The Savior – Snippet 21
She began to take her archery practice as seriously as she had when she was in operational command of the women’s auxiliary. She rose early and worked with a former soldier who was on staff as a guard with knife and gun. The skills came back to her fairly quickly. In the afternoon she tried to put into practice what she had learned in the morning, although, as always, she avoided firing her pistol inside the compound.
She studiously avoided Edgar, and it seemed he was doing the same with her. He was much better now and began to take rides in the countryside. She had figured it would not be long until he strayed around the southern lake shore and wandered the league and a half into Hestinga. This was the longest time she’d ever seen Edgar go without visiting a tavern or whorehouse.
Plenty of people made the journey both ways every day. The children who were learning to read and do arithmetic rode donts or were trundled to and fro inside dak wagons to the private school in Hestinga where the better-off families had hired tutors, often moonlighting Regular officers or priests, to teach their children what they would need to know to maintain their status in society.
One of these students was Loreilei, of course. Mahaut knew that Loreilei was using her trips into town to visit with Frel, who now was apprenticing afternoons with Reidel, the civil engineer, while he finished his studies. They seemed to have taken her advice to heart, at least the part about not running off to be married so early. She hoped that Loreilei was being careful in other ways as well.
Frel had to come to Lilleheim occasionally on business from his master. Reidel was trusting him more and more with the layout of irrigation systems, especially the simple ones that fed off of a central ditch leading from the lake. Often Frel stayed the night in Lilleheim with a couple who were friends with his father. Mahaut was not surprised on those nights to wander by Loreilei’s bed and notice that the sleeping form under the covers looked suspiciously like a pile of pillows.
She’d received word from Jeptha Marone, both in coded scrolls sent along the trader network and from the more expensive flitterdak winged messengers used for important matters. Marone had discovered that there was a child, but he had few other details, and was following up on the matter. The woman had moved back to her parents in Lindron, while her husband remained in Garangipore as the Eisenach factor. Mahaut had considered having the man assassinated, but he was well-guarded and his death would not serve as just revenge, in any case. He was a wronged party in this matter, and if anyone had a legitimate grievance against Edgar, it was him.
Besides, mere assassination wouldn’t be enough.
In the meantime, there was grain to grow, harvests to get in, and contracts to fulfill. Together with her weapons practice, her days were completely filled. She had to arrange beforehand for moments of necessary rest, or those moments would never come.
Firing guns on the range was exhilarating, and the archery was calming in its way. She’d been shooting with a bow and arrow almost before she could walk. She hardly needed to think during practice, only draw the bow and listen to the arrow sing on its way to her targets. Sometimes her mind wandered, and when it did, usually she was thinking about the man, Abel Dashian.
With all that was going on here, and with Abel’s studies in Lindron, they hadn’t arranged to get together in over ten months.
Ten months, eighteen days and counting, she thought. Too long.
She liked to imagine him sitting still after lovemaking, the way he did. He would hardly move a muscle, listening with that slightly puzzled look to what he called his “inner voices.” She didn’t know who or what these voices were, but she imagined they were just part of himself that he’d attached personalities to, as a lonely child might invent an imaginary friend. Whatever they were, she understood they were important to Abel, and she never made light of him in these moments of communion.
Abel always acted calmly and decisively after such a spell, but it was in that quiet moment before taking action that he was most like a child overcome with wonder. It was as if he were seeing a world vastly larger than everyone else, vastly more complex and more beautiful. It made Abel himself seem otherworldly, filled with an inner light. And it was the vulnerability he showed when concentrating on those thoughts, those voices, the intensity he put into making a decision, that she most loved.
That she longed for.
Mahaut let go the arrow and it flew into the target, striking a thumb’s length from the bull’s-eye. This was the long-range arrow, the white-fletched one with the less damaging tip. She needed to practice with both versions, and next she pulled a black-fletched arrow with its double-notched feathers from her quiver. This was the mankiller. It had a shorter range than the white-fletched arrows, but its strike was meant to tear a jagged hole in a man when it struck, and take him down quickly.
She had notched the arrows on her bowstring when a beaded curtain over a doorway in the courtyard rattled and was pushed aside. She took the arrow off the bow and set the bow down, not putting the arrow back in the quiver. Maybe this would be a short interruption and she could quickly get back to shooting.
It was Loreilei. And she was not walking toward Mahaut, she was running. As she drew closer, Mahaut saw that tears were running down her cheeks. Her face was flushed.
“Aunt!” She called out. “Auntie Mahaut!”
“What is it, niece?”
“You have to come,” gasped Loreilei as she charged up to Mahaut. “He’s going to kill Frel!”
“What are you talking about? Who is going to kill Frel?”
“My uncle, that’s who,” said Loreilei, now shouting into Mahaut’s face. “You have to stop him.”
Edgar. Up to his old tricks.
Mahaut took the girl’s hand, gave it a quick squeeze. “Yes, of course I’ll come. But where are we to go?”
“The entranceway chapel. He caught us in there, Frel and me. We were only talking. Just talking. He said Frel was insulting the Family and he was going to make him pay.”
“What?” said Mahaut. “Frel never insulted this Family. He’s a good kid.”
“Uncle Edgar said he’d insulted it by being with me. Because he is the son of a Redlander barbarian, and he’s with me.”
“How does he even know about that?”
“He was in Hestinga yesterday. He saw us together. He saw us kiss. Come!”
Mahaut quickly followed the distraught girl out of the courtyard and through the maze of passageways that led to the family chapel. It was a large empty room used for Thursday school gatherings and other religious ceremonies. It was also a place for reflection and meditation. Almost nobody used it for that, of course, so Mahaut suspected Loreilei wasn’t telling the whole truth. It was the perfect place for clandestine meetings between lovers. The chapel was empty but for one thing: there was a room-size pyramid at the front built as a replica of the great step pyramid of Lindron, where the spirit of Zentrum was said to dwell.
Frel was lying at the bottom of the altar with Edgar standing over him. When they drew near they saw that Frel’s face was badly bruised and scraped up. His lip and nose were bleeding, and one eye was swollen.
Edgar turned to Mahaut. “What? Oh, curse it all, what is it now?”
“This? Why should I? Do you know what this piece of trash was trying to do?” Edgar raised a hand. In it was a pistol. Mahaut stopped in her tracks. “He and dear niece there were going at it behind the altar. Going at it like rutting donts, they were. And when I kicked him off her, she told me that they were going to run away together. How very sweet.” He aimed the pistol at Frel’s prostrate form. “But I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
“Please don’t shoot him!” Loreilei whimpered. She rushed forward, but Edgar cocked the pistol, and she, too, stopped.
“It would be better if you stay where you are, niece,” Edgar said.