14 Imbris 1138 — The western border front
“Ragin Revinsel, reporting to Western Command One, sir,” I said when I entered the Senior General of the Western Army’s office.
“Stand down, Revinsel,” he said irritably. “You’re still a General, until this mess is sorted.” He closed the door. As he crossed back to his desk, he flicked my ear with his fingertip. “There,” he said. “You’re flogged. I’m removing you from Command and moving you to Support. You keep your rank, but I’m putting you out of harm’s way.” General Arken took his seat and scowled at me. “At ease, General. Sit.”
I barely dared breathe. He sounded only slightly annoyed with me.
“I know the Prava deserves a full strike with every incendiary One-armed Archer we have — and your engineers got commendations for that work, by the way — but what in the name of the Holy Forge possessed you to threaten the Prenceps-Teregenitor on the Prava floor at the top of your lungs?”
I sighed, shook my head and shrugged. “I’ve no excuse, sir.”
“You do, but being provoked beyond reason isn’t defensible.” He leaned forward and his balding head shone in the sunlight. “If it were me, and my sister, I wouldn’t have said anything as I put a knife in his ribs. Had I been there… Ragin, they’re about to bend us over a barrel and line up for the goat-rape of the century.”
I’d thought about that and little else for most of my trip back. We’d try invasion soon — this year, next, maybe the year after. After that assassination, it would take only one insignificant sortie, the type we handled almost without writing up a report afterwards. Now, any incursion would be grounds to escalate. “You were first on the scene,” he said. “Who did it?”
“I don’t know, sir. The evidence was inconclusive.”
“Renara’s prick. Who do you think did it?”
An interesting curse, since Renara, being female, lacks that equipage. “I lack sufficient evidence to speculate, sir.”
“So you wouldn’t speculate about the Optimus and the Prenceps-Teregenitor and their crowd of sword-monkeys and two-legged bottom dwellers?”
I’ve no speculations about them, sir,” I said, nodding just a little. Enormous certainty, though.
“As I thought,” Arken said. “How much do you have left on your Justiciar Advocate’s qualification?”
“Just the practical observation and examination,” I said, glad to be off the Razin — no, Savrin’s not Razin, no matter what the Prava says.
“Hurry that along. I feared we needed years instead of a quarter before I could turn you into a moving target.” I stared at him. “Your brain’s leaking out your nose, Revinsel,” he said irritably. “Why should I lose a fine senior officer when I’m short-staffed now? Transferring you to the Justiciar Advocate’s damn inconvenient, but you’re a smart man. Use the time well.”
Chalk it up to too much grief, too many changes, too many worries. “With all due respect, I’m completely at sea, sir.”
He sighed. “We better take a long walk.” He glanced at his clock. “Or run. I’m not training enough anyway. Go change. Be back in ten minutes.”
We ran through the back parade grounds, following the trail laid for this purpose — getting desk-bound officers out in the air. My soft boots pounded over the ground and I concentrated on the air in my lungs until we reached the far perimeter and Arken stopped. Despite his earlier comment, he was hardly winded and his pace stretched me. My tendays in Cimenarum hadn’t left much time for exercise.
“I’m not stupid,” he said, leaning into a series of stretches. “I get a gloss of Prava business every tenday and I’ve been in this Army long enough to know the players. I’ve seen the materiel contracts the Prenceps has foisted off on us — leather that shreds the moment it gets wet, moldy grain we can’t feed to pigs, horses we can’t even eat — and I’ve seen what he got paid for it. The man who sired you will take any coin waved under his nose. I’ve got 7,000 men out here, a thousand scattered over the rest of the country and the wet fellows have 3,000. We’re about to get goat-fucked. I won’t watch that happen. So what are you and Her Ascendency doing about it?”
I could have wept to hear him call Rien that, but I had to be honest. “Damned if I know, sir. They’ve got the Prava, the Monarch and the Judicatura right now. There’s a Royal Powers proposal in play, but I don’t know how long it will take nor how much good it will do. I don’t think I can put her where she belongs without an army and I can’t borrow this one.”
“No, you can’t. We leave and Spagna takes the desert. But I think your first step is to make sure we won’t leave.”
Now I understood why we were out here. This was treason, and Arken didn’t want us overheard. “Sir, if an invasion threatens Cimenarum, this army will be recalled.”
“Not if the threat here is worse than the threat there. They’ve got guards and Metropolita. I’m sure they’ll increase ’em considering the unrest after that travesty of a coronation.”
“They’re hiring, yes.”
“Who are her allies?”
“Kelfan, Prenz of Adelbahan. Safrania of Tasleroi, Kelfan’s wife. Safrania’s brother, Enrigo. The Royalist faction here at home. The Four Sisters faiths, the Twin Goddesses and the Brothers temples.”
