Takes after his mother, he does
I always figured that a great deal of what makes Andrej dangerous actually comes from his mother’s side of the house — but then, again, that’s the line of Chuvishka Kospodar, so it makes sense.
Ossipia Carvataya was as tall as he was, but her hair was as black as the overblouse of a Ship’s Prime or a Command Branch officer, and her eyes were as bright blue as young Anton’s. Andrej knelt down on the carpet in front of her chair to kiss the hem of her apron, and – he hoped, against his better judgment – to receive her blessing. He had got his own form and features through his father’s side of the family, although one had to go back several generations to find shaggy blond hair and a scowl like that of a wild mowcan. Stubbornness and willfulness, however, were his natal-gifts from his mother; at least she had accused herself of cursing him with her own failings on more than one occasion, when he’d been younger.
“You are impetuous, son Andrej.”
Pressing his lips to the broad band of embroidery that delineated the bottom of her apron, Andrej made to rise. He was going to get no blessing out of her. There was too much disapproval there, in her voice.
“I have only done what I judged needful, most honored.”
Leaning forward, she put her hand to his shoulder before he’d found his feet, and let him know by the imperious pressure of her strong thin hand that she was not finished with him by half. He knelt back down obediently, feeling ten years old. All Dolgorukij in their mothers’ presence were ten years old, at best.
“You are too willful. And you have so much grieved your father, who wishes very much to be proud of you. What was in your mind, to spit in his beard, in that manner?”
He would kneel; it did not harm him, to respect his mother so far as that. He would not bend his head to bare his neck, however. “It does not dishonor my father to acknowledge my son. It is an uncertain world, most honored. If I return from Ragnarok again, it is one thing. But I have come to understand that I may not return.”
That was at least part of the truth; it was certainly as much truth as he could tell her, here and now. She was already upset. No need to make things worse.
“You think too much of yourself, unnatural child that you are. Have you no shame?”
Oh, if only she knew. “It was for the Blood and not for myself that I did it, most honored. I would not want a child of other parents to carry the name of your son.” In other words, he’d elected Anton to be his heir so that Lise Semyonevna’s first-born – when she had a child – could not challenge Koscuisko for control of the familial corporation on the basis of pledged partnership. It was not a very convincing rationalization, as far as Andrej was concerned. It didn’t have to be. All it had to do was to work well enough to shut his mother up.
“And, it may be that thou art right, after all,” she said, as if to herself. The touch of her hand on his shoulder had lightened considerably from imperious demand to mild entreaty. “There is the word that the Bench Specialist brings. Kneel you forward, child, that I may give you blessing.”
Bench Specialist? What news? Why did his dark suspicions leap to pin the neutral phrase on some messenger from Secretary Verlaine’s damned entourage?
Setting his two hands on the chair’s arms to either side of her, Andrej bent his head over her lap with precise formality. She put her hands lightly to the back of his head, leaning forward to speak the words in his ear.
“Be hale, my son, be healthy. Enrich with your children the land, and honor your father always. This is the blessing of your mother, upon the head of her firstborn.”
He was not “firstborn” in the technical sense. Mayra was older than he was. But the gender of the word in the liturgical language was masculine both in its modifiers and its full range of semantic markers. It was not up to him to argue.
Catching at her hand, he kissed her thumb with an affectionate gesture before he rose to his feet. “What Bench Specialist is that, most honored?”
She rose in turn, demanding the loan of his arm for support with a little tap of her fingers at his elbow. “From Chilleau Judiciary, she who brought us news after Burkhayden. You are to give to her a few words, Andrej, tomorrow morning or tomorrow afternoon.”
Oh, wonderful. Yes, he remembered her, Jils Ivers. He had not enjoyed his acquaintance, although to be fair it had been nothing to do with the woman herself. Stildyne had seemed to know her, from his earlier days. “But first, most honored?” She meant to go forward, by her gesture. Surely there was nothing to look at in her reception room that she had not examined time and again – nothing except his Security.
“The Autocrat’s Proxy will receive you in three hours, you will speak to her of the Selection. There is to be dancing tonight. Which one of these is whom, my son?”
Her question made it sound as though she already knew their names, as though she had heard stories about them in his letters. And he had hardly written letters. She had intrigued them even so, by asking it, and in plain Standard – even while they had no way of knowing what a concession it was on his mother’s part to speak Standard at all. She had made each of them feel important and admired, all with a simple question. She had a talent for such gestures. She had a formidable sense of touch, with personalities.
“Maut Ivish is an onboard systems engineer, from Algis, especially good when one’s mood is not. Here is Smish Smath, our weaponer, she has made us very proud of her skill, in our recent exercises.”
His mother stopped him. “I know this is Pyotr, and he must be Kerenko. Was it indeed true about the – er – the unusual celebration decorations in, oh, Gross Tissue Displacement had you said, my son?”
She had them in the palm of her capable and autocratic hand. Her son could only bow to her charisma in bemused affection. “Most honored, please, you will put us all to the blush.” He had not even remembered telling about the Sarvaw party-hats – fish-heads, resplendent in purple and green and blue, gloriously and transcendentally rude. And perhaps he hadn’t. There were Malcontents on the premises; it was not beyond them to have provided her with such bits of information as she felt would put his Security at their ease.
“I say nothing, I have said nothing. I know nothing. Perhaps you are Talle Illerau, then. Which leaves only Security Chief Stildyne.”
An interview with the Autocrat’s Proxy, and by now no-one would be surprised if he told her exactly what he felt about the Selection and the Second Judge. Dinner, and dancing; he had not had a chance to participate with Pavel I’shenko’s people at Burkhayden, he would be off his form. It didn’t matter. He had his mother’s blessing and his father had asked to be received at the Matredonat. Anton was safe, no matter what should come of the Selection.
A few days and he’d be back at his own house.
For a few days Andrej supposed that he could do his best to mind his manners.