The Oracle of Yet to Be
Chapter 1: Brashin
An insane child who can see the future is my enemy. I alone know that she plans to overthrow the High Council and rule our land. I must stop her, but how can I defeat someone who foresees every move I might make? How can I do anything when she holds me prisoner with the darkest blackmail imaginable?
Light danced in those blue eyes as Her laugh echoed through the courtyard.
'Push me high, Brash. High!'
Brashin jerked awake as sunlight hit him like cold water. He sat up in his sodden bed and brushed a good deal of the damp off his arms and head before he realized that he had, in fact, been doused with melted ice. The disgust oozed from his mouth in a slow, heavy breath. For a man who had spent his childhood playing on ice flows, he hated being wet and cold at the same time. It stemmed from the one time he'd made the mistake of standing on thin ice. At least he had learned something about himself when the ice broke: he couldn't walk on water.
He took his time gradually opening his eyes to glare at the man standing at his bedside. If he unleashed the look of death all at once, his victim's skin would start on fire.
"And what childish imaginings traipse through your head this fine morning, Milord Councilor?" the older man asked in a tone that would be called churlish if it wasn't so damn polite. Brashin's eyebrows jerked up, a sign of annoyance. Caiyen knew him too well, especially when it came to cold water.
He tried to wipe the wet off his bare skin with a dry corner of his bed sheet, but it didn't help much. Most of the water had ended up in his hair. It clung to his neck and back, dripping rivulets down his spine that were so cold they froze the marrow in his bones. He stopped bothering and muttered, "I was dreaming."
"I know, Milord," Caiyen replied almost jovially.
Brashin lurched out of bed. If he did fall asleep again—and he planned to—it wasn't going to be on a mattress that made squelching noises when he shifted his weight on it. He knelt to retrieve a large copper bucket lying abandoned on the floor and presented it to Caiyen. "Is this your doing?"
The man replied, "Oh, no," completely nonplussed. "I would never do anything to bring you discomfort, Milord. I bribed a servant to do it for me." He raised his hand, stalling any action Brashin was about to undertake. "The lad has already fled. I suspect he is halfway to Aarajak by now, so it will do you no good to charge into the halls half naked, demanding blood." Caiyen turned and stared thoughtfully at the inconspicuous door that led to the servants' corridors. "I do lose more good serving men because of these ice water wakeup calls."
Brashin shrugged and tossed the copper bucket over his shoulder. There came a sound much like pottery shattering. "Then why don't you try something else?" he asked.
"I see no reason to change my methods as long as they keep working, Milord."
Milord ground his teeth together. He stalked up to Caiyen and prodded a finger into his breastbone, snarling, "That's what makes you like every other pompous idiot on this damned island!" With that, he stalked away, whipping around so fast water from his long hair splattered on Caiyen's face.
The man unfolded a handkerchief and dabbed at himself with it. "I've drawn you a bath, Milord Councilor," he murmured in a way that carried across the room. He heard a shouted thank you just before the slamming of a heavy door. His fingers counted down from the number six, the amount of time he knew it would take Brashin to stalk his way out of earshot. His lord had aggravatingly good hearing. When that was done, he said softly, "You can come out now."
The door to the servants' hall eased open and a boy clearly frightened out of his wits appeared. He crept out, keeping a sharp eye on the lookout for a vengeful Brashin. Caiyen threw him a silver coin and smiled reassuringly. "Don't worry, lad," he said. "Councilor Brashin will have forgotten all about this by Breakfast."
Brashin held out his left shirt arm for Caiyen to properly tie and artistically arrange. He hated Muerayt's sense of high fashion. He had opted for a simple white shirt and some trousers and it still took an hour for him to be properly laced in. It would go faster if he let several servants dress him at once, but he preferred not to feel like ants were swarming over him. Part of him wished for his home island of Letuena where a man could dress himself for all but the most important occasions and no one would care.
Here on the Capitol Isle, he couldn't step outside his bedroom without sporting the right formal wear. For that exact reason, he made good use of his suite of rooms and never left unless Caiyen threatened him sufficiently. That morning was no different.
