Raulin lightly knocked on Anla and the wizard’s room before entering when he heard no one objected. His heart stopped when he saw Anla’s nude torso on top of Al, frozen as she looked over at him. “Sorry,” she whispered and grabbed her shirt, pulling it on while Al continued to snore. “I think I tossed off my clothes in the middle of the night. I tend to do that when it’s warm.”
“Oh,” he said, his head feeling a little woozy from the quick change in blood pressure. He closed the door behind him and stood awkwardly while she pulled on a pair of traveling pants and began to brush her hair.
“What passes? Did you need to speak to me or Al about something?”
“Mmm, not really. Maybe more talking at you about something that doesn’t involve you.”
“Advice? Or just to chat?”
“Something along those lines.”
She gestured to the chair in the corner of the room. While not a fancy room, it at least had that and a desk with a chair, which she sat in and turned to face Raulin. “What brings you to my humble abode?”
“I finished Remint’s case last night.”
“That fast? How did you do it?”
“Sheer luck and depravity. That’s not really why I came to talk, though. My problem is whether or not I’m going to be honest and turn in the assignment, or I’m going to lie.”
Her eyebrows lifted for a moment. “You always seem determined in your work. What changed?”
“It’s because it’s a friend, a real friend. This isn’t some guy I chatted with at a party; this is Vanif. It’s not easy to crack into high society if you don’t know anyone. He saw me floundering at a party and we clicked. He introduced me to all the important people. He invited me to every party, every luncheon, fundraiser, and high tea he was having until I was established. And then, when the rumors started, as they always do, he personally saw to them being quashed. People don’t normally stick their necks out for others like that.”
“Did you ever ask him why?”
“He said he saw potential in me. I’d guess that’s his merit, being able to see what works best for him and helping to nurture it into great returns. If that’s true, then I can’t fulfill this contract honestly.”
“What happened?” she asked, shifting in her seat.
“I arrived on the early side for his gambling event. I did rather well at twenty-one, made a little money. Then I spoke with Vanif and Corrin for a short while, mingled, had some food, then gambled a little more. I can’t say it was very exciting; I mainly stalled so that I could sneak upstairs and snoop around. It was while I was sneaking around that Gretza, Vanif’s wife, caught me. She invited me to her room and more or less suggested that I needed to tumble with her in order to buy her silence.”
“You slept with her?” Anla asked, her spine straightening.
“Yes. It was that or have her go downstairs and tell Vanif. In retrospect, she probably doesn’t have his trust as much as I thought, and my saying I was lost would have been fine, but I try to avoid a trail as much as possible. I’d rather not give people a way to connect Marin and Raulin.”
“So, you left her room and…”
“I left her room and the house was quiet. I was about to leave when I heard two people kissing. I hid behind the curtain and saw them.”
“Vanif and Corrin,” she said.
“So they’re Uranian. What’s wrong with that?”
“It’s a big deal in…”
“What?” Al said, sitting bolt upright. He looked at Anla with a confused look, then startled when he saw Raulin slumped in the armchair. “Why is he here?”
“We were talking about Raulin’s mission last night.”
“Why? What happened?”
Raulin recounted everything with a mirthless tone. When he finished, Al threw off his covers and said, “Oh, I see the problem.”
“I don’t,” Anla said, folding her arms.
“Don’t misunderstand, Anla,” Raulin said. “This isn’t about my feelings on homophiles. I don’t think a man in my position is someone who should be giving morality lessons to others.”
Al snorted at this, stretching to the side. “He’s right about that. And, well, the other thing. It’s a rather large deal in the nobility.”
“Why? I don’t understand.”
“Those with even a tiny bit of Magrithon’s blood are required to reproduce. That is essentially their only job. It doesn’t matter how much money they make their family, how many friends they have, how many titles they earn, or what military campaigns they win, by the time they reach a certain age, they are expected to marry and have heirs. If they don’t, they are disowned and considered ‘ceri’ blooded; they still have what they were born with, but no longer have their titles and family.”
“Oh,” she said, looking at Raulin. “So, your choice is to fail your contract or condemn your friend and his lover to the streets.”
“That is exactly my choice.”
“Why is it like that? Why can’t they adopt a child or just not continue the line?”
