Jin Li Tam
Jin Li Tam’s quarters at the seventh forest manor were far simpler than what she’d had at the Overseer’s Palace, and the simplicity impressed her. It was a suite of rooms accessed through a wide set of double doors on the third floor. The closets were already stocked with a few items that seemed to be her size. She bathed, dressed in summer gowns and went down to the dining room.
Though he didn’t eat, Isaak was waiting there for her. Sitting away from the table, along the wall on a servant’s stool.
Jin pointed to an empty chair at the table. “Please, Isaak,” she said. “Join me.” “Thank you, Lady.” He stood and limped over to the empty chair.
She noticed he was wearing a clean robe and it prompted her to smile. “Why are you still wearing your disguise?”
He looked at her, looked down at the robe, and smoothed it with his metal hands. “I do not know. It seemed appropriate.”
He had his hood down, so she knew it wasn’t that he meant to hide himself. Something else then? “Are your quarters satisfactory?”
He nodded. “They are, Lady Tam.”
The smell of fresh baked bread and venison stew filled the room as the kitchen door swung open. A
servant hastened in, carrying a steaming platter. She placed it in front of Jin Li Tam and then retreated.
Jin paused, trying to decide between the stew or the bread. She broke off a piece of the hot bread. “When will you start your work?”
Isaak buzzed and a bit of steam jetted out. “I’ll start tonight by cross-referencing the mechoservitor work logs-I translated them last year-and see exactly what we might still have between us. Scrolls are replaced or cleared from time to time, but it’s rare.”
She nodded, dipping her spoon into the stew. She held it beneath her nose, smelling the fresh onions, carrots mingled with venison roast k veipped in herbs and spices that made her mouth water. “How long will that take?”
“Two weeks, five days, four hours and eight minutes,” he said.
“And after that you’ll recalculate your ciphers?” She chased the stew with iced apple cider.
“Yes.” A breeze blew in from the forest carrying the faintest scent of evergreen and wood smoke. The light from the candle reflected off his metal face. “After that, I will go to the last of the Androfrancines and appeal for aid.”
The door opened and the steward walked in. “Lady Tam,” he said, “I’ve just received a bird from your father. Would you prefer it now or after you’ve finished?”
She dabbed her mouth with a napkin. “Now, please.”
He handed the small scroll to her and she unrolled it, holding it to the light.
The surface message was simple and nondescript. I’m glad you are well, it said. But under the surface, triple coded and buried, was the longer message: I approve of your choice; you will assist in the rebuilding of the library. And the tense he used and the slightest blurring of the dot of an “i” told her that Vlad Li Tam considered his forty-second daughter betrothed for purposes of kin-clave.
She looked at Isaak and then back at the note in her hands. This was not entirely unexpected, but the timing was at a faster pace than she’d planned for. It confirmed her suspicions, certainly, that her father was involved in Rudolfo’s plan to rebuild the library before she’d known of it. She looked again at the metal man, wondering what lay ahead of them in the upcoming months. She thought about the man she was betrothed to, now, and wondered what lay ahead of her, and Rudolfo as well.
When she spoke, it could’ve meant either or both. “We should discuss the strategy of it,” she said.