At length, Treacle-Eyes and I were hiding in a smallish parlor, situated a quarter-mile away from anyplace of note. She sprawled in a blue leather armchair. I perched on the back of a wickery thing. We stared at each other.
Treacle-Eyes:“What’s Lithia to you?”
Me:“She’s my not-quite-adopted daughter, I should say. I have been her guardian in practice for most of her life. Her actual parents were friends of mine — by some definition — but proved unable to take care of her very well. So I have been doing.”
Treacle-Eyes:“That’s ridiculous… that’s impossible!”
Me:“Most of my life is ridiculous and impossible. Why is Lithia more so than anything else?”
Treacle-Eyes:“She’s got cramps!”
Me:“She does, indeed, have cramps.” They are a side effect of her being a shifter hybrid.
Treacle-Eyes:“You are a wizard and enchanter and healer, with a pet nendrai.”
Me:“The other way around, actually, but close enough. And so…?”
Treacle-Eyes:“How come she still has cramps?”
Me:“Because they can’t be cured.”
Treacle-Eyes:“I find that hard to believe. Speaking as a temple brat, used to hearing wizards and priests talk about what they can and can’t do.”
Me:“Believe whatever you wish, but I have exhausted my craft on the problem, and she still has cramps.”
Treacle-Eyes:“I suppose you don’t think it’s a serious problem. Do you know how she suffers, though? Have you watched her, listened to her, held her when the cramps come?”
Me:“Actually, I have been doing that since the week she was born.” And having the most terrible fight with her mother that ever was, while I was holding her that week, in fact.
Treacle-Eyes:“And there’s nothing you can do?”
Me:“There’s nothing more I can do.” Which is not exactly true. I could swear seven years service to Kvarse. Except that leaves Vae unmanaged for seven years, which would be a Bad Thing indeed. I could also kill Lithia, on the grounds that she’ll surely have better luck in her next life. I may yet do that, if she asks me to, when her condition grows considerably worse.
Treacle-Eyes:“I suppose you think you’ve done enough for her?”
Me:“I continue to take care of her as well as I can manage to. Why does it somehow become the stowaway’s job to interrogate me about my treatment of Lithia?”
Treacle-Eyes:“She’s asked me to marry her.”
Really. Congratulations, Lithia, on the off chance you ever get to read this. I rather wish you had done better for yourself than a stowaway and fugitive, especially one who (a) doesn’t know about Lithia’s dark little secret, and (b) thus thinks Lithia is Orren, and (c) is traff, and (d) is sure to abandon Lithia more quickly than even the usual Orren marriage. A pity that (a-b) and (c-d) would sort of cancel each other out — if Lithia were willing to explain them to Treacle-Eyes. Of course, if Lithia explained her secret to Treacle-Eyes, Treacle-Eyes would likely find it as disgusting as it really is, and leave her even faster. But that is Lithia’s choice, not mine; she has chosen to hide behind illusions and stories of cramps, and I will not be the one to tell Treacle-Eyes.
One wonders, though, how well a shipful of people is going to keep Lithia’s secret from Treacle-Eyes.
One wonders how well Lithia is going to keep Lithia’s secret from Treacle-Eyes.
Me:“Yes, actually. That’s what one traditionally says when ones not-quite-adopted daughter gets engaged. … Wait, you did say yes, didn’t you?”
Treacle-Eyes:“It’s more complicated than that. You’re not going to object to the marriage?”
Me:“Why would I do that? Well, aside from the fact that you’re a stowaway without any particularly good prospects, and also as good as engaged to a Cani boy too. You are still with Dorze, are you not? How does Dorze feel about this situation?”
Treacle-Eyes:“I am still with Dorze, now and always. And Lithia as well.”
Me:“Well, Orren commonly marry in twos or threes or fours, and Cani of course marry in packs of a dozen or so. However — speaking as one who has observed and pondered upon the subject of transaffection for several times as long as you have been alive — I know this for a fact: that a prime is either transaffectionate or cisaffectionate. Never both. In the end, you will either love Dorze and other Cani — and probably a Khtsoyis and a Gormoror in there for completeness — or else you will despise your hours and your escapades with Dorze, and love only Orren.”
