However, even though the people were submitted to the kingdom, they were not keen on visitors. Any produce they had to sell they brought themselves, and any goods they purchased they brought back and did not allow the merchants to bring their merchandise to the island.
These facts were very disappointing to the mainlanders, for they had only heard tales of the island's beauty and of their women. Some men offered for an arranged marriage just to have one of the island women, but the men never agreed. They would not give their women in marriage to an outsider, nor would they take any outsider to marry into the island.
It was because of this island's secrecy that the Lord of the Eastern domain sent a request to the king asking that the Island of Daemon be forced to allow those in authority onto their land in order to see its condition. After all, even though they were separated from the mainland, they were still under the kingdom's jurisdiction and submitted to its authority. As such, they needed to make sure Chief Armastus ruled by the king's law.
Therefore, it was much to Lord Zafir's delight, that after four weeks of waiting, he finally received King Maxim's seal of approval and another document to hand over to the islanders stating that in three weeks time, the Lord's of the Eastern and Southern Domain will visit Daemon, along with a dozen soldiers. The three weeks will allow for the Southern Lord to travel to the Eastern Domain and for the islanders to prepare the necessary lodging for guests. Also, any rebuttal to the king's command will end in serious disciplinary actions.
-Four weeks later...-
Even before they stepped off the boat they could feel the strange atmosphere. There were a couple dozen men to greet them upon their arrival all looking as if they could barely contain the distaste for the strangers that had just set foot on their land. Lord Zafir also noted that there were no women present whatsoever.
A man who looked to be about in his forties, with dark brown shoulder length hair and tanned skin from being out in the sun stepped forward. Zafir took note of his eyes that were just a little too close together and the crookedness of his nose. "Welcome to Daemon. I am Chief Armastus. We're glad to have you as our guests and hope you enjoy your stay."
Lord Zafir couldn't miss the slight sarcasm in his words and although the man was smiling, his eyes certainly were not.
"It is a pleasure to be here and finally see what so many men have only dreamed about." He motioned to his right. "This is the Lord of the Southern Domain, Fergus Antfillo. And I am Lord of the Eastern Domain, Zafir Banahs. On behalf of King Maxim, I thank you for being loyal to the crown and allowing us to observe the king's land on his behalf. He desires to know how his people are faring and the state of the lands."
Zafir took note of how the chief's lips tightened when he said "the king's land", allowing him a glimpse into the man's feelings on being submitted to another. After their pleasantries, they were led towards their lodgings which were near the chiefs quarters. On the way, the men took note of their surroundings. The beautiful sandy beaches lead to a forest that started out dense but quickly led to overgrown forests that had many twists and turns. But that didn't mean the sight wasn't breathtaking; for they had many plants and beautiful flowers they had never seen before, besides in a book. The real things however, were no match for a sketch on a piece of paper.
There were two mountains on this island and the village resided at the beginning of the valley. When the travelers began to see the beginnings of the huts and small houses the anticipation began to grow inside of them. Even though the island held immense beauty, the strange atmosphere they originally felt never disappeared but grew stronger the closer they reached their destination.
When they were almost to the threshold of the entrance they finally spotted the first signs of female life. There were women hanging laundry, sweeping their doorstep, carrying jugs of water on their heads, among other things. The men were disappointed however, that the women were just the same as anywhere else, although maybe a little tanner. Some were ugly, some fair, and some beautiful.
After getting over their initial disappointment of not being greeted by many beautiful and voluptuous women, they began to take note of how they didn't give a greeting at all. Not even to their own men. As a matter of fact, they didn't even glance up from what activity or chore they were doing. Zafir and Fergus noticed that they even seemed to be purposefully avoiding eye contact and that their movements became stiffer the closer they came.
The village itself was not very big considering the size of the island. Many houses were along the main walkway that led to a big open area in the middle of the village. This area had torches surrounding its perimeter and a few benches spaced out around its outskirts. There were also many stalls before and after this area for islanders to sell their wares. Past this the path kept going, lined by a few more stalls and many more huts, shacks, and small houses until finally at the very end, they came upon the only two story house. Chief Armastus had his men escort most of the soldiers, save two, to their lodgings, while he had his right-hand man, James, escort the two Lords and their two guards into the two guest rooms in his home. Upon dropping them off, James informed them dinner would be at seven and he would have someone come fetch them.
Once settled in, Lord Fergus made his way to Zafir's room, which was conveniently right across from his. After receiving permission to enter, he took the chair by the table while Zafir looked out the window. After a moment of silence Fergus inquired, "So what think ye?" Zafir sighed, "They're doing the bare minimum at being hospitable. They've split up our ten men into two huts! If we didn't each have a man guarding our doors it would be six men per hut. The audacity!" Fergus hummed his agreement. Zafir continued, "Not only that, but I can't shake this weird feeling I have when I see the women. There's something not right about this place. But I suppose we'll just have to figure out what ourselves. It's obvious these men here are like steel traps, we certainly won't get anything out of them. We're only here for a week. Anyone can hide a secret for a week without being found out. We'll just have to discreetly do some digging."
