28 Storis 1138
The next several days passed quietly, but satisfyingly, though the weather worsened. I would have preferred to work at the Belleview — a note on the door would have directed any surprise clients there — but carts couldn’t make it through the mud, and the sheer quantity of volumes meant we had to slog to them each morning instead of bringing them to us. We dove into the intricacies of inheritance law, planning to submit the initial pleading to the Common Judicatura before Midwinter so opening arguments might be heard in late spring. Even if we won, Trensen would appeal, and the battle would begin. Linzara’s son might be fourteen or fifteen before we won unequivocally.
My other work didn’t move apace, save for one minor meeting, long scheduled, that I expected the weather to cancel. Bran Darlamand or Cedri would be coming today to discuss their finished contracts. I woke before dawn, oddly excited to meet them, and hoping they’d bring one of their others. While the bath filled, I stared into my wardrobe, scowling.
I’ve hardly ever noticed fashion. Ethene and Avah have chosen my clothing all my life — the fewer trivial decisions I must make, the greater my ability to make important ones — but now, I wanted something besides grey and black. Does that mean I’m done mourning Da?
I heard Avah moving and closed the tap, then went to the sitting room. She was just awake, still puffy and blurry with sleep, and building her first cup of fondal. “Aren’t you obnoxiously alive considering the hour,” she muttered.
“Sorry. An actual meeting today.”
“It won’t happen,” she said. “They’ll never make it here from wherever they’re holed up. Too bad, too; if the others are as pretty as Cedri and Bran, it’s quite the loss.”
I laughed. “You’re welcome to all five. I can’t fraternize with clients.”
“Or anyone else,” she returned. “What’s wrong?”
I felt myself flush. “I don’t know what to wear. I’m tired of mourning.” Tears came at that admission.
She patted my back. “That’s normal. And very good, Rien.”
I nodded, unwilling to trust my voice. Da wouldn’t want me burying myself. He’d want me fighting. But I’ve work today and a few tendays before negotiations begin with Savrin. Which gives me time to plan. Stop weeping. You don’t want red eyes. “Any suggestions?”
“The tailored grey coat with black embroidery, not the skirted one, black breeches, tall boots.” She eyed me. “You almost look female in that.”
“Thanks,” I said. “You’re right, they probably won’t arrive anyway. The weather’s dreadful.” I squeezed her hand back, and left to bathe.
As I adjusted my neck-cloth in my bedroom mirror, I found I agreed with Avah’s choices. All of my coats fell to my knees and had high collars, but this one, though a masculine pattern, looked well. Tailored close to my body from hip to breast, it lacked the full skirts common on most women’s coats; thus, it didn’t overwhelm me. The black silk whorls at wrists, neck and hem caught just enough light to gleam, and contrasted my white cuffs and collar. I tucked my still too-short hair behind my ears and nodded at myself once. I’d do.
We waited in the outer office, my copy of Ameril’s Comments on Commerce Precedents in my lap, not expecting to see anyone on the street, but shortly before eighth hour, I recognized a figure through the smeary, spattered glass. Bran, alone. Damn.
“I lose,” she said and went to set the kettle. “How much do I owe you now?”
“Seventy million teanders, but I still owe you sixty-four million for the Cutler resolution,” I called back the imaginary, ludicrous total. I opened the door for him. “You must be part fish.”
He rolled his eyes as he shed his coat. “Would that I were a fish. Home is knee deep. This is glorious. There’s paving here.”
“We could’ve rescheduled,” I started.
“Getting to where I could send a message was half the battle.” He shivered. “Do I smell fondal?”
We went into the conference room, where Avah was setting out cakes, fondal and the copies of a draft partnership agreement. Bran greeted her, and we set to work.
After Bran left, Avah worked on something he’d requested of us — a Treasury account, in their partnership’s name, one on which all five of them could be signatories. In some ways, those five were completely unsuited to being wealthy — they weren’t even aware that anyone can open a Treasury account, for any reason.
