28 Festivis, 1137
When I dozed off, Da was there, saying something I couldn’t hear. I couldn’t reach him, he couldn’t hear me, I couldn’t find him.
Ragin beside me, his arms around me, didn’t help. His presence should have been solace, but his sweat, his soap smelled like Da. Even their shapes and temperatures are similar, both always warm, almost fevered. Then that blasted dream came again. Fine, I told my rebellious mind. Take me through whatever you want me to remember, but just the memory. No embellishment.
It cooperated. Ethene, former nurse, now my father’s companion, fussed with the thousand yards of gold-embroidered blue silk swathed about me. I hated the gown, utterly unlike my long wool coats and narrow skirts. The scant bodice hugged my body and lay low over my breast, and unless the temple and the Curiars’ Hall were better heated than normal for midwinter, my almost naked arms would match the azure skirt in moments. If I can’t have wool, why couldn’t I have been born at Midsummer instead of six tendays before the Spring Equinox?
The gold lace sleeves itched and I couldn’t conceive how I was supposed to walk without tripping in a skirt that billowed from a million tiny pleats at my waist. At least the seamstresses had given me an illusion of a woman’s shape. That’s part of the point of this exercise in excess — proving my nubility. Thank all Eleven Gods the midwives disagree. Marriage. Why would anyone bother?
Ethene smoothed a brush through my hair one last time. The ridiculous mass, never cut, had been washed and combed dry this morning, and fell straight and unbound to what would be hips on someone blessed with them. It warmed my back and neck, a small consolation, but would be in my way all day long.
One of the ladies newly attached to my household tapped on my door and said, “His Valor, Teregenitor Commander Revinsel, requests admission.”
I rolled my eyes at the new formality. Only yesterday, Ragin could wander into my rooms, shout about our most recent argument, or drag me from my books for an hour’s ride or swordwork. As of today, my sixteenth birthday, that ended until I reached twenty, legal adulthood for all citizens. Then, Da had promised, I could order my household to suit myself, but until then, I had to try the Curia. “Come,” I said.
The Healer had bound his arm and he moved stiffly, but he looked steady enough. “There’s a Prazia under the brat after all.” He gave me a small box. “Congratulations.”
“For surviving your influence this long?” I stepped away, ignoring Ethene’s protests, to open the box. “Ethene, it snarls when I move anyway.” On a bed of wool lay a fine pen. Ribbons of blue and gold flakes spiraled through the glass from nib to the bulb at the end, where a blue and gold rose bloomed eternally under glass. My sigil, a stylized crown and wheat sheaf, had been carved into the bulb to serve as a seal-press. “Thank you,” I said and put it on my worktable. “I’ll use it daily.”
“Good, write me. I got my orders today,” he said. “I’m on border patrol.”
“Oh.” The delight in the gift — more useful than the furniture, tapestries and caged birds that had been arriving for the last tenday — evaporated. “Be careful and be brilliant.”
“Always, and I’ll be here until I heal. Ready?”
“No, but it’s time.” I avoided his bruised ribs as I threaded my arm through his and went to my fate.
The investiture in Hermache’s Hall went as expected — started late, cold hall, no fumbles nor forgotten lines — but three-quarters of the way through the oaths of fealty, disaster almost struck.
Pronator Watable’s next, but he’s red and white. Who’s the green and blue lackwit who bloody can’t count? Events like an Elevation are scripted to the second, planned tendays in advance. As the young man with dark chestnut hair and a defiant expression on his face approached the dais, his tabard’s symbols came clear: three balls, silver. Tiwendar.
I’d been trained since I was old enough to understand to hold my face impassive under duress, but this made no sense. I’d known who would be swearing to me for six tendays. It’s impossible to add someone at the last moment so he must be a threat, and with his father, how could he not be?
I’d have to rely on my guards. I twitched my fingers in the subtle, silent sign for them to stand ready. I’m utterly defenseless standing here, though I’m not half-bad with a sword, but would the Prava grant me an Ascendar’s Sword? Certainly not. They’d grudgingly accepted a woman might eventually, someday, in the far future lead Galantier, but an armed one had sent them half-way to apoplexy. Stupid, in my opinion, but they hadn’t asked me. Really, who’s more likely to need to defend herself, a strapping lad of eighteen stone or eight stones of tall, skinny me? Utter nonsense.
