Natir Whitebridge: A Grain of Respect

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Chapter 21

Division of Estate

Standing next to a pillar at a marginal corner in Alfred’s hall, Natir struggled to keep Aina still.

Aina was more than familiar with the place and she probably recognized more faces in there than her mother did, so she was restlessly excited to be there again after a long absence and wanted to run to her usual play places and to men who’d been kind to her before.

Natir straightened up and exhaled with a half-laugh after reaching a childish compromise with Aina in return for her good behavior. She let her eyes wander around.

The scene was kind of chaotic and certainly loud, but it didn’t bother Natir in the slightest; she was feeling so happy that she had to repeatedly bite her lip not to let it show on her face.

It almost felt as good as the night before when she had had such a hard time trying not to smile. Not to sing. Not to dance and laugh like a maniac at Cahal’s funeral.

Aina was safe, and Natir was still alive. She had gotten away with it and no one dared to question the story of Cahal’s death.

The nightmare that was Cahal, with all its fears and abuse, was over, and everything was suddenly all right.

What’s more, Natir had a glimmer reward to look forward to.

With sparks in her eyes, she stole a glance at Alfred; he was on his throne with Tarania by his side, keeping themselves busy with their drinks and occasional chatter, and every now and then Tarania would look her way and smile.

Agatha came in, and she too flashed a smile at Natir and bobbed her head as she walked, and Natir returned her greeting with the same.

Diva was there as well, but she didn’t approach Natir yet; she didn’t show any interest in taking part in tonight’s event, but the looks she shared with Natir were as warm as ever.

Then, to Natir’s surprise, Keelin appeared from the concealed room.

Keelin took herself a place right behind Alfred’s throne and rested her arm over the top rail. Then, as childish as ever, she greeted Natir with a big grin while waving at her, fingers dancing in the air.

Seeing all the women together warmed Natir’s heart. It felt like a reunion with old friends.

“Joyce?” she called quietly when she noticed that Joyce was no longer standing near and had taken herself a spot further away instead.

Joyce didn’t respond, so Natir assumed she didn’t hear her, but she did take note earlier that Joyce was acting a little bit strange. It was almost like she was trying to distance herself from Natir.

Aside from Joyce, the only other person Natir knew well enough to tell they were acting out of character was Volk.

He was awfully quiet, and beer was his only companion. In fact, he looked as if someone had spit in his face, and he wasn’t putting much effort into hiding how he felt.

Natir wondered what could have happened to bust his day, but she soon brushed it off. This was no night to worry about little things.

An old man with a trimmed, gray beard tapped his palm to a table, and the chatter went down.

This was it, the moment she’d been waiting for.

Natir gave the man her full attention as he moved to take center stage. Her smile could no longer be restrained nor how proud she felt of herself.

She did it. She broke the chains tying her and Aina to misery and was about to move on with her life. No more cruelty, no more fear, hunger, uncertainty, abuse, and disgusting violation of her flesh. She was about become Alfred’s. She has passed his test and earned her place by his side.

“As you all know,” the old man spoke, “it is our custom to appoint a neutral guardian to divide one’s estate, and to make that division public following their funeral. And so, with a heavy heart for the loss of my good friend Cahal, I accepted this burden and faithfully fulfilled it. Still, should anyone wish to challenge the division which I’m about to declare, they may make their voices heard here and now, and I shall consider what they have to say.”

He had to stop to clear his voice then resumed with the attendees’ voices murmuring during the intervals of his speech.

“First, the exiled relatives are excluded from the division, as it is our custom... Second, the remaining rightful devisees have shown no interest in the late’s house nor did any buyer come forth with an offer for it, so it remains open for bidders. As for the cattle, they were sold for twenty silver quinars, which will be divided equally among the devisees… Third, claiming a devisee’s first-hand right, unchallenged, Cahal’s slave, Joyce, will now belong to his brother, Gull.”

This was news to Natir.

Not only did she not know who among the attendees this Gull was, but she also didn’t know that Cahal had a second brother.

She stole a look at Joyce, who looked as though she was holding herself back not to dance. So, Natir guessed it must be good news.

“Also,” his voice stole back her attention, “claiming a devisee’s first-hand right, unchallenged—”

Her moment had come. Her grip spontaneously tightened over Aina’s hand.

“Cahal’s horse will now belong to his brother, Alfred. And the two brothers agreed to settle the difference in value of their claims among themselves—”

Natir was puzzled. The man had skipped mentioning her.

“And finally—”

Her heart throbbed. Something was wrong.

“Neither of the devisees had shown interest in claiming Cahal’s other slaves—”

Shocked, her face shot towards Alfred.

“But a bidder did come forward with a private offer, to which they have agreed and favored despite its modesty because of the bidder’s close friendship to them and to their late beloved. And so, the slaves Natir and her daughter were sold for three chickens and will now belong to Volk.”

Natir couldn’t believe her ears. It felt like receiving a kick to the head.

Her face darted towards Volk.

“It was all that broke bastard can afford!” the old man joked. “Can you believe that? Talk about getting a good deal!”

With laughter, congratulations, dirty jokes raising aloud, and men patting Volk’s shoulders, Volk emptied his drink down his throat as if he was trying to drown his sorrow.

None of it made any sense.

Natir looked left and right, begging for an explanation with her eyes.

Joyce was acting as if Natir didn’t exist.

Volk refused to meet her gaze.

Alfred’s eyes were upon her, but they were dead-cold. It was as if he didn’t care.

A gasp escaped her. The smirk Tarania had on her lips told Natir that this was her doing.

Suddenly, a veil was lifted off her eyes. The women’s smiles and looks upon her were never that of warmth and friendship, as she had thought, but of mockery.

They were all but laughing at her.

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