Read an Excerpt
The Sixth Book of the Corean Chronicles
By Modesitt, L. E.
Copyright © 2006
Modesitt, L. E.
All right reserved.
Dainyl sat behind the wide desk in the large study in headquarters. On the desk were stacks of reports. To his left on the polished wood was a shorter stack--the immediate orders he had written for the Myrmidons in an effort to undo the worst of his predecessor's plotting. Outside, the morning sunlight of late harvest warmed the courtyard and the blue-winged pteridons of First Company--those that were not flying dispatches and undertaking other duties. The solid granite of the courtyard and the walls sparkled in the bright sun, clean and crisp.
He'd permanently reassigned the Seventh Company of Myrmidons to Tempre from Dulka to keep them from being suborned by Quivaryt, the regional alector in Dulka, and clearly the tool of Brekylt, the Alector of the East in Alustre. After that had come the cover letter forwarding copies of Dainyl's appointment as marshal to each of the eight Myrmidon companies spread across Corus. Beside those lay the draft of his report on what he had done to quash the "revolt" in Hyalt and Tempre. Of course, he couldn't tell the entire story, because his superior, the High Alector of Justice, the most honorable Zelyert, had firmly ordered him to treat the matter as a local revolt, rather than the first thrust of a conspiracy masterminded by Brekylt.To make matters worse, and more delicate, Dainyl suspected that Brekylt was being quietly urged on by Samist, the Duarch of Ludar.
Dainyl looked up from the various papers and back out through the window at the nearest pteridon in the courtyard behind the headquarters building, standing on its wide raised stone square and stretching its blue leathery wings. The long crystalline beak glittered in the sunlight. After a moment, Dainyl's eyes dropped back to the papers before him.
Despite the proclamation that lay on his table desk and the green-edged gold stars on the collars of his blue and gray shimmersilk uniform that attested to his rank, Dainyl still didn't feel like the Marshal of Myrmidons.
Add to that the fact that he was dreading the translation trip to Alustre, but the longer he waited, the more dangerous the situation became, and it wasn't something he could delegate. For one thing, he didn't have anyone to whom he could delegate the task. He'd been the submarshal in Elcien, and Colonel Dhenyr, who had been the Myrmidon operations director, had attempted to kill Dainyl when Dainyl had discovered Dhenyr's treachery. Dainyl was the only senior officer left in headquarters. The other submarshal, Alcyna, was stationed in Alustre, the width of the continent away. For years, she had directed Myrmidon operations in the east, and she was one of the reasons Dainyl had to go to Alustre--and before long.
He took a deep breath and reached for the next document on the top of the taller pile. In less than a glass, he was due at the Palace of the Duarch in Elcien, to meet with Duarch Khelaryt to brief him personally on all that had happened in Hyalt and Tempre. He assumed that he would also be asked for his plans for the Myrmidons. That possibility worried him far more than explaining the past, because he doubted that it would be wise to reveal the reasons behind what he planned until he had a better idea of what the Duarch--and those around him--already knew.
Still, he needed to finish catching up on the other Myrmidon and Cadmian operations, or as many as he could, before he met with the Duarch. He began to read the report from Colonel Herolt, commander of the First Regiment, Cadmian Mounted Rifles.
When he finished, Dainyl couldn't help but frown. Except for Second Battalion, every battalion in the First Regiment was understrength, and the colonel was reporting that matters were worsening. And why in the Archon's name had a battalion been sent to Soupat? The mines there were marginal. At least he thought so, but it wouldn't hurt to ask Lystrana. As a chief assistant in the Palace of the Duarch, his wife might know the trade and finance background.
Slowly, he got up and headed for the records chamber.
Doselt, the squad leader in charge of records, then jumped to his feet. "Yes, Marshal?"
"Would you find me the records of and the orders to the First Cadmian Regiment that deal with the deployment of its Sixth Battalion to Soupat last season?"
"It might take a bit, sir."
"Just bring them to me. If I'm not here, leave them on the corner of my desk."
Dainyl moved down the corridor to see if Captain Ghasylt was in his study. Dainyl needed some help, and he needed it now. Ghasylt might be out in the courtyard--he spent more time flying or with the pteridons than did many company commanders. Dainyl was fortunate. The captain was standing by his desk, holding a report, looking at it quizzically.
