New 10-12, 6106 RTR (21 Apr 2002) Rasheeka finds herself in yet more peril.
(Laos Enosi) (Rasheeka)
Astikos, Office of the Minister of Trade
A large room, furnished with bookshelves, a low table at the center of the room, and a chest full of small drawers. The low table has a smooth, highly polished top, and on either side of it are flat embroidered cushions. The floor is of varnished hardwood, and on the open spaces of the walls hang ink paintings on thin paper.

When Rasheeka tells Hefione of the incident with the pastry, and relays Archon Mefuno's message, the woman's reaction, as so often with Laosians, is hard for the slave to read. She listens to the narrative in silence, her eyes flickering at the mention of Mefuno's name. She rests her hands on the table while the Khatta speaks, and occasionally her fingers shift, lifting and falling soundlessly against the surface. At the end, she says only, "The archon will do his duty. Return to your class now, emene."

Later that evening, as Rasheeka kneels on a mat before Hefione's low table, while the afentis conducts her usual inquisition on matters of foreigners and trade, the door to the office slides open. Hefione finishes her line on the page and sets her brush down on the ink cloth before she looks to the door. "Archon Mefuno."

The archon looks much the same as he did earlier – scruffy and dust-coated, dark eyes gleaming in his bronze-skinned face. "Afentis Hefione," he replies. He crosses his right hand over his chest and bows slightly. Strands of black hair, pulled loose from the braid drawn to the top of his head, scraggle around his face. "Sorry to interrupt, but I have a few questions for the Neyemen. If I may? Won't take long."

Hefione's fingers soundlessly tap up and down against the table, next to her brush. "Very well."

Having been addressed and requested, the emene slave draws herself up to standing and bows subserviently to the newly arrived warrior to show he has her full attention.

The archon gives a nod of acknowledgement to the slave. He shifts to lean against the door frame, watching Rasheeka. "Girl, the person you said gave you the kyj-filled bread – are you certain she was a woman? Or merely someone dressed as a woman?"

"The wo- … the figure spoke only briefly, and she, or he as the figure may have been, did not sound to have the high-pitched voice of some women. I am uncertain, Archon Mefuno," answers Rasheeka in a quiet contemplative voice. She had not thought of it at the time, assuming the "woman" was just that, having had no reason to believe otherwise, but now that she considers it Rasheeka ponders that the near-assassin might have been a man. The robes of the Laosian women would certainly be an aid to any assassin wishing to conceal themselves, though the thought is more than a little disturbing to the emene. She wonders if she'll ever feel as safe around the veiled women as she had before – at least as safe as any slave could feel in the presence of her masters.

"Meh." The man folds his arms across his chest, bending one leg to prop his foot against the frame as he stares at the area opposite. He stays that way for a moment, thinking, then looks back to Rasheeka. "Are you certain this person was human?"

Whiskers twitching as she ponders the question, Rasheeka wracks her brain for the details of today. A day some part of her was hoping to forget. With a bit of mental comparison she decides that whoever the person was, it was most likely human. "Yes, Archon Mefuno. Though I could not see his or her face, I do remember that there was skin about the eyes and that the figure's face was much too flat to have a muzzle as I or a fox might," she answers with certainty.

"All right. That's something," the man mutters, in a way that suggests the opposite. "Any reason a human would want to kill you, Raseeka?" The large human watches her closely, his quick, sharp eyes flicking over her face and hands.

"No," answers Rasheeka. Her eyes flick to the Afentis as her expression fades to something akin to muted sorrow, then drop to her hand as she begins to fidget uncomfortably. "I'm not- … not anyone anymore. I d-don't know why anyone would want to kill me n-" With a start the girl raises her head and turns back to regard the Afentis. " … -no. I think, I think maybe I do know. May I explain what we do here, Afentis Hefione?"

The minister of trade nods, after the briefest of hesitations. "You may."

Mefuno's eyes flick between the two females, before resting again on Rasheeka as she continues.

