Rien’s Rebellion 11 – 10 Alglidis 1138 Rien

Rien

10 Alglidis, 1138

“I want to go somewhere,” I said. “Without guards or being noticed. Help.” Ragin and I were having supper in my rooms, the long days starting to wear on us both. I’d snapped at him earlier and a fight brewed, but I throttled my temper. I needed rocks dropped on my head more than argument with Ragin. When we get going, the wise man flees to the far side of the sea.

He shoved away from the table and stalked the length of my room. “How many assassination attempts will convince you that you’re not immortal?”

“One. Security through obscurity.”

“Hm.” He closed the hangings on my bed, to keep the interior cooler than my rooms. He’d shared my bed since he’d come home and though he liked his bed practically freezing, I probably slept a little better with him there. He didn’t want me out of his sight. Da’s assassination scared him. I didn’t blame him. It scared me. Maybe if Da wasn’t using my carriage.

I need an unexpected ally in the Prava. I thought I knew who, but I didn’t want it official, and summoning him to the Karsai would make it so.

“Ayuh,” he said. “I can do it. Three conditions. What did you offer Reginal Tiwendar this afternoon?”

“Judicial immunity in return for testimony. There’s a bribery case on my docket. I have circumstantial evidence that he benefitted and I think it can be proved. From his reaction, he knows that I know. He has three options. If he cooperates with the Judicatura, he’ll be the hero who exposed corruption. If the succession follows the approved orders, then I become Razia and leave the Judicatura. My docket will be reassigned, that case will be delayed for at least a year, and that gives me a year to either convince Sam to drop the case entirely or not go digging. Or I remain a High Justiciar and issue the warrants for the documents and full Perceptive catalogues.”

Ragin looked skeptical. “You’re certain he understood? He sounded like he didn’t think much of it.”

I went to my windowseat and looked out over the square at Prava House. A few lights burned in the upper stories, including one in the Optimus’ office. I could see him at his desk, a bottle before him and someone small moving through the room. “I know he understood,” I said, watching him. “He said it wouldn’t help, either that his testimony alone wouldn’t be sufficient, or that his immunity alone wouldn’t be enough to sway the Reformists. He didn’t refuse or contradict the essentials of the charge.”

“But how do you know that?” he demanded.

“Because I’ve been an Advocate for nine years,” I fired back. “Because you don’t survive your exams, much less practice, if you can’t hear a lie or evasion. Because I’ve watched him in chambers for almost twenty years and I’ve negotiated everything from bridge funding to a multinational trade treaty with the man.”

He paced the length of my room, not comprehending the delicacy of Prava diplomacy. Ragin’s never found the intricacies of legislating to his tastes. I sighed inwardly. He’s direct and I’ve known this for years. It’s what makes him an exemplary General. He has an innate ability to break any problem down to discrete units and determine which must be skewered first. It makes him a terrible politician because negotiation by brute force fails. The law, diplomacy and the Prava all more resemble a spiderweb, where each thread connects to all the others. A breakage or vibration on one affects everything else. He scrubbed his hands over his face and through his hair, as Da used to do when frustrated. “Do you have any idea what the Reformists want in exchange for breaking ranks?”

I turned back to the window so I could say this without having to watch Ragin. “We need three of them. Delavi needs the Crook canal extension, even though it won’t be of much use to anyone but him; there’s nothing north of him but ice. Same with Catalan’s reservoir. At least a dozen of them have similar pet projects, but not all of them will take that bait. Then there are the legal caltrops to sidestep. Four Reformists have connections to that bribery case. I think all four took the bribe rather than offered it. We’d rather prosecute those offering than taking anyway. We have another case that looks like murder for hire with multiple connections to close associates of the Reformists. If that case somehow vanishes, quite a few people will sleep easier. Three of them have other pending cases.  The Exchequer has noticed an oddity in the money supply. Small coins are not circulating as the mathematicians expect. The Exchequer has advised several audits, and the Reformist block has opposed that. They’ll probably want to choose my Exchequer to force the audits to be abandoned. Gorthania and Farenze both want greater access to fire oil. The Reformists think we should take a side in that fight, but so far, they have not been able to agree which side. I think they’ll demand I choose a side. If Reginal’s half of the faction can be persuaded, they’ll choose Gorthania, but if Mathes holds sway, it will be Farenze.”

He turned me away from the window, his eyes large. “You can’t. If Farenze gets it, Spanga will have it in a year. Farenze will sell it just like everything else we’ve ever given them. Our machinery and alchemy is all that’s keeping us at stalemate.”

“I know, and if I agree to involve us in the Monmarrane war at all, we’ll lose the Royalists and most of the Progressives. It’s not our war, and our best strategy is what we’ve been doing. The Reformists think that if we build the manufacturies in whichever country, if we supply the alchemists, and just sell at a lower price, we’ll keep control of the supply and profit.”

“They want to make it elsewhere?” Ragin looked sick at the thought. “Strike one year. The secret would be out in six tendays.”

I smiled wearily. “Except the only person who knew all of it is downstairs in an urn. I know my part, and have a description of what you know and what Savrin was told, but none of us have more than a third of the information and the key to someone else’s information. That’s why Da divided the knowledge between us. To put it back together, we have to cooperate.” 

He pulled back. “What do you think I know?”

“When you were sixteen, Da made you memorize a set of alchemical procedures. Two years later, a string of numbers.”

His eyes narrowed. “That’s a state secret, you’re not supposed to know that.”

I patted the top of his head with as much sarcastic condescension as I could manage. “White brandy in a fondal cup,” I said, giving him the pass phrase for that specific secret. “Which one of us is Prima? We can compare our state secret files after the coronation, but I’m pretty sure I’ll win on quantity.”

“Point,” he agreed. He looked out my window, but he didn’t seem to be looking at anything but distance. Tiwendar’s light still burned, but I could only see his silhouette, looking out of the window. He couldn’t see me. He could see that my rooms were lit, but the grilles of the Karsai’s windows specifically obscure the inhabitants while permitting us to see out. The Founders who planned the Karsai had come from an Empire where half of the Imperial families and the whole of the short-lived Republic were assassinated. The original architects took pains to discourage more of that nonsense. Yet though I could only see his outline, I knew Tiwendar was contemplating my deal.

As we have done for years when in the Karsai, when we couldn’t know if we were being Observed or overheard by Ingeniae, Ragin rested his chin on my shoulder and put his lips to my ear. “How goat-fucked is my army if we’ve just lost the secret to fire oil?” he whispered.

On that, I could reassure him. I turned my head so that I could whisper to him. “Current production can continue as long as none of the senior alchemists have a sudden accident. There’s a year’s stock at the strategic depot, and all of the manufacturies have authorization to continue requisitioning their materiel at present levels. They cannot increase production without the Monarch’s authorization, and that code clearance I don’t have.”

