/ Language: English / Genre:sf_fantasy / Series: Imager's portfolio

Princeps

L. ModesittJr.


L. E. Modesitt Jr

Princeps

CHARACTERS

Bhayar

Lord of Telaryn

Aelina

Wife of Bhayar

Kharst

Rex of Bovaria

Aliaro

Autarch of Antiago

Quaeryt

Princeps of Tilbor and friend of Bhayar

Vaelora

Wife of Quaeryt and youngest sister of Bhayar

Straesyr

Governor of the Province of Tilbor

Deucalon

Marshal of Telaryn

Myskyl

Commander, First Tilboran Regiment

Pulaskyr

Commander, Second Tilboran Regiment

Skarpa

Commander, Third Tilboran Regiment

Meinyt

Major, Third Battalion, Third Tilboran Regiment

Fhaen

Major, Fourth Battalion, Third Tilboran Regiment

Zhrensyl

Post Commander, Extela

Phargos

Chorister of the Nameless

Gauswn

Chorister apprentice, former undercaptain

Voltyr

Imager

1

Quaeryt peered out from underneath the thick-and warm-comforter toward the nearest bedchamber window, its inner shutters fastened tightly. Even so, he could see frost on parts of the polished goldenwood. Supposedly, winter was waning, with spring some three weeks away, except that winter lasted into spring in Tilbor, even in Tilbora, the southernmost city in the province. The harbor in far-north Noira would not ice-out until the end of Maris, most likely.

A lithe figure wrapped her arms around him. “You don’t have to get up yet.”

“I do. It’s Lundi, and I am princeps, you might recall…”

“Dearest … do you have to?” The excessively pleading tone told Quaeryt that Vaelora knew he needed to rise, but that …

He turned over and embraced her wholeheartedly, finding her lips on his.

All too soon, he released her, wishing that he did not have to leave their bed. But then, it had been her desire to remind him of that.

Bhayar had been right. Quaeryt and Vaelora were enjoying being married, even if he’d never seen it coming. Vaelora had protested that she hadn’t either, that her brother had insisted she join him on his ride to Tilbora to keep her from the trouble she might have gotten into in his absence. Quaeryt had his doubts about her purported ignorance, but if that was the way she wished to portray matters, he’d certainly respect it. Then … it could have been that way. She hadn’t brought anything with her but riding clothes, and women who planned on being married usually thought about what they’d wear … unless she’d wanted to be able to insist she hadn’t known. And that was also very possible. He’d gone over all those possibilities for weeks, and probably always would … and he suspected she had planned that, as well.

He smiled.

“What is that smile for?” she asked, again in Bovarian, the language in which they conversed when alone-or in dealing with Bhayar.

“I was just thinking about the depths behind those seemingly guileless brown eyes.”

“I cannot believe you are interested solely in those depths.” Her slightly husky voice was both warm and slightly sardonic.

Quaeryt found himself blushing.

“You see?”

“Enough, lovely woman,” he declared with mock gruffness. “Your brother did say that we were to keep each other warm.”

“How, dearest, can I do that if you insist on getting out of this warm coverlet in this chilly bedchamber?”

Eventually, Quaeryt did leave the bed, as did Vaelora, and they washed and dressed quickly. Quaeryt was more than grateful for the warm water waiting in the bath chamber. Just the thought of the cold water in the officers’ quarters made him shiver.

Although Governor Straesyr, when he had been princeps, had lived with his wife and family in one of the row houses along the north wall of the Telaryn Palace, Bhayar had declared that such quarters were not suited to his sister. Quaeryt had suggested that the apartments on the upper east end of the palace proper-those that had been occupied by Tyrena, the daughter of the last Khanar of Tilbor before its conquest by Bhayar’s father-were most suitable for a princeps and that it would be most incongruous-not to mention grossly unfair-for the newly wed princeps to occupy the larger apartments of the former Khanar when his superior was the governor. That arrangement had been accepted by Bhayar and Vaelora and had certainly obviated possible tensions between Governor Straesyr and Quaeryt.

As Quaeryt began to pull on the fine browns of a scholar that Vaelora had insisted that he have tailored-because a princeps needed to look the position, as well as carry it out-he glanced at his left arm. It was still thinner than his right, while the skin was paler, not that his skin, ever so slightly darker than the pale honeyed shade of his wife’s complexion, would ever approximate the near bluish white of the Bovarian High Holders and royal family. Given the beating his body had taken in the battles against the rebel hill holders, he was glad that none of the injuries had been permanent, unlike his left leg, shorter than his right, presumably since birth, since he didn’t recall it ever being other than that.

Quaeryt waited until Vaelora was dressed-in light brown trousers, a cream blouse, and a woolen jacket that matched her trousers-before walking with her down the short corridor to the small cherry-paneled private dining room that had once been graced by Tyrena, who had been Khanara in fact, if not in name. There the ceramic stove radiated a comforting warmth.

Quaeryt seated Vaelora on one side of the table, then took his place to her left, at the end of the table, where Vaelora had insisted he belonged from the very first day of their marriage. In moments, a ranker in a winter-green uniform appeared with a teapot, a basket of warm dark bread, and a platter on which were cheese omelets and fried potatoes-exactly the same fare as in the officers’ mess, if served on porcelain, and if not quite so warm.

Quaeryt poured her tea, then his. “I do enjoy breakfast with you.”

“As opposed to dinner?” She raised her eyebrows.

“No. As well as dinner.” He grinned, enjoying the game, holding the platter so that she could serve herself.

“What will you do today?”

“What I do every day. I have a meeting at eighth glass with Cohausyt-”

“He’s the one with the sawmills who wants to pay to harvest timber on the lands Bhayar got from the rebel hill holders?”

“That’s the one. I put him off because I needed to find out what finished timber and planking goes for in Tilbora.”

“Did you?”

Quaeryt snorted. “In a way. I ended up finding out what the carpenters and cabinetmakers pay for wood. I had to work backward from that. Later, I have to meet with Raurem-he’s a produce and grain factor-to see if he can supply grain cakes for the regiments.” After eating several mouthfuls, and taking a swallow of the tea, he asked, “How are your plans coming for the spring reception?”

“Madame Straesyr has been somewhat helpful … as has Eluisa D’Taelmyn.”

Eluisa D’Taelmyn? Then Quaeryt realized she was talking about Rescalyn’s mistress, the Bovarian High Holder’s daughter the former governor had introduced as Mistress Eluisa. “She’s still here? I thought she had never married.”

“That’s her father’s name. He’s one of the lesser Bovarian High Holders. She has nowhere else to go, and Emra begged her husband to let her stay and teach their children singing and how to play the clavecin.”

“I heard her play once.”

“You told me. So did she. You upset her, you know?”

“I had that feeling. I was trying to see if Kharst was as terrible as they say.”

“He’s worse, according to Eluisa.”

Quaeryt wasn’t about to pursue that subject. “From your tone, I take it that neither one has been that helpful.”

“They’re really only interested in the wives of High Holders, not the wives of factors.”

Quaeryt wanted to shake his head. “How are your writings coming?”

“I write some every day.” She smiled. “The palace library has so many wonderful books.”

“I know. I even read parts of some of them.”

“You did mention that.” Vaelora took a sip of tea. “I wish this were hotter.”

“They have to carry it up from the kitchen.”

“I know. What do you think she was like?”

“Who?” Quaeryt had no idea to whom his wife was referring.

“Tyrena. The Khanara who wasn’t. You told me about those few scraps of paper you found with her writing.”

“She was too strong in a situation where there were no intelligent men to marry and manipulate.”

“Are you suggesting…?”

“Me?” Quaeryt laughed. “All men react to women. All women react to men. Intelligent men and women react intelligently.” Usually, but not always, unfortunately. “From all the documents I’ve read, none of the men in power after her father fell too ill to understand were intelligent enough to listen to her. Probably the only man in Telaryn who might have been was your brother, and he’s much better off with Aelina.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because you said that, and you know them both far better than I do.” He swallowed the last of his omelet, and the remainder of his tea. “I need to go.” He stood, then moved beside her chair, bent and kissed her neck. After a long moment, he straightened.

“Remember,” she said, “make the factors explain. In detail.”

Quaeryt smiled. “Yes, dearest.”

“You’re close to disrespecting me.” Her tone was bantering.

“Close doesn’t count.” Except in bed.

“I know what you’re thinking.”

He managed not to blush. “I’ll see you later.”

After leaving the third-level apartments, he made his way down the circular staircase to the second level, and then to the princeps’s anteroom and the study beyond. After almost a month and a half as Princeps of Tilbor, he was still slightly amazed when he walked into the study, although the view to the northern walls and the hills beyond was largely blocked in winter by the mostly closed shutters and hangings.

Princeps or not, he still met with Straesyr at the seventh glass of the morning every Lundi, and once he had checked with Vhorym, the squad leader who was his assistant, he walked back across the second level to the governor’s chambers.

“He’s waiting for you, sir,” offered Undercaptain Caermyt from his table desk in the anteroom.

“Thank you.”

Quaeryt closed the study door behind himself and took one of the seats in front of Straesyr’s wide table desk. “Good morning.” He spoke in Tellan, because that was the language used normally by the military-although officers were strongly encouraged to learn Bovarian, and failure to do so was usually a bar to promotion above captain.

“I have to say that you’re much more cheerful these days,” offered the governor, squaring his broad shoulders and running a large hand through still-thick silvered blond hair, as he straightened in his chair and pushed a map to one side.

“No one’s fighting or attacking, and the winter storms haven’t been that bad.” Quaeryt laughed ironically. “That’s according to the locals. I’ve never seen so much snow and ice in my life, and they’re saying it’s not so bad as it often has been.”

“You read Lord Bhayar’s last dispatch, I take it.”

That was a rhetorical nicety. Straesyr routed all dispatches to Quaeryt. Quaeryt, in turn, made sure that the few letters and dispatches, other than those of a personal nature, that came to him also went to Straesyr. “I did.”

“Once the roads to the south are clear, he’s ordered First Regiment to depart and take the route from Bhorael to Cloisonyt and from there to Solis.”

“And from there,” said Quaeryt dryly, “Bhayar will post them either to Lucayl or Ferravyl.”

“Ferravyl’s the greater danger,” said the governor mildly.

“But, if Bhayar can determine how to conquer Antiago, that offers an opportunity to obtain greater resources and to deny them to Kharst. Not to mention the fact that Bhayar has never felt that Autarch Aliaro treated Chaerila with the respect she deserved.” Which is why you worry about his notes mentioning “respect.”

“Chaerila?” Straesyr’s silver-blond eyebrows lifted.

“His oldest sister. She died in childbirth. According to Aliaro, her daughter died also. The daughter’s death was mentioned as an afterthought.”

“Did the Autarch express profound sympathy? Do you know?”

“I gained the impression that the sympathy was slightly more than perfunctory.”

Straesyr shook his head. “Has Lord Bhayar conveyed anything … personally … to you?”

“Outside of brotherly missives to Vaelora and two rather short and polite notes reminding me to respect her at all times, I have heard nothing since the wedding.” He paused, then asked, “How do Myskyl and Skarpa feel about the progress of Second and Third Regiments?”

“They feel that Second Regiment is largely ready and that Third Regiment will be ready for whatever duties it may be assigned by the end of spring. Commander Skarpa feels that if necessary, he could accomplish the last of the training while traveling.”

Quaeryt missed eating in the mess with the officers, but as princeps, he was not in the military chain of command, except in the event that Straesyr was killed or incapacitated. Twice, he had taken the governor’s place at mess night, once when the governor had the flux and once when a snowstorm had stranded him at High Holder Thurl’s estate, even though the estate gates were less than five milles from the Telaryn Palace.

“I’ll be meeting with Cohausyt at eighth glass,” Quaeryt offered. “You saw the revisions to the calculations based on your recommendations.”

“I did. Cohausyt will still do well, but Lord Bhayar can use the golds, especially if Kharst attacks.”

Or if Bhayar attacks Antiago. “I’ll be meeting with Raurem this afternoon as well. That’s about whether he can supply those grain cakes for travel fodder for the regiments.”

“He’s a produce factor, isn’t he, not a grain factor?”

“He is both, and Major Meinyt mentioned that he includes some rougher grains in his cakes, and they travel better, and the horses seem to do better. After you pointed out that there won’t be much forage when they’re leaving, I thought I should look into it.”

Straesyr nodded. “I’m already getting to the point where I’ll miss you when you go.”

“Go? I’m not going anywhere, not that I know.”

The governor smiled, and his icy blue eyes seemed to soften for a moment. “You manage to get things done. You’re old enough to understand, mostly, and young enough to try the almost impossible. You also know the difference between impossible and not quite impossible. You’re trustworthy, and Bhayar trusts you. There will be fewer and fewer advisors and officers whom he can trust totally. Sooner or later, he’ll need you again. For your sake, I hope it’s later.”

So did Quaeryt.

“Is there anything else?”

“No, sir.”

“Good. I’ll talk to you later.”

Quaeryt rose and made his way back across the second level of the palace. Cohausyt was already in the anteroom waiting when Quaeryt returned to his chambers.

“Princeps, sir.”

“Do come in.” Quaeryt smiled and kept walking.

The timber factor followed, and Vhorym closed the study door behind them.

Quaeryt gestured to the chairs, then settled behind his desk. “Lord Bhayar has agreed that the mature goldenwoods and oaks can be cut, but there are a number of conditions involved.”

“There are always conditions in everything,” said Cohausyt.

“There are indeed.” Quaeryt picked up the sheet of paper from the desk and handed it over. “Here are the terms.”

Quaeryt could see the tic in the factor’s left eye begin to twitch as the older man read the sheet of paper.

“I don’t know about leaving the softwoods untouched…” said the factor slowly.

“We know that the goldenwoods and oaks are heavier. There will be times when they bring down the evergreens. The terms state that you can only log those brought down incidentally … and not incidentally on purpose. Is that unreasonable?”

“Well … no, sir, but at times the best goldenwoods are surrounded by stands of pines, and there’s no way to get to them…”

Quaeryt listened until Cohausyt finished, then said, “You’d best make those points of access very narrow.”

“I suppose we can handle that … but no goldenwoods less than two-thirds of a yard across or two yards around at a yard above the ground?”

“That’s what the best foresters recommend…”

“Begging your pardon, Princeps, but foresters aren’t the ones who have to cut and mill the timber.”

“That’s true. They’re the ones who have to make sure that there are trees there for your sons to cut and mill.”

Cohausyt sighed and went back to reading, but only for a few moments. “… smoothing and tamping the logging roads?”

“Lord Bhayar doesn’t want large gullies in the middle of his woods.”

“But, sir, tamping takes men and time, and…”

Again, Quaeryt listened, before finally saying, quietly, “You are getting access to prime goldenwoods and oaks. There’s not a stand like them anywhere else in Tilbor.”

“But these terms…”

“I suppose I could post the terms and have others bid on them…” mused Quaeryt. Not that he wanted to, because Cohausyt was by far the most honest of the timber factors, and that meant that Bhayar would likely not be shorted on the golds from the sale of the timber. Quaeryt would have liked to have sold the rights for a flat fee, but there wasn’t a timber factor in Tilbor who possessed that amount of golds to pay up front.

“No … I’ll do what’s right, Princeps.” Cohausyt looked to Quaeryt. “I’ve heard you’re fair. Hard mayhap, but fair. It’ll take a bit longer, though.”

“I understand.” And Quaeryt did. Everything has to do with golds … and time. He understood that necessity, but even with the more honest factors, and Cohausyt was one of those, every term had to be spelled out in ink … and then explained.

He couldn’t say that he was looking forward to the meeting with Raurem. With all the nit-picking and endless details required in everything, it seemed, he understood more than ever why Straesyr had been more than happy to relinquish his duties as princeps to Quaeryt.

2

Jeudi morning dawned clear and bright, but there was still frost on the windows, and Quaeryt was most happy that the dressing chamber had a large carpet, because he could see frost in places on the polished marble floor. Even the lukewarm wash water pitchers showed warm vapor rising into the air.

“The pitchers-they look like the hot springs below Mount Extel,” said Vaelora. “Well … they don’t really, but they remind me of them. I wish we had hot springs here. A truly hot bath would be so wonderful.”

“If the springs were so wonderful, why did he move the capital from there?” bantered Quaeryt. He knew about the mountains of fire, but not about the hot springs. “Bhayar said his father did it because Solis was better located for trade and transport. He never mentioned hot springs in winter. But then, maybe he wasn’t one for baths.”

“Quaeryt…”

“Well … why haven’t I ever heard about these wonderful warm baths?”

“It’s not something we talk about.”

Quaeryt frowned. “I don’t understand.”

“It’s a family secret.” Vaelora smiled.

“Am I not part of the family now?”

“You are, and I’ll tell you because I don’t want any secrets between us. Promise me that you won’t keep secrets from me.”

“I promise.”

“I mean it.”

“I understand,” Quaeryt replied, and he did. He already knew that when she set her mind to something, nothing changed her course.

“He did it because of a vision.”

“A vision? Lord Chayar was a most practical man. I can’t believe he saw visions.”

“He didn’t, dearest.”

Quaeryt sighed. Loudly.

“Father moved the capital to Solis because Grandmere had a vision. She didn’t call it that. She said it was foresight. She was mostly Pharsi. Everyone knows that, but no one talks about it. She had more than a few visions, and Father said he’d not listened to her only once, and he wished he had. So when she said she’d seen Extela in ruins and parts of it covered with ash and lava, he didn’t argue.”

“Well … so far as I know, Extela’s still doing quite nicely.”

“It is. Sometimes the mountain rumbles and at times it spews out ash, but the ash and hot springs are why the uplands are so fertile.”

“And he uprooted everyone and rebuilt Solis because of a vision?” Quaeryt tried not to sound appalled. “One that never happened?”

“You didn’t know Grandmere.”

Quaeryt considered. If her grandmother was anything like Vaelora, I can see … “You take after her, don’t you?”

Vaelora offered a rueful smile, one of the few that Quaeryt had seen on her face. “That was what Mother claimed. Bhayar said I have her spirit and that I was born to plague him.”

Quaeryt grinned broadly. “So … that was why-”

He didn’t get any farther because a good portion of the cold water pitcher splashed across his chest and face.

Later … when laughter subsided, with domestic order restored, and Quaeryt stopped shivering and got dressed, they did manage to reach the private dining chamber, where, thankfully, the stove had warmed the air to an almost pleasant state, pleasant for winter in Tilbora, reflected Quaeryt as he took a welcome swallow of tea.

“Dearest … are you still going to ride to the scholarium this morning?”

“Yes, even after a cold dowsing.” Quaeryt managed not to frown, then saw the anxious expression on Vaelora’s face, an expression he knew he was meant to see, since she was excellent at avoiding what she did not wish to reveal. “Would you like to accompany me?”

“If you wouldn’t mind too terribly. Emra … I had thought to spend some time with her, but both her son and daughter are quite ill with the croup. So is Eluisa. That means I won’t see her, either, and I was looking forward so to learning some of the pieces by Covaelyt and Veblynt.”

“Isn’t there sheet music? You play well enough…”

“She only has one copy of each, and she is most guarded in holding them. You can understand why that might be, and I’d rather not have to copy it line by line.”

Left unsaid was that there were no copyists at the Telaryn Palace except those attached to the regiments, and neither Quaeryt nor Vaelora felt it proper to request personal copying from them.

Quaeryt looked at his wife. “You miss Aelina, don’t you?”

“Terribly. I cannot tell you how much … She was the only one…”

“Except Aunt Nerya, of course,” teased Quaeryt.

Vaelora looked at her husband with wide guileless eyes. “I should have mentioned her.”

“Was she that bad?”

“You know what I feel.”

Quaeryt did, and did not press. “I’ll be leaving at half past seventh glass, and I’ll have a mount for you. Please dress warmly. There’s a bit of a wind.”

“Yes, dearest,” replied Vaelora in a voice that Quaeryt knew as her sweet and falsely submissive one-and that she knew he recognized as such.

He laughed.

The last quint of breakfast passed too quickly, and before that long, or so it seemed to Quaeryt, he had sent word down to have his mount and Vaelora’s ready, finished reading the various dispatches, and was donning his heavy riding jacket, the fur-lined leather gloves, and the fur-lined cap he’d taken to wearing whenever he was outside for long.

“Vhorym … I’ll be riding over to the scholarium. I likely won’t be back until close to second glass.”

Vaelora was actually mounted and waiting for him in the palace courtyard, as was the squad from Sixth Battalion who would accompany them. Quaeryt glanced at the sky, with the high gray clouds that were all too common in winter, then mounted quickly. As he and Vaelora followed the outriders through the eastern gates of the palace-the only gates-and down the stone-paved lane across the dry moat, now half filled with drifting snow, he could barely see over the snow piled on each side of the lane, even on horseback. The wind was raw and bitter, as it usually was when it blew out of the east.

Snow crunched under the hoofs of their mounts as they rode through the lower gates and onto the main road to the south.

“We’re only a few weeks from spring,” he said cheerfully.

“That’s spring in Solis,” returned Vaelora.

“True enough. We’ll be fortunate to have frozen mud by then.”

The wind was bitter enough that neither said that much on the glass-long ride to the scholarium. In fact, Quaeryt said almost nothing at all until they rode up the snow-packed lane and past the main building of the scholarium before reining up opposite the middle of the rear porch.

“Squad Leader, put all the mounts in the stable. You and the men wait in the tack room in the stable. If the stove isn’t fired up, you have my authority to do so. I will need two rankers to escort my wife.”

“Yes, sir.” Rheusyd glanced at the stable to the rear of the main building. “Might already be fired up, sir. There’s smoke rising.”

“I hope so. It’s been a cold ride, at least for us.”

“Been on colder ones, sir, but a warm stove would be good for the men.”

Vaelora and Quaeryt dismounted, climbed the steps, and crossed the wide and empty covered porch.

As he held the door for her, he said, “There’s a stove in the main hall outside the master scholar’s study. You can warm yourself there. I imagine you’ll have company before long. Besides your escorts.”

Vaelora raised her eyebrows, then brushed the combination of water and melting frost from them. “Oh?”

“There aren’t any women here, except for the cooks and a few others, and none are as beautiful as you.”

“Who could tell under all these garments?”

“They could tell.” Quaeryt turned as the gray-haired and round-faced master scholar hurried toward them. “Nalakyn, I’d like to present you to my wife, the Lady Vaelora.”

The master scholar bowed deeply, his eyes avoiding those of Vaelora, as was proper. “We are most honored to have the sister of Lord Bhayar here, and especially in weather such as this.” He straightened. “I would offer you my study or that of the scholar princeps, but neither has a stove or a hearth. With your permission, I will have a comfortable chair brought for you so that you can warm yourself by the main stove here.”

“You’re most kind, master scholar.”

Nalakyn flushed. “It is not often we are so honored.”

Once Vaelora was seated before the stove, the two rankers discreetly standing against the wall several yards away, Quaeryt and the other two scholars were about to retire to the much cooler study of the master scholar when another figure hurried through the rear door, a young man wearing the robes of a chorister. Snow sprayed from his boots.

“Princeps! Sir?”

Quaeryt stopped and waited. “Gauswn! It’s good to see you. How are you doing? How is Cyrethyn?”

“He is in good spirits, sir, but he is frail, and he begs your pardon for not joining me, but he is not so steady on his feet as once he was.”

“Has he let you deliver any homilies?”

“Let, sir? He insists I do two a month.” The young chorister looked embarrassed. “One of them was taken from what you said.”

“I’m sure I probably gleaned it from someone else.”

“I don’t think so, sir. There’s nothing like it in any of the chorister books.” Gauswn paused. “I mustn’t keep you, and Cyrethyn needs my help. I did want to come and thank you again. This is where I should be.”

“Before you go,” said Quaeryt, “you should meet my wife, Vaelora.”

Gauswn bowed deeply. “Lady…”

Quaeryt smiled at Vaelora and eased away.

After he entered the master scholar’s study, he took one of the chairs in front of the desk. “Let’s see the ledger, Yullyd.”

“Here, sir.” The scholar princeps handed the master ledger he had carried to Quaeryt, then took the other seat. “The marker is where the entries for Ianus are summarized. I finished them on Lundi.”

Nalakyn slipped into the chair behind the desk, but sat forward, apprehensively.

“Is there someone you can train to do the day-to-day entries?”

“Young Syndar has been helping me.” Yullyd’s voice was level.

Quaeryt wasn’t surprised. From the time he’d delivered a letter from Syndar’s father Rhodyn, he’d known that the student scholar would likely try anything not to leave the scholarium. “His father wants him to go back to Ayerne? Is that it?”

“He says he won’t go, and that his younger brother is far better suited to being a holder.”

“That’s likely true, but it’s not our decision.” Quaeryt frowned. “How good a scholar is Syndar? Would he make a good bursar in time?”

“He’s very accurate with the figures, and very neat,” replied Yullyd. “He truly wants to be a scholar.”

“He also assists in teaching the younger students. He’s been most helpful there,” added Nalakyn.

“Draft a missive to Holder Rhodyn for my signature. Make it very polite and most courteous. Tell him that I know of his desires and wishes for his sons, but I had thought he would like to know that I have learned that Scholar Syndar has proven to be exceedingly gifted as a scholar and is being considered for training as the bursar of the scholarium and that he has a future as a scholar. Because of this, tell him that I had thought he would like to know of this before making any final decision on what might be best for his sons.” Quaeryt paused. “Write that up as soon as we finish. I’ll wait for it.”

The two exchanged glances.

“I can send it tomorrow. Otherwise, it will be another week. I want him to get it before his mind is even more set and before it’s even close to spring planting.”

During the winter, now that Bhayar had destroyed the last of the ship reavers, couriers from Tilbora could take the coastal roads directly south, well past Ayerne, and then turn west through Piedryn on a more direct southern route to Solis. There was no reason Quaeryt couldn’t pay the courier out of his own funds to stop and deliver the missive to Rhodyn-the holding house was less than fifty yards off the road.

Yullyd nodded. “Yes, sir.”

“Is there anything else?”

“Sir … we have … some difficulty,” said Nalakyn.

“What kind of difficulty?”

“Ah…” Nalakyn drew out the single syllable, as if he were at a loss for words.

“Chartyn,” said Yullyd. “He’s not the problem. The fact that we accepted him is.”

“There’s another factor with an imager son?” asked Quaeryt.

“Actually … well … ah…”

“Yes,” said Yullyd. “He’s not a factor. He’s a freeholder to the north. One of those with not enough lands to be a High Holder and too well off to be a mere grower or crofter. He heard about Chartyn. He’s well able to pay for his son.”

“I fail to see the problem. Has Chartyn created any difficulties?”

“No, sir … but … imagers in a scholarium?” asked Nalakyn almost plaintively.

“There are imagers in the Scholarium Solum in Solis. Why shouldn’t there be imagers here?”

“We don’t have any rules for imagers, sir,” said the master scholar.

“Would it help if I wrote out a draft of some rules? I knew the imagers at the scholarium fairly well, and they did tell me some things.” Not that you don’t know far more than Voltyr did, or even poor Uhlyn, but the scholars don’t have to know that. “You could start with those and refine them as necessary.”

“But … this is a scholarium…”

Quaeryt looked hard at Nalakyn, feeling almost like imaging his disgust and anger.

The master scholar paled … then swallowed. His voice was barely audible as he replied. “Whatever you say, sir.”

“Nalakyn,” Quaeryt said gently, “I went out of my way to save the scholarium when most of Tilbora was ready to burn it and all of you because of what Zarxes, Phaeryn, and Chardyn-oh, and Alkiabys-were doing. Lord Bhayar and Telaryn need safe places for both scholars and imagers. Not just scholars. Not just imagers. Both.”

Yullyd glanced at Nalakyn.

“I understand, sir, It’s just that…”

“We all have to change with the times. I wouldn’t be surprised if, in a few years”-if not even sooner-“Lord Bhayar will need imagers.”

“You mean if Rex Kharst conquers Antiago and captures the Autarch’s imagers?” asked Yullyd.

“That’s certainly a possibility,” agreed Quaeryt. “It would be useful to have some imagers who could create Antiagon Fire or combat it.” Not that Quaeryt had any idea of how to do that himself.

“How … would they combat it?”

“Image sand over it, I suspect. That usually damps most fires, even bitumen fires.” That was a guess on Quaeryt’s part, but he thought it would work, since stone and earthworks were impervious to Antiagon Fire. “I’ll have those draft rules to you within a week, sooner if I can. Tell the holder-what’s his name … his son’s name, too?”

“His name is Kryedt. The boy’s name is Dettredt.”

“Tell Holder Kryedt that the boy is accepted, under the usual provisions requiring good conduct and obedience to scholars.”

“Yes, sir,” replied both scholars. While Nalakyn’s tone was not quite resigned, Yullyd’s was more enthusiastic.

“Now … I’ll wait outside in the main hall while you draft that letter to Holder Rhodyn.”

Quaeryt stepped out to rejoin Vaelora, noting several students hurrying away as he neared. One he knew-Lankyt.

“What did young Lankyt have to say to you, dearest?” asked Quaeryt quietly, not wishing his voice to carry beyond Vaelora.

“Which one was he? The slim brown-haired one with the shy smile?”

“How did you know that?”

“I didn’t, but you wouldn’t have known who he was unless he stood out in some way. He was the most respectful and well-spoken.”

“His father is the holder in Ayerne.”

“Rhodyn, is it?”

“Yes. He was most kind when I escaped the ship reavers and was recovering.”

“He spoke highly of you when we spent the night there.”

“He’s a good man. I just hope…” Quaeryt went on to explain.

Vaelora listened, then nodded. “You’re offering a strong suggestion, but not demanding.” She smiled mischievously. “You are suggesting, between the lines, that he’d be a fool not to agree.”

“What else could I do?”

“You could let him do as he pleases without saying a word … but that’s not who you are. You’ve proved that in dealing with my brother.”

Quaeryt shrugged.

“The chorister? Gauswn … he was most complimentary. Is he the one who was an undercaptain?”

“He was.”

“He said that it was almost a shame you hadn’t been a chorister, but that he’d seen you were destined for greater deeds.”

Quaeryt winced. “I fear he thinks I’m another Rholan.”

“Would that be so bad, dearest?”

“For a man who doesn’t know whether there even is a Nameless, it would be.” Quaeryt shook his head.

“You’re too hard on yourself.”

“Not in that.”

Vaelora shook her head.

Shortly, Yullyd reappeared with the letter. “Sir?”

“Thank you.” Quaeryt read it, then nodded, took the pen from the scholar princeps, and signed the missive. “Very good, Yullyd.”

“Thank you, sir.”

After the ink dried, helped by Quaeryt’s holding the paper near the stove, he folded the sheet and slipped it into the inside pocket of his jacket.

In less than a quint, they were on the road back to the Telaryn Palace, riding directly into the wind, which seemed to be slightly stronger than on the way to the scholarium.

“Are you still glad to be accompanying me?” asked Quaeryt dryly.

“Yes. It was good to get out.”

“What did you think of the scholarium?”

“Everyone was most polite,” observed Vaelora.

“You might have noticed all the deference was to you, my dear lady. Quite manifestly obvious, I would say.”

“That might have been, but the respect was for you. Master Scholar Nalakyn looked somewhat chastened when he bid us good day.”

“He was reluctant to take on another paying student because the boy is an imager.” Quaeryt snorted. “As if the boy will not have enough problems. An education will help.”

“It helps some, dearest. Others it is wasted on.”

“True. But if he’s one of those, he goes back to his father. He deserves the chance. What he makes of it is up to him. Did Chaerila ever write or say anything about the Autarch’s imagers?”

“Not to me.” Vaelora frowned in concentration. After a moment, she said, “I remember, though, something that Aelina said. Chaerila complained in a letter to her that she was almost a prisoner in the palace, but at least she wasn’t walled up in a compound with metal behind the walls, the way the Autarch’s imagers were.” She paused. “What are you going to do?”

“Write up a set of rules. Then you’ll read them and tell me what to change and improve?”

“You aren’t asking me.” A mischievous smile appeared. “Isn’t that a form of disrespect?”

“I respect your judgment and intelligence so much that I know you’d want these rules to be as good as we can make them.”

Vaelora laughed.

Quaeryt smiled happily-until the next gust of bitter wind whipped around and through him, and he shivered almost uncontrollably.

And this is a warm day for winter.

3

Another storm had buffeted Tilbora beginning on Samedi, and Quaeryt and Vaelora had remained within the palace walls. While the snowfall stopped by early on Solayi, the rankers of the regiment were still clearing snow in midafternoon, and Quaeryt was in his official study struggling with the draft rules he had promised Nalakyn and Yullyd.

He glanced up as the study door opened wide.

“What are you working on, dearest?” Vaelora asked as she stepped from the anteroom into the study.

“Rules for young imagers at the scholarium.”

“Why didn’t you have Nalakyn or Yullyd write them up and then just review them?”

Quaeryt had told her why earlier, but he didn’t comment on that. Vaelora never asked a question, he’d discovered, without a purpose. “He’d write them, and they’d sound wonderful and mean nothing. Then Yullyd would rewrite them, and the poor youths would feel that they were in prison, and that would make their schooling worthless.” His breath did not quite steam in the cold air of the study. “I thought you were practicing with Eluisa. That’s why I came here. I’d already started work on this on Vendrei.”

Vaelora walked around the desk to stand at his shoulder and read down the document. Then she smiled. “From those rules, one might think you had lived among imagers for your entire life…” She did not quite finish the sentence, but left the words hanging.

“I did spend several years at the scholarium, with Voltyr and, for a time, with Uhlyn, you might recall.”

She looked down at the document and began to read, picking out a phrase from the middle of the sheet. “Imager scholars must not, under any circumstances, attempt to image metals. While there is always the temptation to image coins, the effort to image silvers and golds has often proved to cause great illness or death, even to older imagers.…”

Quaeryt nodded. “That’s true.”

“I don’t doubt it’s true, dearest.” She smiled again, warmly. “What I have some doubts about is how you might happen to know that.”

“I told you…”

“Dearest … I know that you would never tell me something that is not true or based in truth. I also know that, upon occasion, you have”-she paused-“been less than forthcoming about the details of certain events.”

Quaeryt repressed a sigh. He’d known that, sooner or later, Vaelora would learn enough to suspect his imaging abilities. Perhaps she had all along and had waited for what seemed the proper time to discuss the matter. Still … he wanted to know what she knew, because it was likely Bhayar also knew at least some of what she had learned … and might have even learned it from him. “Such as?”

“One of the reaver captives-before he was executed-kept talking about the man who walked out of the storm and survived enough poison to kill two men, and then left three corpses and a dog-and none bore a single mark.”

“I almost died from that poison. If it hadn’t have been for Rhodyn and his wife-”

“Then there was the fact of how often you ate at various tavernas in Solis. Not expensive tavernas, but even the least expensive meals totaled far more than the stipend that Bhayar gave you. You are most honest, and no one ever slipped you coin, but you never seemed to run out. You usually paid in coppers. Very dirty coppers, not shiny ones.”

Quaeryt could see that someone, most likely Bhayar, had been very thorough … and where she was headed, but he merely nodded. “Scholars seldom have more than coppers.”

“Then there was the report about how you removed a crossbow quarrel from your own chest. Alone. A man who weighed fifteen stone couldn’t do that. The captain surgeon couldn’t believe you did it from the depth of the wound, especially without ripping your flesh to shreds. You’re strong, dearest, but you’re not that strong.”

“Maybe I didn’t report it right.”

She shook her head. “One thing I do know is that what you say is close to the truth. Always.”

“I try.”

“Then there are all the reports about how you managed to save men and officers and how so many rebels seemed to strike at you and miss.”

“They didn’t miss enough,” Quaeryt pointed out. “You saw that.”

She moved behind the chair, reached down and massaged his shoulders, gently. “I didn’t tell my brother all of that.”

“But … how?”

“Nerya was always more than a duenna. She isn’t an aunt, either. She’s a distant cousin. She wanted to make sure that you weren’t playing with woman after woman. When she told Bhayar all the places you’d been, I was the one who did the figures.”

“Is there anything you don’t know?” he asked with a laugh.

“She was also very impressed by your taste. You always chose reasonable places with good food, and you never drank too much. None of the servers had anything ill to say of you. That meant you gave them extra, all of them.”

“What can I say? I was extravagant to the limit of my means.”

She shook her head. “You also have black eyes and white-blond hair.”

“And that means?”

“You know very well what it means.” She bent down and brushed his neck with her lips. “My imager dearest.” Then she straightened.

“You agreed to marry me, knowing that?” he said, easing the chair back and standing.

“Grandmere said I would wed a man with white-blond hair who was more than he seemed. That was one of her last visions. I was barely ten. It scared me.”

Did she seek you out for that reason? He didn’t ask that question. “Does it scare you now?”

She shook her head. “I didn’t tell Bhayar that, either. Aelina knows, though. She might have told him. When I first saw you at the palace, I didn’t even think about it.”

“You were what then? Twelve?”

“Thirteen.”

“What changed your mind?”

“You were respectful to Bhayar, but you never groveled or pled. You might have been the only one without position of whom that could be said.” She smiled. “I couldn’t imagine why. I know now.”

“Imagers aren’t invulnerable or invincible.” He lifted his left arm. “I’ve scars and barely healed bones to prove that.”

“What can you image?” she asked.

“It depends on what it’s made of. Generally, the more common the material, the easier it is. That’s not true of metals, though. They’re harder. I tried to image a gold coin once. I almost died. Ice is easy, more so in summer, for some reason. I tried copper jewelry once. The copper wasn’t too bad, but the shape was terrible. You really have to concentrate on the substance and the shape. It’s hard work.”

“You’ll have to tell me more … when no one else is near.” She glanced toward the open door to the anteroom, although no one else was there, not on Solayi. “I almost wish we didn’t have to go to services tonight.”

“As princeps, I should set an example. Besides, I like to hear what Phargos has to say. He usually does make me think.”

“It seems…” She paused. “I don’t know. Is there a Nameless? I know you don’t think so.”

Quaeryt shook his head. “I never said that.”

“Oh, I know. You say that you don’t know if there is or there isn’t. But what is the difference between not knowing and not believing? Either way, you don’t worship the Nameless.”

“Do you?”

“We were talking about you, dearest.”

Quaeryt waited.

“I feel that there’s something beyond us. Is that the Nameless? Or is it something else?”

Quaeryt forbore saying that the belief in something greater than human beings and not knowing what it might be was exactly why that power was called the Nameless. “I don’t know if such exists. I doubt that even if it does, it plays games with people, rewarding or punishing them for their belief or nonbelief, or for whether they attend services or believe exactly what the choristers say that they should-although I have to say that most choristers I’ve heard confine their homilies to what I’d call reasonable guidelines for living.”

“You’re very reasonable, dearest, even when you’re doing the most unreasonable things.”

Quaeryt wasn’t about to respond to that. “I can’t help but wonder if Rholan really happened to be a charlatan,” he mused.

“Why do you say that?” asked Vaelora.

“Because of the contradiction in terms he embodied. He talked endlessly about the sin of naming, and yet are not so many words spoken over so many years in themselves a form of naming?”

She laughed. “Greatness always includes great contradictions. It’s not possible otherwise.”

Quaeryt was afraid she was right about that. “We should get ready for dinner and services.”

“So we should.”

He slipped the sheet of draft imager rules into the desk drawer.

4

Yet another snowstorm blew in on Mardi afternoon and evening, but by midday on Meredi, bright sun and southern breezes were so much in evidence that wherever the stone pavement had been largely cleared, the remaining snow and ice had melted, leaving the stone dry. Even so, with the dray-horse plows and more than a company shoveling away the snow, it was close to late afternoon before the laboring rankers cleared the long paved lane down the hill on which the Telaryn Palace was situated.

As he stood before the window in the princeps’s study, looking beyond the walls to the snow-covered hills to the north, Quaeryt reflected on the events of the first month and a half of the new year-beginning with Bhayar’s arrival in Tilbora and the greater surprise of Vaelora’s appearance … and their wedding. At the same time, being princeps was … well … close to demandingly tedious, and it certainly would have been depressing to some extent without Vaelora’s presence. The position was one of keeping track of detail after detail, listening to unhappy and sometimes greedy factors, and managing supplies and expenses for the three regiments. Still … tedious or not, he had learned a great deal about finances, logistics, and what was required. He’d also learned that keeping everyone even close to happy took an inordinate amount of time. Then there were the odd duties, such as overseeing the reformation of the scholarium. He was just happy that he’d dispatched the draft imager rules to the scholarium early on Lundi, somewhat revised by suggestions from Vaelora.

He had to admit that he was relieved, not so much by her admitting she knew he was an imager, but by her almost matter-of-fact acceptance of his talent. He’d almost blurted out asking her if she had visions, as her grandmere had, but he’d decided to wait before posing that question. He suspected that she did and that was one reason why his imaging talent didn’t seem to bother her.

He turned at the rap on his study door, opened immediately by Vhorym to admit Straesyr.

“Sir?” Quaeryt rose from his chair.

The governor closed the door behind him. He carried several sheets of paper, which he extended to Quaeryt. “I think you should read these.”

Quaeryt took them and immediately began to read. The sheets were a dispatch from Bhayar, ordering the departure of First Regiment as soon as possible and practical, using the more southern route, if necessary because “events require the presence of additional forces in the west of Telaryn immediately.” The next paragraph “requested” that Third Regiment be readied for departure as soon as practicable, but no later than the third week of Maris, while Second Regiment be split into two regiments, the bulk remaining with Second Regiment, and a new Fourth Regiment be created and reinforced with recruits and standing complement from Telaryn Palace.

Quaeryt looked up. “It would be good to know what those events might be. The way he wrote that could mean anything.”

“He’s concerned that someone besides us might read it,” the governor pointed out.

“That suggests trouble with Kharst.” Quaeryt paused. “Or that Lord Bhayar is planning some action to forestall even greater trouble with Bovaria.”

“Either way…” mused Straesyr, “it points toward war before too long.”

“Unless he thinks bringing two more regiments to the west might give Kharst second thoughts.”

“From what I’ve heard, Rex Kharst is impulsive enough that he sometimes doesn’t even have first thoughts.”

“Impulsive, but effective. Or his marshals are good enough to make his impulses effective.”

“That doesn’t lessen the effectiveness,” pointed out Straesyr.

Quaeryt noted that the governor didn’t point out that those less charitable to Bhayar could have said the same thing about the Lord of Telaryn.

“Myskyl could have First Regiment on the road in less than a week,” said Straesyr. “What about supplies?”

“Raurem is supposed to deliver a wagonload of those grain cakes on Jeudi, if we don’t get another storm. The rest of the stores are ready to go.”

Straesyr nodded. “The grain cakes will help, especially for the ride beyond Ayerne. There won’t be any forage at all.”

“I’ll see about getting more of them for Third Regiment. We have the golds for them, and even if it’s tight, we won’t have the expenses for victuals and fodder later in the year with two regiments gone earlier than planned.”

“Except that these orders to recruit and train another regiment will increase expenses.” The governor’s voice was dry.

“Creating a Fourth Regiment might not be bad. Some of the younger men who followed the hill holders might not mind food, clothing, and coppers, and sending them west would keep things quieter here. We might do a little planning along those lines.…”

“I already have,” replied the governor. “Rather, I’ve adapted the plans Rescalyn had already made.”

“Did he plan to split the old regiment into three regiments?”

“He planned for four, the way Bhayar just ordered.” Straesyr smiled sadly. “He was a brilliant man. He just didn’t anticipate that Bhayar would send an equally brilliant scholar to observe-and one who proved to be rather … durable.”

“Fortunate,” corrected Quaeryt.

“I’ve noted that fortune often tends to follow the most observant and best prepared in ways that reward them far more than mere chance, my dear princeps.” Straesyr offered a smile both warm and ironic. “In any instance, we’d best prepare for recruiting and staffing another regiment. Who would you suggest as commander?”

“Would Commander Zirkyl prefer to leave Rescalyt for a more active command? If you gave him a choice … a real choice … so that he doesn’t feel that he’s being pushed … Or would Myskyl prefer to leave First Regiment? They’re both good at training and discipline without overdoing it.”

“Since Myskyl’s senior, I’ll ask him. I’d wager he’d prefer to head south with First Regiment, but he’d like the chance to have a choice, and I’d like to give that option to him.”

Neither mentioned that the older commander had not been all that enthusiastic about the events surrounding Rescalyn’s death in the last moments of the battle against Zorlyn … or that he might prefer greater distance between himself and Quaeryt.

Quaeryt nodded, wondering, again, what exactly might be happening to the west … and if Straesyr would happen to be right in suggesting that Quaeryt might find himself leaving Tilbor before that long.

5

After Quaeryt left the princeps’s study on Vendrei and walked up to the private apartments, he looked first into the salon, then into the study where he thought Vaelora might still be writing. Both were empty. He found her in the dressing chamber, studying herself in the full-length mirror.

“What do you think of this?”

Quaeryt looked at what she wore, wide-legged purple trousers that, if she stood straight, looked like a skirt, above which were a yellow blouse and a tight-fitting jacket that matched the trousers.

“You don’t like it. I can tell,” she said when he did not immediately speak.

“I didn’t say anything.”

“You didn’t have to.”

“The trousers and jacket are good. The yellow doesn’t go with your skin.”

“You could have said that first.”

“I … should have.”

She took off the jacket, looking at the blouse in the mirror. “I knew it.”

Quaeryt opened his mouth to ask why, if she knew it, she’d even asked him. Instead, he closed his mouth.

“The gray goes better … but it’s dull.”

“Do you have a pink or rose blouse?”

“If I had one, why would I be wearing the yellow? I didn’t bring a trousseau, dearest.”

The word “dearest” was not quite edged in acid, and Quaeryt kept still.

“And that’s not something my dear brother has bothered with sending.”

“And the seamstresses here are limited,” he offered. They’d been married with him in his browns with the one formal jacket-retailored temporarily to accommodate the splint-and she’d worn the best of the riding outfits she had brought.

“Are there any? With any great talent?”

Quaeryt stood, thinking. He knew he’d run across one. Then he winced. Why didn’t you think of that earlier?

“You have that look. What is it?”

“I just remembered. There is a seamstress in the harbor area. She used to create … tailor dresses for Tyrena.”

“And you didn’t tell me?”

“I didn’t think of her until now.”

“Oh?”

That word spoke volumes, but Quaeryt wasn’t about to address the implications. “She was … is one of the Sisters. She was the one who first told me about Chardyn’s link to the Khanar’s Guard and the pretender. I went into her shop by accident.…”

Vaelora sighed. After a moment, she smiled. “I’m sorry. I know it’s just a small dinner with Emra and Straesyr. But I did want to wear something different, and Eluisa offered me the yellow blouse. It doesn’t suit her either, and she never wore it.”

Quaeryt smiled ruefully. “At least, I remembered in time for something else.” He handed her the oblong envelope with the card inside.

She extracted it quickly and gracefully, her eyes scanning the elegant script. “A ball? A real ball? Who is High Holder Thurl?”

“One of the High Holders whose estate is nearby … comparatively. We may have to ride.” Quaeryt had never seen the carriages that remained at the Telaryn Palace in use, and he didn’t even know if there happened to be a sleigh. Probably somewhere, but why would anyone have used one in the last ten years?

“Ride? In a gown?”

That did sound ridiculous, Quaeryt had to admit. “I hadn’t thought about that.”

“I doubt Emra would even attend if she had to ride…”

“I will see.” Quaeryt held up a hand. “I doubt that we would be invited, except that as the sister of Lord Bhayar, you could not be overlooked, and so … I, as a mere lowly princeps, must also be included.”

“Quaeryt…” She grinned. “That is almost disrespect.”

“But … I did remember the seamstress.”

“This is only two weeks away.”

Two weeks and a day. He didn’t voice that thought either.

“Can we see this seamstress tomorrow?”

