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.”“Pardon me if I mistake the situation,” said the woman.“But you’re not alone now.”He touched his wine goblet to hers.“True.”∞As far as Taya could tell, the gold dust she’d drunk hadn’t done anything at all, but the liquor, on top of the goblet of wine, had made her tipsy.Perhaps that was the secret to the silly custom.Everyone pretended the gold dust was something special, when really all they felt were the usual effects of inebriation.Throwing a little gold dust into the mix allowed them to feel like what they were doing was somehow superior and different from what those provincial, unsophisticated farmers did with their banana beer.Having spoken with Bodhan and his associates, she wandered about the courtyard, picking up snacks from the trays and searching for a glimpse of the witness or the jackal.So far she’d seen neither.Mandir had ceased to work the room and was now sitting on a bench.It was irritating how often she found herself looking for Mandir.There was something about him that drew her eye.She moved on, passing by a group of boorish young men who were discussing, loudly, some female conquest.She wished she could put her hands over her ears.Their words were ugly, and she was beginning to be irritated by the constant, ever-present noise of the party.She’d grown up on a farm in quiet and solitude.She could handle noise in small doses, but by now she’d been putting up with it all evening.The men’s words reverberated in her head, like a ball bouncing off the inside of her skull.She looked around the room, spotted an empty chair in a shady corner, and headed toward it, hoping that a few moments of rest would energize her for more mingling.Two women stepped aside to let her pass, and she came face to face with Zash the banana farmer.At first she just stared at him, surprised.She hadn’t expected to meet a farmer at this gathering.But Bodhan the cloth merchant was here, and he was artisan caste.So perhaps it wasn’t so much a ruling-caste party as it was a party for the wealthy and influential people of Hrappa.Zash’s face broke into a delighted smile.“Taya.”Taya, Taya, Taya, the words echoed irritatingly in her head.“Zash,” she replied.Despite her less than ideal state of mind, she was happy to see him.Here was someone she could relate to, someone who probably found this party as strange and foreign as she did.She wondered if Zash had ever drunk gold dust.“What brings you to such a gathering?”He shrugged.“If my creditor invites me somewhere, I go.The food and wine are good.”“Not as good as your banana wine,” said Taya.“Thank you for saying so.”Her eyes drifted toward Mandir again, and she saw that he had company—a woman she didn’t recognize.Looking at the pair, she felt discombobulated, like she’d put her clothes on backward.She did not like the look of those two together.“Taya?” Zash cleared his throat.She turned back to him.“Did you say something?”“I was asking if you’d found the jackal yet.”“No, not yet.” And she had no intention of discussing the case with him.“Are there other farmers here? Or are you the only one?”“I think I’m the only one.These parties are mostly about the marriage market—merchants and bureaucrats showing off their daughters so they can get good marriage contracts.I usually get an invitation because of my banana farm, but speaking practically, I can’t marry until I settle my debt.”Debt, debt, debt.Was it an effect of the wine that caused this reverberation? She rubbed her forehead and glanced back at Mandir.He was still sitting with the strange woman.“Have you tried the gold dust?”“No, that’s only at the high table.” Zash’s eyebrows rose.“Did you try it?”You, you, you.“Never mind.” She took Zash by the arm and led him toward an unoccupied bench.“Let’s sit down and talk banana beer.Leave these others to their marriage contracts and business dealings.”In truth, she rather needed to sit down, for the strangest feeling was coming over her.She felt almost numb, as if her body wasn’t her own anymore and she was commanding it from the outside.Words and noises kept bouncing around in her head.And Zash, in addition to being the friendliest face in the room, was looking very kissable just now.He wasn’t Mandir, but he’d do.Something was wrong with her.In some distant corner of her mind, she knew that.But the rest of her didn’t care.∞In a way, Mandir desperately craved what this spoiled ruling-caste woman had to offer.It had been a while since he’d been with a woman physically, and his body was letting him know about the oversight.Furthermore, Taya’s hostility toward him and her complete romantic disinterest had been a slap in the balls.For this pretty young woman to seek him out was balm for his wounded pride.As she escalated the encounter, scooting closer and brushing his hand, he felt himself warming to her.But no.He was courting Taya, however ineptly, and sleeping with another woman was not going to help matters.For the most part, he’d given up on affairs; he could never seem to find harmony with a woman.While he knew better than to mention Taya or say anything about his unrequited love from the past, somehow the women he slept with sensed that they were not foremost in his life.They knew he dreamed of another.His attention began to wander, and the woman didn’t back off.Her questions became more insistent.Flood and fire, he didn’t even know her name.“You’re from Rakigari Temple, is that right?” she was asking.“Is that upriver or downriver?”“Upriver, on a tributary [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]