KDR 4: Educated Guessing

on January 31, 2012 in Kin & Distant Relations, Other Tales


Dell Harris could tell the moment her husband walked in the door on Saturday night that the news from Augustinium was not good. She could have told a moment or two before that if it had been good… she would have heard him whistling his way up the steps. That she heard the sound of the key in the door first and he only began his tune as the door swung open told her that he was doing so for her benefit.

Knowing that he was putting on a brave face for her, she had no choice but to put on a braver face for him. However bad the news was, she’d take it in stride and make the best of it.

There was the niggling thought at the back of her head that if Danny really wanted to fool her he wouldn’t do it halfway, but then surely he wouldn’t be so devious as to fool her into thinking he’d tried to fool her just to actually fool her into a more optimistic frame of mind?

Of course he wouldn’t, she told herself right after she sorted out what exactly it was he wouldn’t do. Anyway, what would it say about her, if he’d go that far to avoid setting her off? Sure, Dell had a temper. She’d been Bob Corvir’s girl for longer than she’d been Lord Robert’s daughter, hadn’t she? But that didn’t mean she was unreasonable, or in any way out-of-control.

In the off chance that Dan Harris thought otherwise, of course, she’d be happy to prove him wrong by greeting his bad news with grace and good cheer. But since she was quite sure he didn’t think that and was really quite sincerely putting forth an effort to be cheerful for her sake, she’d do so anyway.

“What’s the news, my love?” she asked him as she took his hat. “How goes the battle?”

“A near-total victory,” Dan said. “Complete capitulation.”

“Oh?” she said. She held back the natural response of So you mean they’ll be leaving Aidan alone? or even Things will be going back to the way they were? because she already knew that neither of those things would be the case. Raising them as possibilities and forcing her husband to deny them would undercut the totality of his victory.

“The enemy has agreed to a phased withdrawal from the field of battle,” he said.

She couldn’t help narrowing her eyes at the phrase.

“Meaning?”

“The inspectors will return next month, and if all looks well, they’ll skip the next month and if things are fine then we’ll be back to the quarterly cycle after that,” he said.

It was nothing like what Dell wanted to hear, but she knew that Danny would have fought hard for the concessions he’d been given and she didn’t believe that any man could have talked the imperious bureaucrats down any further.

“Well, that’s alright, then,” she said, and she gave him a kiss, though he still had the aura of one who was holding his breath despite regular exhalation and inhalation.

“Is that all?” she asked.

“There is… something else,” he said. “Where’s Aidan?”

“Asleep,” Dell said. “He said he’d stay up to meet you, but you know how sleep overtakes him.”

“Gets that from his father’s side,” Dan said.

“What’s the matter, then?”

“There was a man on the sky coach,” Dan said. “Talking about a school of sorts that he represents.”

“Oh?” Dell perked up at this. Maybe Dan didn’t think she considered schooling him outside of Lefton to be an option, but she was beginning to see the virtues of it. “Did it sound like a good one?”

“He, er, wasn’t talking in general-like,” Dan said.

“He knew about Aidan?”

“All about him!” Dan said. “Or near enough. And no, I don’t think he’s connected to the ministry. They wouldn’t have needed to plant somebody on the coach to talk to me when I was headed to their offices. And they could have made the pitch as part of their negotiating. No, this bloke was well-connected, but not officially. I think he or whoever he works for is more of a collector.”

“You make it sound like a menagerie for exotic creatures.”

“Maybe more like a stable for racehorses,” Dan said. “You know, more useful and valuable than just rare and colorful. He wanted to impress upon me how many alumni of his academy are uniquely placed to help us with our bureaucratic troubles. Though I’m not clear on whether he ran it or just represented it. I doubt very much that he’s the top dog, but my hunch is that he’s higher up the ladder than he’d want to let on in a first meeting.”

“What’s his name?”

“Stanley,” Dan said. “Don’t know if that’s first or family. I didn’t much feel like chatting.”

“The whole thing sounds like bad news,” she said. “Whatever my feelings towards the Mother City, we can’t afford to be mixed up with a subversive group.”

“It’s less subversive than diversive, I think,” Dan said. “They don’t want to interfere with the normal functioning of the government, they just aren’t averse to channeling it in directions they find favorable. Mind, this is just my impression from a single sales pitch, but the arrangement he spoke of sounded too cozy to be revolutionary.”

“Well, I don’t trust it for anything, anyway,” Dell said.

“Nor do I,” Dan said.

“Though… it isn’t too soon to turn our thinking towards the boy’s education, you know.”

