It took Ithul’to three days to track down Kah’len’s family and to secure an audience with Queen Masjita. While Ithul’to worked on his behalf, Kah’len wandered through Da’hrisjah City, driven by curiosity, boredom and worry. Ithul’to had purchased Kah’len a wide-brimmed hat and a thin cloak that he could wear on sunny days. Kah’len lingered in his room above Ithul’to’s tavern during the midday hours, wary of the heat and the intense sunlight. As he stood at the balcony, gazing out into the city during the hottest hours of the day, he noted that the heat created a shimmer in the distance. Most people avoided being out of doors during those hours as well, he noticed. Some who had business in the city went by carriage or covered wagon. It was not until the cool of evening that the denizens took to the streets. Then the temperatures plummeted and people went out into the street with bared faces and thick cloaks. During early evening, Kah’len liked to sit at outdoor tables and people-watch. Tjish.unen were a beautiful, graceful people, amiable and friendly. He found himself having several conversations with strangers, shocked at how sexually forward both men and women were. Ithul’to rescued him more than once from the unwanted advances of a young woman.
On the eve of meeting the Queen of Tjish.un, he went to the open-air market. The markets in Torahn were large, but nothing close to the sprawling vastness of Da’hrisjah’s market. It was so vast, it was a like a city within the city. Pens with sacrificial animals or animals up for sale filled entire blocks of the market. Kah’len could hear the bleat of tah’lirs before he rounded the corner and came upon the block-wide pen. The rank smell of animal waste and urine filled his nose. Huskers and their customers stood at the pen fence and haggled over particular animals. More than one priest led an animal away, to be sacrificed at the altar of the city’s god.
Kah’len leaned against the wooden fence, setting his right boot up on the second rung and leaning in to watch scampering tah’lir calves. One such creature approached Kah’len fearlessly and swiped a long, black tongue across the toe of Kah’len’s boot.
“Forgive it, my lord,” a light voice said from behind Kah’len.
Kah’len turned and beheld a beautiful, slender youth. He had a riot of soft blond curls to his shoulders and bright hazel eyes. Kah’len’s mouth grew dry when he realized he was staring at his first isili.
“The beastie did no harm,” Kah’len assured the servant. “Are you the herder?”
The isili smiled and bowed. “Guilty as charged, my lord. I care for the animals for the merchant. I feed and water them and provide affection for their short lives.” The youth gave a self-deprecating chuckle. “My master cannot understand why I waste my time showing affection and care to animals destined to be slaughtered, but we isili believe that all things are worthy or respect and love.”
“A worthy belief,” Kah’len assured him. “What is your name?”
The isili blushed and bowed. “Cius, my lord.”
“Cius. I am Kah’len.”
Cius bowed. “A pleasure, my lord.”
“Cius!” a man bellowed from the market.
Cius cringed and turned, quickly going onto his knees. “Forgive me, Master!”
“Are you bothering customers again?” the man demanded. He snarled. “Off with you. I’m sick of looking after you. Sick of finding you loitering around, daydreaming as if you are some lord of the manor. You’re fired!”
Cius gazed up pleadingly. “No, Master! Forgive me!”
“Bah, you worthless two-sex,” the man growled and shook his head. “I wash my hands off you. Take your sorry bag of belongings and leave my property!”
The young isili started sobbing, but the man turned on his heels and strode away into the crowd that had stopped to watch. Once the show was over, they turned away, going about their day as if nothing had happened.
Kah’len bent and helped Cius to his feet. “Now, you’ll make yourself ill. Calm down.”
“Whatever will I do now, my lord? It’s too late in the season for me to find work and I’ve no family!” He sobbed harder, inconsolably.
On impulse, Kah’len hugged the youth and patted his back awkwardly. “It will be fine, Cius. I am in need of a personal servant anyway. Can’t pay you as yet, you understand, but I can offer you a place to sleep and food.”
Cius gazed up at him, hiccuping as he calmed down. “Y-you need a personal servant?”
Kah’len stepped back from the isili. “Yes, I do, Cius. Just so happens.”
“B-but I don’t have experience as a personal servant, sir.”
Kah’len shook his head. “Doesn’t matter, Cius. I’ll teach you. Now, you go get your belongings and I’ll wait for you right here.”
“Yes, my lord!”
