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Treachery's Tools

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Treachery's Tools

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Author: L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
Publisher: Tor, 2016
Series: The Imager Portfolio: Book 10
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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Treachery's Tools is L. E. Modesitt's tenth novel in the New York Times bestselling Imager Portfolio fantasy series and begins thirteen years after the events of Madness in Solidar, Alastar has settled into his role as the Maitre of the Collegium. Now married with a daughter, he would like nothing better than to focus his efforts on improving Imager Isle and making it more self-sufficient.

However, the rise in fortune of the merchant classes in Solidar over the years does not sit well with the High Holders, who see the erosion of their long-enjoyed privileges. Bad harvests and worse weather spark acts of violence and murder. In the midst of the crisis, some High Holders call for repeals of the Codis Legis, taking authority away from the Rex.

Once again, Alastar must maintain a careful political balance, but he cannot avoid the involvement of the Collegium when someone begins killing students. Trying to protect his imagers and hold Solidar together for the good of all, Alastar stumbles on to a plot by the High Holders involving illegal weapons, insurrection, and conspiracy.


Chapter 17

Alastar awoke early on Mardi, or at least early enough that he was one of the first to arrive for the run around Imagisle. He was also rested enough that he did manage to be among the first of the men to finish, if further behind the leader than usual, unsurprisingly, given the bruises that had shown up on his body. Alyna finished a good hundred yards in front of everyone else, as she usually did, and even farther in front of him than normal.

But then you weren't at your best this morning... and she is fifteen years younger and built like a natural runner. That thought wasn't terribly comforting, because it reminded him that he was no longer a young man, as had Alyna... and yesterday's events. Or not so young as you think you are. He was also well aware that he hadn't been that far in front of either Lystara or Malyna, and that it likely wouldn't be all that long before Malyna would be running as fast as Alyna.

He was still half-pondering that after breakfast and as he and Alyna walked toward the administration building, when she asked, "How sore are you?"

"More aching than sore."

"I still can't believe--"

"I'll try to be more careful. As I said before, seeing a factor with what amounted to a fortified factorage and a small private army wasn't exactly expected."

"There's likely to be more of that," she pointed out. "Just what will you do if you find the High Holder behind the shootings?"

While the question might have appeared simple, it wasn't, Alastar knew. "Capture him, if possible, and force him to stand trial before a justicer." And make sure that he's convicted of murder and treason.

"Do you think any justice would convict him... and if one did, would any High Holder think that the conviction and execution was anything but forced by the Collegium?"

"Some might, but most would think exactly the way you've voiced it." He paused. "In a way, it wouldn't matter, so long as the precedent is set and enforced. People, even High Holders, tend to forget the circumstances of the past and remember the results."

"We may be very busy seeing that such precedents are continued," she replied dryly.

"Do you have a better approach?"

"No," Alyna replied with a short sardonic laugh, "although wiping out any High Holder who is part of this rebellion would be my second thought."

"Perhaps a combination... but we have to find out who's behind it."

"You know Cransyr is. Finding out the others and proving any of it will be harder."

"We both know that." Alastar looked ahead to where Malyna and Lystara were entering the administration building. "They look happy this morning."

"They weren't so happy last night when we drilled them on shields."

"No... but they were so tired that they slept soundly." More soundly than Alastar had, that was certain, since no part of his body had felt without sore spots or bruises.

With shared smiles, the two parted once inside the administration building.

Both Maercyl and Dareyn were waiting in the anteroom when Alastar entered.

"I'll need a few words with Akoryt and Cyran in about half a quint, after I talk to Maitre Thelia. If you two could arrange for that... and for a mount and one escort. I'll be going to the Chateau D'Rex after I finish with Akoryt and Cyran. Oh... any messages?"

"No, sir."

Reflecting that it would have been too much to expect any response from Lorien, Alastar made his way to Thelia's small study. When he entered it, he could immediately see that she must have come in early, because the ledgers were spread across her desk, and she had a sheet of paper on which she had written what looked like a list.

"Have you been able to wrest any more information out of those ledgers, anything that might be useful to the Collegium, anyway?"

