Alaya’s appetite always flees at those formal dinners. Her father’s advisors and the guards stand around, putting on a show of obedience, including her own guard, Rainbird. These Vashon, coming here. Taking over. In the empty kitchen where she’s hiding herself, Alaya eats a salad she’s put together. Only here, alone, can she relax. Unaccompanied. Her assigned guard, Rainbird, lets nothing dissuade her from overseeing Alaya's life, not even Alaya's father, the Librarian.
Footsteps? Her father’s expected back; the Vashon called him away, and when they call…
Perhaps he’s here.
She carries the salad bowl to the kitchen doorway and silently steps into the hall. Oil lamps sputter and cast flickering shadows on the walls. A woman, in uniform, stops suddenly, a meter away. Alaya doesn’t recognize this soldier. She wasn’t one of them that stood along the walls of the dining room, quiet and watchful. Alaya risks asking, "Have you seen my father?”
The trooper stands at attention. “No. Miss Way."
Stepping closer, Alaya’s inspecting the woman’s insignia. “You’re Regional!" Her surprise leads to a top-to-bottom examination of the uniform. Definitely not Vashon. Alaya’s eyes dwell on the infantry sword scabbarded at her side. “I thought only Vashon troops guarded here."
“I’m newly stationed. Ma’am." Alaya notices the hesitation. A lie? But the young woman continues, "I was sent to get something.”
"My name’s Alaya. Ma’am and Miss Way are for those recognizing my rank, if I had one." She takes a bite of salad. When the soldier does not respond, she feels the urge to test her, in case she’s lying. “What’s your name, Private?”
"Henrietta Moreno. Ma’am" Alaya is about to re-insist Henrietta use her given name, when she senses the shadow.
Even without consciously hearing her, Alaya turns, Rainbird. Well, nice having a few moments of freedom.
Rainbird ignores Alaya, steps toward Henrietta, demands, "Why are you here, trooper?”
"She’s lost. I was just directing her to Regional barracks..."
Rainbird turns a withering gaze on Alaya, a Vashon look, these bodyguards are fond of. She’s especially practiced with that look. “I did not ask you. I was addressing the private."
"Yes, ma’am. Private Henrietta Moreno. Reporting for 1st Infantry Battalion, Regional forces." In her mind, Alaya thanks Henrietta, for deflecting Rainbird’s attention.
Rainbird spends one more instant for a hostile glare at Alaya before turning back to Henrietta. “I will personally escort you to your officers." Behind the Vashon guard, Alaya grins and pulls the slightest of faces. After a moment’s pause, her keeper adds, "I will recommend they administer an appropriate punishment for being lost."
"Yes, ma’am." Henrietta stands rigidly at attention as Rainbird turns and moves down the hall, toward the front door. Henrietta spares one quick smile before stiffly marching after her. Alaya wishes she could have learned more about this odd visitor.
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