Mirrored from Sythyry.
While Jagration was trying to coax Bryef into sharing his job, Phaniet acquired Prince Rastomil in a parlor. (At some point I shall construct an airship that contains fewer than 82% parlors.)
“Prince Rastomil,” said Phaniet. “This incident with your bodyguard was strange and disturbing. In Vheshrame, even the most brutal of the ducal bodyguards rarely, if ever, injure children. I suspect that there is more of the story than has been fully revealed to us.”
Prince Rastomil got up and curtsied to her. “I am discovered — revealed — exposed!”
Phaniet produced a small ceramic skeropythrope from one of her several pockets and fidgeted with it, as if to hint that she was there as the representative of a powerful mage, rather than simply a curious and nosy onlooker. “Since you are already partially discovered, revealed, and exposed, I recommend that you finish the job.”
The prince shrugged, a regal courtly shrug that wriggled his body from ears to tail. “I suppose that I shall not compel you to seek the Barency broadsheets of the last two or three weeks, or ask half my classmates. I am under a bit of a cloud at the moment — this trip, for me, is more on the order of an impromptu smidegon of exile than it is a purely educational experience. Though I was to receive an education as well — an education in the perils of defying a ducal command!”
Phaniet nodded. “I have heard of such perils. They do, indeed, sometimes result in exile or broken bones. Generally the exile is miserable, though, and the bones involved are those of the defier himself, rather than an under-aged fellow passenger on a chartered skyboat.” (I believe she had heard the informal diagnosis of Feralan’s injuries — made by Umbers, based on asking Feralan “How badly does it hurt?” — rather than the later diagnosis made by an actual healer.) “This leaves the situation unclear to me, as if there are still details about it that have been hidden under pillows and strewn with strongly-scented licorice root.”
“Well, the ducal command was more by way of a parental command, you know. I was to marry Princess Twisifell of Oorah Gothnard,” said Prince Rastomil. “The marriage was part of a more complex agreement, involving the importing of brandy, the export of books and cheese, the analysis of boundaries, and any number of other tedious things. It was a popular agreement in Barency, at least among the wealthy and powerful. There is a cheese bubble in Barency at the moment, and the wealthy and powerful and sensible wish to sell their inflatedly-valuable cheeses quickly … In any case, I did not wish to marry for the sake of cheese, no matter how valuable.”
“Twisifell was not to your taste?” asked Phaniet. Rather later, she confided to me that she was wondering, and indeed hoping, that Twisifell would turn out to be the wrong species, and that the choice of us as a particular implement of punishment was somehow particularly congenial. She further confided that she briefly entertained the thought that Prince Rastomil and someone on board, perhaps Inconnu or myself, would fall in love, settle down, and be exceedingly happy together.
“Twisifell was perfectly fine, charming and pretty and well-spoken, as fourteen-year-olds go. [That's about 9 of your Earth years. -bb] I imagine that she will grow up into quite a perfect princess by the time she is thirty. I admit that princes rarely get to choose their own spouses, but I don’t really wish to wait fifteen years. And that would be fifteen years as a married man. Furthermore, I cannot imagine enduring a wife undergoing adolescence! What a torment. Unfortunately, suitable Rassimel of suitable rank and parentage were scarce in Oorah Gothnard this year, and Twisifell and I were the best match. So, after some complexities, I refused to marry her.”
“Was she offended?” asked Phaniet.
“Oddly, I do not believe she was. I did not actually talk to her about it — we only met the once, early in the engagement, and our discussions were of the most superficial and tenuous kind. I kissed her hand as gracefully as I could… I suspect it was not graceful enough. That very night she braided her bedsheets into a ladder, strapped a sword on her hip, scooped her jewels into her squire’s old leather backpack, and attempted to flee the palace and upcoming nuptials.”
Phaniet nodded gravely. “Such flight may be taken as prima facie evidence that she did not favor your suit. Also, it is a traditional beginning to a course of delightful adventures, though usually ones that would reflect quite poorly upon the older, uglier, and more fiendish groom.”
“In this case, the delightful adventures were sadly curtailed, though, in fact, the traditional gruesome death of the old and fiendish groom was curtailed as well — a circumstance that some of my family now consider to be even more sad. The princess is not good at braiding ladders, or, perhaps, she was overbalanced by the substantial weight of jewels she brought. In any case, the escape wound up crashing upon the spiky top of the picket fence around the palace, and, from there, a very hurried trip to the Healer’s Guild. She was still there a week later when I left.”
