|Love Thy Enemy
Author: AmicableAlien PM
AU A word can change everything. Kestrel and Bow struggle to keep the Manth homeland alive, even as their world moves ever closer to the beating, deadly heart of the Mastery where the lines between old loyalties and new trusts become increasingly blurred.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Romance - Chapters: 2 - Words: 5,791 - Reviews: 1 - Favs: 1 - Follows: 2 - Published: 08-07-10 - id: 6215773
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
I do not own the Wind on Fire Trilogy.
Marius Semeon Ortiz was getting married.
The sand of the manaxa ring stuck against his white leather boots, helped by the little spots of blood the slaves had failed to sweep away. From behind he could hear the low murmur of his friends. They shuffled backwards and forwards, anxious for the best spot in the wedding party. Each was eager for the Master to see their loyalty to him.
Ortiz felt a deep surge of pride. They squabbled and fought like chickens in a pen for a few measly breadcrumbs of the Master's affection and approval. But he… He was honoured above them all. He was beloved in the Master's eyes.
He was the Master's son. And now, like a loyal son, he was waiting to marry the Johdila of Gang.
He took one pace forwards.
On the opposite side, Meeron Graff, Keeper of the Master's Household slipped his hand under the Johdila's veiled elbow. His face was blank, carefully hiding any unauthorised emotion. With a firm tug, he guided the Radiance of the East one step across the sand towards her fiancé.
A surge of sound. The Master swept his players into the next movement. Voices and violins swirled together in perfect time. Johjan guards, stationed at the edge of the elaborate manaxa, lifted their heads in surprise as they heard the echoing strains of hundreds of voices. Guided by assistant conductors, linked to the Master by a chain of mirrors and light signals, the entire city of the Mastery was in song. A city-wide symphony. A nation united in melody.
Music swung up once more, the obbligato soaring into the domed roof like a bird. Ortiz obediently followed the paces that had been drilled into him over the past few days. The music reminded him slightly of the exotic flame-like notes of the tantaraza. The feeling of flying through the air. The pair of dark eyes glowing into his own. Madness. Utter madness: moonshine and chaos…
But still, hope. The pin-prick of a new life was still open to him. He still hoped. He despised himself for hoping.
He looked over at her, barely shifting his head from its original position. That dark hair, those flame-like eyes. I'll never love her like you! He called to the dark-eyed lady hanging back in the shadows of the Johdila's servants. Never, never, never.
The third step.
He focussed on his bride. Bitterness swarmed up his tongue. Why should it be her? Why was she the princess? His mind cried out, not recognising the classic plea of those who marry against their will. But it couldn't be against his will, could it? It was for the Master. He was the Master's loyal son…
Another shuffle forward. They were now within touching distance of each other. The Master smiled down at him. He was pacing perfectly, each step in time with the rhythm of the deep bass drums, pounding gently through the song of the flutes and violins. Then, as he gushed forward with the final cadenza, toppling, intoxicated into the genius of his own creation; he was suddenly jerked back by a shattering discordant note. Instantly, his eyes lost their dreamy brilliance. They sharpened. Darkened. Striding back to the edge of the balcony, he intensified all his powers of attention. No body in the Great Hall was missed out. He dragged his bow across the strings. A vibrato of notes shattered crazily, drawing a startled look from Spalian. The servant glanced up from the shadows, like a dog that has heard his master curse.
The Master ignored him. Leaning over the railing, his dancing fingers barely pausing across the violin's fingerboard, he stared down at the bridegroom.
Ortiz felt the Master's will flood through him like a river of ice. Terrified, he glanced up. In that moment, he became little more than a puppet. 'Ortiz', the man he was, all his wants and desires, were mercilessly shoved aside. He felt like he was on fire – a cold fire that burned and numbed him from the inside out. Then the fire was gone.
And so was he.
The obedient shell that was Ortiz took his final step.
"With these five steps, I stand before you as your husband. Do you receive me as my wife?"
