Sunday, May 6, 2012

Secret Council Letters from the Spring of Bitterblue’s Eighteenth Year

So, as I've mentioned before, in the spring before Bitterblue's eighteenth birthday (before the events of Bitterblue take place), Bitterblue, Katsa, Raffin, Po, and Giddon wrote some letters to each other. If you have a device for reading e-books, you can download the letters for free, along with samples from each of my books, at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple's iTunes Store. If you don't have such a device, I reproduce the letters here. Warning: It does contain Graceling spoilers. 

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Secret Council Letters from the Spring of Bitterblue’s Eighteenth Year

from Lady Katsa of the Middluns, Council leader,
to Queen Bitterblue of Monsea
(ciphered and coded):

Po and I are sorry to miss your eighteenth birthday. Raffin and Bann are too. But it’s Nander, BB. We can’t shake the sense that we need to stay. How are you? Are your advisers working you to the bone?
Right now, Bann, Po, Giddon and I are helping a Nanderan town defend itself from its own king’s soldiers.  King Drowden has given his men instructions to infiltrate the town, bribe townspeople for the secrets of their neighbors, steal the neighbors’ hidden treasures. Much more subtle than Drowden’s usual smash and burn technique. We do hope Drowden isn’t growing a brain. Of course the people have little in the way of treasure but some have trinkets passed down from family members. We’re encouraging them to play tricks on the soldiers. Drop false hints about treasure that doesn’t exist then send soldiers after it into old barns with broken floors so they fall through and hurt themselves, that sort of thing. At which point the local lord, no friend of Drowden, comes along and arrests them for trespassing. Then as the soldiers sit in jail we try to talk some sense into them. Some are happy to desert Drowden’s army if we can find them a hiding place and other work. There’s a stronger anti-Drowden sentiment now than we’ve ever encountered in Nander before. It feels like something is brewing here. Don’t know what.
Others among them are working with a broader definition of “stealing treasure.” It’s what first attracted us to the needs of this town: Drowden’s soldiers rape people. So I’m teaching people to fight back. While it makes me sick when a dumb thief falls through a broken floor and breaks his legs, I have no problem with a woman putting a knife into the gut of a man who’s trying to force himself on her.
Po says write to Raffin if you have a moment; he’s stuck in Middluns where we left him as liaison. Po says it depresses Raffin when we all leave him behind. Bann and I return to him soon for I’ve been neglecting the other kingdoms. Po and Giddon will stay here in Nander, at least that’s the plan. We’ll all come to you when we can. Maybe late summer.

***

from Queen Bitterblue of Monsea
to Prince Raffin of the Middluns, Council leader, medicine maker, and heir to the Middluns throne
(ciphered and coded):

R, do your father’s advisers build walls of paper around him, as mine do me? Piles of paper to teach me about legislation, taxation, transportation, education, importation, exportation—ask me about an ’ation. Any one you like. I am an expert. Why not defenestration? Shall I defenestrate my advisers? Decapitation? Too messy? I sat through the most tedious boundary dispute in the High Court this morning, and then, just when we’d moved on to a worrisome and INTERESTING case about the murder of a city schoolteacher, one of my advisers swept in and dragged me away for a lesson on town charters. Practically the same lesson on town charters I’ve had numerous times before. Do they think it too complicated for me to comprehend? They educate me as if I’m still ten, though it was not hard to understand when I was ten either.
But listen to me, complaining and making myself conceited. I’m sorry. I did intend to write you a nice letter, and I promise I won’t decapitate my advisers. Forgive me, I’m restless. It’s childish to say it, but sometimes I envy our friends in Nander. I don’t feel very useful.
Tell me, how are you? What are you working on? Any new experiments?

