“No!” You crouch down low and wide. Wanahton taught you never to show fear to an animal. Not that this Shih Tzu is a fearsome beast. When the dog ignores your orders and goes for your ankle, you grab him by the scruff of his neck and pin him to the tile floor. “Calm the fuck down.” You order, adopting the Untamed Face.
The dog does not struggle in your grip, but you feel a deep growl though your fingers. “What are you doing in my territory?” the dog snarls.
“Your mistress invited me.”
“Svante!” Elder Kejak’s voice draws your attention away from the dog to the rest of the room. Chiyoko covers her giggles with her mouth. Aiko whispers in her ear and winks at you. Masaru and his brother stare at you, mouths agape in shock.
“Svante.” Elder Kejak warns. You sigh and let the dog up. The Shih Tzu growls and is about to attack again when you hear a voice cry down the hallway. “Ling Ling!” The dog cocks his head and goes running down the hallway.
The secretary pats you on the back. “I know you like to play rough with dogs, but I’m sure Yi will not appreciate his clothes he loaned being dirtied before dinner. “
Yi perks up at the mention of his name. “It’s no bother. I haven’t fit in those clothes in years.”
Mei Mei whines and you pick her up. So that was Ling Ling. Sasha said he was evil incarnate. You look down at your puppy. Mei Mei was one of his puppies.
Ling Ling appears, carried by a shriveled version of the woman in the tapestry. Dressed in rich flowing silk robes, the decades have shrunken Raijin Indrani. Yet her eyes flash with blue white light.
“Lady Indrani,” Chiyoko bows her head. “My cousin and I thank you for inviting us to dinner.” Silent as a stone, Aiko stands just behind Chiyoko. Her fingernails bit into her wrist.
“Gracious as always, Lady Chiyoko,” Indrani’s voice is warm with approval. She reaches out and gives Chiyoko’s hand a squeeze. Chiyoko returns a weak smile. “You have grown tall since the last time I saw you, but a shade thin. Have you been eating enough? What has that school been feeding you?”
“The school has been feeding us fine.” Aiko responds.
Indrani ignores her and pats Chiyoko’s cheek. “You should spend the summer with me. A few weeks of good food will fill in those hollow cheeks. If I can wrangle my grandson from his father, Masaru can join you. Would it be nice for the two of you to get to know each other away from school?”
Masaru opens his mouth to disagree, but his brother pokes him in the ribs.
Chiyoko collects her thoughts before answering “That is a generous offer, Lady Indrani. I know you have a busy schedule.”
“It’s no problem at all. I could use the company, especially after….” The ancient Air Aspect trails off at the mention of the Shogun’s eminent death.
Chiyoko closes her eyes pained. “I was to spend the summer with my mother. Neither my father and I have seen her since I was five.” She whispers.
“Plans can change.” Indrani gives Chiyoko a small smile. “As I said I could use the company this summer.”
Chiyoko mutters something unintelligible. Indrani turns her attention to her to you and Elder Kejak. “Lady Indrani, it’s a pleasure to see you again…”
“Yes Yes Yes,” She waves the secretary off. “I’ll get to you in a bit.” You thought Elder Kejak has a piercing stare, but you have never been judged by Raijin Indrani. She examines you from head to toe as if inspecting a purebred puppy. “So you are Svante.”
You nod. For someone to remember your name before you even met them is a rare occurrence. Indrani’s eyes narrow and you realize she is expecting something more. “Yes, ma’am.”
She takes a step closer to you. So close you can smell her musky violet perfume. You have to stop yourself from retreating. She reaches for your hand and studies it. For a moment, you wonder if she is going to read your palm. “Large hands. Northern blood usually breeds tall and broad men. You’ll have your uncle’s height, though his bone structure isn’t has heavy as yours will be. “ Elder Kejak, who would blend in well on the Blessed Isle, looks nothing like you.
Elder Kejak breaks between you and Air Aspect. You retreat to Chiyoko and Aiko. “My brother said he has hit his growth spurt this year.”
Indrani smiles, but does not step back. “You will have to forgive my curiosity, secretary. I have never seen a Sidereal child before.”
“We are very careful with our children. My nephew would not be here if we did not trust you and your gent. For example, I trust you have warded these apartments from eavesdropping.”
“I have warded these rooms myself, secretary” Reva appears from a side hallway. “I have also kenneled all the dogs for the night and drugged the servants to sleep. Sujay and Basma are watching over them.” She stands aside and indicates you continue to the dining room. “We will not be disturbed.”
Both you and Elder Kejak glance towards Ling Ling.
Indrani rolls her eyes. “Ling Ling never leaves my side.” With a flick of her robes, she turns away from the secretary and heads to the dining room.
An exotic spread of delicacies from around Creation lies on a long table. Much more food than the number of diners could eat. This feast could rival the meals you have eaten in Yu-Shan. You have had nothing to eat except cold trail rations since this morning, you could eat a feast this large. Your stomach grumbles in agreement.
“Why can’t your grandmother serve normal food?” Chiyoko whispers to Masaru.
“If people eat soup hot, my grandmother serves it cold.” Masaru has a plate of rice, seaweed, and fish fillets folded into origami cranes.
“Dragons, she’s serving Ahlat’s Gems.” Aiko points out a plate of fried nuggets.
“Really?” You pick up a tong to add some to your plate.
“You do realize that is bull testicles.” Masaru whispers.
“It’s a delicacy in the Southeast.” You put a few on your plate. “They have a similar texture to scallops. You fry anything up, it tastes good.”
“You approve, Svante?” Indrani asks. “I see you’ve found the Ahlat’s Gems. Good for young warriors. Makes them fierce.” She eyes her grandsons as she says this. “You should eat up, boys. Dragons know you could use some fierceness.” Masaru retreats from the buffet to his seat, without taking any Ahlat’s Gems.
“If that woman makes me eat bull testicles, I’m going to fillet her with my fork.” Aiko hisses after Indrani wanders off to make a plate for Ling Ling.
“Please not here, Aiko.” Chiyoko sits down next to Masaru. You go to sit next to Chiyoko and Elder Kejak pats the table next to him. You sigh and sit in the empty chair between him and Masaru. Aiko takes the seat on the other side of Chiyoko, furthest from the Indrani.
“You seem to know your way around the Cuisine of Creation, Svante.” Indrani comments. Ling Ling has his own seat at the table and is licking clean a plate. Mei Mei sits by your chair, waiting for scraps.
Remember to complement the food. “Yes, the food is very good.”
Indrani begins to ask another question and the secretary interrupts. “My brother has traveled with Svante all over Creation. Just a few months ago, he visited the Western Islands. The Cobalt Atoll…. “
“Ah, what interesting food did you eat there, Svante?” Indrani interrupts the secretary.
“Um…” You swallow to clear your mouth. Why was Indrani asking you all these questions? Didn’t she believe in silent children?
What do you do?
- Answer her question truthfully and make conversation.
- Ask one of your own. Why was she questioning you?
- Stare at you plate and play shy. Let Elder Kejak steer the conversation
((My failure at describing food shouldn’t delay this post. ))