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Chapter 4: Friends
Uta – Qemassen: Samelqo’s Tower
The last ghostly rays of the sun stretched across the horizon like the fingers of a dying man grasping for the hand of a beloved, lighting Samelqo’s room through the panoramic window. Torches and braziers supplemented what remained of the natural light, burning bright against the blue walls, and the first stars shone from a clear sky like the fuzzy light of a candle shrouded by gauze curtains.
Surrounded by the teal walls of the audience chamber, gazing at the heavens outside, Uta could have been inside Tanata’s temple instead of the tower on the Talefa hill. No doubt, when her master had long ago taken up the role of heq-Ashqen, he’d decorated his new rooms with precisely that intention. Would he have chosen differently, had he known they were the only walls he’d see in his twilight years?
Uta peered at Samelqo from the bench beside his desk. He was so lost in his writing he didn’t seem to notice. Or perhaps he was thinking about the fire.
When she’d returned from the lower city with news of the destruction, Samelqo had dismissed her and Madaula. The sound of glass shattering against the wall as they’d descended the stairs still seemed to linger in the beautiful prison, though when Uta had returned to him, whatever mess he’d made had been cleaned by his own hand. The small gash on his left palm bore that out. She’d forced him to let Qirani see to it.
She cared for him, yet only last night she’d sneaked through the labyrinth beneath the city to meet again with Zioban, a man who bore no love for Qemassen’s priesthood or the Semassenqa. It was as though the Uta who woke up in the morning was no longer the Uta who laid down to rest at night.
She eyed the papyrus Samelqo was working on. Last night, Zioban had implored Uta and her fellow slaves to use what tools they could to help the rebellion. At the time, she’d lamented that she hadno tools to contribute. What was a skilled scribal hand compared with the firm muscles and strong arms of a labourer? But as she’d drifted to sleep in the Hamatri, alone now that Lara had been taken to bed by Shaqarbas, she’d pictured the small army of scroll cases and court documents stored in Samelqo’s tower, the coded messages Uta was so often instructed to send to eq-Anout.
Taking one of those messages would be simple enough. With her constant access to the tower, taking any of the scrolls in Samelqo’s possession would be as easy as breathing. The document he was drawing up tonight had something to do with slaves, even if she hadn’t spied the details. Eventually he would ask her to file it or send it—time enough to memorize its contents, perhaps even to copy it. If it proved useful, Zioban might speak to her personally, and most importantly, she’d have done what he asked. She’d have made herself of use.
All she had to do was choose her moment, of which she had many. The heq-Ashqen never balked at leaving her unattended. Samelqo trusted her completely.
Her heart clenched.
When Samelqo’s wine cup clacked against the table its sound was that of the glass smashing against his walls after she’d told him of the devastation in the lower city. For how long could she convince herself that working against the Semassenqa wasn’t the same as plotting against Samelqo?
A blot of ink flooded the papyrus she was writing on, and Uta swore beneath her breath in Vetnu.
Samelqo looked up from his own work, a frown distorting his wrinkled face, one of the brows Uta so diligently helped him shape raised judgementally. He detested cursing, and unluckily for Uta he could speak Vetnu as well as he could Massenqa. By now a look was all he needed to make his point.
Uta chanced a cheeky smirk in response to his glare. It had the intended effect, and the heq-Ashqen returned his attention to the scroll on its ledger.
“Have you applied the medicine Qirani eq-Maleq prescribed, Sese?” she asked. How much easier it was to slip back into the role of Samelqo’s Uta. The one who nagged him to take his medicine, the one he’d rescued twenty years ago from the king’s supposed justice.
It took a moment for him to reply. He hated the treatments Qirani had given him almost as much as he hated Qirani himself. The Anan physician had been sent for at great expense, all the way from Darwet in eq-Anout. Upon arrival, he’d set about diagnosing a series of age-related eye complaints that had been plaguing the heq-Ashqen. He’d pronounced the cause as demonic occupation of the patient’s inner ear, to be treated with green and black eye paints and tincture of natron. Distrusting the ministrations of foreign priests (for Qirani was also the heq-Ashqen of some ridiculous Anata cat-scorpion), Samelqo avoided his treatments, preferring to go gradually blind.
Uta had no such desires, nor such qualms.
“It makes my eyes itch.” Samelqo continued to write, his strokes light and precise, his gaze set on the task at hand.