“And the Army, but we’ll keep that quiet. If I were you, my first task would be to talk to everyone in the leadership about holding this border, hells or floods. I’d be talking to the civilians out here about militiae for home defense and convince ’em there won’t be a home to defend if we keep this path. I’d set up a net of people you trust to be your eyes and ears. I’d ask me to work on High Command, knowing I won’t get the new Minister of War, but the next level down from the Minister didn’t change. If what they get from me says we can’t move this army, they’ll believe it.”
This was a lifeline, the start of a plan. It wouldn’t be easy, but if I could put people in the right places at the right times, then maybe… the only problem was once we had it, what to do with it? Let Rien figure it out. She’s the strategist. “Thank you, sir.”
“It’s my country, too. I met the Prazia a few times, danced with her when she was Elevated. Smart girl then, and she’s grown up. Not saying she’d be perfect, but she’s a damn sight better than your cousin.”
I reported to Paval in the morning. He’d been transferred to Western One and would be my senior officer while I finished my training and recrammed a thousand pages of the Lex Martialis into my head. As my senior officer, we weren’t peers in separate commands now, making our fraternization officially over, though it ended when I’d sent him from my office.
“General Revinsel,” Paval said coolly. “Close the door.”
We went through the cases on his docket and my tasks with mutual detachment, pretending the air between us didn’t spark with tension. Whatever the past, I was learning from the best Justiciar Advocate we had and I couldn’t reject that because my heart and other parts of my anatomy held conflicting opinions. A plaster figure would have a trial resisting Paval quan Bruckides. He’s well-made, muscular and sturdy, pretty, bright, with a wicked wry sense of humor and a good heart. He’s a military man through and through, and we speak the same language, but what we’d had couldn’t work now.
He should have dismissed me — we’d finished and I needed time in the garrison library with the Lex Martialis and the Lex Galenteris — but he just looked at me, a speculative expression in his brilliant blue eyes. Like most Advocates, he’s a Perceptive, though not strong, and coupled with Impathia, the ability to read emotions. He wasn’t reading my mind, but he did the next thing to it.
He smoothed back his dark hair, a gesture I knew well. He was vexed. “You didn’t see Mell.”
I shook my head. “Time got away from me and I don’t need a Mind Healer.”
“You’re so intelligent and so obstinately stupid. This is an order. You will see Mind-Healer Elsveth dat Lani as soon as she has an hour. I don’t care if that hour is midnight. She’s the closest thing we have to an Ingeniae tutor out here and you better get yours under tighter control. Your defenses are too obvious — they glare like a naughty deed in a good world.”
I nodded, then took the chance. I had sent a few flashes, but they’d all been official business. I hadn’t written a letter at all in five tendays. I’d barely thought about Paval and not because I’d been distracted. I’d considered our partnership finished the moment my uncle went missing. I just hadn’t told him and that wasn’t fair. He deserved to know at least a little of what was in my head and heart. “It’s not personal, Paval. The situation demands everything of me and I’ve nothing left.”
“I know,” he said. “I’ve always been temporary. That’s who you are. At least you’re good enough to say it. I’m still your friend, so I’m telling you to keep your thoughts locked down. No Justiciar Advocate would read another Advocate’s mind intentionally, but we work with puissance constantly. If our attention wavers, someone might catch what’s in your head and we’re duty-bound to report it. You’re thinking treason. That’s a hanging offense.”
“It’s not treason if it defends Galantier. I’m sworn to the nation before the Monarch, the Monarch before the Prava.”
“Sketchy legal ground, that. You can’t afford to be the test case. You can talk safely to me in here and in your office. I warded these rooms against Perceptives from the outside but they don’t prevent prosaic eavesdroppers — well, this room does — and the wards won’t protect you from others in the room. I don’t know this unit yet so I can’t say whom you may trust. Personally, I’d say nobody. I’ve a question.”
“You’ve every right,” I said.
“How’d whoever planned the ambush get the Razin’s schedule? To my knowledge, only you and he had it.”
I’d been thinking about that. “You could have seen it. Also my equerry. Cazerien had a preliminary version including that day’s events. It was coded, but not our best code, so it could have been stolen while the signal office had it, or from her rooms.” Not her head, though.
“Or from your head or any of the other heads. Go find the Healer. I’ve work to do.”
I stopped at the door. “You’re not angry?”
He sighed, but didn’t look up. “Not now, no. I was, but there’s enough romantic in me to want permanence you can’t offer. I’m… walking out with Healer Dalahar. Mikos. Are you angry I didn’t wait?”
No, not angry. A little hurt, maybe, but mostly happy for him. I went to bury myself in evidentiary process and see a girl about my head.