The Darkmage Conquers, Chapter 14

“Where have you been?”
“With our army. The army your father arranged no support for and ordered right into the Qinvaris and a trap. At least I had a chance to see what would have happened to us if we had actually marched up into Lord Qinvaris’s territory.”

Chapter 14.
The Imperial Palace.
Camus found Rolin and said, “That’s over.”
“Was there another army?”
“Was, is the operative word. Richard’s people crushed it in about a twentieth.”
“How did he do that?”
“Militia with guns, some artillery and some planes.”
“Did you get pictures of the heresy?”
“I did have a crystal with me, yes. I’m not sure what good that it would do. The invasion was clearly deep into Richard’s property and he had the right to defend himself. He also offered the invading army the opportunity to surrender.”
“Let’s get the crystal to Erlan anyway. Right now we are running out of options and the Conclave is one step away from declaring Richard a god.”
“That would be blasphemy.”
“That is why the Conclave is still one step away from taking the vote. In any case, we must deflect some things away from us. The Darkmage has done enough damage already.”
Gander grinned as his four subordinates walked down the hall. “So you ran the gauntlet of my grandmother.”
“She wasn’t so bad,” Naexi said. “We just used some stories about you and some of the cases this year and she didn’t pry too much into the current thing.”
“Did you find anything interesting?”
“Yes we did and we will go over it with you this evening. The most important thing we discovered is that you will be talking with the Imperial mistress.”
“I already am. She hunted me down here, in full regalia. We had a nice little chat. I think that I want you to look into her, since I can’t be that far away from this circus.”
“Anything important happen while we were gone?”
“Not here. There was a rumor of an army near Elysahone and Lord Qinvaris dealt with it, apparently.”
“Why don’t you take us to lunch and we tell you about our adventures,” Naexi said. “I will say that your family was a lot of fun.”
Davrian Umemyar and Horatio Chickering intercepted Richard as he left for lunch. “We wanted to give you the report in person,” Davarian said
“Did he surrender?”
“No,” Chickering said with a rather pensive expression. “Even after both I and Major Ravathrya made it clear that he was deep in the sack, he deployed and advanced.”
“Did you get crystals? I expect that I will get some sniping over the fact that I used guns.”
“I did. I have crystals of offering them the chance to surrender and the engagement itself.”
“Casualties?”
“Less than a training exercise on our side for the engagement. About a hundred in the fights leading up to main event, mostly boys getting too cocky and staying too long before bugging out. Maybe ten to fifteen percent of the ememy before they broke. The whole thing was as one sided as it gets. Their general was trained by playing games. He had no exposure to the real thing and none of his officers did either. They did well enough until the main force hit after they pivoted to face the militia flankers. Of course the mortars and machine guns didn’t help them. I wish that I hadn’t had to do that to them.”
“You can blame the Darkmage for that. The major was there?”
“Apparently Erlan and some others persuaded the Darkmage to divert the army onto us and the Major was sent to make sure that happened. The enemy general told me about that after it was over.”
“I assume that you have a crystal of that?”
“Yes. He was injured and in pain, but he wasn’t trying to lie either and I was certainly not torturing him. He volunteered the information. I didn’t ask for it. Apparently some Houses were concerned that the army was going to forage on their estates after they were hit by the Blight and in straits already. That cost the Darkmage because if the army had gone that way, I wouldn’t have been able to stop them and while it would have been rough on the estates in question, the army would have had forage. Instead the general forced a march toward Sataesi. That would have worked for him last year when I would have had to rely on horse cavalry for reconnaissance and been marching the militia. With airplanes and trucks I could concentrate faster than he could maneuver.”
“Good job, Horatio. As far as last year goes, you would have coped somehow. The casualty list would have been larger, but you would have prevailed in the end. The important thing is that they were stopped with as little damage to our people as possible. I will take the hits for breaking the Prosctiptions yet again. I know that you don’t like wearing your general’s hat, but sometimes we have to wear hats we don’t like. Look at it this way, I’m stuck here playing high elf lord. Let’s go to lunch.”
Galan came smiling into Narbeth’s office. “One of the Darkmages armies is missing.”
“What happened?”
“I don’t have the details as yet, but a large army came down the Grimfrost road, marched across House Qinvaris property toward Sataesi and the Qinvaris militia destroyed it without any difficulty. General Grevaris was there with troops in support, but they were not necessary. The whole thing was over very quickly, apparently.”
“So one headache less for us and another failure for the Darkmage. He must be badly disappointed by his armies.”
The major found Stormfire and said, “That ended poorly.”
“Where have you been?”
“With our army. The army your father arranged no support for and ordered right into the Qinvaris and a trap. At least I had a chance to see what would have happened to us if we had actually marched up into Lord Qinvaris’s territory.”