He dropped it on the table. "Sir?"
"Ghasylt . . . you know that we have no operations director . . ."
"Yes, sir." Ghasylt swallowed. "No, sir."
"No, sir?" Dainyl couldn't help smiling.
"I'm a flier, sir. I can't do operations and scheduling and paperwork."
"Your reports are excellent," Dainyl pointed out.
"That's because I don't do them. Undercaptain Zernylta does. She has for years."
Dainyl laughed. "I might steal her, then."
"She writes well, sir. I'd hate to lose her, but she'd do better than I would."
"Where is she?"
"She's on the dispatch run from Ludar. She won't be back until late."
"Would you leave word that I would like to see her?"
"Yes, sir." Ghasylt sounded disconsolate.
"If she works out, she won't get jumped three ranks to colonel," Dainyl said. "She'll be a captain and assistant operations director." Of course, there might not be an operations director for a while, but Dainyl needed the job done. "And you could still make majer . . . without doing much paperwork." He grinned. "If you can find another undercaptain who can write."
"Ghanyr's not bad. Chelysta's nearly as good as Zernylta, but don't steal her. She's the best squad leader in the air."
Dainyl made a mental note to jot that down when he got back to his study. He could never tell when he might need another good company commander. He'd also have to check on Ghasylt. He might be able to promote him to majer anyway. The commanding officer of the Elcien company probably ought to be one, and Dainyl needed a good flying commander and loyalty as much as he needed an operations officer. "I appreciate the information, and even more, I appreciate your honesty and loyalty. These days, it means a great deal."
Although Ghasylt's expression remained politely attentive, Dainyl sensed the concealed surprise--and gratitude.
"We need to talk, before too long, about what may lie ahead for you and First Company."
Dainyl nodded, then turned and headed back toward his study. He didn't make it.
"The duty coach is ready, sir!" That was Undercaptain Yuasylt, the duty officer.
"I'll be there in a moment." Dainyl paused. There was nothing he really needed in his study. He turned and headed toward the archway to the front entrance.
Outside, waiting with the coach, was Wyalt. As always, the duty driver had a smile on his face when Dainyl strode out of headquarters. "Good morning, Marshal."
"Good morning, Wyalt. The Duarch's Palace."
Dainyl stepped up into the coach and closed the door.
Once the coach began to move, he concentrated on how best to brief the Duarch. Some of that would depend on whether Khelaryt wanted a private briefing or one that included other High Alectors.
As the duty coach neared the Duarch's Palace, Dainyl looked out at Elcien, a city built on an isle, of stone and tile and gardens and trees, orderly and vibrant, with stone-walled dwellings set on tree-lined streets, shops with their perfect tile roofs set around market squares that held everything produced on Acorus. Goods shipped from across the world flowed from the wharves and docks on the southern shore into endless warehouses and to everyone in Elcien, alectors and landers alike.
His eyes lingered on the twin green towers flanking the Palace, soaring into the silver-green sky, gleaming and glittering in the midmorning sunlight, symbolically crowning the accomplishments of the alectors of Acorus, who had turned a freezing and dying world into a place of life and achievement. Even as he marveled at the towers, Dainyl recalled the words of the ancient soarer. You must change, or you will die. That seemed so unlikely, yet the ancient had been so certain . . . and so melancholy in saying those words.
The coach slowed and came to a halt under the portico at the main entrance to the Duarch's Palace. Dainyl stepped out.
"I'll be waiting for you, sir," Wyalt called down from the driver's seat.
Dainyl almost told him to return to headquarters because others might need him, but cut off the words before he spoke. There wasn't anyone there who would need the coach, not without a submarshal or an operations director. "Thank you. I don't know how long I'll be."
"I'll be here, sir."
Dainyl made his way in through the archway, past the pair of guards armed with lightcutter sidearms. He did not recall the slender alector who met him inside the main foyer of the Palace, although his face was vaguely familiar, but it was clear that the functionary knew Dainyl.
