April 9, 2019 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
You Cannot Keep the Wind a Secret
The last time they’d been on a madcap dash across the country, they’d been in the back of a wagon — and there’d been more people with them.
Enrie and Gianci had said goodbye for exactly as long as Oltyellalobtello had allowed them and one more minute — Saydrie was surprised she’d had time to pack. Gianci had given her a very firm look and instructed her to not die nor be killed under any circumstances.
Now they were, the four of them — their team and Princess Oltyellalobtello — in a carriage, the sort of conveyance you expected a Princess to ride in. Taikie had spent the time Enrie and Gianci were saying goodbye studying the way the carriage was hung and the suspension, at least as far as Saydrie could tell from her mutters.
Now she was muttering again, staring at her notes. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
Enrie was still looking out the carriage window as if she could still see Gianci. “Mmm?”
“What doesn’t make sense?” Saydrie translated.
“It’s real. It’s calculable. Your — senses — matched what the mechanism read. But, I mean, Instructor Pelnyen was ready to kick us all out of school for even talking about it, much less suggesting humanic aether was real. And it’s not genetic — as far as I understand genetics — that you and the Princess, ma’am,” she bowed in her seat to the Princess, “can sense it and Gianci can’t.”
“We were testing Tairiekie’s aether-” Saydrie hesitated, not sure what she’d decided to call it.
“Aether-quality determining mechanism. You can’t make tea on it,” she added, a little defensively.
Saydrie winced. “An issue with a prototype,” he explained to the princess, “where it ended up that emotions expressed through humanic aether produced heat — and the more heated the emotions, the more literal heat, so that there was sufficient to make steam.”
The Princess chuckled, which had not been the reaction he was expecting. “That’s clever. I imagine an engine that ran on humanic aether didn’t really please the professor that didn’t believe in it.”
Saydrie didn’t want to admit to this princess who was so much like him that he’d been against the whole idea too, that he’d been shouting and complaining more than anyone.
Taikie chuckled; Saydrie tried not to tense. “There might be a reason there ended up being a goat on top of the Philosophy Tower,” she offered.
Saydrie let himself relax. She wasn’t going to expose him. He wanted to say thank you, but that would have just made it obvious he was hiding something.
Enrie cleared her throat. “It exists,” she offered, bringing them back on topic, “but nobody wants to admit that it exists in the North.”
“No, they don’t,” Oltyellalobtello agreed. “They not only don’t want to admit it, most northern people have been educated to believe that it does not exist at all. I think — I’m not sure, but I think — that people who cannot sense humanic aether have been taught all their life that it does not exist, so, like we are polite and usually don’t mention if someone has very strong body odor, we don’t mention if we smell something ‘off’ about someone.”
“So…” Taikie spoke slowly, like she was watching all of her words, “we can’t smell bad aether because we’re too polite?”
The Princess laughed. “That would be saying the Bitrani are rude! No, no. I think that people raised Calenyena can’t sense it because they wouldn’t know what it was if it was right in front of them. Nobody mentions it, and you have centuries of cultural ‘suggestion’ that it doesn’t exist. As you said, your instructor wanted to kick you out of his class – out of the school? – for even suggesting it.”
“When you start trying to read about it, most of the books are expunged from the library,” Enrie added, “although they might all be in that secret area Saydrie found. It’s like the treaty – when people don’t want something talked about, they just start removing it from text.”
“I wonder how Instructor Talmizhaab figured it out,” Taikie mused. “If that Device was supposed to be doing something with humanic aether, then how did he know what it was? I mean, I discovered it accidentally. And then we started looking into the cougars…”
“I imagine,” Enrie offered dryly, “that Instructor Talmizhaab went through a similar process to you: something like ‘there’s something going on here; how do I best make a Device to understand it?’ And then there were problems with that Device…”
“I still think the problems were because of Lusnyoot,” Taikie inserted. “I don’t think that the Device would have done that on its own. But when it was tampered with – blocked up, everything else, and we never did get to really examine it well after the explosion…”
The Princess cleared her throat. “I am thinking about my cousin Lirnilalie,” she began slowly. “I am thinking about the fact that she reeks of aether that has gone so bad that, were it food, we wouldn’t feed it to the animals. She’s tainted. And I am thinking about the fact that, currently, that is not enough to remove her from heirship to the Imperial throne.”
“But she was removed anyway.” Enried was frowning, leaning forward. “She’s done something else or failed in some way that made her lose her vowel. She didn’t need to smell bad for that. She just needed to do something that really got people’s attention. And she’s not going to be reinstated — that’s, I don’t think that’s—”
Saydrie was reminded that he was actually the history scholar in their group. “It’s never happened in Calenyen history,” he agreed. “Once you’ve been removed, it’s assumed that your taint is permanent. You’re done something so bad — or come down with something that is so bad, that happened a couple times – that you’d be a danger to the nation.”
“So what’s her game? She can’t be hoping to rule the Calenyena, because she’s been removed. Even if she held a coup, she’d still be tainted. Everyone would know that she was tainted.”
“But what about the people she’s duped into working for her before?” Taikie frowned. “She can do it. She’s gotten Calenyena with vowels at the beginning of their name to do her bidding. Sometimes the vowel-” She trailed off abruptly.
“It’s all right,” Princess Oltyellalobtello assured her. “I know it’s true. Sometimes the vowel isn’t any indication of intelligence or quality or good will. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to use my vowel for all its worth.”
Saydrie chuckled. “You are Bitrani. ‘It matters not if the mayor in the next town is a poor one, what matters is what I can do with being mayor here.'”
Enrie wrinkled her nose. “I don’t think that’s a particularly Bitrani sentiment. That could be anyone.”
Taikie frowned down at her Device, pulled a screwdriver out of her vest, and began tinkering. Saydrie frowned, too – not at Taikie, but at Enrie. “It’s a Bitrani saying,” he countered. Why did it matter?
“Is it?” She leaned forward, looking very determined. “Because I’ve read the same thing in Calenyen books. I think it’s one of those things that got stole.”
The Princess held up her hands. “Actually, I think it was stolen from the Arrans.”
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