Rien’s Rebellion 15 – 5 Glacilis 1138 Rien


5 Glacilis 1138



The Prava returned to the matters at hand after the coronation, but on the day I left off official mourning, thirty-five days after Da’s death, I found I lacked the next proposal after we completed the annual grain distribution. I only heard the Optimus read the title, “Marriage and family status of Galantieran nobility.”

It wasn’t among my papers. Either Avah had misfiled the proposal — unlikely — or she never received it.  

“In a joint proposal,” the Optimus read, “Teregenis Viteren, Bastiari and Zorian submit that in the interest of the nation, the requirements of the Pantheon Proclamation of 141 be reaffirmed by the Prava and all who serve Galantier. They submit that all Teregenis seated and prospective be held to the standards regarding legitimacy and faith as established by Razin Argen and Razia Doromina, specifically section three of the Proclamation. They submit that in the interest of Galantier, no illegitimate person shall retain the rights and privileges of Teregenis, nor shall illegitimate progeny of the Teregenis or their children be permitted into the succession of the various houses.”

They skipped me so I couldn’t build the rebuttal. None of the men in the room were bastards. A few of their parents might have anticipated the wedding, but noble marriages are fully arranged to join people, economies, lands and power. The Pantheon Proclamation only affected me.

I needn’t open my Lex Galanteris, though my right hand rested on my battered copy and I knew exactly where in its onionskin pages I’d find the reference. The Pantheon Proclamation is one of Galantier’s earliest, strongest and best laws since it, more than friable human tolerance, allows the followers of eleven gods and dozens of cults to thrive in peace. It declared our eleven ancestral gods co-equal and prevents the state from interfering in matters of faith. It also established our marriage and family precedents. Galantier’s sole marriage law is in the Proclamation: All marriages between Galantieran citizens or Galantierans and foreigners shall be considered legal and binding provided a priest or priestess performs the service in accordance with the rites of the faith within the borders of Galantier.

My father married my mother, more than a year before my birth, in Pantheist rite, by a Galantieran chaplain. But they married in her homeland, in Farenze.

My grandfather approved the match, having arranged it to seal a treaty. His Chancellor and the Prava agreed. By the time I arrived, forty-three tendays later, my grandfather was dead, Da was Razin, and my mother was Consorta. Both Aunt Bella and Ragin remained in the secession, though their claims were subordinate to any children my parents produced because Bella’s mother’s marriage to my grandfather had been annulled, calling Bellacera’s legitimacy into question, and because Ragin was nearly a bastard born to a pair of legal children. Mathes was barely fifteen when he absconded with sixteen year old Pronatia Docia Arthasi, then twenty tendays into her pregnancy. Mathes and Docia did marry, but without their parents’ permission. My grandfather reluctantly accepted the marriage and Ragin’s legitimate line of descent, but forever barred Mathes from the succession as punishment.  My birth simplified matters significantly, as the legitimate child of the Razin and his Consorta, kindled in marriage, born in Cimenarum, at the Karsai.

The wording had not even been a technicality then — my parents were wed according to the rites as practiced in Galantier. The alteration in the interpretation was only a decade old; a set of original Proclamations had been found, and given the manuscript of the time, some copies placed the phrase within the borders of Galantier as a separate clause. Most of the legal world considered it a transcription error, but on the principle of exact adherence, some who brought home a foreign-born spouse remedied the matter with a second ceremony. It had never been applied retroactively, and under the Judicatura as it had been only four tendays before, the interpretation would have been deemed invalid.

Mathes, however, thrives on technicalities and loopholes.

Teregenitor Kurzon demanded the Vocata first. “This proposal wastes our time. We’ve other matters.”

Teregenitor Ruteri’s affected, nasal whine rebutted, “With all due respect, it ensures the legitimacy and probity of this body. If the parents of those we entrust with government can’t abide by our laws, how can we trust their children to lead?”

Tell that to your hellions, Ruteri. They’ve never met a law they obey.

“I’ll tell you what it is,” Teregenitor Arisdal said, rising to his feet and not bothering with the Vocata. “It’s merely an underhanded attempt to disgrace the Prazia. We’ve accepted Consorta Alnora’s faith and His late Majesty’s marriage to her for over a quarter-century. We Elevated the Prazia to Prima Ascendara and she remains Prima Ascendara because we need her.”

The Royalist shock and outrage told me that I wasn’t alone in failing to receive the printed proposal. Technically, the only person in the room who must receive a proposal is the Prava clerk. Had the proposal been distributed normally, I would have heard of this, but since I hadn’t that told me Mathes had his votes neatly sewn into his pocket. Cold fire seized my heart.

The Optimus banged on the sounder, but Teregenitor Arisdal, despite looking frail and wispy, has the voice of a bull-ox. “Further, bastardry has never been an impediment to the throne. Recall Bathan Pious, Kalend the Just, and Raginal the Fair. This has absolutely nothing to do with probity and rights. It’s about humiliating the Prazia and I won’t stand for it!”

The battle raged all morning. Savrin had deeded his proxy to Mathes, and this was neither a succession nor a Royal Powers vote — passage required half plus one, seventy-six votes. I had nine, plus Ragin’s proxied three and twenty-six Royalists. I glanced at Watable. He nodded slightly. Also Kurzon, Arisdal, and two dozen others. But the Progressives who worried Watable — the fifteen with secrets — either wouldn’t meet my gaze or would look at me, then away.

I felt the currents in the room. When the Optimus called the vote, I knew. The Reformists and Savrin’s block vote already totaled sixty-five.

At least the vote was close, seventy-six to seventy-five. Mathes didn’t buy a single excess vote.  Afterwards, the Optimus turned to me. With his back to the room, he met my eyes. I’m sorry, he mouthed as he held out his hand for my Teregenitor’s seal, the only one issued to a woman in almost five centuries. I looked down, disbelieving, as I removed its chain from around my neck and puddled it in his hand. I gathered my personal papers and for the first time, instead of leaving through the study, I crossed the Prava chamber with my head held high and my shoulders square. Defiant to the last.

They couldn’t let me go that easily. Mathes had planned my deposition perfectly. A dozen Prava clerks waited for me with the paperwork. I meticulously examined each of the dozens of documents, shoving images of them into Advocate’s memory, but I found no flaws upon which I could contest. These, too, had dry ink. The only reason Mathes had probably waited the two tendays was to ensure the legal basis was waterproof. I had to relinquish my claims on the Prazia’s Treasury accounts, the langreves deeded to me by my father. Each whittled away my mental list of what I still owned. The clerks were carefully neutral as I signed away guards, jewels, rights, property, even my rooms in the Karsai.

