Ecdysis - Chapter 49

Published at 2nd of January 2023 10:19:20 AM

Chapter 49

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“You don’t need to hide anymore, he is gone.”

The sudden words made her jump and turn around. Yeva stood at the entrance of the green house, with Vera clutching at her leg. Meila felt her feet taking a step back — despite her diminutive form and crippled eyes, Yeva’s presence managed to envelop the entire room in a blink of an eye. Her brother froze in place as well — she picked the wrong time to ask his help in pruning and daily harvest.

“I wasn’t…”

Yeva sighed, “Don’t waste our time with your lies. It was obvious to everyone involved that you were keeping your distance after the melon incident.”

Meila lowered her head in silence, bracing for the consequences. Yeva was the mistress of the estate and, with the other three gone, all power was in her hands. Meila didn’t know if Yeva answered only to Domina or if there were some other wermajes above her; none of that mattered when Yeva’s single word would have her whipped or tortured. Immediately too: Meila could see the contour of a tiger wer in the afternoon shadows outside.

Worst of all, Yeva’s words were true. Meila wasn’t hiding, but she did try to avoid his presence. All this time she thought that it had worked quite well. Too well. Now she understood that this was just a ruse, a Fae trap to catch her unawares.

“Meila has been caring for plants all this time,” Tuk butted in suddenly, “while I was working at the kilns with Keivan every day. We did all tasks that were given to us!”

She hissed at her headstrong brother, trying to silence him. It appears that a mere few tendays were enough for him to forget that masters only cared about their justice. No arguing could stop the hand that was already raised with the intent to punish.

“That you did.” Yeva reached into her sash and pulled out a hefty pouch. “Take this.”

Yeva didn’t wait until either of them moved and simply tossed the sack onto a nearby table. Despite the light throw, the pouch hit the wood with a thump, easily unravelling its knot and spilling the silver contents.

“While gold cuts would have been lighter and easier to carry, I think that silver would be more useful to you,” Yeva said.

Meila’s previous thoughts scattered like frightened birds at the metal’s shine. She hadn’t seen that much silver in one place, but she knew that there was more than enough to purchase both of them. This pile was probably five times larger than the pouch of silver Chimgen Domina requested.

“Did you think that I was going to punish you once Erf was gone?” Yeva tilted her head. “Curious, isn’t it? You claim that he is evil, yet you grew used to the stability of his presence without even realising it.”

“A slave should be ready for anything,” Meila murmured to the side.

“Are you now? Look back at your past actions and tell me if you acted like a slave. Of all the times that you freely argued with Erf or me. And then think about what has changed since then.”

Tuk reached out to grab the silver but Meila quickly slapped his hand away.

“Why are you giving us silver?” she carefully asked.

“Because you aren’t slaves within this estate,” Yeva declared. “This is the silver that you’ve rightfully earned with your work up to this point.”

Every word that she spoke stirred something inside Meila’s chest. Something unpleasant.

“This much!?” Meila exclaimed. “So those flesh melons…”

“Don’t think so highly of yourself,” Yeva scoffed. “This silver is mostly from Tuk’s ceramic drawings rather than the produce you have grown. Mostly because the greenhouses supply only our kitchens. Even if those melons were sold on the market you would have gotten a handful of coppers for them rather than the pouches of silver that blue and white porcelain claims on the market. Nevertheless, your work improved the lives of every servant of this estate as all of them are fed better than ever before. This is why this pouch is twice as heavy: some actions are equally important even if they don’t bring gold by themselves.”

Meila held back her grimace. Another speech, another pang. Yeva lied when she said there would be no punishment. She just hid under the mask of a just mistress while she struck her with sharp words, expecting not a single word back.

“Does that mean this has to be shared with Keivan too?” Tuk asked.

“No, the potter will get his share. This is yours.”

“Please tell me, mistress,” to her surprise, Meila heard herself speak, “if those melons were so cheap, what ghastly thought spurred him to grow them?”

