“You have that look again that something is eating your toes with your boots on,” Roama said, diverting Myndael’s attention away from the beaded necklaces and dried meats displayed in the Tixenchan kiosk in front of her. Mynda, Roama, Clallo, and Tilido walked together in the market, trailed by an honor guard of four Rangers. It was a favorite pastime of the group.
“Actually, I believe she had just caught the smell of the dried fish over there,” Clallo said.
“Just because it is not familiar to you does not make it bad,” Tilido replied to Clallo. “The food we are used to must seem odd to them. Why, I have heard that the pejibaye is considered bland by at least some of the foreigners. Well, okay it isn’t sweet and it can be a bit—well, anyway if you just add some butter when you cook it—”
“Okay, Tili, we get it,” said Mynda. “Different foods, different cultures. It just makes me think.”
“’Bout what, now?” said Roama, taking a look at some earrings displayed in the next booth.
“About my father.”
“Okay, Myn, we know your father isn’t used to the dried fish, either,” Clallo interjected.
“No,” continued Mynda. “Not the different food. The different people.”
“Go ahead, make some sense,” Clallo goaded.
“Stop it,” Roama chided, returning one pair of earrings to the display and picking up another.
“I just get a sense that he is up to something, that he has been up to something for a long time, and…” Mynda paused, raising both eyebrows appraisingly at Roama, who was holding a particularly dangly pair of earrings next to her face and grinning. They were so long they fell over her shoulders like extra hair. “It all stems from the foreigners. No, not the foreigners themselves,” she corrected herself. “At least, I don’t believe so. You know how it is. We were all alone here, the people of Esclace, until some number of Years ago when the Askendi expedition found the platform to other worlds. They got a Sage out there and we started meeting new cultures. Before that, Augfi’s party came from who-knows-where and since then we lived in this land alone. We’ve grown and expanded, but had no outside influence.”
“I think I’m beginning to see,” Roama said as she replaced the jewelry and stepped on, moving the party to the next booth. “So you think your father has been behaving oddly because of some foreign influence? So what if he imports new ideas?”
“No, it’s not that at all,” Mynda replied. “I’m worried that he has some selfish scheme that somehow involves the foreigners. He always gets animated in his Council meetings. You know there was a bit of a power struggle when we made contact. Since the Council deals with most commerce issues but defer to the throne for disputes and criminal legislation, foreign contact brought a new factor into play that had not been dealt at all in the history of Esclace, despite being mentioned in the Charter.”
“We know how that struggle ended, right?” said Clallo. “The Council negotiates trade contracts, your father deals with foreign governments. So, what does this have to do with dried fish, or pejibaye for that matter?” He made a face for the dried fish, wrinkling once side of his nose, then shrugged it off as he turned to buy a small pouch of freshly steamed fruit from the kiosk in front of him. He turned and offered some to the group, which Tilido took him up on.
“So look,” Mynda said, getting more direct to cut through Clallo’s remarks. “He has some scheme. I don’t know what it is. He has always had some scheme. But these days he is acting less insistent, like maybe he got what he wanted. He is also starting to skip Council meetings and not seem worried that they will get away with something if he does not show up. And I overheard many times in the past, arguments between my father and the Council, naming some of these foreign nations. They argue about our policies with the foreigners. So…the booths here reminded me, is all. There are more foreigners in the market these days, more variety. And have you tried some of the fruit they bring? The big, green one…”
Clallo’s eyes lit up. “But it’s red on the inside? I love that one!”
“Yes,” Mynda continued, “the melon. But try to focus for a minute, Clallo. Roama, what I am saying is that he is behaving differently, and I am…worried. Worried that he has gone and done something that will be bad for all of us.”
Roama tried to bring Mynda back to the enjoyment of the market. “How bad could it be? Maybe he will cut off trade with one of them, perhaps he stepped on the Council’s toes and he strong-armed a deal that benefits your House more than everyone else. But at the end of the day we will still have several foreign lands to trade with, bringing it plenty of…” She reached both arms out to bring in all the booths in sight. “And in a few years, you will take is place and you can fix whatever he is messing up now.”
“A sure thing,” Mynda retorted, refusing to be assuaged, “if he ever abdicates, or if he dies before the age of seventy Years. He is only forty-five now, and my grandparents didn’t exactly die in their youth. What he messes up now could last many years.”
“I know what you need.” Mynda, Roama, and Clallo turned to Tilido questioningly. “You need a Towers match.” The three of them started to roll their eyes and turn away.
“No! Not on your father’s practice fields. I know a place.” He gestured for them to move closer, keeping the conversation private from Mynda’s escort.
“Well, my brother does. It was set up outside of town when his team was gunning for the championship a few years ago. That way they could practice without anybody being wise about their strategies. They kept it secret from everyone; I still don’t know exactly where it is. But it’s out of the way, so we could play stress-free. No word of it to your father, so he won’t criticize everything he thinks you did wrong. And my brother is out of that now; he’s too old for the championship matches and he won’t mind us knowing. He’ll tell me where the field is. What do you say? Let’s gather more people and set up our own matches.”
Mynda still looked unconvinced, carrying on her shoulders the invisible weight of a situation she felt she had to fix but for which she saw no solution.
Roama spoke up. “Myn, you just decided. You’re in. Tilly, talk to your brother. When can we go? Tomorrow? The day after? Clallo, get us enough for at least two teams. Bonus if we have three and can play swap-out matches. But keep it discrete.” She finished with a glaring eye to Clallo.
Tilly blinked, not really having believed it would work out. “Um, sure! But, we’ll have to find a way to ditch the escort. If they follow us all there, there’s no point in going. We might as well go play on her father’s fields.”
“You leave that to Myn and me,” Roama said. “We’ll figure that one out. Just find us that field, and Clallo will bring the crowd.”