Chapter 17: Wine and Words
Gelida had waited almost a week to hear anything from El Darnen or Daliana, but still, nothing was coming. Finally, news made its way through the mountains to her, but it was not the kind of news she wanted to hear.
“What do you mean the Night Council called a vote on whether or not to remove Erygan?” Birds squawked and took flight as her yell echoed through the mountain pasture.
The messenger shrank a little and stammered. “All I know is what I heard, Morschcoda. Prince Eildar is trying to stay between a Deshik army and the bridges of the Baan-Taar, and General Mredick is trying to keep the Deshik army from splitting and marching in different directions.” “So, they’re in Eschcota?”
“Yes, Morschcoda. I don’t know the result of the vote, but Morschcoda Dalrey left his army with General Mredick and went back to Toredo.” “I need to get there, as quickly as possible. By Lasheed and all the gods, I wish the Greshida were still in the mountains.”
“Some of them are.”
“Are there any Portallers left?”
“If there is, I’ll find you one, my Lady.”
Gelida walked through the portal and into the great hall of the castle of Toredo. She pointed at the first person she saw, an older servant who looked slightly familiar. “You there, where is Morschcoda Dalrey?” “Morschcoda Mectar,” the man said, bowing. “It is an honour to see you again.”
She accepted his bow, but was still impatient for news. “We’re at war, so away with the formalities. Morschcoda Dalrey. Where is he?” “The Morschcoda is with his army. I believe that they are somewhere in northern Eschcota.”
“Fine. Who is in charge here?”
“The Morschcoda’s sister, Princess Leshia, rules Torridesta in the Morschcoda’s absence.”
“You could have just said Princess Leshia.” Gelida started to walk away, believing she knew where to find the Princess, her long-time friend. She stopped mid-stride and turned on her heel. “But, Leshia is Eildar’s sister, not Erygan’s.” The servant bowed again. “An understandable confusion, my Lady. His majesty, King Erygan Dalrey, abdicated the Throne of Shadows when he discovered how great a hold the Five Lords of the Vault had on his councillors. The Morschcodal Throne was passed to his son, Eildar Dalrey, while Erygan now rules exclusively as King of Torridesta, Eschcota, and Rista.” Gelida let out a long sigh of relief. “Thank any god that exists that Erygan still knows how to manipulate the Night Council.”
“If I may say so, my lady, I agree heartily.”
“Now, Leshia is …”
“This way, Morschcoda.”
“That desk doesn’t suit this room at all, Leshia.”
Leshia had looked up, seen her secretary enter, and then reburied herself in the mountain of paperwork that was on her desk. She wondered where the man’s sense of design had suddenly come from, wondered why his voice was so high, and briefly wondered how to tell him off in a way fitting of her new station before she looked up again and saw Gelida Mectar leaning against the doorpost. She jumped up and ran to give the taller woman a long, tight hug.
Releasing the Morschcoda slightly, Leshia looked up at her friend. “It’s about damn time you came back here to see me.”
Gelida brushed a strand of hair out of Leshia’s eyes and tucked it behind her ear. “I heard about the vote. What happened?”
Leshia raised an eyebrow and rolled her eyes. “It’s good to see you too, you know.”
Gelida shook her head and laughed. “Sorry. It’s been a long week. I was supposed to see Daliana a week ago, or at least hear from her. She’s disappeared, with El Darnen and Edya Reeshnar. And then this vote, and Eildar trying to fight a war.” Gelida groaned and hugged Leshia back. “It’s been a long week, and I’ve been worried about everyone. It is good to be back, though.” “One minute. Melish?” Leshia’s secretary looked up from straightening out the mess that Leshia had made with her papers. “I don’t want to see anyone or hear about anything for the rest of today. I don’t even want to see you.” “Yes, my lady.” The bald man disappeared through the door, which he locked behind him.
“Now, we have some catching up to do.”
Gelida wrapped her arms tighter around Leshia and kissed her. “Yes, I think we do.”
Leshia looked over her shoulder as she searched for something worth drinking. Gelida was laying on Leshia’s bed, a blanket made of black fur pulled up to her breasts. She was propped up on her left elbow, taking in every move that Leshia made with a sort of lazy intensity. Leshia looked back at the wine she had chosen, a Storinean Red that was older than she was, and pulled out the cork. She slowly filled two goblets, conscious of her lover’s eyes watching her. “Gelida?” “Yes?”
Leshia walked over to sit on the bed and handed Gelida one of the two goblets. “You know, we’ve known each other, what, seventy years?” Gelida took a sip of the wine and smiled. “At least.”