“If it doesn’t snow.” He fervently hoped it would not be snowing on Samedi.

In the end, Vaelora wore the pale gray blouse with a rose scarf, conceding that it was “acceptable.”

Quaeryt thought she looked far more than acceptable as they left their quarters.

The governor’s apartments-those formerly belonging to the Khanar-were also on the third level of the palace, but to get there, Quaeryt and Vaelora had to descend to the second level, using the staircase on the east side of the second-level gallery, then walk to the west end of the palace, where a separate staircase, which could be closed off by two sets of iron doors, if decorated and gilded, afforded the only entry.

A single ranker stood by the staircase doors. “Good evening, sir, madame. The governor is expecting you.” He gave two quick jerks to a bell-pull.

By the time Vaelora and Quaeryt reached the top of the pale gray marble steps, covered largely by a green carpet runner, Straesyr was waiting.

“Greetings! We’ll join Emra in the private sitting room.” The governor smiled cheerfully. “The salon would be overly spacious for the four of us. Also, it would take a great deal of wood or coal to heat it to be comfortable.”

If the private sitting room happened to be the smaller chamber, Quaeryt definitely understood what Straesyr meant, because the sitting room was larger than his official study as princeps.

“Do join me,” offered Emra, rising from where she had been sitting.

Quaeryt was still struck by the fact that Emra’s hair was a striking silver-gray, in contrast to her husband’s largely blond thatch.

The four of them settled into leather upholstered armchairs set in a semicircle around a low table, placed in turn before a ceramic stove that radiated a comfortable heat.

“Hot mulled wine … or red or white?” asked the governor.

“The mulled, please,” rejoined Vaelora immediately.

Straesyr left the sitting room briefly, then returned and reseated himself. Shortly, a ranker in uniform appeared with a tray on which were four mugs from each of which rose thin wisps of steam. Vaelora took her mug and immediately clasped her hands around it. Quaeryt took a small sip and almost burned his mouth. He set the mug on the table.

“I spend much of my time here,” said Emra. “It’s the most comfortable chamber. Would you believe that the master bedchamber doesn’t have a stove-just a fireplace that you have to keep fired up all the time if you want to keep the chill out?”

“It’s not quite that bad,” murmured Straesyr.

Emra raised a single eyebrow, but said nothing.

“The most comfortable room we have,” offered Quaeryt, “is the private dining chamber. The fireplace in the bedchamber smokes so much that we ended up sealing it up. Temporarily, with some timbers and rags, behind a most ornate-and useless-fire screen.”

“That works for you two. You’re young and newly wed,” replied Emra.

“How long before we stop getting snow?” asked Quaeryt, looking to Straesyr.

“Never,” said Emra quickly.

“It should start tapering off in the next week or so, but we’ve had snow as late as in Avryl, and once even in Mayas.”

“Like I said,” added Emra, “never.” Abruptly, she smiled. “I do tend to give Straesyr a great deal of grief about the chill, but I do prefer it to the heat of someplace like Thuyl. That’s where I grew up, you know. Solis is dry and cool compared to Thuyl.”

Quaeryt let himself wince.

“It’s worse than that,” Emra continued as she took in his expression. “I never worried about where we were posted because I knew it would be better than where I grew up.”

“What is your family like?” asked Vaelora quickly, still cupping her hands around the warm mug of wine.

“I suppose they’re still there, but they aren’t the kind to write. They could certainly afford the silvers for it.”

“They’re into cotton factoring,” added Straesyr. “They used to own all the warehouses in the delta. Emra married me against their wishes.” He looked to Vaelora.

“It wasn’t quite against my brother’s wishes,” she replied. “I just refused to marry anyone else.”

“She didn’t bother to inform me, either,” Quaeryt said dryly, before his voice warmed. “It was, shall we say, the greatest Year-Turn gift I’ve ever received … or ever expect to.”

“You’re very fortunate he understands that, dear,” said Emra.

“I am indeed … and for other graces that he possesses.”

“Were we ever like that?” Emra looked to Straesyr.

“In our own way, yes.”

“I suppose we were. Time does pass…” Emra paused. “I did persuade the kitchen to provide us with specially roasted game fowl. I do hope you like game fowl.…”

“Indeed,” said Quaeryt, almost simultaneously with Vaelora’s “Of course.”

Their eyes met, momentarily, and they smiled.

Quaeryt understood both the warmth and the sadness in his wife’s brown eyes, and resolved to make the evening as cheerful as possible.

6

Quaeryt felt as though he might be exceeding the bounds of his office in using a squad to escort him and Vaelora to Tilbora early on Samedi morning … but the half-staff he had obtained as a replacement for the one lost in the last battle against the hill holders was scarcely adequate by itself against brigands, and explaining imaging would have also created problems and questions better left unraised. Besides, she was Bhayar’s sister, and had she not been married, or had she been married to someone else, and had she come to Tilbor, Straesyr certainly would have provided an escort.

Quaeryt was glad that the sun was out, and that there was no wind, so that the morning was almost pleasant, at least for winter in Tilbor. It was well before eighth glass, and both Artiema and Erion were still in the sky, although neither moon was close to being full, when they rode down the cold stone lane from the palace, with two rankers before them and the rest of the squad following, all of them riding far enough away from the couple so that they could talk privately-if they kept their voices low.

He turned in the saddle. “You were wonderful at dinner last night.”

“So were you.” She paused, then added, “It’s so sad. They love each other, but…”

“Even when they talk about the very same things, they’re not talking about the same things.”

“They know it, and he still loves her, and she still loves him.” Vaelora paused, and then looked straight at Quaeryt. “If I don’t understand … talk to me until I do.”

“I will.”

“Promise me.”

Quaeryt almost recoiled at the intensity behind those quietly spoken words. “I promise. I will. But you must do the same.”

“I already do.” She flashed a warm smile.

“I have a question. One I should have asked earlier.”

“Oh?”

“You take after your grandmere-”

“Yes, dearest.”

“I meant … about whether you see things as she did … visions?”

“I knew what you meant. I do … not often. She didn’t, either.”

“Did you see me?”

“Not exactly. But you looked familiar the very first time I saw you, in a strange way, and it wasn’t because of what Grandmere had told me. There was one … farsight … that later proved to be about us. I didn’t know that at the time. Years ago, I saw an image, as if I were there, and Bhayar and I were riding up a stone lane to a wall with gates. I didn’t know what it meant-until I saw it again.”

“The gates to the Telaryn Palace.”

She nodded. “There have been a few others, but none that have not already come to pass.”

“You’ll tell me if there are others?”

“I will. Now you tell me more about this seamstress.”

“I don’t know much more about her skill, except that she’d mentioned doing clothes for Tyrena. I only recall her first name. Syen. I was trying to talk to people in Tilbora about what happened just before and after your grandfather defeated the pretender. Most people wouldn’t talk to me, because I wore scholar browns. She was the one who told me why they wouldn’t. That was likely because her husband-I think it was her husband-tried to kill me…” He went on to explain about the link between Chardyn and the scholars who had run the scholarium and how they’d been tied to the rebels, including how Chardyn had tried to kill him.

“You used imaging to kill this Chardyn?”

“I had to. He would have killed me otherwise. That was what got me to thinking about doing other things with imaging, like the shields I told you about.”

“Do other imagers know how to do that?”

“Voltyr and Uhlyn didn’t. I don’t know any other imagers.”

“Few can do that, or all would know.”

Quaeryt had no doubts that Vaelora was right about that. “I wouldn’t, either, except I feared that if I didn’t try it, I wouldn’t survive what Rescalyn had in mind for me.”

“That is also farsight.”

“A different kind,” he replied with a laugh.

She smiled, but he had the feeling that she didn’t totally agree.

When they neared the harbor, Quaeryt was careful to direct the squad to approach the shop from the south to avoid the brothel on the street to the north. While the brothel doubtless had its windows closed and shuttered against the cold, there was no point in going that way, especially since they would not be using the stable situated beside the pleasure establishment.

Once outside the shop, in the row of buildings fronting the harbor, Quaeryt dismounted and handed the mare’s reins to the nearest ranker, then turned to offer help to Vaelora, but she already stood on the dirty snow beside her mount. He looked back to the squad leader. “Hernyn … we’ll try not to be long.”

“That’s not a problem, sir. It’s warm as winter days go.”

Unlike the last time he had been in the harbor area, all the doors were unshuttered, although most shop windows were at least partly shuttered against the cold, and the air held the acridness of burning wood … and perhaps coal. As when he had come the first time to Syen’s tiny shop, the single narrow window beside the door was shuttered, but the door was not, and it opened to his touch. He stepped through, holding his shields, recalling his last visit, when the seamstress’s husband had tried to kill him because he’d mistaken Quaeryt for a colleague of Chardyn. Vaelora followed him and closed the door.

Syen looked toward them from where she stood beside the frame shaped like a woman’s figure.

“This time, I definitely don’t have the wrong shop,” Quaeryt said.

“Greetings, Lady,” said Syen, looking to Vaelora, before turning to Quaeryt. “I thought I might see you again, scholar … or is it Princeps these days?”

“Both, I suppose. Syen, this is my wife, Vaelora. I don’t remember your surname.”

“Syen … Syen Yendradyr.” A faint smile crossed the lips of the trimly muscular woman who likely was not that much older than Quaeryt, despite the lines from the corners of her eyes and the streaks of gray in her short-cut hair.

“I’m pleased to meet you.” Vaelora’s husky voice was warm.

“And I, you.” Syen inclined her head, as she had not done with Quaeryt.

“Quaeryt has told me how helpful you were to him,” Vaelora added.

“As he was … later.”

“She needs a ball gown rather quickly,” said Quaeryt, not wishing to dwell on where that might lead.

Both women looked at Quaeryt.

He took a half step back, almost inadvertently.

“By two weeks from yesterday, if it is possible,” added Vaelora. “If not, I do understand.”

“Times are slow now.” A smile and what seemed a twinkle in her eyes followed. “And we do owe your husband for several matters.”

“I did what I thought was right,” Quaeryt said.

“So you did. Would that more did.” Syen turned her eyes back to Vaelora. “The sewing and the fitting can be done in the time you wish, even sooner, but the gown will have to be made from the fabrics that I can find here in Tilbora.”

“I understand.”

“I would think … perhaps silver gray and black? Or red and black?” Syen frowned. “Then again…”

Quaeryt took a step farther back, content to let events take their course, but very glad that he was paid a great deal more as princeps than he had been as a scholar assistant. He might not know that much about being wedded to the sister of the Lord of Telaryn, but he did know that gowns did not come cheaply.

In the end, after Syen and Vaelora agreed on the design, and colors, and all the measurements were taken, Quaeryt handed over a gold for a deposit and to cover fabric. “Thank you.”

“Thanks are not necessary, but your coin is welcome, Princeps, as are you and your wife. It is too bad you will not be here long.”

Quaeryt raised his eyebrows.

“You-and your lady, by her very presence-have already done much of what was necessary, and Lord Bhayar will soon find other uses for your talents.”

“I won no battles, performed no heroic acts. I only helped others.”

Syen smiled. “The Sisters understand that more is often achieved by those who only help.” She emphasized the word “only” just a trace. “We know who vanishes and who flees when no one else has been able to remove such pestilence.” Syen turned to Vaelora. “Is that not so, Lady?”

“I would not argue with you on that, or anything else affecting Tilbor,” replied Vaelora. “Until next week. Meredi … unless it snows.”

“Until then.”

Once they had left the shop and remounted, neither Quaeryt nor Vaelora said much until they were well away from the harbor.

“What do you know about these Sisters?” she finally asked.

“As I told you … I overheard a conversation between two women, another between two officers, and what I gleaned when I talked to Syen.”

“You are truly Pharsi. To have determined what you did from so little…”

“You may be right You’re not the first to say that. When I first rode up from Ayerne…” He went on to tell the story of how he had delivered the letter from Rhodyn to the holder’s eldest son Jorem and how Hailae had spoken to him in Pharsi.

“White-blond Pharsi with black eyes…” mused Vaelora. “I have not heard of them, except as imagers, but that would explain much.”

As she finished, a gust of wind whipped around them. Quaeryt shivered, hoping that there would not be yet another storm coming. “You’ll wish we had hot springs like you did in Extela by the time we get back to the palace.”

“You’ll do quite nicely, dearest.”

Quaeryt certainly hoped so.

7

The next few days were far warmer, enough to melt the snow near dark stone and uncovered ground-except at night-and that meant that in the morning ice covered much of the stone pavement of the lane down to the lower gates.

On Mardi morning, Quaeryt walked to the private dining chamber, thinking that Vaelora would be along in moments. She wasn’t. After half a quint, he turned and headed back to the dressing chamber.

When he appeared, she stepped forward, shuddering, and put her arms around him.

“What is it?”

“Those shields … the ones you created for battle … can you still do that?”

“Yes … I haven’t seen much need, not here in the palace…”

“Please … whenever you leave the palace … or even here when there are people you don’t know … please use them…”

“Why … What did you see?”

“It was a hall … a long one, and you were standing by a doorway, and a man in dark clothes had a crossbow, and I saw the quarrel go toward you…”

Quaeryt stiffened. “Did you see any faces … anything else?”

Vaelora looked at him, and he saw the streaks of tears running down her cheeks. “It was so real … so very real.” Her voice strengthened. “You must use those shields.”

“But…” He knew better than to protest, but it seemed so unreal. So far as he knew, anyone who had a personal grudge against him was dead.

“Dearest … you are seen as a man of influence and power, and you have already changed much. You have done so quietly. Most people see the governor and the commanders as the ones who made the changes, but there are still those who know you were behind those changes.”

“I’m just a scholar who…”

“Just? If the Sisters all know what you did, who else does as well?”

Quaeryt smiled ruefully. “You’re right. I will.”

“Promise me. Starting today.”

“I promise.”

She blotted her cheeks and eyes, delicately. “I’m sorry. It was so real that I wanted to scream and warn you. Then it was gone.”

“Are these foresights always like that?”

“Farsight,” she corrected him. “I told you. I don’t have many. This is the first one in more than a year, but they all have felt so real when I see them.”

“I’ll go back to using shields,” Quaeryt said, trying to reassure her once more.

“I know it sounds silly … in a fashion, anyway…”

“If you’re right, then it will save my life or health, and if not … there’s certainly no harm done.” He shook his head and added quickly, “You’re right in any case. It’s just hard for me to believe that anyone would want to kill me. In a battle, yes, but as a regional princeps?”

“Who’s married to Lord Bhayar’s sister and who has come to power over so many younger sons of holders and High Holders,” added Vaelora.

“I wouldn’t even have been considered in a region like Ryntar or Montagne, or even Ruilan, would I?”

“I’d have considered you anyway,” she replied with a smile.

“That might have been, but I have my doubts your brother would have been so accommodating.”

“I’d have found a way.”

The matter-of-fact certainty in her voice reminded Quaeryt of one thing-Bhayar hadn’t needed to tell Quaeryt to respect Vaelora. Not at all.

“We should eat breakfast,” he said gently.

“Oh … I almost forgot.”

The inadvertent innocence in her voice reminded him of something else-and that was what a mixture of experience and inexperience lay beneath her determination. He embraced her once more. “I do love you.”

“I know.” Her arms went around him for a moment before releasing him. “We do need to eat.”

He didn’t mention that he’d just said almost the same thing.

They walked to the private dining chamber hand in hand.

After breakfast, Quaeryt made his way down the private staircase and to his study. He was early enough that he arrived before Vhorym. He didn’t settle behind the desk, but walked to the center window and pulled back the hangings and opened the shutters, ignoring the chill off the glass as he stood there looking out to the north. The first snows had begun to fall near the end of Feuillyt, and by mid-Finitas snowstorms were regularly bombarding Tilbor, and that had been weeks before winter began. Spring was less than two weeks away, and everything was still covered in snow, so much that when he rode out the east gates he could barely see over what was piled on each side of the access lane to the palace.

His thoughts went back to what Vaelora had said-and seen. Who would want him dead, and what would he be doing in a long dark hallway?

He laughed, quietly.

How would you ever have believed you-a mere scholar-would become princeps of Tilbor and be married to Bhayar’s daughter?

Then he turned to face the remainder of the day.

8

On Meredi, Quaeryt accompanied Vaelora back to Tilbora for a fitting of the ball gown-except that she insisted he wait outside. After the ride and while he stood and waited with the escort squad, he realized that he was somewhat tired, and he wondered why.

Shields … of course. Even though he was holding the lighter shields that stiffened only when something touched them, doing so was still an effort-one that he had not made in more than a month, except occasionally. He’d forgotten how long it had taken to build up his strength and endurance to be able to hold them much of the day.

He still couldn’t help but wonder who might be seeking his death. Those who were mostly likely to hold a grudge as a result of the destruction of the rebellious hill holds would be sons or heirs of those holders-and he doubted that many of them knew of his small role or even cared about him, particularly since Rescalyn-who had planned and executed the campaign-had died at the end of the last battle. Chardyn was dead, and from what he had determined it appeared that Zarxes had died in the battle for his father’s hold. The sea-reavers didn’t even know who he was … if any of them had even survived.

He shook his head.

“Dearest?”

Quaeryt turned to see Vaelora leaving Syen’s shop, carrying out what Quaeryt presumed was the gown, if rolled and covered in oilcloth.

When she reached him, standing beside the mare, she handed the gown to her husband. “Please don’t drop it.”

“I won’t. Is it finished?”

“Of course. She had to make a few changes. That was why it took a bit.”

“What do I own Syen?” he asked as he took the gown from her.

“Nothing. I paid her the rest of what was due.”

“You…?”

“I am not penniless, dearest. Bhayar did leave some golds for me. He told me to be careful of them. I have been. This is the first time I’ve spent anything. Major Daendyr has kept most of them in the regimental strong room.” With a smile, Vaelora swung up into the saddle, far more gracefully than he ever did.

Quaeryt should have known. He just shook his head.

“Please hand me the gown, if you would, dearest?”

He did, and then mounted, wordlessly, wondering exactly how many golds his wife had stored away. Certainly far more than you have. At least, he could say to himself, if not to anyone else, that he hadn’t married Vaelora for golds. He hadn’t even thought of it, not that anyone was likely to believe him.

“Why are you smiling?” she asked as they rode away from the harbor area of Tilbora.

“Because I never married you for your golds and because no one would ever believe me if I said so.”

“I do.”

“No one but you.”

“The young chorister at the scholarium-the one who used to be an undercaptain-he would.”

Quaeryt laughed, ruefully. “That might be the one thing on which we’d agree. Otherwise, he thinks too highly of me.”

“You want people to think you do well, but not too well. Is that because you’re afraid that if they think too highly of you, you’ll disappoint them?”

“Partly.” And partly because I don’t want them looking at me too closely.

“And partly for other reasons?” She glanced knowingly in his direction.

“You know me too well.”

“A wife should,” she replied playfully.

He wasn’t about to argue with that, either.

“Dearest … I have not pressed … but I cannot wear that gown and ride…”

“Oh … I’m sorry. I meant to tell you. We will ride in a carriage down to the lower gates, and High Holder Thurl will have a sleigh waiting for us-the four of us.”

“When did you learn this?”

“Yesterday,” he admitted.

Her glance was not quite withering.

“I did find out,” he said quietly.

After several moments of stone-faced silence, abruptly, Vaelora grinned. “Dearest … next time … I do hope there is not a next time.”

So did Quaeryt, even if it had been his fault. Especially since it had been.

By the time they neared the lower gates to the palace, Quaeryt could feel the sunlight for the first time in more than a season. He was riding with his winter jacket open, and he noticed that small piles of slush had been thrown to the side of the road by the small sleighs used by many Tilborans in winter. In a few places, he saw mud. He glanced toward Vaelora, noting she had loosened her coat as well.

“It’s gotten warmer,” he said.

“It has, but for how long?”

There was that, but it was a reminder that spring would come.

He kept thinking about that even after he escorted Vaelora back to their quarters and then made his way back toward his study. When he reached the gallery, he turned and made his way to the governor’s anteroom.

Undercaptain Caermyt glanced up. “He’s not busy, sir.”

Quaeryt knocked on the half-open door and then peered in.

“Come in, Quaeryt. What’s on your mind?”

“Sir … I just returned from Tilbora. I think that First Regiment should leave as soon as possible. If the roads turn to mud…”

“I agree. So does Commander Myskyl-and he does prefer to remain with First Regiment. They’ve almost made ready, another day at most, and they will leave on Vendrei.” Straesyr smiled. “We’ll still see freezing nights, but it’s likely to get warmer and warmer during the day.”

“Have you received any more dispatches?”

The governor shook his head. “I doubt we will for a time, unless we fail to send off the regiments in a fashion Lord Bhayar deems untimely, and neither of us would wish that, I think.” His voice turned wry and sardonic with the last words.

“No, sir.” Quaeryt paused. “Oh … I got a note from Raurem late yesterday. He can deliver another wagonload of grain cakes by the third of Maris.”

“That should be acceptable. Muddy roads or not, Commander Skarpa won’t have Third Regiment ready to leave before the end of that week.”

“I’ll let Raurem know, but I’ll insist on that date, just in case.”

Straesyr nodded.

After leaving the governor, Quaeryt walked back toward his own chambers, wondering what might be happening in the west … and whether … and if so, when events might involve him.

Thinking of Vaelora, he wasn’t so sure he wanted to be involved, for all of his plans.

But you made those plans before she came into your life. Times change.

So they did, more than he had ever anticipated.

9

Quaeryt had only been in his study for a quint on Jeudi morning when Vhorym knocked on the door.

“Sir … There’s a young scholar here to see you. His name is Lankyt, he says.” Vhorym did not quite frown. “He says it’s important.”

“I’ll see him. He’s a good youth. His father saved my life.” Quaeryt rose.

Vhorym left the door open, stepped back, and gestured.

Lankyt hurried in, bowing deeply, and straightening. “Sir … Chorister Gauswn … he sent me. Chorister Cyrethyn is dying. He would like to see you. Chorister Gauswn … he said you should know.”

“I can leave now.” Quaeryt stood. “You rode alone?”

“Yes, sir.”

“We’ll ride back together.” Quaeryt gestured for Lankyt to follow him. “Vhorym … I’m needed at the scholarium. I don’t know when I’ll be back, but it will be later today.”

“Yes, sir.”

Quaeryt hurried down to the main level, stopping by the duty desk to request a squad to accompany him, and then out to the stable, where he saddled the mare, then walked her out of the stable and mounted. He rode across the courtyard to where Lankyt was waiting on a gray gelding. “Your mount?”

“Syndar and I share him.”

Quaeryt glanced around the courtyard, looking for the duty squad that was to accompany him. “He’s the one you used to visit the local growers? To find better ways to grow things?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Have you discovered anything new since last harvest?”

“Well … not much … except that marigolds keep away many bugs. I was thinking that if we planted them around the orchards, that might help…”

Quaeryt listened for not quite another half quint, until the duty squad arrived, and then they set out through the eastern gates and down the stone lane to the lower gates. Once they left the upper gates, he raised his shields, the lighter ones that would stiffen into hard shields if anything neared them. He noticed that the snow heaped on each side of the lane seemed a touch lower and stone gutters flanking the lane were carrying meltwater down to the moat. They weren’t full, but it was more than a trickle.

After almost a quint of riding, Lankyt spoke again. “Sir … I meant to thank you, but I was worried about the chorister.”

“Thank me for what?”

“Yesterday … my da-my father-I got a letter from him. He agreed that since Syndar seemed so much better suited to being a scholar, I should come home, but only when the roads were clear and when I could join someone trustworthy. You did that, didn’t you?”

“Not exactly. Syndar wanted to stay. He’s been a great help to Scholar Princeps Yullyd. I wrote that to your father. Nothing more.”

“Thank you, sir. I liked what I learned at the scholarium, but I do so miss Ayerne, and I know I’m better suited to the land.”

“I’m sure you are.” Quaeryt paused. “Would you be willing to leave tomorrow?”

“Sir? Do you mean it?”

“First Regiment is heading that way, and they leave tomorrow. I think I can persuade Commander Myskyl to let you ride with them. They’ll likely overnight at Ayerne anyway. But you’ll have to gather your things and ride back with me when I leave the scholarium after I see Cyrethyn.”

“I can do that, sir. I can.”

Quaeryt nodded, his eyes on the road. So far the packed snow and ice, and presumably the ground beneath both in places where the roads were not stone-paved, seemed frozen solid. Of course, there would be mud farther south, but because the snow melted more in between storms, there wouldn’t be as much mud as in Tilbor and the area just south of the river when everything did melt.

After they had ridden a while longer, Lankyt again turned in the saddle. “You said First Regiment was riding south. Will there be a war, sir?”

“There’s always likely to be a war sometime. When and where the next one will be, I don’t know, but I fear it won’t be that long.”

“Will you have to go or will you stay in Tilbor?”

“I serve here at the pleasure of Lord Bhayar. That’s up to him.”

The youth nodded thoughtfully.

It was close to a glass later when Quaeryt dismounted outside the stable of the scholarium. He was almost breathing heavily when he dismounted, and wondered why, until he realized, belatedly, that he’d been carrying shields for the entire ride.

Can you lower them? He frowned. Surely, here … He decided against it. He’d promised Vaelora, and if anything at all happened … he certainly didn’t want to hear what she might say. Besides, the more he worked at it, the sooner before the effort required would diminish.

At that moment, he saw Gauswn hurrying toward him at almost a run.

“Sir!” panted the chorister.

“Where is Cyrethyn?” asked Quaeryt.

“He’s in his quarters in the anomen, sir. He does want to talk to you, but he’s so weak. I was afraid to leave him.”

“We came as quickly as we could.” Quaeryt turned to Lankyt. “You need to get your things ready. If any of the scholars need an explanation, I’ll talk to them after I see to Cyrethyn.”

“Yes, sir.”

Quaeryt handed the mare’s reins to the ranker nearest to him and looked to the squad leader. “I’ll probably be here about a glass, Heisyn. There should be room in the stable for the mounts, and the tack room is usually warm.”

“Yes, sir.”

With that, Quaeryt nodded to Gauswn, and the two walked along the packed snow that covered the brick lane and then along the foot-packed path from the scholarium to the anomen.

Gauswn led the way to the main door of the building and stepped into the vestibule. “The private hallway is this way.” He opened a narrow ancient ironbound door that Quaeryt had only vaguely noticed in passing on the few occasions he had visited the scholarium’s anomen.

The long hallway, barely illumined by a single oil lamp, led to a narrow staircase whose stone steps bore the hollows worn by years of choristers’ footsteps. At the bottom of the staircase, there was another passage to the right, again dimly lit by a single oil lamp in a wall sconce. Quaeryt found the near darkness oppressive, but less than five yards from the bottom of the steps was a door, beside which stood two older students.

“He’s in his bed.” Gauswn pointed to the door. “He said he needed to talk to you alone. I’ll wait out here.”

“I’ll try not to tire him.”

Gauswn nodded, but then said, “Please … sir … do let him say what he must, whatever that may be.”

Quaeryt smiled sadly. “I will.” He opened the door, stepped into the chamber, and shut the door behind him. The sole light came from a pair of high and narrow windows, only one of which was unshuttered, and just on one side. The furnishings were few, just the bed, a night table beside it, an armoire, a writing desk, and a chair-which had been pulled up close to the bed.

The old chorister, whose still wavy brown hair, without a trace of white, was so in contrast to the drawn and lined features of his face, smiled faintly as Quaeryt walked over to the narrow bed and sat on the chair.

“I came as soon as I could.”

“I … thought … you would.”

Quaeryt waited.

“Thank you … for Gauswn. He will be … a good chorister.” Cyrethyn took a wheezing breath. “A better chorister than an officer…”

“He was a good officer,” said Quaeryt.

“He will be … he already is … a better chorister … and you … you have not disappointed him. He will always look up to you.”

That was something Quaeryt had worried about more than once. “I wish he did not.”

“No … you must understand that he does … Never forget it … you … there is more about you … and … you must … must never … disappoint those who believe … in you.…” Cyrethyn was gasping as he finished those words.

Quaeryt wanted to ask if there was any way he could make Cyrethyn more comfortable, but knowing there was not, he remained silent until Cyrethyn’s breathing eased somewhat. “Is there anything else … I should know?”

The slightest smile crossed the old man’s lips. “You would make … a fine chorister … but … the world would be … poorer for it.”

Quaeryt did not wish to dispute either, much as he doubted both of Cyrethyn’s assertions, so he just sat on the stool and smiled warmly. “Is there anything I can do?”

“You … have done all I hoped … so far … just … do … not … disappoint them.…”

Even those words exhausted the old man, and Quaeryt nodded, rather than speak. For perhaps a quint he sat there, long after the chorister’s eyelids closed and he drifted into sleep. Finally, Quaeryt rose and walked to the door, opening it quietly and stepping outside, trying to close it equally silently.

“Is he…?” asked Gauswn.

“He told me what he wanted me to know. He’s sleeping or dozing now.”

“Thank you for coming,” said Gauswn.

“I could do no less for him.” Quaeryt shook his head. “But there is also little else I can do.”

“You saved the scholarium and the anomen, sir, and he cared greatly for both.”

“He was devoted to both.” Unlike some.

After several moments of silence, Gauswn cleared his throat. “I’ll see you out, sir.”

“There’s no need. Cyrethyn needs you more than I do.”

“He’d be very disappointed, sir, if I didn’t at least see you to the door.”

Quaeryt smiled. He couldn’t argue with that. “Just to the anomen door.”

From the chorister’s chamber they walked side by side, just far enough apart that Quaeryt’s closely held shields were not triggered into full protection. Because the staircase was too narrow to be comfortable for two, Quaeryt led the way, with Gauswn close behind. Just before Quaeryt reached the top of the staircase, he frowned. Was there someone waiting by the door?

Something slammed into his shields, driving him back so hard that he staggered to one side and almost fell. Because of his shorter left leg, he barely managed to catch his balance after going down one step.

As he did, Gauswn sprinted past him, a long knife drawn from somewhere in his hand.

Quaeryt’s eyes followed the chorister, and after a moment, so did his feet as he ran after Gauswn. He was close enough to see Gauswn’s arm move in what looked to be an underhanded thrust to the chest of a man in black-whose face mirrored shock, even as the crossbow clattered to the stone floor.

“You … always…” The would-be assassin’s knees crumpled.

Gauswn thrust the dying man backward, and his body hit the stone with a muffled thud.

Quaeryt reached the chorister and looked down at the sharp-faced and dark-haired figure, attired totally in black, who tried to gasp, then shuddered and was still. “Alkiabys … I thought he’d died in the last battle, along with Zarxes.”

“He should have.” The chorister turned to Quaeryt. “Again … the Nameless has protected you.…”

“Alkiabys just missed.”

Gauswn looked straight at Quaeryt. “I saw you be thrown back by that quarrel. It was aimed straight at your heart. Yet it was as if it hit a wall and dropped to the stones.”

“I didn’t see that,” replied Quaeryt. That much was true. He hadn’t seen it; he’d only felt the impact.

Gauswn inclined his head. “You are blessed by the Nameless.”

What can you say to that? After a moment, Quaeryt said, “I don’t know that. I do know that I’m glad that quarrel didn’t reach its target … and that you took care of Alkiabys. All I can ask is that I’d very much appreciate it if exactly what happened remains between us. I’m not asking you to lie…” Quaeryt paused. “You can say that Alkiabys fired his crossbow at me. That is true. You can also say that, for some reason, the quarrel didn’t hit me. I will say, which is also true, that you leapt to my defense and killed him.”

“But … why…?”

“Gauswn … if … IF I’m somehow protected, and you tell anyone, how long before someone else tries … and if I survive, someone else after that? If, as you think, the Nameless is protecting me-and I have grave doubts about that-but if it is true, the Nameless might not wish to keep protecting me if the fact of that protection is flaunted … or even known to a single other person.”

The chorister nodded slowly. “Sir … it will be between us.”

“Thank you. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate that.” And I can’t … at least not for a very, very long time. Because, while two people could occasionally keep a secret, especially if one happened to be as honorable as Gauswn, three people never could.

Gauswn looked down at the body, then at Quaeryt.

“Give him an honorable pyre, but no memorial.”

The young chorister nodded. “That would seem fitting.”

“You attend to Cyrethyn. I’ll have Yullyd or Nalakyn come and take care of the body.”

“Thank you, sir.”

When Quaeryt reached the rear of the scholarium, he saw Lankyt standing on the porch, with Nalakyn beside him. Several bundles were set at Lankyt’s feet.

“Princeps, sir,” began Nalakyn, “I understand that you have offered-”

“To have Lankyt escorted back to his father’s holding? That’s correct, but I’m going to have to task you with a less pleasant duty. You might recall Alkiabys?”

“Yes … sir.” The round-faced master scholar sounded puzzled.

“He was hiding in the anomen and tried to attack me when I left after seeing Cyrethyn. Gauswn leapt to my defense and killed him. Because he once was a scholar, he deserves a pyre, but not a memorial.” Quaeryt fumbled in his wallet until he came up with a pair of silvers. “I would not wish the expense to fall entirely on the scholarium. Use these to replace whatever wood is necessary. And because Gauswn must attend to Cyrethyn … could you have some of the scholars remove the body?”

“Yes, sir.” After a moment, Nalakyn said, “About young Lankyt…?”

“He’ll be riding back to the palace with me. He’ll be riding out with Commander Myskyl early tomorrow morning.”

“Yes, sir.”

Quaeryt looked hard at the master scholar. “We’ll be leaving as soon as the horses are ready.”

“I’ll have the students on discipline duty and Scholar Weisyn remove the body.”

“Thank you.”

Nalakyn almost scuttled across the covered porch and inside the building.

“It really was Alkiabys?” asked Lankyt.

“Yes.”

“I never liked him,” blurted Lankyt. “He liked to hurt students in Sansang practice. He’d say that they needed to learn what would happen when they didn’t defend themselves right. But he liked it. Scholar Chardyn was hard, but he was fair.” There was a pause. “Do you know what happened to him?”

“Let’s just say that he and Phaeryn would make certain that on the day that the visiting scholars or others said they would depart … they departed early … and left their coin for the Ecoliae. I suspect that one of those visitors took exception … perhaps many did, but one was finally able to prevail.”

Lankyt nodded slowly. “That … I can see that.”

Quaeryt bent and picked up one of the bundles. “Is this all you’re bringing?”

“I left whatever Syndar could use, sir. I’ll have more than enough at home.”

That was certainly true, reflected Quaeryt as they walked toward the stable, but Lankyt’s leaving anything that his older brother could use was still thoughtful.

“Father did tell me to ride the gelding home,” Lankyt added. “He said that, as a scholar, Syndar would have less need for him.”

A quint later, when Quaeryt, Lankyt, and the squad were a half mille away from the scholarium, Lankyt turned in the saddle, looked across the space between mounts, and said, “Master Scholar Nalakyn says that we should always tell the truth. I don’t see everything, sir, but it seems to me there are times when the truth hurts more than not saying anything.”

Quaeryt laughed ruefully. “That’s true enough. The problem is that when you start thinking like that, it becomes easy, first to say nothing, and then to lie, and then lie more, and finally to justify all the lies you’ve told. Yet … there are times, when part of the truth, so long as that part is not a lie in and of itself, is better than the whole truth … For example, if a man loses his courage in a battle and turns and flees, but is cut down from behind, there is no harm, and a grace, in telling his family that he died in battle without saying that he tried to flee. If a man has done evil while doing some otherwise good deeds and is killed in trying to do evil, it is sometimes better to say that he had good qualities and qualities that were not so good. But … if you do not tell the entire truth, you must always remember that you did not tell the entire truth, and each time you are tempted not to, you should ask whether you do so to make your path easier, or to aid others … or whether you do so for your own interests. If you find you are too often ‘helping’ others in that fashion, then you are deceiving yourself.” He shook his head. “As in everything, nothing in life is as simple as the maxims we teach. It is so easy to slip from the honorable … and yet, I have seen what many would call honorable used as a reason for cruelty and despicable behavior.” After another pause, he concluded, “And I don’t know that I’ve answered your question.”

“I think you have, sir.”

Quaeryt wasn’t so certain. It’s so easy to self-justify, and so hard to be truly honest about why you do what you do. Rescalyn certainly believed that overthrowing Bhayar would result in better rule of Telaryn … and you believed that a slightly better ruler would not justify all the upheaval and bloodshed. Who was right?

For all that he believed he had acted wisely, who was truly to say?

On the remainder of the ride back to the Telaryn Palace, Quaeryt managed not to reveal much more than he’d asked Gauswn to say, despite Lankyt’s curiosity. Once they reached the palace, he found Myskyl, who was surprisingly amenable to letting Lankyt ride with the regiment, then made arrangements for Lankyt to take a room in the west wing, and to eat as a guest in the mess. Finally, Quaeryt hurried to the main section of the palace and up to his and Vaelora’s quarters, where he found her in the study that had become hers.

She looked up from the table desk where she was writing. “Dearest … why are you here … now?”

“The scholarium sent a messenger to ask me to come see Cyrethyn-the old chorister. He’s dying and wanted to talk to me. A few things happened. You were right … sooner than you thought…” He went on to explain what happened, ending with … “and I believe Gauswn will keep the details to himself. Asking that of him … it bothers me … yet…”

“You were right to do so. The longer before anyone knows what you can do, the better.” After a moment, she added, “Grandmere said something like that.”

“Oh?” Quaeryt truly did wonder what Vaelora’s grandmother might have said.

“It’s better that others guess than know, because guessing breeds uncertainty, and uncertainty clouds action. That’s what she said.”

“There’s also another matter I had to deal with. The messenger from the scholarium was young Lankyt. You met him…”

“The young man who wants to be a holder?”

“That’s Lankyt. His father has finally agreed…” Quaeryt went on to explain, then said, “I had to persuade Myskyl to allow Lankyt to accompany First Regiment.” He smiled crookedly. “I shouldn’t have had a problem with that, not when they’d planned to overnight near Ayerne, but I do need to make certain that Straesyr understands.” He paused. “I did want to tell you what happened.” He grinned, if raggedly. “And that I did keep my promise.”

“Sometimes … a woman does know…”

“More than sometimes,” he admitted. “Especially you.”

“You’d better tend to Straesyr. You might also tell him that Lord Bhayar was most favorably disposed toward Holder Rhodyn.”

“I will.” He glanced at the papers on the desk. “More of your writing on governing and people?”

“Yes … I was thinking…” She smiled. “Let me finish. You can read it when I’ve thought it out. You should do what you must as princeps.”

“You sound like Straesyr … as though we won’t be here that much longer.”

“I fear he may be right. I cannot say why.” Her eyes flicked in the direction of the center of the palace.

“You cannot … or you’d rather not?”

“I cannot … it is just a feeling.”

“Farsight?”

She shook her head. “Just a feeling. Go see Straesyr.”

Quaeryt doubted that what she sensed was just a feeling, but he only said, “I will see you later.” Then he stepped forward, bent down, and kissed her cheek, before straightening and leaving.

10

On Vendrei morning, Quaeryt was up earlier than usual to see Lankyt and First Regiment off, as was Straesyr, if more than thirty yards from where Quaeryt stood, barely after dawn under high clouds and with a northwest wind that suggested the spring thaw was not quite so imminent. Quaeryt also gave a letter of Vaelora’s-addressed to Aelina-to the regular courier, along with the extra silver for carrying a private message. After returning for a hurried breakfast with Vaelora, he made his way to his study.

Once there, he settled behind his desk to sort through the various messages and missives that Vhorym had placed there.

He’d only been at that for less than a quint when the governor walked in.

“Good morning, Quaeryt. I saw that you were up early to see the regiment and your charge off this morning.”

Quaeryt stood. Although Straesyr wouldn’t have made a point of it, Quaeryt would have felt uncomfortable sitting while his superior was standing. “I was, sir.”

“Let us just hope they can get to Ayerne before the weather changes one way or another.”

“Today looks promising.”

“It does, so far. I wanted you to know that I changed the weekly report. In addition to informing Lord Bhayar that First Regiment is on its way, I also told him that we were working to dispatch Third Regiment as soon as we could. I didn’t tell him when that would be.”

“You’re worried about supplies-or the weather?”

“More about the weather. We could get a sudden thaw that turns the roads immediately south of Bhorael into impassable swamps. We could also get a storm so severe that sending men and mounts into it would be a death sentence.”

“I’d bet more on the swamps,” said Quaeryt.

“So would I, but you never can tell. Let me know if there’s any change in when Raurem will deliver the grain cakes.” Straesyr paused. “Is there anything else I should know?”

“I haven’t heard any more about Chorister Cyrethyn, but he won’t last much longer, and it’s a good thing you and Commander Myskyl let Gauswn leave service early. He’s already another presence to keep the scholars in line, not that Nalakyn wants to do anything but be a scholar and teach others.”

“That’s always good.” The governor nodded. “We’ll talk later.”

Quaeryt nodded. Straesyr often used that phrase to indicate he had nothing more to discuss, rather than signifying something else to deal with later.

After Straesyr left, Vhorym brought in another missive, this one from a wool factor in Midcote. From the date, the petition to reduce the factor’s tariffs had taken more than a month to reach Tilbora, not surprisingly. Quaeryt set that aside for the moment, although he knew he’d deal with it before the morning was over.

Addressing all the items awaiting him occupied him into the early afternoon, and he was far from finished when Vhorym announced, “Chorister Phargos.”

“Have him come in.”

The regimental chorister walked into the study. Quaeryt gestured to the chairs, and Phargos seated himself before speaking, this time in Bovarian, a tongue in which he was fluent, but usually only employed for conducting services. “I thought that you should know. Cyrethyn died late last night. Gauswn sent me a message this morning. He wrote that you visited him yesterday.”

“I did. Gauswn thought I should. I’m sorry to hear of his death. He tried to do his best, and that could not have been easy under the shadows of Zarxes and Phaeryn.”

“Gauswn also wrote that he is more convinced than ever that the Nameless has chosen you for great deeds.”

Quaeryt winced.

“You know,” said the regimental chorister with a laugh, “that’s as good an indication as any.”

“What is?”

“Your reaction. But … do you want to tell me why he feels that way?”

“He feels that I’ve escaped too many situations that should have killed me for them all to be a result of mere good fortune. I’ve tried to persuade him otherwise. I obviously haven’t been successful.” With the last sentence, Quaeryt’s tone turned wry.

“Commander Skarpa doesn’t think so either. He also told me something interesting. He said that you told him he would be a regimental commander-long before the fight against the hill holders.”

“I did. It seemed obvious to me that it would happen sooner or later.”

“I’ve observed that more than a few things that seem obvious to you, master princeps, do not seem obvious to others, and yet they occur.”

Quaeryt shrugged as if helplessly. “I cannot change what is.”

“I suspect you have already changed what might have been.”

“In some few things, such as re-forming the scholarium, improving its acceptance and gaining it more students, or getting Gauswn released from duty early to become a chorister, I have been of some help.”

“In a few other tasks as well. Major Meinyt owes his life to you, as do a score or more rankers. Your presence here also brought Lord Bhayar to Tilbor, and that quieted many who wondered about his dedication to its people, as did your marriage.”

“Vaelora did that, not me,” protested Quaeryt.

“Your lady would not have wed anyone without outstanding qualities, master princeps. Nor would her brother have let her. That, we both know.” When Quaeryt offered a dubious expression, Phargos added, “Tell me that is not so … if you dare to do so honestly.”

Quaeryt laughed. “She does know her own mind.”

“As do you, my friend. Now … about that homily…”

“What homily?”

“The only one I’ll ever insist on your giving here. I want a promise that before you leave, whenever that may be, you will deliver the homily at services in the anomen. Everyone has heard you deliver a homily … except me.”

“Just one … one time?” asked Quaeryt warily.

“One … once.”

“For you … I will. But just once. I’m not a chorister.”

“But you could have been … and an excellent one.”

Not when I don’t even know if there is a Nameless, I couldn’t. But Quaeryt only shook his head.

Phargos laughed. “We will see.” He stood. “I did want you to know about Cyrethyn.”

“Thank you.” Quaeryt rose as well. “He was a good man in a difficult position, who feared he had not done as well as he should have. That is something all of us should keep in mind.”

“I might point out that any chorister would be happy to have uttered the words you just did.”

“Go back to your anomen…” But Quaeryt couldn’t help grinning.

“For now, most honored master princeps. For now.” Phargos was smiling broadly as he left the study.

11

Samedi and Solayi passed without incident. The weather remained unchanging-cold under high clouds. Lundi brought snow flurries that briefly changed to rain, and then to ice that coated the snow and pavements that night, all of which melted by Mardi afternoon, just in time for another light snow. When Quaeryt and Vaelora rose on Meredi, the day was cold, but clear.

As he walked with Vaelora to the dining chamber for breakfast, he hoped that all was well with Lankyt and First Regiment, although it was likely they wouldn’t reach Ayerne until that evening.

After they seated themselves, and he poured tea into their mugs, Vaelora took a slow swallow and then set her mug down. “Quaeryt dearest … we are attending this ball held by High Holder Thurl. Can you tell me anything about those who will be there? Besides Straesyr and Emra, of course.”

“Except in terms of their names and positions, I know little. I have met only two of them, and only one of their wives. I had a midday meal with Governor Rescalyn at the estate of High Holder Freunyt, and a visit by myself with High Holder Fhaedyrk and his wife. Freunyt has a large holding outside of Tilbora, not so near as that of Thurl. He is intelligent and most well off…” After describing Freunyt, he recounted what he could remember of the holding, which wasn’t that much. “As for High Holder Fhaedyrk … he is younger, and his holding is a ride of some four glasses to the north. In this weather…” He shrugged.

“Tell me anyway … and what you recall of his wife.”

“I asked to visit Fhaedyrk because he was the target of several assassination attempts by Zarxes…” He went on to explain the background and the events of the visit, and the fact that Fhaedyrk’s holding brewed excellent lager.

“I don’t believe you mentioned his wife, dearest.”

“Oh … she struck me as very intelligent, but much like you in that she reveals little to those she does not know-except when it suits her husband’s purposes and her wishes.”

“What does she look like?” There was the slightest edge to Vaelora’s words.

“She is blond, like many people here, somewhat stocky, and a bit shorter than you, I think. She is very much in love with her husband, it seemed, and he with her. They were most charming and hospitable … and they did reveal, if indirectly, their concerns about the scholars … once I broached the matter. I was possibly more direct than another High Holder might have been.”

“She did not flirt with you, then?”

Quaeryt detected a hint of amusement in her voice, for which he was grateful. “No, not in the slightest. She did serve a most tasty berry custard, though.”

“You do have a weakness for sweets, dearest.”

There wasn’t anything he dared to say directly in reply to that. So he didn’t. “Do you think your brother will attack Antiago this spring?”

“I doubt it. He is more likely to respond to what others do … and then turn their weaknesses against them. In that, you and he are much alike.”

“Then he anticipates an attack by Kharst. Autarch Aliaro would not be so foolish as to attack either Telaryn or Bovaria.”

“What one anticipates is not always what happens.”

“Especially since matters sometimes do not go as planned.”

“Were you thinking about Rescalyn when you said that?” she asked.

“No. I was thinking about Zorlyn and the hill holders. They assumed that matters would continue as they always had. Rescalyn let them believe that would be the way it was, even while he was planning to destroy them.”

“Why was that necessary? If he really wanted to become Lord of Telaryn, why did he bother with the hill holders?”

“I can think of several reasons.” Quaeryt served her the cheesed eggs and mutton strips, and then himself before continuing. “First, keeping the hill holders as a threat allowed him to build up the regiment to three times what it had been. Second, it allowed him to give all of the officers and rankers experience in fighting. Third, by taking over the holdings of Zorlyn and the others with silver mines, he would have obtained that silver to pay for the war against your brother. And fourth, he couldn’t afford to have a dangerous enemy behind him while setting out to fight another war. He planned on using the winter and the spring to rebuild his forces, and he would have diverted all the tariffs from Tilbor-” Quaeryt stopped abruptly.

