Chapter no 64 – The Larger World

Empire of Silence

ROUGHING IT IN THE countryside means something rather different if one of your party is a knight. Sir Elomas Redgrave’s quarters in our little hutment were a single-story prefabricated structure with about fifteen hundred

square feet of floor space. The exterior reminded me sharply of the count’s office in Borosevo, all white ceramic and black glass, scuffed and muddied by all the time it had spent lashed by summer storms. Both Binah and

Armand were locked in polar orbits, and so the tides at this southerly latitude far exceeded the gentle swelling near tropical Borosevo. Weeks passed, and I followed Valka and Sir Elomas through several miles of cave tunnel, more underfoot than helpful.

Elomas had brought three servants with him when we’d departed his family’s estate at Springdeep. The first was his young nephew, Karthik Veisi, a lad of perhaps fifteen who served as his squire. The second was a local woman, his maidservant, and the last an offworld cook, a chef from distant Asherah. As we entered the camp, Karthik was setting a plate of whole fishes roasted with tomatoes and herbs on the low table. Though

small, the knight’s home was richly appointed, with an enclosed kitchen and shower units separate from the main dining area, which doubled as a study. The floors were covered in Tavrosi carpets two inches thick, patterned with mandalas of blue and red. In his youth Sir Elomas had traveled far, ranging from Jadd and Outer Perseus to the Spur of Orion and the heart of the Empire to the Sagittarius and Centaurus colonies. He had worked his way in a great arc across the settled quadrant of the galaxy before retiring with his niece’s family on Emesh, near the galaxy’s core and the edge of human

space. What a life that must have been . . .

The old knight drew out a chair for Valka, moving deftly to pull out

another for Tor Ada before the scholiast could grab one for herself. Only once these two were seated and I had settled into an unoccupied seat did Sir Elomas sit, saying, “Karthik, the wine, please.”

“Of course, sir.” The squire went away, bobbing his head to me as he passed with a muttered, “M’lord.”

It had become our custom to take dinner this way—Elomas, Valka, and Ada as seniors to the excavation and myself as their honored guest. Each evening we would settle in, spending perhaps two hours in conversation before breaking for our respective domiciles.

“Food looks wonderful, sir,” I said, prising a brown roll free of the bread basket. “Thank you again.”

Sir Elomas poured himself a cup of tea from a red china pot before pouring for Tor Ada. “I’ve always believed,” he began, having said

something to this effect every time we sat down to have a meal together,

“that food is meant to be shared. Come, come.” Thence Ada launched into a description of the day’s work, the bulk of which at that early stage

comprised cleaning out the flooded sections.

“The truth is,” I said, “I’m afraid I’m little more than a tourist, Sir Elomas. My expertise—as you well know—is limited to linguistics and getting in everyone else’s way.” This elicited a short laugh from the old knight and the two women.

Elomas boomed, “Nonsense, dear boy! Nonsense! Maros was telling me you were instrumental in getting the pumps running down Tunnel C! ‘Couldn’t have done it without Marlowe,’ she said. By my word as a


I smiled and worked carefully to skin the fish Karthik had placed on my plate. “That’s kind of you to say, but I’m little more than a glorified day laborer.” I put the knife down, hid my frustration with the task behind a drink of water. “Still, I want to say again how grateful I am to have been invited here.”

The old knight set his teacup down and began sawing the head off his fish entirely without ceremony. “You’ve certainly livened things up. And after what you did to that bastard priest . . .” He shook his head sadly. The rancor in his tone visibly startled Tor Ada, who took a moment to reassert

her customary scholiast’s blankness. “I was a duelist in my day, you know? I say, there was this one time I was a guest of this Mandari minister. He was

from some bioengineering firm or other—defunct now, glad to say—who specialized in one-off homunculi. Concubines, you understand, were the

primary output of such an industry.” He shuddered, and I was content to let him ramble. “You see, I am afraid I offended one of the man’s senior staff at dinner. Just a slight joke about the man’s, ah, preference for his own work,

shall we say?”