Cius ran further south and disappeared behind a blue and green stripped pavilion.
Kah’len turned back to the pen and grinned. Atana certainly worked in mysterious ways, didn’t She? As he waited, he studied the market and the customers as they carefully chose animals to purchase. The animals looked healthy and well-cared for, attesting to Cius’ abilities and work ethic, despite the merchant’s accusations. Perhaps the boy liked to daydream. Kah’len could work with that. There was a fair amount of dreamers in the military as well. Kah’len knew how to stir up a youngster’s sense of responsibility and pride in one’s work. His methods had proven true over and over. He would simply apply them to Cius’ training.
Cius returned a quarter of an hour later, long enough that Kah’len had begun to worry. He showed up dragging a heavy bag behind him, which Kah’len took possession of right away, finding it was indeed heavy, but not too heavy for him.
“Come with me, Cius. I have a friend who lives in the city. He has a tavern nearby where we can live for a bit longer.”
They walked with Cius insisting on walking two steps behind Kah’len. Kah’len wasn’t about to get into an argument with his servant, so he just went with it. They made it back to Ithul’to’s tavern to find the captain sitting at an outside table, enjoying the cool evening temperatures and drinking wine. When he saw Kah’len, he rose and bowed, lifting a curious eyebrow at Cius.
“Good afternoon, Warlord. Who might this be?” Ithul’to asked.
“My new servant, Ithul’to. This is Cius.”
Cius bowed. “Pleasure, my lord.”
Ithul’to chuckled. “Penniless with servants?”
Kah’len grimaced. “Perhaps penniless not too much longer.”
Ithul’to walked around the table and clapped Kah’len on the shoulder. “I have good news for you. I found where your family resides, and I have secured an audience for you with Queen Masjita for two days’ time, at sunrise.”
Kah’len pounded Ithul’to on the back with a fist. “Good work, Ithul’to! I owe you.”
Ithul’to shook his head. “I’ve plenty, my lord. You owe me nothing.” He looked at Cius. “Go inside, tell one of my wives to take you up to Kah’len’s bedroom. I will get a cot for you to sleep in. Are you hungry?”
Cius blushed. “I’m a little hungry, my lord.”
Ithul’to nodded. “Tell my wives to feed you in the kitchen. Go on, isili.”
When Cius had dragged away his heavy bag, Ithul’to and Kah’len took seats at the table and Ithul’to poured Kah’len a glass of white wine.
“He’s young,” Ithul’to commented.
“How can you tell his age?” Kah’len asked.
“They fill out a bit more when they are older. This one is scrawny.” He shook his head. “They are treated abysmally by some. A beautiful, gentle people, the isili.” He sipped his wine. “But you’ll need to purchase a second, a companion for this one, especially if you leave Tjish.un. They die, without their kind nearby. Strong cultural mores compel them to seek their own kind. There are no other isili in Torahn, so you need to purchase a companion before this one goes into heat.”
“Sexual heat?” Kah’len asked, surprised. “Like a tah’lir?”
“They are dual-sexed. All dual-sexed beings, be it people or animals, experience sexual heat. It can kill them if they are not cared for properly, and so you need another isili. I will lend you the silver to purchase a companion for Cius and you can pay me when you come into your own.”
Kah’len sighed. “What did I set myself up for?”
“Two isili, that is what you set yourself up for, my lord. Drink up. We’ll have to head to the market to find another isili tonight. Gods only know once you meet the Queen what will become of you.”
Kah’len insisted on taking Cius with them when they went to purchase a second isili. If the two were going to mate, then Cius would have to choose another isili to his liking.
Ithul’to knew a merchant who was humane with his isili and charged fair prices. The merchant’s pavilion was huge and dark red, tall enough that Kah’len did not have to hunch over when he entered the interior. Inside the tent were at least twenty young isili, lounging on pillows on the ground. The merchant, a man by the name of Kolthos, stepped back to allow Kah’len to choose. He had given his spiel already: how he bought the isili young, cared for them gently, and sold them only to people who meant to use them kindly. The man seemed mild enough, with kind eyes.
Kah’len took Cius to one side. He said in a soft voice, “Which one is to your liking, Cius?”
