Aelliana Caylon laughed out loud as her craft hit the shuttle webbing. Dead-center: a Master Pilot could have done no better, truth spoken. Ge’shada, Junior Pilot, she congratulated herself heartily. Perhaps you should study for that First Class, after all.
She laughed again, fingers busy at the straps. Her mother would be mortified, of course. MizaI was a Clan of scholars:theorists, not experimentalists. Her position in the Mathematics Department of the University of Liad barely atoned for her Second
Class Pilot’s license.Nothing she had yet achieved in her area of specialty balanced the fact that she preferred to pilot herself and did so at every opportunity.
Chuckling from sheer good spirits, she rolled out of the tiny craft and dropped lightly to the ground. She glanced at the fence separating the sheds from the shuttlepads involuntarily, expecting to be disappointed — and nearly laughed again.She was able to avoid that impropriety, though the grin that split her face would have called a rebuke from her Delm.
“There you are:” she cried, nearly skipping to the fence and the slim figure perched atop it.
“Why,“ he said,looking down at his leathered self in surprise, “so I am.My thanks to you, Lady.I had been in a fair way to believing myself misplaced.”
She did laugh then, but quickly sobered. “And who has said to you that I am called ‘Lady’?“
“It is true,is it not?Lady Aelliana Caylon.Of Clan Mizal.”
“But this is monstrous: I don’t know your name, after all.”
“It was a well-executed landing,just now,” he said,ignoring this rather blatant hint. “I’m pleased that I was able to witness it.Have you considered training for the next Class? You’d do well, I think.“
“Do you?” She was pleased, more so since their previous discussions had shown her that he was himself no poor pilot. “It is good to near you say so. And good to see you again. You were gone such a time, I was certain you’d found better wages at another port.”
The leathers and the gloves he always wore marked a person who worked in the shuttlesheds a mechanic, most likely; and pilot-to-hire.
“Ah, well,” he said, moving his shoulders. “My skills were in demand at another location for a time and I could not come away.” He smiled. “That I was missed — Lady, you give me hope.Perhaps we might dine?”
“Yes, certainly! When I know neither your name nor clan, while you know all of me!”
“Surely not all?”He tipped his head. “It might be arranged.”
She sighed, tempted; bowed denial. “I think it unlikely,smile-friend. I am sorry.” This was walking rather too close to the line between propriety and scandal.Her mother would have blushed for her, had she been present.
“Are you?Then I am certain it might be done.Trust me.”
Abruptly, he slid to the ground on the far side of the fence.
“Be well, Lady. Until our next meeting.”
“Until our next meeting,” she echoed; then turned resolutely toward the lot and her groundcar.
Hanlen Caylon, Delm Mizal, sat at her desk, eyes on the contract she had long since read and re-read. Korval was mad, of course — they’d been so from the beginning.However, the gentleman who had so recently quitted her office was not mad; nor did one refuse such an offer from the most powerful of all Liad’s clans. At least, she amended to herself, not without substantive reason.
Aelliana had done her duty once, providing Mizal with a child of her body, as required by both law and tradition. She would do her duty again. Indeed, it was this business of providing one’s clan with an heir that brought Korval to Mizal at all.
A light step outside the door proceeded a shadow across her light. She looked up,frowning at the leather jacket and helter-skelter hair. Really, the child could take a semblance of care…
“You wished to see me, mother?”
Hanlon Caylon brought her attention firmly to the present.
“Yes, Aelliana.Sit, if you please.”
She did so and folded her hands quietly. Delm Mizal’s frown deepened as she let her eyes rove over the merely brown hair, the thin face with its straight brows and greenish eyes. Her fingers moved on the vellum beneath them. The contract specified Aelliana, second child of Line Caylon, Philosopher of Mathematics and Pilot, Second Class.
Hanlen sighed, tapped her finger against the sheaf and cleared her throat.
“Mizal has been approached by Clan Korval,“ she said flatly, “in the matter of contract-marriage.”
Aelliana’s face showed polite interest, and perhaps a bit of puzzlement. She waited, as was proper.
“Mizal feels,” the Delm continued, “that it is in the best interest of the Clan to pursue such a liaison with Korval at this time (or at any other, she added to herself).” She looked at her daughter sharply.“The contract will be signed.“
Still Aelliana waited, hands quiescent in her lap.
Hanlen sighed, and tapped the vellum again.“It is Delm Korval himself who seeks to give his clan an heir.The one of Mizal he honors by his attention is Aelliana Caylon.”
There were many things she could have done: she might have cried out that she knew the man and despised him.Or she might have preened herself on her unlooked-for good fortune. She might have inclined her head dutifully and awaited further instruction from her mother and her Delm.
She should not have laughed.
“Have taken leave of your senses?” demanded Mizal,awfully.
Aelliana fought for control; won a brief respite.
“It is — Mother, don’t you see?They must have mistaken the name.Of course it must be Elian, and not Aelliana at all!”