She laid her ruined scroll aside to fetch Qirani’s remedies from their chest. “If you go blind, Sese, you won’t be able to read, then I’ll have to do everything for you.”
“At my age a man should go blind. It is merely the way of things.”
The chest was heavy for so small a thing, and inlaid with healing gems. Uta dragged it from beneath the bed, lifting it with some effort and carrying it to Samelqo’s desk. “You don’t believe that.” She unlatched its lid to prepare the contents for application. “Or you would never have sent for Qirani in the first place.”
“Sese,” he corrected sharply.
Uta raised her eyebrows at the reprimand. Samelqo was pedantic about protocol, but it seemed silly when they’d become so close.
“Sese.” She smiled nicely, though it was more than a little sarcastic.
“King Eshmunen sent for the Anan rat. I would have been satisfied with a Massenqa physician.”
“Who would have said exactly the same thing, Sese.”
For a moment they looked at each other in silence, something unspoken lingering in the space between them. Was it friendship? Affection? Could she afford either of those things? Zioban would see Samelqo as nothing but an enemy.
She pushed the box of medicines across the desk to break the unintended intensity of their stare.
Not for the first time, Uta wondered who Samelqo the young man had been. He’d had a wife once who’d died young, and when Uta had been a child she’d seen a blue-robed priest, who must have been the heq-Ashqen, on his knees before an unseen figure. Whether he’d had true lovers, though, remained a mystery to her. He certainly had none now, or Uta would have known, and he’d never touched her or Madaula.
With grudging surrender, the heq-Ashqen removed the ointments from their all too precious container, applying them quickly as though doing a poor, rushed job of it was his half-hearted attempt at rebellion.
Uta allowed herself a smile, and brushed her greying brown curls away from her eyes. Though she wore it bound, strands often slipped in front of her face. She might have cropped it short, but her remaining brown hairs were all Uta had left of any beauty she’d possessed as a young woman.
She stroked the ruined side of her face, where the gash Moniqa had left had hardened into scar-tissue above and beneath her itchy glass eye. She snapped her hand away when she realized what she was doing in front of Samelqo. Touching her scars like that was an intimate, private thing.
The heq-Ashqen sucked in a pained breath as he dabbed the ointment to his face. He grabbed the cloth he’d been using to correct his work and hastily mopped up the tears that had sprung to his eyes. “Continue your work, Uta. I’ll attend to this privately.”
He collected the small bottles from the table and slipped them into one of the hidden pockets in his robe.
No doubt privately meant he intended to upend the contents down the drain. She bit her lip. Normally she would call his bluff, but she needed him to leave so she could examine the document he’d been writing.
She bowed. “I remain at your pleasure, Sese.”
Samelqo furrowed his brow as though confused by her formality, but he did leave, skulking away through the door to his inner apartments like a condemned man.
The door swung closed, and she tapped her hand against her outer thigh till she was sure he wasn’t coming back. The last time her pulse had raced this fast she’d been a teenager nicking a cake from the old Ajwata ambassador she’d belonged to.
She could use a little of teenage Uta’s spunk now. She crept to the desk, leaning toward the papyrus.
—that the slave named Uta—
Her stomach turned to water. Samelqo was writing about her.
Someone knocked at the tower door.
Uta turned and clutched her hand to her dress—a ridiculous gesture out of a stage comedy. She’d forgotten that teenage Uta had also been a fool. What harm could a knock do her? She marched to the door and hauled it open, remembering only too late that she was no mistress of the tower, but a slave opening the heq-Ashqen’s door to what was more than likely a royal visitor.
Only it wasn’t. It was Madaula.
Uta’s fellow slave was sweaty from the climb upstairs, and she clutched the sides of a clay tablet like the object might melt out of her hands and dribble down the stairs. Her brows were contorted in a deep frown.
“What is it, girl?” Uta asked pointedly. She could hardly snoop with Madaula back, but since she hadn’t simply entered the room as she usually would have, it might mean she intended to leave.
“It’s bad news. About the heq-Ashqen’s niece.” She huffed, out of breath. “The king’s ordered a traitor’s death on the recommendation of Adoran eq-Afqad.”
Uta clutched the inside of the door. She closed it behind her to stand on the landing with Madaula. One of the two guards posted outside was staring at them, but looked away when he realized Uta had noticed.
