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Jin Li Tam

Jin Li Tam approached the Gray Guard at the gates of the Summer Papal Palace before any of the

Gypsy Scouts could.


Hail, keepers of the light, she said. I would speak with Pope Resolute. She cantered her mount closer. Tell him it is Jin Li Tam, former consort of his cousin Sethbert, forty-second daughter of Vlad Li


Tam, and most immediately, betrothed of Lord Rudolfo of the Ninefold Forest Houses and General of

the Wandering Army. She inclined her head to them. Tell the Pope I have personally escorted his metal man home.


Getting in, she realized as the gates creaked open, is never the problem.


The Pope insisted on seeing her immediately, personally escorting her to the guest quarters. He did not understand the taking and giving of kin-clave, she realized. And he did not understand that because of this, she knew everything there was to know about him in less than seven minutes.


My father was very specific, she told him, smiling through the lie, that I was to personally escort and supervise the mechoservitor until this matter of Windwir is ofcifresolved. He said that you of all men would understand why this was so important in light of recent events. Her tone was dark and she lowered her voice. House Li Tam has acted as a neutral party in many negotiations of kin-clave.


The Pope nodded. We will accommodate his request.


She nodded. She knew full well it had nothing to do with anything other than money. This new archbishops only bridge to what remained of the Orders treasury was her father, and doing what her father wanted was prudent for him. Also, there is the matter of consummating my betrothal to Rudolfo.


The Pope stammered. Yes. I did not know until today.


My father only recently announced it. Im assuming that the Order does not forbid conjugal visits of their prisoners?


It can be arranged, certainly.


My father would appreciate that, she said. Already, the betrothal was working in her favor. It had to be her father.


After the Pope left her, she bathed and perfumed herself and oiled her hair. She unrolled the one gown shed found among the clothes laid out for her at the seventh manor and she hung it near the hot water so that the steam could lift the wrinkles.


She moved easily and naked around Isaak as she prepared. We will see Lord Rudolfo tonight then? Isaak asked.

We will, she said. We have much to discuss.


She arranged to have her dinner served in Rudolfos chambers, and ten minutes before, she and Isaak went to the staircase that led to the tower where the Gray Guard waited. They did not bother to search her, though they looked Isaak over thoroughly, exchanging furtive glances of trepidation between themselves. Still, her fathers wishes-even those she manufactured-would be followed. Of this, she had no doubt.


Finally, they worked a large key in the door and opened it for her. She walked in, Isaak close behind, the thick carpets shushing his metal feet.


The Prisoners Quarters were nearly indistinguishable from her own. Wall hangings of hunting scenes woven in tapestry took the place of a wide glass window-this rooms windows were set high and narrow in the ceiling. She saw a desk with scattered sheets of paper filled with cramped script in at least three languages, and behind it, a bookcase. A door led off the main room into what she supposed was


the bedroom and bathing room. Across from it, a small dining table was set for three, and in the ee,e. center of the room stood a golden furnace surrounded by a low couch and three armchairs.


Rudolfo stood from the couch and bowed. She watched his eyes move over her quickly, pausing in the right places. Lady Tam, he said, you are a vision in my desert.


She curtsied. Lord Rudolfo, it is agreeable to see you again. And it was. It surprised her just how agreeable. He was dressed in a pair of dark green trousers and a loose-fitting silk shirt the color of lightly cooked cream, tied together by a crimson sash. A matching turban accentuated the midnight of his eyes. He looked at the metal man, and his smile widened.


Isaak, he said. Are you well?


I am not, Lord, the metal man said. I fear- Rudolfo raised a hand. After dinner, my metal friend.

He walked to Jins side and offered her an arm. She let him take it. He seemed taller than she remembered, but certainly shorter than she was. She felt his fingers moving along her arm, pressing and releasing.


I hoped to spare you this, he tapped. Let me seat you, he said aloud.


She nodded and smiled as he moved her toward the table, placing her hand on his wrist. My father had other plans it seems, she replied.


He pulled out her chair and pushed it in as she sat. Then she watched as he circled the table to stand behind his own chair. Come and sit with us, Isaak, he said, pointing to a third place at the table.


I do not eat, Lord Rudolfo, Isaak began, but Rudolfo waved his words away. Join us anyway.

Isaak limped to the table and sat, staring down at the place settings arranged before him. He looked up at the dome-covered dishes and the bottles of chilled wine. May I at least serve, Lord? the metal man asked.


Rudolfo shook his head. Certainly not. He winked at Jin. Tonight is our betrothal dinner, and I intend to do all of the serving.


Jin watched him as he moved from one side of the table to the other, now by her side again and holding a dripping bottle of wine wrapped in a white cotton towel. He raised his eyebrows and she nodded. He filled her glass, then filled his own and sat.


He raised the glass and leaned in. I woin./puld have cooked, he said, if Resolute had given me free run of the kitchen.


Jin smiled, shifting easily into another nonverbal language. She sipped her wine, moving her fingers and shrugging. Resolute knows little of statecraft, she signed to him. She licked her lips, wishing the wine were tart and a bit drier. This is an excellent choice, she said.


I concur; we can use that to our advantage, he signed back. He returned her smile. Im glad you approve.


He turned to Isaak. How has he been? Rudolfo signed to her, moving his fingers along stem of his glass


while touching the table cloth with his right forefinger. How have you been, Isaak?


Remorseful, she answered.


I am functioning properly, Lord Rudolfo.


He nodded and turned back to Jin Li Tam. Its a tradition in my house that the groom-to-be prepare a feast for his betrothed. When my father took my mother into his house, he spent a week in the kitchens and three weeks before that in the Great Library poring over recipes to make the perfect selections for her. Rudolfo chuckled. He spoke of it often as his greatest test of strategy. He sent runners across the Named Lands gathering the ingredients. A bottle of apple brandy from the cave-castles of Grun El. Peaches from Glimmerglam, of course. Rice and kallaberries from the Emerald Coasts.


Her father had spoken of Lord Jakob. Hed not spoken of the lady, though. Under better circumstances, her father would have fully briefed her on the history of Rudolfos house. When shed accepted the role of consort to Lord Sethbert, shed spent nearly a month locked away with everything her father had gathered on that man and his family.

Now, the stakes were higher-a full betrothal-but she knew far less about this man she was to marry. She shifted in her seat, suddenly feeling the weight of those stakes. Perhaps her father had changed his

strategy.


She doubted it. If hed intended to do such a thing, word wouldve waited for her here and shed not have been allowed to see Rudolfo.


Your father must protect Isaak, he signed to her as he stood again. Alas, he said, well celebrate our occasion with less glamour.


Rounding the table, he took her plate and served her. He watched the look on her face as he lifted each lid, and she noticed how well he read her expressions, leaving off those dishes that elicited a less than favorable response from her.


He reads people well, she thought, as he speared asparagus onto her plate. He left off the drizzle of butter and roasted garlic and continued.


She smiled at him as he put the plate in front of her. You are quite good at that. He nodded. I am a student of the masses.

He served himself quickly, and filled fresh wineglasses with something red and unchilled. She lifted it to her nose and knew already it would be tart and dry on her tongue.


Rudolfo raised his glass. To formidable partnerships, he said. His other hand moved slightly, but she followed with her eye. May we find happiness in one another despite the circumstances that bring us together.


She raised her glass as well and repeated the words that he had spoken aloud. She was too surprised to reply to the words he had not spoken, the words hed signed in the nonverbal language of House Li Tam.


Shed not considered happiness as something important to this Gypsy King. She wondered what else would surprise her about him.


Vlad Li Tam | Psalms of Isaak 01 Lamentation | Petronus