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Title: Song From the Western Marshes
Author: 
[personal profile] kaffyr 
Fandom: The Goblin Emperor
Characters: Csevet Aisava, Aäno, Haru, Kevo, Pelchara, Maia Drazhar/Edrihasavar VII
Summary:Two years after Edrihasavar's ascension to the throne; Mer Csevet Aisava returns to Edonomee to help close an unhappy chapter of the emperor's life and, perhaps, open a better one for one of those left behind.
Words:3,043
Author's Note: Written for 
[personal profile] hamsterwoman , during [community profile] fandom_stocking  2017. I have always wondered what Maia would have wanted for the tiny staff that served Edonomee during his time there, and which he left behind when he boarded the airship to the Untheileinese court. I choose to believe that he would have treated them as well as he could, especially once he had a year or two of rule under his belt, and that his affection for Aäno’s voice might have led him in this direction. I hope the recipient, and other readers, will forgive my naming of Kevo’s other daughter, Aäno’s sister. I could not find mention of her in the novel or its appendices.
Edited by: Only by myself, albeit obsessively
Disclaimer: All characters are the sole property of Sarah Monette, in her guise as Katherine Addison. I pretend no copyright and take no coin.

****  

The sun was out above Edonomee, pale and watery in the first days of spring, but welcome, when the Loyalty of Lohaiso docked and Mer Csevet Aisava descended. It was a high as it would get in the day by the time he walked to the lodge’s front door and gazed at the knocker with the same distaste he’d felt two years previously.

Varinechibel was never kind, but this was an exquisitely cruel touch, even for him. Csevet was somehow glad he was wearing gloves when he used the knocker, an ugly piece of work crafted in the form of a hammer hitting a goblin’s head.

When the birdlike serving man — Pelchara, Csevet recalled — opened the door, his eyes went as wide as they had done that first night. “Mer … Aisava?”

“Yes.” Csevet was impressed with the serving-man’s memory and pleased, not only for having been remembered, but because he always appreciated those who shared some of his own abilities. “May  I come in?”

“Oh. Oh, yes. Yes, indeed — Haru? Haru! Tell Kevo! The boy from the capital, he’s back!”

The boy from the capital? Csevet didn’t know whether to be amused or irritated.

Pelchara’s undignified shout brought a stocky man who Csevet assumed was Haru out into the dark and narrow passageway beyond the door. “Archduke Maia?”

Pelchara’s face went red as he yelled. “Haru, no! His Serenity” — Pelchara managed to emphasize the title even as he bellowed — “is still in his palace. It’s the other one, the one who came to bring him to the capital to get crowned in the first place.”

“Oh, that one. I never met him.” Haru approached, a stolid man with a face that was broad, friendly, and not overly bright. “Hello, Osmer —”

“Just Mer,” Csevet said hurriedly. “Csevet Aisava is my name.”

“Hello, Mer Aisava,” Haru said, placidly ignoring the hand Pelchara was flapping in an attempt to send him back down the passageway. “I never got to say goodbye to the little archduke —  I mean, to the little emperor. That was too bad. He’s a good boy ... Did you say you wanted Kevo?”

Pelchara groaned, but nodded. “Yes. Tell her to bring refreshments for the traveller. Bring them to the front room.”

“Kevo’s all floured up; she’s making bread.  I’ll get Aäno.”

Haru turned to go, but stopped when Csevet spoke. “Aäno is the daughter of your cook?”

“Yes, your honor.” Haru now looked curious.

Csevet ignored Haru’s odd address. “The one who sings.”

“Yes. Is there a reason you want her?”

Pelchara probably wasn’t aware of the protective frown on his face, Csevet thought, or the fact that he had dropped any honorific as he asked the question. He kept his own smile small and polite as he gave a non-answer. “If you could summon her,  I would appreciate it. But I must also ask that Kevo come as well. This is … a matter … that is of importance to them both.”

For a moment, he was afraid he would have to repeat  what he said, and make it an order. Pelchara finally nodded stiffly and spoke to Haru without taking his eyes off Csevet. “Haru, get them both. Tell Kevo to wash her hands. The refreshments can wait.”

“But —” Haru started to object.

Now , Haru.” Csevet saw that while Pelchara might be little and birdlike, he was clearly used to being obeyed, at least in the absence of a master or mistress.

