The Trials of Slaves, Chapter 19-20

Jprge conducts hijinks at the bladder ball game. Naerhto makes a purchase.

Chapter 19.

University of Ironton, Ironton.

Vince Lion looked at the message and cursed. His grandfather wanted to know about Jorge Umevan. More to the point, his grandfather wanted to know how much Jorge was planning to mess up the games and the betting. The problem was that Vince wasn’t exactly Jorge’s buddy and the bladderball boys and the pranksters didn’t exactly get along, even when the pranksters helped the bladderball boys. Vince walked into the lunchroom and sat down next to Frank and Tolly, who were holding court as usual. “What was going on with Navy?”

Frank looked at Vince and said, “Hello there, Vince. I haven’t seen you for a while. How is beating up kids going for you?”
“I don’t beat up kids.”

“You don’t. Your friends, on the other hand, may have done something that resembles beatings in the back alleys. In any case, coach got a little present. Didn’t you like it?”
“How did you manage that?”
 “That will have to remain our little secret from now on.”

“Is there more coming?”

“I’m certainly not going to tell you what we may or may not be planning. You will see all of it at the game tomorrow.”

“What about other games?”

“What about them? I imagine that navy is going to have a bad year.”

“The coach wasn’t the only one to receive a present.”

“Would you like a copy of a certain book? I can arrange that.”

“Are you selling Navy’s playbook?”
“Not I. I do not deal in such things. On the other hand, I heard that you can contact some people and obtain such things at a good price. I could arrange a connection for you.”

“That firstie is selling the playbook?”
“Vince, I wouldn’t play with him, trust me. Your grandfather won’t like it. You know what Jorge’s grandfather does to people that bother his people. What do you think that the family will do to anyone who tries to beat up the House head? As for selling any books, I doubt it.”

“Why is he doing this?”
“You have sources. Or you can make a deal. The deal won’t be cheap. Some friends had expensive dental work and injuries. We remember and this time, you pay up.”

“You don’t want to play with me.”
“Exactly. I don’t want to play with you. You are getting the point. This time, if your buddies do bug me, or any of my friends, we won’t be playing and your grandpa’s people might have some issues. We got one book. We could go for more than one and really mess things up. After all we aren’t in the game. We didn’t come to you, you came to us. In any case, it isn’t us who you have to talk to and I would be very careful how you approach Jorge. He has friends all over the place.”
Jorge sat down with his tray and looked at Vince. “Who is this, Frank?”
“Jorge, meet Vince Lion. His friends like to beat up kids.”

Jorge looked at Vince. “Were you looking for me, Vince?”

“I want to know what’s going on with Navy.”
“I’m not going to spill that until things are done. I can give you a connection to somebody that can help you with some things.”

“I can make things unpleasant for you.”
“Really, Vince? Did all the smart ones in your family go up to the Empire, because they know better than to say things like that to me. Your Uncle Tony is going to be annoyed if he has to tell my dad that his nephew and his friends beat me up because I wouldn’t spill my prank plans for a twit who annoyed some friends of mine. The thing is that if you had come off as being different from that other twit, we could have had a talk and made a deal. Instead, the first thing out of your mouth was a stupid threat. Do you really want me thinking about how unpleasant I should be making things for you? I would talk to your cousins before you do. I owe the Great Captain a prank and while I had another twit in mind, I could change my mind. You should go up to the Empire and get lessons from your Uncle Tony on the fine arts of persuasion, because you are pathetic. Now go away, we have pranks to plan and you are an annoyance.”

Vince stalked off, Frank turned to Jorge and said, “That may not have been the smartest thing to do.”
Jorge grinned. “It wasn’t, right up to the point that he calls grandpa for further instructions and gets told to back off. Tony knows my dad. Tony knows me, all too well. He’s known me since I was a kid on the street in the Lower City. Tony’s kids know me. I’ve eaten at their house. The funny thing is that I don’t want to mess up the book too much. I’m not an idiot and if Vince had wanted to work with us we could have used the resources. I guess that he is so used to just beating up on you all and getting what he wants, that he doesn’t understand that doing things that way has limits. His problem is that trying that with me is going to make things unpleasant even in his own family. There’s a lot more at stake than a small time book on some college bladderball games.”

“The book isn’t that small. That’s why Vince was talking to me in the first place.”

“We can play with that. Vince will probably make you an offer and you can spill some things we aren’t actually doing. If we do this right, we can mess things up and not actually do anything.”

Frank grinned. “Where did you learn this stuff?”
“The Portal Service. You have to understand that Adiun took things over and had to go full Beinan because we had the Inquisition looking to get us exiled and the Darkmage and his kids playing with the portals. We had to be fast, sneaky and not worry about rules. That includes some of Vince’s relatives. With the Darkmage and his kids gone, the Inquisition having bigger problems and the Beinan ladies working on their weddings rather than capers, things are going to be rather boring at the Portal Service for the most part. Vince was trying to threaten me, who played games right under the Darkmage’s nose while Paeris was watching. Does Vince have a girlfriend?”
“Yes.”

“If he’s smart, he’ll have her meet with Shael and not try the heavy stuff.”

“What if he does?”

