16-28 Alglidis, 1138
This is a disaster.
From behind my stone-grilled window, I watched Karsai guards and Metropolita officers disperse the crowd. Each night since the Coronation, the mob had grown larger and angrier. Tonight, the sixth since the world shifted off its axis, the guards were armored and armed with cudgels. I couldn’t count the torches anymore, and before the officers descended, people had packed Welces’ Square. At least four thousand people stood down there and any ill-considered action might cause a panic and a stampede. The first two nights, they’d called for me, but Savrin’s Captain of the Guard forbade me show myself, and Simin reluctantly agreed. Now, the crowd only wanted Savrin, or more specifically, his head. On a pike.
I spent my days winding up Privy Council business and the regency, as brief as it had been. As I left Prava House on that disastrous day, two men had placed themselves in my path. Estevan sator Lethis presented his new Chancellor’s credential, and Mercen quan Bastiari his for Exchequer. They were in Mathes’ exquisite hand except for Savrin’s violet scrawl, an affectation from adolescence he had carried into his priesthood. The ink was long dry. The only ones surprised by the ballot were the sixty or so whose votes had been stolen. As expected, sator Lethis withdrew every warrant issued between the moment of my father’s death and the Coronation and began the purge before the Hermachian oil of sanctification had dried on Savrin’s head and hands. So too, quan Bastiari, whose first decree was a moratorium on audits.
Now, as I watched my people protest and their government silence them, I could only think about our newborn disaster.
“You’ve a guest,” Avah said from the door. She crossed to where I sat curled in my windowseat and pulled my face away from the scene below with a finger on the side of my chin. “They’re still in shock, too. Guards, Metropolita and people. This will end — “
“Before or after grief and shock kills someone?” I demanded. “A Razin would have called emergency assemblies at the temples, like Da did during the floods eight years ago, or when the border flares or after earthquakes. He’d send me to talk to them, we’d reassure them of the continuity of the House — “
“He never would have sent you, my dear,” Ethene said. “The rest is true. I’m sorry, Avah. I’ve never been good about protocol for protocol’s sake.”
Avah half-smiled and shook her head at her aunt. “As I said, you’ve a guest.” She started to pull one of my more comfortable chairs towards the windowseat for Ethene, but Ethene settled herself in a swirl of black rustling silk beside me. “I’ll see to the correspondence, then,” Avah said with asperity.
“Don’t,” I said.
“We’re all family,” Ethene said, and gestured Avah into the chair. I returned to watching the debacle in the square. “What happened this morning?” she asked. “I only heard you’ve been removed from the Judicatura.”
“Suspended pending investigation,” I said. “Not removed. Though how anyone imagines the Judicatura will have time for an internal investigation when the High Judicatura is short a member, I don’t know… So, yes. Removed.”
I heard Avah fetch the fondal tray while I spoke to the grating. “Two years ago, I ruled in an embezzlement case and levied a heavy penalty against an investment firm. Clear fraud, the case hung on written evidence, but the firm fought it through the High Judicatura. The investors, including the Lethians, lost a lot of money between the original fraud, the defense, and the fine. It’s not entirely clear if the Lethians were innocent victims or conspirators, but Savrin’s new Chancellor decided to revenge himself upon the messenger, rather than those serving their work-farm sentences.”
“What does Justiciar diat Benscop say?” Ethene asked.
Something warm touched my shoulder and I took the cup Avah offered. “Thanks,” I said. “That the Chancellor has the right to order the investigation, and it will proceed as quickly as possible, and when it’s over, I’ll get my bench back. The law and the decision are as clear as that glass.” I nodded at the window. “That case had no shades of Perception — it was all in the audit. But Sam expects he’ll be asked — firmly — to retire soon, along with at least five other High Justiciars. The Restorationists are being targeted.” Restoration theory didn’t refer to my current legal status, though conveniently enough, most Restorationists supported my position on monarchy and judicial power rather than Savrin’s. The argument questioned how our society handled wrong-doing, and whether offenses are against the state or the individual. The philosophical battle lines had been drawn long before I passed my Advocate’s exam, which meant Savrin’s Ascension presaged a general purge of those who disagreed with the Reformists. It was almost comforting, in that it confirmed Savrin selection hadn’t been personal, but part of a political agenda.
