I hated admitting Rien’s letters sounded happy. She’d loved her Ministry work and the Judicatura, and Celestan offered her work more complex and varied. And as engrossing. She didn’t seem to think about how we’d return her to the throne.
The alliances she made would help when the time came. The Northwest District was best — most of the Teregenis up there were Royalist-leaning Progressives. The guilds had a strong presence, and where the guilds were, the common people had more influence. Since the Reformists took every opportunity to condemn and break the Guilds, we’d need Guild sympathy.
She loves Galantier, but the House of Galene is a glasshouse for forcing Royals. A Royal child must know everything about running Galantier sooner than humanly possible because a long regency could ruin us. The first principle of Galantier, back to the foundation by 1400 refugees from the world’s worst caldera, is Plan First. It’s served us well. Now, however, she had latitude she’d never had before and a temporary reprieve from the responsibilities that accompany power.
As did I, sort of. I can’t say I wasn’t enjoying my change, too. A Command posting is mostly stacks of paper to get through each day. Requisitions, orders, disciplinary issues must be approved and much ends up on the Commander’s desk. Justiciar Advocates have paperwork, too, but it’s never the same two tendays running. Seeing something other than a General’s office, I started to understand Uncle’s boredom with the Prava.
Outside battle season, Justiciar Advocates roam from garrison to camp to post, adjudicating what was delayed while Spagnians flooded the border. We can’t take men off rotation because they got stupid, drank too much in a Courtesans’ Guild camp and missed morning call. Summer Courts Martial are quick and if possible, we delay punishment until winter — and if you think that’s a bad idea, just remember your mother’s threat of wait until your father gets home and multiply it — or we assign the miscreant to a forward post. Too often, that remedies the problem.
Els dat Lani, the bane of my existence and the balm of my mind and soul, dogged me for four straight tendays that spring. Twice a day, and at random intervals when she had a moment, she thumped my defenses from any cover she could imagine. Sleep, food, bath, tumbles, battle drills — she didn’t care what I was doing as long as she couldn’t get in. She mocked my manners, reviewed my dreams, critiqued my tumbling technique and ratted me out to Paval when I dodged a drill. I rebuilt my defenses on exasperation and she praised every new brick in my walls. I hated and loved her by the turning of the clock, but she’d spent three quarters of her life rebuilding soldiers from the soul outwards under perpetual fire. I wanted a thousand of her, one with every company. Even if I wanted to drown at least ten of her doubles.
When I kept her out for a tenday, she pronounced my defenses adequate, her highest praise. “There’s no such thing as a perfect defense,” she reminded me as she signed and sealed my roaming orders. I could now leave Command One, without the company of another Advocate. “If someone slips quartine in your fondal, the puissance will clot and you’ll be down. Here’s a secret, boy. If you’ve got defenses, you never drink your fondal black because quartine tastes like bitter death, and black fondal masks it. If you’re prosaic, a dose of quartine will only hurt your liver, and that only if you take it by the bottle, but us? It burns us down at more than a couple drops. Craphounds like your parent can mask a hell of a lot in a single cup, but with milk and honey, you notice it on the first sip. And you have to sleep. If you spend three days awake, you’ll run dry. But you’ve got the channels on clockwork, so just wind every morning and you’ll run fine. Can I ask a rude question?”
“When has no ever stopped you?” I asked.
“Who taught you defense? I need to go take a piss on my next leave.”
I shrugged. “I had six or seven over those first few years. I’d make progress then stop. Went backwards sometimes.”
“When next you see Cazerien, you need that memory,” she said. “I can only see the surface of the scar, but I bet my retirement against what’s in your pocket that the times you stopped progressing coincide with an incident.” She handed me the roaming orders, but put the care release back in her records box. “Twice a tenday, from now until I’m done smelling your horseshit. I hope to the fiery forge you are worth being out here all winter. Lady help you if I have to stay through the summer, too.”
That caught me wrong-footed. “You’re not assigned here?”
She snorted. “If we Healers had your ranks, I’d outrank you and Arken put together. I teach, soldier. Arken called in his favor.”
“Ingeniae Corps?” I guessed.
“They come to me. Healers’ Institute.” She offered her hand. “Docera Pronatia Amalia Aliana Elsavethia dat Laniara et Nestoran Destriari, if we’re being official.”
I was glad I was on the floor cushions because I couldn’t have stood through that. “You invented mind-healing.”
She wobbled her flat hand. “Refined it. The Archilians and Sardanis have been using most of the techniques for generations. I just thought you shouldn’t have to go to a temple when you need some machine oil between your ears.”
Lines at her eyes, yes. Weathered, veined hands, yes. But she didn’t look anywhere near the eighty she had to be. Docera Destriari had been publishing for much longer than I’d been alive. “Must have been one hell of a favor you owed Arken,” I said. “You lied to me. Fourteen years ago, you were nowhere near this border.”
She grinned. “Very good. There’s intelligence left in you. My country may have a faint hope of surviving after all. Thirty-two years ago come Frumentis. Arken was the artillery drummer on that day I got back. He was fourteen, fifteen. Too young to be out, far too young for the next two days. His commander couldn’t leave that position, and I couldn’t stay. I kept trying to walk into the crossfire. The commander ordered Arken to escort me behind lines. That boy kept me putting one foot forward. He kept asking questions about how minds and brains work. Pestered me. Made me talk. Made me think and start getting outside of it. Ayuh, I owed him.”
