Spear Gate — Chapter Twelve, Pt. 2

Esmina focused on the ground as they walked. What did that mean? The supposed drunkard was too well dressed, and spending money frivolously… And beyond that, the two men made no move now to hide their connection to each other. That must have organized known each other and planned the little scheme earlier today.

This was all a stunt to remind her who was in charge… And to show her what resources Berold had at his disposal. What a loathsome creature. She held her fury tight in her fists but kept her mouth shut. There was nothing to be done.


Soon they made their way into the Ministry offices, the dark browns and greens dimly lit by lanterns mounted on the wall. There was an older gentleman looking through spectacles as he scanned through the contents of some document on his desk. As the two of them walked in, his eyes lifted up, and Esmina could see the frown on his face even underneath his thick mustache. “Good evening,” he said in a gruff tone.

“Salutations,” her father replied. “Berold Rhaun. Come to finalize paperwork and acquire my Night Seal.”

“I was expecting you earlier.”

“My apologies. My daughter delayed my arrival, for she needed extra time to prepare for the trip.”

Now Esmina was frowning. What use was there in lying? Besides, they weren’t late. Her father had told her they wouldn’t be coming here until after sundown.

“Better late than never, I suppose,” the man at the desk said. “Let me see your papers.”

Berold walked over and put the writ on the desk, sliding it over. Esmina had stayed back near the door, silent.

“Alright, I’ll send for somebody to retrieve it.” He pulled a bell from beneath his desk and rang it a few times.

Within moments, a servant opened a nearby door. “Yes, sir?”

“Take our guest into the lower chambers to fetch him a Night Seal, would you?”

“Yes, sir.” He beckoned Berold to follow him, and the two left without so much as a glance towards Esmina.

The room was left in an uncomfortable silence as the man at the desk went back to his work.

“Um…” Esmina asked. “Can I ask you something?”

He did not look up. “Stupid questions don’t get answers. What.”

Was everyone in high society like her father? “A Night Seal only protects one person at a time, right? The one holding it?”

He rolled his eyes and glanced at her, annoyance painted all over his face. “Night Seals are just a formality. You’re not going to die if you are caught outside without one. Going to jail for not paying money for the privilege is the worst of your fears.”

That was some comfort at least. Her father wasn’t putting her in danger for dragging her along when they only had one Night Seal.

“Then what’s the point? What are they beyond expensive rocks?”

“Nothing. They’re just shards of the only constructor to ever die. One of the last kings of Upper Terrace had some publicity stunt to chop its corpse up into pieces and sell it to noblemen to boost the economy.” He looked back down at his documents and started scribbling on them. “Don’t let fanciful stories of the Maker’s magic fool you. All of those were stupid questions, but I was nice and answered them anyway. Now shut up, I have work to do.”

She gulped and looked away. What a pleasant fellow. She had known Night Seals were fragments of the only constructor to have ever died — that’s why they tended to be more common closer to the heart of Tebrein — but hadn’t heard any history lesson associated with them. Maybe her research wasn’t as extensive as she had thought. Or maybe he was just lying.

Soon, her father returned alone, holding a small stone. The shard of the constructor was encased in a smooth blue rock, somewhat translucent but not quite glass. Even long dead as it was, the metal inside seemed to glow with a faint, triumphant air to it.

“The paperwork is all settled, I presume?” Berold asked.

“Yes, yes,” the old clerk waved a hand at him. “I’d like to sleep at a reasonable hour tonight, so please be on your way.”

Her father nodded, turning to Esmina. His scowl made her glance nervously about herself, wondering what she had done wrong.

“Alright, let’s go home.” He passed her on the way to the door, opening it and stepping back outside as he pocketed the Night Seal.

“Home, or back to the inn?” she asked, following after him.

“I don’t intend to repeat myself.”

Maybe she could get some sleep on the carriage.

Spear Gate — Chapter Twelve, Pt. 1

(Mild content warning on this one.)


