The Princess and the Slave, chapter 13-14

“How did a one boy travelling up to the Empire get to be such an issue, other than demonstrating how easy it was?”

Chapter 13.

Chatsrey.

 Gordal Shieldbasher looked at the crate held for payment and grinned. He had never seen even five bottles of Fallingwater Red come through the system at the same time and here was half a case. The other half of the case was Fallingwater White and this would make a fine thing to use to celebrate Winterfaire when the time came. Since the consignee was underage and from an average family, there should be no circus surrounding this case. He had let the case to the Umevan pass on through unmolested because the family had too much clout to mess with and his boss would be rather unhappy to be called up for a hearing again. The Wavechaser shipment was a different matter, Shieldbasher wasn’t sure if old congressman Wavechaser was related and old congressman Wavechaser was not as powerful as some others. His family also relied on there being peace on the waterfront and Shieldbasher’s friends might disturb that peace.

Shieldbasher was still stinging from the rebuke that his boss had given him over the library and Sheildbasher was sure that that Richard had set private investigators on him. Richard wouldn’t be the first to try that. For that matter, he wouldn’t even be the first Harper and if some idiot got himself hurt, that was what could happen if you mess with the wrong crowd.  Shieldbasher’s friends could play rough if they had to.

Shieldbasher wasn’t sure how this treasure trove had come into the kid’s hands and why the manifest had had the case as, “Wine, Imperial,” rather than the typical special note that even individual bottles of Fallingwater Red received, especially when the case was sealed with the personal seal of Lord Umevan himself. In any case, Gordal didn’t think that the kid could pay the duty on the wine, especially with the rather large fine for misrepresentation of the shipment.     

 Glaydys, who managed the office buzzed him and said, “Congressman Wavechaser here to see you.”

“Send him in!”

Wavechaser was on the trade committee and keeping on his good side was a good thing. The congressman was a bit of a straight arrow but at least he understood the way things got done. Glaydys sent the congressman in and Gordal said, “Sit down, congressman. What can I do for you?”

“This is something that I hope that I can keep discreet.”

“What is it?”
“My grandson went on a bit of a trip to the Empire recently, without the family knowing where he had gone. He was supposed to come here, to the city and buy some test equipment for his electronics lab. Instead he went to the Empire to get tested by the fae and passed. He also did some shopping and sent the things back. Customs seems to have placed a hold on the items and I was tasked by my daughter in law to get the hold released. I would like to know why the items were not sent to the destination in Seagate and dealt with there, as would be normal for shipments.”

“Do you have a shipment number?”

The congressman handed him a copy of the letter and Gordal looked at it. He looked down and then at the congressman. “There is a duty of ten gold and a fine of a thousand gold on the shipment.”
“That seems rather exorbidant for some books, toys and a case of wine. I will pay the duty. I do not think that the fine is applicable.”

“The seizure has been sent to the magistrate. The wine was misrepresented as ordinary wine when it came from the Fallingwater vineyard. Considering the value of the bottles, the added duty was due and misrepresenting something to the revenue service is a crime. The consignee must stand before the magistrate and answer for the issues or waive the goods.”

“Officer, there are reasons why I want to keep my grandson’s little trip to the Empire discreet. If this becomes another circus like your last seizure, there could be serious national security concerns.”
“Tell me about them and I may see what I can do.”
“I can’t, under the Classified Matters Act, reveal the details as it involves operations overseas and clandestine. Can the wine be separated from the rest of the shipment?”
“The seizure was of the entire shipment.”

“What if I paid the fine and the duty in total.”
“The boy would still be expected to appear before the magistrate.”

“Very well, I will tell the family. Officer, I do hope that you like living in the heat, because if this blows up in public you will be sitting on a very hot seat. Good day, sir.”

The congressman left and Gordal wondered just what was going on. Somebody wanted the lid kept on this and it had suddenly become a lot more than a case of wine. This was information that would probably be worth some money.

As the congressman headed to his car, two half elves appeared and one of them said, “Congressman Wavechaser?”

“Yes?”
“I’m Corym Vavaris and this is Maldin Zumkas. The half elf handed the Congressman a private investigator’s license. Wavechaser looked at it and said, “I didn’t know that Mr. Ironaxe hired people.”
“Since we are not citizens, officially working for Mr. Ironaxe solves a lot of problems. He isn’t our real boss.”
“Who is?”
“Richard Harper, Lord Qinvaris. We are part of the people that House Qinvaris maintains to deal with things that come up.”

“Such as the detention of the Lord’s property by a zealous customs agent?”
“Yes. One reason we are still here is making sure that the library doesn’t have any more issues and we owe that character for annoying our boss and his wife, especially the Lady.”
“Why don’t we go someplace and talk. I’m Caldin Wavechaser, though you probably already knew that.”
“We’ve been catching up who the heavyweights are on the waterfront. You were one of them.”

As they got in the car and Caldin told his driver to go to a discreet spot for lunch, Maldin asked, “Why didn’t you just use some clout and squish Shieldbasher?”
“Because using my “clout” and squishing the toad, as much as he deserves it, over a personal matter no matter how valid, would make more noise than I, my son and my son’s bosses want right now. If Bill had just gone up and been tested, I would have squished the disreputable Customs officer without a qualm. Do you know Lord Umevan?”
Cory grinned. “We knew Jorge before the Empress dumped that place on him.”
“Why did he send a case of Fallingwater Red to my son, as “wine?””

