Inda by Sherwood Smith


  “He’s a quiet one,” the Adaluin said, nodding once. “I find him as trustworthy as his father has always been. Yet my aunt’s side of the family will be expecting Branid to be named.”

  Fareas hesitated. Branid, as descendant of Jarend’s uncle, had a claim, though a distant one, as custom seldom acknowledged entitlement older than a generation. But the Randviar previous to Jarend’s first wife was still alive, a hateful woman still angry at being forced out of her position by the deaths of her husband and the old prince and her replacement by Jarend nearly forty years ago. She was correspondingly jealous of every prerogative for her direct descendants.

  For a moment both of them pictured Branid as prince, Jarend trying to envision him commanding the Riders, and Fareas seeing Joret forced to marry him, to endure his interference in home defense and regulation—his manner of rule the terrible combination of threat, wheedling and spying that he had always used on the other boys in his struggle for precedence, and that he now used on the Riders. Branid as prince would destroy the Algara-Vayirs, and they both knew it.

  “We shall say,” Jarend murmured as he studied the owl rug, still bright, lying there on the floor, “that Indevan is alive and travels to learn. I have never disowned him, so unless the king requires that of me—and he would have to give a reason—I can therefore make him my heir.”

  Fareas felt a spurt of joy, so intense that fear immediately followed it. Inda. Home again. Somehow, she must get word to him. To her husband she said only, “It is good.”

  And so they walked down to the great court a little later, as the sun sank in the west. The bonfire was already lit. They joined the waiting circle, and the Hymn to the Fallen rose skyward with the smoke.

  After that Evred’s herald read out in a slow, formal voice the letter that the future Shield Arm had written attesting to Tanrid-Laef’s loyalty and courage, and all the while Joret felt Branid’s hungry gaze on her, and Tdor watched, feeling sick and apprehensive by turns.

  Joret looked away so that she would not have to see Branid’s unhidden desire. She was a Marlovan, adopted into the Algara-Vayir family, and unless she was sent elsewhere her duty was to marry the heir, a duty she had accepted, but which now closed in like a threat of death, as they all waited for Jarend-Adaluin to come forward and name his new heir. Joret stared into the fire, not thinking about Tanrid, who was now beyond pain or care, but about the bleakness ahead for those remaining; she was jolted, but not surprised, when once again a black-haired, blue-eyed face emerged from the flames, and her Aunt Joret stepped out, flames shimmering through the blue of her gown.

  Joret turned her head, and yes, there was Jarend-Adaluin, staring, so silent his people stopped their murmuring and watched, no sound rising but the crackling of the flames.

  Many saw the ghost that time. The old kennel master, for he sobbed aloud, and once again the dogs began howling in the distance. The Adaluin. Joret herself. The cook, the old arms mistress, several of the grizzled Riders with whom she’d dallied thirty years ago, though afterward many claimed to have seen her ghost, Branid loudest of all.

  The ghost drifted toward the house, her ethereal blue gown blowing in a wind distant in time from this warm, still summer night. Heads turned, watching, and others watched the watchers, until she blended with the golden-lit stone walls of the castle and vanished.

  It was at that moment conviction gripped Joret by the heart, a grip cold and icy as death, and she knew why her aunt haunted this castle: she had died as the result of treachery, and was bound to Tenthen until such treachery was expiated. Her message now, or warning, or the mysterious power that gave her the strength to appear was the fact that Tanrid had also died as a result of treachery.

  So the question was, should she speak, and risk touching off a civil war? Because there was only one person who could have arranged that death.

  The Adaluin’s voice was strained. “We shall await the homecoming of Indevan-Dal, who shall be named henceforth Indevan-Laef, my heir.” He walked inside next to his wife.

  Joret turned to Tdor, both keeping their faces still, but seeing their relief in each other’s breathing and stance: no Branid. That much, at least, they were spared. They would talk as soon as they were in a safe room.

  Joret followed the prince and princess inside, still second in rank, now betrothed to someone she had not seen since he was a little boy.

  Branid Algara-Vayir, on the other side of the fire, glared, looking for a victim, and everyone except his grandmother avoided his gaze as they dispersed. She walked beside him to their wing, whispering in a low, venomous voice.

