It is a saying you hear at times: wise beyond their years. A turn of phrase for children and youths who show some modicum of sense. And yet you never hear ‘wise at their years’. Perhaps the reason becomes obvious when you look at those years: It isn’t saying much.
I was certainly no paragon of the virtue at that age. Not old enough to know the right thing to do, but far too old to listen to anyone else tell me. I may have had two older sisters, but I can claim plenty of my poor father’s gray hairs.
I have said before that I would write of Nicki le Vanse. When I first met her, Nicki ab Lassider was perhaps twelve or thirteen. Yes, ab Lassider at that time: Amdair’s little sister and his most frequent source of consternation, being her guardian in the city. She was not a bad child, but she was a child and wise precisely at her years. I was new in the city at the time, as were she and Amdair, and Nicki was quite excited to work with me to remedy the issue of not having a decent dress that wasn’t back in Casterlay. I worked with her to design her perfect gown: extravagant purple and gold that would scream her nobility and, at every choice, the option that would make her seem most grown-up. I didn’t tell her that the frills and fripperies I included catered to her youth, and, when she saw the sketches, she loved it.
I am not a woman who is good with children. Nicki had at least the years for a proper conversation, but if it hadn’t been Amdair that had asked, I certainly wouldn’t have volunteered to help her find her way as a productive woman of high society. I doubt I managed to do her much good, in any case, but it wasn’t long before the situation changed, taking no few of us aback and removing any necessity of my ‘saving’ Amdair.
To be fair, Gillian le Vanse wasn’t there to see Nicki grow so drunk she was sick on the floor of Kaemgen’s hunting lodge, and she wasn’t there to see her pick the petty fights with my cousin. (I still cannot say whether Jei disliked her more for being a Lassider or on her own merits, but, to say the least, they did not get along.) And Nicki could be very endearing, when she wanted something. But that didn’t help those of us who knew her to understand why the Duchess of Tubor decided to adopt Nicki as her heir, which qualities made the self-centered teenager well suited to lead a duchy, why the cutthroat Tubori would accept a Lithmorran child, and how being ‘just adorable’ prepared her in the least.
Perhaps she might have been a good choice who could step up and grow into the role, but Duchess Gillian hardly seemed likely to last long enough to give her the chance. To her credit, along with her delight at suddenly being Nicki le Vanse and someone the Lithmorran court might have to watch its toes around, Nicki did put in her efforts with her tutors. She was a gracious host when a delegation of Tubori noblemen arrived to court her. She learned to, and did, act more lady-like.
But in the wake of Charmaine’s death, with Gillian too feeble to be back and forth between Lithmore and Tubor, little Nicki served as her representative on the Regency Council, one vote in five that ruled the kingdom, though she was not yet sixteen. She sided with Kaemgen as he tried to tear the kingdom apart, not because of political ideals, but because he was her friend. I cannot think of a vote where she considered the political impact, the lasting consequences or the moral right over her personal whims. For all that that is what one expects of a fifteen-year old girl, it is perhaps not the best quality in a regent. I should have said more against it; the fault in a council is not in the whole but the parts that make it up.
And she embraced the Tubori attitudes for love in marriage. Perhaps a little more than the Tubori courting her. It was expected that Nicki would marry a Tubori nobleman, but I do not think Ryatt le Fontaine was who they had in mind. A Tubori Baron who dabbled with, and took over, the Brotherhood of Common Goods, I think it was obvious to everyone but love-blinded Nicki that Ryatt didn’t much like her and was just playing her for a chance at the Duchy. And it seemed that the marriage would happen until le Fontaine instead met his death attempting to assassinate Cellan dul Ansari, then wife to the Keeper of the Seal.
I mentioned before that I wondered why the Tubori would accept her. In the end, it seems that they did not. On Gillian’s death in the Harmon Plague, when we lost so many others, the Tubori refused to accept Nicki le Vanse as their new Duchess. She had not managed to make herself one of them, a courtship with a dead traitor failing to meet their expectations of marrying one of their own. Perhaps each imagined himself as Duke.
I must admit to a little guilt that I was relieved, in the end. I have not seen her since she was set aside. I imagine she is back in Casterlay, and I wonder if she still calls herself Nicki le Vanse and if she styles herself as the rightful Duchess of Tubor, unfairly ousted by rebellious upstarts.
But then, perhaps she has grown from all of it. It will be a couple of years past her En Passant now. Perhaps it has been long enough and I am unfair to remember her as she was then. She was young then, after all.
I do hope so.