The Trials of Slaves, Chapter 3-4

Jorge visits Paeris. Larranth has a mystery

Chapter 3.

Desert Howl.

Paeris looked at Jorge and laughed. “How did you find me?”
“That was easy. I talked to Barrister Harper. Kulgha is up in the Mortal Kingdoms, apparently, according to his office. At least that was where he was. In any case, the barrister said that you had a place down here, I had three days off, Shael likes the beach and I was assigned you, or at least your actions here, as a classwork.”
“Was that random?”
“I can’t be sure. I was a bit stupid and since I figured the professor was going to fail me, sort of maneuvered to get some extra work and then went over the top with the assignments.”

“Those being?”
“Ishendell being Scourged, the Darkmage’s fortress and the Blight.”

“I assume that you are familiar with all those things.”
“Yes, and I brought copies of my three papers for you.”

“They sound like entertaining reading.”

“The professor was probably rather flabbergasted, but gave all three top grades. Mrs. Harper insisted that I should submit all three to Imperial Studies for publication credits.”
“Did you?”
“I sort of had to or Alinis was going to do it for me.”

“So what do you want from me?”
“That is where the strange stuff starts. I have briefs from the barrister and I can use his stuff to support it, I have the navy’s stuff on your raids, since they were glad to do me a favor after I stood ready to make some booms get sent away if necessary and then I checked the professor’s “reliable sources” in the library. I did that before I went to the navy or the Barrister, since I figured that the material would be at least better than the five copper novels. Other than the Rivensdell book, which was fairly accurate, according to Alinis, with whom I talked about it, the stuff was a mess of exaggerations and rather fantastic thinking. I’m fairly sure that some of the most famous raids in the books never actually happened, or at least your ships weren’t there, because you were someplace else at the same time. I figured that I could go over the worst cases with you and use what you say, referencing “reliable sources” and at least get some of the truth out.”

Paeris started to laugh. “I’m afraid that some of that was my fault and some of that was the fault of some people looking to make some money off of my notoriety. Would an accurate timeline be enough for your paper?”
“I think that would be more than enough. Just a little bit on which raids actually happened and that should be good enough. This is just a first year history paper. If some scholar students want more, they can look for you themselves. I certainly won’t tell them where you are and even if I did, they couldn’t stay here very long.”
“You don’t seem to be concerned.”
“I have clearance from the Navy, the Office of Inanimates and Beinan’s as well as access to the family facilities. Nobody is going to hassle me. But after the Stewards and their boom, college students and people with no business are going to have trouble.”

“You were pulled over on your way down.”
“Yes, I was. I was in trouble, since I had a foreign passport as well as my driver’s license, but they called the Umevan shop after I was taken to the station and also checked with the Office and Beinan’s to check that I had clearance there as well. The fact that I had a navy and Radiation Lab ID helped too.”

“So, other than poking obnoxious teachers, what else have you been up to?”
“Making the country safer by helping to make sure that the Steward’s Primaries had something missing and sending things in amongst the rebels and Inanimates in Vestia and making some people miserable.”

“So you were kept busy.”

“More than a bit. The Steward’s booms were more waiting than anything else as you probably noticed, none of them other than the one they brought down here, ended up here.”

‘If you spread the word around here that the Stewards have their booms taken away, that will buy you a lot of beer.”
“It wasn’t all of them. There are still ten more out there, Rob thinks. They left the fuses with no booms inside hoping that the Steward would come back, but a street kid thinks that he saw a truck that was acting fishy. The Steward called his brother and asked him to pick up a package and the brother told the Steward to turn himself in.”
“He didn’t, or I would have heard about it. I have actually started to read the papers, as I find that having large booms go off in the neighborhood is a bit unnerving and seeing people cut houses open makes one feel a bit unsafe.”

“Fortunately your former employers got some bloody noses in Vestia and lost some elections in the Fellowship. Even better, their traitors were all exposed in Vestia after going after the queen and trying to trip off a civil war.”
“A war you helped stop in your usual fashion.”
“I tried. I have able subordinates and friends. If anyone actually finds the Steward, tell them to let me know and there will be surprises where he is. As for Mórsairon and the rest, if I get a whiff of where they are, I have a lot of things ready to go their way.”

“A Scourge devise?”
“Not unless the navy gives me one. I don’t really need one and there is a slightly crazy guy in Ishendell who loves coming up with better ways to burn Inanimates and anything else that needs burning.”

“Let’s get your project started as my time is not infinite and you probably have other obligations as well.”
“Two years ago all I wanted was to poke Adiuin Beinan a bit and get rid of the Richflights. Now the girls in class joke about how I brag a lot when I talk about things.”

Jorge hauled out his material and they started the timeline. Three twentieths later, Bill Wavechaser showed up and said, “Lord Umevan, I was told to pick you up.”
Jorge sighed and said, “You found me.”

