This is Part Two of my short story, Daughter of the Righ — set in the same fantasy world as my novels Color Mage and Sword of Jashan. Part One was posted yesterday. For links to the novels, please see the sidebar. Here’s a link to Part One.
Daughter of the Righ, Part Two
by Anne Marie Lutz, ©2014
Brecon’s father had long gone. She did not know what Harkold had ordered done with him; she hoped her father had shown some compassion to a man who was grieving over the loss of his only son. Silence hung over the manor house. Hira could not stop thinking about Brecon and about the terrible mistake her father had made.
But it was really Lord Laikon who had ordered this done. Hira knew her father, weak and submerged in old patterns of grief for her dead mother, slave to the demands of the Collar the King had placed on him when he was a young man. He lived half out of the world, which was why Hira had been free to live as she chose instead of how society dictated she should be raised.
Harkold would never have gone so far. It was Laikon who would pay.
A board creaked outside her door. There was a guardsman there, and another on the muddy grass below her window. She was a prisoner.
She peered out of the window to see the guardsman Anulf, who had been her companion around the estate. He was devoted to her. Perhaps she could convince him to turn away as she fled. But then, what would Lord Laikon do to the man?
Voices murmured outside her door. It opened to admit a woman in her middle years. Her face was masked with powder, and her hair dressed with the same kind of sparkling jewels that adorned her bodice.
Hira met the visitor’s compassionate blue eyes. All her anger dropped from her. “Aunt Silva!”
The door closed and Lady Silva Mar opened her silk-clad arms and welcomed Hira into her embrace.
“I’ve missed you, Aunt Silva,” Hira said. Her voice shook.
“I do not know why Harkold did not summon me sooner,” Silva replied. She released Hira and handed her a delicate handkerchief. “Wipe your tears, Hira. This is unlike you.”
“It may be,” Hira sniffed. “Did he tell you what he has done?”
“You know your father had nothing to do with it,” Silva Mar said. “Harkold could never bring himself to do anything so violent.”
“Lord Laikon, then,” Hira said.
“Indeed. It is your own fault, my dear, for being a beauty like your mother. I wonder if Laikon knows what a wildcat he will be taking to his bed?”
Hira bared her teeth and watched Silva Mar draw back. “I will never be in his bed, Aunt. I swear – ”
“Ah, do not swear!” Silva said. “Not in this rage. You do not know where the gods may bring you.”
“Never to that man’s bed!” Hira said.
“There are worse fates,” Silva said.
Hira stared at her. Silva sat on the only chair in a cloud of expensive fabric.
“Do not stare as if I have turned into a stranger,” Silva said. “I am here to help you think, my dear. You have always known your destiny is to marry and bear righ children.”
“I knew I must marry a righ,” Hira said. “I was taught the bloodline must remain pure.”
“So we may breed more color mages, yes. How did you suppose that was going to happen? Do you think they will make pilgrimage here, to beg for the hand of a girl they have heard is rebellious and wild?”
“I am not wild. I – ”
“You are. You refused to be paraded around for marriage to the holds of the Collared Lords, or presented at Sugetre. What did you think would happen if you refused all offers to present yourself?”
“I thought I would be left alone!”
Silva waved a smooth hand. “It is impossible for a daughter of the righ to be left alone. If you would not go to them, then they will come to you. Thus Lord Laikon has done.”
“I will not marry, then.”
“Your father will require you to. If you somehow overcome his orders, the King himself will get involved and give you as a chattel to whomever he might wish. Is that what you want?”
“No.” Hira took a shawl from the foot of her bed and wrapped it around her arms. The early spring was cold now, or maybe it was Bree’s death and her aunt’s advice that made it so. The candles flickered in their silver holders as a draft came under the door.
“My girl, I know you have been allowed to do as you will here, but you knew all this.”
“Yes, but I didn’t think it would apply to me!”
