4

Wallbuilder Buski sat at the Verraco family table. The stewed goat was good, just the right amount of spice. He was one of the youngest Guildmasters in the settlement of Oscura. Chala would be his responsibility. She’s tall and strong, he thought and should be a good worker if I train her right – the problem will be her mother.

As if his thoughts had summoned her, Spellcaster Yanna walked over to where he was sitting. Buski bowed his head in acknowledgement and swung his long legs over the bench in order to stand up.Whatever his private thoughts of Spellcaster Yanna, she was Head of the Aulic Court and the most powerful woman in Oscura.

‘No need to stand, Wallbuilder, just a word about my daughter.’

‘Chala.’

‘Yes, Chala.’ Yanna seemed at a loss for words, unusual for her. ‘Train her well. She is your responsibility now.’

Yanna was gone before Buski could reply, speeding back to the Gallina family table. I don’t need you to tell me my responsibilities, thought Buski.

‘Not a woman to get on the wrong side of.’

Buski swivelled his legs back under the table and took a mouthful of stew. Healer Gordi waved a chicken leg at Buski.

‘I said not a woman to…’

‘I heard you Gordi. How fares your wife?’

Gordi smiled; the rolls of fat on his chin wobbled as he spoke.

‘Mina is well. She’s resting in the family compound; the baby should arrive any day.’

Buski had heard the remarks of the young men in the compound as to how Gordi, who was fat as lard, had managed to impregnate Healer Mina, who at seventeen had been a slender, fragile wisp of a girl.

‘I wish you Good Fortune for the birth,’ said Buski.

His thoughts turned to Healer Palaka, looking as beautiful as ever, sitting with Chala and Loka. Palaka and Buski had grown up together in the Verraco family. They’d been inseparable until the day of the Whirlstone Ceremony when they were eleven; when Palaka became a Healer and he a Wallbuilder. Stupidly, he hadn’t accepted that wedlock with other Guilds was uncommon. He felt the hot flush creep up his neck as he remembered the conversation with Spellcaster Yanna from nearly twenty years ago. She wasn’t head of the Aulic Court then, but her words had been scathing.

‘What do you, a Wallbuilder, have to offer my sister?’

‘Happiness,’ Buski had answered.

‘Happiness, happiness. Young man, do you not understand? My sister belongs to the Cultivators Guild, you to the Artisans. The gap is impassable.’

Buski knew that Palaka had never believed that, but she’d been married at seventeen to Healer Romani and gone to live in the Gallina family compound. Romani had died just over a year ago. Would Palaka accept me this time, thought Buski. I’m a Guildmaster now. Would she defy Yanna?

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