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Short Story, Lee's POV, Shortly After Book Six [Aug. 3rd, 2012|12:35 pm]
moirajmoore
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Short Story – Lee, Shortly After Heroes Six

This paragraph is followed by a trigger warning. I am attempting to hide the warning for those who don’t want the story to be spoiled, but it might not work the first time. This may mean some readers will see the warning whether they want to or not. I apologise if that happens.

In case someone doesn’t know what “trigger” means, my best definition is that there is material in this story that some readers might find distressing, perhaps because they had experienced the events themselves.


Warnings (highlight to view, may contain spoilers): { The story involves the suicide of a minor character. Some may find how the suicide itself is handled offensive. It is not my attention to offend anyone, but given the nature of the subject, I’m not sure it’s possible to avoid offending everyone. }



Decision Days were long, at times feeling longer than they were. Fiona always looked alert and calm as she listened to the complaints of tenants and local High Landed coming before her with disputes. She always seemed to grasp every little nuance of each story, carefully balancing the facts she’d been told and delivering a sensible verdict.

Over the course of the day, she would excuse herself for brief breaks or for the midday meal. Sometimes she would ask me to accompany her, and it was only then that she would reveal that she’d been inappropriately amused or bored nearly past bearing.

I frequently attended Decision Day, standing beside Fiona, though I performed no function there. It was an excellent way to keep abreast of what was going on in Flown Raven and its environs. It could be a challenge for me, too, to hide a smile when people were ridiculous, to keep the boredom to myself, to hold down the distaste when someone made an appalling and clearly unfounded accusation or denied responsibility in the face of overwhelming evidence.

After a few hours of work, Fiona rose from her chair. “If you would all excuse me,” she said. She looked at me. “Will you join me?”

“Of course.” I followed her to her office.

She gestured at me to take seat. “What do you think of Fisher Karna?” she asked as she sat at her desk.

I thought back over the parties who’d spoken that morning.“Very long-winded.” She had explained her case in excruciating detail, indulging in tangents that didn’t add anything to her argument. Who cared that the window trimming was blue? Again and again, Fiona had cut her off to bring her back to the point, but the woman had seemed incapable of learning what she was doing wrong and kept flying off in different directions.

“Anything else?”

“The monotony kind of took over my mind,” I confessed.

Fiona grinned, then said, “I think she’s lying.”

I couldn’t have said, but I had no reason to dispute Fiona’s evaluation. “All right.”

“Do you?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never met her.” Karna was a new tenant.

“She stared into my eyes the whole time.”

“I always felt looking a person in the eye is a sign of honesty.”

“Not like that. People don’t look someone in the eye without shifting their gaze every few moments. It makes both parties uncomfortable to do otherwise. People who stare into the eyes like that are either a little witless or trying too hard to appear honest when they’re not, and I don’t think Karna is witless.”

That seemed logical.

“Did you notice that she didn’t move at all when she spoke?”

That, I had caught. It had struck me as odd. It hadn’t just been a matter of her hands being clasped before her the whole time. It was as though she hadn’t shifted at all, not the merest twitch anywhere other than her face, which had also been a little less expressive than I was used to seeing. “Aye.”

“People always move, especially their hands. Unless they’re holding on to something. Which she wasn’t.”

“Couldn’t that just means she’s uncomfortable? I would have been, in her place.”

“No, she moves her hands more than most people. It’s almost as though she can’t get the words out without using her hands to shape them in the air. Someone like that, they move their hands even more when they’re nervous, because they’re so anxious to get their point across. No, she’s lying.”

“I see.”

“You don’t agree?”

I didn’t disagree. “I don’t know. I’m not very good at reading people.”

Fiona sat back in her chair, tilting her head. “Shintaro told me that shortly after you met, you were able to determine all sorts of facts about him, just by looking at him.”

“Of course. Familiarity is necessary for Shielding a Source well.”

“But it’s not necessary for anyone else?”

“I can’t do it with anyone else. Taro’s unique.”

Fiona smiled. “He certainly is.”

I returned her smile. “Not just because of all the other reasons. Part of it is because of our bond.” I tapped my temple to make sure she understood which bond I was talking about. “There’s something about it that lets me get a special look inside his head. It’s why I can tell when he’s bluffing at cards. I can’t with anyone else. Plus, when we first met I pretty much spent every hour of every day observing him. Watching him. Staring at him. From every angle I could.” I smirked. “It made him mental.”

“So observation was an important part of it.”

“Aye.”

“Don’t you think closer observation of others would help you interpret people’s behaviour with more accuracy?”

