The Mark of Motish

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Chapter 4

I was startled the next morning when the first thing I saw was Nenet’s face beside my bed. She’d pulled up the stool I had sat on to brush my hair the previous night.

“Don’t look so alarmed, dear. I told you I’d bring you your morning meal,” she cooed, passing me a tray with warm spiced cake, fresh fruit, and a cup of tea.

I took a bite of the cake and sank back into my pillow. It tasted delightful! Once I was finished eating, I picked up the cup and sipped it. I spat when the bitter taste of the cold liquid touched my tongue. “Oh! That’s not tea! That’s awful! What is that?”

“It’s called khaviss…made from the khavi plant. I discovered its abilities when I was a healer, before I came to this town. It was used to cure ailments sometimes caused by lying with another person. It did do what was expected, but I noticed the women who drank it were also unable to get pregnant for a time.”

I held my breath and downed the liquid in two swallows. It reminded me of wine, only thicker—and bitter. I set the cup back on the tray, my eyes watering. “And Khadji, he doesn’t know of this—this—khaviss?

She shook her head and took the tray from me. “No, no one but me knows of its secret effect. I gave it to a lot of people before I realized what it did. I’d be executed for interfering with the goddess of fertility’s will if anyone ever found out. So, please, keep this between us.” She put a crooked finger to her lips.

She was right. Bati, the goddess of growth and fertility, wouldn’t approve of such a potion. I hoped she wouldn’t bring her wrath down on me for drinking it. “We both know one of each other’s secrets now. How often should I drink this?”

“I’ve placed a bottle in the bottom of the chest of clothing Tavah is to bring you today. Drink it once every three days. That will ensure you stay barren.” She rose to leave, using her stick to push her stiff body up.

I caught her hand. “Thank you.”

She shrugged my gratitude off. “Just drink the khaviss. And be careful.”

“I will.”

Tavah and the two women who’d brought the water for my bath carried a wooden chest into my room. After setting the chest down against a wall, the two women left us.

“I’ve gathered some clothing for you to keep,” Tavah told me.

I wondered if she knew about the khaviss. I assumed she didn’t, so I didn’t mention it. “Thank you, Tavah.”

“It’s my duty to serve the ladies of this fortress.” That meant she must also be in service to Veniece. I’d have to watch what I said around her. I definitely didn’t trust Veniece.

I noticed her eyes were a shade of dark green; a strange colour for an island woman. Her skin was also a lighter shade of beige.

“Where are you from?” I asked, cocking my head to the side. It was a bold question, but I was curious.

She didn’t seem to mind my curiosity. “I’m from one of the other islands, but my papa was from a place called Sarantoa. Mama met him when she travelled there with one of King Sahyied’s ladies. I’ve never met him myself. He stayed there, she came home.” Her mind trailed off to some distant thought.

“I’m sorry for that.” I touched her arm.

She flinched, turning her face up to me. “Don’t be. You cannot miss someone you’ve never met.”

I tried to imagine never meeting my own papa. I’d always wonder what he was like… what kind of person he was. “Still…”

She didn’t respond so I asked, “Your mama was in service to one of the late king’s ladies, you say? What happened when Khadji assassinated him?”

Tavah wrung her small hands together. My questions were making her uncomfortable. Most people didn’t care about a servant’s past. “She retired. I offered to work for Khadji and send her coin. She was getting too old to do her job. We always knew I’d take her position someday.”

“She’s lucky to have you as her daughter.” I would’ve done as much for my own mama. I had done as much.

“Thank you, mistress.”

“Please, just call me Malyi.” I wasn’t used to such formalities. I didn’t like them.

“I’m not sure that’s appropriate. You’re playing the role of someone important here.”

“I won’t tell anyone.”

She let out an exasperated sigh. I was putting her in a tough position.

I gave in. “Fine, call me what you like.”

She perked up at my submission. “We should get you dressed. It’s nearly midday.”

“Yes, alright.”

I let the blanket I’d had wrapped around me fall off my naked body and went to open the chest, careful not to let her see in case the khaviss was visible. It wasn’t, but my hand touched something cold and hard when I reached down to the bottom… glass. I pulled out a bright turquois dress. “How about this one?”

“A good choice, mistress,” she said plainly, coming to help me into it.

I didn’t know if I’d ever get used to this kind of treatment.

The dress was less revealing than the red one, but the sleek, tight material still showed off the curves of my body. I decided to wear the golden bracelets from the night before. I liked the way they jingled and sparkled around my wrists.

I wasn’t needed elsewhere that day, so I explored the fortress. Parts of the building were lifeless and abandoned. I assumed they would eventually be decorated in red and gold like the rest of the place. As Tavah had said, Khadji’s favourite colour was red. He obviously loves his gold too, I thought, running my fingers over one of the many gold framed paintings lining the room I stood in.

I moved on from the collection of art. I came to an area I hadn’t yet explored and heard men’s shouts and the clanging of metal. I followed the noise until I reached a balcony overlooking a pit where Khadji’s warriors were training. The bare chested men were fighting in groups. Sweat beaded on their sun kissed skin as they slashed and parried with low grunts. My eyes were glued to the flashing of steal. What a beautiful sight, I admired as I put my hands on the railing of the half-circle shaped balcony.

