17-25 Storis, 1138, Autumn
Rain poured down my window. Watching it sheet marginally interested me more than watching the plaster grow moss. Regarding weather, Uplanders say, if you don’t like it, wait five minutes or walk five miles. Not this year, though. Every few years, enough autumnal rain falls to fill the Green Sea. Next year, or the one after, would begin a decade of drought, but lucky me, I moved to the Uplands in The Wet.
My desk was clean, my files empty. In the tendays before the Wet, our files had again piled, so quickly I had taken the time to send two flashes, one with a paid return. The first had been to Harliander sune Arven. Metro turning aggressive? Apprenticeship available, expect wills, contracts. 346 to 1. Interested? His response had come within an hour. Expecting dismissal, insubordination. Last exam 29 Storis. Where, when interview? No loss when opposition cheats. The other had been to Mandar. Need apprentice. Prefer Harliander given skills, temperament, potential. Terms by post? Mandar Paxular had agreed enthusiastically to the apprenticeship, though he requested we interview three other clerks. All four would make exceptional Advocates, but Harliander had more experience, a deep and wide understanding of every major aspect of our practice, and a more generous sympathy for Celestan’s citizens and our clients. We’d met all four off the canal boat, given them all a day’s trial, but the only one whose absence we felt after he or she returned to Cimenarum was Harliander. Quick and highly competent were givens; only Harli meshed his gears with ours without the slightest grind. We’d hired him the day after we sent him back. I had no expectation that he would not pass his final exam and we planned for him to begin his travel north the day after. While his apprentice Advocate’s salary would not be luxurious — Mandar allowed us 19,000 and his lodging with us — Avah said it was a near doubling of a Defender’s clerk’s daily rate.
Then the Wet hit and all business paused. Nobody travels in The Wet; they’re trying to save crops, shear waterlogged sheep, and keep the land from washing away. We’d have work after this spell, when the winter auctions started, but until then, all I had was moss and the bog outside.
The assessment I’d sent Ragin was not helping me accept my new fate. Even if I spent every hour of the next five years assembling the people, funds, political will, weaponry, leadership and communications to wage war, it still might fail, and that assumed I managed the entire five years. At any moment in that time, I’d be moving against the legitimate government. The assessment itself made me technically seditious.
My best chance was the one I’d rejected. Marry Savrin and consolidate my power before Mathes turned Savrin on me and I ended up incubilated. I hadn’t mentioned that option to Ragin; I’d only need three years to assemble my war machine, but the maximum I could hold Savrin would be a year and a half. When I didn’t kindle — I’d take a pearl before I married him; no sense wasting my chance on a monster — Mathes would sweep back in like a killer tide.
“Remind me again,” Avah said from behind her desk, “why we slogged through a foot of mud to get here? Rien, nobody is coming out in this weather.”
“Because one more day in the inn will make me murderous,” I said. “We can sort the files again.”
She came back to my office. As much as we enjoy each other’s company, we were rapidly growing sick of each other. “Blast the Sardani professors. Harli could have stood his orals last tenday, then we could at least have a good round of cards while we do nothing. Have we a decision for Telia yet on our arrangement?”
When we’d told Telia we were adding an apprentice, she had given us two choices. We could all share the four room suite across the hall, or she could put Harli downstairs in a single room. I had no strong opinion and Avah seemed to be keeping hers behind her teeth. I chose one by mental coin flip. “We’ll all move. Easiest for everyone else if we’re not tramping through the corridors at all hours.” Her lips firmed slightly and her spine drooped; my answer was not the one she wanted. “Argue me out of it, then.”
“No, it is most sensible to have us together. It’ll just encourage his fancy and I don’t want his heart cracked.” She considered me, her mental gears whirling. I am fond of that expression when directed at evidence or our opposition, not as much when I am its object. “I’ll throw you at him, and he at you.”