I wanted to protest that I wasn’t that bad, but, looking back, I had to acknowledge that a whole lot of people had managed to keep embarrassingly obvious secrets from me. “That makes sense.”

“So just focus on others a little more. See what you come up with.”

“All right.” It would be a handy skill to have.

When we returned to the court room, Fiona found in favour for Karna’s opponent.

For the rest of the day, I watched the participants more closely than usual. This seemed to unnerve them.

I couldn’t convince myself that I knew if people were lying or not, but I thought that was a reasonable failure under the circumstances. The problem with Decision Day was that, in general, both parties thought they were in the right, that their interpretation of events was the only correct one. So their presentations were genuine.

One woman was as still in her posture as Karna had been, but I thought that was due not to dishonesty but the desperate attempt to refrain from exploding in fury.

One man kept his gaze directed at Fiona’s feet the whole time he was speaking. I was aware that he had been born and raised in Oraguan, where it was considered rude and arrogant to look a superior in the eye, so that couldn’t be construed as a gesture of deceit. Still, my natural inclination was to believe he was lying, his behaviour was so disturbing to me.

Fiona, I could tell, was disturbed by it, too, to the point that she decided to hold her decision on the matter for the next Decision Day, citing a need of further contemplation, something she rarely did.

I was unusually exhausted by the end of the day. I hadn’t realized how much I’d let my attention wander during previous Decision Days. Or how draining it was to carefully listen to every word a person said over the course of hours. My eyes were burning by the time Fiona dismissed everyone. I couldn’t imagine having to also keep my head clear enough to provide the parties with valid and just solutions.

After the last dispute had been addressed, Fiona again invited me to her office. “What do you think?”

“Ugh. I have no idea.”

“Maybe you should write it down, while the details are fresh. It might help you think things through.”

Suddenly, I felt like I was back at the Academy. Still, it was a good idea. “All right.”

I went back to my suite, made myself a pot of coffee, and settled at my desk. I spent the next few hours writing, describing the way the Decision Day participants had stood or gestured, the words they’d used and how they’d spoken them. Some had let the words spill out. Some had spouted wild accusations, apparently unconcerned that they were contradicting themselves in the same speech. Some had chosen their words with care.

One woman, with the mildest of tones and words that were, if taken apart, perfectly polite, managed to convey that her hulking opponent was ignorant, incompetent, and just in general a failure as a person. While her opponent hadn’t come off as stupid, I had the feeling he was having trouble believing he was actually being insulted by someone who appeared to be so courteous in the middle of a dispute.

I was impressed. I didn’t know if that sort of thing was actually effective – What was the point of insults if people weren’t sure they were being insulted? – but to present one’s feelings so delicately probably provided a certain satisfaction all on its own.

What the speech had accomplished was convincing Fiona that the woman had carefully prepared for her appearance. In my mind, this refuted the petitioner’s claim that she’d demonstrated a slipshod work ethic in constructing the extention to his house. The respondent was well known and highly sought, and no complaints had been levelled against her in the past. Fiona found in her favour.

The next day, Fiona and I went over my notes. We agreed on about two thirds of the participants, which pleased me. Fiona then took the time to go into further detail as to why she thought the way she did. She had observed some tiny physical cues that had flown right over my head.

Which was disheartening. What had I been doing all my life?

And, of course, Fiona knew what I was feeling. “Don’t be discouraged.” She clapped me on the shoulder. “It just takes practise.”

I felt I was being lectured. “Yes, professor. I’ll be there bright and early next Decision Day.”

“No need to wait until then. Just walk about the village.”

“Walk about and stare at people.”

“Shields are allowed to be strange.”

“Actually, we’re expected to be well-mannered.”

“Really? That’s not something I’ve noticed.”

I raised an eyebrow at her.

“Do it for me,” she wheedled.

It wasn’t as though I resistent to the trying to learn more about the nature of people, or that I had demanding duties that would make the exercise a chore. “Of course.”

I wouldn’t actually walk about the village and stare at people. They’d think I was losing my wits. Instead I took a book to the tavern and nursed a glass of wine all day, pretending to read. This was a drastic change in my normal behaviour – many of the others expressed surprise at my presence, greeted me, chatted for a bit – but they probably weren’t disturbed by what I was doing.

Several people asked me, some with more subtlety, than others, if things between Taro and I were amiable. Some spoke with genuine concern, some were in search for gossip, and some hoping for an opportunity to take my place in Taro’s life. I was able to determine that much from the beginning.

