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Sethra Lavode (Viscount of Adrilankha), Page 2

Steven Brust

  By the time fourteen or fifteen months had expired, this support was still not especially noticeable. Everyone knew that Kâna was still formidable. To be sure, Zerika had received a pledge of support—that is to say, a promise of future recognition—from the the House of the Tiassa, but none of the others (except, naturally, the House of the Phoenix, which consisted of Zerika herself) had yet even gone that far, all of them preferring an attitude of waiting to see how matters would play out after the inevitable clash.

  This was insufficient for Zerika, who continued negotiating with the Heirs and the Delegates, and making such decrees as she thought would win them over. While these maneuvers were not met with a great deal of success, it is certainly the case that none of the Houses ever gave serious consideration to recognizing Kâna from the moment Zerika arrived in Adrilankha.

  She also, we should add, entered into negotiations with Elde and Greenaere, as well as with certain of the Eastern kingdoms. And, while she wished to send an envoy to the Queen of Landsight, she did not, at this time, have access to a ship that was able to make this journey. These negotiations produced two results: The King of Greenaere did, indeed, officially recognize her as Empress, and an envoy arrived from one of the Eastern kingdoms, asking for (and receiving) certain guaranties about the safety of those from that kingdom who had emigrated to Adrilankha during the Interregnum. While this kingdom did not, during this period, actually recognize Zerika as Empress, this was due primarily to the length of time required for messengers to go back and forth from the East—teleportation not being possible for Easterners, and there being no human who knew the Eastern lands well enough to make the attempt.

  Other than this, much of Her Majesty’s time was, as we have indicated earlier, devoted to planning for the new Imperial Palace. The chief architect was the Vallista Baron Fernbrook, who, though old, being over twenty-one hundred years of age, nevertheless retained all of his wits and most of his memories. In addition, representatives of each House were consulted, so that Zerika could give some measure of control to each of the Houses as to its own Wing. It is significant that even the Teckla received such an invitation, although through their representative they delegated all such matters to a Vallista named Sandlewood.

  The ground was broken on the new Imperial Palace at a ceremony held on the first day of summer: the fifth day of the month of the Hawk.

  During the subsequent months, proud Adrilankha came to life once more. The grain exchange and the silver exchange were cleaned, refurbished, and officially opened. Several banking institutions were either begun or re-emerged from a long quietus. In a particularly daring and successful move, the Empress announced that the Empire would once more accept the filing of protection from debts. This was daring because, in fact, the Empire had nothing like the resources to carry this out on any sort of scale. But Zerika believed, and, in the end, was proven correct, that this announcement would give sufficient boost to businesses that it would not, in fact, ever be used. Moreover, it gave the impression of a return to a normally functioning Empire.

  The slaughterhouses in South Adrilankha began to work once more, mostly using the labor of the Easterners who had settled there during the Interregnum, as kethna and cattle were driven in from the north. This was good news to everyone except those toward whom the winds blew from these slaughterhouses. Another effect this had was that more Easterners, who had been living to the north and east of the city and barely surviving as free farmers, gave up their nearly worthless plots and moved into South Adrilankha to work in these slaughterhouses. Although this concentration of Easterners (and, indeed, many human Teckla) would eventually lead to social unrest, this would not occur for hundreds of years, and so is beyond the scope of our history.

  As a sort of footnote, we should add that certain aristocrats, including the Dzurlord Shant, whose holdings were north of the city, lost some number of Teckla to the employment available in South Adrilankha, which proves that, contrary to claims of those who operated the slaughterhouses, some Teckla did leave the land to which they were legally bound. This was followed up in a few cases, but the infant Dragaeran police force was mostly unable to cope with anything in South Adrilankha.

  This, then, is the general state of the Empire. As we open this chapter of our history, our friends are not yet aware of Kâna’s continuing machinations against the Orb.




  In Which Matters of Great Historical Moment

  Such as the Role of the Orb in Determining the Emperor

  Are Brought to a Head

  Chapter the Sixty-Ninth

  How the Empress, Attempting to

  Work on the Design of the Imperial Palace,

  Manages Those Who Interrupt Her

  On the ground floor of Whitecrest Manor was a wide enclosed terrace, the twin to the open terrace on the other side where the Count and Countess of Whitecrest were accustomed to take their morning klava and watch the ocean. The enclosed terrace, of course, was used during inclement weather and had been the place where the Countess was accustomed to carry on her work—except that now it was the room where the Empress was carrying on her official business. The room was reached by a hallway with two entrances, one leading down to the parlor, and the other to a flight of steps that went up to the second story of the Manor. This second entrance had been sealed off, and a guard was posted at the first, with instructions to admit no one without permission of either Her Majesty or the officer on duty.

  The officer on duty, of course, was generally Khaavren, and it happened to be Khaavren on this day who entered the room, bowed to Zerika, and said, “A gentleman to see Your Majesty. It is Prince Tiwall, of the House of the Hawk.”

