The scent of lilac drifted into the foyer from the front door. Ynaselle paused as she pulled on her white lace gloves. She closed her eyes and inhaled.
“It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?” Ulesse asked beside her. She was holding up Ynaselle’s veil.
Ynaselle smiled at the maid and nodded. “It is. A lovely spring day.” She tilted her head slightly as she examined the veil, then lifted her chin and started out the door. “No veil today, I think.”
The sunlight glowed warmly on her face and dappled the sidewalk beneath her feet as she walked. Ynaselle always looked forward to spring days like this in Heliohart. Heliohart might turn icy in winter, but in spring, there was no better place to be.
“Yuven Blackwell!” a voice called.
Ynaselle paused to see Master Trisrel seated on an open porch. Her garden was so thick with blooming shrubbery and flowers that the porch seemed to float on a bed of flowers. That was no surprise. Master Trisrel was the fourth child of a wealthy perfume merchant and had inherited the house. Her wife was a florist and had planted the garden that was the envy of the entire street.
She was an older elf. Her gray hair had gone steel gray and her eyes had grown darker with age, but she maintained her proud and regal air.
Ynaselle smiled and kissed her fingertips at Master Trisrel. “Good morning,” she said. “Do I find you well this morning?”
“Indeed, you do, Yuven Blackwell,” Master Trisrel said. “I had heard your father took ill. How does he fare?”
“Much better, thank you. He’ll be back at court soon,” Ynaselle replied.
“Excellent, excellent.” Master Trisrel rested her chin on her knuckles and examined Ynaselle. “I had worried about your family after your mother’s death. I’m glad to see you looking so well.”
Ynaselle bowed her head slightly. “Thank you.”
“Come sit with me, child.”
Ynaselle glanced at the timepiece on the inside of wrist and smirked. She could be a bit naughty and sit with her old friend for a time. She climbed the stairs and took a seat next to Master Trisrel. She poured Ynaselle a cup of dandelion tea sweetened with strawberries and placed a tart made of exceptionally delicate pastry popular among urbane elves.
“I’ve got something I’d like to show you, Yna.”
“Oh?” Ynaselle sipped her tea politely.
With a conspiratorial grin, Master Trisrel pulled a small cone-shaped pot from a pocket and placed it in Ynaselle’s hand. Ynaselle opened it and found a musky, pale yellow paste and smirked. “My father received some of this at Court. It’s dybla. Lianthorn was passing it out.”
“Yes, well, I’m not part of the Court. I wasn’t important enough to get any. I’ve had to call in and give out quite a few favors to get what little I’ve gotten.”
Ynaselle frowned and shut the amber jar. “Why is it so important to you, Veyrin?”
Master Trisrel laughed loudly. “It’s illegal to sell dybla, but it’s invaluable in perfume manufacture. There’s not a better binder in the world. Without it, perfume hardly keeps its scent, but with it, a perfume can last for decades, and the scent stays on your skin for hours. We perfumers have been trying to find an alternative ever since it was banned.” She shrugged, waving her hand in a forlorn way, then clenched her fist and grinned. “With what little I’ve managed to get, I can corner the market.”
Ynaselle opened the jar and looked at the substance again, frowning at it in confusion. “Why is it illegal?”
“The Phrangene Drought. The plant dybla is made from requires a great deal of water to grow, and during the drought, Faydark made it illegal to buy or sell so Myracine wouldn’t use its limited reserves for dybla rather than its own citizens. It’s not in any official history book, but Myracine allowed hundreds to die before dybla was made illegal. I suppose that Faydark just hasn’t bothered to change the law.”
“Veyrin, will you get in trouble for having this?”
“Potentially. But it’s worth the risk, Yna, trust me.”
“Why not just grow dybla yourself?”
Veyrin laughed, very nearly derisively. There was some bitterness there. “I would love to. We all would. And if there’s a botanist or perfumer out there who has managed to do it, that would be a world-changer. No, it only grows in Myracine. Dybla grown outside that region, its resin crumbles. It won’t hold a scent, and it rots. That’s if they can get the shrub to grow at all.