The silence, the suspension between movements, the intermezzo stretched into seconds. It was like the soft drawl of a bow pulled full length across a cello's strings. It felt like it would never end. It hung on, a never changing note of uncertainty. The fate of the world sang on it.
No one could see the tears dribbling down the Johdila's soft, rose-dust cheek.
Sisi took one last look at Bowman. Everything was in that look. All her hopes and dreams and childish terrors.
But he couldn't see them.
The banquet hall was full of voices. The murmur of conversation wove in between the soft cellos and violas like the lyrics of a song. Occasionally, someone laughed. A bright sound, full of life. It dragged smiles from the other people surrounding the giver. Soon everyone was smiling.
No one laughed at the top table.
Zohon could barely contain his fury as he paced up and down behind the Johanna's chair. His thoughts swung from his men to the servant girl to the man sitting next to his own Sisi. No, not a man. Fine lips drew back in a sneer as his eyes swept over the young heir to the Mastery. No, this was a boy. A mere puppy who had dared to steal his bride from under Zohon's nose. This was insupportable. The servant girl. What's-her-name… Mess? Jess? She must have helped the boy. Zohon's eyes narrowed into slits as he considered this thought. Suddenly, the fleeting idea became more and more believable. It mushroomed in his mind, like a balloon filling with hot air. She must have double-crossed him. There could be no other explanation for it. She had double-crossed him and persuaded the Johdila to accept. Maybe she had been a spy. In the pay of the Mastery. She had betrayed Gang. She had betrayed him. The Hammer of Gang flexed his thumbs unconsciously, imagining the servant girl's scrawny traitor's neck between his hands, the life slowly being squeezed out of her…
But perhaps there was still a chance. Zohon stiffened into stillness. Brown eyes stared unseeingly at the wall as ideas slowly, very slowly, began trickling into his head. He had his men. At last count there were three thousand of them, fully armed and fit for duty. Each one as honed as a sharpened battle-axe. How much damage could they do against an city of civilians?
A small greedy smile curled around Zohon's lips. A lot. Blood would run the streets, stain the pavements. A silent coup, attacking the Mastery while it lay open and defenceless in celebration of the wedding. And afterwards? After he had taken the city, killed the whelp of the Mastery and offered the city to the Johanna… Then Sisi would be there and come into the protection of the Hammer of Gang with a smiling heart.
The Johanna snorted in surprise, earning a reproving look from his wife. "Eh? What is it, Zohon?"
"The men, sire. I would like to reassess their positions, if you give me leave to excuse myself."
"What? Nonsense, Zohon. The men are fine. Sit down below Barzan and be quiet."
The Commander stood firm behind his king's chair. His vicious silver hammer twitched between his fingers but apart from the tightness of his lips, the Johanna saw nothing. "With respect, sire, I would prefer to see that my men are properly placed first." He bowed lower, so low he could smell the musty scent of dust and age the emanated from the royal robes. His fastidious nose wrinkled slightly in distaste. "For security purposes, Majesty." The gold braid of his tunic itched his neck and it was with difficulty that he modulated his voice. When he would rule Gang… When he would be the Zohonna, Lord of a Million Souls…
The older man seemed to start. Saturated with the delicious sights and smells before him, he had forgotten that he had three thousand armed men to dispatch. "Oh. Yes. Well, deal with it then."
"Of course, Sire- "
"Come, come, Lord Johanna! You're not sending your men off in the middle of the feast?" Zohon rose up, his eyes promising swift redemption to the spoke in his wheel of power. Reflexively, his fingers prickled for the hilt of his sword and he half-reached across his chest and stomach to grasp the bronze handle. Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw the bridegroom start to his feet.
The large man dressed in flowing red robes raised a single eyebrow at the Commander's impulsive gesture. He was a giant of a man, with a girth the size of a tree-trunk. Gold mail covered his shoulders, spilling down in interlinked waves from his head. The gold cast a gentle haze over the bushy white hair, softening the rough texture. His grey eyes swept over Zohon and the Commander felt a shudder pass through him. That instant he felt as exposed and vulnerable as a newborn child. Those grey eyes knew everything about him. They could read into his soul. They could control his soul. The thought terrified him.
