There is an extra shadow in the quiet darkness that is five o'clock of a morning. Besides the odd pillaging run for paper, the old library on a forgotten street of Port Trechiva is quiet as a tomb. At this hour, it is particularly still, save for the occasional rat that scrabbles about on some private mission. A shadow is curled up in a dusty high-backed chair far in the back of the rare books section and has been there for several hours already. It is trying to reconcile things in its mind and it needs the quiet and solitude to do so.
Dawn is just making its way into the deeper confines of the library and we can now see that the shadow is our dear young Mullicynda. Even in the dimness, it is plain that she is haggard, eyes red from rubbing and crying, mouth drawn down in a deep disappointment, the package made complete with her worn-out commoner costume that her mood somehow makes complete. The sun peeks up over the horizon and sends a ray through a window and onto her face, causing her to squint darkly and frown all the more.
She has come to understand that almost everything she has been told in her young life was a lie.
There was one particular Matron that Mullicynda had for a teacher that she especially liked. She was a kind-hearted soul and took a particular interest in Mulls as one who might be a bit of a kindred spirit. When she was being particularly abused by the other girls in those tender pre-teen years, this teacher gently took her aside and told her how much the Convocation needed sweet and humble hearts to offset the propensity for haughtiness and venom among the Ladies. "That is why things are the way they are," the Matron had said to that little girl of long ago, "This school and this society exist because the world is a better place with good-hearted and generous Ladies at the helm. You will be one of those." She also said, "We value beauty and grace because these are what separate us from the viciousness of animals and men. It is what makes us better." Those words had brought solace to a young schoolgirl, but as Mulls thinks on it now, though it was comforting at the time, it too was a lie.
In that birthing room, presiding over the birth of an impossible child and the execution of its mother, Mullicynda began to understand a few of the blacker truths that lie at the heart of the Convocation of Ladies.
She had been taught that she would become a Lady because she was special. Everyone knows that Ladies are essentially different from the common folk, not just by a royal lineage, but by something we would call "genetics". Everyone knows that Ladies only give birth to the next generation of Ladies and dames. It was obvious that common women gave birth to both girls and boys; there were plenty of men about to do the hard work and society could even choose the most handsome and virile among them to eschew labor and be consorts to the Ladies. These ruling women had a natural right to their status as Ladies because they were biologically superior to others and therefore special.
But the thought that a Lady could give birth to a boy was patently absurd. Generations of teaching that Ladies were inherently different in a biological way would be washed away by such a revelation. Mullicynda had held that patent absurdity in her arms and she now knew that the "special" status of Ladies was based on a lie. Princess Yvette had been no more "genetically superior" than the random woman upon whose doorstep her screaming infant son had been left by a totally disoriented schoolgirl. The Convocation, through its trusted school, had lied to her just as it had lied to countless others throughout the generations.
If that were the only trouble running about in Mulls' mind, she probably could have stayed in her dormitory room and found ways to cope with it. What drove her this distance across the channel as far as she could be from the school was the nagging suspicion that her actions had involved her in the killing of the Princess of Fish. The birthing experience was awful enough, but the young Mulls rightly surmised that the vial into which the Matron Symantha had tipped the poison was tied with a blue ribbon specifically to kill the Lady if she gave birth to a boy. The silly canary Matron required the color-coded vials to ensure the job was done correctly and when she passed off the task to someone who didn't know the system, it was logical to "play it safe" and kill the mother no matter what gender the baby turned out to be. It was a tidy little plan, but that fact did nothing to placate Mullicynda's guilt as she had become a tool in a despicable act.
It was one thing to lie in order to hide the inconvenient fact that Ladies were just as likely to conceive and bear boys as the common women were, but it was very much another matter when women were being killed in order to protect that fact. Judging by the way the birthing was done, the chanting and the careful inattention by everyone to the act of birthing itself, this situation was not an isolated thing. Over the centuries, perhaps thousands of Ladies had been poisoned because they could not possibly live up to their "special" lie. It was stunning to Mullicynda.
