“Maintaining all this takes effort,” said Aunt Honoria, “despite what other people think and say.” They were sitting in a withdrawing room with furnishings worth a small fortune, or the ransom of a minor prince.
“What sort of effort?” Isula was suspicious that this was going to be a conversation where she would be told that she would have to do something she really didn’t want to – like being friends with Cordelia Lymons-Bell in primary school. To be fair, that had turned out well – if she hadn’t been around then Cordelia and her little brother would be dead, and now Cordelia really was her friend.
“We owe our income to owning land on both sides of the Turanian-Analusan border,” said Aunt Honoria. “That entitles us to a license to transport goods across the border in both directions at a reduced tax rate. The Turanian government is making noises about increasing our import/export tax rate, or charging us for our licenses, or both.” She paused and Isula looked at her expectantly. “Your Uncle Horngate is looking after the Analusan side of things. We have to charm the Turanian officials into acting in our favour.”
“Who is ‘we’ and how do ‘we’ do this?” Isula thought it best to come to the point.
“You and I flirt with various gentlemen in the Customs and Border apparatus,” said Aunt Honoria, “while your Uncle Hardbottle cultivates his contacts and acquaintances among the King’s and the Chancellor’s advisers.”
Isula objected, “How do I know which gentlemen to…approach?”
“We have a list,” replied her Aunt calmly, “and we’ll at least be starting out together, so I can point them out to you.”
That evening, at the Pump Room Assembly, Aunt Honoria gestured with her fan to point through the crowd. “Those two together: the white-blond in blues; and the swarthy thug in brown and gold.”
Isula looked and drew a deep breath. “Well, aren’t they gorgeous. Can I keep them later?”
Her aunt laughed, “Both? Maybe.”