But then the piercing look was gone. The Master's gaze raked over the provincial Johanna and his dumpy Johdi. He smiled. "My dear Johanna."
The fleshy Emperor lumbered to his feet. Compared to the Master, he seemed slumped and awkward, clutching at the hems of his dignity. "Lord… eh…"
A trickle of ice entered into the vibrant man's smile. "My people know me as 'Master'." He said genially. "But after today, we are relatives, aren't we?" He stretched out his hands in an expansive, jolly gesture.
The Johanna stared at him, his great mouth hanging open slightly at the other man's presumptions. His wife dug an elbow into his ribs.
"Stand up straight, Foofy."
"Yes, m'dear." The Johanna agreed meekly. He bowed his head to the Master. The crown of Gang wobbled slightly. "This wedding is indeed a joyous event for Gang, eh… Lord… Master." He settled on the last word weakly, his eyes fixed on the Master's quelling smile like a rabbit staring at a crocodile.
"And this is your Commander?" The Master's attention skipped away from the royal couple to rest once more on Zohon.
The Hammer of Gang bowed, gritting his teeth.
"Yes, eh… Master. This is Zohon, the Hammer of Gang. Commander of our Johjan guards." The Johanna couldn't keep the note of pride out of his voice at the mention of this elite force of men. He was like a child with a particularly fascinating toy, showing off in front of other children. "Please excuse him for a moment or two. He was just about to… what was it again, Zohon?"
"To reassess the positions of our guards, sire."
"Yes, that was it. Master, I was wondering…"
The Master's hard growl cut through the Johanna's mumbling, like a cold knife through butter. Mesmerising grey eyes fixed onto Zohon's. "Johanna, I must protest. This is a wedding. Commander Zohon should be here, enjoying himself."
"With deepest respects, Master, the Johjan guards are a very large force. No doubt the Johanna would be more comfortable if they were dispersed in a …suitable fashion for the duration of the wedding feast."
"Eh... Yes…" The man caught between a rock and a hard place mumbled; getting smaller and smaller with each exchange. "Zohon does have a point." The Commander gave a small tight smile
The Master nodded. "You're perfectly right, Johanna." He agreed seriously. Zohon gave him a brief, goggle-eyed stare. "And as such, there was a separate feast set aside for the guards. After all, we can't have such fine men going hungry now, can we?" He turned his attention away from a glowering Zohon. Grey eyes levelled intently down at the Johanna of Gang. The Master focussed his powers of control on the fat king, shuffling about in his ornate gold robes.
The Johanna was aware of nothing for the first few seconds. Then, like river water flowing over his body, he felt a sweeping chill wash over him. In that instant, he became like his son-in-law had been: lifeless and obedient.
"But, sire!" Zohon jumped up, consternation written all over his face. "The men, they…"
"Oh, for heaven's sake Zohon!" The Johdi stepped into the fray. "You heard the Johanna. Now, step down there beside Barzan and let's have no more nonsense." She threw a wavering smile at the Master. "Sit down now, Foofy." She whispered, tugging gently on her husband's sleeve.
"Yes, indeed, m'dear." The Johanna replied automatically. The royal couple gave the Master a distracted nod, like a pair of the chickens they worshipped. Gently the two royal parties separated.
The heat of the Master's presence warmed Ortiz like a fire at the great man came closer to his heir. The young Commander kept his eyes fixed on his plate, his head bowed submissively. It was only when the large, almost meaty hand slid over his shoulder in approval that he dared to look up.
"Well, Master." Ortiz agreed quietly.
A slow smile crossed the older man's face. The grip on the tawny haired man's shoulder tightened perceptibly. "Come to me in a few days, Marius. I wish to hear your thoughts."
