Oracle of Yet to Be
Okay, it's bad. Really bad. It jumps around like Hell and doesn't really go anywhere plotwise, but it's 2,500 words, and I'm satisfied until I can actually get in and spruce up these five chapters of mine. Anyway, any comments you make WILL be given consideration when I do the upcoming revision. Byes.
Chapter 5: Caysie
Idana wondered whether to take it as a good sign that, not half a day into their betrothal, she and Brashin had already mastered her parents' trick of sitting in the same room for over a third hour in utter silence. Of course, they weren't doing it exactly right, but it took skill and years of practice to completely block out the fact that a person existed. She didn't know about Brashin, but she knew she couldn't do it, and so she settled for staring at the puzzle of a man she had found herself betrothed to that morning.
She hardly recognized him.
It wasn't just his change in wardrobe, but that was alarming enough on its own. That morning his clothes had been so simple and understated. In the pearl garden's hidden shelter, he had all but vanished into the white hangings. At the party, though, where even the clandestine servers had been extravagantly dressed, he had been visible for miles.
Now it was almost frightening to see how well he matched and complimented the opulent room around them. If not for his occasional small movements, she might have mistaken him for the centerpiece of some grand display.
It was night and day; not just in style but in color as well. White and muted brown had given way to strong blacks and blues that forced the observer to take in the paleness of his skin.
He seemed a different person, one so much older than the youth in the gardens that morn who had been muttering to himself where anyone could hear him. In a way she hadn't felt before, she felt incredibly young next to him. And at the same time, she felt more mature. She was to marry him, and in doing so, enter into that partnership her father had praised so much over the years.
But did it have to be a silent partnership?
She watched Brashin's eyes focus to glance at her for a time before going glassy again. Even as she had been thinking about him, he had been doing the same with her—but where she was struck by how different he seemed, he couldn't stop from thinking how frighteningly similar she looked. It was the same wide eyes and wild, curling hair, the same delicate nose; it was the same skin. Lighter than his Grandfather's, far lighter than Caiyen's, her skin was lighter than anything he had seen without the use of paint, save for his own flesh and some all-but forgotten memory where a white hand had emerged from a broad sleeve to caress his tear-stained cheek. Their—her mother, he supposed.
"I…came to apologize for whatever my father's done." He started at the sound of her voice and turned in time to see her eyes narrow at him before she softened her expression. "My father," she continued, "he can talk people into things. And it's fine when you don't realize he's done it, but when you can see him pull the strings and you still have to do what he wants, it hurts. For what it's worth, I don't think he knows he's being cruel, so I'm sorry for him." She ducked her head down to look at her lap. "That's all I came to say," she mumbled before standing to leave.
"Please don't go."
She paused and turned back to him. From the edge in his voice, she half expected him to be staring at her in panic, but his head was bowed. "Don't," he repeated. "I've bee an awful host, but…" He trailed off and his shoulders slumped. "I've no excuse. This morning I meant to tour the gardens, but I only managed to see three of the thirteen. Would you care to join me on a stroll before dinner?"
She managed a faint smile when he finally raised his head to look at her. "That sounds lovely."
Lady Caysie was grinning from ear to ear—figuratively of course, as to physically do so would ruin her face (and send the girl who had painted it that morning into fits), but that was besides the point. A Lord Councilor was betrothed, and just in time for the ball season. She couldn't wait. And if Firnan, her pet master of fashion, didn't faint when she told him, she would eat one of his hats.
Her sitting room was a maelstrom of color, maids, tea, and smelling salts as it was prepared for Firnan's arrival. She lay back on her fainting couch in the middle of it, recuperating from the morning's breakfast. The Lord de Mond's Beisammensein had ended with her madly sprinting across the Amethyst garden to catch and congratulate the young betrothed Lord Councilor right before he fled. Of course the proper thing would have been to congratulate the happy couple, but the Praeger girl had already disappeared into the depths of the garden. Caysie had been lucky to catch the future groom.