I sighed, then winced at the sight of three Metropolitae carrying off someone indistinct. He, or she, looked too limp to be merely injured. Don’t be our first fatality, I thought at the person. “I think Sam’s too… optimistic. He says a half-year before I’m returned to my bench, but I know what I left behind. With my cases reassigned, my vacant bench slows everyone. Six vacancies would be impossible.”
“Oh, still standing a circular fire line. Thirty-eight Progressives and every Royalist have signed a statement contesting the sealed ballot. We have sixty-two depositions claiming a no vote. Forty-four have volunteered to undergo limited compelled Perceptive testimony. I believe them, but they don’t believe each other. Nobody trusts the Reformists, the Royalists are suspicious of the Progressives, the whole of the Progressives have decided that a pox belongs on everyone else and they can’t get through six minutes without someone shouting an insult. It would be more amusing if they all had Kurzon’s talent for invective.”
I held up my seal.
“Have we accomplished anything?” she asked.
I shrugged. “They’re still squabbling about who should investigate Da’s death. The Army seems to be doing so by default and there are a dozen Metropolita investigators on the scene. Between the two, I expect they’ll produce actual evidence. The routine budgetary items have passed — everything on the docket from the day before. The Army, Navy and Famine Coffers are funded. We’ve approved four increases to small taxes, three decreases to the same taxes, one repeal of a tax, one reinstitution of a tax at the old level. Six minor projects have been funded, five of them have been defunded. No. Yes. Tomorrow, someone will propose the sea is cheese and the sky is soup and it will pass on first read and fail on reconsideration. But they’re getting back in the habit of talking to each other and they’re relearning to pay attention, so I don’t consider it an entirely wasted tenday. There’s less shouting than there was.”
“And Savrin?” she asked.
“I haven’t seen him,” I said. “I have not been summoned, and when I’ve gone seeking him, an extraordinary number of priests tell me he can’t be disturbed for a wide variety of reasons.”
“You’re being moved out and kept out,” Ethene said.
I nodded, then turned away from the window. I couldn’t bear to watch more people be coshed for merely speaking their minds. “As expected.”
“What are you doing about it?” she asked.
I threw up my hands and launched myself from the window. I paced my room furiously, splashing hot fondal all over my hands until I had the wit to put the cup down. I whirled at each turn, so angry I couldn’t even formulate a sentence for several laps. “Doing? What do you expect of me, Ethene? Shall I go strangle Sav? Rest assured, I’ve considered it, but beyond regicide, there’s very little that can be done. Succession votes cannot be challenged in the Judicatura, and we’ve no legal means to remove a consecrated Monarch.”
They both stayed silent and still for a long moment, though blue and amber eyes followed my perambulation. Ethene folded her hands in her lap. “Yes, Rien. I know the succession laws at least as well as you. That wasn’t what I meant.”
“Pray explain,” I snapped.
Thank Archilia that family are the people who can bear a display a temper and not take it personally. “Can you render yourself indispensable as Bella did for your father?”
“Perhaps,” I said, “in a few tendays, but now, between Mathes and Sav’s Lethian advisors, I can’t get near enough to make myself useful, much less necessary.”
“She’s tried,” Avah said, “but it’s not just Rien. Between defending her decision and defending Ragin — ”
Ethene looked at me. “Ragin?”
I sighed and handed her the file of charges levied against Ragin for his outburst of temper. One each of assault on the dignity of, credible threat on the body of, and disrupting the peace of the Prava. Entirely ludicrous — the Prava yelled worse things at each other during water-rights debates, let alone the last few days — but when the case finally came to trial, I’d have the hells’ own time defending him. Over three hundred people heard him and saw him attack without direct provocation. Worse, each day he spent in Cimenarum awaiting trial was one more for High Command to issue a citation for dereliction of duty. The magistrate who set his conditions for release from the Metropolita jail had forbidden him to leave Cimenarum until the preliminary hearing in three tendays, when I hoped his case would be remanded to the Courts Martial. His military career wasn’t exactly finished, but he would certainly lose his command and at least one rank.
I had been so furious with him when I went to the jail to argue for dismissal and pay his bond that I had not yet spoken to him. I completely understand his temper — we share it — but I’d hoped he’d recall that publicly threatening Mathes laid a foundation stone of this mess. The only time I expect him to control his temper against all provocation is in Prava House, but there, he must be temperate because he doesn’t know the protocol. Yet he ignored it, just like always on Prava matters.
