Inda by Sherwood Smith

  Three or four of the girls rolled their eyes.

  “Tdor-Edli?” Chelis held her hand out, and when Tdor stepped near, dropped onto Tdor’s muddy palm a heavy metal object. A ring! “Messenger brought this from Hadand-Hlinlaef to you as an early Name Day gift,” Chelis said in Iascan, using Marlovan titles.

  Hadand-Hlinlaef: not just Hadand’s name, but her rank as future wife of the king’s heir. Tdor knew a warning when she heard one. Her fingers closed round the ring. “Thanks.”

  Chelis left, her long yellow braids swinging as she ran back up to the castle. The girls crowded around Tdor.

  “A ring!”

  “Is it pretty?”

  “Why did she send it here? Why not to your family?”

  “She promised before she went back to the royal city to send me something I could wear home for my Name Day visit,” Tdor lied automatically, holding the ring out, and knowing that the beaten gold object would not garner any admiration.

  Sure enough. “It’s ugly,” Noren stated, wrinkling her nose.

  “I’ve seen prettier stones in the pickovers on Lastday market.” Liet flung back mud-streaked braids the color of flax.

  Speculative glances all around. How quick some were to hope for gossip! “It’s an old heirloom,” Tdor stated, quashing the idea that Hadand had sent the ring as an insult. In her experience, even false gossip sometimes took on life, just because people wanted to believe it. “The Iofre gave it to Hadand-Edli when she turned twelve.”

  The Iofre had worn it? And her daughter Hadand, one day to be queen? Oh, well then, that was different.

  “I’ll put it in my heirloom box,” Tdor finished. “Against my visit to Marth-Davan.” As she spoke, she brushed her fingers down her grubby tunic, a gesture that only Noren understood.

  Noren’s frown cleared. “Huh! I itch,” she declared. “Who’s for a bath? Liet, did you see the surprise in Inda’s face when you swooped down?”

  The girls followed Noren, talking about their win—and what they would do next time—as they trudged up to the castle.

  Tdor fingered the ring, longing for a moment of privacy. However two Algara-Vayir cousins were still watching her. You couldn’t be third in rank behind the princess and then Joret, Tanrid’s betrothed, and not be watched. Tdor had lived nine years here in Tenthen Castle, betrothed to Inda. She had learned how to wait.

  While she walked, Inda ran. Sentries in their ceaseless patrols atop the battlements saluted, fingers brushing over hearts, as he passed below. He waved back without slowing.

  Fiam, Inda’s young personal servant, met him at the lower door. “Clothes laid out at the baths.”

  Inda smiled. “Thanks.”

  No more was said as the two boys skimmed downstairs to the baths. Inda breathed in the scent of hot water. He undressed as he ran, flinging off his smock. At the edge of the bath he kicked free of his riding breeches and drawers, then dove in. The water, diverted from an underground stream, was kept warm and clean by the mysterious magic spells renewed by warrior-escorted mages every few years. It felt so good, the cleaning magic flicking over his skin and hair and teeth, and always reminded him of the snap of a fresh ginger root just under his nose. Fiam silently picked up the mud-encrusted clothes. Naked boys splashed into the water all around, and of course they began a water fight. For once Inda did not join them.

  Laughter and chatter echoed from the women’s side as the girls began arriving. Branid was last through the men’s side.

  “What d’ya think the summons is for?”

  “Probably something or other from my father,” Inda called.

  Branid shrugged, losing interest. Though great-uncle Jarend was a prince, he was also old and boring. Branid held his nose and dove into the bath.

  Inda scrubbed his fingers vigorously through his hair, then stretched out to float on his back. He watched the reflections of the water on the stone wall opposite the high windows, wondering idly if Tanrid had reached the royal city yet. Then he began mentally reviewing the map, trying to figure out where his brother and the Honor Guard might be.

  “Inda?” Fiam said in a low voice, glancing upward.

  The messenger! Inda popped up, slinging his hair back. It smacked his shoulders with a splat. He grabbed a handful and inspected it: no mud in sight. “How do I look?”

