August 2, 2018 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
Find Friends in Valleys, Lose Them on Cliffs
The whole thing had Saydrie out of sorts.
He managed to get through dinner just fine, then made some excuse, before heading off to his dorm.
His dorm where his roommates weren’t exactly his friends, definitely weren’t the sort he’d go to battle for, but at least they weren’t lying to him.
She wasn’t lying. He kept telling himself that over and over again. But the truth was –
Well, what was the truth? After a while, he headed to the library in the center of the tower. running his fingers over the books.
It might tell him nothing. After all, if the information was readily available in a history book, wouldn’t everyone know it?
He flipped the book open anyway and, consulting the index, found the right section. From there it was a matter of skimming over what this (Calenyen-written) book referred to as the Conquest of Bithrain – he had learned ruder terms in school – and finding the part on the Lost Prince of Bithrain.
At the time of the conquest of Bithrain by Calenta, the Bitrani King was executed. His one son, Prince Girey, however, was never found. It has been suggested that king’s sister’s children — three daughters — might inherit the crown in the Calenyen fashion, but that is not the style of rule of the Bitrani, and, after all, there was no crown and no throne to inherit.
Over the centuries, many claims have been made to the blood of the Lost Prince of Bithrain, and less, but no more viable, claims to be the Lost Princess’ heir. Since the Bitrain King’s sister, Pandria, was under arrest, along with all three of her daughters, until their death, it is unlikely that anyone could have managed to found a bloodline with them, but less-likely things have been known to occur.
Saydrie closed the book. If there was someone claiming the blood, a Cevati Bitrani – no. Saydrie shook his head, even if there was nobody he was talking to. There was nothing in the Cevati Bitrani creed about this sort of – of open rebellion?
Are you sure?
The voice of doubt had been chewing at him for years, ever since he first picked up a history book, and it had been chewing all the harder since he came here.
This book skimmed over the issues of the Bitraini King at the time of the Conquest, but it was an overview. If he went to the library, he was certain he could find something that would tell him all about the crimes his nation’s former ruler had committed.
He closed the book with a thump. He was Calenyena. He was a Cevati Bitrani, sure. He was true to the ways and the language and the traditions of his people. That was all that meant. Right? He was Calenyena. Everyone on this continent was Calenyena.
Wasn’t that the way it was?
His sleep that night was punctuated by bad dreams that would shake him awake, staring into the darkness of the small room, over and over again. In the morning, he couldn’t quite remember any of the dreams, but he was left with a sense of discontent and, between the dreams and the lack of sleep, a general irritability.
Even his hair was irritable and refused to do anything useful. Not the simple braids that he normally did, not the low goat-tail that many Cevati Bitrani wore, not even just brushing it and leaving it out.
He was about to take a knife to it and cut it all short to his head, the way some of the extremists did, when one of the girls from his floor stepped in, followed by his roommate Pozhvetradov. The girl was wielding a comb and a damp cloth.
“Sit down,” she ordered and, surprised, Saydrie did what he was told.
“I can make anyone’s hair behave. I would have gone into hair-braiding as a vocation, but my mother wanted me to go to Edally, and they don’t teach hair-braiding at an Academy level. So Pozhvetradov came to get me, and you are going to put down that knife and let me make your hair behave. You don’t have to worry,” she added, as she dampened his hair and ran something from a small clay pot through the ends. “I am not going to do anything too fancy or elaborate. I know that Bitrani don’t like things like that.”
“I-” Was he being made fun of? “You don’t need to do that?”
“No, of course not. But you’re having a bad morning and I can help. If – if – you hold still.”
Saydrie held still. When he had left home, his hair had been down to the nape of his neck. Having your hair cut too short could be considered a sign of rebellion in some quarters, and their enclave had always been under a bit of scrutiny.
Now, it was long enough to hold Calenyen-style braids, and from the feel of it, the girl — he thought her name was Lakaizai — was doing something like that to his hair. She parted it with what felt sharp enough to be a knife, and then pulled it with enough force to yank his head back as she slicked it into two simple braids.
“There.” She patted his back; it had taken barely long enough for him to relax. “Come get me if you have trouble again.”
“Thank you.” He bowed to Lakaizai from his chair. “Thank you,” he added, to Pozhvetradov.
“You’re our… you’re my friend.” Pozhvetradov looked a little uncomfortable saying that, but Saydrie didn’t really blame him. “If you have problems, I want to help. Besides, this one was easy.”
“Nevertheless, thank you.” He patted the braids thoughtfully. “Thanks. I’m sure it looks nice.”
“Mirror-?” suggested Lakaizai, but Saydrie was already picking up his book bag. He didn’t want to miss breakfast. He didn’t want to have the girls worried about him, especially not when there was someone chasing them. And he didn’t want to leave them too long without someone watching their backs, either.
That meant, of course, that he didn’t quite know what he looked like when he hurried into the dining hall, nor when he slid into his seat to find a letter at his table – and everyone else already there and waiting for him.
“I like your braids,” Enrie commented, in a bland and inflection-less voice that made him wonder if she was laughing at him.
“Thank you.” He looked at the letter. “Is this someone else’s? I don’t-”
“Can’t you read Bitrani any more?” Darnio leaned over Saydrie’s shoulder. Where had he come from. “In case those new braids have pulled the last of the true Bitrani out of your head, that’s your name, Saydrie Son of Pagerie, and that over there says it came from the enclave of Trieshterie via the city of Chieti – oh, sorry. Let’s see, that’s Kee-ketie, isn’t it?”
“I can read,” Saydrie muttered. “And at least my braids aren’t signalling to everyone that I’m in rebellion with the nation that rules here.”
He hadn’t said that out loud, had he? No, that would have been stupid. But of course, it had somehow escaped his mouth anyway.
“You know, only people who understand Bitrani symbolism would be able to follow that – if people who knew it weren’t just telling anyone and everyone. Are you sure you’re not a Calenni spy?” Darnio hissed.
“I’m sorry.” Enrie’s voice was far too perky. “Are you suggesting that Calenta has no scholars of Bitrani history and tradition? That our very own library here has no books on the matter?
“Enerenarie.” He put his hand near hers on the table. “I an no spy,” he told Darnio. “If you ask me that again, I will consider it a challenge to my honor. Are we done here?”
“We are far from done, and we will not be done until you admit that you have turned from Bithrain and the Three and turn back.”
“Then we are done for today, because I will not admit that.” He stabbed his breakfast angrily with his fork. “Good-bye.”
“What-” Taikie whispered; only then did Saydrie realize the whole conversation had been in Bitrani. He stared at the letter in his hand, not truly seeing it, while Enrie translated the conversation in hushed tones to the rest of the table.