She was already contemplating giving Jerekyn… Marchan… enough bloody greening through his flesh to have him raving and biting his own tongue in pain and fear. Her arm, looped into his as he escorted her through the streets, was more than close enough to get a quick touch of his hand or the skin of his cheek done. The dress and ridiculous shoes were reason enough for that swift but painful death, she thought vindicatively. That he was also prattling on about how useful their treaty would be to both of them was edging her ever closer to giving him a poison greened death.
She sighed a little, as much as she was able in the corset, and reminded herself of her promises to Orrin. Last night, in the darkness of the room they still shared, the two had whispered about Marchan’s deal and their hopes of finding Jayk here in the stinking city. Orrin had gently urged patience, Marchan might be able to bring about what he had promised, and she could still surprise the thief if he turned against the two of them. Eris had sat curled on the bed, listening calmly to his reasoning, just inches away from him in the darkness. The honey-tongue of the storyteller convinced her to trust the sly city-voln for a little while longer.
But then there had been the outfit he’d chosen for her!
She struggled against the constrictions of her bodice again. It was aimed at displaying her flesh, her chest, in a way that no woods-voln leathers ever concerned themselves with, and she found it silly. Hours before Estille had clucked and bothered about her as she and the housemaid Anpi had gotten her into the bindings, and had then declared that Eris looked almost like a real gentlelady in it. Another hour or so of playing with her long hair and clips and braidings, and then even more time spent smearing strange tasting stuffs on her face, she’d been presented to Marchan to see if she would do.
The master thief and the storyteller had been waiting in the parlour, both wearing the long coats of the button men, numerous golden rounds glimmering in the candle lights as they lounged comfortably with the whores. It had likely taken both men mere moments to dress!
Eris was paraded in front of them both, rage building in her chest as even the whores gave her their opinions.
“Too thin.” Said one.
“Have we nothing to… you know. Enhance?” Another of the whores gestured to her own ample chest.
“Girls, darlings. She is to be presented to a high general of the Front!”
“Ah, so why bother dressing ‘er at all then?”
“If its my Willem, he don’t like all that fancy stuff. Stick her in a tiny silk thing and be done with it!”
“No.” Estille said firmly, as she stood by Eris’ side, her own clothes almost as rigid and fancy as Eris’ deep green dress but in her usual blues and dove greys. “She needs to be taken for a woman of class. What say you Orrin? You were once a fine man’s son. Would she pass for a gentlewoman worthy of at least a moment’s attention from you at some ball or salon?”
Her words had been loaded and Eris had watched as Orrin had considered her. When she’d entered the room only he had moved to stand up, and he’d been looking her over since then with a strange look upon his face, as though she was one of the new plants she’d introduced him to on their journey. Eris had wished that she could wipe the muck from her face as it was likely only enhancing the reddening of her cheeks!
“She looks… different.”
“Come now Orrin, play fair. You declared that you preferred the wildflowers to the city-roses. Now what say you?” Estille pouted, pulling Eris’ arm into her own as though they were close friends.
“I stand by my words. I think Eris is more becoming in her woods-voln leathers than the corsets and heeled shoes of the city.” He had said finally, saying the words almost reluctantly.
“Oh, you are no fun! You should be taken with her transformation, she almost looks like a city-voln lady! Well, let us hope that her audience with the high general goes better! If only we had more time to teach her some basic courtesies-”
“There is no time, as well you know.” Said Marchan curtly. “Gather my darling treasures. I have arranged an escort to the upper barracks.”
Soon they were walking the stinking streets of Tralis again, but this time Eris was arm in arm with Marchan, Orrin arm in arm with Estille, and the two golden Denosians came with them, hidden away from curious eyes aboard a strange curtained carriage carried by exhausted looking common men. About them were a team of soldiers, normal infantry, keeping watchful eyes out for disturbances to their path. None came, and eventually they reached a squat building taking up the highest point of Tralis, such as that was in the mire of the swamp. They were then ushered into to a bustling hive of soldiers who stared at Estille. The city-voln woman only seemed to encourage their attention, flirting with them using a delicate lace fan, all the while still holding tightly on to Orrin.
