"So... exactly what do you mean by not your real name?"
"It is what I've used as my name for the past... it's almost ten years now. But in reality, I... I was born Jacob Martin Samuel Condorando, the Third."
"Third, you say."
"Yeah, I was... only the third generation of nobles in my family," James said. "My grandfather, Samuel... he was an officer in the royal army in the kingdom of Josang. During a conflict, he saved the lives of a group of nobles, including the king and a Celestial Dragon... as a reward, he was granted a title of nobility, becoming the first of the Condorando family."
"Wait, wait, wait... Josang? I thought you said you came from Topton."
"I came to Avasine from Topton, but that wasn't where I started."
"It was me, my sister Cassandra, my father Martin, my mother Florence... a handful of servants, and then a variety of tutors coming from the city..."
"Alright, you know what, hold that thought for now."
"Let's just... let's not do this right now. James—calm down. Allen—drop it. I need sleep. You need sleep. Go to bed, and then James can tell us about this over breakfast tomorrow. Okay?"
"And if I hear another peep about this from either of you before then, you're both taking first, second, and third watch. Is that clear?"
"Good. And good night," Rink said before leaving and closing the door.
Thirteen years earlier...
"Cassie? Cassie, where are you?"
In the garden of a moderately sized mansion, on a small peninsula off the northwest coast of the island of Akana in West Blue, Jacob Condorando was searching for his sister. He was dressed in a white button-down shirt with a black vest over it, and black pants.
Upon the island of Akana lay the kingdom of Josang, which was home to some six hundred thousand citizens, a tenth of whom lived in the capital city in the center of the island. Forty-two noble families lived within the kingdom's borders, most of them in the capital, but with a handful that had chosen places elsewhere to settle down. The mansion on the peninsula had been built when the first of the Condorando family decided to retire and leave the capital, and two generations on his family had remained there. They were one of the more recent and more minor noble families on the island, and even though their ascension to nobility had involved a Celestial Dragon, their name did not command the same level of respect as some who had over ten generations of history in the kingdom.
"Well, if you don't come back, I guess I can have your dessert tonight!" he said out loud, and soon heard a nearby flower bush suppressing a giggle. Walking up to it and parting some branches, he found a younger girl in a light blue dress, with longer blonde hair, crouching with her back to him. "There you are! You know mom doesn't want you to play there, you'll get your dress dirty," he said and held out his hand. "Come on, it's time for our piano lesson."
"I don't wanna play piano."
"If you learn, we can play together. That would be fun, don't you think? And impress mom and dad."
"It's too haaard."
"Come on, Cass. You know mister Vachs will tell mom, and then mom will tell dad, and then dad will get cross with you. I'll play hide and seek with you after the lesson, okay?"
"...okay," Cassandra replied and turned around, taking Jacobs's hand. They entered the mansion through a side door, and went to the second floor where the bedrooms were.
"Go wash your face and put on a clean dress, but hurry up, our lesson should have started now," Jacob told his sister.
"O-okay," she said and did as she had been instructed. A few minutes later, they headed back downstairs and went into the salon, where their mother was waiting, talking to an older man standing in front of a piano placed by one of the walls.
"There you are!" Florence Condorando exclaimed. "Where have you been?"
"Ah, young master Jacob and young miss Cassandra," the man said. "How nice of you to finally join us."
"Sorry we're late, mister Vachs," Jacob said. "Cassie had to... go to the bathroom."
"You were supposed to be here and ready fifteen minutes ago."
"Sorry, mother. But we're here now."
"Your father will hear about this when he gets home," their mother stated before leaving the room.
"Well. Why don't we start, then, by having the young miss recite the three major scales from our previous lessons?"
"Oh, um..." Cassandra stammered.
"I trust that you have been practicing?"
"I... I have, I... just... don't know if I can..."
"It'll be fine, Cass," Jacob said. "I'll sit with you, okay?"
