Leoshine explores

From the wall above her master’s bed, three openings drenched Leoshine in morning light. A fire crackled beyond those windows, and men’s voices drifted in. She could picture the Overlord’s hard shelled soldiers using the fire pit in the inner courtyard. She inhaled, testing the air for smoke but could only smell the acidic tang of aliens. Her nose contracted upward.
Emptiness reigned. Robin did not move on velvet paws, the Overlord did not brood in the chair. The gray box remained on the table, still and empty.
Her feet oozed into the floor and she wrenched them back. Mother covered floors with tapestry but this cushion felt like animal fur. The beast could never have grown such colours and pattern unless, she reconsidered, such strangeness existed on the other world.
At the table she discovered a bowl of steaming water. She dipped her finger. A towel with deep pile lay to the side.
Beside the bowl stood a plate of bread, cheese and fruit covered by a see through dome. Her stomach growled.
Beside the plate a book lay open. Her body eased into the chair while her mind devoured the picture that filled the open page. A border of intricate and intriguing patterns framed a picture of a mother holding a child. A strange light appeared around their heads. Strange life forms in crude beast skins surrounded them and appeared to be honouring or even worshiping the central figures. The mother’s face wore a soft, adoring expression, worshipful and tender, as she gazed at the half naked babe. He looked alert and eager to climb off her lap to play with the pets in fluffy coats.
Her finger caressed the page, comparing the smooth texture to those Father used to assemble his Dome measurements. He kept ancient books in a case in the counsel hall and showed them to her as a reward for good behaviour, but they did not compare to this blaze of colour and realistic depiction.
Symbols covered the other page, Aeolian script she guessed. She felt a familiar burning in her heart to know the meaning, to decipher the code.
Her eyes leaped about the page. By twisting her head she could keep looking while her hand uncovered the food. Juice from a block of fruit dripped down her chin. The bread tasted fresh and filled her empty spaces.
On other pages warriors and beasts and carriages to transport people paraded before her in costumes and attitudes she had never before thought possible.
A horse whinnied outside. A few pages on she saw a picture of a chariot pulled by horses. The artist drew the ground at an impossible distance from their feet. Did horses fly in Aeolia?
Father’s horses ran on the solid ground in the field along the inside foot of the town fence. She and her brothers learned to ride there. Father said personality controlled the beast, not strength and he taught her to command her mount with her will. Not many people owned horses. They gave Georg and Wol status and influence when Father disappeared and other men tried to take his place as leader.
She thought again of her runaway adventure. He would have been very angry that Georg and Wol did not keep better care of her. Now she knew he would have recognised those two bearded strangers who led her back, she saw them clearly now in her memory. They did not speak so she could not remember their voices. Robin claimed to have been there and she recognised him in the oversize Outlyer with a short beard who came to Father on that fateful day.
The last page fluttered closed beneath the hard cover and she looked up to see the water still steaming. She stepped over to dip her finger again. What kept it warm? She lifted the bowl and peered underneath. The weight suggested that something in the base generated heat. She immersed both hands and watched the bubbles form on her skin. Then she rubbed her face with her wet hands and dried all on the luxurious towel.
She put her ear to the door. Voices rumbled very near. Even if they let her out they would tell the servant, she decided.
She looked around. Cupboards covered the walls on both sides of the canopy bed. She opened the doors and her fingers caressed all the shirts and leggings neatly folded on the shelves. Rich green shirts with intricate patterns would make the wearer look like one of those paintings in the book. When did ao Kevath wear such things? Would she ever see him in the dark blue coat?
A loud bang outside froze her in place. Nothing moved as she held her breath. Her eyes roved again to the tools on the shelves.
In a case with an opened lock she found a gold collar, every broad link studded with a multitude of gems that glittered like her eyes. When would they use such a heavy chain covered with symbols and filigree?
Leoshine remembered jeweled costumes when the women collected her sisters for their Rites of Womanhood. Ao Kevath and Robin would never dance or sing, she thought with a wrinkled nose.
The drapes on the bed begged for her caress and she pulled the folds up to her cheeks. Nothing Mother ever wove equaled the blood-burgundy colour or the fur-like texture. They must have been brought from ao Kevath’s home. Wouldn’t Father have slept well inside such a tent, she marveled.
