“From Every Storm A Rainbow” by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
Sinit Caylon, delm-elect of Clan Mizel, gazed across the table at Peers dea'Gauss.
Peers gazed back, face noncommittal. Neither looked at the third member of their party, Sinit's mother, Birin Caylon, who was Mizel-in-Truth . . .
. . . for another four years. Then, by the terms of the agreement signed with Clan Korval, Sinit would take up Mizel's Ring, clan administration, management of its assets, fiscal, physical, and corporeal. Mizel had signed because her hand had been forced two Standards ago, but she was not reconciled.
The same agreement placed Peers dea'Gauss into Mizel as a consultant, taking up what would, in a less emperilled clan, be the duties of the nadelm. In the proper order of things, Sinit would be nadelm—but, no. Sinit Caylon would never have been nadelm, if Mizel had been in proper order. And, she realized, Peers was waiting for her answer.
"I reviewed the precis you gave me," she said, placing her hand on that document where it rested on the table before her. "In addition, I went back through the accounts to the beginning of my great-grandmother's term of service—"
Her mother tapped her fingers on the table, impatient, meaning, perhaps to distract. However, Sinit had been taking lessons in maintaining one's countenance under provocation from a master, and did not allow herself so much as a pause.
"—in order to identify the moment of error."
Peers inclined her head.
"And did you find the moment, my lady?"
Sinit patted the precis gently, as if it were one of Lady yo'Lanna's large, indolent dogs.
"I see that my great-grandmother and my grandmother kept diversified portfolios and were aggressive in moving funds from under-performing shares. They both kept reserves in conservative funds, but even those monies might be moved to another location, if the terms were sufficiently lucrative, and the fund itself of a high order."
Sinit took a breath and did not look at the present delm, who had stopped tapping the table, which was in someway more distracting.
"I found the error was not a single event, but an accretion; a pattern of behavior that began to have adverse effects on the clan's financial security approximately twelve years into the stewardship of the current delm."
She took a deep breath, embracing inner calm.
"The previous delm's arrangements had not been altered—there was no need; the markets were stable. Mizel's fortunes trended slightly downward, not enough to be thought worrisome. They may have easily recovered, had the markets boomed.
"There was a collapse in the fourteenth year of the present delm's service. The old arrangements were no longer viable. A radical change of financial strategy was necessary." Sinit took another breath, and spoke directly to Peers, as if there was no third at their table.
"Change was not made, and Mizel's fortunes declined, rapidly."
There, it was said. Sinit reached for her teacup. She sipped, awaiting an outburst of chill rage from her parent, and—still—her delm.
Peers inclined her head.
"Indeed, you have identified the moment when required action was not taken. From that point, recovery became more difficult every year. Is it your opinion, my lady, that recovery is beyond us?"
Sinit knew Peers well enough by now to know that this was a test.
She put her teacup aside.
"Not beyond us," she said slowly, "though I do not make the error of believing recovery will be quick or easy. We will need to be canny and flexible. This is where I depend upon you, Ms. dea'Gauss."
That was nothing more than the truth. If Sinit was going to rebuild Mizel's foundation and standing—as she must!—she was going to need someone very like Peers dea'Gauss as an ally. How Mizel would afford her fees once the six year term was up, Sinit hadn't the least notion. She hoped something would occur to her—well. It would have to, wouldn't it?
"Your ladyship is kind," Peers murmured. "Perhaps you see a target upon which I may train my canniness?"
Sinit reached for the ledger where all of Mizel's accounts were listed out. Her mother sighed sharply. Sinit did not glance aside.
"I believe," she said to Peers, "that we must begin by divesting ourselves of certain properties, not only to increase our treasury, but to lighten the burden of our obligations."
She opened the ledger to the place she had marked, and turned the book toward Peers.
"How dare you!" Mizel erupted. "Golindor Manufacturing has been a cornerstone of the clan's wealth since before your great-grandmother took up the Ring! Will you sell our history?"
"No, ma'am," Sinit said, turning to meet the delm's eyes. She had gotten quite good at meeting anger with calm. That had perhaps been Lady yo'Lanna's most useful lesson thus far.
"Golindor will always be a part of Mizel's history. Indeed, it must be held up as a lesson to future delms and nadelms, for the delm's hand was as deft as her eye was sure. Mizel's long-term stability, which serves us even now, may surely be laid to that acquisition."
She looked down at the sad ledger, the profits line near to plunging off the bottom of the page, while the expense line sought the upper margins.
"In present, ma'am, as you can see, expenses far outstrip profits. Mizel cannot make needed upgrades. Now is the time to sell, while there is still some value left."
"I do not agree to this," Mizel said.
Peers looked to her.
"Of course, it is never pleasant to liquidate assets, but in the case, it is the best for the property and for the clan. I will, if you wish, prepare a report to the oversight committee, presenting Lady Sinit's solution, and your disagreement. Your ladyship surely knows that the committee will debate, but allow the liquidation. Meanwhile, the property will become less attractive."
Mizel glared at Peers, her eyes cold.
"Certainly, we should not wish to bring ourselves to the notice of the committee. You make your point eloquently, as usual, Qe'andra dea'Gauss."
She stood, waving a hand that seemed too frail for the burden of Mizel's Ring.
"Please, continue with your pleasant plans, delm-in-waiting. You have no need of me for this."
She left them, closing the study door gently behind her.
Sinit sat, hands folded tightly in her lap while she examined her actions and intent. After a moment, she was able to admit to herself that she had not acted in malice, nor to cause distress, but for the best good of the clan, insofar as she could judge. Lady yo'Lanna's brother, Delm Guayar, had been adamant regarding the on-going necessity of such evaluations. "For we are none of us infallible, and it is not beyond us to be petty. It is therefore the first duty of we who hold the good of our clans cupped in our palms to be certain of our motives."
"My lady?" Peers murmured. "May I ask after your thoughts?"
Sinit raised her head.
"I was thinking that my mother looks . . . ill," she said, which was not . . . wholly . . . untrue. "This—the transition—is not easy for her."
"No, my lady," Peers said. She paused. "Shall we continue?"
"Yes," Sinit looked back to the journal page.
"Golindor must be liquidated," she said. "I wish to sell quickly, and as advantageously as possible. When it is done, I wish you will review the process with me."
Peers raised her eyebrows. Sinit felt her face heat.
"What I mean to say is that I must look forward to the day when you will not be available to me. I would learn how to make such decisions."
"Ah." The qe'andra inclined her head. "I will be pleased to teach the method, my lady, though I feel I must point out that my canniness is at your service for a few years, yet."
"Yes," Sinit agreed, looking down at the ledger again. "But you and I both know that when I take the Ring, the agreement ends, and Mizel will be in no position to afford you."
That was rather plainly said, but Peers, improbably, smiled.
"No, my lady, you must allow me to work. It is my goal that Mizel will be very well able to afford me, when the Ring passes."
Sinit frowned, recalling her recent review of Mizel's financials.
"I would not have thought that you were an optimist," she said.
"I am a realist, my lady. To the business at hand, you have made a bold and necessary first move to bring Mizel back from the edge. Have you given thought to your follow?"
Sinit bit her lip. But, really, if she could not bring this to Peers, who was required by contract hold Mizel's prosperity as her first priority, then who?
"I wonder if you will advise me?"
"Of course, my lady."
"Then I will tell you that I have a goal. I had been used to thinking of it as part and parcel of restoring Mizel's finances, but lately I have been thinking of assets, and I wonder if we might not achieve this thing separately, and sooner, for it will be years before Mizel is restored."
Peers frowned slightly.
"A few years, my lady. Recall that the agreement has Korval remitting the life-price of a scholar-expert to Mizel when the Ring passes. That is not an inconsiderable sum."
"I do recall that," Sinit said. "But this other thing—I do not wish to wait four more years to bring Mizel's children home!"
"Well, they're scarcely children any more," Sinit rushed on. "Tiatha—my sister Aelliana's heir—is very nearly as old as I am, and Ver Non—Voni's heir—not so many relumma behind. Jes and Zilli are younger, but long out of the nursery. The delm had good reason to foster them to Lydberg, but—"
She paused, realizing that she was out of countenance.
"Your pardon. This matter has weighed on me since the delm spoke of marrying Lydberg as the lesser partner. In short, I want our children brought home. They are Mizel's treasures, so much more so than—" She slapped her hand on Golindor's ledger page.
There was a brief silence. Peers inclined her head.
"I understand, my lady. However, the fosterings were done by Mizel's will. They must be dissolved by Mizel's will."
And she was not—yet—Mizel. Sinit sighed.
"I think—I think that my mother might be better served, were there people in the house—kin. To live here alone—" with the ghost of her favorite child her only companion—"I think it cannot be—good for her."
She paused. Peers waited.
"I will speak with her," Sinit said, "when she is in a better frame of mind. I think she might agree to bring them home, if only I can show her the way."
"I understand," Peers said. "I will work with your goal in mind."
Despite having been late at Etgora's evening gather, Sinit was up early with her schoolwork. She had completed the basic coursework, and stood within a relumma of finishing the advanced course. Then she would put her name before the Accountant's Guild as an apprentice. Her goal was to have a secure place in one of the established firms before Mizel's Ring was on her hand. The House would need her income, and the expertise she gained could only assist in accomplishing her duties as delm.
There came a rap at the door.
Sinit rose, crossed the room, and opened to Ms. pel'Ena, the butler.
"This came express, Lady Sinit," said that august person, offering an envelope.
Sinit glanced at it, recognizing Mizel's seal—the Thundercloud and Rainbow—and felt her stomach clench. There were only four, now, who would use that seal—herself, her eldest sister Voni, her mother, and her delm.
Voni was not given to writing, being so very busy with her duties as a hostess at the Middlemarch Mountain Ski Resort.
It was equally unlikely that her mother would write—but, no, Sinit reminded herself. Her mother had been very sensible during their last talk. Indeed, she had been eager to see Mizel's children brought back to their proper place, going so far as to promise to consult the delm.
