I didn't want her to think the interview strange, so I sat on the seat across from hers, and waited for her to arrive. The cushion was soft, though there was no back support. I tucked my legs to the side, forcing myself to sit upright. I set the pad of paper on my leg, waiting.
She entered in a flurry of skirts, but her slippers were silent on the stone. She sat on her own seat. Every movement was practiced, almost theatrical. I knew it was her training, and that she was being formal because of the context. She was as uneasy as I was.
"I was told you came from far away. Has the mainland heard our need?"
"No," I said. I had to think quickly, create a persona. I did all the time for the characters, what was a little lie? "I am from Kyde-Tazmed...my country there is known as Enloren."
"Ah." She hid her disappointment well. The training again, but I knew precisely what that near-imperceptible shrug meant. "So your peoples recently revolted from our mutual enemy. Have you come seeking an alliance?"
"Not exactly. We need information first. Too decide."
She inclined her head in recognition. One braid fell forward, and beads jangled against her cheek. Her perfect posture was required, not only because of the cushion seats, but also the elaborate hairstyle.
"What would you like to know? I will do my best...to be brief and to the point."
"What brought your peoples to the Kordic continent? And do you like it here?"
A smile twitched at the corner of her lips, but when she spoke it faded into the words. "My ancestral homeland fell. It doomed itself and my ancestors escaped on the last of the ships vacating the continent. I have known no different than this place. We all yearn for the homeland, but it is only real in the stories. I have lived long enough to know that reality would pale in the comparison of the legends I tell the children."
"If you ever had the opportunity to see it, would you?"
"Yes. Of course. But it won't be...Rextiauna. The legend, the symbol, it exists in dreams. And from there does it derive purpose."
"But it is abstract..."
"Life, and all it's harshness, riah, they will never go away. Look at what happened to your continent...wars between your various little realms. The Koridic Emnpire moves in and begins swallowing up chunk after chunk, and they drive record keepers such as yourself underground. The Svorini infiltrate the other realms as assassins in order to smuggle your kind out of harms way..."
"Weren't you optimistic once?"
Her laugh was full and rich. It filled the room. "Once," she said, but the smile doesn't die this time. "But we all grow up."
"What brought this on? This pessimism?"
"My niece. She died."
I hated myself at that moment. And I couldn't stand it, I looked at my paper. The cursive lettering in my indecipherable hand seemed out of place in this room.
"What if she's alive?" I whispered.
Silence. I try to look up, just to see Gellayna's face. She was like stone. I couldn't let her know...I'd spoil the truth I was still uncertain how she'd learn. "I mean...we had a lord, the Lord we nicknamed Zaerc...his fiancee...she ran away. We all assumed she was dead, but the truth was the Svorin had taken her in, given her another name. And she escaped unnoticed under the guise of a priestess of Azoryn...What if something similar happened to your niece?"
"Ethirin, a man who works for my husband, he saw the body."
"But...are you certain...?"
She seized the fabric of her skirt, making two tiny fists. "My brother isn't. I think Teshen just can't face the fact that he put little Ayslynne in the palace at Dhazi and it changed her. He can't accept that she is capable of something like murder."
"Wasn't she like a niece to you, too?"
"Oh, yes. I knew that little girl when she was newly born. I braided her hair when she started her lessons...it's a sign of stages, with the women of my people." She raised a hand to her head, the large bun and the two braids spilling from its center, the braids falling down her back. Objectively I acknowledge the influence of Chinese movies set in China's feudal era on the Rextian women's hairstyles. "But," Gellayna continued, "It means little. She had the blade in her hand and the corpse...Ethirin saw it...None of us wanted to believe it."
"But your still fighting."
"Jiranaeha and Vynnek and Aloysia and Sedrinna...they will not have died in vain! They were all Kyrriki had...all he had..."
"But now, your daughter..."
"Ahrenai." Some hint of her old optimism returned at the mention of her daughter. "She is...wonderful...we fight so that the world we give her is not the one Loysa knew. The one that destroyed Ahrenai's cousin will not destroy my little girl."
"And Kyr feels the same." I didn't need to ask that question, but I have a habit of speaking my thoughts.
"He does," Gellayna responded as if I had asked, I let it slide. She really shouldn't know how well I knew them...if she did, I'd become the interviewee and she the interviewer. While I knew that would probably please her, as her curiosity was a form of escape as well as dealing with the situation she found herself in...I didn't have the time to answer questions that would be a lot more thorough and pointed than mine.
"If you could see your niece right now, what would you say to her?"
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry I sent all my prayers to Azoryn. I don't know why I thought the Goddess of Destiny would be a kind mistress. I would trade everything to save you the pains you endured, anything to grant you a life past thirteen..."
Now I felt really guilty. I wanted to let her know it was all a ruse, that Loysa was trying to protect her and her uncle. I have such a hard time keeping secrets when the answers can make people feel better. But Gellayna is a character, one I created. This is my mess.
"How will this help you make a decision?" She asked, watching me stand. "Don't you want to know how we succeeded in severing our ties to the Empire? What sorts of goods we could trade? The benefits of an alliance...yes?"
"No, no. It's all right. I just...wanted to know, what motivated you. Why did you decide to become the leader of this rebellion."
"I didn't. Kyr did. I chose to marry him, aware that that decision came with inherent responsibilities. I was already a leader, among my people."
"And why... way back then..." I sat down again. "Why did you choose to be Taeverai?"
"Because," she said, "I believed that in the junction between past and present can the road into the future be found. As a Taeverai we study history, traditions of our people. Living here I learned about the Kordic versions of the same. in comparing them I see that perception, too, plays a role...but I think that was the answer I was looking for. I always wanted to help them. My people. We are without place, at least we were. The Empire didn't want us, no matter how long we lived here. So I wanted to find the way toward making us... accepted. Accepted, that is, without giving up our traditions," she gestured at her ornate skirts, "these are just trappings. But if perception is as important to constructing the world as I feel it is," She leaned forward, and my pen stilled for a minute, "then the symbol they represent is too important to shed. This declares me Rextian...maybe even a Rextian from Kordic...and so by donning the trappings I become Her. Me. My perception of myself becomes yours. Between us we begin to develop a definition, and create meaning and order of the world. No matter what, I have never wanted to shed the trappings. I will speak Kordic and my mother tongue. I will teach my daughter both. And she need not choose between one or the other. She can be both. She won't feel, like I did...like Kyrriki did...conflicted. One part is not more important than the other. They are both essential. And there is the answer I was looking for, the one that can earn my people acceptance, and for which they can fight. For which I can fight. As a leader, I can help others to reach these answers, and to implement whatever behaviors these answers make them feel the need to develop."
"Thank you," I breathed, I don't think she heard me...
"We don't need to cross the oceans to find a home that is no longer ours. Home is here. We've just needed to carve it for ourselves, and not let the Imperial powers dictate our existence on the edges of the Empire. This is the Kordic-Rextians asserting ourselves. The road to the future that I have chosen."
"Thank you, thank you," I said, tucking my paper under an arm. "Be well riani...."
"It's nothing." She bowed her head in gratitude and I fled before she directed any questions my way.