Simin fell in with me at the massive wood doors. When we stood on the stone steps in weak winter sunlight, bitter hysteria overtook me. I laughed.

“Ascendency?” Simin asked, utterly confused.

“Don’t call me that, Simin. Do you know what today is?”

Simin looked confused, then hardened. “Those bastards.”

I laughed all the harder because if I didn’t, I’d cry. “An ironic name-day gift, don’t you think? They took mine away.” Well played, Mathes, you piss-drinking, child-raping son of a whore.

Simin waited, possibly wondering if my wits had gone with everything else. The midday bells haven’t rung, I realized as I damped down hysteria.

“Your Asc — ” a Prava page started as he ran down the stairs. He corrected himself, “My Lady — ” before settling on the universal, “Ma’am, from Teregenitor Paxular,” as he shoved a card into my hand and darted away, as much to avoid the misfortune clinging to me as to expedite his duty.

The card made me concentrate on the world and the moment. It only read, See my uncle, but I read fury in Paxular’s sigils. His nib had etched the card, and his hand shook. Since he’s not much older than Ragin, it wasn’t palsy.

I stood on the steps and considered for a moment. The card and my burst of hysterics were oddly productive. My mind was working. Everything I owned, had been and hoped for was gone. It would do Galantier no good — and significant harm — to fight this today. My forty-odd supporters lack a stronghold from which to launch rebellion. Openly opposing the Reformists just brings our destruction. Today, anyway. The tide will shift… eventually. Perhaps never, but they left me alive and with the few assets they can’t take unless they declared me traitor. Most importantly, I had my mind — and my Advocate’s license. My remaining life might be short, imperiled and ordinary, but I won’t hasten its end.

Were I in the Karsai when news reached the servitors, I’d have to endure their pity. Further, if I waited until word spread through the city, I’d negotiate from weakness, worse than if I carried the news myself. If I approached Pronator quan Paxular now, I might just get what I wanted.

“Simin, I can ask nothing of you, but will you direct me to Paxular, sune Ivor and Carthyer’s office?”

“I won’t let you walk the city alone — “

“You may lose your position for that,” I said.

“I haven’t received new orders.” He raised his hand for a cab waiting near Prava House.

“I doubt I can afford this,” I protested.

“Call it a nameday gift,” he said and handed me in.

I’d so rarely been on the streets of Cimenarum during the day that the hurrying thousands startled me. Cimenarum is amazingly clean, considering her 30,000 residents; as a Royal holding, with a strong Famine coffer and refuge houses, it lacks true destitution. How long will it last? It’s also an administrative city, not a commercial one — almost everyone I saw either served the country, or served those serving the country.

I’ll need a house. Most of my assets had been deeded to the Prazia as life tenancies from Da, not to Cazerien dat Vohan. However, I’ve worked — and earned a salary — since I was sixteen. Ministry Advocates and Justiciars are appallingly ill-paid; most either had savings from private practice or family money. I couldn’t practice privately… until now. All those pesky conflicts of interest suddenly evaporate when one’s declared a private citizen. I hadn’t much used my salary, except when I wanted to do something I didn’t want Da knowing about. Usually just gifts, but once to discreetly help a liegeman, I’d needed money not connected to the Ascendara. That’s next, once I know I can keep feeding myself…

Paxular, sune Ivor and Carthyer was in the Financial district, just outside Government district, and primarily handled business and contract law, of which I’d seen rather little since going to the Judicatura. On the whole, the firm’s clients tended to be well-behaved. In fact, the firm refused to help their clients abridge the law, and if a client persisted and got caught, the firm would provide representation, but only until the case was resolved. Afterward, the erring client was on his, or her, own.

I straightened my cloak, stiffened my spine and mounted the steps, assembling my argument.

I had my first luck that day — quan Paxular was in office, not arguing before the Judicatura nor meeting with clients. Mandar was a Teregenitor’s fourth son, of my father’s generation; when I’d first qualified as an Advocate, he and I battled frequently. At the Ministry of Women and Children, when I wasn’t prosecuting the husbands, brothers, fathers, employers and clients — and sometimes their female counterparts — of abused women and children, I’d represented widows and children in inheritance cases. Mandar had often been the adversarial counsel, but adversaries aren’t enemies. We made each other work for our clients, and immensely respected each other.

I hurriedly stopped the clerk’s obeisance — she’d be embarrassed when the news reached her —  and stopped Simin at the office door. “I’m perfectly safe.”

He looked dubious, but that’s his job. We compromised — he stood outside the door.

“Your — ” quan Paxular started as I closed the door behind me.

I cut him off. “Allow me to introduce myself. Long ago, you told Her Ascendency that if she ever met her equal in an Advocate, she should send that person to you. She believes I am her equal.” I steeled myself to pronounce my new name, bestowed upon myself in the cab only moments before, and extended my hand. “Rien Peregath, Your Honor.” I do have my dignity, and calling myself Cazerien presdat Vohan would bring too much controversy.

He half-rose, then froze, his hands on his desk. He groped for his chair for a moment and steadied himself, looking for all the world like a stunned fish. Under better circumstances, I would have been delighted to astonish Advocate quan Paxular; I’d thought him unshockable. Instead, I merely waited and watched men climb on the roofs of the buildings beyond Mandar’s third floor window. Two were filling a roof-top oil tank with a canvas hose; somewhere on the ground was a pump and an enormous horse-drawn tank of fuel-oil. Four more were repairing ice-cracked tiles. Above them, I caught flashes at the Prava House heliograph station, but I’m not adept enough to read flash-code on the air.

A city full of industry, and I’ll never help guide it again. I’ve always been just a cog in the great machine of state, but now, I’m barely a spare part.

“My lady…”

“Mandar, I was declared illegitimate this morning and removed from the succession. I’ve little save my Advocate’s license. That can’t be taken as easily as my name. Rumor says you might have a position. Have I heard correctly?”

He lowered himself into his chair, his face gone as grey as his temples. “My lady,” he said firmly, without the pity he knew I’d hate, “this firm rarely handles governmental matters. We lack the expertise you’d need to see this case through. To be honest, I don’t know to whom I’d refer you, because you’re the best Advocate in these matters and you shouldn’t act as your own counsel. Perhaps tret Alvard and Salasan — “

I crossed to his desk, drew up the client’s chair, and propped my elbows on the polished wood, my chin on my fist. “I need a moment of Advocate’s privilege, Mandar.”