Now in the afternoon, she closed her eyes and forced herself to release her breath slowly. The two made quite a pair; that was for certain. Their ability to vanish at the drop of a hat was uncanny. At least the Letuenian Lord could be found haunting the South Wall if one sent a large enough search party. He could even be flushed out into the open for a few hours if the maneuvers were planned several months in advance. Idana though, Caysie had no idea where the girl managed to vanish to. She was gone from her father's newly bought flat before dawn, and they only had the servants' assurances that she actually slept in her bed. Had her father not somehow talked her into showing her face at the breakfast, Caysie would still have never met her.
She had never been so thankful for Praeger's honeyed-tongue; after all, it wasn't everyday that she was able to play surrogate mother to a Lord Councilor's betrothed. Of course, it would be better for Praeger's wife to leave Bedoran's forests in their daughter's time of need, but she knew the odds of the woman doing that. The Eternals would rot first. The Thirteen Isles would bow to a king before that woman gave her husband the time of day. Caysie smiled carefully. That left her with the task of seeing the girl through the difficult time, and the first order of business was to get her outfitted with proper clothes for the ball season.
The Lord de Mond would have some dusty thing in his wardrobe to tide him over, assuming the moths hadn't devoured it, but oh, the poor girl. Something awful suddenly occurred to Caysie, and she barely remembered to not widen her eyes. Eternals take it, the poor child! Idana was still only fourteen. And, Lord Councilor's betrothed or not, there were strict rules about how a child could be dressed. If her memory and fashion sense served her, none of the allowable styles would work with a Lord Councilor's formal attire.
Caysie frowned. She would be taken before she let Idana be so embarrassed. It would give the child and the Lord an excuse to run and never be seen again, and that would never do. She bolted upright and pointed at the first person she saw. "You. Tell Firnan we meet tomorrow instead. I love the man, but he cannot handle this. I need a true master. Get me Mikahil. Right away. Tell him it's an emergency." She cut her hand through the air in agitation when the maid, still clutching a vase, nodded. "No! He'll never bother to leave his flat! Tell Mikahil—you must warn Mikahil that it is a complete disaster. It's impossible! His reputation will be ruined if he tries to take it on. He mustn't! I couldn't bear to see him brought so low. Oh, just to think of it,"—and she collapsed across the arm of the couch with a sob.
The maid took a step forward, unsure, and reached out a comforting arm, only to jerk it back when she straightened, dry-eyed and gently smiling. "Tell him that," she said assertively, "and make it sound like I actually blubbered over the pompous twit. Oh, and give him that vase; the design is hideous."
Mikahil came storming into the room a half hour later, presented her with a lovely scarf, and then immediately demanded to know what catastrophe she had that he supposedly couldn't fix.
The Sapphire garden was dominated by elaborate fountains fashioned from vivid blue tile, but the evening sun cast the place in tones of gold. The burnished light caught the light strands in Brashin's hair as well as the bronze ornaments that tightly bound it. Simply put, he blazed.
It hurt Idana to look at him as he stared at the cascading water effects, his thoughts his own. It wasn't the glare that was painful; it was the fact that she had to forcibly remind herself that he was a person. It was his skin, more than anything. She knew people with skin as light, her mother's people for one, but Brashin was neither veiled nor robed. With his hands, face, and a narrow slice of chest bared, he scarcely seemed real.
They had been standing before the main fountain for several minutes, threatening to repeat the long silence from before. He kept his eyes on the water; she kept hers on him. Out of the blue, she recalled the porcelain doll her father had once given her and then promptly forbidden her to touch. It had rankled with her because the doll had come with an impressive wardrobe and she had immediately wanted to change its outfit. Her eyes fell on his clothing, so different from that morning's simple ensemble. "Brashin?"
The still young man suddenly became animated and turned to her.
"Brashin, why did you change your clothes?"
She looked down at his waist immediately after asking, and he realized he had unconsciously pressed a hand to his side. "After the fête," he began hesitantly, "I made the mistake of agreeing to a duel. It was with an Arajakian, and they don't use blunted swords. They also don't give up if you disarm them. It came to blows. Needless to say, I needed to change once it was over."
She suddenly felt awful for asking the question. "I'm sorry."
He looked her in the eye, making her realize that he hadn't been before. "Don't be," he countered firmly. "I brought it on myself. Don't you ever wonder about these fountains?"
