The Measure of a Man



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The Measure of a Man

From the hand of Lady Yanna Olvensdottir, of Karveth, to her cousin, the Lady Usgivny Thorliss, of Ivinia, all greetings, salutations, and blessings. I recommend myself right heartily and modestly to your care and love.


I received your letter of two months ago with joy and gladness. Your son will grow to be a grand lord, I am sure of it; his valor and his bravery are without peer. I am sure Sir Loryn, my right kind husband, would greatly like to see him, as would I myself, but I know the trip is greatly to be dreaded. Should your husband decide to make the crossing, he and your household are welcome. I know the well-publicized dangers of sea, storm, and barbarian hordes are not to be feared by any of as great a heart as yours.
It is strange that you mention treachery in the household, for it seems only yesterday I myself had such a bitter cup to drink from! I will gladly tell you what I did, for we are in similar straits, you and I, and it is shameful indeed that a woman ought to be faced with such things.
Sir Loryn had disappeared, and was presumed dead, and I was chatelaine of his household and chattels, which, in Tashal, were not few. As you remember me saying, he was master of an Apothecary which did decent business, we owned a large home in a pleasant part of Tashal, and he was backer to a very large mercenary compound, whose master, Canaille, disappeared when he did. I myself had little to do, being a gatherer of herbs, and sometime singer, for once I had been a bard of some repute. However, Loryn felt it not meet for a Lady, even one who followed the Sage, to sing in taverns for money, and that largely took away my enjoyment of it. Oh, the happy days before he disappeared! And how sad, the ones after he had! I was plunged into despair and largely did not leave the house. I know this behavior is shameful, but such was my grief at heart.
Loryn had two apprentices when he disappeared, a woman by name of Marielle, and a man by name of Porscious. I know you will be amazed that they were both rather over the age at which one is apprenticed, yet these two were both of remarkable ability. Marielle and I became fast friends, while Porscious was largely unknown to me. He was friendly, and yet, he being male and Jarin, I felt a gulf between us. That gulf was to widen in the days to come.
I am not the most observant woman the Slayer ever spawned, nor the Lady ever beckoned to her side, but even so, it took me little time to notice that Marielle continually made remarks of a suspicious and vigilant nature concerning Porscious. You never saw the house in which I lived, but it was, to put it mildly, cozy. Loryn's workshop was just west off the great room, which was itself not so large. My gracious lord liked having everything and everybody close at hand -- though I have since convinced him that it is best to think more ambitiously. I am sure you can imagine the interesting aromas he produced, being that the kitchen was so hard by. Marielle and Porscious both had access to his workshop, coming and going freely, for his house was ever open to friends and we constantly had guests. Porscious was very quiet, coming and going without my even truly being aware of it, and the times I spent with Marielle were pleasant.
Then one day Marielle took me into the small kitchen, which smelled of carrots and stew and roasts. She whispered to me, "I do not trust Porscious." I tried to make light of it, saying that in truth, two apprentices were ever wont to cause discord between them, but she insisted something was not right, and that I should hurl Porscious from the house and certainly not allow him into the workshop.
This was unthinkable to me. In those days, I was not moving ahead, but only maintaining Loryn's investments and servants. He had left me a considerable sum of money, and I could get more if I needed it by selling things of value left behind. I still had not found the bulk of his wealth, but I was sure more existed if I but knew where to look. It was inconceivable to me to discontinue the employ of one of his apprentices -- what would I say to my beloved when he asked why I did it? On the word of another apprentice, who might be merely jealous of Porscious' good favor with Loryn? And so I told Marielle I could not do that without permission from Loryn, and she stormed out, saying that she was leaving the house and would find other places to live.
This did not bother me, in truth. I loved Marielle like a sister, but her constant harangues were growing wearisome, and her insistence that I do what was improper, by acting against Loryn's wishes, tore me in two directions. It seemed far easier to let her move out, and tell Loryn that she had left of her own free will, than to throw Porscious out, and hear his remonstrances, gentle as they always are. There was little my faith in the Sage, for I followed him in those days, as does my lord even now, could provide me as to an answer save to follow the trail of proof. This consoled me little, for Marielle was such a dear friend, and I had little reason to love Porscious, as I did Marielle. And yet despite how little feeling I had for Porscious, it could not be denied that he had never given me cause for suspicion. Should I choose the unproven word of a dear friend, or the proven good faith of a stranger?
