CHAPTER THIRTY ONE
13-14 of Uktar 1371, Year of the Unstrung Harp
I had been staring at the sheet of vellum filled with my own handwriting and row after row of hastily sketched diagrams for more than half an hour, miffed by my repeated failure to break down the spell I was studying today into smaller, more comprehensible fragments. I had made some progress through the morning and into the afternoon, yet at this late hour my depleted brain refused to operate properly. I drew a fat, angry line across the page, and then crossed it with another one, ending my latest exercise in futility with a few exclamation marks at the bottom, and finally ruining the quill. It broke with a loud crunch, and that certainly did not help to improve my spirits. There was still a pile of untouched arcane manuscripts on my desk, and I was swiftly running out of time as our stay in Darromar was stretching into the third week of Uktar, and I only had until the 20th of Nightal to reach Evereska – a task which after Adalon’s revelations I found as humiliating as it was inane. I was thirsty and slightly light-headed from the sheer volume of the day’s work; Chyil would have said that I had been running myself into the ground once again, but at least I never experienced a repetition of the panic attack that had happened when I touched my first spellbook. My head began to throb - the room was too warm for my taste, even though outside the howling winds dragged the last remnants of autumn foliage along the wet streets and alleys of Darromar, and my narrow windowpane was lashed with streams of cold rain. It was still early in the season to augment the heat – but The Gilt Unicorn was expensive accommodation, and Kessen had paid our lease in full for a whole month without blinking an eye at a price that in my opinion could have bought us a small house in the poorer district.
It looked like Addazahr’s gold had gone to the boy’s head, as upon reaching the Tethyran capital he had acquired a taste for luxury, unexpected in a youngster from a small backwater village lost in the heart of the desert. The suite that Kes had rented occupied half of the second floor of the inn, consisting of three large bedrooms, a lounge, and a personal bathroom - even though the Unicorn sported a lavish dining hall, and a spacious bathhouse with ceramic tiled floors and gleaming copper tubes. At least the owner was not trying to save on coal, I thought grudgingly. The fireplace in our private lounge was always lit and tended by a serving maid throughout the day, and the inn public bathhouse had hot water in abundance. I suppose the comfort was important for the twins, for they had looked ever more despondent as we had ridden north and east in our journey across Tethyr. And even though Darromar was no more than a week’s ride from the southern border with Calimshan – the same as from the seacoast - the change in climate had been more dramatic than I had anticipated. As the heat of the desert and the relatively dry chill of the Marching Mountains had been left behind, the steppes and groves of southern Tethyr had met us with onslaughts of the cold autumn rains. I had felt more invigorated and refreshed with every mile north, but the brother and sister had been shivering under their sodden cloaks all the way across the Tethyran lands, and had arrived in Darromar in a state of complete misery, exacerbated by the red runny noses and recurrent sneezing. Privately, I mused if their desire to accompany me to Evereska would wane as we moved further north in the face of the incoming winter.
Thus, I had not the heart to protest when Kessen had demanded directions to the most comfortable lodgings in the city, or when he had insisted on hiring half a floor of a luxurious inn in the expensive Royal Quarter. To be frank, I had been too preoccupied with my own problems to pay much attention to his expenditures until it had become too late to change things without attracting unwanted attention. We had split the treasure between the four of us (since Miamla obviously was not entitled to a cut), and the twins’ shares were theirs to spend as they wished. Although, I could not but wonder if they were intent on transferring all their money to the pockets of Darromarran merchants in the shortest time possible, and judging by all the expensive clothes and jewelry that the siblings had been flaunting lately, that was indeed the case. Why the usually intelligent and level-headed Mirriam had succumbed to her brother’s insanity I had no idea; but she seemed to be under his influence in the matter, and the seamstresses and apparel makers filled the spacious bedroom which she shared with Miamla with deliveries of ever more extravagant outfits.