After giving the trade minister a slight bow, Rasheeka elaborates, "By will of dynatos tyr I have been placed under Afentis Hefione's authority to assist the afentis in her research regarding trade with foreign nations. I do not refer to the Neyemen, Yemenos, or the other provinces – I refer to the countries across the ocean. I do not know if you are aware, Archon Mefuno, but a Gallee captain recently established trade with Sychi. If dynatos tyr continues to invest in the idea of foreign trade, the amount of contact with foreign powers will increase, and more like the good captain will sail to these shores. I … I do not believe that all in Sychi would wish this. There is a distinct cultural difference that may result in an unpleasant culture shock that I believe some would not wish to endure." The feline frowns noticeably, and her ears splay. The subject makes her distinctly uncomfortable, for she knows exactly where the weakest link of the tyr's trade plans lay.

The archon listens to Rasheeka's explanation, his mouth quirking at one corner. At first, he doesn't say anything, then: "She been much use to you, Afentis?"

"Yes," Hefione answers.

The archon considers this, then unfolds his leg from the doorframe, straightening again. He scratches the side of his nose with a short, dingy fingernail. "Meh. Thank you for your time, Afentis Hefione,"

"Archon – " Hefione rises, giving him a shallower bow than his own. She hesitates a moment, then goes on. "Why are you involved in this? You are a soldier, not a guardsman."

Mefuno gives the woman a curious, lopsided smile. "I am whatever the tyr needs me to be."

"Dynatos tyr asked you to investigate?" The afentis sounds surprised.

The man drops his left hand to rest against the hilt of his short sword, casually. "No," he admits, after a short silence. "But I was the first to hear the report. And now … I think I'd better see it through. Don't you?"

The slave follows the conversation between the two Laosians in silence for a moment, listening intently. When the exchange pauses enough to allow her a word in edgewise, she interjects, saying, "Forgive my arrogance, afentis, archon, for I do not know the procedure, but, perhaps a member of dynatos tyr's close staff should be told? It … it effects dynatos tyr's plans." As much as she wanted it to sound wholly like a helpful and unbiased suggestion, the slave's voice falters as she speaks. She cannot hide her fear and her words come unsteady from her mouth, nervous and frightened.

Mefuno grins at her, while Hefione gives her a sharp glare. "Meh, girl. You already have." He bows to Hefione again, saying, "Thank you, Afentis." Rising, he adds to Rasheeka, "Watch out for yourself, girl. Dynatos tyr won't be happy if anything happens to you. We're agreed on that."

Made even more nervous by the glare, and indeed by the odd grin of the warrior, Rasheeka reflexively steps back and bows deeply. "Y-yes, forgive me, I am a foolish slave. I will," she stammers sheepishly.

After a harsh rebuke from Hefione for her presumption, in which the impertinence and inappropriateness of Rasheeka's suggestion are made abundantly clear to the slave, the Khatta was dismissed for the evening. Supper was a troubled affair, with the other slaves alarmed and worried, both for Rasheeka and for themselves. Another slave came by with a message from Neyn Yejsk, explaining to the Khatta, and making sure she told the others, that kij – a kind of berry – is poisonous to anyone with an entomo. "Everyone knows that – I mean, it shouldn't matter that you wouldn't. No one would give you any to eat … " He trails off at the manifest untruth of that statement. Eventually, they all retired to their separate thoughts and rooms.

Astikos, Study
One of a number of rooms off the lower hallways leading away from the great Chamber of Scholars, this space is furnished by several flat cushions arranged on a lacquered wooden floor, around a single chair. Adorning the walls are hangings of translucent white paper covered in precise black brushstrokes that spell out a variety of Laosian quotes and proverbs. In front of each cushion rests a small, low table, with rests carved into its face for the inkstone, water cup, and brush holder.