Al piped up. “Well, it’s law, first of all. Secondly, they need a god-blooded child to continue the line, so they can’t just adopt any child. It would have to be one from a family that was also the same rank. No one in their right mind would send their child to a Uranian couple; the lower classes might not mind the convention too much, if its discreet, but it’s seen as an aberration to the peerage. There’s also the problem with the wife’s family, which is probably why they contracted with Arvarikor about it. They know something’s wrong, but their daughter is her husband’s property and her loyalties are to him. She probably didn’t tell them that the marriage wasn’t consummated. They’re concerned that the two family’s lines haven’t merged and are concerned that their daughter is, or will be accused of, being barren.” He turned to Raulin. “That’s probably why she slept with you; not for a dalliance, but to conceive a child with a similarly ranked noble that will leave Gheny in a short time. That would have been disappointing when she realized the child wasn’t god-blooded.”
“It most certainly would have been a surprise,” Raulin answered.
“Why can’t they just…change the law? Why do they have to have children in the first place?” Anla seemed beyond exasperated by the situation.
“Remember how Lady Silfa knew every soldier in her parent’s household? It’s one of the more common gifts being part-god gives you. They have a good eye for names and faces. Most have additional…I think they’re called ‘merits’…”
“Merits, yes,” Raulin said.
“And merits are very valuable to a family. The purer your blood, the more powerful the merit. Kings and queens rule countries not just because of traditions and heredity, but also because their gifts are strong. It can be invaluable to have your sovereign with the ability to broker negotiations successfully or increased luck or the knack to increase harvests. King Aubin of Arvonne supposedly had the foresight that runs in his family and knew of the coup before it happened. That’s one of the reasons why people believe one of the children survived and is still alive. That, plus, the country never collapsed and could be doing…”
Raulin let out a very loud sigh under his mask.
Al took notice and stopped, sitting on the bed. “So, with the aristocracy, you have to marry and have children, and often your choice in a partner is limited. The sons of earls marry the daughters of earls, rarely lower or higher. They have children in the same category. And that’s it; they are free to throw parties or waste their parents money or…”
“…hunt trirecs,” Raulin said, bitterly.
“…whatever they want, so long as their bloodlines are preserved. Of course, it’s great if they also have a wonderful merit that helps the family. Vanif likely has a cross between future sight and mercantility, a great one to grow the family’s holdings. Despite his success, though, his family will strip him of everything when they find out about his relationship with his secretary and the marriage will be dissolved.”
“Can you think of any way around this?” Raulin asked. “What if I warned him and told him he needs to sleep with his wife.”
“It doesn’t work that way, Raulin,” Anla said. “Some homophiles are closer to just interested, some fancy both men and women, and some loath the idea of being with the opposite gender. You can’t make them change. If that were they case, half the children who took in my siblings and I in Hanala wouldn’t have been kicked out of their homes when their parents realized what they were. You just can’t expect a man who loves another man enough to exchange a vow like that to just close his eyes and pretend.”
“You’re saying he loves men and only men.”
“Yes. He will never be happy with his wife. He probably would have been ecstatic if she had become pregnant with your child.”
“How do you know she won’t?” Al asked. “It’s a possibility.”
Raulin said nothing for a few minutes. Finally, he said, “The tea I drink in the morning doesn’t kill my childhood memories, it makes me sterile.”
Al’s eyes narrowed. “Why did you lie about that?”
“Why were you eavesdropping?”
“I wasn’t eavesdropping. You were speaking loudly.”
“Whatever you want to call it, Wizard, it was information you didn’t need to know and I didn’t want you to know. I still don’t, but it was important that you know.”
“Why was it important? So you can’t have kids. That’s probably a great thing for you, since you sleep around so much.”
“I want children.”
There was silence for a few moments. “But you can’t have them because…”
“Precisely. Would you like me to go on about all the other things I hate about my life? Let’s start with being forced to betray one of my good friends.”
“You could falsify the paperwork.”
“If discovered, Arvarikor will flay me, and I mean that literally since their favorite form of punishment is whipping. People pay hundreds of gold for our contracts because they know it will get done and it will get done right. Faking the contract would tarnish their reputation and erode the clarity and honesty they’ve built up in Gheny.”
“So, you don’t really have a choice, then. You have to report him.”
“Nothing? You’ve come up with nothing?”
“For now! Give me some time; I just woke up!”
Raulin got up abruptly and left.
“Why does he expect astounding brilliance from me at eight in the morning?”
“I’d take it as a compliment,” she answered. “He knows you’re capable of amazing things.”
“But does he have to be so crabby about it?”
“He’s in pain, Al. It’s a hard choice he has to make. He’s hoping he doesn’t have to make it.”
He nodded, which was about as much sympathy Anla could expect from him. “I don’t think I’m going to find a work-around. The law is the law. “
“Try. For me, if not for him.”