He clapped a hand over my mouth. “You know what goes in the stuff?” he whispered. “Nod for yes.”

I nodded once, then bit the finger across my lips. He yanked his hand away and shook it. I hadn’t bit hard, just enough to get it off my face. “It’s Privileged, idiot.”

“If I know the how, and you know the what, what does Sav know?” he asked.

I considered if I could tell him. We have similar, not identical clearances. On the other hand, I didn’t know the specifics of Savrin’s knowledge, and the filing code shouldn’t be as secret. Yet… this was the great puzzle, important enough to Galantieran survival that Da trusted nobody with too much of the whole. Fire oil is the only thing that allows us to maintain our western border, and it maintains our grudging neutrality with our warring neighbors to the east. “Privilege,” I requested, and waited until he managed to convince his minor Perceptio to make a memory both permanent and hidden from anyone who ever managed to read his goat-pen of a mind. “He knows the proportions of materiel and time, as a string of numbers only.”

Ragin sighed with relief. “Not something he can sell or have stolen from his defenseless head, then.”

My heart cracked a bit more then, and nothing would plaster that break. For the first eleven years of my life, we three had been one. Yes, Ragin and I fought, but when I had nightmares, I crawled into his bed, and he into mine. We shared every meal, every playtime. Ragin protected me, I protected Sav, and Sav put himself between us when fought. We trusted one another with anything and everything.

Did we really? Yes, I tried to say, and in the earliest years, we did, but that gradually evaporated, and maybe earlier than later. And now, it was gone entirely. Sav had become an enemy to defend against, a danger who must be planned around. A minor one, probably — unless the Optimus is right and the Prava decides that the worst possible candidate is the only one upon whom they can agree.

“Who knows who and where, Rien?” he whispered.

I put every defense I have in place. Color drained from my vision and the few sounds of the empty, evening Karsai in mourning faded to nothing. I looked at the lighted window and the dark figure, then turned away and went to my desk for a scrap of paper. Ragin followed, and watched as I wrote, full defenses. Privacy. Only when he nodded did I write the most recent secret. I have the code. Each minister has an encrypted phrase. When he nodded again, I held the scrap to the lamp flame until it caught, then let it burn before dropping it in my ash vessel. Then I let my defenses return to normal.

I looked back at the window, one last time, and considered the shape there. I could walk across the square now and give him this lever to convince his faction. I knew enough to ensure that our single most important export and defense and lever with the rest of a hostile world would continue to flow. I knew what had to be imported and what we produced. I knew how to determine the several sites where we built the components that became the deadliest weapon the world has yet known. With Ragin, I knew the method, and I could learn the quantities and times from Sav in the course of an hour, if necessary. Even without him, given the locations and their requisition records, we could probably recreate that. It would take time and patience, not genius.

I’d have to ensure the Optimus understood my knowledge could not be forced nor taken against my will. Almost anything can be read from a mind, cooperative or not, but nothing behind an Advocate’s Privilege can be retrieved by any Perceptive yet born except with specific permission that I would not give. Advocate’s Privilege is the prime reason that our ancestors broke with the rest of the world and began encouraging our Ingeniae six hundred years ago. If I destroyed my memories, half of the formula vanished — the what, the key to the where, and logically the order of Ragin’s process. If I refused to cooperate, Ragin would, too, destroying the how and probably the order of ingredients. He and Savrin didn’t know enough together to recreate even the start point.  My destruction wouldn’t doom our defense against Spagna, at least not for a few years.

On the other hand, did I really want the Optimus and the Reformists to know that the formula was currently lost? For nine years, I’ve watched them make hostages of one another for the smallest reasons. Perhaps they volunteered for it, but the other half-million of us did not volunteer to be their side damage. I watched the figure while I mapped my paths. If I told the Optimus and he secured the Reformist votes needed on the strength of their fear for the loss of the formula, my reign would be contingent on supplying those secrets to people not cleared to have them — many of whom were either prosaic or had no access to Privilege. Maintaining appropriate security would breed resentment, even if I took the necessary steps to increase production. It might gain me a throne, but at the cost of any goodwill or cooperation for years. If I thought relations were acrimonious now…

If I kept the state secrets as charged, nothing would change until and unless an alchemist died without passing on her specific information: her sources of components, her specific process, where she sent her finished component. That could happen tonight or in ten years, and would eventually happen no matter my choices now. But the Prava would not know the whole of the formula had been lost until that day, or until they collectively decided to increase production. Not telling them removed a lever from my hands, but it also did not further fuel their insecurities.

I could keep it as a reserve. After all, I had levers now — the legal bribery of legislated contracts and funding, the ability to turn a blind judicial eye on corruption, patronage and privilege, two marriageable adults and the prospects of our future children. Archers before cannon, fuel oil before fire oil.

And to consider the worst scenario: assume Sav was selected. I had received my parts of the formula at my Elevation, when I was sixteen, another part when I was eighteen, the description of Sav and Ragin’s parts at twenty-one, the security questions and responses at twenty-two, the carriers of the code at twenty-three and the code itself last year. Da had planned to give me the full formula only after my coronation in the spring. Da had given Ragin his parts on that same schedule — sixteen and eighteen — but Ragin had not gotten the security questions until I was twenty-two because Da and I devised those together. More importantly, Da had not told me why he wanted me to memorize a list of twenty common metals, chemicals, earths and oils. Nor why the string of numbers mattered. That, I didn’t know until I learned what Ragin and Sav knew. Ragin didn’t know what parts Sav and I knew. If Da followed the same pattern with Sav that he followed with Ragin and me, he had given Sav two strings of numbers two years apart with no context to link them. The next year we learned Sav was leaving the path. By the time Sav turned twenty-one, he had already requested to be removed from the succession. Da wouldn’t have given him further state secrets after that. Thus, Savrin knew nothing. He didn’t even know what he didn’t know. He would have no reason to believe I knew anything about fire oil — after all, my profession is the law, my military training was unofficial and general, and my understanding of alchemy only that provided to any well-educated child. If he were Razin, when he discovered the deficit of knowledge, he would have to spend time and resources rebuilding, if it could be done at all.

I could choose when and why to reveal my half. If Spagna grew more ferocious, Galantier would need more oil. If the Prava decided to sell the process, I need not help them bring down our destruction, and without the formula, they couldn’t inadvertently destroy us.

Better they never know that they are now on borrowed time. No good can come of bearing that message to these specific men. The only lights remaining at Prava House were the door lights and the one in the Optimus’ office, but as I watched, he turned unsteadily and the light disappeared. A few moments later, he emerged from the front with a small man beside him. They walked slowly across the square, then out of my sight. For tonight, whatever chance I’d had was gone.