On the afternoon of the following day, Afentis Miona sits, hands resting primly on the arms of her chair, chin raised, as she intones the day's history lesson. "On the sixty-eighth day of Pagos, in the hundred and twenty-eighth year afixi Theon, Acteon Kiola syz Theon bore her first and only living son. Theon Acteon tyr Anamesa named the child Theon Titos. This was a most momentous day, not merely because Theon Titos was the first child in the third generation of the line of Theon, but, of course, because Theon Titos has become Theon Titos tyron Laos Enosi, dynatos ypertos tyron, to whom we all owe allegiance. I cannot imagine that I should have any need to be telling you this date." She casts a baleful eye around the classroom, which suggests that even if she expected them to have the date memorized long before they ever arrived in her class, nonetheless they had better be writing it down again, just to be sure. The brushes of the vulpine and human girls dutifully flicker over their sheets.

"But I am getting ahead of myself." Miona holds the solemn belief that history should be recounted chronologically. The idea of skipping forward or backwards, for such idle reasons as, say, the thematic relation of events that take place decades apart, is anathema to her. "A freak frost in mid-Kalierga destroyed the crops. Theon Endre tyr Anamesa, seeking to feed his people, sent an envoy to the Yemenos, whose lands had not been affected by the frost. The Yemenos, however, refused to sell their grain or ikitos to the Laos Enosi. The two tyrs once again united their armies to march upon the proditos emene, that they might replenish their food stores before their people starved. And, of course, it was urgent that they make their conquest quickly, before the storms of Kataigida made a campaign impossible. The first battle took place on the field of Arami, on the third day of Therizo … "

Miona's monotone drifts into the familiar recantation of battle dates and casualty listings, all noted down dutifully by the class. Rasheeka notices one girl discreetly yawning when the teacher's head is turned the other way. As tedious as the subject matter is, Miona seldom turns to her books or looks at her notes. Either the teacher has committed these meaningless numbers and names to memory, or she is making them all up as she goes along.

As tedious as Afentis Miona's lessons can be to the others of the class, the one slave present still finds them fascinating, largely due to her unique perspective on Laosian culture. Long has it been since the history of Apagorevo was recorded by a foreigner, as far as Rasheeka can tell, and though the afentis's method of teaching could do with some improvement, the lessons themselves manage to keep the emene awake – at least for the most part. Even she stifles a yawn then and again, despite her loyal listening and subsequent careful jotting down of facts and numbers.

Eventually, Afentis Miona works her way to Therizo 68, 128, and if what she said about Kataigida is correct, the war will have to be over soon. It sounds like the brothers are winning, and have added some tracts of land to Anamesa and Kleio to boot. At this point, however, her lecture is interrupted by the door sliding open, and the tromp of heavy feet outside. The teacher falls silent, looking at the newcomers, and her pupils risk a glance over their shoulders.

Two guards stand just outside the doorway, almost shoulder-to-shoulder. "Your pardon, Afentis," one of them says, bowing. "We are here to arrest the emene."

At first Rasheeka isn't certain she heard the guards right. It takes her a moment to fully realize that is exactly what they said. Slowly she turns to look up at the two men in stunned confusion, not knowing why she would be arrested, unable to think of how else to react.

Even Miona seems shocked at first by the guard's statement. Before any of them have realized quite what is happening, the two human guards have entered the room. Flanking Rasheeka, they pull her to her feet, one holding each arm. A third guardsman stands outside, a chitin sword in his right hand.

Rasheeka utters a mewl as she is pulled to her feet, for as stunned as she is by the declaration, she can hardly manage to stand at all under her own power. It hasn't been very long at all since someone attempted to assassinate her, and now she's being arrested! The events do not mix well at all. Once again Rasheeka feels that terror well up inside her that she has felt only during a few terrible moments in her life, and upon seeing the man's sword she wonders how long that life will last. She mewls again at the sight of it, reeling, and twists her head to look toward the afentis for help.

"Our apologies, afentis," the guard bearing the sword reiterates. He bows to her, holding the sword parallel to his torso as he does so, and Miona nods reflexively in return.

The teacher ignores Rasheeka's pleading look and pitiful sounds, just as she ignored the slave's questions and work in the classroom. "You must do your duty, guardsman," is all she says, before the three drag Rasheeka away.

It's not that Rasheeka expected the afentis to help so much as she had always looked to her teachers for guidance and support. Ignored, the slave turns her head away from the afentis rather than allow the teacher to see the hurt expression on her face. Without any further resistance, the emene slave lets herself be taken away as she tries to get hold of herself.

