Wisteria was in her office at Vasilver Manor, examining inventors’ reports and funding requests. The work engrossed her enough to drive thoughts of Anverlee and the Strikers from her mind. She held a whistle in one hand and was studying a report on it when her brother poked his head through the half-open door. “Teeri? Ah, there you are.” He let himself in, flopping onto the couch. “How’d the Big Meeting go?”
She considered the question without looking up from the paper. “Better than our original negotiations with the Kyr in Southern Vandu.”
“Oh, good. So they’re not going to exile us from the country or take any relations hostage? Top concern of mine.”
“I believe you may rest easy on those counts, yes.”
“Superb. So…a lot better, or a little better?” Her brother rose, hands stuffed in his pockets, and paced. He looked a lot like her, a long-limbed body and a long face, with their father’s Haventure-curly hair and their mother’s darker Newlanture complexion.
“Only a little better. Father thinks it was a disaster.”
“And what do you think it was?”
“How would I know?”
“Seriously, Teeri. You’ve excellent judgement and you know it.”
“Not when it comes to judging emotional reactions. And you know that, Byron.”
Byron stopped pacing and put his hands on her desk. He leaned over it, watching her and waiting. At length, Wisteria set the paper and whistle down and leaned back. “I mortally offended Lady Striker and Lord Striker. Lord Nikola asked to call again. I don’t know if he was serious.”
“Mph. Hope he wasn’t.”
“Your lack-of-support is noted.”
“Father and Mother can be eager to see you wed if they like, but don’t see why I’d want to lose my sister and my company’s best analyst to some ignorant penurious titled twit.” Byron fell into a chair before her massive U-shaped desk and extended one long arm to toy idly with the items atop its return.
“The idea is to gain a brother, not lose a sister. I want to get married, Byron. Not die. And Anverlee is cash-strapped, not penurious. They have considerable wealth in illiquid assets.”
“‘Illiquid’ is just a fancy word for ‘worthless’.” His fingers played over the whistle Wisteria had been examining earlier.
Wisteria tilted her head at him. “Do you doubt my analysis now?”
He made a face at her. “No. Just…grumpy.” He hesitated for a long moment, then added, “Am I allowed to be both insulted that they rejected my beautiful brilliant sister and also relieved you won’t be going anywhere?”
“‘Allowed’? Can anyone stop you?” Wisteria asked, amused.
Byron laughed. “Doubt it.” He turned the whistle over in his hand. “Didn’t have your heart set on this lordling, did you?”
“Of course not. I’d never even been introduced to him before.” All right, so he was tall and lithe and strikingly handsome and took my breath away. That was not ‘having my heart set on him’. I may not be an expert on the subject – more of an unwilling amateur – but I am pretty sure that is engaging another part of my anatomy entirely. Wisteria had done due diligence on both Anverlee and Lord Nikola before suggesting the idea to her father, and had proposed it on the strength of the business alliance. It was a good match; some of Anverlee’s cash problems were the result of shockingly bad money management – the sort that Wisteria could remedy given the opportunity – and Vasilver Trading could make good use of Anverlee and Fireholt’s tangible assets. It wasn’t about Lord Nikola himself. Not…not truly.
Maybe a little. Lord Nikola had an interesting reputation: one part typical lordly dilettante, regarded as a flirt and something of a rake in society. Yet he also held the rarest Blessing: the ability to cure disorders of the mind. More than that, by all accounts he was a scrupulous servant of the Code; he treated to the best of his ability any who asked, and accepted in return any gift they offered, however humble. That was the sort of thing one often heard about the Blessed – ‘How generous they are! How noble!’ – and Wisteria had not given it much credence at first. But further investigation substantiated the claim. There were four Newlant residents whose Blessing treated mental disorders. No Blessing was perfect: there were always people who did not respond to treatment, no matter who the Blessed was. But among the other three mind-healers, Wisteria estimated that they helped between a quarter and half of those who sought treatment.
Lord Nikola succored between three-quarters and four-fifths.
