General Nolley had hued her hair ochre this morning. Ansle
smiled: what did she think she was, a woman?
"If you're sure about this, Chancellor..."
"Of course I am," he snapped. "Despite his limited intellect, Sennary is in a position of considerable power, and it would do us well to have him on our side, or at least out of the way."
"But if you can't sway him, and he tells Justan..."
"If it seems to me that I'm unlikely to win him over, I'll change my approach, send him to Elet."
She said nothing, just eyed him, doubtful.
"Look, Nolley, I have done this kind of thing before, you know. Trust me, he'll go to Elet if I want him there."
"If you say so, Professor..." She brushed a spider from her shoulder as she walked towards the door. "I'll wait here, out of sight."
He thought of a box, then of a comsphere that was once inside it, tapped in.
Five or six seconds later, Sennary answered.
"Use the glass," instructed Ansle, sliding his encryption screen into place before Sennary could speak. A couple of heartbeats while the former mercenary followed; his face slipped into sight.
"This isn't too convenient, Ansle: make it short."
"Naturally, Marshal, my time is valuable. Verification is why I'm calling. First of all, I understand that Justan has dissolved the supposedly secret committee that he'd entrusted with the job of setting up a rival academy of magic. Is that correct?"
"You know it is. If you want me to give you names of former members, I can't."
"Ah. Well, never mind. My next question concerns undead. The first batch arrived for Justan by merchant fleet yesterday, and three more shipments are already on the way." He waited.
"What would your reaction be if I told you we had been lucky in production, and have large numbers of undead over - many more than Justan was expecting?"
Sennary snorted. "I'd say you ought to kill them again, and burn the bodies."
He bagged his moment. "In case they fell into the hands of subversives, you mean? I follow your reasoning: with a sizeable army of zombies, and Justan far from the capital, yes, they could front a revolution."
"What? I was taking the moral point of view - the whole concept of necromancy is abhorrent. If you've accidentally animated too many corpses, well, at least some can be returned to rest."
"I understand what you're saying. So the suggestion that someone may use them for civil warlike purposes doesn't present possibilities to you, then?"
"No-one would be stupid enough to try it."
Ansle frowned, reproachfully. "Come, now Sennary, audacious it may be, but not stupid."
"If a gnat lands on my hand, the gnat might be considered audacious. All too easily is it crushed, however. Therefore, audacious or not, the gnat is still stupid."
He stroked his chin. "Just because it looks like a gnat, that doesn't mean it is one..."
Sennary stared an instant, then threw up his arms. "Gods, Ansle, you'll wring ideas out of anything! You're not thinking of prossing insects now, are you? Next you'll be making centaurs out of knackered horses and paraplegics, or werewolving dead human brains in live animals just so you can order them around. This whole resurrection kick of yours is an abomination! Why are you bothering me with it?"
He sighed. "I can see I'm wasting my time. Other matters: I want you to go to Elet."
The soldier dropped his shoulders. "Not you as well... Justan, Porett, everyone wants me to go to Elet! Why me? Why not some other merc?"
"I was unaware that The King and his monkey had similar plans for you, Sennary, otherwise I would not have mentioned it. I think perhaps you've just been foolishly indiscreet..."
"I don't really care who knows. Maybe I won't be going anyway, maybe I'll stay here in Elbienau. Maybe I'll even return to my farm and forget this whole, sordid war."
"And maybe you'll just sulk. Listen, there's a strong suggestion that the Elets may have learned some rudimentary magic from the copies of our spellbooks that they have. It is imperative, therefore, if our position as world leader in this field is to be maintained, that the Eletic library in Liagh Na Laerich be destroyed."
"Don't insult me Ansle, please! Protecting the market is absolutely no concern of yours, and we're going to be caught technologically anyway sooner or later. The whole of Justan's empire will be gesture-aware within five years, and there are schools of magic starting up right now in the most unlikely of places outside. No: you want me to go to Elet for some other reason."
"To bring back my daughter."
He laughed, he actually laughed! "Most unbelievable, Ansle! I think you're scared witless that the Elets will get hold of Roween's antimagic biz, and flick it out so much that magic will end up pretty well useless." He grinned. "And that might be no bad thing."
"Ridiculous!" He puffed, falsely. "Besides, the Elets themselves are heavy buyers of artefacts; if they started popping magic off they'd lose the lot."
"Say again? The Elets have been buying zip?" He cocked his head. "How long has this been going on? Does Justan know?"
"Interests you, does it? Well, when I say `artefacts', it's comspheres mainly, from Cala Bay Town. I've seen the receipts: the Elets don't care if the units are vision-faulty, so long as they can send and receive sound."
"CBT, so they're black-fac forgeries. I've hit plenty of those guys in my time, Ansle, and I wouldn't remotely trust any of their documents, especially receipts. It's ten-to-one a scam: some way to write off sales to people they don't want you or anyone else to know about. Have you seen any export vouchers?"
"Not many, admittedly, but my guess is that they take the goods out across the wilderness."
"Uh? All the way to Elet? I can believe maybe cutting across west from Svala and bobbing up in Dreimen or somewhere, but then they'd still need Purasan licences to move further. The whole journey? Repeatedly? Suicidal!" He winked, sided his head. "You'll have to think again on that one, Ansle!"
The chancellor adjusted his robe, uncomfortable. "It was only a suggestion, Sennary, no-one's asking you to try it."
"No, but you're perfectly willing to send me deep into Elet on my own, with war-hungry barbarians everywhere I tread. You, Justan, Porett - if all three of you want me there it must be a bad idea..."
"You're experienced in these matters; you'll have no trouble."
"I'll have even less if I don't go at all. Justan doesn't trust me, Porett craves after knowledge and power, and you, you're just galled that everything you stand for - none of which is honourable, I might add - could be cut away by your own daughter and her bright-eyed little friend."
"Then Porett will kill them both."
He smiled, sardonic. "He has a matter transfer device, you've heard of it?"
"There's a comsphere on it, and one of my ex-students now on the project tapped into it for me. It's in the Lowlands, most probably Bridges."
"You're lying, Ansle..."
"Porett is setting up some kind of combat outfit in the Lowlands, and he's going to go after the girls himself. You know what that means, don't you. You can't let him kill them..."
"You're bluffing, to get me out of the way for some reason. So Nolley can take over as marshal, get her out of Cala?" He snorted. "Fine, well whatever your motives, now I'm definitely going home - and damn the lot of you!"
"It's the truth! Ask Justan."
21st January 1999: isif75.htm