1 Glacilis, 1129
Savrin was absent when I arrived in Ragin’s rooms, but my father just looked pointedly at the settle in Ragin’s wreck of a sitting room while he spoke to Healer Geniris. I didn’t sit, but I didn’t approach the conversing adults, either. Part of me wanted to tidy the books, papers, boots and polish kits. Ragin doesn’t pick up after himself and won’t allow servitors in his rooms. I folded my hands behind my back and reviewed the forthcoming lecture.
“It’s not serious,” Healer Geniris reassured Da, with some asperity in her voice. “He’s broken his collarbone and cracked a rib. His head’s fine. The guards were merely cautious. I’ve strapped his shoulders to ensure the bones heal properly and given him solemnium for pain. He’ll hurt for a few days. He just took a bad fall, Your Majesty. I’ve patched you of worse after your misadventures chasing leather balls down marble corridors.”
The Razin of Galantier nodded and let her return to Ragin’s bedroom. Da closed the door and eyed me. “Couldn’t you and Ragin try a quiet hour reading?”
“I didn’t mean to — ” I sighed. “I’m sorry, Da. We didn’t sweep the floor first and missed these.” I pulled several bearings from my pocket.
He took them and frowned, then returned them. “I won’t lecture you about this obsession with single combat, nor remind you that Ragin should have returned to his unit in five days and is now on the medical list and may face discipline from his commander. I shall not note that his body is Galantieran property which you have damaged. I won’t even mention that proper procedure in the studio is to sweep before and after. What blades were you using?”
“The pot-metal flats.” Soft blades, no edges nor points; they were as safe as swordwork could be.
His shoulders settled in relief. “Mask and chain?”
My father ran his hands through his silvering blonde hair, leaving the short strands in messy spikes before he smoothed them down. “At least you won’t have time for this — nor a sparring partner — after next tenday. Where was Savrin?”
“On the bench. He and Ragin got their bout first. I had to sign those documents from Morning Audience.”
My father frowned and seemed to listen, probably talking with Aunt Bella, Savrin’s mother. “Savrin says he and Ragin didn’t sweep when they arrived. They both know better. It’s only a broken collarbone but Bellacera’s unhappy with Sav. This is exactly the carelessness — Bells, that’s excessive — yes, he’s your son. It’s your decision. Ayuh.” He sighed again. That last hadn’t been meant for me, but sometimes, when Da and Aunt Bella speak by Evocata, he voices his half of the conversation while he’s speaking mind to mind with her. They practically live in each other’s heads when they’re not together, though that’s most of the time. She’s his second mind, pair of eyes and bears most of his Razia’s duties.
Da returned to me. “Savrin was already confined to the Karsai for two tendays for skipping a literature paper, breaking curfew and not taking a guard into the city. Bella’s justifiably vexed so she forbade him to attend the ball tomorrow. Ragin’s an adult. I can’t punish him, but he made his own. You, daughter, should have checked, but you reasonably assumed the boys did. Once again, natural consequences exceed my best efforts with you hellions.” He folded his arms over his narrow chest and grinned. Smugly, like he’d just won a coup.
I’m usually quick, but I was worried about Ragin. It took me a moment. “Holy fire,” I groaned. “That punishment doesn’t fit the crime — Da, I’ll have to dance with all those puppies.”
His grin turned vulpine. “Next time, don’t break your cousin.” Then he sobered. “It could have been you. Today was yours to do as you wished, but I requested you do nothing to disrupt your Elevation.”
I nodded, feeling my responsibilities, not only to my family, but to my nation. “We didn’t plan it,” I ventured.
“I know.” He grasped my shoulders and kissed my forehead, then smiled down at me. I was forgiven. “Ask Bells how we spent our days before Elevation. I’m sorry the weather didn’t cooperate. You three are much safer ahorse. At least it wasn’t fire-dancing or mountaineering.”
“You summoned me?” I asked.
He started to speak, then closed his mouth and listened to my aunt again. He shook his head. “Nothing important now. We sorted it.”
“I hate that,” I groused. My curiosity would gnaw on my liver.
He grinned. “Get used to it. I’ll do it to you regularly. Bells and I have work to finish. We’ll see you at supper, family quarters. Don’t read all night. Tomorrow’s busy.”
I kissed his cheek as he collected his assistants — or guards, I’m never sure which — and left. A moment later, a servitor and Ragin’s equerry left his room with the Healer. I ducked in, feeling terribly guilty. Ragin’s so rarely home anymore, and to waste it under narcotics and bed-rest… I should have double-checked.
Ragin’s dilated pupils made his eyes almost black under the solemnium haze. “Sorry, Brat,” he muttered. “No dancing for me t’morrow.”
“I get to keep you longer,” I said and climbed into his bed. He pushed himself upright, then leaned against my chest. I rested my hands on his bound shoulder and sent puissance flooding into his body. I can’t heal bones, but my Valenas can soothe bruises and swelling, of which he had plenty. We were quiet through several cycles before my Ingenia made my vision sparkle, declaring itself off-duty. It’s the best apology I have.
