May 28, 2019 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
Saydrie pulled out every book in his bag, flipping through one and then the next and then the next. “It’s in here somewhere.”
“What kind of idea, Saydrie?” Taikie scooted closer. “Can we help?”
He dumped a book in her lap. “We’re looking for The Equivilancies. Urm, it might be in Bitrani, but that word is a loan-word from Bitrani to start with, so it will look almost the same. They’re, ah. It’s a set of not-quite-laws.”
“Will that help, though.” The Princess frowned. “The question is – more or less – that Lirnilalie would like to eliminate any holding to Calenyen law. How would another law help?”
“Because it’s not. It was written before the laws were put into place. Before there was, well, almost anything here. And it was signed and sealed – ah. They used the old ways. The very old ways.”
Both the Princess and Enrie hissed. Taikie looked up from her book and then, a moment later, frowned.
“Yes.” Saydrie nodded slowly. “They sealed it with aether and with humanic aether. I don’t think anyone can do that anymore, even if people did believe in humanic aether. But it means that the Equivalencies are self-sustaining and even Lirnilalie can’t get around them, not unless she wants to do the same thing. She doesn’t seem like the sort to sacrifice herself to-”
“Sacrifice?” Enrie whispered. “They-”
“That’s how they did it.” Saydrie nodded. “They put all of their aether into something. It’s a sort of immortality if you do it in the right way, but even with the sort of megalomaniacal way that Lirnilalie seems to go about things, I can’t imagine her doing that. You’re essentially turning yourself into a piece of paper.”
“That’s-” Taikie shuddered. “That ought to be impossible.”
“It ought to be a lot of things.” Oltyellalobtello was grim. “But Saydrie is right. People have done it before. Usually a sword or some other sort of thing that is durable and one would want to carry around.” She picked up one of the books and started flipping through it; Enrie did the same.
The carriage moved quietly closer and closer to the Arran cities as they all dug through the books. A couple times, one of the women would start to speak up, and then sigh and keep going.
It was Taikie who found it. “Equivilancies! This is it! It’s a whole list of things – oh, interesting. Is this what you had in mind, Saydrie?”
He leaned over to read the page upside down, nearly bumping his head into the princess’s. “Yes. That’s it. But the thing is, that’s only – one thing.” He sighed. “We still don’t know exactly what Lirnilalie is planning.”
“You don’t?” The carriage driver twisted to look at them. “Isn’t that what you’re all trying to prevent?”
Saydrie raised his eyebrows at the older woman in confusion, hoping she’d elaborate.
“She wants to be Empress, right? She wants to be ruler of something, everyone knows that. I am talking, the children in the street know that Lirnilalie wants to be the Empress of all she surveys. And of course she can’t go about it the way that she normally would, so now she is going to make a rebellion of some sort- what?” The carriage-drive pursed her lips at all four of them. “You think I don’t pay attention?”
Enrie cleared her throat. “Ma’am, Driver ma’am, no, it’s not that. It’s that I think we weren’t paying attention. We were hiding in our own little corner of the world, holed up in our tower and in our library, and we really hadn’t heard any of that. I think Riensin knew more, knows more,” she added; “maybe Kekla, too. Our friends spend more time talking to people than we do.” She looked abshed.
The woman scoffed. “Don’t get yourself all twisted up, young lady. You and your friends look like, sound like, you’re doing good work. Someone has to go into the libraries and find all the stuff that we’ve forgotten, and it ain’t going to be me. So you and your friends do that – and just remember to ask me and my friends about what the people on the street are saying, mmm? Princess,” she added, with a sort of sitting bow at Oltyellalobtello.
“Thank you, Patlin.” The Princess nodded back at the driver. She looked nearly as abashed as Saydrie felt. “You are invaluable, as always.”
“You just say that because you don’t want to drive the carriage yourself,” Patlin scoffed playfully.
“That was just once! And – well, and I deserved it.”
“See? See, Oltello, that’s the difference between you and your cousin – and Lirnilalie, that is. You only needed once, and you learned – and you knew you deserved it. You could punish Lirnilalie every way that the Three and the people have thought of, and it would not make a lick of difference, because she doesn’t care what other people think, as long as you give her what she wants. And that- that bad aether you were talking about, that’s what it looks like, I think.”
Taikie made a thoughtful noise. “Selfishness? I think if selfishness made someone have bad aether – or the other way around – my machine would never stop reading bad and Saydrie would have to go around with a scented cloth over his nose. It’s got to be more than that.”
“Not just selfishness or self-centeredness, no.” Patrie was quiet for a moment, coaxing the carriage goats to keep going and chewing on her words. “It’s more than that, a sort of refusal to see anyone else as mattering in any way. But that’s a guess – I haven’t seen Lirnilalie in many years, since she was just a spoiled child. Now, now she’s a dangerous spoiled adult, and I don’t envy the four of you what you might need to do.”
Saydrie stared at the woman and gulped. “Me, neither,” he muttered.
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