And so we continued in this fashion, with Marielle coming in to use the workshop, and Porscious living in the house, and she tried to avoid him. But in such a small house that was impossible. I was lost in my grief and barely noticed their fights, and in truth, I do not think they were acrimonious fights, only bitter words. I did not regard their squabble as anything I should interfere with, even if I could. I was only the lady of the house, and not involved at all in Loryn's business.
I began to be aware, slowly, of various rumors concerning Porscious and that criminal organization in Tashal, the Lia-Kavair. I do not think they exist in Ivinia, dearest cousin, and so here is their essence: They are shadow men, who hide and steal and kill. Nobody knows who is a member, for sometimes they pretend to be honorable men. They commit crimes to further their goals, and sometimes the goals are crimes themselves. The rumor said that Porscious created poisons and healing potions for their use. This was a dreadful accusation, one to destroy a man's reputation and good word, true or no.
I know that I should have laughed at the mere idea. An apprentice is never given anything of value to create, and rarely are their abilities up to creating anything truly useful. Porscious, when I mentioned the rumors, responded in calmness and gentleness that it simply wasn't possible. But what did I know of alchemy, except what Loryn, a master, had shown me? I knew what he could create, and even to this day I cannot say the wonders I have seen flash from his hands.
But I had to respond to the rumors, and so I made contact with a member of the Guard, who advised me to remove all things from the workshop that might be used to make poisons. He told me what to look for, and I entered the workshop, an intruder and an interloper, to do this deed. I searched the workroom from top to bottom and indeed, located two chests, one containing wonders I had never before seen, and herbs I had never seen before. I do not think even Porscious or Marielle knew it existed. I removed two very large bags of everything I could find that looked like what the guardsman had said to find, and put them into my secret closet upstairs. When I mentioned in passing what I had done, Marielle was pleased, and Porscious seemed satisfied. I made known that I had taken steps to prevent my household's implication in such a scheme, without saying what I had done, and things were quiet for a short while. I made sure to enter the workroom from time to time and check things over, but nothing seemed amiss, truly. I also ransacked those secret chests before putting them back, and put the wonders with the bags of herbs upstairs. If only you could have seen them! Clothes and armor from lands far away, keepsakes and trinkets, and of course the herbs,and potions I'd never seen before.
The rumors did not abate. If anything, they grew more outrageous. It was during this time that I learned something about Marielle's husband that seemed to indicate a passing familiarity with the cause of the rumors, but even this did not sway me: there was still no proof. In truth it made me more angry, because Marielle still came to me, in tears and in agony, pleading that I throw Porscious from the house before he destroyed it. She said, "Look at this house! It is empty, where it was filled with laughter and guests." I could not deny this, and being who I am, found this even more disturbing than she might have. But something still bothered me. I could not understand how she could be so sure, even in light of what I had found, and yet she was so strident and so desperate that I did something that in retrospect might have been dishonorable.
I lied.
One day I arranged to be in the great-room weeping when Porscious came in. He acted very disturbed by this and came close, touching my shoulder, asking me why I wept. I was not a master bard for nothing: I told him that a hooded man had come into the house and spoken of Porscious, hinting that unless he cooperated that ill would come to the house. I admit now it was a most simplistic and obvious ploy, but Porscious had no reason to imagine I would tell a mistruth, and so he believed. His behavior was completely what I would have expected of a man wrongly dragged toward evildoing. Part of me was revulsed that if he were a wrongdoer, at how clever he was at hiding it! For he talked to me most tenderly, as befitted a thane to his lord's wife, telling me that it was shameful that any woman should need to suffer such confusion and such threats, and how he wished Loryn were there to handle it for me. It should be noted that Marielle was proud of my performance, when I told her of it, and encouraged me to destroy him. I was revulsed on two sides, now. I no longer held anything back in my investigation.
