November 6, 2018 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
Think of Your Own Goat,
Your Own Tent, Your Own Soul First
“It doesn’t make sense,” Taikie complained. “Although everything connected to Humanic Aether seems like a bunch of – of philosophy – to me.”
Saydrie winced. She was going to offend the Princess. They didn’t want that, couldn’t afford that, or at least, he couldn’t. He’d already gotten one royal woman angry with him, even if she had had her title stripped.
The princess smiled faintly. “I remember hearing about someone putting a goat on the top of the Philosophy tower,” she offered. “Sometimes it’s not at all a secret what we feel about things.”
Saydrie looked pointedly at Taikie. She flushed purple and looked away.
“No, no.” The princess put her hands on the table and looked between them. “There is more than one reason that I want to talk to the three of you. There are, in a very real matter of speaking, three reasons.” She nodded her head at each of them.
“How can we serve you, Princess Oltyellaobtello?” Enrie asked with full formality. Saydrie took that as notice to sit up a little more straight and to keep an eye on Taikie, who was watching the princess with a gimlet stare.
“The treaty that you found – or the portions thereof – are creating quite a stir among many political groups.”
Something about the way the Princess said it made Saydrie bite his tongue and hope nothing showed. That you found, not that Lirnilalie was trying to destroy. This Princess might be a Princess, but she was also Bitrani, wasn’t she…? Where did her loyalties actually lie?
The thought made him feel miserable and disloyal as soon as it had shaped itself inside his mind. He was technically Bitrani, too. Did his friends think he was going to betray his country?
“I imagine something like that would cause more than a little distress,” Enrie agreed. “But we can’t keep painting over our problems, building on another wing to hide them, and pretending they don’t exist anymore. What we have to do – have to – is own up to things and look at them face-on.”
“Like…” Taikie shifted in her seat. “Like humanic aether. If it exists, why does nobody talk about it? If it exists, why can only Bitrani sense it?”
“Not just any Bitrani,” Enrie murmured. “Gianci can’t.”
“I can,” the Princess put in, while Saydrie was trying to decide how he felt about Enrie telling Gianci.
He cleared his throat. “We know I can. So it’s – something about raising and something about blood, maybe? I don’t know any Calenyena-blooded people who were raised by the Bitrani.”
“I can think of a couple Diplomat’s kids, but I don’t know how being the Diplomat would balance that out,” Enrie mused. “You spend most of your time in the city you’re in, but you still go home to your parents.”
“There’s going to be a meeting,” she inserted rather awkwardly. “Because of the treaty that you found. I believe that’s where Lirnilalie is going to make her move. But I have to – well. Someone has to – that is.” She sighed, suddenly seeming at a lost for words. “I think that the Humanic Aether might be the key to not letting her get her way.”
Saydrie looked at the Princess. She seemed like she was – probably, maybe, hopefully? – being straightforward with them. “Why her in particular?” he asked carefully, rather than revealing what he already knew.
“Because her Aether, her personal field, is the worst bad aether I have ever smelled.” The princess raised an eyebrow at Saydrie. “You know, I am not used to Bitrani being quite so savvy.”
“We really ought to be quite savvy,” he pointed out quietly. “Because people are always trying to get us out of the way, one way or another. If Lirnilalie knew that it was possible for some Bitrani to smell bad aether…”
“She might know already. I’m sorry,” Enrie added, “but she is allying with other Bitrani, isn’t she? She’s behind at least some of this would-be rebellion, as far as we can tell. Wouldn’t a Bitrani have told her?”
“If a Bitrani can literally tell that someone has bad aether,” Taikie added, “why would they ally with her? She can’t only be working by letters, can she? If she was – if she was only working through agents, then she would never be where someone could tell her that she stank. If anyone dared to. Lots of people are terrified of her…. what?” She looked between them. “What did I say?”
“Taikie, you’re a genius.” Enrie was smiling.
“Well, yes. But – not about this sort of thing?”
“Do we know who she’s been talking to in person? We know about the associate governor, about the reeve, about – well, all Calenyena. What if she’s been doing this whole thing through agents to maintain some sort of distance, and they just don’t know?”
The princess pursed her lips. “It’s possible,” she allowed, “although I don’t know how likely it is. I imagine it would be more likely if she had one Bitrani associate who had told her what bad aether looks like – senses like, I suppose – and who had helped keep her out of the other Bitrani’s way. Which I can see one Bitrani doing. From things that I have heard, not all Bitrani believe that bad aether is inherently bad. They think-” she raised her eyebrows at Saydrie.
“Me? Uh.” He cleared his throat again. “That is, I’ve heard of Bitrani who think that the idea of ‘bad’ is one put in place to keep the Bitrani in line, although I don’t know why. Or that the lines were from superstitious old times and no longer hold true. That sort of thing.”
“So people know that there’s something, but they don’t believe that it’s bad.” Enrie looked at Saydrie and then at the princess. “But you do.”
“I do,” Saydrie agreed quietly. “I believe in the teachings of the Three, and one of the teachings – at least where I was taught – is that one’s aether, well….” He hesitated. He didn’t talk about things like this with his friends. He didn’t want them to –
He didn’t want them to-
He found himself smiling a little bit. “I suppose,” he offered quietly, “if you two were going to think less of me for my beliefs, it would have already happened, mmm?”
“It’s likely,” Enrie agreed. “And right now, we need those beliefs, because they may be a map leading Lirnilalie and her defeat.”
“I think…” He gathered his thoughts slowly. “Some might say that the Three’s teachings are not meant for such things as battle plans, but I believe that those who say that aren’t paying enough attention. That is, ah. There are plenty of times when we have prayed to the Three, called upon the Three, and used what the Three have taught us to fight battles and, indeed wars.”
“That’s very wise.” The princess pinned him with a look that he thought might make his cheeks turn as red as Veignevar’s flame. “Quite wise in-”
“There you are!” Riensin’s voice was bright, cheerful, and, for once, not all that welcome. “We’ve been looking all over for you! Come on, you’re going to be late for-”
“Your highness.” Kekdela dropped the lowest curtsey anyone had ever seen her make. “I apologize for my teammate. Greetings.”