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Author: C. J. Cherryh
Publisher: DAW Books, 2011
Series: Foreigner: Arc 4: Book 3

1. Conspirator
2. Deceiver
3. Betrayer

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: Hard SF
Soft SF
Avg Member Rating:
(22 reads / 10 ratings)


In the wake of civil war, Bren Cameron, the brilliant human diplomat allied with Tabini-aiji, dynamic atevi leader of the Western Association, has left the capital and sought temporary refuge at his country estate, Najida. But Najida has proven to be the opposite of a safe haven. For though the rebel usurper has been killed by Tabini's forces, and the capital has been purged of his factions, insurgents still persist in other districts, and their center of power, the Marid, lies perilously close to Bren's western coastal estate.

Now, Bren, along with Ilisidi, Tabini's powerful grandmother, and Cajeiri, Tabini's young son and heir, is trapped inside Najida, which has been transformed into an armed fortress and is surrounded by enemies.

But ancient, wily Ilisidi is not inclined to be passive, and in a brazen and shockingly dangerous maneuver, she sends Bren and his bodyguards into enemy territory. He is to travel to the palace of the leader of the Marid, a young lord named Machigi, in a district virtually at war with the Western Association. Bren's mission is to attempt to negotiate with Machigi - an atevi lord who has never actually seen a human - and somehow persuade him to cease his hostile actions against the West.

Though Bren does gain admittance to Machigi's home, and even an audience with the young lord, Ilisidi has not given him any explicit directions about this negotiation, and Bren is unsure what he is sanctioned to offer. He knows that Machigi is a young autocrat who rules a fractious, faction-ridden clan, and that his continued hospitality is not guaranteed.

Bren's genius for negotiation and his extensive knowledge of atevi politics, history, and economics enable him to make a daring trade offer to Machigi - one that seems to interest the young warlord. But Machigi is understandably suspicious of Ilisidi's motives, and to Bren's utter shock, evokes an ancient law.

Bren wears the white ribbon that for the last two centuries has identified the single official human-atevi negotiator. But before humans landed, this white ribbon represented a specialized negotiator between atevi adversaries - a mediator who agreed to represent both sides with equal loyalty. These ancient mediators frequently ended up dead.

Can Bren stay alive, and not alienate Ilisidi or Tabini, while also representing the interests of their enemy?


He found his pain pills in his personal kit and popped two, dry. He was in less pain than yesterday evening, but that had been a high-water mark of discomfort.

Dressed to the waist, he wrapped the compression tape around his chest, which afforded a curious combination of pain and relief, protecting him against shocks or an injudicious stretch. He was just trying to fasten the bandage when Banichi showed up and quietly finished the job.

"Boots," he said, "'Nichi-ji, if you will help me with that. Bending hurts."

"Yes," Banichi said, and helped him sit down on the bench, then knelt down and helped him on with the boots. Banichi, big, broad-shouldered even for an ateva, went on playing valet and brought him the shirt hanging foremost of the three he had. Banichi helped him on with that while protecting it from his damp hair with a towel about the shoulders.

"I am worse than a child," Bren said. "I take far more tending."

"Your bodyguard has great and personal sympathy," Banichi said, running a comb through his damp hair, preparatory to braiding it. "The ribs, one expects, will be sore for a number of days."

"It was a stupid act," he said, "on my part. One can only apologize for it."

Banichi deftly parted his hair for the queue and began the braid tactfully without comment. Banichi finished it in a matter of moments, and tied it with the ribbon waiting on the bureau, a fresh one, the white of neutrality, the paidhi's color. That white ribbon, more than guns, more than reinforcements, was the major protections they had - for what it was worth in this place, where he clearly represented the hated north to a lot of citizens of the Marid.

Banichi helped him stand up, then provided the bulletproof vest, brocade on the outside, and with one notable breach in its integrity. It looked to close from the front, but it didn't; it overlapped at the side. It was stiff, it was hot, and while it did not weigh much, it got heavier, over the hours.

At least, once fastened, its close embrace provided support for abused muscles - or would, until the muscles grew tired of being supported and restricted. The pain wasn't as bad as it had been last night. No misery could be as bad as it had been last night.

He put on his lighter coat with Banichi's help. And Jago came in - Banichi's partner, only a little shorter than Banichi - in black tee and uniform pants.

"We are all awake, Bren-ji," she said, meaning Tano and Algini as well. "Breakfast will arrive soon."

"Excellent," he said. "I shall do very well, now, for myself, 'Nichi-ji. Thank you."

Jago was Bren's lover, when they were not under hostile observation. She had slept last night in Banichi's room, and she appeared immaculate as usual despite the lack of her uniform jacket. Armed? Yes. Always.

Even the paidhi carried a pistol at times. At the moment it still resided in his dresser drawer, where one of his bodyguard had placed it. Weapons about the person of Guild were universally expected - but a concealed pistol in the pocket of a member of Tabini-aiji's court - that could make Machigi's security justifiably nervous.

So he left it there today and trusted his staff - little good he could do anyway in his condition. He took the left-hand door of his bedroom, which opened onto the sitting room, an elegant room of light greens and pale furniture. It was a very comfortable arrangement, with a fireplace, chairs, a table, a couch -

And two sleeping figures occupied that couch, one black-on-black, Guild-uniformed, leaning on the left arm of the couch; on the right arm, another, pale-skinned, with a mop of blonde curls, sleeping in a russet gown.

Young Veijico, to her credit, was not that far asleep. She lifted her head immediately as the door opened and got up fast despite a rough couple of days.

Not as hard a couple of days as Barb had had. Barb was asleep, a matter of some worry as she had taken that nasty crack on the head last night.

"Nandi," Veijico said in a low voice - caught, in plain fact, drowsing, when she had been assigned to keep Barb awake as long as seemed needful. "One has not been negligent. The lady stayed awake into the early morning."

Veijico was in a difficult position with him and with his bodyguard. True, she had doggedly tracked Barb and a handful of kidnappers - kidnappers who now were dead, thanks to her. It would have been extremely significant to world peace had Veijico had the least clue for him as to what clan the men belonged to. But she hadn't.

Had she recognized their accents? NO, she hadn't heard them. Barb had. Unfortunately, Barb couldn't tell a Padi Valley aristocrat's accent from a Marid fisherman's.

Had Veijico any clue as to whether the men she had shot were Guild at all?

Yes, but she didn't recognize any of them. Had she seen them up close? Well, no. They'd fallen, and pretty soon after that, they'd been captured by more Guild.

There were a lot of points in which Veijico had performed both extraordinarily bravely and a great number in which she had created some serious problems. Veijico was on very thin ice with Jago in particular - who did not approve much of Barb, either.

But the latter was on personal issues.

Copyright © 2011 by C. J. Cherryh


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