It began on a very normal night, with me coming home after I'd sent my last postulant away, contented with his fortune.
"Why the dour face?" I asked as I stepped into my courtyard.
Dekashin, childhood friend, neuter and usually sprawled was less lazy grace tonight and more disgruntled flop. It was nursing a cup of tea—well, trying to scrape it raw with its fingertips—beside my fire. "If you'd been here...," it began.
"If I'd been here, I wouldn't have been at work," I said, tossing the pouch to it, and this time it almost missed the catch. Surprised, I said, "Dekashin? What's wrong?"
"What isn't," Dekashin said, scrubbing its long nose. "The last few caravans the Head of Household's run south have been... less than productive."
"Less than productive," I repeated, sitting across from it and reaching for the teapot.
"We're now in debt," Dekashin said bluntly, and I almost burned myself dropping the pot.
"What!" I said.
"Yes," it said, and gently separated my hand from the handle so it could swab the slopped-over tea off my hand. I let it, stunned.
"How can that be?" I said. "In debt! Void take that, Dekashin... the House can't run in debt for long. What is he planning? How is he going to fix it?"
"I don't know," Dekashin said, sitting back. "I only found out by accident. The pefna-eperu's been surly lately. I thought it was all the late nights we've been putting in, so I was trying to be helpful... you know, staying up for the late arrivals and helping with the rikka. I was leading a brace away when I overhead it arguing with the Head of Household about finances." It took a deep breath. "I'm afraid you are now House Akkadin's most profitable enterprise, Keshul."