Raining again. It had been pouring for three days and nights, and Ilskya had tired of watching drop after drop plash in quick succession onto the puddles that pockmarked the lawn. Lowering gray skies and plans for entertainment that crumpled and disintegrated in the downpour were wearing on her, and there was nothing to do but stay inside. With Papa and Katya.
They were in the drawing room, drinking tea from paper-thin china cups and murmuring about nothing in particular. But that "nothing" had bothered Ilskya for weeks now--there were tones underneath the words that rippled and slunk and made motions to take some sort of action. The words themselves were almost meaningless, but the manner in which they were said was the real purpose of their conversations. A touch of impudence from Katya, a smiling indolence from Papa. A testing, trying tone from Katya, a look of approbation from Papa. She was speaking about social functions, carriage rides, gentleman callers, and he was talking of traditions and a lady's place--but she was also speaking of revolution, and Papa was silently mocking the old ways and letting her see that a better way was needed.
Every now and again Ilskya would glean something meaningful (a failed assassination attempt on the king: Katya had expressed condescension disguised as horror, Papa's words were angry, spoken with a dreamy voice). Her sister wanted
revolution--a successful one--and Papa wanted revolution--the right kind of one. Ilskya hardly dared to ask herself what she wanted. She told herself that she only wanted peace. Only wanted what had always been theirs.
During a particularly hard rain, the most inopportune time for visiting in the world, the Olvichs' had a visitor. Madame was very tall, very thin, and topped off with a very large hat. She strode into the foyer, handed her umbrella to the butler as if it were a scepter, and proceeded to the drawing room where the little family was awkwardly chatting. "Sir Olvich, you do not know how I have been longing to see you! How dare you stay out of society during this dreadfully dull time. We have missed your company as we have missed the sunshine." Ilskya immediately recognized Madame as one of "them". Her words were cordial, even effusive, but the voice was sharp, businesslike, purposeful.
"I thought I would just drop in on my way to Lemaud's to wish you my congratulations on entering your daughter into the finest university in the city." Her snake eyes gleamed at Katya. "You must be very proud."
Papa gave a knowing smile and patted his eldest on her knee. "Ah, yes, Madame. There are few papas in the country who are as proud of their daughters as I am."
"She will do a great service to her country someday, Olvich. She will prove herself to be a very valuable woman." Katya purred, and would have twitched her tail had she owned one.
Ilskya went to get tea. When she returned she heard the three talking animatedly. She hovered on the edge of the doorway, hidden in shadow, and listened for a few seconds. Almost immediately she realized that they were speaking her language--words and voices going together, matched in stride and vision. They were discussing Kolgarten and his plans for the nation. They were saying how important he was and how nothing would ever be the same if he were to "get in." As frightening as their meaning was, the true fright was their faces: unashamed, interested, wholly honest, and looking as if everything had already been arranged. Somehow Kolgarten and Katya's university was going to change the history of the world. Ilskya dropped the tea tray and their eyes turned to her.
"You can't do this!" She meant to speak. She screamed. "You can't bring it all down, you can't change everything! What's wrong with freedom? What's wrong with our life? What's wrong with you?"
Their faces became blank slates that would not be written upon. "Ilskya," it was Papa's silky voice, "Please don't be angry. We haven't said that anything will change."
"But it's what you all want, it's what you're all working for! You want power, don't you? You want power and you don't care how you get it. You're all snakes pretending to be mice so you can slither your way into the mousehole, so that you can eat every mousling and say it was your right." She had never seen Katya look that way at her before. It was the look she gave filthy vermin before crushing them under her boot.