Chapter 228: Summoning CourageAlexandra Erin on July 18, 2014 in Volume 2 Book 7: Courtly Manners, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort
In Which Mackenzie Doesn’t Go To Glory’s Bedroom In The Middle Of The Night
Of course, I hardly need to tell you that I never really stopped trying to quantify what Glory had with me.
Looking back on it, I’m kind of amazed that I didn’t succeed at making the whole thing unravel early on, considering how much picking around the edges I did. I guess the thing that was working for us is that the relationship had two tiers to it. Any frustration I felt at not being able to pin down the exact nature of the romantic relationship could be sublimated into better defining the professional relationship.
That’s how I gradually went from being Glory’s ill-defined “agent” to being basically her errand girl, and from there to being her personal assistant in all but name.
This was totally not what I had signed up for, of course. She had me talking to the people she didn’t want to talk to, managing her schedule, coordinating things for court outings and dinners and stuff… all things that were very much outside my experience and areas of expertise.
I mean, they were all things that I would have been loath to do for myself, much less anybody else… but since I already had someone who would pay me to do whatever and since I enjoyed pleasing her and having an excuse to go see her and spend time hanging out with her, I said yes way more than I said no.
And each time that I said yes, it became easier.
The tasks, I mean… the more I did the tasks that I’d always been afraid to take on, the easier they became. I don’t want to make it sound like I was following into the habit of agreeing with her just because it was easier than disagreeing with her.
The weird thing about Glory as compared to my other relationships is that I never really went through the phase of being afraid to say no, afraid to disappoint her. I wasn’t completely out of that phase with anyone else… it was less a feature of my relationships and more a part of my personality. I think the only reasons I avoided it with Glory were a combination of having gone into this so stubbornly resolved to walk away before I did that and the fact that she had just enough of the elven cultural arrogance for me to roll my eyes a bit but not enough to be really annoying.
While she took great care to be reasonable in the demands she put on me, I never lost sight of the fact that she could be unreasonable.
“Glory, I can’t be on call in the middle of the night,” I had to tell her at one point, after she woke me up at two in the morning. “I mean, if you need to get a hold of me because there’s an emergency… well, that’s an emergency. But you shouldn’t be reflecting me in the middle of the night with the expectation that I’m going to open up.”
“Okay,” Glory said, nodding. “It’s your right to decide that, but maybe I’m giving you the wrong idea. I mean, I wouldn’t be summoning you every night, and I probably wouldn’t need you for the whole night. I mean, how much sleep do you need, anyway?”
“All of it,” I said.
“But you don’t sleep all the time!”
“No, but… when I’m sleeping, I’m sleeping,” I said. “Could I lose an hour of sleep here or there and keep going? Yeah, probably, but that’s already happening. It’s pretty much a basic fact of my existence as a college student.”
It was only later that I started to consider that Glory wanting to send for me in the middle of the night might well have been a pretext… after all, the whole “job as an excuse to see each other” thing was a well-established facet of our relationship, one that we both openly and freely acknowledged.
I didn’t kick myself over having told her no… it was as much about the precedent as anything else. I wouldn’t necessarily have minded a middle-of-the-night summons on a weekend, if we were more sexually active and that was the cause. But as long as work was even the pretext, I would say no, because I didn’t want her to get the idea that I would come running any time she needed something.
Still, I was curious enough to ask her what she had wanted, the next day.
“I realized my bed needed moving, and I wanted you to help me,” she said.
“Seriously?” I said. “In the middle of the night, you decided to rearrange your furniture?”
“Well… the middle of the night is when I use my bed, isn’t it?” she said. “So naturally I didn’t notice the problem until I’d been in it for a while.”
“What exactly was the problem?” I asked.
“It feels… off,” she said. “Out of balance.”
“Like it’s tipping over? Wobbly?”
“No, just… not in the right place. Not in the best place,” she said.
“Hasn’t your bed been in the same position for a while?”
“Yes, but so many other things have been added or changed since it was put in,” Glory said. “Naturally, the room could use some re-balancing.”
“Okay,” I said. “I can probably find someone to do that inside of a day.”
“Actually… I was really kind of hoping you would come over and do it sometime,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be in the middle of the night, that was just when it occurred to me that you’d be good at it.”
“What do you mean by that?” I asked.
“It wasn’t an insult!”
“I just mean, I’m not exactly the ‘heavy lifting’ type,” I said.
“So… is that a no?” she asked.
“It’s more of a ‘why me?’,” I said.
“Because I’m not exactly sure how I want things to be until I’ve seen them, and I know you won’t be tired of being told what to do,” she said.
“I meant more like… well, like I said. I’m not the ‘heavy lifting’ type.”
“What does that even mean, though?” Glory asked. “You’re the strongest person I know, Mackenzie Blaise. Although most people that I know are tiny elven girls in frilly dresses, so… well, actually, that’s all the more reason that you’d be the first person I would think of when I need something big and heavy moved for me. You’re my big, strong human girl.”
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that I blushed, but it wasn’t just the compliment… and I wasn’t just blushing.