I was approaching high dudgeon at the Prava when Ragin caught my eye from his position in the first rank of the already sworn Curiars. Tense and alert, he shrugged with his good shoulder and made a fist of his good hand, the thumb pointed up. He didn’t understand either, but he didn’t consider this a threat.
Had I not been controlling of my expression, I’d have scowled at him. I dropped my chin a scant fraction and let one eyebrow rise a little. He caught my skepticism and shrugged again. True, that meant. His eyes shifted to my guards. Yes, that’s why they’re here.
Quirin, my father said in my mind, from behind my left shoulder. He’s swearing full fealty.
I clenched my teeth so my jaw wouldn’t drop. Fairies are more likely than Quirin Tiwendar swearing full fealty. But Da can’t be wrong…
The Pronator knelt before me and held his sword above his head, like the others had done. I took it and kept surprise and irritation from my voice. “What do you request?”
“How do you pledge?”
He placed his hands between mine on the flat and looked up, locking his gaze on mine. Blue eyes, the margins rimmed in a near black, bored into me. “To thee I pledge mine wealth, mine arm, mine mind, mine heart ent mine eye, that I might defend thee from all who would do thee harm, that I might reason and preserve thy justice, that I might love ent preserve thy goodness, that I might see unrighteousness ent correct it in thy name. So do I pledge, Quirin sune Mathilde et Reginal, Pronator Tiwendar.”
My mouth went dry. He hadn’t just sworn fealty, he’d sworn the old, comprehensive fealty. By tradition, I, Rien, not the Prazia Prima Ascendara, owned him, not that I’d act on it. Of those swearing fealty to me, only Ragin had sworn this way; even Savrin defined his responsibilities in terms of his lands and service to the office. I wish I could talk to Da as easily he speaks to me. This makes no sense! But refusal would be a political disaster with six hundred people watching.
I swallowed and said my part. “I accept thy pledge of fealty. For thy faith, thou shalt have only to please me in thy endeavors. No other may command thee nor ask thee for tribute. Should thou be troubled, I shall ease thy way and defend thy honor, for thy honor is mine. Should thou be destitute, thou shalt have lands from my holdings ent wealth from my coffers. So I pledge, Cazerien Alzandra Lyria dat Vohan descendara Galene.” I bent and kissed the blade between my hands. Before I straightened, I whispered, “Kiss the blade and rise. Face me.” They all need prompting. I held the blade point down and rapidly worked the mental angles. No, I couldn’t glare at him without everyone in the hall noticing. “You bear a blade of my hand. Use it in justice and defense of this realm.” I dismissed him, but I wanted him alone in the studio to beat him bloody with his own blade. This birthday’s been coming for oh, sixteen years and he decides now?
The dream shifted, as it always did, skipping the remainder of my new liegemen and the reception, to the ball. Ragin couldn’t even manage a staid pavin, so we sat together on the settee at the top of the room when his turn on my list came. “Glad I’m not your unexpected liegeman,” he murmured. “I haven’t seen my honorable parent this bent on murder since Uncle adopted me.”
“What’s he dragged me into?” I said, barely moving my lips, “Now he’s my responsibility. Should I find him a place in my household or may I kill him myself?”
“Be kind, Brat. He’s not a bad sort. But you maybe needn’t worry; he might be dead before First Summer’s Night.”
“In such a way it’s not clear murder so we can’t charge his father, hm?” I said sourly and looked away from the dancing Curia. “Thanks for staying.”
“There’s music here and I’d hurt just the same sitting in my rooms,” he said, his eyes half closed. “Work on Savrin, will you? These lies must stop.”
“I swept.” Ragin’s eyes met mine. “And checked the weapons. I don’t know how pommel weights got on the floor, but I didn’t put them there and you wouldn’t. That leaves one person.”
My mouth went dry. I sipped my cassia water. “It had to be a prank,” I muttered.
