Imbris – Prosilis, 1138 Spring
The first few tendays flew in a cyclone of paper, pleadings and meetings as I met my clients. I’d never been as busy as I was in that second quarter of 1139, and in many ways, I just put my head down and concentrated on being ordinary while doing my best for my people. I hadn’t lied to Ragin — I’d make Savrin return me to the government as Ascendara, if not Razia, but now, Savrin needed to believe his shaky power unthreatened.
So I wasn’t a threat. After all, in warfare, the army who pretends inferiority encourages the enemy’s fatal arrogance. I made myself firmly insignificant.
What brings clients to functionaries of the law vastly interests the clients and lawyer, at the time, but rarely interests those not directly concerned. While my broken heart and battered body mended, I wrote divorcements, contracts, wills, marriage agreements, inheritances and partnerships. I spent days in negotiations between the guilds, the land-owners and lease-holders, and full tendays in research so arcane and specialized that to recount it would bore me into a permanent state of mental vegetation. Such is the law — it is critical for the general welfare, but in practice, it is obsessive and stultifying for the non-practitioner.
“Why do you stay?” I asked Avah one night as we worked late in our small office, over bowls from the noodle-shop. “I know a half-dozen firms who would triple your salary, and your family would be delighted if you’d marry. I’ve been a danger to you since the day I hired you, then we deliberately made you a target. I would have chucked me long ago were I you.”
She twined noodles around her eating sticks and shrugged. “Did you never think I might enjoy what I do?” she said. “Including the danger. Gives each day a bit of a spark.” She grinned briefly, then sobered. “As for marriage, Da sees more value in letting me stay in your service than in my inevitable death.”
I stared at her, utterly uncomprehending.
She frowned uncomfortably, then sighed. “I’m a born maiden auntie, Rien. I was born with a twisted pelvis. My parents had a choice. If the Healers didn’t fix it, I’d probably never walk, but I could have a baby. To fix it, the Healers had to bone-heal the bones together. It’s never slowed me a jot, but mine won’t flex to give birth. When I first bled, the midwives told me that labor will kill me and probably the baby. I was sure they were wrong until Mam’s last baby came rump first, tore her. She bled out before the Healer arrived. The baby died, too. I don’t… I don’t want that. I’m a stellar lawyer. Why waste myself managing Da’s weaving house or chaperoning my nieces?”
“You won’t marry at all?”
“Maybe. I like a tumble as much as any girl not you, and the midwives and I make sure I won’t kindle. Should I find a nice widower with a muster of children, I’ll stand marriage-mother, or perhaps I’ll take a giggle of girls from the orphanages someday if I never find the nice widower. Not for years, though. Working for you, I’m seeing things my mam never saw, doing things Mam never would have believed possible. I know Da’s proud of me, and I like to think Mam is, too.” She smiled faintly. “And you? I’m surprised you haven’t sent me packing for forcing you to play. Are we accepting any of the invitations we keep getting?”
“When we’ve time to breathe, perhaps. If the partners find us a proper clerk. Not that you’re not brilliant, but I need you practicing law. Just because you’re not a Perceptive doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a share of the practice.”
She colored. “Thank you. I think that’s a compliment… or possibly a curse.”
“Entirely complimentary. Accept the invitations you want,” I said. “You know me. Work is my panacea. Besides, they dance up here. I thought I’d escaped that.”
“People dance everywhere,” she said, “but dancing’s different outside the Curia. You might like it.”
I shrugged. The crush and being touched… “No. You go. You enjoy it. What’s on tomorrow’s docket?”
“You’re going to grow roots at your desk someday,” she teased, but pushed the wax tablet across the table. “Four routine meetings first in the morning, then I blocked two hours for Master Darlamand. He wrote requesting this date. New client, fur and leather trade, with several contracts he wants reviewed. After midday, you’ve Mistress dat Zerast for her final amendments and the Potters’ guild. A short day.”
“Except the rest of the tenday is Archilavast’s business. Printing contracts, bequests, legacies.” I sighed, already feeling tired. “Now I know why most lawyers either live with their parents or marry. I need a wife.”
