in supposing that I may speak in confidence, your Excellency," the
pursuit ship's captain said, "I'd just as soon that crew escaped.
I watched the trials about the Domitt Prison the same as everybody.
I still have nightmares about some of that evidence."
For all the
good it did, Paval I'shenko thought, brooding out over the garden
outside his office window. It was a beautiful spring evening in
Port Burkhayden; the sun would be sinking below the horizon soon,
out beyond the waters of what had once been a flourishing bay. It
had suffered, that bay, during the Fleet's tenure, poisoned with
industrial run-off and by the silting up of the waters that should
have scoured the river-bed after Fleet had dammed most of the river
for power generation. Recovery would take time, but the bay would
live again, and all of the flora and fauna that properly appertained
"I myself would,
similarly in confidence, encourage you to proceed with all due care
and deliberate caution." He kept his voice light, but made no attempt
to disguise his sincerity. "One more crew of dispossessed Nurail
fled into Gonebeyond, where they may starve as they please. What
is the worth of pursuing such souls? The Bench has better things
to do with its resources, surely."
He was responsible
for assisting the captain, though. It was part of the charter he
held from the Bench, to effectively aid the Fleet in pursuit of
fugitives when the pursuit led to Meghilder space. The fugitives
had left Burkhayden scant hours ago, worse luck, which placed them
an impossibly long two days away from the exit vector that would
lead them to Gonebeyond Space, where the Fleet would not follow.TOP
ship was much swifter than any half-wrecked dredge masquerading
as a junk-ship, in which disguise the Nurail refugees had come and
gone after stocking up stores in Burkhayden. Fleet would have no
difficulty in catching up with them, and Paval I'shenko really couldn't
say too much about it. It was important to ensure that Fleet felt
completely confident of its control of the Shantiram vector: because
the last thing he wanted there were Fleet corvettes, monitoring
the Danzilar familial corporation owned was invested here in Burkhayden.
If he failed to prevail in this enterpriseif he could not
make an economic success of Burkhaydenit would be the ruin
of his family; and it would be his fault. The end of an octaves-old,
proud history, his fault, he would never be able to face his ancestors.
To fail was unthinkableworse, it would be unfilial. He would
not fail. He couldn't afford to shield those refugees. He didn't
have to like it; but he had a responsibility to his familyand
to the people of this Port.
"It's the principle
of the thing, unfortunately, your Excellency," the captain said,
contemplatively. "I have a duty to pursue and take into custody.
Fortunately we did not lose much time in port before realizing that
the quarry had already fled."
Space was huge,
but mostly empty; there was no danger that the pursuit ship would
lose track of its prey in a few short hours. The pursuit ship had
made port early today; the Nurail refugee ship had fled just hours
before. Someone had told those refugees that the hunters were coming,
or they never would have tried so desperate an escapein such
an unsuitable craft. The pursuit ship would finish some minor repairs,
and take on fuel, and leave, and it would all be over.TOP
Late as it
was in the afternoon his new master-gardener was still out and at
his work. As Paval I'shenko stood at the window in his office on
the ground floor of the Center House he could see Skelern Hanner,
bent over the grass, deep in concentration; the perfume of the days'
worth of bloom was sweet in the soft breeze that came in through
the open window, and Paval I'shenko for one moment envied the gardener,
whose life was no more complicated than
But then he
reminded himself of why he had hired that master-gardener, apart
from the man's very adequate gardening skills and intimate acquaintance
with the specifics of Port Burkhayden's environment. It had been
months since the Ragnarok had left Burkhayden, and the medical evaluation
team had only just now pronounced the gardener mostly healed, fit
to be released to his work.
Nurail, and the Bench had savaged himthe Bench in the person
of Paval I'shenko's own cousin Andrej Ulexeievitch, Ship's Inquisitor
on board of the Jurisdiction Fleet Ship Ragnarok. And would have
crippled him, or worse, if it had not been that Andrej had noticed
knew a good deal more about Nurail than other Inquisitors might.
