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Within the Sanctuary of Wings is the conclusion to Marie Brennan's thrilling Lady Trent Memoirs
After nearly five decades (and, indeed, the same number of volumes), one might think they were well-acquainted with the Lady Isabella Trent--dragon naturalist, scandalous explorer, and perhaps as infamous for her company and feats of daring as she is famous for her discoveries and additions to the scientific field.
And yet--after her initial adventure in the mountains of Vystrana, and her exploits in the depths of war-torn Eriga, to the high seas aboard The Basilisk, and then to the inhospitable deserts of Akhia--the Lady Trent has captivated hearts along with fierce minds. This concluding volume will finally reveal the truths behind her most notorious adventure--scaling the tallest peak in the world, buried behind the territory of Scirland's enemies--and what she discovered there, within the Sanctuary of Wings.
The Lady Trent Memoirs
1. A Natural History of Dragons
2. The Tropic of Serpents
3. Voyage of the Basilisk
4. In the Labyrinth of Drakes
5. Within the Sanctuary of Wings
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Within the Sanctuary of Wings
A Memoir by Lady Trent
By Marie Brennan
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2017 Bryn Neuenschwander
All rights reserved.
Life as a lady — A lecture at Caffrey Hall — My husband's student — The state of our knowledge — Suhail's theory — A foreign visitor
Members of the peerage, I need hardly tell you, are not always well behaved. Upon my ascension to their ranks, I might have become dissolute, gambling away my wealth in ways ranging from the respectable to quite otherwise. I might have ensconced myself in the social world of the aristocracy, filling my days with visits to the parlours of other ladies and the gossip of fashion and scandal. I might, were I a man, have involved myself in politics, attempting to carve out a place in the entourage of some more influential fellow.
I imagine that by now very few of my readers will be surprised to hear that I eschewed all these things. I have never been inclined to gamble (at least not with my money); I find both fashion and scandal to be tedious in the extreme; and my engagement with politics I have always limited as much as possible.
Of course this does not mean I divorced myself entirely from such matters. It would be more accurate to say I deceived myself: surely, I reasoned, it was not at all political to pursue certain goals. True, I lent my name and support to Lucy Devere, who for years had campaigned tirelessly on behalf of women's suffrage, and I could not pretend anything other than a political motive there. My name carried a certain aura by then, and my support had become a meaningful asset. After all, was I not the renowned Lady Trent, the woman who had won the Battle of Keonga? Had I not marched on Point Miriam with an army of my own when the Ikwunde invaded Bayembe? Had I not unlocked the secrets of the Draconean language, undeciphered since that empire's fall?
The answer to all these things, of course, was no. The popular narrative of my life has always outshone the reality by rather a lot. But I was aware of that radiance, and felt obliged to use it when and where I could.
But surely the other uses to which I put it were only scholarly. For example, I helped to found the Trent Academy for Girls in Falchester, educating its students not only in the usual female accomplishments of music and literature, but also in mathematics and various branches of science. When Merritford University began awarding the first degrees in Draconic Studies, I was pleased to endow the Trent Chair for that field. I contributed both monetary and social support to the International Fraternity for Draconic Research, an outgrowth of the work Sir Thomas Wilker and I had begun at Dar al-Tannaneen in Qurrat. Less formally, I encouraged the growth of the Flying University until it formed a network of friendships and lending libraries all across Scirland, catching in its net a great many people who would otherwise not have had access to such educational opportunities.
Such things accumulate, bit by bit, and one does not notice until it is too late that they have eaten one's life whole.
On the day that I went to attend a certain lecture at Caffrey Hall, I was running behind schedule, which had become the common state of my life. Indeed, the only reason I did not miss it entirely was because I had purchased a clock of phenomenal ugliness, whose sole virtue — most would call it a flaw — was its intolerably loud chiming. This was the only force capable of rousing me from my haze of letter-writing, for our butler had recently joined the army, our housekeeper had left us to care for her elderly mother, and I was not yet on good enough terms with their replacements to rely on them to evict me from my study by force.
But they had the carriage waiting when I came flying down the stairs, and in short order I was on my way to Caffrey Hall. At the time I was grateful because I would have been sorely disappointed to miss the lecture. In hindsight, I would have missed out on a great deal more.
The crowd on the street outside was large enough that I directed my driver around the corner, where I disembarked and entered the hall by a side entrance. This deposited me much closer to my first port of call, which was a room near the lecture hall proper. I pressed my ear to the door and heard a voice murmuring inside, which warned me not to disturb him by knocking. Instead I eased the door open and slipped quietly through.
Suhail was pacing a narrow circuit across the floor, sheaf of papers in one hand, the other fiddling with the edge of his untied cravat as if it were a headscarf, muttering in a low, quick voice. It was his habit before any lecture to make one final pass through his points. When he saw me, though, he stopped and took out his pocket watch. "Is it time?"
