continued from here
As had been promised, Miriam found herself in the castle’s great hall once more at mid-morning. The tables had been taken away, making the huge space feel even more spacious than it had at supper the night before. Raymo sat in an ornate chair, dressed in luxuriously fine silk clothes – loose fitting trousers and billowing shirt, a cape draped over one shoulder. He was surrounded by a small group of servants and clerics.
“We have spent some time going over our records in an attempt to identify our slaves’ origins, but to little avail, I’m afraid. Most were purchased via markets, and the traders who sold them to us were not adept at keeping records themselves.” He shrugged briefly before continuing.
“The Holy Sultan’s Parchment commands us to allow you to question each individually, in your own tongue. Have at it, my lady.” He gestured to the two dozen slaves assembled before them, standing in lines.
Miriam cast her eyes over the crowd, mind drifting as Prince Raymo droned on about who had been most beloved and he would be sorry to lose. Each of the slaves had hair a shade darker than the fairness of the natives. Surely at least some of them were of her own people.
The Prince had seemed to stop talking, and so Miriam began her speech in her own language, hoping at least some of them might understand her words.
“Good morning,” she greeted. “I am Miriam, daughter of the sky, child of Lord of Mintau, emissary of the King of Tau. His majesty has commanded that his people be returned to him, his people who were taken against their will, against his will, to be slaves in these Desert Lands. The Holy Sultan, as he is called, has agreed to these terms. All those who can be proven to be Tauese shall be returned to the homelands. I, as his emissary, shall carry out this order.”
Introductions over, she moved on to the slave standing nearest her. “Where were you born?” she asked in her own tongue, and, when he showed no sign of comprehension, repeated it in the Desert language.
“In the castle, milady,” he replied with some confusion, her speech undoubtedly incomprehensible to him and so he had no idea why he was being questioned. Disappointed, Miriam dismissed him. In a similar manner, she dispensed with half the line, none of them understanding her language or providing a satisfactory answer. She pushed aside her feelings of panic and concern, choosing instead to retain the appearance of calm, even if she did not feel it.
At last, she came to a woman, thin and dressed in threadbare clothing. Unlike most of the others, she showed more immediate signs of mistreatment – a recently formed bruise on her cheek, a few scratches on her bare arms.
“I don’t remember,” she answered, quietly, but in the tongue Miriam had been hoping for. As though terrified, the young woman seemed to shrink behind her dark hair, which fell limply into her face. “I’m sorry.”
“How long have you been here?” Miriam asked, somehow managing to sound both calm and reassuring despite her pounding heartbeat.
The woman was surprised to be asked a second question, for none of the others had been. She raised her eyes from the floor for the first time, and blinked a few times. “Um…a few months, I suppose. Maybe six?”
Raymo had leaned forward on his throne, and the clerics, servants, and guards in the room, who had been muttering quietly amongst themselves, were suddenly dead silent and attentive. The room was quiet.
“What is your name?” Miriam asked.
The slave returned her eyes to the floor. “Hareshi,” she said quietly. “They call this one Hareshi.”
Simultaneously, Miriam felt her heart sink, her blood boil, and a queer sense of success. Hareshi was the Desert word for ‘eight.’ It was not a name, but a number.