Rien’s Rebellion 12 – 11 Alglidis 1138 Rien


11 Alglidis 1138

“While my honored father has an excellent point,” Ragin said, looking at Mathes over the tiers of the chamber, “Her Ascendency’s youth is an asset, not a detriment. Like the late Razin, she will have many years to lead this chamber and realm. She’s vigorous, driven and determined, necessities in a Monarch. Further, claiming Her Ascendency is too young while promoting our even younger cousin is — “

“A contradiction,” I interrupted. Ragin would have used hypocritical or irrational or foolish, and this situation could not bear any word that would leave bruises. “Sorry,” I whispered.

“Thanks,” he replied and returned the Vocata to the Optimus.

“Teregenitor Picarem, your rebuttal?” Tiwendar said.

“My son’s point is well taken,” Mathes said, a glimmer of dark humor in his eyes. “Youth serves us well. However, I ask you to consider, not the Prazia, but my niece, Cazerien. Bereft of her adored father, so distraught my son, her brother in heart, comforts her through every hour. Think, gentlemen, what we ask of her. I admire her self-command amongst us while we discuss her future as if she were no more than a sigil on scrap paper. She has not broken before us. We have seen neither tears nor grief. Such stoicism is admirable in one so young. However, my fellow Teregenis, can we fairly ask her to bear this burden? In the presence of my son and the distinguished Optimus, I heard my niece say that the last thing she wants is power. My comrades, how dare we force a woman to deny her natural and tender feelings immediately and permanently? Should we not permit her grief and an appropriate marriage? After all, her primary duty is to bear Galantier’s next Ascendars. My son has profited from my impetuous younger self’s example and delayed his marriage; my nephew should not be asked to abandon his true-held beliefs. Thus, the primary burden of marriage and children falls upon my lovely niece. We must permit her to devote herself to motherhood and the education of our next generation, following the meritorious example of my late, beloved sister. I beg you gentlemen, care for my niece’s heart. Consider her duties to this kingdom and the duties of the Monarch and see how mutually exclusive they are. Reflect on her tender grief and be kind. I now nominate my nephew, Savrin sator Lethis to the throne of Galantier and give the Vocata to the Optimus so that he may explain why His Worship is the Ascendar we should elevate.”

I looked down at the Optimus, but he held his back to me. He’d promised a day, even two, and an hour into this morning’s session, he had let Mathes reverse him. Twenty of us all pounded our tables to object, because Mathes was out of order — we were in discussion of the terms of the next vote, and new propositions are not allowed before a previous one has been tabled, passed or rejected — but the Optimus didn’t seem to hear. Nor did he notice when more than a dozen Royalists and Progressives began to yell.

For most of an hour, the chamber rang with noise as a hundred men and their three hundred aides and secretaries roiled like a disturbed hive. The good part was that they didn’t seem to have noticed that Mathes had called me Ragin’s whore, that he considered me both so broken that I shouldn’t be allowed to oversee an embroidery circle and so icy that I couldn’t be trusted to not lay waste to everything in sight. Sometimes procedure can be useful that way. The Royalists and Watable’s cadre of Progressives refused to recognize the called vote, while the Reformists and their cadre of Progressives tried to behave as if the Royalist faction wasn’t shouting.

I couldn’t shout above the din, nor could I get past the scrum to the knot of the senior Royalists. Of the five Royalist leaders, only one is an Evocator on my key and chord. I started to inhale the puissance to get his attention.

It burned, as if the air had been infused with a combination of pepper vinegar and fire oil. My defenses slammed shut automatically. That doesn’t happen. Puissance can twist or run dry, but it doesn’t become toxic. At least, not in my experience. My heart pounded in my chest and ears. Something had gone wrong, deeply so.

I leaned left into Ragin to get his attention. “Who’s on your key?”

“Kurzon and Bruckides,” he said and his attention turned away for only a moment. “There’s a silence ward on the room.”

Wards are forbidden by Prava rule. Those of us with Ingeniae are allowed to use them as needed — Evocators may need to inform aides in other parts of the building to retrieve documents, and some of our elder Teregenis require aides to hear or read for them. That also explained the furor. Teregenitor Alvard and possibly Teregenitor Watable would not be aware — Alvard is prosaic and Watable’s not an Evocator — but about a third of the others are Ingeniae. I scribbled cards to both of them and raised them for a page to take. Then I leaned down and pulled the Optimus around.

His eyes were wide dilated again, as black as holes in a skull, and he did not see me in that first second. Then my seal swung loose on the chain around my neck, the arc about to intersect with his face. I grabbed it back just before impact, and my hand brushed his face. I saw it happen, though I cannot explain it. Sense returned and his pupils contracted to normal size. The brown returned and he jumped as though I had shocked him. “Cazerien — ” he started.

This happened before. That morning in the hall, and yesterday, when Mathes neared the room. Each time, a touch altered… something. I leaned further down so that my cheek pressed to his and spoke directly into his ear. “We are out of order and the room is warded. Two procedural violations that will invalidate whatever happens next. Reginal, your duty calls.” I kept my hand on his shoulder, my thumb just touching the flesh above his collar as I pulled my face back until I could see him. The sense had not left his face. He covered it well, but the noise startled him, as if for the past hour, he had not heard the tumult. I sipped at the puissance again, but still found the pepper-acid-sulfur instead. I glanced up into the north just in time to see Mathes turn away and walk from the room. But he had been staring intently at the Optimus until caught.

The Optimus turned away and the Vocata slammed into the sounder on his desk. Four terrible cracks brought first quiet, then silence. “A recess, until first hour. We will resume with the discussion of the terms for Teregenitor Andrasel’s proposal. Teregenitor Picarem is ruled out of order. Sergeant, to me. Please clear the room until first.”

I let myself breathe again. The Optimus had returned us to where we had been when Mathes tried to rig the process. I caught Alvard’s eye and nodded slightly left, to indicate the Karsai. He nodded, then I caught Watable’s eye and did the same.

I turned to the right and saw Savrin eying me as if I were a new creature drawn from the deepest depths of the sea — both wonder and disgust. Before I could speak, he stood, pushed past me and followed Mathes out the north’s upper tier door. Whatever had just happened, I’d lost him.

“Of course he’s rigging the process,” Teregenitor Selenar spat. “We’ve lost all chance of a fair selection. A ward in that room is an insult to every one of us, prosaic and Ingeniae. He might as well have gagged us all.”

All twenty-six Royalists and thirty Progressives were crowded into my sitting room, the only place in the Karsai I felt secure enough given servitors, ministers and assistants. They were crowded three to a chair, leaning against my walls, or folded on the floor according to age and flexibility. I’d given up my desk chair to Teregenitor Dastorian and perched on my desk.

