Tuesday, September 28, 2010

348 - Kaf and Music and Creme Cakes

“Kyriala?  Are you paying attention to your guests at all?”  Her mother hissed discretely in her ear. “I thought you wanted to have these gatherings to improve mind and attention?”  She snapped her fan open and fanned herself more vigourously than absolutely necessary.

“I was just thinking, mama.”

“Think later, my daughter.  I do believe that young Benthasas Monnen has just arrived and you and I need to greet the man!”

Oh dear.  Oh dear.  Benthasas, again.  He’s very good looking.  He was wounded in the final defense of the city.  Oh dear.  He’s charming. He’s nice. I do like discussing the implications of women voting with him.  But… he’s predictable.  After all this, the madness in the Marble Palace, the insanity in the wilderness… when did ‘he’s predictable’ become ‘I’m bored talking to him?’ When did my standards of ‘interesting’ change?

“Of course, mama.  Oh look, the butler just let Ormanas Tafan and Hikinian Fidaren in as well, let’s go greet them all.”  The men would be obliged to be polite and speak to each other and wouldn’t be able to hang on her sleeves all during the salon.  The looks they were covertly giving each other made her hide her mouth behind her fan.  Am I a female cat to be fought over by all the rude toms?

She looked around the garden room.  Her guests… technically guests for her little brother who was twelve now and most interested in the cream cakes… were chatting together over cups of kaf all the way out the open doors to the wide stone terrace with its shade sails, the garden and the smooth green lawn beyond.  A superficial glance over the elegant little scene might make one think the city hadn't been sacked so few years ago. She caught Laisa’s eye across the room and her friend tipped her own fan back at her, the barest quiver of the end, and they smiled at each other. She was in a similar position as Kyriala with her mama pushing that she be betrothed again, but Laisa had her grandmamma on her side, councilling ‘wait’.

If one looked closer, the signs of war recovery were there.  The cups and saucers were mis-matched and anything new was quite plain, for her mother’s taste.  The damaged and replaced wood trims were not quite matched to the old, the coloured window glass scenes had been replaced with plain, clear glass.  Mama bemoaned having lost so many things but Kyriala found she didn’t miss it much.  “Once you’re wed, the family will make up so much that we lost, Ky!”  It is not hardship to have to drink out of ungilded cups. That kind of money worry made Ky very tight lipped about some things.

For instance, the scarf that she had worn around her waist… Minis hadn’t mentioned it as he’d said goodbye and she’d been wearing it so long she’d forgotten that she still had it.  She hadn’t realized until she’d disrobed late that night that she hadn’t been able to give it back to Minis.  She’d risked a note to Ailadas and he’d written back saying Minis had left instruction that she keep it, just as Kaita was supposed to.  I haven’t mentioned the little hoard to mama.

The scarf, knotted tight around the gems and chains, like a narrow, lumpy snake lying along the top of her bed canopy, was going to be her independence once she reached her majority. Mama’s frantic to have me safely wed before my third threshold which is coming up much too soon for her.

She snapped her fan -- one that Laisa had actually made for her, with slender steel spines hidden in the hollow spars – closed and followed her mother to the entry hall where the new arrivals all waited.

“Gentle Sers,” Daurama Liren said and surreptitiously nudged her distracted daughter with her toe.

“Ser Benthasas, Ser Ormanas, Ser Hikinias,” Kyriala restrained the urge to whap her mother on the back of her elaborate hairstyle with her fan.  “Do come in.  May I pour kaf?”

Their polite murmurs of greeting to mother and her followed as she turned, not letting Benthasas offer the back of his hand to escort her.  Let mama sigh.  

She paused on her way across the room to speak to another friend. “Oh, yes, shall I freshen your cup, Skala?”  Her friend was very properly gowned but the hair at the crown of her head was bright pink and fanned out from her head like a short upstanding peacock’s tail, the rest flowing down her back to brush her hem.  She was talking to a girl with her hair cut okas short and dyed in indigo and bright blue stripes.  The Dyer was just explaining, “… I’m not really okas I cut my hair to spite my father and betrothed…”

“Thank you, Kyriala… In a click…” Skala bent her head to listen, smiling, as Ky lead the new guests to the faux kerulan-style table where the kaf service sat.  She sat down and poured.  As long as I’m fussing with kaf and cups they can’t really talk to me. But that ploy could only last so long.

“I’m looking forward to hearing your reader, Serina,” Benthasas said.  “Thank you, cream only.  Ormanas here mentioned your reader was going to be presenting a selection from “The Elegant Solution.”

