Inda by Sherwood Smith

  “True. So let’s discuss what you do know. Tell me,” Mistress Resvaes said, “what exactly does ‘Marlovan’ mean?”

  They exchanged glances of surprise. Tdor looked down at her hands. Shen hesitated, still searching for the right words to tell this woman whatever it was she wanted to hear.

  Hadand said, “Marlovans have no written history. The oldest songs and stories tell us ‘Marlovan’ means ‘accursed of the Venn.’ By studying Iascan history, we’ve found out that the word really is a blend of three words, meaning ‘outcasts of the Venn.’ ”

  “I see. So you have corrected the songs, then?”

  “Corrected the songs?” Hadand repeated, taken aback. “The songs are songs. Separate from, well, anything else.”

  “Who sings these songs? Everyone in Iasca Leror?”

  Hadand said. “We do, the descendants of the Marlovans.”

  “Who speaks Marlovan? Not everyone, I apprehend.”

  “No,” Shen said. “Just us. In fact it wasn’t even spoken for several generations. Or only at home, on festival days.”

  “Why is that?” Mistress Resvaes asked, leaning forward.

  “There are different ideas,” Hadand said slowly; at first she’d been surprised at the woman’s ignorance, for mage teachers were supposed to be quite learned. But now she suspected the woman knew the answer, and waited only to hear how the girls framed it. “My mother says it’s because nothing was written down, that we had only stories to go on. Iascan, being written, was more useful for government and trade. Others claim that Marlovan must only be spoken by descendants of the plains, a custom denoting pride. Yet the Cassads tell us that most of the Marlovans of the second generation after the kingdoms joined were ashamed of their language, because it wasn’t written, it hadn’t—” Hadand frowned, seeking words.

  “The sophisticated vocabulary,” Shendan said, watching the mage for the tiniest reaction. “And yet it does, but for life on the plains. For weather, for seasons, for matters of the open air, my mother says, Marlovan is far more subtle than Iascan. There are nineteen verbs just for rain.”

  “For weather, for seasons, for matters of the open air such as war?” Mistress Resvaes asked. “So I have heard. I have also heard that Marlovan is called ‘the language of war.’ ”

  No mistaking the girls’ reactions: surprise, followed swiftly by wariness in Shendan, resignation in Hadand, and the puckered brow of inward questioning in Tdor.

  Shen’s lips parted, and Mistress Resvaes said in a gentle voice, “Do not attempt to tell me it’s just the men who say it thus. It was Ndara Cassad, the one you term Harandviar, who told me just last night, when we had our private interview. Our secret interview, unknown to any of the men here, at which she told me pretty much everything you have told me—except what you would do with knowledge of historical magic.”


  Mistress Resvaes breathed slowly, searching for the words that would bring these girls to a wider understanding. “And I must observe, if men and women are so divided here, you will never really have peace.”

  Shen said, eyes wide, “So because we are Marlovans you’ll withhold knowledge from us? Ignorant we might be, but we’re trying to fight against that, and meanwhile, we’re informed enough about other kingdoms to know they aren’t perfect. Yet they have trained mages, and not just healers, living among them. Why should we be condemned to ignorance? Is it because we won’t permit the Venn to conquer us?”

  “There are so many wrong assumptions lying behind your words I hardly know how to begin,” Mistress Resvaes said. “But I will try. First, no one is withholding knowledge as knowledge. Magic, yes, for a time, but I shall see to it that you get better records, for I think you must begin to understand what happened to us before the Fall, the chain of bad choices humankind made, often for the best of reasons, and the results. It is we humans, not anyone else, who nearly destroyed ourselves. And we used magic to do it.”

  “But we don’t want magic for war,” Hadand said, her hands gripped together. “No one ever thought that. We all want it to make life better.”

  Tdor spoke for the first time. “Fareas-Iofre taught us magic can’t be used for war. Only for improvement of life.”

  “It can be used for anything,” Mistress Resvaes said to her, and though her voice was kind, her gaze was serious. “And we have made some very terrible mistakes. Not just in our ancient history, but more recently. Far more recently.”

