Imager’s Intrigue ip-3, page 1part #3 of Imager's portfolio Series
( Imager's portfolio - 3 )
Unlike most people, I hated actually going to sleep and looked forward to waking up…in a way. When I’d been a struggling apprentice portraiturist years before, I never would have believed I could have felt that way, but life has a way of changing preconceptions. In my case, it had to do with the sleeping arrangements required of imagers. Although we’d been married for nearly five years-it would be five years on the twenty-first of the coming Fevier-Seliora and I had never slept the entire night together; not that we both wouldn’t have wanted to, but the dangers of that were far too high. Even before I’d known I was an imager, I’d lit lamps and imaged things in my sleep, and once I’d even set a chest on fire. Imaging in a nightmare could easily have hurt Seliora…if not worse.
So I was pleased to wake, dress in exercise clothes and boots, and leave my discreetly lead-lined bedchamber with its lead glass windows and pad barefoot into the main bedchamber and look at her sleeping there. Then I slipped from the house and ran down the walkways to the exercise area where Clovyl put all those of us assigned to various security-related duties through exercises that ended in a four mille run. After that, I trotted back to the house and showered and shaved, in always cool if not cold water, so that I was clean enough to slip into Seliora’s large bed before she actually rose and we got ready for the day.
On this Lundi morning, she was awake, waiting for me, and her arms felt wonderful around me. We didn’t get to enjoy that moment for long because a small figure ran in from the adjoining room-meant to be a half-study, but serving as a nursery-and climbed up under the covers to join us.
Before all that long, the three of us rose, and I washed and changed Diestrya while Seliora showered and dressed. Then Seliora and Diestrya headed downstairs while I dressed in my imager grays. As soon as I sat down in the breakfast room off the adequate but not excessively large kitchen, Klysia filled my large crockery mug with tea, strong tea that I’d likely need for the day ahead.
“More tea, too…please?” begged Diestrya from her highchair beside Seliora and across the table, offering me a winning smile, not that all her smiles weren’t dazzling when she wanted something.
Klysia looked to me, then to Seliora. After catching the barest hint of a nod from my black-haired, black-eyed beautiful wife, I nodded. “Just a little, with cream.”
Because I was the most junior Maitre D’Structure, a step above the lowest imager master level, Maitre D’Aspect, but below the two senior masters at the Collegium, both of whom were Maitres D’Esprit, our house was a modestly spacious dwelling with an upper level holding three bedrooms, two bathing rooms, the master sleeping chambers, which included my stark sleeping cell and the half-study serving as a nursery, and a main level containing the family and formal parlors, the dining room, the kitchen, the pantry, and a larger study and library, plus, of course, the front entry foyer and Klysia’s quarters at the back. I had converted the northern upstairs bedroom into a studio, where I’d done portraits of Maitre Dyana and Master Dichartyn, and where I’d begun the preliminary work on one of Diestrya. That way I didn’t have to use the drafty space I’d once been assigned in the Collegium workroom. Fortunately, because my days were rather occupied, no one had changed positions in the Collegium recently, so I wasn’t required to paint another Collegium portrait any time soon.
Like all dwellings provided to married imagers by the Collegium, the outside of ours was of gray stone, with a gray slate roof. Inside, the walls were of off-white plaster, except for the main library, which was paneled with cherry and had built-in bookshelves that we had not come close to filling.
With the exception of the formal parlor and the dining room, the furniture in the house was a motley collection of leftovers from the previous maitre and pieces gleaned from sample works from NordEste Design, the business of Seliora’s family. “Eclectic” was what Seliora called it, but it was still motley. The formal parlor furnishings, Seliora’s bed and dressing table, and the dining room set, with its twin buffets and china cabinets, had all been gifts from her family, as all the linens and woolens had come from mine.
Breakfast was egg toast with berry syrup, sausages, and an oat porridge that Seliora had decided we all needed, particularly Diestrya. I had trouble not making faces in eating the porridge without a surreptitious dollop of the syrup.
“You don’t look all that happy, dearest,” offered Seliora.
“I’m not.” And I wasn’t, not when I’d have to spend the morning in one of Commander Artois’s monthly meetings of all the District Captains of the Civic Patrol of L’Excelsis. “It’s time for Artois’s monthly lecture.”
“It is the first Lundi in Feuillyt,” Seliora said with a smile.
I still found it hard to believe that I’d been married to her nearly five years. At times that seemed more improbable than the fact that I was a master imager-Maitre D’Structure of the Collegium Imago of Solidar-as well as the only imager ever serving as an actual officer in the Civic Patrol, but how all that happened was another story for another time.
We were out of the house two quints before seventh glass. The morning was cool, even cooler than usual for the first Lundi of fall, and Seliora shivered in her cloak.
“Cold?” I asked.
“I should have worn a winter cloak.” She smiled at me. “You were out earlier. You could have warned me, except you don’t even notice the cold.”
“I’ll try to be better now that the weather’s colder.” I grinned at her.
She shook her head, knowing that I’d probably forget.
