Much deliberation

Here’s Athal catching himself thinking like an Iss-Peranian, more than once. Fortunately, it’s likely that he’ll be on the next <shudder> ship home, and only because it wasn’t feasible to catch the one that was just leaving.

When a page and a maid came to wake us, it was already almost afternoon. It figured, with the late night we’d had. There was wash-water, and something to eat, and much fussing about clothes; and Halla who gave me a note from Beguyan, thanking and congratulating me for the victory and inviting me to be present at the execution of the traitor, the murderer of the Enshah, and more epithets like that, the former crown prince. “Isn’t he dead already?” Raisse asked, “didn’t they cut him to pieces?” But he hadn’t been cut to pieces completely, I knew, he was in the pit in the throne room in a not quite entire state. According to Halla, I could gracefully refuse, and that was what I almost did, until Raisse suggested that we go, but write to Beguyan with a few points. First, it was not proven that the crown prince had actually killed his father, it could just as well have been old age, and I still thought that the most likely. The accusation of parricide was unwarranted. He had, however, killed the Khandihan, and I wouldn’t mind if he died for that (I’m starting to think like an Iss-Peranian; it’s time to go home!). Also, I would ask Beguyan to make the execution swift and merciful; putting the man out of his misery was the most humane thing to do now.

On the way to the throne room –or the temple hall– we met Khora, accompanied by Rikhi and Pnimah. She was very worried about the witches, “They’ve moved to the middle of the throne room! They haven’t seen me yet, but they will!” We promised that if Lady Vermudant came too close I’d keep her away myself, and in the meantime Khora could stay out of sight in our quarters until we could send her to Valdyas, hopefully very soon.

Once we were on our temporary thrones the generals’ aides came to report: a young lieutenant and an even younger journeyman from the Order. Little Valdyas, Little Solay and the merchants’ quarter had been secured; defenses were being set up ‘in Master Vurian’s style’; there were arrangements with General Beguyan’s army; there had been some looting, but not much, and most of the culprits had been caught, would I judge them? Yes, I would, but not right away, I’d have to think about it first. While I was talking it over with Raisse –the Iss-Peranian way would have been to cut off their heads immediately, but I pondered flogging them in public and letting them go as an example, I could always cut off their heads if they did it again– the Mighty Servant came up with an idea: the walls around the new quarter would have to be joined and strengthened, and the walls between the parts of it breached and fitted with gates, why not let them work on that? It was an excellent idea, and I had the journeyman bring the pillagers in front of me: an ill-favoured bunch of rabble, the youngest no older than twelve. “What do you think I’m going to do with you?” I asked the boy. “Give me food and drink and ten gold pieces?” “Half right,” I said, “you’ll have food and drink, and you’re going to work to pay back what you took.” He spat at me, protesting that he was innocent, “he and he did it! I didn’t do anything!” I didn’t believe that, of course, and sent them all away and heard them being clapped in chains outside. Good riddance.

We weren’t in the throne room long, because Cynla came to ask for a conference in private. In the vestry-turned-workroom, there were the Mighty Servant, Zahmati and Roushan and the twins from the Temple of Dayati; it was obvious that they and Cynla had been working together closely, were all friends, and had already thought of a way to handle their joint interests now that their parts of the city were one. They said that all they wanted was my blessing and approval, and additionally Raisse’s wise counsel. They wanted to set up a council at first, like the one in Essle, until I could send someone who could act as arbiter and as the representative of the Crown, with the title of baron of Albetire, “baron” considered to be the exact equivalent in rank as an Iss-Peranian “prince”. I said I approved of a city council, but insisted on having Rhanion on it– it could not be done without the Order. When he arrived, I thought I’d perhaps been a bit rash in suggesting him, because the other six (and Raisse, who was clearly enjoying it) went on to nitpick details for hours, boggling Rhanion almost as much as me.

There were some very sensitive issues– the “unpaid servants for life”, that is, slaves. I’d never given much thought to the difference in the way that Iss-Peran and Solay treated their slaves: in Solay –and that went for Little Solay as well– slaves were part of the household, and each household was in fact a self-contained village that took care of them and that they never left. In Iss-Peran, slaves were in fact merchandise. It was clear to everyone that if the new quarter came under Valdyan rule, slavery had to end; but ending it instantaneously wouldn’t work for various reasons. The assembly spent another half-hour constructing a compromise, speeded along by Raisse who had some practical ideas. There would be documents with permissions, prohibitions, exceptions –there would be no traffic in slaves in Valdyan territory, but it would not be forbidden for people living in Valdyan territory to deal in slaves; slaves would not be sold to Khas, not to the mines, children would not be sold– but this was left for later, and Cynla only noted down that it would be done.

