Jason followed Yulevi through the maze-like market, trying his best to keep a low profile. The light armor he wore seemed suddenly heavy, and he became painfully aware of every clink of metal on metal as he walked. He kept his eyes to the ground or on Yulevi’s back, resisting the constant urge to look upward at the leafy canopy or at the vibrant colours of the market all around.
“Here, Jason,” Yulevi pronounced. “We have arrived.”
They stood before a simple glass door at the base of a short tower. Jason finally allowed his gaze to follow the skyward stretching lines, the building breaking through the tree cover to show white clouds above. The facade was dotted with small balconies and alcoves, some with vines spilling over the edges to obscure the stone and glass of the walls.
“Is this an apartment building?” he asked.
Yulevi nodded. “It contains only a few estates, maybe twelve.”
The elf opened the glass door and beckoned Jason in with a wave of her hand. She followed him into the brightly lit foyer, which contained several wooden doors. One of these doors opened, and a darker skinned elf emerged. He reminded Jason of the servant in the King’s throne room, though he was much broader in the shoulders and carried himself with great strength.
“Rakesh,” Yulevi said simply.
“Milady,” he answered with a curt bow, hands at the small of his back.
This brought a smile to Yulevi’s face. “Cut the formalities, Rakesh, there is no one else to see us.”
“One can never be too cautious, Yulevi,” Rakesh said, eyeing Jason. “You have brought a guest?”
Jason had remained silent through the exchange, looking awkwardly about the relatively empty room. His attention had fallen on a potted plant near the glass door, and he whipped around to face the male elf.
“Rakesh, this is Jason,” Yeluvi said, pointing with an extended hand, palm up. “Jason, Rakesh.”
“Milord,” Rakesh said, bowing slightly.
“Uhm, hi,” Jason stammered, unsure of what to do. He ended up dipping his head in an aborted attempt at a bow, drawing a laugh from Rakesh.
“Come inside, we can speak freely in Aurok’s chambers,” he said eventually.
Jason fell in behind the elven pair, who were exchanging words that Jason couldn’t understand. The language barrier still confused him, how he was only sometimes able to communicate with the people – or elves, rather – that he met. As long as he focused on his words, or the meaning of the words, he seemed to be understood. Casual comments and observations were lost on Yulevi, though he was unsure whether this was because she didn’t understand or was ignoring him.
They ascended a flight of stairs, about two storeys by Jason’s count, and exited into a rather large room. One wall was banked completely with windows, and a cluster of furniture sat at one end. The room itself was quite sparse. Portraits of various sizes hung on the walls, but the polished wood floor was unadorned.
Jason made his way to the quartet of chairs huddled around a low table. With a sigh he eased himself into one of them, relaxing into the soft cushions. The market stretched out below him, looking even more like a rainbow-hued ocean from this vantage point. Only a few moments later he felt a hand on his shoulder, and turned to see Rakesh staring down at him.
“Yulevi has asked a favour of me, Jason.”
“Yeah?” he quipped.
“Your current clothes are a little... inappropriate,” he said matter-of-factly. “We need to get you into something more typical of a Gold Elf.”
“Oh, right,” Jason said, standing. “Time to get changed then, eh?”
Rakesh nodded in reply, and walked off toward another room. Jason followed, and soon found himself in what must have been a bedroom. It, too, was walled in on one side with windows. Rakesh didn’t stop here, though, but continued on into a dressing room.
“Whoa!” Jason exclaimed on walking into the expansive closet. A rainbow of coloured clothes surrounded him, much like in the stalls of the street market, and the high ceiling accommodated stacks of neatly organized boxes. The shortest wall, at the back of the closet, was hung with leather wear. “Are these all yours, Rakesh?”
“You don’t have the frame of an Iron Elf, you’d never fill my clothes,” the elf said with a brisk laugh. “No, this is the wardrobe of my, erm, benefactor. But please, take what you need.”
Rakesh sighed. “Others would say master.”
“Ah,” Jason replied absent-mindedly. He was walking down the length of the closet, inspecting random garments with his eyes and hands. “But you aren’t what’s-his-name’s slave or anything, right?”
“Aurok,” Rakesh answered, only a few steps behind Jason. “And I only pose as a servant in his household. I’m granted much more freedom than my brethren.”
“Are a lot of your people servants, then?” Jason asked, and then hastily added, “I mean, if you don’t mind my asking.”
“Nearly all Iron Elves in Auburg are servants in some capacity, yes. Surely you saw that in the palace.”
Jason paused to remember, one hand holding back the sleeve of a muted green shirt with gold embroidery. “Yes, actually. Just one man, in the throne room.”
“Lukesh,” the elf whispered.
“You knew him?” Jason’s eyes widened as he spoke, afraid of the inevitable telling of events in the palace. His hands froze in midair as he reached to take down the green and gold shirt.
“No, not in the least.” Rakesh seemed ignorant of Jason’s anxiety. “It’s the name given to the personal servant of the high king, regardless of what his people call him.”
“Oh, I see.” The words left Jason’s mouth in a great sigh of nervously held breath. “Any reason?”
When he answered, Jason noticed a sudden change in the tone of Raskesh’s voice. He had been almost impassive in the brief discussion of his people’s servitude, but his voice now took on a steely edge.
“When our people were conquered, the first high king took our own ruler as a slave in a gesture of total domination. Lukesh is the name given to Iron Elf kings on their coronation day, and the Golden Elves have made a mockery of it.”
Jason had no idea how to respond, so instead awkwardly held the shirt in his hands up against his torso as if to see whether it would fit. Luckily, Rakesh was perceptive of the tense mood and changed the subject.
“You’re going to need more than just that shirt to pass as an elf, Jason.”
“Huh?” Jason’s gaze darted up from the cloth against his chest to Rakesh’s face. “Oh, yeah, right. I’m gonna need some help with that, eh?”
“Heh,” Rakesh grunted. “Which part?”
“Well let’s start with getting me dressed, alright?”
“You need help with that?” A dumbfounded look crossed the elf’s dark face.
“Not the actual dressing part!” Jason exclaimed, though he followed it with a somewhat silent, “I think.” Speaking once more to Rakesh, he continued, “I don’t understand your clothing styles, or what the deal is with the leather jackets, vests, pants and stuff.”
“Right,” Rakesh sighed. “Guess I’ll have to help you into a more fitting disguise, then.”