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Sunday, April 10, 2011

XXIV - The Zainab Camp

Silence fell in the Urshilaku camp as Fen and Julan entered. The Ashlanders stared openly, stopping what they were doing to watch as Fen led the way to Nibani Maesa’s yurt and ducked inside. The wise woman was sitting serenely before the fire, shifting a clay plate that held several bleached nix hound bones around on her lap. Her head was bent intently over the plate, and she only looked up when the flap lifted, causing a shaft of light to fall across the yurt. Julan let the flap fall closed and Nibani’s penetrating gaze swept over them, her expression unreadable.
“You have returned from the Cavern of the Incarnate, Clanfriend Fen.” She set the plate with the bones aside and stood up, moving around the firepit to stand before Fen. “And share with me, Clanfriend, what visions you beheld in the Cavern of the Incarnate.” Wordlessly, Fen held up her left hand, showing Nibani the elegant white gold ring that glittered faintly there. Nibani took Fen’s hand in her own firm, warm grasp and held the ring close to her face. For a long moment, the only sound was the crackling of her hearth.
“This,” she said finally, in a steady voice, “is the ring of Lord Nerevar Indoril.” She looked up at Fen, her wide eyes reflecting the fire and glittering in the dimness. “None may doubt you. You are the Nerevarine, the Incarnate, Nerevar Reborn. You must free the cursed false gods and restore peace to Morrowind.” Nibani took Fen’s other hand and stared deeply into her eyes. “Before you lies the Fourth Trial, and after that, the Fifth. You must be called Nerevarine by four Ashlander tribes, Hortator by three Great Houses. You must go now, and speak to Sul-Matuul of these things, for he is your friend and may well name you the Nerevarine of the Urshilaku without complaint.” Nibani dropped Fen’s hands. “Go.”
They left her yurt and entered Sul-Matuul’s, bowing low, then rising again. The ashkhan was sitting cross-legged before the fire, his hooded eyes gazing up at them, filled with interest. He held out his hand, and Fen and Julan sat beside him. He looked expectantly at Fen, and she held out her left hand to him. Sul-Matuul stared at Moon-and-Star for a long moment, then looked back up at Fen.
You have passed the Third Trial. I have spoken with Nibani Maesa, and I know these Trials. You wish to be called Urshilaku Nerevarine. But first, would you hear the counsel of Sul-Matuul?
“I would.”
Good. First, I would give you warning. When you are called Nerevarine, the word must spread, and many must hear. Your enemies will hear, and come seeking your blood. Second, I tell you, seek the counsel of Wise Woman Nibani Maesa, for you are an Outlander, and ignorant of the ways of our people. Nibani Maesa can tell you of the other tribes, of their ways, and of their ashkhans. If you do not know these things, you will make many mistakes, and waste precious time. That is my counsel. Now, if you wish to be named Urshilaku Nerevarine, we may speak of these things.” Sul-Matuul reached for a pitcher and poured sujamma into three mugs, letting the froth rise to their rims. He handed one to Fen and one to Julan, who drained the mug almost at once. Fen took a small sip so as not to be rude and set the mug down.
“You wish to be called Nerevarine. I know you, and am disposed to do so. But first we must speak of need and duty. Before I name you Nerevarine, you must understand why a war leader is needed, so you may tell others. And before I name you Nerevarine, I must see that you know your duty.
“Know the words of the prophecies. The curse of Dagoth Ur and the Sixth House threatens our land. The False Gods lie, and offer false hope of protection. You bear the Moon-and-Star of Nerevar. Azura’s hand is upon you. These are the proofs you must show to all people as Urshilaku Nerevarine. From the unmourned house have come forth the seven curses. The Sixth House is a great evil, and a great danger to all people. This is the need. You have seen this need. You have fought the Sixth House. You have known the curse of corprus. You have harrowed Kogoruhn, and seen the darkness that lies within. When you tell your story, others may be shown the proofs. You have learned the lies of the Tribunal and the false hope they offer of protection from Dagoth Ur. We have heard the priest’s own words of the Apographa, and we know them to be true. We have heard the words of the Dissident Priests, and we know them to be true. The False Gods have broken their promises, and have taken up the tools of the Enemy. This is a great evil, and a great danger. You wear the Moon-and-Star of Nerevar. The legend of Moon-and-Star is known to all loremasters. No man but Nerevar may wear that ring and live. This is a true sign. This is a miracle, a blessing of Azura, and no man may deny it.