I carried Diestrya, as we walked southward toward the duty coach area closest to the Bridge of Desires, the stone span that crossed the River Aluse. After Maitre Poincaryt-the head of the Collegium-had worked out the arrangement between the Civic Patrol, the Council of Solidar, and the Collegium that had resulted in my being assigned as Third District Captain, I’d managed to get him to agree to have the duty carriage that took me to the Third District Station every working day make a stop at NordEste Design to drop Seliora off there. After all, it was her family’s home and business, and, without her and her family, I’d have died years earlier.
“Moon!” Diestrya pointed to Artiema, full and low in the western sky.
“Yes, that’s Artiema.” I could also see Erion low in the east, just barely above the granite buildings of Imagisle turned whitish-gray by the white sunlight angling over L’Excelsis.
The first duty coach was the one reserved for us.
“Good morning, Master Rhennthyl. Good morning, Madame,” said Lebryn, the driver, who was also an obdurate, immune to the personal effects of imaging on his looks or being.
I opened the coach door for Seliora, then handed Diestrya up while I climbed in, then held my daughter for the ride to NordEste Design.
“What are you working on today?”
“The upholstery design for a Mistress Alynkya D’Ramsael-Alte as a wedding present. Her father might be familiar.” Seliora grinned at me. “She came to us because someone once was very kind to her at a dance.”
I winced gracefully. That had been one of my early duties in security at the Council Chateau, both to watch for intruders and, as necessary, to make sure that the daughters of High Holders were not without partners. I’d danced with Alynkya at two of the Council’s seasonal balls, the first when she’d been pressed to accompany her father, the High Holder and Councilor from Kephria, when her mother was ill, and the second when she had accompanied him after her mother’s death. “Who is she marrying?”
“She’s probably too sweet for him.”
“She seems to have a mind of her own.”
That was dangerous for any wife of a High Holder, given that High Holders still retained the right of low justice on their own lands-and low justice could include what amounted to perpetual incarceration and other cruelties, even for a High Holder’s wife.
Before long, the coach stopped before the building that served Seliora’s family as factory, factorage, and dwelling. Located at the intersection of Nordroad and Hagahl Lane, the yellow-brick walls rose three stories, set off by gray granite cornerstones. The wooden loading docks at the south end of the building were stained with a brown oil and well-kept, and the loading yard itself was stone-paved. The entrance on the south side of Hagahl Lane, on the north end, was the private family entrance, with a square-pillared covered porch that shielded a stone archway.
Seliora leaned over and gave me a kiss before she left the coach, and I handed Diestrya down to her. “The newsheets are on the seat.”
She always left them there for me to read on the rest of the ride to Third District, and she always reminded me, a ritual that I found somehow reassuring. I followed her down and, holding my shields, walked her up the steps. She used her key to enter.
Then I walked back to the duty coach and climbed in. As Lebryn eased the coach away, I picked up the first of the newsheets-Tableta.
The lead headline stated “War Looms in Cloisera.” The story was about the increasing tension between Ferrum and Jariola. While the two had reached a truce after the undeclared “Winter War” of 756-757, when the troops of the Oligarch of Jariola had finally pushed the Ferrans back to the pre-war borders and regained control of their coal mines, no peace agreement or treaty had ever been signed. Both nations had armed forces poised along the border, and the two had never resumed diplomatic relations. According to the Tableta story, the Ferrans were deploying a new steam-powered land-cruiser, claiming that it could operate in the coldest of winters, unlike earlier models that had broken down in hilly lands of Jariola during the cold winter months.
The story in Veritum was similar, but the second newsheet had another story that I found intriguing, not to mention disturbing. The grain ware house of a wealthy freeholder near Extela had been torched right after harvest, and it was the latest in a series of grain ware houses that had burned across the southeast of Solidar. All the ware houses except one had belonged to freeholders, rather than High Holders.
Then there was a rather cryptic and short story that reported on an explosion of an undetermined nature outside the Place D’Opera on Samedi night after the premiere of The Trial of Lorien. The explosion had damaged a coach, killed several people, and injured a number of bystanders.
I frowned. No one had contacted me. But then, the Place D’Opera was in Second District.
Seliora had mentioned the opera because Iryela and Kandryl had wanted to see the premiere, but couldn’t because of a dinner at his father’s chateau. The dinner might even have been in celebration of Frydryk’s and Alynkya’s engagement. Or it might not have been, given the social obligations and intrigues that swirled around High Holders.
I’d wanted to see the opera for a different reason, although I was certainly not willing to pay the prices for the premiere. Lorien had been the son of Rex Defou, who’d been removed as ruler and rex of Solidar by Alastar, the first imager to be titled a Maitre D’Image-the most powerful of imagers, of whom there were none at present in the Collegium. Historians had always questioned whether Lorien was strong and temperate or weak-willed and subservient to the High Holders of the time. It would be interesting to see how the composer and the librettist had seen Lorien.
But…why weren’t there more details about the explosion in the newsheet?
For the moment, I couldn’t do anything about it, and I finished reading Veritum just before Lebryn eased the duty coach to a stop outside Civic Patrol headquarters.