This note could be the result of that consultation. It might, Sinit told herself, be good news.
She took the envelope with a small bow.
"Thank you, Ms. pel'Ena."
"Always of service," the butler replied. "Shall I send a tray up? There's the buffet this morning."
Justus was a busy clan, and breakfast was often a buffet, to accommodate the many diverging schedules.
"Please," Sinit said, the letter weighing in her hand. "That would be pleasant."
Ms. pel'Ena bowed and went away. Sinit returned to her desk, and broke the envelope's seal.
It was . . . not . . . good news.
She might have thought it a joke, save that neither her mother nor her delm indulged in humor.
The agreement stated specifically that Sinit Caylon would not receive lessons in administration from Clan Korval. However, the agreement did not forbid her from speaking to her sister, who was, coincidentally, the delmae of Korval.
The comm signaled twice, bringing Sinit to an awareness of the hour. She moved to cut the connection, but too late.
"Good morning, Sinit," came the cool, firm voice. "Did you enjoy a good sleep?"
"Aelliana," she said, tears starting to her eyes. "Mizel has gone to Low Port."
"For what purpose?" Lady yo'Lanna asked. She was in the New Garden, trowel in hand, placing seedlings in a fresh-turned bed.
Sinit dropped to her knees, so as not to be greater than her host, and met the lady's eyes.
"She says to find the nadelm, and bring him back to fulfill his proper place."
"Mizel's nadelm is dead," Lady yo'Lanna stated.
"By the Delm's Word, yes, ma'am. But she never reconciled—"
"I mean to say," Lady yo'Lanna interrupted, "that Ran Eld Caylon is dead in the most physical sense possible. Low Port is dangerous even to those who reside there. It is inimical to strangers."
"I spoke to Aelliana. She assures me of these same things," Sinit admitted, leaving aside the other things Aelliana had said. "She has an . . . associate, whom she will ask to locate Mizel, and return her to her proper location."
Lady yo'Lanna bent her head, perhaps recruiting herself, for Mizel's actions must surely horrify so stringently proper a lady.
"And your own plans?" her ladyship asked.
"I am for Raingleam Street, ma'am, with all speed. The House—"
"Indeed," Lady yo'Lanna said, suddenly brisk. "The House."
She rose, stripping off her gloves. Sinit came also to her feet, extending a hand to the gardening basket.
"No, leave it, child," her ladyship said. "Let us see you on your way."
The house was empty when she arrived, early in the afternoon. Well, of course it was. The servants had long ago been turned off, for lack of funds to pay them. Aelliana was lifemated, Voni was at her employment, Ran Eld was dead, and Mother—
Sinit swallowed as she went through the lower floor, opening doors and turning on lights. At the delm's office, she paused with her hand on the door.
Eyes closed, she reviewed her motives. Satisfied that this was a necessary action, she turned the knob—and entered a scene of chaos.
The delm's desk, usually so tidy, was awash in loose sheets and notebooks, as if the contents of all the drawers had been emptied onto it. There were books on the floor—the bound set of the Liaden Code of Proper Conduct, Sinit saw, detouring carefully around them on her way to the desk.
She considered the mess, keeping her hands behind her back. The notebooks were sharesbooks, the loose sheets, ledger pages. Sinit bit her lip. Had she precipitated this, with her talk of bringing the children home?
She leaned closer, seeing a gleam of color among the ledger pages, in the style of a clan seal.
Taking hold of the sheet with careful fingertips, she gently pulled it free.
It was Lydberg's seal. The note was abrupt; apparently in response to a letter from Mizel.
It is gratifying that Mizel has at last recalled its inconvenient baggage. Lydberg is willing to return it, upon receipt of upkeep costs on the order of three cantra. Be this amount received by Trianna Eighthday of the current relumma, the baggage shall be released to Mizel.
If Mizel remains in default on Zeldra Eighthday, the contracts will be sold at Lydberg's discretion, all wages therefrom coming to Lydberg until such time as the debt has been paid in full.
This by the hand of Lydberg Herself
Three cantra! Sinit felt her breath hitch in panic.
But, no. Panic was not an option, not now. She must solve this. When the debt was retired, and the children safe in Mizel's house, then she would panic.
Think, she told herself. Lydberg's letter was meant to intimidate, to demonstrate Mizel's weakness and lack of resource while explicitly placing Mizel's children in peril.
But Mizel had resources.
Sinit placed the letter on top of the chaos that was the delm's desk, and sought the comm in the library. The comm was answered immediately.
"Ms. dea'Gauss," Sinit said, stringently calm. "I need you to come to Raingleam Street at your earliest opportunity. It is a matter of some urgency."
She opened the door to the delm's office and stepped back to allow Peers to enter.
The qe'andra walked carefully, avoiding, as Sinit had, the books on the floor, and standing over the desk with her hands behind her back.
She turned around.
"Did you touch anything, my lady?"
"The letter, there on top, from Lydberg. It had been under that muddle of ledger pages on the right. I saw the clan seal and thought—" Embarrassingly, her voice hitched again. "I thought it might provide a clue as to why the delm left us."