“It wasn’t hard and Feno wants to discuss ancient portals with you before you go.”

“Hello, Bill,” Paeris said. “We are pretty much done here, so Feno can have Jorge for the rest of the day.”

“We can use my car,” Jorge said.

Jorge collected his materials and notes and he and Bill went to the car. Jorge put his things away and Bill asked, “Why did you come to see the Great Captain, Lord Umevan?”
“First year history class. My assignment was the Great Captain’s raids.”

“That should be easy.”
“You would think so. I ran into a problem. Actually I did things a bit backwards. Instead of going to the library and using what they had, I took advantage of the fact that I was known to the navy to get the things they had, which they were glad to give me, and Barrister Harper’s office, so I didn’t have to send home and have Tad visit Eryding.”

“That would cause princess issues.”
“It might, or it might not, but she would be involved. In any case, I think that the professor would prefer that I do my own research and not dump a ton of things that my staff could collect for me, so I went to the library and the professor’s “reliable sources” were of less value than the five copper Paeris books. Do you know how many towns that say that they were raided by the terrible Great Captain and had stuff in “reliable sources” actually never had a Ravathyra raider anywhere near the place, let alone Paeris’s ship.”

Bill started to laugh. “Is that what I have to look forward to?”
“When do you start college?”
“Next year.  I am planning to go to Ironton, because it has the best electrical engineering program.”
“I am going through that now. By the time you get there, the library should be fixed, as Mrs. Harper is going to make contributions, my family is going to be contributing and I am making discreet dumps of relevant materials. In this case, I will have the navy material prettied up and donated. Mrs. Harper has said that the Barrister’s Paeris files will be published as well. I expect that several towns are going to be annoyed at me.”

“How did the places get away with it?”
“First of all, books with the Great Captain in them are easy to sell and so a student with a bit of enterprise starts to write one. He knows about the raid on his town, because there is a place where the whole story is laid out, with the original scammer long gone or dead. So he puts it in his book. He includes a few more raids and sends the book off to the publisher, who says, “We like this, let’s run with it.” Some nice easy money and then the book is more or less forgotten. What none of the people do is ask the navy about the raids and Paeris wasn’t exactly available to talk to by most people. So, the books stay on library shelves until some unsuspecting student comes along and uses them as a source. Some of the students become Scholars and reference the sources they used before, adding a layer of original material and then the book becomes a “reliable source” used by Scholars.”
“How did you find this out?”

“I griped about it at the college library. Some Scholar students heard me and explained somewhat. They are stuck with it, because their advisors trust the sources unless they are definitely proven wrong. With Paeris here, that was easy.”

“Are there any good books on portals?”
“Not really. I haven’t seen one. At least not outside the portal community. There are manuals and things, but most of the portal knowledge has been passed by teaching somebody how, or working on one on your own. There may be one at the Sanctuary library, but I never thought to look. We’ve been doing ok without one, but I see your point. For the most part we build our own journals of techniques and technical stuff. You have a portal that you want to be discreet about, but don’t want to use without knowing what can go wrong, don’t you?”
“I can’t talk about that.”
“I can make a trade. My new chief technician saw something that you had and wants to play with it. You want whatever that was out of the vault it is in, the devise that wasn’t stolen that is. Is there more than one?”
“I really shouldn’t be talking about it, especially to you.”

“Now that you brought it up, you are better off talking about it than not. If I really wanted inside your vault, I would get inside, trust me. I could also port whatever it is out again even if there is no portal inside.”

“You could?” Bill said in a frightened voice.

“If there is no shield generator active, I could get in without any trouble. If there are shields, I would have to play, but I have cracked every shield that I’ve tried, including some people that very much wanted to keep me out and tried very hard. I did find a good book on shields and gave a copy to them. I still cracked their shield. You are safe from me, because right now, I don’t have easy access to portals, I am not a thief and my chief technician has other things to do. On the other hand, you were at the Beinan reunion, there will be other ladies looking for capers and making off with that thing would be easy for them.”

“Now I’m really scared. I need to talk to somebody about this, but I think that I can arrange a deal.”

“You saw who asked me to buy those other sets of those text books at the Book Faire. That was Nat, my chief technician and keeping him happy is one of the top things on my list of things that I need to keep in mind. That thing in the magazine is something he really wants and if I find out where it is, I will arrange to acquire it.”

“Because keeping Nat happy means that he keeps working for me. I need him to arrange the shutdown of something that I need to shutdown and dismantle, safely. That is a process that will take years as I do not want to produce more of the metal in Scourge devise cores if I can avoid it. So, some side projects are a good thing.”

“I will talk to somebody about your offer.”
“I can also help you in other ways. After all, I need to keep Tad and Immianthe busy or the Empress will be annoyed with me. Helping you is in my best interest as I am going to need the things you make.”
“What for?”
“You will find out when you get to Ironton. I think I took some things a bit too far, but I was annoyed and it was fun.”
“What did you do?”