“Nobody’s disputing that, Aron,” Watable said. “But what can be done? Every time we try to force a fair hearing, something happens. I’ve been watching my water pitcher all tenday. There’s been enough puissance thrown in that room since we came into session to lift this building, but I can’t tell what it is. Just that my water vibrates, and that doesn’t happen in my Acquae-sight unless some Ingenia is at work.”

“Has anyone else noticed anything?” Kurzon asked. “Not my field.”

Ragin shrugged. “My Inspica keeps firing. I thought it was just that you lot don’t make any sense to me.”

Several others nodded, but none of us could identify the source or what was being done, save the ward. It probably wouldn’t happen again, since we would all be alert to it, but once was bad enough. “I believe we should request two days’ recess,” Arisdal said, “and disregard all that has happened since we began. This selection is tainted.”

“And give Mathes longer to strengthen his block?” Haelens said. “I say we propose Watable’s point preference and vow our first choices to either Her Ascendency or Her Ascendency and His Valor. We’ve enough votes in this room to carry a majority, and almost enough to carry either of those choices. We’re not getting the Reformists to crack, not if they’re cheating to win.”

“We’ve never done such a thing,” Selardi said. “Not in over a thousand years.”

“We’ve also never contested a succession plan after the fact,” Dastorian said. “Except for the cat, but Puss wasn’t descended from Galene.” He shook his head and leaned back into my chair. “I never believed I would say this, gentlemen — and lady,” he added.

I waved it off.

“We should return to the sealed ballot. It’s worked best for the succession plans. We’ve used it before, it’s not so outlandish and I’ve faith that if we propose the same succession plan as always, it will pass. I don’t think I’m alone in wanting to test such a new idea on something less permanent.”

“I’ll only allow one,” Selenar said. “Only on the approved plan. Jeren’s not wrong. If we propose something besides what we’ve always voted upon, we’ve no possible prediction. This should never have been a surprise.”

Slowly, every man in the room came to agree that it was the only possible route to a decision they could tolerate. I, too, eventually agreed. After twelve days of failures of any proposal, desperation was setting in. I was willing to wrangle for as long as it took, but the Famine Coffer needed to be filled, the garrisons paid, the roads maintained. Citizens were suffering while we distracted ourselves.

The air, and the puissance, had cleared when we filed back into the chamber. I saw Watable peer at his decanter then nod once, to indicate that he saw nothing amiss. Ragin tapped a finger twice subtly against my leg to tell me he had heard from Bruckides and Kurzon. Selenar whispered only acceptable in my internal ear. Savrin did not resume his place on my right, but took a seat alone on the lowest level of the north. That made it clear his alliance had shifted. I tried to catch his eye before the bell tolled, but he watched his toes with apparent fascination.

I had told the senior Royalists of Tiwendar’s dilated eyes, though not of the two earlier incidences, nor that a touch seemed to disrupt him, and they had sent their strongest Ingeniae aides to the lowest level of the southern arc to watch the Optimus. I could see him as he faced the south and see his eyes were brown and clear. “Recess has ended,” he said as the bell ended. “We have exhausted discussion on the previous question. Shall we resume?”

No one spoke. “The discussion is ended. Alvard, you have the next proposal?”

We spent the rest of the afternoon debating the merits of the sealed ballot, and a tangent on Watable’s preference ballot, but eventually, just before supper, the proposal for a sealed ballot carried by eighty-two votes. With that modest victory, the Optimus adjourned us once again for the night.

One more night. After our near-spats, I tried to interest myself in a book so that Ragin would let me alone on elementary Prava procedure, but I wanted to know what had happened in the Chancery. On the excuse that we had left a case unsigned, Avah and I crossed the square and wound through the long corridors, past our bench and the small rooms where we had consulted with clients when we prosecuted for Women’s and Children’s. Our footsteps echoed in the shadowy, empty halls. Lawyers work long and late hours, but the regency had halted much business. When we reached Lord Werev’s office, we also found Justiciar Benscop. The Chancellor closed the door and brought down the wards so that we four would be neither disturbed nor overheard.

“The Prava was interesting today,” Sam said.

“As the curse defines interesting,” I said. “It’s tampering, Sam. Can this decision be appealed?”

Efan pointed at his worktable, covered in open books. “Only if you’re planning to resign from the Prava in the aftermath and will see the case through, not as client, but Advocate because you two and me are the only ones with a deep enough grasp of Prava precedentiary law. As Chancellor, I cannot sue the Prava for internal decisions of their function. Even assuming you win a reversal and send the decision back to the Prava, it won’t oust an enthroned Monarch. We have no precedent for abdication and no means to remove one once consecrated. At best, the Prava would declare a custodial regency, as when the Monarch is an infant.”

If Efan hadn’t found another precedent, it didn’t exist. “Of course no Razin would permit a means of removal short of a knife to the back,” Avah said. “Someone might use it when one goes mad or demented or proves to be incompetent. Thus was Tulian smothered.”

“Probably,” Sam said. “Another problem. I approved the warrants, but sune Arvar has placed them on hold due to the Regency. They will post, but not until after the Coronation.”

“And if Savrin should win, expect to be replaced immediately, Efan,” I said. “Which means those will be recalled. Mother of Wisdom, this is exactly what Da was trying to prevent. If I brought you two extremely sketchy, mostly circumstantial evidence tonight that His Majesty was assassinated by agents most likely from within Galantier, agents likely in the pay of at least one Teregenitor, could you issue warrants for full catalogues before dawn?”

The Chancellor and the Justiciar spent several moments staring into the distance while their eyes skimmed through several hundred mental documents. Avah, as much a lawyer as me, stayed impassive, but I noticed my partner’s one nervous tell. Her left leg was tense, pressing hard onto her right toes to give herself something else upon which to concentrate.

“How sketchy?” Efan said as Sam said, “How circumstantial?”