He was the man who had cried failure of Writ at the Domitt Prison,
after all; and there they were back to Nurail refugees again, Paval
I'shenko thought gloomily. Turning from the window he sat down behind
Captain, I would not wish to criticize your performance of your
duty." They both agreed that it would do the Bench no harm if one
pathetic shipload of refugee Nurail should escape, and yet neither
of them had very much real choice but to persecute them. "You said
that this crew was of particular interest, I believe?"
It helped a
little, maybe, if he reminded himself that these Nurail had more
claim than the usual run of would-be escapees to represent a threat
to the Bench. The captain bowed politely.
"Hard to say
for sure without the interrogation reports, your Excellency, but
there's every chance that one of the passengers is rather more important
than usual. Hope may be the salvation of desperate men, but it's
the enemy of pacification and assimilation, and rumors that the
son of the war-leader of Darmon is still alive are causing quite
unnecessary complications for the resettlement efforts, as I understand."
And had been
here in Port Burkhayden for months with local Security none the
wiser, by report. "I am humiliated," Paval I'shenko said, and mostly
meant it. He'd had no idea, or he'd have done what he could to get
the young man out of harm's way long before now. The son of the
war-leader of Darmon. What had brought such a man to Port Burkhayden
in the first place? "In my defense I can only say that we have been
looking for Free Government, not Nurail. And Port Burkhayden is
full of Nurail. All too effective a hiding place, I'm afraid."TOP
Now the captain
smiled and bowed, clearly anxious to be on about his business. "My
report shows only the professional and exemplary cooperation of
the Burkhayden security offices, your Excellency, responding swiftly
and efficiently to the information we brought to identify the candidate
targets. No fault is to be found, sir, with respect, except that
of Fleet in not sharing the information with you sooner. If I may
be excused, I'd like to see how our repairs are coming."
Yes. "And if
you feel you enjoy anything less than equally prompt and professional
support in completing them, Captain, I hope you will expose the
failing of my launch-field crews to me, without fail. Pledge me
on this, and I will grant you leave with the best of my good-will,
asking only if you care to return to take third-meal with me this
on the lawn behind him. Paval I'shenko didn't need to turn around
to know to whom those indistinct but characteristic tones belonged;
the captain's face told him as surely as if he had the report on
his desk before him. The Miss Tavart. Come to consult with the gardener
on some issue or another having to do with the vegetable dyes she
was developing for the use of her mother's company.TOP
young lady, that," the pursuit ship captain said. Completely distracted.
"A member of your household, your Excellency?"
No, not in
so many words. Not yet. Paval I'shenko had to smile. "My garden-master
came with me from home, Captain, but we have hired a local expert
as well as local labor. He still preserves the traditional gardening
lore of his family, despite the Bench's best efforts to destroy
any such knowledgewith respect, Captain, forgive me. We consider
ourselves lucky to have obtained his services."
And there was
a relationship there, of a sort, between Hanner and the Miss Tavart.
The Tavart herself did not seem to mind it. Paval I'shenko knew
very well that she had noticed an affection between her daughter
and her former gardener, and it was not up to him to suggest that
there was any possible impropriety in that.
puffed out his cheeks and blew forcefully, his eyes following movement
on the lawn. "If my mission permitted, sir, I would stay at least
long enough to ask to be introduced. All the more reason for me
to concentrate on my duty, thank you, sir, I must reluctantly decline
your kind invitation."
Paval I'shenko realized with amusement that he'd done nothing to
dispel the impression in the captain's mind that Sylyphe Tavart
was among his own female relatives. It would only delay the captain
if he tried to explain; not enough to save the Nurail refugees,
unfortunately, or else he would have done just that. Instead he
keyed his call-button for one of the house-men.TOP
will return to the launch-field," Paval I'shenko explained. "Good-greeting,
Captain. I hope to be forgiven if I do not wish you luck."
It was nothing
personal, and the pursuit ship captain seemed clearly to understand
it in that spirit. He smiled and bowed, politely accepting his dismissal
in due form.
Alone in his
office Paval I'shenko turned back to the window to brood out over
the garden, wishing those Nurail had been gone last week, watching
young Sylyphe Tavart shake a fistful of limp greenery in the gardener's
voice down, silly girl," Hanner begged, in an agony of apprehension.
