“We must seem so gauche to you, Niran,” she flushes excitedly, “after all the splendor of the Numu.” Iphigenia fans herself, shaking her head a bit, reeling from it all.
Niran smiles at her, his face is kindly.
Thein watches them both, from her corner. She turns away and looks out the tall windows to the colors outside. She stands up suddenly and pries open one window. She stands breathing in and out deeply for a few moments.
Iphigenia gazes at her daughter out of the corner of her eye. She restrains herself from marching over and shutting the window.
As though Thein can sense her, she says quietly, “Niran took Gil to see the Orb.”
Niran gathers himself to his full height, full of the unrepressed energy of someone whose very favorite topic has been brought up. He sees the lady’s face fall, though. For just one second, her mask falls away, a pained expression on her face. He remembers. The air comes out of Niran. All his enthusiasm is absorbed back into his body.
He smiles blandly, “Yes. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Iphigenia says too brightly, “Oh? How interesting.” Her forced smile looks like a grimace.
“Niran, please do sit, can I offer you some wine, it is from Scotia. I just insist on obtaining Scotian wine when we trade, though of course I must fight the Council on this every year. They tell me every year, madame, wine is a luxury and there are more important goods that must be got, but usually they are able to fit a few bottles just for me,” she looks very pleased with herself, like a child who got to eat cake for dinner.
Niran looks perplexed. He glances over to Thein, who is observing the interaction over her shoulder. She meets his eye but gives him a blank stare.
“Thank you for the offer, lady Iphigenia. I would take from you a glass of water,” he says.
Iphigenia is disappointed. She grows shrill though there is only silence and her face is like a gargoyle with its contorted features. Her mask grows thicker and thicker. It is like a rock. Thein slumps back down in the chair. There is no more air in the room. The sickening sweet scent is debilitating.
Niran’s eyes widen imperceptibly. He cannot know what changed, but it’s as though there are forces gathering overhead. There is almost a crackling sound. He reaches into himself with some resolve. He has lost interest in the contents of the room. He sits on the nearest chair. He crosses his legs with ease and leans back.
In spite of herself, Thein looks at him surreptitiously from under her eyelashes admiringly. Her debilitated state unlocking the part of her she kept under strict guard.
“Your son is quite an extraordinary young fellow, lady Iphigenia,” says Niran, grasping for a different avenue than the one on which they seemed to be headed.
Lady Iphigenia simpers, “How do we toil here with these Wardlings, Lord Wesson. As you know, I am unused to laboring, in Orleans noble women are like flowers, hidden away and decorated in jewels and fine clothes. Never do we even pick up a stem from a vase, we are so delicate. Here in Qi, it is not so, oh no. For a woman of my advanced age to care for a young rambunctious boy all by myself, it is too much, Lord Wesson, too much,” she plops down on a chair with many pillows, fanning herself.
Thein involuntarily meets Niran’s gaze. They smile invisible smiles at each other.
“Anyway,” says Thein, “mother does not consider Gil her son.” She says this flatly.
Iphigenia, however, is off down a different path. She tears, her eyes look wild and uncontrolled.
“I do have a son,” she says darkly. “Though this life has seen fit to take so many things from me, that now I have come to expect nothing from it,” she begins to weep bitterly.
Thein looks uneasy. Niran is alarmed. He springs up from his chair to comfort the lady, kneeling in front of her, holding her hand. Iphigenia fans herself quickly in short bursts, rocking back and forth, continuing to weep.
“My lady, what can I do to assist you? Please, will you let me know?” asks Niran, concern creasing his dark brows.
Thein sits up her mouth slightly parted, in deep concentration as she observes her mother and husband across the room from her. A breeze is coming in through the window and it fortifies her. She watches expectantly.
Iphigenia begins to laugh, like a hyena barking, with an undercurrent of anger, “Oh, dear sir, you’ve had enough of old women like me, I’m sure. There’s nothing to be done now. What’s been said has been said and can never be undone. How the mighty can crumble, don’t you know?”
Niran kneels down, perplexed. Thein puts her head in her hands, looking defeated and like an old woman herself.
There is a loud commotion from outside the room. A door opens forcefully downstairs, shaking the window sills to the front of the house. A rustling tumbling force is felt coming up the stairs. The door to the room swings open almost off its hinges and knocks the mirror Iphigenia had been using, just a short time ago, askew. Rabea stands in the doorway, her red curly hair disheveled, her robes wrapped strangely around her body. She surveys the scene and the room’s inhabitants boldly without saying a word. The three inhabitants stare at her mouths open.
Niran is the first to catch his breath. “Why, Rabea. Hello. That was a dramatic entrance if I’ve ever seen one,” he says good naturedly. He is relieved.
There is a mighty draft of cool air sweeps in through the front door, up the stairs and into the room, knocking closed, then wide open, the window that Thein had previously pried open. Thein stands up, bravely somehow, and walks over to Rabea who has still not said a word. Rabea stands like a sentry surveying the room and holding the door open.
“Rabea, sister. I am so happy to see you. I thought you’d not be at dinner tonight, but here you are. We are so pleased. Are we not pleased, Niran? Come in, dearest sister, sit down by me, tell me what you’ve done with yourself today?”
Thein leads her sister by her hand gently over in front of a low divan right by the windows.
“Sister, I have been looking at your garden. It is so lovely. I want to know about it. I want to know all about the leafy things outside and the colorful ones too. And, those other objects you have there? They are just delightful. I don’t remember that stone bench over there either. Will you show me?”
They are both now standing almost outside the window looking down and pointing.
Finally, Rabea speaks. “Of course, sister.”
Thein turns to Iphigenia, “Mother, shall we go into dinner now?”
Iphigenia looks like a small very old lady, as tiny as a baby and as meek. Her eyes are rheumy and as though blind. She smiles a toothless smile. Iphigenia nods. Thein crosses the room and scoops up the infant old lady, wrapping her up in her shawl. Absently, Thein saunters towards the dining room, holding the infant over her shoulder and patting her on the back lovingly.
It’s NaNoWriMo 2014. I’m over 10,000 words in and just a bit behind, having fallen asleep last night at 7 p.m. without writing a thing. This is an excerpt from Chapter 5 of my novel, currently titled the Kals of Qi. The featured image, my novel cover, is a “Chain Dance“. It is a detail of a fresco on a Greek tomb, from about 400 B.C.E., found in Ruvo di Pulia, southern Italy. It was discovered in 1833 and preserved at the Museo Nationale, Naples. What do you think?