Late into the evening, the arrival of Volk and Natir was almost unnoticed as there was a heated feud taking place at Alfred’s hall.
“Sit here,” Volk instructed her as he took a seat. “Now be quiet and keep it low.”
“Yes,” Natir whispered back.
“Remember, you’re only here to serve me, understand?”
“I said yes.”
Volk drank from an abandoned cup on the table while Natir curiously observed the ruckus.
Two of the attendees were at the center of what was happening. They shouted insults and accusations while the rest blathered aloud and everyone sided with this side or the other, quarrelling so dreadfully one could barely hear oneself speak.
Natir couldn’t grasp the whole story, but from what she heard, it seemed that the problem revolved around someone called Ardent. One man was calling to teach him a lesson while the other said that what Ardent does has got nothing to do with them.
She looked at Alfred.
He couldn’t have noticed her come in for that his eyes were shut and he rubbed his temple as though he had a headache, while Tarania kept an eye on what was happening.
Things suddenly took a violent turn when one of the men threw beer in the face of the other, prompting half a dozen others to reach for their weapons.
Natir expected a bloodshed, but the ones close by quickly interfered and forced the fighters apart before the worst might happen.
She whispered, “What’s the story?”
“Does it seem like I care? There’s always someone losing their mind over something or the other in this house of lunacy. Don’t mind it, it will calm down eventually,” Volk said, then motioned with his head. “It’s probably his fault.”
She glanced at the person Volk pointed out.
It was the handsome young man she had seen before. The one whom the dancer was flirting with.
He was standing at a corner with some of his friends, talking quietly among themselves. One of them was the man who threw the beer and ignited the fight.
“You mean the one in the middle?”
“He’s always in the middle of something.”
“I’ve seen him before. Who is he?”
Volk raised an eyebrow. “I thought you’ve been under this roof several times already?”
“Well, it’s not like anyone is telling me a thing around here. I don’t even know who is who. The only person I ever had a decent conversation with was Diva, and she’s stone-silent.”
He shook his head and gave her his cup. “You’re here to serve me, right? Well then, go fill it up like a good slave and maybe I’ll tell you.”
She rolled her eyes, took the cup and left.
When she returned, Volk explained, both of them speaking quietly, “That’s Earhart. Alfred’s son.”
“Well, stepson. Sort of. But who cares?”
“Alfred doesn’t have any children, but he raised Earhart as his own. So, you go ahead and call it whatever you like.”
“Oh!” Natir recalled Cahal mentioning this before. “So, he’s the one set to become the next earl?”
“Hah! As if such a thing will ever happen. The sky will fall before a slave’s child becomes the earl of the Toic. No, he’s just an idiot who doesn’t know his place. Always so full of himself, trudging all around the place with a chest full of air like a young gamecock eager to prove himself and fooling no one but the little whores with his smug face… I blame his mother.” He motioned towards Tarania. “The bitch poisoned his mind with glory tales and delusions of how special he is. The little piece of shit.”
Natir stared at Volk with eyes wide open.
“What?” he asked.
“Tarania is a slave?”
“You didn’t know?”
“You tell me she’s not Alfred’s companion?”
“His what? Who told you that?”
“No...no one, I just assumed that...wait, wait, let me get this straight.”
Natir rubbed her temples, taking the new information in, then she steered Volk by the shoulder to point Diva out for him.
“That’s your daughter, right?” she asked quietly. “So, she’s a free woman, serving in this house?”
“And that’s a slave, sitting on a throne and getting served.”
Volk exhaled and threw his head back.
“You tell me you honestly can’t see what’s wrong with that?”
He just waved his hand and looked away, drinking.
His reaction explained volumes.
Natir smirked. “Oh, now I see what’s going on.”
The reason why Volk was forced to become her keeper, as well as why he had brought Natir along to annoy Tarania with her presence, became crystal clear all of a sudden.
Volk and Tarania had serious issues going on, and this was their way of returning punches to one another.
The quarrel those two had and the new information Natir had learned opened the door to an unexpected opportunity for Natir, and she was not going to let it slip from between her hands.
With a devious smile, she had her eyes set on Alfred like a hawk eying a prey.
Volk noticed it. “Natir, this is not what we came here for.”
“It’s not what you think.”
“It’s exactly what I think. Look, there’s too many people around. Let it go. Don’t do anything stupid.”
“I said it’s not what you think.”
