Two triptychs framed the woman's couch. On her left, the canvas depicted herons taking wing; on her right, peasants labored in the fields while dragon-blooded lords practiced falconry. Ragara Sumire leaned forward on one arm as she listened to the report. She was a small woman, and the marks of terrestrial exaltation were evident in the deep pine green of her eyes and hair, the latter arranged in complicated braids.
“I refuse to believe it, Tenuba,” she stated. “It’s completely impossible for little Shan to have built such a substantial trade empire. Look at his father – he squandered money left and right. Patricians are worthless unless they’re carefully guided. It’s patently obvious someone is using him as a front.”
“That’s possible, but there’s no evidence one way or another. House Ashadar–” Peleps Kaizoku Tenuba cut off as Sumire dashed her glass to the floor. Dark wine splashed across the thick carpet, and the glass rolled several feet, leaving a trail of droplets.
“I will NOT have that word spoken. Patricians should keep their place, and all this talk of Houses is an affront to propriety.” Her face softened as she looked at Tenuba. “Come, it should pain you as much as it does me. Pray continue.”
“Certainly. Shan has done well for himself. He owns a dozen ships, most of them trading between Arjuf and the South, but a few that carry Scavenger Lands’ goods to the Imperial City. He holds the leases for Heroncrest Prefecture, and his estates there are rich in agriculture and livestock. His net worth is greater than most dynasts.”
“That’s a horrid thought. Imagine having less money than Shan. That creepy white skin of his, and those eyes! Ugh. His mother was a wyld barbarian you know. I heard she had the same red eyes. Imagine being seen in public looking like that. No wonder his father never took her to any events! Pity Shan doesn’t have the decency to keep himself locked up the same way. What is he up to?”
“He recently provided logistical support to Cathak Yuusuka’s troops near Marukan – the ones reopening the gold mining operation? It’s still not clear what happened, but Shan came back to the Isle and has been recruiting soldiers cut from the legions, as well as masons, smiths, and other skilled laborers. Cathak returned separately and has been in seclusion.”
“Planning to start a colony? Nonsense, all the legions have been recalled. He’d spend as much on mercenaries as he’d get in taxes. That’s it then. House Cathak is up to something in the Threshold. No doubt they think using a patrician will hide their preparations, and they’ll unveil it to distract everyone from Cathak Cainen’s bid for the Throne.” She tapped her lips with a finger. “If it’s big enough, it might even give him an edge. Let me know what you find out.”
“Of course. You’ll know as soon as I do.” Tenuba turned and left the room. Sumire was occasionally a handful to deal with, but Tenuba had known that when she hitched her fortunes to the Ragara. Tenuba had the patient adaptability of water, and her relationship with the wood aspect – and the rest of her brotherhood – had paid rich dividends in the past, enough to bring the youngest daughter of ill-favored parents to the opulent Ragara manor she currently resided. Keeping Sumire happy kept Tenuba happy, and that was all there was to it.