“I ported a thing I made to the dean of students’ office. He had sent me a math test, I was a bit annoyed that he thought I couldn’t hack the test and used the examples to make a toy, since wrapping the test around a bottle of Fallingwater would be considered a bribe and I wanted to make a point. The problem is that I put the thing in a box from Dad’s shop and that made the thing either the best prank ever or a very expensive bribe.”

“The thing was like the Carnival.”
“You bought that, didn’t you.  How could you afford that? Dad was sure that it would never sell and was thinking about a wedding present when you up and bought it.”

“I made a bet at the Zirgoccol airshow and won a bundle. We used the Carnival as part of our caper with the Customs Officer.”

“That was sneaky and you have some idea what I did. In any case the dean and the Chancellor went with the prank, put the thing out there for everybody to see and I have a reputation to uphold and no portals. So I’m going to need help doing things different ways.”

“I think we have a deal. Here’s the plant.”

Jorge parked the car and they went inside. Bill took Jorge to Feno’s office and said, “I got him.”

Feno grinned and said, “Don’t go, Bill. Jorge, grab a chair and sit down. You don’t know how happy I am to see you at last.”

“You have made the ancient portals work again and that is an amazing achievement.”
“It wasn’t just me, and I was dropped into it in Ishendell.”

“Still, you are probably the best at one way ports.”
“Gracie might argue that with you. She’s been doing them longer than I have.”
“Gracie has other concerns than coming down here and teaching us portals and learning how the ancient things work.”

“That’s true. She’s also going to be up in the Empire for some time.”

“How is college working out?”
“One reason that I came down here was to talk to the Great Captain and put together a timeline for his raids. Do you have any idea how bad some “reliable sources” actually are?”

“You have Xilynore.”

“How did you know?”
“My son is a year ahead of you and had to take that history class. It’s a required course, he had some issues with it and not being able to use better journals and such as sources for his papers.”

“I was a jerk in the first day of class after the professor spouted off about how Ishendell had been abandoned because of food shortages. Apparently he has never been to the old city. I, on the other hand, discovered the tablet where Amra Luyaris showed the Scourging and said who did it. That got me a ten page paper. Then there was a question about the Darkmage’s fortress and he said it was imaginary. It isn’t. I’ve been there. Another paper. The last was the Blight being a natural disease, after last year and Astaire. Another paper.”

“What did you do?”

“Grabbed everything I could get my hands on concerning the Scourge and Ishendell, used seemingly unreliable but credible sources and three cartons of supporting material and since I was stuck in Chatsrey with a bunch of the Steward’s booms arranging things so they can’t make the big boom, ported the paper and the cartons into the professor’s office. I thought he would fail the paper and ignore the rest, but he either is not as dense as I thought he was or he talked to somebody who looked at things more closely and realized what I had done, so the paper got top grade. The other two did as well and Mrs. Harper insisted I send all of them to Imperial Studies for publication.”

“Are they?”
“They are reviewing them so I think that they will be.”

“As you know, the company wants to buy some of your time, both here and in Chatsrey. We will make the arrangement through the Portal Service.”

“I don’t need money. I think you can guess why. What I may need is ways to save time. I haven’t been asked to join a study group like Alinis has yet, but between one thing and another, the extra work is going to eat into my time.”

“Ironton doesn’t allow study groups in the first year. They want students to develop individual work patterns and learn to push themselves. The second year is different somewhat and you can create a group.”
“I didn’t know. I guess I should have read the student manual more closely.”

“You were probably rushed and dropped down here rather quickly.”

“Things were rushed and I had some things I was doing. I also was flying in with a planeload of Beinans, including Aydiun and Adiun. You can guess what they wanted to talk to me about.”
“Since they are my bosses, I’m not going to say.”

“That was a rather exhausting six twentieths of talking about portals, the Ishendell Portal Service facility and the things I was sending at the people who Scourged the five cities. Two years ago, I was just another kid in the Lower City. Then I made the mistake of mouthing off to Adiun and my happy time was ended.”

“Not entirely, I understand. There are bears in there someplace.”

“I am not sending any more bears places no matter how much they want me to.”

“Bill, you may want to discuss portal lessons with Jorge for you and some of your friends.”

“I talked about that with him already. Not lessons, exactly.”
“I think that we should see about arranging that as well as some of the other things that you have been doing.”

“I need to talk to somebody about that.”
“I understand. On the other hand, you may want to move some things very discreetly and some people are already watching you.”
“The Stewards,” Jorge said. “I was asked by a former pirate to let you all know, if you don’t already, that eight of the Primaries that the Steward had are no longer Primaries. They will go boom, but there are no cores in the devises.”

