Thank you for your kind words of condolence. I have to admit I’m astonished and overwhelmed by the warm thoughts expressed upon my father’s death. Many people attended the funeral, some travelling from great distances. Others sent wine and bread and notes to my family.
I apologize for the delay in my response. There is so much to do to keep the trade running smoothly while the solicitors adjust a treeful of documents.
While it is difficult to adjust to losing my father, he had been, as you know, declining over the last few years. His manner changed and his mind dulled. He became frail and weak, unable to use the stairs. At the end, he wasn’t able to bathe or feed himself. Worst of all, he became paranoid and suspicious of everyone. He thought his colleagues, old friends, lifelong staff members and even family were stealing from him. He was certain I was running our trade into the ground, and nothing could convince him otherwise. Sometimes, he accused us of leaving him alone in his room for days without food or water.
Looking back, I believe Father’s decline had begun when we were visiting Flown Raven, and that was the reason for his atrocious behaviour. I wish you could have known him when he was still truly himself. He had been a much kinder and more reasonable person.
His death has resulted in a return of suppliers whom I had thought we’d lost forever. I also suspect that our alliance with the Malloroughs has had an enormous impact. We have almost recovered our former standing.
I know this sort of information is normally considered too private to disclose to others, but I feel your family, given all you have done, has a right to it.
I have already expressed this to your parents, but it is important to me that you are aware of it as well. Should you or Shintaro ever need any kind of assistance, I will do my best to provide it.
With respect and affection,
You promised me I wouldn’t have to study things like politics and law. We’re not supposed to meddle in that kind of thing, right? They’re dead boring. Some of the laws are right stupid, too. If so many people are part of writing them, how come not one person tells everyone else that what they’re writing makes no sense?
The woman teaching history is the most miserable and bitter bitch I ever saw, and I saw a lot of miserable people on Flatwell. Young, too, and doesn’t seem to know what she’s doing. She tries to make us respect her, or fear her, by making us stand and listen to her scream at us in the middle of the class. She has three favourite targets. A slower girl, who she calls stupid and lazy. A boy with a stutter. She says he sounds ridiculous and teases him that if he were ever Matched, which she doubted, no one would respect him. Then there’s me. She calls me uncivilized and a filthy barbarian.
I was called worse than that on Flatwell, but the other two aren’t used to it or just never built up a thick enough shell. Sometimes, they cry, and she likes it. Pathetic woman. What’s she ever done, to make her so high? She didn’t Bond. She’s never even left Shidonee’s Gap. I would remind her of that, but I promised you two to be good.
That fight in the stables wasn’t my fault. The horses don’t like me and get all testy. I don’t like them, either. Stupid animals. They move around and step on people’s toes and some of the others think I’m doing it on purpose. Which is stupid, too. How can I tell those huge lumps what to do?
Sometimes music class is hard. Sometimes I can’t sit still. Makes sense that Shields find them hard, too. Dances are good, though, because I’m allowed to move around. Can’t always go, though. Big choice for punishment, not letting me go to dances.
Speeches are good and bad, depending. Most times, we only repeat speeches written by other people. People who write plays, which are all right, and by politicians, which drone on forever. Some of the others can’t remember all the words, and they stumble about and keep starting over. Listening to them try is painful, and I get yelled at when I fall asleep at my desk.
Writing them is fun. I like making things up. When I get to make my own, I can say all sorts of crazy things about Flatwell and they always believe me. I’m trying to see how far I can go before someone finally calls dirt on me.
People still talk a lot about you and Shintaro. They say some really strange things, ideas all over the place. Sometimes they say you’re the best Pair ever born. Some say you have to be because you’re always drinking and going to parties and sleeping with everyone. They ask me a lot, too. Even the professors. When I don’t say anything it makes them all twitchy and that’s fun, too.
I’m learning to make the worst liquor in the world. Staff and professors don’t seem to care about the drinking so long as no one shows up to class drunk or hung. I know two people who go to class drunk almost all the time, anyway. They get rapped a lot but they don’t seem to care. Seems to me the alcohol controls them. People like that can’t Bond, can they?
