The Trials of Slaves, Chapter 75-76

Oops forgot to post yesterday.

Admiral Harper is called on the grill. Llag has a meeting in Bighagh

Chapter 75.

Beltain

Senator Toral Cutler looked at the rest of the Senators in the hearing room and sighed. The disconnect between the elected part of the government and the operating part of the government created by the fact that there was simply no room for government operations had become rather strained in the last decade and the growing divide between the families who ruled the roost on the Plateau, and the old families and their exile allies did not help. Toral looked at Admiral Harper, his attending staff and pounded his gavel. “This hearing is to investigate the processes of the navy concerning the declassification of potentially sensitive materials and release to potential foreign agents. Admiral Harper, do you have a statement?”
“I do, Senator. The process of classifying or declassifying material is something that the navy takes very seriously, considering the sensitivities involved. On the other hand, the navy does exchange intelligence of sometimes important and sensitive matters to foreign entities in arrangements to both countries’ mutual benefit. Sometimes that is through open channels, such as the recent exchange of RDR technology developed by Beinan’s here for underwater detection technologies developed by Beinan’s in the Fellowship. Both our navy and the Fellowship navy signed off on the exchange and both navies benefitted by not having to contract to Beinan’s for work already completed. In some cases we exchange things through channels that are more or less confidential. I won’t relate any recent cases, but that is handled very carefully because of the sensitivity involved.

“We also have an obligation to review material for declassification when a request comes in from an interested party with interest in the material, with some regard to the need to potentially protect individuals that may be harmed by the arbitrary release of classified materials. The navy’s staff takes those requests very seriously and is constantly looking to achieve a balance between the discretion required by the need to protect the people involved and the country’s defenses and the need to function in a free and open society.

“There are also matters that must remain classified and limited to a small group of people because release of the material would be deadly dangerous to not only the country, but the world. Much of that involves things discovered recently in strange and odd places and we have seen the consequences in the five Scourged cities. We work within that small group of people to keep certain things secure and that means not expanding that small group and risking more things like the five Scourged cities. We walk a fine line there.”

Senator Cutler looked at Senator Gilders and said, “Senator Gilders, since you raised the issues at this hearing, why don’t you start the questioning.”
Gilders looked at Harper and said, “Admiral, when did you meet Lord Umevan?”
“Jorge? I think that the first time I personally met him was at the Hidden City after some Scourge devises were discovered there.”

“Are you sure?”

“Senator, not necessarily. I may have met him at one of my brother’s things, but the first time I had a serious chat with him was at the Hidden City.”
“What was he doing there?”
“Senator, that is classified and this is an open hearing. I will say that it involved the first Scourge devise we sent to the Deadlands.”

“It was not connected to the Empire?”

Tom sighed. He could tell that Gilders didn’t really have a clue about the delicate working relationships that had come about since the Scourge devises had been discovered and was still stuck in the time of the Ravathyra raids. He looked at the Senator and said, “I’m not sure what you mean, Senator?”
“Did Umevan’s presence involve relationships with the Empire?”
“At the time, Jorge was working for the Portal Service and was acting as a specialist contracted to us to deal with a serious matter.”

“Sending Scourge devises to be tested.”
“Making sure that they got to where they were supposed to go. Senator, when you are dealing with Scourge devises, there is no margin for error. Jorge is very good at sending things where he wants them to go. You should know that by now.”

“You do not share things with Lord Umevan?”

Tom was going to have to navigate this carefully. What Jorge did wasn’t precisely classified, but it hadn’t been spread around in the general public either. Nor did Tom want the likes of the Stewards looking for the rest of the Scourge devise people here in the Republic. Rather sharply, he replied,   “We share things with Jorge as is necessary and prudent. Jorge is part of that small team of people that have been trained to handle Scourge devices. He doesn’t ask for information that is not related to dealing with Scourge devises.”
“He has been down to Desert Howl. There are a lot of classified things going there.”
“Yes there are, including Scourge devise testing which Jorge has been involved in from the first devise we exploded.”

“Lord Umevan was dropped by the navy into Ishendell. Why was that?”
Tom grinned inside. The Senator had just made a mistake. “That was as a result of  Adiun and the Portal Service’s request after the first Scourge devises were discovered and there was some concern that the portals that the Darkmage had were going to be used to send the discovered Scourge devises to the Republic and the Portal Service wanted their best man in Ishendell to handle that possibility. So Jorge was dropped in.”

