Chapter no 66 – The Satrap and the Swordmaster

Empire of Silence

“MY DEAR SATRAP!” SAID Sir Elomas when the heralds had finished

announcing our august guests, affecting his deepest, most courtly bow. “Welcome to Calagah! You honor us with this visit.” He straightened,

pressed his straw hat back onto his head. “Such an honor indeed that you would take time out of your sojourn to see our little hole in the ground.”

The long-awaited Jaddian contingent had arrived at last.

The woman Elomas had addressed—the Lady Kalima Aliarada Udiri di Sayyiph, Satrap of Ubar and ambassador from the prince himself—stood nearly seven feet tall, her oiled copper skin and dark eyes the personification of Jaddian genetic purity. Surely she was one of the eali al’aqran, the pureborn of Jadd, more palatine than palatine. You could

sense it in the way her slippered feet spurned the very ground on which she walked, in the subtle way she turned up her nose at Elomas as he spoke, in the tense carriage of her shoulders beneath their silk shawl. Her gown was samite, umber and gold, and gold were the chains that decorated her throat and forehead and dripped from her ears. Her sable hair fell in a thick plait, braided with golden ropes and hung with little phalerae that glittered like


Behind her was a double column of Jaddian mamluks, their armor mirror-bright beneath their striped blue-and-saffron kaftans, their faces concealed by deep hoods. They moved wordlessly in perfect lockstep. I

caught sight of Anaïs Mataro close behind them, flanked by lictors in her house’s green and gold. She smiled at me, and I acknowledged that smile with a nod. After the incident in the tunnel—after Valka’s reaction—I did not have a smile in me.

The satrap’s deference to Elomas was confined to the lifting of a single eyebrow.

“I should hope it is a good deal more than a hole, lest all this has been a waste of time.” The speaker was not the satrap but the black-clad specter of a man at her side. The swordmaster’s face was impassive, but his eyes were smiling, black as black. While he spoke, his gloved hand fingered the gold clasp of his belt where it held fast his ceremonial mandyas, the half robe of his order. The garment covered his left side fully, falling to his ankle, hanging loose from his left shoulder and burying his arm in folds of cloth the color of blood at night. “You are this Sir Elomas Redgrave?”

“I am, Sir . . . ?”

“Olorin,” the swordsman said. “Olorin Milta.”

His speaking out of turn surprised me. Swordmaster he may have been, one of the Maeskoloi, but he should not have spoken before his charge and mistress. Yet she did not rebuke him but said only, “Forgive my servant.

Olorin is . . . unaccustomed to quietude.” A smile flickered across the

swordmaster’s face, and he cocked an eyebrow as his mistress had. “We should like to see these caves. The count called them a wonder of this world.” Her tone betrayed how little she thought that meant. I couldn’t

blame her. She’d only seen Borosevo, I guessed. Not the most inspiring first impression for one of the famed eali sybarites. Fetid canals and the stink of rotting fish and dying algae were nothing next to the towers and crystal terraces of Jadd, to the pleasure gardens of Prince Aldia du Otranto and the limestone bastions of the Fire School.

Elomas waved a hand. “Nonsense, nonsense. There is nothing to forgive. Come, my friends, come! You’ll be wanting refreshment, of course. We’ve not much, but we do a little wine cultivation on my nephew’s estate in the

westerlands. You must have a glass! I’ve a bottle of gold sweet as kissing, you’ll see.” He fell into easy step beside the satrap as he spoke, drawing her forward and causing the rest of us to fall into stride behind him.

“I am afraid, sir,” the lady said, tossing her massive braid, golden chains rattling at her forehead and throat, “that we cannot stay. We’ve only three hours to spend here. Shall we go down to the ruins? I should like to be

seeing this wonder Lord Balian speaks of.”

From the drop in Elomas’s voice, I knew his face had fallen. “Yes, well . . . Yes, of course. This way!”