Have to go. Jossen is at me to go to a card game. When I get out, I want to beat Shintaro.
I hope you and Source Karish are doing well.
We are hearing strange things from Flown Raven. That terrible battle, of course, which I heard you and Source Karish participated in. I know it’s not my place, and you are well able to make your decisions, but I feel compelled to remind you of the jeopardy of getting involved in local affairs. We have heard grumbles from the regulars, that Pairs are prizing certain people and are using talents to assist their favourites in achieving wealth and power they wouldn’t be able to acquire on their own. It is very, very dangerous for the regulars to see us in this light. It gives them the impression that members of the Triple S can be bought.
High Scape has become completely cold. Shield Hammad and I are the last Pair here, and we have received our orders for transfer. This has caused some resentment among the regulars as well. I think some believe the site has not in fact gone cold, but that the Triple S has become the puppet of the Emperor, who is acting in his own interests in placing Pairs. Others seem to feel High Scape is entitled to a Pair, whether it is cold or not, because of the prestige of the city.
However, three children, two Shields and a Source, were discovered within the city, which seemed to appease many of the residents.
I regret to inform you that Source Firth and Shield Stone have died. Firth became ill with pneumonia, and no healer we could find seemed able to treat her. It was a nasty, difficult illness for Firth, her breathing becoming painfully laboured. When she died, there was nothing we could do for Stone, of course. She died less than an hour later.
The mayor organized a tasteful little funeral for them both, and a great many people came to show their respects. The swings in their behaviour can be confusing, at times.
I hope you and Source Karish are doing well and meeting your responsibilities.
Source La Monte
Tarce – Short Story
“Can you think of any further useful information?” Tarce asked Farmer Ray Spinner, powdering the words he’d written so far.
The other man’s face flushed. “He’s a lazy bastard who never - ”
Tarce held up a hand.
The farmer’s words halted. The man didn’t like stopping, he pressed his lips together in irritation, but he did it.
Tarce lowered his hand. “I am aware of how difficult this is for you.” He could see how tense, almost overwhelmed, the man was. Most people didn’t like asking the Duchess of Westsea to make decisions regarding their personal disputes, and probably liked discussing the matters with Tarce even less. Everyone had accepted that speaking to Tarce was required before they could stand before Fiona, but that didn’t make the interview any less distasteful.
However, Tarce had learned that most complainants thought how they felt was as important, if not more so, than what had happened. He frequently had to rein them in. If he didn’t, they’d be there all day.
“But it is most important that Lady Westsea can become familiar with the facts before Decision Day. On Decision Day, she can see how you feel for herself. That intangible element, you want her to experience it without being coloured by my interpretations. Does this seem reasonable to you?”
The farmer nodded. “Yes, my lord.”
“Good. Do you have any other information?”
“No, my lord.”
“Are there any witnesses?”
“None that will speak up.”
“Ah.” That always made things so much more difficult. It all came down to who could tell a better story, and a good story was not always the true one.
Tarce was happy to be spared the arduous task of making the final decisions. “Then I think that’s all we can do here. Have a good evening.”
The farmer bowed and left the office.
Tarce spent a large part of an hour adding details to the various stories he’d heard but hadn’t been able to note quickly enough during the conversations. And then, he pulled out a fresh sheet of paper to organize all of the notes so Fiona could easily and quickly read them.
The task took enormous amounts of paper and ink. Time, as well, but Tarce had begun falling into the habit of giving common pieces of information – details that came up frequently – nicknames. Title dispute, border dispute, payment breach, labour failure, and so forth. He had developed a goal of creating notes for Fiona that would take her moments to read and, as an added bonus, would be incomprehensible to anyone else. The latter wasn’t at all necessary, but he enjoyed the challenge.
A knock on the door irritated him. The tenants were supposed to honour his request that no one visit him after the fifth candle mark.
