27 Festivis, 1137
The Karsai was built by the double scourge of the Founders’ memory of the Porsirian Empire’s institutional anarchy and the ash that blanketed the world after Mount Porsir annihilated the Empire. From outside, it’s practically impenetrable — small, stone-grilled windows; high, narrow approaches; ramparts and guard-towers present a white monolith of authority and continuity. It rings a courtyard and the glass and mica-roofed Presentation and Curiars’ halls. The exterior walls are high, but from inside, one can gain the courtyard ring roofs and still be secure and unobserved. On those roofs, Rien, Savrin and I played as children. Which is where I found her. I’d brushed past the ministers and had not bothered to stop for warmth or water.
I nodded at her Captain and stood beside her. Rien’s heavy, pale braid fell down her straight, narrow black back. Her smooth face gleamed white against her dark coat, her elbows propped on the parapet overlooking the Presentation Hall. Through the glass, I made out the shadow of Felicita’s Rose. A few lamps burned beneath that ancient tree’s spreading branches, but the Karsai was dark.
“Savrin returned.” She sighed.
I echoed her. She didn’t need our problem child right now, but he needed to be here. “Leave him to me,” I said. “You’ve enough worries.”
“Ragin, don’t be absurd. I can’t leave him to you. He’s an Ascendar of Galantier. He’s necessary and he’s my problem. I didn’t catch him before he was too far gone.”
“He concealed it from you — “
“I should’ve known. I was too absorbed in my work when he needed me.”
“Brat, let it go for now.”
She shrugged. “Tell me what happened.”
I wrapped myself around her so her back pressed into my front and my lips were at her ear. “An ambush. The Western Army highway was blocked and forced his entourage off the road. About three milliae off the curve, something happened and the entourage sped up. They tried to cross a ravine that had been camouflaged with sand-covered tarpaulins and fell into it.”
“You said he died fast.”
“A cross-bolt in the eye.”
“In my closed carriage — “
“He had his bow in hand. He died fighting them off.”
“Idiot,” she whispered. “They should have returned to Western Garrison Two at the detour. He knew better. He would have been warned of legitimate detours. But no, let’s be brave and stupid.”
“He was warned of a legitimate block. The highway crosses the same ravine that caught him. The bridge was under repair. They were supposed to cross the ravine at a natural bridge — the tarpaulins would have looked much like it, given their speed and the time of day. The road crew repairing the regular bridge never noticed.”
“How could the repair crew not hear — “
“They were using a steam engine to pound new piers into the earth and the fuel oil for the engine masked the smell of burning. I checked.”
“Thank you,” she said. “I want the memories.”
“I don’t have them.” Paval had been right, of course she would ask. I’d spent most of the ride here working out just this reasoning. “We are not the Chancery or the Advocates General. We will not attaint their work.”
She started to argue — professional hazard — then stopped. “Bloody hells. Who has them?”
“Paval quan Bruckides and one of his Ingeniae Corps apprentices. He promised transcripts as soon as they can get here, but he also sent this to you, Majesteria. Stop joggling our elbow. He strongly suggests you let the other Advocates work.”
“No worse patient than a Healer, no worse victim than a lawyer,” she said. “Mother of Wisdom, Ragin, it should have been me.”
“Don’t,” I said. “He chose to come, but he didn’t murder himself.”
“Do you know who did this?”
“No,” I said. “I suspect either Spagnians or from within Galantier.”
“That doesn’t help.” She pulled away from me. “You brought him home?”
“Yes. We had to… finish his pyre. I brought the ashes once they cooled.”
“We’ll hold the scattering…. after everything else. We haven’t time now.”
“If I start, I’ll never stop,” she said. “I’ve too much to do. The Optimus, the Minister of War and the Chancellor want to start the succession discussion tomorrow. If this was Spagnian — they believe it’s possible — that’s an act of war and we can’t afford delay. I can’t disagree. Was it Spagnian?”
I studied her. Her eyes were red with fatigue, too large in her pinched, drawn face. She held her chin high, her mouth firm. She didn’t want certainty, just my opinion. I shook my head.
“No hard evidence?”
She sighed heavily. “Go to bed, Ragin. We’ve a long day tomorrow.”
“Soon. I need to tell the Ministers we know nothing more and send them home.” She walked away. I started to follow, but she shook her head. “No. Go.”
I heard her in the hall just after I left the bathry wearing old, worn, clean night linen. Rien always moves quietly — Uncle’s influence — but a half-dozen guards don’t. She wasn’t well, but she was holding out. Sometimes I admire my brat’s control — she always puts the nation first, always thinks logically before she’ll let her heart react — but this was too much. It couldn’t be good for her.
Our bedrooms share a wall. When the halls fell silent, I tapped, in our childhood code, Are you awake?
No, she tapped back.
No, she tapped, then after a moment, yes.