Variations on a Theme
They hadn't forgotten about her. They had tried, it was true, tried to completely cut ties with her, pretend there'd never been a Chandler named Trisana. And it was easy, for a time, after she'd been given away to the Temples. Out of sight, out of mind – most of the townsfolk forgot Darra and Valden'd ever had a child
They tried so hard that nobody even gave House Chandler a thought when those blasted rumors about a prodigious child-mage began circulating. A child-mage for whom lightning came to heel like a pet, who could and would kill without batting an eyelash. The first of the rumors, coupled with news of Aymery's death, was a blow to the whole of House Chandler.
Promising Aymery of the bright eyes and easy smile, with his expensive Lightsbridge credentials and charming parlor tricks – it was almost unbelievable that so bright a life could be killed by pirates so easily. Of course, rumors had it that he had betrayed Emelan to pirates, but surely one of House Chandler would never stoop that low. (And get caught.)
Those rumors were as absurd as the idea that the girl they had abandoned as useless was some sort of prodigy mage.
In any case, Emelan was far enough from Capchen that Darra and Valden, at least, never had to really think about their not-daughter, and soon those rumors died down, too, and there was peace.
So when Darra and Valden found it necessary to visit Emelan on business, they weren't quite so concerned at all. At least, not until they arrived.
Darra was frightened the first day they arrived in Emelan, terrified she would bump into her not-daughter around the corner, terrified that Trisana would hunt them down for abandoning her, and almost collapsed in hysterics. Valden sighed in disgust, told her there was no dealing with her when she was like this, and to come back to discuss this with him when she wasn't being a ninny, which only exacerbated her panic attack.
The next morning, she emerged from her rooms with dry if slightly red eyes and pursed lips. A Chandler never showed weakness to the outside world. Valden grumbled a "Finally" and they went out and did their business.
After five days of business and negotiations that left Valden and Darra both drained and triumphant, they decided to spend the last day wandering the markets together, taking note of which prospects seemed most viable.
They had almost forgotten the not-daughter, as they examined silk from Yanjing, and then copper from Namorn. It was on their way to observe some of the finer shakkans of the region, though, when some Trader collided with them.
"Watch where you're going!" Valden snapped, then sniffed. "I didn't know they let trash in here."
The Trader's eyes flashed, but a different voice cut in. "Well, if they let you in, anyone must be allowed," a baritone drawled.
Valden turned to what must be the Trader's friends – two well-dressed girls and an insolent boy. "Look here, now," Valden began, "I'll not be insulted-"
"Then you shouldn't be insulting others," the better-dressed girl said quite firmly.
"It's alright, Sandry – these kaqs really just don't know any better," the Trader said coolly.
The other girl, though, she was developing quite the look of horror on her face – a look that mirrored Darra's, Valden noticed.
"Valden," Darra hissed, "she's got Uraelle's eyes!"
"Mother? Father?" the girl asked, quite viscerally shocked.
Darra shrunk away. "You must be mistaken," she said, her voice quavering. "I have no daughter."
The girl flinched.
"Is this …?" the girl next to her asked.
"They're my pare- they people who threw me out," she said unwaveringly. "Darra and Valden Chandler."
Three sets of eyes swung back to look at them. Darra flinched.
"I see House Chandler has done well for itself," she continued, eyeing their clothing. "Probably in Emelan on business."
"And I see you've been exorcised or something by the Temples," Valden observed, not giving an inch. "I hope you don't think House Chandler will take you back after all the property damage and emotional trauma you've induced."
"Excuse me," the well-dressed noble (she must be a noble, with that attitude) interrupted. "But Tris is doing quite well for herself – no thanks to you. She's an accomplished mage accredited by both Winding Circle and Lightsbridge, the first of her kind. She-"
"Don't bother nattering these bleaters," the boy advised. "If they passed up on a good thing once, they'll do so again."
Darra, during this conversation, was staring in horror at the lightning sparking at the tip of her not-daughter's braids. "Valden," she said, her voice rising in panic, "she's not cured! Look- look- look at that …"
"I don't need to be cured," the not-daughter said coolly, "I'm a mage. And I really think you should go before I lose my temper."
"Whatever you are, be sure to stay far away from Capchen," Valden threatened tremulously. "I don't care whether you're a mage or a ghost or a- a- a- just stay away from us!"
"Well, you stay away from her!" the noble said sharply.