“What is it?”

He laughed. “I just realized something. Well … I knew it … but I never put the pieces together. I read all those dispatches … years’ worth … and never did Rescalyn ever mention the silver mines of the hill holders.”

“How many golds worth of silver would they produce?”

“I’ve looked at the records for last year … well, for four out of five seasons. They don’t mine in the winter. Zorlyn’s mine produced something like two thousand golds worth last year, but it could do more. They didn’t want to flood the east with silver. That would only drive its worth down.”

“But … if Rescalyn had been successful…”

“He could have produced more and sold it or coined it and used it all over Telaryn. Zorlyn was minting coins, though. There were molds and stamps-close to identical copies of Telaryn silvers.”

“That’s counterfeiting … or is it?”

“I don’t know that it is.” Quaeryt shrugged. “He was using real silver, and now it doesn’t matter. The mines all belong to your brother.”

“I doubt he even knows it.”

With all that Bhayar held, that was likely true, but it was yet another reminder of the vast difference between the life Quaeryt had led and the one Bhayar had.

Quaeryt was still thinking about Rescalyn’s omission of the silver from the dispatches when he reached his study … and all the ledgers and records he needed to peruse … and all the time he would spend trying to persuade factors and others to do what was in their own best interests.

12

Warmer weather on Jeudi and Vendrei was followed by a blustery wind on Samedi, and a return to freezing temperatures just before sunset when the sleigh sent by High Holder Thurl arrived at the lower gates of the Telaryn Palace where Quaeryt, Vaelora, Straesyr, and Emra waited in the gatehouse. Quaeryt had barely seen the gown Vaelora was wearing because she’d shooed him away from the dressing area until she was dressed, and then had immediately donned a long fur coat he had not seen before that afternoon. He was wearing his finest browns with his formal brown coat, over which he wore a heavy winter jacket.

“Look how gloriously red the sky is to the west!” exclaimed Emra as the four left the gatehouse to walk to the sleigh.

“There was a bit of that last night,” observed Straesyr. “Just a touch.”

Quaeryt looked, turning to face into the light wind, coming out of the west. Indeed the entire western sky was red, a glorious golden red, if with an undertone of a darker red, like that of drying blood … of which he’d seen far too much in the campaign against the hill holders. The brilliance of the color almost totally obscured the crescent of Erion, whose slightly sullen reddish white seemed pale by comparison. He glanced at Vaelora, walking beside him, her coat wrapped tightly around her. Her face expressed more puzzlement than wonder, and he asked, “What is it?”

“That looks familiar. I couldn’t say why.”

“The sunset?”

“The colors.”

“Then you must have seen them somewhere…”

Vaelora nodded. “But I don’t remember.” She turned, and Quaeryt helped her into the sleigh.

As the driver eased the sleigh away from the gates and onto the packed snow and ice of the road, two squads of troopers followed them.

Quaeryt continued to study the western sky, and it seemed to him that the golden red and the darker red took longer to fade than was usual for sunsets, but colors or not, the air was chill. Although heavy fur wraps had been spread across trousers and gowns, after only a quint in the horse-drawn sleigh, Quaeryt’s legs were colder than if he’d been riding. But then, you haven’t been riding at night … or even late in the afternoon.

“Earlier this week, I wondered if we’d be using the carriage,” said Emra. “The snow was melting so fast.”

“That’s the way it is at the end of winter and the beginning of spring,” said Straesyr. “Warm, then cold, then warm. Each time the cold is usually a little less chill, the warm a trace more springlike.”

After another three quints, the sleigh swung through a pair of gilded iron gates flanked by polished marble gateposts set against graystone walls. Torches lit both the entry gates and the way up the snow-packed lane to the estate house, a structure more like a Bovarian chateau, thought Quaeryt. The sleigh stopped just short of the covered entry portico, where the four disembarked and then walked across the stone pavement that had been swept clean of snow and the ice removed, before climbing the three wide marble steps to the entry.

The outer double doors were open, although Quaeryt could see that the decorative ironwork was gilded on both sides, and a doorman opened the inner goldenwood door for them as they approached. “Governor … Lady Straesyr … most honored Lady Vaelora … Princeps.”

Quaeryt noted the difference in address between Emra, whose position was determined by that of her husband, and that offered Vaelora, who clearly outranked him.

Once inside the chateau, they stood in a hexagonal vestibule with a high vaulted ceiling. The walls above the goldenwood wainscoting were smooth plaster tinted to resemble golden-streaked marble, with deep blue velvet hangings.

“The robing room for the ladies…” murmured another functionary, gesturing to the left. “And for … you…” That gesture was to the right.

Two valets stood waiting in the narrow chamber to take Quaeryt’s and Straesyr’s outer coats. From there, Quaeryt followed Straesyr back into the main entry hall, where they waited for a good half quint for their ladies.

Vaelora’s hair was swept back with black and silver combs, and her gown was of black velvet in a cut that accentuated her waist, and with a neckline that was a diamond cut just large enough to allow the silver pendant that held a modest emerald. The sleeves tapered to almost skintight at her wrists. Completing the ensemble was a silvered green sleeveless vest, held in place in front by a silver chain.

Quaeryt found himself staring in admiration.

“I see you like it, dearest.”

“I like you in it.” He dared not think what else he thought.

“You picked a very good seamstress,” Vaelora added.

If by accident. “Thank you.”

“The ballroom is at the end of the main hallway…” murmured yet another functionary, in what was clearly a reminder to move along.

Quaeryt and Vaelora walked quickly until they caught up with the governor and his wife. Then they waited, but for moments, to enter the ballroom.

“Governor, Lady Straesyr … welcome to Thurlhold.” High Holder Thurl was an angular older man with thinning blond hair, who spoke in Tellan, which would not have been the case with a High Holder nearer Solis.

“We’re pleased to be here, and I deeply appreciate the use of your sleigh,” replied Straesyr. “Even more so does my wife.”

“I thought it might be so.” Thurl smiled, before turning to Quaeryt and Vaelora. “Lady Vaelora, Princeps … I bid you welcome. It is not often we entertain a couple who are both of position.” Thurl turned his eyes back to Quaeryt. “The muted finery of a scholar suits you, Princeps, although it does not do justice to your reputation in the field, I understand.”

“That was by necessity,” replied Quaeryt. “We do appreciate your grace and hospitality.” Glancing beyond Thurl, where but a handful of couples stood, generally near the sideboards offering wine, Quaeryt could see that his browns represented the most severe attire of anyone present.

“We can do no less.” With a smile, Thurl turned to those following Quaeryt and Vaelora.

Quaeryt understood that Thurl had meant those words literally, no matter how graciously uttered.

“You would not be here … except…” murmured Vaelora.

“Except for you,” he agreed. “They look down on the princeps as a functionary who deals with factors and low holders and others of less stature.”

“They do not know you.”

“As you suggested, my lady, in your correspondence, even before you knew all you now know about me, you recommended that it was better that people not see one as a threat if one wished to accomplish one’s ends.”

Vaelora laughed softly. “It is a compliment that you not only read my words, but recall them so well.”

“I read them often.”

“I can tell. For that I am grateful.”

“As am I, because your advice and counsel are wise beyond your years.”

“In some matters. Not in others.” Looking over his shoulder, she murmured, “There’s a couple approaching.”

As he turned, he murmured, “Fhaedyrk and Laekyna.”

“Princeps … and this must be the lady Vaelora.” Fhaedyrk bowed.

“High Holder Fhaedyrk … Laekyna,” Quaeryt acknowledged, deliberately bending social niceties by acknowledging Fhaedyrk’s wife in her own right.

Laekyna’s eyes widened just slightly, but she curtseyed, a courtesy Quaeryt had not seen in Tilbor before, but then, until the ball, he’d been at no functions where more than a single woman of position had been present.

“Lady Vaelora,” offered Laekyna after the slightest hesitation, “I’m so pleased to meet you.”

“And I you,” replied Vaelora. “My husband has told me of your hospitality and grace when he visited you.”

Laekyna smiled, shyly. Even so, the act transformed her face, and once more Quaeryt was struck by the similarity in expression between her and Vaelora, although the two were not at all alike in appearance. “He is most kind to notice.”

Kind? Hardly. Fair … perhaps. “You were most hospitable.”

“One could hardly be less to the princeps,” said Fhaedyrk smoothly.

“That is true, especially if he happens to be the husband of the sister of Lord Bhayar,” replied Vaelora with a smile. “But, as I recall, Quaeryt was only a scholar assistant at the time, and that speaks to hospitality.”

“What can I say?” replied Fhaedyrk disarmingly.

“That you understand not all wisdom or power resides in those who are High Holders, perchance,” said Vaelora. “Or that offering hospitality is not conditional upon position, but it is better to act than to speak such. Of course, as a woman, that is merely my youthful opinion.”

Quaeryt noted that Laekyna was having difficulty concealing a smile.

“It is an opinion well worth considering.” Fhaedyrk paused for but an instant. “Do you have news on what may be happening in the west?”

“Only through my husband. It appears as though Rex Kharst may be considering actions hostile to Telaryn. What those actions might be is not clear.” Vaelora glanced to Quaeryt. “Is that not so, dearest?”

“That is indeed all that we know at the moment. We have been requested to prepare another regiment for deployment to the west, but not for what purpose.”

“What do you think of Thurlhold?” asked Laekyna of Vaelora.

“It appears tastefully impressive,” replied Vaelora.

After several more exchanges of polite comments, Fhaedyrk and Laekyna excused themselves.

Behind Quaeryt and Vaelora, the group of musicians began to play.

“We should dance,” said Vaelora quietly.

“Perhaps we should,” replied Quaeryt, “but I don’t know how.”

“That part of your education was neglected, dearest, but it’s not hard. I’ll show you how. You take my right hand in your left, and place your right on the middle of my back just above my waist…”

Quaeryt did his best to follow her instructions and her lead, but the best he felt he could have said when the musicians stopped for a moment was that he’d managed not to step on her feet or trip her and that he’d managed to look generally like he knew what he was doing.

Vaelora looked up at him. “You see? It’s not that hard.”

“No. Except that, without your instruction, I wouldn’t have the faintest idea of what to do.” And I’m not certain that I still wouldn’t. “Would you like some wine?”

“Just a little.”

As Quaeryt and Vaelora walked toward the nearest sideboard, the musicians struck up another tune, one livelier than the one played before. Quaeryt glanced at the dancers, still no more than a score, and wondered if he’d ever learn the intricate steps that he observed. With Vaelora’s insistence and instruction … most likely.

When Quaeryt turned from the sideboard holding two goblets of white wine, he found himself facing a High Holder he did not recognize.

“Princeps … High Holder Heskhaeld.” The trim but muscular holder who addressed Quaeryt smiled politely. “We have not met, but the governor suggested that I talk to you.”

“I’m pleased to meet you.” Now that he had the man’s name, Quaeryt knew exactly what Heskhaeld wanted, and he doubted that the High Holder would be satisfied with what would likely happen.

“While a ball is perhaps not the optimal location for discussing matters of property, it is winter, and I so seldom can get to Tilbora…”

Quaeryt nodded and waited.

“… more than a month ago, I inquired about the purchase of a section of land adjoining mine-certain lands belonging to the rebel holder Saentaryn…”

Quaeryt nodded. “And you have not had a response and wondered when you might?”

“Precisely.”

“Those lands now belong to Lord Bhayar, and as princeps, I sent your request to him in Solis. As princeps, I have authority over supplies and other matters here in Tilbor, but not over Lord Bhayar’s lands. Any decision on those he must make, and he will likely consult with his finance minister before doing so. As this is winter, to get a message to Solis takes some time, even with military couriers … and a return message also takes time…” As Quaeryt explained, he understood, once more, how easily procedures could be employed to offer a negative response without ever directly saying “no,” although he had recommended that the lands not be sold for the present, given their proximity to High Holder Eshalyn’s coal mine. “… and when I receive an answer, you will be assured that we will inform you as soon as we can.”

“I can ask no more.” Heskhaeld bowed, clearly mollified, but less than satisfied.

Quaeryt slipped toward Vaelora and handed her the goblet of wine.

“What was that about?” she asked.

“He wants to purchase lands from your brother…” Quaeryt explained quickly.

“At a ball?”

“I’m only a princeps,” Quaeryt said wryly. “He obviously felt the courtesies don’t apply to me.” Unlike Fhaedyrk.

“Lady Vaelora?”

They both turned to see another couple, neither of whom Quaeryt recognized, approaching.

The rest of the evening will be like this. Nonetheless, Quaeryt smiled.

13

Quaeryt had barely finished dressing on Solayi morning when the bells in their quarters rang so insistently that someone had to be yanking the bell-pull with either excessive enthusiasm or great urgency.

“Who can that be?” asked Vaelora.

“It’s not good. Not on Solayi morning.” Quaeryt turned and hurried down the private staircase to the access doors. He peered through the peephole and saw a squad leader he did not recognize standing there, most likely one on duty. Still, he raised his shields before opening the door. “Yes, Squad Leader?”

“Princeps, sir, the governor requests that you join him in his study at your earliest convenience.”

“Tell him I’ll be right there. You wouldn’t know what this is about?”

“No, sir.”

Quaeryt smiled politely and tried to use his imaging ability to project friendly and open curiosity.

“He did receive an urgent dispatch, but he didn’t say what was in it, sir.”

“Thank you.”

Quaeryt took the steps back up to their quarters two at a time and strode to their dressing room.

“What is it?”

“As I said, it’s not good. Straesyr just got a dispatch, and he wants to meet in his study immediately. The regular couriers never arrive on Solayi.”

“You’ll tell me?”

“As soon as I can. Save me some breakfast.”

“I can do that.”

Quaeryt bent over and kissed her neck, then made his way back down to the second level. When he reached the governor’s chambers, Quaeryt hurried in past the empty table desk where Undercaptain Caermyt usually sat. The governor did not rise from behind his desk, but motioned to the chairs. Straesyr was wearing an old set of winter greens, suitable for the chill of the study where the stove had not been fired up.

Quaeryt sat. “What’s the problem, sir?”

“There are several.” Straesyr’s mouth curled into a smile both sardonic and rueful. “Mount Extel … it erupted last week. A quarter of Extela is covered in lava…”

Vaelora’s grandmere’s foresight flash … Quaeryt repressed a shiver.

“… Kharst is rushing troops to Ferravyl, obviously wanting to attack if Lord Bhayar removes any forces there at present. Lord Bhayar wants you and his sister to leave immediately with Third Regiment for Extela. You’re to go to Extela and take over as temporary governor. Governor Scythn was killed by the flow of hot ash that preceded the lava. So were the princeps and most of their staff. I’m to send Second Regiment-somehow-to Ferravyl within two weeks of your departure.” He handed a single sheet of paper, sealed, to Quaeryt. “This was included for you.”

Quaeryt broke the seal and read quickly.

Quaeryt-

Extela was in chaos. I have a regiment there, but they need to return to Ferravyl before your arrival. Send a courier to Commander Zhrensyl when you’re two days away. You will be governor of Montagne province, and you and Vaelora will be my personal representatives there. Don’t neglect the safety of the people, but release as many companies from your regiment as soon as you can …

There was more, but the remainder of the missive expanded on the basic responsibilities laid on Quaeryt-and Vaelora.

“He’s sent a regiment there to keep order, but we’re to replace them, and Vaelora and I are supposed to use our presence to keep order so that most of Third Regiment can leave as soon as possible.” Quaeryt paused. “You probably knew that already.”

“In general terms.”

“How soon are we leaving?”

“Mardi-if it doesn’t snow.”

“I’ll send a messenger to Raurem and tell him to deliver whatever he can tomorrow. The rest can go for Second Regiment…”

For almost a glass, the two discussed what arrangements had to be made and which of them would do what.

Then Quaeryt headed back up to Vaelora to inform her before he went to deal with everything else.

Vaelora jumped up from where she sat at the table. “What did he want?”

“To tell me that your grandmere was right. He didn’t put it-”

“She was right about what?”

“You’ll need to pack up everything that will fit on a mount and in one trunk. Mount Extel erupted…” Quaeryt went on to explain.

When he paused, Vaelora asked, “What about the people? How many people were hurt?”

“A quarter of Extela was destroyed. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, are missing. They’re likely dead, especially with the flooding.”

“Flooding? In winter? Oh … the heat melted-”

“All the snow and ice at once,” he finished.

“Those poor people…” mused Vaelora. “That was what Grandmere said would happen.”

“Was she always right?”

“That was the only vision I know of that had not come to pass when she died. I don’t know what Bhayar expects of us…”

“I don’t know what we can do, either … but your brother expects us to make things better.”

“You’ll think of something.”

“We’ll think of something. Remember … your brother insisted you come, too.” He shook his head. “On top of it all, I need to give a homily at services tonight.”

“What?” Vaelora’s voice rose just slightly.

“I promised Phargos I would give one homily-just one-before I left Tilbora.”

“Oh … dearest…” Vaelora shook her head. “Do you know what you’ll say?”

“No … but I’ll think of something.”

“I’m sure you will.” She smiled. “I’d like to hear it as well.” The smile vanished. “One trunk?”

Quaeryt shrugged. “Do you want your brother’s soldiers commenting on how you carried everything you had in a supply wagon?”

“How much are you taking?”

“I think I can fit almost everything I own in an officer’s kit bag.” Tightly.

Vaelora made a face. “I can do the same with one trunk. If I can find one.”

“If you can’t, I’ll get two kit bags for you.”

“Go!” The single word was delivered with mock gruffness. “Do what you must.”

“I need to eat something, first.”

“Oh … I forgot. There’s plenty left.”

Quaeryt ate the cold omelet and the bread, if smeared liberally with a quince jelly that was so tart it was just short of bitter. Then he headed for his study to compose messages and try to begin to do what Straesyr had delegated to him.

Amid his efforts to make the arrangements for their departure, Quaeryt did locate Phargos, several glasses later, actually in the anomen.

“The word is that you and Third Regiment will be leaving in the next day or so.”

“Mardi morning, if it’s not storming.” Quaeryt paused. “I made you a promise…”

“I hope you intend to keep it.” Phargos grinned. “I was worried about the homily for this evening anyway.”

“I will.” But you may well worry about the homily after it’s delivered.

After he left the anomen, Quaeryt returned to his various tasks, eventually getting back to his and Vaelora’s quarters in time to eat and then for the two of them to make their way to the anomen for services.

They stood near the front, but to one side through the first part of the service.

When it came time for the homily, Phargos did not step up to the pulpit, but stood in the middle of the sacristy and began to speak. “As all of you know, Princeps Quaeryt will be leaving with Third Regiment. So I thought it would be fitting for him to deliver the homily this evening.” Phargos offered a benevolent smile.

As Quaeryt turned to move to the pulpit, the first time he’d actually delivered a homily from there, he did catch the glimpse of an almost impish expression on the regimental chorister’s face. Without being excessively slow, he moved to the pulpit deliberately, then stood there for several moments before speaking, in Bovarian, as was the custom at the anomen in the Telaryn Palace.

“Under the Nameless, all evenings are reckoned as good, but, unhappily, at times, we all have our doubts about that reckoning.” After delivering that phrase as wryly as he could, he paused slightly. He could see several nods and heard a rueful chuckle before he went on. “The reason Third Regiment is leaving Tilbora early is that there is great destruction in Extela. Mount Extel erupted and destroyed much of the city. I doubt most seriously that many in Extela feel that this is a good evening. Nor would many of thoughtful mind have said that the Solayi following the fall of the last hill hold was especially good, not with all the deaths and the agonizing injuries. Yet all evenings under the Nameless are good … so it is said.

“Well … certainly being able to be alive and well enough to see the evening is better than the alternative, but is that what is meant by a good evening? Is mere survival enough to make the evening good? There’s certainly nothing I’ve read or heard that makes such a claim. Nor has the Nameless whispered in my ear and said, ‘All evenings are good because I said so.’ And, while it may be personal vanity on my part, somehow I don’t think that the Nameless would say that. I’m going to go out on a limb-or stand at the edge of a cliff, if you will, in this storm that we call life and say that what is meant by those words is something quite different from the simple meaning we hear in them.” Quaeryt paused again.

“What if … what if those words really mean that all evenings are good because we have the ability to discern between what is good and what is not? That we have the capability to choose between a course of good or a course of evil or a course somewhere in between. Now … some will say that the Nameless has the power to do anything, and question why evil things happen to good people, especially evil things not made by people. In one way or another, we choose whether to fight, as do those against whom we fight, but no one chooses to have a mountain explode and kill them or their family. Yet … let me put the question in another way. What value, what integrity, would lie in life if the Nameless mandated and ordered life in such a fashion that there were no evils … of any sort? Or even a world where evildoers were struck down by lightning or plague sent by the Nameless? Could it be that all evenings are good, because each one offers us the possibility of affirming what we are and what we can be at our best?

“If there were no evil … could there be good? And what would that good be worth? Could it be that the good of every evening is that we are granted the power to choose what course we will follow, to make of ourselves what we can…”

When he finished, he surrendered the pulpit to Phargos for the concluding hymn and benediction.

Vaelora slipped up to Quaeryt after the service, but said nothing as Phargos approached.

“I can see that you don’t mind touching the most fundamental questions,” observed the chorister. “Yet I did notice that you did not actually affirm that there is a Nameless.”

“I tried not to. I honestly don’t know if the Nameless exists. I can’t proclaim what I don’t know.”

“That’s the beauty of faith.”

“No … that is faith. Whether faith is beauty depends on whether the Nameless exists.”

Phargos shook his head. “If you were young and had not seen what you have seen, Princeps, I would say that you did not understand the need for faith. But you have seen and endured much, and you have clearly felt the agony of others. So I will say nothing except that you will either break the world or it will break you.”

“I doubt I will break the world, and it does not have to break me.”

Phargos smiled softly, sadly. “We will see, Princeps.” He turned to Vaelora. “You have graced us, Lady, and may you grace others as well.”

Vaelora inclined her head. “Thank you.”

Neither Quaeryt nor Vaelora spoke until they left the anomen and were walking across the courtyard in a blustery wind.

“You worry him,” said Vaelora.

“I doubt that I worry him. He likes me, and he’s concerned that my lack of faith in the Nameless will leave me bereft when times and life turn against me, as they likely will.” And have in the past.

“Will it?”

Quaeryt laughed briefly, almost sardonically. “To me, it is obvious that if there is a Nameless, that deity does not interfere one way or the other in the lives of men and women. Life may indeed break me. Who can say what will happen? But if broken I become, life and the deeds of men and women will break me, not a lack of faith in a deity that leaves us to our own devices.…”

Vaelora reached out and squeezed his hand, and they continued walking through the cold wind.

14

The easiest part of leaving Tilbora on Mardi morning was departing the Telaryn Palace. The days before had been hectic for Quaeryt, to say the least. He’d taken the precaution of packing up blank spare ledgers, copies of the Tilboran and standard Telaryn tariff schedules, and all other manner of administrivia that might be helpful, especially given that apparently neither the governor nor the princeps had survived.

The lane down from the eastern gates was dry, and the snow heaped on each side frozen and coated with ice. The road to the west was passable, even for the last supply wagons. Quaeryt had wondered why Skarpa was headed west-until they reached the river, still iced over, and he understood as the regiment navigated over the uneven surface. Even without having to rely on ferries, the crossing of less than two hundred yards of ice took until almost midday, but it would have taken far, far longer had they had to rely on the ferries at the mouth of the river. Then the regiment turned back southeast and followed the west river road back down to Bhorael.

By the next day, some twenty milles south of Bhorael, the snow alongside the road was less than knee deep. By late afternoon, some ten milles farther south, the top mud on the roads had unfrozen, and the column slowed. All in all, reaching Ayerne took six days, and Quaeryt felt fortunate indeed that he was a princeps headed to be a governor, because at those stops where quarters were nonexistent, at least he and Vaelora could sleep in a wagon. Even so, by the time they reached Ayerne, both of them were tired of mud, frozen mud, and more mud. Both also had mud spattered over boots and trousers and occasionally higher.

Even the rations seemed to taste of mud.

Late on Solayi, just before sunset, Quaeryt and Vaelora rode up the narrow brick-paved lane that led to Rhodyn’s main hold house and that was thankfully free of mud

Lankyt stood on the front steps, peering out into the low western sun. “Princeps? Is that you? And your lady?”

“Both of us.” Quaeryt did not dismount. Although he was hoping for a warm reception, he knew Bhayar’s forces had already imposed greatly on Rhodyn, although Bhayar himself, according to Vaelora, had reimbursed the holder for his entourage.

“Let me tell Father. He’ll want to see you.”

“I’d like to see him.”

As Lankyt reentered the dwelling, Vaelora turned in the saddle. “He is a sweet young man.”

“He also loves the land, and his father.”

“That speaks well of Rhodyn.”

“It does.” Yet Quaeryt wondered if such love of parents resulted just from the parents’ acts. Jorem loved his father-that was also clear, even if the eldest son had not wished to leave Bhorael and the family of his Pharsi wife. Yet Syndar, who would likely make a solid scholar, did not seem to manifest the same devotion toward his sire, while Lankyt did. Was there something about being a middle son? Quaeryt didn’t know, or have any way of knowing.

In moments, Rhodyn was standing on the front steps.

“Holder Rhodyn,” announced Quaeryt, “I fear I’m here to take advantage of your hospitality once again.”

“Nonsense, your presence is welcome, and that of your lady.” The gray-haired holder inclined his head. “Lady Vaelora, it is a pleasure to see you again. You did not tell me that one of the purposes of your journey to Tilbora was to wed the princeps.”

Vaelora laughed, huskily, but warmly. “I did not know that was what my brother had in mind. I had hoped for such, but he gave neither of us any choice.”

“A wise man.” Rhodyn looked to Quaeryt. “I can offer dry quarters to all, as I have before, such as they are, but my table is limited. Perhaps you might ask the commander and any majors or other officers he might wish to include?”

“I will certainly ask … but I do not know what his duties may entail. I do not know that you have heard, but Mount Extel has exploded, and much of Extela is in ruins. That is where we are bound.”

“That does not bode well.”

“No … and there are fears Rex Kharst may attempt to take advantage of the situation.”

“That would be…” Rhodyn stopped and shook his head. “I should not keep you cold and mounted. You two, at least, must have a warmer room for the evening, and if you would convey my invitation?”

“I will accept that room, for my lady, especially, although I fear it is more accurate to say that I am her princeps.”

“That verges on disrespect … again,” murmured Vaelora, but Quaeryt could hear the unvoiced laughter beneath the words.

“Let me take your mount, Lady,” insisted Lankyt, hurrying up.

“That would be most kind of you,” replied Vaelora, her voice conveying relief, appreciation, and warmth without the slightest trace of condescension. She dismounted with a grace that Quaeryt could only envy.

“I will convey your invitation to Commander Skarpa and return as I am able,” he said. “And I do thank you for the invitation and hospitality.”

It took Quaeryt close to a quint to locate Skarpa, out near the largest outbuilding, and to offer Rhodyn’s invitation.

“We’ll take the invitation,” said Skarpa with a laugh. “That way, we can save a few rations. It’s better food, but we do pay holders what we can, anyway.”

“I saw the golds on the manifest for the regiment, but what would you pay for what he’s offering?”

“Ten golds.”

“Can you do fifteen if I add a few personally?”

Skarpa laughed again. “The governor already told me to give him twenty, for all he’s done, and not to take your coins. Not here, anyway.”

“The men won’t mind if we eat … there?”

“Most of them won’t care so long as they’re dry and fed. The company officers understand that holders like to feed officers and that means their men get quarters, even if they’re just dry barns.” He smiled. “They hope they get promoted so that they get fed that way someday.”

In the end, after Skarpa and Quaeryt had seen that all the men and company officers were fed, Rhodyn provided a late supper for Quaeryt and Vaelora, the commander, and the battalion majors. Rhodyn sat at the head of the long table, with his wife Darlinka at his left and Quaeryt to his right, with Vaelora beside her husband. Lankyt sat at the end of the table.

As the serving women set the platters on the table, after all the glasses had been filled with ale or lager, Rhodyn lifted his glass. “To your health and safety on your journey to come.”

The second toast was Quaeryt’s, and he offered, “Our deepest thanks and appreciation for your kindness and hospitality.”

“We cannot thank you enough,” added Skarpa after the toast.

“Commander,” replied Rhodyn, “most times holders bear the brunt of quartering armsmen, wincing and saying nothing. I’ve been more fortunate. The princeps favored me by going out of his way to do tasks that benefited me and my family. He offered counsel in an indirect way that let me keep my family and my pride, and his wife has graced my hold so that we will be able to tell our children and grandchildren how we’ve been favored. On top of that, Lord Bhayar removed the last of the ship reavers and made the Shallows Coast safe to ride and travel again … and that will allow us to graze lands closed for generations. All that would not have happened, I suspect, without the princeps’s presence in Tilbor.” The holder’s eyes twinkled and he inclined his head to Vaelora. “And yours, Lady. Now … enjoy the fare before it cools.”

The heaping platters held slices of mutton covered in dark gravy, fried potato/onion cakes, and large pickles cut into halves lengthwise. Another bowl held applesauce, and the bread in the baskets consisted of small warm golden loaves.

For a time, no one spoke.

Finally, with a grin upon his face, Skarpa did. “The princeps has never said much about his meeting with you, Holder Rhodyn, only that he praised your kindness and courtesy. Might you tell us more?”

“I only did what any good person would do,” demurred Rhodyn.

“Since the good holder is too modest,” said Quaeryt dryly, “I will offer a bit more. I was shipwrecked in a storm off the Shallows Coast. An elderly lady there offered me water, which I foolishly accepted, thinking water would be safe, although I worried about her very mien. After that I was chased by brigands through the fog following the storm. While I was able to escape them, when I reached Ayerne, here, I spoke but a few words to Holder Rhodyn before I collapsed. He and his wife nursed me through the poison and the injuries I had suffered until I was well. Then he even persuaded the local ostler to sell me the very mare I still ride for far less than she is worth. Mind you, he did not do this for the princeps, but for the mere scholar assistant to the princeps, and he did so without a thought of himself.”

Rhodyn shifted his weight in his chair, and Quaeryt thought the older man had blushed slightly.

“As I said, I only did what any good man would do.”

“And what very few men in fact do,” added Vaelora softly.

“I was not quite so selfless as the princeps says,” protested Rhodyn. “I did read the letters he carried. One appointed him as a scholar assistant. The second was from a lady, and it was written in a fine hand. It asked the kind of questions any ruler should ask. More than anything, it was her letter that told me about the man who lay close to dying in my house. Darlinka read it and told me that it would be a great loss to the lady and the world if I let him die.”

“I’m so glad you did not,” murmured Vaelora.

“As am I,” stated Darlinka.

“Now that you have your answers, Commander,” said Quaeryt, “might I turn the tables and ask how you came to serve Lord Bhayar?”

“You have me there, Princeps,” replied Skarpa. “Simple enough, it was. My father was a cooper, and after I’d destroyed enough staves in trying to make barrels, he said that the only trade there was where a man got paid for hacking everything to pieces was being a soldier … and since he had other sons who weren’t so destructive…” The commander shrugged.

From that point on, everyone talked.

More than a glass later, once the door had closed behind the departing officers, Rhodyn turned to Quaeryt. “Might I ask a question?”

“Of course.”

“Why did you write me about Syndar?”

“Originally, I wanted to find some way to tell you that Syndar was not suited to be a holder, but that did not seem … right. When Yullyd told me how well Syndar did in helping with the ledgers, I realized that while my feelings had been correct, I hadn’t fully understood why. Your son Jorem has made the produce factorage more successful because he loves his wife and what they do together. Lankyt will make a good holder because he loves the land so much that he has gone out of his way to discover ways to improve what can be grown and how. Those were obvious to me, but when I saw, through others, that Syndar truly loved the life of study and numbers, I wrote … because men and women, I believe, find the most in life when they love what they do, either because they always love that or come to find that they do.”

“And you, Princeps,” asked Darlinka softly, “what do you love?”

“Besides Vaelora?” replied Quaeryt with a smile.

“You still answer some questions with questions,” said the holder’s wife.

What do I love doing in life? After several moments of silence, Quaeryt replied, “That’s because I question that myself. I don’t know that I have an answer for you, not one that would be completely honest. I like making things … better. But ‘better’ is something that is different for each man, each woman.” He offered a crooked smile.

Darlinka looked to Vaelora, questioningly.

“I would not dispute my husband’s answer, nor would mine be much different.”

Rhodyn laughed. “Then it appears you are well matched.”

“I only hope that you are strong enough together to survive what you love,” said Darlinka, her voice still soft, with a hint of sadness beneath the words.

So do I. Quaeryt did not voice the thought, but just reached out and squeezed Vaelora’s hand.

15

South of Ayerne, the ice-covered snow of Tilbor and the north gave way to softer snow that was little more than calf-deep and soft and slushy. Even so, only by concentrating could Quaeryt make out the snow-covered remnants of the towns that Rhodyn and the other holders north of the Ayerne River had leveled years earlier. Progress for the regiment was slow until they reached the small town of Sullys, three days south of Ayerne, where they turned west on the solid stone-paved post road built generations earlier in the time of Hengyst.

Roughly at midmorning on Samedi, under high gray clouds, Quaeryt and Vaelora were riding beside Skarpa near the front of the column when a scout headed toward them from around a wide curve in the road. The scout reined in his mount, then drew alongside the commander.

“Sirs! The bridge is covered with water. It’s deep, more than head-high. The water’s running too fast to cross, even if we could see where the bridge is. There are chunks of ice everywhere.”

“We might as well see how bad it is before we decide,” said Skarpa, looking to Quaeryt.

Quaeryt nodded.

“I’d like to come, too,” said Vaelora.

Quaeryt wasn’t about to deny her, not when she was a far better rider than he was.

Skarpa turned in the saddle and raised an arm. “Regiment! Halt!”

As the command rippled back along the column, Skarpa, Quaeryt, and Vaelora rode forward with the scout. The road between two tree-covered ridges was level all the way around the curve, then descended gently to an expanse of murky gray water, dotted with chunks of grayish ice, that covered the bridge. The four reined up beside another scout, some ten yards back from the edge of the water, and surveyed what lay between them and the road on the far side.

The river ran between two long ridges, neither more than fifty yards above the road, and less than a hundred yards apart at the level of the road, before plunging over a barrier of frozen vegetation, branches, and tree trunks, at the top of what was likely the top of a moderate cataract most of the year, but the barrier formed a dam that had lifted the water level well above the road leading to the submerged bridge, and whatever eroding effect the frigid water might be having was more than outweighed by the vegetation and chunks of ice piling up behind the existing tangle.

“It could be days…” said Vaelora quietly.

“Is there any way around this?” asked Quaeryt.

“From the maps we have, and from what I recall from when I was here before, we’d have to go back more than ten milles to take a more southern road, and it’s not paved.” Skarpa looked at Quaeryt. “You know what that means, sir.”

Quaeryt did. The southern road would be even less passable in spots, besides taking much, much longer.

After a time, he said, “Let me take a closer look.” Before either Vaelora or Skarpa could say anything, Quaeryt eased his mount off the road, southward along the lower part of the hill on the east side of the slowly rising water, trying to let her pick her way over the soggy ground between dampened and flattened bushes and leafless trees.

As he neared a point opposite the tangle that comprised the barrier, he could see that part of the hillside had collapsed, perhaps because of rain or melting snow, if not both. The combination of the rocks and soil and trees that had slid into the river and the debris carried downstream and snagging on who knew what else below the surface of the water, not to mention the ice, had created a temporary but effective dam.

But temporary could mean it lasts for days or weeks.

He tied the mare to the exposed root of a tree partly ripped out of the hillside by the landslide, then took his half-staff from its leathers and slowly made his way downhill to the end of the debris, a mass of ice, soil, and twisted branches and roots. He put one foot on the end. The debris did not budge. He took three more careful steps, using the staff to probe for solid footing, but when he tried to extend his boot for the fourth, he could feel the makeshift dam shift, if ever so slightly. Less than three yards from where he stood, water poured over the middle part of the barrier, almost as if it were a spillway, and then cascaded down over and around icy rocks and huge boulders, dropping a good thirty yards over a distance of less than a hundred.

He glanced back upstream. The torrent of murky gray water and ice chunks seemed endless. He looked at the face of the “dam,” trying to pick out places where the water was seeping through in more than mere tricklets. Finally, he located a streamlet of water almost as big around as his wrist, shooting out from the front, some two yards down and possibly four toward the center of the twisted mass from where he stood.

He bent and began to wiggle a root, not that his efforts did so much as even cause a stir in the debris, but none of those around Skarpa could have determined that from where they watched. Then he concentrated on trying to image away some of the debris above the streamlet.

He could sense that he’d moved something, but the flow of water remained the same. The second time, he concentrated on an area to the far side. He could feel himself begin to sweat, despite the cold and clammy air around him.

He waited and watched. The streamlet seemed larger, but not much.

The third time, he visualized removing debris and soil behind the last place from which he had removed matter, and the size of the streamlet again grew … but not that much.

Quaeryt made another effort. The streamlet tripled in size, and the entire dam shuddered, if slightly.

Quaeryt retreated several steps and waited. While the streamlet continued to expand, he could see that the increased flow still was far from enough to lower the water level. He bent and grabbed another branch, but that was for effect only as he attempted to image away more, visualizing the removal of a large cube of material.

Everything around him seemed to flash, and sweat poured from his forehead. For a moment, he could see nothing because of the flashes, while the makeshift dam shuddered more. At that moment, he lost control of even his lightest shields. Then a cascade of water poured through the area Quaeryt had enlarged, and the barrier began to shake.

Carefully, but quickly, he eased himself back off the end of the debris and took several unsteady steps back uphill toward the mare.

A dull rumble seemed to shake the air around him, and he tottered where he stood, trying to keep his balance on the slippery ground where the staff was of little use. He glanced back at the makeshift dam, where a small section began to sag into the dark waters. Then, after several moments more, another part of the debris broke away, and spray cascaded upward before the ice-filled waters began to pour through the gap. The debris at each end of the opening continued to break away.

He took one step, then another, until he was close enough to the mare so that he could untie her. Mounting took almost all the strength he had left, and by the time he was in the saddle, with the staff back in its leathers, he just sat there for several moments. When he looked down at the torrent, the gap in the debris dam was almost ten yards across and deepening.

Quaeryt rode slowly back northward to the road where Skarpa waited with Vaelora and the scouts.

“What did you do?” asked Skarpa, his forehead furrowed.

“It wasn’t that solid. I just tried to wiggle things and hoped I could loosen holes in it.” The last part was true enough. “Just have everyone rest for a bit. It’s beginning to give way. The water is breaking it apart now.”

“That didn’t look like just ice, sir.”

“It isn’t. It wasn’t, but the ice was what was plugging some of the gaps. I levered some of it away, and the water is beginning to work.”

Sparkling lights flashed before Quaeryt’s eyes, once more, and he felt so weak and dizzy that he had to lower his head, almost to the mare’s mane.

“Dearest…” Vaelora edged her gelding over beside Quaeryt. “You worked harder than you let us believe.” She extended a flask. “Take a swallow of this.”

The cordial in the silver flask burned its way down his throat, but after several moments, the worst of the flashes before his eyes began to subside. Then she handed him a hard biscuit.

Quaeryt ate it slowly with another swallow from the flask, before he took several swallows from his own water bottle-that held watered lager.

“Are you all right, Princeps?” asked Skarpa. “What did you do?”

“I just worked at opening a hole in that mess.”

“It looks like the water’s getting lower,” admitted the commander.

Almost two quints later, the water had dropped below the solid stone surface of the bridge except at one end. While the torrent had ripped away parts of the walls and railing, the bridge itself, built of massive slabs of stone, remained untouched, and Skarpa had the engineers working on clearing the debris away from the upstream side of the bridge.

Vaelora turned in the saddle to look at her husband. “Dearest … look at that boulder, the one near the middle of the stream where everything was piled up.” Her voice was low.

Quaeryt looked. In the middle of the smooth and massive boulder was a channel in the shape of the bottom half of a square running through the stone, and through that channel ran murky water. No wonder I feel so rotten.

“I doubt that the water cut that channel,” Vaelora added. “You do need to eat more after doing something like that.”

Quaeryt didn’t protest either her assumption or the biscuits that she handed him.

Skarpa rode back from where he had been surveying what the engineers had been doing, and his eyes drifted to the fragments remaining of the debris. After a moment he shook his head.

“What is it, Commander?” asked Vaelora.

“I don’t recall that water channel in the middle of those boulders. It’s so odd that I’d think I would.”

“You probably didn’t notice it before because the water level was much lower,” replied Vaelora.

“That might be … but … why would they have cut that there?”

“Maybe the river used to run higher,” suggested Quaeryt.

After a moment the commander shrugged. “I’m just glad you could loosen all that. I wasn’t looking forward to retracing our path or waiting for days.”

“Neither was I,” admitted Quaeryt. He just hoped he could regain enough strength to carry his shields before they ran into more trouble.

16

Even by traveling the post road, it took Third Regiment until the following Jeudi to reach the outskirts of Cloisonyt. Quaeryt worried for two days, until he could finally feel his ability to hold shields begin to return on Lundi evening. Yet by Mardi morning, holding them was no problem, and by Meredi, he realized he was barely aware of them, leaving him to wonder if stretching his imaging ability almost to the point of his own collapse was required in order to become a stronger imager. That was frightening, because he worried that going too far would lead to his death … and yet, he had the feeling that if he did not become a stronger imager, the failure to do so might also lead to his demise.

Consequently, he’d decided to say nothing about that to Vaelora, not until he was certain that the last episode had truly increased his capabilities.

In late midafternoon, under a clear sky with a cool wind at their back, he rode beside her, with Skarpa on her right, as they passed the as-yet-untilled fields and woodlots on the outskirts of Cloisonyt. Ahead, Quaeryt could barely make out where the fields and small cots gave way to the conglomeration of houses.

They rode on for another half glass, and the extent of the fields surrounding each cot dwindled as they neared the ancient city located on the north side of the River Acliano. Since the post road entered the city of hills from the northeast, their first view was that of stone dwellings scattered closely, but seemingly haphazardly, up a gentle slope to a low ridge topped by a line of far larger dwellings, also of stone. Unlike in the north, the roofs were of many different types-slate, shakes, and brown and red tile, creating the impression of different colored plaques thrown carelessly from a gambler’s deck.

“Is there somewhere for the men to stay?” Vaelora asked Skarpa. “Besides in barns and warehouses and stables and worse?”

“Yes, Lady. There is a post there. It is old, but well built, and can hold a garrison the size of a regiment. Most times, there is but a company stationed there.”

“One of Hengyst’s old posts built after his conquest?” asked Quaeryt.

“So it’s said.”

“Is it still the home of great artisans?” pressed Quaeryt, thinking of the graceful ancient vase of the innkeeper destroyed by the boorish patroller in Nacliano and wondering if such artistry still remained in Cloisonyt.

“There are many artisans. Their shops are everywhere.” Skarpa offered a sound between a laugh and a snort. “Many of their works are pleasant to look upon. Whether they are great, I could not say.”

“Where is the post from here?”

“On the other side of the ridge and to the north a mille or so. It guards the road to Montagne.”

“That’s a good road?”

“As good as the one we travel now,” replied Skarpa with a smile. “The road from Extela to Montagne is very good.” He paused. “Or it was before…”

“Mount Extel exploded?”

The commander nodded. “It’s likely to be good until we near Extela. Then…” He shrugged. “Who can say? The engineers may have much to do.”

Ahead of them was a pair of stone pillars flanking the road, signifying, Quaeryt suspected, the edge of the city proper, since immediately beyond it were houses with walled courtyards. The houses were not centered on the courtyards, as was the case in Solis. Instead, the stone walls enclosed a space behind the houses and appeared to encircle gardens and tiny orchards. Between the ground before each dwelling and the road were stone sidewalks, the first Quaeryt had seen since leaving Nacliano the summer before. Had it been less than a year?

There were few people on the streets or sidewalks, and while some hurried out of the riders’ way, most gave them little more than a passing glance. The farther Quaeryt and Vaelora rode up the hill, the more winding the road became, and the smaller the houses they passed were. Before long, the houses gave way to small shops, scores of them, squatting side by side, their stoops and porches beginning almost at the edge of the sidewalk, with lanes so narrow that they resembled alleys more than anything. Many, as Skarpa had said, showed artistic wares in their display windows. In one potter’s window, there was a beautiful white cat, and for a moment Quaeryt marveled at the artistry, until the feline moved, and revealed that the “artistry” was from nature and not from the potter.

Less than a half mille ahead, Quaeryt could make out a line of ancient trees, towering against the sky, if still leafless, and behind them, the beginning of the larger dwellings, some almost chateau-like, that he had seen from afar.

“Death to the Yarans! Death to the Yarans!”

Quaeryt jerked his head in the direction of the words offered in old Tellan just in time to see a man wearing a uniform he did not recognize. The man had apparently dashed out of an alleyway even narrower than a lane until he was less than a handful of yards from Quaeryt, if two or three yards forward of him. Even before the words were finished, the man released a long spear.

Knowing he’d never free his staff in time, Quaeryt tried to extend his shields … and did so barely quickly enough to block the weapon from hitting Vaelora. As the spear bounced off Quaeryt’s expanded shields, he concentrated on imaging it back into the chest of the burly man who had thrown it.

A flash of light flared for an instant, and the assailant’s mouth worked silently as his hands tried to grasp the shaft of the weapon whose barbed point had gone through his body and which protruded from his back.

Quaeryt managed to keep his mouth shut as he reined up. How did you do that? He’d imaged a crossbow bolt into Rescalyn, but a long spear? That did tend to answer his question about stretching his abilities, because he didn’t even feel the slightest bit strained or tired.

“After him!” snapped Skarpa.

Quaeryt forbore to mention that the man wasn’t going anywhere. In fact, by the time the troopers from the squad following them had ridden over and dismounted, the attacker was dead.

Several bystanders gawked, but edged back from the armed soldiers.

“Stay with him until the wagons reach you. Then tie him onto one,” ordered Skarpa. “Make sure that spear comes with him.”

“Yes, sir.”

Vaelora looked to Quaeryt. He thought she was trembling, but as she saw him looking, she stiffened and offered a smile, if a very faint one.

“I’ll be fine, dearest.”

“You’re certain?”

“I’m very certain. You’re beside me.”

Quaeryt eased his mount slightly closer to hers, letting his shields retreat to the lighter trigger shields, but keeping them extended enough to cover her. “You will be fine.”

She forced a grin. “I think I said that.”

“There doesn’t seem to be anyone else,” said Skarpa, “but we ought to pick up the pace a bit.”

Quaeryt nodded.

“Send out two more outriders, fifty yards ahead. Forward!”

They resumed riding, and after several moments Skarpa leaned forward in the saddle to look across past Vaelora to Quaeryt. “What … what did you do back there?” The commander’s voice was low.

“I caught it and threw it back,” replied Quaeryt. “I was furious! No one … no one … attacks my wife.” Not and lives, not if I can do anything about it.

“I can see that.” Skarpa’s voice turned dry. “I still don’t know how you did that.”

“Neither do I,” admitted Quaeryt. “I just did.”

The commander shook his head. “Might I ask … Princeps … what he yelled? What it meant?”

“Lord Chayar’s forebears were called Yaran warlords. They defeated Hengyst’s descendants and took over Telaryn. Apparently, some people in Cloisonyt have never forgotten, most likely because it was first a Tellan and then a Ryntarian stronghold.” Quaeryt paused. “What I’d like to know is how he knew that Lady Vaelora would be coming.”

“He must have found out from someone at the post … or from someone who knew someone at the post.”