"A few days, Master? Would not tomorrow…?"
A bellow of laughter erupted from the man in front of him. Ortiz felt an answering smile being tugged out of him at the jolly sound. "Tomorrow? No, no Marius. Consider the next few days your honeymoon, my boy! Relax, enjoy yourself." Another absent pat on his shoulder, like one would placate a spoiled child. "I'll have plenty use for you soon."
Ortiz felt pride swell up in him, forcefully ignoring the sinking, dragging sensation of the word honeymoon. "I'm ready, Master."
Another bellow of laughter. "Still need to grow a little, Marius. Still need to grow." The red-cloaked Master removed his hand from the younger man's shoulder. With his characteristic flurry of quick strides, he moved off from the Hall, shouting for his violin once more. Ortiz watched him leave; not resuming his seat until the great oaken doors had shut behind the powerful, white-bearded figure. He felt shaken, just slightly, the way he always felt after a meeting with the Master. The power of the man! His presence! Someday, he hoped to be like that. Someday, he would be like that. He would have that power…
An unwanted memory slid over him. The chilling helplessness of losing his soul, the terror of being completely at another man's mercy. When the Master had taken his mind. Just before his vows. What had he been thinking of then? He couldn't remember. All he could remember was the shock of ice-cold pain, the numbing blankness. But more than that, the underlying carelessness of the movement. It was not done gently this time. There was no rush of adoration at the end to extinguish the pain and anguish his mind had suffered in that brief moment of ice-cold vulnerability. Not like before. It had just been a task to the Master.
He doesn't care about me.
The tiny voice shocked the tawny Commander. He backed away from it, like it was an animal, crazed with pain. Not care for him? The Master? Impossible! He shouted back. The Master loved him. He was his son, his beloved son, chosen above all others. His fingers closed around something knobbly and cold. It was his goblet, filled to the brim with sweet wine from the southern hills. With relief, he lifted the silver cup to his lips and drank deep. The sharp tang of the wine spilled down his throat, washing away his doubts. This was his wedding day. He was the heir to the Mastery, husband to the Johdila of Gang and the Master loved him.
With a bright smile on his lips, he turned to the lady beside him. Infinitesimally, the grin faded as his eyes fell on the veiled and silent Princess.
She wasn't even looking at him. The fine food on her plate was untouched, her hands folded neatly in her white silk lap. She looked like a statue. The Unwilling Bride, carved in perfect white marble.
Her stillness unnerved him. He was used to flirtation and had conducted several discreet affairs in the recent years. But how did one flirt with a silent woman?
How did one flirt with a woman one doesn't love?
He licked his lips. There was dish of ripe figs in front of him; the rich purple fruit lolling around in the silver bowl like rotund gluttons. He seized them, cupping his hand under the engraved edges. The metal felt clammy in his palm and the dish was surprisingly heavy as he lifted it towards her.
Her veiled head moved. Lifted towards him. He raised the bowl a fraction higher. "Would you care for a fig, Johdila?" His words were heavy and formal on his tongue and his mouth was dry. He swallowed. Waiting for her reaction.
Slowly, she shook her head. The sheer veil shuddered with the movement, sending rippling shadows across the white silk. Her husband watched it; mesmerised with the half-seen images the movement had given him. Was that a curve of her cheek? Was that arcing shadow the outline of a delicate nose, pert and pretty? And the dark smudges, barely seen but still there. Were they her eyelashes, fluttering modestly close by her skin? "No." Her voice was sweet and slightly lost. Then, "Thank you." she said, as if it were an afterthought.
He nodded, drawing back once more. Silence became their common ground. He wondered if every meal would be like this. He wondered if he would be able to endure it.
A loud burst of laughter startled him. The Johanna was looking at them, tipsy and completely recovered from his momentary encounter with the Master. Meeting Ortiz's eyes, he chuckled once more and shook his head. "No need to be so formal, m'boy! You're married now, you know!"
