There is no Dancing Mistress job, and what’s worse is the Shohwa’s AI has left behind a copy of itself on the local servers. The Shohwa thinks Duke Tremayne and his family face the same attacks as Zara’s in Newyan.
Short epsiode this week (3k words). We’re at about 37k words total.
I’ve had to rush to get onto the new schedule, which will be an episode every Friday (late evening here in the UK, during the day in the US). An episode seems to be about 2 chapters. That said, tonight’s *should* have been 3.
Thank you for the comments and questions generated last time. All very welcome. More please. 🙂
I will post the discussion about the Cornish names as a comment.
This section continues directly after:
And please copy the link for the start of the series as widely as possible:
I sleep badly and I’m so slow at breakfast, that Talan must think I’ve taken a blow to my head.
How to make Gaude understand the imminent threat to the Tremaynes without revealing the information came from Shohwa? Without making him think I’m inventing it all just to get the job as Dancing Mistress?
I have to do it.
I know what the Tremaynes face and I know what will happen to the Cardu estate. I saw it all, first hand. And I was lucky: my grandfather was aware of the problems; I’d had time to learn the skills to survive; I was able to prepare and then disappear into the population.
Rhoswyn has none of that, and no time. Shohwa believes the conspiracy will make their move this summer.
And while I’m wrestling with what I can do about it, I’m still wondering if the Duchess’ death was the first move by the conspiracy on Amethys. If it was, why the long delay before the next phase?
What if it wasn’t?
What if the Duke killed her and covered it up as a suicide?
What if I’m trying to help a murderer?
I make my way straight to Gaude’s office after breakfast.
Talan follows. She knows I’m heading for an argument. She makes some token comments about restraint, but I get the impression she’s half-hypnotized by the expectation of witnessing a train wreck.
Gaude’s office door is open, so I march in. Talan stays outside, but the door doesn’t close behind me, and I know she’s listening.
Gaude’s face is distinctly unwelcoming and he doesn’t bother to rise from the seat behind his desk or greet me. I doesn’t matter what’s happened between us, what our relative situations are, he’s being deliberately rude. I know he’s not going to listen to a word I say unless I can get past that attitude.
I take a deep breath and lean over the desk. “What is it that you so dislike about me, Mr Gaude?”
It certainly gets a reaction. He looks as if I slapped him.
“Your behavior is completely inappropriate,” he splutters.
“It’s all right for the Duke to disagree with you, or Lady Roscarrow, but not me?”
“It’s not a matter of agreements or disagreements! You’re a servant!”
A lower class. Not allowed to talk to him like that.
Grandfather shouting at me. You are nothing without me. Nothing! It will serve you best to remember that.
The problem is, they’re right.
It’s irrelevant that I was born into a Founding Family. I can’t claim it without revealing that I’m a fugitive from Newyan. That will hardly benefit me with Gaude. So, as far as he’s concerned, I’m an ordinary girl from a lesser family who’s applied for a tutoring position.
Perhaps I need to start behaving more like one.
I stop looming over the desk and sit down. I probably should have waited to be asked, but at least I’m not in such a threatening position now.
“I’m actually not a servant,” I say, which is accurate, since I don’t have that job. “I’m a guest, which makes my behavior worse. I apologise if I have been insulting. It’s not been an easy time.”
To give him credit, he doesn’t say the things I can see he wants to. He grunts and with some effort, he calms himself, tugs his jacket into place and inspects the cuffs.
“What can I do for you, Miss Aguirre?”
“Even though it’s theoretical now, since there is no longer a position as Dancing Mistress, I’m curious. I’d like you to satisfy my curiousity, if you can.”
“Where to start? Why Rhoswyn doesn’t already have a Dancing Mistress. Why you decided that she should have one. Why that changed.”
“Fair enough.” Gaude tilts his chair back and crosses his legs. “She didn’t have a single tutor because she’s had a range of them.” He waves his hand. “Deportment, elocution, dancing and so on. Increasingly not effective. I thought it must seem a bit like perpetual school for Rhoswyn, and instead, having just one person, almost as a companion, might lead her to forming a better connection and being more receptive.”