"Marshal, the Duarch is ready to see you. If you would accompany me." He turned down the high-ceilinged hallway, flanked by goldenstone marble columns that led to the east wing of the Palace.
The hall was floored with the traditional octagonal tiles of green marble, linked by smaller diamond tiles of gold marble, and dark green velvet hangings between the goldenstone columns were trimmed in gold. The sound of Dainyl's boots hitting the octagonal- and diamond-shaped marble floor tiles was lost in the expanse of the corridor.
Near the end of the corridor, the alector turned to his right and knocked on a door. After the briefest of moments, he opened it, and motioned for Dainyl to enter, then followed the marshal into the chamber. It was the same small library, six yards wide and twelve in length, where Dainyl had met with the Duarch on the one previous occasion he had briefed Khelaryt. The inside walls held oak shelves filled with volumes, while the outside wall contained smaller sections of shelves. The narrow floor-to-ceiling windows between the built-in bookcases overlooked the southern sunken garden.
The Duarch rose from behind his desk. This time, unlike the last, it was almost empty, instead of being stacked high with books. Standing, he was an immense presence, close to three yards tall, with shimmering black hair and deep violet eyes dominating his alabaster face. He radiated Talent.
"Thank you, Bharyt." The Duarch's voice was deep but warm. He turned from the aide to Dainyl and gestured to a chair set across the wide desk from him. "Please, Marshal."
Dainyl bowed and seated himself. Behind him, the door clicked shut.
"Dainyl. First, let me offer my congratulations and my gratitude." With the words came a feeling of warmth.
Dainyl did not trust that feeling entirely, because he had no idea whether it was genuine. The Duarch was so accomplished with Talent and shields that he could conceivably project the feeling without revealing what lay behind the projected emotion.
"I understand from what the High Alector has said," continued Khelaryt, "and from what he has refrained from saying, that the incidents in Hyalt and Tempre were far more than the minor revolt that is the official description. I also understand that you had anticipated this . . . possibility . . . and were ordered not to act until actual misuse of lifeforce energies occurred."
Dainyl waited. He had not been asked a question.
"You are deferential, Marshal."
"As I should be, sir. Would you like a fuller explanation of the events?"
"I will request two explanations. The first will be a complete one, and that is for me alone. The second one will be for several other High Alectors--those of Finance and Transport, and the High Alector of Engineering from Ludar. You will not tell them everything, and based on what you tell me, I will suggest what should go no farther. You may proceed."
"Yes, sir." Dainyl cleared his throat. Even though he had planned what to say, carefully, he was still less than sanguine about briefing the Duarch, because he knew that, despite Khelaryt's immense Talent, the shadowmatch conditioning of a Duarch resulted in blind spots and seeming irrationalities. "It began in early spring when I visited Alustre, under the orders of Marshal Shastylt and the High Alector of Justice. There I discovered a number of patterns, small things, seemingly, that suggested all was not as it should be. . . ." He went on to tell about Brekylt's comments, what he had discovered about the "substitution" of key Myrmidon personnel, and then about the attacks on him, both by the regional alector in Dulka and by the then-commanding officer of the Seventh Myrmidon Company. He also mentioned the diversion of engineering resources at Fordall, and the mysterious deaths used to cover up the details, as well as some of the attacks on him by the Recorders of Deeds, but only those that had taken place in the Table chambers, and not those occurring while he had been in transit between Tables. Those incidents would have revealed far too much about his own abilities. ". . . and when Rhelyn complained about a wild lander Talent in Hyalt, but declined firmly any Myrmidon assistance, it was clear to me that we needed to move against Rhelyn before matters became even worse."
"This was when Marshal Shastylt ordered you to await further developments? Was that because Rhelyn was regional alector and Recorder of Deeds in Hyalt?"
"I assume so, sir. Shastylt told me that to act immediately would be unwise."
"What prompted him to change that decision?"
"That happened some weeks later when I received a copy of a report from a Cadmian battalion commander in Hyalt suggesting that road-building equipment had been constructed and modified to be used against both Cadmians and Myrmidons."
"You received a copy directly? Is that not . . . unusual?"