But it was Fiona. “How are you doing?”
He shrugged. “Could use some scotch.”
“Couldn’t we all? Are you done for the day?”
“Excellent.” Fiona sat in the chair on the other side of Tarce’s desk. “I have a colossal favour to ask you.”
“I received a letter today. Do you remember Lenan Denni?”
“Of course.” Lenan Denni had grown up in Rise Ground, the estate next to Centrefield. Tarce had known him all his life.
“He’s been in Erstwhile for several years. He was on the Imperial Council.”
“The Emperor disbarred him a couple of years ago.”
“But he’s still in Erstwhile. He still has friends with significant positions. He’s been watching what’s going on, all the stunts Gifford is pulling, and he sends me information about it once in a while. You can imagine most of the news isn’t promising.”
“That’s to be expected.” News from Erstwhile was rarely promising.
“He tells me that titleholders who don’t have a significant presence at the Council are either suspected of treasonous behaviour or assumed to be irrelevant altogether.”
“So you’re planning to go to Erstwhile?” He couldn’t believe she would think she had the time to go so far.
“No, I’m asking you to go.”
The shock was almost hard enough to feel like a physical slap. And it hurt. “What?”
“Please don’t misunderstand. The work you’re doing is invaluable. I didn’t even think of having someone meet with the parties to summarize their stories before I see them. You saw a lack and took responsibility for it. And you’ve come to speak so easily with the tenants. You can’t imagine how many comments I’ve overheard, people expressing admiration for your work.”
“Then why do you want me to go?”
“Because I can’t go myself, and there’s no one I’d trust more.”
“There’s no one else who could represent the family,” Tarce pointed out wryly.
“True, but I wouldn’t send you if I didn’t believe you could perform the task well. And I have to admit, I wouldn’t have even thought of sending you a few years ago.”
Why did she have to admit that? They both knew he had been an aimless, useless leech. Had been his whole life. Every time he looked back on it, he felt humiliated. “What do you think I can do? I hope you don’t expect me to get involved in any political manoeuvring.”
“Not at all. Just remind everyone I exist, that I’m meeting all of my obligations, that my tenants are healthy and productive. And warn me if there’s anything going on that I should know about.”
He didn’t want to go. He had come to enjoy living in Flown Raven and the work he was doing. He’d never wanted to go to Erstwhile. It sounded like a boring place unless one wanted to engage in politics or pander to the Emperor.
“Obviously you don’t have to go. I’m not going to nag you about it if you say no.”
The Emperor had expressed personal interest in Fiona. Once upon a time, attention from the monarch had the potential to be a positive event. Under this Emperor, not so much. Tarce could understand why Fiona felt she needed someone representing her interests in the Council. She couldn’t go herself, and there truly was no one else.
And it was flattering, that Fiona thought he would be an asset in Erstwhile. “All right.”
Fiona looked surprised. “I didn’t expect you to make your decision right now.”
He shrugged. “I’ve never been to Erstwhile before.” Maybe it was more interesting than he’d heard.
“I’d like you to take some more time to think about it.”
He didn’t need to, but he would pretend to do so. “Of course.”
She grinned at him. “You’re a gem.” She rose from her chair and walked around the desk to kiss him on the forehead. “I’ll see you at supper.”
After she left, he tried to resume summarizing his notes, but he couldn’t concentrate. He did think about Erstwhile, made an effort at accurately judging his options, but it was truly a waste of effort. He’d already made his decision.
He left his summaries for the next day and went to his chambers to choose what he would take with him. After supper, he went to Fiona’s office and took out one of her maps to plot his journey. It would be a long one.
He waited two days before telling Fiona, “I’ll do it.”
She grinned. “Fantastic. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this. It’ll be an enormous benefit. Take as much money as you think you need. I’ll write some credits for you, promising to pay your debts, in case you run out.”
“I don’t know if you should trust me with that much money.”
“You’ll have to arrange to open Cornwall House. No one’s lived there for years. It’ll be a mess.”
