L. E. Modesitt
“You’d think the Tilborans would have more sense,” snapped Bhayar. “Some of them, anyway.” His dark blue eyes appeared almost black in the dim light of the small study that adjoined his receiving chamber. In the midafternoon of summer, the air barely moved, even with the high arched ceilings, and when it did, it only brought the smells of the city up the hill to the palace overlooking the harbor of Solis. He walked to the map displayed on the wooden stand, scowled, and then looked to the man in scholar’s brown.
“Why would you think that?” Quaeryt replied in the formal Bovarian in which he’d been addressed, as always. He smiled politely, his thin lips quirking up slightly at the corners. Despite the itching of his slightly-too-long nose, he did not scratch it.
“Don’t bait me, scholar.” The Lord of Telaryn added only a slight emphasis to the last word. “Tell me what you have in mind.”
“Only your best interests, my lord.” Quaeryt shifted his weight off his slightly shorter left leg. The higher heel of his left boot helped, but the leg ached when he stood for long periods.
“When you talk like that, you remind me of the sycophants who surrounded my sire in his last days.”
“Why might they have talked like that?”
“Answer my question!”
“Have you considered why I-or they-would avoid answering a demand delivered so forcefully?” Quaeryt grinned.
Abruptly, Bhayar laughed. “There are times … friend or no friend…”
“Every time anything went wrong in Tilbor immediately after your sire conquered it, his first solution was to issue an edict. If that didn’t work, he killed people.”
“It worked, didn’t it?”
“It did indeed. It still does. But … exactly how many of your soldiers are stationed in Tilbor and not on the borders with Bovaria? How many weeks would it take to get the companies from Tilbora or Noira to Solis-if you had enough ships to carry them?”
“I could commandeer merchantmen.”
“How long before they became as unhappy with you as the Tilborans are?”
“They won’t turn to Kharst.” Bhayar laughed.
“Not until they forget what he did to the Pharsi merchants in Eshtora. How long will that be? As long as you’ve had garrisons in Tilbor?”
“Quaeryt! Enough of your questions. You’re as bad as Uhlyn was. Scholars and imagers! A ruler can’t live with them, and a strong one can’t live without them. You’ll turn my hair as white as yours.” A fist outsized for the lord’s wiry frame slammed onto the pale goldenwood of the desk.
That was always Bhayar’s rejoinder when he tired of dealing with the issues behind the questions, Quaeryt mused behind a pleasant smile, and never mind the fact that Quaeryt’s hair was white blond and that he was actually a year younger than Bhayar, who had just turned thirty.
“Namer’s demons, I hate Solis in the summer. I’d even prefer the mist stench of Extela when the winds blow off the mountain.”
Mist stench? Abruptly, Quaeryt recalled that some of the ancient volcanoes north of the old capital occasionally still belched ash and fumes.
Bhayar blotted his forehead with a linen cloth already soiled in more places than not, for all that it had been fresh and white at noon. “Instead of raising all these questions, why don’t you offer an answer?”
Quaeryt grinned. “I don’t recall your asking for one.”
“I’m asking now. What do you suggest, my friend, the so-knowledgeable scholar? Tell me what I can do to remove the troops from Tilbor without immediately inviting another rebellion?”
“Let me think about it.”
“Don’t think too long.”
“After breakfast-eighth glass of the morning,” suggested Quaeryt, knowing that was too late for the early-rising lord.
“Seventh glass. I still don’t see why you don’t want to stay in the palace. I’ve offered far better quarters than you have on Scholarium Hill…”
“The quarters are indeed better, but I’d end up being of no help to you.” Or to me. “And rulers soon tire of friends or retainers who outlive their usefulness.” That was accurate, but not the real reason for his determination to avoid the palace for as long as possible. “Besides, you’d want me to get up at the Namer-fired glass that you do.”
“You’re not that lazy. You just like me to think you are.”
You and everyone else. “But I am. I don’t work the way you do. I’m just an itinerant scholar fortunate enough to have schooled some with the Lord of Telaryn.”
“Bah … we’ll let everyone else think that.…” Bhayar blotted his forehead again. “Why did he insist on moving the capitol here?” Before Quaeryt could have answered, not that he had any intention of doing so, the lord went on, “I know. I know. A port city on a big river and a good harbor makes more sense for trade and for moving armies. And Grandmere…” He shook his head. “I don’t have to like it.”
Quaeryt wondered about what Bhayar might have said about his grandmother, but decided not to ask. He’d pressed enough. “Tomorrow at seventh glass, then, sire?”
“Go!” Bhayar shook his head, but then grinned again.
“I hear and obey.” Quaeryt’s words were light, verging on the sardonic.
As he left the study and entered the private corridor separating the receiving hall from the study, Quaeryt forced himself to walk without limping, uncomfortable as it was, but he tried never to limp in the palace or when he was around Bhayar. He glanced into the large chamber, on the third level, the highest one in the palace, where, when necessary, Bhayar sat on the gilded throne that had been brought from Extela by his sire sixteen years before and received visitors or handed down formal pronouncements or sentences. Even the wide windows didn’t help much in keeping the chamber cool in the height of summer.
Quaeryt made his way to the west end of the private corridor, where the palace guard unlocked the iron-grille door, allowing the scholar to make his way down the windowless and stifling staircase, past the grille door on the second level to the main-level grille door. Another guard unlocked that door as well. Quaeryt stepped carefully along the shaded and colonnaded walk that bordered the west end of the palace gardens, taking his time so that he could enjoy the cooler air created by the fountains. His enjoyment was always tempered by the knowledge that oxen-and sometimes prisoners-turned the capstan-like pumps that lifted the water to the reservoirs on the uppermost level at the rear of the palace. He was careful not to look into the gardens. After passing the guard at the top of the side steps, he walked down to the gate used by favored vendors and visitors to the palace.
“Good day, scholar,” offered the taller soldier of the two at the gate in accented Bovarian.
“The same to you. I don’t envy you in this heat.”
“Some of the mist from the gardens drifts down here. It’s better than the main gate, let me tell you.”
“I can imagine.” Quaeryt smiled and stepped out onto the wide stone sidewalk below the wall, a sidewalk that bordered the north side of the stone-paved avenue.
Across the avenue to the south and below the palace were the public gardens, open to those suitably attired, according to the judgment of the palace guards stationed at the two entrances. There weren’t that many fountains there, and the cooler venues would already be taken. He turned right and started back toward the hill to the west, close to a vingt away, that held the Scholarium Solum … and the Scholars’ House.
The one-legged beggar boy was a good two blocks west of the palace grounds. Beggars weren’t allowed any closer.
Quaeryt flipped a copper to the beggar boy. “That’s from Lord Bhayar.” His words were in common Tellan.
The beggar frowned.
The scholar flipped a second copper. “And that’s from me, but you wouldn’t have either without your lord.”
The beggar looked at the coppers. “Could you a gotten ’em any dirtier, lord scholar?”
“Complaints, yet? Next time I might try.” Privately, Quaeryt was pleased. It was easier to image a shiny copper than a worn and grubby one, not that anyone would have cared about coppers, but coppers added up to silvers, and silvers to golds, and few would think that a scholar who had dirty coppers was actually imaging them.
The scholar studied the avenue ahead of him, taking in the pair of youthful cutpurses, seemingly playing at bones, on the far side of the flower vendor, and the drunken lout who lurched out of the tavern. His appearance was timed too well and he was just a tad too tipsy. Quaeryt imaged a patch of fish oil onto the heels and soles of his polished boots, just before the fellow reached him.
The man’s heels slipped from under him, and the slam-thief flailed before hitting the stones of the sidewalk. “Friggin’ … sow-slut…”
Obviously, the would-be grabber was having a slow day. Otherwise, he wouldn’t even have bothered with a scholar … unless he knew who Quaeryt was. That could be a problem.
“Do you need help?” Quaeryt asked, expecting the usual knife.
As the man tried to scramble to his feet and the knife appeared, Quaeryt imaged out a sliver of steel, and the useless blade separated from the hilt, and haft and blade clunked on the stones-just as the thief’s boots slid out from under him again and he crashed face-first onto the sidewalk. He moaned, but didn’t move for a moment, and Quaeryt skirted his prone figure, stepping into the avenue and barely avoiding a carriage before regaining the sidewalk. He’d gotten a good look. He just hoped he didn’t have to deal with the thief again. That was one problem with using imaging to create accidents. Some people didn’t learn. They just blamed their bad luck and went on doing stupid or dangerous things.
Although Quaeryt walked at a good pace, he didn’t strain, and he was only sweating moderately when he reached the point where the avenue passed in front of the hill on which the so-called Scholarium Solum was set. The Scholars’ House was halfway down the hill on the west side. Quaeryt glanced up the hill to the dark red brick building that held the Scholarium Solum as he walked past it to the winding walk up to the Scholars’ House, no longer bothering to hide the slight limp he’d always had.
The brick steps of the front entry had shifted slightly over time, and Quaeryt had to take care as he climbed them onto the front porch because his bad leg had a tendency to drag. The wide-roofed porches that encircled the Scholars’ House were designed to pick up the sea breezes, but since the sea breezes brought red flies in the day and mosquitoes at twilight, not to mention all the less than savory smells of the harbor, few scholars ventured out onto the porches once the sun dropped behind the warehouses and factorages to the west.
Quaeryt made his way to the east porch, the most shaded one in the afternoon.
There a younger man in a grayish purple shirt and trousers looked up from his wooden straight-backed chair. “It’s a hot walk from the palace. I still don’t see why Lord Bhayar doesn’t offer you quarters.” Voltyr spoke in Bovarian, as did all scholars, at least with each other and in dealing with the palace and other high officials. He was several years younger than Quaeryt, how many Quaeryt didn’t know exactly. He’d never asked.
“Would you want to live in the palace, Voltyr?” asked Quaeryt as he settled into the chair across from the younger man.
“No. You know that. You’re a scholar. Scholars’ Houses are the only place for imagers, and they’re not even half-safe in some cities, even here at times. Do you know what it was like when my parents discovered I could image a copper?”
“I imagine they were upset and pleased all at once.” Quaeryt had heard enough that when he’d done his first imaging-after hearing about imagers from old Scholar Geis, he’d tried to image a cake, and it had tasted like mud-he’d done it alone. But then, all his imaging had been in secret and painfully discovered by trial and error when the scholars who raised him were not around.
“They were just upset. In a month, I was here, being told not to image until I was older … but no one could help me. They just told me to be careful.”
“There aren’t that many imagers. What about Uhlyn?”
“The only thing he ever said was not to image large things and not to try imaging anything out of metal until I had a beard and then to begin with small items.” Voltyr laughed harshly. “He was so careful about his imaging, but look what happened to him, even with Bhayar’s protection.”
“He wasn’t careful about other things. He flaunted being an imager.” Even as Quaeryt spoke, he understood how many people feared imagers and their seemingly wondrous ability to visualize something and then have it appear. What so few wanted to understand was how painfully few imagers there were or how much skill and strength and concentration it took to image the smallest of objects, and how most imagers could do little beyond that. But … those who could … they were feared and shunned, and often the target of anyone who knew their abilities.
“Oh … and it’s all right for merchants and High Holders to flaunt what they are, but not imagers? Even scholars can flaunt their knowledge.”
“Not without risk,” returned Quaeryt. “People don’t like to be reminded of what they don’t know. That’s why Scholars’ Houses are also the safest place for scholars. Good scholars ask questions. Questions upset rulers and those who fawn on them.”
“Scholars in favor can gather in golds,” pointed out Voltyr.
“Golds aren’t much use to a headless man.”
“Don’t ask questions.”
“What’s the point of being a scholar, then?”
“How about the good life … or the best life possible for someone who wasn’t born a High Holder?”
“High Holders are captive to their wealth.”
“Quaeryt … I’d like to be held captive like that.”
The scholar laughed, then sat there for several moments before asking, “What do you know about Tilbor?”
“Most of it is cold. The people are rude and crude, and they don’t like strangers. They don’t like scholars and imagers, except that they like Telaryn soldiers even less. They like to fight a lot, except when they’re drinking, and they do a lot of that in the winter because it’s too cold to do anything else. Even Antiagon Fire wouldn’t warm Noira in midwinter.” The imager frowned. “Why are you asking?”
“I’m thinking of going there.”
“Why, for the sake of the Nameless?”
“To learn about it, to try to resolve something for Lord Bhayar. Besides, I’ve been seen at the palace too much in the past few seasons. That’s getting to be a problem.”
“That’s a problem half the High Holders in Telaryn would like to have.”
“They only think they want that problem. They don’t know Bhayar.”
Voltyr frowned. “He’s not that arbitrary or cruel. Certainly not like his father, is he?”
“He’s generally very fair. Most High Holders aren’t. But neither forgets anything.”
Quaeryt stood. “Do you want to go down to Amphora later? I have a few spare coppers.”
“How could I refuse such an invitation?”
“You can’t,” laughed the scholar. “Half past fifth glass? I have work to do later.”
With a last smile, Quaeryt turned and walked toward the north porch, hoping the nook by the north chimney wall would be vacant. Both Bhayar’s and Voltyr’s comments about imagers had played into the half-formed idea in his thoughts. Why, indeed, did imagers have to move and act with such care? Could he do anything about that? Or, at least, about his own position?
“Good night.” Quaeryt nodded to Voltyr as they stepped out of Amphora.
“Where are you headed? You said you had work to do.”
“I do. I don’t want to keep her waiting.”
“That’s not work,” protested Voltyr.
“With all that’s expected of me … it’s work.” With a wave, Quaeryt turned down the street, south from both Amphora and the Scholarium. Even though he and Voltyr had spent almost two glasses at the cafe, the sun was barely touching the tops of the shops and dwellings to the west.
Quaeryt had not been jesting about the work ahead of him. That was why, at Amphora, he had eaten a domchana, whose batter-fried crust was light but filling, although he felt that the fowl strips inside were tough and the peppers stringy. The tangy cheese helped, if not enough. The two lagers had also helped.
When he reached the harbor, he walked to the seawall that ran between the third and fourth piers. There he sat on the stone wall, in a spot almost exactly between the two piers and directly above one of the spots where silt and debris collected, enough so that it mounded close enough to the surface that the water actually broke over it in little wavelets. While the sun had not set, shadows were stealing across the entire harbor, leaving the topmasts of the tallest vessels in light while shading the lower masts and decks. Sailors were beginning to leave their ships and hurry in along the piers toward the cafes, taprooms, and taverns that filled the streets just north of the harbor.
As Quaeryt sat there, he concentrated on the image of a copper. One appeared on the stone beside his hand. He waited a time and concentrated again. A second appropriately dingy copper manifested itself. He managed seven more coppers before he felt light-headed, a sign that there was not that much left in the way of copper fragments and minute bits in the harbor basin and debris nearby.
He blotted his damp forehead with an old linen square, then eased the nine coppers into his wallet. He remained sitting on the seawall for over a glass, resting and enjoying the sunset … and absently recalling how long it had taken him to learn to focus and concentrate on every detail on each side of a copper … and how, once he’d mastered it, he’d left the Scholarium, thinking that he could get by as a sailor and not have to listen to grumpy scholars any longer.
He shook his head ruefully at the memory.
Then, in the fast-fading light, for twilight did not last long in Solis, he stood and stretched. He walked northward for several blocks before turning west, making his way among and around the sailors from the vessels tied up at the piers. Few paid any attention to him, their thoughts and doubtless their emotions elsewhere. Once Quaeryt left the harbor area, despite the warmth of the air, as the evening darkened into night, he pulled his cowl up. His white-blond hair, cut short as it was, still stood out too much in the darkness, and that could be a problem in the narrow streets.
He glanced to the western sky where the reddish half disc of Erion hung just above a low cloud. Artiema had not yet risen, and that was fine with him. He’d passed the area that held the better factorages, cafes, and crafters’ shops, and was headed into the oldest area of Solis, where sagging houses with crooked shutters or even boarded-up windows sat side by side with shells of dwellings and ruined buildings.
A block ahead were the ruins of an old smelter, little more than piles of rubble overgrown with thornweed and knifegrass. While it was slightly safer during the day, far too many people would have asked questions, and Quaeryt preferred to be the one asking, not the one having to answer.
He sensed the movement in the alley some yards away, and he stopped beside a wall that would keep anyone from coming up behind him. He just waited as the man in tattered grays and a long knife held at waist height edged toward him.
“What do you want?” Quaeryt let his voice quaver.
“Old father … I’m sure you’d be having some coins.” The man’s grin revealed more broken and blackened teeth than white or yellow ones.
“You’d not be wanting to bother me.”
“That I’d not once I’ve your coins.” The knife flashed toward Quaeryt’s gut.
The scholar darted back and imaged bread into the man’s windpipe and throat. Then he stepped back, glancing around. No one else emerged from the shadows of the alley as the thief flailed silently for quite some time, then grasped at his throat, before collapsing against the side of the lane. Once the man was dead, since he would have no further use for his coins, Quaeryt quickly examined his wallet. He found five coppers and a silver, which he transferred to his own wallet, before straightening and continuing down the dark lane toward the ruins of the old smelter.
He didn’t need to get too near, choosing to stand close to the section of wall that had once held a wagon gate. Not even the iron hinges remained, only holes in the crumbling bricks and mortar. From where he stood, he began to concentrate. First, he tried to image a silver. The first was easy, and so was the second. After a clear strain with the third, he paused and slipped the coins into his wallet, then blotted his forehead.
He waited in the shadows almost a quarter glass, checking the lane in both directions, before he resumed imaging. Eleven coppers later, he stopped and blotted his forehead again.
He was tired, but not exhausted. Metal imaging was far harder than the other imaging he’d tried. Imaging earth and soil into place was far easier. He’d learned that as a boy forced to garden, although he’d had to grub up his hands so that the scholars who appeared to check his efforts hadn’t learned how he’d kept the garden so free of weeds.
His wallet wasn’t sagging as he made his way back along the dim alley, giving the dead man a wide berth, but it was definitely heavy.
All in all, it had been a good night’s work. More coppers and silvers for his wallet, and one less thief to trouble people who didn’t need that sort of difficulty.
More than a half glass before seven on Mardi morning, Quaeryt reached the side gate of the palace. As he’d calculated, Jhoal was on duty.
“Pleasant morning to you,” offered Quaeryt with a smile. “For now.”
“Be as hot as an Antiagon’s balls by midmorning, scholar, maybe sooner.” The sentry’s Bovarian held the harshness of a Tellan native speaker.
“It’s still early Juyn, and harvest is hotter than summer. Wait until Agostos.”
“You’re not cheering me up,” replied the guard, glancing toward the tower on the southeast side corner of the wall and then using his sleeve to blot his forehead. “Got two more glasses before Dhuar relieves me.”
“The first watch is easier.”
“Were you ever posted in Tilbor?” Quaeryt already knew the answer.
“We all were. Old Lord Chayar wouldn’t have any guards who hadn’t seen battle. Lord Bhayar’s the same.”
“He might have to change that before long, unless the Tilborans revolt or there’s another war.”
“Nah … they’re still fighting there. Stiff-necked bunch. Worse than they say the Bovarians are.”
“Don’t you think there are people like that everywhere? You must see it here.”
“More ’n you’d believe, scholar. More ’n you’d believe.”
“High Holders mostly?”
Jhoal shook his head. “They’re mannered folk. Might look down on you, but most don’t swell out of their britches.” After another furtive glance toward the tower, the guard scratched his neck, just below the bronze ceremonial helmet. “Most, anyway.”
“Except High Holder Khervar? Isn’t he here all the time?”
“He is.” The slightest hint of a smile crossed the older guard’s face. “He’s young.”
“I’d better be careful,” replied Quaeryt. “I’m not that old, myself.”
“You were never that young, I’d be thinking.”
Quaeryt hoped not. “I suppose I’d better go inside. I wouldn’t want to be late.”
Jhoal stepped back and opened the narrow gate. “Take care, scholar.”
Quaeryt walked up the steps leading to the roofed colonnades that flanked the garden. The guard at the top of the steps studied the scholar, then nodded. Quaeryt took his time, but did not loiter, especially when he saw Savaityl-the palace seneschal-standing beside the grille to the private staircase, quietly talking to the guard. The staircase guard looked straight ahead, not at Savaityl and not at Quaeryt.
Even so, Savaityl turned. “You’re a quarter glass early, scholar. You can wait here.” A good ten years older than the scholar, the seneschal had a face that would have fit an ax, hard and smooth, with flinty gray eyes under coal-black hair cut short enough that it lay flat on his scalp, barely covering it. His Bovarian was precise and flawless, like everything else he cultivated.
“Certainly. I wouldn’t want to intrude. I just didn’t want to be late.”
“Lord Bhayar appreciates your punctuality. So do I. There is a difference between being slightly early and far too early … especially when one is here so very often.”
Quaeryt nodded respectfully. There were times when responding verbally was worse than unnecessary. Savaityl had served Chayar, and now served his son. Both lords sent those who didn’t meet their standards to handle unpleasant and marginally meaningful tasks in even less pleasant locales. Bhayar was an enlightened lord. He did not believe in torture. Those who failed were exiled to distant locales. Those who stole or did worse vanished forever.
While he stood waiting, Quaeryt considered again his plan. Would it work? Who knew? What he did know was that Bhayar had little real regard for scholars and a wariness combined with contempt for imagers. On top of that, he had little patience for advisors-or anyone-who loitered around the palace providing little but pronouncements without ever undertaking anything of risk or value. Savaityl’s last words had reinforced that.
A time later, but before the chimes rang out announcing the glass, Savaityl returned and nodded. The guard unlocked the private staircase, and Quaeryt started up the steep and narrow steps and made his way up to the private corridor on the upper level. There the walls were of goldenwood bleached out until it was a faint tannish off-white. The floor was of pale blue tile, edged in dark blue. There were no hangings, no paintings, and no other decorations. In fact, mused Quaeryt, except in the receiving hall, he’d never seen any art or sculpture, and all that was displayed in the one chamber had been gifted to the Lord of Telaryn.
One of the assistant stewards stood by the half-open door to the study. He inclined his head, then turned and announced, “Scholar Quaeryt Rytersyn to see you, Lord.”
There was no answer, only a gesture. As was his wont, Bhayar was not seated behind the overly ornate carved goldenwood desk, but standing. He had been perusing the map of Lydar affixed to the map stand.
“Good morning, Lord.” Quaeryt bowed.
“Good morning. Do you have an answer to my question, scholar?” Bhayar’s voice was jovial, meaning that he’d had a good evening with his lady. Everyone knew when he didn’t.
“I do have a proposal, Lord. Who’s the governor of Tilbor Province?”
“I asked for an answer, not more questions.”
Quaeryt inclined his head respectfully and waited.
Bhayar sighed, but it was a deep sigh, for effect, and not the tight short sigh that meant displeasure. “Rescalyn. He’s a good troop commander, doesn’t put up with local nonsense.”
“Who’s the deputy governor or the assistant governor?”
“Straesyr. He’s the princeps. He was a solid marshal, not brilliant. He’s good with golds and supplies.”
“Why don’t you send me to Tilbora as a scholar advisor to Straesyr?”
“You want to go to Tilbora?”
“No. But I can’t give you a recommendation without going there.” Quaeryt laughed. “I can’t even ask the right questions.”
Bhayar fingered his clean-shaven chin. “Anyone who wants to go to that forsaken place…” He paused. “What do you have in mind?”
“Finding out if there’s a way to stop the incidents without killing people-or a way to do it with fewer troops.”
“You can’t calculate that from here?”
“Did your father conquer Tilbor by staying in Solis?”
“More questions … Your questions will be the death of me.” Bhayar shook his head. “I’ll write you an appointment. The pay won’t be much, a half gold a week and a room in the barracks. Do you want to travel with the next dispatch riders?”
Quaeryt shook his head. “I’d like to go by sea and look around some before I present myself.”
Bhayar nodded. “How long will you…” He broke off his words. “Be back by the end of winter, or don’t bother.”
“You’re worried about the Bovarians?”
“Who wouldn’t be after what Kharst did in Khel?”
“In time, that could be your opportunity.”
“How do you see that? I don’t know that the Pharsis will look to me as their savior, and the Bovarians were pleased to see the Pharsis brought down.”
“You don’t have to be a savior. Just don’t make all the mistakes Rex Kharst has.” Or your father did in Tilbor.
“And just what would you have done with the Pharsi?”
“I’d have to think about that,” Quaeryt admitted, “but don’t you think that after the war is over and you’ve made people part of your land, you need to find a way to make them want you as their ruler?”
“That’s why you’re going to Tilbora, I suppose? Rather than say that I should go?”
“Can you think of a better reason?”
“Not at the moment. What’s in it for you?”
“Your appreciation, if I succeed, and your willingness to agree, again, if I succeed, that scholars are occasionally useful.” Quaeryt grinned. “Also enough coin and gratitude that I don’t have to become an itinerant scholar, always looking over my shoulder.”
“You might get one out of two, and half of the other.” Bhayar rose. “I’ll have your commission and appointment ready on Jeudi, with a few golds for travel. Come by in the late afternoon, fourth glass or so.”
“You have that look. Which minister are you meeting with next?”
“Thrachis. The factors are protesting that I’m spending golds on roads that make travel easy for the High Holders, but not for trade. They’re never happy.”
“Some people are only happy when they’re complaining,” observed Quaeryt. “Sometimes they’re right, but when you address their complaint, they’ll soon find another. You might have him ask them, if you address their problem, how long it will be before they find another.”
Quaeryt could see the calculation in his eyes. “By your leave, Lord?”
Bhayar nodded, a movement somewhere between indifference and brusqueness. “You may go.”
The scholar offered a respectful bow before turning and departing.
Meredi found Quaeryt in what was called the library in the Scholarium Solum. A pretentious name, not only for the repository of miscellaneous volumes, but for the location itself, suggesting that the large but decrepit old building held the one body of scholars in all Telaryn, he thought, as he brushed a moldering bit of plaster from his shoulder with one hand, while brushing the cobwebs off a tome on the shelf before him. He eased the volume out and opened it, reading the title: Rholan, Synthesizing the Esoteric and Exoteric?
While it was far from what he was seeking, he read through several pages. One paragraph did catch his attention.
Although so little is known of Rholan the Unnamer that he might as well be apocryphal, the stories and saying attributed to him are a remarkable fusion of the exoteric and esoteric, as if he were attempting to instill spirituality within the most pragmatic of human group functions and interactions.… Yet, for all the impact he has had upon history and belief, the man himself remains more evanescent than morning fog in summer.… We only know that he lived in Montagne and was presumably born there, although no records exist, and that he vanished after traveling to Cloisonyt in his fifty-third year, according to the historian Jletyr Vladomsyn …
“More evanescent than morning fog, yet he single-handedly made Lydar a bastion of the Nameless,” murmured Quaeryt to himself.
He closed the volume and continued his search, absently wondering, far from the first time, why so many books in a library supposedly used and perused by scholars had been untouched for so long, and why many had never been opened. He quickly looked at and discarded several other volumes-Time of the Champions: Caldor and Hengyst; The Five Ports of Lydar; Historical Inaccuracies in the Accounts of Tholym; Natural Remedies from Telaryn Flora.
He couldn’t help but wince at one-Imaging as a Manifestation of Naming.
In time, he did discover a volume that would suffice for his purposes-Historical Commentary on Tilbor. It had the added benefit of the title on the cover and a seal indicating it had never been opened. It might even be informative as well. Finding it was likely to be the easy part. While he could have taken it past the gate desk to the library under a concealment shield, or removed it by even more covert means, either could raise questions later, when he would not wish them to surface. He decided to try the direct approach first.
He walked to the desk set beside the locked door gate to the library and looked to the young student scholar seated there.
“I’d like to borrow this volume.”
“Sir … I cannot grant that.”
Quaeryt knew that. He even knew the answer to the question he had to ask. “Who can?”
“I’ll have to check with Scholar Parelceus, sir. He is the only one who can decide.” The youth’s voice did not quite quaver.
“Please do. I’ll leave it here with you, and come back late this afternoon.”
“Ah … he won’t be back until late tonight … after the library is locked.”
“Then I’ll come by in the morning.” Quaeryt handed the book to the young man. “Don’t break the seal, either.”
“Ah … no, sir.”
“Thank you.” Quaeryt smiled and departed.
Outside the Scholarium, the day was already hot, despite high hazy clouds.
Quaeryt turned his steps toward the harbor, knowing full well that later it would be even hotter, and the hazy clouds meant that there would be little breeze at all.
The hillside that held the Scholarium flattened into the lower city after Quaeryt had walked less than two hundred yards, just past the anomen of the Nameless that was almost as old as the Scholarium, but far less decrepit. Once he was among the welter of shops and cafes and establishments even less reputable, the last traces of the morning breeze vanished, leaving him walking steadfastly through a haze that held the pungency of onions fried in grease close to rancid; the smoke of various types of incenses, likely from one of the countries located on the southern continent of Otelyrn; the faint but acrid bitterness of elveweed; the more welcome smell of roasting fowl; and dozens of other less identifiable odors, the origins of many on which few would wish to dwell.
Quaeryt stepped past a bent old man standing beside a cart that held folded scarves, neckerchiefs, and smaller pocket squares. The vendor did not return his smile. Then he dodged around two heavyset women who balanced bundles of laundry on their heads as they strode toward the cross street that led to a public fountain two long blocks to the west.
Close to three-quarters of a glass later, and feeling far warmer, Quaeryt slowed as he approached the establishment on the unnamed street that everyone called “second street,” since it was the second one back from and north of Harbor Avenue. The sign displayed a rat in a sailor’s sleeveless jacket lifting a gray tankard. The illustration had been recently repainted. The Tellan words underneath-“The Wharf Rat”-had not. Quaeryt nodded and stepped inside.
The unlit and dim taproom was empty, except for an angular gray-haired woman in black trousers and a plain faded blue shirt-blouse. She smiled as she saw Quaeryt. “Scholar.” Except the Tellan word meant something more like “learned rascal.”
“Quaeryt. Always been Quaeryt to you, Zaenyi.” He grinned. “You always make me do that.”
“It’s a harmless game. These days, what’s harmless is good. Better than most of what passes for games.”
“Business isn’t that bad, is it?”
“It’s been better. It’s also been worse.”
“You get many Tilborans in here lately?”
“A sailor’s a sailor. If they behave and have coin, we serve them. If they don’t, Kuisad gets them to leave.” She paused. “Why do you ask?”
“I may have to go there.”
“I thought you gave up the sea when you became a scholar. Now even your words reek of the Bovarian.”
“Zaenyi … you’re cruel.”
Her smile was mischievous.
“Traveling to Tilbora,” he finally replied, “isn’t the same as going back to sea.”
“You can’t ever stay put, can you?”
“Too much of a target if you do.”
“Kuisad said you’d been named a Scholar of the Lord. Many would become Bilbryn’s apprentice for that.”
Quaeryt merely nodded to that. So many thought the historic imager a disciple of the Namer that there was little point in protesting. “It brings in a few silvers a week. Lord Bhayar’s a fair man. He’s not a patient man. He’s getting impatient. It’s not a good time for a scholar to be around. He’s thinking I might be of use studying things in Tilbora. I’m considering taking him up on it.” Quaeryt shrugged. “What should I know that’s been happening here?”
“There was an Antiagon crew in here last night. They were boasting about how they privateered a fat Bovarian merchanter. They captured something. They were free with their coins, and the silvers were Bovarian.”
“Were they truly Antiagons?”
“They all spoke that low tongue.”
Quaeryt nodded again. The “low tongue” was a bastard Bovarian dialect spoken in Antiago and southern Bovaria, mainly in Kherseilles and Ephra and the lands between. “No Bovarians lately?”
“Not since mid-Mayas.”
In the remaining half glass or so that they talked, Zaenyi didn’t add anything more to what she’d said earlier, and it was close to noon when Quaeryt left and walked the two blocks to the harbor proper. When Lord Chayar had moved the capital from Extela to Solis, he had also rebuilt the harbor. All the piers were accessed off the stone-paved and stone-walled Harbor Avenue, and all four long piers were not only of solid stone with stone footings, but were widely separated.
Quaeryt knew the kind of ship he was looking for-not the biggest, nor the fanciest, but a modest-sized, tight-rigged, and older Telaryn or Tilboran vessel in outstanding repair.
The first and southernmost pier in the harbor was the smallest, and the vessels who tied up there were either local coasters or fishermen. Quaeryt started with the second pier, even though that meant walking farther. He thought the second ship from the foot of the pier was Tilboran, what with the high sides and sturdy timbers, but planks at the waterline were green and the gunwales were neither oiled nor varnished, and she creaked too much even in the gentle swells of the harbor. While a Tilboran vessel would have been ideal, he wasn’t about to trust one whose maintenance had clearly been slighted.
Next was a sleek northern vessel, most likely Jariolan, with shorter sloop-rigged masts to deal with the force of northern gales. Quaeryt had to wonder if she was a spice trader, stopping in Solis for repairs, in order to avoid the high porting tariffs imposed by the Rex of Bovaria. Beyond the Jariolan was a bulky Ferran barque whose crew looked to be re-rigging the foremast.
“Good-looking ship,” he murmured, even if he had no intention of sailing under a Ferran ensign.
The ship at the end of the pier on the seaward side had to be Antiagon-much smaller and sloop-rigged. Quaeryt had to admit that she was trim and well-kept, but he needed a Telaryn vessel, and he didn’t like the idea of a smaller craft in the rougher waters off the eastern coast.
He trudged back down the second pier and started studying vessels on the third pier, the most likely one for his needs, since the fourth pier held both of Bhayar’s warships, used solely if the Lord wished to travel somewhere by sea, and several of the larger ocean clippers designed for faster ocean crossings and unlikely to be calling on coastal ports-even had he wanted to pay their exorbitant rates for passage.
Halfway out the third pier, he spied a ship that was close to what he sought, a three-masted barque, a few years older than he would have liked, but the care and cleanliness showed. The fantail plaque proclaimed her as Diamond Naclia, suggesting she was ported out of either Nacliano or Estisle. She might be outbound from there, but then again, she might be headed back, and if she weren’t headed north from her home port, he’d have a chance to pick up a Tilboran ship there.
The gangway was down, and two heavy wagons were blocked in place roughly opposite where the forward-hold hatch was likely to be located. The teamster of the forward wagon was unfastening the canvas from his wagon bed.
Quaeryt stopped at the base of the gangway and looked to the sailor at the opening in the railing, a mate judging from the sleeveless jacket with the black cloth stripes angled up toward his neck. “Permission to come aboard.” His words were Tellan.
“Polite now, aren’t you, scholar?” replied the mate in Tellan. “That brown shirt and trousers says you’re that, right?”
The mate gestured, and Quaeryt limped up the gangway to the area that would have been called the quarterdeck on a passenger ship.
“What can I do for you, scholar?”
“I’m trying to get to Tilbora.…”
“You are? And you’d be wanting to work your way, I suppose?”
The top of the mate’s head was barely level with Quaeryt’s nose, but the scholar wouldn’t have wanted to tangle with the sailor, not with his knotted muscles and unscarred face.
Quaeryt laughed. “I’m a scholar. I can write letters, copy manifests and waybills, total shipment values, but I’ve got a bad leg, and I’m clumsy when I carry heavy things because of it. You look to be headed back to Estisle, perhaps farther.…”
“Passage to Nacliano would be a gold, plus two coppers a day for the crew’s fare, four for the captain’s.”
“I didn’t say I couldn’t be helpful,” replied Quaeryt. “Years ago…”
“What? Cabin boy?”
“Quartermaster stryker. I can do navigation calculations, and, if you’ve got the tables, double moon triangulation … or just spell your lookouts.”
“With Artiema full twenty degrees above the horizon in the west and Erion at the zenith, and the Triad fifteen above the water…”
Quaeryt let himself grin. “You’d not be seeing the Triad in the morning light…”
A faint smile crossed the mate’s lips. “How about Artiema twenty degrees above the horizon in the east…?”
For close to half a glass, the mate asked questions about navigation. Abruptly, he stopped. “I’ll have to talk to the captain. If he agrees, a half gold, and a copper a day for fare, and you can have the bunk in the fantail storage locker. We’ll be casting off at dawn on Vendrei. No extra cost if you want to sleep aboard tomorrow night.”
“I’ll come by tomorrow to see if he agrees.”
The mate nodded. “I’m Ghoryn.”
After he left the Diamond, the scholar found himself smiling. He’d enjoyed the navigation exam and puzzles posed by Ghoryn.
The smile faded as he considered that, while he had the beginnings of an idea to deal with his problems, he still didn’t have a real solution to Bhayar’s difficulties, even though he’d known he wouldn’t until he’d spent time in Tilbora. Still …
A little after eighth glass on Jeudi, Quaeryt presented himself at the library gate desk.
The student scholar looked up and swallowed. “Scholar Quaeryt? Ah … sir. Scholar Parelceus has the book in his study, sir.”
Quaeryt smiled politely. “Thank you.”
As he walked from the gate desk down the dingy corridor to the study claimed by the principal assistant scholar to the princeps of the Scholarium Solum, Quaeryt reflected that even the seemingly simplest tasks often required more effort to accomplish within laws and procedures than outside them, a fact overlooked by too many rulers, governors, and chiefs of patrollers … or officious scholars.
He knocked on the proper door, then opened it, and entered without waiting for an acknowledgment.
“Scholar Quaeryt … this is most untoward.” Parelceus was the rotund form of scholar with chubby red cheeks, the brown hair on the sides of his head slicked into place with a scented grease pomade. His brown eyes were as hard as the top of his balding skull as he looked up from where he sat behind a desk so ancient that the wood was more black than its likely original brown finish.
“Untoward?” Quaeryt let a puzzled expression appear on his face. “Untoward? In what fashion, Scholar Parelceus?”
For a moment, the assistant to the princeps said nothing, his mouth opening once slightly before closing with almost a snap. Finally, he spoke. “The library assistant said that you wished to remove this valuable reference tome from the library.” As he pointed to the ancient leather-bound volume, Parelceus shook his head. “Surely you know, Scholar Quaeryt, that all books, volumes, folios, and maps must remain within the confines of the library. Otherwise, before long, we would have nothing remaining.”
“I understand, Scholar Parelceus.” Quaeryt smiled. “In the years I have been here, first as a student, and then as a scholar, have I ever asked for that privilege?” Quaeryt refrained from pointing out the years he had been away from Solis.
“That is not the point. Rules are rules. What is the point of having rules if they can be broken?”
“Have you looked at the book?”
“What do you mean?”
“Until I picked it up yesterday, it had not been read since it was placed in the library. I left the original seal in place.”
“Is not the purpose of a book to be useful?”
“Of course. Of course … but within the rules of the Scholarium.”
“The book would be useful to me in a commission for Lord Bhayar. You may recall that he did name me his scholar?”
“Ah … I did hear something about that.”
“I’d be most happy to sign a pledge that I will return the book upon the completion of this commission.”
“But that would violate the rules of the Scholarium.”
“I know the permanent removal is forbidden, and that makes great sense. You are right. If anyone could remove any number of books, before long there would be no library.” Quaeryt paused. “But where is it written that borrowing a single book in pursuit of a commission of the Lord of Telaryn is prohibited?”
“There is the matter of tradition…” protested Parelceus.
“Would it be in the interests of the Scholarium Solum to refuse on the grounds of tradition … over a single book?”
A calculating look appeared in the hard brown eyes. “You would sign a pledge … and perhaps a deposit…”
“A pledge … yes. A deposit would be most unnecessary. If I fail to return the book, then you could deny me all privileges accorded me as a scholar. Before long I would not be welcome in any community of scholars. Why would I risk that over a single book when I struggled so long to become a scholar?”
“But … the rules … others…?”
“I can borrow the book, or I can tell Lord Bhayar that I could not. That’s your choice. Of course, you could always ask the princeps.” Quaeryt looked calmly at Parelceus and waited.
After a long moment, Parelceus sighed. “I suppose it is a matter of practicality. I will need two copies of your pledge, one for the files here, and one for the princeps.”
“I’ll write them out here and now.”
Parelceus sighed again.
Almost a glass later, Quaeryt was seated in the shielded corner of the north porch of the Scholars’ House, reading through the Historical Commentary on Tilbor. He’d studied the seal and imaged several duplicates before he’d opened the book and broken the seal. Sections of the opening pages suggested that, while the book contained information he’d never seen elsewhere, connecting it to real history was likely to be a laborious process.
One paragraph struck him as particularly representative.
… while it can be debated whether Hengyst’s methodology in the razing of Noveault was accepted as typical of the border skirmishes between Ryntar and Tilbor or whether it was typicality carried to excess as a result of the Tilboran massacre of Ryntaran peasants outside of Bluodyn the previous spring, there is little question that Hengyst wished to remove all threats, real or perceived, along the border with Tilbor before he embarked on his decade-long war of consolidation against Tela that eventually, if uneasily and in a fashion that required considerable martial prowess on the part of his descendants, both son and grandson, in maintaining stability, resulted in the foundation of the larger state of Telaryn, and laid the crumbling foundation of governance later undermined and superseded with great effect by the Yaran warlords of the Montagne province, whose ascension to power and the Lordship of Telaryn, while not necessarily acclaimed, especially given their fire and passion, reputedly bestowed on them because they inhabited a land where the mountains still spewed fire, was most obviously accepted with relief by the majority of the populace …
Quaeryt blotted his forehead, not necessarily from the heat. Still, he’d found no other comparatively voluminous history of Tilbor in the library, nor one so handsomely bound. It had to be written by the third son of a wealthy High Holder … or the fourth or fifth.
He kept reading for another three glasses, before he returned to his small cubby on the second floor of the house. There he imaged a hole in the false wall he’d imaged into place in the nook that held his bed pallet, removed the strongbox and unlocked it, placed the tome inside, and then locked and replaced the strongbox. After imaging away the hole in the wall, he descended to the main floor, from where he made his way out into another sweltering day and down the hill to Vinara, one of the tavernas he frequented when he wanted neither to spend many coppers nor to risk severe indigestion.
He nodded politely to the civic patroller he passed. The patroller barely nodded in return.
While some cafes and tavernas closed from second glass to fourth glass, especially in summer, Vinara was not one of them, perhaps because it was located in an old thick-walled dwelling that had a small fountain in its shaded courtyard. Or it might have been that Celina and her husband simply saw an opportunity. Either way, Quaeryt was glad the taverna was one of those that fit his habits.
He had no more than stepped into the dimness of the front entry when Celina appeared, flashing a coquettish smile for all that her figure was definitely excessively matronly. “There is a small table by the fountain, scholar.” Her Tellan was that of old Solis, softer and recalling a vanished time.
“I would like that.” He returned the smile. “And you will serve me?”
“Who else would dare with all your words and improper behavior?” The proprietress did not quite flounce out into the courtyard, where she pointed to the circular table so close to the fountain that one edge held a sheen of dampness.
“Thank you, gracious mistress.” Quaeryt grinned.
“Would that you would ever be that fortunate.” Her tone was severe, but there was a glint in her eyes.
“A man can dream…”
“A man’s dreams are often a maiden’s nightmares.”
“I’m far kinder than that.” He paused. “Is the cucumber sauce fresh?”
“Less than a glass ago, scholar.”
“Then I’ll have the lamb flatbread with it and the mild rice fries.”
“And the pale lager?”
Celina hurried off, and Quaeryt followed her steps for a moment. Sitting in the shade by the courtyard fountain was the most comfortable he’d felt in days. He wasn’t looking forward to meeting with Bhayar again, and especially not to what likely awaited him in Tilbora, but unless the weather was truly unseasonal, the voyage to Nacliano would be more pleasant than sweltering through the summer in Solis-or riding along the dusty and all too winding roads that led to the eastern coast of Telaryn.
The lager and lamb-filled flatbread arrived quickly, and Quaeryt took his time, enjoying both … as well as bantering with Celina. The extra pair of coppers he left were worth it, and he reminded himself that they had taken only a bit of effort.
He was reluctant to depart Vinara, but well aware of the dangers of being late to the palace. Bhayar might keep him waiting, but the Lord of Telaryn got more than testy with those who were not available at his beck and call-and that was another reason why going to Tilbora was a good idea, since Bhayar had been testier than usual of late.
Quaeryt arrived at the private gate to the palace at a quarter to fourth glass. After a few pleasantries with Fherad, another of the guards he knew in passing, he made his way through the gate and up the steps to the second guard. After he passed the man, as he was walking along the colonnaded passage toward the locked interior staircase, a woman addressed him.
“Scholar?” The voice was somewhere between girlish and womanly, yet slightly husky.
Quaeryt debated not halting, but courtesy, caution, and curiosity won out. He stopped and looked past the marble column and through the lacy screen of ferns, some of which had browned edges despite their nearness to the fountains.
Beyond the ferns, the not-quite-gangly girl-woman who wore riding pants and a woman’s light riding jacket to conceal her figure sat in the shade of a tall fern less than three yards from the fountain that supposedly depicted a sea sprite, with water geysering from its blowhole and from its barbed tail. A riding hat with a veil rested on a well-shaped leg. Her light brown hair held natural waves, but not excessive curls. Beside her sat a gray-haired duenna, who turned and regarded Quaeryt with a disapproving expression.
“You can enter the gardens. Take the next archway.” Her words were offered in formal Bovarian, rather than Tellan or far less common Pharsi, and the language and the light honeyed shade to her clear skin suggested not only her background but who she happened to be.
“As you wish, mistress,” replied Quaeryt.
“It is my wish, scholar.”
He bowed his head, then turned and walked the ten yards or so to the first archway.
Two guards stood there.
“The young mistress requested my presence.”
“Wait,” said one.
The other turned and disappeared past another bank of ferns. In moments he returned and nodded. Both stepped aside, but as Quaeryt walked past, he could feel their eyes on his back.
He kept walking until he reached the young woman. “You requested my presence, mistress?” Quaeryt avoided looking directly into her eyes, as required when addressing a woman of stature.
“You’re going to see my brother, aren’t you?” Her voice was pleasant, with that hint of huskiness he found attractive. Her face was also well-shaped, neither too long nor too round.
“My presence has been requested by Lord Bhayar. I could not presume your position. Many women have brothers,” he replied. “I only know that you are favored to be here in the fountain gardens.”
“Favored? One might say that. You are a scholar. Tell me something.”
“About what, mistress?”
“Aunt Nerya”-the girl-woman nodded to the duenna-“claims that for an unmarried woman to ride in public without her parents or a male relative is as bad a sin as Naming. Is it? Are there any writings that declare that? Has any high chorister of the Nameless proclaimed it?” Her light brown eyes studied him with an intensity he found unsettling, yet oddly pleasing.
“I have read none, mistress, yet I am not a scholar of the Nameless, but of history and of the physical world. You would do better to ask a high chorister.”
“Are you a coward to refuse an opinion?” The young woman’s voice remained pleasant, a tone more suited to asking about the weather or the time to dine, but with the slightest undertone of amusement.
“Any man is a fool to offer advice on how a woman behaves with regard to her family, unless he is her husband. In that case, he might still be foolhardy. I would far rather be called a coward than to be a fool.”
“So you’re afraid of Bhayar?”
“I respect Lord Bhayar, and only a fool would not have a healthy respect for a lord as accomplished and powerful as he is. I also respect his willingness to learn and to listen.” Even if his lack of patience limits both.
“Do you ride, scholar?”
“At times, mistress. There is little call for scholars to ride.”
“I had heard differently.” She offered a smile, one not quite inviting, nor yet dismissive. “In time, perhaps I can persuade my brother to have you accompany us on a ride somewhere … suitable.” There was a slight pause before she extended a sealed missive. “Since you are a scholar of history, you might find this of some amusement. If you do, I will take your comments. You may return them to me, directly, if we happen to encounter each other, or you may pass them to Nerya.”
Historical comments from her? Quaeryt took the sealed document and inclined his head. “I will do so.”
After a moment, she added, “You may go.”
“By your leave, mistress.”
“You didn’t use my name,” she said.
Quaeryt smiled. “It’s not my place to presume.” Although doing so would be a pleasure … if most dangerous.
“Go.” The single word held a tone of amusement … and perhaps something more.
He bowed and then turned, slipping the document inside his tunic and making his way from the fountain gardens, wondering exactly what Vaelora had really wanted … and even more of concern, what was in the missive or document. He hadn’t seen her in years, and then only a handful of times from a distance, but Bhayar’s other three surviving sisters were all much older-and married. The oldest, Chaerila, had been married to the Autarch of Antiago and had died in childbirth a year after the wedding. The autarch had promptly remarried-a niece of Rex Kharst, another matter of continuing concern to Bhayar.
Still … there was definitely something about Vaelora … far beyond mere attractiveness, although she was certainly good-looking. She might have been raised to be married off for political purposes, but whoever married her would have his hands full, and then some, Quaeryt suspected.
Enough … you’d best not even dream about her.
He concentrated on what he would say to Bhayar as he approached the private staircase.
Savaityl was not there, but the guard nodded politely. “Lord Bhayar is currently occupied.”
Still thinking about Vaelora and what she wanted, and wondering why on Terahnar she had reached out to him, Quaeryt waited for a good half glass before the bell beside the grille gate rang and the guard unlocked it. He nodded politely and started up the staircase, seemingly as hot as an oven. When he reached the third level, he was drenched in his own sweat. He stopped and blotted his forehead before he walked slowly to where an assistant steward stood outside the open study door.
“The scholar is here, Lord.”
“Send him in.”
Quaeryt stepped past the man and walked toward the desk Bhayar stood behind, looking down and examining a musket laid out on the wooden surface.
“There ought to be a better way of making these,” mused Bhayar. “Do you think they could be imaged?”
“I would doubt it. A good imager might be able to image each piece perfectly, but they’d still have to be put together, and if any piece happened to be the slightest bit out of true…”
“It wouldn’t work. Or worse, would misfire.” Bhayar shook his head. “It must have taken Kharst’s smiths years to hammer out the parts for the muskets he supposedly used at Khel. They take forever to load, and they’re not very accurate. I’d wager that they were mostly for effect, and that his cavalry was what routed the Pharsi.”
“It could be.”
“You don’t sound convinced, scholar.”
“The Pharsi won most of the battles where cavalry were important. Rex Kharst had to have done something different at Khel.”
“Maybe he just had more cavalry by then. Or imagers.”
“That’s very possible.”
“I understand my sister summoned you,” Bhayar said evenly, “and gave you a document detailing her thoughts on history.”
“She did. I thought it unwise to refuse it.”
Bhayar laughed. “I have found it unwise to refuse her more reasonable requests as well. Yet you were most proper. Even Savaityl thought so, and he is not generous in his judgments. Most proper. Were it not for your reputation, scholar, one might think that your interests did not lie in women.”
“I have great interests in women, and your sister is most attractive. Most attractive. It is not my place to make advances to her or to respond to such.”
“You’re right. You also have good judgment in that and in many other matters.” Bhayar picked a leather pouch off the desk and extended it. “Your silvers and golds for travel.” He then handed Quaeryt a thin leather folder. “That holds your appointment as scholar assistant to the princeps. I thought an easily concealed case would be more suitable.”
