Chapter no 77 – A Rare Thing

Empire of Silence

“WE MUST BEGIN AT once on a second prisoner!” Inquisitor Agari said from one knee before her betters. “The one Marlowe identified, their political leader.”

Two chairs sat at the base of the count’s dais, each straight-backed and fashioned entirely of gilt wood, each attended by a lictor. Lady Kalima sat on the left, attended by Sir Olorin, and Knight-Tribune Smythe was on the right, flanked by her aged first officer, Sir William Crossflane. Smythe leaned forward. “Were we to do that, Inquisitor, we would compromise the remaining Cielcin. We were lucky not to lose any when they rioted. We can play off their leader’s death as an unfortunate accident, but they’ll start to notice if we pick them off one by one.” She looked at me as she said it. I

wondered if she knew I’d already compromised that part of the script in an attempt to ingratiate myself with the enemy.

From his place upon the high seat—a hulking confection of native corals grown in a radiating, treelike pattern of greens and gold—the count waved a ringed hand. “Besides, you cannot honestly tell me, Inquisitor, that you believe this Vorgossos nonsense.” When Agari opened her mouth, Lord

Balian continued, “If it ever existed, Vorgossos is long dead. Just a thing in old stories.”

“So is the Earth,” Lady Kalima interjected, mouth carefully prim and eyes studious in their avoidance of Ligeia Vas, who hovered wraithlike in the shadow of the Mataro throne. “Yet it is out there somewhere.”

To my utter astonishment, Vas did not rise to this bait. Instead the Knight-Tribune surprised me with a measured, “Perhaps it’s less than

charitable to compare the Homeworld to a fairy tale pirate planet.” The

statement struck me as rather placatory from the typically strident officer,

and I shifted uncomfortably behind the kneeling inquisitor, hands clasped. My left side and arm ached, warm where the corrective patches worked to mend my lead burns. I fidgeted with one just below my elbow through my sleeve. The throne room, with its high windows and the slivers of glass paneling set into the dome, was hot enough already without the warmth

seeping into me from under my clothes. At least I’d not broken anything. The thought of the corrective brace I’d worn after my mugging a thousand years ago made me shudder, and I gripped my arm as tightly as I could,

counting on the pain to distract me.

Agari still knelt, head downcast. “With respect, Your Excellency, Your Reverence, ladies, I cannot see how the dead xenobite could have known of Vorgossos unless it is real.”

“He had it off some prisoner, girl,” said Ligeia Vas, though her frigid

eyes addressed the words directly to Lord Mataro. “Must have done.” The count nodded his agreement and fussed with the drape of his green-and-yellow silks but said nothing. Had he always been so spineless? Or was it only the matter of the Cielcin that had taken the iron from him? Lord Luthor sat beside his husband on a smaller seat not unlike those the Jaddian lady and the Legion officer sat in, narrow eyes narrowed further in his

contemplation of the inquisitor and me. At least the children were absent. I could not have faced Dorian and especially Anaïs, not with everything else.

“A prisoner that spoke the Pale’s tongue?” The count sounded unconvinced.

“Your Reverence, Excellency,” I said, stepping forward, keeping my burned arm crooked up and tucked across my chest, holding my opposite shoulder. “It said this as it was dying. As it was trying to save its crew. It wouldn’t pin what hope it had on some obscure human fable it had heard somewhere. It wasn’t stupid.”

Lord Luthor cleared his throat. “But we have only your word on that,

Lord Marlowe. The room’s surveillance was down for most of the conversation.”

Agari finally stood, keeping her shaved head bowed. “And how did that happen, anyhow? Are we any closer to finding a solution to the problem?” “The house service staff insists there was more damage from the storms

than originally thought,” Lord Luthor said, glancing at his husband and indicating by his tone that he did not believe a word of this. My jaw tightened, and I glanced back to the ranks of logothetes and minor ministers

seated on the tiered pews to either side of the hall, half expecting to see Valka seated among them. But she was not there. I bit my lip, prayed that the truth behind the issue stayed hidden.

“Can we return to the matter at hand?” the knight-tribune asked, drumming her fingers against the arms of her chair. When silence greeted this question, Raine Smythe composed herself, planting her square jaw on one fist. “I’m not convinced that starting this Eudoran farce of a procedure over from the top is our best course of action.”

That set the grand prior on the offensive. The old harridan took three

clattering steps down the dais, looped braid swaying against her black-and-argent robes, one finger raised as if in accusation or incantation. “And what is, soldier? Would you treat with these devils?”

