Kara, who had once been El-Zora Ka'al Kara, held the envelope carefully. Paper was a rare commodity on Byshen. Those who were not of House birth saw it once in their lives if they were fortunate. But the families of the seven Houses held paper in their hands on three occasions. Once when a marriage was announced. Once when a birth was announced. And once when an invitation of shthor was extended. Kara knew there had been no impending marriages or births in House De'enth. This envelope then meant House Daughter De'enth Us'guin Ilith had received an invitation of shthor. And there was only one House actively seeking compatible bloodlines in a mate for its heir.
Kara slowly turned the envelope over. The affixed seal was the one she had expected and dreaded – a winged man towering over his defeated enemies, a flaming sword in his hand. House L'u-cif-er, the oldest and most powerful of the Seven Houses.
"Kara was that a messenger just now?" De'enth Us'guin Debor, Ladye of House De'enth entered Kara's accounts room. Other heads of House might leave House business to dsks like Kara, but Debor was involved in every aspect of House affairs. Still, her burdens sat lightly on her face. Though she had borne four living and two stillborn children, Debor retained an appearance of fresh fragility. Kara felt herself to be a lumbering giant in her employer's presence, though she was of medium height and build.
"Has Quinere deigned to send the estimates for the propulsion system?" A slight sneer twisted Debor's lips and there was an acidic tone to her words. House De'enth might have controlling interest in the space merchant fleet, but even they could not control the un-Housed engineers and technicians who served them. Much to Head of Houses' displeasure. "If she were not the best---," Debor's words trailed off as she noticed the envelope in Kara's hands. "What House has honored De'enth?" she said, slipping into House formal, though she already knew what the answer had to be.
Without a word Kara handed her the envelope, seal facing upward. A quick, indrawn breath was Debor's only response. Even after scanning the contents, she said only, "Have Ilith sent to my rooms when she returns from her classes."
Kara lowered her head in silent assent, as her employer swept from the room.
She found it almost impossible to concentrate on her work that afternoon. Finally, when she had added the same column of figures five times and come up with a different total each time, she pushed the accounts aside and stepped outside in the House garden.
Byshen's eco-system was a harsh and narrow. Its settlers had fit themselves in to the available niches and survived, even thrived, but it was a world suited to grains and roots, not trees and flowers. As a result, its gardens were usually of rock and stone, as austere and unyielding and lasting as its people.
At the center of House De'enth's garden was a flat, eleven circuit labyrinth. Each path led to the center and back again to the rim. Kara walked the familiar paths, seeking to soothe her troubled thoughts.
When she had been El-Zora Ka'al Kara she had received an invitation of shthor from House L'u-cif-er.