He was also able to do his duty. “Please, follow me to the receiving room.”

The room was as small and bare as it had been two years previously, but the curtains on its two narrow windows were thrown wide on either side of the fireplace. The sun wasn’t enough to turn it into a cheerful space, but it was at least less dire than it had been that night.

Csevet looked around and noticed that it was a good deal less dingy as well. That spoke to a staff who took more care of the place now that the former master was not there. He wasn’t surprised. Setheris would have been an unpleasant master. From having spent two years with Edrihasavar, he suspected that, had the young archduke been at Edonomee by himself, it would have been much more welcoming when Csevet first arrived.

Art undoubtedly right, but thou art also far too apt to think well of His Serenity Csevet thought. A good secretary should view his master in as objective a fashion as possible, he knew, in order to serve him as well as possible. But that was impossible with Edrihasavar. It had only been a matter of days after meeting him before Csevet knew he would rather die than hurt the young emperor in any way. He’d proven as brave and resilient as he’d been gentle and thoughtful — and capable of showing a hint of steel under the thoughtful and gentle mein when it became necessary ….

“Mer Aisava?”

Csevet, who had been looking out one of the windows on Edonomee’s flat landscape, started. He hadn’t heard Pelchara approach.

Behind the serving man stood two women; a stout and plain-faced older woman whose flour-daubed apron easily identified her as Kevo, and a younger woman, quite slender, who he supposed was Aäno.

The daughter must resemble her father, Csevet thought; she lacked the mother’s flat visage and her large dark eyes made her thin-boned face more attractive than it might have otherwise been. She did not cut her hair in the usual servant crop, although it was still short. The thick cluster of of milk-white curls around her ears made Csevet wonder if there was goblin blood somewhere in her family tree. Edonomee wasn’t close to Barizhan, but it wasn’t far enough from the border for that to be an impossibility, he supposed.

“Min …” he let his voice trail off.

Aäno’s eyes grew even larger. She cast a look at her mother, who nodded.

“My name is Aäno, Osmer Aisava,” she said in a light, sweetly-modulated voice. “Our family name is Borelan.”

“Her father is dead,” Kevo said, her voice as flat as her face. She said nothing more; she didn’t appear to hold any strong affection for the departed.

“Ah.” Csevet decided a polite nod was all he could offer in response to such an obvious order to question no further. He also decided to let the mistaken honorific slide. It was time for the main event. “Then Min Borelanin,  I bear a message for you from His Imperial Serenity, Edrihasavar Zhas. Will you read it?”

He’d feared there would be some surprise at his words. The silence that ensued galloped past surprise and into near-medical shock.

“Will you read it, Min Borelanin?” he repeated. Still no response.  

I told him this might happen. True, but I have faith in you, he said; you will make her believe and accept. You’ll make all of them believe ... You burden those of us who love you with your faith, my trusting Serenity. Csevet’s thoughts held no heat, no bitterness.

“Shall  I read it?”

Aäno, her ears flat, reached for her mother’s hand, and nodded.

Csevet carefully broke the seal on the letter, which the Emperor had insisted on writing himself. Even Csevet did not know what he had written, although he knew what Edrihasavar had planned.

“‘From Edrihasavar VII, Zhas, once known as the Archduke Maia Drazhar” — Csevet stumbled over that last terribly unorthodox section, but only slightly. — “to Aäno Borelanin, whose songs were a bright spot for a boy in a dark world.’”

Now Csevet had to to stop. He coughed slightly, telling himself he was simply embarrassed at His Serenity’s impolitic style.

“Please excuse me …” He flicked his ears in irritation at his own unprofessional behavior, and continued reading. “‘We are forever grateful to everyone who tried to give us comfort during our time at Edonomee. Our gratitude goes deeply to your mother and sister, to Haru, and to Pelchara; please remember us to them, with affection.’

“‘Your songs were among the gifts we treasured most. Your voice made every song lovely to hear, whether it was a children’s lullabye or a murder ballad. That is truly a gift, which is why we wished to reach out to you after so long.’”

To someone whose life had been turned on its head the way Edrihasavar’s had been, two years was indeed a long time, Csevet thought. To the Untheileinese nobility, change too often meant only the rise and fall of hemlines, or the popularity of chalcedony over peridot. To a servant laboring in a neglected country house, seasons might come and go unremarked, until that young woman realized she had aged without escape.