It was dark before Esmina found her way back to the Liar’s Respite, and despite her heart pounding in fear and exertion as she raced back, it was met with no words at all on her father’s part. As relieved as she was, though, she was afraid she might face repercussions later.

They had gotten two rooms, adjacent to each other. The Tenshari servant standing guard outside had been kind in greeting, as Berold had probably paid him to be. Since they had brought almost none of their own servants with them to Tal’Doraken, it seemed her father was being generous with his coin.

Esmina retired into her rooms, as silently as possible so as not to rouse her father. She found that her trunk had been brought to her room, and after changing into a nightgown fell back onto her bed with a lazy sigh.

She didn’t have any way to know for sure, but she could have sworn her father had waited until she started drifting her off to sleep to wake her up.

“Esmina,” he said, swinging the door open without so much as a knock of warning. “Time to go.”

She woke back up with a start. Looking out the window, it seemed just as dark as it was when she first walked in, but that wasn’t saying much.

“Quickly now,” he demanded. “We have places to be.”

“May I at least clothe myself, father?” she asked.

“Don’t be daft,” he rolled his eyes. “I’m not going to whisk my daughter away unclothed. What kind of father do you take me for? You have three minutes.” And with that, he closed the door. Yesterday, that would have been a stupid question. He was cruel, but not stupid. But then he bought a drunkard as her escort through the city.

Soon, she was dressed once again in a simple long tunic and leggings. Fresh clothes, in case anyone recognized her. Besides, they would only be here for the day, and she had packed an excess.

Soon her and her father were back in the streets of the city. It was colder than she remembered it being. Had she actually fallen asleep for a while, or was it the panic of running back to the inn that made her misremember?

Her father seemed to be in a bad mood, which she considered a small blessing, because they did not speak much as they made their way through the sparse torchlight of the city. Berold held the Night Seal writ in his hands, all but marching towards the Ministry Office as they went. The streets were mostly empty now, with some Tenshari servants milling about.

She kept quiet, avoiding anything that might cause him to speak to her. As they walked she noticed that the buildings on the street they were currently on had enormous windows, almost walls of glass. So much glass had to cost an insane amount of money, and it was everywhere. They had no signs announcing what kind of establishment they were, but whatever their purpose was, they were towing the line as to what religious customs regarded as ‘indoors’. Esmina paled when she stole a glance inside.

Several women walked around inside, wearing little more than undergarments as they tended to their patrons. Aenias above, those two didn’t even have that much decency. And what was that one doing to…

“We’re walking next to the brothels?” Esmina hissed, voice hushed.

“It’s the quickest way to the Ministry Offices,” her father replied, unconcerned. It was not a defense, it was the simple explanation.

I’m fourteen, father,” she said.

“And yet I imagine you’re still older than some of the workers here.”

She was so appalled she almost retched. What had gotten into him lately? “This is too far,” she said.

He glanced down at her. “You may not care for me very much, but know that this is a life you do not have to endure. This is the life of many an orphan with nowhere else to go.”

She broke his gaze. Another one of his vile lessons. Her eyes wandered to another one of the buildings, and to her amazement she recognized the drunkard from earlier today, with a… maid, sitting on his lap. He was well dressed now, and he gazed outside as the two of them passed.

Some primal fear caught Esmina as she looked away, ashamed and embarrassed that she had seen two people so… engaged. She noticed her father looking in the direction of the drunkard. They were making eye contact.

And Berold nodded to him.

Spear Gate — Chapter Eight, Pt. 4

Tavis opened the door from the foyer and stepped through, with Esmina following close behind. The first thing that caught her attention as the crossed the threshold was the change in acoustics. The dull, enclosed echo of the entryway was replaced with a deep and resonant hum of a vast hall. The building wasn’t tall, but what it lacked in height was made up for in length, as the main aisle shot directly forwards. Dozens of aisles of bookshelves stood before her like two long rows of soldiers standing in a firm and orderly salute. The room was well lit by a number of chandeliers, the flames enclosed in small lanterns to dissuade a fire from spreading should anything go wrong. There were a number of people milling about. One or two pacing down the central lane, a few more seating in nearby chairs reading just as Tavis had been. They all wore simple robes similar to the bookkeeper, but most of these people were unquestionably older.

