June 17—12:00 p.m.
Herta sighed and lay down the papers she was trying to organize. It was hard to get interested in the history of the Tiel when her legs were cramping from sitting on the floor for so long. She looked at her watch. If she could get up, it would be time for lunch anyway. Another morning wasted because she didn’t have a clue as to who ruled when. She’d have to get Turan or Reikert to look at it later.
She stretched out her legs and moaned as the circulation returned. After her run-in with Dahila last month, she still got stiff and sore too easily, especially her hands and feet. The Tiel healers said the circulation problems might never go away, but checking things out with a human doctor was out of the question. She’d have to tell them how she got the scars and she didn’t feel like talking about it to someone who didn’t understand the whole story. They’d probably lock her away for a long time if they thought she talked to invisible beings. Not that the Tiel were invisible, exactly. You just couldn’t go knocking on their doors.
As Herta got to her feet, there was a pounding on the back door. She made her way slowly downstairs, not needing to trip again. The pounding began again.
“All right, all right. Don’t get your knickers in a knot. I’m coming,” she muttered.
Unlocking the door, she was pushed back by a worried Turan. “You took long enough to answer the door. Are you all right?” His dark brows were furrowed in concern, his hands gripping her shoulders.
Herta huffed and shook her head at Turan’s concern. “I’m fine. Just stiff. Why all the panic?”
“You were supposed to be with Dekalar for a pre-Council meeting an hour ago.”
Herta drew her hand over her face. “Ah, nuts. I forgot. I was working on the history upstairs. That’s what took me so long to answer the door. Is he very angry?”
Turan shook his head. “Not angry. Disappointed maybe. This is your first formal meeting since you came home and he thought you’d appreciate a brief overview of the agenda.”
“I would,” she said, leading the way into the kitchen after locking the door behind Turan. “I’ll just change quick and we can go. When does the meeting start?”
“Directly after the noon break, in about thirty minutes.”
Herta swore and hurried up the stairs. “Be down in a sec,” she called over her shoulder.
Ten minutes later, Herta and Turan were leaving by the back door. Herta turned the old-fashioned key in the lock and put it in her purse. She was wearing the same outfit that she’d worn on her first day, dark blue pantsuit, white, frilly blouse and sensible black pumps. Unlike the first day, though, her hair was left loose, curling around her shoulders.
“So what’s on the agenda for this afternoon?” she asked as they approached the Gate behind the house.
“Tiilor still wants to have you revoked as High Escort because you’re too violent for the good of the Tiel.”
Herta made a rude noise and Turan frowned. “You can’t be using that sort of communication during the meeting, you know.”
They stepped through the secondary Gate and continued on to the Council Chambers at the far end of the building they’d just entered.
“I know, but it makes me feel better right now. I’ll think of something intelligent to say before I have to face him. While I may not know the order of the Rulers, I do know that some have been quite violent. I’m a pussycat compared to them. All I did was lose my temper for a moment.”
“I know that, but the Rulers you refer to haven’t been alive in centuries. Times are different now.”
“Tell me about it! So what else is on the agenda?”
“It’s mostly a planning meeting, what Families have Seekers, where the Seekers will stay and so on. It’s usually quite dull.”
“Most meetings are unless there’s a pet project you have on the agenda. At least, that’s the way Canadian politics seem to work.”
“Tiel politics are similar,” Turan agreed. “This is a jockeying for positions of power.”
“Seekers are pawns? How does that work?”
“Pawns, yes, unfortunately. Seekers have a contact on your world that most of the rest of us don’t have. Technology advances as does matters of understanding the mind. We can’t live in your world, but we can take advantage of your inventions. To a point.”
“So the family with the most Seekers gets more power?”
“The family with the most successful Seekers,” Turan corrected.
“Which makes your family most powerful right now? Because of me?”
“Peachy,” she commented.
“Just terrific,” Herta said dryly.
Turan chuckled. “Yeah, just peachy. I have to put up with you now, just so I can have some power on the Council.”
