Tales From the Universe Tree: The Children of War, Part Eight.
(Continued From Part Seven).
“Was that story you told at dinner really true, my lady?” Jessica’s eyes glinted with all the innocence of a ten year old girl and Risa had come to hate it. The maid was too old to look that young, and all of that innocence was too hard to read. They strode at an arm’s length down the hallway. Jessica clasped her hands in front of her, pushing her cleavage up between her arms. Risa’s nostrils flared. She should have insisted on another servant to lead her to her bedchamber. Not very subtle, are you Geddoywn? She thought, folding her arms against her chest.
Jessica stared at her expectedly, her perky face ruined by the inquisitive frown. The Maid's perfume she whipped at Risa. By The Tree, how much had she put on? The wet twinge between her legs thrashed like a fish out of water. Risa’s eyes drifted over the Maid’s sensual body. That dress wouldn’t be too hard to get off, she mused. And Elysium, she would be warm too. Maybe as warm as—she blinked when she realized what she was thinking, her cheeks heating. Idiot, what is wrong with you!? Stop it! She glanced out the windows that lined the opposite wall.
“Yes,” Risa said plainly.
“Oh, how dreadful,” Jessica said. Risa couldn’t tell if the maid was being genuine or not. “I can’t even imagine what that must have been like. And you were just a child, yes?”
Risa fixed the girl with a dangerous look. “Yes, I was.” She clipped irritably. Jessica grimaced at the sharpness of her the Shogun’s tone, but she wisely kept her mouth shut. Risa nodded to herself. So, she’s not a complete fop.
For a long moment, they went on in silence. A cold draft wafted through the hallway. Silver shafts of moonlight spilled through the oblong windows. Jessica’s pale skin seemed to glow softly. Risa smiled inwardly, Shenal glows like that too. She thought. Then she frowned. What are you doing now, my love? Do you feel the empty space beside you every night like I do? It felt so unnatural to her now, waking up without Shenal beside her. She glanced out the windows. I was on my own for so long. Why does being alone hurt so much now? She twined the tails of her scarf in her fingers. It was warm and comforting, like caressing her memories. “Yuska…” she whispered. “Shenal…my love.”
Jessica blinked, “Yuska?” her tongue tumbled awkwardly over the unfamiliar name. “Who is that, my lady? Is that the name of your Queen?”
Risa gave a start and turned her head slowly to the younger woman. “Um, no. Yuska is…” She took a quick breath and let it out in a rush. “Yuska is my daughter’s name.”
Jessica cocked her head to one side. “Daughter?” Then her eyes brightened and her smile split her face. “Oh, yes, I remember now, you said were married.”
“I WAS married.” Risa corrected curtly. “My husband has been dead for years now, girl.”
Jessica’s face fell, “Oh I’m sorry,” she bowed apologetically. “I didn’t realize. I-“
Risa sighed, “Don’t apologize, girl.” she kept her voice flat. “He was a brute, a drunk, and a pig. I could have danced a jig on his corpse.”
Jessica nodded slowly as if she didn’t really understand. “I see.” Then she smiled. “Well, what about your daughter? Is she with you? I would love to meet her. I’ve always loved children, My Lady. I hope to have a hundred of them one day.”
No One Special.
Risa looked down at her feet. “She…” she trailed off. A sudden pain stabbed at her heart and she swallowed what she had been going to say. “N, no. She isn’t. Please, I, I don’t want to talk about it.” Jessica’s frown was almost a pout. As if in retaliation, the draft flicked more of Jessica’s perfume into the Shogun’s nose. Risa’s head felt like it was encased in fog. “Tell me. How long have you been in the Governor’s service?” Talking seemed to help her focus, but she didn’t dare get any closer than she already was. Her inner thigh was already an earthquake in the middle of the ocean. By The Tree, let us arrive at my room soon.
“About a year, I think.” Jessica shrugged absently. “But you don’t to hear about me, My Lady. I’m no one special. Just a woman trying to make her way.”
Oh, I’m sure. Risa thought bitterly. “Humor me, please.” She said. “Dose Geddowyn treat you well?”
