July 14, 907

Good heavens, Enna!

If Lord Anden's idea of making love to a woman is pointing swords at her swanlike throat, holding her captive at indelicate hours of the night, and smirking at her constant embarrassment (which, it might be added, is not only most ungentlemanly, but was also caused by him), then I would say this putative first lover of yours is not a very good lover at all! And what mean you when you say he has not acted like a thief? He has stolen! That is quintessential thief behavior! He is the archetype, the epitome of a thief, sneaking around picking locks in the middle of the night! He has not even given back the items, or given them to someone in need, which would certainly mitigate my judgment. In addition, he is not solely a thief but also a poor ingrate of a guest who takes advantage of your father's bounty, and in my opinion the latter is almost the worst of the two sins (though the former certainly raises the most curiosity in my mind). I should be dearly vexed at you, dear cousin, should you become interested in that man – though of course I would still continue to write; I am not that heartless. Gods strike it from my ladylike lips, but I should rather you have committed some indiscretion with the honest minstrel Cyran than harbor a whit of affection for Lord Anden of Sanada. I would not trust that man farther than Pyrena could throw him, and we all know that Pyrena has the musculature of a bird. A bird of the very small, pathetic variety. (Gods bless her).

Also, your belief that Lord Anden may be interested in you would seem almost as ridiculous as Danial's belief that you may be interested in him. You say it would explain why he (according to your brother) would be willing to escort you on your (extremely short) journey to Widow Burme's house. You say it would explain why he told your brother that you were interested in (and just perhaps compromised your virtue with) a minstrel. It would probably then also explain why he was the consummate gentleman and escorted you back to your chambers that night (after pressing a sword against your throat and holding you against your will).

Your minstrel must have sung you some strange love stories if you believe that is love!

And I did look him up in The Heredity, where he and the rest of his duchy were entirely absent (as I expected – Sanada has not held significant influence for the last three centuries). However, his lineage was indeed in the Complete Compendium. He has four sisters. All quite legitimate.

The bastard!

In any case, that is my very firm take on the matter. Please regale me forthwith with some dashing and completely untrue stories of his heroism, valor, gallantry, and kindness should you wish to improve my opinion of the man.

I apologize. I had to set down my letter for a time to regain calm. I am simply concerned for your welfare, though by now you must be sick of others being rude, accusing you, or locking you in rooms for weeks out of concern for your welfare. I have had much happen to me in a week, and my father has left today. I am very nervous what shall befall me in the coming week, and the nerves got to me. In the meantime, I do have an embarrassing and therefore amusing story (at my own expense) which shall hopefully make up for my earlier outburst (at yours).

As you know, I like to sit in my courtyard and weave in the early mornings before the day starts, in the cool peace of morning air, green plants, and stone pathways. Since the unfortunate incident wherein Montag visited me about one moon ago, my mornings have been blessedly quiet. As I suspect he only came and insulted me just to show that he could, I was relieved but not surprised that he had left me alone to my early morning rituals.

Three days ago, I rose and set off to weave – I am working on a particularly tricky bit in the tapestry where I am incorporating a recurring motif of ground squirrels on a millefleur background. But when I slipped into my private courtyard, someone was already there. And guess who! The boy with the blue eyes, the food taster, the one who caught me in Montag's rooms!

I prithee, pause to consider the situation.

All in all, the second-to-last person I would wish to see. Your herbs of warding to protect me against those who would wish me harm are of no use against those who simply wish to laugh at me. Pray send me herbs against annoying young men!

In any case, I stopped abruptly when I entered, but as his back was toward me, he did not seem to respond to my presence. He was fighting, Marienne, or maybe practicing, I do not know how to describe it, but he had a staff in his hands and he moved it from thrust to sweep to block like a gentleman leading a lady in a dance: gently, confidently, powerfully, like an extension of his arms. He had a whole series of movements, the staff whipping and slicing the air into tiny ribbons of sound. There was a music to it, or a rhythm, if you stood and watched. At the end, his staff gently circled down to land, one tip to his feet, the other to his forehead, metal tips clicking on the flagstone floor.

"Teach me," I demanded suddenly, breaking the silence. But only temporarily, as an extremely awkward sort of silence ensued. Oh, Enna, why in the world did I say that? I should have been mad he had invaded my courtyard, but instead I was fraternizing with him, a servant. And asking him to teach me. But think of it! What if I could finally defend myself against – well, against. People. Who might wish me harm. And I want to be safe, and to have control of my life, so very badly.

He turned around at the sound of my voice, and suddenly I noticed he had been blindfolded the entire time. As soon as he took the blind off, he looked as though he were trying to keep a straight face. His mouth was loyal to the cause, but his twinkling blue eyes crinkled up at the corners to betray him.

"Due to the numerous sartorial restrictions placed upon her sex and station, a high lady cannot perform the ayadeh. In addition, you in particular have certain other restrictions based on your…temperament."

"I am not a pansy girl like others," I said angrily, as I bustled toward him in my skirts. I pulled Mother's stiletto from my shoe and waved it in his face. He seemed rather as amused at the blade as the last man who saw it was alarmed. (Um, I believe I forgot to relate that story to you, Enna, but suffice it was many moons ago and I honestly never would have pulled it out had I not had rather too many glasses of wine at dinner. Really! I am a very sweet girl under normal circumstances, which is to say, those not involving wine, annoying boys, or boiled mutton. I really, absolutely detest boiled mutton)!

In any case, he suddenly swept his staff under my feet. In my total surprise (honestly, a lady does not expect ungentlemanly surprise attacks, even from a servant), I fell and dropped my dagger. Or, I would have fallen and dropped my dagger, except somehow, he managed to steady me with one hand and also catch my dagger before it fell to the floor.

