Before the Amazonian conquest of Dianus, these were probably the chambers of the Olympian governor, now belonging to the head of Clan Hydron. Little seems to have changed from the Olympian style marble pillars and arches hold up the high roof, inlaid with a mosaic depicting the Procession, while fountains and sculpted streams flow throughout the various levels. Each area seems to have its own specific purpose and is separated from the rest by height and the flow of water, with ornately carved wooden bridges linking them. At the lowest level, near the entrance, a marble disc seems to float above a pool of water, rimmed with planters and filled with oversized lounge cushions, chaises and low couches.
The summons came soon after Layth left the company of Aisha and Tasha, and mentioned that the buck should bring any musical instruments or other implements he wished. Tyche lay upon one of the chaise lounges of the lowest platform, surrounded by her various daughters, including Calligenia.
Layth walks in with a worn travel bag draped over his shoulder. Upon seeing Tyche and her daughters, he bows to them. "Ah, the shining jewels of Dianus and their most beautiful and wise mother," the buck says with smile. "I am honored to be allowed into your home and chambers. You are kind to a most unworthy buck. How may I entertain or care for you this evening?"
"Please, make yourself comfortable with us, Layth," Tyche says, smiling at the flattery. "We would love to learn more about your travels and the knowledge you have acquired outside of Amazonia."
Layth sets his bag to the side, the shape betraying the presence of a lute and other various items. The buck then obtains one of the cushions and sets it before the gathering of does and settles himself down on it; sitting in a lotus pattern. "My life is an open book for you to read and enjoy," he tells them and spreads his arms out towards them. "Where would you wish I begin?"
"Music!" Laia says, before the others can reply.
Layth dips his head to Laia. "As you request, Lady Agalaia," the buck says. He gets back to his feet and fetches the lute from the sack. Once he's settles back down on the cushion, he starts to check the tune of the instrument. "I hope my skills are to your liking and ask your forgiveness if they are not. I have been to several lands and learned a variety of songs from those we traded with. Do you wish to hear music from the desert lands? Or perhaps from the dark lands of Ur, where the night fliers rule?" he asks.
"That's the other side of the world!" Lia notes, and Tyche nods, saying, "That would certainly be exotic, please play some for us."
"I have never been to Ur, but Master Zafir traded with travelers from it. They have a great city that keeps building upward, reaching for the very skies themselves, or so I've been told. And yet, their people are a sad one, and their legends are dark. One of their songs they traded to us was called 'The Fall of Vael, the Goddess of Earth'. Their legends say how she was slain by the creator god Bael. Whatever truths are in their songs, I cannot answer, but their tone and feeling may help in getting a glimpse into their mysterious hearts," Layth says. He checks the tune again, then begins. The song itself is one made of long notes that build with intensity and volume until at a sharp and sudden crescendo, falls down to stretched tones that then fade away as a soft sigh of those who morn.
The younger does tear up a bit by the end, while Celosia seems to pay unduly close attention to it. Tyche's expression throughout seems to be one of thoughtful amusement. When Layth finishes, the matriarch asks, "You certainly have met many cultures, Layth. Do those that surround Amazonia speak much of us, or show interest in trade for Amazonian goods?"
"The world outside speaks and knows very little of you," Layth answers honestly. "These lands have not been kind to travelers. To the outside, this is a place of monsters and death. But, that said, goods from your lands would obtain a high price, for they would be an exotic good from an unknown world."
"And these caravans that pass close for surely you did not wander as an infant until found would they be willing to do business with Amazonian traders?" Tyche asks next.
"If they had established communication with the clans and promise of safe passage, I am sure some would," Layth answers with a nod. "Many caravans do travel with guards, of course. But the quality and skill vary. So agreements with the local land holders do much to influence where trade is done."
"Traders on both sides would need to be protected by Warriors and Guardians," Celosia notes. "It would be expensive and obvious, and a large enough band of nomads could still overcome them. Such trade would need to be conducted by boat."
"I already knew that," Calligenia says. "That is why I arranged for the goods to be handled by trustworthy boatmen."
"Some people are willing to risk trading by land as well. I would not be here if that were not so," Layth notes. "Boats, yes, would likely be easier. But to remember pirates to prey upon the waters as well. It is not without risks."
Tyche smiles to Layth. "If an Amazonian such as yourself were to lead such trade caravans, do you think they would feel safer?"