“Has something happened?”

“…nothing worth speaking of.”

“Tell me anyway.”

“It’s to do with Mrs. Cribbins next door,” Dell said.

“She’s certainly not worth speaking of,” Dan said. “But go on.”

“Her Michael saw you on your way to the coach stop.”

“Through eyes bleary enough to make it an accomplishment.”

“She’s just such an awful gossip…”

“You do her no credit, love… she’s dead brilliant at it, and you well know it.”

“…and it just got me thinking again that when Aidan starts school, he’s going to be there with her children and everyone else’s,” she said. “There are good people in Lefton, but there are also…”

“Cribbenses,” Dan said. “And Martindales, too.”

“I’ve nothing against the village,” she said. “Or the school. But I’d rather Aidan be schooled somewhere where he isn’t…”

“My son,” Dan said.

“The son of a demonblood,” Dell said. “Or of anyone in particular. It’s nothing against you, Danny, neither. I want our Aidan to be able to sit down in a classroom as just one out of a dozen boys and either stand out or not on his own.”

“You know he’ll stand out. He won’t be able to help it,” Dan said. “But we do have options. All sorts of options. That’s the main thing. Expense is not an object, if it comes to it. We’ve the money to have him schooled down in Augustinium. He has money enough of his own to go to any school anywhere in the isles. Our choices aren’t so narrow as sending him to Lefton Common or shipping him off to this Middlestone place.”

“I’d rather not ship him anywhere, though!” Dell said.

“Wouldn’t have to be far,” Dan said. “There are good schools in Augustinium, just down the main road. I took some time to check them out. Couldn’t get anyone to show me around of a Saturday evening, but I wouldn’t want to do that by myself anyway. He could be home every weekend.”

“He’s too young to ride the coach by himself,” Dell said.

“He’ll be older, next fall,” Dan said.

“Still too young.”

“He wouldn’t have to travel by himself,” Dan said. “You could ride down Friday morning and bring him back with you in the evening, and either or both of us could take him back on Sunday.”

“That would make the weekend all the shorter.”

“Then we could go down on Friday evening, spend two whole days together as a family,” Dan said. “And ride back Sunday evening.”

“Taking out a suite every weekend would get expensive,” Dell said.

“So we’ll get a flat in town,” Dan said. “And have an agency let it out to business travelers during the week. Augustinium’s the regional capital. We might even come out ahead, in the long run.”

“How long have you been thinking about this?”

“Just since this afternoon,” Dan said. “To tell you the truth, I was out of the ministry not long after lunch time and I had some time to kick around the old town and plenty to think on. I knew there’d be problems with Aidan going to the L.C. but I didn’t want it to seem like this Middlestone place was the only alternative. So I thought my way through some of the possibilities, what the likeliest difficulties we’d encounter would be, and how we could meet them. I really think we could have our pick of schools, though.”

“Oh, sure,” she said.

“Love, I’m not saying you should make up your mind now. I’m simply saying that we do have options… and we have time to explore them. Next time something carries us down Augustinium way, we’ll make a day of it and visit some of their schools in person… just to see, like. Anything catches your eye… and Aidan’s… and we can explore a little further. Alright?”

“Alright,” she said. “You know I’m going to worry about him no matter where he goes.”

“Of course you are,” Dan said. “He’s our son. And he’ll be cross if he’s not awake enough to greet me tonight, so why don’t you go start the process of rousing him while I have a quick shower, a late tea and maybe a gin and tonic, and watch the news.”

“Oh, it will never take that long,” Dell said. “Your food’s in the warmer, though. Feel free to take it in front of the telly.”

“Oh? I know I must have done something right today to get living room eating privileges.”

“Aye, you came home after I’ve wiped down the table and before I’ve done the carpets, you daft devil of a man,” Dell said, giving him a swat on the rear as he headed for the kitchen.

The subject of Aidan’s schooling did not come up at all for the rest of that week. It was midway through the next when Dan Harris received word that his wife was in the mirror for him. It was with more than a touch of concern that he tied a string around the crystal rod he’d been inspecting to mark his place in the array and hurried to the office that served mainly as a place to store his lunch pail safely out of reach.

“What’s wrong?” Dell asked before he could.

“Nothing,” he said. “You don’t reflect me at work, normally.”

“I didn’t mean to worry you,” she said. “I just needed to check… you said the name of the place that had men snooping around us was Middlestone?”

“Was and is, unless they’ve changed it.”

“I thought so,” she said. “But I didn’t get the feeling they were the sort to send out brochures.”

