The Darkmage Conquers, Chapter 17.

Zanis is sent on a mission.

Chapter 17.
The Imperial Palace.
Herdir found Zanis and said, “We have a problem.”
“What is it now?”
“Somebody locked the source.”
“I have been here and frankly, so has my son. So we could not have done it and Onvyr has not been told about the source, let alone where it is. He had to be close so that you could tap into it as it was already opened by my father. But you have to be physically there to close it again or open it.”
“I know. Could your heir have gone there?”
“I doubt it. He is still only fourteen and that is quite a distance even from Innshys, that is if he even goes there. The problem is that if I start to ask questions about Saevel, Onvyr will make sure that he stays at the Sanctum.”
“The boy’s name is Saevel?”
“Why?”
“Well, just before we came here, I had a fae messenger named Saevel. He said that his grandfather was at the Camp.”
Zanis started to laugh. “Saevel has almost certainly been tested, Lielatha complained to me that he was seeing a fae girl and who knows what he has been up to. It would be very much like him to infiltrate the Camp and since he is diligent when he has a task, he would make a good messenger. Of course that meant that your messages would no longer be private.”
“I doubt that they were anyway. You and Rolin kept telling me that the Camp had been infiltrated. If you are correct, Saevel could have closed the source. I think that you must go down there.”
“I will need to take a fairly heavy guard or you will lose my services. Justiciar Dawkins has put my name on the wall.”
“Is that what he was doing with that writ? I thought it was a date with his executioner.”
“I doubt that he has one. On the other hand, the writ means that if I am not on Ravathrya property or here, I am free to take and be turned over to the Grand Master for a one way trip to the Sanctum or Dolmon.”
“We could look for the boy.”
“Where? If he was still at the Camp, it would be one thing. But he could be with Amarille, up at the Sanctum or places we don’t even know. Then if we do take him, we will have to somehow conceal that fact from his parents or we will be in very deep trouble, that is if the boy doesn’t escape.”
“He will not be able to Jump.”
“He may be able to do other things. He was able to be right in the Camp and I didn’t sense him at all. Both his parents are very strong mages. I doubt that he is weak. I will see what I can do down on the salt flats. It may take a while.”
Richard approached the rather unhappy group of Seats and said, “Hello milords.”
“What do you want, slave?!”
“Lord Nerihorn, that is an interesting question. If I were Erlan, your votes. Since he doesn’t have those, that is fine with me. As for what I want, a functional business environment is better for my interests. I made a rather unorthodox sale of some grain recently and as part of the arrangements, some things were passed to me. They belong to you all and I want to return them.”
“What?”
“Come to my House for a quiet dinner after the Conclave and see.”
Richard hands out some papers. “This is a sample. I will hand the rest over this evening.”
Lord Nerihorn looked at Richard and snapped, “What are you asking for these?”
“Only your discretion as to where they came from. As I said, a healthy Exchange Street helps me. A broken one helps those who want to take advantage.”
“You arranged to steal these.”
“Actually, I didn’t. I didn’t have anything to do with it. You may get offers for the original ledgers and that will tell you who did. I was just handed these copies as part of rather unorthodox sale of some grain because some people were concerned about people that they were responsible for and wanted to make sure that they didn’t starve. As I said, having you all out of business does not help me and hurts your customers, some of whom are my customers and friends. Good day, gentlemen. Rosa and I will see you this evening.”
As Richard walked away, Versyn caught up with him and said, “You just put Filverel in a spot, you know. He either spills everything to Erlan and risks that he annoys you enough that you don’t turn over the ledger or gets spotted going to dinner with you and annoying Erlan.”
“I sort of figured that. I don’t really care if he spills to Erlan. In fact, if he does, that puts Erlan in a spot. Does he go after Paeris for making the copies or me for selling grain to Paeris for the people he is responsible for? Frankly, Erlan should have been looking to make some sort of deal with me. He could offer me Durlan and his clowns, for instance.”
Vesryn laughed. “Do we want them?”
“I’m sure the Tony could find something amusing to happen to them. Hand them to the culls, for instance.”
“The girls?”
“Yes. For some reason they seem to be put out that Durlan just treated them like meat to be sold.”
“I can’t figure that out.”
“Neither can I.”