  “Ah!” said Zerika, looking up from the papers she had been studying, which papers were, in turn, a single entry in a seemingly endless list of details to be decided upon with regard to the design of the Imperial Palace. Before her were not only lists and diagrams, but several different models of the future structures, or portions there-of, one of which was a full five feet high and more than fifteen feet in length, and occupied most of the room.

  This activity had taken up so much of Her Majesty’s time and effort that she was often impatient with any interruptions. On hearing who was there, the Orb, which had been circling her head with a beige color of distraction, first turned to a faint red of irritation, then, after she had reflected, to a warm orange of pleasurable excitement. “Send him in at once,” she said.

  Khaavren bowed and, as he had been trained to do for so long, did as he was told.

  “I greet Your Majesty,” said Tiwall, a stern, forbidding gentleman of well over two thousand years, whose white hair, worn long and brushed back from his noble’s point, made a stark contrast to his dark complexion.

  “Come, Your Highness,” said Zerika. “That isn’t so bad. You greet me as Your Majesty. Does this mean that I have cause to hope the House of the Hawk looks with favor upon my claim?”

  Tiwall bowed. “I use the title because of my own belief, madam, that the Orb is the Empire.”

  “Your own belief—what of your House?”

  “Oh, as to my House—”


  “They are considering the matter.”

  “Considering it?”

  “Your Majesty must understand that these are difficult times, and no one wishes to be hasty.”

  “Yet, Your Highness has decided.”

  “I have, and I beg Your Majesty to believe that I am using all of my influence within the House on your behalf.”

  “I am glad to hear it. For my part, I shall be glad to use what influence I have on Your Highness’s behalf.”

  “Oh, if Your Majesty means that—”

  “Yes?” said Zerika, frowning.

  “It could be of immeasurable help in that cause in which we are united.”

  “I do not understand what Your Highness does me the honor to tell me. Speak more plainly, I b

  “I only wish to say that should Your Majesty act on my behalf, or, more precisely, on behalf of my House, it would be of great help to me in convincing them.”

  Zerika looked at him carefully. “Does the House of the Hawk wish to bargain with the Empire?”

  “It is their contention—and believe me, I speak of them, not of me—that, not having been recognized by the Council of Princes, it is not yet the Empire.”

  “I see. So, then, the House of the Hawk wishes to bargain with a certain Phoenix who happens to have the Orb circling her head.”

  “Your Majesty has stated the situation admirably.”

  “I see. And what does the House of the Hawk feel this recognition is worth?”

  “If Your Majesty will permit me, before I answer the question you have done me the honor to ask.”

  “Permit you to what, Highness?”

  “To explain the situation as I see it. Perhaps there are aspects that I fail to understand.”

  “I doubt that,” murmured Zerika. Then she said, “Very well, Prince. State the situation as you understand it.”

  Tiwall bowed and said, “Well, let us see. You already have approval of the Lyorn, have you not?”

  “The Count of Flowerpot Hill and Environs came to Adrilankha within days of my arrival here, and at once pledged the support of his House.”

  “And of course, you have the support of the House of the Phoenix.”

  “As I am the only one in the House, yes, it is true that I gave myself my full support. And I even plan to continue doing so.”

  “But Your Majesty has not yet heard from the Dragon or the Athyra, which are, I should point out, the two most powerful Houses.”

  “Again, you are correct.”

  “It must be said that the indications of allegiance you have received from the Tiassa are important. They have influence.”

  “I received a letter only yester-day from Count Röaanac in which he informs me of the decision of his House and pledges his personal good-will. Your Highness is singularly well informed.”

  Tiwall bowed and said, “So then, will Your Majesty permit me to make an observation?”

  “Certainly, Highness. Do so, by all means, especially if it brings us to the point of this political survey you have just made for my benefit.”

  Tiwall, after clearing his throat, said, “My House occupies an unusual middle ground. We have more influence than the Jhereg and the Teckla, but not so much as the Dragon and the Athyra. We have been consulted—informally, I should add—by parties from the Issola and the Iorich, as well as certain of the merchant Houses.”

  “Very well, go on.”

  “Should I manage to persuade my House to accept Your Majesty as the Empress that you are, well—”

  “Yes, if you should convince them, as I know you are trying to do?”

  “I am certain we would bring with us, as a matter of course, the Iorich, the Chreotha, and most probably the Orca as well.”

  “I see.”

  “Once that happens, I cannot imagine the Jhereg and the Teckla not falling into line.”

  “It seems as if Your Highness is doing my planning for me.”

  “Not in the least, Your Majesty. I’m attempting to explain—”

  “Never mind, Highness. Go on.”

  “Yes, Your Majesty. I wish only to observe that, should my negotiations within my own House be successful, it may have the effect, by itself, of very nearly bringing the entire Council of Princes to Your Majesty’s support.”

  Zerika remained silent, and the Orb, slowing down a trifle in response to this contemplation, took on a dark green shade as she considered, as well as flickering slightly when she consulted it for some detail on Tiwall’s history or family. To be sure, this Hawklord was no one’s fool, and he was, as Hawks always are, well informed. But how honest was he, within the lies he was telling that were meant to be seen through?

