Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by darkwolf687
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The wind shrieked and howled around the old fortress as the sun slowly crept its way up into the sky above the peaks of the mountains that rose up like colossal pillars. There was much commotion and ado from the Oshweli party as the small column prepared to undertake its journey.

The large and foreboding doors upon the ancient fortress creaked open as the servants turned the cranks in the gatehouse; The doors of this mountain fortress were covered in the harsh carvings and markings, intimidating and menacing.

A diminutive figure emerged from the candlelit hallway within, wearing a thick gambeson and fur wrapped around his shoulders to help combat the cold. A pair of brilliant green eyes starred out at the world, more catlike or reptilian than they were human, piercing in their gaze. His black hair was cut short around the tiny horns that stood out from him, giving him an almost impish appearance. Notably, he was short even by the standards of the Western Drakken by a good six inches, themselves generally shorter than the Great Drakken of the eastern provinces, something which was often a hotly debated point in the common bizarre and all too often xenophobic criticisms the cultures of the west and east of Drakka projected onto each other - when they weren't too busy turning on their own subcultures or mocking the non-Drakken cultures. A critique had once been made of an Astalonian scholar that "the only thing the Drakken agree on is that they hate everyone else more than they hate each other" and, in fairness, it was not often far from true.

This was Zakroti Unalim, one of the Great Lords of the West and heir apparent of its dominions. Or perhaps rather, what was left of its dominion after it had lost its imperial possessions and been brought to heel by the Great Drakken. He had few friends in east or north Drakka, but back in the west he had reputation enough to command respect despite his runtish stature. To his right stood another figure, somewhat taller and clad in a hauberk with a large spear, similar reptile like eyes sat upon his face, but his features were softer and more rounded, and a long scar that ran from above his brow down across his face marred his features, and behind the both of them was a small collection of warriors and bodyguards, a handpicked honour guard.

Zakroti nodded to Aurien as the pair exited the building together, peering towards the mounts as they were prepared for riding by the serjeant-at-arms. It was not an easy road ahead by anyone's reckoning, to ride from the furthest east parts if drakka to near enough the further west, not far from the border with Kalderas. They would undoubtedly have to stop multiple timed along the way, although the young lord was want to linger far from the familiar lands of the west for very long.

Zakroti placed a hand upon Miry's shoulder gently and gave her a light nod and reassuring smile as he peered up towards the mount, a hardy and overgrown lizard. It was a Ganaut, a species of large domesticated quadrupedal reptiles native to the eastern lands of Drakka. Tough, sharp claws protruded out, clearly able to rend flesh with ease if it had wanted to. They were hardy and tough, well suited for riding over the rocky terrain that stretched out for many miles from the Shadow Wroth, down from the mountains. The creature turned its green scaled head to regard them, eyes blinking a few times as its tongue licked at the air to smell their approach.

These beasts of the east were often used as mounts in times of war or in hunts as well, for they were swift and excellent at tracking, intelligent and multiskilled creatures. They were adapt at climbing, even with their masters atop them if they were light enough, and so the Oshwel had long made use of lightly armoured warriors atop Ganauts as skirmishers in battle. Their sharp claws and large teeth made them terrifying enemies to behold as well, which added to shock they could deliver to enemy morale. They were also surprisingly low upkeep animals in times of peace; The rocky regions they initially came from were relatively desolate compared to the rest of Drakka, and these beasts led a rather sedentary lifestyle. They would kill and consume prey nearly whole, then rest themselves on a rock by a spring or watering hole and spend months digesting their prey. The Drakken took full advantage of this once they had begun taming them, and alongside the Horses that had long since been transplanted into Drakka, the Ganaut had seen widespread use as mounts by nobles and commoners alike.

"I doubt you've ever seem one of these, let alone ridden one." Zakroti said, stepping forward and running a hand along his mounts head softly, causing it to let out a strange noise, a rhythmic clicking roughly analogous to a purr. "His name is Valyatonzstar, he is a Ganaut. Don't worry, he looks more terrifying than he is. This ones soft at heart."

Zakroti looked back to the brides, well aware that this was likely fat from a comfortable experience for them to have not only been plucked and dropped into this foreign land, but now to be face to face which was undoubtedly a nightmarish creature compared to the more idyllic and familiar ones of their homeland - A creature they were expected to ride, at that. Still, it was what it was, they would change mounts at the City of Kazark once they reached the Steppes some 25 leagues to the west, and from there would take the road westwards over the hills and dales.
Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by Amethyst
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The pair of women who walked beside the lord could not have been more different if they tried.

The first, hovering uncertainly near the lord’s side as though unsure where she should position herself, was remarkably short, making even her diminutive husband look comparatively a giant. That, at least, was how it should be, or so his - father? Grandfather? Had sneered at her the previous night.

Then again, the old man had said all kinds of things. Not once before had anyone ever likened her demeanor to that of a puddle of slime ooze... she shivered slightly under the memory of his icy glare, carefully adjusting the hood of her cloak to not muss the pair of braids that were pinned tightly around her head.

He was right, she supposed, and that was the worst part.

Miry Loravyr, Warden of Time, professional puddle of backbone-less ooze. It had quite the ring to it, she thought idly, tapping her fingers on the edge of the stretched silk screen she carried under her arm. She peered up curiously at the short lord - her husband, Naia’s mercy - as he started speaking, and belatedly realized the enormous creatures that occupied the courtyard were nothing at all like she’d expected.

Lord Zakroti had mentioned a ride that evening, and she had thought, of course, of horses. Even when he’d alluded to their unfamiliar nature, she had thought- the hardy draft horses from the south, maybe, or even the winged ice spirits of northeastern legend... or perhaps even a wyvern, from the far north of Drakka. She’d read about those in several narratives, though now she wasn’t too sure of the pragmatics of trying to ride such a beast.

Miry hummed anxiously, and despite her fear of overstepping her lord’s boundaries, found herself quickly huddling under his arm, shielding her face against the chest plate of his armor, fingertips rapidly flailing between the signs for ‘big’ and for ‘dragon’.

Dragons. That was the first thought that crossed her mind; bloated, wingless dragons, perhaps the offspring of the sort that had razed so many gemmenian cities in the third era...

But the beast made no move to raze them. After a moment, Miry’s eyes popped open again, curiously, to regard the creature’s - now much closer - face. It flicked its tongue out; Miry chose to believe it was in greeting. She chirped nervously, a high-pitched squeaking in the back of her throat, and gave the large creature a slight, incredibly shaky bow.

She did not particularly wish to call the creature ‘a creature’ forever, but she wasn’t about to ask the lord to repeat something he’d surely just said! She half turned, meeting her sister-bride’s eye for a moment before glancing back at the creature. Nenra! Name? she signed, drawing the point of the question out from her chin towards the beast for extra emphasis.

The taller bride, hovering a few paces behind them, raised her eyebrows incredulously. “I’m not sure I can say that, Miry. Gun-OUT? That’s what they’re called?” She mumbled the words, turning to face their lord and forcing herself to slouch down in her boots, bending her knees slightly and sinking her shoulders. It did little to match their stature; as she had noticed the previous night, her chin was on a level with his nose even if she was barefoot!

Nenra stopped into a vague approximation of a bow, ears and neck reddening as she remembered the words thrown about her ears for the last two weeks of ‘training’, said by guards as though she couldn’t hear them. They joked about all manner of things, most often that she been a Drakkan recruit run away from the southern border in disgrace. After all, for those who defect, there’s nowhere to go. It made sense that she must’ve sawn off her horns and gone to live as a gem. Especially with a nobodies’ name - no record outside of her own tiny village of her surname.

Despite her best efforts, her lips curled into a vague snarl, but she was quick to school her features into blankness as the soldiers looked to her.

Some of them saw her as dangerous, she was sure of it, and maybe she could even see why. She was tall, of a height with most Gemmenite men, her hair short and fluffy around her ears, and she wore a simple linen tunic and trousers that showed off her broad shoulders and muscular arms.

She shook her hair out of her eyes and approached one of the creatures, tentatively extending a hand to be sniffed. She half expected fangs to sink into her palm, but the creature was serene, extending a scaled muzzle into the curve of her hand and pressing forward, as though expecting to be scratched under the chin. She obliged it, careful not to catch herself on the sharp edges of its chest scales.

An image pressed into her mind, sleepy and warm, of sun-baked mudflats on the banks of a river, several of these creatures laid out on heated rocks. Curiously, Miry popped into existence in the picture, running with a herd of smaller - or just young, perhaps - creatures, all of them squeaking and chirping.

“They think you’re a baby, Miry,” she mumbled, the sleepy inflection of the picture spilling over into her voice. “Because you squeak so much. They’re not gonna hurt you; this one just wants to go home and soak in the sun.”

At length, she pulled her hand away from the creature’s chin, ignoring its pointed, plaintive chirp. “If I may be remarkably dense, my lord,” she stumbled over the honorific, but stubbornly kept speaking, turning to regard the top of the lord’s head rather than meet his eyes, “how are these creatures... to be ridden?”
Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by darkwolf687
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Zakroti gave a brief glance to Miry and Nen again as Nenra tried to pronounce the name and Miry referred to them as Dragons. The Warlord chuckled to himself weakly for a moment and gently wrapped an arm around the young Gem almost protectively as she clung to him, turning her slowly to get a good view of it.