“Thank you.” Quaeryt bowed his head. “I appreciate your thoughtfulness.”
“I also have sent a dispatch telling both Rescalyn and Straesyr to expect you. Upon your return, I want a detailed report on the state of matters in Tilbor. An honest report.” A chuckle followed. “Knowing you, that is doubtless an unnecessary warning. I still felt compelled to make it.”
“You’ve never left much to chance.”
“With you around, how could I?” Bhayar shook his head again. “Go. Go and pester my governor and princeps with your questions.”
Sensing both exasperation and humor in Bhayar’s words, Quaeryt bowed. “At your command, Lord.”
Quaeryt was almost to the study door when Bhayar added in a low voice, “And take care of yourself. If you think it necessary-and it had better be-I will come to Tilbor.”
“Thank you … and don’t be too hard on those who ask questions while I’m gone.”
“Only those who ask stupid ones.”
Quaeryt smiled, but kept walking. He still had to meet with Ghoryn … and he wanted to read whatever it was Vaelora had written-if only to be able to protect himself.
Are you certain that’s the only reason? He didn’t laugh softly to himself until he was walking down the private staircase.
Once he left the palace, Quaeryt immediately made his way back to his chamber in the Scholarium, where he could read Vaelora’s missive without interruption. Before he met with the mate of the Diamond Naclia, and parted with silvers, he wanted to know why Bhayar’s sister was sending him a missive … and what she had in mind. While it might be exactly what she had claimed, he had more than casual doubts-far more. Vaelora might be only nineteen, going on twenty, but not a one of that family was lacking in brains and cunning, and for a mere scholar to get drawn into whatever might be on the young woman’s mind was bound to be risky.
But she definitely is attractive. He pushed that thought away.
Once he closed the door and slid the lock plate, just for practice, he imaged the seal from where it joined the edges of the paper to a point slightly lower, then opened the two sheets and began to read.
Dear Scholar Quaeryt-
Many, including Lord Bhayar himself, have noted that you possess a quiet but pervasive understanding of both history and those who would make it, whether those persons be men or women. It is said that history is written by those who have triumphed. That is often so, but it is also true that, at times, it is written by those who have not. They are the ones who have survived others’ triumphs and then their decline.
What then is triumph? The momentary accession to power, followed by a constant struggle to increase or maintain that power? Or is such triumph always followed by an inevitable loss of power, whether such a decline is visible to observers at the time? Can power be merely maintained by a wise ruler? Or is that a fiction created by such rulers? Or must it always be increased, or lost? Are the wisest of rulers those who quietly surround themselves with men and women of ability, and listen to them, choosing what serves their ends most judiciously? Yet how is this possible, when so many men of ability seek to further their own ends, rather than those of another?
Quaeryt stopped and reread the clear and graceful writing of the previous paragraph once again.
“‘Men and women of ability,’” he murmured, “yet ‘so many men of ability seek to further their own ends.’” An accidental choice of words? Not likely. Not at all.
A woman of ability must subordinate herself to a man, if indirectly, in order to obtain her ends, while a man may seek to make his own destiny. Thus, a ruler must always ask of a man who ostensibly serves him whose ends that underling truly works for and in what circumstances, while the ruler can ask with which man a woman is allied and how her acts and requests might benefit the man in question.
“I don’t know about that … a woman can flatter one man while serving another.” But that’s what’s she’s saying.
This is not as simple as it may appear, for a mother may have desires for her husband or her lover or her children. The honest woman is the one who is direct with the one she loves the most, but do men respect such honesty?
Another good question. Quaeryt kept reading.
In historical tomes, one often reads of how effectively a ruler must treat with allies and enemies. Seldom is there ever reference to the effectiveness in dealing with those closest to a ruler, save when a ruler cold-bloodedly removes all those whose bloodlines might supplant his own. Yet Lord Chayar was most successful in not resorting to such familial bloodletting, as was his father and as has been his son. Why do those who study history not remark upon such?
Because Chayar had only a single son and because his father Lhayar sent all his sons into battle against the descendants of Hengyst until but one son remained.
Or is it because they use circumstances in quiet ways to limit familial rivalries before they can threaten the internal harmonies necessary for a successful ruler?
These are mere thoughts, offered for your consideration.
The signature was a single letter-“V.”
When he had finished, Quaeryt folded the missive carefully, then slipped it inside the document case Bhayar had given him.
What exactly did Vaelora have in mind? What she had written wasn’t a flattering treatise on his intellect or insight. Nor was it seductive-except in the sense of showing that she could indeed think … and raise issues without revealing, at least directly, even who she was. The document was unlike anything he had ever read, and it was incredible, so incredible that he had to wonder if Vaelora had composed it herself.
Yet … who else could have? From the brief meeting, he had doubts that Nerya had, and none of Vaelora’s sisters had been in residence in Solis in years. That meant that the document reflected either Vaelora or the presence in the palace of another woman of intellect and perception. Perhaps Aelina?
Quaeryt nodded. That was possible. Was the document suggesting that some of the better of Bhayar’s decisions had come from his Lady?
Either way, the missive had raised many of the key issues of ruling, including perhaps the most important, that of assuring an orderly succession. Hengyst had been a great ruler, and yet within a few generations, his successors had been anything but great. Supposedly, the same had been true of Caldor, the founder of Bovaria. Kharst had come from a cadet lineage that had scarcely been noted a few generations earlier, when suddenly, all the direct descendants of Caldor had suffered various fatalities that had never been explained satisfactorily, perhaps because anyone who raised such issues also vanished.
Was the letter a form of indirect communication from Bhayar?
He shook his head. While he certainly couldn’t discount the possibility, Vaelora’s words to him and the tone of the letter mitigated that likelihood. Besides, Bhayar had never minced words with him, not ever. He had hinted, upon occasion, that his youngest sister was proving to be difficult-a greater and greater problem for which he had no easy solution. Because of her intellect? That was all too possible.
Was Vaelora interested in Quaeryt? Perhaps … but why? He was essentially a scholar with a modest income, very modest, and she had no idea that he had a limited ability, through his imaging, to do somewhat better than that-but certainly not the ability to keep her in the style to which she was accustomed. Nor could Bhayar afford to waste an asset like Vaelora on a mere scholar, even one the Lord was familiar with and friendly to.
As for some sort of liaison, Vaelora’s words had almost hinted at that … but, as Quaeryt had as much as indicated to Bhayar, giving in to such an impulse, even if Vaelora were interested, would be tantamount to Quaeryt sentencing himself to a distant exile … or even death. That was certainly not his plan, not when he had so much he wanted to accomplish … somehow. In any case, he would not even have a chance to see Vaelora before he sailed, yet she had asked for his comments.
He sat down and took out a short sheet of paper, thinking, and then finally writing.
Dear Mistress Vaelora-
Your missive raised most of the issues of historical interest in assessing the problems facing a ruler, as well as those facing women who are close to such rulers or who may have power in their own right.
Inasmuch as I am departing immediately on a task assigned to me, I cannot comment at length on your words, but the depth and perception of your insights are indeed remarkable, and when I return I would hope to discuss them, if that is agreeable to all concerned.
He signed it as she had signed hers, with his initial.
Finally, he left his chamber, heading for the harbor. It was later than he would have liked, and he still needed to meet with Ghoryn and confirm with silver his passage on the Diamond Naclia. Then he would have to return to the palace and arrange for his reply to go to Nerya. He wasn’t about to address the outside of his reply directly to Vaelora. Not at all.
After meeting with Ghoryn late on Jeudi afternoon to confirm his space on the Diamond, and then returning to the palace, and spending several silvers to reach Nerya, who accepted the missive silently, Quaeryt returned to the Scholars’ House to sleep there on Jeudi night, knowing that the bunk in the fantail locker would have been as hot and steamy as the inside of a boiling cookpot. He’d also melted some wax to waterproof the leather case Bhayar had given him, which now held both his credentials and Vaelora’s missive. He was up well before dawn on Vendrei, walking toward the harbor with a sailor’s duffel, the canvas strap over his shoulder, the duffel almost on his hip. While he had the silvers for Shuld, the captain, in his wallet, the golds were in hidden slots in his belt, boots, and the sheath of his belt knife.
Until he reached the unmarked way that was “second street,” he saw almost no one on the avenues and streets, and but one patroller. Except around the harbor, and in the palace, Solis was not a morning city. Because it was not, he had to worry less about slam-thieves and cutpurses.
Even from the pier in the gray light before dawn, Quaeryt could see that the crew of the Diamond Naclia was busy with the last tasks before casting off. The land breeze was light, but enough to get the barque out of the harbor.
“That duffel yours, scholar?” asked Ghoryn as Quaeryt walked up the gangplank. “From back when?”
“It is. Never found anything better for traveling.”
“Looks like it’s seen a few ports.”
“A few,” agreed Quaeryt amiably. He turned as the angular figure he had met once approached. There were three black stripes with the crescent moon above them on the front shoulder of the sleeveless dark gray linen jacket.
The scholar slipped his fingers inside his own brown traveling jacket and came up with the coins. “I believe you agreed to these, Captain. The other half of the passage and fare for ten days.” Quaeryt handed across four silvers to the lanky captain.
“You’re a man of your word, scholar.” Shuld smiled humorously, his surprisingly white and full set of teeth contrasting with his square-cut black beard.
“Sometimes that’s all we have.”
“Looks like you’ve a bit more than that.”
“A patron commissioned a history of Tilbor. Commissions like that don’t come often.”
“How often?” asked Ghoryn.
“This is my first and probably my last,” replied Quaeryt with a laugh.
Shuld nodded and walked away, turning his attention toward the fo’c’s’le. “Careful with those capstan bars!”
Ghoryn turned. “Baeryn! Show the scholar the fantail locker.”
“Yes, sir.” A ragged-haired youth in breeches that barely covered his knees hurried across the deck and stopped a yard away. He was barefoot. “This way, sir!”
Baeryn quickly clambered up the ladder to the poop deck, keeping well to starboard as they passed the helm, and then dropped down the half ladder.
The youth opened the locker, which, as he did, Quaeryt could see had two doors, rather than hatches, one on the starboard side and one on the port. “There you are, sir.”
Quaeryt did not enter the locker, but studied it from the open door. The bunk, such as it was, consisted of a narrow plank shelf, with a canvas pallet, and three ropes anchoring the forward side to the overhead. Under the shelf bunk were spare sails, and against the forward bulkhead were lines and cables. Everything was stowed neatly and fastened in place. There were no portholes in the locker itself, only several sets of shielded and louvered openings to provide ventilation. He noted that the door opened so that it was flat against the outside bulkhead and that there was a cleat there, as well as one on the inside of the door, doubtless one pair of two so that the doors could be tied open in fair weather to air out the locker. On each side of the locker in the aft bulkhead that ran down from the poop deck to the main deck were three brass-framed portholes, clearly going into the captain’s and other quarters. All were open.
Quaeryt set the duffel on the narrow deck between the railing and the bulkhead. “How long have you been on the Diamond, Baeryn?”
“Near-on three years, sir. My da was a top-rigger on the Emerald back when the captain was first mate.”
From the way the youth spoke, Quaeryt suspected his father was no longer alive, but now was not the time to ask. “Are all the ships out of Nacliano with jewel names in the same fleet?”
“Don’t know as it’s rightly a fleet, sir. There’s six, I hear, and High Holder Ghasphar owns ’em all.” He grinned. “The Diamond’s the best.”
“She’s well-kept and clean. Can you tell me the other mates besides Ghoryn?”
“He’s the first. Wealhyr’s the second, and Zoeryl’s the bosun.”
Quaeryt concentrated, committing the names to memory. “Thank you. I won’t keep you longer. I’m sure you’ve duties to attend to in getting under way.”
“Yes, sir.” After a quick nod, the youth scrambled back up the ladder and headed forward across the poop deck.
Quaeryt stowed his duffel in the locker in a narrow cubby at the end of the shelf bunk on the port side. Then he closed the locker and made his way up the ladder. The helmsman was standing by the wheel, and the captain was forward of him, surveying the ship and crew. Keeping well clear of both, Quaeryt made his way to the main deck, below the poop near the port ladder, where he would be out of the crew’s way. He listened as the bosun called out the orders.
Quaeryt noted that the captain used only the topsails in clearing the port and heading down the channel out into the bay, but that made sense, given the long and comparatively narrow channel toward deeper water. The scholar looked back as the white-orange light of dawn crept over Solis, turning the palace on the hill a pinkish orange.
Not for the first time since he’d decided on his course of action, he wondered if the goals he had in mind were worth the risk-or if they were even attainable. He also couldn’t help but worry about whether he should have replied to Vaelora … yet not replying might well have been worse.
But … she is attractive and bright … and few women are both.
Sometime before dawn on Solayi, nine days into the voyage, Quaeryt was awakened from an uneasy sleep by the sound of boots on the poop deck, far more boots than there should have been at that glass. He immediately pulled on his shirt, trousers, jacket, and boots, and stowed the remainder of his gear in his cubby. Then he eased open the locker, slipped out the starboard door, and closed it behind him.
He studied the sky, but could see no stars, let alone either moon, and since Artiema was still close to full-or, more properly, barely beginning to wane-that meant that the clouds were fairly thick, at least to the west. The wind was light, but steady, out of the west, and the swells were low, no more than a yard from crest to trough at the most.
After a moment, Quaeryt made his way forward, climbing the ladder to the poop deck, forward on the upper deck, and then down to the main deck, since the side of the poop deck was flush with the hull and the only way forward was over the poop.
The bosun stood aft of the main cargo hatch, and Ghoryn stood above him, at the poop deck forward railing, watching as men scurried up the masts.
Eight crewmen wrestled a huge bronze long-gun into position on the starboard side, just forward of midships, while two others were rigging hawsers from heavy iron rings that were probably anchored into the frame of the ship itself. Quaeryt wasn’t sure, but he thought he caught sight of grooves at the end of the muzzle of the cannon as they turned it.
One gun? Just one, despite its rather sizable proportions?
The shot for the cannon didn’t look like anything Quaeryt had seen before, either. The ten objects in the wooden cradle were more like short cylinders with rounded points, instead of regular round cannonballs, not that he’d seen all that many cannon or cannonballs. Most merchanters didn’t carry cannon.
Quaeryt risked a question. “What’s the trouble?”
Zoeryl glanced toward the scholar, then back toward the foremast. “Pirates. Off to the west, just above the horizon. Like as not out of Lucayl. They hole up in the coves south of the cape. Some have caves that open to the sea and will hold a small ship.”
Quaeryt studied the sea to the west, finally making out a low, sloop-rigged craft running at an angle to the wind. For a moment, he didn’t understand why the captain hadn’t turned downwind, but another look at the rapidly nearing craft explained that. The pirate craft was designed and rigged so that she’d be far faster, and Shuld wanted to maneuver so as to put the Diamond where the barque’s greater sail expanse would offset the cleaner lines and rigging of the pirate.
After several moments, Quaeryt asked, “They try to grapple and board on a single pass with their speed?”
“When they get close, they’ll try to use sailshot to disable us first.”
Sailshot? The scholar hadn’t heard of that, but it was probably a version of grapeshot or chainshot or even wadding designed to rip through the merchanter’s sails.
“You right with weapons? We’ve got a spare cutlass or two and a shipstaff. Hope we won’t need them. If the captain’s as good as usual, they won’t get close enough to board,” said the bosun.
“I’m better with a shipstaff.”
“Comes to that, you’ll have one.” The bosun turned from the scholar.
Ghoryn’s voice rose over the others. “Mind the fore topsail!”
Behind and above Quaeryt, Shuld was giving orders, and the scholar strained to hear the captain’s orders to the helmsman.
“Another point to port.…”
Quaeryt watched the pirate vessel-dark-hulled with gray sails and even grayed masts-slowly draw nearer.
“Gun crew to the foredeck!” Shuld hurried down the ladder from the upper deck.
Behind him, Ghoryn moved aft to direct the helmsman.
A puff of smoke issued from the oncoming vessel, less than a vingt away, then a second. Quaeryt saw only the single gout of water a good fifty yards short of the Diamond and more than a hundred yards forward of the bow.
Shuld was issuing directions to the gun crew. “Second wedge! One right.”
Quaeryt watched, intrigued, while the crewman acting as gun captain tapped the wedge-shaped quoin in place. They weren’t firing point-blank, but he judged the elevation to be low. He hadn’t seen the shell rammed in place, but it must have been.
“Match at the ready!”
Shuld was using a device like a sextant, which he lowered. “Two right!”
Two of the gun crew cranked a small winch attached to lines on the gun carriage to turn the gun.
The cannon’s recoil was restricted by wooden wheels and the heavy hawsers attached to the frame of the vessel itself.
Quaeryt watched. From what he could tell, the first shell landed long, well aft of the pirate sloop.
Two more puffs of smoke from the pirate were followed by a cannonball tearing through the foresail.
“First wedge, three right.”
The second shot from the Diamond landed in the water some fifty yards in front of the pirate.
“Hold! Match ready!”
At that moment, Baeryn scurried across the deck and thrust a shipstaff at the scholar. Quaeryt accepted it almost unthinkingly as his eyes fixed on the black-hulled ship bearing down on the Diamond.
The pirate was less than half a vingt from the Diamond before Shuld again ordered, “Fire!”
The shell ripped into the fo’c’s’le of the pirate, and almost instantly, crimson-green-yellow flames surged up. There was … something … about that unnatural fire. Antiagon Fire? In a shell? Quaeryt repressed a shiver.
“Fire!” ordered Shuld.
A second shell exploded on the low fantail of the pirate sloop, and it too erupted in flames that raced skyward into the rigging.
The pirate vessel seemed to shudder, then swing to the south, as if to parallel the Diamond’s heading. Then the sails and rigging began to catch fire, and men started to jump and dive off the burning ship. Part of the bow exploded.
Powder magazine? wondered Quaeryt.
“Steady as she goes!” called out Ghoryn.
“Stow the shells!” ordered Shuld. “On the double!”
Quaeryt turned to watch as the gun crew quickly removed the six shells remaining in the wooden cradle inboard and aft of the shining bronze gun. Once the shells disappeared below, Shuld seemed to be less tense.
The scholar risked another look at the sinking and flaming hulk that had been a pirate vessel, then eased toward the captain, still watching as the crew cleaned the gun and began to unfasten the recoil hawsers. “What was in those shells?” He thought he knew, but wanted to make sure.
“Antiagon Fire,” replied the captain quietly, his eyes straying aft to the still-burning hulk that had been a pirate vessel.
“You keep it on board?”
“The magazine is steel-sheathed and lead-lined. The shells are cast iron and copper-lined.”
“And the gun is very special,” added Quaeryt. “A fine gun, Captain, and better gunnery.”
“We were fortunate. Usually takes more than a few shots to get the range. Especially in the gray before dawn. They were too eager, kept a steady course.”
Quaeryt nodded. As he stood there on the deck in the growing light of dawn, the wind in his face off the starboard quarter, he realized, if belatedly, why Shuld’s gun and shells were so effective. There had been no survivors, and from the coordination of the gun crew, it was far from the first time they’d been used. Yet he knew that none of the privateers commissioned by Bhayar had shells like the ones Shuld had used. And he doubted that either of Bhayar’s two warships had shells such as those, or bronze cannon.
“Puzzled, aren’t you, scholar?” asked the captain.
“I have to admit I am. Why don’t more ships have guns and shells like that?”
Shuld laughed. “More than a few reasons. Each shell costs a gold, maybe a bit more. I have no idea what the gun cost. I was told not to ask and not to lose it-ever. Pirates can’t afford guns and shells like that. Most merchanters can’t, either. Even if they could, who would they get to make the Antiagon Fire? It takes an imager who’s also an armorer and an alchemist. There are but a handful in all Terahnar, and all are employed by High Holders or rulers.”
“Such as High Holder Ghasphar?”
“Still … they would make fearful armament for warships.”
“They would, until everyone had them.” Shuld smiled ironically. “Only the Antiagons have ever bothered with large numbers of warships, and they have but a triple handful.”
Put that way, it made sense, all too much sense. Antiagon Fire was useless against stone and earth ramparts, and that was why no fortifications were ever wooden. But it was effective against large bodies of men on foot, and that was one reason why most rulers used cavalry or mounted infantry that could scatter quickly. Quaeryt and every other scholar for generations had known that. The threat of Antiagon Fire had also affected the way war was waged, but Quaeryt was amazed and more than a little irritated at himself for not realizing why there had been so few naval conflicts. Yet it was obvious. Why would anyone want to build a fleet of warships that could be destroyed so quickly? If every ruler built and armed ships with cannons that shot Antiagon Fire shells, a war would ruin them all.
“You understand, I see.”
“I never thought of it that way,” Quaeryt admitted.
“No one cares if pirate vessels vanish, and we just hoist the Jewel ensign if privateers get too close. If they ignore it … well, then they’re pirates.”
“I imagine the jewel fleet is profitable.”
“Rather our losses are far less, and we keep good crews that way.”
“Do you see pirates on every voyage in or out of Solis?”
“Namer’s demons, no. One passage in ten is more like it, but we could see two on a single transit, and not another for years.” Shuld turned to the bosun. “You can handle it from here, Zoeryl. If you would excuse me, scholar?”
“Oh … I didn’t mean to get in the way, Captain. Thank you.” Quaeryt inclined his head and stepped back.
Then he eased his way to the railing just forward of midships and looked back to the west. Only a rapidly dispersing plume of mixed gray and black smoke remained of the pirate vessel.
The sun on Jeudi-the second Jeudi Quaeryt had spent on board-had been blistering hot, especially in the late afternoon, so hot that the fantail locker was still radiating heat well after sundown. That was only one of the reasons why Quaeryt stood on the poop, just short of where the two railings met on the forward port corner, looking out into a darkness little relieved by the reddish crescent of Erion. The other reason was that the captain had asked him to stand a watch as the port lookout and offer navigation calculations.
So far, over the past glass, he’d seen no other vessels and no inclement weather creeping up from any horizon, not that he would have expected that, not on a cloudless night with a mild following wind and only moderate swells.
According to the tables, at the longitude of Cape Sud, on Jeudi, the twenty-sixth of Juyn, Artiema should rise at two quints past eighth glass. By checking the deck glass, illuminated by a shielded lantern, Quaeryt could then determine how far west the Diamond was from the cape. That was only an approximation, of course, because even in a stabilized box, the glass sands did not run smoothly, but it was a start. Then, by sighting both moons, he could get an idea of their latitude.
“Scholar … I thought you might be here.” Ghoryn’s voice was barely audible above the sound of the ship cutting through the increasingly larger swells that the Diamond was encountering as the ship neared Cape Sud.
“It should be a bit before Artiema rises, but I wanted to sight Erion first.…” Quaeryt glanced toward the horizon again.
“Where do you feel we are?”
“I’d say we’re seventy to eighty milles west of Cape Sud, and twenty south. I’ll know better when I see Artiema.”
“Oh? And why do you think that?”
“The captain wants to be far enough offshore for us not to be seen, but not too far, just beyond sight from the cliffs. He’d be holding a course a half point north of southeast to keep us even with the coast.…”
Ghoryn chuckled. “We’ll see in a bit, won’t we?”
“That we will.”
“Don’t see many scholars at sea,” offered the first mate.
“I’ve never run across another scholar who went to sea,” admitted Quaeryt. Or much of anywhere if they didn’t have to. “Then there are more sailors than scholars.” He grinned in the darkness. “Why do you think that might be?”
Ghoryn laughed. “Most folk would say that there’s need of more sailors, and perhaps a need for fewer scholars.”
“Well put,” agreed Quaeryt. “There’s a need for scholars, but too many scholars in one place are like too many cooks in the kitchen.”
“You never did say much about why you needed to get to Tilbora. Not that I heard, anyways.”
“No. I didn’t. I think I told you I had a patron who commissioned a more recent history of Tilbor.” Quaeryt kept scanning the sea to port. He was still supposed to be a lookout.
“He’d pay for that?”
“Of course. Why do you think the frontispieces of so many books give the name of the patron who commissioned the work? That’s so that everyone who reads it for generations to come will see his name.”
“Sounds sort of like Naming,” mused Ghoryn.
“Ah … but he can claim that he is merely advancing human knowledge. A patron isn’t erecting a huge stone monument that everyone would immediately see as evidence of selling one’s integrity to the Namer.”
“A clever way of Naming, then. And you’d do it?”
“What’s a name in a book compared to saving knowledge that would otherwise be lost?” asked Quaeryt. “We all have to do things that aren’t ideal. Don’t you think that there were probably some crewmen on that pirate vessel that had little choice if they wanted to survive? But didn’t the good of saving the Diamond and her crew and cargo outweigh the evil of killing a handful of comparative innocents among the guilty?”
“You scholars … you could argue that Erion was the spirit of mercy, and not the great red hunter, and then you’d make out Artiema to be the evil moon.”
“I could,” replied Quaeryt with a laugh, “but I wouldn’t. There’s a big difference between light gray and black, and sometimes there’s an even bigger difference between those who claim to follow pure white and those who prefer slightly grayed white.”
“I have the feeling you’re not a follower of the Nameless, then.”
“Oh … but I am.” At least of the tenets, even if you’re unsure if there even is a Nameless. “Life is shades of gray. Those who claim to follow the absolute of pure white are disciples of the Namer, because insisting on absolutes in an imperfect world is another form of Naming.” He glanced eastward again, catching a glimmer of pearly white on the horizon, just about where he expected it. He’d have to approximate, because moonrise was calculated as that time when the highest limb of the moon’s orb cleared the plane of the horizon, and that was almost impossible to determine precisely from a ship’s deck, even one pitching so comparatively slightly as was the Diamond.
“Excuse me,” he said to Ghoryn before hurrying across the deck to the lantern-lit glass.
He checked the time-two and a quarter quints past.
“Where are we, scholar?” asked the mate, who had followed Quaeryt across the deck to stand behind the helm.
“If the glass is correct, we’re closer to Cape Sud than I’d thought, more like sixty milles, and I’d judge we’re closer to thirty south of the cape.” Quaeryt shrugged. “That’s an approximation, though.”
Ghoryn nodded. “We both have us close to the same position.”
“We don’t seem to be traveling that fast.”
“Captain knows the currents.”
Quaeryt had to admit he hadn’t thought about currents. He just laughed softly.
“Glad to see there are some things you don’t know, scholar.”
“There are more than a few.” Far more than a few. Quaeryt walked back to his position as lookout.
The mate did not follow, but retreated belowdecks, as if the only reason he’d come up had been to check moonrise. But then, it probably had been.
Once the Diamond Naclia rounded Cape Sud, she faced heavy seas and headwinds, day in and day out. Quaeryt had to lash himself into his bunk every night, waking up frequently, and rising with bruises in places he hadn’t had bruises since his last voyage, some ten years earlier. By the end of every day his clothes were damp, if not soaked, and nothing seemed to dry completely. The fare was salted mutton and hard biscuits, with occasional dried lemon and orange rinds. All in all, sailing the three hundred milles from Cape Sud to the calmer waters off Estisle took over a week. During that time, Quaeryt reflected more than a few times on the reasons behind his trip … and upon Vaelora’s missive, clearly an expression of interest of some sort. But what? And why?
The skies were gray as Shuld guided the Diamond around the northern tip of Estisle and toward the harbor at Nacliano, but the early-afternoon air was warm and dry, for which Quaeryt was thankful.
Nacliano was the oldest port on the east coast of Lydar. Even before Shuld eased the Diamond into place at the end of a pier that creaked with every swell that rolled under it, Quaeryt was reminded of that antiquity by not only the odors, but by aged brown and gray stone buildings that jumbled themselves across the hills on the north side of the River Acliano. From the pier, the patchwork of roof tiles was all too obvious. There also seemed to be little rhyme or reason as to what ship was moored where on what pier. Inshore from the Diamond was a fishing craft, little more than fifteen yards from stem to stern, and opposite was a broad-beamed three-masted square-rigger.
Quaeryt waited until the Diamond was doubled up and the gangway was down before carrying his duffel over to the base of the forward ladder where Ghoryn stood.
“Do you have any thoughts on ships that will get me to Tilbora?” Quaeryt looked to the first mate as he handed over the last silvers he owed.
Ghoryn smiled wryly. “Depends on how you want to get there, scholar.”
“Safely, but without stopping at every little coastal port along the way.”
“You could start by talking to Caarlon. He’s the first on the Azurite Naclia. Saw them a pier over, and they were just winding up loading out. Odds are that they’ll be heading north. Captain Whuylor does a lot of iron runs.”
Iron runs? “And you don’t?”
“That’s heavy gear. Sawmill blades, axes, crosscut saws, even iron pigs. They’re hard on a ship, and harder on the crew. Captain Shuld prefers cargoes that have more … value for their weight.”
“Scented oils, perfumes…?” ventured Quaeryt.
“Medicinals from Antiago, worked silver from Eshtora … Anyway, if the Azurite’s not headed north, you might try Fhular. He’s been taking the Regia Nord that way for years. More of a coaster, but he’s a solid master. Doesn’t stop at more than a port or two each way. Then … if you’re really desperate, there’s always Chexar on the Moon’s Son.”
The way Ghoryn mentioned Chexar, Quaeryt hoped he wasn’t ever desperate enough to have to rely on the Moon’s Son to get to Tilbora. Even the ship’s name was worrisome, at least if one believed in folktales. The Pharsi believed that certain women-daughters of Artiema, the greater moon-were specially gifted, but Quaeryt had never heard of a son of the moon, except in muttered terms, and no tales about the lesser moon-Erion, the hunter-mentioned either sons or daughters.
Since Ghoryn had no other suggestions, and a well-meant but short “Good fortune,” Quaeryt hoisted his duffel and headed down the gangway, turning toward the foot of the pier. He glanced at the big square-rigger, flying a Tiempran ensign from the stern staff above a nameplate that was unreadable, at least to him.
Beyond the Tiempran vessel was one flying an ensign that Quaeryt thought was Caenenan. The crew was unloading barrels and kegs, and a mixture of scents drifted across the pier, suggesting that the cargo was largely spices … and that at least one keg had broken or cracked.
As he neared the inshore end of the pier, he began to angle his way southward in order to make his way back onto the adjoining pier where the Azurite was purported to be tied up.
“You there! What do you think you’re doing? Get over here.” A heavyset figure in a washed-out green uniform, with a black leather harness and belt, a black-billed visored green cap, and scuffed black boots, gestured with an iron-tipped truncheon for Quaeryt to move toward him. He spoke in the harsh Tellan of the east.
Quaeryt recognized the uniform as that of the local patrol, the colors dating back to the time of Hengyst and the Ryntarian despots. The scholar moved carefully, leaving his hands exposed, stopping a yard short of the patroller. He set the duffel on the worn wood of the pier, holding the strap loosely.
“How did you get here?” The patroller’s voice was deep, but cuttingly nasal.
“I was a passenger on the Diamond. She just ported.”
“With that duffel? Likely as not, you’ve jumped ship. We don’t need people like you here with your fancy words and your pretty way of trying to talk like real people.”
Quaeryt could see the problems ahead. If he showed coin, then the patroller would mark him for a confederate not on the Patrol to deprive him of coin and possibly life. If he didn’t, he’d likely end up in gaol for some trumped-up reason. “I’m a scholar, patroller. All scholars wear brown, you might recall.”
“Don’t get fancy with me, fellow. Scholars can’t afford ship passage unless they’re up to no good.”
“Why don’t we walk back to the ship? You can ask the captain or the mate if what I said was true.” Quaeryt turned just slightly, noting that another, even larger patroller was moving toward him, also with a truncheon.
“We don’t need to do that to deal with trash like you.”
The loaders and the four vendors on the northern side of the pier edged away from the three. That told Quaeryt more than he wanted to know, but what to expect.
“You’re going to come with us, scholar.” The patroller emphasized the already derogatory Tellan term for scholar.
“Might I ask why?”
“No. Your type doesn’t need answers.”
“Where do you want me to go?” Too many people had seen him and probably noted the scholar’s browns. That meant he was limited in what he could do in public. Yet he certainly didn’t want to go with the pair of patrollers, not the way they were looking for an excuse to use their truncheons.
“That’s for us to say. Pick up that duffel.”
Quaeryt started to lean forward when he saw the second patroller’s truncheon slashing toward him. He jumped back and imaged pepper juice into the man’s eyes, and then into the first patroller’s eyes as well.
Both patrollers lurched, and the larger man stumbled and sprawled across the duffel.
“Thief! Killer!” yelled one of them.
Quaeryt looked beyond the end of the pier, but two more patrollers had appeared there. There was no help for it. He turned and ran back down the pier, dodging around two vendors and alongside a wagon whose wheels were blocked in place opposite an ancient brig.
“Loaders! Stop him! A silver to anyone who catches him!”
For a silver they well might hazard tackling him. Quaeryt saw an opening in between two groups of men who had turned at the patrollers’ calls and dashed between them, jumping off the pier in the space between the brig and the square-rigger, just hoping that the water was deep enough.
He went under, and down perhaps three yards, then struggled underwater back toward the pier-except his hands encountered a rough stone wall. He concentrated, trying to move along the wall underwater until he could find a space between the sections of the pier built on solid stone and rock supports and the patches of water between them and the wooden supports sunk into the harbor bottom.
His lungs were bursting when he finally surfaced under the pier, but he came up as quietly as he could, immediately creating a slight concealment shield that he hoped just showed water, if anyone tried to look down through the few narrow gaps in the heavy wood of the pier above.
He’d been in dirtier water before, but not in years, and he had to use one hand to clamp his nose to keep from sneezing. The fingers of the other held to an edge in the rough stone.
“He went in over there!”
“More like by the square-rigger.”
“Go after him, Walthar. It’s a silver.”
“In that water? Patrollers can keep their silver. ’Sides, he hasn’t even come up. No sight of him. No sounds. You go in if you want.”
“Where did he go?” demanded a harsh voice.
“He jumped off the pier. Never came up.”
“He might be right underneath you, for all you know.”
“We looked. Don’t see anything.”
“There’s a silver reward for whoever turns him in.”
“We get it if we find his body?”
“Only if he’s alive. He has to answer to the Patrol.”
“What’d he do?”
“Never mind that!”
Quaeryt kept breathing easily and waiting, but it had to have been close to two quints before the patrollers left. He still had no idea why the patroller and his partner had decided to go after him. He’d been polite, and he hadn’t done a single thing except walk down the pier with a duffel. Years before, he’d never had any trouble in Nacliano. Why now?
Once the crowd above slowly dispersed, he eased his way to the other side of the pier, still holding shields, and made his way inshore, half-swimming, half-pulling himself hand over hand along the stone foundations, sometimes having to squeeze through the narrow spaces between pier supports and hulls, until he finally found a ladder up the side of one of the stone pier supports. He took his time climbing it because, while his shield might conceal him, he’d still be leaving a trail of water behind.
He simply rested on the top of the ladder, out of the way, watching and listening, but he saw no patrollers, and the various vendors, loaders, and teamsters traveling the pier appeared to have forgotten the commotion that had occurred half a glass earlier.
Once his browns had dried enough that water droplets did not leave a trail, Quaeryt climbed from the ladder to the edge of the pier and, still holding his concealment shield, walked slowly toward the base of the pier.
Two patrollers walked back and forth on the stone causeway beyond the end of the pier, glancing along it, clearly still looking for Quaeryt.
“Haelan … he drowned.… Even if he didn’t, he’s not going to walk down here toward us.…”
“Scholars … Duultyn said they were trouble … as bad as Pharsi traders or imagers.”
“Duultyn’s pretty hard on ’em,” offered the younger patroller.
“Don’t matter. Can’t have anyone attacking patrollers.”
“You don’t want Duultyn saying you love scholars. Next thing you know…”
Quaeryt eased by the pair unseen and slowly made his way toward the next pier. There were no patrollers at its base and he walked more quickly out toward the far end where the Azurite was berthed. He passed a brig and a barque, both with Telaryn ensigns, and then a Ferran brig. When he came to where the Azurite had been … the berth was empty.
He stood there looking at the Azurite sailing slowly out into the harbor.
What vessel leaves port in midafternoon? The winds are better in the morning and evening.
That might well be, but the Azurite was gone, and there was no help for it. He’d have to try Captain Fhular and the Regia Nord … if the coaster even happened to be ported at the present.
His browns were almost dry, enough so that most wouldn’t notice, even if his feet felt like they were still sloshing inside his boots. Still holding concealment shields, he eased along the side of the pier until he was in the shadow of a bollard, where he released the shields, several yards from where three loaders stood, watching as two dray horses pulled a wagon slowly toward the two-masted schooner in the berth inboard from where the Azurite had been. He was a little light-headed, both from his exertions in escaping the two patrollers and from having to hold the shields as long as he had.
One of the loaders turned and looked at Quaeryt, a puzzled expression on his face.
“I was trying to reach the Azurite before she cast off,” the scholar explained.
“The jewel ships don’t wait for no one.”
“Have you seen the Regia Nord?”
“Fhular’s boat? Nah … hasn’t ported yet.”
“Or the Moon’s Son?”
“Haven’t seen Chexar’s boat lately. Fhular left for Shacchal, let’s see, day before yesterday.” He turned to the man beside him. “Was on Samedi, wasn’t it?”
“Fhular leavin’, coldass.”
“Coldass, yourself. Yah … Samedi.”
“Loaders!” called the teamster.
“You know if the schooner there is headed north?” asked Quaeryt.
The loader shrugged.
Quaeryt took a deep breath.
He’d have to cover all the piers to discover if any ships were ported that might be sailing north-and he’d have to keep a constant watch for the patrollers.
By late afternoon on Lundi, Quaeryt had learned two things. First, there were no ships currently ported in Nacliano that would be headed to Tilbora, or anywhere close, and, second, that the patrollers stayed off the piers unless they observed a malefactor or chased one. As the better part of wisdom, he parted with a silver and bought a dark green shirt of less than perfect quality from a pier vendor and immediately stripped off the scholar’s brown tunic. His sleeveless brown jacket wasn’t identifiable as a scholar’s without the customary brown tunic shirt, which he’d let dry and then wrapped around his midsection under the green shirt.
The vendor had only said, in common Tellan, “Wise man. The patrollers don’t like brown.”
“So I’ve heard. Do you know why?”
The gray-haired vendor shook his head and offered a sad smile. “There is much they do not like. That is why my son rows me to the pier each day. That way I can avoid them. They demand coin for no reason.”
“But they don’t come on the piers?”
“Only to chase someone who has done what they think wrong in the city.”
Is that a rule of the local council? Quaeryt didn’t ask. “Are there any inns that are honest?” He knew nothing of the inns in Nacliano. He’d been in the port only a few times more than ten years ago, and he’d slept in his hammock aboard ship.
The vendor shook his head. “There are but two kinds. There are those who charge too much, and there are those who cheat those who stay.”
“What might be the cheapest of those that charge too much?”
“The Tankard is said not to be too bad. All say to avoid the Silver Bowl.”
As he walked away, Quaeryt counted his duffel and spare clothes as lost-and the history as well, but he still had the leather commission case. It was hardly even damp on the outside, because of the wax coating and oilcloth wrapping.
He made his way off the second pier, where he’d purchased the shirt, using an empty wagon as a partial shield from the pier patrollers, although he was ready to lift a concealment shield at any moment. He moved with the air of a man who knew where he was headed, although he remembered so little of Nacliano that he had no idea. It didn’t matter; he only needed to find a chandlery where he could purchase a few items. The sun was low in the sky and in his eyes when he finally found one on a side lane. The door squeaked as he stepped inside, but the red-haired man standing by a side counter barely looked in his direction as he counted out coppers to a customer.
Quaeryt immediately located a small stained and scuffed canvas bag, but it took him far longer to find a small steel razor in a battered leather case. The blade was worn, but still sharp, but even so, it was likely not to be inexpensive. Still, he did need to replace the one lost with the duffel. Any beard he grew was itchy, and before long his skin began to develop sores.
He also found a pair of drawers, a small square of boot wax, and an equally small square of hard soap.
The chandler watched as Quaeryt carried his items over to the counter. “Three for the bag, two silvers and a half for the razor, two for the wax, one for the soap, seven for the drawers-you ought to have a strop for the razor … ruin it quick otherwise.”
“It’s been a long trip,” said Quaeryt with a wry smile.
“You take this strop.” With a smile, the chandler held up a strop as worn as the razor case. “I’ll call it even for four silvers.”
“How about if you throw in a second square of soap?”
Quaeryt eased out a gold. He hated revealing that, but it was likely safer to do so in the chandler’s shop than in the inn, and he only had two silvers left in his wallet.
“You must have had a rough passage coming south,” offered the chandler, taking the gold and returning six silvers.
“It wasn’t what I expected,” temporized Quaeryt.
“It never is.” The chandler laughed. “Never is. Best of fortune.”
“I just might need that.” Quaeryt paused as he slipped his wallet inside his trousers, mostly behind the heavy and wide belt. “Where’s the best honest fare?”
“The best is the Silver Bowl, but you’ll go through those silvers faster ’n their wine. Good wine, but it ought to be. The Tankard and the Overdeck are solid. Cheapest is the Red Lantern, but you’ll need a gut tougher than bullhide. Tankard’s a block south, Overdeck one north, and the Silver Bowl two west.”
Quaeryt nodded. “Thank you.”
He slowed just as he opened the door to the chandlery, checking the street, but there was no one that close when he stepped outside into the lengthening shadows indicating sunset was not that far off. Keeping an eye out for cutpurses and slam-thieves, Quaeryt turned south at the corner.
The Tankard was a narrow three-story timber and brick building, some three streets back from the harbor, almost directly west from the pier on which the Diamond had tied up, and faced on a small square that held a timeworn statue of Hengyst the Unifier.
Quaeryt looked at the statue. If he happened to be such a great unifier, why was Lydar still split into five lands after he became the unifier? He shook his head. That wasn’t a useful question.
Carrying his small bag, he walked into the Tankard and toward a woman who stood behind a narrow upright writing desk. Just above her head, on a narrow railed shelf to her left, were two vases, both about a hand and a half high, each a simple curving shape rising from a circular base into a trumpet-like opening slanted at an angle. One was glazed in shimmering silver, the other in a deep blue.
Quaeryt managed not to stare at the pair. Where did she ever get those? They had to be Cloisonyt pieces dating back centuries. He forced his eyes to the woman, who wore gray trousers and shirt. Her eyes were gray, and her hair was iron gray. “Yes?”
“I’m looking for a room for several days.”
“Missed a ship, did you?” asked the gray lady.
“That I did.”
“We’ve two rooms free. Second-floor corner with a wide bed, and a third-floor back side, not much more than a bed and a place to sleep. Five coppers for the second floor, and three for the third. No locks, but you can bar the door at night.”
“I’d like to see the third-floor one.”
“Suit yourself. It’s empty. Straight back from the stairs with the number three on the door.” The gray lady pointed down the narrow hall. “Stairs are at the end.”
“Thank you.” Quaeryt nodded.
He walked up a staircase so narrow that his shoulders almost brushed the walls on each side. Every other step creaked, but the risers did not give under his boots. The chamber was more like a garret, with less than a yard between the narrow pallet bed and the wall, not even as large as the fantail locker on the Diamond. The plank door struck the bottom of the bed if opened all the way. There was a wall shelf between the window frame and the wall against which the bed was set, with a pitcher and bowl, both tin, and several pegs for hanging clothes on the opposite wall. The single narrow window was unglazed and had warped shutters.
Quaeryt checked the pallet, then made his way back down to the front hall, where the gray lady looked at him.
“I’ll take it.”
“Every night in advance,” replied the gray lady.
“Two nights for now, and, after I eat, I’d like a tub of clean water to wash some things.”
The old woman squinted. “You smell as you could use some washing yourself. I could have the girls bring up the tub and water for another two coppers-and a bucket for rinse water. Slice of soap be another copper.”
“If that’s the way it is … it’s the way it is.” He handed over a silver.
“Best of the fare tonight is the duck goulash.” She returned a copper.
“Thank you.” He made his way to the public room, where he found a corner table.
The duck goulash with thick noodles wasn’t bad, and it wasn’t too peppery. Quaeryt approved. He’d never liked food spiced so much that he couldn’t taste anything except the spices. Of course, that was how some places disguised bad meat.
Once he’d eaten, and limited himself to a single lager with his meal, he made his way back to the gray lady.
“Have the water up in a bit.”
He nodded and climbed the stairs. His feet were sore, as much for having walked in damp boots for too long as for the distance he had covered. When he reached the small room, he pulled off his boots and waited.
About half a glass later, two wiry girls appeared with a narrow tin tub less than a yard long and little more than half that wide, with a bucket. The tub barely fit between the bed and the wall, and it took the girls three trips with buckets to get enough water into it.
“Thank you.” Quaeryt smiled and gave each girl a copper.
“Much obliged, sir,” the two chorused in thick country Tellan, before leaving him.
After dipping the pitcher in the tub to set aside some of the water for shaving, and a bucket of rinse water, he washed himself, then shaved, before washing and then rinsing all the garments except the green shirt. He spread them across the wall pegs to dry, then eased the tub and buckets out into the narrow hallway, and barred the door.
He was more than ready to sleep while the clothes dried. He’d been attacked and chased by a vengeful patroller for no reason at all, lost his duffel, taken a swim in the harbor, and was spending coin faster than he wanted. The weather to the north was bad. The best ship had already left, and he still had to watch out for angry patrollers. And … he was little more than halfway to Tilbora.
Quaeryt stretched out on the narrow bed and tried not to think about all that.
Quaeryt sat alone in the public room of the Tankard on Mardi morning, finishing off what the serving girl had called a ham-fry-stale bread wrapped around a slice of cheese and a slice of ham and dipped in egg batter, and then fried until it was deep brown. For a breakfast, accompanied by a lager, it was adequate.
“You seen any scholars, swamp lily?” boomed a deep nasal voice from outside the public room.
“And if I had?”
“You’d tell me. If I find you’ve put up one, I’ll close you down.”
“You try it, and not even your Namer-damned uncle will save you. And that’s if you have better fortune with the next scholar than you did with the first.”
Abruptly, a crashing sound followed.
“I’m so sorry … swamp lily. Accidents do happen. Just remember that.” A cruel laugh followed the cynical words.
Quaeryt recognized the voice, and the cruelty behind it. He forced himself to finish the ham-fry and the last of the lager-and he left a copper for the serving girl.
When he did leave the public room, he paused for only an instant to glance back toward the writing stand. The gray lady was carefully picking up pieces of blue ceramic, although the silver vase appeared untouched. He concealed a wince and quickly headed toward the stairs. The patroller had destroyed a vase that was worth perhaps a hundred golds to a collector, one of beauty that could never be replaced.
Once in the small third-floor room, he folded those now-dry garments he wasn’t wearing and eased them into the canvas bag, along with the razor, strop, and soap. Then he made his way back down to the main level. The gray lady, the broken vase, and the silver one were nowhere in sight when he left the Tankard.
He walked toward the harbor and the piers with the gait, if limping, of a man who had a destination and a purpose, watching for patrollers, and then picked the third pier, because that was the one without any green uniforms in sight. Unfortunately, there were also no new ships ported there. Using his concealment shield-and transport wagons rolling onto the piers-to get past the patrollers watching the base of the other two piers, he checked the other ships in port, but the three new arrivals were headed south and east.
With no immediate transport in sight, he slipped off the pier, past a pair of patrollers, neither of whom happened to be the nasal-voiced one. In fact, Quaeryt hadn’t encountered the obnoxious and overbearing one since he’d overheard him at the inn.
The incident with the vase bothered Quaeryt, in some ways far more than the attempt by the nasal-voiced patroller to assault Quaeryt. Was that because the patroller was abusing those whom he was charged to protect? Or because he would destroy an ancient object of beauty without a second thought as a means to pursue a personal agenda?
Since there weren’t any ships going in the direction he needed to travel, his next priority was to find a place where he could image some coppers, somewhere that had copper wastes or scraps in an old building or the ground around it. With that preparation, he’d found that imaging coppers was not too difficult. Sometimes he could manage silvers. The one time he’d tried golds, he’d nearly died, and he wasn’t about to try that again.
Once he was well clear of the harborfront and the piers, he turned south, toward where the Acliano River ran northwest from the south side of the harbor, thinking that there might be some locations suitable for his imaging somewhere along the riverfront. Usually, there were some places that handled metals, or at least a ruined building or two. He kept to the streets that were better traveled, and by late morning he was walking northwest along the riverside road. While many of the buildings had seen better days, almost all were still in use, from a factorage dealing in oils to a lumber and timber yard, both with their own small river docks for unloading barges, to a newer stone building where loaders were rolling barrels off a barge.
He walked almost a mille before finally coming to a ruined and roofless structure surrounded by a palisade fence with gaps here and there, if mostly too small for him to slip through. The large square chimneys suggested it had been some sort of metalworking facility, although they were but half the height they once had likely been, and the space between the remaining walls was filled with grasses and weeds, mostly tan and dried from the heat of a long summer. He kept walking, nodding to a teamster guiding a wagon pulled by four dray horses, until he saw a wider gap in the fence.
Just to be on the safe side, he stepped behind a twisted oak in front of the battered palisade fence and raised a concealment screen. Only then did he move toward the gap in the fence. Once through, he surveyed the ruins and the hint of a path toward the nearest chimney.
He took several steps. His trousers brushed the tinder-dry weeds, and they crackled.
“Someone’s coming! Run!” The voice was low, but high-pitched, like a child’s.
He didn’t see whoever had raised the alarm, only the swaying of high grasses and weeds between the tumbled-down foundation walls before him.
Quaeryt stopped and waited, listening, but the children had apparently hurried between the walls and hidden downhill, possibly under the sagging wharf whose end barely protruded over the muddy water of the river. He stepped into another set of shadows beside a section of stone and yellow-brick wall that remained and released the concealment shield. He tried imaging a copper, and one appeared in his hand.
Nodding, he continued until he had fourteen in his wallet, and he was beginning to sweat profusely. Then he wiped his forehead and stood in the shade until he was cooler. Only then did he raise the concealment shield and retrace his steps through the fallen stone, weeds, and grass and back through the fence. He stood behind the oak once more, waiting until no wagons or pedestrians were nearby before releasing the concealment and stepping out onto the edge of the road to continue his walk.
At the next street heading north, he crossed the road, waiting for a coach and then hurrying across to avoid a collier’s wagon. After covering less than twenty yards, he could see that the street he traveled was one catering to cloth factors of various sorts.
He still wondered about the one patroller’s fixation on and hatred of scholars. Would someone at the local Scholars’ House be able to shed some light on that?
After walking another block, he saw an older man adjusting the shutters on the side windows of a small shop that looked to be a lace factorage. When he neared the graying and stout factor, he stopped and waited for the other to finish.
“What can I do for you?” The man did not smile.
“Pardon me,” Quaeryt began. “Could you tell me the way to the Scholars’ House here in Nacliano?”
The factor frowned, and his eyes narrowed. “You’re a stranger here, aren’t you?”
“A word of advice. Don’t be asking about scholars here in Nacliano. You want to know why, just walk some three blocks north and two west, and that’ll tell you.” The factor nodded brusquely, turned, and left Quaeryt standing outside the shop.
The scholar managed not to gape. He’d traveled much of Telaryn over the years, and he’d never gotten that kind of answer.
Five blocks farther on, he understood better the factor’s words. What had been the Scholars’ House was a blackened ruin, and clearly had been for at least several years. The only thing that identified it as such was the cracked granite plaque-stone, only half of which remained, with only the chiseled letters SCHOLAR left. Scavengers had taken everything except the core of the walls and timbers so blackened that they were useless.
Quaeryt noticed something else as well-an abandoned anomen across the street, but the anomen had not been gutted and salvaged the way the Scholars’ House had, perhaps because there was at least some respect for a place of worship of the Nameless, even if it had been the anomen of the scholars. For a time, he stood in the shade cast by the tinsmith’s shop and watched the various passersby. To a person, not a one looked at either the anomen or the ruined Scholars’ House, as if neither existed.
Lord Bhayar could be skeptical of both choristers and scholars, but Quaeryt knew that Bhayar would have been displeased with both the patroller and the apparent public hatred of scholars, if only because such public hatred too often led to unrest and dissatisfaction with the ruler.
Quaeryt turned back toward the harbor-and in the direction of the Tankard, he hoped. He needed to listen and watch-and think-while he waited for a ship.
Although Quaeryt walked through the harbor district until close to twilight on Mardi, he did not see the patroller he was seeking. He didn’t expect to, because it was likely the man was on early duty. He did locate the Patrol building, with the barred windows that signified that it was also a gaol, some six blocks south of the Tankard and one back toward the harbor, tucked away between a stable that catered to teamsters and a cafe without a name. He did find it ironic that the building that served the patrollers faced away from the harbor.
On Meredi morning, Quaeryt was up and ate early, then made his way to the tall desk, above which the wall shelf remained empty. He waited until the gray lady appeared.
“What can I do for you?”
“It looks like I’ll be here at least one more night.” He extended three coppers. “For tonight.”
She took them with a nod.
“You’re Lily?” he asked.
“Was once. How’d you know? I never told you.”
Quaeryt smiled. “I listened. Years back, I used to be a sailor. I discovered that if you listen people will answer some of the questions you’d otherwise ask.”
“You still have that look, but you speak better than any sailor I’ve ever met, and you’ve got a slight accent that might say you’re Bovarian.”
“I’m not Bovarian. I am from Solis.”
“Now what do you do?”
“Whatever I must. I have a patron. He dispatched me to Tilbora to locate something, but I missed the Azurite Naclia. Took longer coming up from Cape Sud.”
Lily smiled. “Always does, except in fall. Winds turn then.”
“Is there a good patisserie anywhere?”
“Patisserie? Oh … one of those fancy bakeries? Not around here. You want to walk a good mille, you can take the next street north and go west until you get to the Hill Square. There’s two within a block or so of the square.”
Quaeryt nodded. “Thank you. Until later.” With that, he turned and left the Tankard, walking quickly to the north. Once he turned the corner, he stopped to look at some copperware displayed in a window, then eased to where he could watch the Tankard’s front door while seemingly waiting on the corner for someone.
He waited for almost half a glass before a pair of patrollers strolled by. While he was ready to head for the nearest alleyway and vanish behind a concealment shield, neither looked more than passingly in his direction. Nor was either the round-faced and heavyset patroller who had attacked him.
Since it was unlikely that another and different pair of patrollers would be following the first any time soon, Quaeryt turned and headed toward the harbor. There, at the first pier, he observed a second pair of patrollers, but not the man for whom he was looking. Keeping well away from them, but not in an obviously apparent fashion, he walked onto the pier. He wasn’t exactly hopeful about finding a ship headed north, not when almost half the berths at the pier were vacant, but he covered the entire pier, making inquiries and having no success.
When he left the first pier, the patrollers were no longer at the base, but he found they had moved to watch the second pier, although neither seemed especially attentive, and he eased past them. The long pier held but four vessels, and not a single one was headed north. He did use concealment to leave the pier, although it might not have been necessary.
There were no patrollers at the base of the third pier, and, again, he made his way out and inquired of the ships tied at the pier, but not a single one was headed north.
As he turned to head back down the pier, away from a schooner that had just arrived from Thuyl, a voice called out. “Dried fruits … the best dried fruit in the east! You can’t do better, sir!”
Quaeryt smiled as he looked at the bent old man. He liked the man’s cheerfulness, as well as his clean tan shirt and trousers, and the clean tannish cloth that covered his tray. “I doubt I could. What’s the best?”
“Depends on your taste, sir. I’m a tad partial to the sour cherries, but I’ve got some sweet ones, too, and the dried apple keeps well if you’re going on a long voyage.”
“A copper’s worth of the sour ones.” Quaeryt tendered the coin and received a small pile of dried cherries on a clean but small cloth square-a rag, in fact. “You keep track of the ships?”
“I wouldn’t say that I keep track of them. I see some more often than not.”
“I’ve been looking for vessels heading to Tilbora. I heard that the Moon’s Son sails there often.”
“Right regular, she does, excepting she’s not in yet.”
“Where might she tie up?”
“Over on the second pier, way in … cheaper there. That’s because the end berths are easier to catch the wind…”
When the old vendor finished, and Quaeryt had eaten all the dried cherries, he handed the cloth back. “Thank you.”
“My pleasure, sir.” The old man nodded.
Quaeryt grinned before heading back toward the base of the pier. He wasn’t about to ask about the nasal-voiced patroller who hated scholars. People usually remembered when strangers asked about such, and he didn’t want anyone remembering anything, and since he had the time, it was better not to ask.
He was vaguely surprised to find that the pair of patrollers who had attacked him had stationed themselves at the shore end of the third pier in the time that he’d been on the pier, although that might have been because there looked to be more vessels tied up there than at the other two piers, and the pier was more crowded with vendors, teamsters and wagons, and loaders, as well as at least some travelers. Quaeryt moved back and tried to blend into the nearest bollard, listening as he did.
“… Sparrow’s back…”
“Just sails three ports-Kephria, Hassyl, and here … must like those Antiagonan women…”
“Nuanyt likes more than that.”
“… don’t see anyone in brown…”
“Not many these days … suppose the word’s out. Might as well swing by the Sailrigger.”
“Why? Be dead as dead till…” The larger patroller shook his head. “Might have known…”
As the two turned, Quaeryt raised a concealment and waited until they were headed away, both swinging the iron-tipped truncheons from their leather straps. Then he followed, if at a distance, as the two walked along the avenue fronting the harbor, heading southward. After passing a small cafe that looked to be closed, the two stopped in front of a legless man sitting on a low-backed stool with stubby legs less than a hand long and strumming a mandolin.
“Pharlon! Seen any scholars lately?” asked the nasal-voiced patroller.
“You will let me know if you do, won’t you?”
“That’s a good fellow.” The patroller bent and scooped a coin from the bowl set before the disabled musician, then continued to the next corner, where both patrollers turned away from the harbor. Two women carrying laundry baskets on their heads hurried across the narrow street and down an alleyway to avoid the patrollers.
A block later, the two patrollers slowed as they neared a larger building with a painted signboard proclaiming it as the Sailrigger. The place was definitely a taproom, but one with dancers attired more than suggestively, if the painting on the signboard happened to be an indication, although there was an open courtyard in front, enclosed by a chest-high yellow brick wall, where some sort of food could be served. All the tables were empty.
The patrollers walked through the untended open courtyard gate. Quaeryt followed so far as the gate, then stopped, holding his concealment and waiting.
“Saerysa!” called the nasal-voiced patroller.
No one appeared, although Quaeryt thought he saw one of the closed shutters on a window on the wall of the taproom adjoining the courtyard vibrate.
“You wouldn’t want to make the Patrol unhappy, would you, Saerysa?”
After several moments, a woman appeared, wearing a thin cotton robe. She was dark-haired and small, but even with the loose robe, it was obvious she was well-formed, most likely one of the dancers. Quaeryt doubted that her duties were limited to dancing. She stopped a yard or so outside the door leading into the building, leaving it open behind her.
“Aren’t you going to come and greet me?” The nasal-voiced patroller stepped past several tables but stopped a good three yards short of the dancer. He eased the truncheon into his belt sheath.
“You’re here early. I just got up.” Her voice was low and husky.
“Fancy that. You need to come over and greet me. Just like you would when you want a sailor to spend his silvers on you.”
“I’m not even really awake, Duultyn.”
“You really should come here.”
Saerysa took two steps and halted just out of the patroller’s easy reach.
“You’re shy this morning.”
“I told you I was tired.”
Abruptly, the patroller moved and grabbed both her wrists, pulling them down and pressing her against him. The girl tried to knee him in the groin, but he turned his body and took the knee on his thigh, then shifted his grip and pinned both arms with one large hand, and ran the other hand across her body.
“You need to be more friendly, Saerysa.”
The dancer slumped, as if surrendering, then tried to bite Duultyn’s shoulder.
As the patroller pushed the dancer back and twisted away from her teeth, Quaeryt did his best to imitate the “caaw” of a raven, then imaged a sordid mass that he hoped resembled a large and soggy raven dropping less than a yard above the patroller. It dropped and spread across the patroller’s green shirt with a splatting sound.
While a few bits of the “dropping” splattered on the dancer, Saerysa pulled back, then wrenched free of Duultyn’s grasp as the patroller gaped at the mess across the front of his uniform. She turned and ran through the door into the building.
“That’s right.” The other patroller stifled a laugh, but did shake his head. “That raven really got you.”
“Ravens don’t do that!” snapped Duultyn.
“I heard it, and you’ve seen it.”
“I didn’t see any raven, and you can’t miss birds that big.”
“He didn’t miss you.”
An older woman appeared with two large towels, one damp and one dry. “Sir … perhaps these would help.”
Duultyn glared at her. “Where’s Saerysa?”
“You scared her. She ran off. She is no longer here.”
“She is, too.”
The other patroller cleared his throat. “Duultyn…”
“Shit…” Duultyn looked at the older woman. “Tell your little dancer she has a big debt to pay. And she’d better.” He took the damp towel and began to sponge off his shirt.
The older woman retreated into the Sailrigger, closing the door behind her.
“Namer-cursed sow…” muttered Duultyn. “Name ’em all!”
“She’s pretty enough, but is she worth all the trouble?” asked the taller patroller.
“It’s a matter of principle. How would Burchal feel if he knew…” Duultyn glanced down and shook his head. “Still going to have a stain here.”
“Glad the chief’s not a relation of mine.”
“It comes in handy at times.” Duultyn threw the damp towel on the nearest table and blotted his shirt with the dry one. “Old lady Shaalya knows I can find a reason to close her down if Saerysa isn’t more cooperative. You’ll see.”
The dry towel followed the first, then dropped to the brick-paved courtyard floor. Duultyn did not pick it up, but turned toward the gate.
Once the two patrollers left the Sailrigger’s courtyard, Quaeryt followed. He could have done far worse, but he needed Duultyn in good health, at least until he discovered more.
The only problem was that, while he followed the pair for more than three glasses, he learned little that he had not already seen. Duultyn did take coin from two other beggars along the way, speaking cheerfully to both. Just before noon, perhaps a quint before tenth glass, the two returned to the Patrol building.
Quaeryt took a table at a cafe a half block away, where he ordered a lager and a domchana. The batter-fried ham and fresh yellow and red pepper sandwich wasn’t bad, although he’d had better. But then, he’d also eaten far worse.
He did wonder just how long he’d have to wait for the two patrollers before they left the patrol station.
After lingering over his midday meal, Quaeryt waited until Duultyn and his partner reappeared and followed them for another two glasses. He learned little more. He then returned to the harbor and visited the two ships that had ported since the morning. Neither was heading north.
He debated returning to the Sailrigger, but decided that he wouldn’t learn what he needed to know even if Duultyn did return there after his duty shift. Instead, he decided to look to see if he could find a bookseller.
That took more than a glass, because, after one look of disgust from a cabinetmaker who displayed a bookcase in his window, when Quaeryt inquired about a bookstore, he decided that asking was anything but the best policy. In the end, he stumbled onto it, because he had decided that at least a few people who liked good pastries might like books as well and he had made his way to the area around Hill Square. He had just walked by one of the bakeries mentioned by Lily and had noted that it was close to being a patisserie, but he decided he could always stop later.
He had turned the corner and was walking down a narrow side street, passing a felter’s shop, when he noticed that the next building had iron grates on the windows, and an iron-grated door, although the grated outer door was swung back and latched open. Above the door was a sign that read “Cooper.” That was what the faded and stylized letters seemed to signify. The windows were so grimy that he could see nothing, perhaps because there were no lamps lit within the building.
Yet, when Quaeryt slowed and peered through the open doors, he saw bookshelves, despite the pair of half barrels against each side of the entry foyer.
He stopped and considered. The bookshop, if it were indeed that, was well away from the harbor, but less than two blocks from Hill Square. It was also tiny, less than four yards wide, wedged between the felter’s and a cordwainer’s shop.
Finally, he shrugged and decided to enter, if cautiously.
When he stepped inside, Quaeryt was almost overwhelmed by the mustiness, an odor stronger than that in the dankest corner of the library of the Scholarium in Solis. He paused for a moment, then glanced at the shelves, then at the tall silent man standing at the back of the shop, who held a knife with a shimmering blade.
“Go ahead and look,” said another voice, one filled with age.
Quaeryt glanced to his right, locating a man with wispy white hair perched on a stool chair behind a high desk. “I’m sorry. Your guard took me by surprise. So did the sign for a cooper.”
“That’s all right. It’s better that most think it’s the place of a cooper who’s given up coopering. You’d be an outlander, even to come in here.”
“If no one comes in here…?”
“Oh … there are plenty of folk who’d like books. Most of them just don’t walk in. They send notes to a friend of mine, along with the coin, and Eltaar delivers them at night. These days, no one likes being thought much like a scholar.”
“Could you tell me why?”
“I can, and, unlike others in this fear-ridden city, I’d be pleased to tell you.” The white-haired bookseller gestured to a high-backed stool in front of his desk. “That is, if you would care to join me.”
As he saw the gesture, Quaeryt also noted that the bookseller wore tightly fitted gray gloves that ran from his fingertips up under the sleeves of the pale gray shirt and that there were whitish welts on the front of his neck, revealed but slightly by the high-collared shirt.
“I’d like to hear the story,” Quaeryt admitted as he moved toward the stool. He did turn the stool slightly, so that he could keep an eye on the guard out of the corners of his eyes.
“Stories here, you understand,” began the bookseller, “always begin with a phrase such as, ‘In the time of … whoever was famous, it came to pass that…’ I suppose every place has a phrase to signify a story.” A chuckle followed. “In the time of the first years of Lord Bhayar of Telaryn, a strong man became the head of the City Patrol of Nacliano, and that man’s name was Burchal. He had the strength of two men and the cunning of both a weasel and a fox, and like a serpent, he could strike from the darkness. At first, everyone rejoiced, because the Patrol stopped the loaders from soliciting bribes from the shipmasters and teamsters. They were also glad when the taprooms and cafes that drugged the sailors burned to the ground. No one was displeased when the number of beggars was limited to one on each pier, and only to those beggars missing arms or legs or eyes, and with each beggar being given but one day a week to beg…”
Quaeryt listened as the bookseller went through a listing of changes created by Burchal, but he kept his attention split between the storyteller and the guard.
“… and then, one day, a scholar from Cloisonyt arrived in Nacliano. At first, no one even knew he had come to the city, for he repaired to the House of Scholars, but, in time, he began to visit the harbor and to teach some of the women to read, and one of those women was the young wife of Burchal, who was a beautiful girl from outside of Cheva. She could not read and begged the old scholar, and he was old, with hair of silver and a kind face, to teach her to read and to do her numbers so that she could help her husband with the household accounts.” The bookseller laughed ironically. “And from that day was Burchal’s happiness diminished, for the young woman was bright as well as beautiful, and she began to read, and then to look at the account books of the household, and then at another account book.” The bookseller shook his head. “Then she disappeared, never to be seen again, and one week to the day later, a great fire burned down the House of Scholars, and all the scholars within were said to have perished, including the old scholar who had taught the girl to read.” The bookseller stopped.
“That’s it? And no one has done anything?”
“What else would there be to say?” asked the bookseller. “The House of Scholars burned, and there are no scholars left in Nacliano.”
“Or none who dare call themselves scholars,” replied Quaeryt.
“One who does not acknowledge who and what he is cannot claim to be such, can he?”
“That is a point many have debated, including Rholan, who said that a name did not equal deeds.”
“Perhaps I should have said that one who neither acknowledges who or what he is nor acts as such cannot claim to be what he believes himself to be.”
Quaeryt nodded. “I prefer to believe that acts rather than words define the man … or woman.”
The bookseller laughed, a sound soft but ironic and edged with a hint of bitterness. “You are neither innocent enough nor cynical enough, for all acts come from words.”
“Perhaps,” said Quaeryt, easing himself from the stool, “but the words need not come from the one who acts, nor the deeds from the one who speaks.” He smiled. “It is always better when someone else tells the story.”
“I take it you have no interest in purchasing a book?”
“A traveler should only purchase books when he is home and can provide for them.” Quaeryt bowed. “I thank you for the story.”
“And I for your patience.”
Despite the apparent politeness of the bookseller, Quaeryt remained ill at ease on the entire walk back to the Tankard, not because he doubted the story, but because he believed it … as well as what had not been said, but suggested, and not spoken, by the bookseller himself. More than that, the hidden semi-parable about the woman who learned to read and what came of it bothered him as well, especially in light of the missive from Vaelora sealed within the document case.
Again on Jeudi, Quaeryt rose and ate early, and plied Lily with another three coppers to save the garret chamber for yet another night. Unlike the previous day, he immediately headed toward the harbor Patrol building. He reached there even before the patrollers going on duty left the building. Duultyn and his partner were among the last to leave, and they headed in the direction of the Sailrigger.
Using his concealment shield, Quaeryt followed more closely. After several days, he was beginning to understand the rougher Tellan of the east more clearly.
“… never said what happened last night…”
“She wasn’t there. Old lady Shaalya took me into every room in the place.”
“Then she’s gone.”
Duultyn shook his head. “Just for now. She’ll be back. Then she’ll pay. More than she wants.”
“Your uncle said not to-”
“I told him that she’d been seeing that scholar we chased.”
“Oh … still don’t understand what he has against them. Except for the one … don’t seem any worse than anyone else.”
“They’re worse.” Low as Duultyn’s voice was, the venom was far stronger than the words. “Worse even than imagers.”
“You, I understand. But him? You’ve never said why he-”
“You don’t want to know. Leave it, Thuaylt. Just leave it.”
Duultyn stopped and looked at the taproom, with its shutters and doors all closed. “Be a shame, a real shame, if the place caught fire.”
“Too many people know what happened yesterday.”
“I can be patient. Long enough for people to forget.…” Duultyn turned and resumed his strolling walk toward the piers.
Neither patroller spoke for a time.
“You’re fortunate, Thuaylt,” Duultyn finally said. “Pretty wife who wouldn’t look past you, no matter what.”
“Thank the Nameless for that every day,” agreed the taller patroller.
“I still wonder why…” Duultyn shook his head. “Never will understand women.”
Even from what he’d overheard, Quaeryt knew why the patroller never would.
“Been a hot week.”
“So was last week,” replied Duultyn. “I’ll be glad when tomorrow’s rounds are done.”
“That makes two of us.”
By the time Duultyn and Thuaylt stopped at another cafe for a midday meal, Quaeryt was convinced that he’d discovered all that he was going to by following the pair, and he returned to the first pier. Two more ships had ported, and he inquired about the destination of each. One was heading east, and the other was a Ferran brig headed homeward via Westisle.
Then he eased past another pair of patrollers to get onto the second pier, where a single worn brig had just tied up at the innermost bollard. Even before he reached the ship, he had the sinking feeling that the vessel was the Moon’s Son.
He stood back and studied the ship, but he had to admit, worn as she looked, she was also trim, and nothing looked out of place or in ill repair. While the gangway was already down, he watched the crew for a time before he finally made his way up the plank and requested permission to board from the bosun.
“Come on aboard.”
“I’m looking for passage to Tilbora.”
The bosun replied, “We port there, but best you talk to the captain.”
“Aye.” The bosun turned. “Captain … the gent here is looking for passage.”
The man who walked across the deck toward Quaeryt was of average height and build and not notable in any attribute, except for the copper-red brush mustache that matched neither the dull red of his hair nor the brownish red of his eyebrows. “Yes?” His voice was a raspy baritone.
“I understand you might be heading to Tilbora,” offered Quaeryt.
“That we would be, but not until a glass before dawn on Samedi. Passage costs a gold, and three coppers a day for fare. That gets you a bunk cabin in the fantail and the same meals as the rest of us.”
Quaeryt handed across two silvers. “That’s to hold it, the rest when I come on board Vendrei night.”
Chexar took the silvers. “Done. What do we call you?”
The captain frowned. “Had a mate once, kept talking about a quartermaster type who left to be a scholar … name like that. Said he’d have been a good mate.”
Quaeryt wasn’t surprised. Even halfway decent quartermasters were rare, and captains kept their ears open about mates and others of possible value.
“Might have been me.” Quaeryt smiled wryly. “Might have been someone else.”
Chexar nodded. “Why might you be headed north?”
“I have a patron who sent me there. I need to do what he wants and return before the turn of winter.”
“Might have been better staying a quartermaster,” replied Chexar.
“True enough, Captain, but we can’t live over what we might have done.”
“All too right.” Chexar nodded again, brusquely. “Be aboard before eighth glass tomorrow night.”
“That I will, Captain.”
Chexar turned and walked forward, toward where the bosun was overseeing the off-loading from the forward hatch.
Quaeryt walked down the gangway and headed back toward the harbor Patrol building. When he passed the Sailrigger, he noted that all the doors and shutters remained tightly closed.
Once he reached the street across from the Patrol building, he began to watch, moving from point to point, occasionally using a concealment shield. He continued his surveillance until almost a glass past midday, changing his position, using a concealment shield at times until a coach pulled up. The coach was green and trimmed in polished brass. Quaeryt once more raised a concealment screen and eased along the uneven brick sidewalk until he was within a few yards of the coach, if with his back to the wall of the adjoining cafe.
Shortly, a tall, burly, and gray-haired patroller in greens, with a gold seven-pointed star on each collar, emerged from the building, accompanied by another patroller, and walked toward the waiting coach.
“… don’t care what’s wrong with his wife.… He keeps the schedule, or he can take an early stipend.… Tell him that.”
Just from his body posture, the few words, and the chief’s tone of voice, Quaeryt didn’t care any more for the chief than for Duultyn, who, apparently, was Burchal’s nephew. That family tree has more than its share of sour lemons.
After the coach pulled away, Quaeryt decided to walk back to Hill Square, as much because he wanted to look around a nicer part of Nacliano as because there was little more he could learn by watching the Patrol building. Besides, he couldn’t hold the concealment shield for long, long periods without getting exhausted, and remaining near the Patrol building without concealment might call too much notice to himself.
As he walked along the even yellow-brick sidewalks that bordered the equally uneven yellow-brick surface of the streets, he couldn’t help but notice a certain almost furtive air displayed by many of those he passed, who moved with their eyes shifting quickly from point to point. Yet few eyes rested long on Quaeryt, as if those who did look at him quickly dismissed him and looked away.
When he neared Hill Square, he began looking for the narrow street that held the bookshop, then turned down it. He walked past the felter’s shop, then stopped. The dilapidated building between the felter’s and the cordwainer’s was closed, the iron-grated door locked. It looked abandoned, and as if it had been for years. Yet he had been there the day before. Abruptly, he nodded. Clearly, the use of the “cooperage” as a bookstore was a tacit accommodation between Burchal and the bookseller, who had to have once been other than a mere vendor of tomes.
He retraced his steps back uphill in the direction of the nearer pastry shop. Less than a quint later, he stood inside a white-walled shop filled with the scents of baking bread, almonds, and other nuts and spices.
A dark-haired girl who could not have stood to his shoulder looked over the counter at him. “Might I help you, sir?”
“What’s the best pastry you have?” he asked.
“The lime tarts are good, and so are the orange ones … or perhaps the walnut-honey layers…” The woman girl smiled shyly.
Lime tarts reminded him of sour lemons, and so might an orange one, especially if it were the slightest bit bitter. “I’ll try one of the walnut-honey pastries.”
“A walnut-honey layer it is. Two coppers.”
Two coppers? The shop definitely catered to the wealthier citizens of Nacliano. Quaeryt handed over the coppers and received in return a square of layers of thin pastry interspersed with honey and ground nuts and placed on a larger square of brown paper.
“There you are.”
Quaeryt took the pastry outside and walked slowly in the direction of the Tankard, not that he was in any hurry. He took a small bite of the walnut-honey layer, chewing it slowly.
For all its sweetness, the pastry tasted bitter.
He finished the last crumbs and licked his fingers, then continued eastward toward the Tankard, which, for all its lack of comfort, somehow felt more honest than did Hill Square.
On Vendrei morning, Quaeryt did not get up quite so early. He didn’t see much point in tracking the patrollers exceptionally close to dawn. He had overheard that Duultyn was on duty, but, if that had changed, it wasn’t something that he could control. Still, he washed up and shaved and finished breakfast before seventh glass, then went out to the high desk in the front hall. The wall shelf remained empty of any pottery or other decorations.
When the gray lady appeared, he said, “Thank you. I won’t be staying tonight.”
“You find a ship?” asked Lily.
“Chexar’s Moon’s Son, I’d wager. He’s one of the few that goes north in summer. Good master, but not the most fortunate, I’ve heard tell.”
“And he’s still sailing?”
“He’s one of the best at sea. He hasn’t always picked the right cargoes at the right time.”
Quaeryt nodded. He understood that, and he didn’t care as much about the cargoes as arriving safely in Tilbora.
“Best of fortune.”
After making a few small purchases, including a large number of apricots, Quaeryt arrived across the street from the harbor Patrol building two quints before the ten bells of midday rang out. He took a seat at the cafe from where he could watch the Patrol building, set his small canvas bag between his boots, and ordered a lager and a domchana. He paid the server immediately in case he needed to depart in a hurry. Then, between bites and sips, he just watched.
The only places where the sidewalks were uncrowded were those fronting the Patrol building. Likewise, there were no street vendors there, either.
Quaeryt smiled as he watched a young bootblack persuade a couple to have their boots shined. He wasn’t quite so pleased when he saw a pleasant-faced young woman cozy up to a teamster about to unload his wagon, but he needn’t have worried, because the burly fellow backhanded her cutpurse companion with enough force to throw him into the wagon and leave him stunned. The two thieves scurried off, but their haste was unnecessary because there were no patrollers nearby, even in front of the Patrol building, and the teamster didn’t call for any.
Quaeryt ordered a second lager, not that he intended to drink it all, and kept watching, but also looking toward the harbor time and again, as if he were waiting for someone.
As on the previous day, Burchal did not leave at noon, but at just before a single bell struck the first glass of the afternoon, and he was accompanied by two other patrollers. No coach arrived, for which Quaeryt was grateful, although he had been prepared to follow the coach on foot, since Nacliano’s streets were narrow and crowded enough that coach or wagon movement near the harbor was slow.
As soon as he glimpsed the chief, Quaeryt stood and left, slipping a pair of coppers to the serving girl as he passed her. He moved into a shadowed doorway for a moment and raised a concealment shield, hoping that anyone looking in his direction would simply have thought he had entered the confectionery shop, while anyone watching from inside the shop would think that he had hurried away.
The three patrollers had covered less than twenty yards before Quaeryt had closed enough to overhear parts of their conversation.
“… talk about it later.”
“What do you say we go to Ufyeryl’s?”
“The fare’s good there.”
“So are the servers,” replied Burchal with a deep rolling laugh. “It’s close, and I need to be back before half past second glass.”
No more than a block later, the three entered a large cafe. Ufyeryl had to have been the owner or the proprietor, because the signboard outside the stone-faced structure declared it to be the Sea Sprite. Unlike at most eating establishments in Nacliano, the windows were glazed and the shutters painted, if a shiny gray.
Quaeryt had to squeeze in behind the last patroller because he didn’t want people seeing a door open and close with no one apparently there.
“We have your favorite table available, Chief Burchal,” offered a corpulent man in a white shirt and purple vest, gesturing toward the left side of the dining area.
Burchal said nothing, but one of the two patrollers following murmured to the other, “As if he dared otherwise.”
The table was set off from the others by two half walls that were head-high, except for a column at the outer end of each, with pale purple drapes hanging from brackets and filling the space between the half walls and the ceiling.
Quaeryt stood back, as close as he could to the narrow column at the end of the half wall on the side toward the kitchen.
“How about some of that Montagne red, Ufyeryl?” asked Burchal, as he seated himself, in a tone that was more demand than request.
“You will have it,” the proprietor said cheerfully. “Dhaela … the good Montagne red!”
Quaeryt’s eyes flicked to the serving girl addressed by Ufyeryl. He doubted she could have been much over sixteen, for all of her clearly feminine figure, accentuated as it was by the nearly sheer formfitting purple cotton blouse and tight trousers.
In moments, Dhaela reappeared with two carafes, setting both in the center of the table, and leaning forward while doing so in a way to show her charms to their best advantage. Then she hurried off, only to return with three heavy goblets. “Here you are.” Her voice was cheerful, if sultry.
Burchal’s right hand slid down from her waist and caressed her momentarily, before she straightened and eased away.
“We have the special lamb…”
Quaeryt watched the three patrollers as Dhaela recited the available fare, then took their orders, and then slipped away.
Burchal grasped the nearer carafe, filled his goblet, and handed the carafe to the patroller on his right.
“See what you mean by the fare and the servers,” said the youngest-looking patroller.
“They’re definitely fair,” countered the other patroller, filling his goblet.
“They treat me well.” Burchal’s voice held satisfaction.
Quaeryt mentally supplied the words that the chief had not spoken. Because they know what’s good for them. Then the scholar had to flatten himself against the side of the half wall as a server hurried by.
The patroller across from Burchal looked up and frowned, then shook his head.
“What is it?” demanded the chief.
“The hangings … they were moving.”
The other patroller leaned back. “No one there.”
“Can’t be too careful,” said Burchal cheerfully. “That’s why you don’t talk about anything important in public-or with women. There are ears everywhere. We’re here to eat.” He lifted the goblet, sniffed it, and took a small sip. He nodded and took a larger swallow. “Good as always.”
“Heard your nephew found another scholar. Didn’t know there were any left.”
“That’s part of his job. We need to make sure that imagers and scholars and other undesirable sorts don’t bother folks here.”
“Be easier if Estisle felt the same way.”
“It would indeed.”
Although Burchal’s tone was cheerfully even, there was something behind it, almost as if the chief had plans that extended beyond Nacliano.
Quaeryt nodded to himself. While he could have imaged pitricin or blueacid into Burchal’s gut, what he had in mind was far better for the situation.
Before long Dhaela returned with another server, a young man, and set platters before the three patrollers, as well as a large basket of bread.
After another caress of Dhaela, Burchal looked at the platter before him and smiled. “This is the best lamb in Nacliano.”
The other two exchanged quick glances, then nodded.
Quaeryt watched as the chief took several mouthfuls, then, after Burchal took another swallow of wine, and another mouthful of wine, imaged chunks of lamb into Burchal’s lower windpipe.
Burchal swallowed, then tried to swallow again. He lurched to his feet, upsetting the chair behind him and knocking over the goblet so that red wine poured over the pale purple table linens.
The patroller to his right jumped to his feet and pounded the chief on the back, but Burchal had turned red. His mouth was open, but no sound issued forth.
The older patroller stood and pulled his own chair in front of the chief, trying to bend the chief forward over the back of the chair, but Burchal pushed him away and put his hand into his mouth. The chief staggered, trying to remove the lamb that was beyond his grasp.
Quaeryt waited and watched until Burchal pitched forward.
One of the servers screamed.
Once he was certain that the chief was dead, amid the chaos and with his concealment shield Quaeryt had no trouble in slipping out of the Sea Sprite. He did not release the concealment shield until he was in an alleyway two blocks away in the direction of the harbor.
Now all he needed to do was to locate Duultyn.
He began to walk toward the harbor.
Duultyn and Thuaylt weren’t at the foot of pier one, nor of pier two … nor even pier three. Was Vendrei the patroller’s day off? That seemed unlikely to Quaeryt, given what he’d overheard on Jeudi, especially since Duultyn did enjoy some favoritism from his uncle. But what if Duultyn had gotten ill? After what Burchal had said, Quaeryt didn’t see that as likely, yet … where was Duultyn? Quaeryt wanted to shake his head. Any possible or practical way of tracking the patroller down would require asking questions, and questions would leave tracks, and that was the last thing he wanted to do. Nor could he afford to wait for yet another ship heading north.
After retracing his steps to check the first two piers again, Quaeryt was about ready to head in the direction of the Sailrigger when he finally spotted the two patrollers as they approached the second pier. He remained in the shadows of the awning of the chandlery next to which he’d taken a position until the two passed him, moving toward the pier. Then he raised a concealment shield and followed.
“… still think that scholar escaped?”
“… know he must have…”
“Because he jumped into the water like he knew what he was doing … knew we couldn’t follow him … will find him.”
“What if he shipped out already?”
“I have a feeling he hasn’t.”
“… might be better if he had…” murmured Thualyt.
“What did you say?”
“Just that it might have been better for him if he had.”
“I don’t care about what’s good for scholars. I know what’s best for them, and that’s to get rid of as many as possible.”
From where he followed the pair, Quaeryt shook his head, then imaged a jolt of blueacid into the patroller’s stomach.
Duultyn’s step faltered for a moment. Then he shook his head.
“What is it?” asked Thuaylt.
“Must have been that pepper fowl I ate. Gut-ache. It’ll pass.”
“Are you all right?” Thuaylt’s voice held concern.
“I said I’ll be fine.” Even as irritation filled Duultyn’s voice, his free hand went to his forehead. His steps became more uneven.
“Sow-named fowl! Spoiled meat. Bastard Xeryl fed me spoiled meat.” Duultyn staggered to the seawall and leaned over it, gagging uncontrollably. His body began to convulse.
Thuaylt leaned took several steps toward his partner, then halted, as if uncertain as what to do. “Duultyn?”
There was no response, except for several more convulsions before the patroller slumped over the seawall. Before long, even his breathing stopped.
Quaeryt slipped around the pair and made his way onto the second pier, holding the concealment shield while he reached the shadow cast by the first vessel tied there, a coastal schooner. He eased the grass bag holding the remains of the apricots over the side of the pier, but the splash was so small that no one could have heard it, then waited until no one was near or looking before releasing the shield.
He walked purposefully toward the next ship-the Moon’s Son.
For all of Chexar’s talk about leaving well before dawn, the Moon’s Son had barely left the harbor behind when the leading edge of the sun peered over the eastern waters on Samedi morning, but the ship was sailing almost directly before the wind, and the swells in the gulf beyond the harbor were moderate. The “bunk cabin” was far smaller than the space in the fantail locker on the Diamond, but, although there were two bunks against the aft bulkhead, Quaeryt was the only passenger. For that, he was grateful.
As orangish light flooded diffusely over the ship, he stood by the starboard railing on the poop deck, looking to the southeast at the northern end of the rocky island of Estisle, which held the port of the same name. He couldn’t help but reflect on the past week. Two aspects of his time in Nacliano particularly bothered him. First was the possibility that an innocent cafe owner might be blamed for poisoning Duultyn. Quaeryt hadn’t considered the fact that Duultyn would immediately blame someone when he felt unwell. He should have. People like Duultyn blamed others for everything. Second was the concern that the Patrol chief who followed Burchal might be even worse. While that seemed unlikely, in places like Nacliano the same factors that allowed a man like Burchal to abuse power made it more likely that someone similar would succeed him. On the other hand, Quaeryt was only one man, and a scholar and hidden imager at that, and he couldn’t be everywhere to try to improve things. That was another reason why he had to prove his greater usefulness to Bhayar. That was the first step in what he planned.
Besides, he told himself, it’s better to do something when no one else has done anything than hope that what’s bad will improve itself.
Still … he worried.
His eyes drifted back to Estisle, which had begun as a haven for pirates and smugglers centuries ago-before they all discovered that trading was more profitable and less fatal … and Hengyst had granted them amnesty for their support.
Quaeryt sensed someone and turned to see the captain standing a few yards away, looking forward, then to the helm, before returning his gaze to the scholar no longer attired as such-and who wouldn’t be until after he disembarked from the Moon’s Son.
“You were on board right early yesterday,” observed Chexar. “You in haste to get to Tilbora?” The captain spoke Tellan with what Quaeryt suspected was the thick accent of Tilbor.
Quaeryt laughed. “Not so much that as in haste to leave Nacliano. I’ve seen friendlier ports in my day.”
Chexar nodded. “It didn’t used to be that way. Now…” The captain shrugged. “Most of the crew stays close to the ship these days. We try to off-load and load as quick as we can.”
“What happened? You must know. You’ve spent more than a few days tied up in Nacliano over the years.”
“That’s hard to say. Things happened. Someone burned down the Scholars’ House, and all the scholars left … maybe some of them stayed permanently, you might say. A couple of the older factorages closed. Another caught fire. Who knows? It just isn’t the same. People look strange-like at anyone they don’t know.”
“I saw this one patroller who jumped at anyone wearing brown.…”
Chexar shook his head. “That had to be Duultyn. He hates scholars. Scholars wear brown. His wife, pretty thing she was, ran off with one.”
“He hates scholars and men who wear brown just for that?”
“The scholar was the kind who studied all the old martial arts. It was weeks before Duultyn could walk straight.” Chexar grinned. “They say that he lost more than his wife.” The grin faded. “Don’t think he’s quite right in the head, but he’s the nephew or some such of the City Patrol chief.”
“He sounds like a patroller to avoid.”
“If you’re a seafarer, they’re all to be avoided,” replied Chexar wryly.
“Even in Tilbora? What’s it like there?”
“It’s colder there. More like harvest in summer, fall in harvest, winter in fall, and you don’t really want to be there in winter.” He laughed. “I don’t, and most of the crew doesn’t, and we grew up there.”
“I was thinking about the patrollers.…”
“The ones in Tilbora aren’t like those in Nacliano. They’re like those in most ports. You don’t bother them, and they don’t bother you.”
“What about the governor?”
“I’ve never seen him. They say he keeps pretty much to the Telaryn Palace-used to be the Khanar’s Palace. Stay away from the Telaryn armsmen, though. They can be nasty pieces of work.”
“Why? Do they think Tilbor is going to revolt or something?”
“That’s the way they act. Me … I never saw anything like that. We Tilborans are stiff-necked. That doesn’t mean that we’re troublemakers. Oh … there are a few, call themselves partisans or some such, but most of the real partisans went back to work once things settled down after the war. Life’s tough enough in the north without making trouble for yourself. Except for the hill folk. They’ve always been trouble. The rest of us, we just want to get by. You want troublemakers, go to Antiago or Bovaria.”
Quaeryt nodded. “I’ve never been to Tilbor. What’s a good dish to eat … and what should I avoid?”
Chexar laughed. “Most is like anywhere else, but I’d avoid the white cod. Never liked it as a boy. Still don’t. Looks and tastes like fish jerky seasoned in lye. That’s because it is. It’ll keep forever…” Abruptly, he turned. “Gelas! Bring her a half point more to port.”
“Aye, Captain!” returned the helmsman.
Chexar continued, without looking at Quaeryt, “We need to stay well north of the Wreckers’ Rocks. That’s not really a problem with the weather as fair as it is.”
“I heard that the seas are rougher north of here. How soon will we hit them?”
“On the trip south … we got to calmer weather some four days out of Nacliano. Likely enough, that hasn’t changed all that much.”
“How rough?” asked Quaeryt.
“Not that bad. Swells a yard or two at most. Winter seas, you see swells five to ten yards all the time.” Chexar laughed softly. “That’s why we do winter runs from Nacliano to the south. There aren’t many who run to Tilbora in the winter, and none who sail farther north.”
Since the shortest overland routes from Tilbora to Solis ran through the mountains, Quaeryt wasn’t going to have as much time as he would have liked in Tilbor, not and meet Bhayar’s request for his return. Yet … staying longer in Solis would not have suited either his needs or Bhayar’s, and from what he’d already seen in Nacliano, there were more than a few problems of which the Lord of Telaryn was woefully unaware.
“How late do you leave Tilbora for the last time in the fall?”
Chexar shrugged. “That depends on the weather and the signs.” He grinned wryly. “And if anyone has a good cargo. If things look spare, we leave a few weeks before the end of Finitas, never later than the twenty-third.” The captain nodded, then turned and walked back toward the helm.
Quaeryt thought. It was already the thirty-fifth of Juyn, the last day of summer. That left the two months of harvest and a little over seven weeks of fall-seventeen weeks in all-and it would likely take more than a week to reach Tilbora … if nothing untoward happened.
That seemed more than possible, but … still.
After four days aboard the Moon’s Son, Quaeryt had to admit that the often-dour Chexar was a good shiphandler. The fare was adequate, and the weather slightly rough, but bearable. The ocean was getting colder. That was obvious from the fine spray that flew from the bow when the ship encountered a larger swell. Late on Meredi afternoon, he managed to catch Chaenyr, the second mate, in a talkative mood … or what passed for one.
“Will you have any time away from the ship when you port?”
“Depends on what we can load and how long it takes. It’s early in harvest.” The mate shrugged. “That means fewer cargoes. I wouldn’t mind a few days home.”
“You’re from Tilbora?”
“You might say that, excepting as I grew up in Slaegyn. That’s a hamlet some ten milles to the north of Tilbora, on the Highlands.”
“Is that near Haestal?”
The mate nodded. “Just south of there.”
“And it’s in the Highlands?” From Quaeryt’s study of the maps of Tilbor, Haestal was on the coast, but didn’t have a harbor.
“Aye … the east cliffs drop near on three hundred yards into the sea. There’s not even shingle at the base of the cliffs, and in a nor’easter, the waves might break halfway up.”
“Is a nor’easter likely this time of year?”
Chaenyr laughed. “You can get a nor’easter any time of year. They happen more in fall and winter, and they’re worse then.”
Quaeryt glanced forward. “No clouds in sight now, but the wind’s freshened and shifted. It’s more out of the east now. That’s usually a sign of a change in the weather.”
“The weather changes all the time once you get a few days north of Estisle.” Chaenyr cocked his head, his eyes squinting. “Might be a blow coming. Might not. Might just be a shift to a sou’easterly. We could use that. Calmer seas and a mostly following wind.”
The scholar looked to port where, just on the western horizon, there was the thinnest line of darkness-the coastline of eastern Telaryn. “Where are we now?”
“We passed the headland at Edcloin just after sunrise … most likely we’ll be coming in sight of the Barrens before long. They’ll be hard to see. The captain’ll be turning some to the east. Won’t want the winds and currents to fetch us up there.”
“The Barrens? Are those low sandspits or islands?”
“Hundreds of ’em. Stretch for a good three hundred milles, and that doesn’t count the shallows to the north. They say there were once more towns and good harbors there, but the waters changed and filled them with sand, and the folks all left, most of them, anyway. I’d dare say more ships been lost to the shallows than to the Barrens. One good thing that the Lords of Telaryn did-they cleaned out most of the shipbreakers and their false lights and fires. Still some on the Shallows Coast, though.” The mate spat over the rail. “About the only good thing the Telaryns did.”
“Doesn’t sound like the Telaryns are much liked in Tilbor.”
“Telaryns are fine. We could do without the armsmen and the extra tariffs. Some folks wouldn’t even mind the tariffs if the coin went to building better roads or replacing the breakwater in Tilbora. All they see is the parties and balls in the Telaryn Palace.” Chaenyr frowned. “Where are you from?”
Quaeryt laughed. “I can’t say as I know. The scholars in Solis took me in when I was too young to remember. They told me later I could speak a few words, but no one knew what because I didn’t speak whatever it was properly.”
“You know a bit about the sea.”
“I spent a few years before the mast, then went back and studied some more with the scholars. That didn’t turn out quite the way I thought it might.”
“You a scholar, then?”
“I could claim that.” Quaeryt laughed again. “I kept leaving the Scholars’ House often enough that they never bothered to de-scholar me. Then I found a patron, and they decided it wasn’t worth the trouble.” All of that was true, if not precisely in the way or order in which he’d related it.
“Why are you headed to Tilbor?”
Quaeryt offered a rueful expression. “There are good things and bad things about having a patron. The best thing is that you know you’ll be provided for. The worst thing is that they often want things done … or obtained … or looked into…”
Chaenyr laughed. “Some ways I prefer dealing with the captain. It’s clear what he wants, when he wants it, and how.”
“Everyone I talked to, asking about shipmasters heading north, said he was a fine mariner and shiphandler.”
“That he is, no question about it. And if others were as honest as he is, he’d have more than the Moon’s Son.”
Quaeryt nodded and waited, sensing that a question would close off learning more.
“But most folk aren’t so much honest as self-serving and trying not to seem so. That’s the way of the world, and you and I and the captain just have to do the best we can.” Chaenyr turned. “I’d best be checking with the bosun.…” With a nod, the mate headed forward.
Quaeryt looked to the northeast. The sky above the horizon was clear.
For the next four days the skies remained largely clear and the winds generally out of the east, but the seas gradually became heavier, so that the swells were running a good three yards in height, and sometimes more, by midday on Solayi. By midafternoon, everything changed. Within the space of two quints, the wind abruptly shifted and increased markedly, coming hard out of the northeast, while dark clouds scudded toward the ship from the north-northeast. Chexar changed course so that the Moon’s Son swung to the south.
Just what I needed, thought Quaeryt. Running before what looked to be a solid storm was certainly the wisest course, but in even a few glasses, they’d cover more milles to the south than they had in a day heading northward. Still, essentially reversing course was better than fighting a storm.
Less than a glass later, the entire sky was overcast, and the swells were closer to four yards in height and far less regular. The blue of the ocean had turned blue-black, the darkness emphasized by the white of the foam on the waves. Then rain began to pelt the ship, if in intermittent wave-like gusts.
Quaeryt hated the thought of being belowdecks in a blow. That was one thing that hadn’t changed over the years. At the same time, there was little sense in remaining topside and getting soaked through. So he returned to the tiny bunk cabin to wait out the storm.
After spending close to a glass getting bounced around and hanging on to the bunk supports, Quaeryt made his way back to the hatchway, from where he could take a look. Things were even worse than he feared.
He could barely hear Chexar yelling out orders, but the riggers had understood, and they had furled the sails, set a storm jib, then set storm sails in place of the main courses on both the fore- and mainmasts. Even so, the ship seemed not to lose any speed, although it was clear that the storm was moving far faster than the Moon’s Son.
You would have to disregard superstitions.…
“Hold tight!” yelled someone.
Quaeryt glanced around, only to see a wall of water that had to be at least twenty yards high about to break over the ship from the port side. He forced the hatch shut, tightening it as much as he quickly could, then braced himself in the narrow passageway. The entire ship rolled and then pitched forward. Water sprayed past the edges of the hatch and sloshed down the passageway.
Quaeryt had the feeling that the entire ship was underwater for a time before she sluggishly righted herself. When there was no more water coming under or around the hatch, Quaeryt opened it, only to see that the mainmast was broken and splintered no more than a few yards above the deck, jutting out over the starboard side at an angle, held in that odd position by the stays, sheets, and what else remained of the rigging. Both storm sails were shreds, but the storm jib had somehow survived, although one sheet had parted.
“Cut away!” bellowed Chexar.
Quaeryt understood that. In a calmer sea, the captain would have wanted to save what he could, but not in the storm that buffeted the damaged ship.
“Drogue’s away, Captain!” called another voice, that of the bosun.
The crew managed to get another storm sail in place on the foremast-or it could have been a reefed main course-and the Moon’s Son began to gain some headway, rather than being tossed by the waves. Chexar kept the vessel from getting swamped-and the crew from being washed overboard-for the next several quints. Somehow the upper section of the mainmast and the tangled stays and rigging were cut away.
Quaeryt never saw exactly what happened, because he dogged the hatch shut and waited. Then another wave crashed across the decks, and after the ship struggled to right herself, and he looked again, the broken section was gone. So were several riggers. The wind continued to rise until it became a howling force that blotted out all other sounds, and every swell threatened the ship slightly more than the previous one.
The brig began to ride more deeply in the water, a sure sign that the seams had been strained or hatch covers pounded open by the force of the storm-or perhaps both. Then, almost abruptly, the ship swung sideways to the swells.
Chaenyr hauled himself hand over hand along the port railing, his eyes looking to the helm. “Rudder’s gone! Tie yourself to something topside, or you’ll drown when she founders!”
Quaeryt found line in the inside locker, but cutting it was difficult, and he almost cut himself before he put away the knife and just imaged out a piece of the rope, rather than cutting it. Then he had to follow Chaenyr’s example and struggle up to the railing on the low upper deck that barely merited the term “upper” or “poop.” By then he was soaked, but soaked was more to his liking than drowned belowdecks.
He’d barely managed to lash himself to the railing when another massive wave towered over the ship. He threw both arms around the railing and waited, taking a deep breath at the last moment before the dark chill of the water crashed down, thrusting him against the railing, then trying to rip him away from it. A second wave followed the first, and Quaeryt’s lungs were burning when he could finally breathe again.
When he could see again, after the foam subsided, although the main deck looked barely above water, Quaeryt squinted and tried to make out Chaenyr-or anyone-but he seemed to be the only one left on the upper deck, and the helm scarcely moved. Either the rudder had been torn away, or the steering cables had snapped, and sooner or later another wave would swamp the ship, rolling uncontrollably, first in the trough of one wave, then being submerged by another.
The skies were almost as dark as full night.
How many glasses later it was, Quaeryt had no idea, but some time later he could see spray foaming upward as well as hear what sounded like surf above the wail and whine of the wind. He looked to the starboard side of the helpless derelict, where less than a hundred yards away spray cascaded upward, then receded.
Whether they were being carried onto a reef, one of the sandbars the mate had talked about, or even the coast, Quaeryt had no idea, except there were no cliffs, and there looked to be waters beyond the foam and spume. Another massive swell lifted the ship’s hull, then smashed it down. The impact jarred every bone in Quaeryt’s body and strained his muscles.
Rocks, not sand.
Spray, foam, and water swirled over and around Quaeryt, then receded … but only for a moment, before another cascade surged over him.
For a brief time, he could breathe without having to grab mouthfuls of air between the surges of waves and surf, but he felt a warmer wetness. Belatedly, he realized that it was rain. He hadn’t even noticed it with all the seawater pounding him.
Then another huge swell lifted the battered hull and dropped it again. Grinding, jarring impact followed impact, until what was left of the ship’s stem and bowsprit broke away.
Quaeryt decided to stay with his section of wreckage, at least for a time. He could swim, unlike many sailors, but no swimmer would last in that tempest, especially not when being thrashed by the surf and pounded against the rocks.
