June 25, 2019 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
“Hey!” Taikie was struggling in earnest. “Let go of me!” She looked a moment away from using her Device as a bludgeon. “Enrie!” Saydrie shouted — and then followed up in Bitrani. “The Device!”
Enrie followed his thought and stepped between Taikie and the one holding her. With her back to him, Saydrie didn’t see what she did, but Taikie stumbled backwards. Enrie stepped back and tilted her head.
“Not bad aether.” Taikie’s voice carried over a surprisingly quiet crowd. “Just a jerk.” She frowned at the Device, tilted her head, and aimed the Device directly at one of the other people. “Bad aether.”
“That machine,” the tall man at the door asked, in accented Calenyen, “that can smell what Bitrani noses can?”
“It can. Well, it can detect bad aether. If there are other things your noses can smell that I don’t know of yet, it doesn’t cover those… yet,” Taikie answered.
The man laughed. Taikie’s expression went offended quickly at the guffaw, and, in turn, the man settled down. “I apologize, small Calenni. As far as I know, that is the only ‘strange’ thing that our noses can smell. And you created a Device that can do it.”
“Humanic aether is —” she twisted up her face and turned to Enrie and Saydrie.
“We had instructors lie to us about it,” Enrie explained, “and that’s very offensive. To Student Tairiekie most of the three of us, because she values education and learning above all else.”
“Except my friends,” Taikie muttered.
Saydrie blinked and found himself smiling, broadly and warmly, not really what he needed to be doing at the moment. He cleared his throat. “Having instructors tell us that it didn’t exist, when even some of the books in the library told us that it might, made us ask more and more why. Which made us read more and ask more questions and, in Tairiekie’s case, create a Device to measure such things. And what it has told us here,” he let his voice carry again, “is that there are people with tainted aether in this room.”
“So?” someone muttered, their voice loud against the quiet of the room.
“What tainted aether does to one — the reason that someone with tainted aether may not become the heir or sit on the Imperial Throne — it changes your mind. It —” He dug on his old religious teachings and on the things he’d learned in reading and some things he’d just guessed at. “It makes you care less about other people, about the community, until, as it slowly eats at your social desires, you stop caring about other people entirely. It makes you completely isolated from anything that does not benefit you directly. It means that you will literally take the last blanket from an old woman, not to save your own life, but merely for your own comfort.”
He cleared his throat. “It means that you do things only for you. Can you imagine what an Emperor like that would be like? The person sitting in the Imperial throne needs to care above all about the well—being of the Empire. You cannot do that if you care only about yourself. You might take money from the treasuries that was ear—marked for years of crop shortages to give yourself a parade. You might seek to hide knowledge and information because it might make you look bad. You might order someone killed because they insulted you.”
All of these were actual examples from history, and Saydrie could see as one person and another saw the parallels.
He looked around the room. “There was a good reason that people with bad aether were forbidden from taking the Imperial throne—”
“And who are you to lecture us on Calenyen history, Byittie?”
Saydrie lifted his chin and did not look straight at the person who’d insulted him, but let his gaze take in as much of the room as he could. “Who am I?” The Bitrani in the room might recognize a passage from the Book of the Three by that opening. “A Calenyena Student of History at the Ed Academy. I read the history of my nation — the Empire of Calenta —” he added, in case any of them were particularly slow “—every day, sometimes deep into the night. And while I am still a Student, of course, I certainly know where to find the books to read from.” He hefted the book he’d been reading from earlier. “People with bad aether,” he continued, when nobody challenged him this time, “were forbidden from taking the throne because they don’t care. They do not care about anyone but themselves. That’s a horrible thing for any sort of leader, and worse for someone on an Imperial throne.”
There was a noise to the back of the room. “The child,” Lirnilalie began, “is the worst sort of liar.”
Saydrie bristled but held his ground. “I do not lie.”
“This child lies on the names of the Three and the names of my ancestors, and he does so because is he sad and lonely. His friend here, she solved a murder. This one found a treaty that nobody else had every known existed. What does this one have?” Saydrie felt like her words were cutting through him, dissecting him, leaving him bare in front of all these people. She was taking him apart and making him into nothing— “He has nothing. An unwanted child, sent to the Academy to free his enclave of his presence, to let someone better, someone more wanted, stay home—”
“My mother,” Enrie cut in casually, “would sometimes say watch the people that say ‘lies’ the loudest, because they are likely to be telling the most brazen lies.” She took a step forward until she was between Lirnilalie and Saydrie, protecting him. He wanted to protest, and yet — yet this was what she did. And more, he was grateful to be reminded he had a friend to stand up for him. “What does he have?” Enrie echoed Lirnilalie’s question.
Taikie, much to Saydrie’s surprise, caught the cue and stepped up to answer, putting her shoulder next to Enrie’s. “He has his friends. Not just us, he has the school. His Team, his House, his friends. He has us.”
Saydrie cautiously put a hand on each girl’s shoulder, sensing that the contact would hammer home their point. As if they had rehearsed it, both girls reached up a hand and held on to his.
“You ask,” Enrie continued “— no, you did not ask, did you?” She sounded abashed; she also sounded like everyone here was supposed to know that she was no such thing. “Well, you might have asked why would he lie? The truth is, he wouldn’t. None of us are known to be liars, and that is an important thing — to be known to be truthful. I ask you, Lirnilalie, what are you known for?”
Category Chapters | Tags: