The embassy guard of the Grand Navigators blinked at the eorman for a moment or two. Many of the embassy guards were cadets of the officers’ school of the Sovereign Navy or Marines, but many more were rank and file marines who spent most of their days standing around hallways or next to doors, doing and saying hardly anything. This one had been randomly selected to accompany Ambassador Ceula to meet his highness, the Prince, and then to escort the diplomat and the royal lord back to the embassy palace. However, as was the way with the whims of rulers, he’d been told off instead to wait for this disreputable looking ship with the weird rigging.
“Wait here for the Calinda’s captain,” he had been ordered, “then wait for a detail to relieve you to secure the ship.”
Those were the extent of his orders. Nothing about looking at any papers or marques. Just wait and deliver a short message.
“Yes, sir,” he said non-committally, making no move to take the parchment Lafitte offered. “I’m to tell you that Prince Peino invites you to join him at the embassy of the Navigators. You’ll find the palace a short walk up the Temple Road, that way, sir.” He pointed out the way Peino and Ceula had gone just a few minutes before. “The House of the Three Cranes.”
Having executed that portion of his assignment, the selkie marine in his neat red and blue coat and hat and white britches, his long hair bound tight as a rope in black silk down its length, stood aside from the boarding plank and took up position to carry out the rest of it.
— — —
Sesus, Embassy of the Grand Navigators…
Lotye could not hide her fear from Jeneyeru Nightwise, not because he was particularly skilled as a mind-seer, but because it was a fear he knew well himself. He would not insult her by casting a rosy light over the situation, but he could not suppress a sigh as she took her leave with those brave words.
The attorney Aeto Arrowwise gave voice to the common thought, however. “My lord, what did you mean by ‘harvesting’? Is my client in danger?”
The wizard’s smile was, perhaps, a little too restrained to be as reassuring as he hoped. “Let us just say that these cards are items of quite extraordinarily illegal magic. So long as they are sealed properly, and exposure to their aura is kept to a minimum, I’m sure all will be well.”
But as he excused himself to finish dressing, even the smallest smile vanished from his face. “Lowly cutpurse” Lotye O’Tulvar might be, but her soul would not be forfeit if Jeneyeru Nightwise had anything to say about it. He had sworn an oath on the altar of the goddess of death, patroness of the Luminous Shadow Way, Caillech of the Gateways, to protect the spirits of Aeldreth. If his task was to begin with one little street thief, then so it would.
“It may begin with her,” he said to himself in the mirror of his bedroom, “but I suspect she will be only the beginning.”
So Jeneyeru saw to his dressing, and the placement of his great number of rings and charms and medallions, and the precise adjustment of the bunches of lace at his throat and over his hands.
At the same time, Lotye brushed her hair until Thimble let in the dressmaker’s fitter carrying the selection of garments ordered for her to try — a few light gowns, lady’s britches, shirts and bodices, shoes, even a few hats to pick from.
Meanwhile, Aeto Arrowwise, having nothing to do but watch Thimble hurry from bath to bedroom and back again, laid her wig of office aside and helped herself to more tea and another crumpet.
Lord Jeneyeru had taken the Box of Nothing containing the cards with him, and that was just as well. As curious as the attorney naturally was, she was pragmatic enough to know that ignorance was a small price to pay to keep one’s soul fresh and healthy. She examined the sheet of instructions Lotye had said had come with the cards and thought about all the printers she knew of in Sesus.
— — —
Plesz, the Villa Grippio…
Hot sunshine blazed on the balcony, but in the shade of the sail-cloth awning, ocean breezes cooled the luncheon party at the Villa Grippio. Servants filled each person’s plate with small portions of the luncheon dishes arranged among flowers in the center of the table — lobsters and urchins in wine broth, baked squid stuffed with herbs and berries, citrus-scented breads, and other treats of sea and land. But then the servants withdrew to stand ready to refresh a dish or replace a utensil, but otherwise leave the Ereonis family to serve their guest and themselves to the quiet music of the wind and the birds in the rose bushes.