"A few, Maitre. Possibly more. There's no sign that he contracted to deliver rifles--if that's what the 'R-2' refers to--before the first sale of fifty rifles in mid-Juyn. There was a payment there of a hundred golds as well. The buyer was just listed as 'R/ag/A/W.' After that, there was the sale and delivery you pointed out. That was in late Juyn. He also received a shipment of walnut wood in late Mayas."

"How do you know it was walnut?" asked Alastar.

"There are some things where everyone uses the same abbreviations."

About when Elthyrd said he'd sold some to Vaschet. "That makes it even more likely that 'R-2' means heavy rifles."

"I thought it might, sir."

"Is there anything else?"

"Vaschet started buying soap from my mother."

"Soap? Why would an iron factor buy soap?"

"It's often mixed with water to cool and lubricate turning benches drilling into metal."

"Rifle barrels?"

"It could be... or any kind of drilling into iron or steel."

"That doesn't give us another factor who might know more," Alastar pointed out.

"Have you considered who manufactures cartridges, and who is buying them?"

Alastar wanted to shake his head. "No. That's an excellent idea... except I don't even know who has a brassworks."

"There are two in L'Excelsis that I know of. Cuipryn is the most likely. He has the best rolling mills... or so I've heard."

"Do you know where his brassworks is located?"

"It's on the west bank of the Aluse about three milles south of the Sud Bridge. There's a stream that enters the river there, and his works are on the north side."

"Might I ask... or does your mother sell tallow and oils... ?"

"She does. I had to know where many factorages and works are located."

"Thank you."

"You're most welcome, Maitre."

As Alastar left her study, he was thinking that Cuipryn's brassworks was yet another place to visit... or perhaps he could send Cyran. Whoever went needed to be a maitre with strong shields. And you definitely haven't fully recovered your shields.

Cyran and Akoryt were waiting in his study. Alastar didn't bother to sit down, although he closed the study door before he began to speak.

"The ledgers confirm, for all practical purposes, that Vaschet is manufacturing and selling large quantities of rifles. His entries are partly in cipher, and that means that those entries don't provide any proof of who is buying the rifles." He turned to Cyran. "I'd like you to ride south to Factor Cuipryn's brassworks--Thelia can tell you where it is if you don't know--and see if you can find out if he is manufacturing brass cartridges for those rifles and who is buying them."

"I'll do what I can, sir."

Alastar turned to Akoryt. "I don't think the sniping is going to stop. They may not be shooting every day, but we need to keep maitres on duty for now. Who are the ones on duty today?"

"Ah... Maitre Arion will be in the west this morning, followed by Maitre Alyna in the afternoon. Arion has very strong shields. On the East Bridge will be Maitre Shaelyt..."

Alastar hadn't realized Alyna would be on duty immediately, although she had mentioned on Solayi that she would be one of the monitors on Mardi. He listened until Akoryt was through. "Good. There's one other thing. Do you have some thirds with good shields and who can hold at least blurring concealments for a good time?"

"Three or four... maybe one or two others."

"I'd like them to watch the Chateau D'Council and take notes on every High Holder who visits for the next few days. They'll have to note livery colors, and a number of other details to determine who the High Holders are."

Akoryt frowned. "Even so..."

"I can help some. Ryel's colors are black and silver. I'll write down that and the others I know in a moment. If High Holders are behind this, it's likely some might actually visit Cransyr. Then, they might not, but at the moment, we don't have much else to go on."

"I can see that."

"After we finish here, I'm headed out to see the rex. He might actually be there this morning."

"I think I'd rather see Factor Cuipryn," said Cyran dryly.

Alastar and Konan crossed the Bridge of Desires at two quints before eighth glass, later than Alastar would have liked, given the time it had taken him to write the listing on High Holders. As he turned his mount onto the Avenue D'Rex Ryen, he noticed the wall of gray clouds to the northwest. Three glasses before the rain arrives? He doubted that he'd be at the Chateau D'Rex anywhere near that long, not given Lorien's apparent desires to avoid meeting with him.

Just before they reached the ring road around the chateau, Alastar turned to Konan. "We'll use blurring concealments from here until we rein up at the chateau."

"Yes, sir," replied the third, if raising his eyebrows in question.

"The rex often seems to find other pursuits when his guards inform him that I am on the ring road riding toward the chateau." "Yes, sir."

Alastar kept his smile to himself.

No sooner had Alastar dropped the blurring shield at the chateau entrance than Guard Captain Churwyl immediately appeared hurrying down the stone steps.

"Good morning, Captain," offered Alastar cheerfully.

"The rex is not expecting you, is he?" asked Churwyl.

"He should be expecting me, although he hasn't requested my presence."

"Should I announce you?"

"Not until I'm at the door to his study," replied Alastar as he dismounted and handed the gray's reins to Konan. As if to punctuate Alastar's words, the gelding whuffed. From the corner of his eyes, Alastar caught Konan's inadvertent smile.

Churwyl trudged up the steps beside Alastar and then through the entry hall and to the grand staircase.

Surprisingly, at the top stood Chelia, wearing a blue riding jacket and trousers. "You apparently avoided his lookouts, Maitre."

"I thought there might be a few. I shouldn't be that long. Not long enough to delay your ride by much."

"He may change his mind about riding... now."

"He might, indeed," agreed Alastar. "If you were looking forward to it, I do apologize, but it might be for the best, since it may rain in a few glasses."

"Don't let me keep you, Maitre."

Alastar nodded and headed for the north corridor, absently wondering why Chelia had made a point of being there. To let you know that Lorien was indeed trying to avoid you? Without saying a word about it? That was certainly possible.

At the door to the study, Alastar turned to the guard captain.

"Maitre Alastar, Your Grace," announced Churwyl.

Alastar did not wait for Lorien's response but opened the door himself, stepped into the study, and closed the door.

"You might have had the courtesy to request a meeting?"

"So that it could be postponed, delayed, or avoided? No, thank you." Alastar dropped into the chair across the goldenwood desk from Lorien. "I haven't heard anything about those petitions."

"I'm still considering them."

"Don't. Rule against the High Holders in all cases." "That's easy enough for you to say."

"So far I've had three young imagers shot and killed and others wounded. It's almost a certainty that High Holders are behind it. High Holder Laevoryn killed Chief Factor Hulet and claims it was self-defense. Whether you want to admit it or not, the High Holders are beginning a rebellion to void all the limits placed on them by the Codex Legis. They're also obviously trying to weaken or destroy the Collegium. Neither set of actions will benefit you... or Solidar."

"That may be... but there's no proof of who's doing all this."

"The High Holder petitions are proof enough. Your own Minister of Justice knows that."

"Sanafryt doesn't wish to sign an opinion at present."

"So they've threatened him as well?"

"He just says I should sign the opinion. I'm not an advocate."

No... just Rex Regis. "You are the final authority."

"That may be, but... there are so many ramifications, Maitre. So many... and all lead to differing trials. I'm so tired of no one being happy with anything."

"The High Holders won't be happy with anything. You give in, and they'll just want more, and before long you'll have a civil war, and then no one will be happy."

"No one's happy now."

"Many of the people are happy... or at least content that Solidar is not in turmoil. They're the ones you don't hear from. The ones who complain are those with wealth and power, and they always want more, except tariffs, and there, they always want lower levies."

"That doesn't lessen the trials."

Alastar nodded, even though he wanted to squeeze shields around Lorien or dowse him with ice water. He also wondered, not for the first time, how Chelia put up with Lorien. "It doesn't, but you still need to deny those petitions... and fairly soon."

"I'll do it in my own good time. You want them denied sooner, you take over as rex."

"You know that won't work."

"Then stop badgering me."

Alastar decided not to press directly. "There's another matter about the shootings of my imagers. I'd be curious to know if Marshal Wilkorn ordered new heavy rifles for the army."

"That's absurd!" Lorien's voice rose. "You're suggesting that the army..."