“If your grandson was up there and staying at the estate, then the people may not have known that there is anything special required when handling the wine. They probably sent everything to Eryding and I don’t know if any wine from Jorge’s estate has been shipped through there, so it was another case of wine.”

“I doubt that my grandson purchased it, so it was probably a gift. Bill and some Umevan children had a very good time at the estate and in the Empire. So the lady of the estate sent the wine since Bill said that his father, and me, liked the wine. The current Lord has not had the position very long, has he?”

“The estate was stolen when the family was exiled. Jorge’s father is a craftsman in the Lower City and didn’t have the influence to recover the estate, especially with the Dowager Empress involved.”
“Why did they want the estate?”
“We can’t tell you the details because the details are under Proscription, but there is a large power dam on the estate and somebody built a large thing that needed a lot of energy to make big booms.”

“The Scourge. The navy is in trouble right now over some moonlighting policies. This was another part of that, wasn’t it?”
“Yes it was.”

“Yet another reason to keep this discreet. You probably don’t know yet what Bill did while he was in the Empire and why Bill going up there in the first place had issues. What do you know about Desert Howl?”
“A crazy man likes to launch very big rockets.”

Caldin laughed. “There are other things going on as well, with Beinan’s, Republic Air, Umevan Electric and some others all having things that the Republic would rather keep discreet there. Do you know about the gadget?”
“Yes we do.”

“Bill’s father is the lead engineer on the gadget program. Bill has created circuits for the equipment and knows both the Mark I and Mark II gadget backwards and forwards.”
“Why are you telling us this?”
“I need somebody who is not connected to me to work this case and you volunteered. I can provide resources, but I need a cover and you two, poor sods, get to be the inept, slightly shady foreign PIs poking where they shouldn’t.”

“So your grandson did something up in the Empire involving the gadget and the Beinans that was probably not something that the Beinans want leaked. Considering that it is probably Gracie, Kaylessa or Adiun, with some other potential disreputables involved, we want to keep a lid on things. Does your friend in customs know what can happen if he annoys Jorge?”
“Jorge the Pirate, that is Major Tollings?”

“The other Jorge, the one that plays with portals. I don’t think that he will send his girlfriend’s cook all the way here, but annoying Shael over a gift comes under the heading of very stupid and if the Customs Officer finds something unpleasant in his office, it was his own fault.”

“The drive to where I want to go is a bit long, so why don’t you tell me about the people that Bill met, but didn’t tell us very much about. Of course he was a bit distracted by a fae cat and was worried about his parents and what they were going to do to him when he returned.”

“Where’s the vault he wants to open?”
“I’m not sure, exactly. It may be out in the Deadlands or on an island, though Bill has been avoiding gaining a tail, so he would stay out of the Wavechaser favorite activity for young boys, rotten old small boats.”

“That beats doing what we did, digging up old imperial stuff and collecting it. Of course most of that was Tarranth, but we did our fair share. The only Scourge devise we ran into was one that we put in Tarranth’s barn and forgot about. Alinis’s boyfriend found it after we all knew what it was and what it could do.”

“Somehow Richard’s boys hardly sound like the High Elf pricks that you see in the movies.”
“Actually it’s the boys’ mothers responsible for that. Since we have disreputable parents, we don’t have to play those games in the capital. The good thing is that a bunch of them have finally decided to tell their mothers rude things and since too many of the high elf girls found somebody outside the high elf set, went looking for girls other places. Of course, Tarranth and Dan didn’t have any trouble.”

The two half elves kept Caldin entertained until they reached a shack and the car pulled over. Caldin said, “Here were are.”

Cory looked around, turned to Maldin and said, “I think that Tom and Julien told us about this place.”

“A small place across from the shipyard in Cleadsgate?”
“Who are Tom and Julien?” the congressman asked.
“Tom Dawkins and Julien D’ambray. Their boss sent them here to get some testimony concerning the the Dowager Empress.”
“The lady who committed suicide so spectacularly when a Justiciar read off every plot and thing she had been involved in. Kellam will be glad to know that he could help.”

“Then let’s get the sandwiches that Tom was raving about.”

After dropping off the pair at a train station, Caldin, as he frequently did, sat in front with his long term driver and bodyguard, Altak Brewcrusher. The grinning Brewchrusher said, “These two are going to be fun. So how do you want to handle Shieldbasher.”

“I’m not so much concerned with the idiot as with the people pulling his strings. Is Sal back from the Empire?”

“I think so. I can check. His granddaughter just got married up there.”

“Good. On the other hand, we need to keep a lid on this and Shieldbasher just made that case of wine that he was hoping to enjoy during Winterfaire very expensive.”
“Ironaxe as a front for Harper people is new.”
“Not that new and the asset that Torald was protecting up there in the Empire was Lady Qinvaris’s brother.”

“Where to next?”
“Home. I’m going have to have Bill come up here and go in front of the magistrate.”

“He wouldn’t even tell you what he did in the Empire, Aydiun Beinan picked him up for a chat and Mrs. Steelmaker had her little visit.”

“I know. I think that people were suddenly apprised about just what could be running around loose if the kids down there started to leave Desert Howl.”
“A bunch of them are going to be leaving all too soon.”
“I know. You had to remind me. For their sake I hope that we can keep a lid on Bill’s activities.”

