November 1, 2018 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
Bow Today, Bow Tomorrow,
But Always Stand Straight in the End
“Thank you, your Highness.” Saydrie stood and bowed at the same time and somehow managed not to topple over. The Calenyena had far too much bowing in their lives.
He shifted, caught himself, and straightened up, barely managing not to knock over the chair and somehow dropping his bag and shoving a book off the table, all while trying to look as if he hadn’t been startled. It was not his most graceful moment, but he was saved from further embarrassment by the Princess standing up smoothly to greet his friends.
He cleared his throat. “Ah. Princess Oltyellaobtello, this is my team: Student Enerenarie, of House Estiessyaa, and Student Tairiekie, of Akaizepennen House. Enrie, Taikie, Princess Oltyellaobtello.”
Everyone bowed in various levels of surprise and various deepness of obeisance, and then a look went around the little circle. “Princess?” hissed Taikie, in a voice she probably thought wouldn’t carry.
“Her Highness has been talking to me about some interesting things,” Saydrie admitted quietly. “She has some interest in the humanic aether, but it seems it is fairly invisible in Calenyen culture…?” He made it a question, not because he hadn’t seen plenty of proof to that end himself, but to invite Enrie or Taikie to say something.
“The teachers say it doesn’t exist!” Taikie was, unsurprisingly, indignant about that. “We spent some time on it in class,” she added, a little more calmly.
“We, ah, spent a lot of time talking around it in some of our papers, until an Instructor got very annoyed with us,” Enrie clarified.
“I’ve heard you can do some interesting things when you put your mind to it. All three of you.”
Saydrie noticed that the Princess’ tone had changed. She was less casual now, more careful. She really wasn’t that much older than them, was she? And there was a sort of bruised look to her that hadn’t been there before Taikie and Enrie showed up.
Enrie and Taikie shared a glance, then looked at Saydrie. He tilted up one shoulder in uncertainty; he didn’t know if they could trust her either.
Enrie smiled. “Well, I suppose a lot of people have heard about the treaty. Somewhere in here, there are still Imperial Bureaucrats flipping through every single book, looking for more clues.”
“I wonder if they’ve tried the hidden rooms,” Saydrie mused, before remembering how and why he’d found those rooms.
Princess Oltyellaobtello chuckled. “Ah! I had wondered where you went. I shouldn’t be surprised that even the Library had hidden rooms. I didn’t explore much except the cupolas when I was here…”
Saydrie felt a rush of kinship with the woman. Careful, he warned himself. She was a Princess. He was an enclave kid. “I love the cupolas,” he whispered anyway.
“Saydrie!” Taikie looked so offended that, for a moment, he thought she’d realized his affection for the Princess. “You found a hidden library room and didn’t tell me? I mean, us?”
“Well, to be fair,” he offered weakly, “I just did, and this is the first time I’ve seen you since I found it.”
“Still! I want to see it! What sort of books are in there? Where is-”
“Taikie.” Enrie’s voice cut across the line of demands gently. “Saydrie can show us tomorrow. Cousin, Princes Oltyellaobtello.” She bowed again. “You have an interest in humanic aether? The official imperial position is that it does not exist.”
“That’s true, cousin.” Princess Oltyellaobtello nodded politely at Enrie. “And that is, in a nutshell, the problem I am having. The imperial position. The imperial, ah. Ahem.” She shifted and looked out over the library. What was she looking for? Her voice dropped, although she was still speaking conversationally. “-if I were Bitrani, I would say it was blindness.”
There was a moment of awkward silence. Then Taikie said, slowly, and more carefully than Saydrie was used to her being, “if someone is not seeing something, maybe it’s a matter of education? Some things we see because they’re in front of our noses, but if you put a book on historical Devices in front of the three of us,” she gestured to their team, “all three of us would see something different. Saydrie might see the era in which it was written. Enrie might see the way those Devices affected diplomatic efforts. And I, well, I’d be too busy trying to duplicate the Devices to actually notice anything else about the text.” Her smile was both bright and self-deprecating, and it elicited a small chuckle from the Princess.
Saydrie thought about what she was saying and decided to be slightly daring. “Taikie, your Device from the beginning of the year, and Instructor Ta‘s Device….”
“Both worked with humanic aether, or, at least, I think they do,” Taikie admitted. “I’ve been considering another prototype, but there is the problem of, ah, not using humanic aether.” She looked nervous, like she thought she was going to be yelled at. If he was being honest, Saydrie couldn’t really fault her for that.
Princess Oltyellaobtello looked thoughtful. “Interesting. I hadn’t thought of using a Device, but that is a very… Calenyen solution.”
Enrie cleared her throat. “It’s definitely an Engineering solution, at the least, cousin,” she offered, in a way that made it sound like she was chatting casually with a relative instead of in the middle of a tense situation discussing things that didn’t exist with a stranger.
Saydrie envied her the way she could talk to people and change the whole meaning of words just by the way she lifted her eyebrow. The best he could manage with that is to convince people that he was stupider than he was which, considering his height, his blondeness, and the accent he had not tried too hard to get rid of, was not all that difficult to begin with.
“Engineers. Yes.” She smiled widely at all three of them, and then repeated herself more thoughtfully. “Engineering. I had thought about history and I had thought about alchemy, but not about an engineering solution. You really made a Device that ran on humanic Aether?”
“Accidentally,” Taikie admitted. “It was supposed to be a proof of a concept discussed in Philosophy, but it turned out to, ah…” She glanced at her teammates and turned slightly purple.
“It ended up indicating spikes in emotion by boiling water,” Saydrie explained for her, “which caused everyone to get a little, ah, upset, and then that made more boiling. In retrospect,” he added gently, “it was quite interesting, especially for the proof of humanic aether – since most Calenyena who are, ah, raised as Calenyena can’t smell it at all.”