Imager’s Intrigue ip-3, page 14part #3 of Imager's portfolio Series
He handed the jacket back to me and picked up the scarf. After only a moment, he handed it back to me. “That’s from Etyenn. He’s the only one who uses the arbora red dye. It’s cheap, but it fades in a year or two. The wool has his weave, but there are hundreds of scarves like that. It’s faded a bit, and it’s probably three years old. Sort of scarf someone your sister’s age would wear, not that she would. She’s got better taste than to wear something so common.” He frowned. “The elver woman…she wore both of these?”
“They were both with her.” I knew what he was thinking, and I didn’t disagree.
“Bartering beauty…that’s a dangerous business.” He shook his head.
My father smiled ruefully. “The jacket was a gift. The scarf she purchased. That would be my guess.”
That made as much sense as anything.
“Will you be coming to dinner any time soon?” he asked.
“Not soon. We have a couple of, shall we say, required engagements. A dinner with the Ryels and then the Council’s Autumn Ball next weekend. After that…”
“I’ll tell Maelyna. Namer-damned thing when you have to plan family dinners weeks in advance.”
I started to speak, but he held up a hand. “I know. You’re working six days out of every seven and many nights as well, and you two are trying to keep two families happy when you scarce have time for yourselves.” He smiled. “It’s just that it’s so good when you come. Could be that bride of yours. You were fortunate there, Rhenn.”
“I know. I do know.”
“You be careful, now,” he added as I turned to go. “The last time a war loomed, you got shot and then some, and more than a few people wouldn’t mind your absence.”
“Is that your opinion…or has Veblynt suggested that?” Veblynt’s wife was a relative of Iryela’s mother, and had come from a fallen High Holder family. He still had contacts, and his warnings were to be heeded. “Did he say more than to be careful?”
“My thoughts and his…if you must know. And no, he didn’t. He said he’d just heard rumors.”
“Thank him for me.”
“I already did.”
Since Culthyn was nowhere to be seen when I left the storeroom, I just went out and hailed a hack on West River Road. The hacker took the Sud Bridge over the River Aluse and went up the Avenue D’Artisans.
I considered what I’d discovered. The scarf was common, coming from the factorages of Councilor Etyenn, and the jacket was handmade and of quality wool and tailoring, but sewn by a seamstress personally for the wearer. I couldn’t help wondering for which High Holder she’d been a mistress, or more likely a serving maid who was a convenient concubine. I also wondered what she’d done to displease whichever High Holder it had been, and why her body had been dumped in Third District, if less than a block from Fifth District. While I had some scattered thoughts, with what I knew there really wasn’t any way to track her farther. Not yet, at least.
The rest of the day was uneventful, for a Samedi in a district Civic Patrol station. I copied a number of descriptions of the missing brooch and had them given to patrollers who covered areas with goldsmiths. I also copied and circulated a description of Haerasyn and his offenses and posted it in the station, as well as dispatched it to the other districts.
We had a rash of grab-and-runs reported near both the Guild Square and the Plaza SudEste. I sent two more patrollers to each, telling them to make themselves very visible, and after that, there were no reports. I’d probably just sent the young thieves into District One or Five, or possibly even Two, but there wasn’t much else I could have done. Besides, if the other three boosted their patrollers in the heavily shopped areas, we’d have fewer thefts. Then again, I was shifting patrollers from areas where there weren’t many offenses, and I couldn’t do that for long…or there would soon be crimes there. All of us faced the same problem-not enough patrollers, because the Council was reluctant to increase taxes.
When I left at a quarter past fifth glass, the patrollers had only brought in one disorderly and one assault, but the assault would go to charging and trial. He already had a hip brand, and he’d tried to carve up a bistro bouncer with a dirk. I did have to leave word with the duty desk where I was, but I just hoped nothing serious enough to send a patroller after me would happen.
When I reached NordEste Design, Bhenyt opened the door even before I lifted the hammer-shaped bronze knocker. “Good afternoon, Rhenn. Well, I guess it’s evening.”
“Good evening.” I glanced past him toward the steps.
“Everyone’s here,” he said with a smile. “The twins are taking turns with Diestrya.”
“Is she behaving?”
“She was, but she always does.” He grinned. “Mother says she’s just like Seliora was at that age.”
Betara and Seliora were waiting at the top of the steps.
“Have you heard anything about Haerasyn?”
Betara shook her head.
“I put out the word about the brooch and Haerasyn. So far, no one’s reported anything, but it’s early for that. How are Odelia and Aegina?”
“We haven’t seen Odelia today,” Seliora said. “Aunt Aegina is furious. I think she’s irritated because Odelia and Kolasyn weren’t careful.”
I certainly would have been less than pleased, but I’d seen how little elvers cared for anything but a supply of the weed, and it was hard to imagine that unless you’d been attacked by a crazed elver…or seen the emaciated and wasted bodies.
“Mama has some news for you,” announced Betara.
They both nodded, and Seliora and I led the way up to the third level. Before long, the four of us were seated around the plaques table, and Mama Diestra had shuffled the deck and set it to the side.
“We have reports of three more Pharsi deaths, all of them in Ruile, this time,” said Diestra.