Csevet lifted his eyes from the paper momentarily. All eyes were on him. He straightened slightly, and lifted his ears as high as possible.

“‘We also recall your wish to travel beyond Edonomee, and we would be pleased if you would consider the following proposal.’

“‘As you no doubt recall from the books you and we both read in our youths’” — Csevet managed to swallow a smile at the thought of the blue-backed novels that apparently made their way into the hunting lodge despite the malice of Setheris Nelar, and at Edrihasavar’s implied assumption of aged wisdom —  “‘the Great Opera of Zhaö is known throughout the world for its artists. It is, we are reliably informed, also the sponsor of the Zhaö School, which is as famous as its sponsor. Children from across the Empire train there for years, becoming players in the michen operas and going on to perform at Zhaö, or in other opera companies.’

“‘We were pleasantly surprised to learn that the Zhaö School also offers training for talented singers who are less interested in opera than in becoming instructors of voice.’”

Csevet approved of His Serenity’s phrase as both kind and diplomatic.

Min Vechin tells us in her latest letter that Aäno is too old to be accepted into the regular Opera school, Edrihasavar said, and Csevet heard the disappointment in his voice. Then His Serenity smiled and continued speaking. She says, however, that there is a course of education for singers who wish to teach others to sing. Min Vechin says there are dozens of talented singers caught in Aäno's position, and the school wishes to honor and use their talents. This is one way in which that happens. We think Aäno might be happy to be accepted into such a life. She read as much as she could while we were at Edonomee — and was accused by our cousin of wasting time in so doing — and loved learning about anything she could that lay beyond the lodge. It may be wrong of us to think so, but we believe she could share her love of learning, especially if it was about something she already loves doing …

“‘If you were to be interested in being trained in this manner, and if your mother were to agree, it would be our pleasure to sponsor your education. Should you complete the training and desire to stay in Zhaö, we would understand and congratulate you.’

“‘Were you to decide instead  to return to Edonomee and help to found a school for children who share your love of music, we would be most willing to discuss the creation of such a facility, particularly if it should also offer instruction in other arts and in other, more basic letters and numbers.’

“‘We understand that this is something that will take you time to—’”

“She’ll go.”

“Mama!” Aäno might have been delighted; she might have been outraged. Csevet couldn’t tell.

He was no longer the center of attention, and for that he was grateful because it was now his turn to gawp and he didn’t wish to anyone in the room to realize he was astonished at Kevo’s statement.

From the very little Edrihasavar had said about Kevo, the woman had not seemed the type to be impressed with anything originating outside her own sphere, and certainly not when it came with an invitation for her daughter to leave that sphere. He had predicted to Esaran that the cook would be opposed to the idea and had suggested the same to Edrihasavar. The emperor had simply told Csevet that while Kevo often scolded her younger daughter for her dreamy disregard of duty, she was fiercely protective of the girl, as well as proud of her quick mind and supple voice.

Csevet was chagrined, not that he was wrong, but that he had assumed his emperor would be. He lived here under the thumb of a petty tyrant; like any such prisoner, he survived by observing his jailor, anticipating his every mood and move. Thinkest thou that he did not also observe those caught with him under the tyrant?  

“Mama?” It was a now a question.

“Aäno, girl, you need to go with this boy. It’s the Emperor’s command.”

“It’s not a —”

“The Emperor’s command,” Kevo repeated, glaring over her daughter’s head at Csevet. He subsided.

“But … don’t you need me here? Esharu’s married, she can’t help anymore.” The hope on Aäno’s face was painful to see. Csevet abruptly thought of what he must have looked like to Captain Volsharehz, after Eshoravee, the day he had been so certain would be his last day as a courier. I was sure I’d made a mess of my assignment and would be sent back to Puzhvarno, with all its bad memories. Was I this easy to read?

“This place is no palace. It will go on without you just fine. As for me, I’ll be coming with you, now, won’t I? At least until you’re settled. And when I come home, you can write me, regular, like a scholar, eh?” Kevo smiled at her daughter, an expression Csevet was sure she would not grant many others, then looked to him for assurance.

He nodded in return. This, too, Edrihasavar had predicted. If she was willing to leave Edonomee, even temporarily, it would be for love of Aano, the emperor had told him.