Raine did not stand. Instead she shut her eyes, voice hardening to glass as she replied, “Yes.”

The grand prior shouted over whatever words might follow. “You dare blaspheme in the presence of His Excellency?” She swept an arm at the

count, added, “In my own presence?” Rounding on the count, her lord and

—I thought—her thrall, she said, “Sire, this has gone on long enough. The prisoners have confessed that Emesh is not under threat. They should be killed and given to the people, that all may know the Blood of Earth is


“No one doubts that!” said Sir William Crossflane, rounding on the priestess.

“I would rather talk with men,” Raine Smythe said, “than kill them.” The line carried the weight of much use, as if she were in the habit of deploying it during staff meetings.

Ligeia seized on a technicality with all the ferocity of the zealot she was. “These are not men, Tribune! You have seen them! They are beasts, demons of the Dark shaped in a mockery of human form! They must be purged from our skies!”

“Speaking as someone doing the purging, Grand Prior,” Raine Smythe said, voice surprisingly delicate from so indelicate a woman, “you can rest assured that I am aware of my duties.”

“If I may.” The voice that interrupted was surprisingly small, made thinner by its breathy, lilting accent. Sir Olorin pivoted on a heel behind his lady’s seat. “What have the Chantry’s methods gained us but the loss of a prisoner and a couple of names?”

To my astonishment, the grand prior actually quailed, retreating a step up the dais toward the lords Mataro and the coral throne. I took a

sympathetic step forward, past Agari, marveling at the way Olorin had cowed the Chantry priestess with so slight a question. Ligeia glanced a

moment at Lord Balian, who only shook his head. Her voice now carrying a fraction of its earlier forcefulness, she said, “What, then? Conciliation?


“No one is saying anything about surrender, ma’am,” said old Sir William Crossflane from his place beside the tribune.

Lady Kalima stood, pivoting in a mirror of Olorin’s gesture as she said, “We should be considering the original proposal: using the Cielcin captives to negotiate peace with their leader.”

“One little clan? Out of how many?” interjected Chancellor Ogir from a pew along the wall, drawing the eye of all those about the throne. “We don’t even know where they are.”

“Vorgossos!” I said brightly, clutching my arm as I turned to the chancellor. “You all heard the name, but before the power cut on, the ichakta indicated a relationship between the Cielcin and the Extrasolarians.”

Ligeia found her voice, perhaps emboldened by her hatred of me. “Demoniacs! Allied with the Pale? Traitors and apostates!”

“But men,” I said. I turned my attention to Knight-Tribune Smythe. “What if it’s not a myth? What if there’s some Extra trading post out

there?” We all knew the stories, had seen the holograph operas. “What if they know a way to contact the Cielcin? We could take the prisoners, find this place—”

“The Extras would never consort with us. If I went looking for this place, the Extras would turn tail and run, or worse. Have you seen an Exalted Sojourner, boy? Biggest ships you’ve ever seen. Nasty pieces of work. Still . . .” Raine leaned her chin heavily on her hand, muscles of her neck and jaw working, as if her teeth were trying to cut leather.

I took advantage of the momentary silence. “What if it weren’t you?

What if it weren’t the Legion?”

Crossflane spoke before his superior could find the words. “The hell do you mean?”

I glanced around the room, looking for but not finding the brown-and-white uniforms I sought. Commandant Alexei must have left Emesh with

his fleet. Disappointed, I turned back and said, “Foederati! We could hire foederati mercenaries.”

Luthor Shin-Mataro sat forward in his small throne. “You’re not serious.

Who would lead these romantic soldiers of yours? You?”

Could it really be so easy? I could see the mute anger in Lord Balian’s face as his planned marriage unraveled. I shrugged. “Why not?”

“You have no experience,” Lord Luthor sneered. “Your carelessness lost us the prisoner in the first place.”

“I had to defend myself!” I snapped, prepared for just that accusation. “You saw what Uvanari did to the cathar left with me. What it did to my arm!” I shoved my sleeve back, baring the black tape of the medical

correctives warm against my flesh. “You cannot honestly hold me

accountable for defending myself.” I shook my head. “My lords, ladies.

How long until the other Cielcin and this aeta come looking for Cielcin here? Is it not better to head them off, to take the fight or the olive branch or whatever as far away from here as possible? Lord Mataro, I do not want to see your world attacked by the Pale—you know that. Let me go. I’ve some small rapport with the leader of the surviving Cielcin. It will work with me, I swear it.”