“No,” I said. “Colleagues only — ”
She shook her head. “You like him. You’re comfortable with one another. Rien, you argue with him, and not just legal debate. That tells me you trust and respect him, because you either become the Ice Prazia, or just avoid people you don’t trust.” She ticked on her fingers. “Me, Darav, Cel, Ragin, Efan Werev, Sam Benscop, Mandar Paxular. And now Harli. And that was quick. You didn’t argue with me for most of the first year, but you fell into it without a bobble when he was here. Besides, Harli talks his game, but he’s almost exactly as worldly-wise and profoundly innocent as you. Neither of you have ever had time for a sweeting, nor opportunity, and you’ve both seen the despairing side more than the joyful. I don’t expect a life-long partnership, just serve your apprenticeships together. You’ll treat each other well, you’ll part friends and wiser for the time.”
I saw her point; I did have a deep comfort with sune Arven, but no spark at all, and not just because my personal flint — never much encouraged — had taken holiday as the panics worsened. He was lovely, if dewy. Generous and patient, affectionate and intelligent. And not for me. “We’ll put him downstairs then. Then we don’t have to move. I’m just not interested. Should time alter, then we’ll revisit. Fair?”
She nodded and leaned into the door with something like relief. “Ayuh. We are not refiling today. I’d rather visit a tooth Healer. Without acantha.”
To be honest, I’d rather have a tooth pulled, too. “So… go back to the inn. If I can’t walk a millia of completely abandoned — “
“I don’t want to be there, either,” she mock-whined with an overly dramatic foot stamp. “I truly like Telia, but she doesn’t realize just how annoying someone so poised and perfect is!”
I laughed in agreement. “That’s an option,” I said.
“Killing Telia? She has guards, but that just makes it challenging...”
“No, the tooth Healer. He’s probably as busy as we are,” I said. “Better mend the caries before you need the pliers.”
She scowled at me, then took her waterproof coat from the hook in the hall. “It’s bad when the best cure for boredom is getting one’s teeth mended.” She leveled a finger at me. “Don’t go anywhere.”
“Woof,” I said. “Yes, Master. I get to go tomorrow!” I called as she sped out into the rain. I went to her desk. At least from there, I could watch rain fill the muddy streets and the few people who had to be out. For a few minutes, I tried the exercise Cel had suggested for the sorts of unfamiliar situations that contributed to panicking. I allowed myself a daydream, mental practice. Under what circumstances could I imagine cuddling a partner? A kiss? A fall into bed, desperate attacks on buttons and ties?
I couldn’t. Any circumstance I summoned brought at best a giggle at the ridiculousness. I mentally auditioned every person of my even passing acquaintance or fleeting fancy — from Kris quan Haelens, the acknowledged male beauty of our generation and a genuinely decent, clever man — through Darav and several other Archilian priests to Bran Darlamand to Harli. Usually, I felt a mental shrug. It seemed like such work for so little return. My only faintest spark flared at the thought of my dream-image of Pronator Tiwendar, but I knew the why of that. A dream-fancy never burps or speaks thoughtlessly, is present when wanted and vanishes when unwelcome. What point a passing fancy or a cuddle if it lacked even a fraction of the fictitious desire that arrived only in dreams of a dead man? I gave the exercise up for a bad job. Romantic, I am not.
I deliberately ignored the broadsheets stacked on the table between the two chairs opposite Avah’s desk. I only saw creeping destruction in their pages now. It was never anything large — Savrin wasn’t slaughtering people in the streets — but when added together, the small things amounted to dangerous, disquieting changes. A year ago, the stack would have been twice as large and ten times more interesting, but a half-dozen broadsheets — those most critical of the Reformists and Savrin — had been quietly muzzled or closed.
The Prava had approved some forty highway checkpoints, mostly in the south, ostensibly to ensure Spagnians didn’t infiltrate, but that was patently ridiculous. Physically, we’re strikingly dissimilar — Galantierans, being descended from several hundred refugees of the ancient Porsirian Empire, haven’t much variation in our stock line. We’ve everyone from bloodless blondes like me to bronzed brunettes, but universally, we’re almond-eyed and have prominent foreheads, high cheekbones and brows in rather flat faces. Spagnians, being part of the Western Federation, are rarely pale, have round eyes, round cheekbones, and flat brows. We come from different sides of the world and only met in the backwaters. More importantly, our languages share no root, and our cultures mix no better than oil and water. We don’t bar foreign traders, but we are not the hub of international trade — we are far out on the wheel. In the interest of impartiality, I could make a poor argument for checkpoints near our harbors and on the western border highway, but we already have those. We certainly don’t need them deep in the interior on minor roads, nor do those minding the checks need such detailed records.