“Stop thinking about it,” I warned when I looked away and saw Ragin back at the table. He had pushed away his plate and glass, and was using his finger as a stylus on the cloth. He left no visible marks, but in his mind, he was reinforcing dangerous memories as he tried to break the problem into known factors, known unknown factors and unknown unknown factors. I doubted he was in his scrap of Advocate’s Privilege for this, which meant that anyone who could read his surface thoughts or managed to get him in a position for a full or partial catalog would have full access to his speculations. He looked up, his soap-bubble thoughts broken, and I saw him hastily try to shove the remnants behind Privilege. Not much potential Advocate in him, I mused. Nor gambler. “What was your third condition?” I asked. The moon was rising, so my night was burning, and I had an early morning of consultation with the leaders of the Royalists.

He gifted me with an entirely blank and mystified expression. He’d forgotten I wanted his help. I stifled my irritation because we shouldn’t fight now. Typical of him. I ask for help, some tangential detail about his army grabs the whole of his attention, and the small assistance I need is gone. If it doesn’t involve stabbing people with pointy sticks, Ragin can’t be bothered. I took a deep breath and made myself accept this about him once again. Use his strengths. Never depend on his flaws. “I want to pay a call, unobtrusively. You agreed to help. You had three conditions. The first was what I offered Tiwendar. The second was what the Reformists would probably want. That distracted you. What is the third, so we can go?”

Ragin nodded. “Though I guess I’ve got a fourth. What’s so wrong about saying we should change the rules since they aren’t working?”

I returned to my chair and picked up a bun I couldn’t bring myself to eat before. I didn’t try now, but abrading the crust into crumbs with my fingertips gave my hands something to do. “The rules are working, just not to my advantage. There are at least six members of the body who entirely oppose crowning me, and another twenty with valid reservations, and twenty or more who are ambivalent. The selection of the monarch is not a three year budget or a ten year bridge. It will affect half a million people for probably a half century, or longer. We make this decision intentionally more difficult because the consequences are greater. It is exactly right and fair to address valid reservations.”

“You’re being overly nice,” Ragin said. “Those rules give bullies a club to use on the weak and an excuse for the cowards who don’t want to provoke the bullies.”

He had a point — factions do coerce or convince the weak willed or ambivalent. But they exist because no individual can know everything about everything that goes into running a country. Nor can a single person shout loudly enough to bring everyone else along. We have factions for the same reason we have representation at all — because no single perspective is comprehensive. True, the Prava’s perspective was uniformly middle-aged men from wealthy families who spent all of their time with one another and married each other’s sisters and daughters…. Fine, I grudgingly agreed with myself, they’re lacking in anything like diversity of perspective, but it’s not as if the House of Galene is much better. Wealthy, intermarried, mostly male, almost as provincial. “It’s the difference between selecting provisions for next year and picking one sweet now to have every day for the next six tendays. You know you must provide two hundred men with three meals a day, and those supplies must withstand heat, cold and indifferent cooking. You’re not terribly interested now in what you’ll be eating next summer, so you choose what you know — salted meat, beans, flour, dried noodles and vegetables. You know it will work out and everyone will get enough to eat because you’ve done it for years. You even know that you’ll likely be eating mostly bean paste and flatbread, bean soup, salt meat soup and that brownish muck — ”

“We call it shit on shingles for a reason,” Ragin said.  “It doesn’t have a polite euphemism.”

I acceded the point with a nod. “But it’s a year away. You don’t have to eat it now, because you’re eating the decisions you made a year ago, and those supplies are here and paid for, and the food is hot and filling and you didn’t have to cook it. That’s passing a succession plan. It’s far away, doesn’t affect today at all and it will be convenient when the time comes.” I put the nub of the roll down and took another to add to the small mountain of crumbs on my plate. “Tonight’s sweets are cassia nut tart, cream custard with burnt honey or almond ice. All three are perfectly fine in their ways, but will you want an ice on a snowy day? Cassia tarts are lovely, but two days in ten, they’re baked in the oven that burns everything. Cream custard is bland. They passed the succession plans because they’ve always passed succession plans and they expected Da to live forever. I certainly did. Now they have to pick a sweet for the rest of their lives, and I’m cold and occasionally bitter, you tend to burn easily and Sav looks bland but palatable.”

“But cream custards only last a day or so before they turn sour and give you the squats,” Ragin said. “A burnt tart won’t poison you and if an ice melts, it’s still sweet and tasty.” He squeezed his temples between his palms. “Your metaphors need work, Brat.”

“They’re scared, Ragin. I’m scared. You’re scared. The rules are how they assert order on a fundamentally chaotic moment. They can’t control life and death, they can’t control Spagna or Farenze or a gang of thugs… and they know they can’t truly control the Monarch. But this minor process? This, they can control. Let’s assume I get half of them to agree to a secret ballot instead of a roll call. The half who disagree will consider my selection tainted, so they will obstruct for at least two years, probably ten or more. Tiwendar is not wrong — the ones most likely to object are the Progressives because they already resent the Royalists and the Reformists. Have you ever considered why the factions are sized the way they are?”

He shrugged. “Because herding much more than thirty people makes cat herding look efficient?”

“Because of the Monarch’s block vote. We have always controlled just under one-third of the legislative votes since Galene’s first Prava. The Founders intended the Monarch to restrain the Prava. No Monarch could make permanent law alone, and the Monarch plus a few can prevent a popular but dangerous law. The Founders expected two factions, and through most of history, that’s what we’ve had. Roughly, call them the coal cup party and the flint party.”

One of his eyebrows rose. “I’m lost.”

“Two ways to make fire — use a coal from another fire to start a new one, or gather tinder and strike a new spark every time. One preserves and conserves the traditional fire, one builds anew. Both are work, both take time and planning, both have conveniences and inconveniences, and both are effective. In reality, we need both perspectives, in balance. For the most part, the coal cuppers want to maintain the structures we have, change slowly, fully examine each step before we take it. Generally, the flint party wants to try new ideas, experiment, take risks. Historically, both have been in balance and the Monarchs have alternated their support. Except when a third party emerges.”

“So… ” He started sketching on the tablecloth again, drawing boxes. “The Change Nothings, the Try Anythings and the …?” He looked up.

“The Conflicted and Confused. Our Progressives. They like some of the changes the Try Anythings produce — vapor light, oil stoves, better roads, canals and locks — but they were comfortable when nothing changed. Listen to the older Progressives.” I mimicked a few of the more querulous speakers we’d been hearing over the past few days. “When I was young, the streets were clean, the Judicatura moved quickly and we didn’t have all this crime. Girls stayed home with their mothers, not out in the streets with pink hair and tight skirts and spending all their hours studying and roaming the markets.”