"Indeed," Peers said dryly. "Forgive me, my lady, but I wonder if you know where Mizel has gone."
Sinit closed her eyes.
"The delm has gone to Low Port," she said, pleased that her voice was perfectly even and in-mode. "Her reason was to find Mizel's once-was nadelm and fetch him home."
She took a breath, and opened her eyes. Peers was watching her calmly, waiting.
"Lady yo'Lanna states as fact that Ran Eld Caylon is dead to all and everything. My sister—has asked grace of an associate, who may, perhaps, be able to locate the delm and . . . extract her—" that had been Aelliana's exact phrase—"before she finds harm."
Sinit spread her hands. "The delm did write to me of her intent. The letter found me this morning. It is why I'm here."
"Of course," Peers murmured. "How may I serve you, my lady?"
Sinit sighed. "Advise me—Lydberg threatens Mizel's children. Surely, they must be answered, quickly and firmly."
"Surely, they must," Peers said, plucking the letter from atop the pile. "Let us take this to our usual table. First, I will use the comm. The oversight committee must be told."
Sinit sighed as they exited the room.
"Yes, of course. I should have told them, but I thought it best to first secure the House."
"You have the instincts of a delm, and you have done everything that is proper," Peers said, firmly. "You secured the House, and you called your qe'andra. Your qe'andra will now call the committee, which task is her explicit duty."
Sinit reached around Peers to close the door.
"Are they likely to send someone?"
"They may, though I cannot say how quickly. In fact, I will make another call. This is an unusual situation, and I would consult with an elder of my firm. If they deem it necessary to send someone, that person will arrive quickly."
Excellent, thought Sinit, and did not think of how Mizel would afford the expense.
"While you make your calls, I will make tea," she said. "Find me at our usual table, when you are able."
"Definitely, a threat has been laid here."
The elder from the firm, Etha dea'Gauss, seemed inclined to take a very dark view of this. She had arrived with astonishing quickness, and sat now with a cup of tea by her hand, notetaker to the fore.
"My first thought had been to stall," Peers murmured. "My second was that such tactics might create greater peril. Lydberg's timeline gives us room to work."
"Your second thought is worthy, young Peers. Immediately, we should send a acknowledgment of receipt, which will also inform Lydberg that Mizel is taking counsel from our firm. More than that is not necessary. As you say, the given deadline, while not generous, allots us some time to work."
She sipped her tea. "It falls to you as Mizel's qe'andra of record to acknowledge Lydberg. Do so. Lady Sinit and I will begin discovery."
"Yes." Peers rose, bowed, and left them.
Etha dea'Gauss finished her tea, and set the cup aside.
"Do you have a copy of the contract with Lydberg, my lady?"
"I regret. There is no contract."
Ms. dea'Gauss inclined her head.
"One has heard that there has been a certain . . . reticence on the part of the current delm with regard to sharing documentation. Perhaps Mizel's former qe'andra will have a copy among their dead files. If your ladyship does not recall the name, I will query the Guild. Indeed, I should have done so before I came to you."
Sinit put her palms flat on the table, and met Ms. dea'Gauss's eyes.
"My mentor has long since despaired of my tendency for plain speaking, ma'am. I assure you that I do not mean to be . . . unconvenable. I merely wish to be certain that information is conveyed with clarity."
Etha dea'Gauss eyed her.
"Certainly, my lady. Clarity of information must be our goal in this and all of our of transactions."
"Plainly, then—if Mizel retained a qe'andra prior to Peers—I mean to say, Ms. dea'Gauss—it was before my birth. As the arrangement we now confront was made after my birth, there is no need to disturb the cellars of the Accountants Guild."
She paused, the elder said nothing. Sinit inclined her head.
"There is no contract with Lydberg, ma'am. However, I can tell you how the arrangement was made."
"Please proceed, my lady."
Sinit reached for her cup, and sipped tea to ease her dry throat.
"When my mother was young, she was sent to live for a year with our cousins Clan Lydberg, while a child of Lydberg came to Mizel. It was a done thing, when my grandmother was a girl, and she felt that her heir should also receive the benefit of being fostered into another House. While she was with Lydberg, Mother and Voni pel'Dina became fast friends. The friendship outlasted the fostering. Mother named the first of her children who remained in-House after her friend, who was said to have done the same."
Sinit paused for another sip of tea.
"When Mizel realized that the House was unable to care for the nursery, Mother turned to her friend for advice. Between them, they crafted a solution—that Lydberg would foster Mizel's next generation. This arrangement was intended to be in force for only a year, perhaps two, until the clan came about."
She paused; Etha dea'Gauss inclined her head.
"Mizel never recovered sufficiently to bring the children back into the House, and mother's friend continued to keep them safe, in hers."
Sinit turned her palms up.
"Voni pel'Dina is Lydberg's sister, she had his ear and his support. It seems apparent that Mizel offended by writing, yet—"
"Lydberg's Ring passed twelve days ago," Etha dea'Gauss said gently. "Voni pel'Dina clearly does not have the support of the new delm."
