Some of these bits ‘n bobs, you can tell when they were written by the paper they were typed on. Some, for instance, are typed on the back of mimeographed pages of French, or German, or Spanish – which meant that the fragment was written in 1984/86 – when I was a secretary at the Modern Languages and Linguistics Department at the University of Maryland.
Today’s bit is typed on the back of green-bar computer paper, the blank lead and tail pages of a travel agency financial report, and those pages are actually dated: 1/03/85.
I should perhaps note that the pages – five of them – were held together with your Garden Variety silver-colored paperclip. Which was rusty.
In 1985. . .Agent of Change was into the second year of its journey of rejection, and we would have been well into writing the second draft of Conflict of Honors, the one where we decided to make it that Liaden Healers could actually reach inside the hearts and minds of men and women, and – fix them. A momentous decision, and a risk, but in retrospect, I think it turned out well.
In any case, the condition of the first two Liaden books makes some sense of the – the prologue, I suppose we must call it – of this little five-page snippet. Typed all in caps, this is what it says:
POSSIBLE PROLOGUE FOR BOOK 3: THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF VAL CON AND MIRI. . .OR IS IT THE BEGINNING OF ITS OWN STORY? OR IS IT NONE OF THE ABOVE? A SPEEDING LOCOMOTIVE, PERHAPS? OR MERELY A SILVER BULLET?
His bags were packed. Had been taken some time earlier by the ubiquitous Jeeves down to the car. It was time to leave, one way or another. . .
And yet he tarried, staring out the window of his sitting room, fingers nervous about he keys in his hand, thoughts uncharacteristically fragmented.
The keys: They fit the hatch and board of the jitney. Not, understand, the yacht, which belonged to the Clan, but the jitney, gorgeous little speedster that it was. A converted Scout ship, impeccably maintained, capable of wonders that warmed the heart of Pilot First Class Shan yos’Galan.
The jitney did not belong to the Clan. Nor did it belong to the yos’Galans. It belonged to the yos’Pheliums. To the heir.
Specifically, to Val Con.
Held in trust, it was true, by his kin the yos’Galans, until he should come of an age where such a thing might serve him.
But there was no getting around the fact that the jitney did belong to Val Con, and that the keys did not belong in his brothercousin’s hand. And most certainly not in conjunction with the thoughts presently rattling in Shan’s head.
It would be so easy. He was to leave today. It was expected – required. Already, he walked the thin edge of tardiness in his departure.
Therefore, he would leave.
Only, he would not take himself to Solcintra and the home of his contractbride – ho! Not he! Instead, wily Shan, to the spaceport would go, to the jitney, to freedom. . .
To. . .dishonor. . .loneliness. . .pain. . .
A contract is a contract, after all. And his father, as First-Speaker-In-Trust, deemed an heir-alliance with Clan Tornom desirable. So was the eldest son of Korval contracted to the second daughter of Tornom, for the purpose of providing Tornom with an heir of unreproachable lineage.
And, incidentally, aligning the mines and refineries of Tornom with the manufactories and trade-interests of Korval.
Shan’s fingers tightened on the keys.
Duty, he reminded himself, but the word was cold; a joke undeserving of laughter.
He blinked, bringing the garden below into focus – the topiary hounds, the hideous fountain some great-great-etc. yos’Galan had felt compelled to place prominently among the flowers. . .
He tried to imagine never looking upon the view again. Tried to understand what it would mean: never to walk into this house again; never to see his father, his mother, sisters, brother. . .
The door chimed a request for entrance and Shan jumped, knocking his hip against the window ledge.
The door slid away in response to his answer, admitting a boy and a cat.
“Get that creature out of my room,” Shan said automatically.
“She won’t hurt anything,” Val Con replied, as he always did; and continued unhurriedly across the carpet, to the window and his tall brother.
Hoisting himself onto the sill, he tipped his head up, so that he could look Shan in the face.
“Uncle Er Thom told our mother that you were going to bring disgrace on us all, if you moon about much longer. He said you have less sense of duty than I do.”
“Not too bad, since he had only just finished telling me that I’d best shape up and put all this Scout nonsense out of my head an apply myself to learning how to behave properly.”
Shan managed a ragged grin, conscious of the keys.
“A hopeless task. Impossible. What does a Scout need manners for, anyway? Half the time you’re by yourself. If you can stand your barbaric manners, why should it bother my father?”
The boy sighed.
“It’s because I’m to be Delm Korval,” he explained. “Uncle Er Thom thinks I shouldn’t be a Scout at all.”
He wrinkled his nose and the quiet voice took on a hint of deepness, of well-meant pomposity.
“It’s time you put aside all that nonsense about becoming a Scout, young sir. You are the heir. The Korval. Best you turn your thoughts to learning administration – adult pursuits. Adventuring about the galaxy like a perpetual adolescent is not in keeping with Who You Are.”
“Oh, no!” Shan was laughing in spite of himself. “Did he really? What did you do to provoke him to that?” He snapped his fingers. “Not the wine cellar again?”
“I’ll never live it down,” murmured Val Con, shifting into Terran for the phrase, and then back into Liadenex, frowning.
“But there is no Delm Korval, Shan, is there? Not really. Just a made-up someone – it could as easily be you as me, couldn’t it?”
“Oh, no! You’re not going to pin that on me, my lad! You’re the yos’Phelium; the heir. The line direct, all the way back to Pilot Contras. I don’t want the job! Try to make me take it and I’ll run so fast and so far you’ll never find me, Scout or no Scout. . .”
“Would you really?” the green eyes were very bright.
Shan opened his mouth, closed it, and shook his head sharply.