The storm had to end … sometime.
He just hoped he could outlast it … and that wherever he was stranded was some place from which he could extricate himself.
Quaeryt husbanded his strength and trusted to the rope that held him tethered to the remnants of the stern section of the Moon’s Sun. At some point full darkness lifted, and the wind dropped from a gale to a strong wind. The surging surf receded enough that only occasional spray dampened the scholar, and what remained of the ship no longer shifted with the movement of the water. At that point, he cut the rope, which took almost all of his strength, and surveyed the hulk. The rocks on which the ship had broached were still covered with swirling water, and he could see no other sign of land through the dim light.
So he struggled back to the quarters under the upper deck. The captain’s cabin was empty, as were the two cabins for the mates. All were damp.
Quaeryt would have shrugged, except he was far too tired. Instead, he collapsed on the damp pallet. Sleep might help, and he could use it for what lay ahead.
When Quaeryt woke, his lips were cracked and dry, and he could taste salt everywhere. Every muscle ached, and his clothes and jacket were still wet, but not soaked. He could hear the sea, if barely, as he rolled off the still-damp pallet and up onto the sloping deck. He had to brace himself to keep his footing as he made his way to the hatchway, now missing the hatch itself.
He peered out. A misty drizzle surrounded the hulk, and patches of fog or low clouds obscured his view, but from what he could see, it seemed to be early, possibly less than a glass after sunrise. He definitely hoped that was the case.
What remained of the ship rested on a stretch of rock that, surprisingly, appeared dark and level, and stretched in an arc toward a sandy shore. He estimated that the long curve of stone was close to a half mille in length, and was less than a yard underwater. He glanced seaward, but the natural rock causeway ended no more than fifty yards from the hulk of the Moon’s Son.
Was it natural? Or had some ancient imager created it as a pier or a seawall for a long-vanished town? He shook his head. Whatever had created it didn’t matter now. Since the causeway that had broken the back of the Moon’s Son also provided a way to shore, he needed to take it. He had no intention of staying on board the hulk. As even a passenger, he represented the sole barrier to the local ship reavers claiming salvage rights over what remained of ship and cargo, and if they found him, his survival was less than assured, particularly since, in his present condition, it was unlikely he could do much imaging, not and be in any shape to do much of anything else.
He spent less than a quint rummaging through the captain’s cabin, where he found a pouch of silvers, and the galley. The galley yielded some squares of hard cheese and even more durable hardtack, and a tin water bottle with water in it. With his canvas bag not quite bulging he made his way back on deck, then over the side, trying to ease himself down onto the rock below, where the water swirled somewhere between ankle-deep and knee-deep.
He still ended up sliding across the angled planking of the hulk, but managed to land on his boots, if with a jarring impact. His boots slid out from under him, so that his backside hit the water and stone too, hard enough that he’d be bruised and sore there as well. He staggered to his feet and began wading through the calf-deep water over the stone toward the shore, his eyes scanning the narrow sandy beach beyond and beside the end of the causeway, which, near the water’s edge, straightened and continued due west. The patchy fog and mist limited his sight, but he did see detritus and debris scattered along the sand-but no reavers. Not yet.
He placed each boot carefully, well aware that the seemingly shallow water likely concealed deeper potholes. Yet for all the likelihood of holes or gaps in the stone, he found none on the long walk to where the stone ended, some forty yards shoreward from the water’s edge. Except, he realized, the causeway did not end, but extended under a sand dune covered with coarse grass. How much farther it continued, he had no idea, although he wondered if more of a harbor, even with the ruins of buildings, lay under the dunes that bordered the narrow beach.
Glancing around, he looked for a trail or path that might point the way to a place of habitation, or a town or hamlet, finally catching sight of what appeared to be a track through the waist-high grass. The track had not been used since the storm had lifted. That was clear from the lack of clear prints in the damp sand. That did not mean that someone might not be coming the other way before long. Quaeryt forced himself to hurry up through the sand until he neared the top of the dune, where he slowed and listened.
He moved more deliberately until he was at the top and could look down. What he saw were more sandy dunes or hills, stretching a good mille, or so it seemed. Beyond them looked to be rolling rises of grassland, with some scattered trees. He took a deep breath and continued.
When he reached the last line of dunes, or the first line of hills with thick grass and soil as well as sand, he paused at the crest and studied the land beyond, noticing immediately downhill and to his right a small cot was tucked away on the south side of the hill, with earthen berms to the east and west, and a lower one to the south, all positioned to protect the gardens there.
He started down toward the cot, but a white-haired head popped up before Quaeryt could even consider a raising concealment, and the woman, wearing a faded gray shirt and trousers, studied the scholar as he approached.
“How did the garden fare with the storm?” he asked, stopping short of the weathered wooden gate that afforded the sole break in the earthen walls.
“A fair bit better than you, from the looks of you. A sight you are.” The white-haired woman’s voice was younger than her looks, but the eyes were a hard flint gray.
“It happens when your ship gets broken on the rocks and you get washed ashore.” Quaeryt didn’t trust the woman in the slightest, but wanted to appear pleasant.
“You’d be the first to make land alive. Vaolyn said they’d found two corpses on the sands well south of the Namer’s Causeway. The menfolk’ll find the ship afore long, I’d judge. You’re more than welcome to stay here and rest.”
“I’m far too late in getting where I’m supposed to be.” Besides, while Quaeryt had no doubt that what Vaolyn, whoever that was, had said was now likely true, he had great doubts whether the two had been dead when Vaolyn had found them. Nor was he especially eager to find out … or encounter Vaolyn. “If the Namer’s Causeway is that stretch of stone that heads into the ocean and then curves, that’s where part of the ship broke and broached.”
The woman frowned. “Never heard of a ship breaking there. They usually fetch up on the shallows north or south. There’s little enough left of the old channel.”
“Why do they call it the Namer’s Causeway?” Quaeryt couldn’t help but ask.
“Some say because it looks promising and leads nowhere. Others say it’s because the old ones built a harbor there on the promises of the Namer. It’s been called that from well before my time.”
“How far south are we from Tilbora?”
“Be a ride of three-four days, if you had a mount, and you don’t, by all looks.”
“Is there a village or a hamlet nearby where I could catch a wagon or the like headed in that direction?”
“Nearby? Aye, but the closest place on a road that leads to Tilbora is Fairby, and that is more than ten milles north. You might be best served by waiting here till the weather clears.”
“I’ll have to take my chances. Point me in the right direction, good lady, if you would.” Quaeryt paused. “And if you could spare some water, it would be good to drink some without the taste of salt.”
“Water I can spare, young fellow.”
Quaeryt wasn’t about to point out that he wasn’t all that young, not when he must have seemed that way to her. Besides, he wanted to get away from the possibility of ship reavers as quickly as possible.
Although he was ready to raise concealment at any time, he waited by the gate while she walked back into the cottage. Shortly, she returned with a small bucket and a dipper.
He took the dipper and drank a small sip, tasting the water, then took more. When he finished, he returned the dipper. “Thank you. That was much appreciated.”
“The least one should do for a thirsty traveler. We don’t see many these days.”
“I imagine not. Which way to the road leading to Fairby?”
“The local road is at the end of the lane at the end of the path there.” She pointed south. “You go left, and it will lead you to Khasyl. To the right is the long walk to Fairby.”
“You might want to sit on that bench there and rest your legs,” she offered, pointing to a plank resting between two hillocks of earth just inside the gate.
While he was tired, Quaeryt replied, “I thank you for your kindness, but I must be on my way.” He inclined his head politely, picked up his canvas bag, and then stepped back before walking toward the path she had indicated. He could sense her eyes on his back.
While he had his doubts about her directions, or her intentions, since north was where he needed to go, he stayed on the path, and then the lane until it joined the road. Just before he reached the road, he passed one other cot that looked to have been long abandoned.
At the crossroads, if it could be called that, he glanced southward, but the foggy mist shrouded everything more than a half mille away, and he turned in the direction that felt generally northward, and doubtless had to be, since it was roughly parallel to the coast. The road was little more than a dirt track, rutted and uneven, and he ended up walking on the shoulder.
Less than a mille later, although he couldn’t be certain, for there were no millestones or other distance markers, he thought he heard the sound of footsteps behind him. He looked back, but the misty fog was thick enough that he could only see a few hundred yards.
Then he heard the bay of a dog.
Frigging horse dung! They would have a hound. Concealment shields didn’t hide scent, and they didn’t erase tracks in or along a wet and muddy road.
He began to look for a tree large enough for him to climb. Needless to say, he didn’t see one immediately close. So he forced himself to pick up his pace, tired as he was, as he searched for a tree or some other place with height.
He covered another fifty yards or so through the patchy fog, with the baying of the dog coming ever closer, without catching sight of a tree or anything that might serve his purposes. Then he caught sight of a tree ahead on the right, but it turned out to be a scrawny juniper. He forced himself into a faster walk.
After another hundred yards, he saw several trees through the mist, up a gentle slope to his left. One might be large enough for him to climb up out of easy reach. He turned and hurried up the slope of grass and low bushes, on one of which his trousers caught, enough that he had to stop and pull them free.
The baying of the hound was markedly louder, but he did not head for the taller tree, but the shortest, which he circled, and then the next taller, before he began to climb the tallest one. The storm had shredded some of the leaves, but there were enough remaining to offer some cover. The problem was that the tree wasn’t a sturdy oak or the like, but a softwood of some sort, and by the time his feet were less than three yards off the ground the branches were swaying under his weight. Carrying the canvas bag didn’t make matters any easier, either. He decided against climbing higher and braced himself against the unsteady main trunk. Then he waited for the pursuers to come to him, hoping that there were not too many of them.
As they drew nearer, between the baying of the hound, he could hear some of what was said, but the thick accent he did not recognize made it harder.
“He’s left the road … has to have heard the hound…”
“Maergyt said he was headed north…”
“… don’t see what the trouble is … just wants to put the wreck behind him…”
“Vaolyn says better to have no witnesses…”
“… lot of the cargo spoiled…”
“Not the oils … worth a fair piece.”
“… still don’t know why she wants him tracked down and taken out…”
Vaolyn was a woman? Quaeryt shrugged. Reaver queens weren’t unknown, just rare, but they tended to be more ruthless than their male counterparts, probably out of necessity.
“Hound’s on to something! Must be getting close.”
Quaeryt peered through the leaves, trying to get a good look at his pursuers as they moved up the slope, slowing as they nearer the clump of trees. There were three men-all young, lean, and hard. The one with the dog on a rope lead carried a club. The other two held blades. One looked to be a cutlass, another a sabre of some sort.
“… think he’s in the trees?”
“Give the dog more rope.…”
Quaeryt concentrated on the man at the back of the group, then imaged an oblong of wood into the man’s chest, right where his heart should be. The reaver offered a strangled cry and pitched forward. When the second man turned, Quaeryt managed a second imaging. His head was pounding as the second attacker clutched at his chest.
The man with the hound stopped, looking around.
The third imaging left Quaeryt’s guts turning inside out, and his vision dimmed. He just hung on to the tree.
The hound stopped baying and looked toward the fallen man, around whose wrist the lead rope was wrapped. Then the dog lurched toward the base of the tree in which Quaeryt perched and resumed baying, if with a more desperate edge to the sound. The rope did not allow the hound quite to reach the trunk of the tree, but the dog kept baying … and baying.
Finally Quaeryt imaged a chunk of wood into its heart as well. That bothered him … far more than dealing with the reavers, but he dared not have the baying call more attention to where he was.
His eyes were burning, his guts were churning, and it was all he could do not to puke and to hold his position in the tree, hoping that no one else would happen along soon, and that the fog and mist would cloak him for a while until his guts settled and he could eat some of the hardtack and cheese and regain some strength.
Worried as he was, Quaeryt remained in the tree and rested, grateful that the misty fog, while beginning to lift, still remained thick in places. After a time, certainly less than a glass, he sipped water from the tin bottle and then slowly chewed some of the hardtack. A good quint later, he was finally recovered enough to ease himself down from the tree and to resume walking. The one thing he was sure of was that he needed to get as far from the wreck as he could … and as quickly as possible.
The first mille or so from the tree was almost pleasant. By the second he was feeling warm, although the air was still cool. By the third mille, a good glass or so later, the dampness combined with his own body heat and the lack of a breeze to make him feel uncomfortably hot, and he loosened his shirt and jacket. His arms were getting tired from carrying the canvas bag, even though he was switching it from hand to hand as he kept walking.
To keep his mind away from how he felt, he went back over what had happened. He hadn’t been thinking as well as he should have been. He should have imaged red pepper into his scent, so that the hound wouldn’t have been able to smell anything at all for a time. That just showed how tired he was. Yet he definitely needed to put as much distance as he could between himself and the dead reavers and the poor hound, whose only fault had been its masters.
For a time, he concentrated on just putting one foot in front of the other.
After perhaps another half glass, he came to the ruins of a cot, one that had been burned, it appeared, and then razed. He looked along the road, only to realize that he stood at the southern edge of a small hamlet where every building had been fired and leveled. The destruction had not been too recent because scraggly grass grew up to the remaining foundation and wall stones and the only path was the well-worn one from the road to the ruin, but it had happened within the past few years, because the soot on the mud bricks had not faded that much.
Despite his feeling feverish, or possibly because he was, Quaeryt shivered, then shook his head. The destruction merely refueled his intention to put the Shallows Coast behind him. Even so, he forced himself to sit down on a flat portion of the cot wall and to drink some of the water and eat more of the hardtack. The very thought of eating any of the cheese gave him a queasy feeling.
After taking that brief refreshment, he rose and made his way along the road and through the ruins. He couldn’t help but note that not a wall remained standing above knee height. What had been the cause of such devastation? Reavers usually just raided and departed. They weren’t known for such thorough destruction, even when villagers resisted. Had the village been burned because of a recurrence of plague? That didn’t make sense because no one would have stayed around afterward to level the walls.
Nothing else he saw as he passed the twenty-odd ruined buildings shed any more light on the reason for the destruction. There were no signs of animals, either, except that the rolling hills to the north of the hamlet had been recently grazed.
He kept walking, but he had to pause more frequently as the day grew somewhat warmer and the fog and mist lifted into low clouds. For all the greenness of the land, he saw no cots or holdings-none at all. While he did see signs the grass had been grazed, he saw no herds or flocks. The lack of human habitation bothered him, because there seemed to be no reason for it, yet he knew full well that such an emptiness was anything but natural and had to have a cause.
Sometime around midday, he passed through another village that had been leveled and burned, and it seemed slightly larger than the first he had encountered. Once more, he stopped and rested. This time, he had to force himself to stand and resume walking, and when he did, he had to stop for several moments because he coughed so violently he almost retched. Yet the cough was dry and hacking. Still, the coughing stopped, and he was able to keep walking.
He felt more than warm, more like feverish. Was that because he’d imaged more than his body could bear at a time? Or was it because he was sick?
More likely sick. But there was little point in stopping in the middle of nowhere with little food and less water.
His pace slowed some, but he kept trudging along.
In midafternoon, he came to a large stream, or small river, crossed by an old stone bridge with two spans anchored in the middle by a stone and brick pier. The bridge was barely wide enough for a wagon and a team, and there was no sign that any carts, wagons, or mounts had passed that way recently.
He decided against refilling the water bottle that was close to empty. Who knew what lay upstream? He certainly didn’t want to court a flux on top of whatever illness he was fighting.
Less than a mille past the bridge, after he’d followed the road up a gentle slope, he saw a small cot down a lane to the west of the road, and then several dwellings along the top of the next rise on the east side of the road. When he walked past the lane, he saw hoofprints and cart or wagon wheel tracks in the road for the first time since he’d scrambled ashore.
He could feel his steps slowing as he clambered up the next rise toward the hamlet, but when he reached the top, he paused to catch his breath after another spell of dry hacking coughs. While he recovered, he studied the buildings and realized that the place was not a hamlet at all, but a single holding. Four mud-brick outbuildings with thick thatched roofs surrounded a large and sprawling one-story dwelling, also thatched, situated on the highest point of the rise to the east of the road. On the south side of the dwelling, less than a hundred yards away, was a small orchard.
The clouds had lifted enough that, beyond the sandy hills that bordered the grasslands east of the holding, Quaeryt could see the ocean, still a dull gray under the clouds. Finally, he began to walk again, directing his steps along the road until he reached the brick-paved narrow lane that led to the main house of the holding.
He was halfway to the front entry of the main house when a tall and broad-shouldered, but gray-haired, man carried a large basket of fruit-late cherries, Quaeryt suspected-out of the small orchard and set it down in a small cart. He walked swiftly to meet Quaeryt.
“Greetings!” The single word was spoken in what Quaeryt thought of as unaccented Tellan, and his voice was cheerful as he stopped short of the scholar. His smile turned to a worried frown. “You look a sight.…”
“I’m sure I do.…” Quaeryt’s voice was hoarse and felt raw. “I was set upon.… Lost my mount.” Quaeryt looked over his shoulder toward the south.
“You don’t speak Tellan like a native. Do you speak Bovarian?” the man asked in that tongue, if with a heavy Tellan accent.
“Then I will. I need the practice. You traveled through the Shallows Coast?” The man shook his head. “Not even the Lord’s armsmen go there, except in force.”
“The reavers? They’re not a problem for you?”
“These days they don’t come north of the Ayerne.”
“That’s the little river with the bridge?”
“It is indeed. Vaolyn keeps her folk south of there. We had to burn a few hamlets to get that across.”
“Is there anywhere I might find a mount?” Quaeryt’s throat felt rawer with every word.
“Nawlyn’s the closest. Times, Zachys will part with a horse.…” The holder paused. “If I do say so, you’d not be looking ready to ride.”
“Where is Fairby? I must have missed it.”
The holder laughed. “Don’t see as how you could have found it. That was one of the places we burned … razed the very stones.”
When Quaeryt tried to look at the man closely, his eyes burned, and flashes of light that jabbed like needles pierced his eyes. He could also feel heat pouring off his forehead. “I wondered … why … who…”
“We didn’t have much choice. Some people just won’t be reasonable.”
Quaeryt’s legs felt weak and very unsteady. “I beg your pardon … I think … I need to sit down.”
“You need more than that, friend. Best you come with me. Oh … I’m Rhodyn.”
“This is … your holding?”
“Don’t know as it’s a holding. The lands have been in the family forever. We don’t even know how long.” The holder paused. “I’d not wish to be forward, but I could carry that bag for you.”
For a moment, Quaeryt thought about demurring, but the way he felt, he wasn’t going anywhere any time soon. “Thank you. It’s been a long hike.” He extended the canvas bag.
Rhodyn took it. “Heavy to be carrying across the Shallows Coast. This way.… We’ll go around to the side door and get you something to drink.… I think Darlinka’s still in the kitchen, but if she’s not, Raisa or Shaentyla will be.”
“You’re most kind.…”
“Nonsense. We don’t get many travelers here, even those that didn’t mean to be traveling our roads.…”
Quaeryt made it to the stained and oiled side door, with the polished brass lever handle. Then the sky fell, and hot rain and darkness swirled around him.
When Quaeryt woke, he was in a small chamber in a narrow bed. His head was a mass of fire, and his body ached all over. While flashes of light flickered across his eyes, he could see a dark-haired woman was blotting his forehead with a damp cloth. The coolness was welcome, neither chilling nor tepid.
“Hush … you’ve been fevered. You still are. You don’t need to talk. You need to rest. Just lean back and rest.”
Quaeryt had to strain to make out the colloquial Tellan. “But where…?”
“You’re in one of Master Rhodyn’s guest chambers, and before long you’ll be better.”
Fevered as he was, Quaeryt wondered about that. How … how had he gotten so ill?
“… not a normal fever for the croup you’ve got … or not one that’s all of nature … you’re better now…” The woman blotted his forehead again, with the coolness that relieved the heat that poured off his forehead.
“… thank you…”
“Not to be thanking me for what any good person should do … just close your eyes and rest…”
He tried to keep his eyes open, but they felt so heavy, and he was so tired. What had happened? There had to be more questions … if he could only remember what they were. If only … but he could not. All he could think of was that they were taking care of him, and for the moment, that was enough, and more than he could ask.
He let his eyes close.
Waves of heat and chill swept over him, and coughing spells that he half-remembered, as if in a daze or stupor where his body reacted. He thought he said words, but he could not remember what they were or what they meant.
The next time he remembered waking, he was alone in the small chamber, and his forehead was warm, but not burning the way it had been, and a light sheet of good cotton covered his body. He realized he’d been undressed down to his drawers, although he didn’t remember that ever happening. The light was low, as if just after sunset or before sunrise.
A younger woman, if older than Quaeryt himself, peered through the open door. “Oh … you’re awake. Let me tell the master.” With that, she was gone.
Quaeryt managed to prop himself up slightly on the single pillow before the gray-haired holder stepped into the chamber. Quaeryt mentally groped for his name. Rhodyn, that was it. “I am in your debt.…”
“Nonsense. Where would the world be if doing what one ought to do put people in debt?” asked Rhodyn in his accented Bovarian. He smiled openly and warmly. “How are you feeling?”
“Better … weak as a newborn lamb.”
“That’s not surprising. You’re an ill man, and not just from the croup you have. Darlinka thinks you were poisoned somehow, but you’ve sweated most of that out. For a day or two, we weren’t certain.”
A day or two? How long had he been out of his mind? And poisoned? The water from the old woman? He wanted to laugh, but he was afraid it would cause more coughing. And to think that he’d been worried about getting a flux from stream water.
“You’re also a bit more than you seem. You’re carrying a pouch with silvers and have hidden golds in your belt and a leather case sealed with wax. Looks like a dispatch case of the sort Telaryn officers carry. Your body bears scars of the kind that come from warfare, but there’s a tunic shirt of the kind only scholars wear.” The holder laughed. “You’re safe here. I’d not wish harm on any traveler, and not on one who walked through the Shallows Coast. Nor one who might be on Lord Bhayar’s affairs.” He paused. “I can’t say I believe your tale about losing a mount, unless you lost it with a ship. Your clothes were coated in salt.”
“You have me, sir.” Quaeryt’s voice came out hoarse and raspy. “The reavers were chasing me.” His eyes stopped focusing, and he had trouble making out the holder. “But … the rest…” He started coughing.
Rhodyn waited until the fit subsided, then handed him a mug from the small bedside table. “Watered lager. It helps.”
“Thank … you…” Quaeryt took a sip, then a small swallow before replacing the mug on the plain wooden table.
“… Rest, and we’ll hear the whole story when you’re better. Just know that you’re safe here.”
Quaeryt wasn’t sure he was safe anywhere, but he was so feverish and tired that he doubted he could have taken a handful of steps. Like it or not, he had to trust his keepers. Once again, his eyes closed without his wanting them to.
Although the feverishness subsided, it did not totally disappear over the next few days, and the same was true of the coughing. For all that, Rhodyn and his household were both patient and solicitous. They also fed Quaeryt well.
On Lundi afternoon, a week after he had collapsed literally on Rhodyn’s doorstep, Quaeryt sat on the covered porch on the northeast corner of the main house, from where he could see the ocean. The sky was silvered with the haze of high thin clouds, and not a vessel was in sight on the dull gray-blue waters. Across the table from him was Rhodyn’s wife Darlinka.
She waited for him to set down the beaker that was still half-filled with lager before she said, “You don’t like to talk about yourself, do you?” Her Tellan was clear and concise, the way he’d learned it. “You gave the bare-bones account of your escape from the reavers.”
The shorter explanation had been necessary, and he’d minimized his confrontation with the three reavers and the dog, just saying that he’d heard a dog in the distance and that he had run and pressed as much as he could until he’d had to deal with but one and had disabled him and then managed to make his way north and cross the Ayerne. “How many people are truly interested?” he replied in Tellan, smiled, then added, “There are some, but how many do you know who wish to know that much about another? How many of those want to know for the sake of knowing, and how many wish to learn in order to gain an advantage of some sort?”
“There are some, and they are worth knowing.”
“You and Rhodyn are among the first I’ve encountered in some time, and I find myself very fortunate that I have. Might I ask what enables you two to be so?”
“You might indeed, and I will even try to answer. Even if it is a way for you to avoid talking about yourself.” Her smile combined warmth and humor.
Quaeryt didn’t bother hiding his grin, but he didn’t say a word.
“Rhodyn was born here, but when he was young, his father sent him to school in Cloisonyt, just as we have sent Syndar and Lankyt to study in Tilbora. Back then, of course, going to school in Tilbora was not possible. He was as guarded as a young man as you are. Through an acquaintance of his father, he met a young woman who was so unguarded that she might have been prey to anyone. Together, they began to see the world as it was.” She smiled again.
“And you never stopped seeing it together?”
“There is a time to question, and a time to answer questions, Scholar Quaeryt. We were fortunate to learn that together.”
“It wasn’t easy for you two, was it?”
“Not so hard as you might think. Four eyes and two hearts who can trust each other are better than one.” After the slightest pause, she went on, calmly. “You’re not a man who trusts many, are you? It frets at you to be depending on the goodness of others.”
“And how did you notice that?” Quaeryt kept his voice light, still trying not to cough when he spoke.
“That’d be another thing.” The older woman smiled. “You answer with questions. You’d think that your parents named you knowing that.”
“They didn’t name me. If they did, I don’t know what that name might have been. They died in the Great Plague, and the scholars took me in. They gave me the name because I asked questions as soon as I could talk in their tongue.”
“That would explain much. You are a scholar, yet you were not wearing that garb.”
“No.” He offered a rueful smile. “When I disembarked from a ship in Nacliano, a harbor patroller tried to attack me because I was a scholar. I think he would have killed me if he could have. I had to dive into the harbor and hide under the piers … and avoid the patrollers. That caused me to miss the ship I planned to take, and that led me to take the vessel I did, and that resulted in getting caught in the storm and getting wrecked on something called the Namer’s Causeway.”
“You were the only one who escaped the reavers, Rhodyn said.”
“I don’t know that. The old reaver woman, the one I think might have poisoned me, said that two crewmen were found dead on the sands. There was no one else on the wreck when I left, but anyone else who might have survived could have left before I recovered enough to be aware of what had happened. After the worst of the storm hit and the ship struck the causeway, I never saw anyone else. I’d just tied myself to the ship to wait it out.” Quaeryt’s eyes drifted to the nearer mud-brick building, the one that he’d thought was a barn or some such, and wasn’t, but a long building with quarters for many of those who worked the holding. “Don’t your workers find this … lonely?”
“Some do, and they’re free to leave. Some of those return before long. Even with Rhodyn requiring training in arms for the men and boys, most like living here. We don’t have winters near so cold as Tilbora, and the women like the calmer life.”
“Do you have any daughters?”
“Just one. She lives some five milles north on the old stead.”
“From your family?” guessed Quaeryt.
“A crotchety uncle. It’s mostly orchard, and Caella always did well with trees. She has a knack with them, even taught her husband some.”
“She’s the oldest, then?”
“Except for Jorem. He’s a produce factor in Bhorael.”
Quaeryt tried to remember where Bhorael was, then nodded. “That’s just south of Tilbora, on the other side of the river, isn’t it?”
Darlinka nodded, then stood. “I need to see about supper and how Liexa is doing. You just stay right there. It won’t be long before Rhodyn comes in, and it’s a real pleasure for him to have someone not from around here to talk with.”
“I don’t know that I’ve been that entertaining … more like a burden…”
“Nonsense.” With that she was gone.
Quaeryt couldn’t help but smile. He did worry about the time it was taking him to recover, but his walks about the holding had convinced him that he needed a few more days to regain his strength. He also had to admit that he enjoyed talking to Rhodyn and Darlinka. It also made him wonder what he’d missed in growing up. But then, would his parents have been like the holder and his wife? He suspected few were, and even if he had sickened himself on more than one occasion trying to puzzle out imaging, would parents have helped … or turned him out, as some did when they found a child was an imager?
He didn’t have to wait long before the holder appeared. Rhodyn carried a large goblet of a red wine out to the shaded table and settled into one of the wooden armchairs across from Quaeryt.
“You look like you’ve had a long hard day.”
“Long and tedious, but not hard. We got in the last of the late cherries. I fear that those baskets will make better wine than anything else.” Rhodyn had insisted on speaking Bovarian, saying he needed the practice.
“There’s nothing wrong with cherry wine, is there?”
“Besides the fact that unless you make it perfectly, it doesn’t keep well, doesn’t sell well, and few people truly enjoy it? No.” Rhodyn’s voice was cheerfully sarcastic, but not bitter. “Darlinka and Caella like it, and it’s rare enough that when I send some to Jorem, he can sell it to a few people who like it. So it’s not all a loss. We do better with the honey, though. It keeps, and people like sweets.”
Quaeryt nodded and took a swallow of the lager.
“You haven’t said much about why you’re headed to Tilbora,” said Rhodyn conversationally.
“I haven’t. That’s true. Your wife says I avoid answering questions with questions, but I’m still going to ask a question first. How do you think the Tilborans feel about having so many of Lord Bhayar’s armsmen still in Tilbor more than ten years after the fighting stopped?”
“I’d imagine they wouldn’t like it. No one likes having armsmen too close at hand. If they aren’t kept busy they get into trouble, especially with the local girls, and that leads to more trouble with the local young men. If they are kept busy, and what they’re doing is makework, they get angry because they’re being kept from the local girls. If you allow them to marry the locals, then that causes a different kind of trouble.”
“So how do you keep the locals from rebelling without armsmen?”
“Buy goods from them. Hire them to fix everything that’s broken or to build things they need. I’d wager that’s cheaper than paying armsmen to do nothing.” Rhodyn laughed. “Besides, if things get repaired and they get new market squares or better piers or wider roads that they didn’t have before…”
“They might be happier.”
“Some people are never happy, except when they’re causing trouble. Those you have to get rid of, but in ways that others accept. There was one old fellow who used to get into fights every Samedi night. My sire stopped that. He paid him an extra two coppers to watch the flocks on Samedi night, and told his woman about it. She’d insist he work on Samedi night, and he found out that he had twice as many coins because he wasn’t drinking them, either.” The holder smiled. “He saved enough to lease a morgen of land in the hills, and his son has an apple orchard there.”
“That doesn’t always work.”
“No. No one thing always works. You have to find what works for each man and each woman. You also have to learn to recognize those for whom nothing will work.” Rhodyn’s laugh turned bitter. “That was why we had to raze Fairby and the other hamlets to the south.”
“I take it that was costly.”
“It was. So much so that I would prefer we not talk about it.”
Quaeryt was in no position to insist. “My apologies. I did not mean…”
“I was the one who brought it up. You needed to know about how evil the ship reavers are. But then, I believe your own experience has reinforced my mere words.”
Quaeryt smiled wryly. “You do have a way of putting things, sir. And yes, my experience was quite convincing.”
“Experience often trumps words, and that is why what schooling and scholars can do is limited. Some people, perhaps most, only learn from their own mistakes, even when they see others make the very mistakes they will later make because they cannot learn from the failures of others.”
“Rhodyn, dear … scholar … if you would join us for supper!” called Darlinka.
“We’d be delighted!” returned Rhodyn.
As Quaeryt rose, he considered the holder’s words. Certainly, what Rhodyn said made sense, but finding out what worked for all Tilbor … when he knew so little? He was finding problems in Telaryn that he never knew existed-and he doubted that Bhayar did, either, and Quaeryt hadn’t even arrived in Tilbora.
Four days later, and with three golds less in his belt, Quaeryt rode toward the southern edge of Bhorael, a town set on low hills on the south side of the Albhor River, across which lay the far larger city of Tilbora. While the holdings and the cots and the croppers’ houses along the road to the town were neat and well-kept, and mostly of lightly fired mud brick of a yellowish brown, Quaeryt noted that almost none were new or recently built. Likewise, the main avenue that looked to be leading to the river was brick-paved, but many of the bricks were cracked or replaced with others of a different shade. Not until he was close to the river, where he could catch glimpses of brownish gray water at the end of several streets sloping downhill, did he begin to pass any buildings above a single story.
Even though he had directions from Rhodyn, it took him close to a glass to find the “river market square,” because all the buildings devoted to trade seemed to run in a swath paralleling the river. By then it was after the third glass of the afternoon. The “square” he sought turned out to be wide and open paved space two blocks south of the river and the ferry piers to Tilbora. There was not even a raised platform for end-day vendors, nor a statue or fountain, but the square and the buildings fronting it were higher than the area surrounding it, as if a low hill had been flattened, so that Quaeryt again found himself looking down a gentle slope when he glanced toward the river.
The produce factorage had no name on the signboard across the front, just paintings of various kinds of produce-onions, potatoes, carrots, peppers, gourds. The paintings had been recently done and showed an attention to detail that Quaeryt appreciated. The two-story building itself was older, but looked to be in good repair, and the windows on both the lower and the upper level were both glazed and shuttered, but the only windows Quaeryt observed on the lower level were two large oblongs flanking the open front door, a door protected from the sun by a roofed porch. Two backless wooden benches graced the unrailed porch. Both were vacant as Quaeryt dismounted and tied the horse to the iron hitching post.
He walked stiffly up the single stone step to the porch, limping more than he usually did, the stiffness the result of too much riding with too little practice in recent years, not that he’d ever had that much experience in the saddle. The wooden planks of the porch creaked slightly as he walked over them and into the factorage itself.
Long and simple wooden tables in rows filled the front half of the building, and on each table were rows of baskets. After a moment, Quaeryt realized that each table held a different kind of produce-with differing kinds of onions and shallots on one, and a range of peppers on anther, potatoes on a third, different root vegetables on another. There were apricots, early apples, a single basket of late cherries.
He turned toward the rear of the factorage and said in Tellan, “I’m looking for Factor Jorem.”
A man who had been bending over a table straightened, then walked forward. He was broad-shouldered and square-chinned, with light brown hair and a slightly tanned face. He showed a far more marked resemblance to Darlinka than to his father, and there was a thin pink scar that ran down the left side of his face from cheekbone to jaw. Quaeryt judged that he was several years younger than Quaeryt himself, and that seemed young to have built or bought such an impressive factorage in a desirable location.
“Yes? What is it?”
“I have a letter here from your family,” said Quaeryt, extending the folded and sealed paper. “They were kind to me in my travels, and since I was coming this way, I offered to carry any messages they might have.”
Jorem took the missive, although his face betrayed concern and curiosity. “It’s not often travelers come from the Ayerne. Nor are such travelers usually scholars.”
“That wasn’t my plan, either. I was on a ship that was wrecked on the Shallows Coast. I barely escaped the reavers, but I fell ill on my escape. I fear that my acquaintance with your parents came because I collapsed on their doorstep while talking to your father. They were most kind and helped me in every way possible to recover.”
Jorem frowned. “You’re not an easterner, are you?”
“No. I’m from Solis. I was traveling to Tilbora when the ship ran afoul of a storm and fetched up on something called the Namer’s Causeway.”
“I’ve heard of that … never saw it, of course.” Jorem paused. “Please look around, if you would, while I read the letter. Oh … and thank you for bringing it.”
“It was truly the least I could do for them.” Quaeryt stepped back and then began to look over the remaining tables of produce. The leeks looked especially good, as did a variety of apples that were a mottled green and red. He didn’t see any cherry wine … or anything similar, but perhaps the factor kept special goods in another part of the factorage.
He also wondered about the specific instructions that Rhodyn had given him with the three letters-that Jorem was not to be told of the letters to Syndar and Lankyt and the two sons studying in Tilbora were not to be told of Jorem’s letter. Obviously, there were problems of some sort, but since Quaeryt wasn’t so sure he would have survived without the care and concern of Rhodyn and Darlinka, he intended to respect the holder’s wishes, particularly since he had sensed what he would have called a wistful melancholy in Rhodyn’s voice when he had asked Quaeryt to carry the missives.
He looked up as Jorem hurried toward him.
“I’m sorry. I was perhaps too brief.” The younger man offered an embarrassed smile. “My father thinks highly of you. He seldom offers that observation. You must have impressed him greatly.”
“He impressed me,” said Quaeryt. “So did your mother. They’re both rather thoughtful people.”
“He writes that you are traveling on behalf of Lord Bhayar.”
“I do have a commission from him for a task in Tilbora.”
“You must join us for supper and tell us about your visit. It has been almost two years since I saw them.”
There was something sad behind Jorem’s words, but Quaeryt only said, “If it would not be an imposition, I would be glad to do so. Thus far, the only truly enjoyable part of my travels was with your parents-after the first few days, when I was so ill that I do not remember much.”
“They are known for their kindness.” Jorem smiled. “Come, I will tell Hailae, and then we will stable your horse. There is an extra stall in the stable in back. He will be safer there while we eat, and you can groom him so that you won’t have to later.”
“She’s actually a mare,” admitted Quaeryt. “I purchased a well-behaved horse, not a cavalry charger.”
Jorem laughed as he led the way toward a door at the back of the front chamber. He opened it, revealing a wide staircase to the upper level. He stopped and called, “Hailae, we have a guest for supper!”
There was no answer.
“I heard you, dear,” came a feminine voice holding a trace of irritation. “It will be another glass…”
“We’ll come up and talk while you finish fixing it … after we stable his horse.”
“I will be here.”
Jorem closed the door and turned to Quaeryt. “I’ll meet you in back.”
“Closing early won’t hurt your business?” asked Quaeryt. “I wouldn’t want to…”
“All those I’d expect on a Vendrei afternoon have already come. Tomorrow morning will be busy, but I see few late on Vendrei-sometimes, no one at all.”
“Very certain. A factor who doesn’t know when those who want his goods are likely to want them will not be a factor all that long.”
“How long have you had the factorage?”
“Hailae and I have been the ones operating it for seven years. Her parents had it for twenty-five years, and her grandparents before them.”
“Very established, then. You’re carrying on a tradition.”
“A long tradition. I’ll see you in back.”
Quaeryt nodded and turned. Once he was outside, he untied the mare and walked her down the narrow alleyway to the small courtyard in the rear of the factorage. The stable was on the north side, just beyond the single large loading dock and door.
Jorem stood by the stable door.
While Quaeryt unsaddled the mare, Jorem added grain and hay to the feed trough. The other stall was occupied by a broad dray horse far larger than the mare. In the shed area beyond the stalls was a high-sided wagon-its side panels painted in the same design as the signboard of the factorage.
“That’s a handsome wagon, and the painting is well done.”
“Hailae did that. She has quite a hand.” Jorem’s voice held both pride and affection.
“Do you deliver produce as well or is the wagon for collecting it from growers?”
“Both. Hailae often makes those collections, especially from Groryan. It takes two of us to keep things going here.”
Again, Quaeryt had the feeling that Jorem had left much unspoken, but he did not press and went to work grooming the mare. Even so, it was almost two quints later by the time he reentered the factorage, washed up on the lower level, and headed up the stairs behind Jorem.
As Quaeryt reached the top of the steps, he caught the last few words spoken by a child.
“… eat with you?”
“If you’re good. Father is bringing company. You must listen and not talk unless someone asks you something.”
“I’ll be good. I promise.”
The steps opened onto a foyer with a wide window looking westward, from which the early-evening harvest sun flooded in.
Jorem gestured to the right. “There’s the parlor, but, if you don’t mind, we’ll join Hailae in the kitchen so that she can hear what you have to say.” After a moment he added, “Our daughter is likely there also. She’s usually good.” Those words were followed by a gentle laugh as he walked through a dining chamber that held but a long table and ten plain straight-backed wooden chairs-and a single tall sideboard on the wall opposite the pair of west-facing windows.
The door at the end of the chamber was ajar. Jorem pushed it open and stepped into the kitchen, where he stopped and said, “Hailae, this is Scholar Quaeryt. He is traveling to Tilbora, and he brought a letter from my parents.”
The young woman who stood before a table in the kitchen that occupied the southwest corner of the second floor had black hair braided and coiled above an angular face dominated by large black eyes and a skin that was a faint golden almond. Behind her stood a small girl, her face almost a child’s replica of her mother’s, save that her eyes were dark gray and her hair far shorter and unbraided.
Could Hailae be the reason for all the melancholy and sadness between Jorem and his parents and brothers? Quaeryt wondered.
The mother’s eyes widened as she looked at Quaeryt, and she spoke.
He understood the words-though he had not heard them in more than twenty years-and he instinctively inclined his head and replied, again with a phrase he recalled, but only understood vaguely. Then he added in Tellan, “That’s all I remember. I was very young when they died.”
“I am so sorry,” replied Hailae in Tellan. “I did not mean to bring up unpleasant memories.”
Quaeryt smiled. “The memories were not unpleasant. What happened after was not always so pleasurable.”
“But … he’s blond…” said Jorem.
“There are blond Pharsi, and they have the white-blond hair.… That is how I know. They are the lost ones. Besides … can you not tell? His eyes are as black as mine.”
Jorem laughed, self-deprecatingly, and turned to Quaeryt. “My wife is far more perceptive. I saw an educated scholar. She saw more. She often does.”
What Quaeryt saw was that Jorem adored his wife.
“My Jorem,” interjected Hailae quickly, “he is trusting and trustworthy.” Her smile was warm and open.
Quaeryt said nothing for a moment, envying them both. “You are well suited to each other, it would seem.”
“Oh … and this is Daerlae,” said Jorem, gesturing to the girl, who now held to her mother’s gray trousers with one hand.
“Daerlae, I’m very happy to meet you.” Quaeryt inclined his head once more.
Daerlae lowered her eyes for a moment, then peered back at Quaeryt.
“He’s a scholar,” declared Jorem.
“Uncle Lankyt is a scholar.”
“Uncle Lankyt is studying to be a scholar,” corrected Jorem. “So is Uncle Syndar.”
“If we are to eat before the stars appear,” said Hailae gently, “I must finish.” She glanced toward the small ceramic tiled stove.
“Why don’t you tell us how you came to meet my parents?” suggested Jorem. “That way Hailae can hear the story while she’s getting things ready-and I can help as well.” He looked to Daerlae. “And you can hear more about your grandparents. If you’re good.”
Quaeryt couldn’t help smiling.
Jorem hurried into the dining room and returned with one of the chairs. “Here…”
After taking a seat, Quaeryt cleared his throat. “I never thought that I would ever be close to the Ayerne, or meet your parents-and grandparents-when I took passage on a brig out of Nacliano called the Moon’s Son…” Quaeryt took his time in telling the story, trying to emphasize details that might interest Daerlae, while avoiding revealing how he had escaped the reavers by telling exactly what he had told Rhodyn and Darlinka. He also tried to time the story to how the meal preparation was going so that he was close to ending when he saw Hailae nod to Jorem. “… and then the mare carried me up to the front of a factorage that had a wonderful signboard painted with all kinds of fruits and vegetables.” He looked to Daerlae again. “And do you know whose factorage that was?”
“Mother and Father’s!”
“Exactly! And that is how I came to be here.”
“And now it’s time for dinner.” Jorem turned to Quaeryt. “Thank you. You speak well.”
Once they were seated at the long table, with Jorem at the head and Hailae to his left with Daerlae beside her and Quaeryt across from Hailae, Jorem looked to his wife.
She lowered her head and spoke. “For the grace that we all owe each other, in times both fair and ill, for the bounty of the land of which we are about to partake, for good faith among all peoples, and especially for mercies great and small. For all these, we offer thanks and gratitude, both now and ever more, in the spirit of that which cannot be named or imaged…”
“In peace and harmony,” Quaeryt replied almost in unison with both Jorem and Daerlae.
The blessing had to be of Pharsi origins, because the wording was somewhat different from any Quaeryt had heard before, yet not jarringly unfamiliar. Was he really Pharsi? At times, he’d wondered if there had been some Pharsi in his background, because he’d never seen anyone else with black eyes who hadn’t been Pharsi, but with his white-blond hair, he’d only assumed he was part Pharsi at most.
Jorem handed a carafe to Quaeryt. “It’s a decent red.”
“I’m sure it’s more than decent,” replied Quaeryt, “and whatever it is that you prepared, dear lady,” he added, looking at Hailae, “it smells wonderful, especially to a tired traveler.”
“It’s just a fowl ragout that we have for supper often. If I’d known Jorem was inviting company, I could have fixed something special.”
“For me, this is very special.” Quaeryt’s words were heartfelt.
Jorem dished out a large helping of the ragout and handed the platter to the scholar. “The olive bread is a family tradition, too.”
“You’re both most kind, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your asking me to supper.”
“Nonsense,” replied Jorem, with an intonation that recalled his mother to Quaeryt.
For a time after everyone was served and had taken bread, there was a silence. From the first mouthful Quaeryt enjoyed the ragout-covered with a flaky pastry crust and with a filling consisting more of vegetables and leeks than fowl. Even so, it was tasty, if more subtle in flavor than most of the dishes in Solis, and the olive bread enhanced the flavor of the ragout.
“Your father mentioned your brothers in Tilbora-do you see them often?” Quaeryt finally asked.
“Lankyt takes one of the ferries down to see us when he can, every other week or so,” replied Jorem. “We usually send him back with fruit, or in the winter, dried fruit. He doesn’t get much of that from the scholars.”
Quaeryt glanced to Daerlae. “Do you like your uncle Lankyt?”
“He’s nice. Sometimes, he brings me things. He brought me a doll for my birthday.”
“Uncles should do things like that.” Quaeryt smiled, then shifted his glance back to Jorem. “Does he say much about how things are in Tilbora these days?”
“He doesn’t talk much about Tilbora. He tells us about his studies.”
“Do you go there often? To Tilbora?”
Jorem and Hailae exchanged the briefest of glances before Jorem replied. “We haven’t been north of the river in years. It takes all our time to keep things going here. We’ve been fortunate enough that some of the cafes in Tilbora send buyers for our specialties almost every week.”
“They always want the anise leeks,” added Hailae, “and the sweet red onions.”
“I take it there are more cafes in Tilbora.”
“We have some here,” replied Jorem. “The Painted Pony is good, and so is Brambles. They also are good customers.”
“Do you see many armsmen here?”
Jorem shook his head.
“Do they do much to keep the peace in Tilbora, or do they just chase the local girls?” Quaeryt injected light sarcasm into his voice.
“Most girls know enough to stay away from them,” answered Hailae.
“Some years back,” said Jorem, “a few of them decided that Pharsi girls couldn’t protect themselves.”
“They were wrong,” interjected Hailae.
“But the governor razed an entire block of Pharsi houses when two soldiers were killed, and three were wounded,” continued Jorem. “Almost all the Pharsi families around there moved to places in Bhorael.”
“Your family was already here, though, wasn’t it?” Quaeryt asked Hailae.
The simplicity of the answer suggested that Hailae didn’t really want to say more, but Quaeryt thought an indirect question might shed some light on the matter, from what he knew of Pharsi customs. “I imagine you had some cousins who decided to move.”
“They’ve been much happier here,” she replied.
“I’m glad, and you both seem to like Bhorael.”
“It’s much friendlier than Tilbora,” said Jorem.
“Is there anything you think I should be aware of in Tilbora?” Quaeryt offered a gentle laugh. “I’m afraid I can’t remain in Bhorael.”
“Well … I wouldn’t mention that you’re on Lord Bhayar’s business-except to armsmen or the governor’s people. Where you come from doesn’t bother the scholars much, but most of the Tilborans don’t like the way the armsmen behave. Other than that … it’s probably like anyplace else. There are places to avoid and places where everyone is friendly and helpful.”
After that, Quaeryt steered the talk back to his time with Rhodyn and Darlinka.
A good glass later, he smiled and said, “I fear I have imposed too much, and I should take my leave. Poor Daerlae can barely keep her eyes open.”
“Oh, no. I fear we have kept you too late,” said Hailae quickly. “You will not be able to find anywhere to stay.” She glanced at Jorem. “We do have a guest chamber above the stable.… It is modest … but it is clean and most private.”
“I would not wish to impose.…”
“It is not an imposition, not after all the news you have brought us,” said Jorem. “And Father would not wish it otherwise. Nor would we.”
“That would be most appreciated.” Quaeryt paused. “Are you certain?”
“Most certain,” said Hailae firmly.
“Let me get a lamp for you, and show you.…” Jorem stood.
So did Quaeryt, bowing to Hailae. “My deepest thanks for your hospitality, and for a marvelous dinner.” He turned to the sleepy-eyed Daerlae. “And for your company, young lady.”
“Am I a lady?” Daerlae looked to her mother.
“You are, and you will be,” answered Quaeryt. “If you listen to your parents and mind them.” He smiled at Hailae.
She smiled back.
“I heard that,” murmured Jorem, returning from the kitchen with a small lamp. “I hope she remembers the last part.”
“So do all parents,” said Quaeryt with a laugh as he turned to follow the factor down the steps into the factorage and then out to the stable.
Quaeryt had intended to slip away early, but Jorem found him in the stable before he had saddled the mare and had insisted on his joining the family for breakfast. Even so, it was well before sixth glass when Quaeryt left the factorage. Daerlae and Jorem stood on the front porch, and Daerlae waved, as the scholar rode northward toward the ferry piers. Quaeryt waved back, a smile on his face at the enthusiasm of the little girl.
Once again, he couldn’t help but wonder what lay behind the fracture in the family. It clearly had something to do with Hailae and the fact that she was Pharsi, yet Rhodyn and Darlinka didn’t seem to be the kind who would object to their son falling in love with a Pharsi girl, especially one who was attractive and able and who had a family of worth. Not only that, but it was obvious that Hailae and Jorem had endured some hardship and still were deeply in love-without the storminess that Quaeryt had observed from a distance between Bhayar and Aelina.
Absently, he wondered if Vaelora could be as stormy as her brother. Although the tone of her missive had been formal, there had been no mistaking the will behind the words. He shook his head. It would be months before he returned to Solis. Yet … why had she written such a formal missive? Why had she written at all? He shrugged. There was little point in speculating, and he certainly wouldn’t find out for seasons … if he ever did. Yet … he had to admit he was intrigued.
The ferry pier was located a half mille or so upstream from where the Albhor River actually entered the harbor and offered several different alternatives, from small boats just for individual passengers all the way up to a donkey-powered paddlewheel craft that could carry two wagons and several horses and their riders. Because the paddlewheel craft was the one that looked the safest and the most ready to depart, Quaeryt paid the five-copper fee, then had to walk the mare into a crude stall and tie her there.
Just as he finished, a one-horse wagon rolled aboard after him, and the teamster paid a silver. When no one else appeared within a quint, not all that surprisingly to Quaeryt, considering that it was early on Samedi, the ferryman groused under his breath and rang a bell. The donkeys began to walk on the slatted platform backed in heavy canvas and wrapped around two rollers, one of which was linked to the rear paddlewheel that churned the gray-brown waters and pushed the unwieldy craft toward the Tilbora ferry piers, close to half a mille away.
Keeping one eye on the mare and the stall, Quaeryt eased over to the ferryman, who was captain, helmsman, and crew, all in one. “Do you know where the Scholars’ House is in Tilbora?”
The ferryman looked blank, but did not shift his eyes from the river.
“The place where scholars stay?” prompted Quaeryt.