Then, taxes– obviously the territory would have to pay some levy to the authorities in Albetire, but also to the Crown. This was another issue to be detailed later. Military matters were next, and now Rhanion came into his own; my misgivings about getting him in became much less. He wanted to train all able-bodied men and women, and get at least some of the gifted people of Iss-Peranian and Síthi descent to train in the Valdyan way– not that they had to worship Anshen, it was perfectly all right to worship “gods called by other names”, but he had no use for witches (with a glare at Roushan and Zahmati, who looked at each other flustered) or priests (with a meaningful look at Dhamilo and Amaldara, who looked back unfazed). I had come to know that the talent of the priests of Dayati was mostly for healing, and I didn’t know enough about witches to have a founded opinion, but I could imagine that Rhanion wouldn’t be able to work with them.

Now the only thing to be done, apart from drawing up all the documents and translating them into four or five languages –there would be a lot of work for scholars!– was to swear an oath to the king; which they did, and then Zahmati and Roushan invited all of us to have a meal with them, cooked by their own chefs in the kitchen of the Orange Blossom.

I took Rhanion aside and asked if I could borrow his temple for an hour or so to take care of the business with Mernath and Maile. He said yes, but warned me that the people of Iss-Peran, and also Little Solay, were very superstitious and would probably see “manifestations of natural violence” as a sign of bad luck. He probably knew or suspected that the earthquake had been at least partly my doing. I said that that was exactly the reason I wanted to use the temple: if I had to make a place safe for that kind of work somewhere in the open, a place that wasn’t safe already, the chance of manifestations of natural violence would be much greater. “Any time, then, just warn me,” he said.

The meal was splendid: a huge Iss-Peranian spread of all the things I’d come to like, with wine, juice and iced water in little golden cups. We talked about just about anything– Roushan had heard Vurian shouting for ‘milk!’ and asked Raisse, blushing, “would it be very importunate to ask if the rumours are true that the little prince is going to have a brother or sister soon?” and Raisse said yes, the rumours were true. That called for another toast, of course, to the fruitful queen and her son and her child-to-be.

In the middle of the revelry someone came to say that there were two envoys from General Beguyan to see the king; would I see them right away, or should they wait? “I’ll see them in half an hour,” I said, and Raisse, at the same time, “Give them something to eat.” After we’d talked some more –about our different peoples’ different ways and habits– I thought it was time to go and see the envoys. They were in a small anteroom, eating the same food we had and drinking from the same golden cups. One said, in Ilaini so careful that he must have learnt the words by heart –like a talking letter!– “the general regrets that the event the mighty king has so graciously accepted his invitation to cannot take place because the main protagonist, completely on his own initiative, has–” and then his companion prompted him, “expired”. I suppressed a sigh of relief, but the envoy went on, “and the general asks the mighty king to join him for a conference at his earliest convenience.” Well, my earliest convenience was right away, at least after I’d put on something without grease stains –those pastries were leaking oil– and someone had organised an armed escort to cross the city.

There was just time, after Mernath had taken care of my clothes, to see the other Mernath and Maile, as I’d been intending but had not had time for all day. They looked very ragged and run-down, like people who have run a race or fought a battle and have no purpose left. I didn’t want to push them in any way I could avoid, but there was no choice. “You’ve accepted me as your master,” I said, “will you accept Anshen, too?” Mernath had a hard time answering; it was as if part of the compulsion was still on him. I sealed the room and asked him again; Maile whispered something to him in Iss-Peranian, and he said “We will do what the king orders.” Well, that wasn’t what I’d meant at all! It was true that they had only one choice, but they would have to make it on their own. Raisse came to my rescue yet again, saying “you can order them to come to the temple tomorrow and see what happens”. So that was what I did: one hour after sunrise, which was all right with Rhanion too because it was after the morning service. When we left them –inviting them to the food that was still on the table– I saw that Maile was pregnant. Dayati’s influence?

