Lessons in Etiquette Annotations
WARNING - MEGA SPOILERS!
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One of the issues I was determined to avoid when I started constructing the Schooled in Magic story arc was to run with the standard ‘boarding school story’ and have Emily remain within Whitehall’s walls for six years. This is a known aspect of the theme, I know, but it struck me as odd when there is a whole world to explore. Why would Emily have to remain confined to Whitehall?
Ironically, Emily would probably prefer to remain confined to Whitehall, but that’s another issue entirely.
And so I came up with the idea of an adventure in Zangaria.
Alert readers will notice that both of Emily's friends come from Zangaria. One of them is even the Crown Princess, while the other is from a trading family. This wasn't entirely a coincidence – I decided that both of them could showcase different aspects of their country.
Zangaria itself is based on a cross between the Scotland of Mary Queen of Scots and pre-revolutionary France. Much of the plot of the story is prompted by Emily’s success with Crown Princess Alassa, turning her from a Royal Brat into someone Emily is proud to know, in the first book. For the nobles of Zangaria, who had confidently expected Alassa to be a weak Queen, this isn't really good news.
Historically, child monarchs rarely lived long enough to take the reins of power from their guardians. (Ironically, James VI and I was one exception to this rule.) They might have been crowned (Mary was crowned as a toddler), but they couldn't hold power in their own right. In the meantime, the various noblemen jostled for position and control of the young monarch, in the belief that holding him or her in custody justified their actions. As the lead-up to Mary’s return to Scotland proved, the absence of a strong monarchy leads to chaos and near civil war.
Furthermore, it was often extremely difficult to deprive a nobleman of his titles, land and rights he might have been granted by a prior monarch. (For example, one nobleman might have been granted a monopoly over importing a particular trade good.) Threatening to do this undermined the power bases of all of the other noblemen, particularly the ones without large holdings and personal loyalties of their own. For pre-Revolutionary France, there were thousands of noblemen drawing money from the Royal Court without actually doing anything useful. This was a colossal drain on the state treasury, yet they could not be severed from the Court. By the time the revolution began, this was a bitterly resented issue for everyone who had to pay tax.
Adding to this snake pit is a series of newcomers. Thanks to Emily (the fact that Emily bears a large amount of responsibility for the problems facing Zangaria is a major plot point) there are a number of increasingly wealthy merchant families agitating for a share of control over how the tax is spent. In the meantime, the printing press (primitive as it might be) is reshaping the face of political discourse, a problem aided and abetted by the introduction of English letters and numbers.
All things considered, it was going to be a far from peaceful holiday.
It is fairly obvious to just about everyone, apart from Emily herself, that Jade is interested in her. To be fair to Emily, of course, she’s sixteen/seventeen and Jade is five years older, which would be a major barrier on Earth. But this wouldn't really be a problem at Whitehall and the rest of the nameless world, any more than it was in the aristocracy of Earth. Large gaps in age were quite normal, with the woman often being quite a lot younger than the man. (It was rarer for the woman to be significantly older, but it did happen. Mary Tudor was significantly older than her husband.)
Another problem is that she’s spent a lot of time on Earth being told ‘things’ about young men. She sees Jade as safe because he’s old enough (for her) not to consider a serious prospect for a relationship. So she stumbles and handles the whole situation quite poorly.
But there are good grounds, from Jade’s point of view, for Emily to consider his suit. He’s not a bad person, he doesn't come with any awkward strings attached and he isn't either in awe or scared of her. But he also thinks she couldn't do any better, so he is a little bemused by her reaction.
Sadly, Emily still has a tendency to put others first. (If this is good or bad is up to the reader.)
It’s always interesting to look at the issue (marriage) from the points of view of two very different people. Alassa cold-bloodedly analyses the issue in terms of the benefits the relationship could bring to both Emily and Jade and their families, while Emily is rather horrified at this attitude.
But this does make sense. Alassa has grown up knowing that the most important decision in her life, the man she will marry, will almost certainly be made for her by her father. Even if she had a brother, she would still be married off at her father’s command. Being raised in this society, she regards this cold-blooded arrangement as perfectly normal.