Well, Mizal acknowledged, and so she too had thought, at first. Who better to give Korval his heir than the elder daughter: beautiful, well mannered, polished? She looked at her youngest with something close to approval.
“Korval’s man of business brought this to me himself, and we sat and discussed the matter in all of its ramifications.The name is correct.” She swallowed and forbore to glare at the leather jacket. “He asked that the matter be presented to you when you returned from the port.“
Aelliana stared. “Presented to me?”
Hanlen recalled that she had not yet uncovered the whole. “Delm Korval would be pleased to be introduced to you before signatures are set to swear-ines.It was thought he might attend Prime meal with us tomorrow evening.”
“I see.” The greenish eyes were a little vague, thought Hanlen, though the child answered reasonably enough.
“I would be pleased to meet with Delm Korval before the contract is signed. If it is convenient for him to attend Prime tomorrow, then, of course, I shall be present.”
It was a dutiful, and irreproachably proper answer.
Hanlen Caylon regarded her daughter warily.
“You will of course allow yourself to be guided by your mother and your sister in the matters of dress and mode.”
“Of course,” Aelliana agreed, still with that unfocussed look about her.
“Good,” said the Delm, with forced heartiness. “Then I will tell you that it would be useful for you to utilize the sleep-enchancement tapes this night. I shall myself program the proper sections of the Code into the unit.”
No protest was forthcoming. Hanlen cleared her throat.
“Have you questions, child?”
“You may go, then. Please send your sister to me.”
“Yes, mother.” She was gone.
Aelliana had been married once, as all must be; and had given the clan a fine son. She saw him now and again, when his nurse allowed.He did not seem to find her interesting or necessary to his comfort in any way.His father in him, no doubt.
His father had been an honorable man.Dull and worthy, he had joined with her family in deploring her ambition toward a pilot’s license; had professed himself scandalized to learn that she had actually won Moreta in a game of dice. She had neglected to tell him from whom she had won the ship, though she had several times been tempted.
And now here was Korval — honorable, no doubt. Worthy, of course.Dull? But most people were dull, after all. Gods, why her? There was Elian, who would be knife–tongued in envy; who was more suited to stand wife to the most powerful man on the planet. . .
She would have to take leave from the University, of course; put aside half-formed, enticing plans for a vacation off-planet; place Moreta in storage…
Aelliana flumped into the dowdy, lumpy chair by the window in her room and glared out at the innercourt waters.Not to mention the obligatory beddings and intercourse, which bored her.Another person’s hands on putting you here and then there — Pah! She could make no sense of people who took pleasure-love after pleasure-love. A monumental waste of time, and love no pleasure, at all.
Still, she acknowledged some while later, duty counted and the clan had not been brutal in its use of her.It was generally acknowledged that she was the odd one and then the matter was usually let drop.If he were not too dull, this Delm Korval —but, of course, he would be.
Sighing, Aelliana got up to dress for Prime.
Once again, she stood in front of the mirror, manicured hands stroking the yellow silk of the new gown. It became her well — Elian’s eye was unerring, even enlisted in a cause she declared hopeless.The several rings on her fingers were loaned from her mother, saving only the plain, intricately woven silver band she always wore on the second finger of her left hand.That one looked a little dowdy, in fact, against the gleaming splendor of her mother’s gems, but she did not take it off. She had worn it so long it was like a part of her hand; she might as easily left off a thumb.
The clock on her dresser chimed, and she gave the dress one last stroke before going belowstairs to meet the guests.
The room seemed unreasonably crowded. Aelliana hesitated on the threshold, sleep-lessons and commonsense deserting her,it seemed. How did one address a Delm of another Clan? A six–year–old might have told her — and Aelliana would have been glad of the answer.
Her mother was coming toward her, regal in dark red; a tall, slender young man on her arm. She was smiling and chatting determinedly. So much Aelliana saw before her attention was captured once more by her mother’s escort.
Tall, yes, and slender, moving with a smooth elegance that cried pilot, and the silence that whispered scout. Dark hair, dark eyes, high cheeks and generous mouth…
“Delm Korval, this is Lady Aelliana Caylon, Clan Mizel,” her mother was saying formally while Aelliana stared into the man’s face.
He bowed — the bow between equals, Aelliana saw, through thawing shock.
“Lady Aelliana, I am happy to meet you.”
“Aelliana,” her mother’s voice carried an undercurrent of sternness. “This is Daav yos’Phelium, Delm Korval.”
“Delm Korval,” she murmured, returning the bow exactly, “I am happy to see you.”
Her mission accomplished. Delm Mizal withdrew. Daav yos’Phelium grinned down at her, the exact and, let her say it, beloved grin of her friend of the airfield.
“Now,” he said,“did I not say that it might be arranged?”
* * *
In case you missed it, here’s the link to the author’s intro.
* * *
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