“Tell me about the dinner,” Lilliane said.
Ubiri had been scrupulously polite. He served wine rather than uluul, but aside from that, the meal had been traditional. Servants moved like shadows carrying in course after course of Tisreen delicacies, flat bread and sharp cheese, marinated olives, and lamb with cous cous. Zev smiled. Resi's was better. “We talked about inconsequentials--Ubiri hadn't been home for several years and he wanted news of the salaal championships. He was interested in breeding and bloodlines.
“I like fillies with some fire in them,” Ubiri said, “makes it more satifying to break them.”
Zev paused, his wineglass halfway to his mouth and studied the Ambassador. Tisreen horses were not so much a broken, but convinced. The strongest horses were the spirited ones, to be sure, but they required a rider with strength and subtlety to match.
His mouth dried and a sharp dagger of pain bit into his right temple. Lilliane drew a quick breath and the sense of being stabbed faded. He looked up into her green eyes, read the concern there. “He was speaking about horses, subduing them, but he was looking at the servants.” It was strange. There was no pain, but there was no outrage either. Ubiri. Maresh. He knew that what they were doing was wrong, but he could summon no revulsion.
“Do you need me to stop?” Lilliane asked, her eyebrows crooked together.
“No,” Zev said, willing this strange disconnection to last long enough to remember. He furrowed his forehead, feeling a distant pinprick of anxiety. His memories lurched forward and he watched himself knock over the coffee cup.
“Zev! Zev!” Lilliane's voice pierced though the confusion. He was standing in the middle of their jiir, his knife drawn. “Here, let me.” She reached for the knife and set it down on the carpeted floor. “Sit down with me. Slow your breathing.”
He let her lead him to her sleeping mat. They sat cross legged, facing one another. “Help me remember, Lilliane. Something happened. Just before I threw the cup. Something made me furious. Something Ubiri did or said.” He shivered, despite the warmth inside the jiir. His stomach roiled. This was where the blankness started.
Lilliane linked her hand in his. She reached her other hand to cradle the scarred skin along the right side of his head. The nausea faded. The evening sharpened into focus.
“There was a servant. No more than a girl. Thala's age.” Ubiri offered her as a gift. Even through Lilliane's control, he could feel the blood heating his face. “It is a tradition. In Tisreen, you honor a guest with a breeding mare.” It was supposed to strengthen the horse's blood lines In return, the guest would promise the host the pick of the foals. Lilliane's face blanched. He could feel his body start to shudder at Ubiri's perversion. “She stood there with dead eyes and he talked about her like she was a horse at auction.”
“She is trained for pleasure, Hal Jahnissim. Ride her as you will.”
“He knew. He knew I would reject his 'gift.'” Zev was breathing hard, as if he'd been running. “It was a test. He dismissed the girl and started laughing at me.” His voice dropped to a whisper. Sweat trickled from his forehead. “I stormed out of the Embassy, but four men followed.”
Brightness seared his head. The memory of the blow nearly blinding him to the jiir and Lilliane's face.
“Zev, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have tried this.”
He grabbed her hand hard enough for her to cry out. “I need to see them. Keep going,” he said, through gritted teeth.
Lilliane's breathing was as ragged as his. The burning ebbed. He let go of her hand, feeling cut off from his own body as he watched the memory of four men dressed in Tisreen travel garb beating him methodically and with professional detachment. One spoke in Tisreen. “You should have at least taken the filly first.” A second laughed.
“The Ubiri brothers. And two Rimlanders.” His mouth flooded with saliva. Gooseflesh prickled along his arms. He was on the ground, curling around broken ribs, trying to protect his head. One of the Rimland attackers raised his sword. A fifth man emerged from the shadows. “No,” he said, “no blade.” The man's voice was deeply resonant. He had heard that voice before. “Put this near the body.” Blood ran in his eyes and he couldn't see what the man was doing, but he heard the crack of his skull as the final blow fell.
Friday, January 25, 2008
"Heal Thyself" at 83K (and a snippet)
I have the events that drive the final climax of the story in place. This snippet takes place before Zev and Lilliane return to Rimland to confront the Tisreen Ambassador.