“You shall be Nerevarine of all the tribes, and Hortator of all the Great Houses. You shall eat the sin of the unmourned house, and free the false gods. You must defeat the Sixth House, and Dagoth Ur. You must free the Tribunal from their curse. This is the burden of prophecy. This shall be your duty as Urshilaku Nerevarine.” Sul-Matuul stood. “Come,” he said, and he lead them outside, where what appeared to be the entire tribe had assembled before the ashkahn’s yurt. They stared at Fen, their drawn, ash-beaten faces tired and grim. Fen watched these people, so cruelly called savages by those that forced them from their homes for worshipping the old gods. And now they stared at her, their eyes glimmering with faint hope.
“Before my hearth and kin, and before the People of the Wastes, I name you Urshilaku Nerevarine, War Leader of the Urshilaku, and Protector of the People,” Sul-Matuul said loudly, and he raised a thin necklace of twine strung with three smooth, white fangs. “In token of this, I give you the Teeth, which shall be a sign to all Dunmer, that you are the Nerevarine, and that the Urshilaku shall follow you, in all things, even unto death, until the Enemy is defeated, or until you are dead, or until you give this back into my hand.” The assembled Urshilaku cheered then, and Fen glanced back at them and saw they had changed. Now, they looked positively alive with joy, as if Dagoth Ur had already been defeated. Sul-Matuul lowered the necklace over Fen’s head and placed his hands firmly on her shoulders. He lowered his voice. “The Fourth Trial is to join the three Great Houses of Vvardenfell under one Hortator. You must be named Hortator in turn by House Redoran, House Hlaalu, and House Telvanni. I know little of the ways of the Great Houses.” He lowered his hands. “Now go. Seek Nibani Maesa, for she will tell you more of what must be done to gain the trust of the Ashlanders and of the Great Houses.”
“You won’t see the Great Houses handing out priceless tribal heirlooms,” Julan said proudly as Fen fingered the long, smooth fangs of the Teeth of the Urshilaku. “They must really trust you.” The Urshilaku gazed at Fen with a new respect now, seeing the Teeth of the Urshilaku around her neck. As Fen and Julan crossed the camp, one man noticed the ring on her finger and shook her hand, his eyes welling with tears, then hurried away. Julan looked slightly perturbed as they entered Nibani’s yurt again, but Fen marveled at their sudden and blind loyalty to her.
The wise woman looked slightly more composed as they came in. She invited them to sit, and for the next hour she gave Fen careful counsel, telling her all she knew of the Great Houses and the Ashlander tribes. The Zainab tribe of the southern Grazelands had a vain and hard-headed ashkhan. The Erabenimsun of the Ashlands were violent and quick to kill outsiders. The Hlaalu were liars and cheats. The Redoran were proud worshippers of the Tribunal. The ancient wizards of the Telvanni were shrouded in mystery and should have care taken around them.
“I understand that the Ashlanders must name me Nerevarine,” Fen said when Nibani had finished. “But what exactly is a Hortator?”
“A Hortator is, essentially, a warlord,” Nibani answered. “In times of great sorrow, a Hortator, named such by the three Great Houses of Vvardenfell, unites Morrowind through its differences and helps to restore the land. You must be named Hortator to complete the Fourth Trial. Now, go.”
“Well,” Julan said as they let the flap fall closed behind them. “Becoming the Ahemmusa Nerevarine will be easy, seeing as I’m ashkhan.”
“You’re not the ashkhan yet,” Fen told him. “We should ask Sinnammu.” Julan was put out, but they used their rings to teleport to the Ahemmusa camp anyway. Sinnammu, however, seemed to agree with Julan.
“Han-Julan is our leader, Fen,” she told her. “If he will name you Nerevarine, the tribe will follow his wishes.” Fen turned to Julan, who grinned.
“Let me think,” he said slowly. “Do I really want you to be Nerevarine?”
“Come off it,” Fen said, smacking the backside of his head sharply.
“Argh! Fine, fine, you’re the Ahemmusa Nerevarine! Sheogorath…” Sinnammu smiled and opened a small chest on her table. She took out a round, polished red stone that encompassed a smaller blue stone painted with gold symbols.