I nodded. That was sound reasoning.
“And the reason you now don’t want to go ahead?”
“Bad experiences, Miss Aguirre.” His jaw tightens.
“I can understand that, based on something Rhoswyn said to me,” I say. “But you knew that, and from something Lady Roscarrow said, your idea was to try recuiting from the Margin. You’ve gone to all the expense, including a contracting broker and two termination payments, and you’re not even willing—”
“I distinctly recall you saying the phrase ‘there is no longer a position’,” he interrupts me. “It seems you don’t quite believe it.”
“You’re right, I don’t.” I can’t help myself rising to his bait. “Instead of the specialist education which she’ll need to run Cardu the way it needs to be run, Rhoswyn gets a general education at an academy for second-rate rich kids which will qualify her for nothing much.”
“Oh? You’re an expert in Amethys education and estate management are you? Your qualities are unending.” The sarcasm is dripping from his voice. “What precisely is she going to miss out educationally, at the most prestigious academy on the planet?”
“How about estate management, for a start? Who will teach her how to run Cardu?”
“I will! And besides, she’ll have a manager, in the same way the Duke has me.”
“And while you’re teaching her estate management, who’s running the estate? And how exactly are you teaching her when she’s on a completely different continent and timezone?”
This is not going the right way. Neither of us are arguing logically. I’ve put him on the defensive about his job and his condescension is driving me to yell at him.
I take a deep breath and deliberately lean back in my seat.
I need to get off the minor points. Both of us need to stop pecking at each other, for Rhoswyn’s sake.
Rational discussion, not point-scoring argument.
“What about security?” I say, when I’m sure my voice is level.
“Security?” Gaude frowns. “What do you mean?”
“Personal security. Threat assessment. Self defence. Security systems generally, all the—”
“Miss Aquirre! We must be talking at cross purposes here. What in heaven has all that got to do with Rhoswyn’s education?”
There’s a sudden cold, sinking sensation in my stomach.
What had Shohwa said? Something about the role of the Dancing Mistress losing all the parts loosely labelled ‘security’ in the absence of the motivation provided by constant conflict.
Gaude probably thinks I came here to teach deportment and etiquette. And dancing.
“What exactly is your idea of the role of a Dancing Mistress?” I say quietly. “Do you have a document of requirements?”
Gaude touches his pad a couple of times and hands it silently to me.
It’s displaying a standard job specification and it’s as I feared. A tutor to shape a young girl into something more marriageable. Not my area of expertise at all. Not an area of interest either. If they want to make Rhoswyn ‘marriageable’, I’m the last person they want to tutor her.
“I take it, that’s not the role as you understand it?” Gaude breaks my train of thought. His face betrays a dawning awareness of the communication gap between us.
Where to start? “According to Trooper Sandrey, the suite I’m in was originally the actual Dancing Master’s suite.”
“Yes, yes,” he says, waving his hands like he’s dispersing a smell. “A century ago. More, a hundred and fifty years even.”
“Then maybe I’m two hundred years late for the job I was expecting,” I say.
His eyes narrow. “But that was the Third Expansion,” he says. “It was different then.”
He’s right. The third phase of expansion from the crowded innermost worlds saw pulses of barely serviceable ships full of desperate people drifting outwards through space like seed pods. Some were attracted to prosperous worlds. Some to developing worlds where they could still claim whole continents. Some to worlds where they fed the festering disputes left over from the Second Expansion. And always, the complaints came, never enough of the right kind of people, and an excess of the wrong kind.
Certainly, many worlds in the Margin believe the Third Expansion hasn’t finished yet.
I’ve never thought about what happened on Newyan in the light of the Expansions. Where does it fit in? Third Expansion after-shocks? The beginning of the Fourth? Preparation?
“It was a barbarous time,” Gaude says. “We don’t live like that any more. Not on the InnerWorlds. Clearly I’m mis-informed as to what passes for civilized behavior in the Margin.” He grimaces as if he’d bitten something sour. “You can’t think we were hiring that for Rhoswyn?”
