How did Duane and Leysa meet, or was their marriage an arranged one? Is that even a thing within the soud caste?
Seldom in his twenty-two years had Duane Adelier thought about the prospect of marriage. It had always been a distant inevitability in the back of his mind, of course - something he would one day have to steel himself and endure, like his first crow’s foot or his father’s passing - but it would be an event he had little say in.
As a printer’s son in a respectable family, a time would arrive when one of the other families in their working class Soud ghers would approach Duane’s father with an eligible girl, a dowry, and a marriage contract. If Duane’s father found the girl suitable, she and his son would be married in the Soud chapel of the Temple of Song, have their marriage brands inked that evening, and spend their first awkward night together in whatever new flat the ghers assigned them. Not a terrible event, perhaps. Perhaps! Growing up, there had been a handful of young ladies whose ankles Duane was always certain to surreptitiously admire at service, and a handful more with their flashing emerald eyes and flaxen curls who always were quick to seek him out at quarter’s end socials to talk about the Shadwe’s latest sermon or the newest Crescian aggression or… well, perhaps he had usually been the one to wish to discuss those things but the girls were always very polite and let him finish at least three sentences before asking where Lemuel was.
But that had been before, in another life. That had been when his days were simple, conclusions foregone, the world ordered, and his future written! That was all done now.
Now he was Rector Duane Adelier, formerly of the Order of Khinoll, now the newly appointed pymary instructor for the Temple of Song’s Lions. At the tail-end of the Foi-Hellick Affair he’d saved a handful of terribly important people and won the respect of a terribly important man. Now his future was as bright and blinding as a look into the khert. He’d been not more than a week back in Durlyne, barely settled into his old room above father’s shop, when a bespectacled old Soud from ghers 34 rapped at the door and asked for a word. Duane and his father had exchanged suspicious glances before letting him in. Ghers 34 was the ghers above theirs in the Durlynian pecking order, a community of financiers, politicians, clerics, and wrights who turned up their noses at the Adeliers’ ghers of merchants, craftsmen, bakers, and artists. What business did he have here?
The old man had wasted no time. Duane Adelier, he had said, had outgrown his station. There was no better a place for him than ghers 34, the loftiest ghers a Soud could inhabit in Durlyne outside of owning his own manor on White Slope. Duane’s mouth had opened to shoo the old man away but father had cuffed him in the back of the head and, with his characteristic brusqueness, said his son would make the necessary arrangements immediately.
Those necessary arrangements, Duane learned too soon, included choosing a wife from ghers 34.
He’d railed to his father that night, addled with nerves and uncertainty. It was dreadful enough how the Temple administration was treating the sudden Soud in their lofty ranks - must he lose the comfort of his ghers and family too? He knew no one in ghers 34! They would scoff behind his back of printer’s ink beneath his fingernails the way the Motadwe of the Temple laughed behind his back about piss in his hair. And how could he choose a poor girl from that ghers to be saddled with him? Who there would want to marry down? To be a sacrifice burnt for the sake of a ghers acquisition? No woman would want him, and there was no woman he wanted there either!
Oh, he should never have ventured outside the print shop. Never have attended seminary! Never have gone to the Academy! Never should have joined the army! Never should have been born! Ssael, why? Why?!
His father had listened to the rant without interrupting, as he normally did. He had no words of comfort nor reassurance, for such things were not his way. Instead he had made them each a peppery stew of beef and potatoes, and told Duane that this draughty old flat was no fit place for an up-and-coming wright who’d need space to build his library and do his research. Ssael had called him to serve, and Duane must not shy from any changes that would allow him to do so better.
Of course there had been no arguing that.
The next day Duane took the long houndcart ride across the city to ghers 34. A dozen young women were waiting for him with their fathers, and Duane felt himself back in the army staring down a new arrival of terrified young Plat recruits.
Some of the girls were quite pretty. One was in fact a calibre of breath-catching beauty that made Duane’s heart flutter. Some of the others were quite plain. One had the most lovely, chirrupy voice, and whispered heatedly to her father about having no time for this foolishness, but when she peeked at the newcomer from behind her curtain of blonde she revealed a cleft palate and a lazy eye. Duane frowned. She’d wind up married down to a man from his own ghers one day, or sent away to White Slope to serve as a nanny or housekeeper.