  Whipstick Noth waited for Tdor, who stared at the fire, her hands pressed together. They’d gotten to know one another on the ride home from the royal city; each had found the other quiet but direct, concerned with duty. But he had a sense of humor that reminded Tdor so much of Inda he in turn sparked her own sense of the ridiculous, far too long suppressed. They swiftly developed an easy friendship, and they had talked about every aspect of life in Tenthen. Right down to Joret’s ghost.

  Finally Tdor looked up, her hands still locked together. “Did you see anything? Something happened. Too many of them looked shocked. Including the Adaluin. Did you watch their eyes?”

  Whipstick said, “Has to be that ghost of Joret’s. Look, here’s what I’m thinking. If we see the Sierlaef here before long, I’ll know who was really behind Tanrid’s death.”

  Tdor breathed slowly. “So you think Sponge was hinting at something? Was it not brigands, then?”

  “They were dressed as brigands, that’s as far as I’ll go,” Whipstick said. “Sponge’s wording was close. Careful. He never wasted words, or said the wrong thing.” He frowned at the worn flagstones in the court and then added, “I got to know him pretty well these last couple of years in the academy, when I was a horsetail and they treated him like one. We were almost always enemy commanders. He’d gained influence, y’see. Despite, well, despite them all.”

  No need to define “all” further—they both knew.

  Whipstick squinted up at the Riders now taking up their places on the walls—everything as it should be—then said, “He can’t promise to find Inda. Or restore him. He hasn’t got the power. But he’s gaining influence outside the academy, just the same.”

  Tdor looked at the fire, at the women on the walls facing inward, some of them talking quietly. At the windows above as lamps were lit behind them, a soft, golden glow shining down from each one by one. She looked at anything and anyone to avoid the possibility of seeing pain or even betrayal in Whipstick’s face. They’d talked on that long ride back to Tenthen about castle life, both of them knowing they would never leave again. But one subject she’d avoided, and he’d never mentioned: the academy, and everything concerned with it. Especially the summer Inda vanished, after the death of Whipstick’s little brother.

  It was only the extremity of worry—necessity—that forced her now to murmur, “Would you . . . I mean, if Inda comes back—”

  Whipstick comprehended immediately. “Listen, Tdor. Week or two after Dogpiss died, Tanrid finally came to me, after he was permitted inside the Guard keep. Said what Inda told him: he tried to stop him from going down to the stream. That Inda followed him, and after Hawkeye smacked Dogpiss—and I’m not saying he didn’t have the right, rules being what they are on banner games—Inda tried to catch him. I remember how tired those scrubs were, the Sierlaef’s gang riding them hard all week. They were stumbling over their own feet by that last night.” Whipstick’s voice dropped, and for the first time his even-tempered, toneless voice was rough and bitter. “I know who is to blame. And it wasn’t Inda. But he paid the price just the same.” Whipstick lifted his head so that torchlight reflected in his eyes, and then added, with quiet conviction, “If Inda comes back, I’d be honored to serve as Randael to him. For the rest of my life.”

  Tdor’s neck muscles eased. Life had gone twisted out of its regular stream, she had sometimes thought, the day that
Inda was summoned to the academy. Nothing happened the way she expected—or wanted. The prince and princess were locked in grief. Tanrid dead, Inda gone to sea somewhere in the world. Joret now betrothed to Inda, and she herself probably expected to marry Whipstick, walking here beside her, a thought too strange to examine right now.

  But there was one thing she knew, in heart, mind, spirit. The world would be right again once Inda came home.

  Marlovan Terms

  Adaluin—prince of a territory, as opposed to a son of the royal family.

  Convocation—the New Year’s week gathering at the royal city, for the Jarls to renew their oaths to the king and kingdom. Derived from an old ceremony of clan kinship, and undergoing constant friction between definitions of ownership, kingdom, and king, ever since Marlovans first conquered the land of Iasca Leror and settled.

  Dal—honored male, the nearest equivalent is “lord.”

  Edli—honored female, the nearest equivalent is “lady.”

  Gunvaer—queen.

  Harandviar—Royal Shield Arm’s betrothed or wife.

  Harskalt—King’s Voice.

  Harskialdna—Royal Shield Arm at War. (See Sierandael.)

  Harvaldar—War King. (See Sieraec.)

  Hlin—betrothed or wife of second royal son.

  Hlinlaef—betrothed or wife of crown prince.

  Iasca Leror—the name of the kingdom the Marlovans conquered. It meant “land of the Iascans (Yaskans, originally),” and their language is one of many branches of the Sartoran tree.

  Iofre—princess of a territory, as opposed to a daughter of the royal family.

