Madness in Solidar, page 1
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For my mother,
who introduced me to science fiction and the fantastic and who made all the books possible
RYEN D’REX Rex of Solidar
ASARYA D’RYEN Wife of Ryen
LORIEN D’RYEN Eldest son of Ryen
CHELIA D’LORIEN Wife of Lorien
RYENTAR D’RYEN Younger son of Ryen
CHARYN D’LORIEN Eldest son of Lorien
CALKORAN D’ALTE Vaestora
CAEMRYN D’ALTE Yapres
DELCOEUR D’ALTE L’Excelsis [deceased], father of Asarya
GUERDYN D’ALTE Head, High Holder’s Council, Nacliano
HAEBYN D’ALTE High Councilor, Piedryn
MOERYN D’ALTE High Councilor, Khelgror
NACRYON D’ALTE High Councilor, Mantes
RUELYR D’ALTE Ruile
RYEL D’ALTE Rivages
SOUVEN D’ALTE Dueraan
VAUN D’ALTE High Councilor, Tilbora
ZAERLYN D’ALTE Rivages
ALASTAR Maitre D’Image
FHAEN Maitre D’Esprit [deceased Maitre of Collegium]
CYRAN Maitre D’Esprit
AKORYT Maitre D’Structure
DESYRK Maitre D’Structure
OBSOLYM Maitre D’Structure
TARYN Maitre D’Structure
ALYNA Maitre D’Aspect
CLAEYND Maitre D’Aspect
GAELLEN Maitre D’Aspect, healer
KHAELIS Maitre D’Aspect
LHENDYR Maitre D’Aspect
MHORYS Maitre D’Aspect
NARRYN Maitre D’Aspect
PETROS Maitre D’Aspect
SHAELYT Maitre D’Aspect
TIRANYA Maitre D’Aspect
WARRYK Maitre D’Aspect
ARHGEN Tertius, Collegium bookkeeper
DAREYN Secondus, aide to maitre
ISKHAR Chorister of the Collegium
ZHELAN Maitre of Westisle Collegium
BROUSSARD D’FACTORIUS Brick and stone
ELTHYRD D’FACTORIUS Timber, lumber; chief, Factors’ Council
KATHILA D’FACTORIA Factors’ Council member; spices, scents, and oils
VHADYM D’FACTORIUS Leather and rendering
WYLUM D’FACTORIUS Woolens and cloth
GAIROCK Master Stonemason
DEMYKALON D’CORPS Marshal of the Armies
WILKORN D’NAVIA Sea Marshal
PETAYN D’CORPS Vice-Marshal
CHESYRK D’CORPS Subcommander
“Five silvers? That’s all?” asked the woman in a low voice. “After all the years you devoted to his father?”
“Young master Cerrsyn said that was all that he could spare. The factorage went to his older brother. He got nothing.” The stocky man, sitting on the low stool in front of the hearth, stared at the few reddish coals that remained.
The boy listened and watched from where he lay on the rush pallet with its pad of quilted rags neatly stitched together, barely covered by a small and patched woolen gray blanket, his eyes slit so that they would think he was sleeping.
“Like as anyone’d believe that.”
“I believe it. He walked from the factorage to the north wharf. I went with him. That’s when he gave me the silvers. He got on a schooner bound for Hassyl. He’ll be working for his wife’s father there.”
“Least he’ll have a place. Not like us.”
“We’ve the cot, love.”
“That and five whole silvers … and three young mouths to feed. Some reward for years of service.”
“Faerth might take me as a loader.”
“At your age … how long can you lift bales and barrels?”
“Long as I have to, long as there’s no other work to be had. There are … other things I can do…”
The woman offered a sound that might have been anything.
The boy continued to listen, but neither of his parents spoke, not before he finally slept, restlessly, until much later when a chill breeze blew through the open door, so strongly that the boy had to grab his tattered blanket to keep it from blowing away, not that it was quite long enough to cover both his shoulders and feet, no matter how much he hunched up. He could taste ashes from the small fire that had burned out glasses earlier, even before he had drifted into sleep. He moistened his lips in the darkness. That only made the taste of ashes worse. The door closed, but he could still feel the wind coming through the cracks in the wall and in the doorframe.
“Mother…” He tried not to let his voice crack.
“I’m here.” She knelt beside him and touched his cheek.
Her hand was even colder than the packed clay of the floor or the stones of the hearth.
“He had to go. He’ll be back in the morning. A man had a task.”
The boy could hear the way her voice hardened when she tried not to talk about things that worried her. “At night?”
“We do what we have to. Your father will be back. He always does what he says. He always has. He always will. Would that others did.”
The boy reached from under the blankets and took her hand in his. “Your hands are cold.”