  She went on to ask some more questions about their history, and heard the eager answers. She had been trained well, and so the girls saw no sign of just how alarming Mistress Resvaes found them, with their passionate desire to master magic for “peace” when they so clearly accepted war as an expected way of life. Yet she felt an unexpected sympathy: she knew that these girls did not lie; they really believed just what they said.

  That made them even more frightening. Their intentions were the best, but they had accepted the mandate of their kings that Marlovans conquer their neighbors for their own good and then rearrange their lives so that they would live the Marlovan idea of peace and plenty. And prepare for war against their ancient ancestors, a cycle that promised never to end.

  They would get their ancient records, but ones that detailed politics and lives and laws, nothing about magic except as result. Not method.

  Shen fought tears. She had let herself hope, and she hated hope, for the only thing about it you could trust is that it would always, without fail, be denied.

  And so she and Tdor withdrew with silent steps, watched ahead by Ndara-Harandviar’s women, until they reached the Royal Armsmistress, just as all the girls were returning from the game. The Royal Armsmistress declared their break-in a win.

  And so there was a celebration that night, their triumphant riding given leave, and in their midst Shen talked, and laughed, and drank, but at night Tdor lay in compassionate silence below her, listening to the harsh breathing of grief that lasted until dawn.

  Chapter Twenty-one

  JORET looked down at the intertwined gilded lilies circling her beautiful porcelain cup, and knew that this interview with Fareas-Iofre was not going to be an easy one.

  Late summer light streamed in the west windows, painting tall columns of glowing gold up the bare peach stone of the opposite wall, and reflected back into the room, glinting on the rims of the cups.

  Fareas-Iofre poured out summery scented steeped leaf, all the more precious since the embargo. They talked of training games, of who would be sent to the capital to bring Tdor and Whipstick Noth back now that his last year as a horsetail was done and Tdor was finished with the queen’s training. He would take over as the Algara-Vayir Shield Arm, and his father would ride back north, to honorable retirement, unless the king required him again.

  “My dear,” Fareas-Iofre said, after they had finished a cup. “You must speak to the heir, or his visit, I suspect, will stretch on for another half a year.”

  Joret looked as if someone had taken a dagger to her heart. Fareas thought, Is it possible she returns, in some way, the Sierlaef’s passion? She studied the girl’s unhappy face and considered the tall, good-looking royal heir who sat in a horse so well, whose silences held him aloof and perhaps made him seem a mystery to the young.

  But Joret was not thinking of the Sierlaef, she was thinking of ghosts. She looked into the pale green liquid in her cup and breathed the fresh scent as she considered how she’d seen Aunt Joret’s ghost three more times, all three when the heir was present. And no one else had seen it, for on all three occasions Jarend-Adaluin had been absent.

  Once again she wished she could confide in Fareas-Iofre—except she knew the princess could have no insight to offer. Joret had been through all the Iofre’s books and scrolls, and so she knew whatever the princess knew about ghosts. Probably more.

  What she really craved was comfort, but at what cost? Hadand had made her promise not to tell her mother when they were girls of ten and eleven. She sometimes forgets I??
?m here when my home visits first begin, and I overheard her talking last year, saying how difficult it is to live with a ghost. But she doesn’t see ghosts. I asked her later. I figured it out; she means how everyone always talks about the old Iofre, your Aunt Joret. I don’t want Mama knowing she has her real ghost here as well.

  And though Joret now knew she was not alone in seeing this ghost, that the Adaluin also saw it, it never would have occurred to her to talk to him. He had always been courteous but remote—she once thought he probably spoke a hundred words to her in as many days. Maybe in a year.

  “My dear?” the Iofre said, and Joret wrenched her mind back to the wretched question.

  “I don’t want to talk to the Sierlaef,” she said, turning her cup purposelessly in her fingers.

  Fareas-Iofre said, “The royal heir does not appear to perceive your preference not to dally. After all, many would consider it an honor to be so noticed. Perhaps you need to make it clear.” And offered more steeped leaf.

