141 An Old Friend?*
Ebony, taken aback by Rassa's behaviour, turned back to the Mistress of Apple Star Trading Company with an apologetic expression, "I'm so sorry, I don't know what's come over him-"
The woman, who Ebony was quite sure was one of the most beautiful individuals she'd ever seen, smiled sadly, "You don't have to apologise, it's likely he does not wish to speak with me".
Ebony frowned, "...you know him?"
The woman nodded, "We grew up together".
The woman's eyes flicked to where Rassa had disappeared, then down to the floor before she nodded, "Yes, I am aware of what he is. In all honesty, I was sure he was dead until about a month ago when I received a letter from a mutual friend stating that he'd seen Rassa. Needless to say I was quite surprised. Though not as surprised as I was when I saw him tonight".
Ebony smiled shortly, "Then surely, if you are an old friend, he would like to speak with you".
"Oh, I don't think that's-"
"I insist," Ebony said, "It is not as if he can avoid you all together anyway, we may not have made a deal yet but you are the only trading company who seemed to be willing to offer favourable terms".
The woman's expression turned business-like in an instant, "How favourable were you looking for them to be?"
Ebony shrugged, "The details should be discussed away from prying ears, don't you agree?"
The woman smiled, then held out her hand, "My name is Falla Startree, you are Ebony, yes?"
Ebony took the woman's hand, "Yes, I was under the impression that Rassa grew up a commoner".
"He did, my father was a merchant who frequented the village Rassa spent his childhood in. Though my surname, as you may have assumed, did not come from my family".
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"I see," Ebony smiled.
Anyone who earned a surname was considered quite the prodigy. But a woman who had earned it on her own? That was quite the achievement. This Falla Startree was not to be underestimated.
"You should get back to him," Falla said, "We can talk later tonight".
Ebony stayed long enough to retrieve a location from Falla before she disappeared into the crowd after Rassa.
He was already seated in the Theatre when she found him. She dropped into the seat next to him but he barely acknowledged her presence. He seemed distant, thoughtful.
"Is this broodiness going to become a routine thing?" asked Ebony.
Her voice seemed to awaken him, and he turned to glance at her before turning back to face the stage.
"You spoke to her," he said. It seemed on the verge of being accusatory.
"I did," Ebony replied, "She is the head of Apple Star".
Rassa sighed, he'd hoped Ebony's bluff had been more complete than that, "We'll find someone else".
"We've already considered everyone else," Ebony replied.
"Well we're not dealing with her," Rassa stated like a grumpy child.
"We will meet with her and discuss our terms before we decide that," Ebony replied with an icy tone, "I don't care who she is to you, Rassa. We've done a lot in the past couple of weeks and if you've got no intention of sticking around to oversee it we need to find somebody trustworthy who will".
Ebony's fierce tone silenced Rassa, though he did not appear happy about it. If anything he looked conflicted. He knew what she did, but he clearly didn't want to have anything to do with this Falla woman.
"The fact that you've known each other before, grew up together, doesn't that say anything about whether or not we can trust her?" asked Ebony.
"That was then, this is now," Rassa replied.
"What difference does that make?" asked Ebony.
"It makes all the difference. Literally. Time doesn't just stand still for us, mortal or not. We change with it, denying that fact is just plain stupid," Rassa replied.
Ebony frowned as the crowd began to fill the theatre, Jeremiah and Griffith joining them, "We're meeting her, even if it is just for business. You know we need her".
Rassa was silent for a moment, long enough that Ebony thought she'd prevailed in her bid to get him to come, then he finally spoke just as the curtains were about to draw back, "I'll meet her, you can go to our room for the night".
Ebony sensed from his tone that in this, she would not be able to convince him.
She was not naive enough to believe that winning argument meant that she would win them all. After all, Rassa, despite how he denied it, had the makings of a powerful leader. Ebony had no doubt that there would come a day where nothing and no one would stand in his way. And yet, the part about him that she appreciated, the part that she knew would make him great, was that he never disregarded other opinions unless it was serious. She'd leard this over the past couple of weeks. If she asked about future plans, he'd tell her eagerly, giving his thoughts. In return he'd listen to her opinions, if she had any, and consider them. He'd originally not wanted to bother setting up their own trading firm, but Ebony had convined him otherwise. Mostly by using the phrase, 'I thought you said you didn't want to be chained down anymore. Stick with Token, and no matter how good their benefits are, chained is what you'll be'.
He'd removed the chains pretty quickly after that, eager to be rid of them. Ebony did not relish in knowing his weakness, but it was certainly a good motivator when the occasion called for it.
So, in silence with the rest of the business world, Ebony and Rassa sat in a respectful silence as the theatre of the Trading Centre on Rouke Island put on an astounding show to celebrate the end of the first week of the Trader's Festival.