Normally, privilege is limited to accepted clients, and definitely not to be abused, but we all stretch that limitation from time to time. It’s necessary — the burden of so many memories can be overwhelming. In the state of privilege, our recall is excellent, the memories unalterable and cannot be read without specific permissions. An Advocate would sooner slit her own throat than grant that permission indiscriminately. I’ve some of Mandar’s secrets; it’s just the way our profession works.

His face turned calm and neutral, then he recited the Advocate’s ritual. “You seek my aid, citizen. Speak freely and in confidence.”

“There will be no case, Mandar.” I explained the morning’s events succinctly.

He nodded, and though within the Advocate’s calm, it’s hard to feel anything, he looked at me compassionately. “No, of course not. At best, the Judicatura can’t hear the case in less than six tendays — “

“More likely, two or three years,” I said. “It’s not strictly urgent. They have one successor in case of plague. They can’t agree on how to talk about designating more, so they’ve buried their heads under the covers and are convincing themselves the demons won’t eat them. Perhaps the Judicatura could move faster, but we have an anointed Razin and an Elevated Ascendar. If Justiciar diat Benscop brought my case ahead of others, it would be called favoritism.”

He nodded. “Which accusation the Judicatura can ill-afford right now. And even if the Judicatura rules in your favor, the Razin will use the Royal Prerogative to overturn the ruling. Why?”

“To make me insignificant,” I said. “To consolidate Savrin’s power without murdering me, which would entirely fracture Savrin’s power.”

“I’m so sorry, my lady.”

“Thank you,” I said. “My need is ended, Advocate.”

His leathery face regained animation, and dark fury replaced the neutral calm. “Have the Prava gone collectively mad?”

I shrugged. Forty wasn’t all of them, not even a majority. Just enough.

“What will you do?”

“That’s why I’m here,” I said. “You once offered my equal a job. Am I my own equal?”

“I don’t understand — surely, your savings — “

I laughed bitterly. “It’s no state secret, but we don’t advertise it. Every cracked halfling of our income returns to Galantier. That vanished with my name. I must earn my bread and fuel oil. I hope you have an Advocate’s position, by preference, but I’ll take lawyer, clerk or librarian.”

He sucked air through his large front teeth and his mouth twisted sourly. “I wouldn’t waste you thus. A moment.” He managed to stand, waved at the more comfortable chairs and table near his bookshelves, and left the room. Moments later, he returned with several files; his clerk trailed him, bearing a tray of fondal and pastries. The clerk nodded in my general direction, then left wordlessly, closing the door behind him. Mandar pushed the tray at me and sorted through the files.

“You’re awfully cool about this,” he remarked absently.

“How would a tantrum help?” I asked wearily. Honestly, I lacked the energy for outrage. The Prava had won the prize they’d sought since Da died in my place. Rage would merely make my few allies miserable.

Once Mandar drank from the fondal pot and didn’t fall into a purple fit, I poured for myself. No sense being stupid, after all. The pastries looked lovely, but considering my nerves, they’d turn to sand in my mouth and lead in my stomach, so I just sipped the slightly stale, boiled fondal and relished the heat of Mandar’s oil stove.

He handed me a file. “Your opinion, Advocate?”

An audition. On surface, lawyer’s work — contract law for mediation, where an Advocate’s Ingeniae would be unnecessary — the survivorship of a joint venture where this firm represented all involved. Thus, the goal was not litigation but settlement. One of three partners had died; his daughter wanted her father’s share of the partnership, though the original agreement decreed that upon the death of one partner, his share would be divided between the two surviving partners. I checked the dates. The partnership had been written almost forty years ago, long before, I suspected, the partners had married and had children. Demons haunt the details. “Where are the other documents?”

Mandar sighed. “Missing or never written.”

That made it Advocate’s work — someone had to read the memories of those involved to get the full history. Between depositions, pay packet records, Treasury accounts, and some careful questions, I assembled the case. The original partners did want the business to descend to their children — assume sons, I told myself, it’s a lumber concern — and the children had been assured their inheritances. “What was the situation before Master Zerast died?”

My friend settled into his chair with his cup balanced lightly between his fingers before his mouth. “Perfectly amicable. The partners considered each other family, and the children are closer than some siblings. The lads are all in the business, and most of the daughters helped before they married.”

One partner stated he was troubled by the notion of a woman in the lumber business. That sounded at odds with their earlier amiability. “Had Mistress dat Zerast a brother?”

“Died three years ago when his lumber cart turned. She was driving the cart just ahead of him.”

“She’s heavily involved, then. Not just a merchant’s decorative daughter.” That altered the picture.

“Yes,” he responded with a laugh. “She’s challenging you for Galantier’s greatest hoyden.”

“Oi, I haven’t aspired to that title in years,” I said, still reading.

“Not according to my son. He’s still nursing his shoulder from blocking you.”

“Sashar leaves his left side open,” I said absently. I turned to the financial statements. No, the partnership couldn’t buy out Mistress dat Zerast. “Master Zerast didn’t die of age?”

“He was limb cutting, twenty yards up a tree when his harness snapped.”

“Murder’s not suspected?” That would change everything.

“The Perceptives ruled. An accident.”

They needed three partners — sawmill, transport and harvesting. If this case had to go to the Judicatura, it would take years to reach a Justiciar. “Given their financial situation, her knowledge, and the verbal agreement the other partners don’t deny, I think Mistress dat Zerast can claim her place as a partner. What do the sons of the living partners say?”

Mandar looked at me oddly. “Why does that matter?”

“This partnership is old. The partners are nearing sixty– they’re freeborn so they couldn’t form a partnership until they were twenty. The children are all adults and have always known each other. The sons already work with Mistress dat Zerast. My opinion — Master Turan and Master Pirkis deserve to live out their lives without risking their remaining years. Mistress dat Zerast is unmarried. Are marriage and children likely?”

Mandar snorted. “No.”

Given her profession, that surprised me little. “An inheritance issue, then. Her brother left children?”

“Yes, but Master sune Zerast married Master Turan’s only daughter. Two boys and a girl.”

“I’d offer this — Mistress dat Zerast makes her brother’s children her heirs — all three. Since Master Turan handles the desk-work, he can apprentice his granddaughter if he objects to a girl in the wood-yard. Master Turan and Master Pirkis become advisory partners, since they know the business best.” I rechecked the pay records. “They already all work together. There’s no sense in damaging a working arrangement. Mistress dat Zerast takes her father’s place as partner, with the heirs of the other two. When she dies, her share goes to her brother’s children. The concern stays intact, nobody loses, everything stays in the families.”