Silva took a deep breath. The jewels on her dress moved with her, reflecting the candlelight. “I told Harkold it was wrong to raise you like a son. It is all the more shock now.”
“But why Laikon?”
“The man has taken a fancy to you. He likes your defiance – thinks it will help you bear strong sons.” Silva ignored Hira’s instinctive flinch. “He thinks he will tame you, perhaps. You will bear him strong righ sons, Hira, color mages all – and then you will enjoy the true advantage of marriage to a Collared Lord.”
Hira almost spat. “I will not!”
“You will bear his sons and give them over to him. And then, my dear, you will go to Sugetre – or Five Rivers – or wherever your desire takes you, knowing that he will not follow.”
“I know the Collared Lords can’t leave their lands,” Hira said. “Even father never did so. Wouldn’t he send men – or his representative – to return me to him?”
Silva laughed. “He would have no support. Once your duty is done, little Hira, you may please yourself, as long as you do nothing to publicly diminish him. We are not powerless, my dear. This is what we’re due for our compliance, and the righ men know it well.”
The caravan master gave her a scornful stare. “No.”
“What do you mean, no?” Hira almost looked over her shoulder, sure that her father’s men or even Lord Laikon’s men would be creeping up on her. “I can pay,” she added. “I have more than enough kels. You should be glad to take me.”
The man snorted. He lifted the mug and took a swallow. He wiped the foam from his lips with a sunburned hand. Then he looked up and seemed surprised to see her still there. “I know who you are, my lady. Ye’ll find no one here will agree to help a Collared Lord’s property escape from him.”
“I am no one’s property,” Hira snapped.
The man nodded. “Look, you seem a determined young lady. I wish I could help ya – I could use the kels. But nay, my life would be forfeit if anyone found out. And they would, ya know. It’s not like there are a lot of other options to get out of this rural region.”
Hira shoved back her chair and stood up. The serving maid who had shown her into the common room startled. “I thought you would hear me and help me. Brecon said – ”
The caravan master’s jaw tightened. “Don’t say that young man’s name to me. It is you who killed him, my lady. I remember him well – he tagged along with his father on more than one journey with us. He would’a made a fine man and a rich trader someday. Are you pleased with what ya’ve done?”
Hira stared. She knew her face had lost all color. “I didn’t – ”
“Go home. Be glad ya live a smooth life and can afford what ya want. Marry yer Collared Lord and quit whinin’ about how unfair life is. You’re much better off than that serving maid, or yer tenants, or yer slaves. Spoiled, that’s what ya is!”
Heat rushed to Hira’s cheeks. “How dare you!”
“I don’t know, how dare I? Ya came here and asked for it, m’lady. Prove me right now, about how privileged ya is, and report me to yer lord father or yer husband to be.”
“I won’t.” She wouldn’t do that to anyone, just for expressing an opinion. “But I don’t have to like it. All I asked was for a place in your van, and offered to pay for it. You wouldn’t treat anyone else such. Why so bitter toward the righ?”
“Because ya killed my young friend,” the master said again. “Go, now. Out of my sight!”
Hira stared for another moment, uncertain what to do. But she had no choice: she could not make this man accept her money. And there was no chance she could sneak on board a wagon when the caravan left. Bree had given her a tour of the wagons once, and she knew exactly how full they were packed and how well they were guarded from loss. She would be discovered before the day was out, and there would be nothing to keep the master from throwing her out alone into the wilderness.
She walked out of the tavern to her waiting horse, ignoring the eyes that followed her. She refused to ask for a servant to help her, so she was forced to use the block to mount. She rode away, wishing she could go anywhere else but back home.
As she left the straggly outbuildings of the village behind, she saw movement in the woods. She spurred her mount faster, wondering if bandits were hiding there, waiting for travelers with money. She kept a hand on her personal dagger as she rode by, eyeing the tree line, but whoever waited there made no move to intercept her. It was just as well – if she went through with the plan in her mind, she might have to join them.