|“So I hear there’s dragoners coming here on Search.” Asyat’s younger brother, Aronn, proclaimed proudly at dinner. All the Holder’s eight children were seated together at their own table. Since the Hold wasn’t currently hosting anyone important, it wasn’t considered rude for all of them to go off by themselves to eat.
“So?” One of Asyat’s older brothers, Samlnir, said around a mouthful of roasted tubers. “Dragonriders come here after every Threadfall to talk to the ground crews. What’s so exciting about that?” Salmnir took a big gulp of wine and looked at Aronn. The younger boy stared back at his brother angrily, and then turned to Asyat.
“Dragonriders are coming here on Search.”
“Oh!” Asyat said with false enthusiasm. “They never do that. I wonder who’s here that would bring the dragons on Search.” And Asyat looked about the table, ignoring Aronn. Aronn smiled and rolled his eyes.
“I’m not four anymore Asy, you don’t have to do that.” But his smile widened. “But I’m old enough this turn to be Searched. I hope they’ll take me.” And Aronn looked back into his plate, grinning secretly to himself.
“What makes you think they’ll take you?” Asyat’s oldest brother Simin, heir to the Holding, asked Aronn kindly. He didn’t approve of Samlnir’s rough handling of their younger siblings. It wasn’t good to breed resentment in a place as small as this. But Aronn shrugged and continued eating.
“Huh? I dunno. I figured….”
“Don’t say ‘dunno’, Aronn.” Larina told Aronn firmly, and she shook her head. “We may not be the children of a Lord Holder, but we’re still a Holder’s children, and we should speak properly.” Larina glanced at Asyat over her glass, and Asyat looked away. Did Larina know already that it was Asyat that caused Holmeran’s breakdown?
It hadn’t been two hours from the time Asyat left the Harper’s study when he collapsed in his quarters. Asyat had been working out in the stable yard at the time, helping some of the newer apprentice beastcrafters learn their way around the complicating maze of yards, barns, and corrals.
Laer, Asyat’s bronze, had appeared in the air, chittering wildly for her attention. She looked up at him, and told him to come down, but he squawked and dropped something into her hand. It was a note, from the Healer, asking Asyat to help attend to the old Harper at once. Fear nearly choked Asyat as she made her way to the old Harper, Laer now wrapped firmly around her shoulders. The Healer often asked Asyat to help him attend to the injured around the Hold. But as she entered the Harper’s rooms, she saw something that made her choke where she was standing.
Holmeran was lying stretched out in bed. His face and hands were nearly white, and he was tossing about, clutching the covers, humming a tune loudly. It was obvious the man didn’t know what he was doing, but Asyat was terrified to enter further. If she didn’t know better, she’d have said he’d been stricken with madness. She was about to rush out of the room, screaming, when the Healer, kneeling by the bed, motioned Asyat to come closer.
“No reason to fear Asyat, he’ll be fine.” Healer Porhist mumbled, and pointed towards the table by the door. “Grab my bag while you’re standing there, and bring it to me.” Holding in what she was sure was vomit, Asyat did as she was told and joined the Healer by the bedside. It seemed her presence set the Harper off even more, and he started humming more forcefully. Asyat recognized the tune. It was an old song that was meant to teach children to respect their elders. Asyat could have hung herself.
“Why…?” Asyat began, but the Healer shook his head.
“Be as quiet as possible child, we don’t want to wake him.” The Healer wrapped his fingers around Holmeran’s wrist to take his pulse. Shaking his head, Porhist put Holmeran’s hand back on the sheets and turned to Asyat. “He’s had a breakdown, probably caused by stress. Faranth knows this old man stressed himself to the breaking point over the slightest thing, but we need to be careful from here on in. We’ll need to give him some fellis, and plenty of liquid…..”
“Asyat?” A voice penetrated Asyat’s daydream of that afternoon. “Asyat?” Larina’s fingers snapped in front of Asyat’s face, bringing Asyat back to the present. Asyat jumped back and looked about.
“Geez you’re jumpy today Asy.” Asyat’s other sister, the raving beauty Iamara, exclaimed and wrinkled her nose.
“Sorry.” Asyat mumbled, and looked to see if everyone was staring at her the way her two sisters were.
“Anyway,” Simin said, staring pointedly at Asyat, “I was asking if anyone knew what caused Holmaren’s breakdown. Porhist says it was stress related….” Simin let it hang, seeing the look on Asyat’s face. His sister had gone pale, and she had her eyes squeezed shut. It wasn’t like her to be so queasy, even though she had seen the old Harper in a bad state.
“Father said Holmaren went in to complain about something earlier, but since he was gone Homaren left and went to his own study, where he collapsed.” Larina said, staring coolly at Asyat. Iamara stifled a giggle behind her hand, and shook her head of fair, curly hair to stop the laughter. Not even a stern look from Simin could silence her.
“I think Larina knows what caused it.” Iamara said, looking at Asyat.
Asyat, who had been clenching the tabletop this whole time, felt the room begin to spin. She just couldn’t be responsible for the Harper’s illness! She couldn’t! Hardly anything fazed Asyat, but this was driving her sick. The only Harper Shelinoa Hold had ever been able to get, and if she killed him, they’d get no more. Asyat knew deep in her mind that she’d really done nothing to hurt the Harper. She’d stood up to his ridiculous point of view, been a little sarcastic, nothing more. But right now Asyat could care less what she had done (or not done) to push the Harper over the edge, it was that she had pushed the Harper over the edge. Her father would be so disappointed in her….He’d tell her mother would have been ashamed. That was one thing Asyat couldn’t bear to hear. She missed her mother terribly, ever since she’d died three turns before, and she didn’t want to think she could ever do something that would have caused her mother to be disappointed.
But even more than that Asyat didn't want this to interefere with….
“Asyat!” Larina said, gripping Asyat’s elbow firmly, and feeling her forehead. “Asyat, I think you need to lay down. You’ve over exerted yourself today, you need to rest.” Larina stood up, pulling Asyat with her. Asyat didn’t have the heart to refuse. It would do for her to be away from everyone for a while, as they were slowly figuring out who had caused the Harper’s problems.
When they were well out of hearing distance, and on their way up to Asyat’s room, Larina tugged Asyat aside and stopped.
“I heard you pestering the Harper today.” Asyat groaned and looked away. Did she have to deal with this too? It was bad enough she’d have to hear from her father later…..and she’d never.....
“So?” Asyat said numbly. “I pester him every day I think. He’s such a prig.” And picking up her skirts, Asyat headed towards her room by herself. Larina sighed and followed quickly.
“That’s not what I meant. I meant, do you honestly think you’ll get out of here without a decent husband? Despite Holmeran’s way of presenting it, his attitude is right.
We’re girls Asy, we’ll never make anything of ourselves except to be wives. How prestigious we are will depend on who are husbands are, and that will depend on you.” Larina shoved Asyat against the wall again, and Asyat glared at her sister.
“Hey! Don’t shove me around like a…”
“Like a what Asy? I’m trying to get you to see….”
“See what? See that you listened to that old wherry, and believe what he says? I for one don’t plan on marrying someone who actually cares if I say ‘ain’t’ instead of ‘isn’t’.” Asyat narrowed her eyes, and looked closely at her sister. Larina shrugged and let go of Asyat.
“Do as you want Asy, but it’s not you who’s going to be picking out your husband.” Larina turned to leave, but Asyat called her back. What was Larina talking about.
“What do you mean, I won’t be choosing my own mate?” Asyat asked accusingly. Larina half-turned and shrugged again. Then a wicked smile spread over Larina’s face.
“Father’s already chosen. In one months time you’ll be the happy wife of the oh-so-pompous Yuviel, Holder of Gold Rise Hold.” With that Larina rushed away, leaving Asyat to stare open-mouthed after her. A small tear ran down Asyat’s cheek, and she felt herself turning pale again. “No.” Asyat whispered, and pounded the wall with her fist.