“Send a wire to the Umevans.”
“Why?”
“The wine was a gift from the lady in the Empire. That lord of the estate has reputation and the boys told us why.”
Caldin started to laugh.

Beltain.

Jarfaet considered that at least the weather this time of year was tolerable on the plateau as he looked across his desk at the others. “How did a one boy travelling up to the Empire get to be such an issue, other than demonstrating how easy it was? The boy’s parents are not even exiles.”

“His grandmother is,” Sarya said. “The boy made no effort to contact any family in the Empire. If it were not for the Umevans and the Beinans being involved, none of this would have been any thing other than a boy doing the sorts of things that young folk do. The fact that the boy’s father was an important Beinan’s employee, the boy had done work on a classified contract and that he ran into the Umevan boy was what messed things up.”
“With your people putting their foot in the mess, Delton. Why didn’t you reassign that clown Shieldbasher someplace where he couldn’t do that sort of thing?”
Secretary of the Treasury, Delton Harper looked at the President and said, “I was trying to keep the appearance that I was not using my job to help my family’s interests and there were other reasons. I wanted a solid case against the clown so that when I did drop the hammer that it would be obvious that he was guilty of massive malfeasance. I thought that the idiot would be smart enough to keep out of real trouble.”
Secretary of War,  Ehlark Archer said, “Caldin tried to warn the clown that he was playing with fire.”
Secretary of State Thothak Caskbelly laughed and said, “The wine was a gift from Lord Umevan apparently. Maybe we can work with that.”

“Do you know anything about that, Sarya?”
“No, but from the sounds of it, that is the sort of thing that Lady Biqen would do and the other young man, Jerry Umevan, also had a case of the wine sent back with him. There is also another issue. The faery princess from the Rosehollow Faery latched on to the boy up in the Empire. She stowed away on the plane as a wildcat on its way to the Chatsrey zoo and escaped to chase the young man.”

“There was another case of the wine that the Customs Officer let through?” Jarfaet asked. “Thothak, send a message to the Embassy in Ishendell and ask Gwen’s people to determine if the wine was an official gift or not.” Jarfaet held up a picture of the seized crate and said, “Diplomatic gifts not given to government officials for favors are not subject to customs or tax in any case. This has Lord Umevan’s seal on the crate and the Customs Officer did let the other crate through. I think that we have a path going forward.”
Secretary of Commerce, Gracie Brewbasher looked at the others and said, “We don’t really want people looking at what that kid was doing up there for Beinan’s, for more than one reason. The advantage that Desert Howl had was that it was a quiet place to do things that various people don’t want waved around. That rocket launch that Romarod just did was bad enough, but if the people that sent the Collector realize just what we are up to, they may take some action.”

“So we handle the seizure as a mistake on a diplomatic cargo in any case,” Delton said. “I will send somebody up to Eryding, the Yllanan port and the Qinvaris port with some shipping guides for things that they may not know. Who knows what will be next.”

“What do we do about Shieldbasher?” Thothak asked.

“Let nature take its course. It’s obvious that he was going for a quick grab of a nice thing that he thought that somebody shouldn’t have. He’s been letting greed get away from him and doesn’t like my family for obvious reasons. The diplomatic angle will be enough to put things right.”

Ishendell.

Harald looked at Jorge and Eliad and said, “How did things turn out?”
Jorge grinned. “They were leaving rather quickly when the TAV was coming through the gates that Elmar had blown open. We got a lot of paper.”

“Good. Adium and Wyrran want you to open some doors.”
“More funerals,” Eliad said.

“Yes. Jorge has been working on the ancient portal board and thinks that he and Adiun can get things going again. I brought a lot of paper from Wongpo to add to the things from the island. I talked to Evin and Admantius and they think that running the railroad out to Wongpo might pay if somebody commits to the mines. The dwarves are a bit skeptical and while Axbrew will invest, I can’t find anybody to operate as the outfits in the drarven kingdoms don’t want to dig out in the middle of nowhere in markets that are weak right now. So I am off to the Republic next.”

“What about the Fellowship?” Jorge asked
“If you can talk to your friends and see if somebody is interested, that would be a good thing.”
“I’ll see what I can do. This may not be profitable at first, but maybe you can put together a cooperative to develop out there and nobody will be carrying the entire risk.”

Jorge came in and said, “Good, you are back, Jorge. I need the keys and the boys have them.”
“Just what all are you opening?”
“I can take you through all of it, since it is all yours anyway. I need some shops opened up, and there are places that I think that we should open.”

“I’m a bit leery about opening all those places up.”

“I’m not going to push, but we may need the board up sooner rather than later. Why don’t I show you what we were up to while you were chasing some bad people? How did that work and should the Portal Service leave the portal?”
“Things went well, even though we struck while the other side was evacuating.”

“I caught the portal activating, but the second portal in the double portal was in the middle of nowhere.”

“It was probably somewhere in the past.”
“I know, but Wyrran is leery about sending expeditions out and definitely doesn’t want me traipsing about the countryside.”
“By the way, Vesstan and Esgalwathanar had Tad and the princess go to the town there as part of their training. The princess made a very nice laundry girl and Tad was a visiting local noble boy, complete with attitude and horse.”
“Did Vesstan and Esgalwathanar pick up on them?”
“Not until they gave up after the time limit was over.”

“That was clever of them. I assume that they are back at my place.”
“Tad probably is. The princess has gone home, I hope.”

