The bedrooms (and much of the household in general) at the Lightfoot estate are actually underground, which at least means Layth doesn't have to worry about guarding windows. The guestrooms comprise a small suite, with a central room and several connecting bedrooms, each with a solid door for privacy. There is even a small washroom available. Faizah, one of Alexander Lightfoot's younger wives, leads Layth and the two does to the suite.
"Let me know if you need anything, I'm right down the hall," Faizah replies. Calligenia's traveling trunks have already been brought down, and a platter on the central room's small table holds a carafe of vegetable juice and some seed cakes.
"Will Lady Circerae be joining us anytime soon?" Layth inquires as he does a quick check of the room. "And could I use one thing, at least, a good set of brushes and some scented oils, if it would be no bother Missus Lightfoot."
"You can borrow mine, I'll go fetch them," Faizah says, smiling. "And I'm sure Lady Calligenia will be done with her business soon, as Al-Hasbeen was preparing to leave." The woman slips out and closes the door behind her.
"Brushes and oils?" Aisha queries.
"Yes. Your fur needs some tending to, Lady Aisha. You have a few small mats forming along your neck. I noticed them earlier tonight after dinner," Layth explains after he seems satisfied with the room. "That will not do for a beautiful lady. It will also make me more relaxed to explain a few things that, well, aren't known to anyone but myself and Master Zafir."
Aisha immediately raises her fingers to pat the fur of her neck, frowning. "Where they very noticeable? Was anyone looking at them?" she asks.
"No, I found them by feel, not sight. They're small," Layth says comfortingly. He then goes about arranging a small pile of pillows for Aisha to lounge on.
As the somewhat overwhelmed doe sits down in the proffered pile, Faizah returns, leading with her tail as she pushes open the door since her hands are full. She's carry a square tray, apparently taken from her dressing table, that includes a set of grooming combs and brushes along with a few fancy looking glass bottles of different kinds of conditioning oil. She sets it down on the small table, next to the snacks, and asks, "Is there anything else I can do to make you more comfortable?"
The buck examines the tray, then bows slightly to Faizah. "No, milady, you have been more than generous to us. I feel I should ask you if there is anything I may do to repay your kindness," he says.
"Oh, just return the grooming kit when you are finished, Mister Layth," the woman replies, bowing deeply from the waist. "I am a night-creen, so do not worry about waking me if the hour is late."
Layth nods his head. "As you ask, milady. Be well," Layth replies with a smile. The buck then eyes the brushes critically, and selects a couple. He walks back over to Aisha and kneels down behind her, then brushes his fingers along her neck, finding the forming mats. "I know I've been against you going to Amazonia," he says, "And perhaps moreso than I should be. But, forgive me for inquiring such, but what do you know of the place?"
After Faizah leaves, Aisha twitches her ears and whiskers a bit. "It's an old part of Olympia that Calligenia comes from, and it has a Lapi-run city and lots of old Lapi culture," she says.
"Ah, so that's all you know, then. There is much more to it than that. It's very clan oriented, and the clans wage raids and wars with each other. Something that's also quite different from here is that the women rule it. Males there are … second-class, to use a direct term," Layth explains rather calmly as he takes the smaller brush and starts to carefully pick out the first knot of fur.
"I don't see anything wrong with that," Aisha mutters, beginning to submit to the natural grooming response of her kind. "Calli says her city is very peaceful and beautiful though… "
"Hers may be. Not all are. Another thing you should know; Amazonians, those who share the old bloodline, are large and very strong. Your friend, Lady Circerae, I imagine is quite strong, in spite of her appearance," Layth explains as he frees one knot and starts on the next one. "There are also roaming clans which can make travel and life dangerous for people."
"Mmmm," Calli says, closing her eyes. "It can't be all that dangerous if Aaron is able to travel there. He's too timid to go anyplace frightening."
Layth says, "If he too shares Amazonian blood … he is in little danger. Amazonian males are known for being able to withstand enormous amounts of damage to their bodies," Layth explains and even briefly pauses to tickle the inside of Aisha's ear. "A thousand pardons, but no falling asleep.""
Aisha twitches her ears, causing the chains to jingle. "I was not falling asleep!" she claims. "It is just very oddly relaxing to be brushed like this. I think the last to do so was my mother… "
"And lastly, to be completely honest with you, Lady Aisha … I'm afraid to go there," Layth admits, pausing in the brushing. He rolls the brush between his fingers slowly.
The golden doe looks back over her shoulder, and asks, "Why? You are a Lapi, and a big one at that, so you would likely fit right in."
"That's exactly why, Lady Aisha; I was born there. I'm a pureblood Amazonian," Layth admits and gives her a sheepish, apologetic, smile. "I'm certain your friend already suspects as much."
"I don't understand why that is a problem?" Aisha asks, turning sideways to avoid straining her neck. "If it is your homeland, wouldn't you want to see it again?"
