August 19, 2015 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
“I can’t wait for the test today in Biological Systems.” Tairikie was bubbling over as they left breakfast for their first class. Enrie caught Riensin studying Taikie, a faint, slightly-lost smile on his face.
Well, Taikie did that to Enrie, too, and sometimes to Saydrie, she thought. But that didn’t mean this, this cave-dweller should look that way. She wrinkled her nose and turned her back on him, entirely distracted from the actual conversation.
Of course, you could always depend on Kekdela to keep a conversation going. Enrie picked up the thread — “…an Art exam, now those are interesting. I really do want to draw everyone in the school by the time I leave.”
“You’d better spend more time drawing, then.” Riensin aimed the same affectionate, lost smile on Kekdela as he had on Taikie. “There’s a lot of people here.”
“Oh, that reminds me.” Kekdela smiled brightly at Enrie. “Could I draw you some time? It will take a couple hours of sitting but, hey, you should get used to sitting for portraits anyway, right? Being a fancy royal and everything.”
Enrie took a step back. “It’s just an E,” she sighed.
“Hey, that’s more than most of us get.” Kekdela pouted cheerfully. “What, no portraits in your future?” She poked Enrie’s arm. “You could marry up the tree, couldn’t you? If you’re not that high up? That’s how it works, right?”
Tesdes cringed. “Kekla, you can’t just ask people things like that.”
“Why not? If I want to know, I just have to go into the registry and look her up. She’s obviously not a Royal Princess, or we’d know her already. And since we don’t… well, she’s here, and a lowly artist-peasant like me can draw a sketch of her, can’t I?”
Enrie took another step backwards and looked away. First Olimmosamyimosama and now… “Kekdela, if you would like to draw me, I’d be honored to sit for a picture. I have a very common face, nothing exciting. But I can cross my eyes or stick out my tongue if it makes the drawing more interesting.”
It was calculated, and it worked. Kekdela wrinkled her nose at Enrie, all of her indignation lost. “You have a lovely face! Everyone’s face is different, that’s the lovely thing. Like yours is very similar at a quick glance to Azharrenbah, who is in my year in Art House, but you smile more, and your eyebrows do this thing at the sides where they go up—”
She continued in that vein until they reached the Biological Systems classroom. Enrie could tell that Taikie was a little put out, but not why. Kekdela did this almost every day.
Saydrie, on other hand, looked a little overwhelmed, the way he often did when Kekdela or any of the other girls really got talking, but he also looked very thoughtful.
“One of the things you have to worry about,” Enrie’s mother was fond of saying, “is when a Bitrani really starts thinking. Most of the time, they’ll either quote the Three until you’re asleep, or they’re arguing old treaties and older laws, things that were defunct centuries before the Peacetime Empress. But when they look off to the sea and their eyes go a bit unfocused, that’s when the trouble starts, and then we have to put down another rebellion.”
Enrie looked away from Saydrie and bit her lip. Old treaties and defunct laws… This wasn’t going to be the same sort of thing. It wasn’t.
But of course, there was still the question of what Saydrie was thinking about. For good measure, there was also what was making Taikie irritated, what was making Riensin look sad-goat eyes at Tairiekie (assuming it wasn’t just infatuation) and at Kekdela, and why Kekdela was so interested in Enrie’s royalty.
“When you realize you’re really a diplomat,” Enrie’s father had said once in his cups, “it’ll be that moment you’re sitting with your friends, and you realize you’ve plotted out everyone’s next five moves. That’s why, as a rule, Diplomats don’t have friends.”
“Come on.” Tairiekie grabbed Enrie’s sleeve and tugged her towards the classroom. “We’re going to be late for the test!”