Chapter 13: Theories

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Five Years' Fair. The White City

Morning came and Jeffrey realized he'd bypassed sleep

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Morning came and Jeffrey realized he'd bypassed sleep. Again.

He rubbed his aching temples. It wasn't that he hadn't tried but his mind was consumed with dealings and details. Death threats and daily councils. It was quite impossible to quiet it all down. After half a fruitless night, he'd turned to his books and studies instead of lying restless in bed.

His new favorite distraction was the letter he'd received that morning, a sequel to the first. The realm needs to know you're a lowblood bastard. Come clean with the full truth or cold steel will cut your spine when you least expect it. It was the same beautiful script and basic format: vague demand preceding a more specific death threat. It was amusing to note the mode of his execution was changed, at least. He wondered if the letters continued he would meet his end in an entirely new way each time. 

He threw the parchment aside and drove his fist into his desk. Underneath that letter was the second loudest source of his current irritation: another apology from Tregar Simpson, one of his top dukes and lord of a crucial district in Pent City. This time the apology was for not joining the Pent emissary at the White City for the Fair.

Jeffrey couldn't quite articulate why the reticence of Lord Tregar bothered him so deeply. In Jeffrey's early years the founder of House Simpson had taken great interest in Jeffrey and his education. As administrator of the K-Plan examinations, Lord Tregar's was author of the test that had discovered Jeffrey, after all. Over the years,  however, Tregar's interest gradually waned to the point of insult. Since Jeffrey's appointment as Steward to the throne of Pent, he'd barely seen his surlord at all. 

Jeffrey groaned. He'd never felt comfortable around royalty; it was not a role his low birth had prepared him for. But with Tregar Simpson he'd once felt a sort of kinship. Their stories, after all, were more than a little similar. Now, he couldn't help but feel whatever kinship they once shared was devolving to rivalry.

Lord Gomes arrived, the usual morning briefing. "My Lord," Gomes said and bowed deeply. With a terse flick of his hand, Jeffrey summoned his counselor to approach.

"Have you slept, my lord?"

"The Vegar were an amazing race," Jeffrey said, ignoring the question. "Authors of some of history's most inspiring creations."

"Nowhere in America a better reminder than the Iron Maze," Gomes said ironically, referring to the ruins in the heart of Pent City. He was well known for his distaste of the Vegar and all their relics.

"The farther and greater the rock, the harder it smashes after a fall. What we call the Iron Maze was once the largest city in Old America. They built massive structures of iron and steel and glass. Even materials we can no longer emulate. Through sorcery, some people say." Jeffrey rolled his eyes. "But in these books you see that this was everyday life for these people. Carriages driven by flame, torches alight instantly with the flip of a lever. Even flying carriages that could go from one end of the realm to the other in just a few hours." Jeffrey smiled. "Could you imagine being able to travel like that? Here to Angels in half a day! Where else could we go? The far seas? The lost continents?"

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