Which is undeniably true: I had her there.
Or maybe it’s not undeniably true, since she denied it straightaway. It’s still true, I say.
[World note: Sythyry's opinion of the strictness of the transaffection / cisaffection division is held by a (noisy) minority of people in Vheshrame, and a (smaller and quieter) minority of people elsewhere in the World Tree. Most primes -- even most primes who care about the topic -- would not agree with zir. -bb]
Treacle-Eyes:“Well, I may be a novice at this, but that’s not what I’ve seen. The only person I know who actually likes all seven other species is Inconnu. And he pretends not to like Orren, but if he doesn’t have a secret crush on me, I shouldn’t be calling myself anything-Eyes.”
Me:“You have not been paying attention. Kantele has, in fact, collected the full set.” I leave aside certain ancient hints that Kantele has courted other Rassimel. The matter was settled in favor of transaffection decades ago, when she all-but-married Hithiat.
Treacle-Eyes:“Kantele doesn’t like me very much. She hasn’t discussed her personal life with me.”
Me:“Kantele is quite protective of me and of my crew. I find this an admirable quality, and seek to emulate it myself. In particular — despite your allegations of negligence! — I am quite protective of Lithia.“
Treacle-Eyes:“She is an adult in law and custom, and has been since her thirtieth birthday. Even if you had been her adoptive mother, you couldn’t forbid her to marry me now. Even if she is defying you and choosing a Member Of The Same Species.”
Me:“Rather the opposite. I’m glad to see her marry, even if she is marrying an Orren stowaway who hasn’t figured out her sexuality yet. I want a promise from you, and I want it quite badly. Indeed, you will have worse than Nangbang and La Hish on your tail if you break it.”
Treacle-Eyes:“Oh, do tell.”
Me:“Promise that you won’t leave Lithia for, let us say, twelve years.” I don’t expect Lithia to live past ten years, and the last three of those will be rather ugly, so twelve years gives some margin for error and/or for my medicine being more effective than is theoretically possible. “If she leaves you, I shan’t complain; I might even quietly applaud. But if you leave her, I shall be downright vengeful. Oh, and it counts as you leaving her if you make her miserable and drive her off.” I fixed her with my burningest stare, which I hope is quite burning indeed. (I don’t know actually. I simply can’t do it in a mirror, and nobody that I have tried to use it on has either caught fire or noted to me afterwards how very burning my stare was. But I shall give myself the benefit of the doubt, and say that it was indeed a most burning and incendiary of a stare.) “No matter what good or ill fortune befalls you.” In particular, the most ill fortune of a slow and horrible degenerative condition.
Treacle-Eyes:“Oh, is that all? I was expecting you to ask for something hard. Like, say, I’d go swimming with her once a month.”
Me:“Do you promise that?”
Treacle-Eyes:“Don’t be ridiculous! I promise seven times twelve years!” Sometimes — often — I admire Orren on the edge of wild rush. Sometimes — now — their extravagance is tiresome, and their impossible vows trebly tiresome.
I nodded morosely. Twelve years, or seven times twelve years, amounts to the same thing for Lithia.
Me:“Then I will help with the wedding as best I can. Oh, and come by Grinwipey tomorrow. You’ll be needing Strayway livery.”
Treacle-Eyes:“What? … Oh! Thank you!”
Me:“Whatever I feel about your crimes, and whatever troubles I am buying from La Hish and Nangbang for this — and whatever crumbs of truth there are to your nasty little allegations that started this conversation — I am going to take care of Lithia. And, if you’re her family now, that means taking care of you as well.”
We babbled unimportantly for a few minutes, and then Treacle-Eyes left, presumably to tell Lithia and Dorze. I slunk off to a different parlor a half a mile away, and built a big fire in the fireplace, and curled up in it. I was going to have to find a much better mood before I was ready to come out and cheerfully congratulate Lithia.