October 3, 2019 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
We’re on the way to the close! Thank you for staying with me this long, guys!
“I’ve never been to a trial before.” Taikie was whispering, but she needn’t have bothered. Callenni are a restless lot, Saydrie’s mother liked to say, and the crowd here was loud enough that the judging three would have to fight to be heard.
“Neither have I,” he murmured back. When an enclave was considered guilty of wrongdoing, there was an investigation, yes, but no trial. Nothing like this, with three judges in complicated braiding patterns and riotous layers of robes, with two people in gear that looked out of his people’s nightmares, dyed leather and iridescent metal, swords at their hips and piikespikes in their hands, goat horns curling out of their helmets which themselves were shaped like fantastical beasts. Nothing with a box for the Emperor, who sat not in judgement but in witness, with a box for Princess Oltyellalobtello and several other of her cousins, where Saydrie, Enrie, and Taikie sat looking nearly drab and very small amongst the royal family.
“I’ve been through a few. With my parents. They’ll declare the charges and Lirnilalie will refute them. They’ll present the evidence and then they’ll let her speak as well.” Enrie chewed on her lip. “That could be the only problem.”
Letting Lirnilalie speak? Saydrie had to agree that, yes, that could be a problem.
Princess Oltyellalobtello leaned over. “It should be just a moment before they bring her in. Just remember, you’re here to observe and to witness how the information you provided is utilized. You won’t have to speak and she can’t demand to talk to you.”
“What if we’d lied?” Taikie frowned. “What if we’d falsified information?”
“Then your School Head and House Monitor and Heads of Houses would not have spoken well of you and your information never would have reached this trial.”
“…Heads of Houses?” In all the time they’d been running around Edally Academy, Saydrie had spoken to his Head of House perhaps twice.
The look Princess Oltyellalobtello gave him said that she knew that, too . “They spoke highly of all three of you, except in your in—House participation, which all of them agreed could be excused in the current circumstances. Relax; your school is very proud of you.”
Saydrie did not feel particularly relaxed. As Dalebod had said — if his goal was to lay low and not attract attention, he was doing a very poor job of it. Heads of house. Head of School. At least three direct relatives of the Emperor — although he couldn’t bring himself to be too upset about Princess Oltyellalobtello’s attention.
All that was entirely irrelevant. “I’m glad they think well of me,” he answered. He sounded stiff, like he had only been speaking Calenyena for a few days.
Oltyellalobtello smiled at him in a way that seemed almost like a hug or a pat on the arm. “After this,” she offered, her smile growing a little playful and her eyes crinkling, “perhaps you can get to know your House and your teammates’ houses. And perhaps you can have a quiet year.”
“Perhaps,” he offered, finding himself smiling in response, “nobody will blow up a building under us, or murder a professor, or attempt to overthrow the Emperor, or threaten our lives, or generally decide to rub any one of their statuses in our faces — you know, they are True Bitrani or they are True Royals or they are Truly None of the Above or—” He trailed off, adding a chuckle that was more nerves than humor.
“Perhaps.” Oltyellalobtello looked around the room, seeming willing to let it lie there.
A moment later, however, she leaned forward over their balcony railing. “Look.” The princess pointed forward to the left — where Saydrie had been doing a good job of ignoring a grated box about the size of a carriage’s seat-area. As the crowd — the audience, he supposed, trickled in, every single blonde person and some with middling-brown hair, some even with black hair — in short, anyone who might have any Bitrani blood in them at all — made their way somehow, no matter where they entered, past that grated box before they headed up to their seats. In many cases, you could see their nostrils flare as they walked by.
Once in the seats, the division between the Bitrani and Calenyena was clear — the Bitrani were all off to the left in a sea of blonde hair and, generally, duller clothes, so that the bits of brightness stood out even more sharply. Saydrie, who himself was wearing clothes he’d let Enrie pick out, looked nearly Calenyena (If you ignored his height, his hair, his breadth, his face), and it was somewhat relaxing to see other Bitrani dressed similarly.
“They don’t normally,” Enrie hissed, as if she, too, was afraid of being overheard, “they don’t — normally they don’t have the one on trial like that on display. They normally bring them out once everybody is settled and the judges have sat down!”
“That,” the princess was wearing a smug smile that made her look all the more attractive. “That is what you did, you three. That is the fruit of your labor. All those Bitrani, that, letting them smell her — that is because of you three. Your knowledge, Saydrie, your device, Taikie, and your skill, Enrie. Be proud of this, kids.”
Saydrie try not to flinch at kids but it was an effort. Kids was — well, they were still kids, weren’t they? In all that had happened, he had somehow forgotten that.
Enrie leaned into him, an affectionate nudge against him. She knew, he thought. Oh. He didn’t know if that made everything better or worse. He leaned back anyway, because she was his friend, and she was trying to help.
Taikie, as she was so good at, broke the mood. “That is…! That is… We did that? We —”
“You did,” Princess Oltyellalobtello assured her. “And that, that, my young geniuses — that is going to change the world more than just stopping a potential Rebellion.”
“But,” Saydrie began, “you, you stopped the rebellion. You stood up there — you stood up there and told them the whole treaty was nothing, you took that treaty, and you turned it into,” he huffed, “into just a piece of paper… into something about the name of a town…”
“I did,” she told him solemnly, but with a little sparkle to her eyes that he couldn’t help but covet. “I gave them a token to focus on. I gave them something to redirect their attention to. Yes. Because in any reasonable sense, that treaty was never going to be signed. It had been forgotten, it had been failed to be signed so long ago that even our ancestors had forgotten about it. It is good that it was brought to light, because as your friend here says, as Enerenarie says, it is good that we stop burying things. But — you three, you turned an obnoxious, dangerous agitator who had no interest in helping the people she claimed to speak for, a whispered legend people were terrified of, took her and brought her down to the level of, well, the stinking pile of dung that she is.”
“People are still going out of their way to sniff her.” Enrie frowned. “They’re still going out of their way to get near her.”
“They are. But people almost always sniff to see if dung really smells.” Oltyellalobtello’s smile was broad and playful. “They don’t stop to listen to what the dung has to say. And they aren’t listening to her, either. That, that, my young geniuses, is what you did. And it is amazing. If you don’t pass with highest marks this year, I may have to yell at your Heads of House myself.”