“There must be ten thousand books in here,” Esmina gasped.

“Oh, there is certainly a good deal more than that, mil— Ms. Rhaun,” Tavis said, a proud smile on his face. “Thirty-two thousand and sixty-six, last time I checked, but I haven’t run the numbers in a few months. I’ve been procrastinating a bit, I’m afraid. I blame it on a new author I’ve recently discovered. His hypotheses on the sister-planet’s relationship to ours are quite inspiring, you see.”

Esmina stood in awe. “I don’t even know where to start. I didn’t expect quite so many books. I’m realizing I’m not quite sure what it is you do here at the Lyceum.”

The bookkeeper didn’t respond immediately. Instead, the two strolled down the hall, passing the occasional row of books as they walked. Esmina was so enthralled in this place that she didn’t mind the silence, but soon he spoke as if no time at all had passed. “Well well, that certainly is a large question, isn’t it? We do a great many things. The Lyceum contains the largest library in all of Tebrein, and being so close to the capital means that it’s always expanding. You’ll notice that the further down the lane you go, the newer the cobblestone will be. As for myself, it is my task to manage all of the books and return them to their places on the shelves in the evening. Many of the scholars here aren’t long term, however. Nearly all of these faces will be different in time.”

Esmina frowned. “I’ve heard that this is a place of education. People spend years of their lives in these halls studying.”

“Oh, yes, it is certainly a place of education,” Tavis said. “But I would say that it would be more accurate to refer to the Lyceum as a place of focused knowledge. When knowledge seekers come here in search of answers to the questions that plague their lives, the Keeper gives them a field of study, and they must devote themselves to learning everything there is to know about that field. This frustrates most people, you see, because the Keeper often gives them fields they aren’t interested in, and have seemingly no correlation with their personal problems. And so most people leave within a few months. Faces come and go quite frequently around here.”

“Why would he do that?” Esmina asked with distaste. “What is the purpose of having all these books if the people that come here can’t read the ones they’re looking for?”

“I couldn’t say for certain, but the Keeper is far wiser than you or I. He sees a truth in people that they cannot see themselves. One thing I have noticed, however, is that the people who do accept the task he gives them sometimes find that truth in themselves.”

“What about you? You seem like you’ve been here a while.”

“My my, I certainly have. All my life, in fact. I had no home outside the Lyceum, you see. The Laethis family line has been a part of the Lyceum for at least two generations.”

“Two? That’s not very many.”

Tavis made a disappointed grunt at that. “My father has no knowledge of his genealogy, unfortunately.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you.”

“No matter.”

She didn’t know what to make of that statement. Had he forgiven her or glossed over the apology? The conversation stilled for an awkward moment. “What was your field of study?”

Tavis shook his head. “I was never given one. It’s rare to have the halls of the Lyceum flow through someone’s veins. The Keeper has never given me a direct task outside bookkeeping. Speaking of which, it seems the scholars are retiring to their quarters. It’s probably growing dark.”

The color drained from her face. She had lost track of time. “Oh. I had better get going then,” she said, turning around the way they had come.

Tavis followed after her. “My my, you have somewhere to be?”

“Yes, and I need to get back fast.”

“Oh dear. Will you be returning?”


In a few hurried minutes they were back in the foyer. Tavis resumed his position in the chair behind the desk. “It was certainly a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Ms. Esmina Rhaun.”

“And you as well, Tavis Laethis. May I give you something?”

“Oh, that won’t be necessary. The Lyceum is open to all individuals.”

