We are now just two episodes away from the end of the first season. TWO EPISODES. EVERYTHING IS TENSION.
In this episode, secrets are not remaining so secret anymore, and Kaab is making me want to cry and yell at her at the same time…
Let’s discuss Tremontaine! (Spoilers abound below!)
OK, so the gist of this week’s episode is that no one is messing around anymore. This means high drama, yes, but it also means we get a few scenes of quieter interest. It took a second reading of this episode for those scenes to get my attention, but the more thought I give them, the more they give me to think about. So I’m going to highlight those first.
Micah, Tess and Vincent
Rafe is very understandably distracted by his Tremontaine-related troubles this week, which I will get to soon enough. Meanwhile, though, this leaves Micah largely free of the distractions of Rafe – and, it seems, the obligatory distractions of her navigational studies on his behalf. Our newly minted University scholar has been discovering other things to study that she’s just as interested in, and after a brief conversation with Rafe that leads him to agree that she should focus on these things (thus, wisely, keeping her as far from harm’s way as possible), it looks like she’ll be doing just that. So this may well mean that we get to see Micah find her own way at the University and do her own thing, as is her own want, and I for one can’t wait to see what might come of that. The socially anxious sweetpea of this story has, as you may be aware, been a favourite character of mine from the start. Anything that leads to more Micah time is an exciting prospect to me. This in particular – getting to see her explore new things and hopefully grow out of her shell? That is the most exciting thing of all.
Tess, meanwhile, has been romantically involved with Kaab long enough to start getting ideas about where their relationship could go. Naturally, her ideas and Kaab’s are very different on that point, and this episode sees that storm cloud starting to get closer. And it is the proverbial storm waiting to happen, if I’m any judge. Tess has enough temper for two, as we’ve seen before, and she is clearly not going to take kindly to being informed that she’s less important to Kaab than her duty to her family – however much Kaab might genuinely care for her, it looks as though that conversation is coming. Whether or not Kaab is ready for it is another matter. She might be smitten with Tess but her grasp of what’s required to build a stable relationship is shown to be facepalm-inducingly poor this week:
“I was asking about that man you killed. The one you and Vincent say was the duke’s swordsman. Are you listening at all?”
“I’m sorry, Tess,” Kaab said, and turned to kiss her forehead. “I have many duties that are weighing on me.”
Tess sighed. “And would you prefer to attend to them rather than stay with me?”
Kaab sat up, relieved that Tess had suggested it first. “Yes. Dear Tess, yes, that is precisely what I would prefer. I must go to Tremontaine House. I must go there in person and see what I can find. Thank you for being so underst— In fact, I might need you to forge something for me. On very short notice. My family will pay you, of course.”
Tess sucked in a sharp breath. “My God, you can be cold, Kaab.”
Kaab frowned. “What do you mean?”
“Oh, just go. Just go before I hit you with my inkpot. You wouldn’t want me to damage that, not if you want my services.”
Kaab worried a little to see Tess so angry, but she could make her happy again later. She didn’t have time to decipher this unexpected intricacy of Local courtship. Not with the urgency of her duty to her family.
*Winces* Yeah, that’ll go well for you, Kaab. No problem there. Not at all.
Which brings me to the next interesting exchange, this time between Kaab and Vincent as Kaab is leaving:
Kaab sighed again and left the bedroom. She found Applethorpe cleaning his sword by the window in the outside room. The walls were not thick; he of course had heard everything. He sketched her a sardonic bow.
“If it’s any consolation, I have found,” he said, “that swordsmen do not make good lovers.”
Kaab bristled. “I’m a great lover!”
“Ah, my girl,” he said, “but loving’s not just about the fucking.”
LISTEN TO YOUR TEACHER, KAAB.
Vincent is another character I find interesting, despite that he’s been mostly on the sidelines so far. We know that he’s good enough with a sword to teach others how to use one, but we don’t know where or why he learned to be so good at it. We know he’s wise enough about relationships to give Kaab some pretty good advice on them, as evidenced, but we don’t know anything about his own romantic past. We can’t even really be certain why he’s happy to spend his time and considerable skill on training a girl with the relative social awareness of a pineapple to use a sword and on guarding a Riverside forger when he could, presumably, find work in any of the noble houses and thus find better pay. What I do know for now is that despite the early shine he took to Kaab, Vincent has apparently taken the fact of her *ahem* quite open relationship with Tess with true gentlemanly aplomb. Let’s face it, how many men would be comfortable sticking around to offer advice to a woman they’d shown an interest in when there’s no hope that she’d return it? It’s sad but true that this probably makes Vincent Applethorpe a rare and pretty darned valuable exception. So I’ll say it again: LISTEN TO HIM, KAAB.