“Don’t try and twist it so that it’s my fault,” I reply. “You went looking for Dancing Mistresses in the Margin without research. And yes, it’s barbarous. Humanity should be noble and kind. Disputes should be settled rationally by dialogue, and not by intrigue and assassination. But you’re mistaken if you think there’s no danger on Amethys.”
“Nonsense. My misunderstanding actually proves my point. It’s so long since there was a need that we’ve reused the term to mean something more in keeping with the way we live now.”
I’ve made a mistake broaching this too early with Gaude. I need something concrete that has actually happened. Shohwa had no time to brief me on any more than patterns of communications and alliances being made.
What do I know? Barely anything about Amethys. I know what happened on Newyan. How did it start?
Grandfather had seen it. He’d railed against it and we’d just thought he was being paranoid.
I’m not going to get a second hearing from Gaude. I have to hope my instinct is right.
“Anything concern you about the ownership of media on Amethys, Gaude? Concentrated in too few hands? Not sympathetic to you?”
For a second, I think I’ve got through. He looks hesitant. There is something going on with the media that he’s concerned about.
Then he clears his face resolutely and he stands up.
“You’re wasting my time. The Duke’s decision not to hire a tutor stands. There’s nothing to discuss. Really, I can’t afford any more of this.”
We get a millisecond of warning from Talam. I hear her come smartly to attention outside the door.
“Sir,” she says briskly, as the Duke storms in, his face dark with anger.
“Both of you together,” he says. “That saves time.”
He’s carrying an infopad and he links it to the screen that dominates one wall of Gaude’s office.
It’s displaying a news site.
“RAMPANT ABUSE OF PRIVILEGE” screams the title.
There’s a picture of me, not looking my best, being guided to a police car by two Central District policemen. Another of the Duke, scowling, flanked by his troopers.
“Duke Tremayne’s drunk pilot, Zara Aguirre, closes airport, endangers lives and disrupts essential training. THEN SHE WALKS RIGHT OUT OF JAIL.” The article goes on: “They think there’s one law for them and another for the rest of us. Aguirre must be brought to justice and the Duke must answer for this arrogant challenge to our legal system.”
No good deed goes unpunished.
I’d saved Marik Roscarrow’s life.
As a result, skipping over the arrest and the prison cell, I’m now being used as a pawn in the media’s attack on the Duke. There’s no doubt in my mind, this isn’t about me. This is exactly the sort of thing that happened on Newyan. This won’t be an isolated article. The Duke is being singled out, his reputation eroded, so when they tell the big lie, that he’s been swindling money from the state for example, people won’t disbelieve it. He’ll be guilty before he gets to court.
My case is just preparatory work. They won’t be able to defend their assertions about me. They don’t care about that. It’s not the point for them.
But whatever happens in court, including the media being required to broadcast ‘apologies’ to me, I’m tainted. No one remembers the apologies.
It looks like there’s no job here in Cardu, and no job on Amethys.
And they’ve printed my name. There’s a Newyan delegation here on Amethys who now know exactly where I am, and may regard this as an opportunity to start legal extradition proceedings against me.
I’ve never been one to back down from a fight, but this conspiracy is just too big and powerful.
I collapse in a seat, feeling all my spirit leaking out of me. It’s useless. I’ve got to stop thinking about being part of the fight in Amethys. I’ve got to think of me—how I get out of this and far away from all of it.
The Duke and Gaude are talking about legal action. From the sound of it, they’ve had successful legal actions before, but the punishments are trivial, and their efforts to increase the severity have rebounded, making them appear to want to censor the media.
The was Gaude is dancing around the issues—we shouldn’t be seen to do this, we can’t do that—makes me irritated enough to be energized again.
I get back up and lean on Gaude’s desk.
“You’re wasting your time in court,” I say.
The Duke blinks as if he’d completely forgotten I’m here.
“You need to go on the offensive,” I say. “No one reads court reports or the outcome of cases. They read headlines in the media news summaries and the two paragraphs of text below it. You need to be generating that kind of news against them, and until you do, you’re just going to be the victim of it.”
In the silence, the Duke’s eyes get that lock-on-laser focus again.
“What do you know about it?” he says.
