August 20, 2019 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
“It’s pretty rhetoric.” Lirnilalie looked around the room in disdain. “But that’s all it is. It’s sweet rhetoric thought up by a child who should be in classes. By a child who doesn’t know how the world really works, outside of the enclaves. We know, outside, in the real world, how the gears turn, how the Devices crank, how the world really functions.”
“Are you-” Someone cleared their throat. Their accent was southern – there she was. A woman, looking Cevati Bitrani from the clothes and the haircut, and tall, definitely taller than Lirnilalie. “-Do you mean to say that the enclaves are protected? Or sheltered? Somehow outside of the normal world?”
“That’s not what she said!” someone shouted. And then someone else added an agreement or disagreement, and then five more people.
The Cevati Bitrani woman just stood taller. “The enclaves are not protected space. To suggest that they are is nothing but ignorance.” Her accent was thick, but there was no way anyone could pretend not to understand her.
Lirnilalie tried to take back the room. “The world of the cities, of the workers, of the Bitrani who live among the Calenyena –“
“Wait.” This was a wiry, short Calenyena man with a braided beard, who’d climbed up onto a table to be heard. “You’re a Calenyena noble. You can’t be saying you’re Bitrani. Look at you.”
“There are, of course, nobles, people who happen to be Bitrani-blooded and royalty of the Calenyena–” She gestured, perhaps unwisely, at Oltyellalobtello, who made a who-me sort of gesture and stepped back, effectively losing herself in a group of people.
Lirnilalie pulled attention back to herself with a wide gesture. “It doesn’t matter where your blood is,” she continued. “We are all Calenyena. We are all part of this nation here, in this land.”
While Saydrie had been saying something not all that different a few minutes before, he frowned anyway. Something about the way she said it seemed just a little off.
She continued. “We all kneel under the same Emperor. We’re all —”
“Have you ever knelt for anyone?”
The Bitrani woman didn’t even look embarrassed to have interrupted. “You don’t look like a kneeling sort. You look like a proud sort, and you stink of it, too.”
“She stinks of selfishness!”
“She stinks of evil!”
“She stinks of boots!”
There was a pause at that last cry. A tall woman with her blonde hair in Calenyen braids shrugged and smirked at the attention. “She smells like the way someone stinks when they’re kicking you when you’re already on the ground. Like boots.”
As the crowd went ah, more or less together, she added, “and also like a shoe when you wash your socks and feet not nearly enough.”
Saydrie choked on a laugh. Someone near him sniggered. Someone else giggled.
Ernie laughed, a sound unlike any he’d heard from her before — an aristocratic, carrying sound like bright bells. It made Saydrie grin, and that made him laugh out loud, and then the whole audience was laughing.
Princess Oltyellalobtello stepped up onto the stage with two people he didn’t recognize and, as the laughter continued, stood. Stood, until people saw her, and until people quieted and stilled, and until they looked a little abashed, although there were still the occasional snort and chuckle.
“As our master of ceremonies has vacated the stage, I wish to thank all our student presenters for their presentations and, more, for their innovation. Continue to work hard and be the brilliant people that you are, and I know the nation will be better for it.”
A smattering of applause greeted that, none too enthusiastic. Saydrie didn’t mind. He barely noticed; he was watching Lirnilalie. She wasn’t slinking out, but she was against the side wall whispering to someone who appeared to no longer want to talk to her.
She looked furious.
“Now, we’re here to discuss an unsigned historical artifact found by several of the same students, hidden in some old library books, yes? There’s quite a bit to work on in these documents, but the main thing we’re concerned with is an interesting bit about the town of what we now call Gettanzhie. It was originally a Bitrani town by the name of Ramulen, and I wonder if we might discuss returning the name to its original Bitrani? It’s a much prettier name; everyone has to acknowledge that, and it brings a bit of Bitrani cultural heritage back to the formerly-known ‘border regions.'”
Saydrie was staring at her. What? WHAT? The big deal was that the surrender treaty had been signed on-
“Brilliant,” Enrie whispered. “Saydrie, she’s beautiful and brilliant.”
Saydrie stole a look at his friend. “Don’t let Gianci hear you say that,” he teased. Because she was definitely right, but he wasn’t sure quite what was going on.
“Listen, she has this big thing and it’s… it’s what — oh, dear, Lirnilalie is leaving. That’s not good, is it?”
“Well, she hasn’t committed a crime, has she?” He stood taller to see the former Princess slipping out the side door. “I mean… she hasn’t been caught committing a crime…”
A scuffle just outside the door sent him heading that way, trying to move quietly and subtly while Princess Oltyellalobtello kept up her very smooth patter about things that they hadn’t even noticed about the Coffee Treaty, things that were so trivial he was surprised people were listening as well as they were — which was, he had to admit, rather raptly.
A few other people were moving that way, which was kind of good, because even at almost-fifteen-years-old, Saydrie was taller than a large part of the audience already. He wondered what it would be like when he reached his full growth, a whole head or more above everyone.
That was really sort of beside the point, though. He was always – he had always been going to grow taller than the Calenyena, the Cevati Callenni, as it were, because he was, in blood, Bitrani.
He had to think about that some other time. He bit his lip and continued trying to look casual as he moved through the crowd and out the side door.
Two tough-looking Calenyena women had beaten him to it and were doing their best not to make a lot of noise while they tried to restrain Lirnilalie, who was fighting back far too effectively. A Bitrani man stepped out the door, looked at the women, and looked at Saydrie. “Better you than me,” the man muttered. “My wife would not speak to me for days. And besides—”
“—She smells. I’m not that Calenni,” Saydrie muttered. Still. he stepped forward, considered the fight, and threw a punch.
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