Before the Storm

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Joie Iptham could not count the number of times she had stood by these doors, her ear pressed to them trying to hear what was happening inside (she never could).  When the doors stood open (as they often were) she had often run through them into the room on the other side, the Grand Study.  On a few occasions she had even pounded on the door with impunity trying to get the attention of those working inside.

She had been much younger then but for a moment she had the temptation to press her ear to the door, in the vain hope that she might be able to get a hint of what was going on.  Lord Loitharn’s request for her to report to the study, immediately, had interrupted her sword training with Master Hikart.  Joie did not have time to change into appropriate attire and felt somewhat awkward, standing by these doors in this richly decorated hallway, wearing her training clothes, but still she stood tall, not a hint of concern on her face.   Only her habit of running her thumb over the back of her other fingers gave any indication that she was at all nervous.

The door opened and a servant stepped out, motioning her to enter and then closing the doors after her. Joie was not entirely surprised to see her father there, deep in conversation with Lord Loitharn. As one of the Lord’s key advisor’s, and one of his closest friends, Orlin Iptham was rarely far from Lord Loitharns side. They both looked up as Joie entered, her father giving a warm smile.

Lord Loitharn looked her over carefully. Though she had grown up in this household and seen Lord Loitharn on many occasions, she had the feeling that he was looking at her with different eyes just now. She was not, in this moment, simply the daughter of his friend, a child of the household.  It was as though he were scrutinizing her for something else, something he had not been able to see in her before.

He did not say anything for a time and Joie looked to her father again for guidance. He gave a reassuring nod, placing his hand on Lord Loitharn’s arm.

“Kilael,” he spoke softly, “you had some questions for her?”

At the sound of Orlin’s voice Lord Loitharn seemed to be drawn back to the present, shaking his head as though to fling drifting thoughts away, “Yes. How old are you now, Joie?” His deep baritone voice easily filled the room. Joie had always been fascinated with how musical his words sounded.

“I turned twenty last Cold Season,” she could feel a great heaviness in the room, but tried to erase any fear from her voice.

“Twenty,” the lord laughed, turning to Joie’s father, “wasn’t it just yesterday that she was a child, racing through the Great Hall with her brothers?”

“It certainly seems that way, my Lord,” Orlin grinned, “but her eldest brother has a few young’uns of his own now.”

Lord Loitharn shook his head in disbelief before continuing with his questions, “I understand you’ve had quite the extensive education?”

Joie quickly launched into a catalog of the lessons she had been receiving, and her relative accomplishment level in each of them. Having always been an intelligent individual and an eager learner, she had been seeing teachers after instructor, learning etiquette and sword-fighting, dancing and history, politics, music and geography, languages, composition, mathematics, the sciences and religious theory, and so much more. And she was quite accomplished in much of it, though she tried to play down her pride in that matter. All the while, as she named her instructors and their remarks, she watched her father for some indication of what this was all about. He would know, there was no doubt in her mind that he had a hand in whatever the reason Lord Loitharn had called her here this afternoon, showing a sudden interest in her schooling. But he gave no indication, his eyes darting occasionally between her and the Lord with no expression on his face. She finished her report and there was a moments silence.

“Your father tells me you are trained in Poitel?” Lord Loitharns voice echoed in her mind and Joie involuntarily took a step back, surprise clear on her face. Poitel had been all but forbidden, and she knew her father guarded their ability to communicate in such a way very closely. She had been taught to never tell anyone she could do so, was this why he had called her to the study? Was her father going to get into trouble? She glanced at him nervously and he gave a gentle, reassuring nod.

“He taught me, yes,” she responded in kind. Lord Loitharn smiled, and turned to her father, now speaking aloud.

“You are willing for her to undertake this mission?”

“It is Joie’s decision,” her father replied with a slight laugh. “I will not stop her — certainly, I doubt I could stop her, if she decides she wishes to do this. Nor will I try to convince her otherwise should she decide against it. It is her future. It is her decision.

Lord Loitharn nodded at this, and turned his attention back to Joie, who was fighting back her mounting curiosity. So much remaining unsaid, she wanted answers, and she knew that if she remained patient they would come.

“I am about to tell you things that must never be spoken of outside of the present company. What I am about to ask of you — and it is asking you, not a demand, for the moment we approach the ground as equals, and you are completely free to deny the request. But should you deny, I ask that what I have said still remains unspoken outside of the present company. You must tell no one, is that clear?” He spoke softly and gently, but the weight that Joie had felt earlier clearly carried in his tone. She hesitated a moment, before nodding.  She knew she was ready to face whatever it was he was wishing to tell her, wishing to ask of her.

 To be continued August 15.

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