Most of my work last night was on the upcoming Character Clinic. I’ve written up an introduction and two detailed posts so far, and I only stayed up until midnight to do it! Needless to say, no Dark & Early writing this morning.
So all I have to share with you are the corrections to yesterday’s snippet and a few more paragraphs continuing that scene. It’s still not finished, but closer. I’ll start where I made the first adjustment: when Sebastian Shah enters the room. I also tweaked why she’s angry/frustrated with her father’s doubts.
Because of his “expeditions” in the lower realms of the decks, he’d dressed simply. No wonder the steward ignored him. In simple brown breeches and outdated–timeless, Sebastian would claim with a sniff, not to mention modest–cutaway coat, he was dressed poorer than the dining room’s servants.
She rose from her chair, and immediately the steward’s attention whipped to her. She gave him a nod and pulled out the chair beside her. The man quickly brought her father over, but it was the daughter who seated him.
“May I bring you anything, Lady Shah?”
“I’d like a fresh pot of tea, please, Mr. Whitman. This one isn’t quite hot enough.”
“My apologies,” he bowed quickly and cleared the table. “More of the same?”
“Golden tipped assam, yes, and bring my father a cup, please.”
She barely bit back her laughter at the strangled look on Sebastian’s face. As soon as the steward left, he leaned closer and whispered, “Daughter, the expense!”
“It’s all part of the game, Father. I’m sure you have numerous notes from the middle deck about the possibility of Britannia going to war. Zijin won’t be satisfied with merely denying us trade in their ports; they’ll blockade the Colonies as well. If we lose Sidhu, we lose tea.”
“I know all this, Morghan,” he replied testily and slammed the datapad down onto the table so loudly that the lady several tables over flinched and glared in their direction. “That still doesn’t excuse wasting an entire pot of the most expensive tea in all the Empire, only to order another!”
She concentrated on keeping her face smooth and her hands steady, calm, and unclenched on the table, but she yearned for the privacy of their suite where she could raise her voice. Stars, this was his dream, his plan. She played the game for him. Either he had little understanding of the intricate play of society’s politics, which she knew to be patently untrue; or sadly, very little faith in her ability to pull this off.
She took several deep, slow breaths before explaining, softly and kindly, which was difficult with her jaws straining to bite back a curse. “Queen Majel’s favorite tea is golden tipped assam. The tea is on board as a tribute to her, although no one ever expects her to take a deep space voyage. Certainly, she’ll never take a trip to the Colonies in person. Think of the impression my desire to drink this tea makes. Mr. Whitman is spreading the news in the kitchen even as we speak. Immediately, it associates us with royalty, and Her Majesty’s Royal Family certainly doesn’t give a damn how much a bloody pot of tea will cost.”
Before her father could respond, the steward returned with a fresh pot of tea, bowing and scraping so low she knew her surmise was correct. If nothing else, she was firmly cemented as a Person of Importance in this man’s eyes, and so she managed an arrogant, albeit frosty, countenance.
As soon as they were alone once more, her father spoke so low she had to concentrate to hear him. “You chose this room deliberately. You knew the steward served this room. He’s the highest servant on board and answers only to the Captain, who will certainly hear of the wealthy strangers traveling to Londinium who drink the Queen’s own tea. The Captain will be invited to the Tower to meet the Queen, and so you’ve ensured she’ll hear of not only our arrival but also the manner in which we traveled. Well done, Daughter.”
The tension eased in her shoulders and her face thawed enough that gave him a quick flash of a smile. “I wager we’ll be dining at the Captain’s table tonight.”
Sebastian poured fresh cups and they sipped in companionable silence. They’d plotted this trip over countless pots of tea and numerous years. For most of her lifetime, he’d thought of nothing else but returning to his homeland and reclaiming his birthright. For her, he always claimed, but she had little interest in Society. She’d much rather have stayed in the Colonies and overseen the harvest. For all she knew, this tea could have been cultivated on Shaw land.
“Rather drastic measures to gain an introduction to the handsome ambassador, no?”
She arched a brow at her father’s knowing little smile. The Zijin ambassador had indeed caught her eye last night as he dined at the Captain’s table. How could he not? The other gentlemen on board were insipid sheep compared to him. Glorious in his scarlet tunic embroidered with a fantastic golden dragon, he’d commanded her interest despite his affable yet perfect manners. His clothing screamed royal hauteur, proclaiming dynasties of tradition that Britannia could only envy, at odds with the easy way in which he’d chatted with everyone he met.
Tian Zhong had a way of putting even suspicious, fearful strangers at ease. A most admirable trait in a diplomat who must coerce two equally arrogant and fierce Empires into averting full-scale war.
“I might as well enjoy one last fling before we’re cooped and caged by Londinium rules.”