To the genuine, I smiled slightly, said we were fine, and thanked them for their concern. To the gossipmongers, well, I just looked at them. A few blushed and backed down. Others felt they had every right to the information they were seeking. Still others just didn’t care whether they were being obnoxious: they wanted what they wanted.

But they all had somewhere they needed to be. Eventually. I could sit there all day.

To those who wanted their own chance with Taro, I gave what I hoped was the fakest smile ever etched over reluctant lips and assured them Taro and I had no problems. No, really. None at all. Then watched them try to hide the glee in their eyes.

That was fun.

Taro didn’t think so. I hadn’t thought of that, what he might hear.

“What have you been telling people?” he hissed after I’d been conducting my experiment for about a week.

“Huh?”

“Nalor invited me for a ride. It took me almost half an hour to realise he was flirting with me.”

I chuckled. “Was he that bad at it or were you unusually unobservant?”

“He gave me a brooch,” Taro added sourly. “An ugly one.”

I still didn’t see the problem. “People give you things all the time. They flirt with you all the time, too. What makes you think this has anything to do with me?”

“Valia asked me to dinner.”

“She’s asked you dozens of times.”

“Not for weeks. I thought she’d given up. Finally. And Janil invited me to drop over for lunch. Right then. Because the children were all at the shore and Rayndor is in Produc visiting family.”

All right, this was becoming less fun. “Ugh.”

“And, of course, Farley, who’s never had the slightest respect for me, said in front of everyone in the street that it was about time you dismissed me. I’d never been good enough for you.”

I felt sick. This was what came from trying to be clever. “I’m so sorry.”

“Seriously, what have you been telling people?”

“Nothing like that. People were asking me why I was spending so much time in the tavern. Some of their questions were impudent. So I played with them a little. But no, I didn’t say anyone had dismissed anyone. And I didn’t think it would come back to kick you like this. I am truly sorry.”

Taro didn’t look appeased. I didn’t blame him. I’d been careless.

“So did you at least learn anything during all of this reading and drinking and emotional games?”

“I think Fisher Stev is having an affair with the waitress.”

Taro’s eyebrows rose. “Huh. I hadn’t heard anything.”

“And the landlord is hiding something. I can’t figure out what, but his manner has changed. He moves a little more slowly, but I don’t think it has anything to do with his health. He looks down at his hands a lot. You haven’t noticed? You go to the tavern often enough.”

Taro wrinkled his nose. “Not for the last little while. He’s stopped serving the ruby ale and that was the only thing I really liked.”

Oh, aye, he’d mentioned that. “That’s all I’ve been able to determine so far. Pretty weak, eh?”

“You know that’s not how normal people do it, sit somewhere and watch. They talk to people. All the time.”

“I talk to people,” I muttered.

“Only the ones you like.”

“How is that not normal?”

“All I’m saying is that you should go back to doing what you normally do, and pay attention.”

I knew he wasn’t doing it on purpose, but Taro was making me feel like an idiot. “Talking distracts me from watching them,” I responded in a sharp tone. “I didn’t figure you out by talking to you, did I?”

He pressed his lips together, probably to hold back a smile. He could claim that my early observation of him had given me a superficial understanding of how he moved, not a deep understanding of his character. And he would be right.

Taro kept those words to himself because he was a truly nice person. “For all you know, the landlord is only getting annoyed because of all the free wine he has to give you.”

That was possible. Something else I hadn’t anticipated. Oy.

I stopped going, and people asked me about that, too. Some congratulated me on the obvious repair in my relationship with Taro.

So, I wasn’t the only one who totally misinterpreted the behaviour of other people. That made me feel better.

Unfortunately, I was surrounded by people who were adept at reading others, who knew exactly what I was doing without my having said anything about it. So when, during my next ridiculously early morning stroll with Fiona and Radia, the Wind Watcher, with the tiniest smirk, asked how my lessons on being a person were going, I protested, “That’s mean-spirited of you.”

“You aren’t subtle.”

“I’m subtle all the time. You just don’t notice, because I’m being subtle.”

Radia, unconvinced, let her smile get a little broader.

“Oh, leave me alone,” I muttered.

Fiona chuckled. “And you, Wind Watcher? Do you have any interesting stories to tell?”

Radia shrugged. “The usual grumblings, but nothing unusual, nothing to worry about.”

“Everyone has enough to eat?”

“Aye.”

“And the Byers’ pump?”

Radia frowned. “There is something corroding the copper, but no one is able to determine what it is. Apparently, it’s very disturbing. Everyone else is examining their pumps. No one has found anything, but everyone’s reluctant to dig up the ground to check every length. That’s why they don’t want you to know, yet. They’re afraid you’re going to order them to pull up all of the pipes. That will make a mess.”

