May 30, 2019 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
The Arran cities looked strange to Saydrie, who had finally, he thought, gotten used to the architecture of Ilelteddez and the way the Edally looked, all circles and round edges and buildings seeming to be built on top of each other.
The Arran style seemed to keep much of the built-on-top-of-old-buildings feel, but instead of curves, there were points and sharp edges everywhere. It was as if they had looked at any flat surface and added another point, until even some of their points had points.
The Porrentallarie meeting hall was bigger than any building he had seen outside of the palace complex. It seemed to be four main buildings and several smaller buildings, and there were people everywhere, hurrying around, looking horribly stressed and horribly busy.
Princess Oltyellalobtello ushered them in through a back door, looking a little amused at the situation but still sneaking in a door barely taller than they were, rather than the front doors, which were twice Saydrie’s height and double his armspan in width. “You are going to be with several other students of about your age range who have done impressive things lately. Try to be kind that none of them have solved a murder or started to overthrow the order of the world.” She winked at all three of them. “Here, first, change into your nicer clothes. If you need help with braiding, I happen to be quite good at it.”
Saydrie snorted a little and then, thinking twice, ran his hands through his hair. “I – I wouldn’t mind some help?” he offered cautiously. “I think it looks-“
“Less Cevati?” Princess Oltyellalobtello asked gently. “I can understand that. Get changed first, and then I will braid your hair.”
“Thank you, Princess.” He bowed deeply and hurried into the room she had pointed out to him.
She had not been exaggerating – there were five other boys of around Saydrie’s age. He was the only Bitrani-looking one, but he’d had months of practice around Calenyena students.
One of them looked his uniform up and down and sneered. “Edally? That little school? What did you do, reinvent the carriage?”
“Hey,” one of the others complained, “Edally is a good school! It’s one of the best; my brother is there.”
“Oh, your brother is there. I’m sure, for as impressive as you’ve been, that makes it better.”
Saydrie looked at them and found that their taunts just didn’t seem to matter. Still, he felt a certainly loyalty to the school – and he knew what Taikie would want him to say. “Edally Academy is the highest-ranked and respected school in the world,” he informed them calmly. “Excuse me.” He turned his back to the whole lot of them and started changing as quickly as he could without being ridiculous.
The silence lasted long enough for him to shed his three outer layers his under-tunic. One of the other students cleared his throat. “You’re really from Edally?” he asked Saydrie’s back.
Saydrie pulled on the undertunic that Enrie had picked out for him. It had more embroidery on it than any Cevati Bitrani would want to wear – but that, he supposed, was the point. “I am. I’m in my first year there, and I’m there with my team-mates. Do your schools have teams?”
It was rude, of course, to talk with his back turned, so once he had his undertunic on, he turned back around.
The boy who answered had at least ten braids in his hair, all of them beaded, and was struggling with a vest with a strange cut to it. “Teams? No, but we have houses and study groups.”
“We have houses, too. Our teams are intra-house.” He pulled on his tunic and worked on the buttons. “What is your area of study?”
“Engineering. Arretdellizha Academy has the best Engineering program.”
Saydrie had at least heard of Arretdellizha Academy – it had been on the list he might have been sent to. Still, he cleared his throat and smiled. “I wouldn’t let my teammate Tairiekie hear you. She’s an Engineering Student,” he explained, “and very pleased with the program at Edally. I’m a History Student,” he added, as he tugged on his trousers.
“What’s your ‘achievement?’” That was the one who had been sneering about Edally in the first place.
Saydrie smiled. “Unfortunately, it’s a secret. Do you want to tell me about yours?” he added politely.
“A secret? We’re about to go on stage and talk about it in front of some of the most important people in the world!”
“I know.” Saydrie smiled proudly. Taikie and Enrie really had gotten them quite far with their meddling and digging. “It’ll be quite interesting.”
“You’re just making things up to sound important.” The boy glared at him, sounding like so many others Saydrie had heard.
“I’m not,” he apologized. “I don’t really want to sound important. It’s hard enough to blend in when you’re as tall as I am”
He pulled on his vest and worked the buttons carefully. He didn’t look Calenyena; he was still as tall and still as blonde and still as Bitrani, but he looked – well, like he was trying.
One of the boys snorted. “You’re a giant, that’s for sure,” he drawled. “Do you hit your head on doorframes?”
“Not too often, but sometimes there’s something that’s clearly built for Calenyena,” he admitted, miming ducking and pulling his shoulders in. “Excuse me, I need to get my hair braided. I still can’t quite make it look right.”
It was the right amount of self-deprecation, he thought: He didn’t make himself feel worse but he let them smile and feel like he wasn’t trying to lord anything over them.
He slipped out of the changing room to find the Princess waiting with a book in her lap. “Ah, Saydrie. That’s a nice look on you. Here, kneel in front of me and I’ll do something with this hair of yours.”
“Thank you, Pri-”
“Oltyellalobtello,” he repeated dutifully. He knelt where she’d indicated, finger-combing his hair.
“Stop that.” She slapped his hand lightly. “I’ve got a comb and I’ll take care of it. Just sit quietly.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he muttered. He folded his hands in his lap and sat quietly while she combed his hair and tugged it into braids.
He was thus in the perfect position to see when the doubtful ones from the changing room came out to find him sitting leaned against the princess’ knees, having his hair plaited into a Calenyen style, and sto see their expressions and their hasty bows as they realized from her garb who – or at least what respective rank – she must be.
He didn’t smile. It wouldn’t have been kind. But it felt, he thought, rather nice.
Category Book 3: The Broken Bargain | Tags: