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Author: C. J. Cherryh
Publisher: DAW Books, 2013
Series: Foreigner: Arc 5: Book 2

1. Intruder
2. Protector
3. Peacemaker

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
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(17 reads / 9 ratings)


It's coming up on Cajeiri's birthday. The boy has been promised he can have the young human children he knew from his voyage sent down from the space station for a two week stay.

But there's far a darker business going on in the background--a major split compromising the Assassins' Guild, which furnishes security and law enforcement to the whole continent. Tabini's consort's own father has been barred from court, and may be involved in a new conspiracy against him.

For safety reasons, Tabini wants Bren and Ilisidi to take charge of Cajeiri, and protect him and his young guests. They themselves are very likely targets of whatever's going on, no question of it. So is Cajeiri. But having the targets separated and contained is an advantage.

It's Bren's responsibility to entertain the guests, keep the security problem secret...and let a lonely eight-year-old prince reestablish his controversial relationship with the only other children he's ever met...inside the best security they can manage.


"One asks," he said. "One does not even frame a specific question, for fear of misdirecting the answer. Tell me what I need to know, Jago-ji."

"First, dealing with any aspect of it can wait until we have seen Lord Geigi into orbit."

"He is not involved," he said. He would bet his life on Geigi's integrity. He had made that bet. Repeatedly.

"He is involved as an ally. But if we told him everything we know, we might not get him off the ground. We have briefed his aishid: they will brief him."

"One understands." He did. Perfectly. "And the aiji?"

Jago drew a deep breath. "By the Guild Charter, we can inform the aiji directly of whatever touches his security and the security of the aishidi'tat, and what he then chooses to tell his bodyguard is not regulated - which has been our route for this and other matters."

Since the last Guild-chosen bodyguard had attempted to kill him, Tabini had hand-picked four young distant relatives within the Guild. He had done it over conservative objections, bitter regional objections, and very heated Guild objections; and the Guild now had constantly to maneuver around that stone in the information flow at the very highest levels. It would not grant the aiji's bodyguards a higher ranking or higher clearance until they certified higher. And that temporarily left the aiji-dowager and, ironically, the paidhi-aiji, with the highest ranking bodyguards on earth and above it ... and the aiji guarded by young men who had to get their information from next door.

"We have several immediate problems," Jago said, "and your need to know, Bren-ji, has also come up against Guild regulations. So we, and Cenedi and his team - we have observed several things regarding which we are routinely going to violate Guild regulations. You need to know these matters. First is something the aiji can deal with - the Ajuri feud with the Atageini. Lady Damiri's father, Lord Komaji, is back in Ajuri, telling his version of what happened, and why he was dismissed, and why Lady Damiri's staff was dismissed. His lies involve your influence, and the desire of the aiji-dowager to subvert her great-grandson. His version states that Damiri-daja is being held prisoner and abused, and that Tabini intends to take her daughter from her."

"One is not surprised he would lie," Bren said.

"The troubling matter is that these lies have a purpose and a clear deadline, beyond which they will start to unravel."

"The birth of the baby. News coverage."

"We have concerns. Lord Komaji's bodyguard is not highly ranked: he has somewhat the aiji's problem. But four other, higher-ranked teams have moved into Ajuri and we cannot get at their records even to find out the names involved. We have access that should be able to do so. But that access does not turn up these particular records."

"Shadow Guild?" That splinter group lurking within the Assassins' Guild. The driving power behind so much of what had gone wrong in recent years.

"We have that concern. We know that the organization was not all located in the Marid. And we know some that are dead. But we have not accounted for others. That is one matter. Lord Ajuri with his own aishid poses no great threat. We are no longer sure that it is just his aishid protecting him, or even that he is the one giving the orders in Ajuri district. Second, Lord Tatiseigi has persistently offered Damiri staff from his estate. We advise against this and have advised Tabini-aiji to that effect. We have also advised Lord Tatiseigi's household to keep him from going home until further notice."