“Why?”
“I’m probably going to be watched fairly hard and I would prefer that the princess is not taken hostage while she is my responsibilility.”
“Your responsibility? What about the princess being my responsibility.”
“Good point. Let’s go see what you have.”
They had barely left Jorge’s headquarters when a car stopped and Haramara said, “Jorge, I caught you!”
“What is it, milady?”

“The other Jorge.”
“What do want, milady?”

Haramara laughed and said, “Did Shael send some wine to the Republic?”
“Yes she did. There were two cases, one for my family and the other for the young boy who came up and was tested with Jerry, why?”
“There were some customs issues with the case that didn’t get sent to your family.”

“Why?”
“When the case of wine was sent to the Republic, the case was shipped as “Wine, Imperial” rather than as a top vintage, which has different duty. The same customs inspector that gave Richard trouble over the library seized it. He is asking for a fine of  1,000 gold from the boy.”

“That’s ridiculous. The wine was a gift.”

“Would you come to the Embassy and state that in writing?”
“Certainly.”
“Get in and I will give you the details.”

Jorge got in the car and said, “Ok what’s really going on?”
“Most of this is being kept under wraps by the Republic, but it has to do with Desert Howl and the kids there.”
“The kids are involved in things that the Republic would like a lid kept on, like my Scourge tests. I noticed them doing odd chores when I went down for a test and I suspect that they do that for just about everything there.”

“Yes they do. I don’t know what all that goes on down there, but there are the Scourge tests, Tarrath’s Projectors, the rockets and the Office of Inanimates may have an Animator down there and have conducted tests with inanimates.”

“Bill was taken by Beinan’s people to do something during his shopping after his test.”
“Why did Shael give the wine to Bill?”
“Bill had bought some things that he was sending to the Republic by boat and so had Jerry. Shael was sending some wine to the family in Jerry’s shipment and the staff made up two cases. I sealed both cases and Shael had sent both on. We didn’t really discuss it, but the family doesn’t mind doing nice things to see if Beinan employees will switch. In any case Dalia thought that the wine was a good idea and creating good will with the Beinans is a good thing where I’m concerned. I’ll write up a statement saying that the wine was a gift.”

“Good. I can take it with me when I go down to the Republic.”
“What for?”
“Bellas needs to get back before he gets in trouble, there is a conference of Federal agents, I can meet more of them and I can handle this case.”

“Those are all good reasons.”

Rosehollow Faery Kingdom.

“Did you enjoy yourself, dear?”
Moonshine turned to face her mother. She had been fortunate to avoid her mother for the first few days after her return, mostly because her mother had been busy with her sister’s joining and Moonshine had been training with the other dancers for the upcoming Qinvaris event. Unfortunately, that meant that she now had to face the music, rather exhausted and not particularly wanting to transform and chase dinner down. She looked at her mother and said, “Things just sort of happened.”

“I understand that a forming bond can be like that. So I was asking if you enjoyed yourself?”
“I did, mother.”

“Were you a cat the entire time?”
“No. in spite of the efforts of some kids who tried to convince me to transform. There was enough mana at Seagate to that I could do certain things and not drain myself.”

“Dinner is ready and your father is coming, so why don’t we eat and you tell us of your young man and all your adventures.”
“You aren’t angry with me?”
“For being in bond fuzz? Maybe a little bit, but the idiocy is a natural consequence of being overwhelmed by feelings for somebody else and the drive to know them better. Did you share a bed?”
“I was a cat at the time and he didn’t know how to transform. Peri and Desielle were in the train car as well.”

“I heard about the cat. Are there pictures?”
“Yes. Bill took some, his family took some in Chatsrey and down in Desert Howl and Peri has a picture.”

“What about the rest of it?”
“Bill and his friend Jerry have pictures of everything, including the rocket launch.”

Let’s eat while you tell us everything. Did Bill’s mother give you an address?”
“Yes she did.”
“Excellent. I don’t think that Bill will be coming up that much at first, but we will have to arrange time for him and you in the woods before your joining.”

“That will be a bit difficult.”

“Good things are never easy. I know that the separation is going to be hard at first.”

Chatsrey.

Magistrate Theodred Oakshield looked at the Customs Officer with more than a bit of anger and loathing. He looked at the Treasury’s Barrister and at the boy, with the congressman representing him and people from the Umevan, the Harpers, Beinans and Mrs. Steelmaker’s office watching and back at the Custom’s Officer. “Mr. Sheildbasher you are back in my court, yet again, after seizing the property of yet another of our young residents on rather spurious grounds.”

“The property was seized on the grounds that the wine was an attempt to smuggle vintage wine as ordinary wine.”

“Was the case mislabeled? As far as I know, the case has the Fallingwater seal right on the case, sealed by Lord Umevan himself. That is here on the photographs taken by your department. Did you make sure that the Shahana shipping people were aware of the need to indentify things in the manifest?”

“No, magistrate.”
“Most bottles of Fallingwater have been imported through the dealers in the Fellowship. Perhaps the estate doesn’t know about the need to indentify wine for the Fallingwater winery. Did you contact the regular dealers and ask for a contact for the winery?”
“No, magistrate.”
“Then why did you haul this young man up here from Desert Howl to my court so that you could threaten him with committing a crime that he had no knowledge of committing.”

“It is not my job to assume that a crime has not been committed just because the potential criminal was an idiot.”

