====December 23, 2013
==== Mama Steen, Maryam
====Certain manners are discussed and decided at the Steen dinner table.

Who Mama Steen, Maryam
What Certain manners are discussed and decided at the Steen dinner table.
When There are 0 turns, 4 months and 24 days until the 12th pass.
Where Igen Weyr

mama-steen.jpg maryam01.jpg

“A book.”

“Yes, Mama.”

“He gave you a book.”

“Yes, Mama.”

“A proper book? With pages of fine linen and leather to cover it.”

“Yes, Mama.”

“Those run high to cost now, don’t they?”

Maryam rather doubted that her mother needed her to confirm these minute details. In fact, she rather doubted her mother needed her at all to make up her mind about the matter of the gift. But, dutifully, bound by the lie she’d told, she drew a breath and repeated, “Yes, Mama.”

It was the evening meal and select members of the Steens had been invited to Mama’s table, to be served by her eldest son’s wife and her daughters. It was an honor to receive the invitation though nine times out of ten, it was not a pleasant experience. The matriarch used the event to keep her brood on its toes; there were undoubtedly several at the table who were currently feeling a hefty dose of relief that it was Maryam under the woman’s gimlet eye.

“And what does he think you’re going to do with an empty book?”

“I am a bookkeeper, Mama.”

Maryam could feel her mother’s eyes snap to her, pulled from the soup of spiced leeks she had been sipping from her serving cup. Those eyes, so very much like her own, even faded with age, narrowed to a dangerous tilt.

“Don’t play smart with me, girl. I haven’t forgotten the nonsense you fell into the last time riders came calling.”

Chastened, Maryam bowed her head and studied her plate. The couscous had been served up with slivers of carrots and almonds, and was seasoned with coriander. A precious dish but she had no appetite. She set her fork down and folded her hands in her lap.

“He is not calling, Mama,” she said, the words directed at her linked fingers. “He wished me to speak well of him to you, as I said. He is an outsider and wishes to pay his respects.”

“So why didn’t I get a book? A bottle of wine? A box of sweets?”

“Perhaps he believes that the more esteemed individual should extend the invitation, to which he will bring a gift.” One lie piled on another. Without her veil, Maryam was certain her face would betray her. Surely there was something there, to give her way. A twitch, a flush. Why was she lying? Why had she not just rewrapped the book in and had her Dream return it to the man? She had learned her lesson the last time she’d kept something like this from her mother. And yet…

The silence drew out. Someone at the table coughed into their hand; someone struck the edge of their plate with a fork and made it ring out a short note.

She wanted very badly to fidget.

“I saw the Weyrwoman’s assistant in the Bazaar,” Maryam said. To her own ears, her voice sounded calm, collected. Nothing like the mad dash of her heart beneath her breast. Please. Please accept this. Please.

“She was asking for your wine preferences.”

“Was she now.” There was a note of pleased speculation in the matriarch’s voice. Everyone heard it and hid a collective sigh of relief. The charge in the air faded.

Maryam murmured, “Yes, Mama,” and beneath the heavy linen of her napkin, crossed her fingers.

Please. Oh, please. Let this one lie go undiscovered and I will do my duty forever.

Mama Steen set her soup cup down and dragged her own napkin over pursed lips. Without looking at her daughter- the one serving or the one she was strongly tempted to cast back into disgrace- she held out her wineglass to be refilled. Fie on the Healers, if they thought she’d do without what small pleasures she could wring from life, now that she was dried up, decrepit, old.

Wine, rich foods and a sharp mind- with these things, she’d happily suffer swollen limbs and countless other infirmities.

The day she couldn’t tell a lie on her own blood’s face was the day they’d wind her in her shroud, and slip her into the sands to sleep forever. It would have been amusing if she hadn’t been convinced that this one was too cowed to ever attempt a lie again, by omission or any other method. But no, here she was, spilling one tall tale after another, dropping them like pebbles from her lips.

How the girl managed such incredible ability with matters of business, and yet could fail so badly at something as simple as tarting up the truth…

So the newly appointed Weyrsecond was sniffing around her youngest girl. No surprise there; slap a veil on a girl, name her unattainable, and the men were going to flock in droves. It was how she’d landed her first husband, bless his memory. The man had had the mind of a draybeast but an ass you could bounce a mark off of. Ah, youth. Wasted on the young, it was.

What surprised Mama Steen was that Maryam was covering for this one. Most who’d cast their eyes her way went unnoticed. But this one seemed to have caught her eye in return. Maybe she did have blood in those veins. How Aisha Steen had managed to breed such a quiet and colorless child was constantly beyond her comprehension but this gave her hope that perhaps the girl had a heart. More importantly to the propagation of the Steen line, and the passing on of that brilliant mind- hopefully to a boy- she might well also have a quim.

But why a rider? Sure, sure, they sometimes cut a fine figure in those leathers of theirs, and one couldn’t fault their fitness, with the lives they led. Some few specimens were even capable of holding their own on the Pit’s sands, and that was a fair measure of a man no matter what his origins or occupation.

But a rider. Queer in the head, soft on beasts who shared their minds, hearts and souls never their own, or free to offer to another person. There was no trusting a man who heard voices in his head, no counting on a man whose dragon-born impulses would always, always lead him away from the deep roots of the Bazaar. Their hearts were in the business any longer and their minds were on the sky. Rightfully so, given the circumstances, but…

Aware she’d fallen into a brooding silence, the eyes of her family on her, she roared, “What?!” Every head lowered, their plates attacked with cutlery as if the food hid Thread burrows.

Every head but Maryam’s. The one head she’d trust to always be down, but no. The girl wasn’t eating and her eyes were raised to the matriarch’s. Mama felt herself begin to bristle until she realized it wasn’t a challenging look. The girl was searching.

It took no effort at all to let her mouth split in a wide smile. Young people. Honestly, they were exhausting and far, far too simple, all at the same time. “Tell the Weyrsecond he can have his meeting, provided he pays proper respects. None of these gifts to the wrong recipient. Istans…living on an island does odd things to a person.”

She twirled a gnarled finger in the air beside her temple and was rewarded with seeing her daughter relax.

Silly child. Silly, silly girl. One quick note to W’rin, and this little matter would be cleared up. Then the girl could focus on planning her wedding, as she ought to be doing.

Add a New Comment