“There’s something in Myracine that allows it to grow there. No alchemist or chemist has figured out what. It’s something in the soil, I think.” She chuckled again and shook her head. “Perhaps there’s some old magic at work there, something so old we’ve all forgotten.”
“It would have to be very old for elves to forget.”
Veryin patted Ynaselle’s hand, then squeezed. “Perhaps so, child.” Then her smiled broadened and she sat back in her chair. “I shall give you some of the perfume I develop. It will be my gift to you.”
“I couldn’t accept something so valuable!”
“Nonsense. You’re a lord’s child, you receive valuable things every day, I’m certain. No, take it as a token of our friendship. Or, better yet, think of it as my way of trying to tempt you into being my apprentice again.”
Ynaselle sighed. It was a tempting offer. She liked Veryin, she liked her bold and frank attitude, her determination and strong will. In many ways, she aspired to be more like Veyrin. Still, she wasn’t certain perfumery was where her heart lay. “I shouldn’t want to do something where I must break the law,” Ynaselle said.
“Then you shouldn’t want to do anything at all. Oh, don’t pretend to be scandalized. You are a very naïve child if you think the world isn’t run by shadowy deals and illegal acts. If your father hasn’t taught you that, he’s done you a great disservice. No, you’ll always be high enough in society that you shall always have to navigate bribes and espionage and all that. The best way to treat the law is something you break so long as keeping it doesn’t hurt you. And if you’re wealthy enough, getting caught shouldn’t cause too much fuss. The sooner you learn that, the better.”
“That is an awfully cynical way of viewing the world.”
“Perhaps. I should prefer it not to be so, I think. But, you must always ask yourself, ‘Who does this hurt? Who does this benefit?’ Laws aren’t written to make the world better, but to keep it pacified and under control, and so long as we have them, that is how it shall be.”
Ynaselle held up the jar of dybla. “This was outlawed to help the people of Myracine.”
Veyrin took the jar and placed it into her pocket. When she smiled, she showed teeth. “That was a side benefit. Since it only grows in Myracine, Myracine was becoming too powerful to stay in line, and Faydark knew it was becoming a threat. Faydark made the law to cut Myracine off at the knee. Economically, Myracine was nearly ruined, and it hasn’t recovered since.
“Consider, child,” Veyrin continued, even as Ynaselle stared forlornly into her tea, “why does the second child of every prince go to Faydark? The Prince of the Emperor? Oh, it’s our tradition, just as it is our tradition that the first child is the Prince of the Blood and the third is the Prince of the Spirit, but why did it become tradition? Because the emperor wanted wards to ensure that no principality would ever turn against it. So long as the emperor had the princes’ children, it had hostages.
“Heliohart is one of the only courts that doesn’t use this practice in its own court. In nearly every other Court in the Empire, the second children of lords are taken by the prince, so that the prince can know their lords won’t step out of line. In nearly any other court, Vithian would be taken into the prince’s household as a hostage, and you would have to be a priest. That’s not because Heliohart is somehow kinder; Prince Heliohart has his own methods of making sure his lords don’t rise up.”
Veyrin sipped her tea and squeezed Ynaselle’s hand. “Listen to me, I sound like a revolutionary. I shan’t be surprise should you have me arrested. Oh, no, dear, I’m teasing, I know you wouldn’t.”
Veyrin kissed Ynaselle’s cheek and smiled. “Come back this evening, won’t you? Larunia should love to see you again. We’ve missed you since you’ve kept yourself in Blackwell.”
Ynaselle kissed Veyrin back and stood. “I have missed you both as well. I shall come back this evening, I promise. But, I must go. I have a few errands to run today.”
Master Veyrin Trisrel waved at Ynaselle as Ynaselle made her way further down the sidewalk. Ynaselle climbed the crystal stairs that encircled a large, white-barked sycamore tree. Her thoughts crowded in her head, fighting for her attention. They tumbled about so she couldn’t focus on any one of them.
Was she naive?
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