“Well … there’s what they call the Ecoliae. It’s a hill, sort of northwest from the ferry piers…”
The scholar had to strain to understand the man’s words; if he happened to be typical, the Tellan Tilborans spoke was almost a different tongue and far more guttural, similar to but not quite the way Chexar had spoken. An instant of sadness came over Quaeryt as he thought about the gruff captain.
“… and there’s an anomen on the next hill to the west … and it has a white dome.… Might be two milles. Could be three. I don’t go that way often. There used to be some teachers there. I suppose there still are … unless the Telaryns got rid of them.…” The ferryman turned his head and spat.
“There’s not a problem with the scholars, is there?”
“No more than anyplace. Not much more, anyways.…”
There was a hint of something there, but Quaeryt didn’t want to interrupt.
“… Don’t know what all that book learning’s good for. They don’t cause troubles, anyway. Not like the Telaryn armsmen or the Pharsi types.”
“I heard there were troubles years back.”
“No more trouble with the Pharsi folk. Good riddance. The armsmen … they’re still trouble.”
Abruptly, the ferryman looked at Quaeryt. “You’re a scholar type, aren’t you?”
“Yes. I traveled here from Solis to write a history.”
“Who’ll read it? Other scholars?” The ferryman turned and spat again, his eyes returning to the waters ahead of the ferry. “Leastwise, His Mightiness Lord Bhayar isn’t the one writing it. Lord and master of all the east of Lydar, and he’s never been here.”
“His father was here, and that wasn’t exactly what anyone wanted, was it?” asked Quaeryt dryly.
“You got that right, scholar!” After a time, he asked, “What you going to write?”
“One of the reasons I’m here is to talk to people about what happened. What do you think I should write?”
“Write what you want. Who cares?”
“I’d like to write something close to the truth.”
“No such thing as truth. Truth is what every man wants it to be for himself. Even the Namer’s imagers think their truth is the only one. A course the last one we found around here ended up chained to the sea stones when the tide came in. Couldn’t image his way out of all that iron.”
Quaeryt kept the wince inside himself. Does Tilbor view imagers the way Nacliano sees scholars? “When did that happen?”
“Last week in Juyn, I reckon.”
“So, if everyone’s got a truth, tell me what you think I should write.”
“Someone’s got to rule. Someone always has. Most folks don’t care so long as they got enough coppers to get by. Too many rulers take too many coppers and don’t make things better. That’s history. Oh, you got folks with fancy names and fancier clothes, and someone like you writes it all down, what they do, but no one writes about what I do. Don’t write what the beggar in the square does. Don’t write about the seafarers who sail the storms…” The ferryman stopped. “You won’t write that, either.”
Quaeryt laughed. “You don’t care much for scholars, do you?”
“You ever worked, really worked?”
“I ran away and spent six years before the mast. That was work.”
“Then you might write about real folk. If you do, them with golds won’t read it.” The ferryman spat again. “Can’t talk no more.”
Quaeryt eased away. Even before he reached Tilbora he was getting the feeling that what he had in mind was going to be far, far harder than he’d ever thought … and he’d never thought it would be easy. As the donkey ferry neared the piers on the Tilboran side of the river, he couldn’t help but note that the northern piers looked more worn and dilapidated than those in Bhorael-and the Bhorael piers had scarcely been pristine.
Once he had led the mare off the ferry and mounted, he set out to find the scholars’ place. As was usual in most ports with rivers, there was a road beside the river. This one led northwest from the ferry piers, and Quaeryt rode slowly along it. Unlike the riverside in Nacliano, the ground flanking the river was no more than three or four yards above the water, and many of the structures located between the river road and the water showed watermarks, and stains on the worn wood. Few were constructed of stone above the foundations.
After a mille or so, Quaeryt was sweating in the midmorning sun, which felt more like summer. Although Tilbora was supposed to be cooler than Nacliano, the heat was more like that in Solis. Before too much longer, he found a wider avenue heading north and in the direction of the hills, the top of one of which appeared to have an anomen situated on its crest. It felt like he had ridden far more than two milles past moderate dwellings and small shops, with but handfuls of people on the streets, early as it was, before he reined up at the bottom of what had to be his destination.
The stone block at the base of the brick-paved lane leading up the gentle slope to the buildings above was inscribed with a single word-ECOLIAE. Quaeryt glanced up. The two-story brick structure that sprawled across the rise was not at all similar in form to the Scholarium in Solis, yet he could feel a certain sameness. All scholarly places exuded a definite feel … in some way or another.
He rode up the lane, dismounted, and tied the mare outside the main entrance. A fresh-faced youth in brown, clearly a student, if one likely to be close to finishing his studies, hurried out the door, across the wide covered porch, and down the three, not-quite-crumbing brick steps.
“Good day, sir.”
“I’m here from Solis,” said Quaeryt, “and would like to stay for a bit. Might I see the scholar princeps?”
“You’re fortunate, sir. He is in the front hall at the moment.”
“Thank you.” Quaeryt walked up the steps and across the mortared bricks of the porch and into the building, whose ancient wooden floor creaked, as if to announce his presence.
The scholar who turned to face Quaeryt had short silver-blond hair and a square-cut beard of the same colors.
“Scholar princeps?” asked Quaeryt.
“I am. What can I do for you?” observed the scholar princeps in Bovarian.
“I’m Quaeryt Rytersyn. I have been traveling, all the way from Solis,” replied Quaeryt in the same tongue, “and I had hoped to find room here.”
“You know we are not scholars like those in Solis.”
“I did not expect that you would be exactly the same. Nor does the moon have sons she acknowledges openly, yet learning exists under moonlight or sunlight, for all that the hunter may be Artiema’s guardian.”
“Welcome, Quaeryt Rytersyn. I am Zarxes Zorlynsyn. What brings you here?”
“A commission from a patron of scholars in Solis, to update the history of Tilbora.” Quaeryt smiled wryly. “I would have been at your doorstep earlier, but…” With that opening, he launched into a brief explanation of his travels, omitting his difficulties in Nacliano and how he had handled the reavers, concluding with, “… and as a result of holder Rhodyn’s kindnesses I have brought missives from him to his sons Syndar and Lankyt.”
“Not many scholars arrive with their own mount.”
“It was in part a gift from Holder Rhodyn in Ayerne, after the ship I was on was wrecked.” In a convoluted way, the mare had been a gift of sorts, because Zachys wouldn’t have parted with the mare without Rhodyn’s persuasive presence.
“He wanted to assure you completed his tasks. I have met him but once, although he struck me as a man able to know and judge others well. I also thought he might be excellent at persuading them to his ends … as necessary.”
“About staying here for a week?” prompted Quaeryt.
“For the first night or so, we offer hospitality.” Zarxes cleared his throat.
“And after that?” Quaeryt smiled easily.
“A copper a night for the chamber. A copper for every meal. We would appreciate more if possible. The Khanars were always most generous to the scholars. Now…”
“Now … you must charge for your students and for visiting scholars, as Scholars’ Houses do in most of Lydar.”
“Unfortunately. Even so, there are months where…” Zarxes shrugged.
“I am not wealthy,” replied Quaeryt, “but I can certainly forgo any need for hospitality. I am just pleased to be here.”
“If you do not mind staying in the west wing … there are spacious chambers on the upper level, and the adjoining rooms are currently vacant. The first level can be … less than quiet.”
“Is that where the student scholars are quartered?”
“You have some knowledge of their habits, I see.” Zarxes smiled.
“I was one for many years.”
“I thought you might be.”
Quaeryt ignored the knowing smile. When he’d been given his names, he’d been too young to know that Ryter was the most common name in Telaryn and that a great proportion of orphans bore the surname “Rytersyn.” “My parents died of the Great Plague when I was very young, and in a place where no one knew their names.”
The princeps nodded. “You are welcome here. I will have young Gaestnyr fetch Syndar and Lankyt and then ready your chamber. You can wait for them on the porch. These days it is much cooler there.”
“Oh … and because of the wreck, I will need to make arrangements for another few sets of scholar’s garb.”
“That should be no problem at all. We have a fine tailor.” The princeps strode briskly out the door, and Quaeryt followed, waiting on the shaded porch and standing to catch the light breeze out of the east, while both Zarxes and Gaestnyr vanished in different directions.
Before long, another young man, wearing the uncollared brown shirt and brown trousers of a student, appeared from the east side of the porch, which apparently circled the entire building. He was broad-shouldered and brown-haired and looked much as Rhodyn must have as a young man, Quaeryt thought.
“Scholar … the princeps said that you had a missive for me?”
“I have missives for two students,” Quaeryt said. “You are?”
Quaeryt lifted both missives from his jacket, looked at the names, and handed one to Syndar. “He wrote this late on Lundi.”
For a moment, Quaeryt didn’t answer. Didn’t Syndar even know his father’s writing? “Your father did. The other missive is for your brother.”
“Oh…” Syndar nodded. “I’m sorry, scholar. My thoughts were elsewhere. Thank you. I do appreciate your bringing it here.”
“You’re welcome. I was pleased to do it. Your father and mother were most hospitable and kind.”
“They are, indeed.” Syndar nodded again. “I do thank you.”
Then he turned and left.
Almost as soon as Syndar was out of sight, headed around the east side of the porch, another student, this one far more slender, walked toward the scholar from around the west corner of the porch. His steps were quick, almost eager, and he bowed immediately after stopping short of Quaeryt.
“Scholar Quaeryt, sir? I’m Lankyt Rhodynsyn. The princeps said you might have a missive for me.”
“I do indeed.” Quaeryt proffered the remaining missive.
As soon as Lankyt saw his name, he smiled. “Thank you so much, sir. Thank you.”
“Your father wanted to make sure that you got it, yet…” Quaeryt offered a curious expression and let his words die away.
“What is it, sir?”
“Your brother did not seem overjoyed.…”
“He has many things on his mind.”
“That is what he said, but I’m sure you do as well.” Quaeryt paused. “You have another brother. Your mother mentioned him. He’s in Bhorael, as I recall.” Rhodyn had only said not to mention the letters.
“Your father didn’t say much about him. He seemed sad when he mentioned his name.”
“Jorem and Father … they don’t see things the same way.”
“I’ve heard that’s often true.”
“You must get along well with your parents, sir,” said Lankyt with a laugh.
“No. My parents died when I was very small. I was raised by the scholars.”
“Oh … I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t mean…”
“That’s all right. You were saying…”
“It all happened because of the riots … and the Telaryn armsmen. Did you hear about the riots?”
“Only that there were riots.” At the time, Quaeryt had just returned to Solis and hadn’t been that interested in much beside persuading the scholars to take him back. And Jorem had avoided talking about anything like that.
“Old Lord Chayar had told the armsmen to leave the local girls alone. Some of them decided that no one would mind if they took some liberties with the Pharsi girls. Even the Tilborans looked down on them.”
Quaeryt let himself wince.
“I see you know about Pharsi women.”
“I know that the women are the ones who run the households and that their husbands are usually the ones who do the obeying.”
“Some of the soldiers ended up dead, and some were wounded. The governor-the old governor-sent the garrisons out to patrol the streets and then had his engineers destroy the four whole blocks where the armsmen were killed. Some of the dwellings and shops weren’t owned by Pharsi families, and the owners protested. The governor ignored them. He said they were all Tilborans, and he didn’t care who believed what. People started throwing rocks at the soldiers, and things got worse, and more people and more soldiers got killed, and then the armsmen killed a lot more people…” Lankyt shrugged. “I wasn’t here then, but that’s what the old scholars say happened.”
“Those sorts of things can get out of hand, but I don’t understand what that has to do with your brother.”
“Oh … he rescued a Pharsi girl and her parents. They were visiting their cousins, trying to help them leave Tilbor. The parents were badly hurt in the riots, but Jorem managed to get them all back to Bhorael. They had a produce factorage.”
Quaeryt forced himself to wait.
Lankyt finally went on. “He kept seeing Hailae, and they fell in love. After two years, when he was about finished with his studies, he wrote Father saying that he intended to marry Hailae. Father wrote back saying that was fine, and that he looked forward to having his son and new daughter taking over the holding. That was where the trouble started.”
“Hailae wanted to stay near her family?” asked Quaeryt.
“She was their only child, and they were ill. Father offered to bring everyone to Ayerne, but Hailae and Jorem said that they wanted to carry on the factorage. He did not wish to ask Hailae to give up all that her parents had sacrificed for, and their injuries were too great for them to run the factorage. Father was hurt, I think. That was when he sent Syndar here to study. I came a year later.”
Quaeryt nodded slowly. “Your brother-Syndar-seems rather quiet. Withdrawn, almost.”
Lankyt nodded. “He wants to stay and be a scholar. He never liked all that went into running a holding.”
“I’m ready to go back to Ayerne any time. Father wants me to stay until Year-Turn. I think he hopes Syndar will change his mind.”
Quaeryt wanted to shake his head. So often brothers fought over an inheritance, and in the case of Rhodyn’s sons, it seemed as though the father would have preferred either son who didn’t want the holding to the one who did. “You really like Ayerne, don’t you?”
Lankyt’s face brightened once more. “I’ve always loved it. I’ve studied about plants and trees, and I think there are things I could do that would make the holding even more prosperous. I’ve even visited the growers around here, the ones that the scholars say are the most successful…”
Quaeryt nodded pleasantly, trying to hide a smile at the young man’s enthusiasm, as well as his own sadness, knowing that the expectations of others might well dampen those feelings.
“… and Caella has already tried some of what I wrote her, and it’s working with her orchards.”
“Your mother mentioned that.”
“They didn’t think she could do it, either.” Abruptly, Lankyt stopped. “I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t mean to…”
“You didn’t. I think you’ll make a fine holder.” If they’ll just give you the chance. “Just remember that no one likes change away from what’s familiar. If you can, show them how what you want to change is just another way of accomplishing the familiar. Show them with little things first. It only seems to take longer.”
“Sir … it only seems…?”
“When you fight to change people’s minds, they resist. When people resist, it takes longer.” Quaeryt laughed. “Now I’m the one who must apologize for acting like a chorister of the Nameless. And I do apologize.”
“There is no need to apologize to me, sir … and I do thank you for bringing the missive to me. Will you be staying at the Ecoliae?”
“For a few days, a week, perhaps a little longer.” After a smile, the scholar added, “I should not keep you longer, and I do need to get my mount out of the sun.”
“Oh … yes, sir. Thank you again.” Lankyt nodded a last time, then hurried off clutching the missive in his hands.
Quaeryt walked down from the porch and untied the mare from the old iron hitching rail, thinking about the differences between the three sons.
As if he had been watching, Gaestnyr reappeared from the west end of the porch. “If you would follow me, sir?”
“I’d be happy to, thank you.”
As he led the mare behind young Gaestnyr around to the west end of the main building, presumably to the stable, and then to his quarters, his eyes ranged across the hillside below. Hot as the day was, he saw the signs of how far north Tilbor was. There were far fewer leafy trees, and those that he saw were mainly oaks and maples, while there were evergreens everywhere. Did the kind of trees affect people? Did those who lived around prickly evergreens tend to be more stiff and sharp?
He suspected he would find out before too long.
Once he had inspected his chamber, which was larger than the one he had occupied in Solis, as well as cleaner, although it had double shutters, which suggested that the winter would be cold indeed, and left his small amount of gear, Quaeryt reclaimed the mare from the small stable and started on his way down the lane.
To his right, farther west, were larger dwellings, the northern equivalent of villas, with thick walls and windows far smaller than those customary in Solis, or even in Nacliano. None was located on the actual crests of hills, but just slightly down from them, and most had a southern orientation. The lanes leading to them from the roads were angled to climb gently, and the roads themselves were not in the lowest part of the vales.
He could also easily see the Telaryn Palace-what had been the Khanar’s Palace until ten years before, when Lord Chayar had taken Tilbora from the west-since it was situated on the highest of the low hills to the north of the city, and its extensive nondescript gray walls and square towers stood out above the golden grasses on the hillsides below. The lower hills flanking the palace were covered with evergreens and held no dwellings or structures that Quaeryt could see, suggesting that they had been reserved for the use of the Khanar-and now probably for the governor.
Quaeryt wasn’t about to ride up to the palace-not yet. He wanted to ride through Tilbora and find out what he could before meeting Governor Rescalyn, and he turned the mare eastward onto the narrow but brick-paved road that appeared to lead into the center of Tilbora. For the first half mille or so, the way was bordered by modest dwellings with gardens, but there were no walled gardens or even walled courtyards the way there were in Solis. Even Nacliano had some walled courtyards. Quaeryt saw none. He also saw no grapes or figs, and every courtyard garden in Solis had some variety of one or the other.
He saw wooden rail fences, and occasional stone and brick walls that were between knee-high and chest-high. The dwellings were smaller and more modest the closer he got to town, but none were built wall-to-wall as they were in other cities he had visited.
After riding another half mille, he came to a brick-paved circle, a crossroads of sorts, in that two roads did cross, but various shops and other structures had been built all the way around the edge of the paved circle, leaving four equal arcs of buildings, each arc set between two roads. More than that, there was … something about the buildings. None quite looked like those he had passed earlier. All had narrower but longer windows, and every door had an iron grate that closed over it, although all were swung back at the moment. The types of shops seemed normal enough. He could pick out a small woolen shop, a tinsmith’s, a fuller, a cooper. One “quarter” held an inn, and the signboard suggested it had been named something different before, because the peeling paint revealed traces of another name, but not enough for Quaeryt to read it.
A woman emptied a bucket of water on the bricks before a shop and then used a worn broom to sweep away dirt and other less benign objects.
Was this a Pharsi area before? Or has it changed as some areas will with time?
He couldn’t tell, and he wasn’t about to stop and ask. Not at the moment, anyway.
He kept riding, and before that long the narrow road ended at a stone-paved square that served the harbor area. At the east end was a knee-high seawall, also of the same gray stone. The mortar was cracking and missing in places in the wall, and the paving stones were uneven, as if they had not been reset in years. One pier jutted out from the south end of the square, a second from the north end, and a third and smaller pier was set farther to the north.
Quaeryt rode around the edge of the square, past a chandlery and a cafe of sorts, and all manner of small shops, a number of which bore signboards sporting painted fish. There were fewer women than men on the narrow streets and sidewalks, and most of the women he saw looked older. He kept riding, going up one street and down another, but avoiding the alleys, and eventually ended up back at the harbor square, where he reined up, trying to think over what he’d seen.
The harbor area was far smaller than that of Nacliano, stretching little more than six or seven blocks north and south and three or four to the west from the three piers, none of which approached the length of the smallest in Nacliano, or even the short coastal pier in Solis. In reality, the piers were not even that, but wooden wharves built on what looked to be rough-stripped tree trunks sunk into the harbor floor.
“You’d be looking for something, sir?” The inquiry came from another of the olive-green-clad city patrollers as he walked toward Quaeryt.
“I’m new here, and I was just riding to get my bearings.” Quaeryt paused just slightly. “You don’t have harbor patrollers here, do you?”
“No, sir. Why would we need them?” The patroller looked up at Quaeryt. His face was lined and ruddy, and his square-cut beard held streaks of gray.
“The last port I was in was Nacliano, and they had harbor patrollers. I’ve never been here before and didn’t know if it might be the same.”
The patroller smiled. “We’d not be needing them. Our folk don’t take to rowdiness or theft or any of that foolishness. We’re here for the times they need a mite of assistance.”
“That’s good to know.”
“You need a good stable … you might try Thayl’s place. It’s two blocks west of the small pier.”
Quaeryt smiled at the indirect suggestion that he needed to move on. “If I do, I’ll keep that in mind. Thank you.” He flicked the reins and guided the mare northward in the general direction of Thayl’s, not that he intended to stop there.
When he reached a point opposite the smallest wharf, he did turn the mare in the direction suggested by the patroller. After a single block, he began to grin. Just before Thayl’s stable was another building, one with open second-floor windows. Several of the windows were adorned-if that were the proper term-with women wearing the sheerest of cotton shifts or blouses, and some of those blouses were not fastened in the slightest.
The building had no signboard, but then it needed none, and he could see why Thayl might do a fair business stabling mounts for a short period of time. He rode by and took in the scenery. He’d seen better, and he’d seen worse, and in some places, like Nacliano, there wasn’t much difference between places like the Sailrigger and a brothel. He’d never patronized either type, not because he didn’t appreciate femininity, but because women like Hailae-or especially the not-quite-gangly Vaelora-were more to his taste. At the same time, he couldn’t help but wonder exactly how the brothel made its presence known in the depth of winter. Not that he had any intention of being around past Year-Turn to find out.
When he rode back up the lane to the stable behind the main building of the Ecoliae, at close to fourth glass, Quaeryt had a fair understanding of how Tilbora was laid out-a town that had sprawled into a larger town based on the river piers and the harbor with the former Khanar’s Palace withdrawn to the northern heights and overlooking the town. Interestingly enough, while there was a good paved road across Tilbora from the palace to the river piers, there was no direct road from the palace to the harbor. That, unfortunately, said far too much about the Khanars and about Chayar and Bhayar.
Also, the men and women he’d seen were taller and leaner than the people of Solis, not that all of them were lean, as evidenced by the view offered by the unnamed brothel, and most of them seemed to have sandy brown hair or blond hair. He’d seen no redheads, and very few people with black hair.
After grooming the mare and seeing to her feed, Quaeryt walked from the stable to the main building, climbing the rear steps to the porch and walking toward the shaded east side. For all the size of the Ecoliae, he saw but a few handfuls of scholars on the wide porch, most of them in two groups in roughly circled chairs.
He didn’t feel like intruding, but he also didn’t want to turn and walk away. He decided to compromise and walk to the edge of the porch and look down at the small flower bed he had noted earlier. There wasn’t much to see, just harvest lilies that were beginning to look scraggly and a line of flowers he didn’t recognize, but that appeared similar to sun daisies.
He straightened and turned, debating whether to leave or loiter for a bit longer.
“You must be the visiting scholar. I’m Chardyn … Chardyn Traesksyn.”
The short scholar who spoke in cultured Tellan, if with a Tilboran accent, and who approached was neither slender nor wiry, but somewhere in the middle and well-muscled. He wore a short straight blond mustache, an affectation Quaeryt had not often seen. In the south, most men either were clean-shaven or had short beards. From what he’d seen in his ride through Tilbora, most men seemed to have full beards. Then again, Quaeryt hadn’t exactly counted.
“The whispered word through the students is that you’re on some sort of mysterious quest for some even more mysterious patron.”
Quaeryt laughed. “The next thing you know, they’ll be saying I’m the bastard son of Lord Bhayar, not that he’s old enough to have fathered anyone my age.”
Chardyn gestured toward a pair of chairs. “If you wouldn’t mind joining me?”
“I’d be pleased.”
Quaeryt settled himself into one of the chairs and waited until the other had settled himself as well.
“Can you enlighten me as to the truth of the rumors?” Chardyn lifted both eyebrows.
“They’re true, except that the quest isn’t all that mysterious. Nor is my patron mysterious, except that he prefers to remain unknown because he has discovered that if he ever reveals that he provides scholars with gainful tasks he will be inundated with scholars.”
Chardyn laughed, a soft but high-pitched sound. “You have answered what you can about your patron, but what of the quest?”
“There’s been very little written about Tilbor and its history in recent times. I’m looking for whoever might have the best understanding of Tilboran history, especially over the last few hundred years.”
“That scarcely sounds like the sort of quest most patrons would fund. Most want their names inscribed in tomes more likely to be widely read or upon large and elegantly ugly statues.”
“Oh … I think he would be most happy with an inscription on a very good recent history. Is there anyone here-you, perhaps-who might be of assistance?”
“Not me. Hardly me. I’m the martial-arts scholar.”
“Study or demonstration or both?”
“I’ve studied a number. I’m relatively proficient in Sansang.”
Quaeryt nodded. He’d heard of Sansang, supposedly a discipline that mixed all types of unarmed and nonbladed combat techniques, coming as it had from the ancient High Holder prohibition on the use of bladed weapons by anyone but High Holders, except as armsmen of a High Holder or a ruler, but he’d never met anyone proficient in it. “I’d like to watch your instruction sometime.”
“You’re welcome any morning at sixth glass on the practice green.”
“I’ll be there some morning.” Quaeryt smiled. “I’m not sure it will be tomorrow, though.”
“It won’t be. We don’t practice on Solayi morning.” Chardyn’s tone was light.
“Who might be able to help me with the history?”
“Right now, no one speaks much about Tilboran history.” Chardyn pursed his lips. “No one else but Sarastyn comes close.”
“Could you introduce me?”
The other scholar shook his head. “It’s past the third glass of the afternoon. He’ll be down soothing his throat, as he puts it. It’s best to catch him in the morning. Well … not early in the morning, and definitely not early tomorrow morning.”
“Doesn’t he have tasks…?”
“No. He was the assistant princeps for student studies for twenty years. He must be over seventy now, and as gnarled as winter-heights pine. He claims that his blood is half ale, and I’d believe that. Some men’s tongues loosen when they drink. His doesn’t. It tightens.”
“I met Scholar Zarxes, but I neglected to ask him about the Master Scholar here.”
“That’s Phaeryn. You can’t miss him. Tall, silver-white hair, voice like a deep drum. He’s done wonders in keeping everything working since…” Chardyn shrugged.
“Since Tilbor became part of Telaryn?”
“That’s one way of putting it.”
“How would most Tilborans put it?”
Chardyn laughed again, briefly. “Those who are political will say something about the ‘unfortunate occurrence.’ The merchanters will say something about Lord Chayar wanting to tariff them heavily to pay for his ambitions to rule all Lydar.”
“But he died years ago.”
“Oh … they’ll just say that his son is no better.”
“What do you say?”
The short scholar smiled. “They’re both true. Then there is the fact many will not admit. Eleonyd was not the strongest of Khanars, and the fact that he had no sons and that his daughter refused to marry Bhayar left him in a weakened position. When he died suddenly … everyone suspected the hand of Chayar.”
“Rhecyrdyl … or whatever the Pretender’s name was … said that was the case, didn’t he?”
Another high short laugh followed, a sound that bothered Quaeryt, but he waited.
“Rhecyrd. He was Eleonyd’s cousin. He never said anything. In fact, all he did say was that it was too easy to blame Chayar. The Telaryn envoy arrived in Tilbora a few weeks before Eleonyd sickened and died. Then the rumors started, and someone doused the envoy’s ship with Antiagon Fire with him still aboard. After that, who could prove anything? It was rather convenient for whoever actually caused Eleonyd’s death. More gossip began, this time that Rhecyrd’s imager was involved. But he was thirty milles north of Tilbora before and during Eleonyd’s illness and death.” Chardyn shrugged. “Then Chayar demanded Tilbor submit, and everyone put aside looking into Eleonyd’s death … for various reasons.”
“For Tilborans, all that was subtle,” Chardyn pointed out.
“What happened to the daughter?”
Chardyn shrugged. “She fled to Bovaria with all the jewels she could manage. Some say she married a High Holder there-Iraya or Ryel or something like that. Others say she put Rhecyrd up to everything and then left him to face Chayar. Some think both.”
Quaeryt considered what the other had said. He recalled what Bhayar had told him, and nothing that Chardyn had said contradicted that. Supposedly, Chayar had been furious about the treatment of the envoy, but Bhayar had confided to Quaeryt that it had made it easier for his father to justify the war that followed. “What do you think?”
“That was over ten years ago. What does it matter? We all have to do the best we can with things as they are now.”
“Zarxes suggested, rather indirectly, that it has been difficult to keep the Ecoliae going in these times.”
“Difficult? Yes. Phaeryn has managed well, better than any could have expected. Teaching Bovarian has brought in many children of the wealthier merchants for day studies, and boarding fees for those who live farther away. He has also found other ways to bring in the necessary coins.”
“Offering hospitality to those such as you. Accepting produce and services for teaching the children of merchanters and growers. Using the skills of scholars to rebuild the anomen in return for some support from the chorister. He has been most creative.” Chardyn’s smile contained a certain hidden amusement.
Quaeryt ignored that amusement, trouble though it suggested, since calling attention to it would only warn the other scholar. “He sounds most able.”
“He is indeed.” Chardyn rose. “Come, let me introduce you to some of our company.”
Quaeryt stood and followed the other, a pleasant smile upon his face.
After being introduced to a good half score of older scholars, Quaeryt joined the group for a modest supper at the scholars’ dining hall, then listened throughout the meal and for a good glass afterward, before taking his leave. Chardyn bothered him in more ways than one, but since the man had done nothing at all except be friendly, all Quaeryt could do was to be as careful as possible. If his suspicions were correct, it would be a few days before trouble appeared, but he might be too optimistic.
He didn’t sleep all that well on Samedi night, not surprisingly, although he did take the precaution of also imaging a clay wedge into place under the heavy door, in addition to sliding the bolt and barring the door. After waking early, he rose, washed and dressed, and went out to the stable to check on the mare. When he returned, he visited the dining hall and ate, waiting to see if Sarastyn appeared.
An older gray-haired and burly scholar appeared just before the servers were about to close the hall. Based on the description Quaeryt had gathered from others the night before, the late arrival was most likely Sarastyn. Quaeryt lingered for a time, then rose from the table where he had been sitting and walked toward the other.
“Scholar Sarastyn, I presume?”
“You are presuming for so early.” Sarastyn’s voice was harsh, gravel-like.
“Might I join you?”
“It appears you already have.” Sarastyn’s gesture to the seat opposite him was little more than grudging.
“I’m Quaeryt, and I traveled here from Solis.” He smiled politely. “I understand you’re the foremost in studying the history of Tilbor.”
Sarastyn took a long swallow from his mug before replying. “That might be an overstatement. If it is true, and it doubtless is, it is solely because no one else has bothered to amass any knowledge at all about that collection of anecdotes that some equate with historical scholarship.”
“You seem to be suggesting that some scholars merely piece together anecdotes and call it history?”
“Why not?” Sarastyn began to cough.
Quaeryt waited for the other to recover.
The older man took several more sips from the mug. “Those selfsame individuals piece together mere information and call themselves scholars. How would you define history in scholarly terms?”
Quaeryt thought for a moment. How he replied would doubtless determine whether Sarastyn would prove helpful. “The organization and presentation of past events in a structure that reveals not only what happened, but the patterns behind why it happened.”
“Patterns … in all the times I’ve asked that question, you’re one of the few who has used the term ‘pattern.’ Where did you say you were from?”
“Why are you here?”
“To find out more about the recent history of Tilbor, particularly in the years before it was taken over by Telaryn.”
Sarastyn nodded slowly. “That would seem simple enough, as would most history, but what seems is not what was.” He laughed, a soft sound at odds with his harsh voice. “That is scarcely astonishing when what we think we see and experience is seldom what is. If you ask any three scholars their recollection of an event, you will receive three accounts, and often those accounts are so different as to make one think that there were three different events.”
“If one gathers all the recollections…” suggested Quaeryt.
“One will have an assembly of nonsense, such as the tomes once racked in that moldy storehouse of a chamber that Zarxes terms a library. One must discern the patterns behind such events.”
For a moment, Quaeryt paused, not because he had no response, but because Chardyn had entered the hall and seated himself with two younger scholars.
“You dispute that there are patterns?” asked Sarastyn.
“I’ve read enough history, sir,” said Quaeryt deferentially, “that even I can see that at times the pattern imposed is that of the writer, not of history.”
Sarastyn laughed, again softly. “You’re young, especially for a scholar. The patterns are there. They’re always there, but every generation refuses to see them. Some even ignore them, and replace them with their own patterns, as you suggested. Of those few that do discern the true patterns, most claim that they will escape the patterns of their times. There are few that are intelligent enough both to see the patterns and to understand that men are not all that different, generation to generation, and some of them try to explain to others. Such would-be explainers are either ignored or murdered.”
“People see what they want to see,” agreed Quaeryt. “Can you tell me which patterns have affected Tilbor over the recent past?”
“All of them.”
“I’m sure you’re right, but I don’t know the history, and no one outside of Tilbor has written it. Chardyn said that you-”
“Ah … yes, Chardyn,” replied Sarastyn in a lower voice. “He’s a pattern, too. He watches all strangers. More than he should, as he is now observing you.”
“Why might that be?”
“That … you will have to discover for yourself, but it is a pattern that has been consistent for the last few years. He always observes those who do not reside here for long.”
“I see.” That did confirm some of Quaeryt’s suspicions. “He said that you could help with the history.…”
“You risk that I may be telling you only my own recollections.”
“I’ll take that risk.”
For the third time, Sarastyn laughed. “It is a lovely day, and the Ice Cleft will not open its doors on a Solayi until the fourth glass of the afternoon. We should repair to the north porch.” After a last swallow from the mug, he stood.
Quaeryt rose as well, noting that Chardyn did not turn his head. Quaeryt still felt eyes on his back as he followed the older scholar.
Sarastyn chose a pair of chairs close to the railing, well shaded by the porch roof, but where the building did not block the slight breeze out of the southeast. Quaeryt settled into one of the wooden chairs to listen.
“In what are you interested?”
“Who was Khanar before Eleonyd … and was he stronger than his son?”
“It might be best if I started several generations before,” suggested Sarastyn, smiling broadly. “Context is often as important as the events themselves. Nidar the Great was the last of the truly strong Khanars-the great-grandfather of Eleonyd. He was the one who rebuilt the harbor here in Tilbora and restructured the old clan levies into the Khanar’s Guard and the militia.… Not coincidentally, he was the one who thwarted Hengyst’s ambitions to conquer Tilbor.…”
Quaeryt listened closely as Sarastyn continued, interjecting occasional questions for his own clarification and mentally noting particular references. Over the next glass and more, his interest grew, he had to admit, as Sarastyn’s verbal history drew closer to the present.
“… Tyrena was-I expect she still is-very blond and very strong-willed … as good with arms, if not better, than her father. But then, Eleonyd wasn’t much good at anything. So long as he listened to his wife … he got good advice … she died giving birth to Tyrena … listened to his daughter, but not enough … Rhecyrd … raised in the Noiran coast highlands … typical norther … tall, handsome, and thought everything could be solved with a bow or a blade … Eleonyd thought to preserve his lineage by marrying Tyrena to him … she wanted to rule in her own right … northers objected … members of the Khanar’s Council from both Midcote and Noira walked out…”
Quaeryt nodded as Sarastyn elaborated on what Chardyn had mentioned the night before.
“… can’t say as I blame Tyrena. She didn’t have much choice…”
“Could she have ruled in her own right?”
Sarastyn offered a rueful smile. “There’s never been a Khanara who ruled, but the people of the south preferred her. Rhecyrd started tales that Eleonyd wasn’t ill, but that Tyrena was poisoning him … most likely that his personal healer was, possibly paid by Rhecyrd … Eleonyd started to get better when the healer fell off a balcony and died … damage was done by then … and Eleonyd never fully recovered … got carried off by a nasty form of croup … might have been a civil war except the northers are hotheads … southers don’t like to fight losing battles…”
“Except that they did-with Chayar,” Quaeryt pointed out.
“No. Most of the southers didn’t fight at all. The Guard pulled back to the palace, and Rhecyrd’s clans fought. I don’t know that either of the Telaryn governors has understood that. Southers, and that’s all those south of the Boran Hills, are realists.”
“Just don’t back them into a corner?” asked Quaeryt.
“Mostly. Except for the Pharsi. They’re stiff-necked, but there aren’t many left since the riots years ago.” Sarastyn coughed several times. “I think I’ve talked long enough for now. Time for a rest before I take my afternoon medicinals.”
“Thank you. Have you written down any of this?”
“Save you, and a few others, who would care?”
“Those who have yet to be born who would also care,” suggested Quaeryt.
“You have great faith, Scholar Quaeryt. Few learn from what they observe, and fewer still from the accounts of the mistakes of others.”
“I have little enough faith, sir, but I refuse to give up hope.”
Sarastyn laughed, openly and without bitterness or malice. “Well said! Well said. So should it be for all scholars.” He coughed again. “This has tired me. We should speak later.” He rose slowly.
“Are there any books in the library that you or others have written that might be of value?”
“Those I wrote have long since vanished, and the others … you can see what you will.”
Quaeryt stood and watched as the older man made his way toward the nearest door.
Once he turned to head toward the stables, he saw Chardyn seated at the other end of the porch, seemingly reading a book. He had his doubts that the Sansang scholar had been just engaged in reading.
As Quaeryt stepped off the porch, he glanced to the north and west, but the sky remained clear, without even a trace of haze. While the day felt cooler than it had on Samedi, by late afternoon, it well might be hotter. He shrugged and continued to the stable.
When Quaeryt had finished saddling the mare and led her out into the sunlight, where he mounted, it was close to midday. He didn’t see Chardyn on the porch when he rode past the northeast corner, nor any other of the few scholars he might have recalled from the night before. Several students were playing what looked to be a form of turf bowling on the lower lawn in front. He thought one of them might be Lankyt, but the youth didn’t look in his direction.
He rode eastward past the anomen, and then farther, past the circular crossroads, which seemed even quieter than the last time he had ridden through it, before he finally came to the broader paved road that led south to the river piers or north to the Telaryn Palace. He turned the mare north.
Less than a hundred yards later, he rode past a produce wagon, filled with baskets of maize, most likely headed toward the river piers. A short distance behind that wagon was another, this one bearing bushels of the red and green apples he’d seen at Jorem’s factorage. By the time he was a good half mille, or so he judged, from the lower gate to the causeway serving the palace, he’d ridden past more than a dozen produce wagons, all headed south-and on a Solayi, to boot.
He eased the mare to the shoulder of the road and reined up and studied the Telaryn Palace and its grounds. The long rise ran roughly east to west and had been stripped of all vegetation except grass, and the grass had been grazed regularly enough that it looked to be less than ankle-high in most places. A dry moat some twenty yards across encircled the base of the entire rise, and another road ran parallel to and south of the moat, intersecting the road which Quaeryt had taken at the lower gate that guarded access to the causeway leading up to the palace. Halfway up the slope, the hillside had been carved away to create a wall out of the underlying limestone some three or four yards high. The sole break was where the angled causeway turned straight uphill for a timber bridge that crossed that gap. On the uphill side, the causeway angled back to the east, reaching a stone-framed gate near the eastern end of the gray stone walls.
After taking in the palace, he urged the mare forward and rode slowly toward the gates.
The iron gates were closed, set in gray stone towers that extended back to the moat. A timber bridge crossed the moat, supported in the middle by a single pier rising from the bottom of the dry ditch. A set of towers on the far side of the moat, with cables running to the edge of the bridge on the gatehouse side, suggested that the entire bridge could be lifted.
Two guards, Telaryn armsmen wearing standard green uniforms, were posted in front of the gates, one on each side, each standing under a slanted roof that cast enough shade to keep them from excessive heat. The taller guard, the one on the west side, followed Quaeryt’s every motion as he rode past, but did not move or say a word.
Quaeryt continued westward on the road flanking the dry moat, noting with a smile that the stone paving ended about a hundred yards from where the dry moat turned north and away from the road. The wooded hill to the west of the one holding the palace was empty of any dwellings, walls, or fences, but Quaeryt had no doubts that any incursion was likely to result in the appearance of armsmen.
He kept riding, deciding to try to make a large circle back to the Ecoliae.
The circle route that Quaeryt rode on Solayi afternoon had taken him a good three milles north and another mille south to a village so small that it had neither signs nor millestones to give a hint as to its name, and none of the handful of buildings holding shops and crafters had signage, In that, Tilbor clearly resembled the rest of Telaryn, since lettered signs were not exactly common anywhere, although more prevalent in port cities and in Solis. The village almost could have been one anywhere in greater Telaryn, except for the steeply pitched roofs and the narrow windows that hinted at long and cold winters.
After he returned to the Ecoliae and stabled and groomed the mare, Quaeryt washed off the sweat of the day, reminding himself that he needed to purchase more scholars’ garments on Lundi.
That evening, with little better to do and hoping to learn more, in one way or another, Quaeryt decided to take in services at the anomen next to the Ecoliae. He had to admit that he was not especially inclined to the worship of anything, particularly a deity as vaguely defined as the Nameless, although from what he had read about the Duodean practices in Caenen, the Nameless seemed far more acceptable, especially with regard to the precepts presented by the choristers.
The midharvest sun was almost touching the hills to the west when Quaeryt walked up the last part of the packed clay and dirt path from the Ecoliae and reached the old yellow-brick archway leading into the anomen. The doors were of antique oak, but recently oiled and in seemingly good repair. The interior was dim, lit only by four wall lanterns of polished brass, two on each side of the meeting hall, a space not quite twenty yards long and about ten wide. The walls were plastered smooth and had been recently whitewashed, but held no decoration or adornment, in keeping with the strict precepts of Rholan.
Quaeryt stood to the south side, halfway back from the sanctuary area, from where he watched as close to thirty students filed into the anomen, led by a scholar whom he did not recognize. Quaeryt picked out both Syndar and Lankyt, although neither appeared to notice him. By the time the chorister stepped to the front of the anomen, in addition to the students, there were close to twenty scholars present, of various ages, but he did not see either Chardyn or Sarastyn. He did see Zarxes and a silver-haired scholar who matched the description Chardyn had provided of Phaeryn.
Despite his short and wavy brown hair, the chorister of the anomen looked old and frail, with the hint of sagging jowls, and high cheekbones that accentuated the gauntness of his face. His wordless invocation warbled and wobbled painfully, so much so that Quaeryt had to conceal a wince.
Thankfully, when the chorister offered the greeting, his voice was stronger. “We gather together in the spirit of the Nameless and to affirm the quest for goodness and mercy in all that we do.”
Quaeryt did not sing the opening hymn, something about “the unspoken Namelessness of glory,” a song he had never heard.
After that was the confession, which sounded different when spoken in the Tellan of Tilbor. “We name not You, for Naming presumes, and we presume not upon the creator of all that was, is, and will be. We pray not to You for ourselves, nor ask from You favor or recognition, for such asks You to favor us over others who are also Yours. We confess that we risk in all times the sins of presumptuous pride. We acknowledge that the very names we bear symbolize those sins, for we strive too often to raise our names and ourselves above others, to insist that our small achievements have meaning. Let us never forget that we are less than nothing against Your Nameless magnificence and that we must respect all others, in celebration and deference to You who cannot be named or known, only respected and worshipped.”
Quaeryt did chime in with the chorus of “In peace and harmony.”
He added a pair of coppers to the offertory basket passed among the worshippers and then watched as the chorister ascended to the pulpit for the homily.
“Good evening,” came the murmured reply.
“Under the Nameless all evenings are good, even those that seem less than marvelous.…” The chorister paused and cleared his throat, looking out over the small congregation for a long moment before continuing. “Those of you who are young and strong … you say that you are different from those who came before you, because you see them as older. You do not see them as they were when you were young or even unborn, when they were young and strong. But if you are fortunate, you in time will grow old, and those who follow you will in turn claim that they know better because they are young and strong. This insistence that you are right because you are young and strong is but another manifestation of Naming. You place your appearance above the consideration of what is right and just. Because men and women are often weak in spirit, it falls to those who rule to enforce what is right through strength. Yet because this is so, many claim that might makes right. That is an argument of the Namer. All virtues require the support of strength, but to claim those virtues are only virtues because they are supported by strength is error indeed.…”
Quaeryt couldn’t help but think about what the ancient chorister was saying. How did a ruler convey virtue beyond the strength with which it was necessarily enforced? How much did people respond to righteousness itself and how much to force? How could the two best be balanced?
As Quaeryt pondered those questions, he noted that Zarxes had turned and looked across those scholars attending and had paused in his glances to take in Quaeryt.
Quaeryt kept a pleasant smile on his face, but ignored the scrutiny, as if it were perfectly normal for the scholar princeps to ascertain which scholars and students were attending anomen, which, in fact, it doubtless was.
After the benediction, before anyone looked in his direction, Quaeryt raised a concealment shield and eased toward the tall silver-haired figure that he thought was Phaeryn, following him and Zarxes as the two walked down the rutted path from the anomen toward the brick lane leading back to the Ecoliae.
Neither scholar spoke until they were well away from the anomen and seemingly alone. Even then, Zarxes glanced back through the fading glow of twilight before he spoke.
Close as he was, Quaeryt had difficulty catching all the words.
“… you see the visiting scholar?”
“… can’t say that I did … haven’t met him … might recall … only your description … think he’s truly a scholar?”
“He is, most definitely.… That might pose a problem…”
“Kellear sent a message the other day … rumors that Lord Bhayar is sending a scholar assistant to the princeps … couldn’t find out his name. About some things, Straesyr is closemouthed … worse than Rescalyn, and the governor has little love of us…”
“He’s not to be trusted … used as we can, but not trusted.”
“It could be a trap for Kellear. Did you warn him?”
“I’m not about to send messages to him. If he comes to see me, I’ll tell him.”
“When was the last time he came to see you?”
“Almost a year ago. That’s his choice.”
Quaeryt tried to fix that name in his memory-Kellear.
Phaeryn did not reply immediately, but finally asked, “You think this visiting scholar-what’s his name-might be the one?”
“He gave his name as Quaeryt.”
“… can’t be his real name…”
“… hardly think so.… Yet he spent several glasses this afternoon getting Sarastyn to talk about the history he said he was here to write about … some overheard what he asked, and his questions were detailed … also delivered letters to two students…”
“… must be handled with care…”
“… always … but … either way … it would be for the best. He has coin.”
“When did he say he would be leaving?”
“Have Chardyn or someone get him to give a day where everyone can hear…”
“I’d thought something like that…”
“Good. What about the plans to deal with Fhaedyrk?”
“… he’s wily … last man we sent drowned…”
“… proving to be a real problem … suggest underpaying tariffs to the governor?”
“… as much as Rescalyn visits them all?”
“… have to do something. Oh … Can you persuade Cedryk to wait for payment for the lambs?”
“He’ll wait another week … not that much longer…”
Quaeryt let the two slip farther ahead, if slowly, while watching his steps up the paved lane to the Ecoliae. He’d had a feeling about why he’d been given a large, comfortable, and comparatively isolated chamber, but it wasn’t pleasant to have such a feeling even partly confirmed.
While Quaeryt rose before fifth glass on Lundi so that he could observe the students-and Chardyn-at Sansang practice, he raised a concealment shield before he left his chamber and moved as silently as possible down the stairs, which creaked only once or twice under his weight, and out onto the section of the porch overlooking the green. As he watched in the grayish light before sunrise, he could see that Sansang definitely had its roots in nonbladed combat. That suggested that the discipline had grown out of resistance to the Khanars and the High Holders of Tilbor, since he suspected, as was generally the case across all of Lydar, the use of blades longer than the middle finger was most likely forbidden to all except those of high position or their armsmen.
The moves that Chardyn drilled into the students initially involved largely the upper body, but after two quints, the students picked up half-staffs that looked to be slightly less than two yards in length. Chardyn appeared particularly impressive, but Quaeryt had hardly expected anything else.
As the students finished and began to disperse, Quaeryt slipped away to check on the mare. When he entered the stable, he glanced around. Seeing no one, he released the concealment shield. The stable was large enough to hold a dozen mounts in regular stalls, and there were two larger stalls. Each of the larger stalls held a dray horse, but of the dozen other stalls, only six held mounts. By comparison, the stable at the Scholarium Solum held but two drays and two other mounts for occasional use by the senior scholars.
Then, too, he reflected, several mounts might belong to students with wealthy parents. Still …
He shrugged. There was no way of telling.
After walking through the stable, studying it, and finding nothing obviously untoward, except a pair of identical saddles with twin scabbards for blades like a sabre, Quaeryt left and walked back to the main building. The dining hall opened at sixth glass, and he made his way through the double doors at a quint past the glass. Before he could seat himself, a rotund older scholar stepped toward him, a man with a slightly angular face and smooth skin that might have belonged to a child, in contrast to the thatch of dull gray hair above the penetrating bright green eyes.
“Yes?” Quaeryt smiled politely.
“I’m Nalakyn, the preceptor of students. I had heard that you have come from Solis. I presume you studied at the Scholarium there?”
“I was hoping that I could persuade you to talk to the students about Solis and about the government of Lord Bhayar.”
“Talking about Solis would be easy, but I know very little more about the government of Lord Bhayar than any other scholar in Solis.”
“That is far more than do any of us, and it would be of great value to the students. If you would…?”
Quaeryt offered what he hoped was a helpless smile. “With that understanding, I will offer what I can. Later this morning?”
“Eighth glass would be most appreciated. In the student assembly hall on the west end of the building.”
“I will be there.”
“I thank you and look forward to hearing what you have to say.” Nalakyn nodded and smiled happily before stepping back.
As Quaeryt turned, he wondered, Did Chardyn or Zarxes put Nalakyn up to that?
From a table across the hall, Chardyn half-stood and beckoned. Quaeryt raised his hand in acknowledgment and walked toward the end of the table where Chardyn sat, accompanied by a younger scholar.
Chardyn smiled knowingly as he approached. “I might have been mistaken, Scholar Quaeryt, but I don’t believe I saw you when we went through our exercises and practice this morning.”
Quaeryt offered an embarrassed laugh. “Alas, for all my good intentions, I overslept. Perhaps tomorrow…”
“It will be just as early tomorrow.” Chardyn nodded in the direction of the dark-haired scholar. “This is Alkiabys. He is training to be my assistant.”
“I’m pleased to meet you. Are you also a scholar of Sansang?”
“Yes, sir. I am not half so proficient as Scholar Chardyn.”
“It takes time and practice to become good at anything,” rejoined Quaeryt as he slipped into the chair across the table from Chardyn.
“You must have expertise in many fields, sir,” offered Alkiabys.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to indulge my love of history.”
“Yet few would look at you and see a historian,” suggested Chardyn. “You look more like an armsman or an officer.”
“I did flee the scholars for a time and served as a ship’s apprentice quartermaster. That convinced me that being a scholar was much to be preferred.” Especially for an imager who didn’t want to be noticed. Quaeryt poured a mug of the too-strong tea served at the Ecoliae, then took a small swallow.
“How did that convince you?” asked Chardyn, his voice soft.
“By showing me that knowledge is to be preferred over strength and adventure.”
Chardyn nodded. “Still … knowledge alone seldom suffices. Not when facing great force.”
“Nothing alone suffices,” replied Quaeryt, serving himself several of the flatcakes from a platter put on the table by a student server. He poured a thin berry syrup over the cakes and began to eat, wishing that the syrup happened to be sweeter.
After a time, Quaeryt paused from eating. “By the way, as I told Scholar Princeps Zarxes on Samedi, I need to obtain more garments to replace those lost in my travels. He had said you had a marvelous tailor…” Quaeryt let the words hang.
“Naxim is quite good. His shop is on the lower level on the east side. I imagine he will be there soon, if he is not already. Did Nalakyn manage to find you?”
“He did indeed.”
“Excellent. I would have hated for you to leave before talking to our students. Whenever they can hear from a scholar who has traveled far and wide it is most beneficial.”
“You would seem to be such a scholar yourself,” observed Quaeryt.
“My travels have been largely in the library, except, of course, for a brief time when I served the Khanar.”
“Might I ask which Khanar?”