“I grew up on the streets of the Lower City. I’m not the soft high elf that he thinks I am. Before Adiun came along and changed my life, I was heading toward small time boss, probably for Vince’s uncle, mostly because of the Richflights. That changed, so here I am.”

Jorge and the others schemed during lunch and Jorge was off to classes for the rest of the day. After his last class, he was in a rush to get to the dorm, change, get picked up and taken to his grandmother’s for Tad and the princess’s last dinner with the family. Being rushed, he took a short cut and realized that Frank’s quip about beating up kids had some truth behind it and that Vince wasn’t as smart as he thought. He looked at the thuggish Bladderball player in front of him and the other one behind and said, “Don’t you have something better to do than chase after me?”
“Somebody wanted something. You should have given it to them.”

“Your buddy Vince is an idiot, and whatever he pays you, it isn’t enough for the grief that will descend upon you if you aren’t smart and disappear, right now.”

“From you, firstie?”
“Not from me. Let’s work this through. You beat me up. Either I can get up and bruised and battered, make it back to my dorm and clean up a bit. Then I go down to the car waiting to pick me up and take me to dinner at my grandmother’s. It’s fairly obvious that somebody worked me over and I arrive late, right in front of all the people my grandmother has at the house. My uncle Jhaan calls the cops, in this town, where the family essentially owns the place. My grandmother pushes until I tell her about the little chat I had with Vince earlier. So grandmother sends a message to Vince’s grandfather, who will probably call Vince in and have you boys worked over. Of course Vince has now annoyed me greatly and that is not a good thing, as a lot of people would tell him. That is the best case.

“We could make sure that you don’t get up.”

“Are you sure that’s what you want? Let’s say that the worst happens and I don’t get up, permanently. I have important guests that are expecting me at my grandmother’s in about half a twentieth and a car waiting in front of my dorm. So you have at best, twenty hundredths before somebody starts looking for me, the world starts looking for you and Vince’s grandfather gets a message from my grandfather looking for Vince’s head, since Vince was threatening me in front of witnesses. My grandfather plays rough, with orc armies. He would probably get Vince’s head. What that means for you, who actually did the deed is something that I wouldn’t want to contemplate. Right now, the best thing for you is to run off and tell Vince to act smart. I need to go.”

The thug in front reached for Jorge. “You’re not going anywhere!”

“I didn’t mention option three. I beat you up.”

Jorge dropped his books, grabbed the thug’s hand and rolling him over his back, slammed him into the other one. As they struggled to get themselves separated, with swift strikes, Jorge hit them on the neck, head and knees, with his fists and feet, leaving them groaning on the ground. He picked up his books and said, “Now you’ve made me late. Tell Vince that the next time, it gets expensive.”

Beltain Naval Academy

Roger watched as Cadet Wavechaser walked by and grimaced as the two marines snapped to attention and saluted. Wavechaser returned the salute and walked on to class. Midshipman Lieutenant Darrel Findley said quietly, “Just let it drop, Roger. It is as it is. Wavechaser has the eye of the High Admiral and if you keep it up, you are playing with fire.”

“The sand rat is getting away with it.”

 “Getting away with what?”
“False valor. He wasn’t entitled to wear that uniform.”
“Everyone else says that he is.”

“He didn’t go through boot camp or training.”

“Apparently not. The marines don’t seem to care. Maybe they think that Ishendell makes up for that.”

“The medals.”
“He did things. He put his life at risk and people noticed. Perhaps they think that standing up to monsters and Inanimates is worth a medal or two. Why do you care so much?”

“He showed up the first day in that uniform and it was if he was starting at the top and not the bottom.”

“He showed up in the uniform he was entitled to wear. You didn’t read the files and know about that before you marched out to induct the plebes. That wasn’t his fault. Then you marched up to the captain’s office and made an ass out of yourself. Maybe you should look in a mirror before harassing the cadet.”

“Not you too?”
“I’m just calling things as I see them. Right now, I would be looking at my first commission.”

“What do you mean?”
“Right now, you and your dad have done a pretty good job at pissing off the Navy Secretary and the High Admiral. You are naïve if you don’t think they don’t have some nasty post with your name on it.”

“They wouldn’t do something like that.”
“What makes you so sure?”
“Wouldn’t that be obvious and petty?”

“Yes it would. Just like pointlessly bullying a first year cadet is. I would back off and get through graduation and that nasty commission. Otherwise any career in the navy is toast.”

Ironton.

Jhaan grinned as Jorge got out of the car and said, “What was the hold up?”
“I’ll talk about it later. There are some issues and an idiot I want to talk about.”

“Who is the idiot?”
“I’ll talk about it later. Apparently some people are worried that I messed things up for them, wanted somebody at the college to find out what I was doing and the idiot was used to bullying people around.”

“Should I call the police?”
“No. I beat the two characters up already. I hope that they weren’t key players on the team, because if they were, coming after me was just plain stupid today.”

Immianthe was looking at Jorge and said, “What did you do, Jorge?”

“Princess, would you stop looking at me that way? Not everything that happens around me is my fault. Sometimes other people do things like beat people up.”

“Were you beating people up, Jorge?”

“I’m not going to say anything about that, princess.”

