Previously: Nadec listens in on Patat’s and Jodec’s conversation. She talks to the gorwak after her uncle left. They decide to not free Patat yet, although Nadec isn’t happy with that. Patat believes he can get Jodec to tell him about the secret room, the one which supposedly has all the information about the Squares, Triangles and Lines.
Read all the previous chapters here.
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Nadec’s heart jumped in her throat at the ratcheting sound made by the guards rattling the butts of their swords against the bars of the cells. A moment of dazed confusion fogged her brain as she stiffened under the sheets. When her mind caught up to the current events, she inhaled sharply, touching her face and head. Her wig was still in place, somewhat, and her fake beard and moustache felt straight enough. She thanked her past self for getting back in her male character outfit before going to bed.
‘Time to wake, the induction starts in ten minutes,’ one of the guards shouted.
Yawning, Nadec hauled herself off the padded wooden plank. She reassessed her previous thought about the bed, stretching sore muscles. Although it wasn’t as bad as others she’d had before, it certainly wasn’t as good as she’d thought. She groaned as she realised she could’ve Skipped to her room, spent the night in a proper bed, and Skipped back before dawn. Too late for that now. Her stomach growled at the same time she saw the tray sitting on the outside of her cell. By the time she finished her small breakfast and other morning necessities, two guards came to escort her away.
There were only 5 other people in the room with her, of whom only one woman. A triple row of benches looked towards a smooth, dark wall. Nadec sat at in the middle of the left side bench on the second row, far enough from the others to avoid speaking to them. Two men on the first row in the middle were having an animated discussion, with one gesturing wildly with his hands, switching between putting them in his lap and pointing towards the other man. Nadec couldn’t see what he did when they were in hs lap—the other man blocked her view.
‘Good morning lady and gentlemen, I am the lady O’Dinazs, welcome to your induction on the Paralelian laws.’ Nadec twitched as the woman she met two days ago—the woman who’d let an innkeeper, or housekeeper, drug Nadec and Melia—walked into the room. Nadec slumped down, keeping her hat low. ‘This is a courtesy towards you, as you have been caught doing something against those laws. As an outsider, the Paralelian court prefers you to be educated instead of locked up, so here you all are. If you get caught with an infringement again after this, you shall be properly punished. But we all know that will not happen right? Right.’
She smiled as she looked around the room, lingering on each of them. Did she squint her eyes slightly when looking at Nadec?
‘You are all too spread out, come closer, come now, I shall not bite. Especially the men have nothing to fear. I’ve heard yesterday’s induction was full to the brim, due to the first day of the Coronation festivities. Today is better.’ Nadec reluctantly moved closer to the center front of the benches, while Ayba addressed the two men who’d been squabbling. ‘What occupies you two gentlemen? Now, now, do not deny it. I saw when I entered. Best to get it out of the way before commencing.’
‘My brother, my lady,’ said the man who’d done all the gesturing, ‘doesn’t believe me when I say I saw someone disappear last night, right in front of my eyes. I swear I saw it. A black figure followed the guards, but then did something with their hands and knees, just like this, and disappeared.’
Nadec froze halfway to the bench, hovering above it. Ayba’s eyes flickered towards her. That was all the confirmation Nadec needed. The other woman had recognised her. She continued her descent on the bench. There was nothing she could do. If Ayba wanted to, she could put Nadec in the hands of the people who’d been hunting her. Ayba merely gazed at the man in a thoughtful manner, making him squirm and mumble he was telling the truth.
‘I believe you, she said with a nod. ‘The coronation festivities lead in a joyous and magical event. Myths and legends have a way of finding their place during these days. Do not distrust your own eyes when you see something you would before have thought impossible. Magic is all around us. It is called the Squares, Triangles and Lines. Only the royalty knows much about it, so I am afraid I can not tell you about that. What I can tell you, is to avoid shaking hands with certain people, like guards, innkeepers, …’
And so the induction had started. Nadec lifted her eyebrows on some occasions—not only red food is forbidden, but also anything square, yellow-speckled, burnt, or shiny. At the end, she was glad she’d chosen to stay for this, if not for the extra information, then for the entertaining way Ayba explained things.