“Why him?”

“You would have to ask Mr. Beinan and Tathaln Nerihorn that question. I think that he was dropped in because he was the right man for the task. He had been jumped trained at that point and was experienced with portals in unusual situations. So he was the one sent in.”
“Did you order the drop?”
“That was handled by airship command. At this point, I’m not sure who authorized the drop.”

Peble handed Tom a sheet of paper and Tom looked at it. He said, “I did sign the order after Adiun Beinan asked for it. I can enter the order into the record, but the concern was that the Darkmage would get his hands on the Scourge devises and stopping the Inanimates that the Darkmage was launching from Ishendell. At the time, Adiun did not tell me or Jorge about the Scourge devises for security reasons.”

“So you just sent a foreigner into a combat zone on Adiun Beinan’s say so?”
“Stopping or reducing the impact of Inanimate incursions was reason enough.  I understood at the time why the Scourge devises were kept under the rug until the various parties could arrange a backchannel to me and request ordnance specialists.”

“What was the backchannel?”
“That is classified.”

“Through your brother?”
“Senator, I just said that the matter is classified. It isn’t a secret that my brother is significantly influential in the Empire. That doesn’t mean that he was the backchannel or was not the backchannel. At the time the matter was extremely sensitive and the main thing we were concerned with was to deal with the Scourge devises at hand.”
“Devises that the Darkmage made off with after young Lord Umevan was dropped onto his lap under your instructions.”

 Tom looked at Senator Cutler and said, “Senator, we are drifting into matters that are still classified. Since the matter at hand was the declassification of material, I must request a closed hearing, limited to people cleared for clandestine operations and knowledge of the details on Scourge devises or instructions from the President to release sensitive material into the record.”

Cutler looked at Gilders and said, “As far as I know, Geral, you are not cleared for either clandestine operations or matters concerning the Scourge. So, unless you are going to limit your questions to procedures concerning the declassification of materials, I’m going to have to agree with the admiral.”
Gilders looked at Cutler and said, “I was attempting to discover just what connections the admiral had with Lord Umevan. I reserve the rest of my time.”

The hearing continued and Tom answered questions about procedures and finally Senator Cutler said, “I have waited ask my questions. Admiral, you have been patient with us. Did you know that Lord Umevan had requested that some material be declassified?”
“Not at all. The matter showed up on my daily brief when the reclassification was requested and I asked about it, since I was curious why matters concerning the Ravathyra would come up for reclassification. Jorge filed a protest and the matter was the result of some navy infighting, which became moot when Jorge’s paper was entered into the Congressional record. The material all involved matters that were of historical interest in any case.”

“The material has stirred up some controversy, including in the navy.”

“I had nothing to do with that and I don’t see the point of keeping material classified because some of my officers may become embarrassed if Jorge should talk to the Great Captain about certain things.”

“Did you know that young Mr. Umevan had published the material in a paper?”
“Not until the paper was released. This was after the Major’s testimony in any case, so the question of whether the material was still classified was moot at that point.”

“I have the feeling that the navy would give Mr. Umevan anything he asked for, regardless.”
“Senator, I am not going to answer that here, in public and on the record. You can ask that question and I can arrange a classified brief as to what Jorge has done for this country and the navy in private. The fact is that the country has been lucky to have his full cooperation on sensitive matters that involved thousands of lives. As a public example, Jorge babysat four Primaries in Freiberg recently until the ordnance people could get to the scene and dismantle the devises.  I didn’t ask him to do that, nor did anyone else ask him to do that. He could easily have driven on past and called it in to my people. He has proven not once, but many times to be a friend of the Republic.

“So yes, Captain Duggings people gave him the material he asked for. It was the least we could do. Other than things related to current operations, we would have given him just about anything that he requested, because we in the Navy have established a relationship with him. That relationship is extremely valuable for the Navy and the country. As for the material being declassified and being sent to the Empire for the Emperor’s people to go over or the Ravathyra, for the matter, frankly, Narbeth has other concerns and the only member of the Ravathyra who would care at this point is Taser Zylvyre and he is looking for material for his next production.