"No, not Dragons. These are no beasts of legend who come to burn down villages or eat children, Dragons would make this look like a mouse I have no doubt. No, you can think of it almost like a Horse. It's Ganaut. Gaar Nort" Zakrroti said as he nodded to the handler who backed away to leave them. He watched as Nenra approached the creature and lay her hand upon it, raising a brow at the bold move but making no move to stop her. She seemed to understand and pet it quickly enough, a result of Gemmenite magic he imagined, for they were often put to work handling animals and those Drakken who had blood lineage to such gems often exhibited a great affinity with nature than those without. Ot had long been the primary strength of the Drakken species that it was not only compatible with many of the other species upon the continent, but they were also capable of absorbing various traits and elements from these partners. It was no secret that the difference in stature between the Great Drakken and the West Drakken had been in no small part a product of this, Zakroti's own eyes betrayed Kalderan lineage in his bloodline. The Gaunt Drakken, or Ghost Drakken, who lived in Aylhami a Vorguli, an isle upon the ocean east of Kalderas, had supposedly mingled with people of far off lands which gave them a distinct appearance too from their landbound cousins.

Zakroti heard Nen's question and smiled to himself again. He rubbed the beast under its chin carefully, continuing to pet it for a few moments before removing his hand and speaking to it clearly and resolutely, a single word command to the powerful beast-mount. "Postat."

No sooner had the word been uttered than the creature lowered itself down to rest its belly on the ground, bringing it down to a level on which one would easily mount it and set themselves upon the saddle it bore. The being let out another unusual vocalisation, a chittering noise followed by it hitting its tail off the ground several times, causing a rhythmic thumping nose. The young lord motioned for the two women to climb on up with a reassuring smile across his face

"They don't bite. Unless you threaten them. Or you poke their eyes." Zakroti said reassuringly - or perhaps rather in an attempt to be reassuring, his choice of words left something to be desired, there was no doubt about that. He didn't suspect Nenra would have much trouble, she certainly seemed the bolder of the pair, having already made contact with it. It was Miry whom he worried would be too scared to dare mount Valyatonzstar.
Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by Amethyst
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The blood drained from Miry’s face as Zakroti boosted himself up into the saddle and motioned them to join him. She blinked uncertainly for a moment, swaying on her feet. Belatedly, pain and panic seized her chest, worming their way up to her throat; she struggled to catch a breath. She half shook her head, mumbling to herself and shying away from the beast, legs and chin visibly wobbling.

She couldn’t do it. She couldn’t -

Strong hands settled over her shoulders. “Miry,” Nenra hissed, somewhere over her ear. The small girl squeaked, all but falling against Nenra’s body. The taller girl caught her and propped her up, hands settling under her arms.

“You have to, Miry. You have to.” The words were scarcely louder than a whisper in her ear. Before the tiny girl could argue, Nenra placed her hands on her waist and hoisted her up, depositing her quite neatly on the edge of the saddle in front of Zak.

Miry flailed her legs around for a moment, fighting her slightly-too-long skirts into some semblance of elegance, draped across the saddle and trailing down the creature’s side. As she did, her gaze fixated on the ground, and she realized just how far off the ground they already were.

Just because she’d grown up in a mountain fortress didn’t mean she particularly cared for heights.

She folded over on herself, pressing her face into her skirts in an effort to clear the fog of terror that still clung behind her eyes. Tears welled up, and she mumbled to herself as she discreetly wiped her face on her skirt to try to clear them.

Nenra took the moment to glance up to Zak. “She’s a bit skittish, is all. Figured it’s better to have you hold on to her.”

Miry signed something too quickly to be understood, making a vague obscene gesture in Nenra’s direction, mostly hidden behind the tangle of her hair. She would not fight if Zak reached his arms around her, and even would slightly lean in against his chest.

The tall bride didn’t seem to notice Miry’s frustration, lightly vaulting up behind Zak. She settled awkwardly into the saddle, not quite sure where to put her feet or hands. She ended up settling her hands at Zakroti’s waist, cringing slightly at the implication of that position. But there was hardly anywhere else to help her balance...

She turned her gaze over the assorted men-at-arms, taking stock of the traveling party. “How far do we ride today? My - my lord,” she hastily added, nervously dipping her head in reverence though she knew he couldn’t see her. That one would take some getting used to still.
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Zakroti wrapped an arm around Miry protectively, taking up the reins in his other hand as the Ganaut began to rise from the ground to its standing height. The creatures were somewhat bigger than the horses the Gems were accustomed too in the east, though Zakroti wagered even Drakken horses would be a significant step up in size.

"It's okay, I've got you." Zakroti whispered to he reassuringly, keeping a firm grip around her so that she could be sure she wouldn't fall. He felt Nenra's hands at his waist and peered back to her for a moment before facing forwards again as the group fell in.

The men at arms were similarly mounted, mostly, an entire trains worth of them with spare horses. They were dressed fairly lightly, in gambesons with swords hanging from their belt in scabbards rather than geared up for war, though a few of the sturdier men stills wore haubergeons. Armour was kept upon the baggage mounts rather than on their person; There was far too mich travelling through far too temperamental weather conditions to wear their full armour. In total there must have numbered 20 or more of them. Nastaki was remaining with his own Zuthi for now, and for that Zakroti was grateful, for Miry and his grandfather had started off extremely poorly.

Those men who rode closes to Zakroti were those whom he trusted most closely. A handpicked body guard of men personally loyal to him. Having chosen men and champions was not an uncommon custom in either the west or east, the names, cultural connotations and legal standing differed from duchy to duchy, but typically a lord having a handful of particularly loyal and honoured retainers who acted as both his personal guards and his most trusted servants - or thugs, as the case may be - was commonplace, and Zakroti used it to its fullest extent to protect himself. He had learnt long ago how dangerous life could be when one is involved in political and strategic wrangling with Drakken. Amongst the Great Drakken especially, by his reckoning, right or wrong. He has taken care to find and earn the loyalty of a number of highly skilled and exceptional individuals, though the one who stood out most obviously to the naked eye was Kzaar, who was tall even by Drakken standards. In fact, he seemed positively like a giant, standing a head above even the next tallest Drakken man at arms, who was already impressive in stature

"As far as we can get by evening, stopping for food along the way. We will wish to reach Kazark as swiftly as we can, from there the journey gets easier along the steppes and eventually to the proper roads." Zakroti replied to Nenra as the the column of travellers began to set off forwards.

**

The train rode hard throughout the morning and into the afternoon, stopping at about two hours past midday atop a small and rocky hill. An underground aquifer here had caused a small spring that had given rise to a relative abundance of plant life by comparison to elsewhere, and the group would use this for shade.

The crags and jagged rocky terrain that punctuated their descend from the mountains and the begining of their journey towards the steppes had been easy going thanks to the Ganaut mounts, but Zakroti knew that the Gems would find the horses less objectionable, and the softer travel on the road system that lay around the Drakken capital and particularly further west would do them well also.

For miles around, as they could see from their elevated position, rocky bluffs and ravines could be seen, outgrowths of red blood glass and tough, wirey plants sprouting from between rocks. Occasionally too, all manner of creatures, herbivores and carnivorous, could be glimpsed stalking across these relatively desolate lands. These most furthest east parts of Drakka had not done well for themselves, folklore would have it told that they were cursed by the gods themselves, scholars had speculated that it was a result of weather conditions caused by the structure of the surrounding mountains and lands. Whatever the case, it was apparent that this was a harsh land.

They had started a fire for cooking, and pots had soon been produced. They had soon begun to produce a stew using vegetables and mushrooms such as fae stools, with diced salted Reabak meat in with the mixture. Herbs and seasoning was added and before long the simple dish was served up with a small amount of bread, composed of more than a few ingredients which were likely somewhat unfamiliar or exotic to the Gems.

"I should hope you've had the opportunity to try some of our cuisine before, travel and trade across the mountain can hardly be that bad." Zakroti commented as he took a chunk of the Reabak meat upon his fork and lifted it to his mouth.

"Even if it is with the easterners." Aurien added with a slightly dismissive chuckle, as all too often the Oshwel were of the Great Drakken given their conflicting history.
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Miry squeaked, melting back into Zakroti’s arms and twining her arm around his, hugging his close to her. After a moment, she rested her speaking screen across her lap, pinning it under their interlaced hands and freeing her other side. She closed her eyes for most of the journey, finding it better to trust his arms than her eyes for balance.

She might have fallen asleep; honestly, she wasn’t entirely sure. But as the column drew to a halt, she cracked her eyes open again, squinting faintly against the sun. Zak practically had to lift her out of the saddle, and even then she stumbled against his side, legs tingling as she regained feeling she didn’t even know she’d lost.

The men-at-arms were quick to busy themselves with assembling a meal of some sort; a stew made from things both foraged and brought from the holdings. Miry, having set her speaking screen down somewhere safe, hovered anxiously behind the busy men, unsure how to help but feeling like she should.

For the most part, the soldiers ignored her, bustling about their business and quickly preparing the meal. It wasn’t long before Zakroti beckoned her and Nenra to the campfire.

Nenra wandered off the moment they made their camp, eyes scanning the vegetation and dirt. She mentally compared the plants here - overwhelmingly, they were small, close-to-the ground mosses and succulents, with the occasional scrub or shrubbery- to the ones at home. Her home had been farmland, lush plains and woodland that even tended slightly to swampland, but up in the hills a day’s ride away there were similar bits of scrub and bitter ground herbs used for a variety of medicinal applications.

These plants all looked similar enough, but she knew that never meant anything here. She shook herself out of her sudden dark thoughts as Zak called her name, and she plastered a pretty smile on her face as she rejoined the group.

Miry perched on a stone, hesitantly poking at the stew with the supplied eating utensils. It smelled spicy and savory, much bolder than most of the cuisine they’d ever had at home. She wasn’t quite sure of what the meat was, but it was dense and tough, and even the vegetables and mushrooms seemed denser than they were at home. She tentatively stabbed a piece of mushroom and nibbled on it uncertainly, wrinkling her nose as her palette flooded with spicy, vaguely tart flavors from even just that one bite.