That week I pilfered my husband's contacts and several thousand coins and went after information. I asked all who had such contacts in the Lia-Kavair, be they lawful or not (and Loryn had many, to my surprise), to aid me by giving me information. I paid dearly for some of it, and yet nobody had ever heard of Porscious being involved with unlawful persons. I met masked and hooded men in foul-smelling taverns that bred unease even in me, with the childhood I had, and yet despite my coin, none admitted ever seeing evidence of these rumors. I was troubled by this, for surely for such coins I could find the truth, and yet not one miscreant I consulted had proof of it. I wonder now if they grew tired of my insistent questions. It seemed to me, then, that every time someone mentioned hearing this rumor, it always came from one source: Marielle. Always. Nobody had ever heard the rumor from anybody else, and nobody ever reported seeing or receiving word of proof of Porscious' actions. But why would she do this?
It was during this time that I became a friend of Lieutenant Walleran, of the Inquisition. He was dashing and brave, and a dear friend of my missing husband's. We were united in our grief over missing him. I was nervous about approaching him, for I had the normal dread every person feels at the idea of provoking an investigation through some misstep, but when I talked to him, he said that without a doubt Porscious was innocent of these rumors. We spoke in the great hall, over wine, and I poured my heart out and he did tell me that my fears were groundless: Porscious was as innocent and naive as a newborn lamb. He would not share why he was so confident, but in truth, I was afraid to ask -- the Inquisition is a dire and dreadful business, best left untouched. He was sure enough that I knew then that there was no truth to the allegations, and could accept Porscious into my confidence. To this day I wonder how he found this out, but to this day, I fear to ask. Walleran has grown cold in recent years.
This is my chiefest advice to you, that you observe your thane's accusers and his behavior in the face of such accusations. Do not withhold any resource from your investigation. Avail yourself of every source you have, be it dreadful or fearsome, to discover a truth such as this.
And so it was that I stood before Marielle in my home, drew myself to my full height, and made myself as terrible as an army with banners, my eyes a mask to my soul. I told her that I would no longer tolerate her slanders, for slanders they were, and if she continued to speak against Porscious without clear evidence, and plant such foul rumors herself, I myself would hurl her to the deepest pit in the city of Tashal, and would make her life the hell she had nearly created for an innocent man. I would not hesitate to raise my hand against the viper who threatened my brood, I told her. That is my second piece of advice to you, cousin: Do not ever hesitate to stand against evildoers.
I steeled myself against her tears, and her anger. In truth, neither mattered to me any more. She flung such words at me that I could have taken steps against her, had I not prepared myself to give even her mercy in the first throes of my dreadful words. I pitied her, for she truly believed what she had been saying, and yet what she was saying, I was sure now, was not true. I waited, and she stormed, and I waited more. We were so different, she and I: the tall, white-haired lady in silks, and the short, tanned commoner woman in her functional herb-gathering garb. And for a time I had called her sister. That time was over, she declared, and she left.
Do I miss her? In truth, yes, but no. I missed having a woman around I could laugh with and be a sister to, and I missed dearly her sense of humor. But I do not miss the havoc she wreaked with her jealousy, and I do not miss the time spent repairing what she nearly destroyed. From then on, until I left Tashal, I did not have or seek a kind word from her.
Loryn was disappointed but not overly surprised, and supported all I had done. And is that not what our duty requires of us as wives, to please our husbands? I know now that I did the right thing. I wonder where Marielle is, and how she fares, and if she ever found another master half as good as Loryn. Porscious flourishes to this day and will one day be a worthy alchemist in his own right. You may meet him if you like, and perhaps you will think, as I have, that despite being Jarin, he is a good man and honest. His bravery and honesty would make any Ivinian battle-chief proud.
May the Slayer bless you with many sons and a profitable summer. I am also sending an embroidered lappeted veil for you to wear to the banquets, for when you serve. I pray you remember me and mine fondly.
Your most loving cousin,

Lady Yanna of Karveth, Olvensdottir


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