She swallowed. Madaula was young. Of course she didn’t want to break such terrible news. “I’ll tell him.” She held out her hand, and Madaula gingerly held out the tablet for Uta to read.
Uta skimmed the scrawl of letters—she’d have to caution Madaula on lazy penmanship—and breathed in deep. “Go tend the braziers in the sanctuary. When it’s dealt with, I’ll come find you.”
It would also give Uta more time to spy on Samelqo’s work.
“Are you sure?” asked Madaula, with a spark in her eye that laid plain her relief, her desire to run away.
Uta smiled and nodded. “Go downstairs.”
Once Madaula had rushed away, Uta re-entered the room. Samelqo was already back at his desk. The kohl around his eyes had been meticulously reapplied, as though he’d removed it to treat his eyes and then re-lined them, though she wouldn’t put it past him to try to trick her with such a ruse.
But she didn’t say anything. She stood rigid against the door, watching him, trying to settle on the words. What was the right way to tell a man his only remaining family was damned?
“You left,” Samelqo remarked, not looking up.
Uta hung her head. She opened her mouth, ready to speak, and—
The door banged open, hitting her. Out of reflex alone, she scrambled toward Samelqo’s desk, as though an old man could somehow protect her.
It was King Eshmunen.
“Sese.” Samelqo and Uta bowed their heads in unison, but the king ignored them, stalking to the heq-Ashqen’s desk as the door swung shut behind him. He paced back and forth, eyes wide and childlike, as though with shock.
He couldn’t be half as shocked as Uta had been at his thunderous entrance. She practically fell back onto her bench, where the scroll she’d spilled ink all over lay waiting.
“Something’s happened, Sese,” said Samelqo, coaxing an answer from the king.
Something had happened. Uta steeled herself, trying to keep herself invested in the scroll, trying to look like she didn’t already know what was coming. Trying to will that it wouldn’t come—that Madaula had perhaps been wrong.
At least the news about Laelat was out of Uta’s hands. It was well that the king should tell Samelqo himself.
She reached for the scroll she’d been copying to ease her racing heart, letting the elegant strokes of the letters calm her, its details distract her.
Year 26 Isir. Spring. An Ashqat of Ashtet, D-N-N, is chosen as sacred consort, her hair to be wreathed in yellow hyacinth, her face painted with white chalk—
D-N-N. That was probably Dannae, Sabaal’s wife. What strings had Sabaal pulled to have Dannae chosen as consort, in place of her heq-Ashqat? Or perhaps Isir had been the one to recommend her.
She chooses as sacred consort, our blessed King Isir, to wear the mantle of Adonen.
Uta hadn’t truly known the relevant players—she’d seen King Isir at a distance only, and Dannae she’d never met. But knowing the history of the Semassenqa was as essential as knowing their present status, and there were secrets to parse in words written even forty years ago.
Eshmunen sighed, and Uta looked up.
The king slumped onto one of the settees that lined the room. He played the part of ailing, sullen youth even better than Ashtaroth. “Qwella has given herself to Qalita.”
And you condemned the heq-Ashqen’s niece to a fate worse than any ordinary death. She willed him to say it, but he didn’t. Nothing on Eshmunen’s face showed that he was suppressing worse news—and he always wore all his emotions on his face, at least in these rooms.
Samelqo folded his hands. “To avoid a second marriage.”
The king looked up, eyes narrowed in suspicion. “You don’t sound surprised.”
The king was a sniveling, selfish coward. That probably wasn’t as bad as being incompetent, which was also true, but right now it had a sharper bite.
She wanted to confront him, but of course that was an impossibility. Samelqo seemed to enjoy her occasional impertinence, but Eshmunen only ever looked at her with horror, if he acknowledged her at all. She could almost see it in his eyes sometimes: the image of Uta stretched between the elephants like a traitor, the sound of her name spoken by the attending scribe only so as to erase it. He’d done it to nearly all the others present for Moniqa’s death. Poor Bado, who’d had nothing to do with the queen’s murder, had been sold into slavery and shipped away.
Uta’s attention darted back to the scroll she’d been copying.
“I’m not surprised to hear of the princess’s ploy,” said Samelqo, a hardness in his voice as if offended that he’d been accused, “but I had no prior knowledge of the arrangement. Daana et-Titrit shares no secrets with me, and your children have always been headstrong.”
Uta reached for her scribal palette, ferreting glances at her master and his king.
