"I was thinking about suggesting we send those boys to the southern continent on Harifa Edus," Lissa found another chair for Kifirin and shared her plate with him. There was more than enough food.
"Wolves are there, now," Kifirin remarked as he dipped into the lasagna Cheedas had made for them. "If that is the Council's decision, I will not help them if they are attacked."
"I don't expect you to—I was thinking about placing a boundary around their farm."
"You will build a farm for them?" Kifirin was back to blowing smoke.
"I don't think those two were the only ones involved in the attack." Nissa looked up sharply at her mother's words, and then quickly dropped her eyes. She should have known—not much got past her mother.
"Yet the others have made a vow of nonviolence." Kifirin drank from the Queen's glass. Kifirin liked to eat—when he did eat.
"That's what worries me," the Queen grumped. "It's hard to pinpoint something like this."
"Yes." Kifirin agreed around a mouthful of food.
Kifirin didn't stay long—he ate, discussed the disposition of the two young prisoners a little longer and then left, disappearing just he always did. Someday, Nissa would be taught to fold space, but that wasn't allowed until a wizard was at least twenty, achieved Fifth-Tier status in their training and been certified by Great-Grampa Glendes, who was Eldest of Grey House.
She felt a twinge of jealousy at times because Tory was allowed to skip. That's how the High Demons got around—it was a series of jumps—like skipping rocks on a pond. Tory had been able to skip since he turned twelve. Now, everybody was waiting to see if Tory could turn Thifilathi. Uncle Gardevik was practically holding his breath over it. That ability, or lack of it, would determine much of Tory's future upon the High Demon planet named after Kifirin.
"What do you really want to do with those boys?" Nissa often acted much older than her nearly twelve years, but then she was surrounded by those older than herself most of the time. Nissa studied under Calebert, Master Wizard of the Weapons Division of Grey House. Nissa was learning to remove rust from old weapons using her power. The work was deadly dull. Her father, Shadow Grey, worked in the K'Shoufa Jewelry Division. Both he and Grampa Raffian were Master Wizards and jewelry makers.
Great-Grampa Glendes had stuck her in the Weapons Division as soon as she'd gone through the rite to manifest her power instead of allowing her to work with her father and grandfather. Nissa wasn't even supposed to know how to make a protection jewel, yet she'd done it. The one she'd given Toff was the third she'd made—the first two had gone through a testing phase to make sure they were effective. Nobody else knew that—not even her brothers. If Great-Grampa Glendes found out what she'd done, she would certainly be in trouble.
"Hi, Daddy," Nissa smiled brightly at her father. Shadow Grey had folded in and now sat in Kifirin's abandoned chair before Nissa's mother could answer the question about the two boys in the dungeon.
"Shadow, we were having a private lunch." The Queen brushed back strawberry-blonde hair and frowned at Nissa's father.
"Kifirin was here. Am I not welcome too?" Neither Nissa nor her brothers had ever learned what Grampa Raffian and Great-Grampa Glendes had done to alienate her mother, but she refused to visit Grey House and Shadow often grumbled that he was in the doghouse more often than not.
"Honey, let's not go there today." Nissa's mother leaned down and bumped her head on the small table. She was hugging herself tightly with her arms. Nissa was worried that all this talk about the two boys in the dungeon was upsetting her mother more than anyone thought.
"What's wrong?" Nissa's father had a hand on her mother's head immediately. Shadow wasn't a healer but he had some skill in that area.
"I just don't feel well," the Queen lifted her head. "I think I'll cancel the Council meeting this afternoon." Lissa rose and quickly walked away from them. Nissa listened as her mother's footsteps softened and then disappeared. The Queen had left the arboretum.
"Daddy, she never cancels meetings." Nissa rose to follow her mother.
"No, she doesn't. Maybe I'll ask Karzac or Selkirk to take a look. She gets headaches, too, though that shouldn't be possible." Shadow looked worried.
"But she'll hold meetings, even if she has a headache," Nissa persisted. Shadow motioned her down again.
"Finish your lunch, sweetheart. Then we'll see if something needs to be done." Shadow breathed a frustrated sigh.
"Daddy, what did Grampa and Great-Grampa do to upset Mom?" Nissa turned her eyes on her father.
"Baby, we want to tell you about this someday soon. Right now, all I'll say is that they almost cost her Le-Ath Veronis as you know it." Nissa knew from the look on her father's face that she wasn't going to get any information other than that. It didn't matter—this was more than she or her brothers had gotten before. No wonder Mom wouldn't set foot in Grey House.