I stood and paced the perimeter of Efan’s office. “One. Mikel sune Jax, currently resident at Paxular Workfarm for life, was convicted of accepting twenty-seven thousand teanders from a person called Traska to commit the murder of one Dils Sublin, a smuggler of Farazine poppy paste and boys. In the course of his catalogue, a memory of the meeting with Traska was entered into evidence against him. As sune Jax approached the warehouse where he received his payment, he saw a broadly built man in dark clothing carrying a small child from the same building. That man was later identified as Tarnan sune Radler, a guard employed in the household of Elden sune Bylav, where a boy, known as Wils, was found and proved by Perceptive testimony to have been assaulted by several men, whom Wils never saw clearly — an assault was always preceded by eye drops and a sweetmeat, probably poppy based, to blur his vision, make him relaxed and compliant, and mask pain. Sune Bylav is a horse and cattle merchant whose primary contracts are for Army transport beasts and preserved meat for the Navy. Bylav received his first contract through the recommendation of two Teregenis, Picarem and Sulaven. Bylav has hosted both men socially on multiple occasions, both at his Cimenarum townhouse and his hunting lodge which is a leasehold from Teregenitor Picarem. Wils’ Perceptive testimony recalls several journeys from the townhouse to another house. He arrived hungry each time, was fed in the scullery, always apricot ale and a meat roll that matches precisely with the lodge housekeeper’s daily accounts. The boy recalls the housekeeper and the housemaid who took him to the rooms where he was kept, and the time in transit from Bylav’s townhouse to the lodge matches.

“Two. In the audit of Bylav’s assets and accounts after his arrest for receiving and attempting to sell fourteen stolen horses, the auditors found a significant annual discrepancy between Bylav’s income and expenses. Multiple sums, similar in size to the payment transferred to sune Jax, were recorded as Treasury payments for contracted goods, but no similar payments were found in a subsequent Treasury audit. Further, Bylav’s Army contract has been canceled twice for either insufficient supply of stock or inadequate quality. Each time Bylav’s contract has been reissued, at the behest of Picarem, Tiwendar, Ruteri and Sulaven.

“Three: I have an adult victim of assault similar to the child Wils, who by concealed Perceptive testimony will confirm that Picarem has a long history of this behavior. I believe that comparison of the adult’s memory to the child’s would show strong similarities.

“Four: A former member of the Tiwendar household who provided compelled Perceptive testimony in the pending Paperers’ Guild bribery case can confirm that Bylev, Picarem, Ruteri and a man who was called Traska by a man who is most likely sune Radler were all present at Bastiari paele during Cresarian Festival, 8 Storis of last year, during which time the man called Traska accepted a container of Gorthanian marks and a wax-sealed box identical to the type used to transport military fire oil hand bombs.

“Five: That preliminary examination of the site of the Razin’s murder shows evidence of fire oil containers for Galantieran military production and one three inch piece of leather bearing a partial imprint of a sigil that appears to be in Galantieran script.

“Six: That Bastiari has access to fire oil via his supply depot at Bastra, and that two production batches were registered as accidentally destroyed on 19 Frumentis last year.

“Seven: That unknown persons prematurely released information about the pending cases against associates of sune Radler, Bylev and Traska.” I stopped and waited.

“You underestimate when you say circumstantial, Rien,” Sam said gently. “The memory of a convicted murderer places a servant of an incompetent used horse dealer in the act of procuring a bugger-boy. We then have to compare that poor kiddy’s memory of a prong in his arse to an anonymous memory that’s at least fifteen years old and I assume has not been protected by Privacy for all these years to prove what? That Picarem was in a house a few times and can’t keep his buttons fixed. A crime, yes, but… We then have to connect the same incompetent used horse dealer to the four leaders of your opposing faction on the memory of a fired servitor with a presumed grudge against his former employer. Also, prove that the Spagnians have never once managed to acquire a fire oil cache. Then there’s proving that a destroyed cache somehow got diverted into the incompetent horse dealer’s house, then to the ghost of the Cimenarum underworld, who managed to get it transferred past four border checkpoints so it could be used by persons unknown against a target whose movements on the border are kept under strict privacy.”

“That’s why these are requests for warrants, not the filed charges or the sentencing summation,” I said. “We have a man with a long history of raping children who despite any legitimate public indications continues an unprofitable business alliance with a disreputable character who has been known to procure and pander children. This person’s source for the child has ties to smuggling as well as hired murder. The man with the long history was seen in the presence of his regular cohort and the source, at which time one of the regular cohort had access to a highly controlled weapon, a sample of which appears to have been transferred to the source. An exceptionally similar weapon with the potential to prove its own provenance was used in assassination. Those most likely to benefit from the Razin’s assassination had access and associates with histories of hired murder, smuggling and child slavery. Were they not Teregenis, these warrants would have been issued the moment I said they were seen together with a box of fire oil. None of this information was obtained improperly. It’s all evidence in other cases. We haven’t begun to investigate this case yet. My request for these warrants is the beginning of this investigation.”

Efan rested his head on his palm, his elbow on his desk. “You’re not, you can’t be the lead investigator. Who should be bringing it to me and why are you?”

I stopped pacing and looked at them both. “You haven’t declared the chief prosecutor yet for His Majesty’s murder. Ragin wants it kept in the Advocates General, because he thinks the Lex Martiale is more flexible than the Lex Galanteris, but I’m uncommitted. The Reformist corruption files are under the supervision of Elzaveth Azalain, Chancery Prosecutor. The identity of the adult victim of abuse is a state secret. That person’s memory has been Privileged since that person learned how to do so, but not continuously since the incidents that formed the memory. That memory has also been copied to that person’s personal Advocate, me, in anticipation of formal admission at some later date. Elzaveth Azalain is currently unaware of the adult victim’s memory due to security clearance, and thus has only a tenuous rather than reinforced connection of criminality between Bylev and Picarem. I am presenting this because I am here, she is not, and due to political forces outside of Advocate Azalain’s purview or control, this request has acquired national urgency.”

“I didn’t think you mentioned it because you’ve had too little to do with your time, Rien,” Sam said. “What’s the point of bringing the poor laddie in for his catalogue? Just to prove that two kids crossed the same monster’s path fifteen years or more apart?”

I shook my head. “No, rape and illegal prostitution are the charges laid on Picarem’s head to warrant the full catalogue. His catalogue proves his financial ties to Bylev, whose catalogue proves his ties to Traska, and between the two, we should get Traska’s legitimate identity. Picarem’s catalogue also gets us the relevant events of the Cresarian festival meeting. Physical evidence in the form of case fragments from the carriages should match the destroyed batch, and Picarem was present when a box likely to contain that misappropriated fire oil was transferred to a person with links to smuggling, murder, extortion and fraud. Tie the fragments to the last person known to have the unused oil vessels who has been implicated in at least one other hired murder, who received them in the presence of a person with motive for instigating an assassination and the means to fund it. While the child rapes are relevant, they’re just the excuse to order the warrant.”

“Sam,” Avah said, “we and Elza have been building this for seven years. Of course the warrants are complicated. If they were easy, it wouldn’t have taken this long.”