That, for a tired brain, required two thoughts to parse. Then he did. Damiri had been born at Tirnamardi, Lord Tatiseigi's estate, in Atageini territory. "Damiri's father was in that house," he said.

"He was resident there for a year and a half," Jago said.

Servants moved into other houses as lords married: they formed associations, left, or stayed on as their lord moved home, at the end of a contract relationship. or in its breakup. They were a lingering and troublesome legacy of any ill-fated marriage between clans.

"You think Tirnamardi is infiltrated," he said. "A servant who came in with Komaji."

"An assassination attempt against Lord Tatiseigi from within is not our chief worry, given Komaji's rank at the time, the disposition of Guild-trained servants usually not running to violence. However the leaks on that staff we have generally attributed to the Kadagidi relationship with that house - may not all flow in the direction of the Kadagidi. Or not only in that direction."

Kadagidi. The usurper Murini's clan. Neighbors and one-time associates of the Atageini, a relationship which had, over time, gone very, very bad.

There went all inclination to sleep. How, he wanted to ask, but Jago had already warned him she could not say.

The Kadagidi were not in attendance at the current legislative session, and would not be, by their announced intention: We are taking a year of contemplation and assessment ...

Like hell. They would not be in attendance because they had not yet been permitted to show their faces in court. They were Murini's clan. The usurper had been their clan lord, though not a popular one. Aseida, the new lord of the Kadagidi, had bodyguards who claimed to have been attached to Aseida from childhood, but ...

But ... there was some question on that point. It was an ongoing investigation. Algini had revealed, in one of his rare, need-to-know briefings, that Aseida, lord of the Kadagidi, was nothing but a figurehead. Algini believed the true force within the Kadagidi was one Haikuti, seniormost of Aseida's aishid. Haikuti was a man Algini didn't trust. Tano had said Haikuti should be taken out, but that that would simply scatter the problem

And, he'd said, Haikuti might not be acting on his own. That he might have a superior hidden deep within the Guild.

Now nameless senior teams had been moved into Ajuri, to call the shots for another noticeably underpowered lord.

Someone able to position units in the field. He had this image of some senior administrator up in Guild Headquarters, quietly moving the right people about like pieces on a chessboard, somebody the honest Guild would never suspect ... shuddery thought.

When they'd come back from space, there'd been an immediate house-cleaning in the Assassins' Guild, retired members coming back to take their old offices and Murini's supporters leaving town in haste.

They might have missed one, however, someone in a position to affect records, cover tracks, and protect others who should have been caught.

"Are you saying Kadagidi is tied to the Ajuri, Jago-ji?"

"We know at least that a leak in Tirnamardi ran to both the Kadagidi and Ajuri - regarding one matter: the specific names of the servants offered to Damiri-daja. One," Jago added with a grim laugh, "was misspelled the same way in both instances."

He had for several months been a little worried about Ajuri - a minor clan, head of a minor association. Minor in every way but one: being Damiri's paternal clan.

Tabini had married Damiri because of her Atageini connections. Atageini clan, Tatiseigi's, was a solid, and important, key in the ancient Padi Valley Association.

And Atageini had supported Tabini in his return - at the risk of its entire existence.

Only then, once the tide had started to turn, had Ajuri show up and joined Tabini's cause, which was being fought on Tatiseigi's land. They'd arrived late: they'd tagged onto Tabini's triumphant return to Shejidan - and once safe in Shejidan others of the family had come in, all anxious to cluster around Cajeiri and Damiri and her father. Her aunt, her cousins ... all had arrived full of solicitation and professed support.

Next time they blinked - the Ajuri lord was dead and Damiri's father was lord and still hovering around the aiji's household, laying claim to his grandson, wanting special privileges and trying to push both Tatiseigi and Ilisidi out of the family picture.

He'd pushed, until one incident in which Tabini had lost patience, thrown the man out on his ear, and tossed Damiri's Ajuri bodyguards and servants directly after him ... one of them a nurse from Damiri's childhood.

