Layth's morning was well spent. There weren't many people coming to the Temple of Morpheus that early, so the acolytes, priests and attendants had plenty of time to spare for teaching Layth their various techniques, along with a few hands-on demonstrations using themselves and what patrons they had.
Still, the buck can't spend all of his time away from Aisha and the others. On his return to the Hydron villa, he passes by the exercise field. Gladiators are engaged in all manner of mock combat and training, while a disinterested but familiar buck reclines on a stone bench. Aaron is cloud-watching, hands behind his head and one leg swinging back and forth over the side of the bench.
"Mmm, time to complicate Master Lightfoot's morning," Layth says to himself and diverts from his leisurely walk back to the villa. "You are up early, Master Lightfoot," he calls out to the buck. "Searching for truths in the heavens above?"
Aaron blinks, then turns his head to see Layth. "Ah… no, just emptying my head. You just missed Tasha," he reports.
"I did? She is up early as well, then," Layth comments and finds a free spot on the bench to sit down. "I had quite the enjoyable evening with Lady Tyche last night."
"Enjoyable?" Aaron asks, propping his torso up on his elbows. "You didn't agree to any sort of deals with her, did you?"
"No. I spent the evening performing music and teaching her and her daughters some grooming and massage techniques," Layth replies, his head canting to look at Aaron. "What are you afraid she would ask me?"
"I don't know, it's just best to be wary around her," Aaron says, and lies back to watch the sky again. "Doesn't sound like anything to make Tasha jealous though."
"Well," Layth says and looks upward. "There is a complication."
Closing his eyes, Aaron asks, "What sort of complication?"
"It was suggested that I may make a good husband for Calligenia," Layth says flatly and glances back to Aaron. "After I said given my lack of clan ties would make me not so ideal for helping lead trade caravans."
"Trade… wait, marriage?" Aaron bolts upright again. "How serious of a suggestion was this?" he demands.
"Calligenia herself said it may be a good pairing," Layth remarks and arches his eyebrows a bit at the suddenly active buck. "But how serious, I do not know. I told them I could not answer such without speaking to Tasha."
"But… would you want to marry Calli? Do you want to?" Aaron asks, looking serious.
"There would be … advantages for many of us if I did. For Tasha and Aisha in particular," Layth says. The buck rubs the bridge of his nose, then says, "I really don't know her well enough. I like her; she has her own kind of charm. I would like to get to know her better first, and her me, before I could really answer that question."
"That… seems sensible," Aaron says, relaxing slightly. "What would the advantages be for Aisha and Tasha though?"
"For Aisha, since I am to protect her, and Aisha wishes to start her own businesses, more ties to a clan that could help back her. For Tasha, well, she wanted her own ship. Again, it would be influence," Layth remarks and then shrugs. "Why are you so concerned about Calligenia's marriage? I thought you wanted to be far away from that."
"Err, I'm more concerned about you, actually," Aaron says. "It's true that Calli getting married would relieve me of my obligations to Tyche, finally. But it'd also be like throwing a coney to a pack of hungry fuff'nars… "
"Master Lightfoot. What could they do to me that hasn't already been done?" Layth asks, shifting to focus his eyes directly on Aaron. "I've been abandoned, nearly starved, taken into slavery, fought in arenas, fought brigands on highways, and drug halfway across the world."
"They can steal your soul," Aaron notes. "And thinking 'how bad could it be' really isn't the way to approach marriage. Calli is a good kid, and so are her sisters. But Tyche… " Here the buck seems to fumble for proper wording, and finally settles on, "She has ambitions."
"She is interested in expanding her influence on the world as a whole. Her questions on trade and what the world knows of them was clear enough on that. To be honest, I believe the trade idea wasn't necessarily Calligenia's in the first place; it was Tyche's," Layth remarks, brow raised. "See the world, learn about it, learn how to gain more control."
"Tyche's been obsessed with it ever since my mother returned and took over Clan Kerebos," Aaron notes. "Tyche has hit a wall here her influence is bound by the walls of this city. The outlying tribes and nomads are beyond her grasp, because she has no Warriors to conquer them with, and they stand between her and the trade caravans."
