Ribina was bored.
In fact, bored was almost her favorite pastime. As the second daughter of the seventh family of Illindor bored was her general right. If she had been a first daughter, or from one of the top five families she might have had civic duties to occupy her time. If she had been from any of the lower families she may have had to work for her keep—perish the thought.
As it was her life was one of wealth and opulence, and of waiting until one of the appropriate sons caught her interest enough to tempt her hand. Marriage could be fun, according to her cousin, Shadria. “Just find someone who is active enough for the bedroom and loyal enough to stay out of anyone else’s. So much the better if he has a head for conversation but as he’s like to be away on politics most of the year, he may as well not.”
Ribina was less certain that anything that might happen in a bedroom could make the likely outcome worthwhile—ruining one’s body in order to produce another. She shuddered slightly at the thought. Babies were a nuisance. Oh yes, there was handing them off to nursemaids and nannies. But what if she were to be stuck with one like her younger sister, Thabia, who was all of thirteen and still seemed to want every desperate hour of their mother’s attention. It would take patience and stamina to raise a Thabia, and their mother had neither. Ribina was sure she was better off doing without the need to test whether or not she did herself, thank you very much.
She supposed there were some who did just the opposite of Shadria’s advice. Married playful, charming boys who kept up their appearances and kept out of the bedroom entirely – safely putting babies in bellies belonging to their servants or mistresses instead. But that didn’t sound terribly appealing either. Ribina had never cared to share her toys.
But she wasn’t really thinking about marriage or babies or men. Instead, she was thinking of something Marcus Anderidad—a third son, bless his handsome soul—had said to her at a palace gala just the night before.
“If you’re so tediously bored of your life, Ribina, why don’t you do something about it? Find something, anything interesting to do!”
The conversation was edging in on her boredom in a way she didn’t like. No one had ever expected her to be anything but bored, after all, and for many years she had been fine with that notion. It suited her, to complain and be petted for it. But Marcus had not been in the mood to pet her for it, which irked.
She refused to acknowledge that this might be due to some fancy of his eligibility. Still, while he was only a third son, it was third son of the second family… a ranking higher than her own by a whole handful of rungs.
She had stormed away from him after his comment, telling Shadria that Marcus Anderidad could eat her petticoats so far as she was concerned. And then to her shame Shadria had wryly remarked that Marcus didn’t seem interested in any such thing.
Find something interesting to do.
As if that man would know interesting if it spat in his face.
Except, a small part of Ribina reminded herself, Marcus had traveled to all seventeen districts of Illindor. He had degrees in history and engineering and virtually ran his father’s district.
Ribina had been very interested in engineering herself once. The way things fit together and worked in systems. She wasn’t quite sure when that had stopped. Had she stopped it herself, when someone had told her that all she needed in life was to marry rich and all would be taken care of?
When had she begun to choose to be bored and petted for her complaints?
“You’re not still sulking after last night are you, Bina?”
The voice startled her, and she jolted upright from the chaise longue she had been reclining on, still in her overly flouncy morning robes. She couldn’t believe to find herself blushing as Marcus tipped a tumbler of some amber liquid at her from the doorway, with half a grin.
“I wasn’t sulking,” she started, disdainfully, but then caught herself as his words processed. She leaned back a little, looking at his face. “You haven’t called me that since we were children.”
“I’ve barely seen you since we were children,” he said, suddenly staring intently at the sharply-cut glass in his hand. Finally he shook his head in a restless manner. “You were always the smart one,” he said, as if mystified. “Whatever happened to you?”
Ribina opened her mouth to reply, and was stunned when her eyes pricked. “I think… perhaps no one ever told me that I was.” Her face burned. “And so I gave it up.”
Their eyes met then, and it sent a jolt through her. He seemed to be examining her very soul and at the same time, conveying a sort of deep sadness, that he had been a part of that never having pointed out her talent. And perhaps on the fringe of that a tiny hint of hope that whatever spark he’d seen unspoken in her before was not entirely lost.
And for the first time in what seemed at the moment a long, gasping age of emptiness, Ribina wanted to prove herself.
“Your words stung me last night,” she said, her heart beating fast at the words she hadn’t yet decided on saying, but had said in any case. “But it was because they were true. I’ve let everything good and clever about myself waste away.”
“Not everything, Bina,” Marcus said, his voice low and earnest.
“I wouldn’t even know where to start,” she pressed her eyes shut, shame beginning to ebb in on her. If she didn’t get a hold of herself she would be crying any moment, and that was not an acceptable outcome.
“How about start,” he said, his voice oddly hesitant, “by coming away with me.”
Her eyes flew open.
He held a hand up in placation. “As my apprentice.”
Her breath let out, relieved. If he had said as his wife, if that had been all he wanted her for after all, Ribina thought that spark of hope of becoming something of her own might have died altogether. But as an apprentice she might have opinions, ideas—a voice. Had she silenced herself, all these years?
And that electricity she’d felt when their eyes had met before—that was there also. In time perhaps it might become more. A conduit.
But all things in their time. For now Ribina felt as if the long-neglected cogs and gears in her brain were suddenly aching to turn, to look for the beauty of a solution in the mire of a problem.
She was marginally aware of how still Marcus stood as he watched her, awaiting her answer. Of how intent his stare was. But she was standing up, gathering her voluminous robe around herself, her thoughts on itineraries and checklists. “I’ll have to pack,” she murmured. “And inform Maman.” She gave him the briefest smiles of gratitude, and her heart seemed to tumble in her chest as she pushed past him out the door.
Because that electric look was still in his eyes, and he couldn’t seem to wrench them from her.
And perhaps Ribina didn’t mind.
Copyright Lisa Asanuma, 2018.
Photo attribution unclear.