Chapter no 17 – Valedictory

Empire of Silence

THE DAY BEFORE MY departure came at last, dawning a sunny silver and painting the green-black countryside with its glow. The sky above was the color of turbulent, storm-tossed seas, but it was sunny and fair as any I’d

ever seen. That seemed wrong to me—the rain and storms I’d encountered leaving Meidua struck me as by far the more appropriate weather for such an end. Officially I was to be on a shuttle the following morning, carried up to the trading cog Farworker for a steady circuit of the inner Imperium that in time would bring me to Lorica College and exile on Vesperad. Officially. I had it on good authority that I would vanish sometime in the night and instead be transported to the island city of Karch in the middle of the

Apollan Ocean, back east of Devil’s Rest, to meet Mother’s mysterious contact.

Attempting to appear casual, I waited near the landing field for the approach of Father’s shuttle, the orbital lifter meant to take me to my

rendezvous with the Farworker and my fate. Emissaries from Devil’s Rest were coming to see me into exile, and propriety begged that I greet them.

Crispin stood beside me—whether out of boredom or genuine interest I couldn’t have said. He had been astonishingly quiet for the past several

minutes, allowing me time to order my mangled thoughts. I was thinking of the scholiasts’ meditations, of the apatheia. I was trying to carve out as clear an image of this moment as I could, to take in every detail. Focus blurs,

Gibson used to say. Focus blinds. You must take in all of a thing by seeing the totality of it, not by focusing on minutiae. This is as important for a

ruler as it is for a painter.

A lump settled in my throat as I stood with my brother watching the approaching shuttle. It appeared at first as a tiny shape, birdlike, a blur at

the edge of my vision, falling from the sky like a lance. The bird shape grew, became a dragon, and brought with it a scream of metal fury grinding at the sky—first a low rumble like thunder, then the sound of several hundred swords being sharpened on the firmament. It slalomed back and forth across the sky, shedding massive amounts of speed with every turn, just as we had on our arrival.

“I wish they’d let me go up with you,” Crispin said. “I’ve never been to orbit.”

I didn’t answer him but shielded my eyes in time to see the shuttle’s retrojets burst for a moment, killing more speed as it hurried in for it final approach. Around us and on the landing field below, technicians in

Kephalos livery hurried about, preparing. Thirty Imperial legionnaires, their white armor immaculately polished, their faceless, eyeless visors down and helmets sealed, took up position at parade rest, rifles in hand, standing

shoulder to shoulder with the ten Marlowe hoplites we’d brought with us from Meidua.

The shuttle slewed into its approach vector, canted upward as its attitude jets helped it shed more and more velocity, aided by the shuttle’s onboard

suppression field. The craft looked more like a knife blade than an aircraft, not at all like the carrion-bird that had brought Crispin and me to this place. Twenty meters of black adamant, the hull bonded to a titanium chassis,

capable of withstanding micrometeor impacts even without the shield projectors mounted fore and aft, little concave dishes shining like quicksilver.

The underside of the hull still smoldered from the friction of reentry as it settled onto the landing field, the ship wreathed in tongues of smoke like

some evil dragon. Technicians ran forward to cool the glowing adamant

with chemical sprays, and the whole thing hissed like a nest of adders as the gangway descended. For one terrible instant, I felt sure that Father’s broad-shouldered silhouette would come stumping down that ramp, that Mother’s carefully laid plan and Gibson’s sacrifice—and the money I’d secreted—

would come to naught and all would be lost.

But it was only Tor Alcuin with his shaved head and dark skin, his voluminous robes flapping from his shoulders like an embassy of flags. Sir Roban, just as dark, followed in his wake, not armored but dressed in

simple semiformal blacks, his highmatter sword swinging free from his

shield-belt. My farewell party. A trio of lesser functionaries followed them

down the ramp, followed by a senior flight officer . . . and Kyra. The lieutenant looked out of place in their company, younger than the others by a decade or more. I marveled at the unhappy odds that had ensured that of all my father’s pilot officers, she had been chosen to fly the shuttle. It was almost enough to make me believe that there was a God and that he hated me.

The young scholiast and the functionaries bowed deeply. Roban saluted, his fist pressed to his breast, and the other officers followed suit. “It is an honor,” Alcuin said in unctuous tones, “to accompany you on your journey from Delos, Lord Hadrian.”