On the positive side, I was left to enjoy near anonymity, since Kes’ eccentricities drew all the public attention - everyone was interested in the ‘two wealthy scions of a Calimport prominent merchant family’, who had fled the clutches of their evil relatives with a handful of friends and servants and most of their late father’s treasury. The legend was not that far from the truth – considering that Esamon was a sort of a trader, although the source of the twins’ wealth was far more exotic. I was supposed to play the role of an elven friend and legal guardian of their late father’s estate, who had refused to help assassinate the rightful heirs and had had to flee Calimshan together with his charges. Miamla was pretending to be my small daughter and Omwo the ‘trusty house bard’ of the ‘deceased merchant’. It was not particularly difficult for me to pretend to be someone I was not – if simply because I had no ‘true’ identity that could interfere with my assumed mask; and after spending nearly six months in Calimshan I knew at least something about its customs and traditions. Even my Common speech was tinted with a Calimshite accent, which I discovered to my true amusement after a few remarks from the Unicorn servants. Perhaps the long hours spent listening to Chyil’s endless tales had had some effect on my new personality.
I spent most of my time in The Royal Library of Castle Faemtam, which was open to the general public during the daytime hours, consuming tome after tome of human history, and an occasional elven manuscript. There were quite a few of them available as Queen Zaranda deemed herself not only a monarch-educator for her people, but also a ‘protector of minorities’ and an ‘elf friend’. My knowledge of the past and present history of this world had expanded greatly, and although I still ran into an occasional black hole, more often than not my own erratic memory supplied the facts missing from the text that I was studying. When I was not perusing the dusty tomes, I explored the magic shops that seemed to pop around the city like fresh crop of mushrooms after the rainy season. Darromar was rebuilding itself after centuries of neglect and decades of civil war and interregnum. It had benefited greatly from its new status as the royal capital. I could see posh boutiques, shops selling delicacies and imported luxury goods, and the hastily built palaces of the ‘new nobility’ in every corner. Needless to say, most of my money had been expended on books, scrolls and magical supplies – but I had kept a hefty reserve to pay for future travel expenses with one of the caravans heading in the right direction. Unfortunately, securing the passage was proving to be a difficult task.
The neighboring state of Amn, through whose territory we would have to travel, was ablaze with an ongoing war with her monster population. Amnian ogre, goblin, and giant tribes had united and proclaimed the so-called Sythillisian Empire in her southern provinces, with a capital in the overrun human port of Murann. I was mightily amused by the fact that the past military conflict in Tethyr was generally called the ‘liberation’, because it had been a war of humans against fellow humans that had resulted in the ascension of Queen Zaranda to the throne, while the current struggle in Amn was regarded as a dreadful calamity, as obviously the ogres did not deserve a state of their own (a view with which I agreed somewhat cynically, but found terribly one-sided). It looked like Zaranda was a very shrewd politician – she was fortifying her borders and letting the Amnian forces weaken themselves in battles with the ogres, while at the same time bargaining with the Amnian Council of Six for the right to annex two major Amnian trade cities as a payment for her possible intervention in the conflict on the humans’ side. Her excuse was as old as the world itself, supposedly the two cities in question had voted to abscond from Amn and join Tethyr.
But Zaranda’s political maneuvering aside, I had almost despaired of finding a suitable caravan heading north - there were rumors that the Amnian cities of Trademeet, Brost, and Esmeraltan had already fallen into the ogres’ hands, and that the Sythillisian legions were marching on Athkatla. My only hope now was to join a military convoy to Riatavin - that was one of the two rebellious Amnian cities into which Tethyr had quickly moved small garrisons of royal guards. And so, while waiting for such an opportunity, my days were spent on bribing the rumor-mongers in the markets, visiting the palace library, and saturating my brain with every scrap of magical knowledge that money could buy in the bustling metropolis of nouveau-riches and parvenus.
