Risa had never felt more irritated than she was in that moment.
Aasir squinted down at her, his green eyes seemingly glowing with energy. “Why, if it isn’t the Lady Justice,” he commented sarcastically. Risa was almost surprised to find that she could now understand his heavily accented Korish, even though it had been only a few months since she heard him speak it last.
She could feel her face reddening under her gaze, and a memory returned to her that only served to discolor it further. Only a short time ago, back in the desert somewhere between Kalpar and Maura, she had yelled at him, making absolutely no sense to him or anyone else (excepting perhaps Tanmar and Thali), and had been duly slapped. Slapped by the leader of the Kalpan nation. That time seemed so long ago now--but she was sure, by the way that he looked at her, that it was still fresh in his memory. No wonder she had been disgraced.
Protests were building on all sides of the Yonshu; people were rising, shaking their fists at Risa and shouting curses to her name. Half their words were not understood by her--for Thali, while set on teaching her as much of the Korish language as she could, did not find it useful to teach her the obscenities. Helpless, she looked up at Aasir, her eyes silently pleading.
He only watched her with a cold stare, a battle of wills ensuing; but then he sighed reluctantly, his upper lip twitching in disgust. Slowly he reached his hand out to her; and she took it, but only because she had no other choice. She felt that if such a thing were possible, she could die in this moment from embarrassment alone.
“You are perhaps the slowest person I have ever known,” he muttered to her as he pulled her up in front of him. “Asking for help from the very person that caused you to need it in the first place. Why, it’s almost pathetic! Have you no shame?”
Risa seethed, straightening out her back as she settled into place so as to prevent herself from touching him. His Korish was very refined; it had strange endings on many of the words, which Risa had never heard used before. It was difficult to keep up with them sometimes.
“Only you probably still can’t understand what I’m saying, can you?” He sighed. “Convenient.”
So he thought she didn’t know Korish? She knew that she should tell him that she did, and had a feeling that he would become quite angry with her if she didn’t; but she didn’t think that it was currently the best of times to reveal it. And she was beginning to think that she liked it better this way anyhow, for then he wouldn’t try to cover up what he said about her just because he knew she understood.
She scrunched up her face a little further to feign confusion, and began throwing equally disgusted looks at the people who dared to glare up at her now that she sat at the same level as their Yonshu.
Aasir shifted uncomfortably. “Well. Time to clear this mess up,” he muttered, turning the horse around to face the people.
“Good Kalpans,” he said, his voice surprisingly resonant throughout the Niche. “Please excuse this girl. She is a foreigner--a mildly stupid one at that--and therefore does not know what she does when she does it. Pardon her, if you can look past her disgrace to do so.”
Risa’s face burned, and her hands tightened on the horse’s mane to the point that it whinnied and stamped at the ground. But fortunately several of the people nodded, casting strangely understanding glances in her direction. It almost made her sick. How dare they treat her with such sympathy?
But one man stood, calling the attention of the others; he raised and accusative finger in the direction of the Justice, calling “Who is she, then, that she is of such importance--that we should pardon her?”
A collective murmuring and nodding of heads followed.
“She is the Sanchi,” Aasir said unflinchingly, using a word Risa didn’t recognize. But it must have meant something important, for there was such a sudden uproar among the people that even Aasir was surprised. It seemed a mix of many emotions; some still anger, mostly confusion; but strangest of all, there were smiles were appearing on the people’s faces, followed by looks of extreme happiness, of joy. She would have to ask Thali what it meant when she returned...if she ever returned.
Inwardly, she figured it to be a bad word, similar to the ones that Channa once had called her; and her insides churned at the idea of being scorned so openly by the leader of such a great nation. But even that didn’t make sense, though it seemed to be the most logical solution. If he had just called her something terrible, then why was everyone so happy about it?
He turned his horse to face the Ailis; and with a strange sense of pride, he began marching his way back toward his castle, addressing those he encountered and asking them of their families. All answered him back very politely, eyeing Risa with curious glances; and she could tell that many of them knew him rather personally, despite his position. And yet she had expected the Yonshu to be aloof and separate from his the people, distant and cold like the leaders of Reihem had been.
But Aasir seemed almost to enjoy the time he spent among his people, as though he was created for it; and they seemed too happy, almost blessed, to be addressed by him. They bowed low, respectfully; and he would nod once in their direction before continuing forward.
She turned to look at him several times along the way, unsure of what else to do; though this apparently irritated him, for he glared back at her, as though silently daring her to continue. But she couldn’t help it. Somewhere, behind all the harshness of his face and the pride of his sharp jaw, there was a kind and almost sad look, mostly showing in his eyes. Even when he was angry, but there was something inside of him holding it back. She couldn’t help but wonder what caused such a strange look in such a powerful man.
They wound their way throughout the city; and Risa, not wishing to spoil Aasir’s idea that she still could not speak his language, sat placidly in front of him, erect but not proud, waiting as patiently as possible to be returned home. They viewed her with a sort of respect as well; but none of them addressed her directly, something Risa was inwardly relieved about.
It was only a little ways away; but there in front of her, before she had even realized it, stood the marvelous gates of the Ailis, tall and proud and magnificent in every way possible.
She stared up at them, her eyes wide in disbelief; never before had she believed that anything could be so beautiful. The marble was carved from the bottom all the way up to the top, so intricate that it looked as though it should have taken hundreds of years just to carve the bottom of it; and it appeared to be so impossibly great that Risa wondered how it could’ve been carved at all. She was in the middle of supposing how exactly they got them there in the first place when the doors gave a loud jolt and began to swing open, unassisted by people. Though slow, they were sturdy and steadfast, and thundered open to allow the visitors inside.