"It is a simple breakfast," the man said. "In the Amethyst Garden, the barest patch of rock in the entire Citadel. The food has been imported fresh from Letuena. The only entertainment is that soft harp music you enjoy so much. The other Councilors arranged the entire meal specifically so you could feel comfortable. If you don't come, they will be mortally offended. As the youngest voice on the Council, you cannot afford to turn the other twelve against you." He advanced on the shirt arm with needle and thread.
Brashin begged, "Oh, Caiyen! Please don't sew me into this thing." but he didn't even twitch his arm. Past experience had taught him that any resistance would cause the tiny serving man to pin him on the ground and continue sewing him in from there. The worst part was he would come out of it looking pristine and not at all like he'd been writhing on the floor for half an hour.
So he stood still, glaring at Caiyen, praying the man didn't have a twin that could come torment him too. After the left arm was finished, there was the right arm, the neck, the back, the chest, the sides. It seemed that since he was wearing "simple" clothes to dine with his fellow Councilors, the outfit had to be absolutely perfect.
"Comfortable," he found himself complaining. "How am I supposed to feel comfortable when I'm the main attraction of this monstrosity? —Caiyen, could you please leave me some room to breathe? You're making this worse than skintight.— Food from my island, music I like. It will all be obscure delicacies I've never been able to stomach, and I can guarantee someone will have found a way to make harp music loud and annoying. If they really wanted me to feel comfortable, they'd let me meander into their formal gatherings with a biscuit or a piece of fruit, say "Have a nice breakfast" with my mouth full, and walk away to find a secluded spot where I can enjoy my morning in peace."
Caiyen shook his head and replied, "The Eternals will wither and die before that happens, Milord Councilor." He pointed Brashin at the little used door that led to the outside world. "Amethyst Garden, act surprised. Don't be late."
He was dawdling. There were no two ways about it. Every step was dragged out twice as long than should be humanly possible. Every time there was a piece of art or even an interesting stain on one of the corridor's stone walls, he stopped to examine it in detail. He was incredibly far from everything in the Citadel, even the Amethyst Garden. If he went slowly enough, breakfast would almost be over by the time he got there.
Dawdling was one of Brashin's favorite tactics. He had deliberately placed his quarters in the most empty, out of the way spot he could find, just so he could dawdle. The southern parts of the Citadel were undesirable to the people of Muerayt. Everything worthwhile lay in the northern half: the theatres, the gardens, the dining halls, the ballrooms, the Council Hall. What was more, to the north of the Citadel lay the grand Capitol City itself. Brashin could care less. His rooms were on the southern half, where he could dawdle for hours, if necessary.
He had also chosen rooms along the South Wall for a more personal reason. The Citadel was built right up to the edge of the cliff overlooking the sea. He could look out from one of his balconies and see nothing but untouched water and smell the cool breeze blown straight from Letuena, his home. The spreading outdoor courtyard at the southernmost tip of the Citadel, his sole possession, was likely the closest he would ever get to the beautiful, snowy isle of his birth again. He would take what he could get.
Brashin normally wouldn't leave his rooms to face the outside world without spending a few moments perched precariously on a balcony railing, pretending he could the shores of Letuena in the distance, and letting himself be calmed by the rhythmic crashing of the waves. Normally. This morning he had been trapped in Caiyen's clutches and had been shooed out the door before he could protest.
As a bit of revenge, he had chosen to take the long corridor that wound around the Citadel's East Wall. Eventually he would come into an area where one of those large square holes that Muerayt folk mistakenly called a window was hewn out of the stone wall. When he found one, he would sit in the hole and dangle his feet off the edge and study what was left of the dawn. If anyone came upon him and was mortified to see a Lord Councilor acting in such a childish manner, it was all Caiyen's fault.
Brashin finally came upon such a hole. He looked out it and gave the eastern horizon the look of death. The sun hadn't risen, there wasn't even a trace of predawn yet. Forget childish revenge; he was going to kill Caiyen. The manservant had woken him up at an hour when most of the other Councilors hadn't gone to bed yet. He could track down Caiyen and hack him into pieces, go to his outdoor courtyard and listen to the waves, come back here and watch the dawn, dawdle the whole way to the Amethyst Garden, and still get there long before the breakfast hour. Caiyen had planned this, expecting him to make his way as slowly as possible.
The man knew him far too well.