“What were you expecting to happen?”
The Customs Officer gulped and said, “I expected that the boy would give up the seized property.”
“Thereby making your Winterfaire party very nice and slapping the young man with an automatic felony conviction that would show up when he applied for Service. Rather a nasty thing to do to a young man. Barrister, do you intend to pursue this matter?”
Looking rather uncomfortable and then turning his head to look at the other table, the barrister gulped and said, “Since this has reached the court, the Treasury must pursue the case as per regulations.”

“Very well, it’s your pyre. I do hope that you have more than what you have presented so far. Justiciar, it is good to see you again. Do you have something for this case?”

 Theodred grinned as Haramara stepped forward and said, “There has been a bit of a mistake concerning this case and Lord Umevan wanted somebody to clear this up. There were two cases of the wine sent by Lady Umevan as gifts to the two young men and their families. The Lady’s original intent was to just give a case to the Umevan boy’s family, but her staff set up two cases and since the boy was connected to House Beinan and she thought that the family would enjoy the wine, she sent the case on. According to the law as I know it, this is a diplomatic gift and not subject to duty, let alone a fine.”

“Thank you for clarifying the issue. Customs Officer, the property is released and the duty and fines void. Also, any duty on anything else in the shipment is void and any duties paid on the other case of wine that you did not see fit to mention are also to be remanded to the Umevan. I am also fining your department a hundred gold for wasting the court’s time and placing criminal charges on a young man who did nothing other than make good friends, case adjourned.”

As they left the courtroom, Bill looked at the people in the court, turned to his grandfather and asked “Who were all those people?”
“You created a lot of concern with your little journey and some people wanted to make sure that this didn’t turn into a circus like the library did. Shall we go to lunch and then collect your things. We can go to Vikz’s since it is closer and this will definitely get us in the back.”

“Ok. I don’t want to go out to Cleadsgate and back as I have other errands, as long as I am in town.”
“What are they?”
“I sent a message to Alinis and we are meeting so that she can show me some things about the Scourge, the Blight, Harald and the library.”
“If you can, invite the young lady to the house. That all sounds interesting indeed. On the other hand, she may invite you to the Harpers. You can have the car after lunch.”
“I can use the El.”
“For the next little bit, some people will feel more comfortable with somebody watching you.”
“Is this part of my punishment?”
“You could take it that way. The fact is that this thing today and the fact that you were here puts you at risk after the other things that happened.”

When they got to the inpound, Caldin looked at the three large crates next to the wine and said, “We were lucky that customs didn’t look beyond the wine. What’s in all of these?”
“Things piled up and were cheap. I was talking about some books I found and the test equipment that I was planning to buy with a mechanitiar at the Sanctuary and we went down to the lower mall and found a tablet oscilloscope that works on mana, and some other things. The rest is books and some gifts for Winterfaire.”

“Let me call a truck and have these taken to rail freight. The wine goes with us. I am taking four of the red.”
“I expected that, grandfather.”

They had everything packed up and on its way and then after a a fun session at Vikz’s with Bill sharing his adventures in the Empire, with some things left out, Bill’s grandfather was dropped off at his office and Bill had the car and Altak. As the car pulled away from the curb, Altak said, “Now that your grandfather is visibly in his office, I want to take you to talk to some people.”
“What for?”

“I want you to meet them so that you know who you are and they know who you are.”

“That sounds creepy.”

“It could be. It’s also rather important.”

Altak drove them to a building near Industry city and led Bill to an office that had “Ironaxe Asset Protection on the door. Opening the door, Altak went inside with Bill and inside the office was a man, two half elves and a fae lady. The man said, “Bill Wavechaser, I am Torald Ironaxe. This is Waterlilly, my assistant and Cory and Maldin. Cory and Maldin actually work for Alinis’s father. How was the matter with your seized goods resolved?”
“The magistrate voided the fine and duty on everything. The Customs Officer was foolish as he didn’t pay very much attention to the other crates in the shipment other than the wine.”

“What was in them?”
“Some very old books that I found in the book warrens, some more related books that I found in the lower mall at the Sanctuary and some equipment that will really make my lab do interesting things if I can make it work. There were some gifts and things that I found in the Lower City, the Sanctuary and Elysahone, but the other stuff was more important to me.”

“Beinan stuff?”Cory asked.

“Yes. I’m guessing that I stumbled onto something that is a stepping stone, but I don’t want to say very much about what I found until I understand it.”

“You know about the library, I assume?”
“Yes. Alinis said that she wanted to show me some things and since I am in town for the thing with the magistrate, I was planning to go to her grandmother’s house and see if I can speak with her. I’m shopped out at the moment, so the rest of the time, I am free.”

“Alinis is in class right now, so you can talk with us. Have you seen anybody unusual down in Desert Howl?”
“No. Strangers that don’t have business can have issues unless people know that they are coming. Even most of the people that come for business, like General Creek, are known.”
“You know the general?”
“I’ve taken him on the tour, yes. His granddaughter is one of my sister’s underwater friends.”

“What did you think of Jorge’s estate?”
“There are places that I would like to spend more time at. They gave Jerry and me a tour of the dam and there are things that they wouldn’t talk about. We did have a lot of fun, though and Jerry and I made his cousins rather wet after I shared some things with him that seafolk know and everyone can do, pretty much. Charlie Beinan came and took us to the Lower City. I think that Lady Beinan and Jerry’s Aunt Dalia were trying to start the recruitment process.”