Rasheeka spends the night alone in a cold, windowless, stone cell, somewhere underground. The only light in the room left with the guards, after they locked her inside. When she asked why she was being arrested, one guard cuffed her across the face, making her ears ring. Before thrusting her through, to stumble to the floor, he spat, "Filthy spy," at her. Beyond that, no one has told her anything of her crime, her sentence, if she is to be given a trial, or anything else. If she strains her ears, she can still hear the tolling of the bell that marks life in the Astikos. A little after fourth bell, a tray of food – several stale eating crackers and a thin, cold soup – is pushed through a slot in the door.

Well after first bell the next morning, she hears the tromp of feet outside her door. They pause a moment, continue on, then come back. A masculine voice calls through the thick wood, "If you're still in there, and you want to be fed again, push out the tray from last night."

The slaves blinks blindly in the dark, stirring from her sleepless stupor. She hasn't been able to sleep very much since she was thrown in to the cold, dark cell, and even if it were comfortable the rising feeling of doom would still keep her awake. Her hand fumbles in the dark as she reaches to push the tray out. It may be awful and cold, but at least it's something to eat. As she awaits her food she calls quietly, her voice largely muffled by the door as she tells the man, "I'm not a spy. I d-didn't d-do anything." Her voice feels scratchy from a night in the chilly cell.

"It's all the same to me, Neyemen," the faceless voice on the other side returns, bored. "All the same to me." He removes the used tray and pushes a new one through, then his footsteps echo against the flagstones as he walks away.

The girl feels the ground at the base of the door until she finds the edge of the tray before drawing what passes for her breakfast across her lap. Sore and miserable, the food is only a tiny comfort amidst a sea of greater worries. Neyemen. She wonders if that's what they think she is, some sort of Neyemen spy, that even now they could be so uncaring as to miss the details about her life. Deciding she'd rather not think about it further, at least for a moment, she reaches down and tries to determine what they gave her.

The food is the same as before – stale crackers and a thin soup, flavorless compared to the usual spicy Laosian fare. She consumes it from habit, without enthusiasm. Some time after second bell, the door opens to admit a trio of guards – the same ones that arrested her the day before – who manhandle her to her feet, tying her wrists behind her back with a length of thick, coarse rope. One walks before her, and the other two to either side of her, each with a gauntleted fist wrapped around one of her arms, as they march her into the poorly lit corridor.

As the slave is carried along, she cannot help but remember images of the tradesman and the tyr. She wonders if that is what she, too, is destined for. The thought causes her to begin to tremble, and it would be difficult for her to voice her questions even if she dared another cuffing to ask them.

The guards are no more inclined to talk now than they were the day before. They half-march, half-drag her through seemingly endless corridors, and up numerous flights of stairs. At last, they emerge from lamp-lit corridors into the bright glow of the sun.

Hall of the Tyr
Unlike the small upper levels on most of the pyramids of Meleti, this one is long and grand. On either wall spreads detailed and almost eerily realistic murals, depicting what might be the view from the top of a mountain, giving the impression that the hall rests on a natural peak, rather than a man-made height. The sensation of being outdoors is further enhanced by the slanted glass ceiling, from which sunlight pours in to illuminate the hall. The tile mosaic of the floor takes the motif one further, showing a mountain side where the perspective falls away to either side, as if seen from a vantage actually above the ground, so that now the viewer is flying.

Unlike the first time she saw this hall, there is a small crowd of people in the room, in addition to the twenty vulpine and twenty human guards set at intervals along the walls. Her own guards hold Rasheeka between them near where they emerged, against one wall and behind the great dragon-winged throne. For perhaps half an hour, they stand, motionless and silent, as the tyr listens to those before him.

They arrive in the middle of an impassioned plea by a middle-aged vulpine man, who paces and points as he speaks, to a young female vulpine who stands erect, bound much like Rasheeka. The vixen, he contends, has murdered his son: "In cold blood, without cause," he says. He speaks fondly, longingly, of his son's life, and harshly of the woman who took it. In his conclusion, he pleas the tyr to execute the woman for the crime.