Eshmunen rubbed his hands together anxiously, shaking his mane of greying black hair. “Not Qwella. She understands these things, that I do them for the sake of the family.”
“And for Qemassen,” Samelqo added.
The king was lost in his own world, far away from Samelqo, and Uta, and the tower. He stared dazedly at the floor as he spoke, wringing his hands. He looked strangely thin, which was odd considering that he’d always been prone to pudginess.
“Maybe Qwella’s grieving, as she said.” Eshmunen paused. “Perhaps she means this in earnest.” He sounded almost hopeful.
Himalit and Aurelius were a more likely cause. Qwella was as selfish and entitled as the rest of them, but as Eshmunen had said, it was rare she didn’t obey her father.
Samelqo drummed his fingers against the table. “However she means it is irrelevant. Regardless of her reasons, Qwella’s refusal to marry is a flagrant display of ambivalence toward your rule.”
“Was it marriage itself, or marriage to Qanmi eq-Sabaal? There were whispers, you know, around court.” The king turned his attention to Uta. “I see you everywhere; you must have heard something?”
Uta had done more than heard, she’d seen, but why should she tell Eshmunen any of that? He would ask how she’d come by such certainty, and Samelqo was too clever not to realize the means by which she had acquired it. “There were rumours that he beat her, Sese, but no more than that.”
Qwella hadn’t been his only victim. Uta had little doubt that Qanmi’s brother Sabeq had beaten and killed Qanmi’s youngest two children, though to everyone else such talk was only whispers. She’d seen Sabeq beat Qanmi’s young wife and his son, when Uta herself had been young. His was not a family to which anyone should long to belong.
“Rumours.” Eshmunen looked away from her.
Uta relaxed. Why was she so nervous around him? He was a weak, sad old man, not a king in any truth. He’d let Moniqa and Samelqo rule him in the past. Now Samelqo and Himalit did all his thinking for him.
“Whether he beat her or not tells us little, Sese,” said Samelqo. “Perhaps he had cause. A husband has a right to chastise his wife, and considering her mother—”
“Don’t speak of her!” The king’s typically hushed voice rose to measure with his anger. “The queen was a good woman, the best of her kind. If Qwella were more like Moniqa I would have no need for this conversation.”
Uta couldn’t help but smile sourly. When Moniqa’s name was uttered, Eshmunen conjured a vision of Ashtet herself, wreathed in flowers and accompanied by birdsong. But Uta had seen her true face. The queen had murdered five people in her rage. She’d been shallow, and empty, and as decadent as all the rest of the Semassenqa on their hill.
“At least the queen fulfilled her marital duty,” Samelqo conceded. “I wonder if it was by fate or design that Qwella bore her husband no children? Barrenness is a sign of ill favour from the gods, but it has its man-made causes.”
The king was sitting quietly again. He’d resumed fiddling with his fingers. “Yet Qanmi wanted her for his wife.”
“The reason for which is no mystery.” Samelqo waved away the concern like he was swatting a fly. He closed his medicine chest with a clink. Uta stood and walked to his desk to take the box from him, but Samelqo laid a hand on hers, stopping her.
She wished she could snatch her hand from Samelqo’s. Now was not the time to be standing between the king and his council, as though she were somehow part of their deliberations. She chanced a look at the papyrus Samelqo was working on, but he’d laid his palette in front of it, blocking her view.
“We need him as much as he needs us, don’t we?” Eshmunen said from behind Uta. “He has half the Semassenqa in his pocket. If only he hadn’t married Titrit to that sailor. I could have pressed Aurelius to take her as a wife.”
It’d worked so well last time. Aurelius had done everything but wed Titrit et-Loriqa, and when the question of marriage had very naturally followed, his interest had dried like a sun-baked riverbed.
“You have Himalit,” said Samelqo. He had to know that was a fool’s proposal.
Eshmunen’s lengthy silence was enough to settle that. The heq-Damirat would never marry, least of all a man of her father’s choosing. They all knew it.
Of course, mentioning Hima had only been a means of raising an entirely different, and equally challenging, proposition. Uta looked up, to watch the exchange.
Samelqo stared at Eshmunen, nearly unblinking. “Then we have only you, Sese.”