The Prava cut the aqueduct and canal budgets and reorganized Judicatura funding, in the name of providing for our defense. The Judiciary funding cuts meant they had effectively eliminated the circuit Justiciars, who brought regular benches to outlying regions. A Celestan or Raidven lease-holder could still legally challenge a scofflaw landowner, but now must do so in Cimenarum, and thus bear themselves all of the expense of travel, lost labor and production, putting more strain on and adding deeper delays to the already over-burdened legal system. The border garrisons and the Navy’s budgets were also shrinking, according to Ragin. Cutting those budgets put thousands of people out of work, further reducing the kingdom’s income, and pushing everyone closer to poverty. Yet the Exchequer rolls seemed to be growing. Where the money was going, I couldn’t tell.
Mostly, I tried to ignore it while I waited out my year of insignificance. Thus, I welcomed the knock at the door. The post station boy thrust two letters and a package slip into my hand before splashing down the street. I’d have to fetch the package; the boy couldn’t deliver them. I shrouded myself in boiled wool and waxed canvas, left a note for Avah and locked the office. I wasn’t about to retrieve her for a two block walk, and though I found the engineer across the street genial enough, I wouldn’t ask Master Bridger to accompany me to the post station. I’m neither six nor mentally deficient.
I enjoyed my brief, solitary walk through the commercial district, despite the rain. I turned out to be fetching a long, narrow cylinder. Whatever it was, I didn’t want to share it with the entire town, so I tucked it under my arm and returned, stopping at Mistress Katin’s for dove and noodle soup and buns. I’d never before realized that boredom makes me hungry, or more precisely, I will eat when I’ve nought else to do. Probably because I’d so rarely been bored. Maybe if this rain holds long enough, I’ll grow fashionably plump. Probably not, though. A half-year of the Belleview’s riches and Mistress Katin’s delicacies had not improved my darning-needle frame.
I cut through the empty yard behind my office and let myself in through the back, as much to avoid walking past the tooth Healer and vexing Avah as to avoid the rain. Coming through the back door, I heard knocking on the front. I hurried, expecting Avah plus ire, but the shrouded figure was several steps away before I got the door open.
“Sorry, I decided to try again in three tendays,” a surprisingly feminine, husky voice said from underneath the broad hat and masculine coat. “Has the Advocate time for an unexpected client today?”
I certainly did, and let her in, helping her off with her coat and hat. She was a good head shorter than me, and soaked to the skin despite boiled wool and waxed canvas, waterproofing being more aspirational than descriptive. My office at the back of the small building was warmer, and I directed her there while I fetched fondal and put the crocks of soup and buns on a tray. She stood by the oil stove, dragging her fingers through short hair the color of autumn aspen leaves. I took my seat behind the desk. Her up-tilted eyes widened. “Oi,” she said. “You’re the Advocate. I’m sorry. I thought you were a clerk.”
I offered my hand and name. “It’s the name, I know. Rien’s usually a boy’s name.”
“More, most Advocates are men,” she agreed. “I’m Linzara Silvalt.”
I kept my face expressionless. Teregenia Silvalt was one of the few whom I’d never met. I’d always wanted to meet the Wild Wood Teregenia. What gossip I’d heard said she was a singularity in our world — a woman who ran a silvagreve, a forested langreve that provided much of Galantier’s wood. She, not her Prava-sitting brother, bossed the foresters, lumbermen and sawyers. Further, the Woodmens’ Guild liked her, and they hated everyone. She apparently made the place one of the richest langreves in the country. Her brother, the despicable Trensen Silvalt, claimed she would tumble anything in breeches, drank and swore like a sailor and stole all his money. Just on that report, I liked her — anyone Trensen disliked was probably worth befriending. She avoided Cimenarum and I’d taken few progresses into the Uplands. The roads just weren’t good enough for Da’s overdeveloped sense of security.
