Chapter 5

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It was at breakfast the next morning that I saw how nervous and upset my mother looked. And my father, too, appeared more disturbed than usual. Rojud merely looked brooding; his dark eyes had the same sullen light as Celvid's. I did not know what was going on, but I sensed it must have something to do with my brother.

I followed my mother to her room after the meal was over. "Atra," I said as she settled herself on a tall stool and began braiding her hair flat against her head. "Atra, is Rojud doing something wrong?"

My mother shook her head in that sharp, dismissive way she had. "He says he is doing nothing wrong," she said softly, her fingers moving above anxious eyes. "But he refuses to say where he has been. Even to your ata he will tell nothing; he is silent."

"He did not go anywhere last night, did he?" I asked.

"I do not think so." Atra tucked the little end of the braid under the rest.

"Then maybe he is not going to any more," I said, trying to comfort her.

"Maybe, Amli." There was no assurance in her eyes. "It is not right, Amli, for him to be keeping secrets from his parents."

"I am sorry, Atra." I kissed her forehead, and she hugged me for a moment in answer. Then I left the room and went to my own chamber. I tried to banish thoughts of Rojud by thinking of what I would wear to Saraji's betrothal dinner tonight, but it was hard.

Celvid would, I thought, be cross with me today, but when I came across him in the kitchen he seemed perky and bright-eyed from his night's sleep, and he greeted me affably as "Amli" and nothing more, at which I was disposed to forgive him. I had little heart to nurse a quarrel with Rojud's behaviour nagging at the back of my mind.

"Boy!" the old cook called, and Celvid turned towards her, pushing his lip rebelliously out. "What's your name?"

"Celvid," he answered.

"I need eggs. Julimin!" she called, and the kitchen maid hurried up at the summons. "Take Celvid out to get us some eggs. He'll be your responsibility until he can learn how to run errands properly and speak the language better."

Julimin extended her hand to Celvid and the two of them walked out as I watched. I envied Julimin a little for her gracefulness; every movement she made was as pretty as a queen's, though she was a quiet and respectful slave-girl. Thinking of Julimin, I departed the kitchens and did not remember Celvid again until he returned.

I was fussing with my hair in my room, wondering how I could do it for the betrothal dinner, when I heard the courtyard gate open and looked out my window to see them come back. Julimin looked flushed and very upset, and she was dragging Celvid through the courtyard with unnecessary vehemence; Celvid, on the other hand, was sporting a red mark on his cheek and looked like he was choking down giggles.

I stood slowly up, my eyes following them until they disappeared from view, and then I hurried down to the kitchen.

Celvid was standing by the fire, tittering; Julimin was yelling angrily for the cook.

"Who slapped you?" I asked Celvid.

"She did," he said, pointing at Julimin and snickering again.

"What on earth are you laughing for?" I demanded, but his giggles only heightened and I whirled away coldly to the weeping Julimin.

"Julimin, what happened?" I asked, putting a comforting arm around her. She was only a year older than I.

Julimin gained some control over her sobs. "We got the eg-gs," she told me, the tears glittering angrily in her eyes. "While I was still counting out the money for the stall-keeper, that – that boy began shrieking with laughter, and he pointed to Jih-Uika who was standing not far away, examining some silks, and he shouted – right out loud – 'Who's that man? Why is he buying pretty cloth like a girl?'"

"Where I come from," said Celvid, still giggling outrageously, "men don't shop for silks!"

Julimin's large brown eyes flashed furiously, and she looked as though she was about to hit him again.

"There, there," I said hastily, drawing her away from Celvid(and shooting him a murderous glance). "Then what happened?"

"Jih-Uika turned, of course, he heard Celvid – half the market did – and everyone was looking at us, and oh! the stall-keeper said to me, 'Who's that boy of yours? You'd better teach him to keep a civil tongue in his head.' – and Jih-Uika looked dreadfully offended, and I shouldn't wonder that he'll tell your father about it, and he'll demand I be punished, oh..."

"Julimin, don't worry," I said. "It was dreadfully embarrassing, I'm sure, but if anyone must be punished it's Celvid. Ata would never punish you for that, it was not your fault in the least!"

Julimin sniffed and glowered at Celvid, whose blue eyes goggled suddenly at the word "punish". "I hope you are right, Amli."

"I hope so too," I said.

Celvid began to snivel dramatically, while Julimin and I watched without the slightest sympathy. Moments later he was crouched in a heap on the floor, his wails shrilling louder and louder.

"Well, what is afoot in here?" the cook asked sharply, entering her domain; and Julimin and I jumped guiltily at once. I hurried out – it was nearing sundown, and I must get myself ready for the dinner if I was to be ready at all.


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Shortish chapter but a good spot to end it, I thought. Originally this one and the next one were going to be one chapter. Hope 6 will be out today!

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