“Are you hiding your money under your mattresses?” Avah had said when Bran mentioned it. “You can call yourself Jack Giantkiller or Cat o’ the Mountain or the Foreti Fur Company and open an account. All they need are your sigils and some money. You get an account number and a draft book, they get a password. A child can set up an account.”
She was creating one for them. I heard her gasp, then laugh. “Wonders never cease,” she breathed.
I marked the genealogy I was tracing for Teregenia Silvalt and went out. “What’s so amusing about a Treasury document?”
“One of the names Bran gave me. Do you know who this is?” She pointed to a name. Quin Byssus. I shook my head.
“You should, though I probably wouldn’t have remembered if we hadn’t been plowing through histories and genealogies for the last tenday and a half. I wish I could tell Meri, but confidentiality prevents me from gossiping with my sister.”
“Why would Meri care about a furrier we’ve never met?” I asked.
“You’ve met him,” she said. “I can’t prove it, but I’m nearly certain that Quin Byssus is Mathilde Byssus’ son, who was a niece of Lania mer Mapwright, the one who bore Teregenitor Kalpon’s bastard — “
“Mathilde Byssus married Reginal Pronator Tiwendar, now Teregenitor Optimus Tiwendar, and their only surviving child was Quirin, Pronator Tiwendar. Usually called Quin.” She looked up, triumphant.
The blood drained from my head. “My missing liegeman.”
She nodded. “Meri would be livid or delighted, I’m not sure which, could I tell her.”
The realization burbled to the surface. “Please draft a discontinuation of service letter and return the remainder of their retainer.”
She looked skeptical. “Why? There’s no conflict of interest — “
“They’re in violation of our ethics policy. We do not coin wash, nor help our clients do so.”
“Coin washing? What makes you think — “
“We know Teregenitor Tiwendar has money he dare not show. Who better to clean dirty money than his own child, the one who avoids Cimenarum like Ragin avoids temples? I’d say three-quarters of the Curia doesn’t remember Reginal ever had a son. They’re making the Triumvirate’s ill-got gains look legitimate.”
“You have lost your mind,” she said. “You didn’t know Quin at all, did you?”
“No,” I said. “I barely met him.” Except in dreams.
“Quin hated his father. They couldn’t even be in the same room without fighting, and it wasn’t like you and Ragin — it was vicious.”
“How do you know that?” I asked.
“Quin and Meri were lovers for… oh, at least a year before he vanished, and before that, he courted Mina. They told me, and I saw some of it myself. The Quin I knew would rather eat babies three meals a day than help his father.”
“That was nine years ago,” I said. “Much can change — ”
“Rifts like that don’t mend, Rien. Besides, with what you know of Bran and Cedri, would they be involved in coin washing? You sniffed them last time they were here. What did that tell you?”
I had used Odifera on both of them, mostly because Darav insisted I practice. Bran’s scent carried running water, for decency, and living trees, for endurance; cedar for patience and oakmoss for compassion, amber for music, saffron for determination and under all, balancing and blending his forest scent into perfection I’d never smelled in life, was a sweet, deep scent. Galantier’s scent. He lacked entirely the scents of honey, for malice; lilac, for treachery, and orris for avarice. Cedri, too, lacked those tempting warnings among his oakmoss and water, the sweet scent, gillyflower for wisdom, geranium for loving devotion, salt for grief and surprisingly, rock oil, indicating condensed, cold rage paired with the sweet.
According to Darav, that unnamed scent doesn’t exist. It’s the first scent I ever remember smelling, on my father. Ragin and Avah carry it, too. So did Lord Chancellor Werev and High Justiciar Benscop. It has notes of custard and neroli and jasmine, and it balances and blends with almost everything. Nobody who carries it has ever wished harm to befall me or Galantier, though not necessarily in that order. I trust that scent and those who carry it.
No, I just couldn’t envision someone who smelled of Galantier’s perfume involved in coin washing for Mathes and Tiwendar. Those two want Galantier harmed, or at least subjugated to their will. If Quin Byssus and Quirin Tiwendar were the same, he was either innocent, or so entirely devious that he kept his activities hidden from his partners, but then they wouldn’t be washing his money. If he had that capacity for deviance, Da wouldn’t have let him swear fealty. “True,” I said. “The politics are driving me mad.”
