“Do you think the little Hardbottle girl knows she’s being used as a distraction by her aunt and uncle?” Savarin Bowmorris was speaking to his associate and long-time friend, Richard Letchfield.
“Isula. Her name is Isula,” corrected Letchfeld gently. “Knowing Norris and Ellinore Hardbottle, I expect she’s been directed to flirt with those two, and told why. One thing I will say about the Hardbottles, they always play fair with their own. Admittedly I was just thinking how charming it is to see a young woman in this milieu flirting with someone she’s actually attracted to.”
“There is that,” agreed Bowmorris, “and she’s neither trying to play them off each other nor split them up.”
“It speaks well of her character that she’s not trying to get blood spilt over her,” Letchfeld nodded benevolently. “She is an heiress, after all. She could be playing every underfunded man in the Upper Ten Thousand if she wanted to.”
“If she wanted,” agreed Bowmorris. “Of course, as marrying her is going to be someone’s meal ticked for life, I don’t see why she shouldn’t have views on who it is she offers that ticket to.”
“The family might need her to marry to oblige them – her parents certainly did,” observed Letchfeld.
“The border families are a complicated little skein all to themselves, aren’t they?” Bowmorris glanced around the room and added, “Ellinore Hardbottle is being sweet to Under Secretary Yagsley, no surprise there given the whole border tax and licence issue, but the Taunton sisters are making cow eyes at Missilgrove from Mines – I wonder why?”
“If Mirabelle Taunton starts fanning her bosom at him, we should go rescue him,” commented Letchfeld, “but you have to wonder why Mines and not Customs and Borders when they’ve as much interest in the cross border trade as the Hardbottles. The Tauntons are closest kin with the Linnards over in Analusa and the Mesches in Rodenstein…. Wasn’t there news out of Rodenstein this morning? Some snippet on the Herald’s foreign page, just under some traveller’s letter about not being able to get brass buttons in Mecklenen?”
“Something about Karl-Maximilian going to Bad Greiszing to take the waters for his gout?” Bowmorris snapped his fingers. “Bad Greiszing is within sight of the Rodenstein-Mecklenen border; Mecklenen soldiers’ uniforms have brass buttons; and we’re the best source of iron and coal on this half of the continent. The Tauntons and their coterie think there’s going to be a war.”
It was Letchfeld’s turn to scan the room and his eyes narrowed. “There’s Philbert from the War Office. We should go chat, shouldn’t we?”
“A few observations between friends, yes.”