“If that is malfeasance and dereliction of duty, then you can ask for my resignation. Until that time, I am in the middle of a very strange war that has claimed thousands of Republican Citizen’s lives and threatens to claim many more. You can see what happens if we should lose this war in what happened to the five cities. In order to prevent something like that from happening again, I will use every resource I can to defeat our country’s enemies. Lately the people in Congress here are dragging me and my people up here, not for serious matters and things concerning things that they should know about, but for matters like this where the concern is over a minor declassification over material that someone used in a plagiarized paper and wants to make someone else’s work go away because that work became inconvenient.

“I have prepared a brief that I will hand to the committee concerning the current procedures for handling the declassification of material. The recent events have demonstrated that those procedures need to be reviewed and modified. The classification of material was supposed to prevent intelligence from reaching current enemies of this nation during conflicts and protect the navy’s methods and tools from reaching those enemies. It was never intended to be used so that officers could avoid some embarrassment and especially not to protect the interests of people outside naval matters. Before this hearing I was threatened by a member of this committee over a matter of no consequence other than to himself and saving some face here on the Plateau. As I told him at the time, I firmly believe in civilian control of the military. On the other hand, I do not see that the citizens of the country are well served by people using their influence to bully us in the military over trivial matters with literally millions of lives at stake. I do hope that the next time I am called before this committee it is for matters of greater concern. That is all I have to say.”

Tom left the room, followed by the rest of the navy people.  

 Toral looked at the rest of the committee and said, “That should settle this. Geral, if you want the admiral here again, you better have something legitimate.”

With some grumbling, the committee broke up and Geral joined Toral on their way back to their offices. As they walked down the hall, Geral said, “Umevan is a spy.”
“A spy for who? The Republic seems to have done well by him. Why don’t you give this up before things get serious? You can find something else for Derry to do. He did something stupid and got burned for it. That’s no reason to take it out on Tom or the young man, who did nothing more than ask the navy and the Justice Department for some old files and then go and talk to the Great Captain about them. Derry made this mess for himself and was caught out.”

“You have been talking to Admiral Harper.”

“Actually, I read the paper, where young Umevan and the Great Captain sat down and told their side of the story.”

“Admiral Harper had that material declassified for the young man.”
“It sounds as if the young man asked the navy for the material, they gave it to him and didn’t really think about it because of all the little favors he has done for us in the past. I would think that babysitting Scourge devises is worth quite a bit. I will get the brief from Tom and go over it, but as far as I am concerned we had some questions, the admiral answered them and is taking corrective actions on the matter. As for the young man, I’ve heard stories and Klara had better not expect to do very much entertaining unless this is settled.”

“Your son is going to Ironton.”

“Bob is. I’m beginning to understand why.”


Ironton.

Jhaan was waiting as Shael and Jorge got off the train. He looked at them and said, “Did you leave Nat and his wife behind? I was hoping to meet them.”

“They are at the Crystal Palace for another three days,” Shael said. “Jorge needed to be back for class and we were concerned that Nat and Rilldia would be involved in Jorge’s mess. I will go up and bring them down a bit later, as I don’t think that the Senator’s people have picked up on me as yet.”

“Mother wants to talk to you about that. Things developed after you went up to the Empire.”
“What happened?”
“We started to have people poking around and looking into things. They were looking for dirt about you and they found some.”

“What did they find?” Jorge asked.
“That thing about Tad.”
Shael frowned. “What thing about Tad?”

“Do you remember when Tad and I were down here,” Jorge replied. “I think I told you about me being dragged up in front of the magistrate because the persecutor thought that I was using Tad as a play toy. Then Filia came down and embarrassed the man.”

“You were not here when that happened.”

“No, I was not, but I imagine that the persecutor was perfectly willing to twist the story. There was a reason that we didn’t have any staff come down from the estate.”

“Tad came down again.”
“With Immianthe and then in and out of Desert Howl, where the snoops didn’t see him. Tad has been emancipated in any case.”

“Villia was here.”
“As Goren’s wife and she wasn’t going to say anything about what she was before that.”

“Jhaan, how bad is it?”
“Not that bad,” Jhann replied. “The Senator is stepping on people’s toes and Horalt talked to Bob Harper about that. Let’s get to the car and on our way before somebody picks up on you.”

As the car drove off, Jhaan asked, “How did my father do up there in Bubil Kil?”
“We got what we came for, grandfather poked the Protector a bit and somebody is getting a nice Winterfaire present that I can’t talk about.”
“Not family?”
“Not related to us and we didn’t find out about it until it was over. The longer it can be kept out of the papers, the better. At least until the present is delivered.”