The change to a more suitable topic of conversation was jarring but welcome. "What do you mean?" she asked.
"These." He gestured to the airborne water. "This wouldn't happen on its own. There has to be something under the surface that we can't see that is making the water move this way."
She watched as a narrow stream surged up and arced through the air to reenter the pool on the other side before she replied, "No, I don't. Wonder. I like to know what things are. Their names. What they do, and why. But…how to force things to happen,"—she thought of her father—"no. I don't like to think what's happening under the surface. It wouldn't be magic anymore, just manipulation."
"Strange. And here I was thinking that you wouldn't be happy until you knew everything." She heard him give a short breath of a laugh before audibly wincing. "Well, it's probably for the best; it would be awful if Curiosity was forced to kill you."
Idana blinked. 'Curiosity killed the Cat.' For one wild moment, a thousand hints came together and she realized that Brashin was the one who had been sending her books. Only her father's stern lecture of what was forbidden outside of the forests of home kept her from seizing him in joy and kissing his cheek. She was fortunate in that, because no sooner had she jumped to her conclusion, than she began to find holes in it. For one, Brashin had been completely shocked when he found out who her father was. If he had sent the books, he would have realized as soon as she had described the gifter's signature calling card.
She slumped. But Caiyen was the Lord Councilor's servant, and Caiyen had given her the last book, earmarked to explain exactly what had happened five minutes earlier. Feet equidistant, maintain steady eye contact with father. Betrothal. But Brashin had needed to be cornered to be forced into acknowledging it. And her father was the one who had done the cornering.
And her father had known she wanted to learn about the ocean when she had received the book before the last.
So she was back to the theory that the Bedoran Merchant Master "Get your head out of that book" Praeger was secretly fostering her love of knowledge while in public he seemed dead set on treating her like a hollow head with a pretty smile. There was one gaping flaw with that, though: he had been shocked to hear that she knew about the betrothal when he had approached her in their flat. If he had sent the book, he wouldn't have been prepared to gently break the news to her.
It wasn't Brashin. It wasn't her father. It wasn't anyone on any of the isles of Bedoran. She bit back a sigh and tried to enjoy the garden. It seemed things had become more confusing than they were before. She needed to speak with serving man. It may have just been a feeling, but she felt that this manservant, this Caiyen, held the answers to all of her questions, and not just the ones about her mysterious gifter.
Why did Brashin, who had been so lively at daybreak, now seem like a ghost of himself? He had regained his composure and his smiles since she had seen him last at that damned breakfast party—that Beisammensein, as Lady Caysie had called it—but the warmth was still missing.
And why was her father starting to act so strangely around her, or was she just starting to notice? Also, there obviously was bad blood between him and Brashin. She wanted to know what it was. Her mother would know, and probably be all too glad to tell her about it, if it concerned her father, but a letter would take a quarter-year to reach Bedoran, and Idana's curiosity would kill her before that.
"Would you like to move on?"
She looked up at Brashin and realized she had sighed aloud. She managed a nod and a "yes" and allowed him to lead her off in the direction of the Topaz garden
A loaf of bread. Twelve boy-children. A razor smile appeared in the shadows of the North Wall, one that shouldn't have belonged to the delicate hand that offered up the morsel in the early morning light.
"Who can tell me about the High Council?"
The children knew this game.
"They live over there," on of the youngest blurted first. He went up on his bare toes and stretched one finger to point to the upper reaches of the wall at the food-bearer's back. "But they never come out."
His fellows shook their heads at his hopeful look, only to stare when a steaming corner was passed into eager, grubby fingers. A hailstorm of words then spewed from the remaining eleven mouths, only to stop when the loaf retreated into the shadows.
"I saw one, one time," one finally ventured. "Real close. Skadi"—some of the children nodded knowledgably, ah yes, Skadi—"bet me I couldn't go around the whole Wall. It was white and sad. And it just sat there in a hole in the wall and looked at the water."
One boy, differently dressed than the rest with a fish bone pierced through one ear, whipped his head around at this. "You've seen the Ghost of South Wall?"