Fear of sounding like a rube had stopped Ceccamun from uttering a word until her and Akmoya were alone. Her burly mentor broke the silence with utterings about Gusar being a pretentious busy-body. The pair crossed the remainder of the hall and began to round the uprisen throne toward the light flooding in from the balcony beyond.When Cec finally spoke, her tone was noticeably hushed.
“I’m feelin’ like a turd floatin’ in the hot springs here,” she grumped. “You’nt tell me things were so primp’n’shine.”
Akmoya shrugged his huge shoulders. “Gusar’s the worst of ‘em. Ya’d think havin’ half yer gob blast clean off’d do some humblin’, but then they went’n’plugged a computer in his head. Now he’s some fraction of a cyborg – ten or twelve percent or somethin’ – on top of being a hoity-toity priss-peddler.”
Ceccamun snorted, stifling laughter, just before a rough chuckle greeted them as they cornered the throne.
“I’ve told ya, vun’tua, if you’re that begrudged over the whole thing, the tech-sages are always looking for volunteers.”
Three individuals, a man with his feet up and two women, sat at a small table at the center of the balcony. The meeting seemed quite casual, drinks set around the table and a hint of joy hung in the air. Ceccamun immediately recognized one of the women, her long braided ashen hair and towering staff adorned with brilliant feathers and beads. She was the clan’s Shahm, an age-old mystic, and Akmoya’s twin: Kerimoya; the second woman, the youngest of those present besides Ceccamun herself, looked distinctly foreign, her skin a pale cream and her hair a shimmering ebon blue. At the fore of the table, a seasoned man, exultant dazzling smile splayed across his squared jaw and touching the edges of his wild full sideburns. About his head, the crown of the Kaizar, a circlet resting just above his brow shaped like the rigged bone brow of an etenpyr.
The Kaizar stood, lifting his hands to greet his new guests. The Shahm and foreign lady stood as well. When at first Ceccamun did not step forward, Akmoya placed a hand on her shoulder and eased her along with him. She found herself unwilling to speak once more, her eyes flicked between the Kaizar and the ebon-haired foreigner but never lingered, never wanted to make direct eye contact. Against her own will she was glued to Akmoya’s side, shrinking into his towering figure.
“Ceccamun, is it?”
She snapped her attention to the Kaizar and straightened up, detaching herself from her mentor’s shadow. Not sure of what to do, she dropped her head and bent at the waist in a formal bow. To her dismay, the Kaizar found this entertaining, if not downright comical, and his hearty laughter rang out and echoed into the hall behind her. Her face flushed and she froze in her bow, her eyes locked onto the floor and heart pounding. Before she knew it, a set of heavy boots stepped in front of her and two hands grabbed her by the shoulders, tilting her back up right. The Kaizar smiled down at her and she looked up at him. He was much taller than she, but still nowhere near Akmoya by comparison.
“We are warriors. A warrior submits to none…”
“…she holds her head high, eyes anchored to her goal. Heart in the clouds and mind on the horizon.” She recited the words along with him.
The Kaizar grinned and nodded his head. He gave Ceccamun a light pat on the shoulder then took a few steps back and turned to motion towards the foreign lady who stood with impeccable posture, her hands and feet gently crossed. She wore no armor only layers of muted robes.
“This is an adjutant from our distant cousins beyond the mountains and the Sea of Lightning -”
“Renaile,” she interjected, her voice like trickling water. She offered a soft smile and tilt of her head. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet those of your warrior caste.” She took long strides to approach Ceccamun and offered her hand. “I hear that you’re top of your class – ”
“Was.” Cec shook her hand politely.
“Well, I doubt you’ll be anything less for long.” Likely just a pleasantry but she sounded sincere.
“Exactly why I wanted to speak with her today.” The Kaizar looked to each of his guests, “perhaps we could all enjoy a sit down a little later, for now I’d like to speak with our young Lancer here.” He said this while returning to his seat at the fore of the table.
Renaile silently nodded, her smooth steps gave her the appearance of gliding across the floor on her way out. Akmoya turned to follow suit and Kerimoya was the last to depart, stopping in front of Ceccamun. She spoke in a sharp rasp and, at first, she chuckled.
“So tense, “she mocked.
Shahm Kerimoya reached out with both hands and began to inspect, straighten, and approve the young warrior, her huge cane-staff leaned against her shoulder. She pushed against Cec’s shoulders so that she was standing proper. “Quite yer poutin’. Nobody likes a pout. Aiiiyaaa!” She exclaimed, helplessly buffing the scuffed plates of Cec’s tattered armor with the end of her oversized sleeves, “what’d’ya pick the most beat up uniform you could find? That’s what I get fer not goin’ ta getcha ma’self. And yer hair. What, ya ain’t never heard of a comb?”
Ceccamun cracked a smile and rolled her eyes, intercepting the elder woman’s hands as they reached toward her tangled mess. Kerimoya took her cane in her hands again and gently knocked Cec on the head with it. “He’s yer Kaizar, moon, not some suitor lookin’ fer a trophy. He ain’t gunna quiz ya on table manners.”
Ceccamun nodded but sighed even so, “it’d be easier if I knew what was going on.”
Another gentle chuckle, “it figures that lout Aki would play along.” She shook her head and glanced over her shoulder at the lounging Kaizar who had resigned to tapping away at the gauntlet on his arm. “That boy’s a damn theatric. Always been that way.”
“So, what’s’it then?”
For a moment, the Shahm looked surprised. “Hey now, a Shahm can’t be goin’ around blabbin’ secrets from one corner to another. Yer jus’gunna hav’ta wait through all the buildup now.”
A hint of irritation filled Ceccamun’s following sigh, “fine.”
“Why not ask ‘em yerself.” Kerimoya grinned and pat Cec on the shoulder while she passed. Renaile and Akmoya had patiently waited for her. The three disappeared around the corner and off into the great hall.
“Join me.” Khoriba spoke almost as soon as they disappeared. Ceccamun sombered over and took the seat across from him.
When she sat, he stood, and paced from his chair. “She’s right, you know,” he turned toward the open air and folded his hands behind him.
Cec watched him curiously, brow risen and head tilted. She wondered how much he had actually overheard, moreover, what certainty of Kerimoya’s could he have been referring to?
“A comb would’ve helped.”
Ceccamun’s face flushed and her brow dropped to a deep scowl. She clenched her teeth ready to snap at her cheeky host. Khoriba whipped around to face her, his hands held up in surrender. He chuckled and flashed a toothy grin and for a moment the once imposing man reminded her of a mischievous teen. The young woman leaned back in her chair, crossing her arms, and huffed.