A/N: Next chapter to have more action. Hopefully will be up sooner than this one.
I spent a sleepless night wandering the back alleys of Tiro, sure that I would end up robbed or worse by morning, but my luck, such as it was, held out. The few people I saw didn't want anything more to do with me than I with them. Eventually I huddled in a doorway, and managed to doze a bit, though when the sun finally rose, I was anything but rested. Shops started opening and the activity in the street picked up; I needed to get going. A moving target is hardest to find. But I had no destination, there was no place in the city they couldn't track me down. Crying like a baby and giving up was looking more appealing by the moment. Dammed if I was going to give them the satisfaction, though.
Getting out of the city wouldn't be that hard, thousands of people came and went each day. Traveling alone was dangerous, especially for a girl, but I was sure I could pass for a boy- the goddess didn't see fit to grant me an overabundance of curves- and I had to disguise myself anyway. Caravans always need help; maybe I could join a westward heading one...
Just as a warmed to my plan, a small voice somewhere in the back of my head reminded me that Andarian was in trouble. But perhaps he really wasn't- he was more than capable of taking care of himself. Sometimes. He really did have a penchant for getting caught. But I had no proof of anything. But they were only looking for me- they'd made no mention of another search. But that didn't necessarily mean they'd already captured him. …They'd certainly had no trouble locating me in a frighteningly short amount of time. He'd left me, though; clearly my help was not something he wanted. Let the smug bastard rot, for all I care.
But even as I decided to leave him to his sorry fate, I knew I wouldn't. I couldn't, really, no matter how much I wanted to or how much he deserved it. I wouldn't be able to leave Tiro until I knew Andarian was safe.
Berating myself for a fool, I wiped out my meager funds to buy henna. My hair had to be dyed. I managed it myself, using a small, nearly dry cistern in one of the back alleys. My hair ended up a dark brownish red, I actually rather liked the effect; it brought out the colorof my eyes. It wouldn't pass as natural upon a closer inspection, but at least it didn't scream 'here I am, come get me.' I thought about cutting some of it off, but the resulting fluff ball of hair would probably be as attention-grabbing as its former orange color. I was going to hide in plain sight and hopefully they wouldn't look for their quarry so close to home. After all, who would be dumb enough to march right up to their front door? Who, indeed…
It took me most of the day to actually find their door to march up to. Getting directions had proved something of a challenge. Firstly trying to find people who spoke Solean well enough that I could actually understand them and secondly, getting said people to talk to about the house of Dev. Whenever I brought it up, most people either told me they didn't know anything or conveniently forgot that they spoke Solean, even if they'd just done so a few moments ago. It was very frustrating. I was beginning to speculate how much torture it would take to extract the information I wanted, when a teamster loading a wagon with barrels of whiskey was willing to talk- less willing once he figured out that I wasn't propositioning him, but still amenable. Not only was he headed that way but he was willing to give me a lift. I didn't like the look he was giving me, like he knew something I didn't, but I really had little choice in the matter. My mind was made up and he was the quickest way to my goal. I felt a little better knowing I had a small knife in my bag. I would probably be raped and killed in the time it would take me to get to the damn thing, but at least it was there.
Riding in the back of that damn wagon was uncomfortable, I had to hang on for dear life over every bump and rut and got more seasick than I had on the actual ship. It didn't help that my butt quickly went numb from the rough wood. I had a good view though. I should have kept a low profile, but the sites of the city were far too tempting, especially as the poor districts gave way to richer ones. Much richer ones, I noted, staring in awe as the cramped apartments and shops spaced out and became estates. In cities as big as this one, living space is always at a premium, the sprawling land of these plantations spoke of wealth far more than gold or gems.
The Dev Estate was on the outside of the city, the grandest and largest of them all. The wagon was stopped at the gate, the driver exchanging some words with guards and we were let in. The guards didn't stop me, though I half expected them to, they barely even looked at me. As I heard the ornate gates close behind the wagon, I desperately wished I was on the other side of them. The wagon pulled up the long driveway and came to a stop before the largest manor I'd ever seen- including the palace I'd been held prisoner in.
"This is your stop, Missy. I got to unload this stuff in the back." I jumped a little, the ride that had taken forever now seemed too short. I hopped down as gracefully as I could, not easy as one of my feet was asleep.
I made toward the huge front door but was intercepted by the footman. He rattled something off in Fahranian. I gave him that universal I-have-no-idea-what-the-hell-you're-saying look. He must have guessed my problem, as convincing as my dye-job was, no one would have pegged me as a native of Tiro. "Servant door around the back," he snapped.
"I'm not a servant, I'm applying-" I started, pride stinging.
Reminding myself this was necessary for my daring rescue mission, I made way around. It wasn't hard to find; I just followed the steady trail of servants, like ants on a hill. A tall woman stopped me at the door, the large ring of keys hanging from her waist signaling her position as housekeeper.
"I'm here about the position for a…bleeder." I hated the word. Here eyes widened, maybe she was just surprised to hear Solean.
"Did Arnbring you in with the other girls?"
"No, ma'am. I came by myself."
She stepped back and gave me the once over. I tried to look sweet and presentable, which was never easy for me. "Well, I could use another girl. Come on." I quickly followed, relieved that my entry into the Dev had been so smooth, so flawless, so brilliantly executed, so-
"I beg your pardon?" She'd led me toone of the many storage rooms, while out of the way,wasn't exactly private.
"I can't let a diseased girl in."
I hesitated a moment, sure that she was jesting, but she had an expression that said if I didn't undress she'd do it for me. I reluctantly removed my clothing, reminding my pride again of the final goal. I was roughly checked for lice, boils, and lesions. Finally she was satisfied. I started to put my clothing back on, but she stopped me, handing me a long dress from one of the shelves. I meekly put it on. At least it was clean. It was white and sleeveless, belted at the hips and fell to my ankles. It was more under than outer ware, I thought, but refrained from comment.
She surveyed me again, apparently satisfied. Still feeling naked I followed her again, this time upstairs, away from the bustle of the main household. Deftly picking out a large brass ring she opened an oaken door and led me into what was to become my home and my prison. It was a long, low-roofed room, with white plaster walls and an airy feeling of space. Beds, perhaps a couple dozen lined both walls.
"This is where the girls sleep." She was locking the door behind her, "They're in the solar through that door. I'll introduce you." I followed her down the long row. She gestured to the farthest bed, indicating where I would sleep. Through the back door (which was unlocked) and down half a flight of stairs and we emerged into outside, sort of. There were tall walls surrounding a yard, closing it off from the rest of the property. A large awning cast shadow over most of it. Girls about my own age wandered about, looking picturesque in their white frocks, seeming more apart of the landscape than the carefully sculpted shrubberies, goldfish ponds and decorative benches. Most looked up as I entered then quickly ignored me. Apparently new girls were unremarkable; I decided this was in my favor.
She called a tall, elegant girl over. "This is Kailai, she speaks some Solean, butthe rest of the girls don't though. You might want to learn Fahrainan." She made it sound like I'd just been too lazy to pick up thus far. "She'll tell you everything you need to know." She looked up at me through long lashes, how she looked up since she was taller than me, I don't know, but that was the definite impression.
For a long moment I stood in somewhat awkward silence, it occurred to me that I didn't even know the housekeeper's name, but when I turned to ask, she'd already left.
"Hello." That was a safe place to start.
"Hello," Kailai said softly, she smiled a bit. "You must be tired, come get a drink. It can be hard here, but you will be fine."
I certainly hoped so.