Ragin’s eyebrows rose briefly, then fell. “He’s back to the War College next tenday anyway. They’ll beat that out of him. For my sake, don’t spar with him.”
“He’s no challenge anyway,” I agreed, but I couldn’t fathom why Savrin would play such a prank. Despite pot-metal blades and armor, it could have been deadly.
“I think it was just stupidity, but talk to him. He hears you.”
“When he wants to listen,” I said.
“Work on Uncle, too. I want you to visit the western front, in a half-year or so.”
I laughed. “Ragin, going to a playhouse is now an expedition of twenty guards and two tendays of inquiry. Da won’t let me near the front at the height of battle season.”
“You should be there.”
“Along with a thousand other things I can’t do.” I bit back my frustration, but I kept my voice soft and my face expressionless.
“Yes,” I sighed. “Time for another puppy.” I raised my voice to the lady keeping my dance card. “Allaine, who’s next?”
“Pronator Tiwendar, ma’am.”
I suppressed my annoyance.
“At least he’ll go to his pyre titillated,” Ragin snickered. “Next piece should be a Natavian galliade. Nice little thrill for him.”
“Ragin!” I snapped.
“Tall as he is, with those steps, he’ll look down your dress. When his face isn’t pressed — “
“Tongue between your teeth, Scruff,” I hissed as blood rose to my cheeks.
“Ancestors, you’re squeamish. You know you need to bear us an heir?” he teased.
“I’m not discussing this with you.” I spun and descended the dais to wait for my inconvenient new liegeman.
Ragin was wrong, of course; the Pronator kept his eyes fixed on my diadem and trod my feet. Perfectly correct, his hands barely touched my waist as we went down the hall, two steps, a kick and dip, a spin, then it repeated all over again. Pronator Tiwendar said nothing and I didn’t try to draw him out, until the reversal at the far end of the hall. Then I saw his father.
My inconvenient Pronator didn’t resemble his father; grey frosted the elder Tiwendar’s muddy brown hair, his square frame was running stout and stooping unlike his gangly beanpole son, but his wide, square face was crumpled. His jaw muscles stood out as he ground his teeth. His hands knotted into fists. Anyone else, I might have thought he was holding back tears, but Teregenitor Tiwendar wouldn’t cry. That’s rage. Maybe my black jests with Ragin aren’t jests at all.
I thought quickly, aware of the political bomb this man had forced into my hands. Both sons of my father’s chief opponents were my liegemen. I’ve been in the midst of our family quarrel all my life; I need no more fronts to defend. Yet Pronator Tiwendar had placed himself under my protection and the Royal House bears the ultimate responsibility. I’ve always known I’ll have to navigate these waters; I just hadn’t expected it so soon. I can’t convince him now — we’re halfway down the hall. “Do you know where the private library is?” I asked as he lifted me.
His eyes unlocked from my diadem to meet mine. Still defiant, and now haunted. “Yes, Ascendency.” We circled, his face awfully close to my neckline.
“Meet me there just before supper. In the far left corner of the room, there’s a door to my private study. Ignore the mess. Try to be unobtrusive. Today’s password is geographer.”
“Yes, Ascendency.” He looked terrified.
I took pity. “I don’t bite. Well, only when I’m pinned.”
That, if anything, increased his anxiety. Humor, not his strongest attribute. I bit back a hiss as he fumbled the drop and his cheek stroked from my breast up my neck. Slightly scratchy. I tried to think of something reassuring, but came up empty and a moment later, was moving through a rondo with someone married to one of my mother’s ladies.
As midnight approached and the pause between the dancing and supper began, I accompanied Ragin to his rooms. My guards trailed behind so we could converse privately.
“What did you say to Tiwendar?” Ragin asked. After I told him, he shook his head. “What’s your plan, brat?”
“I need an assistant. Seems a bit humorless, but… You’re sure he’s… reliable?”
“Ayuh,” he said. “We were at College together. He’s good to have at your back. Smart. Keeps his counsel. You’re worried about him?”
I nodded. “D’you see his father’s face?”
He scowled. “Ayuh. If Quin’s reluctant, send him to me. I’ll wait up a while.”