  Joret accepted a third cup, but she did not see the liquid or taste it. Instead she looked back most unwillingly over the past half a year, and how she always knew when the king’s son was there in a room, how he watched her. In truth, she did feel attraction, but she likened it to the attraction of fire, which was bright and strong and powerful, and had its own kind of grace. But get too close, and it would burn.

  “I fear,” she said, low, “it will be difficult for me to send him away. I fear he will take it as hurt.”

  “It is possible,” Fareas-Iofre said. “That family is known for its long-lived passions. But it has to be you, it cannot be any of us, because of who he is.”

  Joret said, “I’ve never spoken to him, beyond polite necessity. That should be enough!”

  Fareas said, “Not enough for obsession, it appears.”

  Obsession. A spasm of disgust caused Joret to grimace slightly. The attraction she’d felt for the Sierlaef from time to time, and for one or two others, only flickered—and it was a pale flicker, not nearly what others called a spark—when watching them afar. With the Sierlaef, when he rode or performed the sword dances. But when he looked at her in that way of his she felt crowded and stuffy, like a room too long shut up in summer, with too many people in it. She did not want intimacy with him, or with anyone, really, though she’d settled it within herself that intimacy with Tanrid would be her duty one day. Life, she thought (perceiving herself as very wise at the advanced age of eighteen), would be far more tranquil without sex.

  But wishing life was different did not solve the problem of the king’s heir—who was supposed to marry Hadand—and his obsession. Hadand! That gave her an idea. “Will it seem less of an affront if I say that honor and love cause me to regard Hadand as sister, and thus him as brother?”

  “Nothing you say will be pleasant, but that does not offer insult to a hot-blooded young man. Honor is always a good reason,” Fareas-Iofre said, and shook her head, thinking, It’s a good excuse, especially for the young. “We endeavor to rely on the halter of custom, though no set of rules truly tames the human heart.”

  Joret used those words later to the Sierlaef, when she finally agreed to meet him on the west wall. The sentries saw they wanted privacy and obliged with silently shortened patrols.

  When Fareas-Iofre had said that, it sounded so wise, so right, but as soon as the words were out of her mouth she wished she could reach and catch them and clap them into nothingness, for she could see how wrong he heard them.

  Nothing can tame the human heart. His breathing changed, and his chin came up, so that moonlight shone in his eyes, startlingly green, and then he smiled, his hands trembling as they reached for hers.

  She put her hands behind her back and stood, poised to run if he should touch her, but instead he fought his tongue, rehearsing his words over and over, for he would not bleat, not before the love of his life. “Find a way,” he managed, his voice low and rough, his body trembling.

  “No, no,” she cried. She realized that any explanation was useless, for he would hear only what he wanted to hear. “Please. Go back to Hadand, who is my dearest sister.”

  He opened his hands. Of course she would be loyal. It was part of her perfection. “Find. A way,” he said again, with more emphasis, and then he left, his self-control almost at an end. His entire body was on fire. Another moment—if she brought out her hands again, if her glorious blue gaze touched his—he would kiss her, and he sensed from the sound of her breathing that she would take fire too, but it would be the fire of anger as well as passion. Honor. She wanted everything honorable. It just made her more perfect.

  He strode off to the tower door, his long pale hair swinging between his shoulder blades, leaving her there alone, sick with despair, thinking, What have I done?

  And so he ran downstairs, summoned his liveried men with a snap of the fingers, and made the flat-handed sweep they had all been waiting for: pack up. In scarcely repressed relief his Runners set about preparing for a morning ride. They’d been waiting every single day for the command to leave, while enduring the firmly closed world of Tenthen. Nothing ever impolite, not to those who served the future king, but bearable when people get on with their lives if it’s only for a few days. When the time lengthens to six months, and people still do not know your name, or move around you as if you were fragile furniture, you begin to wish you were as invisible as they pretended you were.

  The Sierlaef was, of course, utterly unaware of this silent struggle going on belowstairs. All he could think about was bracing himself for his last glimpse of Joret.