Ortiz blinked in surprise as the realities of his situation were shoved onto him once more. Cautiously, the husband and wife glanced at each other; unsure as to the reaction they should display at this hearty statement. Slowly, like a man approaching a serpent, the Commander stretched out his hand until it was resting in the space between their bodies. A halfway compromise.
Her white hands remained firmly in her lap.
"But the ceremony is very cold, isn't it?" The loud voice of the Johdi brayed from her husband's right hand side. "In Gang, they at least have a kiss at the end. The five steps," She counted off each stage of the marriage procedures on her large, bejewelled fingers. "The vow. And then the kiss. It's so much more romantic, don't you agree, Foofy?"
"Quite right, m'dear."
Ortiz could feel his cheeks beginning to burn. Besides him, the Johdila ducked her head in deep embarrassment. Or at least, Ortiz assumed it was embarrassment. He couldn't tell through all those layers of gauze. Her fingers began to pluck at her skirt, bunching it up into handfuls of shimmering cloth. It was starting to crease, he noticed.
Forcing a smile onto his face, he lifted his glass of wine in a silent toast to his parents-in-law. They smiled back at him in return, broad expressions of approval spreading across each stout face. The Johanna toasted him and drank deep. Ortiz raised his glass to his lips, preparing to copy his father-in-law's gesture.
A flicker of green cloth across the hall caught in the corner of his eyes. Turning his head quickly, he looked up and found himself staring directing into the intense dark-eyed glare of his wife's servant girl. His heart lurched, sending a cleansing wave of shock crashing over him. Her.
He could spend the rest of the night just looking into those eyes. They were dark brown, so dark as to be almost black. One would almost think they were black too, until they flashed, making the brown tints sparkle and glow. She poured her soul into her eyes, he thought. He wondered what colour they would go when she smiled…
Her eyes narrowed at him, anger darkening them, until they were so dark he couldn't tell were her pupil began or ended. Her gaze shifted from him to the woman next to him. It softened slightly as the young woman in the green dress watched his bride. An irrational spurt of envy flared up in his heart. Would she ever look at him like that? Would she ever smile at him like that?
Someday, she would. Someday, she had to.
He cleared his throat gently. It was a useless gesture, really. She could never have heard him across the raucous noise of the Great Hall. There were people laughing, people talking, people flirting. People making so much noise, she would never be able to hear his soft cough. Never look at him once more.
He was wrong.
Her eyes snapped back to him, like a pair of firecrackers, sparking with anger and rage. His heart soared. She had heard him! He wondered if he should smile at her. He wanted to. He wanted to smile at her, see the surprise in her eyes.
He wondered if she would blush.
Something brushed over his hand. He turned back, the goblet still poised just below his lips.
His wife was siting beside him. Her head was low, the gauze veil hanging down in a straight line and obscuring the dips and plains of her face. But her hand was beside his. Her smallest finger rested close by his. The warmth of her white skin scorched across his hand, sending heat rushing to his cheeks. Was it guilt or anger? He didn't know.
But she was his wife. She deserved some loyalty on her wedding day.
He propelled a small smile onto his face for her. He couldn't tell if she was smiling in return. He hoped she wasn't. Awkwardly, with short, hesitant movements, he patted her hand. After the second tap, his hand fell back. The token sign of affection was finished.
When he looked up again, the dark-eyed girl was gone.
Marius Semeon Ortiz lifted his goblet to his lips and drank deep.
Kestrel Hath stood in the shadows of the Great Hall, half-concealed underneath sumptuous green velvet hangings. A cool breeze tickled her cheeks from the opened window. Slipping further under the lavender-scented velvet, she moved closer to the window. The night breeze was soothing to her, relaxing the jumbled mesh of thoughts and troubles that had plagued her for the entire day. She slumped against the wooden window post, ignoring the bruising pain of the pinching carved wood.