“Yes, well, in that case, I’ll lend you something. I hope to come back one day. You can give it back to me then. But I’m under the impression it’ll be safer with you. And you may get more use out of it than I can, in the next couple of days.” She pulled out her coin purse and produced the spyglass.

“My my, what’s this?” he said, taking it.

“It’s a spyglass. A device I invented. Well, designed,” she amended. “I didn’t gather the materials or put it together, but it was my money that went into its construction. You can look through it and see far away things with greater detail. I used it to study the sister-planet.”

“Wondrous,” he marvelled as he stared through it at her, then up at the ceiling. “You would entrust me with this?”

“A scholar understands its true value,” she muttered, her tone sour. Then, she looked back to him, forgetting her troubles for a moment. “Thank you for all you’ve shown me. Until next we meet.” She bowed.

Tavis nodded, a smile on his face. “I look forward to that day.”

And with that, Esmina hastened back to the Liar’s Respite, the world darkening in the wake of the sunset.

Spear Gate — Chapter Eight, Pt. 3

The central entryway of the Lyceum was less exciting than she would have hoped. Instead of opening up to a vast expanse of books, she found herself in a relatively bland room foyer that was populated by nothing but a small, albeit full bookshelf, a small writing desk, and a thin robed man with his face buried in a tome behind it. The door closed behind her as she entered with an echoing slam. She winced at the loud interruption, but the man didn’t even lift his eyes up out of his book to address her.

Esmina floundered for a moment, lost at what she should do. “Um… Hello?” she asked. Her voice was quiet, but the stone walls made everything in this room amplify all sound.

The man lowered the book to reveal a younger face than she would have expected. The wrinkled face of her imagination was replaced by a bony cheeked face that held a goatee of thick but sparse hairs. He perhaps a decade older than her, as indicated by his widening grin.

“My my, we have a visitor!” His voice was high in pitch and spirit. “What brings you to the Lyceum, milady? Errands?” Then, he frowned, placing a quill in the book to hold his place as he closed it and set it on the desk.. “You’re too well dressed to be a servant, if you don’t mind me saying so.”

“Why would I mind being complimented?” she said. “But please, don’t call me ‘milady’.”

“Forgive me, I simply speak before thinking. It’s a familial disposition, I’m afraid. In any case, I am Bookkeeper Tavis Laethis. It is certainly a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

Esmina tugged her dress as she curtsied. “Esmina Rhaun, daughter of Lord Berold Rhaun.”

“Rhaun, you say? My apologies, but I don’t believe I’m familiar.”

“We live in a small estate outside of town. My father manages a farming hamlet called Graywood.”

“I see, I see. So. How may I be of service to you, Esmina Rhaun of Graywood?”

“Well, I consider myself something of a self-taught scholar, so I had always dreamt of coming to an established place of learning such as this.”

Tavis nodded in approval. “Good, good. I could certainly show you around if you like. What areas of study do you prefer?”

“I would love that,” she smiled back. “I hate to say it, but I don’t really have an area of study. I don’t get much access to many books where I live. My father doesn’t really approve of my studies. Though one of my servants gave me a journal of scientific studies in Thornwall for my birthday.”

“All the way from the Sanguine Archipelago? My my, I should like to take a look at that. Is it on your person?”

Esmina shook her head. “No, but perhaps I could stop by tomorrow before we return. I don’t have much time on my hands.”

“I understand,” he replied as he stood from his desk. “Well, why don’t you come this way. I’m certain you will be delighted by what we have.”

Spear Gate — Chapter Eight, Pt. 2

The drunkard wobbled to his feet, the prospect of being paid by a nobleman having done wonders for his sobriety. Esmina clenched her fists both in fury at her father and fear for what might happen.

Berold showed no concern for the situation or for his daughter. As the man shuffled towards him, he pulled out his coin purse and placed some coins into his eager palms. “That’s forty now. You’ll get the other half when you return with her safe and sound. And you take her wherever she wants to go.”