"Not yet," I said. One could not have guessed it by the hubbub, which was audible even through the door. "I am dreadfully late, though. There was a new report from Dar al-Tannaneen."
This was the home of the International Fraternity for Draconic Research, and the report concerned the honeyseeker breeding effort, which was establishing the boundaries of developmental lability. Tom Wilker and I had discovered that principle quite by accident during our time there, while trying to determine how much environmental variation a draconic egg could endure without aborting or producing a defective organism; further research had confirmed that the issue was not so much defectiveness as mutation, which (when successful) adapted the resulting creature to its expected environment.
Of course the theory was not yet widely accepted. No such theory ever is: it has taken an astonishingly long time for the concept of germs to catch on, even though it has the benefit of saving lives. I cannot claim any such grand result for my own theory. But slowly, one generation of honeyseekers at a time, the Fraternity's work was laying a foundation even the most skeptical of critics could not assail.
Suhail's expression lightened into a smile. "I would say I am surprised ..."
"... but it would be a lie. They have a new idea for how to encourage the growth of larger honeyseekers. I had to read it, and see if I could offer any suggestions. Speaking of which: is there anything you need, before you throw yourself to the wolves?"
He turned to lay the papers he held in a leather folder, lest his hand render them sweaty and crumpled. "I think it is beyond even your tremendous capabilities to produce a second Cataract Stone for me, which is what I most truly need."
A second such artifact might exist; but we had been lucky even to find the first, and could not count upon a repeat of that good fortune. The Cataract Stone, which I had stumbled across in the jungles of Mouleen, was that most precious gift to linguists, a bilingual text: its upper half was written in the indecipherable Draconean script, and its lower half in the much more decipherable Ngaru. Proceeding from the assumption that the two halves contained the same text, we had, for the first time, been able to discover what a Draconean inscription said.
Being not a linguist myself, I had, in my naivete, assumed that would be enough — that with the door thus opened, the Draconean language would promptly unfold its secrets like a flower. But of course it was not so simple; we could not truly read the Cataract Stone. We only knew what it said, which did not assist us in deciphering any other text. It gave us a foothold, nothing more.
And while a foothold was a good deal more than we'd had in the past, it provided only a narrow place to stand while searching for the next step. Suhail lifted one hand to run it through his hair, then realized he would disarrange it, and put his hand back down again. "Without a more certain framework for the entire syllabary," he said, "much of what I have to say today is guesswork."
"Highly educated guesswork," I reminded him, and reached out to tie his cravat. He did not need me to do so for him; when he began to adopt Scirling dress, he swore he would not be the sort of aristocrat who could not even tie his own cravat. Nor, of course, did he favour the elaborate knots and folds so beloved of my nation's dandies in those days. Still, there was a simple pleasure in undertaking that task, feeling the rise and fall of his breath as I folded the cloth and pinned it into place.
"But guesswork nonetheless," he said as I worked.
"If you are wrong, then we will know it in time; the hypothesis will not hold up. But you are not wrong."
"God willing." He laid a kiss on my forehead and stepped back. In a Scirling frock coat or an Akhian caftan, my husband cut a fine figure — especially at moments like these, when his thoughts were bent to matters academic. Some ladies' hearts are captured by skill at dancing, others by poetry or extravagant gifts. It will surprise no one that I was taken in by his keen mind.
"You have a substantial crowd waiting for you," I said, as the noise from outside continued to rise. "If it is all the same to you, I will take a seat at the back, so that others will have a better view." I'd already enjoyed a private box for the development of his ideas, of which this was only the public revelation. Given the size of the waiting audience, I suspected more than a few people would be standing for the duration of his lecture, and I would gladly have ceded my chair to another; but being a peer, and a lady besides, I knew I would never succeed. The best I could hope for was to displace some fit young fellow, rather than an older gentleman who needed the seat far more than I.
Suhail nodded, distracted. He was always like this before a lecture, and I took no offense. "Then I will see if Miss Pantel needs anything," I said, and slipped back out of the room.
I could hear chanting outside, with a distinctly unfriendly tone. The rise of interest in Draconean matters had sparked a concomitant rise in Segulist zealotry, which decried our newfound obsession with the pagan past. Suhail's lecture was likely to inflame them more. Fortunately, the manager of Caffrey Hall had taken the precaution of hiring men to stand guard at the doors, and the worst of the rabble-rousers were kept outside.
That still left a great many people inside the building. The decipherment of the Cataract Stone and the discovery of the Watchers' Heart in the depths of the Akhian desert had sparked a fad for that ancient civilization, with a great many cheap books of dubious accuracy or academic worth being published on the subject, and Draconean motifs becoming popular in everything from fashion to interior decoration. Earlier that same week, the poet Peter Flinders had sent me a copy of his epic poem Draconis, in the hope that I might endorse it.
