Scholar: A Novel in the Imager Portfolio (3 page)

BOOK: Scholar: A Novel in the Imager Portfolio
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His wallet wasn’t sagging as he made his way back along the dim alley, giving the dead man a wide berth, but it was definitely heavy.

All in all, it had been a good night’s work. More coppers and silvers for his wallet, and one less thief to trouble people who didn’t need that sort of difficulty.

3

More than a half glass before seven on Mardi morning, Quaeryt reached the side gate of the palace. As he’d calculated, Jhoal was on duty.

“Pleasant morning to you,” offered Quaeryt with a smile. “For now.”

“Be as hot as an Antiagon’s balls by midmorning, scholar, maybe sooner.” The sentry’s Bovarian held the harshness of a Tellan native speaker.

“It’s still early Juyn, and harvest is hotter than summer. Wait until Agostos.”

“You’re not cheering me up,” replied the guard, glancing toward the tower on the southeast side corner of the wall and then using his sleeve to blot his forehead. “Got two more glasses before Dhuar relieves me.”

“The first watch is easier.”

“In summer.”

“Were you ever posted in Tilbor?” Quaeryt already knew the answer.

“We all were. Old Lord Chayar wouldn’t have any guards who hadn’t seen battle. Lord Bhayar’s the same.”

“He might have to change that before long, unless the Tilborans revolt or there’s another war.”

“Nah … they’re still fighting there. Stiff-necked bunch. Worse than they say the Bovarians are.”

“Don’t you think there are people like that everywhere? You must see it here.”

“More ’n you’d believe, scholar. More ’n you’d believe.”

“High Holders mostly?”

Jhoal shook his head. “They’re mannered folk. Might look down on you, but most don’t swell out of their britches.” After another furtive glance toward the tower, the guard scratched his neck, just below the bronze ceremonial helmet. “Most, anyway.”

“Except High Holder Khervar? Isn’t he here all the time?”

“He is.” The slightest hint of a smile crossed the older guard’s face. “He’s young.”

“I’d better be careful,” replied Quaeryt. “I’m not that old, myself.”

“You were never that young, I’d be thinking.”

Quaeryt hoped not. “I suppose I’d better go inside. I wouldn’t want to be late.”

Jhoal stepped back and opened the narrow gate. “Take care, scholar.”

“You, too.”

Quaeryt walked up the steps leading to the roofed colonnades that flanked the garden. The guard at the top of the steps studied the scholar, then nodded. Quaeryt took his time, but did not loiter, especially when he saw Savaityl—the palace seneschal—standing beside the grille to the private staircase, quietly talking to the guard. The staircase guard looked straight ahead, not at Savaityl and not at Quaeryt.

Even so, Savaityl turned. “You’re a quarter glass early, scholar. You can wait here.” A good ten years older than the scholar, the seneschal had a face that would have fit an ax, hard and smooth, with flinty gray eyes under coal-black hair cut short enough that it lay flat on his scalp, barely covering it. His Bovarian was precise and flawless, like everything else he cultivated.

“Certainly. I wouldn’t want to intrude. I just didn’t want to be late.”

“Lord Bhayar appreciates your punctuality. So do I. There is a difference between being slightly early and far too early … especially when one is here so very often.”

Quaeryt nodded respectfully. There were times when responding verbally was worse than unnecessary. Savaityl had served Chayar, and now served his son. Both lords sent those who didn’t meet their standards to handle unpleasant and marginally meaningful tasks in even less pleasant locales. Bhayar was an enlightened lord. He did not believe in torture. Those who failed were exiled to distant locales. Those who stole or did worse vanished forever.

While he stood waiting, Quaeryt considered again his plan. Would it work? Who knew? What he did know was that Bhayar had little real regard for scholars and a wariness combined with contempt for imagers. On top of that, he had little patience for advisors—or anyone—who loitered around the palace providing little but pronouncements without ever undertaking anything of risk or value. Savaityl’s last words had reinforced that.

A time later, but before the chimes rang out announcing the glass, Savaityl returned and nodded. The guard unlocked the private staircase, and Quaeryt started up the steep and narrow steps and made his way up to the private corridor on the upper level. There the walls were of goldenwood bleached out until it was a faint tannish off-white. The floor was of pale blue tile, edged in dark blue. There were no hangings, no paintings, and no other decorations. In fact, mused Quaeryt, except in the receiving hall, he’d never seen any art or sculpture, and all that was displayed in the one chamber had been gifted to the Lord of Telaryn.

