Spring 37: dinner at home

My poor Zann,

I feel like I need to keep telling you my story. I feel better after writing. It’s not something I understand, but many strange things have happened to me, some of which I don’t even remember. And I think there are more to come.

Joining the Rosolla Guard gave me a lot to think about, but I wanted to wait until Wande came home from the perfumery so we could discuss it. She often frowned at that: a man, she thought, should be able to decide things by himself. True enough. But I’m not a very good man.

While I waited I started dinner. There was a pigeon breast in the cold bin. I stoked the fire under the griddle and chopped up the pigeon breast. While it was sizzling on the griddle I gathered some parsnips and herbs and onions and things. At one time I had had much more practice at cooking but had lost my affinity for it over the past few years. And I was never actually good at it. But I usually got to our roost ahead of Wande and Jhusdhe, so it was usually my job.

Perfect timing: it was almost ready when the door opened and Wande and Jhusdhe came in, giggling from the mists outside.

“In here cooking!” I called.

“Day,” Wande said, coming in and kissing me. She smelled of earth and rust, as she always did after work. She spent her whole day working with potent lauran perfumes, and it would never do for her to be out on the streets with those scents clinging to her. For one thing, she didn’t get paid enough to afford it; for another, it would cause seventeen kinds of emotional chaos for anyone she happened upon. So she and her coworkers had to scrub down with loam and scrape it off with an iron edge before leaving the perfumery every day.

“Day,” I answered, kissing her back. “Day, Jhus.”

“Do not speak to me,” Jhusdhe said. Jhus was Wande’s little daughter, about four years old and half-lauran. She had Wande’s tan western complexion, but her features were lauran: delicate, high-cheekboned, long-nosed, point-chinned. One eye was brown and warm; the other cold silver. And she had that rainbow streak in her hair that lauran kids all had.

“Jhus, I’ve told you before–“

“Mama, I love you well, and I hope I shall never forget the honour I owe to you. But I cannot be expected to hold conversation with this dockside lout, just because you’ve granted him your favours for some sauceless reason. I–“

“Apologize to Ybel, please.”

“Never,” Jhusdhe said, and strode off into her small sleeping room.

Wande sighed. “I’m sorry. Again.” She passed a loaf of bread to me, and I cut slices from it to go with our dinner.

“I know what she’s like. Lauran or not, she’s little, and eventually she’ll accept me on some level. I talk to laurans every day who are perfectly friendly to me.”

“I know. How did your day go?”

“Well. Twenty-two pennies.”

“That is good,” she said. “A few more like that and we can pay off the cistern.”

“And I have some news. I told you about Candur?”

“Candur. He was your officer in that army.”

“Right. He’s commanding the guards at the palace now. And he came here to hire me this afternoon.”

“For the palace guard? Oh, Ybel! That’s wonderful! How–” She stopped, and locked gaze with me. “Wait. What did you tell him?”

“I said yes.”

She hugged me. “That’s wonderful news. How do you feel about it?”

I filled our small platters with food. “It’s complicated. And not just in the obvious ways,” I said, making a swirly kind of gesture that brought in Jhus’s lauran heritage and Wande’s relationship with it. She nodded, taking a jar down from a shelf, and sprinkled some dried bumblebees on Jhus’s platter. “Another part of it is, I’m sort of becoming a soldier again.”

“It’s not exactly the same.”

“No, it’s not, but I’ll be carrying a weapon and it’s not impossible I might have to use it. And I never wanted to do that again.”

“I know.”

“I went through the whole Sugarside war without bloodying my spearblade and I’m curst if I’m going to start stabbing people now. I don’t know if Candur knows that about me. I was always good at getting into clinches and defensive stances and pretending I was fighting a lot harder than I was.”

She nodded, and called Jhusdhe in to eat. “Do you think it’ll be a problem? It sounds… I don’t know… Palace guard, how often do they really have to fight?”

I shrugged. Jhus came out of her room, sat carefully on her bench, and started eating bread. “I just don’t know. What I do know is, first, they put Candur in charge, and he’s a fighting soldier. Second, they’re running out of guards and need to bring more in. And Candur didn’t want to talk about either of those things with me before I said yes.”

We ate in silence as Wande thought about that.

“And you said yes?” she said. “I mean… I would have expected you to want some time to think about it.”

I nodded. “I know; it’s strange. I can defend my reasoning. The money is very good. Three silver cups a day.” She gasped. “And it’s more likely to be interesting than dockwork. Candur did say he wanted me because I was calm and did well as clerk for our unit during the siege. So that’s all fine. I don’t care for wearing a sword and I certainly don’t care about safeguarding the lives of the Valnelatar dynasty.”


“But. If I’m a palace guard, I might be in a position to do something important, someday. Consequential. I don’t mean that I’d become famous. Just that, I might have an opportunity to do something that I wouldn’t trust anybody else to do. And if there’s a chance of that then I have to take it. It’s a responsibility that’s come down to me.”

“You felt that? That… I was going to say it doesn’t sound like you.” We laughed. “But, I mean, you don’t usually speak in those terms.”

“Well, I never had that feeling before,” I said. “But, now that I’ve told you all of it, what do you think?”

Wande chewed on a crust of her bread and considered. “I agree that you had to say yes. It’s just too… big to say no to. And the money. It would have been foolish to turn it down. As for the rest of it, you know so little about the job and the people and the palace and everything, there’s no point in trying to figure it out yet. Go on in and learn. Don’t overworry.”

She was right. “You’re right. Again.” She winked at me.

That evening, before going to sleep, I found a stout lace and strung the old coin on it. I tied it around my neck, making sure that the lace was short enough that it couldn’t be drawn over my head. I had been worrying about losing the coin, and felt a little better once it was secure.




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