For all Quaeryt’s caution and the extra outriders, or because of them, they encountered nothing else untoward for the remainder of the ride through Cloisonyt, up the hill, then down a quarter of the way on the west side before turning northwest for another mille. A half glass passed before they rode through the ancient stone-pillared iron gates of the post into the main courtyard.

They had barely reined up when a major hurried across the courtyard almost at a run. He came to a halt several yards short of Quaeryt and Vaelora. “Welcome to Cloisonyt Post, Lady, Princeps.” He bowed, then straightened. “Major Duffryt, at your service.”

A gesture of respect and caution to Vaelora, reflected Quaeryt.

“Thank you,” she replied. “Have you received any news from Extela?”

“Very little, Lady. Only that part of the city was destroyed. The lava still flows, and ash still falls.”

Quaeryt hadn’t expected much more news than that, not when they had a good week’s travel, if not more, to reach Montagne, with Extela three to four days beyond.

“How long will you be staying?” asked the major.

“That depends on the needs of the regiment.” Quaeryt looked to Skarpa. “The horses need rest and grain and fodder.” Especially since we didn’t get all of the grain cakes we’d expected because we left Tilbora early.

“Two days would be good,” offered Skarpa.

“Two or three days,” said Quaeryt. Arriving in Extela with excessively tired men and mounts wouldn’t help people much and would just tax even more whatever food and provisions remained in the battered city.

“The post commander’s quarters are ready for you, Lady … Princeps,” offered the major. “And we will have a fine dinner for you and all the officers.”

“You’re most gracious,” replied Vaelora.

Quaeryt merely nodded.

Even so, it was almost a glass later before Quaeryt and Vaelora entered the quarters of the former post commander, a modest dwelling set against the north wall of the post, with a formal sitting room, a capacious dining room and kitchen, a small study-all on the first floor-and three bedrooms and a bathing chamber on the second.

“This furniture is beautiful,” said Vaelora, looking around the master bedchamber, taking in the postered bed of dark goldenwood, the matching night tables, and even the twin armoires.

“It’s not as old as the house,” offered Duffryt. “Lord Chayar’s father had it placed here for when he traveled to Cloisonyt.”

That explains much. Quaeryt nodded.

“I will leave you to do what you must … and perhaps rest. The dinner will be in the officers’ mess at half past fifth glass.”

After the major departed and Quaeryt had closed the massive carved front door, the two studied the sitting room, then sat down in facing armchairs, waiting for the promised hot water for the bath chamber from the kitchen staff.

“What happened with that man … You couldn’t do that before, could you?” asked Vaelora, keeping her voice low.

“Do what?” asked Quaeryt innocently.

“That kind of imaging.”

“Not with something as big as that spear,” he admitted. “I didn’t think. I just did it. I didn’t want you hurt.”

“There was a flash of light around you…”

“I’ve never seen that happen before,” he admitted.

At the footsteps in the hallway, Quaeryt stopped and looked to the archway.

“The water is ready and in the tub, Lady … Princeps.” The sturdy graying woman bowed her head.

“Thank you.” Both Vaelora and Quaeryt stood and made their way to the staircase.

Little more than a glass later, far cleaner and in fresh browns, Quaeryt escorted Vaelora, who wore one of the simple dresses she had packed in the kit bag that accompanied her trunk, across the stone-paved courtyard to the officers’ mess. Everyone stood as they entered.

Quaeryt was seated at the head of the table, with Vaelora to his left and Skarpa to his right. Major Duffryt was beside Vaelora, and as the senior major in the regiment-which had taken Skarpa some considerable maneuvering to achieve-Meinyt was seated beside Skarpa.

“Perhaps … your wife might offer a blessing?”

Quaeryt looked to Vaelora.

“I would be pleased.” She lowered her head slightly and spoke with the slight huskiness of voice that Quaeryt always enjoyed hearing. “For the grace we owe each other, in times both good and ill, for the bounty of which we are about to partake, for good faith and kindness among all peoples, and especially for mercies great and small. For these blessings, we offer thanks and gratitude, in the spirit of that which cannot be named or imaged.…”

“In peace and harmony,” chorused the officers quietly.

After the blessing, Quaeryt immediately poured the red wine into Vaelora’s goblet, then into his own. He waited until all the officers had wine, then raised his goblet. “A toast to the hospitality and grace of Cloisonyt Post.”

“To the post,” seconded Skarpa.

Then the servers appeared with platters of lamb and roasted potatoes.

Once everyone was served, Major Duffryt turned to Quaeryt. “Princeps … I heard that you picked a spear aimed at your wife out of midair and hurled it back at the man who threw it with enough force to send it through his chest. You broke most of his ribs and killed him on the spot.”

“I don’t know about the ribs,” demurred Quaeryt.

“You have to be a strong man, but you’re only a trace larger than average. I don’t know how you could do that while mounted.”

Quaeryt smiled, sheepishly. “Major … I wish I could answer that question. I just saw the man throwing the spear, and I reacted.”

The major tried not to frown.

“The princeps is too modest,” said Skarpa. “I have seen him in battle. With only a half-staff he unseated a rebel with enough force to break his neck. He took a crossbow bolt full in the chest, pulled it out, blocked the wound, recovered a stray mount, and rode back to the post. He was fighting again in a month. Another time, he broke a line of pikemen and cut down almost half a score from behind.”

“Yet you wear brown…”

Quaeryt could see why the older officer was still only a major and in charge of a reserve post. That was where his nit-picking would be most valuable. “I’m still a scholar. I was riding with Sixth Battalion because the former governor felt I needed the experience to be able to report back to Lord Bhayar. Now … the man who attacked the lady Vaelora was wearing a uniform I’ve never seen.” He looked at the major.

“Yes, sir.”

“Tell me about the uniform. Commander Skarpa had you look at him.”

“It’s similar-I doubt it’s identical-to the uniforms the Tellan troops wore when they lost the battle of Cloisonyt.”

“How might you know that?” asked Vaelora sweetly.

“There was a parade or a march … last Feuillyt. A whole company of men wore them. They claimed they were celebrating the founding of Tela. They weren’t carrying weapons … so there wasn’t much the civic council could do.

“Might someone on the council know more about this?” Quaeryt smiled pleasantly.

“Chief Counselor Ghanyst knows everything that is going on.”

“We’ll have to pay him a visit tomorrow,” said Quaeryt. “Now … if you would tell us about the post…?”

From that point on, Quaeryt and Vaelora kept the conversation to the post and to the recent history of Cloisonyt, although the major and his officers could shed little additional light on the group wearing the replicas of ancient uniforms.

Much, much later, they retired to the master bedroom of their temporary quarters.

“Would you like to come along to visit the chief counselor tomorrow?” asked Quaeryt as he hung his jacket in the armoire.

“I would.”

Quaeryt smiled. “Good.”

“Dearest … was Skarpa telling the truth … about what you did?”

“That was the way it looked,” Quaeryt admitted. “My shields weren’t that strong when the quarrel hit, and it went into my chest. I knew the tip was barbed, and as you deduced, I managed to image it away before I pulled out the rest of the bolt…” He went on, reluctantly, to explain the other incidents.

“You were almost killed all those times … and you never even told my brother?”

“I wrote him about the quarrel.”

“I read what you wrote. It sounded like a modest wound. It was more than that … wasn’t it?”

“Probably.”

“Why don’t you admit to what you’ve done?”

“Because the imaging gives me an advantage. That means that I’m not in as much danger and that those deeds are not so great as others think. Yet I cannot admit that, or I cannot do what I must for you and for Bhayar. Nor will I be able to do what else I’ve planned.”

She raised her eyebrows.

“I’ve told you about what happened to the scholars in Nacliano, and what almost happened in Tilbora. Scholars are cherished and revered compared to imagers. The first thing I want to do is to improve the conditions for scholars and get them to help and teach young imagers, the way the scholars in Solis did for me-even if they didn’t know I was an imager…” He went on to explain what else he had in mind.

17

Just before eighth glass on Samedi morning, a squad of troopers from third company in Third Battalion-Meinyt’s battalion-escorted Quaeryt, Vaelora, and Duffryt to the ancient graystone council building of Cloisonyt, an oblong two-story structure with windows almost as narrow as those common in Tilbora. The walls held no ornamentation, and except for the number of windows and the lack of a gold-colored dome, the severity of the structure could have identified it as an anomen of the Nameless.

The young clerk outside the chief councilor’s study looked up as the major, Quaeryt, and Vaelora approached. “Sir … he requested-”

“Nonsense!” snapped Duffyt. “This is the new governor of Montagne, Choryn. Don’t bother. I’ll do the introductions.”

Choryn swallowed. “Ah … yes, sirs, Lady…”

Major Duffryt was the first into the councilor’s study, but he stepped aside quickly, waiting until Vaelora and Quaeryr entered before he spoke. “Councilor Ghanyst, I’d like to present you to Princeps Quaeryt. He’s the regional princeps of Tilbor, and he’s on his way to Extela to take over as governor of Montagne. His wife is Lady Vaelora, the sister of Lord Bhayar.” Duffryt paused, then added, “Did I mention that he also brought an entire regiment with him?”

As Duffryt finished the introduction, and Choryn quietly closed the door, Ghanyst’s expression changed from a polite impassiveness, concealing irritation at being interrupted, Quaeryt suspected, to a broad and equally false smile. “Lady … Princeps … how kind of you to call. Please…” He gestured to the chairs before his desk. “How might I be of service?”

After he seated Vaelora and then himself, Quaeryt smiled pleasantly. “I understand that you are the chief councilor of Cloisonyt, and that you have an expansive knowledge of the city, based on long and diligent experience.”

“You are too kind, or perhaps the major has been far too charitable.” Ghanyst offered a warm smile of the political kind-one whose warmth his eyes did not fully reflect. “I can lay claim to some knowledge and experience. It is far from expansive, for Cloisonyt is an old city with much history.” He laughed gently and warmly. “That history is not dead. It lives in many inhabitants.”

Quaeryt nodded. “Sometimes, what has happened long ago is not even past. When we rode into Cloisonyt, we saw a man in a strange uniform. When I asked Major Duffryt about it, he said that it was a reproduction of those worn by soldiers in the time of Hengyst … and that many wore such uniforms at times.” He raised his eyebrows in inquiry.

“Oh … them. They’re a bunch of small crafters and shopkeepers who believe that the old times were better. They want Tellan independence … or things as they were, maybe even before Hengyst. Some folks call them the Army of Tela and laugh about it when they’re not around.”

“When they’re not around?” pressed Quaeryt.

“They’re a mite touchy about it. Some people call them the Red Hands.” Ghanyst shrugged. “They don’t carry weapons. None of them have done anything to offend the patrollers.”

“Until yesterday,” said Quaeryt.

Ghanyst frowned. “Yesterday?”

“One of them wearing that uniform hurled a spear at my wife. He was yelling, ‘Death to the Yarans!’ I was too accurate in flinging the spear back. He didn’t live long enough for us to learn what he meant.”

“The patrollers didn’t report that.” There was a slight hint of accusation in the councilor’s tone.

“That’s why we’re here,” replied Quaeryt. “To let you know. They can pick up the body anytime-and the spear. At least an entire squad of troopers heard or saw the attack. Now … what else can you tell us about this Army of Tela?”

Ghanyst frowned again.

Quaeryt waited, smiling pleasantly.

After the silence dragged out, Ghanyst cleared his throat. “Well … I can’t say I know all that much about them.”

“If you know enough to say that they’re small shopkeepers and crafters, you must know who some of them are,” suggested Quaeryt politely. “You might even be able to introduce us personally.”

“Ah … I would be more than pleased to provide the names and addresses of those whom I do know.”

“That would be most helpful,” said Vaelora sweetly.

“We’ll wait while you write those down,” added Quaeryt. “And you can send your assistant with us so that we can find the addresses.”

“Of course … of course.” Ghanyst’s cheerfulness was less than enthusiastic.

A quint later, Choryn was riding Ghanyst’s mount, awkwardly, and leading them down to Third Street where it intersected River Way. Two shops from the corner was the cobbler shop of one Chelgyst Antensyn. Most of the squad waited outside. Two rankers accompanied Quaeryt, Vaelora, and Duffryt into the shop.

The cobbler looked up from the bench where he appeared to be measuring or trimming leather. Even from the door, Quaeryt could see his eyes widen.

“Ah … sirs … Lady … what … are you interested in boots, perhaps?” the cobbler finally stammered, clear puzzlement in his eyes in seeing a major, a lady, and a scholar, followed by two armed men.

“You’re Chelgyst?” asked Quaeryt.

“Yes, scholar.”

“One of those who is a member of the Army of Tela?”

“No longer, sir. Not for more than a year.” The cobbler’s voice was tired. “Not since they started to carry spears. Spears are against the laws.”

“Then perhaps you could tell us who was the one who decided that they should carry spears.”

“There were several, but they were shouting from the back. I left right then. I wish I’d never gone to the first meetings. They were talking about marching in parades and reminding folks about the great deeds of the past. My great-grandfather had a knife that came from the fall of Noveault. We still have it.”

Quaeryt asked a few more questions, but the cobbler avoided giving names, and Quaeryt didn’t feel like pressing him, and they left the shop after less than a quint.

The second name on Ghanyst’s listing was Aelphar, a cooper, but there was a tailor’s shop at the address, and the tailor told Duffryt that Aelphar had died the fall before, and that he was renting half the space from the widow.

The third name was that of Shubatar, a fuller, five blocks to the west.

He was a stocky graying man, but voluble in his replies.

“… went to some of the meetings. I really didn’t care about all their parades. I figured that all those uniforms, the way they talked about them, they’d need fullering now and again … and some of them might come to me, rather than to Casseon.”

“Who seemed to be the most outspoken?” asked Quaeryt.

“Chausyn was pretty loud. So was Dymeyt … and sometimes another fellow with him Shar-something or other…”

Once they left the fuller’s shop, Quaeryt checked the names they’d obtained from Shubatar against those on Ghanyst’s list. All three names were on the list, but near the bottom. Since Dymeyt was listed as a tinker, with a stall in the hill market, and that was the closest to where they were, according to Choryn, that was where Quaeryt directed the clerk to lead them.

Choryn swallowed.

Quaeryt noted his reaction and appeared to ignore it.

Another quint passed by the time they were riding up the rough cobblestones of the side lane that held the hill market.

“His stall … should be up there, past the poulterer…”

Quaeryt squinted. Did he see a man in grays easing away? He urged the mare forward at a faster walk. The man began to walk faster, then to run.

Quaeryt imaged goose grease-or what he thought of as goose grease-onto the bottom of the man’s boots. The fugitive went down hard, then tried to scramble to his feet. By then Quaeryt was less than ten yards away, but the man staggered up and took two steps, before falling hard again-helped not only by the slipperiness of his boots, but by the momentary hardening of the air-similar to the composition of Quaeryt’s shields-that the scholar had imaged in front of his shins.

“I wouldn’t try to flee any farther, if I were you, Dymeyt!” snapped Quaeryt as he reined up.

Heads had turned from all around the market, but the onlookers backed away from all the riders.

“I didn’t do nothing … I didn’t.” The man, still on his knees, looked up at the riders who surrounded him, including the rankers with unsheathed blades.

“Then why did you run? Might it have something to do with what happened yesterday?”

“I didn’t think Sharmyt’d do something like that, sir … I didn’t. I just thought he’d say something from the alleyway.”

“How did he know we were coming?”

“He didn’t, sir. Leastwise, he didn’t say he did. He was headed over to Shubatar the fuller’s place when we saw all the riders coming up the avenue. Then he saw the lady-begging your pardon, mistress-and he ran out. I saw his spear come back and go through him, and I ran back down the alley, fearing for my life.”

“Why did he have a spear?”

“He said…” The man swallowed.

“Go on…”

“He said Shubatar wasn’t no true Ryntaran … just a fat fuller wanting to make coppers off us all. He was going to talk to him. That was what he said … he really did, sir.”

“Where did Sharmyt live … or work?”

“His brother’s a tinsmith, down off the river road, Crafters’ Way.”

“What’s Sharmyt’s full name?”

“Sharmyt Frydersyn…”

“And his brother?”

“Sheam.”

Quaeryt shook his head, then turned to the squad leader. “Bind his hands, and bring him along. The major’s men can turn him over to the Civic Patrol when we’re done.”

“Yes, sir.”

Getting to the tinsmith’s shop required retracing their path back over the ridge and almost down to the River Acliano. Crafters’ Way was all of a hundred yards long, and the tinsmith was at the end of the narrow street, distinguished by missing almost as many cobblestones as it had for what passed as paving.

Quaeryt had barely stepped inside the small shop when he faced a wiry man with a lined face-and two women, one a redhead nearly as young as Vaelora, and another who looked to be closer to Quaeryt’s age.

“Sirs … Lady…” offered the man. “What can I do for you?”

“You’re Sheam Frydersyn?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You have a brother named Sharmyt, and he was seen yesterday wearing the uniform of the so-called Army of Tela?”

“He’s my brother,” admitted the tinsmith, warily. “What of him?”

“He tried to kill someone,” replied Quaeryt, giving Duffryt a sharp glance.

“I told you!” hissed the younger red-haired woman. “I said he’d lead us all to no good with that foolishness.”

For a time, Sheam said nothing. Then he shook his head slowly.

Quaeryt could see his eyes brighten, most likely with barely unshed tears.

“I told him…” The tinsmith shook his head again. “He didn’t listen.”

“He never did,” added the redhead.

“Where is he?” asked the tinsmith. “In the patrol gaol?”

“He’s dead,” replied Quaeryt. “One of the people he tried to kill turned his spear on him.”

The older woman sniffled. Tears rolled down her cheeks.

“I’m sorry, sirs … I’m sorry…” Sheam looked helplessly at Quaeryt. “His body…?”

Quaeryt looked to Duffryt.

“It will be at the main patrol station,” said the major.

After a few more questions that revealed nothing new, Quaeryt led the others out of the shop, and they remounted.

“We’ll head back to the post now,” he announced.

Duffryt looked puzzled, but said nothing.

“What are you going to do, Governor?” asked Choryn.

“I don’t see the need to do anything more right now. If people want to wear old uniforms and praise the old times, they can do that. The one man who used a weapon is dead. Punishing others for doing that will just cause more of them to be unhappy.” And we don’t need to waste men on something like that now. “If there’s more trouble, of course, we might send a company here to conscript the troublemakers and put them where they can wear new uniforms and fight for a live Lord of Telaryn, rather than for one long dead.” Quaeryt smiled pleasantly.

Choryn shivered in the saddle.

Major Duffryt looked from Choryn to Quaeryt, but said nothing.

After dismissing Choryn to make his way back to the council building, Quaeryt eased the mare closer to Vaelora and her gelding. “I have the feeling that Ghanyst put the least likely names at the top of his list, including those no longer among the living. He obviously hoped that we would lose interest and would only make token inquiries.”

“It would seem that way,” she replied.

He nodded.

“You were serious about conscription,” Vaelora observed.

“I was. People who have time to create replicas of old uniforms and weapons and who go to great lengths to stir up trouble have too much time on their hands and not enough useful work to do. Conscription would stop much of the trouble, put them to work, and pay them for it. Not that I think I’ll have to resort to it.” He laughed. “Besides, I don’t even know that Cloisonyt is part of the Montagne regional governor’s ambit. I’ve never seen a map.”

“It isn’t,” replied Vaelora. “Your territory ends about halfway between Cloisonyt and Montagne.”

“Then I’ll have to send a dispatch to your brother telling him about Ghanyst’s less than enthusiastic cooperation. I’ll also tell him what I said about conscription and offer that as a solution if there is more trouble, perhaps giving Ghanyst a commission as an undercaptain.”

“It is the sort of solution he likes.”

“I know.” Quaeryt grinned. “From whom do you think I got the idea?”

18

Just past midafternoon on Vendrei, Quaeryt turned in the saddle and looked to Vaelora. “How did you and Bhayar get to Tilbora so fast? We’ve been on the road for a little more than two weeks, and we aren’t even to Montagne.”

“The weather was drier, and we only traveled with a company of cavalry with a spare mount for every rider. Also, the roads are better, and it’s quicker from Solis to Cloisonyt to Tilbora than from Tilbora to Cloisonyt to Extela.”

Quaeryt nodded. “I see.” Even so, you must have ridden from sunrise to sunset and commandeered mounts along the way. He was about to say something to that effect when, as they rode around the side of a hill, he saw a collection of houses and buildings less than two hundred yards ahead. The town was so small that there wasn’t even a millestone with a name cut into it. At least, Quaeryt hadn’t seen one.

“Do you know the name of the town?” Quaeryt asked Skarpa, riding on the far side of Vaelora.

“Ah … no, sir. It’s on the map, but I don’t recall.”

“Gahenyara,” said Vaelora brightly.

Quaeryt looked to his wife. “That must mean something.”

“I was told it means the eastern end of Yara.”

“The boundary of the Yaran warlord’s lands? How did you know that?”

“Grandmere’s mother came from here. Her father was a large holder to the north of town.”

“A High Holder?” asked Quaeryt.

“What amounted to one. He only had daughters, and the lands went to Grandpere Lhayar.”

“So they’re Bhayar’s now?”

“Unless he granted them to someone. I don’t think he has, but he doesn’t exactly tell me everything.” Vaelora smiled mischievously. “He tells me very little, but he does tell Aelina.”

“And you’re very close to her.”

“Without her…” Vaelora shook her head.

Quaeryt said nothing, although he had suspected Aelina’s influence early on in his and Vaelora’s correspondence.

Ahead of them was a narrow timbered bridge, wide enough for a wagon or three horses side by side, and little else, that extended a good twenty yards over a small river, supported by two sets of stone pylons, each one set equidistant from the end of the bridge and the other pylon. The river was running high enough that the water was less than a yard beneath the bridge deck.

As the scouts crossed the middle section of the bridge, Quaeryt noted that the planking and timbers flexed more than he thought they should, especially on the south side, but there was little give on the last third of the bridge, the one closest to Gahenyara.

“We can only do two at a time,” suggested Skarpa as the three neared the bridge. “I’ll drop back a bit.”

Quaeryt could feel the bridge depress as the mare moved to the midsection, but there was no sense of recovery or rebound in the planking-only an ominous creaking that intensified. He immediately extended his shields to the planks and anchored the shield to the two pylons.

“Keep riding!” he hissed at Vaelora. He turned in the saddle. “Keep clear of the midsection of the bridge! It’s going to give way!”

“Should I turn?”

“No. Keep moving.” Quaeryt couldn’t explain his words, but with each step the mare and Vaelora’s gelding took, he felt more and more pressure on his shields-as if they were contracting around him. He concentrated on holding them, despite the pain and pressure, until both of them were on the far section, when he released all shields because he could barely hold on to them.

He glanced back over his shoulder, but kept riding until he and Vaelora were off the bridge, when he turned the mare and reined up. So did Vaelora.

The heavy planks on the south side of the middle section of the bridge-where he had been riding-slowly sagged into the water. For almost half a quint, nothing seemed to happen. Then the rushing water ripped away one plank … and then another … and a third, until even part of the bridge where Vaelora had crossed was gone. Before long, only the northern third of the midsection remained. The rest of the midsection had been carried away by the flood waters. The northern part might support a single horse and rider at a time, but what remained was far too narrow for any of the supply wagons.

Skarpa had retreated to the eastern end of the bridge, where the bulk of the regiment now waited.

Quaeryt’s head ached, and his eyes burned so much that he could barely make out much beyond the bridge and the river.

“You’re pale and shaking,” Vaelora said. “You need to eat something.” She reached back to the pack behind her saddle, then handed a hard biscuit to him.

He fumbled out his water bottle, filled with watered lager, took a mouthful, enough to make the biscuit chewable, and slowly ate it. “We’re going to be here a while, until the engineers can repair the bridge.”

“If you keep making a habit of this,” murmured Vaelora, handing him another biscuit, “I won’t have any extra food left.”

You won’t have a husband, either. Except … what else could he have done?

“You need to be more careful.”

“I didn’t think it was going to collapse when we started across, and I wasn’t going to let you get swept away by the river.”

“You were on the weaker part.” A grin followed. “I do appreciate the thought, though.”

Quaeryt refrained from pointing out that the planks where she’d been riding were also at least partly gone as well. “Thank you, dear one.”

“Well … I was riding close to what collapsed.”

“I worried.” Quaeryt paused but slightly. “Is this under the administration of the governor of Montagne? Do you know?”

“On this side of the river. That’s why-”

“The town is named Gahenyara,” he finished.

Two men came running toward the riders from the town.

Quaeryt and Vaelora eased up beside the scouts and waited.

19

By nightfall on Vendrei, two battalions had walked their mounts across the remainder of the bridge one at a time. That portion of the regiment had taken over what empty barns there were in and around Gahenyara, and Quaeryt and Vaelora had occupied the best chamber in the ten-room local inn.

When Quaeryt woke on a very lumpy mattress beside Vaelora on Samedi morning, his headache was gone, and his eyes no longer burned. He could also hold light shields, but heavier ones only for a few moments before his head began to throb again.

After breakfast, the two stood on the narrow front porch of the inn, waiting for Skarpa.

“How long will the repairs take?” asked Vaelora.

“Several days, at least. I’d like to hear what Skarpa has to say.”

“You didn’t plan on stopping here…” Vaelora broke off what she might have said as the regimental commander rode up to the inn.

Neither she nor Quaeryt said anything until Skarpa joined them on the porch.

“The river’s down half a yard from yesterday,” said Skarpa. “The engineers have located some trees that look solid and tall enough, but getting them turned into planks will take another two days. Most of that will be felling the trees and getting the trunks across the river. The local mill can handle the logs. Barely.” He shook his head. “Hate using green timber, but there’s nothing long enough that’s dried and seasoned around here. You’d think the locals would know better.”

“If the former governor hasn’t been here recently…” Quaeryt had the feeling that the previous governor, most likely a casualty of the eruption, hadn’t been as far east as Gahenyara in a long time … if ever.

“You’re as cynical as I am, Princeps.”

“Can you get another battalion or two across what’s left of the bridge while the engineers work on the trees?”

“I’d planned on that.”

Quaeryt nodded. “I’d like to take a battalion and leave tomorrow.”

“Thought you might have something like that in mind.”

“We can’t do anything to help you, and a battalion should be enough to deal with anything we encounter.”

“I’d feel happier if you took two. We can unload two wagons and break them down and ferry the supplies across by hand. That should be enough to get you to Montagne, and it will keep everyone busy. We’ll catch up as we can.”

“That might be better in any case,” Quaeryt said. “Gahenyara isn’t provisioned to support a regiment. Not for long, in any case.”

“I’ll send Third and Fourth Battalion with you.”

“Was that Meinyt’s request?” asked Quaeryt.

Skarpa grinned. “He did say that he couldn’t imagine you’d wait around when there was trouble in Extela. He volunteered Third Battalion in the event you did want to go on. Major Fhaen also volunteered.”

Quaeryt knew little about Fhaen, because he’d been stationed at Northcote, except that Meinyt had high regard for the redheaded major. “Then we’ll leave early tomorrow.”

“I’ll let them know.”

After Skarpa had mounted and ridden back east toward the bridge, Vaelora cleared her throat.

“Yes, dear?”

“We can’t do anything to help rebuild the bridge,” she said. “Can we go look at the old chateau?”

“Is it still standing?”

“It is. It was still able to be occupied when we were children, Bhayar said. It’s been empty for years, though.”

“Why?”

“It costs too much to ship timber and crops from here to most places, and it’s too far from anywhere, or other holders.”

Meaning Solis.

“… and it’s also too big for the keeper to maintain anything but the building. He and his family live in the gatehouse.”

“It might be a good thing to visit it,” agreed Quaeryt.

“You’re just not humoring me?”

“No.”

“Why do you think so?”

“I couldn’t say,” replied Quaeryt. “I just feel that it would be.”

“Good.”

With one thing and another, including obtaining directions and arranging with Meinyt for a squad to accompany them, which became two squads led by the company commander at Meinyt’s insistence, it was almost a glass later before they set out from the side courtyard of the unnamed inn. Undercaptain Jusaph rode ahead of Quaeryt and Vaelora as they made their way westward from town along the old stone-paved road.

Less than two milles farther on, they reached a stretch of stone wall extending a quarter mille on each side of a set of ironbound wooden gates. On the other side of the wall, west of the gates, was a stone dwelling, clearly inhabited, since a thin trail of white smoke issued from the chimney. Farther to the north, rising over the bare limbs of the trees, Quaeryt could see a long slate roof, from which sprouted a half score of natural stone-faced chimneys.

Even before Quaeryt and Vaelora reined up at the wooden gates, a man in a gray jacket and brown trousers had hurried from the iron-grated opening in the wall beside the gates. “These are the lands of Lord Bhayar.”

“We know,” said Vaelora. “He’s my brother, and this is Governor Quaeryt. He’s the new governor of Montagne. He’s also my husband.”

The black-bearded man glanced up at Vaelora, then to Quaeryt and then at Undercaptain Jusaph and the squad of uniformed riders behind him.

“A thousand pardons, Lady … a thousand pardons.”

“We’re here to inspect the chateau,” Vaelora went on, “before we continue on to Montagne and then to Extela.”

“The chateau … I do what I can, Lady…”

“We know. It has been years…”

“Since the time of my grandfather. That was when Lord Lhayar trained men on the lands to the north.”

“If you would open the gates,” suggested Vaelora.

“But…”

Quaeryt could see that trying to be patient with the man would only result in Vaelora losing respect. He tried to image the sense of authority toward the gatekeeper. “The Lady Vaelora has every right, indeed the duty, to inspect her family’s lands.”

The gatekeeper stepped back, his face suddenly pale. He swallowed. “Yes, sir … Governor, I mean. Just a moment.” He hurried back through the archway, leaving the gratework open.

Shortly, the ironbound wooden gates began to creak open.

“What did you do?” murmured Vaelora. “All of a sudden, it was like you were Bhayar. You didn’t look like him. You just had that presence. Except it was greater.”

“Imaged authority,” he replied in a low voice.

“You can do that?”

“I didn’t know for certain. I thought it was worth a try.”

“Don’t let Bhayar know. He’ll want you with him all the time.” Vaelora smiled wryly. “He suspects, but he’d rather not know. Not at the moment.”

“Deniability,” suggested Quaeryt.

“Something like that,” replied Vaelora.

Quaeryt nodded.

When the gates gaped wide, the keeper hurried forward and extended a heavy ring of keys to Vaelora. “If you’d return them when you leave, Lady…”

“I will indeed. Thank you.”

The gatekeeper did not look in Quaeryt’s direction as he backed away.

Vaelora raised the ring and keys, and Quaeryt eased the mare forward, through the gates and onto the rutted lane that might once have been heavily graveled-if the intermittently spaced heaps of gravel and dirt along the right side of the lane were any indication.

The lane curved to the left gently and gently uphill for only about fifty yards before splitting. The right branch led to a cluster of outbuildings some thirty yards from the east end of the chateau, while the left ended in a stone-paved square before the main entry-a wide but single ironbound door fronted by an oblong stoop of natural stone. There was neither a roof over the stoop nor any sign of a mounting block, although a good teamster might have been able to position a coach to use the stoop as such.

The stone-walled chateau itself had two levels aboveground, and extended no more than fifty yards from one end to the other, and less than thirty from front to rear. All the windows were shuttered, and most of the shutters sagged in some measure. While the shutters and casements had once likely been oiled or painted, any vestige of either had vanished, leaving the wood one shade of gray or another.

Vaelora reined up beside the stoop and immediately dismounted, handing the gelding’s reins to a ranker. Quaeryt followed her example.

“If you wouldn’t mind, Lady … Governor,” offered Jusaph, “I’d feel remiss in my duties if my men didn’t enter the chateau first.”

“Of course.” Vaelora smiled and waited.

The undercaptain gestured, and three rankers and a squad leader dismounted, hurrying forward. Vaelora handed the key ring to the squad leader, who inclined his head, then moved to the door. The door opened easily, but squeaked as it did, and the four troopers entered the chateau.

“It looks clear,” called the squad leader after a time.

Quaeryt and Vaelora stepped inside, into a modest hall some four yards by four. Quaeryt almost tripped when the longer heel on his left boot caught the edge of the stone doorsill, but caught himself quickly enough that Vaelora didn’t notice.

Off the foyer to the left through a square arch was a great hall, empty of furnishings. At one end was a hearth and a fireplace large enough to hold several grown men. To the right was a hallway that appeared to stretch to the eastern end of the chateau. Directly opposite the entry was a stone staircase some two yards wide, certainly the narrowest main staircase Quaeryt had ever seen in a holder’s dwelling.

He looked to Vaelora. “Up or to the right.”

“I’d like to see the main floor first.” She turned and walked to the first doorway, where the open door had sagged enough that the end away from the hinges rested on the rough stone floor. Beyond the doorway was an empty square chamber with a hearth and modest fireplace.

“A parlor?” suggested Quaeryt.

“Most likely.”

The doorway opposite the parlor revealed a larger room, also with a fireplace and without furnishings except for the east wall, where slightly drooping shelves of once-polished goldenwood had likely held books. The two proceeded through the main floor past a family dining room, and then into a large kitchen, still holding a massive trestle table and little else. Off the kitchen were several storerooms, one of which had rows and rows of shelves for dishes and platters and the like. There was also a narrow stone staircase down to the lower level and the storage cellars.

The upstairs held six modest bedrooms, two chambers for washing, and the holder’s private apartments, consisting of a sitting room, a bathing chamber, a small jakes, and at the eastern end a large bedchamber.

Quaeryt followed Vaelora into the bedchamber, then stopped and frowned as he looked to the south side.

“There’s a small room off here,” said Vaelora. “It’s barely large enough for a storeroom … but it has windows and shutters.”

Or what’s left of them. Quaeryt stepped forward and looked at the sagging narrow shutters in the wall and then at the archway, where a still polished, but heavy carved goldenwood door sagged on its heavy iron hinge pegs. “It’s rather oddly placed, and that door is heavy enough to be used to guard a strong room. But there’s no lock and no hardware for that, and the room has windows.”

“Oh…”

Quaeryt turned to Vaelora. “Oh … what?”

“Grandmere said that her grandmother always slept alone. She never explained. She only said that it was safer for everyone that way.”

“How did they have children?” asked Quaeryt wryly.

“She didn’t say…” Vaelora shook her head. “Sleep alone, dearest, not make love. They are different. As you should know.”

Quaeryt definitely understood the difference-especially after all the days on the road-but why had Vaelora’s great-great-grandmere always slept alone … and why, in those days, had her husband acquiesced in that arrangement? “Did she have a temper?”

“Grandmere did. I don’t know about her grandmere.”

“Did they ever move to Extela?”

Vaelora shook her head. “They both lived here until they died, Grandmere said. Their son and his wife eventually moved to Extela after Grandmere married Grandpere. Grandmere’s younger brother died in a hunting accident, and the lands became hers because he had no heirs.”

Quaeryt nodded slowly. “It has to have something to do with your grandmere’s visions. Did her mother and grandmother have that ability?”

“Grandmere never said. They were both Pharsi, though. From wealthy families.”

Quaeryt would have wagered that one or both had had visions, but after all the years, who would know? “Have you seen enough?”

Vaelora nodded. “It’s sad. This was once a place filled with people. They loved and cried and laughed. Now … there’s no one.” She stood in the chamber for a long time, saying nothing.

Quaeryt waited.

Finally, they left, walking slowly back along the rough stone floor toward the staircase. Neither spoke.

20

Quaeryt, Vaelora, and the two battalions reached Montagne by midafternoon on Mardi, through one rainstorm and more high waters, but did not have to cross any more flooded or damaged bridges. The post at Montagne was far older than the one at Cloisonyt, and the two battalions filled every available space in the barracks that could be called habitable. That did not include three barracks that resembled abandoned storehouses. After talking matters over with the two battalion majors and Vaelora, Quaeryt decided they would stay the one night in Montagne and leave the next morning for Extela.

Five days later, on Solayi afternoon, Quaeryt and Vaelora followed the outriders over the crest in the road leading out of the hills and down to the valley that held Extela-situated largely on the west side of the Telexan River. The sky was dusky orange, not with clouds, but with a heavy haze, and what looked to be a gray fog rose from a peak to the north of the city. As dry flakes fell intermittently around him, Quaeryt realized that the mountain had to be Mount Extel and that the gray plume rising from it had to be ash.

“The northwest quarter of the city…” gasped Vaelora, “it’s all covered in black rock … only one tower left of the palace … and the north market…”

Quaeryt followed her gesture with his eyes. To the northwest, closer to the foot of Mount Extel, not all the rock was black. There were lines of orange-still-hot lava.

A light gust of wind swirled warm sulfurous air and ashes around them, some of which Quaeryt brushed off his browns before he looked at Vaelora. She looked back at him and shook her head. “I never imagined it would be this bad.”

As the mare carried him down toward the river, Quaeryt studied the devastation. A reddish orange fountain of lava spurted intermittently from the side of the mountain and then oozed downhill, winding its way around and over earlier, but still recent, hardened and blackened flows. In some few places, such as the tower Vaelora had noted that jutted up from the black stone, a remnant of the old palace, the lava had seemingly flowed around a few structures while obliterating or covering most of the northwest section of the city. One flow had reached the river, well north of the city, and created a dam and a lake, over which poured steaming water, but the hills along the river south of the lava dam had diverted the molten rock back into a narrow area of streets and structures, leaving most of the destruction in the northwest quarter of the city.

Tents and huts and other crude structures dotted the east side of the river, but well south of the main part of Extela and only on the higher ground beyond the low hills that rose from the eastern shore.

“What about the posts?” Quaeryt asked Meinyt, who rode on the far side of Vaelora. “Can you tell how much they’ve been damaged?”

“The main post is well to the south of the city, and there does not seem to be that much damage to the south,” said Meinyt. “There was a smaller post below…”

“Below where the palace used to be?” asked Quaeryt.

The major nodded. “We’ll need to see if the main bridge is usable. Otherwise … it’s another five milles to the south bridge.”

The fields and meadows on each side of the road were covered in a thin layer of gray ash, along with piles of ash along the shoulder gathered by runoff from the lands. As they neared the river, Quaeryt noted the piles of debris from an earlier flood-or floods-and the ruins of houses and other structures within fifty to a hundred yards of the river.

What had once been a bridge was now more of a dam with gaps in it crossed by heavy planks over timbers and braced by oddly shaped chunks of stone, offering passage barely wide enough for a single supply wagon at a time.

“Looks almost as bad as the bridge in Gahenyara,” observed Meinyt sourly.

Unstable as the bridge appeared, the heavy planks barely vibrated as the scouts, and then Quaeryt and Vaelora, crossed, followed immediately by troopers. Even before more than a squad of the first company of Meinyt’s battalion had crossed the narrow makeshift bridge and formed up, figures appeared from what had appeared to be deserted streets and lanes. At first, there were but a handful, but the numbers began to swell, and all moved toward the riders, so that by the time all four squads of the first company had reached the ash-strewn plaza on the western shore of the Telexan River, close to fifty people in ash-smeared clothes were converging on the riders. Most were women, many with small children. Despite the damp chill, few if any of the women wore head scarves, although many had shawls across their shoulders.

“Do you have food?”

“… food…”

“… days since we ate…” A gaunt woman in gray and faded brown held up an infant. “Please … food…”

“First squad! Form up on the governor!”

Quaeryt didn’t know the squad leader, but he appreciated the command. There was little enough in the way of provisions in the wagons that followed, and trying to distribute that small amount was more likely to cause a riot and more deaths. He could have used shields, if necessary, but armed men would provide a more visible and understandable deterrent.

“They’re truly starving. Can’t we do something?” asked Vaelora.

“We may be able to,” he replied, “but not here and now. If we show food, hundreds more will appear, and they’ll push those in front toward us.…”

Vaelora winced.

“Arms ready! Forward!” ordered the squad leader.

Slowly, the squad moved forward, farther into the plaza, to allow the companies behind to form up once they crossed the rubble-built bridge. The crowd swelled to close to a hundred, but some at the fringes began to fade back into buildings and lanes as it became clear that there was no food to be had. Meinyt’s battalion was across the bridge, followed by the first supply wagon when a voice called out, “They have wagons coming!”

“They do have food! See the wagons!”

“Food!”

The movement away from the plaza halted, and then reversed. Even more people appeared out of the dust and ashes, heading toward the river end of the plaza and forming a human spearhead toward the bridge, giving the armed squad at the head of the column a clear berth.

“Protect the Lady!” snapped Quaeryt as he turned the mare and extended his shields, riding toward those leading the hunger-driven mob.

The force of the mare’s weight and movement behind the shields cleared those at the edge of the mob’s back, allowing Quaeryt to aim at the front of the near-raging crowd, forcing them away from the first wagon. As he reined up, Quaeryt forced himself to ignore the old woman who fell under the press of rioters forced back-and the child torn from her arms.

The crowd halted … as if those who had led it were uncertain.

“Ready arms!”

Quaeryt sensed, rather than saw, the flash of sabres.

The crowd stopped, but did not retreat.

Quaeryt stood in the stirrups, using imaging to project both his voice and the sense of authority and power. “Go back to your homes. Attacking soldiers for food will only get you hurt! Go back! Now!”

As he finished speaking, but kept trying to image authority across the crowd, he could feel a slight throbbing, but nothing more. He remained standing, watching, as slowly, and then more quickly, the hungry people began to disperse.

“Governor…?”

Quaeryt dropped into the saddle and turned to see Meinyt rein up. “Yes?”

“How…? It was … I even felt I needed to leave.” The major frowned.

“I didn’t want anyone hurt any more than they already had been.” He glanced to his right, seeing Vaelora riding toward him, flanked by troopers. She eased her mount toward the old woman who had struggled into a sitting position and somehow found the small child she had lost in the crowd. Vaelora bent down from the saddle, with a flexibility and skill Quaeryt could never have come close to, and extended something, biscuits perhaps, to the old woman.

“The Nameless bless you, Lady…”

Vaelora straightened up in the saddle and rode slowly over toward Meinyt and Quaeryt. “Can she and the child come with us, at least to the post?”

The major looked to Quaeryt.

Quaeryt nodded. “She was hurt when I ordered everyone away from the wagons. That wasn’t her fault.” They’d only been in Extela a quint or so, and he’d had to image authority and threaten people with armed men. He feared that matters would only get worse … and that power might be the only way to keep order.

“Jusaph! Have your men get the woman and child in the wagons. We need to keep moving.”

Before those in the crowd regain their courage and desperation. Quaeryt did not speak, only nodded.

“Yes, sir.”

In less than half a quint, the two battalions, every man with his sabre ready, were riding down the ash-strewn boulevard that ran southwest parallel to the river. The doors of shops that had been secured with iron grates appeared largely untouched, as did those that appeared ironbound and sturdy.

But then, that just might mean intruders found easier access. Or that some crafters are still in their shops, waiting behind those doors.

There were some shops and dwellings where the ash had been swept away from doors and off shutters, and with the other signs he saw, such as footprints in the ash, unshuttered second-level windows, and the like, Quaeryt thought that not quite half the structures held inhabitants, probably those who had had fuller larders.

Another mille or so brought them to the main post, located on a low rise overlooking the river. The ironbound gates swung open as the column neared the stone walls of the post, but archers manned the ramparts, and two squads of cavalry were mounted up in the main courtyard. They remained so until the gates were closed.

Quaeryt immediately surveyed the structures inside the walls of the post. Directly to his right, beyond the mounted squads, was a modest anomen, with its dome of faded yellow-gold. Although it did not appear in poor repair, it had an air of disuse, and a length of chain with a lock on it secured the double doors, whose weathered oak had seen better days. Beside the anomen was the first of several structures that looked to be stables, and beyond them was a long barracks building. To Quaeryt’s immediate left was an oblong black stone structure of one level that suggested a command building, perhaps with an officers’ mess. Farther back was a two-story structure with a railed balcony and doors set at regular intervals opening on to the balcony, with matching doors below, most likely officers’ quarters.

Quaeryt’s survey was cut short as a graying commander hurried across the courtyard from the single-story black stone building, making his way directly to Vaelora, Quaeryt, and Meinyt. The commander’s hair was not quite the color of the ash that still drifted down everywhere, if of a finer nature and in far smaller quantities south of the main party of Extela, and his face was drawn.

“Governor? Major? I’m Zhrensyl, the post commander.”

Quaeryt studied the commander, whose eyes were red-rimmed, and who did not look to be in the best of health, but said nothing as Meinyt began to speak.

“This is Governor Quaeryt … and Lady Vaelora as well. I’m Meinyt, major in command of Third Battalion, Third Tilboran Regiment.”

“Thank the Namer you’re here, Governor, Major. You, too, Lady. We barely have enough men to keep the rabble from overrunning the gates. It’s been that way for near-on two weeks, ever since the other regiment left.”

“The rabble?” asked Vaelora coolly.

“Many of those who had the means began to leave weeks ago, Lady. Those that survived the eruption and the floods, that is. The rest…” Zhrensyl shook his head.

“What about the holders farther from the city?” asked Quaeryt.

“They just retreated behind their walls. They can hold off planting for a few weeks. They hoped that Lord Bhayar would send another force.” The commander glanced toward the now-closed gates. “We had hoped…”

“There are two more battalions and the engineers following,” Quaeryt replied to the unspoken inquiry. “We had to leave them to rebuild the bridge in Gahenyara in order to allow the rest of the supply and engineering wagons to pass. How are your provisions?”

“We have field rations for two regiments for another month. Little else.”

“And water?”

“So far the springs remain clear and cool.”

“What about fodder or grain?”

“Less than a month for a regiment.”

“We’ll need to plan how we can get more provisions here and more food to the city.”

“There needs to be order. I have not had the men…”

“Commander … unless people see that there is food, the only order that will exist is that imposed by the edge of a sabre, and that order will only remain while the sabre is unsheathed and ready to wield.”

Quaeryt’s words were quiet, but the commander involuntarily took a step back.

“For the moment,” added Quaeryt with a smile, “we need to get the men and their mounts settled and everyone fed.”

“For you and Lady Vaelora … we only have the senior officers’ quarters … since the palace and governor’s house…”

“Those will be fine.” Especially after all the places we’ve slept along the way.

“They will,” added Vaelora with a smile.

“Ah … the officers’ stables are the ones at the end…”

“Thank you.” Quaeryt turned to Meinyt. “We’ll need to talk with the commander after we eat.” Then he looked at Vaelora, and the two eased their mounts forward toward the stables.

Almost two quints later, Quaeryt and Vaelora stood inside the senior officers’ quarters, located at the west end on the top floor of an old black stone building holding quarters for squad leaders and officers. The quarters consisted of a sitting room, a bath chamber and jakes, and a bedchamber, much smaller than the apartments Quaeryt and Vaelora had occupied in Tilbora, and yet far more spacious than anything in which they had stayed since then.

As the door closed behind the ranker who had carried two of their bags, in addition to the kit bags each had lugged up from the stable, the pleasant smile dropped from Vaelora’s face, replaced by an expression of concern. “How do you feel, dearest?”

“Just a touch of a headache, and it’s going away.”

“Are you sure?”

“I am.”

“I saw what you did,” Vaelora persisted. “Every time you do strong imaging, it takes effort on your part.”

“Unfortunately, it does. But everything in the world takes strength of some sort.”

“But there are different kinds of strength. Waterwheels work without horses or people pushing them.”

“And sails on ships,” he added. Could there be any way to have the wind or water add force to imaging? Or something like that? He shook his head. That seemed improbable. Most improbable.

After a moment he smiled. “The commander said that there was warm water in the bath chamber.”

“You are so gallant.”

Just hopeful. “I do try, dear.”