"That does not surprise me," Layth says and chuckles. "And I see, part of this is a small battle between your clan and hers. A political one, but a battle nonetheless."
"Not really," Aaron says. "The Clans always jostle. Kerebos has a slight advantage because my father brings in sacrificial rabbits from Sylvania. What Tyche wants is a lot more dangerous."
"Which is?" Layth asks flatly.
"Olympia, I suspect," Aaron says. "Then Tizhar."
"So long as she cannot gather an army to get to them, they are safe enough," Layth points out. "And having a couple of controlled trade points with the outside won't give her that."
"I just don't want her thinking it'll be easy to get even that much," Aaron says with a sigh. "A few luxury goods through Calli, enough to mollify her for a few more years… But now they're talking about more than just wool. Tyche wants to sell things that the outside isn't ready for."
"Given that they have no safe transport for anything in mass, that would prove rather difficult," Layth comments, then shrugs. "Tyche is primarily interested in me for my experience with trading in general. Granted Master Zafir was not a great trader, so she may think more of my skills than they're worth."
"Exactly, and when things don't go as she hopes… well, she nearly bit Calli's head off when she found out about the wool being stolen," Aaron says. "Mine too. You're Amazonian, so she probably thinks you'd be more compliant to her wishes than an outsider would be."
"And would I be, Master Lightfoot?" Layth asks, brow raised.
"I don't know," Aaron admits. "I've never seen you not being a bit… servile. It's what you were brought up to be." The buck just shrugs.
"It keeps people comfortable around me. Look at me, Master Lightfoot. Compared to Lapi in the outside world, I'm huge. If I wasn't polite and respectful, I would have been killed years ago," Layth points out. "Also, when people think you are no danger to them, they tend to let things … slip, that they don't intend."
"So you're saying you won't be manipulated if don't want to be?" Aaron asks.
"Ah, the lights of knowledge have braved the darkness of your mind," Layth says, then quirks a small grin.
Aaron rolls his eyes, and brushes his ears back. "Well, you're good at appearing docile, I'll give you that. But my advice is to consider everything that would come with Calligenia, including her mother. Did you intend to mention this marriage suggestion to Tasha?"
"You should see me in situations where being docile would endanger my life or others, then," Layth notes, then shrugs. "As for Tasha, she deserves to hear it from me, instead of second hand from Tyche or Calligenia."
"To do any less would be disrespectful, and Tasha would likely think I am trying to 'hide' it from her," he adds.
The apothecary stands up and stretches. "Well then, I suggest you put a lot of effort into the make-up sex after the argument," Aaron suggests to Layth. "Tasha's feeling a bit vulnerable right now, and is probably in love with you to boot."
"She is. I know that much," Layth answers. "I like her, but she has one aspect I have to watch warily. She … has a short attention span. On the way here she was fired to get her own ship. Then she was fired to bed Zig, now she's fired about the temple and about me. When is the next thing going to come along and she'll dash off after that?"
"She's trying to grow up now," Aaron says. "She could use someone stable to help her focus."
"And you already have one person you're having to watch?" Layth asks.
Aaron grins and nods.
"One thing to note. Calligenia did say I was welcome to have other wives," Layth says and shakes his head. "Truly strange, she is."
"She's not in it for love," Aaron reminds Layth. "Neither is Tyche."
"I know," Layth notes, "but it still goes against their custom."
"Hydron's never been big on tradition," Aaron says, and pats Layth on the shoulder. "Now go find Tasha."
After having left Aaron, Tasha found a nice quiet place to meditate near the training grounds. She placed herself out of sight of the gladiators, to avoid the distraction, and now sits with her back against the base of warrior statue as she soaks in Primus' rays and thinks.
"Now, that is something I haven't seen before: Tasha being still," comes the familiar voice of Layth from somewhere behind and to the right.
Tasha opens an eye and glances back towards the source of the sound. "It 'appens, now an' then. I've got a lot to think abou'," she explains. With her wings spread out and her legs folded under her, she looks a bit statuesque herself.