"It was very unusual. The majer had sent the original to his commander, as per regulations, but a copy to me. It was clear he feared that too much delay in relaying what he discovered would be unfortunate. When Marshal Shastylt read the report, he ordered me to proceed. . . ." Dainyl went on to describe the use of Fifth Company pteridons out of Dereka, rather than First Company from Elcien.
"You did not trust your own officers, Marshal?"
"I trust First Company totally, sir, but it was clear to me from the beginning that Colonel Dhenyr was someone's tool. I had absolutely no proof, and frankly, I was less than certain about what Marshal Shastylt was doing."
"As you unfortunately had every right to be."
"The other aspect of the matter that was especially troubling were the weapons that were used by the forces of Regional Alector Fahylt. He had created his own regional force of armed and mounted rifles, using landers and indigens, and a smaller force of alectors armed with lightcutter sidearms. The mounted rifle companies even had unmarked Cadmian weapons. Those I left in Cadmian custody, but the lightcutters were sent under seal to High Alector Zelyert."
Dainyl could sense the Duarch's surprise even before Khelaryt spoke.
"How did that come to pass? Arming steers for use against Cadmians, and alectors with lightcutters?" The sudden chill in the library matched the coldness of the Duarch's voice, and the Talent force of the Duarch felt strong enough to shake the entire Palace. Belatedly, Dainyl realized that might have been a projection of an illusion, although he wasn't so sure of what had been real Talent and what had been illusion.
"That I do not know. I suspect that the lightcutters came from Fordall, and might be another aspect of the engineering problems that resulted in Zestafyn's death. Fordall was certainly where the lightcannon used in Hyalt originated."
"How do you know those did not come from Faitel?"
"I don't, sir. But if they did not come from Fordall, why did someone go to the extremes of creating mishaps and deaths and trying to cover up the use of additional resources in Fordall and why were there no such diversions in Faitel?"
"Why indeed? Please continue."
"It's likely that the unmarked rifles did come from Faitel, if Shastylt's and High Alector Zelyert's assurances to me about the source of the unmarked rifles happened to be correct."
"They were correct, and there were far more unmarked rifles produced than were initially accounted for. So you are doubtless correct in that supposition."
"Whether the lightcannon and the lightcutters came from Fordall or Faitel, then their presence, and that of the rifles, suggests that either the High Alector of Engineering or someone high in engineering was involved."
"That is doubtless correct, but you will not mention that in briefing the High Alectors. Only note that the rifles and light-weapons were present in large numbers in the hands of indigen steers who were rebels."
"Pardon me, Marshal. Please continue." A smile followed the words, dispersing the sense of doom and chill.
"There isn't much more to add. When I returned, Shastylt was so shocked that it led to his death, as I told you earlier, and Colonel Dhenyr was so upset when I suggested that I now had proof of his treachery that he attempted to kill me on the spot with his sidearm."
"Did you threaten him?"
"Only with the fact that I had proof. I did raise my shields."
"And he added to your proof. Fatally." Khelaryt laughed deeply and warmly. "Did Shastylt say much before his unfortunate . . . shock?"
"He said it would be easy to prove that Submarshal Alcyna and I were planning a coup."
"He told me that you had gone to Hyalt without orders, and he was concerned. That seemed unlike you."
Dainyl wasn't at all surprised at that revelation. "He was the one who ordered me to keep everything secret." That wasn't quite true. So had High Alector Zelyert.
"Why did you?"
"Because not doing so would have endangered the Myrmidons and Cadmians involved far more."
"So you put your people ahead of other considerations?"
"No, sir." Then Dainyl shook his head. "Not exactly, sir. What I meant was that I might not have had the resources to deal with each problem had they occurred at once, which was likely if information leaked out before I could get the Myrmidons from Fifth Company to Hyalt. We were able to isolate Hyalt. That meant the Cadmians did not have to fight the mounted rifles from Tempre while guarding the perimeters and that Fifth Company did not have to deal with the misguided orders of Seventh Company while subduing Hyalt."
"Put that way, your actions are commendable. How do you propose to keep such . . . misunderstandings from occurring in the future?"
"I had thought to promote Submarshal Alcyna to headquarters--immediately-- with a personal visit to Alustre."
