“Are you not happy here?”
Filipina was pouring cool water from a large jug into a copper basin laid into a white marble table, the sound mixing with the playful burbling of children which wafted in with the cool breeze from the courtyard. “Yes, I have been happy here, Karazine,” she said flatly.
Karazine was chopped vegetables on a black wood table. She stopped and walked into the sunlight to close three of the six shutters which formed one wall, glancing out at the children dancing and splashing in the pool, the cream-coloured canvas canopy stretched across the courtyard providing a cool glow. She turned to check the ambient light within the chamber, a mellow amber, closed another shutter and gauged the subdued light ideal. “Would you like to tell me what troubles you?” she asked.
“It is difficult,” replied Filipina, who barefoot crossed to the hearth and began piling sticks for a small fire.
Karazine drew the cotton gauze across the remaining gap to ensure privacy from the frollicking children and the other members of the extended household, the metal rings sliding along it rails like rushing water. “I understand. It is about your children,” Karazine said. “There is nothing to be afraid of.”
“It has been three years since I have moved to the Heartland. Three years away from my own people,” Filipina said with a sigh.
“Have I not taken you in and treated you as our own family? There is no distinction between you and the others here.”
“Yes, Karazine, you have been most generous. But I have not seen my children in these long three years and it pains my heart.”
Karazine was silent. She regarded Filipina kneeling at the hearth. “Yes, it must be very hard for you. I could not bear being separated from my children for an afternoon. I admire your sacrifice, your strength, Filipina.” She paused. “It must have been hard making the decision to leave them.”
“Thank you, Karazine, it was. But I always had the intention of making enough money to return.”
“You know we are not of hot of blood. I do not have the resources to spare. It is difficult enough to run this household as it is.” Karazine spoke curtly. Finances were not her favourite topic, though she was quite competent. They were her responsibility and she kept frequent check of the fiscal health of the entire extended household. It was not a Major House, but even a Minor house with its tens of members had substantial assets distributed throughout Terrabiz and Bizapul to account.
“I have not asked you for money, Karazine.” Filipina turned to look at Karazine who was pouring dark green lentils into a wide brimmed black charred pot.
“You know I hardly understand rax. Despite the difference of our blood, we are simple people. I have never pretended to understand your vision.” The Lady meant this sincerely, and raised her head briefly to assure Filipina appreciated her intent. “I have witnessed your rax, have I not? And the children too?”
“I promise you the garsu smoke exists. I have seen it. It rises from garsu use.”
“I’m sorry to say, I have not,” Karazine said, sifting the hard round lentils through her fingers.
“The skills of conjurers and magicians of the market are insufficient to detect the garsu smoke. They have helped me product a xanplay, but I have failed to secure an exponent of the Meherim to examine it.”
“I have helped as much as I can. Have you not been living here well enough? Enough to eat? A place to sleep? These are certainly not slave quarters. Beyond your service, what you do with your own time is your own.”
“In the three years I have been here, I have failed to form the necessary relationships.” Karazine lifted the pot onto the grill. Filipina could feel the brittle quality of her intensity fixed excessively on the pot, nevertheless she asked: “Have you spoken of the smoke or shown the rax to a House…?”
Karazine wiped her hands and fetched the jug of water. “Your business is your own. If it hasn’t worked out for you, I am sorry to hear that. I did as much as I could.”
Filipina tried to catch Karazine’s eyes when she returned to pour water into the pot. “I am cold of blood, not even Solozo. It is impossible for me to approach a Royal House.”
“So why not return to the Reaches? Try with your own kind?” It was a positive remark but as their eyes met, both knew it was empty. Karazine turned away.
“They do not have the resources. I can not return to them with nothing. After three years…” Filipina slumped beside the small spluttering fire, dejected. “I have failed them.”
Karazine resumed cutting the vegetables. “I am sorry to hear that, Filipina. But you may stay here for as long as you are a contributing member of the household.” And then she added cheerily: “We won’t let you starve!”
“My life is not worth living,” said Filipina, poking the fire with a stick, which spluttered ineffectually. She thought of the fire in the hovel she had left in the Seven Valleys. Her extended family living in poverty, the failing of the harvests year after year. She had seen it all in a vision. Black smoke issuing from the garsu crystal, turning and twisting like it had a life of its own, falling upon all the crops, blackening the ground, turning the rivers dark. A living death.
“You have been invaluable, my dear. You have brought much cheer to the children. They love the stories which you brought with you. They are so vibrant.” Karazine reminisced when Filipina had arrived at the household, the chaos at the time, the fierce competition with another family for attending a Minor House. It was a time of great distress, and Filipina had brought a mixture of down-to-earth service and joyful spirit that they all benefit from, her sisters and their lovemates, and all their children. “I don’t know what I would have done without you.”
“But I have nothing to show for it,” said Filipina forlornly.
Karazine reminded herself again: Filipina had indeed been vibrant, but something of that zest was missing in her these days, and it was starting to get wearisome. “What is it you say?” asked Karazine raising her head and fixing Filipina with a solicitous smile. “You have my deepest gratitude.”
Filipina could tell Karazine was trying to lift her mood, to push back her sorrow. It was Ikawe. She returned the smile cheerlessly, and added another brick to the fire.
Kazarine came over to stir the pot. “And you are such a fine cook, Filipina,” she murmured. “A genius with lentils — I can certainly recommend that!”
“Thank you, Karazine,” whispered Filipina.
“I don’t know what I will do without you.”