Chapter no 5 – Tigers and Lambs

Empire of Silence

THERE WAS A CLEAR pattern of events emerging, but I was little more than a child, and could not see it. Perhaps you do; perhaps you understand exactly what was being done to me. Why I did not see it when I had been trained for such things almost since I could speak, I will never know. Perhaps it was arrogance, the sense that I was better than Crispin, better suited to rule. Perhaps it was greed. Or perhaps it was because we are blind until the knife first takes us, because we believe ourselves immortal until we die. The world into which I’d been born was a wilderness of tigers playing at lambs. A wise man once told me that flesh was the cheapest resource in the human universe and that life spends more easily than gold. I laughed when I heard that and denied him.

I was a fool to do so.

How little I knew.

The arch that led into the rotunda beneath the Dome of Bright Carvings stands forever in my mind, imperishable, as the symbol of my failure. Awoken late by a maidservant, I hurried through the outer gate and into the circular gallery that enclosed the council chamber, moving with deliberate haste toward that awful portal. Poisoned sunlight fell in strange colors through the stained glass mosaic in the roof above, casting sickly shadows on the ancient statues-their bright paints cracked and fading-that decorated that curious place. It had been the custom in my family for generations to commission wood carvings from all the peoples of our prefecture every decade. The greatest of these decorated the room, standing in niches and upon shelves, bolted to the wall, or suspended in the air on wires so that their shadows cut the colored sunlight to ribbons. The rest were given to the flames at Summerfair.

It was as if someone had taken all the color from our dark castle and pressed it into this one place like some dreadful secret. Birds and beasts, men and ships and demons all cavorted about the space, lit only by the filtered light of Delos’s sun. The door was worst of all. Like most doors in our castle, its arch was pointed, and on the keystone-carved from brass whale ivory-was the likeness of a human face, aquiline and severe. It might have been my own, but it was the perfect twin of the face on the statue before the Great Keep, the face of Julian Marlowe, who raised the castle and our name to glory. Other faces clustered about his, pressed to the wall and down the frame so that thirty-one watched from about the doorway, all bone-white but for their violet eyes. Funeral masks taken from the catacombs where my family’s ashes lay interred.

I knew them all, had memorized them as one of my earliest lessons.

My forebears, their features locked in time, put up for all to see.

The guards at the doors did not resist me as they had outside the throne room but opened the heavy wooden doors at a sign from me, their hinges quiet so that the only sound was that of my shoes scuffing the flagstones. The sound was lost at once beneath the murmur of conversation that rose like the tide to meet me, and I stopped short as half the faces at the round table looked up at me. Only Tor Gibson smiled, though it was brief and strained, smoothed away almost at once by his emotional discipline. The Consortium ministers regarded me with cool indifference, and Crispin-for there he was, seated to father’s left-grinned that jagged, toothy grin of his.

My father did not even break stride. “. . . license permits us sole ownership of all uranium mined in the Delos system, not just from along the Redtine. The outlanders in the belt can be brought up to quota with the right persuasion.” He glanced over his shoulder at Sir Felix, who stood on guard behind his lordship. The castellan wore his best armor, the Marlowe sable and crimson cut with the bronze of his own lesser house. “Send Sir Ardian if the workers continue to hold out on us. He’ll know what to do.”

“The belt workers are in rebellion?” asked Adaeze Feng, her rich voice carefully modulating surprise and contempt. “I’d been given to understand you were a bit firmer in your grip than that, Lord Marlowe.”

My father’s face evinced less reaction than a scholiast’s might have. He smoothed his hair back with an idle gesture. “The belt workers are always in rebellion, Madame Director. They make their puerile complaints, we grant them a few concessions, then take them away when that generation fades out of the workforce.”

“Life expectancy amongst asteroid belt miners is only about sixty years standard,” added Tor Alcuin, the pitch-skinned scholiast who was my father’s chief advisor. “We can afford to cycle concessions in and out for new workers over the next century or so to keep their rebellions to a minimum. Take and give.” While he spoke, I seated myself between two logothetes of the family treasury a full quarter turn around the massive round table from Father’s oversized chair. I sensed the tension in the logothetes, saw the blond-haired woman at my left briefly turn in my direction. I ignored her, hoping to keep my lateness off the table as a matter for discussion.

The minister with the gold tattoos on her scalp frowned, looking directly at Tor Alcuin. “The vicereine approves of this?”