“Thank you, Merrem Borelanin. His Serenity also believes that you should accompany your daughter for a time, should both of you agree to his offer,” Csevet said. “If you will allow me to finish reading the letter?”

Kevo assented. “Go on.”

“‘We come now to another issue, which will affect all those who serve the household. We know too well how isolated and dreary Edonomee is. Although we are prepared to continue maintenance of the lodge if necessary, we will not be returning there. Nor do we foresee its use as a guest house.’” Once again, Edrihasavar’s mix of direct honesty and delicacy left Csevet amused, unnerved, and impressed. Edrihasavar the obstinate, the bridge-builder, and the most unusual of communicators.

“‘We thus feel it is unfair to those who have served us loyally to insist upon their own continued attachment to the place. We are pleased to continue the pensions of Pelchara and Haru, and of Kevo and Esharu, for their years of loyalty. Pelchara, in particular, we are pleased to name the retired Seneschal of Edonomee.’” Csevet heard a sound that could have been Pelchara, stifling his surprise at the title. “‘However, it is our wish that Edonomee be closed up permanently, or until such time as it is once again needed.’

None of them have any love for the place, Edrihasavar had told Csevet before seeing him off on his mission. We worry only about Pelchara, who was very proud of being the head-man there, which is why we have attached him a higher pension and an official title, to assuage his pride. Kevo and the girls will need no such blandishments. They were always happy to be away at the end of the day. As for Haru, he will follow wherever Pelchara goes, and Pelchara will ensure that he is cared for.

Csevet resumed. “‘We have asked our trusted Mer Aisava to undertake any actions necessary to prepare for Aäno’s and Kevo’s journey to Zhaö, as well as to complete the closure of Edonomee.’

“‘Once again, we offer our thanks to all who remain there. We are, and remain, Edrihasavar Zhas.’”

He carefully folded the letter — as unorthodox in its ending as its beginning — and replaced it in its envelope before solemnly handing it to Aäno. She in turn gave it to her mother.

Kevo spoke, gratitude apparent in her face. “Mer Aisava, thank you.”

“It is His Serenity’s wish,” Csevet murmured, deflecting any untoward and unearned praise.

“Yes, but His Serenity isn’t here. You are,” Kevo insisted, with a flash of irritation. Then the enormity of what had just happened appeared to hit her square between her eyes; she seemed to lose her balance, and reached toward her daughter for support.

After a minute, she shook her head and took a deep breath. “You can give him our thanks when you return to him. Our  … our great thanks. Until then … well, my land, there’s going to be so much to do! Haru, prepare Mer Aisava a room — Aäno, you help him with the bed-linens.  I warrant you’ll be here at least another day or two, Mer Aisava; these things take a while to get done. Pelchara, can you come with me to the kitchen?”

Csevet caught the restrained panic in her voice.

“I’ll be right with you, Kevo.” The little man looked as moon-struck as the two women, but his assurance at least sounded hearty. He watched the other three leave the room; then he turned to face Csevet full-on.

“His Serenity … we ... we thought he was kind to allow us to keep working here, with no one to serve,” the head-man said cautiously, as if Csevet might demand his silence at any moment. “He knew that times are always hard in the western marshes, and service here meant we could care for our families, but even so, when he increased our wages — that was kind beyond what he had to do.

“This? For Aäno, for all of us, this is ….” Pelchara held out his hands, in mute acknowledgement of what the tiny household had been granted.

“This is Edrihasavar,” Csevet said, and let his smile grow to its fullest.

“Edrihasavar the Good.”

-30-

This entry was originally posted at https://kaffyr.dreamwidth.org/688504.html?mode=reply, where there are currently comment count unavailable comments. You can comment there or here, but prefer to read over on DW. You can comment there using open ID if you don't have a DW account.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
time_converges
Feb. 6th, 2018 04:06 am (UTC)
Oooh, I love this!! I like having closure for the staff he left behind. Yay!
kaffyr
Feb. 6th, 2018 02:14 pm (UTC)
Thanks for reading - I was another person who wanted closure for Edonomee's staff, and I know that Maia would have gotten around to it once he got his sea legs at court.
hamsterwoman
Feb. 6th, 2018 05:11 am (UTC)
Still love this story! <3 Thank you again for this lovely gift!
kaffyr
Feb. 6th, 2018 02:15 pm (UTC)
It was my pleasure!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )