“I have been offered the Moon Chair.” Kesav held up the sheet of fine parchment stamped with the seal of the Rabh Alai, her black eyes glinting “It says here that the Rabh agreed to my petition just this morning, and I will be invited to the Council chambers in one week to take my seat.”

“This is wonderful news, my Lady!” The man across from Kesav clapped his hands together. “I never doubted you would,” he added.

Kesav nodded, a wry smile on her face. “Of course not, Melar.” She walked towards a long table that took up nearly the entire back of their room at the inn. She rubbed her hand idly along the wood, feeling the deep grain of the table beneath her fingers. Of course she had received the Chair, she had poured quite enough money into the purses of the Iron and Dust Chairs, after all. With their support and the not-quite-unwilling support of the Sea Chair—who on principle could not let his affair with a certain young priest become common knowledge—Kesav had been far ahead of the rest of the final applicants when it came to the final selection.

She stopped her idle hand motions and turned back to her associate. “You must go back to Colura today begin preparations for a long term move. I will have Partish find more permanent lodgings, so contact her when you are ready to return.”

“Yes, yes,” Melar nodded. “Leave all those details to me.” He pulled out a small leather notebook from his vest pocket and began writing.

Kesav took a seat in a plush armchair by the window, watching her servant take his notes. Melar could be counted on to prepare the move with precision, she was sure. Her fingers began to tap the table to her side once again.

“You seem unsettled, my lady.” He had stopped writing and was giving her a concerned look.

She glanced up, smiling. “Not unsettled, no. Just thinking of all the details, I suppose.”

He nodded. “Of convincing the Chairs? My Lady, allow me to be blunt.” He paused, choosing his words. “You are a singularly persuasive and persistent woman. I have no doubt you will find the right arguments to bring them to your side.”

Kesav suppressed a small snort. “Thank you for putting it so nicely. Well, they were so easily manipulated into voting for me, so logically I can’t see that there will be too much resistance.” She raised her hands innocently, “And you left out how charming I can be.”

Melar laughed. “Quite charming, yes.” He paused. “What about the Rabh?”

“What about him?” Kesav shrugged. “He’s just a boy, really. A red-eyed, feeble boy.”

Melar started, and made the sign of the three-fingered benediction before catching himself, nearly dropping his notebook.

“Well, yes, he may be young, but he was chosen by the Goddess herself. If he doesn’t agree with your reasoning, we cannot gainsay him!”

“We won’t have to,” Kesav reassured him. “He will see the sense in it.”

“The Council must be unanimous,” Melar reminded her.

“Do you think me a fool?” Kesav had to restrain herself from snapping at him. She was more on edge than she had thought. “I’ve been working towards this for years now, I have all these details under control.”

She sighed, running a hand through her hair as she paused. “As I said, he is quite young, and rarely spends time outside the Cathedra, due to his condition. I have a feeling he will be happy to have someone new to talk to.”

“Now,” she said, reaching next to her to grab a small stack of letters wrapped with string, addressed to the Alai of her district. “Bring these back with you. They must be sent the moment you arrive in Colura.”

Melar nodded, taking the package. “I will add an addendum to forward all responses to our faction here in Kharo.” He turned to the door, stopping a moment to adjust his vest as he slipped his notebook back into his pocket. “Grace of the Goddess to you, Alai Kesav.”

“And you, Melar.” Kesav watched as her colleague left the room, running her hand through her hair again. She had not taken the time to braid it this morning, preferring to let her dark curls loose upon her shoulders. It was hardly proper for an Alai to appear so disheveled, but Melar had been in her family’s service for years, and so was well familiar with her personal quirks.

She turned to set his letter from the Ninth Council down upon the table behind him, glancing again at the seal of the Rabh Alai. She would have to get a better sense of what kind of man the Rabh truly was. He was barely twenty-five, no more than a boy, and in the way of the Rabh Alai had never known a life outside the Cathedra’s walls. One would think that meant he would be sheltered, but Kesav knew better than to make assumptions. There was always the possibility that the ascetic life of the Rabh had made him a fanatic. Kesav’s sources inside the Cathedra reported the Rabh to be a quiet man, and even of temper. He was said to be kind to the servants and fair to petitioners in the Hall of Echoes. He had no close confidantes, aside from his handmaiden the Anyasa, and had no known consorts, not even the occasional dalliance. For all appearances he was the very model of a devoted Rabh Alai, and delivered the grace and judgment of the Goddess with compassion.

But Kesav also knew that, despite his Goddess-born eyes and for all his holy education, the Rabh was still just a man. And men could be tempted, bribed, even coerced if necessary. She simply had to find the right hook.
She shifted uncomfortably in her chair, the worn upholstery was oddly prickly. She was grateful that her time here at this particular establishment could soon come to an end. She had no great possessions, but living out of trunks and bags was wearing on her after almost two months away from home.

She stood up and sighed, realizing that she had very little time to find a suitable townhouse in the city. She would like be settled in before her appointment ceremony at the end of the week. Partish, her factor here in Kharo, had pointed out several promising locations but Kesav had put off making a choice until the final decision of the Moon Chair was made. She would set aside today for logistical planning, and resolved to put the intricacies of Alai politics out of her mind for the moment. One thing at a time, that was the best course. And yet almost without thinking she felt for the pouch that hung from the hidden belt wrapped around her ribcage. The stone lay inside, still secure. She could feel its subtle warmth even through the layers of the soft leather pouch and the linen of her tunic. She focused her thoughts on the stone, reaching past the walls of thought her father had trained her to build, searching for the source so carefully hidden. A whisper drifted through her mind, and she strained to catch the meaning.


Kesav could just barely hear the word. She kept her focus steady, holding her breath as she reached further, deeper.

they are not to be trusted

The soft voice faded, falling into a barely-audible sibilance as the whispers retreated back into silence. Kesav let out her breath in a frustrated sigh. There was more there, she could feel it. But the words remained buried deep inside the artifact. It had taken years of training for her to even begin to sense the voice locked into the stone, years spend meditating and training her mind as her father instructed. But each time was a little easier, and the voice just a little bit clearer. A singularly persistent woman, Melar had said so delicately. A stubborn orox, that was more like it. She took her hand off the stone, running her fingers through her hair again. She would just have to keep working at it; every problem had a logical solution. Sometimes, though, it was best to step back from the problem and let her sleeping mind work through the solutions while she focused on other matters. More than once she had found a resolution to a tricky situation while she slept. So her strategy for this enigma would be to try to forget it, for now. She pulled a dark woolen overcoat off her bed, buttoning it carefully down the side. The stone would wait, it was always there beside her. For now, she had to find a place to live.




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