Leshia smiled too. She was already drunk on the feeling of having the woman she loved so close to her. She took a sip of her own wine and her eyes rested on the black leather glove that was the object of her curiosity. “Have you ever taken that glove off?” Gelida’s only response was to pull her right arm closer to her otherwise naked body. “What’s wrong?” Gelida rolled onto her back and stared at the ceiling. “It’s nothing.”
“Doesn’t look like nothing.” Leshia set her wine down and moved closer to Gelida, stroking her dark grey hair.
Gelida shrugged her shoulders and half-heartedly started to push Leshia’s hand away, but then held onto it with her left hand. “It’s nothing, Leshia.” “Gelida, we’ve been … good friends—”
Leshia blushed, even though it was how she always thought of the two of them, and she always loved whenever Gelida confirmed it. “Lovers … for over half a century. That’s nearly half of my life, and it’s almost as much of yours. You know you can tell me anything.” Gelida gave a small smile when she noticed Leshia blushing, but she still held her arm tightly to her chest, tense and silent. Leshia leaned over to her and kissed her, slowly pulling Gelida’s arm away. Then, with equal slowness and deliberate care, she started working the leather glove off of Gelida’s arm. Finally, she saw what Gelida was so anxious to keep hidden.
“Gods.” The word came out as a whisper.
Gelida pulled her arm away and took her glove back. “Now you know why I wear this.” She let the glove drop onto the bed.
“It’s …” Gelida’s arm, from the elbow down, was solid silver. Forcing herself to look away from the arm, she looked at Gelida’s face and saw tears starting to form. “What happened?” Slowly, a single tear made its way down Gelida’s face. Another joined it before Gelida answered. “It’s called Living Silver. My father created it for me. I used to help him in his forge all the time. One day, I think I was twenty, or maybe closer to thirty, a sword he had just made fell off a rack. He had just taken it out of the fire, so it was still burning. It took my arm off so easily, I might as well have not been in its way.” Tears were starting to form in Leshia’s eyes now, and her voice was slightly strained from trying to hold them back. “And this?”
“Was my father’s way of trying to make up for his carelessness. He worked for two months on forging the actual arm, making it look like a real arm, and then he spent the rest of the year perfecting the enchantments to attach it to me and make sure it would be a real arm. It needed to be able to grow with me, move when I wanted it to move, and do everything that my real arm was supposed to.” Gelida lifted her arm to emphasize her point, wiping away a few of the tears that were starting to build up. “Except it’s silver, obviously. He made sure that he finished the enchantments in time for the Silver Moon, since the moon actually has an effect on Noldorin Magic, so the enchantments would be stronger.” “So, why the glove?”
“What do you mean?”
“Why hide it?”
“It’s a metal arm.”
Leshia didn’t understand why Gelida didn’t understand what she meant. “Your father was obviously a great smith and a great Morschledu to create this kind of magic. Think of how impressive it would have been. And then even more so, when he was Morschcoda. Now, you’re Morschcoda, of Noldoron. Your magic is in metal. It’s just like any other arm, anyway. This isn’t something you should be hiding.” Gelida in turn was confused with Leshia. The girl lived in a country where appearances were everything, after all. “As impressive as the craftsmanship and enchantments are, the fact that one of his own weapons did this to me in his own forge would have had him branded as a poor smith. He’d never have been named Morschcoda.” “Why?”
“He was supposed to be able to control metal. Obviously, he could, but a metal sword fell off of a metal rack that he designed and built himself and it took my arm off. It would’ve ruined him.” “I still don’t think you should hide it. Not anymore, at least.” Leshia kissed Gelida again and finished her wine.
Gelida flexed her fingers, manipulating it just like a real hand. “I love you.”
Leshia laughed. “Of course you do.”
“Leshia,” Gelida finished her own wine and stood up to get the bottle. “There is one more reason why I came back to Toredo.” She came back and refilled Leshia’s goblet, then poured for herself. “I … Leshia …” The other girl laughed. “Would it help if I wasn’t here while you tell me what you want?”
Gelida took a deep breath, and took a carefully wrapped package from a pocket in her discarded clothing. She handed the package to Leshia, who unwrapped it slowly. Inside were two things: the first was a silver broach, an eye, carved in onyx and set with a moonstone, against the backdrop of an anvil. The second was the same, but a belt buckle and black leather belt studded with silver, moonstones, and onyx. Leshia looked up at Gelida, not quite believing what she held in her hands.