"Okay..." Cassandra said and sat down in front of the piano, as Jacob grabbed a chair to sit next to her. Nervously, Cassandra put her left hand down on the piano, pushing one of the white keys down.
"That's it, that's the C," Jacob whispered. "Now keep going."
"This one..." she said to herself and continued, but clearly not entirely confident in what she was doing. One key, two keys, until she had produced eight notes in total.
"Yes, that was the C major. Now I wish to hear D major."
"D... that has... one black..."
"Two," Jacob whispered.
"Two," Cassandra repeated and started playing. A little more confidently, she played eight more notes, the third and seventh on black keys.
"Correct. And finally, E major."
"Okay. That was... one-two-two-two-one..."
"That's right," Jacob said as Cassandra played her third scale, this time with consistent spacing between her notes, even if a little slower than standard.
"I did it!"
"Yes, that is correct," Vachs said. "Run through all three one more time for me."
"Okay," Cassandra replied and repeated them, giving a stronger performance on her second attempt.
"Mhm, you're starting to show a bit of promise. But next time, try to do it by yourself."
"Now, I'll show you the three major scales I want you to practice for next time. If I may?" Vachs asked and walked up next to them. Cassandra and Jacob stood up, letting their teacher take his place at the piano. "Look and listen closely. This is C-sharp major."
"Mm." Cassandra looked as Vachs played the scale, which she noted had a lot of black keys in it. He repeated it two more times, with Cassandra starting to hum along to help her remember on the final one. He continued by demonstrating F major and F-sharp major, then had her sit down and play them, helping her on the first try.
"Practice these three in addition to the previous three for the next lesson. Is that understood?"
"Y-yes, mister Vachs," Cassandra stammered.
"Very good. Then, it is young master Jacob's turn. I trust you have practiced and remember last week's piece."
"Yes, I... think so."
"Then, I would like you to play it for me."
"Alright," Jacob replied and sat down at the piano. He played a few random notes as he positioned his hands, took a deep breath, then started playing from memory. A medium-paced piece, a little over two minutes in length, not something meant for a beginner but without any especially complicated chords. Jacob played it with some confidence, slowing down just a little here and there to remember the next part. After finishing, he turned to his teacher for the judgment.
"Hm. Adequate. But you did play some naturals in the second segment that were supposed to be sharps, and you omitted a full bar of notes at the end."
"Ah... yeah, I forgot that there was one more repetition."
"Make sure to remember for next time. Now, let's move on to your next lesson," Vachs said and motioned for Jacob to stand up, taking his place at the piano. "First, without looking at what I do, try to repeat after me."
"Sure," Jacob said and faced away from the piano. Vachs played a short piece, only a little over thirty seconds long, with several distinct chords.
"Now, play that back to me," Vachs said as he gave the seat back to Jacob. He hit a few keys to find what he believed to be the starting point, and played back the piece as well as he could remember. "Mhm."
"Is this a piece I need to remember?"
"No," Vachs replied. "It was just a small test, I wished to see how adept you had gotten at recognizing these chords."
"And how did I do?"
"You did quite well, I would say. You only made two minor mistakes on the chords, and missed only three notes. Your next piece will be this," he continued and handed Jacob some music sheets. He placed them on the piano and gave them a quick read-through.
"Alright... more complicated than the last one, but..." Jacob said and started playing. It was of a similar style as the piece he had played before, but more advanced. While he did manage to get through the whole thing, it was not without pauses and repeats of sections that didn't go quite right the first time through.
"Right." Jacob played through the whole thing again, this time making far fewer mistakes, even if it wasn't fully perfect.
"Yes, that's better. Practice this one in addition to your last one."
"Do I need to know it by heart?"
"That's the eventual goal, but as this one is more advanced, I don't ask you to have learned to play it without notes in time for the next lesson. But I do expect you to be able to play it without mistakes when you have the notes to read."
"Very well then. That will be all for today. Practice your assigned pieces, and do try to be on time for next week's lesson."