“Rhecyrd. That was a most unfortunate time. He had great plans, but … there are always those who will turn to treachery when their personal ambitions and whims are thwarted.”
“From what Sarastyn has conveyed, that could imply that either Tyrena or Rhecyrd…?” Quaeryt raised his eyebrows.
“Sarastyn has always been a romantic at heart, but romance should not cloud one’s view of reality. Tyrena was too young to rule. She refused to see that, and then…” Chardyn shrugged.
“You think that she was the one who planned the assassination of Chayar’s envoy?”
“Who else? She was the one who drafted the invitation for the envoy to come to Tilbor, on the pretext that she might be available as young Lord Bhayar’s consort.”
Quaeryt nodded slowly. Chardyn had a plausible point, because Bhayar had been betrothed, but not married, to Aelina at the time, and there was no doubt that Chayar could well have set aside his son’s betrothal to unite Tilbor and Telaryn without a war. Except … there had been no such letter arriving in Solis. Of that, Quaeryt had been certain, because Bhayar had mentioned that the Khanar had rejected that possibility. Bhayar had never mentioned names to Quaeryt, only the terms “Khanar” and “his daughter.” So Chardyn’s words were likely an indirect probe. “Was she intelligent and attractive?”
“She doubtless still is, but the man who wed her had best be most cautious.”
“You had mentioned that she fled and married a Bovarian High Holder. They are known to keep their wives well in line.”
Chardyn laughed. “I would hope so, for his sake, and because she is the type who needs to be on a tight rein.”
Quaeryt smiled and continued to eat.
After breakfast, he left Chardyn and found the bursar of the Ecoliae, to whom he tendered enough coppers to pay for the next several days, including more for the feed for the mare, which no one had mentioned, while letting drop that he intended to remain at least through the coming Solayi. Then he took the steps to the lower level and to the tailor shop. Naxim was a tidy man. That Quaeryt could tell the moment he had walked into the small space. He was also not that busy, because, after measuring Quaeryt, he promised to have two sets of scholar browns ready by Meredi afternoon. The price was not inexpensive, but not unreasonable at seven silvers for the pair.
Then Quaeryt hurried up to the main level and to the student assembly hall on the west end of the building, where Nalakyn stood outside the double doors, waiting, along with Zarxes.
The scholar princeps smiled. “I’d thought to increase my knowledge of Solis as well, Scholar Quaeryt.”
“I trust I can add at least some small tidbits to your vast array of learning, sir.”
“I’m most certain that you can, though they may be small, indeed.”
Two more students hurried into the hall, nodding politely as they passed.
“I believe we can begin,” said Nalakyn, turning and entering the hall, where he stood beside the doors until the other two scholars entered, then closed the doors.
Zarxes moved to the side of the hall and turned, where he waited. Quaeryt took a position near the front, before thirty students standing in front of benches.
Nalakyn stepped up beside Quaeryt, brushing back his limp gray hair absently. “You may be seated.” When all the students were seated, he went on. “I have a special lecture today for you. Scholar Quaeryt is here from the Scholarium Solum in Solis, and he will be telling you about Solis and Lord Bhayar.” With a nod to Quaeryt, he stepped aside.
“Young scholars,” Quaeryt began, “you have often heard that a little knowledge is most dangerous, and I am about to impart what little knowledge I know about Solis and Lord Bhayar. I hope it is not too dangerous for being so scant. I agreed to do so with the understanding that I studied in Solis at the Scholarium Solum … and not anywhere close to the palace of Lord Bhayar … although I must say that it is a grand palace that sits on a hill high enough to overlook the harbor without being particularly close to the water or the piers. The Scholarium is much older, and it sits on a smaller hill much closer to the harbor, which has advantages … of sorts.
“A few of you, or more, may know that Solis is not the homeland of Lord Bhayar. He and his father, Lord Chayar, were born in Extela, in the mountains of hot mist and fire, and Lord Chayar is the one who spent his life concentrating on truly uniting Telaryn.…” From there, Quaeryt gave a brief summary of the various campaigns and battles waged by Chayar’s grandsire Bhaeyan to physically control Telaryn, followed by the political reforms of Chayar’s father, and then the efforts of Chayar-except those involving the conquest of Tilbor-as well as the shifting of the capital to Solis and the rebuilding of the harbor there, before going on to describe the government under Bhayar. “… he has but a handful of ministers, one being charged with the maintaining of rivers, roads, canals, and ports, another with the collection of tariffs, and a third with the operation of the messengers and couriers that serve Lord Bhayar, and a fourth in dealing with envoys and communications with other lands…” Quaeryt paused and nodded at Lankyt, whose face bore a puzzled expression. “Yes?”
“You did not mention what minister is in charge of armies and armsmen, sir.”
“No … I did not. Lord Bhayar himself controls those. His regional governors and his marshals report to him directly. That was the practice of Lord Chayar, and his son has continued it.”
“How does he make his will known?” Lankyt persisted.
“He has couriers. I mentioned those before. He also has special companies of armsmen, raised in the mountains, or so it is reported, who are very loyal, and who will remove any official who displeases him. Those who make mistakes are either exiled or sent to unpleasant duties in even more onerous locations. Some even have returned to grace. Those who steal from the Lord or the people are executed.” Quaeryt paused. “So it is said. I do not know if that is the case here in Tilbora.” He looked to Nalakyn.
“The governor is very strict,” admitted the preceptor. “I have not heard about theft going unpunished. He has executed his own soldiers for stealing from the people. Those he has caught, anyway.”
That would suggest that few are stealing much, but you’ll have to see, thought Quaeryt.
“The Scholarium Solum is both similar to and different from the Ecoliae.…” Quaeryt went on to explain in great detail about the scholars in Solis, and then about the port city and capital itself.
He answered more than a score of questions before he finally turned to Nalakyn. “I could talk a great deal longer, but I suspect I’ve already gone on too long.”
“Oh … no. It is time to stop, but I’m certain that everyone learned a great deal.”
I just hope that Scholar Princeps Zarxes did not.
After leaving the young scholars, Quaeryt searched for Sarastyn, finally locating him almost a glass later on the shaded north porch.
“You have more questions … or are you here to enlighten me?” asked the older scholar sardonically.
“I have noticed that I’m not the one learning when I’m talking, sir.”
“Don’t use ‘sir’ with me. It makes me feel more decrepit than I already do.” Sarastyn gestured to the chair across from him.
“After thinking over what you told me yesterday, I did have a few more questions.”
“Well … what are they?”
“You mentioned how Nidar the Great had changed from the old clan way of fighting and created the Khanar’s Guard, but I was curious about how he could afford having a permanent guard.…”
“Oh … that was simple enough. He took a copper in tariffs from every gold in timber sales in the three ports-but only for timber leaving Tilbor. Most of that was in Midcote. He did the same thing with the seal and bear pelts taken by the ice hunters north of Noira … and he tariffed the white sugar from the south, but not the local molasses … not just those, but the same pattern on goods leaving or coming into Tilbor. Of course, there was a great deal more fur trading back then…”
Quaeryt listened until Sarastyn stopped and looked at him.
“The Khanar’s daughter … how exactly did she flee?”
“That was simple enough. She took a boat out to a Bovarian merchanter with her own guards, offered golds if they’d take her to Ephra, and steel if the captain chose to be disinclined.”
“And Rhecyrd didn’t try to stop her?”
“Why would he? Once she left, no one stood in his way.”
“Are there any ironworks in Tilbor now…”
“Just the small ones west of here and near Midcote.…”
After close to a glass, Quaeryt could tell that Sarastyn was tiring, and he took his leave, walking out to the stable where he saddled the mare and set out on another exploratory ride, this time into the trading and craft sector to the southeast of the Ecoliae. As he had suspected, there were no large manufactories, and only a few handfuls of those that might be considered even of moderate size. While he had heard that much of the timber used to the south of Tilbora came from Tilbor, he could find but one sawmill and two lumbering factorages, confirming in his own mind what Sarastyn had said about Midcote.
When he finally returned to the Ecoliae for supper, he wasn’t surprised to find Nalakyn waiting for him beside the dining hall door.
“I appreciated your talk this morning. Very much,” said the preceptor of students. “You explained things so very clearly. I cannot believe that you have no experience or personal knowledge of Lord Bhayar.”
“Lord Bhayar is such a forceful person that everyone in Solis knows well his wishes and aims,” replied Quaeryt with a laugh. “Those who serve him are equally direct and forceful.”
“Have you met any of them?”
“I have seen his seneschal, and even the sight of the man made it clear that it was best to avoid him. Fortunately, I had little cause to deal with him.” Or little enough.
Quaeryt walked through the doors and into the hall. Nalakyn accompanied him. They sat at one end of one of the long tables, and shortly the smallish bursar-Yullyd-joined them.
While the Ecoliae did provide ale or lager with the evening meal, Quaeryt had found the lager bitter and the ale unpalatable, and so had accepted the lager as the lesser evil, although, as he looked at the apple-baked dark fish on the platters set in the middle of the table, he had the feeling that the lager might be the best part of the meal-that and the greasy fried potatoes.
“Master Scholar Phaeryn must be most accomplished to have been able to keep the Ecoliae functioning during the time of the invasion, with all the fighting…” offered Quaeryt. “Were you here during that time?”
“Not for the time of the invasion. The Ecoliae was closed then. Master Scholar Phaeryn felt it would not be safe for students or for scholars. We all retreated to his family’s timberland in the Boran Hills until the fighting ended.”
“He must come from a family of means, then.”
“He was the youngest. That was why he became a scholar.”
“He said he’d rather be a scholar than a chorister,” added Yullyd. “He did serve a year in the Khanar’s Guard, too.”
“I didn’t know that,” said Nalakyn.
“Most folks don’t.”
“Didn’t Scholar Chardyn serve as well for a time?”
“He did,” said Yullyd. “He left when Lady Tyrena took over command. Not in name, of course, but in fact. That was when Eleonyd got so ill.”
Quaeryt could see there were more than a few conflicting stories of that time, but said nothing.
“Master Scholar Phaeryn has done marvels here,” said Nalakyn quickly. “The Ecoliae was almost falling down after the war…”
Quaeryt listened intently as the preceptor catalogued all of the Master Scholar’s virtues and accomplishments. He didn’t even have to prod Nalakyn, and that bothered him in more ways than one.
After Quaeryt left the dining hall after breakfast on a gloomy and overcast Mardi morning, he was grudgingly grateful for the quantity of flatcakes, which were at least palatable, despite the thinness of the berry syrup. The mutton strips had been almost inedible. He was just three steps into the main corridor when someone called to him.
“Scholar Quaeryt, sir.”
He turned to see a student standing against the wall of a side corridor, a position not visible from inside the dining hall. “Yes, Lankyt?”
“I … just wanted to thank you … for the letter … and for the talk, too, but mostly for the letter. I didn’t have a chance to talk to you after I read it. I appreciate your bringing it all this way.”
“I could scarcely have done less after your father’s kindness.” Quaeryt moved toward the young man, stopping slightly less than a yard away.
“There’s another thing, sir.…”
Quaeryt nodded and waited.
“Preceptor Nalakyn … he’s a good man.”
“I got that impression,” replied Quaeryt.
“Scholar Chardyn … he doesn’t care much for anyone who might be in the favor of Lord Bhayar … or the governor. I know you said you didn’t know much about him, but Da-my father, I mean … I think he had a different impression … and I wouldn’t want…”
“I understand, and I thank you. You don’t have to say more. Your father is a good man, and I doubt if you could do better than to follow his principles.” Quaeryt smiled warmly, trying to disarm the youth. “You could help me with one other matter, if you would.”
“Sir?” Lankyt’s voice lowered, holding worry.
“Is there a taverna around here with good food?”
The youth grinned, as much in relief as anything, Quaeryt suspected.
“There are only two close. Well, three if you count Sullah’s, but no one with any sense goes there. Jardyna has better food, and a singer. The spirits are dear, though. Rufalo’s costs less, but the grub is awful. They’re both along the road to the west, less than half a mille, almost across from each other. Jardyna is the one with the picture of the garden.”
“How do you know all that?”
“I listen a lot, sir. People talk.”
Quaeryt laughed. “Keep listening … and thank you. I’m not so sure I can take another supper here.”
“Some nights I feel like that, sir. I’d better go.”
No sooner were the words spoken than Lankyt turned and hurried down the side corridor, leaving Quaeryt alone in the main corridor, if only for a moment.
“Are you still here?” asked Yullyd. coming out of the dining hall. “I thought … Did I hear someone else?”
“I just asked a student about tavernas.”
“They’d all pick Rufalo’s. The lager’s cheap there. That’s fine, but not if you want to eat. Jardyna’s not bad, and if you’ve got a mount, Terazo on the way into Tilbora is very good. Costly, but good.”
Quaeryt paused. “Sarastyn mentioned the Ice Cleft.…”
Yullyd laughed. “That was the old name of Rufalo’s. It hasn’t been called that for years. Rufalo forgets to tariff Sarastyn for half of what he drinks, but then, he probably waters it as well.”
“Well … I thank you. I’ll keep those in mind.”
“If you stay here too long, you’ll want to keep them more than in mind.” Yullyd paused, then asked, “How long will you be here, do you think? Solayi, you’d said.”
“I’d thought through Solayi or perhaps Lundi. I need to spend more time with Sarastyn. He can only talk so long before he gets tired. You wouldn’t know anyone else who knows history that well?”
“Not here. If the governor will let you into the Khanar’s library … there’s a lot there, I’ve heard. But I’d tell the governor’s people you’re from Solis. Things … well … we avoid the governor, and he avoids dealing with us.”
More and more, Quaeryt could see that there were definite tensions between the scholars and the governor, something he’d have to take into account once he reported to the princeps. “I imagine Chardyn would like to look into the Khanar’s library.”
“I wouldn’t know, sir.” After another pause, Yullyd added, “You’ve paid lodging and meals through Jeudi morning. If you want to stay longer, let me know.”
Before Quaeryt’s words had died away, Yullyd was on his way down the corridor to his study. Yullyd’s last words had been a reminder to keep paying, as well as an indication of the perilous state of the finances of the Ecoliae.
Quaeryt kept his frown to himself and walked out onto the covered north porch. There he looked in the direction of the Telaryn Palace, where the sky was merely overcast, but a gust of cool wind prompted him to turn to the northwest, where dark clouds had massed and were moving toward Tilbora. Another gust of wind swept the porch, strong enough to shake some of the heavy wooden chairs and to move others fractionally. Then came the patter of rain on the roof, a patter that died away, then repeated itself.
Quaeryt decided against taking a ride, at least for the while. He could always pore over the library, although Sarastyn had been dismissive of the Ecoliae’s holdings. Still, there might be something of value there, even if not along the lines of his purported research, and he might find something else that would shed light on better ways for the governor to deal with Tilbor. He reentered the building and walked to the northeast corner.
The library at the Ecoliae was hardly that-just a large chamber some ten yards long and eight wide, filled with wall shelves and two rows of freestanding head-high, back-to-back bookcases. While a thin graying scholar who had been seated at one of the tables near Quaeryt on Solayi night looked up from the table desk near the door, then nodded pleasantly, there were no bars on the windows and no grated doors guarding the library. Quaeryt did note a solid lock on the door and inside shutters on the windows.
Not knowing what was shelved where, and deciding against asking for obvious reasons, since he had no idea who did, or who didn’t, inform Zarxes or Chardyn, he began by starting at the top shelf on the outer wall and taking down the first book and opening it to see the title-The Practice and Profession of Music. A quick sampling of that set of shelves suggested that all were about music and drama. The books about drama surprised Quaeryt, since only the largest cities had playhouses, and most drama was produced in the smaller theatres of High Holders, as was virtually all orchestral music-except when Lord Bhayar had his band play in the Palace Square on special holidays, such as Year-Turn or Summer-Light.
The next two shelves held various works on philosophy, including one that would have intrigued Quaeryt had he felt he had the time to read it-Rholan as Philosopher. The very title might have gotten the author drowned or burned at one time, but when Quaeryt read the name on the title page, he almost laughed. The book had been written by Ryter Rytersyn. He did thumb through the introduction quickly, and one paragraph caught his eye.
… Rholan is revered to this day, and doubtless will be so for generations to come as the voice of the Nameless, as the Unnamer, as the man who destroyed the sacredness of names, yet few, if any, have remarked upon the fact that he used common nouns, names, to do so … suggesting either conscious irony or even a great sense of humor …
Quaeryt smiled, thinking he might have liked to have met the author, but that was rather unlikely, since, if the date was correct, the man, or possibly the woman, given the pseudonym, had been dead for over a century. Then he moved to the next shelf.
After more than a glass, Quaeryt realized that Sarastyn, if anything, had understated the lack of historical tomes in the library. He found one short shelf of histories, and all seventeen books dealt with other lands-Bovaria, Khel, Tela, Ryntar, Antiago, Ferrum, Jariola-but not Tilbor, or they were rather dated geographies.
His eyes were blurring, almost tearing, when he finally left the library after three odd glasses and made his way outside into the cool air brought by the harvest storm. The heavy rain had begun to turn the brick lane down to the road into a small stream, and the road below into a river. With the rain now coming down in sheets, he wasn’t about to take the mare out for a ride … and if it kept falling, he’d have to suffer through another evening meal at the Ecoliae.
He did sigh quietly at that thought, then decided to return to the library. Perhaps, amid all the dross and irrelevancies, he might find something of value. Perhaps.
The rain was still falling on Meredi morning, if more steadily, rather than in sheeting gusts, but Quaeryt saw no point in trying to ride on roads that were streams if they were paved-which most weren’t-and quagmires if they weren’t. He didn’t see Sarastyn anywhere, and, for lack of anything better to do, he made his way back to the library.
This time he did stop before the quiet scholar apparently in charge of the chamber. “I’ve seen you here and in the dining hall, but I don’t believe we’ve met. I’m Quaeryt.”
“Foraugh. I’m the librarian. I imagine you’ve guessed that.”
The librarian’s heavy and thick Tellan accent suggested he might not be from Tilbora, and Quaeryt asked, “I get the feeling you’re not from this part of Tilbor. Is that right, or am I just too unfamiliar with the northeast of Lydar?”
“No, sir. You’ve that right. I’m from the hills south of Midcote. That’s the oldest part of Tilbor. That was what my grandpere said, anyway. Usually, he was right. He was a potter, and these days folks will fight over his work.”
“How did you come to be a scholar?”
“I spoiled too many pots. My father sent me here. He said that education ruined a man for honest work, but since I was ruined anyway, it couldn’t do me any more harm.” Foraugh offered a crooked smile.
“How long have you been here?”
“Sixteen years. Five as a student-copyist, and eleven as a scholar.”
“The copying paid for your schooling?”
“I doubt that it did, but Master Scholar Phaeryn said it did.”
“I noticed there aren’t many books on history.”
“No. When we returned from the hills after the war, almost all the history references were gone. I’ve borrowed and copied what I could find…”
“Didn’t anyone stay here during the war-to look after things?”
“Scholar Chardyn and a few others did. From what he said, I think the partisans may have taken over the Ecoliae for a time.”
“Oh … that was the name they gave themselves. They were the ones who kept fighting after Lord Chayar’s soldiers captured and executed Khanar Rhecyrd. The fighting in parts of Tilbora lasted over a year, closer to two.”
“It must have seemed the right thing for Scholar Chardyn to do, then, after his service to Khanar Rhecyrd.”
“I would judge so, but he never speaks about that time. None of us do. Those were the black years.”
“I imagine times were very difficult for most people.”
“The High Holders didn’t fare that badly. They have their own guards and armsmen, and the governor didn’t want to fight them, not after they attacked High Holder Jaraul, and lost almost five hundred soldiers to his two hundred.”
“They killed Jaraul?”
“They did, but, later, the governor pardoned him and granted half the lands back to his widow and surviving son. That was part of the agreement between the High Holders and Lord Chayar … well, the agreement signed on his behalf by the governor. That stopped the fighting between the High Holders and the governor. After that … the partisans had to give up. Mostly, anyway, except for occasional attacks on careless soldiers.”
“The governor caught most of them?”
“Oh, no. They just slipped away, back to whatever they’d been doing. Well … as they could. It didn’t make sense to fight much when they’d been betrayed by the High Holders.”
“For a time, the High Holders gave them support, until they-the High Holders-reached an agreement with the governor?”
“I don’t know. It seemed that the High Holders used the partisans as a tool to help force the governor to come to an agreement. Then they forgot how many partisans died.”
Quaeryt let himself wince. “That seems…”
“The way the High Holders always have been, in any land. Are they any different in Solis?”
“They’re … less direct, I’d say, but probably no different.”
Foraugh offered a sad smile. “You see?”
“None of the students come from their families?”
“They seldom leave their estates, and they have tutors, mainly from Bovaria. The wealthiest of our students would be paupers compared to the poorest children of the High Holders.”
That was no surprise to Quaeryt, but the answer he already knew wasn’t why he’d asked the question. “Then, the older timbering families, like those of Master Scholar Phaeryn, they’re not High Holders?”
“No. They’re highlanders and backlanders. They have lands, but not hoards of golds. Not most of them anyway. They also own the timber road to Midcote.”
“So most of the timber from Tilbor comes from Midcote?”
“It always has.”
Despite talking to Foraugh for another glass, Quaeryt learned little more. Nor did an additional glass in the library turn up anything new of note. When he finally left the library and stepped out onto the porch, the rain had stopped, and the clouds had retreated to a high overcast that appeared to be thinning. He had begun to consider what of those inquiries he had determined to be necessary he might best pursue with Sarastyn when Scholar Princeps Zarxes approached.
“Ah … Quaeryt, what do you think of our harvest rains?”
“For the sake of the holders and growers, I hope they had most of their harvesting done-or that what is left is mainly hay … or the like.”
“You sound like a grower. Do you have relations who are?”
“None that I know of, sir,” replied Quaeryt politely. “And you?”
“Not I. Phaeryn and I come from timbering families. I grew up with an ax in my hands, while Phaeryn was raised riding through those lands and marking trees.” Zarxes smiled broadly. “I have not seen much of you, except in the dining hall, although I hear you have made many inquiries of Sarastyn. Will you be with us much longer?”
“I anticipate at least until the end of the week, if not longer. I’m learning a great deal from Sarastyn, and even some from Scholar Chardyn.”
“Ah, yes. They each know history in a differing fashion. Well … I will look forward to reading whatever you write … if, of course, you can have a copy made for our poor library.”
“That decision, sir, I will have to defer to my patron.”
“You never did mention his name, I don’t believe.”
“I did not. That was his wish.”
“His command, perhaps?”
“Hardly. He does not express himself to me in that fashion, for which I am grateful.”
Make of that what you will.
“You should be. In that you are most fortunate.”
“I suspect it is just that he is perceptive. He is a good patron, and one I would not wish to lose. So I listen, and he sees that.”
“Many are not so reasonable, such as Lord Bhayar.”
“I have never been in any position to make that judgment,” replied Quaeryt with a light laugh. “From what everyone says, I would not wish to be.”
“Nor I.” Zarxes smiled pleasantly. “It would appear we will have a sunny and pleasant afternoon. Do enjoy it, as you can.”
“I have more to learn, but I will.” As I can, while always being aware of what lies behind me.
Zarxes did not glance back.
Shortly, the sun began to break through the overcast, and then the wind picked up. Directly after the sunshine strengthened, Sarastyn appeared on the south porch, and Quaeryt immediately approached the older man.
“More questions, Scholar Quaeryt?”
“Of course. Once I have thought over what I’ve learned from you, then I discover I have more questions.”
“That is always the way for a scholar.” Sarastyn looked out to the south. “The Ice Cleft will be open before all that long. But before that, I will endeavor to provide suitable responses.”
“It will be open … after all the rain?”
“Especially after all the rain. Here in Tilbor the soil is thin and drains well, too well the growers say, and with this wind, even the muddiest of byways will be passable by tomorrow. The Ice Cleft is on the main road, and I’m careful where I put my feet.” Sarastyn raised his thin eyebrows. “Your question, Scholar Quaeryt?”
“Who were the partisans?”
“You might as well ask the name of the wind-or the Nameless,” replied Sarastyn gruffly. “Any Tilboran-except a High Holder-could be a partisan at some time or another.” The old scholar snorted. “There have been partisans in Tilbor since the first Khanar. Anyone who acts on a grievance against a ruler or a High Holder declares himself a partisan.”
“Has anyone written about partisans who changed things-or have any been that successful?”
“Most partisans are more successful in stopping change than making it. To stop change, all you have to do is kill people who can effect change. To make a change in the way a land does things, you have to convince people, and few want to change.”
“So the best way to make a change is to convince people you’re restoring the old ways that they loved?” Quaeryt’s voice was only slightly sardonic.
“If you were a ruler or a governor, Scholar Quaeryt, you might possess the potential to be dangerous. As a scholar, you’re merely eccentric, and young for being so. Eccentricity is tolerated in the old, because we are believed unable to accomplish much. In the young, eccentricity is viewed as dangerous or a symptom of mental defect, neither of which is desirable.”
“I will attempt to refrain from displaying such,” replied Quaeryt. “Are the remaining partisans the ones behind the occasional attacks on the governor’s soldiers?”
“By definition, anyone who attacks an occupier of a land is a partisan. I personally suspect that many of those so-called partisans are rather well-dressed, well-armed, and well-fed. They might even be well-mounted. That is only a suspicion, you understand.”
“Were I as eccentric and as suspicious as you seem to think,” said Quaeryt with a smile, “I would say that a High Holder who professed peaceful intentions while inciting others to violence indirectly might effectively strengthen his position, and that of all High Holders, with the governor.”
“You’d not be the first to say so, but if you made that known, and could prove it to the governor, you might well be the first one to remain alive for saying such.”
“Even among scholars?”
Sarastyn laughed, softly. “Scholars must live in the world around them, no matter what one studies, and they must accept charity and funds-or take them-where they can. Can it be that one so traveled as yourself has found it otherwise?”
“I wish that I could deny your observation, but … alas … I cannot.”
“Since you cannot, have you other questions … of a less present historical nature?”
“When was the Timber Road constructed, and did any High Holders oppose it?”
Sarastyn cocked his head. “Fascinating question … fascinating.”
The fact that there was no obvious sarcasm in the older scholar’s reply bothered Quaeryt far more than sarcasm would have, but he just waited to see what Sarastyn would say.
“When the timbering clans of the Boran Hills began digging the road out of the very rocks of the hillsides, no one noticed. And few others noticed when they bought steads that yielded little-until the road across them appeared. By the time their efforts were too obvious to be concealed, there was little that High Holder Arimyn and High Holder Baelzyt could do, because the timbering clans had also constructed a shorter road from their timber road to the Reserve of the Khanar, a fact which did not escape the eyes of Ciendar-the son of Nidar the Great. Nor was Ciendar exactly displeased when the clans granted him freedom of passage, even for any timber he might wish to sell in Midcote. That strengthened the treasury.…” Sarastyn shrugged. “Arimyn and Baelzyt still pay annual tariffs to use the road.”
“With all the timber of Tilbor, and all those who fish, why has no Khanar ever developed a fleet?”
“What would have been the point? Outside of timber and fish, neither of which travels well for any great distance, what else do we send on the waves? What would a fleet protect? How would the Khanar have paid for it? Besides, ships require men who can work together day after day and who can take orders.” Another laugh followed. “Too few men in Tilbor can do either.”
For the next glass Quaeryt asked more questions, not quite at random, but in a variety of areas, because the responses to his more direct questions had been less useful than he would have thought.
Then, after another response, Sasastyn cleared his throat meaningfully. “Again, you have exhausted my voice and my memory, young Quaeryt, and it is time for me to depart and to refresh it.” The older man slowly stood.
So did Quaeryt.
The rest of the day was even less productive.
He walked over to the anomen, looking for the ancient chorister, who might have some useful recollections, but the building was empty. He spent almost a glass studying it and found little remarkable there, except for noting that the recent repairs, while not exactly shoddy, looked to be of less than the highest quality of workmanship, almost as if they had been accomplished by students.
They probably were.
Later, he stopped by the tailor shop in the Ecoliae and picked up the garments he had ordered from Naxim. They were of surprisingly good quality, if of wool, which would limit when he could wear them when he returned to Solis, and far better, he had to admit, than those that he had lost in Nacliano.
He wasn’t looking forward to another meal in the dining hall, but he also didn’t want to walk or ride the still-muddy roads, whether Sarastyn did or not.
As Sarastyn had predicted, Jeudi morning dawned bright, clear, and dry, and Quaeryt rode out immediately after breakfast, this time to follow those roads that were brick-paved to the east and north of the Ecoliae. Even with Sarastyn’s observations about the soils of Tilbor, he wasn’t about to risk the mare on muddy clay or dirt tracks. Others didn’t seem so reticent, and by eighth glass, Quaeryt found that there were farm wagons on the road, as well as others, although he did note that many of the wagons had wider wheel rims than those in the south.
In following another brick road that branched off the main road a half mille or so past what he thought of as the circular crossroads, he came to an area of leveled rubble-a space that appeared to encompass four square blocks. Moreover, some of the houses adjoining that area appeared to be deserted, with holes in the walls where windows and doors once had been.
Why had no one rebuilt? Was it considered ill fortune? Had Rescalyn or his predecessor forbidden it? Was it even the area that Lankyt had referred to?
Those were questions he’d have to raise carefully, indirectly, or possibly not at all, if he could get someone to volunteer the information, but he had the feeling that how the Pharsi were treated was something Bhayar would have to consider carefully-given the lord’s ambitions. Less than a mille to the northeast from the razed area, after riding past modest but generally well-kept dwellings, he came to a set of brick pillars, one on each side of the road. Beyond the pillars, the narrow road widened into more of an avenue, with larger dwellings, all of them two stories, on each side. All were constructed of a dark reddish brick, but the roofs were not of thatch or tile but of split wooden shingles.
Why wooden shingles when the brick and crafting is so good? He only had to ponder that for a moment before the answer came. Snow. Tiles were heavy, and so was slate, and if heavy snow and ice piled on the roofs in the winter, the weight on the roof could be heavy indeed. All the trim was painted, if in dull colors, and all exterior wood was either oiled or painted. Every dwelling had a stable attached by a walled and roofed walkway.
Very cold winters …
When Quaeryt returned to the Ecoliae slightly before fourth glass, he felt that he had a basic understanding of what types of people generally lived where in Tilbora, although not necessarily all the reasons why. But he could have spent weeks searching out those factors, and he didn’t have weeks.
He managed to get the mare groomed and fed in less than two quints. Then he washed up-his face and hands-at the pump outside the stables and walked to the main building, looking for Chardyn. Despite the fact that he’d asked Yullyd about tavernas, he wanted to see what sort of a reply he would receive from Chardyn.
He didn’t get a chance to seek out the Sansang master immediately, because Nalakyn immediately appeared.
“Scholar Quaeryt, I didn’t see you around today. I feared you had already left us, and I had some questions I hoped you would address.”
“I have a few moments now.” Quaeryt gestured toward three vacant chairs, set several yards from a larger grouping of seven scholars, in which the only one he recalled by name and face was Yullyd, although he’d certainly seen the others several times.
“I would appreciate that.”
Nalakyn did not move, and, after a moment, Quaeryt headed toward the chairs, where he settled into one and waited for Nalakyn to seat himself before saying, “While I am only a young scholar, as scholars go, and certainly without your length of study, I would be happy to address, as I can, your questions.”
“You have traveled, and I have not. When you talked to the students, you outlined the structure of Lord Bhayar’s government. The fashion in which you described its organization is unlike any other, and I have not heard or read about that anywhere. Yet you seemed quite conversant with it. I have spent my entire life in Tilbora, and so have others, such as Scholar Chardyn, and none of us could have described the governing of the Khanars as cogently as you did the government of Lord Bhayar. Nor is there any document that does so. Without being a familiar of Lord Bhayar, how did you come by this knowledge?”
Quaeryt smiled easily, even as he wondered if Nalakyn or Zarxes had come up with the question. “Part of that is simply because the Scholarium Solum is but a short walk from the palace of Lord Bhayar, and it is a palace, not an isolated fortress like the palace of the Khanars. One sees ministers passing by, and those who serve in the palace frequent the same tavernas as do scholars. I’ve made the acquaintance of some of the palace guards, and I know a scholar who has occasionally played and recited for Lord Bhayar and his ministers. Another fact is that Solis is far warmer than Tilbora, and there are more people, and they talk. Everyone in Solis talks. I have made a practice of listening. Also, the library at the Scholarium is excellent. There are books about the government of Hengyst and even how Rholan the Unnamer affected the way in which Telaryn is governed today. And, upon occasion, scholars are invited to the palace to provide information to ministers. I have not talked with any of Lord Bhayar’s ministers myself, but I have certainly heard of them and what they do.” Quaeryt shrugged, pleased that he had been able to deliver a perfectly truthful reply that was totally misleading.
“Truly … Solis must be a very different place, but if it is so wonderful … if I might ask … why are you here?”
“I believe I have mentioned that. In all of the wonderful library at the Scholarium there is not a single volume that deals with the recent history of Tilbor. A scholar’s future depends in part on his patrons, and in part on his scholarly efforts. In creating such worthwhile contributions, one must provide a patron with a way of … shall we say … establishing a legacy by means that are not considered acts or tools of the Namer. I suggested that such an updated history might reflect well upon my patron … and here I am.” He smiled wryly. “Even getting here proved more difficult than I had anticipated, and only Scholar Sarastyn seems to know much about recent history. Riding through Tilbora helps me match what he tells me to the city itself … but my task is proving more … difficult than I had anticipated.” Quaeryt saw Chardyn step out onto the porch, then walk to the railing and look eastward.
“You are, if I might say so, among the younger scholars entrusted with such.”
“An older scholar would have more wisdom and knowledge. That is true, but such an older scholar would be far less willing to take such a journey … and far less likely to need to do so.”
Nalakyn nodded slowly. “I had not thought of that.”
“If you will excuse me, I see Scholar Chardyn, and I have been seeking him. I need to make an inquiry of him.”
“Of course. Of course … and thank you.”
Quaeryt rose and smiled pleasantly. “You are most welcome.” He walked toward Chardyn.
The Sansang master turned, as if sensing Quaeryt’s approach, and waited.
Quaeryt reminded himself to keep Chardyn’s almost preternatural awareness in mind, particularly in the future. “Good afternoon.”
“The same to you. You have that expression of inquiry, I do believe, Scholar Quaeryt, as befits your name.”
“I do, but the inquiry is, alas, most mundane in nature. I think I’d like a change for supper this evening. Are there any good tavernas around?”
“Tavernas?” asked Chardyn. “Are you looking for a good meal, or one of those where it doesn’t matter what you eat, so long as you can drink and listen to singers and spend too many coins?”
“A decent meal, and a decent singer or two would be nice,” replied Quaeryt.
Chardyn frowned. “Terazo probably has the best food, and the lager’s the cheapest at Rufalo’s. The food’s decent, sometimes better, at Jardyna. All three have singers, and so does Sullah’s, but you’d be fortunate to walk away from Sullah’s without losing your wallet or more. If you want to ride farther and don’t mind spending a silver or two, I’ve heard that Svaardyn is outstanding.”
“That sounds a bit rich for me.”
“Of those closer, the food’s better at Terazo, and the singing better at Jardyna,” offered Chardyn.
“Thank you. I’ll have to give each a thought.” Quaeryt paused, then went on. “I was talking to Sarastyn the other day, and he mentioned a group who called themselves partisans. He didn’t seem to think that highly of them.”
Chardyn laughed. “When life is calm, no one likes those who call themselves partisans, but when a ruler becomes tyrannical or a land is ruled by an outsider, the partisans are considered champions by those who feel oppressed.”
“Some think they’re brigands and thieves, and others think they’re champions.”
“Who’s likely to think they’re oppressed?”
“I think every man in Tilbor would have a different opinion,” replied Chardyn with a smile.
Quaeryt nodded. “That’s likely true anywhere, from what I’ve seen. Oh … by the way, I haven’t seen Sarastyn today. Have you?”
“He had a few too many of his ‘medicinals’ and didn’t feel well this morning. Scholar Tharxas has been looking in on him. I’m certain it will pass.”
“I do hope so. He has proved most helpful.”
“I am certain he has, but … he does have … certain lapses of memory, certain beliefs that are of the past, rather than the present.”
“Such as his belief that the taverna where he takes his ‘medicinals’ is still the Ice Cleft?”
“Precisely. When names change, more changes than the name.”
“That is a very good point.” Quaeryt nodded.
“I thought so.”
“Thank you … and if you will excuse me…”
As he walked westward toward Jardyna, Quaeryt considered several things. He didn’t like the fact that Chardyn had known Sarastyn’s condition so precisely, but, while Quaeryt couldn’t help wondering about Sarastyn, he couldn’t very well accuse Chardyn of ill-treating Sarastyn, nor could he keep track of Sarastyn’s every move. He also hadn’t cared for Nalakyn’s inquiries. Both suggested it was time for him to move on … and sooner than he had told anyone.
Lankyt’s directions proved adequate. It took far less than two quints for Quaeryt to reach the crossroads that held Jardyna on the southeast side and Rufalo’s some hundred yards to the north, on the west side, past a local chandlery and wool factorage. The painting of the garden on the signboard was far less artistic than the painting on Jorem and Hailae’s factorage, and while the signboard had been touched up, there were still parts where the paint was threatening to peel. The single oversized door, hung with massive iron straps, was of well-oiled oak, and the scents of food did not carry the odor of burned grease.
Quaeryt opened the door and stepped inside. A slender woman dressed in a deep maroon tunic over black trousers turned. While her figure was girlish, the silver and blond hair and the slightly lined face were not.
“Drinks? Or food?”
“Both,” replied Quaeryt. “More food than drinks.”
“You’re from the west, aren’t you?”
“I didn’t know Phaeryn was seeking scholars from there.”
“He isn’t. I had a patron who sent me here.”
“He must be indifferent to your wishes, then.” The woman’s smile was friendly, her tone bantering.
“Not indifferent. Just wanting me to earn his support.”
She laughed. “I’m Karelya. You can take any of the small tables that are empty-unless you’re expecting more than one person to join you.”
“A small table will be fine.”
“Pick any one that suits you.” She gestured toward her right.
That half of the large room held fifteen or sixteen tables, with a massive ceramic stove in the middle of the end wall. It was covered with plants in pots, most of them flowering. What Quaeryt noted was that the small tables were those set against the oiled pine plank walls, while the larger tables, those seating six or eight and those seating four, were in the middle of the room. Two of the small tables were occupied, one by a white-haired man, and the other by a young couple. Three men wearing the leathers of teamsters sat around a table for four.
“Thank you.” Quaeryt smiled, then made his way to the unoccupied table closest to the stove, taking the seat that put his back to the plants on the stove.
He’d no sooner seated himself than Karelya reappeared.
“Greeter and server?” he asked.
“For the moment, until the evening girls appear. We stay open until ninth glass. That’s later than most, but still means we can close down before midnight.”
“Unless there’s a really good crowd?”
“That sometimes happens on Samedi nights, usually in midfall. In winter, it gets too cold. What will you have?”
“What is there for me to have?”
“The dinners tonight are fowl paprikash with potato dumplings, Skarnan noodles and beef, and mutton cutlets and fried potatoes. Each one is three coppers.”
“The fowl, please. What about lagers or ale?”
“Light and heavy lager, gold and brown ale. Two coppers for any of them.”
“I’ll try the light lager.”
“The light lager it is.” With a friendly smile, she was gone.
If Jardyna was the less expensive taverna, he didn’t want to think about the more expensive places. He glanced to the other side of the taverna, where the tables were all small and crowded together, and where close to fifteen men were already seated and contemplating or drinking from large mugs. Only a surprisingly low murmur oozed into the eating area.
The door opened, and two men entered, attired as if they were factors of some sort, with jackets over linen shirts. They didn’t even pause, but made their way to the table for four nearest to Quaeryt, taking as they did.
“Kinnyrd … said he’d be here…”
“… believe him? He’s always late…”
Quaeryt shifted his attention back to Karelya, who appeared with one of the large mugs and set it on the table. He slipped out five coppers.
“Just leave them on the table for now. Selethya will collect them when she brings your meal.” With another smile she was gone, moving to the pair of men, who’d been joined by a burlier fellow with an enormous brown beard. “What will you three have? The usual?”
“What else?” rumbled the burly man.
Karelya laughed, although Quaeryt thought the sound was slightly forced. Behind them several more people stepped inside Jardyna, and Quaeryt had the feeling that he’d arrived just a few moments before the customary time for most of those who frequented the place.
Quaeryt sipped the lager slowly as he waited for the meal. If the dark amber brew before him was the “light” lager, he certainly wouldn’t be interested in the “heavy” lager or the ale. Then again, maybe the Tilborans needed that heavy a brew in the dark and cold of winter.
Two women, perhaps ten years older than he was, slipped into the table next to him and immediately ordered ale from a serving girl, presumably Selethya, who also wore maroon and who had curly brown hair pulled back from her face and bound at the back of her neck so that the curls flowed down between her shoulder blades.
He tried to listen to the other conversations. That of the women was so low that he could barely hear them.
“… the sisters … worried about backlands partisans…”
“… why?… not affect us…”
At those words, Quaeryt strained to hear more clearly.
“… Maera … brother said-”
“Not here … scholar right behind you.”
For several moments, the women said nothing. Then, one spoke again.
“… hear about Waelya?… cannot believe she didn’t walk out … family … support her…”
“… pride … we … all have it…”
“… pride be named…”
The three men were far louder, so much so that their conversation drowned that of the women, who were clearly keeping their voices down.
“I told you that the late pears would be soft.”
“You’re always saying that you told me or someone else, but none of us remember those words.”
“You don’t want to remember.”
“Excuse me!” interrupted Karelya loudly and cheerfully. “Here you go.” She set the three mugs down, one after the other. Then she grinned and added, “The late pears were a trace soft, but I don’t think Kinnyrd said anything. Not in here. I would have heard it. So would everyone else.”
Even Kinnyrd laughed.
When the three had taken several swallows of whatever was in their mugs, the men’s conversation resumed, if in much lower tones.
“… another scholar … haven’t seen him before…”
“… trust Phaeryn to find a way…”
“… find a way, yes. Trust, no … backlands timber families can be worse than the High Holders…”
“… could be … also could be related…”
With those words, the three immediately begin talking about whether the snows would come earlier or later.
Quaeryt sipped the lager until the curly-haired Selethya arrived with a platter. “Sir … you had the fowl?”
She slipped the platter in front of him.
“Is there a singer tonight?”
“Yes, sir. Daerema will be here in half a glass or so.”
“Thank you.” He offered her the coppers, plus an extra.
“Thank you, scholar.”
The fowl was far better than the fare at the Ecoliae, and the sauce was excellent, especially since the dumplings were a trace firm. Even so, he found he ate everything, doubtless too swiftly. Then he had to sip the lager, slowly, while he waited for the singer. Almost all the tables had come to be filled, and all the conversations blended into a rumble, from which Quaeryt could pick out only phrases, none of which made sense out of context. He found that he had somehow actually finished the lager and ordered another.
The conversation died away when the singer stepped onto the low platform set against the middle of the rear wall, so that those in both halves of the room could hear her. The dark-haired young woman wasn’t all that pretty, not with her sharp nose and broad face. She offered no introduction, just lifted the lutelin and began to sing.
High upon headland, and clear out to sea,
my true love did sing out his song to me …
He sang and he wept and his words sounded true,
that never the night did I think I would rue …
Quaeryt smiled. She might not be a beauty, but her countenance was pleasant, and more important, for a singer, her voice was lovely, and her fingers were deft enough on the five strings of the lutelin that voice and melody blended pleasantly and strengthened the words of the song.
He listened and sipped as she sang, but still kept his eyes moving around the room as he did. After several songs, someone from the taproom side of Jardyna called out, “The wish song!”
“Aye, the wish song!” echoed another voice.
The singer smiled faintly, and raised the lutelin once more.
If wishes rained down from the sky,
porkers could talk and whales could fly …
if Nidar had lived in these days,
then we’d all be drinking his praise,
oh … we’d all be drinking his praise.
If Khanar had had a strong son,
or the envoy been roasted well done,
if Nidar had come back to fight,
we’d all be carousing all night,
we’d all be carousing all night.
But wishes don’t rain; ice isn’t snow,
Boars still snort, and no one will know
the time when the sun and the sea
and the rivers and we run free,
oh … the rivers and we run free.
Cheers followed the song, but as soon as they subsided, the singer immediately began another song, almost as if she wished she hadn’t been asked to sing the wish song.
My man was a strong man, as strong as life would see,
and he was fair and free and good at loving me …
The murmurs died away, and the room stilled, and Quaeryt glanced around. There were tears in some eyes, and the eyes belonged to both men and women.
… but a man and his daughter and a cousin fought,
and now I’ve a daughter with no father, all for naught …
When the singer finished the second song, clearly about the war with Telaryn, she quickly launched into an upbeat tune.
You came home the other night, as tight as you could be,
You woke me up to help you find the finest specialty …
But I’m no shop, and not your very private chandlery …
Laughter broke out, and Quaeryt laughed with the rest.
After several more songs, he paid Selethya for the second ale, which he’d barely touched, adding two extra coppers, and made his way out of Jardyna.
While he was especially alert on the walk back to the Ecoliae, he couldn’t help thinking about the songs that the singer had offered-and that she’d been able to sing the second one without anyone, even from the rowdier taproom side of Jardyna, heckling her … and in fact listening respectfully.
That reaction didn’t fit with what he’d observed of Chardyn, and that was another aspect of the Ecoliae that disturbed him. But then, there had been the two women talking of the sisters and the partisans … and the fact that there had been several tables besides the one adjoining his that had held only women-and that was something he hadn’t seen anywhere else in Telaryn, or even in the few Bovarian ports he’d visited years before.
As he approached the Ecoliae, Quaeryt felt more and more uneasy. Why? Was it because of the questions by Nalakyn, or Chardyn’s remarks? Or the continued interest in when he was likely to depart the Ecoliae? His eyes flicked skyward. Artiema was slightly less than half-full, while the smaller reddish-tinged disk of Erion showed little more than a thin crescent, not that he put much stock in the idea that more violence occurred under the light of a full Erion.
When he reached a spot some fifty yards downhill from the front porch, he imaged a concealment shield. If he happened to be right in his feelings, that would help. If he were wrong, there was no harm done. He slowed his steps so that there was little or no sound from his boots on the bricks of the lane, but it seemed to take forever before he climbed up the steps to the porch. Because there was always a student scholar watching the front door, he walked around the east side of the porch to the east rear side door. It was, naturally, bolted shut, as were all doors except the front one after eighth glass.
That wasn’t a problem, or not one that took terribly long, since he imaged away the catch plate, opened the door, and stepped inside, into the dimness of the side hall. Then he imaged the plate back in place and walked slowly and as silently as he could to the narrow staircase at the east end of the building. From there he crept up the steps and then along the long, long hallway toward his chamber on the west end.
He might be overreacting, but he didn’t think so.
He stopped in the darkness outside the doorway to his chamber, studying the hallway and then the door. There was no glimmer of light in the thin space between the wooden floor and the bottom edge of the door. Nor did he hear anyone breathing or moving on the other side. All he had to do was lift the latch, because, as was the case with any room in any Scholars’ House, there was no lock, only a bar and a bolt that could be slid shut from the inside.
Finally, ever so gently, from beside the door, so that he would not be standing in the doorway, he lifted the latch and then gave the door the slightest push so that it swung inward, creaking slightly. The door came to a halt perhaps three-quarters open.
Quaeryt waited … and waited.
The quiet was overwhelming.
Abruptly, as if from nowhere, a dark figure appeared in the doorway, and made two swift passes with a half-staff, one to each side of the door. The second slammed into Quaeryt’s left shoulder. He dropped back, managing a side kick to the knee of the other, while he dropped the concealment shield, of little use in the darkness, and concentrated on imaging pitricin into the brain of the other.
A second staff blow hit Quaeryt’s arm below the shoulder, and a sharp jab of pain coursed up his arm, before the other convulsed.
Quaeryt managed to jam his forearm across the other man’s mouth to keep him from crying out, then half-carried, half-pushed the still-struggling, if less so with every moment, smaller man into the chamber, restraining him for close to a quarter quint before he slumped and stopped breathing.
Only then did Quaeryt lower the body and close the door. From what he could tell, the scuffle had not awakened anyone. That was not totally surprising, since he’d been given the room for just that reason. He’d wondered how many other visitors had “departed early,” in one fashion or another, minus coins and goods.
He studied the man on the floor. As he’d suspected, it was Chardyn. Quaeryt was impressed at the other’s skills in close to pitch-darkness, although the darkness had effectively reduced the usefulness of his own concealment shield. His shoulder and left arm throbbed. He certainly wouldn’t have wanted to face the Sansang master in any sort of combat, or what some, although Chardyn probably hadn’t been one of them, would have called a “fair fight.”
Quaeryt snorted softly. There was no such thing as a fair fight. Someone, in some way, always had the advantage, and usually the one with the advantage was the one calling it “fair.”
Since he doubted anyone but Zarxes and Phaeryn knew what Chardyn had planned, and since none of them could have known exactly when Quaeryt would return to the Ecoliae, he had perhaps a glass, at most, before someone started actively looking for the Sansang master. In that time, Quaeryt needed to dispose of Chardyn’s body, or rather get it out of the chamber and down to the stable. Moving unseen wouldn’t be the problem. Carrying the body unheard would be. After that, he’d have to conceal the body for the time it took him to return and carry his own clothing and gear back to the stable, because there was no way he’d be able to carry both at once.
The first thing Quaeryt did was to pack all his gear into the canvas bag, except it didn’t all fit. So he took the scholar outfits and rolled them up in the thin blanket provided by the Ecoliae and laid the rolled-up garments on the bed beside the bag. Then, with some effort, he hoisted the limp body of Chardyn over his shoulder, raised a concealment shield, and eased his way through the door, latching it behind him.
The trip down the west-end stairs, then out through the west-end rear side door, across the porch, and out to the stable was slow, and painful. Quaeryt was sweating heavily by the time he deposited Chardyn in the empty stall beside the one that held the mare, and Chardyn was far smaller than Quaeryt. Quaeryt took a few moments to catch his breath before he scattered hay and straw over Chardyn, just enough that, if the stable boy did happen to look into the stall, unlikely as that was in the middle of the night, the body wouldn’t be immediately visible.
Then he made his way back to his chamber, where he left a silver on the side table before picking up his bag, Chardyn’s staff, and the rolled-up garments and making the return trip to the stable.
Once back in the stable, he did light a lamp, if wicked down, in order to saddle the mare. He also had to rummage through the stable to find twine to fasten the rolled-up garments and the canvas bag behind the saddle. Then he had to reclaim Chardyn’s body and lift it up and over the front of the saddle before blowing out the lantern and leading the mare out of the stable under a concealment shield.
He mounted and rode down the brick lane to the highway, half-wondering if anyone would hear the sound of hoofs on the bricks and wonder if some sort of spirit or demon horse had left the Ecoliae.