“What are you doing at the big game tomorrow?”
“Princess, if I wasn’t going to spill to Tony’s relatives, I am hardly going to spill to you while the press is here.”

“You were making deals with gangsters?”
“Princess, you watched too many movies while you were here. I wasn’t making deals with gangsters. They aren’t as nice as the gangsters in my old neighborhood. So there weren’t any deals.”


Beltain Naval Academy

Roger watched as people arrived at the Academy Stadium for the game. The marines had a large contingent that arrived and in his sergeant’s uniform, Tim greeted the various officers, who shook his hand and took his salutes with huge grins. Major Tollings arrived with his wolvish sergeant and a large contingent of family, many wearing navy uniforms. The high admiral arrived and greeted Wavechaser and Billings. Then the Ironton contingent arrived. They were led by the pack of Iron dogs that were the college’s mascots and sat in their seats in a large block that somebody had arranged. The opening ceremonies started and Roger went into game mode as the first kick approached.

Generator

Frank turned to Jorge and said, “Having the boat changes things.”

“We could sit in the stadium, but somebody would spot us. On the other hand the yacht is just moored at anchor.”

“They will be looking for radio signals.”

“That is why I’m using the microportals. The middies should know about them. If the midshipman captain hadn’t been a twit, he would have, because Tim and Gotrid know how I play. Instead he made enemies, which was stupid at this point in his career.”     

“Where did you get this gear?”
“Don’t ask too many questions. It’s borrowed and the fewer people that know that it was used, the better. Let’s start.”

Beltain Naval Academy

Roger grimaced as the third start was ground into the ground by the Ironton defense, with nothing to show for it. He set up for the fourth and last start, the handler tossed the ball across from the edge and the play started, only to have all his receivers covered and the Ironton defensive players pounding over his wall. Left with no option, he kicked the ball away. It was caught by a Ironton grabber who ran it forward, the defense forming a wall to cover the grabber, who handed the ball to a charger as the Ironton line held and the charger headed to an empty Academy goal. Ironton scored. The seat suddenly showed a flurry of posterboard making a giant iron dog chewing up a battleship with Roger’s number eleven on it. A firework launched from someplace, making a boom in the air in celebration of the score.

Sal, looked at his grandson on the bench, turned to Tony and said, “Thank you for coming.”

“Mother insisted.”

“You didn’t bring Chrissie and Midnight.”

“They are attending college. So far, this is typical Jorge antics, with some new twists.”

“Vince was an idiot yesterday.”

“The other boys know Jorge, or about him. Vince didn’t think about the fact that Jorge goes around without bodyguards?”
“I don’t think that Vince thought at all. He went charging after the pranksters and didn’t think about how somebody from the Empire reacts to threats.”

“You should have sent a message and had me come down. I’ll talk to Jorge about this. I think that you can relax. He’ll talk to me, and unless Vince continues to push, Jorge won’t do much more than mess up Navy’s twit.”

“Why is he doing that?”
“Jorge can be extremely loyal to his friends, likes and admires the major and has actually been in charge of the major’s boys in Ishendell. So he considers the boys his people and feels a bit responsible for them. You probably know what happened over Tad.”

“That was the old elf.”

“Not all of it and the old elf wasn’t running the show, Jorge was. Bene has nothing but good to say about how Jorge has handled the issue of the girls in the houses and on the estate and he has some good connections as a result. The old elf likes how Jorge is handling things in any case.”

Sal looked at another botched play and said, “I think that we can throw the book away on this game.” 

Tomal whistled, caught Roger’s eye and made a dumping motion with his hand. At the next gathering, Roger said, “We dump the playbook. Ok, here’s what we do.”

The next two plays made gains and in the third, Roger feinted and made a cross toss to his charger, who ran the ball to the goal, evaded the tender, and dropping the ball, kicked it in, tieing the score.
Generator

Frank said, “It took them long enough.”

Jorge sent a signal. Frank looked at him and Jorge said, “Roger doesn’t like snakes. Some snakes just crossed the field.”

“How did you find that out?”
“Roger is from the Peninsula. Do you know just how many friends Major Tollings, the boys and me have there? After all, while Roger was here, in the academy, we were there, in Ishendell, fighting the Darkmage and everything else. That might be a big reason why Roger went after Tim in the first place. He was here, taking his tests, doing his drills and all the right things, and Tim was there, not a soldier in the beginning, winning medals and other shiny pieces of tin. What Roger doesn’t understand is that Tim didn’t exactly have a choice in the beginning and by the time he did, he had the choice of going back out into the world that had proved to be dangerous or staying with the major, a very strong protector. The boys chose to stay with the major as long as they could.”

“What about you?”
“I had my job already. I was the Portal Service’s head crazy, the guy who jumps out of airplanes and airships to open portals, scares the hell out of bandits and handles Scourge devises. I didn’t ask for it all, but I didn’t run away either. Right now I have bigger responsibilities and I think that a lot of people will be overjoyed if I never even see another can.”

“What are you going to do about Vince?”

“That depends on what he does. If he hasn’t been called on the carpet, he soon will be. What he does after that is up to him. If he isn’t a total idiot, he’ll make peace. If he wants to send more goons, I have people too and my family essentially owns Ironton, so I have a lot more people than he does.”

“You seem to be very confident of that.”