Herta huffed her amusement. “I might surprise you, Turan. What if I choose to keep my ideas to myself?” she teased.
“You?” Turan laughed. “You’d be too proud of yourself for coming up with an idea to be silent about it.”
“Would it surprise you to know I think I’ve figured out how to stay on the Tiel side of the Gate for longer periods of time?”
Turan stopped short. “You have? Do you know what this means?”
Herta glared at Turan, thinking he was referring to the power base of the Ruling Families. “It means I’m not going to have a headache halfway through a meeting, Turan.”
“And it means that, if it works, Diu Seeleocran don’t have to live in fear of losing a soulmate or a family, if they choose to stay in your world. Seekers can bring humans here. What is it that you’ve discovered that our healers have missed?”
“Am I correct in assuming that the Tiel have a longer field of vision than humans? You know, you can see further into the light spectrum than humans can.”
Turan nodded. “So our healers have guessed.”
“Now I don’t know if it will work here,” she cautioned. “But there have been advances in lenses that change the spectrum of light. I don’t know if it will work here,” she repeated. “So don’t get your hopes up. I have a pair on order.”
Turan swung Herta up in his arms and spun around. “Do you know how fantastic that is? There are so many things I want to show you but I didn’t want to cause you pain.”
Herta laughed and blushed. “Put me down, Turan. Act like a High Lord, will you?”
“Yes, please do, Turan. Such antics in front of my office are bound to cause comment.” It was Dekalar. They’d arrived at his office without noticing.
“Dekalar, she may have solved the problem of human soul mates who cannot stay here for very long!” Turan announced, setting Herta on her feet.
“Well, let’s discuss it in my office, shall we? As it is, we only have about fifteen minutes to think up a suitable apology for Herta to give to the Council for her behavior at the Mioneid.”
“I’m not apologizing for what I did,” Herta said mutinously. “I’ll apologize for losing my temper, but that’s about it.”
Dekalar frowned, closing the office door behind them. “Herta, it would be in your best political interests to—”
“I don’t care,” she interrupted, turning to face the Tiel High Councilor. “I did what I thought best at the time and it worked. Your people wouldn’t stop her and someone had to.”
Dekalar sighed. “Very well. Apologize for losing your temper then. And maybe promise not to loose it again?”
Herta snorted. “I don’t like losing my temper at all, but sometimes, it just happens. I can promise that I will do my best to see that it doesn’t happen again. How’s that?”
Dekalar made a moue of distaste. “It will have to do.”
“So who else do I have to worry about besides Tiilor?”
“Lemauvre leaned towards Dahila,” Turan filled in. “I’m not sure as she’d have agreed to the torture, though. She might be neutral now. Niko is leaning towards my ideas, as is Pansho. Dax and Merasic have always been neutral, but your actions at the Mioneid could have changed that. They may not follow Dahila’s crowd, but they’ll be considering another choice, that’s for sure.”
Dekalar nodded. “And that, as you say, Herta, is it in a nutshell.”
Herta pursed her lips, thinking. “Okay, I think I understand how things stand. How many Diu Seeleocran do each group have?”
Dekalar looked surprised.
Herta continued her train of thought. “If we could arrange things so that there’s an extra Seeker for each of the dissidents, maybe we can swing their thinking our way?”
Turan laughed. “No, Hertze-hexe. As much as I’d like to see it work that simply, it doesn’t. Diu Seeleocran come from the various groups and go to those Ruling Families, but it would be nice if we could arrange things like that.”
“What about trying out the glasses?” she persisted.
“What glasses?” That was Dekalar.
Herta explained her original thought about the color-changing glasses. “I can’t guarantee they’ll work, and I can’t guarantee they’ll work on all people, but we can try. I have one pair on order now, but it wouldn’t be hard to order more.”
“Let’s keep that as a last resort, shall we?” Dekalar advised. “We’ll see what the Council meeting looks like before we try bribery.” The last was said on a smile with a nod for Herta.