He had just passed the anomen when the bells rang out the first glass after midnight.
Did all that take almost two glasses?
It must have, and that worried him as well. Yet no one had appeared or tried to stop him. For that he could thank the comparative emptiness of the upper level of the west wing. He turned the horse toward the river. He had plenty of time, especially since he wasn’t about to try to enter the Telaryn Palace before the seventh glass of the morning.
Once he had ridden down the lane down from the Ecoliae and was more than a mille away, Quaeryt dropped the concealment shield and continued slowly east and then south until he reached the Albhor River. From there he had to head farther upstream to find an unoccupied wharf from which he could drop Chardyn’s body and staff into the dark water. That way, if the body happened to be found, there would be a certain mystery as to how it arrived there, especially with no marks or wounds. If no one ever found it, that would create another mystery as to what had happened to Scholar Chardyn.
Chardyn’s disappearance or death should keep Phaeryn and Zarxes from immediately victimizing anyone else … and, hopefully, before too long, Quaeryt could find a way to deal with the pair-in a quiet way, because the last thing he wanted was an uproar over a Scholars’ House. There were too few of them in Telaryn as it was, and he didn’t want every city regarding scholars the way people seemingly did in Nacliano. And since the scholars and the governor appeared anything but on the most distant of terms, he’d have to bring up the matter slowly … and later. Especially since you’ll need scholars to be well-regarded for what else you have in mind.
After dropping the body, he rode back down the river to the ferry piers, where he turned north on the good road leading to the Telaryn Palace. He was careful to keep the mare well in the middle of the road and away from any shadows. The aching throbbing in his arm and shoulder reminded him that he needed enough time to be able to image a defense.
You might even think about a better way to use imaging as a defense. While that was a wonderful thought, at that moment he didn’t have the faintest idea how he might accomplish such a defense. All he’d been able to do was to use imaging to divert, disable, or kill people who were attacking him.
With those thoughts swirling through his head, he kept riding. After another half glass, he stopped and dismounted to water the mare at a public fountain in a small square that was eerily quiet. The square was dark, because Artiema had set, and there were no lamps or lanterns lit, but Quaeryt could see well enough. Then he mounted again and kept riding northward at a leisurely pace. He did worry that his progress through the outskirts of Tilbora was marked by the barking of dogs, but only one actually came anywhere close to the mare before stopping in an alleyway and barking until Quaeryt was well out of sight-or smell.
Even taking his time, before that long Quaeryt was soon on the north side of Tilbora and nearing the Telaryn Palace, and he began to look for a place where he could wait until it was light enough and late enough in the morning to ride up to the gates. He finally found a short hedgerow on the north side of a small field to the southwest of the palace, where he dismounted and tied the mare.
Eventually, dawn came, and then sunrise.
Once there was light, Quaeryt took out the wax-sealed document case, turning it over in his hands under the early light. Then, after looking more closely, he froze. The wax sealing the case had been replaced. It was still sealed, but not as he had sealed it. He’d looked at the case any number of times since leaving Rhodyn and Darlinka, but he hadn’t examined it closely.
He swallowed, then took out his belt knife and carefully scraped away the wax, easing open the case. Inside, in addition to the appointment letter and the letter from Vaelora was a small folded paper-and two golds. Quaeryt opened the paper and read the lines, written in Bovarian.
Please forgive me for this intrusion. While I am trusting, I am not that trusting. Accept these tokens as payment for my lack of trust, and my wishes that may all be well with you.
The signature was that of Rhodyn.
“The old namer-demon,” murmured Quaeryt, smiling as he did. He couldn’t blame the man for his care. Had the letter from Vaelora helped? Probably only in reinforcing that he was who he’d said he was. There wasn’t even a name at the bottom, only her initial.
After a moment, he took both the note from Rhodyn and the letter from Vaelora and slid them into the inside hidden jacket pocket, then slipped the golds into empty slots in his belt. The document case went into the larger inside jacket pocket. He straightened in the saddle and surveyed the lane again. He still had at least a glass to wait before he could approach the gates.
Only a handful of wagons passed the hedgerow lane on the main road while he waited. Finally, he judged that it was late enough that he could make his way to the palace.
As he neared the gates, he rode down through a vale and past a row of cafes and shops he didn’t recall from his previous ride through the area, seemingly located amid small plots of lands, and he wondered why they were there. Then his eyes flashed to the Telaryn Palace, and he nodded. To separate the soldiers from their pay and to provide diversions from boring duties, but away from the main part of Tilbora.
Before long, Quaeryt reined up short of the two guards before the gates. “Good morning.”
“What do you want, scholar?” demanded the shorter and stockier man, wearing the undress green uniform of a Telaryn soldier, set off by black boots and a wide black leather belt, with a matching short sword scabbard on one side and a knife sheath on the other. He was not wearing the uniform jacket, but few soldiers did except in winter-and almost never in Solis.
“I’m supposed to report to Princeps Straesyr. I’m his new scholar assistant.”
“And I’m-” began the guard who had spoken first, before the other guard cleared his throat. “What?”
“Seems to me … weren’t we looking for a scholar…?”
“… supposed to be here weeks ago…”
“The ship I was on got caught in a nor’easter, went on the rocks…” Quaeryt said loudly. “That slowed me down.”
“He’s probably the one. They said he was supposed to see the princeps first.” The taller guard turned back to Quaeryt. “What’s your name?”
“Quaeryt Rytersyn, from Solis.”
“Sounds like the same name. Better escort him up.”
“I’ll take him,” offered the shorter guard, with a sharp look at the other, before turning and calling, “Gate open!” Then he looked to Quaeryt. “Follow me.”
After several moments, the left side of the gate swung back far enough for the guard to walk through, and the scholar followed. The gate closed behind him. A single mount was tethered on the north side of the east tower, and the guard untied it and mounted. Without speaking, he urged the horse onto the planked bridge over the dry moat.
The hoofs of both mounts created a dull echo as they crossed the bridge. The towers on the far side appeared to be exactly as tall as the bridge was wide, and the cables that ran from the top of the towers to iron rings on the south end of the bridge were as thick as the wrists of a large man.
Absently, Quaeryt wondered if anyone had ever tried a winter attack on the palace, since it might have been easier to fill a section of the moat with snow and ice and then let it freeze solid. But then, how would you shelter and feed a large force in deep winter?
The angled approach to the palace was a stone-paved road wide enough for two wagons and with a slope gradual enough to be passable in winter.
If shoveled clear, thought Quaeryt, turning to the soldier riding slightly ahead. “Who has the duty of clearing the snow in the winter?”
“Whatever company is assigned,” replied the gate guard. “Usually the one with the most troublemakers the week before.”
“I suppose that keeps them in line.”
“Not always. A fellow can get stir-crazy. It’s gray all winter long. A squad in Third Company got so worked up they threw snowballs at the duty guards so that they could get out and shovel. But they’re all crazy in Fifth Battalion.”
Inwardly, Quaeryt winced, glancing out across the valley below lit in morning sunlight, trying to imagine it dark and gray, covered with ice and snow. He glanced back uphill. On the top of the long rise loomed the gray walls of the palace, walls that looked to extend a good half mille across the front alone. He hadn’t realized just how huge the area enclosed by the walls truly was.
When the two neared the top of the approach road and rode toward the gates at the east end of the palace, Quaeryt noted that they were open and swung outward and flush against the flanking towers. Each side was comparatively narrow-less than two yards wide-and extended upward some four yards. When closed, they would fit against the stone on both sides and along the top.
Two more guards stood outside the gates.
“It’s the scholar the princeps is expecting.”
The guards looked Quaeryt over, but said nothing. The space under the archway between the two towers was effectively a walled tunnel some five yards long. A second set of gates was recessed into the inside walls of the guard towers, and beyond them was a large open courtyard at least seventy yards on a side.
To the right of the capacious entry courtyard were severe stone buildings some three stories in height, looking like troop barracks, and farther to the west were the stables. Behind them were the walls, only a handful of yards higher than the barracks roofs. To the left and directly beyond the entry courtyard were gardens, and the scent of flowers was almost overpowering to Quaeryt.
Gardens? Given the grimness of the stone walls, he hadn’t expected gardens.
A single stone-paved lane, edged by a knee-high wall, led through the middle of the gardens, and the escort guard rode toward it. Again, Quaeryt followed. The terraced gardens were far more than ornamental, he soon realized, with apple, plum, pear, and sour cherry trees bordering herb and vegetable gardens, and an intricate series of stone conduits and miniature aqueducts between the gardens and trees.
The lane ended abruptly in a circular paved area, with that part of the arc beside the palace building itself bordered by a covered rotunda. Another pair of guards stood under the angled roof and before a set of polished oak doors bound in polished brass.
“The scholar’s here to see the princeps.”
“You can tie your mount at the end, the iron post,” said one of the guards.
“Thank you.” Quaeryt rode over to the post, where he dismounted and tethered the mare to the post, then walked back toward the doors. He had to assume that his mount and gear would be safe, but, if they weren’t, those would be the least of his worries.
The lower gate guard was already riding back eastward toward the upper palace gates when Quaeryt reached the two guards.
“Tell the squad leader inside why you’re here.”
“Thank you.” Quaeryt stepped between the two and opened the door, only to find a second door two yards on, another sign that the winters were indeed long and cold.
When he stepped beyond the second door, he stood in a foyer, a circular space some fifteen yards across, but without the high ceiling he half-expected. The walls were half-paneled with wainscoting up to chest height, above which was white plaster. There were neither paintings nor hangings above the paneling, although vacant niches set into the walls above the paneling and spaced around the foyer once had likely held statues or other decorative items.
Set in the middle of the foyer was a table desk, and seated at the desk was another soldier, this one wearing undress greens, the uniform most officers and aides wore when they met with Bhayar. Quaeryt walked to the desk and stopped.
“Why are you here, scholar?”
“Lord Bhayar sent me. I’m Quaeryt Rytersyn. I was sent to be scholar assistant to Princeps Straesyr.”
The squad leader pointed to a bench on the left side of the foyer, but closer to the door than the table desk. “You’ll need to wait there while I check with his assistant.”
Quaeryt sat, then watched as the squad leader walked past the two guards stationed at the archway leading from the foyer. He was still waiting a quint later, but shortly after that, the functionary finally returned.
”He’ll see you shortly. One of his aides will come and take you to his study.” The squad leader resumed his position behind the desk.
Another half quint passed before yet another squad leader-this one graying-appeared and said, “Scholar … this way.”
Quaeryt stood and followed the squad leader past the soldiers guarding the main hallway leading from the foyer. He was beginning to feel as though he had been passing through an endless series of guards. A somewhat worn deep blue carpet runner ran down the center of the polished slate floor, and a series of paintings adorned the walls-in between the doors, all of which were closed. Most of the paintings appeared to be likenesses of past Khanars.
After some thirty yards the corridor opened onto a high ceilinged hall, with a grand marble staircase leading up to the second level and what appeared to be a railed gallery above circling the hall. As he followed the aide up the steps, Quaeryt noted that other corridors branched off the hallway on the lower level … and again on the upper level. Quaeryt noted a smaller staircase on the east side of the gallery, whose entry door was open, and he wondered where that led. At the top of the staircase, the squad leader turned right, moving parallel to the stone-pillared railing.
About a third of the way around the circular gallery was another corridor that the squad leader followed. At the end, another forty yards along past other doors, was a set of double doors, one of which was open. Another narrower hallway fronted the doors and extended east and west for about twenty yards in each direction.
Once he was inside the anteroom, Quaeryt again sat and waited for perhaps half a quint before being ushered into the princeps’s study-a large room with bookcases on the left-side wall, and an archway on the left, with recessed pocket doors half-open, leading to a room with a long table and chairs. A large and ornately carved desk was set before the waist-high north-facing windows, windows that were closed. The princeps stood behind the desk. Unlike everyone else Quaeryt had seen since he’d ridden up to the lower gates, Straesyr was not wearing a uniform, but a light blue tunic over black trousers. Yet the way he wore them suggested a uniform.
“Good morning. Please be seated.” The princeps followed his own words.
Quaeryt sat down in the center chair facing the desk. Straesyr wasn’t at all what he had anticipated. He’d pictured the princeps as a slender and bookish figure, but the man who had greeted him was as tall as Quaeryt himself, broad-shouldered, and his voice was warm and pleasant. Only the eyes resembled Quaeryt’s preconception, and they looked like pale blue ice, as though Straesyr regarded everything as something to be weighed, measured, or counted.
“You claim to be someone I’m expecting. Can you prove it?”
“I’m most certain that Lord Bhayar has sent you a thorough description of me. I’m Quaeryt Rytersyn, and I have been a scholar to him.” Quaeryt eased the document case from his jacket pocket, leaned forward, and extended it.
The princeps took it. “It looks rather worn.”
“It’s been through a storm and a shipwreck, sir.”
“The Moon’s Son, out of Tilbora here. She was the first vessel I could get out of Nacliano.”
“There weren’t any Telaryn ships you could take?”
“Except for the ship that sailed just before I got to Nacliano, not a one that anyone knew of. The port people said that most of the ships that traveled regularly from Nacliano to Tilbora were ported out of Tilbora.”
“That’s regrettable, if so. It’s something I wouldn’t know.” Straesyr opened the case and extracted the appointment letter, then opened the leather folder on the desk and compared the two. Next, he looked at a second sheet and then at Quaeryt, alternating glances between paper and Quaeryt. Finally, he nodded. “You do seem to be the one Lord Bhayar sent, with an appointment to last until the end of Fevier, if necessary…”
He didn’t put that date in my letter. The end of Fevier … I do hope not. Quaeryt had no intention of staying in Tilbor even into winter, let alone all the way to the end of that frigid season.
“… I must say that both the governor and I are at a loss why he would send a scholar from Solis to Tilbora. I hope you can enlighten me.”
Quaeryt smiled pleasantly. “Lord Bhayar asked me if the people of Tilbor were different because no ruler in the history of Lydar has had so much difficulty in maintaining order so long after a conquest. I made the mistake of saying that I could not offer an opinion because I had not been to Tilbor and because there were no recent histories of Tilbor.” Quaeryt offered a helpless shrug. “And so … here I am.”
After a moment, Straesyr smiled, then shook his head. “You could have said that they were.”
“Then he would have asked in what fashion were their differences … and every effort on my part would have made my situation worse.”
“What exactly are you supposed to do here?” Straesyr returned the battered document case and the appointment letter to the scholar.
“Answer his question, based on what I observe and upon your experiences and those of the governor.”
“Why is this important to him, do you think?”
“I don’t know. It is possible he just disliked my asking too many questions and wanted to get rid of me or teach me a lesson of some sort. It is possible he is considering an attack on Antiago, or worried about an attack by Bovaria, and wants to see if I can discover some useful information that will make dealing with such easier. It is possible that he has something else in mind.”
Straesyr nodded slowly. “It is not particularly useful to second-guess a ruler. Nor is it useful to obstruct others in their duties. Neither the governor nor I would wish to make matters difficult for you to accomplish your report to Lord Bhayar. Likewise, you understand that in seeking the information to answer his inquiry, you should avoid any actions that make our efforts more difficult.”
“I understand. That is why, as possible, I would begin by gathering your thoughts and observations on what is different and unique about Tilbor, and then the governor’s. After that, I would like to talk with some of the junior officers who must deal with people on a daily basis. Only then would I venture into talking with the people in Tilbor, and that I would do as a visiting scholar.”
“That latter task might be both useful and difficult. The scholars here … let me just say that they do not seem to be excessively friendly. Anything you might discover that sheds light on that, in one way or another, might make your tasks easier.”
Quaeryt was the one to nod. “This is distressing to me. Knowledge that is not used properly is wasted, and there is no one better placed to use knowledge for good than a ruler. As I can, once I have a better understanding of the situation here, I would be more than happy to look into that matter, along with the other aspects of the question, of course.”
“Of course. Now … there is the matter of quarters. While there is certainly space in the barracks, there are a number of chambers here in the palace proper that would seem more conducive to your efforts, and several also have writing desks. Would those not be preferable?”
“One such would indeed, sir, but I would not wish to be a burden.”
“That is not a problem. Not at all. With you in the palace, of course, you will be a member of the junior officers’ mess. There is a charge-or deduction from your pay-of a copper a meal, or a silver and a half a week. As with all junior officers away from their postings, there is no charge for quarters. I would have you meet with Governor Rescalyn today, but he has been on an inspection tour to the north. He is not expected to return until Lundi or Mardi. Perhaps tomorrow you and I could meet, and I could brief you on those events and matters that bear upon your task.” Straesyr frowned, then smiled. “Seventh glass in the morning would be best.”
“Precisely. Now … when we finish here, I’ll have my messenger conduct you to your quarters. I took the liberty of having your gear sent up already, and the ostler has stabled your mount. Except for today, you are responsible for grooming. In view of your position as one of my assistants, you will have access anywhere in the palace. Once you are briefed by me and have met the governor, you’re free to ride where you find it necessary. As with all officers, you are expected to log out and give either a destination or mission and an expected time of return. Is that clear?”
“Yes, sir.” In short, you’re confined to the palace until Mardi, and he wants to know where you’re going or have been.
“Ah … Scholar Quaeryt,” murmured Straesyr, “there is one other small matter.”
The princeps lifted the cover of the folder and took out a sealed missive. “This was sent to you by courier from Solis.”
Quaeryt didn’t have to counterfeit surprise. Who would send something to me? Who besides Bhayar even knew where I’d be? Rhodyn? But that wouldn’t have come by Telaryn courier. He took the missive and looked at the seal. He didn’t recognize the stylized image of a pen with the hilt of a sabre. A careful look also showed that the seal had been removed, if carefully, and then replaced, but the minute traces of wax on the paper suggested that it had been replaced on the same original paper.
The hand that had written his name was not unfamiliar, but he did not immediately recognize it, and he didn’t want to ponder over it with Straesyr looking on. “Thank you, sir. I had not expected correspondence.”
“Neither had we expected any for a scholar whose presence we had not anticipated prior to Lord Bhayar’s orders.” Straesyr rose from behind the desk. “The messenger is waiting.”
“Thank you, sir,” repeated Quaeryt. “I’ll be here at seventh glass tomorrow.”
The princeps merely nodded, and Quaeryt inclined his head in reply, then turned and left the study.
The messenger turned out to be a youthful ranker who jumped to attention when Quaeryt stepped back into the anteroom, slipping the missive and the document case inside his jacket.
“You’re in the northwest tower, sir. I’ll take you down past the officers’ mess first, and then to your quarters. That way, you’ll know the most direct way to the mess.”
“I’d appreciate that.”
As he followed the young ranker back to the upper rotunda and down the grand staircase, Quaeryt pondered the implications of what the princeps had said. Bhayar had said he would be quartered in the barracks, but Straesyr had placed him in a chamber in the palace proper. Was that because Rescalyn didn’t want him anywhere near the soldiers, or because both the governor and the princeps wanted to keep a close eye on him? Or both? And then, it was clear that Straesyr was more than a little unhappy with the local scholars.
“… all the chambers for the officers and the mess are in the west wing … it’s more like a separate building, except it’s connected by a covered and walled passageway … still cold as a corpse in the winter…”
Quaeryt listened attentively as the young man led him along the main corridor and then through the windowless walled passage to the “west wing” and through another two sets of double doors and then past the mess and to the far end of the building and up a narrow staircase to the third level.
“… think you and the chorister are the only ones up here … bathing chambers are all on the main level … be quite a cold climb in the winter…”
At the top of the stone staircase, they turned right and walked to the first door, which the ranker opened. As promised, Quaeryt’s “gear” was in the chamber, the canvas bag and the rolled-up scholars’ garments set neatly beside a narrow armoire. There was a wide writing desk, with a sconce above it holding an oil lamp. The bed was single, but wider than a scholar’s pallet, and bed linens, two blankets, and a single towel were folded and set on the bottom of the mattress. On one side of the bed was a night table and on the other a narrow three-drawer chest. The door had a sturdy bolt, but no bar and no lock.
“… captain says that the chambers on this end are for field-grade officers, majors and subcommanders,” concluded the ranker.
Once the ranker left, Quaeryt slid the bolt on the door and looked through his gear. It had been searched. That was clear because everything had been more neatly folded than he’d had time to do in his haste in leaving the Ecoliae. Then he hung his spare clothing in the armoire, and put his additional undergarments in the dresser. The chamber had been recently-and hurriedly-cleaned, he suspected, but whoever had done so had been thorough, because there was no dust anywhere.
He walked to the single narrow window and eased it open, enjoying the cool breeze and looking westward, although all he could see were the western walls and the sky above them, which held puffy clouds in the distance.
His room was doubtless one of the coldest in the palace in winter, but possibly one of the more comfortable in harvest and early fall, but it was also the farthest from the palace center where Rescalyn and Straesyr conducted the affairs of the governor on behalf of Lord Bhayar. Definitely, for the moment, at least, they didn’t want him too close to anyone.
He sat down at the desk and took out the mysterious missive, studied the script that spelled out his name, then used his belt knife and a touch of imaging to remove the blue wax seal without damaging the imprint. The first words told him the identity of the writer-and had she been anyone but Bhayar’s sister, he would have recognized the writing immediately. He just hadn’t believed that she would have written him.
Dear Scholar Quaeryt-
I take this liberty in writing you to continue the discussion we began in Solis, and I hope that this missive finds that you have arrived in health for your duties on behalf of Lord Bhayar …
Lord Bhayar? He shook his head. Without any reference to Bhayar as her brother, anyone who intercepted and read the letter could only assume that the writer was a woman-from the graceful script-highly placed in the court in Solis. Only someone who knew the court would likely understand to whom the “V” as a signature referred. But the references and the dispatch by Telaryn courier would make it more likely that, even if intercepted and read, the missive would reach him and also, he had to admit, give anyone with less than charitable intentions toward him some pause before acting immediately.
Had Vaelora thought that out as well?
Based on both letters he had received so far, he had to believe that she did-and that meant he was far more involved in the intrigues surrounding Bhayar than he’d ever had any intention of being … especially since one of the reasons he’d left Solis was to avoid such intrigues, knowing that he had no real power in the court.
… also trust that you have had a chance to think over my previous thoughts, unschooled as they may be, in view of your own observations …
… Lord Bhayar has observed on previous occasions that pursuit of the practical is most necessary for a ruler to be successful, but, from my own most limited experience, I believe that what is practical for one man may not be so for another, and even what is practical for most men may not be so for a woman. Likewise, what is practical for most women may not be so for most men. Such questions might seem to some as similar to an attempt to split a hair with a broadsword, yet the very raising of such an inquiry about any law or practice of a ruler can lead the way to greater insight and, one would trust, a more effective ruler.
Many have questioned the value of scholars and others who seek knowledge that has no apparent immediate value. I am no scholar, yet it would seem to me that the ores from which metals are refined have no immediate value, nor does a newborn babe have any immediate value …
Quaeryt could not but help smiling as he continued reading and finished the letter. He was also having trouble in not yawning.
He would have to reply to Vaelora, but he wasn’t about to try to write a cogent response after a long night with no sleep whatsoever … and certainly not when he still had not been able to deduce her motivations for writing. He re-folded the missive, then took both her letters and placed them in the document case.
The bed looked very inviting, and it would only take a few moments to make it up.
When Quaeryt woke, it was past noon, and by the time he had walked down to the main level, found the bath chambers, washed and shaved, and climbed back up to his quarters and changed into clean scholars’ browns, it was closer to half past first glass. The west wing was apparently deserted, not surprisingly for early afternoon on a working day, and he set out to explore the grounds of the Telaryn Palace, beginning with the area west of where he’d been quartered. Just beyond the west entrance to the building was a stretch of gravel, and beyond that a flat and level area that looked like it might be used for turf bowls.
He walked along the edge of the bowling green to the anomen, located in the shadow of the northwest corner of the walls. It was a comparatively small edifice, dwarfed by the walls, looking from the outside as though it could hold no more than two hundred congregants.
Is it just for the officers? Or does the chorister hold many services? From what Quaeryt knew, there was close to a regiment of Telaryn soldiers and cavalry quartered within the grounds of the palace or nearby.
He studied the anomen closely. The dome had been repainted recently, but the color was more yellow than the traditional gold, and while the main doors had been oiled recently, the oak was still streaked with the white created by too many long winters.
East of the anomen was another stone-paved lane that led back toward the eastern-and only-gates. To the south were more gardens and a narrow orchard, and to the north, what looked more like three-story town houses, set side by side. Quaeryt estimated that they were only six or seven yards wide, but close to ten deep, with their rear wall abutting the defensive walls. He began to count as he walked along the lane. After forty of the narrow houses, there was a small park-like area, where a handful of small children played, watched by a white-haired woman. East of the first forty houses were another forty, and then a large three-story structure with narrow windows that resembled the west wing of the palace, except that the windows were even narrower and closer together.
Housing for the more valued servants? That was Quaeryt’s best guess, although he would have guessed that there were tinier rooms beneath the palace itself for others less fortunate.
East of the servants’ housing were the structures for the soldiers, more narrow-windowed gray stone buildings, but they were constructed so that the first level held stables, and the two levels above, presumably barracks. After making his way into the stables and asking several ostlers, he found his mare, and she had been groomed and fed, as Straesyr had said, and his saddle carefully cleaned and racked.
When he left the stables, the sound of marching drew Quaeryt back to the entry courtyard. There two companies were drilling, one with pikes, and another carrying sabres. The pike company took up most of the space. He watched for a time, then made his wandering way through the gardens and miniature orchards. During the entire survey of the planted area, which took almost two glasses, and during which he tried to note every different plant and tree, he saw no one except four gardeners.
The more he saw, the more he realized that the “Telaryn Palace” held the equivalent of a small city within the graystone walls.
At just before fifth glass, Quaeryt stepped into the mess in the west wing, to be greeted by a senior squad leader in crisp undress greens. “Scholar Quaeryt?”
“All officers may sit at any table they please. The exception is at mess nights, when seating is by rank. The princeps has declared that, for purposes of mess night seating, your rank is that of the most junior captain.”
“What nights are mess nights?”
“Jeudi nights, unless otherwise announced.”
“Thank you.” For quarters, I’m field grade, but to the other officers, I’m a captain? Quaeryt stepped farther into the mess and quickly studied the tables. There were three long tables, each capable of seating twenty or so. There were but a handful of junior officers already present, and from what he could see of them, all wore the single silver bar of an undercaptain.
“I see you are pondering the anomalousness of being unnamed in a named hierarchy.…” The words were delivered from behind Quaeryt with sardonic lightness of tone.
He turned to see a gray-haired man wearing the green uniform of a Telaryn officer, if without rank insignia, but with a black-edged white triangle on each sleeve, recalling the black-edged long white scarf often worn by choristers of the Nameless. Like the other officers, his uniform was clean and pressed, but he did not wear a jacket, presumably because the weather remained too warm. “You must be the governor’s chorister.”
“More properly, the regimental chorister. Phargos, by name. You are obviously the new scholar.”
“A most appropriate appellation and one either greatly more or greatly less vulnerable to the egregiousness of Naming.”
“That is one way of describing it,” replied Quaeryt with a laugh.
“Would you care to join me?”
“I’d be pleased to.”
Phargos led the way to the table farthest from the door and sat in the last chair facing the door at what looked to be the foot of the table, assuming that the end of the chamber with the crossed banners represented the front.
Quaeryt took the seat across from him. “Phargos … From Montagne?”
“Cintella, actually, but that’s only ten milles from Montagne, farther from the ash and fumes of Mount Extel.” Phargos smiled. “This is where the juniors usually sit, except for the few more senior officers who occasionally deign to harass me … such as the one now approaching.”
Quaeryt half-turned as a deep baritone voice boomed out. “Phargos … I see you’re trying to convert another to nonspecific vagueness.”
“If you believe that, then you haven’t met too many scholars. He’s likely to have me scrambling to defend the entire tenet of the Nameless.”
“I’ve never seen you scramble-even when you were surrounded by those hill brigands.” The stocky major took the seat beside the chorister and across from Quaeryt.
“The backwoods barons of tall timber? What point was there in hurrying? The longer I took, the longer before they attacked, and the more time you had to reach us.”
“I told you they couldn’t be converted. They’re worse than the Duodeans…” The major broke off and grinned at Quaeryt. “I’m Skarpa, in charge of Sixth Battalion, cavalry.”
“Quaeryt, recently appointed scholar assistant to the princeps.”
“First a chorister, and then a scholar. Why did you get posted here?”
Quaeryt shrugged. “The short answer is that I couldn’t give Lord Bhayar an answer he liked.”
“What was the question?”
“Whether the people of Tilbor were so much different than other people and whether that was the cause of the continuing problems.” Quaeryt offered a wry smile. “I made the mistake of suggesting I couldn’t offer a good answer because I’d never been to Tilbor.”
Phargos frowned, then shook his head.
“Why so dour, friend?” asked the major.
“There is no answer to a question such as that.”
“Certainly, there is. Every person is similar in some ways to others. Every people is similar to every other in ways, but all peoples are formed by their lands, and that makes them different.”
“That is not the answer Lord Bhayar seeks,” pointed out the chorister. “Your answer is akin to saying that because all people must have names, all are in some fashion servants of the Namer.”
“Arguing again?” interjected another voice.
Quaeryt looked up to see a grizzled captain, apparently far older than the major.
“Why not? It’s more entertaining than complaining,” replied Skarpa. “Meinyt … have you met our new scholar assistant to the princeps?”
“Pleased to meet you. He could use one … if he’d listen or read anything besides the regimental ledgers and the Tilboran tariff records.”
“Careful … the princeps…”
“What can he do but complain to the governor? Rescalyn doesn’t have anyone else whose company can chase the backlands brigands through the winter snows.” Meinyt looked to Quaeryt. “You can even tell the princeps that.”
Quaeryt shook his head and laughed. “I’m a scholar, and I don’t think the princeps or the governor is about to listen to my words on military tactics and who’s best at what. I’ve already learned that scholars who say too much about what they don’t know are like fish.”
Phargos smiled, but said nothing.
“Like fish?” asked Meinyt.
“Did anyone ever catch a fish who kept its eyes open and its mouth shut?”
The two officers laughed, and Meinyt sat down beside Quaeryt.
By then the table was almost full, and as Phargos had said, most of those farther up the table looked to be undercaptains.
“You came all the way from Solis?” asked the captain.
“By sail, with one storm and a shipwreck.” Quaeryt offered a wry smile. “I thought it would be easier than riding, and I ended up riding the last part, from the Ayerne north, anyway.”
“Sometimes … trying to get out of things just gets you in deeper,” said Meinyt.
“That’s a lesson that’s hard to learn.” Quaeryt grinned sheepishly.
“Don’t tell me we’re getting fried squid again,” groaned Skarpa, looking at the platter that the server set in the middle of the table. “What’s wrong with plain old mutton?”
“It’s the season for squid,” replied Phargos. “Besides, most of the officers and men like fried squid, and the governor tries to make sure they get the fare they like.”
“I know,” sighed Skarpa. “But why the Namer do they all like squid?”
Meinyt laughed, and, for the rest of the meal, Quaeryt did his best to listen and say as little as possible.
Samedi morning Quaeryt was up early, not because he particularly wanted to be, especially with the soreness and bruises on his upper arm and shoulder, but because the officers’ mess was open only from fifth to sixth glass and because he wanted to eat before he met with Straesyr, and he hadn’t seen anywhere else around the palace and its grounds to obtain food.
He ended up sitting at the junior officers’ table, several spaces from two undercaptains. No one joined him, and he was reluctant to press himself on others. He did listen, but most of what he overheard dealt with duties and routine, except for a brief interchange.
“… kept talking about the sisters…”
“… so she’s got sisters…”
“… no … this was something different, like the scholars or the choristers…”
“Sisters? Never heard of them…”
“Me neither … gave me the chills … left her right there…”
That had been the second time Quaeryt had heard about the sisters, whatever they were, and it sounded like he needed to learn more about them.
After eating a breakfast heavy on oatmeal porridge, which was thicker and more solid than any Quaeryt had sampled almost anywhere else, along with ham strips, dark bread, and even fruit preserves, Quaeryt made certain that he was in the anteroom outside the princeps’s study a good half quint before the palace bells rang out seventh glass. Even so, he waited another half quint before the aide at the writing table, upon hearing a bell, said, “You can go in, scholar.”
Quaeryt opened the door, entered the study, and closed the door behind himself.
Straesyr did not rise, but gestured to the chairs in front of the table desk. He wore a pale green tunic instead of the blue, with a high collar that reminded Quaeryt of a factor, yet in a way, he wore it almost as if it were a uniform.
“I trust all the arrangements are satisfactory.”
“Most satisfactory, sir.” Quaeryt settled into the chair on the left. “The food in the mess is quite good.”
“The governor insists on good fare for both soldiers and his officers, among other things. He’s very particular about that.” Straesyr’s lips curled momentarily. “Before we begin on dealing with your mission, I’d be curious to know how you became acquainted with Lord Bhayar.” The princeps smiled, but his eyes remained icy blue.
“When we were younger, he studied with the same scholars as I did. Lord Chayar sent him to the Scholarium, rather than have him tutored in the palace.”
“It’s said that Lord Chayar also had him trained in arms, both with the rankers and with junior officers. What do you know of that?”
“Very little, sir. Once, in passing, he made a remark about the sons of High Holders and that they should all spend time being trained like rankers in his father’s regiments. That was the only time I recall him saying anything.”
“You didn’t spend time as a soldier or armsman, then?”
“So you’ve been a scholar from birth, essentially.”
“No, sir. I was orphaned very young in the Great Plague and raised by the scholars. I left the scholars and spent six years or so before the mast, and then persuaded them to take me back.”
“Why did you return to the scholars?”
“Seafaring isn’t a way of life that takes to questions. Too much has been learned at the cost of lives, and trying new ways usually doesn’t turn out well.”
“Isn’t that true of most ways of life?”
“It is.” Quaeryt smiled wryly. “But a scholar can ask a few more questions and has the time to try to work out better ways. Or to find better reasons why the old ways work as they do, and that sometimes leads to better ways as well.”
Surprisingly, to Quaeryt, the princeps nodded. “What better ways are you seeking for Lord Bhayar?”
“He hasn’t said.” That was certainly true enough. “He wants to know more about why the people of Tilbor are so difficult.”
“He could have asked the governor or me.”
“Could he, sir?” asked Quaeryt politely, keeping his tone very deferential.
Straesyr stiffened for a moment, then nodded again. “I see your point, scholar. Your presence is the only safe way to raise the question, and that is why Lord Bhayar appointed you as my assistant and not the governor’s.”
“Lord Bhayar never gave me a reason. He just gave me the appointment.”
“His father often did the same. Did you ever meet him?”
“What about other members of his family?”
“I was briefly introduced to one of his sisters. I have since received missives from her, inquiring about the prevalence of certain historical practices of rulers.”
“You are most careful about your responses,” observed the princeps.
“I am a scholar beholden to others, sir. They often have many sources of information, as do you. Untruths would be inadvisable, as well as unwise.”
“What do you want to know from me?” asked Straesyr calmly, as if he had discovered what he wished to find out.
“A number of matters … but I would begin with the latest. Last night at the mess, I couldn’t help but overhear officers talking about the backlanders and the timber barons, as if they remained a considerable problem for you and the governor.”
“At one time or another, anyone with arms or power has been a problem,” replied Straesyr. “You did, however, hear correctly. Those who are currently fomenting the most trouble are those in the Boran Hills. Even the few … disruptions near Tilbora appear to be linked to them. I suspect that they are supported by the landholders there who are not High Holders. I have little trust in the High Holders, either, but whenever possible High Holders attempt to have others shed their blood and spend their golds.”
“Why would those landholders in the hills be interested in taking on Lord Bhayar’s forces? From what little I know, you and the governor have been fair to all in applying the laws, and that would seem to benefit them more than the High Holders.” Those were guesses on Quaeryt’s part, but they fit what he had observed so far.
“That is indeed a question. The old Khanars maintained a guard strong enough to defeat any two or three High Holders, but it was not large enough to deal with even a handful of them at once. So the Khanars tended not to upset the High Holders.”
“What happened to the Guard?”
“When the Pretender was defeated in battle-just below the palace, in fact-he attempted to retreat behind the walls, but the Guard closed the gates and left the Khanar and his clan followers to face Lord Chayar. The Guard commander claimed that the Pretender wasn’t the true Khanar of Tilbor. That made matters easier for Lord Chayar, even though he privately deemed the Guard unworthy. He didn’t want to execute all that were left of the two thousand. So he disbanded the Guard and exiled the officers to either Bovaria or Antiago … well, also Khel, but that was just before Kharst began his campaign to take over Khel.”
“Did any of the Guards take up arms against Lord Chayar later?”
Straesyr shrugged. “I doubt it. Some of them may have, but if they did, it had to be with the backwoods holders.”
“None of the High Holders caused trouble?”
“Only one. He refused to pay the overtariff Lord Chayar imposed. Chayar pulled down his holding and killed him. He had me sell off half the lands to pay the tariff and the costs of the attacks, and left the rest to the widow and heirs.”
That was a slightly different story than the one Quaeryt had heard from Sarastyn, but he nodded. “After that I take it no one refused to pay tariffs.”
“Not so far.” The princeps gave a short laugh. “Not in the nine years since.”
“How have the merchanters, factors, crafters, and growers done with their tariffs?”
“They pay them. Sometimes a few are late. There were more who were late until the governor-that was Governor Fhayt, the one before Governor Rescalyn-sent armed squads to collect.”
“I’d heard that there have been attacks on soldiers.”
“There have been,” admitted Straesyr.
“On men alone at night?”
“Oh … there have been a few killed by thieves and brigands. That happens everywhere. No. The attacks by their so-called partisans have been on squads on collection duties in the backlands.”
“Have you lost any entire squads?”
“Once, last year. Now we send out at least a company. We rotate the companies, except in the winter, when we use those trained in the snow.”
“Have you captured any of these partisans?”
“None who know anything. When we have, they’ve changed their meeting places.”
“What sort of weapons do they use?”
“They prefer to pick off soldiers with arrows or quarrels, rather than fight close at hand. That’s one reason why the regiment has few archers.”
Quaeryt couldn’t help frowning. The princeps’s statement seemed to make no sense.
“I see I’ve puzzled you. Tilbor is different. The towns are farther apart. Even the trees in the forests are farther apart. Their archers hide in trees or fire and run. Against these tactics, archers, even mounted archers, are mostly useless. Archers are far more effective against massed bodies of men, especially on foot and in the open. Cavalry or mounted infantry that can move quickly through the woods or on the roads are less of a target and are more effective at chasing the brigands down. The regiment does have one company of archers, but they’re seldom used.” Straesyr smiled tightly. “I’ll talk to the governor when he returns about letting you read the dispatches. I don’t see a problem, but that has to be his decision.”
“Thank you. Do you or the governor meet often with any of the High Holders?”
“We hold a reception here once every season. I think every single one and his wife have attended at least one a year. Every so often the governor is invited to dinners at the local High Holders’ estates, and he makes announced and unannounced visits with a cavalry company to different High Holders on a continuing basis. They do come to meet with the governor when they have problems with a ruling from the governor or Lord Bhayar. I’m the one who meets more often with factors and local merchants.…”
Quaeryt listened, asking a question now and again, for almost a glass.
“… that’s about all I can tell you. Do you have any questions that bear on your duties?” Straesyr finally asked.
“Scholars are respected in Solis, if warily, but in Nacliano, they are driven out. How have you seen them regarded here?”
“They have a school and a Scholars’ House to the southwest of here. I would say that they are regarded as in somewhat the same fashion as in Solis. Why do you ask?”
“I will need to ride through Tilbora and perhaps farther to gather information. I would rather not be a target.”
“You may be anyway, once others discover you are attached to the governor’s staff.”
Quaeryt laughed softly. “That is possible, but I doubt that most Tilborans would go out of their way to try to find out if one scholar is the one working for the governor as opposed to however many are not.”
“You do have a point there, until they come to recognize you.”
“Did the Khanar have a library as well, something that might have histories of Tilbor?”
“That’s on the first level, and it’s open to all officers. There’s a guard there, but only to make sure no volumes vanish.”
“Are there any records of how the Khanar dealt with the High Holders and…”
“There’s an entire archive. That’s also guarded, but you’re welcome to look there. Do you really think…?”
“There’s always a possibility. It’s probably small, but since you wished me to remain within the palace until after the governor’s return, I thought it couldn’t do any harm.” Quaeryt offered a smile. “And scholars are supposed to dig into old books and records.…”
“Ah … quite so.”
“That’s all I can think of for now, sir.” Quaeryt waited.
“There is one other matter. You will need a study here in the palace … for those times when you are not actively pursuing your tasks or need a place to write where I or the governor can conveniently find you. There is a small vacant chamber three doors to the right as you go out of the anteroom. It is little larger than a small storeroom, but it is suitably appointed and has a window. I expect you to be there at seventh glass from Lundi through Samedi unless you have previously informed me otherwise. I also expect brief written reports weekly, to be on my desk on Lundi morning … again, unless you are traveling or otherwise occupied.”
“Yes, sir. There may be certain matters not best put in ink.…”
“Then just write in the report that you need time to brief me on a matter relating to your duties.”
Straesyr smiled wryly. “I had always heard that some seamen were almost as disciplined as soldiers, and I’m pleased to see that you appear able to fit into the regiment. I do hope you will not disappoint the governor and me in that regard.”
“That’s all I have. Vhorym will show you your study.”
Straesyr nodded a dismissal, and Quaeryt stood, inclining his head before turning and leaving.
The aide who had been seated at the table desk in the anteroom rose. “Sir … the princeps asked me to show you your study.” He handed the scholar a brass key.
“I’d appreciate that. You’re Vhorym?”
“I assume I give my weekly reports to you so that you can put them on the princeps’s desk?”
“Yes, sir. I do that for the officers who report to the princeps.”
After only a day at the Telaryn Palace, Quaeryt found himself thoroughly reminded just why he’d left the sea and returned to the scholars.
The study to which Vhorym guided Quaeryt was paneled in polished oak. Even the inside shutters were of oiled and polished oak, as was the writing desk, with clean lines and none of the carved ornamentation that distinguished the desk used by the princeps.
Once Vhorym had left, Quaeryt walked to the window and opened the shutters, allowing light to flood into the chamber. Then he sat down before the desk, thinking.
Among other matters, Straesyr’s point about Quaeryt’s eventually being a target concerned the scholar. He’d always been able to fade into the background with his concealment shields, but, as he’d discovered in dealing with Chardyn, there were times when concealment wasn’t enough, and he had the feeling that he would encounter more of those situations in Tilbor, possibly many more. There would also be times when too many people would be watching him for him to appear to vanish. After he’d almost died trying to image gold, he’d become wary of trying to discover new imaging skills, only working to develop those he’d read or seen were possible. There were tales of great feats of imaging, but Quaeryt had more than a few doubts about the veracity of such stories. Yet, for all those doubts, he was plagued by the feeling that he might be too cautious.
Then, too, he’d have to sort out how much of the truth lay in the princeps’s version of events, as compared to Chardyn’s version, or Sarastyn’s, and whether any of them were particularly close to what happened … if he even could.
In the end, Quaeryt decided he’d begin with the Khanar’s library. The young-looking squad leader at the table by the door took a quick glance at Quaeryt, then said, “You know you can’t remove any books from the chambers, sir?”
“The princeps made that clear, Squad Leader. I’m likely to be here a while.”
Quaeryt nodded, then turned and studied the library. He and the squad leader were the only ones in the library. The door through which he had entered accessed the center chamber of three. At each end of the main chamber was an archway some three yards wide leading into the adjoining room. In the middle of the center chamber, not four yards from him, was a large oval ceramic stove with a freestanding stone chimney. On each end of the stove were open wood bins, half-filled. A series of dark brown leather armchairs were spaced in the middle of the chamber, all facing toward the wall that held the entry door.
Built-in dark wooden bookcases lined every wall and rose from roughly knee level to about two and a half yards above the floor, clearly designed so that most men could reach any volume without resorting to a ladder or a stool. Above the shelves on the wall beyond the stove were windows, each one less than two spans high, but almost a yard wide. Except for two windows, each a third of the way from the walls holding the archways into the other two rooms, the glass was set in frames that did not allow them to be open, and Quaeryt could not see through them. That was because, he realized, there was another pane of glass set perhaps half a handspan behind the first, again except for the two windows that could be opened.
For a moment, he wondered at the arrangement, before realizing it was to allow more light into the library while minimizing draft through the windows by double-glazing all but two.
He began by studying each shelf, taking out a few books and leafing through them to see if they were shelved in a particular order. Each shelf was comparatively short, roughly two-thirds of a yard long. The first section of shelves all held books, largely slender, dealing with mathematics and measurements. So did the second section The third section dealt with medical matters, as did the fourth, while the fifth held tomes on herbs and their uses.
It took Quaeryt more than two glasses to complete his initial survey of the library, after which he sat down in one of the comfortable dark brown leather armchairs to think and rest his eyes. The history section comprised three sets of shelves, as did volumes on military tactics and statecraft, and there was one section on philosophy, and another on religion. There were almost three sets of shelves holding verse, but only a single set of shelves held plays and works of drama, but two sets of shelves held folders of music. A great many of those books had been read, some very well read.
What does that tell you about the Khanars?
If the books in the library were any indication, they-or some in the palace-were far more knowledgeable than either Bhayar or Chayar, not that such knowledge had availed them in the end.
Quaeryt decided to look more closely through the shelves on history and tactics. The leather bindings of several of the books on the topmost shelf were worn and close to splitting in places. He took down one and opened it to the title page-Meditations on the Art of Warfare. The author was a Mhoral Chardynsyn, Commander, Guard of the Khanar. The date was 614 E.K., and that meant nothing to Quaeryt. He leafed through the introduction, smiling as his eyes tracked one phrase.
… any commander must bear in mind that the greatest possibility of failure of execution always lies in the officers, for well-trained men and mounts seldom betray their training …
He replaced the book and kept looking, immediately passing on Basics of Foot Strategy and Pike and Blade Tactics. The next volume was thin and entitled Course of Instruction in Fortifications. Eventually, close to a glass later, he came to an older but well-thumbed volume-Considerations Behind the Strategy of War. He almost passed on it, except … there was the slightest gap in pages, and he opened the volume there to find a piece of notepaper and a passage that had been lightly bracketed with some sort of markstick.…
… while a ruler’s force of arms must always be superior to those of his holders, use of force should always be reserved for when no other alternative will achieve the ruler’s ends. In such cases, appropriate force should be applied before the enemies even know the ruler is considering such use.… Force of arms can be as limited as the assassination of a single enemy commander of great skill, or even of a cousin or other relation who would plunge a land into chaos, or as great as the conscription of every able-bodied man in the land … most skillful of rulers can see when to use assassination or other tactics to avoid the ruin that follows even the most successful of battles …
At the last sentence, Quaeryt had to nod. He unfolded the notepaper, apparently the bottom half of a larger sheet, on which were written the words “even ancient writers could see where the greatest dangers lay…” The cursive script looked feminine to Quaeryt, but it had the unnatural precision, he thought, of a young woman still under the direction of a scholar or private tutor. The very words reinforced that impression, because no truly experienced woman would leave such words in a book, even in her own library.
Could the writer have been the Khanar’s daughter? Tyrena, was it?
While not new, the paper didn’t look that ancient … but how many young women had access to the library over the years? On the other hand, how many would dare to leave such an incriminating scrap … unless that young woman happened to be untouchable?
He left the paper in the book and replaced it on the shelf.
After another quint of searching he did find a volume that recounted the history of Tilbor from the time of Nidar the Great through the time of Eleonyd’s father, who appeared moderately strong, if strangely indifferent. That tome occupied Quaeryt for several glasses, and one phrase particularly caught his attention.
… though some thought agreeing to it a weakness, the Charter proved to be the basis of the power of the High Holders and led to the relative decline of those holders who did not agree to its terms …
The only problem was that he couldn’t find much about the Charter, except that it was an agreement between the Khanar and some of the holders of that time. Quaeryt had the feeling that the Charter was one of those events that everyone at the time knew and therefore wrote little about it, only to have the details fade over the years. There was probably a book somewhere, but …
He shook his head.
Other books did provide various insights and by the time he needed to leave the library for the day, he thought he had a somewhat better grasp of Tilboran history, at least until the time of Eleonyd.
When Quaeryt finally entered the mess for supper, he could see far fewer officers-roughly half as many as on Vendrei night-but one was Major Skarpa, who motioned for Quaeryt to join him and another major. “This is Quaeryt. He’s the scholar assistant to the princeps I told you about. Quaeryt, this is Daendyr. He’s in charge of supplies for the regiment.”
“I’m pleased to meet you,” said Quaeryt as he took the seat across from Skarpa.
“I’ve never seen a scholar attached to a regiment before.”
“He’s on the governor’s staff,” Skarpa said. “They had to give him officer status.”
“What have you been doing today?” Skarpa handed the pitcher of amber lager to Quaeryt, who filled his mug.
“Seeing what was in the Khanar’s library.…”
“Who reads all that?” asked Daendyr.
“I’ve read some of them,” admitted Skarpa. “A couple of the books on mounted tactics are good.”
“Then why didn’t they use them?”
“The Khanar’s Guard did. They gave us a lot of trouble, even though we outnumbered them.” Skarpa shook his head. “Then, all of a sudden, they just withdrew, and left the Khanar and his militia or whatever they were outside the palace moat and walls. We would have taken them sooner or later, but it was a lot easier that way.”
“They didn’t have any imagers?” asked Quaeryt. “I heard…”
“Lord Chayar did something about that. We never heard. It wouldn’t matter anyway. Imagers can only do so much, and that doesn’t change things in a pitched battle.”
“What about the High Holders?” asked Quaeryt.
“What about them? They really didn’t fight any more than they had to. The ones here in the south didn’t like the Khanar much. They called him the Pretender or some such.”
“It sounds like he wasn’t very well-liked anywhere.”
Daendyr shook his head. “The backwoods and Boran Hills holders liked him, and so did the High Holders around Noira.”
“The High Holders in the far north don’t count for much. They never have,” countered Skarpa.
“Where do the sisters fit in?” asked Quaeryt.
“The sisters?” Daendyr’s face screwed up in puzzlement.
“Oh … they’re a bunch of spinsters who supposedly poison men who beat their wives,” explained Skarpa. “Something like that, anyway.”
“Where do you get that?” asked Daendyr.
“You hear things.”
“Makes me glad I didn’t wed a local.”
“Have you all been posted here since … since the end of the fighting?”
“We have,” said Skarpa. “They’ll rotate field-grade officers who are married after three years.”
“If they ask, and most won’t,” added Daendyr.
“What about the rankers?”
“They stay for the duration of their term.”
“When they’re mustered out…?”
“They get their bonus and a ride on a transport wagon back to Solis or the closest large town to where they signed up. If they’ve done two ten-year terms, they get a stipend for life. It’s not much, two silvers a month, but…”
“And the marshal sends replacement recruits?”