“Better that they look at me than at your ‘wildflower’.” Eris’s sharp ears heard her whispering under her breath to Orrin. “A moment’s glance too long and they will spot her dangerous green eyes, darling.”
They were then taken to another quieter place where the carriage was set down on the ground, and all but the four of them were told to leave. The Denosians then cautiously emerged from their carriage and Eris noted that they wore long plain cloaks and hoods intended to cover up their golden skin with dull brown cloth.
“I’ll be taking the girls to their assignment. Estille will guide the two you to a waiting room. I will meet you again presently.”
Estille curtsied to Marchan, and brightly ushered Eris and Orrin out of the room, clasping her hands to theirs as though they were old friends. Eris fought the urge to tear hers away.
“Now, you must be well behaved you two rascals. Or the entire plan will come to nought and I will have to cut you deep.”
“And we will see Jayk? As Marchan promised?” asked Eris, concerned.
“Yes sweetling.” She replied, “You do this one little job and we can get your lad back to you.”
They entered a plush but decaying lounge room, not dissimilar to the one the whores relaxed in. But whereas the atmosphere there was decadent and lazy, here Estille immediately sat on a plush couch with her back rigid and her eyes on the door. When Eris sat in a more casual way, not brushing down her skirts or setting her back to be a rod of iron, Estille tutted at her until she shifted her position.
“If this scheme is to work at all, you must be the very model of a virtuous woman.” Sly eyes looked from Eris to Orrin. “No matter if that is true or not.”
“Estille.” Orrin said in a warning voice. “Stop pricking us with your sharp tongue.”
“And you, Master Orrin, once of the Light of Lios, you must say nothing at all. You are merely to take the role of guardian to your Eris. Stand still and speak not!”
Orrin frowned at her from where he stood, but Eris noted that he stood taller after Estille’s words.
“And if you refer to me or Marchan, you must call us Lady Trienne, or Master Marchan.” Estille gave a subtle emphasis to their new names and Eris nodded, understanding the rule.
Eventually a young lad with very few buttons on his coat came to collect them. Estille chattered with him about the weather and other inconsequentials as they followed him down a long corridor and entered a great room at the far end.
Eris’ eyes opened wider as she took in the foul smell in the room. Looking about the peeling wallpaper and web covered glass and candle chandeliers she eventually saw the man laid out on a large couch at the far end of the room. He was immensely fat, his long coat thrown to one side as even his linen shirt struggled to cover the mass of his chest and belly. His breeches were resting underneath the lump of his stomach, and his legs looked unable to bear his huge weight.
Eris paused just inside the door, barely willing to move further in and closer to the smell coming from the man. But Estille instantly went to his side and fawned over him, kissing the fat flesh on top of his hand and delightfully laughing as he made some joke that only she could hear. She offered him small treats from a silver plate by his side, and popped them into his mouth one by one.
He was still chewing on them when his attention finally moved from Estille to his new guests, and Eris in particular.
“Is this the one you told me about, sweetling?”
“Yes!” Estille gushed and gestured for Eris to move closer. Orrin went to walk with her.
“Stand down my good man.” Laughed the beast of a man, ripples of his flesh jiggling with the effort. “As you can see I am too unwell to be forcing myself on her.”
The thought hadn’t occurred to Eris until he said it, and a queasy feeling filled her stomach. But she stepped forward anyway.
“She doesn’t look like much. Even if you’ve tarted her up with fine silks and red paint.” He sneered.
“Ah but she is so much more than she seems.” It was Marchan, back from his other task and slinking into the room, with a couple of other high-ranking button men, their moustaches and buttons glimmering with oil. “As my letter explained…”
“Yes. Yes. A healer. But do you know how many of Lios’ priests and mad men I have had here, making promises? And still I am failing!”
“Perhaps a demonstration of her power.” Marchan offered with his hands spread in the symbol for peace.
“Indeed.” Said the immense man, but Eris just looked to Marchan.
“Our deal.” She whispered to him. “Jayk?”
“Soon enough sweetling, just step forward and show him what you can do first.”
Eris gritted her teeth, but still she moved towards him, preparing herself to call upon Sutith.
“Oh no, not me!” Sniggered the fat man. “I’ll not be letting some woods-voln bitch lay a hand on me without knowing what she really intends.” He nodded to one of the button men at the door who pulled a dagger from its sheath and plunged it into Orrin’s stomach.