Aasir leaped expertly off the horse, as though he had done such things his entire life, then began waiting impatiently for Risa (whom it appeared he had lost all sympathy for, and was now taking care of only from obligation); and the second Risa’s sandals hit the ground, a person she guessed to be a servant came from inside and took the horse by the reins, leading it toward a side-door, which apparently led to a corral of some kind.
Aasir motioned forward impatiently. Risa, not having realized that she was supposed to move just yet as she had lost her thoughts in the direction of the Ailis, blushed furiously and rushed forward, careful not to fall behind.
“You did a very stupid thing,” Aasir told her as they made their way through the grand entry hall, “in not bowing to me when I was announced. Do you not know that it is universally custom to show respect to those in a position of authority?”
Risa, not having anything to say (or perhaps not knowing what to say instead) could only keep her eyes downcast.
“And as for what I did for you today,” he said, a tinge of something like regret in his voice, “You are indebted to me beyond what you could possibly imagine. My character--which, up until now, had been flawless--has just been mortally wounded in the presence of the people for whom I spent many Yaru building it up. And yet--it has all been torn down in a single moment! Did you see the way that they addressed me, how they bowed to me? I did not believe such humiliation possible!--but I have been wrong about such things before.” His tone was full of remorse.
Risa could only think silently to herself, half listening to the Yonshu’s woes. She herself was not much accustomed to the Kalpan ways, it was true (though this was no fault of her own); but if she opened her mouth to defend herself, she might unknowingly break another custom. And besides, the Yonshu still believed her to be an uneducated foreigner; if played the part carefully, she could possibly use it to her advantage. So she made the decision to keep her mouth shut, listening carefully to the Yonshu’s every word and concentrating solely on remaining in step with him.
But while passing through the hall, she caught a glimpse of shockingly red hair, to the likeness of which she had not seen for many years; and she was torn from her thoughts, frantically refocusing on what she had just seen. Only one person in the entire world had hair like that, and he was thought to be dead.
But it passed the corner too quickly for her to examine it further; and so she had to pretend that she had seen nothing, and hurried forward to catch up with Aasir. Her mind was whirling, the thoughts rolling about it faster than they ever had before; and she fought to ignore them, to concentrate on the beat set down by Aasir’s sandals. She wondered how he seemed to walk so fast; it was almost by magic, for he couldn’t be more than a few inches taller than she was.
At last he slowed, and the two reached a large room at the end of the second (or was it the third?) hall. It was furnished mostly with carpets and rugs and sculptures of sorts; there were two chairs off to the side, near the farthest corner of the room, and they appeared to be reserved for guests. Aasir motioned for her to sit; but she only looked defiantly back at him, taking a step or two backwards. Not only did she not want to accept such an open display of hospitality from someone like him, who would curse a person when he thought they could not understand, but her legs were throbbing with soreness, and she was sure that if she sat she would not get back up again. So she shook her head instead, feigning a lapse of misunderstanding.
Aasir gave an irritated sigh, thoroughly frustrated, and began pacing the room back and forth impatiently, as though deliberating over what to do with her now that he had her here. She only watched him quietly; for there were times when he would pause, and she was quite sure that he would speak to her--but he would only shake his head and return to his pacing. So she simply waited quietly for him to stop, and attempt to tell her what he was going to do with her.
But after the third set of pacings, he only gave an exasperated grunt; and with that he pointed firmly at the ground near her feet.
“Wait here,” was all he said before he stormed out of the room, slamming the doors behind him.
Soon after he left, Risa relaxed, as though having left the frigid cold for a room with a fire. She hadn’t noticed it at the time, but she had been stiff in his presence; that ever-suffocating air still surrounded him like a fog, and it never ceased to choke her. Hesitatingly--because she desperately needed to move and stretch her cramped legs a bit, but was afraid to should Yonshu return--she began to peer cautiously around the room, her eyes shifting slowly from side to side. After some careful consideration, and a few moments’ pause to make sure that she could hear no sounds coming from the hallway, she decided to go walking about it.
The rugs beneath her feet were beautiful, stitched evenly and yet not overdone; they looked as though they had never seen a speck of dust in their lives, though Risa couldn’t fathom such a concept seeing as how they lay in the middle of a desert. Portraits of people Risa neither knew nor recognized stretched the lengths of the walls, which were colored like the sky; many of these paintings were regal-looking, clothed in bright and royal robes that draped artistically around them, their brows dark and brooding over unfathomable eyes. She stared at each one as though waiting for it to spring to life, for she was almost quite sure that they would; but thankfully they never did.
There was a vase full of flowers on a table in the farthest corner from the chairs, bearing the same dry buds that Thali had loved; and Risa wondered if they were Thali’s favorite only because they were the closest things resembling to a flower that dared to grow on Kor. She fingered them carefully; they even felt dry. The petals seemed almost to wrinkle under her touch.
She sighed and walked slowly back to where the chairs were, for the dull ache had set into her legs and she could feel them about to give out; but just as she was about to rest, there came a harsh knock at the door. Unsure of what to do (because it couldn’t be Aasir, he wouldn’t have even bothered with the knocking), she simply froze, staring wide-eyed and expectant in the direction of the doorway.
The knocking repeated itself after a time, quiet but urgent; and Risa, her voice shaking, called out in a cautious Reihimian, “Who’s there?”
The door creaked open slowly; and before she knew it, a man had entered, quickly but stealthy, and had closed the door behind him.
He turned; and there before her stood the person she thought she had seen before, with hair the color of fire and blue eyes that shone like the dark ocean waters. And he was as real as everything else in the room, as the portraits and sculptures and the little flowers that sat wilting on the table; and the only person, besides Celandine, who was born and raised in Reihem, and still lived to see the day.
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