Avah looked up, startled. “You?” She shook her head. “No, I’d know.”
I looked at her, confused, then colored. “No, I meant… Not literally a wife… just a helpmeet.” Not that I wanted a partner, since I doubted a husband would aid me like the wives and mothers of most of my male peers did, but I couldn’t help envying them their women sometimes. That was the main reason we hadn’t taken a house of our own here; the Belleview’s services meant we need not attend to laundry, cooking, cleaning or the hiring of servitors to do it.
The will and the three contracts went quickly, but the Darlamand file only held a single letter in a slanting hand, and Avah’s shorthand copy of her reply, confirming the appointment. The return had been sent to Valanding, half a day’s ride away. Why’s Darlamand coming here? Valanding has an Advocate; surely sune Peralt didn’t refuse him? Peralt’s never refused business.
The two men who arrived for the appointment weren’t what I expected from leather and fur merchants. Cimenarum’s furriers tended towards elderly and visibly prosperous in dress and bearing. These men were near my age; I saw nothing exceptional about their slightly worn, knee-length coats of dark green and brown wool with simple horn buttons, nor their ordinary boots and breeches, nor the plain shirts that peeked at cuff and collar — which was exceptional, given their contracts. I kept it from my face, but just one was worth a low multiple of my salary — a standard three year contract.
“This is solid,” I said. “You’re not the Army’s sole supplier of reindeer hides, Master Cedri?”
“No,” he said, a grin on his sun-bronzed face. “We an’t so cursed. Ours are just better.”
Bran Darlamand shifted his light blue, intelligent eyes from the paper before me to his partner. “Don’t be vain, Ced. You’ll give her a bad impression.”
“They are. What about the others?”
The others were Army contracts for mountain-boar leather and wolverine fur, and a one year contract with a Cimenaran fur merchant for fox, marten, sable and ermine. To supply the Curia now jostling for Savrin, Mathes and the Optimus’ favor? The Triumvirate, as I was starting to call them, would need to be impressed — or bribed — into noticing those seeking preferment. At least I’m out of that fracas.
“The only concern I have,” I said, turning it around for them, “is this clause. To renew at the same rate in one year. By then, fur prices could change dramatically. If the Razin and the Prava have selected further Ascendars, the price will fall when Curia demand stabilizes. However, I think that’s unlikely, so the price will rise. If you’ll gamble, I’d strike this clause. If you’d rather not, I’ll try to negotiate a slightly lower price now in exchange for your buyer purchasing at the same rate for the next three years. Your buyer can store furs. You can’t. His stock won’t deteriorate, yours will. I can make whatever counter-offer you choose.”
“You know the leather and fur trade?” Master Cedri asked skeptically. I, too, did not look the part.
“No, I just know the Curia and the Prava,” I said before I realized I shouldn’t have said that. “I’m from Cimenarum,” I added hastily.
Master Darlamand nodded. They seemed to discuss something with a few gestures. “Strike the clause,” he said. “We’ll gamble.”
“I’ll write to Valanding when I hear,” I said. “If I may ask, why come to me? I’m thirty milliae out of your way.”
Master Darlamand rolled his eyes. “You haven’t met sune Peralt in Valanding?”
I shook my head, though I had. He proved that lawyers can deserve their worst reputations.
“Don’t,” Master Cedri said. “He’ll steal you blind, sell you your eyes, take your stockings without removing your boots and convince you to thank him for the privilege. He’s Teregenitor Silvalt’s crony.”
“Oi,” I said. That, I had not known. Trensen Silvalt had become Teregenitor shortly before my Elevation and I despised him even more than I hated Mathes, which is an accomplishment. He is the living embodiment of everything wrong with our Prava, aristocracy and unregulated privilege. I think I could have tolerated his bullying if he had at least been intelligent, or his persistent attempts at violent seduction if he’d been diligent, or his general crudity if he’d ever had an independent thought, but taken together, I would relish his state funeral. No Teregenis is required to attend every session. They’ve no consequences for tardiness or inattentiveness because their grants are defined like fealty terms to the Monarch. If they manage the timely payment of their head taxes, grow or at least maintain their populations, comply with the common rules of the basic grant, and most importantly, convince their peers to contribute to the development and defense of their langreve, they may pass it on as they please. The senior Kurzon, for example, was never late, absent only when too ill to sit in a carriage, and never missed a committee meeting or session because doing so would imperil his western border. They all have contracts for goods and services both from and to the nation as a whole, and they all have at least some interest in keeping those contracts.