“Oh, and now you’re crying,” Glory said, her face reverting to studied blankness. “I’ve… overstepped? Somehow? I’m sorry…”
“No,” I said. “I just… okay, the thing is, I’ve never thought of myself as being good for stuff like that, because I’ve never thought of my strength as something good. In fact, as much as is possible, I’ve tried to avoid thinking of it as part of me. It’s just like, a symptom… part of being a demon.”
“And I’ve gone and rubbed your face in it, haven’t I?”
“No!” I said. “You’ve… Glory, you’ve done the exact opposite. You look at me and you see a human, and… not because you don’t know the truth.”
“I do know the truth,” she said. “You’re a human… the demon thing is a thing, but you were raised human. You look human. You’ve lived in a human-dominated culture.” She took my hands. “What am I supposed to see when I look at you, Mackenzie? I see you.”
“I think the only people who’ve ever admired me for my strength mostly just thought the demon thing was cool,” I said. “Which always kind of unnerves me, even if I like the person otherwise… but you, you think the human part is cool.”
“Parts, parts, parts,” she said. She let go of one of my hands and touched my cheek with the back of her fingertips. “If I touch you all over, will you tell me when I find the part that’s demon?”
“It doesn’t work like that,” I said.
“How does it work, then?” she said.
“You know how.”
“Tell me, then.”
“It’s a mix… every part of me is half demon, and half human,” I said.
“Or another way of looking at it would be that there’s no part of you that isn’t human,” she said.
“That same logic says that there’s no part of me that’s not demon.”
“I’m not interested in that,” she said.
“That worries me, though,” I said. “If you have to ignore part of me to be interested in me…”
“I’m not ignoring,” she said. “It’s just not what interests me. We no more have to like every part of each other than we have to spend every minute of every hour together. Aren’t there parts of my life you don’t find… appealing?”
“…well, I haven’t really thought about it…”
“Mackenzie Blaise, you know full well that if I asked you to move into Oberrad House and be a member of my court, you wouldn’t, and not just because you’re already living with Amaranth,” she said. “Most of the limits you’ve set so far have been about not wanting to be involved with huge parts of my life. Have I ever shown you cause to think I feel rejected as a result?”
“Well… no,” I said. “But I meant what I said. I hadn’t really thought about it, in those terms. If I had, I don’t know if I would have done it… or if I would have thought this was something that could work out, on any level. I always saw Treehome and your attachment to the whole court thing as… circumstances. Not things that are intrinsic to you.”
“I don’t know that they are intrinsic to me, or what it would mean if they were,” Glory said. “But intrinsic or not, it’s not something I could simply put down… or something I know I would want to. Sometimes I wish I could just ball the whole thing up and throw it in the trash. Others… well, I know I wouldn’t fight the end of the middling monarchies, and I hope to see it softened up quite a bit before I age out of it… but there are times that I don’t know if I could really bring myself to end it, if I had the option.”
“I’m… surprised,” I said. “I know you have certain attitudes towards things that aren’t likely to change, but… you’ve never really seemed to relish lording things over people. Or ladying things, or whatever it would be.”
“I don’t always relish the exercise of power,” she said. “Especially in Treehome, so often it felt like it was necessary to do this thing or that thing that I didn’t often feel like the power was really mine… I’ve had my own sister and some of the sweetest maids I know punished because to do otherwise would be to expose them to harsher consequences. Now that I don’t have to watch my back or worry quite so much about what other groups think of how I run things… well, I could keep that kind of thing up in ways that are more to my taste, but I’ve found my taste running in other directions.”
“So then, why would you care about abolishing the throne?”
“I don’t enjoy having power over people, Mackenzie,” she said. “As a very general rule, I mean. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy having power.”
“I don’t follow,” I said.
“I’m not sure how to lead you there in Pax,” she said. “There’s… alright, maybe using the word power for both things is confusing… let’s say authority and ability. Or no… authority and freedom. Having authority over people is a kind of power, but it’s a power that obligates. Freedom is another kind of power. The power I held as a queen in Treehome obligated me to punish my sister if I wanted to protect her. The power I hold out here is the power to… well, it’s the power to. Not power over. If that makes sense.”
“Kind of,” I said. “I’m just… I’m not sure why you have to be the queen to have the kind of power you want.”
“Maybe I’m just too attached to the perks,” she said.
“No, I don’t think so,” I said. “Because if that were it, I don’t think you’d be so conflicted… I mean, you might wrestle with it a bit, but I think you would know what you’re weighing against what. Like, what you’d be giving up versus what you’d be gaining. I think… I think it’s because you haven’t not been queen in so long, and certainly not outside of Treehome, that you have a hard time convincing yourself that you would still be as free if you weren’t.”
“…maybe,” she said. “That… that could very well be. If that’s the case, though… how would I ever overcome that fear?”
“Well, you could always pay attention to your courtiers… your friends… who aren’t queens and never have been,” I said. “See how they use the freedom, or power, or whatever that they’ve gained by not being in Treehome, as they get used to it. But at the end of the day, it’s possible that nothing will convince you that it’s safe except actually doing it and experiencing it for yourself.”
“I think the end of the day is a little soon for abolition,” she said. “I still think it’s best to wait until we have our house in order, literally and figuratively, to make any big changes.”
“I know what you meant,” she said. “Just tell me one thing.”
“Is this whole conversation your way of avoiding an answer about moving my furniture?”