“He sent bladder ball team members against me. That hardly seems as if he has a lot of resources to draw on. I think that things have started again.”

Beltain Naval Academy

The Ironton offense drove the Naval Academy’s defense into the ground, scoring again. The response was still more things appearing mysteriously. Tom looked around and walked to where Major Tollings and his family were sitting. He walked over and said, “Have you been enjoying your leave?”

“Somewhat, sir. I took Lissia to meet the relatives she hadn’t already met, Lissia’s mother and her kids visited the grandparents and we’ve been taking Lyari to all the stops.”

“That sounds like a good thing. I see that Jorge has taken the boys’ nemesis in hand.”

Jorge smiled. “I think that somebody is getting a very important education. He hasn’t been a total loss, but he could do with a session on a ship with somebody like Paeris in command.”

“Peble found something interesting. When the Peninsula kicked off, he wanted to leave his class and serve on a ship at the Peninsula. The academy denied that and some other requests at the time. Most of them were top students and the academy didn’t want future officers potentially ruined by combat. Since it was a land war, we didn’t need extra sea officers and if we had, the extra training time would have paid off in better junior officers.”

“That explains some things. There Tim shows up, covered in the sorts of things he wanted, with all the honors and whatnot. What the midshipman captain doesn’t see is the fear, the dealing with monsters, dodging the Darkmage and the rest of it. I think that the boys stayed with me because I was a safe haven in a world suddenly turned dangerous. They survived, but all of them have scars. What annoys me about the twit and his father is that they have never sat down and tried to see things from the boys’ point of view. Roger only sees Tim as an adversary and not the boy shaking in fear as a monster is looking for his brother, wanting to kill and eat him, while Tim is afraid to shoot and attract attention. The congressman called them ruthless killers, but the problem they have is that they want to be sure that what they shoot needs to be shot. That was one thing they had from me. They knew that if I had them take a shot, there was a reason.”

Another play fell apart on the midshipman captain and Jorge winced. He looked across the stadium and said, “Tony seems to have explained things to his father.”

Tom looked and grinned. “I’m surprised that he is here.”
“I’m not. It looks as if Ironton has scored again. That’s the half.”

Roger slunk into the locker room with the rest of the dejected team and the coach bellowed, “Why did it take me to tell you to dump the playbook?”

“I thought that we were supposed to stick to the book.”

“After it becomes obvious that the other side has read the book? That is when the things we teach here matter. All of you are future officers in the Republic’s navy and frankly you are failing here. Look at it this way, if a bunch of iron dogs could do this to you, what would happen when the old Admiral came over the horizon. I was on the other end of that once and you could run into somebody like that. That is when you don’t have anything but your guts and brains, something that I had hoped that the academy would teach you to use. Now, I want to see two scores for every one the dogs make.  If you don’t, I swear that I will start bringing the sand rats to practice and if they do better, they go in as the Academy team. Now get out there and get it done.”

“What about the dogs’ distractions?” a guard asked.

“What about them? Are you scared of a little fireworks? If you are, resign and save the navy a ship in the future.”

“Where are they doing that from?” Roger asked.

The coach looked at them and said, “I have no idea. We don’t have time to figure that out now. So ignore it and pound some dogs into the ground! Get back out there and show them that we aren’t squishies.”

The team charged out and the coach followed them out. Admiral Harper appeared by the locker room door and said, “Do you think that they will pull it out?”
“Admiral, I think it’s fifty-fifty, with a weight that they will still be a score short when it over. Frankly Ironton has better spooks than we do this time around. Do you know about that Umevan from the Empire? He seems to be the one driving the spooks. They had an interesting scheme to get their hands on the play book right under our noses and I’m sure now that they pulled it off.”

“I’m not sure if I should give you the file on Jorge. It might frighten you more than a bit. Actually, I think my niece’s boyfriend did the deed, but she and Fire won’t admit to anything. Jorge was cagy when he collected everybody for the meeting. Sarya was there and only had hints even though she was aware that Jorge was putting something together with her in the room.”

“That says a lot about him. Did he know who Sarya was?”

“Yes. Sarya interviewed Jorge’s slave boy, another young man with extraordinary gifts in the spook department, at Major Tollings place with Jorge there, so he knew who she was.” 
“We can talk about this later. I need to see the end of this.”

The game slogged on and by the time it was over, the score was Ironton six, the Academy, five. The jubilant Ironton crowd started to leave as a fireworks show started on a barge offshore the Ironton end of the stadium. The dejected Academy team headed to their locker room. They didn’t notice the tender leaving the yacht for the shore and a waiting car.

Sal and Tony were waiting for Vince as he exited the locker room. Sal looked at his grandson and said, “I didn’t think that any of my boys were idiots.”

“What do you mean, grandfather?”
“You had two boys on the bladderball team assault Jorge Umevan on the Ironton campus in Ironton. What did you think was going to happen?”
“I thought that Jorge would come to me for a chat.”

“Did you think to remember what the Umevan family rules are about such things? The last thing the business needs is to have the old elf, with every tool at his disposal ripping the business to shreds because my grandson was stupid enough to beat up the old elf’s grandson on the campus in Ironton. That is before all of the people, like the Beinans, the navy, the President, the Emperor and Orcenchief came after the idiot who beat or maybe killed the young man that they all rely on to handle very dangerous things. I just asked you for some information, not to kick off a war that the family can’t fight, let alone win.”