Ignored me. As if my experience with those men counted for nothing. It hurt, just like being told I’m too tender to govern. I also knew that he was a handy target for rage I could not exercise, which wasn’t fair, but so it goes. My jaw ached continuously because I kept grinding my teeth and my shoulders ached with held tension.
Ethene skimmed the documents, then shook her head. “Had it been anyone but Mathes, he wouldn’t have behaved so.”
“I know,” I said.
“I do believe Rien’s more annoyed with Ragin because he’s always seemed proud of his ignorance of the Prava than what he actually did,” Avah said.
Ethene caught my eye on my next turn and I half-shrugged in agreement. She closed the file and bound the tape, speaking softly. “If Savrin is a lost cause, either temporarily or permanently, then I believe your concerns must shift to ensuring your security. Dearest, I know this is the only home you’ve ever known, but I can’t imagine it being safe for you now. After all, you’re rather a constant threat to Savrin’s authority and Mathes’ hold over the boy.”
“Da would expect me to stay as long as there’s any hope I can serve Galantier. I still have my Prava seats.”
Ethene scowled. “Oi, yes, you’ll be such use to Galantier when you’re down with your father, fertilizing that damned rose tree. Rien, they will kill you. They’ve been trying to do so for years.” Despite her hampering skirts, she flew at me from the window and shook me hard. “Don’t make me walk in your funeral cortege, too.”
Ethene is small, delicate and round, not a darning needle like me, but she’s amazingly strong. I bowed my head and closed my eyes. “Ayuh,” I said. “What do you suggest? Since someone wants me dead, the safest place for me is the Karsai, surrounded by guards and trusted staff.”
“They’re not your guards, not your staff. Go visit Alnora for a few tendays — “
I pulled away. Ethene has always been generous about my mother, never jealous nor spiteful, and often encouraged me to intimacy beyond my abilities. Mumma’s sanctuary down in the Iolanthan motherhouse on Monserat would be undoubtedly secure and peaceful… and stifling. “I’ve the Prava,” I said, glad for the excuse. “I can’t proxy my votes now and my presence is the only thing keeping the blood off the floor.”
“Then come stay with me,” she suggested. “I’ve acres of rooms I never use.”
I didn’t agree, but I didn’t refuse, either. Living with Ethene would not be odious and her townhouse was comfortable, but when her thirty days of mourning concluded, she’d resume some of her social events. I didn’t want to make security harder for her. I supposed I wouldn’t mind integrating myself into a social world, eventually, but I wanted my own, not one picked for me. I’d enjoy the legal community’s late-night case sessions over buns and cold noodles and the endless debates of Restoration against Retribution, egalitarianism versus complimentarianism, individual good versus collective good. I’d also appreciate following Avah, her sister Meri and their cousin Mina — all Haelens through their mothers, and near my age. We had played together irregularly when we were small. I didn’t want my father’s old school mates and my Aunt’s tiny coterie of intellectual spinsters and Ethene’s artists. I couldn’t care less if Darshaiz 54 or Dastorian 72 tasted better, nor how quantifying the differences in the daily temperatures of those summers would define what separated a superb wine from a very good one. I recognize art and music as powerful, but I’ve never had time for the esoterica of their languages. I’ve the fashionable sensibilities of a mop.
We resolved nothing and our conversation moved to other topics, but I appreciated Ethene’s support. She obviously grieved as much as I, possibly more, since she had never been officially acknowledged as the other half of Da’s heart. Da couldn’t divorce my mother without provoking Mumma’s Farazine relations, and we’d always needed the ballast Farenze provided in our war with Spagna. Also, Da refused to send any woman back to Farenze; they appalled him. Though in Mumma’s case, she might have been happier had he done.
After Ethene left, I went to bed, but lay awake, contemplating my next move. She was right; the Reformists weren’t finished with me. Rendering me impotent was their ultimate goal, and at the moment, I still had power in the form of nine langreves, nine votes on the Prava, and a lifetime as my father’s designated successor. People are habitual, and the customs of years did not die easily. And I remained Prima Ascendara. While the deep succession argument raged — the committee had not yet been constituted — the current succession plan had passed ninety-nine to four, by roll call. Apparently, I am a fine spare part, just not to be installed. This time, Ragin and I voted for the plan. We no longer had a reason to object.
