"You realise what we're offering you? Land, technology,
slaves, gold - you need them all. Why do you still refuse?"
The Chaienish pair shared a mutual glance, each untroubled by
the distraction spots kohled beneath the other's eyes. The man to Ansle's
right, the darker of the two, replied. "Chancellor, we understand your
terms, and they are generous. However, I repeat, we have reasons of our
own for not joining your cause. We cannot send our armies into Soat under
Ansle strummed his fingers, impatient. "What exactly are these
`reasons', man? Be specific!"
The second ambassador spoke. "If we were able to tell you, we
would do so. Suffice to say," he looked to his associate, "we have received
"Instructions? From whom? Justan?"
They grinned together, amused. "The armies of Chaien will not
cross the Leskina. Whatever conflict rages in Soat, we will remain apart
His partner touched him on the arm, stopped his continuing,
smiled. "You may use that information in whatever way you please, but we
can add nothing further."
* * *
General Nolley closed her briefcase, army leather spell-polished
to patent standards. She pushed it to the side, focused on the red, egg-
shaped object she'd removed. She looked up at Ansle; he nodded.
"Ready," said Nic. "Activate it."
Nolley stubbed the blunt end hard on the tabletop. It split clean
in half, like fractured marble, easily enough to look natural. She let the
pieces go. Standing between them was a man, perhaps a handspan in
height, thin, drawn, greyed, eyes fierce: the image of Count Feathe,
Minister of Agriculture.
For a moment, the projection froze, its lead-time still running.
Then, with a jar, it began to move, speak, the volume balancing to fill the
chamber in which the three were sitting.
"The news of Chaien's neutrality is not good, Chancellor, but
neither is it bad. If they won't intervene on our side, at least they won't do
so on Justan's. I have discussed the matter with my allies, and you will
have our support as arranged. As to the full meeting, General Nolley's
precautions are impressively thorough, and we are therefore able to attend."
The figure jerked a bow, faded, then twinked out.
Nolley removed her MedSpell sound-sets, caught Ansle's
quizzical gaze. "They may have said no, sent a deaf-bang instead,"
muttered. She scooped them up, took the halves of the CalterCom,
deposited them back in her case.
"Do you trust them?" Nic asked Ansle.
"I don't trust anyone, Nic, not even you and Nolley here. I do,
however, believe that they will do what they have promised, and for the
reasons they have stated. It cost Feathe heavily to support your appointment
in the General Council, but he kept his word; he will do so again."
"Three senior ministers, the tacit support of Magicorp and
Agritech, Nolley's conscripts, Cala's garrison plus Zrenin's and Varaln's,
the MSR, and two private armies from Barons Chrest and Ulgrey. And the
undead." He tapped his pencil on the table's edge. "It should be enough."
"Others will join us once we've started, but at this stage the
conspiracy is already dangerously wide. The more made privy to it, the
greater the chance that Justan will learn of our plot. We have to be careful:
"So you're always saying..."
Nolley turned to him. "Professor, there are fifteen private
armies still in the homelands, and three more in Davia close to our border.
All of them, and I do mean all, will join my command when the uprising
starts, you have my word. Of the public armies, well Birgue and Cala Bay
Town have no garrisons to speak of; Prydec's is stuffed with cowards, so
they'll stay out of it. Only the troops in Zovia are dauntlessly loyal to
"And the navy?"
Ansle was doodling, trees. "We don't know how they'll act,
Nic. No way of telling. All we can do is toss them a squall and hope
they've the sense to keep uninvolved."
* * *
"No news from Porett?" asked Nic. It was sunny outside, of
course; it was always sunny in Cala this time of day. Ansle had left for his
daily dose of ministerial drudgery, but Nolley still had an hour before the
crucial briefing of her senior officers.
"He's out of town," she replied, without looking up from her
"Trilith, you mean?"
She turned to the next sheet. "Can't reach him there, either.
Hard to find now, ever since he had to trash his model 3."
"Worrying. His support would be invaluable."
"Forget his support, it's his wealth that's important."
"Where do you think he's gone?"
"General Falker tells me The King probably knows, isn't
saying. His own guess is CBT, flitting in and out with the Trans/Disc."
"But in your own opinion?"
"Falker's wrong, Porett's over west somewhere."