That didn’t surprise me, especially after my day. Still…
“Does anyone know where the stronger weed is coming from?” I asked.
“What would be your thought?” Mama Diestra looked at me intently.
I couldn’t help but see the tiredness in her bloodshot eyes, a tiredness held in check by sheer force of will. “I don’t think that anyone could grow as much under glass as we’re seeing. That suggests it has to be coming from the Sud Swamp or the lands surrounding it.”
“What else does that suggest?”
I took a moment to consider because the implications weren’t exactly good. From what I recalled from my study of Solidaran jurisprudence, there weren’t any penalties for growing elveweed, only for providing it to smokers directly. I suspected that was because no one had ever grown it in Solidar. “You’re suggesting a High Holder, probably one who is either debt-ridden or greedy.” If not both.
She nodded. “It’s being hidden in grain and other shipments on the ironway from what we can determine. The dealers pay off the loaders.”
“But not with the weed,” I replied. “Otherwise, we’d have deaths of ironway loaders. Did the deaths in Ruile come after you started sending out inquiries?”
Betara frowned. Mama Diestra nodded.
“So it’s likely the weed is coming through the ironway from Ruile and being sent east and west from there. Do you have any proof of why it’s only going to the five cities?”
“No. We’re only surmising it’s those five cities, but there aren’t any reports of the strong elveweed in other cities.”
That made sense to me, except I couldn’t have explained why. It just did.
Mama Diestra looked across the plaques table at me. She smiled, sadly. “Much as has been expected of you, Rhenn, even more will fall onto your shoulders.”
As if I needed that…
Seliora looked to her grandmother. “Is it anything you can tell him?”
“Only that you must survive stone and fire…and that there will be times when no place is safe.”
“I have seen you emerging from piled stones with fire in the distance. That is all I have seen.”
I tried not to shudder.
Seliora turned to me. “You’ve seen it, too, haven’t you? That night…”
I nodded. “That was all I saw, too.”
A long silence filled the plaques room.
“Dinner is almost ready.” Betara looked at her mother inquiringly.
“I’ll have the broth Aegina fixed and the plain noodles. That will be enough.”
I could tell Betara wanted to insist that Mama Diestra eat more, but, good daughter as she was, she only smiled. “I’ll bring it right up.”
Seliora and I followed Betara down to the main level. We did hold hands, and I knew dinner would be tasty and that no one would mention all the problems.
I woke up with the sun on Solayi, calm and peaceful, until I sat up and tried not to think too hard about all the scattered and seemingly unconnected things that I felt were somehow linked in a far larger pattern. The problem was that I didn’t have enough information to know whether I was correct or whether I was merely wishing that they were all connected.
At breakfast, Seliora and I refrained from talking about Haerasyn. What was there to say?
“Have you decided what to wear to the Autumn Ball?” I managed not to grin.
Seliora raised her eyebrows. “Husbands have been shot for asking that question.” But she laughed. “Yes. It’s a surprise.” Her face turned serious. “What do you think will happen there?”
“I’d be surprised if anything happened there. I’d also be surprised if we didn’t learn something that someone wished we wouldn’t.”
“That’s why we were asked?”
I shrugged, then scooped up Diestrya off the chair beside me just before she had managed to climb into position to grab a knife.
“Did you ever find out what the banque explosion was all about?”
“Someone used the death of the clerk to call my attention to a whole raft of things, and I can’t believe that transfers and possible payoffs to Cydarth and Caartyl and missing funds to the Portraiture Guild are related, especially given the small amount that was taken.”
“A hundred golds? That’s not small.”
“If you’re embezzling from a banque, that’s enough to put you in the work house for life. You’d be better off stealing a thousand and vanishing.” I thought again about the precise writing on the note that I’d placed in the hidden strongbox in my main floor study. That writing suggested something carefully planned…but I still couldn’t figure out what really had been intended.
Seliora tilted her head. “Maybe they’re related in a different way.”
“What do you mean?”
She shook her head. “I can’t say. It’s just a feeling.”
“You’re probably right, but I wish I could figure it out.” I paused. “The dead girl who was supposed to be an elver and wasn’t bothers me, too. She didn’t die on that bench. She’d been moved from somewhere else. I wish I knew why.”
“To get your attention. Because you’re the only Patrol Captain who could stand up to a High Holder.”
That also made sense. “Someone else was watching the girl, and she was going to tell someone. She was killed, but before her body was found, they moved it?” I almost shook my head. “That’s not only far-fetched, but dangerous, if not really stupid.”
“Not for another High Holder.”
With more than a thousand High Holders, and a good hundred having estates around L’Excelsis, even if Seliora happened to be right, that didn’t help matters much, especially since neither the Collegium nor the Civic Patrol had jurisdiction on the lands of a High Holder, except with evidence of a capital crime definitely linking specific people or locations to that crime. I couldn’t very well visit every one of them, just on suspicion, even if I had a good idea…which I didn’t. And whoever moved the body had to know that as well.