“Get those children out of my garden,” Ragin added. “How are you girls in the streets and studying at the same time?”

I grinned and shrugged. “That we’re visible outside of a garden party or a temple is the problem. The streets weren’t clean when Marinvalt was young; they were worse than they are now, but Marinvalt wasn’t here. He was out on a ‘greve. The Judicatura is less backlogged now than it was when Da was crowned because Da added magistrates and justiciars. Violent crime is down, if you don’t consider making war a crime. Fraud, coercion, extortion and organized crime are up, but that’s the result of power and wealth. Violent crime is generally a young man’s game, and we have most of ours occupied elsewhere, where their violence is directed. But facts can’t fight an ordinary memory. People who aren’t Perceptive believe what they perceive and perceive what they believe.”

“I think that applies to Perceptives, too,” Ragin said doubtfully. “At least, I don’t doubt my senses and memory.”

“You should, they lie to you all the time. Memory erodes, we don’t recall what we didn’t attend, we let our feelings color our perceptions and we get drunk on fear, grief, joy, surprise. Memory, perception and thought are my stock in trade, and they are as frail and malleable as the bodies that carry them.” I shrugged. “It’s our nature, to be accounted for, not changed. Right now, we have twenty-seven Royalists, who are this generation’s coal-cuppers. They want to preserve the monarchy, preserve our support for the poor and intellectual pursuits, expand our proven methods of developing the land and our skills and abilities.”

He grew still and puzzled. “The Royalists are the Change Nothings? No, they’re moving us forward. They’re funding my engineers and paying for the alchemists and — “

“And that is our state of affairs now. We are building on our past, taking coals from previous fires to start new ones. We started educating Pronatis, then educating clever freeborn boys, then Pronatiae, and now most children get at least a little reading and maths. Don’t confuse progress with change. These distinctions matter, Ragin, especially in law and politics, and you’d know this if you ever paid it the slightest attention.” I bit off the rest of my annoyance that we had to review this lesson from my eighth year now.  “The Reformists are the Try Anythings who want to try a radical government that has never existed. Never in history has any government placed most of the power in the hands of a small hereditary elite, or never for long. The longest oligarchy lasted three years before it dissolved into warring states. Oligarchy is inherently unstable because the power is too concentrated for broad support, not concentrated enough for leadership and the oligarchs cannot trust one another. But that’s what Mathes and the Reformists want.”

He inhaled sharply. “Except you told Mathes you agree with him — ”

“On power and its concentration. At a philosophical level, we both believe that concentrating the bulk of power in the hands of a single individual is dangerous. That doesn’t mean we agree on methods or the distribution of that power.”

“Which party are you, Rien?” he asked impatiently. “Flint, coal-cup or wet and confused?”

“I’m an Incendiary, a burning lens, an alchemical match. I see no point in hauling around a burning coal on the off chance or shredding a handful of bark and hoping for good aim with my flint.” I dug in my pocket for my hand lens and picked up the warming dish’s little bottle full of distilled fuel oil. I drew the stopper, scraped the steel down the channel and the spark caught the oil. I shook it out, then muttered a few words of Porsirian and pressed puissance into the oil lamp wick on the sideboard. “I’m what they all fear. I’m what comes next and renders everything that came before archaic.”

“That explains why they’re all on edge,” he said. He took my alchemical match. “These are dangerous. The oil leaks into the cork. Strike it and you’re wearing a glove of fire. Lenses work don’t work at night. Not everyone’s an Ingenia, and most of us aren’t Incendiaries. Vapor lights only work in cities, because a village can’t produce enough shit for the digester. We don’t have the land or water to make much more fuel oil than we make now. As power goes, we need something that isn’t fire.”

I nodded. “And you think that isn’t terrifying them, too?”

Avah knocked briefly on my outer door, then entered. She took note of the burning lamp lighting nothing in use, the bottle in Ragin’s hand and my lens on the table.”Oi, Ragin, is she giving you the alchemical match speech? It’s unadulterated horseshit, and she knows it. The distribution of the factions is an internal power balance. If you place each individual Teregenitor on a discrete point of a curve, they will equally distribute along it from radically Royalist on the far left to radically Reformist on the far right. Right now, the Radicals at both ends have loud shouty voices. Those forty-five in the middle are repelled by both, and so wander without any leadership. They’re looking for quiet reason, stability and security. The reformists keep their mushiest because the Delavis have three generations of mathematically inept gamblers, Croysart’s mother spoiled him and he thinks the world belongs to him, Silvalt is a bully’s bully, Sulaven literally owes more than he is worth to Ruteri and Tiwendar lost his mind after his brother and his wife died. Rien overthinks this. It’s quite simple.”

“Except your theory only accounts for nine-tenths,” I said and pushed her chair from the table so she’d join us.

“That’s because in any population, one-tenth is either drooling-stupid, perpetually drunk or mad and cannot be quantified.” She draped her cloak over the chair back, kissed Ragin’s cheek and patted my hand before she sat down and pulled her plate from the warmer. “You could have left me bread.”

I gave her the two rolls I hadn’t reduced to crumbs and she ate quickly. “It’s the math, Ragin,” she said around bites. “Twenty-six can block any three-quarters vote, so they always have the ability to block an Elevation or Ascension. The Royalists flatly opposed Mathes’s Elevation per Razin Ardenis’ wishes, in 1109, ’10,  and ’12. In most simple majority votes, when the Royal block is cast, majority is seventy-six. That’s the Royal block of forty-eight, plus twenty-six Royalists and two Progressives, which isn’t difficult, given there are forty-seven Progressives. Until eight years ago when my father and Teregenitor Alvard took over from their fathers, the Royalists were a closed club. One had to be born a Royalist and from a Founder Family to join. A pure example of drooling-stupid snobbishness. Most of the current Progressives have been in the Prava for at least a decade, and their families for centuries, so they had many years to be insulted by those demented old fools. Yes, my grandfather was a demented fool. Ask anyone in the family. About half of the Progressive families voted with the Royalists because they were almost as old and had aspirations of being drawn in, but the other half wouldn’t join the Royalists for half of the Treasury, even though they agree with the Royalists. Old insults cut deep. The Reformists are also a closed club, at twenty-nine. That’s not an accidental number. They’ve been waiting for the opportunity to be a block-vote majority, and they have the ability to block an Elevation or Ascension. The Royalists keep their mushier members in line with family ties and your grandmother would be so ashamed, but the Reformists don’t have much of that. More of them are newer families. Mathes and Tiwendar use blackmail, graft and extortion. Note the Delavi and Sulaven debts. Zubiri had two daughters spend a year in Natavia, but both returned as sunless as they left despite six tendays at sea and a year at the seaside. Neither visits any public hot spring anymore. We’d see the stretch marks. The Zubiris are Cleatarni, so kindling before marriage is a great sin, and I assume the lads making the contribution weren’t marriage material. Why they didn’t flood or take care beforehand, I couldn’t tell you, but I’d say that’s a public shaming Saren Zubiri cannot bear to face, even though all the Curia women know. Tiwendar has gotten very wealthy for a third generation Teregenitor from the back of beyond whose best marriage prospect thirty years ago was a linen merchant’s daughter. Not that Mathilde wasn’t a lovely woman — she was — but no investment quadruples a fortune every year, and that’s what had to happen for that man to be that wealthy now.  Dadda remembers Ruteri, Bastiari and Mathes before Mathes started the Reformists. They were at school together. Hermachians. Dadda wasn’t there, but a boy died while they were there, and it was strange. Nothing could be proved, anyway. Also, I’ve heard rumors that some of the first Guild courtesans know something else. A hundred stories, but the common thread is three street girls found all strangled at the same time in the same room.”

Ragin looked from my assistant to me, then back. “None of this is news to either of you,” he said.

I shook my head. “We just can’t prove it. The Reformists are the legal community’s serial saga. We watch them with the same horror and fascination with which people watch cart accidents and street fights.”

“That they get away with it isn’t the fascination,” Avah added. “It’s how it repeats.”

He shoved away from the table and banged his forehead against the tabletop a few times in purest frustration. “If you know this is happening,” he said to the floor, “why don’t you lawyers stop it?”

“Stop what?” Avah asked reasonably. “Stop a parent from being ashamed of his daughter? That’s not illegal. Compel a young woman to admit she made a mistake with her giant fennel? Why? It’s her life and body. She chooses to abide her parents’ wishes. Epina Zubiri knows that she could have gone to her Suthwren cousins and they would have welcomed her and her child, but she’d lose forty thousand teanders a year and her leasehold dowry. For a stabler? Infatuation isn’t that strong, Ragin. The Delavi gamblers play in private houses, not public gaming halls. In a public hall, you cannot borrow. Not so in private games. When Mat Delavi leaves ten thousand on the table, there is not an authority in Galantier who can force him to pay his marker, except his own honor. The Delavis could refuse to pay and if Corysart or Vitaren brought their markers to the Judicatura, they’d be laughed out of chambers. But if the Delavis refused their debts, they would never find a seat at a table in any house. The Delavis can’t stop playing, so they keep making promises. It’s tragic, it’s not criminal. Sulaven’s debts are private, between him and Ruteri. Sulaven keeps borrowing, Ruteri keeps lending. They both get something out of it, though I’ve no idea what, because they both keep doing it. There is no law and there should be no law that forbids you from loaning me ten teanders, or me loaning you the same as long as we both agree to the sum and terms and a means to resolve the matter should we disagree. The law cannot complain on behalf of a person who doesn’t feel injured.”

“You’re talking murder,” Ragin said. “And coercion and corruption and bribery and theft.”

“I know, Ragin,” I said. “And believe me, if the bodies weren’t ash thirty years’ old, we would act. But the people who are willing to talk don’t remember enough even with Perceptive help for us to order a full catalog of the ones unwilling to talk. There’s no limit on murder, and we are perpetually the advocates for the dead, but we have to have a place to start that’s better than maybe. Coercion and corruption can’t be proved without either a voluntary catalog or physical evidence to compel an involuntary Perceptive catalog. We’re not talking street thugs here. These men are the most powerful, most well-connected and wealthiest gang in the world, who have built the laws to protect themselves.”

“We’re close, Ragin,” Avah said. “It’s taken us seven years, but we have the tiles lined and are waiting for one little push. The Chancellor should have filed the first round of warrants this tenday.” What she didn’t say, what Ragin and I knew perfectly well, was that until the end of the Regency, the Chancellor could not file for any non-essential warrants. Avah took my hand under the table and squeezed as my heart stopped.

The timing had not been accidental. Had I died in my place in the west, the wheels of the law would have continued to turn and those whose memories had been warranted would be now recovering from several days of sedation while Perceptives cataloged their minds. A Justiciar is not a Royal Advocate. I started this investigation long ago, because I had taken an unplanned liegeman who vanished immediately after taking his oath at my Elevation. At first, I thought he was rude, but Avah had known him slightly and found his absence strange — not criminal, just odd. We never had any indication of anything nefarious, but as we dug into other cases with Reformist ties, Avah and I stumbled into the foundational evidence when we were Advocates for the Crown at Women and Children’s. When I moved to the Judicatura, we continued to contribute to the case files as relevant evidence admitted in other cases crossed my bench, but the investigative work had been properly passed to the Chancery and the Metropolita. I had been assigned the first case from that long investigation to come before the bench — the Paperers’ Guild bribery charge — because I had no connections to it, but my preparatory work had found several connections to the Reformist files and the hired murder gang. Had I died in the west, the Paperers’  case would have been suspended, but not the warrants. Which should have posted three days ago.

The legal community in Cimenarum is small, and usually keeps our secrets behind our teeth, but we’ve all expected these warrants since before Midwinter. The Chancery attracts two distinct groups of lawyers and Advocates — those from modest backgrounds with talent and new licenses looking to prove themselves, and the subsequent children of the wealthy and powerful. The Chancery, the Judicatura and the Royal Advocates in the ministries aren’t paid well — pipe fitting is more lucrative. I could think of a score of well-born clerks, lawyers and assistants with Reformist relations. If one person spoke too openly over a holiday drunk, the Reformists could have heard that the warrants were coming. All it would have taken was one slip, then a little pressure afterwards. The Reformists had now had an extra tenday to confirm a suspicion. I had to assume the Chancery security was blown.

I pushed away from the table and went to the window in my bedroom to look at the Judicatura on the west side of the square. Many lights were still burning, but not the ones I hoped to see. Sam’s was dark, as was Efan’s, the Lord Chancellor. With ten words to either of them — ten words in Privacy, by Evocata — I could confirm the leak, but if I went to their houses now, they would come back to their offices. Whatever surprise they had left would be gone within two hours. Reginal Tiwendar had promised two days to rally my support.

I would have to rally it, and without making a single deal. I could guess the Reformists’ prime concession — to replace Efan Warev with a Chancellor of their choice. The Chancery planned to issue seventeen warrants for full Perceptive catalogues.  Every one of the subjects of those warrants had a close tie to a Reformist household, and five were Teregenis themselves. Not Mathes, not Tiwendar — those would come after this first round when our circumstantial evidence was proved — but protecting five of their faction and twelve of their households explained why Reginal had told me that immunity wouldn’t be sufficient.

Our best margin so far had been when Ragin and I had been proposed as co-regnant siblings, and that failed by three. Savrin voted with us. His vote was not assured — I’d seen a brief but unpleasant looking conversation between Sav and Mathes after that vote. Until Mathes approached the study, I had been within seconds of getting Reginal’s agreement to break rank. I thought I could him get back, but I’d still need at least three, and better four or five other Reformists.

“Avah, who’s clean in the Reformists?” I called.

She snorted and came to my bedroom door. “We’re talking the Prava, right? Nobody is clean, except Alvan Kurzon and you. Him, because a tenday isn’t long enough to get dirty, and you, because we’ve been expecting some sort of fight for years.”

“Cleaner,” I amended. “They’ll want to replace Efan. That’s their goal now, and they won’t make any deal as a block that doesn’t include that.”

She pressed her hands to her lips as if trying to keep her words in her mouth. “Lady Bright,” she muttered. “I don’t think we can peel off a handful. We eliminate anyone with close ties to the Bastiaris — Sulaven, Rassath, Zubiri — “

“Tiwendar, Croysart, Kleppt, Delavi and Viteren?” I suggested. “Offer immunity in exchange for testimony to all, guarantee funding for Delavi’s canal extension, replace the Kleppt and Croysart docks and add more canal boats to speed transit, guarantee Viteren’s army contract for beans and oil?”

She shook her head. “Viteren and Croysart want to replace the Exchequer since they’re up for audit. We have to forfeit either Exchequer or Chancery, and all of them have at least one other minister they want gone.”

“How was your father?” I asked. “Clearly you didn’t get much supper with him.”

“When do I ever when we’re talking politics?” she said. “He thinks the sealed ballot is risky at best, but he thinks Tiwendar lied to you about the Reformists splitting. He said it will be close, that yes, he can convince the Royalists but he’ll need more than a day to get twenty-four Progressives. It’ll make the first year absolutely wretched and we’ll probably accomplish exactly nothing. He also thinks we should stop counting on Savrin’s votes. He overheard a conversation between Mathes and Savrin late this afternoon. Mathes offered him something — Dadda didn’t hear what — and Savrin stopped shaking his head and nodded.”

“But if we get approval for a sealed ballot, will we get the approved orders passed?” I asked.

She shrugged. “That’s the part Dadda can’t predict. He thinks it will be close, not less than seventy-four, but not more than eighty-one. Losses don’t matter, but he says there are very few roads to eighty.”

“What are his odds on Savrin?” Ragin said, joining her in the doorframe.

“Almost opposite. He needs eighty, too. The Royalists and you two oppose him, so his best margin is seventy-five.”

“The secret ballot is the only route to any win for anyone,” Ragin said.

“That’s the real worry Dadda has,” Avah said. “If we approve a secret ballot and Rien doesn’t win the first ballot, the second will probably be for Savrin, not the two of you together. On that secret ballot, there are four Royalists who might flip to Savrin. They think you’d be his Bellacera, and they’re impatient. They think we need to declare all out war, start conscripting, hire the Tasleroyan mercs and push Spagna hard. They know you, Rien. They know that you’ll wait for evidence, demand diplomacy and the Judicatura first, and they don’t think we can wait.”

“That’s madness,” Ragin said. “That assumes all of the Progressives just blow whichever way the wind goes. So what if twenty-nine Reformists, four war monger Royalists and Sav vote for him? Why should those Progressives who just voted for the approved succession change their minds?”

“Because they’re all tired of wrangling,” I said. “What does your father think are the best chances for Ragin and me, together?”

“On a secret ballot, about the same. To keep the Royalist hawks, you have to agree to at least a conscription order.”

“But we don’t know it was Spagna who killed my father,” I said. “Who do they think we have to conscript? We’ve already got a third of the men between eighteen and thirty under arms, and a third who aren’t are veterans with injuries. Shall we send children? Old men? I can think of four Royalists I’d like to put on the front line.”

“And thus, the mercs,” she said. “Which Dadda says we can’t afford for more than a year, maybe two.”

“We can’t take Spagna in two years,” Ragin said flatly. “Not with fifty thousand mercs and ten thousand wet recruits. We hold that border because both sides have supply lines and neither side has to cross the desert except to raid. If we push across the desert, we have to extend the supply line and leave it defended. There go our wet conscripts, and half the mercs to protect them. That leaves thirty-five thousand to invade a county at least as big as Galantier, and probably bigger. Can’t be done. Simple math.”

“Thus,” I said. “The secret ballot is not wise, yet. Better to let someone else propose it. The Progressives will think of it eventually. I need to work on the Progressives and get them committed to anyone but Savrin alone. Ragin, shall we marry?”

“Not til they make us,” he said. “Have you picked a captain of the guard yet?”

That was our code for whatever lover I’d take to kindle our child. I shook my head.

“Dadda had one exceptionally wild and somewhat mad suggestion,” Avah said. “Would you consider marrying the Optimus? He’s a widower, probably no children, and half of the Reformists are his partisans, not Mathes’. Dadda doesn’t think he’ll live more than a decade.”

“He’d want to be Razin,” I said. I considered it for a moment. When Mathes didn’t interfere, Reginal Tiwendar and I worked together quite well. We disagree — I think he’s much more a coal-cupper than most Reformists, or me — but he’s organized, intelligent, committed to a fair, responsible and responsive Prava. He’s also cold, joyless, obsessed with his work, corrupt and drinks more than is good for him. I would never call Reginal Tiwendar a friend, but he’s a reliable Loyal Opposition. “He’s certainly not my first choice,” I said. “I’d rather have him running the Prava. He’s good at it. Ragin, that unobtrusive call just became quite urgent. Shall we?”

He eyed me from the door of my room. “D’you still remember how to be a boy?”

I slouched against my wardrobe, mirroring his posture. I thinned my lips and jutted my jaw forward to square it. I reset my shoulders, drooped my eyelids and shoved my hands in my pockets. “Right, sir,” I said in a southeastern grain district accent.

Ragin frowned. “Have you been practicing?”

I shifted back to myself. “Yes. Simin considers it useful.”

“Ancestors, you’re unsettling. It’s like looking in a mirror that doesn’t behave. Ayuh,” he said. “I can get you out, but I’m going, too. Where?”

“Good,” I said. “I don’t know where he lives and I don’t want to go alone.”

