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A Low Profile

Writers: Estelle
Date Posted: 15th January 2023

Characters: Tasni
Description: Tasni hears some gossip about the guard she's been searching for
Location: Emerald Falls Hold
Date: month 6, day 13 of Turn 11


"Not this one, you stupid girl." Lady Agriona plucked at the sleeve of
the gown Tasni had laid out for her, a dark blue velvet embroidered with
silver thread that likely cost more than a journeyman harper would make
in a Turn. "I'll need the emerald green, my family's colours. My brother
arrives today. We had the message by firelizard last night."

**And I was supposed to read that detail from your mind, like a
dragon?** Of course, Tasni couldn't say that aloud. Instead, she
murmured a soft apology and turned to the tall closet where the gowns
hung. Calling Emerald Falls green her family colours was a stretch, she
thought. Agriona's mother was distantly related to the Blood of that
Hold, which meant that the brother would be too, but it would be a ways
back.

"And the silver-grey for tomorrow's tournament, White Hollow's colours,
with my green sash." The Holder's wife nibbled at the corner of a slice
of toast. "Make sure it's spotless."

"Yes, my lady." That was Agriona's favourite gown, though Tasni
privately thought it didn't suit her at all. The grey left her pale skin
and light-brown hair looking drab and washed out, and the filmy sleeves
only made the effect worse. She took down the green dress, relieved that
it wasn't in the wash. "May I ask, is your brother visiting for the
tournament?"

"Yes. Sometimes Ingrizon enters the ring himself." She pushed the tray
aside, half-eaten, and got up from the bed. "My brother is a gifted
swordsman. He usually wins. He also has a great deal of business with my
husband, of course; their holds lie alongside each other, though my
family's lands are the more extensive. I'll take my bath now," she went
on, losing interest in the subject.

Once the lady was settled in the parlour, bathed and dressed and with
her playing cards laid out on the table, Tasni scooped up an armful of
nightclothes and damp towels and hurried down the back stairs, first
checking to be sure that no one was lurking there. She wondered what the
brother was like, and if he really did defeat Holder Obriel's guards in
combat or if they allowed him to do so.

Once she'd dropped off the laundry and quickly checked that she wasn't
being rung for, she knocked on the door of the headwoman's cramped
little office opposite the kitchen storeroom. Now that the morning rush
was over, Marsena was there, studying accounts on an unrolled hide
before her.

"Ah, Elayni. Please close the door and sit down." She watched as Tasni
slid into the chair - there was barely enough room to do so. "You're
feeling better, I hope, after this morning's unpleasantness?"

"I - think so. Yes. Thank you, Headwoman." She firmly pushed aside the
rush of sensations, the memory of the man's heavy body pushing her
against the door, his voice. Don't be so cold... **No. Stop it.**

"I'm sorry that you had to experience that. If you were at Emerald
Falls, you perhaps aren't used to life in the hill holds. The men can be
rougher in their manners." Marsena frowned, as if she doubted her own
words. "Nevertheless, I want to make sure that it doesn't happen again."

"Can you speak to the captain?" If the man was banished back to his
outlying guard post, that would save a lot of trouble.

"I can try. If I catch him on a good day, and Dallo doesn't do well in
the tournament...it helps that you're Lady Agriona's maid, she'd be
annoyed to lose another girl. But he can't stay posted away from the
hold forever." She paused. "Do you have any relatives or friends who I
might be able to mention? Someone who the captain wouldn't want to offend?"

Tasni had been wondering what had become of Agriona's previous maid, and
it took a moment to understand that Marsena was asking if she knew
anyone of rank. She considered whether she ought to make up a
connection, but that might cause more problems and anyway, if she could
just get the guard to leave her alone for a few sevendays she'd be out
of here. "I don't think so. No one but my lady."

"That's a pity. You'll need to think about what to do, then." The
headwoman's voice didn't change, but there was a hardening in her face,
a sense that she'd had this conversation before. "You could go back to
your family. Or, if you don't want to accept his advances, you could
find someone else of higher standing to protect you."

Tasni stared at her, genuinely appalled. Were these the decisions that
women had to make in holds like White Hollow? "I..." As much as she'd
immersed herself in the role of a Southerner and a maid, for all her
preparation, she didn't know how to answer that.

"I'm not...like that. It would dishonour my husband's memory," she
managed at last.

"I see. Well, I'm only telling you so that you know what to expect,"
Marsena said firmly, though not unkindly. "You could try keeping a lower
profile. Stay close to the other girls. He might lose interest."

Somehow, she doubted that, but if she could get what she needed and
leave this benighted hold behind her then it would hardly matter. "Thank
you, Headwoman. I'll try."

***

"...and then she told _me_ to keep a low profile." Tasni ran the hot
iron over one of Lady Agriona's flimsy nightgowns with a scowl. "As if
it was my fault he acted like a rutting porcine."

"Careful, you'll scorch that." Davika, the other maid in the laundry
room, was working her way through a larger pile of linen with practised
efficiency. She gave Tasni a sympathetic tilt of the head. "It's not
right, it really isn't. A widow deserves more respect, and it's not as
though you encouraged him. But the captain lets them get away with it.
Don't get caught, that's what he says."

