Friday, May 30, 2014

The Great Weapons - Atop The Rampart 07

"You asked to see me?" Miledha attempted a curtsy, imitating the ones offered by the servants who had hurried out when she arrived.

Lady Langoish turned to regard her. She was tall, slim, and graceful, though her age showed somewhat in the lines on her face and the gray in her hair. She wore black, of course, and managed to look elegantly beautiful even in mourning. Until now, Miledha had only seen her at a distance; standing in the same room with her, seeing her as another woman, was an odd sort of shock.

"I did," said Lady Langoish. "Would you care for some spiced wine? The servants brought enough for four of me."

Miledha nodded, feeling at a loss. She'd come to the keep because she needed Roberr's help. She hadn't given any thought to what it would be like to spend time here; she hadn't thought that anyone would take much interest in a peasant witch. That seemed foolish, in retrospect. Still, she was here, and the people of the keep were interested in her, and she would have to deal with that as best she could.

The lady turned to a small table, where she poured two cups from a silver pitcher. She handed one to Miledha, and sipped from the other herself. Unsure of what to say, Miledha took a sip from her cup; it was good wine, sweetened with fruit, and flavored with a touch of something warm and slightly bitter. Shadeleaf? She sipped again.

"I'm told that the servants are calling you Sha Miledha," said the lady.

Miledha swallowed, suddenly nervous. "That was... not my idea."

"I know," said Lady Langoish. "Sha Lindlen believes it to be her fault. I'm not so certain; you fought with my husband in battle, and brought his sword back after he... fell. That would merit respect, even if Sha Lindlen had never spoken a word." She paused, and Miledha fought a sudden urge to fill the silence with words.

After a moment, the lady continued: "I've come to believe that I made a mistake, where you are concerned."

"How so?" asked Miledha. She heard the fear in her voice, and knew that the lady heard it, too. Lady Langoish was looking for something, and the wrong answer could get her... well, probably not killed, but possibly a lot less welcome here in Langoish Keep. Still, she cursed herself for answering without thought. She had to do better than this.

"I left you entirely to my husband," said the lady, and her gaze drifted off into the distance. "I saw only an orphan that my husband had decided to care for, and so I let it be his business alone. He always wanted a daughter, and since Roberr was our only child, I hoped the time he spent with you would satisfy him."

That wasn't entirely true, Miledha remembered. Lady Langoish had given birth to three others: two stillborn, and one who had lived for less than a moon. "He was a good man," Miledha said, hoping the lady wouldn't guess the direction of her thoughts. "At least, he was good to me. He taught me letters and numbers, and brought me books. Dame Naggia always claimed to disapprove, but when he was gone she had me read to her from those books."

"I think I should have taken the time to know you myself," said Lady Langoish. "It seems obvious now, with Wilmont gone and you so vital to the defense of the keep. Only now, of course, we have no time."

Miledha swallowed and looked away. "There isn't much to know."

"But there is," said Lady Langoish. "Can we trust you? I've counseled my son to accept your help. Was I wrong to do so?"

"No," said Miledha. Suddenly, she was on solid ground again. "I want them, those bastard Shadir and their monstrous captain." Her fist clenched, and she forced her hand to relax. Calmly, she said: "I want them dead."

She took a breath, then drank the rest of her wine in a single gulp. "I can't do it alone. I have to have help, and it has to be Roberr. Nobody else can--" She cut herself off. It couldn't be the wine; not this quickly. No, it was rage, and rage alone, that was loosening her tongue. She was less and less in control of herself, and she couldn't afford that.

Lady Langoish turned her head slightly, and regarded Miledha thoughtfully. "Nobody else can wear it?" she said, in a tone that made the words something more than a question, something less than a confirmation.

Miledha raised her head. "What do you know?" she asked softly.

"I know nothing," said the lady. "I've made my studies, and I have my suspicions. Very few things are completely secret, if someone knows where to look; and Sister Naggia would be a fool not to realize that the local nobility would make some tentative guesses about her true role in this place."

Miledha kept her face blank by an effort of will. "If you know that much," she said slowly, "then you know I can't answer you."

Lady Langoish nodded. "My son is busy making arrangements for me," she said, "and so he hasn't given any thought to arrangements for you. There are empty bunks in the barracks, and the women of our guards would consider it an honor if you would sleep among them."

"That... sounds more comfortable than what I had in mind."

Lady Langoish looked amused. "You were considering the stables?"

"Or the hospital," answered Miledha.

"I see." Lady Langoish smiled, and for a moment her face was unguarded: not just beautiful, but friendly, welcoming, approving... accessible.

She's right, thought Miledha. We should have known each other earlier. I could care for her as much as I did for her husband, as much I do for Sister Naggia. If we had time...

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