“You are a smuggler!” Kougyoku declared. “You took cargoes through Kou waters!”
It was friendly. Honest. Determined.
Kougyoku’s blood froze.
“Citizens of Balbadd! Noble ambassadors!” The blond swept the assembled crowd with a look of fire, not even deigning to glance at the royal balcony. “As a merchant of Balbadd I come to lay an injustice before you. For by the documents that have come into my hands, King Abhmad has sold the marine rights of Balbadd!”
A hush spread over the plaza. Kougyoku could hear her own breathing, pulse a drumbeat at her throat. She’d heard this kind of hush before. Felt it.
Ka Kobun heard it too, and moved to her side, fan at the ready. His face was set in a way that told her no, she wasn’t imagining things, yes this was about to become a mob and even if ordinary humans couldn’t possibly win they still might try to tear all of the Kou delegation apart-
The blond straightened, drawing the crowd’s eyes like a magnet. “This is an illicit bargain!”
Keep talking! We’ve come this far. We can’t lose to bloodshed now!
“How dare you!” Abhmad was on his feet, black eyes glittering with rage. “Lowborn cur! I am the king of Balbadd. All of it is mine! To keep, to sell, to do as I wish!”
Eldest Brother, your timing sucks.
Deep breath. You knew you’d have to fight him too.
“Not the marine rights,” Alibaba stated. Breathe. Don’t let your voice shake. “The rights to the sea are the lifeblood of Balbadd. To sell those rights is to sell our own people – and no citizen of Balbadd is a slave!”
The crowd roared behind him, and for one blinding moment of grief and hate he wanted to let it go. What they’d found in the Banker’s papers, what his eldest brother had planned to do….