They arrived in Corbasin City well into the next day. Reniko was awed by the beautiful view of the city from the sky. It sat in the centre of a wide prairie that was covered in yellow grass. It was a sight like no other. The city itself blended in so well with its surroundings that it was only the smoke from the fires, and the movement of people as they made their way along the streets, that made Reniko realize she was, in fact, looking at a city. When Orric landed in the centre square of the city, he was greeted warmly for the first time. From ground level, the city was quite distinguishable as a city. Amazing, a city camouflaged from the air. Buildings surrounded her, all in soft creams and pale yellows. Despite the colours, Reniko noticed that most of the buildings were, in fact, made of stone, or some material like it. The roofs looked like they were made of clay shingles. The city reflected an elegance that she could only compare to feudal Japan. She was still unable to believe that entire cities could spring up and look like they had belonged in nature all along; it was something the denizens of earth had never been able to retain.
Outside the city, on a hill to the far north, stood a series of buildings that did not house the simplicity the others seemed to have, but instead looked regal amongst their surroundings. Reniko could plainly see this was the home of the royal family.
As the three of them disembarked, Rimca looked both relieved and disheartened. Rimca’s feelings tore at Reniko who understood the depth of her situation here. I do not envy her, Reniko thought as Rimca made her way toward a particular Le’a’to and started a rapid conversation that neither she nor Malik could overhear. When they had finished talking, the man bowed slightly to Rimca and headed off toward the castle. Rimca turned back to her friends, her face showing a heaviness that it had not earlier displayed.
“I have asked for the high council to convene. There are things that I must address there. I know you want to be on your way to Tordaskar, but I implore you to please stay until after I have had a chance to explain what is going on beyond the confines of the Le’a’to lands,” Rimca said.
Malik smiled. “Of course we will stay Rimca,” he said simply.
“Come on, I’ll show you to my family’s holdings. They will be all too happy to entertain guests,” Rimca said and started down a street that led to the east of the city.
“What about Orric?” Reniko asked.
“He knows where I live,” Rimca replied.
They arrived an hour later at a large estate on the outskirts of the city. A woman, who bore the same auburn coloured hair as Rimca, was tilling a field near the entrance to the estate; she stopped her work and looked at the small group as they made their way closer to the estate. Her eyes flashed happily at the sight of Rimca.
“Our prayers are answered, my young sister returns to us,” she exclaimed dropping her work and running gracefully to embrace her sister.
“Falji, seeing you well brings joy to my heart. How fares Tibon?” Rimca asked.
“He’s out back helping father with the larger fields. I will get both of them and meet you in the house. Hurry inside, mother will be so relieved to see you well. We feared the worst when you disappeared.” Falji glanced quickly in Malik and Reniko’s direction and added, “We’ll leave introductions until we are all more comfortable inside.”
As Falji ran off to find her husband and her father, Rimca led Malik and Reniko into the house. The sound of shattering plates accompanied Rimca’s entrance as one of the household caught a glimpse of her.
Rimca smiled and began helping clean up the mess.
“Don’t bother, milady, you must see your mother immediately. Everyone has been so worried since you ran away.”
“Where is she, Assha?” Rimca asked, but didn’t wait for the answer as she heard footsteps coming lightly down the stairs. She raised her eyes to see her mother standing gracefully at the bottom of the stairs, her eyes awash with relief. She also bore auburn hair like Rimca’s, which was accented by a flowing cream-coloured gown and a pearl white circlet in her hair.
“I thought you would never come home, my dear Rimca,” she said as Rimca stood up and bowed her head to her mother. Her mother stepped closer to her and gently placed her hand under Rimca’s chin, raising Rimca’s downcast gaze. “It makes me glad to see your young face in this house again.” Her smile warmed and she finally hugged her daughter.
After their embrace, she turned to Malik and Reniko and smiled. “I see that Rimca has brought guests. I am E’tane of Corbasin, lady of this estate. I bid you welcome.”
“It is an honour Lady E’tane, I am Malik of Tordaskar, and my companion here is Reniko of Earth,” Malik said bowing.
“Earth,” E’tane whispered drawing her full gaze on Reniko. “This is news indeed. The council must be convened.”
“It is already done, Mother. I go to speak at sunset.”
“We must get you ready. Come child, we have much to do before sunset. Malik, Reniko, please follow Assha, he will see to it that you are fed and clothed. Once you are both comfortable we will talk. Until then, please make our home yours.” With her kind words, Malik and Reniko watched as Rimca was ushered upstairs by her mother, leaving them in the hands of Assha, who was smiling happily at the both of them.