  “Very well,” said Zerika after a moment. “What might the Empire grant your House that could help you to convince them that I am the true Empress, representing their interests as well as everyone else’s within the vast Empire that we once had and, with the Favor, will again?”

  “Tolerably little, Majesty.”

  “We shall see.”

  “An estate.”

  “That is easy enough; there are many estates.”

  “A particular estate, Majesty.”

  “Then that is different. Who owns it now?”

  “No one. That is to say, the Empire.”

  “So much the better. Is it valuable?”

  “I will not deny to Your Majesty that it is.”

  “What is its value?”

  “Nowhere else that I know of are iron ore, oil, and coal all to be found in the same, narrow region of a few small mountains and valleys. There are refining operations near-by where, before the disaster, kerosene was produced, and there is no shortage of waterways.”

  “And you say, these counties are not owned?”

  “Not one of them. A few had a baron or two ruling part of them before the Disaster, but since then not even a younger son of any of them remain.”

  “How many counties are we speaking of?”


  “How much in area?”

  “Perhaps twelve hundred square miles.”

  “That is not so much. Where are these counties, exactly?”

  “Just south of the Collier Hills.”

  “Ah, ah!”

  “Your Majesty knows them?”

  “Nearly. I have just promised three of them to a certain Dragonlord who gave me some assistance against the Pretender. I had no idea they were so valuable.”

  “You have promised them? Ah, that is too bad!”

  “Is there nothing else that will do?”

  “I fear not, Your Majesty,” said the Hawk, bowing deeply. “If I may be excused—”

  “Your Highness may not,” said Zerika coldly.

  Tiwall bowed again, and waited in the perfect attitude of the courtier.

  The Empress was discovering, as Morrolan had, that to govern others requires one to spend more time in consideration than one is used to—either that, or one must inevitably become a careless administrator, and history says nothing good about careless administrators. Therefore, Zerika considered, and, after considering, she said, “Very well, you may have your five counties.”

  The Hawklord bowed. “I believe I will be able to bring Your Majesty good news within a month.”

  “I depend upon it.”

  “Oh,” he said, suddenly looking worried. “I hope Your Majesty did not interpret my words as a guarantee for any House other than my own.”

  “I hope,” replied the Empress, “that Your Highness did not interpret my words as a guarantee of five counties to be given to your House.”

  “And yet—I understand, Your Majesty.”

  “That is good, Highness. It is important to understand one another.”

  Tiwall bowed to acknowledge this observation Her Majesty did him the honor to share, and inquired, “Will there be anything else?”

  “No. You may go.”

  “Your Majesty will hear from me soon.”

  When he was gone, Zerika returned to her work, comparing certain figures on paper to some of the models and drumming her finger-tips on the table, until the captain once again entered the room, and said, “Another gentleman begs to have a word with Your Majesty.”

  Zerika had been reflecting on what sort of passageway ought to connect the Imperial Wing with the Iorich Wing, which included certain philosophical issues about the relationship between the needs of the Empire and the abstraction of justice and therefore could not be easily delegated. She permitted a grimace to cross her countenance as she said, “Who is it this time?”

  “It is I,” said Khaavren.

  “Yes, yes. But I mean, who wishes to see me?”

  “The captain of your guard,” said Khaavren coolly.

ut you are the captain of my guard.”

  “Then, it appears, it is I who wish to have a word with my Empress.”

  Her Majesty’s eyes narrowed, and she said, “You must break yourself of this habit, Captain, of answering in tones that might be construed as deficient in respect for the Orb. Even when we are alone, I do not consider it in the best of taste, and I am surprised that an old soldier such as yourself, who has served the Empire for so many years, would permit himself such liberties.”

  “I beg Your Majesty’s pardon,” said Khaavren. “With age, we soldiers become brittle, and the least pressure upon us causes us to snap back quickly lest we break.”

  “I do not believe, Captain, that you are in any danger of breaking.”

  “I beg Your Majesty’s pardon, but I must do myself the honor of disagreeing.”

  “You say, then, that you are in danger of breaking?”

  “Your Majesty must know that I am old.”

  Zerika quickly consulted the Orb, and did some fast arithmetic, after which she said, “My dear Captain, you have not seen a thousand years.”

  “That is true, but Your Majesty ought to understand that each year of Interregnum, now thankfully passed—”

  “As to that, we shall see, with the Favor.”

  “—must count as ten years when calculating my age.”

  “So many?”

  “At the very least.”

  “Well, perhaps the Tiassa do not reckon figures as others do.”

  “That may be; but I swear it is the truth.”

  “Very well, then, Captain, I accept that you are old. What of it? Your service is still valuable.”

  “Oh, it is good of Your Majesty to say so.”

  “Not at all. I hope, at least, you do not dispute me on this as well?”


  “What, you say that you are no longer useful to me?”

  “I am old, Your Majesty, and tired. I feel that, in having the honor to have served Your Majesty in so far as arriving to Adrilankha, I have done my duty.”