“Oh yes,” The Maid’s smile was cute. “I’m his favorite. And he pays me well, better than Galania. Or the cook and he has the best pay of the whole staff.” She giggled girlishly. “That rankles Galania, let me tell you. I’ve heard her get into shouting matches with The Master about it.” She chuckled and then squeaked in a rather frighteningly poor imitation of Galania. “’I’ve been here for twelve years, and that little fop gets more than any of us!’” Jessica’s chest shook with giggling.
Risa studied her uncomfortably, “And why are you his favorite?” The intoxicating perfume filled her head. Her eyes, unbidden, traced every curve of the maid’s body.
Jessica spun in answer, giving Risa a full look at her. Her hair spilled about her. Risa’s knees wobbled. “Oh, I can guess,” Jessica winked and giggled. “He gives me little things too.” She gestured to the dress. “This dress was one. Isn’t it beautiful, My Lady?”
“It’s like a princess’ dress,” Risa said slowly. her knees wobbled. Focus. Focus, Roots crush you!
Jessica nodded happily. “I’ve never worn anything so fine. “Not even my father will buy me something. And he’s richer than the Governor.”
Hard To Think.
“What else has he given you?”
Jessica’s smile was half a smirk. Risa suppressed a growl that bubbled up from her belly. Elysium, what was she planning? What did Geddoywn want her to do? Her brow furrowed, each thought slogged to her as if wading through mud. Think. What does Geddoywn want her to learn? How did she hope to learn it? Did- The moment of clarity vanished. Why was it so hard to think?
“Oh, just little things.” Jessica mused dreamily.
Risa cleared her throat. “Is the Perfume one of those ‘little things?’”
Jessica shook her head. “No. It’s embarrassing, but it’s actually Galania’s. Do you like it? Galania told me that it would make her irresistible. I don’t really believe that, but I do like how it smells.” Then she stopped in front a door. “Were here, My Lady.”
Jessica opened the door and lead The Shogun into the spacious bedchamber. It was only slightly smaller than hers and Shenal’s back home. The bed was big enough for three. And windows lined the walls. Risa’s eyes darted from one side of the room to the other. To her left was a white-tiled room with benches jutting out from the walls like teeth. In the center of the room was a large brass tub as wide as two men laying end to end. Steam curled upward from the tub, beckoning to her. Risa’s loins dripped, aching. Her thoughts whispered incoherently in her head. I have to get off my feet or... Or what? Fall over? Throw her hand down her trousers until she bled? No, No. She shook herself back to reality. Stop throwing your mind into the latrine, woman! Think! Think, Roots crush you! Geddowyn wanted something from her, though what that was she couldn’t see. The man himself didn’t seem to know. But how was Jessica, a girl with her head full of Gilannri tales and candy, supposed to get it for him? Galina would have been a better choice. Geddowyn must know that. Neither of them would have been a very good spy, that much was obvious. But Galania was older, smarter, less likely to let a secret slip carelessly. Wouldn’t she? The Shogun shook her head. If only she could think clearly.
Risa glanced back at the maid over her shoulder. The maid’s smile was beautiful.
“Would you like a bath?” Jessica tilted her head toward the tiled room and bowed slightly.
Risa turned to face the girl and flashed Jessica a frosty glare. “No!” she snapped. “I…” she trailed off suddenly. An idea was taking shape, she clutched at it like a piece of driftwood in a tempest. She smoothed her face quickly and said. “I mean, yes. Yes, that sounds wonderful.” She looked Jessica straight in the eye. “wi-will you join me, please?”
Jessica’s beautiful face flushed a deep crimson. “I, uh, i-if that is your p-pleasure, My Lady.”
“It is,” Risa snapped testily. And then without waiting for a response she stalked into the white tiled room and began to undress, slowly, meticulously. She could feel Jessica’s hungry eyes on her, hot like a sun. She shivered, her eyes were locked on the tub as if it was a gallows. “There are only two ways you can go on the battlefield.” A distant voice from her past recited harshly. Forward or back. Always forward or back. There is only one exception to this, and that is when you are surrounded. There is only one way to go then.” Risa shivered, her cheeks flushed with the shame. Forgive me, Shenal. I don’t have a choice. I have to go forward.
(Continued In Part Nine).
© 2017 Will English.