Authors notes: Once again, this fic was written jointly by MandereLee, 1221Bookworm, and Booksrgood4u. We would all appreciate some feedback, so please leave a comment to let us know what you think!
Kavi looked up from his papers to see Tebin's housekeeper leading in some visitors. He grinned when he recognized Jiaan and Soraya.
"I knew you two couldn't stay away," he said, offering them a welcoming grin. This surprised him. More than a year ago, he would never treat nobles like that who were coming into his house. Things really have changed; if anything, they were all much warmer to each other now. Soraya had even knocked. "All the good action happens here," he added just for good measure.
Jiaan snorted at that, but he too gave a warm smile. "I doubt it. The 'action' here probably isn't any more intense than a tavern brawl. Now, the Kadeshi border on the other hand, that was where the real things were happening. You would have fainted had you been on the line."
Soraya laughed. "Please. Neither of you would last five minutes during Suud tracking."
Kavi gave a merry chuckle, then realized belatedly that he was the only one doing so. He looked between Jiaan, who had an uneasy undertone to his expression, and Soraya, who looked like one who had been caught at a prank. Kavi knew he was missing something, and only understood when his gaze went past Jiaan to where a beautiful woman was standing. She was a deghass, definitely. Or had been.
Soraya cleared her throat. "Mother, this is Kavi. Kavi, this is my mother." She stood there awkwardly, gesturing between the two of them. The woman stepped up from behind Jiaan, eyes roaming Tebin's humble house.
"Why have we come to a peasant's home? I thought we were going to talk with someone from the council," she replied curtly. If Kavi was uncertain before, he definitely knew now that this woman was Soraya's mother. Now he understood just where Soraya had learned her haughtiness from.
"You forgot me." A small boy tugged on Soraya's sleeve and pouted.
"I'm sorry," she said, somewhat stiffly. "Kavi, this is my brother Merdas. Merdas, this is Kavi."
"Did you work with Sorahb, too?" Merdas asked.
"Why, yes, I did." Kavi said with a grin, "Very closely," he added, watching Soraya's mother's face.
"Kavi is the council headman," Jiaan said. "Herdsman." Kavi muttered. "He can tell you what's been going on since the Hrum left." He continued, with a frown at Kavi's interruption.
"I'm sure all that business can wait." Kavi said jovially. "Traveling is hard work, and I'm sure the lad's hungry."
"I know just the way to fix that," Kavi said leading them to the kitchen. He wondered what Jiaan and Soraya wanted him to do with Sudaba. Surely they could fill her in on events just as easily as he could. Or was she looking for authoritative evidence that she was not going to be handed her old position back?
Soraya pulled him aside under the cover of helping him with the plates. "I'm sorry about Mother," she said sadly. "She doesn't realize just how much has changed."
"I'm used to it." Kavi replied sourly. "Some foolhardy youths are trying to convince me to re-instate the child gahn. I can be 'regent' they say." Resentment colored his words. "If I don't get them to stop soon, they're going to drag the poor child in to cry at me or something."
"That's horrid." Soraya said. Kavi smiled at the change in her. Not long ago she would have said that that was right and proper. "And the child is just a puppet of the others. He's not much older than Merdas."
"Well, that's tomorrow's problem." Kavi didn't even want to think about it. "What's up with your mother?"
"Sorry to make her your problem, but she thinks she can just go back to the mansion – which she destroyed by pouring boiling oil on the Hrum" Kavi snorted at the stupidity. "And take up our old life. She needs to know that that isn't possible. Maybe you know someone who could give her a job?" Soraya finished hopefully.
A job. For a deghass. What did he look like to Soraya, a miracle worker? Kavi snorted and straightened up the pile of papers he had decided to finish up before calling it a day. Jiaan, Soraya, and Sudaba had left a few hours earlier to find an inn. Kavi supposed that it was too much to ask for a deghass to stay at a peasant's house. Just as well, Kavi didn't really want her around.
The last few weeks had been a real test of his patience as he dealt with the returning deghasses and their misguided ideas about the future of Farsala. He tilted his chair back and placed his feet on the table. He tried to push away the old prejudices and think about what Soraya's mother might have endured during her time as a slave. Perhaps it wouldn't be such a stretch, after all. A year in the empire had to have taught the woman something useful. He'd heard that deghasses were supposed to be good at sewing. Embroidery, he supposed they'd call it, but if she could embroider, she ought to be able to sew. Perhaps a seamstress would take her, though without the deghasses ordering their fine clothes, he didn't know of a seamstress who was hiring. The best she could hope for was probably a laundry where she might do some mending. A laundry like Nadi's. Kavi winced. Not Nadi. She didn't deserve it. But then, last time he had seen her, several of her workers had left to join Jiaan's joke of an army, and one had move to another city. Nadi needed the help. Sudaba needed a job. Kavi took a piece of paper and inked his pen. Soraya owed him for this. Big time.
Kavi was unsurprised to see Jiaan when he came to visit him the next morning. "You can tell Soraya that I found a job for her mother, but she had better be ready to pay for it. I'm really sticking my neck out." He said, before Jiaan could open his mouth.
"I'm not here about a job for Sudaba, though I will definitely pass the message on to Soraya," he said, sitting down across from Kavi. "What is it, by the way?" he asked, curiosity written across his face.
"It's with Nadi. She could use the help, and I thought that she could use her embroidery skills for mending. It's the best I could come up with." Kavi sighed at the thought of saddling Nadi with such a haughty, probably difficult worker.
Jiaan's face brightened. "That would work. Nadi is good to her workers, and she has little ones for Merdas to play with."
"Aye, Nadi'll be good to her, but I'm tellin' her up front that she's under no obligation to keep Sudaba on. I'm just making a connection. It's up to her to make it work." Kavi hoped Jiaan understood that this was not a free pass for Sudaba. He was only helping her because she was related to Jiaan and Soraya, and perhaps to give the lad a chance to make the best out of his new circumstances.
