The break in the story doesn’t coincide completely with the break in the session; we stopped just before the allies came in and picked it up again from there. It wasn’t long after that until we gained too much momentum to stop. At one point I was worried whether I’d be able to write the writeup in first person, because I was far from sure that there would be a first person to write from the POV of. Only the baby prince has script immunity, after all.
Thanks go to Prima for scanning the drawing when technology failed me. Athal and I had no words for it. Also, I was too busy virtual-fighting to take notes and my (and Athal’s) memory of the events of the fight is likely to be quite imperfect.
We had only one sedan chair, shared with Shab Hafte, to go to the general’s tower at the harbour. It was compensated by a really impressive guard. We had a hundred Khas –half the force– as well as a dozen Valdyan soldiers on horses. The city was quiet, but there was evidence of earlier unrest: a plume of thick black smoke where, I’d heard from Halla, a grain warehouse had been plundered and set afire. We’d also discussed sending to Valdyas for aid; Arni –now that she was effectively an admiral– could send one of the fast Valdyan ships still in port.
The general’s tower was white and squat, more like a high castle than a mere tower, and stood on the shore almost in the water. Before we could even leave our sedan chair, half our guard went inside to make sure it was safe. One of the sergeants came back and escorted us in. There were Iss-Peranian soldiers –obviously the general’s own– and Khas soldiers –ours– standing guard on every floor.
The general and his wife greeted us enthusiastically. There was food set out, “let’s eat first and then talk business”, and we ate and talked about all kinds of things except business. Mehili, the general’s plump and friendly second wife –his first wife was at home minding the estate– took to Raisse immediately, calling her “darling” and remarking that she was even younger than she’d thought. She oohed and ahed over the book and was thrilled to see that we had brought the artist, who was already drawing the assembled company.
The general himself was a very military-looking man, but unexpectedly short– shorter than his wife, a head shorter than even me. Flat nose, bristly eyebrows, jaw jutting out– in fact very ugly, but that didn’t detract from his presence and impressiveness. “Those are Khas, aren’t they, your guards?” he asked, and I confirmed that, “yes, some of the Khas I vanquished”, which made him nod and smile.
We spent the meal getting each other’s measure and decided that each of us liked what he saw. It looked as if Raisse and Mehili were doing about the same. Mehili promised Raisse a dictionary for the poetry book and a slave who could speak the language, so she could really come to appreciate it. Knowing Raisse, I thought that was an even greater gift than the book itself. Poetry was Mehili’s greatest passion, and she could make the simplest song –the Valdyan street songs, too– appear deeply poetic.
After dinner we really got down to business. Mehili put a hand on Raisse’s thigh, “darling, do you want to be in on the men’s conversation, or doesn’t it mean much to you?” and when Raisse said that yes, she did want to be in on it, Mehili looked almost relieved. Perhaps she and her husband work together as closely together as Raisse and I do. In any case their marriage seems to be of the same kind as ours.
At some point the sun made its way below the horizon, and everybody stopped talking to watch it. “Whatever happens,” Beguyan said, “there will always be a sunset.” Mehili wrote a poem about the sunset on the spot and Shab Hafte tried to draw it black on white.
The facts, as far as Beguyan could tell me, were that the situation in the city was coming to a head. The Enshah had lost consciousness half an hour before we’d arrived, and it had been clear that that would happen a few hours earlier. He was unlikely to last the night. Several different things could happen: the crown prince could either seize the throne or try to get the army on his side; the Blue Party, which Koll Konandé was a proponent of, could try to take power in the palace; or else the elder princess, Khiarban, could do the same; alternatively, “and here I put my fate in your hands,” the general said, he could go to the army the very next day and get them ready to fight. Princess Yilde had a lot of support in the army and it was to be hoped that she wouldn’t try to take advantage of that, “or I’d have to marry her”. That threw me for a moment until I realised that he had two wives already and could easily take a third, but he was so happily married to Mehili and so well-suited for his position that it seemed a disastrous idea. Also, he told me, the princess had so many lovers that it would be purely a marriage of convenience.
After we’d laughed about that for a bit he became serious again, asking what I thought would be the best course of action. I said that I trusted him implicitly. “Will you support me instead of the Enshah for the alliance against the Khas?” “Absolutely,” I said, “you rather than the Enshah, in fact.” He thought for a moment, then asked me if I’d be amenable to meeting some people he had been in contact with; I said yes, and he sent someone to get them.
They had to come from somewhere in the city. The general said “I heard that you are a renowned lute-player and singer– shall we pass the time with music?” I showed him why I couldn’t play the lute at the moment, but I did sing, some of the songs that were in Mehili’s book. As soon as she realised what I was doing, she started to sing harmony in a language I didn’t understand.