21

Despite what Commander Zhrensyl had said about rations, the evening meal at the officers’ mess consisted of a mutton stew with root vegetables and potatoes and fresh-baked bread, as did the fare for the other two battalions, served in the troops’ mess at the west end of the compound. In a slight break with tradition, Vaelora also ate with the officers, at a long table that could have held fifty, instead of the sixteen who were seated there, most of whom were undercaptains and captains. The chamber itself was oblong and paneled in oak that had aged into a deep golden brown, as had the slightly battered if well-polished table and the straight-backed chairs.

After the meal, once the junior officers had been dismissed and departed, Zhrensyl, Meinyt, Fhaen, Quaeryt, and Vaelora reseated themselves around the end of the table, with Quaeryt seated at the head.

“The people need food, but commandeering it from the surrounding lands isn’t advisable, except as a very last resort.” Quaeryt turned to the commander. “Do you know what happened to the provincial treasury?”

“No, sir,” replied Zhrensyl. “I imagine it’s buried under all that ash and lava. Almost no one escaped from the first ash storm.”

Fhaen raised his eyebrows, but did not speak.

“The ash came down like the worst rain anyone had ever seen. That’s what the handful who escaped said.” Zhrensyl went on. “It swept down the mountainside and buried almost everything in its path-the palace, the command base, the governor’s building and quarters. The lava came later.”

“Just ash?” asked Fhaen.

“It wasn’t just ash, Major. There was a massive thunderclap, and the ground shook. Then a wall of ash roared down the mountain. It happened at night. The wind was so hot that it roasted people alive in their beds before they knew what happened.” The commander shook his head. “We tried to help, but when we got there, we found people had either escaped, perhaps with a few burns, or they had died where they stood or slept. We found a few horses and oxen roasted in their traces or yokes … except there was little remaining of either traces or yokes. We had to leave after that, when the lava began to flow over everything.”

“Did any clerks who worked for the governor or the princeps escape?”

Again … Zhrensyl frowned.

“We’ll need clerks and others to rebuild the tariff system and the ledgers to account for spending. You also should have one or two.” Quaeryt looked hard at the commander.

“Ah … there are two clerks. They’ve been staying in the barracks.”

“Good. I’ll see them in the morning. How hot is the area around the palace and the governor’s buildings? Has it cooled off much?”

The commander shrugged. “Some places are still hot enough to be hearths or stoves. Other places are just unpleasantly warm. So they say.”

“The palace is on higher ground, and the governor’s square is on a lower hill below it,” volunteered Vaelora.

“So there might be less lava around the governor’s square?”

“It’s possible.” Vaelora frowned.

“Might I ask what you have in mind?” inquired Zhrensyl.

“I’m wondering if enough ash buried the building that held the strong room,” Quaeryt said.

“Enough ash for what, Governor?”

“You know what a burned-out and banked fire is like in the morning? When there’s ash covering everything, and the ash on top is barely warm, but there are still hot coals beneath? Well … if the ash came first, and then was covered with lava…” Quaeryt saw the comprehension in Vaelora’s eyes immediately, but she did not speak.

Finally, Meinyt did. “You’re saying that what’s under the lava might be cooler?”

“It’s worth looking to see,” Quaeryt pointed out. “If we can get to the strong room, we’ll have more golds for food and supplies. If not, I’ll have to promise golds to the local High Holders … and getting them from Solis will take time and more golds.” Which Bhayar won’t be happy to provide-assuming that he even can if Bovaria is building forces on the border or threatening an attack.

“They won’t sell. I’ve asked,” replied the commander. “Said I couldn’t pay enough.”

“The High Holders did?” asked Quaeryt.

“That’s what their stewards told the supply major.”

“They wouldn’t sell to you. If I have to ask, I’ll have a regiment behind me and Lord Bhayar’s sister at my shoulder,” Quaeryt pointed out.

“That might be convincing enough. They won’t be happy.” Zhrensyl didn’t look especially pleased as he spoke. “They stalled on doing anything until Commander Huosyt’s regiment pulled out.”

“No … they won’t. They’ll just be less unhappy than they would be with the consequences. Tell me … do you have shovels and picks here?”

“Some…”

“Tomorrow, we’ll take some and look into the area around the palace and the governor’s square. What about brooms?” After a moment of silence, Quaeryt went on. “One way or another, we’re going to have to feed at least some people. We need to get the streets and sidewalks swept off. The more ash that accumulates, the more people will want to leave, and there’s really nowhere for them to go, not at this time of year.”

“Begging your pardon, Governor, but you don’t know that the ash and lava won’t keep coming or getting worse.”

“You’re right. I don’t know. But…” Quaeryt waited for several moments before he continued. “If all that lava and ash covered everything that I’ve seen in the first days, and it looks like it did because almost all the lava I saw on the way here was dark and looked to be hardening, then it would seem that the lava and ashfall are lessening. What we can’t afford to do is just wait and do nothing. That will also cause more people to leave.” Quaeryt took a swallow of the bitter lager left in his mug, managing not to wince as he did so.

“Yes, sir.” Zhrensyl’s polite tone conveyed disagreement more pointedly than any words to the contrary could have.

Quaeryt laughed softly. “If you happen to be right, Commander, then you’ll be able to say so to the end of your days, but we need to do something because Lord Bhayar happens to want the situation improved, and Extela is his ancestral home. We can’t improve it by doing nothing. The only question is what will make matters better, and how we accomplish that. My task is to discover that and bring it about. We can’t even begin to determine whether I’m right or you are unless we go and take a closer look at the damaged parts of the city.”

“I haven’t had the men…”

“I know that,” replied Quaeryt as warmly as he could, although he suspected Zhrensyl had had more than enough men for what Quaeryt had in mind. “But I do, and we have more on the way. What do you have in the way of carts and dray-horses?”

“Three carts, and four wagons in good repair…”

For the next half glass, Quaeryt asked about what manner of resources remained at the post. He listened not only to what the commander said, but how Zhrensyl reacted to the questions. He also watched the two majors, Fhaen in particular because he hadn’t spent much time at all with the younger major.

Then he rose. “It’s been a long day for all of us. I’ll see you all in the morning immediately after breakfast.”

“Yes, sir.” The others stood immediately.

Vaelora said nothing while she and Quaeryt walked back across the courtyard to the quarters building and up the outside stone steps. Quaeryt thought that the air seemed slightly clearer and that less ash was falling, but that might well have been wishful thinking.

Once he closed the quarters’ door and slid the bolt, he turned to Vaelora, who had used the striker to light the lamp in the sitting room.

“You have some ideas, don’t you?” she asked.

“Of course,” replied Quaeryt with a grin, looking directly at her. “I always have ideas, especially…”

“I don’t mean those ideas, dearest. I meant about the governor’s mansion.”

“I still have what you call those ideas, but they can wait … a bit. If I can find some paper, can you help me sketch out what you remember of the old governor’s square?”

“The last time I was here was years ago.”

“I’ve noted you have a very good memory.” He grinned again. “But if you’re not interested … there are those other ideas…”

“I can remember enough.” While her words were tart, there was a hint of a smile at the corners of her lips.

22

Immediately after breakfast on Meredi morning, Quaeryt sat behind the desk in the small study that would have been that of the regimental commander. In the two chairs across from him were two men, clerks who had worked for the previous governor and who had sought refuge at the post. Quaeryt had been surprised that Zhrensyl had granted it until he’d learned that the older clerk was a distant cousin of the commander.

“Jhalyt … you were the assistant bookkeeper for the princeps?”

“Ah … no sir.” The clerk had narrow-set green eyes below a high forehead and wispy receding brown hair. “I was the assistant to the bookkeeper.”

“But you can keep a ledger?” At Jhalyt’s nod, Quaeryt went on. “Can you set one up?”

“Yes, sir … but we don’t have any records to start with.”

“We won’t for a day or so … if ever. We’ll likely have to start new ledgers. What about a ledger for tariffs?”

“Ah … Caell did that. I only saw it once or twice.”

“I can give you an example, and we’ll work it out. That one we won’t worry about immediately.” Quaeryt turned to the other figure, scarcely more than a youth. “What did you do, Baharyt?”

“Just the supply ledger, sir. Mostly, I kept track of everything the governor and the princeps purchased.”

“You can do that here. I’ll be giving you more instructions as I know more.” Quaeryt paused. “I need to know everything you can tell me about the governor’s building. Everything. We’re going to see if we can reclaim things from it.” His eyes went to Jhalyt. “Tell me what was on each floor. Better yet … can you draw it out?”

“Yes, sir … I mean I can draw out where each chamber is … but aren’t they under the lava?”

“That’s what we’ll find out. But it’s worth the effort to see.” Quaeryt pushed the pen and inkwell to the other side of the desk and handed the older clerk a sheet of paper.

Almost a glass later, after he finished meeting with the two clerks and taking their drawings, Quaeryt was out in the courtyard, inspecting the wagon and the cart that he’d decided would accompany the second company from Third Battalion, commanded by Captain Eleryt. The cart held an assortment of hand tools, mostly shovels and a few picks, but also a sledge and a mattock, as well as several buckets and two pry bars. The high-sided wagon contained chains and other gear that he hoped might prove useful. Quaeryt had tucked inside his brown scholar’s working jacket four maps, one from the post, along with a set of directions as how to follow the streets, avenues, and byways so as to get as close to the governor’s square as possible before encountering the hardened lava. The second map was the one Vaelora had drawn the night before. Then he had the two drawings from Jhalyt and Baharyt showing what chambers were where in the building.

When the company formed up in the courtyard, Vaelora was mounted beside Quaeryt because, as she had pointed out more than once, “Who else do you have who knows that part of Extela any better?”

Quaeryt knew better than to argue with her, and besides, she did know Extela. There was also little useful that she could do at the post, and Quaeryt had long since learned that his wife did not like to be left alone with nothing to do-and that she’d soon find more than enough to do, and possibly something he’d be less than pleased about. His eyes drifted to the locked anomen. While he’d seen abandoned and burned-out anomens, he’d never seen one simply locked.

Vaelora followed his gaze. “I wondered about that, too.”

“I suppose I’d best ask the commander about that, too.”

“There are a number of matters that still need explaining,” murmured Vaelora, looking to him.

Quaeryt nodded.

“Ready, Governor?” called Captain Eleryt, as he rode up to join the two of them, easing his mount beside that of Vaelora, so that she was between the two men.

“Anytime.”

“Company! Forward!”

As Quaeryt and Vaelora rode out through the post gates, he looked to the northwest, toward Mount Extel. The sky above the summit was hazy, unlike the clearer sky farther east or west, as if fine ash-or something-still issued from the volcano.

“The whole top of the mountain is gone,” said Vaelora. “I couldn’t see that yesterday with all the ash and clouds.”

“How much taller was it?”

“It’s hard to tell. It came to a peak. It was snow-covered, at least partly, all year round. How much higher? I don’t know. A quint more?”

“Let’s hope all that rock and lava isn’t all on top of the governor’s square,” said Quaeryt wryly. His glance dropped from the mountain to the area of Extela that held the palace and the governor’s square, if under ash and lava. “Is the main avenue the best way to go? I’d thought so, but…”

From the other side of Vaelora, Eleryt leaned inward in his saddle, as if to hear what Vaelora said more clearly.

“It will be fine until we’re past the market square in the middle of the city. Then we’ll have to see.”

Quaeryt held his triggered shields so that they covered the two of them as they rode along the avenue toward the market square. Occasionally, shutters opened, usually those on second-level windows, but for the first mille from the post no one approached the riders.

Because of what happened yesterday afternoon? Or because everyone who is left is afraid?

Then a boy ran out from an alleyway, waving his hands. “Sirs! We need food! Please … please!”

“We’re working on that,” Quaeryt called back. “But we’re not carrying food now. We’ll be back later.”

“My ma is sick. We need food.”

Quaeryt could see the boy-barefoot and in a thin shirt-shiver. “Soon, but not now,” he said.

Another youth appeared, begging for food, and then another, followed by an old woman, and then another scrawny boy with a crutch. Then came an older man, with a long gray beard, followed by a woman in a worn and ragged shawl thrown over little more than rags. By the time the company had ridden another long block, there were scores of people on the sidewalks begging … but none of them stepped into the street, most likely because the troopers all carried unsheathed sabres.

As they continued to ride toward the center market square, more scores of people appeared, pleading and begging. Most were ill-dressed or ragged, confirming Quaeryt’s suspicions that those with food were either remaining behind barred doors or had already left Extela. “I don’t see many who are decently clad.”

“They’re the poorest,” replied Vaelora. “All they know is that they’re hungry. They don’t care that if you have to promise golds, rather than having them in hand, you’ll pay more for the food, and there will be less.”

“Or that I’ll have to threaten the High Holders to keep the prices down.”

“You’ll have to do that anyway.”

“You don’t think they’ll listen to reason?”

“The only reason they’ve ever listened to is the ledgers in their accounting rooms. That’s what Bhayar is always saying.”

She’s right about that, too. “Do you think…” he began.

“No. You need to know what you have to work with. You also need to know more about conditions here in the city. You also can’t spend too much on the poorest.”

Because they aren’t the ones who will rebuild and repair the city. Or produce and buy the goods to keep it alive. Still, he couldn’t help feeling slightly guilty as he ignored the pleas that the poorest continued to call out.

Even before they reached the market square-appearing abandoned from a block away-Quaeryt could feel the warmer air … and see a rough expanse of blackened rock that had poured down the next street to the northwest, walling off the avenue. No one else begged from the sidewalks and alleyways as they neared the square, but he could see several shutters had opened, and one or two were ajar.

Once they entered the square, Quaeryt turned to Eleryt. “Have them halt here.”

“Company! Halt!”

Quaeryt turned to Vaelora. “Is there a way east and downhill that will allow us to circle around that?” He pointed to the cooling mass of lava ahead of them.

“There are many ways, but any of them could be blocked.”

“Then we’ll just have to try them one at a time.” He turned in the saddle. “Captain, I’d like you and two squads to stay where you are with the wagons for the moment. The lady and I will take the other two squads and see if we can find a better approach to the square.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Don’t let anyone get too close, either.”

“We won’t, sir.” Eleryt stood in his stirrups. “First and second squads! With the governor, under his direct command!”

Quaeryt turned to Vaelora. “Which way would you suggest?” He smiled, wondering if her foresight extended to picking routes.

“Downhill until we see a way back northwest,” she replied so sweetly that Quaeryt winced.

“Squads one and two! On us!” Quaeryt did not immediately look at his wife as he urged the mare forward to the end of the square, then eastward down a narrower street that sloped gently toward the river in the distance.

At the next cross street, he looked northwest, but the lava still blocked the way, although the amount appeared noticeably less-and lower. After three more blocks, they could turn north once again, but an almost stifling heat permeated the streets, certainly one reason why those begging for food had gathered farther south.

“Not so chill now, dearest, is it? It’s too bad we couldn’t take the warmth back to those poor people on the south side of town. If only their problem were just keeping warm.”

Quaeryt nodded, wondering if he could even do imaging in the heat. He frowned. There was something in the back of his mind, but he couldn’t recall what it was.

Did you read something somewhere about using heat? Smiths and metal workers use heat all the time to form and shape metal. You’re able to image things from one place to another? What about heat? Or would that just exhaust you? He didn’t know, but he knew that he’d have to be very careful, whatever he tried.

At the next cross street, he looked uphill, but there was lava two blocks up. Another block farther on, and the street was clear. They rode uphill.

“The governor’s square is only about four blocks that way.” Vaelora pointed in the direction of Mount Extel, roughly west-northwest.

“The question is how close we can get to it and in a place where the lava isn’t too high and is cool enough to approach.”

“You don’t want much, dearest, do you?”

“Not at all,” he replied pleasantly. “Not at all.”

Almost a glass later, after weaving back and forth, and up an alleyway to another cross street and then back south, Quaeryt and Vaelora rode along a street that, from what he could tell, had been covered with hard ash to a depth of more than a yard. While grayish ash or dust puffed up with each step of their mounts, the ash was hard-packed enough that the horses’ hooves only sank into it a digit or so.

Finally, they reined up about ten yards back from an irregular mound of black rock that stretched roughly level across an open space, but the hardened lava directly before them was certainly not deep enough to have covered any buildings. While the hardened lava rose gradually from where it ended before them until it was high enough to engulf buildings, at the lowest point near them the black stone was a good yard above the packed ash.

“This is the east side of the square … I think.” Vaelora looked around, then gestured. “It has to be. There’s the old southeast tower of the palace. All the rest of it … well … not quite.”

Following her outstretched arm, at first, all Quaeryt could see was black stone and more black stone, out of which rose the one tower. Then he looked more intently before he made out a section of wall joining the tower, but the wall looked blackened. He frowned. It wasn’t blackened. The stones were black. He wanted to shake his head.

Exactly from what did you think all the black stone buildings were constructed?

“The tower stands out because the stone there is much older and something happened to it long ago. Grandmere told me that once when I was little, but I don’t remember exactly why that was.”

Quaeryt dropped his eyes to what remained of the square, and looking more intently, some fifty yards away, he could make out the black stone corner and slate roof of a building not entirely covered by lava-except that he was only a few yards below the top of the uncovered roof. Slowly, he eased the mare forward, but the heat didn’t seem as intense as it had in other places in the city. Was that because the ash and lava had struck the palace and the square first and the later molten rock had flowed around them?

He turned in the saddle. “Squad Leader, if you’d have the scouts and a few others, as you see fit, ride back to the others and then guide them here.”

“Yes, sir.”

Quaeryt then dismounted and handed the mare’s reins to Vaelora.

“Be careful.”

“I will.”

The first thing Quaeryt did was walk along the irregular edge of the lava, trying to gauge where it was the coolest and where it was the hottest. He did not quite touch the stone, but it didn’t radiate much heat … anywhere. So he went back to the mare and took his water bottle, filled with watered lager, out of its holder and uncorked it. He walked along the stone again, flicking water at the rugged black surface, but the liquid remained. Only then did he touch the stone. While it was warm, it was not uncomfortably so, but he had no doubt that beneath the hard surface, there were places where the stone was far, far hotter.

He returned to where the hardened lava was the lowest and, taking the staff, pressed one iron-capped end against the top of the stone. The warm rock did not yield. So he jumped up, careful to concentrate on lifting his bad leg, so much so that he almost lost his balance before straightening on the rough surface, but the staff helped. He began to walk toward the lava-swathed building, one step at a time, testing the rock before him with the staff.

While he could sense greater warmth as the rock thickened as he climbed up the rock until he reached the uncovered stone corner of the building and the slate roof above it, the increase in heat was not that great. He bent over and lowered his hand to just above the solidified lava. It was warmer than he’d thought, almost warm enough to cook on. His boots were thick enough that they protected his feet.

He’d hoped that there would have been somewhere that they could have used picks to chip away the lava down to the ash, but especially given the heat of the lava under the crust, he could see that the easiest way to enter the building would be through the wall, and that might well be difficult with the limited tools they had brought.

He turned and walked back across the warm stone, very carefully. He could see that edges in places were sharp enough to slice through clothing and flesh.

Vaelora looked at him, raising her eyebrows.

“I think we can get in, but it won’t be easy.”

Before that long the rest of the company and the wagon and cart arrived, and Quaeryt accompanied several burly rankers with picks across the hardened lava to the exposed section of wall, choosing the lowest black building stone that was completely free of lava. If Jhalyt’s hand-drawn map was accurate, and he was reading it correctly, behind the stone was a narrow chamber that had held file chests.

“We’ll have to use the picks to chip out the mortar.” He pointed to the first ranker and stepped back. “You start.”

“Yes, sir.”

The ranker took aim and swung, but the pick hit stone, rather than mortar, and rebounded. With a second swing, the ranker hit the mortar, but again the pick bounced away, leaving only the smallest scratch.

“Let me try,” said Quaeryt. “If you’d stand back.” He aimed the pick at the thin line of mortar and swung. Right as the pick struck he imaged away some of the mortar, leaving a deep line between the two stones.

“How…?”

After another swing, and removing more mortar, he handed the pick back to the ranker from whom he had taken it. “You try it now.”

Bit by bit, Quaeryt watched and quietly imaged away mortar, trying to draw strength from somewhere, as the rankers, with his unnoticed help, cut away the support for one stone and then another, until, after almost a glass, two sagged perceptibly. It took another half glass before they could pull the two free, only to reveal charred wooden lathe.

Quaeryt nodded. “Now the next two stones.”

It was close to midday before enough stones had been removed for a man to climb through-assuming that the lathe didn’t front more stonework.

“Bring up a sledge!” As Quaeryt waited for the sledge, he realized two things. He didn’t have a headache, and that the lava around where the men worked seemed noticeably cooler. Had his efforts to draw strength from elsewhere worked? They must have, but why? Was that why the lava was cooler?

He frowned. When he’d done imaging in the cold rain during the battles with the hill holders, on at least one occasion he’d been pelted with ice when he’d seen rain all around himself. They must be connected. But how?

He’d have to think about that. He turned his attention to the ranker with the sledge. With the first crack in the lathing, a slight puff of warm air pushed the dust outward, but subsequent blows didn’t bring more hot air, nor did the air seem sour.

That suggested to Quaeryt that the air inside wasn’t too hot. You hope.

While they were enlarging the hole, Quaeryt walked back to where Vaelora waited under the hazy sky and took several long swallows of watered ale.

“Do you know where the strong room is?” she asked.

“The clerk said that it’s in the middle of the lowest level-underground, I think. He said that only the princeps and the governor had the keys.”

Another half glass passed before the sweating rankers had a hole big enough for men to enter. Quaeryt let one of them lead, bearing a small lantern, and then followed them over the charred remnants of file chests that had only partly filled the corner storage room. Quaeryt tried to open one of the chests, but the top gave way, and when he tried to extract a sheet, it crumbled under his fingers. The door to the corridor opened, if grudgingly against the ash in the corridor beyond that was ankle deep. The corridor walls that had likely once been white plaster above oak or goldenwood paneling were closer to a dark brown, and the wood was blackened and cracked. Still, the ash wasn’t that deep.

Quaeryt’s feeling of optimism died abruptly when he reached the stairs down to the street level. Halfway down, the ash covered everything.

“We’ll need to shovel this up. You can put it in the hall that goes that way. We’ll need to go back and get men and picks and shovels and buckets.”

Quaeryt turned and retraced his steps and climbed back into the early afternoon that was probably almost chill at the post to the south of the city, but which felt almost muggy outside the governor’s building.

Eleryt was waiting. “Sir?”

“The upper hall is clear, but the stairs are partly filled with ash. I’ll need to have them cleared. They need to rotate. No more than two quints for each man at a time.”

“Yes, sir.”

Another glass passed before Eleryt reported to Quaeryt, who had spent the time drinking from his and Vaelora’s water bottles and eating hard biscuits to regain his strength-and just waiting.

“Sir, there’s a door blocking the steps below, and it’s got a massive lock on it, sir.”

“That might be good,” said Quaeryt. “It might have kept the ash from filling the lowest level. I’ll have to take a look. Oh … and bring one of the sledges.”

“There’s one inside, sir.”

“Good.”

Quaeryt made his way inside once more, down the corridor and down the ash-cleared steps to the solid, ironbound door and the massive lock.

“If I could have the sledge…”

One of the rankers handed it to him.

He’d already decided how to approach the situation. He took a solid swing at the lock, and as he expected, the sledge had no effect. He took another swing, moving so his body shielded the others’ view of the lock, and after the heavy sledge rebounded, he imaged out two chunks of steel from the bottom of the lock hasp, but the lock remained frozen. He took a third swing, and the lock separated, the bottom dropping onto the stone and ash.

“I thought the heat might have made the lock more brittle. We were lucky in that.”

“… tried that…” murmured someone.

Quaeryt wasn’t surprised that they’d tried without telling him, but he just stepped forward and slid the hasp out of the iron loop and lifted and slid the strap free. Even so, the door had warped, and it took two men with pry bars to wedge it free of the jamb. The stairs below were apparently clear, but totally dark.

“Who has the lantern?”

“Here, sir.”

“Go ahead.”

Quaeryt followed the ranker down the steps. The strong room was in the middle of the building, to the left of the bottom of the stairs, with an iron door and another iron lock.

Quaeryt shook his head. The sledge trick wouldn’t work again.

“Sir?”

He turned to the nearest ranker behind him. “Would you inquire of the Lady Vaelora if she might happen to have a key or a straight piece of metal small enough to fit into a lock? Not too small a lock.”

Although a puzzled expression crossed the man’s face, he replied, “Yes, sir.”

While he waited for the ranker to return Quaeryt studied the lock. The keyhole was smaller than that of the upper level doorlock, and the metalwork was finer, but the hasp was every bit as thick, as were the iron loop and strap that the lock secured.

Before that long, the ranker returned, breathing heavily, and extended a brass key.

“Thank you.”

“My pleasure, sir.”

Quaeryt turned to the lock. The key Vaelora had provided was far smaller than that required by the lock, but that mattered little, since he was counterfeiting picking the lock. While he manipulated the key, Quaeryt tried to image away the insides of the lock … and he found that far harder than imaging away the bits of iron from the lock on the upper door, so much so that when he finally managed to open the lock-gutted of all interior workings-his head throbbed and his eyes watered.

Why now? You didn’t have that trouble before.

He removed the lock and stepped back, then swung the door open-only to find a narrow vestibule with a second locked door.

He couldn’t help but sigh. Then he took a deep breath. “We’ll have to see what we can do with this lock.”

Before he tried any more imaging, he tried to think about what had been different about what he’d done with the second lock, as opposed to the first. Both had been made of iron, and he’d imaged away parts of each. But why was the second so much harder…? Because you’re farther away from all the heat of the cooling lava?

Belatedly, he realized that up the stairs he’d reached out for the heat. Down on the lower level, he hadn’t.

Will that work down here?

He had to try.

As he manipulated the key, he concentrated on reaching out to the heat of the lava. While the imaging was easier than in the case of the previous lock, it was still far harder than it had been with the first lock, and light flashes blurred his vision when he stepped back to let others open the door.

… hope there’s not another lock …

There wasn’t … not exactly. But there were five locked chests in the strong room and a much smaller unlocked casket. Quaeryt lifted the lid of the casket and found it half filled with silvers. He closed it quickly, but held on to it.

“We’ll need to carry these up to the wagon and cart.” He offered a grin. “Be careful of them. Your pay’s likely to come from there.”

The squad leader swallowed, and Quaeryt judged that he’d never been in the presence of so much coin.

Eleryt was waiting outside the structure when Quaeryt emerged.

“We got the strong room open. They’re bringing up the chests. They’re all locked. There are five of them, and they’re heavy. I took a quick look at the other rooms that weren’t filled with ash, but there’s nothing there but file chests and no sign of other valuables.” That doesn’t mean there couldn’t be some elsewhere in the building, but any looter will have to dig through a lot of ash on the main floor.

The captain stiffened.

“Call it payroll and supply duty, Captain,” Quaeryt said with an ironic smile. “We’ll need every coin in it for supplies and pay.”

“Yes, sir.”

Quaeryt walked slowly toward Vaelora, who stood waiting in the limited shade offered by the single wagon. She held a water bottle.

“Are you all right?” asked Vaelora. “You look like something the Namer dragged in.” She handed him the bottle.

Quaeryt put it under one arm and handed her the casket. “Be careful. It’s filled with silvers. It didn’t have a lock. The five big chests did.” He took a long swallow of watered lager before replying. “It took some work to get into the strong room. I broke one lock with a sledge and picked the other two with the key you provided.” He pulled it from his jacket pocket and extended it to her. “It was very useful.”

“Especially since it was designed for my jewelry chest in Solis.” The hint of a smile crossed her lips. “You’re still pale. You need to drink more.”

“Yes, dear.” He wasn’t about to argue. His head still throbbed, and he could barely hold the light trigger shields.

“You also need to eat.” A biscuit followed her words.

“How many of those did you bring?” He took the offering and bit into it.

“As many as I could pry out of the cook. I had the feeling you’d need them. I was right.”

“You were indeed,” he mumbled through the biscuit crumbs. “Anyway, we did what we could. The chests might see us through for a while.”

“For a while. It takes so much…” She shook her head. “You know as well as anyone.”

“Unfortunately.”

Two quints later, the chests had been secured in the wagon and cart, and the company prepared to head back to the post. After Vaelora and Quaeryt mounted, he glanced at the square opening in the wall of the governor’s building. In all likelihood, in time, the upper floor would be stripped, but not for a while, but with what was likely contained in the chests, given their weight, he didn’t want to leave any rankers behind.

His eyes flicked to where the sun hung just over the jagged peaks nearly to the horizon on the far side of the vast valley that stretched westward from Extela almost as far as the eye could see-and where the most fertile lands lay.

Even so, obtaining the governor’s treasury, hard as it had seemed, was likely to be far less difficult than getting enough food for the city, the post, and the regiment would be.

“Dearest … what is it?” asked Vaelora as she eased the gelding forward and the column began the ride back southward to the post.

“I was thinking that this was the easiest part. It doesn’t deal with people.”

She nodded.

23

The company returned to the post just before sunset on Meredi … and without further incident-other than more of the poor begging for food. The chests were stored in the commander’s strong room. Quaeryt had reluctantly “unlocked” one to assure himself that it actually contained golds, and it did, more than five thousand at a quick estimation, although he and Jhalyt would have to count out the coin to the last copper before he could have the clerk set up the ledgers. He left the other four locked, since he had no keys to them and did not wish to break the locks and thus subject others to unnecessary temptation. The strong room was certainly not as secure as the governor’s had been, but far more accessible, reflected Quaeryt.

By Jeudi morning, the remnants of his headache had vanished, especially after breakfast, when he met with Commander Zhrensyl in his study. No sooner had Quaeryt seated himself across the table desk from the commander than the older man asked, “And how might I help you?”

“What happened to the Civic Patrol? There was one, wasn’t there?”

“Yes, sir. Their headquarters was on the south side of the governor’s square.”

Now under ash and lava. “What about the patrollers … or the patrol chief?”

Zhrensyl shrugged. “The chief lived in the northwest. I imagine he’s among those no longer with us. There are probably patrollers around, but…”

“You made no attempt to organize them?”

“That’s not my responsibility, sir, and I didn’t have the men. When Commander Huosyt came, he couldn’t even find any patrollers”

Quaeryt managed not to snap at the older man. After several other questions that established that Zhrensyl felt he had no responsibility beyond the post itself, Quaeryt decided not to frustrate himself further and asked, “What can you tell me about the High Holders to the west?”

“Not so much as the governor could have, sir.”

“Who purchases grain and food for the post?”

Zhrensyl frowned momentarily, as if the change in questions puzzled him.

Quaeryt waited.

“That’d be Major Heireg, sir. He’s in charge of supply and the quartermasters.”

“Then I’ll be talking to him after we finish here. Now…” Quaeryt paused, trying to conceal the fact that he wasn’t terribly impressed with the commander. “In your mind, who are the strongest and most powerful High Holders closest to Extela?”

“The nearest is High Holder Aramyn. His hold is five milles due west. Next is Wystgahl. He’s about twelve milles south on a hill overlooking the river. The next nearest is Thysor, but his lands are more into timber, and he’s to the east across the river.”

“Who might be the strongest of the High Holders?” Quaeryt kept his voice pleasant, although he was less than pleased.

“That’d be hard to say, sir.”

“What can you tell me about Aramyn?”

“I’ve never seen the High Holder, sir. Nor his place. I’d not wish to speculate on what I’ve not seen.”

“What about Wystgahl and Thysor?”

“I’ve not met either, sir.”

“Have you met any others?”

“No, sir. They’d be farther away.”

Quaeryt was about to excuse himself when one other question, one he’d wondered about intermittently since he’d arrived in Extela, occurred to him. “I noticed that the anomen was locked…”

“Ah … yes, sir. That’s because we’ve not a proper chorister. Well … not even an improper one, and there not being one, I felt it was best to secure the building. You wouldn’t have a regimental chorister coming, would you?”

“No. There’s no chorister with the regiment.” Quaeryt wasn’t about to get tangled up any more in providing homilies, especially given what he’d seen in Extela. For all that he’d said in the last homily he delivered-and he sincerely hoped it was indeed his last-he still had trouble reconciling a benevolent Nameless with the destruction wreaked on the city.

“That’s a pity. The officers and men were hoping…”

“I can understand that.” Quaeryt nodded as he stood. “Where might I find Major Heireg?”

“He has a study in the quartermaster’s spaces-the end of the south stable.”

“Thank you.”

Quaeryt returned to the smaller study he’d claimed and immediately summoned Meinyt and Fhaen. As soon as they arrived, he waved them into the two chairs.

“Part of the problem here is that the Civic Patrol chief is apparently dead, the headquarters was destroyed, and no one bothered to reorganize the patrol, since the chief reported to the governor. Major Meinyt … I’d like you to have one of your captains or undercaptains scout around for a suitable building, preferably empty, that can be used as a temporary space for the Civic Patrol, one where cells or the like can be quickly built. Once we have a building, some of the engineers, and any stone or masonry workers we can find, will convert it, and chief clerk Jhalyt will write up some notices requesting patrollers who wish to retain their positions meet there. The sooner we can get patrollers back on the streets, the less patrolling you and your men will have to do.”

“Yes, sir.”

After going over a few more details with the two, Quaeryt hurried out into the courtyard, where Vaelora was waiting. As he walked toward her, he looked to the northwest. The sky appeared clearer, and there was only the faintest haze surrounding Mount Extel. At least, that was the way it seemed to him. But are you seeing what you want to see?

“How was your meeting?” she asked.

“Very polite. It would appear that Governor Scythn kept him very much in the dark.”

“And his curiosity about High Holders is rather restrained?”

“Extremely. But that is the safest course for a military officer with limited talent. The other problem is that he’s done nothing to keep order beyond the post walls. He didn’t even try to gather what remained of the Civic Patrol.” Quaeryt couldn’t help but wonder how Zhrensyl had ever become a commander and why he’d been retained … unless Bhayar had judged that lack of curiosity was a requirement for the post in Extela.

“He must be close to the age for a stipend.”

“Unless he had a long and glorious service when he was younger, I’m not sure that he deserves it.”

Vaelora slowed and glanced to the outside wall of the rankers’ mess hall, where the old woman they had rescued from the mob in Extela sat on the worn paving stones, her back against the wall, feeding bread from a loaf to the small child in her arms.

“You stay here,” murmured Vaelora.

An amused smile on his face, one that vanished almost immediately, Quaeryt waited as his wife neared the woman.

“How are you doing?” asked Vaelora in Tellan.

The woman responded in what Quaeryt thought was Pharsi.

Vaelora said a few words back, apparently in the same tongue, then added in Tellan, “That’s all I know.”

“Then you are lost ones, you and the scholar.”

Vaelora’s eyes flashed to Quaeryt, as if questioning, before she replied, “He is the governor and my husband.”

“Doubly lost are you both, then.”

“We were fortunate enough to find each other.”

“You will need to find more than that. Have you time to listen to an old woman’s tale?” The woman handed another fragment of bread to the child.

Vaelora glanced to Quaeryt. He nodded.

The woman cleared her throat and began to speak.

In the time before the lost ones were lost, four young Pharsi, three men and a woman, were walking through the great woods of Khel. Two of the men were brothers, and strong-thewed they were. Afeared of nothing were they as well, even when they should have been. They led along a way too large to be a path and too narrow to be a road. Behind them walked their sister, with a young man like your companion, white-blond and black-eyed, and he was a distant cousin who had come to court her. Above them the trees were so thick that the day seemed like dusk. Before long, the four came to a scabbard lying beside the path, and a fine scabbard indeed it was, but bereft of its blade.

The older brother picked it up and thrust it under his belt, saying, “Where that came from there must be a blade to match.”

The younger brother replied, “If the scabbard is yours, then the blade will be mine.”

“Both will be mine, for I am the eldest,” declared the older brother.

“Mine, for it is only fair that we share,” insisted the younger brother.

“Mine-”

“Do not argue over what is not and may never be,” said the sister, and her voice was soft, but firm.

“What say you, cousin?” asked the eldest.

And the white-blond and black-eyed Pharsi who had come courting said in return, “Your sister has the right of it.”

The two brothers grumbled, but they were silent. Before long, they came to a fine velvet wallet lying in the path, and the younger brother grabbed it up, yet there was but a single tarnished copper within the wallet.

“So if there is a blade, it will be mine,” asserted the eldest.

“Only if I do not find the golds that fell from this wallet.”

And they began to argue once more. Again, their soft-voiced sister said, “Do not argue over what is not and may never be.”

Once more, the brothers asked, “Cousin, what say you now?”

And once more, he replied, “Your sister has the right of it.”

Grumbles followed grumbles, until they died away, and before long the four came to a clearing in the wood, where there were two men. They were well attired and well armed, and they fought with blades that glistened in the late afternoon sun that poured into the clearing. Then one struck the other a blow that clove through shoulder and near onto the heart of the other, but the dying man grasped a poignard and slipped it between the ribs of the other, and they both fell down dead.

The two brothers hurried into the clearing and immediately began to despoil the dead men of their belongings, seeing as neither would have need of such. Tied to one tree at the side of the clearing was young stallion, as handsome a stallion as anyone could want, and his coat was silver-white and as fine as silk, but he bore neither saddle nor bridle, but only a harness and a lead. But tethered to two other trees were even more splendid stallions, and they wore fine saddles and bridles as well.

The two brothers began to argue, each to claim what the other had, and the Pharsi woman turned to her cousin. “Dearest, let us take the stallion and lead him away.”

Her cousin looked to the brothers. “There is much treasure there.”

“Do not argue over what is not and may never be,” she said. “Am I not more treasure than they will ever see?”

He smiled and said, “Truly, that is so.”

And they untied the stallion and walked away from the clearing, leading the stallion between them, until the arguing voices of the brothers were lost in the soft sounds of the woods. They walked, and they walked, and the sun dropped lower and lower in the sky, until it, too, vanished behind the western peaks, and they came to the end of the woods and continued through the fields and meadows.

They had scarce come around a corner in the way that was too wide for a path and too narrow for a road when a man with hair as white as snow and as silver as moonlight and the face of a young warrior rode toward them across the meadow to the south. The silver-white-haired man looked from the young woman to her cousin and then to the mare. “Where did you come by that stallion?” he asked.

“Why, sir,” answered the Pharsi woman, “his lead was tangled in a branch in the woods, and we untangled it. That was how we came by him.”

“You did not try to ride him?”

“No, sir,” replied the cousin most politely. “He looked not to be broken, and escaped from his owner.”

“He is indeed not broken, nor will that ever happen, and he was stolen by two brigands, and they had two other rough fellows to help them, but they fell to fighting and they were still fighting when we came upon them and slew the last two. And I would ask that you not argue and return my stallion to me.”

The woman was grieved so that she thought her heart would break, but she held her tears and said, “I would not argue over what is not and may never be.”

“Wise you are, woman, and you as well, fellow.” The white-haired man bent in the saddle and took the lead from her. “Wise you were, also, to lead the stallion between you, for to try to ride one so wild would only have left you dead and trampled in the dirt.” He took a small pouch from his belt and tossed it to her. “Some coppers for your troubles.”

Then he turned his mount, and he and his mount, like as to a twin to the stallion that trotted beside them, they rode off.

The woman opened the pouch and a score of coppers fell into her palm. She and her cousin looked up and saw the silver-white-haired man, a mighty bow across his back, riding up a shimmering road of reddish silver that stretched skyward … and vanished. And where the road had led, shining full in the night that had come on so suddenly, was Erion, the moon of the great hunter.

A single beam from that, the lesser moon, flashed across her hands, and she gasped, for the coppers had turned to gold.

And yet, the greatest treasure they had was not the wealth of the golds, but the wisdom of the hunter, and so that should be for you as well.

The wisdom of the hunter? Quaeryt did not voice his question.

The old woman looked from Vaelora to Quaeryt and back again before she smiled. “Remember the tale, lost ones, and you will be lost no more when you come to the road.” Then she bowed her head to Vaelora. “I thank you, Lady, for your grace and kindness.”

“And I thank you for your story and your insight,” replied Vaelora. After a pause, she asked, “Is that an old, old tale?”

“I heard it from my grandmere, and she from hers.”

“Why did you offer it to us?” asked Quaeryt pleasantly, feeling far more charitable to her than he had toward Zhrensyl.

“Because you need to know from where you come, lost one, governor that you may be.” She smiled sadly. “That is all I can say. The rest you must find yourselves.”

“Thank you,” Vaelora said again.

As they walked away, Quaeryt thought about the woman’s addressing them as the “lost ones.” He’d heard … somewhere … about the lost ones. He just couldn’t remember where.

The two walked slowly away from the rankers’ mess hall.

“Who are the lost ones? What does that mean?” asked Vaelora.

“I’m trying…” Abruptly, he remembered who had first called him a “lost one”-Hailae, in Bhorael. How could you forget that? He shook his head ruefully. “I don’t know all of it, but I’ve told you about Rhodyn’s son Jorem…”

“The one who married the Pharsi woman he saved, you mean?”

“His wife is Hailae, and when she saw me the first time, she called me a ‘lost one.’ I’d never heard that. The lost ones are Pharsi who are marked by black eyes and white blond hair, but she couldn’t, or wouldn’t, explain more.”

“You told me how she insisted you are Pharsi, but not about being a lost one.”

“I thought I did.”

Vaelora shook her head.

Rather than pursue that, Quaeryt said, “The way she told it, it has to be an old tale, but I’ve never heard it or read about it.”

“She was certain it applied to us.” Vaelora smiled. “Even if most Pharsi would have been beaten or killed if they’d been found with a horse and no way to have bought it.”

“None of the old tales make any sense that way.” He paused. “Do you really think that we’re the lost ones?”

“You’re from a Pharsi background, and so am I, but neither of us can speak more than a few words of Pharsi. We know nothing of their customs.”

“So … from her point of view, we’re the lost ones.”

“I think ‘lost ones’ means more than that,” mused Vaelora. “I wish I knew more. I should have listened more closely to Grandmere.”

“She never talked about the lost ones?”

“If she did, I don’t remember, and I think I would have.” After a moment she asked, “What will you do now?”

“Meet with Major Heireg. The post quartermaster has to know something about the High Holders and who has what goods. Then … we’ll begin visiting the High Holders.”

“We? You didn’t ask me.” Vaelora’s face was composed, severe in expression.

Quaeryt wasn’t quite sure whether she was irritated or amused behind a facade. “Would my lady prefer to accompany me on a long ride to visit politely unpleasant High Holders or to remain here at the post in idle leisure?”

“That is most disrespectful…” Vaelora grinned abruptly, but the grin didn’t last long.

“I am sorry. I’d thought we’d talked about this last night.”

“We did … but you didn’t ask. You just assumed.”

Quaeryt didn’t hide the wince.

“I would like to accompany you. I also think I can be useful, don’t you?”

Her last words were delivered so sweetly that he winced again. “I do indeed, and I apologize for my assumptions.”

“You don’t have to apologize for all of them, dearest. Just that one. Your apology is accepted.”

“Thank you.”

Vaelora laughed softly.

“It might be better if I met with the major alone,” said Quaeryt as they neared the stables.

“I would agree. I’ll be outside here nearby.”

“It’s not likely to be long.”

“Take as long as you need, dearest.”

Quaeryt inclined his head to her, then turned and made his way to the narrow door at the end of the stable. Inside was a small space, barely large enough for the single narrow desk, the chair in front of it, and the records chests stacked head high against the outer wall.

“Governor!” The major rose from the desk and bowed. “What might I do for you, sir?”

“I’d like to hear what you have to say about procurement. Especially recent procurement.” Quaeryt gestured for the major to reseat himself, then settled into the single armless chair in front of the desk.

“We haven’t procured much in the past weeks. Nothing at all.”

“Commander Zhrensyl indicated that you have a fair supply of rations and some fodder, but not that much more. Are supplies that hard to purchase?”

“It depends on what you mean, Governor,” replied the round-faced man, whose cherubic visage was contraindicated by a lean muscular frame. “I could purchase more supplies, but we don’t need them right now. The local holders, especially the High Holders, are holding their grain and flour dear. They’re holding everything dear.” Heireg smiled sardonically. “I’ve held off buying. I figured Lord Bhayar would send someone to replace Governor Scythn before long. Whoever it was would have more clout than I would in getting a fair price from those bastards. Pardon my language, sir, but they are. Some of ’em would run down a starving mother for sport. Especially Wystgahl.”

That didn’t surprise Quaeryt in the slightest. “I need to know what the range of past prices for simple goods has been-flour, a side of mutton, or a whole sheep, maize, potatoes…”

“Until the mountain blew, sir, flour was running eight silvers a barrel, sometimes nine. Potatoes were less than three coppers a bushel. Good ones, that is. In the fall, I could get a bushel for two coppers. Price of the other provisions bounced around from week to week. I can show you the ledgers with all the prices…”

“I’d appreciate that.”

Heireg eased a ledger off the shelf on the wall, then stood, opening the ledger to the last page with entries. “You see here, almost a month ago, the last time I bought anything…”

Quaeryt listened as the major went over the costs of each procurement, then asked, “From whom do you obtain these massive amounts of goods?”

“Anyone who will sell at a decent price. Most times, the small holders offer better prices, but they can’t supply all that we need. Right now, they’ve little to offer. The High Holders don’t want to sell because they don’t have to-not yet-and they think prices will rise.”

“Who are the High Holders most likely to have flour and potatoes?”

“Wystgahl has wheat corn and a mill, and Aramyn has potatoes and some flour, I’ve heard. Chaffetz has both.”

“Is Chaffetz the most powerful?”

“Don’t know as he’s the most powerful. Namer knows, he’s the most stubborn. Don’t go to him unless there’s nowhere else to turn.”

“Where is his holding?”

“He’s got lands everywhere. His chateau is some three milles due south, off the stone post road to Solis that follows the river until it crosses at the bridge some twenty milles south.”

“Can you think of any reason why I shouldn’t visit those three and see whether they’d be amenable to selling some more provisions-at a decent price, that is?”

Heireg laughed gruffly. “You’d be the first governor to try, sir. Least in my time here. You get even close to a decent price from any of them, and I’d write a letter to Lord Bhayar spouting your praises.”

Quaeryt laughed. “I think you’ve made your point, Major.”

“Any other questions, sir?”

“Just a few. Do you know how many loaves of bread can be baked out of the flour in a single barrel?”

Heireg smiled broadly and shook his head. “The cooks and I go round over that. Should be around four hundred and a quint, according to their measurements. The best they ever do, from my figuring, is a shade over four hundred.”

“How much flour do you have now here at the post?”

“Three hundred barrels. With your full regiment, we’ll use close to two barrels a day.”

When Quaeryt finished asking questions, he thanked Heireg and left.

As he walked across the courtyard to join Vaelora, he knew one thing for certain. He was going to need a lot more flour … and that was just the beginning.

Nearly a glass and two quints later, Quaeryt, Vaelora, and Undercaptain Jusaph rode behind the scouts and ahead of the body of Third Battalion’s first company as they made their way up the gravel drive to the chateau of High Holder Chaffetz. A handful of men scrambled from out of a side gate toward the main entry, then came to a halt as they beheld the Telaryn uniforms and the company ensign.

Besides checking his shields and easing the mare closer to Vaelora’s gelding, Quaeryt ignored the handful of men-at-arms and reined up opposite the main center entrance to the old-style three-story chateau, with its thick stone walls and narrow windows on the two lower levels, and wide windows on the third level.

Then, after Jusaph drew up the company in formation facing the chateau, Quaeryt dismounted, handed the mare’s reins to the ranker who rode forward to take them, and walked up toward the entrance.

One of the iron doors opened, and a muscular figure in blue and white livery stepped out to meet Quaeryt. “High Holder Chaffetz is not presently available, sir.” The functionary glanced at Undercaptain Jusaph and the company drawn up along the gravel drive. “Would you be interested in talking with the steward?”

Quaeryt smiled politely. “I might send Major Heireg to see him, but my business is with the High Holder.”

