Sethra Lavode (Viscount of Adrilankha) (5 page)

BOOK: Sethra Lavode (Viscount of Adrilankha)
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“And so?”

“But there is a matter that still requires the utmost consideration.”

“If Your Majesty would condescend to tell me what this matter is, well, I will address it if I can. And, if I cannot—”

“Yes, if you cannot?”

“I will send back to His Majesty Kâna for instructions.”

“That seems reasonable enough. I will tell you.”

“Your Majesty perceives that you have my entire attention.”

“If I send you this army, what is to prevent it from being handled as easily as your own army was handled? I am not without eyes; I know what happened near Dzur Mountain.”

“Ah, Your Majesty is aware of this?”

“I am tolerably well informed.”

“So much the better. Then you know that we faced a necromancer who raised the dead and sent them against us?”

“I do.”

“And Eastern witches who summoned animals to attack us?”

“Yes.”

“Well, we have a way of neutralizing these forces.”

“How, you do?”

“Entirely. And even a way to neutralize the Imperial Orb. And, moreover—”

“Yes?”

“Your army has never experienced the Orb, and so, fighting against
it would not impair your army’s morale. Many in our army are old enough to remember the Orb, and they are not pleased to be fighting it.”

“Yes, I understand that.”

“And, even after all that happened, we still have more than twenty thousands of troops, and they will be there, as well.”

“A tolerably round number.”

“Yes, Majesty.”

“Very well. Let me consider the matter. Is there anything else?”

“There is, Majesty. A small matter, but which, nevertheless, I am required to raise.”

“Go on, then.”

“It concerns a certain Lady Illista.”

“Illista? Why yes, I know the lady of whom you speak. She came here some hundreds of years ago. What of her?”

“This is a difficult matter for me to bring up, Your Majesty.”

“Do your best.”

“I shall.”

“Well?”

“It concerns her treatment by Your Majesty’s court.”

“Her treatment?”

“Exactly.”

“But, we did exactly what the Emperor, Tortaalik, wished of us. That is, she was permitted to live in peace, provided with the small pension supplied by the Empire, and not permitted at court. In fact, we did more, because after the Disaster, we continued the pension out of our own public funds.”

“This was the request of His Majesty Tortaalik?”

“Exactly. It was so recorded by my illustrious predecessor, Queen Legranthë, and I have seen no reason to change it. Is there now a reason?”

“Well, after a fashion.”

“Explain your meaning, sir.”

“In the first place, Illista is no longer on Elde, but has returned to the mainland.”

“How, she has? By whose authority was this done?”

“His Majesty Kâna’s.”

“Very well, what else?”

“We should like—that is to say, we would hope—”

“Come, come, my young friend. Say what you mean.”

“His Majesty Kâna should like an apology, from Your Majesty, regarding the way the Lady Illista was treated.”

“An apology?”

Udaar bowed his head.

The King frowned and considered for some few moments. “I am not accustomed,” he said at last, “to apologize for my actions. Moreover, I do not understand why this concerns your Kâna in any way.”

“If Your Majesty wishes, I will explain.”

“Do so.”

“We require Illista’s aid in our endeavors, because she is very nearly the only remaining Phoenix, and the other is so far from aiding us that it is useless to ask.”

“And she will not aid you without this apology from us?”

“It is not that, Your Majesty.”

“Well?”

“It is that, with the apology, her aid would be more meaningful. To receive public aid from a noble of the House of Phoenix would have great influence with the other Houses. But if it came from a Phoenix who was disgraced—”

“Ah. I understand. You are working your own intrigues, and you wish for my aid to second them.”

“That is exactly the case, Your Majesty. In addition—”

“There is more?”

“Your Majesty will see. In addition, we offer to Elde, as a token of good-will, Spaire Island, which has been in dispute between Elde and the Empire for thousands of years.”

Corthina considered. “I confess,” he said, “that it would be good to end these arguments over Spaire Island. The wood there is of immense value in building ships, and we all know the value of watering rights.”

Udaar bowed.

“Concerning other matters,” continued the King, “the supposed insult, if you will, was given by my predecessor, not by me.”

“And so?”