“It’s fishing, Rien,” Efan said heavily. “I need something more to connect Mathes to the assassination. Something that might put him there.”

It’s not that sort of crime, Efan!” I cried. “Hired murder hinges on Perceptive testimony precisely because the hand that strikes the blow and the mind that made the decision are never in the same body. Mathes has between two and three hundred witnesses for his whereabouts when His Majesty was killed. He was in Prava chambers. I’m a witness. The crime was the planning and the procurement of the hands that spilled the blood. Certainly, I’d like the bloody hands, too, but the mind governs.” 

“There’s the Paperers’ bribery,” Avah said. “The strike leader stabbed in a crowd of strikers, the witness statements made a composite memory that placed the as yet unknown murderer in the presence of one Picarem household guard, one Ruteri guard, sune Radler and one Guild Master guard just before the murder. Which links back directly to Mathes Picarem by the presence in the Guildmaster’s accounts of a substantial fee for printing services never rendered.”

“Gods, Avah, that’s a stretch,” Sam said.

“But the Paperers are being bribed to consolidate,” she countered. “They’ll lose money as a whole when they close half the presses. That’s why the workers struck. The Guild Masters wouldn’t ruin their livelihood without a reason, and without getting paid. That hired murder connects to the Sublin murder, because sune Radler was there when both were arranged or paid. That’s an impressive coincidence if it’s a coincidence.  And we have most of that Perceptive testimony already. Picarem has never been proved to touch the money, but it’s always his employees or the employees of those with whom he has close ties, and the sums are never what a guard or even a merchant could explain.”

Efan and Sam exchanged a look that despite being their student and colleague for most of my life, I couldn’t quite interpret. “Do you have another link to the west, Rien?” Efan asked.

“A very tenuous one. Ragin and I built the tentative schedule that my father followed because I was supposed to be there, not him. Ragin sent me the final draft by coded letter on 29 Fervenis. I returned six minor amendments without context by standard encryption on 2 Storis. That’s the only time that any reference to that day’s scheduled events could have been intercepted. I used the Prava house flash station because we were getting tight on time. Mathes has access to the flash station office and knows standard encryption.”

“So do nine hundred flash officers,” Sam said. “What about the leather?”

“I don’t have it, obviously,” I said. “I believe it’s in the custody of the Advocates General. Quan Bruckides says the mark appears to be about half of a word, probably the horse’s name or owner, but it’s in reverse print and it’s very blurry since it’s probably a stirrup strap or a belly band. It’s not Army issue, which means it didn’t come from any member of the security force or the guards, the script is Galanterian, not Spagnian and their saddles don’t look much like ours.”

“The preliminary report I’ve got says Spagnian crossbolts,” Efan said.

“Ragin says we confiscate and destroy thousands of bolts and bows every year. They’re not uncommon out there, and more than a few have come into the interior as war prizes. According to a source at the Metropolita who is tasked to notice covert weapon sales, the supply of Spagnian crossbows has been a little slim for the past quarter-year, and the price is up, as if someone’s been buying.”

“Rien,” Sam said carefully, “You know I don’t disbelieve you, but you’re a victim here, and you stand to benefit if you’re right and Mathes was behind your father’s murder. That’s two conflicted  interests. You’re not a Monarch’s Advocate anymore. Right now, you’re the closest to a Crown we have, but you’re not yet, and using your Regent’s authority to warrant the confiscation of the whole memory of the head of the opposing faction would be both legally and politically tricky if you were already Razia. It’s extremely close to retribution or intimidation, my dear. I agree with your reasoning and my gut tells me you have the right of it, but my legal head says someone else must take this lead. You are correct that the adult victim will be relevant as identification. We will conceal his identity in the public record and during trial, but the Lord Chancellor and I must have direct and full access to his memories and his identity. Because you are involved elsewhere, you cannot be his Advocate and cannot submit his memories on his behalf. Can you produce this young man?”

I’d feared this. “I can produce the person, who can verbally testify to a portion of the facts of the abuse, but I am the custodian of my client’s complete and preserved memory because bearing them has repeatedly and seriously endangered my client’s life and health. Given the nature of the assault, my client chooses to maintain privacy as is my client’s right. As is also my client’s right, in the interest of the preservation of evidence, my client assigned those memories to an Advocate. Were my client a six year old brought to Women and Children, we would have no qualms about my submission of the memory on my client’s behalf.” 

“Were he a six year old at Women’s,” Efan said softly, “he wouldn’t be your adopted brother, the child of the man you’re accusing and another Ascendar. Rien, legally, you have no fault. Both you and Ragin have executed your duties flawlessly in this specific matter. I must assume that this incident is what prompted His Majesty to adopt His Valor in ’17?”

That is a state secret. I did not classify it, but I’m bound to maintain the secrecy until Ragin himself chooses to alter it. I did not have that permission now. The fact that Efan had been able to correctly deduce my client and his circumstance didn’t mean I had to confirm his deduction. I very carefully did not move, not even to blink. And that told Efan what he needed to know while we maintained the tissue of confidentiality and privilege.

Efan nodded. “Given that your client was a minor child and his guardians bore responsibility to pursue legal consequences against his aggressor, and for reasons unknown chose to maintain his privacy instead, you could not have possibly been his Advocate at the time. When did you come into possession of his memory?”

“1127,” I said.

“Before you were licensed,” Sam said.

“I’d passed that exam,” I said. “In point of law, I was then a clerk, legally competent to take, maintain and control depositions not then submitted to the bench. This memory was not submitted to a then active trial. It can be submitted now, by a licensed and practicing Advocate as supporting documentation in the pursuit of another matter. We’re not bringing that direct case and we’re not seeking charges. We’re submitting it as evidence of a long-standing pattern to support the case of Wils, ward of Galantier.”