Nenra snorted at Zakroti’s comment, shaking her head. She had shoved a scoop of the stew in her mouth with little regard for decorum or manners, and chewed quickly, mumbling around her food, “well of course we did, that’s all they fed us at -“ she trailed off. “The place. Shadow somethin’. I don’t care what they call it, but, that place they had us all for ‘training.’ Not that it did much of any good.” As if to emphasize her point, she wiped her hands on her trousers and took another big bite of stew, flinching at the cast of unfamiliar flavors but chewing resolutely.

’Vinokh,’ Miry signed, holding her bowl in her lap as she spelled out each individual letter, stretched out to resemble the multitude of spires of the Drakkan border fortress. It was the proper name of it in the old imperial tongue, though seldom used now outside of academic circles. She’d read all about it in her childhood, of course, and so that was the name that came first to mind. As Zak mentioned trade, she perked up, eyes brightening. She could talk trade. ’Trade across the mountain is worse than you imagine, I think,’ she started signing, the idea coming faster and words blurring together around the edges. ‘the easterners have little interest in exchange anymore, not since-‘ she bounced her legs a little bit, as she did when she was excited, and nearly dropped her bowl of stew.

She panicked and caught the bowl, barely, and coughed lightly with embarrassment as she adjusted its position in her lap. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed Nenra’s gaze sliding dismissively past her, and several of the guards looking at her blankly.

Oh.

Right.

She’d done the thing again.

She set the bowl aside entirely, blinking away sudden tears, eyes fixating on the rocks at her feet. A thought crossed her mind, for about the fifth time that day, meandering in among words and stories half written and this time refusing to be shooed off. Zakroti had noticed when she’d called the - she mentally skipped over the name again. Ganaut? - whatever it was, he’d noticed and acknowledged that she’d called it a dragon. Her cheeks reddened slightly in embarrassment of her conduct. But even that didn’t unhitch the wagon of her thoughts.

He’d been so respectful of her ...needs, previously; he’d barely even hesitated when she showed him the speaking-screen and drawn water through it to make the shapes of words at the selection gala, and he’d been quick to adapt to using questions and comments that could be answered with only nods or vague gestures, but she’d not tried to sign to him directly before.

Spire Court sign was relatively unused, even in Gemmenia - most of the noble seats had their own dialects, variations on the visual language (though they were all similar enough to be at least vaguely understood!) and theirs was among the most archaic of them. It had been a surprise and a half that Nenra and Kazia had both known some form of hand-sign, at least well enough to hold a simple conversation, but Zakroti? She was certain that any sort of training they sent the lords to, if there even was one (and she was sure it was a laughable idea) didn’t include a primer on Gemmenian visual languages.

She tried to catch his eye, turning to regard him and staring at the point of his chin to give the illusion of meeting his eyes. ’How did you learn our handsign?’ she shaped the words slowly and excessively precisely, out of habits formed interacting with those unfamiliar, and prayed he’d understand.

Nenra started to speak up to translate, talking around yet another face full of stew, but Miry shot her a look. This was important, and she had to speak for herself on it.
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"Shadow Wroth" Zakroti said, shifting a little in place as he settled. It was an unusual name, he had to admit, but no more unusual than those the Oshwel gave to their own. Whether the Drakken or the Gemminites had named it such first he knew not, but it was enough that the name had stuck. Their own names in the west marchlands had not dissimilar meanings when translated, but he suspected it was deliberately intimidating, forboding. A move designed to continue to coerce conformity from the kingdom that bordered Drakka. This was the Great Drakken's favoured form of conquest and control over them, after all, a constant reminded that their kingdom was at their mercy, for it they withdrew either from the southern border or sought to take it by force, they could do so in a heartbeat. The Great Drakken, far from the brutish beasts their behaviour odten seemed to convey, were possessed of great cunning and such strategies were deliberate and careful.

"Then what do you make of it? There's more culinary variety here than some would have you believe, I'm sure. That of my homeland and beyond will hopefully prove pleasing enough."

"They make poor neighbours, that much is true and sure." Zakroti said with a shrug of his shoulders as he took a mouthful of the soup, chewing and swallowing. The Drakken were prone to infighting, whether individually or collectively. The large variety of Drakken kind only made this all the more apparent, and the split between the West Drakken and the Great Drakken as they were known in the common tongue was one of the more fierce and filled with conflict and violence. Religious and cultural differences hardly helped here, and the relations between the two had been strained since time immemorial.

Zakroti was snapped back to the present when, in the midst of signing about trade with the Great Drakken, Miry almost dropped her bowl to the ground. There was a silence for a few moments as the soldiers peered at her and the young Gem shrunk away.

Zakroti slipped over closer to her, sitting beside her and giving her a reassuring smile as he lifted her bowl back up from the ground and offered it to her

"Since...?" He asked gently, intrigued by what she had to say. He listened - or watched rather, he supposed - intently as she signed to him. Zakroti paused and sat back, thinking to himself for a moment

"I know several languages, my Drakken is somewhat rusty, my Gemminite speech and handsign is, I imagine, even worse." Zakroti said with a light shrug of his shoulders as he said back and took another spoonful of soup, thinking back.

Most languages had been taught to him by Xarxlosar, though such physical languages weren't. That would have been a tad difficult on account of her not having hands. Still, it had long been considered important for a noble of Osh Edehame to be something of a polymath, though naturally few actually lived up to it. The expectations of what the 'perfect' noble should be and the reality of what the nobility was rarely seemed to match up very well, in his eyes.

"I learnt it from my sister in my youth, who learnt it from our mother." Zakroti explained, sitting back a little and taking up another spoonful of the soup, placing a piece of the tough reabak meat into his mouth and consuming it as he thought. All Drakken co-opted and conquered that around them, and the Oshwel particularly had a reputation for co-opting. Until the rise of the Kingdom of Askalan, the Great Plague and the partition of Kalderas, their domain had stretched wide and far to the great southern wastes. Bit by bit, they had come apart, but for the loss of their imperial might and prestige, their spirit and romanticism had lost none of its potency; It was sometines joked that no map of their territories was ever complete without reference to the boundaries of their former glories, a reference to the habit of referring to the various new kingdoms and princeships as 'the lost territories.'

"There's an old joke that our conquests are driven solely by such appreciation for foreign things and such disdain for our own." Zakroti chimed in again, taking another bite of the tough and hard meat. That was certainly true, by his reckoning. For all their pretences of being different to their kindred, the Oshwel had surely been among the most prolific of plunderers in times of war. He alone had added countless new oddities and treasures to the collection that his father had built upon, that each proprietor of Mu'Jupostat had over the years built up. Although shorter than both their kindred, they had lost not aj ounce of their capacity for war, and if anything the conflict between the subgroups of the Kingdom of Drakka kept in check the imperial ambitions for both.

Zakroti peered off over the horizon, the rocky and semi-barren land. He would be glad when this was behind them, and doubly glad once they reached the west marchlands and his home, a comparative bread basket by contrast to this hell scape. This was most of what the Gems knew or saw of Drakka, though; A desolate, brutish, unforgiving place. Even he would defend the Great Drakken from such slander, their lands had their own beauty in parts, and their ways their own merits.
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Miry blinked stupidly up at Zakroti for a moment, finally shaking her head to clear it. She took the bowl back and placed it where it wouldn’t be disturbed, though she paused a moment to place a bite of some sort of starchy root vegetable, similar to a potato in consistency at least, into her mouth. She chewed thoughtfully, reconstructing her thought.

’I mean, I’m sure you know everything I’m about to say, but-‘ she paused, scrubbing at the air with her hand as though erasing that thought. ’Though actually, I’m not certain. The history as it was written is not often told to even our children anymore; I can’t imagine how it’s spun across the mountains. The agreement between our kingdoms has not always been like this - most of our great houses still push the narrative that it has, of course, I daresay because they don’t want to admit how badly our tradition has fallen apart.’ she wrinkled her nose in distaste of her fellows and took another bite of stew. ’But I was fortunate enough to get to read not one but two manuscripts, originals that date back to twelve hundred and eight of the fourth era - you know, three years after the first agreement, and though the context of them both have been hotly debated, at least that of the almanac of Saranea-‘ she cut herself mid-sign, her fingers pausing in the middle of drawing the particular scholar’s enormous and oft-cited beard. Certainly the Drakkan lord who sat beside her did not care to be regaled with the intricacies of a long-dead Gemmenite court historian’s narrative. ’Sorry, I - particulars aside, you know, it was called the Great Council for a reason. Representatives of fifty five noble houses and associated scholars convened with Drakkan lords for two weeks of negotiations and wrote a contract - sorry, I’m sure you know that, too -‘ she shook her head slightly.

’The long and short of it is, well, the Drakken did not break their contract. We broke ours. The exchange of goods and services was not unlike most, if you ignore that living people were among those goods taken forward and back across the Spine. Under the En’delare dynasty,’ the namesign trailed down from the crown of her head to her shoulders; the royals who had held power since the dawn of the fourth era were known for the length of their hair, their rule, and their lives. ’the choosing was voluntary, and families were taken care of in the absence of their daughters. It was a deeply flawed system, of course, but struggling families were often quick to offer up their children for the royal stipend, and seldom were the brides anyone of importance, so - it was peaceful enough.’