When I returned to my desk, however, I felt an odd lightening of my spirits. For most of the last nine years, I hadn’t believed Teregenitor Tiwendar’s explanation for his son’s absence from Cimenarum and Galantieran life. As with most things involving the Teregenitor and my uncle, I couldn’t prove anything nefarious. Now, whatever had occurred in those long years, it appeared my suspicions were unfounded, and Pronator Tiwendar was perfectly well, perhaps a silent partner or their initial backer. I wished him well, wherever he was. Maybe this will stop the dreams of him.
The wind had slackened by the time we locked the office and headed for the inn, but almost icy rain still fell from sullen skies. “Do you know why Quin left?” Avah asked.
I shook my head, making droplets roll down my collar. “He just vanished.”
“Oh,” she said, sounding disappointed. “Meri thought maybe you’d tasked him with something.”
“Sorry,” I said. “Not my fault.”
“She didn’t blame you, but oh Goddess Bright, she was furious with Quin. He didn’t even say goodbye.”
Since Meri was well married, and her sons were my goddess children, I assumed she’d recovered. “Were they betrothed?”
“Papa would have agreed, but Meri wouldn’t have asked. Papa wanted Meri or her husband to manage the ironworks, and Pronator Tiwendar was an only son so his Teregenia would have to oversee Tiwendar. Meri’s happier as an architect. She and Quin weren’t well-suited, at least from my child’s perspective. They were convenient for each other at the time, both engineers at the Land Ministry.”
“Did she ever hear from him?” I asked, curious about this side of the Curia I’d never really seen. Most of my peers kept their extra-curricular activities to themselves. I wasn’t included since Da wouldn’t let me attend their informal revels anyway.
“No,” she laughed, “and I think that’s what peeved her.”
“Is that… normal? For the Pronatis and Pronatiae to pair?”
She nodded. “We’re all supposed to marry each other anyway, or some wealthy freeborn scion. There’s only a couple hundred young ones at any given time, and we’re practically all related. We live in each other’s pockets. You never noticed?”
I shrugged. “Not to understand. Did she ever look for Quin?”
“She went to Tiwendar, and someone there told her he’d gone away on business. Since he didn’t tell her… well, she was absolutely impossible for a good half-year. Then she and Bastian got assigned to the same project and now I have two nephews.”
“I never realized,” I said, chagrinned.
“You thought he was dead,” Avah surmised.
“And running the langreve was his father’s euphemism for I drowned him in the bath,” I agreed.
She watched me, now. “I always wondered for whose soul you lit incense every tenday.”
Blood rose to my face. I’d never admitted that to anyone — not Ethene, not Ragin, not my father. Everyone assumed it was for my dead siblings.
“Ethene hoped you’d tell me, since you wouldn’t tell her. I suppose I understand why — some things, I didn’t tell my mother but I’ll tell my sisters, and Ethene’s more mother to you than the Consorta… and you don’t have sisters.” She caught my hand. “Was she right? Do you love Quin Tiwendar?”
I pulled away. “Don’t be ridiculous. Ethene went mad when I wasn’t looking. I barely met the man. Boy, then.”
Avah tucked her hands back in her pockets. “Still, she has a point and she knows you better than anyone. You’ve been excessively picky about suitors, even given your high standards — “
“Which aren’t frivolous,” I retorted.
“I’m not arguing that,” she said. “At least Quin’s turned back up.” She eyed me. “You know, he’s not a bad match. He’s brilliant, at least as clever as Ragin, maybe as clever as you. You’re not related, it’s politically sound, and if he hasn’t aged badly, I imagine he’s quite lovely.”
“Avah, maybe you’ve gone mad,” I said. “I am not about to propose to someone I have spent all of five minutes with in a decade.”
“Nobody prays for a stranger for eight years without a reason,” she said.