“Thanks.” I had a half-hour before I must return to the hall. Several enclosed lamps dimly lit our private library, but I saw light from neither mine nor my father’s studies. I took a lamp into my disaster.
I knew immediately nobody’d entered. I’m usually tidy, but I’d been preparing for my Advocate’s examination for six tendays. Open books covered every surface, stacks of paper hid the long worktable, and drafts littered the floor. Tunics, coats, two formal gowns, breeches and shoes lay in a heap by my desk. I’d worked nearly every waking hour; had someone cleaned in my absence, something would have been moved. I’d passed the examination, but hadn’t let my librarian in. I stuffed my clothing under my desk, then closed books and ordered papers as I circled the room, lighting lamps as I went. There’d be no hint of an improper assignation — I’d leave the door open with the guard watching a bright room.
Had Quirin Tiwendar put a toe in here, I’d have known; the only chair not holding a text or commentary was at my desk. Still, I checked the hidden door to my rooms — locked. Did he find my goatpen too disgusting and decide to wait in Da’s study? Or just get turned around?
My father’s study stood empty, too.
I’ll wait, but the guards can be useful. I grasped my captain’s sleeve at my door. “A liegeman should’ve met me here. He’s not arrived. His safety is… um… perhaps compromised?”
Simin’s not stupid and he’d been with me all day. “Pronator Tiwendar?”
“I’ll have Ranev check the Karsai logs and Haren can find him if you wish, ma’am.”
“Please.” I closed my door and dived under my desk for walking shoes. Dancing slippers look elegant, but they don’t protect one’s toes. I stood to check the hem. They’d show. So my blue embroidered feet became black leather. As I buttoned them, I wondered if I could convince someone in the armory to make me iron shoes before the next ball. Dance floors are as close to a battlefield as I’ll ever come, so best be armored.
I took the top file from the stack the Minister of Women and Children had sent. Advocate’s certificate or no, I had much to learn before I began my apprenticeship.
I was deep in the intricacies of an adoption case when someone tapped on my door. Three taps, four, then two. A guard. “Come.”
Simin stepped through the door. “Pronator Tiwendar left the Karsai an hour and a half ago, ma’am. With Teregenis Haelens and Klept, Pronator Darasin, Teregenia Klept and Pronatiae tret Klept and diat Haelens.”
Those were younger members of the Prava or Curia. “Not his father?” I affirmed.
“No, ma’am. Teregenitor Tiwendar is still here. You’ve a quarter hour before supper, ma’am.”
“Thank you. I’ll be out shortly.”
I studied the linen map of Galantier pinned to the wall behind my desk. Tiwendar, in the northeast Uplands, would be beautiful, productive and fertile, but hard living. It’s too wild, blanketed by the Magna Foreti that stretches to the northern ice. On my exceptional map, the Foreti is blank, an ancient forest so thick and dense we’d never mapped more than the rivers. We couldn’t. We’d need hundreds of surveyors and Observers, and we never have enough people for our 500,000 dry, mountainous square milliae. We’ve just enough people to keep the land we have, but the upland’s virtually empty compared to the south. A whole langreve like Tiwendar might number a thousand, while in the south one would find larger villages.
I opened the Prava book, the summary of the Prava’s decisions and discussions. That’s one good thing about my Elevation — I’d now vote on the Prava instead of just observing or reading these notes. Then again, the 103 men who make up the Prava range from moderately skeptical to utterly appalled by me. No woman has sat on the Prava in almost five centuries. Not that I’d have much time around my apprenticeship. Da would hold my proxies for probably three-quarters of the twenty-six tendays a year the Prava was seated. That’s the price of being a small nation — without sensible ways to work out disagreements and a fraction of our people dedicated to running the country, we won’t have one to run. We’re small, so we must be organized and clever. The official motto of Galantier might be From Ash, Probity, but the unofficial one is Plan First.
I paged backwards until I had my fingers stuck in four different places. How did those companions of my new liegeman vote on factional issues? If they were part of Teregenitor Tiwendar’s Reformist faction, Quirin Tiwendar might be as endangered with them as if he’d left the Karsai with his father.
