Minis picked up the elaborate presentation card, with a frilled, cutwork edge, tiny blue, white and red ribbons, with gold stars on all four corners. The name was in black ink, translated into Arkan characters, against the outspread wings of a white-headed eagle. “Atzana, could you give me an idea of how on the Earthsphere I am to pronounce this?”
She smiled. “Pronounce it as though you had a mouthful of glass marbles and about twice as slowly as you normally speak. I believe all that –“her finger delineated two lines. “—are all titles.”
“So, Reynawed Pearse Beyauregar Aeesleen is trying to impress me.”
She smiled. “He’s dressed plainly, but the cotton is fine enough for a lady’s veils. Your scholar nearly fell over when his guard turned in their weapons which look like glass gazing balls in glass boxes.”
Minis’s stomach clenched and he nearly choked. “How many of those things did he bring into the Marble Palace?”
“Four.” She nodded slowly. “I should be glad that Matthas called four clerks to carry them off? He said they were dangerous.”
Minis shook his head slowly. “Like wearing a lightning snake around your neck like a scarf snake.”
“He intends to give you a message then, because he didn’t protest his ‘protection’ getting carried away.”
Minis nodded. “And in the war they sold one of those things to my father to assassinate Ch’venga... he paid the price of small castle in Laka for just one.”
“I think I’ll ask him to take off his jewellery then. He’s got a little one on a silver chain.”
“Hmm. It’s probably just full of scent, but yes please.”
The Fehinnan was quite short and almost as brown as a Lakan or a Niah, his hair braided in a hundred tiny braids cascading to his shoulders, with a cone of scented oil melting into his coif. He bowed elaborately, with both arms spread, and then went into a credible prostration.
“Gehit, Ambassador Aeesleen.” Minis said quietly, in Enchian. “We don’t often see personages from the God-King on this side of the Lannic. Am I pronouncing your name properly?”
“Ayuh, You Whose Intelligence is Excellent,” he answered in passable Enchian. “M’Gawd-Kaying... “ Minis’s ear caught up to his drawl. “My God-King appointed m’ to establish closer ties to this side of the pond. Your pronunciation is perfect.”
“The pond? That’s amusing, Ambassador. I have to comment on my staff’s reaction to your bodyguard’s armourments. It was one of those very rare weapons that – how should I put it?—dissolved one of Arko’s loyal and most excellent generals in the war. Would you care for some refreshment?”
“Ah, no thank you kindly, Imperator. The globes... one of our priests has found a way to make them far more easily and cheaply, especially since our modest country has recently acquired a number of excellent glass technicians, though they’re having some trouble with the sand... it is different, you see.”
Arkan glass workers as your ‘new techs’? Don’t let the Mahid see that they’re getting to you. “How fortunate for your country to find such skilled workers.” His eyes narrowed as he considered Minis’as words and a faint scent of patchouli drifted from his hair oil. Minis held his breath.
“We were hoping to establish offices in the city itself, now that the Empire has grown so open, with your gracious permission.” Minis merely nodded. Aeesleen cleared his throat. “My God-King would like to inquire if the Imperator would be so gracious as to allow some small, inoffensive settlements of Fehinnans on your Western coast, to facilitate trade and goodfellowship between our two nations. The rocky cliffs, perhaps, or the barren sandbar beaches? Just ports, no agricultural land at all. We would, of course, pay a yearly fee for our used of the land-- and of course should something like your old 'Fours Prophet' raise its ugly head, we'd be placed to nip it in the bud for you.”
“Rent the land from Arko? Defense against a Quatrain prophet?” This is starting to sound like a fellow standing at a potter's with a couple of Familias thugs at his back, saying 'Nice business you've got here.' Minis looked down at his desk as if checking to see if his notice flag was moving. It wasn’t but the motion was caught by his watchers and someone sent a runner out to Atzana. She’d signal him shortly.
“We would include an initial gift to the Empire, as well. We have several strains of animals that would be an excellent complement to Arkan lines. No slaves, of course, since you have recently emancipated your human tools, but I have a priest in my entourage who might be of interest to your Haians, with a possible cure for your little problem in the city? Oh, do you? Offering help at a price. “Especially since your gathering of nations is being discussed.” You want in, to the International Assembly? I think I should rather want to tongue-kiss my little brother’s domoctopus instead.
“Oh, you mean the fertility control that we tested last year?” Let him think it was entirely under my control. You want to buy a legitimate foothold on this continent with this so call cure of yours. Just as you sell weapons to the weaker side in every war.
“You... tested?” He looked chagrined but only for a moment. Minis looked down to the twitching flag on his desk.
“Ambassador, I’m afraid that my next appointment has arrived. I’ve heard your proposals.” He rose to his feet, seals twinkling on his hands as he leaned on his fingers. “Please let my welcomist know your new office’s address so I may answer you on paper. Once you’ve settled in perhaps we may invite you to a Marble Palace gathering. Send your priest around to speak to my grandfather, who shall be returning from the Winter Palace for our Solstice Ritual on the fifth of the month.”
“Your grandfather?” He looked faintly offended.
“The Imperial Pharmacist,” Minis raised an eyebrow. “Surely you know my grandfather is Amitzas Mahid?”
“Of course.” Because Minis was on his feet, the Ambassador had to rise and then prostrate himself, since he had shown himself willing to do so at the beginning of their meeting.
“Gehit.” You pustulent, virulent, disgusting excuse for a polititian. Minis’s smile didn’t twitch as Aeesleen bowed himself out. I wonder if you made your chains on the illicit slaver settlements in Sria? I need to find someone who speaks fluent Fehinnan to listen in on their private conversations. Matthas will know someone.