August 19, 2015 by Lyn
And I said yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Bet you don’t know what your parents do
“So, what Word did you end up with?” Taro ambushed her with the question as they sat down for dinner, seeming interested enough in the answer that he didn’t notice the little dance of seating going on, leaving her between Conrad and Vlad and him to Mabina-and-Cassidy’s left.
“Kaana, ” she answered, savoring the little breeze that came to her hand when she said the word. It no longer seemed important at all that she’d mangled a couple Words – “Nobody resonates with more than five or six Words initially,” Professor Valerian had said, which hadn’t been that reassuring, but her follow-up had helped: “Proficiency with a wider range of Words comes with time and practice.”
Time and practice, study and determination, she could do. In the meantime, she had the wind.
“Ha. I told you,” Taro grinned triumphantly. “Like your name. You’re probably really good at yaku, too.” The word sounded mangled and dry in his mouth, horribly wrong, but she recognized the core of it.
“Yaku,” she repeated, knowing she was showing off and not really caring. “Yes. What does it mean?”
“Water.” His grin threatened to stretch his face. “You are a storm.”
She’d never thought of herself as stormy before coming here, but it seemed like a nice thing to be – wild and untamable. Still, she didn’t like his self-satisfied assumption that he knew her. “I suppose that means you’re good at working with earth?”
“Eperu,” he intoned, still smiling. The word that had twisted her tongue painfully came out like a song from his mouth. “Yeah. It works pretty well for me.”
“What about you?” She twisted to look at Conrad, catching him swallowing a sour glare at Taro.
“My name means ‘brave counsel,’” he answered, pulling his attention away from Taro and smiling at her. “I can’t do any of the elements at all.”
“None?” she asked, puzzling out what a name like “brave counsel” would mean. “Any of them? There are… four?”
“Four of the Words correspond to the elements, yeah. Vlad’s really good at yaku.” He mangled the word, too, but not as horribly as Taro had.
“Really?” She turned to Vlad, who was blushing an interesting shade of puce.
“Yeah,” he muttered, “I’m a merman.” He held up a cupped hand and murmured for a moment – she heard meentik and yaku, and a word that sounded like minimus – and a tiny pool of water appeared in his hand. He tossed it around her, splashing Conrad across the face and shoulder. “See?”
Glancing at Conrad’s wet-cat face, she couldn’t help but chuckle. Their rivalry was so good-natured, it somehow seemed to lighten the tension in the room when they had a tiff.
“I see.” She wiped the water off the side of Conrad’s face, calling up a light breeze carefully. The words were still new to her, and wind was showing a tendency to come in very enthusiastically if she didn’t limit it.
He smiled at her, and shook his hair out like a dog, spraying water everywhere. “Like I said, Vlad’s good with water.”
“Mmm.” She swallowed a question about appearances – Kylie had begun going through her change, and looked nothing like a breeze (she might look up, later, if foxes were associated with the wind in any mythology, of course), but Vlad actually looked like a merman, or at least what a merman on land might look like. And Mabina-and-Cassidy… she glanced over at them.
Cassidy grinned. “Oh, you know, pumpkins into carriages, mice into coachmen – we’re still working on that one, actually, it’s harder than you’d think-”
“-and rags into ball gowns?” she guessed.
“Well, in that case, it was ball gowns into ball gowns,” Mabina answered, smiling approvingly. “Yes. We’re faerie godparents.” Her hands rested maternally on her round belly.
“Which is funny, not just because we’re going to be parents,” Cassidy added, “but because our name-meanings seem more like those cobbler-elves than twinkly-fluffy-dressed Glindas.”
Taro snorted unpleasantly. “I’d pay money to see you in a twinkly pink Glinda dress.”
Cassidy perked up, clearly amused. “Really? How much?”
Taro shook his head. “Forget it. You’d do it just to freak me out.”
“You betcha,” Cassidy answered cheerfully. He turned back to Kailani. “So, yeah. Names are sort of a loose guideline, but it really depends on if your father was prescient, and, if so, how much so. Some fathers just throw names at their children that they like.”
“Like Shadrach,” Mabina said darkly, “who named his poor daughter Chandra. Might as well have gone with George, George, and Georgina like Foreman did.”
Kai blinked, lost. “I don’t have a father,” she said, “I mean – obviously there was someone who provided the semen, since even my mother couldn’t have figured out parthenogenic cloning yet, but there’s never been a father figure in my life.” She’d managed to get through “semen” without blushing, but as she continued, she found her face turning hot, and she couldn’t quite look at her friends.
“I always assumed that my mother had just gone to a sperm bank, since she hates men so much.”