"I—saw the announcement in the Gazette," she said. "I should have realized that there would be—change."
"No, how could you?" said the elder, briskly. "Unless you are privy to Lydberg's internal politics?"
Ms. dea'Gauss smiled. "Exactly. Now, my lady, attend me. This situation did not grow from the seeds of your errors."
"That is true," Sinit said, "it only falls to me to—to—fix this!" she burst out, which was surely unworthy from one who would be delm.
"It falls to us to fix it—yourself, supported by your qe'andra. We will arrive at an equitable solution. May I ask what your plans are, while Mizel is absent?"
"I will hold the House until the delm returns," Sinit said, wondering what other plans she might have.
Etha dea'Gauss inclined her head.
"In that case, my lady, allow me to be of service. You require staff—at the least a cook, a butler, and a person of all work. I will contact the agency the firm uses and have them send reliable people. Since it is unlikely that they will arrive before tomorrow morning, I further suggest that I have a meal delivered, so that we may continue our work unimpeded.
"Also, if you will take an old woman's advice—have Peers stay with you until the delm returns."
These plans were breathtaking, though surely reasonable, Sinit thought, save—
"Ma'am, I—the former staff was turned off for a reason."
"Perhaps they were, and perhaps we may discover what that reason was. In the meanwhile, if you are concerned about expense, my lady, I can assure you that funds are available. The meal is borne by the firm."
Sinit hesitated. It would be pleasant to have staff, but—
"After all," said Etha dea'Gauss, "someone will need to answer the door."
Well, thought Sinit, that was certainly true.
She inclined her head.
"Thank you, ma'am. You're very good."
Breakfast for Peers and herself was tea and the last biscuits from the last tin in the pantry. She would, Sinit thought, need to go to the market.
The door chimed, interrupting these thoughts. She started to her feet, but Peers was already up and moving.
"Finish your breakfast, my lady. I will answer."
There was no arguing with such authority, Sinit thought, and dunked a stale biscuit in her tea. Peers was back by the time she had disposed of it, and resumed her place at the table.
"Lydberg has answered," the qe'andra said composedly, taking up her tea cup.
"But, where is the letter?" Sinit asked.
"At our usual table," Peers answered. "There is no reason that you should be disturbed at your meal by business, my lady."
Sinit picked up her tea cup. She was unused to having such care taken for her; it was both unnerving and comforting. Also—
"I think," she said, meeting Peers's eye, "that I should be Sinit. You have already allowed me Peers, after all." She paused. "I feel that our melant'is must be partners, with I the junior."
Straight eyebrows rose. Peers inclined her head.
"I am honored, Sinit."
She laughed. "Surely, you are! Now, I will tell you that this delightful repast we have just enjoyed is the last food in the pantry. I will go to market today, so that we may—"
"Surely, the cook will do that," Peers interrupted comfortably.
Sinit blinked. "The cook—"
"You will recall that my Aunt Etha had engaged for you three servants from the firm's usual agency. They should be along—"
The door chimed. Peers smiled and rose.
"Very soon," she said. "Shall I bring them to you in the library, or the formal parlor?"
"The library, of your kindness," Sinit said, hastily swallowing the last of her tea. "Thank you, Peers."
Lydberg's letter was . . . ungracious. The sum owed was reiterated, with a note that only the signature of Mizel Herself would be acceptable upon the agreement letter, Lydberg having no confidence in the guarantees of delms-in-waiting.
"Now, that," Peers said, "is mere spite, my—Sinit. Lydberg surely knows that any letter of agreement must be accepted by the oversight committee. Without that, it matters not who places their name on the line for Mizel."
Sinit tapped the letter. "The sum demanded, as payment for expenses in arrears . . . "
Peers moved her shoulders.
"We found the ledger sheets last evening, did we not? The amounts were paid."
"No," Sinit said, her meager breakfast a stone in her stomach. "I woke in the night realizing, that—it fell to the nadelm to pay the amounts. That does not mean they were paid in fact, though the ledgers tell that tale."
"I was told that the nadelm had been a bad manager," Peers murmured.
"More," Sinit said, swallowing. "He was—expensive, and unfettered. He used Aelliana's quartershare as his own. He only required tribute from Voni, as she brought profit to the clan. For myself—well. I was fourteen when he died, and not yet grown into a quartershare. However, there had been no funds set aside in an account for my majority."
Peers took a careful breath.
"I see. Your theory is, then, that the nadelm . . . failed to pay the sums recorded to Lydberg."
"Most likely, he spent the money on his own pleasure," Sinit said quietly. "My sister Aelliana may know more."
"Then we will make certain to interview her," Peers said.
"In the meanwhile," Sinit said, firmly. "We will settle with Lydberg in good faith."
"If I may," Peers murmured. "We will offer copies of the ledger sheets, and ask Lydberg to show their accounting. This is standard procedure, and so Lydberg's qe'andra will instruct the delm. In the meanwhile—"
"In the meanwhile," Sinit interrupted. "We must have a plan in place to pay whatever is truly owed, assuming our ceiling is three cantra. Even should Golindor sell today—"
"That is our other danger," Peers said, interrupting in her turn. "If Lydberg puts it out that Mizel is desperate for cash, we will be seeking to sell at a—greater disadvantage."