“The Madstone of the Ahemmusa,” Sinnammu said, cupping it in both hands and holding it out to Fen. “It is a sacred symbol of our tribe. May it be a sign to all Dunmer that you are the Nerevarine and that the Ahemmusa shall follow you into all things, even into death.” Fen took the stone carefully, and Sinnammu bowed them out. The day was late, so Fen and Julan met Shani at the Varo Tradehouse and spent the remainder of the evening with her. By their fifth round of maztes, both Shani and Julan were daring one another to tap dance on top of the bar, so Fen excused herself and went upstairs to bed.
Lying in the hammock in her dark room, Fen raised her left hand to examine Moon-and-Star. It glowed very faintly, the gentle curve of the crescent moon catching the light just so. Fen lowered her hand and rested it across her stomach as there was a great crash from downstairs and the muffled sounds of Shani singing floated up to her. The idea of being the Nerevarine still hadn’t struck Fen. She closed her eyes, imagining her first steps into Vvardenfell, wandering through the foggy, grim streets of Balmora, feeling awkward and alone. It felt like so much longer than six months ago. Years, at least.
Fen rolled over in the hammock to face the wall, folding her hands under her cheek so that Moon-and-Star glittered right before her nose. She wondered if Helseth would let her back into Mournhold now, if he knew that she was the Nerevarine. She wondered if she would even go back to Mournhold. They days since she had first placed that folded letter into Caius Cosades’ hand had gone by in a blur, leaving her in a daze…Caius Cosades. Fen wondered, vaguely, how he was doing. She wondered if he had any idea what she was doing now, about to confront two Ashlander tribes and three Great Houses and ask to be called their leader. Would he be proud of her? And her father. Would Helseth be proud? Would he forget his hate for her for one moment, just to marvel at all that his daughter had accomplished? And her grandmother…her dear, wonderful grandmother. Fen’s chest ached to think of Barenziah.
When Fen slept that night, her dreams were full of the maze-like halls of the Mournhold Palace, stretching on forever and never leading anywhere.
Shani said she would accompany them to the Zainab camp, which was a few hours’ walk south of Vos, so they got up before sunrise the next morning and started over the dark plains. Fen didn’t speak because she was tired – Shani and Julan didn’t speak because of their hangovers.
They reached the Zainab camp by sunrise. There were only one or two haggard-looking Ashlanders about – a yawning girl leaning against a tree just outside the camp holding a wooden staff and lazily watching her guar herd and a man that was painting oil onto the outside of his yurt to insulate it against the cold. The girl herding guar looked up as they approached.
“You’re Fen,” she said at once, and Fen saw that the girl couldn’t have been more than fifteen. “They’re saying you’re the Nerevarine.”
“I am.” The girl narrowed her eyes.
“Do you have proof?” Fen held out her hand, showing the girl Moon-and-Star. The girl looked up at Fen, her face suspicious.
“It is part of the story of Nerevar, the ring Moon-and-Star, that none may wear but Nerevar himself. You should talk to Ashkhan Kaushad. He  is very curious about this outlander who claims to be the Nerevarine.”
“Who are his gulakahns?” Fen asked.
“You don’t need to speak to the gulakahns,” the girl said dismissively. “Our ashkhan does not care for ceremony. If you are well-mannered, enter his yurt.”
“Won’t he be asleep?” Julan asked.
“The Zainab are not lazy like you city-folk,” the girl said proudly. “We rise with the sun. See, our tribe is waking.” Indeed, more Ashlanders had emerged from their yurts and were moving about the camp in a familiar-looking pattern, carrying furs and baskets and hides from place to place. Fen thanked the girl, who merely went back to watching her guar, and they entered the camp. Fen tried to ignore the way the Ashlanders stopped to stare as she passed.
Ashkhan Kaushad was a powerful-looking man, trim and muscular. He wore his dark hair caught up in a kind of circlet, and gold hoops studded his ears. When they entered, he was kneeling at a low table, using some kind of amber-colored sap to fletch racer plumes to a steel arrow. When the tent flap fell closed, he gazed at them all deeply, then stood up. His height was unnerving, his head nearly grazing the ceiling of his yurt.
“So.” He went around the table and stood before Fen, gazing down on her. “You are Fen. The outlander who claims to fulfill the Nerevarine prophecies. You are welcome to our hospitality, outlander. But you must tell us... how can an outlander be the Nerevarine?” And so Fen explained all she knew to him, showed him Moon-and-Star, the Teeth of the Urshilaku, and the Madstone of the Ahemmusa.