"That might be for the best, under the circumstances." The Duarch tilted his head to the side, and a humorous smile appeared. "From what I have gathered, when one of the Fifth Company Myrmidons was killed, you took his pteridon and led the attacks. You were also instrumental, I understand, in keeping the casualties to a minimum in persuading Seventh Company that their orders were . . . misguided. You also came up with a novel means of dealing with command in Seventh Company."
How had the Duarch known that? Dainyl did not reply for a moment, then managed to smile but slightly as he realized the source, belatedly recognizing a certain resemblance. Yet, if the Duarch were conditioned against receiving or reading any communications from his daughters . . . It had to be Undercaptain Asyrk, acting under Captain Lyzetta's orders. He risked a guess. "She is exceedingly courageous, sir, but I would not have guessed her heritage."
"Say no more, Dainyl. Your thoughtfulness and courage are greater than any marshal in generations. Let us trust that they are sufficient for the challenges ahead, and that they will help us bring the Master Scepter to Acorus." The Duarch's face froze, if but for the tiniest fraction of an instant, Dainyl could sense that conflict between what Khelaryt almost knew, and was not allowed to accept.
Even knowing that, Dainyl barely managed not to betray his total shock.
"You look concerned. Is it not best that the Master Scepter be transferred here?"
"I am concerned, sir. I have done my best, but even so, much lifeforce was squandered in the process, and you had told me earlier that the decision was close and hinged on the surplus of lifeforce." That wasn't quite what the Duarch had said, but what he had implied, and it was the best Dainyl could offer.
Abruptly the Duarch nodded, as if he had heard enough. "You did manage to minimize the loss of lifeforce, especially by destroying hundreds of the rebel alectors from Ifryn, who had no authority to be on Acorus."
Dainyl kept his expression pleasant and waited.
"All is judged on lifeforce mass, yet today's measurement does not always reflect what it will be tomorrow or next year. Nor what a world will be or could be."
"As always, as with all those who serve the Duarchy and the Archon, you have not told me everything, have you?"
"No, sir. As I told you the last time you requested my presence, we would be here for days were I to do that. I will be happy to answer any questions you may have, now or in the future, or to provide more details about anything."
"That you will." Khelaryt laughed, not quite harshly, but the laugh was followed by a sense of warmth. "How is Lystrana faring with your child?"
"She fares well."
"That is good. She is one of the best chief assistants to any of the High Alectors."
"So I would believe, sir, although I am less than unbiased. She would do well at anything."
"You think so?" Khelaryt asked, almost jokingly.
"She has excellent judgment and can see much of what others do not." All Dainyl wanted to do was plant the germ of an idea.
"And we are fortunate that she does." The chill feeling returned to the library. "Continue to be careful in what you believe of Zelyert, Dainyl. He sees both more and less than he thinks he does. Be most careful." Another smile appeared, this one rueful as he rose again from behind the desk. "It is time for you to brief the others."
Dainyl followed Khelaryt out through the library door and down the corridor.
Four alector guards appeared, two walking beside him and two beside the Duarch, escorting them to a conference room, scarcely larger than the library, but containing only a large circular table with comfortable chairs--and three alectors in shimmersilk greens.
Walking into the conference room was like flying into the eye of a storm. While the chamber was calm, Dainyl was all too aware of the Talent forces that circled around him, yet the only one he truly feared for might of Talent was the Duarch. The other three alectors who stood waiting around the Table exuded Talent, but individually not that much more than did he, and he doubted if any had shields as strong as his. Still, he certainly could not have prevailed against any two together, or the Duarch alone, not that he ever wished to be in such a position.
Dainyl had seen all three High Alectors at functions, but only from a modest distance. Chembryt was the High Alector of Finance, for whom Lystrana was the chief assistant. Alseryl was High Alector of Transport, and Ruvryn was the High Alector of Engineering. Dainyl had to wonder why Ruvryn was even in Elcien, since he was based in the southern capital of Ludar and reported directly to the Duarch Samist.
"Before we have our meeting," Khelaryt said quietly, "I have asked Marshal Dainyl to brief you on the recent events in Hyalt and Tempre." The Duarch seated himself, as did the other High Alectors.