Avah went back out, ostensibly to visit one of her cousins, whose townhouse backed onto the Lord Chancellor’s. He needed to be warned of the lapse in security, and to work on any means that would allow him to issue those warrants during the regency. Assuming he could make the argument to the Chief High Justiciar that these warrants were necessary to the national security, approval would depend on which of the other twelve High Justiciars was called to review before issuance. Eight of us belong to the Restorationist school of legal theory, which posits that a warrant is simply an inquiry and that most questions can be asked without prejudice. The other five tend to a much stricter line of reasoning, requiring the Chancery to have specific evidence first. It’s luck of the draw which Justiciar Lord Werev would get. The only one he knew it wouldn’t be was me. 

Ragin dressed us in Captain’s uniforms he hadn’t worn in years. Fortunately, he’s lean, too, and I’m almost his height. I couldn’t conceal my yard of hair under a hat but a uniform cloak is hooded. I bound it tightly down my back under the uniform coat.

The risk lay in getting out. Simin disliked the notion despite the political necessity and the greater ramifications, yet he escorted us through the undercellars. From there, we passed to Prava House and into the streets. We walked, since junior officers can’t afford cabs and aren’t worth pickpocketing. We hurried through windy, moon-dark circles, nearly deserted at this hour in Government district. As we followed the spiraling streets, first north, then west, the city noise shifted; rumbling carts and steam engines in the Manufactury and music, shrieks and laughter in the Theater district. Barge horns, bells, and the creak of rigging underscored the crashes of dropping crates and the rumble of drovers hauling their loads away from the Docks.  When the Snail Shell road turned east again into the Financial district, something like quiet returned. Here, circles of shops and offices broke occasionally for a residential circle’s imposing facade. Ragin led us into one and up to a red door set in the district’s nearly ubiquitous white tile.

Teregenitor Watable opened the door. Surprising, that. Most Teregenis have servitors. “Hallo,” he said uncertainly. “May I help you?”

“Message from the Karsai,” Ragin said in official tones from deep in his hood.

Watable’s mouth made a silent O as he let us in.

“Have you a private room, sir?” Ragin said.

The Teregenitor’s residence wasn’t large and once inside, I realized he occupied only part of the building. This was a flat, not a house, and at first, I thought he’d just moved in. The hall held only a potted tree and a table with an empty stone bowl on top — no mirrors, no art, no benches for waiting visitors. But as we passed into what was certainly the library, I knew I was wrong. My taste is simple, even spare, but he exaggerated simplicity into an art of its own. Only someone confident about his place in the world could be comfortable here. He doesn’t need ostentation.

“I … I’m expecting someone, but –“

Who does he expect? Hopefully not Mathes or Tiwendar.

Ragin closed the window blinds while I locked the door behind me. Then I put back my hood.

“Your Ascendency,” Watable said, bowing.

“We lack time for protocol. Please. After the Prava recessed this afternoon, I examined the Prava book. I need an ally.”

“Your Ascendency, I’m moderate, not Royalist — “

“I wouldn’t be here if you weren’t moderate. Who’s coming?”

He flushed despite his years; he was older than Da. “I’d rather not mention — “

“Ah, your companion. Perfectly understandable,” I said, relieved it wasn’t Mathes. His flush deepened. “I’ll be brief. You’ve seen how the votes are going.”

“Yes,” he said. “Full stalemate.”

“Yes,” I said. “You’ve my thanks — all your votes have been for me.”

“You may not be ideal, but you’re the best candidate we have.”

I tried not to wince. Damned with sketchy praise, that. The man is brutal with his honesty. “Thank you anyway. First, have you any suggestions to break this stalemate?”

He gestured towards his desk and I followed. Foolscap covered the surface, with six diagrams of the potential variations of three candidates — each of us alone, Ragin and I as a pair, Savrin and I as a pair, and Ragin and Savrin as a pair. That last was a loss; it couldn’t get the support of either the Royalists or the Reformists and only a few Progressives. He had mapped each member’s inclinations and a number of alterations told me he had been doing so for several days. I examined the most likely variations first — the established succession, Ragin and me, Savrin and me. My chances alone were worse by one than my chances with Ragin, better by four than with Savrin, but Savrin’s chances alone fluctuated wildly over the last few days. Of course, his sole candidacy had not been called at all, but on his best day, he was within three votes. So too, Ragin and I together. “Your thoughts?” I asked.

“You can get Tiwendar if you promise him the moon, and if you get him, you get Tristrari and Catalan. But that moon is a new Privy Council and his approval of the next two High Justiciars, so your replacement and dat Rappel’s because she’ll not last much longer against her tricky heart. That turns the Judicatura Retributionist. It also loses you two Progressives. I believe the Judicatura should be entirely independent, and if I thought you’d whisper in Sam Benscop’s ear, I’d have to vote against. Marinvalt won’t go along with replacing the whole Council. Then you’d need another two Reformists. Best chances are Delavi, who needs a literal bribe, at least a million teanders, and Ramarov who’s spent the last year trying to get us to draft everyone between sixteen and sixty to go burn Spagna to ash. He’ll require that declaration. Ma’am, he’s also rather stupid, if you hadn’t noticed. That promise loses you half a dozen Royalists, no matter what Alvard and Selenar think. There’s no strategy, ma’am. For every negotiated Reformist vote, you lose two of the rest of us.”

“What if I lie to the Reformists?” I asked, curious to see his response. “The Privy Council is the Monarch’s sole purview, and three centuries of Judicatura independence is a strong precedent.”

“Mathes has six Progressives that he recruits if you renege, and I know he’s got nastiness on at least eight more. Assume he gets them all. None of those are the Progressives who vote against the block vote as a matter of principle so you still have fifteen obstinate fools who can’t agree with the Monarch that water is wet. Most of your regular votes still pass at seventy-nine or eighty, but only because of the Royal block. You won’t get anything on a three-quarter basis for years. And the Progressives will probably take up your succession committee plan. We have to — one Ascendar is in a war zone, one’s celibate and women die in childbirth, even Raziae, but the Reformists will nominate Trensen Silvalt for Tret and a Pinuvar for Quan.”

I shuddered at those ideas.

“Why in hells aren’t you in charge of the Progressives?” Ragin said.

“We’re not that organized,” he said dryly.

“Which Royalists will switch to Savrin?” I asked.

“Dursen, Lavinov and Darshaiz,” he said at once. “They’ve got faith in you and not much understanding of the Lex Galanteris. They think you’ll pull Savrin’s strings. Dursen needs Reformist support if the battles in the west move north onto his western border. Lavinov’s got a southern port that could become deep water with some work, and Darshaiz has an army contract for brandy he’s about to lose because he’s got rot in some of his vines. He can’t repair the damage without money coming in, and he can’t meet the contract now.”

“Who’s next for the contract if the quartermaster won’t support him through the next few years?” I asked, pretty sure I knew.

“Me,” he said.

“What makes the Progressives change sides so easy?” Ragin demanded.