Assha led them down a long hallway that branched off in many directions. Near the end of the hall, he opened a sliding door and ushered Malik inside. After getting Malik settled, he stepped outside the door, slid it shut, and took Reniko to the other side.
“A bath has been drawn for you. Falji will be in shortly with some clothing,” Assha bowed his head, and as Reniko returned the gesture, he slid the door closed and disappeared down the hallway.
Reniko was relieved by the sight of a steaming bath and eagerly stripped off her travel worn clothing. She was glad to be rid of the dress. Though mended by the villagers in Tresca it still looked tattered from the fall she had sustained. New clothing would be a welcome sight, unless they give me another encumbering dress. What I wouldn’t do for a nice pair of pants. Sliding into the hot water, Reniko washed and relaxed as she waited for Falji to return with clothes.
Falji entered not long after Reniko had finished soaking, carrying fresh clothing in her arms. Reniko stepped out of the bath and gratefully took the clothing from Falji.
“Thank you very much, Lady Falji,” Reniko said bowing slightly.
“No need for thanks, it’s the least we could do. And please, call me Falji. There is need for formalities between us. When you are dressed, Assha will be waiting just outside to take you to the dining hall. We await you there,” Falji said, smiling courteously as she stepped outside the room and vanished down the hall.
Reniko turned back to the piles of clothing. She lifted the first piece off the pile, a rich navy blue chemise and donned it. Underneath it was a beautiful silver jerkin and a pair of breeches the same silvery colour. Once she was clothed in these, she grabbed the last article of clothing and held it up. She was mystified by it. The skirt she held before her was silver in colour and held a large band of navy blue fabric that extend down from the front of the skirt in a wide sweeping arch leaving the front completely open. The navy fabric bordered the base of the skirt on both sides finally meeting in the back. Once she had it on, she felt renewed. This is the kind of clothing I should have been wearing from the beginning, practical yet feminine. Finally clothed, she slid open the door and wandered out to where Assha awaited her.
“Milady, you are a vision,” he said bowing to Reniko, “but your hair! Come we can’t have you going before the council with your hair tangled.” Reniko blushed at Assha’s words and did not protest as she was led back into the room she had emerged from. Assha sat her on the floor to one side and Reniko was surprised by how comfortable it was. Glancing down she saw that most of the floor was covered with large tatami mats. Again she wondered whether the Le’a’to had borrowed Japanese culture or if it was the other way round.
Assha wasted no time as he brushed and styled Reniko’s hair. Reniko felt at odds. The pampering reminded her of home, and of Ava, and she tried to push back tears as thoughts raced into her head. No matter what I do now, I lose something dear to me, she thought as her family and Malik raced through her thoughts. Assha broke Reniko out of her downward spiral when he announced that he was finished. Handing her a gilded mirror, Reniko looked at his handy work. Her hair was a vision of tiny braids twined with silver scattered in her falling locks.
“Mistress E’tane gave this to me, to give to you, a gift. It will be the final touch,” Assha said as Reniko felt a slight weight fall onto her head. Glancing in the mirror, she gasped as Assha laid a silver tiara onto her head. It lay on her hair like twining vines, coming to a downward point in the centre of her forehead. The beauty of it sent Reniko reeling.
“I can’t possibly,” Reniko whispered.
“It’s already been done, Earthling,” Assha said stepping back toward the door. “Come along, Master Ri’shon and Mistress E’tane await your presence.”
Reniko got to her feet and self-consciously made her way to the dining hall, noting with a subtle clarity that Malik had never seen her like this before. He thinks I don’t know anything about the fineries of life. I’ve told him so little about my past.
As they entered the dining hall, she noticed a low-lying table where Rimca’s family, as well as Malik, were reclining. Upon her entrance with Assha at her side, the assembly rose and E’tane and Ri’shon bowed.
“We are grateful to be graced with your presence and for the honour of being your hosts while you stay in Corbasin,” Ri’shon spoke, “please sit.” He gestured to an open place next to Malik, and Reniko sat. She noticed Malik’s gaze resting on her and she glanced over with a humble smile.
“Your hospitality is greatly appreciated, Milord and Lady. You are too kind to such a lowly traveler such as me,” Reniko said bowing her head with respect and noting Malik’s bafflement at her diplomacy.
“You bring with you great hope for our planet, I highly doubt that is lowly.”
“I must confess that whatever Rimca has said of me may be highly embellished. My presence here was accidental, my goal, to go home.”
“Of that we are sure you are headed,” E’tane said with a secret smile.