She held up a glossy-looking booklet showing a tower of gray and white stone blocks backed by blue sky, with a logo up top that read “MIDDLESTONE INSTITUTE” in big bold letters with “& Academy of Personal Achievement” in smaller ones underneath.

“I don’t believe they are,” Dan said. “But they are at least flexible, if nothing else. I asked them to send out literature and they did.”

“I don’t like it,” Dell said. “Makes me wonder how badly they want him, and why. And what else they’ll do.”

“A man who will put out paper that glossy will stoop to just about anything,” Dan said. “I suggest you don’t let the little monster see anything of theirs until we’ve had a chance to look through it and see what exactly they’re going to promise him… I mean, if they had those made up just for his benefit, it might be a little slanted towards his particular interests.”

“I don’t want to think about how they’d know what his interests are,” Dell said. “But you’re right. The package arrived in a shiny black wrapper with a bow design done on it and was addressed to ‘Master Aidan Harris & Family’… he saw his name and thought it was a present, so I told him it was for Aidan, Senior, and we couldn’t open it until you were home.”

“He’s still going to expect a grand unveiling.”

“I know,” she said. “I slit the wrapper carefully enough and I can seal it back up so he’ll never know. But this thing… it’s not just written for him, it’s written to him. The captions in the pictures are all talking to him. He can’t read without sounding things out yet but when he sees his name he’ll stop and do it. It’s all terribly flattering, is the problem. How is any school in town going to compete with that?”

“Literally,” Dan said.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, they’ll literally compete with it,” Dan said. “We’ll make them. When I unwrap that booklet you have there, we’ll put on our least impressed faces and just be like, ‘Oh, well, I guess it’s started then.’ and ‘Look at how hard this rubbishy school is trying to impress you, Aidan. Wait until the others get their licks in.'”

“Then what? We fake up brochures from the other schools?”

“No, I’m fairly certain they’ll just post them to anyone who asks nicely.”

“But no one’s going to… to court him like Middlestone.”

“Listen, you want to see courtship? You’re talking about the son of a knight and a the grandson of a peer,” Dan said. “How often do you think they see one of those down in Augustinium? We’ll write to the schools in town that Sir Aidan Harris, Senior, and the Lady Ardellia Corvir Harris, daughter of Lord Robert…”

“…am I a lady?”

“You’ll never hear me say differently,” Dan said. “Anyway, I’m fairly certain you are one… that’s what you call the wife of a knight.”

“I’m certain that’s a dame.”

“It was, but then they started knighting women,” Dan said. “And now that’s what you call a dame. So now the wife of a knight is a lady.”

“But ‘lady’ is what they call women who’d be lords,” Dell said. “I’m pretty sure a lord outranks a knight!”

“And speaking as a knight, I’m pretty sure his wife outranks him, too,” Dan said. “But if you want to insist otherwise, I can’t argue with that. Listen, you’re definitely a something. We’ll look into it. There’s a manual somewhere. I think it’s holding up the back leg of the sofa?”

“Oh, right,” Dell said. “This would be the sofa that was fine until you sawed the back leg to fit the book underneath.”

“Dell, my dear, you know that my art is my life, and vice-versa,” Dan said. “I don’t ask you to explain what you’re getting into in the spare bedroom all hours of the day.”

“Tax preparation!”

“I know, love. That’s why I don’t ask you to explain it. Do you have any idea how bloody dull it is?”

“But you’re not even anything like a proper knight, Danny,” Dell said. “We aren’t the least bit posh. You don’t even own a suit.”

“I have parts of one,” Dan said. “In fact, come to think of it, I have parts of several suits, including a collection of amusing ties, most of which are bound up in even more amusing knots. Anyway, we’ll want something tailored, not something off the rack. We want something that looks like it’s never been on a rack and wouldn’t be caught dead with one.”

“Sounds like most of the things you own,” she said. “All these years living on solid ground and you still haven’t learned the use of a wardrobe.”

“You mean the big box-like thing you keep next to my pile of clothes?” Dan said. “That’s a kind of a very large duffel bag, isn’t it? I just haven’t found the drawstrings.”

“And you’re going to present yourself as a gentleman of leisure.”

“And hero of the empire, remember that,” Dan said. “I’ve a famous name if I bothered to use it. Anyway, my hands are soft enough for a gentleman of leisure… I’ve never yet managed to raise a blister on them, much less a single callus. Nobody who shakes these hands would ever accuse me of working for a living.”

“But you do work for a living.”