"This isn't a drama-script. These mean business. Please, Sylyphe,
it's nothing to do with you, go home."
'silly girl' me, Skelern Hanner," Sylyphe hissed, shaking a fistful
of half-wilted skelpies at him. "What am I to do with this trash?
That's all I want to know. There's a great deal of money tied up
in this effort, you know that, and look at these skelpies. Look
at them. You can't tell me to go home. It's my fight just as much
as it is yours."
And she'd been
impossible, impossible since the night last fall when the Ragnarok's
Fleet Captain and its First Lieutenant had been murdered, the Lieutenant
actually here on the grounds of Center House itself. He'd had no
hand in her recruitment, he'd resisted it every step of the way
as strenuously as possible. It'd been the last thing from his idea.
She'd been the one who had covered up for the refugees in her mother's
service kitchen, when the Port Authority had come to do its curfew-check;
her idea entirely.TOP
She had no
business being involved in this trouble, but she'd come into it
by accident, and now it was all he could think of to somehow get
her clear of it and keep her away from any such thing ever again.
He knew how serious the Bench could be. He had the scars. And still
Uncle Andrej had dealt gently with him, and done him little harm
for all the hurt he'd gotten.
"Oh, come into
the potting shed, have some tea," he said, finally, in near-desperation.
"At least let's not speak out here in the open, Sylyphe, there's
the window open, you can hear the Danzilar as clear as clear."
But she stamped
her foot, looking so perfectly a spoiled child that for a moment
he was tempted to mistake her for such. "And let the world wonder
what we find to talk about, Skelern, alone in the dark, and look
in just to see? You aren't thinking. We can see people coming. Here.
Look at this leaf. And tell me what we're going to do about that
She had a point.
It was such a good point that he took her hand in his hand to pull
her fistful of skelpies closer to his face, where he could examine
the leaves. She had a fungus, it seemed. Needed a dose of powder,
but the crop would survive. "What have you heard, though?"
She fixed her eyes on his, anxiously alternating her gaze between
his face and the wilted leaves. "My mother had one of the port authority
officers to dinner last night. They need to make repairs, but they're
minor. They'll leave as soon as they've finished, and fueled. And
there's no question they'll catch up. They haven't even called for
we have a chance yet, Sylyphe, if we can get the others away before
the pursuit captain realizes just what has happened. We mustn't
fail." Not after what the people on that refugee ship had given
up for the sake of the stratagem. They were all dead, or as good
as, and the Danzilar prince would have to murder several Nurail
else to keep the Fleet out of Port Burkhayden. TOP
asked the Danzilar prince, that went without saying. And it was
a shame, because they'd placed him in an impossible situation; and
had made him a murderer who didn't deserve to be, not based on his
actions during the time he'd been at Burkhayden. He seemed to be
determined to be a good maisterone who deserved the confidence
of the people under his protectionbut it couldn't be helped.
"I don't know
where they've gone, Skelern. I don't know who they are." That was
true. She'd protected the refugees in the kitchen because she had
a good heart and a quick mind. She had no idea of the actual importance
of the matter. "Can the repairs be slowed. Can departure be delayed.
If somehow the ship made the vector, Skelern, Fleet never need know
that your friends aren't on it."
she said, and Skelern almost laughed. Gardeners did not claim friendship
with war-leaders, not even refugee sons of dead war-leaders. Had
she learned nothing about class and privilege from the Dolgorukij
who controlled Burkhayden? Dolgorukij had a civil contract with
the Bench, not a military one, and Burkhayden was an indentured
worldnot an hereditary estate. But apart from that there was
little to chose between Dolgorukij and Fleet where rank-prejudice
must promise," Skelern said, and tightened his hand around hers.
"Promise me truly. Go home and forget all about it." He was already
terrified lest her role be discovered, limited though it had been.
"I'm pleading with you, Sylyphe. I'll go down on my knees if you
wish it, but then the prince who is watching will think that I mean
to try to marry you, and I'll lose my place."TOP
or you have insulted me, and must beg my pardon," Sylyphe agreed.