*Deep breath* And now for the high drama.
Will, Rafe and Kaab
Diane remains largely absent in this episode, though she gets a rather telling scene to herself early in the episode. Having begun poisoning Will with shadowroot, she’s now having to deal with the consequences in ways it seems she hadn’t counted on – namely, having her sleep disturbed by her restless, ranting husband:
In the hallway outside the duchess’s chambers, William paced restlessly on the thick carpet. He muttered constantly to himself, a stream of description, explanation, and justification that was a grotesque parody of his normal analytical habits. Instead of documenting and theorizing on the natural world, he was attempting to reason his way through an imaginary one.
“But if the sky has been eaten by green fire . . . The gods, then, must exist as an inverse to the universal principle of the unity of things as proposed by Simeon . . . Why, of course, we humans have always had three legs. However could we balance on two?”
And so on. The clouding of his mind worsened at night. Five days after she had begun administering the contents of that dangerous packet from Riverside, some society wags were already wondering if something was not quite right with the Duke Tremontaine. Soon, Diane judged, his infirmity would become common knowledge and she could take the necessary steps. It would not do to rush the process, or for his descent to seem to overly precipitous. He still had his moments of lucidity, and a disquieting ability to recognize his madness even while he lost his ability to escape from it. This intermediate stage was vexing, perhaps, and carried its own small risk here in the city, but it was necessary.
If only he would keep to his chambers. If only he would let her sleep. If only he would get on with this business of going mad somewhere she did not have to hear him and remember.
OH I’M SORRY IS YOUR HUSBAND’S MENTAL DISTRESS PROVING DISTRESSING TO YOUR LADYSHIP? HOW AWFUL FOR YOU.
… I may be somewhat lacking in sympathy for the Duchess at this point. Not that I exactly had an abundance of it to begin with, but yeah – with The Big Secret now being revealed (mostly), I have to say I’ve got even less sympathy for Diane now. (That said, there is a question in particular that I’m still guessing at the answer to, but we’ll see how that plays out later…)
From here we see much more of what Will’s declining mental health means for him and Rafe – namely, some proper clandestine meetings behind Diane’s back. AND THE HOUSE STEWARD AND THE KITCHEN STAFF ARE IN ON IT THIS IS TOO GOOD I NEED MORE TISSUES. Also, it must be said that if they’d tried to be this discreet about their fling in the first place this might have been avoided. Just saying.
But regardless of my snark, I can hardly stand this! I’ve been going from mildly disapproving of the whole affair to wanting to cry over this episode, and that is absolutely to the credit of these writers. RAFE + WILL 4EVAR. Good gods, Diane has so much karmic payback coming her way that I almost, ALMOST feel sorry for her on that score alone. Almost. Really, though, I can’t wait to see if she gets it.
Which brings me to Kaab, who is looking more and more like she’ll be delivering that payback all the time. This week sees her earning her way back into her family’s good graces by being given an assignment to break into Tremontaine House and find whatever’s to be found in order to gain real leverage over Diane. What she finds is precisely the thing that could both bring down the Duchess and save Will’s sanity (and possibly his life), and this leaves her with a hugely important decision to make…
And so Kaab’s choice was clear. She could tell Rafe about the poison. But in doing so, she would bring about the downfall of the duchess. The Balams would lose the immediate benefit of the lower taxes and suffer the long-term disaster of a powerful Local lord determined to navigate to their homeland and destabilize a volatile political situation. Or she could walk away and tell no one what she knew. She could let the poison run its course with the duke.
Because then, the only Tremontaine power left would be the duchess. And now Kaab knew her greatest secret.
“Our world is but one of many,” she heard the duke say, urgently, “our star is but one of countless millions. We are grains of sand on a beach and each grain is a constellation . . .”
Rafe hushed him.
Kaab replaced the locket where it had been, closed the chest and the panel, and walked over to the window by the desk. The rain had stopped, at last, and the clouds had cleared. The hour was late enough that the morning star was just skimming the horizon. Kaab had to leave. The duchess would return at any moment.
“My family or my friends,” Kaab whispered to the sky. The stars were silent. They had no need to give her an answer that was already in her heart.
THIS IS NOT OKAY. I AM NOT OKAY KAAB WHAT ARE YOU DOING well, okay. MAYBE she’s doing the best thing in terms of the greater good of so many people… BUT THIS IS NOT RIGHT. It kills me that not only is Kaab being put in a position like this, but that she’s so readily able to make the “logical” choice. This is going to destroy Will and Rafe and I CAN’T STAND IT.
I am so not ready for whatever’s coming next. I’m not.