After some time –it was completely dark now, close to midnight– a couple of soldiers came in to announce something to Beguyan. He nodded, and presently a man and a woman were shown in. The woman was middle-aged, richly dressed, with a haughty expression; the man possibly even more richly dressed, young, looking faintly familiar, though I couldn’t put my finger on it. “Her Royal Highness, the Azure Princess Yilde,” Beguyan said, “and His Highness Prince Koll Konandé.”
It became clear soon that what we were doing was to divide the power: it was already clear that Beguyan, the princess and the merchant prince were about to seize power. I said that I was willing to help with anything I could, but I didn’t want any part of the power myself because I had all the power I could handle in Valdyas. They argued that I did need to have some of the power, if only to have a position to arbitrate between the allies from; or else send someone of high nobility, from my or Raisse’s family, to act as arbiter. We discussed my brother Aidan (too young by far, though he had a military mind) and Raisse’s brother Torin (who Ferin probably wouldn’t want to miss), and briefly toyed with the idea of elevating Erdan to the nobility because he seemed to be the right person, but I think there’s nothing for it but to send Reshan to Albetire to be governor of the Valdyan territories in Iss-Peran in my name.
Koll Konandé’s proposal was that he would become Enshah himself, Beguyan regent of the country and Yilde regent of the city. I saw no objections to that, but Raisse wanted a few points clarified, and there were also practical problems– for one, Yilde had been born in the blue and Koll Konandé hadn’t, so it would not be proper for him to sit on the Enshah’s throne. We worked out a more detailed plan in which Koll Konandé would marry Yilde, she would become his regent until he came of age at thirty, and any children he would beget –not on her, obviously, she was well past it– would have no status in the succession before the end of the regency. At least Beguyan was well out of having to marry Yilde. He did want a guarantee that Koll Konandé wouldn’t be meddling in any politics but palace politics, and the young man could give that.
That done, we could go back at last. Everything was quiet; as soon as we arrived, of course, servants swarmed around us, and the soldiers who had already been patrolling kept doing that. All the same it was so quiet that I extended my senses to catch whatever I could– and there were Mernath and his girlfriend Maile, somewhere in one of the side rooms, arguing. I called him, and he came, cringing. “What do you think you’re doing here, arguing in my rooms?” I asked. He was incoherent –almost gibbering– but it turned out they’d escaped from the grand masters of the Nameless and the argument had been them trying to keep each other from it. “Don’t go to sleep tonight,” he managed to say, but he needed all of Maile’s strength along with his own to say it and they both collapsed.
There was some kind of seal on both of them, a compulsion of the Nameless, which I didn’t dare try to lift. Instead, we called Dushtan, who said she couldn’t do anything for the moment except keep them safe in the temple of Anasagga or Dayati. We carried them to the little sanctuary of Timoine off the eight-sided hall. Dushtan stayed with them, asking for one of the servant boys (Bedat?) to come to her, perhaps as messenger, perhaps as priest of Timoine, I never learnt that.
My recollection of what happened after that is not very clear. At one point we changed places with two of the soldiers, putting on their uniforms and going on patrol while they were in our bed. Raisse sealed the bedroom around them and the babies and Senthi and Hinla.
Then, while were were going around the courtyard with two other soldiers and a grinning sergeant, something struck us like a sledgehammer. All children started to wail, everybody the least bit gifted was in shock, most of the others were affected too, and above everything were the screams of Khora, which we could hear two courtyards away, body and mind in equal agony.
Raisse ran to the bedroom to tend to the babies, I ran to Khora. She was lying between Rikhi and his wife, who were both unconscious– it figured, they were gifted too. Looking at her closer I saw that the Nameless had her– as if she were on a fish-hook. I tried to grab the hook to get it out of her, but however careful I was I only managed to hurt her more. The other way round, then: I took her into my arms and started to lift her off the hook. Erdan interrupted me, trying to reach me, and I told him In a moment, I have to rescue someone. At the impression of what I was doing, I felt him mentally retch. As soon as she was free Rikhi sat up, looking confused, but he recovered quickly enough so that I could hand Khora over to him and get back to Erdan. Attack? he asked. Will you help counter it?
Of course I would. There was already quite a large force of ours in the square, but also of the enemy: not only assorted rabble of the Red Party, but also –and my heart started to beat faster with each rank of them I saw– dozens of apprentices, about twenty journeymen, five masters and three grand masters of the Nameless, and –shudder– the Nameless himself.
The servants of the Nameless were all in one body: the grand masters protected by a ring of masters, the masters by a ring of journeymen and the journeymen by a ring of apprentices. It looked to my mind’s eye like a gigantic translucent silver-grey jelly-pudding made up of their combined seal-shields. Nobody had to protect the Nameless, of course, he was just there, not as an influence but in person.
