blood rushed in his ears. “And never do I have to go back there, Ter.”

“You wouldn't do that.” Ter's voice lacked a hint of his usual conviction.

“Why wouldn't I?”

Ter swallowed, considering his response. “Because you made me a promise, and you are a man of honor.”

But he had him there, Feld knew, and the fact twisted in his guts. He might go back to the stores, but the only thought he would have—the only image in his mind—would be the phoenix rising, and the glory it would hold when given life. And the man who would give that life to it. He clutched his hands behind his back.

“You are a servant, Ter.” Not a noble, and not a Risen guard, no mythical being. A servant. Feld may not be able to follow up on that threat, but he would be damned if he let this slave talk to him as so.

“My name is Tellfere.” Ter's voice was reduced to a whisper, but it was the whisper of a hidden assassin, unable to speak above a hiss without alerting the guards.

“And you made a promise, also, Tellfere,” Feld said. “You made an oath to your masters and to your betters—you made an oath to never deceive them, to never lie, and to always obey.”

Something in Ter's eyes seemed to dim, a dying star finally going out. The way his mouth moved from a frown to something different, something between a gape and a snarl—something in Feld's words cut deep, exposing his nerves to a harsh, chill air. Ter shook his head, slowly. “But when does one oath trump the other...?” He turned to the walls instead. “I don't know what it is, Feld, but there is something in your eyes that are not in my own, nor anyone else's in this city.”

“Ter...”

“I know little about Sovan,” Ter interrupted, voice calm, composed. His face, too, was a mask of marble. As if nothing had happened; the clenched, sick feeling in Feld's stomach being the only evidence of their battle of wills. “I know little about what he does,” Ter continued after a breath. “But I know he visits the Regent. Not often, but enough.”

“Enough for what?”

“Let me finish!” A crack appeared in the marble mask, before he closed his eyes, recovering what he had lost. “Let... me finish. Sometimes, the Regent has meetings with nobles. Often, really, for His amusement. But, not always the same person, and not so frequently as your friend. Before you ask, I do not know what he is doing in there. I am not privy to such information. Do not.. ask.” He shivered.

Feld's mind reeled. The Regent had not kept his favor for Sovan and his work a secret, certainly, but he'd never suspected anything past that. Yet, why was it suspect? Why did the fact make Feld feel as though a dagger was placed between his ribs? The Regent was their ruler—there was nothing crass, nothing wrong with his favor. Was it the deception? That such a thing was kept secret from his friends?

Or, perhaps, that Feld couldn't help but wonder fiercely, what the philosopher did during these clandestine meetings?

“These could just be trivial,” Feld said. “A few games of chess, some philosophical banter.”

“Probably,” Ter agreed, but he did not sound as though he believed it. His voice had not reverted to what it should be, its proud self. It was dead, grey, drained. He ran his hand along the wall. “I do not like this Sovan.”

“I...” Feld blinked, trying to defend his friend, but no words came to mind. He glared in frustration. Words were his trade. “I want to know what he's doing,” he said honestly.

“As do I.” This, Ter said with a startling assurance.

With a mental click, a lever opening a flood gate, Feld leaned against the wall Ter faced. “If Nel is one of the Regent's servants, couldn't you ask her to tell you?”

Ter gave him a dark-eyed glance. “Don't bring her into this. That would be treason. Just talking of it is... treason.” He swallowed, as if he had to force some words out, but keep others locked away. “If you must... if you must have eyes in the Regent's quarters, let it be me, Feld.”

“You?” Feld blinked.

“I can have Nel get me a small role in his chambers, without letting her know of my intentions. That would be the best way.” He drew himself higher, nobler, running a tired hand through his hair. “Then, I can report back to you. That's all.”

“Are you really so curious?”

“Don't argue about this, Feld,” Ter warned. “Do you want me to, or not? I obey your orders, my lord.” He added something venomous under his breath, but Feld could only hear the poison in his tone, not the words. He sighed, letting some of the tension out of his frame as he turned and leaned against the wall beside Feld. He riffled through his pocket, pulling out a small piece of paper.


“Before you answer, I meant to give you this, as a thank you.” It was covered in blue pastel, only about six inches long. It faded to grey at the bottom, and white, wispy clouds ran across it. Feld wouldn't have guess there were so many colors, so many details, in a simply cloud, but this artist seemed to have captured them all. “It is the sky, a few centuries ago. I forget the exact date, but this is the exact sky. It was a sketch of mine. I know you love the sky.”

Feld took the paper by the edges, studying the picture. In an elegant, simple way, it was more beautiful than Ter's phoenix. “It is wonderful, Ter.”

“Thank you,” the servant said, voice curt. He looked at his pocket watch, and sighed as he stuffed it back into his breast pocket. “I have duties to attend to, my lord. We'll have to continue this discussion another time, it appears.”



 

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