“Titrit already has a husband.” The settee creaked as the king rearranged himself. He sounded bored, or tired. So often with Eshmunen the two were one and the same. It was always the way—King Eshmunen would come seeking advice, but in the end he only listened to the parts he wanted to hear. Perhaps Uta was wrong to think the heq-Ashqen decided everything for Eshmunen. Samelqo may well have been king once, in all but name, but that honour now belonged to another.
“Qanmi has another daughter, an acolyte herself, I believe. Perhaps she might be persuaded to set aside her calling for a noble husband.”
Another daughter? Uta filed that away to look into later. Her skin itched when she missed something so important.
“No.” The king’s reply was firm. He rose to leave. To leave, as though he had no other news to impart. He was going to foist it upon Uta. After leaning with his full weight on Samelqo, he was going to abandon the ugly business of Laelat’s death as though it were nothing.
It was nothing to one such as him. Laelat was a commoner, barely worth the title of freewoman to someone like Eshmunen eq-Isir.
Uta stared at Samelqo’s desk, at his weathered hand on hers. His skin was warm, the touch welcome save that it trapped her between the two men.
It was all very well to think she could ride freely on Samelqo’s good graces for the rest of her life, but when she looked at him she saw a dying man nearing the end, and who knew where she would wind up once he did? Would she be given to a man like Qanmi eq-Sabaal? Someone worse?
This was the only family she would ever know. This aged hand, laid on hers, a soft kind of pressure, but a weight nonetheless. Zioban was the only hope she had.
Samelqo wet his lips. There was something he wanted of the king. Something he struggled with. He wanted to ask of Laelat.
Uta turned. “Sese?”
Eshmunen stopped, hand on the door. He frowned at Uta, as though confused she had a tongue. “Yes?”
“Sese, has there been news of Laelat et-Eret, and the fire?” Uta dared.
Eshmunen hesitated. “The Yirada recommended a traitor’s death.” He hung his head as if ashamed. Ashamed as he answered Uta. Ashamed as he answered Samelqo’s unspoken question. If he were so ashamed, he should have made another judgement. He should have raised his sin with Samelqo himself, instead of forcing a slave to do it.
“When?” Samelqo asked.
“It’s already done,” said Eshmunen. “Or will be, at any moment.”
Like that, all that remained of Samelqo’s line extinguished. The pressure on Uta’s hand increased.
“Then if that is all, Sese, there is something further I must ask of you.” The heq-Ashqen slipped his hand from Uta’s, looking up at her from his chair. “I will need you to leave, Uta. After that you may return to finish your copying.”
He so rarely asked her to go, and especially not to go and then return, but she hid her surprise behind an obedient smile.
“Sesa.” She bowed her head first to Samelqo, then Eshmunen.
In the hall outside, she slipped inside Madaula’s cubicle, sat on the end of her bed, and waited to snatch what echoes she could, like butterflies from the air.
She stared at her hands as she waited. What were they really, her hands? Who did they belong to? According to Massenqa law, they weren’t hers at all, but Samelqo’s. If they now did Zioban’s bidding, they might yet belong to him.Together, as Zioban said himself, the slaves were many, and they were one. It seemed a worthy thing to do with one’s hands.
“I would ask this in all submission—” came the heq-Ashqen’s voice. It faded in and out as though the heq-Ashqen had moved further away.
Uta leaned against the wall. Whatever he was asking, he wanted her there afterwards.
The heq-Ashqen had risked much in pleading her case to the king all those years ago, and all for a woman he hadn’t known. She’d merely been preparing the prince for the task his father had set him, whether or not that task had proved to be the provocation of Samelqo’s lies.
It had saved the city though, his lie. Uta bit her lip. Whenever she let her thoughts wander it was always this truth she came back to. Though she knew better now, once, Uta had sought comfort for her injury through faith: first in Abaal and the Massenqa gods, but finally in those of her maternal homeland. Neither pantheon had answered her prayers or thanked her for the sacrifices she’d made in their temples, or indeed the sacrifice of her eye and face. Yet even in her godlessness, Uta could sense the power of whatever had transpired that night, when Samelqo had given the young princess to the flames.
She’d been a part of that, a piece of her made ash with Ashtara.
“A much more suitable request than your last one,” Eshmunen was saying. Uta thought she heard a laugh as the king stepped closer to the wall. “Do you remember? She would have skinned us both. I don’t know what possessed her to agree to it—the blood of someone so lowborn. This is a better fit.”