“His own work, sir?” asked young Karthik, taking a seat at the far end of the small table with his own fish.

“Implying that he was cloning himself, of course!” said Sir Elomas, giving us all earnest looks. “Revolting vice, but the Mandari deal in revolting vices. As you might imagine, the fellow challenged me to a duel, and, well . . . here I am, so . . .” He at last severed the head of the fish,

crunching through the spine before he set to butterflying the carcass, revealing the mixture of tomato and spinach and fine white cheese where the organs had been. “Needless to say, the minister looked askance at my having killed his underling, and when my accusations of self-buggery turned out to be true, well . . .”

“He tried to kill you?” Valka asked, having finished—more delicately— the fine work of opening her own fish. She smiled above the rim of her

water glass. Like me, she abhorred tea. Just one of those biographical minutiae that made me feel, subconsciously and stupidly, that we were more similar than different.

Elomas nodded brightly. “Poison! Can you imagine? So quaint! It’s good you’re here, Marlowe. Safe and sound. The priests are fond of poison, and old Ligeia has a long memory.”

When I had finished, Karthik rose and began to clear my plates away. Rarely had I observed so dutiful a squire. After he took mine, I turned to Valka. “How long have you been here again?”

She finished a bite—she was eating more slowly than the rest of us— and said, “Four local years, but the flooding interrupts us.”

“Since those awful storms in ’68, wasn’t it?” Elomas asked, pulling a face as he cut into his fish. “Nasty storms, those. The Borosevo power grid’s never been the same.”

Valka finished chewing before responding, “Yes. That’s right.”

“But this planet’s been settled for nearly a millennium. Surely there’s nothing left to discover here.” The thought had been bothering me since we’d arrived, since I’d spent more time walking around Calagah. In the

intervening weeks, I had seen almost nothing of note in the ruin save for the black halls themselves. It was a place of ghosts inhabited by no culture I

could see, no people.

Tor Ada took the liberty of answering me, saying, “It’s been in Imperial hands for a millennium, aye, but it belonged to the Norman United Fellowship of Emesh before that. Only Earth and Emperor know what they carried off or sold.”

“No,” Valka said, at last permitting the remains of her fish to be cleared away. “No, there’s no record of secondary artifacts at any of the sites built by the Quiet.” She cleared her throat, slipped back for a moment into her native Tavrosi.

“Purportedly built,” Ada corrected with a raised finger. “We cannot

confirm the Quiet hypothesis, given Chantry regulation of all data regarding extinct xenobites within their protectorate. We may never know if it’s true. And everything we discover here will be sequestered too, once the Chantry gets its claws in.” A slight frown creased her plain patrician face. “Calagah is a minor site, and the Chantry seems unwilling to commit a warden presence out here in the Veil. Too costly. But that means they’ve also deemed this place a minor risk, theologically speaking.” At this she glanced sidelong at me, as if afraid I would denounce her for a heretic. I smiled

encouragingly. “Their people went over Calagah in the first century of our occupation. They tolerate us because they know our expedition is fruitless. And you won’t be allowed to leave with any notes or recordings except for your memory.”

She directed these last words at Valka, who only smiled in that mysterious way she had—as if the two women shared in some secret joke— and drummed her long fingers against the faux wood of the table. “Every

Quiet site I’ve visited was empty when ’twas found. ’Twas probably nothing for the Normans to plunder in the first place save ticket sales for viewing the tunnels.”

“Truly!” Elomas agreed. “The Normans certainly knew how to put a price on everything. Bloody mercenaries!” He set down his cup. “Speaking of foreigners, the Jaddians arrive soon, do they not?” He glanced to Ada,

who quickly swallowed her water, coughing.

“Yes, sir. Within the fortnight, if I’m not mistaken.”

“Very good! You know, I’ve not been to the Principalities in centuries.” He rounded on me, pointing one finger around the bowl of his goblet as he

brandished it at me. “Marlowe, you must visit Jadd, or at least one of the other worlds. Samara, perhaps. Remarkable people, truly.”

