“You are uncommonly well-mannered for a Riddishwoman,” said Captain Sarovy, setting aside the file. “From Keceirnden?”
Scryer Mako dimpled and settled deeper into her chair, smoothing her dress-like robe across her knees. “Of course. The only place in Riddian your sort would consider ‘civilized’.”
“Not entirely in Riddian. Half of it lies over the Trivestean border.”
“Yes, yes, details. And yourself? I would have guessed Keceirnden as well, but your accent…”
“No. Fort Igen, in the southeast of the Tableland.”
Surprised, the scryer tilted her head. “A fortholder? I thought they were all… Well, not to offend you…”
“I wouldn’t go so far as–”
“It is true enough.”
She stared at him for a moment, then said, “All right, I’ll take the bait. If fortholders are as bad as I’ve heard, how can you…. How can you have ended up such a straight-laced man–a captain with a grip on propriety so tight the poor thing squeaks?”
The captain permitted a sliver of a smile, then inclined his head. “I will take that as a compliment. But I am hardly unique.”
“Considering what I’ve seen of the Trivestean archers here…”
“Also fortholders,” he said, then tapped his stack of personnel files with a sigh. “The problem with my people is that we are…not made to work in groups. You know the old theory of the tribes, yes?”
“That each tribe was descended from the beast-spirit it revered?”
“Indeed. Most modern Trivesteans trace their lineage from the tribe of the Eagle, the greatest of the three raptor tribes. Whether or not the beast-spirit lineage theory is correct, there are patterns of behavior that hold true among all raptor tribes: isolationism, internal and external predation, and ritualized vengeance. Also among my people, as among the people of the Hawk and the people of the Owl, there are only three recognized social groupings: family, rivals, and prey.
“When in times of inter-kingdom warfare, Trivesteans are capable of considering our whole kingdom as ‘family’, our enemies as ‘rivals’ and everyone else as ‘prey’. However, in times of peace, we turn upon each other; family is reduced to blood-kin only, and sometimes to one’s mate and children, or simply one’s mate. Rivals are everyone with the will to stand against us. Prey are all the rest.
“As you can no doubt extrapolate, we do not live well in large groups.”
Blinking, Scryer Mako said, “But half of Keceirnden is Trivesteans, and they’re so…rigid. Controlled. Like you are.”
“Keceirnden is a mixing bowl,” said Captain Sarovy. “And Trivestes as it stands is larger than the original Eagle Tribe territory. At some point, we absorbed parts of other tribes, and their blood in our veins served to quell our Eagle nature. Our many skirmishes on the Riddish border have added to the mixture, as I’m sure you’re aware.”
Scryer Mako grimaced. “Well, yes. There are always…war-children. But you’re speaking of these impulses as if you feel them.”
“I do,” said the captain, steepling his fingers against the edge of the desk. “There is a saying in Trivestes: ‘Turn your back on the wolf but keep your eyes on the raptor.’ You are the wolves, of course–you Riddish and the Garnet Mountain folk–but though we consider you our hated enemies, we know what to expect from you. When you give your word that you will not attack, then you will not attack. A Trivestean–disciplined or undisciplined–is never trustworthy. The only difference is that you expect the assault from the undisciplined one.
“I was not sent into the Trivestean Youth Corps at the age of seven because my family was particularly militant–though my father does command Fort Igen. I was sent there because it is mandatory for all Trivestean youth to learn how to control themselves in a social situation, and it is just as necessary for Trivestean parents to expel their offspring from their care before their limited parental instincts completely fade. Some parents are more tolerant than others, of course; most of the city-dwellers put off sending their children away until puberty, and some Trivesteans will see the inside of the army for only a year before they are declared fit for society.
“The rest, though, can live in the army from youth until death and still not be capable of behaving like proper human beings. There is a reason that our handful of Trivestean archers are here rather than serving in the Sapphire Eye: they are in exile for such awful behavior that they were deemed unfit for fort duty, yet their crimes were not great enough to merit execution. I will not read the litany of their crimes, but know that being here in a foreign land does a measurable amount of good for them. As stated, in a war situation they will consider all Trivesteans as family–and to them, being surrounded by foreigners is as warlike as can be. They bond to their few fellow Trivesteans in a way that they are incapable of doing when in our actual homeland, and because I as commander are also a Trivestean, they are amenable to taking certain orders and accepting certain punishments.”