Tonight, the broken quill was the last drop that overflowed the cup of my patience. I threw the useless remains of what once had been a tail feather of some unfortunate fowl onto the floor, and decided to take a trip to the kitchens and find out if they could send up a tray with a late supper, as it looked like I had already missed all other meals of the day. To my slight puzzlement, my companions were not in the apartment. Despite the late hour, the lounge was silent and empty of any activity, although not of the abundant signs of habitation. Mirri’s rolls of maps and bottles of colored inks, Kessen’s costly paraphernalia, and Miamla’s dolls were scattered all around the spacious chamber, which was already cluttered with too much furniture and strewn with Calimshite rugs. Omwo was the most orderly of them all – his papers were neatly stashed on the chiffonier in the corner of the bedroom that he and Kessen occupied together. Admittedly, my own room was an image of well-organized chaos, but at least I never let my work spread out onto the shared territory – something that my companions could never comprehend or follow. I vaguely remembered that the halfling had had an assignation for tonight – something about meeting an old friend from the days before Zaureen’s troupe had ventured into the desert.
I was sullenly munching on the delivered snacks, sipping from a cup of watered wine when they finally arrived, filling the room with smells of wet wool, richly spiced food, alcohol, and a whiff of expensive perfume – a habit that Kessen had attained after visiting a few fashionable fetes. To my small relief, his sister refused to follow in his steps, and shunned the use of the heavy cloying scents so popular among the Darromarran upper classes, (but perhaps my single remark about the aversion that I felt to this habit had something to do with it). Tonight Mirriam was wearing one of her latest acquisitions – a low cut gown of green silk, with lots of pink embroidery around a bodice, which in my opinion fitted her as well as a saddle and a fancy bridle would have fitted a wild deer doe. Her dark hair was pulled up and arranged into a complicated coiffure stuffed with fake wax flowers, her neck weighted down with a long string of rare pink pearls. Well, at least those were real enough and could be sold for half of their original price if the need arose, I thought sardonically.
“My dear, you look magnificent tonight,” I saluted her with my half-empty glass, feeling too tired to be sarcastic and provoke another fight. “I hope you’ve amused yourselves greatly, wherever you have been.”
“Bah! I think Omwo told you about tonight’s party about ten thousand times, effendi, but you never listen to anybody but yourself,” Kessen replied laughingly before his sister had a chance to answer. He tossed a pair of heavily embroidered, perfumed gloves on the floor, before dropping down on the cushioned sofa and throwing his booted feet over the back of that long-suffering piece of furniture. His boots were utterly wet and splattered with mud, and they immediately began to drip - right onto the silk fabric, I noticed with disapproval. “We went to see his old friend’s special performance at the Sea Lion’s Pride,” the scoundrel continued laughingly. “The fellow was kind enough to send Omwo free invitations. You should have come with us, effendi; all the crème of the crème of Darromar was there tonight!”
“All the more reason for me not to be there,” I muttered with a scowl. “You know how I feel about the so-called ‘nobility’. And I want to point out that Miamla is too young to be dragged out to these kinds of gatherings. She should have been in bed hours ago.”
“Fancy you all of a sudden paying attention to the child’s schedule! You’ve been happily ignoring her, ever since you convinced us to take her along.” Mirri snapped at me, even as Miamla smiled demurely and slipped down on the silk pillow at my feet.
I shifted uncomfortably, but the dragonette ignored my dubious mood, as it was often her habit, and began to remove the bejeweled tortoise-shell combs and silk ribbons from her shiny hair, dropping them right on the carpet under her feet. Tonight Miamla was dressed in a silver-and-white concoction of lace and brocade, which made her resemble an exquisite porcelain doll; her exotic features looked lovely framed by the spill of her platinum-blond locks, her bright eyes shone mysteriously in the delicately blushing face. To my utter amusement, the little dragon always wore her dresses with the unobtrusive elegance of a veteran partygoer – taking things as they were, and never bothering to check on her appearance or adjust her garments. Combined with her innately graceful manner this attitude made her look extremely natural in every setting, dressed in any exotic or weird outfit. Omwo called it an in-born ‘sense of stage’ – a talent rather unusual in a child so small.
I chuckled and moved my eyes from the little girl at the foot of my chair to the big one glaring at me haughtily over her brother’s head. Mirriam could have taken a lesson or two on style from the dragon child – the human’s pale green gown did not match her tanned complexion at all, and the way our assassin jerked her bodice and twisted her many-layered skirts told me that she was feeling very uncomfortable in all that northern finery. I silently smiled at the contrast between the two damsels, but kept my observations to myself.