Karthik returned from the kitchen then. He looked oddly crumpled, his square, unassuming face closed off. I failed to process this for a moment as I listened to Valka describe the problems with the Chantry’s politicking. It was sobering, the stranglehold they had on knowledge in the Imperium and even in Jadd, where the icona and Mother Earth were not the only gods.

What had begun as an Imperial propaganda machine and a threat wielded against the lords palatine had grown beyond the Imperium, had grown

beyond all control and recognition. Even our Emperor knelt at the Chantry’s altars and received his crown and staff from the Synarch himself.

“What is it, boy?” Elomas asked, noting his ashen-faced squire for the first time. Karthik hesitated, eyes flickering from his shoes to the face of his knightly master. He took a mincing step forward. “Out with it, Karthik!”

Starting, the boy stood at attention. “It’s the wave, sir. Orso and Damara had it going in the kitchen. It . . .” He glanced sidelong at Valka before fixing his eyes on me.

“Come on, boy, they’re just words. String them together, now!”

“There’s been an attack, sir. A battle.” He looked at me as he spoke, though the words were for Sir Elomas.

Whatever else he had been—a duelist, a dandy—Elomas was no soldier.

He blanched. “The Cielcin?”

Karthik only nodded. Such gravity in so small a gesture. The turning of worlds.


Karthik swallowed. “Edge of the system.”

Elomas stood, nearly knocking over his chair in his haste, its clawed feet catching in the thick, colorful carpets. “You’re not serious.”

“Should have the audio in here in a second.”

All five of us maintained a grave silence. Years of rumors brought to Meidua by merchanters, of Chantry proclamations, of Legion reports relayed to Father’s council—all of them converged in that single moment, falling like game tiles, and it all became real. I looked down at the table, wishing I could turn my water into wine like the magus of legend.

The prefab hut’s speakers all clicked on, carrying the slightly tinny voice of the announcer reporting the sanitized public dispatch via planetary broadcast. A man’s voice, his deep tones heightened by nerves. “—that

thirty-three hours ago a joint action of the Emesh Defense Force and the 437th Centaurine Legion under Knight-Tribune Raine Smythe annihilated a Cielcin incursion force in the heliopause, marking another glorious

victory . . .” I didn’t hear the rest, only silence, as if I were in the eye of a hurricane. Valka’s nose wrinkled, a frown line forming between those

arching brows. I confess I felt a portion of that same scorn welling up

within me. Another glorious victory? I knew the sorts of men who wrote these dispatches, the logothetes of the Ministry of Public Enlightenment.

Cheap men, brassy little cynics defined by their dislike of their fellow man. The practiced ear could hear the calculation behind every word like fishhooks in the mind. We have all been those men, but most of us have the decency not to make a career of it.

I listened to the broadcast in silence, hands tightening around my glass. I envisioned the wreckage of Cielcin ships hauled back to Borosevo, alien bodies and weapons mounded at the feet of the icona in the city Chantries. There would be another triumph, this one through the city, along the streets and canals. I saw Makisomn beheaded again and again behind my eyes, heard Count Mataro’s basso profundo rumbling through the speakers: “This is a glorious day for Emesh, my people! The enemy was at our gates, bent upon the destruction of our home! Let this be a warning to all those beasts dwelling in the outer Dark! We will not . . .”

Sitting in that little hut at the end of the world above the black tunnels of Calagah, it felt as if nothing at all had happened. Had Orso the cook not been listening to the planet’s broadcast, if another autumn storm had wiped out our communications uplink, if he’d simply been turned to another

channel, the evening would have gone on unchanged, and the world with it.

A world is large, a solar system larger still. However close the war truly was, Emesh was unscarred. Strange, the way the larger world casts its

shadow on our own, our moments fleeting and small when measured against the roaring thrust of time.

“That’s enough!” Elomas called out, loud enough that his servants could hear him in the back room of the tiny house. The speakers clicked to

silence, drowning us in quiet.

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