"There is another option, my lady," Peers said, after a moment. "Forgive me for noticing that Mizel is thin of adults. Would you be open to buy-ins?"
Sinit stared. "Who would buy into Mizel?"
"Well . . . " Peers met her eyes. "Myself, for one."
Nuncheon was simple, yet worthy of any meal served to Lady yo'Lanna's table. After, Sinit took herself upstairs. There was no need to open the third floor; there were sufficient bedrooms on the second to accommodate all of Mizel. Merely those that had been shut up ought to be made ready.
Aelliana's former room was stripped to the walls. It was musty, and Sinit crossed to the windows, pushing them open, admitting the sounds of Raingleam Street along with fresh air.
Sinit made a note to explore the storage rooms for furniture—or perhaps Tiatha—for surely this room ought to go to Aelliana's daughter—would like to explore the basements with her aunt Sinit. A shared adventure might ease the awkwardness that must at first stand between them.
The next room was Voni's, which Sinit passed by. The one after had been Ran Eld's.
Sinit pushed the door open, expecting that it had been stripped as bare as Aelliana's—and stood gaping on the threshold.
The room looked as if Ran Eld had left it that morning. The shelves were full of books and ornaments, the floors covered in bright rugs, the wall hung with art, the closet bulging with clothes.
The desk . . . Sinit turned—the desktop was bare; the drawers empty. This, then had been the source of the ledger sheets and sharesbooks they had found on the delm's desk. Suddenly, it made a kind of terrible sense, that Birin Caylon had gone to Low Port, in search of her son, who had all but ruined the clan.
The room would have to be cleared. It would for Ver Non, who would no doubt also wish to choose his own furnishings.
Sinit closed the door and went downstairs to fetch Mr. pel'Kosta, her staff of all work.
"This must be made ready for a new occupant, who will wish to choose his own style," she said, opening the door. "What is here must be boxed, labeled, and taken to the storeroom in the cellar. Then the room must be cleaned."
Mr. pel'Kosta neither blanched nor protested, which Sinit felt he had every right to do. Merely he bowed, and stepped into the room, looking about with what seemed a practiced eye.
The door chimed, and Sinit left him to it to go downstairs.
The caller had just been admitted—a slim figure in pilot leathers, pale brown hair pulled away from a beloved face.
"Aelliana!" Sinit flung forward, as if she were no more than a halfling. Her sister caught her in strong arms and they stood for a moment in silent embrace.
"Sinit,I have news. Shall we to the library?"
"What is it?" Sinit asked, when the door was shut.
Aelliana stood in the center of the room, her back to Sinit.
"Sister? Is the news—not good?"
Aelliana's shoulders lifted, then fell. She turned, reached into a pocket and held out her hand, fingers curled.
Shivering, Sinit cupped her sister's hand in both of hers.
Slowly, Aelliana unfisted her hand, revealing Mizel's Ring lying in the center of her palm.
Sinit caught her breath.
"My associate was not in time to save her life. Daav is in Low Port with a Scout team, seeing to everything that is needful."
Sinit took a breath. "Surely, I must . . . go to her. Bring her home."
Aelliana shook her head. "Surely, you must not," she said softly. "My associate sends the Ring with his regrets. He asks me to tell you that he saw what was left of Mizel and that it's nothing a daughter will want to have as the last memory of her mother."
Aelliana sighed. "Clarence is Terran, and has sensibilities. If it eases you, he refused me, also."
Sinit swallowed. "Which is why Daav is seeing to the needful."
The silence stretched. Aelliana extended her hand, Mizel's Ring glittering in her palm.
Biting back tears, Sinit picked the thing up and slipped it onto her finger.
Aelliana moved, sweeping a bow—delm-to-delm—and straightened, face solemn.
"Mizel," she said, her voice strong and sure. "All honor to you."
There came a sharp rap at the door.
Sinit jerked around.
"Come," she said.
Mr. pel'Kosta entered the room, offering a book across both palms.
"My lady, I thought you should see this. I began to box the room abovestairs, as you had requested, and this book fell out of the shelf."
Sinit frowned. It was a novel, which was odd, because Ran Eld had not been bookish. The fall had disarranged the pages, so that they were sticking out beyond—
"Those are stock certificates," Aelliana said sharply, and looked to Sinit. "Who's room?"
"Of course." Aelliana took a deep breath. "I may be of some assistance, Sister."
"Yes," said Sinit. She looked to Mr. pel'Kosta. "Please ask Ms. dea'Gauss to join us."
"Yes, my lady."
Aelliana reached to the top shelf and pulled a large bound volume down. She cradled it in one arm and opened the cover, read something and closed it.
"This is the original bound copy of the Caylon revision of the ven'Tura Tables," she said, her voice stringently calm. "I knew he had taken it; I suspected he had burned it, but, no—he would have bragged about that, to make the hurt more poignant."
"Take it," Sinit whispered, and Aelliana nodded absently, already back to scanning the shelves.