“I don’t see how my attention or lack of thereof relates to the fact that you have dressed the child in fancy clothes not befitting her age and taken her to the festhall that according to rumors features an expensive brothel on its premises.”
“That is a lie, as you well know yourself!” Mirri flushed red with indignation. (For some reason I loved to provoke her anger – her eyes shone most delightfully, and her skin acquired the lush shade of expensive claret.) “I hate it when you use demagoguery to win an argument!”
“Do I ever?” I raised an eyebrow. “Omwo, will you tell the young lady what is going on the upper floors of the Sea Lion’s?”
“Peace, children. I did not let Miamla out of my sight for the entire evening.” The halfling, who had divested himself of his wet cloak and boots, and was now warming his hands before the fireplace, sighed dolefully and rolled up his eyes, making an admonitory face at me behind Mirri’s back. The skin on his bald forehead moved in complicated patterns of creases and crinkles, as it was often the case when he was in a contemplative mood. I always thought that in such moments he resembled an elderly toad, lost in consternation over a half-digested fly.
“The Sea Lion’s Pride is the most fashionable watering hole this side of the river,” Omwo continued after a brief pause. “And tonight the place was packed with more aristocracy than Castle Faemtam itself. In fact, the only ones who were missing were the Queen and her inner circle – but I suppose the Queen will invite him to the palace one of these days if the trend holds. The chap has the tongue of a honeyed viper, throat of pure silver, and the ear of a cat. There is a rumor that he is ‘supported’ by none other than Dame *** herself,” he chuckled after revealing the name of the notorious Darromarran noblewoman.
“Is he really?” Kessen inquired with a yawn from his half-sprawled position on the sofa. “The fellow sure wore a fortune in rings alone,” he raised his own freshly manicured hand to admire the play of light inside the huge diamond in one of his new rings.
“Are you considering such a career for yourself?” I asked mockingly. “It certainly is a profitable occupation, if a little indecorous.”
“How about you, effendi?” The boy parried with a sly grin. “I have no doubt which one of us would be a better magnet for rich and powerful noblewomen!”
“I am of the wrong species, Kessen. Besides, I lack a certain degree of brazenness, and a flair for self-promotion.”
“Oh, I have no doubt that Eldoth Kron would beat both of you any day if it ever came to competing in that field,” Mirriam finally deigned to smile, dropping her prickly attitude and sitting down next to her brother. “But he has a certain... charm, if you like men who are only interested in themselves.”
“I assume this is the name of your new acquaintance? Omwo, did not you say that he was a famous bard, or something?”
“Eldoth? He has always been an excellent musician and a highly skilled poet. You know - the kind that is very good at writing love ballads, but even better at recycling them.” The small actor smirked knowingly. “I have known him since a time many years back when he was just a dilettante in Waterdeep, barely out of his music school. Always in trouble over one woman or another; always half-drunk, and always with some inane plan for getting rich and famous. It looks like he has finally struck gold in Darromar though, after moving here a few months back, completely broke and downbeat. Not only has he found himself a new sponsor, he has entered a new field as well. You see, the Queen is very fond of performing arts and is willing to pay for her fancy. She had invited a troupe of singers and musicians from Turmish to start a new theater, but half of the company had quit after a few months, and the rest of them did not know what to do until Eldoth turned up and convinced them to try him for a lead.”
“Oh, I can believe he could convince a power of Mount Celestia to try him for a Deva,” Mirri smiled dreamily, plucking some invisible lint from her dress. “And he would be very good at it too – he has an amazing voice!”
“Oh, that he does, lass,” Omwo nodded his agreement. “Although to tell you the truth, Eldoth would be much better in the role of a tanar’ri lord. I think he would make a perfect Graz’zt in the 'Fall of the Dark Prince', but this is beside the point. I would not trust him even as far as I could throw him. Just for your own safety – stay away from him. He is too conniving to be stopped by your inexperience.”
“You make him sound like a professional gigolo,” Kessen snorted at Omwo’s comment. “Surely he is just a nice chap who knows his way around women. Maybe I should ask him for a tip or two,” he added defiantly.