Raine Smythe looked away from me to glance at the Jaddians, a frown creasing her plain, plebeian face. Pensive, she turned back to me, resumed drumming her fingers on the arm of her chair. “There’s a big gap between letting you go and putting you in command of an army of foederati,


Olorin turned to whisper something to Lady Kalima, who nodded, patting her guardian and advisor on the arm. Seeing this, I cleared my throat. “Not an army, ma’am. A ship. One ship. The Obdurate is a carrier, is it not? You must have captured a pirate ship in your time?”

“A pirate ship?” Ogir sneered from the pews. “How old are you, boy?”

A moment passed while I composed myself, unwilling to rise to the

chancellor’s bait. “I’ve fought the Cielcin, Chancellor. Spoken with them, which is more than you have done.” I turned my laser focus from the gray-haired chancellor to address the high lords of the Empire and Jadd. “Not foederati, then, but . . . but the appearance of foederati! Again, you must have a derelict in your holds. What do you have to lose?” I directed this last bit directly at the count, who of course had me to lose. I had banked on precisely this moment, prayed that the Chantry would be compromised by

their failure with Uvanari. The way out—the way away from Mataro’s marriage plot—lay just on the other side of this confrontation.

“The appearance of foederati?” Raine repeated, lacing her fingers together and leaning forward in her seat. “A covert mission?”

“The Emperor’s own mercenaries.” I nodded. “There’s precedent! Kasia Soulier.”

“Kasia Soulier?” Ogir snorted. “Are you a walking literary cliché?”

“Yes!” I snapped. “Ask anyone who knows me.” That Kasia Soulier was real—a privateer admiral in the Foundation War and a childhood hero of mine—did not seem to matter to the chancellor or indeed the crowd, for they laughed and tittered like birds. I cast my eye up and down the hall, looking for an ally in the pews and seeing none. Had I ingratiated myself

with so few people at court?

Smiling, Sir Olorin said, “Is Lord Marlowe’s plan so without merit? I am recalling a time when attempting contact with the Pale was a consideration shared by all of us.” By the angle of his head, he took in the throne and all those seated or standing upon the dais. The Maeskolos had a way about him that was indefinable. Something in the lilt of his voice, perhaps, or in the

casual way he stood, or in some unknown fact of his history that

commanded attention as easily as a shout. He was like my father in that regard, as though there were some nobility in his blood that even my

attenuated genes recognized as superior, a quality of person that ran down to the nucleotides. When Olorin spoke, men listened.

“The boy is needed here!” Balian Mataro shouted, breaking down some internal wall of control or disquiet. He leaned forward on his coral throne, a god in all but blood. “He is to marry my daughter!” He pawed blindly toward Luthor with one hand, who seized it in mute support. I could see the white in his furious eyes.

But Raine was nodding, fingers beating out their tattoo against her chair. “Is that finalized? The marriage contract?” She glanced back over her

shoulder, eyebrows rising. Earth’s bones—I had her. “Well, I . . .” Balian stammered.

“No,” Lord Luthor said, squeezing his husband’s hand. “The girl has not had her Ephebeia yet.”

The knight-tribune stood, tugged the bottom of her uniform jacket into place, jackboots clacking on the marble floor as she approached me where I stood in the center of the hall beside Agari. She stopped a mere two paces

from me. For the first time it dawned on me how small she was, not quite reaching my shoulders. She peered up at me, faint white scars glinting

against the dun of her face, brown eyes hard and knowing. “You know, I think you’re right, boy.” No “my lord,” no “lordship,” no deference in her tone. “The other Cielcin are unaware of what happened to their leader?”

I nodded. “Yes, ma’am. I was specifically told not to tell them.”

She pursed her lips, massaged her jaw. “Good. Keep it that way. Tell them . . .”

“It was wounded when it arrived,” I interrupted, clearly perturbing the woman. “I shall say we could not save it.” I felt my own hands closing at my sides, closing as if about the knife that slew Uvanari.

The tribune studied me another moment, somehow managing to look down her nose even as she looked up at me. “See they learn nothing.” She turned back to the dais. “I agree with our Jaddian emissary. I believe there is little to be gained by questioning the remaining captives. I propose that we revisit the motion to send a party after this Cielcin prince—what did you

call him?”

“Aranata,” I said.

“This Aranata,” Smythe finished, somewhat lamely.