Feno grinned. “That is good news that should be spread around. Why didn’t you send them to the Deadlands?”
“The other people involved were hoping that the Steward, knowing that his brother was going to turn him in, would retrieve the Primaries and help us find the other ten Primaries. The Steward or his people must have driven by the Steward’s brother’s plant and spotted us working, because he never tried for the devises.” 

 “The good news is that the things are dismantled. Catching the Steward would have been a bonus. Why don’t I take you to dinner?”

“I have to go to Seagate and pick up my lady from the beach.”

“Then we can all go up to Seagate for dinner. Bill, I don’t think that your mother will mind.”
“Neither do I.”

Chapter 4.

The Lower City.

Maethanar grinned as Gander sat down across from him. “I haven’t seen you for some time, Gander. I almost thought that you had forgotten the old servant.”
“My daughter found a boyfriend, who happens to be the crown prince of Astua, I had a rather large case dropped into my lap by the Council of Kings and a little war in Vestia needed my attention.”
“Those are perfectly good excuses. I thought your daughter was trying to find the families of the Transformed that you captured at the wedding.”

“Sarya’s cute monster turned out to be the lost crown prince of Astua. He turned out to be a cute prince, so my daughter kept him. It’s all a perfect Elf Carron tale.”

Maethanar laughed. “So what else happened?”

“The opposition staged a civil war to get rid of Queen Cécile, Duc Geral and Jomney dealt with it, I closed down the Academy and discovered some things, arranged for the queen’s brothers and sister to go on an airship ride and fought in single combat.”

“Did you kill him?”
“No. He probably wanted me too. It wasn’t that much of a fight, really.”

“Anything else going on?”
“The election in the Fellowship had some irregularities and tainted coin show up, but the elections seemed to be clean in the end. Richard probably knows more than I do, as I was still in the mortal kingdoms.”

“I know more about what?” Richard said as he sat down.

“The election in the Fellowship,” Maethanar said. “Gander was saying that there were some irregularities.”

“Not during the elections themselves, though some people tried. Some disreputable types named Spitty, Dan, Theo, Roger and Nightstream waved the Ghost and Gander’s sister in law around and the fixers all decided to stay quietly at home and listen to the election returns on the radio.”

“I had nothing to do with that, you know that, Richard,” Gander said.

“I didn’t say you were involved, did I? On the other hand, your sister in law was in on the plot with Spitty and the others.”

“How was Nightstream involved?”
“He was the one arranging things on my desk so that the message about the scheme would be on my desk before the election, but I would not discover it until the election was over.”

“Would you have stopped it?”
“Of course not. Not only were those people breaking the law, they were spreading tainted coin around and their campaigns involved things like staging emancipation raids on me and trying to put Denny and Big Mike out of business in the Fellowship. I was distracted, but Theo Hammer and the others were on the ball.”

“Will the Fellowship get upset that you interfered with the election?” Maethanar asked.

“Since some of the other players in the scheme were Consul Beira, the Dragonmaster and Halamar, I really doubt it. Spitty just used my name because he didn’t think that the Consul asking for people’s heads would work and quite a few people see the Ghost’s hand everywhere, so the threat was credible. The Bloody Ridge crowd will make noises, but I don’t think that anyone will seriously believe them and the evidence of what the campaigns were doing was in the papers. Consul Beira made sure that the Press Service had the material just before he presented it to the Senate. The Senate pushed the matter until after the Election and that was when the Consul and the others started to play games.”

“At least you have a very good reputation in the Mortal Kingdoms now,” Gander said.

“Yes I do. Sending the people there helped that. I lost quite a few when the cities were Scourged.”
“How? I have a vested interest in having an Imperial reason to investigate the Five Cities.”

“Some of it was business and some of it was that my man in Clerves kept the people I had sent there to help get my combines and other things through the city there to help unload railroad equipment and the evacuation. That was five hundred in Clerves when the Scourge struck and I had five hundred more scattered around the other cities doing various things.”

“Do you have a list? There are probably other Houses with similar losses, but your people are probably the best organized. I can use the list to create a writ and that gives me some Imperial links in the case.”

“I have a list, but you can send somebody to Connak and get everything. He and Nightstream dropped the final list on my desk just before the harvest festival. That young idiot you beat up was lucky it was you and not me.”

“What idiot was that?” Maethanar asked.

“One of the minor players in the rebellion wanted trial by combat. Gander gave it to him. Gander, did you have to make it so fast?”

Gander grinned. “The kid was a tourney champion and twenty years younger than I am, at least. I had to finish it before he figured me out. That tin suit he was wearing didn’t help.”

“Let me guess, he was all dressed in full plate, with sword and shield,” Maethanar said, “While you wore light mail.”
“Yes. I have found that, as I get older, my elvish heritage has some issues, getting burned a bit when I touch iron being one of them.”

“I just hope that some people in the crowd didn’t start to notice certain things,” Richard said. “That could be bad for you. You were lucky he couldn’t press you and force you to drop your glamor.”

