I sat cross-legged on the floor in preference to a chair, ate food and in my head, was listening in to a conversation between Chay and Eddario that was contorted so much, they might as well not be having it at all.
Either was consumed with jealousy of the other. Either couldn’t work out what exactly our relationship with the other could be; and either wanted to know what the other knew, but wasn’t going to tell their side of the story.
Yet both were wearing the Solland colours and both were being feted by not just the court but everyone they passed; both were very uncomfortable and excited by it and unsure how to deal with it; and both were confused as to their place in life, recognised this in the other, and on some level, wanted the other to remain close by.
I finished the last of the delightful strips of roasted meat the kitchen in the officer’s quarters had provided for me by the way of breakfast, dripping delicious juicy on freshly baked white bread and leaned against one of the chairs as I contemplated these two unlikely comrades.
If they both stood to attention, and you didn’t look at them too closely, they could have been brothers, even of the same birth. Both of a good height, both blond with light eyes, and as to their age, well I truly couldn’t tell if there was any difference. I would have to ask them sometime.
Now, when they were not and had taken refuge in an empty clerical apartment to get away from the crowd, their dissimilarities were much more apparent.
Eddario showed the signs of his upbringing in his stance as well as in his mind. He appeared to be taller than Chay simply because he carried himself with a very straight back and his head always slightly thrown back. I could imagine that he might have been accused of arrogance before he became the Duke of Solland. Conna must have directed a solid classical education his way because Eddario thought strangely not unlike Lucian in very measured terms of cause and effect and would look at things from many different angles before coming to a decision. There was also something very strangely fragile about him although he wasn’t fragile at all, as he had proven so capably not just in the dungeons, but also under Lucian’s set ups to find “the measure of the man”.
Chay was more alive, that’s the best I could describe it as I watched them both from the viewpoint of my invisible messenger perched on a high old stone mantelpiece. Chay moved all over. When he walked, all of him walked, not just his legs. When he sat, as he did just now, carelessly hopping onto a waist high writing stand and shuffling backwards, then leaning onto one arm and crossing his legs at the ankles, all of him got involved – there was a freedom of movement that Eddario lacked entirely.
I regretted somewhat having to think of his features as coarser than Eddario’s because he was by no means coarse but really rather handsome, even when he didn’t smile. Which he did often, spontaneously, and he also frowned; in fact, that was probably the main difference between the two. Chay experienced things and expressed them directly. He didn’t struggle and censor his every thought, his every mood, just let it through for everyone to know and it didn’t bother him.
Right now, he was looking down at Eddario who was stiffly standing in the middle of the room that contained no chairs or stools, just rows of parchment rolls side by side on ornately carved open shelves around the walls, and the aforementioned writing stand that turned towards the door with the fireplace at the back. I made my messenger leave the mantelpiece and shift perspective so I could see both their faces better. In the quarters across the compound, I sipped my breakfast tea and waited with interest what their conversation would produce.
Eventually, Eddario said with an undertone, “Are you accompanying Lord Tremain to Manoranta, Sir Catena?” and with intense surprise I realised that he was jealous. I edged in a little closer to ascertain the nature of this and was even more surprised when I found it to be a personal matter of Lucian’s approval. I must tell him that, I thought. I’m sure it will amuse him.
Chay looked up to the ceiling for a moment and sniggered. I didn’t have to track him to know that the idea of someone like the Duke of Solland addressing him as Sir Catena must have tickled him in many places at once.
“He hasn’t said,” he answered and managed to imply an intimate relationship with Lucian that stiffened Eddario even more; I think he noticed and offered peace by saying, “You are in the Lord’s council?”
It caused confusion and not a little consternation although Eddario was of course well aware, that he would have to take his father’s place and indeed, had inherited the role of the leader of the council along with everything else fate had thrown at him.
Chay’s harmless little question did something more than that. It opened the door for a connection between them which was something that Chay could do with just about anyone I’d ever seen him with, even with Lucian – I shook my head as I considered what a talent he was holding, entirely unwittingly, in the simple fact that just about every woman wanted him in her bed, every child wanted to play with him, and every man wanted him for a friend, or a son.
Eddario sighed, relaxed and began to take off his gloves.
“Yes,” he said, “I am on the Lord’s council.”
Chay watched him carefully and said nothing in response, waiting for the other man to set the limits of the interaction.
Eddario fought with himself and finally asked, trying to make it sound as off hand as possible, “Have you served the Lord Tremain for long?”
Chay grinned and replied, “No. I used to serve Lady Isca.”
I grimaced and shook my head. You little shit, I thought. With that grin on top, the creator alone knows what Eddario will make of that. Especially when one considers …
The new Duke of Solland took that comment with every bit of burning jealousy, ill feeling and negativity you could possibly begin to imagine. There was no doubt whatsoever that Chay had been my lover and probably was my lover still. Chay, Conna and Lucian. In fact, probably everybody in the entire world but him. I was both astonished and fascinated by the depth and the oldness of the wounds that lay wide open as a direct result of Chay’s implied little boy’s boast.