  “Clean enough,” Fiam pronounced, after scanning him with a critical eye. Fiam looked at the ugly splotches of bruises in various states of healing that marked Inda, and was glad once again that he was part of the household. Everyone knew that Randaels—Shield Arms—had to be tough, they were to hold the castle when their brothers traveled. But he wondered privately if anyone alive could ever be tough enough to please Tanrid-Laef, Inda’s brother, who would one day rule Choraed Elgaer as prince.

  Fiam did his best to towel Inda’s hair as the boy tugged on new clothes: drawers, his best riding breeches, his one good long tunic, green with the silver hunting owl stitched on the breast, new riding boots, and his knife-sash.

  Inda contained his impatience as Fiam’s swift fingers braided his thick, curling hair, and then whipped a ribbon around the end, letting it drop between Inda’s shoulder blades.

  Inda looked down at himself. The boots were new, good black-weave, well shined. They were stiff and uncomfortable, but Inda was proud of them, and of his new knife. Ten years old and he could hit a wooden post with either hand. Tanrid had seen to that all winter, every day, even during the worst weather. You think attackers will wait for a nice day? he’d snarled, shoving Inda out into sleet and even snow, but by the time Tanrid left for the academy, Inda was the best of all the boys at knife throwing, and so Tanrid had given him his first academy knife for Inda’s very own.

  He was still grinning about that when he reached the floor where his mother and father resided.

  His mother was thinking about Tanrid and Inda as well.

  Inda entered the formal audience chamber and politely laid his hand over his heart. His tall, straight-backed mother was not wearing her usual undyed woolen robe over linen shirt and breeches, but her green velvet gown, her usually bare head hidden under the silver-stiffened lace cap that she only wore for holidays or special occasions.

  Fareas-Iofre studied her lastborn. A purple and yellow bruise framed one of the questioning brown eyes, mottling the brown skin that otherwise glowed with good health. The Iofre wondered with familiar anguish if she would become accustomed to what everyone else accepted, that the heir must thrash his brother into toughness and obedience. To her, raised in a family without a younger brother, the custom was cruel and Tanrid seemed kinder to the stable dogs than to his brother. Yet of the entire household only Tdor appeared to mind.

  Fareas-Iofre said in a low voice, “I called you in first, though there’s a risk. I exhort you to bear change with honor.”

  “Risk?” Inda asked looking around for weapons. “Change?”

  The Iofre’s heart ached from visions of possible futures whose only shared characteristic was danger, visions she could not will away. But her son’s surprise caused a tiny blossom of humor to bloom behind her ribs, just for a heartbeat or two. “Nothing is ‘always,’ my dear. Except the greater truths, one of which is that power begets politics, and politics are more dangerous than war because there are fewer rules.”

  When his mother talked like that Inda watched as well as listened. He saw her worried eyes, the same light brown as his. She always sat straight and tall, just like his father, but she leaned forward a little now, her hands clasped tightly.

  “Circumspection is honorable,” the Iofre murmured.

  Questions crowded Inda’s thoughts. Nothing his mother said made sense yet, but he knew she was never frivolous. And Tdor would help him figure it out later, if he could just tell it to her correctly.

  A little silver bell tinkled somewhere.

  “Go straighten your tunic,” the Iofre murmured, waving to the far door. “It is crooked, and you must not appear before the King’s Voice
in that manner.”

  He crossed the room and carefully opened the door with its gilded inner edges. It was the only room in the castle that had been decorated, and to Inda, his mother’s audience chamber was pretty enough for a queen.

  He walked through into his mother’s dressing room, where two of her women waited. Though his tunic looked fine to him, their calloused fingers twitched and smoothed and patted, retying his sash, adjusting his knife to the correct angle.

  At the same moment, up in the tower where they stored old furnishings, Tdor crouched down behind an enormous iron-reinforced wooden chest that had been blackened by fire twenty-five years ago. She had practiced the unsealing spell over and over, since she was six. But this was her first message, and when she whispered the key-words, made the sign, then touched the ring’s stone, the brief flicker of light, the faint sting on her fingers of a magic spell broken, made her gasp with joy and wonder. The stone lifted, and there was a tiny coil of paper.

  She unrolled it, saw the vertical script of Old Sartoran, no longer spoken even in faraway Sartor, oldest kingdom in the world. But it was the language of archives, and of magic.

