Elska: a science fiction Regency

Kara, who had once been El-Zora Ka'al Kara, held the envelope carefully. Paper was a rare commodity on Byshen. Those who were not of House birth saw it once in their lives if they were fortunate. But the families of the seven Houses held paper in their hands on three occasions. Once when a marriage was announced. Once when a birth was announced. And once when an invitation of shthor was extended. Kara knew there had been no impending marriages or births in House De'enth. This envelope then meant House Daughter De'enth Us'guin Ilith had received an invitation of shthor. And there was only one House actively seeking compatible bloodlines in a mate for its heir.

Kara slowly turned the envelope over. The affixed seal was the one she had expected and dreaded – a winged man towering over his defeated enemies, a flaming sword in his hand. House L'u-cif-er, the oldest and most powerful of the Seven Houses.

"Kara was that a messenger just now?" De'enth Us'guin Debor, Ladye of House De'enth entered Kara's accounts room. Other heads of House might leave House business to dsks like Kara, but Debor was involved in every aspect of House affairs. Still, her burdens sat lightly on her face. Though she had borne four living and two stillborn children, Debor retained an appearance of fresh fragility. Kara felt herself to be a lumbering giant in her employer's presence, though she was of medium height and build.

"Has Quinere deigned to send the estimates for the propulsion system?" A slight sneer twisted Debor's lips and there was an acidic tone to her words. House De'enth might have controlling interest in the space merchant fleet, but even they could not control the un-Housed engineers and technicians who served them. Much to Head of Houses' displeasure. "If she were not the best---," Debor's words trailed off as she noticed the envelope in Kara's hands. "What House has honored De'enth?" she said, slipping into House formal, though she already knew what the answer had to be.

Without a word Kara handed her the envelope, seal facing upward. A quick, indrawn breath was Debor's only response. Even after scanning the contents, she said only, "Have Ilith sent to my rooms when she returns from her classes."

Kara lowered her head in silent assent, as her employer swept from the room.

She found it almost impossible to concentrate on her work that afternoon. Finally, when she had added the same column of figures five times and come up with a different total each time, she pushed the accounts aside and stepped outside in the House garden.

Byshen's eco-system was a harsh and narrow. Its settlers had fit themselves in to the available niches and survived, even thrived, but it was a world suited to grains and roots, not trees and flowers. As a result, its gardens were usually of rock and stone, as austere and unyielding and lasting as its people.

At the center of House De'enth's garden was a flat, eleven circuit labyrinth. Each path led to the center and back again to the rim. Kara walked the familiar paths, seeking to soothe her troubled thoughts.

When she had been El-Zora Ka'al Kara she had received an invitation of shthor from House L'u-cif-er. She had been fifteen. It had been a heady experience to know that her bloodline was considered acceptable for the heir of L'u-cif-er.

L'u-cif-er Da'anil Kaen. Even twenty years later the name still had the power to make her heart race.

Blazing golden eyes. That had been her first impression of Kaen. Only later had she noticed the perfectly sculpted face they were set in. At seventeen L'u-cif-er Da'anil Kaen had rivaled a god in beauty and charisma; but there was nothing unmanly or androgynous about him. There had been a man's height and strength to him even then.

All of those things Kara had noticed later. It was the eyes that had held her at first. The eyes and the almost overwhelming force of his personality. It had swept over her, flooding her with his thoughts and memories. There had been a psychic connection. She was sure of it. And she would have sworn he had felt it too. It was elska, a bonding of hearts, minds, and souls; something that was extremely rare even among the Psi of the Houses.

Basking in the personality that complimented and completed her own, Kara was stunned when the connection was broken. It felt as if a door had slammed shut between them. Her soft moan went unnoticed by the others in the room. She anxiously searched Kaen's golden eyes, but they were shuttered. He turned away from her searching gaze.

Instinctively she knew it was taking Kaen great effort to block her and if she just pushed a bit the barrier would fall. She hesitated, unsure of what to do. Then her father called her name. Blindly she turned to face him, ingrained obedience carrying her when her own thoughts couldn't. "Yes, House Father," she answered.

