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Interlude: Oiketes

In Which Quinn Meets with Pastanti.

Posted by Darth Krzysztof

6 September 1380 C.E.

Quinn walked down the great hill and left the Arena District via the Drake Gate, leaving the walled part of Balearaeos for the slums. He reached the main well at Albatross Row just after dawn, where many maidens and children were already fetching water. Not spying Pastanti among them, Quinn stood on a bench. Better tae see an’ be seen, he thought. Suren I stick out like… well, like a knight in the slums. But I dinnae want her tae miss me.

A few passersby stopped to look at him – a little boy dressed in rags even pointed before his mother hustled him away – but Quinn scarcely noticed. He’d been up for half the night, worried to the point of sickness. The dream he’d had at Niesa Sidierou had convinced him to come; convincing himself that he had a chance with Pastanti had been harder. But at least I believe it now. Assumin’ she shows up…

Quinn’s stomach had begun to knot by the time he finally saw her coming down the hill from the Merchant’s District, but the sweet smile she gave the Spellknight eased his mind. She carried a large, heavy bucket in each hand, and the rising sunlight highlighted her coal-black hair in ways Quinn had not yet seen. Black as the devil’s waistcoat, that hair, but the sun finds its fire. What I wouldnae give tae see ‘er in the moonlight, though… a lass is always most bonnie by moonlight.

“You came,” Pastanti said in calm Lavinian as she drew close enough to hear without shouting. Though the full heat of the day was hours away, sweat already stained her simple clothes. How long’s she been at this already?

“Aye,” Quinn replied. She knew that word, at least. He pressed a hand to his temple, trying to recall all the Lavinian that Moria and Nyleth had taught him, until the words came to him “Yer apsifoppotis is at yer service.” Saints, mah accent makes it sound like a goat tryin’ tae sing an opera, nae matter what language I speak. Let ‘er hear past the way I say it, an’ hear what I’m tryin’ tae say.

“Good.” She pressed the handle of one bucket into his hand. For a second, Quinn felt the strength in her callused fingers. Stronger than she looks, as I thought. Suren she’s been doin’ this all her life. “Help me take water up to Koritsi Kai Kalukas.”

“Suren I will,” Quinn said with a smile, reaching out with his other hand. “I’ll take ‘em both, Pastanti.”

But she only shook her head and walked to the well to fill her bucket. Quinn did the same, watching how Pastanti studiously ignored him. Coy an’ aloof, the Spellknight thought, but I think yer haverin’. Suren I ken why ye asked me here. Welp, if I gotta convince ye tae talk, then that’s what I gotta do. “Tell me aboot yerself, Pastanti.”

She aimed a puzzled look at him. “What should I tell you?”

“Anythin’. Everythin’. How old are ye?”

When her first answer went over his head, she said, “Six and ten.”

Younger’n I thought. “Were ye born in Balearaeos?”

Pastanti nodded, hoisting her full bucket onto her shoulder. “Not far from here, in the slums.” She made ready to start up the hill.

Quinn shouldered his own water in a similar fashion, completely unsure how someone as slight as Pastanti could manage such a burden. As he followed her up the hill, Quinn asked, “And do ye have any family here?”

“Grandparents. We live not far from here. My mother died last year. Fever.” Pastanti spoke clearly and slowly for Quinn’s benefit, but much of what she said still eluded Quinn, both in words and in nuance.

“Suren I’m sorry tae hear that. An’ yer father?”

“No.” Still walking behind Pastanti, Quinn couldn’t see her face. When the silence went on a bit too long, she added, “I never knew him. Mother never married him. Common with oiketes.”

“I dinnae ken that word. Whass an oiketes?”

She glanced over her shoulder at him. Her explanation made little sense, given his limited vocabulary; by the time they reached Koritsi Kai Kalukas, Quinn only understood that they were a sort of servant class, to which Pastanti and her family belonged.

They emptied their buckets into a vast cistern, water splashing at the bottom. “This is gon’ take a few trips,” Quinn muttered.

“Always.”

“Have ye worked there long?” Quinn asked after Koritsi Kai Kalukas was out of sight behind them, now walking at Pastanti’s side.

“Long as I can remember.”

He considered his next words carefully: “Have ye e’er wanted anythin’ more?”

“I do not understand,” Pastanti said.

Stone th’ crows, she means that. “Would ye… I dinnae ken, work somewhere else?”

She shook her head, swirling black hair in all directions. “That is not oiketes. We belong there.”

Belong like slaves. “Aye, but if’n ye could…”

She stopped in her tracks. “No, Sir Quinn.” Her accent made his name sound a bit like ‘Queen,’ but Quinn found it too charming to be annoyed. “Oiketes is to serve.”

“Tae serve who?”

“Not who. Where. Koritsi Kai Kalukas.”

“All right,” Quinn said apologetically. “So who owns it?”

She started walking again. “Hands have changed since I was little. Enchrais noble house owns Koritsi Kai Kalukas now.”

“Has an oiketes e’er been… freed from service?”

“No!” Pastanti replied with a short, mirthless laugh. “Only in stories for children. I know of no one who has been freed.”

That cannae be true, Quinn told himself. Mebbe Nyleth kin tell me how this works. Suren I need to ken more afore gittin’ ‘er hopes up.

