A Walk in the Dark
I was still muttering things like ‘Stupid family’, and about a brother I didn’t really want to think about too much by the time we reached the approach to Cae’th Og.
Sam and the others were still amused by our encounter with Sir Reginald the Intelligence Challenged as we finally saw the place from the top of a hill.
It wasn’t a cave entrance. Well so much for stereotyping there, I thought while looking down on the very ordinary appearing keep in the distance. Sam pulled his mount close to mine (for some reason my group had been avoiding close proximity with yours truly since the day before) and quietly told me. “We’re being watched.”
“I know.” Shrugging and just in general tired of all the skullduggery and half brothers, and surprise parents, I answered. “They’ve been shadowing us for the past few hours.
“All right!” I shouted out into the area. “We know you’re out there. We’re impressed with your sneaking skills, and all that crap! Now either show yourselves or I’ll personally come drag your butts out into the open!”
“Umm, dear?” Sam looked around at the sudden appearance of at least twenty Dhro’aaa holding nocked bows and pointing them at us. “That may have not been the best introduction you could have used.”
“I’m not in the mood to care right now.” I grumbled back. “If I’m lucky they’ll just kill me and put me out of my misery. Or at least distract me while they try to do that.”
“I have mentioned that you really need to work on your people skills, right?” He asked while sighing and loosening his swords in their sheaths at his back. “Now quit pouting about your family problems and at least try to look pleasant for the nice Dhro’aaa.”
Nice. Dhro’aaa. Now that combination was a real brain burner. Especially since it seemed I was supposed to do something about that reputation the race, mine, had achieved over the past few millennia.
So I did my best to smile pleasantly, not so good on that one, so I settled for a not-so-threatening glower. “I am Dahlia Saaa Llolth and am expected.”
Okay. I know it wasn’t the usual ‘Hi! Glad to meet you.’ kind of thing. Evidently I’m not one of those gushing, good time girls. So what? I wasn’t really in the mood to even attempt to be bubbly and friendly just then.
One of the former watchers, now out in the open lowered his bow and gave me a very thorough looking over. If it hadn’t been for needing to put a hand on Sam’s arm to keep him from attacking the guy for the obviously appreciating a pretty girl thing, I would have probably smacked him myself. He nodded then gave me a formal bow. “We know who you are. I have been instructed to welcome you to Caet’he Og. Be welcome in our home. Offer no harm and none will be offered to you.”
These formalities were beginning to get a little tedious, but I did manage a smile and nod of my own head in response. “My companions and I will offer no harm so long as none is offered to us.”
“Lady.” He looked over the others then made an expansive gesture with one hand in the direction of the keep. “If you and your companions would follow me?”
By then the guy’s troops had formed up around us, so not following him could have involved a lot of really messy stuff. You know the kind of things with lots of blood and screaming? So I nodded, shook my mount’s reins, and did what he requested. Besides, I was supposed to go into the place wasn’t I? “Of course.”
Didn’t mean I had to be nice to him, did it?
I was still in a mood when we were ushered through the front gates. But on sober thought, maybe being in a ‘mood’ wasn’t such a bad thing just then. Daddy did you set me up for this one?
Of course he had. Meddling deities were just becoming part and parcel of my life. I couldn’t even really get mad at him for it.
The interior of the keep was about what you’d expect. Obvious outbuildings, stables, housing for the help… Though that housing, even for the so called peasants, was built very solidly with well fitted stones and the roofs were tile instead of thatch.
There was a central tower, of course. (Go ahead and moan about clichés all you like. I did.) But as we approached it, then went around the thing, it became clear that even though it served a defensive purpose, it wasn’t where the ruling family was housed. It was more like a medieval shopping mall that had more than one floor.
Nope, the next thing I noticed once we’d gotten around that was the ornate and lovingly carved crenellations and stout looking gate – of metal, not wood – that snugly sat against the hillside at the rear of the compound.
So they really did live in a cave. For some reason that made me feel a little better about things.
The main tunnel leading from those gates was wider than an interstate highway, and very well lit by sconces containing some kind of magical light source. In spite of myself, I had to admit it was impressive. There was also a lot of traffic, coming and going, but all of it stopped dead in our vicinity as we were led down that underground highway.
