Arion had been sitting for a quarter of an hour or more in his study, his afternoon's work cast aside while he held a miniature of Lady Linoan in one hand.
“Sir, Lord Travant wishes to see you in private.”
“Tell me, Dean,” Arion said to his companion, ignoring— though only for the moment— the summons of his father. “What do you think of her?”
“She’s a pretty girl.”
“More than pretty, wouldn’t you say?” Arion held up the miniature of Linoan’s sweet face framed by long coils of hair.
“She has… graces, sir,” came the grudging reply.
“If a man so careless of etiquette notices her graces, they must be exceptional.” Arion set the miniature aside. “You realize my lord father places small value upon her prettiness and her graces.”
“He called her an important card in the deck, sir. Though he may’ve been saying that of Tahra itself. Same difference.”
“Yes. She is Tahra, and Tahra is gold.” His contracted marriage was, Arion well understood, a business proposition designed to divert Tahra’s ancient riches into the coffers of County Dainn. Such was the way of the world, now and ever. “Well, I must not keep Father waiting.”
Lord Travant had already begun to tap his walking stick by the time Arion arrived and Arion was grateful he hadn’t tarried any longer on the subject of Linoan.
"Her Blessed Majesty's eldest son is beginning to make himself felt about Behalla,” said his father without preamble. “He’s been kept under the wing of moderate types until now but it seems glimmers of Reform will become a blaze once he’s off the leash.”
“He is yet a child,” said Arion.
“Eighteen summers going on nineteen,” Travant said with another rap of the walking-stick. “An ordinary wretch of a squire can’t call himself a man until the age of twenty-one. A king and emperor can take the reins of state at eighteen. What a patchwork of laws governs this continent.”
Arion, acutely aware that Tahra’s autonomy allowed Linoan to rule as Duchess well before the age of twenty-one, said nothing as he waited for Father to come to the substance of their conversation.
“I am torn on what to do with you, Arion.”
“My first thought is to send you to Tahra at once and seal your marriage to its little duchess posthaste. Her dowry will keep our endeavors afloat in the short term.”
"Is the labor situation that unsettled, sir?"
"We have plans laid down should the brigands running the unions even whisper of a strike," said Travant as he flicked his hand to dismiss those concerns. "No, I'm afraid we've sent enough bad steel northward that fine words like 'breach of contract' and 'industrial sabotage' are now bandied about."
“But the Dainn Process…”
“Two batches out of every three prove rotten,” said Travant. “My chemists begin to suspect that it’s something inherent in the ore from Lutetia as opposed to Kapathogia but they can’t begin to tell me why, or provide a solution.”
Arion, left with yet again with nothing to say, let out a short exhalation of dismay.
“Until this riddle is solved, we cannot fulfill the terms of our contracts. One rail company has already sent its people after me on the issue of my patents. Another is claiming fraud. And so on.” Travant stood now with his back to Arion, as though unwilling to let Arion see a fear the mask of his face couldn’t fully conceal. The tap of his stick upon the floor betrayed his true state of being. “Our salvation will not hatch out of a Dragon’s Egg— not yet. Time is flowing against me now, Arion. You must stand athwart time for me.”
“Yes, Father… but how?”
“I may be forced to send you to Behalla.” Travant turned now, just enough for Arion to see a glimpse of his face over one shoulder. “Take your rightful place in Parliament to represent Dainn and its interests before these rascals use a batch of rotten steel as a pretense to reopen old affairs of interest to the Crown.”
“I’ll send Hannibal along with you, if it comes to pass. He should be able to guide you through high society and keep you from anything too rash.”
“I will not let you down, Father.” Arion didn’t grasp the full scope of what he might be promising— he could not, as he was simply ignorant by design of too much. But Lord Travant knew that, as he’d engineered the very designs that kept Arion in the dark. “Allow me to dispatch someone in whom I have utmost confidence to Tahra to watch over our interests there.”
“Our interests.” Father inclined his head and showed a wry twist of a smile. “You have my permission to like the girl, Arion. Love her, even... just not so much she ever comes between you and our people. Do as you see fit.”
And with that he dismissed Arion. Arion, dazed at the prospect of a peril of which he’d been ignorant, and equally disconcerted by the idea of being sent down to Belhalla, shook his head as he composed in his mind the proper way to tell Dean that he must pack his bags for Tahra.
Linoan, Duchess of Tahra. The last daughter of an ancient noble house that’s ruled an autonomous city-state inside Grannvale’s Empire. Her father died during the final phase of the Disturbances and though a minor by Grannvalean law, she is now ruling Tahra herself.
Hannibal, President of Dainn Mining. A colonel in the army and Travant’s most trusted subordinate outside of his own family.
Dean, companion of Arion’s. Part bodyguard and part confidant, he shadows Arion wherever the latter goes.