But even in the depths of such a craze, historical linguistics is a sufficiently abstruse topic that it attracts a more limited audience, of (dare I say) a more elevated class. I do not necessarily mean birth or wealth: I saw men there who would never have been permitted into the august halls of the Society of Linguists. They had a serious look about them, though, as if they knew at least a little concerning the topic, and were eager to learn more.
It was a mark of how much Scirling society had changed since my girlhood that I was not the only woman there. Even in sedate afternoon dresses, the members of my sex stood out as bright spots amid the dull colours of the men's suits, and there were more such spots than I had anticipated. There have been lady scholars for centuries, of course; the change was that they were finally out in public, rather than reading the articles and books alone in their parlours, or in the company of a few like-minded friends.
One such lady was on the stage, adjusting the placement of the large easel that would hold the placards illustrating Suhail's argument. A goodly portion of the scandal that once attached to myself and Tom Wilker had moved on to Erica Pantel and my husband; there were far too many people who could not believe a man might take a young woman as his student, and mean the word as something other than a euphemism. I had lost count of the number of times someone implied within my hearing that I must be terribly jealous of her — especially as I was getting on in years, being nearly forty myself.
This troubled me very little, at least for my own sake, as I knew how false those rumours were. Not only did Suhail have little interest in straying, but Miss Pantel's heart was already spoken for, by a young sailor in the Merchant Navy. They were madly in love and had every intention of marrying when he returned from his current voyage. In the meanwhile, she occupied herself with her other passion, which was dead languages. Her attachment to Suhail sprang from his familiarity with the Draconean tongue, and nothing else. Our fields of study might differ, but I considered her a fellow-traveller on the roads of scholarship; she reminded me a little of myself in my youth.
"Is everything in order?" I asked her.
"For now," she said, with a meaningful glance toward the audience.
The manager of Caffrey Hall might be keeping the obvious rabble-rousers outside, but I had no doubt a few would slip into the building. And even those who came for scholarly reasons might find themselves incited to anger, once they heard what Suhail had to say.
I said, "I meant with the placards and such."
"I know," she said, flashing me a brief smile. "Is Lord Trent ready?"
"Very nearly. Here, let me help you with that." The placards had to be large, in order to be at all visible from the back of the hall; the carrying-case Miss Pantel had sewn to hold them was almost as large as she, for my husband's student was a diminutive woman. Together we wrestled the case into position and unbuckled its straps. She had cleverly stacked the placards so they faced toward the wall, with the first card outermost, which meant we need not fear anyone catching an advance peek at Suhail's ideas.
Unless, of course, someone were to come up and rifle through them. Miss Pantel nodded before I could say anything. "I will guard them with my life."
"I doubt that shall be necessary, but I thank you all the same," I said with a laugh. No dragon could be a fiercer guardian. "If you don't need anything further from me, I shall go play hostess."
I meant the phrase as a euphemism. Necessity had taught me to be a hostess in the usual sense, though I still vastly preferred a meeting of the Flying University to a formal dinner. A baroness does have certain obligations, however, and although in my youth I would have thrown them off as useless constraints, in my maturity I had come to see the value they held. All the same, my true purpose in circulating about the hall and the lobby was to take a census of men I expected to cause trouble. I made particular note of a certain magister, whose name I shall not disclose here. If his past behaviour was any guide, he would find something to argue about even if Suhail's lecture concerned nothing more substantive than the weather — and my husband would be giving him a good deal more fodder than that.
When it was time for the lecture to begin, I dawdled in the lobby for as long as I could. By the time I entered the main hall, every seat was filled, and people lined the walls besides. Despite my best efforts, however, my attempt to discreetly join the gentlemen at the back wall failed as expected. The best I could do was to accept the seat offered to me by a fellow only a little older than myself, rather than the venerable gentleman who was eighty if he was a day.
Following a short introduction by the president of the grandly named Association for the Advancement of Understanding of the Draconean Language, Suhail took the stage, to a generous measure of applause. Our discovery of the Watchers' Heart (not to mention our romanticized wedding) had made him famous; his scholarly work since then had made him respected. It was not interest in Draconeans alone that brought such a large audience to Caffrey Hall that afternoon.
Suhail opened his speech with a brief summary of what we knew for certain, and what we guessed with moderate confidence, regarding the Draconean language. Had he been speaking to the Society of Linguists, such an explanation would not have been necessary; they were all well familiar with the topic, as even those who previously showed no interest in it had taken it up as a hobby after the publication of the Cataract Stone texts. But the Society, being one of the older scholarly institutions in Scirland, showed a dismaying tendency to sit upon information, disseminating it only by circulars to their members. Suhail wished the general public to know more. After all, it was still very much the age of the amateur scholar, where a newcomer to a field might happen upon some tremendous insight without the benefit of formal schooling. Suhail therefore delivered his lecture to the world at large, some of whom did not know declensions from décolletage.
Excerpted from Within the Sanctuary of Wings by Marie Brennan. Copyright © 2017 Bryn Neuenschwander. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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