December 4, 2018 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
We must always remember to be better than bears
Saydrie’s dreams were full of phantoms – his family being sent to the four coasts, his mother living up in the iciest parts of the north, being separated from his friends by a thick wall of bars and sometimes by pieces of paper listing out regulations, Enrie high on a throne demanding that he go away and live in a cave like a proper Byittie ought to.
He woke to a hand on his shoulder and nearly fell out of his bunk. There, standing in his room, looking him in the eye on the middle bunk, was Princess Oltyellalobtello
“Your highness.” He could not bow from the position he was in, but he did his best.
She flapped that away with a little hand gesture and tilted her head at the door. Saydrie nodded his understanding and slipped very quietly out of bed to follow the princess out to the common room.
In the common space, she settled down onto one side of the couch and indicated he sit near her. Feeling like he was doing something wrong but like he had no choice, Saydrie sat where she indicated.
“I’ve been doing some reading,” she murmured. For a moment, she sounded so much like his friends that he found himself grinning.
You weren’t supposed to grin at a Princess. He tried to make his expression something more suitable. “What sort of reading, Princess?” he whispered.
“There are some interesting problems with this Meet that’s coming up. They are trying to format it like an old-style Calenyen Kalakat Meet. Which… has some issues. And I’m starting to wonder if they’re planning to use – or abuse – the old laws. If the treaty hadn’t been found… well. That’s another matter.” She pursed her lips. “The question is, what does it mean in light of the current rebellion issues? I don’t want a rebellion,” she added, even more quietly. “If it comes to war…”
“A lot of people are going to die.” Saydrie sighed. “And a lot of them will probably be our family. For you -”
“-for me, they’ll be family or family, either way, yes. For you, it’s country or kin, isn’t it?”
He shrugged, not comfortable with someone else putting the words to it, even if he might have said the same. “I don’t want a rebellion. I…” He swallowed. “I don’t want to know that if I make a mistake, my whole family suffers, my whole enclave. But sometimes…” He dropped his voice. He didn’t even want to hear himself say it, much less have anyone else hear him. “Sometimes, I wonder if maybe the enclave is the wrong idea? Could we be living with Bitrani traditions in a normal town or city? Without all the restrictions? Without the threats, and the… everything?” he shook his head. “People would still hate me. They’d still think I was big and dumb and stupid. They’d still thing that I was stuck in the Books of the Three and couldn’t do anything without praying first. It wouldn’t matter if I was in an enclave or out in the world. And if those things wouldn’t change – I can see why people wanted to hide away someplace where it didn’t happen.”
The princess patted his shoulder. “I understand,” she murmured. For the first time in his life, Saydrie thought that someone really might. “I don’t think anything that’s going on right now is going to help any of that, I’m afraid. There’s going to be even more tension, and if it does come into full rebellion-”
“Then obviously…” Saydrie’s mouth was dry. He looked at the fireplace and let the flames dance in his eyes while he forced himself to finish the thought “-obviously, the methods that were used to keep the Bitrani in line weren’t enough. It’s going to be either imprisonment or death or full cultural integration, and that’s-”
“It’s going to be horrible.” The Princess’ voice was quiet. “I’m worried about this Meet, Saydrie. I’m worried about Lirnilalie and what she might have planned.”
He looked at her face again. “If they decide it’s something in us that makes us bad, then your position as Princess-”
“Is going to be the least of our worries.” She shook her head. “There are much bigger things on our plates.”
“That doesn’t mean it’s not important,” he protested. “You’re a princess. You shouldn’t lose that just because of an matter of birth!”
“Except,” she pointed out, “I never would have had the right to be a princess, the right to prove myself worthy, if it hadn’t been for a matter of birth. And besides, Saydrie, none of us deserve to be treated this way because of a matter of birth.”
He hesitated. He had learned more already than he wanted to about the logic of many of the Bitrani issues. “Except,” he offered very slowly, “that if our ancestors had proven themselves to be unworthy, like, like a goat who can’t be taught to take a harness, then doesn’t that come down through the line?”
“Hsst.” She frowned at him; Sadyrie winced, realizing he had been contradicting a princess again. “There are people that think that way. Let’s be honest, it’s the reason why Lirnilalie and I get a chance to prove ourselves as royal ladies – and your friend Enerenarie – and you and your friend Tairiekie don’t. Good blood, bad blood. But if we’re going to get through this war, we can’t think that way, not between us.”
“Why not?” Saydrie tilted his head. “It’s how we look at weasels and goats and everything else.”
“Because it doesn’t allow for the hand of the Three and it doesn’t allow for the sense and self-guidance that the Three gave us.” Her expression was grim but satisfied, as if she knew that it was the sort of argument that would win with him no matter what.
Saydrie sighed and worked through that one. “The Three set us above the beasts. We have the things that all beasts have, and then we have more. We have life, and we have breath, and we have fire, but we have the mind to steer these things, the skill and knowledge to learn how to better steer them, and the understanding of when it is best to use them and when to not. So this rebellion – is either blessed by the Three, or it is a very bad idea, because someone is using their fire – our people’s fire! – in a time when it is wiser not to use them.”
“I think,” the princess answered dryly, “that using our fire unwisely has always been the flaw of both of our peoples. There’s something to be said for being smarter than a bear, but something also to be said for being calmer than a bear.”
Sadrie considered that. “I still think that we are more than bears,” he admitted.
“Good.” She tapped his nose. “Then we must remember to always be better than bears.”