“Holy fire,” I cursed, “he was my liegeman. I thought I caused his death.”
“Yet when Pronator tret Nevah died in battle — “
“That’s different,” I said, though she’d cornered me. Not a tenday had gone by in nine years when I hadn’t thought of the man I had called Pronator Tiwendar, and not just thanks to dreams and Da’s terrier-like tenacity. I trudged towards the inn’s welcoming, bright doors. He was my first official failure, but that’s not why he haunted my thoughts. “Yes,” I said. “I felt something, but not love. Guilt, probably. It doesn’t matter.”
“It does,” she said firmly. “You need people you trust, Rien. I’m not enough.”
“I’ve Cel and Darav and Ragin,” I protested, “and why should I trust someone who broke his vow within a day of making it, and who is now probably whoring his way through northern Galantier or drinking himself to death?”
“Goddess bright, you have a nasty streak sometimes,” she fired back. “Be fair, Rien. You don’t know what happened. He may have excellent reasons for vanishing, so don’t call your failure of imagination malice or infidelity. Second, I’ve seen their balance sheets. Those men don’t waste a cracked half-teander and they work quite hard. You think they’d take a sot as… whatever he is to them? Third, were he sunk in vice, we’d have heard about it. Things like that stoke gossip, they don’t suppress it. And fourth, even if he’s tumbled with the entire female half of Galantier — which isn’t like him at all — as long as everyone agreed, what interest have you in the matter?”
All true, I admitted silently. “They live gods know where. Rather useless to cultivate the back of beyond when we don’t even know where the back of beyond is.”
“Bran and Ced visit frequently,” she said, “and much of what they’re doing looks like they’re trying to make themselves respectable. We’ll need upright citizens with money. You’re clever. Stop pretending stupidity.” We nodded at the doorman and silently climbed the stairs to our rooms. “You only argue like this,” she said as she lit our lamps, “when you fear something. Just because one person hurt you doesn’t mean everyone will.”
“This has nothing to do with Savrin,” I said coldly, removing layers and hanging our coats in the drip-closet to dry.
“This has everything to do with him since I didn’t mention him,” she said. “I followed you here, and I will follow you to the moon and back. I love you like a sister, but I’m tired of watching you hurt. Did you think I never saw Savrin manipulate you — “
“Stop,” I demanded.
“Ethene thanked Archilia every day when he took his vows — ” she continued.
“Don’t — he didn’t,” I said.
“– because he wasn’t in the Karsai anymore. He provoked quarrels and set up Curiars to make you distrust them. It worked, Rien. You trust nobody.”
“That’s untrue,” I said defensively. “I must remember that everyone has individual interests that don’t necessarily best serve Galantier. That’s not distrust and has nothing to do with Savrin. I’m not blind, either. I know what he did.”
“Do you? Is that why you let nobody close to you?” she prodded. “You need friends — “
“I have you, Cel, Darav and Ragin. I’m fine.”
“Not enough,” she said firmly. “What kept Quin in your thoughts for eight years?”
She wouldn’t let it lie, and even if I evaded the question now, Avah would return to it. “I’ve considered it over the years, usually when I couldn’t sleep. Every other man who swore that day was there for himself. They wanted my favor — matrimonial, financial, political — and I saw a glint of avarice in all of them. It doesn’t make them evil — most are of excellent character, but they all had a self-interest. Except Pronator Tiwendar. When he approached me to swear, he was defiant and terrified and utterly certain of his choice, and resigned to a terrible loss. I think he thought that swearing fealty would ruin his life, yet he did it anyway. I don’t know why. He chose to swear to me personally, not to the office. I believe he saw me, not my power, not what I represent. I can count the number of times that has happened on one hand. He intrigued me, because I’ve always wondered what value in me he could have possibly seen in thirty heartbeats that prompted him to make such a gift of himself to a stranger. For years, I thought he gave me his life, so the least I could do was honor his soul.”
“That’s a good start,” she said wearily. “Give him another chance. Were I you, I’d consider him an ally. All of them. If Bran and Ced are representative, they’re trustworthy.” She yawned. “No, I fib. Were I you, I’d find Quin and marry him.”