Layth looks rather shocked by that. He's never seen himself as much of a leader. "Quite possibly. I know the language and share of the bloodlines here. But, not being either a citizen or slave of a clan being traded with, well, may affect how much safer they would feel," the buck answers and idly pushes back one of his ears.
"You could marry Calligenia," Tyche offers. "Then you would be of high rank within Clan Hydron."
Layth blinks again and looks at Calligenia. "You offer an honor I am not sure I am worthy of," the buck admits. "I would want to prove myself worthy to be in such a union. And, I would wish that your daughter would want me as well. Without both … I would not feel as though I honorably earned such a position."
Calligenia blinks back at Layth. "Prove yourself worthy? In what manner?" the doe asks.
"You have done much to bring honor to your clan. You have traveled to far lands to establish new trade and reach out to the larger world. I … I am just an abandoned son of a barbarian tribe," the buck says quite honestly. "I do not know if I could be a proper husband for you. What would you seek in a husband?" he asks the doe.
"Good trade contacts and experience," Calligenia states. "You seem to qualify by those criteria. You have also shown bravery and loyalty by returning to the land of your birth to protect Aisha."
Layth considers the comments and nods. "True, I do have trade contacts through Master Zafir which may be of some use and I did spend much of my life helping him with that and acting as a caravan guard," the buck concedes. "Bravery … well, as the saying in Abu-Dhabi goes, 'It is a fine line in the sands of life that divide the brave from the foolish.' But, I thank you for the compliments. What would your expected duties be of your husband?"
"To aid me in my business endeavors and give me children," Calligenia says, and then adds, "I would not expect you to adhere to Amazonian traditions, though. Since you have been raised in Abu-Dhabi, I will accede to you having other wives. It would allow me to spend more time here while you handle affairs outside Amazonia."
"That … in truth may calm Lady Tasha. She has grown fond of me," the buck says frankly. "It would not be honorable of me to not consider her feelings. May I speak with her before I answer this question. I am honored beyond words that you would offer this to me. If that is not acceptable, then I am most sorry." The buck lowers his head.
"It was not precisely an offer," Tyche notes. "Merely stating that the lack of a Clan association could be overcome."
"Ah. Then I apologize again," Layth notes and bows his head.
"I still consider Layth a good choice though," Calligenia tells her mother. "I just haven't known him long enough."
Layth merely looks between the two does. He remains in a lotus position while seated, but right now has an amazing urge to shift in the rather uncomfortable situation.
"Of course, your choice will be the one that matters, Calligenia," Tyche says. "But that can wait. What other wonders of the outer world can you share with us, Layth?"
"Well, I can give you advice on some of the people. I mentioned the night fliers, the Eeee as they are known. Do you know much about them?" Layth asks.
"Their heads must be filled with magical gas to keep them in the air," Laia claims. "Just like the magical air boats."
"Ah, no. They are tall," Layth says and finally stands. He motions a spot several inches higher than his own. "Like many of the warriors here. But, they are thin and most do not have the strength we do. Great wings sprout from their backs like Lady Tasha's, except they are all skin. But the most interesting thing about them is their ears. We hear things many cannot. But they can hear even better. Sound itself can allow them to see, even in total darkness I've been told. So, it is very difficult to whisper around them," the buck explains.
"And … you cannot easily tell a male from a female," Layth adds.
The does lean in slightly at the suggestion of seeing with ones ears.
"Ah, something I imagine you have never seen," Layth says as he sits back down. "Have you ever seen a ship that can sail on the land?"
"A wagon with sails?" Lia asks.
"Not exactly. In the desert lands of Abu-Dhabi, there exists a great wasteland of sand. You cannot cross it on foot, for you would be sucked under. People who live on the edges have developed sand-ships which can glide across it, much like a boat does upon water," Layth explains. "It is quite the sight to see. Particularly with some of the people which are truly a bizarre sight to behold, the Nohbakim. If you can imagine Tasha, a Lapi, and a Vykarin all in one person in an array of shell colors … that's if somewhat how they appear."
"And more interesting, they can consume many things that would be deadly poisons to us," Layth adds.
"The world you come from sounds full of wonders… and monsters," Celosia comments.
"A monster to one is a person to another, Lady Celosia. it is all a matter of perspective. Realize to some of them we would appear to be monsters," Layth says with a smile.
The younger does laugh at that observation. "We're too beautiful to be monsters," Laia argues, still giggling.