“I’d like you to convince one of them to tell me, if you can.”

“Of course.”

It wasn’t that Fiona asked Radia to spy on the other tenants, per se. It was more that she recognized many tenants would be reluctant to talk to her directly about their problems, due to pride or distaste or the desire to ignore a difficult situation for as long as possible. Fiona had chosen a few tenants she could trust to tell her what she needed to know while still protecting the privacy of their neighbours, if at all possible.

Our first stop in the village was the miller, Ena Geller, another tenant Fiona trusted to be honest and discreet. Also, she gave us delicious freshly baked bread.

But when we entered her shop, there was no scent of baking bread. There were rolls of dough on the counter and they were covered in blood. We could hear faint gasps from behind it.

With exclamations of shock, we ran to the other side of the counter. Geller had collapsed on the floor, and there was blood everywhere.

The intensity of my shock shot up when I saw the sharp knife beside her on the floor and saw all of the blood was spreading from deep gouges on her wrists. Mostly from the left wrist. The cuts on her right wrist were much shallower.

She had done this to herself.

Radia ran out of the gristmill to get Browne. Fiona and I threw ourselves to our knees beside the Geller and pressed the sleeves of our shirts to her wrists, trying to stop the flow of blood.

Although she was still alive, there was no reaction from Geller. There should have been. The pressure we were applying to her wrists would have to hurt.

I didn’t know her well, but she’d always struck me as strong. A little brusque, not exactly cheerful, but not morose, either. “What’s happened to her?” I demanded, expecting to hear of a lost loved one, a crippling debt, or a painful illness that would hit her with a long, horrific death.

“I don’t know!” Fiona exclaimed. “I haven’t heard or seen anything that should have brought her to this!”

Radia came running back in with Browne. Fiona and I pulled out of her way.

“Ena?” Browne said in a brisk tone. “Open your eyes. Tell me you hear me.”

Geller didn’t respond.

Browne pulled bandages out of her bag and threw them at Fiona. “Wrap her wrist as tightly as you can, and then keep up the pressure.” Then she got another bundle and did so herself.

I stared at her. That was it? That was supposed to do something? The blood soaked through the bandages as soon as they were applied. “What about a cast?” It was an obnoxious question that suggested she didn’t know how to do her job, but I had to ask. I couldn’t help it.

“Casts don’t work when someone kills … tries to kill themselves.” She anticipated my next question. “I don’t know why. It’s like their intentions overwhelm mine. Or something. I have to provide traditional treatment and hope it works.”

It didn’t.

It was over so quickly. It always appalled me, astounded me, how quickly people could die. Had Geller even known we were there?

With a grim expression, Browne sat back on her heels, releasing Geller’s wrist.

“That’s it?” Fiona demanded.

“She’s dead.”

“Did you know this was going to happen? That she was thinking of doing something like this?”

The look Browne gave Fiona was incredulous, and I was sure it was only Browne’s respect for Fiona that held her from calling the duchess an utter idiot. “I heard nothing.”

“Nor did I,” Radia added quietly.

“There doesn’t always have to be something,” Browne said. “There doesn’t always have to be a tragic event of some kind. Sometimes, people just …decide.”

After a horrible, tense moment, Fiona cleared her throat. “Roshni, could you find her daughter, please?”

Had her daughter had any idea?

People were brought in to carry Geller away. Someone tried to soothe Gellers’s sobbing daughter. I scrubbed at the blood on the floor with a brush and soapy hot water. I stayed silent. I couldn’t say anything that would do anyone any good.

I’d never really known anyone who’d killed themselves, not well. I’d never had to see it.

After I was ordered to leave, I lurched to the nearest ditch and threw up what little I had in my stomach.

In the days that followed, Geller was virtually the only subject of conversation, involving, for the most part, speculation about why she had killed herself, but they were all guesses.

I didn’t know if it meant no one had really known her, or that there were some people who couldn’t be read at all.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: pith
2012-08-03 06:09 pm (UTC)
I'm behind on the books, so I'm not commenting on the story.

But LJ has a spoiler tag now, similar to the cut tag. It may be useful for you when doing things like the warning.

[lj-spoiler text="Whatever you want the clickable text to say"]SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS[/lj-spoiler] But with the triangular brackets.

I think it works in comments too [Testing]Does it?
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: cocoa_girl
2012-12-10 05:32 am (UTC)
yes it does...
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)