Ryeo’h stared at Irai’h for long enough that Irai’h found himself shifting uncomfortably under his friend’s cool regard. After long minutes, Ryeo’h sighed and looked away.
“I don’t know why you couldn’t have seduced him right then and there,” Ryeo’h stated. “Accepted his request and seduce him.”
Irai’h cleared his throat. “I didn’t want him to get suspicious of me, Ryeo’h.”
“But you say he had mild physical symptoms and he did not guess you had drugged him,” his friend said.
“That’s right,” Irai’h replied. “But he was still cognizant and aware. He was more vocal in his disaffections for his father, but he still retained most of his control.”
Ryeo’h hummed and stood up. He began to pace slowly around the library as Irai’h watched him carefully.
“You say you poured two drops into the tea?”
Irai’h nodded. “I didn’t want him to be able to taste it.”
“But it is evident it was not enough,” Ryeo’h murmured and ran a finger along his chin as he thought. “If we ply him with alcohol, we can use more and he will probably think it is intoxication.”
“How much do I use of the drug then?” Irai’h asked.
Ryeo’h pursed his lips. “We begin with two drops then add one drop per glass of alcohol he consumes after that. We monitor the situation carefully. If he vocalizes a doubt, we stop and reconnoiter. But I have an idea he won’t think it’s anything other than intoxication.” He stopped pacing and turned to face Irai’h. “What were his symptoms?”
“He became flushed and overly warm and began to perspire almost right away.”
Ryeo’h considered that and nodded. “We will do this at my home, after we have dinner tomorrow. I want to interrogate him and then he must wake next to you in the guestroom.”
Irai’h nodded, flushing. “Do you still require me to seduce him?”
Ryeo’h shook his head. “By the end of the evening, he won’t be in any shape to be seduced. In order to make him pliable for interrogation, he will be mostly useless to you. My chemist friend told me the side effects of the drugs mimic intoxication, but someone can figure it out, so we have to proceed carefully. I was told that there are some disorientation and mental lapses the following day. That’s when he can put two and two together, which is why we also have to be careful. If he is at my residence, we can break our fast with him and redirect his doubts.”
“I understand,” Irai’h assured his friend.
Ryeo’h nodded and commenced his slow pacing once more.
“I have another job lined up for us,” Ryeo’h said quietly.
Irai’h’s heart lurched. “Here, in Draemin City-State?”
“Too soon for a job here,” Ryeo’h replied. “No. Princess Alida Obeli has reached her majority and is being married to a Tjish.unen prince. I am working on identification papers to get us into the palace of the South Torahni King. Once there, we can clean up. There will be a Deyiansh ship in port that will buy the cache from us and take it far from the shores of South Torahn. This will be our last job, if it all goes well. We’ll have enough to bribe local soldiers and to sew the seeds of discontent. If we are successful, the authorities will never find us.”
“How much of a cache are we looking at?”
Ryeo’h smiled. “At least 10,000 tin’hets. We’ll be able to bribe every city guard and proceed with revolution.”
Irai’h shivered. “How soon will the time be ripe for a revolution?”
Ryeo’h shrugged. “We’ll be ready in two years. Between now and then, we keep a low profile.”
“What if we are recognized at the wedding?” Irai’h voiced.
Ryeo’h shook his head. “It’s a masked ball that follows the wedding. They are expecting a vast crowd. We aren’t going to be found out. Besides, I’ve already got ten servants in my pocket.”
Irai’h knew better than to think Ryeo’h arrogant. He knew Ryeo’h was meticulous and careful beyond measure. But every time they did a job, he worried.
“When is this wedding?” he asked.
“Next dibasj,” Ryeo’h replied. “We have six months to get ready.”
Irai’h swallowed thickly and nodded. “Understood. It will take a month to sail there, so four months.”
Ryeo’h smiled. “The wedding is late in dibasj. I want you and the others to purchase a nice set of clothes. We are going to be in City Lae for at least one month, so you’ll need a whole new wardrobe.”