Below her, the city of the Mastery stretched out like a sparkling shawl of black silk, lights shining like diamond chips across the High Domain and the Lower City. The slave quarters, squatting by the hem of the shawl, were covered in darkness. The young Manth woman looked down on the home of her enemy and shook her head helplessly.
How did it happen? She berated herself tiredly. How could it happen? The plan had been so perfect. Zohon's obsession with Sisi was driven onto the brink of action. The Johjan guards were primed for battle. The power of the Mastery was balanced in the hands of Fate. And she had been sure, so absolutely sure that Fate was on her side.
Instead, Fate had turned her back on the Manth people. Everything had been dealt in favour of the Mastery. Kestrel's weapons had been blunted in her hands. Zohon had failed to act. The Johjan guards were now well on their way to becoming riotously drunk in the plainer feast hall, just off to the side. And, because of them, her people were still slaves.
And that murderer was still breathing. Life surged through her as she remembered how he stared at her, his arrogant eyes scanning her like an uninteresting piece of furniture. Her fists clenched into fists with hatred. She longed with every fibre of her being that he was in front of her now. She wanted to punch him: to ram her fist into his haughty face, to hear the bone crack under her fingers and see the blood, his blood, seep down his face as he howled in pain. To see those deep hazel eyes stare into her own, with the same intensity she had seen while they had danced in the tantaraza…
Kess blinked in surprise. Cautiously, she reached up and patted her cheeks gently. Were they hot? What? Was she…Was she blushing? No! The dark-haired young woman shook her head viciously, furious at herself for such a… a girlish reaction to her enemy. It was ridiculous, stupid and wrong, she told herself passionately. For her people to live, that man had to die. He and the giant man that everyone called the Master. That would be their punishment. That would be her justice.
Deep shaking breaths of night air calmed her. With the quiet, barely there footsteps of a proper servant, she moved out from her hiding space. The hangings brushed across her face like a spiders-web and she shuddered instinctively. Rubbing her hands across her face, she emerged out of the shadows and into the bright opulence of the dining hall.
The murderer was still sitting at the top table beside Sisi. Each was studiously avoiding any contact, even avoiding looking at each other. A prickle of guilt nagged at Kestrel at Sisi's quiet unhappiness. She had promised her that she didn't have to do this. She had promised her friend that she would take care of everything. And now, everything was wrong.
A cloud of staccato notes rained over the company, drawing the dark-eyed girl's eyes higher. Pacing along the upper tier, tireless and energetic even now, the Master urged his exhausted musicians on and on into further musical rhapsodies. His gold mail head covering had been discarded during the day. His deep red cloak was thrown back from his shoulders and his arm pumped up and down, guiding the bow up and down the strings. Kess's eyes narrowed in hatred at him.
I will kill you. She swore softly. I hate you and I will kill you.
The pacing cracked to a halt. Piercing grey eyes swung down along the hall, ignoring his dancing fingers. The Master frowned slightly as he found the strain of discontent, spoiling his joyous atmosphere of sound.
A terrorising feeling of numbness oozed over Kestrel's body like a second skin. She was locked into place. She couldn't move. Couldn't look away. Those wide-set grey eyes held her in his spell. For that second, she was his puppet, his toy. Her throat tightened in fear. Air was forced into her lungs desperately with shallow breaths that never seemed to reach deep enough.
Then the Master looked away and turned back to his loyal orchestra. She was released.
Kestrel gripped her throat, relief driving through her with every pulse of her throat. What had that man done to her? What type of power had he? She felt something warm and wet tickle at the corner of her eye. It slid down her cheek, leaving a damp trail along her skin. Angrily she dashed her fist across her cheek and glared at the errant tear. Suddenly, she felt completely, utterly and scarily alone.
Oh, Bo! She sobbed in her mind. Oh, Bo, Bo, Bowman! What are we going to do? What can we do?
Professor Fortz was dictating his memoirs to Hanno Hath.