"Yes, mister Vachs," Jacob and Cassandra replied in unison as their mother came back into the room.
"All done, I take it," she said and looked at her children. "You can go play until your father returns home."
"Still wanna play hide and seek?" Jacob asked his sister.
"Then go hide, I'll count to a hundred!"
"Okay!" Cassandra replied and skipped off. Jacob left the room at a more relaxed pace, but stayed outside the door while starting his counting, and so he was still able to hear his mother talk to their teacher.
"So, how did they do?"
"Adequately, I'd say. Young master Jacob does show some promise but would do well to practice more. But young miss Cassandra does not appear to take her piano lessons especially seriously, and it would be good if she did not rely on young master Jacob's help so much."
"Yes, I have been told something like that by more of her tutors... I will certainly talk to both of them about it."
"Very good. I will see you next week."
Jacob finished his counting and headed off to search for his sister, eventually finding her under their parents' bed. The two of them spent the rest of the afternoon playing, but the conversation his mother had had with Vachs remained in his head, and he knew that there was going to be a conversation during dinner—a dinner that, it seemed, was going to be delayed.
"I'm hungry!" Cassandra complained to her mother, who was keeping the food warm on the stove.
"We will eat when your father comes home."
"But he's late!"
"I'm sure he'll be back soon. Jacob, can you go out and have a look?"
"Sure," Jacob replied and headed out the front door, walking down the path to the edge of their property, facing the land bridge leading to mainland Akana, the only way to reach the mansion by land. At high tide, some of it would be completely submerged, and with it being a twenty minute wagon ride from the capital, the peninsula could be a bit isolated. Family trips to the capital did happen, but aside from the visiting tutors, it was not very common for the Condorandos to have guests come to their home.
Jacob peered towards the mainland, seeing the lights from the capital in the distance. He usually got to go there two or three times a month, though it was generally for meeting his parents' acquaintances. He and Cassandra did get to go for a leisure visit once a month, and any birthday always involved a trip to eat at their choice of restaurant. Jacob didn't mind it too much, he was fine spending his days reading books and playing with Cassandra, though he wasn't sure if she was better off for it—while she did get nervous around other people, spending more time in such situations might be what she needed. She didn't seem to have many interests either, but hadn't had much opportunity to explore anything beyond what was available in the somewhat isolated mansion.
He hadn't been outside for very long when he saw a small light coming towards him, and soon after he heard the sound of hooves. The light grew bigger and the sounds got louder as the wagon that the lantern and horses were attached to crossed over the land bridge. Jacob started walking back towards the mansion when it entered the property, doing a turn and stopping close to the front door. The Condorando family wagon was a four-seater, not overly ornate but clearly not belonging to a commoner, with the family crest on the doors as the biggest decoration. Martin stepped out, waved for the driver to park the wagon and the horses, and then faced his son.
"Welcome home, dad," Jacob said to greet his father.
"Ah, Jacob. How are you doing?"
"I'm well. Cassie's really hungry, though, and mom keeps saying we weren't going to eat until you came home."
"Ah, yes. I suppose it is a little past dinnertime. I'm rather feeling it myself," Martin stated with a nod.
"Welcome home, dear," Florence said to greet her husband. "I trust your day has been good."
"Spent it in meetings, mostly. Apologies for being late, the last one of them ran long."
"No problem. The dinner is ready to be served."
"What are we having?" Martin asked as he followed his wife into the dining room, where Cassandra and Jacob already sat at the table, with a maid standing next to it.
"Honey-glazed porkchops with a potato gratin," Florence replied while she and Martin took their own seats. "I got the recipe from Mrs. Astor when we visited them last week."
"It does sound very tasty."
"Alright, you may now serve the dinner," Florence told the maid.
"Of course, madam," she replied and went out into the kitchen, soon returning with a serving plate with eight porkchops, followed by a casserole with the potato component. Most of the meal was eaten in silence, as Cassandra wasn't the only one hungry due to the delayed dinner.
