“It seems that this whole politics thing, I’m not as good at it as I thought.” — Carenza Vega
While the others meet with the Tyliel, Ettorio takes the ledger and meets with Captain Quincerra of the Copperbank and Silverbank districts. Quincerra is a no-nonsense woman who is initially suspicious, but allows herself to be persuaded to meet with the Iluni in private. Ettorio explains the story of the ledger with surprising honesty, including Velistir’s implication. Though the captain is unable to act on the ledger alone (given that it could be a forgery), she accepts it as likely real, and agrees to keep vigilant and investigate further.
When Ettorio returns to the Bridesmaid’s Tear, Carpa delivers the message that Carenza had left for him. The explanation of Bravadi Rovino’s imagined conspiracy baffles Ettorio, particularly the implication that Carenza has fostered her own intrigues. The further explanation of the ramifications — the alliances, the riots, the assassination plots — makes things worse. Ettorio hands Carpa a pouch full of reganti and sends him downstairs with orders to bring up all the alcohol the Tear has. Though Ettorio does not have the finances to achieve this purchase literally, he manages to fund an afternoon of impressive intoxication.
The next morning Carenza and Vesper meet with the hung-over Iluni in the Bridesmaid’s Tear. Their first topic is clarifications of Carenza’s exploits. Their second is Vesper’s proposal — that they go to Prince Bellostia to invoke her assistance. Risky as it may be, an audience with the Prince (if her vanity is properly placated) may be what it takes to remove Bravadi from power and let the House pass to a more temperate master, perhaps Rasselo or Bessari. Vesper recommends Ettorio and Carenza for the task, stressing that they be careful in dealing with the Prince, and not to mention the apples at all. Ettorio recommends that Vesper to remain behind, as he hasn’t implicated her as one of her friends yet.
On the way out, Ettorio is hailed by the smiling actor that had been present in his meeting with the Black Veils. The comedian explains privately that they couldn’t help overhearing the word “assassin” in the conversation, which alarms them in the Tear. Ettorio responds with the news that the Rovino have apparently hired assassins to go against the Tyliel. With some concern, the comedian speaks briefly of the struggle between black and red, and the danger that Bravadi is unleashing the Red Tithe. With those words of warning, he leaves Ettorio, and the Iluni goes to make arrangements for admittance to the Prince’s court.
Bellostia’s court is in a section of Grandspires, the palatial tower complex in Diadem. Vesper joins the various spectators in the gallery above; Ettorio and Carenza await their turn. Bellostia is in full ostentation during the audience, wearing an elaborate dress with leonine manes and leopardskin sashes vying with one another. Her octet of lizardman guards are more conservatively dressed, but competitively intimidating. The casually alert Captain Velistir and the pyromancer Grollofieri round out the Prince’s court. After dispensing with a Pulsciri/Avicca dispute, she calls Ettorio and Carenza forward.
Ettorio inspires no small amount of gossip in the gallery as he begins to speak his piece. He explains that one of the local House heads has become paranoid and is about to spark a civil war within the city, and that for the good of all Houses he cannot mention the one in question in public. Carenza steps forward to offer herself as a witness. Though this claim causes a stir, Bellostia agrees to the conceit, and moves to a private audience in an atrium where their conversation is muffled by falling water and exotic birds.
In their private audience, Ettorio and Carenza take the tack of utter sincerity. They explain the severity of Bravadi’s paranoia and the extent to which he may strike at other Houses. Both point out that they risk much bringing this to the Prince, but neither wants to see lives lost over a perceived slight of honor. Carenza asks that the Rovino be allowed to settle this internally, rather than having it be settled with war or arrests. Bellostia weighs their words, then turns to her favored Captain for advice.
Velistir acts with catlike cruel amusement, questioning the characters’ motivation to lie and wondering if there might not be something to the thought of the conspiracy. They retaliate by emphasizing how much they risk. Carenza is particularly incensed as she stares down the Captain, unwilling to let him casually question her loyalty to her blood. Ettorio, on the other hand, smiles back at Velistir with the malice-free affability peculiar to a man who has already commissioned his rival’s death and now has only to wait.
Their sincerity is enough: Bellostia declares that she believes them, and will take action. She gives orders to Velistir to see that the guards keep the Rovino from causing trouble on the streets, and declares she will give the Rovino enough time to settle things within their tower. They move back to her court, where her major-domo Orenti announces that the Prince has agreed to act on these charges, but that the House in question will be spared from public shame.
This causes a great stir in the balcony, and several gossips and messengers leave quickly. Vesper notes one man in particular with a serious bent, a weathered sailor by appearance. She tails him quietly to the bridge to the Stiletto, where she witnesses him moving around the fortress to the midpoint of the island. Her next step is to drop by the Ferrareganti smithy, warning them that the Rovino may yet stir up some trouble.
Ettorio visits his father at Eveningstones. He confides what he can of the troubles, and stresses that he’s done what he can to make it easy for the family to disavow or disown him should his actions imperil them. His father is very understanding, even proud. He agrees to intercede with Lapetra on Ettorio’s behalf, and notes that although the family would still like him to marry well (even if it’s not to the young Sepsech that Lapetra has become impressed with), there is still plenty of time yet.
Carenza returns to the Rovino tower to speak with Rasselo. The disgruntled young Rovino is already drinking, but she sobers him up quickly as she explains the trouble with Bravadi’s plots, and that Bellostia is now becoming involved. Rasselo in turn shares that his father has been eaten up ever since the death of Rasselo’s older brother, the favored heir who tried to fight an unfair duel and was slain by a Vargari. This feigned conspiracy now seems to justify Bravadi’s resentment, and has given him an excuse to lash out at the people he felt had “beaten” him. Unfortunately, Bravadi will listen to few people — those still living being Scorpis and Morsca Bane, neither of whom will give him peaceful counsel. Rasselo becomes more and more agitated at the situation, and finally says he will try to deal with his father. But first, he needs to talk to Quinta.
Carenza’s next move is to talk to Bessari. But she gets only partway through the explanation before she hears Rasselo’s shout of “Fire and lightning, Quinta!” from the halls. Rasello storms past, then notices Carenza and elaborates. Last night Bravadi received a letter from the Tyliel, essentially saying “We have foreseen what you have planned; do not proceed down this path.” Caught in the act but unwilling to give up the chance to spill his enemies’ blood, Bravadi gave orders to Quinta — redirect the assassins from the Tyliel to his oldest, most hated rivals. “They’re striking at the Vargari tonight!”