She gritted her teeth. ’When the crown passed over to the Aralenderals, the first king- woefully young and naive, though his heart was in the right place, made certain changes to the program. He found it hideously objectionable to trade goods for young women - entirely understandably - and so no longer offered the stipend, and so within two years there were no longer enough volunteers. And so the Drakkan lords stopped asking.’ Her handsigns were sharp, small, and deft, pointed and distant from herself. ’Gone were the festivals and open markets and proud public gatherings. Drakken came in the dead of night and snatched away girls who were previously untouchable. And you know, as the years have gone on they’ve stopped listening to the old guidelines, because we broke the treaty first, so. They take so many girls every year, now, those too young or old, those already promised in marriage, those already set to inherit, those who-‘ she trailed off again, a shiny rock on the ground catching her attention and holding it.

Under agreed upon circumstances, she never would have been taken. She was too young, the heir, and besides that, fae-touched. Stupid, to some, but her mother had been too stubborn to let anyone plant that idea in her head. Just, different. She saw things too brightly and heard things too loudly and thought of things and words just differently from most people.

Still, most didn’t see it as a gift. She very vividly remembered freezing up in their lessons, being shoved against the bricks of the fortress, the guards and even the other brides talking over her head about how slow and dumb she was.

She shivered slightly, refocusing and chancing a glance up at Zak.

’if they weren’t following the rules you might’ve gotten my prettier sister, not me. But apparently, they still take volunteers.’ Her signs were sharp and bitter, eyes clouded by tears. She wondered how much he’d been told of her - presumably not much; most lords likely didn’t care the circumstances of where their brides came from.

She was sure she’d bored him with her ranting, but also perhaps not; his comment about languages gave her considerable pause.

She’d thought it more of a Gem thing, to be gifted with so many words of so many people. As future Warden, she had been under a particular expectation to know as many different languages as possible, though most of the ones she knew were quite archaic and, as some scholars put it, ‘dead’.

’It was my job, or, well, was going to be my job, to know how to read and write as many languages as I could, or that was part of it.’ The warden’s job was far more than just a scribe’s work, but that was a large part of it, too.

She chanced a tiny smile up at the man who was to be her husband. She could make this work. There was much to be learned, here.
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Zakroti shifted awkwardly in place and continued to eat from the bowl of soup as he peered at her, watching her sign away the specifics of the history with interest. The Drakken were hardly ones to allow themselves to be taken advantage of, the nobility of the west had hardly taken it lying down either; Ever since the False Truce of Depuce the Oshwel had taken great exception to such dealings, and their imperial dominion during its height had made it practically standing policy to make an example of those who reneged on agreements with them. The sack of Caradhangias had in fact directly resulted from such, and it was said that their forces had left not a stone for a bird to perch upon once they had razed the city-state to the ground and sold its population into slavery. The effect was pronounced; The other vassal states of what was then known as the Mavakian Mountains had quickly fallen into line and it was a century before any of the city states dared to raise an objection to their control again, and only then as the winds of fate had changed and the imperial prestige had vastly declined.

The Great Drakken themselves had similar stories, for the Kingdom of Drakka was ruled in such a way that treachery and double crossings, while not uncommon, could carry disastrous consequences for those who engaged in them. Although duels were not an uncommon way of settling disputes, all out war between vassals of the Drakken royal family had resulted from disputes between noble houses over everything from land, trade down to alleged insults and slander. From his own perspective, the Gemmenites had truthfully gotten off lightly, for there were a great many worse things done between the Drakken on account of truce breakers and those who had forsworn their oaths, good intentions or not.

Still, this had been an internal Gemmenite dispute, and if they were unable to find a method by which to fulfil the original terms of their agreements, they ought to have had the foresight to seek a solution to the problem. It was an entirely understandable objection, but then they had agreed to it in the first place and been utterly unable to put a stop to it. Morally, he understood precisely the conundrum the Gemmenites had found themselves within; A generally peaceful people, the cataclysmic upheaval that they fell prey to and the dangers that lurked in the south, let alone those waiting across the mountain, had forced them into a losing hand and they had tried to play it as best they could to buy their time. Was a stipend for volunteers moral? Far from it, he understood far too well that the economic incentives for that effectively shuffled the entire burden from the rich and powerful onto the poor, and the former would undoubtedly be incentives to ensure that it remained that way lest they have to give up their own daughters. He knew that the Muthseran had at the time petitioned multiple times to introduce terms and - subsequently - to renegotiate the contract to include terms that would prevent precisely this. Not, of course, that the Muthserani had cared at all for the moral and ethical considerations, such a move was hardly motivated out of altruism but rather out of pure pride and political concerns. In deed, taking those who would inherit had been precisely what some of the Oshwel Orthi had in mind.

Zak mused for a moment; The Drakken king had brought the Muthi off in the end through the transfer of the vassalage of the southern realms, which had long ago been annexed into Drakka. Ironic, considering that access to the very brides that they were now being brought off dictating the terms of had been a buy off for western military support for the campaign against the then independent Drakken tribes in the north east most part of the Drakken Kingdom. Of course, that these lands now became a problem for his own family by empowering a rival due to the split between the various noble families in the west after the collapse of the dominion, was perhaps only more irony to top off this bestial arrangement.

He also wondered whether the Gemmenites were knowledgable at all about the handful of brides who had been given to the Kalderans by the Oshwel some 80 prior, a payment to the mercenary warriors that the Unalim family had recruited to supplement their own numbers during the civil war where the Unalim family reclaimed much of their predominance over the other Oshweli families. The Kalderans did not possess the same qualities as the Drakken, but the so called 'Gaunt Drakken' of the Aylhame a Vorgula did and the tribes had sought to trade these Gemmenites with them. True to the common abbreviation - or perhaps rather slang term - of 'Gems', these women from the east had been exploited more like objects than people right across the continent at one time, and he doubted in truth that it would come close to an end soon.

"When you are sharing a den with a wolf, it is wise not to starve him; They ought have been more careful with their social policies." Zakroti replied as he continued to listen to her story, taking up another spoonful of soup and slipping it into his mouth. "It was a better system to keep it strictly voluntary, perhaps your rulers ought to fix the mess they have created. The Great Drakken are not known for their restraint, I doubt they will back down from this of their own accord, they'll have to be brought off, or they're likely going to continue this."

That was not precisely in the best interests of the Oshwel either; Gemmenite brides had become something of an accepted feature in the west, and were highly prized as they were in Drakka. There were many practical reasons for this beyond the aesthetic, as there often were when it came to Drakken interbreeding with other races, and the academics of the west had long since been engaged in advising the great and small on breeding with non-Drakken kind, and with their own kind. Although such a mindset might seem crude, uncouth and barbaric to outsiders, to the Drakken this was a necessary part of their survival and had been their greatest strength in adapting to the world. Losing access to this valuable source of traits and features from the east could cost the Oshwel severely, shortening their pool of respective partners and leaving them less capable to begin their reconquest once the matter of who truly held the Imperial Mandate was settled. If that matter was ever settled. Nastaki had come closer than any other in centuries to finally reestablishing the Imperial mantle, and he had been very clear to Zakroti that he desired him to ensure it was achieved - not that the favour of his Grandfather had done him any individual blessings, given the pressure to excel it had placed upon him.

"What do you mean by that?" Zakroti asked with a pause, peering at her carefully. The implication of the words was obviously that she had volunteered, but that did not seem to be at all what the appearance of her face was suggesting. Been volunteered perhaps? He wasn't sure, but he would rather know than not know. He returned her smile warmly "What tongues do you know, then?"
Hidden 2 yrs ago 2 yrs ago Post by Amethyst
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’They absolutely should have been more careful,’ Miry signed. ’But the nature of the Gemmenite parliament is such that once the policy was abolished - by royal mandate, not even by a vote, but the king soon realized his mistake. The parliament was in a deadlock from that point on; something had to be done but no one could agree on what. It’s been thirty years of this, you know, and every year ideas are brought up and summarily struck down. It’s infuriating.’

She took a bite of her stew, watching her husband curiously. He seemed particularly deep in thought, but he picked up on her words about volunteering.

The traitor tears sprung up in her eyes again.

’My mother volunteered me.’ Her hands fell sharply in her lap, and she bit her lip to try to stop its trembling.

No one except those other brides taken at the royal court knew how Miry had ended up here. Others were quick to talk about the home they’d been ripped from; she hadn’t been. What was there to say?

’My elder sister was presented to the royal court as prince Kelan’s wife-to-be. For the first time in three hundred and seventy two years, the title is passing patrilineally - my sister will take his name. It’s a huge opportunity for my family, you see.’ in Gemmenia, by virtue of how elemental affinities passed down (from mother to children), titles and names usually passed matrilineally, though by a technicality anyone could inherit their family holding. ’The night of her presentation ball, the younger Drakkan prince arrived at the capital. He took several of the young court ladies for the reaping, all dressed up in their finery, and - wished to take my sister for himself. My mother screamed at me to do something and - when I couldn’t, she... she begged him to take me instead.’ She squeaked sadly, her face crumpling as she fought off tears. ’I still don’t know why he agreed. Or why she would - I - none of them would look at me, when he took me away, not her or my aunt or my sister or even my little brother.’ She hesitated for a moment and then wrapped her arms around Zak’s, burying her face in his side and sobbing, whole body shaking. Her next signs were frantic, difficult to determine even if he could see them. ’I’m sorry I’m not - I - if you want to trade me away for someone better I understand, but - please tell me if you’re going to I just - I just want to know who I’m supposed to be.’