On the way to the palace we talked about the compulsion on Mernath. It looked as if it was only something he thought was there; I saw it as a thin red silk cord held in place with two red wax seals over a crack in his anie. It would probably be enough to open him up. In the temple of Anshen, there would be nobody else to turn to, anyway.

We went to the palace by a different route than we’d been used to: turning right much earlier, up a flight of stairs (very hard on the bearers, especially those at the back) and into a sort of courtyard full of alert soldiers. From this courtyard we could look over the city right to the sea, where there was much activity of ships but our eyes weren’t good enough to see what ships they were. Beguyan and his wife came to meet us, greeted us warmly and took us to a large workroom where Koll Konandé and Yilde already were.

Beguyan started by giving an overview of what had already been done: it was very close to what we had set up the last time we had been in this company. Under his command the army “of the almost-Enshah here” had pacified the city, not without losses and lamentable incidents, but the city was now safe, as was the palace though that needed some repairs. The power structure of Albetire had actually been damaged more than the city itself: some branches of it had mouldered under the old Enshah’s rule, the gods have his soul, and would have to be cut away. He did remember to commiserate with me on the loss of my friend and adviser; loyalty such as the Khandihan’s for the Enshah, he said, rarely survived its object.

Our efforts in the newly created Valdyan territory worried him– especially the merchants’ quarter, because the city and the palace depended on it for a big chunk of its income. We could placate him a little by saying that it had already been decided that the Valdyan territory would pay a levy, only the amount would still have to be negotiated. I could imagine Cynla and the others enjoying the wrangling about that immensely.

Also, he wanted a title deed for Koll Konandé to somewhere in Valdyas to balance the Valdyan barony in Iss-Peran: a title like “Hereditary Prince of…” would do, except that we didn’t have hereditary princes outside the House Velain, and founding a new noble house wouldn’t work. We tossed that back and forth for a while, until Beguyan said “if we can say that it’s being worked on, we can get on with business”– the business of defeating the Khas, without which all the rest would be worthless.

His plan to defeat the Khas came in three parts. First, a land war towards the west, driving them back to the strait of Solay. He estimated that it would take him about a year, but to achieve that he would need “a great mage from Valdyas”, with powers like mine, and also asked for a Valdyan regiment and a Khas regiment under Valdyan command. Regiments were easy enough –I didn’t only have a Khas regiment with me, but another in Valdyas that I could send if they were done suppressing the uprising in Lenyas, and if nothing untoward had happened at home the regiment of Turenay would be available– but a grand master? Reshan was likely to be needed in the west, especially if that was where Beguyan would be fighting Khas. Of the others, most didn’t have military insight. We briefly considered Phuli, but she would probably be too much for Beguyan to cope with. –Raith! Someone else could take care of Lenyas for a while, perhaps Moryn’s half-brother Eldan, who seems a sensible fellow; and she was ruthless enough to completely flatten whole armies of Khas.

Second, defending the sea would become more complicated because of the Valdyan barony in Albetire. Also, with Prince Attima gone, Albetire had lost a full third of its war fleet. Koll Konandé was willing to forgive the prince all his trespasses against his illustrious predecessor if he would come back and aid in the effort. Valdyas had ships too, of course– it was a pity that the shipyards in Dol-Rayen, though they hadn’t gone under with the town, were no longer working. But there were lots of good shipwrights there; couldn’t we get them to Albetire to build there? No, that was impossible, Albetire was handicapped by a lack of wood to build ships from. Then take the Iss-Peranian shipwrights to Idanyas, which was almost all wood, to work together with the Valdyan shipwrights? Koll Konandé thought that was an excellent idea, and it would also solve his problem of a title deed: give him a place in Idanyas to found a shipyard, and the title of baron in Valdyas as we would have a baron in Iss-Peran, and he would make sure that all the Valdyans living and working on his territory would be subject to Valdyan law. He would send his representative to Selday soon to make arrangements; I promised to have letters written for the representative to take.

Third, the general would expect me, personally, to be at the strait of Solay in a year and a half with a fleet and an army to battle over that city. He fully expected, with my help, to liberate Solay; who would rule it was the business of the Síthi. In fact, he said, the Síthi had already decided.

That meant that we would have to go back to Valdyas very soon if I was to see my own kingdom before running off to war in foreign parts again. With everything I’d been expecting, I hadn’t expected to be in a hurry.

