The Many Lives of Cadence Lee

by

vladerag

Chapter Fourteen - Bound Reeds and Sharpened Knives

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A note from vladerag

  So I tend to write these late at night.  I write a bit throughout the day and I publish whenever I finish, but the bulk of my writing takes place in an exhausted haze.

  So perhaps it is no surprise that @Smaku noticed that I messed up my math regarding Cadence's Incarnator Points all the way back in Chapter Two.  This has since been fixed (I hope, I actually redid it last night in a - you guessed it - exhausted haze) and result is that Cadence has an additional 2 Vitality, 2 Acuity, and 3 Charisma.

  I am embarresed to have messed up simple math, especially because I work in science and do a lot of math during the day.  Hopefully, there wont be any mistakes going further.  *plants flag for future mistakes*

  ...thus, I believe my research has shown that where Classes overlap they are harder to gain or grow. A [Laborer] will have difficulty gaining the [Farmer] Class just by working on a farm, because any menial labor will contribute far more to her [Laborer] Class than her possible [Farmer] Class. Furthermore, when a person has two Classes and performs an action that can qualify for both Classes - for example, a [Soldier] who also has the [Leader] Class giving orders to a squad of [Soldiers] - the growth will be split between the two Classes, weighted towards the one most suited for the task.

  My conjecture is that this is the reason for the rarity of Class consolidation, but I also believe it implies that any two Classes that do overlap can consolidate into one. Investigating the process has proven difficult given the time involved in training to provoke a Class consolidation, but it does continue.

  (-an excerpt from: “Second Treatise on the System” as translated by Dr. A. J. Heimler. Believed to have been written by Princess Hemtra of Ra’Sharon two thousand years Before Descent.)


  The second village was just a village, only noteworthy for being built around an oasis having more fortifications and storage than most villages of the same size. It served as a supply depot and fallback point for forts at the border and was far more military than civilian. In fact, it seemed that many of the [Soldiers] at the fort had their families live here.

  I, personally, had very little opinion on the place. As far as I could tell, nothing of importance was produced here. The spring gave the oasis water, but the soil was more sand than dirt, so it was not farmed. There was plant life, but it was all hardy desert plants that could survive even in the sandy soil. There weren't rocks to quarry, clay to make pottery with, wood worth chopping, or basically anything else.

  Actually, on consideration, I suppose that is a noteworthy feature. I decided this really wasn’t even a village, it was just a depot where some families of the soldiers happened to live. I would have to import [Servants] here, the population was not up to the challenge of hosting the envoy even if I provided the food and decoration.

  The place certainly needed decoration though. Construction throughout Ra’Sharon primarily only used two materials: stone and mudbrick. Stone was expensive, and used exclusively by the upper classes. Mudbrick, by contrast, was very literally dirt cheap, and was used to construct most of the cities in the empire. It was this cheap because it could be made by mixing mud and straw husks and then packing it down, so [Laborers] could produce it all along Sharon’An.

  Now despite what you might expect from the name, mudbrick could look good. Even the palace complex wasn’t entirely made from stone, it was actually mostly mudbrick produced and constructed with care. The thing is, a lot of mudbrick was not produced or constructed with any kind of care and that was on display here.

  The village named Miol’D - which amused me personally because the way it was pronounced made it sound like “me old” in english and made me think at any time one of the people around me was going to say “me old dog was a gud dog an’ we’ve bin in this here town since furever” or something, I think the sun is getting to me - was not constructed with any particular care. The name of the village literally meant “tower depot,” and that was all it was, so no one had ever bothered to make it look impressive.

  The buildings were asymmetrical and bumpy, looking rough even from a distance. A lot of the bricks were oddly shaped or of random sizes, and there was no effort made to paint or decorate them. Neither of those were things I had time to do probably. Instead, I would just have tapestries and banners brought in and hang them everywhere as decoration. It wouldn’t hide the mess perfectly, but I think it will look impressive enough that the ugliness of the buildings will be overlooked.

  Considering what I had seen at Miol’d, I had expected the border fort itself to be just as much of a wreck and I had expected that I would need to order similar preparations there as well. With what I had already planned for, I had even started thinking that I would end up spending more on cloth than I would on metal decorations.

  However, after leaving Miol’D and enduring another desert trek, I was surprised to find that the border fort was actually very impressive. The outer wall was quarried stone and the inner structures were made of well made mudbrick so you could hardly even tell the difference. The outer wall even had casting stones!

  Rather than paint, the walls had been covered in limestone casing stones that had been highly polished to be smooth and bright, making the outer wall shine a pure white in the sun. It was a very impressive effect, and I personally wondered if it was also a defensive tactic. I found it hard to look at the fort as we approached it because it was so bright.

  When we arrived, I met with the fort’s [Commander]. To my surprise, the fort would require far less preparation than either village. It was easy for me to forget, but our [Soldiers] were a favored Class and class in our empire. While power was very much centralized with Father, there were nobles, although very few had the [Noble] Class - I wasn’t sure why that was yet, but I would like to find out. More relevantly, inheritance among the noble class was decided by primogeniture, which basically meant that the first son inherited everything. Second sons would often join the military as a result, either hoping to be rewarded with plunder and land for service or to rise in the rank and gain power that way.

  From my vantage point as an [Imperial Princess], there was very little difference between a [Servant] and a [Soldier]. Realistically though, [Soldiers] were part of the upper crust of society with status equal to [Scribes]. As a result, there was far more wealth here than I had expected. The [Commander] was a third son from a relatively powerful family in the south of the empire, and so he was able to arrange a welcome without needing much of my input so long as I provided the resources for him to do so. I was perfectly fine putting my trust in him because success here would be a strong boost to his career, and he would also know that if the peace failed because of him I would bury him even if I had to beg my brother to do it.

  With this, the first leg of the journey was accounted for. Now I just had to travel all the way back and arrange the rest. At the very least once I got back I would be able to take a proper bath and have a proper meal.

***

  One week later, I was arriving back in Al’a’xeria. I had gained, over the past two weeks, an appreciation for the amount of effort that must have gone into exploring and traveling through the lands in ancient times. If it was this uncomfortable for me, I can do nothing but pity the people who have to travel without the luxuries I have. It also made me appreciate George Lucas’s writing from more than thirty years ago and two worlds away where I had watched the prequels.

  Because after that trip, I could fully understand devoting time in a multi-million dollar movie in a beloved franchise to complaining about sand. Fuck sand.

  Again, [Governor] Almalek came to greet me, and this time he followed proper etiquette and allowed me to speak first.

  “[Governor] Almalek,” I smiled in greeting. “On my return from the border I encountered your workers already constructing the waystations I had asked for. I appreciate the prompt effort, you have done well.”

  He bowed in return, thanking me for the praise and offering me a chariot back to his palace. I gladly accepted this of course, because while I cannot say I hated mules, I certainly did not want to spend more time than I needed to on them. The temptation of a real bath was also a siren call and I simply could not resist.

  I probably should have, or at least given it some thought, because Aj and Sere were back with the rest of the caravan. While I certainly could use the [Servants] and [Attendants] provided by the [Governor], those two were my [Personal Attendants] and their Skills reflected that. They not only had Skills that helped them do things faster, but also ones that helped them do things better.

  It honestly made me feel like I was a poor [Maid] in my previous life, although the research I had done - before Father shut it down - had given me a little insight into that. After all, a [Battle Maid] was both a fighter and a servant, so it was best at things that involved both but only ok at things that were purely one or the other. The System was a bit different in that world, but I believed that the basic concept applied even in a world that only allowed one Class per person.

  “No, but thank you though,” I waved the [Attendants] away. “I will wait for my own [Attendants], the Skills they have honestly make it worth the wait.”

  “As you with, Flower Princess,” the [Attendant] bowed and was about to leave before I stopped her.

  “Flower Princess?” I asked curiously, “why did you call me that?”

  The woman’s eyes widened, and she immediately flung herself to the floor, apologizing profusely.

  “Forgiveness, Princess Hemere!” She cried out in panic, “I did not mean to offend you!”