A song I’d been fond of back home came to mind at that. I did my best to ignore the title of that specific AC/DC song. At least it didn’t feel like I was on a Highway to Hell.
The cavern that led into was stupendous. Not just in size, either. Caet’he Og was a city. And a fairly large one. I could see markets, towers, homes, temples, and right in the center a huge, almost squat edifice that had to be where the local government made its headquarters. Race and place don’t seem to matter with that kind of thing. Government buildings were government buildings no matter with all the other strangeness. And that was obviously where my still unnamed guide was taking us.
“Oh, you have my name, warrior.” I told the guy as I rode up beside him. “I would consider it polite if you were to return the favor.”
“Brac’ea’thimm Saaa Pthoh.” He answered. “Mrrthiss is my sister.”
Oh. Okay, now I could see why he was a little stand offish with me. Dhro’aaa family politics made mine seem simple by comparison.
“Thank you,Brac’ea’thimm Saaa Pthoh.” I answered, evidently surprising him with that courtesy. Hey! I really can be polite if I want to be, you know. “How is your sister?”
“Well enough.” He answered and shook his head. “Better since you healed her.”
“I would have done that a lot sooner if she hadn’t run off the first time.” I answered. Okay, so I was this really nasty and admittedly often bad tempered daughter of a goddess, and a god (and yes, I was past being boggled by things like that), but I could feel bad about some things, right?
“For some reason, I believe you about that.” He answered with a shake of his head. “My sister is headstrong at times.”
“Part of being a girl.” I shrugged.
“I have to agree with you on that one.” He actually let a grin get past that stolid, serious demeanor for a second or two. “Mrrie is often a difficult one to deal with.”
“Friend.” Sam got into the conversation with a smirk. “If you don’t have one yet, just wait till you get a wife.”
Brac – whatever, actually laughed after that one as he looked first at me then at Sam. “I think I can agree with that, friend.”
“Okay.” I whispered to Sam. “Just when did you become that guy’s friend, and when were you going to tell me about it?”
“Figure of speech.” He whispered back, but there was twinkle in his eyes that I thought held way too much mischief.
All that stopped when we dismounted and were led into the council chambers.
Sirrin jumped off my back and growled.
Who knew spiders could growl?
The council chambers was almost like a small arena. There were tiers of seats rising from the floor to almost reach the distant ceiling, and if filled I didn’t even want to think about just how many Dhro’aaa would be concentrated in one place.
But there wasn’t anyone in those tiered seats just then. The large table with a double throne at its head that dominated the center of the floor was a different matter entirely though.
I counted thirty Dhro’aaa seated there, not counting the pair sitting on the double throne. All of them with the exception of one were glaring at me as if I was some alien from a hostile species who had just waltzed in and demanded a meeting.
Well, maybe that wasn’t so far from the truth, once I’d thought about it.
“The Lady Dahlia Saaa Llolth!” Someone standing beside the entrance intoned rather loudly and I just about turned and swatted the gal. Instead I gave her, one of the priestesses I’d seen at Kae’song’s a nod and walked forward until I was standing at the near end of that that table.
I nodded to the gathering, even gave the pair on the throne a bow – okay, I bent at the waist just a little bit, but it counts, doesn’t it? “Thank you for agreeing to see me.”
“It would seem that you lack even the common courtesies, girl.” Someone, from about the middle of the table on my right side answered and I could feel the anger in his voice. “Your arrogance is out of place here and you would do well to show a modicum of humility.”
No one else spoke, so I figured that the guy was some kind of designated spokesman for the gathering. The rest of them simply glared, watched me with some kind of detached malice, or openly tried to cook me with their regard. Talk about a hostile audience.
For probably the first time since I’d arrived on this world, other than the first few days when I was still in shock, I did my best to be polite to someone. “Forgive my lack of manners. Where I come from, one does not, as a rule, appear subservient to others if it isn’t absolutely necessary. Apologies for my lack of social polish.”
I could feel Sam, still back by the entrance, goggling at me. Okay, so I wasn’t known for being all that pleasant to arrogant strangers all that much. But, much to my surprise, being polite didn’t hurt at all. Or at least not all that much.
