5-30 Glacilis, 1138
I can’t say I was pleased with the political situation, but in this, I had to concede to Rien — she knew those old men better than I did. I certainly didn’t like her camping in a townhouse with just Avah, but I spent most nights there, and someone was always present — Ethene, the Kurzons and their children, Meri and Bastian diat Linschot. Rien wasn’t happy, but she steadily improved and to my knowledge, her notion of making my parent think her insignificant seemed to work.
She was testing by fire my theory of security through obscurity. No guards. Simin and his eldest son helped us move into that temporary camp she made in that ludicrous townhouse, and I caught Rien, Avah and her former Guard-captain arguing in the tiny kitchen. “I’d be delighted to hire you, Simin, but I can’t afford it,” she said. “The Karsai pays you almost as much as I make in a year, and even if you brought your family with you, your wife is a typesetter. She won’t find work in Celestan — “
“Celestan’s cheaper than Cimenarum. We’ll sell our house here and live on the proceeds. Archilavast has presses — ” he argued.
“And an entire Conversatory to run them. Three children, your marriage mother and your father can’t live on what I can pay you. Not to mention Tem and Malina’s educations. You can’t disrupt that.”
“Then I’ll accompany you to Celestan, secure your house and office — ” he tried.
“You won’t get the leave approved,” Avah said. “You’ll lose your position. What will your family do? Starve? I know my business, Simin. Trust that you’ve taught me well.”
“Ascendency — “
“Stop that,” Rien said severely. “I’m neither wealthy nor important, remember?”
“They wouldn’t do this if you weren’t important,” Simin and I both retorted.
“They did it to make me unimportant. I’m no longer a threat. Mathes likes his victims alive. He’s like a toothless cat with a mouse. He’s happiest when his victims are cold, wet and confused.” She shoved a box of Ethene’s kitchen implements aside and glanced out the window. “But there’s no snow coming so he’ll have to be content with first and last.”
At least her sense of humor’s returning. She grieved for Uncle… so did I, but we’d heal. She returned from the office each night worn to a nub, barely able to string two words together, but the gleam in her eye was like Uncle’s on the front.
All through that long day of hauling boxes and furniture, my last conversation with my uncle kept repeating in my mind. When he’d emerged from her carriage at Northwestern Two, I’d been vexed almost beyond words. Every year, I tried to get Rien to the border, and every time, he thwarted us. Still, in my ready room deep in the garrison, me at my desk, he in the squashy chair by my oil stove, his boots off and his toes on the metal base, his presence had been good.
He was reviewing the names and ranks of the men up for promotion when he looked over the rim of his spectacles. “Have you finally learned to file, Ragin?” he asked, glancing around the unusually tidy room.
“No, I have an equerry,” I said. Growing up, my rooms had always been a disaster of papers and books. I could find everything, but nobody else could. I liked it that way — security in obscurity. “My goat-pen offended him.”
“Like I offend you right now,” the Razin said. “I had to ask Rien to stay.”
“You didn’t,” I said. “You’re here because you’re superstitious. Something will happen to your baby girl if she’s not safely locked away. With guards. And tasters.”
“The effectiveness of tasters is mythical,” he said. “Actually, your father’s — “
“Parent,” I corrected. I haven’t called him my father since Uncle adopted me when I was eight. “My father’s sitting across from me, whom I want to strangle right now.”
He’d grinned ruefully. “She said you’d consider regicide. I needed Rien’s legal acumen with the Prava. Your parent is causing problems she’ll fix better than me. It’ll be in her letter tonight, I think. I know you’re disappointed.”
“My men are more disappointed,” I said. “You’re no substitute for a pretty girl and those are rare out here.”
He snorted. “That, I’m not. She’s turned lovely, hasn’t she? Have an extra ration of brandy distributed to the officers and ale to the enlisted as apology.”
“Nothing will get them drunk enough to mistake you for the Prazia,” I said. “Rien needs these men’s loyalty and that’ll only happen if she comes here. They need to know they have her attention.”
“She’ll come at Spring Equinox after her Coronation,” Uncle said. “I already promised her.”
Good enough, I had to admit. A quarter year away, but I wouldn’t announce it until Rien sent me a heliograph that she was in the carriage, on the road, a day outside of Cimenarum. “Dammit, Uncle, why do you do this? I need her out here.”
Uncle looked over his spectacles at me and put the files down. “A Razin’s sigil on a promotion is just as good. Anything my daughter can do, I can do.”
“Except bear a baby and charm a regiment — these men all know you. You’re practically a fixture. Why?”
He’d explained that Royal Powers proposal, but I knew him. That wasn’t the real reason. “You’re bored in Cimenarum.”
“Gods, yes,” he said and leaned into the cushions. “Twenty-six years, Ragin. The same thing every year, every quarter. Water rights and trade agreements and diplomats who lie like cheap rugs. I hope when you’re fifty, Galantier’s more interesting.”
“Like the curse?” I said with horror. “May you have interesting children?”
He chuckled. “No. Good interesting. It’s the repetition. There’s no reason to renegotiate the Sulva river watershed every decade, just to start over on the Crook, then the Tynel. Watershed agreements should be universal — those at the top must put the water back when they’re done with it. Those at the bottom shouldn’t damage shipping. Everybody keeps it clean. Every agreement says that, but the Prava fights over details… and I bet you a teander who the instigator is every time.”
“I won’t take that bet,” I said. “My parent. He doesn’t care about water — it’s petty revenge.”
“No,” Vohan said, suddenly sober. “Pettiness doesn’t affect a half-million people. It’s about power, always has been. Power’s why you’re breathing, Ragin.”