  Jarl and Jarlan-territorial titles, similar to “earl.”

  Laef—second son. Royal second son is Varlaef, and he only takes the title Sierandael when his brother becomes king, under ordinary circumstances, though older Sierandaels (uncles, usually) have been known to keep the title, especially in wartime, when their experience is particularly needed. (Others were reluctant to retire when their brothers died, and as they have control of the royal Guard and of the training of the Jarls, they can be difficult to oust, especially by very young kings and would-be Royal Shield arms.)

  Marlovan—from Maralo-Venn, or “outcasts from the Venn.” Their language derives from Venn, which in turn derives, centuries ago, from a Viking exploratory fleet that was propelled through a world gate to this world. They sailed north, looking for home, and eventually settled on the northern continent that during Inda’s period was called Drael. Marlovan was not a written language until its people conquered the Iascans. They then adopted the Iascan alphabet, as well as a good deal of the Iascan language, eventually altering it to fit Marlovan verb endings and word order—during Inda’s time, Marlovans were raised speaking both languages, ostensibly confining their use of Marlovan to matters of war and defense, though that custom blurred as the languages blended.

  Montre-Hauc—(“King of the Mountain Dwellers.” Hauc meaning “mountain,” Montrei from “mund” or “mond,” the Venn term for hand, or leader.) Earliest of the three ruling families of the Marlovans. Subsumed into the Montredavan-An family.

  Montredavan-An—(from Montrei-Davan-An, “King of the Forest Dwellers.” “An” being forest, and the alteration of “mond” into “Montrei” being, it is said, subsequent to marriage with the mysterious Dei family.) The Montredavan-Ans led the Marlovans from a nomadic existence on the plains to rulership of nearly the entire Halian subcontinent; it was they who discovered the superior Iascan steel of the Aurum Hills forges and subsequently conquered Iasca Leror.

  Montre-Vayir—(“King of the plains.” “Montrei” being, it is said, subsequent to marriage with the mysterious Dei family, and “vayir” meaning plains.) During Inda’s time, the ruling family of the Marlovans. What exactly happened during the generation the Marlovans conquered the Iascans and settled into their castles is unclear to the Marlovans of Inda’s generation as their ancestors did not at that time keep written records; the result was that the Montredavan-An family was reduced by treaty to exile on their own and in the province of Darchelde, which was half forest land, for ten generations. All the songs point firmly to betrayal on the part of the Montredavan-An family, though they did, and still do, regard the Montrei-Vayirs as the betrayers, but of course the winners write, or rewrite, history. The immediate result was the old king was assassinated in his own bed on a visit to his home castle, following which most of the family was killed, as well as their most loyal servants. Pleading on the part of the former queen’s family for the life of the heir ended in the final compromise: home exile for ten generations. Their renown as leaders and fighters keeps the Montrei-Vayirs nervously assiduous in guarding the borders of Darchelde during Inda’s time. It was after the Montrei-Vayirs took the throne that greater autonomy was granted the new jarls (this may have been the price of betrayal of the former kings) and they were permitted—some say encouraged at sword-point—to add “Vayir” to their family names, as a gesture of solidarity with the Montrei-Vayirs, who hitherto were the only ones with vayir appended.

  Randael—Shield Arm, usually brother or cousin to a jarl.

  Randviar—Shield Arm’s wife or betrothed.

  Sierandael/Harskialdna—the king’s brother or cousin or appointed Royal Shield Arm, if there is no brother or cousin, in peacetime. If he goes to war, he becomes Harskialdna, and, of course, if he is victorious, he also gets Sigun added to his title.

  Sierlaef—heir to a king, almost always first son.

  Sieraec/Harvaldar—terms for kingship. A Marlovan king during peacetime appends Sieraec after his name. When he raises his war banner, he becomes Harvaldar—even if he doesn’t actually lead the battle (this distinction evolved after the Marlovans established themselves as land owners). If he is victorious in war, the term Sigun is added to his title.

  Sigradir—King’s Counselor (not used in Inda’s time.) Different from Harskalt, which is used only for specific tasks, and almost always by Runners.

  Sigun—a title appended to that of a victorious king or Shield Arm.

  Vayir—old meaning derived from “plains,” now appended to the names of jarls’ families, denoting ownership of a territory. Ownership depends upon oaths renewed each year at Convocation.

 


 

  Sherwood Smith, Inda

 


 

 
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