“Still, big favor to leave your students, your institute — “
Her brows rose and she eyed the ceiling. “It’s still chilly out here, but it’s sunny. Four hundred young, well-built boys who all spend at least an hour a day just outside my barracks in their small clothes. Or a dank city in mourning under the control of a fanatic who doesn’t let me into half the city because he has a mind problem. Which would you choose?” She looked back to me. “I’m old. I’m not dead. But I will be if I stay in Cimenarum much longer. I’m a danger. As are all of my students. We’re all on field work now, and will be until… something changes. I find I like teaching by letter and flash. Fewer stupid questions.” She reached past me and stroked her fingers down the door frame. A second ward formed inside of the one always in her rooms. “You’re not a stupid man, Ragin, so use your flexible brains as the Fire Lady intended. You’re my country’s last official hope before perdition. Of course we’re going to move the heavens to save you from your demons. But the faster I exorcise you, the sooner I can go on to the next favor. Thus. How’s the weight today?”
“Less than a pound.”
“As it should be. Twould have been better if you’d never carried any, or if somebody had helped you put it down when you picked it up, but we work with what we have. We’ve got fair copies of your memories rebuilt, but you’re going to have to use the originals eventually. Again, we work with what we have. Those originals will gut punch you. The copies are like reading a transcript. The originals — “
“Are reliving,” I finished. “There’s a reason I had to give them to Cazerien.”
“And there’s no shame in that. If you had a broke leg, we’d strap it up and get you to a bone-mender. I’m just helping you make note that when you take them back, you’re going to need a day to sit with them. What about the assassination? Have you had the carriage nightmare again?”
“Once, but what you suggested worked. Paval gave it back. I reviewed it blink by blink. As always, you’re right. The details do help.” Uncle’s burning carriage now only came to my mind’s stage when I asked for it, and it helpfully asked if I was sure each time. I kept it locked and behind Privacy, but for the same reasons that the Judicatura kept their records behind locked doors — because it was evidence. “That one’s not heavy, it’s hot. I get angry because I have to let others do their jobs, and the Chancery isn’t.”
“Anger is energy,” she said easily. “You know the Justiciars General are doing the job, as well as that Metropolitan. Does it help that they’re as frustrated and just as sick of being patient?”
I shrugged. “Misery and company.”
“It’s solace,” she agreed. “Cold, but something worth holding. How’s your temper?”
“I don’t believe I’ve snapped. Any reports I haven’t heard?”
Eh,” she said. “The one I got looked like he deserved it. And I only got one, so that’s a fair improvement. I may be done with you sooner than I thought. You’ve made good progress, Ragin. More, you’ve a tool chest now. May I invade your family privacy?”
I blinked at her. “Something behind Advocate’s? Because no, you can’t — “
“You know who I am now,” she said. “Related to half the country, family gatherings are either weddings or drawn daggers, sometimes both. Some I like, some I don’t. Some of the old codgers still sniff that little Amy went to soldier.”
“Old codgers. Your relatives? You haven’t outlived them all?” I teased.
“Watch it, soldier. Lem Arisdal is one I like, and he’s the one that put me up for that year before I came back out. He’s covered a lot of tuition for smart young things with not a cracked teander to their names. And Lem, bless him, puts the Healing budget right behind the fire oil budget. He’s our best ally in the Prava, so when he asks me a favor, I try to help. He passed through Monserrat a few tendays ago. Wanted to check on Cazerien, and he couldn’t find her. He’s worried. Can you tell me something to tell him?”
“Bloody hells. We should have figured that. Has he told anyone else?”
She shook her head. “And if I can tell him something, he won’t. We’re old codgers, not stupid ones. No dementia in our tree.”
“So you say,” I retorted. “Get another opinion. She’s fine. Well, not fine, but she’s alive. No worries there. So far. Happier in some ways. Or brave-facing. If he’s not stupid and he uses the brains he has, he’ll figure out what she’s doing. The Selenars get regular letters.”
She nodded. “Private practice. Lem should have puzzled that. Lem also asked me to go to her once I’m done with you. He figures she’s taken it on the chin, and we both know that’s euphemism.”
Els had a lot of my memories, but not Rien’s residence. That, I kept Privileged. I’d had to trust her with more than anyone else still breathing, thanks to the shit-sucking son of a whore who shattered his jewels in my mother. But Rien was a step beyond that level of privacy. “When you’re done with me, I’ll tell you, but I warn you, it’s your time to waste.”
“That, I’ve figured. You’re a prickly bastard, but a baby’s blanket in comparison. She’s ten yard spikes in all directions.”
“And I’m trusting, too.”
“Lady Hot.” She rolled her head on her neck. “Well, twasn’t unexpected. Woman in a man’s world, we either become one of the lads, defend ourselves or make them hope to tumble us. Friends are hard, and power makes it worse. Has she help of some sort?”
“A bone-healer who is getting consultation.”
“And now, mark me down in the demented column,” she said. “That explains that. Thank you, I will tutor from afar.” She frowned. “Off with you. Bruckides can make use of you. I’ve got other patients who need your spot. Breakfast, second day and sixth. You can have your suppers back. And I’ll be handing out surprise inspections, so don’t get slack.”