What Lord Zafir wasn't expecting, was that when seven o'clock rolled around, the one who knocked on his door to fetch him for dinner was a woman. While it was common in his domain to have many female servants, his surprise came about because of the blatant distance the island men had been keeping them from the women. While he didn't let the surprise show on his face, he was even more shocked when the woman introduced herself as the chief's wife, Kalila. As a woman in position he expected her to hold herself with a certain air of authority, but just like the other women they passed today, she would not quite meet his gaze. The woman would have been beautiful, with her dark long hair, deep brown eyes, and fair complexion, but her mousy behavior and the way she carried herself took away from it. But it was her eyes that drew his attention the most. Yes, they were the color of rich chocolate, but they were devoid of any emotion. They were dead mens' eyes and she looked to be a walking corpse, what with those shadows under her eyes. Other than her introduction to both the Lords, she uttered not a single word. She walked in front to lead the way with rigid posture and sweaty palms, intent on getting her job done quickly and out of the scrutiny of these strange men.
Kalila led them outside back towards the main square where multiple tables had been set up. She brought them to the head table where the chief, his family, and his guests would sit. All the other tables were being filled up by the villagers and Zafir noted how there were many more of them than he originally thought. Chief Armastus sat at the head of the table and had the two Lords sit on either side of him while the soldiers they brought had their own separate table. Beside Zafir, sat a boy who looked to be around sixteen and beside him sat another boy who looked about seven or eight. After him was a girl and then at the other end of the table sat the chief's wife, Kalila. Beside Fergus, sat the chief's right-hand man and then two other men. Once everyone was seated, Chief stood up to address his people and everyone at the gathering fell silent. "I want to thank you all for coming out tonight to welcome our guests. Our 'king' has graced us with two of his Lord's to check on our wellbeing and the state of 'his' land." Zafir didn't miss the tonation when he said 'our king' and made sure to discreetly survey the crowd to gauge their reaction. "I'm sure our dear 'guests' will soon find out that everything here is run to the king's standards and we would not do anything that would bring shame to the crown. However, their stay will be for an entire week so I expect everyone to treat them with the utmost 'respect' and hospitality they can muster. That being said, I thank those that traveled from outside the village to be here to celebrate this feast tonight in honor of our guests, although I know not everyone, 'sadly' could make it. But we will make the best of this night. Now if we all could stand. I propose a toast to our 'wonderful' king, who is the reason for us all being here. To King Maxim!"
They all lifted their goblets and said "here,here!" Although it was very obvious that the islanders were faking their enthusiasm, especially when compared to the mainlanders. But Zafir and Fergus would not make a scene at the obvious disdain the chief had for the king. While this behavior would not be tolerated on the mainland, for now, they would not cause problems and defeat the whole purpose of their coming here. So when the speech was over they all sat down to eat.
"Zafir." The Lord looked toward the chief and resisted the urge to quirk his eyebrow at the blatant disrespect the chief used by not addressing him by his title. "I don't believe you've met my family. To your right are my sons. The eldest, Cyrus, is sixteen and beside him is Michael, who is six." Zafir was finding it hard to not roll his eyes at the chief at this point. He thought it funny he named his eldest child Cyrus when the name meant "Lord". If he was anything like his father, he would most certainly never be a Lord. "And I assume the girl is your daughter?," Zafir replied. The chief looked over the rim of his goblet and eyed the girl with disdain. "Yes, she is. Although the only thing to boast about her though is that she's a quiet one and stays out of trouble. And obviously you've met Kalila. But my sons though! They are my pride and joy..."
After forty-five minutes of boasting about his son's many accomplishments the feasting portion of the gathering was over and it went on to the entertainment where everyone mingled and socialized. Zafir took this time to discreetly stand in a corner and survey the crowd. He noticed that while the men were getting drunk and laughing heartily, the women sat in small groups off to the side looking pensive. Wanting to test the waters, he decided to walk over to them and personally introduce himself. While their eyes showed surprise for just a moment, it quickly turned to distrust as he shook the hands of each woman. Regardless of how polite he was, he could not shake the barriers each woman had put up and they each held the same deadness of eyes that Kalila had. Their responses to his lighthearted questions were polite but short and he couldn't help but notice how some of them tried to hide their trembling hands as the island men watched them out of the corner of their eyes. After having the same result with about ten different women he informed Kalila, who still sat at the table but this time by herself, that he would be retiring to his chambers early but the rest of his men were free to enjoy the rest of the festivities.
Lord Zafir felt the exhaustion from traveling and the day's activities hit him. He felt the agenda he came with would be harder to accomplish than he had imagined. The women behaved too strangely, but they were so constantly watched he doubted he could get alone with one long enough to get her to trust him and divulge any secrets.