‘Now, go forth and enjoy yourselves in Hexago. Remember, many of these laws count for everywhere in Paralelo, although some towns have their own little peculiar rules added onto it. If you want to stay safe, go to the mayor of the town and ask about it. They should be more than happy to tell you their special rules. It is also a good way to get in their good graces.’
Everyone got up and moved to the door. Nadec attempted to quickly scuttle away, keeping her head down, but Ayba grabbed her by the arm. ‘A word with you, please?’
Nadec frowned at her. ‘What, you’re going to betray my trust again? Let go off me.’ She yanked her arm out of the other woman’s grip. The reaction surprised herself. A twinge of guilt surged up as she saw the hurt look on Ayba’s face. ‘I had too much betrayal lately,’ Nadec muttered, trying to justify her action to Ayba, and herself.
‘I am extremely sorry for what happened, Cedan, I did not know he would do that. Please believe me. After you disappeared, I questioned Erioch why he did what he did. He only knew the Order had sent out an urgent message to all supporters to keep an eye out for me, and specifically anyone who was with me. They’d even added a description of you, based on what you looked like when we fled the Square. Please, sit. Let’s talk.’
‘They worked fast. Stop trying to get me to sit, I’m not staying here any longer than I must. I’m keen to get out of the castle. And this disguise, you have no idea how itchy this wig is. The beard and moustache are beginning to annoy me as well.’ She looked at Ayba sideways. ‘I still don’t know if I can trust you, but—’
‘You can, I swear. You can.’ Ayba looked almost too eager. Nadec held up a hand.
‘But you may be able to tell me about that Order. The Order of the End, is it?’ Ayba nodded. ‘Is there any way we can meet somewhere? Or… ugh, I suppose I could stay in this disguise for a while longer. Would it be suspicious if you and I have an early lunch somewhere?’
‘No, it would not be. I have done so before, giving private lessons about the Paralelian laws to people who weren’t satisfied after an induction. For a price, of course. Not that you have to pay, not at all. Whatever trouble you are in, I am on your side. And if that goes against the Order, then I am doubly on your side, if there is such a thing.’ She stroked Nadec’s cheek with a finger. ‘Hmm, I have to say I do prefer you without all that fake hair, it makes it hard to see your lovely face. Come now, there is an inn across the Square where I always give these private lessons. With luck, it is not too busy yet. After yesterday’s heavy celebration evening, many people only get active by the afternoon.’
‘Let’s go then. Wait, one more question.’ It was something which nadec had wondered about ever since she saw Ayba enter the room. ‘Didn’t you say you hadn’t been allowed in the castle anymore after Wyny’s ascend to the throne? Why are you here? How?’
‘Wyny?’ Ayba doubled up from laughing. She wiped her eyes as she straightened, an occasional giggle interjecting her speech. ‘That’s the best thing I’ve heard in a while. Oh, now I truly hope I get to talk to him again some day, if only to tease him with that.’
The laughter was infectious enough for Nadec to fail at keeping her lips neutral. She crossed her ams to try and convey at least a modicum of seriousness. This was not the time to get into a hopeless fit of laughter.
‘This part of the castle is almost separate to the rest of it, as a measure of security. I volunteered for these inductions before lord Pagewyn became the ruler. And because I am good at them and not many nobles like to do it, they allowed me to continue. I expected him to come and see me here. That was silly of me. He most likely does not know I am still allowed to do these, or they do not allow him to come. He is the king, but I do not believe he is the one controlling the kingdom. Come now, what are you waiting for? We should not linger here.’ She winked at Nadec and led them out of the castle proper, across the Square, and into an inn.
‘Ah, lady Aybahberry, another private lesson today? The small dining room is available and ready for use, if you wish.’ The innkeeper led the way. Nadec had a better feeling about this one. For one, she wasn’t skinny. For another, she wasn’t pompous enough to declare her inn as a house. A normal innkeeper in a normal inn. Hopefully without connections to the Order.
Three hours later, after a decent meal and several drinks, Nadec knew more about the Order, and Ayba knew more about Nadec. Upon hearing who Nadec really was, she went down on one knee and, as formal as can be, swore fealty to Nadec, who thought she’d burst from embarrassment. Ayba proved to be resourceful, so Nadec’s masterplan—which hadn’t looked further than rescuing Patat and hiding until C-day—turned more elaborate. Before the end of the next nine days, the common people would be looking forward to the return of a real Ichau on the throne.