The Order was coming, thank Anshen. And Rikhi and some others were demolishing the floor, which had apparently been taken apart already and only needed to be taken up, so Rikhi and I could use the earth to get strength from. I took off my boots and stood on the earth in my bare feet. The earth started to shake –that couldn’t be us doing it, could it?– and I took Rikhi’s hand, thinking it’s you and me now! and tried to hit one of the grand masters. In fact I did hit him, but it bounced off his protection. He countered at once, trying to grab hold of me, but I could send that back to him and ripped him wide open. Rikhi immediately burnt his spirit and sent him into whatever darkness is reserved for servants of the Nameless.
It was all I could do to keep from collapsing. I called on Anshen, belatedly, to come and fill me, and he was there, possessing me like fire. I couldn’t control the energy that was in me, but I could send some of it to the Sworn and the gifted soldiers and use the rest myself to fight with. Anshen promptly engaged the Nameless, getting him at least off our backs, and while they were fighting –I don’t know where– I made a sword of ryst and sent my spirit out to the fight again. One stroke of the sword and the whole ring of apprentices fell, all dead. By now I was giddy with battle-fever and hardly noticed that these were actual people who I had killed, only glad that there were fewer of the enemy. The journeymen took more killing, but the Sworn were also hacking at them with swords and minds, and them, too, we took down all at once.
I retreated to my body to pull myself together. The earth was really shaking now: a proper earthquake. I thought I might be able to use it, but when I tried to make the earth cave in under the masters’ and grand masters’ feet it turned out to be undermined, full of air and water, and I didn’t manage to get a good hold on it.
Erdan! I called. I need an escort, I’m coming out myself! When I did, I saw that the Reds had lost morale from losing most of the servants of the Nameless and were fleeing, pursued by some of our Khas. More of the Khas were hacking away ineffectually at the ring of masters’ protection. It was a strange construction, bodies and minds interlocked as one: the way to kill them was to break their seal, and the way to break the seal was to kill them. It was a strange double bind that I didn’t know how to tackle. On a hunch, I poured as much anea as I could into a sword and gave it to the nearest Khas, pointing him to the masters. He understood me and ran, but the power went out of the sword the moment I let go of it and his attack was as futile as those of the rest.
I couldn’t stand it any longer. I stormed at the enemy with all I had. It wasn’t enough by far, perhaps I missed completely, or at most made a little scratch, but I wasn’t the only one storming at the enemy: the whole Order did, and so did the gifted ones among the soldiers, and together we brought them down.
There were only the two remaining grand masters. Meruvin and Rava, they must be, a young man and an elderly woman. They were both coming for me. I could perhaps have handled one, but not two at the same time: as I tried to hit the one, the other hit me and the world went away.
I came to my senses lying under a tent-roof in the rubble of the palace. It had been a real earthquake all right. Raisse was there, and the babies, and Senthi, and Hinla, and Khora: all of us alive and shaken. Khora was sobbing softly, “I’m a widow!” “So you can marry whoever you want,” I said, and she asked if she could then marry me, but Raisse explained that Valdyans don’t marry more than one wife.
I didn’t know whether the first shock had been the attack of the Nameless, or the death of the Enshah, or both at once; I couldn’t think clearly yet, and with my mind I could barely see beyond my own toes. When I said to nobody in particular that I’d like see Erdan or else his adjutant, the adjutant was at my side almost immediately. [afterthought: I realise now that this may mean that Erdan has been killed] “Have you lost many?” I asked. “About half,” he said, “but doing what we are made for.” He could also tell me that the two grand masters had fled, nobody knew where, but at least they weren’t here so we were in no immediate danger from them. All the others from the Guild of the Nameless were dead, and all the Red Party had either run very fast and very far, or been overtaken by soldiers and killed. The crown prince had taken possession of one wing of the palace, Khiarban of another, and Beguyan and his allies of the third.
Raisse was worried about our unborn child, but it was all right, thank Timoine. Khora wasn’t so lucky. Either the Nameless directly, or the shock from the earthquake and the fighting, had killed hers. We sent to the Temple of Dayati, and some priests and a doctor came to help her as much as she could be helped. They made excuses for the twin high priests: they were busy with children distressed from the events, “Dayati himself was busy here, taking care of a man and a woman.” Mernath and Maile in the little sanctuary! They turned out to be whole –in fact the sanctuary was just about the only thing left standing of our wing– and conscious, but still dazed. They were brought out, on their own feet but supported, and Mernath fell at my feet and called me “my master”.
When I am myself again –and I hope it will be quicker and easier than after Dol-Rayen– I intend to get to know of all of my people how they fared, how many didn’t make it, who lost their friends and family; and take them all back home as soon as I can.