She glanced up at them, shyly, surprised to see something that looked like sympathy on their faces – Mabina, Cassidy, even Taro. It was he that asked, his voice gentler and less scornful than it had ever been,
“Didn’t she ever tell you?”
“Tell me what?” More secrets? This place was rotten with secrets that everyone seemed to know except her, sneaky little half-truths and all these inside knowledge things that were hoarded and passed out in little tiny never-satisfying doses. It made her angry… but right now, it looked as if she might get an answer or two, so she tried not to yell. “What do you know about my father?”
“Not about your father in specific,” Taro said, but Vlad picked it up before Taro could muddy things too badly.
“Your mother might not have known your father very well, but she did know who he was.”
“Even if she chose artificial insemination – and if she hates men, she might have,” Mabina added, so gently that Kai couldn’t take offense – “she knew who he was, and so does the school. It’s the same for all of us.”
“One-parent households,” Cassidy added, “or a step-parent and a biological parent.”
She stared at them, twisting around to look at all of them in horror. “Why?” she asked. “Why would you know that? Why would someone have a school full of single-parent students? Why didn’t anyonetell me?”
“Because telling you about the parts we can quickly leads to questions we can’t answer,” Cassidy said softly. “Like this.”
Kai shook her head, trying to put pieces together. “But if the school knows, why would they have my name listed in the paperwork with just my mother’s name – why do they call me Kailani sh’Moonchild?” The blush was coming back, and she couldn’t bring herself to look at Conrad. Still, he answered her question.
“It’s the Laws of Belonging I told you about, Kaia,” he said gently.
She looked at him, her eyes trailing to his collar. “A Child Belongs to its mother… and then to its Mentor… and then to itself.” He nodded, although she didn’t need the confirmation. “So, because this school is ‘down here,’ they use the Laws of Belonging for naming purposes?”
“Yes,” Mabina answered slowly.
“That seems complicated,” she complained. “We have perfectly good names already. But… sh’Moonchild means ‘daughter of Moonchild?’”
“‘Child of Moonchild,’” Vlad corrected.
“Genderless. Odd.” She looked to Mabina for more explanation, but she shook her head.
“That’s another story,” Cassidy said, brushing it aside.
“Aargh,” she complained. They were being forthcoming about other things, though, so she went back to the questions she might be able to get answers to.
“Okay, if a child belongs to its…” she frowned. “Okay, genderless. Its mother, then its mentor, doesn’t that mean your name will change when you get a Mentor? My name will change?”
“Yes.” Mabina smiled; even Kai could tell she was relieved. “You go from sh’Mother to cy’Mentor.”
“And then to oro’Owner, if you’re a weasely bastard,” Taro offered helpfully.
“So…” she glanced at Conrad.
“Conrad oro’Kailani,” he nodded.
She frowned, realizing that she’d heard some of this before.
“You told me about this before, peripherally, when I…” she pushed through her embarrassment doggedly, “when I Owned you. You’re trying to sidetrack me.”
“You sidetrack yourself beautifully,” Cassidy teased lightly. Flustered, she tried to remember what she’d been asking about.
“Tell me,” she said to Conrad, commanded Conrad.
“Tell you what?” he asked, a sort of strain to his voice that made her hurt. But she had to know. This was why he had wanted her to Own him, wasn’t it? The reason he had given, at least.
“Why do you know that we’re all bastards?”
She hadn’t meant to use that word, even though it was technically correct. Her mother had decried it loudly – why would a child be any less legitimate for the so-called sins of her parents, and so on – but she’d still internalized the term.
Conrad looked down at his lap for a moment, and answered slowly, with none of his usual vibrancy; even his tail hung limply. “Not all of us are illegitimate. But all of us were planned. Our parents were all picked by the same people, and for the same reasons.”
He looked up at her then, his shoulders clumped, his expression un-readable but clearly not his sunny, wonderful smile. She wanted him to smile again. She wanted answers.
“What people, Conrad? What reasons?”
He smiled, but it was a sickly thing, and he looked past her at Mabina, as if looking for help.
“You got yourself into this,” Mabina answered, not unkindly, but implacably. He whimpered quietly, like an animal caught in a trap, and she relented softly with a sigh. “Kailani, if you’re going to ask him things he’s under geas not to tell, you’re going to have to command him directly every step of the way.”
“Every step.” She bit her lip as another little whimper escaped Conrad’s lips. Taro barked something that could have been a cough and could have been a laugh – she ignored it. “Tell me who, Conrad, planned us, and who, exactly, ‘us’ is.”
“Your Mentor and her crew,” he answered, watching her intently. “She planned us, all of the students of Addergoole.”