Except Trensen Silvalt. Four days of seven, he just wouldn’t appear, and never had from his first tenday. At least two of the remaining days, he would stagger in around noon, usually still stinking of drink, poppy smoke or whichever hapless Courtesan had been desperate enough to take his money. He rarely knew what we were voting on, much less had an opinion on it. Usually, such a waste of hair and sinew would have been privately passed over by his father and uncles, given a sufficiently large allowance to quickly kill himself off, and not inflicted upon the rest of us, but Trensen’s uncles had been the brave, patriotic sorts who believed in their own immortality and had raised a volunteer regiment. Which had been slaughtered to the last man in the worst battle of the war in 1110. His father had survived by dint of having drawn the burnt straw to stay home and run the langreve. They hadn’t been completely witless on that count, at least. The loss of six sons in a day had finished off the fourth Teregenitor Silvalt. The fifth had been a decent Progressive, Royalist in leanings, and someone Da called a friend, but he had only two children, and only one son. His sister seemed competent, but Trensen got the seat because there was nobody else, and he exploited it. And of course he had gone Reformist, because they required nothing of him except his vote or his proxy. “I see.”
“We have business here anyway, so it’s as easy,” Master Cedri said. “Better we have someone who won’t rob us, then get us in trouble with the Judicatura.”
“That shan’t happen,” I said. “Gentlemen, is there anything else?”
They glanced at each other again and gestured, their signs subtle and complex. “Join us for midday?” Master Cedri asked.
“I usually work,” I demurred.
“We’ll have you back before the bells,” Master Darlamand said. “Please? We’re together so much we forget how to talk to people.”
They intrigued me. Young and successful; confident and at ease in the world, but somehow apart from it. Their gestured speech clearly bespoke years of companionship, but they seemed scarcely old enough to have years, save as the brothers they certainly weren’t. Darlamand was my height, middling tall for a man, wiry and languid, ginger-haired but not so fair he’d burn by candlelight. His light, sweet baritone voice carried an eastern midlands accent, like Ethene’s. Cedri was shorter, more heavily built and darker of hair, skin and eye. He’d be almost ordinary, except for his liquid, deep, almost purring voice, which bore a blurry Wine District accent and his gorgeous, thick, straight, black hair, almost as long as mine had been. The differing accents told me they weren’t childhood friends, though they used similar phrases, which also bespoke long acquaintance. Their contracts spoke of a partnership larger than two, but they’d not mentioned their absent partners except to note that they were agents this tenday and I’d meet the others in time.
If I work late, I’ll finish the mortem benefit for the Ospiran children and I’ve cleared the morning’s work. Mistress dat Zerast should be quick, and the Potters are just here to sign. “May I bring my partner?” I asked cautiously.
They both grinned and nodded.
But, Avah, being Avah, had plans. “I’ve a pile of correspondence today,” she said. “Go. Mistress Katin — ” she dropped her voice and mouthed sarcastically, ” — will protect your virtue.” Her voice returned. “Serves a nice dove pie and she’s got spring greens. Out of my hair, Rien.” Then she mouthed again, Go practice being normal.
Mistress Katin, on the next block, fed us more often than Telia. When the doors of her private dining cubby closed, Master Cedri said, “I’m sorry. We said your name wrong.”
“No,” I protested. I realized Avah pronounced it properly in their hearing.
“It’s all Porsirian,” Cedri said. “Peregath… From Imperial Porsirian, peregeros, to prosecute. Good name for a lawyer. Then… Rye-en. That’s ancient Porsirian, boy-prince, if I’m not mistaken, rather than wren, from old Galantieran, lady. Same sigil, though. Why would parents name a girl that?” He grinned. “There’s gotta be a tale there.”
