“We have a target.”
The Hidden City.
Admiral Harper looked at the radio message from his father and the reports from Tigershark and Dolphin. He turned to Captain Duggings and said, “Using the old cipher was inspired, Peble.”
The captain smiled. “Wasn’t it sir? The Fellies showed up right on schedule. I imagine that the Commander got very good pictures of those new patrol planes as well as pictures of the Ravathrya ships. The Ravathyra must have had a reserve there near the Fellowship. I wish that Congress had let you sell the cruisers to the former Ravathrya crew.”
“It was my own fault. With the gadget, they could do their job and they did. So those sticks in Congress think that they are still usable. They are, for chasing the Ravathrya, but even with these reserve ships, the Ravathrya at sea just aren’t that a big a concern.”
“What about your nieces?”
“That is another question. I imagine that Richard and my dad are on top of that, but I want to make a statement as well. I imagine that Paeris has been trying to scare his relatives about Republic and Constitution. He’s certainly seen them, but we have been careful to keep them more or less under wraps. I think that it is time that they made their debut. How about they make a rather public run along the coast here, just outside the limit. Tell Commodore Settings that I want to hear the Consul squawk.”
“He will anyway. After all, Captain Bushbury made himself rather popular with the Fellowship press. They have been saying that the Consul is all wet for years and there he was, all wet.”
“Now Peble, that was an accident. The captain has been running the airship hard and lost two engines, lost some lift gas because his compressor was inoperative and had to dump ballast to compensate. It was just coincidence that it was over the concert.”
“And that bottle of Fillitian Brandy that showed up was a coincidence as well.”
“Admiral Ironbender and I have shared a love of fine wines and brandy for some time. I will be sending him some things I found in the Empire shortly.”
“From your brother’s vineyards, I assume.”
“Yes, they did come from my sister in law’s stock.”
SS- 25, (Tigershark)
Commander Oremace was looking at the pictures that they had taken of the smallish port with his first lieutenant in light of the message that had said, “Find a target.” He looked at Lieutenant Mugridge and said, “they have a lot of grain in those hulks anchored there, don’t they, Bennet?”
“My town was bigger than that and we didn’t need near as much grain, captain. You know if something were to happen to it, somebody might be in some difficulty.”
“There are plenty of fish.”
“Well fed fish. Let me tell Sparky to tell the Commodore about the barges. Then we can get ready for the show.”
“Tell Sparky to use the broken cipher. We wouldn’t want the Fellies to miss it.”
No, we wouldn’t, would we?”
The Lieutenant and his grin left the for the radio shack.
Commodore Settings was meeting with his flag captain and Flag lieutenant when the message from the Tigershark came in. He looked at it and handed it to Captain Micajah Hornwood and said, “We have a target.”
“We could be starving some people, sir.”
“Not there at the port. The Ravathrya want that grain someplace else to feed something else. Since they have just managed to annoy the admiral’s brother, I think that they will get the message. In any case, let’s make these Lady’s debut a huge splash worthy of them.”
4 Squadron Fellowship Air Force.
Captain Forger came into Captain Flamespinner’s office and said, “Captain, are you and your wingman up to another patrol?”
“We just intercepted a radio message from Tigershark addressed to Republic.
“We don’t have any good pictures of either Republic or Constitution. Are they in the area?”
“Intelligence received a dispatch from the Republic earlier that Admiral Harper’s nieces from the Empire were kidnapped this morning. I suspect that Admiral Harper is making a definitive statement that giving them back would be a very good idea.”
“I think that my people and I are ready for another flight.”
Taser looked at the approaching threads of smoke and turned to the lieutenant and said, “And here is the hunter for the pointer.”
“We are under Glamor, How can they find us?”
“What kind of ship!”
“Like nothing I have seen before!”
The Great Captain looked at the rapidly approaching ships. The two cruisers he had seen in pictures, and the five destroyers he had seen fairly up close. The two monsters that were bracketed by the other ships as they ran in perfect line ahead were a different story. The great captain grabbed some crystals and took some pictures. He turned to the open mouthed Lieutenant and said, “That is what my cousin was talking about. This is what the enemy is sending at us.”