“Sir…”

“I don’t believe that you offered me the chance to make myself clear. As the new governor of Montagne, I am here to see High Holder Chaffetz. If I find it difficult to see him, in turn, he will find it difficult to see me.”

The man froze for a moment.

“It might be best if you looked more closely inside the holding to see if he might be found to be available.” Quaeryt’s voice was pleasant. “Oh … and since my wife accompanied me, perhaps the lady of the chateau might wish to meet her while I discuss various matters with the High Holder.”

“I will inquire within, Governor, to see if I might have been mistaken. In the meantime, if you would care to enter…”

“I will wait. There is little point to entering if Lord Chaffetz cannot be found.”

When the door closed behind the functionary, Quaeryt turned and walked back to where Vaelora remained mounted.

“If he does not find the High Holder, and quickly, he is more of an idiot than he first appeared,” murmured Vaelora.

“It is clear that the post of governor here has not been what it should be. That is something we must remedy. Now … under the guise of chatter…”

“I’m to let slip who I am and that you are a longtime boyhood acquaintance of my brother,” finished Vaelora.

“Exactly … and anything else that will quietly terrify his wife or daughter or whoever entertains you.”

Vaelora just smiled.

Less than half a quint passed before the iron doors-both of them-opened, and a man and a woman appeared.

“Governor … Lady … welcome to Chaffhyem,” declared the man, his voice a resonant tenor. “We had not expected you, or we certainly would have prepared a more appropriate welcome.”

Quaeryt held out a hand for Vaelora to dismount. She did so gracefully, and delicately, rather than in the athletic and more powerful manner with which Quaeryt was most familiar. Then the two of them advanced.

“High Holder Chaffetz, I am Quaeryt, and this is my wife, the Lady Vaelora.” Quaeryt could sense the puzzlement behind Chaffetz’s polite smile as the High Holder took in Quaeryt’s brown scholar’s garb. “We arrived in Extela late on Mardi, and this is the first moment we have had to call on you. I do apologize for the suddenness, but I fear that you and I have matters of a less than routine matter to discuss. My wife prevailed on me to let her accompany me, and since it has been many years since she was last here, I had hoped that she and your lady might have a chance to become acquainted while we discuss more serious matters.”

“Of course … of course. Do come in.”

Quaeryt ignored Chaffetz’s forced heartiness, and he and Vaelora followed the couple inside the chateau. He did keep light shields around them both, just in case, although he doubted that Chaffetz was likely to be hasty in any action.

Once inside, they stood in an entry hall some five yards wide and less than ten deep, with a polished floor of black stones set in white mortar. Beyond the entry hall was a grand staircase and, just before it, a corridor that ran the length of the chateau, one branch to the left, the other to the right.

“If you would accompany us…” Chaffetz gestured to the staircase.

“Thank you.”

At the top of the wide staircase, also of black stone, if with balustrades of well-polished and ancient goldenwood, the High Holder’s wife escorted Vaelora to the left.

Chaffetz led Quaeryt to the right, past two closed doors and to a third that was open to a long and narrow study. Only the side walls held floor-to-ceiling bookcases, and the wood was of old oak. There were three wooden armchairs, if with leather padded seats, around a small table at one end of the chamber, and a desk with a similar chair behind it at the other end. Chaffetz gestured to the table and took one of the chairs, seating himself easily and immediately. Quaeryt took the one that left the third chair between them.

“For a call of courtesy, Governor … ah…”

“Quaeryt.” Quaeryt ignored the fact that Chaffetz had not offered any form of refreshment.

“Governor Quaeryt,” Chaffetz continued smoothly, “I am surprised that you found it necessary to bring such … an entourage, and even your wife.”

“As you may have heard, the lava rendered the old palace and the governor’s quarters uninhabitable, and I thought my wife might appreciate seeing a place of more refinement than the senior officers’ quarters at the south compound.”

“Ah … yes.” After the briefest hesitation, Chaffetz went on. “I don’t believe I’ve ever known a governor who had your apparent … training.”

“As a scholar? No. There have been few.” None, in fact, of whom Quaeryt knew. “But Lord Bhayar felt my background would be useful here in dealing with the problems.”

“Where were you before, if I might inquire?”

“I was princeps of Tilbor.”

“Ah … that explains it. You have both knowledge and experience in dealing with supplies and disorder. Tell me. Have you known Lord Bhayar long? In a close personal sense, I mean? I can recall when he summered here as a youth.” Chaffetz smiled warmly, but condescendingly.

“Not that long compared to some,” replied Quaeryt thoughtfully, letting the silence draw out for several moments. “Fifteen or sixteen years. We had the same tutor in Solis. He was trained in warfare and politics. I was trained at sea and in scholarship.” Every word he spoke was true, if not quite in the way he implied.

Chaffetz continued to smile, but Quaeryt sensed that the High Holder was far warier than he had been moments before.

“Might I ask … if you would not mind, what forces you brought-you did bring forces, did you not? — to restore and maintain order in Extela?”

“At present, we have two battalions. Within a few days we will have a full regiment.” Quaeryt smiled. “We came ahead while the engineers were repairing the main bridge in Gahenyara.”

“And what is this matter of less than routine that brings you to Chaffhyem?”

“Grain and supplies, both for the garrison and for the city.”

“I am always most willing to supply both. Of course, in a time when both are difficult to find…” Chaffetz shrugged. “We all do what we must.”

“I am most certain, and in complying with Lord Bhayar’s commands, I will also do what I must. I am seeking several hundred barrels of flour and an equivalent amount of potatoes…”

“They can be had … of course … but I must insist on payment in hard coin.”

“You will receive payment in such … but I do doubt that Lord Bhayar would be pleased with the term you used … that you must … insist.”

“A figure of speech, surely.”

“I understand that the winter price of flour was eight silvers a barrel.”

“That was before the difficulties in Extela, Governor.”

“So it was. So it was. And for that reason, I will buy four hundred barrels of flour from you at nine silvers a barrel … and the flour will be the best you have. As for the potatoes, I will buy five hundred bushels at five coppers for every two bushels.”

Chaffetz’s mouth dropped open. “Those terms are preposterous … Governor. When grain is so dear…”

“There are costs, and there are costs,” Quaeryt said gently. “If people get so desperate that those remaining leave the city and seek food where they can find it … that will ravish the small holders who have no walls and armsmen. In turn, that will reduce the tariffs I will have to collect for years to come. I will, of course, have to explain to Lord Bhayar that the desire to extort exorbitant profits on the part of the High Holders was the cause of this disaster, and I am rather loath to do this. Nor do I wish to use soldiers against poor starving people. If that were to occur I would lose some soldiers and blacken Lord Bhayar’s name.”

“I feel for your position, Governor, but I must look to my future as well.” Chaffetz smiled with false sympathy.

“I fear you do not understand. Your wife has been talking with mine, I believe. I suggest … in fact, I insist that you talk with your wife before you make any decisions you will regret.”

“Governor … I must protest…”

“Talk to your wife.” Quaeryt smiled coldly. “I will wait.”

Once Chaffetz left the study, Quaeryt walked to the narrow second-level window nearest one of the ancient oak bookcases and glanced out. Behind the chateau was a walled and slightly sunken garden with paths edged with cut black stone and surfaced with glittering white gravel. A boxwood hedge maze was centered on a fountain depicting a partly draped woman above an empty fountain pool. While there were trimmed juniper and pfitzer topiary sculptures in places, most of the trees were deciduous and leafless.

At the sound of bootsteps on the marble of the corridor Quaeryt turned and waited for Chaffetz.

The High Holder closed the door and walked to the edge of the table. His face was flushed, and he was trembling ever so slightly, largely with suppressed rage, Quaeryt suspected.

Quaeryt waited.

“You … you have placed me … in a situation…”

“No…” replied Quaeryt. “Circumstances and Lord Bhayar have placed us both in difficult situations. I am offering you an eighth part more than you would have received for the flour had there been no disaster, and one part in four for the potatoes. I am not commandeering your goods-and that I could have done.”

“I doubt-”

“Do not doubt. The regiment that I command fought and destroyed the hill holders of Tilbor, and the least of them had many times the armsmen you could muster. This is Lord Bhayar’s ancestral homeland. He would not see it prostrate. Nor would I. Nor would he think you were being unduly harmed by taking an extra profit of one part in eight. The other High Holders will take the same terms.”

“You leave me no choice.” Chaffetz’s voice was hard. “But Lord Bhayar will hear of this … high-handed effort.”

“Times leave me no choice,” Quaeryt replied. “Nor do I have time to bicker and bargain, not while people are starving.”

“You will regret this … in time.”

Quaeryt smiled and said warmly, “I do hope, for your sake, that it does not come to that.” He smiled. “Now that we have settled that, we should join the ladies, don’t you think?”

“You think, Governor…”

“No … High Holder, I know, and I know Lord Bhayar far better than do you. The last thing he wants is to be petitioned by a High Holder who is only making a significant profit, rather than an exorbitant one.” Quaeryt gestured toward the study door. “We should talk with the ladies, and you can tell us all about your holding and about that magnificent walled garden I observed through the window.”

“You don’t…”

Quaeryt image-projected total self-assurance.

Chaffetz seemed to shrink where he stood. Then he took a slow breath. “I suppose that would be for the best.”

Quaeryt had no doubts that Chaffetz would never forget or forgive, but then, the man would never have offered reasonable terms for his goods except in the face of greater power. That, he’d come to learn, was true of most High Holders.

24

Quaeryt and all but one squad of his entourage, as High Holder Chaffetz had termed it, left Chaffhyem at slightly after ninth glass and arrived before the more modest chateau of Aramyn by two quints past noon. The squad that had been detached, at Vaelora’s suggestion, was stationed on the post road to intercept any messenger that Chaffetz might be sending to Solis. Quaeryt did not intend to stop any such message, merely to delay it, add a message of his own, and send it on its way, but with the regular post rider to Solis. If Chaffetz dispatched no messenger, Quaeryt would simply report on his acts and the responses of the High Holders. What he didn’t want was an inaccurate and inflammatory letter going directly to Bhayar, not without the full story.

Aramyn’s chateau was not of stone but of a yellowish red brick, and appeared to be far older than Chaffetz’s hold. It sat on a low rise in the middle of a park, set in turn in the middle of a vast expanse of fields and a few meadows. Aramyn was better informed, inclined to be more hospitable, or had better trained functionaries, because Quaeryt and Vaelora were immediately invited inside and promptly joined by the High Holder and his wife.

Almost as quickly, Quaeryt found himself in a goldenwood-paneled study, whose shelves were crammed with books, standing talking with Aramyn, who showed little sign of offering a chair or wishing to seat himself. The High Holder had thinning black hair and a narrow face, with deep-set brown eyes separated by a straight thin nose. His forehead was furrowed, although his skin elsewhere was largely unwrinkled. Quaeryt judged him to be some fifteen or twenty years older than Quaeryt himself.

“Governor, I take it that this is not exactly a visit of courtesy, even with your wife accompanying you.” Aramyn paused. “Her name-Vaelora. It is not exactly common. I can recall only one other woman by that name, although she was but a child of four or so the last time I cast eyes on her. Also, while you are certainly no stripling, you are on the young side to be appointed a regional governor.”

“I’m arriving from the position of princeps of Tilbor.”

“Most interesting, I must say. I take it that you were involved in the last battles against the hill holders.”

“I was involved in the entire campaign and wounded in the final battle,” Quaeryt admitted.

“I wondered. I notice you have a slight limp.”

Quaeryt did not disabuse Aramyn’s conclusion, but waited to hear what else the other had to say.

The older man smiled. “Even more interesting. A scholar who has seen battle and who has served as a princeps married to a woman named Vaelora. You are both fortunate and unfortunate, Governor.”

“Might I inquire as to why you think so?”

“Much will be expected of you, in terms of accomplishment and loyalty. Perceived loyalty can often conflict with accomplishment. That has proved to be especially true, given the temperament of the descendants of Lhayar.”

Quaeryt certainly couldn’t disagree with Aramyn’s assessment.

“What are you here to ask?”

“For you to sell me supplies-at the price of nine silvers a barrel for flour and five coppers for two bushels of potatoes.”

Aramyn nodded. “You offer a modest profit. Might I ask why you are not commandeering those supplies?”

“I have no interest in forcing High Holders to pay to help others, since much of what I buy will help feed those left in Extela. I’d prefer that they not feel obligated to complain to Lord Bhayar.” Quaeryt grinned. “And that, if they do, he can see that they have no cause for such.”

“I will meet your terms, Governor. I have two requests, however. First, that you inform Lord Bhayar that I have done so without complaint.” Aramyn paused. “It is no secret that my sire and Lord Bhayar’s sire did not see eye to eye. I would wish that be laid to rest.”

“And second?”

“The answer to a question. How did you ever persuade her to marry you?”

Quaeryt couldn’t help but laugh. When he regained his composure, he replied, “I didn’t. Bhayar commanded us both. He said that I needed to be tied more closely to him, and that she needed to be married to someone suited to her-and quickly, so that he could actually spend time ruling.”

A broad smile crossed the lips of the High Holder. “Only someone trained as a scholar would be bright enough for her, from what I have heard. He must have known you well, then.”

“We had the same tutor years ago, and I have served him, on and off, since then.”

“How did you end up in Tilbor?”

“I made the mistake of saying I wasn’t about to advise him on how to handle matters in Tilbor without having been there. He sent me.” Quaeryt shrugged.

“So you are not afraid to tell him what he may not wish to hear?”

“I have my concerns, but I’ve been able to do so and survive.”

“May you always do so.” After the slightest hesitation, Aramyn said, “Let us determine how much flour and potatoes you require and when. Then we will join the ladies for refreshments … if you have time. I will also offer some to your soldiers.”

“We do, and I believe Vaelora would enjoy that very much. I know I would.”

In the end, Quaeryt and Vaelora did not return to the post until after third glass.

The squad dispatched to watch the south road returned to the post less than a quint before sunset, reporting that no one at all had been riding south.

Once they returned to the post, Quaeryt, Vaelora, and Jhalyt went to the strong room and counted out all the coins in the unlocked chest. It turned out that there were some coppers, and silvers, and the total came to 2,891 golds, 43 silvers, and 11 coppers. Quaeryt had the clerk enter that as the starting balance on the master ledger. The other chests could be counted later, and their balances added in, but given that Quaeryt would soon be paying out golds, he needed to keep track from the start.

Then he met with Meinyt about a possible Civic Patrol building. Meinyt reported that Captain Taenyd had found a vacant factorage not too far from the east bridge.

“Good. We can get started on fixing it and gathering the patrollers.”

“It’s not in the best part of town, sir,” Meinyt pointed out.

“That’s most likely where we’ll need patrollers. Can you work out with Major Dhaeryn how to get some men to make it usable? We can post notices asking for workers.”

“He’ll have more than he’ll want,” replied the major dryly.

“That might well be, but we don’t want troopers acting as civic patrollers any longer than necessary.”

“No, sir.”

After Meinyt left, Quaeryt found Jhalyt and Baharyt and gave them instructions, with Baharyt getting the task of finding out exactly where the patrol building-to-be was and coming up with a simple map so that Jhalyt could include it on the notices that would be posted.

After they left, Quaeryt just sat for several moments.

Should you have started with trying to reconstitute the Civic Patrol? He shook his head. That would have been foolish until he knew how he would have to pay for it … or anything else. But … it still bothered him.

Later on Jeudi night, well after dinner, and after he’d filled Vaelora in on what else had happened, the two of them stood on the stone balcony of the officers’ quarters, looking eastward where the two moons had lined up, one above the other, a symmetry that occurred so seldom that he could not recall the last time that had happened-and this time, the red-tinged half moon of Erion was above the half disc of the pearly-golden Artiema.

“What are you thinking now?” asked Vaelora.

“The moon of vengeance above the moon of love.”

“Isn’t that the way it’s been throughout time?”

“I suppose it has been.” He took a deep breath. “It’s been a long day.”

“You handle officers and troopers, patrollers, and repairs well enough. It’s dealing with High Holders that you’re not fond of, isn’t it?”

“I’m not fond of dealing with some of them. Chaffetz will be a problem. Aramyn went out of his way to be helpful.”

“So did his wife. I wish I knew why Grandpere and his sire did not get along.”

“Lord Chayar, from what I’ve heard in many places, was a just and fair ruler, but not always the most subtle of men, and his reaction to slights was said to be … disproportionate.”

“He did have a terrible temper, but he was good to me.”

That’s because you were still young and cute when he died.

“You’re thinking that’s because I was still a little girl, aren’t you?”

“Yes.” He shrugged helplessly.

“That’s not disrespectful.” After the briefest hesitation, she added, with a smile, “Not quite.”

“Truth isn’t disrespect, dear.”

Vaelora glanced back at the moons. “No, it’s not, but some see it as such. I’ve talked to Bhayar about that. After you and I were married, he said that one of the reasons he did it was because you and I both conveyed unpleasant truths to him, and we both deserved to be married to each other.”

“He said that?”

“Close to word for word.”

Quaeryt could imagine Bhayar almost gloating over his plan to marry Quaeryt and Vaelora.

“You were going to say something more about High Holders, weren’t you?”

“Not that much. There were several in Tilbor who were not only intelligent, but honest and honorable. Most were intelligent, but so self-centered as to be a threat as a group to your brother.”

“A group of self-centered High Holders couldn’t act together enough to be a threat, could they? Or are you saying that because they only see things through their own eyes that their acts result in threats to Telaryn?”

“You say that so much more diplomatically than do I.”

“In what way?”

“The same fashion as here. Chaffetz was not satisfied with profits with which he would have been more than pleased a year ago, even three months ago. I suspect some of the others will not be, either. They wish even greater profits. Were they granted such, that would mean fewer golds will be available to your brother at a time when Rex Kharst is threatening. Yet if he or I force them to sell for less or commandeer their crops, then they become even more of a problem. Their desire to enhance themselves regardless of the consequences increases the threat to all Telaryn … and if that greed weakens the land to the point where Kharst defeats your brother, then they also will suffer.”

“Do you think that likely?”

“No. But it is possible, and they know it is possible-or they should-but each thinks only of himself, and feels that the other High Holders should be the ones to be reasonable.” He took another deep breath. “Tomorrow, when we visit Wystgahl, matters will be no different, and that saddens me.”

“It’s too bad that you have to deal with them all at once.”

“I have little choice. Dealing with them in a way that will not offend most of them would take weeks, if not months … and time is what we have little of. Even if I spent that time, some would still refuse to offer fair terms for supplies … unless threatened. That is the way it was in Tilbor, and I doubt it will be different here-except there the threats could be so much more indirect and there was time for them to be considered. Here … I fear that most of those High Holders I visit here will complain that I’ve not been fair … or suggest even worse.”

“I know. Why do you think I suggested you post that squad as a patrol?”

“I had that feeling.”

Vaelora turned to face him directly. “You need some rest.”

“Rest?”

Even in the dim light, he could see her blush, but she did reach out and take his hand as they moved toward the door of their quarters.

25

While both Chaffetz and Aramyn had agreed that they would begin to send barrels of flour on Vendrei, nothing had arrived when Quaeryt and Vaelora departed the post at just before eighth glass to pay a call on High Holder Wystgahl. Quaeryt hadn’t expected that the provisions would arrive that soon, but he had informed both Zhrensyl and Heireg to expect them, and made sure that both Jhalyt and Heireg would be present to remove any golds from the strong room to make payment.

Because Meinyt had suggested rotating companies, third company under Captain Taenyd escorted Quaeryt and Vaelora for the twelve-mille ride south.

The entire front of Wystgahl’s hold appeared to have been recently rebuilt with a portico supported by white marble columns above polished black stone steps up from a marble paved area under the roofed portico for coaches and riders. The tall thin man who stood waiting on the black stone step just below the marble columns had wavy red hair with a few white streaks.

His slightly nasal voice carried easily to the riders as he said, “You must be the new governor. I’m Gahlen, High Holder Wystgahl’s son.”

“Quaeryt, and this is my wife Vaelora.”

“Do come in. Father would like to meet you both.” Gahlen’s voice was pleasantly cool. “Captain, if you’d care to ride to the courtyard, there is water for you and your men there … and for your mounts.”

Taenyd inclined his head politely. “Thank you.”

Quaeryt dismounted, handed the reins to a ranker, then offered a hand to Vaelora, who left the saddle so lightly and gracefully that her boots barely touched the mounting block before she and Quaeryt walked up the black steps toward Gahlen, who led them through shimmering bronze double doors into a circular entry hall some fifteen yards across.

“This is new, is it not?” asked Vaelora.

“It was finished last year,” replied Gahlen. “This way, if you will.” He walked directly back from the entry, through another high-ceilinged chamber graced by a double staircase, and then down a wide hallway past several closed doors to the last doorway on the right, gesturing for them to enter the chamber, a salon with wide windows overlooking a walled garden.

High Holder Wystgahl rose from an armchair, placed so that all the other chairs and the pair of settees faced to where he had been seated. He was even thinner than his son, with sparse white hair above a wrinkled and ruddy, but unbearded face. His watery green eyes were bloodshot. “So … you are here to insist I sell you flour. Is that it? Even accompanied by your beautiful wife.”

“Should I be evasive and diplomatic?” replied Quaeryt.

“You don’t look the type. Besides, you won’t last long enough to be diplomatic.”

“Then I’ll be as polite as I can. How did you find out I was looking for flour? Your holding is not that close to any others.”

“I have heard of your visit to Chaffetz. Gahlen had taken a mare there early yesterday afternoon to be bred to one of his stallions. He passed your patrol as well.”

That might have explained why Chaffetz hadn’t dispatched a messenger, reflected Quaeryt. Then too, Chaffetz just might have thought the better of it.

“Chaffetz was less than pleased. Then, he seldom is. He was less displeased when he discovered you were clearly on your way to visit Aramyn. He took great pleasure in telling Gahlen that you would soon be visiting me. He’s like that.” Wystgahl offered a hoarse chuckle. “Aren’t we all?” He turned his eyes on Vaelora. “You’re much more beautiful than your mother or your sisters. Did you know that?”

“That may be now,” replied Vaelora, “but I’m certain they were more beautiful when they were my age.”

“That may be. That may be.” Wystgahl turned to Quaeryt. “So you were princeps in Tilbor. You look young for that position, Governor.”

Quaeryt smiled politely, and image-projected assurance. “That was Lord Bhayar’s decision, based on what I accomplished.”

“You fight in those battles?”

“Yes.”

“How many men did you kill?”

“I lost count after the first few skirmishes.”

“You’re a scholar, and you fought? I find…” Wystgahl broke off his words. “Well … whatever is … is. It won’t change anything. I’ll sell at my price or not at all.” He snorted. “Governors come and go. Sooner if they cross High Holders.”

Quaeryt could sense that Wystgahl wasn’t about to respect a man he felt was younger and inexperienced. This time he image-projected death … the way he’d seen and sensed it.

Gahlen stepped back … and Wystgahl, who had started to open his mouth, closed it.

After a moment Wystgahl nodded. “You studied with the scholars. They even pronounced you one. You’re not. You’re one of those southern sons who knows power and death. The less I see of you, Governor, the better. What do you want?”

“Three hundred barrels of flour at nine silvers a barrel, and four hundred bushels of potatoes at five coppers for every two bushels.”

“You’ll get what you asked for, Governor. I expect my man to be paid on each delivery. In coin.”

Quaeryt sensed a sliminess behind the words, but that certainly wasn’t anything he could address. “He will be.”

“The first barrels will arrive at the post on Lundi. If there’s nothing else … I wish you well on your ride back to Extela … or what’s left of it.”

“I appreciate your understanding of the situation, High Holder,” replied Quaeryt politely. “We look forward to receipt of the flour and potatoes in good condition.”

Wystgahl barely nodded, then turned to face the windows.

“If you would, Governor … Lady…” offered Gahlen, who did not say another word until they stood outside on the portico, waiting for Taenyd and third company.

“You must understand, Governor … at times … my sire is not quite what he might be.” Gahlen spoke in a low tone.

“That can happen,” said Quaeryt, his voice equally low. “I am but Lord Bhayar’s instrument. Lord Bhayar would not wish Extela to suffer more than necessary because a High Holder does not like the idea of a young governor.”

“I will do what I can, sir.”

“As will I,” replied Quaeryt evenly.

Gahlen stiffened. “He is old … sir.”

“Then you must guide him.”

“That is … not easy.”

Quaeryt nodded. “I wish you well.”

Gahlen watched as they mounted.

Vaelora said nothing until they had ridden out through the ornate stone and iron gates of the holding. Then she turned in the saddle. “He was insulting … and rude. Even his son was shocked.”

“He’s the kind that believes that any younger man in authority knows less than he does. Anything I said would have been disregarded. He won’t even listen to his own son. He’s probably threatened to disown Gahlen if he crosses him in any way.”

“What will you do?”

“Nothing … if he keeps his word. I don’t have to like him. He doesn’t have to like me. He just has to be cooperative.”

“He won’t be.”

“We’ll have to see.” Privately, Quaeryt had no doubt that Vaelora was right, but he wasn’t about to act against a High Holder unless and until Wystgahl broke his word.

Quaeryt and Vaelora had no more than dismounted in the post courtyard when Major Heireg came hurrying toward him, followed by Jhalyt.

“Governor, we’ve got a hundred barrels of flour from High Holder Aramyn and fifty from High Holder Chaffetz. I paid them for what was delivered, as you instructed.”

“Start baking bread,” replied Quaeryt. “I’d like to have a thousand loaves by midmorning tomorrow.”

“Sir … we’ll run out of coal for the ovens before long at that rate.”

“Coal shouldn’t be that expensive now, should it?”

“No, sir,” Heireg admitted.

“We’ll also need a wagon set up to take the bread into Extela tomorrow.”

“Yes, sir. We can do that … but … they’ll overrun the teamsters.…”

“I’m not sending it without a large force. I’m well aware of how desperate some of the people are. Have you seen Major Meinyt or Major Fhaen?”

“They were in the officers’ mess, sir.”

“Good. Thank you. I appreciate what both you and Jhalyt are doing.”

As the two men turned and left, Vaelora looked to her husband. “You’re going to be busy. I’ll be in our expansive quarters trying to wash up.”

“I know. It’s scarcely what you’re-”

“Not another word, dearest. The quarters are far better than those inns … or sleeping on a hard wagon bed.”

That might well be true, but Quaeryt still felt slightly guilty, which was probably what Vaelora had in mind, as he walked into the officers’ mess.

Meinyt and Fhaen were sitting at the end of the long table talking.

Quaeryt quickly motioned for the two majors to keep their seats and took the chair next to Meinyt and across from Fhaen. “Do we know when to expect Commander Skarpa?”

“We received word that the rest of the regiment should arrive sometime late tomorrow. They had more trouble with the bridge in Gahenyara than they anticipated. The river had washed out most of the base of one of the stone piers, and they had to reinforce it before they could put the planks in place.”

“Tomorrow, we’re going to begin restoring order to Extela. We can’t afford to wait until we have the Civic Patrol back on the streets.” He paused. “Have the engineers started on repairs on the factorage?”

“Major Dhaeryn says they’ll begin tomorrow. They found a mason and some helpers. He thinks they can keep the materials to less than ten golds.”

“That’s good.”

“Yes, sir. Rather not have the men spending too much time riding the streets.”

“That’s why I didn’t want to have you sending out more than a few patrols until we could provide some food as well.”

“They’ll still fight over the food,” predicted Meinyt.

“No … they won’t. We’ll take enough men to protect the wagon, and we’ll make everyone line up if they want the bread. We’ll have men every ten yards in each area, and they’ll have orders to stop anyone who tries to steal from those given bread. If they have to kill a thief, so be it.”

“People won’t like that.”

“If we don’t do it, then whoever gets food will likely be robbed or end up killing those who try to rob them. Oh … I’ll be with you, and I’ll make an announcement first about how things will work.”

“That will help … for about a quint,” replied Meinyt.

“Then I’ll make it again after we make an example of someone, as many times as we have to. I just hope it doesn’t happen too often.”

“You do have a way of persuading people, sir, “ offered Meinyt, “but still…”

“I know. It won’t be easy, but it won’t get easier, either, especially if we wait any longer. But if we establish order that way, the Civic Patrol, once it’s back on the streets, shouldn’t have quite so much trouble.”

“I hear we’ve already gotten more supplies,” said Fhaen. “How did you manage that?”

“I just told them that Lord Bhayar wouldn’t be very happy if they tried to profit excessively when his ancestral home had been prostrated … and that I’d make sure he knew it, if it came to that.”

“That won’t make you popular with the High Holders, sir.”

“No. But I’d rather have them unhappy than have Bhayar being the unhappy one.” Especially now and in his ancestral home.

Meinyt gave a sardonic laugh. “That’s being caught between lava and a flood.”

Quaeryt didn’t dispute that.

26

In the end, on Samedi morning, Quaeryt decided to take twenty bushels of potatoes along with all the bread that the bakers had turned out and, just in case someone wanted it, two barrels of flour. The column left the post later than Quaeryt had planned, partly because he had to draw out golds for Major Dhaeryn for the Civic Patrol building repairs and go over the notices to the former patrollers with Jhalyt. Even so, it was just before eighth glass before they reached the point on the avenue a mille north of the post gates, where the dwellings began to cluster together-what most would have called the southern edge of the city proper. The two majors and Quaeryt had determined that he and Meinyt and the troops would ride to the south market square first, where they would surround the wagon and then let small numbers of people walk inside the perimeter of mounted troopers to the wagon to get bread … and potatoes, if they wanted them.

As he rode beside Meinyt, with a company directly behind them, followed by the heavily laden wagon, flanked by men with bare sabres, and then by another company, Quaeryt could see that the sky over Mount Extel was clearer than it had been since he had arrived, and the air was cool, but not chill. The patrols that he had sent out on the previous days appeared to have had some impact, because the sidewalks were largely swept clear of ash, although the occasional puffs of cool wind blew ashes off the slate roofs. There were a few people-invariably men-moving about, if with deliberate caution. Some second-story windows were unshuttered, but most ground-floor shutters remained fastened.

“How many do you think will come out?” asked Meinyt.

“Very few to begin with. Then we’re likely to be swamped, and that’s when the trouble will begin.” As a boy in Solis, Quaeryt had seen how mobs behaved … and later as an apprentice quartermaster when his ship had docked in Liantiago during the rice riots there.

“That’s the way I see it. The men will be ready for anything. Told ’em that things would start slow.”

A gray-faced woman with stringy hair scuttled along the stone sidewalk, trying to keep pace with Quaeryt, who wondered from where she’d appeared so suddenly. “Food! Food … please, sir!”

“We’ll be providing bread at the south market square,” Quaeryt called out. “The south market square. If you want food, meet us there!”

On the other side of the avenue, beyond Meinyt, an old man cackled. “Food … they got food.”

People began to appear, staying well clear of the armed troopers, but following the column and the wagon toward the square.

“Word spreads fast,” observed Meinyt.

“Especially if they think they don’t have to pay for it. That’s why we’re only doing this once. On Lundi, we’ll be selling bread, flour, and potatoes in both the main market square and the south market square at the same prices as before the trouble.”

“Some folks will be unhappy that it won’t be free,” said Meinyt.

“Some are always unhappy, and that includes High Holders as well as the poor,” replied Quaeryt dryly. “We’ll give out some bread to women with children, maybe outside the post gates, and from a wagon when we’re selling.” He paused. “Do you think your squad leaders will have trouble keeping it to ten at a time?”

“There don’t look to be as many as there could be. I told them not to hesitate to use their blades, flat side if they can, edge if they can’t. Can’t let a mob get out of control.”

More than several hundred people were already waiting when the wagon, surrounded by two companies of armed troopers, pulled into the center of the square.

As Meinyt supervised the deployment of troopers in a perimeter around the wagon square, Quaeryt rode over to the squad leader in charge of distributing the food. “You set, Squad Leader?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I’d like you to pass the word to everyone who gets food. They can buy bread, flour, and potatoes…” Quaeryt repeated what he’d told Meinyt. “We won’t be passing out much free food after today, and they need to know that.”

“Sir?”

“We’ll still give some to women with infants, but we can’t feed the whole city, even part of the city. Not for long. We will keep the prices as they were.”

“Yes, sir. We’ll tell ’em.”

“Thank you.”

Making sure his shields were firm, Quaeryt rode out through the troopers on the west side of the square and reined up. Using his imaging, he did his best to project the words he’d already discussed with Meinyt. “We’ll let a few of you at a time past the troopers, and we’ll start with women and children. We’ll start with you.” He pointed toward a woman with two children, one in her arms, and one who clung to her free hand. “No more than ten. No one else gets past here until someone leaves. Every time a person leaves, someone else gets in.”

Then he rode to the north side, the east, and then the south, delivering the same message, before returning to a position near the wagon, but from where he could observe both those approaching the wagon and those in the square beyond the troopers.

After watching for more than a quint, Quaeryt was surprised that while groups of men gathered beyond the square, some of them gathering and then separating, there were no efforts to break the perimeter. Nor did any of the men attempt to attack others-not within sight of the troopers. Most people who received food made a show of eating it inside the perimeter, although Quaeryt noted that more than a few women surreptitiously hid bread in their garments. He could also see that almost all the women also accepted the potatoes, and several had bags that they used to take flour.

The first woman he’d pointed to took her time feeding her children. Quaeryt didn’t see her take a bite herself. He called out. “Squad Leader!”

“Sir?”

“Give another loaf to her.” He pointed to the tired-faced woman.

The woman looked up as one of the rankers vaulted down and extended another loaf to her. Then she looked to Quaeryt. Her face showed nothing, but he thought there might be a brightness to her eyes before she took a bite out of the second loaf. Then, it just might be your imagination.

Almost a glass and a half passed before Quaeryt noted that people were trying to get back inside the perimeter for seconds. He signaled Meinyt that they needed to move on.

When the two companies re-formed around the wagon, and the column headed north along the avenue to the main market square, Quaeryt watched several of the men begin to follow. “That crew over there is following us.”

Meinyt turned and looked. “They know they can’t break the perimeter without taking casualties.”

“You think they’ll try a diversion.”

“It’s possible.”

“Maybe I’ll drop back to ride alongside the wagon.”

“I’ve already got it flanked, sir.”

“I know. But it can’t hurt.”

Quaeryt did slip the half-staff from its leathers, although he couldn’t have said why, as he eased to the west side of the avenue and let the teamster catch up with him before matching his pace to that of the high-sided wagon.

Immediately north of the south market square, there were only a few people on the streets, and all those appeared to be hurrying away … except for the small group of men on the east side of the avenue who kept pace with the wagon.

After riding several blocks more toward the center of Extela, Quaeryt saw a group, almost a small crowd, ahead on the west side of the avenue. When they saw the column and the wagon, they began to cry out.

“Food! We need food!”

“All the food is gone…”

“Food…”

As he rode closer, he saw that the group looked to be composed entirely of women, many with scarves covering their hair and faces, especially those at the sides and rear of the crowd. Quaeryt frowned. He hadn’t seen women crowded together so closely in Extela. Still … he’d only ridden the streets less than a handful of times.

“Please … food…”

“We’re starving…”

He looked at the thronging women again. Only the ones in front had their heads uncovered, and most of them were young … and relatively attractive. They didn’t look to be starving, unlike the gaunt older women who had trudged into the south market square, or even the tired-looking women with babes in arms who had taken bread and seated themselves on the stones and fed their children right in the square.

“Please … kind sir,” begged a young woman, barely more than a girl, for all of the cleavage she let show as she turned to face the approaching governor.

Quaeryt glanced away from her toward the women with covered faces and hair, then immediately called out, “Arms ready!” He knew that the troopers already had their sabres out, but he didn’t know the short command to alert them to an imminent attack.

Abruptly, the younger women dropped back, and the hooded “women” rushed toward the wagon and the troopers. There were also shouts on the other side of the avenue, but Quaeryt barely had time to bring down his staff on the sword arm of a burly man whose hood had fallen back as he rushed toward the ranker in front of Quaeryt. The ranker was already dealing with another attacker and didn’t see or sense the second man.

Then an impact triggered his shields, and he turned in his saddle to strike at another assailant. No more than had he slammed the half-staff across the man’s forearm, dislodging the blade, than both the women and the attackers fled down an alleyway less than three yards away. Quaeryt thought that the second attacker he’d struck was cradling an injured arm.

Abruptly, the avenue was empty except for the troopers and their equipment … and two women lying half on the sidewalk and half on the west side of the avenue and two men facedown on the street, one in a pool of blood.

Quaeryt rode around the rear of the wagon, slowed to almost a halt, to see another body on the stone pavement, and two troopers tying up a man with slashes on his arms and blood running from his scalp.

The dead man on the pavement wore a stylish and tight-fitting silk jacket. Quaeryt couldn’t help but stare for a moment, then looked up as Meinyt rode up.

Quaeryt pointed to the dead man. “Quite a coat.”

“Pimp’s jacket,” said Meinyt. “Haven’t seen one of those in years.”

“That can’t be why they put the women up to it. I can’t believe that they were starving.”

“Most likely they weren’t. I wager they thought there was coin in the wagon.”

“Why?”

“Sometimes, when times were hard, the governors in some provinces would toss coppers and silvers along with the bread. You looked like you might be doing the same thing. The whole city probably knows you recovered the treasury.”

“Do you think they’ll try again?”

“You never know. I doubt it. They got close enough to the wagon to see that the barrel was a flour barrel, not one filled with coppers.”

Quaeryt had never thought about the fact that someone would think he was going to toss coins to the crowds. He shook his head. “Toss the wounded one in the wagon for now.” Glancing back, he could see that one of the fallen women had either gotten away or been dragged off. The other one’s head was twisted at an odd angle that indicated she was dead. “Put the dead woman in the wagon. Leave the dead men.”

“You heard the governor,” said Meinyt, adding in a lower voice, “Good idea. The men’s bodies will remind them.”

Neither mentioned the fact that they didn’t want to leave a dead woman, especially a young one, lying on the street.

While a few people watched from windows, no one approached the column or the wagon closely for the rest of the way to the main market square … or even immediately after Meinyt stationed the troopers into a tight perimeter around the wagon.

Given the momentary quiet, Quaeryt rode to the wagon to see what he could discover from the wounded captive, who, he noted, wore a tight-fitting jacket similar to that of one of the dead men.

“Who ordered the attack?” asked Quaeryt.

“Frig you,” muttered the captive.

The ranker holding the man’s left arm twisted it. The captive winced, but didn’t speak.

“He won’t say anything,” said Meinyt, who had just reined up. “If he does, the others will kill him, and it won’t be pleasant.”

Quaeryt smiled coldly. “Then I think we should carry him outside the perimeter, cut him free, and thank him very publicly.”

The wounded man swallowed.

“Of course, if he has something to say, we could take him back to the post, lock him up for a time, and then let him go some night.”

“… tell you … not here.”

“We’ll have to take him back, then,” Quaeryt said.

“FRIG YOU!” screamed the captive, winking as he did.

Quaeryt didn’t like it, but he understood. He also hadn’t said where he’d release the captive. He nodded to the ranker holding the captive, then turned the mare and rode out near the perimeter, where, now that a few older women had gathered, he made the same statement he had at the southern market square.

After a slow beginning, the process of handing out bread and potatoes in the main market square went almost in the same fashion as it had at the south square, with the exception that not nearly so many men stood around looking on. Of the few handfuls who did, Quaeryt wondered how many, if any, had been in disguise in the group that had been part of the diversion in the attempted attack on the wagon. Were they looking for another opportunity … or waiting to see what happened to the captive?

In the end, though, the men drifted away, except for one, who kept looking at the wagon where the captive sat, trussed up.

After another glass and two quints, Quaeryt ordered Meinyt to re-form the column and head back to the post. While several handfuls of people watched them ride back southward, no one approached, and no one begged.

The first thing that Quaeryt noticed when he entered the courtyard of the post was that the anomen was unlocked, the ancient oak doors had been oiled, and the brasswork polished … and that Vaelora stood by the door, smiling, along with three rankers. Her riding clothes were smudged and stained in places.

Quaeryt rode across the courtyard and dismounted, then tied the mare to one of the ancient hitching rings.

The rankers eased away.

“I see you’ve been busy.”

“They did most of the work, but I knew what had to be done and how to do it.”

Quaeryt raised his eyebrows.

“Did you think that Father would train his son and not train his daughters?”

“But why?” Quaeryt’s voice held far more exasperation than curiosity.

“I can explain … I can…”

At that point both Heireg and Commander Zhrensyl strode quickly across the courtyard toward the two of them.

“Governor!” called Zhrensyl. “The rest of your regiment will be here by fourth glass.”

“I’ve got the cooks ready to feed them. Do you know how many?” asked Heireg.

“The entire regiment is four battalions of four companies each, with an extra company of engineers. All the battalions are mounted.”

“No archers?” Zhrensyl’s eyebrows lifted. “No foot?”

“Governor Straesyr’s predecessor in Tilbor only had a company of archers. They were dispatched to Lord Bhayar with the first regiment to leave Tilbor. Another two companies are being trained, but they weren’t ready. They’ll come with the next regiment. The northern regiments don’t have foot.”

“The next regiment? I thought there was only one regiment in Tilbor, two at the most. How many were there in Tilbor?”

Abruptly, Quaeryt realized that Zhrensyl wouldn’t have known, because Commander Myskyl had taken the southern route to Ferravyl, and there was no reason for Bhayar to have circulated what had actually happened in Tilbor. “Governor Rescalyn had been expanding the regiment there in order to train more recruits. That was because of the possibility of trouble with Bovaria.” All of that was true, if not quite in that context. “Governor Straesyr has been continuing that effort.”

“You’d think they’d let us know.”

“It could be that Lord Bhayar didn’t want Rex Kharst to know until the men were trained and battle-ready. He certainly never explained his reasons to me.”

Zhrensyl shook his head. “Don’t know what this world’s coming to, Governor.” He smiled. “But we’ll do our best.”

“I’m sure you will, and I appreciate it. So does Lord Bhayar.”

“Thank you, sir.” Zhrensyl looked to Vaelora. “And thank you, Lady. The anomen hasn’t looked that good in years.” He offered her a broad smile, then looked back to Quaeryt. “Quite a lady you have, Governor.”

“She is quite a lady, but I’m not so sure that she’s not the one who has me.”

“Either way, you’re both fortunate, sir.”

After the two officers had left, Quaeryt turned back to Vaelora. “I believe you were going to explain.”

“Dearest … I really am a mess.” She gestured to her soiled garb. “I’ll explain, but I don’t want to look like this for you and for the other officers. Besides, you need to take care of that poor mare.”

Quaeryt sighed. Loudly.

“Dearest … you don’t want to be disrespectful…” She offered a warm smile.

He shook his head.

“I’ll be ready for dinner.” With another smile, she hurried across the courtyard.

Quaeryt watched her for a moment, then untied the mare and walked her to the stable. While he turned her over to one of the ostlers to be unsaddled and groomed, he didn’t get more than a few yards from the stable before Major Heireg requested more of his time, both to update him on the supplies they had received from Aramyn and Chaffetz, and to talk about coal, the supplies requested by the engineers, and provisions for the rest of the regiment. Then Quaeryt quickly checked the ledger entries posted by Jhalyt.

By the time Quaeryt finished with Jhalyt, Skarpa was leading Third Regiment through the post gates. Settling the additional battalions in took the remainder of the time before the evening meal, and Quaeryt barely had time to wash up himself and then escort Vaelora to the officers’ mess.

After everyone finished eating, Vaelora excused herself quickly, leaving Skarpa and Quaeryt alone so that the commander could brief Quaeryt on what had occurred on the remainder of the ride to Extela. Quaeryt did wonder why she was being so accommodating, but suspected that she knew he was upset about the anomen and didn’t want to cause any more friction, especially in public.

He couldn’t help but wonder, then realized he’d missed what Skarpa had been saying. “Excuse me. Would you say that again?”

“Governor…” Skarpa said gently, “I asked if you wanted to wait until tomorrow.”

“Oh, no … you might as well go over it now.”

“You got the dispatch about the problems with the bridge at Gahenyara?”

“I did. I didn’t mean to leave you with that much.”

“You couldn’t have done anything more there, sir. From what we saw coming in here, you’ve had plenty to deal with.”

“We have indeed. Do you think the engineers can improve the east bridge?”

“They were already talking about that,” said Skarpa with a laugh. “They’ll manage. Anyway, we had more trouble with the wagons coming into Montagne. The rain we got flooded everything. Between the rain and the wagons, we lost two days.…”

Quaeryt nodded and kept listening as the commander briefed him on all that had happened to the bulk of the regiment.

When Skarpa finished, he looked directly at Quaeryt. “Like I said earlier, sir, looks like you’ve got your hands full.”

More than that. “About a quarter of the city’s buried in ash and lava. We distributed bread and potatoes today … and some flour.” In less than half a quint, Quaeryt explained what had happened, including the missing Civic Patrol and the possible problems with the various High Holders and the fact that he hadn’t even dealt with all of them.

“They’re like that everywhere, most of them, it seems.”

“Oh … do you have any other problems I need to deal with? Ones that I can do something about?” Quaeryt kept his voice light, trying to be humorous.

“Well … there is one,” mused Skarpa. “And it’s something you could do easily, sir, seeing as tomorrow is Solayi … and there’s an anomen in good repair right here on the post.”

No! Not again … But Quaeryt said nothing, knowing that any words that slipped out he would regret.

“Some of the officers, and a lot of the men … well … they saw all the destruction … They’d like a little reassurance.”

“Comfort from the Nameless,” Quaeryt managed to say.

“Yes, sir. I know it’s not something you like to make a practice of, sir…”

“I don’t know the service that well, but if they’ll all bear with me…” Quaeryt shrugged helplessly. “I’m not a chorister.”

“Everyone would appreciate it, sir.”

“So long as they understand…”

“Sir … they understand.”

Quaeryt took a long, last swallow of the bitter lager from his mug. “I suppose I’d better let you get to your officers and get some sleep in a decent bed.” He stood.

So did Skarpa. “That’d be good. Really good.”

Quaeryt walked slowly across the darkness of the courtyard to the officers’ quarters and then up the staircase and along the balcony. The door bolt on their quarters was not thrown, and he opened the door, stepped inside, and slid the bolt. Vaelora rose from where she’d been sitting at the writing desk. Although her portable inkwell and a pen were on the desk, the single sheet of paper was blank.

“You’re upset, dearest. What happened? Did Commander Skarpa lose men in another flood? Did another bridge go out?”

“You had to clean up the anomen, didn’t you?” he asked quietly.

“It needed to be done,” she replied.

“Why? Was it another vision?”

Vaelora stiffened ever so slightly. “Yes. If you must know. I saw you standing at the pulpit. Why do you ask?”

“Because Skarpa asked if I’d conduct services tomorrow.” He shook his head.

Vaelora was silent.

“If the anomen were still locked…”

She nodded gently.

“But it’s not … You know how I feel!”

“Then don’t do it.”

“I can’t not do it. They need the services. There’s no one else who can do it. Some of them, maybe a lot of them, are likely to die for Bhayar if it comes to war with Bovaria. And I’m going to complain about having to talk and inspire them?” When you feel like a fraud doing it in an anomen?

“I’m sorry, dearest.”

“I don’t want to talk about it right now.” Not when I’m so angry I might say something hurtful or that I might later regret. Recalling what she’d said about not having secrets, he added, “I will later, but not now.”

“Try not to be too angry…”

Her voice was so woeful that he stopped short, then realized that she was exaggerating the tone to excess, and he found himself grinning, even as he recognized the blatantness of her words and expressions. He shook his head. “No wonder…”

“Not another word, dearest.”

He decided that was probably for the best-for the moment.