“I am sure I can look after myself,” his sister looked amused at the halfling’s care. “But thank you all the same of course, although, he is not my type.”
“Good,” the little actor looked at her sharply as if trying to make sure she understood his warning. “I would hate to see you make a fool of yourself. Going back to business – Eldoth has asked me to help with the libretto of their opus vivace. They have a week left before the premier, and as it always happens most of the troupe does not know what they are doing. Moreover, half of their songs and recitals make no sense with their present cast.”
“Did not you say that your ‘friend’ was a poet?” I asked, now genuinely irritated by all that fuss. “He should be able to make a few alterations by himself. Although it is your time of course, and you can do what you wish with it.”
“Eldoth has a lead role – remember?” Omwo explained patiently, as if to a child. “And he is already managing the musical parts; somebody has to help him with the script. And since you still have not got a clue as to when and where we are going from here...”
“That is none of your business,” I snapped at him, instantly noticing the pronoun. The unresolved business of my journey to Evereska troubled me more than I was willing to admit. Plus, the tonight’s commotion was his fault – and I was intent on making him pay for that. “As far as I am concerned, nobody has invited you to join the expedition. Just because you self-appointed yourself my biographer does not signify that you are going with us!”
“Now you are being mean and irrational,” Mirriam pronounced, suddenly rising to her feet and collecting her skirts. “I am not going to listen to this! Miamla, it is time for you to go to bed.”
The dragonette beamed at her sleepily from her nest on the silk pillow. She was already half-asleep, and the rest of the argument was hushed by Mirri’s fussing over the child, and their departure. I had noticed before that Mirriam often employed Miamla’s presence to stop a conversation that was going in the wrong direction, and wondered if the dragonette understood that she was being used in this manner. Omwo was less than amused at my outburst, however he preferred to ignore it, although I wondered later if my rudeness did not result in his ultimate decision to take Eldoth up on his offer.
Next morning I went into town on my regular trip, which included visits to both of the city’s markets and half a dozen magical shops. I purchased a few interesting items and talked the seller of a rare Amanuensis scroll into giving it up for a small fraction of its original price and my help with the translation of some obscure document he had been working on. (I simply noticed the manuscript on his desk and read him a few lines without giving it a second thought.) The look that he gave me afterwards was full of genuine awe, but I did not pay much heed to it until he mentioned that the language was Netherese, and explained that it had been dead for thousands of years. That gave me a nasty shock that I had to conceal from him, while pretending I had known the language was Netherese all along.
Still, aside from that minor disturbance over the ever annoying tricks of my memory, the day was a success – or so I tried to pretend. And although I had not yet located a caravan or a military convoy departing north within a week or so, I had almost convinced myself that it was only a matter of time and that the looming deadline was not really important. So what if I was a week or two late – surely Evereska could not be destroyed in that interval! Besides, the water weird’s prophecy had been deliberately obscure: “no one shall open an ancient Vyshaan Tomb this coming winter.” What was that supposed to mean? That no old elven tombs should be unearthed by treasure hunters or archeologists anywhere on Toril? From a treatise on the ancient history of Faerun in the Castle Faemtam library I had learned that ‘Vyshaan’ was the name of the ruling dynasty in the ancient elven Empire called Aryvandaar. Aryvandaar had been destroyed in the series of devastating wars fought between several ancient elven kingdoms, and now long forgotten. That was all the information I could discover. Obviously, before I could make any sense of Aluril’s foretelling I had to reach Evereska and gain access to the genuine elven lore, not some brief snippets collected by amateur human historians.
As I walked back into the Unicorn in a rather turbulent mood, I found both of my female companions in the lounge of our apartment, dressed once again in their casual clothing and so consumed with their current occupation that they did not even notice me at first. It was quite an amusing view. Two heads - one sable-black, the other silver-bright - were bent together over a sizeable sheet of parchment; two pairs of hands - one pale as snow, the other the color of a cinnamon stick - were laboring over a drawing that at a first glance resembled the spine of a dead dragon, but in reality was a detailed map of a section of the Marching Mountains. Which particular section became clear in a moment, after I noticed what it was that Miamla was doing.