“This isn’t in the depositions,” Mandar said, “but Master Pirkis is fighting harder than Master Turan. Master Turan seems to be siding with his old friend out of loyalty, but trying to remain neutral.”

“Oi,” I said. “Change the inheritance, then. There must be a Pirkis grandchild. Say by a second son or daughter?”

“Yes,” Mandar said, seeing my intent.

“Exactly. Mistress dat Zerast names one of the Pirkis grandchildren her heir, too. When she dies, her share splits between the two remaining families. Further, they need a provision to add partners — if the concern continues to grow, they’ll need more soon. I’d negotiate the details with the clients, but I think they’ll accept this.”

Mandar paced his office for a few moments. The Sardani bells rang midday as he laughed to himself. “I’m pleased to see your negotiating skills still honed. The bench erodes them. Did you go to Plenipotentiary first?”

I shook my head. “They’ll never let me handle treaties or even be a consular presence. One doesn’t exile a legitimate threat, lest she find an army in the foreign wardrobe. Besides, the appeal of diplomacy is the view, not the pretty packets of encoded gossip. Private practice seems wiser now.” 

“I can’t argue that. That settlement took me almost a tenday to build. The case is already finished, exactly as you determined.”

“Do I have the job?”

“If we charged by the hour, no. You’d impoverish us. Lucky you, we take clients on retainer so you’ll make us rich instead. You work fast and your writing is clear.”

“Needn’t you discuss this with sune Ivor and Carthyer?”

“Hiring’s my responsibility and we discussed offering you a position after the Coronation. Carthyer believed you’d leave the Karsai. Praven will sell you his share if you want. He’s getting tired.”

Praven sune Ivor was nearing ninety and still arguing before the Judicatura. If anyone deserved to be tired, Praven had the right. “I can’t,” I admitted. “I’ve just my last quarterly pay packet.”

He winced. “We pay our junior Advocates better. We’ll advance you a quarter’s salary.” He went to his desk and flicked a few beads on the abacus, then stared at the ceiling for a moment. “We normally pay at the end of each quarter. Will 8,000 teanders see you through Midsummer?”

“Mandar, I won’t take charity. A junior Advocate earns — “

“Junior Advocates haven’t spent four years as a High Justiciar. You’re a senior Advocate, 32,000 teanders a year and a half percent interest in the business, paid annually.” He sighed. “Your timing couldn’t be better. We’ve been short two Advocates for almost a half-year, since Jelev got tagged for the Circuit Justiciars and dat Golan went to Julianasport to take Jelev’s place.”

That meant they’d likely keep me in Cimenarum. However, Mandar wasn’t done. “Will you be keeping your partnership with Counselor Selenar? If she’s willing, we’ll hire her, too. Same terms. We usually hire the Advocate’s assistant, not their partners, but I won’t pass up your record together. Now, you’re the junior senior, so you get the Celestan duty. We’ll acquaint you with our methods, then ship you north in three tendays.”

“What?” I said, completely dumbfounded.

He leaned forward. “I’d send you next tenday if I could, but that would be charity, and would look suspicious. How many assassination attempts, Cazerien? I know you’ve kept several quiet.”

I couldn’t say. National security. “I’m insignificant — ” I countered.

He shook his head. “Don’t let yourself believe that. Mathes made a tactical error, and once he realizes, the only way out will be with your death. Declaring you illegitimate insulted you, your father’s memory and two-thirds of the Prava. He can’t reverse himself without destroying his little remaining credibility, Savrin probably won’t — “

“But if I’m dead,” I said, seeing the political hole I’d missed all morning, “it cleans the slate.” And I’m an easy target in Cimenarum. If I die in the next few tendays — no matter how — the public and the Royalists will blame the sitting government and the Reformists. I’m safe enough for a quarter-year or so, but after that, I’m easy prey, and Mathes is clever enough to make my death look accidental. “How long will you keep me in Celestan?” I asked.

“Permanently, if possible,” he said. “We’ve been sending whoever’s free for three tenday stretches four times a year, but the business over-runs that. It’s a general practice, but the junior Advocates aren’t ready, we partners are tied to Cimenarum, and our Senior Advocates are buried in work. I’d rather not send women to Celestan — it’s a rough town — but I’ve no better place for you.”

“Pretend,” I said dryly. “Were I male, I wouldn’t be here.”

He shook his head, not entirely agreeing with me. “I’ve lived and worked in this city for forty years, and like you, I’m related to three-quarters of the Curia by blood or marriage. We’re what, second cousins?”

“Thrice removed,” I agreed. “And lucky man — those removes and your elderly uncles are all that’s keeping you from a year’s examination of your lovers, business, temple speeches, cases, opinions. Take good care of your uncles, Mandar. They’re your bulwark against being declared a possible Quan Ascendar.”

He smiled easily. “My freeborn mother who was my father’s second wife keeps me safe. Had you been a boy, Mathes would still have sought to deprive you of the throne. Your sex gave him a lever but he was born angry, and he’s never forgiven your grandfather for refusing to Elevate him.”

“Yet when Da offered it, he didn’t want it,” I said wearily. Because Da offered, not their father. I put my family quarrel aside to consider Mandar’s offer. I’d sooner harness lightning than bring peace to my family.

Celestan, in the northern uplands, had been carved out of three langreves as an experiment when I was an infant. It was Da’s first free city —  the residents had no Teregenitor, not even the Razin, but in return for having little say in Galantier’s government through the Prava, they were excused part of their taxes and given much license to govern themselves. Not entirely untaxed nor ungoverned — their Council governed the city itself, and they could, with the approval of half the households, levy limited taxes. In my opinion, the experiment worked, but the place did run a bit wild. The city, at the confluence of the Crook and the Tynel rivers, served as the mercantile base for most of the North. An Advocate there would be busy. “I should demand a higher salary considering the risk and the hours, but I want the position.”

He grinned, the expression of a man who loves to win. “Nothing beats being on the strong side of negotiations.” Then he sobered and his face went neutral, into the Advocate’s place. “After all, it’s in my best interest to keep you alive. Lawyers fare poorly in tyrannies.”

And with that comforting thought, I returned to the home I’d lost.

News had obviously spread through the Karsai; when the cab brought me to the stable gate, a page was waiting with messages for Simin and me. Simin bowed respectfully, but wouldn’t speak before a dozen servitors; still, I expected to hear from him soon. He was more than just my guard; in the past eight years, we’d become as close to friends as I have. Three of my travel boxes, marked with the steward’s chalk scrawl, already waited on the loading dock; he’d approved their contents and agreed that nothing inside belonged to the House of Galene, the government of Galantier, or the fourth night bootboy.