At some length of time that she wasn’t sure of, the pain in her chest and mind subsided a bit, and her sobs turned to whimpers and then to trembling hiccups. She sniffled, wiping her eyes and looking up at Zak blearily, trying to match his smile. ’I - languages? I mean, it’s not many, at least not many that are useful, but I read eighteen different languages with seven and a - well, sort of a half - different notation systems.’ She rattled them off, including archaic tongues of the first era and languages from lands beyond their border - and several so ancient and mysterious, held only in tomes transcribed and re-transcribed a dozen times with age, that even their modernized catalogue entries were in pre-first-era pictogrammatics. Only two of the languages she read were Drakkan in origin, and both fairly archaic - no text or tome of language had made it across the spine in a hundred years - so she was certain they were of little use. High Drakkan had certainly not helped her within the walls of Vinokh, though it was likely a difference in reading versus hearing as well. She gave a self effacing smile. ’Few of them are useful, as I said, so it’s really not all that impressive. I’m just good at learning patterns.’
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Zakroti remained silent for a few moments, deep in thought about the story she had told him. That hardly sounded like volunteering, more like conscription by his reckoning. He shifted over towards her, placing the bowel down and wrapping an arm around her gently as she buried her face against him.

"It's okay, Miry. No one is going to trade you away. You only have to be you." Zakroti said reassuringly, gently holding her to his side. It was quite the brutal move, to sell out ones own family for politics like that. So much for the Gem's supposed moral superiority, he supposed, that was a move that would have insulted his own family with its blatant and unapologetic political powergrabbing. Not that he was precisely a stranger to fighting with his own family, the succession crisis that followed his father's passing had been clear enough in that regard, though Nastaki had sought to confine the fallout.

And of course, Nastaki would be extremely eager to learn of this; After all, such a situation could probably be exploited by an unscrupulous lord for political gain... If anyone was able to exploit this situation, it would be him - or Zakroti himself, the young lord mused, considering the implications of his Grandfather's own impending succession for far from the first time. For a Drakken, Nastaki was extremely old, yet remained in surprisingly good health for his very advanced age. Aside from the use of magics and Nastaki's own lifelong commitment to his own health, it was often joked that Krenta's servants were simply too scared to come for the formidable old warrior.

The conversation moved on quickly enough as Miry answered his question about languages. Zakroti paused as he listened - or watched, rather - intently to her explanation. She was evidently highly intelligence to know so many languages, and his mouth dropped open slightly as she rattled them off one after other. Some were extremely complex languages he couldn't have learnt in his dizziest day dreams, let alone have learnt with seventeen others to boot.

"I disagree, that's very impressive, I can't claim to be able to read or write half that number. Learning patterns is how we learn, no?" Zakroti replied with a shake of his head, peering over towards Nenra for a moment and then glancing back down towards Miry as if trying to invite the other Gem to say something reassuring, realising that it would probably be a lot more beneficial for her to hear it from one of her own people than him given the details of their association.
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Nenra watched the conversation from a distance, her jaw dropping slightly as Miry described her family’s actions – no real family would ever throw someone away like that, surely. But, she supposed, those noble politics were why the people of Myllendh seldom bothered to leave their village. They always had cared little for that posturing and nonsense of noble politics, not when there was land to be tended and children to be raised.

Her shock turned to disgust, though, as Miry seemed to forget all of that history she supposedly knew. The small girl clung to Zakroti, burying her face in his side and crying – rather like a small child clinging to a parent, or perhaps a young lover to a foolish partner.
What was she doing? He didn’t really care, certainly not yet but probably not ever.

Miry had insisted on sharing his bed that first night – Nenra privately thought it an incredibly foolish decision, though she’d kept her mouth shut about it. The younger bride was scared, and lonely, and trying to protect herself however she could, she knew – but still. It spat in the face of every bride who’d ever come to suffering here before.

Zakroti looked to her and she carefully schooled her features, mentally replaying the conversation. Right, languages. “I suppose that it’s impressive enough, if that’s what you want to do with your life,” she said, unable to hide the slight bit of boredom that seeped into her voice. She had little patience for most academic pursuits, truth be told, but from how the lord spoke (and looked, though she knew better than to fully judge a man by his form) she was certain he was more an intellectual type than a warrior.

She set aside her empty bowl, stretching her arms above her head with a slight yawn and an alarming series of popping noises in her arms and back. She reached down, gathering up a small pinch of the dirt here and rubbing it between her fingers. Dry, acidic, without much ability to hold moisture even when it had rain; agriculture here would be a nightmare.

She rather hoped Zakroti would let her have a garden here, wherever exactly “here” was – she thought to the seed balls nested in at the bottom of her satchel. Her mother, Vivari’s blessing, had been able to convince the reaping party to wait, just to wait for half a span so that they could pack up some belongings and provisions for the road. They were already going to be late, and surely they were running out of provisions, so they’d send them off with some so their daughters wouldn’t go hungry. In thirty minutes, every girl’s family had packed her a bag of belongings; Nenra’s siblings had thrown in as many seed balls as they could fit (seeds and fertilizer loosely tied into a knot of thin muslin with a holding spell on it, designed to scatter seeds when thrown and often used for planting in smaller garden plots) so that she could bring the flowers and crops of home wherever she ended up.

It was a touching gesture, to be certain. She turned her attention back to the crumbling desert dirt she held, dusting it off of her hands and shaking her head lightly.

Miry shook her head slightly. ‘I don’t know,’ she signed. ‘None of my siblings seemed to find any of the same patterns. They thought I was crazy, but I guess that’s why my aunt wanted ME to inherit, not them. I wouldn’t know. I don’t know anything.’ She stared at the ground for a long moment before continuing.

‘Will your grandfather be awaiting us at home, then?’ she asked, trying to keep the signs light. A tremble came into her fingers as she considered the question, though. She had not gotten on with his grandfather, not in the slightest. ‘or I guess – more properly. Who all will be? I just – sorry – I just want to be prepared and – not embarrass you. He already hates me, I don’t want everyone else to, too, and...’
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Zakroti chuckled softly as they peered towards Nenra "Not the bookish type, I take it." He replied with a light raise of his brow, examining her carefully from a distance with his reptillian gaze; She certainly seemed far from the bookish type, in fairness, a lower class woman to be sure, and a woman of the land at that. She was by far one of the strongest Gemmenite brides he had ever seen, though that in fairness was not frequently an area with much competition.

"What of your family, Nenra? I take it not all Gemmenite families have the same lack of committment to their own?" Zakroti asked curiously, shifting lightly in place to face a little towards her as he spoke, half expecting a short and curt reply from her, or else one that was obviously forced - perhaps not for lack of effort, but it was certainly obvious that she disapproved of him from her demeanour. Not that he blamed her, of course, he would have reacted quite the same in her position he imagined.

Zakroti Unalim looked back towards Miry again, watching her sign her replies to him intently. His understanding of their handsign was rusty, he could tell that much from how long it was taking him to decipher the meaning on occassion. He gave a soft nod and shifted in place.

"I'm sure you know much more than you think, some people simply think differently, recognise things that others don't." He replied with a reassuring smile. She lacked confidence, clearly, and gave herself far too little credit. Or perhaps she was simply scared and panicked still, given her circumstances, and feeling all too betrayed. She must have been a whirlwind of emotions, for there was no way one could have possibly remained calm and collected given all she had experienced recently. Indeed, that Nenra was able to remain so was a testament of strength in and of itself, he had to admit.

She went on to ask him who would be at his home, and his smile grew a little more jovial, followed by a soft laugh and a shake of his head "He won't be there no, I imagine he has more important business to attend to at court for now. He has more important things to do than scare you all day, do not fear. As for who will be there, well I could go through a lot of names, and scarcely reach the bottom of the lift. Many servants, from Xarxlosar the governess to Ashvarg the gardner and bringer of water, to my own guardsmen and the likes. You'll get to meet them all soon enough, a wide variety of people with a wide variety of origins and backgrounds, many of which will seem extremely foreign and exotic to yourseves I am sure. There are a handful of wards there whom I am responsible for, the children of a handful of relatives who were slain in the wars and who, for whatever reason, have been sent to live with myself in Mu'Jupostat. You'll get to know them soon enough too I imagine. Bright young things, they'll make fine lords and ladies of the family one day."

Zakroti deliberately left off that one of those brothers he had been involved in the slaying of, albiet indirectly through his men on the field of battle. It was probably for the best that they did not learn *just* yet of the struggle for succession that had followed his fathers passing, as it would likely not be too reassuring for them to learn that this was a land in which the children of a lord deciding to launch a war against each other over who deserves to be the inheritor due to his premature death which was onnly settled by bloodshed and - ultimately - the imposition of their liege in the form of their grandfather. In fact, far from it, he imagined it would only serve to put them more on edge, though for Miry he deemed such a thing frankly impossible.

"I'll have to explain some things to you as we go of course, and help you be prepared for when you meet them. Some of them are - ah - of very different kind to you and I in form and stature, and I would not like you to be startled. You might more surely offend them by involuntary shock than anything else, you had best prepare yourselves for sights that will seem very strange to you both." Zakroti said, glancing to nenra and Miry in turn. He wasn't exactly sure how he was supposed to break the news that he had been taught by a giant spider to them, he just hoped neither of them were arachnophobic, or that would be quite a terrible matter indeed "Of course, Mu'Jupostat is still a very far way away, and is a very different place from here. Less barren and lifeless for certain, I think I can impress you with some of our sights yet, there's more to this land than what these bare rocks would have you believe. We will have plenty of time to get acquainted on the journey."
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Nenra gave a grin that might be considered vaguely feral. “Not bookish by any means, no,” she replied, belatedly tacking on a “my lord” at the end. She shifted uncomfortably under his piercing, reptilian gaze.

“My family?” A light laugh bubbled out from her chest, surprising her. Just the thought evoked enough joy to get her to laugh, evidently. “We do what we can, but there’s little that three hundred farmers can do against a Drakken warband.” She referred to the entire population of her village here, referring to the close-knit community as a sort of family. “Those of us who were taken – myself and four of my cousins, and eight others besides – went willingly. Of course we did; fighting back is the surest way to get your family killed.” She said it matter-of-factly, bitterness clouding her words. They’d all heard of the towns who’d fought back. Every woman of marryable age was taken, anyone who stood between the lords and their prizes cut down like corn in the fields.