“That would be silly of me, wouldn’t it? Only think how angry it would make my father! And our mother will cry. . .Anthora, too. And you and Nova will never speak to me again, because I’m not your brother anymore –”
The boy slid to his feet, face blazing with one of his surprising bursts of passion. He reached out and grabbed his elder’s arm.
“That’s not true! You are my brother! No matter what you do –”
He looked up, seeming suddenly unsure.
“Shan? Isn’t that true? That we’re brothers – that we love each other – no matter what?”
He shook the arm he held tightly.
“Isn’t it, Shan?”
Shan looked down, seeing the bright eyes swimming in the thin face. A twelve year old boy. The Heir. Delm Korval. His brother, Val Con, waiting, tense, for his older brother’s wisdom.
Slowly, Shan hunkered down until their eyes were level. He unwrapped his fingers from around the keys and held them out.
The green eyes widened in recognition, but he made no move to take them. Instead, a question:
“You don’t like her very much, do you?”
“Not very much, no.” Shan tried for a grin. “It’s to be hoped that the contract is soon fulfilled.”
The boy frowned.
“Is it going to be very bad for you, Shan? Should you run away? You can take the jitney – a loan, until. . .” He swallowed, and took a breath.
“It’s true that my uncle will be very angry with you. But you’ll be welcomed back, when I’m. . .Delm Korval.”
Shan blinked hard, clearing his eyes. Reached out and tucked the keys into his brother’s vest pocket. His hand moved upward, ruffling the dark hair.
“Thank you, denubia. Maybe it will just be easier to honor the contract, what do you think?”
He leaned closer, conspiratorially.
“Besides, if we’re very lucky, Tornom’s heir will inherit this nose of mine – and I’ll have the last laugh, yet!”
Val Con grinned, then sobered.
“You can come and visit me at school – if you need someone to – talk – to. Lady yo’Lanna says Tornom speaks the High Tongue in their sleep. . .”
“Does she? And how did you hear it, I wonder? Listening at doors again, Shadow?”
“I’ll remember, if you think you can take time out of your busy schedule to speak a few friendly Terran words to your brother.”
Val Con shifted a little, looking worriedly into the light eyes level with his own.
“Shan? We are brothers? No matter what?”
It was too much. He would cry in another instant and they would all be undone.
He flung his arms out, pulling the thin body tight, feeling boy-arms around his neck, boy-cheek against his.
“Yes, you insufferable pest, we’re brothers. No matter what.”
He set Val Con back from him and rose to his feet. Reached down again to touch the dark hair.
“I love you, Val Con-brother. . .”
And that was inviting tears, too. The caress became a gentle push.
“Jet. I’m late. You know how it is – no sense of duty. My father will expire of shame.”
The boy laughed, heading toward the door.
“Don’t let him bully you out of it, denubia. If it’s truly your heart’s desire. Be a Scout. There’s plenty of time for Delm Korval – when you come of age. We’ll keep things together somehow ’til then.”
Val Con smiled.
“All right,” he said softly. And then he was gone, the cat dashing from gods-knew-where, slapping at his heels.
Shan stood still for a moment – perhaps several – surveying the garden below his window. A year, gods willing. It was not so long. . .
Sighing, Shan opaqued the window, and turned off the lights.
Then, he went to say good-bye to his mother and his sisters.
* * *
Well, the first thing I will say is that this piece – was not typed in the perfecting white heat of anger. There are many, many cross-outs, typeovers, and inserts in these five pages. Which relieves me, frankly, as this is obviously a “discovery story,” where we were trying to figure things out. Figuring things out takes time, and you very seldom get it right the first time.
I see that, when this was written, we hadn’t figured out cha’leket, the word – using, instead the incredibly awkward construction “brothercousin” – nor anywhere near the wholeness of the relationship that became “heart-kin.” Also noted is the equally awkward “contractbride,” of which the less said, the better.
We have reference in this splinter to the language “Liadenex.” That would be Low Liaden to you, but obviously not to us at the time.
Now, it has long been known to backstory that the first of Shan’s two contract marriages was not a particularly happy experience. He was sent too young, to a clan who keenly felt their heightened melant’i, in having gotten a child from Korval. It seems, in retrospect, a very odd match for Er Thom to have made for his eldest child, as indeed it was. Evolving backstory gives us reason to understand that Korval was in a undefined pickle at the time this marriage was made, and Er Thom needed a strong, new, alliance in a certain sector of the High Houses. Shan being at the time the only child of Korval of marriageable age, the duty fell to him. Had Er Thom not been lifemated, he could have reasonably taken the duty, but that, as we know, was not the case.
What I find especially interesting here, however, is Er Thom’s characterization. He seems, in fact, to have taken on the aspect of Kareen, shoving his children around, and laying down the law with a heavy hand. It’s particularly troubling to me that he has set himself in opposition to Val Con’s plan of going to the Scouts.
The Er Thom who has shown himself to us along the course of 23 novels was more stringent than his brother Daav, and often perplexed by his children, especially Shan. However, he knew full well what it was, to raise child-pilots. Nor was he a monster; he cared for his children, and not one, as we have seen them discussing their father over the course of the series, seems to have doubted his care.
In particular, the Er Thom we know now would never have set his face against Val Con undertaking Scout training. At the very least, he is heir to the clan’s wisdom, that yos’Pheliums are often sent to the Scouts, because it has been found that the training tames them. Somewhat. At most, he is Daav yos’Phelium’s cha’leket – and knows quite well what he’s dealing with, in Daav’s heir.
I’m glad we made the decision to allow Er Thom to be less rigid, and to let Kareen carry the role of the rule-bound voice of propriety.
* * *
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