“Y-yeshir,” he slurred as he nodded a bit too vigorously.

Esmina was horrified as she witnessed this exchange. Her father turned to her and shrugged. “Be back at sundown.” And with that, he entered the Liar’s Respite. The coachman, lumbered after him, still struggling with Esmina’s trunk of clothes. Soon he too was gone, and despite the busy causeway around them, she still felt alone and defenseless.

Bracing herself, she stormed over to the drunkard, who looked like he was having trouble counting his money. As she approached, he seemed to notice her for the first time. “I can pay you the second half my father promised if you leave me to my own devices right now,” she offered.

His eyes widened at that. It would mean a free eighty dragon marks with no strings attached. Enough for a week of nice evenings, even with how poorly he probably managed his money. Instead of agreeing like she had hoped, though, a light shines in his eye. “You got more?”

Esmina blanched. That was exactly the worst question he could have asked. She was a terrible liar, and even with how drunk he was, she didn’t want to risk denying it. She guessed he was probably drunk a lot to be lucid enough to sense her desperation. “I can give you ten more.”

The drunkard tugged at his beard as a lord at dinner pondering which delicacy to taste first. “Fine. Ten marksh.”

Esmina opened her coin purse and, careful to keep the spyglass hidden, pulled out forty dragon marks. She dropped them into his hands, hoping he would either forget or miscount, and turned to go.

“Forgot some. You promised more!”

She cursed under her breath, but kept her promise. Ten more marks wouldn’t hurt much.


After some poorly worded directions and getting lost a few times, Esmina found her way to the Lyceum. It was the center of all academic study in Tal’Doraken, but rather than being one enormous building full of books as she had anticipated, the Lyceum turned out to be a wide, gated area with an elaborate garden in the center. She found the inefficient waste of space distasteful, but it was hard to be upset. She had dreamt of this moment for years.

The gates were open, and there was nobody nearby, so Esmina strolled right in. A girl her age wandering around unattended to was unusual, but if she walked with purpose people might assume she had somewhere to be.

The atmosphere was quite different here. The bustling of the busy streets wavered in the distance and was replaced by the sound of her solitary footsteps on the cobblestone. The sweet floral scent of Sorrowshade drifted into her nose as she roamed the garden. There were lots of flowers, bushes, and trees she didn’t recognize, but there were many she did.

Soon, she found herself at the doors to the main hall of the Lyceum, where she imagined the library to be. The doors weren’t large and the entire building couldn’t be more than two stories tall, but it was the largest here, and it was in the center, too. It was clearly the best place to start. Esmina took one last glance at the sun. She still had about an hour before the sun fully set.

She took a deep breath and opened the door.

Spear Gate — Chapter Eight, Pt. 1

The sound of voices and liveliness joined the ever present crunching of the carriage wheels and slapping of horse hooves against the dirt. The small windows of the carriage Esmina and her father sat in didn’t provide much insight to the commotion outside, but soon the wheels met cobblestone. They had reached Tal’Doraken.

Berold glanced out the window, looking up into the sky. He gave a short huff, but made no comment.

Esmina sat with her hands folded neatly in her lap. She stared downwards at the seat cushion across from her, trying her best not to offend her father in some ludicrous way. If she was dutiful and patient, perhaps she could get away with some time to herself while they were in the city.

“We’ll be arriving at the inn soon. It will still be a while before the sun sets, which is when we will be heading to the Ministry Offices to get the Night Seal officiated.”

Esmina made eye contact with her father. Her voice was clear, but not aggressive. “I suppose you’ll want me to stay in the room until then?”

Her father frowned. “That is how I would prefer it, yes. But today I will make no such demands. You are permitted to go about the city as you please, so long as you return before nightfall.”

Esmina’s heart leaped with joy. Father allowing her to do as she wished? Without so much as a discussion? She wondered what had gotten into him lately, but dared not question it. Instead, she smiled and nodded. “Thank you, father.”