“What did you do?” asked Phaniet.
“I sent flowers, chocolates, and a few books of children’s stories. She burned the flowers, and tore up the stories. At least she ate the chocolates. She is a very practical princess, in some respects, and I am sure will make some other minor scion of the major Rassimel nobility a fine spouse in a decade or two. If she can ever live the incident down, of course.”
“I imagine that even the most ridiculous of childish indiscretions can be ignored, by suitable applications of rank, wealth and beauty,” said Phaniet. “And then…?”
“Then I returned home and announced that the engagement was off. I don’t mind the escape attempt, but I won’t be having a wife who treats books that badly,” said the prince. “Though, privately, I think she was furious that life was not behaving sufficiently like a children’s story for her, and not with the books themselves. In any event, I hoped that my attitude of bibiophiliac reverence would get the Bookbinder’s Guild on my side — they were one of the parties whose trade arrangements came unravelled when I cancelled the engagement. Alas, they care more for their profits than for their honor. One might almost suspect them of being guildsmen, with an attitude like that! So in the end, everyone who had anything to gain from the treaty occurring was quite annoyed with me.”
Phaniet stood and wagged her tail. “I believe I now understand the need for bodyguards. The fearsome and well-read assassins of the Bookbinder’s Guild are after you!”
Rastomil smirked. “I am not so important. And, in fact, there was a certain amount of sympathy for my point of view, though never enough to overcome the irritation. Still, it is far and away more convenient for my parents and all if I, myself, am far and away. Also, it would be convenient for many if I were discovered to be, well, unsuitable for marriage at all. Or at least, if I were to more fancy marriage to that bouncy Orren lad, or even one of the Zi Ri wizards, than any number of Rassimel princesses.”
Phaniet flattened her ears, based as much on prior thoughts as anything. “This is not the case?”
“With all due respect, and not the slightest bit of insult intended, I have the most mundane and conventional of tastes. I find that I am only interested in other Rassimel. And, indeed, only Rassimel of a similar age and social status to myself. When I chance to have an unchaperoned hour with such a one, and should she be similarly inclined and interested in experimentation, my preferred experiments are of the most routine and unremarkable sort, such as would be written in three insipid sentences in even a fairly conventional book of pornography. My imagination and my most torrid fantasies involve little more… Still, Wentalilla had been instructed to make sure that I was quite thoroughly debauched by the end of the trip. In the presence of enough witnesses (the fellow students) so that the lords of Oorah Gothnard would be relieved, rather than enraged, that I was not married to the flower of their city-state,” said Rastomil.
“So we have deprived Wentalilla of her important task. Jagraton cannot help?”
“Jagraton, like myself, is a person of unremarkable appetites. Wentalilla is notoriously traff; she slept her way through the experimental, the dissipated, and the simply unwary among the nobility of all species save her own. Were she not Rassimel and he not Orren, I would suspect her of being Inconnu’s cousin — actually, given that they’re both so traff, I must suspect that they somehow managed to arrange something of the sort despite the species barrier.”
Phaniet’s ears went flat. “That is not a joke aboard Strayway. Such things do happen, by wicked karcistry, and the children of such ceremonialized unions are miserable and short-lived. Though we care for them as best we can, and never think otherwise.”
The prince continued, “My apologies! I am not well-versed in the matter; it has not been mentioned in class this term. Anyhow — I personally suspect that Wentalilla had hoped to enjoy the fleshpots Hanija in great detail, as well as her ducally-inspired mission of immersing me in them and holding me down until I gulp them all in. Jagraton will try bravely, I imagine, but they are not his natural environment as they are hers.”
“So you’re being sent to Hanija with us to ruin your reputation?”
“Precisely. I’m not sure whether or not I shall cooperate, though I am more thinking of drinking, gambling, duelling, and, if I am uncharacteristically bold, a slightly salacious fling with an adult Rassimel woman of … dare I think it? … the lower nobility, or even the upper merchant classes. Perhaps we shall be so bold as to slip away from chaperones and sneak occasional fingers under each others’ clothes.”
“Would that make you unworthy of Oorah Gothnard?”
“Yes. Unfortunately it would make all nobility unworthy of them as well, but that is already the case,” said the Prince. “Ah, well. If everyone is lucky, I shall come off much the worse in one of the duels and nobody will have to fuss with me again. Though why I’m bothering flying a thousand miles to find such a duel is beyond me.”
Phaniet frowned, and poured the prince another chalice of brandy.