"True, all of you are shining examples of beauty and grace," Layth says. "I should also note that the Lapi in the outside world are different. They are more timid and fearful. Which has … worked to my advantage at times. I've had brigands which waylaid our caravan laugh when they learned I was one of the guards. They weren't laughing for long. They didn't expect me to be strong, nor know how to fight."
"I have met the 'city bred' Lapi of Rephidim," Calligenia adds. "And it is true that they attempt to hide their true natures from the monst… other races that they cohabit with."
Layth glances to his bag, then asks, "Oh, I could perform some more music for you. But, I also brought supplies to groom any of you if you wish. Or I could work on any sore or tired muscles as well, if you like. I would offer to dance for you, but my attire is not the best for that. and, Lady Aisha would wish to attend. She would like the reminders of her homeland."
"Grooming? Abu-Dhabi style?" Laia asks, and Tyche perks her ears up as well.
Layth nods. "Grooming and massage, Abu-Dhabi style," the buck says with a smile. "I see that you and Lady Tyche are interested. If it does not offend you, Lady Agalaia, I should attend to your mother first?" he says and draws out several unusual brushes and picks.
"I get to watch," Laia says, just before Lia elbows her and says, "We all do! Watch and learn."
Tyche nods to Layth, and says, "Very well, I will be your demonstration model." She smirks as she says it. "I am at your disposal, master Layth."
Layth chuckles and looks down, as if slightly embarrassed to be referred to in such a way. The buck walks over to the chair which the doe lounges on, then behind it. He slides himself to where he sits behind the older doe. Lightly, he slides his fingers along the does ears as he inspects them. "I should note for interests sake that Layth was the name I was given by the outside world which adopted me. My mother here had named my Chrysanthos. I do not mind which name all of you wish to use for me," he says.
"Chrysanthos," Tyche repeats. "It seems more suited to you. Do you require me to sit up?"
"Not at all, Lady Tyche. Please, just sit however is most comfortable," the buck says. He looks to the watching does and begins. "Well, I always like to begin with the ears," he says and pulls out a small, fine-toothed pick. "You have to be very gentle. Some Lapi have very sensitive or ticklish ears," he says as he carefully glides the pick-brush through the inner light fur lining the Lapi's ears, using one hand to hold the ear, the other to guide the pick.
Tyche's whiskers twitch from the sensation. "It is certainly less intrusive than using a tongue," she admits. "Dryer, also."
"Would that little pick handle scars?" Celosia asks.
"Ah, that sort type 'grooming' is usually left to those who are more intimate. But, if you wish, I could use my tongue, or a combination," the buck offers. As he continues the work, he glances up to Celosia, noting, "As in grooming around them? Yes. Or were you meaning something else?"
"Grooming around them, yes," Celosia replies. "And mother always used her tongue to groom our ears."
"Yes, it can groom around them. I have a few scars under this fur from some injuries in the training arena and on guard duty. It works well for keeping fur out of a healing wound," Layth explains and flips the pick around to a small brush which he then uses to brush the fur in the direction it grows. "I've never had a tongue used on my ears that I remember. I've always just used a brush and a damp towel."
"Do all outsider Lapi use these techniques?" Lia asks next.
"Well, in Abu-Dhabi, it's the common method used. The land is a mix of Khatta and Lapi, and Khatta do love brushes and combs. I cannot speak for the sky island Lapi," Layth answers and glances to Calli.
"Anisya uses a brush, and grooms herself," Calligenia reports. "They do not seem to properly groom each other in the sky islands."
Layth continues on the delicate work on Tyche's ears, gently picking out the fur then brushing it until silky smooth. The buck then smiles and shifts a bit. Then gently, he eases Tyche's head back into his lap. "Close your eyes," he says with a smile, "and relax."
Tyche closes her eyes, and certainly tries to relax. "Your lap is very warm, Layth."
Setting side the brushes for now, Layth starts to massage gently along the top and sides of her face and muzzle, gently working the muscles along their fibers. "This is to help a person relax and sooth away any tension they may be feeling," he explains to the watching does. "You want to have a firm, but not rough, touch."
"Tension in the face causes wrinkles, doesn't it?" Lia asks.
"It can, yes," Layth says with a nod. "It's amazing how much you can grimace or wince and not know it. Once you spend a few minutes on this, you use a brush and just lightly contact the skin under the fur." And then the buck demonstrates this using a brush with slightly longer bristles. "Usually after a massage this should feel really good as well as smooth out the fur."
"Does it work on thicker winter fur?" Celosia asks, showing some interest. "I understand the sky Lapis and those of other lands have thinner fur."