“You have intrigued me.”

“You will enjoy the story when I can tell everybody, but the longer some people are kept in the dark, the better.”

“Like that thing you did up on the Plateau.”
Jorge grinned. “I have never been to the Plateau.”

“So you had nothing to do with the Senator’s party getting rather stinky?”
“I was in Desert Howl, the estate, the Qinvaris Winterfaire party and on my way here all during the break. I flew from the Desert Howl party to Ishendell and ported to the estate from there. So there was no way that I was near the Plateau or could have done anything at a certain time.”

“I just hope that you and your friends covered your tracks really well. Kicking the termite mound can get you stung.”

“I was careful. I was also lucky. My dad made some good connections in Industry City and I made some more.”

“What do you mean?”
“The termite mound types don’t really think about where the things they buy come from and how they get to the Plateau. I, on the other hand, grew up with people like that. Also, the people on the Plateau are not exactly well liked, especially since they support people like the Steward. I was standing there ready for four days when those Primaries were found and talked with people. The Senator thinks that I am a high elf prig and doesn’t have a clue where I really came from.”

Jhaan started to laugh. “I won’t push for details.”

“Your son will. So will all his friends. I gave them something to shoot for through the end of the term and Beltain doesn’t have a clue what is about to descend upon them.”

“What are you planning?”
“Me? I’m not planning anything at all. After all, there was that thing at Mrs. Gilders’ party that I could not have been responsible for. On the other hand, Ironton has a reputation to maintain and Beltain has demonstrated that they hold us in a great deal of disdain.”

“Have you discussed this with your fellow students?”
“Not very much as yet. Frank and Tolly came down to the Desert Howl party with us and we talked some. They are graduating this year and the graduating class wants to produce a prank that people will remember. Also, many of the class were rather annoyed at the way they were treated at the Plateau after the bladder ball game.”

Jhaan started to laugh. Jorge added, “You missed a great time when you didn’t come down to the party.”

“My kids told me that. Thank you for taking them and the rest.”

“I told my nieces and nephews from my other family that they could meet Paeris and somehow and I am fairly sure that it was Chris, the word got out on this side of the family and suddenly instead of four, it was twenty going, with parents and some others. So we took the train instead of the plane. I set up portals, gave my class and everyone had a good time.”

“How did Nat find his lady?”
“I think I will let them tell the story, since I was here, and not there when it happened.”

“The family wants to meet them in any case. Since things went well in Bubil Kil, did father enjoy himself?”
“He did, though he was annoyed a bit that he missed something that somebody else retrieved. The project is off to a good start and we should have things going there. That seemed to make most of the people happy.”

“Here’s the house, so you can tell us all about it. Mother wants to discuss the Senator with you.”

“She wants me to back off.”
“Not at all. You haven’t done anything wrong and it was Derry, the clowns at Beltain and the Senator who escalated this.”

Ara watched the car drive up, turned to Melrithe and said, “You were a surprise, Melrithe. We haven’t exactly been talking to each other for some time.”

“I realized what a mistake I had made with Lidia and Fylson is a wonderful man for her.”

“He is remarkable, isn’t he? He hasn’t blamed us at all for leaving him behind and he could have. Of course the big surprise was Jorge.”

“Have you met the other children?”
“Yes and they haven’t managed to make a splash as yet. You should make a trip to the Empire.”

“That is a bit frightening.”

“Here they come, so we must be ready.”

Jorge looked at both his grandmother’s together and gulped. “I haven’t done very much.”
They smiled and Melrithe said, “Then why are the FSA types poking around?”

“I think that they think that I am some sort of spy. I’m not sure who they think that I am spying for. It isn’t Admiral Harper or Mrs. Steelmaker, obviously. Maybe they think that I am spying for the Emperor, but if the Emperor gets things from me, it’s through the estate and I’m not in a position to handle that here. What did the FSA want?”

“They were looking for connections to some shops in Industry City that do some things for interior decorations. Glant sells some things to those people, tools and whatnot, but there was no connection that the FSA could prove.”

Jorge grinned. “They are going for the obvious then.”

“Shael, what did Jorge do?”

“Melrithe, he didn’t tell me. I do know that most of it was done by others and that he used various friends in places. If you looked in the papers, you saw as much as I did.”

“Jorge, are you making any other plans?” Ara asked.