“We need a monarch,” Watable said shortly. “Nothing happens until we have one. No new treaties, no funding, nothing. We can’t patch a hole in a road right now.”

“But they don’t like Savrin or me,” Ragin said.

“A flawed monarch gets something done. None gets nothing.”

“Have you considered sealed ballots yet?” I asked.

He nodded and turned the top page back to reveal another. These ten diagrams were similar to the first page, but the first was for the secret ballot vote itself, and where the proposal originated. If either the Reformists or the Royalists proposed the change, it would fail. The other side and more than half of the Progressives would reject it. If a Progressive suggested it, it would narrowly pass.

Then I checked the numbers on the most likely scenarios, plus his first. Resolved: that the Prava reaffirm the succession plans of 1129, 1131, 1132 and 1135. His numbers accorded with Teregenitor Selenar — he projected eighty-one votes in favor. His twenty-five opposition were mostly Reformist, but two Progressives and one Royalist broke ranks. He touched that diagram. “Were I Optimus, I wouldn’t allow any other secret ballot on this matter. This vote should not be a surprise, and nothing else is remotely predictable.”

Then he revealed a third sheet, this one with a system I had never seen. The top line was the six practical options — each of us alone, and the three possible pairs. Underneath, he projected each Teregenitor’s preference of those options. Most of the Royalists he projected to prefer me alone, or Ragin and me as a pair. Most of the Reformists he projected to prefer Savrin or Savrin and me.

“This is a very old system from the Bahan colony before it became Bahan Bay. Preferential voting. First choice gets six points, second five, and so on. The option with the most points wins. Since none of us can have our first choices, this lets us make a decision, which is better than none at all.”

“Sounds complicated,” Ragin said.

“It can be,” he said, “and that’s why it hasn’t been used in fifteen hundred years. But it’s not a secret vote, it allows for roll call, and it recognizes that nobody is getting their first choice.”

I looked at his projected results. I wasn’t surprised to see that I did not win alone. The best of the six candidates was Ragin and I as a pair. Then I noticed at the bottom another set of notations, that seemed like a tourney result. “What’s this?”

“An even older system. Instant tournament. Same rankings. If the first choice gets a clear eighty votes, that candidate wins. But if one doesn’t, the lowest is eliminated, and the second choices are added to the first choice tallies. In this case, we reach majority in two rounds for the pair of you. The pair of you are our preference in all systems, and I’d say that’s what your father of blessed memory wanted. My apologies, Ascendency, but there is no scenario where you are sole Razia with the current Prava.”

I looked over the numbers and the diagrams again, looking for flaws. Other than the fact that they were untried in our eleven centuries, they seemed sensible. I’ve rather expected that I would have to share at least part of my authority all my life, but my father did, too. Aunt Bella was his Razia in all realistic terms. I glanced at Ragin, who was studying the document upside down. He met my eyes, shrugged slightly, rolled his eyes and nodded. He didn’t especially like it, but he’d agree, as long as I did the work and let him run the army. I made the decision for us. “Have you any support for these schemes, Watable?”

He nodded. “Thirty-eight Progressives. I mentioned it to Arisdal, Dastorian and Kurzon. They’ll be here soon for a tutorial. If they like it, they’ll take it to Selenar and Alvard. If you two agree, and at least twenty of the Royalists, we could adopt it on proposal and finish this selection the day after tomorrow.”

If I told the Royalists I agreed with Watable’s proposal, they would agree. “We Royalists are meeting at sixth hour tomorrow morning, at the Karsai. Please join us, with your diagrams. We’ll have to choose which version and write the proposal, then introduce it immediately we have a clear slate. We ended on a motion to amend, so that has to conclude first.” I looked down again at the projections. “Teregenitor Watable, I am quite impressed. May I ask what prompted this extraordinary effort?”

“I like having a map, ma’am. We’ve spent more than a tenday wandering the wilderness. Your father wasn’t one for dithering. No one else seems to have a marked path, so ’twas time to make one.” 

 I touched his precise, small notes, straightened, and looked him in the eye. “I believe that no later than the day after tomorrow, Savrin will be proposed as sole Monarch. The arguments will be persuasive and he’ll get eighty votes. I believe your assessment is correct and four Royalists will break. Selenar and Alvard don’t have the Reformist control. The Prava wearies of uncertainty and a candidate who possesses what they think a Razin should have will prompt them to vote for him so we can proceed with…” I trailed off. Suppressing a crime in the midst of a war we’ll start over a mistake.

Watable paled, turning his coppery skin to parchment. “Savrin’s the worst choice.”

“He presents well,” Ragin said wearily. “He’s male, he attended the War College, he’s an Ascendar, he hasn’t annoyed my parent.”

Watable nodded miserably. “Holy Water, he’s a disaster, but he’ll pass in a matter of hours. Everyone assumes you’ll remain the mind behind the throne, but you won’t. The Lethians won’t allow it.”

“Precisely. We must be prepared. When it happens, Galantier needs that.” I gave him a copy of my   powers proposal.

He read quickly, then shook his head. “I heard rumors about something similar from the Reformists, but — “

“Yes.” I explained. “Galantier needs this improved version if Savrin’s the Razin. I’ve no idea how long I’ll retain my seat, but if I introduce it, it’ll fail. I’ll appear angry for losing and want to limit his power in revenge. That’s not my motive but nobody will believe that.”

“Ayuh,” he said, re-reading more carefully this time. “Yes, I’ll propose this. Immediately.”

“No,” I said. “That’s obvious and it’ll fail. Let a few proposals go first.”

He chuckled mirthlessly. “You know us well.”

I grimaced. “I have observed the Prava for eighteen years.”

“You have my word.” Watable extended his hand.

I shook it. “Thank you. The Reformists have a copy of this. We’ve a wager on the table that might render this obsolete.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Mathes wants me to acknowledge him as my father on the Prava floor,” Ragin said. “In return, he claims he might release the Reformists to approve a joint reign by Rien and me, then limit her power — because I’m not ruling — with that document. But he doesn’t promise and I don’t trust him.”

“Do it, man,” Watable said. “It’s a sip of air to call him your honored father once.”

“After what he did to me and — “

“Bleedin’ hell, Ragin,” Watable snapped. “Don’t be a stiff-necked idiot. Yes, he beat you. That was twenty years ago. He wasn’t old enough to be a father. Acknowledge he’s changed. Give him a chance.”

Ragin and I exchanged a long, wordless glance. He wanted to explain in detail exactly how we knew Mathes hadn’t changed, but that discussion contained several state secrets far beyond Watable’s clearances and we were short on time. “It’s under consideration,” I said. “Thank you, Teregenitor. Until the morning.” The knocker sounded. “Have you another door? We shouldn’t be seen.”

NEXT

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