“Who was the old man to you?”
The voice that spoke to Gajha through the smoke-choked room grated on her nerves, though she knew she should try to be polite. She pretended not to hear the question.
“May I at least join you at your pipe if you think my question impolitic? You will now be ruler of Gong-luk, not just regent, and perhaps I fail to show you the proper respect.”
Gajha watched the swirling smoke part to reveal a middle-aged woman with silky black hair braided in a style popular among the aristocracy, a style that Gajha personally detested. The tiny, tinkling bells woven into them set her teeth on edge even more than this woman’s conversation. The figure emerging from the smoke carried herself regally in pink satin and wore the symbol of Zhing-piao, a snake pendant, at her throat.
“Really, Sato,” Gajha said, the smoke making her speech slow and lazy, masking her annoyance at Oko’s newest concubine, “is it that important we smoke together? It isn’t customary in your province anyway, and it’s unbecoming of royalty.” Gajha let the silence comment on her own social standing. “Zennis’ death may have put the power of Gong-luk into my hands, but I know all too well I’ve got a fight on my hands to keep it. Perhaps I may be impolitic and ask you a question of my own?”
Sato only pursed her lips together.
“Tell me, are you getting along well with the Emperor’s other concubine, Lady Shalice? Rumor had it he’d never take another.”
Gajha dropped the pipe’s mouthpiece onto the couch for a moment as she stood up, smoothing the folds of her black floral silk dress.
“Rumor has it he would take you as a political bride even now to join our provinces,” Sato said coolly.
Gajha tried, and failed, to hide her distaste at the suggestion.
“Oko knows I would never agree,” she said disdainfully.
“Of course, regent,” Sato said, mocking, “your beloved Nien is the only husband you will accept, and your stubbornness will lose you the crown.”
“Get out,” Gajha said, keeping her voice calm and distant. “If you and the court of Zhing-piao wish to pay Zennis your respects, the public funeral will be held in two days’ time in the amphitheater on the outskirts of the capital. Your court may remain in the city no longer than four days hence, or else you will be escorted out.”
“Are you expelling our ambassadors as well in that case?” Sato asked.
“I will do what I will do,” Gajha said.
The elevator on the platform behind her appeared stealthily, and the thick figure of Nien waded through the fruit-scented smoke. Gajha sighed in relief when she saw him. Sato turned and smiled tightly.
“I must go. We will come to the funeral in two days’ time and abide by your wishes,” Sato said.
Sato walked through the smoke to the elevator platform that moved between floors so quickly that the rider felt no movement at all. Moments later, she was gone. Nien came over to Gajha and gently put his arm around her.
“You’re shaking,” he said in surprise. “What did that viper want?”
“I may have made a big mistake, Nien,” Gajha said softly. “Send one of the guards to summon our ambassadors from Zhing-piao.”
Excerpted from "The Regent and The Courtier (The Vulpecula Cycle Book 2)" by Wendelin Gray. Copyright © 2014 by Wendelin Gray. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.