"That's what he said—that Grampa and Great-Grampa almost cost Mom Le-Ath Veronis. What could they have done?" Nissa was still turning her father's words over in her mind as she sat with her brothers in the pool area. The palace had a very nice indoor pool—heated, of course, and there were sunlamps spaced evenly around the perimeter if you wanted to use them. They weren't employed often, except by the comesuli, who didn't make it to the light half of the planet once a week as they should.
"Don't know, but we did find out that Grey House was invited into the Alliance after Trell got blown to bits," Ry responded. "And we researched the records—Grey House pays as much in taxes as Trell did. Just think—a single family paying what an entire planet did before. Grey House must be doing very well."
"Daddy says Grey House always does well. People are willing to pay high fees for the work," Nissa said. "And I get stuck removing rust from old daggers."
"Well, there has to be a market for that—loads of royal houses have those old swords and knives hanging on their walls. All that junk, sitting around collecting dust and rust," Tory was grinning. Nissa realized he was teasing her.
Toff had to wash his hands twice and he still had dirt under his nails. Mother Fern hadn't been happy with what he'd brought back to her, scolding Toff about the roots and detritus still in the clay. She grumbled that the Halves working with her had been able to get rid of most of that using their power. If Fern intended to make Toff feel small and useless, then she'd hit the mark.
"Father, I can't get this dirt out," Toff washed his hands a third time.
"Clay isn't easy to deal with, son," Corent eyed Toff's hands. "Here." Corent gathered the tiniest bit of light around him and removed the dirt and clay with power. "There. All clean." Toff sighed at the small amount of effort Corent had expended. Even a tiny amount of power would have been welcome, but he was destined to have none. Toff followed his foster-father to the kitchen, where Redbird had dinner waiting.
"The baby eunuch is going off to play in the dirt," Gren hissed at Toff as Toff left the small school building after lessons were over the following day. Gren was headed to his other lessons; Toff was going to dig for more clay. The day was fine and crisp, but Gren ruined it. Toff was thankful that Mother Fern's pottery shed was on the opposite side of the village—he had no desire to walk near Gren and listen to more insults.
Mother Fern lived very close to the northwestern border of the village—she'd chosen that location so the smoke from her kilns wouldn't bother the other inhabitants when she worked. Currently, she had four apprentices with power and one without. Toff was the one without. He was beginning to have doubts that Mother Fern would ever let him do anything other than gather clay, work out as much of the roots, rocks and other bits as he could and then dry and sift what was left. After Toff did his work, there would be workable, dry clay that could be added to water so the others could form the plates, bowls and other vessels the village needed.
Toff sighed and shook his head. He had no doubt that Gren would continue his verbal assaults. Toff was waiting, too, for Gren to form a new army—one that would be happy to deliver physical abuse at Gren's direction.
"Good afternoon, Mother Fern," Toff spoke the accepted, polite greeting as he joined the potter and her older apprentices. Mother Fern's apprentices looked up at Toff's entrance. Two were Halves; two were Fulls. The youngest of the four was twenty-two and had been working with Mother Fern for eight years. Toff was the newest and most unwilling, if he were honest. He was getting a later start than the others, who were all female. Gren regularly referred to him as a eunuch, so that didn't make him much different from the girls working for Mother Fern. Toff's shoulders slumped at the thought.
"I want you to find more clay. Try to get something cleaner this time," Mother Fern pointed to the shovel and the canvas bags waiting by the door. Toff would have preferred cleaning the dusty pottery shed to going out and digging for clay. Either way, it was a dirty job. Toff hefted the shovel over his shoulder, lifted the two canvas bags and trudged out of the shed toward the old streambed to look for more clay.
Luck was not with Toff that afternoon—everything he found was filled with rootlets and bits of rock and gravel. The grayish, slick clay was the width of a hand or two beneath the topsoil and with the multitude of plants growing above it, it was guaranteed to be filled with roots. Toff tried to pull the roots out of the clay in one piece, but they were small and fragile, breaking off every time.
A large patch of poison leaves grew nearby, too, which he was trying to avoid. As luck would have it, the better clay was beneath those poison leaves. Toff carefully shoved the edge of his square spade beneath the plants and tossed them aside, once he'd scooped them up. He had no desire to get any part of those leaves on exposed skin—the rash could be debilitating.