Having pondered her issues over Marguerite, Kelsea is finally holding her royal audience. First up is Andalie’s husband, who has come to claim her as it’s his Biblical right as a husband; Kelsea tells him off for having beaten his wife, and he slinks away.
Then a noblewoman, Lady Andrews, comes up to speak with Kelsea. It turns out that Kelsea stole this noblewoman’s tiara for her crowning. Unsurprisingly, this Lady Andrews is not in a very good mood. Also, Lady Andrews is old. Really old.
She was much older than she’d seemed in the dim light of the throne room, perhaps as old as forty, and her face appeared to have been pulled unnaturally taut. Cosmetic surgery? There were no plastic surgeons in the Tearling, but it was rumored that Mortmesne had revived the practice.
But… but they don’t have plastic. Or antibiotics. How do they have plastic surgery?
Anyway, Lady Andrews has a smoker’s voice, or a drinker’s voice, in case we can’t figure out that she’s an awful human being simply by her age alone. She uses her nasty voice to ask Kelsea what she intends to do about Mortmesne; it turns out that Lady Andrews lives near the border and therefore is very worried about an invasion.
Kelsea isn’t humoring her. Kelsea’s jewel informs her, through a vision, that Lady Andrews locked herself up inside her tower while the Mort came through her territory; she and her guards survived, but everyone else wasn’t as lucky.
“Do you have children, Lady Andrews?”
Of course not, Kelsea thought. Children coneived by this woman would only be cannibalized by her womb. She raised her voice. “Then you don’t risk much in the lottery, do you? You have no children, you don’t look strong enough for labor, and you’re really too old to appeal to anyone for sex.”
OOOH SICK BURN, THIS LADY IS OLD AND UGLY AND CHILDLESS AND THEREFORE HAS NO RIGHT TO BE CONCERNED ABOUT IMPENDING GENOCIDE
Lady Andrews is understandably a wee bit upset when Kelsea tells her never to come back to court.
Lady Andrews’s hands had clutched into claws. The nails were long hooks, manicured a bright purple. Deep pockets of red had emerged in the fleshless crescents beneath her eyes […] What does she see when she looks in the mirror? Kelsea wondered.
Ok, this is when I thought that Kelsea would come down hard on Lady Andrews for being a greedy, selfish biddy who spends her money on magical plastic surgery while letting her peasants die in a ditch.
How could a woman who looked so old still place so much importance on being attractive?
Well, that was a surprise. I guess the worst part about Lady Andrews isn’t that she let a bunch of her own people suffer horribly when (presumably) she could have helped them into safety. It’s that she thinks she’s still hot when she’s over the hill.
And for all the anguish that Kelsea’s own refletion had caused her lately, she saw now that there was something far worse than being ugly; being ugly and thinking you were beautiful.
I would have thought that the whole being-responsible-for-masses of people dying-thing would be worse than being ugly, but never mind that. The characters are female, so they don’t need to be judged on their actions, just on their appearances. So feminist.
Lady Andrews may be an old bitch, but she does have a good line in comebacks. I suppose with age, she’s had more time to think about these things.
“And what have you to lose, Majesty? You spent your childhood in hiding. Has your name ever gone into the lot? […] In fact, Majesty, you risk less than any of us, don’t you? If she invades again, you merely barricade yourself in your own tower, just as I did. Only your tower is even taller.”
Kelsea has absolutely no answer for this, which is sad, as it’s a legitimate question. Not everyone is going to have access to the safety of a tower or a keep, and those who do are going to have to decide how to share that access without imperiling everyone involved. Johansen attempts to get round the problem it by making the nobles uniformly corrupt, awful people who positively relish murdering peasants, but that’s a con; Kelsea has created a situation that poses a dilemma for even the ideal noble. A lord or lady is sworn to obey their ruler, and the lottery system is inhumane and humiliating. But a lord or lady is also supposed to protect his or her people and property. If obeying the ruler means the total sacrifice of the people and land—and, based on the description of the last Mort invasion and the quality of the Tearling defense, it’s going to be an absolute slaughter—then how should a noble act? Is it right to disobey Kelsea’s orders? If not, how do they decide which people to protect and which people to leave to their fates?
But for Johansen, none of these matters are of any significance, and she signals that by putting the questions in the mouth of an old, ugly woman. Because the value of a woman’s speech is directly linked to her youth and appearance, of course.
Unfortunately for Kelsea, not all of the other nobles attending the audience seem to get that basic fact, and she appears to be losing their support. Why can’t they just forget all their problems and concentrate on how much of a dog this Andrews woman is! Fortunately for Kelsea, one of her guards, Mhurn, was one of Lady Andrews’s villagers, and he calls her out on some of the actual shitty things that she did, like locking out the poor people who attempted to find sanctuary in her household.
“I’ve known the Queen barely a month, but I promise you, when the Mort come, she will try to cram the entire Tearling into this Keep, and she won’t care how recently they’ve bathed or how poor they are. She’ll make room for all.”
I hope that Kelsea has enough food for all, because otherwise that’s going to go south pretty quickly. Anyway, Lady Andrews demands the guard be whipped for his insolence, and Kelsea tells her to get the hell out once again. This time, she complies.
In the space of seconds, a thousand tiny lines sprung up in the taut skin of her face.
Yo, I hope you didn’t forget that this lady is old! And therefore bad!
I’m still not done with this chapter, which is really something of a gold mine. There’s some freaky stuff coming up involving child abuse and psychic friends that deserves its own post. Mercedes Lackey would blush, that’s all I can say.