"I think I know the place you are speaking of," said Íoya, her features drawn together. "With certainty there is
a mansion in the old marshlands, south of the oasis, but it is on the grounds of the Kégivko Ceremonial Game Reserve. No slave is allowed anywhere near that place." She sighed, as if she had been holding in her breath, and swept herself away, now very much disinclined to support the easterner's sororal piety. It was not a practice native to Tévopían slokdtabasa, who were much more accustomed to palace intrigue and the art of sharpening daggers to bury in each others' backs.
So that was how the scene must have looked to Regsabta and Íoya: consciously or not, they would have counted their poison arrow-tips, and gloated in a subdued smugness at Gloto-Tyogía's openness. Regsabta's rescue of the battered creature had not been entirely selfless, whether or not she wants to white-wash it now, hundreds of years after the fact.
is something I have solved," Hegreñka-Úksiñtheka said. "There is an exemption which allows tratbagasa
"—don't cringe, that's what they called us—"entry into hallowed grounds like the Kégivko Reserve if they are assisting in an archaeological operation."
For those of you who were younger, I suppose I should provide a bit more context—unlike Reséa here, who is only too happy to let these things go unsaid and far too often expects others to inspect the entrails of her writing and divine the truth for themselves like our ancestors—it was not simply a matter of the fact that the Masters' government and culture was utterly rotten and perversely dependent on us. I am sure most of you have heard of Moiléa and know about the remarkable stations held by women like Súa's mother or Admiral Salnúkzoa, but these cases were rarer than you are sometimes allowed to believe for the sake of national pride. The archaeological exemption was a matter of pragmatism; Oksete did not have the manual dexterity necessary to perform such fine work, and what contraptions they had invented to aid them were unwieldy and tiresome to operate, more suited to the artist's easel or the scribe's lectern than an environment like an excavation which required movement.
Yes, I know I will never get through the story if I keep interrupting the narrative. You are not precisely helping.
Where was I?
"This is all very well and good on paper," murmured Regsabta. She had grown quiet, complacent, content to let the others do the talking while she managed her heatstroke, which she had always been partial to as an explanation for why she was not pulling her fair share of the weight in our daily labours when the House was still small. "But there is nothing to be done. The oasis is some sixty miles from here, far beyond what we could manage on foot." She frowned, a shadow falling upon her mind. "Was it truly your intention to steal a car?"
Gloto-Tyogía bowed her head in acknowledgement with such suddenness that it was as if she had been struck from above. Such guilt was typical of us then; we were slaves, and uttering such a dark thought was a heinous, treasonous, skaoksnivían
Regsabta frowned at the other Lilitu, displeased at the other woman's shame.
"Fortunately," she said, "I have a better idea."
* * * * *
Here Íora stopped, leaning back in her chair. Her audience, which had grown steadily smaller, wearier, and more annoyed, looked on in anticipation. There was nothing else to do: an Elder of the recently-appointed Council was telling a story, and at this point it would be quite rude to carry on their own conversations after the hoarse, grey-haired woman had raised her voice so many times. Across from her, Reséa rubbed her forehead from weariness, much as she had on that day so many lives ago.
"Well, aren't you going to go on?"
For her part, Íora simply smiled, looking across the table at Reséa expectantly. "And steal your thunder? No, I don't think I shall. This part, children," she said, addressing now only the younger portion of the audience, "is where Reséa's true talent for politics and manipulation first became apparent. Go on; tell them the story."
All things considered, they probably would not have tolerated Íora so much if she were like this while sober.
Reséa frowned. "You obviously remember the best way to recount what happened," she replied, with the barest amount of insult. Long ago the Lilitai had turned to bombastic and inflated hate speeches as a method of releasing stress and tension when egos and blood both ran hot; the Ksreskézai had invented it, but only their daughters had turned the practice into a two-player game. The idea was simple: scream vile words at each other until the stress passed. An audience, amused moreso than vicarious, was essential; key political debates were hence excluded.
Thus, never in seven centuries had Íora and Reséa actually cleared the air between them; both were simply too prominent, and now, perhaps, too old.
It had been just six short years since Haplenía Poaléanivía died. In the interim, the Author, her zelamezría
, had completely avoided anything remotely social or of public importance. In the end it was only Súa's pleading that had compelled her to come; with the girl's co-mother Egríthía gone, Reséa was the last of the original cabinet whom the people saw as a ceremonial authority. A decision to hand over control of their society by Sarthía herself—although she did not use that name often these days, thinking it too pompous—was of far more significance and weight than one made despite her self-isolation.
Everyone at the table knew this, and everyone was suitably displeased that Íora had not waited even a day before commencing her hostilities.
"I'm not proud of what we ended up doing to Dzetzo, no," she said in a low, quiet voice, breaking the stillness that had started to loom. "For someone who so vocally refused the initiation and inculcation of the Mitrajethíai, you certainly seen to place a lot of importance on the obedience of slaves."
This was enough to set Íora off, a thought the others relished only because it had a chance of ending the hostilities between them. In truth, they could not fathom Reséa actually going through with it—in 831 years she had scarcely raised her voice, much less publicly insulted another.
"Perhaps you simply do not recall the fact that I refused your idiotic fiction as well! I'm not talking about slave obedience; this is purely a matter of basic respect and dignity for another person, a topic, I must say, I thought you were much more concerned with—after all, you wrote a dozen books on the subject."
Reséa pursed her lips. "Seventeen, actually. Unlike you, I actually continue writing when I'm depressed—and I only get depressed when there's something truly worthy of it. The extra time has given me a lot to think about—drunk-sickness like yours included."
"Is that so," Íora said, icily.
"It is," Reséa replied with a subtle, indifferent tilt of her head.
"And what is it that you've concluded, O Great Author?"
Reséa took a deep breath—deeper than the one she had at the start of the story—and began to speak anew.