Dainyl hoped he was to remain standing. It seemed appropriate, and no one had motioned for him to seat himself. He cleared his throat and started. "There have been many rumors and stories, so I've been told, about what happened in Hyalt. I doubt that we will ever know all the reasons for what happened, but the Myrmidons were drawn into the situation when we began to receive reports of strange events in Hyalt. Then we received a documented report from a Cadmian officer that verified that there were alectors in uniforms testing and practicing with lightcannon . . ." Dainyl made the summary as brief as he dared, concluding less than a quarter of a glass later, ". . . the entire complex at Hyalt will require rebuilding, but there was little damage in Tempre. Paradoxically, the Table damage in Hyalt appears far less grave than that in Tempre."
"Does anyone have any questions?" asked the Duarch.
"I presume the Myrmidons will supply immediate transport for Table engineers from Faitel and Ludar," Ruvryn stated bluntly.
"Second Company in Ludar should be able to transport any engineers from Ludar, and First Company will transport those from Faitel. As soon as you inform me of the numbers and any limited supplies, we will make arrangements."
"You should have those within the next few days, Marshal."
Chembryt smiled at Dainyl.
Dainyl could sense the thrust coming, but not at him.
"You had mentioned that the alector rebels in Hyalt possessed lightcannon," began Chembryt, "that the alector rebels in Tempre had Myrmidon-type hand sidearms, and that the mounted rifles of the former RA in Tempre had Cadmian rifles. Did you verify this?"
"Yes, sir. The lightcannon killed three Myrmidons from Fifth Company, and two pteridons and two Myrmidons from Seventh Company. The lightcutter sidearms were collected and are now under seal and custody of the High Alector of Justice. The Cadmians took custody of the rifles. I personally inspected all three types of weapons."
"Do you have any ideas as to their sources?" Chembryt did not even glance toward Ruvryn.
"The rifles were identical, in every particular, with the exception of serial numbers, with the Cadmian weapons. There is no doubt that they were manufactured either in Faitel or Fordall, but I have no way of knowing which it might be. As for the other weapons, I lack the engineering skills to determine where they may have been built or originated, save that there were no facilities at either Hyalt or Tempre where that could have been accomplished."
Ruvryn did not smile as he looked at Dainyl. "Marshal . . . were you aware that proceeding without written orders from Marshal Shastylt or the High Alector of Justice verges on breaking the Code, and that could have created an even greater instability and loss of lifeforce?"
"I had thought of that, sir. But I was ordered to do so, and insubordination is definitely against the Code."
After the brevity of Dainyl's reply, there was silence, but only for a moment, when Alseryl coughed slightly.
"I don't believe you mentioned exactly how many rebel alectors there were, Marshal."
"We can't be absolutely certain how many there were, because some may have escaped, one way or another. We did find the remains of more than three hundred."
"Three hundred. You killed three hundred alectors?"
"Yes, sir. My orders were to put down the revolt. When I attempted to visit RA Rhelyn, even before I could dismount from the pteridon, we were attacked. There was never any attempt to communicate with us, and they refused to consider surrendering."
"That was in Hyalt. What about Tempre?"
"What were the casualties among the mounted rifle companies of the so-called Alector's Guard?"
"Did you attempt to avoid the initial conflict between Fifth and Seventh Companies?"
Dainyl answered questions for another quarter glass before the Duarch raised a hand.
"I think the marshal has been forthright. He has done his best to preserve lifeforce and to ensure that Acorus is prepared to receive the Master Scepter. Thank you, Marshal. You may go."
"Yes, sir." Dainyl was more stunned by the total lack of reaction, even hidden, to the Duarch's statement about the Master Scepter than by his abrupt release. Even so, he bowed slightly and stepped to the door, letting himself out.
Another pair of alector guards escorted him back to the entry foyer, with its high arched dome. He was more than glad to step out into the rotunda and walk toward the waiting duty coach. What awaited him back at headquarters seemed far more manageable than what faced Khelaryt.
Copyright 2006 by L. E. Modesitt, Jr. All rights reserved.
Excerpted from Soarer's Choice
by Modesitt, L. E.
Copyright © 2006 by Modesitt, L. E..
Excerpted by permission.
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