27

Quaeryt didn’t sleep well on Samedi evening, between being upset over being maneuvered into acting as a chorister once more and worrying about how he was ever going to restore order and function to Extela, not to mention his unease about whether he had been unfairly angry at Vaelora, although he’d tried not to show it. Then too, he’d always been uncomfortable acting as a chorister for the Nameless when he had no idea whether there even was a Nameless.

On Solayi morning, his first thought upon wakening was, If there is a Nameless out there, that Nameless has got quite a sense of humor. The thought helped, but not much, as he and Vaelora readied themselves for the day. He was just glad she didn’t press him to talk about why he’d been so angry; yet relieved as he was, he also wondered at her forbearance, because in the short time they’d been married, she’d always pressed to talk out matters when they disagreed.

Even so, she was pleasant at breakfast and later, as they readied to ride out.

Fhaen’s second company escorted Quaeryt and Vaelora back across the rickety and makeshift bridge to the east side of the river and then south and east to the lands of High Holder Thysor. While Quaeryt had hoped Thysor would be available, given that it was a Solayi, the High Holder was out inspecting his timberlands to the south, and Quaeryt merely left a note saying that he hoped that they might be able to meet at some time during the coming week.

When they returned to the post, Quaeryt met with Major Dhaeryn of the engineers. Work had begun on modifying the old factorage, and the plans were complete for rebuilding the bridge, although Dhaeryn asked for permission to use stones from buildings in the northwest that had been badly damaged by the earthquakes and eruption. Quaeryt agreed, but only for buildings that were complete ruins.

Then he met again with Heireg to work out the arrangements for selling goods in the marketplaces on Lundi … and asked him to work with Jhalyt to set up payroll and supply ledgers for the Civic Patrol.

What with one thing and another, before he knew it, they were eating dinner, and then he was walking across the courtyard to the anomen, escorting Vaelora in and settling her at one side before he repaired to the rear chamber to wait until the bells rang the hour.

At that moment, he stepped out, walked to the middle of the dais that held the pulpit, then turned and faced the worshippers. The small anomen was filled, possibly with three hundred officers and men.

Quaeryt didn’t even attempt the wordless invocation used by all true choristers to open a service. He just started 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.”

Following came the opening hymn, and the only one that Quaeryt knew by heart-that he could trust himself to sing-was “Glory to the Nameless.” Thankfully, Vaelora knew it as well, and after the first phrase, he let her voice lead those in the anomen.

After that came the confession, which was one of the hardest parts of the service for Quaeryt, given that he was leading a confession of error to a deity he wasn’t certain existed. Although he had no trouble confessing to error, only to the idea that he and those who followed his words would be forgiven by the Nameless, he’d observed precious little forgiveness in life, and wondered of what use it would be elsewhere, if there indeed happened to be an “elsewhere.”

“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 lead the chorus of “In Peace and Harmony.”

Before the offertory began, he announced, “The coins gathered in the offertory will be used to help poor mothers with children in Extela.” And Vaelora will decide who deserves such coins.

Finally the time came for him to ascend to the pulpit for the homily, but he decided against that and merely stood on the middle of the platform holding the pulpit. Absently, he wondered if that meant he’d end up doing it all again, given Vaelora’s vision of him at the pulpit. He cleared his throat and began. “Good evening.”

“Good evening,” came the murmured reply.

“Under the Nameless all evenings are good, even those that seem less than marvelous … and after seeing the devastation that lies to the north of us, we can all agree that there are some evenings that definitely seem less than wonderful…” Quaeryt paused just slightly before continuing. “Often we face daunting tasks, such as the ones that lie before us, and someone will say that all we need is faith and that we will prevail in whatever endeavor we must undertake. But what is faith? All throughout my life, I’ve heard choristers and others speak of faith, without ever explaining what faith might be except a belief in the Nameless, as if that were all I needed to know. Since the Nameless has not chosen to appear before us in any manifestation that one could call absolute proof, that faith is a belief in the Nameless without obvious proof. Another definition of faith is simply allegiance or fidelity, and yet another is confidence in another as being worthy of trust. From all these definitions, two things stand out as necessary elements of faith. We must have something in which to believe and what we believe must be worthy of our trust. If you will, faith is composed of belief and trust in the worth of that belief.

“There have been many deities worshipped throughout Terahnar over the past thousands of years, and I have no doubt that you have heard of at least a few of them in the course of your lives. Since it appears that the majority of men and women believe in something beyond themselves, what is most important is whether we can trust the guidance of our belief. Belief in itself is not enough. That belief must go beyond mere acknowledgment of the belief and its teachings.

“All of you are soldiers, and how well you fight the next battle or undertake the next duty depends in large measure on those who guide you and lead you, or if you’re an officer, whether you make good decisions and whether your men have the faith necessary to follow you. Good officers and squad leaders inspire faith in their men, and good rankers inspire faith in their comrades.

“The Nameless is no different in that respect. What inspires faith is not just the fact of the Nameless, but the equally important fact that the guidance of the Nameless represents good counsel that can be trusted … if … IF … that counsel is followed without Naming, and without self-serving desires and motivations.

“What follows from this is the need to know what one believes, not just that it is, but what it means, and what it requires of us. We must understand fully what Naming is, and that is not just acting on or against mere names of things, but seeing how names hide the true nature of the world and those who inhabit it…”

After a few more sentences on Naming, Quaeryt concluded the short homily. “… in the end, faith requires knowledge, for without knowledge, blind belief is little more than Naming under the guise of worshipping the Nameless.”

For a moment after he finished, he just stood there, before remembering that he had to lead the closing hymn and give the benediction. He chose one of the few closing hymns he knew almost by heart-“For the Glory”

For the glory, through all strife,

for the beauty of all life,

for all that is and will ever be,

all together, through forever,

in eternal Nameless glory …

He couldn’t do the standard benediction, well as he knew it, because that would have, for him, presumed too much. He simply said, “As we have come together to seek meaning and renewal, let us go forth this evening renewed in hope and in harmony with that which was, is, and ever shall be.”

After the benediction, he stepped down from the platform and walked to where Vaelora stood against the side wall, with Skarpa beside her.

“I still say you’d make a chorister, Governor,” said the commander.

“You’re kind. Let’s leave it at that.”

Skarpa snorted. “I’m not kind, and you know it. If you’d talked nonsense up there, I’d have told you.” He glanced sideways at Vaelora and grinned. “So would your wife, I’d wager.”

“She has been known to speak her mind.” Quaeryt couldn’t help smiling.

Vaelora smiled back.

“I’ll be leaving you two, sir and Lady, and wishing you a pleasant evening.” With that Skarpa nodded and departed.

“It is true,” said Vaelora. “I have been known to speak my mind, but … did you have to tell him that?”

“I didn’t. I just agreed with him.”

“That just-”

“Might not be disrespect,” Quaeryt concluded quickly.

“Sometimes…” But she smiled.

Once they returned to their quarters and Quaeryt had thrown the bolt, Vaelora turned to him and said quietly, “You were wonderful, dearest.”

“Thank you.” Quaeryt took a deep breath. “You know I don’t like doing it.”

“You like doing it. You like inspiring people and challenging them to think. What you don’t like is feeling like a fraud because you’re not sure that there even is a Nameless. You worry that you’re doing good things under what are false pretenses.” Vaelora stepped up to him and put her arms around his neck, then kissed him gently on the cheek. “I understand, dearest. I do.”

There’s something in her tone … “You do?”

“Women have to do it all the time.”

“Even you?”

“Especially me … or Aelina. She has to do it even more.”

Quaeryt couldn’t argue with that. The impositions that scholars had to deal with were nothing compared to what women put up with in Telaryn, and from what he’d heard and read, women were treated far worse in Bovaria and Antiago. And he was all too aware that women had often had to do what they disliked for love of others … or even survival.

Vaelora moistened her lips. “I have to confess … Please don’t be angry with me.”

“Confess what?” he asked warily.

“I didn’t have any visions about the anomen. It just looked … forlorn … and lonely, and then when I saw the faces of some of the men … when we cleaned it up…”

“Vaelora…” Quaeryt’s voice held exasperation … and a touch of anger, he had to admit.

“Did you see the faces of the officers and the men when they left the anomen tonight?”

“I was looking at you,” he admitted.

“They felt better. I could see it and sense it.”

“Your Pharsi background?”

“You’d have seen it, too, if you’d looked.” She dropped her eyes for a moment before lifting them to him again. “I am sorry … but … you need to do this. Not for me, not for you…”

“But for them?” He shook his head. “Why do you think it upsets me? They need that reminder of their faith, and there doesn’t seem to be anyone else…”

“Do you think all the soldiers like killing?”

“Some do. I’d say most don’t.”

“But they do it because it’s their duty.”

“You’re telling me that…”

“Yes, dearest. I am.”

He couldn’t argue with that. Unlike others, Vaelora had seen that kind of duty, or possibly the lack of it. After a moment he put his arms around her and just held her.

Her arms went around him, comfortingly.

28

On Lundi morning, under a clear sky, if with the slightest trace of haze, Vaelora departed with the companies that would be selling bread, flour, and potatoes, first at the south market square and then at the main square. Skarpa insisted on three companies, given that Vaelora was accompanying them, and put Meinyt in command.

Immediately after that, Quaeryt joined Major Dhaeryn, and they rode with some of the engineering rankers to the factorage that would soon be a Civic Patrol station.

One way or the other.

The southeast section of Extela was definitely the rougher part of the city, with older houses, some of brick, some of weathered wood, but most of the black stone that had to be ancient lava, with small areas of shops, and a tired feel to every street. Still, he did see a few people about, and many the dwellings were unshuttered, and even a few of the shops.

But then, where do these people have to go?

The empty factorage, like many structures in Extela, was of a single level, built of rough-trimmed black stone, with a slate roof. Quaeryt judged that it was thirty yards across the front, and perhaps twenty deep, with a wagon courtyard on the south side, where there was a single loading dock. Two men, not rankers, were replacing cracked and broken roof slates as Quaeryt and Dhaeryn reined up in front.

“The doors are heavy enough,” offered the major, dismounting.

Quaeryt dismounted and tied the mare to the hitching rail, a worn pole suspended between two black stone posts.

“I got the masons to start yesterday, after we cleaned out all the junk and stacked it in the side courtyard. Walls are solid, but the place was filthy.” The major shook his head. “I’ve got a couple of rankers who are good with wood, and they’re setting up the front the way we drew it. It’s like the patrol stations in Estisle, because that’s what I remember.”

Quaeryt looked to the major.

“My uncle was a patroller.”

Once inside, Quaeryt glanced around. Two rankers had already framed what looked to be a counter with a built-in desk.

“That’ll be a receiving desk. It also keeps a wall between the duty patroller and trouble. We’ll need to put heavy doors in this archway…”

Quaeryt listened as he followed the engineering major, and as Dhaeryn explained.

“… and this is the storage area I told you about. I’ve got the masons building twenty cells here. For now, we’ll have to use double-thick doors with peepholes.”

“We can only do what we can.”

“Sirs?”

Quaeryt and Dhaeryn turned.

“There’s a patroller in uniform outside, sir,” said the approaching ranker engineer. “He wants to talk to the new chief patroller.”

“Tell him I’ll be out in a moment,” said Quaeryt.

“Yes, sir.” The ranker turned and hurried back through the archway.

“I was wondering if there were any patrollers left,” said Quaeryt.

“Probably they lost everyone at the top. You lose too many officers or the like, and some outfits just fall apart.”

That might have been, but Quaeryt had to wonder. “I’d better go talk to him.” He walked back outside, checking his shields before he left the building.

The patroller who waited wore a gray uniform with black belt and boots, and a visor cap with a black leather bill. He was burly and a few digits taller than Quaeryt.

“You were looking for the patrol chief?” asked Quaeryt, stopping a yard from the man.

“Sir … begging your pardon…” The patroller looked curiously at Quaeryt’s browns. “Are you the new patrol chief?”

“No. I’m the new governor. I don’t know what happened to the old chief, but I assume he’s dead or fled. The patrol building’s buried in ash and lava. So I’m having the engineers convert this building for patrol use. We don’t have the time or golds to build a new one. And you are?”

“Jaramyr, patroller first, sir. There’s maybe thirty-five of us left. The others put me up to finding out what was going to happen.” Jaramyr glanced to the roof, and then to the open doors.

“You’re the most senior?”

“One of the most senior, sir. There are eight of us who are patroller firsts. None of us saw the chief or the two captains after the firestorm. The others are seconds and thirds, mostly. We’ve got three patroller recruits. They’d just started the first of the year.”

“Can you gather them all together? Those who want to continue with the patrol. Here on Meredi morning at eighth glass?”

“We’ve not been paid … sir.”

Quaeryt looked hard at the patroller. “I’ve ridden here straight from Tilbor, and I haven’t been paid, either. Not in almost two months.…” That was a slight exaggeration, but Quaeryt didn’t like starting on the note Jaramyr was voicing. “There aren’t any records left anywhere-unless you have some.”

“Chelsyr has a duty book, sir.”

“Does that have a roster in it?”

“No, sir. Almost as good, though. It has every duty assignment from the first of the year to the time the mountain blew.”

“Why didn’t you keep patrolling?”

“We did … for the first three weeks, sir. But lots of us have families … The regimental commander left, and the post commander wouldn’t see us. He said we’d have to wait for the new governor…”

Quaeryt could believe that. He managed not to sigh. “Have everyone here on Meredi morning. If you and the other firsts want to work on everyone getting paid sooner, meet me at the post at eighth glass tomorrow morning … with the duty book and any other records you’ve managed to save. We’ll start straightening matters out then.” Quaeryt image-projected both assurance and authority, although he didn’t like relying on that as much as he was fearing he would have to.

The burly patroller seemed to shrink back, although he did not physically move. “Yes, sir. We’ll be there.”

“In uniform.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good.” Quaeryt smiled pleasantly.

Jaramyr inclined his head politely. “Tomorrow morning, sir.” He stepped back, turned, and strode off.

“What did you say to him, sir?” asked Dhaeryn. “You looked at him, and he wilted. My men said he was belligerent, wanted to know why we were putting the patrol station here … talking about the worst part of the city…”

“It probably was,” admitted Quaeryt. “But if they start carrying out their duties, it won’t be.”

“You think they will?”

“If they don’t, they won’t be patrollers very long.”

Dhaeryn barked a sort laugh. “That’s the way it should be.”

After leaving the patrol building, Quaeryt, Dhaeryn, several engineers, and a company from Second Battalion rode through the largely undamaged southern section of Extela, as well as the areas farther north that had suffered from some damage from ash and lava, to determine what other repairs needed to be made to streets and drainage sewers … and what could be accomplished quickly. One matter they did discover was that of the two aqueducts supplying the city’s water, only the east aqueduct, the one called the River Aqueduct, was functioning, but it needed cleaning and repairs, with heavy leaks in several places. A section of the northwest aqueduct almost a mille in length had been destroyed by the lava and ash, but that aqueduct had largely served the destroyed part of the city, and repairs, rebuilding, or a new aqueduct would have to wait.

Then, that afternoon, while Dhaeryn and his engineers developed a work plan, first for the River Aqueduct, and then for the order of other repairs and the materials required, Quaeryt joined one of the squads from Third Battalion’s second company. In complying with Meinyt’s instructions, both Eleryt and Taenyd had set up their patrol assignments on a squad by squad basis to patrol the city.

For the first glass that Quaeryt accompanied the squad assigned to the area southwest of the governor’s square, he and the troopers saw little out of the ordinary, except that there were a few more people out and about than in previous days, at least from what he recalled.

Then, roughly two quints past the second glass of the afternoon, there was a dull roar, followed by a muted rumble and a slight trembling of the ground. Quaeryt glanced to the northwest as a thin plume of ash drifted upward into the hazy spring sky.

“Sir?” asked Squad Leader Shaupyr. “Are we going to get more ash and lava here in the city?”

Quaeryt studied the volcano for a moment. The ash plume did not appear to be thickening, and there were no more rumblings. “I don’t know. We’ll just have to be careful and be ready to ride south at any moment.”

As he finished speaking, a violent gust of hot wind swept out of the northwest, and the bits of ash it carried were enough to trigger Quaeryt’s shields, so that while the wind itself was like the heat of a desert on his exposed skin, the ashes seemed to circle around him.

“… look at that!” hissed one of the rankers.

Before Quaeryt could decide whether to drop the shields, a scream echoed from the side street ahead.

“Help! Brigands! Thieves! Help!”

Quaeryt left his shields in place and urged the mare forward and then into the side street.

“After the governor!” ordered Shaupyr.

A heavyset man running down the side street glanced back over his shoulder, then turned in time to see Quaeryt’s mount. He jumped to one side in order to avoid the mare, but the impact of the shields on him threw him to the pavement, and his body slid to the curbstone of the sidewalk. The bag he’d held flew from his fingers, and coppers scattered across the stones.

The second man was running the other way.

Quaeryt imaged oil under his boots, and the second thief went down hard on the stone pavement. For several moments he did not move, and by the time he staggered up and was starting to run again, Quaeryt was on him. A single blow of the half-staff to the back of the man’s head was enough to bring him down again.

Before the man could rise again, the rest of the squad had filled the side street. Four rankers dismounted and trussed up the two thieves.

A graying woman dressed in a faded brown shirt and even more washed-out brown trousers stood in a narrow doorway, her head moving from side to side, and Quaeryt rode over and reined up short of her. “Are you all right?”

“They took my wallet. They took it … I heard the roar and the rumble, sir. Someone yelled that more ash was coming, and I peered out the door. It was like those two were waiting…”

“They probably were,” said Quaeryt.

The woman looked at Quaeryt. Her eyes went to Shaupyr, who rode up and extended the pouch.

“Here’s your wallet. I don’t know if we found all the coins…”

“I had almost a silver’s worth of coppers…” wailed the woman.

Quaeryt slipped a silver from his wallet and leaned down from the saddle to extend it. “This should make up the difference.”

The woman started to grab for the coin, then restrained herself. “You’re not a trooper. Not dressed like a scholar.”

“No, I’m not, but the silver is yours.”

“That’s Governor Quaeryt,” said the squad leader.

“But … he was the one … he stopped … both of them…”

“The governor is good with the staff,” added Shaupyr. “He was riding patrol with us.”

The woman turned back to face Quaeryt, and her eyes widened. “The Nameless bless you, sir.”

“Just be careful.”

“I will, sir.” The woman darted back inside the narrow door.

Quaeryt heard the sound of a door bar dropping into place.

“What do you want us to do with this pair, sir?” asked the squad leader. “Take them to the south square?”

Quaeryt frowned. “No … take them to the patrol station. They can work off their crime rebuilding it, or the bridge, or whatever else the engineers need strong backs for.”

One of the brigands stiffened, but said nothing.

Quaeryt belatedly realized that he’d never questioned the man who’d tried to attack the wagon on the day they had provided free bread and potatoes. How could you forget? Because you’re short of time … like everything else.

He reminded himself to take care of that.

Within a glass, the ash plume from Mount Extel had dwindled away to nothing, and the rest of the afternoon patrol was without event.

After he rode back through the post gates late that afternoon and finished stabling the mare, little more than a glass before the evening meal, he immediately headed for the quartermaster’s study. Heireg was there.

“Did we get any supplies today?”

“Yes, sir. High Holder Chaffetz sent another hundred barrels of flour. His man asked that he not be required to send any more until we return the barrels from the first hundred.”

“That’s reasonable, isn’t it?”

“Yes, sir. High Holder Aramyn sent fifty barrels more, and a hundred bushels of potatoes. Lady Vaelora was pleased with that because they sold all fifty bushels of potatoes they took to the market squares. And High Holder Wystgahl sent fifty barrels.” The major frowned.

“What is it?”

“Can’t say as I like the looks of the barrels Wystgahl sent. His man wouldn’t say much.”

“You think we should look into those barrels?”

“I told the cooks to use one of them tomorrow night, just so we could see.”

“Good. How much flour did they sell at the market squares? Do you know?”

“They took five barrels and came back empty. Jhalyt and I put the coppers in our strong room here. We took in 379 coppers for the flour and 120 for the potatoes. I got a chit from the chief clerk, and he entered the amounts in the ledger.”

Quaeryt smiled. Vaelora or the rankers had been generous in what they’d doled out, but for the time being that was fine. “You seem to be working well with Jhalyt.”

“I knew him slightly before. He was the one the princeps sent to check our accounts. Seemed to be a good man.”

Quaeryt nodded. Jhalyt hadn’t mentioned that to him.

When he left Heireg, he went to find the cell where the wounded captive was incarcerated, but had to return to have the duty squad leader provide a key and a pair of rankers. He also learned that the man’s name-the one he gave, in any case-was Dhousyt Sleksyn.

Quaeryt didn’t bother to take the fellow elsewhere, but just stepped into the small cell, if with his shields up.

“Took your time, Governor.”

“That likely didn’t hurt you. Your friends just might have forgotten as well. Who set up the attack on the wagon?”

“What’s it to you?”

“That’s not the question. The question is whether you want to end up in the river or being released quietly one of these nights.” Quaeryt projected both authority and contempt, followed by indifference. Using image-projection on a man like Dhousyt didn’t bother him, and it was far easier on both him and Dhousyt than any other technique available.

Dhousyt swallowed. “Bennar did. Bennar Fhandsyn.”

“Was it his idea?”

“Bennar never had no ideas in his life.”

“Then who did?”

“The swell who owns the pleasure house. Don’t know his name. Bennar just calls him the spicer. You don’t want to cross him. Just as soon carve his initials on you or your mother or sister. Did that once to Nordon’s little sister … before Nordon disappeared. Heard it happened to others. Anyway, Bennar gave us each a silver. Told us we’d end up sow food ifn we didn’t.”

Quaeryt spend another quint with Dhousyt, but it was clear the man knew little more. It was also clear that the spicer, whoever he was, was truly despicable. When Quaeryt returned to the duty desk, he made arrangements for Dhousyt to be released after dark. He supposed he could have had him branded or the equivalent, but he’d held the tough longer than he should have.

He was ready to leave the duty chamber when a thought struck him. “Have there been any messages for me, Squad Leader?”

“No, sir. We haven’t received any dispatches or messages today, sir. We usually don’t get the report from Solis until Mardi afternoon, sir.”

“Thank you.” Quaeryt offered a pleasant smile and left the chamber, making his way across the courtyard to the officers’ quarters, where he climbed the steps to the second level. Vaelora was waiting by the balcony railing outside their quarters.

“How did your day go?” she asked.

“I discovered large problems, and solved one small one…” He went on to explain about his forgetting about Dhousyt and the overall patroller problem. “They’ll need someone to whip them into shape. It’s not something that I’ll have time to do. That was one reason why I forgot about Dhousyt.”

“Major Meinyt would be good at shaping up those patrollers,” Vaelora offered. “So would some of the other older captains.”

“The ones who came up through the ranks.” Quaeryt paused. “I’ll have to talk to Skarpa about that.” From there he recounted the remainder of his day before asking, “And you?”

“Fewer earth-shaking problems than yours,” she said with a smile. “It was sad to see how many women had so few coppers.”

“I talked to Heireg. I got the feeling you were generous in measuring the flour.” He paused. “How many did you pay for?”

“I paid half the cost for more than twenty women. It could have been thirty.”

“More likely, it was closer to forty.”

“Some of them have so little.” Vaelora looked at him. “I remembered what Father told me about helping people. You don’t give them all of anything. They have to make an effort.”

“Otherwise … they come to expect charity too much.”

She nodded. “But it’s still sad.”

“Were there many who looked not to be too deprived?”

“Most of those who came had the coin for what they needed, and some said that they felt safer with all the troopers around.”

“That was part of the reason for sending so many. Do you think Extela looks better than when we first arrived?”

“Yes. Paying coppers to some of the women to sweep up the ash has helped, too.” Vaelora offered a faint smile. “We should wash up for dinner.”

Quaeryt leaned toward her and brushed her cheek with his lips. “We should indeed.”

“For dinner, dearest. Just for dinner.”

He couldn’t help grinning.

“You’re being-”

“Impossible, but not disrespectful.”

Vaelora laughed softly and took his hand.

29

For Vaelora, Mardi began in the same fashion as Lundi had. Quaeryt saw her off beside Fhaen, riding near the head of three companies from Fourth Battalion. As she had been readying the gelding to leave, he’d suggested that she didn’t need to go to watch over the sales of goods every day, but she had been adamant.

“It makes a difference if the governor’s wife is there. Besides, what would you have me do here at the post?”

Given the results of her last “free” day at the post, Quaeryt had offered no objections. He only said, “Please keep your eyes open for anything that seems unusual or out of place.”

“Don’t I always?” had been her response just before she had mounted the gelding and ridden across the courtyard to rein up beside Major Fhaen.

Quaeryt stifled the wince he felt and smiled. “Yes, you do.”

Once Vaelora had ridden out through the post gates, Quaeryt went to the study he had made his own to meet with Major Dhaeryn to discuss the priorities for repairs to the city, especially those that could be done in addition to those on the River Aqueduct and the east bridge, both of which were absolutely necessary.

The first thing Dhaeryn said when he walked into the study and sat down stopped Quaeryt cold.

“We’ve had our first death, Governor … on the bridge.”

“What happened? Did some of the stones shift or something?” The last thing Quaeryt wanted was another complication, like the makeshift bridge collapsing before Dhaeryn was ready to start rebuilding it.

The major shook his head. “A foolish thing. I had one of the newer rankers checking the east shore piers. He was careless, slipped and went into the river.”

“He drowned?”

“In a manner of speaking.” Dhaeryn shook his head. “He must have swallowed some water wrong, because he was lying on the stones when the others found him. They thought he’d had a dizzy spell or something. But he was cold. Dead.”

“Then how did he drown, if he wasn’t in the water?”

“He got too much water in his lungs. I’d guess he couldn’t cough it all up somehow. You know, that’s how some old people die. My great uncle did. He got consumption, and there was so much water in his lungs he just drowned.” The major paused. “You don’t think it would happen to a young man, but it did.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault. I should have sent someone with him, but the rocks down there looked dry and solid. You never know.”

Drowning … after getting out of the water? Quaeryt could see how it might happen … but that seemed so improbable … except it had. “Otherwise … how are things going?”

“The patrol station … the factorage has been neglected, but it was well built. It won’t be fancy, but we’ll have something the patrollers can use in a week, maybe sooner. The bridge and the aqueduct … they’re going to take longer, and we don’t have enough men or equipment to handle anything else.”

“Then just work on those until you’ve done what you can.…”

After Quaeryt finished with the head engineer, while he waited for the group of patrollers first to arrive, he began to review the master ledger Jhalyt had created, albeit with his own improvements, based on the clerk’s experience and some of the samples he’d brought from Tilbora.

All too soon, there was a knock on the door.

“Sir … the patrollers are here.” The ranker looked around the small study.

“If you’d direct them to the officers’ mess, we’ll meet there.”

Quaeryt gathered Jhalyt, gave him instructions, and the two walked to the officers’ mess.

With Jaramyr stood five other patrollers first. All were in uniform, and all viewed Quaeryt warily.

Projecting both friendliness and authority, Quaeryt gestured to the table. “Please sit down, patrollers. This is my chief clerk, Jhalyt. We’ll need him to re-create things like pay ledgers.” Quaeryt sat down at the end of the table. “For those of you who don’t know, I’m Governor Quaeryt. I was the princeps of Tilbor, and when he heard of the troubles here, Lord Bhayar sent me here to be governor. For the past few days, I’ve been having regimental troops patrol the streets. As Jaramyr may have told you, I have the regimental engineers converting a factorage in the southeast into a patrol station. We needed a building you could use quickly, and it’s also removed from the area where the lava and ash might strike again.” He paused. “I’d like each of you to introduce yourself and tell me what duties you handled as a civic patroller. Jaramyr … you can start.”

The burly patroller swallowed, then spoke. “Jaramyr Delonsyn. Mostly, I was the senior patroller on the beats along the river from about a mille north of the piers down to the east bridge…”

“Chelsyr Catholsyn … senior patroller on beats north of the governor’s square…”

“Waollyt Aolsyn … senior patroller … west end south of the old palace…”

When he had heard from everyone there, he asked, “Do all of you intend to continue with the Civic Patrol?”

Nods went around the table.

Quaeryt looked to Jhalyt. “Did you get everyone’s name?”

“Yes, sir, except I’d like to check the spelling, sir.”

“After we finish, please verify your name with Jhalyt. Now … it appears as though no one was patrolling when we arrived. That tells me that, at present, I’ll have to appoint an acting chief from the regiment. Who that will be hasn’t been decided. For the moment I’m acting chief.” Quaeryt looked to the youngest man at the end of one side of the table. “Reyol, what is the pay of a patroller first when he initially becomes a first?” Quaeryt projected a touch of authority and the sense that lying would be unwise.

“Ah … a silver and two a week, sir.”

“Chelsyr … a senior patroller first?”

“Tops out at two silvers a week after fifteen years, sir.”

With several more questions, Quaeryt effectively had given Jhalyt enough information for a pay chart. “Now … when you verify your name, let Jhalyt know your years of service. If I find out that anyone lies, I’ll put you up before a justicer for theft. Is that clear? Now … Chelsyr … you have a duty roster?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I’d like you to go over that with Jhalyt afterward, with the names of patrollers likely to return and their ranks. You all will be paid. While you’re giving your information to Jhalyt, I’ll be getting your pay for the time from the Vendrei before the eruption to last Vendrei…”

All in all, the remaining details took close to a glass.

Then, after everyone left, considerably more cheerful, with coins in their wallets, and after more discussion with Jhalyt about revising the structure of the temporary pay roster for the Civic Patrol that Jhalyt and Heireg had created, Quaeryt had Jhalyt draft a set of tariff schedules and rules for Montagne, again based on the documents and records he’d had the foresight to have copied before he’d left Tilbora. That led to one other problem. Because Tilbor had been governed as a conquered province, all the administration had been handled by the regiment. In Montagne, as in all other provinces, the governor’s clerks were all hired by the governor … or the princeps … or the chief clerk, and that meant setting up another structure and set of ledgers.

When he returned to his own study, Quaeryt was still considering the possibility that such records might have survived, although his experience in entering the governor’s building had suggested that probability was close to nonexistent. Even if some had survived under the ash in the lower level, he doubted that more than a few would be readable, and he certainly didn’t have the time to go looking for them.

There was a knock on the door.

“Yes?”

The two clerks eased the door open and stepped inside.

“Sir … there are several other things,” began Jhalyt.

“I’m sure there are.” Quaeryt grinned wryly. “What have I overlooked? Or what am I about to overlook?”

“Vendrei will be the last day of Maris, sir.”

For just a moment, Quaeryt wondered why the chief clerk was offering a calendar. Then he realized the reason. “We haven’t finished setting up the master pay accounts, have we?”

“I have the accounts set up, sir. The regiment keeps their own ledger, and so does the post. I know how much we’ll need. It’s a month’s worth for the regiment, and just a week’s worth for the post personnel. After Vendrei, we’d planned to disburse weekly for the regiment while they’re quartered here. That’s the way…”

“I know that. Have you drafted approval forms for me to authorize?”

“Mostly, sir, but I thought you’d like to see the figures. Also, you directed me as how to set up your accounts as governor, but you didn’t mention what your stipend and monthly expense draw would be … or what level…”

“Or what level you’d be paid at?” Quaeryt smiled faintly. “Caell was chief clerk, didn’t you say?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Do you happen to know what his pay was? When he became chief clerk?”

“I know he was paid a half gold a week as chief clerk the past two years. Before that … I don’t know.”

“Did he have an expense draw?”

“No, sir. He got an additional silver a week for food and lodging.”

“But you didn’t as his assistant?”

“No, sir.”

“What were you making as his assistant?”

“Three silvers a week.”

“Then put yourself down for half gold a week in pay.” Quaeryt paused. “Do you or did you have a home…”

“No, sir. Couldn’t afford one. Not in Extela. I rented a room on the west side. The place is gone.”

“For now, then, since you’re being fed by the post and have a bunk here, you don’t need to pay for lodging and food. Once you both find other places, we’ll talk over adjustments.”

“Thank you, sir.” The chief clerk inclined his head deeply.

“Baharyt … we’ll pay you two silvers a week for now. After a month, the chief clerk and I will review how you’re doing.” Quaeryt was being more than fair, because he’d gathered the young man had barely been working as an apprentice bookkeeper and inventory clerk for three months.

“Thank you, sir!”

“You can go. I need to go over a few more things with Jhalyt.”

Once Baharyt had closed the door, Quaeryt looked to the chief clerk.

“He was paid a silver and three. He’ll get better.” Jhalyt offered a half smile.

“About the regiment and post, first,” suggested Quaeryt.

“Yes, sir.” Jhalyt slid a sheet across the desk.

Quaeryt looked at the figures in neat columns, and then at the totals. Once again, he managed not to swallow. Two thousand and eleven golds in pay, and three hundred golds in projected supply costs. At least he’d recovered the chests from the treasury strong room. “The next tariffs aren’t due until the end of Mayas, either,” he mused. What are you missing?

“The second week of Juyn, actually, sir.”

A month and a half … with no revenue. And likely the tariffs would be low, although not that low, since the collections in Montagne and areas away from Extela shouldn’t suffer that much. “Do you know what the midyear tariffs bring?”

“Not exactly, sir. Caell said they were only about a third of all the year’s tariffs. Many were paid late, also.”

Quaeryt waited.

“I don’t know for certain, sir, because Caell and the governor kept those ledgers to themselves, but I heard figures now and again. I’d guess … I’m only guessing … that the governor collected some fifteen to twenty thousand golds a year.”

At close to two thousand golds a month, just for regimental pay, Quaeryt realized he couldn’t keep the regiment in Extela for more than a few months-not without requesting payments from Bhayar. He also understood why the post had so few troopers for its size. Then he realized what he’d forgotten. “The regiment should be paying their own men out of what they brought with them. Through the end of Maris, anyway.”

“Yes, sir. I checked with Captain Dimeark. They’ll pay nineteen hundred and seventeen golds…”

Quaeryt almost sighed in relief.

“… but you still have to authorize it. You’ll have to pay them from the treasury here from Avryl on, until they’re transferred to Solis or wherever they’ll be stationed.”

Still, that meant the immediate loss to what he’d saved of the treasury was still almost four hundred golds.

“There’s the matter of your stipend, sir.”

Quaeryt had wondered about that himself. As princeps of Tilbor, Quaeryt had gotten luxurious quarters and been paid five golds a week, ten times what he’d made as a scholar assistant, and half what Straesyr made as both marshal and governor-and as princeps, he hadn’t even had to pay an officer’s mess bill. He’d been stunned by the pay, but Straesyr had told him that most princeps made far more, because the other governors were free to set up their own budgets, so long as they met the guidelines established by Lord Bhayar and his minister of finance. Unfortunately, Quaeryt didn’t have those guidelines, because those in the governor’s square were either ashes or buried under the ash, and there hadn’t been any in Tilbora because they hadn’t applied to Tilbor.

“I have to confess, Jhalyt, I hadn’t thought about that. Tilbor is run on a military basis. Do you happen to recall the basis for pay guidelines?”

“No, sir.” A small smile appeared. “I do know that the princeps drew ten golds a week, and he once said that he earned less than a tenth part of what the governor did.”

A hundred golds a week? Or more? Quaeryt managed to keep from showing astonishment. No wonder so many wanted to be governors! He managed to smile. “I don’t think Montagne, and Extela especially, can afford to pay a governor that much. Not at present or in the very near future. For the moment, put me down for twenty-five golds a week.” That was a calculated amount.

“Just … twenty-five, sir?”

“For now. I reserve the right to increase it if matters improve.” He smiled again, ironically. “How can I take a larger amount when I’m asking everyone else to hold down their prices and what they receive?”

“Begging your pardon, Governor, sir, there’s many that wouldn’t even think that, sir. Most, in fact.”

“Then we’ll just have to change a few minds, won’t we?”

There was silence in the small study for several long moments.

“Sir … word is that you grew up with Lord Bhayar…”

“You want to know if it’s true? We’ve known each other for over fifteen years, and we had the same tutor. I wouldn’t say that we grew up together. I was trained as a scholar, and then went to sea, and then came back to being a scholar, and then a scholar assistant to Bhayar before he dispatched me to Tilbor.”

“And you fought in the wars there?”

“Just the last one.”

“And your lady?”

“She’s Bhayar’s youngest sister.” Quaeryt smiled wryly. “The marriage was his doing. Fortunately, we’re well suited to each other.”

Jhalyt swallowed. “Sir … there might be some things you need to know … about the old governor, I mean.”

“I’m sure there are, and I’d like to hear what you have to say. The more I know, the more I can avoid unnecessary difficulties.” Quaeryt waited.

“Yes, sir.” Several moments passed before Jhalyt spoke again. “Governor Scythn … there were two sets of ledgers…”

After hearing what Scythn had drawn as his pay, Quaeryt was scarcely surprised as Jhalyt revealed the means by which the former governor had drawn almost double what he’d reported to Bhayar, and how the former princeps had drawn triple his stated pay. When the chief clerk finished, Quaeryt nodded. “Thank you. In a way, that’s very good.”

The slightest frown creased the clerk’s brow.

“It means that in time we’ll have more golds to work with. We just have to get through the next few months.” He rose. “If you’d go find Major Heireg, I’ll meet you outside the strong room. We need to count the rest of what’s in those chests.”

“Yes, sir.”

In the end, between them, the other four chests contained 12,041 golds, 643 silvers, and 561 coppers. Quaeryt had just over fifteen thousand golds in the provincial treasury, a sum that made him more than a little nervous, but he also understood why provincial governors didn’t like to maintain many soldiers … and, belatedly, why Rescalyn had thought he could have gotten away with what he’d planned.

A little after the third glass of the afternoon, Quaeryt was once more seated in the study that had been a regimental commander’s, studying an old map of Extela, and adding to his notes of what areas were totally covered in ash or lava and where major repairs were needed.

There was a knock on the door, and a ranker stood there, holding an envelope. “Sir?”

“Yes?”

“There’s a messenger here from High Holder Thysor. He sent this. The messenger will be waiting for your reply, he said.”

Quaeryt rose, crossed the small room, and took the envelope. “Thank you. I’ll have a response as soon as possible. If you’d see that he gets something to eat and drink and that his mount is watered?”

“Yes, sir.”

Quaeryt opened the envelope and began to read.

Governor Quaeryt,

I would very much have liked to have met you when you called on me, but as my steward doubtless told you, I was in the south inspecting timber stands to see which areas would best be logged over the summer and did not return until late yesterday …

I would be pleased to meet with you anytime on Jeudi, Vendrei, or Samedi. I would suggest meeting at Thyhyem, given the infeasibility of meeting at governor’s square …

“Infeasibility indeed,” murmured Quaeryt as he picked up a pen to reply, thinking that Jeudi would be best for another trip across the river to Thyhyem.

He’d barely finished the reply to Thysor and had it given to the messenger when the duty squad leader appeared with a dispatch from Solis. Quaeryt opened it and began to read even before the squad leader was out the door.

Dear Governor Quaeryt-

I received a report from Commander Zhrensyl. He had just received a dispatch from you, saying you would arrive in two days. I trust I will receive a report from you shortly, once you have determined conditions in Extela. Commander Huosyt could not report damages because the heat of the lava precluded close reconnaissance, and a later report from Commander Zhrensyl stated that he could not determine the extent of damage because he had insufficient forces. Please send as accurate a report of the damage as possible immediately, if you have not already done so.

At present, Rex Kharst has moved three regiments into position west of Ferravyl. We have reports that a full foot regiment has been sent by barge from Variana and will arrive near Ferravyl shortly. Needless to say, the sooner you can reestablish order in Extela and release the Third Tilboran Regiment, the better. I do not expect Third Regiment to remain in Extela past the fifteenth of Mayas in any event, and would strongly prefer the regiment be dispatched sooner. Unless you receive orders to the contrary, Commander Skarpa is to proceed to Tresrives at the juncture of the Telexan River and the Aluse. From there he is to take the river post road directly to Ferravyl.…

When Quaeryt finished the dispatch, he just sat at the desk for several moments. He could understand Bhayar’s concerns fully. Rebuilding Extela had to be secondary to defending Ferravyl-and all Telaryn-from a Bovarian attack. At the same time …

He shook his head. There was little point in arguing. What he needed to do at the moment was to compose a reply for immediate dispatch the next morning.

He had great difficulty in wording one paragraph of his reply, and wrote and rewrote that part several times, finally coming up with words that were accurate, but not too accusatory.

… Part of the difficulty in reestablishing order lies in the small size of the garrison remaining in Extela. Because the ash and lava covered the governor’s square and almost all of the old palace, the heat destroyed all records, although we were able to recover some of the treasury-enough, with care-to cover modest expenses of rebuilding those facilities most necessary for daily life in Extela. It would appear, however, that Governor Scythn left little margin for unforeseen expenses in his handling of finances, particularly in view of a level of expenses that, in light of projected tariff receipts, appears rather higher than ever reported to you. This situation is likely to slow some rebuilding … since, before Third Regiment is released, we will need to expand the garrison forces remaining here by at least a company, and possibly two, to help maintain order until the Civic Patrol can be expanded from the core of surviving patrollers …

Quaeryt went on to describe the extent of destruction in detail, the areas of the city still intact, and the beginning of repairs to sewers and aqueducts, noting that with the complete destruction of the north aqueduct, the repairs and expansion of the River Aqueduct had become more vital, as had those to the east bridge. He also mentioned his acts to freeze prices of foodstuffs temporarily, if with a slight profit to the High Holders and growers. All in all, he ended up writing a five-page dispatch, and felt that he’d probably overlooked matters that he should not have.

He decided to have Vaelora read it over before he dispatched it.

Later that evening, after dinner, in the privacy of the quarters, he watched closely as she read through his carefully chosen words.

When she finished, she smiled. “It’s better than most he receives, and longer.”

“You’re suggesting I should shorten it.”

“No. A first report should be long, especially to protect you. If you don’t tell him how bad things are, then he’ll expect too much.”

After they discussed possible changes to the dispatch, he then recounted the other events of the day, saving what Jhalyt had conveyed about Scythn and double ledgers.

Vaelora nodded calmly, clearly not surprised. “Most governors do something like that, in various ways. That’s why Father made them pay for any soldier garrisoned in their provinces. It’s why Bhayar continues the practice, and it’s one reason why you’re governor now. My brother knows you’re honest, and Extela can’t afford another governor lining his wallet at the moment.”

Quaeryt shook his head. “It’s not the pocketing of the golds that gets me so much as the amounts involved. A captain makes a half gold a week, a major a gold, a commander two, and a marshal five-along with quarters. Even as governor and marshal Rescalyn only made ten golds a week. Scythn was officially paying himself twenty times what a marshal makes…”

“Why do you think so many High Holders press Bhayar for governor’s positions for their younger sons?”

“I knew that,” replied Quaeryt dryly. “I just didn’t realize how lucrative the position was for someone with few principles. But I couldn’t justify that much. That’s why I only set my own pay at twenty-five golds a week for now.”

“Dearest, I think you’re being too frugal. You could have taken fifty golds a week and still paid yourself a quarter or less of what Scythn was taking. And it would be nice to have a real dwelling…”

“I know. But we don’t have the time to build one. We’d have to find one, if there even is one suitable … and we’d need to have a cook and a maid … and some guards, not to mention a stable … and there are furnishings…” The entire idea overwhelmed Quaeryt, who’d never had to worry about anything of a personal nature except having a room, a few garments, and feeding himself. Not only that, but he felt he had little enough time to do what needed to be done to return Extela to a semblance of its former prosperity.

“You’ve been governor, officially, since Scythn died. That was the middle of Fevier. That means you are owed two hundred golds. I know you’ve saved a few from when you were princeps, and I have quite a few remaining. Also, we could rent a place for a time, perhaps from a once well-off factor who would prefer the golds until his business improves.”

“And who would not mind being owed a favor from the sister of Lord Bhayar?” Quaeryt smiled.

“My brother can afford that.”

“I wouldn’t even know where to start,” Quaeryt protested.

“You don’t have to. Those are matters I do know something about, dearest. All you have to do is tell me how many golds you have, and I tell you what I have, and we decide what we can spend, both to begin with, and each month. Then you leave the rest to me. Running a household is something that wives are supposed to do.”

“And husbands are just supposed to pay for it?”

“Of course.” Vaelora smiled gently, then added, “Within reason. But you already know I’m very reasonable.”

Except about cleaning up abandoned anomens. “That’s true.” Quaeryt repressed a shrug. “Right now, I have forty-five golds, and a few silvers. That’s before I’m paid.”

Vaelora nodded. “I have almost a hundred, and Bhayar will give me at least two hundred after our first year anniversary. He said it would be a delayed dowry.”

“We can’t count on promises … even your brother’s.”

“I won’t.” She frowned. “I will need an escort when I look for something suitable. Don’t object. It’s reasonable that I have one, since the lava destroyed a very suitable dwelling … and I promise not to commit more than a hundred golds for the dwelling … or more than twenty golds a month to run it.”

“And you can’t obtain it by promising or even hinting at favors-or difficulties-from me,” Quaeryt added.

“No, dearest. Even I understand that.”

Quaeryt winced at the arch tones in her voice. “I’m sorry. After the way Wystgahl treated me, I just worry.” What Vaelora proposed seemed reasonable enough under the circumstances, but he still worried, even as he said, “I’ll let Skarpa know about the escort tomorrow morning.”

“You’ll be pleased,” she promised.

And so will you. But then, he could certainly understand, given that she’d been raised in a palace and especially given all the places she’d had to sleep over the past month. “I’m sure I will be.”

30

Meredi morning Quaeryt was up early, very early, so that he could rewrite sections of his report to Bhayar, and dispatch it with a special courier immediately after breakfast. As soon as he’d seen Vaelora off on her quest for a governor’s house with two squads of troopers, he cornered Skarpa again outside the stables.

“Yes, Governor? You have that look … sir.”

Quaeryt grinned. “I’m certain I do. You may have heard that I’m trying to re-form the Civic Patrol…”

“The guards told me that you left orders to admit up to eight patrollers yesterday, and Dhaeryn told me you’re converting an old factorage. You seem to have that well in hand.” Skarpa raised his eyebrows.

“The chief and his captains didn’t appear to survive … or if they did, they’re nowhere to be found.”

“Some of both, I’d wager.”

“I was wondering if you might have a very senior, hard-as-nails captain close to being stipended, who could finish his service as a chief patroller here. The locals need someone to keep them in line.” And then some.

The commander shook his head. “Too bad they won’t keep you as governor.”

“Oh?”

“Sir … begging your pardon, you’re here for the same reason I got promoted to commander. Lord Bhayar needs someone he can trust, someone who’s honest, and someone who will do what’s necessary … even if it means tromping all over the polished boots of every High Holder and wealthy factor in Montagne.”

One aspect of the qualities mentioned by Skarpa immediately struck Quaeryt-and that was the separation of trustworthiness and honesty, suggesting that trustworthiness was more akin to loyalty. What Skarpa said didn’t conflict with what Quaeryt had observed, but in a way it saddened him. “I’m well on the way to scuffing at least a few boots.”

“You’ll likely have to do more than that, sir.”

“About one of those captains you or your battalion commanders could recommend?”

“If you’d give me a day or so to think about it … and talk to the majors…”

“I’m assuming it’s not something you or Meinyt would want.”

“No, sir. Not me. Couldn’t speak for Meinyt, but he’d be better off elsewhere.”

Quaeryt nodded. That suggested Meinyt might be useful in another capacity … perhaps.

“I’ll talk it over with all of them,” Skarpa added.

“Thank you.”

Quaeryt had only taken a few more steps back toward the headquarters building when he saw Heireg hurrying toward him. He stopped and waited for the major.

The slightly rotund officer stopped short of Quaeryt and announced, “Sir … I have to report that the flour we got from High Holder Wystgahl is filled with weevils. By the time we strain it and sift it, we’ll lose almost half of it.”