She perked up slightly when Zakroti mentioned a gardener. Presumably, to have a gardener, they had to have a garden. She tried not to let her interest show through too much, of course. She was here, that was fine, but she wasn’t supposed to be happy about it.
Miry giggled nervously when Zak mentioned people of different form and stature. Presumably he wasn’t just speaking of humans, though they were odd themselves – somewhere between Drakkan and Gem in stature and form, built on a set of proportions that couldn’t agree, and, though less all-consumed with rage than the drakkan were, still constantly at war with each other over differences in appearance and language and faith. Miry couldn’t fathom it; she thought humans might be the very furthest thing imaginable from her own people.

But after the incident with the mounts (she turned warily to regard the creatures again at the thought) she was not about to make the same mistake with people, too. She tried to keep an open mind, wracking her brain for any mention of the city he’d mentioned, because if she knew the place she might have an idea of the sorts of people – and surely, if there was a reference anywhere in the library, she might’ve heard of it, or at least seen a reference number for the place on the grand map that occupied the entire front wall of the main level of archives…

She vaguely conjured an image of brackish water, marble pillars, and little green creatures, amphibious beings with a simple intelligence and language with no written form.

Miry wasn’t certain, but the name did have a vaguely familiar sound. It was likely not the name she knew the place by, but that was why the archive had used reference numbers in annotated manuscripts – all names of the place referred back to the grand map, and to a list of all the possibly-associated names or names from older empires. The system did the best it could to eliminate confusion, though of course was not entirely successful. And she was by no means the master of it, not yet, at least. She was certain she hadn’t known a hundredth of the relevant information contained in their archive; even her aunt, at nearly 50 – and twenty years the warden – was regularly surprised by the sheer quantities of information she’d not even known existed prior to pulling a book.

Miry tittered nervously at the implication – was there an implication? She couldn’t even be certain of that – of “becoming well acquainted”. This was the life she’d been given over into, and she would make the best she could of it, but – she was still terrified of what that might entail.

She wrapped her arm tighter around Zak’s, leaning her head against his shoulder.

After a moment of reflection, deciding that the knot of fear wound in her stomach was not going to let her enjoy much more of the stew (which was, admittedly, growing on her), she retrieved the half-eaten bowl and - after one more bite - emptied the rest of its contents into Zak's bowl, signing that he’d probably find more use for the nourishment than she would.
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Zakroti peered back towards Nenra as she laughed. His lips curled upwards into a small smile, a gleam flashing over his reptilian eyes; He'd found something that she wanted to speak about, evidently speaking of home was not depressing for her but uplifting. The young lord shifted a little in place and let out a light nod and a smile of understanding "Sometimes the only winning move is not to play." He said in agreement to her comment that fighting back would have been a way to get the village massacred. He knew all too well that a village of 300 would be easily put down by the Drakken, and the Gemmenite lords would likely turn a blind eye to brutal suppression of such resistance - or perhaps actively take part in it, who knew what scores of their own some of these Gems had to settle with their own people.

"But come, tell me of your home village and land, and I shall speak of mine in turn!" Zakroti said jovially, clasping his hands together for a moment as his serjeant at arms took Miry's empty bowl from her and took it away to be washed and packed once more. Zakroti took his fork again and continued to eat what was left of Miry's- well, now his he supposed - soup. He would never object to more Reabak meat, though he supposed that it was a little tougher than what the Gemmenites were used to.

With that he peered back towards Nenra, eyes gleaming with eagerness at her response, probing questions passing through his mind. She had been a lot quieter than Miry, and while he now figured he had a better idea of how to help Miry settle in and acclimate to the new situation she would find herself in, the other Gem concerned him and he was eager to probe her to speak more and perhaps even build something of an understanding with her going forwards. After all, that was the easiest way to reduce the unpleasantness of the situation for her and problems for himself.

Zakroti glanced over to the Oshwel servant who had taken the bowl for a moment as he rummaged through the pack, and Zak spoke in his native tongue. It was more focused and firm, commanding and authoritative, evidentally he was more comfortable speaking within his native tongue. "Kree, vashaew o te zaren, vakarum cey enyal, naan zara maralok . Zela o epeew gehdzi zu gehdzi gaiar te zaren"


"Would the two of you like a drink? We should have a bottle of wine somewhere, and gin too, Or simply water, whatever you prefer. Failing that, I'm sure Gaikus could make a nice cup of tea for you if you so desire." Zakroti said with a small smile, ready to relay the instruction to his servant once again. He gave a light nod towards one of the black armoured bodyguards that accompanied him, whose helmet was off to reveal a fairly old looking Drakken who must have been pushing sixty to be sure, yet for all that he remained seemingly fit and healthy. He had two keen, beady brown eyes set into his sockets and whispy white hair that was long but had been oiled and slicked back into a top knot, giving him a distinctive style as opposed to the other Drakken. His features were different again to the other Drakken that were with them, his skin much paler looking with hints of grey to it, which admittedly gave him an almost corpse like bent to his appearance - particularly when taken with his advanced age. Despite that though, he gave them a kindly enough smile before he went back to playing with a small object made of various spheres, a puzzle of some kind perhaps.

Zakroti felt Miry wrap herself a little tighter around him and glanced down to her as she lay her head against his arm, smiling lightly to her "Are you sure you don't want the rest of your soup, we'll likely be riding again until evening. If we make good time we will actually get a roof over our heads so that will be good, hey?" Zakroti gave a light chuckle after speaking and sat back a little, glancing over towards their mounts for a moment and then forwards again. Most of the train had finished their meals now, in fairness, so they could begin again soon. The handlers were ensuring that the mounts were fed and not overworked, and if they set off again within the hour they would have made good time for the day if they kept up their current pace.
Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by Amethyst
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Miry furrowed her brow inquisitively, processing the language. It lacked many of the phonetic groupings she’d expect of a drakkan derivate, fewer of the harsh x and k sounds and had many more long vowels than expected, though it possessed the same propensity of z sounds and other fuzzy voiced consonants. If it was a derivate, it was surely long-distant, and likely blended with a few other languages besides.

She was so intent on puzzling out the sound of it that she nearly missed Zak’s questions. She considered for a moment, eventually signing something to the effect of ’water, please, if it’s not too much trouble’ before turning to regard the other old Drakkan, blinking confusedly at the promise of tea.

She hadn’t thought tea plants grew on this side of the spine.

Lord Zakroti’s retinue was... particularly diverse, to put it delicately. Miry had never seen anyone like - Gaikus, was the name Zakroti had given - nor even read of them in books. She resisted the urge to metaphorically pounce on the old man and interrogate him about his homeland, visibly wringing her hands and chewing on her lip in thought.

Nenra blinked at Zakroti’s sudden jovial manner. “I’m certain it’s - of considerable boredom for you,” she replied, a faint bitterness sneaking back into her tone. “You noble sorts don’t often bother with the likes of us. Corn and wheat from the human lands, and pearlpeas and lady’s fingers, fields as far as the eye can see, but nothing else of note - well, the plague. Even our lord and lady don’t send folk to collect the tithe anymore.” The laugh that escaped her was a bitter one, though she soon brightened again. “It’s just us, on occasion family from the nearby city, and on occasion we go there to sell our produce and so on. It’s dull, to some, but we make the most of it.”

At the offer of a drink, she paused. Wine was all well and good, though she easily got drunk on it, as much from a lack of taste for it as anything. Her family, and indeed everyone in the village, made a variety of fruit-and-grain drinks, using really whatever was on hand at the time, so that they could be enjoyed all year; she’d grown quite used to a healthy amount of it, to cut the heat and dryness after a day in the field. But those drinks they made at home were all quite easy to hold, easy enough for even the youngest of children to drink freely; gin, she knew, was somewhat less palatable.

She decided that, while she could easily ride a horse while (at least mildly) intoxicated, it was far better to keep her wits and balance around her while on a mount she didn’t understand.

And while in the presence of drakken.

“I’ll just take water, as well,” she finally said, automatically getting up to retrieve it for herself before she realized that she had no idea how, or even who, to assist. After a moment, she sat down again, coughing lightly to hide her embarrassment.
Hidden 2 yrs ago 2 yrs ago Post by darkwolf687
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Zakroti peered back over towards the servant again, giving them a light nod and speaking.

"Vashaew gehdzi dzi zoreli a ayl."He said simply and then peered back to Nenra for a moment, shifting a little in place and furrowing his brow. "A plague, you say?"


Zakroti had not heard of such a thing, and part of him was concerned inherently. Surely if there was a plague rampaging through part of Gemmenia, they should not be taking brides from there? They should be quarantining it, by force if necessary. A plague could spread rapidly, and he did not wish to be importing such a thing to the west. Of course, if she was infected she'd almost certainly have shown symptoms by now, given the time gap between her being taken and arriving in his custody but that was besides the point.

The servant swept back over with a clink, handing them each a pewter cup that he had filled with water from one of the flasks of water the group had brought with them. It had grown relatively warm in the sun on their journey, but at least it was certainly clean water.

"Wredzieiz ayl, Pelataceni" The Servant said as he handed it to them with a light formal bow, before stepping away again almost as quickly and handing Zakroti another cup filled nearly to the brim with vakarum. "Wreeiz vakarum, arpen taki.