Fate had brought me shoulder-to-shoulder with Anaïs, who tucked her arm through mine and said, “It’s good to see you, Lord Marlowe.” I returned the pleasantry, and she continued, “I understand we’re to be married soon.”

“I’ve heard the same.” Ye gods, she was speaking loudly. “Though it is not for some years. You’ve your Ephebeia to get through.” I wanted nothing more than to melt through the earth and flow to the sea. This must be how

Kyra felt, I thought, knowing I couldn’t run.

Anaïs squeezed my arm a little closer. “You will come back to Borosevo soon, won’t you? Ligeia wouldn’t dare take revenge for Gilliam. I know she wouldn’t.” She leaned a little closer and whispered, her breath hot against my cheek, “I’d have her killed if she did.” I could feel Valka’s eyes on the back of my head, but I kept walking.

Unwilling to argue or to point out all the problems with that statement, I smiled a weak smile, trapped as I was. “Soon enough, I’m sure, once your lord father says it’s safe.”

Ahead of us the satrap’s security forces proceeded across the craggy expanse of mossy basalt, sweeping the landscape with scanners and

stunners. I could just make out the energy curtain of Lady Kalima’s shield as well as that of her Maeskolos bodyguard. The swordmaster’s mandyas flapped in the wind, making him look like the hero in some dramatic opera.

He wore the garment slip-fashion—as the traditions of his order decreed—a silken cord tied beneath the right arm to keep it from falling off. The voluminous, square sleeve hung empty, and his left arm hung before him as if in a sling, the hem of the red silk garment nearly trailing on the stone. By contrast his right arm—and indeed the rest of him—was wrapped in black leather polished to a dark shine, so tight it fit him like a sheath does a rapier. “You like the Maeskolos?” I asked Anaïs. “You’re staring.”

“You’re staring too,” she said, dodging the question. Why had I asked that, of all the damned things? Jealousy? Gods, was it jealousy? But I didn’t even care for Anaïs. Why should I feel jealousy?

“Well,” I said, grasping for an appropriate response, “he’s a Maeskolos, isn’t he?” One of the famed swordmasters of Jadd, the greatest fighters in the human universe. Candidates for the Fire School were taken in their youth exclusively from the eali pureborn and subjected to nearly a standard century of training. You do not need me to regale you with tales of their prowess. Their praises are sung loudly and often anywhere human beings

draw breath. It is said one of the Maeskoloi can engage a hundred legionnaires and survive and that they move so quickly they shock the very air. Much later I would see one defeat three of the Emperor’s Martian Guard without drawing her blade. They had a certain allure, an attraction to them that transcended the personal.

“He is,” Anaïs agreed. We were descending into the cleft along the rattling metal staircase, walking two abreast, feet ringing on the metal stairs. “I wish you’d come back with us.”

“You know I can’t,” I said, glancing down at the landing where the

Maeskolos was following Sir Elomas and the satrap in the center of a knot of Jaddian guards. It was all I could do not to grind my teeth. I did not want to go back. Though I could not see an alternative, I could not resign myself to my fate. I felt used by the count, little better than an animal. I shuddered. “A good thing the Jaddian fleet got here when it did. I understand the Planetary Defense Force is expecting another attack. Are they staying on Emesh long?” Anaïs did not answer at once, and I looked sidelong at her as we stepped out onto the plastic gangway we’d erected from the base of the stair to the pillars and steps of Calagah. To my surprise, the young lady

seemed sobered, folded inward, her slim figure in her silk dress bent over itself. Against my better sense I laid a hand on her shoulder. “Are you all right?”

The count’s daughter—the countess, one day—brushed her face against my hand. “I thought the war would stay . . . far away, you know? It doesn’t seem real.”

Despite the void in my chest where feeling ought to be, I was not so cold as to pull my hand away. What could I say to the girl? I glanced away, up the basalt face of the cleft, pillars of black stone clawing blasphemously at heaven. Unbidden they reminded me of the towers of my home, and I felt a measure of the chill that Anaïs seemed to feel.