“What do you know about that?”

“Not very much, but mother is part of the exile set in the Republic and knows your mother and other grandmother. So, certain things came up from time to time. The girls have to be more careful than the boys and your daughter, while she hasn’t dropped glamor in public, has made an impression in Astia.”

“She did that before Alissa and I could get there and put a lid on it. I sent Sarya and Vindy off to look at files to cool that down a bit.”

“That sounds mysterious,” Maethanar said.

“You probably know most of it,” Gander said. “You know most of the people involved, one way or another. I’m not going to say anything other than my other grandmother demands that we be discreet about some things and Sarya is just about too much of a good thing.”

“The Dancers.”

“Again, I am NOT going to take the risk that my grandmother is running a spy ring under my other grandmother’s nose and discovering that I spilled the beans.”

“That sounds serious. Especially when your grandmother is in the Republic.”

“Paeris isn’t guarding the seas any more, there are flights to Ishendell and portals from there. The ladies have small portals anyway. I have my own job.”

“Beating up poor idiot tourney champions.”

Gander laughed. “That was a bonus. Little things like that make the job worthwhile.”

Lymseia was packing her class materials when the elf came in. She looked at him and said, “Do I know you, milord?”
“You may have, long ago, at least for a night. I am Naertho Umevan.”

“Jorge’s grandfather, along with Rolim and Irial.”

“Yes. I have been pressed with other tasks and reuniting myself with a place that I had thought lost, so I did not think to visit my son’s shop and the school here until my grandson received a math test from the college he applied to and was rather annoyed that they thought that he hadn’t learned his math.”

“Harral Dillings is the math teacher here.”

“We chatted. If he hadn’t more or less retired, I would consider using him for investment here in the Empire. Fortunately he could recommend some former students and traders on the exchange. I just wanted to meet my grandson’s teachers. My wife has already discussed a donation with Lady Nightmantle. It will be rather substantial.”

“Thank you. We are pressed, as many from various places want to come to the school now. It has gained quite a bit of notoriety of late, since some of its recent graduates have done rather remarkable things. I had some fears about Jorge, until he met Lady Biqen.”

“Jorge and Shael go very well together, don’t they?”
“How is he doing in the Republic?”
“So far, he has turned Ironton on its head. At least he has turned the college on its head. He sent the answers to that math test in a toy he made in Fylson’s shop and I don’t think that he knew that doing that not only pranked an entire college of pranksters, but made it appear as if he was trying to give a massive bribe to the dean to ensure his admission. The test was the only sticky and the rest was not an issue. The Dean and the Chancellor treated the thing as Jorge intended, as a Jorge prank.”

“He was that even before Adiun Beinan introduced him to portals.”

Naertho grinned. “He does like them, doesn’t he? I may have to start a portal factory to keep him happy. The Beinans won’t like that, but we go back and forth anyway and they keep trying to recruit Jorge.”
“I’m sorry, but I have an important meeting. Could we make arrangements for another time?”
“We can do that. I will send something to the bakery. I am at the estate at present, with a thousand or so grandchildren to entertain.”

“How did that happen?”
“The children of the estate adopted me. I will be on my way.”  

Naertho left the classroom and when Lymseia passed Harral’s classroom, he was chatting with Harral about Jorge and the math test, apparently. Lymseia rushed a bit, but Alissa and Axilya had already arrived at the bake shop as had Milidia who they were discussing Alissa’s sister’s upcoming wedding with. Two ladies came into the shop with Sylph and sat down. Alenia Zylsalor arrived with Ilyithe and Lymseia said, “I think that all that can come are here. Villia, is this your mother and grandmother?”
“Lady Jessen, This is my grandmother, Aelua Silverin, and mother, Filia Fallingwater. They are being asked to take the Folly back for the family by the Empress.”

“Thus we need to have discreet chats about how much or how little role the Silverin will play in the current events. Some of us have played bigger roles in the past than we should have, but things are coming to a head, with you, Ilyithe, and young Tad both becoming deeply involved in the Imperial family at the highest levels.”

“The Empress has asked me to arrange to have the family take over the Folly again,” Aelua said. “My part of the family is rather small, though some members are still in the houses, some of them for reasons I do not understand as yet. On the other hand, Villia and Keerla have opened negotiations and the Sanctuary would like a presence in the Conclave and in the palace to avoid the isolation that they endured. So we have what looks like a good arrangement all around, developing.”
“What about the tax?” Milidia asked. “We have all heard about it.”

“The Empress can’t find any reference to the Folly owing anything. I haven’t set Villia and Keerla to looking as Villia has another task she was supposed to be doing and has failed. So I do not know exactly what was involved there.”

“What was the failed task, Villia?” Alissa asked.