Efan sighed deeply and rubbed hard at his eyes before turning his chair to place a large kettle on the oil stove to heat. He pulled down a normal sized fondal cup and one quarter-gallon tankard into which he spooned several scoops of the blackest fondal powder, completely unadulterated by honey, spice or dry milk. That bile-bitter cup would be strong enough to seize the spoon and smack him back, but it would keep him alert. For Sam, he added a proper spoonful of tan powder. “Take the memory, Sam. As supporting evidence under victim protection. Take care with her other secrets. The conflicted interests still matter, Advocate dat Vohan. Counselor Selenar, will you summon the records of the seven statements your partner used to lay this charge so that I may examine them? Justiciar Benscop, in deference to national security, I request a waiver to select the High Justiciar to whom I will present these statements when seeking my warrants. Further, I request that you be that High Justiciar. It’s a hornets’ nest as is. Let’s not annoy another of your body by dragging him out of bed. Advocate dat Vohan, please send for a clerk to summon Advocate Elzaveth Azalain and to have the entire file brought to this office. One of the more discreet clerks, if you please. Sam, we’ll be here all night. If you think you’ll be hungry, the closest noodle shop and the bakeshop closes in an hour, so send a page with your order. Add Efan, standard to the bottom and they’ll send mine. You two,” he looked at Avah and me. “Follow instructions, then go to the Karsai and don’t return until summoned. Majesteria, you are suspended from the High Judicatura through the term of your regency and permanently upon coronation. Counselor Selenar, while I’d love to keep you, I believe Her Ascendency has the prior claim. You’re off this case, now and forever, but it is compelling and I will ensure that Elzaveth can see it through.”

Sam grabbed my hand and I inhaled his sweet and mysterious puissance to wrap around Ragin’s memory and float it to my mentor. It wasn’t just one memory, but dozens. Many were fragmented because sometimes Ragin’s mind refused to stay in the moment. I couldn’t blame him, and having reviewed the whole collection more times than I wished over the years, perfect recall wouldn’t have served better. I gave Sam my key to those memories, one of my memories. I’d received a single letter sheet a few days before Ragin was due home from the War College, where he was serving his command apprenticeship. The sheet said nothing but Ragin is hurting. It’s bad. He needs kindness and help. I don’t know who sent it, or what prompted it, but that letter prompted me to convince Ragin to take to the roof with me, convinced him to talk for the first time in years, convinced him to let me share the burden of being a Royal child kept in a bell jar, unable to accuse his abuser and forced to sit across a table from him. The sight of that letter was a key. It remains one, though the letter itself is long since ash.

He kept my hand for the first moment while he checked to ensure he could access the memory, then tightened his grip. Do you know why your father and your aunt didn’t pursue this? he asked in the hollow space that is my Advocate’s Privacy.

I can hear Sam — we share a key — but I can’t talk back by Evocata — differing chords. I shook my head. Over the years since I learned, I’d approached Da, Aunt Bella and Ethene from time to time, but their answers never satisfied me. To protect Ragin? From whom? Mathes? We’d already done that. From the public? Neither Ragin nor I gave a damned fig if people knew he’d been raped. He did nothing wrong, nothing to find shameful. He needed to see justice served. The denial of justice was what ripped at his soul and sent him into black despair. By the time Ragin was an adult, able to make the charge himself, he’d made some peace and handed me his memory so it wouldn’t kill him. By then, it was too late anyway, more than ten years since the end. And now, Da and Bella were gone. Our adults weren’t the first to keep private a child’s rape by a relative. They won’t, unfortunately, be the last. I assume they did so for Ragin’s sake, not to protect their despised brother.

Sam’s jaw worked and a simmer of righteous anger lit his tired face, but he let me go. He’s no political innocent, either, and he and my father were friends for many, many years. He could probably work out their reasons better than me. I’m a modern woman, raised in a world with Courtesans of both genders, a few marriages between two men or two women, and protection for victims of crime. Those weren’t always true.

Avah and I sent the messages as requested, and did not stop at our shared office. We’d been told to leave. Either we would be back or would send our clerks to clean it out. But ninth hour had not yet come, and the streets last night had been perfectly safe. Even for two women instead of an officer and a simulacrum. I didn’t want to go far, but I had one more niggling factor to account. I turned into Curia Park instead of Welces’ Square.

“Are you lost?” Avah muttered. “No, we’re not going out. We’re still under Priority, I don’t have Simin or any weapon beyond a glass pen and a hairpin. Neither of us are armored and we look expensive. Worth robbing if not worse.”

“I promised Tiwendar immunity in exchange for testimony. He has to come to the Chancery tonight if he wants to take me up on it. None are so lost that the law’s mercy may not extend. He knows something, Avah.” I pulled her into the shadow of a copse of trees to whisper. Avah is prosaic, no hope of Evocative voice, but the park was empty and the closest people when I Observed for life were in the buildings behind us. “He knew Da was going to die, but until he saw me that morning, he thought it would be me. And I think he had only just learned, because he was deeply distracted before he ran into me that morning.”

“And you’re forgiving him?” she demanded in her own whisper. “Ninth hour, Rien. His Majesty died around eleventh. If Tiwendar had gone immediately to the roof, told the signal officer to alert Western two of a threat, they would have gotten outriders there in time to capture if not prevent. He didn’t. It’s been thirteen days. He hasn’t talked.”

“I don’t forgive him,” I said back. “What he knows hangs Mathes. That’s what I want, and if seeing Mathes at the end of a rope costs looking at Tiwendar every day for the rest of his life, that’s cheap. Tiwendar is cold and ruthless, but he is fair and competent and I don’t think he’s a murderer. A liar, a thief, a blackmailer, yes. Not a murderer. And you know it, too.”

“Nyuh,” she insisted. “I don’t care if he is the key to the Incarnation of Wisdom. I am not letting you within a millia of his house. You have no idea if he’s home, if he’s alone, or if he has every Reformist over for brandy and hemp. He may not be a murderer, but at least four Reformists are, and they’re his close associates. We don’t know if Mathes is an Observer, and if he is, if your range is longer than his. I’m going to bet not because yours is good when we’re fifteen milliae into Arisdal, but it gets sketchy when the Karsai is fully staffed. Too many people send you bockety, and there are 30,000 within three milliae of this spot. No, Rien, not without excellent reconnaissance.”

I started to argue, but she kept going. “No lion’s den. The end. They killed your father and more than sixty guards. What qualms do two unarmed women who shouldn’t have been out after dark anyway pose?”

“Without excellent reconnaissance,” I said. “What did you have in mind?”

“First, we go back to the Karsai to my rooms. We’ll leave Ragin out of this tonight. Then we’re going to a tavern.”

That, I didn’t expect. I’ve never been to a tavern — that would have made Da give birth to kittens.

Avah spent just under a quarter hour putting me in technical mourning, as she called it — black breeches, a close-fitting, full skirted knee length coat, also black, but one never seen in chambers. It had lace insets over the shoulders and breast, and was clearly made to be seen. She ringed my eyes with kohl and braided four sky-blue swaths of silk hair around my face, then wound the length twice so a swag of hair fell just to my shoulders instead of my below my hips. She added several more blue swaths to the creation. She did something similar to herself, though she picked a grey coat cut low across her breasts to go over her breeches and used flame reds in her hair. She frowned at my practical, buttoned boots with the low heel, but though they didn’t match, we cannot share shoes. For herself, she chose taller heels with thick soles, and told me to slouch, but not like a boy. She wanted us to look different, not doubles, and like minor Curiar girls out for the night, bored after a tenday with the family.

