The door opened and their escort invited them into the room with a sweep of her hand.
Deirdre stepped through. Despite the large window, gloom pooled in the corners and snuck across soft rug. A single table stood in the middle of the room, lit by soft yellow light of a cluster lamp. Two chairs flanked the table. In a far chair sat a Reigh. Lean. Dressed in black like all of them. Black hair, cut short. He sat just outside the circle of light, and shadows masked his face. What a cheap trick.
The escort moved forward, silent like a shadow, and held the second chair out for her. Here we go. Her knees trembled. This is so stupid. Why am I scared?
She forced herself to walk across the carpet. Timur followed. The Reigh gave him a flat stare and the chief of security halted a few feet away. Deirdre sat.
“Lord Nagrad, I presume.” Her voice sounded almost normal.
The Reigh inclined his head. She could see him now. He had a hard face, not handsome but not unpleasant. Square jaw, strong nose. The same sharp intelligence she saw in his father’s eyes showed full force in his. How old is he? Thirty?
“Deirdre Lebed. I know.”
The sound of his voice almost made her jump. She looked past him, trying to collect herself, and saw four shadows in the depth of the room. Bodyguards.
Take away the initiative. Right. “Would you mind if I asked you a question?”
“Please, feel free.”
“Why choose a foreign wife? One who is unfamiliar with the traditions and culture? Why not just take the monetary restitution?”
He braided the fingers of his hands into a single fist. “To accept a bribe for the loss of life is forbidden by the doctrine. Besides, a woman from outside the Reigh has several advantages. The man is the trunk of a family, but the woman is its root. In our society, men own the children and the means of war. Everything else is owned by the woman. And too often a woman’s first loyalty is to her mother instead of her husband. It tends to make matters complicated. A woman of the foreign blood has no one to turn to. She would exist solely at the mercy of her husband.”
Fantastic. This conversation was going a long way to allay her concerns about becoming a bride.
“And,” the Reigh Lord permitted himself a small smile. “Our traditions are rather binding. There are certain things a man could ask of foreign woman that would be considered unclean by the women of the Reigh.”
“What kind of things?”
“Things of sexual nature. Do you consider yourself open-minded in those matters, Lady Deirdre? Would you do all those things at my request?”
If he was willing to walk down the road, it was perfectly fine with her. With Reigh being as rigid as they were, it was likely he’d bail first. Deirdre arched her eyebrows. “Very few women within the Empire do all things, Lord Nagrad. I cannot confirm what I may or may not do without knowing what you have in mind. Would you be more specific?”
She smiled and waited for him to back off.
“Would you suck my cock?” he asked.
She stared at him for a long moment, trying to make sure she didn’t mishear. Behind her someone made a strangled noise.
The Reigh Lord waited for her answer. His face was perfectly solemn.
“Well.” She cleared her throat, desperately hoping she didn’t blush. “I suppose that could be hrhm arranged under certain circumstances. Is there any other requests you would like to make?”
He raised his hand. One of the shadows detached itself from the gloom and brought a platter with a thin pseudo-paper magazine. She hadn’t seen pseudo-paper since her days at Altair museums during her graduate on the Colonial Journalism.
Nagrad took the magazine off the platter and put it on the table. The digital photograph on the cover left no doubt as to what kind of a publication it was. He flipped the pages and pushed the magazine toward her. “Would you do this?”
He flipped another page. “This one?”
She felt the blush creeping onto her cheeks. “Yes.”
“What about this one?”
She squinted, trying to make sense of the naked shapes. “Is that even possible? Wouldn’t you have to have low G for this?”
“Or a very strong woman.”
“I’m not sure I’m that strong.”
“I suppose we could arrange a shuttle trip than,” he offered.
“No, thank you. Thirty billion is an outrageously large sum.”
“You think so? Considering the scale of the injury, I believe it’s just right.” He flipped the page. “How about this one?”
Robert’s face was incredulous. “You didn’t drop him at all? Not even by half a bil? Oh Hermes, a child could’ve done better.”
Deirdre threw the recorder onto the table. Nagrad’s face, frozen on the screen, mocked her with grey eyes. “What do you want from me, Robert? Every time I tried to bring up the money, he would show me more p**n . The man asked me if I would suck his cock! How do you counter that?”
A soft voice interrupted, “By saying, ‘That would depend on the size of your instrument, my lord. Would you care to take off your pants so I can determine if it would be a good fit?’”
Robert bent in a half, “My lord.”
She turned to see an older man in soft green tunic. He gave her a light smile, as if he was too polite to laugh at his own off-color joke.
“Holy crap, the Duke of Rodkil.” Fatima’s heels clicked together.
Deirdre bowed. The living legend placed his hand onto her shoulder. Imposing on the portraits, in person he appeared rather slight, short with narrow, bird-boned frame. “No need to bend your back, my dear. I understand Robert called me as soon as he knew, but despite all of our progress, there are times when the interstellar travel isn’t quite fast enough.” He nodded at Nagrad on the screen. “A very shrewd man. Let’s see if we can cut him down a bit, shall we? I’ll need all of the background you have.”
Deirdre shrugged the interface off her hands and leaned back against the seat. Her head throbbed. The ancient diplomat was still speed-reading, submerged in the interface up to his elbow.
“What’s the significance of kneeling? Submission?”
She rubbed her temples. “Not exactly, Your Grace.”
“Jason,” he corrected.
“Jason,” she repeated, trying to ignore the absurdity of referring to a recipient of the Diamond Sword by his first name. “The Reigh don’t submit. Not even in battle–when they surrender, they raise their hands to the sides, daring a thrust to the stomach. The kneeling It’s more a gesture of ultimate respect. A Reigh kneels only before his Lord and only once, at the acceptance into service. A Reigh Lord kneels before no one.”