Alchemical Marriage, part 6
Thursday, December 18, 2008 - 7:03 PM
Baron Rafer of Kesra did not like the Cyre.
Lady Myrrga of Marnlee was a diminutive woman with child-like proportions. Her wardrobe was all midnight blue silk brocade, with hems far beyond the limits of her small, neat limbs. Lengthy slits along the sleeves allowed her to slip her delicately gloved hands free to gesture as she spoke, and her small, neat features provided a wry counterpoint to large, innocent looking green eyes.
But Baron Rafer noticed that her pleasant demeanor did not reach those eyes, which were hollow, intensely empty, and he recognized the severe set of her tiny mouth; it was the scar of many years of iron discipline, enforced on others He also noticed that she did not walk at all. She was carried either on her small, globe-like palanquin or sometimes cradled by one of her massive bodyguards as if she were a little girl.
The slender, pointed words that flicked out from her tongue were not the words of a little girl, however, and it bothered him that he could not tell her age.
“Thus, my Lord, the shipment will reach your province in but a week rather than the two we previously discussed. Unfortunately, tariffs from the Consortium are high, and whatever influence we have does not extend to bypassing tariffs.”
She offered him the small, sympathetic smile again.
“Kesra honors its business agreements,” said the Baron blandly. “The tariffs are negligible; we will pay them.”
“Then we are at an accord, lord Baron.”
Myrrga made a gesture with her tiny hand and one of the hulking cloaked men laid a long parchment out on the table. Rafer gave it a brisk look, just to confirm it was the same he'd perused earlier, and then smoothly and mechanically placed his seal upon it. Myrrga's seal was already there, showing the odd tree of the Cyre in red wax.
Sitting back, he forced himself to regard Myrrga in a properly bored fashion. The Cyre were
merchant nobility as far as the Kesrans were concerned, and even if Rafer had to admit their staggering wealth, he considered himself of far greater value.
But this wasn't what bothered him about the Cyre.
He'd met three of the Cyre leaders, and all of them were cripples. Avnash walked with two bejeweled canes, and Rafer was almost certain one of Avnash's hands was made of cleverly jointed metal. Tisija, House Zemhorob, had a gloriously elegant metal peg-leg. But all of them had the same pallid look and the same hungry eyes, and though he could not see it on Myrrga, he suspected that like the others her skin would crack like old paint. He'd seen literal flakes fall from Avnash's arm, as if the grim-faced man had been made of plaster. Perhaps this was some consequence of their alchemy, but you'd think underlings would be doing the hazardous experiments.
“Now, about the other matter,” said Lady Myrrga, touching her sleeve-covered hands together. “Due to recent events, the Houses of Cyre have agreed to assist your King.”
“So long as the terms are clear,” replied Rafer after a pause. The King doesn't want one set of merchant lords replaced by another, and you well know it, he thought. “Your assistance will be paid for as we discussed, with a percentage of levies taken by my King from the Consortium territories.”
“Naturally,” stated Myrrga pleasantly. “There is one other stipulation, however, which I have been asked to bring to you.”
The Baron adopted his best skeptical face. This conversation was a formality, a verbal contract. She knew perfectly well that the King would give the Cyre no new territories, just as he knew that the Cyre would accept this backwoods bargain. The Consortium had been squeezing the Cyre lately, and it had even come to open skirmishing in one province. Naturally, the Cyre would want allies.
But he'd also expected that to be all.
“What is it.”
“The Consortium sometimes makes use of the crebath, whom I understand your people prefer to burn to death. We ask that you capture them instead and have them sent to us. You have our word that they will not be spared death, my Lord Baron, but their death will simply come less swiftly.”
The Baron stared at Myrrga for a long moment, and she watched him steadily in return. Her anonymous bodyguards stood silently around them, hemming in the silence, and he considered.
The crebath were considered abominations to his people, and if the Cyre wished to destroy them, why not? But then again, why not let the Kesrans deal with it? He knew the crebath were alchemists also, and perhaps this was an old grudge, or a professional rivalry gone beyond friendly competition.
He considered also that the crebath were few, and mercenary. If presented with capture by the Cyre, they might well leave the battle entirely and flee, which means less support for the Consortium.
Silently, he resolved that captured crebath would be carefully questioned before the Cyre ever got them, but these were terms he could agree with.
“Done,” he said pleasantly. “I shall bring your words to my King, who will be pleased that his new territories will be free of the patchwork monsters.”
The smile he received in return unnerved him for a reason he did not understand.