But they'd already turned to leave, leave behind this piece of sordid history they'd hoped would never see the light of day again. And because they didn't turn once to look at her, they didn't see her proud face – an expression so much like her father. They didn't see her carefully not-trembling lip as she kept her composure, exuding a serenity reminiscent of Darra these days.
No, all they saw was their fear.
He seemed like such a charming boy when he helped with her bags at the market. He'd carried them for her all the way to the stall, and had not flinched when her aunt and uncle had scolded her for letting him take them, lest he be a thief. Instead, he had turned up at the end of the day when she was just about done, and offered to buy her a drink. Her cousins had all giggled over his good lucks and ravishing eyes, but she had been the one he asked.
He had been ever so nice at the tavern, too, helping her over puddles and paying for her food and not pushing things on her, and responding just the right way to her flirtations. (It could be so hard to find the right kind of flirt, who knew how far to go and no further.) So when he had mentioned that it was getting late and he lived nearby, and he'd be more than happy to invite her to stay the night, both he and she had known what he had really meant.
They started kissing on the way back, and almost couldn't wait for the house. He had mentioned that he lived with two foster-sisters and a few servants, but they would probably be asleep, so they tried to be quiet as they snuck into the house and to his room. After they got to his room, well, being quiet was the last thing on their minds.
Before she knew it, it was the morning after, and she stretched, lazy and catlike, as she watched him sleep. Their dalliance had been fun, but she needed to get back to the stall before her shift started, so she quietly dressed.
She woke him, of course, and he watched her as she dressed. "Do you have to go so soon?" he asked.
"I have to be back at the stall," she said, "but my shift ends at the same time tonight. I had fun last night and would be more than willing to repeat the experience – you know where to find me." She shot him a flirtatious look, which he returned.
"I'll help you-"
"No, it's not problem, really." She smiled. "Get your rest, as you sure didn't get any last night."
Briar (that was his name – what an odd name for a boy) laughed. "Okay, but feel free to swing by the kitchen and grab something to eat on your way out. My foster-sibs won't mind; they're used to my habits."
Annice laughed – not all flings were this easy – and headed out.
That's when things went wrong. Annice had thought nobody would be up this early, and she would be able to drop by the kitchen without any awkward meetings. Imagine her surprise when saw a Trader girl in the kitchen, a cup of tea in her hands.
The girl didn't even seem fazed – "There's fruit on the table, oatmeal in the pot."
"You're Briar's foster-sister?" Annice could barely hide her astonishment. A Trader?
The girl's eyes flickered. "Daja Kisubo."
"Oh," Annice said, uncertain of what to say. Why was that name familiar? "Um, I'm Annice. Annice Chandler."
"Daja, have you seen the- oh."
Annice turned around to see yet another girl, short, plump with familiar eyes. Gray eyes she could have sworn dominated her nightmares when she was-
"Tris?" she said, incredulously, barely concealing her flinch.
The other girl seemed confused at first, then- "Cousin Annice?" she guessed. "What are you doing here?" she asked, obviously disoriented. Her eyes flicked up. "You're Briar's latest fling?"
"What are you doing here?" Annice asked, confused. "Last I heard, you were being dedicated to the Living Circle." Seeing Tris's slightly incredulous look, she admitted, "I guessed it meant they'd given up and sent you there."
"Yes, I was at the Stone Circle Temple for a while, then the Broken Circle Temple," Tris said, "then I ended up at Winding Circle, where I was trained and now I have my own place. That I share."
"Do you … Have you heard from Aunt Darra and Uncle Valden at all?" Annice ventured.
"Last time I met any of House Chandler, it was Aymery," Tris said harshly. "I don't know if you know how that turned out."
"I'm, … I'm here with Aunt Darra and Uncle Valden," Annice said finally. "We'll be in town for two more days. Your foster-brother Briar will know where to find us. If you want to … you know."
Tris looked at Annice. "The first thing you felt when you saw me – it was fear."
Annice didn't deny it. Her last memory of Tris were of angry gray eyes in a short, fat cousin standing out in the rain amidst a heavy hailstorm. The hailstones had been the size of her fist (though granted, her fist had been smaller then), and she had been terrified the roof would break underneath their pounding. Her parents sent Tris away the next day.
"You know my parents," Tris said dryly. "They would just as well I were dead."
