7 The Meeting of Minds
Looking at the whispering mob clustered at the Gate of Felicity, she shook her head.
Katerehna's voice cleaved through the confusion as she gestured angrily towards the door to the hareem. The murmuring crowd took flight into the Consortium, met by the curious congregation gathered outside. The susurrations rose to a crescendo, then cut suddenly to silence as the guards finally shut the door.
Turning impatiently, she stopped, noticing Tara bit Dulain, Bas Kadin (first wife), still kneeling with a pale Asala, quietly whispering in her ear.
"How is she, Tara?" Katerehna asked gently.
"Your daughter Tia, she left during Kedor's performance? I assume she seeks the surgeon?"
"She does, Valide Shah; Asala will be fine if we can staunch this flow some," Tara replied, holding her wadded outer robe to a shallow breathing Asala's wound.
Asala deliriously muttered something about failure.
Katerehna quickly moved to the Royal Pavilion, ripping down the front face. Producing a bodkin from inside her silken robes she proceeded to cut it into strips. "Do stop my friend, this wasn't your failure."
They both paused in their hurried ministration, as their attentions were caught by a clear but faint clarion call to arms.
"A disturbance at the Golden Gate..." Shrugging innocently, Tara grabbed a proffered strip and went to work binding Asala's arm.
"Your father, Sheikh Rashidi, I assume?" Continuing to shred, Katerehna smirked.
"No doubt." Laugh lines appeared around her smoky grey eyes. "You are most likely correct, Kedor asked that I facilitate an audience for him."
Tara continued to wrap Asala, not looking up.
Katerehna, raised her eye brows with feigned curiosity. "Concerning?"
Stopping, Tara gave an irritable shake of her veiled head. "I truly know not. As you have seen, he is progressing faster than we first had thought."
"Yes, yes." She began to pace. "He's been underestimated by all, the crafty little wretch.
"And Tabitha, you approve?"
Tara, a slight frown floating across her visible features, responded. "To which I assume you are proposing Kadin? Though Parthi(outcast), she is Tribe Dahae and sister of the Khan, she would make an adequate first wife."
"Yes? Even though we both know the Dahae are no more? The Massenghetti now rule in their stead, their herds have been taken, their people scattered or killed. No one has seen nor heard from Tidal, their Khan, in nearly a year now. Ahiman Khan of the Massenghetti had hoped to sell Tabitha into slavery as a final insult and to perhaps curry favor with the Padishah." She continued to pace. "Luckily for us, and her, she was left unsullied."
Again the laugh lines formed. "And yet you abort this final insult to a tribe that no longer exists?"
Valide Shah paused in her circuit, turning to Tara. "As an odalisque, she would have unnecessarily complicated a delicate negotiation."
She nodded, as if finally seeing the light. "Ah! King Saam of Bactria's daughter, she is certainly handsome enough but no match for Tabitha's allure..."
With a laugh, Katerehna began pacing again. "You know Kindatu well enough, he lusts strongly and will be sated, but not at the expense of his son. Though he’s been disappointed, believing Kedor's little act, as were we all. Kindatu loves him still. This is the only reason he has resisted naming Iskander heir. Once proposed though, this eastern campaign against Bactria has become unstoppable. Yet the western satrapies give me more concern."
Looking toward the Valide Shah, Tara nodded. "Yes, as to the first, I believe Kedor has that well in hand as evidenced this morning and as to the second ... You feel you have concluded this eastern matter to your satisfaction?"
Katerehna waved dismissively. "My emissaries to Bactria assure me the King was open to my offer and his daughter Lydia is amenable as well. Further more he will act accordingly. Kindatu must not know of my interference. Unfortunately for Balak Khan, Bactria's Margianan ally, he and his people will be crushed to satisfy Kindatu's call to arms. I've warned Saam not to be late when opening his gates."
"Where is that surgeon?" She gave a moaning Asala a worried look.
Tara nodded again, more emphatically. "So, Kindatu's fourth Kadin, and nicely chosen…"
The Valide Shah knelt on the other side of Asala and looked across her shoulder. "No protests from the Bas Kadin? Well, then on to other concerns. Have you any word from your father's people as to the situation in the western satrapies?"
They both looked up as the Bab-i-Sadet burst open spilling a harried looking surgeon and his assistants being herded by a determined Tia. Withdrawing to the Royal Pavilion and seating themselves, the two most powerful women in the empire began a much quieter conversation as the surgeon and Tia bustled over Asala.
Tara spoke in a muted tone. "I have heard of a disturbing trend ... Arioch and Khammu-Rabi lend truth to these rumors do you not think so?"
Katerehna looking much disturbed, replied. "Babel, Ellesar, Sodom, Admah, Ghomorrah, Zeboiim, Bela, a disturbing trend indeed. Yet though control of these cities has changed hands, they continue to show proper respect to Kindatu. This is more unsettling than Bactria showing a little defiance before they capitulate, by far. Also I’ve heard House Ham has allied itself with the Rapha'im and I would know their ambitions."
"I shall endeavor to delve into these occurrences more deeply, Valide Shah. I have your permission to visit with my father this eve?" Tara asked, as she rose.
"Of course, and send my regards to your father, the Sheikh. Kay was ordered last week to prepare our gift to him. A breeding pair of Bactrian camels, an Akhal-Teke stallion and two mares should pique his interest, no doubt?" Katerehna smiled, unable to resist this last not so subtle hint as to the efficiency of her agents abroad.
Tara bowed deeply. "I thank you, Valide Shah, my father will indeed be most pleased. Tia, we go to prepare. We shall visit your grandfather this evening."
Katerehna impatiently gestured for her to stop bowing. "...and Kedor?"
Tossing a reply over her shoulder, Tara shrugged. "At the northwest gate by now, I would wager."
Nodding sagely, Katerehna muttered, "Of course, he wouldn't be able to resist..."