“I was supposed to play games with Prince Airdan and teach him some things. He had already learned not to play those games, but the Empress never had chats with the Residence downstairs and didn’t know that most of the girls had already tried to play those games and failed. Airdan also has rather strong protectors, as Milidia well knows.”

“How did Tad and the princess meet?”
“Lord Umevan started to take my son to the various places that my son would need to go to, doing tasks for Lord Umevan,” Filia said. “He likes Tad and wanted to expose him to the world so that Tad could help Lord Umevan with things he was looking for. Immianthe ran into Tad at the Imperial Palace and when Lady Biqen arranged a party at the estate, Immianthe showed up with the other menaces and chased Tad down. They have been more or less inseparable ever since, other than when Tad was kidnapped.”

“Tad has been good for Immianthe,” Millidia said. “She is looking beyond herself and not seeing him as some sort of play toy. They scheme and work together on things, even if they are things that the Empress disapproves of. The Empress had a rather stiff chat about Immianthe acting like a servant at the Qinvaris harvest festival, but Princess Arlsyn hadn’t gone to the festival. Immianthe and Tad went with Jimmy and Talissa to help entertain the Vestian royal children. The prince and princess were hosting an event at the Residence. The princess was rather annoyed that Immianthe hadn’t been there, but thought that the Empress had them doing something at the festival, which they were.”

“Immianthe volunteered to help with the brandy and I didn’t think much of it,” Aelua said. “The Empress was complaining about it when she saw them and asked me if I had anything to do with it, but I hadn’t. Filia, do you know what they were up to?”

“They were discussing training and talking to the fae up on the lake. It had to do with transformations and there must be a connection to House Qinvaris somehow. They haven’t told me what they are up to.”

“Immianthe was rather annoyed and upset that Tad didn’t escape,” Milidia said. “She had the entire Residence in an uproar until he was back.”

“The Lord is at college, in the Republic, so it isn’t one of his schemes,” Filia said. “Ilyithe, do you have any ideas? You have been training with them of late.”
“Filia, I don’t know anything other than they were planning whatever it is right after Tad came back from Lain Othrond. Airdan and I saw them with that tray of brandy, so it involved the brandy and somebody that was going to attend the festival, but not be easy to see. I’m not surprised that Immianthe is arranging special training for her and Tad.”

“Immianthe knows who I am,” Villia said. “I could ask her, straight out if it’s important.”
“I don’t think that it is, Villia,” Axilya said. “If it does seem to be important, I can discuss it with Rosa and find out who they were looking to talk to. If Tad and Immianthe were drawing a fae in, we will see things as they develop.”

“I will tell my son to keep an eye on the brandy,” Aelua said. “That seems to be the key to what they are up to.”

Art grinned, stood up and said, “What may the embassy do for you, wise one?”
“Not as wise as all that,” Larranth growled. “Otherwise I would have talked to you first and not the lorekeeper at the kingdom.”

“What do you want to know?”
“Who was asking about me and brandy?”

“The conversation was confidential. Was the brandy a good one?”
“Excellent, which is why I am trying to chase it down. Unfortunately I have been out of touch and I didn’t pay attention to the slave’s livery until they up and disappeared. The livery may have been the Umevan, but they do not have a relationship with my family that I know of.”

Where did you discover the brandy?”

“At my family’s harvest festival. A young elf girl was going around with a slave, handing out samples. I am fairly sure that the brandy did not come from my House.”

“Who was with the slave?”
“A young elf girl, very well dressed, but not in livery. She offered the brandy to folk and the slave had the tray. When I thought to look for them, they never appeared again. They hinted that they were looking for me, specifically. Some others hinted that they had been looking into me before the festival.”

“Did the girl give you no hints?”
“She said that she was a princess. I think that I would recognize almost all the Fae princesses and, while she had obviously been tested, she was more elf than fae. I think that she may have been an Imperial princess, but I am not sure where the brandy came from.”

“That seems like a strange thing for an Imperial princess to be doing.”

“I thought, so, especially with the slave that was with her.”

“Fortunately, thanks to a certain troublemaker and my upcoming nuptials, I have a list of the Houses that deal in wines and other beverages. Let me scan you a copy.”

Art did and Larranth said, “You seem to be adapting to this very well.”

“We have been. Fortunately the turmoil has been far away for the most part recently.”

Larranth looked at the list and said, “I recognize most of these, but I’m not familiar with Fallingwater. Is that a House?”
“That is House Umevan’s brand. For a very long time the estate had been managed for the Dowager Empress after the House had been exiled. The estate has been returned to the House.”

“I think that I am beginning to understand. This is a Jorge prank, isn’t it? Alinis probably pointed him at us, even though we haven’t met as yet.”

“To my knowledge, young Jorge is not in the Empire at present.”

“You keep track?

“There are some folk that even the fae want to keep track of.”

“The question is why Jorge would want to prank me. I haven’t even seen the young elf for some time.”

“Perhaps it is someone else in the family.”

