Out loud, Justan read the handwritten tourist sheet Sennary had
used for directions, three clicks from a child scribe outside the barracks.
"`Set atop a hill in the centre of Taltu stands a classical building of white
limestone, clad in marble. A thousand years ago, the Palace of Dudru was
the seat of the greatest empire that the world has ever seen. Two centuries
later, it ceremonially became the Chamber of Dudru, a crucial national
forum for debating matters of both practical and moral concern, a nursery
for budding, flowering democracy.'" He passed it back. "And now, an
emperor occupies it again."
Sennary refolded the paper, said nothing; he'd never met The King before, had to be cautious.
Justan tapped softly on the throne's arm. "Chancellor Ansle informs me that you are an excellent officer, well deserving of a colonel's commission with a prime Estavian regiment." He smiled. "Why?"
Sennary felt his stomach knot. "His words or mine, sir?"
Justan's reply was to open his hands.
Heavy breath. "Ansle's knowledge of military matters is weak. He has no conception of the command difference between a squad of mercenaries and an entire cavalry regiment. All that ever interested him in this regard was the chance, through me, to gain control of part of Estavia's army."
The King glanced to the small table on his right, picked up a scroll with a red band encircling it. He looked back at Sennary. "Given a free choice of all the Estavian regiments, which would you most want to lead into battle?"
He swallowed. "With respect, sir, I'd have to be insane to want to lead men into battle."
Justan smiled again, wider, handed him the parchment. "Citadellian Light Horse: they're the best I'd yet to allocate. Look after them."
Sennary felt unusually hot, muddled, mumbled some misplaced words of thanks, incredulous. He removed the retaining ring, read the authorisation. "This is", head shaking, "undeserved."
Justan grunted, folded his arms. "A related matter: are you aware how the Estavians organised elections?"
He was thrown. "Aware? I, well - I know that everyone over a certain age had a vote, with extra votes for their children, and - "
"That's correct," interrupted, "and even comparatively recently men had supplementary votes for `their' women in a similar fashion." He leant back into time-faded, scarlet, Talian velvet. "The number of people enfranchised increased steadily over time, following a series of so-called reforms. Two hundred years ago, for example, no-one could vote unless they owned property in Estavia with an area greater than that of Dudru Square - the one outside this palace."
"And now, they can't vote at all." Sennary immediately regretted his words, but Justan merely grinned.
"Next year," he replied, "they can have their say once more. If you wish to know more, I can explain why."
"You must be busy, sir, I don't want to - "
Frowning: "Now that's the second expression of obsequious humility you've exhibited since we met! I don't require it, so please desist. Had I not the time for an explanation, I wouldn't have offered to give one." He relaxed again; Sennary's face was red, mouth still agape. "So: I assert that the Estavian model of democracy is essentially worthless. Underlying the whole system is the idea that everyone should have an equal voice in government, and that therefore a vote is a powerful thing. Initially, when there were few votes, indeed it was; successive governments, however, have gradually extended the franchise to almost every citizen. Each change was dutifully touted as `more democratic' than its predecessor, thereby increasing the Estavians' moral superiority over `out-dated' feudalists like us. But of course, the more votes there are, the less influential each becomes. Eventually, all individuals are equal only in their insignificance."
Sennary realised he'd crossed his arms, straightened again. "So you're saying that the real power within their system is held by parliament?"
Justan shrugged. "Parliament's facility to enact laws is ultimately defined by its ability to enforce them. If I control Estavia's army, I castrate its parliament. Not that it really matters." He put his hands behind his head, stretched. "Are armies run democratically? No - even the Estavians aren't that stupid. Or commercial companies? Only at the shareholding level, and then but nominally, if at all. Estavia was really managed by its industrial corporations, with most shares passed down hereditarily; it's not as if parliament actually had the absolute power that democracy presupposes it should."
Sennary was uncertain as to how he should respond, wanted to probe but didn't have the rank. He settled for redirection. "There must be a tempering effect, surely, in that companies are moderated by parliament's laws, and parliament in turn is judged by the people."