Perhaps now was not the best time to mention the way everyone in the family referred to Tris as if she were dead, or that she had an unmarked tombstone in the family plot. (Personally, she thought the latter was going a bit too far, but that was Uncle Valden and Aunt Darra for you.)
"Perhaps not dead," Annice hedged unconvincingly. She looked up at the clock, instead, and faked a startled, "Oh no, I'm going to be late. Aunt Darra will box me for certain! It was nice seeing you again, Cousin Tris," a pause for a polite "Likewise" that was grudgingly spat out, "and don't forget to come visit the stall! We leave tomorrow."
And then she was out the door, and she didn't have to think about the matter again.
Aunt Darra did box her, and send her scurrying to her place, but she was too distracted by the thought of the strange and frightful Cousin Tris to whine about it as much as she usually did. She worked until nightfall, and then hesitated as she was closing up the stall to see if someone, anyone came. She ignored the other girls' titters when nobody did.
She wasn't surprised that Cousin Tris hadn't come – Cousin Tris did know Uncle Valden and Aunt Darra well. They wouldn't have taken it kindly. She also wasn't surprised that Briar hadn't shown up. Even if Briar was a two-night-stand kind of man, he certainly wouldn't think it appropriate to invite her over to his place again, given the history there.
She did wonder though, the next day, as her ship was leaving harbor and she had a moment of peace amidst the chaos of the Chandler family, what Cousin Tris had done.
Had she cried? Had she thought about it at all? Had she ever come part of the way, and then turned back? Had she possibly watched from a distance? Or maybe she had put it out of her mind and forgotten it completely. Maybe Cousin Tris didn't even feel a twinge anymore when she thought of House Chandler. Maybe she had laughed about it with her foster-siblings, afterwards. Maybe ...
Annice supposed she would never know, now.
Trista Moss was happy. Well, maybe not happy. But content. She was at Lightsbridge, and had access to Lightsbridge's library, which was huge-
Figures that's what would please Coppercurls the most.
-and even if certain foster brothers and sisters wouldn't shut up when she was trying to pay attention to the professor-
"What do you think, Miss Moss?"
"I think that the idea has some merit, but would be impossible in practice." Luckily, she could multitask. While she elaborated on her answer, she mentally scolded Briar.
"And what are you reactions to Miss Moss's hypothesis, Mr. … Chandler?"
Tris flinched viscerally. She'd thus far managed to avoid Lannard Chandler of House Chandler even though they were in the same class, but this was apparently about to change.
"As lovely as Miss Moss may be on the outside," Lannard said smoothly, "within, she appears to be dull as the copper from Chammur. The challenges she postulates are so hypothetical to the point of being absurd, and hardly disqualify the idea from realistic, judicious use."
"The scenarios I postulate are improbable but are nonetheless possible," Tris said sharply, forgetting herself. She ignored Briar's snickering, And who is this upstart who dares contradict Her Majesty Trisana at the back of her head, nor Daja's and Sandry's admonishments, before she was off. "As a matter of fact, considering just such possibilities is vital to arriving at the most objective evaluation."
She and Lannard would have continued arguing for the remainder of the class if the professor hadn't cut them off to move on to his next question.
At the end of class, as she was about to head off for lunch with a few of her recent acquaintances (a lunch invitation Sandry had begged and pleaded with her to accept before she agreed), Lannard approached.
"I find your viewpoint on the Fortean Ethical Theory critique fascinating," he confessed, "even if I completely disagree. I was hoping I could continue discussing it with you over lunch?"
"I have plans," Tris said shortly.
(Tris! Don't be rude. That'd be Sandry.)
"Dinner, then?" Lannard suggested.
"Lunch tomorrow?" Lannard soldiered on.
"I don't much like to talk about class outside of class," Tris lied. "Why don't you ask me again later." She tried to make her tone as discouraging as possible.
He's family, Sandry said quietly. Even if he doesn't know it. Aren't you at all curious about what's going on back in Ninver? In Capchen?
No, Tris snarled.
I'm with Coppercurls on this, Briar said cheerfully. If they didn't want her, why should she want them?
Daja? What's your take on this? Sandry asked.
It is true that you have no reason to forgive your family, Daja observed after a moment of silence. But did you not create Trista Moss so you could leave behind temporarily the name, the fame, the loves and the grudges, the history of Trisana Chandler so you could try at being someone with fewer worries, if only for a while?