"Not particularly," Layth admits and sets the brush aside for now. He folds his hands together and sets them in his lap. "My father came from the Snowshoe clan of the mountains. He was kidnapped by one of the warriors of the White Spire Clan; who are one of the groups commonly called a barbarian tribe. I had a very rough childhood there. And when I turned five … well. Times became worse for my clan. So, a choice was made to ensure the survival of the whole. The least valuable would be abandoned and left to die in the wilderness. I was one of them. I do not hate them for that; they did what they had to do to survive. For their values, I wasn't worth much; a young male child."
Aisha's eyes go wider than would seem possible, and start to get watery. "Oh, you poor man!" she says, and rests a hand on his shoulder. "That sounds… just awful!"
Layth shakes his head and holds up his hand. "As things go, it turned out for the best. I've lived longer that I probably would have, had I remained with them. After three days in the wilderness I was found by a caravan moving through unseen. A trader named Zafir took me in and was going to sell me as a slave when he could. I … gave him a bloody nose," Layth admits and smiles lopsidedly.
"A five year old Amazonian has a wicked right hook," Layth explains as an afterthought.
"Oh my," Aisha says, trying to imagine it. "I've watched Aaron and Anisa boxing, it must have been like that, just… without the padding," she whispers, holding a few fingers to her mouth. "But you're an adult now, surely there isn't anything for you to worry about traveling with Calli!"
It's not her I'm directly scared of … though I do worry what her reaction would be if I told her what I told you," the buck admits. "But, to quickly finish the story, Zafir took me to Tizhar, where I was tattooed and ready to be sold … and in the end he couldn't do it. So, he just kept me with him as his slave officially. Unofficially, we became an odd sort of family. He gave me a life, and was kind to me."
"And he named me Layth, after my coloring," Layth adds.
Aisha reaches up to touch Layth's hair. "I can see how the name fits. So, I suppose I see why you do not wish to visit Amazonia."
"Yes. But, if you wish to go, I will no longer object. It isn't fair to you, or to your friends, that I stand in the way because of some old, bad, memories," Layth replies and smiles briefly. "I will follow where you wish."
"Thank you, Layth," Aisha says, smiling and touching her nose to his cheek. "I'm sure it won't be anything dangerous, or else Calli would not have invited me along." And no sooner has she said that, then the door opens and Calligenia enters the suite, looking a bit surprised to see the two sitting together.
Layth nods his head to Calligenia. He then glances to Aisha and asks, "Lady Aisha, should I tell her? I trust your opinion on your friends."
"It's really up to you," Aisha replies, looking uncertain. "I apparently don't know as much as I should about these things."
"What is it you are trying to decide to tell me?" Calligenia asks. "If I knew, I could tell you better how I would react to it."
"Always direct, yes," Layth observes with a nod. "Nothing more than what you suspected, Lady Circerae. I'm an Amazonian. Or was for five years of my life. Please accept my apologies for not being direct about it before now; it is a part of myself I've left behind as much as I could.""
"I see," Calligenia says, standing a bit stiffly. "Here in the outer world, you are a slave, are you not?" she then asks.
"I was effectively until yesterday," Layth answers.
"Well," the girl says, "I suppose you can be considered Amazonian then, so long as you are not slave to a foreigner," Calli explains. "You will be considered a slave in Amazonia, however, as you have no recognized Clan."
"My clan was the White-Spires, but I am not sure if you know of them or not," Layth admits and takes a deep breath.
"They are not Dianusian," Calli says, finally stepping forward and kneeling on the cushions. "So, they do not count," she states, and pours herself a glass of juice. Her hand shakes for a moment before she forces it still.
"Lady Circerae," Layth says and kneels back on the cushions, facing her. "I suspect you are angry with me; I am sorry. My life as Chrysanthos ended when my mother left me to die at the age of five. I never thought it would become an issue or even a concern again."
Clutching her cup in both hands, Calli stares down at it, as if daring it to shake again. "I am not angry with you," she whispers. "I… I have just had a very trying day, and the rules in this land are complex and… and I could not grasp them all. I can only rely on Alexander's assurances that everything I agreed to was proper." For a moment, Calligenia appears not as a formidable and dangerous Amazonian warrior, but as the teenager in over her head that she truly is.
"Lady Circerae, may I ask you a question and offer an observation?" Layth asks, then reaches over to place his hand over hers on the cup.
"Yes?" Calli replies.
"Do you feel you have done all you can to resolve the situation involving your clans merchandise?" Layth asks.
Whiskers twitch, and then Calli nods. "I cannot reclaim it without causing a scandal in the Emir's court. But I have arranged with the Khatta to be partially compensated, and… there are many obligations I do not quite understand, but as the only legitimate supplier of Angor wool in the world, I will be known to the Emir. Still, that is future windfall. Right now, I have failed in my first important trade, and must return home in disgrace to secure a second shipment to make up for the first."
"Then if you have done all you can, you need never feel disgraced or ashamed. You live, you have a tomorrow, you have a future," Layth replies and attempts to look Calli in the eyes. "And I offer you this advice from someone who has a hard life; bad things happen to people that shouldn't. No matter how much effort you make to stop them, they will still happen. What matters is how you view it, and how you let it affect you. From where I sit, you have not failed. You were robbed; you located your goods. They had already been sold to a powerful ruler. You had two choices; Take it back and anger the ruler, which would have killed much of your trading capability, or attempt to make the best of the situation and recover. You recovered." The buck then smiles and nods towards Aisha, adding, "And you have good friends who would do anything to help you. So, do not feel down."