“Are you fevered?” I headed for my room. She caught my good shoulder.
“Think about it politically. Even if he didn’t get along with his father, that was then. I fibbed twice earlier — rifts like theirs mend, but they take something drastic, like a son who vanishes for years on end, then returns without begging his aging, failing, otherwise childless father for forgiveness. Tiwendar’s likely to be so happy to have his only son and heir back, he’ll break with the Reformists.”
“Hm,” I mused. “If he does, he takes several with him, and that breaks their block.”
“Right,” she said. “Tiwendar won’t vote against his son’s best interests, and if you marry Quin, then Quin’s best interests are yours. Quin was a very good man, just not suited to Meri. She sulks, and he fought back. It’s worth finding out if he still is…. and he never had any reprehensible secrets.”
“High praise,” I said dryly.
“Better than most Pronators. He’s also one of the six not related to you.”
I busied myself with the fondal pot, not enjoying this conversation. “Not quite that few,” I said. “That can’t be true, though. Surely there’s been an intermarriage, else he would have been thrown at me before I was Elevated.”
“No, the Tiwendars are upstarts,” she said with feigned superciliousness. “Your grandfather granted his great-grandfather the seat for service against Spagna, but you know how the Curia can be. They were poor and new — not worth marrying into. Just for that, you should consider him.”
“Avah,” I said gently, “This is ridiculous.” I fell into a chair, suddenly so tired I didn’t even want to read myself to sleep. “Just because it makes political sense, which I’m not conceding, the chances are so small — “
“We’re going to war. We need every ally we can conjure.”
“As allies go, that suggestion is beyond outlandish. I’ll think about sending a letter, all right?”
“Were I you,” she said as she placed the Foreti Fur Company file on the table and went to her bedroom door, “I’d ask for a meeting, all of them. Say, after Midwinter. Ask Telia to put them in one of the grand suites downstairs, then explore the Belleview together. Maybe audition him. Meri said he was very good — “
“Avah!” I cried. “I can’t — “
“Why not? You’re ordinary. Accept the benefits as well as the detriments.”
“Ragin will murder me.”
“Ragin will be happy you’re moving on with life,” she retorted, and looked at me with profound sadness. “You let fear rule you. A monarch can’t be timid. Be bold.” She crossed back to me, reached for my hand and I let her take it. “Enjoy what we ordinary girls take as a right. Love isn’t always brutal and manipulative, and marriage is more than politics and treaties.”
“How you go from one formal dance nine years ago to bedding and wedding mystifies me. I don’t love him. I don’t know him.”
“So give yourself a chance to change that.” She yawned. “Am I one of the five?”
“Who saw me first?” I confirmed. She nodded. “Yes.” I wanted to know what she had seen in me, too, but some questions can’t be asked or answered. I squeezed her hand and kissed her cheek. “You’re horrid, as pushy and demanding as cat, and I don’t know if you’re right, but I’ll consider it.”
“More than just the politics.”
I let her go and went off to my own bath. If I’m honest with myself, then politically, she’s absolutely right — if I assume Reginal Tiwendar places his son above my uncle. He didn’t, nine years ago. Or did he? I curled myself under the flowing tap so the near scalding water pounded on my bad shoulder to ease the day’s ache.
Tiwendar’s best interests lay in placing his son in the Razin’s daughter’s household, no matter my uncle’s plans. But that could have been Mathes’ plan, too. There’s no way to know without asking some pointed questions of people who’ll just lie. The water reached my breast and I closed the tap, then stretched out in the tub, leaving only my face above the surface. Water filled my ears and I concentrated on the sound of my heart while my bones warmed.
The real question is not if Reginal puts his son’s interests above Galantier’s, but if he puts mine first. Assume I marry Quin — as if it makes any difference whom I marry — and Reginal doesn’t leave the Reformists. I grimaced. My private life, what little I’d have, would be an eternal battle, always fighting the Reformists and probably my husband.
No, it won’t help.