“I’m not making any. If some people want to poke the people at Beltain, I will help, but I need to focus on classwork next term.”

“That’s too bad. There have been some rather slimy characters poking around and asking questions. We will want to be careful about having people come down from the estate.”

“Jhaan told me. They found out about Tad and Filia. Frankly, Tad is going to be busy on some project of his mother’s, so he probably won’t be coming here.”

“What project is that?” Mel asked
“The various people involved haven’t told me and I haven’t wanted to delve too deeply and find out that somebody had an excuse to hand me another job. So, I don’t know what the ladies are up to, other than the fact that it involves some rather unusual conspirators. Rilldia will know more, when she comes.”

“Why did you leave them in Chatsrey, Jorge?” Ara asked.

“Grandmother, when we saw that slimy reporter looking into me and we heard about the private investigators and the FSA types, I wanted to make sure that Nat and Rilldia had time together without me attracting attention that they didn’t need. Nat is going to be doing important work that needs his expertise and will take some time. It’s in my best interest to keep him as happy as possible and getting him involved in this without me knowing what is involved is not a good idea. I probably pushed a bit much last term.”

“You didn’t do anything more than send the paper in to the journal, Jorge. It was the others that didn’t retract when they knew that publishing was going to force them to be embarrassed. You turned in an excellent paper and handed it to Major Tollings for his testimony, so that he could defend himself and his boys.”

“What about the party?”
Ara laughed. “We were not invited, so I would not know what happened and you weren’t there, so it could not have been you that was responsible. After all, you were down there in Desert Howl. The Senator’s own sleazy reporter would have to testify to that.”

“Is that who he was working for?”
“Yes. The Senator isn’t the only one who can hire snoops if necessary and your cousin picked up on him at the Science Faire.”
“Jhaan said that this wasn’t the first time that someone from the Plateau came after the family.”

“There were times that I was glad that Fylson was there in the Empire. You can’t believe the struggles we had in the early days. Horalt has arrived, so why don’t we discuss what your opposition has been doing and what your options are.”

“I could go home, at worst.”

“NO!” Mel said. “That is what they want. That is what the termite mound types want from all of us. I know that there are bigger things at stake than you supposedly spying for the Emperor. You aren’t, are you?”
Jorge grinned. “Other than Immianthe being involved in whatever Tad is doing, no.”
“Who are Immianthe and Tad?”
“Tad was a young slave on the estate who got me in trouble. He had been emancipated, but he likes to say, “I’m just a slave,” to people. Immianthe is Prince Eldiun’s daughter and latched onto Tad the thousandth she saw him. Their story has been in the papers and they have been rather inseparable ever since. Since Tad is heavily involved in the business, Immianthe is as well. I know that she writes reports for her grandmother, but that is part of her schooling. The palace does buy information from the business, but so does just about everyone else.”

“Just what is this business?”
“Not something I can just talk about, but if the Senator thinks that I am a spy because I obtained the material for my term paper, he has no clue what I can really do. In any case, I brought that material back with me, so I have it if the academic types push.”

“The college is supporting you, Jorge,” Ara said. “So you don’t have to worry about that. The facts of how things happened are fairly clear now to anyone who looks. Here’s Horalt, so why don’t we sit down and talk about this.”

Horalt came in through the door and said, “I have to know, Jorge. Did you make Klara Gilder’s party more interesting?”
“Has the FSA found anything?”

“No they haven’t. By the way, as your barrister, I can’t be forced to testify against you.”
“Am I being accused of anything?”
“They would like to, but they don’t have anything that they can connect to you.”
The group went into the parlor and Jorge said, “Since you all are not going to let up on me until I tell you all how I did it, I guess I will have to tell you how it happened. It helped that Mrs. Gilders wanted to turn her party into an authentic thing from the Cloud City for some reason. I had made some connections in Industry City and my father had made some more, so I arranged things a bit so that they bid on the jobs when some people at Beltain exchanged some information about the Gilders for some information about the Academy Bladder ball team. It didn’t help them, but some friends and I were able to slip the stink bombs into some decorations and they were apparently not discovered. Then some of my loyal employees and friends purchased a crystal flower arrangement from Charlie Beinan, rigged it with a crystal and ported it in. The trick was arranging things so that everything would go off at the right time, but some microportals helped with that. So the crystal in the flower said its piece and disappeared and the stink bombs went off, with the FSA not knowing to look for microportals because they didn’t talk to Sarya, Major Tollings or the Office of Innanimates.”

