2/10/1272 09:00 Arklow, Pamhia Province, Kingdom of Penamharik

A knock comes on the door of the newly-purchased residence of Mistress Esperanza Costa.

Then another knock.

“If you don’t open this door, I can come back shortly with a warrant,” the masculine voice says.

Tania slowly opens the door but doesn’t undo the chain.She looks out on her doorstep from behind large, dark glasses, her white hair obscured by a purple head scarf.

“Eogan Millea, Earl of County Ebrill,” the middle-aged, handsome man says. “At your service, Your Highness.”

“I believe you’re mistaken, Lord Ebrill,” Tania says. “I’m Esperanza Costa, a talent scout for the Arghentian Institute of Magic. It’s easy to mistake the appearance of white Arghentians.”

“I think you should invite me in,” Ebrill says.He leans forward to get within whispering range. “There are several holes in your cover story I can tell you about in private, or shout to your new neighbors,” he whispers.

Tania’s posture deflates. She closes the door just enough to undo the chain. The door opens.Ebrill slips inside.Tania closes, locks and deadbolts the door behind him. She turns and removes her glasses, staring at the Earl.

The luxury home is bereft of furniture.In the living room, Tania’s body servants are cutting the identifying marks out of half a million Song worth of Tania’s old wardrobe.From the kitchen drift odors of sumptuous, expensive food.Four burly young Arghentian knights step forward, doing their best to intimidate the guest without actually drawing weapons.

Under a table in what would be the master dining room, five chairs sit under a mass of receipts, bills, and contracts.

“Where do I start?” Ebrill says. “When a Scathsgire based shipping company tells me that the coast-hugger that usually delivers supplies to me has been purchased by an unnamed rival firm, that gets my attention. A lot of what supplies my household at the beginning of Spring got left on a dock in Scathsgire. I had already paid for that material, and that shipping.”

“I’m sorry for your loss, Lord Ebrill,” Tania says with a sarcastic grin.

“New faces show up at the Marwbrite services all the time, but not a couple of hundred at a time,” Ebrill says. “Unless they’re the same couple of hundred Arghentians who made a highly publicized escape from Queen’s Convent last month.”

Tania crosses her arms and smiles.

“Local mercers have contacted me that fabrics of extraordinary quality have been flooding in for the past couple of days,” Ebrill says. He looks over at the body servants. “Thanks for the new shirts.”

Tania sighs and looks to the ceiling.

“Your perfume…” Lord Ebrill says, raising his eyebrows while grinning at Tania. “And since when does the Arghentian Insitute of Magic employ teenage talent scouts? You’d have been better off saying you were a cloth merchant.”

Tania’s arms drop by her side with an exasperated grunt.

“And freemen refer to me at ‘Your Lordship.’ No one calls me ‘Lord Ebrill’ unless they’re royals or Marchesses,” he says. “The only people that choke on the titles of others are royals.”

“How much?” Tania says, her head tilting to the left and her lips pursing into a tight frown.

“I’m not here for money,” Ebrill says, raising his chin. “I’m here because I know the Regent’s spies are somewhere in town, and if I can figure all this out and track you down, they can’t be more than a few days behind. You need to get out of here quickly. And since I have a weak spot for rebels, and you’re young enough to be the daughter I never had, I’ll give you a tip.”

“I appreciate His Lordship’s kindness,” Tania sneers.

“Quick learner!” Ebrill says. “I’ll try to be brief. You’re traveling with way too many people to be anonymous. You’re trying to hide a village! Put most of them – and I’m talking almost all of them – on that boat you bought and send it anywhere.Mikuriya in Moriyume would throw your sister off badly and tangle up her fleet with some of the most competent pirates in the world. Clero way down south would convince her you’re too far away to mount a successful challenge to her regency.Alsae has some of the best naval defenses in the world. Anbirujima has a fold point, so stay away from there.”

“Go on,” Tania says, surprisingly engrossed.

“Travel with a small party, maybe ten people at the most, in a couple of wagons,”he continues. “Everybody takes the River Road through Bambrick and Ballinalack, but your appearance and mannerisms are too unusual to hide in towns. You need to take the mountain road, through the foothills of the Barrier Range. You need to go someplace without a Pan-Imperial. Find a wide spot in the road. Almeignia is good for that. It takes over a month for a wagon to get to Doonbeg, the closest of the Almeignian cities. If you take the time to move on to County Raghaill or County Pim, you won’t even be able to find yourself. I’m pretty sure your group will be the only Arghentians those yokels have ever seen.”

Tania nods, her eyes lost in thought.

“When you’ve found a place to settle and hide out, send one of your knights on to Alsae to contact the people on the boat. You’re a Tsiarkeh, use whatever mystic juju you use to do that,” he says. “Send for your people in dribs and drabs.It’s not unusual to see one Arghentian family at a port of call, but more than one will trip someone’s alarms. You should learn to be patient, and to not draw attention to yourself by dumping hundreds of thousands worth of luxury fabrics into the mercer’s shops in a cattle town, and buying a mansion outright with cash.”

Tania puts her hand to her forehead and sighs.

“I think a well-educated, quick-learning young lady such yourself can dream up a thousand variations on these ideas,” he says. “In the meantime, I’ll drop by the Pan-Imperial in five days and say some Arghentians stopped here and then left. Your sister is offering a King’s Ransom for information leading to your apprehension. I’m not dumb enough to think that’s easy money without any risk. Still, I don’t want her people coming around and asking questions. No offense, Your Highness, but your clan has a reputation.”

“Perhaps his Lordship should wait until next year to don those new shirts,” Tania smirks.

“I was joking,” Ebrill says. “That stuff is way too gaudy for me. But Lady Tori Everard, the trophy wife of the Earl of Bambrick is going to look great in that stuff.”

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