***

from Bann, Council leader and Middluns medicine maker
 to Queen Bitterblue of Monsea
(ciphered and coded):

Lady Katsa will have told you that Prince Raffin and I won’t be able to join you in time for your birthday. We’re so very sorry about it. Climbing mountains is not Raffin’s favorite pastime, but he would have done so happily—as would I—to celebrate with you.
We have discovered a family in Nander in possession of a treasure larger than anything Drowden could have hoped for. They have a Graceling daughter, about eight years old, and she is a mind reader. Her family has hidden her so that the king cannot find her and use her. More astonishingly, the entire town and the lord of the near estate have kept the secret. Have you ever heard of a town embracing a mind reader, let alone breaking the king’s law to protect her? But this is a small and close-knit hamlet and they have decided that this child’s protection is their responsibility. She is yet unformed, but she seems able to sniff out lies. Consequently, Katsa and I, in possession of Po’s own lie, avoid her completely, sending Giddon instead. Po, of course, goes nowhere near her. Fortunately her range is small compared to Po’s. Po, sensing her approach, has been known to jump up from a meal with an alarmed expression on his face and bolt from the room. The townspeople seem to have concluded that he has bowel problems and are being very accommodating with medicines and advice, which embarrasses him and tries his patience more than he cares to admit. It’s delightful. I would take it as a personal favor, Lady Queen, if when you wrote to him next, you asked after his diarrhea.

***

from Prince Po of Lienid, Council leader
to his cousin, Queen Bitterblue of Monsea
(ciphered and coded):

Beetle, do you have any good strong Lienid cable wire? High-grade stuff, like the kind one might use to lift boulders from the bottom of a cliff to the top. I’ll send you some as a birthday present.

***

from Lady Katsa of the Middluns
to her cousin, Prince Raffin of the Middluns
(ciphered and coded):

Bann is well. Po coping but working too hard. You? Your report on Estill concerns us, I’ll go there next before coming to you. Is Oll still in Wester? We need him here. I can’t put a finger on the feeling growing here but when I travel farther afield of this hamlet the notions of some people, especially nobility, alarm me. We’ve had rumors that Drowden isn’t just targeting poor townspeople, but has turned on some of his own nobles as well. Have you heard anything of it?
R, how many metalsmiths are friendly to the Council in Nander and nearby? How many people trained to fight? How quickly could we assemble a force of what size and with what cache of weapons in southeast Nander?
Have written to BB with regrets. P positively grouchy. Are you moping? Stop moping. Write to her, will you?

***

from Bann
to Prince Raffin of the Middluns
(excerpt of ciphered letter):

A few Nanderan nobles sick to death of their king have sought us out and asked us to help them compile a list of Nanderan lords and ladies all across the kingdom who might be turned against Drowden. It’s enclosed. You know some of them personally; what do you think of the list? Oll probably has a history of intelligence on some of them; can you rustle him up? We’re beginning to need him. Wish you could be here for the fun. I’m coercing Nanderan soldiers into desertion. Do keep busy, all right? Don’t mope.

***

from Prince Raffin of the Middluns
 to the party in Nander
(ciphered and coded):

If one more person tells me not to mope I shall scream.

***

from Prince Po of Lienid
to Prince Raffin of the Middluns
(ciphered and coded): 

You big mopey moper.

***

from Prince Raffin of the Middluns
to Prince Po of Lienid
(ciphered and coded):

I hear you have the runs.

***

from Lady Katsa of the Middluns
to Prince Raffin of the Middluns
(ciphered and coded): 