"Doesn't the Holder do anything?"

She shook her head. "He's never been bothered what they do, as long as
they fight well. You'll see tomorrow. Holder Obriel loves a hard fight."

Still seething, Tasni concentrated on smoothing around the lacy sleeves
of the gown. Once she'd given herself time to calm down, she spoke
again, this time in the kind of low, confidential tone best suited to
gossip. "So...who was that other man you mentioned earlier? The one who
might have stopped Dallo - what did you call him?"

Davika's cheeks coloured noticeably, despite the heat and steam of the
laundry room. "Gil - but - we're not supposed to talk about that."

"Oh, come on! You can't name a mystery man and leave it at that. Was he
the last captain?"

She glanced over at the door, as if the headwoman might appear there at
any moment, looked down, then back again. Then, giving in to temptation,
she lowered her voice. "No, but he was Holder Obriel's own guard. He
didn't answer to the captain. He came here seven or eight Turns ago, not
long after the Holder inherited. They were recruiting a lot of guards
back then, but he was different. He'd been trained at the main Hold. He
served the old family, like you did."

Tasni did her best to hide her excitement. That fit! A guard from
Emerald Falls, who'd left about the time of the burning of the Hall. It
had to be the right man. She also wondered, again, why Obriel needed so
many guards for a minor quarry hold, as well as a bodyguard of his own.
Prestige, or fear of bandits, or enemies, or - did he have plans for them?

"That name does sound familiar. What did he look like?" She saw Davika
raise an eyebrow at the question, and her voice turned teasing. "Was he
good-looking?"

"Oh - he was, rather." The young woman turned even redder. "He was tall,
but not bulky like Dallo or Vindryk, and he had fair hair, sort of
golden-brown, and kind eyes. And he had nice manners. He'd hold the door
open for you and say please and thank you and call you ma'am. That made
him stand out, especially among all those others Holder Obriel was
hiring. Some of them were half wild. I think they'd been holdless."

She filed away that bit of information for later. "But they were scared
of him?"

"Well." Davika forgot her concern about being overheard by the Headwoman
as she told her story. "Like I said, back then, it was even worse than
it is now, with all the new guards. They would call out and make rude
gestures and follow you - you couldn't go anywhere on your own. One
night, one of the drudges - I think she thought she was going to meet
one of them who seemed a bit better than the others, but he was there
with a group of his friends, and - it was horrible, I don't even want to
say - "

"You don't have to." Tasni shivered, despite the warmth of the laundry.

"It looked as though no one was going to do anything. Marsena was going
around looking white and furious and snapping at everyone. I think she'd
spoken to the Holder and he'd brushed it off. But then, about a sevenday
later they held one of those fights in the old quarry pit, and Gil
challenged Loxan, the one who'd been the ringleader."

"And he won?"

"Oh, did he." Davika lowered her voice, her eyes bright with horror and
relish. "Usually they stop when one yields, but this time, everyone knew
what it was about. It looked at first like they were evenly matched.
Loxan got in a few blows, but Gil was just playing with him. He started
batting everything Loxan tried aside like he was drilling a new recruit,
and then he disarmed him, and by the end - I couldn't watch, but they
said he tossed his blade aside and was hitting him like he was swinging
a pick in the quarry, over and over. There was blood spattered all over,
on his face and in his hair and soaking into the ground..."

"Holder Obriel didn't stop it?" Tasni interrupted before she had to
listen to any more.

"Of course not. He loved it. That's when he promoted Gil to be his own
guard. No, it went on until I suppose he got tired. After that, word got
around, and no one bothered the maids any more. They didn't want to end
up like Loxan."

"Did he die?"

"No, but afterwards, he wasn't right in the head. Even when his injuries
healed a bit, he was like a little child, grinning and babbling. They
had to send him away in the end, he was useless and Lady Agriona
couldn't stand it." There was malice in Davika's voice. "It was no more
than he deserved."

Tasni supposed she was right, but it was a horrifying tale all the same.
No wonder the headwoman didn't want them talking about it. **Kind eyes,
indeed.** If this Gil was Calenta's missing husband, she wondered if her
friend had known what he was capable of, and whether it would actually
be such a good idea to deliver him that letter.

She had promised, though.

"So - what happened to him?"

The other maid's face fell. "It was last Turn. Gil had been gone for a
few days, but that wasn't unusual, he was often out on the Holder's
business..."

Before she could say more, the faint jangling of a bell sounded from the
kitchens, and Davika winced. "Shells, that's her ladyship's bell. You'd
better go."

Inwardly, Tasni cursed Lady Agriona and all her supposedly Blooded
ancestors for her appalling timing, but there was nothing for it but to
go. She tossed the newly ironed laundry into a basket and hurried out,
wondering if she could get back before it was time for the noon meal to
hear what happened next. Until then, Gil's story would have to wait.

Last updated on the February 19th 2023


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