“Ghastly? He detests unnecessary deaths, Meila. Each of them is one chicken that doesn’t need its neck sliced. Get a dozen and you don’t need to drain the blood from a goat or a ewe. Plant the field with them and every servant of this estate can eat filling and nutritious meals daily without butchering a single cow. You’ve seen it grow from a mere seed. You know the stem remains and regrows the melons a short time after. Do you consider picking apples from a tree just as morbid? Or is this just another lie you made for yourself to feel better?

“Even if you try to argue that he should concentrate on the lives of slaves before the lives of cattle, know that there were no deaths so far in this estate.” Yeva reached down and pinched the slightly plump cheek of Vera, causing an outraged squeak. “You are not the only ones here with filling and diverse meals and warm shelters for the night. Most freedwer in Samat can’t claim the same and your food is better than the dishes of most prominent wermages. Theirs might be costlier as they grind pearls onto cooked peacocks, but your meals are better for the health of your body. And all this happened at the end of the summer when the food was most scarce and the price of grain was at its highest. All because of a single man. A man who dared to defy Gods themselves to save you from the Divine Ritual.”

The bubbling feeling in her chest finally spilt over and Meila looked away in shame. Everything that Yeva said rang true in her heart and it was probably why it hurt so much to hear her talk. A slave death was not an unusual thing at the Chimgen Manor. The winter would claim the weakest, while spring and summer weren’t that far behind: heavy work and lack of ripe food would easily take stragglers that barely survived the chill of the snow.

None of that was true here. There was fire and warm water in the estate at any time of the day, while the kitchens were busy as soon as the sun rose from the ground. The dining rooms were filled with the sounds of clanking spoons and work areas with singing slaves.

Tuk stopped shovelling silver into his belt pouch. “It is better here than in the city? I thought our previous Manor was just bad.”

Meila thought so too; that this Domina was simply more just and benevolent than their previous one. Until she heard other slaves talk about their previous lives outside of this estate. While those didn’t sound as bad as the life she had, no one wanted to leave.

Yeva nodded in the direction of the kilns. “Ask Keivan himself: he is a freedwer, yet he willingly came to serve under this Manor. He was neither poor nor destitute, yet being a client of the Kiymetl is still better for him than being an independent artisan. And that was even before he came to this estate. Or take a trip around the city yourself and see it with your own eyes. I have asked Viter, who is outside, to be your bodyguard from now on — trust me, this much silver might attract greedy eyes even here; the less is said about the streets outside.”

“But…” Tuk glanced at the slave medallion around Yeva’s neck with worry, “can I still buy my freedom if I choose to?”

“What do you know about the process of getting free?”

“At Chimgen… taskmasters said if you work hard you can earn the chance to become free… even get land for yourself,” Tuk said. “But I haven’t seen anyone getting free… Did they lie to us?”

Yeva nodded. “I am not surprised: Erf had no idea about it himself. They did not lie — once your Domina permits, you have a chance to become free and even claim a plot of land. While money is required most of the time — at least to purchase the permission from Domina — it is not the greatest obstacle to a murk like you. It is not the chance to earn freedom, but the chance to prove to Emanai that you can defend it against outside threats.”

Meila felt the chill inside her chest.

Tuk gasped. “You mean!?”

“Military duty? Yes. To become free, you have to march into the Forest,” Yeva spoke through the silence; even Vera covered her mouth with her tiny hands. “Serve for ten years and you will get not only freedom but a plot of land as well.”

The silver cut fell through Tuk’s fingers and scattered on the floor.

“So it is impossible for us, isn’t it?” He mirthlessly chuckled. “No wonder that even someone like you with your wealth and skill can’t change your fate.”

“On the contrary. It is quite possible for you, and all you have to do is sit and wait.” Yeva smiled, but there was something off in that smile. “You see, military duty doesn’t just set you free. Who would risk their lives if their children would be born as slaves? The duty frees your blood. Your sons and daughters, even the ones already born and now enslaved, as long as Domina allows them to walk free too.

“But it is possible to argue for other family members. Some argued for their wives and husbands. Erf will argue for his ‘Unca’ and ‘Ma’. He doesn’t even need permission from Domina for he purchased you and only his permission is needed. Besides, as his mother-in-law, I am sure that Aikerim Adal wouldn’t oppose either way. There is but one hurdle left.”

Tuk glanced at Meila.

Yeva’s fingers gripped the table, making the wood groan. “He has to return from the Forest. Alive.”

“So what do you want me to do, now!?” Meila cried out.

“I just said: nothing. Simply wait and your freedom will come to you. Because that is what you asked of him.” Yeva let go of the table and patted Vera’s head, pushing her toward the doorway. “I also came here to inform both of you that there will be a hospital and a school built within the estate. This will improve our lives further while making sure that everyone willing will be taught how to read, write, and count. And stop lying to yourself: if Fae trickery was involved yet he still cares about your well-being, loves you no matter what, and does everything in his power to do good by you, then it didn’t take over his body. It is Erf who took over the power of the Fae.”

Vera moved ahead, easily leading the blind girl through the doorway.

Yeva made another stop there, however. “Your son didn’t die, Meila. He just grew up.”



Esmat Enoch Fidda

“You could’ve simply asked me to bring her over,” Esmat told her mother. “Why are we bothering with this dance?”

Tiny bells tinkled on Matriarch’s horns as she shook her head. “So that you could accidentally walk into Tarhunna and ruin everything? While your mind is sharp, Tarhunna spent his youth meeting people while you were swinging your hammer. You wouldn’t have as much luck talking over him as you do with your sisters.”

“Do you think that he is watching over her?”

Zamindar Azrin turned over and looked at Esmat. “Have you seen Isra out in the city lately? No. Neither have other Pillar Manors. Because she is stuck deep within Aikerim’s Manor. You have witnessed it yourself when you delivered my message.”

Esmat frowned. “Do you think they wish to hurt her?”

Matriarch scoffed. “Obviously not! Our Manors have a good relationship and we both intend to keep it that way. Hence why I am not demanding the release of my daughter. Aikerim Adal might be a trickster herself, but she isn’t stupid to attempt something as insane as holding Isra against her will. Aikerim is likely encouraging her to stay inside to avoid another slag incident.”

Zamindar glanced at her with an unspoken question.

Esmat bowed her head, scratching her horn. “I am still working on it. It is hard to keep the fire hot enough as it melts everything around it.”

“Might as well forget it then.” Matriarch waved her hand. “Who knows, it might be all part of a ruse to begin with.”

“Not Isra! She couldn’t trick me like that!”

“Unless she was tricked herself.”

“Uhm,” Alizeh interrupted their dialogue, “she is here.”

Matriarch nodded to her daughters, giving them time to lie down properly. When everything was in place, she waved her hand to open the doors. Her mouth opened in a greeting that never came.

Alizeh goggled in silence as well.

“What in the ten hells is that!?” Esmat rose from her couch.

Isra Haleh smiled and dropped an enormous chunk of metal from her shoulder onto the sand below. The landing shook the entire house. “I’ve brought a seat for me to sit on.”

She walked around it and her striking hammer, which was hanging at her sash, chose this very moment to hit the metal. Causing it to sing as if this was a smithy of the mountain clans and not the meeting room of Enoch Matriarch.

“It’s an anvil,” Esmat whispered as the sudden realisation dawned on her. “An enormous steel anvil. Rather than many small ones, fit for specific needs, Aikerim bribed you with this behemoth?”

“Not at all, elder sister.” Isra’s fingers slid over the square hole. “It is designed with many attachments in mind. One for every task.”

“And how deep have you gotten yourself in debt to afford something gargantuan like this?”

“Afford?” Isra pulled out something metallic and tapped it at her mark on the side of the anvil. “I am saddened that you did not recognise my symbol. I’ve made this anvil myself as my apprenticeship craft.”

Esmat sputtered “Appre—”

“Enough!” Matriarch’s roar interrupted the questioning, as she glared Esmat into silence.

Zamindar sighed and turned back to Isra. “Greetings, my child, I’ve missed you.”

Isra shifted on her ‘chair’ and unfolded the trinket in her hands; a steel fan. “I was eager to see you as well. My loneliness from separation is countered only by the good that my current position brings to strengthen the chains between two Manors and to the future benefit of my children.”

Esmat blinked in surprise. This didn’t sound like Isra at all! Where was her awkward sister that wanted to be left alone in her smithy?