Gander looked at the five in front of him and grinned. Siora Trislana was going in as the high elf girl more than a bit wild. Rainlilly was her maid and Greg her bedwarmer. Jonny was her rather disreputable majer domo who was robbing his lady blind. Eddie was Jonny’s rather sticky fingered assistant. The Lady Trislana’s coach was going to have an accident near House Trahorn and break an axle. Some House Trislana guards and servants would round out the tableau. Eithriel joined them and said, “If this is good enough, get crystals of everything.”
Siora grinned. “Why mother?”
“We can use it to write up a movie script and send it to Mrs. Pinch’s friends.”
“Mother, should we be doing that?”
“Why not? There is a market for high elf comedy and since we live it, we can sell that. We just file the names off and we’re fine.”
“All right, mother.”
Gander laughed. “How did that happen?”
“During a movie at the Hidden City,” Siora said. “Mother went down there for a case, some shopping and went to the movie. Somehow, she ran into Sarah Pinch and Mrs. Pinch mentioned that High Elf comedy sells in the Blasted Lands.So mother saw an opportunity to make some money from all those things she puts up with. The Lower City moral crusade sold right off the bat. That was the first one.”
Gander laughed. “That is one way to use the reports.”
“That would be ok, but I had to go to one of Lady Zylvyre’s things with mother so that I could get pictures of that monster doll’s house she had. Mother wrote up a script about her and sent it with the pictures.”
Eithriel laughed and said, “It was for a good cause.”
“I know. The sacrifices I make.”
Kugrim.
If the lieutenant hadn’t seen the ship unloading to the barges, he wouldn’t have believed it. But there she was, Qinvaris ship Phyrra Petrie unloading part of her cargo of grain into barges that the lieutenant was sure belonged to Paeris Zylvyre. The modified Ravathyra raiders were being loaded directly from the Phyrra Petrie. There was a tug waiting to take the barges back to the Retreat. The interesting thing was that, in addition to the grain, the barges were carrying some other purchases for the Great Captain, including a dismantled shipyard crane. The tow would also include the fuel barge that Paeris had ordered. The sergeant came over and said, “If I wasn’t seeing this, I wouldn’t believe it.”
“It’s sneaky, actually. We could have created an accident with the stuff and not raised that much fuss, but with the grain, we’re suddenly starving kids.”
“I wonder what the Great Captain paid Lord Qinvaris so that he would do this?”
“Are you asking me to give you more work, sergeant?”
“No sir. Just musing. Frankly both of those characters will keep their mouths shut about the deal.”
“I know. That’s a shame, because I bet that whatever it was, was fairly interesting.”
The pair watched the unloading go on.
The Lower City.
Artamo looked at the modest house and said to Moonflower, “This is a surprise. I would have expected some thing much larger.”
Gander came out and said, “You found us. Traelion and Axilya Wysalynn, my in laws, are here already with Robin and Calladia. Come inside and get out of the cold.”
Artamo said, “I am surprised that you do not have a House.”
“I had to live on my Justiciar’s adjunct salary after Alissa and I were married, Traelion was stretched and this place was big enough.”
A gaggle of kids joined them and Gander said, “This is my oldest Myrdin, his girl, Maylin and Sarya, Traelion and Avishera. Maylin is serving us chicken that she says is magic this evening.”
“I think that you have been talking to Gwynnestri, haven’t you, Maylin?” Moonflower said.
“Yes I have. The chicken works well up there in the Sanctum when we are going to be cold, though I suspect a bunch of us are going to go to Innshys and sneak into the Fellowship when it gets too cold.”
“Were you one of the girls that was kidnapped?”
“My sister and I were part of that group. Durlan came and took the lot of us and put us in cages for dad, of all people, to “process.” We have some ideas to “process” the Darkmage.”
“Do tell.” A fae man said. “You must be my new boss, Artamo Cordier and his bonded Moonflower. I am Robin Goodfellow and this is my bonded, Calladia. Calladia, as you can see, is expecting.”
“I’m not sure how I became the new Ambassador,” Artamo said. “Actually, the transfer is not until the current thing is resolved.”
“I understand that you have been diligently working on it and have contacts with the Beinans and some others, including the Justiciars. How did you meet Gander, anyway?”