“Those marines?”
“I suspect that was a bit of a red herring spread by Lord Qinvaris. It turns out that the Qinvaris militia is well equipped, trained and led. We speculated what kind of army Lord Qinvaris had. He probably didn’t have machine guns last year, but he wouldn’t have needed them. The poor guy your father had as his general had never been in combat, played war games and Richard’s general walked all over him.”
“That sounds like me last year.”
“You pulled back. This character felt that it was his duty to go forward after the other general gave him the chance to surrender and both he and I made it clear that he was at the bottom of a bag of crap and that your father put him there.”
“Were Lord Qinvaris’s casualties heavy?”
“I doubt that the army lost more then ten killed and probably about the same number wounded. Most of that was probably from the typical screwups and mistakes and not from enemy fire.”
“Now we have to decide how to tell father about this.”
“We’ve done our part. Between your brother and your father, the whole thing has become a mess, mostly because they didn’t tell us little details like the fact that they launched the Blight or had secret armies sweeping down from the north and sent right to Lord Qinvaris so that he could give his militia training with live targets, to say nothing of the odd random murder of connected high elves.”
“We can’t talk to father like that.”
“I know, but we probably should.”
House Yllanan.
Lazuli smiled at the guests “It was nice that you and Alissa could join with us for dinner, this evening, Justiciar. I see that you brought your troublemakers as well. Where have they been as of late?”
“I sent them down to the Republic to talk to some people. I can’t talk about what, because it is an open case. On the other hand they did discover some things that I thought would interest Lord Yllanan about a certain little boys club.”
“What was that?” Esgalwathanar asked.
“Without actually talking with the Great Captain, It is hard to be certain, but there were a string of convenient deaths by angry seafolk attacking Ravathrya ships that they knew were coming and some High elves died as a result of acquiring addictions to Clear. I need to talk to Eithriel and see what she knows, but the members of that little club had a habit of catching cases of the dead.”
“That explains some things,” Esgalwathanar said. “When the fae returned to my House, only Sollor Richflight acted. Of course he was doing that for his own reasons, but the club should have been watching me and it never appeared.”
“Vullas Richflight was dead after going after Donia d’Dolmon, and some of the others had similar habits as the departed Mirthal. I was hoping to get that list of the clubmembers that you have before I have a chat with Paeris Zylvyre.”
“Do you think that you can arrange that?”
“Probably. After all, I can tell him about my nephew, the Paeris Zylvyre expert and some other stories that I am sure that Paeris would like to know.”
“Wouldn’t you have to arrest him?” Teiran asked.
“That depends on the circumstances. I can’t do that in the palace during the Conclave and I don’t have a writ against him in the Empty lands and the Marshalls have not requested that I do so. Since I am asking him questions relating to active cases, arresting him without a specific writ that obligates me to do so would not be in my best interest. While arresting him would please some people, it would make my job more difficult. In any case, I doubt that the Great Captain would talk to me under those circumstances. I can always use the barristers as a club if I need to.”

“They do scare the Great Captain more than somewhat.”
“I can get you that list,” Lavidia said. “I will send it to your office in the morning.”
“I understand that you had an encounter with the former Imperial Mistress,” Esgalwathanar said. “She must have wanted you for something.”
“That was a bit of a surprise. I can’t really say what she wanted, since she wanted the matter kept discreet.”
“At a guess, it involved something with Shaerra.”
“I can’t really say. Alissa actually knows the lady quite well, which was interesting. She actually teaches at the school. She knew me fairly well, but I never connected the rather strumpy elf lady teacher with the Imperial Mistress until Alissa mentioned it.”
“You did ask, Gander,” Alissa said. “If you had been paying closer attention, you would have known immediately since she used her name as a teacher. That explains why the kids like her history classes because they seem so real. Of course the school has been a bit empty lately with so many of the kids taken elsewhere.”
“I wonder if that is why she sought me out. In any case, I set Naexi and Tom here to talking with her at length.”
“What do you think that the Darkmage is going to do, now that he lost another army,” Lazuli asked. “We fae are getting rather annoyed at him.”
“I think he is waiting for something. Just before they kicked things off, he was digging around in the Empty lands for things. Then the Blight was launched, the suppressor was started, they messed up the portals and took over the palace. I think that the Darkmage thought that having the Emperor as a hostage and control of the palace would force people to bow down to him as absolute ruler. He didn’t understand that the Empire is governed by consent. Perhaps not the consent of the slaves, though some slaves have more influence than one would expect, but by general consent of the elf lords who work through the general consent of their people. The government is actually a very small thing compared even to the Fellowship or the Republic, but I don’t think that the Darkmage understood that. As to what he is going to do? He is looking for the kind of control that he thinks exists and is rather frustrated that he does not have it.”
“The old Darkmage used mass compulsions,” Lavidia said. “We don’t know how those worked.”
“That may be what he is waiting for. The problem is that too many people are immune to them and it’s the Darkmage’s own fault.”
“How so?” Teiran asked.
“If somebody is compelled too many times or compelled with strong compulsions, they stop working. Too many people were brought over from the Republic and the other Blasted Lands, and like I was, compelled to be easier to handle on the ship where a slave mutiny would be a rather bad thing even if it were put down. The compulsions wore out or were removed, so trying to place new ones is difficult for even the most skilled mage.”
“That will not be everybody.”
“More than you might think where it matters. The Lower City, for instance, the Guard and the Justiciars, and the army all have people in them that are, for one reason or another, immune to compulsions. In the guard and army’s case, even the officers get compulsion training and have them removed, basically for that reason. The Justiciar’s personnel have as well. The most vulnerable groups are the high elves, at least some of them. The families most heavily in business have the children compelled and then remove them because a compelled family member could be a disaster. Some families also remember the mage war and the Blight. The only thing we can do is be ready.”
Zirgoccol.
Dan looked at Wiz and said, “You don’t look like an addict. How did you lose the need for Clear?”
“You checked me out, obviously. I bonded with a dancer with a tail, certain things went away and my life went in a different direction.”
“To the Great Captain? I would worry about my wife in such circumstances.”
“The Great Captain makes sure that I take care of my wife. Since he lost his own bonded, he is very concerned about that with all his seafolk.”
“The good news is my father has given the ok for our arrangement. The grain will be provided at the market price. How does the Great Captain plan to pay for it?”
“A draft against Axebrew.”
“Now, how is that going to work” I doubt that the Axebrews would draw on their reserves.”
“This will be from Ravathrya accounts there. The Great Captain discovered them.”
“If Rolin and Erlan did not know of them, then they are the Darkmage’s accounts.”
Wiz grinned. “They were under the Ravathrya seal and the Great Captain, as his father’s heir, has the right to access the accounts.”
“How do you want to make the grain transfer?”
“We have barges. The Great Captain wants to use a Fellowship port.”
“Not the Hidden City?”
“That might cause difficulties. The Great Captain is suggesting that the unloading occur at Kugrim since House Qinvaris has been operating ships there in any case.”
“The Great Captain is well informed.”
“That is his business. I have other things to arrange to be picked up there in any case.”
“We could make the transfer at the Retreat.”
“The Great Captain wants to make the transfer away from the eyes of certain idiots who may start asking inconvenient questions of they saw a Qinvaris ship unloading grain.”
“Good point. Why don’t I get my people in here and work out the details. When do you want to hand over the copies?”
“That we can handle now. I have them in a truck with me. It will make a delivery to your facilty at the university when I place a call. I must say that most people wait to graduate before buying their schools buildings.”
“We needed when the idiots launched the Blight. We had to set up some experiments and other things, as well as collecting statistics and the building was there, so the Beinans bought it as part of their contract.”
“That makes things clear. This was part of a large contract for my old employers.”
“Yes it was. I heard that you went to them for something.”
“It should be delivered soon. The Great Captain had a Beinan made of Captain Pinch’s wife for a belated wedding present because he holds Captain Pinch in rather high regard.”
“That was making a statement. It doesn’t surprise me after talking to the Great Captain’s mother. The old admiral had very few friends and compared to him the other brothers are choir boys.”
“I wouldn’t know, as I did not live in the Empire or the Republic. Why don’t I make my call and get the paper on the way?”
“What about the slaves?”
“We will have to work it out a bit discreetly. I think that we can take advantage of the Darkmage’s greed and the things that he was digging up to accomplish that. The Darkmage has some files in the Fortress that I managed to copy as well. His granddaughters suggested that the Beinans might want the files and to dig up the things.”
Dan laughed. “They did? How did that happen?”
“The Great Captain started to take the girls seriously and the family didn’t. So they were willing to share some things. The girls feel rather caged and know that there is something very wrong with the rest of the family. The Great Captain has offered them some alternatives and they responded. They are actually very good assistants and I am tempted to see if I can arrange for my former employers to grab them.”
“Should I say something to Rebecca?”
“I don’t know who she is. If she is related to the Beinans, yes.”
“She is Lady Beinan. When you worked for the Beinans, she and Lord Beinan were keeping a low profile.”
“Hand me the phone.”
Wiz dialed and said, “Make the delivery. The deal is done.”
He hung the phone back up and said, “Done.”
“You and the Great Captain were amazingly easy to deal with.”
“I don’t think that the Great Captain has very many illusions at this point. So he does the best that he can.”
“What does he want?”