See? I could do it. At times. And sure, I was polite to Kae’song, Lord Kevin, Lady Alis and a few others back at the citadel. But they’d kind of earned that right once I’d gotten over the first shock and fear of them.
This gathering of Dhro’aaa was nowhere near as well disposed towards me as those three and their retainers had been. I suppose I should have been at least a little afraid, and inside I admit that I did feel that niggling little twinge I identified as fear. But showing that in this place, at this time, would have been a bad thing.
So, I pushed that fear back down to somewhere it couldn’t distract me, at least until later once things had calmed down, stood on the shoulders of my anger and jumped up and down until that behaved and sat down quietly, and gave the gathering my best neutral look.
Wow, this being diplomatic thing was not easy.
“You’re claim of being the goddess’ daughter is a bold one.” The same person told me with a little sneer on his inhumanly handsome face. “One that we find offensive.”
“Believe me, it isn’t an idle claim.” I grimaced. “I wasn’t all that happy about it either when I found out, to be honest.”
Sirrin was still beside me, now as big as my idiot half brothers destrier and stalking between me and the table while emitting little growls and snarls. Oh, something stalking for effect on eight legs was actually kind of impressive.
“Curb your pet, or we will do it for you.” The male at the head of the table spoke for the first time and his voice vibrated with strength. The female seated at his side simply glowed with power waiting to be unleashed.
“Sirrin.” I quietly called and the dire spider returned to my side. Petting her to settle the outrage she felt about being called a mere pet, I looked at the pair on the throne and nodded my head in respect. “My lord, my Lady. Thank you for seeing me.”
“You damaged our daughter.” The woman told me in a tone of voice so chill it could have embarrassed a polar wind.
“Yes, but I also cured her.” I responded.
“Physically.” The woman waved that aside. “The damage I speak of is not physical.”
“She seemed to be fine when she left me last.” I countered.
“She believes your claims, that you are the daughter of our goddess.” I could feel the disbelief, the hostility, the doubt, in her as she told me that. “You’re claims are outrageous, and I for one would have proof from you. I would have it now.”
“What kind of proof?” I questioned. “Isn’t what I did with your daughter’s hand enough?”
She stood, and possessed a regal glory that I didn’t think I would ever match even if I wanted to, which I didn’t, and pointed at me. “Show me that you aren’t a lying renegade or die.”
The spell she threw at me at me was so complex, so powerful, that I didn’t even try to figure it out. All I needed to know was that it would have been a really bad thing to let it hit me. So I sidestepped it.
Only that sidestep was kind of weird. I didn’t just step out of the way, or dive to safety. Oh, no. Could I ever do the simple thing? On this world, evidently not. What I did was move to a somewhere else where I could still see and hear things where I had been, but wasn’t particularly affected by the magic thrown at me that time. Something told me that trick would only work once because someone aware that I could do it would be able to counter it after seeing it, but that same something informed me that I had a lot more tricks like that up my sleeve if they were needed. Sheesh.
Sirrin didn’t dodge. Darkness enveloped her, swirled around her and I just about screamed and reached over to protect her.
Didn’t need to. She ate the stuff. Literally.
By the time I slipped back into reality, such as it was, the spell had been consumed and I was looking at over thirty very shocked Dhro’aaa.
“First things first.” I told them. “Sirrin is not my pet. She is my companion and guardian. Oh by the way, she really doesn’t like being attacked either so I wouldn’t advise trying that again. She gets cranky when she’s upset or hungry and right now she is both of those. Second, if any of you try that with me again, I’ll slap you silly just to take my own frustrations out.
“Questions?” I pleasantly asked.
There were. Lots of them. I did my best to answer all of them without losing my temper. At one point I learned what if felt like to move around on eight legs and see things through more than two eyes. Weird, let me tell you.
Oh yeah, I almost bit the Queen of Caet’he Og when I did that one. Sigh.
Bad tempered in one shape, bad tempered in the other, I guess. Well at least that was consistent.
It took the others at the table awhile to get out of the webs too.
Oh wonderful. Another manifestation of something that was considered ‘divine’ by the Dhro’aaa.
But they were all very polite after that.
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