An online only short story, to thank you for waiting so long while the Lost Tribes series has been plagued by endless delays and problems. This is part of Li Buqua mage Xhih'a's background, a mischevous incident during her youth that led her to an intriguing discovery...
Ideas Above Her Station
Xhih’a stared moodily at the page in front of her, not registering a single word of it. She was sulking because Qemo’ih had stuck her with this incredibly dull text while he met with an ‘important visitor’. She had no idea who this visitor was, or why they were so important, but she wanted to find out. Unfortunately, she was locked in the library, unable to hear a single thing from the sitting room below.
She snapped the book shut, unable to concentrate on whatever it was about, and paced up and down the shelves. There had to be some way to counter the locking charm Qemo’ih had put on the door, if only she could find it... she tried every spell she could think of, but the door remained stubbornly shut. There would be no point in trying to blast it down, as she knew the entire house was protected against damage like that.
Driven to distraction by mingled boredom and curiosity, she was reduced to lying flat on the floor in a futile attempt to hear something through the thick floorboards.
“If young mistress interested, there is other way to hear what is happening,” the assistant said quietly.
Xhih’a started, almost leaping to her feet. She had forgotten that Qemo’ih’s assistant was in the room with her. Larèn was a rare thing, a Ka’nar who had earned his freedom and remained with his former master as a paid servant. He was also stealthier than a thief and could remain still and silent for hours at a time. “How?” she asked him.
He gave her the crooked, wide smile of his kind, and beckoned her over to a narrow space between a bookshelf and the wall behind it. “This once way to send things between floors. Now not used, but I keep oiled, just in case,” he said, opening a dusty wooden hatch in the wall to reveal a small, rickety platform on a rope pulley. “It go downstairs to sitting room. You sit in, I send down, you hear all and Master not know.”
She eyed it warily. “You are sure it will carry me without breaking?”
“I sure, young mistress. It built good. You trust Larèn.”
Well, if it does break, I can at least take some time out from Qemo’ih’s exercise regime, Xhih’a thought to herself as she climbed into the small compartment. The platform she crouched on jerked, and slowly but silently descended into darkness. The mumbled voices grew clearer as she got closer to them, and when the little lift came to a halt, she pressed against the panel to listen.
“... to Zyain as soon as she is ready, Qemo’ih,” came an unfamiliar voice – this must be the important visitor.
“Of course, Lokre. She has already made great progress in her training, and I expect she will have mastered the basic skills of magic by next year.” Qemo’ih, but why did he sound so nervous?
There was a chink of cup on saucer. “Do not rush the child. She has much to learn, and it must be learnt well.”
“Forgive my forwardness, Lokre, but...” Qemo’ih hesitated. “I do not see why Xhih’a cannot know of her connection to you. Many younglings crave the knowledge of their parents’ identities; though in many cases it is not possible to find out, in this instance...”
He stopped mid sentence, and Xhih’a imagined the visitor had silenced him. A low hiss followed the awkward pause. “I do not wish her to know at this moment in time. At this stage of her life, it will serve no useful purpose for her to discover her parentage. If this plan is to work, she must remain unaware until she is older; the knowledge would give her ideas above her current station.”
“Surely, though, your plan will require her to be ambitious beyond the usual aspirations of a female? Knowing that she is the offspring of both Lokres could inspire her to set her sights on a higher station,” Qemo’ih suggested.
“Or, it could cause her to become elitist and self-centred, as far too many of our higher class citizens are already. If we are to engineer a fundamental change in our society, it must begin here, with the young and unspoilt. I entrusted that nest’s location to you so that the offspring to emerge would find the right carers to raise... what was that?”
Xhih’a cursed the tiny space; in trying to keep as still and quiet as she could, her legs had cramped, and then spasmed, thudding against the wooden panel. She tugged at the ropes, hoping Larèn was watching and could pull her back up before someone opened the hatch in front of her. Thankfully, the platform began to raise, just clearing the edge of the panel as it slid open. Within moments, she was climbing back out into the library, brushing dust and spider webs from her clothes.
“Young mistress hear something good?” asked Larèn as they left the narrow space behind the shelf.
“Something interesting, certainly,” she told him. “I ought to return to my book; I think Qemo’ih heard me in there. We will tell him I have been reading the whole time, Larèn.”
The Ka’nar bowed. “As young mistress says.”
Xhih’a had barely opened the book again when Qemo’ih opened the door. “Has the visitor left?” she asked, feigning innocence.
He narrowed his eyes, looking from her to Larèn and back again. “Not yet. There was an unexpected sound a few moments ago, did you hear anything? A muffled thump, from inside the wall?”
“I heard nothing, Qemo’ih. I have been absorbed in this fascinating book you told me to read,” she replied.
He scowled, and turned to Larèn. “I suppose you have been similarly deaf for the last few minutes?”
“Larèn hear nothing, Master. I watch young mistress, ready to assist if she needs.”
Qemo’ih looked between them once more, and turned to leave. “You might assist her to find the right book; I told you to read about warding spells, not cattle husbandry.”
As the door closed and locked, Xhih’a checked the front of the book in her hands; in her rush, she had picked up an entirely different book than the one she had been staring at earlier. “Do you suppose he knows I was listening to them?” she asked Larèn.
“Master likely knows, yes, but I think he not mind,” Larèn said. “If Master really not want you to hear, Master would have sent you out on errand, not put you in room above meeting.”
Xhih’a thought that over. “So this was a sort of test, to see if I would be clever enough to work out how to eavesdrop without this visitor knowing?” Larèn smiled again. “They mentioned a plan, something about a change in society... would you happen to know anything about it?”
“Larèn is only humble servant, young mistress. Master not share plans with me,” the Ka’nar replied, bowing low.
She smirked slightly. “Somehow I doubt you have ever been just a servant. Never mind. Help me find this tedious warding book, then. I may as well attempt to learn something from it.” At the very least, it would be a convenient headrest while she thought over the snatch of conversation she had heard downstairs.