Pelatacen. Zakroti dwelt on the word for a moment, thinking about it. He doubted the literal meaning would impress the two Gems two much at all, but from his own perspective he realised and acknowledged how much that... sanitised their situation, he supposed. Pelataceni had entered into a voluntary agreement, one that had been negotiated and settled in advance and was usually temporary as an arrangement. A trade of sorts, the Drakken got to maximise the effectiveness of the unique gift that the drakken possessed to assimilate features from the other species, the Pelataceni received a considerable amount of wealth and support, even social capital...

That was not this... To cut through all the flowery prose, they were not voluntary partners in this arrangement. They were effectively slaves, objects who had been taken as spoils of war - or spoils of peace, as it were. Pelatacen was not a fitting word for this arrangement. There were terms for those women who had been taken by force instead; Lindenchurl. A compound word of linden and churl, breed and slave respectively, which alone betrayed its darker aspect.

Pelataceni it was then, he supposed. A pleasant lie rather than a brutal truth. That was how politics worked after all, was it not?

"If there's a plague, why exactly where the Drakken taking people from your village anyway?" Zakroti asked with a light note of bewilderment, softly shaking his head as he took a swig of his vakarum. The beverage was not overly strong, which suited him fine. He would have enjoyed it better had it been mixed with the juniper berries or spiked with a light hint of Wildfire Sandtrap sap, but he couldn't complain under the circumstances. The alcohol collection had hardly been top of his list of things to prepare for the long journey across Draka, after all. "I suppose I should not be surprised that they do not know the first thing about governance."

In truth, it was likely that the Drakken in question simply had no idea about such a plague. For all their strengths, the Drakken were hardly masters of mingling with the Gems, and news could travel slowly - slower than Drakken warriors trying to quickly reach their quotas. This system was a complete disaster one very level, this only confirmed that more for him.

"It doesn't sound boring, it sounds like a simple and fair enough life. I do hear that flora of Gemmenia is particularly beautiful and the few examples I have seen myself have certainly met that trend. The flowing fields must look quite beautiful when they're in bloom, though no doubt you get used to it if you've lived your entire life there. Things hardly seem exotic once you spend long enough around them, after all. I should see if we can't get some more plants imported for the Garden actually, I don't know if they'll grow in the conditions of the west but if they will, plants from Gemmenia may help to add some exotic new displays to the mix. Most of the plants come from the western side of the continent, as you'd expect, and from Drakka and the south east. Nothing particularly from the far east, perhaps that is something to rectify." Zakroti said, musing mostly to himself towards the end. Expanding the Garden at Mu'Jupostat would be something of an expensive investment, so he wouldn't get his hopes up too much, but it would be a prestigious one to be sure. Ever since the interregnum, most families in the west had been spending more on military matters and intrigue than on such cultural icons, and those who were able to spare the wealth to do so thus brought themselves a great deal of social capital. Social capital that might prove crucial; Before long his grandfather would pass on and the grand dream that his family had been working towards would fall to him to fulfil. Was the social capital worth the monetary investment? Perhaps, the reunification of the west would come about as much through diplomacy and hegemony as through pure military force, his Grandfather had explained that much to him. They'd not just frightened their opponents, they'd courted them. But it had cost them dearly, despite the love of the gods...
Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by Amethyst
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Nenra nodded curtly as Zakroti mulled over the idea of a plague. He seemed rather horrified by the idea, and to some extent she could understand why, though it was a truth that she and everyone she’d ever known had grown to live with. She took the offered pewter cup with a nod and a quiet “thank you” to the servant who brought it. An embarrassed tinge of red crept up her neck and ears as she drank.

To think she was being waited on. Like some kind of noble. As if. Her family would never have let her hear the end of it.

Miry, intently listening to the conversation, signed her agreement to Zak’s mutterings. It was common knowledge to most (well-educated) Gems; the blistering pox (so called for the tiny blister-like boils it created across the surface of one’s skin, ultimately inside the mouth, throat, and even lungs too in the most severe cases) had likely been carried back from the Yugrin of the southern wastes by Drakken soldiers returning home. It never did seem to leave the small towns of the south-central farmlands, at least – the time which it lasted was too short for it to travel well, but it had been a generational affliction in some regions for the better part of decades, stumping scholars and common folk alike.

”As far as we know, Drakken aren’t affected. Some scholars think it’s a parasite spawned from the Yugrin; southern border towns are often stricken by it every few years. Some even say it’s a blessing of Vivari, protection against –“ Miry wisely cut herself off before she could finish the thought, turning her attention to the pewter cup of water. A moment of concentration, her brow furrowed, and a layer of ice crystals formed on the inside wall of the cup; she swirled the water gently and they quickly melted down, but the result was her water being quite chilled to cut through the dust and heat. It was a trick she'd learned as a child, as did many other water gems. She extended a hand to Nenra, inquisitively shaping the signs for “cup” and “ice”, but the older bride ignored her.

“A blessing to protect against the Drakken brutes who would take us from our homelands,” Nenra finished Miry’s comment after just a second too long a pause. Miry shot her a look, which she ignored. “Though in most cases the symptoms are merely uncomfortable – and only for a few days! They’re almost never dangerous in any way, but they leave plenty of visible marks.” Most of her cousins and siblings bore scars of their past infections, bumpy, uneven swathes of skin with circular discolorations of red and white surrounding each, resulting in a deeply unsettling pattern covering much of their bodies. She’d been fortunate enough to never catch the pox, though, or if she had she was one of the few who never showed signs. “The Reapers don’t take anyone with marks that are visible. And the nobles don’t bother us at all, because they’re so scared of getting it and disfiguring the pretty posh people at their pretty posh courts. Even grain and textile tithes aren’t enough to entice them to brave it. But… once you’ve had it once you can’t get it again, so it doesn’t usually have a huge effect when it comes up – and it only does every ten years, give or take. But we’ve no idea where it comes from. We’ve burned the soil, cleaned our houses, built new houses, and it still returns.” She stared off absently into space, perking up again when Zakroti mentioned gardens.

She was certain he was trying to get her to talk, but all the same, she couldn’t help but flash a grin at the mention of beautiful flora. Especially around valleys of farmland, where earth magic collected, tilled into the ground by generations and generations, there were some delightful plants (and creatures, but that was beyond the point) to be found. Ordinary plants grew to extraordinary sizes under the influence of magic; there were rosebushes in the forest downstream that grew blossoms larger than a person’s head, and the ambient magic collected so strongly along the riverbank that everything – be it rose, water-lily, or simple reed-plant – grew with an iridescent sheen to its leaves and petals.

She was uncertain if she should mention it, but her hands itched to go through her satchel of belongings, to hold the seed bundles. Some part of her was certain that it had to be a trick; he was prying with the intention of destroying that which she had brought, stripping the last of her homeland away from her desperate attempts to cling to it. But some part of her wanted to trust. Surely, if she said she had brought some of what was grown at home, he would not immediately have it burned – he was an academic, and a noble besides. Nobles appreciated pretty things, and academics foreign things, and so presenting a foreign, pretty thing was a sure way to get them to comply.

How ironic. A sharp laugh escaped her once again, her lips curling up. Miry glanced over to her inquisitively. “Tell you not-now,” she signed, her hands clumsy and finger shapes uncertain – it was clear she was far more used to interpreting the sign than she was to constructing it.

“If you seek simple garden weeds, perhaps I can assist you,” she constructed the phrase mentally, pausing before she finally said it, the formal words and lofty tone feeling awkward on her tongue. The formality slipped out of her voice quickly; so much for being proper and respectable.

“Any sort of plant can be grown anywhere, given the right attentions. It won’t be our river at home, of course – the water carries the magic and energy down from a dozen other villages upstream, and it seeps into the land and makes plants as grand as anything even from the king’s garden – but anything will grow with water and attention. Great Mother’s Roses would be the easiest to start a floral garden with.” She cast a disdainful look at the ground, before glancing to Zakroti out of the corner of her eye, wondering if he was familiar with the plant she mentioned.

Miry tensed up, signing something angry at Nenra and glancing anxiously to Zakroti as well, her eyes wide at the implications. Everyone knew of Great Mother’s Roses, the crowning jewel of the flower festival held in the city of Vivari. The festival was hosted by her disciples and attended by thousands, from the wealthiest of merchants and nobles to the poorest of farmers, to sell their wares and celebrate their great mother in the grandest temple in all the realm. The first year of the mandatory reaping, these festivities had been halted, the grounds searched. That year, every bride taken from the event had been a dancer, and bore a crown woven of iridescent, impossibly fragile Mother’s Roses in her hair. Well-intentioned lords tried to placate the Drakken, offering bushels and seeds of rare, beautiful flowers and trees and other commodities, spices and dyes and other grand, costly items in exchange for sparing their lovers and daughters, and the angry reapers laughed and took it all and extra maidens besides, leaving the festival in ruins and hundreds of grief-stricken folk left to clean up the pieces.

As word of what happened had spread, the roses had become a sign of Gemmenite defiance – in as much a sense as their people understood it – graceful and delicate and also unflinchingly eternal. The flowers, though they took exceptional work to grow from seeds, were hardy once they’d taken root and near-impossible to kill; some said they spread like weeds, once they’d been introduced outside of the carefully-cultivated gardens that they originally came from.

Families and friends of those had been taken began to grow the flowers, (which were incredibly delicate plants, fully-matured bushes only a few inches tall and leaves and full-bloom blossoms the size of a fingernail, with iridescent pastel petals so fine they were nearly transparent) and within merely a decade they had spread to every city, town, and village in the kingdom. Given enough warning time, it had since become a tradition that those of Vivari’s daughters who were taken away would be given a bloom, hidden somewhere on her person (since Drakken reapers were seemingly instructed to tear them away if found.)

It was intended as a subtle (or arguably not-so-subtle) jab. We remember; we are remembered. We are eternal.