“Jorge beat Haral and Brock up anyway.”
Tony laughed. “Vince, you are an idiot. You can’t even find persuaders who can do the job?”

“They worked before.”

“Vince, you’ve been coddled. You also don’t know much about the Empire. If a high lord, which Jorge definitely is, goes around without an army of handlers and bodyguards, that is making a statement. The statement is that not even crazies would dream of messing with them. Only the most powerful do that. Jorge hasn’t had the status for very long, but he knows that rule and even the fae will not prank him. He was the sort that most people in the Lower City knew not to mess with even before he started to work for Adiun Beinan. Have you heard of the Dancer?”

“Everyone has heard of her.”

“Jorge was trained in fighting by the Dancer’s sister. Tell your boys that they are lucky to be alive. I know that Jorge likes to tell stories about himself. Didn’t you pay any attention to them?”
“That crazy bear fantasy?”
“I know most of the people that helped pull that off. It really happened. Snowball keeps himself in beer telling the story. Now, I’m going to find Jorge and talk with him. He’ll tell me what we need to know, probably that he’s only messing up Navy because of their tosser and if they change the tosser, he’ll stop messing them up. He isn’t trying to mess up the book. He isn’t placing any bets anyway. Did you stop to think what he could have done if he was. He could have ruined the family with the pay off if he was pissed off enough at us.”

“He doesn’t act as if he has that kind of money.”

“He hasn’t had it for very long, but right now, the family has two power plants in the Fellowship that they are providing equipment for, they are electrifying the kingdom of Astaire and parts of the Empire and Jorge personally runs an information service that quite a few governments are starting to use and pay for, as in about the same amount as the college bladder ball book.”

Vince gulped. “Are you saying that he could have blown the book and not raised a sweat?”
“Unless you made it personal, we are ok. If you did, you better hope that he just comes after you. Since your boys didn’t actually manage to hurt him, he probably isn’t going to bother playing with you unless you try something, so don’t. Why didn’t you offer resources to help what he’s doing? That would have put you on the inside, been profitable and you would have covered the book.”

“I didn’t think of that, Uncle Tony.”

“Apparently not stopping to think is the way you operate. Dad, I need to find Jorge and talk with him. I can clear this up.”

“I’ll go with you.” He looked at Vince and said, “Vince, I think that you are going up to the Empire after you graduate. Tony is right about coddling.”   

Cleadsgate.

The Ironton crowd had a huge tent rented by Umevan Electric with catered food and drink. The table had several barrels with the Fallingwater brand on them with girls from Ironton’s cheerleading squad filling paper cups with wine. Tony spotted Jorge near the barrels and walked toward him, only to be intercepted by Alinis and Fireoak, who said, “Hi Tony. Why are you here?”
“Were you two involved in the scheme?”

Alinis smiled mysteriously and said, “We were at the ceremony where Tim and Gotrid received the knighthoods, yes. But so were other people. Is this your dad?”
“Yes it is. Dad, this is Alinis Qinvaris Harper and her friend, Fireoak Greenleaf. Alinis, Fire, this Sal Lion, my dad.”

“Daddy talks about you a lot, Mr. Lion. I’m glad to meet you at last. Your wife has been up to the Empire, are you going to come?”

“I need to keep track of the business down here.”
“Like Vince. I understand. Jorge is over there, Tony.”

“I saw him. Let’s go, dad.”

They left and Sal said, “I want to strangle Vince. That girl knew all about it.”

“She was probably at the thing that the Umevan were having for this. Uh oh, I should have expected this.”

Sal looked at the two young teens approaching, the girl a perfect elven doll and the boy dressed as a slave in livery, but not wearing a collar. Tony bowed and said, “Hello, princess. I see that Tad brought you to the Republic this time. Father, this is Princess Immianthe and Tad Fallingwater. Princess, this is my father, Sal Lion.”
The princess looked at Tony, smiled, turned to Sal and said, “I am glad to meet you, Mr. Lion. Tony, are you here to keep Jorge out of trouble?”
“Princess, I’m not sure that is possible, but we are trying to contain the damage.”

“Good. Jorge has been let loose here and it’s a good thing that he hasn’t found or built portals yet. Come on, Tad. I see the girls.”

Tad groaned and followed the princess as Sal laughed. “How did that happen? She has him wrapped around her wrist already.”

“I’m not sure, but it did and everyone where I live agrees with your assessment. They figure the wedding before they are eighteen and lots of kids. Here’s Jorge and Shael.”

Jorge appeared, two cups in hand. “I saw you looking for me, Tony, so I brought some wine for you and this gentleman. Is this your father?”
“Jorge, this Sal Lion, my father. Dad, this is Jorge Umevan, who I am glad has Shael to keep him in check.”

“Welcome Mr. Lion. I imagine that you are concerned that I am playing games with the book. I can understand that. What I can’t understand is your grandson going around bullying the other students at Ironton and basically making a jackass out of himself. Didn’t anyone teach him that you don’t crap in your own yard? That was before he sent the two bigger idiots after me yesterday.”

