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Chapter 4: The Lady of Rii

Dri, you’d make a terrible rapist!

Thank you. I’ll take that as a complement. And thank you for your help. Of course I would have subdued her in a few more moments anyway.

Yes, of course. Somehow, she didn’t seem convinced.

Well I would have!

No doubt, she’s at least eight months pregnant after all.

There was no winning this argument.

“What are you going to do with me?” There was terror in the woman’s voice. Our silence must have been unnerving.

“Nothing at all, my dear,” reassured Ari. “We said we wouldn’t hurt you. All we want is to leave this place.”

She shook her head defiantly. “I think you will not find that easy!”

“Of course not, but that’s what we intend to do in any case,” said Ari. “Will you help us or not?”

“Help you?!” She was incredulous. And, frankly, so was I.

“Yes. Help us.”

“Why should I?”

Ari leaned closer to her. “Because you know as well as I that your lord is making a serious error.”

The Rii woman sucked in her breath and covered her mouth with both hands. “You take my thoughts!” I feared she would faint.

Are you? Are you seeing her thoughts? I asked Ari.

No, Dri, I cannot take any thoughts that are not offered and no one can ‘hear’ us think either unless I choose. I’m using psychology, not telepathy. Remember how she looked at me when they made me stand?

I only got a brief glimpse of her then, I was mostly watching you, but she did seem almost sympathetic.

Ari smiled gently, “I am no thief, or mindflayer, child. I would not take your thoughts, even if I could.”

Child? Remember, she tried to slice me open.

Dri! You have eyes. Look! She’s barely old enough to menstruate. Poor thing!

“Then how did you know?” she asked Ari.

“I just do. It should be obvious to any woman!”

The younger female’s eyes lit up. “Yes indeed! Men play at war as though it were a game! The path we’re on leads us to death and destruction! Rii will become a plaything between two mighty empires! Where will that leave my child?”

Out of the mouths of babes, Ari.

“You speak wisdom…uh, what is your name, dear?” she asked.

“Jen of House Mindeb. I am the Keeper’s woman, soon to be mother of his heir!” she said, then looked down modestly. “The wisdom, however, I owe to my friend, Justin.”

“Mr. Chang?” Bless him! I’ll see he gets a knighthood, Dri!

“Yes. When I was but a child, and my father would bring us to the city, my nurse would take me to his shop. So many wonderful things were there!” She looked wistful. “I have always thought that any people who made such things could never be evil. He would tell me stories about the stars and the worlds that surround them.” She whispered conspiratorially, “He even taught me how to read!”

“Justin is a good man,” I said.

Ari agreed. “I hope he’s still safe.”

Jen started at the reminder of danger and her eyes filled. “I will help you, but you and your armored warriors must promise to keep Justin safe. If you do, you will earn the gratitude of the Lady of Rii!”

Rifle in hand, I opened the door and made a quick check of the hallway. It was clear. I motioned to the two women, who followed me out of the room.

“This way, then it’s the second hall on the right,” said Jen. “It’s the closest maintenance well.”

“Are there many of these maintenance wells?” I asked.

“Just four and they’re all in the palace. Beyond the palace, however, there are hundreds of open wells large enough for a man to enter the water-paths.”

“Hundreds, you say? And they all interconnect?” Ari was evidently impressed. “This system must supply the whole city! Where does the water come from?”

The younger woman shrugged, “I don’t know.”

We paused at the first hall while I made sure it was clear.

“You needn’t go with us,” said Ari. “You’re taking a grave enough risk as it is.”

“I want to make sure you can follow the map to the right well,” Jen replied. “Nothing bad can happen to me so long as I have this.” She placed a hand on her belly.

“But afterwards…And that won’t be long by the looks of you,” observed Ari.

You and your friend need to be a little less chatty. Ari stuck her tongue out at me, but kept quiet.

We finally reached the correct hallway and crept to the end of it. There was a wooden door, larger and heavier than the others with iron bands reinforcing it. I took hold of the ringed handle and pulled. It opened easily.

“The maintenance-well doors are never kept locked,” said Jen.

We entered the small room and closed the door behind us. Ari’s chair made it crowded. I lit a taper and held it up.

“There’s the well,” Jen pointed at a large, circular metal plate on the floor. “And there’s the map. “ She traced her finger along a line on the wall. “Follow this yellow path along this way. Here.” She tapped the map. “Here is the well in front of Justin’s shop. Never venture off of the yellow paths.”

“How will we know?” I asked.

“The ceilings are painted in the proper colors, yellow, red and black. If you find yourself under red, turn back immediately!”

“How do you know all this, dear?” asked Ari.

“My father, when he was alive served a term as Master of the Wells. He would let me follow on inspections, but he never allowed me in the tunnels.”

Ari reached up, hugged her and kissed her cheek. “We will be forever grateful, Jen of House Mindeb.”

“Just swear to me that you will protect Justin, he is like a father to me now. And my child-swear that you will protect my child. I fear the pirates may cease treating us as an ally.”

Ari placed a hand on Jen’s belly. “I swear, I will do all I can and yet more, if God allows it. Now please go, before you endanger yourself further!”

At that Jen left. I followed her to the end of the corridor, watched until she was out of sight, and then listened carefully until certain she had returned to her quarters. I sighed with relief and returned to Ari. She was wiping tears from her cheeks.

“You know, Dri, I’m trained to say whatever needs to be said to complete a mission, even lie. I wasn’t lying then, Dri. I wasn’t lying. I will do all I can to protect her!”

I’m not known for being impulsive, yet I knelt down, took her hand and kissed it.

She cleared her throat and gently took back her hand. “Well, Dri…Let’s not be hasty. We hardly know each other. Now, let’s see what’s under this man-hole cover.”

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