To some extent, this was true of medieval societies at all levels. Marriage wasn't just about the husband and wife, but a union of two families. The father of the bride would look out for the best advantage to the family, even if this threatened to place his daughter in the hands of an unworthy man. If one of the Barons of Zangaria were staggeringly powerful (powerful enough to threaten the King on his own) it’s quite likely that Alassa would have found herself betrothed to him or his son.
The idea of romantic love, of sons and daughters choosing their own matches, came later and was, I suspect, a side effect of prosperity and political freedom.
Like it or not, Emily’s status makes her hand very desirable indeed.
Dresses pop up quite a lot in the book, from the gowns worn by the princes and princesses to the magical robes and the simple garments worn by peasants. This is actually symbolic of where one stands in society; it would be seen as an offense against nature for a peasant to wear gaudy robes or dresses. Like Alassa comments, they also pose a barrier on several different levels; they made it hard for someone to remove them quickly and they make someone’s status very clear.
As a general rule, the more revealing the clothing, the less scared someone is of being hurt or attacked. The sorceress wearing a throng and a bikini and nothing else is secure in her own power, confident that her admirers can look, but not touch. In its way, it’s a statement of her position.
By contrast, throughout the early books, Emily wears shapeless clothing and tries hard to hide her body. She has good reason for that.
Dancing, which also pops up throughout the book, is explained by Lady Barb. Lacking access to any of Alassa’s medical reports, the only way outsiders have to judge her state of health is through dancing, so Alassa is expected to dance at every castle they visit – and then in her own kingdom.
Lady Barb is going to be one of the most important people in Emily’s life, so it’s worth noting that this is her first appearance. She purposely tests Emily for most of the books, watching and waiting to see how she reacts to certain situations. I won’t go into details about her history – that will be covered in Book IV – but she does have good reasons to be paranoid about Emily – and Void, her Guardian.
It sounds thoroughly absurd (if not perverted) to have Nightingale (a man) serve as the Master of the Princess’s Bedchamber. This is actually one of the hereditary posts passed down from person to person (it would have been Master of the Prince’s Bedchamber before Alassa) and Nightingale would be able to use it to distribute patronage of his own. He doesn’t use it to peek on the Princess, thankfully, although Alassa is used to far less privacy than any of us would take for granted.
In the long run, Emily’s introduction of English letters and Arabic numerals are going to prove as destabilising as anything else she introduces, so it's worth saying a few things about them. Emily has not introduced the English language. What she’s done is introduced the letters, the sounds they make and gone on from there. The ‘English’ used by the locals is actually phonic versions of their own language.
This was inspired by sights in Malaysia, while I was living there. A pharmacy would often be labelled FARMACI, for example, while quite a bit of Malay was transliterated into English letters, allowing them to be pronounced by me.
Why has this spread so far? Simply put, the previous written language was actually more elaborate than Chinese, which has over 80’000 letters. In Zangaria, the Scribes Guild consists of men who have studied for years (literally) to master their art. (Some people can read and write a number of letters, but they’re not considered scribes.) This gave them immense political power, which they used ruthlessly. In the long run, the introduction of English letters will mean more work for the scribes, but there will be some rocky times ahead. Ditto for the accountants, who have effectively sunk without trace.
Incidentally, there is a strong market for oral traditions and very little uniformity. Heralds are used to carry news from town to town, bards can make a living from moving between towns and entertaining the locals. The ballads about Emily are not actually surprising, as historically there were quite a few (and not always flattering) ballads about famous people.
The original version of this chapter had a note that people who dirtied the streets of Tarn (a city-state) were forced to clean up the mess using their tongues. Apart from being a Bruno the Bandit reference, there's a serious reason behind it. A city-state, cramped and often unpleasant, would be a breeding ground for disease. Throwing one’s slops into the streets would help spread disease, hence the strict law against it.
But the editors didn't like it, so I took it out.
