Idira's lessons started as soon as she finished her breakfast. Two manservants carried in a desk and matching chair. As they settled the desk beside the window, a dark-haired, middle-aged woman wearing an elegant navy gown entered, holding a small leather satchel. She placed the satchel on the desk and looked around the room, nodding to herself. The men left and closed the door.
The woman held out her hand.
'My name is Nin,' she said, her accent arch and refined. 'I am here to teach you decorum, and how to read and write.'
Idira took the woman's hand. Her tutor gently lifted Idira's fingers up and down, just the once.
'This is how you will greet others when you first meet them. You will also say 'How do you do?' Shall we try again?'
'How do you do?' Nin asked.
'Fine,' Idira answered, before repeating the greeting back.
'Ah,' Nin shook her head. 'One never replies to the question. They simply repeat the greeting back. Try again.'
Idira stared at her tutor, uncomprehending. Why would anyone ask another person how they were if they didn't want to know the answer? Even though it made no sense, she tried again. She repeated the pointless phrase without answering.
'Excellent,' Nin smiled, pleased. 'Now you must learn the protocol for who asks the question first. It goes like this,' she counted off the levels of seniority on her slender fingers. 'Station, gender, and age. Therefore if one were greeting the Queen of Stormwind, unless they were the king of a more powerful kingdom, she would always ask first.'
Idira gaped. This is what VanCleef wanted her to learn—the rules of who gets to ask a pointless question first?
Nin straightened up and folded her hands together at her waist. 'Now let's try a little test, shall we? If your sister were to meet me, whom do you think would speak first?'
Idira examined her tutor. The woman was easily twice Myra's age, full of poise and very elegant. She looked like a proper lady. It was an easy question. Myra was no one, a farm girl. Idira pointed at Nin.
Nin shook her head, patient. 'No dear, your sister would speak first. She is Mr VanCleef's lady. If Westfall were to have a queen, Myra would be she.'
Idira could feel her eyebrows climbing. Her sister, a queen? She waited for Nin to laugh, but her tutor remained serious. It appeared Nin was not pulling Idira's leg like Benny sometimes did when he made up silly stories. It made no sense. Idira realised she really had no idea who VanCleef was.
'VanCleef can make Myra a queen?' she asked, trying to work it all out. 'Is he a prince?'
Nin didn't answer. She crossed the room and sank onto the window seat. After a moment, she patted the space beside her. Idira went to her and climbed up, sensing her tutor was going to tell her something important.
'What do you know about Mr VanCleef?' Nin asked, quiet.
Idira shrugged and fiddled with a loose thread on her dress. 'Jus' that he can make Papa do what he wants, an' he has this big, fancy house, an' sometimes he does real bad things. Myra doesn' like him. She misses Benny . . . I miss Benny, too.'
Idira felt Nin's gentle fingers on her chin. Nin lifted her head so Idira met her tutor's eyes.
'VanCleef is not a prince, nor is he even nobly-born,' she said, soft. 'But he is the son of a great mason and learned much at his side. VanCleef is one of the architects who masterminded the rebuilding of Stormwind after the war. It would have taken anyone else fifty years to accomplish what he did, but because of his leadership and engineering skills, he did it in ten. VanCleef is a very clever, gifted man. Stormwind owes him much.'
Nin looked out the window, her gaze turning inward, lost in her thoughts. After a time, she continued, 'My husband was one of the architects who worked alongside him. He fell in the riots, may the Light rest his soul.' She looked back at Idira, her eyes bright with tears. 'Edwin VanCleef is trying to right a terrible wrong, but to do so, he must build an army of his own against Stormwind. Some might say his methods are unusual since those who have rallied to his call—apart from the workmen like your father—are criminals. They are dangerous men who must be taught to fear him else Westfall may fall into their hands. He walks a fine line between leading the Brotherhood and controlling those men.'
Idira thought of the men outside Myra's door and the ones lounging in the courtyard when VanCleef disembowelled the maid. She thought she understood. Those were the bad men, not VanCleef. He was trying to prove he was more dangerous than them, so they would obey him.
'So he is pretending to be bad?'
Nin nodded. 'Just so. I have known him since he was a boy. Edwin is a good lad, circumstances have forced him to become the man he is today.' She patted Idira's hand. 'He fights for men like your father who spent ten years rebuilding the city. Very few know he was offered a government position with a fat income and no taxes if he chose to forget about the money owed to his men and abandon them. He refused. Now he must live like a outlaw, forbidden to enter the very city he built.'
It took Idira a little time to digest her tutor's words. She sorted through her memories, filling the gaps with Nin's information. She scratched her head. 'Then . . . he's a good man?'
Nin nodded again. 'It must be difficult for one so young to understand, but when you grow older you will learn sometimes one must do wrong for the greater good. It is a terrible burden to bear. I do not envy Edwin his path.' She gestured at Idira's room, taking in the luxurious furnishings. 'The man who rules this house is far nobler than any prince, and he loves your sister. He would do anything for her, and for you.'
Nin stood up, smoothed the creases from her immaculate gown and held out her hand. Idira slid off the window seat and took it, her mind filled with her tutor's words. There was so much she didn't know. She wondered why VanCleef hadn't told her the truth in the kitchen. Maybe he didn't want to brag, like Benny often did. Maybe the maid really had been a bad woman and had tried to hurt Myra on purpose. If VanCleef was smart, he would have found out the truth. He wouldn't have killed her unless she was guilty.
Idira followed her tutor to the desk. Nin lifted her up onto the chair, pulled a sheaf of paper from the satchel, and spread them out in front of Idira. Symbols, the same as the ones on the crates she had found, lay stencilled in dotted lines across the sheets. It reminded Idira of her colouring book.
'Today you will learn the alphabet.' Nin put a pencil in between Idira's fingers and stood back. She nodded at Idira. 'Let us begin, shall we.'