After the fox finishes, one of the tyr's aides calls another forward, brother to the accused. He pleads for his sister's life to be spared, with as much sincerity as the first asked for it to be taken, if less eloquence. Finally, the accused is allowed to speak. She genuflects before the tyr, like everyone else, then rises. "Dynatos tyr, I killed Menosi Polos, and I was much in the wrong. I was drunk, and angry. I cannot say, even now, which of us drew first – and I am no more right if it was him, than if it was me. But I struck in the heat of a fight, not in cold blood, and I had no intent to kill the man before he slandered my brother, moments before. I never – but done is done. Dynatos tyr, I ask for my life." She genuflects again.

The tyr speaks for the first time. "Ria Lekas: you are ordered to pay blood-price to Rios Menosi for the life of his son. For the abuse of your title and your swords, they are to be taken from you. You are archon no more. With this, your debt is settled. Go."

As the foxes plead their case, the slave emene blinks in the light, her acute vision making for an unpleasant transition from the pitch blackness of the cell to the shining day. As she comes to adjust to the light that feels so out of place in the grim throne room her gaze fixes on the petitioners, as if she were watching actors from a riveting play – both interesting, and somehow distant – removed from her, Rasheeka, like the bright sun. It all has a surreal quality that may be partially attributed to the emene's lack of sleep.

The vixen does not flinch or even move as sentence is pronounced, but her brother's relief is palpable, as is the old man's resentment. The vixen rises at the word "go," and all three of them, along with several guards and half a dozen others, leave the hall to descend the broad main steps.

The guards shift their grips on Rasheeka's arms, then start forward with her, as the steward, Rasmus, reads, "Emene slave Rasika." He sounds surprised, to the Khatta's ears. The guards half-drag her to stand before the throne, then release her, one of them pushing her down.

The slave stumbles forward and drops to a knee, then both knees, genuflecting and steadying herself as she dips her head to the cold floor. Visibly shaking and with her ears flattened to her head she remains in that position, inwardly wishing she could just wake up and this would all be a dream.

"Rasika, you are accused of treason, spying, and lying to the tyr," the steward continues, his voice uninflected now. "How do you answer these charges?"

With her head still pressed to the ground Rasheeka answers, stammering, "D-didn't- … N-no, I d-did nothing of the sort." The slave wishes she had the vixen's strength, that she could declare her innocence in an unwavering voice, strong against whatever comes. But it isn't in her. She is terrified, and never was she a great warrior with nerves like iron.

The steward is about to say something, but Sychi raises a hand and he stops. "Archon Dalus," the tyr says, "present your argument." The prince's voice has a cool, steely quality – not as icy as just before he struck down Wahed, but still there, a controlled anger, as yet unchanneled. He wears the same golden mask she has always seen on him, but today his hair is bound back in a single braid, similar to the one his warriors wear.

A thickset armored man steps away from the tyr's side, removing his helm. Rasheeka recognizes him as the human who snarled at her while she translated a letter on behalf of the tyr, on a night less than ten days ago, but seeming like a lifetime. "Dynatos tyr, this woman is a liar, a spy, and traitor. It is my plea to you that she be executed immediately." The tyr's gold mask turns to face him directly, and Dalus hastily goes on. "Less than ten days ago, dynatos tyr, this woman came before us and testified that the proditos spotted emene presented to you as a gift were incapable of speech. Yet just two days ago, she brazenly sat in the kitchens, teaching them our language!"

Dalus continues, "If I may – " but the tyr raises his hand again, and the man stops.

"Rasheeka, rise. Answer the charge," tyr Sychi commands.

Rasheeka pulls herself up to her feet and she begins to look around, as if just remembering where she is or having hoped that she might have opened her eyes and ended up somewhere far better. Her eyes are caught, however, by the tyr's mask and the indifferent gaze of its shaded eyes. "They d-don't, d-dynatos tyr, they are Savanites," she explains. Quickly realizing that the Laos Enosi likely haven't seen a Savanite in more than a few generations she elaborates. "They cannot talk. They have n-no vocal cords, most c-cannot make a sound. It is well known in the lands b-beyond Apagorevo."