That wasn't exactly the reason, but she had argued it at one point, it was true.
He is making an effort. And you are Trista Moss. Trista Moss has no grudge against House Chandler. Might as well see how it goes.
That was true, Tris acknowledged.
Who knows, there might even be reconciliation in your future, Tris! Sandry said cheerfully.
Tris rather doubted it. Even if Lannard were, for whatever reason, to find out her true identity and, for whatever reason, didn't react badly, that didn't mean her parents would grow new personalities.
"Next week, before class then?" Lannard made one last attempt.
He probably thinks he's asking me out on a date, Tris scowled mentally.
That book-obsessed guy? Briar asked disbelievingly. He's probably one of the only people I wouldn't think had un-academic intentions. He more likely just wants to win the argument with you.
Well, he's not going to, Tris thought firmly. And, if only to prove the strength of her argument, Tris supposed, she agreed. "Alright. Next week before class."
So maybe she hadn't left House Chandler as far behind as she had thought.
When Trisana Chandler opens the door, she's not sure what she expects to see. A peddler, maybe, or Sandry dropping by for a surprise visit, or Daja back early from the forge.
She doesn't recognize the woman at first, with her windblown hair and red, puffy eyes. "Can I help you, Miss …?" she asked coolly.
Tris moves to shut the door, but the woman – her mother, Tris reminds herself – stops her.
"I know you don't – can't – understand why I might have made certain choices in my life, and I know you probably have not forgiven me, but this is important."
"What do you want?"
"Can I come in, at least?"
"I try only to invite welcome guests inside," Tris says coldly. "State your business."
"Your brother – do you remember him?"
Tris does, only vaguely. A young baby who was born without his older sister's flaws – the new perfect son and heir needed for a perfect family. Probably the catalyst for her parents' decision – wouldn't want Tris's powers harming the new baby.
"His name is Parkis, right?"
"Yes. Well, he made some bad decisions so House Chandler disowned him. Now he is sick. The healers are asking for an exorbitant amount, but House Chandler won't pay for any of it."
"He wouldn't marry where they willed," Tris's mother sighs. "Preferred company of a different sort."
"So you want money." It figures, that the only time her parents show up in her life is when they need money. Merchants to the bone, one might say.
"Yes." Darra Chandler is not ashamed, Tris sees, because Darra is unafraid to bow her head and lose her dignity if it means her flesh and blood will live. (Obviously, she doesn't really think of Tris as her daughter anymore. This hurts less than Tris thinks it should.)
"How much?" Tris asks, and does not pale at the exorbitant sum.
She doesn't have the money, but she can get it easily. Briar is independently wealthy, as is Daja, as is Sandry. She could be, if she settled down and got a job, but that's neither here nor there. She has most of the money, though, and can afford to give it up. When did she end up with more money than her p- than those who threw her out?
"Why should I give you the money?" Tris wants to know, mainly because she wants to know what this woman will answer.
"You have no reason," Darra Chandler says. "I could say he is your brother, but it is our fault you never got to know him. I could say he shares your flesh and blood, but then, you and I know what people can do to their own flesh and blood. I could appeal to your better nature, but you always were a hard child."
Tris waits, but there is no more. Darra Chandler is not going to sugarcoat anything. This is most evidently her last resort, and she doesn't expect much from it. Tris is not cruel; she doesn't draw it out. "I don't have all of the money on me, but I can give you half tomorrow, half at a later date."
Darra looks as if she doesn't believe her ears.
"There is a condition, of course." This, Darra has expected. Tris is, after all, her daughter. "I want to meet him. He does know he has a sister, right?"
Judging by the look on Darra's face, Tris guesses he didn't.
"Well, I suppose you'll get to tell him. That is all. I will see you tomorrow."
This time, when she closes the door, Darra doesn't stop her. As she leans against the door, she wonders when she stopped thinking of Darra Chandler as her mother.
When Darra Chandler opens the door, she's not sure what she expects to see. A peddler, maybe, or Valden home early from the docks, or Cousin Uraelle back from the dead to berate her for purchasing the cloth for the wedding dress at three silver astrels a yard instead of two and a crescent.
She doesn't recognize the girl at first, with her carefully braided hair and her prim and proper spectacles. "Can I help you, Miss …?" Darra asks, coldly. If the girl's peddling wares, or looking for charity, she'll shut the door in her face.