I shrugged. My parent tumbled a sweet and not terribly bright Pronatia who happened to have a strong set of ingeniae. He was fourteen. They’d married, but my grandfather had been furious and confined them to Picarem, after my birth. When Ardenis died and Vohan became Razin, Uncle asked my parents to return to Cimenarum to make amends… it failed. My parent couldn’t be bothered with a small child and I needed a royal child’s education, so I’d lived in the Karsai from my earliest days, but my parent kept his own house from Vohan’s Coronation. My mother never left Picarem and I never knew her; she died of a fever when I was three. When I was eight, Uncle happened to come into the nursery. We’d been late getting to bed and Uncle saw the lashing my parent had left on my back that morning, under my clothing where they wouldn’t show. Always before, my parent left only bruises that looked like those a small boy in rigorous training might get, but Mathes erred that day. I never saw my parent again without a guard until I could defend myself… and three tendays after that night, Uncle adopted me. Uncle’s rarely hard, almost never cold, but that night, seeing the lash marks, he’d been both.
Their animosity worsened after that. I knew it was born in the marriage-mothering situation; Vohan’s mother died giving birth to him and Ardenis wasn’t fond of Bella’s mother, especially after she gave him a daughter when he wanted sons. He set her aside when her chamber-woman caught his eye. Vohan and Bella had been very attached to Lyria, and resented my parent and his mother from their earliest years. Perhaps if Salvia had been pleasant or maternal…
The next morning, I’d seen my Razin, my father, off on the first set of meetings and reviews. Before we’d left my rooms I’d stared him down. “Uncle, you may be Razin, but this is my land. I control this territory. Are we clear?”
“Ayuh, General,” he’s said, only a little mocking.
“I mean it,” I’d said. “My men follow my orders, not yours. You will not dismiss your security detachment. Your guards defer to my men. You defer to my men. They know this territory. You don’t. No side trips, no distractions. Stay on schedule. You’ve a free half-day in three days if you want to inspect — “
“We go through this every year, son,” he said. “Have I ever not followed your orders?”
He always had. “Don’t start now.”
He nodded, all mockery gone. “As ordered, General.” He put his hand on the latch, then stopped and hugged me hard before pushing back to arm’s length so he could look me over. “I don’t tell you often enough how proud I am of you. You’ve exceeded my every expectation and they were never low. Of all I’ve ever done, you and Rien are my proudest accomplishments. I’m honored to be your father.”
My throat had closed. He didn’t withhold praise, but everybody likes to hear it. “Stop being sentimental,” I said and started to pull away, making my emotions a jest. “You’re starting to worry me, making me think you’ve had a Prognos–” I snapped off, instantly alert.
“No,” he said. “Should I ever be so misfortunate as to actually see the future, I won’t keep it to myself.” He’d hesitated. “I love you, Ragin. Be careful and be brilliant.”
“I love you, sir. Be careful and be brilliant.”
I’d never seen him alive again, but he’d had the same look of curious, eager interest that lurked now in Rien’s eyes. Now she had the novelty of a private life. It intoxicated her a little. “Do nothing irrevocable,” I said late that night while I taught her to set a camp bed — a roll of felted wool atop her travel boxes.
“I won’t marry without your permission,” she teased. “Might take a lover, though.” She bounced experimentally on the makeshift bed. “If only so I’ve somewhere more comfortable to sleep.”
I glared at her. “Don’t even consider it — we’re taking this throne back.”
She sobered. “Let me survive a quarter-year, hm? If Mathes wants me dead, he’s got a perfect opportunity — not as easy in Celestan as in Cimenarum perhaps, but… Let me establish myself as insignificant.” She draped several blankets over the bed, scowling at it. “You needn’t worry. Ragin, I haven’t time nor the faintest clue how one attracts another’s eye. I’ll be lucky if I manage not to prove myself a complete fool the first time I get hungry. I don’t even know how to buy a cookshop meal.”
For two and a half tendays, then, I watched — and helped when I could — Rien stumble through learning to be normal. She was right; she’d never learned the million and one little daily interactions that make up most people’s lives, and she was trying to fit them around the work her new firm demanded of her. A furious concentration set into her. She maintained mourning for Uncle, but that made sense; an Advocate should appear sober and reserved, and being a woman made that all the more important. I’d walk with them as far as Government District each morning, then watch them continue on to the Financial district. In those three tendays that now seem like the true calm before the storm, they stopped dressing alike, but Avah retained mourning, too, for our fallen Razin, and black, grey and white don’t give much latitude for variation. Avah cut her hair shorter, and dyed it back to her natural Haelens amber, and occasionally, Rien left off work to hear a concert or visit a bookstore. Once, I even caught her reading a saga.
After years in which she’d had little time for spontaneity or even leisure, I couldn’t blame her for accepting the small gift that came with being deposed. But we shared a wall, and most nights, no matter how late I arrived home, she was awake and working, often on Savrin’s mistakes or to keep the langreves I’d inherited from her ticking over. Three days before she was supposed to leave for Celestan, she gave me a book. “That’s how you manage the land.”
She’d documented almost every contingency conceivable. “I should make you my Patrona,” I said.
“No, you have good ones,” she said. “Mathes would consider that a threat, giving me discretionary power and a base. You’ve got perfectly good land and people. Don’t wreck them.”
“I’ll do my best,” I said, “but I’m still going to divert what you used to spend on your household back to you — “
“You can’t,” she said. “Mathes certainly has our accounts under observation.”
“So I’ll send it through Avah’s account,” I said. “Money’s always useful, Rien.”
“Not yet. Hold it for a year,” she conceded. “I need to know he believes before I start moving against him.”