6 Imbris, 1138
My saddlebags held just two spare uniforms. “Be careful and be brilliant, brat.” I kissed her cheek through the veil she wore to hide her bruises.
“Of course.” She held my bridle and stroked Bravura’s nose. Rien’s the only other person in Galantier whom Bravura likes, and I’d tried to convince Rien to take her to Celestan.
“I can’t control a courser,” she’d said when I asked her to reconsider. “Bravura’s battle trained. What battle will I see? She’d just get fat. I’ll buy something in Celestan.”
“You’re enjoying this,” I’d accused.
She looked at me sidelong. “Not quite,” she eventually said. “I’m making the best of what comes next. I didn’t plan on private Advocacy, but I’m not scrubbing paving stones or … “She trailed off and crossed her arms over her body. “There are worse fates.”
“Write me every day,” I reminded her now.
“And you. With whom else may I fight?” She inhaled, just a little raggedly. “I love you, Ragin. Be careful and be brilliant.”
“I love you. Be careful and be brilliant. When I know my fate, I’ll send you a helio. Tell me when you hear from Kelfan.”
She nodded. “And remember my name.” I didn’t want to let her go, but I needed to get on the road and the canal boat would leave within the hour to take her north. My brat now called herself Rien Peregath, pronouncing her first name like the bird instead of rhyming with sky-pen in the Porsirian fashion. It was as good a name as any, and lacked associations of bastardry or the Monarchy. It wouldn’t entirely protect her — too many people knew her — but that, and her altered face, would limit the controversy and let her work while the Prazia retreated to Monserat. My Rien was a private citizen. It scared me to death to think of her alone, but I could escort her or make my post, and I daren’t request an extension while facing Courts Martial.
I kissed her bruised mouth briefly then mounted and made myself leave my brat in the world that wanted her dead.
After I passed Arisdal’s border cairn and entered Teladel land, I brought Bravura to a halt in a caravansary meadow by the road. I pumped water for her, then splashed my face and drank. In the quiet stillness, I dropped a half-teander into the coinbox by the well.
I was alone for the first time in years. Not since my survival tenday at Academy. Every minute of the last twelve years, I’d had someone within the sound of my voice. Now, under an endless, late-winter sky so blue it hurt my eyes, beneath billowing white clouds that reflected and trebled the sunlight, time seemed to slow. Something deep inside, fragile and easily broken, became a bit more resilient.
I know who I am, no matter what happens. Everything I do is for Rien. She’s been my baby and my brat since I was four years old. She’s the axis around which I spin. I will follow her across all Eleven hells. If she asks me to go into some god’s afterworld, I’ll do my damnedest to believe enough to get there. I do not surrender. I do not capitulate. Neither does Rien. We know the truth. We know my parent killed our father. I don’t know how many years until we prove it, I don’t know how long until we reclaim her throne, but we will. If we’ve breath in our bodies, we have hope. With hope, we have strength.
A sense came over me, Inspica or Providias at work, the stupid things that never do me as much good as others believe. A sound flooded my mind, like every instrument in the world suddenly tuning up, one long, single note that grew until there was only blue and white and sound. After storms, we stand in light, I heard inside the note.
Then it was over. Stupid ingenia. Bleedin’ useless. Mystical and mysterious and vague. I checked Bravura’s girth and we set off.