“And so, this is my decision: If—I say,
if
I choose to aid you in your military endeavors, I will accompany this aid with the apology you request, in language that will be all you could wish. If I do not give you the other aid, then neither will I give you the apology.”

Udaar bowed. “I do myself the honor of saying that Your Majesty’s decision is full of sense.”

“And,” continued Corthina, “as to the question of giving you the assistance you request, I will give you my answer to-morrow.”

“Very good, Your Majesty.”

“Is there anything more?”

“That is everything on my part. But is there anything Your Majesty wishes to know of me?”

“No, my dear sir. I believe I comprehend the situation tolerably well.”

“Then I eagerly await hearing from Your Majesty to-morrow.”

Corthina nodded, and signed that the interview was now at an end. When Udaar had gone, the King retired to a more private chamber, there to consult with certain of his advisers, eat a meal he had long delayed and which included immense quantities of seafood and even more immense quantities of drawn butter, as well as dried fruit (the fruit being now out of season) and a mince pie of prodigious size. By the time he had finished eating and talking (Corthina was notorious for consulting with his advisers while eating) he had made his decision.

Gardimma was sent home the next day.

The following day the King spread the word that the army was to be rebuilt: For the first time in recorded history, Elde was preparing to invade the mainland.

Chapter the Seventy-First

How the Viscount of Adrilankha
Took to the Life of a Road Agent

I
t was early in the morning on a Marketday near the end of winter of the first year of the Empress Zerika the Fourth’s reign that Piro, the Viscount of Adrilankha, rode away from the public market in the village of Nearby in Mistyvale County, along with his friends and a pack mule which contained no small number of goods purchased at this market. Many of the items in the market had gotten there by trade from traveling merchants; there were also some items drawn from smokehouses to sell, as the approaching summer indicated how much extra was available. The market, while it could not be described as crowded, had at least provided them with what they required.

As they rode, Piro’s lover and good friend Ibronka observed, “I believe we were recognized.”

“Do you think so?” asked Piro, with apparent unconcern.

“It seems likely.”

“Well, let us hear then: Why do you hold this opinion?”

“At the far end of the market was the fish-stall.”

“Yes, I do not dispute this; at the far end was a fish-stall. I saw it. Not only that, but I believe that I smelled it.”

“Well, I asked the gentleman in this stall to tell me about his fish.”

“Well, and?”

“He said they were called kalpa.”

“And then?”

“That is all.”

“I beg your pardon, my dear Ibronka, but I do not understand what you do me the honor to tell me.”

“He named the fish, and said no more.”

“Well?”

“My love, have you ever known a fisherman, or an innkeeper, or
a fishmonger, to be content with such a statement? It is impossible. It violates the laws of nature. He is required to explain that kalpa is like, well, a trout only less bony. Or like a longfish but more succulent. Or like a swordfish but not so tough. Or that it has a flavor unlike any other. Or that it is famous throughout the land, but is best from here, or, well, something of the kind.”

“Yes, I take your point. The fishmonger behaved most unnaturally.”

“Precisely. For this reason, I believe we were recognized.”

“Of course, he might recognize us without betraying us.”

“Yes, that is true.”

“How much are our heads worth at this moment?”

“Five hundred imperials for the ‘Blue Fox’ and four hundred for each of his band.”

“A tolerably round number.”

“Yes, my lord.”

Piro nodded, and, after a moment, said, “Kytraan, Ibronka believes we were recognized.”

“Indeed? So does Röaana.”

“Ah. For what reason?”

“I didn’t ask,” said Kytraan, shrugging.

“Röaana, why do you believe we were recognized?”

“The fishmonger failed to boast,” said Röaana laconically.

“Well,” said Piro, “so we were recognized. Does it matter?”

“No,” said Ibronka.

“No,” said Röaana.

“I think it does not,” ventured Kytraan.

“Nevertheless,” said Piro, draping his blue half-cloak over his shoulders, and fastening it with with its pearl clip. “It cannot hurt to move on; to find a new place to make our encampment.”

“With this I agree,” said Ibronka.

