Chapter 21

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The sun was far along on its westward course when Jenali finished Teshin's priyon. The wind had a slight briskness about it, a promise of the night to come.

He was in the middle of complimenting her talent with the brush when they were both convened by Kresh, the zealous dark-eyed apprentice, to Pranv Kalira's house for a meeting.

Exchanging a glance, Jenali and Teshin rose, and followed him to the other side of the compound.

At the tam-tams, Koral and Steba – he had asked Jenali their names earlier – were now taking a break. Others had taken their place, though they weren't as skilled. Still, a few people danced, and the drinks flowed.

Once they were all inside, Pranv told everyone to sit at his rectangular table. By his side were Etrikis, Kresh, and Nix, and Jenali and Teshin took the other two available wooden stools.

The room was beautiful, Teshin thought. Every piece of wall was either painted on with rich dyes, or hung with decorative cloth, some of which had sown-in pearls, beads, or petals. It had all been crafted with a tasteful care that made Teshin speculate it was Jenali's work.

They filled him in on the situation with the Rengleam people.

"There hasn't been a war since your time," Pranv said, his muscular arms crossed on the table. His shaipi's pendant looked like a piece of iguana's crest, slim and sharp, sometimes tinting green or gray depending how it caught the light. Jenali's first hunt.

Pranv went on, "We tolerated them, as long as they didn't expand their territory further than what we were comfortable with."

"More than tolerated, it seems to me," Teshin pointed out. "You have their creations in your homes."

It felt like something Xefen would've said.

"Yes," Pranv admitted, scratching his beard. "There has been some . . . trading."

Next to the clan leader, Etrikis was jittery in his seat.

"But now they've gone too far," Etrikis stressed. "Day after day, they come in our Elissi and they cut everything down, all of the trees – it doesn't matter if those trees produce the fruits and the nuts that we eat . . . And the brush too, they clear all of it out. They could be clearing out klar plants on a daily basis."

The shaman leaned forward, light-blue eyes pleading across the table. "And they won't stop here. What if they want a bigger coffee farm, even after this one? What if they decide they're interested in others of Asheth's resources? They already have a voss field to the east of their city. They could choose to expand that too – that would fall into Clan of the Fox territory. This concerns the other clans as well. That's why we need you."

Kresh was nodding his approval. He locked eyes with Teshin, and said, "You've allied the seven clans against a common enemy before. Think you might be able to do it again?"

Teshin was thoughtful. He wished he'd had the foresight to take lux. To be more perceptive. There was something they weren't telling him. This was their surface story, their excuse, the tale they were spinning and weaving for their clan.

Of course, he had a feeling he knew what this was really about.

But he wasn't sure Pranv and Jenali were in on it.

What would Xefen say right now?

"I've always believed in the Yoxai's ability to come together. We're one clan, not seven. I'll do whatever it takes," Teshin said, holding Kresh's dark gaze, in what he thought was a heartfelt imitation of Xefen. In fact, it sounded so much like him that it ached.

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