Íoya Tshúkoto. A woman as smug as her horns were straight.
She was an outcast of sorts, at least within the household and its staff; the last of a once-dominant bloodline, her kin had steadily been supplanted by Regsabta's cousins and sisters over the past three centuries. And she had not blended well, either: a strong, wedge-shaped chin and peculiar outward-pointing, flat ears made it clear to any visitor that she was not of the same stock. Her features rather reminded Regsabta of an inverted five-point star, which was a good omen in the far north and hence a bad one in the capitol and other equatorial metropoles.
The fact that Regsabta had once tormented Íoya when they were both quite young was well-known; the older slave had mostly kept to criticizing Íoya's clumsy mispronunciations of the intricate Oksirapho vocabulary, which very much required a nimble tongue for a two-legged creature to master—too nimble, in young Íoya's case. But to Regsabta's surprise, Íoya had worked very hard to overcome her speech impediment as she matured, and although Regsabta respected her for the accomplishment, it went without saying that Íoya still harboured some resentment.
"Slokdtaba, this is none of your business," Regsabta sighed dismissively, waving her hand. She was already exhausted from the effort of dragging Hegrekña-Úksiñtheka here, and in no mood to endure what would surely be round after round of underhanded remarks. The writer blurted out the first thing that came to mind. "Go, and see if any the statues in the courtyard can find a use for that finely-sharpened tongue of yours."
Íoya wrinkled her nose, her head recoiling as if she had been slapped in the face. "Very well, Merciful Regsabta," she said icily, "Perhaps it is Master's business."
Swiftly, she pivoted on a heel and made haste to depart.
Gloto-Tyogía tugged on Regsabta's sleeve and jerked her head in dismay, her eyes wide with shock and fear. A sigh passed from Regsabta's lips.
"She has an appointment with the king, Humble Íoya," Regsabta hissed, invoking an honourific reserved for those serfs and slokdtabasa who had gone to extraordinary lengths to maintain social order—usually by subjugating their peers. Íoya had accidentally earned the title at a young age by tattling on her mother, which had led to distinctly regrettable consequences. As such it was deeply resented, despite being so enviable for slaves of lower houses.
But it was enough to stop Íoya in her tracks. She turned back and looked at Regsabta, sceptically.
"An appointment with the king
, you say." She turned on her heel. "What an odd thought. Why would his Magnificence Heskento wish to see the lowly rag-maiden of the blood-spitters of Gazdatto?"
Hegrekña-Úksiñtheka cringed at the appellation; her family's reputation had, somehow, gotten itself far more tarnished than it actually deserved. She spoke up.
"It is none of your concern, Slokdtaba of Tshúkoto, but if you truly would want to know, then perhaps you would find it to your favour not to dash all your soups upon the ground."
Íoya pursed her lips, considering this. Her expression remained hard for several long moments, then she finally spoke in reply.
"As a scribe to the judicial-treasury, I see a great many things, Hegrekña-Úksiñtheka. For instance, that the trial of the Gazdatto clan ended over a week ago, and that most of your family was summarily executed as a result."
The servant cringed harder, her body suddenly ice. She shifted on her feet, and while she had been strong up until this point, as taciturn as Regsabta, she now faltered, and it was clearly not just from the blood loss. "That is none of your concern! I have very important business at the palace!"
Íoya took a step forward. "Of course you do. Your cousin's life has been threatened. She is
your cousin, is she not?"
The tanned slave sharply inhaled. "Yes. Kowaka Tuktanga and I are of the same grandmother."
This time it was Regsabta's turn to be shocked. Kowaka was famous, mostly for being one of the few girls of art known by name alone, made all the more rare by her nativity to Wemno, where, it was commonly known, slokdtabasa were not treated as kindly.
It made perfect sense phrenologically, of course; the two women had similar appearances and attitudes, being both of that rare lineage of slokdtaba known for such things, called sabtatúzasa
by the apothecaries. That there could be only one or two bloodlines of such creatures in existence seemed inevitable.
But there was a key oddity: the Tuktango family was fiercely loyal to the Tévopían Crown, being of rural origins and hence long subjugated during the reigns of Wemno. What a horrible stain on that family tree Gloto-Tyogía must be! But why had Íoya asked? What was this threat?
"Íoya, are you getting at anything in particular, or are you merely hoping to bleed our guest dry in accordance with your humble duty?"
Íoya did not so much as glance at Regsabta, instead still gauging Gloto-Tyogía's expression, which had gotten progressively more alarmed.
Finally, it was Gloto-Tyogía who spoke.
"It was no mere threat, scribe. She has been missing since this morning."
"Do you not have your family's ailing business to attend to, Hegrekña-Úksiñtheka?" Íoya whispered. "Surely the king would not wish to meet with you so shortly after their fall."
Hegrekña-Úksiñtheka shook her head sadly. "She is the last of my blood," she sighed. "Her Master has already published a notice of very handsome reward for retrieving her, but none have dared answer it, and it is doubtful any will."
"Retrieve? You speak as if you know where she is," interjected Regsabta, somewhat confused. "Do you?"
"Yes... yes I do," the older woman said, swallowing. "That, I believe, is the reason why no one will take the job."
Íoya raised an eyebrow. "I had not heard this part. Where could she possibly be that is so terrifying?"
Hegrekña-Úksiñtheka looked Íoya dead in the eye, and her fear spoke volumes all on its own.