They couldn’t be talking about anything but marriage. Uta drew her head from the wall in shock. Did Samelqo think to marry himself to this mysterious other daughter of Qanmi’s? Was that the game? Now that Laelat was dead, he might see marriage as his only means of passing his estate on to a relative. A child, born even of such desperation, could wander in the world where he could not. A child might provide a kind of freedom for the heq-Ashqen, the way Uta’s fantasies of marriage had once dangled the same prospect before her.
There were days when Uta missed the carefree girl she’d been, but they were few. Her life had been daydreams then, hopes for a freedom granted by the little prince she’d cared for since he was a child. Though he’d been ugly, Uta had used to lie and tell him what a king he’d make, what a beautiful man he’d become. Though she’d loved him, no one had been more surprised when it had come true.
And no one more disdained.
Uta turned her hands over—lined hands, yes, but were they truly so dirty with blood?
Days after the burning, once she’d healed enough to perform her duties, Uta had gone to Aurelius to care for him the way she’d always done, seeking solace in his survival. Aurelius had yelled at her, cursing her with words a boy shouldn’t have known. He’d cried until Dashel had made her leave. After that she was forbidden access to him. For days she’d wept in her bed, a pathetic shade. Her pleas and apologies had meant nothing to the boy. Her visions of a freed life, perhaps as the lover of some minor royal or even Aurelius himself, had bled from her with those tears.
Not long afterwards, Samelqo had sent for her from his new home in the tower. He’d understood her as much as anyone ever had. He’d understood that she’d only been following the orders of her king.
The boy she’d devoted her service to had abandoned her, and the cruelty of that fact had left a mark deeper than Moniqa’s knife ever could.
Eshmunen’s slow footsteps approached the door. Uta hurried to her feet to stand outside on the landing. The king barely looked at her as he left. Was it due to the usual disinterest of the Semassenqa, or Eshmunen’s particular dislike of Uta? She waited till he’d disappeared around the curve of the painted staircase before returning to Samelqo’s chambers.
The heq-Ashqen was deep in his writing, as though nothing had happened.
The paper. The paper with Uta’s name on it. Perhaps, if he were preparing to marry, he was promising ownership of Uta to whoever inherited his estate. Another possession to be passed from man to man, or man to woman, like she were a chair or the desk.
She stepped softly to her bench, ready to continue her work. It seemed Samelqo expected the evening to continue as it had before Eshmunen’s intrusion. She’d finish her work, he’d dismiss her to the Hamatri, and she’d steal away to Zioban’s prescribed meeting place, empty handed and with a lighter conscience for not having spied on her benefactor.
She swallowed, guilt eating at her from all sides. No matter who she chose, she betrayed someone in her heart.
She picked up her reed, frowning at the spoiled papyrus with its blot of ink. She turned to Samelqo to ask for a fresh sheet.
The heq-Ashqen was staring at her. “Uta.”
She didn’t like his blank expression, so foreign on his face. He looked younger. Was it the light? “Sese?”
“I’ve asked Eshmunen to make a freedwoman of you. You’re to become my wife.”
Uta stood still as a tree, her practiced stoicism stretched to its limits. Her skin, her bones, her heart—they were all on fire. She swallowed to staunch the flame that threatened to consume her.
The paper with her name on it. Eshmunen’s suggestion that Samelqo’s choice was more suitable than an unknown someone they both seemed to know.
And freedom. It meant freedom. And that heir of Samelqo’s, the one to pass on everything he’d made—that child would be Uta’s as well. A Semassenqen or a Semassenqat. A family.
As the heq-Ashqen of Tanata, Samelqo would surely know some herbs or prayers that would help Uta conceive, even at her age.
Joy and pain danced in her chest, churning around her head like a flock of crows. Did it make her a traitor, that good feeling? What was she to Zioban if she were no longer a slave?
Uta tamped down each and every emotion, fought even the smile that started to poke through. She reached out her hand. “Thank you, Sese. May I have another roll of papyrus?”
Samelqo handed her the sheet without comment, though she caught a glimmer of confusion in his eyes. “I had expected more of a reaction, Uta.”
The only family she would ever know. Her liberator and her jailer. “You have my gratitude.”
“And your love?”
Uta hesitated. She stared back into his amber eyes, the eyes of many a Semassenqen, and for a short time, the two Utas that warred inside her came to a truce. “And that too, but this is the last time I call you Sese.”