Paval and the General sent me out almost continually after that. According to my orders, I was supposed to be observing courts martial, and indeed I did, but that was an excuse. My point in being the circuit observer for the Justiciars General was to build my net. Roaming the border let me chat with every commander. I didn’t ask much — just to take the Spagnian threat very seriously.
“Kavin, you paid much attention to this new Minister of War?” I asked after an old friend and I had pleased each other a few times. It was good to tumble, especially good without an echo of take your time, it an’t a race between my ears. But the miracle was in the simple, uncomplicated desire, of having nothing to prove or lose or have taken except what my partners and I offered each other. It wasn’t love, but now there was joy, and calm, and bone-deep affection for my comrades instead of need and self-disgust and shame.
“Ragin, you’re the only person in a thousand who’d say that after a tumble.” He threw one arm over his face and pulled me closer with the other. His room at South Three felt cold, even to me, as a storm blew across the desert. The fact that I’m a human oil stove has made several lovers happy. “Morning call’s coming too fast anyway.”
“Stay up with me so you don’t miss it,” I taunted. “I’ll keep you awake.”
“What’s enough for you?” he asked. “I’m no young hothead anymore.”
“I beg to differ,” I said.
“Flatterer.” Kavin levered himself upright. He most resembles an ox built to battle spec — ten percent heavier, stronger, and more armored than necessary. He’s survived twenty years out here, and he started in Heavy Cavalry, where a quarter of commanders don’t see their tenth year. He’s never been what I want in a partner, but he treats a tumble as a friendly interlude, not a promise of perpetual devotion… well, he has since his husband took an incendiary flight five years ago.
“What’s your interest in the Minister of War?” Kavin said as he filled the kettle. He brews his fondal black, without honey or milk. That, I would not drink again, even if I liked the sensation of acid through my guts and three days awake.
“We’re saddled with a civilian,” I said. “He’s a bean-counter, no warrior, never been out here.”
Kavin growled low in this throat, but said nothing. I’m not sure which is worse to a soldier — bean-counter or deserter — but they’re both black invective.
“He’s only Minister because somebody owes him something or he bought it. We all know that.”
“The Assistant Ministers didn’t change,” he said.
“Yet,” I said. “You know these money types, Kav. They never know what we really need, they can’t assess a threat chewing on their prongs. They think we exaggerate our requisitions, then cut our budgets. We can’t afford that now. The Spagnians got across once and they hit hard –“
“Pull the other one,” he scoffed, pouring water over black powder. He brought the cups back to his bed and folded himself up beside me. “My mother’s gonna find a source of never-ending nitre before I’ll believe that story. The Spagnians never killed the Razin.”
“So the Prava believes,” I said. “Those old men are lathered, wanting this border secure while the Minister of War and the Exchequer slash our budgets. We’re where the wheel meets the road.”
“Nothing new there.” He drained his cup then eyed mine, only tasted for the good manners. He took it — as I knew he would — finished it, then tackled me. He pressed his nose to mine, and spoke, very softly, by Evocata. Quit dancing and tell me what you want. Then I’ll tell you if you must convince me.
“When you write your status reports, don’t be conservative about your threat assessments. With Spagnians, if something’s possible, it’s also probable. If probable, rate it likely. If likely, make it certain. Scare those Cimenaran clerks enough to properly fund this army.”
“Hm,” he said, but he propped himself up on his elbows to let me breathe. “What else?”
“When you make personnel requisitions, be under-staffed.”
“Easy enough. I’m always understaffed.”
I let the obvious flattery pass. “Tell ’em under no circumstance can your brigade leave this sector of the border.”
“That,” he said, “is bordering on an untruth. If someone attacks through the Green Sea passage, we an’t standing by — “
“We have the militiae, Kav,” I said. “Why else do we train every Pronator with two brains to rub together to lead a hundred warriors?”
“Because sixteen year old boys eat like they’re hollow, stink, endanger every girl within sixty milliae, and even their parents can’t stand ’em at that age. Sending ’em to the War College is the only way to keep them alive.” He sobered. “The militiae aren’t standing — if we’re invaded, they’re useless.”
“You’d be surprised,” I said, “and we an’t getting invaded. Gorthania’s fighting Farenze over Monmarane. Spagna doesn’t seem to have a navy that can get past ours. Nobody else cares. I’m more concerned about something… internal.”
“Civil war?” he asked, eying me.
