“Rosalita! Come quickly! The round ships are coming back! You must see!”
Your concentration this morning was disturbed by the sound of your excitable 19 year old sister breathlessly running across the marbled floor of your study as you gazed thoughtfully at the common copper tarsk coin in your hand. It had been delivered to your house in Telnus this morning and handed to you silently without any explanation, for it needed none. It was the cryptic method of communication between you and the Kur agent in Telnus, the beautiful Lady Isabel Clara Saffini. As you turned the coin over in your hands, your fingers found the tell tale indentation on the rim of the coin. If you considered the coin to be a clock face as you looked at the engraving of noble Lurius of Jad (looking rather slimmer than he actually is, you couldn't help but notice – there was no sign of his jowls underneath his fat chin for example), then the position of the notch would indicate a time – the tenth ahn of the day, corresponding to noon. This would then be the time that a palanquin would arrive to quietly convey you to whichever rendezvous spot the Lady Isabel had chosen in order to speak with you. No doubt she had news or perhaps work for you to do.
You had slept badly last night, as you did from time to time. At some late hour you had risen from your couch and paced through the house to the courtyard verandah where you had sat in the moonlight away from the soft lanterns, with a glass of ta-wine in your hand. You had belted a long flowing gown about your body and wound a light veil across the lower half of your face as you made your way to the cloistered garden space. Your courtyard garden is secluded and far from prying eyes, but force of habit made you garb yourself modestly before stepping out. It was then that you had heard it – the creaking of oars and the subdued voices of men from the rocks far below. It would be Barras and his men, rowing quietly to the cave mouth entrance at the base of the cliff on which your house was built. Barras had not been here for several weeks, but now whatever business he had with the dark tunnel complex that ran through the cliff side, it had brought him back once again. Whatever it was he did, it paid you a silver tarsk each month, money that came in useful, for your other income was 5 silver tarsks each month from your father's business – a good sum, but not nearly enough to live on as ambitiously as you might like. One silver you passed on to your sister as an allowance and another three maintained your house, your expenses and your reasonable social life, but you dreamed of more.
“Rosalita! Please... please!” Your sister is very eager that you join her on the courtyard veranda that overlooks the harbour entrance. Your house is built high up on a reinforced cliff side with a spectacular view of the sparkling blue/green Thassa below.
“Where is your house veil?” you say to your sister as you can see that once again she hasn't bothered to dress herself with the light, semi-transparent house veil that custom and fashion in Cos dictates.
“There's no one here today,” said Rosanna, practically pouting. She forgets she is only nineteen – still too young to be stabilised, and until she makes her journey of pilgrimage to the Sardar mountains – that pilgrimage you made when you were twenty one – she will still be considered a girl by everyone who matters. The pilgrimage to the Sardar is a rite of passage that every Gorean must make before their twenty fifth birthday, but it is one that has its share of danger. You remember how scared you were when you yourself set off with other pilgrims heading out into lands unknown on the mainland. One day soon Rosanna would have to make the same journey to prove herself before the Priest Kings, or else bring shame and misfortune to her city.
“How do you know that? How do you know I didn't receive an unexpected visitor maybe ten ehn ago? Imagine if he saw your unveiled face! What would he think? Shameful. Veil yourself. Now,” you say to her.
Rosanna does as you say, hastily pinning the light veil to her features and then she takes your hand and hurries you outside onto the courtyard veranda overlooking the harbour.
“There! Do you see them? Do you? They're coming back! Safe!”
You see three medium size round ships flying the banners of Cos and the house banners of House Saffini. Three such ships sailed out of the harbour two months ago, and now all three have returned.
“Oh, he's going to be on the fore deck of the lead vessel, I just know he is!” You watch as your excited sister picks up a spy glass of the builders and puts it to her right eye so she can scan the deck of the ship and see in detail who is there. “I see him! It's Dante! He looks so handsome in his tunic of caste colours.”
You smile softly, knowing your little sister has a more than passing infatuation with the son of your patron. He is also the brother of Isabel of course.
“He's low caste,” you remind Rosanna again.
“I don't care! He's a merchant. Merchants are always wealthy.”
“But low caste,” you say again, teasing her. As she watches the ship sail past, you gaze again at the etching on the rim of the coin. A summons like this always meant Kur business. But what would it be this time?
“Rosalita, when are you going to formally introduce me to him?” begged Rosanna. “He doesn't even know I exist!”
“Yes he does. He met you when you were 14.”
“14 doesn't count! I was just a child.”
“Yes, and that's probably how he remembers you.” The look on her face now is priceless.
But you have things to do today. There is still time to prepare and arrange any matters before the palanquin arrives.