In the morning, before Disan's return to Neyat Sor, Baia and Disan discussed various matters of business, then Baia said, "So what is our plan at this point?"
"That seems straightforward enough, at least for the immediate future," said Disan. "Everyone wants us to build ships, so ships we will build. Timber will be a problem. The shipwoods are in excellent shape, but nobody decades ago could plan for a massive increase in shipbuilding this year and next. I'll expand the repair stations into full shipyards, and the Wizan station has an excellent shipwood. Oak planking and pine for masting will likely not be a problem, but I am worried about the supply of hedgerow oak for compass timber."
"How will we be on jute and silk?"
"Hmm," said Disan, "that is a good question. Silk may be tight, but we will be getting Tavran and Talan supplies, and the production of the three kingdoms should cover what we need. Jute might be trickier."
"A strange situation in which jute might be more precious than silk," said Baia.
"A world upside down, as if we needed further proof. The Chipou tribes do a moderate trade in jute; we might be able to draw on them, even if we have to let ourselves be gouged. The Porphyry Mountain will be paying for some of it, anyway." Disan sighed. "At present we just need to lay the basic groundwork. But, as the saying goes, good trunnels need good seasoning."
"Well-prepared now is successful later," said Baia.
"Exactly." Disan sighed again and looked at her affectionately. "Do not stay away for too long," he said; "you will be missed."
They kissed, and then he said with a twinkle in this eye, "After all, I need someone else to help organize this ship construction." And then off he went.
Baia spent another two weeks, largely uneventful, on her Queen's Tour, and then returned to Neyat Sor. She was still in the process of transferring from Court in Visitation to Court in Residence when Sosan came to her with a possible candidate for a Tavran lady in waiting.
"Her name is Asaia, from a minor branch off of the royal family, second cousin once removed of the current princess," said Sosan.
"Excellent; that increases the chances of collecting gossip about the royal family without being too obvious about it," said Baia.
"My thought exactly, Your Highness," said Sosan. "Of course, the Tavran royal family will likely assume that this is the case and will thus try to control what information comes to Asaia herself, but my thought is that, first, they cannot change what she already knows, and, second, it is difficult to control gossip running through a family."
Baia shook her head. "What is it about a crown that makes people peer suspiciously into every corner and shadow, Sosan?"
"When you have a crown, mistakes due to ignorance are more likely to happen and it is more difficult to recover from them."
"In any case, I suppose I am doing the same thing. But even if none of this were true, we are looking not for a spy but for someone more informed about the royal family of Tavra. Since she is Tavran and related to the royal family, as a matter of courtesy we will have to request permission from the Tavran royal house, anyway, so it is not as if these are clandestine activities. Is there any chance that the Tavrans would protest?"
"I think not," said Sosan with a grave smile. "It is important to remember, Your Highness, that a Tavran in our court is a free and easy source of information for them, as well; half of the diplomatic interactions between the great houses of the kingdom consists in these exchanges on the border of espionage. They let us spy a little on them that they may spy a little on us, and thus peace and harmony are maintained."
"That is cynical, Sosan," said Baia.
"It is the nature of diplomacy, Your Highness. And it works well. We just must always remember that this is the way it happens, so that we are not at a disadvantage in it."
They were both thoughtfully silent a moment, then Sosan continued. "In any case, the new cooperation between Tavra and Sorea over this building of a navy will give them additional reason to have new channels of information about our court, and they are likely pondering how best to do this. We must take the initiative so that it is in the form that we request and not the form that they will inevitably at some point request. With that in mind, if Your Highness will give me permission, I will draft a formal letter of request to the Tavran royal court and at the same time make arrangements for the Lady Asaia to visit while we wait for the formal answer."
"That will be excellent," said Baia, little knowing how it would change the course of her life.