Seeing Quinn lost in thought, Pastanti nudged his upper arm and gave him a little smile. “Who wants to hear of oiketes, when my apsifoppotis is here? Tell me your story.”

He did, for three arduous trips up and down the hill. Pastanti’s curiosity emerged as he told her of the places he’d been and the things he’d seen. Though his tales of wizards and fey folk interested her (and, to his relief, she no longer felt threatened by Nyleth), Pastanti found his stories of knighthood the most fascinating. As they went down the hill one last time, weaving through the thickening crowds, she explained that Lavinia had no knightly orders.

“A knightly order should be devoted to a god,” Quinn said. “We serve St. Immotion, a goddess o’ cleansin’ an’ purity.”

Pastanti nodded. “I pray to the stars, watchtowers of the angels. And we honor the holy rites as the Tyrian Legates ask.”

“An’ what d’ye pray fer?” Quinn asked before he could stop himself. Damn it, Quinn, that’s none o’ yer business!

“For the continued health of my grandparents,” she replied, showing no offense. “And for your safety, now.”

“Yer prayer honors me,” Quinn said with as much seriousness as he dared. “I hope tae be worthy of it someday.”

Pastanti filled her bucket for one last trip. “The Corsairs never stop talking about your Duello, Sir Quinn. You are more worthy than you think.”

“Ye’re most kind tae say so.” Saints, but humble words are hard tae say when a lass this bonnie thinks so much o’ me. “So, when ye get back to th’ top, ye get right tae work?”

“Aye,” she said like him, hiding a little smile.

“Then I’ll make the time we have left count. Pastanti, I didnae have time tae learn much aboot customs o’ courtship in Lavinia…”

“Courtship?” The word nearly burst forth from her lips. “Why would you learn such things?”

Suren ye ken why, but I’ll say it all the same. “Tae court ye, Pastanti. If’n ye’ll have me.”

Pastanti had to stop walking to keep from spilling her bucket. Color flushed her cheeks, and she looked down at her worn-out shoes. He barely heard what she said, but it sounded like a curse. “If I’ve given offense,” Quinn said, “then I cry yer pardon. I promise mah intentions are honorable.”

“No.” Pastanti waved a hand in front of her face, as if swatting at a fly. “I trust your intentions, Sir Quinn. And your sentiment… honors me. But you must know that it is not possible.” She started up the hill again, nearly leaving the Spellknight in the dust.

“How d’ye ken that?” he called as he caught up to her. Why is she so embarrassed? Why call me here if she’s just gonna spurn me? “I’m not highborn, Pastanti. I’m jist a man who swore some vows.”

“That does not matter. I am oiketes. I must serve. I have never left Balearaeos. I never will.”

He started to say “When I was yer age,” but avoided it. “When I was… younger, I felt the same way. Suren I couldnae leave Invershire… suren I ne’er would. Suren I’d be nothin’ more’n a shepherd, or a soldier if I ever got my shite together.” Watch yer mouth, numpty; thass a lady yer talkin’ tae. “But I’m a Spellknight now. I’m clear on th’ other side of th’ world from th’ Dalelands, talkin’ to mah great beauty’s shadow.”

She slowed down, turning the darkness of her eyes on him. “But you are not oiketes. It is not the same for me. Have you heard nothing I’ve said?”

“Nay, I ain’t oiketes. But anythin’s possible.” Hells, everythin’s possible. Mebbe ye think I’m naïve, but I won’ give up hope.

They finally reached the great cistern and poured in the last of their water. As Pastanti took Quinn’s bucket, he said, “Mind ye, all the tales o’ courtly love say a knight’s best true love is one he kin ne’er have.”

“That’s stupid,” Pastanti said.

“Mebbe.” Truthfully, Quinn had always agreed. “But I’m willin’ tae find oot fer mahself.”

Pastanti glanced at the inn, then back at the Spellknight. “Despite everything I’ve said, you still wish to… court me?”

“Aye.”

“You are leaving Balearaeos again, though.”

He nodded. “Either fer Port Crorbak, or fer Al-Jebail. Not suren which yet.” Her features seemed to darken. She’s only e’er heard o’ those places, an’ I’ll be bound fer one soon. “Nae suren when I’ll be back, either. Only suren that I will be. An’ that, mebbe someday, I’ll be able tae take ye wi’ me.”

Pastanti shook her head until she realized how serious Quinn was. “You are… I hold you in esteem, Sir Quinn. I thank you for helping me. And I would like to see you again, as often as you may visit me.” She bowed her head, dipped her knees in a curtsy which made her buckets rattle, and wandered into Koritsi Kai Kalukas without a backward glance.

Quinn stood, dumbfounded, until a whip-thin man brushed past him on his way to the inn door. The Spellknight reached for his pouch of coins, relieved to find it till there.

Wha’ jist happened? She dinnae rebuff me – no’ out loud, anyway – but that weren’t what I’d call encouragin’, neither. No kiss, no token of ‘er favor… I dinnae ken if I’m better or worse off than I was afore.

Worse, he thought with a sigh. Now I know we got the law between us. Suren I’d sooner die than break the law, or ask her tae… I didnae even git tae say all that stuff Nyleth helped me with… I got no time fer worryin’ on it now, though. Moria and Nyleth have gotta be up by now. Methos’ll be waitin’ on us.

But, by the time the three of them reached Lord Shane’s estate, Quinn was unable to worry about anything else.

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