“I don’t know and as crazy as it sounds, neither does he. He can’t seem to just leave his crazy family to the end they deserve and go on his own and knows that what his crazy family wants is crazy. Even if they get what they want, the whole thing is crazy. I need to go before I pick up a tail.”
Wiz left and Dan started to write a report for his father. This had been an interesting meeting.
The Retreat.
Paeris looked at the apparent merchant from the Mortal Kingdoms and said, “That is an interesting persona, Justiciar.”
“I thought it better than flaunting what I was. I started when I was looking into the darkmages in the Mortal kingdoms and trader Dawkins fits right in with some of the rest of my family.”
“So all of you are not police officers or spies?”
“By no means, my grandmother notwithstanding. My father, for instance, is in business, as is my brother. My sister is married to a navy officer, but that is not so unusual.”
“So why did you arrange this meeting, something that must not have been easy.”
Gander handed Paeris a sheet of paper. “Some friends of yours came to bad ends.”
Paeris looked at the paper and said, “Yes they did. Would you be too bothered if I said that they deserved it?”
“Did you assist in them coming to their bad ends?”
“Let’s just say that I pointed out potential customers to some people and told my bonded about some bad people heading her family’s way. Why are you bringing these old things up?”
“I have been tasked by the prince, now the emperor to look into the demise of one Mirthal Vamys. He was a member of that little club.”
“That is not a surprise.”
“You don’t seem to have been as involved as some people thought you were?”
“I was a member. My father encouraged it. Did I assist in the kidnapping of the fae girl? Yes I did. But I wasn’t stupid enough to touch a faery princess. I didn’t know what the idiots planned. I thought that they would embarrass the girl and let her go. Leave her out in the Imperial plaza nude or something. I didn’t know that she had bonded with Esgalwathanar. If I had, there would have been no way that I would have participated in something that he would have taken personally. You know by now how dangerous Esgalwathanar is with an elf slicer. Right now, I’m not sure why he didn’t come after us one by one and cut us to ribbons. It may have been that he was trapped in bond grief. I certainly know what that is like. The whole thing was a stupid and vicious mistake.”
“Who, other than Lielatha was involved?”
“I will leave that for you to discover. By now you know some of the other things circling the events. There was a lot of antifae sentiment going around at the time. You can guess who was instigating it and why.”
“The Empress and Maethanar. She was trying to prevent him from becoming Emperor and manipulating the Conclave to prevent that. Esgalwathanar bonding so publically with a faery princess would have messed that up somewhat.”
“Yes it would. So the family took steps. I was still very young at the time. The others tolerated me for my skills at fun and games. After the thing with Begonia the club was not fun anymore and I found my own amusements, mostly by hitting the road and finding the Empire that my cousins didn’t know existed.
That lasted until my father sent me to sea.”
“This has been very interesting. I haven’t held up my end of the deal.”
“Telling me about Sifren, you mean?”
“He was fairly sure that you did not know that he existed.”
“That would be rather stupid on my part as he has helped the Republic anticipate my actions somewhat. I obtained some of his reports and then did something else to throw him off.”
“He wants to know what you are planning.”
“You can tell him that I will hire him to do planning for me and then he would know, because right now, the missteps of my associates threw all my plans into the crapper.”
“The Blight getting loose and the Conclave.”
“Yes. I expected that the idiots would mess up the grain for the Retreat and that I would be able to pirate Richard’s ships as he made good his losses from the Blight. Instead Richard dealt with that, but there was that drought in the Republic, the Fellowship was touched by the Blight and hit a bit by the same drought, the Kingdom doesn’t have the vast spaces for grain and the Mortal Kingdoms were a disaster. Pirating any grain ships would be suicide. Then I robbed the banks of their ledgers so that uncle Erlan could use them for leverage and the Darkmage made all that irrelevant by murdering Kailu Sarceran and sending armies for Vesryn and Richard to play with. That, after Rolin and I have been telling the clowns for over a year that Richard and the rest were dangerous.”
Gander laughed. “I see your point. I won’t tell the Barristers about your public service efforts involving the club.”
“They already know. They dug that up and trapped me with it the last time I checked in with Erlan looking for the plans to feed this place. They were wondering about Begonia and the rest and fairly sure that I had not been involved in the messy parts. That was just before I bonded in any case.”
“This was before your involvement, but would you know who would have been involved in making and selling Clear about the time that Theodamer died?”
“Now that is an interesting question from you. The problem with that, is as you well know, Clear can’t be made by elves because making the stuff would kill them. Since your first case ended with me receiving a chat with Lady Trislana, I am sure that you know the details of the business fairly well. Mortals have to make the stuff and that far back, they are all dead. If they shared blood, working with the stuff would be as toxic as it would be to me, something that you should be aware of. As for dealing, especially to a select clientele, ask Lady Trislana. Considering what it took to make the stuff and get even a tiny yield before I made some things available, the operation needed to make any of it was not small. Since we are talking about Shaerra, I would look at her long time associates. She would not want to let them slip and maybe spill something that would cause people to look into things long dead. I would talk with mother on your way back about some of the relationships and have somebody see who liked to bid on pillage from certain places. You can guess where as easily as I can.”
“I wondered why you kept raiding Racketgarde.”
“Otherwise known as Potsville? Where they make all that pipe, tube and glass for the milk industry and chemical places? Let’s just say that the raids were a bit of a sham, with a lot of noise, very few innocents or casualties and very few slaves, some of which were, like you, rather suspect. Things were purchased and delivered. Deals were made and if my father thought that I was raiding a place for loot, that was fine. As long as the books balanced, he didn’t look too deeply.”
“I wouldn’t say that too loud. Grandmother is rather annoyed that hints are going around that you work for her.”
“Now who is doing that?”
“I think that Lady Yllanan started it, but the Harpers are spreading it around. The whole thing with the supressors was a dastardly plot with the Darkmage set up to take the fall after the navy extracts some valuable possessions from the Fellowship.”
“What possessions?”
“Flinder’s Island.”
Paeris started to laugh. “The fertilizer pit? A rather elaborate plan for a pile of poo. I will keep that in mind. Maybe I will suggest the plan to my uncles as something that their enemies are doing. I have to say that the opportunity to work for your grandmother never arose. If it had, it would have been a lot of fun and my life would not have gone the way it did.”
“What are you going to do about this place?”
“I think that I will leave that for you to discover. I need to keep your nephew occupied somehow and if I just tell you, he won’t have to work very hard.”
“I could have grandmother send him.”
“Again, I could probably use him and one more spy here wouldn’t make any difference. I think that I have given you what you came for.This has been an enlightening conversation, Justiciar.”
“Yes it has and thank you for your time.”
“Better you than Byddri. He knows me too well.”
Gander laughed as the Great Captain left.
The Road To Grimfrost.
Rabbitchaser looked at the major of dragoons in front of him and said, “Major Hergella, it is good to see you and your people.”
Ivarin Hergella grinned. “I understand that you have some idiots blocking this road.”
“Yes. Of course the problem was their friends on the other end.”
“They have been dealt with and House Helehorn has another winter caravan started already, so these people need to be moved off the road. My orders are to try to do that peacefully, but to do it fast so that the sheep can go south.”
“How are you going to get them to go peacefully?”
The major held up a packet. “This might be a persuasive argument. I think that my company will go in now.”
“Watch out for the monsters under glamor.”
“I know. If they are smart, they won’t try that. If they do, my people have some nice little booms to bring them out.”
Horsecaptain Belanor Iliwynn had thought he was used to the cold. What he had not counted on was the endless exposure and the boredom. So far nothing had tried to come down the road until now, when he could hear the jingling of horse harnesses approaching. He waved to his men to prepare to mount up and to Nightfear to prepare to go under glamor as what appeared to be a small troop of cavalry appeared and stopped. A voice called out, “I WANT TO SPEAK TO THE OFFICER IN CHARGE!”
The Horsecaptain replied, “I AM IN CHARGE!”
“MAY I APPROACH, ALONE?”
“VERY WELL!”
The apparent leader approached as his men drew strange weapons. The man stopped his horse and said, “Major Hergella, dragoons, House Glynynore. You are?”
“Horsecaptain Iliwynn. Why are you here, Major?”
“To clear you off this road, peacefully, I hope. There are people needing the road.”
“I am afraid that I can’t do that.”
“You are covering for the army that went down the road. I’m afraid that that is pointless.”
“Why?”
The major pulled a packet out and flung it open. It was the army’s banner. “The army no longer exists. It was destroyed by the Qinvaris militia.”
The Horsecaptain felt a chill down his back. “So what do you want of me?”
“You could go back up that road you came down and go home. You could surrender to my people or you can stay here. If you stay here I will be forced to remove you. That will not be pleasant.”
“You seem confident that you can do that?”
“Horsecaptain, your people have been watched here for a five day by people that you never even saw. They could have dealt with you at any time and the only reason they didn’t was the fact that there was an army on the other end of the road, so taking you out was pointless. The army is gone, the weather won’t wait and the sheep need to go down this road and the caravan up, so you need to go one way or another. Now don’t be stupid and make my job harder. I don’t want to have to kill somebody for taking orders from an idiot who is already out of the picture. I will give you a twentieth to break camp. If you are not gone or your hands in the air by then, I will engage and you will be in for a bad time.”
The major returned to his troop, leaving the banner on the ground. Horse lieutenant Arathorn Wynnala rode up, looked at the banner and said, “What did he want?”
“Us, off the road.”
“Why is that here?”
“The army was destroyed, apparently by the Qinvaris.”
“What should we do?”
“We have had no word or relief, these soldiers must have used the portal that was supposed to be closed down or they would have been here sooner if they had been in Grimfrost. I want to find out what happened. I will talk some more to the major while you break camp and start for home. At the very least we can tell the Sanctuary that the army is gone and that the Sanctuary will be getting visitors.”
“Why would they come?”
“The Sanctuary sent two armies. I suspect that the other side will want to know where they came from and why.”
The lieutenant started to give the orders to break camp as the Horsecaptain rode over to where the major stood with his troop. “We are leaving. Would you have some proof that I can show our leaders?”
The major pulled out a crystal. “Here. This has all the crystals from the action. Tell your leaders that they can expect a delegation to negotiate the return of the survivors and compensation for my House and House Qinvaris. Thank you for making my job easier.”
“I had very few good choices and even if we had won today, your House would have sent more troops to clear the road.”
“Yes we would. You are wise to understand that.”
The Zylvyre Estate, Lady Amarille’s Home.
Amarille grinned. “So what brings you to me today, Justiciar? The Conclave will be rather annoyed at you.”
“Not really. There is an ongoing debate about the sewers in the Lower City today and nobody is voting. Since my vote is already decided, the debate is irrelevant for me.”
“Why have you made your decision?”
“I live in the Lower City. My nose is hardly an uninterested party.”
Amarille laughed. “I see. So why did you come to me?”
“Your son suggested that I pay you a visit and discuss the Dowager Empress’s long term social contacts.”
You want to know about Shaerra’s contacts? What are you looking for? That is, other than her friends in House Ravathyra, something that I am sure that you are aware of.”
“I’m looking for contacts that she maintains for certain exchanges where she extends royal protection and they provide things for her that are legally or socially dubious.”
“Bedwarmers, for instance?”
“I hadn’t thought about that. I was thinking about intoxicating substances. Does she, for instance make such things available at parties.”
“I’m not sure if I should say too much about the dowager empress. She is after all, very powerful socially and with my House newly reconstituted, we need to watch our steps. What I can say was that while my husband was, as one of his few virtues, rather strong about such things, I had to know how to provide or deal with certain things. Sometimes it was essential for a small House to have those little extras. I can give you a list of people that I might have gone to back in the day. I imagine that Shaerra would go to the same people for things.”
“Who would you go to for clean up to avoid a scandal?”
Amarille started to write down a list. “I will include who to go to for what on this list. Can you tell me more? Why are you doing this anyway?”
“It is a bit of an insurance policy that I have been ordered to construct in case it is needed. You probably know some of the things going on in the Conclave.”
“I see. So this is something that Narbeth wanted, in case his mother increases the pressure on him. There must be an actual crime involved, fairly serious and a long time ago.”
Amarille handed him the list and Gander looked at it. “House Trahorn?”
“Why is that significant?”
“House Trahorn has a winery on the property that was involved in the Blight and the distribtution of the bolts. At the time, we left it unmolested because the bolts were already gone and House Qinvaris and us were tracking them down. Maybe the winery bears further investigation. Thank you, milady.”
Grimfrost.
Shael Biqen was moping again. Things had settled back to normal, with the mysterious army and the airplane gone. The portal was working again and a smattering of elves came up for the skiing and hunting. Snowball had been busy with things and hadn’t even annoyed her. Even worse, Shael’s parents had come up, taken Shael’s portal key and told Snowball to take it and not let Shael back to the House under any circumstances. When Shael had asked why, Shael’s mother had said that with the Darkmage looking for hostages, Shael could not be in a position to become one. So Shael was stuck. She was sitting and reading the dull old books in the library when Snowball stood in the door and said, “Look what I found.”
He stood aside and there was Jorge. After a flustered moment Shael said, “Jorge, it is good to see you back. Why are you here?”
“I wanted to talk to Snowball and his sister about the gag we were thinking of. I still think that we should use a real bear.”
“Snuggles has an Iron Collar, Jorge. I told you about that,” Snowball said.
“I still think that it is dangerous.”
“How are you going to get Snuggles out of the palace, if she goes?” Shael asked.
“That’s settled. I had that settled even before I set up the airplane,” Jorge said. “It pays to have friends who work in the palace and other friends who are royal fae that go to the palace all the time. There’s a little door next to the park and a temporary portal in the park that goes to the Qinvaris market. Snowball, does your sister like to shop?”
“What do you think?”
“She likes going to the city and startling people,” Shael said. “She likes to shop.”
“Ok, I want the four of us to go shopping at the Qinvaris market.”
“That sounds like a wonderful idea, but fuzzball took my portal key. My parents insisted.”
“Your parents have a Seat, don’t they?”
“Yes, why?”
