Merlin had to close his mouth to form a word, finding only then that it had dropped open.
â€œSo. Uncle Buck raised a monster. Raise a boy, get a boyâ€™s attitude toward a womanâ€™s role. Naturally - but heâ€™s taking advantage of that too. Like you said yourself, while youâ€™re gone, heâ€™s in charge.
â€œI donâ€™t know what heâ€™s been feeding you, but it doesnâ€™t work the way you think. Sure, if youâ€™d been raised a girl youâ€™d probably be looking at an arranged marriage, and if that were all you had to run from Iâ€™d understand. Iâ€™d encourage it. But think for a minute.
â€œUnder our custom and laws, every extended family is a business. Everyone in the same landed family works for the eldest male, who sits on the Council, helps pass the laws and raise taxes, and enjoys the best of everything. But when he dies, the familyâ€™s entire estate and all its businesses go to the first born mail of the youngest generation of descendants to come into being while he lived. Inheritance devolves on an earlier generation only if there are no boys at that level.
â€œIn our case, Gramps passed everything to you. When you came out as a female, why do you suppose the Council didnâ€™t enforce tradition and retract your inheritance? Because theyâ€™re Elves. Worse, theyâ€™re High Elves, theyâ€™re more subtle than that. You were already in the military. They knew if you died there without issue, our line would end and our familyâ€™s assets would devolve upon the Council Chair to be redistributed. If you think about it, that might help explain the course your training took, the assignments you got. They wanted you dead.
â€œBut if you go back, Uncle Buck, and my dad, and me, everyone who descended from Grampsâ€™ grandfather would be working for you. Uncle Buck must know that - you think the lie of your gender was the last one he ever told? But he may not understand that if you die without issue, heâ€™ll lose everything. He canâ€™t inherit from Gramps. I canâ€™t inherit from Gramps. The Council already posted the banns, youâ€™re head of our family now and they missed their chance to revoke it.â€
Merlin stopped, watching her reaction. Something in it softened him. â€œKes? Iâ€™m sorry. Iâ€™m truly sorry if youâ€™d rather be selfish, both for your sake and for mine. Youâ€™ve found yourself in the same position as every heir apparent to every throne. Your birth position was not your choice, you see independence, personal choice, to be so attractive, you want to shuck it all and go play. But youâ€™ve got to think of others. Your decisions now affect hundreds of people, many you donâ€™t even know.
â€œPlease. Think of somebody else for awhile. Come home. Youâ€™d be the familyâ€™s chair, youâ€™d be the one making decisions, you could live in any of a dozen houses and banish Uncle Buck from your presence. Put him to work mucking stalls. Put him to work pimping for you for all I care. Youâ€™d be making the family rules, you would be the only one with the authority to decide who anyone would marry, including yourself. You could remain single as long as you want. But if you die without issue, today or 150 years from now, the rest of us and our descendants are all out of jobs. I know itâ€™s happened before. Who do you think normally makes up our militia? Itâ€™s one of the few careers in our culture for the disinherited. The Council looks for opportunities, itâ€™s why our militia is so big.
â€œOn the other hand, have a son, delegate a little authority by putting some paper in the records, and you can go and do whatever you like. Do it dressed however you like. You are the head of one of the largest and most influential families in our Realm, but you can be lonely for the rest of your long life if you want. Once you do your duty.
â€œAnd youâ€™re wrong. I can discern with perfect clarity what it is I want from you. I want you to accept responsibility for the decision you made to obey orders, even if it means you get to give them for the rest of your life. Why do you think I found you out here? I came looking. Iâ€™ve been home since you left, and when me Da found out what Iâ€™d learned in the woods he decided I was the only one who could track you. So I did. And Iâ€™ve told you whatâ€™s what. And next Iâ€™ll keep doing what I can to keep you alive, though . . . I have to admit . . . that may be easier now that you know the score. Now Iâ€™m going to pass out, so leave me alone. You have something to say, the halfing has paper, and I can read. Or donâ€™t bother, unless itâ€™s â€˜yes.â€™â€