The steward’s message informed me that my continued presence in the Karsai would cost me two magnae a day; my new salary wouldn’t support that. The rate was completely outrageous, which explained my boxes. Avah had probably been informed and made the decision for me. I agreed; I could live in Galantier’s finest hotel for half that, which I also couldn’t afford. I crumpled the summons from His Majesty and shoved it into my coat pocket. No matter how humiliating Avah probably found having someone go through my possessions, it couldn’t compare to this meeting.

I took the stairs alone and made my steps light, as if I were still in my only home. Sometimes, appearance is everything, and had I appeared beaten, I would have felt it.

Savrin had not colonized my father’s quarters, as I’d half-expected him to do. Instead, he’d taken over the unused north wing, the coldest part of an already insufficiently heated building. These rooms had housed the quartermaster’s office and supply depots until the last century, when the chronic but intermittent Spagnian war had prompted their removal to the Docks district. Since then, they’d housed any number of short-term projects. The north wing had been maintained, but I suspected the plain plaster walls, the black and white checked floor, and the complete lack of art appealed to Savrin’s Lethian sensibilities.

A half-dozen clerks in Lethian black and purple stood at desks in the old quartermaster’s anteroom, their hands kept warm and nimble by small, candle-powered pottery heaters on their desks, the only nod to luxury. None looked up when a senior clerk dropped paper in their boxes nor at my approach. Then again, I probably resembled a Lethian sister in my black coat and skirt.

I didn’t recognize Savrin’s assistant, but the young man obviously knew me. He silently opened the door to the old Quartermaster’s office and ushered me in. To my relief, Savrin was alone, working at a desk salvaged from his childhood rooms, though trestle tables had been set up along the far wall to hold boxes of documents. He didn’t look up as I entered.

“You summoned me, Your Majesty,” I said, trying not to let the honorific stick in my throat.

“That remains Uncle Vohan’s title, Rien,” he said gently. “I shan’t usurp it. I kept Your Worship.” He didn’t rise, but he did look up and gestured towards a light, folding leather and wood campaign chair almost designed as a torture device. I remained standing. “I just heard a couple hours ago — believe me, I had no idea that Uncle Mathes would so abuse my authority. I’ve already spoken quite sternly with him.”

People lie to lawyers all the time. We’re used to it, and Savrin was lying to me now. I saw no profit in pointing out his deceit, but I found it interesting that he felt the need. Why does he want to appear innocent? To keep himself in my good opinion? “May I presume the matter shall be immediately remedied?” I asked quietly.

“Well,” he said uncomfortably, “soon, yes, but not immediately. It’s awkward, overturning this sort of thing. We both know how government works. Give me some time.”

With Savrin, any delaying tactic means no. He procrastinates to avoid unpleasantness. “All time is yours, Your Worship.”

“Don’t be like that,” he said. “We shared a nursery, Rien. Don’t be formal. I’m informed that your assistant is removing your personal possessions from your rooms.”

I nodded. “I was informed what my continued residence here would cost me. I can’t afford it.”

That truly surprised him. “No, never,” he blurted. “This is your home. That is not my will. You shall remain here, in your home, as my guest for as long as you like.”

“Thank you,” I said, “but no.” A Karsai guest couldn’t choose nor direct the servitors assigned to her. Now I understood what Ethene meant. The Karsai wasn’t safe now.

“You can’t leave,” he cried. “Where will you go? What will you do? I forbid it.”

I folded my arms and stared at him. “No.”

“I am the ranking male in your house,” he said. “You will follow my orders.”

“You aren’t. You can’t have it both ways, Sav. If I’m illegitimate, I’m a freeborn, private citizen, bound to no house, and may go where I please. You’re not omnipotent. You may not press me into service without Prava authorization, which they won’t give for an army of one. Or you may use the Royal Prerogative, overturn this morning’s decision by writ, restore my position and lands, and I shall remain in your service.”

His face worked for a long moment, and I recognized frustration. Obviously, Mathes forbade him to overturn the decision, but had either ordered Savrin to keep me here, or Savrin wanted me here for his own reasons. I couldn’t find much sympathy for his dilemma. “But what will you do?”

“Savrin, I’m an Advocate.”

“Advocacy?” He sounded like I’d said traveling acrobat or Courtesan.

“Yes.” I ignored the implicit insult that I couldn’t care for myself. “Several firms wished to offer me a place were I not otherwise obligated. I’ll support myself as the free citizen I’ve been made.”

He blanched, a hard trick for us bloodless types. “I need you here.”

“Sorry,” I said without sympathy. “Your Prava disagrees. Besides, you don’t ask my opinion nor consult me. I’ve barely seen you. If that’s need, I’m superfluous.”

“I will,” he said. “Uncle Mathes, Tiwendar and Brother Irav all said I needed to learn the office first, but I’m understanding it. I’ll need your guidance when — “

I was reading his work upside down. I’d picked up the trick when I first started working with Da. I saw nonsense. I walked around the desk and peered over Savrin’s head. “If you understand it, why sign this?”

“What? It’s a routine requisitions contract,” he said. “My assistant sorts my Ministry boxes into routine work and special attention.”

“Who hired your assistant? More, who recommended him?”

“Uncle Mathes. Jafrey’s worked for him for years.”

I scowled. “Dismiss him, Sav. Pick a Lethian. Hells, pick a literate hallyer. Did you read this?”

He shoved back from the desk and rolled the chair to face me. “Why? And don’t swear.”

“Did you read this?” I demanded, picking the contract up.

“It’s a standard contract. I saw thousands at the Exchequer. I’m not stupid, Rien.”

“It’s not a standard government contract, Sav. We requisition for three years at a time. We pay a fixed rate for the term of the contract, not market rate plus this — ” I felt my face blanch “– twelve percent! That’s outrageous! Barley costs 290 teanders a ton — Holy fire, you’ll ruin the treasury at this rate. Have you considered how much barley we buy for the Army and Famine Coffers? Six thousand tons last year. You’re overpaying by at least a fifth.”

“That’s unfair to the merchants,” he said. “Of course they should get at least market rate.”

“No, they get less, since we contract to buy multiple harvests. It’s guaranteed money. They know they’ll get paid — we don’t drop contracts nor go bankrupt. Unless you spend like this.”

“This is why I need you,” he said.

I sighed. The Prava didn’t want me here, I shouldn’t remain in Cimenarum, I frankly didn’t want to watch this disaster, but while the Prava could take everything else… they couldn’t take my sense of duty. “Fine, you may hire me. My retainer is two hundred teanders a tenday, or six thousand a year.” His Chancellor would never approve retaining me as outside counsel, but Savrin must realize he couldn’t destroy my life and expect me to be grateful.