The King sighed. "At root, it's all inconsequential. Democracy is a dream-figure, a surrogate for equality - as, too, incidentally, is religion. Is the purpose of the Message really so different from that of the Estavian parliamentary system?"
"You'd allow the Message, too?" He didn't even attempt to conceal his horror.
"An existing apparatus should not be dismantled in haste without first examining ways by which it can be profitably re-used. Perhaps the Message should be encouraged in those countries where it had been established for centuries before the Messenger began his work? With no unified priesthood to oppose change, repacifying the faith shouldn't prove problematical. As for Estavia: so long as Estavians carry the hope that democracy will be returned some time in the foreseeable future, there should be no difficulty in bending most of them to my immediate needs."
"If there was dissent, you could logically combine Estavia with Akrea as a single democracy; the parliamentary power blocs wouldn't traverse cultures very easily, so they'd all spend their time squabbling over selfish differences, no single group having a workable majority."
A shrug from Justan; Sennary assumed that meant he'd already considered the option. "There are many possibilities, Lord Sennary, all of which need to be studied. I notice that you haven't yet asked me what any of this is to you."
"I'm talking unprepared; I felt you were more concerned with what I am to it."
The King nodded. "A good answer, although it doesn't entirely do me justice since I grant you the option of choosing for yourself whether to participate in my scheme or not. What I'd like you to do, if you're willing, is organise your troopers on pseudo-democratic lines: allow them a vote to determine their immediate superior. It's an experiment: if it succeeds, we have a way of breaking the hold that the traditional officer class has over the army; furthermore, the common soldiers will perceive it as a democratic advance, and may respect us for it."
"If it fails?"
"Your regiment will be an utter shambles, and to prevent the rest of the army from going the same way I shall be obliged to dismiss you in very public disgrace."
Sennary scratched an earlobe. "This would just be the once, though? Elections wouldn't be regular?"
"Correct: were voting a frequent occurrence, the officers would corrupt like politicians. On a maiden ballot, the chance is excellent that individuals will vote honestly, and for people with a genuine aptitude for command. Repeating the exercise some time later, however, there would be less freedom: factions would have arisen, advocative campaigns organised, and people would be selected for the policies of their affiliated groups, rather than for their basic ability to lead."
Sennary was about to speak, smiled first. "I was going to suggest that it might not be wise to break the established order, but then I realised that my own appointment has been made for similar reasons."
"And your concluding that fact vindicates me! For too long, the same clique of families has bred the officers of Estavia; a similar state of affairs has pertained in our own, and in every other country. This has resulted in a sterility of thought, a lack of innovation, and an infuriating resistance to progress. I did alleviate the situation in my own armed forces by fast-streaming officers of authentic quality, but new blood is still sorely needed. The Estavian regiments provide me with an opportunity to introduce it."
He rubbed he back of his head, not wanting to shake it. "I can't deny that I'm impressed by the depth of your analysis, and - without meaning to sound falsely humble - I do recognise that this is a singular honour you do me." He closed-mouth smiled, nodded. "I am, therefore, willing to accept your proposal; I'll organise ballot papers as soon as I assume full command of the Citadellians."
Justan raised a hand. "Not yet, no. There'll be a battle soon, a crucial one, and any restructuring will not have had time to settle. Afterwards." He clapped his hands, once. "Now, I understand you bear a communiqué from Ansle of Malith."
"That I do, sir, yes." He cleared his throat, mapped the message into his mind. "The Chancellor asked me to tell you that when you meet Lord Porett tomorrow, expect to be asked to release a mage called Vyval Reeve from military service. He was injured at the Erva, and is entitled to be invalided out, but Ansle doesn't want him to leave the MSR until he - Ansle - has discovered something about his past."
"Sounds important." Justan touched his fingertips together, mused. "Why didn't Ansle tell me this himself? Why did he require a courier?"
