The burning oil lamps gave off a faint smell of jasmine that hung like a fog in the air. The room was plainly furnished; although the rug on the stone floor was a deep red and lined with gold, the place was lit only by candles, standing on brackets attached to the wall or quietly sitting on the floor.
The man standing in one corner was barely visible; the light was so dim here. The shadows danced, outlining the gauntness of his face and strong nose. His dark hair merely blended into the darkness.
A servant walked in, veiled and dressed in loose white cloth, stopping still within the arched doorway, before bowing his head. He did not move. Only waited, eyes downcast.
“You may speak.”
The servant hesitated before looking up. He had, most likely, heard of the man’s infamous temper. He wrung his hands, not even seeming to realise he was doing so.
“If you please, my Lord, there is someone arrived to see you. He says he comes here from House Dharalan.” The servant’s eyes studied him for a moment. Everyone in the Inner City knew of the feuds between House Dharalan and that of his own: House Garanhe.
He leaned, almost casually, against the wall. “Show him to the study. He can wait there.” He smiled as the servant scurried out. He liked to make his visitors wait; it made them agitated, which in turn, caused them to make mistakes. Certainly an advantage for him.
He frowned as he breathed in the sweet-smelling smoke from the oil lamps; he would have much preferred to ignore the visitor altogether, anyone even connected to House Dharalan was trouble in his eyes.
Walking over to a long mirror, on the other side of the room, he picked up his coat, a dark blue velvet with vines and leaves embroidered in silver thread – certainly not suitable for this weather, not in the daytime at any rate – and buttoned it to the top. He pulled out a silken handkerchief from his belt-pouch and dabbed at his face. There. He would not have anyone thinking he was lower than he was.
He only stood for a moment. He was not sure; had it been long enough? Should he wait longer and discourage the visitor further, or would it be more use to leave now? After all, there was nothing to be doing. Lari would say I was being childish; she never could understand. He pushed the thought from his head. She would have been right though. He gave a heavy sigh, and left the room.
The hallway was silent, save for the odd servant walking through, bowing or curtsying hurriedly when they realized who he was. With the near-silence around him, he found time to reflect – he often did this; the sweet-smelling room with the deep red rug was his place of meditation. He could sit or stand in one place for hours until he reached a state of calm, though he had learnt to do this with eyes open so as not to be surprised. He was a well-known and important figure; he wanted his people to think of him as strong, powerful, not as a man who had time to sit and seemingly do nothing. Of course, that was what they would think. Commoners never would understand the subtle arts of contemplation. Neither did most nobles, for that matter.
Thinking about it now, the servant never had told him which one of the Dharalans was waiting for him. He hoped it was not the Lord Luka Dharalan, he never did like the man.
He considered stopping and asking one of the servants scurrying past, their faces a strange melange of fear and respect as they glanced up at him, but decided against it. No. No time for that now.
He turned left at the end of the corridor and up a spiralling set of stairs, towards the tower study. It had been his choice for the study to be moved to the tower. That way, he could sit up there, just sit and watch the stars as they danced slowly across the sky, rotating around the Earth as they did every night. He had even started giving names to some of the groups of stars; names he found from old tomes and songs in the library in the southern part of the tower. He had a tendency to worry too much, and found it much too easy to flare up into anger, but as with meditation, stargazing seemed to calm him a little.
He had reached the top of the tower, started as he opened the door. Who was this? Certainly no-one he had met before. The man before him wore a high-necked shirt in the typical style of House Dharalan – a creamy colour with red embroidery sewn on the cuffs of the sleeves – but no, he had no recollection of any such meeting.
The other man spoke first. “Samal Garanhe?”
Samal nodded, noting with annoyance how calm the man seemed, even after having had to wait. On the contrary, he seemed to have made himself quite at home, standing next to the bookcase as though he had been examining the choice of literature. “I’m told you are from Dharalan.”
“Yes,” the man sighed, “I know how you feel about my House, and my father in particular; it pained me when I learned of it before my coming here. Forgive me, but I had to come here. I am Garam Dharalan.” He held out his hand and Samal let their fingers touch. Only touch, mind you. He wouldn’t shake that man’s hand unless he had to.
Something Garam had said suddenly jumped to the front of his thoughts. “You’re Luka’s son.” It was not a question, not even a hint of one, only realisation. He let his hand drop to his side, with not even a hint of subtlety.
Garam nodded. “Yes, but-“
“What are you doing here? Your father sent you, I suppose. Thought I’d be taken in by your words and your youth!” Here he hesitated – he had not even thought about it before the words were out of his mouth; the man was young, much younger than he – but the pause did not last long. “Sent you, I suppose, to find something out, to ask a favour, which I might give, not knowing the connection and-“
“Listen!” Garam took a deep breath, regaining his composure quickly. “Samal, listen to me. For once, let us put any differences between our families aside. I have received some… interesting news.”
“News.” Samal sneered. “Of what importance to me?”
“News,” the man breathed, “from the White City.”
“How so?” The sudden surprise in his voice made it seem as though, for the moment at least, all previous hatred had been forgotten. “News from whom?”
“I have certain… shall we say contacts?”
“Spies.” Samal growled.
A small smile crossed Garam’s face, the sort of smile one might expect from a cat, watching it’s prey from a distance. “Let’s be honest here, Samal. There are no real men of power without a few extra pairs of eyes. I have my hidden eyes scattered around, and I would be rather surprised if you had none yourself.”
Samal’s frown tightened at that last remark. There was no denying that what he had said was true – spies were always found in presence of nobility, high lords and ladies and rich merchants – but no self-respecting man of decency would ever admit to it. Garam must be young indeed, to make such an error.
He sighed dejectedly, and threw up his hands in defeat. “Alright. Tell me of this news. What is so important that I must be disturbed so?”
“As you know, I have my contacts in the White City; I had them put there because there had been rumours of something happening within the White City although, of course, I had no idea whether they were true or not; it seemed that for every rumour I heard, there was another contradicting it. I sent my best man but, even with the fastest horse, it would have taken a good few tens of days to get there, and almost as much for news to return. Three days ago, I received news of his death.”
Young Garam’s face was a look of helplessness. “I do not know – I don’t know why he was killed or even how. The sender of the message too remains unknown; the letter was not signed. I approached my father, knowing that this had become serious, that we had to do something. He refused. Point blank refused! I could not believe-“ Garam must have noticed the speed at which he was speaking. He stopped, taking a moment to breathe.
“So…” Samal interrupted, arms folded. “Why did you come here?”
Garam looked away, for a moment, a lost look in his eyes. “I don’t know the reason why, and I shan’t ask, but you and my father are always on opposing sides. If one of you stands for one value; the other stands against it. I thought… maybe…”
Garam shook his head, cursed silently under his breath. This man truly was lost. True, that he could never get on with Luka, but that his own son could forsake him?
^ this is how my piece of writing for the novel-writing challenge starts. please bear in mind that it isn't finished and it's only on first draft. i've done some stuff to chapter II as well, but i don't want to post that until i've done some more to this part...
will be very grateful if anyone leaves any comments...
ta very much!