Emily doesn't pick up on this (although she probably should) but the age of menarche, when women start their periods, is significantly later in the Allied Lands than it is on Earth. Odd as this seems, this is historically accurate; the age of periods has been growing earlier and earlier over the last hundred years or so.
This ties into the reason why most of Whitehall’s First Year students are actually older than one would expect. Most of them developed their powers after they reached 15/16. Alassa got hers a little earlier because she had excellent food and suchlike when she was a child, while Emily is obviously a special case.
On a different note, the whole ‘Draco in Leather Pants’ trope (the impression that a certain novel character is actually a decent person, despite having no redeeming features) had an odd counterpart in the real world, certainly in the days before tabloid newspapers. There were legends surrounding monarchs and powerful noblemen that suggested it wasn't them who were wicked, but wicked advisors who were responsible for the king’s poor decisions. If the king knew what his subjects were actually suffering, the trope ran, he would immediately dismiss his advisors and usher in a new era of freedom and justice for all. Naturally, as part of the concept of Kings having a divine right to rule, the monarchs exploited this for all they were worth.
Needless to say, this had very little basis in reality. Kings as diverse as Richard II, Charles I and Tsar Nicolas II were often believed to be captives of such advisors and revolts directed against them were aimed more at removing the advisors than removing the monarch itself. It would have been quite possible for the rebels to remove Richard II, had they aimed at doing so. Instead, they trusted in the King. The results, for the rebels, were disastrous. Richard, unsurprisingly, betrayed his words as soon as he could and the last traces of the rebellion were stamped out.
On a smaller scale, serving men and women could often develop unseemly attachments to their noble employers. The idea of a maid falling in hopeless love with a prince would have seemed plausible, if more amusing than serious, to the people of that era.
One issue that does pop up earlier than this is the issue of feudal loyalty. Put simply, the King would have his own clients, but the Barons would be his semi-allies rather than his clients; they would have sources of power in their own right. (This contrasts with the Persian model of kingship, where the King owns everything and his aristocrats are his servants.) The Barons may have sworn loyalty to the King, but their subordinates have sworn loyalty to them rather to the King.
This is a major headache for the monarch (as it was historically). If a Baron decided to rebel, perhaps with a honour-saving excuse, his subordinates will rebel with him. This tended to explain why civil wars often resulted in widespread devastation and civilian deaths. The civilians were not regarded as innocents, as they had sworn loyalty to the Baron.
A strong King has to keep the Barons in check. A weak King, at best, ends up as ‘first among equals.’
Introducing ... King Randor. Who (apart from being a fairly obvious Masters of the Universe reference) is also going to cast a long shadow over Emily’s life in the future. Unsurprisingly, he sees her as both an opportunity and a threat, someone who accidentally turned his kingdom upside down. If she’d been a man, he might well have asked her to consider marrying Alassa; odd as it might seem, this would solve quite a few of their problems.
So he tests her. And, unfortunately, finds her wanting.
Emily is a fan of Lois McMaster Bujold. The reference to the ‘twenty thousand cooks’ comes from the history of Barryar. Historically, I don’t think anything like it took place on Earth, but it wasn't uncommon for some nations to conscript troops, train them and then return them to civilian life ... at least until the call-up came again.
Historically, people did attempt to breed Royal Blood ... and the results were often disastrous, both personally and politically. This sometimes reached outrageous levels even without magic; inbreeding was a very real problem for aristocratic and monarchical families in Europe prior to the Great War.
Here, of course, magic adds another dimension to the problem. Is the Royal Bloodline actually turning the Royals into another species? If so, will it be possible that Alassa literally will not be able to have children at all? Emily’s observation that the absence of any brothers or half-brothers suggests bad things is right on the money, although King Randor might have simply had a run of very bad luck. Emily’s attempts to explain genetic inbreeding to Alassa, who knows nothing about such matters, probably makes matters worse.
On the other hand, Emily may well be panicking over nothing. At her age, Alassa might well have irregular periods in any case.