Art turned to Gander and said, “Do you want to tell him or should I?”
“You do it and I will add things as needed.”
Art told the story of how he was assigned to test the children, met Moonflower and saw the crystal of Zanis murdering the Faery Community. “After that, my life went sideways. I thought that I was bound for the priesthood. Moonflower and some others had other ideas.”
With that, he told the story of meeting Esgalwathanar and Lazuli, reporting into his Bishop, being told to go home and the impending attack. “What I didn’t know was that in adition to Esgalwathanar and Lazuli, the Grand Master himself had set Gander to work. I’m sitting there watching our Bailiff in case the Bishop militant’s men do something stupid, when suddenly there is Gander in full Justiciar glory, telling the idiots that they were all under arrest. Of course the idiots proved that they are idiots by opening fire and I got one shot with my crossbow off while Gander’s people, who the idiots missed completely, dealt with the rest.”
“How did you know that they were going to hit that village, Gander?”
“I knew because I had all the goods on the archbishop, the bishops that ran the presentation that the Art saw, and the bishop militant. I Jumped here, picked up our local landdragon in case any real darkmages showed up and set the idiots up. Moonflower makes it even better by going home and then to House Yllanan where they send her to the Portal service to have the Portal Service fae show up with their guns. The idiots would have been in enough trouble with my people. By the time they got themselves all out of the snowstorm that they had stuck themselves in they might as well have just turned themselves in and saved me some trouble.”
“Portal Service Fae?” Robin asked. “That sounds like fae working.”
“It is, but you will have to ask Adiun Beinan about that, which may be rather difficult as he is moving around and keeping himself hidden while the Portal Service fae are restoring every portal they can get to.”
“That explains how I was able to use the portals to return. Of course they couldn’t Jump.”
“Apparently they are using other means of transportation,” Art said. “There are bus routes and they have coopted other vehicles and drivers. The Beinans are very pleased with the results.”
“So the archbisop’s little scheme of mass murder was squelched. Why did they go after a fae village in the first place?”
“They were looking to discredit the Grand Master and thought of my village as full of the “pollution” as they called it. My village was, because it had fae and failed living in it, including my parents who were the fae kingdom’s gate keeper and lorekeeper. My sister and brother were both on their way into the woods and I was travelling until Moonflower caught me.”
“Tell us about Jimmy and Talissa,”Sarya said. “How did the princess meet Jimmy?”
“Jimmy went back with Gander to the palace and made the mistake of transforming as part of Gander’s report to King Aestaeros and the Grand master. After that, he was stuck and Talissa kept finding things that Jimmy just had to be there for so that he could watch the kids,” Art said. “I think that Talissa thought that Jimmy was the one who needed watching, especially if other girls were around. Of course she managed to get herself a landdragon a bit later.”
“That wasn’t a good thing in the Republic,” Robin said. “It is a good thing that the scourge is so deep there or girls would be trying to trip lost child effects and a good portion would succeed if there was any mana at all.”
Alissa called dinner and Calladia and Robin shared stories about the Republic until well into the evening.When it was time to go, Art asked Robin, “Where are you staying?”
“Traelion’s. He and Axilya are old friends and I do not want to be seen in the Cloud City at present. I think that I will look up Adiun Beinan as Calladia visits her family at the Yllanan estate and House Yllanan while Princess Lalayme visits Lavidia. Calladia has quite a pile of things to deliver discreetly to the princess. I am rather well known in the Cloud City, something that is a bit of a liability in my profession. As your spy, being well known is not an asset. As the man you rely on to measure the pulse of the Empire, being known is a necessity.”
“How do you and Calladia keep your jobs from conflicting?”
“That may become more difficult. Calladia will leave the Empire if the Darkmage should succeed in taking over, for the sake of our child. As far as conflict goes, I will give you accurate and complete information if I have it. So far, there has been little need to consider such things and I respect Lady Gwaerengwen too much to betray her confidences unless there were an overwhelming reason. Certainly the lady is a friend of the fae and always has been.”
Gander followed them out the door and said, “Robin, could I have you look into something for Art’s father in law?”
“What is it?”
“While you were busy with other things in the Republic, the Blight was launched here in the Empire. As part of that, there was a winery that is on House Trahorn’s property. I’ve sent some people to snoop around, but I was wondering if you would look into it as well. It involves some things you are fairly familiar with from your Marshall days. Poke around and see what you see. I will say that the people running the winery are fishy. Art knows why.”
“What can you give me for a quid pro quo?”
“When I have this wrapped up, you get the details. I can also give you some material on Paeris to tease Tomali with.”
“Gander, you know me too well. Have you been talking with your grandmother?”
Gander grinned, “I am a full Justiciar. I can’t reveal some things. I need to go to bed and be prepared for another day in the Conclave.”
Gander went inside and Robin asked Art, “So what is going on with that winery?”
“It has to do with the high potential children in the Mortal Kingdoms, what the Church in most of the Mortal Kingdoms did with the children they failed and an Order that the failed were sent to, where the Darkmage had duped the Order into launching the Blight at least four different times. The winery at the Trahorn’s is run by Brothers from that Order. Gander thinks that there may be more to it than being part of the Blight. He hasn’t told me the details, only that something fishy may be going on there, or may have gone on in the past.”
“I dare say that the cellars at the Embassy are very low and need attention. How can the new ambassadress entertain properly if the wines from her home kingdom are not in the cellar. I, as the fae in charge of the cellar, must rectify that at once.”
Art laughed. “That will work. I can even give you the Ambassadress’s assistant, Daylilly to assist. By the way, Moonflower’s father has been trying to get into the winery for years. Moonflower and I have a wedding coming up next green.”
“Then I really must attend to this. Good night.”
The Road North from Leandell.
Tarranth looked at the camp and grinned. So far, even without radio, things were going well. It didn’t hurt that the trail an army left was easy to follow and he had GPs and trucks for the exploring and the heavy lifting. That meant that he had to set up fuel stations, but that was nothing new. The depressing part was that the evidence that the land was hit heavily by the blight was still clear in ruined towns and stunted grass. There must have been a good mana source that had made the blight more virulent here, at least the first time it had struck. Tarrnath was looking at yet another stunted field, with no trees growing and the ruins of yet another village alongside the road. Aien joined Tarranth and said, “Another one. We missed this entirely when we were digging.”
“I don’t think that there was anything to miss and the Inquisition probably did their best to make sure that nobody had any records of this area. These people weren’t just hit once every fifty years. These people were struck several years in a row. The land here feels a lot like the Blasted Lands and the scourge, which may be why they did it. By the time it was done, there was nothing left and the region could not support itself. Get lots of pictures for dad. At least this explains why that army was so hungry by the time that it hit the Empire and why the other army went down the Grimfrost road.”
“The Grimfrost road doesn’t have anything to eat either.”
“No, but it is shorter and you reach the cultivated Empire sooner.”
“We should be reaching Victor’s people soon.”
“I need to head back down. I think that dad wants me and the girls heading back to the Republic.”
“Watch out for elk. There are some out there and they don’t understand GPs.”
“Will do.”
Prince Ralnor’s Estate.
Ralnor looked at his rather eclectic group of visitors and said, “So why did you all search me out?”
“We want to make the current resident of the Imperial Apartments crazy, or at least look crazy,” Shael said. “Lord Qinvaris suggested that we talk to you.”
“You are probably not talking about my half brother, so you must be talking about the Darkmage, who is apparently living in my father’s apartments.”
“Yes,” Jorge said. “I started things as a joke with Snuggles and Snowball here.”
“What did you do?”
“I turned the portal in Grimfrost into a one way portal and ported Snuggles in to keep the Darkmage company. He apparently didn’t want to get warm and comfortable, so he ran down the hall, screaming. Snuggles left out that little door and the Darkmage had a problem convincing anybody that there was a bear in the room.”
Ralnor laughed. “The palace is shielded. How did you get the portal to work?”
“The Portal Service boys have been sending things to make the Darkmage’s kids miserable for moons, including the Fortress. The shields at the palace have not been renewed for some time and they were not hard to crack.”
“If you have that solved, why come to me?”
“Lord Qinvaris suggested that you might have ideas on how to make the Dakrmage look crazy because of your father. We have some ideas already, but we want to have somebody with experience look them over before the Darkmage figures out what is going on.”
