When Csoru Celehin is displeased, she writes letters. It's a trick her governess teaches her as a young girl. Instead of replacing her mother’s perfume with vinegar—or carefully sliding the tashin sticks from Csethiro’s hair—or other satisfying forms of retribution—she can take deep breaths, sit at her little writing desk, and channel her fury into curling swoops of ink.
She is skeptical at first, but she soon finds she enjoys it much more than the writing exercises her tutor drags her through each morning.
If the letter is polite enough, she is permitted to send it to the target of her ire. She enjoys her trips to the pneumatic center, though she does not quite understand how it all works. She likes to watch the rolled-up messages flick from the girls’ unlacquered fingertips into the brass tubes. She likes to imagine her words flying like birds of prey through the heart of the Untheileneise Court.
Very few such letters are deemed polite enough. The rest—which contain coarse language or demands inappropriate to a young lady’s station—her governess requires her to burn in the fireplace. Csoru learns the word catharsis.
When Count Celehel, her father, announces Csoru is to be betrothed to Varenechibel Zhas, she is speechless with joy. It is a triumph for her entire family, and a triumph for her as well. She collects attention and wears it like jewels at her throat, close to her heart. She has dreamed of wedding a great lord.
She writes no letters to her betrothed, as she has no complaints, but she is disappointed when he writes no letters to her.
Csoru Drazharan has no governess. She has servants and a correspondence secretary who read all of her letters, incoming and outgoing, but none of them have authority over what she may or may not send. Thus, she must exercise her own judgment as to whether a letter is suitable for sending. This is difficult, and she sometimes errs—but even so, she receives in return missives of profuse apology. She enjoys these, particularly when the apologies are accompanied by delicately embroidered gloves or carved jade combs.
Her couriers take everything she hands them without question and run it down to its destination. She has not visited the pneumatic centers in years.
There are still letters she does not send. Some she rereads, and they are so viciously eloquent they send shivers down her spine. She loves these best, and so pastes them carefully into her diary, where she can read through them at her leisure.
She understands airships no better than she understands pneumatics. Scientific frivolity is well enough for those that can’t keep up with the breathless advancement of art and dance and fashion. Csoru Zhasan wields her influence like a paintbrush. When her sleeves rise, half the court bares their wrists. When she bows, they bend with her.
She is changing her jewelry before luncheon when the courier arrives. White-faced, he genuflects clumsily. Csoru raises an eyebrow, unimpressed.
The courier speaks of airships. She does not understand, and then, she does.
Ink spills over the page. Csoru lifts her hand before it can stain her fingers. She is less concerned for her gown, which is already black. This is the third leaf of paper she has ruined; her hands shake too badly to wield the pen.
The world has changed. She must fight for a place in it. She feels as though she has been tossed into the mouth of a pneumatic tube, and she does not know where it leads.
She rises from her desk and calls over her secretary. “We will dictate,” she says. Her voice is steadier than her hands. And when the clerk is ready, she begins:
To the Archduke Maia Drazhar, heir to the imperial throne of Ethuveraz, greetings.