Magic is a natural part of the environment of the Nameless World, which allows for wonders and horrors Emily had no reason to expect before she arrived in her new home. For example, why not use magic to turn condemned criminals into animals and hunt them for food and sport, if you have the power? This isn't a society to shy away from punishment we would see as cruel and unusual (and downright impossible).
Alassa takes it in her stride; Emily is horrified. And both of them have real problems realising that the other might have a valid point of view.
Incidentally, the boar doesn't behave like a normal boar. In hindsight, the reason is quite clear. It isn't a normal boar.
Something that pops up here is that Emily is not used to having friends, save on her own terms. Which may seem odd, for a largely friendless person on Earth, but makes a great deal of sense given her upbringing. Emily likes to be in control, even though she hasn't really admitted that to herself (or anyone else.) Part of her life (and her earlier days at Whitehall) were driven more by a quest for safety and security than anything else. This isn't really a good aspect of her character as, instead of sticking with one friend, she goes in search of the other.
While some people in Zangaria have started to have doubts about Emily by this point, it’s notable that one person – Lady Barb – has lost her doubts. At this point, the older woman slips into tutoring mode; a harsh Drill Sergeant Nasty perhaps, but still a tutor rather than a potential enemy. And it’s only the beginning.
One point that does turn up, quite a bit, is despite everything she’s done, Emily lacks self-confidence. She's much – much – better at standing up for others than she is at standing up for herself. This, sadly, is the result of her upbringing.
Some people felt that Emily overreacted (at least mentally) to the inspection of Alassa’s body by the noblewomen. For someone who hates to be touched, on the other hand, it would be a nightmare.
Royal nudity wasn't so much of a problem in the medieval world than it would be today, although the absence of cameras and tabloid reporters probably helped. A Queen or Princess would be literally untouchable, as far as her social inferiors were concerned; Marie Antoinette, for example, was often interrupted while dressing by various members of the court. (This probably helped the revolutionaries when they charged her with all manner of gross perversions.)
Technically, Alassa was the Heir to the Throne from the moment she was born. However, she was regarded as an underage heir until her Confirmation, so if King Randor had died the Duke of Iron, his brother, would take over as Alassa’s regent. Alassa being Confirmed would mark her as the Heir in her own right, so she would take over the moment her father died.
(Hence the expression, ‘The King is dead, long live the King.’)
Snatching Alassa before her Confirmation allows the plotters to establish their control over her, then place her on the Throne as a puppet Queen. Afterwards, she would have too much legal independence for them to control her so easily.
Emily’s use of blood magic, obviously, links back to its use in the first book, where she had plenty of incentive to learn how to use it.
Several readers commented that Emily’s views on Earth were a little exaggerated, but many of them make sense within her personality. Excessive sex isn’t something she would consider approvable, not given the sort of life she had growing up. To be fair, our views on sexual freedom would probably shock most of the people at Whitehall too.
It’s perfectly in character for Emily not to realise that some kind of reward would be coming her way <grin>. As it happens, there had to be some kind of reward – and it had to be consummate with what Emily did for the King. In this case, she saved his entire kingdom – making her a powerful noblewoman was probably the least he could do. It never crossed King Randor’s mind (or Alassa’s) that Emily might not want such a reward. He certainly didn't bother to ask her first.
But it’s also got a nasty sting in the tail. It binds her to Zangaria, even without formal oaths of obedience and loyalty. Emily, the greatest force for change the nameless world has ever seen, is going to be tied down. Or at least people will believe her to be tied down. And, as she knows nothing about managing an estate, she is going to be very dependent on advice from her friends and allies. In short, Randor has not only rewarded her, he’s placed a claim on her. This is likely to cause her problems in the future, as she literally has no idea of the full scope of what he’s done.
One of my editors (reading this and the next book) asked why Emily didn't act more like Honor Harrington, who was made a Steadholder of Grayson in Book II. The answer is simple enough; Honor is a mature naval officer with vast command experience, coming from a society with a long tradition of powerful noblemen and a monarchy. Emily is none of those things. She’s a teenage girl who has little experience of the nameless world outside Whitehall. It may not be surprising that the results might not be quite what anyone expects.