(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.
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.”