  The words said only Make certain he comes to me. And Hadand’s sigil, which she’d shared with Tdor two visits ago.

  Tdor read it again, turned the paper over, saw nothing else. The princess had once said, Anything you commit to paper you must consider your enemy will read. Hadand, now fourteen, had reinforced that lesson during this winter’s visit, with all the earnestness of someone who knew danger. Who had enemies, even.

  Enemies. Tdor had always thought the context of enemies was strangers in wartime, but in recent months—since Hadand’s last visit home—she was no longer so sure. She already knew that certain of the girls she could entrust some things to, but not everything. Others were always unreliable. Yet she had to live with them and work with them every day. So she learned to hide her secrets.

  In the distance Tdor heard the faint, sweet chime of bells. She ate the rice paper, then drifted out to wait for Inda.

  Chapter Two

  INDA returned to his mother’s audience chamber. Joret, Tanrid’s betrothed, had joined the Iofre and a young man wearing the expected war coat of Runner blue. Over his heart was stitched a crown. Inda stared. Of course he’d seen the King’s Runners before, but always from a distance. They’d only had business with his father, when he was here, or with his mother, or once a year with Tanrid.

  His mother beckoned as if she hadn’t seen him all day, and Inda reacted instinctively: he saluted her again, palm to heart, saw faint approval in her nod, and so he saluted Joret as well. Not even a smile from Joret. Just a tiny nod.

  Then a glance at the young man, who gazed with bemusement at Joret. A laugh bubbled in Inda’s gut, but he breathed hard to squash it. Every one of the few strangers he’d ever met goggled at Joret as if their brains had been boiled away.

  Joret’s eyes, bluer than a rain-scrubbed midsummer sky, were lowered so that her long, thick lashes hid them. Her gaze stayed on her fingers as if something of import was written there. Her smooth black hair, so unusual in this part of the world, which mostly bred yellow and light brown heads, gleamed with subdued blue highlights. The only sign of emotion was the faint rose along the smooth honey-colored skin of her cheeks.

  The princess said, “My son, here is the Herskalt with a message for you.” She spoke of course in Iascan, the language of peace, but she used the Marlovan word for King’s Voice, underscoring the importance of this audience.

  Recalled thus to duty, the young man looked startled; then he blushed. The Herskalt said formally—in Marlovan—“Indevan-Dal, a message was sent to your father, Jarend-Adaluin Algara-Vayir of Choraed Elgaer, with this same royal communication: you are required to present yourself by the turn of the month to the king’s academy for training in field command.”

  Inda gaped. For a moment he was too stunned to question this yank of the shuttle from the steady warp and weft of his life. The Runner, watching as he had been commanded to watch, saw no anger betrayed in hands or eyes or mouth, nor false surprise. He couldn’t figure out why the Royal Shield Arm thought that another messenger might have brought the news first, or why that would be a problem. But then everyone in the royal city knew that the Royal Shield Arm did not, for some reason, favor the Algara-Vayirs.

  The King’s Voice glanced toward the Iofre, who sat, her face unreadable, as expected. He couldn’t prevent a hasty glance toward the heir’s betrothed, but that was a mistake, for he caught her interested gaze straight on, and its impact, so unexpected, made his nerves fire, scattering his wits.

  The Iofre’s voice recalled him. “Are questions permitted?”

  “Yes.” Relief. Duty was so steadying!

  The Iofre turned to Inda. “My son?”

  Inda struggled for words, veering between the strangeness of his mother’s earlier warning and his own feeling that he’d stepped out on what he’d thought a sturdy trail and found too late that his feet had overreached an unseen cliff.

  “Why?” Inda said, framing the first word he could catch in his freefall. “I always wanted to go to the royal city and learn what my brother learns. But I’m to be his Randael, am I not?”

  “Yes.” The King’s Voice smiled. “That has not changed.”

  “Well, so, isn’t Tanrid supposed to train me? It’s always been that way for the younger brother, except of the king. The heir trains the next Randael so he’ll execute his brother’s commands the way he wants when he’s away riding the borders.”