“Sir, they can’t see us.”
“I expect that they know exactly where we are. Well enough for shooting, I can’t say, but for most purposes they know where we are. This is not an accident. I don’t know what happened but this is the Republican admiral making a statement.”
“That we are at sea because he is letting us sail in his waters. This is the admiral demonstating that he can kill us easily whenever he wants to. I think that we must return to port and find out what my family has done. Send the signal, “Follow me” and set course for port.”
Rolin and Paeris were disembarking from the coaster onto the pier where Ilbryen was waiting for them when Ilbryen suddenly said, “What’s that!?”
Paeris looke around and said, “Where?”
“Out at sea!”
Paeris looked and there was a line of Republican ships, all moving very fast under clouds of smoke including two that he was rather familiar with. The lead ship of the monsters belched fire and smoke, followed by the second ship. Suddenly huge splashes appeared near some hulks in the harbor. The giants fired again and the spashes started to fall around the barges, with one disappearing. Ilbryen cried out, “The grain!” as still more splashes took out yet another barge.
There were more splashes and the barges were gone, shattered or sunk. Rolin turned to Ilbryen and said, “So what was the grain for?”
“For the Camp in the winter. That was the bread and food for the animals for the winter and it’s gone!”
“Now that is a problem. You will have to buy more grain. Who did you buy it from?”
“I hope that you didn’t do anything to annoy Richard, then. He can probably arrange to replace the grain, but he is a bit annoyed at the family already. You can expect to pay a lot for the grain. Of course that was Richard’s brother making a statement, just now.”
“Admiral Thomas Harper, Admiral of the fleet for the Republic and those were his ships.”
Camus Petris came up with Sollor Richflight. “Rolin we have a big mess.”
“Let me guess, Sollor here did something with Richard’s daughters.”
“How did you know?”
“That noise that just ended, along with the Retreat’s grain supply, courtesy of Admiral Harper. That was Admiral Harper using the shiny new ships that Paeris has been telling us about to make a statement. I had wondered why, but if there was an operation against the girls, then the Admiral’s little demonstration makes sense. Sollor, how did this happen?”
“Aelua made an arrangement with Saeliihn and Thalia to conduct an operation on Renna Shahana and the other girls were with her. Durlan took the lot rather than aborting, didn’t know who they were and ported through to the Retreat with all of them.”
“Other than Renna and Richard’s two, how many girls are we talking about?”
“Four. Two were your nieces, I’m afraid and the others were Desielle Beinan and A Christine Lion.”
“Great, my own nieces. Elincia is going to go on the warpath, and as High House will be using our own money and resources against us. Then there is the Beinan girl. Camus, you remember that she is seeing that Yllanan boy after that incident earlier in the year. So we have House Qinvaris, the Harpers, House Beinan, House Shahana and probably House Yllanan all looking for our hides, to say nothing of a fae kingdom, whoever Miss Lion is attached to and the Republic. My own House will be unable to provide support because they will be part of the hunt. Where are the girls now?”
“On their way to the camp.”
“Who arranged that?”
“Master Mage Uthorim Yelmenor.”
“Did he have an inkling who the girls were?”
“They told him, along with the fact that the Grand Master has placed all the mages here under Anathema. He didn’t believe it even when he placed a truth spell on your niece.”
“Did Richard place a deadline on returning the girls?”
“Tomorrow afternoon. Actually, Elincia set the deadline.”
“So we don’t have a portal, the convenient ride we could have given the girls to was shooting at us and an idiot made things worse by sending the girls to the Camp. Has anybody thought to check them for tags?”
“Why?” Ilbryen said. “It is unlikely that anybody knew that the girls would be taken if we didn’t and they would have to have fae arrange to do that.”
“Fae boyfriends, for instance. Brothers who have been tested and been with fae girlfriends. Fae in the family. Send somebody and bring the girls back. All the girls. Camus, we are going to have a discussion with an idiot. Something that doesn’t seem to be in short supply around here.”
