Vlad Li Tam
Vlad Li Tam’s summer office was on the eighth patio of his seaside estate. The building was layered like a pyramid, each level smaller than the one before it until the eighth and last-the highest point in a
hundred leagues or more. There, reclined on cushions and smoking his pipe, he asked questions and gave answers as he saw fit each day, every day.
“What news have we of my forty-second daughter?” he asked, drawing in a lungful of the kallaberry smoke.
The aide found a string on his stack of pages and followed it to the appropriate message. “She comes under the color of knotted blue.”
Ah, he thought. An admonition couched in inquiry. She was a clever one. He’d named her for the water ghosts that once raced the oceans-the Jin of Elder Times. Quick and unseen and too deep to be caught.
She’d lived up to her name. “What is her admonition?”
The aide shuffled papers about. “Her admonition is that the metal man is returning to Pope Resolute.”
Of course, Vlad Li Ta“rse Rem thought. He is dangerous and in danger all at once. He didn’t need for
her to say that she would accompany the metal man. He knew that she would. “And what is her inquiry?” “Do you still mean for her to wed Rudolfo?”
He knew his daughters well, and now he smiled. Once the new Pope issued his decree, Vlad Li Tam had known she’d write and ask. Not because she thought his strategy might’ve changed-though she’d tell herself that. She would ask because there was a part of her, deep down, that saw marriage as the hunter’s snare-something to poach but not be caught in.
He laughed. “Of course I do. Resolute the First will come to nothing.” “Lord?”
He inhaled from his pipe and watched the green waters of the Inner Emerald Coast. “What else do you have?”
The aide pulled the dark purple thread-a color not on any message scarf but known to be that of silent kin-clave. “I’ve word from Resolute,” said the aide, “ordering significant credit transfers of guardianship custom to Sethbert.”
“Certainly enough to offset part of the impact from destroying the major pillar in the Delta’s economy. For a short while, anyway.”
Vlad Li Tam smiled. “He only needs it for a short while. The Writ of Shunning coincides nicely with Sethbert’s guardianship of Windwir. It’s not a stretch to assume he intends to take the Ninefold Forest under his care as well.”
But why? Vlad Li Tam did not ask this question out loud, though. He did not want his aide to know that he did not know-it was better for them to believe he knew everything.
Most days, he did know everything. But today, he did not know why Sethbert had turned on Windwir, why he’d brought her down so utterly without any warning or posturing.
The plan was well conceived. The cousin conveniently away at the Papal Summer Palace. The apprentice paid for. The metal man’s script rewritten. Sethbert had managed to bring down the city, prop up his economy and position himself to annex the Ninefold Forest and provide the muscle for an Androfrancine Remnant.
“Rudolfo also rides for the Dragon’s Spine,” the aide said, pulling another string. “His Wandering Army’s vanished.”
Vlad Li Tam sighed. He’d known the army would vanish. He’d wondered whether or not Rudolfo would go to face the Pope. Now he knew something more about Rudolfo.
The aide shuffled paper. “That is all of the unquiet business of the day.” “And the quiet business?” Vlad Li Tam said.
“Pope Petronus has voided our letters of credit in the Windwir Effort, with apologies.” Vlad Li Tam leaned forward. “Because Sethbert is tending to it?”
The aide nodded. “Yes, Lord.”
“Good. Tell Pope Petronus that I will keep his secret. For now.”
“I will send the message immediately.” The aide stood, bowed and left.
Three days, he thought. In three days I will tell everyone that I am going to the Dragon’s Spine as well.
Vlad Li Tam inhaled the deep salt air. It was nearly as soothing as the kallaberry smoke. “I wonder what we are making, daughter,” he said to the sea below.