  The King’s Voice said, quite kindly, “You know that your father is oath-sworn to Tlennen-Sieraec.” He used the Marlovan title for ruling monarch in peacetime instead of the Iascan word for king, just as he’d called Inda’s father by his Marlovan title, Adaluin, and not the Iascan prince.

  Inda’s brow puckered as he considered. “Of course.”

  “That means not only does Tlennen-Sieraec come to the aid of his protectorates, as happened here twenty-five years ago . . .”

  Inda ducked his head. That horrible story was familiar from earliest childhood.

  “. . . but you—meaning your father and his kin—must come to his aid with the oath-stipulated defense force if war threatens and the king must ride out as Tlennen-Harvaldar.”

  Harvaldar: Marlovan for war king.

  “So there’s a war coming?” Inda grinned with anticipation.

  The Herskalt smiled back. He liked this boy. His report on his mission would be favorable, so the Iofre and Joret saw.

  “Perhaps. Now, you know the purpose of the academy, yes?”

  Inda recited Tanrid’s oft-said words: “An army’s strength in the field depends on all the king’s captains being trained together, so they know the commands, and the chain of command.”

  The King’s Voice added, “That last part means being familiar with the commands of the Royal Shield Arm, Anderle-Sierandael.” And watched closely, as he’d been ordered to.

  Inda did not bridle, pout, frown, look away. He said with a revealing lack of self-consciousness, “That’s why he oversees the academy. My brother told us that.”

  If there is any conspiracy here, I will eat my boots, the Herskalt thought. Not that his report would contain those words. “Well, the Sierandael believes that if we must raise another army for defense, it will have to be captained by the Shield Arms, so they too must be able to follow his commands.”

  Inda’s brow cleared. This reasoning made sense, and his conviction showed in his expression. He nodded. “What about Tdor, my Randviar?” Inda used Tdor’s future rank in Marlovan, for the wife of a Shield Arm was also a defender, and Iascan had no equivalent words. “Will she go to the queen’s training early?” Inda jabbed a finger Joret’s way, and then added, “Joret goes next year, when she’s fifteen. Is Tdor going with me before Joret goes? That would be strange,” he added, though inwardly he very much liked the idea of Tdor being with him in the faraway royal city.

  The K
ing’s Voice managed not to glance at Joret, and kept his composure. “No. The queen’s training has not changed, so your Randviar will go at fifteen, as usual. Have you any more questions, Indevan-Dal?”

  “No.” At a gesture from his mother, Inda saluted the Herskalt and added, “Thank you.”

  The Herskalt then saluted them all, palm over heart, and said, “With your permission I will withdraw and give your steward the orders for your dispositions.” Two steps back, eyes scrupulously averted from Joret, and he was gone.

  “Dispositions?” Inda turned to his mother.

  “That means your personal weapons, clothing, bedding, riding boots, and money for your subsequent needs.”

  “Oh.” Inda fidgeted with his sash. “May I withdraw?”

  The Iofre inclined her head, and Inda saluted again, still on his very best behavior, for the change in his life seemed to require no less. He closed the door carefully behind him, and ran his fastest upstairs to the school wing, where he and his siblings, their intended spouses, and the family wards all had their rooms.

  When he reached the upper landing there was Tdor, still muddy, lying in wait. Before he could speak she thrust him into the heir’s suite, which was behind the door nearest the landing.

  Inda glanced around, distracted. He had never entered Tanrid’s rooms without permission. Habit was strong, and so was imagined presence, for the heir’s gilt furniture and fabulous rugs sat here, furnishings inherited from his forefathers—heavy, beautifully carved raptor chairs and tables, that no one was allowed to touch. Even Tanrid was careful here, so careful he was seldom in these rooms, and almost lived in the stable.

  “It’s cold in here,” he said, trying for the right words to express his unease. “No, it’s not that. We shouldn’t be here.”

  “Never mind,” Tdor said, plopping down cross-legged in the middle of Tanrid’s ancient rug, all blue and green and silver with owls in flight worked in a pattern. “What Tanrid doesn’t know he can’t thrash you for. Tell me what happened. And keep your voice low. We don’t need half the castle with their ears pressed against the door.”

Previous Page Next Page
Should you have any enquiry, please contact us via [email protected]