“That’s just from seeing your father off.” After a time, she withdrew her hands. “Go back to sleep.”
This time, he did not find sleep again until it was almost dawn.
The two gray-clad imagers sat in the two chairs before the oblong desk. The prematurely gray-haired one glanced at the timepiece on the corner of the desk, and its sands flowing from the top of the glass to the bottom.
“Do you have to go?” asked Cyran, the younger of the two men, if only by a few years, although some silver hairs streaked his blond thatch.
“Not quite yet. I’m supposed to meet the rex at half past eighth glass. He’d be happier if it were sixth glass.”
“Is he that early a riser?”
“Supposedly. He always looks tired, even when he’s angry, and that’s more often the case than not.”
“Alastar … don’t you think you’re acceding to his wishes too much? Even Maitre Fhaen…”
“He is the source of almost all our funding. That’s barely enough right now, as I pointed out at the last meeting of the senior maitres. The drought in the southeast, around Piedryn, and the last rains here and in the west, have halved crop yields, and prices are going up … and will increase more. Then there’s the small matter that the Collegium’s charter is to support the rex, and that means against
“The word is that he doesn’t like imagers.”
“That’s likely true.” In fact, that had been one of the first things Alastar had learned after arriving at Imagisle. “That doesn’t mean that Demykalon is that fond of the rex, and these days, Ryen also needs support against the factors’ council.”
“And everyone else, the Nameless knows,” replied Cyran. “That puts us at odds with almost everyone.”
“Ryen is far less than he could be, but would you want Demykalon, or any marshal running Solidar? Or High Holders Haebyn, Nacryon, and Guerdyn? Or any factor that you could name?”
“Especially Elthyrd. He’s behind some new money-lending factorage, likely another excuse for usury on a larger scale.”
“Oh … the new Banque D’Excelsis?” Alastar couldn’t recall where he’d heard that.
“The word is that he put up the golds to back his son. What about Lorien? Would he be a better rex than his father?”
“Who knows? I’ve never met him, but it’s hard to believe he couldn’t do better than his sire, but that’s not a certainty. In any event, we shouldn’t be the ones making that choice. If it ever came out that we did … and it would come out, you know that as well as I…” Alastar did not finish the sentence, but he did not have to, he knew.
“It wouldn’t be the end of the Collegium.”
“If it weren’t, it would come Namer-fired close.” The Maitre of the Collegium Imago shook his head. “So we’ll do our best to keep everyone at bay with everyone else until someone with sense shows up.”
“As if anyone with sense would be stupid enough to let it be known,” countered Cyran. “Do you know what Ryen wants?”
“No.” Alastar stood, letting Cyran know that their talk was over. “I can hardly wait to find out what new scheme or pet peeve he’s become obsessed with.”
“Better you than me.”
“Thank you, my friend.” Alastar offered a warm smile, then watched as Cyran left the study. After a moment, he picked up a leather case and riffled through the papers inside, although he doubted that Ryen would wish to discuss what was contained in any of them, unless, of course, Alastar neglected to bring the folder. Then, after donning a riding jacket that matched his imager grays and the gray cap with its polished black leather visor, he made his way out of the study and along the corridor toward the older end of the administration building, that section constructed by the first imagers of the Collegium. That was a much different time. Much different.
He still found it almost unreal that he had been the second-highest imager at Westisle less than two months ago, or that Maitre Zhelan had turned down the opportunity to come to head the entire Collegium and had let it be known that Alastar should take the position. The more Alastar heard and saw, the more he understood at least some of the reasons Zhelan had demurred. At least, no one had asked him to go to Mont D’Image, the isolated northern town at the base of the Montagnes D’Glace that housed failed or disciplined imagers. He shuddered at that thought.
Outside the old main entrance, both his escorts were waiting, attired in the standard imager grays, with gray riding jackets and visor caps, given the stiff breeze and almost chill air of midfall. So was his mount, an older but not aged gray gelding, a symbolism that Alastar never voiced, but let others infer.
Although he could have summoned one of the Collegium carriages, he preferred to ride, even though that required two young imagers as escorts. While the two carried blades and truncheons, those were backed by imaging skills ranging from the simple expedient of imaging a cloud of fine pepper around the head of an assailant to imaging something into the body of an attacker.
Alastar looked at the gelding, murmured, “Here we go again, fellow,” then mounted and urged the gelding forward. “The north bridge.” He looked to the large gray stone dwelling at the north end of the green bordered by stone-paved lanes on each side. Unlike the family dwellings on each side of the green, it was two stories tall and extended a good forty yards across the front with a wide covered porch wrapping around it—a dwelling that would have been far too large for Alastar, a childless widower, were it not for his responsibilities for entertaining those within the Collegium and, occasionally, those from outside, although he had not done that in the brief time he had been on Imagisle. He turned toward the imager on his left. “How are your studies with Maitre Cyran coming, Belsior?”
