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“We welcome your return, Lady Miriam,” Danu said, his eyes briefly moving toward Marcus as he spoke. “Some of us more than others, I suspect.”
Some quiet chuckles answered his statement. Marcus calmly said nothing, though he was vaguely aware of the faint smile that had not yet left his face – a change from his usual demeanor. He had taken his usual spot while Miriam knelt for the ceremony, and his eyes remained on her, though Ted took the opportunity to poke him in the ribs.
“Thank you, your highness,” Miriam answered, with no hint of embarrassment on her part. “I am glad to be back amongst friends. If it please you, I have brought along two I would introduce to you.”
Danu waved a hand to indicate she should proceed, his eyes and face showing no hint of the trouble in his mind. Marcus had briefly told his wife of the news Mordifred had brought; she had rightly assumed that Danu was upset by it, though only those who knew him quite well would see it in his eyes.
“This one is called Mireko,” the first of the rescued slaves was saying. She kept her eyes upon the ground, as was common for most of them, but her voice held a bit more confidence than some others. Marcus guessed that she might be a bit older than many of those they had rescued.
“Welcome, Mireko,” Danu said pleasantly. “From where do you come?”
“This one was born near Shintau, your highness,” she answered, and there was a brief murmuring amongst some of the Desert Men.
“A wonderful place,” the prince agreed, with no apparent notice of the quiet murmuring. He nodded toward the second girl, who was studying the ground so intently she did not notice this. Miriam poked her gently.
“H-hareshi, master,” she said, at last lifting her head to look in his direction. “Th-this one is…H-hareshi.” Her eyes grew wide, her gaze suddenly fixed upon him without distraction, as though the very sight of him were a surprise.
“We are pleased to have you here, Hareshi,” Danu said, speaking gently. “From where do you come?”
She said nothing for a moment, and then at last managed to mumble, “This one does not know, m-master. This one was with m-m Prince Raymo, and b-before that the c-caravan, but b-before that, she d-does not remember.” She paused, then lowered her eyes again, so that her dark hair fell limply over her face. “Forgive me.”
This was enough of a difference from regular responses that the tent again filled with quiet murmurs and whispers amongst the Desert Men. Undoubtedly some of them were questioning whether or not Hareshi were truly Tauese, despite her obvious outward appearance. Danu, too, was frowning thoughtfully.
Switching now from the formal speech of the Desert Men, Danu said in Tauese, which few of the Desert Men could understand well, “Do not apologize, Hareshi. We welcome you all the same.”
She lifted her head again, surprised, and then nodded. “Thank you, sir,” she said, speaking in the same tongue.
The whispers in the tent had silenced, surprised, with the Tauese speech; they now began once more. To silence them once more, Danu said, in the formal Desert Tongue once more, “Lady Miriam, I trust you will care for these two?”
“As though they were my children, your highness,” she replied with a smile.
“To celebrate your return,” he continued, “I wonder if my friends might dine with me this evening?”
Miriam looked now toward Marcus, for in the Desert customs such matters were rarely decided by the lady, especially when her husband was present, and especially amongst the nobility. Marcus took a step forward and bowed most formally. “We should be honored, your highness,” he stated, and after a moment, Ted and Mordifred both replied similarly.
“Good,” Danu declared, “and then I believe it might be time for us all to resume our travels. We have spent enough time in this place, I think. Let us all make preparations to depart, day after tomorrow.” He glanced toward the Desert Lord standing nearest him. “Stephen, will that be enough time to prepare the caravan?”
“Certainly, your highness,” the old man replied, bowing low. “I shall begin immediately.”
“Not only do you bring back two of them,” Ted remarked, “but two most unique!” He raised his wine glass in Miriam’s direction. “A toast to you, my lady.”
“A toast indeed,” Danu agreed, having already had one or two glasses himself. “May we soon bring them all home to safety, and freedom.”
“To freedom,” Miriam agreed solemnly, raising her own glass. “Unique, I agree. Have we encountered other Tauese slaves who do not recall their origins?”
“Not so far,” Ted replied, “but it’s probably a common occurrence. If they were taken young enough, or have been through enough trauma….”
“There is magic, isn’t there, that interferes with memory?” Danu asked, directing the question to the group on a whole, but to Mordifred in particular, for the old man had more experience in the study of arcane arts than the rest of them.
“Oh, a lot,” Mordifred replied, swallowing his bite of meat. For the occasion of Miriam’s return, a pig, brought all the way from Tau, had been butchered and roasted; the flavor was splendid and the tent filled with the aroma. “I also believe, though I’ve never closely studied the matter, that it is occasionally common to interfere with memories in the training of a slave.”
“If you remember nothing,” Marcus commented darkly, “you have nothing to fight for, and nothing to prevent complete obedience.”
“Indeed,” Mordifred agreed. “I don’t know how common use of magic is in the process, however, only that it’s possible.”
“Did Raymo have magical abilities at his disposal?” Ted asked Miriam.
“Oh, probably,” she replied, waving a hand. “I don’t know if he himself possessed them, but there was definitely magic in his castle. I can’t say whether he used magic on his slaves, but any prince in the desert probably employs a few mages.”
“If there is magic on this girl you brought – Hareshi – can you remove it, and regain her memories, figure out where she came from?” Danu asked.
Miriam frowned thoughtfully for a few moments. Mordifred swallowed a gulp of wine. “Not easily, not without knowing the original spell. Desert magic is different from Tauese, your highness, and although I’ve travelled extensively, Tauese magic is the one I’m most familiar with.”
“What if you had a Desert mage to help you?”
“That might be helpful,” he admitted, “but where do we find one willing to assist?”