“But — you can’t — ” he sputtered, staring at me in amazement. “Your duty to this kingdom — “

“No, Sav. I repeat. I’m either freeborn or the Ascendara. They’re mutually exclusive.”

He thought for a long moment, clearly uncomfortable with his thoughts, then opened a drawer and shoved six bright gold magnas, each worth a hundred teanders, across the desk. “You’re hired. By me, Savrin.”

“Agreed,” I said. “I’ll write out the procedures Da and I used. As your counsel, I advise you get an assistant you trust, someone who won’t take bribes because Jafrey is certainly taking someone’s money to sort your boxes to enrich individuals, not serve this kingdom. I’ll need to review the file copies of everything you’ve signed so you can rescind by Royal Prerogative what you’ve signed in error and reissue them properly.”

Savrin took my hand. “Thank you. I want to be a good Razin. With you, I know I will be.” He looked up at me with a naked need I’ve known for years and will never grow accustomed to seeing.

“Get a new clerk and those copies to me before I leave the Karsai. You’ve two hours.” I took the requisitions contract to amend properly. I wouldn’t leave it; it might get signed. At the door, I turned back, my hand on the handle. “I’ve one request. A favor.”

“You know there’s very little I’d deny you,” he said, that look of hope in his eyes.

“The langreves… that were mine… give them to Ragin.”

He hesitated. “I want to give them to you,” he said diffidently and opened that drawer again. He removed a small box, the sort in which jewelers package rings, and placed it on the desk.

That explained everything. He’d granted Mathes the block vote to force my hand. I was twelve when Savrin first proposed marriage between us. I’ve always refused him, never encouraged him.  “Let Ragin administer them temporarily. They’ll falter without attention.”

“What do I get if I agree?” he asked, an avaricious gleam in his eye that did not sit well with his priestly garb.

“You don’t get me going directly to the broadsheet editors and explaining exactly what happened this morning and how sketchy the legal argument was. You don’t get me confirming every rumor about stolen ballots and forgeries. The entire Prava has agreed that the continuity of the House of Galene matters more than which of us warms the seat, but at least half of this city disagrees. You don’t get more riots in the streets. Your coronation resulted in forty injuries, over a hundred arrests and almost ten thousand people calling for your immediate abdication in Welces’ Square. You’re not popular, Savrin, and Mathes is trying to consolidate your power far too quickly. Don’t push this city. You can’t fight Spagna and your own people.” I watched him carefully, waiting for his answer.

“As you say,” he agreed sullenly. “I suppose the Prim Ascendar should have more responsibility.”

Good, I thought as I left. Ragin would probably look at the nine deeds and their attendant files and hand them back to me to administer, but at least one of us would be doing so, and we wouldn’t lose any Royalist votes. Not that it mattered at the moment, since the Reformists could, with Savrin’s cooperation, overrule anything, but circumstances change. Losing even one vote now would delay the process in the end.

I found Avah in my rooms as the last box was being marked. Two of the Karsai cats huddled in my windowseat, looking half-terrified, their grey-blue fur fluffed. I couldn’t take them — they belong to the Karsai — but they’d always felt like mine. I sat beside them to stroke them calm. I hoped the servitors and hallyers would care for them. Savrin wouldn’t; he’s indifferent towards animals, and Lethians consider pets an indulgence of the material world. Comrade and Pip — and their four sisters — technically worked here, as mousers, but the Karsai doesn’t really have mice. They were mostly here because the Karsai has always had cats and Da and I liked them. I glanced up at Avah hopefully.

“I already checked,” she said, sighing. “The steward refused. I’ve spoken to the hallyer assigned to this corridor. She promised to look after them — and if they’re evicted, she’ll bring them to Ethene.”

Leaving the cats was like having vinegar poured on an open wound — more painful because it came after all else. Their warm bodies had comforted me through long, lonely, cold nights, and in the past three tendays, their fur had absorbed my flood of tears. Yet I couldn’t take them if we were headed north.

The world had turned completely mad if I’d never again see this blue and silver room, never breathe the lambskin, paper and ink scent of my library, never hear the hypocaustae pipes burble ineffectively.

“I have tracked you through this city twice,” Ragin shouted, bursting through the door. “What in the name of the Ancestors has possessed you to be haring off to all points today? You need to be with the Prava, fighting this, right now.”

Pip and Comrade darted away, too anxious to bear Ragin’s temper. I agreed. “Not here,” I said. “Not now.”

“But — “

I was done fighting with the men of the House of Galene. Ragin is a stellar general, a natural warrior, but he is no diplomat, no politician, and his knowledge of the law is limited to the Lex Martialis. “I am doing what can be done,” I snapped. “Believe me or not.”

“I will slaughter each and every one of them.”

“Ah, yes,” I said witheringly. “Because violence solves everything. You won’t, because you won’t get them all, and it will just get you hanged, and then I can’t fix this. I’m going to Ethene’s. Will you join me?”

Ragin took the other half of my windowseat so we mirrored each other, our knees drawn up to our chests and our heads leaned back against the bookcases. He stretched out his left hand and took my right. “I thought it was a joke in appallingly bad taste,” he said. “Or that someone had run mad.”

“I wish,” I said. We sat quietly for a few moments while I waited for the page to bring Savrin’s records, and I mused at the difference between my cousins. Someone has proposed that I marry one or the other since I was a child, but Da always opposed it. Ragin and I could probably share a dynastic marriage of necessity — the sort where I quietly find another to father my child and we never approach each other carnally. We’d fight worse than we already did were we bound together. Still, he and I could be dropped on an island in the middle of the Endless Sea, and ninety years later, I’d still be a virgin. He’s my brother, and I am his sister.

Savrin’s my brother, too, but I’m not his sister. He can’t still believe I’d ever consent. He’s vowed! He’s celibate! But that small box had proved it. He’d forfeit his immortal soul to lay claim to me, and that would be my personal hell. At heart, Savrin’s a romantic, always making grand gestures and chasing mad passions, as mercurial as wind.

The fondal in my none too biddable stomach gurgled as the thought of the small box. I scrambled past Ragin and into my former bathry to retch my guts — and possibly my toes — into the oubliette. Alone there, the heavy door closed, I rested my overwarm face against the cold stone basin and –finally! — let myself weep over the ruins of my life.