LRP-23, Fellowship Air Force.
The planes had been lucky and they had arrived just before the show started. The pair of planes had a front row seat as the pair of large ships attacked a set of barges while sailing at high speed and destroyed all four barges with what was good shooting by naval standards. The planes had good weather for a change and managed to get a lot of photos of both ships before returning to base. Captain Forger came into the cockpit and said, “That was a show. I’m glad that we were invited. I do hope that the Ravathryra didn’t need anything in those barges.”
“The Republican navy has been doing so well for us today,” Flamespinner said. “I think that we owe somebody some beer.”
Peder Willowspring was waiting for the arriving guests at the Hidden City portal when they arrived. He came forward and said, “Mr. and Mrs. Beinan, Dragonleader Beinan, I am Lord Shahana’s city manager, Peder Willowspring. Welcome to Eryding.”
“You have a rather big job for a slave, Mr. Willowspring.” Halamar said.
“It depends on how you look at it. Vesryn doesn’t have a big family and needs people like me that he trusts in key places. So I get jobs like this. On the other hand, on a Richard Harper scale, this is a tiny little job fit for a slave.”
“Where is Lord Shahana.”
“He was called away on an important family issue.”
“Then if you can point me to my cousin’s House, that will be fine.”
“He’s with Vesryn involved in the same family issue. Some clown managed to kidnap Vesryn’s daughter, Richard Harper’s two daughters, Folmon Bienan’s daughter and three other girls, all of whom most people would never be stupid enough to mess with. Let me get you there.”
“We can fly.”
“It’s easier if we port and I need to talk to Vesryn anyway, since the clown is going to miss his deadline.”
The Richflight Estate.
Flix and Tarranth laughed a bit as Adiun, Traelion and some Portal Sevice people with a Portal transport wagon came up the road. The Portal Service had wagons staged at points around the empire and the smaller wagons like this one fit through the larger portals in any case. The parade marched up to the gate and stopped.
Teodnaril looked at the parade and said, “Who are you?”
“Adiun Beinan of the Portal Service. Portal number 0075 was activated here, detected by a Portal Service employee yesterday and we are here to collect the illegal portal.”
“Do you have a writ?”
“I was hoping to avoid the trouble of a writ. Are you insisting on one?”
“The lord is insisting on a writ.”
“Very well. May I speak with the Lord?”
“He is not here.”
Justiciar Adjunct Mhaenal Percaryn appeared with Lords Shahana and Beinan and said, “Strange, he was here yesterday and nobody has seen him leave.Traelion, the lord is involved in my case. I was going to ask Evin for a writ, but since you are here anyway, do you have one?”
“For the portal, but if you have evidence of further crimes, that should be enough.”
“We do, and they actually involve the portal.”
Traelion held up a writ. “Very well. Gate keeper, here is a writ for the portal. I will have the broader writ shortly.”
Teodnaril looked at the writ, looked at the Justiciar and went to open the gates. He had barely gotten the crossbar withdrawn when the gate pushed open and huge men charged through holding strange weapons on the startled guards. They were followed by a parade from the Portal Service, various Houses and what appeared to be Lower City types. In a remarkably short period of time the entire place had people going through everything as the Portal Service people set up next to the portal with strange devises.
A crew of elves and men apparently from the Justiciars set up a table and all the papers from the estate were gone through. One of the Justiciar’s people held up a pendant and called out, “Midnight, take this to Pyrravyn. I think that we just found our mysterious mage.”
The apparent fae trotted outside the gate and shield and disappeared. The various people stacked things up and collected all sorts of things. Finally the Justiciar collected the staff and said, “This place is now under Justiciar’s seal. None of you are to enter without the being requested to enter by a Justiciar working on the case. Now go to what homes you have outside or find another place to live. You cannot live here. An adjunct or Junior Justiciar will record your address so that we may interview you later.”
Peder had procured a small carriage and they had ported to a hunting lodge, only to be told to go to another estate. As they drove on, Pedar said, “They must have gotten in.”
“What is going on?”