“I apologize. I hadn’t realized how bad things had gotten until this blew up.”

“If he had wanted to know what I was doing so that the book could be adjusted, he could have offered to play. There was room and the twit that is the target and his dad the congressman deserve all the crap that can be dumped on them.”
“I’m not sure exactly what happened, Jorge,” Tony said. “Since it sounds good, why don’t you tell it?”

“I came down here about a moon ago to start college, since my family insisted after having some fun with a large prank on the dean of students. At the same time, Major Tollings had to let his boys go, mostly because of the pressure about underage troops and the fact that they were outgrowing certain things like I already had. Tim Wavechaser and Gotrid Billings turned right around, exercised their option and entered the Naval Academy as marine cadets. This was not something that was unexpected. Gotrid went to the induction wearing a cadet’s uniform. Tim, on the other hand, went to the induction wearing his full uniform as marine sergeant with all the buttons and so forth. The captain of midshipmen, a twit named Roger Seachaser, saw Tim and started in on him over the uniform and the buttons on it, little things, like Golden Leaf with clusters and sharpshooter ace button and so forth with all the buttons for Ishendell, the Empire and the Mortal Kingdoms. If you didn’t know where they had been, the collection is rather unbelievable. So when Tim didn’t run and change, the twit hauled him over to the captain’s office to get him discharged and the captain, who had read Tim’s file, said “What is the problem sergeant?” and sent Tim right back to the induction. The twit has been going after Tim and since Tim chews up monsters and darkmages, doesn’t understand why someone who has been through Resod Khumkith’s course multiple times isn’t phazed by a trumped up twit. That was worsened when a call came in to deal with a bunch of the Steward’s Scourge devises and Tim brushes the twit off when he was leaving and again when he gets back. So the twit sends mail to Congressman daddy, probably with Tim’s file attached and Congressman daddy calls Major Tollings to the grill. That was when I decided to play and you saw the results today.”

Sal started to laugh.

“Why the snakes?” Tony asked. “The rest of it was typical you, but the snakes on the field didn’t make sense.”

“The twit is afraid of snakes. There were some other things that I did that you probably didn’t notice. Frank, Tolly and me all tried to tell Vince to buy the playbook and get all the things with it and he pulled out the threats instead. Tony, I am in the information business. I am not going to give people information for free unless I have a good reason; nor am I going to spill in the lunch room in front of everybody. Frank was perfectly willing to tell Vince the channels to go to and Vince wouldn’t listen. He sent those two idiots to give me a beat down and they wouldn’t back off when I told them that backing off would be good for their health and why. I definitely didn’t want a fuss last evening. It was Immianthe’s last day and the guest list was one you wouldn’t believe. Since I couldn’t go to my grandmother’s house all beaten and bloody without questions you really didn’t want asked, Tony, I had to beat the idiots up instead.”   

Sal started to laugh. He looked at Jorge and said, “That is an interesting excuse.”

“Beating me up would have been bad for me, but things would have been worse for them and Vince. If I had been beaten up and walked into the house, there would have been Immianthe, Shael and grandmother. Grandmother would have called you and you would have apologized, sent for Vince, been rather nasty to him and the two idiots would have been given a severe beat down. You wouldn’t have had a choice other than starting something up with grandfather. If they had left me dead, or even unconscious, you would have had to hand grandfather Vince’s head and the two idiots would be on the bottom of the inner sea or something. So, me beating them up was the best option all around.”

“The way you tell it, I can’t argue with the assessment, Jorge,” Tony said. “Immianthe was upset with you enough as it is.”

“She’s worried about Tad after the kidnapping, Tony,” Shael said. “Since Jorge drags Tad into his things she wants Jorge to watch himself.”

“Tony, I didn’t know that Tad and Immianthe were coming until they showed up at the airport terminal with a train of people. I knew that Stadlee was coming down, since he was working on some more equipment for Freywick, but Tad and the princess were a surprise. You can guess who most of the others were and them coming was more Harald’s doing than mine. I think we are clear, Mr. Lion, and I hope that you can convince Vince to think and ask politely before he gets into a mess.”

Jorge and Shael faded into the crowd and Sal said, “He seems to be amazing.”

“His father is much more laid back. He makes toys in the Lower City and when the estate was recovered, stayed in the Lower City. Jorge likes excitement, taking risks and pulling things off. As you saw, he is very good at it.”

“I noticed the Umevan yacht anchored offshore.”

Tony smiled. “So that was how he was doing it.”

Roger was waiting outside the theatre as the rest of the team was watching Attack of the Snake Man. He had been bitten by a snake as a kid and ever since, he had issues with snakes. So he was sitting at the café next door after quietly slipping back out of the theatre. The mysterious snakes crossing the bladder ball field hadn’t helped. He sipped his caffee and was surprised when Wavechaser came in, bought a soda, went to a table and sat, shaking. Tim seemed to be crying and then, when he spotted Roger sitting there, straightened up and sat more or less at attention for a brief time before starting to shake again. Roger got up, walked over and sat down. “What’s the problem, cadet?”
“No problem, Sir!”

“Couldn’t watch that flick either? I can’t. That scene where the monster goes after the girl gets to me. I’ve tried to watch it three times now.”