Speaking with their fathers afterwards was nerve-wracking. Considering each dowry offer was a terror of indecision. And all the while the old man from the day before was watching him, his scrutiny harsher than any Duane cast upon the girls. The Temple’s new Rector wondered if the man would change his mind now that he saw what a stuttering shell of a fool Duane Adelier truly was. Put him on a sandy plain and have him take down a Crescian Rockwalk with only his staff and his wits, aye, but ask no more, please.
In the end, no decision was made. Duane promised to ruminate on the matter that night. He boarded the houndcart with a heavy heart but with his eyes on the horizon, seeking out the Temple and Ssael’s outstretched hand. Instead of returning home he remained on the cart until its final stop, then stepped out onto the moon-white courtyard before the towering Temple of Song.
He’d loved the temple ever since he was a small boy. Then, it was the most marvellous thing he’d ever seen, and even now, as a worldly wright and celebrated warrior, he could think of no finer sight than the marble-white tusk of Ssael’s own spire piercing the black profundity of the star-mad nightsky. If he thought too hard about his new placement within its ranks he could grow a little dizzy with a strange mix of disbelief and delight. But indeed this was his home now. Lowly Duane Adelier was a man of the Temple.
For hours he conferred with Ssael in the Soud chapel, hoping for a shred of guidance. Little came. He took to counting the leaves of each rose bush around the alter, then exponentiating the numbers, dividing the results, dancing a meditative dance behind his eyes with integers and vectoring khert lines while his gloved fingers tapped stacatto nonsense against his thigh. Eventually his own stomach pulled him to his feet. If nothing else, a few buttered sausages and a mug of beer might at least keep him from jumping off Blue Boys Bridge ere the sun rose.
A trio of golden-haired young women all but bowled him over as he framed himself at the top of the stairwell. It was far too late for them to be away from home, unescorted, even in a safe place like the Temple, and Duane turned on them with a rebuke.
“What’s this now? Ssael will yet be waiting with open ears come the sun. You had best find your way home for now, ladies.”
The girls were no more than sixteen or seventeen. The tallest hid a giggle behind her hand and reached for one of the others, who reached for the third and shoved her forward. Duane’s hands shot up to catch her and he made a face to recognise the disfigured girl from earlier. Pity flared, then he found himself strangely angry.
“Rector, sir, we were looking for you!” the first girl laughed, “Leysa wanted to talk to you. She’s afraid you won’t choose her!”
Duane could feel his ears heat up and his neck glow. The girl with the cleft palate suffered a similar reddening which made Duane feel miserable and low. “Here now,” he managed, “Whom I choose or do not choose is of no concern to you. You are from ghers 34?”
He held the disfigured girl - Leysa, he supposed - lightly by the upper arm and directed her towards the stairs, indicating her friends follow. “I would see the three of you on the cart this instant. Do your families know you are out?”
“Oh, no! Please don’t tell mama!”
“Little chicks, you had best be on that cart then!”
“Go ahead!” Leysa blurted to her friends, digging her heels suddenly into the floor. Duane all but tripped as she stopped them short. The other two girls exploded past, disappearing down the stairwell in a flurry of woollen skirts and silky gold hair. Duane blustered around another rebuke, but Leysa pulled away from him suddenly and demanded: “Is it true that you killed a boy?”
The Rector wobbled, taking a step backwards. The chapel lobby was empty around them, and his boots sounded very loud against the tiled floor. “This is improper,” he said, “If you wish to meet with me you may do so come the morrow, properly chaperoned-“
“Did you kill a boy?” she pressed, shaking her head, “I do not wish a murderer for a husband.”
“I do not believe that will be a problem, miss!” He looked away. Her assymetric gaze made him uncomfortable. Could her family not afford to glamour her appearance? “I killed many people.”
“No, no, no! "She scrunched her forehead in vexation. "Not in the army, Mr. Adelier! I refer to your time in school. I read in the paper four years ago that a Platinum boy was killed in a duel at the Academy by a Third Option Silver. Imagine! You were at the Academy at the same time and you are a tacit caster. You could kill a Plat.” Duane’s eyes widened as the cheeky and ugly little girl proceeded to rattle off the entirety of his Academy shaming as if she had been a witness. Adelier never would have been blamed for the Plat’s murder, she said, for it would have shamed his patron and fanned the flame of bigotry against the Soud, but he had truly done it, hadn’t he? And the Silver had been allowed to take the fall?