"And what would that be? Did the ceremony go well?" Layth asks as he walks over to a shaded spot and sits down.
Once Layth comes into view, Tasha watches him with both eyes as he sits down. "I'm still waitin' on the results, but I don' 'ave to drink the Milk anymore. Aaron says I should ease up on it, rather than stop all at once, since it's no' usual for someone to take it as I 'ave and stop without pregnancy." She shifts her wings, folding them back so as not to cast long shadows. "I'll know the results t'morrow."
"I would think you would just want to be off it, given how it's made you feel," the buck says with a shrug, "But, if you feel it safer to ease off, then I wish you luck with that. If you did not have results, then what are you thinking on?"
"The monk said I should think on other things I'd be good at, qualities I can hone an' better. He said I should devote myself to the community, for a lot of reasons, an' I'm thinkin' abou' those, too. Plus, I 'ave to think abou' Lady Tyche, her daughters, an' what she wants from us," the Vartan explains.
"Tyche wants us to help expand her empire. Tyche wants me for my experience with trade," Layth answers simply. "And they're willing to do a lot to get the help."
"To give an example, there was a suggestion that I would be a good husband for Calligenia, so that I would have a closer tie to the clan," Layth adds.
"At wha' price, though? An' what abou' what Aaron said, abou' keepin' Amazonia away from the res' of the world?" Tasha lifts a brow that threatens to lift off her face. Her ears perk, and her eyes widen. "Suggestion?" she repeats, sounding a bit strangled. "Wha' did you say? Wha' did everyone say?"
Calligenia thought it not a bad idea, but does not know me well. I said I was honored for the offer, but could not answer such a request without speaking with you. Even though it was a purely business offer in their eyes, I could not do something that would harm you," Layth says with a small shrug. "Aaron believes that Tyche thinks I would be easy to, how does the phrase go … push around."
Tasha grins a little when Layth says he had to ask her first. "Well, I like you better for thinkin' o' me first," she comments, sounding pleased. Glancing towards the villa, as if expecting Tyche might be looking down on them right now, she adds, "Aaron thinks Tyche wants to use us, some'ow, an' tha' we should beware. 'E also warned me this might 'appen, otherwise I'd be yellin' now." She smiles now, although it's a rather toothy, unpleasant sort of smile. "Tyche does know 'ow to push men aroun'. She 'as power, an' she 'as us in 'er 'ands. Look wha' she does to poor Aaron."
"Well, that is what I want people to think of me, Tasha. They don't feel threatened by me and will let their defenses down around me. I'm not as easily manipulated as I might appear, you know," the buck says with a wry smile.
"Yes, you're jus' a big softie on the outside." The woman looks back and lets her unpleasant-looking smile turn friendly again. "So, you wan' my answer?" She lifts her brow, and watches Layth closely.
"That is your choice whether or not you give it. My wants do not matter," Layth answers in his usual non-answer way.
Tasha laughs at that, her voice echoing off the walls of the villa. "Oh, so mild, you are! It's no wonder Tyche thinks you're a push over," she says once her laughter dies down. Chuckling a bit more, she leans forward, then lets her smile drop off her face entirely. "My answer is: do wha' you think is best, for everyone." She takes a deep breath, then drops back against the statue base, sighing. "There, I said it," she tells the sky, looking up.
"There are political advantages for all of us if I did. For one, it would make it easier to get your ship. Also, it may be a position to help keep Tyche in check," Layth notes with a shrug. "But in truth, I need to know them better before I can really decide what to do about it. As Aaron said, it's not about love, not to them. I was told I was welcome to take other wives as well."
Tasha wrinkles her nose at the mention of other wives. "'Ow would tha' work? You, Calli, an' … me? I didn' think they did tha' 'ere," she inquires.
"Because that's how Abu-Dhabi works," Layth notes with a shrug, "Where I grew up."
"An' they let you get away with tha'? I see wha' you mean by willin' to do a lot to get the 'elp," the woman remarks. She tucks her hands under her knees, twisting her muzzle in thought, and rocking a bit. "I jus' bet they were thinkin' o' me. They wan' to tie you up, bu' they don' care abou' a real relationship. Maybe they wan' to tie me up through you, too." Tasha shakes her head. "Do you think it's … wise, to 'elp Tyche?"
"I think it would be wise to keep an eye on her," Layth says and stretches out his legs and feet. "If we don't help, she'll find someone else who will. But, if we help smartly, we can try and keep things under control. As an old saying goes, 'Keep your friends close and enemies closer'."
Tasha nods slowly. "Tha' makes sense to me. The priest said I would soon 'ave to help someone maybe even a community an' this might just be it." Tilting her head, she adds, "Thing o' it is, I'm no noble. I 'aven't ever done much with politics like this. I've been instructed to 'elp, an' find my strengths, bu' I don' wan' to ruin it all by making a bad choice."
"Well, no one expects you do to everything alone, Tasha. If you feel over your head, turn to those you trust for help," the buck says, then reaches over to tap Tasha's nosetip. "And, do you think being of noble birth grants you wisdom? It doesn't. What I've seen a lot of 'nobles' do in Abu Dhabi is, well, sit around in clubs, drink, and talk about pointless things or go gamble money while slaves like me beat each other senseless. True nobility isn't granted by birth, it's grown in your heart through your actions."
Tasha bumps her nose against Layth's finger, grinning. "It's all abou' the challenge, isn' it? Learnin', forgin' yourself better, an' doin' it all over again. That's what the priest tol' me, an' it makes sense to me." She leans back again, and glances at the villa. "If you think you 'ave a chance to make better o' it all, I'll 'elp you. I can' jus' let you do it all alone, after all, an' I 'ave to see 'ow I can 'elp too."
"As I believe I've said before, life is a journey, not a destination. There's no purpose in rushing to the end; follow its twists and turns and grow along the way," Layth says, then glances towards the Villa. "I don't know what chance or option I have right now. I suppose if it came down it it, I marry Calli, Aaron drugs her during the toast, and we smuggle them all away… "
Tasha barks a laugh at the plan. "At leas' you 'ave a plan, if the weather gets bad. Me, I'm still tryin' to jus' get a grasp on it all. I thought I knew wha' I wanted, bu' now everything's all Anchor-Over-Star, an' I'm workin' it out." She nods to Layth. "Plus you 'ave this 'angin' over your 'ead, an' I don' wan' to 'ave at Tyche an' Calli in case it'd cause more 'arm than good."
"Just be noncommittal, but polite and seemingly agreeable," Layth advises, "And never agree to anything the first time they talk to you. And you know, it's a pity you didn't get angry over this… "
The woman frowns, tilting her head the other way and perking her ears. "Why's tha'? I thought you'd be 'appy I wasn' rippin' your ears off. Aaron warned me, so I've been thinkin' abou' it for hours now, an' I jus' can' get upset o'er it now. Well," she shrugs a little, grinning again. "I can and am upset, I'm jus' tryin' to keep it down."
"Well, because the most impassioned lovemaking always comes after an argument," Layth notes with a mock sigh. "And now, here I have to just keep leaving you to your milk and lonely nights."
"Oh, now you wan' to fool aroun'? When my mind it all full of worries an' concerns?" The woman pushes herself forward, wobbling on her knees, then scoots over towards Layth. "I'm no' sure I wan' to like you too much. I migh' jus' lose you to Tyche or Calli or Aisha."
"I'm merely teasing. Trying to ease your mind of all its worries, if for a little bit," the buck says with a shrug and a grin. "When things are uncertain, there is little point worrying about everything that might be. Just focus on what is."
"Is tha' 'ow it is?" Tasha scoots over until she's in front of Layth, then reaches over to push his chest back. "Well then, I'd better enjoy it while the storm's on the horizon. T'morrow we may all be married, an' who knows what'll 'appen then. Who knows where I migh' be sent."
Layth rocks back, then stops himself with his arms. "Ah, but here is not the proper place for such things. Otherwise, you will have an audience of bucks within a minute. They will be able to hear," the buck says and shakes his head. "And, do you really want ZigZig watching?"
