July 31, 2018 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
Is the enemy who will not attack truly an enemy?
“You know…” Taikie turned around slowly, looking at their little room. “This place could be set up quite nicely with food. A lot of the stuff we can grab from the meal hall stores quite wand we could set up a little tea engine here – a proper tea engine,” she added hurriedly. “And then we could just hide out here and study and eat our meals whenever things got too harried up there.”
“It would be better than eating meals than the stables,” Enrie agreed. They had tried that from time to time, but the smell was usually too much for their appetites. “Sadly, that excludes tonight, since we haven’t gotten anything down here yet. We should find a way of noting if anyone else comes down here, too, before we bring down all sorts of foodstuffs and then find them walked away with.”
“That would be a pretty good way of knowing, though,” Saydrie pointed out. “If we came back and a food was eaten or messed with or just rearranged then we know somebody else was using this space.”
“But then we wouldn’t have our food anymore,” Taikie pointed out reasonably. “I could build something that nobody would notice that was there that would note something in their passage. What if it would, I don’t know, tick up at the Humanic Aether or something. Maybe…”
“No Humanic Aether!” Saydrie didn’t know if he or Enrie said it first but they were both very clear on the matter.
“Fine, fine.” Taikie made a decent attempt of trying not to sulk. “Nothing that senses aether. Can we try this other door out of here, at least?”
How that worked as a substitute, Saydrie couldn’t figure out, but if agreeing made Taikie stop talking about machines that used Humanic Aether… “Of course. That way, we’re less likely to run into whoever was tracking us.”
The back door, as it turned out, led in a long, curving — arcing, Saydrie thought, like part of a circle — hallway, which terminated in another little room, this one in even more of a dusty mess of a state than the previous one. Moving carefully out that room’s door put them in another broom closet, of course – did any place in this school use a broom closet just for brooms? — and peeking out of this broom closet found them in yet another empty hallway.
This time, there was no strange Calenyena royal waiting for them, and they made it upstairs and into the Dining Hall with no more strange encounters. The dining hall itself, while not exactly friendly all around – Saydrie noted that Piadro was glaring at him from across the room – was far more safe than a random hall.
Taikie had been accosted in a hall like that, Saydrie remembered for probably the tenth time in the last week. And she’d nearly died, too. Then there had been the time when they’d all nearly been run off the road and off a cliff, which was still fresher in his memory but somehow slightly less terrifying.
It made it far easier to smile at Piadro like the glare was friendly regard and sit down with Riensin, Kekla, and Tesdes at what had turned into “their table.” That was safe. Nobody was going to hit him in the back of the head with a spanner while he was sitting at dinner.
“Where did you guys go? We were right there, and then-”
“Cevati Bitrani,” Saydrie muttered. “They are…”
“Family.” Kekla sighed in sympathy. “I hear you.”
Saydrie wondered if he had misunderstood her reply, but it didn’t seem worth it to go into. He smiled at her, the slightly-perplexed expression he wore most of the time, and started eating.
He never paid attention to the letters passed around at meal time; his mother didn’t write to him more than once a season, since she knew that any letter she sent would be read and probably censored. His father had not said more than a few words to him since he’d been chosen for the Academy; in his heart, Saydrie thought, his father considered him as lost to the Calenyena as if he’d gotten a spear through his heart in battle.
If he was being honest with himself, Saydrie thought his father might be right.
“Oh…” Enrie, however, got regular letters, as did Taikie, although hers were less common than Enrie’s. Enrie was staring at the piece of paper, its wax-and-aether seal broken, as if she was trying to make sense of something. “I guess…. I suppose I shouldn’t have expected that it solved everything by far. There’s a lot of…” She dropped her voice to a murmur, which didn’t stop Riensin and his team from leaning in closer. “There’s a delegation that’s questioning every part of the Bitrani-Calenyen treaty. Piece by piece. They mean to take the thing apart. This could – it could mean war.”
“How bad is it?” Saydrie leaned forward, ignoring the expression on Taikie’s face. She didn’t really like politics — but then again, she didn’t really like anything she couldn’t take a wrench to.
Maybe he should find a way for her to take a wrench to politics. She’d probably like that.
Enrie’s frown deepened. “Well, there’s a really big faction of the Bitrani nationalists, and they’re led by — well, the people on record are a Bitrani man who claims descendance from the last Bitrani King — ha, like I can’t — and one of the Calenyena governors of a far-south district… what?”
Saydrie wasn’t staring, but only because he was trying very hard not to. Kekla looked intrigued. Riensin was staring.
Saydrie recovered first, probably because he was used to strange things coming from his teammates. “So the legends….”
“I’ve heard three,” Riensin interrupted. “There is the one that the Only Prince of Bithrain walked into the ocean, and Tienaabaa turned him into the seafoam. There is the one that he went south, and that everyone on the Child Islands is now a descendant of the King of Bithrain. And the third—”
“The third,” Saydrie murmured slowly, “Is that the Lost Prince of Bithrain was taken prisoner, as many Bitrani were, war-groom to a Calenni—” he hadn’t slipped like that in months. “—Calenyena soldier.”
“Medic-and-warrior. She happened to be the grandchild of the Emperor.” Enrie pointedly pulled one of her brown braids forward. “We pretend it’s the royal look, or that it came from later influxes of Bitrani. I’m not sure why we still pretend – probably because there are still myths of him being on the Child Islands or part of the wave-foam. Who wants to take that sort of story from a people?”
“Maybe,” Saydrie muttered uncomfortably, “the people who don’t want those people to – too many people.” He put his head on the table. “Maybe when you have,” he muttered into his arms, “a rebel claiming the blood of the Lost King of Bithrain, the silly secret’s gone on long enough?”