“Presumably you want to know what my father did and what might produce the same sorts of things in the Darkmage.” Ralnor grinned. “I promised my brother my full support and dealing with some pests comes under that. We can always tell Haramara about the shields later.”
The Lower City.
Lymseia Reymyar looked at the four seated at her table and grinned. “I expected you some time ago.”
“We did some poking around, first,” Tom said. “We wanted to see if a certain elf was still in the employ of a lady. He was. Since the lady has other tastes in bedwarmers, he is not in her employ for that. We also were sent to Astua to look into some things and we talked to Julien’s father.”
“Why the Mortal Kingdoms?”
“Because if you are making a certain thing, you want particular skills which cannot be obtained here in the Empire.”
“We were also had to oversee poking into those manifests from Paeris Zylvyre, Naexi said. “I’m still getting the dust out of my nose.”
“Paeris Zylvyre’s old manifests? Weren’t they destroyed?”
“No, they were not. The old House Ravathrya manager kept them and all sorts of other things. We didn’t have to do the digging ourselves, but we did have to make sure we obtained the correct documents.”
“Why did you want Paeris’s old manifests?”
“We wanted to know where certain things went. Paeris had his side business and there were some extras that some people would want to buy.”
“House Trahorn. Up until Esthana’s tragic death, the House had a side business as well.”
“Does the current Lord know about the side business?”
“I do not believe that he does.”
“Somebody was keeping it going, or was trying to. Paeris’s operation thwarted them because he could bring all the parts over and “capture” experts to build the facilities.”
“That is very interesting. How did you discover that?”
“We already knew about that part. Lady Trislana recruited Gander, who did what he does and broke the operation apart” Naexi said. “Lady Trislana sent a rather stiff note to the Great Captain saying that he should cease and desist and he did.”
“What happened to the experts?”
“They were emancipated by people from the Fellowship and went home. Strangely enough, when we checked, they were doing very well.”
“Are you checking House Trahorn out?”
“We may have some people looking into them, yes.”
“I must say that you are so much different than the Justiciars that I grew up with.”
“We were sent by our slave driver boss to the Republic recently,” Julien said. “Tom’s mother took us to see a certain movie. We do not want to be like those clowns under any circumstances.”
House Trahorn Estate.
Imra Yesxalim had never been so flustered in her very long career as the caretaker and manager of the House Trahorn Estate. The first arrival had been the rather wild youngling, Lady Trislana with her slave bedwarmer, a seeming mortal major domo that was determined to grab everything he could with the aid of his rather disreputable young trainee and the Lady’s fae maid. Hopefully the lady’s coach could be repaired or the portal restored and Imra could see the lot of them off. Imra was going to write a rather long report to the Lady and make sure that HouseTrislana compensated the House for anything missing.
What made things worse were the fae from the embassy in the capital, looking to buy wine for the new ambasadress’s cellar. He had shown up with Daylilly from the neighboring kingdom and the princes to visit the winery and choose appropriate vintages for the embassy. The very stiff fae said to her as she tried to keep him away from the winery, “My dear lady, I simply cannot judge the quality without seeing where the wine is made. I know that it is a presumption, but with the new ambassador taking over and the requirements brought on by having to entertain the new Emperor and his wife, I must insist on my personal input, at least for the first purchases.”
“Why was the ambassador changed?”
“That is not my role. The Council of Kings wanted a new man with a better touch with the world and since he recently joined with the princess, the ambassador was tasked with taking over. With the ongoing Conclave and the suppression of movement, the Ambassadress cannot come herself and deal with this. So I was sent.”
With that, the next two days were a nightmare. Especially since Imra had started a housecleaning of certain things as the Lord would not be returning and the young Lord had gone to the capital. It was with a great relief that the wheelwright repaired the coach and Lady Trislana was sent off again with several cases of wine and the fae retreated to the woods shortly thereafter, also with cases of the wine.
Treehollow Faery Kingdom.
Robin laughed as the coach and the rest of “Lady Trislana’s” household drove up the drive into the Lorekeeper’s house and Siora exited the coach. “That was very well done, Milady.”
“I needed to push things right to the limit. Fortunately I have had practice. I imagine that mother will be getting a rather stiff letter from Lady Trahorn and a request that certain things be returned. I will have to punish Eddie, again. His older brother is such a bad influence. That is when he isn’t chasing my maid.”