“Where did you pick up the cat?” Maldin asked
“At the airport on my way home.”

“Not in the Empire?”

“She found me in the Lower City, but we weren’t in the same place together until she got on the plane.”
“Is she still here?”
“Moonshine went home again. She was fine with me, but most people seem to have things against her.”
Cory grinned. “Let’s just say that it was exposure and while she was one of the worst, she wasn’t the only one like that. Of course now that you and she are bonded, you are going to be facing some mischief.”

“Like what Alinis pulled on the train?”
“What did Alinis try?”
“She tried to convince the porter in our car that Moonshine was a dangerous wildcat. What Alinis didn’t know was that Moonshine had been keeping the porter company most of the night while the rest of us were sleeping since as a cat, she was perfectly comfortable with cat naps. So when Alinis tried her Elvish princess routine, it fell rather flat.”

“Moonshine was lucky that it wasn’t Jhaerithe. Jhaerithe can pull the little elvish princess perfectly when she wants to. Alinis comes across as too spoiled or not really genuine, as you probably saw.”

“What was special about the wine in the shipment?” Torald asked.

“The case was half Fallingwater Red and half Fallingwater White,” Cory said. “The wine was personal gift from the future lady Umevan to Bill and his family.”

Torald whistled. “A case? Were all the bottles marked as select with the Lord’s seal?”

“Bill?”

“I don’t know,” Bill said. “I haven’t even opened the case as yet. The lord did mark the case itself.”

“I think that we can take it for granted that Jorge sealed all the bottles with his ring,”Cory said. “He’s been handing out bottles and doing that for some select bottles. I’m not going to say how Jorge selected them and none of Jorge’s customers have actually met Jorge.”

“I think that the Customs people were looking for a nice Winterfaire this year.” Torald said with a grin. “They have played games with some of my clients in the past. Fortunately, I now how they play the game.”

“I’m just glad that I have the rest back,” Bill said. “I was lucky that the Inquisition didn’t understand some things and didn’t know what the books I found actually were.”
“That does happen,” Maldin said. “Some Inquisitors know what they are doing, but most of them are more clownish than not.”
“What if the Customs Officer had gone after the books?”
“That wasn’t going to happen, for very good reasons. Especially if almost nobody understands the books and they are not something that the Republic concerns itself with.”
“Other than running contests for college scholarships, there isn’t anyone that forbids anything.”
“With one exception. If you ever run into a book on high energy mana devises, you should turn it in.”

“It’s doubtful that you will run into books about the Scourge in any case,” Cory said. “If you do, we will want to know where they came from.”

“Alinis said that she had some things related to the Scourge and Harald to show me,” Bill said.
“I think I know what the princess wants to show you, Bill. She can’t show you everything about the Scourge, but she can show you her paper on the subject and some other things she has found.”
“Alinis didn’t have the princess thing quite right as you said, even though she tried. She wanted to get the porter on the train to arrange to put Moonshine in a cage. Moonshine had been keeping the porter company and just being friendly.  The porter had had cats on board before, liked Moonshine and handled Alinis like he does everybody. Of course I was stuck with Alinis and the others later when I was giving tours.” 

Cory and the others laughed as Bill told them the stories of princess Alinis and her friends during the rocket launch. After the meeting, Altak took Bill to the university so that they could meet with Alinis and give her a ride to Mrs. Harper’s. Bill waited outside the car until Alinis emerged in a crowd of students.

Alinis grinned as she spotted Bill and a car as she was exiting the hall. Fire had one more class and the car, so Alinis was glad to see that Bill had one. “Bill, you came! How did your session with the magistrate go?”
“The magistrate waived the fine and the duty and returned my things. It cost me four bottles of the wine to grandfather, but he was going to get those anyway.”
“You have a car.”
“Grandfather insisted that I have a car and his driver today. This is Altak, who works with my grandfather and helps him cause trouble.”

Altak grinned and said, “May I take your things, princess?”
They got in the car and Alinis said, “Were you telling stories about me?”
“Altak took me to talk to some people about the Customs Officer and yes, we did talk about what you were up to at the rocket launch.”

“They knew me, didn’t they? So it was Cory and Maldin.”

“How did you know?”
“They are the only two of that crowd here. Did you all enjoy yourselves?”

“Yes we did. That wasn’t the real reason for the meeting. Grandfather wanted Altak to introduce me to Cory and Maldin.”
“That’s understandable, somewhat. Altak, let me give you directions to my grandmother’s.”
“You don’t need to, princess. I know the way very well.”

Alinis growled and said, “You can call me Alinis or Miss Harper, you know?”

“Now why would I want to spoil you like that?”
“Where is Moonshine, Bill?”
“She went home. I imagine that she is grounded like I am.”

Alinis giggled. “I think I see why you have the car and driver.” 

“It’s Jerry’s fault. If I hadn’t gone up to his uncle’s, I would have been able to get back quicker.”

“You didn’t know, but being with Jorge may not be a good thing. It can be almost as bad as the Yllanans.”

“What is so bad about the Yllanan. Moonshine invited me to stay at the estate, since the estate is next door to the faery kindom.”
“Peri isn’t so bad, but his grandfather and some of the others are people that you want to stay away from or you will get drawn into the crazy.”

“I don’t think that Moonshine is crazy.”