Daendyr shook his head. “Tilbor’s a part of Telaryn. We have to recruit locals now. We have been for more than eight years.”
“We haven’t had trouble that way at all,” added Skarpa. “The governor makes certain the troops get good rations, and the quarters are good. The uniforms are better than what most of them ever wore.”
“If it weren’t for the backwoods and the northern brigands, it’d be a better life than most of them would ever have.”
“It is anyway.” Skarpa’s tone was wry.
At that moment, a large platter of sliced roast mutton arrived, accompanied by a pitcher of brown gravy and sliced roast potatoes, as well as a large serving dish of spiced stewed apples.
“The mutton’s much better than squid,” observed Skarpa.
“It’s good, but I still like the squid,” said Daendyr.
“You’re from Thuyl. You would.”
Quaeryt smiled and served himself healthy portions of everything before him. It had been a long day since breakfast, and the mess didn’t serve a midday meal.
After eating, and mostly listening, as Quaeryt walked back toward his third-floor quarters, thoughts swirled through his mind. He was getting a picture of how matters were going in Tilbor, and it did appear that the troubles facing the governor and the regiment centered on the backwoods holders and the northern High Holders. In that vein, he also found it interesting that both Phaeryn and Zarxes were from backwoods holder families. He needed to find out if Straesyr or the governor knew that, but, since he wanted to avoid total destruction of the Ecoliae and persecution of scholars, he definitely couldn’t ask directly. He also wasn’t ready to reveal what he’d been doing in the days before he’d arrived at the Telaryn Palace.
And he did need to write some sort of reply to Vaelora.
He also couldn’t help but wonder about the note he’d found in Considerations Behind the Strategy of War. If it had been written by Tyrena, given the handwriting, it had likely been written several years before the war … and if it had been that obvious to her …
He shook his head.
If anything, there were fewer officers at breakfast on Solayi morning than on Samedi night. Quaeryt ate alone, then made his way to the chamber in the lowest level of the palace that held the archives of the khanarate. As the princeps had said, the entry was guarded by an older ranker.
“Good morning, sir. The assistant to the princeps said you might be here.”
“I’m here. Do you know anything about how the records are arranged?”
“No, sir.” The ranker paused. “Excepting that all the papers from the last year or so are in the four wooden boxes on the long table just inside. There.” He pointed. “I’d be guessing that there was no one left to put them in proper order.”
“That might have been difficult,” agreed Quaeryt. “Thank you.”
“My pleasure, sir. Don’t see many down here.”
Quaeryt stepped into the chamber, a stone-walled and windowless enclosure a good ten yards wide and forty deep. The chamber was so still that he could hear the unevenness of his steps and the scuffing sound of the boot on his bad leg. There were two oil lamps lit, both near the table pointed out by the guard, but the rest of the space faded from gloom into near blackness.
He walked to the box nearest the door and stopped. When he lifted the wooden top off the box, a container a yard long, and half a yard deep and tall, he immediately saw that, if anything, the ranker had understated the lack of organization. Papers of all sizes and types, some in leather folders, but most not, were just crammed in, side by side. Dust billowed out, as if no one had looked in the boxes for some time.
He eased the first box to the rear of the long sturdy table and took out the first span of papers from the right end of the box and then set them on the table in front of the box. He picked up the first sheet, glanced at a cargo manifest of some sort, saw that it dealt with woolens and other types of cloth, and set it aside. The second, third, and fourth sheets comprised a petition from a town council requesting the Khanar improve the bridge over a stream because the horses of the Khanar’s Guard had damaged it beyond the ability of the town to repair and it required replacement.
Quaeryt read through three handspans’ worth of paper before he came across the first sheet that interested him, a proclamation that declared officers of the “militia of the northern Boran Hills” bore their ranks equivalent to those of the Guard of the Khanar. The document was signed by Rhecyrd, Khanar of Tilbor. He set that aside and kept looking, not that he knew precisely what he sought.
Shortly thereafter, he found a letter addressed to Eleonyd, Khanar and Patriarch of Tilbor, written by one Fhaedyrk, High Holder of Dyrkholm. Most of it was flattery and obfuscation, but one paragraph stood out.
… the wealth of Tilbor lies in two sources, that of its High Holders and that combined which derives from its growers, factors, and crafters. Both create greater wealth from lesser sources, as opposed to the timber holders of the hills, who harvest what they have not grown in greater amounts than the forests will sustain in years to come, and the clans of the north who prey on all who are weaker … In all your efforts to improve Tilbor, and in regard to the revisions suggested in tariffs, you and your predecessors have kept these sources in mind, and continuing such may well be in the best interests of the khanarate …
He’d heard the name Fhaedyrk, but he couldn’t remember where. So he set that letter aside as well and kept reading through the assorted papers. At the end of another glass, he’d found a missive from Chayar’s ill-fated envoy announcing his arrival and suggesting that Eleonyd meet with him at his earliest convenience, with the barely veiled suggestion that matters of mutual interest should be considered sooner rather than later, but there was no mention of what those matters might be.
Then, after another few quints, he came across another letter under the crest of the Khanar, this one signed by Tyrena, as regent for Eleonyd, Khanar of Tilbor. He almost overlooked it, because it was in the back of a leather folder behind a flap, and he’d been about to replace the folder in the box when he realized there was a flap and lifted it. After he finished reading it, he nodded. Although the bulk of the text dealt with routine matters before the Khanar’s Council, there were several suggestive phrases.
… as for consideration of tariffs on the timber road, that is a matter that will be reviewed at the next session of the Khanar’s Council …
… at this time no funds can be spent on paying for enlarging the harbor at Noira … better funded by the High Holders and factors of the north as they are the only ones who might benefit …
… the matter of the potential marriage of the heiress of the Khanar will also be discussed at the next Council meeting …
… discussion of the dispatch from the Autarch of Antiago will resume …
While the text had been written by a scrivener, the signature was different and, from what Quaeryt could recall, similar to that on the note he’d discovered in the tactics book, although the signature seemed more mature. After studying the letter again, Quaeryt checked back through the other leather folders he had already looked at, but none contained anything else hidden behind flaps, and another glass of looking revealed nothing else dealing with Tyrena.
By midafternoon, his eyes were blurring from all of the searching through papers and documents, but he did manage to complete going through the four disorganized boxes of papers, bills of lading, proclamations, even scattered ledger sheets. The one thing that was very clear was that the last days of the khanarate, if the documents were any indication, had been hectic and disorganized. Still, he had perhaps twenty documents that might prove of interest. He slipped them into the folder that had concealed the letter signed by Tyrena, and placed that folder at the end of the third box.
That single letter from Tyrena raised several questions. First … if she had acted as regent for her father, why was there only one letter? Or had there been more, and the others removed? That was most likely, given that the single letter he’d found had been tucked behind a flap in a folder containing other papers. But, if there had been others, who had removed them? Rhecyrd? Or one of his assistants, on the Pretender’s orders? Would Quaeryt ever know?
He doubted it.
As blurry as his eyes felt by then, roughly at third glass, he left the archives and walked through the gardens and back to his quarters, where he sat down and began to compose a reply to the missive Vaelora had dispatched. He tried to think out each sentence carefully before he wrote it.
Dear Mistress Vaelora-
I arrived in Tilbora on the twenty-seventh of Agostas and received your latest missive then. My journey took longer than I had anticipated because I had to wait for a ship sailing from Nacliano to Tilbora. Unfortunately, the ship encountered a storm and went on the rocks well south of Tilbor. It took a good week for me to recover at the holding of a kindly couple, and then more than another week to ride north to Tilbor. I regret the delay in my replying to your inquiries.
Your last communication raised eloquently the difficulty of objectively determining what might be the most practical course of action for a ruler, given that the best possible judgments of those around the ruler might well differ, even if all had his best interests in mind. In addition, some might not have those interests in mind, and often those who are the least inclined to further a ruler’s best interests are also the most eloquent. How then should he judge whose counsel is of most value? All circumstances differ, but I would suggest that the ruler offer to those advising him a plausible course of action in dealing with the matter at hand, but one which he knows is flawed, and request their counsel. How they respond may tell him much.
You had also commented upon the value of scholars, and you might find it of interest to learn that the fashion in which people perceive scholars varies more widely across Telaryn than one might suppose. In Nacliano, the Scholars’ House was burned and the scholars dispersed, if not subjected to worse abuse, because a scholar taught the wife of a City Patrol chief reading and mathematics because she wished to aid her husband. Unhappily, what she read and calculated so horrified the poor woman that she fled, and the Patrol chief took steps to make sure that scholars troubled Nacliano no more.
With that much written, Quaeryt set aside his reply for the moment, since he did not want to dispatch it immediately, in any case, not until he had met with the governor.
The mess was more crowded that evening, but Quaeryt saw that Skarpa was surrounded by other officers. He sat with several undercaptains, mainly listening and offering innocuous pleasantries or simple factual replies on the few times he was asked questions.
After eating, he made his way to the anomen, largely because he wanted to see who would be there and hear what Phargos might offer in his homily.
The double doors of the gray stone anomen were of polished but well-weathered oak, and the brass hinges shone. Two lanterns, unlit, given that the sun had not yet set, also gleamed, despite the fact that the anomen lay in the shadow of the massive walls. Inside, which was larger than Quaeryt had originally judged, the wall lanterns were lit and cast a diffuse but warm glow across the officers and rankers gathered there between the oak-paneled walls. Quaeryt had never seen an anomen with paneled walls, not that he’d ever been in more than a handful of anomens, but the walls were without adornment of any sort, as was the fashion. What was strange was that there were far more officers than rankers.
Quaeryt took a position on the east side near the rear and waited. Several undercaptains followed him inside, but no one stood that close to him.
Shortly, Phargos moved to the center of the dais. He did not wear the vestments of a chorister, but his uniform, if with the long scarf that all choristers wore during services. The regimental chorister began with the greeting. “We gather together in the spirit of the Nameless and to affirm the quest for goodness and mercy in all that we do.”
Quaeryt’s mouth almost dropped open, because Phargos had offered the greeting in perfect Bovarian, not Tellan, and that might well explain the scarcity of rankers among the worshippers.
The opening hymn followed, and it was “Praise Not the Nameless,” also sung in Bovarian. Likewise, the confession was also in Bovarian, although Quaeryt could tell some of the more junior officers were stumbling occasionally, but they did seem to have the last words down. “… and deference to You who cannot be named or known, only respected and worshipped.”
Quaeryt murmured “In peace and harmony” with the others, and slipped only a copper into the offertory basket. His wallet was getting thin, and he didn’t want to try imaging within the stone walls.
Phargos ascended to the pulpit for the homily with the crispness of an officer. “Good evening,” he offered in Bovarian.
“Good evening,” came the murmured reply.
“Under the Nameless all evenings are good…”
Although he couldn’t help but wonder why the services were being conducted in Bovarian, Quaeryt had no trouble listening. Phargos’s voice was resonant and carried, and much of what he said made sense, especially one part.
“… why is the term ‘sir’ not only respectful, but especially appropriate for an officer of the regiment?” Phargos paused, then went on. “It is appropriate because it conveys respect without using a name, and Naming is not only a sin, but it also undermines the discipline of the regiment. When titles and names are too frequently used, they supersede, with few realizing it, the common purpose of the regiment. Men, even officers, puff themselves up if they hear their titles and name too often. An ancient sage once observed that the surest sign of a land’s decline is when the length of the title of its ruler exceeds the length of his name manyfold … or when both take longer to say than the sentence which follows…”
A low laugh came from several officers at that. Quaeryt smiled.
After the benediction, Quaeryt lingered, since he saw Meinyt and Skarpa heading in his direction.
“You came to services, scholar,” said Skarpa, his tone mock-accusatory.
“I did indeed.”
“But are not scholars dubious of the Nameless?”
“We are dubious about everything, but in that regard, we follow the precepts of Rholan, because he was dubious about names. We’re dubious about names … and a few more things as well.”
“Is there anything that you’re not dubious about?” asked Skarpa sardonically.
“Only that seasons follow seasons, that rulers will always tariff, and that death comes to all.”
“That leaves more doubt in life than most can accept.”
“True,” replied Quaeryt, “but what men and women will accept and what they believe to be does not make such certain. It only comforts them.”
“You sound more cynical than the Namer,” observed Meinyt dryly.
“No. The Namer uses names to convey certainty where there is none. False certainty is the hallmark of the Namer.”
“You should have been a chorister.”
Quaeryt laughed. “I think not.” Not when you’re not even certain that there is a Nameless.
The three walked together back toward the west wing, where Quaeryt took his leave and climbed up to his chamber.
On Lundi morning, Quaeryt made certain he was in his assigned study a good half quint before seventh glass, then walked over to the princeps’s anteroom.
“Vhorym, is there any special format I should use for my reports?”
“The standard form is like this, sir.” The squad leader turned to the wooden box beside his table desk and lifted the hinged cover, removing a thin leather folder and laying it on the desk before extracting a single sheet. “You see? The top line is the addressee, the second is the writer, the third the subject, and the last line of the heading the date.” He slipped the sheet back into the folder, and then replaced it in the file box.
“You’re very organized.”
“The governor … and the princeps … wouldn’t have it any other way, sir.”
“Vhorym. One other thing … the princeps mentioned that when I do leave the palace grounds, I’m to log out. Where do I do that?”
“In the gatehouse just inside the south side of the main upper gates, sir. There’s a log for both missions and individuals.”
“Thank you. Later today, if the princeps asks, I’ll be down in the archives chamber. I should be there most of the day.” With that, Quaeryt returned to his study, where he remained, thinking, until two quints past the bells striking seventh glass. Then he left the study and made his way down to the lower level of the palace to continue his perusal of the seemingly innumerable boxes of papers in the more than capacious archives.
While he had hoped to move from box to box, reading each in place, he ended up carrying a box at a time to the table under the lamps, because none of the other wall lamps held oil, and a hand lantern would have shed so little light that reading the papers would have been even more difficult.
Thankfully, the documents in the other file boxes were in fact organized, not only by date, but by subject matter as well. By midmorning, Quaeryt had located and read through a set of files that contained records of all meetings of the Khanar’s Council for the three years prior to the last year of the khanarate, documented in a haphazard way by the scattered files in the first four boxes. He would have liked to have seen all of them, but what was missing was likely destroyed, especially anything bearing on the change in rulers.
The Council records were mostly routine. One entire meeting had been devoted to the question of wastes being dumped into rivers and in particular, the Albhor River. Another meeting had been on whether the Khanar should set up a mint in the palace or continue to have coin struck by the gold- and silversmiths in Tilbora, and yet another had dealt with the penalties for conviction for logging on the properties of another. From what he could tell, not a single file was missing from that period, and all were reported either one hand or another, only two scripts alternating over the three years.
Studying all those files took him until the second glass of the afternoon, when he left for a time to get some water-from one of the pitchers in the princeps’s anteroom-followed by a walk in the gardens, where he filched a late apple from one of the trees. The apple was crisp, but tart. Then he sat on a stone bench shaded by a well-trimmed juniper and thought about all that he had read so far that day.
There wasn’t a single mention in any of the reports about trouble with either timber holders or High Holders in the north. Nor was there any mention about Tyrena, directly or indirectly. The impression he’d received was of a land at peace with itself. That left three likely possibilities. Either Eleonyd was being deceived by everyone on the Council and everyone reporting to him, or he managed the reports to eliminate any mention of unpleasantness, or the land was truly at peace with itself. Since the reports didn’t really go anywhere, and no one was ruling over Eleonyd, it was unlikely that the Khanar was having false reports made, or even that someone had substituted reports later, because what would have been the point after the khanarate had fallen?
From what little Quaeryt had seen of Tilbor, except for the backwoods and timber holders, the people didn’t seem especially unruly. Stubborn and stiff-necked in a quiet way, but not rebellious … and if the regiment had been successfully recruiting for years …
He paused-except for the scholars, and that might be because of Phaeryn’s and Zarxes’s connections to the timber holders. He rose from the bench, stretched, and took a deep breath, then headed back down to the archives.
By two quints past fourth glass, his eyes were again blurring in the dim light of the two lamps in the archives, and it was getting close enough to time for the evening meal. He had to admit that he was surprised not to have found any other mention of Tyrena in any of the papers he’d viewed, but then, in that time period, she’d been old enough that little would have been said, and young enough, if Chardyn and Sarastyn were accurate, that marriage was not yet an issue. Or … someone had removed the papers dealing with her.
While that omission bothered him, he doubted that, except for satisfying his own curiosity, it was terribly relevant to his mission for Bhayar. Still … until he knew otherwise, he couldn’t just dismiss the absence of Tyrena from the records.
He was just heading up the lower staircase when he saw Vhorym coming down.
“Sir? The princeps wanted me to let you know that the governor will see you at ninth glass tomorrow morning.”
“Ninth glass. Thank you. Ah … where is his study?”
“It’s on the other side of the rotunda exactly opposite the princeps’s study.”
“My pleasure, sir.”
Quaeryt let the squad leader hurry back up the stone steps, then made his way to the wash room near the mess, before returning to join the officers in the mess.
“Scholar … come join us!” The call came from a tall captain that Quaeryt didn’t even recall seeing before.
Quaeryt smiled and walked toward the table closest to the door, where the captain stood. “I’m Quaeryt, formerly with the Scholarium Solum in Solis.”
“Kalphryn, senior captain, engineers.” He gestured to the place across from him.
“Thank you.” Quaeryt sat, as did the captain.
“Captain Meinyt said you came out from Solis. What news do you have?”
“Solis is still as hot as ever in summer and harvest,” Quaeryt said wryly. “Nothing’s burned down; no one’s at war, or wasn’t when I departed; and I should have ridden overland with a courier, even if I’m not quite the worst rider in Lydar, because coming by ship got me wrecked and near-drowned.”
Kalphryn smiled; the two captains beside him laughed.
“We heard Rex Kharst had his eyes on Antiago,” said Kalphryn.
“He probably does, but the word in the tavernas was that he was still having trouble with Khel.”
“Word also is that you’re getting dispatches from Solis.”
Quaeryt managed to laugh immediately. “Yes … I did get a missive from one who would rather be a student of mine, and it asked about how a scholar would determine how to trust those who would give advice.”
“He must be wealthy.”
“She is … and far beyond my reach, especially given her family’s proclivity to marry well. I’m doubtless a diversion. As for other news … there’s a new minister of finance, but I don’t recall his name, and there’s also a new pleasure house a mere five blocks east of the palace.…” Quaeryt went on for a time, trying to recall every bit of news and trivia that he could, occasionally taking a sip of the lager that had appeared in the mug before him, before finally ending, “… and on the voyage here, I did discover that the City Patrol chief of Nacliano doesn’t like scholars, or bookstores, and that some merchanters are now carrying cannon with shells that hold Antiagon Fire. That’s likely to mean that whatever war gets fought next will be largely on land.” Quaeryt turned to the engineer captain. “You have more experience in that, far more, than do I. What do you think?”
“Nasty stuff, Antiagon Fire … not that much of it, though … few imagers can create it … still … you’d need warships with iron hulls and decks, and they’d be slow and sluggish under sail … be costly and take forever to build, too…”
Quaeryt nodded and kept listening, even as he took a healthy helping of the sauce-covered cutlets and mashed potatoes on the platter passed down the table.
After breakfast on Mardi, Quaeryt went to his small but well-appointed study, where he settled in to think about all the documents he had read over the previous three days and what they had conveyed to him. At half a quint before ninth glass he crossed the second level of the palace to the south side and entered the anteroom to the governor’s study.
An undercaptain in pristine greens looked up from the table desk nearest the closed door to the study. “Scholar Quaeryt. Please have a seat. The governor will be ready for you shortly.”
Quaeryt sat in one of the wooden captain’s chairs set just out from the wall. He’d barely settled himself when the door to the study opened and a trim but muscular man of moderate height stepped out, wearing perfectly tailored undress greens, with the silver starbursts of a marshal on his collars and everything in place from his short blond hair, interspersed with a few silver strands, down to his polished black boots. The cheerful-looking pale green eyes that flanked a straight strong nose took in Quaeryt, and a smile appeared on the governor’s lightly tanned and weathered face.
“So you’re the scholar Lord Bhayar sent?”
“Yes, sir. Quaeryt Rytersyn.”
“Come in.” With another smile, Rescalyn gestured and turned, as if expecting Quaeryt to follow him.
Quaeryt did, and the undercaptain quickly stood and moved to close the study door behind him.
Rescalyn did not seat himself behind the wide but simple table desk that held only a single leather folder. Instead, he stood by the window, not facing toward either it or Quaeryt. “Beautiful day, isn’t it? It’s hard to believe that in little more than a season, the snow will begin to fall.”
Quaeryt knew that the cold struck early in Tilbor … but snow in the middle of autumn? “It’s a long winter here, I take it.”
“Especially compared to Solis … if you can call the slight chill there in Ianus and Fevier winter.” The governor turned. “Do sit down.” He seated himself and waited several moments before speaking again. “The princeps tells me that you’re here to find out why the Tilborans are so stiff-necked and ungovernable.”
“I don’t believe-”
Rescalyn laughed genially and waved off Quaeryt’s words. “Spare me the politely worded qualifications and denials. He’s the Lord of Telaryn. He wants to know why I continue to need a full regiment, with supporting battalions, and all the golds they require ten years after his father conquered Tilbor. Either that or the High Holders in the rest of Telaryn are complaining about their tariffs, and he needs a better explanation. He’s got his hands full with the border problems with Kharst and with the Autarch of Antiago, and the last place he wants to be is another thousand milles farther away. So he sent you. I understand. There’s nothing mysterious about it.”
Quaeryt couldn’t help but be impressed by the governor’s words and understanding, not to mention the warmth and understanding in his tone, or the amused smile with which Rescalyn had finished his statement. “He did express concern.”
“Of course he did. Any ruler with brains would be concerned, and I’m glad to see that he is. I’ll be more than happy to make sure that you see and understand fully the problems we’re facing here, and I’ve already conveyed to the princeps that you’re to be given every opportunity to verify anything he or I may tell you-or to find, if you can, anything that contradicts what we may say. I doubt that you’ll find anything contrary to what we’ve reported to Lord Bhayar, but I can definitely understand why he needs to know. The best place to start would be the dispatch files, and when you leave here, I’ll have Undercaptain Caermyt take you there.”
“I appreciate that.”
“I understand you’ve been studying in the Khanar’s library and the archives of the khanarate. What do you think so far?”
“If the archives represent what happened, it appears that Tilbor was relatively well-governed until the last years, and then all internal organization in the palace suffered.”
“You’re being careful in a scholarly way. When Eleonyd sickened, everything collapsed. That was always the problem with the khanarate. It all rested on the organization and personal strength of the Khanar. If he was strong and disciplined, so was Tilbor. If not … well … you can see what happened. That’s always a problem in governing. If there’s not enough structure, and the leadership is weak, the land falls. If there’s too much structure, no matter what kind of leadership there is, the land is far weaker than it should be.” Another smile followed. “What did you think of the library?”
“I thought it most impressive, frankly.”
“So do I. I’ve read several fascinating books from there … when I’ve had time away from my duties.”
“Is there one you’d recommend?”
“The library has so many excellent volumes that I’d be doing it and you a disservice to pick any one out … although I will say that there are some outstanding works I’ve never seen before in among the volumes on history and tactics.” A more serious expression appeared. “What arrangements have you made for informing Lord Bhayar of your progress and findings?”
“I had thought that presumptuous until I was here.”
“So it would have been.” Rescalyn nodded. “I would suggest you send a report with the regimental courier who leaves for Solis every Vendrei morning at seventh glass. I don’t want to see your report, only that you make one, and I’ll go even farther. You can hand that sealed report to him just before he leaves the palace.”
“I’d be happy to-”
“Nonsense. That’s your report to your lord. There is one other recommendation I would offer. It’s up to you, of course, but I would suggest that you accompany patrols through various areas of Tilbor and see matters for yourself.”
“That’s very kind of you, sir, and I would like very much to do that. I’d also like to hear what you have to say. Lord Bhayar was most complimentary about your abilities and perception.”
“I’m not kind. Just practical.” Rescalyn paused. “I will certainly let you know what I think, but I will defer doing so until you have read the dispatches and seen more of Tilbor with regimental patrols. I’d like you to come to some conclusions before I say much.”
Quaeryt couldn’t argue with that logic, even as he respected the way in which the governor had maneuvered matters. He also had to ask himself why there was something about the governor that bothered him. Rescalyn had been open and polite and direct, and certainly pleasant. He also hadn’t mentioned the local scholars, and that suggested, again, that Quaeryt proceed carefully in dealing with that area.
Rescalyn stood. “It’s good to meet you, and I’m glad to see that Lord Bhayar shares my concerns about the unsettled nature of the hill country and backwoods here. Caermyt will show you the dispatch room.”
“Thank you, sir.” Quaeryt inclined his head in respect, then turned and left the study.
The undercaptain was on his feet well before the scholar closed the door to the governor’s study. “This way, sir.”
As he followed Undercaptain Caermyt down the main staircase, Quaeryt thought about the governor’s not-so-veiled order that he needed to accompany Telaryn soldiers into situations that might be dangerous. He couldn’t help but wonder why imagers couldn’t do more … or what they-or he-could do if he were caught in a battle situation. He decided that the lesser danger might be to do a little more in trying to expand his imaging abilities.
At the bottom of the staircase, the undercaptain turned back east along the main-floor center hallway, but only for about ten yards before he produced a key and unlocked the door. Then he handed the key to Quaeryt. “If you would lock the door and return the key to me whenever you’re not here, sir, the governor would appreciate it.”
“I’ll certainly do so, and thank you.”
“My pleasure, sir.” Caermyt turned and walked quickly back toward the main staircase.
Quaeryt stepped into the room, lit, as was the library, by thin high windows on the outer wall, and closed the door behind him. There were rows and rows of neatly stacked boxes, and a single wide table desk next to the inside wall almost beside the door. A bracket held a pair of lamps, positioned over the desk. Neither was lit, but a striker was set in a holder on the otherwise bare wooden surface.
Almost ten years of dispatches-and where was he supposed to begin?
Quaeryt shook his head and moved toward the last box, the one with the top beside it, rather than covering it. That was as good a place to start as any.
Quaeryt spent the rest of Mardi in the dispatch room, with various breaks, until time for the evening meal. While he talked occasionally, he mostly listened through the meal and for a time thereafter, before taking a walk through the gardens and retiring to his quarters.
After a good night’s sleep and an early breakfast, he appeared in the study assigned to him on Meredi morning, then retrieved the key from Undercaptain Caermyt and made his way back down to peruse more dispatches. The previous day, he had read the dispatches for most of the past year. While some of the details certainly supported what the governor and the various officers had revealed, he had learned little that was new, only gained more information that shed little light on why matters were as they appeared to be.
After what he had already read, he turned his attention to those from the first months after Lord Chayar had taken the palace-and found there were none. The first dispatches in the files began some four months after the fall of Tilbor, and they were from Governor Fhayt to Lord Chayar. The tone of Fhayt’s dispatches was markedly different from that of the later ones sent by Rescalyn. That Quaeryt could see almost from the first. He paused, then read several lines from one sent by Fhayt.
… the northern High Holders complain ceaselessly. They want the port of Noira rebuilt in stone. They want a coastal road from Midcote to Noira … The High Holders of the south are more polite. They ask me to consider how a new paved stone road from the river piers will lead to greater tariff collections. They want more. They say it better …
Quaeryt walked over to one of the first boxes he’d gone through and pulled out a dispatch from Rescalyn, almost at random, reading it in turn.
… tariff collection patrol south of the Boran Hills was attacked, but only one man was wounded. Three brigands were killed, and one captured, but he offered no useful information … now have three farriers trained, which will reduce costs of re-shoeing the cavalry mounts …
He nodded and replaced Rescalyn’s dispatch, then went back to reading the ones from Fhayt.
After reading through several months of dispatches, Quaeryt realized something-Fhayt had never mentioned timber holders or backwoods barons or the like. At times, he referred to attacks or incidents near or in the hills, but he never made any attributions as to who or what might be behind them.
By ninth glass, Quaeryt needed a break. He rose, snuffed the twin lamps, and then left the dispatch chamber, locking it behind him. He walked down the long main-level corridor until he reached the library, where he opened the door and stepped inside.
“You’re back again, sir.”
“There’s a lot to learn.” Quaeryt smiled. “You’re here most of the time, I take it?”
“Yes, sir. Well … me and Khernan, but I’m here in the day, and he’s here in the early evening.”
“I just wondered if you could help me out. I met with the governor yesterday, and he was commending the library to me, and he mentioned a history volume that he had found especially enlightening…” Quaeryt offered a helpless shrug. “I was trying to remember so much.… Is there any way…?”
“I couldn’t say which book it was, sir.”
“Oh … I was hoping … I hate to have to admit to him that I didn’t remember…”
“But … sir … he did insist that I write down any volume he took out of the library. He always returned the books, every one, but I do have a list here … that’s of the ones he’s taken in the last month or so. If you look at it … maybe that will jog your memory…”
“That would be so helpful. Thank you.”
Quaeryt studied the list of six books. One was listed twice. Then he coughed several times, bending over with the list in hand. When he was bent almost double, he concentrated on looking hard at the list and imaging it. Just before he straightened he slipped the second list inside his jacket.
“I’m sorry. I must have caught something in my throat. Thank you. I think it must have been the one called Historical Elements of Strategy. I’ll see if it’s here. Thank you again.”
“I’m glad I could help.”
“So am I. I would have hated to have had to bother the governor.”
“I understand that, sir.” The squad leader smiled.
It only took Quaeryt a fraction of a glass to locate Historical Elements of Strategy and to repair to one of the comfortable leather chairs. He did not so much skim or read the thin book, but study it, trying to deduce what sections appeared to be more heavily perused.
In the end, he thought three places had been read more often, a guess, based on a short blond hair, a tiny scrap of paper, and what appeared to have been turned-down page corners.
Only a guess, he reminded himself.
… no commander should ever forget that his men are his only resource and that his officers must be an extension of his will and must always set an example and demonstrate through acts that they care for their men. Yet that care must be seen as equal, fair, and above all impartial, and it should also demand that every man do his best in support of his comrades and of the objective to be attained … Nor should officers ever arrogate themselves above their men by their mere position. They must be superior in act, ability, and demeanor to those they command …
The second passage reflected on power more indirectly.
… the key to ruling is to assure support from those with power, whether that power be control of food supplies, access to rivers, or the ability to turn trade and commerce to one’s own ends …
One phrase on the third turned-down page struck Quaeryt particularly.
The best strategy is one carried out in such openness that no enemy, or ally, understands that it is a strategy until the trap is sprung.
Such openness that no one understands?
Quaeryt nodded. Those passages made sense, and they were practical, commonsense approaches that fit in with what little he’d seen of the governor.
He closed the book, replaced it on the shelf, and returned to the dispatch room.
By close to noon, Quaeryt had struggled through two years of dispatches, most of them dealing with the quiet stubbornness and intransigence of the locals, including the High Holders. Only a few dispatches mentioned attacks on soldiers, and while most took place in or near the hills or timberlands, there were still reports of attacks elsewhere. Then he read a very different dispatch.
… grieves me to report the wounding of Governor Fhayt in an unprovoked attack on his way to meet with High Holder Fhaedyrk … brigands were repulsed by the squad accompanying the governor, although that squad was outnumbered three to one … governor took three crossbow bolts … more than twenty brigands killed …
… immediately dispatched the Sixth Cavalry Battalion … followed the surviving brigands for twenty milles … captured another fifteen … revealed that the group had been recruited by a former officer of the Khanar’s Guard … only known as “the captain” … possible ties to timber holders north of the Boran Hills …
… as princeps, acting as governor and awaiting your decision, on who should best represent you in Tilbor …
The dispatch was signed by Straesyr.
For the next two weeks, so was every other dispatch. Then for another two weeks, the dispatches were again signed by Fhayt-including his last, that announced Rescalyn had arrived as his replacement as regional governor. But all the dispatches signed by either Fhayt or Straesyr seemed to report roughly the same things. While Quaeryt couldn’t be absolutely sure, not without counting, and that would have been even more tedious and time-consuming, it appeared to him that the number of attacks on Telaryn troopers were either holding steady or increasing very slightly over the next few years.
At some time close to third glass, there was a knock on the door to the dispatch room. Almost with relief, Quaeryt stood, turned, and opened the door.
Undercaptain Caermyt stood there. “Sir, the governor would like to know if you would like to accompany a patrol tomorrow.”
“Yes, I would.”
“Then you should be ready to mount up at half past seventh glass. The patrol will be led by Undercaptain Jusaph. He will be expecting you.”
“Thank you, and convey my thanks to the governor.”
“Yes, sir.” Caermyt turned and headed back toward the main staircase.
Quaeryt slowly closed the door and sat back down at the table desk. He hadn’t asked where the patrol was going, or what it was doing. He’d assumed it was just a daily patrol … but was it?
He looked down at the dispatch he’d been reading and then away, looking blankly at the paneled wall at the end of the chamber.
What exactly do patrols do?
For better or worse, he was about to find out.
He looked back down at the dispatch, finished reading it, and went to the next one.
Quaeryt was still thinking over all the dispatches he’d read in two days-close to two-thirds of them, he estimated-when he entered the officers’ mess for supper. This time he was earlier and took a place at the far table … and found that Phargos and then Skarpa joined him. With the major was a captain who looked to be about Quaeryt’s age.
“Taenyd, this is Scholar Quaeryt. He’s attached to the princeps’s staff.”
Taenyd nodded politely. “I heard we had a scholar now. Are you doing a history of the regiment or something?”
“More like a comparative history of Tilbor,” replied Quaeryt with a smile, pouring some of the lager. “I’m trying to write an explanation of why some Tilborans are so stiff-necked, especially those in the hills and the forests.”
“Most of- If you lived there, you’d be stiff-necked, too. The trees are so tall and thick that it’s always gloomy, even in midsummer. In winter, the snow’s always drifting down, even when it hasn’t snowed for days. It’s too cold to bathe, and most of the hill scum stink more than rank sows.…”
“Enough … enough,” protested Skarpa with a laugh. “You tell him too much, and he won’t have the scholarly joy of discovering it all on his own.”
“Scholarly joy? Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?” countered the captain, immediately flushing and turning to Quaeryt. “I’m sorry, sir.”
“For some scholars, you’re probably right,” admitted Quaeryt cheerfully. “And I’m sure not all Tilborans are stiff-necked. Some seemed very friendly when I rode through Tilbora.” He didn’t want to say more than that. He took a swallow of the lager-far better than that which he had had at the Ecoliae or the Jardyna.
“Most people in Tilbora are. They’re practical,” said the captain. “That’s why they get along with the governor.”
“He seems very practical.”
“That could be his patronymic,” interjected Phargos.
Conversation slowed as the platters appeared, this time a form of ribs stewed in a red sauce, accompanied by seasoned rice with raisins. Quaeryt had to admit that the food in the mess was excellent. After a time, he looked to Skarpa and asked in a low voice, “Is the fare the men get…?”
“Pretty much the same. The setting’s not nearly so nice. That’s the difference.”
Quaeryt nodded and took a swallow of the lager. The ribs were pepper-spiced and every bit as hot as anything he’d had in Solis.
“I saw you at the service on Solayi, scholar,” offered Phargos.
“I enjoyed your homily.”
The chorister laughed. “That’s what those who aren’t sure they believe in the Nameless always say.”
“I don’t believe, and I don’t not believe. I just don’t know if there is a Nameless.” Quaeryt grinned and added, “And if I said I did, wouldn’t that be a form of Naming?”
“You scholars…” Phargos’s voice held humor and exasperation.
“I told you he’d liven things up,” added Skarpa.
Quaeryt took more of the ribs, hot as they were, and even more rice. It had been a long day … listening as Taenyd talked with the young undercaptain who had seated himself beside him …
“… once you get beyond the lower hills … never know when someone’s going to let fly with an arrow or a crossbow bolt … was that way even for the Khanar’s Guard…”
“… don’t like anybody very much…”
“… think the hills are theirs…”
“Would muskets help at all?” asked Quaeryt, turning to Skarpa.
“Not likely. We’ve got one company of musketeers. They’re not much use except in a set battle. I’d send them to defend Ferravyl in case Kharst attacked there. They’re heavy and hard to move. No good in the rain, or in the snow … never replace pike and blades, not really. Rather have a halberd company than a musket company, and you know what most officers think of halberds.”
Quaeryt didn’t, but he let it pass, instead pointing out, “Bows aren’t much good in the rain, either.”
“No … but they’re light enough that the archers can get out of the way of a foot or mounted charge. Not that we have any archers right now. Well … one company, and that’s almost none.”
The conversation for the remainder of the meal dealt more with the weather and when the late-harvest rains would come and turn the back roads into quagmires.
Later, when Quaeryt left the mess, he made his way to the gardens to think. A light breeze rustled through the trees and plants, just enough to be pleasant-but he was anything but soothed. As he sat on a bench beside what looked to be a dwarf apple tree-and all the apples in easy reach had been picked, or perhaps harvested and stored for the winter-he couldn’t help thinking about the patrol on Meredi … and the matter-of-fact comments by Taenyd. Both reminded him that he’d considered a few times that he needed to expand his imaging abilities.
But how could he forget how he puked his guts out, or the endless days of fever, and the weeks regaining his strength after attempting to image a single gold? How could he not forget that?
Yet … if he kept riding on patrols, he’d need more imaging skills … and the strength to handle them.
Quaeryt took a deep breath. What exactly could he try to do? He did know that imaging things that were common, like wood or clay or bread, usually didn’t have a bad effect on him.
Could he image something like a shield? He frowned. Imaging things out of iron wasn’t easy, and iron was heavy. Besides, how could he hold it in place? Something that heavy would just fall to the ground. And trying to image an iron shield-or anything like it-would be useless against arrows or crossbow bolts because he’d have to react, and reacting after he got hit with an arrow wouldn’t be terribly useful … if he even happened to be in any condition to image anything.
There was water all around, and ice could stop an arrow … but ice thick enough to stop an arrow or crossbow bolt would be heavy. Not as heavy as iron, but too heavy to be practical.
He rubbed his forehead. There had to be a way.
Finally, when he could think of no more possibilities, he stood and started back to his quarters. He was tired. He hadn’t realized just how tiring reading dispatch after dispatch was. Maybe he could think better in the morning.
He just hoped the patrol wasn’t headed where he’d come under attack.
Quaeryt made sure he was in the stables early on Jeudi morning, because he was concerned about how long it would take him to saddle the mare. As he checked her before beginning, he could see that she’d been groomed recently … although he was supposed to, he recalled belatedly. While he doubted he was anywhere as proficient as the cavalry rankers and officers, he was out in the courtyard in front of the stables and mounted before half past seven. Under a hazy sky that promised another warm day, he glanced around at the column forming up. Two squads, he judged-and that meant that the patrol wasn’t going anywhere near the hills.
He was still looking around when an undercaptain close to his own age rode over and reined up. “Scholar Quaeryt?”
“I am. You’re Undercaptain Jusaph?”
“Yes, sir. I understand you’ll be riding with us this morning.”
“If that won’t inconvenience you.”
“No, sir. This is just a routine patrol along the main road to the river piers, then up the river and then around the inner hill road and back here. I thought you’d ride with me, and I could explain things.”
“I’d appreciate that.”
From behind them came a series of commands.
“First squad! Form up!”
“Second squad! Form up.”
Jusaph rode to the front of the column, then turned in the saddle. “Forward!”
Two outriders led the way through the east gates, down the paved lane and over the moat bridge, and out through the lower gates. Behind them rode the undercaptain and Quaeryt, and the two squads followed.
“Today … we’ll be taking the main road straight to the river piers,” offered Jusaph as his mount crossed the road paralleling the moat. “We’ll see teamsters early on, but most of them headed that way will already be near the piers.”
“I noticed a group of shops and cafes over that way when I rode in.…”
“Yes, sir. That’s the vale. That’s where the men can go when they’re off duty … if they want.”
“It’s frowned on for officers and squad leaders?”
“You might say that. But the men need some place … and there was a bad incident years ago. The former governor had to level several blocks more to the south in an older part of the west of Tilbora. Governor Rescalyn made it clear that he never wanted anything like that to happen again. Ever. On Vendrei and Samedi nights we run special patrols through the vale. Anyone who causes trouble gets drummed out of the regiment. Well … anyone who causes trouble that’s not their fault anywhere gets drummed out.”
Quaeryt merely listened as the undercaptain went on.
“One of the reasons for the local patrols is to remind everyone that we’re here, and that Tilbor is part of Telaryn. Also, the local patrollers can ask us for help if they need it.”
“Has that ever happened to you?”
“When I was a senior squad leader last summer, we chased down a bunch that had looted a silversmith’s on the north side of town. We caught every one of them.” Jusaph grinned. “We were just lucky to be riding through the square a few moments after it happened. The captain told me later it was the only time he knew we’d done that. But people around there still wave and smile when we ride through.” He paused. “The standing orders are that we’re to cover the same area each time, but always in a different order and timing.”
“That’s so no one knows exactly when you’ll be somewhere?”
Quaeryt kept listening for a time until Jusaph fell silent, then said, “Might I ask where you’re from?”
“Oh … I’m from northwest of Tilbora … just been promoted from senior squad leader … a number of the undercaptains and junior captains are from the south here.”
Quaeryt found it amusing that Jusaph referred to Tilbora as “south” when Nacliano and Solis were hundreds of milles farther south, but he only asked, “Isn’t Captain Taenyd…?”
“He was one of the first. He’s a good officer.”
“I have the feeling that the governor doesn’t hold much for officers who aren’t good, no matter where they come from.”
“No, sir. He’s made that very clear to all officers.”
“Where exactly northwest of Tilbora are you from?” asked Quaeryt conversationally.
“Not too far. Haesylt. It’s on the river.”
“Your family still lives there?”
“Every last one, except me. They’re all river people. They run barges from as far north as Amdermyt, all the way down to the river piers in Tilbora.”
“Barges … that sounds like a fairly large business.”
“Last time I was home, Haermyn showed me the newest one he’d built … it was the twenty-first in service…”
Quaeryt kept listening.
The column was riding through an area of shops-it might even have been the square where Quaeryt had watered the mare in the middle of the night-when a young man sweeping the steps in front of a cooperage looked up, smiled, and waved to Jusaph.
The undercaptain waved back. “Laernyk. He’s a cousin of sorts. That’s his wife’s father’s cooperage, but he’s only got daughters, and he treats Laernyk like his own son.”
“Is he from Haesylt?”
“His father is my father’s cousin, and he moved here before I was born, well back before the fall of the Pretender.”
When the patrol reached the river piers, Jusaph had both squads stand down and water the mounts from the public fountain while he rode over to the piers alone and inspected them. He also talked briefly to a ferryman who was awaiting travelers or wagons. After he watered the mare, Quaeryt noted that there were two donkey-powered ferries, although he’d seen only one when he’d crossed the river.
As he waited, he saw a young woman walking along the side of the square that held the fountain. With her was a young boy, scarcely more the a toddler. The two stopped, and the mother pointed at the nearest horse.
“See the horsey? That’s a horse. The soldiers ride them. Your uncle Casym is a soldier, and he rides a horse like that.”
“Horsey … go see.”
“Not now … dear. You can see Uncle Casym’s horse someday.”
The mother let her son watch for several moments before she gently urged him along and toward the shops to the north.
Jusaph had taken close to two quints dealing with the three ferrymen at the piers before he returned. Quaeryt walked his mare to the fountain to accompany Jusaph, but stood back while the undercaptain pumped fresh water into the horse trough.
“Is it part of your duties to talk to the ferrymen?”
“We’re supposed to be friendly and interested. I just ask them if there’s anything we should know about, ask how the river’s running … try to let them know we’re here if they need us.”
“It must help that you know the river.”
“Only a handful remember when I was a boy bow-poler,” replied Jusaph with a laugh. “I hope they don’t hold it against me. I wasn’t very good.”
“How did you end up in the regiment?”
“I always liked horses … and I’m the youngest. With five older brothers … well … it seemed to make sense to do something else, and the governor was offering a two-gold bonus for recruits who made it through training. I did and gave the golds to Diera for her dowry.”
“Diera’s a sister?”
“Practically raised me. Mother died when I was three. Anyway … it’s worked out.…” He smiled and turned. “Squad leaders! Time to mount up!”
After watering the mare, Quaeryt didn’t quite scramble into his saddle, but he certainly wasn’t as graceful as the undercaptain.
From the piers, the patrol continued along the river road, the same one that Quaeryt had ridden twice before-although once had been the first time he entered Tilbora, and the second had been in the dark, and he didn’t recall a number of structures along the river, but all of them looked more solid than he’d recalled. Was he just getting used to Tilbor, or had he failed to understand at first that everything was built more to withstand the impact of the long winters than for superficial attractiveness?
After riding a good glass, during which several of the rankers-and Jusaph-got waves and smiles, the patrol rode past the road Quaeryt had taken to the Ecoliae and continued along the river road, past even the ramshackle pier where Quaeryt had thrown Chardyn’s body into the river. No one came out to tell the undercaptain about a body, but it was likely the river had carried it farther downstream. After another half glass, the undercaptain turned the patrol due north.
“This is the inner hill road,” explained the undercaptain. “If we’d ridden another two milles along the river, we would have come to the outer hill road. They both join about a mille west of the palace.”
“Do they become the road that runs along the dry moat?”
“That’s the one. The next time we patrol, we’ll likely go out that way and take the outer hill road. We always have to do the river road.”
Again, Quaeryt listened for another quint before asking, “Is there a Scholars’ House somewhere around here?”
“Yes, sir.” Jusaph pointed eastward. “Do you see the hillside with the domed building? That’s the anomen for the scholars, and their place-it’s called the Ecoliae-is on the next hill toward us. They’ve got a school there. Most of the students are from trade or holder families. There used to be some from the hill holders, who lived there, but I don’t know if there are now.”
“I thought the hill holders were the ones who attack your patrols. Why…? I’m not sure I understand,” Quaeryt said.
“They’re not the same, sir. Well … most aren’t. The trouble comes from those who hold timberlands. Most of the hill holders do, but some don’t. I think the smaller holders are afraid to displease the larger ones.”
“I’d think that would make it difficult. For the governor, I mean. Scholars usually don’t ask about the parents of their students so long as the parents pay for their schooling.”
“Our orders are to leave the scholars alone. That’s unless they do something against the law, but they never have. Not that anyone’s been able to prove.”
“I’d thought about visiting them, but I think I’d best refrain until I understand how matters are.”
“I’m sure they’d be quite friendly.”
“That may be, but since I’m on the governor’s staff…”
“I see what you mean.”
“How old is the scholars’ place? Do you know?”
“It’s been around for a long time. That’s all I know. You’re the first scholar I’ve ever talked to.”
Quaeryt understood the question the undercaptain hadn’t asked. “I’m afraid I’m not like most scholars. I left the scholars before I finished schooling and went to sea. After six years I came back and pleaded for them to take me back.” He hadn’t pleaded; he’d bargained, but that wasn’t something he wanted to get into with Jusaph. “They took me back.”
“I wondered, sir.”
For the next half mille, the undercaptain was quiet, and Quaeryt let him have his space. Finally, he did ask, “Will you do a patrol tomorrow or Vendrei?”
“No, sir. The mounts get a rest tomorrow, but the men will spend the day on blade drills. On Vendrei, we’ll be at the east maneuver fields practicing full-company exercises.”
“They keep you occupied.”
“Commander Myskyl-he’s the regiment commander-says that there are only two kinds of soldiers: those who are always prepared to fight and those who are dead. Some of the majors think we’ll have to fight the Bovarians before long. You’ve just come from Solis. What do you think?”
“I don’t know. I’ve heard stories that Lord Bhayar’s concerned about them, especially after the way Rex Kharst massacred so many of the Khellans.”
“That’s what Major Skarpa says. You can’t trust them. Anyone who does is foolish.”
Quaeryt nodded and shifted his weight in the saddle. It was well past the second glass of the afternoon, and most of those four glasses since he’d first mounted up had been in the saddle.
As they neared the Telaryn Palace, Quaeryt couldn’t help but think that, for all the concerned tone in the dispatches he had read, he certainly hadn’t seen any signs of hostility on the part of the people as the patrol had ridden past. People had looked up, then gone back about their business, some smiling, some frowning, some indifferent, but no one’s behavior had seemed to change at the appearance of the patrol.
While he didn’t think he’d learn anything new, once he stabled and groomed the mare, he would finish reading all the rest of the dispatches. With his luck, if he didn’t, the one dispatch he missed would be the one that would have told him something he needed to know.
He shifted his weight in the saddle again. With each passing quint, riding got more uncomfortable.
After returning from the patrol, Quaeryt stabled and groomed the mare, then made his way up to the second level of the palace, where he stopped to inform Vhorym that he had returned and that he would be heading to the dispatch room.
“You might check your desk before you go to the dispatch room, sir.”
“Thank you. I will.” Quaeryt managed a smile, then turned and made his way to his study.
There on the desk was an envelope with his name on it, and underneath his name was also written “Scholar Assistant to the Princeps.”
He opened the letter, took out the single sheet, and read:
THE HONORABLE RESCALYN CALYNSYN,
MARSHAL AND GOVERNOR OF TILBOR,
REQUESTS THE HONOR OF YOUR PRESENCE
AT A RECEPTION IN THE PALACE,
AT THE SIXTH GLASS OF THE EVENING,
SAMEDI, 35 AGOSTAS
IN THE GREEN SALON.
There was no line suggesting a response, but then, since Quaeryt was assigned to the princeps, who reported directly to the governor, the invitation was essentially a command to appear … if a very polite one.
He had no formal attire, or even the equivalent of a dress uniform. The new browns were the best he could manage, and he had not worn one of the new sets yet. They’d have to do.
He slipped the invitation-or summons-back inside the envelope and placed the envelope in the single flat drawer in the table desk. Then he left the study and headed over to the governor’s anteroom to obtain the key to the dispatch room. He had to wait almost half a quint before Caermyt returned, and he began to wonder if he should image a copy of the key.
No. That’s an invitation to trouble, especially if you’re found there when Caermyt has the key. He could use an imaging concealment.…
He shook his head and waited.
Once he obtained the key, he hurried downstairs, but he’d no more than started to light the lamps in the dispatch room than he realized he had to write a report of his arrival to Bhayar immediately because the weekly dispatch rider left early the next morning … and he needed to finish the reply to Vaelora-for more reasons than one.
Rather than return the key, because he intended to finish reading the dispatches after the evening meal, he locked the dispatch room and hurried back to his own quarters, where he retrieved the letter he’d begun to Vaelora, before heading back to his formal study.
Once there, he started in on the report to Bhayar, knowing that it would likely be read long before it reached the Lord of Telaryn. He made it short, and the only inaccuracies were in what he did not report, because he mentioned the travel and the delay in Nacliano, as well as his concerns about the attitude toward scholars, but not his actions there. He also reported the storm and shipwreck, and his illness, possible poisoning, and his recovery, but then noted tha