"What of Damiri-daja?" He really didn't want to ask that question. But he had to.

"Carrying a viable heir," Jago said, completely off the track of Damiri's personal man'chi. "And if the aiji and his firstborn son were dead, Damiri-daja would still be carrying the heir, and Komaji would be the heir's grandfather. Damiri would likely become aiji-regent."

It was a warm room, the bath. But the heavy air held a chill. He felt all the fatigue of the day and rued that extra half brandy. He needed his brain. And tried to assimilate what Jago was saying.

"One is quite appalled, Jago-ji," he murmured, while the human side oh his brain just said, damn! "She talked, Tabini said, about taking the lordship of Ajuri from her father. Tabini opposes it. We are not talking about Komaji's forced retirement in that case. Are we? We are talking about assassinating her father. Is that talk from her a smokescreen?"

"We are concerned," Jago said. "We want Geigi back in the heavens, where the aiji's enemies have to fear him, and where his authority cannot be threatened. We have tried earlier this year to improve Lord Tatiseigi's security, and he would have none of it, then - but now we have the cooperation of his aishid. They are not young men, not agile, not familiar with modern equipment, and we have told them enough to have them very worried. We are moving in two young teams from Malguri, under the guise of an investigation of the neighbors - not entirely untrue. Their principal duty will be protection of Tatiseigi's household, and instruction of his bodyguard in certain equipment they have not used before. This is entirely outside Guild approval, understand: we have not consulted anyone. The dowager is calling it a courtesy. A loan. And Cenedi has not mentioned it in Guild Council." Jago stood away from the wall, square on her feet. "Two of Cenedi's men are going down to the station tonight to go over the red train thoroughly, and we will be sure the transportation is safe and secure. So do not worry about tomorrow."

"Do you think this situation with Ajuri is going to blow up, or simmer away for a season? We have Cajeiri's guests coming down. That seems certain now. We shall have a fairly controversial, politically sensitive handful of children on holiday. This will be magnet for Ajuri interest, among others."

"And the news services will be very occupied with it."

"Geigi says he could still prevent this visit."

"Best," Jago said, "that it proceed - barring something we have not foreseen. It will let us move about, too, and shift assets without questions raised."

He was appalled. And his brain was overloaded. "Jago-ji. We cannot use these children for a decoy."

"We shall not," Jago said. "Our man'chi is to you, and to Tabini-aiji. We simply ask you let us do as we see necessary for your protection. The young gentleman and his guests - assuming you will be involved with them, which is likely - will give us an opportunity to move in additional security, at various places on the map, assigning them as if they were temporary, without anyone asking too closely into why. We shall be ready to deal with any adverse situations on the peripheries, and once we have sent these visitors back to the space station - we shall simply fail to remove some of our precautions. We will be in a better position, and Ajuri may reconsider its adventurous moves."

That made sense. The balance was what had gotten grossly disrupted. Getting the various sub-associations to settle into a sense of security - or at least a conviction that they would be fools to make a move to upset the peace - was a restoration of the status quo. The whole last year had been full of threats and adjustments - aftershocks from the coup and Tabini's return to power - and that was nothing to the disruptions of the previous two years under Murini.

Getting the balance back - settling the aishidi'tat at peace - that would let hem deal with the problems Geigi had talked about in the heavens, which were no small matter in themselves.

Deal with them before the aliens that had caused the Reunioners to be withdrawn in the first place showed up for a visit and for a look at this place where two species managed to get along ...

They had promised the kyo that was the case, and they had to demonstrate it. The kyo did not share a human or an atevi mindset, and agreement with the kyo, peace with the kyo, rode on things here being as advertised.

"Meanwhile," Jago said, "well that we all get some sleep, Bren-ji. Tomorrow we shall start to solve these things."

Solve things. He liked that notion.

Copyright © 2013 by C. J. Cherryh


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