Though she didn’t use her title, I must. An Advocate would know it. “What can we do for you, Teregenia? Please, sit, eat.”
Her small mouth twisted. “I should use an assumed name, but this has my real name all over it, so subterfuge wouldn’t work. Please, I’m a forester, no grand lady and I’m only Teregenia by default. Do you like the Uplands, Advocate?”
“I do. I plan to stay.”
“Good. I want someone to see this through. I think I bear a very difficult battle.”
I smiled. “I like difficulties.”
She withdrew a document case from inside her jacket. “This isn’t strictly langreve business; I’ve an excellent relationship with Tenhemp and sune Iras for that. I doubt they can help me. It’s about the succession.”
That word, succession, made my heart skip. What affects a langreve’s succession can be used in a Royal succession case, and a difficult battle probably meant forging new precedents, if she understood what she wanted. Still, I had to give the firm’s standard answer on this, the one Mandar quan Paxular had given me. “Teregenia, this firm rarely handles such matters. Succession’s the Prava’s decision, not the Judicatura’s.”
“I know, but this won’t pass Prava muster.” She opened her document case and handed me several sheaves bound in blue tape. I read the will, now a decade old, and a recent ruling barring the natural son of Linzara Silvalt, named Niklan sune Linzara, from the succession to Silvalt upon the deaths of his mother and uncle, on grounds of illegitimacy. I chewed my lip as I read; the declaration, just a quarter-year old, used the same precedent that had deposed me, the Pantheon Proclamation of 221 AFG. I sighed. The boy’s just four; excluding him when Linzara and her miserable brother can’t know how he’ll turn out or what rivals he may have is wrong.
The will caught my interest. The late Teregenitor’s death had been unexpected; his horse broke through an iced puddle during a winter chase. He’d been thrown into a tree head-first; no Healer in the world can repair a damaged brain. Lansar Silvalt couldn’t deprive his son of the langreve in favor of his daughter, but he’d tried, and he’d planned for conflict.
The Prava seat and title went to Trensen with the land, but Linzara controlled the forests, the Valanding and Silvalt sawmills, carting, fur and leather operations — everything not in the original langreve grant. She rented the land from Trensen, giving him an income. I looked up and caught her direct hazel eyes. “Does it work?”
She understood. “Mostly. Silvalt’s profitable and I’ve a brilliant money man who hides most of my earnings where my brother can’t find it. Trensen tries, but he’s considerably more bully than accountant. Right now, I’ve good relations with the Exchequer; they accept my accurate taxes and don’t help Trensen. When that changes, Silvalt will be attacked by bark beetles or suffer a brush fire. Despite that,” she nodded at the weather outside, “Silvalt’s dry. It could go up in flames any time.”
Will she set the fire or just let a lightning strike burn? Good for her. Should Trensen and the Reformists attempt to rob her, they deserved nothing for their effort. “How may I assist?”
“I want my son to inherit. Trensen has three, maybe four years of life left. If Spangian Rot doesn’t kill him, somebody will murder him — “
I started to warn her of the consequences. She shook her head. “Not me, nor my people. He’s already come close several times — just this year. He’s impulsive, reckless, remorseless. He’s in debt and Silvalt would be bankrupt if I didn’t stand up to him.”
“No children?” Last I’d heard, Trensen Silvalt hadn’t married, but he probably would soon.
“He has no bastards; I doubt he will. I know he’s got Rot; he may have Farazine pox, too. I can’t think of a single father in Galantier cruel enough to let Trensen anywhere near his daughter.”
I’d confirm with Celadane, but Spagnian Rot usually rendered a man sterile. A double-edged blessing that — no monstrous children, but the woman usually didn’t know she’d been infected until too late. Silver-wrapped pearls and beregan oil helped contain the disease, if they were used faithfully in advance; it could be Healed, if caught early, but if not, progress could only be slowed.