“Could these microportals be traced to you?”
“I didn’t invent them, they are known by quite a few people and readily available in the Lower City. I use them, but so do Major Tollings’s boys, the Beinans and some others. There may be more people who are playing with them that I don’t know about.”
“So they are not something that is unique to you?”
“Not at all. I wouldn’t have used something that led straight back to me, even if it was a little exotic. The microportals were hidden in any case.”

 “That is fine. You don’t have to do the FSA’s work for them.”
“I would be willing to tell the FSA about another microportal that I slipped on something, but some other people are on top of that.”

“Where did you slip the other microportal?”
“Onto a brochure that I was handing out about Scourge devises. I handed the brochure to a Steward. If the FSA were doing their job, they should have been looking into the Stewards anyway, especially when they show up at places like the Ironton Science Faire and start to bust up the place.”

“Do you know where the brochure went?”
“I don’t, but it did not end up in the trash outside the hall, because I checked that. I hope that somebody else tracked it.”

“You don’t hold the FSA in high regard.”
“I had two of their “special agents” try to boot me off a site where Scourge devise Primaries were possibly present and booby trapped so that they could take credit for discovering the things. I didn’t leave and nobody died, but there was the distinct possibility that the shed could have been booby trapped and at least one of the Primaries in a can, since two cans were discovered. We were lucky and the shed was not rigged and none of the Primaries were inside a can, but you would think that Smoky Hill would have given the FSA a clue about what they were dealing with. That was when the navy started its education program. So, no, I do not like the FSA very much. The fact that they fell all over themselves to investigate the Senator’s party, but somehow, can’t find the Steward and his rather dangerous toys grates on me more than a bit.”

 “It’s not that simple,” Horalt said. “There are reasons for that and people have protections.”

“I know, but the Steward is responsible for two Primaries going off already and we have found twelve more that were connected to him. That should be enough to have him arrested. After all, they arrested me just because Tad used an expression  that he uses. I may not know how everything works here, but I have to believe that what the Steward has done would make the people whose job it is to deal with such things wake up and look into things.”
“I can’t disagree and I have already turned over some things to Robert Harper’s office. The Senator wasn’t as discreet as he thought he was and has fingers in some things that may hurt him.”
“He supports the Stewards, at least he did, up until Desert Howl.”

“How did you know?”

“I’m not the only one from up north concerned about things here and there have been some people I know here for some time now.”

“Can you give me a connection?”
“It would be Torald Ironaxe of Ironaxe Asset Protection.”
“He is very good, but I thought that he worked alone.”

Jorge grinned. “That was before he met a lady in Freywick and protected an asset that a lady in the Empire cared a lot about. So he has assistants that he doesn’t have to pay for.”

“I can use them. The people that the Senator gets are worth what he pays them, which is as little as he can.”

“Torald earns his salary and his assistants are part of a group from the Empire that are very good at what they do.”

“Apparently you know them well.”’

“Yes and Torald’s lady comes from my neighborhood up there near Freywick, so I know her family as well.”

“Other than the Gilders, what else is going on? Naertho hasn’t come home, so he is up to something.”
“He’s being grandpa to the kids at the estate, and is pursuing some things that I can’t because I am here, going to college.”
“Is there anything else I should know?”

“My chief technician and his wife are having their honeymoon at the Crystal Palace and I would like to make sure that they are kept out things that do not involve the Crystal Palace, meeting the family here, touring around and going to the beach at Seagate.”

“Will there be any immigration issues?”
“There shouldn’t be. Nat never had a collar, we handled the passports through the embassy in Ishendell, Rilldia’s key was purchased by my grandfather and she handed it to her husband and doesn’t wear a collar. She is also a relative of Filia.”

“I will let that get around. Filia made quite an impression when she was here.”

Chapter 76.

Bighagh.

Yralissa was waiting when Llag exited the station. He had sent his toolbox on to the Empire at Clearcrag and now all he had to do was drop off a report with his uncle and take his wife home. When she spotted Llag, she grinned and waved. He walked over and she hugged and kissed him. “I am so glad that you are back. Apparently you got him.”
‘Yes we did. The major and Durlan picked him up and nobody even noticed me. We have one stop and then we can catch the train back to the Fellowship and Innshys.”