"There," she said suddenly. "That blue figurine is Voni's. She wept for a relumma after she lost it."
Rapid footsteps came down the hall, and Peers stepped into the room.
"Sinit, what—" She turned her head, and bowed.
"Lady, your pardon."
"No need," Aelliana said, sparing her a bright green glance. "You are Mr. dea'Gauss's granddaughter?"
"Then you are the proper person to handle this."
Peers glanced at Sinit.
Sinit handed her the book. "It fell off the shelf."
Peers opened it, stared at the crumpled certificates, and took a hard breath.
"This room will have to be thoroughly searched," she said. "My lady, and—my lady, please step out, and leave everything—"
"Aelliana may have that book," Sinit said sharply; "it is hers. We will check it for—inclusions—before she takes it away."
"All else must remain as it is," Peers said. "Lock the door. I will make a call. There is an agency that specializes in this type of room clearing. The firm uses them frequently."
"The desk," Sinit said, hearing the edge in her voice, "was empty before I opened the door."
Peers pressed her lips together, and strode off toward the stairs.
Aelliana stepped into the hallway, and Sinit locked the door.
Etha dea'Gauss joined them for a short meeting, staying for prime meal. She left them, promising to send the proper notices to the Gazette.
Sinit stood in the hallway, feeling rather wilted.
"May I bring you a glass of wine in the library?" Peers asked.
Sinit looked up.
"Surely it is not your place to serve me."
"Surely, it is my place to offer comfort to my partner after a very long, and absurdly trying day," Peers retorted, and Sinit smiled.
"You are persuasive. Yes. Bring wine for both."
They had scarcely settled when the door chimed, a moment later the butler came to the library.
"Ma'am, Lady Voni pel'Dina Clan Lydberg asks for a word. I am to say she is a friend of your mother."
Peers's eyebrows rose. Sinit took a breath, and placed her glass on the tray before rising.
"Please show Lady Voni in."
Voni pel'Dina was small, round, and grey-haired. Her eye fell first on Sinit's face, then on her hand.
Her face tightened.
"Is Birin gone, then?"
"Today," Sinit said, and cleared her throat. "The announcement will be in tomorrow's Gazette."
"You must tell me," the lady said—"by her own hand?"
Sinit stared, leaving Peers to answer.
"She went unguarded to Low Port."
"That is yes, then. Lady Caylon—I offer my condolences. I came to offer my services in forming a solution to Lydberg's absurdities, but you are in mourning. I will go. Perhaps you will see me later."
"I think," Sinit said, rather unsteadily, "that we had best see each other now, my lady. Mizel's children must yet be succored."
"Yes," the lady said grimly, and sat in the chair Sinit offered. Peers poured her a glass of wine.
"I must ask difficult questions in regard to Mizel's grandchildren."
Sinit inclined her head. "Ask."
Lady Voni sighed.
"One has heard that Lydberg received a letter of inquiry from Mizel, on the topic of Mizel's grandchildren."
"I think that must be so," Sinit admitted. "I had spoken to my mother regarding my desire to re-clan Mizel's treasures. She was—much in favor, and I believe the delm wrote to Lydberg after we spoke." She took a breath. "There was a letter from Lydberg, in reply."
"Hah." Lady Voni looked sour. "An invoice was sent, is what I heard."
"A demand, rather," Peers said. "Lydberg states that Mizel is arrears in maintenance payments. Three cantra is required to balance the debt, which would be done by a date, else Lydberg will sell the children's contracts in order to recoup its loss."
"That woman is a fool," Lady Voni said savagely. She had recourse to her glass, and set it aside, empty. Peers rose to refill it.
"One had heard," Sinit murmured, "that Lydberg's Ring has recently passed."
"Indeed it has. The new delm has long been opposed to keeping non-kin close. Thus, her first act as delm—ungracious and unsupported by fact. I will tell you how it was."
She took her glass from Peers, sipped, and set it aside.
"Birin was the sister of my heart," Voni pel'Dina said. "When we were children, we swore that, when we had each fulfilled our duties to our clans, we would live together forever."
She sipped her wine, lowered the glass, and met Sinit's eyes.
"When Mizel's finances became complicated, Birin came to me. Between us, we agreed that the best course was to foster the grandchildren to me, and so it was done. It was to only have been a year or two, that it went longer made no matter. I cared for Birin's children as if they were my own—indeed, my heart insists that they are my own! They were raised with Lydberg's children, but it was I who gladly bore the expense of their support, their education, their pleasures. My brother, Lydberg-who-was, granted them space in the clanhouse—there was no reason not to do so, we have room for more than we are, even now."
She sent Sinit a sharp look.
"You want them, you said. Why?"
"They are Mizel's treasures," Sinit said. "It has—long troubled me, that they were kept apart from us, though it may have been for the best. One's elder brother—"
The lady raised her hand. "Speak no more of your elder brother. I understand what you would say. Birin knew, I think, but she would hear nothing against him. It was your elder brother drove us apart, and I daresay it was your elder brother who drove her to her death!"