Matriarch looked at the wine in her cup as she twirled it for a few moments. “It is good you understand how your actions can have lasting effects on our Manor as well as the Kiymetl, but your mention of apprenticeship has me extremely worried. Are you that eager to renounce the teachings of Enoch masters just to bind yourself to a new one? I am sure that plenty of your former teachers, your aunts at that, won’t take it lightly.”

Isra grinned. “Fear not, Matriarch. I am still a master smith, the mastery of Enoch trainers is so unparalleled that even daimon himself acknowledged my smithing skills to be above his own. It is not smithing that I am learning right now but the daimonic craft of ‘metallurgy’.”

Both of the elder sisters frowned as they tried to pronounce the new word.

Isra covered her face with the fan, probably hiding her smirk, and clarified, “I was told it is a word from an ancient daimonic language. The metal work. The knowledge of metal.”

“Smithing is working with metal,” Zamindar Azrin reasoned.

“A part of it, yes. How to bend, shape, and stretch it with tongs and hammers. Metallurgy goes beyond that: how to heat and what to mix, what makes steel hard, soft…” Isra glanced at Esmat, “…or what makes it short so it crumbles after a single strike.”

Her steel fan tapped the enormous anvil. “How to turn one into the other.”

“This anvil was made from slag?” Esmat exclaimed.

The fan snapped open. “It could have been. If my own family had not denied me even the scraps off their table of plenty.”


“Esmat! Enough,” Matriarch barked. “No child of mine will eat the scraps because it is beneath them, Isra! This is why you are here after all — to discuss your position around the table of Enoch, not below it.”

“Does my Manor wish to settle for scraps off the table of Emanai, then?” Isra asked immediately. “While they can’t deny my right, do you think that there will be another Isra Enoch Haleh working with the Kiymetl daimon?”

Zamindar leaned back. “You’ve grown, Isra Haleh. A few tendays have passed since you left and I barely recognise you.”

Isra looked away. “I’ve been reminded once again that my words can be used against me. While I could brush it aside when it happened within the walls of our Manor, this is no longer the case. Even when I finish my apprenticeship and return home, I will know many Secrets that aren’t mine to tell.”

Alizeh glanced at silent Esmat, making her scratch her horn again.

Matriarch sighed. “While Esmat was out of her place, she did it on the behalf of Amanzhan Irada. I assure you that such things are of the past.”

“What kind of Domina would I be if I had to rely on my Matriarch to protect me against my sisters?” Isra murmured as she played with her fan. “Moreover, are you sure that this is the fate you wish for our Manor? To be tools of political intrigue for others? The bloodied kattar is discarded first.”

“And what do you suggest, instead?”

“While Kiymetl might want kattars, what Aikerim Adal needs are hammers.”

“To do the work for them.”

“Yes.” Isra nodded without a pause. “And to be paid appropriately in turn.”

Her fan collapsed and she struck it thrice against her anvil, causing some shuffling behind the doors. As well as some rumbling and muted swears.

Isra coughed. “Aikerim asked me to convey her gratitude for allowing me to work under her banner. It was my choice of the type of gifts that you might like.”

Matriarch clapped her hands for slaves to open the doors. “Bring them in.”

Two burly men walked inside carrying a large billet of metal, marked with Isra’s mark on top.

“Pure steel, comparable in quality to the Hsaca clan,” Isra spoke as the slaves dropped the billet on the floor. “While it is not the Fulad kind, it is strong. Especially after quenching.”

She rummaged in her sash and pulled out a scroll. “I have written here every step to turn this steel into an armour, weapon, or even some tool. Steps to keep it soft and steps to harden it after work is done. Even the steps to make it flexible and avoid shattering.”

Alizeh squawked and Esmat felt her throat dry up. The billet was enormous for the type of steel Isra said it was. There were at least five if not ten hundred swords worth of metal within.

“It might as well be solid gold by its price alone.” The bells on Matriarch’s horns tingled as she rubbed them while speaking Esmat’s thoughts out loud. Zamindar snapped her fingers and the scroll and the billet flew over to her. “And this scroll might be worth even more.”