“I think that I am going to have to talk to my granddaughter and see about some snoops.”

Larranth disappeared and Moonflower asked, “What did he want?”

“The elf girl who was serving brandy at the Qinvaris harvest festival. He’s sort of on the right track, but not exactly. I led him to where the brandy came from, but the fact that Immianthe called herself “princess” hasn’t made the impact that it should have. He’ll pick up on Tad unless he gets the Harper boys doing the work. They know full well who Tad and Immianthe are and will be glad to snoop on the estate, but not find Tad.”
“Why will the Harper boys lead him astray?”
“The wise one hasn’t exactly been quiet about his opinion of Richard and people from the Republic in general and the boys are fully aware of that. Larranth hasn’t gone out of his way to cultivate the boys and Alinis is out of the country.”
“Robin told you all of this, didn’t he?”
“Yes he did. With two small fae communities on the Qinvaris estate, communities that get along quite well with the boys and just about everyone else, having the old fae come out of the woods and act the way he does isn’t making anyone happy. They have put up with it for Rosa, but the old fool is going to have earn their respect.”

“These are Richard’s nephews.”

“Yes. They came up and dug right in, helping with the harvest and the things in Vestia and Apua and made a lot of friends, both on the farm and the communities.”

House Qinvaris.

Tarranth looked up from his classwork and said, “You want the boys and me to do what, grandfather?”
“Look into the Umevan estate and find some things out for me.”
“Does dad want this?”
“I’m hoping that we can keep your father out of it.”

“Has anybody given you the brief on the Umevan estate?”
“What do you mean?”

“Jorge issues notwithstanding, there is no way that the boys and I are going to go up there and “look into things.” There are very good reasons for that, not least of which is that not only would we be making Jorge sore if we were caught, dad will be annoyed and the Inquisition and Chompers would be all over us.”

“What is up there, other than a winery?”
“You will have to ask dad. If you want to go and buy some wine, we can help you with that. But poking around isn’t something you can do. What were you looking for?”
“A young elf girl and a slave boy.”

Tarranth started to laugh. Larranth looked at him and said, “What is so funny?”
“Go back to that place at Treehollow and look at some papers. They will be in there, as a result of some things that happened in Zirgoccol. I could tell you who they are, but it works better that way. Of course, you could Jump down to Uncle Taeren’s and talk with him about it, but I’m not sure if he has the story as yet.”

“Ok, I will check the papers and see what I find.”

Larranth disappeared and Tarranth went to find his mother. “Great grandfather is looking for Tad and Immianthe. He liked the brandy, apparently.”

Rosa grinned. “We wondered why they were doing that. Grandfather was the target.”

“Apparently. He wanted me and the boys to go up to the estate and do some snooping and I squelched that. Jorge isn’t there and his Inquisitor is. I’m not going to go up there wandering around and right now, the boys are back to looking for libraries and I am in college. So, we all have work, now that things have calmed down in the Mortal Kingdoms.”

“Don’t be too hard on grandfather.”

“The problem is that, other than Alinis and Fire, he sort of looks down on us because we don’t play fae games. But even the fae don’t have time for that out on the estates, especially this year. If he wants us to do things, make it worth our while. Don’t send us on errands when you can find out what you want by reading newspapers.”

Rosa started to laugh. Is that where you sent him?”
“Yes. I figured he could find out that Tad had been kidnapped and how Immianthe felt about it and the rest, go up there and they could get what they wanted and give grandfather his brandy.”

“Grandfather has been away for a long time and a few games couldn’t hurt.”

Tarranth smiled. “Who said we weren’t playing games. I could have told him right out who Tad and Immianthe were, but doing it this way is a lot more fun, even if he has to be led through the nose.”

“He will figure things out.”
“Of course he will, but then maybe he will respect what we can do. He’s had all his fun with Alinis and Fire and didn’t pay any attention to the rest of us. Now he wants to and we have other things to do. I need to get back to studying.”

Treehollow Faerie Kingdom.

Springrose looked at the dejected Larranth and said, “What happened?”
“Art wouldn’t tell me straight out who the kids were or where the brandy came from, but did point me at the Umevan estate. I thought that Richard’s boys would enjoy poking in there, but Tarranth said that he and the boys were busy, they were not going up there just to snoop and there were serious Inquisition and Chompers concerns on the estate. He then said that I should look in the newspapers for the girl and the slave.”
“Did you?”

“I did, and I should have done that right off. The girl was Princess Immianthe and the slave was Taderl Fallingwater. He was kidnapped earlier this year by a group called the Emancipation League and sent to Lain Othrond.”

“So we have some birds to hunt. Why so dejected?”
“Because I could have discovered that right off with a little thought or even looking around at the festival. We were even talking to the girl’s brother there. I essentially had to be led through the nose to solve a puzzle.”