The difference in initial reports was so stark Wisteria had found different individuals to study the subjects and sent them back to take additional samples on different days. It didn’t even reflect the fact that Lord Nikola – by his own command! – saw every newborn in Fireholt, in case they had some defect that might be easier to remedy if caught early. He spent more time with his petitioners, too: the typical treatment time was under a minute for the others with the same Blessing. For Lord Nikola, it was closer to eight minutes. Of course, there were other factors involved – in isolated Fireholt and even in Anverlee, fewer people made the trip to see him than did to, say, the much more populous Gracehaven or Hollinshaven. But even with fewer petitioners, he helped more people total, and spent far more time at it. Wisteria could not tell, of course, if it was that his Blessing was more potent than others, or if he was more skilled, or if others were less inclined to help those of poor means. The estimated value of the gifts received suggested the last was a factor, but Wisteria felt her data on the value of gifts was unreliable. It was a fascinating puzzle, one she wished she could justify more research into.
Of course, being a good mind-healer did not mean he’d make a good husband, or anything like it. His status as a dilettante and flirt said more negative about how he would treat a wife than his use of his Blessing said at all. And yet… Be honest. Had you only wanted a business alliance, you would have proposed that, not engagement. You want more than a household of your own and children to raise. You want a handsome man who’d make love to you, who would sate all those desires you are not supposed to have much less talk about. And you hoped this one would be desperate enough to take you. Well, he’s not. Put it out of your head.
Belatedly, Wisteria realized that she’d ignored her brother’s reply – something to the effect of ‘That’s good’. “Still with me, sis?” he asked now, before he put the whistle to his mouth and blew on it to get her attention. It made no apparent noise apart from the faint sound of his breath. Puzzled, he tried again, with the same result. He shook the item, then peered into it. “Say, what is this?”
“A new kind of whistle. One of our inventors, Mr. Bandersmith, has been working on it.”
“Well, tell him to keep working. Don’t think he’s got the hang of it yet.” Byron blew again, to no evident effect. “What’s it supposed to do?”
“Make a sound that humans can’t hear.”
“A silent whistle! Why, the applications are obvious. Why has no one thought of this before?” Byron laughed and blew it again. “You didn’t deliberately fund development on a whistle that makes no noise, did you?”
A greatcat with grey-tiger coloration and ears flat against her scalp slipped her head into the room. “Miss? Sir? Did you just hear that?”
“No,” Wisteria said to Byron. “It makes a noise. That we can’t hear.” She leaned forward to pluck the whistle from his hand. “Did you mean this, Sally?” Wisteria demonstrated it.
Sally winced, squirming through the door with her tail lashing. “Yes! Saints help us, are you making that awful sound on purpose?”
Wisteria stopped. “Is it very bad?”
“Hideous. I came in from the felishome to see what was causing it. The others were hoping it would stop on its own. You really can’t hear it?”
“Not at all.”
Wisteria looked down at the whistle. “Mr. Bandersmith said it had considerable range. He suggested it be employed to notify greatcat servants when their services were required.”
The black-and-gray greatcat’s ears remained flat. “Can I notify you how I feel about that by sharpening my claws on a chalkboard?”
“It’s truly so unpleasant?”
“If it’s staying, I’m going,” Sally said.
“I expect I’ll tell him it doesn’t appear ready for mass distribution yet.”
“Thank you, Miss Vasilver.” With a slight bow, the greatcat withdrew.
“Guess the applications are obvious.” Byron rubbed the back of his neck.
“Yes. Pity the target market hates it.” Wisteria dropped the whistle and its attendant papers back into a large envelope. She’d confirm Sally’s opinion of it with the other greatcats on staff later.
“Technically, the market’s human employers, not greatcats.”
“Do you know, I was talking about this very subject earlier today?”
“What, silent whistles?”
“No. About how important it is for the long-term health of a business that its transactions benefit all involved parties.”
Byron held up his hands. “All right, all right, I yield. Send him back to his drafting table.”
Wisteria pulled the next report from its package. “Did you come for any particular purpose, Byron? Because if you’re just bored, I’m sure I can find some work for you.”
“No, no, quite enough on my desk already, thank you. Just wanted to see how you were doing.”
“I am well, thank you. But…”
Byron paused, half-risen from his chair. “Yes?”
“If Mother or David or Mitchell wants to know how the meeting went, would you discourage them from asking me?”
He answered with a nod, then took his leave.