The carriage slowed to a stop and some words were barked. She could feel movement as the coachman stepped off. A few moments later one of the doors swung open and the middle-aged man bowed to them. “We’ve arrived at the Liar’s Respite, sir. Welcome to Tal’Doraken.”

Berold gestured for his daughter to depart first, and she graciously did so. Taking the coachman’s hand, she took the large step off the carriage and into the busy streets.

There were so many people. Left and right, the lane was filled with dozens, if not hundreds of passersby. People with boxes and carts, horses and a few oxen. Some were yelling at each other or to the general masses of things they were selling, standing on stacks of crates as they did. The buildings weren’t as big as she had expected—none were nearly as large as their own estate, but most were built right next to one another. She had never seen so many people in one place before.

Her father joined the two of them, adjusting his pointed coat as he did. He scanned the nearby area, but with far less wonder than Esmina openly expressed. “Go get our things,” he told the coachman. “I want them brought to our rooms.”

His real job having been done, the coachman looked like he was about to protest, but soon thought better of it. One didn’t object to Lord Berold’s demands.

Her father walked towards the building their carriage was halted next to. The Liar’s Respite, apparently. “Father!” she called after him. “May I go now, or shall I stay?”

He waved a hand, not even turning to address her. “What do I care? Just be here before nightfall.”

Elated, she rushed over to the back of the carriage, nearly bumping into the coachman as he fumbled with her trunk of clothes. “Oh! My apologies. May I?”

“Oh, yes of course, milady,” he grunted. The trunk wasn’t meant to be carried by one man. He set it down and she opened it, pulling out her coin purse and covertly taking her spyglass and stowing that away in the purse as well.

“Oh! Esmina,” Berold said from behind her. “I almost forgot, you’ll need an escort.”

She spun around. “The coachman, I presume?”

“No, no, I need him here. You there!” he yelled, pointing at a man all but lying on the ground, half asleep as he drooled into his scraggly beard. The man, realizing he was being addressed by a nobleman, shot upright immediately. He wasn’t exactly the most sober of individuals in sight. “Eighty dragon marks says you’ll accompany my daughter to wherever she wishes. Just for an hour or two.”

Esmina paled, horror washing over her face. Assigning a drunkard to escort her across town? Did he care at all about her safety? Eighty dragon marks was no small amount, but that man could mug her—or worse—and make three times that besides with all the money she carried with her now.

With one sentence, her father had just thrown away all hope she had for enjoying herself.

Spear Gate — Chapter Four, Pt. 3 (Rewrite)

(I’ve gotten feedback that the things I was trying to do at the end of the chapter didn’t work. Coincidentally, those were also sort of pointless. So I decided to fix it up and go down a different route. This takes place after Esmina speaks with her father and goes to pack her things. I’ve included that second part even though it has changed little because now the original 4.3 post is redundant, and as far as the blog goes, you can go straight from Chapter 4.2 to 4.3’s rewrite without having to read the old 4.3 in between. In simple terms, this is the “correct” Chapter Four, Pt. 3.)


“Very well. Am I dismissed, then?”

“Yes, yes,” he nodded, waving his hand. “And be quick about it. We leave just after the Shadow ends.”

With that, she removed herself from his presence, though she was careful not to seem too hasty. As she walked down the porcelain and velvet halls back to her room, she realized that a small part of her was actually excited to get out of the house. She had only been to Tal’Doraken once, and she could barely stand on her own two legs back then. Anyone in the world would have been better company, of course, but her father sapping the joy from her bones in a new and exciting place had to be better than him doing it here.

When she got back to her room, Esmina immediately opened the trunk at the foot of her bed and began emptying it. It was mostly filled with clothes, and she also kept some of her writing implements, older notes, and a few failed experiments. She removed these, as well, since they would be no use to her in the city.