The Citadel's gardens were ringed around the Sun Ballroom, most lavish building in all of the Thirteen Isles. There were thirteen gardens—a coincidence, Brashin was sure—and he decided whiled away the time until the breakfast of doom by exploring every inch of them. Except, of course, the Amethyst Garden where he was sure yawning servants were hurriedly setting up his grand fete. He started in the Ruby Garden, the one next to Amethyst. He intended to slowly work his way around the ring of gardens until he reached the Breakfast, hopefully fashionably late. A man could dream, couldn't he?
The Ruby Garden was essentially a maze of high hedges. It would have been rather enjoyable, except square inch of those hedges was covered in bright scarlet flowers. When he finally escaped the garden, he never wanted to see the color red again.
The Pearl Garden was much more bearable, at least at first. Flowers with glossy round petals came in shades of white, pink, gold, and yes, even black. The effect was that the flowerbeds looked remarkably like mounds of pearls. There were fountains filled with decorative oysters. And of course, there were pearls everywhere. Pearls imbedded in the sides of the fountains, pearls lining the walkways, a mermaid statue made completely of pearls, and the monstrosity to end them all: a bandstand covered in white drapes. Did he forget to mention the drapes were made out of strings of pearls?
Brashin groaned and pinched the bridge of his nose in a vain attempt to stave off a headache. "How many children are starving to death in Muerayt's streets again?" he growled, rather loudly. One advantage to standing around in a garden before dawn was that there was no one there to hear him.
A head poked out of the bandstand through one of the curtains and asked, "What?"
Of course, he could be wrong.
"Nothing," he said quickly. Judging from what he could see of the head, it belonged to a well-bred child; her governesses would be mortified if she came home and asked them about people dying in the streets. Children were supposed to be sheltered from the unpleasant aspects of life. Brashin glanced at the bandstand. It seemed that his fellow Lord Councilors were still shielding themselves from those unpleasantries --with pearl drapes.
He pushed the acid thoughts from his head and smiled at the girl-child. She blinked at him, playing with the charm about her neck that described her rank, then noticed his finely made, if plain looking clothing and smiled shyly. She came out from behind the dreadful curtains and curtseyed deeply —quite gracefully too, might he add. He couldn't help but note the twinge of pride she showed at being able to do it. She thought she had mastered the curtsey. Poor, unsuspecting child.
Well-bred children weren't expected to know the dozens of bows and curtseys, each for a different type of person for a certain occasion. They only knew two at the moment: Respect to Honorable Adult and Greetings to some kid I'm "supposed" to be friends with. When most children learned the bows they had used for years were completely useless and that they had to master a new, seemingly endless set of them, they threw a fit. Brashin most certainly had, but the bows had been mercilessly drilled into his head anyway.
He returned the child's curtsey with a slight bow that meant A Letuenian high personage's delighted informal first meeting of the eldest daughter of a Merchant Master of Bedoran who is a child of fourteen years on the cusp of girlhood not currently promised to any man and, by the way, I'm an eligible bachelor, though not incredibly interested.
And parents wondered why their children threw fits.
The girl-child smiled at him while he bowed, not drinking in the wealth of information he had just offered her like any adult would. She didn't even know it was there. Again, poor, unsuspecting child.
"I'm Idana," she said with a smile.
"Letuenian Lord Councilor Brashin," he replied. The perfect smile on her porcelain face sort of cracked. She was not prepared to meet one of the leaders of the Thirteen Isles. A well-bred young man, perhaps, the Citadel was crawling with them, but not a Lord Councilor. He smiled at her, trying to look non-threatening and obviously not doing too well.
He noticed a light burning inside the bandstand and switched tactics. He gestured at a gap in the curtains and asked, "Might I come in?"
So it might have worked better if he had asked to be invited into someplace that was her personal domain. Still, the fact that he acted like she had the right to allow him in or even order him out of her sight had a calming effect on the child. It felt good to be in control. Idana nodded mutely and followed him up into the bandstand.
The place didn't look nearly so sickingly wasteful from the inside. White linen hangings, polished wood, informal atmosphere. It actually looked quietly elegant; he hadn't thought that was possible in Muerayt. "No one comes here, I like it. It doesn't need to be expensive to be beautiful," Idana said defensively. She must have had it in her head that he would disapprove of anything that wasn't gaudy and overdone.