She raised her glass.
"If I may ask, your ladyship?" Peers said.
"Whatever you must, Qe'andra. I would see this solved properly."
"You testify that you supported the children. We have journals detailing payments made to Lydberg, for maintenance."
"Birin had made some representation that Mizel ought to pay a stipend, but I put her aside. There was no need."
"And yet . . . "
Her ladyship sighed sharply. "Yes, Qe'andra—and yet. May I suppose it was the boy who recorded those payments to Lydberg?"
"Then there you have it," she said. "Whatever those amounts were, they went directly into his pocket."
She turned back to Sinit.
"I regret that I must ask another hard question, lady. Do you know the children?"
"To my sorrow, I do not. I wish to rectify that."
"I see that you do." She lapsed into silence, sipping her wine, and looking at some point beyond the bookshelves.
Sinit looked to Peers. Peers raised an eyebrow.
Lady Voni spoke.
"I believe we may assist each other," she said slowly. "I will provide a full accounting of my financial support of Mizel's treasures to the qe'andra of Mizel and Lydberg. I will further provide a statement that there is no repayment necessary. Mind you, Lydberg may still demand room and board, but I believe that amount will be found to lie well below three cantra.
"If you allow, Lady Caylon, after the House has mourned, I will come again, and talk to you of the children."
"I would be grateful," Sinit said, and her ladyship smiled.
"It will be my very great pleasure. In the meanwhile, I will put one more thing before you and then decently take my leave. It is in my mind that it were best if I found another House to shelter me. Though Birin is gone, I would honor her by coming into Mizel."
Sinit blinked. Lady Voni raised her hand.
"There are many things to consider. I am employed as a traffic controller at Chonselta Spaceport; that income would of course come to Mizel. I have been accustomed to assisting the delm in administrative matters. That experience would of course be placed at Mizel's service.
"However, you may not wish to have the foster-mother with the children. There could be repercussions, given existing alliances, and the fact that I am many years your elder, and have raised for you a brilliant and strong-willed foursome."
"Good," Sinit said, and her ladyship laughed.
"Excellent! We will talk again, soon." She rose, and Sinit with her.
"Thank you," she said. "I am very glad you came."
"As I am, Lady Caylon. As I am."
Voni Caylon came home for the twelve days of mourning, returning to her employment on the morning of the thirteenth day, taking most of her things with her.
Sinit was confirmed as Mizel before the Council of Clans.
The qe'andra for Clans Mizel and Lydberg settled upon a figure due Lydberg to cover room and board for four fosterlings. The sum was paid from the proceeds of the sale of Golindor Manufacturing.
Voni pel'Dina was provisionally admitted to Clan Mizel, pending a review at the end of six years.
Korval's payment for a scholar-expert, due when Sinit became delm, had been deposited to Mizel's account.
The financial papers found in Ran Eld's room were under examination by the Accountants Guild.
Bedrooms had been made ready for the return of Mizel's treasures.
Mr. orn'Verz, the cook, was preparing a feast, and the children—
The children were due very soon now, with their foster-mother.
Sinit sat in her favorite chair in the library. Mizel's Ring glowed on her hand, the motto bright: From every storm, a rainbow.
A familiar step sounded and she turned to smile at Peers.
"You were right," she said. "Mizel can afford you."
Peers smiled. "Did I not say that I was a realist? But I wonder—"
"What do you wonder, my friend?"
"I wonder if you have thought any further about allowing me to buy in to Mizel. Your membership is still thin of adults, and I would be an asset to the House."
"Peers, you cannot be serious."
"But I am! My clan has my heir, and I am inconvenient to clan administration, even as I am valued for my gifts. My grandfather has spoken to me several times about the notion of starting my own business, but that does not solve the issue of the clan, which surely does not need two delms. As a member of Mizel, I would support the delm, and bring the House a trade."
"Certainly! You have completed your coursework. How if we set up as qe'andra at hire, serving those clans who cannot afford the larger firms? We would maintain our ties with the firm, and I daresay some elders like my aunt Etha would be eager to help out occasionally—" She grinned—"for a fee."
Sinit laughed. "You have thought this through, I see."
"I have. Please, my lady. Have me."
Sinit looked up at the woman who had become her very dear friend, and extended a hand. Peers caught it between both of hers.
"Let us meet tomorrow at our usual table and discuss this in depth," Sinit said. "For the moment, I am—interested."
Peers's eyes glowed.
"Then we are half-way to an accord, my lady."
The door chimed.
"That will be the children," Sinit said, rising, and shaking out her dress. She took a breath to steady her nerves.
Peers bowed. "Mizel."
The absurd gesture gave her heart, and she swept out of the library with her head high and a smile on her face, to welcome Mizel's treasures home.
Copyright © 2021 by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
Maine-based writers Sharon Lee and Steve Miller first teamed up in the late 1980s. Since then, the husband and wife have written dozens of short stories and twenty plus novels, most set in their star-spanning Liaden Universe®. Sharon and Steve passionately believe that reading fiction ought to be fun, and that stories are entertainment. They maintain a web presence at korval.com.