“Yes,” Irai’h agreed. “I’ll have it ordered at once.”
“Go to the southern tailor in town,” Ryeo’h suggested smoothly. “It won’t do to stand out by wearing clothes that are not in fashion in South Torahn.”
Irai’h bowed. “Of course.”
Ryeo’h clasped his hands behind his back and continued to pace. “Do you know if Captain Tjashensi will attend the wedding? Princess Alida is his relative, after all.”
“I’ll ask him of course.”
Ryeo’h smiled. “Of course. I’ll put you in charge of ordering our wardrobes and finding us a ship to travel on. Do you have any questions?”
Irai’h shook his head no. “I’ll begin right away, Ryeo’h.”
Ryeo’h nodded distractedly and continued to pace as Irai’h left the library.
As he walked out of Ryeo’h’s row house apartment, Irai’h thought he would have to bribe the tailor to keep his mouth quiet regarding coming up with four wardrobes. The Reformist Lord had never struck outside the boundaries of North Torahn, so Irai’h did not think they would be trailed to South Torahn when the time came. He was overjoyed this would be their last job. Every job they did meant the authorities got a bit closer to their trail. Irai’h had convinced himself of this a long time ago. He hated the stress of interrogations and suspicious gazes. He always worried he would give them away somehow.
He sighed and turned left and down the boulevard, heading towards the cloth district.
Belihn ate quietly while his mother held court during the dinner with the Oh’nahrys. Divita was vivacious and beautiful and Belihn could tell Mister Oh’nahry was taken by her as he hung on every word she uttered. Missus Oh’nahry watched him with indulgence, which surprised Belihn no end. Alona sat next to him and Kahl and Otar across the table. They were dining in the Oh’nahrys’ spacious home in the nouveau riche neighborhoods east of Castle Draemin. Like all nouveau riche homes, the three-story house was made of whitewashed ei’shano wood. The windowsills and doors and doorjambs were painted a mustard yellow. The roof was covered by mustard-colored tiles and the gardens were full of decorative bushes and flowering plants, as well exquisite aelon trees. Belihn loved the trees with their ash brown twisted trunks and thick canopies. This time of year, the aelon, being a deciduous tree, changed colors, its wide waxy leaves blushing red and yellow and orange. The effect was a garden filled with bright colors that charmed both Belihn and his mother.
The inside of the Oh’nahry residence was another matter, however. The Oh’nahry, being nouveau riche, went overboard with the decoration. The wooden walls were covered by gaudy silk tapestries and the gleaming floors were full of bright colorful rugs that clashed painfully with the tapestries. The rooms were crowded with expensive furniture. The Oh’nahrys employed an army of servants to keep their house gleaming. The servants wore uniforms, which almost made Belihn roll his eyes.
The diningroom’s centerpiece was a long, gleaming wooden table large enough to sit twenty guests. Alona had confided in Belihn that her parents liked to entertain in order to show off their wealth. Every fifth and sixth day of the week, there was a house party and guests would remain overnight.
“My father does most of his business dealings during these house parties,” Alona had told him. “You should come to one of them. Just to see my father in his element.”
Belihn had smiled politely, thinking nothing would be further of interest to him than to watch stuffy Mister Oh’nahry in his element.
He had had no chance to talk to Kahl about pursuing a courtship. Belihn got very nervous when he thought of approaching the young student, despite the doe eyes Kahl was directing his way.
When they were done with dinner, Mister Oh’nahry invited the men to the den for libations and further conversation, while the women retired to the sitting room. Belihn dutifully followed Mister Oh’nahry and his sons into the study.
“How are the plans going for the wedding?” Mister Oh’nahry asked Belihn as he handed him a glass half-filled with ekila.
“I don’t know,” Belihn answered promptly. “It’s with mother now, and your wife, of course.”
Mister Oh’nahry snorted. “Of course.”