Jiaan laughed. "I think it's a good idea to put her to work. Too bad you can't do that with your other Deghass friends. Work would be good for them, too, but you don't have time to go finding each of them a place. Which brings me to why I came here."
Oh, no Kavi thought. Another someone who wants something of me.
"I've been thinking that Farsala needs an army …"
"Are you crazy?" Kavi interrupted. "Most of the men fought with you to prevent having to be part of the Hrum's draft! If you go instating one, your trained army might just start a civil war, which, I might remind you, we would have no way of defending ourselves against, and would probably be having to call the Hrum in to put it down, and then where would all the sacrifice of the last year have gone to?" Kavi knew the last bit was harsh, but he didn't care. His folk had suffered. He wasn't going to ask them to do it again.
Jiaan's face hardened at the thoughts of the sacrifice of the last year. "I know what was sacrificed, Kavi. More than you know." Kavi saw sadness in Jiaan's eyes as he continued. "But that's why we need an army, Kavi. The Hrum are strong now, but where will they be in a century or two? When another army, stronger than theirs, begins conquering countries? If we're attacked, we can count on Hrum support now, but what if the Hrum Empire has fallen? Farsala would be a soft target, if, in a century to two, we have forgotten how to fight. Have become lazy, relying on Hrum swords to protect us. Nobody thought the Deghans could be defeated, but they were. The day will come when the same will happen to the Hrum. That's why we need an army."
Kavi sighed. Put that way, and he knew Jiaan had a good point. Yet the drafting of his people weighed heavily in his heart. Their peace was still in such a fragile state, that even he had to tiptoe around the council leaders during their conversations in fear of offending them. People thought all he had to do was whack a few hands and incite promises for good behaviour, but really, one wrong move could mean the end of everything they've worked for. Not everyone had the same ideals for the new, reborn Farsala. The meetings could last for hours on end with just two or three leaders arguing over the same points.
"Kavi," Jiaan pressed. "Some of them might even want to."
"For honour, you mean?" Kavi asked, and he rounded the table to pack up the papers he was sorting.
"For peace!" Jiaan said, and Kavi looked up to see he was beginning to get irritated. Well, he was welcome to join that club; Kavi wasn't too pleased with this conversation either. Form an army for peace? Well, that was convoluted. "To defend and continue defending our right to rule this kingdom. We can't always rely on the Hrum. They're honest folks, yes, I'm not denying that, but that doesn't mean we should rest on our behinds and give them full control over our military."
Kavi rolled his eyes. "We're not giving them control over anything."
"Look," Jiaan sighed. "I'm not here to force the idea down your throat. All I'm asking is for the next meeting, could you ask what the leaders think of it? Then maybe we'll know just what position Farsala is in about the army. I don't entirely think that they're opposed to it."
Might as well have asked if he could hang Duckie. Seriously, some folks thought all he did was whack hands in those sessions.
"If they don't like it, I'm pointing my finger straight at you," Kavi said.
Jiaan shrugged. "Thanks. All I need is for you to try. And I'll go tell Soraya about her mother. I'm sure she'd appreciate what you found for her mother. I don't think she likes the idea of having her mother tag around with her in the dessert anyway."
There was a short awkward pause, before Jiaan nodded his goodbye and went out.
Kavi's less than congenial mood continued into the next morning, when he said his goodbyes to Tebin and started on his way back to Setesafon. It was only worsened by the discovery that Soraya, Abab, Jiaan, Merdas and the Lady Sudaba were leaving at the same time, and Soraya's brilliant suggestion that they travel together was just the cherry on top of it all. He didn't want to speak to any of them. All they'd want to do was lobby him for this or that, as if this wretched, thankless job didn't have enough for him to do. As soon as he got to Stesafon, he would have to go directly to Nadi, to make his groveling apologies for saddling her with that…woman. And then, as soon as he was done with that, he would go to the council where and promptly be stoned for bringing up the thought of an army. And then, provided he survived that, he would have to deal with all the crises that had popped up in the time he'd been in Mazad.
"Council Headman, they said," he muttered under his breath to Duckie, who was just about the only one on this trip he was still on speaking terms with. "It's a great honor, they said." He snorted. "If this is what honor feels like, it's a wonder those deghans survived as long as they did."
Kavi plodded along next to Duckie in brooding silence, stopping when he felt a tug on his sleeve and turning to face his assailant – for surely it was someone wanting to accost him with yet another brilliant idea – only to find himself looking down into the face of the Lady Soraya's younger brother. Excellent. The last thing he needed today was a deghan brat following him about. He sighed.
"What is it, lad," he asked, resigning the rest of the day to misery. Merdas peered up at him.
"Raya said you worked for Sorahb, too," he said. Kavi nodded, and dredged up an encouraging smile. "She said that whenever I meet someone who worked for Sorahb, I should thank them, because they helped me and Mama come home." Kavi opened his mouth to respond, but Merdas wasn't finished yet. "She said that you worked extra hard, and you kept working, even after the war was over."
"She said that, did she?" Kavi asked, arching his eyebrows and glancing in Soraya's direction. Merdas nodded, and grinned up at him. "Thank you," he said and stood on his toes to give Kavi a brief hug before scampering back to his sister. Kavi found himself grinning. The last of his foul mood evaporated, and he was reminded why he had agreed to put up with this demanding job in the first place. It was for Farsala, for the future of Farsala, the future that surely rested in the hands of her children – deghan and peasant alike. Kavi started down the road again, and began to whistle. Maybe this wretched, thankless job was worth it, after all.
Thanks for reading,
Booksrgoo4u, 1221bookworm, and MandereLee