If Miran had princesses, Ellisandra Takumar would be one. Smart, pretty, engaged to a high-profile man, everything a high-class Mirani woman should be. But things are not well in Miran. Many years of boycotts have taken their toll on society, and the regime becomes more desperate to keep its citizens under control. Revolt is brewing. As director of the state theatre, Ellisandra has been asked to stage a violent traditional play which stands stiff with threatening political messages for the populace. She hates it, but speaking out would risk that she’d be cast out from the only world she’s ever known.
Next to her house is the burnt ruin of the house of another high-class family, the Andrahar family. They fled Miran for political reasons when Ellisandra was a little girl and the house has lain untouched ever since. One night, she spots a mysterious young man walking around the yard, putting out pegs and pieces of string. He’s re-building the house. That makes no sense, because the family is no longer welcome in Miran, and who is he anyway?
She is curious and investigates. He seems too good-natured and naïve for his own good, so rather than telling her brothers, she tries to shield him from her own society. And so starts the slide that leads to her being cast out from the only life she’s ever known.
Snippet from the book:
WHEN FATHER didn’t want to eat anymore, Ellisandra wiped his face and his hands and took the tray outside. Enzo followed close on her heels, and when she closed the door, he asked, “Why don’t you let Darma do this?”
“She snipes at him and doesn’t do the job properly. You know last time when his skin got covered in rashes because she didn’t wipe his face, and he came to the theatre like that and Ariandra Hirumar commented on it at the Ladies’ Ball, and next thing I knew I was a bad daughter neglecting her father? Well, I don’t want that again.”
“Then we get someone else. You know I don’t want you doing this, Elli. We have servants for this work.”
“He scares them all away. We burn through servants like straw. Some of the ones we’ve lost were quite good in all their other work and I would have loved to have kept them. It’s not them, it’s him.”
“Tell him clearly that he shouldn’t say inappropriate things to them.”
“You don’t understand.”
“I don’t need to understand anything. It’s plain bad behaviour. If he grabs Darma through her shirt, then this is what he gets. It’s his own fault.”
“No person I pay to be in this house should have to deal with Father’s bad behaviour. He doesn’t know he’s doing it.”
“That’s rubbish, Elli. They’re excuses. He’s done this all his life. Never known to keep his hands to himself. No one should have to put up with it.”
“It’s too late. If I don’t feed him and wash him, he’s going to go hungry and will sit all day in his own shit. Do you want that? Do you want your children to do that to you when you’re old and you can’t think properly anymore? He’s your father, too.”
His face tightened.
Ellisandra started down the corridor. “I’m going to grab something to eat myself.”
“Wait.” He held her back by the sleeve of her dress, his eyes intense.
Here it came, the reason why he’d been hovering around her. “I need some figures, and I need them before the property commission of the council sits tomorrow afternoon.”
She looked at him, meeting his eyes, his sharp face and thin mouth. His eyes were light blue, like those of most Endri.
“What sort of figures?” The back of her neck pricked with suspicion. He was asking this right before he was going into a Citizen’s Group meeting? “Why are you asking me?”
“I only want to know how many credits the Tussamar Traders paid the Ilendar family for their nephew’s house, or if they paid in some other currency.”
“Only? That information is in the Accountkeepers’ system.” The currency system that kept track of all Mirani credits—tirans—and that was the domain of trusted users who had to swear under oath that they wouldn’t share information with others.
“Yes.” He gave her a penetrating look.
“Oh no, you’re not asking me to do that. Yes, I know I’ve got access because of the theatre’s finances, but . . . No, Enzo.”
“Only one figure and it’s many years old. Is the old Ilendar even still alive? Let me have a look. It’s important.”
“I don’t even know how to get into that part of the system if I wanted to, which I don’t, and if I did, they could track information I requested, and know that it has nothing to do with the theatre and—” She raised her hands. People had lost their jobs over things like that.
“Aw, come on, Elli, you’re my sister.”