“So, may we exchange what we found?”
“Gander said to exchange what we found, now that we are done. One thing that is obvious was that Lady Yesxalim was doing some house cleaning, now that the Lord and Lady were not at home. Daylilly, I think that you and your bonded should return home because Niossae is upset.”
“Upset about what?”
“You two can come up with something, I am sure. Of course, when he arrives, Niossae’s favorite thing is going to be missing.”
“Why?”
“Eddie stole it. Of course he asked Niossae about it before we came down here. There is a little Beinan horse, small and easy to hide from me, and worth selling to the denizens of the Lower City.”
Daylilly laughed. “Niossae will raise a fuss about that all up and down the estate looking for it.”
“Yes. Of course after quite a bit of fuss, the horse will turn out to be in a trunk that Niossae had forgotten about. That was also arranged beforehand.”
“Eddie, you seemed to be attracted to the Junk pile behind the winery,” Robin said. “What were you looking for?”
“That is part of why we were there,” Eddie said. “I figured that if they were doing something and stopped doing it, the junk might still be there.”
“The Clear, you mean.”
“You figured it out.”
“I have been in and around the Cloud City for a long time, was familiar with certain things and had some suspicions when Gander hinted. I suspect that Gander was looking into the possibility that the winery was also used to make Clear.”
“Yes he was, as part of an investigation that we can’t talk about,” Siora said. “When you showed up, Gander took advantage.”
“Has he really been talking with the Great Captain?”
“He arranged a chat recently. That is part of this.”
“You have intrigued me. Or rather Gander has. He’s done it to me again, handing me a mystery that I will poke into and then be forced to share with him for the things I don’t have.You all should watch out with him. He does that. Now back to the task at hand. That head of household is deep into whatever it is, up to her neck.”
“That was fairly obvious. Mother will love it.”
“Why were you taking crystals all over the place?”
“That has to do with a bit of profitable and harmless amusement on mother’s part. She is writing movie scripts about High Elf comedy.”
“That explains why you went more than a bit over the top.”
“There were other reasons. If the lady looked into what she thought we were doing, she wasn’t looking at what we were really doing. This isn’t the first time that I have conducted an investigation like this for Gander.”
“They are not making Clear there now. I poked around and while there were signs of a manufactury in the past, there is not one there now. Eddie, was that what you were looking for in the junk pile?”
“Yes. There were bits and pieces and things that definitely were not used to make the wine, some rather large copper kettles for example. I have the maker’s stamps on them.”
“You all must have known what to look for.”
“Yes, we did. We had some old files pulled and looked at the pictures of the parts.”
“I look forward to seeing the report from this case.”
“So far, it has been interesting.”
Innshys.
When guard captain Haldir Faemys saw Zanis Zylvyre emerge from the portal with his goons, he was annoyed that his people were all out running patrols. On the other hand, he was glad that Saevel, Bellflower and Saevel’s motorbike had gone home so that his aunt could use him for chores. Zanis spotted him and demanded, “Where is my grandson?”
“Who?”
“Don’t play stupid with me guard captain. I don’t have time for it.”
“Saevel isn’t here. His aunts wanted him home for chores.”
“Very well, I will be going.”
“Watch out for traffic on the road and if I were you, I wouldn’t come back this way. The word will get out pretty quick and there are folks here that want your hide.”
“Is that a threat, guard captain?”
“Just friendly advice. You surely know how some folks think of you and I’m surprised that you didn’t know who lived here. I would get out of town and go wherever you are going and then don’t even think about using that portal again.”
Zanis and the rest mounted their horses and left. As soon as they were out of sight, Haldir went to the waystation and said, “Rand, hand me two forms. I need to send a message to the Sanctum and to the capital. I don’t know what Saevel did, but Zanis just showed up looking for him.”
“Zanis showed up here? Does he have a death wish? The word goes out and a lot of the people here will want to take a shot at him.”
“I know. I told him to not come back.”
“If he’s smart, he won’t.”
“If he’s smart. I just hope that he doesn’t know that his granddaughters are here as well.”
Haldir finished the forms and said, “Get these out. I don’t want Saevel here until I am sure that Zanis and the clowns are gone.”

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