“Theater district,” she muttered as we found our way back out through the assistants’ door to the Karsai offices. She checked her pocket clock. “Good, not yet tenth. He shouldn’t be too snockered yet, but we’ve got to hurry. That man so needs a case that uses his talents — ”

Now, I understood tavern, tavern dancing clothes and minor Curiars. “Vaish went west,” I said. “The Metropolitans took him. He speaks Spagnian.”

“Damn, damn,” she said. “I forgot. Well…..” She looked us both over, considered the time again, then consulted her mental list of everyone in Cimenarum who might be useful for something, eventually. “I didn’t want to pay Vaish’s bar bill, anyway. Curiar tastes, carter’s budget.”

“I blame his mother,” I said.

“I would have dressed us differently, but flashing our tart might help once we get there. It’s just the getting there that’s going to be unpleasant. No, not risking that,” she said mostly to herself. “Cab it is, as soon as we see one.” She had a roll of half-royals in one fist and a roll of whole ones in an inner pocket. This venture, whatever it was, looked expensive.

Cabs were scarce until we reached the far side of Curia Park, and for the most part, nobody seemed to notice us. We got a few cold looks when Avah grabbed my arm and giggled loudly, but that was because we looked like heedless young things too self-absorbed to realize that the entire country was in crisis. To be fair, I would have been giving me a disapproving look, though I can’t say I minded much this role I’d never even considered trying. Avah grew up in Cimenarum, Selenar and with her Aunt Ethene. She went to school, first the Archilians, then the Sardanis for her law license. Until she came to work for me, she had always been part of a great giggle of girls. She’d had the interest of her male peers for years, and had both the intelligence and the sense to make them treat her as a peer. I try not let myself envy those freedoms, but I do.

“Docks,” she told the cabman when we found our cab. “Warehouse row at seventh pier. You wait. Double fee.”

“Ayuh, Mistress,” he said. “Empty streets, so should be quick.” People were waiting, afraid, and staying in. Not in the lower Theater district — that never quiets, not for war, plague or death — but everywhere else seemed to hold its breath.

Once we were off, she said, “Don’t be shocked, yes, I trust him, and don’t encourage him, whatever you do.”

“Avah,” I said warningly.

“Harliander was a year behind me in school. He tutored me in property, I tutored him in family.”

“Tutored,” I asked, “or tutored?”

“The sort with tons of books and gallons of fondal in a bright shop,” she said. “Not that he isn’t absolutely adorable, but that’s the problem. I trust him, he’s less a risk than Vaish on his best day, and he’ll cost less.”

“If he’s a year behind you, and he taught you property, why are we going to the docks? Why don’t I know this Harliander?” Avah’s grasp of property law is excellent. If she hadn’t come to work for me, she would probably be a partner already, and a well-paid one. Far better than the Judicatura and I can pay her, at least. Fortunately, she’s a Selenar, and they’re neither poor nor parsimonious with their daughters.

“The usual reasons — money and family,” she said. “He clerks for the Metropolita right now. It’s a job until he gets done. Just don’t encourage him and don’t flirt.”

“I don’t know how,” I said. I’ve never had opportunity to learn and really, little interest when my likely spouse is either my cousin or some noble with forty years on me.

“Don’t even try,” she warned as the cab pulled to a stop between two long rows of tall warehouses. Most of the doors had burning vapor lights so the street wasn’t dark,  and several carts were still loading or unloading crates. As we emerged, I caught the sound of several whistles and cheers at the sight of two women not dressed for heavy lifting. “You’ll make good dogs beg, lovies!” someone shouted.

Praise, I suppose, but I didn’t want to be noticed. I followed Avah up four flights of narrow iron stairs bolted to the wall. Fire-stairs, not the internals, and she stopped at a window.

The boy who answered must have been her tutor’s very youngest brother. He couldn’t be more than twelve, maybe thirteen. He had sprouted, probably as much as he would, and the top of his curling mop would be at my kissing height, but he was slightly built with a sweetly puppyish face half-hidden by thick, heavy spectacles that made his lovely brown eyes the size of fondal cups. “Avah,” he said, his voice surprised and delighted and exhausted. “It’s been too long, but if possible, can I please come find you in a couple days? I just came off twelve of tote-n-carry, after I pulled overnight at the jail. I’m so happy to see you, but I’m gonna flatten — ”

“Can we come in?” she asked.

He looked terribly hurt and conflicted. He also didn’t look capable of a day’s dock-work, and there was no way this was a younger brother. He just looked very, very young for his age. “Sun damn me, I’ve waited to hear that from you for six years, and I’m so bleeding tired — “

“I’ll cover your tuition and your books for the next year if you just let us in,” Avah said. “That should finish you up, right?”

“Ayuh, who am I to argue with rich and gorgeous? I thought Drace said you were at the Karrrsaaaiii… ” he said, drawing out the last word as he finally saw me. He stepped back into a room stuffed with books, files and a pile of clothing at the end of a narrow bed. Avah pulled me in behind her and closed the window, then drew his curtain, a heavy wool tapestry that, while once fine, had seen many better seasons. He stared at me in the light of his single table lamp.

“Harli, don’t be that boy,” Avah said. “This is my boss, Majesteria Cazerien dat Vohan of the High Judicatura, and you really want to impress her so stop drooling and show us your Ingeniae.”

He took a step back, as if planning to try a bow, but stumbled over a stack of Carthyer. I grabbed his arm, because if he went down, he’d either crack his head or knock me down. “I think I’m just an Advocate right now, Avah,” I said. “That suspension and all. A pleasure, Harliander — ” she hadn’t said the rest of his name.

“Sune Arven,” he said automatically. “Not the Regent, Ascendency?”

Not the way Avah had dressed me, and honestly, I’m the Ascendara most of my life. When I get to be Advocate Rien dat Vohan is my best time. I don’t get near enough time with the rest of the lawyers and Advocates and clerks. When I get the chance, I take it. “Rien,” I said and took his amazingly strong but soft hand to shake. Involuntarily, I looked for the gloves and found them at the top of the heap of coats. Lambswool lined heavy leather, worn shiny and flexible with use, very expensive new and very carefully kept. Because lawyers with calloused hands don’t rise very high and he wanted to soar. “Avah said you’ve — ” I realized she hadn’t told me why we had come here.

“I need your spying trick,” she said. “I may need it all night. When’s your next shift?”

“Docks tomorrow. The Metro sent me home until we get word on the Coronation. Nobody’s getting in much trouble right now, and Cap thinks we’ll have more ‘an we can handle afterwards. Part of this city an’t gonna be happy no matter what the Prava decides. That’s why I’m taking extra dock shifts. I can’t afford not to work.”

“You can,” Avah said and held up the roll of royals — 2500 teanders. She held it just out of reach. “Can you Observe the Financial district from here?”

“Ayuh,” he said. “Who?”

“Tiwendar. Who’s there?”

“Harder question, Counselor,” he said and perched himself on a corner of his bed. Avah shoved his coats and tunics back, offered it to me, but I kept my feet. This was the smallest bedroom I’d ever been in, and his bed would be the third I’d ever touched, after my own and Ragin’s. Are you sure about that? one part of me asked the rest. Never Savrin’s? Never?

While Avah and Harliander talked through addresses and people I didn’t know, I had to consider that question. Had I never gotten into Sav’s bed, even when we were toddling? No. From my earliest memories, I would crawl into bed with Ragin when afraid, and he with me. Sav would come to mine, but I never went near his. The three of us shared camp pallets when Da took us to Monserrat, and very occasionally, we would have our own indoor camp in front of a fireplace when the hypocaustae broke or the weather got miserable. I avoided Savrin’s nook when we shared the nursery and his room afterwards. It… smelled. Wrong. Like… lilacs left too long in the vase. And like pepper vinegar and sulfur.

A ward, a minor one, but a ward. How had I never noticed that? Because it mostly smelled like dying lilacs and you only barely noticed any of them. Just enough to make you not go there. For one second, I didn’t care about Tiwendar or hanging Mathes or even if the Prava managed a simple sealed ballot in the morning. I wanted to see if the traces were still in Sav’s old room. Or his new ones. I wanted to know I wasn’t mad, wasn’t imagining sixteen years of childhood.

Avah distracted me from my distraction with a tug on my finger. “There are thirteen bodies in that house,” Harliander said as he stared into a great distance three inches from his nose. “One child, asleep. Very young. Another… a little older. Up too late. He’s got that sparkly look of over-stimulated and underslept. A woman, frustrated and suppressing it. That would be his mother. Another adult nearby but not involved with either child. Ah…. peeling a root, a lot of them. Bet that’s the baby’s mam. Next up. Concentration and… reaching, turning. Oi, he’s fiddling with a boiler. That would be the houseman. Another servitor, clearly, that’s shoe polishing. Gotta get past the servitors. That one is down cellar, probably the housekeeper getting the bottles for tomorrow. And another one, asleep. Woman, young — housemaid or laundrymaid. Deep sleep for the hour so up early, anyway. That’s the back, so front of house. Three sitting, two standing. That’s all thirteen. First stander. Just standing. Creamy. Bored. Big. Bluish under the cream. Patience. And grey under that… dark grey. Watchfulness. Oi, bodyguard. Second stander. Sparkly, so this one’s up too late, too, but he’s older. Middle aged. Tired. Smaller. Grey and rusty — watchful and attentive.

“Tiwendar’s bodyman,” I suggested. “He’s a rather mousy man, but I doubt much gets past him.”

Harli nodded. “Well, if that’s right, then Tiwendar himself is nineteen cups or so in. That’s good and snockered all right. The other two aren’t nearly so blasted. What’s the black one?”

“You can stop,” I said. “That’s Mathes. I can never find him except as a hole in the world. He’s got defenses on his defenses.”

He looked up at me with surprise and some respect. “You’re an Observer?”

I nodded. “I don’t have your range, and our colors are different, except black. I think it’s an absence of the essential light, rather than a color.”

“Ayuh,” he said. “Oi, you’re an Advocate. I can feed this directly to you.”

“Thanks, but there’s no point,” I said. “If Tiwendar is drunk and Mathes is there, I can’t go there and by the time he sobers up enough for what I wanted, it will be too late one way or the other. Now, forget that you know I’m an Observer.”

“Certainly. I could take a message,” he offered. “I’ve got my uniform. Metro’s got tons of reasons to send a note ’round to the Optimus. An’t like we an’t pulled many important men outta their houses when they’re growing gills. All I need’s a note and a cab and place to take him.”

I considered it, but no Metropolita officer would request the Optimus on a come alone basis. If The Optimus was legitimately called to the Metropolita and Terigenitor Picarem accompanied him, no one there would object. But I wasn’t legitimately Metropolita, I had promised to stay out of the Chancery’s work, and I had made the offer once. I had no obligation to save Reginal Tiwendar from himself. When he was warranted tomorrow, he would have lost his opportunity with me. He could attempt to make his own deal with Advocate Azalain or the Chancellor. I shook my head. This had been a fool’s errand, and possibly my last freedom ever. But to have met Avah’s property tutor, who was himself an interesting — in the best sense — and clever near peer almost compensated. In another world, where I was just an Advocate, I would have found him a friend. I made a mental note to myself. If I had a coronation in my future, once it was over, I would call this sweet, generous docking-working Advocate in training to clerk for me until he got his license, then hire him.

“You’re an Evocator, too,” he said, pleased. “And a beautiful key and chord. Mine’s — ” He snapped off, having realized once again who he was talking to. My Advocate’s heart cracked a bit because if I were just an Advocate, I could have tuned my Evocation to his and perhaps had an occasional conversation. Were I at all normal, I’d have been happy to chat because he had no malice in him.

I smiled sadly and shrugged. “Sorry, but no. Thank you, though, and so many thanks for doing my peeking for me. You have kept me from a nasty trap. I, Rien, owe you one favor. Don’t forget that marker.”

“It’s already in Privacy,” he said and shook my hand one more time. “Thanks for letting me help. Wish I could do more. You’ve got my cousin’s vote, but you always had that.”

I squeezed his hand in return. “Who’s cousin are you?”

“Paxular. He’s Mam’s nephew. We’re the lost sheep.”

Now I looked hard at him. I don’t spend much time at the Metropolita, but I’ve worked with and against Mandar quan Paxular since I got my license. He’s an excellent Advocate, and partner at one of the best firms in Galantier. He’s the Advocate to whom I aspire in ethics. He’s also generous both with family and with rising legal talent. “And you clerk for the Metro jail?”

“Oi, I like it,” he said. “I’m the Defender’s clerk. Everyone gets a fair hearing from the Magistrate on my watch. Uncle Mandar’s promised he’ll support a few years of unpaid defense once I get my license. But I like what I do and I really don’t want to have to write divorces and contracts.”  He grinned wide. “Still, wouldn’t pass up an apprenticeship with 317 to zero.”