"So," Martin finally spoke up when halfway through his second porkchop, "how has your day been?"
"I worked on my painting, and the children had their piano lesson."
"And how did that go?" Martin asked Jacob.
"It went... well. I got a new piece to practice."
"And how about you, Cassandra?"
"I... I played my scales..."
"Did it go well?"
"But not as well as it should have. Isn't that right?" Florence sternly stated.
"What's that, dear?" Martin asked as he turned to his wife.
"Vachs told me that she hadn't practiced enough, and that Jacob helped her too much. And he is not the only one of her teachers who has expressed a similar sentiment."
"I see," Martin replied, shaking his head before turning to his daughter. "Cassandra. You need to take your education more seriously."
"I don't like playing piano, it's too hard!"
"You'll like it more when you get better at it, so you have to make sure to practice."
"I don't want to play piano."
"Well. If you don't want to learn to play the piano, and you also show little interest in your other studies... then what do you want to learn?"
"Jacob. Let Cassandra answer the question herself."
"I... I don't know..."
"A cultural education is important for people of our standing. Maybe another instrument? Your grandmother played the viola."
"There's just so many lessons, I just can't remember all those things..."
"Do we need to get you a tutor who can teach you how to do that, then?"
"If you don't start putting in more effort, we might have you start taking classes in the city and not just here at home. And the teachers there won't be as lenient when you haven't done your homework."
"Dad, that's too-"
"Jacob!" Martin exclaimed and hit the table, causing Cassandra to pull back and put her hands over her face. "I wasn't asking you!"
"Well. Perhaps I overreacted as well," Martin admitted as he put down his silverware and wiped his mouth. "I did not mean to scare you, Cassandra."
"O... okay..." she meekly replied.
"It was a very lovely dinner," Martin stated and stood up. "Cassandra, help your mother clear the table. Jacob, in my study. And I would appreciate some coffee once we're done."
"...right," Jacob replied and followed his father into his workroom.
"Close the door," Martin told his son before sitting down behind his desk. Jacob did as his father instructed, and stood in front of the same desk.
"Am I in trouble?"
"No, not quite. It's just, Jacob... I appreciate that you care for your little sister, but you really have to stop coddling her so much."
"Please, dad, don't be so hard on her... she's doing her best, but she gets anxious around people."
"If she never learns to think for herself, she'll never be ready for high society."
"I don't know if she'll ever be ready no matter what I... what we do. Cassie, she's just... she's not cut out for it. She gets really nervous around strangers. She should get to decide for herself."
"As nobles, we have a reputation to uphold."
"Is our reputation more important than Cassie's wellbeing?"
"I... I didn't mean it like that. Of course, how Cassandra feels is important. But she's still young, she has time to grow out of her worries."
"And what if she never does grow out of them? If this is just how she is, and will always be like?"
"Look, Jacob. I know what you're trying to say, and I assure you that I would never do anything to hurt Cassandra. If it turns out that the noble life isn't for her, well... we'll figure out what we can do for her. But regardless of what her future looks like, education and self-reliance are important things. She's not going to be able to lean on you for the rest of her life."
"I... guess, but..."
"Well. What approach might you suggest we take with her education?"
"Well... she says it's hard to remember, so maybe she would do better if she was just learning one or two things at a time... but that might also just make her tired of it faster."
"Hm. It might be worth a try, if she promises to focus on it. You seem to be able to reach her better than I can, so it would be good if you could talk to her about it. She needs to understand that she has to at least try."
"I'll try," Jacob replied with a sigh. "But it's hard for her to keep her attention on things she doesn't like."
"Well. Moving on, your economics lesson tomorrow has been cancelled."
"You'll be coming along with me. It's time for you to see how I work, get a little more hands on learning about the family business. Then in the afternoon, Florence and Cassandra will join us, and we are going to meet and have dinner with the Erickson family," Martin said and looked at Jacob. "There's someone we want you to meet."