(Set directly before Gaining Favour)
Five years and one week since the Upheaval
All things considered, this isn’t unexpected. It’s not like there’s anything else left to do. He’d pray, but if anything could be said to move the Warrior, he’s learning it isn’t prayer. At least, not prayer from Armand Cargan. He’d train, but that would mean leaving this room, which is, honestly, more than impossible, and also completely never going to happen in any way whatsoever. He’d rage a little about the illogic of it all – about the temerity of his cousin even pretending to sound reasonable; about the imposition of Uncle Walter telling him to discard all principles, all morals, all sense of proportion, and be civil with that walking affront to the family pride; about the implausibility of literally anyone taking up Francesco Graves on the offer of a dinner date – but he’s hashed over all of that pretty thoroughly over the past few hours, to the point where even he’s willing to call it a day, oratorically speaking.
Hunched double over a delicate rosewood escritoire, Armand taps the nib of his pen against his teeth. Grimaces.
“Tell me,” he tells Emily, without bothering to look over his shoulder, “what’s another way of saying ‘gross breach of ethical protocol’?”
It isn’t like there’s anything else to do other than write.
“… ‘Penelope’?” comes the nonchalant reply.
Frankly, in the grand scheme of things, he’s doing quite well. Admirably, really. Circumstances may have conspired to level everything he’s believed in up till this point, but damned if he’ll let it rattle him. He’d like to see Emily deal with the sudden demolition of all she ever held ideologically dear.
He’d like to see his cousin. At an ideological loss, yes, but also – in general.
That, in itself, is definitely part of the problem. Urgh.
“I’m trying to do something serious here,” he tosses back, irritated. Scowling at the taste of ink on the tip of his tongue. “You could at least pretend to help.”
He writes it down anyway. Penelope, right where the quill has bled. A stark, black splodge on clean parchment.
“Also shorthand for ‘bullshit’,” he mutters. The damp ink gleams, apparently in agreement.
He slaps a palm down on the centre of the paper, shoving at it until the letters blur. Several seconds later, it flutters down to join approximately thirty-eight of its scrunched-up fellows at the foot of the table.
“I hope you’re not expecting me to tidy this up,” remarks Emily, blandly, from the corner of the room.
“Don’t be stupid – I mean, what are servants for?” says Armand, automatically.
Emily rolls her eyes without retort, and returns to reading one of the discarded treatises he’d thrown across the floor a couple of hours ago. She’s got about four or five of them on the go, meticulously uncrumpled. Digesting them with unnerving scrutiny. He’d commented on that several treatises back, but that had only led to an irritable exchange about how Armand needs to stop being an ass, and Emily needs to stop biting Armand’s head off every time he treads on her delicate sensibilities. Followed by the fifth reluctant truce of the evening.
Now, ten minutes into Truce Number Nine, he’s pretty sure he’s done something to tread on her delicate sensibilities again. The gods alone know how.
That or, once again, he’s completely failed to find the right words.
“Fine. Don’t be helpful, then.”
If he’d found the right words during the public meeting, he might have done some good: not the least, staved off total humiliation. If he’d been at that thrice-damned Council debate, he might have found the words then – given time, and practice, and maybe a family-sponsored ghostwriter – and done even more. Not the least, staved off further total humiliation.
As is, the words have become a torrent, and it’s write or be drowned. If nothing else, he’s in no danger of running out. Nor, it seems, is he in any danger of stumbling on the right ones.
Penelope Cargan, he writes again, in steady cursive, just to see how it looks on the page.
Perhaps mercifully, it doesn’t look right either.
This one, he tears straight down the centre.