Corin looked up from the book open in front of him. The Laures estate house wasn't as large and lavish as many, and as a younger—and far from favoured—child, his room was correspondingly smaller and simpler. That was fine by him: not being in the same part of the building as his parents and elder siblings tended to make it easier for them to overlook his existence, or at least how he spent his time.
It didn't always help, though. He'd know that bellow anywhere. Not a week passed without hearing it.
Resignedly, he laid his tattered ribbon bookmark in place and closed the book before heading out to the upstairs landing that, after a corner or two, linked the corridor outside his door to the corridor outside the rooms of his parents.
Lord and Lady Laures both this time, and both looked annoyed and impatient.
I wonder what I did wrong this time? Or at least, what I did so much more wrong than usual...
He tried his best to keep his sigh to himself as he stopped before them, eyes low, hands linked submissively in front of him. He had no idea what to say. “I'm sorry and I'll try not to do it again, whatever it was,” tended to be heard by his father as sarcasm. It didn't matter, since they launched into today's list of sins before he could have opened his mouth anyway.
“You're supposed to be at a horsemanship lesson right now,” his father said. “I don't hire tutors for my own benefit. I expect you to make use of their skills to learn something.”
“They aren't just for me,” Corin felt compelled to point out, even knowing it wouldn't help.
“Your sisters spend more time with the riding master than you do! Which is just as well, since your brothers no longer need him, and if it were entirely up to you, he'd be lazing around with no work at all!”
I can ride well enough to get around, why do I need more than that? He'd asked it before, and the reply generally involved the phrase “manly arts,” so he'd given up. A suggestion to dismiss the riding master would probably get his ears boxed for impudence. He settled for, “Yessir,” eyes fixed firmly on the floor.
“You will not shame this family by becoming some spineless effeminate weakling useful for nothing but pandering to real men. You will live up to your name!”
“Yessir.” That's about as likely as his favourite hound learning to recite poetry.
“I am running out of patience with this nonsense. Keep this up, and I'll have to take more drastic action.”
“Yessir.” You've been saying the first part for as long as I can remember, and using that threat for at least two years. It's hard to come up with drastic action that punishes me worse without it being public gossip and bad for the family name.
“You've been upsetting the kitchen staff again,” Lady Laures reproved him, when her husband paused. “What were you doing with that deer?”
“I wanted to look at the anatomy of its internal organs fresh, before they went into pie or to the dogs.”
“What in the All-Father's name for?”
“To compare them to the organs from the pig that was slaughtered last week,” he said reluctantly. “And the ones from the hares three days ago.”
“To see how they're different and how they're the same.” That is what compare means. “To see how they work.”
“If you wanted to hunt, that would be fine,” Lord Laures said with a scowl. “I'd certainly encourage that. But wanting to be up to your elbows in the blood and guts of animals being cleaned for the kitchen, that's not natural. They're food, what difference does it make what's inside that's the same or not?”
“It's a way to understand.”
“Everything. The way the world works.”
“The way the world works is this. I'm your father and your Lord, and you will do as you're told. You will spend less time in your damned books and you will stop upsetting the kitchen staff, and the gardening staff with whatever you were doing a fortnight ago...”
“I wanted to see the way the roots grow.” Corin bit his lip hard, regretting that as soon as it was out.
“You will stay away from the kennels. The kennel master is rather unhappy that every time you're near the dogs, things happen. A whelp you say is doing poorly dies, the white-eared bitch who runs like the wind's chasing her turns up lame...”
“I don't hurt them! I just watch them! She was starting to favour one hind leg a little, but he sent her on the next hunt anyway! And old Growler isn't slowing down because of his joints, he's slowing down because his eyes are all cloudy and I don't think he can see right to avoid obstacles. But he can still track by scent. And the whelp wasn't nursing as long or as much as the others and it was less active.”
“I doubt you've got the balls to actually hurt them. But stay away from the kennels anyway. Common folk can be superstitious and you're getting a reputation as a witch. And whatever other bizarre ideas come into your head, you will keep to yourself and behave like a normal person! Go chase the chambermaids like your brothers—tell them you want to compare things.” Lady Laures' lips pressed together in disapproval of her husband's statement but she said nothing. “Or learn to hunt instead of playing with dead things. I don't care, as long as it's normal for a young highborn man! And you will attend your scheduled lessons! Do you understand me?”
“Yessir.” Just like I've understood the last hundred times. And I can't do it. Why can't you understand that?
Lord Laures heaved a martyred sigh. “Go change your clothes and get down to the stableyard immediately.”
Corin waited until they moved before he did, fleeing back to his own room. He'd have preferred to go back to his book, but given a direct order like that, he'd have to drag himself down to the stable and endure a lesson. He didn't mind horses, and was actually fond of his own easygoing gelding. Acutely sensitive as he was to atmosphere and body language, the veiled contempt and dislike of the riding master were impossible to ignore, and that turned lessons from merely pointless to excruciating.
But what could he do except try to obey, even though he knew with despairing certainty that he was doomed to fail, just like every time before?
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