Had she been moved all the way from somewhere near Ruile? It was cold enough to use the ironway, and no one would ever open a High Holder’s crate or trunk. That possibility gave me a very chill feeling, especially since the stronger elveweed had to come from there. I’d have to talk to Dichartyn about that, since I certainly had no legal authority that far from L’Excelsis.
At that point, Diestrya indicated that certain functions needed to be catered to, and we left the breakfast room.
The morning was sunny, but the clouds swept in from the northwest, and by mid-afternoon a chill drizzle had settled over Imagisle. I fired up the stove in the family parlor, and, after Diestrya’s afternoon nap, Seliora and I alternated reading, while whoever wasn’t reading was playing with a very cheerful, but very active daughter.
After an early supper, I didn’t really want to go to services, but Seliora and I exchanged glances, and our looks told each other that we needed to. We both were hoping for something inspiring from Isola’s homily. Leaving Diestrya in Klysia’s care, we made our way southward along the stone walk above the west river wall.
“Rhenn…I’ve been thinking. What do you think the point was for the elveweed dealers to attack the Pharsi families in those port cities? The families don’t like elveweed, but they’ve never gone out of their way to stop others, except close to their establishments. Why five cities?”
“It could be the beginning,” I offered. “To see if it increases their take.”
“Do you really think so?”
“No. But I don’t know what it is, except that it can’t be just for the elveweed. The dealers can get more coin for the stronger weed, but I have to believe it’s harder to grow here in Solidar. If it weren’t, we’d have seen it earlier, and we’d be seeing it all over the place.”
“Could it be a High Holder who needs coin to keep his lands?”
“It could be a freeholder.” I didn’t think so, given the wool jacket the girl had worn, but a wealthy freeholder could have had it made.
We didn’t reach any solid conclusions by the time we walked into the anomen.
As usual, I suffered through the singing, but Isola’s homily wasn’t bad, and part of it intrigued me.
“…the name is not the object nor the action. That is a basic tenet of the Nameless. But there is a corollary to that simple tenet. Mistaking the name for what it represents is the first step toward theft, deception, lying, and intrigue. Theft is the easiest to explain, especially theft of coins. Although coins have value in themselves, if they’re silver or gold, they’re also a representation of a small part of life. How can that be? Because we work to earn those coins. We spend a portion of life to obtain them. So…when one says that something ‘is only coin,’ they’re devaluing the life it took to obtain that coin. Deception, lying, and intrigue all rest on the use and manipulation of names to misrepresent the reality for which the names stand as symbols…
“Let us say two councilors are debating the need to raise tariffs, and one states that he only proposes an increase of one copper on a gold’s worth of cargo, a mere increase of one part in a hundred. The other councilor immediately replies that merchants will have to pay twice as much. Could they both be accurate? Indeed they could, and yet both deceive, and both can deceive because the cargo does not stand before them, nor the amount of tariff to be paid in either case…”
Isola went on to point out that the farther names are removed from that which they represented, the easier deception becomes.
By the time services were over, the drizzle had changed to sleet, and our return to the house was far swifter…and colder.
Because I really didn’t want to try to catch Master Dichartyn after breakfast, as soon as I finished the four mille run in the dimness of Lundi morning, I stopped and waited for him to finish eating. He just looked at me.
“Are you headed back to your house, sir?” I asked.
“Yes. What is it?” He shook his head and started wal
“I’d mentioned the stronger elveweed. There have been some other strange developments…” I quickly filled him in on the young woman, as well as the probability of the stronger elveweed coming from around Ruile. “I can’t prove any of this, and there’s nothing that I can do about it, but I felt you should know.”
Dichartyn didn’t speak or look at me, but kept walking. Finally, he said, “I’ve learned to my regret that when you suggest connections among seemingly unrelated events, improbable as those connections may sound, I ignore them at my own risk. However…” He drew out the word. “Could you enlighten me as to what you think they all mean?”
“In specific terms, sir…no. I do think that they’re all part of something much, much larger, and I feel that it involves at least one High Holder, the freeholders of the southeast, and some Ferran agents. It might be a way of causing unrest in Solidar or increasing the costs of food for the Army and Navy-”
“Are you suggesting that things like that would distract the Council from pursuing action against Ferrum if the Ferrans actually invade Jariola?” Dichartyn shook his head. “Something like that would be counter-productive. If the Council discovers that the Ferrans are trying that kind of sabotage, even those who sympathize with the Ferrans would turn against them.”
“Would they, sir? All of them?” Based on what I’d seen, I wasn’t so sure. More than a few well-off artisans and factors were less than pleased with the policies and actions supported by the High-Holder-influenced Council.
“Not all of them, but even the greatest Ferran sympathizers certainly wouldn’t say anything.”
I couldn’t argue with that.
As we neared our houses, Master Dichartyn turned to me again. “I won’t say that all this isn’t linked, but I think we’re both missing something, and I’d like you to think it over.”
“Yes, sir. I can do that.”
But I didn’t have time even to discuss it with Seliora over breakfast because Diestrya was cranky and stubborn, and that wasn’t like her. Neither Seliora nor I could find anything wrong with her, and she didn’t seem to be cutting teeth. Besides, fussiness over teething had never been a problem for Diestrya.
L. E. MODESITT SERIES:
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