Ella’s Story follows people who live ordinary lives as citizens of a vast interstellar empire. Indeed, a galactic empire. Each chapter will be posted individually here at the Plain & Simple Press blog, and then collected at a single page devoted to the book. Come on over to the Ella’s Story page to find all the chapters published so far, as well as the cast of characters and a list of place names.
Dorin had the new man up and walking around. This took a tennight and then some. But Darl could now make it up to the men’s washrooms, shower, and use a toilet without someone to see that he didn’t hurt himself. He’d been to the chow line for meals, too: twice.
Sigi was eager to talk with him about tricking out the room Dorin had designated as an office and for examinations – mostly, Ella figured, because Sigi was eager to wrap up the job she was doing for a paying customer in E’o Cinnora. Given a choice between working on the estate grounds and traveling to town, Sigi would take the manor any day. This had become so obvious, over time, that it was now a matter of quiet amusement between Ella and Dorin. Tabit and Shaban had also let themselves in on the joke.
Another day had charged into evening. All the off-campus workers were inside the gate, accounted for, and fed. Everyone whose work kept them on the estate had laid down their tools, checked in with Ella or Dorin at the end of their shifts, and partaken of Lior and Tabit’s evening meal. The golden sun of Varnis once again slipped behind the violet Sky Hills. Children played on the field behind the slave quarters, watched intermittently by parents scattered about the grounds.
Across the way, Bintje held court brightly with a group of chattering cronies. She looked not the slightest bit green around the gills. She was, Ella thought, grown in girth, no question of it.
Might she be further along than she thought? Or said she thought? If that were so, then the free man she’d blamed might not be the father after all.
Surely not so. Ella had carted her to Rizana, the village midwife, several times. The woman seemed to agree that the baby would be born about when Bintje said it was due.
Chadzar was off this evening, she observed: no doubt a welcome change for him. He had spread out a budil game mat on the paving stones near the firepit, where he was attracting players to bet on a throw of the dice and the track of a glass marker through the painted maze. Firelight and the glow of a garden lantern beamed off his silver hair.
Tuvine, the long and slender high-cheeked tailor who maintained a shop in the village dressing potentates as well as humbler souls, chose a clear green stone and set it at the maze’s starting point. He squatted nearby to watch the action. Nehdo picked an obsidian marker. Fihr joined them, followed by Shaban the porter. Neelon, the bricklayer whose father had built the slaves’ courtyard these many years before, stood on the sidelines to watch.
Before the first roll could be thrown, Sigi stepped up to the circle and knelt to join the men. She picked up a sparkling diamond-clear stone and, when handed the pair of dice to throw for the starting place, rolled low. Chadzar smiled – a warm smile for a snow creature, Ella thought – and named Sigi first, then Nehdo, then Shaban, then Fihr, and finally Neelon. He – Chad – would throw last in the rotation.
“That boy has a crush on the carpenter girl,” Ella remarked quietly to Dorin, speaking in Samdi.
“She barely knows he’s alive.”
“No. But sooner or later she’ll get over Merren. Don’t you think?”
Dorin watched the play proceed from Shaban to Fihr. “I don’t know,” he replied. He paused. Whether he was thinking or just watching the play, Ella could not tell. “I doubt it. It’s been a long time.” Neelon threw the round’s highest score, advancing his glittery red stone at the front, and now he led off the second round. His next roll went high, too, eliciting a chorus of dismayed groans from the other players.
“Yonder comes Lior with our new brother,” Ella remarked.
The cook proceeded across the lawn, supporting Darl by letting him hold onto an offered arm.
“Oh, Gods around us.” Dorin sighed and rose to his feet, and Ella stood with him. By this time of day, she knew, he was tired and valued a few moments to unwind before he had to shovel his bunch off to bed. So, for that matter, did she.
Curious gazes, not unfriendly, followed them through the dusk. Everyone was interested in meeting this addition to the crew – and in hearing some explanation for why he was joining them. A few rumors had passed around, but a formal announcement was yet to be issued.
Dorin stepped forward and, in welcoming Darl, took him off Lior’s hands. The evening chatter died down, making way for an expectant hush.
“You look like you’re going to live a while longer, after all,” Dorin said softly. “Come on over here and let’s introduce you.”
Ella had to restrain herself from wincing: he was still in pain, and it was pretty obvious. But, she supposed, it was game of him, even admirable, to let himself be led out in spite of it.
Dorin spoke the new man’s name, said they would all be pleased to come to know him, confirmed and clarified the rumor circulating to the effect that he was a healer, one trained at a special school on Samdela, less by lore and tradition than by science. They should introduce themselves, one or two at a time, and make him feel at home. A ragged chorus of greetings arose and then died down.
“Just thank them, in Varn,” Dorin prompted, and Darl did that, sounding very tired. “Good. Have a seat now,” Dorin guided Darl toward the chair he’d just vacated and squatted next to Ella when she sat back down. People went back to what they were doing, and the budil game resumed.
Shortly, though, Sigi disengaged herself and came over to introduce herself.
“Sigi is a builder,” Dorin added, seeing Darl at a loss for conversation. “She makes cabinetry and furniture. You decide what you want and where it should go, and Sigi can make that happen. And she’s very good at it.”
“Well, thank you, boss.” She sounded neither flattered nor surprised.“You do outstanding work, Sig’,” Dorin said. “You’ll be pleased,” he added, for the newcomer’s benefit.
Later, after the whole company had gone off to bed, or, in the case of the guard team, to relieve a partner at the gate or a security station, this came back to her.
Was it a good idea, really, to compliment a slave on work that was simply expected? Wasn’t a degree of excellence – or at least competence – also expected? How many times did you have to tell someone they were doing what they were supposed to do?
It was the remark Vighdi had made about how much progress she’d made, even saying she was proud of Ella, that blew things up.
If Vighdi had never said that, would things be different? Where would she be today? Would she even be alive?