“Madam, you offend me,” he said. “I’m an inspector of airsips. What’s that? Not even a proper job. You just look around every once in a while and nod, and that’s on the days you even bother to show up. It’s a pure sinecure if I’ve ever heard one, and as a knighted hero of the empire and gentleman of leisure, I can assure you I have heard plenty.”

“But, isn’t this the opposite of what we wanted?” Dell said. “When you started talking about schools, the idea was to find a place where he could just be another boy, not… anyone’s son.”

“Well, we have to make do with the cards we’re given,” Dan said. “We can let it be known that Sir and Whatever Aidan Harris, Senior, wish for their son to be given no special consideration and treated like any other student. I’m pretty sure I can figure out the wink that means no, seriously when we say that. The fact that we live in such a small unassuming house in a small unassuming town will help there.”

“And what do we tell them about Aidan’s nature?”

“That… not to worry… he isn’t my actual descendant, strictly speaking,” Dan said. “More than that we don’t need to say. And Aidan won’t have to know there’s anything unusual about children being chased by schools. I mean, that’s really the idea behind recruiting other schools to recruit him: make him think it isn’t unusual.”

“And we accomplish this by splashing our titles… whatever they may be… around, accompanied with generous cash gifts, I suppose?”

“Of course not,” he said. “We’ll make perfunctory cash gifts,” Dan said. “The kind that say, ‘We have not settled on you, we just have so much money that we think nothing of giving this away up front.’ If we’re generous right up front, then there’s less incentive for anyone to chase after us.”

“You know I hate the thought of invading Aidan’s legacy like that,” she said.

“As do I,” Dan said. “But it’s for his benefit. His education was one of the specific cases we decided it would be acceptable to spend a little.”

“I was thinking more his higher education, when he’s old enough to decide for himself.”

“As was I,” Dan said. “What a stroke of luck that neither of us said so, or we’d be in a real bind… anyway, we’ll take his preferences into account. We won’t send him anywhere he doesn’t want to be.”

“What if he doesn’t want to go anywhere?”

“Then he won’t go to Middlestone, either,” Dan said. “And if Lefton Common School doesn’t work out… well, if we can afford to board him, we can afford to tutor him at home for a few years”

Dan winced as soon as he’d said that, not because of how Dell reacted but because she didn’t… she remained still as a stone statue, staring out of the mirror at him.

“Why didn’t you say that before?” she finally shouted.

“I thought it went without saying,” he said.

“Well, it did until you said it,” she said.

“It couldn’t be a permanent solution,” Dan said. “Lythander wanted him to be brought up right, and that means a certain amount of being out and about in the world.”

“But it gives us a few more years before we have to put him outside our reach,” Dell said. “And his father wanted him kept safe, you can’t forget that.”

“We still need to look at schools,” Dan said. “In the first place, we still need something to distract him from Middlestone, and in the second place, we should be considering all the alternatives. And as much as the idea of tutoring might assuage your inner mother bird’s fear of fledging, there are still some concerns there.”

“Well, obviously I wouldn’t let just anyone teach my son,” Dell said.

“Right, and if not just anyone turns out to be not anyone from Lefton, that means we’re not just letting someone teach our son, it means we’re letting someone live in our house,” Dan said. “Which means you’re losing your office.”

“Or we turn the cellar into a flat.”

“That wouldn’t just be a flat, dear, it would also be a shallow and a narrow,” Dan said. “They say good things about gnomish teachers, but I think I’d prefer someone the boy could look up to.”

“Then I’ll turn it into my office,” Dell said.

“We’ll have to talk about this more later,” Dan said. “I think that the prospect of sending your son away has rendered you temporarily more keen on the prospect of taking a stranger into your house than you would truly otherwise be.”

“How can you say that, Dan? This is the clear choice,” Dell said. “It’s the only one that makes sense. Name one downside to it.”

“They’d be living in the same house as Aidan.”

“Well, there are good points and bad points all around,” Dell said. “Clearly we should talk more about this later, once I’ve had a chance to consider them.”

“Then I’ll see you when I get home, love.”


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23 Responses to “KDR 4: Educated Guessing”

  1. Jane says:

    “I’m an inspector of airsips”

    While an airsip sounds like something I’d like to know more about, last time I met Dan, he inspected airsHips 🙂

    Current score: 0
  2. Dan says:

    Ook?

    Also, YAY, I just got caught up on the last few chapters! Look forward to what comes next. 🙂

    Current score: 0
  3. 'Nym-o-maniac says:

    I really, really love this family.