Taking advantage of the earlier fight, Earhart approached Alfred, who still had his face buried in his palm.
“Ardent’s issue is getting out of hand, and everyone can see it,” Earhart said quietly. “We can’t go on like this, we can’t ignore him forever. We must do something about him—”
Alfred slammed his fist to the rails.
“I HAD ENOUGH ABOUT ARDENT.” His roar caused the chatter to tone down. “I had enough of him for a whole winter. I don’t ever want to hear anyone bring up his name again.”
He then leaned at Earhart and hissed, “You in particular, I don’t want you to bring this up ever again.”
Tarania tried to interfere, “My dear—”
He silenced her with a wave of his hand and continued, “Don’t you think that I can’t see what you’re trying to do. And I’m telling you right now: it’s never going to happen. Forget Ardent and go find something else to play with before I might really lose my patience with you.”
Earhart looked as if he were chewing on his own heart. He left the hall in rage and vented his anger on a pillar he punched on his way out.
Natir was following the new scene carefully. She sensed her chance to approach Alfred and immediately seized it.
She stole Volk’s drink and stood up in a hurry.
Volk grabbed her arm. “Natir, this isn’t what we agreed on.”
“Stop. What are you trying to do?”
She leaned toward him. “There was only one thing holding me back, and it was gone the moment I learned that she and I are the same.”
“Don’t be stupid, you are nothing like her. We came to tease the bull, not to butt heads with it—”
Natir wouldn’t listen to any of it. She yanked her arm free and made her way towards Alfred, who she approached in a slow pace while holding the cup with both hands.
“A drink, sir?”
Alfred, who was occupied by a hushed argument with Tarania, turned to her with shock. He really didn’t know she was in the hall.
She softened her voice and resumed with a bewitching siren gaze, “It comes with my master’s heartfelt regards. He thought you could use something sweet to bolster your mood, so he sent me.”
“Oh, did he?” He took the cup and slowly turned his face to Volk.
Volk was agitated. He could neither escape the situation nor find a drink to raise, so he faked a smile and waved.
Alfred gestured back with the cup while giving Volk a death glare.
“I wonder what else did my considerate friend tell you to do?”
“Well,” with subtle, seductive moves, she got down on one knee and massaged his thigh, “he’s truly concerned our earl seems to be deprived from the pleasure and peace of mind he truly deserves, and he trusted me to think of a good way or two to fix that, you know, improvise something to help you release all that built-up stress.”
“Your master’s orders, I bet?”
She shrugged innocently. “What other choice do I have? But then again, sometimes I feel glad not to have one.”
Tarania grimaced. “Your master’s feelings must be insincere. Or was it you who’s too careless to notice that this cup is half empty?”
“Oh, is it?” She set her eyes on Alfred again. “Well, whoever said that wine only lives in a cup?”
“Lovely!” she said. “Did you just make that up yourself, or did someone in the pleasure house you came from teach it to you?”
“Oh, you were there? I thought I recognized you from somewhere.”
With the hostility rising in the air, Alfred found himself cowering down in his throne, peeking left and right as the two women stoned one another.
Tarania snatched the cup from Alfred and leaned in toward Natir.
“There is no way our earl will accept the cheapest drink this world has to offer, and who knows how many had had their fill from it before? Its place is on dirt.” She spilled it at Natir’s shoe. “Now go get a refill from the good kind, slave.”
She forced the cup into Natir’s hands like delivering a punch to her chest.
Natir narrowed her eyes. “Of course. Whatever pleases my earl. Anything and everything he wishes for, shall be his, to his utmost satisfaction and more. That is the duty of a good slave, otherwise,” she motioned at Tatania, “might as well render her worthless.”
Her gaze returned to Alfred, and she winked. “My mistake, sir. But don’t you worry, the best is yet to come.”
Doubling down on her game, Natir snagged his attention with the slow roll of her hips as she strolled down the hall and glanced back at him halfway through with a hint of a smile.
Tarania shot Alfred with a glare that forced him to take his eyes off Natir’s behind.
He jolted. “What?”
Natir returned with wine at hand and an openly inviting smile on her lips.
“Only the best for our earl.”
Without breaking their eye contact, Natir didn’t just hand over the cup but led his hands one at a time, so that when he was holding it she had both her hands over his, massaging the back of his palms with her thumbs.
“The scent of fine wine makes me dizzy.” She leaned into his shoulder to whisper, panting with lust, “I…want…to...go...out. To a place…so special to me.”