“Where are we going?”
“My uncle’s office. I want to drop off a report for him and then we can go.”

“The cab is here, so we can do that. Who is that orc?”

Llag turned around and there was an orc with two more orcs in uniform approaching. The orc pulled out a badge and said, “Mr. Ironaxe, I am Nugbu Steelsmasher. If you would come with us.”

“May my wife continue?”
“I would be pleased if you would both come.”

“Since you know who I am, who are you working for?”
“I will explain in the car.”

Llag looked at his wife, who shrugged and made a quiet wave of her hand. Llag turned to Nugbu and said, “Ok, we will go with you.”

Llag and Yralissa were led to a car and got in, with Nugbu following. As the car drove off, Nugbu said, “Julien said that you were sharp. We decided to meet at my boss’s office rather than your uncle’s.”

“You work for Intelligence.”
“Yes, and we want your brief on the events at Bubil Kil.”

“That isn’t much of a surprise. You obviously have cleared at least some of it with my boss since you knew when I was arriving.”

“We had some idea. Your wife attracted more attention than you did.”

Yralissa grinned. “Since what I am is hard to hide, I played things the other way somewhat. Playing the high elf exile hiding her poverty by staying ahead of the creditors while draining her husband was fun, somewhat.”

“This wasn’t the first time you have played that game, was it?”
Llag grinned. “It works for a cover, though, we have to struggle a bit in the Empire. Most of the time I am pursuing tax cheats and auditing some property.”

“Gander isn’t your boss?”
“I switch between Gander and Folas as needed. Most of the time, I work in the palace and Exchange Street. Since I live in the Lower City so as not to offend my mother in law, I handle the occasional thing for Alen or Gander and I have played the stupid workman on occasion.”

“You were here during the investigation of the Orcenchief’s death, but your wife stayed home.”
“My uncle wasn’t the Champion and it was felt that it would work better for me here if I was in the background and backing up Julien and Elen.”

“Who attracted all our attention and we missed you completely.”

“That was the idea, since they were known and I could become just another disreputable orc moving through the dark places.”

“That explains how Julien was able to put things together so quickly. He and Elen were not working alone. You were doing the legwork that he couldn’t.”

“Yes I was. I was also keeping an eye out for certain people. The important thing was that I was looking for connections.”

“Since we are drifting into the things that we want to brief you about, why don’t you tell us what the Umevan were up to in Bubil Kil.”
“On the surface, it is the company asserting its property rights and moving some rather large assets. But Jorge is involved somehow, so there is more going on.”
“You know Jorge?”
“I live in the Lower City. We know Jorge, don’t we, Yralissa.”

Yralissa laughed. “Yes we do. I think that for anyone connected to the Justiciars, knowing Jorge was a default. We were glad that Adiun drew him into the Portal Service after the Richflights were driven out of town.”

“That reminds me. I think that Durlan found somebody.” Llag said.

“That seems rather incredible.”

“I’ll tell you about it on the train. We need to focus on the case here. Nugbu, if Jorge is involved, there is something else going on, almost always.”

“A party being covered in mud for instance?”
“That was classic Jorge even if the two Ironhead clanmembers came up with it. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but the thing that somebody was interested in left when Jorge did, heading with some other Umevan things to Freywick. The thing to get really worried about is that Jorge and his grandfather get along just fine.”

They arrived at the Orcenhall and Nugbu led them to a room with Llag’s uncle and two more orcs. Llag said, “Yralissa, this is my Uncle Dumag and I don’t know who these other two are.”

“I’m Mahk Courseguider and this is my disreputable brother Dakgu,” one of the orcs said. “I’m sorry that we were a bit abrupt, milady, but you have made a good impression here and we wanted to introduce ourselves before you left again.”

“That is quite all right,” Yralissa said. “Nugbu explained and Llag was going to deliver a brief in any case.”
“How did things go in Bubil Kil? Presumably you retrieved Dúhael or there would have been a bigger fuss here.”
“Dúhael was retrieved, or so I was told. I did not see it done and was not involved.” Llag replied. “I do know that the thing was well done and raised no waves whatsoever other than the Protector wondering what had happened to his coach.”

“Did the Protector know that Dúhael was there?” Dumag asked.

“Uncle, almost certainly. He went to the Haven when he arrived and Dúhael was there, so presumably they met. On the other hand, I doubt that anyone at the Haven will admit that Dúhael was there. Dúhael was rather sloppy for someone with what he has hanging over his head should be and I certainly knew he was in town.”