“You rat,” Avah said and punched his shoulder. “You acted like you’d forgotten where I was. And I believed it!”

“I’ve made two hundred teanders on you,” he said and gave her a half-hug. “I’ve always got a half-teander on your cases. Sometimes at long odds. You never let me down, gorgeous.” He looked at both of us. “The two of you paid for my books last term. I made fourteen to one on the Romalov case. Nobody thought he could be judged guilty except me. You two always make sure the Perceptives and the hard evidence line up. And you’re good at the stories. Really, if you have an apprenticeship, that’s the favor I’d like. Best legal minds in a century.”

Avah blushed, though it’s true. As a team, we are. “Don’t gamble on Rien. She doesn’t like it.”

“You have a dispensation,” I allowed. “Small sums. And don’t tell me about it.” The Curia has been betting on my smallest action for years. At least Harliander could and did use the money for good, and he seemed to have faith in my skills.

He smiled, his eyes gone shy and abashed.

“Thank you,” Avah said again. “I’m sorry to use your mind and flee, but early morning for all of us. I’d love to take you for a drink and a dance, but not right now. Come see me next tenday. I’ll take you to supper and I’ve got to have something that pays better than Metro clerk.” She handed him the roll of coins. “Truly, you probably saved our lives.”

He took the coins — no fool, he, and Avah would have stashed them here or deposited them in his treasury account if he had refused — but shook his head. “No better clerk’s job. Besides, I’m the only Defense clerk who actually likes defendants. Innocent til proved from midnight to eighth. Rest of the day, it’s the other way round. Girl’s gotta make a living and walking on pavement an’t a crime.”

Now, I truly wanted him in the Public Advocates’ office. The pay is historically terrible, the hours worse, but we never have enough people who believe in innocence until proven. They need a pay raise, I reminded myself and stuck the memory in a file to remind me when the time came.

“Besides,” he finished. “Next tenday you’ll think this tenday was naptime. You’ll be running from dawn to midnight, and good for you. When you’re Lord Chancellor, I’ll find you.” He turned to me and half-bowed. “Ma’am, honored.”

We let ourselves out and Harliander watched us into the cab. It wound back through dark, empty streets. “Don’t know how to flirt,” Avah scoffed. “You couldn’t have flirted harder if you tried.”

“I didn’t,” I said, stung.

She sighed and rolled her eyes. “Earnest modesty about our work, that’s never an act. And your gratitude never has a tinge of resentment. I forget how simply charming you can be when you’re Advocate dat Vohan, not Majesteria Brick Wall or Teregenia Prickles the First, or the Ice Ascendara. I need to make more time for you to be you. Don’t blame me if he grows a fancy. You turned his every charm key.”

“I won’t. I wish I could like him.” Simple friendship and power don’t grow in the same soil. It’s why, no matter how many years I spent in public service, I don’t get to be an Advocate often. I don’t get to flirt and charm young earnest, idealistic, heroic puppies. That I have Avah and Ragin makes me a fortunate Ascendar. Many had no friends and couldn’t trust the other Ascendars at all.

“Stay in my rooms tonight,” Avah said. “You keep the brave, strong facade, but you’re allowed to miss him. It’s not weak to cry.” She pulled my head onto her shoulder and stroked  my hair. “Grief will stop being puissance very soon,” she whispered. “You can’t pour it into your defenses forever.”

I didn’t respond, but took what comfort she offered. Avah is prosaic, and while she spends most of her hours with Perceptives like me, she understands Ingeniae only abstractly, the way I understand that the stars are other suns, very far away. Yes, emotion is like puissance, the way anger fuels righteousness or  fear can give matchless strength for a moment. But emotion isn’t puissance, and I cannot use my grief and anxiety to fuel my Ingeniae. I generate a little, like everyone else, but like every other Ingeniae, most comes from the air I breathe or the earth under my feet. Those seems to be limitless resources, but I am not. After eight years together, Avah did know when I was using my ingenia to suppress my feelings, but she thought I locked them behind my defenses like a pack of feral pigs. She’s seen me lock away my feelings a million times, because a child bearing burns and bruises from a parent’s hand needs comfort, security and safety, not to see her protector’s rage. Both prosecution and defense deserve an impartial, impassive justiciar. Half a million people need me to think before I react. One hundred Teregenis and five thousand Curiars need to know I am competent, capable and sensible.

I don’t wall off my feelings. I don’t know if anyone can. I can’t. I bottle them, condense them, distill them, then store them away. I have a twist on the Advocate’s memory that turns puissance into insulation instead of thought, into an artificial calm instead of memory. The channel seems to run in a convoluted path from my head to my toes and back, but when I drip a little of my own puissance and some of the world’s into the opening between my ears, that channel turns cold. Just like a copper pipe filled with ice water, my feelings condense into drops. No matter how hot the anger, how bright the rage, how searing the fear, it condenses in that channel. And I use it. I freeze those feelings before they scare the child, disturb the Prava, sway the evidence, before it becomes hate for the half-million people who decided that my family should be enslaved to their needs for all time.

The metaphor holds — water in pipes, in channels, water that freezes and expands. Water shunted into bottles, corked and stored away in the ice cave of my heart. Water under pressure expands. Ice twists and tears a sealed vessel, shatters glass.

Avah expected a panic soon, perhaps tonight. On that, she was wrong. The dread of the morning’s Prava session would propel me through the next hours, just as flowing water can pass through the pipe no matter the weather. The panic would come when I had to stop and be still. The next bottle would explode when my perpetual motion met an immovable object.

The Advocate in me wouldn’t mind much if the Prava decided I wasn’t fit to rule. It would be my first loss — 317 to 1 — but if they so chose, I could see the inside of a tavern. Go to a play on a whim. Read sagas. Take apprentices. Defend inept housebreakers and women accused of unlicensed whoring. Reserve the channel for broken children and the service of informed, fair, restorative justice. Stop fearing the hands offering friendship because I wouldn’t have anything worth taking except my affection.

If they choose Ragin, that’s true. Not Savrin. Those half million people expect us to carry coals and spark fires as needed. They don’t expect us to burn everything. If the Prava picks Savrin, we’ll need every lawyer fighting, every politician obstructing, every voice raised and every drop of righteous anger at steam pressure. And I’m tired of the fight now.

“Ragin will be annoyed that I’ve been so long gone. Thank you, but I’m all right. Da knows he’s missed. He knows he’s loved. It’s my fault he’s gone, so there’s no surrender. Not now.”


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