The Undying Lands - (chapter 37)

Without talking, the two girls quickly moved Eala and pushed him under the bed. As Ariengil looked around for her own hiding place, Tarma burst through the door. He stopped suddenly in surprise and looked at the two guilty girls.
`Oh,' snarled Tarma, then thought again and smiled at Nieninque. `I'm glad you found your dear friend, Nieninque my darling. Have you been spending a little time together? That is very nice.'
Nieninque, who had curtsied when Tarma smiled at her, was now scowling. Had Ariengil not spoken before her, Nieninque would have given away the fact she knew that Tarma was not all he seemed.
`Thank you, sir,' replied Ariengil. `Is there anything special you wanted to speak to us about?'
Tarma cocked his head to the side and looked at Ariengil with a puzzled expression. To him, it seemed as though nothing had happened between Ariengil and him, according to her inquisitive smile and delightful eyes.
`There is nothing, thank you, I was just coming to see how you were, and whether there was anything you wanted.'
`Yes, there is,' shouted Nieninque, ready to argue or to fight.
`Anything at all, you name it,' replied Tarma calmly.
`She would like a new dress,' interrupted Ariengil. `A pink dress with an embroidery on it please. I would like a blue dress to match the colour of my eyes.'
If Tarma was surprised at this answer, he did not show it and smiled instead. `Very well, it will be done. We will have a ball in your honour tonight. My ladies,' he said as he bowed and walked out of the door.
The second the door was shut, Nieninque turned to Ariengil, her eyes flashing as she shouted. `What do you think you are doing?'
`I am waiting until it is our time, then we will leave easily.'
`Easily?' asked Nieninque. `How do you think it will be easy to leave this maze?'
`Do not forget that we have Eala here; and, if you care to stop shouting, you will hear that he is awake.'
Nieninque obliged and listened. She heard a groan and a deep breath as Eala rolled out from under the bed.
`What am I doing under here?' asked Eala groggily.
`Tarma came in,' replied Nieninque, then she related everything that had been said in the past few minutes. `I was wondering,' she continued, `if you would agree to be my partner at the ball?'
Eala looked from Nieninque to Ariengil, and back again. He longingly looked at Ariengil, who watched carefully. Nieninque smiled hopefully and Eala nodded and replied.
`I would love to.'
Suddenly Ariengil had a thought. `Eala, how could there be a ball when there are only two females here?'
`You are much mistaken,' he replied, `there are almost equal numbers of females here as males. Half of these females make weaponry, armour and other such equipment; some even fight. The rest are mothers and will look after the female children and cook for every man.
`The male children are brought up by their fathers, or by other soldiers. They may never meet their mother. This is done to give them discipline, more training and, supposedly, a better life style.
`I do not know where the females and their families live, as only they and Tarma know, to avoid problems.
`I do know, however, that they will be at the ball tonight.'
Ariengil nodded as she took in this information, but another thought had come to her. `Eala,' she started, `Tarma thought he killed you- you can not appear at the ball.'
Eala, who had not thought of this, looked disappointed, and sat down to think.
`Unless,' Ariengil said. `Unless we all... yes, that is it.'
`Ariengil,' complained Nieninque, `do not speak in code. Tell us what you think.'
`I have no time. I must find Tarma. But, before I go, is it at all possible for you to fix clothes as you fix people, Nieninque?' asked Ariengil.
`I have no idea, but I could try.' She stepped towards Ariengil, who dropped the blanket she had wrapped around her, and moved her hand towards the top of Ariengil's dress, which was ruined.
The concentration on Nieninque's face was serious, but after a few seconds in which nothing had happened, she brought her hand down again. `No luck,' she said.
`Never mind,' replied Ariengil, `we are being given dresses later.' She smiled, grabbed the blanket and ran out of the room.
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