Rüktiv was livid. “That little bitch,” he growled as he stormed through the house, frightened slaves scattering as he came. Climbing the stairs to the family’s apartments, he began shouting even before he reached her room. “Trahmsi! TRAHMSI!” Takíza’s door was already shut, but Tábudh peeked out before quickly closing her own door. He heard the sound of the lock turning, and grinned savagely. She was learning.
Trahmsi’s door was half-open and she was sitting in a chair, reading. A wicker cage of jugánu worms sat on the table beside her, spilling an orange light onto the pages of her book. The room was sparsely furnished, with very little to show the personality of the jánah who lived there. Besides the small table and chair there was a neatly-made bed, a wardrobe, and a small chest. The floor was bare dark wood, well-worn and smooth, and the walls were a stark white, empty of all decoration. Rüktiv knew Trahmsi kept most of her belongings outside of the house, in boltholes around the city. All she had here were the necessities — a few sets of clothing, weapons, and other odds and ends. He wasn’t sure how many nights she slept here, but he was certain it wasn’t more than one or two a week. That she was here tonight was a lucky break for him.
Trahmsi calmly looked up from her book as he banged her door back against the wall, the handle leaving a mark on the wall’s smooth white surface. As usual, she was covered in moisture-resistant oiled wrappings, protection for herself and others who might brush up against her unawares. Her hood was thrown back, and she favored Rüktiv with a bland smile, her blue skin a marked contrast to her drab grey robes. “Yes, Rüktiv?” she said quietly, marking her place with a strip of suthra leather and setting the book on the table.
Rüktiv was so angry he could hardly get the words out. “What did you do with Haridasa?”
“Why do you care? He was no concern of yours.” She reached for her book again.
Rüktiv knocked the book out of her hand, sending it crashing against the wall. The jugánu worms stopped purring and their light flickered uncertainly. “I told you I wanted him alive! He could have been useful!”
“He was a piece of filth.” Trahmsi got up and murmured something soothing to the worms, stroking them lightly with a gloved hand. The orange light grew steadier. She retrieved her book, smoothing out the pages and tsking over the damage to the cover. “He couldn’t be trusted.”
“That was not your decision to make!” Rüktiv almost screamed, towering over the little frog. “I will not have you ruining my business dealings with your little games!”
Without looking at him, Trahmsi put the book back on the table, and casually began stripping off one of her gloves. “You’ve been hitting Takíza again.”
Rüktiv stopped in mid-shout. His eyes went to her hands, seemingly mesmerized as she worked each finger free before dropping the glove onto the book. She began on the second glove. When he finally answered her, his voice was quieter, and held a wary note. “What? Don’t be ridiculous. I never — “
“I saw the bruises,” Trahmsi interrupted, dropping the second glove on top of the first. She wiggled her fingers and sighed. “Ah, that’s better.” She took a step towards Rüktiv, who flinched away. “Did you think I wouldn’t find out?”
“She was getting too friendly with that damned peacock. Acting like a love-sick girl all over again. It’s disgusting,” Rüktiv sputtered, still watching Trahmsi as she flexed her hands, stretching the joints until they popped.
“She hasn’t seen him in ten years,” Trahmsi replied, taking another step. “What’s the matter, Rüktiv, are you afraid she’ll leave you, like Teénna? That would make you look bad, wouldn’t it? Can’t afford to lose two wives.” She grinned and looked up at him then, and Rüktiv backed away until he was pressed up against the wall of the room. Without taking her eyes off him, Trahmsi pushed the door closed with her foot. The house was very quiet.
“Look, Trahmsi,” Rüktiv said, spreading his arms in a gesture of surrender. “I just thought that if we kept Haridasa alive, at least for a while, we might be able to — “
“To get into the slave trade, yes.” Trahmsi interrupted him again. “It’s a profitable business, I admit. Especially if you don’t actually buy the slaves, but kidnap them instead. Like Mathur, for instance.” She put her head on one side and gave him a speculative look. “Was that your doing?”
“No! No, of course not! I would never dream of —”
Trahmsi’s eyes narrowed. “Of course. That’s it. You couldn’t leave her alone, could you? She got out and you just couldn’t let her be. That would mean she’d won.”
Rüktiv’s anger flared again. “What do you care? You never liked her anyway! You said you were glad she was gone!”
“Rüktiv, darling, there’s a vast difference between disliking someone and selling her son into slavery. Or are you too far gone to see that?” Trahmsi shook her head disbelievingly. “And here I thought you felt sorry for her and wanted to help. How stupid of me. Now that you’ve got your claws in her, she’ll do anything you ask out of gratitude.”
Rüktiv ground his teeth, trying to speak in a reasonable tone. “I thought we had an agreement. I stay out of your business, and you stay out of mine. I give you legitimacy and a name, you do the dirty work, and we both make money. It’s worked well so far.”
“Yes, well, that was before you decided to start dealing with my rivals. Do you know how much trouble Haridasa has given me over the past few years?”
Rüktiv couldn’t help himself. He smiled, a nasty smile that revealed far too many of his large yellow teeth. “I may have some idea.”
Trahmsi stared at him, her tongue flicking out in a way that Rüktiv knew meant she was upset. When she spoke, however, her voice was still calm. “Do tell.”
Rüktiv’s smile grew wider. “I’ve made quite a few friends you know nothing about. Some of them even more vicious than you.” He laughed at the frozen expression on her face. “And I know all about your little tea shop. Have a care, Trahmsi. You wouldn’t want anything to happen to your precious Sri, would you?”
He stopped abruptly. He had gone too far, and they both knew it. “Trahmsi, that was a joke, of course I didn’t mean —” Trahmsi interrupted him for the third and final time, her voice low and menacing. “You dare threaten Sri?” She took another step. “We are done, husband,” she snarled, her voice pure acid. “Our agreement is through.”
He aimed a kick at her and made a lunge for the door. She dodged it easily, then reached up and slapped him across the face, hard. He tried to scream but his facial muscles were instantly paralyzed, and it came out more like a moan. He doubted anyone could have heard it, and even if they did, no one would come. He had trained them too well.
As the poison spread, his legs seized up and he slid down the wall to the floor, ending up in a half-sitting position. It was an effort to breathe, and his felt his heart skip painfully. Trahmsi crouched in front of him, watching him with eyes grown cold. “That was for Takíza,” she said softly. “And this is for me.” She kissed him, almost tenderly, and his whole world turned blue.