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Purchase and exchange

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King Lune’s messenger birds can’t talk - that’s what makes them trustworthy. The scroll tied to the pigeon’s foot simply says Expect my envoy within the week.

Susan knows better than to expect Corin. Lune knows Corin could never drive a hard bargain, not if Susan fluttered her eyelashes at him or Peter got chummy with him over a tankard of dwarfish ale. Cor is more likely, or -

‘Your Majesty.’ Aravis sweeps down from the carriage and into just the right degree of curtsy - not the low obeisance of a young Tarkheena, but the controlled courtesy of a princess royal.

Marriage, and the duties which come with it, seem to agree with Aravis. She thinks before she speaks, drinks her wine slowly, and slips smoothly from gossip to business.

Susan would like to think I taught her that, but she’s not so sure. Maybe Aravis taught herself. Maybe she brought it with her - this hawk-eyed, shrewd discretion - out of Calormen, and never saw fit to show it until now.

Susan wants an exclusive contract on the shipping of Archen silver. Aravis wants -

‘A moment of your time, Susan?’ No honorific, no my lady, no your Majesty. Like one of the Maenads; like an old, old friend.

Aravis has red, red lips - red like wine, red like face-paint carefully applied before a feast. Aravis has dark, shrewd eyes, and she watches Susan with them. Not like a cat watches a mouse; not like a puppy watches a grown hound. She watches Susan like one diplomat watches another; like a friend watches a friend she has not seen in a year.

Aravis touches first her hand, then her cheek, then the fabric of her gown. Aravis touches her forehead to Susan’s, her lips to Susan’s lips, her hands to Susan’s waist. Susan breathes, and breathes, and still she feels airless; but Susan knows this, knows touching and breathing as well as she knows the dance around the negotiation table and the dance of the dryads in the woods by night.

‘This is about the trade arrangements,’ Susan says, and she pulls away only far enough to press her lips to the faint, fluttering pulse at Aravis’ neck.

‘That depends.’

‘On what?’

‘On whether you are motivated by seduction,’ Aravis says, threading one hand into Susan’s hair, ‘when it comes to bargaining on trade arrangements.’

‘And if I’m not?’ Susan draws back a little, sits a little straighter. Aravis casts her eyes down, lingering on the flushed skin exposed above Susan’s bodice. And she laughs, low and dark, before she places one hand flat against Susan’s ribs and pushes her gently until Susan is sprawled beneath her and Aravis’ hair is coming down from its pins all around them both.