“The vicereine,” Crispin interrupted, putting his tablet facedown on the table, “is content to let us do her dirty work. If we’re putting down rebellions at home, that allows Her Grace to manage the sector.” It was a struggle to smooth the surprised frown from my face. Crispin had these moments, these startling instants of clarity.

“Our true focus must be on the Cielcin,” said Eusebia, the Chantry prior in Meidua. “All this must serve the Earth’s chosen Emperor.” The old woman was frighteningly pale, like moonlight, her face seamed as crumpled paper, her voice like the blowing of spiderwebs in a slow wind. I caught Gibson watching me, and he shook his head, scratching one cheek. I knew what the Chantry was. Power dressed as piety.

The director waved one ringed hand, precious stones glittering as she smiled with those silver-metallic teeth. “Of course, Prior, but thought must be given to the situation after this war is over. When the war is won”-here she splayed that hand flat against the petrified wood of the tabletop-“we wish arrangements with Delos and House Marlowe to be as . . . amicable as possible.”

“When the war is won?” Eusebia’s soft voice rose in pitch and volume, and her cloudy eyes widened. “And should we not attend to the small matter of securing such a victory, Madame Director?”

Adaeze Feng’s smile did not falter. “That is a question for the Legions, surely. And your Emperor. I am a businesswoman, Prior. I am here to make a deal with the archon for a share of his exports, not to strike at the heart of our mutual enemy.”

“The Cielcin grow closer every day,” said a minor functionary in the black robes of the Chantry seated not far from aged Eusebia. “Lord Marlowe, I must urge you to consider the alternative. You must arm the vicereine’s legions with atomics.”

Lord Alistair Marlowe did not look the Chantry toad in the face, but his deep voice undercut the sudden burst of chatter that followed. He did not raise his voice, did not shout, but spoke beneath the others and so undermined them, saying, “The Lady Elmira pulls fifteen percent in raw materials off our yield every standard quarter. She does not need more atomics, Severn, nor do we. The system is armed.” He glanced at Gibson.

“Scholiast, how many ships is Elmira capable of fielding in-system?”

The old man coughed, surprised to have been called on. “At last inquest by the Imperial Office? One hundred and seventeen ships total, discounting lighter craft.” He rattled off a list of demographics, citing the subdivisions of that list by type of ship.

My father gestured for Gibson’s silence with an open hand, his attentions now squarely on Eusebia. “You see, Prior?” He returned his attentions to Adaeze Feng. “Is there something about the state of local affairs that disquiets you, Madame Director?”

Feng looked hard at my father for a moment, sucked on her words before answering. “The offworld workers . . .”

“Will accede to our demands the moment they start to starve on those airless rocks they call home,” my father finished, resting his chin on his folded hands. “The planeted workers are a larger concern. The Mining Guild claims a series of systemic breakdowns in their mining and refinery equipment. The enrichment centers are of gravest concern-we lack the means to replace them and so must buy them from your manufactories.” “And we’ve a Guild factionarius here who wishes a word, Director Feng,” Alcuin added. “She has the details of the situation among the planeted miners.”

Junior Minister Sun leaned forward. “What proportion of uranium . . . er . . .” He broke off, murmuring to his neighbor in Mandar, the Consortium trade language. Apparently finding the word he wanted, Sun said, “Harvest. What proportion of the uranium harvest comes from planeted mines?” “Thirty-two percent,” said Gibson and Alcuin in tandem, the trained mechanics of their minds responding with nearly identical degrees of precision, but it was Gibson who went further, saying, “We’re not operating near that capacity at present, sad to say. The attrition rate amongst the miners in the absence of proper drilling equipment has increased threefold in the past century.”

Lord Alistair rapped the tabletop with his knuckles. “Enough, thank you.”

The director pursed her lips. “Delos is not so rich a vein as Cai Shen was; repair to those enrichment crawlers is absolutely necessary. You wouldn’t want to fail our quotas, after all. Would you?”

A piano-wire smile bled across my father’s face, and the silence went tight as a garrote. Threatening the Lord of Devil’s Rest had a long history of failure. Once when Father was little older than I, the vicereine-my grandmother-had been called to attend the Emperor at Forum. Thirtyseven years she was away, and she left the recently orphaned Lord of Devil’s Rest in her stead as executor. It had taken House Orin of Linon less than three years to begin refusing Father his tribute, and by the next year Lord Orin had raised an army among the exsul houses to depose my father and the absentee vicereine-duchess. They’d swarmed in from the outer planets in-system, falling from the sky like rain.