  Before dawn Tanrid was thumped awake by Cassad’s impatient hand. In the weak blue light Cassad’s sharp face altered from impatient to thoughtful as he glanced at the empty space on the bed beside Tanrid, and he plumped down unasked, mail faintly jingling. “We’re gone,” he said.

  “What?” Tanrid realized Cassad was dressed for riding, his hair pulled up in its gold clasp, his House colors on.

  “Your Joret finally turfed him out last night.” And she’s not in here. Interesting. Cassad thought of that beautiful face, the polite, honest, but stone-cold manner, and his guts warmed at the prospect of being reunited with Carleas Ndarga, who might be plain to look at, but they made one another laugh—while they shared the fun things they had learned at the royal city pleasure houses.

  Tanrid didn’t waste time asking if it was truth or just rumor. Cassad always knew the gossip almost as soon as it happened. “Huh.” He flung out of bed, thinking: first day worth getting up for in almost two years.

  He scrambled into his own colors, but without the mail, since he was home, and would be able to stay home.

  The entire household turned out to see off the Sierlaef and his entourage, all of them saluting with hand over heart. The royal heir kept his gaze on the beautiful figure there between the Iofre and Captain Noth, her fine, glossy black hair ruffled in the cool breeze, her color bright, but not as bright as her eyes. She met his gaze unsmiling, her hand at her heart like the rest, the other hand straight at her side.

  He raised his fist. His outriders gave vent to their feelings by galloping through the gates, banners held high. The Sierlaef’s mare, excited by the sudden departure, danced impatiently and so he loosened the reins and he too was gone at a gallop, his guard thundering after.

  As they rode north the Sierlaef began to brood about his promise. For the first time he sent his thoughts ranging ahead of the present. Perhaps it was the prospect of being home again and all those duties closing in.

  Honor. He had no honorable reason to visit again, and even if he did, he knew a brief dalliance would never be enough. Tanrid would have her by his side his entire life.

  Tanrid. I wish he was dead, the Sierlaef thought, feeling a jab of frustration-spiked jealousy. Because he’d never agree to give her up, he or his stiff-assed father. Even though it was clear as day Joret didn’t want Tanrid. But she would marry him and share his bed just the same, because she was honor-bound to
do so. If Tanrid was dead, she wouldn’t care.

  He considered that, and yes, it seemed true. Then the sun rose inside his mind, full of the light of possibility—

  If Tanrid was dead I could marry Joret.

  Marry her. For a time he did not see the bright summer sky, or feel the heat reflecting off the road as the sun climbed higher in the sky. Insects chirruped and dust hung suspended on the road and a warm breeze rustled through the broad green five-fingered oak leaves along the ridge above the river. He was oblivious to it all, dazzled by the sunlight of this new vision, Joret standing on the dais in the throne room, the Jarls crying out Joret-Gunvaer, her beautiful blue, straightforward, fearless gaze, her straight, strong body beside him, wearing his own crimson and gold, and later they would go together into the king’s rooms . . . her warm flesh under his hands, her lips raised to his. The sun inside flashed to intense heat, and his body tightened, causing his horse to sidle, which made the other horses prick their ears and swerve their heads, their riders as well.

  He reined both mind and horse with an impatient jerk. Think like a king!

  But his mind promptly answered, She deserves to be a queen.

  The thought was fine while it lasted, but as soon as he began to explore it, he came hard up against Hadand, and everything faltered. He liked Hadand. Everyone liked Hadand, but still she never strutted, unlike some of those females. He frowned at a memory: Hadand helping him with his reading, quietly, so no one ever knew. No one. She never told anyone, except maybe that little rabbit Kialen Cassad, who didn’t count for anything.

  If Tanrid were gone, would she agree to let him marry Joret? Of course she would. She’d always done what he asked. But her honor required she be given a marriage just as good. She deserved one just as good. So, well, he could send Hadand off to marry some prince somewhere, just like his own mother had come to this kingdom. That was it! A peace treaty, honor all around. Might even be good policy! If Tanrid were dead—

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