One of the assistant stewards stood by the half-open door to the study. He inclined his head, then turned and announced, “Scholar Quaeryt Rytersyn to see you, Lord.”

There was no answer, only a gesture. As was his wont, Bhayar was not seated behind the overly ornate carved goldenwood desk, but standing. He had been perusing the map of Lydar affixed to the map stand.

“Good morning, Lord.” Quaeryt bowed.

“Good morning. Do you have an answer to my question, scholar?” Bhayar’s voice was jovial, meaning that he’d had a good evening with his lady. Everyone knew when he didn’t.

“I do have a proposal, Lord. Who’s the governor of Tilbor Province?”

“I asked for an answer, not more questions.”

Quaeryt inclined his head respectfully and waited.

Bhayar sighed, but it was a deep sigh, for effect, and not the tight short sigh that meant displeasure. “Rescalyn. He’s a good troop commander, doesn’t put up with local nonsense.”

“Who’s the deputy governor or the assistant governor?”

“Straesyr. He’s the princeps. He was a solid marshal, not brilliant. He’s good with golds and supplies.”

“Why don’t you send me to Tilbora as a scholar advisor to Straesyr?”

“You
want
to go to Tilbora?”

“No. But I can’t give you a recommendation without going there.” Quaeryt laughed. “I can’t even ask the right questions.”

Bhayar fingered his clean-shaven chin. “Anyone who wants to go to that forsaken place…” He paused. “What do you have in mind?”

“Finding out if there’s a way to stop the incidents without killing people—or a way to do it with fewer troops.”

“You can’t calculate that from here?”

“Did your father conquer Tilbor by staying in Solis?”

“More questions … Your questions will be the death of me.” Bhayar shook his head. “I’ll write you an appointment. The pay won’t be much, a half gold a week and a room in the barracks. Do you want to travel with the next dispatch riders?”

Quaeryt shook his head. “I’d like to go by sea and look around some before I present myself.”

Bhayar nodded. “How long will you…” He broke off his words. “Be back by the end of winter, or don’t bother.”

“You’re worried about the Bovarians?”

“Who wouldn’t be after what Kharst did in Khel?”

“In time, that could be your opportunity.”

“How do you see that? I don’t know that the Pharsis will look to me as their savior, and the Bovarians were pleased to see the Pharsis brought down.”

“You don’t have to be a savior. Just don’t make all the mistakes Rex Kharst has.”
Or your father did in Tilbor.

“And just what would you have done with the Pharsi?”

“I’d have to think about that,” Quaeryt admitted, “but don’t you think that after the war is over and you’ve made people part of your land, you need to find a way to make them want you as their ruler?”

“That’s why you’re going to Tilbora, I suppose? Rather than say that I should go?”

“Can you think of a better reason?”

“Not at the moment. What’s in it for you?”

“Your appreciation, if I succeed, and your willingness to agree, again, if I succeed, that scholars are occasionally useful.” Quaeryt grinned. “Also enough coin and gratitude that I don’t have to become an itinerant scholar, always looking over my shoulder.”

“You might get one out of two, and half of the other.” Bhayar rose. “I’ll have your commission and appointment ready on Jeudi, with a few golds for travel. Come by in the late afternoon, fourth glass or so.”

“You have that look. Which minister are you meeting with next?”

“Thrachis. The factors are protesting that I’m spending golds on roads that make travel easy for the High Holders, but not for trade. They’re never happy.”

“Some people are only happy when they’re complaining,” observed Quaeryt. “Sometimes they’re right, but when you address their complaint, they’ll soon find another. You might have him ask them, if you address their problem, how long it will be before they find another.”

Bhayar laughed.

Quaeryt could see the calculation in his eyes. “By your leave, Lord?”

Bhayar nodded, a movement somewhere between indifference and brusqueness. “You may go.”

The scholar offered a respectful bow before turning and departing.

