I’m continuing the story of Willem and Torrey, who are being torn from each other on an alien world. This week the prompts were: Use ugliness in some way, or “bad to the bone” or “you never bring me flowers” or feature a best man in some way or have a character say “fiddle-dee-dee!” or use a blue moon in your tale or use a flogger, paddle or whip or “You want me to what?” or “She’s got a triple D chest and the IQ of wallpaper paste.”
Jayn poured blue wine into two glasses and pushed one across the table to Willem. He eyed it warily. The glass was beautiful and probably costly, representing the best workmanship of the Kumbh’Kaldarim. The glassmakers were famed for intricate work. All the kumbhs produced fine things for trade or the nomari, as well as objects for everyday use. That Jayn was serving him wine in a fancy glass was unexpected.
“I sincerely hope you have come to your senses. Fighting you on a daily basis is non-productive.” She sat in her usual carved chair to face him across a desk of heavy wood.
“You know why I do it. I’m a stone worker, not a reader of books. You told me I wasn’t a prisoner, I’m a guest, but whenever I try to leave—”
“You will be allowed to leave… after you give us your word—”
“Not to work with stone? What kind of promise is that? I’m a stone worker! I like working with stone. I’m good at it, too! No one in the kumbh—no one—isn’t that the law?—eats foods or earns a bed unless he does work. My family’s a good one. We work hard and always earn our portion. I won’t become a shame on them, or myself.”
She regarded him with the same unrelenting look she’d worn for three days. “And I won’t let any shame fall on your family. Your work will change, that’s all. It will be… less dangerous. You can polish stone instead of cut it. Work on small pieces, not monumental ones.”
“I’m tall and broad, and strong. I’m useful for bigger stonework. And I’m younger than old Thom. Just as good as he is, too, at carving nomari likenesses for commissions. Their faces, you know, and human ones, too… not everyone has the knack for getting them right.”
“Your skill will be missed, that’s true. Thom has petitioned for your return. What I want you to understand, Willem, is your importance to this kumbh.”
He snorted at that. Importance? Just a few weeks ago she’d threatened to barter him off to help keep kumbh bloodlines from getting inbred and stagnant. To hell with what he thought about that plan.
“You don’t see yourself as I now do. Torrey never made many friends. My youngest son was sheltered as a boy, and forbidden to take part in activities other boys enjoyed. His health and looks were too important, and so was his gentle nature. I wanted him to be a scholar, and a scholar is what he became.” She cocked her head and studied Willem with her chin lifted. “But the one thing I could never get him to stop doing was find ways to be with you. Why do you think I stopped attempting to prevent your meetings and allowed your trysts to take place without hindrance?”
“So he’d stop having to climb down starflower vines or climb to the roof?”
“Yes. He was willing to risk everything to be with you. Life, limb, his future. I didn’t want my son falling from the roof, gashing himself, breaking his neck in the dark.” She sighed. “There’s a point at which a mother must concede defeat and take the path of more wisdom. At least taste the wine, Willem. Manners will do you good.”
He had manners. He just hadn’t used them with her. Willem took up the glass and sipped. The wine was the watery hue of a new, blue moon but it tasted woodsy sweet.
“As I was saying, Torrey never made many friends. Now he’s the Queen’s Chosen and isolated terribly from others of his kind. A few humans, mostly slaves and perhaps artisans or emissaries, might see him, but it would be unwise for him to trust them. He needs someone to trust, someone to connect with. You can still be that person.” She rummaged in her desk. When she was done, she laid sheets of paper on the table, along with an array of writing implements and a bottle of ink. “You see, Torrey doesn’t fully trust me, not yet, though I hope he’ll remember my promise to never fail him. You, however, are someone he does trust. And I believe there’s far more to it than that. I believe you and he have sworn hearts.”
Jayn knew he and Torrey were heartsworn? Did she really think he was going to talk with her about that? Willem looked away, not really looking for escape but wishing he could be someplace else… with someone else.
“Whether that’s true or not, you have more of Torrey’s trust than anyone else. He sent his first communication to this kumbh to you, not to me or the kumbharani. You answered my first question, which was whether the letter was from him. Now for my second question: was he being coerced?”
Forced? Willem tried to recall the exact words of the letter. “No. I don’t think so.”
“It’s unlikely. Cyrrhi would have no reason. Did he encrypt a secret message?”
Willem looked up to meet Jayn’s penetrating gray gaze. It reminded him of Torrey’s and he hated how she seemed to look straight into him.
“Willem,” she continued, “I’m aware young lovers create codes and secret languages to communicate with each other… particularly when they foresee being wrongfully parted. Youthful love is all very tragic. And very useful as well. I’m not going to ask you to reveal your secrets. But I will keep you with me, here in my house, and teach you new skills that will not put you at risk. Torrey needs you in his life. And we need you in Torrey’s ear.” She gestured at the paper and ink. “Write. He expects a letter tonight. Write whatever you want—but my son will get his letter.”
Willem took up the pen. He and Torrey had anticipated this. The first letter was a test to see who wrote back….
Thanks for reading! If you’re looking for more fun, free fiction use the links below to visit the blogs of the other Wednesday Briefers.