"Do you deny that you were teaching them speech, girl?" Dalus retorts, angrily. "Dynatos tyr, I can prove – " Sychi holds his hand up for silence again.

"Answer. The. Charge. Rasheeka." The tyr's words are cool and clipped.

With a quick nod Rasheeka continues, explaining, "I was t-teaching them to understand Laosian. None of them understand the language of the Laos Enosi. They were c-confused. Ronan barely speaks Rephidim Standard, and his friend d-does not speak it at all. I am the only one of us, so I taught the others to know the words."

"So they might b-better know their duties," adds Rasheeka. "I wanted to help them."

"Do you expect the tyr to believe that? How can they be taught our language if they do not even have one of their own? Ridiculous!" Dalus explodes angrily.

Rasheeka blinks, then shakes her head. "I d-did not say they could not communicate! I said they c-could not speak. They cannot vocalize. They communicate by hand, in sign." She lifts her right hand and begins articulating with it, repeating explaining each word as she goes. "I." Another gesture. "Am." And more. "Shy-Studious-One." Her hand lowers, and she bows to the tyr. "I am Rasheeka. That is their language."

Archon Dalus snarls. "Sophistry! The girl told you, dynatos tyr, the day they were presented that these creatures were 'excellent for keeping secrets' – and now she admits they have always been capable of conversation with her. Can you not see what she is trying to do? These 'gifts' are nothing but spies in our midst!"

"They are excellent for keeping secrets, as opposed to other slaves who can speak," retorts Rasheeka. Something inside her nudges her to speak more boldly, a kind of anger that comes from being accused by this ignorant man who has attacked her character since her arrival. "Do you understand Savanite Sign, Archon Delos? Does anyone on Apagorevo, except myself? The Savanite people have long been slaves beyond the peninsula all across the world. They have always been valued because they cannot speak, and few bother to learn their language. I must admit I am still surprised that they are not known here. It is so assumed I did not think much of it, but then explaining these matters is exactly what I had been doing with Afentis Hefione."

Dalus's nostrils flare, and he takes two swift strides across the floor to tower over Rasheeka. "How dare you address me so, slave?" He clenches his left hand around the hilt of his short sword, then turns his head around to address the tyr. "See how her meek act is but another deception? Dynatos tyr, I beg of you, listen to what I have learned."

The tyr's impassive golden mask gazes at both of them, his mouth and chin hidden in shadows. "Very well," the tyr says. "Present your case, archon."

When the taller human strides beside her the girl looks up. It isn't so much the man that intimidates her as his sword, and the awful feeling that should she continue to counter his claims he may well try and use it. Though if she cannot counter his claims, she'll likely meet the sword anyway, she thinks. Her ears return to flattening themselves against her head as she listens to the archon, wondering what else he has to claim against her.

A parade of witnesses follows, accusing Rasheeka of a multitude of inequities. The guard who interrupted her lesson testifies that she was teaching speech to the Savanites and the Rhians. A couple of different servants attest that she went to the Hearth on Kyriaki, and allude to sinister practices among the Neyemen religious folk. Others describe conspiratorial "talks" at the table of the foreign slaves – their "suspicious silences" and "strange gestures." The slave boy who explained the bells to her tells of how she didn't know about them, and he found her wasting oil. Fussy-face materializes to speculate on her curious inefficiency at filling lamps.

The tyr listens to it all in impassive silence. Finally, Dalus offers his last witness: the slaver whom Neyn Yejsk bowled over. He contends that Rasheeka provoked the yejsk into attacking him, and describes himself as "barely escaping with my life."

Through the witnesses Rasheeka reacts with an increasing amount of disbelief. Helping her friends, wanting to be amongst smiling people who look like her, talking at a lunch table with people she knows, and trying to explain someone tried to kill her – of all of these she stands accused. She wonders how the archon could be so oblivious, that perhaps he does not want to see, or more likely he simply loathes her. Several times she casts a glance between one of the witnesses and the tyr, as if unable to believe the archon has really made him listen to this.