“I saw it for real,” Tim said, quietly.

“That isn’t possible. It’s just a movie.”

“Whoever did it had it almost right. The costume was hokey, but the director or writer must have seen the Darkmage having a meal.”

“Where could you have seen something like that?”

“Ishendell. Things had just closed in and we were trapped. Mom was collecting the younger kids and we had found a place to hide. It was Major Tolling’s villa, actually, since it is so big. Jimmy, Susie and me were looting a store of cans and Susie was watching out as Jimmy and I were in the store collecting cans. This was before we found rifles. Suddenly a big snake thing came and Susie didn’t see it until it struck and bit her. She ran and the thing followed her. Jimmy stayed in the store while I went to the door. Susie was up the street, not moving and the Darkmage, the snake thing, slithered up and tore Susie’s clothes off. Then he put Susie’s head in his mouth and started to swallow, slowly. You could tell that he was enjoying it. All I could do was stand there and watch. As he was finishing, he turned and looked at me with Susie’s foot in his mouth and I ran back in the store. Jimmy and I went looking for rifles the next day.”

“What happened then?”
“Mom told us that we couldn’t shoot unless we were in such danger that there was no other choice. Jimmy and I continued to collect cans and one time, the Darkmage, Stormfire and some monsters spotted Jimmy. Jimmy got away, but I had a clear shot at the Darkmage and didn’t take it. That was the first time I had a shot at him and didn’t take it. I convinced myself that it was the right thing to do, because I didn’t have enough cartridges to kill all of them, but the truth was that I was scared. I had my finger on the trigger and the itch, but I froze up. Your dad said that I was a ruthless killer. That was the time that I wish that I was.”

“Were there more chances?”
“Twice. The Darkmage went out for another snack on the “rats” as he called them and found somebody before Jimmy and I spotted him. This was just before the captain showed up. I convinced myself that it was mom’s orders and Jimmy didn’t say anything. Then the captain showed up and things changed. We weren’t running and hiding, scrounging for cans and dodging Fellowship patrols and the monsters. We were fighting back and winning. We also had the other boys and then the dragons and Jorge. But the best thing is that we had Captain Tollings, the best marine.  He got all the people left behind out on the ship that the Great Captain brought, but the boys and I stayed to help fight. I think that we all thought that it was safer with him than out there without him. But I failed him in the end.”

“What do you mean?”

“The last day of the siege, things were collapsing for the Darkmage and Headbasher. The captain’s orders were to get the Darkmage and Headbasher’s headquarters, in that order. The boys, with me as sergeant were to deal with the remaining monsters and the Darkmage if we had a shot. Jimmy was bait and we had the landdragons assisting us, so the monsters weren’t much trouble. Stormwolf went after Jimmy and I shot him, which ended the monster fight, but the Darkmage was watching and I spotted him. I lined up to take the shot, and didn’t.”

“Why not?”
“I don’t know. I had him dead to rights, a clear and easy shot, and I didn’t take it. Your dad goes off about how me and the rest of us are ruthless killers, but when I needed to be one, I couldn’t.”

“Why did you enter the Academy? You could have picked any college, any school you wanted.”

“I want to be the next best marine, the officer who can be worthy of the captain. You need to be that to get in his outfit.”
“You are not enhanced.”

Tim smiled. “That can be corrected if you have connections and I made some. The unit spent a lot of time in Innshys, one port away from the Sanctuary and the boys and I stood guard on things and met people, especially some kids, who we helped with some things. When the time comes, getting enhanced isn’t a problem.”

“Why didn’t you have it done?”
“My mother would have a fit if I did, because you know as well as I do the old rule in seafolk families.”

“You are a Swimmer.”
“The enhancement will wipe that, but that is a choice I can make in the future. It may be that unit needs Swimmers anyway. We were short and that hurt us at the dam.”

“Why did you show up at the Academy in that get up? You should have known that it would attract a jackass, that is, me.”

“Are you calling yourself a jackass, sir?”

“Yes I am. The major and your buddy rubbed my nose in it and my buddies made it clear that I have been acting like an idiot. Worse, I was messing up my job, which is to get the cadets and plebes through the first year. You aren’t the only one who wants to be the best and I dropped the ball.”

“Several times.”

“That too. Who was doing all that stuff? How was he doing it? We look for radio signals and plants when Ironton comes to play, because we’ve had that happen and Frank and Tolly are old adversaries. Where did that Lord Umevan come from?”

Tim grinned. “I probably shouldn’t tell you, but the short answer is the Lower City. Adiun Beinan recruited him for portal work and he was the Portal Service’s crazy that they drop into places to reset shut down portals and play with portals in hostile and dangerous situations.”
“There’s a story going around that he ported a bear into the Darkmage’s quarters.”

“The Darkmage didn’t want to cuddle with Snuggles, so she left.”

“He did it?”
“I heard the story from Snowball, Snuggles brother. Jorge and Iezzen flew a plane from Freywick to Grimfrost, dropped their ferry tank on the Darkmage’s army, landed the plane on the lake in Grimfrost, Jorge reset the portal and made some arrangements.”

“Who is Iezzen?”