“You haven’t known her that long. I also wouldn’t stay here in the city that long when Moonshine’s relatives here in the city hear about you.”
“Moonshine has relatives here in the city?”
“Yes she does. They all came over after they exiled themselves. Here is the house so I can bring my things out and show you what I have.”

A dignified elf lady was waiting at the door and said, “Bill, I am Lythienne Harper, Alinis’s grandmother. I understand that you had some issues with a certain Customs Officer.”
“Mrs. Harper, that clown was trying to arrange for me to have a felony charge as well as grabbing that case of wine. I didn’t even send the wine, Lady Biqen did. I did have some things coming, but most of it was things I found in the Lower City and the Sanctuary.”
“I think that Alinis has some things to show you, so we can discuss that at dinner this evening. You are staying, I hope. We did not get a chance to meet at Romarod’s launch and I understand that you had some interesting adventures in the Empire.”
“I can tell you all about that at dinner, Mrs. Harper. Grandfather will probably come looking for me.”
“That would be fine, and I imagine that he and Dan have things to discuss. Alinis you can set up in the back parlor.”
“Ok, grand mother, we’ll use the table there. Let me get everything.”

Mrs. Harper led Bill to the back of the house and a rather simple room with comfortable chairs and a large table. As they walked in, Mrs. Harper said, “This the room that we use for more discreet things that we do. Do you want anything to drink?”
“I don’t think so, right now.”

“I will have somebody send snacks and a pitcher of iced tea in any case. I have things I have to attend to and I can hear Alinis on her way, so I will let you two get up to whatever you get up to.”

Alinis walked in with a stack of paper and magazines and said, “Here’s everything. Why don’t I start from the beginning? This all started when the Richflghts went after Renna Shahana.”

Alinis explained the kidnapping, the Empty lands, the launch of the Blight, the takeover and the rest of it. “I have my Scourge paper here, daddy’s Harald paper and a copy of Amra’s diary. I also want to show you something.”
Alinis started a tablet and the slip of Harald’s last heroic Hundredths ran. Bill looked at it and said, “Mother wanted to know how the Ravathrya knew that there was something on the island. They are still looking for whatever it was.”
“What do you mean?”
“I can’t say very much and Dessielle can get more from her relatives, but I helped with something down at the Retreat and there are rumors going around where I live about a strange ship.”

“A strange ship?”
“It didn’t show up on the gadget and could make itself invisible. It also had pilotless airplanes.”

“That sounds strange.”
Fire came in and said, “I see that Alinis has gone over some of the things, already, Bill. Has she showed you the Harald Slip?”
“She ran that already.”

“How about the pictures of the vaults, headquarters and the tunnels.”
“She hasn’t shown me that stuff yet.”

“Did you get your things free of the customs people?”

“Yes I did. I’m glad that I could get it all loose. It cost me some bottles of the wine that I was going to give to grandfather anyway.”

Fire laughed. “Do you have pictures of the Island?”
“I brought some.” Bill reached into his school satchel for the pictures he had brought up with him and put them on the table. “Here are the sheds for the gadget and the bunkhouse.”

“Why is there a gadget out there?”
“We track the rocket launches and look for ships trying to sneak up on the Republic. The cruisers buy the guys out on the island a lot of beer.”

Bill pulled out some more pictures and said, “This is the landdragon’s camp, and this is a cave where somebody else was. I think that the landdragon took some logs and journals from here.”

Fire looked at the wreck pictures and said, “There are a lot of wrecks there.”

“Yes there were and I had to be careful when getting too close unless I had my camera. My sister’s friends were on the prowl. The camera was expensive, so the girls couldn’t get me wet when I had it with me. Finally, here are the pictures of the vaults.”

“They must be big,” Alinis said. “Let me show you the headquarters and the tunnels.”

Alinis hauled out the pictures and said, “You will want to be prepared before going deep into a place like this.”
“What were the tunnels for?”
“We don’t know. They were huge, though. Our search for the library was the deepest that anyone had gone into the tunnels in a very long time and we only saw a small part of the tunnels. We had an expert from the Republic with us. I included a copy of his article that was in a geographical magazine and his address. I would have your father talk with him.”
“If I start looking into things, is there something that I should look out for?”
Alinis pulled some more pictures and said, “This is a suppressor, which you want to keep off, a Scourge suppressor, which you want to keep on, and a shield generator, which you should use if you are attacked.”

A maid poked in and said, “Miss, the Lady is calling dinner, so you all should put that away and wash up.”

“We will, Shelly.”

“Where is the cat?”
“She went home, Shelly.”

“That’s a disappointment. Some of the kids wanted to meet the cat.”

At dinner, Bill was forced to tell everyone about his adventures and what he found up in the Empire. As dinner ended, Dan said, “I may have to go up and see Folmon about having experts poke around in the Lower City bookwarrens from time to time. The Inquisition went through the warrens with Alinar Nerihorn and they missed those books, probably because they were looking for mage related books. Still, I imagine that there are things that the Inquisition, and indeed, everybody else missed because they didn’t know what the books had in them.”

After dinner, Bill was taken to the train station and sent on his way. As he was reading in his seat, the porter came by and said, “Where is your cat?”
“She had to go home. She will be back, but she probably won’t be a cat.