I inclined my head, eyes darting momentarily to Kyra in the back of the party. I looked away quickly, praying I had not reddened. Emboldened by Father’s absence and Mother’s plan, I said, “I would be more honored,

Counselor, if Gibson could have joined us.” If I had expected a reaction from the scholiast, I was disappointed. Alcuin’s dark face remained impassive, his eyes flat and smooth as agate. The others all betrayed disquiet in the uneasy way they shuffled about on their feet. Deep beneath my surface, an ember of hot ash blew into flame, a fury with this man—this adding machine—who felt nothing, nothing at all for the brutality visited upon his comrade and brother-in-arms by the man they served. Alcuin must know the story, must know that Gibson’s treatment was a gross injustice.

And he didn’t care—couldn’t care. Caring was an alien notion to him, as alien as the Cielcin xenobites in their labyrinthine worldships. As alien as

any of the coloni races, enslaved on their own worlds. As alien, indeed, as the dark gods that whisper quietly in the night. He only said, “Gibson’s treason was unfortunate.”

“Hadrian,” Roban said, stepping forward and offering a hand, “it’s good to see you again before you go.”

I clasped Roban’s hand, but my attentions barely flickered from Alcuin’s face. “It’s good to see you, too, Roban.” I trailed off, finally peeling my gaze away from the scholiast to look the knight-lictor in his blunt-featured face, at the wide nose and deep-set eyes beneath the heavy shelf of brow.

Feeling at once awkward and still, I said, “I should have thanked you more . . . more appropriately for saving me. And for everything.”

Remembering suddenly, I craned my neck to speak to Kyra past the three uniformed functionaries. “And you, Lieutenant. Thank you.”

She bowed slightly, and Roban clapped me on the shoulder. “One last trip, then, you and I. Are you all packed?”

Giving the lictor a smile that I fear failed to reach my eyes, I said, “Of course!”

“I know that this is not the future you envisioned for yourself, young master,” said Alcuin, voice like dry leaves, “but your role with the Chantry will serve the greater glory of your house. A Marlowe in the Chantry will allow—”

To my surprise, Crispin cut him off. “He doesn’t need the speech. He knows.”

Alcuin went stiffly silent, bowed his head. Eager to inject some

calmness back into the proceedings, I said, “I understand the necessity,

Alcuin.” And I smoothed all expression from my face, watching the

scholiast—my father’s chief advisor—with an expression as apparently empty as his own. Only my serenity was skin-deep, a layer of ice atop turbulent waters. Alcuin was frozen solid. I could hear Gibson’s cries of

pain as the lash bit into him resounding in my ears and felt myself slipping further away from this meet-and-greet on the landing field. I felt an instant need to be alone.

“Of course you do, young master.” Tor Alcuin bowed past his knees, tucking his hands into his flowing sleeves before him. “Forgive me.”

Coldly I said, “There is nothing to forgive, Counselor.” I had another mystery to unravel, and so I turned, blood creeping into my face, to speak to Kyra. “Lieutenant, I am surprised to see you here.” What are the odds? I

wanted to ask, to joke, to try and salvage a bad situation, to smooth over my earlier mistake.

Kyra averted her gaze quickly, bowing her head so that the short bill of her flight officer’s cap hid her eyes. “I was told I was personally requested.”

I felt the blood drain from my face. “By whom?”

She looked up sharply, and there was nothing of the fear I expected in her face, only something lean-edged and hard. “By yourself.”

She’s lying, I thought, smiling at her. We both knew it. I could see it in her face, in the way she held my gaze as she had not done before. Often I have found that liars do this: they watch their dupes closely, searching for the moment when belief sets in. Conscious of the onlookers, I said, “Oh, yes! Of course, I’d forgotten! I’d like a private word, when we have a moment.” Inwardly I frowned. Something was going on, but what it was I

didn’t guess. I had known the delegation was coming, but even so I did not relish the task of escaping the Haspida palace—however Mother intended to see it done—under the noses of Roban and Tor Alcuin.

“Where is Lady Kephalos-Marlowe?” Alcuin asked, taking a mincing step forward.

Crispin moved to join the counselor, pivoting to indicate the domes of the palace on the hills above us. “Just this way, everyone. Please.”

You'll Also Like