“Ho, ho!” Kaushad laughed suddenly, turning and walking around to the table again. “Excuse me. Do not think me rude. But seriously. Do you believe this story yourself? I mean no offense, but you must admit, you are an outlander, and completely ignorant of our ways. How could you ever be our war leader? What sensible ashkhan would ever choose you to lead the tribes? Ho, ho.” Still chuckling, Kaushad picked up the arrow and poked the racer plume into place, clearly expecting them to leave. Julan started to say something indignantly, but Fen elbowed him.
“Set me a task.”
“Pardon?” Kaushad turned around.
“Set me a task. Something I can do to prove to you that I am the Nerevarine.” Kaushad glared at her for a moment.
“Very well. A vampire named Calvario has taken refuge in nearby Nerano Ancestral Tomb. If you are as worthy as you say you are, it should be a small matter for you to dispose of this vampire. There. You have your task. Now perhaps you would leave me in peace for a bit?” Fen was about to leave, but Shani spoke first.
“Calvario is dead already, Ashkhan Kaushad. For I hunt with the Ahemmusa, and three weeks ago we entered a tomb to take shelter from a storm and purged everything from within.” Noticing Kaushad’s look, she added quickly, “Fen hunted with us that day. She is a Clanfriend of the Ahemmusa, and it was her arrow that ended the monster’s life.”
“So you killed the vampire Calvario?” Kaushad said, and Fen nodded. “Well. I will be happy to acknowledge you as Zainab Nerevarine. But...” he paused, then a great smile spread across his lips. “It is customary for one seeking an honor from the Ashkhan to offer the Ashkhan a generous gift as a mark of respect. Because you are an outlander, and do not know our customs, I will do you the great favor of naming the gift I wish to receive – a high-born Telvanni bride – a pretty one, plump, with big hips to bring me many sons.”
“A – a Telvanni bride?”
“Where will you find a high-born Telvanni bride?” Kaushad went on, ignoring her. “That is simple. You should visit high-born Telvanni lords and inform them that Ashkhan Kaushad of the Lordly Zainab would do them the honor of making their daughter his bride. Surely many Telvanni lords would be honored to receive such an offer. Consider carefully the many daughters offered and choose for me the finest. Take counsel with my wise woman, Sonummu Zabamat. She knows my mind well in such matters.” With that, he shooed them away, out into the camp again.
“What an asshole!” Julan exploded once they were outside. A woman with two children beside her glared at them and hurried her children away. “What an arrogant, full-of-himself bastard!”
“Quiet, Julan,” Fen hissed. “You’re talking about these people’s ashkhan.”
“We’re never going to find a Telvanni that will marry an Ashlander,” Shani said wearily.
“Who says?” Julan snapped, drawing himself up. “I would consider it an honor to marry an Ashlander chief. Just not that idiot.”
“We should ask the wise woman,” Fen said, passing them and heading towards the largest yurt. “Nibani told me that she is more sensible that her ashkhan.”
The wise woman, Sonummu Zabamat, was just inside the door of her yurt, closing the lid of an urn with her arms full of saltrice. She recognized Fen and invited them to sit, and when she had served them tea and heard of Fen’s predicament, she laughed without humour.
 “Kaushad wants a Telvanni bride, eh? No high-born Telvanni would wed an Ashlander.” Sonummu took a thoughtful sip of tea. “But I have a plan. Go to my friend, Savile Imayn, slavemistress of the Festival Slave Market in Tel Aruhn, and tell her you need a pretty Dunmer slave to pose as a Telvanni lady. Then Savile Imayn will tell you what clothes to buy, and will dress her like a high-born Telvanni. Then escort the pretty slave to Zainab camp and present her to Ashkhan Kaushad as a high-born Telvanni bride. He won’t know the difference.”
“Perfect,” Fen said breathlessly. “Thank you.”
“We’re getting him a slave?” Julan said indignantly as they left. “Because no Telvanni would ever agree to marry an Ashlander?! Stuck up fools. I don’t think we should be supporting the slave trade.”
“Okay,” Shani said scathingly. “Plan B. We dress you up as the Telvanni bride.” Julan choked.
“Fine! We’ll get a slave! I guess she’d be better off as an Ashkhan’s bride than a slave anyway.”
