Everyone knowing about the Hoeraija is your fault.
Kael raised her eyebrows at this scholar, this Dennor. (Hightower. Had his family been potion-masters? That was something for another time.)
“I beg your pardon?” she demanded archly.
He flapped his hand, amused. “That’s ‘your’ fault.” He dropped quote marks in the air. “Your namesake. Because she settled among the Hoija, because she built her tower there – here, because she, foremost among the old wizards -”
“Wizards?” Her potion provided a meaning, but it wasn’t one that made any sense to her.
“Oh, a lot of the younger students like to pretend that’s what the potion-masters were. They can’t figure out how someone could, say, build something this tall that early, because of course, the Hoija had no technology-”
Kael coughed. “What an interesting theory, and not the first time I’ve heard it today.”
“It’s easier to justify just moving in if the people you were moving over were savages, I suppose.”
“Ah, yes. The Lerienoija used similar justifications. As did – but,” she smiles, “if I name another nation, will you one again make faces at me?”
“I wouldn’t do that – would I?” He smiled at her, and if he had been wondering if she was flirting earlier, she was definitely wondering the same of him now.
“You have, and that makes me fairly certain that you would again. But let’s see. We were talking about the Lerienoija and their justifications. And then there were the Oteparenoija, or so the Hoeraija called them, and the were doing much the same thing, although they did it more slowly and less, ah, brutally.”
“The Kael for whom Kaelingrade Torrent-Step was named came from the Oteparenoija. I haven’t read much about them; there were a few books here and there, but not much that survived the conquest.” He cleared his throat. “Places like this Tower are some of the only places that have anything, and I’ve never been sure how the owner of this place managed to stash away so many books. Lots of people think that the ‘natives’ had no written words at all – because the advance parties burned and pillaged and then burned some more.” He spoke as though the ashes of those fires were still in his mouth, and Kael wondered, for a moment, if she wasn’t the only one who had slept through centuries. “I’m sure you know most of this, if you know of the Oteparenoija, so I apologize if I’m overstepping.” He smiled sadly at her. “As I was saying, it’s hard to find written accounts. Some of the best, aside from the few remaining Towers, are actually plaques made to commemorate something or notes that seem to have been stored on the back of recipes. I suppose the conquerors didn’t think that recipes were anything to worry about.”
“That…” Kael raised her eyebrows. “That is impressive. I can imagine some granny or granther taking the old notes that were passed down and putting them on some old paper, just to be able to store notes on the other side. Most recipes were – would have been – passed on verbally, back then. But anyone who could write, if they could see the invasion coming, see what these conquerors had done-”
“Shh,” he murmured. “It makes the colonialists a little nervous if we start talking too loudly about the invasion or conquerors. And I don’t know about you, but I like having this job.”
“I – well. This job is a perfect fit for me. I apologize.”
“Absolutely forgiven.” Now his smile was wide and back to looking flirtatious. “I do want to ask, however; you seem to have some differences in your knowledge from mine. Where did you get your education?”
Now that was a trap. “I’d love to discuss the differences at length some time. It’s always interesting to see how information moves and shifts as it travels.”
“Yes. But where did yours travel to?”
Well, it had been worth a try, though from the look on his face he knew she’d been trying. “Mostly family knowledge. My family has always been more than a little interested in Kael – both Kaels, the Torrent-Step and the earlier one. And because we were also a hidden source of knowledge – not recipes, but similar ideas – we were able to hold on to a lot of the old stories. From there, it’s been mostly following tidbits here and there. The core of it, though, is family secrets.” Maybe that would hold him off.
“Interesting. I didn’t know any of the old secrets and stories were still getting passed down. The conquerors did their best to wipe that out, mostly in the last two generations.”
“Well, if you’d have met my grandmother…” Kael smiled at the memory. Her actual grandmother had been a fierce Lerienoija warrior who took no nonsense from anyone and took defeated enemies’ ears as war trophies. She had also taught Kael her first potion. “She taught me the foundation of what I know.”
“So you started from family knowledge. Interesting. I wonder if… Ah.” Dennor cleared his throat, looking a bit abashed. “I have a tendency to do that. I don’t imagine you sat down next to me because you wanted to discuss trivia and minutia through your whole meal, so, if I may be so bold, why did you chose to sit here?”
“Because,” Kael answered with honesty that for once wasn’t even technical, “after a day looking at unfamiliar-looking faces, it’s nice to see someone who looks like home. I grew up among the – among the Hoija,” she confided. “And so I am most comfortable around others… ‘like me.’”
“I admit, I was glad when you sat down for exactly that reason. It can be a bit tiring… especially when you run into people who still, even now, have some pretty strange ideas about what, exactly, the Hoija – or indeed, any of the native nations – are or were or can be. They can be quite bigoted,” he confided in a whisper.
Kael managed not to giggle in his face. “I have noticed that,” she told him solemnly. “Sadly, I believe it’s part of being people.”
“Ouch.” His smile was mostly apologetic. “I’m afraid you’re most likely correct. Well, ah. With being both familiar faces, would you be interested in spending some time talking about home, say, over drinks this evening?”