“Who performed the retrieval?” Mahk asked.

“I honestly don’t know who actually was responsible or how it was done. I knew that some operatives were in town, but we did not communicate and they are out of the country in any case.”

“Would the Protector know?”
“Almost certainly not. He went to the clan house after his coach was stolen and didn’t know about Dúhael being gone when he arrived in town the next morning. The Protector’s coachman found the coach that morning as well.”

The three orcs grinned. Mahk looked at Llag and said, “The Umevan, including Jorge were up there. Were they in any way involved?”
“Not that I know of. They were after something else and they retrieved it without any difficulties in amongst the other things they were hauling off.”
“Did you discover what was going on with the dam?” Dumag asked. “I think that we discussed it before you went up.”
“Uncle, there is almost certainly something under the clanhouse that would be flooded when the lake was filled. There are remains of a road that seemingly goes no place and there is probably a hidden door. I have pictures of a lot of things, but I didn’t want to go too far up the abandoned road and attract attention to me. I sent a lot of pictures down to Yralissa to have printed and they should go with the brief. Just what the Protector is hiding was something I couldn’t discover without jeopardizing my primary mission, so I did not pursue that. They are pursuing some sort of work using ancient technologies at the Haven, but I will have to go over the part drawings with Adiun Beinan and Nat and see if I can figure out what they are doing.”
“How did you get the part drawings?”
“By making the parts. I hired on as machinist and took the work from the Haven. They liked me because I asked questions and delivered what they wanted. What they didn’t know was that I was keeping prints of everything I did.”

“So your father continued grandfather’s tradition of making us all learn how to work in a shop.”

“That, and dad didn’t have a lot of people that he could trust to work in the shop if necessary, so we all learned. It helped that we didn’t have trouble with iron for the most part. In Bubil Kil, I had a good cover working at the shop and could move fairly freely.”
“Why did you not wire me when Dúhael showed up?

“Uncle, I was to keep that information restricted to as few people as possible. It was essential that the other side did not know that there was an effort to retrieve him and that we had people in Bubil Kil if we could avoid it. At the time I sent the message, the Umevan had not started to arrive and I didn’t know who my bosses were going to bring in, if anyone. At the time, we did not know for sure if Dúhael would return and my primary task was to poke into Bubil Kil and see what was happening there. Dúhael did arrive and when the people from Umevan did as well, that opened an opportunity and allowed some people to take advantage of it. I was there as part of my boss’s case, not to conduct clandestine operations.”

“Did you get what you needed?”
“Most of it. Here’s the brief. What I found is in the brief. Uncle, I have a train to catch, so Yralissa and I need to go. Mother wants you to come up to the estate sometime soon and meet the family.”

“I will do that when I can. Go and get your train.”

Llag and Yralissa left and Nugbu said, “He was what you said, Dumag. Very low keyed about things.”

Dumag laughed. “He walked right by my brother, who is very sharp, in the Imperial Palace and my brother didn’t even notice him, an orc, in the palace. Admittedly my brother was distracted by Paeris at the time but still, he should have been looking out for orcs in strange places.”

“The wife didn’t say very much.” Mahk said. “She faded into the background rather quickly.”

“She could have been nervous, brother,” Dakgu said. “On the other hand, she didn’t act very nervous. Dumag, when you finish the brief, we will talk again.”

“Will tomorrow work?”

“That should be fine.”

As the car pulled away from the Orcenhall, Llag said, “You didn’t make a splash, dear. Was there a reason?”
“Family reasons. I didn’t want the Orcenchief’s people looking at me and some of the folk at the Haven.”

“The Silverin.”

“Yes. I am going to have to have chat with Alen’s mother and some others about that. I just hope that you didn’t reveal too much.”

“I was careful to leave that out of the brief. It depends on how much my uncle knows and what he is willing to talk about to his boss. I just said that the folk at the Haven were elves, but didn’t elaborate as to why they may have been there and just who came down with Jorge and his grandfather as staff.”

“We can discuss this on the train. I want to know what you were doing there in Bilbul Kil and about the people there.”

“We can go over the brief and the pictures. Gander is going to want a better summary than I gave uncle in any case.”

“I am so glad that you came back to me.”

“That was going to happen regardless.”

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