Tokkenoht walked wearily toward the hearth room, intent on nothing more than plopping down on her sleeping mat and letting blessed sleep take her. She stopped short when Szakhandu, who was standing beside the doorway, held up her hand.
“What is it?”
“Don’t go in yet. Hsrandtuss is mating with Ssu.”
“Yes.” She shrugged. “The king wants to mate… he needs to, and neither of us is ready. Kendra doesn’t want to and so that leaves Ssu. I wish I was ready.”
“Why is that, do you suppose?” muttered Tokkenoht.
“Why what? Why do I want to mate? Or why doesn’t Kendra?”
“No. Why are you and I not ready? This isn’t our first season.”
“I have an opinion,” said Szakhandu.
Tokkenoht motioned for her to continue.
“I think it is stress.”
“What is stressing us? We have plenty to eat and drink.”
“Mental stress. You are high priestess and I am chief diplomat. I don’t know about you, but this whole mess with the humans is worrying my tail.”
“You’re not on about that again, are you?” growled Hsrandtuss, his bulk suddenly filling the doorway. “I’ve sent a message to the human city. Either they can pay a ransom, or I will mark humans’ tails and banish them. We should hear back from them by the next bright face.”
“Great King,” said Szakhandu. “I hesitate to point it out, but the soft-skins have no tails for you to mark.”
“Well figure out a place for me to mark them!” he hissed, pushing past them. “Do I have to do everything myself?”
“The humans mark thieves here,” said Tokkenoht, pointing to the webbing between her thumb and forefinger. Then she stepped through the doorway and collapsed on her mat, asleep in seconds.
The high priestess jerked awake when someone grabbed hold of her. She thought she was being attacked for a moment, but when she opened her eyes, it was only Szakhandu.
“What? Why are you waking me?”
“You have slept late. It is past the morning meal.”
“The prisoners want to speak to you.”
“What prisoners?” wondered Tokkenoht.
“The human prisoners—the soft-skins.”
“Why do they want to talk to me?” she wondered. “How do they even know me?”
“They want to talk to the high priestess,” said Szakhandu. “You are the high priestess, aren’t you?”