As he was pondering these things he rounded the corner that led to his room and was run straight on by a girl. Reflexively, he grabbed her to keep her from falling and the girl got in a defensive position while blocking her face. Zafir recognized her as the chief's daughter and just as he was about to say something, a youth he did not recognize was standing between them. They locked gazes, neither of them conceding, but before they could say anything they heard voices drawing near. The chief's daughter lowered her arms and Zafir could see the panic in her eyes as the voices continually got closer. She got up and began to pull at the boy's arm to drag him away but Zafir knew they wouldn't escape without being caught. So without a second thought he opened his door and pushed them both into the room, promptly shutting the door behind them. They heard a voice round the corner that said, "I don't see her! I've already looked everywhere! If we don't find her before the chief notices..." their voices gradually decreased as they continued down the hall.
Zafir turned around to study the children. The boy had his arms wrapped protectively around the girl while she clung tightly to his shirt. Wanting to put them at ease, he introduced himself and apologized for startling them and asked them their names. When they didn't respond, Zafir leaned back against the door and sighed. Finally the boy spoke up. "Why did you help us?" His eyes were intense but not as the other villagers had been. His held curiosity. Zafir immediately knew something was different about this boy, but he couldn't place what. Before he could answer, the girl slapped his arm and said, "Morty! You're supposed to say thank you!" The boy now dubbed Morty responded calmly, "I asked a simple question. There is no harm in that." His response sparked a quiet, playful banter between the two, which Zafir observed with amusement. After a few minutes Morty sighed, "Enough of this." Then turning to Zafir with a slight bow, "Good Lord, my name is Mort Falahn and this is Thana Con, daughter of the chief. Forgive us for being rude at first, but we don't take too kindly to strangers." Zafir regarded the lad silently for a moment before responding, "I must say, your demeanor is very different from the others as you actually have manners." Thana's lips quirked up. "That's because Mort is the most chivalrous person you'll meet on this entire island, aside from his father that is." Zafir returned her smile, feeling relieved that someone on this island actually had emotion. "And pray," he said, "How old is the chivalrous Mort?" Before Mort could respond Thana pushed out her chest and proudly said, "Morty is fourteen and I'm thirteen!" Zafir chuckled, "I see. Well I'm pleased to make your acquaintance. Now then, I do believe that those searching for you are long gone so you best make your way down to wherever it is you're going before you get caught." Mort bowed his head slightly and began to pull Thana along. "I thank you good Lord, for your help and I pray your kindness never leaves your eyes." Finding his statement odd, Zafir replied, "Well I hope to show you more of my 'kindness' as you put it, during the rest of my visit. After all, I'm sure we'll run into each other again." It didn't go past his notice that Thana's smile faltered in that moment and without saying another word they both went on their way.
After seeing them out, the Lord got ready for bed with a gratefulness that at least two people on this island didn't seem like they were hiding something and were able to have a decent conversation. Granted they were children, but it gave him hope that maybe not everyone would be so indifferent to their being here.
-Seven days later...-
Zafir grimaced.After having privately divulged what happened the next day to Lord Fergus they were both hopeful that maybe there would be those willing to open up to them. But alas, here they were sailing out back towards the mainland without having fully accomplished what they set out to do. While over those seven days they had continued to observe the land, the people continued to treat them with polite civility. However, there wasn't a single person that would open up to them. It was like trying to pry information from a rock. And none of the Lord's men were able to get information either. There was something obviously wrong with the women and there was always a strange atmosphere over the whole place, but they were never able to catch a moment alone with any of them. There were always men lurking nearby watching their every move and if one of them did happen to catch a woman by herself, she quickly averted eye contact and skirted off in the other direction. And after the first night, there was no large gathering for dinner in the evenings. The visitors were entertained in the chief's house. This time however, there were only men.
Zafir had hoped to run into Thana or Mort again to try to get information out of them, but he only saw Kalila and Thana twice from a distance. And to Zafir's displeasure, gone was Thana's smile that was replaced by a reservedness that was usually only attained after many years of practice. As for Mort, he never saw him again.
So here was the Lord of the Eatern domain only able to give a report about strange behaviors but not actually being able to give any concrete details of the secret goings on of the island people. Pulling out his flask and taking a swig he sighed again while thinking of Thana and Mort. If anything was clear from this visit, it's that he didn't see a single woman under twenty-one that wasn't married; he didn't see a single woman have any life in her eyes; not a single woman would look into his eyes, and every single one of them kept their heads down. Every female from age thirteen and up seemed to have this demeanor. Even the chief's wife behaved as such! He could only imagine how Thana would be as she got older and wondered if that spark would be killed from her eyes and if she too would look as if she were dead. He believed the only reason she had any life to her at all was because of Mort. There was something about that boy that he just couldn't place. Zafir thought their friendship was ironic considering their names had similar meanings. Although he couldn't fathom what kind of people would name their children Thana and Mort. "Well", Zafir thought, "I just hope their names aren't their destiny's. Afterall, Thana means 'death' and Mort means 'dead'."