This letter was in a sealed wrapper with the following text in both Ilaini and trade Iss-Peranian:
To Alysei Athal astin Velain, king of Valdyas, in Valdis. Into his own hands only.
If you can open the seals on this letter leaving it intact and in a state to be read, you are either King Athal and perfectly justified to do so, or you are a spy of much more ability than is fitting for spies and you would do well to report to the King so he can take you into his service. I think, however, that the latter case will not occur.
Great King of the North, the East, the West, and parts-soon-to-be-more of the South,
Athal, if I wrote in this letter all the titles they’re giving you it would take an elephant to carry it. Well, perhaps that’s a bit too much and I’ve been infected by Iss-Peranian magnification, but you are famous here, as you probably know all too well.
I’m not by far as bad a sailor as you are, and I found that I could raise a wind when the world wouldn’t, so the voyage was smooth and quick, except that we had to keep off a ship that looked like pirates but turned out to be Khas blown too far east. Or perhaps we’d been blown too far west, because we had to track back along the coast somewhat before I could be put ashore and join Beguyan and the army. They –or rather we– are well into Il Ayande now, not quite meeting any Khas yet but Beguyan’s scouts have come back with reports of trouble at the Jomhur border, so it will not be long. This may be my last communication for some time: it’s hard enough to find someone to take this to Albetire and get it on the fastest ship they can find. If the ship is as fast as mine –come to think of it it’s likely to be mine; it should be repaired by now. Though they haven’t got me this time to take care of the wind, so it may be slower– I estimate it will reach you around Midsummer.
Beguyan is some character; I see how you two ended up friends. I thought all Iss-Peranians were as affected and pretentious as that skeletal ox who came to fetch you, but the army is a completely different world. I rather like it– I’ll probably come back speaking the worst imaginable soldier-speak there is.
Some of the soldiers are yours, of course –Ayran Brun acting as Beguyan’s second, Rhyn with the regiment of Turenay– but Beguyan wants me in his own quarters, not with the Valdyan women soldiers. I’m his tame weather-mage, after all. His wife Mehili is delightful. He calls her “my flower in barren lands”, very poetic for him, but yes, she merits it. He doesn’t have any women soldiers himself, which is kind of silly, why waste almost half your possible force? There’s bound to be a surplus of women anyway because of all the ox-men, but then most bull-men have more than one wife –the general shows remarkable restraint in having only two– so they all end up in someone’s women’s quarters. As I said, a waste. I almost wish I’d taken Ayneth, but even if she hadn’t had to stay in Valdis and run the palace for you, Iss-Peranian men tend to fall for Valdyan women (pale skin! red hair!) and she might have ended up in a military commander’s women’s quarters, arranged by <spit!> dandar, witches, who are rife even around the army. I don’t know what I’d have done then. Fortunately the witches leave me mostly alone, they probably think that I’m Beguyan’s slave, a present to him from you, and you can imagine that I’m not doing anything to disabuse them of that.
Now I’m racking my brain as to which of the rumours floating around here to tell you. Mehili says that your spy network will take care of it, but I rather suspect that at the moment I am your spy network here, so I’ll be as comprehensive as I can.
One: you do know that Koll Konandé betrayed the alliance even before you turned your back? Beguyan could kick himself, he says, for not seeing it coming, but he was too busy getting the army ready and overlooked all the signals. Koll Konandé is the kind of man who won’t take second place to anyone, and especially not to a foreign upstart, and though he is not a military man he does want all the glory. Also, he wants the bits of Albetire back that appear to have allied themselves to the Crown of Valdyas (good work, by the way! Trade, too, I suppose, and taxes). He seems to have sent at least three high-placed agents to Valdis, but Mehili knows the names of only two, which suggests that the third is a man, because the other two are women.
- Konandé’s half-sister Koll Abatté. “A woman to watch out for”, Mehili says. She’s tiny, pretty, sugar won’t melt in her mouth, likely to masquerade as a clerk, a maid, or even a whore. She may already have come to Valdis with the Khandihan and received further instructions recently.
- Dimani ar-Rajul, tapestry-merchant on her way to Rizenay, repudiated wife of Koll Konandé’s cousin. This problem will solve itself, because she’s been given poison that will kill her before the year is done (which she doesn’t know). Mehili shakes her head and calls her ‘poor thing’– Dimani probably thinks she’s doing the right thing to get back into her husband’s and/or Konandé’s good graces.
We know very little about any lower-placed agents, except that they must exist. What Koll Konandé’s agents will be trying to do is to keep you from joining the alliance at Solay, so that he will be able to argue that Valdyas and its king are not to be depended on. I shall squash any effort to do that here the moment I get wind of it.
Two: the old Enshah’s youngest queen, who disappeared in the Albetire uprising, is rumoured to be in Valdyas. Either you abducted her or she stowed away on one of your ships, at least that’s what the dandar say. She’s reputed to be breathtakingly beautiful and the new Enshah desperately wants to marry her, but if she’s really escaped it’s probably a good thing that he can’t get at her. Privately, I think she was killed and they’re keeping it quiet in order to lay the blame for that on you as well. If she does turn up alive you’d better keep it quiet too, or you’ll have another set of Koll Konandé’s agents on your back.
Three, and probably of the most interest to you right now: the Khas are running out of reinforcements. There have been no fresh troops arriving at the western front for three or four moons. Either they have really come to the edge of their expansion, or they’re all holed up at Solay waiting for ships of the Alliance or whatever is left of it. Perhaps Reshan is really making a sizeable hole in them on the Plains.
I’m writing to Ayneth separately, but there’s nothing in her letter that I haven’t said to you, except the kind of things I’d never say to you. Also, there’s a letter for whoever is in charge of Lenay right now, but that’s all administrative stuff that clerks will relate to you if they think you may find it relevant.
If the rumour that Raisse is expecting again is true, Timoine’s blessing on her; and in any case, may the gods shower all of you with any blessings they see fit.