Dinner with Lord Exsil Vis and his men was an interesting experience.
No worse in manners than most courtiers, which was not saying much , he had members of the seraglio serve their wine and food. For that was what it was, he’d confirmed shortly into their meal with a comment and a wink to her. She’d replied in kind and taken a sip of her wine to cover her disgust – a sip she didn’t swallow, but spit out discreetly. As much to keep my head clear as….
Her thoughts trailed off as she recognised Jester among the serving wenches. The girl looked surly as usual but was attending to her duties with speed; Yarrow was sure it had to do with the bruises on her face and arms.
She did not let Exsil Vis see what she thought, but instead kept her eyes heavy with lust as she gazed upon the young girl from Aeril. He caught her look and smiled.
“You like the difficult ones, I see,” he said.
“She’s given you trouble?” she said, careful to keep her voice neutral.
Lord Exsil Vis chuckled. “The first night she nigh clawed my face off. But I taught her a lesson, and let my men help. You only truly learn something by teaching it, I’m sure you know.” She made herself return his smile, though she felt she might throw up. “Man who captured her and her friend said they’re from inside the castle – some lesser nobility, apparently trying to sneak away for some reason.”
Yarrow nodded, immediately leaping on the story and confirming it. “Aye, I’d seen her a time or two. Bitch refused me.”
“Well, my dear,” Lord Exsil Vis said, his smile giving Yarrow the chills. “I daresay she’ll have trouble refusing you now.” He ordered his men to bring Jester to Yarrow’s tent, then, and make sure she didn’t escape. “You may enjoy her after your meal, my dear. You see. I am good to my allies.”
Yarrow nodded, a facsimile of a bow. “You are too generous to me, my lord. Thank you.”
She finished her meal with a feigned ravenousness, though in truth her stomach roiled and threatened to expel itself through her mouth, and headed to her tent as soon as she was done, amid calls and whoops of laughter from Lord Exsil Vis’ men.
As soon as the flap closed behind her, Jester leapt at the bellica, hands like claws going for the bellica’s eyes. Yarrow was ready for the girl and grabbed her wrists; when Jester tried to kick her in the stomach she wrestled the younger woman to the ground and straddled her.
“Traitor!” Jester spat at her.
Yarrow blinked, but did not free Jester’s hands to wipe the spit from her face. “Would you calm down?” Yarrow said quietly. “Jester!” she shook the girl. “Look at me.” Slowly Jester complied, suspicion still in her eyes. “I need your help, okay?”
Jester viewed her dubiously. “You’re allied with Lord Exsil Vis.”
“Mind telling me what choice you thought I had?” Yarrow asked with a glare.
Jester didn’t have an answer for her, but still she protested. “You’re going to use me as he did.”
“What? No,” Yarrow said, trying to be reassuring though she was completely frustrated. “What gave you that idea?”
Jester looked pointedly at Yarrow’s hands, still on her wrists, and to where the bellica straddled her waist and pinned her to the ground.
Yarrow snarled, barely keeping her temper in check. “You attacked me, if you’ll recall, you little cat. If I let you up, will you attack me again?” Jester thought about it for a second, then shook her head. “Well then.” Yarrow got up herself and helped Jester to her feet. She stood ready, but Jester stayed true and did not attack her. Only now did she take the chance to wipe the girl’s expectorant from her face. Her face cleaner, she asked how Jester had escaped from the dungeons.
“Good thing James is with you,” Yarrow said when Jester had finished her story. “I’d worried about him. How many priestesses in the seraglio?” she asked as she pulled off her jerkin and mail, trying to get more comfortable.
“About fifteen, I think. All dedicated to Desirelle – they said they gave themselves up so the rest of the Temple would stay safe.”
Yarrow was pacing, thinking what to do. “Ok. We can use that. I’ve heard the priestesses have a special sort of training, so here’s what I want you to do.” No sooner had she finished giving Jester her instructions there came a yell from the entrance to her tent.
“Eh, Yarrow. How does she fare?” It was Lord Exsil Vis.
“Strip,” Yarrow mouthed to Jester, and gestured for the girl to get on the cot. She undid the laces to her linen shirt and waited a full three seconds before going to open the tent flap.
“She’s a bit inexperienced, but I’m quickly remedying that,” she drawled languorously as she leaned against the door-pole.
Lord Exsil Vis glanced inside, and Yarrow hoped Jester was naked enough for him to believe.
Apparently it suited. He leered at both of them. “Are you going to share her with your men?” he asked with a chuckle.
“Eh Jules!” she shouted across the camp. The major looked up. “You want a go on her after I’m through?”
He laughed and waved his hand. “Your seconds are never usable, Yarrow.”
She looked back at the Vocan. “Guess I’m keeping her to myself. For tonight, at least,” she added with a smile.
He laughed and walked away.
She dropped the tent flap and breathed a sigh of relief. Turning to face Jester, she saw the girl staring at her. At her belly. It showed more than she thought it did without her mail and jerkin on, and she hoped no one outside had noticed.
She crossed the tent and knelt before the girl who now had tears in her eyes as she realised what Yarrow risked. “That’s the other thing I need you to help me with, Jester. Stay the night with me and help me cover this up.”
Jester nodded gravely. “I’m sorry, Yarrow.”
“No, I’m sorry I didn’t stay and do what I said I’d do,” Yarrow said, feeling the weight of all the wrong choices she’d made. She forced herself to smile at Jester. “But we’re going to get through this, okay? Just pretend for tonight. You know what to do when you get back to the seraglio.”
Jester nodded again, then suddenly clutched her head, her face contorted in pain. “What’s wrong?” Yarrow asked, her heart leaping into her throat.
“A…sudden, sharp pain. Like a headache, but not dull,” she said, looking confused. “Then…I swear I just heard Ghia’s voice in my head.”
Tears sprung to Yarrow’s eyes and she let out a single, happy sob. “My cousin lives. Oh Goddess – she lives?”
“Yes. She was in the dungeons with me for a while, with horrible injuries. Then I heard she was placed back in her job at the hospitalis,” Jester said, looking more confused. “Why did I hear her voice in my head?”
Yarrow smiled. “It’s a long story, but Ghia can do that. What did she tell you?”
“She said three regiments are on their way and will be here in two days.”
Yarrow bowed her head, hope filling her and threatening to make her heart burst with its strength.