The chest vacated, she thought about what she might need. The chest was a bit large for travel purposes, but that just meant she had more room for bringing whatever she wanted. Clothes, of course. No doubt her father would want her to wear dresses the entire time. A few books perhaps. Some on history and art to appease her father, and a copy of a scientific journal written by a scholar from Thornwall that Gaelin had given her for her birthday.

She thought about bringing her new research notes about the dot. Maybe learned people in Tal’Doraken would be able to verify the authenticity of her findings. Her father wouldn’t approve, though, and he would probably want her at his side at all times. There was no reason to bring her notes, then. She did grab her spyglass and put it in the trunk, however. Not for notes, but perhaps she could find a few moments to sneak away and look at the stars.

She couldn’t think of much else to bring. Personal effects aside, anything she might need would be brought by the servants or else easily purchased in the city. In fact it occurred to her that she wouldn’t even need this much, since they’d only be gone a day, but there was no harm in bringing so much. She would rather bring too much than too little. Her own coin might come in handy, though.

Esmina crawled under her desk and pulled her secret coin purse from behind one of the legs. Nearly two hundred dragon marks, last time she checked. In addition to what she carried around with her, it was enough to buy her own horse-drawn carriage. It did sound more appealing than going in the same one, but obviously, her father wouldn’t approve of such a waste of money.

Placing her savings under her dresses, Esmina closed the lid. It was still relatively light, given the contents, and still had for room for twice as much besides. She could probably lift it herself, if she was so inclined, but that was what servants were for.

(New part.)

Now that she was finished packing, she had to find Gaelin.

Closing the door behind her, Esmina walked down the hall, away from her father’s bedroom, and went down the spiral staircase to the first floor. The servants quarters were behind the kitchen, and nobles didn’t go back there. Of course, it wasn’t as though it was prohibited. She was a noble, after all.

Since lunchtime was over, the kitchen was relatively quiet. Some servants were milling about washing dishes or eating now that their work was done. They noticed her as she passed by them, but none acknowledged her presence save for a defferential headbow. Unusual as it was for her to be here, it wasn’t their place to question.

She went into the servants’ hallway, and as always she was surprised with how cramped it was. The upper hallway was wide enough for three people to walk side-by-side, and that was including the furnishings. In this one, two people passung by each other would have to sidestep or step into a nearby doorway. The wood floorboards also creaked, and didn’t have a carpet like she was used to.

Gaelin’s room was at the end, much like the master bedroom in the hall upstairs. The door was closed, unlike many of the doors she walked past on her way.

The door wasn’t locked, of course. She doubted if any of the servants’ rooms had locks. As she pushed it open, she heard a hasty shuffling and a crash. “Don’t come in!” Gaelin called, a little frantic.

But the door was already open, and Esmina was more than a little curious. He peeked out from behind the bed, only the top of his head visible. When he saw her his eyes went wide again.

“Oh! Miss! My apologies. I’m not decent. I don’t mean to be rude, but would you allow me a moment of privacy?”

“You’re unclothed?” she asked.

“Well, not exactly.” He glanced downwards. “I was in the middle of replacing my bandages. My arm is exposed.”

“Oh. Is it that gruesome?”

“What? No. It’s just… not right.”

Esmina frowned. “Tenshari keep their right arm hidden for a reason, but they’re pretty tight-lipped about it.”

“It’s the way things are.”

“It’s not deformed in any way?”

Gaelin sighed. “Miss, I am bound to serve you in any way I can, but I am allowed my own comforts and needs. If we must continue this line of questioning, may I at least have the privacy so that I may be presentable?”

She thought about that, and nodded. “I’ll sit down and promise not to look.”

He didn’t respond immediately. “Thank you, miss.”

Esmina walked into his room and took the only chair, facing it towards the door and away from him and sitting down. “You may proceed. You have my word I will not turn around until you are prepared.”