The rulers of the Grand Navigators listened politely to Y’lanna’s explanation of herself, careful to suppress obvious signs of surprise at her reference to “her species.” Despite her coloring and other minor features, she seemed no different to them than any Aeldrethian. Indeed, there were stranger figures than Y’lanna among the shape-shifting faerie of this magic-saturated world, so it never would have occurred to her new hosts that she was not the same kind of creature as they were — at least not until they read the details of Dr. Middlepine’s examination report.
“‘Pon my breath and bone,” the Duchess said, smiling gently, by way of an opener. “One hundred eighty-seven years and still young. Why you’re older than my sons, child. Have you ever had food like this before? Here, allow me.” With the casual intrusiveness of a mother, Lady Olimea reached over to Y’lanna’s place and, using the delicate little shell knife, scooped the orange flesh of a sea urchin out of its black shell and spread the wine-infused morsel over a slice of lemon bread. “Try a little bit of everything. You may have more of what you like, or if none of it is to your liking, we’ll bring you something else. Ruili, do open these claws for Mistress Sparti.”
“Hm?” Lord Ruili glanced up from his plate. “Oh, certainly.” The Lord Admiral scooted his chair a little closer and used the silver cracker that lay next to her plate — a brutal-looking implement – to crack open the bright red lobster claws that had been put on her plate. The shells fractured loudly, and briny steam filled the air. “Use the pick to winkle out the meat,” he said with a wink, “then have at it with the broth. It’s delicious.”
“You poor thing,” said Olimea when she was satisfied that Y’lanna’s food had been made sufficiently accessible. “What an adventure you must have had, and what troubles you must have left behind.”
“Yes,” said Duke Yirie. He tapped the papers Chancellor Enlei had left with him. “Such as this refugee business. Displaced, eh? By war or some such, I suppose?”
Olimea clicked her tongue. “Terrible. Why such things have not happened here for eons.”
Yirie growled a noise of agreement. “But in the meantime, how is she to be recorded?”
“Must we discuss this now, my dear?”
“What’s the trouble?” asked Ruili, knocking back a glassful of wine. “It’s not as if the vortex that dropped her here will take her back. Write her up anyhow, and let Jeney sort it out with the law clergy.”
“Jeneyeru has gone to Sesus.”
“What? He left the Isles? Whatever for?”
The Duke shrugged and turned his attention from the papers to his food. “I don’t know. Something to do with those cards you all brought back from that place. He was in one of his froths about it. I couldn’t follow his chatter.”
As Yirie’s fork was raised, Ruili’s fell idle in his hand. “The Daemon Arcana? What happened?”
“He seemed to think some may have gone missing from the Wizards Guild.”
“Is this serious, dear?” asked Olimea.
Ruili’s expression indicated it was. “I must go and join him at once.”
“No, I won’t have my entire cabinet go off gallivanting after playing cards. Besides, it’s bad enough the Lord of State and the State Magus are both there already. It will never do for the Navy to invade the High Court, as well. You know how King Iviar is.”
“Let your brother determine the situation. If there is a problem, he will let us know, and we’ll take appropriate action. In the meantime,” Yirie gestured towards Y’lanna, “you can see to your new charge’s needs.”
Ruili followed the gesture to Y’lanna, then looked sharply back at his father. “I beg your pardon, my what?”
“Well, she can’t simply be set loose in the city. Until proper documents are drafted and approved for her, she must be minded by a competent person. You’re at liberty. Find her something to do, some place to live.”
A secret little smile tugged at the Duke’s scarred face as he pulled apart one of the fragrant stuffed squid. Ruili could only sputter once or twice and then give up. With a sigh, he sat back in his chair and regarded Y’lanna. Contemplating this pretty little alien was becoming a habit with him.
His mother shook her head gently. “How are you finding the food, dear girl?” she asked Y’lanna.