“Why, yes, Ser.  That will be later on, allowing people to meet each other."  She raised her eyes from the cup she was just pouring and to her friend Skala who was just approaching.  “Skala, will you introduce me to your friend?”

“Oh, certainly.  Kyriala Liren might I introduce Riala Kien.  Riala, this is my good friend Ky, Ser Benthasas, Ser Ormanas and…”

“I already know Ser Hikinian,” Riala cut in.  “If you’re pouring, Kyriala?  I take my kaf black.” She smiled at Kyriala, half turning her back on Hikinian, who glared at her.  “Nice to meet you.  And Sers…”

Ormanas just blinked through his spectacles and his hand shook, making his cup rattle in its saucer.

“It’s nice to meet you Serina,” Benthasas said calmly.  “Serina Skala, what interesting friends you have.”

“Oh!” Ormanas gulped and coughed as if he’d just swallowed too big a mouthful of hot kaf.  “Serina Kien?  Are you related to Professor Kien? The Under Chancellor at the University?”

Riala sipped her kaf .  “That is nicely brewed.  You may as well dispense with the 'Serina'.  Just Riala or Kien if you want.

“Thank you, Riala,” Kyriala said.  “You may call me Ky.  Might I ask why you are asking us to dispense with polite forms of address?”

“Oh, that’s an archaic form of address that I don't want to have to hear.  I’m considering dropping my father’s name since I don’t wish to carry it, ever since he disowned me.”

“Ah.”  There didn’t seem to be anything to say to that.  But Kyriala liked the twinkle in Riala’s eyes.  “You might want to talk to my friend Laisa Si Rusa… I’d like to introduce you…”  Ky looked around the room at the various conversing groups.  Mama was speaking with an older lady… one of the Puriren, new to the city, that Ky didn’t know but she couldn’t see Laisa immediately.  “Later.”

“Thank you, Kyriala.”

“I think the stripes are amazing… I like it,” Ky continued.  “My mother would be scandalized if I should dye so much as a single strand of mine.”

Hikinian, looking as though he’d swallowed a wasp when Riala snubbed him so rudely, cleared his throat.  “I think your hair is lovely as it is, Serina.”

“Thank you for the compliment, Ser Hikinian.”

“Dye washes out,” Skala said, taking a sweet crème bun from a servant.  “Cutting is ...permanent.”

“My dear friend... hair grows back, especially if one wishes... it is hardly a scandal any longer, but more a statement.” Ky said quietly, thinking of how hard it had been to cut Minis's hair.

Riala smiled.  “True, though there are some things that, once cut, will never grow back.  Yeoli women have never been cut that way, yet they seem to be more blessed than we.”

Kyriala was astonished to find herself actually speaking a thought she’d thought before, out loud.  “If any parts of our bodies are incorrect, why did the Gods put them there in the first place?”

The three men looked tremendously uncomfortable, standing with their delicate gilded cups in their hands, for once exchanging glances that showed them in accord rather than rivals, at least for the duration of this conversation.

“So, says the Voice of the Gods on the Earthsphere,” Riala said quietly. “The Pages have been running those stories of women coming forward with the harm it has done them... Including the Fenjitza.”

Ormanas leaned forward, looking a little like a crane, eyes wide and round behind his spectacles, swallowing nervously and enthralled to hear such shocking viewpoints expressed so openly.  Hikinian pressed his lips together on more than one swallowed wasp if one went by his expression.  Benthasas sipped his kaf and listened attentively.

Kyriala surrendered the pouring to her Auntie Rue and took up her own cup.  The little group went with her to the shaded and curtained terrace outside.  Benthasas held her chair for her and as she sat down Socks came panting up to sit upon her feet.  “One must realize that those Pages stories are not the moon-sprite and glass goose stories that used to be published... don't you agree Ser Benthasas?” She said to him.

“Sometimes it is hard to know whether to trust the pages.” He responded mildly, neutrally.  “But the voices of the Gods... the Imperator Himself... and the Fenjitzas and the Fenjitza all speak out against the long-held tradition.”

“It is a little different,” Ormanas gulped. 

“Actual people,” Skala said drily, the pink spikes standing up behind her head like a divine sunburst shining upon her hair.  “Not ‘reports say’ or ‘it is said’.”

“This is excellent kaf,” Hikinian said, glowering at Bentharas.  “… and such fine porcelain.”

