City girl (1613-18) 9-14 – a story from Varanis’ childhood
Nochet sought to civilise me. It wasn’t just grandmother Mirava, it was Grandmother. Grandmother Saiciae ruled the house with an iron fist, though she could also be quick to smile if you caught her in the right mood. But there were so many lessons on so many things. I studied farming and household management, so I could one day be responsible for my family’s holdings. I studied languages, bargaining, and oration, so that I could learn to represent Saiciae, as Grandmother required. And I learned to sing and dance because grandmother Mirava insisted that I should be a lady too. Grandfather Kesten snuck in a few lessons of his own. It was he who first put a rapier in my hand, the year I turned 10. We were careful to ensure that grandmother Mirava didn’t learn of it; I was certain that Grandmother knew, but I can’t explain why I knew that or why she let it go on.
Endless lessons made escape difficult. It felt like every hour of every day was filled and just when I thought I’d slip away, someone was there with a lesson, a chore, a dress-fitting, or some other thing that couldn’t wait. The walls of the Palazzo were closing in on me, yet I wanted for nothing but freedom, and perhaps friends. I had rich foods, beautiful clothing, toys, and trinkets, and other things, but during the first year we spent in Nochet, I’d have traded it all to go back home.
To be fair to my grandparents, I was sometimes allowed to play in the courtyard of the Palazzo and there were other children there. Some were friendly, and others less so. From time to time, I got into arguments and sometimes arguments turned into fights, and whether it was true or not, whether it was just or not, grandmother Mirava usually blamed me. It was always a long time before I’d regain the relative freedom of the courtyard.
After one of my bloodier arguments one day, I was frantic to avoid grandmother’s wrath. I enlisted my cousin, Dormal, who was good at such things, to help me escape the Palazzo. He pointed out that I was only delaying the inevitable, but he helped me nonetheless. I wandered around the market for hours that day, trying to work out what to say to grandmother, how to get the bloodstains out of my dress, and how I was going to get back in. Everything was going around and around in my head like endless air runes, and no answers were in sight. Just as I resigned myself to walking back up to the gate, two things happened. First, I felt it again. That cold, dark gaze I’d felt on our last day at the farm. And then, the strong grip of a hand on my shoulder. I jumped, my heart leaping and my hand reaching for the dagger grandfather had given me, but the gaze I met was both familiar and annoyed.
Serzeen was one of the household guard. She’d been training with them for a couple of years now and rumour had it that she was also dedicated to Babeester Gor. I believed it of her – even at 19 she carried something of an avenging goddess within her. She escorted me home, allowing me the courtesy of passing through the gates on my own feet instead of tossed over her shoulder, as she no doubt could have done. This time, it wasn’t grandmother Mirava who waited for me, but Grandmother. In the face of her anger, I exploded. I yelled out my rage and fear, and by the end I was sobbing. I told her everything, including those brief moments of terror in the market, when I felt that I was being watched by something dark. She didn’t chastise me as I deserved, but sent me to my family quarters and called for my grandmother, a grim look in her eyes.
There were more arguments that night. Grandmother Mirava and grandfather Kesten argued for hours, until someone was actually sent to intervene. As the morning dawned, I was shaken awake by grandfather. He was tense and still wore the anger of the night before in every line of his body. He bade me dress in the clothes we wore for practice and to bring my blades. I followed him as he led me out of the Palazzo and into the streets of Nochet, which were buzzing with the early morning traffic of city life. Together we walked, with the sun on our right and the roads beneath our feet sloping up. As we walked, he told me that I needed to leave home for a while. It wasn’t forever and it wasn’t a punishment, but it was necessary. The anger seemed to drain out of him as we climbed and though he was trying to be encouraging, I could also hear the ache in his voice.
He left me at the Vingan Temple, just outside the Stormwall. I was not yet 15.