Jorge frowned. “Then they did the right thing. The Darkmage hasn’t set his things on Seats’ Houses yet, except for House Sarceran. He probably will, if things keep going the way they are. He also likes to take kids and have hostages.”
“Mother didn’t explain.”
“Your parents are under a lot of strain right now. The Conclave is a mess and you know about the army that was out there.”
“What have you been doing?”
“Being an idiot and being beaten up by a crazy man.”
“What do you mean?”
“That stunt where I restored the portal? I learned to jump out of airplanes to do that. Well my bosses, Adiun and Mage Wyrran wanted me to jump out of an airplane and restore another portal, which I did. Then they had me do some others, right in the Darkmage’s territory. Then the flight instructor insisted that I go through his program and start to learn to fly airplanes. Adiun and Mage Wyrran insisted too and I was stuck getting bruises from sadistic kid dragons.”
Shael laughed. “How did you do?”
“I was adequate. I’m off the hook, since I don’t have a girlfriend yet.
At least I wasn’t the only Portal Service guy in the program.”
“How did you get time to be here?”
“I have a break and they are short of airplanes right now. We are all going to the Fellowship and the training field at Fayspire where the Fellowship teaches military pilots. The Portal Service has an agreement with them somehow. Why don’t we all get together and get going. We can meet Peri, Dessielle and Kevnik at the market.”
“I will get my sister,” Snowball said.
Shael put on a coat that was a bit old and she and Jorge went to the portal. The bears joined them and Snowball said, “This is my sister, Snuggles.”
Jorge looked at her and said, “I can see why.”
“I make cold nights warm,” Snuggles said with a giggle. “I also have fun with that. Mother doesn’t approve very much, but I figure that I can have fun while looking for the one I really want.”
“Are you sure that you want to do what we are planning?”
“I can be scary when I want to be, this Darkmage sent that army and messed up the caravan, a caravan that I had things on and it will be fun. Shael knows that it is hardly the first time that I have done something like that.”
“Ok, let’s meet up with the others.”
Jorge activated the portal.
House Trislana.
Gander was escorted into the parlor where Eithriel looked as if she had spent the day in the parlor rather than what was probably a tiring day in the Conclave. Eithriel looked across her nose at him and said, “You played hookey today. You should have been there for the important debate.”
“I know how I am going to vote. The sewers need to be repaired and upgraded or there will be problems. For my nose at least.”
Eithriel laughed. “You are forgiven. What were you doing all day?”
“Having an interesting discussion with Great Captain Zylvyre and then with his mother. The Great Captain said that I should talk with you about who deals in the thing that I had in my first case with you. His mother gave me a list but wouldn’t make any connections to the Dowager Empress for obvious reasons.”
“She was concerned about offending Shaerra since her house has just been reconstituted. She was probably more anxious than she really needs to be if the status quo continues, since House Zylvyre is close friends with House Qinvaris and House Shahana as well as having a potential relationship with you.”
“I am not exactly a power in the Empire.”
“No, but you do have extensive connections outside the Empire and the ear of the Emperor. That is not somebody anybody would take lightly. So, what did your adventures reveal?”
“That is sort of interesting. You remember that winery on House Trahorn’s estate?”
“The winery that was probably related to the Blight, but we couldn’t prove that House Trahorn was involved, so we couldn’t serve any writs against the House?”
“Yes. That place became a deal with later project in the rush to clean up the main Brotherhood and the rest of it, along with dealing with the Blight itself and the other things that were going on. On the other hand, House Trahorn showed up on Amarille’s list and with some things that Paeris said, things clicked. Paeris conducted raids repeatedly on a small city in the Republic called Racketgarde, which made no sense to my nephew, especially as the police there and everybody else there didn’t seem to be too worried about it. The interesting thing was that Racketgarde was the gateway for the slaves that my grandmother and others, Sal Lion, for instance, used to send people off to the Empire, simply because the raids were so predictable and essentially bloodless. It turns out that the raids were pick ups by Paeris of parts for his side business as well as the few odd things to keep his dad happy. Racketgarde’s specialty is making equipment for the chemical, dairy and drug industry.”
“I see. You pointed out that some things had come from the Republic in your first case and I had my little chat with Paeris about providing assistance to the kind of people that make Clear. What makes you think that the winery may be involved?”
“Paeris said that an elf, fae, or for that matter, somebody who shares blood, can’t make Clear because of the mana burnout which will kill them. I don’t know how that would affect somebody of high potential like the Brothers, but I remembered the glass foundry at their monastery, how shielded the winery was and Moonflower commenting that her father had been trying to get into the place for years, long before the latest Blight was launched. Paeris also mentioned that the operations that made Clear were fairly large. The winery is large, well shielded against fae poking in, and run by people with connections to the Darkmage and living here in the empire, which as far as the wine is concerned is a liability and not an advantage.”
