The youngest son of House Solidor begins to grow into his power. Pregame speculation, endgame spoilers.
The celebrations of his birth overshadowed his mother's funeral. When he was old enough to understand, he was told that she died bearing him. Some people, he noticed, could not meet his eyes when they spoke of it.
But there are several explanations for that, and even in Archadia, suspicion is not the same as proof.
One of his first memories is of Vayne coming to see him in his rooms when he was very small. The rest of the scene has faded into the blotchy fog of early memory, but he remembers how tall his brother seemed, how imposing.
Vayne was angry about something, and it made him vivid, intense, the rest of the room dim and faded behind him. "Not you," he said, "no matter how they try. You'll be safe."
Larsa remembers how bright his eyes were, how warm his hands. After he left, the nurse-maids fluttered around the room cleaning and straightening things, as if they could banish the impression he made.
In his sixth winter, despite the bitter chill of the season, all of Archades celebrated Vayne Carudas Solidor's coming of age. Larsa remembers the sting of the wind against his cheeks when the family, the Senate, and the highest echelons of Archadian society went to Tchita in order to witness a demonstration of Vayne's prowess with falcons. The Judges Magister stood watch, dark and impassive, on either side of the platform where Larsa sat with Lord Gramis, and the Senate behind them. The falcon was a new one, a gift from their father to honor Vayne's skill and passion for the sport.
Vayne looked every inch the lord as he stepped forward, hooded falcon on his wrist, to address them. "I dedicate this flight," he announced, and the crowd simmered to silence, "to His Highness Lord Gramis, may his reign be long -- and to my brother the Lord Larsa, may Archadia's glory and prosperity ever do him honor."
Larsa remembers the murmurs of the Senators behind him, the faint tones of worry and surprise. He remembers rising from his chair to bow, and give Vayne his thanks, though he doubts that his words were as polished as Vayne's.
He remembers the circle and stoop of the falcon against a pearl gray sky.
He remembers that the falcon struck true.
When he was eight, one of the Judges Magister died in an airship crash near the border with Nabradia. The competition to replace him was fierce, and Larsa went to watch the trials whenever his studies allowed. All of the judges who competed were skilled combatants, the flash of their blades and the shimmer of their magicks breathtaking.
"Come to witness, have you, my lord?" asked Judge Zecht, walking up to meet him in the observation gallery. The boards creaked under his weight. Vayne walked beside him, quiet, poised, regal.
Larsa ducked his head. There were dozens of other things he could be doing. "Only for a short while," he promised.
"It's a worthwhile pursuit," Vayne offered, to his surprise, with perhaps even a small approving smile. "The new Magister will share in the responsibility for the well-being of our House." He looked down toward the arena floor, watching the combat as it progressed. "Have you a favorite in this match?"
Larsa remembers feeling flattered, flustered, that he would be included in a conversation on such a serious matter despite his age. "The knight in blue is cautious," he said, "but -- perhaps too much so? I think -- I like the energy of the knight in red. I like his fire."
When he glanced up, Judge Zecht was nodding. "Too much caution serves not well for this office," he said. "Look there. Drace agrees with you."
Below, Judge Drace stepped onto the field, and motioned with her sword for the knight in blue to step back.
"He is not Archadian born," Judge Zecht went on, as the knight in red prepared himself for her onslaught.
"Will that matter?" Larsa asked. His breath caught in his throat as they closed together.
For a long moment he received no answer, save the clash of steel and the sparks from crossed blades in the arena below. "This time," Vayne said at last, "perhaps not."
The following year Larsa asked the new Magister to teach him how to use a sword. He had had fencing lessons before, to go along with his riding lessons and his language studies and all the complicated etiquette that attended diplomacy. But none of that was the same as knowing how to handle himself in an actual battle.
"In case it's ever necessary," Larsa argued. His sword bore the House Solidor crest, just like Vayne's, though it was smaller, to suit his age.
"Your brother would not approve, to say nothing of the emperor," Judge Gabranth demurred.
"You do him a disservice," Larsa replied. "He would protect me, not see me helpless."
Judge Gabranth tracked the motion of the tip of Larsa's sword, wary, alert. "Has not your lordship instructors enough?"
Larsa shook his head. "I know how to cross blades with someone politely," he said. He looked up to meet Judge Gabranth's eyes. "Teach me how to actually /fight/."
He saw the spark light in the Magister's eyes and knew he'd wagered rightly, before the first lesson even began.
He didn't hear about the fall of Nabudis until a good week after the fact; when it happened, he was in bed with a fever, tossing and turning in soaked sheets and dreaming even with his eyes open. Vayne came to see him, sat beside him as he shivered in the fever's grip, touched him with slow, cool hands. He remembers Vayne's voice low and comforting in his ears, Vayne's hands under his nightshirt, and he never entirely believes the official reports later on that claim Vayne was at the front giving orders to the troops.
It was Judge Zecht who taught him to play chess, but it was Amuriel from the Senate who taught him to master it, not only the provincial two-player variant but the full-scale Archadian version with six forces on the board. Larsa threw himself into the game after Judge Zecht disappeared, burying his frustration in the intricacies of strategy, translating what he learned there into the feints and postures of the noble houses of Archades.
When he mastered that game, he thought, he would be worthy of the esteem his brother heaped upon him.
Larsa is twelve when he makes his first move on the Imperial board. His is thirteen by the time his brother dies.
Later he wonders: If he had not done the first, would he have witnessed the second? And if the second had not happened, could he have borne that outcome any more easily than this?
He retraces the sequence in his mind, the order of the moves and all the forces in play, but he cannot say for certain at what point he lost his brother; at what point his brother lost the game.