I switched my attention to Chay who was somewhat taken aback by the change in Eddario’s face and stance, subtle though it may have been; he rightfully concluded that no light banter on the topic would or even could be had. He changed tack and put his comment into perspective but without removing the implications which, it seemed to me, he liked to have Eddario believe.
“I was guarding Lady Isca’s residence in Merina,” he said quite conversationally and lightly but without looking directly at Eddario who was staring down at the gloves in his hands. “Lord Tremain swore me to restoring the kingdoms to a rightful descendent of Malme’s earlier this spring.”
Eddario looked up at him then, quizzically, half shaking his head. “Who was your liege? What is your family home?”
Chay jumped off the writing stand in an energetic motion and upon landing, took a moment to play with the empty scabbard by his side. Eventually, he answered, “My family home is Headman’s Acre near Decanta. My liege was Lord Vynati before …” he paused and both Eddario and my watching self saw the shadows pass across his face as he finished the sentence, “…before Trant happened.”
The two men then looked at each other and something passed between them that made many things that lay between them immaterial for a moment.
Eddario said, “Lord Vynati was a good man, I’m told.”
Chay shrugged his shoulders. He had only ever seen his liege from a great distance and only once had actually heard his voice. As a common soldier, he had not concerned himself with such considerations; it was really much the same who that was up on the hill sitting in pleasant comfort beneath the banners on their immaculate horse, watching the grunts hacking each other to death in the muddy fields below. I knew without tracking him who he was thinking of, then he said it, “There were many good men. Before Trant.”
Eddario nodded. “Indeed there were.”
Both men were silent for a considerable time, then Chay asked, “Who do you think will be king, Lord Solland?”
Eddario flinched under the title and shook his head tiredly. “I truly don’t know, Sir Catena.”
Chay flinched under the title and sighed.
Both looked down and considered their own impostor status and I finished my drink and tuned them out and left them to their strange and uncomfortable dance.
The sun streamed merrily through the window and lit up tiny dust motes that floated stars into the room. I stretched and got up and wondered what to do with myself. I wondered where Lucian was and what he was up to. I wondered what else he might be doing that he didn't care to share with me, such as going off behind my back and acquiring Chay for a death match with a former king. I half heartedly listened for him but there was nothing there; he wanted his privacy, it seemed.
I sighed and sat down on the bed. This was no good at all. I would go crazy if I sat here all day, waiting for him. I got up again and went to the window, looked outside.
Below a truly beautiful steel blue sky with tight racing clouds high above lay the great city of Pertineri with its rising trails of smoke and rising spires and towers. There was a time when I would dream and dream of an opportunity to see something like this and know bitterly that it was only a dream that could never come true, and the scrubbing and toiling was all there would ever be for me.
I stood at the window and I think it was the first time that it ever struck me that I could have anything I wanted. Anything at all that could be had in the Hard.
I could have any castle, any kingdom; any riches, any jewel, any adornment. I could have any man I would choose to make mine and simply enslave him to me in a way that he would lay down and die for me at one single thought command.
I could make myself immortal.
I stood at the window, my hand resting lightly on the polished bare wooden sill grainy beneath my fingertips and looked out at the city of Pertineri and shook my head at the enormity of it all.
If you told one of those that are breaking their backs in toil, under a mother’s command or an owner’s; one of those who are in pain this day, who are hungry and sleepless like Sef and I used to be on too many occasions; those who are hopeless and helpless – if you told them about what I can do and then, what I was doing with it, they would surely spit at me and call me the greatest fool who ever lived.
What was I doing with it?
I shook my head again and considered the past – how long had it been? Just under two years, something like that, since I left my father’s house that night for Meyon Heights? It was more than a hundred years ago. I had seen so much, felt so much, experienced so much. And it never occurred to me until this moment, here, looking at Pertineri’s white spires, that all that time, I had been able to do whatever I wanted with any of it and just hadn’t known, or if I did, had done something else instead.
I couldn’t stop shaking my head.
It was a beautiful spring day. It couldn’t be more than four hundred strides across the compound and past the palace walls and I would be there, walking in the streets of Pertineri and by choice or accident, I was about to sit down on this bed and simply wait the day away until he returned and told me what we were going to suffer through next, step by step.
By the sisters! I had had a nerve talking about giving him an education in magic and love. He gave me one right back and I didn’t even want to think what topics that had covered.
I tell you what. Today is my day off. Even the lowest serf gets a halfday off in a tenday or two to go and visit their families or just to lie in the grass for once and look up at the clouds. Lord Tremain owes me a dozen of these by now, if not a few more.
I’m going to go to market. I’m going to go to market in Pertineri herself, the great and ancient capital of the kingdoms that is said to be so full of wonders, you don’t know what to do with yourself when you get there.
A feeling arose in me as I thought these thoughts that was so unfamiliar, yet so old. Excitement, bubbling child’s excitement, untainted by fears or limitations of previous disappointments but just sheer finger tapping, feet hopping excitement when you can’t wait to get going. It shivered up my back and down my arms and I could feel a big grin starting to spread across my face.
I was going to market today.