I got up and went back to work, checking the catalog of my assets and insuring that those charities and innovators I subsidized would be funded for the near future should anything happen, when my door opened. I hadn’t awakened Avah and Ragin had resumed his own suite after his arrest, partly to preserve my little remaining virtue, mostly because I locked him out. It meant I slept poorly, wracked by nightmares — though not the dreams — but better than provoking a quarrel that might not mend.
“Still furious with me, brat?” Ragin asked as he closed my door. He held a bottle of wine and two glasses, and looked as tired as I felt.
I checked my conscience. My conversation with Avah and Ethene had helped. I shook my head and went to the comfortable chairs, waving him to join me. He still wore his formal uniform, but he’d been working from the Minister of War’s office while he was confined to Cimenarum. He cracked the bottle as I curled up my chair. I accepted the glass of dry, slightly sparking, pale rezlet without speaking.
“I had a message from General Arken today,” he said. That was his senior commander, which could be good news or not. I waited. “He’s petitioned to have my charges transferred to the Courts Martial and the Minister of War agrees.”
Savrin hadn’t yet managed to replace Da’s Minister of War — the Prava was proving more recalcitrant on him than the other ministers — so I doubted that the transfer of charges would mean putting Ragin on the front line after demotion. “Shall I continue to pursue the case?” I asked.
He shook his head. “My chances are better in the Courts Martial — not good, but better. Thank you, Rien. I’m so sorry.” He stared into his glass, radiating misery and penitence. “You warned me, and I didn’t listen.”
The apology helped, but I don’t know military law as well as I should. “What the worst possible sentence?”
“Two demotions and a year of half-pay,” he said, “but only if I don’t throw myself on the mercy. Admitting guilt should help.”
“Good,” I said. “Do that.”
“You’re still angry.”
“I’m exasperated. One doesn’t threaten a Teregenitor before all their peers except in highly specific circumstances which you don’t know. In the Prava, you shiv in the halls in a whisper and you cut throats in committee. When will you know?”
“Soon,” he said. “Have you seen Sav yet?”
He shook his head. There wasn’t much more to say. He put his glass down and squeezed himself into my chair. We clung to each other, the last survivors of the wreck of the ship of state. Anguish and weariness colored everything for us in those horrible days of waiting for the next disaster. I must have fallen asleep; at some point, I woke in Ragin’s arms as he put me to bed, as he’d done when I was tiny.
“I’m sorry,” I muttered. “You’re not to blame. I’m angry and you’re convenient.”
He snuffed the lamp, but in the moonlight, I saw him shrug. “I give you cause,” he admitted. “You’re forgiven if I am.”
“Always,” I said. He tucked the down coverlet under my chin, kissed my forehead, then stretched out atop the blankets beside me. I should have sent him away, but it didn’t matter anymore. I turned my back on him and curled up inside my cold blankets.
“Marry me,” he said. “Come back to the front with me. Paval can use another Advocate, and I can keep you safe.”
“Remind me again what’s so safe about a war zone?” I said. “Ragin, that’s not sensible. You’ll likely lose your command, and possibly rank. Only generals are permitted their wives, and right now, you can’t protect yourself. Besides.” I turned over and watched his profile. “We’d make each other miserable, no matter how we work out whatever arrangement, and you must marry someone else.”
I couldn’t see his expression in the dark, but I caught movement. “I wouldn’t expect — that.”
“And you call me the squeamish one,” I said. “You’d resent the hells out of whomever I pick and if you think we fight now — “
“I’m not jealous,” he retorted.
“No, you’re not, but you are as over-protective as Da, and in your opinion, no man will ever be good enough for me.”
He didn’t reply immediately. “That’s not entirely true. There were a couple… I liked Kelfan enough. But you’re more right than wrong. I want you to be happy.”
“Ragin, that’s my decision, not yours. I promise, I’m not unhappy — “
“Please spare me ecstatic.”
“Given circumstances.” I squeezed his shoulder. “Thank you for thinking of it, though. I do love you, Scruff.”
“I love you, too, Brat. Just don’t wait too long.”