“Thank you, Ser.  The pattern is my mama's favourite.”  What’s left of it.  I will take your clumsy change of topic.  “So I just read that a scholar once wrote that philosophy is the highest music. What do you gentlemen think?”

“Well, I think that 'highest' is perhaps not the most interesting catagory to rank sciences, Serina, but if philosophy is music then logic must sing?”  Ormanas smiled and ceased gulping, having been presented with a philosophy question rather than the shocking or the uncomfortable ideas.  Since everyone was now looking at him he gulped and shrank into himself once more, sipping his kaf.

Kyriala fanned herself abruptly with her snapped-open fan.  Did he realize the double entendre?  Did he mean to suggest…?  “Sing?”  She coughed.  “Skala do you play the table harp?  Since Ser Tafan mentioned singing… I shall…” She practically leaped to her feet, Socks jumping up and beginning to bark.  Ormanas stared, confused, picking at a spot of ink dried into the ends of his hair. Benthasas and Hikinian were both hiding smiles, Benthasas into his cup, Hikinian more openly behind a raised glove.  Riala snorted.  “Ser Ormanas did you mean to make a sexual joke?”

Skala burst out giggling as she and Kyriala actually fled inside to the table harp, so as to not laugh right in the young scholar’s face.  “He… he didn’t even realize what he was saying?  Did he?”

“No.  He just never learns.  Perhaps Raila will enlighten him.  Laisa, I am so sorry to interrupt your conversation, but I have a request for some music.  May I request you help us?”

After ‘The Chestnuts of Arko’ ‘Rim Dawn Hymn’ and a little humorous piece called ‘New in the City’, Ky begged off singing and sank down in a chair beside the garden windows, fanning herself, listening to her guests discussing who should play or sing next.  Laisa ended up choosing an old lament, ‘The Fallen General’, and persuaded Ser Iliar to play the harp for her.

“Serina Kyriala.”  Benthasas stood to one side, his kaf cup exchanged for a wine glass.

“Ser Mennon,” Kyriala jumped.  She hadn’t heard him come so close. Laisa and Iliar prepared to do the song, while everyone else stayed clustered around the harp, with the ladies sitting on the settees and light chairs, and the gentlemen standing behind.  Ky caught mama's eye as she checked to see where she was, but rather than moving closer, her mother merely settled next to Auntie Tekka, folding her gloves under a lap scarf, preparing to listen.  Was that… approval in her eyes?  Oh…

“I’m sorry to have startled you, Serina Kyriala… may I call you Kyriala?”

“Ser… Benthasas… it is rather forward…”  She flipped open her fan again and used it as a shield, put it between him and her.

He set the glass down on a tall spindly little table next to mama’s new, ugly little fluff-fern.  “Let me come immediately to the point.  You are an intelligent woman, as well as beautiful.  I shall be tremendously blunt and tell you I believe any children will be phenomenally attractive –“

She couldn’t let him go on…“Ser!”  Let him think she was offended, even if he were following the new, open fashion for people to speak to each other.

He smiled and didn’t answer immediately and her heart sank.  He was attractive.  He had  a nice smile and he had been a warrior who fought even the hopeless last battle to keep the city from being sacked.  His hair was fine and long and strong and bright and he had a slight cleft in his chin, but she found herself searching for dimples, which he did not have.

Benthasas made the formal two-hand spread wide bow to her, as her breath caught.  There was only one time that an Arkan man ever, ever bowed to a woman.  When he came up from his bow he held out his open palm to her.  On it was the split, empty glass wedding ring.  “Kyriala… will you do me the honour of accepting my suit?  Will you fill my ring with your marriage lock?”


  1. This starts out in the first person and ends in the third. The transition point seems to be one of those rapid conversational exchanges where it's not clear who's speaking (and doesn't matter), so that could be where the confusion crept in.

  2. Ah. Yes. I think it was just the first paragraph so it is easily fixed, thanks. I also tried to clarify a little more who was speaking and to whom, though these bun-fights are harder to write sometimes than battle-scenes!

  3. That chapter should not have made me so very very angry... but damn it Ky is Mins! She should say something like... "You would dare to try to see yourself reflected in the fading glory of the former Spark of the Suns Mirror?"

  4. Oh I'm thankful I got you riled up. But Ky does belong to herself. As far as she knows Minis is still missing, on the run, or dead but [SPOILER NUKER V.1.3 DAMMIT QUIT TRYING TO TELL PEOPLE!!!] which is coming up soon.