He shook his head and reassured her, "No, I like it too. I wish I had found a place this nice years ago." He looked around and spotted a smidgeon of dust here and there. Even the servants didn't come to this place often, and not long enough to give it a proper cleaning. That cinched it; he was going to be spending as much time here as possible. If he was stealthy enough, the servants might not discover a Lord Councilor used the place and try to "brighten" it up. He suppressed a shudder as he saw the lovely place transformed into something terrible. Those dreadful pearl curtains would be hung inside as well, an enormous fountain with a pearl statue would mysteriously appear, and—worst of all—there would always be at least three serving men there asking him if he wanted something every time he blinked. Oh yes, he was going to keep this place a secret.
There was a quiet shuffling of feet and Brashin realized Idana was being terribly polite and was waiting for him to take a seat before she did. He chose to perch upon the bench seat that wound around most of the bandstand walls.
"What are you reading?" Brashin asked, as she nervously sat on the same cushioned bench a respectable distance from her. He gestured to the book by her side. She had been reading by the light of the lamp hanging from the wall above her. He guessed she had lit the lamp herself.
"This?" she asked, picking the book up. "It's about the ocean, tides and things."
Brashin's eyebrows shot up into his hair. Not a silly romance story then? "Why are you reading it?" he asked, quite curious to know.
"I'm too nosy for my own good," she replied, imitating some annoyed person. "I got curious about the sea when we sailed here, but none of the sailors would answer my questions. When we arrived in Muerayt, this book was waiting for me. No idea who it's from, though, like always." So she was used to books popping up out of nowhere.
"Well, don't you want to know who it's from?" Brashin asked her.
"Like anything! But there's always a card with the book that warns Curiosity Killed the Cat, and that just sounds ominous. Do you know anything about the sea?"
It just happened that he did, and the things he knew weren't like to be found in that book. He talked about the Sea Thaw that detached glaciers from the Ice Island in the deep south and how the current sent those floating mountains of ice right past his home Isle. He described a happy moment from his childhood when he and several friends spent the summer swimming out to tiny ice chunks broken off from the big giants and playing Lord Master until the islands they ruled melted out from under them.
That got Idana interested in ice in general and he described Letuena's lucrative ice trade to her. She looked at him oddly when he told her the large blocks of ice were packed in sawdust to keep them from melting during the trip, but she didn't question him.
Then she wanted to know where all that sawdust came from, and he said it was from the tree mills of her home isle Bedoran. She knew something about that subject and proceeded to tell him about it for the next hour. Of course, he didn't mind at all. Her absolute love of the tree mills was infectious.
Eternals' Bless!, Brashin crowed silently to himself. He was actually enjoying a conversation for the first time in years. Quite suddenly, he noticed that light was streaming in from the outside. He glanced about, but the only waterclock in the room was dry. "Excuse me, Idana, but I'm afraid I might be late." She noticed how late the day had gotten too then, and her eyes flew open.
"What time is it?" they asked in identical, horrified whispers. They rushed from the bandstand, Idana slightly behind Brashin because she paused to douse the lamp. He noticed a waterclock set into a nearby found and relaxed. The breakfast in the Amethyst Garden wouldn't start for another third of an hour.
"It won't start for a third hour, Eternals' Bless!" Idana said with relief and he looked at her sharply. Surely she wasn't attending the fete?
"Amethyst Garden?" he asked. Her look said it all.
He sighed. "Come with me then. The only quick ways from one garden to the next is through the Ballroom over there," he jerked his thumb, "which is locked and through the adjoining gardens. It's just on the other side of the Ruby Garden."
"The maze?" Idana squeaked.
He led her along. "Don't worry. Mazes aren't hard, as long as you know the secret of getting through them."
"What's the secret, then?" she asked, curiosity rampant.
They entered the maze, and he gestured at the trail of little red roses and said, "Cheat."
When Brashin and Idana finally spilled into the Amethyst Garden, most of the guests were already there. The invitation list seemed to have all the wellborn in the entire Citadel on it.
"Idana?" a man asked, obviously her father. Brashin glanced at him, and his eyes widened with recognition. Eternals' Blood, his new friend was the daughter of that Merchant Master of Bedoran. Master Praeger didn't look a day older from when Brashin last saw him thirteen years ago at Her funeral.