"I think that's part of the story. He warns you not to use comspheres for anything that you don't want Porett to hear. In the meantime, he's organising a message-carrying facility to run with the supply routes that he now maintains."
Justan grinned. "Tell me, Lord Sennary, what exactly is your relationship with Chancellor Ansle?"
Sennary paused before speaking; Justan had agents, would already know the substance of it. "Professional only. He hired me to do a job, for which I'm still under contract; I am at his disposal at all times, excepting where his instructions conflict with military or legal duties."
"And what is this employment for which you have been engaged?"
"He wants me to locate and return his daughter, Dr Conley of Malith, after she has obtained certain details from her travelling companion, one Roween Sage."
"And these details are?"
"I was explicitly instructed not to tell you."
A snorted laugh. "What Chancellor Ansle doesn't appreciate is that your mutual contract only has meaning in the context of law, and that I am law."
Sennary chose. "She has a spell whereby she can negate magic. Ansle wants the spell, as does Conley."
"Interesting. The Messenger would appear to have something similar - possibly a spell, although perhaps some exhumed artefact of a lost, ancient manufacture."
"So it would seem." What the life, open up. "Thing is, sir, Ansle doesn't behave like he cares all that much about Conley's safety. She's in Messenger territory right now; I could have brought them both back to Cala, but he insisted that I was only to do so if Conley had the spell. He's even told me outright that he wants them, her, captured."
"Did he say why?"
"He's hard to work out. He doesn't have the depth of vision of," he glanced aside, "of you, for example, sir. He gets ideas for schemes, and plays everything to make them work, but he doesn't see things coming. He's smart, but superficially so. I'm yet unsure as to whether, underneath it all, he knows he really isn't the kind of class practitioner he needs to be in his political circumstances."
Justan was nodding. "A shrewd assessment, Lord Sennary. Nevertheless, the chancellor's penchant for long-term plans of unexpected potency is something to be respected. Why do you think he wants his daughter in the Messenger's hands?"
"He says it's," he frowned, raised a cheek. "Well, it could be anything, but I rule out his merely desiring that she be killed - he does seem to be fond of her in his own way. I wondered at one stage whether he faked Chewt's death so as to cover himself, and that really he was - is - the Messenger's implant in court. If that were so, it would then click that he'd sent Conley off to be the next Giqus, the Messenger's touchstone for killing battlefield magic a second time. Having met her, though, I'm convinced that she'd never co-operate, she's so in with magic that she just wouldn't publicly reject it, under any circumstances, no matter what they did to her. Or to Roween." He felt his skin prickle. Or perhaps not to Roween?
"This Roween: does she really have a magic-blanking spell, or is it speculation?"
"She has something, that's for sure, I've seen the effects. Awesome, immediate, permanent."
"Does its potency extend to artefacts? Perhaps Chancellor Ansle is using his daughter as a lure, and expects this Roween to destroy the Messenger's antimagic device."
"That's the impression he gave me, yes."
Justan shook his head. "Even if they are captured, and even if one of them can blank magic, who is to say the Messenger's craft won't be the stronger? If it is, Chancellor Ansle's daughter will surely die. Yet even assuming they do succeed, there's still scant chance of survival, although at least the Messenger's authority might never be considered divine thenceforth. Short odds, large stakes, unpredictable rewards." He paused a moment. "But Ansle of Malith is arrogant enough to take the gamble: he doesn't have the edge to realise just how great is his chance of losing." He interlocked his fingers, touched the tip of his nose. "I think he did know the name..."
Sennary hesitated. "There's one other thing, your majesty: Ansle's not the only person interested in Roween's spell - he has an alliance of convenience. Conley's an employee of Porett Technologies, and Porett himself has the only known tag on her, is in on what's happening. I can find out more this afternoon, I'm meeting him in his hotel; he has some state-of-the-art kit for me, should help if I need to pull anyone out."
Justan cocked an eyebrow.
21st January 1999: isif35.htm