"I'm no' goin' to do it 'ere," Tasha insists. She scoots closer, then sits herself in Layth's lap. "I jus' wan' to be 'eld a while. It's been a nasty sort, an' I'm worried."
The buck chuckles and lets the Vartan in his lap. He drapes his arms lightly around her and asks, "What specifically worries you?"
Tasha leans back, tucking her head under Layth's chin. "Everything's a bi' topsy-turvy. I'm no' used to bein' in love I always try an' move on before tha' 'appens, can' trus' men at all bu' 'ere I am. 'Ere I am, an' I don' wan' a ship, no' unless it works out right, an' I'm thinkin' abou' myself, an' I'm thinkin' abou' Amazonia. It's all a lot to think abou', an' I'm no' sure 'ow it all works out in me 'ead yet," the woman explains.
"Then don't work it out in your head," Layth says simply. "Let it go. Take one day at a time. You can't plan for everything."
"I guess no'," Tasha agrees. She wraps her hands around Layth's, and squeezes them. "Wha' do you wna' out of this place? It always seemed like you never wan'ed anythin' but what others wan'ed, bu' soon it may be all abou' wha' you wan', 'ow you wan' to change things."
"I want to survive," Layth answers and looks at the sky. "I want to learn, I want to grow as a person. I want to be more than, well, what others in Abu Dhabi always thought of me save Master Zafir, just another slave. To speak of things I never have before, well, part of me has always wanted to prove to my mother that I wasn't useless … I wasn't a burden."
"I don' think you're useless or a burden, Layth. I don' mean to be rude, bu' nuts to your mum," Tasha insists vehemently. She scoots around in place until she can stare up in to Layth's face. "Growin' an' learnin' is all part o' life, the great forge. If you wan' to try an' make a mark 'ere, I'll support you. I can' say I'll always be aroun', I don' know tha' yet, bu' I'll 'elp you as I can. My ship can wait."
"Well, right now I'm just trying to learn about the people. One of the great things being a servant offers you is the chance to learn about others. That's why I want to keep going to the Temple of Morpheus. That's why even though I know it can be dangerous, I want to tend to Tyche, Calligenia, and her sisters. That way, I know more of how I can help here, and those I should help," Layth says tilting his head and smiling slightly. "It beats running after everyone in town and shaking them while asking 'Hey! How can I help you?'. You see, that would make them scream, run, or just try to beat you up… "
"I know all abou' the screamin' an' runnin' part," Tasha agrees. She touches nose with Layth, then flops across his chest as if he were an oversize pillow. "I'm no' used to servin' people, bu' it looks like tha's wha' I want to do. It's jus' no' so obvious, is all. bu' it's all the same. We who serve the gods serve the people." She nods to her own words, slowly. "I wan' to learn abou' Tyche, too. Maybe then I'll know wha' she wants from us all, an' can help us both deal with it."
"Then keep your ears open and a calm heart. Too much excitement can lead to a rash decision," Layth notes and pats the side of Tasha's cheek. "And as with all things, patience. I've been thinking what I would say if I ever met my mother again. I never thought about it much before, given I never thought I would be here before, but. What can you say?"
"I can say a whole lot, bu' she'd pro'ly jus' skewer me," Tasha replies. She pushes her cheek to Layth's hand, then flicks her tail to wrap around his waist. "Do you love Calli? Or any of the others? Do you love me?"
"I'm … not sure how to answer that. I'm not sure I know what love is, Tasha," the buck admits. "Purebloods like me, we have muted emotions. Not like Aisha who gets excited, or like Aaron who can't control himself. It's like living in perpetual dusk I suppose, everything is a shade of blue. How do you feel? Can you describe it?"
"I feel like my heart is racin' when I'm aroun' you. It's no' the usual racin', when I see a man I wan', it's deeper than tha'. I feel possessive, like I want to be aroun' you all the time, an' tha' I feel safe with you." Tasha laughs, her own words seeming to amuse her. "I know it may no' all be true. Tha's 'ow I know it's love. Love doesn' make any sense, an' doesn' listen to truth well."
"The … only time I've had a racing heart was when I was in a fight. Or when someone insulted Master Zafir. It … bothered me when people did that. He wasn't rich, or brilliant, but he was a good man and a good father," Layth says and looks up at the sky again. "But that's feeling angry. Generally, everything just is to me. But … you do always make me smile. And you worry me when I think you're being rash. I would willingly fight and die for you. With Aisha, for example, it is a matter of honor and duty. I'm sorry if that's not a very good answer." The buck sighs.
Tasha gives a languid shrug, looking quite comfortable on her Layth pillow. "S'good enough for me," she says, in a whisper. Smiling, she adds, "I think I fell for you tha' night after I came 'ome from the Vartan bar, remember? When we were yellin' outside the 'ouse, and you carried me to bed?"
"The night you kicked me in the chest," Layth deadpans. "I think I would have a hard time forgetting that."
Tasha giggles, curling in on herself as the memory makes her laugh. "Oi, forgot abou' tha' part. I'm surprised you'll 'ave anythin' to do with me," she admits.
"You were drunk. I'm tougher than I look. No harm done," the buck says and stretches out briefly under Tasha. "I wasn't exactly being very polite that night, either."
Now that Layth has stretched out, Tasha takes the opportunity to lay across his chest and look down at his face. "You were doin' jus' fine. You could 'ave taken advantage, bu' you didn'. I remembered tha'." She reaches over and taps his nose. "So … wan' to marry me? At leas', if you do marry Calli, I wan' to be first. She can be your second wife."
Layth taps Tasha's nose in return. "Patience, Tasha. See what the fates wish of you first," the buck reminds her. "For all we know, they may wish to have you consume the Milk for the rest of your life, while serving as a maid in a monastery of monks who all exercise twelve hours a day, just to test your resolve… "
Tasha grimaces at the thought. "Bah, I'm no' blindly devoted. This is abou' me as much as it is abou' the gods. Tha's the trick, see. In 'elpin' others, I 'elp meself. If I ignore meself, then wha' I can give won' be as good. It's, well, complicated like tha'. The priest is much better at explainin' it," Tasha insists. She then tries to bite Layth's finger, lightly, and adds, "Don' think I've forgotten abou' marriage, either. I'll wai', bu' I'll be watchin' you."
"And besides, you would break poor Master Lightfoot's heart if you went off and got married now. Why, he would never be able to stand over you in shiny pants and wave a fan again," Layth says and wiggles said bitten finger. "And we all know how much he loves that… "
"Yes, we do. Bu', Aaron's got 'is own love. 'E can dream abou' me all 'e wants, bu' is 'eart is elsewhere," Tasha replies. She sighs a bit, glancing back to where she last saw the other buck. "I feel for 'im, I really do. I used to think 'e was a bi' o' a joke, 'im and Tyche especially, bu' I think she's 'urtin' 'im. Next time it 'appens I 'ave 'alf a mind to stand up and say somethin'."
"Flowers flowers flowers, flowers on my ears," sings a doe, from somewhere nearby. The timbre suggests it might even be Chloe.
"He can take care of himself better than he lets on. He's a smart man," Layth notes and then starts pushing himself up slightly and trying to find the voice.
Tasha grumbles when the voice crops up, and especially so when Layth moves. "Aw, I jus' got comfortable. I guess I 'ave to get up." She cocks her head up and sniffs, trying to scent the approaching doe.
Chloe wanders into view around a corner, carrying a basket full of freshly picked flowers, and actually does have some tucked behind her ears. "Oh, forgive me for intruding," she quickly apologizes. "Is… is there anything I can do for you?"
"Yes, you can quit asking if there is anything you can do for us," Layth says with a smile and pats the nearby ground. "Sit if you like. What brings you out here?"
"Flowers," Chloe says, sitting down where indicated and holding out her basket.
"I was jus' bein' comfortable, I don' need anythin'," the Vartan answers. She leans up and kisses Layth in the muzzle, then rolls off him to lay in the grass beside him.
Layth picks up one of the flowers and rolls the stem between his fingers. "Picking these for someone special?" he asks her.
"I just like to smell them, and wear them," Chloe admits. "And the cooks make them into a treat as well. Are you sure you wouldn't like some blankets or cushions?"
"Layth is my cushion," answers Tasha as she pats the man.
"No, really, we're fine," Layth says. "And apparently I am a cushion. Do you come out here often?"
"I usually walk around the villa in the morning," Chloe says.
"He's good for all sorts of things," Tasha explains, grinning at Layth. Scootching around again, she lays her head back on the buck's chest, letting her legs extend off in to the grass.
"So, what are your usual duties at the villa?" Layth asks and reclines back, watching the small doe. "Surely you don't get visitors often enough to have them as your primary duty… ?"
"I am mostly a chambermaid," Chloe says, a bit shyly. "Sometimes a handmaid to Tyche or her daughters, or for the Gladiators if they need one while leaving the villa."
"You mus' know a lot about people aroun' 'ere, then." The Vartan's ears swivel, so that they're targeted in the doe. "Wha' do you think of Tyche an' 'er daughters?"
"And, no need to be shy around us," Layth says. And then with a glance to Tasha, adds, "Or are we really that frightening… ?"
"Tyche is head of the Circerae family, which is current head of the Clan Hydron," Chloe says. "And you are not frightening, I simply felt… that you would rather be alone together."
"Oh I know tha'. I meant, wha' do you think abou' 'er an' 'er daughters? I know she's plannin' to 'ave Calligenia lead, in time. I jus' won'ered wha' you thought of tha', an' maybe wha' Clan Hydron thinks. I'm jus' a foreigner, so I'm tryin' to learn wha' I can," Tasha explains.
"And we can always be alone later. It's always a good day when we see you, Chloe. You ave been very kind and caring towards us," Layth says and smiles at the doe.
"They lead the Clan, so have the support of all the families," Chloe says, simply. "If they did not have full support… they would not lead the Clan."
"And I think what Tasha is trying to ask is, do you like them?" Layth says helpfully.
"Yes, you've been very nice. Sorry abou' your fur tha' one time. I was a little rattled, wha' with the Milk an' all," Tasha apologizes.
"Of course," Chloe says to Tasha, smiling. "And they are all nice to me. Everyone is nice to me, really. Why wouldn't they be?"
More than I am," Layth says and reaches over to ruffle Chloe's head lightly.
"So, which family are you from?" Layth asks the doe, then pushes back his ears before they flop on Tasha's face.
"Oh, I am a slave, my family has no voice in the Clan," Chloe explains. "My parents are not greatly skilled, so it is unlikely we will be granted official recognition unless I do something exemplary. We are the household staff for the villa."
Tasha eyes the ears when the come close, and looks about to bite one before they slide away. She grins at Chloe, showing her playful mood. "Chloe, 'ow does marriage work in the Clan? If a male marries in to the Clan, or a female?" Tasha inquires.
"It varies, and depends on the family," Chloe says. "My own does not arrange marriages, but others do mostly the Clan families, where alliances and bonds of blood between them are important."
"On a completely different topic, are the Gladiators still practicing?" Layth asks and leans a bit, trying to see and hear if they are.
The Gladiators are either taking a break, or discussing results of their practice, sitting in a circle and conversing.
"'Ow does rank work when marriages are 'andled? Wha' if the same buck married two does of different standin'?" the other woman asks, tail flicking idly.
"I don't understand, does do not share husbands," Chloe says. "Even a Priapus retires upon marriage."
"Jus' some funny foreigner misunderstandin', never you mind." Tasha waggles a finger. "Tha' said, wha' 'appens when a high rankin' doe marries a low ranking buck? An vice versa?"
"Well, the individual status does not really change," Chloe says. "One cannot marry into power and suddenly wield unearned influence."
Layth pushes himself to fully sitting up again. "Please forgive me, but I think I'd like to go speak with the Gladiators for a bit. I'd like to perhaps practice with them later," the buck notes.