“You want to know how close the Trahorns are to Shaerra?”
“Yes.”
“The current Lord and his wife have no connection whatsoever. Rilitar Trahorn has never cultivated a relationship with the Dowager Empress or some others in the Imperial family. I believe that you have met their younger son, who lives on the Estate, or did, up until recently.”
“He is going into the woods next door. A faery has grabbed him already. His mother approves.”
“Now Rilitar’s parents were a different story. They were close to the Dowager Empress, until Esthana Trahorn died of a very sharp Clear addiction. Wydorr Trahorn committed suicide shortly afterwards. This was just after Theodamar’s death.”
“That is very interesting.”
The Qinvaris Market.
Jorge exited the portal with the others into the crowds. Snuggles sniffed and said, “Jorge, make sure that you give me the portal code. I will be back, frequently. My purse is going to hate me, but the House is going to love me.”
Peri spotted them and came over with Dessielle, Kevnik, Tarranth and Renna. Jorg said, “Hi Peri, you brought Tarranth?”
“Renna spotted Dessielle.”
Jorge turned to Shael and said, “Shael, this is Periwinkle Yllanan, Dessielle Beinan, Tarranth Qinvaris, Renna Shahana and Kevnik Yllaro. Guys this is Shael Biqen, Snowball and Snuggles. Shael, Peri works with me in the Portal Service when he isn’t stealing libraries, Dessielle works in the Lower City library when it is open, Kevnik and I grew up next door to each other and he works in the palace. Tarranth gets to scare banks silly and I’m not sure what crazy thing that Renna does, other than arranging for Tarranth to scare banks silly when he needs to cash a check.”
“Do you steal libraries, Peri,” Shael said.
“It was only one and I was manipulated by devious Inquisitors and my relatives. They kept telling me how hard it was to crack and running books in front of me to tag so that I could trace the books through the portal. Then Tarranth borrowed one of his harvest crews and we drove the books away while the head of the Inqusition watched us do it and laughed at us. He wanted somebody to make off with the Inquisition’s library. Of course I had to get my crazy relatives involved and they made the thing bigger by bringing in a movie shoot, Byddri and his sister and a Ravathryra pirate ship to blow up on camera. If I had actually gotten away with anything, it would have been a triumph, but when I was a patsy for the likes of Delion, I sort of fell flat on my face.”
“You were a patsy for Delion?” Jorge asked. “He’s the biggest clown out there.”
“It’s an act. Tarranth and I were invited to lunch by Delion, who was driving a GP, we sat down and Delion admitted that he had been faking all of it to make sure that certain books were not destroyed. He wanted me to tag all those copies of History of the Empire that he was buying. I walked right into that.”
As the shopping started, at first people were startled by Snuggles until it was obvious that not only could she talk, she was an expert cook who knew what she was talking about. Jorge turned to Shael and said, “You didn’t tell me that she was your House’s cook.”
“You haven’t been by to eat. She’s amazing, isn’t she?”
Renna had a grin and said, “After you do your gag, why don’t we set her up at the Carnival for a dinner.”
“What is the Carnival?”
“Tarranth’s mom set it up to harasss the Darkmage. We have taken over the Imperial Park which is right under the quarters he took from the old Emperor. A bunch of Houses have joined together to come up with things to make the Darkmage’s life interesting.”
“Mother would have a fit if I were near the palace. She took my portal key away so that I wouldn’t go to the city.”
“We are under the same sort of restrictions, pretty much. I think that dad and Lord Qinvaris are going to insist that we head back to the Republic soon. Everybody is sure that the Darkmage is waiting for something and that the something is bad. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have fun while we can. After you port Snuggles in, maybe we can port a wagonload of snow in. On top of the bed.”
“That sounds like a wonderful idea.”
The Salt Flats.
When Saevel had seen the motorbikes that some kids had on a trip to Fayspire, he wanted one. With his deputy money and the money he got from Adiun and Rebecca, he could afford one, so he had one delivered to Innshys and away he went puttering all over the place with fox Bellflower riding with him. They were riding past yet another old ruin when he stopped and said, “Does this look familiar, Bellflower?”
“It’s like the Sanctum, isn’t it.”
“It’s also pulling at me. The Sanctum didn’t do that to me.”
“Sudyral wasn’t around that long, but mom said that the well did the same thing to him when the mages were drawing from it. He stopped that. Maybe you can stop this.”
Saevel reached out with his senses and could feel the open door and the five strands draining away. He tried to close the door and it closed, stopping the draining of the mana. He thought about it and twisted the door, locking it.
“That stopped it. I don’t think that any mages were tapping into this. It felt like machines. Let’s go.”
They rode off on down the road.

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