Gelida was down on both knees, one hand flat against her chest above her heart, one hand outstretched towards Leshia. “Will you marry me?” “Will I …”
“Gelida, I … There’s no way that the Night Council or the Five Lords would ever approve, but … Oh, gods, I …”
Gelida pushed gently. “So? I’m not asking the Five Lords or the Night Council. I’m asking Leshia Dalrey, the woman I love.”
“House Dalrey would lose control of Torridesta. Oh gods, Gelida … I really don’t know what to say.” It was the younger woman’s turn to cry.
Gelida crawled into the bed and held Leshia. She spoke softly. “Erygan is King. He’s fought wars to keep things that way. I doubt that he’s going to let it slip away because the Five Lords don’t want to go to a foreign Morschcoda’s wedding.” “But, this kind of thing, it isn’t accepted in Torridesta. It happens, obviously,” both women laughed a little, “but, it’s tolerated, at best.” “What if we didn’t live in Torridesta? I’m the Morschcoda of Noldoron. We could live there. Please Leshia.”
Leshia rubbed the tears from her eyes and took a quick breath. She looked into Gelida’s eyes and knew her answer. She put a hand over hear heart and took Gelida’s hand in hers. “Yes.” “Really?”
“Yes. My father always said that he wanted Eildar and me to marry for love. I know he’ll understand.”
Erygan looked through the portal that his daughter had made into her private audience chamber.
“Father, will you please just step through the portal. We want to talk privately.” Erygan did step through, but Gelida thought, contrary to Leshia’s assurance, that he did not look in a very understanding mood. Erygan’s mood seemed to lighten a little when he noticed the open bottle of Storinean Red, which he promptly ensured was put to good use.
He turned back to his daughter and Gelida, taking a sip of the wine. “I’m fighting a war. I just left Toredo two days ago, and now you insist that I come all the way back and start finding you a husband. Not that there are any good ones available right now.” He stroked his beard with his free hand. “Regath Encarthian got himself killed, but I think he was married. Ren Enschiva, Drog Merchant Prince; I’m not having another one of those in the family. Daken is your uncle. That would be unsettling, to say the least. Makret Druoth: traitor. Kallin … no.” He would have gone on like that, listing the name of every single male of high enough blood to be acceptable if Leshia didn’t cut him off.
“Father, all I said was I want to get married. You don’t need to find anybody. I’ve done that. You just need to give permission. And maybe appoint some new members to the Night Council.” “Oh, thank Lasheed. I’m terrible at arranging political marriages, and almost completely opposed to them, anyway. You know I married your mother for a stable relationship with the Merchant’s Conclave. They wanted rights in Meclarya, and a marriage to Rashti Calmi got them those. I never wanted for you to have to do that though.” Erygan sat down and placed his right foot on his left knee, savouring the wine and the comfortable chair. “So, who is it? And why will I have to appoint new … members…” Erygan let the question die as Gelida walked forward and took Leshia’s hand.
“It’s me, Erygan.”
Erygan dropped the wine. He clenched his hand several times, as if searching for the cup that it should be holding. “What?”
“Leshia and I want to be married.”
Erygan stood up and studied the pair of them. “And what am I supposed to say?”
“You could say that yes, you agree to give your permission and your blessing, father.”
Erygan sat back down. He tented his fingers resting his chin on his thumbs. He looked up at Gelida. “Dalasin was a good friend of mine, and a good man. He would be proud of all that you’ve become, but I still feel as though I raised you, Gelida. But, now you’re a Morschcoda, pledged to Daliana. You don’t need my permission to do anything.” He turned towards his daughter. “Leshia, I raised you to make your own choices. Is this your choice?” “Yes, father.”
Erygan nodded. “You do understand how difficult a choice you’re making?”
“It would be harder not to make it.”
Erygan nodded, thinking things over. He looked back up at them and leaned back into the chair, relaxing again. “Something will have to be done about the Five Lords.” “They’re still hanging their heads about the vote.”
“Yes.” Erygan stood up again and walked over to Leshia’s small assortment of wines. He picked up one, a Meclaryan White of modest vintage, and poured three glasses. He offered one to each of the women, and picked up his own. “But this is different.” “Can’t you dangle some trading rights in front of them?”
“The Vault is essentially a bank, Gelida. The Five Lords make money off of their own lands and interest on the money that the Vault lends. They don’t trade.” “So, what can we do?”
“For now? We ignore them.” A dark cloud filled Erygan’s eyes. His grip tightened on his glass until it started to crack. “When things become more dangerous, I remind them that I own their heads.” The glass shattered in his hands.