The first inspiration for Floodtide--before I had any clear idea of plot--was having a handful of secondary character in their late teens and wanting to do something with them at that age before they stepped into their adult roles. One of the characters I most wanted to see more of was Margerit's cousin Iulien. Iuli was one of those characters who just grew on me.
Originally, she was wallpaper--a much younger cousin that Margerit thought she might end up playing governess for. In The Mystic Marriage we see her hero-worshipping her cousin, while Margerit still thinks of her as a child, and one that teeters on the edge of annoying. Margerit doesn't quite realize how inspiring her own life has been to an imaginative girl who dreams of writing romantic novels and poetry.
And then in Mother of Souls we see the collision of Iulien's romantic fantasies with the realities of Margerit's life. Margerit has developed more respect for Iuli's talents, and has tried to step up onto the pedestal Iuli built for her. But she also realizes that Iuli needs a firm hand on the reins to avoid disaster.
In Floodtide we get to see Iulien Fulpi through someone else's eyes. Someone who feels the pull of a little hero-worship of her own, but who also has her own reasons to take a firm stand with her on occasion. Iulien's "superpower" is that she's charming and persuasive. Maybe it's simply the techniques one develops as a youngest child.
There's a tricky balance in her relationship with Roz between implying that Roz admires her because of the status difference between them rather than in spite of it. Roz has to work out that balance for herself. For all that they're very close in age, Iulien is still very much a teenager in her moods and reactions, while Roz has a constant awareness of the hazards of carelessness and self-centeredness. (In some cases, from hard lessons.)
This scene shows all the angles of their relationship. (Roz has been assigned to be Iuli's unofficial part-time maid.)
* * *
That time I saw the baroness going out in her riding clothes with a sword at her side, I would have followed her to the ends of the earth. Maisetra Iulien made me feel that way, too, but more like she’d invite you along. She…glowed somehow and the glow drew you in.
When I got her ready for bed she’d talk about poetry and music and everything else she was studying. It was like listening to Celeste talk about charms and mysteries. Maisetra Iulien said she didn’t have a talent for mysteries—not like the maisetra—but she did have a talent for writing poems and stories. Sometimes she’d read them to me while I was brushing out her hair. Some of it was all birds and gardens but some was thrilling adventures. I could tell when she was writing one in her head because she’d stop talking and her eyes would go somewhere else, and then she’d jump up from whatever I was doing for her and go to her little desk to write something down quick.
One morning, she must have been staying up late working on a poem, because I saw it all spread out on the desk when I went to open the curtains. She was still sound asleep when I brought up the breakfast tray. And still asleep when I came back with the wash water. I stood beside the bed not sure what to do until I heard the clip-clop of the carriage horses in the yard.
I shook her gently by the shoulder, like I used to do for my little sisters, and said, “Maisetra Iulien! Maisetra Iulien, it’s time to wake up!”
She gave a little groan and turned over to face away from me. I bit my lip, wondering what would make her more angry: for me to wake her, or for her to miss her ride.
“Maisetra Iulien, the carriage is in the yard. You need to wake up. You don’t want to make Maisetra Sovitre wait.”
I remembered the scolding she’d gotten from the maisetra when that happened before.
That made her sit up quick enough. “Oh, no!”
She was on her feet and reaching for the breakfast tray.
“Never mind that, maisetra. I’ll tie up the bread in a napkin for you to take.”
I had her nightgown off and just a lick and promise for washing. Her dress would have buttoned faster if she hadn’t been squirming and saying, “Hurry Roz, hurry!” And then we nearly flew down the stairs. I went to fetch her coat and things while she went to find her books. But even as I came into the entry way, the footman shook his head.
“Maisetra’s gone already. Said she couldn’t wait this time.”
I swallowed a little curse and followed Maisetra Iulien to the library to tell her the bad news.
She sank down on one of the soft chairs by the library fireplace and you would have thought that her best friend had died. “She left?”
“Is it that bad?” I asked. At first I thought she was acting like she often did. But this time she really was frightened. I laid her coat across the second chair and took the book satchel from her lap. “Maisetra Sovitre will understand.”
“No, she won’t. She said she’d send me back to Chalanz. What should I do?”
Maisetra Sovitre would say she should’ve gotten out of bed on time. I got up even earlier and couldn’t go to sleep until she was in bed. But it wasn’t for me to say such things.
“Could Maisetra Pertinek take you?”
She shook her head. “She has visitors coming this morning. Roz…could you accompany me? Just this one time? I can find the money to hire a fiacre, but I can’t go alone. I know when Cousin Margerit really means something, and that’s a hard rule.”
I wanted to. If I said yes, she’d smile at me like the sun coming out and it might be worth it. But I thought about how long it would take to go to Urmai and back, and how late I’d be for the dressmaking. All the work that Celeste and her mother would have to make up for on the dresses that needed to be done today. And I thought about how if I said yes this one time, it would be hard to say no the next time.