“Dolá Deu di Fotí!” The Jaddian religious imprecation snapped my

attention away from Anaïs and toward the rest of our party. I caught one of the mamluks watching me from under his or her deep blue hood. Its visor was a sort of mirrored chrome fashioned in the likeness of a human face,

and I saw a distorted image of myself reflected in its curves. There was something profoundly unsettling about the mamluk, and I shivered, then

disguised the gesture by adjusting my short jacket. It was the Lady Kalima who had spoken. “What a sight this is!” Her bodyguard stood silently

beside her, hand on one of the three—three—highmatter swords that swung from his belt.

Doctor Onderra began her practiced breakdown of the history of the site, carefully eliding any heretical mentions of similarities to offworld sites. I

watched her as she spoke and pointed out tiny features of the alien

architecture. Her eyes skated over me, caught me staring. One corner of that pointed mouth quirked, and I felt myself blush. I had to look away from her, from both her and Anaïs.

“What manner of creature built this place, I wonder?” the satrap asked, her throaty voice rebounding off the glassy pillars and spines of columnar basalt. “Your coloni?”

“The Umandh?” Tor Ada shook her head. “They—”

Elomas butted in, ascending the shallow steps at the entrance to the black labyrinth. “We’re not entirely sure of the site’s provenance, ladyship. There’s been much contention on that very subject. The evidence suggests that Emesh was perhaps host to an earlier species of intelligent life before the Umandh. But come, let us step out of the wind!” I caught the abashed

scholiast’s eye, smiled in sympathy. “Is that possible?”

Tor Ada picked up on this thread with guarded reluctance. “Several

worlds have extinction-level events in their histories, ladyship. It is said that even the Earth was ruled by dragons before mankind first rose up.” I had never heard such a thing before, but it must have been so, for the satrap nodded, chains tinkling, and led the press inside, dismaying two of her mamluks, who hurried past her to check the forest of slanting columns for

assassins. I watched them search, realizing as I did what so unsettled me

about the soldiers. Their limbs were too thin, too long, reminding me more of the spindly Cielcin than of mortal men. I had heard that the Jaddians

cloned their soldiers, but I had always thought them men, not homunculi.

At length we penetrated the depths of the ruins, passing the room with the branching exits, descending a gradual slope through the main tunnel and into the glow-tape-lighted darkness of a room Ada and Elomas had dubbed “the sepulcher,” though we’d no proof it was any such thing. Where the tunnels were narrow, low-ceilinged warrens, the sepulcher progressed airily into darkness, webbed through with graceful pillars that stretched from floor and wall to ceiling like the striated tissue in the lungs. They passed

into utter darkness, into places where the light of glowspheres could not reach.

“The natives are little more than magpies, my friends,” Elomas was saying. “Have you seen their hovels? Garbage tips, the lot of them.”

“I am glad,” the satrap said, looking round in the dark admiringly, “that we took the time to come see this.” It was no mere pleasantry. Even through her thick, lilting accent, it was clear she was impressed.

Valka stepped forward into the light, her eyes characteristically— impudently—attending not upon the figure of the foreign dignitary but upon the structure at the far end of the chamber. “’Tis good to recall that we are only a small part of our universe and not its center.” She smiled her bloodletting smile, waiting for someone to argue with her.

Someone in the foreign satrap’s retinue—perhaps Anaïs herself—had clearly warned her about the good doctor, for Lady Kalima did not seem offended by Valka’s words. Though the Chantry’s power in Jadd varied from principality to principality, the doctrine of the Primacy of Man—our manifest destiny—never wavered. The Jaddians had been Sollan once and

remained Sollan in their conviction that the stars were our demesne. Valka, far from embodying a proper respect for man’s stewardship of the stars, often said we were no more special than the coloni, than the Cielcin. No more special even than the cattle and fishes, the birds and ornithons and

congrids in Emesh’s sea. One animal among animals, animal inter

animalia. I, who once unmade a star, find no truth in that sentiment. Indeed, Valka’s willingness to debase man’s place in the universe so often seemed to me borne of misanthropy rather than humility. We have a place in this universe, even if it is one which we must make for ourselves.