Very provokingly. "Which you have, and you should. To suggest that
I forget about doing whatever it takes to resist the Bench. After
what it did to you, Skelern."
Oh, not the
fraction of what they could have done. Or not the majority fraction,
anyway. He had no answer. He bent his head to her hand and kissed
her strong little fingers, half-wild with fear for her.
he promised. "If only you will go home. And take a three-fine dusting
of marketer's powder to these skelpies before the fungus spreads.
They'll survive, and you'll get the dye called very-rich-red. Highly
prized. Can't be gotten without the fungus, which is why I didn't
suggest it to your mother, because if it goes wrong all you end
up with is trash that you can't even use for compost. The fungus
spreads too quickly in its sporing. It's pernicious stuff, Sylyphe."
Why did he
have to be desperate with her before she would listen? But she would
listen, when he was desperate. "Crimson-cake fungus," she said,
her eyes widening. "Skelern. That's dangerous."
So it was,
but not if it was handled correctly. "Only to the machines, and
then only for the hours it takes to bloom out, after all. Please
go home. Your skelpies need you. If you think that you might forgive
me you could come see me in my old place, after dark, if your mother
won't notice, and let me explain how sorry I am to have insulted
Her lips that
he loved so much bloomed the prettiest pink in the world at the
suggestion, and she dropped her eyes suddenly to her skelpies. "I'll
see you after supper, then," she agreed, and went away happily across
the wide lawn, leaving him to stand and stare after her and think
about the breeze across the launch-field from the bay in the night
hours, and what fungal blooms could do to air intakes. Only a few
Would it be
It was close
to mid-meal on the following day. Paval I'shenko Danzilar put his
documentation to one side on his desk, rising to greet the Tavart
with a smile of genuine pleasure on his face. Only a few months,
but he had found in the Tavart a colleague and ally of the highest
mettle. She was here to represent Iaccary Cordage and Textile, right
enough; she had become almost his lieutenant, in issues involving
the development of trade in Burkhayden.
your Excellency," Dame Tavart said, giving him a brisk nod to go
with her hand-clasp. "I've brought you some samples of the latest
dye sets. My daughter has happened on something felicitous, as it
seems, an infection in one of the experimental lots that may give
us a dye your weave-mistress says can be used for a particularly
A great deal
of what Paval I'shenko hoped for from Burkhayden depended on his
competitive advantage, his privilege to producenot the Nurail
weaves themselves, they were still proscribed, too dangerous even
to reduce to commercial termsbut Nurail-like weaves. With
the recruitment of a weave-mistress from the service house the effort
was going forward very promisingly. Some of the patterns looked
very unpleasant to Paval I'shenko, but there was no accounting for
And there was
a sample there on white wool that was almost luminous, a peculiar
red that had depth and body and a very pleasing sort of color saturation.
It was beautiful. "This dye, Dame Tavart?"
nodded. "She's come to show it to your gardener, Sylyphe, I mean.
Just outside, I think, someone told her where to look to find Hanner,
you're pleased with his performance I think?"
He moved to
the window, still holding the sheaf of dye-samples with that one
crimson-dyed square of white wool uppermost in his hand. Yes. Sylyphe
Tavart, and Skelern Hanner. "He could be useless, and I would still
be very pleased that he was alive. But I'm more glad that he's doing
well. It was almost a disaster."
been innocent; and as bad as it was to have his inaugural as Burhayden's
master marked by the torture of a young man for a crime he had not
done, it would have been much worse had Koscuisko made Hanner confess.
There was no question but that an Inquisitor could make a man confess
to anything; but Koscuisko's reputed peculiarity that healmost
uniquely amongst his fellowsdeclined to permit souls to confess
to crimes of which they were not in fact guilty.TOP
thing too," Dame Tavart agreed, thoughtfully, joining him at the
window. "The pursuit ship will be grounded for hours yet. It's a
shame, after the lengths they had to go to to find the right materials
for their repairsthat took them half the night as it was,
or so I'm told. Now they'll never catch that refugee ship."