Cius looked around Kah’len at the isili lounging on the oversized pillows. His forehead creased. “My lord, we don’t choose based on looks, like hu’ans do. Our bodies align when I go into heat or he goes into heat.” He straightened out and looked into Kah’len’s eyes. “You choose, my lord. Nature will take care of the rest.”
Kah’len smiled at Cius. “Such maturity for one so young. When do you expect to go into heat?”
Cius blushed to the tips of his ears. “I have at least another year. I think.”
Kah’len nodded and patted Cius on his shoulder. He turned back to the isili. Running his eyes over the lovely offerings, he found himself quite at a loss. They were all equally beautiful and graceful, attentive and friendly. In frustration, he turned to Kolthos.
“I’m quite at a loss, Master Kolthos,” he said. “Can you assist me?”
“How old are you, isili?” Kolthos asked Cius.
Cius shifted. “Thirteen summers, my lord.”
Kolthos nodded and turned to Kah’len. “Then one slightly older will do, I think, my lord. I have one who is sixteen and has been with me for three years. I have taught him skills that he can use as a household servant. He knows how to read and write the Common Tongue, and he knows his numbers, so he can keep your household accounts. Aud!”
An isili, who looked no older than Cius, rose from the back of the pavilion, making his way to the front of the vast tent. He went down to his knees and bent his forehead to the ground before sitting up and keeping his eyes trained on the ground. He was breathtakingly beautiful, although there was a scar along his slender neck and up his right cheek.
Kolthos sighed. “He was cruelly treated before coming to my household, my lord. He was raped and his neck was cut and he was left to die in some dank, filthy alley and I happened to pass by and saw him.” He shook his head. “I had to pay an empathic healer to save him, he lost so much blood.”
Kah’len placed his hand on the isili’s head. Aud flinched before relaxing into the touch.
“You poor picu,” Kah’len murmured. He looked at Kolthos. “Name you price.”
After the haggling was done and Ithul’to paid for the isili, they took up Aud’s bag and left the tent. Aud and Cius did not speak to one another but walked side by side two feet behind Kah’len and Ithul’to. Once at the tavern, Kah’len climbed the stairs to the second floor and then down the dim hall to his bedroom. It was late and he was to be up at an early hour to meet the Queen at sunrise.
Kah’len’s room was expansive, and Ithul’to quite soon brought in two cots with bedclothes for the servants. Once Ithul’to bid them goodbye, Kah’len sat the isili down on his bed.
“This is how things are,” he said as he paced in front of his winsome servants. “I was the Warlord of the White Kingdom of North Torahn. I was imprisoned and escaped the dungeons of Castle Draemin and made my way here, to Tjish.un. I am the nephew of the Queen of Tjish.un and I have an audience with her Majesty first thing tomorrow morning. I am going to try for the crown of North Torahn and I am going to ask her Majesty for her backing. This means I will be dragging you to the battlefield with me. It will not be an easy life. We march for hours on hours every day. Your sleep will be interrupted and you will work hard. But you will always have a cot to sleep on and a full belly. When I come into my own again, I will pay you a salary so that you can save for your old age. Even so, I will bequeath each of you part of my estate and your children can be trained as servants. I will make sure they can read and write and know their numbers. When they are old enough, I will send away for spouses for them from Tjish.un. Do you have any questions?”
Aud shifted. “My lord, we are not allowed to inherit from our masters.”
“We will live in Torahn, Aud, not Tjish.un. You can inherit from me there.”
Aud swallowed. “Leave Tjish.un, my lord?”
Kah’len sighed. “I know this is your ancestral home, Aud, but this is not my home. If you want, I can take you back to Kolthos and ask for another isili.”
Aud looked at Cius then at Kah’len. “No, my lord. I will come with you.”
Kah’len smiled at him. “Good. Cius?”
Cius sighed. “I go with you, my lord.”
Kah’len nodded. “Good. Aud, can you train Cius how to be a personal servant? You will be the head servant in my home.”
Aud bowed. “I am honored, my lord. I will train Cius.”
“Good. Then we can retire. I must be up before sunrise. Three hours before, so I won’t get much sleep and neither will you, I daresay. Please remain in this room tomorrow until I return. I will make sure Ithul’to’s wives bring you up food and water while I am away. Can you do that?”
They bowed as one.
“As you command, my lord,” Cius murmured.
Kah’len’s smiled widened. “Excellent. Then let’s retire. Tomorrow is a busy day for me.”