Welcome back to Earthrise! We are now on our regular schedule, free on Tuesdays, with Thursday and Saturday available if donations or subscriptions that week go over $15 per episode. You can catch up on existing episodes, donate, or set up a subscription here! And now, on to the story:
Her Instruments, Book 1
Beyond the entry hall was a smaller room… no less a chamber than the first, but with a circular couch in the center of it and several sideboards. Reese couldn’t imagine what use the room would be, since its size did not invite intimacy. Her crew proved that by being scattered around the room, uncertain of where to stand or sit. Only Sascha seemed to have found a place to settle, though the tense cant of his ears belied his slouch.
None of that mattered, though, because the woman sitting on one of the couch’s cushions made her want to turn and march right back to the Earthrise. She’d even risk Hirianthial’s curious gaze to do it, except the woman was already rising and offering her hands and it seemed too impolite to run now. With a sigh, Reese gave hers to the woman and said, “You’re the kind who knows everyone’s secrets within a few minutes of meeting them, aren’t you?”
The woman blinked several times, then grinned lazily. “Yes, but until this very day no one’s had the eggs to up and say it the moment they noticed.”
“Don’t try to make my life any harder, please,” Reese said. “I really appreciate being able to stay here, but if it means I’m going to have Harat-Shar crawling in my brain I have no problems going back to the ship and sleeping in my hammock.”
“Captain!” Irine exclaimed.
“Oh, hush, Irine,” the woman said. “Your mother can handle straight talking.” To Reese she said, “It’s never my intention to make people’s lives harder. I will do my best not to drive you away.”
“Good,” Reese said. “As Irine said, I’m Theresa Eddings, Captain of the Earthrise. You’ve met my crew?”
“Everyone but the fine fellow standing behind you, and the gentlecreature in his arms.”
“That would be Hirianthial Sarel Jisiensire and Allacazam,” Reese said.
“My name is Zhemala,” the woman said. “I am the first among Mascher’s wives and it will be my duty to see to your welfare. Though I may delegate that duty to my co-wives or children if the rest of the household demands me. If it pleases you, I’ll bring them out of the zenana for you to meet?”
“The zenana?” Reese asked, perplexed.
“Harem,” Hirianthial said from behind her.
“How do you know another word for a harem?” she asked him, irritated.
Zhemala laughed. “Obviously he is a well-read man. Or he’s worked with Harat-Shar before?”
“Intimately, Lady,” Hirianthial said with a dip of his head, “Though not, perhaps, in all the meanings of that word those coworkers would have liked.”
Reese wasn’t sure what annoyed her more, the fact that he was lady-ing someone besides her or that she was offended by it. If it got him off her back, well and good!
“Is this a literal harem?” Reese asked finally.
“What other kind is there?” Zhemala asked, her mouth widening in a grin. “Or do you think the costume is for show?”
“Why don’t we get them something to eat and drink and show them someplace they can relax while we figure out where to put them?” Sascha said from the floor. “They’re probably hot, Mazer.”
“Would you like to change into something more comfortable?” Zhemala asked.
“No,” Reese said. The last thing she needed was to let Irine dress her up in some version of her mother’s crazy outfit. She didn’t need to bare most of her belly, stomach, ribs and arms in front of anyone. “But the food and drink sounds very nice.”
Zhemala nodded. “Children, why don’t you take them to the Moon Patio? I’ll send some slaves with food and drink.”
“You must be kidding me,” Reese said.
“Not at all,” Zhemala said. “It is my pleasure to see you properly served. I will join you have arranging accommodations… all separate rooms, I presume?”
She nodded and left at a pace both brisk and graceful. Reese stared after her for several minutes.
“Umm, Captain? Food is this way,” Sascha said, tugging on her arm.
“She was kidding about the slaves, right?” Reese asked.
“Of course not,” Irine said. “We buy slaves all the time.”
Reese said, “Slavery’s illegal.”
“Not here. We get special dispensation,” Irine said. “Just wait until you’ve had our marzipan pastries!”
“You guys walk ahead,” Reese said. “I need to take it slow. The heat, you know.”
Irine eyed her, then shrugged and skipped forward, pulling Kis’eh’t by an arm. Sascha followed her, with Bryer alongside.
“You’re not going to set them on fire, are you?” Reese asked the Eldritch, her voice hushed.
“What?” He blinked several times, then looked down at her. “Gracious Lady, no. Why would I do that?”
“Slaves!” Reese exclaimed.
Hirianthial laughed, a few soft puffs of breath. “Ask Irine more about Harat-Shariin slavery once we get to the table. It’s not a sin of the same magnitude as the illegal trade I was pursuing.”
She thought for certain he must be jesting, but he seemed at ease and in his arms Allacazam remained a contented blue-peach.
“Never fear, my lady… I shan’t feel compelled to take justice into my hands on behalf of the slaves of Harat-Sharii.” He bowed, ever-so-slightly, never removing his eyes from her face, and gestured up the hall. “After you.”
Unsettled, Reese followed the twins.
Some of you mentioned earlier wanting to understand Harat-Shariin culture a little better… here we go!
Also, our kitty has $5 in it! (No pun intended.)