Reniko smiled back unsure. “I have promised to provide whatever help I can, as little as that might be. Maybe my mere presence will be enough to encourage others to action.”
“I’m sure the council will be glad to hear that. I know our people here are teetering on the edge of action, you presence may well be the weight that tips this precarious balance we have found.”
“It seems that I have that effect on everyone here,” Reniko said and started as E’tane’s words sunk in. “The council? I’m to go before them?” Please say no, she pleaded to herself, I can’t stand before an entire assembly of people that can see right through me.
“I’m sorry, Reniko, I had every intention of telling you. The council requested your presence at my behest.”
“If you think I’m needed there,” Reniko said trying very hard to hide her unease, but apparently failing as she felt Malik’s reassuring hand rest on top of hers. The tension she had felt sitting there was replaced by comfort.
“Let us eat before your rendezvous,” Ri’shon said gesturing to Assha who was standing silently in the corner of the room.
As the food was set before them and all at the table began to eat, introductions were finally made. The only two people unfamiliar to Reniko at the table were Falji’s husband Tibon as well as Lord Abhek who Reniko realized half way through the meal was Rimca’s betrothed. She noted that they all had ivory white skin which seemed to be the common thread among their race. They felt ethereal and intangible to Reniko.
The meal concluded after a short while, Reniko feeling that the whole affair had been shortened to accommodate Rimca’s meeting with the council. As they left the room, Reniko leaned over and whispered into Rimca’s ear.
“That was a heavy reminder of what I left behind at home,” Reniko said.
Malik who had heard Reniko’s comment looked at her incredulously. “You could have fooled me. All this time we’ve spent together and I never knew you could be such a diplomat.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Reniko said glaring at him.
“Well, let’s just say that tact has never been allotted to me, you seemed so brazen. This is a side I never expected to see of you, Lyss.”
“I didn’t hear you speaking up in there,” Reniko said.
“I wasn’t the focus of the conversation, besides I’ve been here before.”
“And that’s supposed to acquit you? I think not. It’s a good thing I can take criticism or I may have never talked to you again.” Reniko said teasingly.
“I wouldn’t call that criticism, Lyss, I’d call those cold hard facts.”
Reniko gave Malik a playful push and regained her seriousness. “Are you coming to the council meeting?”
“I wasn’t invited,” Malik said glancing at Rimca, who had been silent through the whole conversation.
“I’m sorry, Malik, I didn’t think that your presence was required. I mean, as you said, you’ve been here before. I’m sure my family will want a more detailed review of everything that is going on. I would be grateful if you could provide it for them while we are gone.”
“Or course, Rimca,” Malik said as he took his leave and disappeared down the hallway. Rimca led Reniko to the doorway where Orric waited to take them to the palace.
“My mother sure dressed you up as the warrior,” Rimca said as they climbed onto Orric’s back. Rimca herself was wearing a simple violet dress, light and airy to accommodate the coming summer.
“Warrior?” Reniko questioned as she looked down again at her clothing, “That’s interesting.”
“Not really, I told my mother as much. Besides, I knew you would be more comfortable in something of that fashion.”
“You know, I was so relieved when I found a pair of pants amongst the clothes that were given,” Reniko said laughing. Rimca joined her in the laughter as Orric took flight.
“Reniko, I must warn you of the council. I really wish we had more time to go through this.”
“Don’t worry I’ve been before royalty before. I won’t act garishly.”
“I know you won’t, not after what I saw you do with my parents. It’s just that the council members are very old. Queen Ulee is nearing the end of her life; she can almost remember the time before Rük rule, when the Levanith were still alive and well. Being around them can be intense, oppressive even. Just be careful what you say, they read things from the simplest phrases and their judgment isn’t light.”
“Just when I thought I was okay with this whole thing, thanks.”
“Well I couldn’t just throw you in there all alone.”
“Alone. Wait. You won’t be with me?” Oh hell!
“The council will see us separately, yes. It’s not customary for one person to speak for another, so they don’t give you the opportunity. You’ll do fine, just don’t –” Rimca trailed off. Be myself, Reniko filled in for herself.
“Lyss, I’m sure you will be as infectious as ever,” Orric said as he landed and Rimca led Reniko into the interior of the palace. Let’s hope that’s a good thing, Reniko thought as a palace guard greeted them and led the pair into a small waiting room.
Reniko ended up pacing the anteroom while she waited for Rimca to return. Each time she passed the door, she heard small portions of the conversation in the inner room. Reniko tried not to impose on what was being said, but couldn’t help her curiosity, and the conflict between being polite and just giving into her curiosity kept her pacing slowly back and forth. The guard at the other end of the room was staring at her with a knowing smile on his face, and Reniko stopped and smirked in his direction.