“The Qinvaris’s chief pilot. You are lucky that you are graduating this year and not next.”

“Why?”
“Next year, whoever has your job is getting my brother, Brilbrun and Teonag, Iezzen’s brother and cousin.”

Roger started to laugh. “That sounds bad. Are they dragons?”

“Yes. They have been moonlighting on airships, were in Ishendell, the Empty Lands and the Mortal Kingdoms, and are pilots. The High Admiral really wants them in the navy full time and as officers, so they will be cut a lot of slack.”

“Are you sure that you should be telling me this?”
“Probably not, but I’ve been telling you all sorts of things, including things that I haven’t told Jimmy or my parents.”

“Why?”

“Because you were scared too. Maybe scared of different things, but scared. You also have a sense of failure.”

“What do you mean?”

“You wanted to be a part of the war on the Peninsula, and couldn’t be. You, and a bunch of your buddies missed out and that grates on you.”

“How did you find that out?”
“My dad works in Mrs. Steelmaker’s office. You were going after me and I am not an idiot. So I made some calls and took a look at your file.”

“That didn’t show up in your file. But then your file was rather blank, with classified all over it.”

“The major wanted to protect us. That was a result of the Ishendell Tribunal and Colonel Pikepusher. The major didn’t want us dragged into the public eye and have our lives ruined if we wanted to retreat to the background.”

A crowd of academy students came in, Roger got up and said, stiffly, “I’m glad that we had this little chat, cadet.”

Tim stood up, saluted and said, “Yes sir! On my way, sir!”

Chapter 20.

The Lower City.

Prepared for the evening’s business, the elegantly dressed Madam Makaela walked into Finch’s room with the message that had been handed to her, looked at Fauna and said, “What is Finch’s problem now?”

“She won’t say. She keeps babbling about a Nat and how he couldn’t be here and how he couldn’t be in the Lower City and how he had seen her and her life was ruined. What is it?”

“The Lady wants to see you, Finch, so you need to go to her office.”

A teary eyed Finch looked at Madam Makaela and asked, “Did she say why?”

“No, but it probably isn’t bad. So scoot on over there. I need to prepare.”

Madam Makaela left and Fauna said, “I need to go too. Look, all that man did was ask you to go to lunch with him. If he is your True, you should see him before you both start to hurt.”

“He’ll see me like this!”

“You know, if that bothers you so much, we can hide it. If he is your True, it won’t matter.”

“What if he can’t afford me?”
“I think that he will. You can find that out and make arrangements if he is poor. From what you said, he isn’t the type to sit around, so I wouldn’t worry. Now go on and don’t keep the Lady waiting.”

Finch dressed, put on her cloak and walked through the light and melting early snow to the casino. Passing Carl she said, “Where is Tony?”
“Dad called him down to the Republic, Finch. One of my idiot nephews messed up with Jorge.”
“With Jorge?”

“The idiot and Jorge were going to the same college and the idiot didn’t know enough about Jorge to be polite. Tony will handle it.”

“The Lady is waiting, so I need to go.”

Finch went to the Lady’s door and knocked. “I am here, milady.”
“Come in, Finch!”

Finch opened the door and Bene was there with a distinguished elf. “Finch, this elf is buying your key.”

“What for?”

“I am Naertho Umevan. Certain ladies at the estate hinted that you and some other ladies should come home. So I am buying your keys and taking you home. In your case, there are other reasons.”

“What are they?”
 “Somebody saw you and wants to restart a relationship. I will not force you, since that rarely works, but keeping the man happy is in my best interest.”

“Why now?”
“I finally got around to it. My grandson has been off to college and my son is here, in the Lower City with his business, so I have had to take over the estate as well as my regular business. So, certain things have been slow to develop.”

“When do I have to return?”
“When you like. I imagine that you have things and friends that you wish to say good bye to. I will send somebody and make the arrangements and hand you a portal key. You will not have to entertain customers here and if you want to do something along that line at the estate, I won’t ask you to service men, but there are opportunities at trade shows and the like where we have attractive ladies.”

“I can travel?”

“If that is what you would like, yes. The man who wants to see you would like to travel and see things.”

“This actually sounds attractive.”

“One last thing; I must insist that you go to the bakery and see a man about lunch tomorrow.”

“If you command.”

Naertho smiled. “I think that you will find that you have nothing to worry about and I can get someone to return to focus on his rather important work. I wouldn’t be nervous. He already is.”

Finch turned and left and Bene laughed. “You handled that well.”

“I didn’t want Nat wasting his precious time down here or risking his neck because idiots didn’t know who he is working for, so this was an easy way to resolve this.”

“Who messed with Nat?”
“I don’t know and when they were told by one of the Jessen boys to back off, they did. Jorge has a bigger reputation than I would have thought.”

“There are reasons and some of us are glad that Shael came into his life to restrain him somewhat.”

“Well, I am off to my next errand.”

“You seem to have to adapted well.”
“I was a boy here, my family didn’t start out in big houses in the Republic and I have had to run things in rough neighborhoods. So the Lower City isn’t that big a problem.”

“You don’t have body guards.”

“They try not to be visible. On the other hand, most folk know my reputation. There are still idiots, but they tend to not be much of a threat.”

Bene laughed as Naertho left.

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