  “Oh stand up,” I rolled my eyes, having seen more than one scene like this. “You haven’t offended me at all, I am just curious why you called me ‘Flower Princess.’”

  “Many call you the Flower of Sharon’An, Princess,” she said, only getting to her feet when I threatened to pull her up myself if she didn’t. “Rumors of your beauty had always circulated, but after your visit and the people saw you… Those who say you agreed that your beauty was like a precious flower grown by Sharon’An.”

  Now that I think about it, didn’t the [Governor] call me by that title when I first showed up? I am not sure what to think about this. On one hand, it is incredibly flattering, but on the other hand it is also creepy to think that some old man was calling me a “Flower.” Either way, this was just a consequence of my Classes. [Imperial Princess] primarily raised Charisma and Willpower, while [Muse] - as a consolidated Class - raised my Charisma massively. I had over two hundred Charisma, and when you add that to the effort my [Personal Attendants] put into my appearance…

  “Calling me that doesn’t bother me,” that was mostly true, I think. “It just surprised me, that is all. You may go now, thank you for the explanation.”

  Even using my Skills, she was still nervous and fled from the room as soon as I gave my permission for her to go. I decided that what she said wasn’t really important. I wouldn’t be surprised if all of my siblings who were noticeable had titles or nicknames of some kind. Gaining the Classes that I had originally consolidated into Muse had brought me into contact with parts of the population, and people had certainly noticed me when we left Al’a’xeria and returned.

  Aj and Sere arrived while I was thinking, and they began the preparations for my bath. I let out a very happy sigh as I slipped in. Aj was washing my hair - just like sunscreen, I was originally surprised that shampoo already existed - and even performing a scalp massage as well. Sere, meanwhile, flitted around the room preparing my outfit - which was more difficult than you would think it to be considering the only clothing I wore was a white linen dress every day - arranging the jewelry I would be wearing. Maybe I should have a circlet with the ouroboros theme made…?

  “Have you ever heard me called the ‘Flower of Sharon’An,’ Aj?” I asked, as she continued to wash my hair.

  “I have Princess Hemere,” Aj replied as she began to rinse my hair. “It is an appellation you deserve, to be sure.”

  “Perhaps, but I certainly wouldn’t without the help of you and Sere,” I leaned forward for her to wash my back. “Your Skills and skill in applying my makeup and dressing me every day. I really appreciate the effort, you two.”

  There was a pause at that, I think I had surprised her. Admittedly, she knew that I knew she sold information on me to my siblings, which some might think would make me dislike Aj. Realistically though, I was the seventeenth child of Father, my older siblings had been around for quite a while before I was born. By the time I reached a reasonable age to begin having my own [Attendants] basically everyone was on the payroll of my siblings.

  But since I wasn’t hiding anything, I didn’t care about that. So why shouldn’t I thank them for doing such a good job? Honestly, I didn’t do it often enough. I really had gotten used to being an [Imperial Princess], and I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. It was basic courtesy in my original life to thank people for doing things for me and my second life required me to have perfect etiquette at all times. In this life though, I used my status like a sledgehammer and expected people to obey me. It made me wonder how much my environment had to do with my behavior.

  But I shook those thoughts off as I was dried and dressed. Despite how much I wish there was after riding on a mule for two weeks, there was not time for a massage right now. I had still more arrangements to make, although I feel it was safe to say that the hardest part of my preparation was done.

  Not that the next part was easy. Unfortunately, our shipbuilding technique was rather lacking. Classes made up for a lot obviously, the [River Master] was proof of that. However, Ra’Sharon did not have massive ships or barges. It was, I believe, a result that is obvious when you consider the resource constraints our empire worked under.

  Wood was a precious thing in the desert. For two lives, I had lived surrounded by wooden objects and never thought about them much. In this life, I was wealthy beyond compare and royal, but I would have difficulty getting even a fraction of the wood I used to take for granted.

  For the trip downriver with the [First Prince] I had no intention to rush. Along Sharon’An you could see some of our greatest works and the trip was the most beautiful sight in our empire. So I wanted to show it off with a slow pleasure cruise that could handle prince and the people who accompanied him as well as myself and other Ra’Sharon elite.