Calli sets the glass back down and takes a deep breath. She then asks, "Xavier and the demon-woman are still gone, yes?"
"They are, yes. I do hope they haven't gotten themselves into any serious trouble," Layth remarks.
"Good," Calli says, sounding exhausted. She scoots past Layth and practically curls up into a ball in Aisha's lap. The Abu Dhabian doe looks completely unsure as what to do, and settles for hugging the Amazonian and petting the back of her neck while looking to Layth for advice.
Layth looks rather amused, really. He scoots over by them and takes Aisha's hand into his, then guides it down to the muscles lining Calli's neck. "Here," he explains quietly, "Massage the muscles like this. Always go along their length, never sideways. I'll give you advice on what to do here while I finish with those mats. I think Lady Circerae would much prefer the comfort of a friend, than some strange Amazonian slave… " And Layth actually winks to Aisha at that, the buck apparently making a joke for a change.
Aisha does as told, and whispers, "I never really believed Anisa's stories about how Amazonians need contact to be comfortable, but I guess they're true."
"Well … my guess on that is when you spend your days being strong and a warrior … it makes the desire for simple things greater … like just being in the arms of someone you trust," Layth whispers to Aisha and slides back behind her so he can resume removing the last mat of fur. "A moment in time where you don't have to be strong; where you can just be. Where worries no longer exist."
"Oh," the doe replies, then is silent while Layth works. "What do I do when my feet start to go numb? Calli is much heavier than she looks… "
Layth tries not to laugh. He puts a bit of lightly scented cinnamon oil on the brush and works it through the de-matted fur. "Would you like me to look after her when I am done with you?" he asks. "I'm not sure I have a solution for numb feet, other than moving them… "
"If you can move her, I would appreciate it," Aisha says, sounding just slightly strained.
"To be honest, milady, I could move both of you if I had to," Layth says and finishes with the oil. He sets the brush and bottle aside, then gets to his feet. Then very gently and with apparent ease, Layth picks up Calli and cradles her in his arms. "If you go turn down your bed, I can place her there. I'm guessing she will want to sleep with you tonight."
"Well, that at least I'm used to, having sisters," she says.
"I envy you," Layth admits.
"They were bratty and stuck up and vain," Aisha comments. "And always borrowing things without asking."
"But, they were family," Layth notes, "I had a couple sisters back in Amazonia, but … well, I haven't seen them in a long time. Here … I was alone. Anyway, please get your bed ready and I'll put your friend in it." The buck then looks down at Calli.
"Alright," the golden doe says, standing up and rubbing her legs. "At least you won't be alone tonight, since you're sleeping with Aaron. And Tasha too, if what you were talking about before still holds."
"I rather suspect Master Lightfoot is trying to sleep with Lady Tasha," Layth notes and shakes his head slightly. "He was already laying on her … abundances earlier. And really, I should stay near you, given my duty is to look after you."
Aisha looks into one of the rooms, and has to giggle. "I doubt Aaron would try anything that might get back to Anisa. But you will have to do with staying in a connecting bedroom."
"That's fine," Layth notes.
The doe picks a room that has a sliding partition between it and the next, and turns down the bed. "Just set her here and I'll take care of the rest. You can open the partition a crack to listen, if that is acceptable?"
Layth nods and sets Calli down lightly onto the bed. The buck then slides the partition and steps through into the adjoining room. "I will not look or do anything to violate your privacy, Lady Aisha. I will only be listening for trouble," he says.
"Thank you," Aisha says, amid various rustling sounds. "And don't forget to return Faizah's grooming kit."
"I won't," Layth notes and closes the partition nearly all the way. He then heads back out into the main room to carry the grooming kit back … after organizing it back and removing any loose fur from it, of course.
Faizah is still awake, as promised, and accepts the kit back graciously, asking Layth if it served his needs well.
"It worked wonderfully. Thank you again for loaning it to me," the buck answers and does a sweeping bow this time. "You have been most kind," he adds and brushes back his lop ears.
The woman bows, and says, "If you need anything else, just let me know. I am sure handling two headstrong teenagers is no simple task."
"Ah, they have been fine so far, but I certainly will speak with you should the need arise. I'd best head back and get some sleep myself. It's been a long day," Layth says with a smile. "May the evening bless you."
"May the Procession blanket you, and the Swords protect you dreams," Faizah says, a traditional goodnight blessing.
Layth bows again and heads back to his room. He yawns quietly and cants his head, trying to listen to Calli and Aisha next door.
By now, the two must be settled into bed, for the light is out and there is not much more than the sound of breathing coming from the room.
Layth concentrates, trying to verify that there is the sound of two people breathing in that room as he preps his own bed and gets settled down for the night. "I hope you know what you're getting into. You just left slavery … and if you return to Amazonia, you're returning to it," he thinks to himself.