She knelt before a chest at the foot of the bed and listened. Her ears swept as far as she could hear as she lifted the lid. Books piled on top of each other all the way to the top of the box. With great care, listening all the while, she took the top book and opened the cover.
A list of words in her script, which she recognized from Father’s teaching met her eyes. There were also strange scratchings and swirls in a different colour and script. One by one she opened the other books, discarding them beside her onto the floor. Lists and paragraphs filled the pages, all incomprehensible and maddening to her keen curiosity.
At the bottom, under one of the book piles, she found loose leafed pages with seals and swirls more ornate than any other in the chest. Tucked into a pocket at the back were several pages of very close, tiny writing with funny pictures in the margins. She thought she could make out a wild haired woman sitting in a wheeled machine flashing a broad toothed smile. After several more pages a detailed picture appeared of the same wild haired woman and a boy embracing with strange life forms all around them. Leoshine screwed up her eyes and tilted her head to see if another angle would bring meaning.
One by one she packed the books away. She had to rearrange them to get the lid to close properly.
The carpet did not cover the whole floor, only the area by the door. Another lined the area by the cupboards and beside the bed. The table sat on the bare wooden boards.
What if she changed into something she had found in the cupboard, she wondered?
She touched the hem of her sleeve to her lip. When would she touch her mother’s cloth again? Her throat burned. Into the folds of her elbow she plunged sudden tears.
A knock rang out at the door. Her heart stuttered. Dizziness overwhelmed her as the door swung open.
Her heart restarted with a gulp and warm blood surged through to her fingertips and toes.
Father stepped in with his arms stretched wide. She ran around the table and fell at his feet. Her arms crossed behind his calves and her temples rested on the knobbles of his knees in the pose of respect her mother taught all Father’s children.
Once they grew older they no longer bowed this way. I’m the only one left, Leoshine thought as the faces of her siblings passed in front of her imagination. Georg – bearded like Father. Wol – also bearded but thinner and slump-shouldered. Giffshine, older than Wol, tallest of them all and sharp-faced. Hillashine – round and soft like Mother but haughty and aloof since her initiation.
This cloth, she thought as she moved her head. Not mother’s cloth, but it still smells like him.
His hand reached down and cupped her chin, drawing her gaze. Her legs responded and she rose, dangling from his clasp.
“Leoshie!” Her nickname caught in his throat. Tears tumbled over his glossy exposed cheeks and into his beard. “You are well?” His eyes roved to the table. “You eat well? Your Mother is worried.” He searched her eyes for an answer deeper than her words.
Mother? Leoshine wondered and frowned. Father never cried before. The last time I saw Mother, her mind flew around the room. He won’t want to talk about that. “Oh Father, oh Daddy, they have such strange things.” She danced to the water and dipped her fingertips in and motioned for him to do the same. “Look at this water- still warm with no fire. And the book! Can you tell me what it says? Look at the pictures. Where do the colours come from? I have hardly seen anything of, of.” She paused to collect her tongue muscles. “Of Ow, Kethff.” Her tongue protruded between her lips. “Mostly it is that servant Robin. He is sour in his tongue. Is Georg really?” She stopped suddenly as tears rushed out.
The laugh died stillborn in Father’s eyes. His mouth became stern. “I came for a visit, just until your master comes.” From behind his back he took out a parcel wrapped in brown canvas. “Look, I have a present from your mother.”
He laid the package on her outspread palms.
“Is she with Giffshine and Hillashine?” she tilted her head and looked through her lashes at her father while she pulled at the paper. “Oh!” she gasped.
Mother’s cloth draped over her hands. A proper woman’s dress? She wondered. More grown up than I’m used to. Hillashine’s? She wondered, or Giffshine’s? There’s been no time to sew a new one.
Father frowned at her cot, then at the chairs. He placed his hands on the top of a chair back and eased his weight. “She is safe. And your sisters too.” His gaze meandered to the Mayoral emblems on the beams, the carved and curtained bed, and back to the table.
Leoshine lifted the fabric to her face and inhaled deeply. The natural fibers that would keep her warm felt stiff and spiky compared with Robin’s shirt but the scent burrowed into the core of her soul. She held it against her body as if wearing it.
“Put it on. I’ll step out.” Father turned to the door and tapped.
The sentry opened the door.
“Be quick,” Father urged as he left. “Time is short.”

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