Episode two brings us our first taste of author Alaya Dawn Johnson’s take on the world originally created by Ellen Kushner and it is fitting therefore, that it begins with Kaab. Alaya, who currently calls Mexico City home, was a significant influence on the entirety of Tremontaine, particularly in bringing Kaab and the Kinwiinik culture to life with authentic details inspired by traditional MesoAmerican culture.
The first scene of episode two shows us more of life within the Balam compound as the family prepares for a feast in honor of Kaab’s arrival. Kaab grits her teeth through gentle teasing and awkwardly caries the burden of her still-not-explained past disgrace, but otherwise a warm and happy scene is painted. Still – from time to time one needs to escape from even the happiest of families so Kaab jumps at the chance to venture to local merchant’s compound in search of saffron and hares for the feast.
The merchant home in question turns out to be none other than that of Rafe Fenton who happens to be reluctantly present after answering a summons from his father. Rafe and Kaab share quips, both giving as good as they get, and eventually agree to bypass the elder merchant all together and strike a trade amongst themselves. The added bonus being that Kaab gets to learn more of the locals and Rafe gets to avoid his father and leave, Kaab in tow, to return to the matter of his more immediate concern: protesting the University Board of Governors who are this day voting to change the rules by which scholars are tested.
Rafe takes Kaab to the market to acquire the goods she needs and through a whirlwind game of question and answer we finally see a practical concern in the passionate young Rafe: that of navigation via celestial knowledge, something the Kinwiinick seem to have mastered while local scholars have not. Kaab catches on quickly to his probing questions and knows better than to reveal any secrets that might upset her home nation’s powerful trade position – but still, Rafe spies opportunity to learn something that might give him the advantage he needs over the ancient academic establishment he so resents.
At the market and over saffron haggling, Rafe manages to pass Micah’s relative a note explaining her absence – and extol the man of how promising Micah is as a mathematician. So exuberant are his claims of Micah’s genius that Kaab can’t help but be intrigued – and so off they go to find her.
But, as chance and good fortune would have it, she was at that very moment being rushed away from her place at the cards table and out on the streets to join the students protesting the Board of Governors. Finding each other by luck, Micah meets Rafe and Kaab amidst the swirling students and they venture into the crowded square to join their voices with the protest (at least Rafe does – Micah and Kaab seem more interested in observing).
It isn’t long, however, before Rafe finds something a more interesting use for his voice – taunting a handsome nobleman standing out like a robin in snowfall amongst the black-robed students. He hates him at first blush: tall, aristocratic, fair. And yet…
Rafe and the mysterious man trade barbs and quips. Sparks fly between them – and a sexual tension so thick even Kaab’s sword could do little against it. Rafe is sure he hates him just as sure he is that he wants to grab him and kiss him…and then the man drops his family name: Tremontaine. It’s William, the Duke, and Rafe is not happy. William is on the Board of Governors and only amidst the students to observe their impassioned ire. Now fully introduced, with cards exposed, the two exchange a few last words that hold far more than either seem aware of, and part ways.
Elsewhere, while Rafe was falling head over heels into hate-lust with William, Kaab was getting to meet Micah, and finding her pleasant, if a little endearingly odd.
Later, and back at the Balam compound, Kaab returns after accomplishing her saffron hunting mission. Amidst reporting to her Uncle her observations from her time with Rafe, Chuleb asks her opinion on a letter he just received – one written by none other than Diane, Duchess Tremontaine. In it the Lady requests a meeting with Kaab’s Uncle to discuss “matters to mutual benefit”. The Balams are all in complete agreement that it is an intriguing letter – from a woman best dealt with cautiously.
That evening brings the highly anticipated feast and author Johnson shines in her delicious descriptions of food, dress, and table. Local nobles, merchants, and people of consequence whisper their entranced observations of the foreign Kinwiinik while the family in question hold their council in reserve, playing the gracious — and glamorous — hosts to perfection. Over dinner, Kaab practices spycraft on her own Aunt and Uncle and learns that her Uncle will agree to meet Diane in three days.
Not content to let the reader leave off fat and happy on spiced chocolate and hare spiced with saffron, episode two’s last scene is a tantalizingly mysterious one – we jump across the city to Riverside where Tess, the presumed whore that so entranced Kaab upon her arrival, is anxiously waiting the return of Ben, the presumed pimp. It’s immediately apparent that Kaab was wrong in her read of their relationship: Tess is no whore, but rather a forger. And Ben is hardly a pimp – just a talented swordsman who joined forces with Tess to cobble together a life amidst the rough alleyways of Riverside…
And that life just got more interesting. Ben finally returns, drunk and grinning. He’s just come from his father’s deathbed and bears a locket – one he claims will be their ticket out. Tess, knowing just what sort of man Ben’s father to have been, is less sure about any inheritance he could have left his unfortunate son…