26 Festivis, 1137, seven days after Midwinter
“Find them!” I roared. “Get the Ingeniae Corps on it. Observers better be pulling puissance within four minutes!” I pointed at two runners in the hall outside my office. “You, Outriders — they’ll have their directions at the stable. You, summon a security detachment.”
My uncle Vohan, Razin of Galantier, was late returning to Northwest Border One, my garrison. Only an hour, but that’s half too much. The Monarch of Galantier travels with outriders and three carriages — if one breaks, it’s left behind. If the Razin becomes incapacitated, an outrider on a fast horse proceeds to the destination for assistance.
He’d spent the seventh, eighth and ninth days of this progress he’d usurped from my cousin at Western Two; this morning, the heliograph reported that he’d left on time to come north again. Given his security detachment of twenty heavy cavalry, two dozen guards, fast horses, good carriages and his ingeniae, he shouldn’t be late.
Most times, people say, oi, he’s an Ingenia, and you think, he knows where to dig a new well, or maybe he’s one of those special lawyers who read minds. Perhaps a weatherwitch who can sometimes build a ward or see what’s beyond a hill without taking a walk. That describes me, not Uncle. Seven hundred years ago, the House of Galene about-faced on Ingeniae in the bloodlines. The witchy, scandalous poor bastards who spent their lives locked in the attic suddenly sold high on the marriage market. Not that blood has much to do with it; prosaic parents produce Ingeniae all the time, and all the best breeding sometimes produces barely competent Ingeniae — like me. My family’s bred for brains and Talent for thirty generations, and Uncle’s the pinnacle. He reads minds like print, which makes him one of the strongest Perceptives in Galantier. He’s an Evocator — he can project his mental voice to another over fifteen milliae. He has a touch of Impathia to read the emotional weather around him. And, like me, he has a hint of Providias.
Precognition. Neither of us are true Prognosticators, but we both have enough to know when a situation is about to slip sideways into dark water. Mine ruffled the hair on the back of my neck.
The man still sitting across my worktable sighed with exasperation. “Ragin, relax. His Majesty can be distractible.”
Too true. Any other time, I’d agree, but not with this feeling. I turned away from the Northwestern District’s Justiciar Advocate General. Paval and I had been discussing the cases on his bench; when we’d needed to light lamps, I’d realized His Majesty had not arrived. “Justiciar quan Bruckides, this is not your ambit. Please remove yourself before you become aware of sensitive information.”
“Ragin,” he said, his lovely, pointed face growing astonished. “He’s my Razin, too — and you — “
“Go,” I said harshly.
“Fine.” My lover stood and packed his document case with the wounded dignity of a wet cat. He thought I was irrational, but I didn’t care. The Razin had vanished on my watch. “Bleeding ancestors, Uncle, you better be intrigued by some two inch tall plant nobody’s ever seen,” I muttered to myself.
Security protocol states that when something unexpected happens around the Monarch, the Ascendara is immediately notified, but the sun had set. “Ryten,” I shouted to my equerry, “have Communications ready white phosphor and a post rider.” Paval snorted.
My heart raced as I checked the map. Uncle left Western Two at dawn. That garrison lay almost sixty milliae due south, but his route would follow the Western Highway along the Paxular border instead of driving straight through the Army’s border zone. He should have covered about eighty milliae today, in relative safety, given the entire western border is at war at least half the year. The Western Highway route — unless he had one of his fits of independence and demanded his entourage use Army roads — lay almost eighty milliae from the edge of the disputed zone, but that didn’t mean Spagnian raiders hadn’t gotten through. We can’t watch every inch of our border. It was just conceivable that a few Spagnian scouts might have broken the forward line, but Uncle had above forty well armed, well trained warriors with him. A unit of raiders couldn’t harm him.
I’m being stupid. If raiders attacked — given Uncle’s recent restlessness, and with a force at hand — he’d give chase. Delay explained. Uncle wouldn’t send an outrider ahead when he’d want all hands.
Except the outriders are mine. They knew the Razin’s security trumped everything, including his commands. If they deviated from plan — the plan only Uncle and I knew entirely in advance — an outrider would ride for the next rendezvous. Uncle might be impetuous, but my outriders must live with me.
“General Revinsel?” An Ingeniae Corpsman skidded in, the badge on his shoulder bisected; a book and an eye, so a Perceptive and Observer. He looked too young to shave, so was probably fresh from the conversatory and still shocked by thirteen tendays of initial unit training. “Sir, we have a possible.”
“About thirty milliae south, off the highway.”
Exactly halfway between here and Western Two; if they’d been ambushed, it had been midday. And outside of Uncle’s Evocative range for either garrison. Western Two would send a detachment out if I flashed them a phosphor message. But Darensar’s new to the post and he doesn’t know Uncle. His background is engineering, not intelligence or law. Sun’s down, so a phosphor message will be visible out to the disputed zone. Spagna probably doesn’t have these codes, but more text just helps them code-break faster. My detachment rides in a quarter hour; it will take twice that to flash the message through two relay towers, more time to find Darensar, for him to figure out exactly where. Better if it’s us. If something had happened, that might be a crime scene and we’d need solid information. An engineer wouldn’t help. I’m not the lawyer my cousin is, but I’ve got the basics.
“Ryten,” I shouted, “I’m headed south. Wake sune Vandahl, tell him I’ll be back shortly after dawn.” My second was due to take the night shift in a couple hours, but out here, we never break the chain of command. Invariably, that’s when the seventy-seven Hells open.
I better inform Cazerien. I coded a message, pocketed my codebook and dropped the message on my way to the stable. The Communications officer frowned at the column of numbers, much harder to transmit sensibly, but impossible to break without the book, and started climbing to the mirror platform to send it himself.
As the stabler brought out my Bravura — and he had a bruise on the back of his hand, so the damned nag had bitten again — I checked my escort. Twenty cavalry, half swordsmen, half archers. Three Ingenia Corps, including one of a pair of powerful Evocators who can speak to each other over about fifty milliae. The other would remain here at the helio-tower as a relay. And Paval. His steady gaze told me he would happily waste time arguing about his presence, because he knew I knew I’d probably need him. I rolled my eyes at him, frowned and nodded once. Then we rode.