Author’s Note: I began today by staring at these lyrics and going, “okay, I don’t think fic is going to happen any time soon.”
Then I started thinking about different stories, different possibilities, and also that perhaps I’d be able to show off the updated cover for A Perfect Sunset soon.
Add in these lyrics (and remind me to prompt Liana Mir with them later)
In the hearts of men
In the arms of mothers
In the parts we play to convince others
We know what we’re doing
We’re doing it right
~First Aid Kit, “In the Hearts of Men”
The woman turned, and Jis shrank back, dodging the blade and her mother’s attack. She had not thought she had to train today, but she supposed that she knew better. The life of an esbani was always training. They could not allow themselves to make a mistake and fail to protect the royal family. No one had done that, not in centuries, not back to when her people had supposedly flown.
“Jis,” her mother chided, and she grimaced. “That was not a proper evasion, nor should you be here now. You have lessons with the tutors.”
“No, Zaze has lessons. She’s the princess. She’s the one that has to know all those things, not me. I just have to be willing to kill or die for her,” Jis said, shaking her head as she spoke. She did not see why she had to go with Zaze to the lessons, why they kept trying to make her act more and more like her. Zaze was prideful, stubborn, and stupid, and Jis didn’t want to be like her.
“Oh,” her mother said, pulling her into her arms, “my little jisensoji.”
She curled up in her mother’s embrace, aware of all that her mother would not say—that the life of an esbani was not one for a child, that Jis should have freedom to play and be herself, that she should be too young to understand what it meant to be in this role, to know that she would die in the princess’ place if it was necessary.
“Do you think the king loves you?” Jis asked, daring to look up at her mother’s face for the truth. Was that what had distracted her earlier, thoughts of the king? Or was it her own pain of knowing that she was meant to die in the place of the queen?
“I think your father loves you very much.”
That was not what Jis had asked, but she feared it was answer enough. She closed her eyes, trying to console herself with the knowledge that it would never be her. As the king’s daughter, she would never be forced to give herself to a man she didn’t love just because she was esbani.
She was born to take Zaze’s place and die for her, though. Jis would never be free to live her own life or marry anyone. She was esbani. Her life was already forfeit.