Some other realization jars Mulls just now and she sucks in a frightened breath. It was not just the death of thousands of Ladies. This poisoning was surely the death of all Ladies! If they could give birth to boys, it was sensible that a Lady would give birth to a boy at some point and face the prospect of being poisoned upon the birthing table as a result. As she though of it, a old nagging situation came into her mind, one that she had shrugged off in the past: she had never seen an old Lady. Even the current Queen was only in her mid-twenties. Mulls could not recall ever seeing a Lady that appeared to be any older than thirty. It may have been easy to dismiss with the teaching that such women were "special" and that a by-product of that was enhanced youth, but now that the "special" fantasy was shattered, perhaps it was also possible that Ladies met their ultimate doom much earlier than anyone allowed themselves to realize.
Perhaps you nice readers are saying to yourselves, "Oh, come on, Jason. You can't have such a thing happening without someone noticing over time!" Though I am not yet an official student of human nature, it seems to me that there are plenty of examples of uncomfortable realities being ignored all the time. Take movie stars for example.
You have likely noticed that the typical movie star has an effective popularity of about ten years. They get "discovered" as teens or young adults, shoot to super-stardom, find themselves featured in every fifth movie and magazine cover, and, just as suddenly as they appeared, they are gone. If lucky, they get to play evil people in afternoon "specials" on low-budget cable channels, and if they are not so lucky, they only get noticed by tabloid photographers while ducking into drug rehabilitation centers. Apparently, fame can only burn brightly for a short time and then regular people are only left to exclaim "I thought they had died."
Beauty queens must have a lot in common with movie stars. They certainly seem to have the same shelf life. If one is not in the spotlight anymore, they may as well be as good as dead to the people who follow such things, which begs the question: "If the starlet dies quietly on the birthing table and no one is paying attention, did she ever live?" When faced with the question "Whatever happened to Lady So-and-So?", it is just as easy to say that she is living out her autumn years as the small ruler of a obscure fishing household on the outskirts somewhere, contentedly looking over her collection of tiaras from the "glory days". That is a far more pleasant thing to say than that she was poisoned by a midwife after giving birth to her third non-girl at the age of twenty-two and therefore didn't bother to show up at the preliminaries to pursue another title. Which would be the story that the Convocation would be likely to circulate, especially when the tabloids are all owned by the Queen?
So, the untimely death of Princess Yvette would get officially buried if it got mentioned at all. As it turns out, nothing is said about this killing just like the other two that happened this week. The up-and-coming Ladies, fresh from school and their investment parties are not going to waste time wondering about who had previously occupied the households that they are given. There are contests to be prepared for, there is stardom to achieve, and there is a system that requires fresh faces at a regular rate to take the place of "old" "has-beens". Who wants to devote any thought to washed-up beauty queens when there is a nubile new girl ready to capture all the attention? Isn't it easier to just let the supposedly "worn-out" quietly disappear from Firsthome rather than have to develop some existential pension plan for them?
It is hard to say if Mulls is really prepared to go to these depths of thought at the moment. She is upset enough over being drawn into the murder of a Lady to really give much attention to the larger social ramifications of collective blindness to the sins of the Convocation. She has simply witnessed the "cull" of a twenty-one year old girl that was deemed unproductive to the system and is injecting herself into the other woman's fashionable pumps. It is not a detached cultural study for her as it might be for me and you tenacious readers: she is facing the prospect of being dead herself in just a few short years.
However, there is a ray of hope just as welcoming as the sunlight now pouring onto Mulls face: the genetic lottery could fall the other way and she could spend her life as a barren dame. There are plenty of older dames - the Convocation school alone is literally bursting with them along with every household. The ratio of dames to Ladies is often more than ten to one and if she was back at her dorm room, she would be flanked all the time by at least three that serve her personally if she wasn't kindly dismissing them from their duties all the time. I mean it is unthinkable that a girl with the prospect of being a Lady would now dream of becoming a lowly serving dame, but faced with the new-found reality that she would likely enjoy a much longer and more pleasant life out of the limelight, the idea suddenly became very, very tempting.
As with a crack of thunder, Mullicynda's thoughts are interrupted because a noise much different than the scuttling rats is reaching her ears and her first reflex, to disappear into the chair somehow, is already lost. Someone rushes into the room, stumbles in a patch of shadow that hides a waste-paper basket, and gets pitched into the sunlight practically in Mulls' lap. Both people are startled to find anyone else in the rare book section, but only one recognizes the other: Mullicynda is shocked to once again encounter the scrawny little consort from The Stable who the rest of us know well enough as Daavor.