“Is that true of all the barrels?”

“We’ve checked five of them. They’re all like that.”

Quaeryt sighed. “He delivered what … some fifty barrels?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Check them all, and then let me know when I get back to the post. I’ve got to meet with what’s left of the Extelan Civic Patrol.”

“Yes, sir.”

Quaeryt made his way back to the headquarters building, where he gathered up the items he needed, and then briefed Baharyt on what he expected of the young clerk at the meeting. Then he went to the strong room where he and Jhalyt counted out sufficient silvers and coppers to pay forty patrollers from the time of their last payday … with some extra, just in case.

Then, accompanied by Taenyd and third company, Quaeryt and Baharyt rode out from the post. The young clerk was clearly uncomfortable on a horse, much the way Quaeryt had been a year earlier.

Less than a year, really. So much had happened since the previous summer, and all because of his ideas for changing the positions of scholars and imagers in Telaryn, plans about which he’d done little enough, except for restructuring and improving the scholarium in Tilbora. Still … that had been a start.

The ride was uneventful, and Quaeryt noted that there were more people on the streets, even some women and children, and to him that was a good sign.

When they reached the patrol station, Quaeryt studied the roof and the front of the building before dismounting. While the places where the old slates had been replaced were obvious, the roof looked far better, as did the front of the building, with freshly oiled shutters in place on the four windows. Two men worked on planing one of the heavy double doors to the main entry. One might have been one of the brigands Quaeryt had captured, but he wasn’t certain.

He dismounted and turned to Baharyt. “Just follow me.”

“Yes, sir.”

Quaeryt didn’t see Dhaeryn after he tied the mare to the old railing and stepped up onto the narrow stone porch, but one of the senior squad leaders of the engineers appeared and said, “All of the patrollers are inside, Governor.”

“Thank you.”

When Quaeryt stepped inside the entry area of the Civic Patrol station, two things struck him. First, the receiving desk or counter was largely finished, the wood already oiled, and there were around thirty patrollers, all in uniform, standing in groups.

The murmurs died away as he moved toward them. While a few looked at him with what resembled hope, there was certainly an air of something that was not quite indifference, and certainly skepticism.

Quaeryt stopped several yards in front of them and smiled politely, image-projecting authority and confidence. “Good morning. Your patrollers first may have told you. I’m Governor Quaeryt, and I’ll be acting patrol chief for a bit. This will be Civic Patrol headquarters, and in the next few days, there will be twenty cells in the back. For now, while we reorganize the patrol, the troopers of the Third Tilboran Regiment will patrol the streets. By next week, you-or those of you who wish to remain patrollers-will begin taking over those patrols. The engineers will finish converting this building and making other repairs around the city.…”

Quaeryt went on to explain what he expected of them and that those expectations would be posted as a written code for the Civic Patrol, although he would consider changes based on their suggestions and experience.

“… We will clearly need more patrollers, and any of you who recruits a new patroller will get a bonus-after that new recruit completes three months of paid service. The bonus will be two silvers.” He paused. “Do you have any questions?”

“What about pay?” came a question from the back of the group.

“The pay grades will be the same as before.” Quaeryt knew that wasn’t what the patroller who asked the question had in mind.

“The pay we didn’t get,” said another voice.

“That’s an interesting question. When I arrived here a little over a week ago, there was no one patrolling the streets, and people were afraid to go out. So I’ve had troopers patrolling the avenues and streets. I’ve asked around, and none of you have been doing the duties that you were supposed to be doing, not for the last month, in any case.” Quaeryt projected withering contempt for a moment. “Some of that is understandable. You didn’t have a patrol building or a gaol. Nor did you have any captains or a chief, it appears. For that reason, those of you who wish to continue as patrollers will receive back pay after you sign up and renew your commitment.”

“Why did you put the station here?”

“Because we could and because we needed it quickly. It also appears that we couldn’t put it in the northwest part of the city,” he added dryly. That did get a smile or two.

“Scholars…” murmured someone.

Quaeryt smiled. Coldly. “I am a scholar. I’ve also been a quartermaster at sea, and I took part in all the battles in Tilbor in the last year before I became princeps there. I’ve taken a crossbow bolt to the chest and broken an arm in battle. I’m not much impressed with muttered comments by men who are supposed to be honorable and uphold the law. As I said a moment ago, I expect every one of you to be polite and cheerful to every person.” He paused, then smiled sardonically. “You don’t have to be cheerful to lawbreakers-just polite and forceful enough to keep them well under control.”

He could sense a certain confusion, even antagonism.

Again, projecting total authority, he said, “If you behave like toughs and lawbreakers, then the people will all regard you as worse than the lawbreakers because you’re abusing your authority. More to the point, so will I … and none of you want that.”

The authority projection worked better than the words, he suspected, but he could see the effect. “We won’t go to shifts yet. All of you who intend to continue as patrollers will be here at seventh glass tomorrow morning. In uniform. Right now, you can line up at the end of the receiving desk where Baharyt is. Give him your name. He’ll check it against the duty roster and your rank, and you’ll be given your back pay. Then you can leave until tomorrow morning. Several of you have already been paid, but you still need to check with Baharyt.”

Quaeryt stepped back and then moved to where he stood behind Baharyt, so that he could look at each man as he came forward.

Most of those who stepped up avoided meeting his eyes. Jaramyr did, nodding respectfully, if grudgingly, Quaeryt thought. So did Chelsyr and several of the others Quaeryt had already met.

Once all the patrollers had given their information to Baharyt and been paid, Quaeryt and the clerk left the building to the engineers. As Quaeryt mounted and started back to the post with Taenyd and third company, he could hear the murmurs from a group of patrollers who had remained outside, gathered together and talking.

“… there he goes … bastard…”

“… tough bastard…”

“… you want to cross him?”

“Jaramyr … talked to some of the troopers … related to Bhayar…”

“… not kidding about … killed a score with a staff…”

Quaeryt managed not to wince at the last. But then, he probably had.

As he rode back to the post, he had to wonder. Had he used too much force in facing them? What choice did he have? From meeting the patrollers first and seeing that group, he had few doubts that they’d been only slightly better than organized toughs, probably taking bribes and then some. What else should he have expected after learning the way Scythn had acted?

He didn’t get back to the post until two quints past ninth glass. He barely dismounted before Heireg appeared.

“Sir…?”

“How many barrels were spoiled?”

“All of them in some amount. We might save half of it … if we use those barrels first.”

“Do that. It appears I need to pay another call on High Holder Wystgahl.” Quaeryt turned toward Taenyd, who had dismounted. “Captain! Can you be ready to ride out in a quint?”

“Yes, sir. We can water the horses some and be ready to go. Where to, sir?”

“High Holder Wystgahl’s.”

“Yes, sir.”

A little more than two glasses later, third company rode up to the portico of the hold. As Quaeryt reined up, he caught sight of the graying red hair of Gahlen, the holder’s son, standing on the black stone step below the white marble columns.

“I don’t believe you are expected, Governor.”

“I’m here to see your father.”

“I don’t think he’ll want to see you.”

“I’m quite certain he won’t.” Quaeryt smiled coldly. “That’s not his choice.”

“And if I deny you entry?”

“Gahlen … for your sake, I do hope you don’t try.”

The heir frowned, then gestured. “This way. He’s in the salon. That’s where he always is these days. He says he coughs less there.”

Quaeryt caught up with the redhead and asked, “Consumption?”

“Who can tell whether it’s that or just age?”

Quaeryt could sense the mixed feelings swirling within Gahlen, but said nothing, thinking about what he could or might do. He did raise his shields, close to his body, before he followed Gahlen into the salon.

“Why did you let him in?” snapped Wystgahl, rising from the same armchair in which Quaeryt had last seen him. “I should disinherit you and settle the holding on your brother.”

“It’s rather hard to deny a governor with a company of armed troopers,” replied Gahlen, stepping back, but not leaving the salon. “Haylen would have the same problem.”

“Bah … you’re both worthless.” Wystgahl turned to face Quaeryt. “I sent you your Namer-cursed flour. Now … get out of here.”

“You sent weevil-ridden flour, and more than half of it is spoiled and useless.”

“You insisted on a price for the flour, Governor.” Wystgahl smiled crookedly, a glint in his eyes. “I gave you the kind of flour represented by that price.”

“The price was for good flour, and I offered you a profit of an eighth more than what you could have gotten two months ago. That’s likely a profit of one part in four.”

“I could have gotten more. You set the price. I gave you the quality you paid for.”

“You don’t intend to make good on what was promised?”

“A promise extracted by force has no value, Governor. Lord Bhayar has already upheld that precedent. Besides, you accepted that flour.”

“My men accepted it in good faith. Your faith was anything but good.” Quaeryt was at a loss. He didn’t want to drag an old man out of his holding. Nor did he really have the authority to do so, and Wystgahl certainly knew that. “You effectively defrauded Lord Bhayar out of thirty golds.”

“He can certainly afford it. Or you can.”

“It’s all right to cheat anyone you can if you’re a High Holder? What about the next two hundred and fifty barrels?” asked Quaeryt calmly, although he felt anything but calm.

“That’s your problem as well. Face it. You can’t do anything … Governor. You don’t dare bring your troops in here and seize my holding. You wouldn’t last a season after that. Do you think that the High Justicer in Solis is going to even hear an appeal over a mere thirty or a hundred golds?” Wystgahl laughed.

And such an appeal would take weeks to get to Solis, longer to decide, and make Bhayar most unhappy, thought Quaeryt. You don’t have the time for that. Yet … if he gets away with cheating and defying me … putting Extela back together will just get harder … because he’s the kind to flaunt his “victory” and let everyone know, and that will require that you use more and more force, and that will mean everyone will think you’re even more unfair than they already do.

Wystgahl coughed, once twice. “Namer-cursed phlegm.”

Phelgm … water … consumption … that’s it.

“You can’t make me change matters … Not even a governor can do that.”

“I don’t intend to do anything of the sort. I’ll leave you here, dreaming of your past glories that never were. I’ll deal with your son, who understands the responsibilities of being a holder far better than you do. You’re not a High Holder. You’re a greedy old man who’d cheat on the Nameless to get an extra copper.” Quaeryt sneered and image-projected withering scorn and contempt.

“You’re a worthless scholar … a nothing! A nothing, do you hear me? Nothing at-”

Quaeryt imaged water-just plain water-into Wystgahl’s lower windpipe as the old man continued his tirade.

The holder tried to cough and sputtered up some water. Quaeryt imaged more water, into where he thought the man’s lungs were.

Wystgahl staggered, then gasped, tried to speak, coughed up more water, then began to choke and convulse.

Gahlen rushed forward, unable to catch his father as the old man collapsed on the rich maroon and cream of the salon carpet. He turned his father over, half lifting him, then pounding him on the back.

Finally, he lowered the body and stood, facing Quaeryt. “You did it! You made him so upset!” He rushed toward Quaeryt, drawing a poignard and thrusting toward the governor.

The blade slipped aside off the shields, and while Gahlen gaped, Quaeryt imaged a section out of the tang of the blade, so that the weapon snapped with the second thrust.

“Armor…”

“Don’t!” snapped Quaeryt, reinforcing the single word with as much authority as he could order-project.

Gahlen stopped as though he’d run into a stone wall.

“Don’t be stupid,” said Quaeryt tiredly. “I offered your father a decent profit, but he was greedy. He wanted more. In trying to cheat the governor of Montagne, he was cheating Lord Bhayar. He got so angry he died. I’m not interested in pursuing the matter further … unless you make me. Enough people have already died in Extela, and more will likely die across Telaryn with the war to come. You’re now the High Holder. All I’m asking is for you to keep the bargain he didn’t.”

“But you killed him.”

“Oh? Did I ever even touch him? I only told him that he was selfish, greedy, and unreasonable and that I’d deal with you.”

Gahlen was silent.

“Your father sent fifty barrels of flour. Half of it was worthless. You owe another twenty-five barrels, and those had best be good barrels, and so should the remaining two hundred and fifty, as well as the potatoes. I also want a letter of apology from you for your sire’s attempt to cheat Lord Bhayar.”

Gahlen flushed. “After this…?”

“High Holder Wystgahl, and you are now High Holder … as I told your father, had any workingman or factor cheated Lord Bhayar-or you or your father-out of thirty golds, he would lose everything, possibly even his life. I’m only asking for you to fulfill what your father agreed to provide … and an apology. I’m not a High Holder. I’m a former scholar who happens to think that High Holders shouldn’t get away with crimes that would condemn men of lower position to death.”

“He didn’t get away with anything. Say what you will … you killed him.”

Quaeryt wasn’t about to dispute that. Not that you had much choice, given the circumstances. He glanced down at the body on the costly carpet. “No … in the end, he didn’t get away with anything. Should he have, just because he was a High Holder?” After a brief pause, Quaeryt went on. “I’m sorry for your loss … because he was your father, and it is your loss. I can’t say I’m sorry for his death. He’d rather have had people starve than settle for a modest profit, and he defrauded Lord Bhayar … and took pleasure in it. That’s neither right nor honorable. Now … if you will excuse me.” He turned and walked out of the holding.

No one said a word.

Once they had ridden out through the gates, Taenyd finally looked at Quaeryt. “What happened, Governor? They all looked at you as though you were the Namer in person.”

“High Holder Wystgahl became incensed when I accused him of fraud and providing weevil-ridden flour. He said that was what I deserved for forcing a sale. I pointed out that he would be making a profit on good flour, but that he’d defrauded Lord Bhayar. He said Lord Bhayar could afford it. I told him he was a greedy old man. He got red in the face, then blue, and collapsed. His son accused me of making him so angry that he died. That’s possible. He wasn’t in good health. But my responsibility is not to allow Lord Bhayar to be cheated.” Quaeryt laughed bitterly. “If you or I had stolen thirty golds from Lord Bhayar … or High Holder Wystgahl, what do you think would have happened to us?”

Taenyd shook his head. “I’d not even want to think about that.”

When Quaeryt returned to the post, it was less than three quints before the evening meal, and he barely had time to go to his study and complete the rough map of Extela he’d been working on-one that showed the undamaged sections of the city, those that would likely need civic patrollers-if and when there were enough patrollers.

After that, he hurried over to the officers’ quarters, where he found Vaelora coming down the outside steps.

“Did you have any luck, dear?” asked Quaeryt.

“There are several places. None is quite right. We can talk about them after dinner.”

From her tone of voice, Quaeryt was immediately convinced that not “quite right” was an understatement.

“How about you?”

“Angry patrollers and a visit to High Holder Wystgahl over his weevil-ridden flour. He got so mad when I told him his actions were unacceptable that he ended up turning red and then blue and coughing and dying on his expensive carpet.”

“Rather unfortunate for him.” Vaelora raised her eyebrows.

Quaeryt could see she understood. “You heard how unreasonable he was to begin with. He wanted to keep the good flour and sell it at an exorbitant profit and pawn off the worthless on us. I’ll tell you more after dinner.”

She nodded.

Both Quaeryt and Vaelora were unusually quiet during dinner, if for differing reasons, he suspected.

Afterward, when they returned to their quarters, after he shut the door, he turned to her. “What did you find?”

“Tell me about the High Holder first, if you would.”

Quaeryt did, ending with, “… I didn’t know what else I could have done. I’d have had to have brought it to Bhayar, because no justicer can try a High Holder, only the supreme justicer or a council of High Holders, except in Tilbor, and that may have changed already. They would laugh at the idea of trying a High Holder for defrauding a lowly governor for a mere twenty to thirty golds, even for more than a hundred if he’d delivered the rest of the flour in the same condition. Even if they didn’t, it would take weeks, if not months, to get anything done-and I don’t have the time to pursue that and do everything else. The High Holders in the rest of Telaryn certainly would have upheld Wystgahl because they wouldn’t have wanted to set a precedent that suggested they had to meet the same standards as mere factors.” He shook his head. “What bothers me most about all this is that if a factor or grower did what Wystgahl did, he’d be whipped within a digit of his life, and he’d lose everything, and possibly his life.”

“Dearest, he deserved what happened. He was arrogant, proud, greedy … and especially, he was stupid.” Vaelora’s voice turned cool. “There’s a reason Bhayar usually appoints the governors he does. It’s because they have some source of power besides the position itself. Rescalyn and Straesyr had huge numbers of armsmen. Other governors are the sons of powerful High Holders with close friends who have influence. Both Chaffetz and Aramyn saw that you represented power immediately. Chaffetz didn’t like it, but he understood. Aramyn knew before you walked into his hold. Wystgahl was too old and too stupid to realize that.”

“I still didn’t like doing it. He was a foolish old man, but his son wouldn’t stand up to him, either … and if he’d succeeded…”

“No…” Her voice was softer. “I understand that.”

“And I had to force an apology out of the son … but if I didn’t … then there wouldn’t be any acknowledgment of the wrongdoing, even though he was cheating everyone who pays tariffs, and he was cheating Bhayar.” Quaeryt gave a bitter laugh. “I think the other thing that bothered me was his insistence that a mere hundred golds was nothing … when most men would die or be crippled for life for stealing that.”

“You did what you had to. Bhayar wouldn’t have wanted a complaint over something like that. Do you think that Wystgahl is the first High Holder to die in a strange accident? Bhayar, and especially Father, had to arrange for a few accidents when High Holders got out of line. The smart High Holders understand that. Wystgahl wasn’t smart.”

“No … he was old and not thinking straight, and he threatened to disinherit Gahlen if he went against his desires. He didn’t want to listen to anyone else.”

“You couldn’t do much else, not if you want to be effective as governor.”

Quaeryt knew that. What he didn’t know was how to avoid such complaints and still accomplish the task of returning Extela to at least a semblance of a functioning city. “You were going to tell me how your search went.”

“It didn’t go terribly well. The quarter that held the best dwellings was partly destroyed, and the owners of the remaining dwellings there want even more for them.”

“Even with the palace and the square destroyed?”

“It’s where the people who are important have always lived, and now that there are fewer dwellings, those remaining are more coveted. There’s no open land there. One factor has bought two dwellings just south of there and razed them so that he can build another mansion to replace the one he lost.”

“Are there any close to here?”

“There’s nothing close to suitable less than two milles from here, at the closest.” She grimaced. “And those dwellings aren’t that suitable for a governor.”

“We might-”

“Have to settle for something less suitable?” Vaelora interrupted. “I’ve thought of that. There’s another area I’ll look at tomorrow.” A faint smile crossed her lips. “It would be closer.”

“I’ll be interested in what you discover.” And especially in what it will cost.

He still needed to write up the draft of the code for the Civic Patrol. He hoped Skarpa could come up with some names for a Civic Patrol chief-someone who could inspire respect and discipline. And he’d never checked with Dhaeryn on how the aqueduct and bridge repairs were coming along … and if they were.

Every day there’s something else … and so little time. But he had no doubts that would continue. He just hoped he could keep ahead of the problems … or not get too far behind.

31

“You never answered my question last night,” said Quaeryt to Vaelora as they left the officers’ mess early on Jeudi morning.

“You asked a question?”

In hearing her tone of voice, Quaeryt knew she was playing him, but he went along with the game. “I asked if you wished to ride out once more to seek a house today or to accompany me to Thyhyem to meet High Holder Thysor this afternoon?”

“When this afternoon?”

“I thought we would leave around noon … after I talk to Major Skarpa about possible candidates for patrol chief and then meet with the patrollers.”

“I could still ride to some … nearer places, and meet you at noon.”

“To see if such are even remotely suitable?” Quaeryt grinned.

“That, dearest husband, is perilously close to disrespect.” But she grinned back.

“Then … at noon.”

While Vaelora went to make ready with the squad assigned to her, Quaeryt found Skarpa waiting outside the study.

“Good morning.”

“Of a sort, sir.”

“What now?”

“One of the rankers in Major Chaestyn’s third company went out to one of the local inns last night…”

“They’re open?”

“If there’s a regiment around, they find a way to be open.” Skarpa’s voice was dry. “Especially when other coins are short.”

“What sort of trouble is it? Or should I ask whether it was a woman or a fight?”

“Both. After he left the public room, the fellow decided a local girl-a girl, not a harlot-ought to accommodate him. She was Pharsi. Her mother was nearby.”

“Is he alive?”

“No, sir. Neither are three of his mates.”

“Three?”

“The mother objected. The ranker slugged the mother. The daughter stabbed the ranker in the gut. Three other rankers charged in. So did some Pharsi men. When it was all over, there were four dead rankers, and several injured Pharsi. No one knows who the girl or her mother are.”

“Except she was attractive beyond her years,” said Quaeryt dryly. “I take it the ranker wasn’t from Tilbor or from Solis. Or here in Extela.”

“Piedryn.”

From what Quaeryt knew, that figured. There were almost no Pharsi in the flat croplands around Piedryn, not after Hengyst’s purges of the area. But, of course, that explained in part the Yaran enmity against the Ryntarans, given how many Pharsi lived in Montagne and how many Pharsi relatives Bhayar’s grandfather Lhayar had had, including his wife. “Do you need me to do anything?”

Skarpa shook his head. “I don’t think so. I’ve had all the majors pass the word, reminding them that Lord Bhayar doesn’t look favorably on mistreating women, especially Pharsi women, and that neither do you nor I. I also said that any ranker who slugged a woman because she wouldn’t bed him-or whatever the reason-deserved what he got.”

“I hope that’s enough. The last thing I want is what happened in Tilbor.” Quaeryt shook his head, even thinking about the idiocy of the first governor after the conquest. He’d razed part of the city because the Pharsi women used their knives on some of the invading Telaryn soldiers after the troopers had been warned not to molest the women. The carnage and the disruption had cost the governor his position … and possibly his life, later, if some rumors were true. “Especially in Bhayar’s ancestral home.”

“I told them that, too. They’ll get the word across.”

Given Skarpa’s discipline, Quaeryt was certain of that. “Have you had a chance to think about candidates for the Civic Patrol chief?”

“There are two senior captains who might be suitable,” said Skarpa. “One’s in Second Battalion. Major Aluin says that Captain Hrehn comes from Ilyum-that’s a town to the southwest of here. He’s less than four months from being stipended. You’ve seen him-the big, gray-haired captain. I saw him lift the end of a wagon once so his company could change a wheel.”

Quaeryt remembered the captain, and he could see that Hrehn would definitely have physical presence.

“The other is Pharyl. He’s got almost six months before a stipend. He’s from Montagne, and Major Aluin thinks he might work out.”

“Would you mind if I took both of them with me tomorrow? Since they’re both from around here, I could ask each for their opinions, and their recommendations.”

The commander nodded. “That might be best. How are the patrollers coming?”

“I’ll see shortly. I’m not that impressed so far.”

“They won’t be as good as the best rankers.”

“I’ll have to find a way to make them that good-or one of your captains will.” After the briefest pause, Quaeryt asked, “Is there anything else I need to know?”

“No, and I hope there won’t be.”

So did Quaeryt.

After Skarpa left, Quaeryt grabbed the map he’d worked with on Meredi afternoon and hurried out to the courtyard, where a ranker had the mare saddled and waiting. He mounted and rode over to where Captain Eleryt waited.

“Ready, sir?”

Quaeryt nodded. They had less than two quints to get to the patroller station, and he worried about being late. Not that anyone would call him on it, but he needed to set the example … and he still needed to write up a code for the Civic Patrol.

“Company! Forward!”

Neither Quaeryt nor Eleryt spoke until they were well away from the post and the gates had closed behind the end of the company.

“Like the other days, sir? One squad to stay at the patrol station, and the others to patrol their sections of the city?”

“Exactly the same. I hope we can start the patrollers taking over some of that before long.”

“The men don’t mind, and they like it better than training all the time.”

“I suppose they do. They can see something beside the post.” Such as women. Quaeryt didn’t voice that thought.

He rode for another half quint before he noticed several women-more than several-ahead on the sidewalk to his right … before some of the shops that had been open for the past week or so.

“Governor!”

Quaeryt looked to see who had called out, and realized it was the older woman standing slightly out from the others-close to half a score of other women, some older, and some younger. Almost all were dark-haired and honey-skinned, a shade slightly darker than that of Vaelora’s complexion. He gestured to Eleryt and reined up.

“Yes?”

The woman who had stepped forward followed the salutation with a brief phrase in Pharsi, one Quaeryt recognized.

He answered with one of the few phrases he recalled from childhood, and then said in Tellan, “I was orphaned young, and that is all I recall.”

“You are a lost one, then, in more ways than one.”

“So it has been said.”

“Why do you let your soldiers attack our girls?”

“What he did was forbidden. She and you defended her honor. No one will come after you, and I will make certain that the few soldiers who did not understand will know to leave you alone. Most do. The man who attacked the girl was from Piedryn.”

One of the younger women spat into the gutter … demonstratively.

The older woman nodded. “It is said that you listen and that you are fair.”

Quaeryt understood what she meant-that she expected him to keep his word. “I will do what I said. There are more than a thousand soldiers. Most will be gone in two months, and I have already ordered my officers to remind their men about Pharsi women. I cannot promise that every single one of them will be wise in the ways of Pharsi women.”

The woman nodded once more, then spoke the single Pharsi word that meant acknowledgment, thanks, and an end to the conversation.

Quaeryt replied with a nod.

The women all turned and moved away.

Quaeryt gestured to Eleryt.

“Forward!” Then the captain eased his mount closer to the mare. “Sir … if I might ask…”

“Last night…” Quaeryt went on to explain what Skarpa had told him. “… and the commander and I decided that to pursue the Pharsi women would be a very bad idea, especially after what happened in Tilbora under the first governor.”

“Sir … I understood that. But … she addressed you in Pharsi … and called you a lost one. But you’re blond…”

Quaeryt laughed softly. “I was orphaned as a very young child, so young I was barely able to speak. I knew I was an orphan, but I didn’t know I was Pharsi until less than a year ago.” He recalled that moment in the produce factorage when Hailae had spoken to him in Pharsi and proclaimed him a lost one … and wondered how he could have forgotten it, even for a moment. “Until then, I had no idea. Like you, I thought all Pharsi were dark-haired or at least had brown hair. So did everyone else. Blond Pharsi are called the ‘lost ones.’ Why, I don’t know. There’s some sort of legend, but I’ve never heard it.”

“Lord Bhayar has some Pharsi ancestors, it’s said.”

“He does, but he didn’t know I was Pharsi until after I knew.”

“Lost ones … I’ve never heard of that.”

“Neither did I.” Quaeryt kept his tone light. “And I thought I’d found myself.”

Eleryt smiled.

As they continued to ride toward the patrol station, Quaeryt saw the streets were cleaner, and that the ash was largely gone. He glanced toward the truncated peak that was Mount Extel. While he saw a waviness in the sky above the mountain that suggested the air there was warmer, he couldn’t make out any sign of more ash.

As the bells from the nearest anomen finished ringing out seventh glass, Quaeryt dismounted and hurried into the still-uncompleted patrol station. A quick look across the waiting patrollers, actually drawn up in five groups, each headed by one of the patrollers first, heartened him somewhat. More than somewhat, when he realized that four of the groups held twelve patrollers each, eleven plus a first. The fifth group held ten.

“Governor, sir,” offered Jaramyr, stepping forward slightly from the smaller group. “We’ve been passing the word that the patrol’s being re-formed. Some of the other patrollers came back. They didn’t know. I have their names for you, sir.”

“Excellent,” replied Quaeryt. “It appears as though you’ve grouped the men in terms of patrols under a patroller first.”

“Yes, sir. I’ve also listed each patrol here. You can change them as you see fit.…”

Quaeryt nodded. “We’ll see about that as matters progress. Did the old patrol operate with eight-man patrols under a first? Or was it twenty under a first?”

“Twenty, sir. There were eight patrols, and each had two squads, one for the day shift, and one for the night shift.”

“But you weren’t at full strength, were you?”

There was the slightest pause, as if Jaramyr were considering how to reply, before he said, “No, sir. There were supposed to be eight patrols, but we had six patrols and five extra men.”

Quaeryt waited.

“… and most of the patrols had fifteen or sixteen men,” the patroller first finished.

“Were you ever told why?”

“The chief said that he only received enough golds for that many patrollers.”

Quaeryt snorted.

The faintest look of puzzlement crossed Jaramyr’s face.

“I can tell you without even any records that the chief received enough golds for eight patrols. I’d also wager that whatever patrols covered the governor’s square were at full strength.”

A faint smile was the response Quaeryt got, followed by, “I wouldn’t take that wager, sir.”

“I didn’t think so.”

“I’d also wager that the former chief and his captains likely survived the eruption and were not seen soon after.”

“Captain Hrolar and most of the two patrols he summoned were killed trying to warn people. The others … we never saw them.”

Sometimes the exception does prove the rule. “I’m very sorry to hear that about Captain Hrolar.”

“Yes, sir. He was a good captain.”

From Jaramyr’s tone, Quaeryt could easy infer that the other captain or captains were not all that good.

“There are a number of things we need to take care of this morning. I’d like to start by meeting with the patrollers first about which patrols should be assigned to which parts of the city and rotation patterns. While we’re discussing that, I’d like each of the patrols to meet and come up with a listing of what equipment or gear that they need-at a minimum.”

For the next glass, after passing word to their patrols, the five patrollers first and Quaeryt went over the map he’d brought. Several made corrections to streets and alleyways, but in the end they’d worked out a tentative plan for patrolling. Then he asked for suggestions on inclusions in the code for patrollers, before having each patrol leader return to his patrol and gather equipment requests.

Once they returned and he’d finished noting those requests, he asked, “Are there any questions?”

“Not about what you said, sir,” replied Yuell, who looked to be the youngest of the patrollers first. “We heard there was a problem between some Pharsi girls and some soldiers … what are we supposed to do about that?”

“The ranker who attacked the woman is dead. I doubt there will be many more problems like that. Rankers have to obey the laws just like everyone else.” He thought about saying something about coming to him if there were too many rankers to press a point, but decided against it. Then he caught the sharp glances between Chelsyr and another patroller first-Uhlen, he recalled-and added, “I’m very well aware that some of Lord Bhayar’s ancestors were Pharsi … and that he doesn’t like women being forced-especially Pharsi women. I don’t either, and neither will whoever becomes patrol chief.” He smiled the cold smile. “Are there any other questions?”

“Do you know when we’ll have a patrol chief, sir?” asked Waollyt.

“I’m still working on that. One way or another it won’t be too long.”

“Sir…” began Uhlen, “if other patrollers who were patrollers want to join the patrol … what should we say?”

“Tell them that you’ll have to ask me-or the new chief. Before we make a decision, I’d like to hear what the patrollers first have to say about that man … and I’d like to know why he didn’t show up the way everyone else did.”

That brought nods from the group.

After almost another glass, he released the patrollers first to go over the possible patrols with their men. He also gave the patrollers first the discretion as to when to release their men, as well as noting that he expected everyone present at seventh glass on Vendrei. Then he departed with the single squad detailed to escort him.

Quaeryt rode back through the gates to the post at roughly two quints before the ten bells marking noon would ring out. Vaelora was waiting for him in a narrow wedge of shade on the north side of the stable.

After he dismounted, he led the mare over to where she stood. “How did your explorations go?”

“I’ll tell you on the ride.” Vaelora grimaced. “I wish we didn’t have to visit a High Holder in riding garb.”

“We don’t have a coach, and even if we did, I don’t think I’d want to take it over the east bridge at the moment.”

“Another loss to the mountain,” she said ruefully. “I’m sure Governor Scythn had a coach.”

“Among many other things.”

“You don’t like him, and you never met him.” After a moment she added slyly, “I cannot imagine why.”

“Neither can I, except that it might have something to do with his handiwork. I just found out this morning that it appears that he allowed the patrol chief to pocket the pay of what amounted to two patrols.” He paused. “We need to ride out as soon as I water the mare and the squads are ready.”

“Squads?”

“The one that escorted you, and the one that escorted me. Skarpa doesn’t want us going anywhere with less than half a company, especially outside of Extela.”

Even so, it was a good quint past noon before they left the post and headed for the east river bridge. Because Dhaeryn had not been able to locate any large timbers, the repairs so far had been limited to rebuilding and reinforcing the stone piers. That was another reason why Quaeryt needed to talk to Thysor, because, from what Quaeryt had been able to determine, Thysor was the closest High Holder with extensive timberlands.

As they rode into the area of Extela that Quaeryt had come to realize held a number of Pharsi shops, factorages, and homes, he saw several women turn, inclining their heads to Vaelora in respect. He knew that because he saw the lips of several murmur words about the Nameless “blessing the lady.”

He said nothing about that until they were crossing the square on the west side of the river, just before the bridge. “You have more than a few admirers.”

“On this side of Extela.”

“I can’t imagine that anyone would indicate anything else, even on the west side.”

“Let us just say that many on the west side are more reserved.”

“After all these years?”

“Especially after all these years.”

Quaeryt understood. That had always been the problem the Pharsi faced. Because they were intelligent and worked harder than anyone else, they were successful. Very few people really wanted to attribute success just to hard work, and so they blamed it on cliquishness and conspiracy. Then when the Yaran warlords had married Pharsi women, Quaeryt had no doubt the marriages had “proved” the nefarious motives of the Pharsi clans.

Quaeryt could see engineers working on the middle pier of the bridge, but not on the piers closest to the riverbanks. “It looks like Dhaeryn and the engineers have the end piers on each side largely repaired.”

“The planks and timbers don’t look that solid,” observed Vaelora.

As before, they ended up crossing the bridge in single file, widely spaced, and it took more than two quints to get both squads across.

Once they were on the main road, on the way to the crossroads where they would turn south, Vaelora asked, “How is the rebuilding of the patrol station coming?”

“I’m hopeful it will be usable by sometime next week. It’s likely to be ready before the patrollers are.” After a moment, he asked, “What have you discovered?” He tried not to sound wary or skeptical.

“There’s one dwelling that might serve. It’s more like a villa than a proper Extelan house. The factor who owned it died, and his daughter wants to sell it.” Vaelora shook her head. “It’s large enough, but it’s been empty for a year…”

“Furnishings?”

Vaelora shook her head. “A few pieces, but even they’d need work before you’d trust them.”

“What does she want for it?”

“Five hundred golds. The repairs would cost at least fifty, and furnishings…” Vaelora shook her head.

“We can’t…” Quaeryt paused.

“You were going to say, dearest?”

“I was going to say that we couldn’t afford that, but I realized that the governor can, since the villa will serve as well for whoever else is governor, and five hundred golds is not that expensive for a permanent residence.”

“Later governors will not be so modest.”

“That will be their problem, but it could also serve as the residence of the princeps.”

“I had thought that, actually. If we can work matters out.” Vaelora smiled.

And the greatest working-out will be between us. He returned the smile.

Another glass passed before they reached the severe iron gates to Thyhyem, gates attached to modest reddish black brick pillars, and flanked by walls that extended less than two yards on each side of the gates. Beyond the walls on each side was a thick hedgerow. There was no gatehouse and no guard.

Even on a second visit, Thyhyem wasn’t exactly what Quaeryt expected, not with the mille-long flat graveled entry drive flanked by ancient and massive oaks, although in places there were younger oaks, clearly replacement trees, but even those were scarcely saplings, or anything close. The hold house itself was of two levels, also of the reddish black brick and formed a V, with the entry portico at the point of the V.

Thysor stood on the wide brick expanse in front of the brick pillars that supported the portico roof that sheltered the entry to the long dwelling.

“Greetings!” offered the High Holder as Vaelora and Quaeryt dismounted. “Refreshments await your men and the mounts in the north courtyard.” Thysor gestured to his left.

“Thank you,” replied Quaeryt, after handing the mare’s reins to a ranker and extending the hand to Vaelora that she didn’t need to dismount.

They walked up the three steps to join the holder.

“Governor Quaeryt,” offered Thysor, his eyes going to Vaelora, “and Lady Vaelora. I always told your brother that you’d grow up to be both intelligent and beautiful.”

“I’m glad you offered more than beauty as a compliment,” returned Vaelora. “Yet how would you know, since you’ve not seen me in years?”

Thysor laughed. “Your husband is a scholar … and a governor. Your brother has followed his father’s example. The more closely related someone is to him, the more he expects. The governor is your husband and, if I understand matters correctly, had to prove himself in a number of ways. You were known as extraordinarily bright as a child, and you had the habit of tactfully puncturing vanity even then. Therefore…” The silver-haired High Holder shrugged, but his eyes smiled.

Vaelora offered a warm smile. “And you, Thysor, would have liked to flirt with every pretty girl and woman, but contented yourself with charming young girls. I can see some things have not changed.”

The interaction between the two was a quick reminder to Quaeryt that he’d become part of a very small circle, about which he knew next to nothing-except for Bhayar’s family.

“My dear lady … I would not dare. Already, the word has spread that your husband has single-handedly restored basic order in Extela.”

“That’s rather easy to do with a full regiment at your back,” suggested Quaeryt mildly.

“It only seems so,” replied Thysor. “But do come in. We can talk of that and other matters over refreshments and light fare.” He paused. “I do presume you are not here for a mere courtesy call, Governor.”

“For courtesy, but not just for that.”

“I do appreciate the courtesy,” replied Thysor as he guided them between the brick pillars and to the open but plain goldenwood double doors, “and your interest in more than courtesy. Your predecessor emphasized courtesy to the exclusion of all else … or so it seemed from this side of the river.”

“Especially courtesy to his own coffers, it appears more and more,” replied Quaeryt, hoping for a response from Thysor.

“That is a common failing among governors, one reason, no doubt, you were appointed.” His voice turned wry as he continued. “It’s also a failing not unknown to High Holders, as I suspect you’ve discovered.”

Quaeryt wasn’t certain if Thysor already knew about Wystgahl, and he wasn’t about to ask. He just said, “Greed is common enough among all, I fear.”

“So it is.”

The entry hall through which they walked was square, with off-white plastered walls above goldenwood wainscoting, and a pair of portraits, one a woman, on the north wall, and the other a man, on the south wall. Neither resembled Thysor.

The High Holder led them through the receiving hall to another circular chamber, from which two corridors branched, one at an angle to the left and the other at the same angle to the right. At the back of the circular hall was an archway, with open double doors, toward which Thysor continued. Beyond the archway was an expansive chamber.

“Chaelyna is awaiting us in the salon. It is a treat to have visitors. We see so few, as far as we are from Extela.” Thysor halted at the archway, gestured for them to enter, and then followed, smoothly moving up beside Vaelora.

Quaeryt surveyed the salon quickly, noting the wall of windows to the west, overlooking a private garden, with each window having dark gauzy hangings, most likely to mitigate the light of the late-afternoon sunlight, especially in summer, and heavier ochre draperies as well, for cold winter evenings. Set directly before the center windows was a table, already set for four.

The slightly stocky dark-haired woman who rose from the settee on the immediate right, while perhaps a good ten years older than Quaeryt, was certainly at least that amount younger than the High Holder. She offered a cheerful smile.

“Dear … Governor Quaeryt and his wife Vaelora. You might remember her.” Thysor’s eyes twinkled.

“Chayar’s youngest. My … how beautiful you are … and married, no less.”

“Only since the first of the year,” replied Vaelora.

Thysor gestured to the chairs and the settee facing the one before which Chaelyna stood. Vaelora settled onto the settee in such a fashion that both women seated themselves at the same instant. Quaeryt was not quite as deft as his wife, but not so far off that it was noticeable.

“Shall we dispense with the less courteous aspect of your visit first, so that we may enjoy your company?” asked the High Holder.

Quaeryt couldn’t help smiling at the way in which Thysor had framed matters, with the implication that the “less courteous aspect” still needed to be handled courteously and tactfully. “I may have been misinformed, but I gathered that you have extensive timberlands…”

“Do not tell me that the governor is becoming a timber factor…” Thysor laughed. “Pardon my little jokes. I notice that you have men working on the east river bridge. You are looking for heavy timbers and planks?”

“I am. At present, what remains of the span can barely hold a single mount at a time.”

“What terms are you asking?”

“Your cost for the timber, plus a profit of one part in ten.”

“And you would trust my costs?” Thysor raised his eyebrows.

“I trust everyone … until they abuse that trust. For some, I have trusted them only once.”

Thysor looked not at Quaeryt, but to Vaelora. “Is it wise to abuse the governor’s trust?”

“No … because he holds it as an abuse of Lord Bhayar’s trust.”

“Pardon me, if I ask a personal question, Lady. Did the governor serve Lord Bhayar before you married him?”

Vaelora laughed. “He has known Bhayar since I was little more than a babe, and he served as an advisor and more, most lately as princeps of Tilbor. He did not seek my hand. Lord Bhayar insisted that I wed him.”

Thysor’s eyes returned to Quaeryt. “Then you are high in Bhayar’s estimation, and your accomplishments must be many, or you would not be a governor, coming from a background as a scholar.”

Quaeryt smiled wryly. “There is no way that I can reply to that without seeming either excessively overweening or falsely modest.”

“I think you just did.” Thysor chuckled.

Across the table, Chaelyna smiled as well, but did not speak.

The High Holder’s eyes lighted on Vaelora. “Again … my pardon, but you do not act as many women do when a marriage is arranged without their consent. Nor do your glances at your husband suggest indifference.”

“I do believe, High Holder,” replied Vaelora with a light laugh, “that we should discuss such matters after those of lesser courtesy.”

“So we should.” Thysor’s voice and expression were both warm. He turned back to Quaeryt. “Seeing as you are who you are, and seeing as you are neither attempting to buy my favor by acceding to an exorbitant price, nor that of the mob, by forcing a sale on which I would lose golds, I will accept your terms. Your men can meet with my timbermaster tomorrow if they so wish.”

“I will send Major Heireg and Major Dhaeryn to see him.”

“Excellent.” Thysor smiled broadly. “Then we can talk over more pleasant matters, and we can learn more about both of you.”

“I had hoped to learn more about you,” replied Quaeryt. “and what you can tell me about Extela and Montagne.”

“I could not tell you half so much as could your lovely wife.”

“I have not been in Extela in years. You have so much more experience than do we,” replied Vaelora. “And experience is what enables understanding…”

“Then we will trade anecdotes,” suggested Chaelyna, “but I do think we should repair to the table. Talking can be such a thirsty business, and you must taste last year’s ice wine. It is delectable, all because of Thysor’s care and hard-won knowledge. He won’t say that himself, but I can.” As she rose from the settee, she glanced to Vaelora. “As I am certain you can say much about the governor that he is far too modest to disclose himself.”

As he stood with the others, Quaeryt knew he would have to force himself to keep his thoughts on the social side of the afternoon, much as he wished he could have departed earlier, if only so that he could get to work writing up the code for the Civic Patrol.

Except this is work, and necessary. Especially after the mess with Wystgahl, you need more High Holders who will support you … or not oppose you.

He smiled again, even as he wished that Wystgahl had been half as courteous as Thysor or at least as practical as Chaffetz.

32

In the end, Quaeryt and Vaelora spent close to four glasses with Thysor and Chaelyna, among the most pleasant four glasses Quaeryt had ever spent with a High Holder. As a result, they didn’t return to the post until well after the evening meal, and it was almost dark by the time they retired to their quarters. Both moons were already high in the sky, on a warmish evening that foreshadowed the heat of late spring and summer.

“I’m sorry we missed the evening meal,” said Quaeryt as he closed the door.

“I’m not,” replied Vaelora. “We had far better fare with afternoon refreshments … and delightful conversation.”

“Do you think he’ll attempt to cut corners on the timber?”

“No. He’s charming, and he’s been very successful. He’ll earn every copper he can, to the last letter of any agreement. He won’t cheat you, outright or indirectly.”

“Why do you think that?”

“He’s sharp. He knows you’re powerful. He doesn’t know why or how. You’re also close to Bhayar. Upsetting a young, ambitious, powerful, and well-connected man is dangerous, especially when that young man has guaranteed a profit. By doing it that way, whether you intended it or not, you told him that you wouldn’t cheat him, but that you’d destroy him if he cheated you.”

Quaeryt laughed softly. “I didn’t-”

“You did, dearest, and you know it.” Vaelora grinned at her husband.

“I wasn’t intimating destruction.”

“Whether or not you would go that far doesn’t matter. He knows you could, and it was deftly done, honestly and directly. He appreciated your tact.”

“I’m glad you-and Thysor-found my approach tactful. Or was it merely honest and direct?”

“You were indirectly direct, which is best in situations such as these.” Vaelora sat down on the end of the bed.

“I’m used to being indirect when I’ve been the one receiving the orders or instructions, but I don’t have that much practice at getting my point across indirectly without seeming either arrogant or weak.”

“No one would ever guess. Just don’t worry too much about it.”

“I don’t when I’m dealing with officers or patrollers, but the number of times I’ve dealt from a basis of power with High Holders I could count on my fingers.” He paused. “Look at what happened with Wystgahl.”

“That would have happened to any governor in that situation. Most would have handled it with greater difficulty.”

Quaeryt certainly hoped he’d done as well as he could, but didn’t see much point in belaboring his concerns. “How does your brother view the High Holders? It’s not a question I was in a position to ask, and I never observed him with any.”

“He is wary of any of them.”

“They can’t do that much to him … unless they unite, and I’ve not seen any evidence that many are dissatisfied.”

“Most of them trust no one. That’s because only one son can inherit. More than a few older sons have met their end in strange accidents. They’re always looking over their shoulders. They can’t help but wonder if Bhayar might be conspiring with a younger brother, especially if they think they’ve displeased Bhayar … or their father. You saw that with Wystgahl. So few High Holders tell Bhayar any more than they must. Except for the handful who wish to use Bhayar to gain an advantage over other High Holders, most avoid him except at functions and other gatherings that are largely ceremonial.”

“Do you think that’s why Aramyn was so cordial to us?”

“I feel that he was doing exactly what his actions implied. He was viewed unfavorably by Father, and he wants to change that. Because you weren’t unreasonable, it won’t even cost him anything … only a chance of forgoing a bit more profit … and that wouldn’t even be certain.”

“So why was Wystgahl so belligerent? I offered him the same terms.”

“I can’t say.” Vaelora shook her head. “Except that he was greedy and stupid.”

“Could it be that all that rebuilding overextended him? And that he saw the chance to make a greater profit on his grain and other crops? He had to use his own people, but when lien-tenants are doing stonework, they’re not planting or harvesting.”

“That’s possible, but I couldn’t say.”

He smiled and asked, “If you would tell me more about the dwelling that might be suitable…”

“It’s more like a villa. I told you that. It has a large main level, and only master sleeping quarters and the like on the upper level. The entire rear is a walled garden, but the walls are brick. They need much work. The garden is hopelessly overgrown. The interior looks solid, but every wall needs paint or plaster. There aren’t any paneled walls at all, except for the main study. There’s very little wood, either, except for the built-in bookcases in the main study. It might rather be called a library.…” Vaelora looked at Quaeryt.

“It sounds like there’s a fair amount of work to be done.”

“A great number of small things and several large ones, such as oiling all the outside wood, repairing and straightening most of the shutters…”

As Vaelora went through the list, Quaeryt nodded occasionally, torn between admiring her for all that she had noted and trying not to show the sense of being totally appalled at what needed to be done-and what that would likely cost. Yet they couldn’t stay in the officers’ quarters forever.

33

Vendrei morning saw Vaelora off to take another look at the old villa that might possibly be suitable, while Quaeryt met again with Skarpa and then Dhaeryn before awaiting the arrival of the two captains suggested by the commander.

They both entered the small study together, Quaeryt gestured for them to sit down, then asked, “Did Commander Skarpa explain why I wanted to meet both of you?”

“Yes, sir,” offered Pharyl politely.

The taller and more massive Hrehn nodded.

“What did he say?”

The two exchanged glances. Then Hrehn spoke. His voice was a light baritone. “He said you wanted two experienced captains to come with you and look over the remaining civic patrollers and give you our opinions.”

“That’s true. I’d like to see what you two think.