    Current score: 0
  4. Lunaroki says:

    I love Dan Harris! I think he’s becoming my favorite character. He’s like all the clever bits of the Man and Steff rolled into one with all the evil bits and most if not all of the pervy bits removed. (Not that I have anything against pervy. Or evil. Just saying.)

    Typo Report

    “That… not to worry… he isn’t my actual descendant, strictly speaking,” Dan said. “More than that we don’t need to say.”

    “And Aidan won’t have to know there’s anything unusual about children being chased by schools. I mean, that’s really the idea behind recruiting other schools to recruit him: make him think it isn’t unusual.”

    “And we accomplish this by splashing our titles… whatever they may be… around, accompanied with generous cash gifts, I suppose?”

    “Of course not,” he said.

    The distribution and attribution of the paragraphs confused me as to who was speaking in the second one. I was expecting a change of speaker but it was still Dan with nothing to point that out. That paragraph could just as easily have been Dell speaking, so when I got to the third paragraph where it actually was Dell speaking I got confused and wasn’t able to sort it out until the fourth where the speaker was finally identified again. I would recommend that something be done with that second paragraph to make it clear who is speaking there.

    “And if Lefton Common School doesn’t work out… well, if we can afford to board him, we can afford to tutor him at home for a few years”

    Closing period was left off after “years”.

    Current score: 0
    • Brenda says:

      Assuming the first two paragraphs are both Dan, the end quote of the first paragraph should be removed:

      “That… not to worry… he isn’t my actual descendant, strictly speaking,” Dan said. “More than that we don’t need to say.

      “And Aidan won’t have to know there’s anything unusual about children being chased by schools. I mean, that’s really the idea behind recruiting other schools to recruit him: make him think it isn’t unusual.”

      Current score: 0
  5. anon y mouse says:

    “Couldn’t get anyone to show me around of a Saturday evening” – on a Saturday evening?

    “Sir and Whatever Aidan Harris, Senior” – do you want this, or should it be ‘Sir Aidan Harris, Senior and Whatever Ardellia Corvir Harris, daughter of Lord Robert…’?

    Current score: 0
  6. Kaila says:

    I do love those two.

    Current score: 0
  7. Alderin says:

    Schools courting preschoolers… what next? (Seen it IRL, that exact phrase came out) 🙂

    “I knew there’d be problems with *Adrian* going to the L.C. but I didn’t want it to seem like this Middlestone place was the only alternative.” – I think you mean Aidan.

    Current score: 0
  8. Zathras IX says:

    Dell Harris may not
    Be the “Girl Next Door” but she’s
    Still a Corvir Girl

    Current score: 0
  9. MistyCat says:

    “Why didn’t you say that before?” she finally shouted.

    That line jars. I don’t know why because I have no writing skills, but my reading skills say that in its context, there’s something out of place.

    Sorry, but my personal mark for this episode drops to 99.9998% superb just because of that one line.

    It’s probably just me.

    Current score: 0
    • Rin says:

      Well, I for one can find no wrong in either the sentence itself or the context in which it was used. In fact, it seems utterly appropriate to me.

      Current score: 0
    • Zukira Phaera says:

      I felt it needed an ! more than a ? and read it thus as it is how I heard it in my head as I read it.

      Current score: 0
    • Anthony says:

      The response is what got me. Reusing the “goes without saying” gag so soon? For shame…

      Current score: 0
  10. EOI says:

    ““But ‘lady’ is what they call women who’d be lords,” Dell said. “I’m pretty sure a lord outranks a knight!”

    “And speaking as a knight, I’m pretty sure his wife outranks him, too,” Dan said. “But if you want to insist otherwise, I can’t argue with that. ”

    Dan is epic! The he’s like “The Man” but without the evil.

    Current score: 1
    • Zukira Phaera says:

      Dan is diet Man

      Same Man taste, sans Man Sinister.

      (That is supposed to read kinda like a certain diet soda commercial but I think I may have failed to convey it properly.)

      Current score: 1
    • JS says:

      I also loved this line: “And speaking as a knight, I’m pretty sure his wife outranks him, too,” Dan said.

      Current score: 0
  11. Arakano says:

    Well, Dan IS the man’s son, so he’s suave and witty… but he’s also Lauren’s son, so he has principles and a sense of right and wrong. I love him too.

    Current score: 1
  12. pedestrian says:

    there are a lot of tough decisions and uncertainty with raising a child you are not directly related to. but it was one of the major accomplishments of my life that i can take pride in.

    Current score: 0
  13. helen rees says:

    typo alert

    You’re talking about the son of a knight and a the grandson of a peer,”

    remove ‘a’ before ‘the grandson’, I would.

    Current score: 0