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Arianna thought of the disastrous collapse of van Sietter's marriage to Lady Anastelle el F'lara. Lady el F'lara came down the river from the harsh rocky territory of the Northern mountains to live in these quiet hills. People did not of course speak of her in Castle Sietter but Arianna had heard whispers at court of how this seemingly perfect Lady had finished by flouting the code of honour in spectacular fashion. The scandalous breaking of her marriage threatened the bond between the V'ta region and Sietter. There was some extraordinary demand the el F'lara family were still making about which even her brother by marriage would say casually: "it is the Northern code, my dear." Arianna knew better than to interfere: a mere younger child, a woman to be moved about like a chess piece, not choose what part she might play in the game. Her lip curled. At least by remaining a chaste maiden in her husband's castle, she was not threatening political relations between her home and her marital regions. Yet.

She looked to the East where the scattered regions were not in secure alliance: the grassy plains of Vail, the woodland and fields of Thiel and the vineyards of Athagine. Her own first cousin, the young Lord who would inherit Vail, had served alongside Clair and Tashka el Maien: brother officers, but this close bond of honour was undermined by her marriage. Her cousin had once hoped for her hand himself even though their families were already inter-married. He had cut his friendship with Clair although he remained intimately close to Tashka.

The son of the infamous el V'lairs van Athagine was her husband's friend, they were reputed to hunt ladies together, but this was not enough to guarantee an accord in trade. High taxes on wines brought through Sietter from Athagine and Vail had led to bands of desperate smugglers roaming the hills. Arianna frowned as she thought of the dwindling numbers of flotillas of barges and caravans of horses travelling the Arven River and Maier Pass, of trade driven to the long overland route through other regions instead of coming the easier route to court from the port cities in H'las because the high taxes and costs of security made the Maier Pass too expensive.

Arianna's frown hardened. She turned from the view of the rolling low Sietter hills, bitterness clouding her blue eyes. She had heard it said that Tarra el V'lair van Athagine refused to offer Clair el Maien a glove for spending the night with his then wife, he said would offer it to his wife for taking up time he could have spent with his friend. That was not the worst of the stories told about el V'lair and el Maien and their play in the pink-fingered set at court. But those other stories did not involve a Lady of great beauty and high intelligence, who had escaped a tyrannical marriage arrangement and gone back to her home region to re-marry happily and resume her interests in poetry and literature.

Poetry! what was that. Did it feed the poor? Could it address the violence which Arianna was obliged to witness between the menfolk of the high nobility. If it was not warfare, it was duelling. They lived in a web of violence as the merchants lived in a web of trade. There was barely a Lord she knew of who was not scarred by it: her own younger brother had had his face and one leg completely ruined by wardogs in a peacetime exercise. Here in Sietter she was in the worst of it, there were so many men who had come back from the war with H'las devastated in body and mind. Guiltily she looked over at the ramp down the side of the steps again.

Even a brief friendship she had once enjoyed had been brutally ended when her husband challenged el Parva van Selaine over a poem foolishly dedicated to herself.

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