“Right,” Fen said, unrolling her map. “Let’s get going. If we leave now we can make it to Tel Aruhn before noon.” They walked across the Grazelands for the rest of the day, then water-walked the short distance through Zafirbel Bay until they reached Tel Aruhn. It was a small Telvanni town, all the mushroom-grown houses centering around the large main tower, and it was warmer here, being closer to Red Mountain. The slave market was on the outskirts, beside a large building. Circular pods hung from a wooden railing, each one holding a slave on display, enclosed by sturdy-looking wooden bars that latched over the openings of the pods. Fen approached the woman standing under an awning near the pods, a Dunmer wearing a brazenly gold dress that was counting drakes from a lockbox. Thunder boomed overhead as Fen approached, and the woman looked up, surveying Fen critically.
“Savile Imayn?” The woman nodded, and Fen explained her situation while Julan muttered under his breath behind her. When Fen was finished, Savile broke into hysterical laughter. Julan’s voiced raised, but before Fen had to do anything, Shani stamped on his foot, hard.
“You – you want a slave to pose as a high-born Telvanni?” Savile said, wiping tears of laughter from her eyes. “So she can marry and Ashlander?”
“Yes,” Fen said curtly. She was beginning to dislike the slave business almost as much as Julan.
“Oh, that Sonummu. Well, I do have the slave you want, Falura Llervu, a pretty Dunmer girl. But first you must get something to dress her in. Go to Tel Mora, to the clothier there, and get her a dress. Like this one,” she added, showing Fen her own dress. “Something a Telvanni lady would wear. Pick up some shoes as well. And get a bottle of Telvanni bug musk. Bring them to me, and then we will discuss a price for her.” Fen glanced at the pod hanging right beside Savile and saw it contained a young Dunmer woman, staring silently at the ground.
“Right,” Fen said, turning to Julan and Shani. She handed them a few drakes. “I’ll fly to Tel Mora and get everything. You two get out of the cold and meet me back here in an hour.”
“Sure!” Shani said brightly, and they went off to the Tradehouse while Fen oriented herself toward Tel Mora with her map. It only took her about fifteen minutes to water-walk there, though she ended up moving through the sheeting rain that began as soon as she took to the sky. She managed to find a dress that she assumed would be up to Savile’s standards and paid the full three hundred drakes for it, too tired to waste time haggling with the clothier. She wanted to have the Zainab’s assurance of loyalty before the day was over. She picked up a bottle of Telvanni bug musk, a potent perfume, and flew the short trip back to Tel Aruhn as the rain subsided.
“Now, let me tell you my price,” Savile said slyly as Fen landed again and showed her the dress. “For this superb specimen, skillfully coached to play her part in your little scheme, I am pleased to accept from you the modest sum of twelve hundred drakes. And I only offer you this special price out of my friendship for Sonummu Zabamat.”
“Fine,” Fen replied. “That’s fine.” She counted the gold out of her bag and handed it to Savile, who greedily tucked the drakes into her lockbox. Savile drew forth a key and unlocked the Dunmer woman’s cage, and the wooden bars swung open.
“There you are,” she said, chuckling, then went back to counting her drakes. Fen walked up the few stone stairs to the pod. Falura Llervu stood silent, staring at the ground.
“Falura?” Fen said softly.
“Yes, sera. Falura Llervu of Velothis Haven, daughter of Andrano Llervu, lord of Tel Llervu, pleased to make your acquaintance.” Falura curtsied and gave Fen a tentative smile. “See? Savile Imayn has taught me well. I shall be a high-born Telvanni lady, and no one will know the difference. Just like a lady. I admit, I am a little anxious about marrying an Ashlander, even an Ashlander chief, but anything is better than being a slave, and I am very tough and smart, and determined to make the best of my chances.” She smiled determinately.
“Here,” Fen said, handing her the dress and the Telvanni bug musk.
“Oh, sera!” Falura exclaimed. “These clothes! They are divine! Such a perfume! Only the very rich can afford this! I shall do everything I can to please you and my new master...that is, my gracious lord and husband-to-be.” Falura slipped into the dress and dabbed the bug musk on her wrists and under her jaw. Fen helped her pull her auburn hair into an elegant twist and secured it with an emerald-encrusted comb she had picked up. “Come!” Falura said when they had finished. “I am so excited, I cannot wait! Let us travel together to Zainab camp and meet this Zainab lord!” They found Shani and Julan just leaving the Tradehouse, thankfully, not drunk. When Julan saw Falura, his eyes seemed to widen.
“That’s our Telvanni bride?” he whispered to Fen.
“Yes,” she muttered back, taking out her map. “Falura Llervu.”
