At the Races

Rivanon said, “Here is the adoption petition. All legal and in four copies. It seems the Countessa likes you. Here advocate made me work all morning on this with him. I added some defenses of your rights to be sure. We already have her signature. We need yours, your uncle’s and a judge’s signature. Then the writ of adoption will be formally entered into the Library and everything will be done. I have to ask, are you sure about this?”

Emmeline looked mildly puzzled. “Well, first I don’t see why we need my uncle’s signature since the Countessa has recognized me and received my Grandfather’s last wishes. It means that my uncle doesn’t have any authority over me now, doesn’t it?”

Rivanon smiled a bit while watching the race, replying, “Assuming he does not contest your uncle’s will. I did some checking and we are on safe grounds, but Adela is very old. I need to make sure you do not fall under him later and pave the way for an amicable solution to your situation. Don’t worry.”

“I guess it doesn’t matter too much. I do fully intend to smooth things over with Uncle Mazarin in any case. As to being sure about this, I don’t know of any reason not to sign,” Emmeline said.

“Well, the only technical reason to be concerned is if your new mother decides to act in a way that does not match your wishes. She is known to be quite capricious. Also, you should be aware that her title is merely a courtesy one. Unless you get her stepson, the Count, to grant you title, the only thing you get is your gentlewoman status – again, and maybe a mention in her will – maybe. Who knows what crazy debts she has. In any event, I’ve set up the papers in such a way that if you are forced to marry against your will, you will simply be emancipated. You see there is where your uncle comes in. Apparently, like Bella, Mazarin cannot stand Adelaide. This way if she tries to profit off you in the way he tired to profit off you, she loses, and while not winning, I believe that will appeal to him.”

“I really appreciate your thoroughness, though I find it hard to see my grandmother trying to use me like that. As far as I can tell she’s barely had anything to do with any of her family, much less used them for any sort of personal gain,” Emmeline said. “Though it was hurtful to my mother and to Bella, I have a hard time being angry with her about that. I’m still too busy being happy she accepted me.”

“I do have personal concerns, but as your advocate, I cannot express those in any official capacity as this solution neatly solves the problem to which you employed me.”

Emmeline turned away from the races and gave Rivanon her full attention. She had a healthy respect for Rivanon’s intuition. “Please. I’d like to hear your concerns, as a friend.”

Rivanon exhaled, “I really shouldn’t do this…”

She looked up at Emmeline, “At the party, you saw me play the game, act the way that is expected. I’m good at it. I’m sure in your own way you will hold your own, but you have a certain country honesty that I see my father admired, and so do I. It is an honesty that others will take advantage of. Being the Contessa’s new focus, you will be the target of both sycophants and those who secretly hate you. It is a world I’ve tried to be aloof of, pretenders who play at being noble while forgetting how great they have it here as Thalassans and simultaneously forgetting what being noble is supposed to be. It isn’t title, it is duty, duty to your people and your country. They don’t understand that, they cannot.”

Emmeline smiled and broke protocol by squeezing Rivanon’s arm. “You really do have a good heart. I knew I was going to like you.” She let go and turned toward the races. “But there is truth and then there is naiveté. I might not yet be accustomed to all the rules of the game, but I will learn, and learn fast, just as I learned to fight and defend myself and others, as I learned to make friends of monsters and see the humanity in the alien. All the world is like this. It might seem one thing on the surface, but I never take things at face value from habit and from self-preservation. I don’t have the insight into people’s hearts you have, so I know I have to be smart.

“These people who play at being noble, as you say, you know they are just people wanting to be special, don’t you? Everyone wants that. They want it so badly. The attention, the feeling of being in control and admired and loved. It may not seem playing at being noble is practical or worthy compared to serving ones own people and it would be true. But here in Thalassa, these people have security and money. The only thing left to do is to try to find a way to feel good about having so much here when the rest of the world has so little.

“That’s why in two weeks time, you and I are outta here. We have an adventure awaiting us the likes of which neither of us has ever experienced. I feel it in my blood and my bones.” Emmeline’s laugh was genuine and carefree as she said, “Assuming the Wizard’s Guild doesn’t throw me in chains before then, or the assassin doesn’t stab me in the back.”

“Well, you do have a few challenges,” Rivanon replied. “Anyway, you are in for a exciting two weeks, full of temptations, danger, and more. Her advocate made it clear she intends to debut you, so you have that to look forward to as well. If only that happens, then we are fine. You do know what that is?”

“Yes. Many entertainers that get sponsored by a wealthy patron have something similar, I think. She will present me at a social gathering as her daughter, I’m sure,” Emmeline said. “I’ll be dressed as perfectly as possible and expected to behave in a certain way, but I’ll approach it in a way that’s different than what her guests have seen before and make it something to remember, because I just can’t help myself.” Emmeline grinned.

“Its been years since my debut,” Rivanon said with an understated smile, “but it was a great moment. In fact it was the last time I spoke to father.” She paused, continuing, “In any event I’ll help you in any way I can. This is your introduction to society, so it is likely the Contessa will be more formal and less libertine in her approach – I hope at least.”

Emmeline gave an impish laugh. “I’m sure you’re right. Anyway, it wouldn’t be any fun at all if it weren’t just a little bit… adventurous.” She stopped and looked at Rivanon. “Hey wait a minute. You said your introduction was the last time you spoke with the Baron? Are you serious?”

“Yes,” she replied, “we write letters all the time, but no I haven’t seen him in three years. It is common to send one’s children out, either to be fostered, apprentice, or in my case to learn. We planned on meeting a year ago, but he was called away by the Duke to put down a bandit excursion.”

“I see. You’re debut was just prior to coming to Thalassa. That makes sense. And color me very impressed. In only three years you must have absorbed a tremendous amount of material to be where you are today. I was essentially apprenticed to my grandfather for more than a decade.” She smiled at the memories. “And even with all the memorization and practice every single day with my little violin, lyrics, and dance, I still felt like I had so much more I needed to learn when he passed away.

“It might seem like I come naturally to things in terms of performance and etiquette, but it’s really lots and lots of practice. I understand society quickly because I’ve played the roles. It’s nothing really amazing at all when you realize I’ve spent the majority of my life among and in front of crowds.

“But you are the real thing, a prodigy. Three years to master Thalassan law, which is about as arcane as arcane gets, poetry, and if I may make a guess, magic, too. Your father must be very proud of you, Lady Rivanon.”

“He is, but your praise, while kind, is not deserved. I’ve been immersed in court and law since I can remember. I started school here in Thalassa at a young age, summering with my father or going on campaign with him as I got older. For the last three years, it has been nothing but study every day, and I still have much to learn,” she replied modestly, “though yes, I do know a bit of magic – nothing like Elemix – but how to glamour, beguile, charm, and if necessary terrify. All through careful study on how light and sound are influenced by the pattern. It is the same basic principles that are found in wizardry – lots of late nights and failed invocations of equations.”

“Ah! I see. Well, that just makes you more human,” Emmeline said with a smile.

Rivanon pinched her finger and thumb together and said, “a little.” She followed with a broad, knowing smile, and turned back to the races. “Look, Duran of the Blues just pulled ahead!”

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