“No!” Screamed Eris and Estille at the same time, but Eris was by his side quicker, ripping at his coat and shirt to open them to the gasping man’s wound. It was deep but neat and she could cover the whole of it with the palm of one hand.
“Sutith!” She begged as her tears began to burn her eyes. “Sutith!”
The flesh knitted beneath her palm as the blood and the healing merged there. Orrin’s panicked face began to calm, and she placed her other hand on his cheek before she was grabbed by button men and held tightly by her arms.
“Let her go!” Orrin shouted, but he was also yanked up from the ground, blood smeared across his bare belly and his clothes.
Eris looked frantically from him to Marchan and Estille. The two co-conspirators looked as panicked and confused as her and Orrin.
“What is the meanin-” Began the master thief.
“I just needed to know she could do what you claimed. And I now I know what she treasures the most. So, I don’t need to deal with you, Jerekyn of Bara. Yes I know who you are, you popinjay. Now I can deal directly with the girl. Isn’t that so?”
She stared into his flat loathsome eyes. “You will let Orrin go.”
He shrugged, and the soldiers released her companion. “Of course. But know that I can have him cut again within a moment. And I can keep you away from him, so that the next time he just bleeds and bleeds, and bleeds.”
Eris set her jaw. “And you want me to heal you. I can do that.”
“Smart girl.” He smiled smugly. “You see Marchan would have had you heal me too, but I know that he already has his claws into some of the other high generals. Willem likes a girl at his brothel. Sigdre has a thing for golden flesh. But I can’t… well, there are ‘obstacles’ in the way of Marchan getting one of his girls to seduce me. Even the lovely Estille and her sweets weren’t enough to really buy me. But then here we are. You’ve fallen into his hands and he somehow know that you can heal. Perhaps he knew you back in Bara, although what a woods-voln slut was doing in that city Lios only knows! But somehow, by some impure will, you end up back in his hands. But now lass, now you are in my hands.” He shifted his weight on the large couch. “So, come here, and do what you can do. And please do bear in mind that I have your Orrin’s life in my hands.”
Eris nodded, and walked towards him step by step, thinking on what she could do. Numerous greenings sprung to mind, but she was watched. If this monster died then Orrin would certainly follow not long after. Even a slow greening would raise suspicion.
“Can I know my new master’s name?” She asked simply, buying a moment’s time to think.
“High General Adair Rickarn addresses you.”
The desire to fill him with a raging poision grew, but she merely curtsied as she had seen Estille do. “Greetings High General.”
“What do you think lads, has the forest slut learnt how to behave like a real woman?”
There was dark laughter from the other soldiers and she could hear Orrin struggling against more hands holding him back, just behind her. She finished her walk to his couch and knelt as Estille had done.
“Perhaps if she fails to please me I allow her to try to please you all.”
More laughter followed, but Eris held out her hands to him. “If it please you, I must touch your hand to perform the healing.”
There was a moment of fear in the man’s eyes that she relished, and he hesitantly held out a swollen and obviously painful hand towards her. Eris had never seen a man so overburdened with flesh, and she reasoned that what was wrong with him was in part due to his appetites. And there might be little she could do about reversing that. But she could ease his pain and help his blood to flow. Sutith, she called to the power within herself again, hoping that she was not too tired to make a difference he would notice.
A smile spread across the man’s pale and sweaty face, and he almost started to look healthy underneath his receding hairline. She nodded, and went to stand again.
“Girl, you have wrought a wonder!” He shifted in his seat, and sat up straighter. “I feel… younger!”
Eris felt weak, having called upon Sutith to save Orrin’s life as well as to shore up the monster’s. She tried for another curtsey and dizziness caught her. She found a soldier’s arms about her, forcing her harshly to remain on her feet as she struggled to breath in the constricting corset. He ran his hands quickly over her exposed flesh and anger flared within her. But she didn’t have a chance to retaliate with Atta or any other greening before Orrin was punching the soldier in his lustful face and catching her before he dropped her.
“Separate them!” the High General shouted as the rest of the soldiers drew their roarers and steel. “Put her in my chamber, and put him in the stocks!”