I had scrubbed my mouth and was bathing my face when Avah let herself in. She closed the door and leaned against it, but said nothing as she handed me a towel and eyed my reddened eyes, swollen nose and blotchy skin critically. To weep prettily is not among my talents and why I avoid doing so in public. She merely sighed. “I wondered when you’d find time for that. An assortment of files has arrived from S. Pinuvar.”

“Savrin,” I said. “He’s technically entitled to the name and uses it when he thinks he’s being sneaky. Our first paying client — assuming you’ll remain my partner. The salary’s decent but — “

She shrugged off the money, but the Selenars are wealthy and Avah would never want for anything. “Why are we working for Savrin?”

“Because that’s what I do,” I said, then explained what we’d be doing for Paxular, sune Ivor and Carthyer. Avah didn’t look pleased, but I’d expected that. She’s from the southern Argenti foothills, and only tolerates Cimenarum because her father, elder brother and sister live here. Moving another four days’ travel north did not enthrall her, so I added the bit of information Mandar had dropped that might keep her. “Celestan has twice as many men as women.”

She folded her arms skeptically. “Like you care.”

I shrugged. “Maybe I will someday.”

“When the moon falls in the sea. If you need money — “

“I’ve work,” I interrupted. I would not let the Royalist families support me like some poor relative they can’t turn out, but don’t especially want. Another thing the Prava can’t take. My pride. It’s entirely unfair that they get the convenient parts — my home, my name, the wealth — and I get the frustrating things like pride and duty. I want a contract renegotiation.

Ragin had left a note; he’d been summoned to Savrin’s presence, so I left my own with the hallyer for him, and with Avah by my side, we left the Karsai for the last time.

Nor was Ethene at home. We crowded ourselves back into the full cab and Avah gave the driver the address I’d gotten out of Ethene’s steward.

“Why do you own that house anyway?” she asked.

“Pronator tret Dastorian needed assistance a few years ago. He sold me his townhouse on the condition I keep it until he could buy it back. Then his ship was lost and I’ve never had reason to sell it. It’s been convenient for temporarily sheltering allies.” I ignored her unspoken question. Have you been expecting this? I hadn’t. Nobody could have expected this.

Dastorian’s problem had been gambling, and one condition of my aid had been a promise to never touch the dice again. He’d enlisted in the Navy to reform himself, and his future had looked bright until his ship went missing. I’d liked Adem. Perhaps I kept his house in hopes for him. Ships had returned after being thought lost, after all.

While I’d mused, we’d left Curia Park and circled Government District, entering an odd little slice of city carved from the Paper District on the east, the Financial district to the south, Curia Park on the north and Government district to the west. This neighborhood had been a pocket slum, catering to the carnal needs of the nearby posh districts until fire gutted it, killing several. The new, modern buildings attracted affluence the previous residents lacked, and the neighborhood’s entire character changed. Some of the more insular priests had called the fire the Gods’ justice, but I knew better. I’d been a consulting Justiciar when the arson case finally came to trial three years ago. The former landlords profited mightily from the fire, though it did them little good in the end. They’d been fined precisely twice what they’d made off the new buildings, and gotten a decade each on the work farms.

The cab halted before number six, and Avah and I descended to Sutteran Circle’s brick pavement. Ten modest townhouses ringed a central courtyard and small stable; few residents kept horses here. Most used the livery two circles away. Three women, bundled against the cold, their painfully red, chapped hands exposed, hung washing on lines in the center park as washing pots steamed behind them. I winced for them. They’ll be frost-bit before they’re done, and for nothing. The air smelled of snow and felt wet; the cloth wouldn’t even freeze-dry.

No, a Razin’s illegitimate daughter should not own such a property. Da would have been appalled, which was why I’d privately subsidized Adem. It would kill Da all over again to contemplate me living here. He probably would have loved this neighborhood for himself, but he’d been skeptical about my safety even within the Karsai walls. No padded room was too secure for me in Da’s opinion. A common townhouse with glass windows and wooden doors… Never.

Weak morning sun broke briefly through the clouds, illuminating the pale brick and snowy circle just as Mina mer Kurzon answered the door, wearing her youngest child, born just before Midwinter, snuggled against her chest in some sort of cloth contraption. Pencils stuck into her braided hair gave the appearance of antennae.

Her face registered surprise at our unannounced appearance, but she rapidly turned warm. Compassion filled her bright, amber eyes as she pulled us inside and helped us remove our cloaks and veils. “My apologies, Ascendency,” she said.

“Don’t,” I said. “Unless you’re apologizing because my goddess-son isn’t yet speaking Porsirian.”

“May I teach him Galantieran before the dead languages? And possibly to crawl?” She grinned. “Shouldn’t you be at Prava House? Alvan thought he’d be late — Naval appropriations, he said.”

She ushered us into the brighter, south-facing sitting room, currently filled with travel boxes doing double duty as settee and table. Ethene and a third woman were consulting a wax tablet, both of them dressed, like Mina, in practical knitted tunics and breeches. My long skirt, though narrow and severe, made me feel significantly overdressed.

Ethene glanced up as we entered, and her luminous eyes widened and turned liquid. “Darlings, what’s happened?” She knew the Prava schedule as well as Mina.

The self-control I’d managed all morning evaporated and I couldn’t force words through my lips. I shook my head and clenched my teeth to keep back the emotion I daren’t display now, not when I had so much to do and as close to immediately as possible. Avah’s hand on my back was calming, but true strength came from Ethene. She took my hands and we stood in silence for a moment. Involuntarily, I dropped my head on her shoulder, and there, I smelled Da in the wool of his baggy, black tunic. Of course. She missed him as much as I did.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered. “You were right and I missed it. They used the Pantheon Proclamation.”

She reared back, looking me in the face. “The bastards,” she breathed. The fury on her face contrasted incongruously with her almost childish dress. Da’s tunic covered her hands and fell to her knees, but when she dropped my hands to push up her sleeves, her fists were balled as if she planned to hunt down the Prava herself.

I sighed and drew a breath that was at least half puissance and Da’s scent. I poured the energy from the air into my narrow, convoluted channel from to the place where my ingenia seems to live in the back of my head. The sense of my ingenia, like burning water and drowning flame, came alive and flared briefly as the channel cooled, condensed and stored grief, anger, shame and outrage.

The third woman didn’t wait for Ethene to release me, but took Avah’s hand and squeezed gently. Over Ethene’s shoulder, I watched Avah greet her sister, and for a brief moment, had an incongruous feeling of seeing my own future. Merian is weathered beyond her thirty years, from spending almost half her life building bridges and bossing construction crews. Every summer bleaches her already fair cropped hair to white, and no quantity of powdered mineral prevents her skin from tanning. Avah and I resemble each other superficially — both too tall, too narrow, and too pale for fashion — but the resemblance between the Selenar sisters is almost eerie, despite Meri’s ravaged skin. The prime difference between them is Meri possesses curves that Avah lacks, and never bothered with the yard of hair Avah and I keep braided and coiled.