Head of House El-Zora Lur Jor was not known for patience with his only child. Even a non-Psi could have felt the impatience rolling off of him in angry waves as he snapped, "Head of House L'u-cif-er asked you a question. Answer."

Kara felt the blood rush into her cheeks. "I…." she stuttered. "I…." She had committed an unforgivable breach of House etiquette. One listened for the Voice of the Head of House at all times.

Did she feel a brush from a sympathetic mind touch hers? Later she was unsure, but she held the possibility close to her heart.

"House Daughter El-Zora," said Head of House L'u-cif-er. His voice was deep and solemn. His silver eyes compelled Kara's attention as he asked the ritual question. "Do you bear Talent?"

"Yes," she answered, forgetting in the stress of the moment the answer her parents had drilled into her. Then, remembering, she gasped and bowed her head.

L'u-cif-er continued the ritual. "What Talent do you bear?"

Kara's voice was almost inaudible as she said, "I bear the Talent of Negative Psi."

Was that shocked indrawn breath Head of L'u-cif-er's response or Kaen's?

Not every member of every House was born Psi, but each House did tend toward a specific Psi trait. House L'u-cif-er bore pyrokinetics. House El-Zora, telepaths.

But El-Zora Ka'al Kara was an anomaly. She was not telepathic, rather her Psi ability allowed her to block other Psis from using their Talents. It was a rare gift, considered a curse by many. Her father was among the many, as was head of House L'u-cif-er.

"This was not disclosed," Head of House L'u-cif-er said. His voice was very cold, but a shimmer of heat surrounded him. Kara stepped back, but the Head of House's anger was not directed at her. El-Zora Lur Jor was its target.

El-Zora Lur Jor's head was lowered in submission as was proper to a higher House. "Forgive us for wasting House L'u-cif-er's time, but it was not specified in the shthor that a Negative Psi was ineligible."

"Why should the obvious be stated?" said L'u-cif-er. "Blood that carries abomination should not be mingled with the pure." Kara cringed as the relentless words hammered at her spirit. "Better that you should sell her to T'o'lz, the House of assassins and thieves where she might be with her own kind."

"I shall take House L'u-cif-er's words to heart," Jor intoned formally. "Come," he said to Kara when it was apparent House L'u-cif-er would say no more.

"But there is elska!" Kara cried. Her father stopped and looked at her then. A considering gleam lit his eyes.

The Head of House L'u-cif-er did not even turn his head to look at his heir. In a voice devoid of any emotion he said, "Is this true? Is there elska between you and this creature?"

Kara held her breath. For an instant the golden eyes met hers and Kara felt a flash of fear she knew was not her own. Then L'u-cif-er Da'anil Kaen said, "No. There is no bond between us."

Kara never knew how she got out of the room or what her father's last words to her were. She had the impression it was a berating tirade, but she heard none of it. The shock of Kaen's denial had numbed her past all feeling.

Kara became one of the un-Housed that day. Her name was taken from her and all records of El-Zora Ka'al Kara were erased from the House archives. At her mother's insistence she was given a tenth of a percent of the dowry she would have received upon her marriage. It was enough to get her to the port city of Roaninsh.

The females of House El-Zora received a minimum of education and Kara was no different. With no education or backing she was forced to take the most menial of jobs. There were many nights she went without food and she rotated among the shelters the city provided for the indigent enough that she was considered a regular. A talent for organization and numbers brought her to the attention of Dsk Haran of House De'enth. She had apprenticed, then served as Secondary Dsk before being transferred to De'enth Us'guin Debor's House as First Dsk.

House De'enth was above House El-Zora in status and the two had no dealings with one another. Kara was safe from any contact with the life that had been hers. As for L'u-cif-er, De'enth was a middle House and as such, had dealings only with the lowest of L'u-cif-er's family. Kara had never seen Kaen again.

She sighed as she stood at the center of the maze and looked toward the house. Ilith was running toward her, obviously bursting to speak with her about the invitation of shthor. Kara prepared a smile of polite interest, as befitted a First Dsk in charge of House affairs, and moved to meet the younger girl.