The viceroy swung his paper fan with desultory sweeps, rippling the butterflies printed on it. His narrow eyes peered just over his beak of a nose. He had an insubstantial figure, draped in a kaleidoscopic robe. He puckered his lips as he brought a cup of sour tea to his lips. He seemed unaware of the old man reading a book on the bench next to him. He merely fanned, and puckered, and watched the rider in the distance; a slight figure, cloaked and hunched forward over a gigantic white horse. The horse ran wildly, every muscle strained to popping out, as if to shake the mad woman off it's back. The rider moved as one with the horse, her cloak impossibly still no matter how hard the horse turned, or how fast it ran through the brush.
The viceroy swallowed and smiled. Still not acknowledging the man next to him he said, “Magnificent young woman, Cecil.”
The old man stirred a little at hearing his name. He looked up from his book, the corner of his lip curling up.
“Ayes to ya', Honor. Wells worth the dower. Every shell o'bit.”
The viceroy's eye darted to Cecil, he scrunched his face in annoyance.
“Magnificent woman for such coarse heritage. I'll have to teach her to speak proper hegemony, I suppose.”
Cecil leaned into the viceroy; the viceroy leaned away, still not looking at Cecil.
“S'pose not, Honor. Her mums was a Heggy, learned her the properties and duties right. I won't-a took none but a Heggy, Honor. Not for last, not for next, not for ever. I won't-a want no range woman, theys wild as dogs. No properties and duty. No, Honor, I mades lil' Fatima with a king's woman.”
Cecil swayed back away from the viceroy and cupped his hands around his mouth to shout.
“Adileen! Comes out for teasies with the Gubna!”
A short woman emerged from the house behind the two men. She shuffled over to the back of the bench, her long dress too binding to stride. The viceroy twitched, visibly making an effort not to look at the woman behind him. He fanned more insistently.
“I'm quite familiar with Adileen, Cecil.”
The woman spoke softly, but intensely; her low voice smoldered.
“Honor. The news speak well of you, and the court.”
The viceroy shifted uncomfortable in the bench, fanning himself furiously. The three of them watched Fatima riding maniacally. Gracefully. Her horse seemed to almost outrun the cloud of dust kicked up behind her. She banked the horse hard towards the house, almost turning it over onto the ground. She rode hard and straight, accelerating to the house now. As she approached her face became visible, she grinned broadly. Cecil giggled with delight. He shouted at Fatima.
"'Ats my birdie, Fatima. Gets everythin' ya can outta the beast."
The horses nostrils flared, gasping for whatever air it could suck out of the onrushing air. Adileen watched, impassive, behind the bench. She put a hand on Cecil's shoulder.
"She'll kill that horse."
"Ha. We'll buys another."
The viceroy watched nervously as the horse and its rider loomed closer. He clenched the bottom of the bench and swatted the fan jerkily back and forth. A small tear appeared in the paper, the viceroy didn't notice.
"Cecil! She must slow now!"
Fatima did not slow. She rode now within twenty feet of the bench, bearing straight for the viceroy. The horse covered half the distance in one stride. The viceroy gasped and jumped to his feet. Fatima pulled hard on the reins, the horse strode half the remaining distance and reared up, it's hooves batting within a yard of the viceroy.
The horse landed forcefully on it's front legs and knelt down. Fatima slid off the horse and yanked off her hood. Coarse, long, black hair framed her round faec. She strode to the viceroy and fell to a knee, not taking her eyes off his terrified face. She regarded him with a sensual curiosity, her lips open slightly and her eyes wide. She spoke between gasps for breath.
"Honor. I have been anxious for your call."
Cecil giggled. Fatima looked at her mother behind the men and smiled mechanically, her wide eyes unperturbed the gesture. Adileen curled her lips up and turned around to shuffle back inside the house.
The viceroy recovered from his shock. He turned on Cecil, tearing his eyes from Fatima.
"You've abused the August's gratitude this time, Cecil. I'll have that dower back now, and I'll have your head in Hegemon. This child nearly killed me."
Cecil chortled and coughed. He spoke through his laughter.
"The dower? Keeps it ya'self, Honor. I'll send it with the birdie. Ya' can takes my lil' birdie, and the dower, and we'll sees what the August reckons 'bout my neck."
Cecil drew a finger across his neck and sputtered out a final chortle. He stood up and took the viceroy's shoulders in his hand. Cecil glanced over at Fatima, still on one knee and watching intently, then he put his lips to the viceroy's ear and whispered.
"You're a foolish little woman, ain't ya' Honor? The August wants that little dervish close, hear it? You just takes her to him, maybe you takes her to ya'self, Idun' cares, you just gets her sweet face outta mine or may end with both our noggins on the gate."
Cecil kissed the viceroy on the cheek and patted his shoulders. The viceroy turned over his shoulder and regarded Fatima suspiciously. She smiled innocently and rose.
She asked him coyly, "Have I displeased you Honor? I meant only to impress you. I beg your forgiveness. I anxiously await our departure to the Hegemon."
She walked past him, brushing him on her way into the house. The viceroy spoke with a dangerous tone.
"You have proof of the August's supposed demands, yes? Or you will pay this dishonor in blood."
Cecil chewed his lip.
"I'd gut ya', Honor, ya wants to take my pledge on this. I knows a few things from out here they don't dare tell at the court. Ya' take the girl, you'll see. She's an angel, she just rides like a devil. Take cares with 'er, and ya'self."
The viceroy drew a sharp breath and took a long look at the wilderness around the house. He turned and silently walked inside the house. Cecil chewed his thumbnail and watched the viceroy go. He giggled.
"Tell the August we're all settled and square, now. He dun' owe nothin' but his thank yous, now."