First and foremost, it was a matter of getting Captain Soult’s attention. That, in and of itself, required some audacity. He was a notorious privateer operating under a Letter of Marque from the Duchy of Bataria-Longoria, and he had no time for the social whirl of Helarna. When he did make port in the Duchy, it was at the naval base in Basnief. The man didn’t even open letters postmarked from the capital, or so it was said. Fortunately, Her Serene Highness, the Grand Duchess’ castle had its own postmark because otherwise she would have to take drastic and even public measures to communicate with her most controversial agent.
Astancia didn’t have her Grace’s advantages in contacting the captain, so she moved herself to a boarding house in Basnief and wrote to him from there. Her mother might, at least theoretically, have had something to say about both the move and the letter but First Secretary Belifta ve Kesruel was touring the northern Marches, flirting elegantly with the Marchlords on her mistress’ behalf, and was completely unaware of her daughter’s actions. Astancia managed to slip out of Helarna and get all the way to Basnief without the company of her mother’s guard’s rear detail, but was aware that their absence couldn’t continue. She was glad to have gotten her letter mailed before the vaguely reproachful, felinoid soldiers arrived to take up their duty posts.
“Miss Astancia.” Nerouff, the oldest and most senior of the trio, shook his head sadly at her.
“I’m sorry to’ve put you to the trouble of following me,” Astancia said, “but I had to do something that wouldn’t work in Helarna. We both know I wouldn’t have been allowed to leave if I’d asked.”
“Your half-aunt and Marshal Renault both wish you to be safe,” Nerouff replied as his companions re-established her security perimeter. “I did appreciate your note of apology with this address. It saved us some work.”
“Not very much, I suspect,” Astancia said. “I’ve no skills worth talking about.”
“This is about your examination results, isn’t it?” Nerouff looked at her shrewdly.
“Yes.” Astancia saw no point in denying it. “In my circumstances, it’s traditional to consult with certain people. Captain Soult is one of those people to me, and he has made it notoriously difficult to contact him.”
“Hence – this,” Nerouff nodded.
“Exactly. He still might not come, but I can say that I gave it my best shot.” Astancia sighed. “I need to make decisions…soon.”
The reply to Astancia’s letter came in the middle of the night, with broken glass from shattered windows and cries of alarm from the rest of the boarding house. Her options became extremely limited when her door was smashed open by the scrum of Nerouff and another felinoid, fighting tooth and claw to rip out each other’s throat. That stopped only when a man filled the doorway and growled, “Enough Merow! You’ve mutually assured destruction there, marry him already.” The two felinoids stopped, her astride him, and looked appalled at each other. The man in the door turned to Astancia, “You wrote to me. Can you prove you’re who you claim to be?”
“I sent you a drop of blood.” It had been the only way she could prove her bona fides.
“But was it yours?”