With a loud clang, she broke off a piece of steel from the billet as she crushed the seal on the scroll with another hand. None of them missed the uniformity of the metal within. “You have grown indeed! But you still need to work on your awkward gift presentation.”

Isra tilted her head to the side in question.

She chuckled in good humour. “While the gift itself is outstanding, don’t show it while sitting on an anvil thrice as large! You make it look worth less in turn.”

“Oh!” Isra glanced back, scratched her head and chuckled. That familiar chuckle reminded them that this was indeed Isra Haleh. “I thought they would be a bit faster.”

Just as she said that, the pair of sweaty slaves returned carrying another billet. “Forgive us, mistress! The pile collapsed and it is hard to pull each one out!”

“The pile?” Matriarch slowly murmured.

The couch flew to the side as Zamindar stomped through the room and froze at the entrance. Then she started laughing.

Esmat shared a glance with Alizeh and got up, both curious and fearful at what caused their mother to act in such a way. Esmat did stop for a moment and lifted the gift herself, confirming her previous estimation about its weight. But a gasp from Alizeh quickly summoned her to the door.

A pile of billets lay in their courtyard with multiple slaves standing on top of it, struggling to lift yet another chunk of metal that was as heavy as ten murks. Enough to give every Enoch warrior a set of weapons and armour. Probably even to forge individual warhammers for every Enoch wermage as well.

Isra approached as well, shaking her head with a sullen mood. “I warned them about the weight. As I was trying to say, the Kiymetl recognises our skill and wishes that our smithies never stop.”

“Isra Haleh,” Zamindar said without turning away from the pile, “what do you think about Anaise Hilal as your future wife?”

“Mother!” a beet-red Isra squeaked loudly.




“I see that you’ve been successful with your task,” Yeva observed an excited Isra. “Congratulations.”

“Yeah!” Isra Haleh grinned. “Shahin Esca was right — my mother simply couldn’t ask me to return after a present that large. And the fan was very useful too.”

Yeva couldn’t help but smile at the memory. Frustrated by the lack of sufficient progress by her standards, Shahin told Isra to write down a set of responses the envoy prepared beforehand and have them near so that she could guide the conversation herself. After a lengthy discussion about possible ways of doing so, they agreed on a fan with answers written on one side so that only Isra could see them. While personal fans weren’t that common among Emanai since wermages usually had slaves to fan them and keep the shade over their heads, Yeva argued that a metal one wouldn’t look too conspicuous in the hands of a smith.

Judging by Isra’s cheerful look, their gamble paid off.

Yeva felt relief herself. Isra was rowdy and full of energy, but she had gotten used somewhat to the stampeding minotaur. Her simple attitude toward life made it easier for Yeva to let go of her usual attitude toward wermages and concentrate on moving things forward.

Isra or not, their estate needed a smith and Yeva dreaded to think about trying to train another wermage. Especially one that was less interested in craft and more interested in power.

“Thank you for choosing to stay,” Yeva summarised her thoughts. “While I wanted to give you some personal reward…”

Isra squeaked and tripped over.

“…I need both you and Wrena for the next part of our projects.” Yeva tilted her head. “Is something wrong?”

“No, no.” Flustered, Isra shook the dust off her smithing apron. “Just some family thing.”

“I heard someone saying my name. It is Wrena Khayrat now.” Wrena walked in looking like a fox that had eaten all the chickens in the pen. “How can I be of service, mistress?”

Yeva had to shake her head at the attitudes of both artisans. “I see that you have some good news yourself.”

“Yep! Domina was pleased enough with my work to grant me the third name! I also shagged my husband for an entire night in celebration.” She patted her groin in satisfaction. “Might be a good time to get a second one too. Sharan is a good lay, but he gets too soft after a few hours. With the way Domina is treating me, I can afford to get three!”

“Just make sure that it doesn’t affect your work. I don’t mind you walking bow-legged all day long as long as your hand is steady.”

“Bowlegged!?” Wrena laughed loudly. “You sure know how to say it! Don’t worry. Day is day and night is night. I should be worried about you — will you be fine alone without Erf?”

“I prefer quality over quantity,” Yeva sniffed, “and I can last a mere season away from him.”

