Story Content Notes: Story Content Notes: suicidal character, dubious consent (nonsexual situation)
Lilah swallowed and made emself meet the soldier’s eyes. “Ey… She said that her people would understand.”
” ‘She’!” Dalma erupted.
Lilah and the soldier both ignored em, ignored Sherzod’s attempt to step forward and push the soldier back.
Dalma grabbed Lilah’s hand, shaking eir. “Lilah! Who could you know here well enough to use personal pronouns? What is going on?”
Still, neither Lilah nor the soldier looked away from each other.
Finally, the soldier nodded, deeply enough it might have been another bow. “I do understand. Though I wonder if you do.”
Lilah, in truth, didn’t understand. But ey remembered what Lady Bethania had said about it not being done ‘properly,’ and something in the edge the soldier’s voice had taken made them wonder if that lack of ‘proper’ might be more than just not having the right necklace.
Sherzod grabbed Dalma’s arm and pulled eir back, not knowing or liking what this was, but recognizing they would learn more by listening than demanding.
Taking a deep breath, Lilah said carefully, “I understand that she took what I offered.” Eir hands clenched together in eir lap. “That she has told me the truth and given me hope when I saw none. The rest I am willing to wait to understand. When she gave me this,” ey loosed eir hands momentarily to tap the collar, “she said that we did not have time for her to explain, and I agree. What might have happened if she waited… scares me.”
Lilah was saying too much, especially with eir siblings there, Sherzod with eir too-sharp mind and Dalma with eir unending questions. But ey was too tired to truly control eir tongue, too full of relief and hope and lingering fear to be cautious.
And perhaps that was well, for if ey had said less, perhaps, the soldier would not have understood, accepted.
For another long moment, ey stared deep into Lilah’s eyes then stepped back with another nod.
Dalma and Sherzod immediately crowded close. “What are you talking about?”
The soldier murmured, “I can explain at least part if you wish.” Lilah swallowed, then nodded. “Please.”
The soldier, whose name was Abdal and had served the Noble Bethania for over a decade, stuck eir head out the pavilion and waved over another guard. Someone needed to actually be guarding.
Once one of Abdal’s squad was in place, Abdal seated emself on the floor, leaning against one of the pavilion supports. To eir relief, the two humans seated themselves as well. For a moment, ey wasn’t sure how to begin. Then decided that there was no point in anything but bluntness.
“Your sibling pledged their life to Noble Bethania of Aelland in the Royal Domain of Balule. The nobility accepted this pledge. Unfortunately, ey did not have a proper pledge necklace here, which I assume is why ey used the collar. I will not speak of personal matters, but I know that collar has… meaning for the nobility, separate from the purpose it was made for.”
“Pledged? Why does that sound like being married?”
Abdal nearly laughed. Lilah blushed. While ey hadn’t paid attention at the time, ey did remember the way Noble Bethania looked at them. And truth be told, Lilah did not find eir recollection of Bethania at all distasteful.
“No, though there are those who say that a pledge is closer than marriage. And not without reason. A pledge is a two-edged sword. The pledged one is the voice and arm of eir sovereign. In council, or the royal court, or ordering the household, your sibling’s voice will be that of the Noble Bethania, and ey will be obeyed as such.”
All three siblings stared at em — shock, surprise, confusion, excitement, concern mirrored in different ways in each face. Abdal drove on, knowing ey was overwhelming them but needing them to hear all.
“But your voice belongs to you, yes? You control your voice, your arms, your legs. In the same way, the pledge’s life belongs to their sovereign. The sovereign may command that the pledged sleep in the kennels or serve in the sovereign’s bed or work as a drudge, and none may gainsay them.
“That’s not how it’s supposed to be. And I can’t see Noble Bethania doing such. But it’s happened and will again.”
No one said anything for a long moment, the siblings struggling with this… drastic change of circumstances Lilah had created.
Then Sherzod, gently, “You wanted this?”
“Yes,” Lilah said, not daring to say more. Afraid to even hint at how little ey had truly understood of what ey had done. Of what ey had committed emself too.
“Why?” Dalma demanded, but Abdal cut em off.
“We do not question the pledged,” ey said, and Lilah shuddered with relief. Ey had dreaded Dalma’s questions, needed time to answer eir own before ey could answer any others.
“Their reasons for offering are their own,” Abdal continued, “and they have done a hard enough thing without being hounded by those who doubt. Questions, if you have them, you may ask of the nobility who accepted the pledge.” Something in eir tone said that Abdal also had questions ey would be asking of the nobility.
While the siblings had been speaking with Abdal, others had been preparing to get back on the road. Two came in to carry out the nobility’s special chest. Others began deconstructing the pavilion to pack away in the wagons. Then the two who took the chest returned and waited, somewhat patiently, to be able to pack up the blankets and cot.
Abdal looked to Lilah. “I do not know how you prefer to travel, but injured as you are, I believe a place in the wagons has been prepared.”
One of those waiting bowed. “Yes, Lieutenant. There is a canvas over the bed of the first wagon so the Pledged can stay out of the sun.”
Lilah looked to Dalma and Sherzod. “I need to do this. I know you don’t understand.”
Dalma looked away and sighed. “Fine. It’s not like you to rush into things, so if you are, there is a reason. And don’t think I’ve forgotten that you apologized for the guard trying to kill us.”
“But that can be discussed another day,” Sherzod put in. “I don’t think it would be safe for us to go home, and” ey grimaced, “my courtship of Phillipos was going nowhere.”
“Took you long enough to admit it,” Dalma muttered.
“So it’s not like anyone is waiting up for us,” Sherzod continued ignoring Dalma. Ey looked to the waiting servants, “Since the nobility had invited us to come, I assume there is room for Dalm and I somewhere as well?”
“Yes,” ey was assured, “it will be crowded, but there should be enough space in the wagon.”