“The short answer is that there is a gang going around kidnapping kids of a certain family relationship. The long answer is a bit complicated.”
They went through some gates and there was a crowd of people collecting things from the house. An elf saw them arrive and walked over. “Peder, you brought them, excellent.”
“Vesryn, I came here when I knew that you had cracked the gates. Is that Richflight character here? I want to have a discussion with him about taking kids.”
“He seems to have used a portal and left.”
“A pity that. This is Halamar Beinan.”
“Welcome Mr. Beinan. I applogize for not being there to greet you but somebody thought that it would be a good idea to make off with my daughter and all her friends.”
“Apparently, you have pursued him this far.”
“Yes, but he was rather stubborn. We knew about his hidden stolen portal and were almost certain that the girls were no longer here. In fact, thanks to their various boyfriends and brothers, they all had tagged items with them.”
A woman came over and said, “You must be Halamar and Andaphin. I am Rebecca. My Husband is over there with some troublemakers seeing if there is something that they can send through the portal as a surprise. Adiun is looking at the portal and extracting the log. By the way, you and your daughter are staying at the House with us.”
“Hello Rebecca,” Halamar said. “How did you meet Folmon?”
“He bought me to clean the house. Of course, that led to other things, which helped to make the house dirtier for a while, filled with kids and sharing our lives.”
“Where are your other children?”
“At the House, causing trouble for the staff, as usual. They should have returned from the school by now.”
“So what happened here?”
“My daughter and her friends have discovered that they like planning parties and things. So they all met at lord Shahana’s estate to do some work toward the thing they were planning for the winterfaire. Renna, Lord Shahana’s daughter has been riding to a hunting lodge that the Qinvaris boys have set up for activities that they would prefer that the Inquisition not discover. The other girls decided to ride as well and they all set off together. The idiots came and took the lot.”
“You don’t seem to be very concerned?” Andaphin asked.
“What the idiots don’t know is that all the girls have been tested for potential because of the idiots’ actions. They had been doing the same sort of things in Lower City and it was fairly obvious that they were looking for the kids that had one elven parent and the other from the Republic. So when Lavidia started to arrange for the kids to get tested, we suddenly knew why these characters were after our kids.”
“Is this part of the swans being restored?” Halamar asked. “You do know that that is a family signal.”
“I don’t think that Folmon really understood what it meant. Two ladies wanted the real dancers, which I will take you to see, restored. They maneuvered Folmon and I into the House, arranged for the Inquisition to be suppressed and brought Adiun and Evindal in to help repair the swans. In the process, we have discovered things that are very dark, of which the thing that we are involved in is a big part. We will discuss this with you later and I will take you around and introduce you to the others that are involved.”
“I have met some of them already, Tom Harper, for instance.”
“That’s one. His dad, brother Richard and Richard’s sons are here dealing with this.”
When Master Mage Yelmenor had finally demanded that the girls go in the prospect transfer to the Camp, Onvyr was forced to comply. Of course herding girls that somehow seemed to be rather unresponsive to compulsions was more than a bit like herding cats. In the end, he managed, by agreeing that they could ride their own horses, to get the girls going in the right direction. Like most of the rest of the town, they watched as the strange ships destroyed the grain barges as they rode behind the empty cart on their way to the road.
Paeris, Camus and Rolin found the master mage preparing for bed. He looked at them and said, “What may I do for you, milords”
“You can explain what mental process you developed that allowed you to send my nieces to the Camp,” Rolin said.
“They are Prospects. Prospects go to the Camp.”
“Idiot, do you have family?”
“Small. They do not care for me. I am not married.”
“So you don’t understand the potential problems that people may have when the rest of the family gets very angry with you. Here’s another one, What do you think that a Great House is going to do if somebody kidnaps one of the family daughters and doesn’t let them go almost immediately.”
“I don’t know. Go after the people responsible, I suppose.”
“Did you enjoy the show earlier?”
“The Republican Navy sending its two newest ships here, to destroy the grain barges,” Paeris said. “As far as I know, the Republic is not in the habit of sending large warships to random locations to destroy harmless barges.”