And, no, Enna, I am not telling falsehoods!

I dusted off my skirts. (Which were actually not dusty, seeing as how I had not fallen). He flicked his fingers and turned my dagger so the hilt was facing me, and returned it to my hand (I believe I grabbed it rather hastily at this point). He smiled, bemused, and said "You are far too rash, my lady. Why do you hold a dagger on your person if you cannot hold on to it?"

"It is not as though I was offered any instruction on the matter; I was barely even offered the weapon itself!"

"And to whom do you attribute that lack of learning? A pupil can always find a teacher."

I was so incensed! Enna – recall with me now every single time you have wanted to learn or understand something, only to be told it was not for you, a lady, to know! Even if you are ten times better at your letters than Danial and Gerald combined! And thank the Gods for it, since I must read your letters and have no wish to pour through the annals of drivel dear Gerald's would no doubt be.

A million retorts came to mind – what would a foreign manservant know of a lady's life? – but I swallowed them. "I asked you just now. It would appear a pupil is not always so lucky as you would say," I eeked out through clenched teeth.

He chuckled, Enna! That low, throaty chuckle I remembered from when he stood behind Montag at dinner and laughed when I chocked on my cup in surprise and embarrassment. "I am not your servant, lady, though you seem to think it."

There was a pause, during which I replayed the scene of our last conversation, part of which occurred (on my part) from underneath a bed, and my stomach dropped out from under me.

"Did you tell him?" My hand jerked out to grab his arm before I remembered – that I had a dagger in my head and that he was a servant. And not mine, as he had said, but Montag's. I held my breath as he opened his mouth.

"No," he said, with cheeky insouciance.

What a feeling of relief, Enna! Followed of course by immense curiosity. "Why not?" I asked.

"A lady's honor," he replied matter-of-factly. I was quite mollified by his respect for me and my station. Then his mouth twitched, like the earth trembles before an earthquake. "I thought that even if you had not behaved in a particularly ladylike or honorable fashion, you might still wish to preserve it."

I opened and closed my mouth several times, like a large and very awkward fish that has been thrown ashore. I considered excusing myself, but taking one's leave from a servant is even more ridiculous than making one's second turn-tail-and-run escape from the same laughing servant boy. Brevity is the soul of wit, and all that claptrap. So, I opted for fewer words and his grin and turned around and left.

Oh, Enna. I am a very silly girl sometimes, am I not?

I reached my chambers (very quickly, as I exited the scene expeditiously). Oooh, I was so mad, Marienne! He had abused me, and then still refused to teach me! I almost started crying from anger, shame, and overwhelming relief that Montag had not heard of my ill-fated venture to his rooms. I am so weary of that despicable man! But before I could start crying in earnest, I suddenly realized what I had to do. A high lady cannot perform the ayadeh. A pupil can always find a teacher. Quickly I traded my corset for a breastband and my many skirts for my one pair of trousers (I believe we stole them from Danial once?), and ran back to the courtyard. He was still there, practicing his forms. Once he was finished, I waited for him to turn around.

"My name is…is Rena." Please forgive me Enna, I know that Rena is your name and your name only for me. But I could not be Lady Sirena anymore, and yet I did not completely want to give up my identity. "I noticed that you have been performing some complicated exercises in my private courtyard for quite some time, and as I am told that exercise makes a woman's eyes sparkle advantageously, and I am excessively careful with appearances and other people's opinions of me, I was hoping that you might allow me to join you in some capacity within my…restrictions." I was still a little miffed about that, as you can see.

The insufferable man smiled openly for the first time, eyes ever sparkling, instead of smirking at my gaffes. "I am Clarion," he said, and began.

So he has been working on my balance, mostly, and reflexes, for the last three mornings. Apparently his ayadeh is a set of forms for self-defense which comes from his home country (which, now that I think about it, I actually do not know where or what it is). I am fearful he simply toys with me, jabbing at my general direction in order to watch me jump, or making me stand with one foot off the ground, or telling me to practice falling, of all things, as that is what generally ends up happening. But what if I am learning something worthwhile, Enna? What if, what if…oh, I do not even know what I am preparing myself for. Or making a fool of myself for.

I have attempted to put the bits that make the Clarion man look the best and myself the worst in parentheses to diminish their blow, but I am sure to be met your laughter, or perhaps censure, nevertheless. Do you think it wise to…subordinate myself to a servant so? It is socially ghastly and could create trouble for both of us. I cannot believe he is truly working for Montag. He has not the same manner at all. Do you think he is quite…safe? I am quite embarrassed to admit it, but with Father gone, Mother still determinedly missing, Montag to be avoided as much as possible, and Pyrena so flighty, I sometimes go days without seeing anyone but servants. And Clarion. Unless we have high dinner in the hall, where I am generally ignored, aside from a squeeze of the hand from mother and a slimy word or two from Montag. In that respect, I wish I were ignored more, as a single word is enough to make my skin crawl like a year-old babe.

Oh how I wish you were here, dear cousin!

My father left today, on a horse, by himself. As Mother and Pyrena and I said goodbye, I managed to extract from him a promise that he would send a messenger every time he reached a new Terra to assure us of his welfare. So at least we will have some idea of where he is. I still have not the foggiest idea why he is gallivanting, or more accurately, trundling, off on some solitary secret mission of his. Alas to the folly of men! Or perhaps the folly of my father.

I have made depressingly little progress on my tapestry and the tricky ground squirrel motif due to my exercises, so pray cheer me up with news of your self!

Entirely yours,

Rena