Unfortunately, the reality of it was that many were forgotten just as quickly as they were taken. It was Gemmenian legal culture to consider those who were taken dead; even if a bride was eventually permitted to return home, as happened in a few exceptionally rare cases early on, she would have been stricken from her family record as though she had died on the night of the choosing, removed from inheritance and genealogy alike. It had been quickly decided, the first year those reaped included legal heirs, to set a precedent of just that; it was far simpler than opening up the possibility of those returning home into turbulent political situations, and brutally kinder than permitting grief-stricken families to hold onto the hope that their lost daughters would someday return.

Incredibly few ever, ever did.

Miry stopped her thought process before it could wander too far down the line of wondering if her family had spoken her name – or even thought it – since the night she had been taken, or if her urn had already been lowered into the wellspring, her name written in the family records to be “remembered” and soon forgotten. She stared intently at the inside edge of her water glass, eyes misting over.

Nenra met Zakroti’s eyes for a moment, wondering what the lord would say.
Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by darkwolf687
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Zakroti listened to Nenra carefully as she spoke, relating the story of the so called blessing disease. He was still ill at ease with this prospect, it was foolish of the Drakken to take anyone from these regions, particularly if their only argument against it was superstitions about it not travelling beyond its borders. Pestilence had little care for foolish superstitions in his experience, and the Mother could be a cruel mistress with her diseases, that much was true.

"If Vivari had wanted to protect you with a blessing, she'd have done better to bless you with military knowledge or a great marshal to lead the troops." Zakroti commented, eliciting a slight chuckle from Aurien who was sitting nearby.

Nenra went on to describe a plant, 'simple Garden weeds' she had called it. Great Mother's Roses. The name tripped him up a little at first but he soon settled on it. Naturally, he was not particularly familiar with such symbols of Gemmenite culture and so did not know the full extent of this little symbols spread- Not that the inkling of understanding he did have from osmosis and from the reaction of Aymiria caused him any particular distress regardless. The Oshweli were nothing if not experts in appropriation; Their culture, their infrastructure, their weapons, their society, even their very biology, vast swathes of it had been cut out of something else and imported into their own, warped sometimes beyond recognition as it was altered to suit a new purpose. The idea of subsuming such a plant and stripping it of its original connotations, perhaps even giving it new ones, would not strike the Oshweli as particularly unusual and if it worked to keep the peace with those he was incorporating into his household - and no doubt brought great prestige to the garden to have such exotic plants from the eastern side of the continent - why not?

"I have vague recollections of that flower from somewhere, but have never seen it first hand myself. Perhaps once you see the garden and speak to Ashvarg the two of you could come to a decision on such arrangements, to ensure the plants do not clash and compliment each other well. I can assure you we'll have plenty of water and time, though naturally I can't bring water from those rivers all the way across the continent- Although I should very much like to head that far east myself some day to see those lands and flora first hand, it is always described in such exotic and magnificient terms. The Gemmenites might object to a heavily armed warlord and his hearth troops marching around though, my Gemmenite is... not the sharpest of my languages, I admit." Zakroti said carefully, drinking from his cup again as he thought. It would be somethign to see, but it was risky to come even this far out these days and leave his holdings in the care of another. Political manouvrings consumed much of his time and energy, it was an inevitably part of being a lord in one of the most unstable periods of Oshweli history and left little time for pleasures. The expeditions they mounted now were of a far less cultural or scientific note, there were few stories of great lords who travelled off to the distant lands of Ptaz in search of the answer to the disappearance of the Dragons these days. No, all expeditions now served primarily military or economic interests; Invasions of the neighbouring provinces, wars against each other over who should be the ruler of a reforged dominion, forays into the lands of the Welebak in search of Frostglass to loot - and twist into weapons and armour, rather than the architectural great works they had once been used for.

"As for the Yugryn and the blightlands, again I have heard much about these beings but never seen them first hand. I am aware they're a problem the Gemmenite peoples face and that the Drakken provide- military assistamce, shall we say, in exchange for the trading of brides. Not that its so much a trade anymore as a tribute and obligation, as noted, given it sounds as though they protect you now with the same grace and intent a shepherd protects his lambs before leading them to the slaughter." Zakroti continued. The Blightlands. Everyone knew that tale, even in the war west- though perhaps they knew it only because the Oshweli had a tendency to remember their enemies failings. It was said that a network of great magical academies and universities had banded together to created a linked network of powerful crytals and magical energies, desigend to interlink all the great hubs of research of the east. This was in a time when Gemmenia was thrice the size it was now, and they were a proud people for certain.

The Academy of Natural Philosophy, the premiere magical institute of the Oshweli that was based within their capital city, had petitioned to join this project. Why wouldn't they, after all? The institute was still among the most prestigious and important on the continent and had been the centre of the then recently collapsed Unalim Dominion. Their knowledge would have been invaluable to the program and in turn they could have benefited much - indeed, perhaps there would have been knowledge that could have saved the crumbling Dominion from its fate.

The easterners did not see it this way, however; They rejected the petition and stonewalled the Academy, keeping it from assuming its position. This angered them greatly, naturally. So it was of little surprise when some members of the Academy took particular glee when news reached them of the distaster, that the linked acadmies had been involved in a major magical incident that straight up blew some of them to pieces- and which destroyed half of Gemmenia, transforming it into the twisted blightlands, killing the inhabitants and overruning it with the Yugryn. From the perspective of the Oshweli, this was an arrow they had been fortuitious enough to dodge and had been karmaic retribution from the gods for the snub.

Since then, Gemmenia had been reduced to a fledgling status, its influence over the Mannish kingdoms eradicated and it losing all its power, slowly becoming little more than a tributary to Drakka. Zakroti saw some parralels in this, and some Oshweli did see a kindred spirit of sorts in Gemmenia as another great former power that had lost its place in the world.

"Although where would we get the seedlings for the Great Mothers Roses? I suppose I'd have to import some from Gemmenia. That could be awkward and expensive, but doable... Although I am slightly wary of some of the cultural connotations, over in the west this is hardly as contentious as it would be in the east. Indeed, I myself have only a foggy understanding of it, perhaps you'd be so kind as to explain it? There's much of our symbology and culture that I imagine I will have to explain in time after all! What other plants do the two of you think might be fitting? My library undoubtedly has some books on the Gemmenian flora and fungi, but I don't think that the gardens of Mu'Jupostat have ever known the touch of a Gemmenite Garderner before." Zakroti finished, raising his brow lightly and smiling warmly to Nenra and Miry in turn; He was not joking about the symbols and culture, in truth he was eager to know more about the far east and he knew he would have to describe much about the West of Drakka, let alone the far western lands that they might have cause to visit some day in the future...
Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by Amethyst
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((literally a month of academic hell later))

Miry blinked at Zak’s joke about blessings and generals. That’s not the Gemmenite way, and it never has been. Her signs were sharp and precise, her stare fixated at his chin. And it was true, at least in the way these foolish Westerners thought to fight their wars; for their conflicts, resolved in cruel affairs of blade and blood, some sort of cruel marshal prowess might have been necessary, but it was simply not a factor in Gemmenian conflicts.

Nenra shot a glare at Miry, which was swiftly ignored. The older bride internally groaned. Engaging in even more political drivel was just going to make them unable to get back on the road in a timely manner, and the lord had said they’d end up sleeping on the road, which she was decidedly not looking forward to… she rose from her seat, placing the empty stew bowl and water glass on the rock beside the lord’s. With an alarming series of popping noises, she stretched her arms and shoulders and neck, her muscles and joints tense from having been seated for so long. Notably, she was very flexible in her shoulders especially, her linen shirt sleeves falling away and emphasizing the defined muscles of her arms and ribs as she stretched.

As she did, Zakroti mused about the logistics of importing the plants, apparently oblivious to (or else just a very good actor) the linen-wrapped balls of earth that weighed down Nenra’s bags. She hesitated visibly, chewing on a thumbnail as she considered her options. She felt she was betraying her family and her pride to say what she was about to, but it might earn her favor in the lord’s household…
Favor. Her lips curled and she lightly shook her head, disgusted with herself. It wasn’t about favor. Like she was some kind of frilly noble, trying to further herself and selling out everything she and her family stood for.

But her fingers itched to be buried in fertile earth again, ached for the peace and authenticity of a garden she’d grown herself.
“I have seeds,” she blurted, finally. She glanced up to Zakroti, her eyes wide and expressionless, trying to determine his reaction. She swiftly ignored the bait to the discussion of symbology, and she glared at Miry – who thankfully, or perhaps not thankfully at all, seemed to still be stuck on the implication of insult to the entire Gemmenite mythos. We lost, Miry. Our people lost to the gods and then to the Drakken. Let it go.

She refocused her attention on the seated lord.

“Seedlings for the roses, a few of our local fruits, and handfuls of wildflowers.” Beyond the flowers, which had been a whole assortment of seeds gathered from the meadow on the upriver side of the farm, the fruits she brought were the kinds of plants that took months to even sprout, and years to properly fruit; the delicate mountain plums and pygmy chestnuts were certainly the most notable. She was not about to elaborate that one bundle of the herbs she carried were those of women’s medicine, grown together and made into a tea that was found to prevent unwanted pregnancies and the like, as well as helping with pains and sicknesses related to such functions of the body. That seed ball was sure to be a death sentence if it was found; they’d all heard horror stories of women who were unable to bear a child in a timely enough manner for their lords.

But such was a problem for another time.

Nenra stretched her arms up over her head again, glancing to the sun’s progress across the sky. She very much was eager to get on the road again; she glanced around to their retinue and found that, thankfully, everyone else was done or nearly done eating. Bar any further political or cultural distractions in the next few minutes, such other academic fluff could be discussed on the road again.
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