It was as Lathie had said, the Zalethi mused as the dinner continued. It was bound to be tedious. Ah, and she was so fidgety, uncomfortable, even. She had a diplomatic lesson to teach before the end and every sluggish second of the dinner meant she was coming closer to that threshold.
After which she could finally withdraw to her rooms and deal with her newest headache – the girl sitting right next to her. Lathie seemed to have taken a real liking to her. Her other slavegirls surely did not share the same feeling, but she did not really care to now listen to their laments.
The servants filled and emptied plates, made sure each of the guests had everything prepared and served at once – it was a well-working machine she had made sure to hone to perfection through the decades, the centuries. In the past she had felt pleasure and even pride at how well that had turned out.
Now… she preferred to play in her mind the smell of the new girl’s scent. She was different than most, her skin had a drier scent, earthier, like she was made out of clay and bottled spirit. A most amusing though, coming from her. She had seen how the girl had at first looked up at her, with true devotion and admiration to her form.
Would she ever be as spontaneous? She would like her to be…
She turned to regard Thesanthei, who was engaged in a conversation with the Sabja dignitary who sat next to him. The First Bridge Warden, she remembered. One of the highest ranks in Sabja society, he drank from every word out of the old man’s lips, confident he would hastily be able to tell the truth from the honeyed lies.
Inside herself the Zalethi smiled. Her old friend back to his old tricks. He might prod her for her impatience, but he surely was a snake that never slept.
The others, she thought regarding the rest of the banquet, sometimes did. She singled out the Loukomon she had to make an example of, a portly man who seemed a far too pleased with himself considering where his greed had taken him.
Why did she have to always make an example out of these people? Why did these Children never learn? They never grew better on their own, and if anything it seemed her ability to influence them had diminished greatly.
Perhaps one day she wouldn’t even be able to hold up her promise.
That feeling settled unpleasant in her body, like a prickly feeling starting atop her dark fingers and then turning into grinding cold into her heart. She wanted to get rid of it.
Perhaps a new start truly was what she needed.
As soon as Lathie helped her finding the pattern, she could start to truly wonder about that.
As for her slavegirl… she did not lie. She did look good and clean up nicely. Perhaps they would test her faith further in a few hours.
For the time being, it was more or less the only thing keeping her focused.
Eteri did not expect a Noble to be so curious.
Lathie did ask many questions, about the better ores, about the best cooking methods and techniques, what kind of temperatures her oven could reach and how much ash to add to the mixture. Where to take the best water – how much should she pour and when. If to use a cast and how.
With each question she could pull back more information from the well of her own experiences with her father, which made sitting there on a pillow, looking up at a Noble as they chatted and she ate with her own hands a dinner of soup and garlic bread and dried fruit, more bearable.
In fact, words and minutes passed her by like a gentle wind. She started to feel like she might even begin to trust this Lathie person. Now that they were both at the direct service of the Zalethi, they had more in common. And while his interest for ceramic was less passionate than her own, colder and more analytic, she felt that he did seem to understand most of what made her like it so much.
“I am especially interested in this,” he said between dishes, pulling out a roll of paper from his bag. He showed her a series of geometric patterns, seemingly abstract and geometric lines that nevertheless pulled at something behind Eteri’s ears.
It was like catching the sight of something that moved very fast, or a dark outline against a black background. You could almost see where the entirety of the shape would take form, almost point out what it was, but it still remained out of reach.
He showed her dotted lines and spirals – some of them she did believe she recognized. At certain times they brought her right into her workshop with apa as he showed her the traditional decorations that had been in their family for centuries, passed over from father to son through the grind of time.
But these were different. She had a hunch like they could be combined, but…
“Hm, you don’t seem to recognize any of them,” Lathie mused, rolling the paper up.
“My apologies,” she blinked and came back. “I hoped I could be of more use.”
“More than I hoped and surely more than I believed,” he reassured her with a smile.
She bowed her head, feeling like a thief for the single bout of gladness she felt at those words. She was not deserving of any praise. She was there talking with Nobles while her family must be worried sick about her.
They must be. The thought settled into her stomach like a boulder.
And then the Zalethi stood up. She raised a goblet full of wine to the heavens. It left her hand and floated in the air.
“A toast,” she commanded. “To the Twelve. And to all of us, convened tonight.”
Eteri shuddered. Was it just her or the Zalethi’s tone had shifted?
“This might not be a pleasant occasion for all of us, though. Lathie?”
“That would be my cue.”
Author’s Notes: thanks for reading.