A few more turnings brought them to a particular row of stunted evergreen trees, where they left the road, traveling in a straight line for a little over a mile, after which they crossed a brook, climbed over a low hill, and so came to a place where several tents had been raised and a fire was burning.

The first one to greet them was Lar, who cried out, “Did you find coriander?”

“We did indeed, brave Lar; we have an entire pound of it, all fresh.”

“Oh, my lord! A whole pound? I am beside myself with joy! But I cannot use so much; we must find a way to preserve it.”

“We will consider the matter,” said Ibronka. “I should imagine a means may be found.”

Grassfog emerged from a tent, rubbing sleep from his eyes and wearing only breeches. “Was the market successful, my friends?” he said.

“Yes, except we were recognized.”

Grassfog shrugged. “We will move south a little. I know some good places.”

“Splendid,” said Piro.

Lar took the coriander in its heavy pot and, with Clari’s inexpert but enthusiastic assistance, at once set to cooking, which aroma presently brought Iatha, Ritt, and Belly from their respective tents, stretching and yawning.

“Well,” said Iatha. “What are you cooking?”

“In fact,” said Lar, “I cannot entirely answer that question, as I will not know until it is done. But I know that it will involve coriander and several jointed fouls, as well as certain other items that were secured at the market.”

“And,” said Piro, “while the food is being prepared, let us prepare to strike camp.”

“Ah,” said Belly, “we are moving?”

“We believe we were identified at the market.”

“That is too bad,” observed Iatha. “But, no matter. How are our funds?”

“After this last trip to the market, they are distressed,” said Röaana, who functioned as the treasurer for the firm. “That is to say, thin.”

“And yet,” said Kytraan, “it has seemed to me that we have been doing tolerably well in our investments.”

“Indeed we have,” said Piro. “And we should all be wealthy, if—”

“Yes?” said Iatha. “If?”

“If we did not all continually go into villages and buy drinks for everyone in sight all night and into the morning.”

“Well,” said Kytraan, shrugging.

Grassfog sighed. “I believe,” he said, “that we must soon either begin conserving our assets as we acquire them, or else find a new enterprise.”

“How, you think so?” said Piro.

“I am convinced of it. In a hundred years, or perhaps less, it will be useless to attempt to work the roads.”

“Oh,” said Ibronka. “A hundred years. Well, you perceive, a hundred years does not go by abruptly.”

“It will when you are older,” said Grassfog, shrugging.

“But tell me,” said Piro, “why you say that in a hundred years or less we will be unable to continue?”

“Oh, I know that,” said Ibronka.

“Well?” said the others. “Tell us.”

“Teleportation,” said Ibronka.

“Exactly,” said Grassfog. “Soon, all merchants will either be able to teleport, or, perhaps, to hire it done. Indeed, had I a disposition to enter into a business, which I must confess I do not, why, I should become a sorcerer, and learn to teleport, and make a living by hiring myself to merchants with fat purses, teleporting them to safety for a small part of those purses, and warning them of the dangers of fierce road agents.”

Kytraan said, “Do you truly believe teleportation will become so common?”

“I do,” said Grassfog.

“And I agree,” said Ibronka.

“Well, that settles it,” said Piro. “Never will I be so foolish as to dispute with both of you. But then, if we have a hundred years—”

“Maybe twenty years,” said Grassfog, shrugging again. “Who knows? These things happen quickly. And consider that if this region becomes known as dangerous for travelers, well, it will be even quicker here, so that we may be forced to find another place to operate.”

“That would not be so bad,” said Kytraan. “This region is pleasant enough, especially now that winter seems to be over, but to be sure there are others.”

“Do you know,” said Ritt, “it seems to me that one of us ought to learn to teleport.”

“In fact,” said Ibronka, “I had considered that.”

“How, had you?” said Piro.

“Well,” said Ritt, “consider that we could transact business with a fat merchant here in Mistyvale, and then teleport to, for example, Candletown.”

“Indeed,” said Kytraan. “Why, that would be a splendid idea! I do
not mind living out of doors, at least when the weather is warm, but to have a pleasant room in a comfortable inn, with plumbing, and—”

“Alas,” said Ibronka. “It would not work.”

BOOK: Sethra Lavode (Viscount of Adrilankha)
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