The old man who bought Ayalah turned out to be a kind grandfather at the head of a very wealthy family in Hodaroth. From what Ayalah was able to deduce from her time following him around, Master Jagdar’s extensive family built boats and ships of all shapes and sizes. There appeared to have been a recent boom in the ship-building economy in Hodaroth, as Jagdar’s docks on the south shore were swarming with men racing to and fro, building multiple ships at a time. Jagdar was too feeble to do any hard labor himself, but he oversaw bits of the construction and seemed to handle the paperwork and money exchange of the business—or at least, that was what Ayalah thought he was doing, from the handful of glances she was able to sneak of the paperwork he spent so many hours bent over.
He lived in a modestly sized house by himself, though his handful of sons and two dozen grandchildren stopped by frequently to discuss business and to visit. But what Jagdar’s home lacked in size he more than made up for in lavish decorations. Exquisite tapestries lined the walls of every room, and the floors were dotted with furs and imported Miltinian-woven rugs. No expense had been spared in the stocking of Jagdar’s pantry, either, which was filled to the brim with expensive teas, rare jams and spices, and an unmarked gelatinous spread Jagdar liked to smear over nearly everything he ate. Fresh bread and produce were delivered daily, and every meal Jagdar ate contained meat of some variety, most often fish or turtle, which were easiest to come by on the island.
Once each week, on the holy day, the household slaves were permitted to sit down to a meal in the kitchen together, and Jagdar even allowed them to butter their stale bread with the dregs of his freshly churned butter. Ayalah had quickly learned, however, that she was not welcome at the table with the other servants; she neither believed in their gods nor even remotely understood their dialect. By her third week as a slave, there wasn’t even a chair pulled up to the table for her; she took the hint and kept to herself.
Jagdar didn’t seem especially fond of any of his sons, and he barely tolerated his sons’ wives when they came calling. But he adored his granddaughter Zada, who visited for days at a time, sleeping in a room at the back of the house that was set aside and decorated just for her, with painted butterflies on the walls and a heavy blanket filled with feathers. She was a well mannered child with an easy smile, and she took to Ayalah immediately, following her around the house, mimicking her every movement and chattering the entire time. This, then, was the reason the old man had inquired whether Ayalah was good with children. She didn’t need to do much for the child, but Jagdar’s concern for the girl’s wellbeing was evident in the way he watched her carefully and doted on her whenever he had a chance. For her part, Zada returned the old man’s affection with real smiles and hugs, in sharp contrast to the exaggerated fawning of his sons.
Most of Ayalah’s duties as a slave involved cleaning, making tea, and waiting on the old man and his guests, as well as accompanying him wherever he went as a sort of chaperone. As an orphan in Gavin’s household, she’d been required to do much of the same; so the chores, while menial and unexciting, were easy and familiar. She was treated with respect and kindness, more like a servant than anything else, and was given her own room and frequent time to herself—usually when a certain good-looking lady friend of Jagdar’s came to visit. But she was not allowed to leave the house except when accompanying Jagdar, and she was forced to wear traditional Hodarian garb, which chafed and didn’t seem to fit quite right. The men and women here wore a very similar style of garment to one another, typically consisting of one large piece of fabric draped down the body, with a slip worn underneath for women and trousers worn underneath for men. It was like a dress, Ayalah supposed, only more complicated. Her own clothes were confiscated, and she had to wear the heavy, awkward Hodarian garments everywhere, even to bed at night.
She didn’t see Greyson at all—not even once. She supposed he had been sold to another family, and good riddance. Being unable to have a conversation with a single person in her language was a little lonely, at times, but at least it also meant she had nobody to argue with and nobody to worry about other than herself; no lies to discover, no betrayals to suspect. It was just as well.
She bided her time quietly. There was no way she could get off this island by herself: even if she escaped from Jagdar and managed to avoid the local authorities, she’d have to commandeer a ship and an entire crew, since she couldn’t sail a ship by herself. A smaller boat was feasible, but it wasn’t realistic for the long journey to the mainland. She was stuck here until she could find a way to stow away.
Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months. The air was dry and brittle, so cold Ayalah had to wear two coats (generously supplied by Jagdar) when she left the house. The ship building continued throughout the winter, with no regard for the fingers lost to frostbite here and there or to the handful of men who fell into the icy water and either froze to death or drowned. Jagdar didn’t visit the docks very often, so it was hard for Ayalah to tell how many ships were being built. Whenever a ship was completed, a crew of mostly slaves was immediately selected, and the ship set sail. Where they were so busy going, Ayalah did not know. She tried once to ask Jagdar, but the language barrier proved to be so complete, he responded by interpreting her hand motion of “boat” as a desire to visit the docks, and then she was forced to spend the rest of the afternoon out in the cold, following the old man around with a canteen of hot tea so he wouldn’t catch a chill.
Hodaroth itself turned out to be a land like nothing Ayalah had ever seen. The land here was a deep, shocking red, as the prophecy had foretold; the soil was made up of some type of clay, which the locals used to build their homes and their wagons and even to form into their tools. In the winter, the soil turned to dust and gritty dirt that clung to boots and clothing and lodged underneath fingernails. Garments here were primarily shades of red and brown, apparently designed so that the people of Hodaroth would blend in with the landscape. Ayalah found it unnerving. She was the outsider yet again; where in Miltinoth she stood out because her skin was too dark, here her skin was too light. It didn’t matter that she now dressed in the local fashions, because while everyone else matched their surroundings, she was immediately visible from a long way away.
Her isolation began to feel frustrating and all encompassing. No news reached her about the events on the mainland. Had Naraloth received word about the attack on their ship? Or had they simply guessed at it when Roran never returned? Or—even worse—were they under the false impression that Roran had simply decided to remain in Hodaroth for the winter? She hoped that, at the very least, Naraloth would attack Hodaroth to avenge their prince’s death, but the attack never came. Life in Hodaroth continued on, peaceful and oppressive as ever.
She wondered, too, about the progress of the impending war. Had Prince Komma gone through with Roran’s plan to recruit Miltinoth’s beggars as spies? What was Mathais plotting? Had he retrieved the stone that she’d been unsuccessful in getting from the enchanted forest? Was Hodaroth allying itself with Miltinoth, or had those warriors killed Roran out of general malice or ignorance?
She had so many questions, and no way to discover answers to any of them. She contented herself with practicing her forms when she had time, sharpening her kitchen knives for use as weapons if need be, and waiting. She began to understand bits and pieces of the Hodarian language, a knowledge she kept hidden in case it became useful some day. Snowstorms came and went, Jagdar built and sold ships, and Ayalah bided her time. Soon enough, something would have to happen to disrupt this monotonous life—and she would get her revenge.