Lord Samuel Whitetower was many things, but above all else, he was decisive. He knew what he wanted, and when he wanted it, and how he wanted it. He knew the exact temperature his tea should be. He knew how his sheets should be put on the bed. He knew how many quills and pieces of paper were on his desk and where they should be placed. And gods help any servant who didn’t know what he knew.
Most of all though, he knew how a young lordling was supposed to behave, and this was not it.
“Explain the events of today,” Samuel told the boy who stood now before him.
Sterling kicked one foot against the floor. His posture was appalling. When Samuel was nine years old, he knew how to hold his spine correctly. “It was just once.”
“That is not what I asked you, Sterling,” Samuel said, looking down his nose at the boy. “Explain the events of the day now.”
Sterling gulped, looking at Samuel through those thick lashes that he must have got from his mother. “I was with Master Costus.”
“Your tutor of mathematics and science, who your mother and I hired to educate you,” Samuel said coolly.
“Yes Father,” Sterling said, a bit petulantly. “But the lesson was boring.”
“So I…so. Um.”
“Spit it out, boy,” Samuel said.
“I asked Master Costus a question about astronomy, because he likes astronomy,” Sterling said, wincing. “And then when he was distracted, I…I went outside and swam in the pond.”
“You went outside and swam in the pond,” scoffed Samuel. “And why, pray tell, did you do that?”
“Because it—because…” Sterling was beginning to tear up. Feeling sorry for himself, for the punishment he was definitely going to receive. “Because the lesson was…boring, and it was hot, and…and I wanted to.”
“I don’t know what gave you the idea that life is about doing whatever you want,” Samuel said, letting his scorn and bile seep into this lecture. “You learn mathematics and science because it is important for a noble to be well rounded. You have a duty to the people I rule to one day be competent in what you say and do. Only a fool and a wastrel would shun his studies to go…swim in a pond.” This last was delivered with a sneer. And why not? The boy had to learn.
The self-same boy was snuffling now, fidgeting with that little silver ring of his that his mother had gotten him. It was her fault, probably, for doting on him. Making him soft.
“You are confined to your room until I decide what your punishment should be,” Samuel intoned.
“Yes my lord,” Sterling said, not bothering to keep the weeping from bubbling up in his tone. He slouched off toward his room, out of Samuel’s office.
Samuel turned back to his desk, shaking his head. The boy had to learn.
Sterling was about to the stage of feeling sorry for himself that involved thinking how sad everyone would be if he just dropped dead, when a knock came at the door of his room.
Mother didn’t bother waiting for his permission to enter. Instead, she swanned in and sat with him on his bed, examining his face carefully and lifting a hand to wipe away his tears.
“That’s quite enough of that now,” she said, more gently than the words themselves would suggest. “Actions have consequences, after all. Can’t expect to sneak around without it coming back to you.”
There was some regret in her tone that Sterling didn’t quite understand, but he steadied his breathing for her sake, trying to make himself stop hiccuping at least.
“That’s better.” Lady Daria ran her hands over his hair in a way that felt nice. “Your father has decided that you shall spend an extra hour studying every day this month.”
Sterling knew better than to protest. “Yes, Mother.”
Daria seemed to note his grim acceptance and kissed him on the head. “You know what we’ve talked about? Our secret?”
Again, Sterling’s hand floated to his ring, fidgeting with it. “Yes?”
“Sometimes, the safest thing is not to be noticed,” Daria said carefully. “To do what you’re supposed to do, so there is less opportunity to be found out.”
Sterling’s brow wrinkled, but he was pretty sure he understood. Rules kept you safe. That made sense. He knew that his father pitched a fit every time someone found themself outside the way things were supposed to be.
“Be good, my dear,” Daria said, and left him alone.
Sterling Whitetower was many things, but above all else, he knew what was right. There was a correct way to do things, and the incorrect way led to nothing but chaos, uncertainty, and lack of control. There was a right way to do everything. That was just sensible. Rules kept you safe.
And gods help him if he broke the rules.