I knew Trensen better than I’d admit; he’d been immediately senior to me in the Prava for eight years. I wasn’t surprised he’d been infected and let it go untreated. Infection would have enraged him and he probably considered spreading the disease a rough justice. As Mathes’ muscle, he’d be dangerous were he less impulsive. Charming on the surface, but he seemed to lie when it pleased him, even when the truth served better.
Da disliked him. There’s something wrong with that boy, he’d once said after a Prava session. Something missing. I think Lansar knew it. Trensen wasn’t bright, but he had a feral cunning sometimes. The only person he seemed to respect was Mathes. Logical — Mathes sees a dangerous, but useful, tool; Trensen sees a superior predator.
I examined the documents again, stalling while I thought. Linzara Silvalt didn’t seem to recognize me. If I asked, I’d reveal myself, and I daren’t read her mind. Instead, I watched for clues in her behavior. “You’ve no other siblings? Your mother?”
“Not living,” she said. “My mother’s gone. I had a brother and a sister, but my sister died in the hacking cough epidemic.”
Not surprising; half of all children don’t see their fifth name-day. “Your brother?”
She hesitated. “A cot death, when he was a half-year old.”
The hesitation, and the possessive she’d used both caught my attention. “My mother? Not our mother?”
She inhaled. “Trensen was my father’s first wife’s son.”
I didn’t know the Silvalt lineage as well as I should; with a Curia of several thousand, all intermarried, it wasn’t easy to know them all. “What were the circumstances?”
She sighed. “My father preferred my mother, but his father needed an alliance and Da was the last son standing. Common enough, but Da refused to give Mam up when he married. Soon after Trensen’s birth, his mother learned mine hadn’t disappeared. She died soon after. I’m just a year younger than Trensen and I arrived a quarter-year after my parents married, so I think I need not explain the math. Mam raised him as her own, but he learned eventually. My father always said his first wife wasn’t very… stable.”
That might explain Trensen’s less admirable qualities — a marriage mother, no matter how kind, a heritage of mental instability, learning why, resenting the sister who was the child of the woman his father loved. “Was Trensen’s mother’s death suicide?”
“My father thought it half-accidental,” she said after a bit of thought. “After Trensen was born, she went off the path a bit — wouldn’t hold Tren, wouldn’t get out of bed — and her Healer gave her something — I don’t know what. She swallowed three tendays’ worth of tablets with a bottle of black brandy.”
That sounded more intentional than less, but Lansar wasn’t here to question. Perhaps he’d convinced himself his first wife’s death was accidental to salve his conscience. “When were your late siblings born?”
“My sister was four years younger, my brother came when I was ten.” Trensen was a year my senior, which made Linzara my age. The hacking cough epidemic had burned through Galantier when I was eleven; I’d been kept in seclusion so I wouldn’t catch it.
She hesitated when she said her brother died in his cot. We don’t understand why some babies die in their sleep, but Trensen would have been about twelve, in school, probably aware of the family circumstances. Sisters wouldn’t threaten the man I knew, but a rival, infant brother by the beloved wife… “Where did your brother die?”
“At Silvalt House. My mother always accompanied my father to Cimenarum for the Prava sessions. Trensen and I were at school, but… ” she trailed off, then raised her head and met my eyes. “Bloody Advocates. Can’t leave well enough alone, can you? No, I don’t know that Trensen murdered Salbie, but it’s possible. After the Fordeanites expelled him, he attended the Hermachian Academy in Cimenarum and lived at Silvalt House. You’re an Advocate, so you were with the Sardanis?”
“The Archilians,” I said. I’d never attended a temple Academy, but Advocates usually came from the Sardanis, the Archilians or the Hermachians.
She nodded, accepting my prevarication. “Fordeanites primarily teach woodscraft — managing a forest and the wild creatures — animal Healing, a few other specialities. There’s one long practical lesson on hunting, fur and leather. Trensen and I were in the same class — Fordeanites don’t take children until we can read and figure, and I learned faster than he. I was nine, he was ten, when we started that lesson. Do you know how one kills a small animal, Advocate?”
“No,” I said. Da’s excursions at Monserat had included setting snares and hunting, but a good snare kills.