Wrena raised her hands in surrender. “It is just a friendly offer, nothing more! Besides, there is plenty of quality in Samat. Both male and female. You can even get one for Erf as a gift.”

“Uh huh, quality. Mine stays hard until I am satisfied, has a tongue longer than my hand, and fingers that can melt all my muscle pains away.”

Wrena whistled. “Seriously!? I should have tried harder back then.”

Yeva looked at her.

The artisan stepped back, waving her hands. “No, no! Two husbands will be enough for me! I am not greedy!”

Isra coughed, blushing. “What about the next project you were talking about?”

“Right!” Wrena quickly nodded in agreement. “Work is first!”

“There are two tasks that we need to address right now. And one of them you won’t like, I am afraid.”

“Something serious?” Wrena frowned without any of the previous levity.

“No. Annoying to be precise, but extremely necessary. Something that feels silly as Erf trying to get that perfectly flat surface, but something with just as far-reaching consequences in the future.”

Yeva reached down and pulled out a plastic bar that she painstakingly carved with the help of a bio-printer. “This bar is exactly one metre long.”

“What is a metre?” Isra asked.

“It is a unit of measurement.”

“I get that, but what is it based on? Your arm length?”

Yeva shook her head. “That is the annoying part. The metre has a very convoluted history that was marred with miscalculations and errors but none of that matters here. For Emanai, it is a very arbitrary length.”

“Yes.” Wrena nodded in understanding. “I can see why this would be annoying too. But why do you want us to learn it?”

“To be completely honest — because it would be easier for me to teach you in the future. The knowledge that Erf asked me to share with you is based on this length. But the length itself is not the most important part here. The stick is. I’ve spent quite some time making sure that this bar is exactly one metre long. Not a hair longer or less. It is also made out of special material that doesn’t shrink or expand with temperature. Remember how Erf taught you that flatness would lead to precision? Well, this is the next step — standardisation.

“Now that we have the precise and material unit of length, we can precisely divide it into smaller units using geometry and calibrate all of our measuring ropes and sticks against this bar.”

“Just as I make sure a new surface is flat by using the granite surface plate?” Wrena asked.

“Precisely. The three surface plates that we have are our standard of flatness. You could carve a flat surface out of wood in your workshop and Isra could scrape metal in hers using the same standard and, when you place them against each other, they would match. This bar will be our standard of length with an identical purpose in mind. You, or one of your apprentices, could carve a cylinder with a set diameter, bring it to Isra’s workshop and insert it into a hole she drilled in advance without any gap between them.”

“It would be quite a tight fit, then,” Wrena mused, wiggling her eyebrows at the once-again flustered Isra.

“Wrena, are you still horny?” Yeva frowned.

“You are the one that started talking about holes and rods fitting tightly together here, not me.”

“I used that example because it is directly related to our next task.” Yeva reached into her sash and pulled out a toy. “Look familiar?”

“I made one of those when I was a child.” Isra nodded. “You put it into the fire and water inside spins the toy around.”

“Precisely. You were turning heat into movement, using steam to make the toy rotate.”

Wrena frowned. “I think I remember Erf mentioned something like that. You want to use heat to make things move, correct?”

Yeva smiled. “You were complaining that the water turbine wasn’t sufficient enough for both of your workshops. We will use steam to make all your current worries about power disappear and spin all your machines ten times as fast or ten times as strong.”

“Will we have enough coal?” Isra scratched her head. “I will need quite a lot of it since I gave away most of my working stock to my mother.”

“Those toys are pretty, but they are woefully inefficient. We have steel that can withstand great pressure, machines to carve flat and round surfaces, and the method to keep every single detail fit so tightly together that no steam would escape.”

For the third time, Yeva reached for something that she had prepared in advance. Two artisans moved closer together as she unravelled a sheet of paper, eager to see yet another new design from a daimon girl.

“Trust me, Isra Haleh, what we are about to make won’t be mere toys. Steam engines will reshape Emanai as we know it, and it will be up to us to make sure that it will be for the better and not for the worse.”







Snusmumriken Chapter was edited by: Xeno Morph and UnknownPlunger.

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