Scryer Mako frowned. “So what you’re saying is that the only reason your Trivestean archers aren’t killing each other is that they hate everyone else here so much more?”
“It is the extreme end of our temperament,” said the captain, making a calming motion with one hand. “As I have said, many of our people are calm and tolerant, requiring only a short stint in the military to provide them with backbone. The majority, after a decade or two of rigorous study and fierce discipline, find that they understand how to fit into our society and how to interact with non-Trivesteans safely, if not warmly. A minority are isolationist enough to require transfer to a fort, where they are provided the space they need and commanded by a Master Fortholder with a strong hand.
“Those with extreme disciplinary problems used to be executed as a matter of course, but General Aradysson changed that by offering limited amnesty to Trivestean archers unfit for Sapphire duty. Thus the Crimson Claw has the second-best archers on the continent–exceeded only by the Sapphire itself–but is in the unenviable position of containing the archers’ behavior as best it can.”
Scryer Mako shook her head in disbelief. “I don’t understand how you can maintain any sort of society like that,” she said. “Surely if everyone in Trivestes is just waiting for the right moment to attack…”
Captain Sarovy smiled slightly and sat back in his camp chair. “It is not quite like that. Yes, we eye each other constantly as rivals, but as long as we have adequate space, we do not come into conflict. We all keep vigilant for each others’ signs of hostility, contempt or challenge, and though there are a ridiculous number of duels fought each year, through constant drills and punishments we have all been taught to do so non-lethally. This is not to say that there are no lethal duels; there are many. But as a matter of reflex, a matter of habit, the moment a fencing sword is placed in our hands, we attack to disable. We do not automatically go for the eyes the way we did as trainees–as children. We have learned to go for the limbs. It is called ‘clipping the wing’.”
“Yes, but if you are constantly trying to stab each other…”
“Ambushes are severely punished, and there are no assassinations. –No secret ones, I should say. Never have I heard of a Trivestean who was not proud to declare that he had killed a rival.”
Scryer Mako grimaced and rubbed her temples. “No wonder our folk are always fighting. Mine puffing themselves up and trying to threaten you away, and your bastards striking the moment we look away.”
“If we see an opportunity, we take it.”
“But I still don’t understand you, sir,” she said. “You control the archers with a word. You stare down the Houndmaster but make no move to attack, you handle this entire ridiculously mixed force…”
Captain Sarovy shrugged marginally. “It is what I am here to do. I know of nothing else to say to make you understand. Except…” He frowned, fine brows furrowing slightly in thought. “Except perhaps it is about rules. Many of us–the archers here particularly–try to break the rules any time we can. To gain the most advantage over our rivals. So it is among the Houses, among the Forts–everyone against each other, not through combat but through intrigue, influence, politicking, achievement.
“I…dislike that. Being raised in the isolation of Fort Igen, I…learned early on to follow the rules. That the rules were all that kept us from destroying each other and ourselves. In the Youth Corps it was no different; all the others tested our teachers and were punished, and I watched them. I saw where the boundaries were and I learned to walk inside of them. Not from fear but because the rules were the single thing I could understand–the single thing that turned anyone’s behavior into sense.
“It still mystifies me how anyone can be a criminal and live with it, or how any of my kin can leap across those boundaries without feeling like they have done a spiritual wrong. I know that others steer themselves by sentiment or moral judgment, but for me the former seems transient and impractical, the latter too subjective. I follow the rules because I need guidance; I enforce the rules because I know that others need it too, even if they deny it.”
Scryer Mako arched a brow, one corner of her mouth crooked up. “Rather introspective for a military man, sir.”
“It is as important to know oneself as it is to know one’s enemy.”
“And you don’t think of us as enemies? Or rivals?”
Captain Sarovy’s eyes glittered as he sat forward slightly. “I take my rivals as they come, Scryer. And I do not let them get away.”