As I read, my concern for his safety eased. Haelens and Klept voted against the Reformists three times out of four, and Darasin’s father had split his votes. Further, Haelens’ aunt was my father’s companion, and Elvir wouldn’t make difficulties for Da. I checked the map again. All three langreves bordered Tiwendar: Darasin to the southeast, Klept to the southwest and Haelens directly south. That’s reasonable. Pronator Tiwendar’s probably known them all his life. That Darasin and Klept weren’t Reformist surprised me since they did border the Optimus’ own langreve. Had they been, they’d never vote against the Faction. My uncle and Teregenitor Tiwendar ruled it absolutely.
Interesting. Mention that to Da. The Reformists worried him, and those three could be the lever he needed to break my uncle’s support. Da didn’t trust his younger half-brother, not after what he’d done to Ragin.
I closed the books. Pronator Tiwendar’ll probably be fine. I checked my schedule, found a free half-hour, then wrote an invitation and dropped it in the outgoing post. He’ll come to me, hopefully, if he finds himself imperiled before that. I could force him to accept my aid, but that felt like the action of the spoiled child I’m so often accused of being. Still, it stung a little, to offer assistance and have it rejected. I may be a girl, but I’ll be Razia someday. That counts for something.
Near dawn, I extricated myself and brooded alone, in the dark. The dream had revealed nothing new, and my heart ached twice.
All my fault. I should have fought Da. Had I assigned a legal clerk to assist Da in building the Prava argument, he’d be alive. I wouldn’t have taken Hamil to the border. Da, forgive me. I’m so sorry.
How do I bear this? Da wouldn’t fade from my world. How do I follow you? How do I rule alone? You planned another apprenticeship, with me by your side.
I bathed and dressed alone, in a narrow black skirt and a long black coat over a plain, high collared white shirt. My sash seemed too bright against the darkness, and my diadem would be far too festive, but they’d be required for the Prava session. My hair loose over my shoulder, I curled into my window seat and stroked one of my cats as the sun slowly lightened the eastern sky. A gorgeous clear day, but the sky should be black.
He’s not gone, he can’t be. Oh, gods, how do I tell Ethene? Da and Ethene were closer than most married couples, and had been for all of my life. She’s more my mother than the woman who bore me, but she’d spent midwinter with her family at Haelensel, and didn’t plan to return until just before Da was due. Worse… I won’t tell her, she’ll learn from the broadsheet. I had Da’s death announcement in my files, as he’d had mine and Ragin’s, because things do happen; I’d sent it for printing just before I went to bed. By now, Royal Messengers were carrying copies to every community in the country and the heliograph stations would transmit it at dawn. I could send her a flash message, but that’s horrible, so perfunctory. I must send a rider. Now.
As for my mother… Her companions would break the news better than I could. Considering her health, they might keep it from her. Mumma’s… fragile.
I’m unsure what I wrote to Ethene, but I know I wrote, Father is dead. She knew me well enough to know if I wasn’t rational, I couldn’t be.
So many details. Who else must be told personally? Gresev, the Karsai armorer, should have been told, but he already knew. He and Da were close. The Rose and Branch of Archilia to arrange the funeral and scattering, the heads of the other temples…
All my responsibility. Once, when I had time to read sagas for pleasure, I’d read about a fantastic kingdom where the Ministers and Monarch never met. Where children were sent away at birth and never knew their parents. They’d done so because the kingdom was wracked with assassins and it was better if when someone died, those who had to work best didn’t have their hearts broken. The story had been horrible — most of the assassins were children deprived of parents — but for an instant, I envied them.
“Brat,” Ragin said sleepily.
“We’ll be all right.” He sounded utterly certain from the darkness.
“Don’t question it. I can’t explain it. You know how my ingeniae work.” Now, he just sounded annoyed.
In other words, normal. My skeptical Ragin hated anything he couldn’t weigh, measure and test. Mysticism drove him wild and ingeniae are little more than mysticism. We don’t understand how they work, just that they do, for the third of us who bear them. Ragin’s — and mine — were insignificant compared to Da and Aunt Bella, but sometimes he sensed how something would turn out. Though he can be wrong. “If you’re awake, slugabed, we’ve a battle to fight.”