Alastar shook his head. "I'm just trying to figure out why Vaschet built a new factorage to manufacture rifles. If Wilkorn ordered newer rifles--"

"He didn't." Lorien frowned. "I suppose you need to know. One of his subcommanders did. He ordered a thousand. He didn't have the authority, and the army didn't need any more, except for a few for sharpshooters. Wilkorn canceled the order, except for fifty of them. We had to pay Vaschet an extra hundred golds for the cancellation. He complained bitterly that he'd built a new factorage based on the order and that we ought to pay for that. Wilkorn said an indemnity payment of a hundred golds was more than enough. Alucar said it was far too much."

"If the army didn't need the rifles..."

"There was some confusion about that. Wilkorn insisted that he'd never approved it. The subcommander insisted he had an order with Wilkorn's signature. I wouldn't even have found out about it except that Alucar asked why the army was paying Vaschet damages. Wilkorn wanted to relieve the subcommander, but decided against it after we reviewed the matter."

"Do you remember who the subcommander was?"

"Do you expect me to remember that? I don't even know who's in charge of the Collegium after you and Cyran... and I suppose your wife, since she's also a Maitre D'Esprit. I know Wilkorn, Vice Marshal Vaelln, and Sea Marshal Tynan. I'd recognize other names if I saw them, of course."

Alastar had his doubts that Lorien was that ignorant. "I'm sure you know a few more than that, after all these years."

Lorien dismissed Alastar's words with a gesture, then smiled. "There's one other disturbing matter, Maitre. The factor Vaschet has lodged a complaint against you with the High Justicer."

"Oh? About what?"

"He claims you destroyed the gates to his ironworks, and killed several guards, as well as stole his ledgers. Not to mention assaulting him."

"When I went to visit him, his guards threatened me. I removed their weapons. Then several other guards shot at us. In defending ourselves, the other imager and I may have killed one or two guards, but we tried not to hurt any more than necessary, but when we tried to leave we were attacked by a full squad of men armed with heavy rifles. I did borrow Vaschet's ledgers because he refused to discuss to whom he was selling the rifles being used to kill young imagers."

"Hmmmph" was Lorien's only comment.

"I also discovered that Vaschet is using prisoners as laborers in his ironworks, which is why the walls of the works are fortified."

"So long as the prisoners don't come from L'Excelsis--"

"Nonsense!" snapped Alastar. "It's a violation of the Codex Legis for anyone other than you and High Holders to imprison people, and High Holders can only do so for less than two months under low justice." Even if we both know that provision is observed more in the breach than by compliance. "And only to their own people on their own lands."

"Are you saying that you expect the High Holders to submit to the High Justicer when you do not?"

Alastar looked directly at Lorien and image-projected authority and fury.

Lorien shuddered. "Don't--"

"Stop playing plaques with me! You don't want to make the right decision because it's not comfortable, and you hate being uncomfortable. Right now anything you do will make you uncomfortable. You need to deny those petitions, and you need to do it today. You need to do it because it's what's right; it's what's best for Solidar; and because if you think you're uncomfortable now, you don't want to know just how uncomfortable you'll be if you don't." Alastar paused, for just an instant. "Is that clear, Lorien? Very clear?"

Lorien swallowed. "You didn't have to make a scene."

"You didn't have to be so obtuse. That makes us even. I was rude; you were obtuse." Alastar smiled coldly. "I expect all those petitions that ask you to exempt High Holders from justicing or which would increase their powers and privileges to be denied. Today."

"You wouldn't..."

"I would. Ask your father."

Lorien paled. "It's that important?"

"Yes." More than you know... and all this dilly-dallying around has only made matters worse. But that was the danger in trying not to overmanage Lorien.

"I'll sign. But this will only cause more trouble."

"You're right, but it will cause less trouble than not signing. I'll wait while you sign every last one."

In the end, Alastar spent almost another glass at the chateau, making certain the petitions were all denied and that Minister Sanafryt made copies and sent out the denials.

Then he rode north from the ring road with Konan, heading for army headquarters and Marshal Wilkorn.

Wilkorn was in, not that Alastar expected otherwise, and when Alastar entered his study, he rose slowly from behind the wide desk from which he had directed the army and navy of Solidar for the past thirteen years. "Greetings, Maitre. What troubles bring you here? Don't tell me it's just a friendly visit."