There had been no second year of Lord Orin’s rebellion, and the castle at Linon was home now only to ghosts, a shattered ruin in a twilit crater on a distant moon at the edge of Delos’s system. My father ordered the deaths of every member of House Orin, smashed their genestock, and raided their family atomics. He would have sown the earth with salt if it would have done any good on airless Linon. As it was, he only opened the windows of the sealed fortress and let the air out of the castle.

I think the director realized her mistake, for she ran a hand over her scalp and had the grace to look away. Father knew, I don’t doubt, that he was not dealing with some exsul house-that this was a director of the largest interstellar corporation for ten thousand star systems-but he did not so much as change his expression. “I remind you, Director, that I am not the one who diverted my starship several parsecs to have this meeting. You are. If you believe you can obtain uranium on a scale comparable to that which is mined in-system here-and that you can do so legally-then I will not stop you. If, on the other hand, the unfortunate tragedy on Cai Shen means you must do business with me and my infrastructure, then I ask that you stop playing these games and tell me what it is you need.”

I sat in silence, regretting that I had attended at all. The meeting broke up, and Alcuin led the Mandari party away to meet with the Mining Guild factionarius, leaving the logothetes and Chantry personnel to scatter more slowly.

“You.” Father’s voice did that alarming thing again, sliding softly beneath the other sounds until it latched, adder-like, onto my attentions.


I slumped back into my seat, looked away to watch the retreating backs of Eusebia and young Severn, the old prior leaning on the arm of her subordinate. They moved like a pair of witch-shadows, robes darker than the black armor of the house peltasts who moved to shut the doors behind them. In the moment before the doors closed, I saw Gibson’s stooped figure leaning on his cane, frowning a frown he did not smooth away. That bothered me more than anything else: that he did not master his emotion as he should have done.

Then I was alone with my family.

“Mother didn’t stay for the meeting?”

Father sniffed, adjusted the cuffs of his white sleeves beneath his dark jacket. “Your mother has gone to Haspida.”

“Again?” Crispin set his tablet down and threw his hands in the air. “She only just arrived.”

Lord Alistair waited a moment, drumming long fingers on the tabletop. His eyes were fixed on a spiked, heart-shaped wooden mask that formed the centerpiece of the decoration on one wall. The instant I glanced away to look at the ugly thing, he said, “You promised them assistance.”

Unsettled, I looked round, eyebrows raised. “I’m sorry?”

“The Guild factionarius meeting with Feng. You promised her new mining equipment.”

“Balem?” I sat straighter. “I did no such thing.”

His deep voice deadly calm, Lord Alistair cut off any further protest. “You gave the damned woman assurances that we would do more to aid her workers.”

“We should, Father!”

“Have you any idea how much one of those enrichment crawlers costs, boy?” When I did not answer him at once, he said, “Just under fifteen million marks, and that’s before the import costs and the tithe to pay the Chantry.” He leaned in over the table, eyes narrowing, “Do you know how many of the crawlers have been reported damaged in the past three standard decades?”

Crispin made a noise, and I turned to look at him before answering. He was watching me with the same violet eyes as my father. I thought of the masks outside the door, the faces of my forebears. They filled me with disquiet, the sense that all of us were born to order, cut from the same violet-eyed cloth. But I did know the answer to Father’s question, as it

happened, so I shut my eyes and said, “Nine.”

Crispin whistled. “Nine?”

“It’s the Chantry,” I said. “If we had the technical capabilities to effect large-scale repairs . . .” But that was impossible. In those days the Chantry controlled the use and trade of any and all complex machinery. They were seeking daimons, the intelligent machines with which the Mericanii had oppressed the rest of humankind long ago and which had oppressed them in turn. No such monster had emerged in Imperial space in more than two thousand years, but still the Chantry was watchful. When a lord stepped out of line-built a private datasphere, harbored foreign technicians, traded forbidden technologies with the Extrasolarians, or purchased one too many uranium enrichment crawlers without the permission of that system’s grand prior-there were consequences. Daimons were everywhere, they said. Ghosts in the machine. The abominations were only waiting for a foolish magus to summon them from silicon and ytterbium crystal. Those lords who dabbled with that blackest art were subject to the Inquisition, to torture at the hands of the Cathars. In the worst cases, whole planets were sterilized, subjected to nuclear fire or to plague, to whatever horrors the black priests kept in their arsenal.

Aware of this deadly threat, Father’s lips went white. “Do you want an

Inquisition, boy?”