“Damn,” he muttered. “Was gonna drag you to your first tavern. Had an introduction to make. He’ll be in your Prava.”
“I’ll meet him tomorrow,” I said.
“He’s not swearing. Tiwendar’s son.”
I stiffened. “The Optimus? Has a son? Someone married him? Willingly?”
“The man’s not bad,” he said. “Bright. Good’un to have at your back.”
“You’re certain you didn’t hit your head? You haven’t seen much of the Prava and the politics, but the Optimus hates me.”
He frowned vaguely through the drug. “No. Reginal’s in my parent’s pocket. Don’t think it’s personal, Caria.”
“You haven’t heard them.” The last year, around my studies and responsibilities, had been devoted to Prava hearings to confirm my Elevation to the Succession to the throne of Galantier. It hadn’t been pleasant, mostly due to my sex.
The drug overwhelmed Ragin, but I only reached for the bellpull, then sent the servitor to my rooms for the file on my desk. I didn’t want to leave him, but I had to be point-perfect tomorrow, and I wasn’t entirely certain I’d memorized the devices, names and oaths of those swearing fealty. If I slipped even once, I’d hear the repercussions for years. Most of the noise would come from Mathes, my father’s half-brother and Ragin’s parent. Da and Mathes despised each other long before Ragin and I appeared, but Ragin’s birth, then mine four years later, had widened the rift. Da’s adoption of Ragin in childhood made it unbridgeable.
Only Da’s logic and the force of his long, successful reign had bent the Prava to his will. He’d built the succession intentionally, training me to be Galantier’s administrator and final arbiter; his elder nephew and adopted son to see to the kingdom’s defenses, and his younger nephew to oversee the treasury. Nonetheless, he’d needed two years of uphill battle.
The servitor returned and I submerged myself in the specifics of Pronator Savary’s pledge. The courtyard window eased open and Savrin slipped inside. He vexed me. I’d anticipated the ball; with my cousins, I could escape those Curiars whose breeding left them bereft of sense and grace. “Shut that, he’ll take a chill,” I hissed, “and you’re confined to your rooms.”
“Lunaga’s tits, nothing’s secret here.” Savrin closed the window and folded himself on the floor. “What my mother doesn’t know won’t hurt her. Is Ragin all right?”
“He’ll heal. What Aunt Bellacera doesn’t know mayn’t hurt her, but you’ll complain when she learns.”
He made a contemptuous, eye-rolling face. “It was an accident.”
That was a prevarication, almost a lie. But Sav has always lied when in trouble. Why should now be different? I dropped my papers and gazed at him. “Sav, don’t you understand? Tomorrow, I’m an adult. Next year, you take your place in this kingdom, too. A half-million people rely on us. We can’t be careless.”
“I forgot. I’m sorry.”
“You never used to be forgetful. If you’re overworked — “
“That’s rich, coming from you,” he groused. “Pot, kettle, Cazerien.”
“This isn’t about me. If you’re overworked now, we must account for that. It’ll only worsen when you go to the Exchequer’s office.”
Savrin rolled on his back and stared at Ragin’s ceiling. “The floor looked fine.”
“The path of ease runs straight through the sewers to hell,” I quoted.
“When I want my mother’s words, I’ll ask her for them,” he said bitterly. “Are you in trouble?”
“I’ve my punishment,” I said.
“I’m sorry. We had fun, until Ragin got hurt.”
I smiled at my notes. “Ayuh. No more, though. After tomorrow, the Prava can censure my slightest transgression. Or perception of one.”
“We won’t get caught,” he said, nodding firmly.
“We won’t behave like barbarians.”
Savrin snorted. “Glad you like your library. Uncle’s never letting you out of his sight.” He sat up and stole my pages. “Marry me. We’ll produce a son, give him to a nurse, then your duty’s done.”
“Not this again.” I leaned against Ragin’s headboard and gazed at his furnishings, simple and solid, like him. I stroked Ragin’s light hair, like my own, but short, as Savrin stretched himself across the foot of Ragin’s bed. The three of us look more alike that some full siblings born to double-cousins. All bloodless blondes, grey-eyed and lightly built. We’re only half-cousins; our parents are half-siblings. That’s not too closely related to marry; the Prava’s tried to marry me off to one or the other since I was thirteen. The idea nauseates me. “You’ve been inhaling paint fumes if you think bearing a child is my sole duty to this kingdom.”
“Keep thinking like that, you’ll work yourself sick again, Rien. Let’s finish the big duty, and I’ll care for you.”
I didn’t look at him. I knew what I’d see in his face and I didn’t want this fight again. Not today. “No. I’ll be Razia, not some decorative object. Test me on those, since you’ve stolen my papers. Pronator Alvan Kurzon. Tabard: gold with bar perpendicular red, hunting cat rampant.”
He leafed through the sheaf, willing to play along. “Left or right facing cat?”
“Left. Supporting the western front, sixty armed and trained per year with ninety in reserve. Personal fealty to me and one fifth of his income in time of war. Pronator Corvin Paxular. Tabard: three dog-tooth points gold…”