4

Meredi found Quaeryt in what was called the library in the Scholarium Solum. A pretentious name, not only for the repository of miscellaneous volumes, but for the location itself, suggesting that the large but decrepit old building held the one body of scholars in all Telaryn, he thought, as he brushed a moldering bit of plaster from his shoulder with one hand, while brushing the cobwebs off a tome on the shelf before him. He eased the volume out and opened it, reading the title:
Rholan, Synthesizing the Esoteric and Exoteric?

While it was far from what he was seeking, he read through several pages. One paragraph did catch his attention.

Although so little is known of Rholan the Unnamer that he might as well be apocryphal, the stories and saying attributed to him are a remarkable fusion of the exoteric and esoteric, as if he were attempting to instill spirituality within the most pragmatic of human group functions and interactions.… Yet, for all the impact he has had upon history and belief, the man himself remains more evanescent than morning fog in summer.… We only know that he lived in Montagne and was presumably born there, although no records exist, and that he vanished after traveling to Cloisonyt in his fifty-third year, according to the historian Jletyr Vladomsyn …

“More evanescent than morning fog, yet he single-handedly made Lydar a bastion of the Nameless,” murmured Quaeryt to himself.

He closed the volume and continued his search, absently wondering, far from the first time, why so many books in a library supposedly used and perused by scholars had been untouched for so long, and why many had never been opened. He quickly looked at and discarded several other volumes—
Time of the Champions: Caldor and Hengyst
;
The Five Ports of Lydar
;
Historical Inaccuracies in the Accounts of Tholym
;
Natural Remedies from Telaryn Flora
.

He couldn’t help but wince at one—
Imaging as a Manifestation of Naming
.

In time, he did discover a volume that would suffice for his purposes—
Historical Commentary on Tilbor
. It had the added benefit of the title on the cover and a seal indicating it had never been opened. It might even be informative as well. Finding it was likely to be the easy part. While he could have taken it past the gate desk to the library under a concealment shield, or removed it by even more covert means, either could raise questions later, when he would not wish them to surface. He decided to try the direct approach first.

He walked to the desk set beside the locked door gate to the library and looked to the young student scholar seated there.

“Yes, sir?”

“I’d like to borrow this volume.”

“Sir … I cannot grant that.”

Quaeryt knew that. He even knew the answer to the question he had to ask. “Who can?”

“I’ll have to check with Scholar Parelceus, sir. He is the only one who can decide.” The youth’s voice did not quite quaver.

“Please do. I’ll leave it here with you, and come back late this afternoon.”

“Ah … he won’t be back until late tonight … after the library is locked.”

“Then I’ll come by in the morning.” Quaeryt handed the book to the young man. “Don’t break the seal, either.”

“Ah … no, sir.”

“Thank you.” Quaeryt smiled and departed.

Outside the Scholarium, the day was already hot, despite high hazy clouds.

Quaeryt turned his steps toward the harbor, knowing full well that later it would be even hotter, and the hazy clouds meant that there would be little breeze at all.

The hillside that held the Scholarium flattened into the lower city after Quaeryt had walked less than two hundred yards, just past the anomen of the Nameless that was almost as old as the Scholarium, but far less decrepit. Once he was among the welter of shops and cafés and establishments even less reputable, the last traces of the morning breeze vanished, leaving him walking steadfastly through a haze that held the pungency of onions fried in grease close to rancid; the smoke of various types of incenses, likely from one of the countries located on the southern continent of Otelyrn; the faint but acrid bitterness of elveweed; the more welcome smell of roasting fowl; and dozens of other less identifiable odors, the origins of many on which few would wish to dwell.

Quaeryt stepped past a bent old man standing beside a cart that held folded scarves, neckerchiefs, and smaller pocket squares. The vendor did not return his smile. Then he dodged around two heavyset women who balanced bundles of laundry on their heads as they strode toward the cross street that led to a public fountain two long blocks to the west.

Close to three-quarters of a glass later, and feeling far warmer, Quaeryt slowed as he approached the establishment on the unnamed street that everyone called “second street,” since it was the second one back from and north of Harbor Avenue. The sign displayed a rat in a sailor’s sleeveless jacket lifting a gray tankard. The illustration had been recently repainted. The Tellan words underneath—“The Wharf Rat”—had not. Quaeryt nodded and stepped inside.

BOOK: Scholar: A Novel in the Imager Portfolio
12.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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