“I’ll talk to her, Fen,” Julan assured her, though Fen had shown no sign of anxiety about taking Falura to Kaushad. “I’ll tell her about how it’s really all right to live in an Ashlander camp.” With that, Julan fell behind and into step with Falura, while Fen and Shani led the way. There was no quick way to get to the Zainab camp from Tel Aruhn, so they were just going to cross the Zafirbel  Bay, then walk to the camp from there.
“Julan’s found himself a girlfriend,” Shani giggled, glancing back at Julan and Falura. She looked completely enraptured with whatever he was saying. Shani dissolved into giggles again. “Just like him, too.”
“As long as they don’t fall in love and run off together,” Fen said. “I just want to get her to Kaushad and finish this.” Light was fading quickly as they reached the water. Fen, Julan, and Shani could all water-walk, but Falura could not. Fen gave Falura a potion that would give her the ability for two minutes before Julan could offer to carry her.
They reached land again and started the walk through the Grazelands to the Zainab camp. Fen guessed it would take them about two hours. She and Shani talked a little, and at some point Julan jogged up to talk to them.
“Falura’s amazing!” he said excitedly. “The things she’s endured would break anyone, but she’s so brave! She’s determined to get everything she can out of life, whatever happens, even if it means becoming the Telvanni bride of an Ashlander she’s never met.”
“Real charmer, leaving her to walk by herself while we gossip,” Shani said wryly, pinching Julan’s arm, and she fell back to talk to Falura.
“She is amazing,” Julan said defensively to Fen, rubbing his arm. “I fell bad for her, having to marry that swollen-headed Kaushad.”
“Or are you jealous?” Fen asked slyly. Julan flushed.
“No – no! I just – she  just – nevermind.” Fen pushed him playfully. At some point, the group shifted again and Falura walked beside Fen, her eyes trained on the ground.
“Your friend Julan has been talking to me,” she said. “And I am not so scared to be marrying an Ashlander anymore. It will be better than that slave pod, in any case.” Falura glanced at Fen. “He also told me that you are the Nerevarine, sera.” Fen showed Falura Moon-and-Star, glittering faintly on her finger. “How can this be?” Falura whispered. “An outlander, the Nerevarine? But…” Falura shook her head, smiling. “Such wonders in this world. Yesterday I was a slave in Tel Aruhn. Now I am on my way to marry an Ashlander chief.”
“Yes. And we’re nearly there.” Fen pointed, and they saw the Zainab camp just ahead, nestled between two hills. Falura took a deep breath.
As they entered the camp, the Ashlanders stared openly again, this time more at Falura in her dazzling gold dress than at Fen.
“Julan, perhaps you and Shani should stay here,” Fen said when they were outside the Ashkhan’s yurt. “It’ll be a bit of a squeeze with all of us.”
“No,” Falura said suddenly. They all looked at her, and she blushed. “I’m sorry – I mean…I want all my friends to come with me.” She blushed even more fiercely. “You three are the only people who have ever been kind to me.” Fen thought she saw Julan and Falura sneak a glance at one another before they went in.
“This is my new bride?” Kaushad asked promptly as they entered. He walked around Falura in a slow circle, examining her up and down. “I am very pleased with your gift, Fen...though she is not so generous in the hips as I would like. I promise to make her a happy bride, and to do her honor as a high-born Telvanni lady. And, as I have said, I will now name you Zainab Nerevarine, War Leader of the Zainab, and Protector of the People.” He took a spiky blue amulet with a racer plume drilled into it from around his neck and held it out to Fen. “I must also give you the Zainab Thong, an enchanted heirloom of the tribe, which shall be a sign to all Dunmer that the Zainab have named you Nerevarine.” Falura asked a moment to speak to them before they left, and Kaushad agreed.
“Thank you, sera,” Falura told Fen, hugging her tightly when they stood outside Kaushad’s yurt. “You have given me more than I could ever repay. He is very distinguished-looking, isn’t he? A bit severe, perhaps, but the lines on his face, there, show that he likes to smile. Oh, sera. I think I will be very happy.” She hugged Fen again, then did the same with Shani, and with Julan, who blushed fiercely when she gave him a kiss on the cheek before slipping inside the yurt again.
“Three down, one to go,” Shani said as Fen slipped the Thong over her head, where it rested with the Teeth of the Urshilaku. “Then all the Great House councilors.” Fen frowned.
“I have a feeling they will be harder to convince.” 

I apologise for the lateness of this chapter. I was having issues with my internet connectivity all yesterday.

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