Instead of replying and engaging with Valka’s clearly heretical line of thinking, the satrap said, “It is reminding me of the insides of Cielcin vessels. Is it not, Olorin?” She turned to her companion, eyes still lost in the geometric confusion above our heads, her attention eventually shifting to the altar and the great hanging mass above it, splintered now where the pressure of geologic time had fractured the glassy material under the

crushing weight of igneous rock pressing down upon the sepulcher. The room was keyhole-shaped with the structure Ada and Valka had dubbed

“the altar” in its center—a stone slab, waist-high and wide enough for two men to lie upon it beneath a finger of the same dark stone that descended from the ceiling like the uvula of some sleeping giant.

This question yanked my attention from that looming mass of stone. “You’ve been aboard one of their ships?”

Sir Olorin—for a knight he was—looked round at me, then at Elomas. “Who is this?”

I bowed and said in Jaddian, “Maeskolos, if it honor you, my name is Hadrian.”

“This is young Lord Marlowe, Swordmaster, my lady,” said Elomas, brushing back his rakish white mane, his smile all teeth.

“Ay ya!” The swordmaster rapped his armored thigh in recognition or applause. “The duelist! I had wondered what they’d done with you.” He took a step closer, as if to get a better look, then answered his lady’s question. “Belike it is reminding me of the Cielcin vessels.”

Valka tutted audibly, unimpressed by the foreign dignitaries, and I had to remind myself that she was such a dignitary herself. “Impossible. These ruins are nearly a million years old. The Cielcin have been a spacefaring

civilization for less time than we.”

Ignoring her, I frowned, casting my eyes up and away into the darkness of that crypt-like chamber, wishing they’d brought more light. “This is

similar to the Cielcin vessels, you say?”

“Superficially, though perhaps it is just the cave-like nature of the place.” The satrap continued turning, admiring the ruins.

The swordmaster tutted, “Not much appreciation for light, have they?” “Perhaps the builders were blind?” Valka supposed. “The Umandh are


“I thought you said the builders were not the Umandh,” Sir Olorin

countered, right hand checking the lay of his sword hilts against his hip. In the dimness, the light of the glowspheres rippled across the energy-curtain of his shield barrier. Strange, I thought, that he alone of the soldiers should wear a shield. I watched the mamluks in the shadowed air, their blue-and-orange robes slick and shining in the scant light. I fancied that they were not breathing and shuddered.

Valka merely said, “We have no fossil evidence whatsoever depicting what the builders were like. I only suppose they might have been like the Umandh. After all”—and here she paused, as if bracing herself for the lie

—“they emerged from the same genetic potential here on Emesh.” The doctor waved a hand, as if by doing so she might encompass the world.

“May I ask, badonna?” I turned to the satrap, eyes appropriately downcast. “You said this place reminded you of Cielcin ships. When did you capture one?”

“Some years back,” Lady Kalima said, not looking at me, which was only to be expected of one of the Jaddian eali nobility, more palatine than palatine. I might have been a gnat. “We took an outrider at Obatala. It . . . They are like caves on the inside. Very dark. It is very like this.”

Obatala. That had been one of the planets along Demetri’s route from Delos to Teukros, had it not? This distracted me, and I nearly lost my

chance to reply. I had forgotten about the disappearance of the Jaddian merchanter and his crew in the wake of everything else that had happened, buried beneath years of poverty and indenture in the fighting pits of

Borosevo. If there had been Cielcin at Obatala, then perhaps there had been Cielcin in the Dark surrounding it. But I stuffed that ancient concern back where it belonged and asked, “So you’re heading across the Veil for

Norman space?”