“It never gets easier does it?” she asked.
The Le’a’to just shook his head and added, “You’d be surprised by how uneasy they feel as well.” Reniko stopped her pacing and just stared at the guard. How would you know? Why would you say that? Her thoughts were interrupted as she heard words filtering in through the closed door.
“– Is not aware…” Rimca voiced, then there was a long pause.
“Why has no one –” An unfamiliar voice spoke.
“– Watcher’s line… for whatever reason… I think… out… own… ready to face this… doesn’t remember… will not bode well…” Rimca said.
“– Please… through this difficult time… in Tordaskar… be her strength when all abandon her… Malik troubles me…”
“I tried to warn her… I fear… he discovers the truth… will crumble Shylaya.”
“You must be strong… regardless if it was forbidden… we cannot deny it now… do you think… has returned?”
“– No indication… Tordaskar would be their destination…”
“– Travels are not over… take care of our…”
“With my life, Your Highness.”
A hand on Reniko’s shoulder startled her, and she turned from the door and the cryptic conversation. Whatever had been said confused her more than ever. Not something I needed to hear. The guard had made his way to Reniko and gestured to the seat on the opposite side of the room.
“I think we’d all be more comfortable if you took a seat,” he said.
Well that’s a polite way of saying that I shouldn’t be listening in on the council meeting, Reniko thought as she complied. Her uneasiness didn’t last long as Rimca emerged from the council room with a determined look on her face. Ulee doesn’t sound very trusting of Malik, and Rimca agrees. I wonder if that was why he was not invited. Maybe I shouldn’t be heading to Tordaskar, what have I gotten myself into?
"They will see you now,” the guard said gesturing to the door. Reniko glanced at Rimca who was now seated.
Rimca looked at Reniko and smiled. “It will be over soon enough.”
Reniko stepped through the door and was met by a brightly lit room. Grace guide me, she thought as she took in her surroundings. Eight chairs stood before her, each one filled with an imposing presence. The two in the centre were filled with the most imposing of those. The King, Hibron sat in one, his face starting to show his age, which startled Reniko who had figured that age only showed in these people at the very end. The Queen, Ulee, was even frailer than Hibron, her very presence told of the length of her journey, her eyes held the thoughts that her body gave away, that it was nearing the end and she would be glad for the rest.
Reniko took her place in the middle of the room and kneeled before the council her head bowed to the floor. She spoke no words, only waited.
“Please, Earthling, rise,” Ulee spoke, her voice a wave, youthful despite her apparent age.
Reniko stood and her gaze flitted from one member to the next. She was uneasy, afraid to place her gaze on any one for too long. This did not go unnoticed by the assembly.
“Why does your gaze stray from us so? Does our age offend you?” Hibron spoke.
Reniko bowed low and spoke piously, “I meant no offense, your Eminence, I only wish for you to know as much about me as I know of you.”
Silence filled the room. “It seems we have that,” Ulee spoke. “Rimca did not tell us that you knew our secrets. Please give us your gaze, we will not impose upon you.”
“I will, Your Grace, but please I beseech you, if you are to gaze upon me know that it does work both ways.”
Again silence as Reniko lifted her eyes from the floor and steadied them on the Queen.
“Your youth hides your wisdom,” Ulee said.
Reniko hesitated and spoke once again, “Please, I am curious to know of why I was brought before, Your Graces?”
“Merely a curiosity of ours I’m afraid. It’s not every day that an Earthling falls from the sky and starts a revolution.”
“Hardly a revolution, Your Eminence, I am merely on my way home.”
“That you are,” Hibron said relaxing into his seat.
“I made a promise to a friend that I would do what I could to help before I left.” Can I really leave now? Malik…
“I see indecision in your eyes,” Ulee said.
Reniko looked into the ancient woman’s eyes and words escaped her.
“You have hard choices ahead of you,” another spoke.
“Your past is conflicting with your future,” a man’s voice this time.
Reniko glanced around the room, felt it swaying, stumbled in her steps and whispered the only words she could clearly think, “Stop!” She felt herself falling toward the ground and was confused as a hand grabbed her own and eased her to the floor. When her eyes came into focus she saw Ulee staring down at her, her head in the woman’s lap.
“Forgive us. Our curiosity got the better of us all. We saw so much,” Ulee said and Reniko slid away, her own mind overwhelmed by the sight of so many others.