“It’s a pet name,” I said. “My… brother gave me it when I was six. He’s in the Army now. I was a bit of a hellion and preferred his wood swords and soldiers to poppets and fondal parties. He said if I wanted to play like a boy, I needed a boy’s name. I dislike my given name and yes, my sigil reads wren or rye-en.” Then I heard his words. “You know Porsirian?” Nobody knows Imperial Porsirian save overeducated former Praziae and the scholars who cling to conversatories, libraries and the University like barnacles on a hull. Even fewer know Ancient. Imperial died when Mount Porsir exploded, Ancient when the four hundred Republicans and their families were murdered in a day. I couldn’t keep the skepticism from my face.
Cedri laughed. “That makes sense. I’m bookish. Some people crave brandy or poppy paste. Me? Stories. The best and longest one is history itself. Da was Dastorian’s senior Patrona. Teregenitor Dastorian let every kid at the paele take lessons with his grandchildren as long as we kept the tutors happy. I was clever enough, and the Teregenitor gave us kids the run of the library.”
That sounded like Dastorian. He valued education, children and he and Da had been friends. The old Teregenitor had been the grandfather I lacked. Royalist Dastorian’s Patrona’s son wouldn’t threaten me, but Dastorian was south of Cimenarum. “You’re here?”
Cedri nodded, but his face turned into a blank mask. “Da went top over tip for Lethis in the schism, almost twelve years ago now. He put me in the Chapterhouse and tried to put my sisters in the Cloister, but Mam took the little girls to my older sister — she married one of Teladel’s Patronae — Teregenitor Teladel protected my giggle of girls. Couldn’t help me, though.” He spoke flatly, stating facts, as if he’d blocked off the feelings.
I stared at him. He appreciated the pun in my name, he was bookish and literate. He was nothing like the Lethians I knew, humorless ascetics who abhorred everything pleasurable. I even knew a little of his sisters’ case, though it hadn’t come to my bench. “Lethian?” I asked carefully.
“Gods, no,” Darlamand said. “Ced makes heretics look devout. If the Lethians ever catch him, it’s straight to the cubilata for him, but no Lethians up here. Not yet, anyway.”
“They don’t like competition,” Cedri said bitterly and nodded west, towards Archilavast. “I wish the new order nought but ill.” He blinked hard twice, then left his eyes closed for a long moment while he drew a deep breath and released it slowly and steadily. Darlamand placed a long hand on Cedri’s back. “I an’t nineteen now. As long as they stay out of m’head… and if not, I got out once. I’ll do it again,” he said as if reminding himself. As he lifted his fondal cup to his lips, his hands trembled enough he had to use both.
Despite the many years, the Lethians obviously still frightened him as much as they scared me. He escaped a cubilata? That’s impossible. I stared at him.
He caught it. “Just the Chapterhouse. They hadn’t bricked me up, but it was coming. Anyway, that’s why I don’t claim a name. My father changed ours, and after that…. I don’t mind the Old Order much, but the new order’s trouble.”
“Yes,” I agreed, thinking of Savrin. Trouble’s just the word.
I enjoyed that meal. I wished they lived closer, but they weren’t forthcoming about where they did live, just to the northeast, and that’s considerable territory. I was sorry to bid them farewell after we argued about the bill and they returned me to my office.
“We’ll be back in three tendays,” Bran — we’d moved to given names by then — said. “At least one of us and one of the others to sign the contract. That enough time?”
“Plenty,” I assured him.
“And we’ve paid enough?” Cedri asked.
“Certainly. Haven’t you hired an Advocate before?”
“Like I said, the closest one’s dodgy,” Bran said. “We’re getting too successful. We’ll need more people soon.”
“Should you wish to advertise, please let me know your requirements. We frequently handle such matters. And anything I can do, a message always reaches me.”
As we clasped hands, Ced asked, “Curiosity will keep me awake. What’s the given name you dislike?”
They knew too much already. “Sorry,” I teased. “Advocate’s privilege.” Or state secret.