I’ve told P, and now I’ll tell you, that if you two don’t stop wasting messenger horses I’m going to cut you both off.
Actually I think he’s falling sick. This morning he got out of bed and walked into the wall. I’ll wait until he recovers to leave. He’s not careful with his secrets when he’s ill. I wish you were here.
Now he’s begging me most urgently to tell you he’s come up with a genius idea that will make us all preposterous.  I cannot think how that could be a good thing but I’m writing it anyway for his sake because he’s insisting with a kind of mania. I will make him lie down.
My real reason for writing is that we’re beginning to be overwhelmed here. Drowning in rumors. We need answers to the things we’ve asked you. In particular, we need to know where loyalties lie among the nobility of Nander. The family of this mind reader girl has offered her services and the girl herself seems willing, fearless actually, according to Giddon. We don’t like using someone so young but are thinking of sending her through Nander to the estates of particular lords and ladies with Giddon, to test loyalties. Haven’t settled on a disguise for them. It’s nothing but snow and sheets of rain this time of year, easy to predict. Maybe Giddon could pose as a minor Nanderan borderlord traveling across the kingdom to deliver his young sister Graced with weather prediction to the king. In the meantime the plan was for Po to go to Drowden City and ask pointed questions of his own but we’ll have to delay that if he’s ill.
PS—Po tells me he said prosperous, not preposterous. He’s come up with a genius idea that will make us all prosperous. Now he says I need to wash out my ears, which is brilliant seeing as he’s the one lying in a pool of his own fevered sweat.
PPS—Now he tells me his genius idea is a series of aerial ropeways for travel over mountains between Sunder and Monsea. Also Estill and Monsea. He doesn’t imagine it particularly saving time. But as horses cannot manage the mountain passes, perhaps aerial wagons of some sort, hanging from cable wire that runs on some kind of pulley system from tower to tower, could be used to transport goods too heavy or bulky to carry on one’s back. It would increase merchant traffic over the passes. And if it could be constructed to carry people then those unfit for the climb could be carried over—rather than traveling to the Sunderan coast and sailing to Monport—which would save those people time indeed.
It is a good idea. The trouble, of course, is that construction would require the cooperation of Estill and Sunder. No chance of that. We’ll have to put it aside for a while.
PPPS—Have you heard anything from Bitterblue? Please don’t tell her too much about what’s going on. It wouldn’t do for our enemies to discover that the Queen of Monsea knew beforehand what we were planning here. We must not implicate Monsea.
PPPPS—We need poisons. Sleeping draughts. Stock up.

***

from Prince Raffin of the Middluns
to Lady Katsa of the Middluns
(ciphered and coded):

How could I ever tell Bitterblue what’s going on when you yourself have not explained it to me? Soldiers, weapons, sleeping draughts? You send me letters and once I’ve deciphered them they make no more sense than they made in their ciphered state.
I’m working on answers to all your questions, but I cannot exactly pull them out of my ass. Patience! I enclose a revised survey of Nanderan nobility, compiled by myself and Oll, who’s with me now. He’ll come to you soon. If Giddon intends to pose as a Nanderan borderlord, then for mercy’s sake, be sure he changes which border he claims to be from, depending on whom he’s visiting. Some lords on the eastern border despise some lords on the western border and vice versa, because of alliances each has made from time to time with Estill and Wester respectively. Frankly it sounds a dangerous enterprise to me. There are no minor, unknown borderlords on Nander’s southern border. I would advise him to pose as an obscure northern borderlord except that the accent is distinct, in addition to which, I honestly don’t think our Giddon could make himself look rough enough. I beg you not to risk too much, especially if his primary tool is a child.
Would you please do me the honor of telling me WHAT THE BLAZES IS GOING ON?
I enclose a letter from Bitterblue. I wonder sometimes if her advisers understand that she is not even eighteen. They work her like a dog and keep her on a tight leash, and I’m more sorry than ever that we shall not be having a party, with pies. The aerial ropeway is a good idea. We shall have to set it aside for decades, and in the meantime, continue trotting across the rutting mountains.
I cannot keep putting off these people who are asking for you in Estill. Please, PLEASE go there as soon as Po is well. I would enclose a new fever medicine I’ve invented, but I know you won’t give it to him. How am I ever to refine my work if people will not consent to my experimentation?

***

from Queen Bitterblue of Monsea
to the party in Nander
(ciphered and coded):

Skye has written that King Ror is sending my stables a dozen Lienid horses for my birthday. How fortunate that I shall have some high-grade Lienid cable wire to tether them with. I hope there will be enough left over to weave them some stiff, pokey saddle blankets. Is Po being obscure on purpose or can’t he help himself? Please tell him I consulted my Graced healer on his behalf. She reports that overindulging in dried fruit causes bowel incontinence.
I don’t have a great deal of news. Yours is always a thousand times more interesting than mine, in addition to which, it’s late and I have an early morning of reviewing paper, paper, and more paper… I’m bored to death. Perhaps I should pillage one of my neighbors for my own amusement. It seems to work for Drowden.
I’m getting the impression that more is going on in Nander that you’re telling me. I know it’s a waste of ink to press you to tell me more than you intend to. Can you at least assure me that you’re all safe?
I am often unsettled, but expect that it’s my anxiousness to see all of you. Words are inadequate to express how sorry I am that it won’t be soon. Yours until that day—