The next morning, Ardent gave Miro the farspeaker, in the form of a white gold ring. It created a surface at either two gestures, or if he said “farspeak” three times. Mercifully, she didn’t mention his mind-numbingly foolish behavior from the night before. She did insist on verifying that the channeling-caused fever had dissipated (it had).
After breakfast, they headed for the last cacao orchard. “I should probably get more new outfits for the party,” Ardent grumbled during the hike. “I suppose Court fashion won’t be the same as celebration fashion. Duty, but I wouldn’t put it past them to have made specialized attire depending on the kind of party.”
“That’s the case in Sun Etherium,” Miro allowed. “I admit, for all your friend’s certainty about Moon Court trends, I could not pick out a pattern when we were in the court. Everyone in Moon Etherium looks so wildly different, and to my outsider’s eye, the clothing is no more uniform than your shapes.”
“I know, right? I have never been able to figure out how anyone knows. I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole cartload of purported trends was nothing but one long-running prank. All the fashion-conscious folks just keep one another in on the loop to back the others up when they invent some absurd assertion about the current style.”
“How would that be different from how it works when it’s not a prank?” Miro asked.
At the farmhouse, the orchard-keeper was out, but his husband was happy to chat. During the ensuing conversation, their line of inquiry finally bore fruit: he mentioned the orchard had had the first new direct-sale customer in years. “Mostly we sell to the same chocolate-makers year after year, with the occasional cook thrown into the mix. But here recently – five-six days ago, actually – saw a new face. Sea Converses? No, that’s not it.”
“Ocean Discourse?” Ardent offered.
“Yes! That’s her. She a friend of yours?”
“Oh sugar, I’ve been gone so long I don’t know who my friends are any more.” Ardent laughed. “But names don’t change, and I lived here for two centuries. Pretty sure I’ve heard of everybody over the age of thirty. So she’s your new chocolate-maker?”
“You know, I’m not sure? She didn’t buy much, but funny thing was, she wanted whole pods. The cocoa’s in the seeds, you know, and we dry and bag those for all our customers. But Ocean Discourse insisted on fruit straight from the tree, not even opened. I offered to sell her the pulp along with bagged seeds, but no deal. Strange thing, but I don’t mind. Less work for us if she wants to separate and dry the seeds herself, right?”
Ardent agreed, and then let the conversation meander over other topics. Miro itched with impatience to find out more about this Ocean Discourse, but didn’t do anything to distract her.
When they finally took their leave and headed back to the city proper, Miro asked Ardent, “What do you know about Ocean Discourse, then?”
“Mmm. Not much. Usual shape’s human-like and female, with some random flourishes – animal ears, tail, scales, typical sort of thing. When I was here, she was a minor courtier – not High Court, no position, just one of the hangers-on. Wanted to be a big influential artist or something, I think. Not sure what she’s been up to since.” Ardent grinned mischievously. “Think I’ll ask her.”
“You’re not just going to farspeak her and ask what she wanted aethcacao fruit for, are you?”
“Maybe a whisker less direct. I’ll send out a general inquiry to a bunch of the cocoa-seed buyers, on the pretext that I’m thinking of establishing a new orchard and want to know what demand is like. We’ll see what she says.” When they reached the edge of the orchard, Ardent ported them back to her home and composed her messages.
While Ardent did that, and batted some replies back to her friends, Miro leafed through the copied book by Venodeveve to look for more tidbits on channeling. He rather wished he could farspeak to the Sun Etherium. It would be nice to see a familiar face. But the messages of farspeakers could not travel the scores of aether-empty miles between the Etheriums. I could send a message to my father, though. Not that he could reply. And anything I said to him, he’d have to share with Fallen if she asked. Hmm. Is there any disinformation I’d want him to relay? Before he’d decided on anything, a snort from Ardent at the other end of the table caught his attention. “Anything interesting?”
“Heard back from Ocean. Look at this.” She tossed a yellow messenger bird to him. The conjuration unrolled its message for him: “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I haven’t been to the cacao orchards, or bought any cacao pods. Who told you I had? What would I do with cacao pods? I’m sure I don’t know. Please let me know who’s spreading this bizarre rumor.”
Miro eyed it. “You did prompt the husband with the name. I suppose it’s possible we’ve the wrong subject.”
“True. She’s awfully defensive about where she hasn’t been, though. Let’s see, how can we get Fallen into this conversation? Gazing Into Music used to be one of her confederates. I suppose he probably still is, although it’s been a dozen years since I was current on court politics…”
Miro cast his mind back to the high court, and the web of strings Fallen had held. In his mind’s eye, he followed the thickest strings, looked for the fey to whom they were connected. “Do you remember that mirrored fey at court? The one with faceted silver skin and wings of disconnected shards of glass?”
“Mmm? Yeah, that’s Memory of Nightfall. Why do you ask?”
“I think they’re connected. Something about the way he and Fallen stood in relation to each other. I’d bet he’s an ally, if not a minion.”
“Huh. You think so? Well, let’s take a stab in the dark and see if anything bleeds.” She composed a message on the farspeaker, and read it aloud to him before sending. “How’s this? ‘My new pet overheard it from Memory of Nightfall, but you know Sun Host: they’re terrible with proper names. Don’t suppose you know someone else with a name like yours, that it might’ve been?’”
Miro smiled. “By all means, my lady, fault me.”
Ardent dispatched the messenger, and returned to one of her other conversations. Whoever sent will-o-wisps must’ve been a good friend: she got a lot of messages that way.
A minute later, another yellow bird flew down the stairwell. Ardent laughed as she reviewed it, and read aloud, “‘I’m sure I don’t know who you are talking about. Why would Memory of Nightfall be talking about me? Why is your servant spying on us? You should rein him in.’ And she’s got a little glamour of me choking you with the leash. How cute. ‘Before someone else does’.” Ardent scowled. “Yeah, I don’t think so, Ocean.” She crinkled her nose and sent a reply. Which hung in the air instead of leaving. “And Ocean’s rejecting messages from me now. Well, clearly we’ve got a live one here. Let’s see what else we can dig up on her.” She sent another few messages. A few moments later, a new message came. It unfolded before her eyes as a tapestry, then unraveled into threads that dissolved before they touched the ground. Ardent stood. “Hah! Been waiting since yesterday for Play to have some free time. C’mere, sugar. Looks like we’re gonna visit an old friend.”
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