“No,” I retorted. “Those riots that weren’t called riots after my uncle died will happen again. The army shouldn’t be called against ill-trained, unequipped civilians. That’s Metropolita and Crown Guard business.”
“The Razin can’t call us against civilians,” he said.
“It’s never been done, but there’s no law against it.” Just a thousand years of precedent, which Savrin, my parent and the Optimus will shred.
What’s your cousin doing? he asked.
“Contracts, mostly.” I didn’t try to play innocent. “She’s as law-abiding as any granny.”
He snorted. “You never met mine.”
I hadn’t, but Teregenia Salarin was legendary. She’d besieged Prava House back in Grandpere’s day and dragged her husband — who held the seat through her line and had taken her name — out by the collar to acknowledge his shadow family. She’d divorced him, reclaimed the land for her children under Uncle, and raised beef and boys alone. Kav’s elder brother held the seat now, a solid Progressive.
He frowned. “Tell me this — what if we’re ordered off the border?”
“We follow orders, but our duty — right back to the first oath — “
“Is Galantier,” he finished. “Orders are orders.”
“So we need the bean-counters too scared to squat fearing a Spagnian’s lurking in the privy.”
I saw the wheels turn in Kavin’s mind. He’s bright, like all good Generals. The ones dumb as rucks of rocks didn’t earn their commands. He laughed. “Damn me, Ragin. I’m glad you’re on our side.”
I didn’t know which side he meant, but when next I saw his reports, he’d elevated his assessments. Just enough. Talk filtered through the ranks that the Army’s first duty is to defend Galantier against foreign invasion, and that our job has nothing to do with what’s going on inside the country. It took time, but by the Autumn Equinox, I was pretty confident that I’d manage to subvert the Galantieran Army. Not a bad trick for one man shunted out of command and into insignificance.
I lied to Kavin and most of the senior officers. Savrin’s Minister of War was a bean-counting civilian, but we needn’t scare him about Spagna. He already was. He was Lethian high laity who hated and feared Spagna more than apostates like me. I just got the Army to sell him what he wanted to buy. It’s easy to convince someone like that. The Prava, or the Reformists, wanted war for the money to be made.
Not that Kavin would learn. If the Minister ever came to the border, I knew his type well enough. Civilian men amongst the Army think they must prove they’ve got diamond jewels because they’re not professional warriors. That’s especially true for bean-counters who hate the enemy but never had the guts to fight. Savrin’s Minister would probably commandeer some uniform he had no right to wear and strut around the rear garrisons for a few days. The men would hold their contempt until he left, but afterwards, they’d reduce him to slag in the fire of insult.
You’d think Lethians and Spagnians would be kindred spirits, but Lethians — and Hermachians, Cleatarni and Teandrians — despise Spagna. I’ll never understand religion. Like Spagnians, all four faiths deny most of the Pantheon. They all want women unseen and unheard, kept at home making babies and spinning. They all despise love they don’t approve and unsanctioned tumbles. Spagnians, Lethians, Teandrians and Hermachians all castrate for some reason. They more resemble each other than not.
Els called it the animosity of small differences, saying the more alike two groups who’ve decided to hate each other are, the more fired they get over what little divides them. Seems to me they need a reason to hate, and they invent them to order.
I don’t hate the Spagnians. I won’t coddle ’em, but they’re just too different. Unlike the other refugees Galantier’s taken in, they’ll never try for peace with us. They’re convinced they own the One, True, Holy Way and we… don’t. No matter what justification their faith gives them, they’ve no choice but to castrate half their men. When a man aspires to several wives, he doesn’t want brotherly competition. So they keep their women behind veils and walls. They’ve never enough women, even with the brutality they show their sons, for the men to each have three wives — because the rich and favored take concubines. And still, there’s too many of them. They overgrazed their thin soil and let it erode, over-cut their forests and fished out their seas. They couldn’t feed themselves without the Western Federation, and making their women have babies every two years from the day she bleeds makes it worse. I doubt they have many old women. They must wear them out first.
Yet I’d let ’em live on their side of the desert if they’d let us do the same. They can’t. They want our fertile river bottoms and forests, so they can do to our land what they already did to their own. They want our women, and they’ll murder our men. I can’t let ’em do that.
So I can’t let Savrin have his way. If he does, we won’t last long, and when we falter, Spagna pours across the desert and that’s a hell I won’t see happen.