It had become one of their shared tasks of a day. About an hour or two before Hanno had to go home to his wife and family, he would sit down (always the same table), pen in hand and inkwell close by his elbow and the Professor would stand at his usual starting point (always by the bookshelves of marine biology) and stride off, firing out words and phrases like a machine gun. He always paced while dictating. He claimed that it kept his thoughts in good regular order.
"…By examining the various inscriptions detailed on the walls of the lower catacombs of our glorious city…" He reached the shelves for geographical habitats and spun on his heel, lifting his foot, ready to continue pacing. The foot never touched the floor. "Great Stars, what was that?"
Hanno looked up too, startled by the sudden shift in the tempo of the music. Far from the cheery, dance-like trot that had swelled over the city for hours, the melody had changed time now. It was softer, almost dreamy. The string instruments were very much in the fore, the cellos, the violas, the deep gravel of the double bass. It made the middle-aged Manth man think of night time, of night-scented stock just opening, of his wife's smile. Happy memories were dredged up – memories he had forgotten, or perhaps had become buried under the mundane minutiae of daily life. Shaking his head, pen and notes ignored, Hanno marvelled at the power of the Master's music.
Fortz, bulldozing through the evocative strains of the harmony like a rock, stumped over to the window and harrumphed in triumph. "Ah! Thought so!"
"Bride's gone to get ready for her husband. Praise the Stars! There'll be peace at last." He leaned over the edge of the window and squinted down at the street. "Amazing how they kept it up so long." He threw back over his shoulder to Hanno.
"Are the Johdila's servants going with her?" Hanno asked carefully, filling the inkwell from the red clay jug standing on an opposite table. The black liquid sloshed against the corners of the tiny beaker and Hanno held his breath.
"Great Stars, no, man!" Fortz scoffed. "Can't see the servants in the street! In with the bride of course. These provincials are so particular about things like that… Oh." Hanno froze. "No… Wait. Yes!"
"There's one leaving with the caravan. Can't see her really. Looks skinny." Fortz disclaimed interest in the Johdila's skinny servant girl with a sniff. "Probably doesn't get enough to eat. I hear thery're terribly miserly in Gang."
Hanno drew back his seat, the wooden legs of the chair screeching slightly against the floor. Settling his thin body into the uncomfortable chair, he inked his quill thoroughly, shaking off the excess liquid so as to avoid any unsightly splotches on his work. "May they be happy together." He murmured softly, echoing the old Manth blessing on a newly-wed couple.
"Eh? What? What was that?" Fortz glanced around, his small beady eyes snapping fiercely. "What did you say?"
Hanno did his best to cover an involuntary yawn. "Nothing, Professor."
"Nonsense!" The squat little Professor waved his disclaimer away impatiently. "No one who reads and writes Old Manth every has nothing to say."
"Yes, Professor." Hanno agreed quietly. He raised his quill, ready to continue with the dictation. Another yawn of exhaustion bubbling at his lips.
"You!" Fortz barked, as if he was only just then looking at Hanno properly. "You're tired. Tired scholars are no use to me. Go home. Get some sleep. Back here again at six. On time, mind!"
Hanno nodded, his eyes drooping slightly with fatigue. Ink-stained fingers began gathering up his sheaves of paper, automatically sorting them into piles of used and unused sheets. He lifted them up into his arms, like he was carrying a child and plodded over to the depository of the library. Heaving open one of the rusty drawers, he set them down neatly into the wooden enclave. Then he locked the huge receptacle once more.
At the door, the dark haired man turned back, his shoulders aching. Fortz was still standing at the window, staring down into the street. His stocky figure was illuminated against the glow from the street lights, casting an monstrously large shadow along the cleared floor behind him. From the storey below and the open window, Hanno could hear the shouts of some escaped revellers and the softening chords of the Master's great, day-long symphony.
Wearily, the Manth man shook his head and closed the door. "May they be happy." He said softly once more. The darkness around him seemed to embrace his words and swallow them up. As he mechanically put one foot in front of the other, the mantra echoed and tapped in his head.
May they be happy.