"A fungal bloom,
the launch-field said," Paval I'shenko agreed. "Local and endemic
but unpredictable. One wonders. But one does not challenge the gifts
he stood it was difficult to tell whether Miss Tavart was showing
Hanner something, or they were simply standing very close to one
another and possibly holding hands. They were both attractive young
people; but as Hanner's employer perhaps he should just be sure
about one thing. "Madame, have you thought that you should perhaps
look to your daughter, if I may ask it without giving offense?"
snorted, with maternal affection. "They are very fond of each other,
aren't they? It's my fault. I didn't put her to work soon enough.
I shouldn't have wasted her time by giving her nothing to do. I
wasn't thinking. What I have sometimes thought, your Excellency,
is that Skelern Hanner is local to Burkhayden and has been here
for years, and may have contacts. Everybody knows that he and my
daughter have an understanding. He can come and go between here
and my house without remark."TOP
watched the young couple out on the lawn, thinking about this. They
needed better contacts, deeper within the Nurail community. If his
Security had known about the refugees much earlier, they need not
have come this close to disaster; and with better cooperation from
the local authorities he might have been able to prevent the location
of those repair materials entirely until it was too late to make
a difference, instead of having to rely on a chance fungal bloom
to decide the fate of the escapees.
He hadn't expected
to come to Burkhayden and be trusted at once, no, not at all, but
if he could shorten the period of time it took to prove himself
trustworthy, should he not do so?
he shook his head. "I like the idea, Dame Tavart," he admitted.
"But I cannot see where it might be worth the risk. Hanner has already
come under the heavy hand of the Bench, it could be a year or even
longer before the damage is truly undone, as they tell me. How could
I ask him to expose himself to such a risk? Surely he has paid,
and should be left to himself."
Miss Tavart were coming toward the house, now; Miss Tavart would
be joining her mother at the table for mid-meal, they'd been invited,
and Paval I'shenko needed to praise her about the dyes. If the gardener
were present for that it would not be amiss. He was as much to thank
for the success of that enterprise as the Tavart herself. TOP
should be put on the Tavart's payroll; it would be less demanding
work and more pay, and Hanner was already acquainted with the weave-mistress
that Paval I'shenko had hired out of the service-house, as he understood.
Perhaps. He would have to see how Hanner might feel, about the idea.
your Excellency, and come to think of it Sylyphe might find something
out by accident. Yes. Better all around if we keep Hanner out of
answered his question about how she felt, exactly, about the relationship
that unquestionably existedwhatever its precise naturebetween
her daughter and his Nurail gardener. Well, he had known it was
none of his business. Iaccary Cordage and Textile was a pragmatic
firm. Hanner had knowledge that had already proved of considerable
worth. Perhaps the Tavart had decided the value of his knowledge
made up for his humble origins; perhaps the Tavart simply believed
that Hanner was a decent young man, and genuinely fond of her daughter.
"Let it be
so, then, we will find other ways. It may take us time, but we will
make do." There were voices in the hall: Miss Tavart was coming,
and the house staff had not prevented the gardener from coming with
her. It was a shame: they couldn't afford to use him. Not only Hanner's
knowledge, but his recent experiences with the Inquisitor had provided
him with social capital that Paval I'shenko could have usedbut
it was for the best. Hanner should not be jeopardized, not again.
And if Hanner were asked to undertake a dangerous mission the Tavart
was right, her daughter might come to find out about it.
voice, Paval I'shenko held the dye-sample up to the light as Miss
Tavart and Skelern Hanner came into the room. "And this is truly
an unusual color, Dame Tavart. We'll be using it sparingly in one
of the weaves to make the most of it I would expect?"
It would take
him longer to forge the alliances he needed, but that was his responsibility,
not Hanner's. Let Hanner and Sylyphe return to their lives, as normal
as possible; it was his duty, not theirs, and he would protect Port
Burkhaydenand everybody in itas best he could, without
complicating their lives any more than they were already.
First appeared in the
OryCon 24, 2002 Program Book