“Alinis spoiled us somewhat, I think. She was not as indirect about some things and these two are. We have been challenged, then.”

Larranth smiled. “I knew that you could bring me out of my funk.”

“What did the newspapers say about the two?”
“The first was that the boy’s mother is remarkable for a slave. She is outspoken and intelligent, as well as well prepared to debate things. She dismantled the Emancipation League morally in a few hundredths.”
“Why? As a slave, I would expect that emancipation would be something she supported.”

“The Emancipation League was a fraud. They either forced slaves before a magistrate and forced them to pay rather extravagant costs for the slave being emancipated or they held the slaves until the owner would send a “donation” to the  league. The slaves that they did that to were the same thing that Richard was to Rosa or high level people doing business and forgetting to leave their collars at home. So the various people were willing to pay to get the slave back and if they squawked, they were slave masters. Tad’s mother was a slave and didn’t make any bones about what the League was doing. So she took any arguments away from them. I talked to Marcus about the events.”

“They sound like interesting folk indeed. Does the princess own the slave?”
“Jorge does. The princess did seem to have plans for the boy, didn’t she?”

“I think that we should shop for some brandy and see what those two want from us and what they offer for it.”

“We can use the story with Taeren if nothing else.”

“That is another thing we should do. I want to meet the family down there in the Republic. We have been neglecting them. Let’s get Rosa to make the arrangements.”The Umevan Estate.

The first snowflakes fell on the Umevan estate as the estate saw yet another winter approach. The fires were laid on in the chapel and there was a festive mood as the estate prepared for the wedding of two of its own. The guests started to arrive, greeted by Goren’s mother and Shael and guided by a combined guard of the estate’s enhanced and the Grimfrost bears, all in spotless uniform. The guests were sat in the chapel and the car containing the Fallingwaters arrived, followed by another car with the Silvirin. Villia, turned out in the ancient wedding dress of the Silverin, walked across the swept and snow free courtyard to the chapel and the waiting Goren. Tad and Immanthe had escort duty, Tad turned out in an immaculate Umevan livery and Immianthe the perfect elven princess. A flashing camera caught the wedding party as they approached the chapel and went inside. Escorted by her father, Villia walked up the aisle to the nervously waiting Goren, vows were said, and answered, a baton tossed and the party started.

Immianthe and Tad were serving drinks when Larranth said, “We caught you, princess.”

A rather annoyed Immianthe said, “Were you invited?”
“I don’t know, were we?”

“It took you long enough to find us. We expected you to be poking in the day after the festival.”

“So why were you looking for me and Springrose?”
“Alinis mentioned that you were very good at transformations. Tad had some trouble getting out of a place because he couldn’t transform, so we were hoping that you would teach us.”
“That is a valuable skill. What can you offer, princess?”
Tad held up a bottle. “My uncle hasn’t started to sell his best brandy yet. We could insure that you had a supply for things coming up.”

“That is a very intriguing offer, now what can you do to sweeten it somewhat?”
“That’s a bit difficult as we are only thirteen,” Immianthe said.

“Not as difficult as all that,” Springrose said with a grin. “My husband was more than a bit befuddled by your little puzzle and the reason for that was that we have been out of touch with the world for a very long time. We want to reconnect and we have realized that we need guides.”
Tad grinned and said, “I’m just a slave.”
Springrose looked down her nose and said quietly, “Young Silverin, your folk are never slaves unless they choose to be. We have heard some stories about what you did to the folk in Lain Othrond.”
“What did I do to them? The lord came and got me.”

“Yes he did, but that doesn’t change the fact that you were working your influence long before he got to the city.”

“I was? I was just trying to keep off the Lady’s couch and help some people.”

“While not helping others. In any case, you and your princess are suitable guides to the here and now.”

“I think that is a fair exchange,” Immianthe said.

Nat, glass in hand, looked mournfully at the smiling Villia and Goren. He turned away and Stadlee said, “What has you down?”

“She isn’t here.”
“Perhaps she does not know that you have returned.”

“One reason I came was to save her. I had to leave and she was sent away. I promised to be here when she returned and I was taken to that hole. When I returned, I hoped that she would be here and she was not.”

“You would know if she were dead. She is your true and you will find each other, now that you are free to look.”

Nat brightened. “I am that now. I’ve been too busy to really think about that, but I can take the time to look.”

“Somewhat. She may still be in the Lower City. Talk to my wife and she can point you at some ladies that can aid your search. For now, enjoy the day and my daughter’s joining at last.”

“This is a happy day for you.”

“Yes it is. My daughter’s time is over and she can live her life with her true, as she wishes and has opportunities that my wife and I could not dream of.”

“Are you going to the Republic?”

“My father in law is having his turn. Goren and Jorge want to make a splash and the wine competition will do that. So my father in law is going while you and I take care of things here and Jorge gets to be a student.”
“I feel sorry for his teachers.”

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