Sir Olorin answered instead. “We are making for the front, beyond

Marinus, at the very edge of the Veil. This was to be our last stop before the final crossing.” Ubar. Obatala. Emesh. Marinus. I tried to visualize the distribution of these worlds across the blackness in that chamber as though it were the sky. The Jaddians had cut a great arc, sailing from their distant land at the galaxy’s edge and spiraling inward through the old Empire to the Norman frontier near the core. Olorin kept speaking. “Your world has been most fortunate, I understand, to repel an attack recently.” It had been only a couple of months since we got word of the abortive Cielcin raid on the edge of Emesh’s system.

“You aren’t here because of the attack, surely?” Anaïs asked. “It’s much too soon, isn’t it?”

“Indeed.” The Maeskolos threaded his left arm up through the half robe he wore over his fighting blacks and crossed his arms, apparently finished with this line of discussion. “Forgive me, this place, it . . . We do not have such things in our corner of the galaxy. You are truly blessed, Lady Anaïs,

Sir Elomas, to live on a world with such marvels.” He gazed up at the massive cracked tongue of rock that hung above the plane of the altar in the room’s center, shook his head.

Lady Kalima stepped forward. “Truly, though we must return to the capital. This little adventure has been . . . most gratifying. Thank you.”

“Must you?” Elomas sounded distraught, but my attentions were

elsewhere, fixed on the sapping darkness above and around us. “You’re sure I can’t interest you in that wine?”



In the darkness, no one noticed that I lingered in the sepulcher as a penitent does long after the absolution is given in temple. The Jaddians were the third group of offworld dignitaries to visit Calagah since our arrival, though they were by far the most important. Though much has been made of my interest in the xenobites, it is by no means a rare fixation. A junior director of Izumo Group had come with his family for a daylong visit before the

Cielcin incursion at the edge of the system, and after him a group of

Norman prospectors arrived, who on examination turned out to be little more than grave robbers. I was weary of the pleasantries, and I hoped that by sulking in the cave chamber I might be spared the farewells. Despite my brief interaction with the swordmaster, I did not expect I’d be missed.

Besides, it was rare that I had time alone in the ruins. I almost fancied I felt eyes on me, staring out of the dark stone. Remembering the visions I had

seen, I shivered. I should not have told Valka. She had barely spoken to me for weeks, and when she did it was with a strained politeness and stiff formality that seemed to stem as much from embarrassment as contempt.

Because you are an ignorant savage from a backward country who still believes in fairy stories.

“Because I’m an idiot who doesn’t know when to keep his mouth shut . . .” I muttered.

I reached up, fingers stretched to grasp an arm-wide glassy spar of rock that arced from wall to ceiling, branching in two further along and joining the tangled supports like tree branches that held up the ceiling. Utterly unremarkable. No cold, only stone, as it had been since my vision.

I frowned.

“Thought you’d gotten lost.”

A woman’s voice intruded upon my reverie, and I smiled, turning. “No, I . . .” It wasn’t Valka. “Hello!”

Anaïs Mataro stood in the doorway, slim figure dark against the dimness, her curling silken hair like a cloud about her head, falling past her shoulders. “Your friend the knight’s talking the Jaddians’ ears off. Figured

I’d come looking for you.” Her hard-soled shoes clacked loudly on the stone floor, and her skirts rustled as she closed the distance between us. “You’re sure you can’t come back with us today?”

“And have the Jaddians wait while I pack all my things?” A paper shield, that. “I don’t want to depend on their charity, do you?”

The girl smiled, teeth milky in the insufficient light, almost blue. “No, I suppose not. Still, I’d like it if you came back.”

I returned the smile more thinly and nodded. She wanted me to agree with her, to say I wished I were back in Borosevo as well, but I would not lie to her. “Truth be told, Borosevo might not be so safe right now. If the Cielcin are coming, I mean.”

“You think they are?”

“Our Jaddian friends seem to think so. ” I turned away, looking back at the black mass of the altar. “And after that first attack, can you honestly say you don’t believe them?” Gods, it was cold in those tunnels, in that

chamber, in the darkness beneath the world, and the weight of all that rock above crushed my soul into a space many sizes too small. The Cielcin felt so close at hand, menacing as the crooked pillars of that alien warren.