Mister Oh’nahry then shifted the conversation and began to wax poetic about his shipping business. He puffed up before Belihn’s eyes. Belihn settled into his seat, taking a large mouthful of liqueur to soften the boredom that was threatening to undo him.
He glanced at Kahl, who blushed and looked away.
The evening went on like that until Mister Oh’nahry announced the conclusion.
Belihn rose quickly, setting his empty glass on the low table. “Thank you for an enjoyable evening, Sir.”
Mister Oh’nahry waved away his words. “Always a pleasure, your Highness.”
Belihn almost rolled his eyes. How many times had he told the older man to call him by name? Mister Oh’nahry insisted on the honorific.
Belihn clasped the other’s hand. “Next time you must come to Castle Draemin.”
“It will be a pleasure,” Mister Oh’nahry assured him.
Mister Oh’nahry led Otar out of the study and Belihn turned to Kahl. “Can I talk to you for a moment?”
Kahl seemed surprised, but he smoothed his features fairly quickly and nodded. “Talk then, your Highness.”
Belihn sighed. “It’s Belihn, Kahl.”
Kahl bowed. “Belihn, I’m sorry. I keep forgetting not to use the honorific.”
“It’s fine,” Belihn assured him. “I…I am interested in courting you, Kahl, but there is also another young man whom I am interested in.”
Kahl looked startled for a moment. “You’re interested in courting me?”
“Even though you are marrying my sister?”
“Does it matter? She sees no issue with the arrangement we have.”
Kahl cleared his throat. “And this other person you are interested in?”
“He’s a new friend. Would you like to meet him?”
“That seems prudent,” Kahl replied. “You were brought up with different mores. I don’t mind if you court me and another, as long as I can meet him and see what he’s like. Do you think he’ll want to meet me?”
“I don’t see why not,” Belihn murmured. “So…you are amenable to this arrangement?”
Kahl thought for a moment before he nodded. “Yes. I would let my sister in on it, though. I don’t want her hurt by my actions.”
“I have talked to her about it,” Belihn said. “She did not think you’d have a problem with the arrangement.”
Kahl smiled. “She knows me well, that one.” He swallowed. “What is this man’s name?”
Kahl raised an eyebrow. “A member of the clans? And he has agreed?”
“He’s thinking on it. He’ll tell me tomorrow if he agrees to the arrangement.”
“I see,” Kahl replied. “If I recall, he’s a minor lord who inherited nothing from his sire.”
“That is correct,” Belihn told him.
“Huh. What is he like?”
“I don’t know him very well as yet,” Belihn answered honestly. “But he seems sympathetic to the plight of the commoner. At least he tolerates my rants.”
“That is something,” Kahl agreed and smiled. “You best be careful when airing those rants, your Highness. Your bloodline will not save you if you are accused of sedition or treason.”
Belihn nodded. “I know. I am learning to keep my mouth shut, but I am frustrated no end.”
“It is frustrating, I’ll grant you,” Kahl replied. “Many in university hate and vilify the caste mores and laws. Your father is tolerant of those who oppose caste laws, but I wonder once he steps down from the throne if his successor will be the same.”
Belihn sobered. “I doubt it. My half-siblings have been educated by their mothers, after all.”
“And the Queens are all of royal blood,” Kahl said. “Except your mother.”
“Except my mother,” Belihn agreed.
Kahl drew in a breath and released it. He looked into Belihn’s eyes. “And your father has not announced his heir?”
“It’s a closely guarded secret,” Belihn said. “But I know it isn’t me or any of my full siblings.”
Kahl thrust his arm through Belihn’s. “More’s the pity; you would make a good king.”
Belihn smiled at him. “This is your educated guess?”
“You are the favorite among the university set, although we all know if you were proclaimed heir, it would mean civil war.”
Belihn sighed. “It would not be a bad thing, I think, for another civil war to sweep everything clean once more.”
Kahl led him to the study door. “I wonder what it would be like, true equality between the castes?”
Belihn had no answer for him. l