“Here’s the next part,” Rolin said. “Where did you buy the grain that was in the barges?”
“I don’t know. That is not my concern.”
“Does the name Qinvaris ring a bell?”
“Two of those girls were named Qinvaris.”
“Yes they were. In fact I know both girls and I know their father and mother. I actually had to apologize to the lady for being an idiot and attempting to pressure her to sell her husband. That was lucky. It didn’t make Richard mad. The last House that did that was squashed utterly in two five days.”
“I doubt that House Qinvaris would go against the Master.”
“I am off to explain to the Master just how much trouble Sollor, his son, you and some other idiots have managed to get him. If I were you, I would chase that cart and get it back here before things really heat up. Because that show out there is just a starter. I imagine that the Master will not be pleased to discover just what you idiots did to him when this is over.”
The lords left and Uthorim continued to prepare for bed. Perhaps there would be somebody to consult about this in the morning.
Way Station, the Camp Road.
The ride with his daughters had been fun and they reached the second way station in plenty of time for dinner and well ahead of the cart and its rather pointless guards. As Onvyr prepared for bed, he mused about how easy it had been to be a family elf again. He wondered what Elincia had been up to and what Saevel was like. He realized just how much he missed it and what he had sacrificed for the family. Some of the family in any case.
Maylin looked at the other girls and said, “Ok, how do we deal with this?”
“We could wait for the boys to come get us,” Nimue said, “but I’ve had enough of slimy characters like mage Yelmenor. Your dad seems to be ok, but I bet that this crowd has some real baddies.”
“There are three Jump anchors nearby that I sense,” Dessielle said. “The first is in the Fellowship and may be a Marshall Station, the second is up the road and may be a portal and the third is in the Empty Lands. I would pick the third one.”
“Why, Dessielle?” Renna asked.
“Because we know that these characters have fae working for them and they would expect us to go to the portal. The Martial Station might get us into a mess and there may not be enough mana to Jump right back out again if it isn’t a Martial Station. Also, your dad always says to do what your enemy doesn’t expect. We also do something else.”
“Maylin, you hand over all the things with tags on them to your dad. Tell him to go to a portal with them and go to the Grand Master. He can tell the Grand Master that most of the mages were not told that they would be under Anathema. Then he can take the things to your mother. But if he has them, the fae here can’t track us and the things will probably attract our friends, who can help your dad.”
They all gathered for breakfast and as they prepared to leave, Maylin handed her father a bag and said, “Father, go to a portal that works and go see the Grand Master. He doesn’t know that you all were not told about the Anathema. After you talk, take these to mother and tell her that we are ok. We have to get going, so we will see you at the Sanctum.”
Maylin walked out the door and when Onvyr reached the door, all the girls had disappeared. He went over to the guards who were waiting by the cart and growled, “Did you see the girls?”
“No mage, we haven’t
He looked all over the way station and the girls were gone. With a heavy heart and a realization of what the Master would probably do to him, he gathered the horses and continued with his caravan up the road. They stopped to rest the horses at the dead portal and Onvyr walked over to the portal and on a whim, punched the code for the Academy. The portal activated. He looked at it, looked around, contemplated his choices and stepped through.
Daybreak had been tracking the tagged objects from the way station all day. It had taken him a day to get to the way station but he had sensed the objects coming toward him as he approached. This road was not a post road and the Way stations were private, so he couldn’t be as open as he would be if this was a post road. The tagged objects had left the way station the next morning and he followed, even though there was no sign of the girls. Their horses and a cart with the guards were there, but the cart was obviously empty and the only person with the cart was a mage. The little cavalcade reached the portal that Daybreak had used as a Jump anchor and repaired on his way in. The mage walked up to the portal, the portal activated and the mage stepped through, leaving the confused guards. Finally, left with little else they could do, they continued their journey. When they left, Daybreak went to the portal, pulled up the log, looked at the last port and smiled. Since the mage, whoever he was, was doing the right thing, he altered the log so that the last port would be for somebody without access to Adiun’s portal service tools, to Grimfrost.