Shadows on the mind.

The girl came up behind me and wrapped her thin arms around me. She didn’t speak but held me there. She was taller than I, and so she pressed her cheek to the back of my head. It felt good to be held—it had been so long. I didn’t resist, not at once. Cat’s face flickered out of the dark, brown skin paled, drawn with plague. Wincing, I prized Anaïs’s arms off of me. This

was the girl to whom I was to be sold. “Let me go, Anaïs.”

She started but did not draw away. The distance between us might have been measured in light-years, parsecs. “Father told me his plan . . .” I pressed my lips together, uncertain what to do. I felt sure now that this was how Kyra had felt. “How you’re to be my consort.”

“Your brood man, you mean.”

“Is that all you see in it?” she breathed, words warm on the back of my neck. “It doesn’t have to be like that, you know? We could be . . . good.

This could be good for Emesh, for our children.”

“Our children . . . ?” The thought would not cohere. Children. What

could I say to that? They could have their genetic sample of me whether I wanted it or not. I could live out my days in a tower, in a summer palace

like Mother. But I had no power, no choice in the situation. My muscles turned to marble beneath my skin, and I stood still as one of those misshapen pillars supporting the darkness above. “Anaïs, I can’t talk about this now. My father cast me out. Your father poached me for . . . for my

cells, like I’m some sort of racehorse.”

Still she didn’t answer, only clung tighter. Was she trembling? Was she afraid? Or was that only me? Wordlessly she reached up, touched my face with one hand and turned me around. Leaden, I turned to face her, to look her in the face through the gloom. I teetered on the edge of further speech, opened my mouth to find the words.

She kissed me. I froze.

In the chill of that cavern, she was warm, willing . . . and I did not want her. “It isn’t like that,” she whispered.

I held her at arm’s length, said, “It’s exactly like that!”

“But you’ll be the lord of all Emesh, at my side. Can you imagine?” I

could imagine, and I told her so. But power is like magnetism—it works in two directions, repelling as surely as it attracts. My mother and my father were prisoners of their stations and their blood. They could not choose. So too was I powerless and at the mercy of Anaïs’s attentions. The memory of that moonless night in Borosevo came back to me, men laughing as they

dragged me from my hovel. I shut my eyes, willing the memory to go away.

I don’t want that, I meant to say, but instead I heard a voice identical to mine saying, “What a day that will be.” What else could I say? As the

soldier before his legate, as the sailor before his captain, and as Kyra had been before me, I was powerless before this girl and the machinery she represented. I would be hers, and nothing I could do would change that. “But I don’t think your court will accept me, after Gilliam . . .”

She pulled herself against me, face nuzzling the hollow of my neck. I could feel my body responding, betraying me. I was going to be sick. “I

don’t want to talk about Gilliam. We’ll make them accept you. They are my court, my planet. My family’s planet. We’ll show them, you and I.” I was petrified, and for a moment I forgot to move as her lips fixed themselves to mine. Their taste was like the taste of ashes.

“Hadrian, I—Oh!”

At the sound of the voice—the voice—I pushed Anaïs from me, feeling the blood that had stirred me darken my face. Anaïs caught her breath and

turned round with a giggle even as my heart turned to glass as my muscles had to marble, shattered when it hit the ground.

Valka stood in the doorway of the sepulcher in silhouette as Anaïs had moments before. Even now I wonder if she scowled or if her knife-edged face smiled in bemusement. “Doctor, I . . . Anaïs came to find me.”

“I can see that,” Valka’s bright voice said archly. “The Jaddians are waiting for the lady. Come on.”

Cowed, sick at heart, I swallowed and nodded my head. “It’s not what it . . . We weren’t . . .”

“I don’t care,” Valka said. I like to think she said it too sharply, too quickly. But then she laughed. “Come on, now.”

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