“The best way is a sharp blow to the back of the head, at the base of the skull. It’s merciful. Animal Healers say it causes only a second of pain. Trensen won’t. He strangles or cuts throats, but mercy isn’t in him. They expelled him for it, but he still hunts. He’s more brutal now.”
“You think he strangled your brother? When the baby died, did the Metropolita investigate?”
“Of course. They declared it a cot death. That’s what it looked like, but over the years, I’ve thought about it. I’ve seen Trensen after his version of a successful hunt, when he’s wounded a hart and trailed it until it bleeds to death. Those are his favorite, and afterwards, he’s almost languid, as relaxed as I ever see him. In the tenday after Salbie died, he was the same. It’s not difficult to smother a baby. Mam was attentive — no wetnurses. Salbie’s nursery at Silvalt House was beside my parents’ room, but Trensen’s room was on the same floor. He’s forest-bred, too, Advocate. We move quietly. I can’t prove it, but he had reason, opportunity, he’s always been violent, and he’s cunning. I don’t trust him near my son.”
Sensible. The Metropolita wouldn’t have called in a Perceptive for a cot death. However, Linzara wasn’t here about her brother’s death. She wanted her son in the succession. “As the precedents stand now, an illegitimate child cannot inherit,” I said.
“I want to fight that. History has never prevented — “
“The precedent is now set. The simplest way to restore your children to the succession would be to marry,” I said.
“That won’t restore Niklan’s claim. It just permits my future children to inherit. I want Nik.”
“The boy’s father — “
“It’s impossible, Advocate,” she said sharply.
Ah. Either her lover’s dead or married to someone else. “Who — “
“It doesn’t matter. Nik’s my son. I am a Teregenia, true daughter of a Teregenitor and my son is my brother’s only hope. Niklan should follow me.”
I sighed. “This won’t be easy,” I said. “I’d be better able to help if you’ll tell me everything.”
“Teregenia, I’m an Advocate. I cannot be asked to reveal any detail and my mind cannot be read. Not legally, and not illegally.”
She stayed silent. She wants me to appeal a Prava ruling in the Judicatura, not offer advice on her private relationships, and to be brutally honest, I’m useless there. If she won’t reveal, or doesn’t know, her son’s parentage, that’s her interest. It doesn’t matter who the fellow was. Besides, if I fight this case successfully, we’ll have a precedent that might return me to the succession. “I’ll need a couple of tendays to assemble the pleading and research the precedents. This won’t be a short case. We’ll spend the next several years in close contact, frequently in Cimenarum. You understand this will be expensive and we may never win?”
She nodded. “You’ll take the case?”
“Oi, yes,” I said, already anticipating it. My work kept clients out of the Judicatura, but I missed bench battles. This case promised several.
We discussed the retainer, I copied her documents and she left a treasury draft, then stood and shook my hand. “Thank you for fighting for Nik.”
“Where is he?” I asked. Silvalt paele was at most a half-day’s ride away, but she when she spoke of him, her voice changed and her expression grew proud. Every child should have such an excellent mother.
“My friend with the talent for accounting has him. He and his family adore Nik.”
I suspected the money man, who sounded married, might be Nik’s father, but didn’t pry. Her coat was damp, but she had dried. I saw her to the door, and with the light fading, lit my lamps and went to work. I was deep in the books when Avah returned.
“This has potential,” she said and caught the fire of interest, too. “The broadsheets will love it.” We spent half the night digging through census genealogies and the backwaters of the Lex Galanteris. We found hundreds of cases where an illegitimate son had inherited, or where a daughter’s child had been brought into the succession. Rarely did the daughter’s illegitimate son rise to the seat, but that wasn’t surprising. As recently as my grandfather’s reign, a Pronatia was either married or dedicated to a temple by fourteen or fifteen. She simply lacked time to bear a bastard, and when one accomplished it, her parents or elder brother adopted her child as a subsequent heir — unlikely to ever ascend to the seat, but privileged as a Pronatiam. Even now, Linzara Silvalt, Avah and I were oddities, being above twenty, unmarried and undedicated.
The precedents are solid. If we win a reversal in Linzara’s case, I’ll have the precedent and the judicial preparation to bring my own case.