For all that he has reacted, the tyr might even agree with Rasheeka – except when the slaver speaks. At this, he lifts his head, regarding the man through eyes of black glass. "Has Neyn Yejsk been charged with assault?"

"No, dynatos tyr," Dalus answers.

"And why not, if this is true?"

"Because," a voice drawls from the side entrance, "it's not."

The slaver's dark skin goes several shades paler as Mefuno strides to the front of the throne, and kneels reverently to the tyr. "Archon Mefuno," the tyr acknowledges, the caliber of his voice changing. "Do you accuse this man of lying to me?"

"Meh. Lying's a bit harsh. Wildly exaggerating and being delusional's more like it, dynatos tyr," Mefuno answers, offhand.

Dalus bristles at the newcomer. "And what do you know about it?"

"I know that if Neyn Yejsk meant to kill this fat rioto yesterday, he wouldn't be walking about in perfect health today," Mefuno replies, deadpan. "And I know that this case is the most ridiculous set of insinuations and half-truths ever to make it before dynatos tyr, at least while I've been around to hear it."

"The girl is proditos," Dalus snarls out, "and she will betray us to the proditos if we give her the chance. I will testify so with sword and blood." His hands grip the hilts of his swords.

"Tell me, Dalus, do you have any charges that amount to more than 'I don't like anyone who wasn't born here'? Because I'll testify with sword and blood that you don't." Mefuno speaks with a deadly earnestness that matches the other archons.

When Archon Mefuno spoke, Rasheeka felt relief as she has rarely felt it. It's as if the day came in to focus, and the long list of charges brought against her became as the scene had been to her moments before: insubstantial. The list of half-truths and exaggerations seemed so much less threatening that the emene had to resist bowing to the archon out of pure gratitude.

As Archon Mefuno continued to argue her case, and indeed spur Archon Dalus in to greater shows of anger, the feline begins to back away from the two men. After all she had almost literally been standing in Archon Dalus's shadow, as close as he had come when he stepped forward to intimidate her, and she would rather not be close enough to come between the two men – especially not considering how ready Archon Dalus seems to execute her for simply being foreign.

"Enough." Tyr Sychi's voice cuts through the posturing of the two men. "You will stand down. Both of you." The two archons release the hilts of their still sheathed swords, and as one, they turn from each other to kneel to the tyr. He leaves them both kneeling to address the Khatta. "Rasheeka. When you informed that the spotted emene did not speak, your words were regrettably imprecise – but not criminally so. Choose your words more carefully in the future.

"As for your lessons: a slave which understands commands is more useful than one who does not. Your desire to teach our tongue to your fellow slaves is both right and proper. It is, however, an inappropriate activity for Kyriaki. Accordingly, you shall spend two hours each of the nine working days instructing the others instead. At the end of Pagos, the progress of your pupils shall be evaluated to determine if the instruction is of value. I leave it to Afentis Hefione to choose the time of day most convenient to her to spare you." As the tyr speaks, Dalus and Mefuno remain kneeling where they were, but Rasheeka can see the hairs on the back of Dalus's neck visibly bristling. Mefuno, by contrast is smirking. "The charges against you are dismissed.

"Diabaino," the tyr finishes. The witnesses assembled against Rasheeka blink in disbelief, while the two archons get to their feet. The guards flanking Rasheeka take a moment longer to process what happened, and then, sheepishly, one of them steps behind her and unties her hands.

The feline stares at the tyr in numb disbelief, surprised that he would dismiss her with only the "punishment" of having to teach her friends. For a time she had growing cause to believe Archon Dalus would force his accusations on her, and that she would not leave the room unscathed. If she left it alive at all. Knowing not what to say, and quite uncertain if she should say anything at all and risk getting herself in all new trouble, the slave manages to urge her body to move. Genuflecting before the tyr, her face to the floor, she exhales. Her trial is over.


GMed by Rowan

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Today is 6 days before Midsummer's Day, Year 28 of the Reign of Archelaus the First (6127)