"Hello, Mother. I'm here for Mayna's wedding."
The light hits her just the right way, and Darra sees Valden's eyes. Valden's eyes and the infamous Chandler cheekbones and those ears – those ears are from her side of the family.
"I'm- B- … Wh- …" For the first time since she was six and a half, Darra is at a loss for words.
"I won't disturb you long," Trisana says. (It must be Trisana.) "But since I was passing through, I thought I might pay my respects to my sister and her groom-to-be."
Darra is not sure whether to invite her to come in, or to shut the door in her face. She is not sure what to take in, Trisana's well-to-do clothing, or the occasional lightning spark she could have sworn was jumping around her braids.
"Who is it, mother?" a voice asks from behind her, and Darra is too bewildered to answer.
"Mayna," Trisana says, just a little more warmly. "I've come for your wedding, like you requested."
"Mayna?" Darra asks, recovering her voice. "What is she talking about?"
Mayna looks much discomfited. "I couldn't get married and not invite my sister," she says at last. Then, "Here, Tris, I wasn't sure if you were coming, but I did set out a spare room, just in case."
"Is that what you were doing?" Darra asks. "Going behind my back to, to-"
"To what, mother?" Mayna asks, defiant perhaps for the first time in her life. (Why couldn't Mayna should this much spirit in negotiations, Darra despairs, if she did, she wouldn't be such the hopeless case that she was.) "To invite family, even if I haven't seen her in well nigh a decade? I had to ask strangers for her address so I could write. I had to rely on rumors before I knew she was even alive anymore!"
"Do you think I'm bad mother, because of this?" Darra demands. "Is it my fault that she-"
"Perhaps we should continue this conversation inside," Trisana suggests coolly. "Away from prying ears?"
Flushing, Darra nods, and moves to shut the door.
"I'm sorry to cause so much distress," Trisana continues when the door closed. "This was not my intention." The words are cool and distant. "But as I was on my way back to Emelan, I thought I might drop by before Mayna's wedding."
"Back to Emelan?" Darra falters.
"From Lightsbridge, right?" Mayna supplies. "How many more years before you receive your license?"
"One more," Trisana half-smiles.
"Then Tris'll be a mage twice over, Ma," Mayna says, looking at her mother. Calculating something. Maybe how much good a twice-accredited mage would be for the family. More likely how many more accreditations Trisana would need to accumulate before her mother accepted her.
"I'm not staying long," Trisana says, "so no need for the spare room. I have a pressing engagement back in Emelan. But I did want to drop by and wish you well."
"Can you stay for an hour at least?" Mayna asks urgently.
And before Darra can help herself, she speaks. "Yes, stay for a while." She has surprised her daughters, she can tell. She has surprised herself.
Trisana smiles the first smile Darra has seen in a long time.
"Well, maybe for a while."
And the other time:
It will be a clear day, a normal day, a market day for Tris and Briar and Daja, while Sandry tags along. They will be out of eggs, and out of oatmeal, and Briar will need some new seedlings, and Tris will want some new books, and Daja will want to see some of the newest metal wares from Ninver. Sandry will tag along just because, but also because she would like to examine up close some of the patterns she saw her cook bring home from the market yesterday.
They will walk there on foot, because the house is not so far, and won't be arm-in-arm because that would be silly, but will be walking close together and talking and laughing. Sandry will spot something right off the bat that she must show the others, and though they meant to go their separate ways at some point to look at different stalls, they will travel together from the booksellers to the metalsmiths to the newest shakkans to the weaver's. They will also go look at chairs, because Briar broke one when attempting "shenanigans" on it with his latest girl.
They will be on their way to look at some cheap baubles, the girls for themselves and Briar for his latest girl, when it happens.
Tris will bump into a sour-looking man and woman, who sharply bark at her to watch where she's going.
Tris will mean to snap back, but her friends are beckoning. She will note the fine and sturdy quality of their clothing and try to place their status (merchants, most likely?), but her friends are beckoning. She will think they look familiar and mean to get a second look, but her friends are beckoning.
As for the man and the woman, they will have better things to do with their time than bicker with a foolish, clumsy girl, and they are concerned about their upcoming negotiations with the Traders, so even if they think the girl's eyes flash the same way Aunt Uraelle's did on occasion, they have better things to do.
And so, on this day, Tris and the couple will part ways, and neither party will realize what has just transpired.