"Yes, you just have to use the proper brush for it. The best for thick fur aren't straight bristles, but curved or hooked. It allows you to work through the winter coat and even get out any underlying shed in the undercoat," Layth explains. And after a pause, asks Tyche, "Are you all right, Lady Tyche?"
Tyche opens one eye, and says, "Yes… I'm not asleep."
"Well, then I need you to slide down a bit and roll on your stomach, if you don't mind?" Layth asks the older doe. "I'll show a bit more, then stop. If the rest of you have questions about other things afterward, do please ask."
"Face down… between your legs?" Tyche asks, as if uncertain of the instructions.
"Well, face down on your couch. Between is fine for now," Layth says with a nod, shifting a bit so she can easily move. The buck then pops his knuckles quickly.
Tyche rolls over and tries to get comfortable while keeping her arms at her sides.
Layth repositions himself so he can lean over the doe's upper back. And then he starts to work on the muscles in her shoulders, firmly kneading and working them. "Always go with the direction the muscles go," he explains. If you go against, you will cause pain."
Tyche's daughters lean in over the sides of the lounge, watching Layth's hands closely.
The buck works from neck outward. When he reaches her arms, he carefully lifts one up and rotates it in a short, small, circle with one hand while kneading the connecting muscles at the shoulder joint. After a bit of that, he then pulls the arm outward firmly, stretching it a bit. "The whole goal is to make sure everything moves easily and to feel for any muscle knots," he says when he finishes with her arms. The buck then spends the next few minutes working down Tyche's back, mainly using his palms and going from the spine outward in movement.
"This is the same method for using on bucks?" Laia asks pointedly. "Or Gladiators?" Lia adds.
"It can be, yes," Layth says with a nod. "Though you usually use a lot more pressure than I'm currently using." And once satisfied, Layth pulls out another brush that's wider than the ones he used on the doe's face and ears. With slow and gentle movements, he then brushes down all the fur on Tyche's back, following the contours of her body and muscles.
"Is there anything you can add to the brushing to add luster?" Celosia asks.
"Yes. Quite often some lightly scented oils are added to the brushes when you use them. It'll oil the fur very slightly and when absorbed, leave it with a sheen. It'll also leave behind a nice scent. You don't want to use too much, though, or you'll itch," the buck says and he scoots away from Tyche, then rubs the base of her neck lightly. "Okay, I'm done using you as the demonstration. There is more I can do, but I think I should let your daughters divide up the grooming work on legs, hands, and feet."
Tyche rolls onto her side, and smiles a bit languidly. "This is much more relaxing than our traditional grooming, I must admit," the woman says.
"This was the abbreviated version. I could have spent hours on you," Layth tells Tyche and rubs his thumb lightly along the bridge of her nose, smiling. "But, your daughters wish to learn, and there may be more you wish to ask me about the outside world."
"Do you have extra combs?" Lia asks pragmatically, since there are four daughters…
"I have a variety. As long as you don't all work on the same areas at once, we could rotate around the usage. Why don't you pair up and you can practice on each other. I'll work with each group in turn and answer any questions you may have," Layth suggests.
Lia and Laia procure a comb and start grabbing each other's ears. Calli and Celosia just look to one another first. Tyche notes, "If we pair up, someone will be left out."
"Well, I was thinking your daughters pair up," Layth says and rubs the bridge of his nose. "But, I could continue working on you, Lady Tyche. Or perhaps pair you with Celosia and work with Calligenia in between advising others."
"Calligenia has had a hard time lately, and could use some attention," Tyche agrees. "And you two should get to know each other better in any case."
Layth nods. "Lady Celosia, would you go with your mother? Lady Tyche, would you like to start on her, since you've felt it? Or would you prefer your daughter to tend to you?" the buck says and goes to kneel beside Calli. "Your choice on where I start on you," he tells the doe. And then he has t pause and look to Lia and Laia, noting, "More gently, and one at a time. Otherwise you might stretch one ear longer than the other, and now, that would be silly." He grins.
"It will groom my daughter, as it has been many years since I had that pleasure," Tyche says, having Celosia sit before her. Calligenia looks to Layth, and says, "I do not want to get wrinkles… "
Layth can't help but smile at that. "All right, I'll need you to lay back and rest your head in my lap," he explains and shifts so he can watch the others and advise the, while he works on Calli. "If anything is uncomfortable, Lady Calligenia, please just tell me. Otherwise, simply relax and enjoy… "