His voice is calm, but I can sense a volcano building. There’s a lot of long-term anger just beneath the surface of that face.
It’s not directed at me, not all of it, but that’s little comfort when you stand next to a volcano.
“I apologize, sir,” Gaude says. “Miss Aguirre was just leaving—”
The Duke’s hand comes up and Gaude shuts up like a switch was thrown.
“What do I know about it?” I say. “I watched this happen on Newyan.”
“You watched what happen on Newyan?”
“A conspiracy has taken over the government of Newyan. The system there was very similar to here, with a lot of power residing in the Founding Families. It was a carefully laid plan, with immense backing. The media companies were bought up. The reputations of the Founding Families destroyed with exactly this sort of story.” I nodded at the screen.
The Duke’s purses his lips. “I read that it was all about corruption.”
“You read what the Newyan media wanted you to read.”
Gaude can’t stay quiet. “Sir, this is simply an attempt to get us to reverse our decision on hiring a Dancing Mistress. Apparently, the term in the Margin actually refers to the historical style of personal tutor and bodyguard. Miss Aguirre claims to be that, as if that would help her case. We wouldn’t—”
“The historical style of Dancing Mistress?” the Duke says, still fixing me with his eyes.
“Yes,” I say. “Deportment and dancing and etiquette, but also self-defence, estate management, threat—”
“Aren’t you a little young for all that?” the Duke interrupts me. “Wouldn’t some grizzled Dancing Master be a better bet?”
I have to bite my tongue. He’s goading me, for his own reasons.
“Quite possibly,” I say. “If you can find one.”
“How honest of you.” He sits down and leans back in his chair.
Gaude wants to speak, but a look from the Duke keeps him silent.
“Let’s say…” the Duke stares at the desk and begins to run a finger in a circle on the wood. “Let’s say I might be about to make some strategic decisions about security. Let’s say I might be interested in your view as a relative outsider. Possibly.”
He returns his focus to me.
“I need to discuss today’s immediate issues and tactics first. Strategy will follow.” He drums his fingers. “It seems that coming in here, you’ve made some connection between security issues and my decisions on my daughter’s education. Do enlighten me.”
His face is carefully blank, but that’s the sort of invitation where I’m meant to bow and scrape my way out of the room backwards, while telling him there’s nothing wrong with his decisions.
“As a security issue, sending your daughter away to a school on another continent is stupid,” I say. “You relinquish all control over her safety to a school, who might just have an aging security guard who patrols at night until he falls asleep. You’ve got a poor setup here, given you’re sitting on top of a fort of your own troops, but at least you can fix things here.”
Both of them have gone pale.
I’ve shot my chances of any employment here, but at this stage I just want to get through to him about Rhoswyn.
“It’s more than that. Ignoring all the security issues, what in the Goddess’ name are you doing sending your child away the year after her mother dies? What kind of father does that?”
“Have you considered that a dutiful father might be trying to get her academic results back on track,” he says. The muscle in his jaw twitches.
“That’s the worst possible way to do it. She’d take love over duty any day. And even if you succeed in with her results, what are you preparing her for? Will she learn everything she’ll need to use, on a day-to-day basis, here on the estate? Or do you just plan to marry her off?”
The Duke comes back to his feet in a rush.
I don’t back away. I can’t now.
We’re almost nose to nose. I can see him trembling with anger.
I may have overdone this.
His voice is strained when he speaks.
“I will take your comments, purged of their provocative tone, under advisement,” he says. “In the meantime, I will need to meet with my estate manager, and I wonder if you and Trooper Sandrey would be so good as to occupy Rhoswyn’s time until mid-afternoon.”
He takes a couple more breaths before adding: “It’s probably not advisable to tell her I’m back until I’m ready to meet her.”
His arm extends toward the door, inviting me to leave.
More an order than an invitation, and I comply.
Talan falls into step behind me.
“Ringside seats,” she murmurs in her lowest voice. “Five dynare each. I’ll be rich.”
I try to snort, to show I don’t care.
Yes, I may have got through to him about his daughter. I may also have made it easier for him to throw me back into the justice system in Central District.