When Ethene released me, Meri let Avah go and mimed a full Curia curtsey with imagined skirts but no trace of her customary irony. “I remain, as does my husband, solely in your service, Your Ascendency,” she said fiercely and formally.

The gesture touched me enough to close my throat, shake my control and wake the serpent of grief, but I forced it back into its basket for the sake of these women, my few friends. “You can’t say that, Meri,” I said, my voice only a little thickened. “It’s treason, and everyone in this room outranks me.”

Ethene snorted, an indelicate sound from so aristocratic a nose. “Then who are you to enforce it?”

Meri rose and offered her hand. “This travesty can’t last long — “

“I’m afraid it can, but I thank you for your support,” I said softly, my distant, controlled voice coming to my own ears as through jelly or mud. “Once the Prava selected Savrin to be Razin, it was only a matter of time before they moved against me. You’ll hear of it soon, I expect. This morning, the Prava declared me illegitimate, thus removing me from the succession. I’m surprised the criers aren’t already carrying the news. I wasn’t being sarcastic when I said you all out-rank me.”

Perfect silence held the room for a long moment; I’m not sure anyone even breathed. Then my friends burst into outraged astonishment. Avah led me to one of the boxes and pressed my shoulder until I sat. She poured fondal and lifted it briefly to her own lips before wrapping my hands around the warming cup. Not that she expected poison here, but old habits don’t die in a day. Or three hours.

Spicy steam bathed my face as chaos reigned around me. The honey and milk scent calmed my nerves behind the Advocate’s control, but I daren’t release it until this interview, the first and hardest of the personal ones, was over.

Avah sat beside me with her own cup and looked at me sidelong. “You know I shan’t leave you, right?” she said, pitching her voice for my ears only.

“You needn’t — ” I started.

“You shan’t survive without me,” she said. “Just say thank you, Rien.”

“Thank you, Avah.” I let myself lean into her shoulder. “I keep thinking, what next?”

She leaned into me. “That’s the good thing about reaching the bottom of the well. There’s nothing left to take, nowhere left to go but up. We’ll survive this.”

The bells of the Cresarian chapel on the next circle rang while my near-mother and friends vented their fury. I let it run; easier if they said it all without badgering me. When their head of steam ran low, I said the first thing that came to mind that had nothing to do with politics. “Meri, I thought you weren’t coming to Cimenarum this winter.”

“Bastian and I are renovating Paxular House to accommodate the senior Teregenia’s pushchair,” she said. “An interesting problem, since virtually every wall seems to be load-bearing. Bad design, that. We’re getting Willim settled in school, and now… of course…” She trailed off, her gaze shifting nervously to her sister, to me, then back.

“I found Mina and Alvan a perfect residence,” Ethene said to inform me of whatever had gone before I arrived, and to let me distract myself from my own problems. She sounded like she’d taken an unpleasant task in hand. “How Hilmon could have tolerated an inn for three-quarters of a year for the past thirty, I don’t know, but the House of Kurzon once again has a Kurzon House.”

“Unless you need us to stay,” Mina said quickly, gesturing vaguely at the house around us. “For the rents.”

“When do you expect to move?” I asked, not giving away my relief. I wouldn’t have to evict friends or worse, impose upon anyone.

“That’s what we’re figuring,” Meri said. “Mina’s never done this before.”

“So we’re helping,” Ethene said, her brows lifting in amusement. “Though we may more resemble the kitten who helps with the knitting by stealing the yarn.”

“Alvan and I signed the contracts yesterday,” Mina said, “It’s ours, but — “

“No,” I said. “I’ll be establishing my own household — such as it is — and this house is perfect.” I bit off the rest as mortal unhappiness rose in my chest. Like Mina, I’ve never established a house, either. Certainly, I had my own household, but the Karsai steward oversaw the hiring of my hallyers and servitors; I merely paid them, and even that indirectly. My former accountant had ensured this house’s welfare but if it needed a new roof, boiler, oil stove or the hundreds of other tiresome things houses seem to need, I’d be at sea. I should be hearing that confidence schemes case I’ve been working on, or fighting with the Prava over Naval appropriations, not thinking about home repair.

“My dear,” Ethene said, clearly taken aback, “you can’t mean to live here? Alone? Not that it isn’t a fine house, but — “

“I’ve rather little choice.” I shrugged. “It’s only for a few tendays. I actually came to ask if I could borrow some furniture.” Before Ethene could protest and insist I live with her, I explained my new job. “I have to do this my way, Ethene. Really, I’m grateful that you all want to protect me, but the political situation probably won’t change for several years, and I must learn to live like an ordinary citizen. It’s the best way to protect myself. If Mathes believes I’m indeed impotent, he’ll leave me alone.” I looked from face to face, all of them displaying different levels of incomprehension. “The general who knows himself and his enemy, who pretends inferiority and encourages the enemy’s arrogance, is victorious in all his battles. The general who deceives himself is already defeated,” I quoted from the ancient philosophy of war.

“Are we going to war, then?” Mina asked carefully.

I shrugged. “As in blood and arrows and calling up the troops? I don’t know. I hope not. But political warfare follows the same rules as physical war, and we must construct the battle to ensure we win, rather than fighting first and seeking victory afterwards.”

“You can’t believe Mathes will leave you alone,” Meri said dubiously.

“I don’t,” I said, “which is why I’m removing myself from his influence as soon as reasonable. If I fight now, he’ll crush us before we can organize any resistance. But if I wait, prove to his satisfaction that I’ve accepted my fate and role as private citizen, he’ll believe he has complete victory.”

They all looked at me like I was mad, and perhaps I was, but that’s the problem when crisis follows crisis — one never has time to think out every implication, and one just does what seems best at the time. “Look, all of you,” I said. “This isn’t a squall. We’re in for a hurricane, and it will last for years. Rage does us no good. Divert it into patience and right action. I know he’s wrong, but we have a storm to endure, and we must believe we have better days to come. Else, we’ve no reason to keep breathing at all.”

“There’s my brat,” Ragin said. I craned my neck around, saw him leaning against the door-frame. He came forward and stood beside me. “If you make me chase you across the nation again, I will beat you bloody and take great pleasure in it.” He eyed all of us in turn, even the baby. “Not exactly my idea of a council of war — Harin’s a little young, don’t you think? — but it’s a start.”


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