Her head tilted ninety degrees to one side, the tip of her tongue sticking between her lips in the show of exertion, the dragonette was daubing silver paint over the body of a winged creature drawn with some definite skill above one of the peaks. Slightly below it one could discern a dark circle of a cave and a small rectangle indicating a settlement. Mirriam was leaning over the table in the becoming austerity of her assassin leathers; and I noticed casually that she looked her best in her habitual pants and vest outfit - it hugged her slim figure like a second skin, accentuating her moderate curves. She was using a brass compass to measure the distances on the old atlas she had spread at her other side, and comparing them with the dimensions of her newly drawn ‘masterpiece’. Over the months we had traveled together I had learned that cartography was one of Mirri’s fancies, and had always thought it peculiar. But then, she had once told me herself that Esamon had taught her to read maps before she had learned how to read letters. The girl was a decent artist, (I now had no doubt about the identity of the vandal who had adulterated Chyil’s frescoes), and delighted in small crafts, (that fact I had known only too well since receiving the infamous snake head).
Having spent enough time looking at their backs, I finally decided to announce myself. “It is nice to see you both occupied with something rational for a change.”
Mirri raised her head and looked me over, propping up her cheek with a hand slightly smudged with ink. Her expression was unreadable but her brows arched in disapproval. “Forgive me if I won’t return the compliment, effendi. You are as much your usual charming self today as you were yesterday: stunted by your ridiculous fear of any decisive action, and consistently irrational in your rudeness to your friends, who are only trying to help.”
“Sorry, I did not get your meaning,” I replied without thinking, slightly taken aback by her unexpected rebuff. I was not used to her speaking to me like this lately. It was a return to her manner at the beginning of our acquaintance, before I had had a misfortune to kiss her and spoil our carefree camaraderie. “Ridiculous fear of what?”
“Of finding a way to get out of this damned city and travel north, in search of your lost identity,” she replied solemnly. “Don’t deny it, Jon, you’ve been procrastinating over it for nearly two weeks now.”
“I thought you liked it here.” I looked at her in puzzlement. “All the fuss and splendor; all the junk you have bought over the last couple of weeks...”
“Kessen sure enjoys it,” she flushed a deep warm red. “But not me. I am only doing this to maintain the facade. All I really want is... that is to.... Oh! What is the point in talking to someone who is blind and deaf? Suffice it to say that I am not interested in the sort of ‘entertainment’ Kes is so keen in digging out for himself. I am worried for him. He spends too much time in the worst kind of company. In fact yesterday’s evening was an improvement on his usual routine.”
Now I felt embarrassed – and was intent on wrapping up the conversation as quickly as possible. “I hope you understand that I am not responsible for your brother’s behavior. For your information, there is a war in southern Amn, and I am not sure if we can...”
“Do you honestly believe in your excuses yourself?” Mirri looked at me sharply then nodded, as if she felt justified in her suspicions. “See – you are taking your insecurity out on poor Omwo, while at the same time dragging your feet and hoping that the problem of finding the means to travel will resolve itself by some miracle. But that is not going to happen. Or, maybe, you have simply lost interest in living?”
“I don’t understand what you are implying.”
“Oh, you understand me very well! You have not forgotten the Water Woman’s prophecy, I hope? You were told that if you failed in your mission, you would die shortly, right? Her foretelling always comes true, so if you want to try your luck, we may as well order you a fancy coffin now!”
Her worried face was telling me more than I wished to know. Still, I remained silent, but she continued, completely ignoring my displeased expression.
“I have always known that you did not tell us everything. But now I am not sure how much of what you did tell was an outright lie. You know - if you had simply said that you did not need our help we would have relieved you of our company.”
I gave her a contemptuous look. “As far as I remember I never asked you or your brother to follow me. It was entirely your idea from the start. And neither did I invite that fool of a halfling whose only purpose in life seems to be to anger me with his absurdities! And it was you who told him everything – do not deny it! I suppose I should not have been surprised. It is in the nature of women to flap their tongues idly, and why would you even consider keeping someone’s secret if it can provide you with a delicious opportunity to enjoy yourself for the whole ten minutes while you share it with the rest of the world! Now, if you will excuse me. I have work to do - let's discuss this some other time.”