“Well enough, sir.”
“He mentioned that you have a tendency to be … excessively enthusiastic in imaging iron darts.”
“Yes, sir. He made me understand that.”
Alastar smiled at the understatement, knowing that Cyran had made the young man, a solid third, who might someday possibly become a Maitre D’Aspect, image darts until he collapsed, in little more than a tenth of a glass, then walked up to the fallen Belsior and put a sabre at his throat. “He does have a way about him.”
At that, Neiryn, the other third, nodded.
Before long, the three were riding across the north bridge over the River Aluse. Once on the west shore, they turned north on the West River Road, threading their way past a wagon moving south and piled with bales of hay.
The shops that lined the west side of the road were neat enough, Alastar reflected, but definitely showed their age, unlike those on the East River Road. As they neared a point opposite the north end of Imagisle, Alastar again marveled, as he had every time he saw them, at the gray stone ramparts that sheathed the entire shoreline of the isle that held the Collegium. He still had a hard time believing that the first maitre had created those walls in a single day, although that was the story. For his own reasons, Alastar was loath to disabuse that rumor, as, he suspected, had been every Collegium Maitre since the first one. Yet … even in a month or a season?
At the west end of the Nord Bridge, the three turned their mounts onto the Boulevard D’Ouest, another wide stone-paved way said to have been created by the Collegium’s first imagers, although the stones showed little if any wear, given that they had been laid nearly four hundred years earlier at the time of the consolidation of Solidar under Rex Regis. Then again, Alastar had to admit that those paving stones looked little different from the way the ones in Westisle had when he had first been an imager primus at that branch of the Collegium nearly thirty years ago.
As they rode closer to the Chateau D’Rex, the shops grew larger and their fronts newer, while the cafés and the occasional bakery sported awnings, although many of those were rolled up, most likely because of the brisk northwest wind. Where the boulevard intersected the ring road around the Chateau D’Rex, Alastar turned south and then took the lane up to the steps leading up to the main portico. At the foot of the steps, he dismounted and handed the gelding’s reins to Belsior. “I have no idea how long I’ll be here.”
“Yes, sir,” the two replied almost in unison.
Alastar took the steps, more than a score, reputedly imaged of near indestructible alabaster-like white stone by the Collegium’s first imagers. He still wondered why they had not brought the approach lane higher so that there were fewer steps, but he supposed that was so that the grade to the stone plaza at the foot of the steps was gentle enough for wagons and carriages.
One of the guards escorted Alastar from the main entry up the grand staircase to the upper level of the chateau and then back along the north corridor to a chamber almost in the northeast corner, where another guard stood. The second guard rapped on the door. “Maitre Alastar, Your Grace.”
“Send him in!”
The force of Ryen’s words announced his mood, but Alastar smiled as he stepped into the study and walked toward the massive black oak desk that dominated the east end of the long chamber, on which were piled stacks of papers.
From where he sat behind the desk, the angular and near-cadaverous-lookin
“The half-glass has not yet rung, sir.”
“That doesn’t matter. It still takes you too long to get here. It’s not much more than a mille from Imagisle to the chateau.”
“That is as the raven flies. There’s no direct route from Imagisle to the chateau. I have to ride north to the Boulevard D’Ouest—”
“You’ve explained that before.” Ryen smiled, the intense glare of the moment before instantly gone and replaced with an expression of total warmth. “We need to do something about that. I will obtain the land, and you and your imagers will build a new boulevard directly from the northern bridge … the bridge of wishes or whatever…”
“The Bridge of Desires,” supplied the Collegium Maitre.
“… directly to the chateau.”
“Just to the ring road around the chateau,” suggested Alastar, well aware of the rex’s very literal mindset.
Alastar refrained from sighing. “If we build it right to the entry portico, it will destroy your east gardens and make it harder for you and your family to get to the hunting park or the marshal’s headquarters or anywhere else. The extra few hundred yards or so won’t make any difference in the time it takes to get to and from Imagisle.”
“To the ring road, then. But directly there from the bridge.”
“Once you have arranged for the land, we will stand ready to begin work on the road. Now … what was the matter for which you requested my presence?”
“High Holder Guerdyn has said that the High Holders of all Solidar may refuse to pay their annual tariffs if I increase them in the coming year.”
Refuse to pay? Unprecedented as that sounded, it didn’t surprise Alastar after the rhetorical rumblings over the past season.
“This year’s tariffs?” Alastar knew tariffs were due by the end of Feuillyt, thirty-two days away. “Or next year’s?”
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