Chancellor Ogir stood from her place at the end of the bench. “Knight-Tribune, this is most irregular. You pushed for the inquisition in the first place.”

“I did!” Raine Smythe agreed, planting her fists on her hips as if

challenging anyone to disagree with her. “But I have since had time to reconsider my position, Chancellor. Do you know what reconsider means? It means I changed my mind.” That cowed Ogir a moment, and she looked to the dais for support. Even from Ligeia Vas, none was forthcoming. “The Chantry’s investigation has produced some useful intelligence, in no small part thanks to Lord Marlowe’s interference in their standard operating procedures. I did not become Tribune of the 437th by squandering strategic and diplomatic advantages, and I am not about to start doing so today.” She looked back at me a moment. “Under Article 119 of the Great Charters and by virtue of my office, I hereby conscript Lord Hadrian Marlowe into my

service, as well as any experts he may recommend. A full list should be provided to you by the end of the week.” The look of pain on Balian

Mataro’s face was the only reaction in the hall. But Raine was not finished. “I also request delivery of the Cielcin captives to the ISV Obdurate in the

name of His Imperial Radiance, Emperor William the Twenty-Third of House Avent.”

That drew gasps from the logothetes dutifully taking notes and listening from the pews, and it stirred Ligeia to action. The old sorceress tottered down the steps of the dais, a shadow in flowing black, one finger upraised. “The Synod will never allow it!”

“Your Synod is not here!” Raine Smythe said firmly. “The Imperial Legion is. I am making this request in the name of our Emperor and in the light of the Faith. Truly, Your Reverence, a handful of prisoners is worth more to the war effort than to propaganda.” Hands still on her hips, she looked down at her boots a moment, nearly rocked back on her heels. A

curious gesture, but it kept everyone hanging on her words, sure that she was about to continue. I made note to use it. By Earth, the woman

commanded a presence. “If we’re hunting an Extrasolarian world in order to make contact, this business of foederati makes sense. But I agree with the chancellor and—I believe—with our Jaddian friends when I say it would be a mistake to leave this in the hands of Lord Marlowe, who, it has been noted, has no experience with such matters. I’d like to put one of my officers in charge.”

“Who?” I asked, unable to help myself.

“Bassander Lin,” Raine replied, and she launched into an outline of her plan. I glowered at my feet, thinking of the tall, rather severe officer who had not wanted me at Calagah. Perhaps I was not about to come out of this as on top as I’d imagined.



When it was over, Raine Smythe stopped me in the hall in the shadow of a stained glass mural of a battle between House Mataro and the Norman

settlers of long ago. Jewel-bright shadows tessellated their way across the herringbone tile and enameled pillars that rose to the vaulted ceilings. “I’m not sure how you did it,” she said, fingers tight around my biceps, “but I know you had the power cut.” I didn’t answer, gave the hard, scarred

woman a startled look. “You can cut the charade, Marlowe. They can’t touch you now—you’re mine.”

Old habit compelled me to look up, to try and pick out the cameras among the Rococo scrollwork and baroque embellishments of the high

palatine architecture. I could not find them, and I was also aware that this was not the gesture or habit of an innocent man. I only smiled and by way of an answer said, “I don’t approve of torture.”

“Nor do I,” the knight-tribune said, eliciting a nod from her lictor, the aged Sir William Crossflane. “But war begs hard answers of us, eh? And I don’t approve of soldiers who play games like yours. I’m taking you, but

I’m not taking you because you wanted it. I’m taking you because I think I need you and because Lieutenant Lin can keep a firm hold on you.” I opened my mouth to reply, to say I knew not what, but the tribune was not finished. “For what it’s worth, I think you’re right. You did a rare thing. A stupid thing, but a rare one. You may not have seen much of it safe on this rock, but the war’s gone on for far too long . . .” She broke off, shaking her head, disturbed, I thought, by visions. “Do you have anyone you want to bring with you? Anyone I can conscript?”

I paused a moment, hesitating because the obvious choice was someone who lay outside the tribune’s admittedly long reach. “I’d like to talk to the Tavrosi xenologist, Onderra.”

“She’s a foreign national,” Smythe said. “We can’t recruit her.”

“I can,” I said, though I was not sure how I knew it was possible. “If we’re to look like foederati, we shouldn’t all stink of the Legions, should we?”

That brought a faint smile to the tribune’s lips, and she nodded. “Anyone else?”

In spite of everything, I smiled. “Oh, yes.”

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