  The elite wouldn’t actually stay on the ship, but visit it from the various cities we passed. However, I could not delay too much bringing the [First Prince] to meet Father, so the ship would have to have a place suitable for sleeping. While the ship would travel slowly, it would also travel constantly, without stopping at night.

  It didn’t take a genius to realise that six weeks were not enough time to build what I wanted; it possibly wasn’t long enough to even gather the raw materials. So I would have to cheat. I would have multiple smaller barges lashed together and a platform constructed on them, with structures built on top of that. Wood would be used sparingly in construction with much of the material being used being woven reeds.

  I stopped by the docks to make certain construction would begin on time while also sending for the [River Master] to be prepared to bring me back to the capital tomorrow morning. I would have dinner with the [Governor] tonight and be eating dinner in the royal palace tomorrow night. After that… Well, even the [Governor] was dropping hints that he knew what happened next, which I was taking as a subtle message from my eldest brother.

  “The court has been astir since you left,” the [Governor] was showing off his wealth again, as both our plates featured Charol meat. Charol being a monster found far to the north that resembled a lion with three heads. Much like a cerberus, which was also a thing but not particularly edible. “No one had expected your request to be approved, most everyone is scrambling around to see how this will change things.”

  “Most everyone is not everyone,” I take a bite of the meal, savoring the meat and herb taste before continuing. “I believe there are at least some who see as Father does and understand the gains that we stand to make.”

  “To be sure, Princess, but even if everyone is not scrambling, everyone is certainly making moves. The [First Prince] has even decided to spearhead a few projects in the southern reaches, to reinforce the province and keep it in line.”

  “Truly? Well I hope he will return to meet the Hin’Tye [First Prince],” I had to work to prevent my eyes from narrowing. There was a lot to unpack there. “I had hoped for the two of them to form a friendship.”

  “Ah, and there is a message from him to you as well,” the [Governor] said, motioning for a [Servant] to bring it to me. “I apologise for not mentioning it before, but the [First Prince] asked me to wait until now.”

  I wasn’t listening to the [Governor] anymore, instead I was scanning the message. It was short and to the point:

  “The palace is yours on loan. Succeed and I will come north to join and your way out is guaranteed.”

  It wasn’t signed, but my eldest brother had a Skill that allowed him to “stamp” his writing in a way that made it impossible to copy. The stamp was present, which means that this was the guaranteed words of my brother and that the pressure had just gone up immensely.

  My elder brother going south could mean a lot of things. It could mean that he expected to be able to relocate troops from the northeastern border to the south to help hold and pacify the territory. Alternatively, it could mean that he wanted to make sure that the fortifications in the south were strong enough to survive attack even if he removed troops from them to march north.

  It certainly meant that he didn’t want to talk to me, and that was bad. He was worried, probably that I had a Skill that would allow me to control him somehow. I doubted it, his Willpower would be quite high, but on the other hand, my Charisma was very high as well. If he was worried about me, then that would mean I might be considered a threat to be eliminated, so I would have to allay his fears as soon as possible.

  Perhaps I should get a [Priest] to send him a copy of my Menu? That was personal and invasive, but so was getting stabbed and I had already tried being stabbed once. The real question was, why was he worried?

  “Because I could silence the [Governor] with a single word and was manipulating him with my Skills throughout our meetings…” I thought to myself, realising that I was a fool. I knew that the [Governor] was reporting to my brother, so of course he would have told him. There was more to politics and intrigue than Skill, and I had precious little skill because I had refused to participate.

  “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” I muttered under my breath as I sat back in my chair. Well, I had secured a palace for the Hin’Tye prince without having to beg, so silver linings I guess.

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About the author

vladerag

Bio: Hello! I am Vladerag the author of several stories here on Royal Road! I hope you are enjoying whatever you are reading, and I hope you check out some of my stories!

You can find them here! https://royalroadl.com/profile/76129/fictions

And if you are interested in supporting me, you can do so here as well! https://www.patreon.com/vladerag

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