Calm waters hide turmoil this week, as Vincent arranges Kaab’s first professional duel, Rafe is tempted to betray his vow of chastity and Diane becomes increasingly concerned about a certain mathematician at the University. In which I gnash my teeth at my leading ladies. GNASH.

This week, each of our protagonists has an encounter in which a crucial piece of information is casually let slip. It’s a welcome return for Joel Derfner at the helm of this week’s episode, and he exercises restraint to deliver a tale of rising tension and red herrings. Or are they?

Vincent has moved on (and I share Lisa Padol’s concerns about the wisdom of his decision) and is once again a sword for hire on the Hill, engaged to defend the honour of sleazy Lord Berowne should the occasion call for it. The occasion – Sarah Perry’s ‘intimate gathering’ – sees dozens of the well-heeled in attendance, and for once, Diane has been upstaged: Lady Perry has engaged a female swordswoman to provide the entertainment.

Vincent appears to have made the introduction or done the fast-talking required to make this happen, once again leading me to wonder just what he’s trying to achieve. Having consigned Tess to Kaab’s sole care last week and moved out after their steamy threesome, is he trying to build Kaab’s reputation so as to better protect our lovely forger? Or is he unaware that Kaab’s ‘estrangement’ from her family is only a front, and think she needs a source of income to support her and Tess? It may simply be that this is what swordsmen do, so he sees it as Kaab’s natural next step in her training.

Regardless, Kaab has – unsurprisingly – jumped at the chance, and it’s one more nail in the coffin of her harmony at home. These two have had a whirlwind affair, each wrapped up in the romance of the other: foreign ‘princess’ spy and bohemian Riverside forger already sounds like the sort of romance that Katherine Talbot will one day enjoy, but can it withstand the day to day reality of domesticity? I think Tess’s irritation this week springs largely from her nervousness for her lover, but her grievances are real and Kaab has no interest in addressing them.

Laundry and bland cooking aren’t Kaab’s only challenges – a certain glamorous Zereni ‘bumps’ into her on Kaab’s way up the Hill. Esha asks to touch her sword (stars above, is this lady incapable of being in a scene without trying to steam up my glasses? Apparently so) and when she shows Kaab what she can do with it (I blame Joel Derfner. Remember, they’re stood in the street – obviously she dances with it), Kaab is more than a little struck. Her impressions of the lithe, soft-handed warrior woman are all observed as direct contrasts to Tess.

KAAB. NO.

Let’s not compound your bad behaviour, Lady Chocolate (and yes, I’m adopting Florian’s name for her entirely because it annoys her. She’s deserves to be annoyed right now). You committed to Tess and you’re using her as cover for your intrigues. You need to be made of stone, not daydreaming about other women. We will not remain friends if: you break Tess’s heart or you get distracted by Esha, intrigue and/or duels and Tess comes to harm. You have a track record for getting your lovers killed – I will not forgive history repeating itself. Do better.

As for Esha, she’s clearly the femme fatale of the season (sorry Diane, you’ve been upstaged) and I’m just not convinced she’s her own agent. Sure, she might just be an incredibly wealthy refugee, or a woman prepared to accept generous gifts from her noble lovers to fund her lifestyle. She might have just bumped into Kaab on the street as she pottered around in her litter. But my bet? My bet is that she’s working for Arlen.

And I’m going to enjoy watching what she gets up to…

Speaking of which, let’s take a moment to talk about Arthur Chel. The handsome young man pays Rafe a visit this week, with the explicit aim of seducing him. Now we all know Rafe has sworn a vow of chastity until his William is recovered, so he has no trouble dismissing the advances – oh, who am I kidding? Like Kaab with Esha, Rafe’s tongue is practically hanging out. He gives the lad a lesson in advanced flirting, but I’m left wondering about my assessment of Chel as a Balam spy.

There’s no advantage to the Balam in seducing Rafe, is there? Or in casually – and oh so innocently! – mentioning in passing that the Duchess sent him? It’s a great way to quell Rafe’s ardour, and our scholar switches tack to charm the supposed ingenue into not-exactly-spying on the Duchess for him.

I was almost persuaded that Arthur Chel might be what he claims. Almost. But not quite. I simply can’t believe a City-bred man (because he may be of Kinwiinik blood, but he’s City born, apparently) would be this naïve. If he is, I’ll shrug gracefully and hope he doesn’t get hurt to badly, as that would make him a pawn caught between two people who hate each other, and I remember Keanu Reeves in Dangerous Liaisons. But I do wonder what Ixsaabim is up to, I really do. With Kaab deployed elsewhere, is Arthur her tool to ensure that the secrets of Kinwiinik navigation stay just that?

“Is there no end to your wickedness?”

She was all innocence. “I have it on good authority that one of these days we will all find out.”

This was a packed week, as I’ve not yet mentioned the mild panic Diane spun me into at the start of the episode! Well, a total screaming panic, as Diane gets offended when Micah ignores her letters and fails to pay her a call. I may have been making threats at the page, beloved Duchess or not. Imagine my consequent relief when Diane decides to pay the mathematician a call before having her silenced ‘just in case’; it seems Diane has limits regards casual murder after all.

If you can’t imagine anything more awkward than a chat between Diane and Micah, you’d be absolutely right. Micah isn’t used to having guests, doesn’t do small talk, and can’t get her head around nuanced double-talk. Diane’s never met anybody like her, and the contrast couldn’t be sharper between Diane’s verbal fencing with Vincent (who turns her down! I wasn’t expecting that) and her attempts to draw out Micah. Poor Micah can only fall back on the conversational tricks Tess suggested she use at the Swan Ball to avoid conversation.

‘Fascinating. Why don’t you tell me more about that?”

Was it okay to say that to the woman who had thrown the ball?

“I’m really much more interested,” said Diane Duchess Tremontaine, looking toward the inner room, “in what you are studying.”

While I rolled around the floor laughing at Diane effectively (albeit unknowingly) deploying one of Micah’s lines against her, Micah simply takes it as an invitation to talk about maths – which she does, enthusiastically. Thank heavens. There may be no better way to disarm Diane than to talk about things of which she has no knowledge and dismiss the one topic she’s interested in as completely boring. I think our cinnamon roll is safe.

Speaking of Diane, the only thing that raised my eyebrow a little this week was young Lionel. He seems to be terribly well-trained terribly quickly – I have to assume Diane prompted him to ensure she got time alone with Galing, but I’m really not sure how she managed to do so without doffing her naïve act.

 

I don’t pretend to follow her gambit with Galing. Does he underestimate her so much? (Clearly.) Does he really think he’ll wield that much influence over her if she becomes Duchess in her own right? (Apparently.) I’m tempted to suggest that Honora’s unworldly husband would be easier for him to manage, but it seems patriarchy is blind (it must be, given his devotion to the unpleasant Asper Lindley). Regardless, Diane – as usual – has the upper hand here. One Lord down; I assume she’ll move on to the next next week…

 

Tremontaine is available from Serial Box Publishing in ebook and audio format each week.