A couple of the men standing by observing the training spotted me from below. Their expressions turned hungry as they undressed me with their eyes. I stepped back and turned to leave, running straight into Veniece.

“Enjoying yourself?” she asked in a sour tone.

“I was just watching,” I shot back, not sure why I felt guilty.

She peered over the balcony, smoothing the skirt of her midnight blue dress. “They are quite a sight, aren’t they?” She didn’t wait for my answer. She turned back to face me. “Why are you here?”

I blinked. “What do you mean? I’m here because I wish to help our leader continue his line.”

“Ha!” She snickered behind her hand before her expression turned serious, as though she hadn’t found my answer humourus. “I don’t believe you.”

“Believe what you want.” I made to leave.

She stepped into my path, blocking my way. “You can’t trust my father. Did you know he was King Sahyied’s advisor before he was Khadji’s?”

I clenched my jaw. “No.”

“He was. He got tired of the king’s refusals to sail to the other islands and force them to recognize Gwon as their superior. So, he found someone who would. He betrayed the king, and I’m sure he’s lied to you.” She dared me to deny it.

I didn’t know what to make of what she was telling me. I’d volunteered to come with him. I shook my head and pushed past her.

“Ask him yourself!” she called after me.

I went to seek Hepbar out. I needed to know what Veniece meant.

Eventually, I found the hall where mine and Khadji’s rooms were. I spotted a guard and asked, “Where can I find Hepbar?”

His eyes dropped to my bosom. I crossed my arms, and his eyes snapped back up to my face. “He’s in the throne room with Khadji.”

“Thank you.” I started to walk away, but paused. “Where is that?”

He pointed. “That way, and around the corner.”

“Thank you.”

I found the throne room where the guard had said it would be and marched right in.

A couple of guards dressed in red like the one I’d just spoken to in the corridor saw me and crossed their weapons in front of my face so I was forced to stop.

Khadji leaned forward in his seat to see who’d interrupted him. “Let her pass,” he instructed his guards, leaning back in the overly large golden throne.

The two guards lowered their scimitars. I went and stood beside Hepbar.

“What’s the meaning of this interruption?” Hepbar kept his voice low.

“I need to speak with you,” I whispered back.

“Not now.” He turned his attention back to Khadji, who sat stroking his short beard, watching the man cowering before him.

“You stole gold from our treasury.” Khadji stated. “Is the gold I give you for your service in my army not enough?”

The lean, young man kept his eyes on the floor. “I’m new, master. I haven’t yet earned enough to feed my family.”

“This is not my problem. You should be honoured to be my warrior… to be in Khadji’s army, but instead you spit in my face.” Khadji stood and stepped down from his throne so he was face to face with the man.

The young warrior began to shake.

Khadji grabbed ahold of the poor man’s throat with an iron fist “Now you’ll get no gold from me. You’re no warrior.” Khadji pulled a dagger with a gold handle from his waist and sliced the man’s cheek. A thick line of red appeared from under his left eye all the way to his left ear. Khadji threw the thief to the ground. “Get out of my sight before I decide to kill you.”

The thief half-crawled half-ran from the room.

I took a few deep breaths, trying to slow my galloping heart-beat. Hepbar didn’t look the least bit fazed. What had I gotten myself into? I didn’t want anything to do with Khadji and his advisor. I hoped to gods Jehvad would show up soon so I could tell him exactly how ruthless Khadji was, and we could leave this island behind and never look back. I’d convince him to take me to Sarrasu. I started to leave without a word.

“I thought you wanted to speak with me,” Hepbar said when I was almost to the exit.

“It can wait.” I refused to turn back.

“Be sure to meet us in Khadji’s private dining room for supper,” he said.

I contemplated not going to supper, but it would only raise suspicions, so I forced my feet to move toward the room I’d met Khadji in when it was time to share the meal.

I ran into Nenet on my way.

“You seem distressed,” she observed, stopping me before entering the dining room.

I sucked in a deep breath. “Today, I witnessed how cruel you son truly is. I no longer wish to be here.”

She nodded slightly. “I see.” Then she added, “It’s better for you if you stay. Keep drinking the khaviss. Pretend all is well, and Khadji will move on to someone else. You’ll be free to go.”

“This has happened before?”

She gave me a wink, crinkling her leathery skin even more. “Once or twice.”

A breath puffed out from between my lips. I put on a smile and walked into the dining room with Nenet hobbling behind me, her silver hair swaying with each jerky movement.

The others barely even noticed our entrance except Veniece. She inclined her forehead at me. I shrugged, so she went back to listening to Hepbar and Khadji’s conversation, which mostly consisted of Hepbar doing all the talking.

After supper, the events went exactly as the night before. Khadji suddenly seemed to remember my existence and took me to his bedroom where he tried to get me with child. This time, I didn’t bother fighting for control. What was the point? I closed my eyes and let him take me. It was over and done with quicker this way.

He fell asleep before I left. I put on my underthings, gathered my dress, and went to leave. One the way out, I spotted a partially open drawer. I gently tugged it open a bit further, revealing the velvet lined drawer filled with dozens of daggers. I slipped my hand in and pulled one out, quickly shoving it into the folds of the dress I held in my arms.

There were enough daggers, I was sure he wouldn’t notice one was missing.

I slipped back to my own room, placed the dagger with the bottle of khaviss, and curled up on my bed and fell asleep.

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