“Very well,” he replied. Behind her, there was a slow shuffle of cloth. When Gaelin spoke again, he was higher up, sitting on his bed. “I will answer your questions.”

Keeping her eyes on her dress, she thought about what he had said before. “Your arm is completely normal?”

“That isn’t the word I would use, but yes. It is, in theory, functional.” There was a soft rustling as he spoke. Presumably he returned to wrapping his arm back up.

“Then why don’t you use it?”

“My people are forbidden from using it or even showing it to others.”


“It is a privilege we have lost the right to. For a crime long forgotten. To reveal one’s arm would be the greatest sin.”

“What crime did your people commit?”

“I do not know. I said it was long forgotten.”

“Then what does it matter?”

“It is simply the way it is. For our crime, we are doomed to spend the rest of our days as servants impaired.”

“Is there a way you can be redeemed?”

“No.” He took a deep breath. “You may turn around.”

She did, and was disappointed to see that he looked completely normal. His arm was clothed in a full bandage that covered everything, and he was in the middle of using his other arm to button his tunic back up.

“Not even other Tenshari can see your arm?”

He placed a hand on his bicep. “It is part of our punishment.”

Esmina couldn’t help but frown. It was an entire piece of him that nobody could ever know. She had fantasized about falling in love with somebody and being able to share anything with them. Nothing would be a secret. But Gaelin could never know that feeling, because there would always be that part of them that the other could never know.

It seemed strange and arbitrary. There would be no consequences of revealing himself, just as there were no consequences for her being outside during the Shadow. But he didn’t seem to see it that way. It was his place not to question but to obey, and that was the way it had always been.

“Gaelin!” somebody called from down the hall. “The Shadow has passed! Lord Berold is really pissy and wants his daughter in–”

A servant whose name escaped her walked through the doorway and, as soon as he saw Esmina, his face paled. Servants weren’t supposed to name their masters. “Milady, I didn’t realize you were here. My sincerest apologies, your father has a noble soul, I meant no offense.” He spoke more and more quickly, and she held a hand up.

“You don’t have to lie to appease me. I’m well aware of how abhorrent my father is. But I’d advise you to watch your loose tongue.” She looked to the side. “My father isn’t quite so understanding.”

The newcomer looked both relieved and alarmed by her response, but he simply nodded. “The master wants to leave as soon as possible.”

“That reminds me,” Esmina replied, turning back to Gaelin. “I had come down to tell you to get some of the normal servants to bring the trunk in my room down. I’ve prepared it for the journey.”

“I will have it handle that immediately, milady,” the new servant responded before leaving as quickly as he had come.

“I really don’t like ‘milady’,” she noted after he had gone.

“I’ll be sure to tell the other servants that, miss,” Gaelin smiled.

“By the way, are you coming with us to Tal’Doraken?”

“I’m afraid not. Your father asked me to stay to tend to the manor in his absense.” The shadows on his face deepened.

“‘Tend to the manor’? Gaelin, we have dozens of servants. Why do you need to be here?”

He shrugged. “He’s given me a long list of duties I must attend to.”

“Worse than usual? Like what?”

“I prefer not to say. Unsavory business you wouldn’t want to hear about, I’m sure.”

“You’re avoiding my eyes, Gaelin.”

“It’s best we avoid the subject, miss.”

“Very well,” she frowned, standing up and smoothing her dress. “I suppose I should go anyway, before Father grows even more impatient. Have you been to Tal’Doraken?”

“A few times, yes.”

“Is there much to do?”

“Certainly. It’s a city. But I’m not sure how much would interest you at your age. Beyond that, your father is sure to want you at his side at all times.”

She turned back to him at the doorway and smiled. “Well, we’ll see about that. Anyway, I’ll be sure to bring you back something. And when we return, perhaps we’ll have time to discuss my latest findings!”

He bit his lip, but nodded. “I’m sure we’ll have much to discuss, yes. Goodbye, miss.”