February 27, 2018

In Which Ellona Is Up in the Air

April 19, 1205

Classes had finished over an hour ago, and Ravenhold Keep was not so close to the school grounds that Ellona could dawdle much if she wanted to be home for supper. Supper, however, was not sufficient motivation to hurry.

Her malcontent was probably stupid. Yes, Rahileine--until mere days ago, her youngest and only sibling--was eight. Yes, there was a four-year gap between the two of them. But her parents were still reasonably young, and Ellona knew enough to suspect that the years between children had less to do with any biological difficulties than it did with the fact that pregnancy had not been a comfortable state for her mother, and the fact that both of them had expressed concern more than once about the kingdom's exponential population growth. They were able, healthy adults with--little as she cared to think about it--an active sex life. The eventual third child had likely been inevitable, and its being a boy had been more or less the toss of a coin.

But that toss of a coin had dispelled Ellona's future. Lady Ellona of Ravenhold might have been an improbable scenario, but until her brother's birth, it had been the foreseeable one. Her parents had talked politics with her, let her sit in on conferences, allotted her the occasional duty that came with running their shire. She liked it enough that she doubted they'd take that from her, but there'd be no practical purpose barring any deaths she didn't want to consider. She'd have to start from scratch, to figure out something else to do with her life.

What, though? Both of her grandmothers were self-made women, so that wasn't impossible. But a self-made woman needed a goal, a vision. An idea. Having grown up thinking her future had been laid out for her, Ellona had none of those.

"Huh. I didn't think anyone else was still here."

She looked up, and the long-faced, lanky scarecrow figure that was Bernver Lowan smiled back at her. She greeted him with a blink. She had nothing against Bernver, but she'd never had much to do with him either. The most they'd ever spoken must have been about borrowing a quill.

"I mean--I live near here, at least. You don't."

"I know where I live." She watched his smile twitch somewhat. Perhaps that had been a little snippy. "I needed a place to think." A place that won't one day be the domain of Lord Falidor.

"Oh. Uh, do you want me to leave, then?"

Ellona shrugged. "You can stay if you want. I don't care."

"All right." He sat down at the other side of her table. "Do you want to talk, or--?"

"I don't care." Or maybe she did. A distraction might have been nice. "What do you think you'll do when you're older?"

"Me? Huh. I guess I don't think about it that much." That wasn't surprising. Who did? Until a few days ago, she certainly hadn't. "I'll probably end up being a steward, like my father."

"Do you want to be a steward?"

"Hmm. 'Want' might not be the right word, but I can't really think of anything preferable." And that, really, was the problem. That, plus the fact that there wasn't that was preferable to being Lady Ellona of Ravenhold. "Why do you ask?"

"Because apparently a newborn is more qualified than I am to be my father's heir, so my future is a bit up in the air at the moment."

"Oh." His grin faltered. At least he knew better than to mock her for thinking her parents would never have a son, as she herself had spent the better part of a week doing. "I, uh... I don't really know what to say about that. Other than that I think you'd be a great Lady Ravenhold, that is."

She snorted. "You don't know me."

"No, but I know that you take charge on projects and that others follow your lead. That's something, at least." Again, a grin. Did his mouth even know how to frown? "If you're thinking about this, at least you know how to think about the future. Most of us don't, I think. It's just easier to assume you'll do what your parents do, and maybe that's why so many of us never bother to do anything different, even if there's nothing we'd like more anyway."

"Maybe." But she wasn't quite sure she was ready to make anything of that. "You might not think about the future much, but you have some interesting insights on the present."

"Maybe--but it's probably best to balance both, somehow." Balance--that, she could possibly do, eventually. That was the main job of a lord or lady or empress, after all, even if it was nice to have an aim for that balance. "Anyway, would you maybe like me to walk you home? If your parents ask, we can say you stayed back to tutor me in mathematics; I know my parents would say I need it."