The smell of some kind of spicy stew tickled Saliaâ€™s nose and drew her out of her slumber. Her stomach responded to the scent with an alarmingly loud rumble. She stared at the red quilt beneath her for a moment, and then sat up and looked around for the source. A small table and chair, just the right height for her, sat in the corner by a window. A strange lidded pot sat on it and the smell was coming from it.Â It was warm to the touch, and when she lifted the lid she saw a rich, brown stew made with some kind of meat. Her stomach rumbled again as she picked up the spoon and prodded the lumps of meat suspiciously.
â€œItâ€™s not poisoned, if thatâ€™s what youâ€™re thinking.â€
Salia jumped and looked up. Lyrekka was standing behind her. How had she not sensed her? She wanted to ask, but all that came out was a squeak. Lyrekka obviously understood though.
â€œMy hunger tends to disturb my charges, so I mask it,â€ she said. â€œNow be a good girl and eat up and then Iâ€™ll show you around.â€ She patted Saliaâ€™s head.
Salia gulped fearfully and prodded the stew again. When she made no actual attempt to start eating she heard Lyrekka sigh.
â€œIt really isnâ€™t poisoned, Salia. Why would we waste all that effort to get you here just to poison you?â€
Salia shook her head. â€œItâ€™s not that,â€ she managed finally.
Lyrekka gave her a puzzled frown and then shook her head. â€œOh, I see! No, itâ€™s not made with Trystilri flesh. Itâ€™s just venison.â€
â€œTryst-what?â€ Salia asked blankly.
â€œOh, sorry. It isnâ€™t Speaker Flesh. Itâ€™s from a non-speaker deer. You know, youâ€™re the first one to actually worry about that. I think Iâ€™m going to like you.â€ She took the spoon from Saliaâ€™s hand, scooped up some of the stew and held it to her lips. â€œNow, be a good girl and eat up.â€
Something brushed Saliaâ€™s mind gently and then the stew was in her mouth and she was chewing on a tender lump of venison. She didnâ€™t want to like it but it really was very good.
â€œThere you are, itâ€™s not so bad is it?â€ Lyrekka placed the spoon back in her hand and ruffled her hair again.
â€œThatâ€™s not fair,â€ Salia said between mouthfuls. Try as she might she couldnâ€™t stop eating.
â€œFair would be letting you starve yourself?â€ Lyrekka said. â€œGerian-mirian has given me responsibility for your welfare. If I let you starve yourself Iâ€™d be failing at my charge, and I think youâ€™d appreciate being force-fed by me even less.â€
Salia scowled at her gaoler but finished the stew in silence before finally looking around at her prison properly.
It didnâ€™t really look much like a dungeon at all. In fact, it reminded her of her bedroom at home. Except it was furnished in red goblin silk and glossy dark wood rather than the light colours of home. There was even a collection of toys similar to hers.
A few things gave its true nature away, however. The thick bars on the windows and the fact there was no way to open them, for one. The heavy wooden door had no bolt on the inside and the lock looked like it would only work from the outside.
â€œCome on.â€ Lyrekka took Saliaâ€™s hand and drew her to her feet. â€œLet me give you a tour of your new home.â€ She pushed open one of the doors to reveal a bubbling, scented pool. â€œThis is your bathroom. The waterâ€™s always warm and refreshes itself regularly.â€ She led her to a small alcove. â€œAnd this is the toilet.â€
Salia peeked down the toilet hole and was disappointed to see that it led into a dark pit rather than outside and there were bars about two foot down it anyway. But then the hole looked too small for her to climb down anyway. Lyrekka gave a soft chuckle.
â€œEven if you could, youâ€™d just land in a pile of stinking waste in the cellar,â€ she said. â€œNot very pleasant. Come on.â€ She ushered Salia out of the bathroom and opened the door to a huge walk-in wardrobe. It was full of goblin silk clothing in various styles, but all the same deep red colour as the furnishings and Lyrekkaâ€™s own gown. â€œAs you can see, we have plenty of clothes for you.â€ She pulled a tunic and skirt from one of the hangers. â€œYours are all torn up. You should change before I show you the rest of the wing.â€ She handed the clothing to Salia and clapped her hands. A red-eyed goblin whose ears and angular cheekbones suggested that she might be half-haltia appeared. â€œThis is Makina; sheâ€™ll be your personal maid. Makina, help Salia get changed.â€
Salia considered fighting but what would be the point? She let the goblin woman help her out of her ruined dress and into the clothing Lyrekka had picked for her. They were soft against her skin and fitted perfectly.
Once she was changed, Lyrekka took her hand again and led her out into the corridor.
â€œYouâ€™ll have the run of this wing during the day. At least when you arenâ€™t having lessons.â€ she said. â€œThough the doors to the rest of the palace will remain locked unless youâ€™re summoned. The others live in this wing as well, but theyâ€™ll both be busy at the moment, so Iâ€™ll introduce you later.â€
Lessons sounded ominous when a dragon talked about them, Salia decided. Then she registered that Lyrekka kept talking about others.
â€œWhat others?â€ she asked.
â€œYou arenâ€™t the only one important to Gerian-mirianâ€™s plan, you know?â€ Lyrekka said. â€œYouâ€™re the third Trys… third speaker child heâ€™s placed in my care in the last few months. The other two should finish their lessons soon. Let me show you the garden next.â€