Finally, Beguyan wanted to ask me a personal favour: he had been working with Ayran a lot and asked permission to add him to his staff. They had been talking it over already and Ayran had been amenable. Well, in that case, I had nothing against it either; I had been contemplating leaving at least one of my generals here anyway.

We came back in the dark and found Halla at the gate, looking excited. “There’s a ship in from Valdyas!” The square with the fountain was indeed overrun with soldiers and sailors, and a military-looking man and a courtly-looking woman came towards us with a bundle of letters. We retreated to the inn, where there was enough light to see who the letters were from. The military-looking man was clearly a Hayan, one I hadn’t met before; gifted, too. He said that Vurian had become so worried after half a year without any news from us that he’d sent not only his envoys, and the packet of letters, but the regiment from Turenay as well. “They must be getting our news in Valdis just about now,” I said. I skimmed the letters –time enough to read them attentively later– and saw that Valdyas was still there, the uprising in Lenyas quashed by Moryn with rather more difficulty than he’d expected. Reshan was still in the Plains– the Khas were trying to push northward, but the plains people and Reshan pushed them back relentlessly, in fact without any large-scale fighting but in lots of little pricks and attacks when they didn’t expect it. Reshan must be having tremendous fun as well as being extremely useful. It would indeed be a bad idea to call him to Albetire.

Raisse had a long letter from Rava and several from Moyri; there was also one from Talvi, who wrote that the children were still alive and were now getting proper treatment, and that the historian was married (she didn’t say to whom, but presumably the doctor). We took the letters with us to the Temple of Mizran and found the little boys still up– Vurian hadn’t wanted to go to sleep without seeing his parents. He climbed into bed with us, but when Rovan wanted to do that too he fell and screamed and woke us all up again. Then we found out that Khora was on Raisse’s other side in the bed, sleeping hunched up like a rabbit without even making a sound while breathing.

The next morning we heard that Roushan and Zahmati had a fast ship ready to sail for Valdyas with the next tide. While Raisse talked with Khora, I went to find Talvi and asked her for an escort of a sergeant and five or six soldiers, all women who didn’t fall for women themselves, and at least half of them gifted. She thought it strange, because I couldn’t tell her everything, but I did say it was for a gifted noblewoman who needed to go to Turenay as soon as possible, because otherwise the various factions would use her as a pawn. She asked, just to make sure, if I weren’t concealing an Iss-Peranian concubine of my own– as if I’d share that with Talvi and six of her soldiers!

After a while, a young woman knocked on our door: solidly built, red-haired and freckled, a journeyman in the Guild of Anshen. She was the sergeant, with the unfortunate name of Liase. When I said that the commander of the Order here was called Rhanion, she said “yes, but his parents didn’t know, mine did!” I should have told her about my namesake, the great-uncle who was executed for trying to kill my grandmother, but I clean forgot about that. Liase sized up Khora and said she’d be back later with clothes and stuff, the ship sailed in four hours and it was two hours to the harbour, so we’d better hurry. Raisse and I rushed to write letters and tell Halla what to write in other letters while Khora got her few things together. Rikhi was in two minds– he wanted to stay with Khora, and he wanted to stay with me, and above all he wanted to put off boarding a ship as long as possible. Finally he decided that Khora could very well go without him, especially as she was going to Valdyas where it was safer for her. We also arranged with Halla, because Khora didn’t have anything left after fleeing the palace, that she was to have an allowance as if she were of the House Brun, five riders a quarter. I rather thought my little brother in Turenay was getting the same.

Liase was back in good time, carrying a parcel of clothes. “You’d better go as cabin boy– um, girl. Get those clothes off you, now.” She proceeded to dress Khora in blue-and-white striped shirt and trousers, with a neck-cloth and a head-cloth, and immediately Khora looked the part “Wow, you can act,” Liase remarked. “But if you’re going as cabin boy it’s no use hiding yourself, you should stand out, swagger, like this.” And to me she said, “Always wanted to be a runner, ended up a soldier. Ah well.”

As Khora turned to hug us, I said, “Do you want me to protect you, or can you do that yourself?” She wanted my protection; I put a very cautious seal on her, of the “don’t touch me” sort, that would last until she took it off herself. If she examined it closely enough, she’d probably be able to do it by herself next time she wanted it.

So now Khora is off to Valdyas, and we’ll be off on the next ship, I suppose. The news was good enough, but I still wonder how we will find the country when we get there; how much being abroad has changed us.