I turned away from her deeply hurt stare and was ready to walk back into my room, past the table with her maps, when a delighted squeak and the feel of something small dropping down the hem of my robes drew my attention away from the ridiculous confrontation. I only had time to notice a flicker of motion on the floor, and a dark shadow climbing into Miamla’s lap. In a moment the four-legged thief was firmly enthroned in the dragonette’s hands, and she promptly deprived the creature of its burden, giggling and patting him on the head and muttering something in her slurred speech that was quite impossible to understand.
“Miamla,” I snapped at her, suppressing the rising wave of anger. “Give it back this very moment and don’t ever dare to do this again!”
“L...lle naa ruthaer ,” the little girl said matter-of-factly, firmly clutching my battered spellbook.
“Mankoi lle uma tanya? Ona ta a'amin n'alaquel!”
“Ere’ manka lle quena - amin hiraetha.”
“Ten’ lle naa awra,” and after a short pause “Re naa awra.”
“Amin uuma malia”
“Llle naa amada”
“Not that I want to interfere,” Mirri’s voice sounded strained, but perfectly cool. “But I wish I understood what you two were talking about. Miamla, dear, it is not polite to take other people’s things. Please give it back to Jon. And who told you that you could use Myrat? I did not train him to play pranks on our friend, however much Jon deserves it. The animal will get sloppy if it keeps picking his pockets – it is absurdly easy.”
But the child only looked at me with her bright mercurial eyes, and kept her silence.
“This is getting ridiculous,” I muttered in indignation. “And it is pure blackmail. Give it back this very moment. Alright! I am sorry – are you happy now? Can I finally get my spellbook back?”
“Is that was what she was trying to make you do?” Mirriam chuckled, tried to calm herself, but finally gave up and burst into an open fit of laughter. “You should have seen your face when you said ‘I am sorry’!” She could not stop laughing, and now streams of tears began to flow down her cheeks. “It was like you’d swallowed something rotten – really, Jon-Jon, it was such a treat!”
I noticed the name, and something of my embarrassment probably showed on my face, because her mirth intensified, and in the end she had to sit down on the bench by the table and let herself have it out, shaking in a fit of near hysterical merriment (that looked too much like a frenzied fit of despair for my comfort). When she finally calmed down to a semblance of normality, there was no amusement in her voice, and her eyes were too bright and not a little sad in her reddened face.
“You cannot force it out of someone if they don’t really mean it, Miamla,” she finally said, wiping away the rest of her tears. “Relax effendi. I have not really forgiven you. You can consider your apology unsaid if you wish.”
The entire scene had winded up my nerves to a condition of near breaking, but her latest words had a stopping effect of a brick wall. I remembered the silly game back in the desert, and it suddenly dawned on me how incredibly ludicrous it all must have looked to an outside observer. My entire new life had been a rapid succession of serious mistakes, but to be accused of pettiness and irrationality, and to suddenly admit to myself that it was true, was pure unadulterated torture. I felt a sudden flush spread up my cheeks, and travel up, until the very tips of my ears were engulfed in a wave of most unpleasant heat. The emotion in itself was such a horrid mixture of sorrow, regret and panic, and it consumed me so entirely that I gaped like a fish pulled out of the water and dropped onto the hot sands of the beach. I believe it was the first (but unfortunately not the last) occasion when I felt shame – something I could not remember feeling before.
There was only one thing that I could do to make it stop – and it had to be done quickly, before the newly discovered feeling consumed the very last vestiges of my battered pride. “I am sorry,” I mumbled like a fool, and repeated pathetically, “I truly am – I did not really mean it. I... need to go now.”
I barely felt Miamla shove the spellbook into my hands, and saw Mirriam’s eyes full of exultant wonder. Then I fled the field, hiding the raging storm of conflicting emotions within my soul in the blessed solitude of my bedroom.