“You must tell me,” Leysa finished, “For I do not wish a murderer for a husband.”
“You shan’t have one!” said Duane, “For I have no intention of marrying you!”
“But my dowry is the largest,” said Leysa testily, “My father is very set on you. He says I should marry someone who can fight because we are likely going to come to blows with the Gefendur one day and you killed scads of men in the army. But if you killed a poor Plat boy I will not have you. I do not care what father says.”
Duane thought the girl was surely mad. This settled it! He would stay the hells out of ghers 34 and move into the Lions barracks, if father wished to give his bedroom away. Thank you for this revelation, Ssael!
“I did not murder that boy,” he relented, trying to keep his voice low, “He attacked me in the night and I had to defend myself. He struck me about the head and I lost my senses. In my haze I cast a terrible spell that I never would in my right mind-”
“A core leech,” said Leysa matter-of-fact, “They are illegal. Why did he attack you? Were you a prat to him?”
Leysa lowered her voice as well, suddenly terribly serious. Duane saw something fleetingly beautiful in her eyes, more beautiful than all the other jewels of ghers 34. He saw a fierce and uncompromising kindness. “Some people are very cruel to Plats,” the girl whispered, “They say terrible things about them and act like they do not have any value at all. I think it is dreadful. If you feel that way too I shall not have you. If you killed a Plat because you didn’t think his life had any meaning I will hate you forever.”
With that, Duane felt a judgement much keener than any he had cast on her sisters that day, or even the scrutiny the ghers 34 elder had fixed upon him earlier. Looking through it, he remembered his little soldiers again behind his eyes; his little snowy-topped warriors crowded around him, staring bravely at a charging line of snarling hounds and spear-wielding riders. “Every Aldishman is beloved to me,” was all he managed. Leysa nodded, relieved.
“My father is a good man but I don’t like how he looks down on the Plats and even the Bronze.”
“They look down on us as well,” Duane reminded.
“No excuse! We have to be the better people, Mr. Adelier, and set the proper example. We’ll raise our children to always treat people with respect no matter what caste they come from or how much money they have.”
“Your father is the financier on Hanovier Way, isn’t he?”
“Yes,” sighed Leysa, “But he just lost the Senesy account and he’s been dreadfully cross. You should bring him a bottle of Sevencrow Port tomorrow when you call. It’s his favourite.”
Leysa took a few steps past, towards the stairwell. Duane ran a hand through his hair, studying the view. “I will,” he said, at length. She turned, her disfigured lips curled in a victorious rictus.
“You will marry me then,” she stated. It was not a question. Duane shrugged helplessly.
“Why do you wish to have your hooks in me, of all men? I will never have very much money. I am a tedious bore and when you meet my brother you will realise you chose the wrong Adelier.”
At the stairwell threshhold, the girl paused, considering. Duane thought she at least cut a nice figure from the back with her sloping shoulders, long neck, and a charming little rear she knowingly swayed beneath her skirts.
“You looked sad when you saw me,” Leysa answered at last, thoughtful. Then she brightened. “You’re interesting. And I enjoy the shape of your head. When we fix your hair you’ll almost be handsome.”
Duane’s mouth screwed into a grimace almost as ugly as hers and he all but roared: “When I glamour your face you’ll almost be beautiful-!”
“Oh, you needn’t!” assured Leysa, unaffected by his spleen, “I wanted to be certain you are not shallow. I would not have you if you are shallow.” She removed a small pymaric pinned to her collar. Suddenly the cleft in her lip was gone. Her lazy eye realigned itself. Her green gaze snapped at him, perfect and bright in a pretty face.
Anteit Vaosa, she was too beautiful for him. Too, too beautiful! Still, somehow, for some reason only Ssael could explain, she called: “You WILL marry me, aye?”
Duane’s knees weakened. He grasped the wall to keep from tumbling.
“Aye?” Leysa pressed, impatient.
Duane nodded. Satisfied, the girl turned in triumph to tumble down the stairs with a valedictory fluttering of fingers. “Sevencrow Port, Mr. Adelier, don’t forget!”