"Tha's interestin'. I was' jus' thinkin' abou' 'ow I might improve my standin', you see," the other woman explains. Tilting her head, Tasha watches Layth rise and removes her head from his lap. "Somethin' wrong?"
Chloe blinks in surprise at the sudden change of Layth's interest.
"Oh, I figured I was just in the way of your discussion," Layth answers and motions between the two women.
"Chloe an' I can talk if you wan' to go talk with the Gladiators. In fact, I'd rather like to watch you get all hot an' sweaty," says Tasha.
Layth rubs the bridge of his nose. "Well, you two can just come and watch, if you wish. I don't know if they would even allow me to practice," the buck says.
The handmaid wrinkles her nose a bit, and says, "Do you want some flowers to cover the smell of sweaty bucks?"
"No' me," Tasha answers. She stands up as well, moving so Layth can pass and reach the Gladiators. "Chloe, 'ave you 'eard anythin' abou' us? I'm curious 'ow the staff an' other Lapi 'ere feel abou' us."
"Why would we talk about you?" Chloe asks, looking surprised by the question.
"I've been sleeping in their dormitory. I've gotten used to the scent," Layth says, "But thank you for the offer. Are you going to come over with me?" The buck stands the rest of the way up and dusts off bits of clinging debris.
"And you would talk about us, because we're odd," the buck adds.
"Layth 'as the right o' it," Tasha agrees.
"Odd? I suppose you are… different," Chloe says, as if not having thought about it before.
Layth bows to the two women, then heads off towards the gathering of Gladiators.
"I guess we're no' so odd after all," Tasha says, sounding a little surprised. She follows after Layth, angling for a bench where she can watch. "Are you 'appy, Chloe?"
"Yes," Chloe says, following along. "Why wouldn't I be?"
The ring of Gladiators look up and wave to Layth. "Ho, Sun-Mane," one calls in greeting.
"Only you can know tha', I think," Tasha replies. She takes a seat on the bench and pats it for Chloe to join us. "I serve Abaddon, so I am interested in the conflicts people face."
"Oh, I don't know much about conflict," Chloe says as she sits.
Layth waves in return to the gladiator. "Ah, good morning to you all. I was curious if you would allow me to practice with you this morning? I am not a gladiator, so I understand if you would not wish it," the buck says to the gathering. "I am curious to compare styles I have seen in other lands."
"Every life 'as conflict. If it's a war or jus' doin' your best to clean a deck, it's still conflict," Tasha explains. She hopes she sounds as wise as she thinks she sounds, having never dispensed religious wisdom before. "In this we grow stronger."
The Gladiators shrug, and don't seem to mind Layth joining them. Chloe looks oddly at Tasha, and explains, "So… do you mean that when I am cleaning, the dirt is fighting back?"
Layth settles himself down in the ring. "Do, please continue. I am sorry for the interruption," he says.
Tasha laughs. That's not what she meant, but the image is funny to her. She pats Chloe's hand and shakes her head. "You are fightin' with yourself, an' the challenge before you, I think. It is like walkin' up a hill, aye? If you push more, you go farther, faster. If you let your knees buckle, you fall down the hill. The 'ill isn't fightin' you, but the hill is still a conflict you must face. A challenge."
"I never thought of it as a challenge," Chloe says, and sorts through her flowers, since the Gladiators critiques of each other's sparring matches doesn't interest her much.
"Well it is, bu' don' you worry abou' tha' much," Tasha says.
A pair of Gladiators get up and reenact their grappling match, one grip at a time, while one of the others comments at each step, sometimes shifting their positions slightly. Chloe offers Tasha a flower bracelet, and hopes the sweaty, naked men will keep her from saying anything else to confuse the girl.
Tasha accepts the bracelet, and does turn to watch the gladiators. She decides she needs to work on her faith a bit more before talking about it; even she isn't sure what she said sounded exactly right.
Layth watches the combat with interest, comparing the foot placements and just how he would handle a similar situation. The buck relaxes, grateful for a simple moment in a not very simple few days. Sometimes, it's best to just go back to basics to clear the mind.