I stepped out of the duty coach and adjusted the gray visored cap that imagers wore when on duty off Imagisle, a cap similar to those worn by the Civic Patrol, except that mine bore the four-pointed star that symbolized the Collegium. Although the headquarters of the Civic Patrol of L’Excelsis were slightly less than a mille from the south end of Imagisle, my circular trip via NordEste Design had taken four milles. Even had I gone directly from the Collegium, the trip would have been more than two milles because there wasn’t a bridge on the south end of the isle that held the Collegium. There really wasn’t much difference in distance between going to headquarters and going to my Third District station, although the station was almost two milles northwest of headquarters.
The Civic Patrol headquarters building was of undistinguished yellow brick, with brown wooden trim and doors. There were three doors spaced across the front. The left one led to the malefactor charging area, and the right door was permanently locked. The middle double doors were set in the square archway above two worn stone steps leading up from the sidewalk. I took them and stepped inside and past the table desk, with a graying patroller seated behind it.
“Good morning, Captain Rhennthyl.”
“Good morning, Cassan.”
I hurried up the time-worn dark oak steps to the second level and turned right, going past one door before stepping in through the open door to the conference room, with its long oval table of polished but battered oak and the straight-backed chairs arranged around it. Three wide windows, both closed, were centered on the outer wall. They offered a view of the various buildings on the north side of Fedre, but not so far enough to see those along the Boulevard D’Imagers. There were no pictures hung on the walls, and only three unlit oil lamps in sconces spaced along the inside wall.
I was the second to arrive. Bolyet, the captain of Fifth District, was already there. He’d replaced Telleryn a year before, when Telleryn had earned out his stipend and moved to Kherseilles with his wife.
“Good morning,” I said.
“It won’t be for long,” the balding captain replied. “Commander’s not happy. Something in Second District.”
He nodded, but before he could say more, Subunet, of First District, entered, trailed by Hostyn and Jacquet, who had dark circles under his eyes. Several moments later, Kharles followed.
Subcommander Cydarth walked in directly behind Kharles. He had black hair and a swarthy complexion. Part of his upper right ear was missing. “The commander will be right here.” His voice was so low it actually rumbled, and I recalled how I’d reacted when I’d first heard him speak years before. I’d read of voices that deep, but I’d never heard one until then.
We all remained standing for several moments, until Commander Artois entered and shut the door behind himself. Three or four digits shorter than I was, he was also wire-thin with short-cut brown hair shot with gray. His flat brown eyes never seemed to show emotion. He sat at the end of the table, with Cydarth taking the place at his right. The rest of us sat, those in the first three districts to his left, those in districts four through six on his right, if below the subcommander.
“Good morning, Captains.” Artois paused, then continued. “Some of you know we had a problem Samedi evening and yesterday. For those of you who don’t, I’ll summarize.” He tilted his head slightly, looking momentarily at Jacquet, before continuing. “Samedi evening there was a premiere of a new opera at the Place D’Opera. After the opera ended, an explosion destroyed a wealthy factor’s coach and killed him, his wife, his eldest daughter, and the coachman. The factor was Broussard D’Factorius of Piedryn. He was visiting a cousin here in L’Excelsis. A message was found pinned to his body after the explosion. The message claimed that the factor had been killed because of his mistreatment of workers on his lands. The signature, if one could call it that, was ‘Workers for Justice.’ Eight years ago, a High Holder was shot, not fatally, and he received a similar message. There’s no other record of
Jacquet said nothing, but the fingers of his left hand drummed silently on the edge of the table.
“We have another problem,” Artois went on. “Broussard’s formal coat, cravat, and shirt were shredded. The envelope was intact when found on his chest by the patrollers on the scene.” The commander looked to me. “Captain Rhennthyl, is it possible for an imager to stand that close to a blast and then place such a message?”
“No, sir. No imager I know of at the Collegium could do that.” I managed a rueful smile. “At one time, I was caught in an explosion when I was a good fifteen yards away. I did survive, but I had broken ribs and couldn’t move for days, even with a brace. It was two months before I healed.”
Cydarth nodded, thoughtfully, and I wondered why.
“I thought as much,” replied Artois. “That means someone who was nearby planted the envelope. It’s also likely that whoever it was knew explosives and channeled the blast pattern, then hurried up in the chaos and pinned the envelope.” Artois glanced to Jacquet. “The patrollers had been diverted by a fight just north of the building. The man who began the fight escaped, and the man who was attacked was apparently innocent.”
Cydarth looked sideways at Artois, not quite questioningly.
“I could be mistaken,” Artois said dryly, “but I think it highly unlikely that an elderly and frail chorister emeritus of the Anomen D’NordEste would willingly choose to be involved in such a diversion.”
“High Councilor Suyrien has requested that the Civic Patrol and its patrollers exercise special vigilance around locations where wealthy factors or High Holders are likely to be present, except for the area around the Council Chateau, where Council security will exercise such vigilance.” Artois’s voice was matter-of-fact, as if he’d been requested to deliver such a request, knowing that it was probably close to useless.
L. E. MODESITT SERIES:
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