Matriarch Chistar ar Marichescua IV was a short, plump woman with a mane of fluffy white hair that she kept bound in a bun during the day. Right now she was letting it loose, as she relaxed in her favorite chair in her study. Gentle ema-lamps conspired with a crackling fireplace to illuminate the room. A reel of tape clicked quietly through a very expensive tuner in the corner, instructing its assembly of cogs and strings in a piece of gentle slicuache music. Marichescua hummed along as rain pattered on the roof, spreading out the day’s sheaf of papers on her desk.
She sighed. The reports from the wetfarms were not good. More equipment failure. More injury. Morale was failing. Buildings that needed repair had gone unrepaired for too long. Equipment that long needed replacing was subjected daily to drudgery it couldn’t handle.
If she sold one of the farms, it might bring in enough money to clean up the other two. But the long-term cost... there were no good options.
There was a knock on the door. “Come in,” Marichescua called.
Mother Aleguarda padded quietly into the room, bearing two cups of raspberry tea on a silver platter. She sat down on a folding chair next to her mother, proferring a cup of tea.
The old woman took it with a smile. “Thank you, my dear.”
“We’re going to have to sell one of the farms, aren’t we,” said Aleguarda quietly.
Marichescua looked away, cradling the teacup in her hands. “We need money,” she said. “Dear Menora, Ale, sometimes I look at these sheets and I just want to go dig up my great-great-whatever-the-bloody-hell-grandmother and throttle her for how she screwed us over. We had the money to keep the farms in good shape, back in 562. Could have prevented all this. But no, that damn fool Chistar let Ameliacara get her hands in the savings, and she had to waste it all on the townhouse and overpriced slaves.” Marichescua sipped her tea, and sighed. “I'm ranting, aren't I. I'm sorry, dear.”
“It’s all right, mother. It’s not fair you should have to clean up our ancestors’ messes.”
“Ha!” Marichescua snorted. “I’ll keep that and mind, try not to leave you and Chani too much to clean up after.”
“Mother! I didn’t mean -”
“I’m teasing you, darling.” Marichescua ruffled her hair affectionately. She added hopefully, “How’s your sister coming along with young Tara?”
“...slowly,” said Aleguarda. “She says her blades still aren’t fit for market.”
“I know emacy isn’t a thing you want to rush,” said Marichescua. “But...”
“I know. We need her blades. We need them on the market soon.”
“The farms won’t last more than one or two more harvests if we don’t start fixing them up,” said Marichescua. “Tara and Ber have got no hope of a good marriage with the family name weighting them down. Tara’s emacy and Berenna's Tir Machán work are the only thing we have left.”
“I’ll talk to Chani. See what she can do.”
Marichescua nodded. Outside her window, she heard the raucous voice of Nalichenda, marking her return from her nightly excursions, and with company at that. Aleguarda made a face.
“My daughter has been out whoring again,” she said, her voice clanging with disapproval.
Marichescua laughed. “She’s a growing young woman, daughter dearest,” she said. “A bit of exercise will do her good.”
“You’re putting her up to this,” said Aleguarda sourly. “This is why you won’t just buy her a slaveboy, isn’t it?”
“A young woman needs her connections,” said Marichesua. “Her whoring gets her out of the house and finds her friends. Harm it none, aye?”
“And tells all Anve just how little self-control she has.”
“You’ve never wanted to be underestimated, Ale?” Marichescua sipped her tea. “Nalichenda’s 16, my dear. She is young and impetuous, and she has long yet to grow. Her weaknesses today will be her feigned weaknesses tomorrow, and that gives her the upper hand. Besides,” she added, “what did you honestly expect? Nali will never be you, and she will never be me. She’ll never be content to slave over paperwork, and she hasn’t the discipline for emacy. Nali’s a fighter, sweetie, not a thinker. It’s time you accepted that; her sister certainly has.”
“I just wish she took after Tara more.”
“Girls like Nali are just as valuable to a clan as girls like Tara, Ale.”
“If you say so, mother.”
“I do,” said Marichescua, gathering herself and getting slowly to her feet. “Now come, let’s see who she’s dragging along with her tonight.”