January 25, 2016 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
Kekdela was perched in front of Enrie. Of all the people who had been pushing themselves into Enrie’s face and space in the last day, she was certainly being the most polite. “What do you worry about?”
“And what was – what was her name? Olisama – talking about?” Taikie scooted closer. “Sorry. I want to know what you were worried about. But I think…”
Saydrie walked up behind her, standing as close as he could without actually pressing against her. With Riensin on the other side of her and Tesdes hovering nearby, Enrie had never been so surrounded by people she liked.
She looked down at her hands for a moment. “I worry because I’m not as clever as everyone else. And because I don’t want to be wearing my E like too much embroidery on my sleeves.” She looked up at Taikie, then leaned back to look at Saydrie for a moment. “And obviously Kaasmasik doesn’t think I’m clever, either, because he seems to be trying to help me cheat.” She whispered it as quietly as she could. “And I’m…” Sick. Horrified. Mortified. Embarrassed.
“You have to tell the House Monitor.” Taikie kept her voice quiet, too, but she still managed to sound very insistent. “Because we know you weren’t cheating. But if they think you were…”
“Not just me. Olisama. Her friend there, I don’t know her name. I don’t know how deep the rot goes, but I could get a lot of relatives in trouble.” She smoothed her sleeves and her vest, and then smoothed them again.
Tesdes cleared his throat. Everyone turned to look at him. Quiet, short, his hair in short braids barely to his shoulders, he was easy to overlook. “You said ‘rot’.” He winced, noticing the staring, and fell quiet.
“Go on, Tes.” Riensin made encouraging gestures at his teammate. “Rot. Yeah?”
“So if it’s rotten… you know what they say about bad apples.”
Enrie bit her lip. “Maybe I chose the wrong word.”
“I don’t think you did.” Tesdes leaned forward. “I think that you don’t want it to be the right word, because sometimes they say, too, that bad fruit comes from a bad tree. And it’s your tree, your family.”
“It is.” She stared at the floor. “And the tree has gotten too big for itself, I think, bowing under the weight of so many apples.” This was very close to treason. This was her family.
Riensin put his hands out in front of her, palms up. “There are two things here. There is your loyalty to your family, which is a virtue. We’re all taught that: family, clan, city, nation. And your family’s a bit bigger than most. And there is your loyalty to yourself.”
That had not been what she was expecting. Enrie let her hands hover over Riensin’s for a moment. If she let herself take his comfort, was she saying she agreed with him? “Loyalty to myself?” Her hands settled on his, just her fingertips touching his palms.
He didn’t push matters. “Forget about what you think you’re supposed to do for the moment. Tell me what feels right. Are they loyal to you? Are they good for you?”
“No, of course not.” It surprised her to be asked – and surprised her again when she answered. “They are loyal to themselves. They’re good for themselves.”
“Family, clan, city, nation. But first, your own tent and goat. Right?”
He was right. But it felt so wrong.
“I have to tell the House Monitor.” She let her hands drop into Riensin’s. She was going to need all the help she could get.