“President  Cloudrunner, I was hoping for a more discreet place to meet with you.”
Jarfaet grinned at the orc across the table in Vikz’s. “Mr. Courseguider, this is discreet enough for the matter at hand. This back table is far away from potential eavesdroppers and the staff here knows me and when to be discreet.”
“The matter between Mrs. Steelmaker and the Ambassador leaked from this restaurant.”

“Nothing they were talking about was something that needed to be kept discreet. They were just making some jests about the Great Captain. Now why don’t we discuss the matter at hand? My government is prepared to not take any steps to retain General Ironaxe if he should take the temporary position as champion as long as it is understood that the position is temporary.”

“That is agreeable. Frankly, we need somebody with the general’s outlook. There are not going to be any more long term mercenary contracts, but the need for specialists for tasks is going to grow. The general can train the clans for such things and we can offer those services cheaper than a small country or even a large country developing those skills themselves.”

“Of course you are getting none of this for free.”
“We understand that. Shall we set a price?”
 

Chapter 14.

The Bryneiros Estate.

Kenia looked at her daughter and said, “I don’t think that Tom is going to say no in the next five day, Naexi. There’s nothing to be nervous about.”

“I know mother. It’s just that this is something that I have been working toward for some time now.”

“We are all prepared and Tom’s family is in Ishendell right now, so you have little to worry about. They all like you very much.”

“Maybe a bit too much.”
“Sarya is an old friend and we have known each other for a very long time. Of course they like you. We also have so many friends coming. You don’t have anything to worry about.”

Radalarc Ironaxe had lived on the estate for over sixty years, ever since he had taken the Ravthryra one way cruise and ended up in the Empire. His mother had been exiled during the turmoils mostly because the then Empress was concerned about people that she had had perform certain services and then were not afraid of her. So Imizael Elstina had been exiled. She had planned to find a way to return when she had run into Ailmer Ironaxe and made other plans, that was, having a large family, sending them against the Empire and arranging for members of the Ironaxe family with certain skills to meet up with the Elstina family and share certain things. Radalarc had apprenticed under his uncle Tholmous in the arts of making and using firearms, served his Service in the army as a sharpshooter and then been sent to the Empire to teach the guild the arts of the gun. That had come a bit of a cropper as the guildsman who was supposed to bid on him was late, Kenia Bryneiros had purchased him instead and tossed her niece Fildarae at him, who for some reason wouldn’t give up until they shared blood. For the last forty years Radalarc had trained the Justiciars, the adjuncts and slaves as the House’s arms master and manufactured and later purchased weapons that the Inquisition had been fighting with him about since he had arrived. Now he was watching a row of adjuncts and slaves training with some new RS2 submachine guns that had just arrived when his uncle Vesstan walked up, looked at the various trainees maneuvering through the rather battered training mock up, shooting various targets and said, “Rather noisy, Radalarc.”
“Yes it is. On the other hand, if we need these, noise will not be a big concern, uncle.”

“Why did you ask me to talk with you?”
“You had some trainees and I was wondering if you had sent them against the estate here.”
“No, I have not. Did you suspect some guild activity?”
“Acually, no, I didn’t, but somebody has been snooping around and I’m concerned that the location of a certain place has been discovered. If it has, I will have to move it again.”

“The cell block.”
“Yes. If you would, tell Uncle Vasati to send any requests on the Hunter and his friends back with the note that the execution writs have been signed by the council.”

“Why are they not dead.”
“Kelvahn and Gander want to squeeze them and having them still alive and talking makes their assiociates nervous. Of course their associates may be the ones poking around if it isn’t the guild.”
“If it is the guild, do you want your uncle to stop?”
“No. If I’m that sloppy, I deserve to get burned. What concerns me is that it is somebody new and that we haven’t been able to get a good look at them. It may be a new transformation.”

“A useful one?”
“Perhaps. How did the training go with the princess and her friend?”
“Very well. They are both naturals. The princess became a laundry girl and the boy became a visting noble, complete with horse. He didn’t even take his collar off. The others were almost as good.”

“Since the princess is a concern of the Justiciars, that is a good thing.”

“Is the possibility of new transformed the reason that you brought in those guns?”
“I lost people in the Darkmage’s things because we were concerned about the Inquisition and the stink they might make during the Conclave. I’m not going to make that sort of mistake again. An RS2 can be kept in a guard post, out of site or in a holster under a cloak until they are needed and then we have a surprise for whatever the other side sends the next time.”

Ulairekamba, like the wraiths that he was named after stood invisible in the shadows underneath the corner of the building that was the Armsmaster’s office, armory and training hall. He wasn’t sure why the rather dwarvish armsmaster was talking to an apparent guildsman, but it was frustrating as the noise of the training Justiciars drowned out any attempt to listen in on what the two were saying. The pair moved off and Ulairekamba moved along the side of the building, invisible, continuing to work on scouting the estate and its patterns. 

Vesstan looked at the brief shadow and said quietly, “I think that we frustrated somebody. He just made a mistake.”
 Radalarc grinned. “I saw him. Since the shield is up, he can’t just Jump out, that is if he can Jump, we were right next to the training and it was noisy. He probably didn’t know who you were.”

“Why aren’t you harassing him?”
“I want to see what he and his friends can do now, when it doesn’t matter. The lord has a wedding coming up that you know about and I would prefer that things are calm here until after the wedding. That’s when I start raising some hell.”

“I will take my leave then. It’s time for my sparring session with Esgalwathanar.”

“Have fun and don’t cause too much trouble.”

“What would be the fun of that?”

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