Under most circumstances, a consort would be as dismissive of a commoner, woman or not, as a Lady would be. Although no man enjoys any particular status in the Convocation, the mere fact that a man is exempt from fishing so as to become some flouncy girl's daily human handbag and nightly body pillow will allow a certain contempt for his less fortunate fellows. It is obvious in this case that this peculiar consort looks into the eyes of someone that he doesn't consider low at all.
"Pardon me!" the young man exclaims breathlessly. He has been running recently and we can excuse him, on several counts, for being a bit flustered. Daavor narrows his eyes. "Have we met before?"
Mulls pulls back into herself instinctively, given the fact that such as herself should not be in such a place. "I...I don't know what you mean..."
The man was still looking up into her eyes in a slightly dreamy way. Ragged clothing and dirt as make-up aside, the woman was still strikingly beautiful. "This is usually a good place to hide," he said through the distraction. He managed to get back on his feet, though he was now favoring a sore leg. "Are you all right?" He was having issues keeping his eyes off of her and something was nagging at his mind in relation to her, but things were not connecting in his present state.
"Oh, I am well enough." Mulls pulled the traditional common woman's hood a bit tighter to cover her face a little. "I also come here to hide."
Daavor let forth a goofy grin just to know that he had a little in common with such a beauty. He likely would have given up what few perks the star brand on his hand seemed to afford him for the chance to spend more time with a girl such as this. However, like another thunderclap, the sound of another person clattering into the room was upsetting more potential moments. "Great," the man sighed.
He turned about just in time to face the all-too-familiar Matron in yellow, stumbling on her regularly ridiculous high heels as opposed to any particular hidden obstacle. She was wearing the same stewardess outfit that had graced the shipwreck beach, but she replaced with pillbox and bobbie-pins for a floppy sunhat. With her hair worn long, she was actually quite fetching to look upon if one could manage to ignore her clumsiness and sour demeanor. She glared at the man. "What do you think you are doing?" she hissed.
Daavor shrugged innocently enough. "Out for a morning stroll."
"You were running!" Canary spat back. "I could hardly keep up with you!" She was still heaving with the exertion of making her ensemble substitute for a track suit, which I hope you enlightened readers realize is quite a herculean feat and raises my estimation of this silly Matron. "What are you up to?" she said suspiciously.
That is a leading question for those of us that have only had a few encounters with our Daavor. Perhaps he is even more of a rascal than circumstances have shown so far. The Matron is looking about as if there may be some hidden stash of something that the man is dealing in, some contraband to which the rare book section provides a perfect hiding place.
"Do you have a girl in here?" The Matron unwittingly hit a little too close of a wild shot for Daavor's comfort. "Is this is a little rendezvous? A secret tryst?"
In response, Daavor moves quickly to a place behind the tall-backed chair where Mulls is pressing herself even harder into the cushion. Canary's attention is instantly drawn to a bookshelf that is now behind the man, as he is obviously trying to hide something among the books, and she moves toward it such that the tall back of the chair blocks her view of the disguised Miss. As the fevered Matron pulls volumes off the offending shelf, Daavor peeks around the chair and motions the wide-eyed girl toward an exit. Even though Daavor doesn't recognize in this commoner the schoolgirl he had flirted with in the recent past, he is quite willing to make good her escape. It is just as well, as Canary might have the presence of mind to recall that this was the very woman she entrusted to deliver poison to Princess Yvette, which might make for a sticky situation. Beyond that, we are seeing that even if Daavor is a bit of a rascal, he looks to be a rather noble one, making him all the more interesting and endearing to our young Mulls.
Of course, the Matron has no clue what she is looking for as she flings books to and fro, but it is plenty enough of a racket to cover the retreat of the future Lady or perhaps now dame. Daavor is having a bit of fun flinching occasionally as if Canary is about to uncover his totally non-existent secret and he keeps her busy for a few moments longer than what would be absolutely necessary, just because it is hilarious to watch. When it becomes obvious that the man is playing the Matron for a fool, the woman rounds on him with a threatening finger. "I have my eye on you, Daavor. I know you are up to something!"
Daavor just giggled as he was wont to do. This was nothing more than another diversion in his very strange existence. He was up to nothing but a seemingly unpremeditated stroll, just as he had said, but you readers and I know that perhaps God is stirring the pot still for what is gradually becoming a future couple. Canary escorts her charge out of the room and back to his alleged life.