“I was only saying that-“

“I know what you were saying.” Lord Alistair stood, looking down his hawk nose at me. “And I know you know how dangerous that is. Do you think Eusebia or that Severn fellow would hesitate for a moment to put any of us under the knife? We walk a fine line here. All of us do.”

Crispin twisted in his seat to look at Father. “We’ve not done anything wrong.”

Leaning back in my chair, I folded my arms. “I’m aware of our obligations to the Chantry’s Writ, sire. I only think that if authorizing the purchase of new equipment is what it takes to restore planeted mining operations to parity, then we have to do it, regardless of the costs. Perhaps I could sit down with the director before she leaves; let me take Gibson. She needs our mining operations as much as we do, and maybe we can make a deal.”

“A deal? You?” Lord Alistair turned away, his full-length coat belling as he did, a swirl of damasked black and red, his attentions on an ancient oil painting of a gondola approaching an island walled in by whited sepulchers.

To my surprise, Crispin cleared his throat. “Why not, Father? He’s good at it.” I opened my mouth to reply, shut it again, and found myself staring at Crispin in numb confusion. Had he just spoken in my defense? I just sat there, looking at my square-jawed little brother, the gaming tablet again in his big, blunt-fingered hands.

“Because your brother made this embarrassing situation that much worse with his meddling.” Father half turned, feet still planted so that his body twisted as he regarded me from beneath hooded brows. The colors of him dimmed, lit only by the faint sunlight through the oculus in the dome above with its darkly frescoed images of conquest. “I gave you a simple task: placate the Guild factionarius. You agitated her instead and cut negotiations short to get back in time for that farce in the throne room.”

I gripped the runners of my seat so tightly I felt my tendons groan. “You shouldn’t have cut me out.”

Father actually turned now. “Do not presume to lecture me on politics, boy.” And for the first time that day, Lord Alistair raised his voice, those heavy brows contracting to form a slim crease just above his nose. Not quite a shout, but it was enough. Even Crispin cowed. “I know your uses, few as they are.”

My wounded pride outdid my fear, and now I was standing. “Few? I thought I was being coached on diplomacy, Father. Gibson says-“

“Gibson is an old fool who forgets his place.” My father was all lord in that moment, dismissing the scholiast’s three centuries of service with a wave of one glittering hand. “It’s high time the old man retired. We should find some cloister for him in the city, or perhaps in the mountains-he’d like that.”

“You can’t!”

Father blinked once like a glacier cracking, his voice suddenly, dangerously soft. “I believe I told you not to lecture me.” He turned away again, back to his contemplation of the painting with its deathly isle and the small white ship. “We will do nothing precipitately. Like yourself, the old man has his uses. I understand your study of languages is going well.”

Sensing a trap but not yet seeing the shape of it, I said, “Yes. Gibson says my Mandar is excellent and that even my Cielcin is conversant.”

“And your Lothrian?”

The trap was well and truly closed. How had he known? There were no cameras in the scholiasts’ cloister. There couldn’t be. Anything more complex than a microfilm reader wasn’t allowed within arm’s reach of an unsupervised scholiast. Had someone bruised his ear at the keyhole? Or . . . I remembered suddenly and smiled. There had been a servant cleaning the windows above the courtyard, hadn’t there? I stood a little straighter, imitating a soldier’s parade rest and hoping to hide my surprise. “Quite good, but not so good as to send me to the Lothriad-the Commonwealth.” I exaggerated my small smile, hoping to mask my understanding with a joke. “I know enough to ask for the bathroom, but I might get lost elsewise.”

Crispin laughed, and Father glared sidelong at him before addressing me. “Do you think this is a game?”

“No, sire.”

“The scholiast revealed the visit to you, did he not?”

No use in denying it. “He did, Father.” “He’s getting old. He forgets his place.” “He is wise and experienced,” I snapped.

“Do you defend him, then?”


Shrugging, Crispin offered, “He’s not a bad teacher, you know.”

“He’s a great teacher,” I said, thrusting my jaw out. “He did what he did only because there’s no sense in keeping these things from your son, sire. If

I’m to rule after you, I need to be involved.”

“If you’re to rule after me?” Lord Alistair blinked and shook his head, genuinely confused. “Who ever said you were to rule after me?” On reflex more than anything, I looked at my brother. No. No, it wasn’t possible. It didn’t make any sense. But Father wasn’t done. “I haven’t named a successor and won’t for many years, by Earth. But if you continue like this, boy, I can tell you one thing.” He paused, his back still to me, framed by the painting of that dread little isle. “It will not be you.”

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