He grimaced. Dust, mould, and the chore of hiring staff. “Can’t I stay at an inn?”
“I can’t imagine you’d be comfortable at an inn for long.”
He supposed not.
Tarce spent the next few days saying farewell to everyone.
He saved Roshni Radia for last.
His mind had accepted that she would never return his affection. His emotions insisted on hanging on to hope. It was confusing and irritating.
As he rang the bell at her door, he realized that he would be meeting a whole new group of people in Erstwhile. That might help, in one way or another.
Whaler Brice opened the door.
Tarce was not fond of Whaler Brice.
Everyone, absolutely everyone, had assumed Roshni and Brice were engaged in a sexual relationship when the whaler moved into Roshni’s tower. Yes, the two of them had given the explanation that the whaler’s son might be a wind watcher and needed Roshni’s supervision. A lot of people had thought that awfully convenient.
Tarce’s reaction had not been as mature as, looking back, he would have liked. Some might say he sulked. It was just that it seemed there was person after person Roshni found more interesting than he. It was aggravating.
Then, the whaler started spending a great deal of time with Fisher Shall. The rumour then was certain the whaler and the fisher were the ones in the sexual relationship.
This made Tarce feel a little better, but he would have felt a whole lot better if the whaler went back to his own home. “Good day, Whaler Brice. How are you?”
The whaler, not really one for niceties, nodded and stepped back. “The Wind Watcher is weaving. Have a seat. I’ll fetch her.”
The wait seemed interminable. He always felt so out of place in the tower.
Roshni stepped off the stairs. Her smile was polite and formal. It was always polite and formal, when directed at him.
He stood. “Good day, Wind Watcher.”
“Good day, Lord Tarce. Can I get you some refreshments? Tea?”
“No, thank you. I shan’t be long.” He waited until she had taken a seat before returning to his chair. “I will be going to Erstwhile, soon.”
“Yes, I’ve heard. Everyone is talking about it.”
Of course. “I just wanted to say farewell, as I don’t know when I’ll be back. It could be years.”
He hadn’t even thought of that, that it could be years, before he’d spoken the words right then. The possibility that it might be true was disheartening.
“There is a rumour that Lady Westsea is grooming you to be her heir.”
Tarce felt his eyebrows rise. He’d never considered the possibility that Fiona might have chosen him as an heir. He had assumed Stacin had that role.
On the other hand, if Fiona died – he hated thinking of it, but Stacin’s father had died – before her son was old enough to direct the Westsea estate, he would have to have a guardian until he was. So was Tarce’s assignment a sort of test? Would Fiona test him in that way? Without telling him?
He didn’t think he would be up to managing an estate as large and as wealthy as Westsea, with its broad variety of tenants and stock. He saw how hard Fiona worked, and the flexibility of her mind. He didn’t think he could emulate her.
Roshni suddenly looked alarmed. “Of course, I’m not asking you. I would never presume to pry into your private affairs.”
He wouldn’t mind if she did, every once in a while. “I would never suspect you of that.”
“I just wanted to say that most feel you would carry the role with competence and compassion.”
The second comment of that nature he’d received, so quickly after the first one. He had always felt that the tenants didn’t think much of him, that they merely tolerated him as the titleholder’s brother. “That seems a fair distance from a few years ago, when they thought they should have no titleholder who wasn’t a Karish.”
“A few years and good works can change a lot of minds.”
This was the strongest gesture of approval he had ever won from Roshni. It was disappointing that it concerned such an impersonal area. He was both pleased and disheartened.
He imagined that it was the best he was going to get.
He couldn’t think of anything else to say. He often found himself mute in Roshni’s presence, and everything he did say always seemed idiotic.
He’d better be more articulate in Erstwhile.
He stood. “I have arrangements I need to make.” Not really. He’d pretty much made all of the arrangements he needed to. “I wanted to wish you well.”
She smiled. “Thank you. I hope you find Erstwhile pleasant.”
They shook hands.
He left Flown Raven two days later.