"How about a friendly visit to discuss troubles with which the army, so far as I know, is not directly involved?"

The white-haired marshal gestured to a chair and reseated himself carefully. After all the years, he still favored the leg injured in the troubles that had led to Lorien's becoming rex. "Tell me about it."

"Someone has been using heavy rifles to shoot young imagers. They've also targeted me..." Alastar went on to give a brief summary of what had occurred, including the armed guards at Vaschet's factorage, then finished by saying, "When I talked to Lorien earlier today, he mentioned something about an order of heavy rifles that had never been authorized, but he didn't seem to know much about it... or at least not want to talk about it."

"That doesn't surprise me. I still don't know exactly everything. It all began when Minister Alucar sent a message asking why we needed to draw three thousand golds for a thousand new rifles. Procurements of that magnitude have to go through him, you know."

Alastar nodded. "And?"

"We still had a thousand rifles that have barely been used, and that's after the thousand we shipped to Ferravyl."

"Who in Ferravyl needed a thousand heavy rifles?" asked Alastar. "I thought most of the army in the south was in Solis?"

"Solis turned out to be a mistake. Well, not a mistake, but a miscalculation. A number of the pirates in the Southern Gulf had developed bases within the Sud Swamp, and it's easier to access the north end of the swamp from Ferravyl. For one thing there are the old stone roads that date from the time of the Naedarans, not to mention all the old barracks and quarters and stables that we've been maintaining. So we moved a regiment there from Solis two years ago. The swamp is harder on equipment, and last spring Commander Aestyn asked for the rifles so that he could rotate them, continuous maintenance, you know. We had the extras. So why not?"

"I can see that."

"You can see why I wouldn't have approved anything like purchasing another thousand rifles, right now, anyway. So I summoned Hehnsyn. He's the subcommander in charge of procurement. For almost fifteen years, he's had an excellent record. He's been effective. He's improved procurement... likely saved us thousands of golds... could be more. He even had an order with my name on it. The signature was mine. But I never signed it. I know I didn't. There would have been no way I'd have signed something like that. Or sealed it. Hehnsyn couldn't explain it. He even had a cover memo from Commander Marryt."

"Your chief of staff?"

Wilkorn nodded. "Marryt swore he never signed that, either."

"Who could have taken your seal and forged your signature? Or Marryt's?"

Wilkorn shrugged. "A good forger, I suppose. Possibly Hehnsyn, even, but he couldn't have done the seal... and he had no reason at all to do something like that. It's under lock and hidden, as is the special wax I mix myself. Anyway, the whole episode bothered me a lot, especially since we ended up ordering fifty rifles and paying damages. The new R-2 rifles are better, but not worth half a gold each more, and not when we have an additional thousand perfectly good R-1s for an army that won't likely do much fighting except against a few pirates or the occasional peasant riot."

"What did you do with Hehnsyn?"

"Cautioned him. He has a perfect record... and since he is the younger son of High Councilor Cransyr..."

"Did you mention that to Lorien?"

"How could I not, Maitre? I wanted to transfer Hehnsyn to other duties. The rex said that he had enough problems with the High Holders without creating more."

Alastar nodded slowly. "He does have problems with the High Holders, especially with Cransyr." He paused. "Vaelln and Tynan... I understand that Vaelln comes from a factoring background, and you once said that Tynan came from a merchanting family."

"That's right. Tynan's the fourth son. If his sire owned as much in land as he does in ships, he'd easily be a High Holder. According to Tynan, his father says that land just costs too much, both to buy and to manage, and that the return is poor at best."

"I assume you're watching Hehnsyn?"

"For now. When things die down, I think a tour in the south, along the Southern Gulf, or out of Ferravyl, ferreting out the landings of what pirates are left, would be good for him." Wilkorn smiled wryly. "I thought about putting in for my stipend, but then, with this and what Lorien said about the High Holders, I decided to put that off for a year or so."

"Have you told anyone?"

The marshal shook his head. "You're the only one."

"It might be best..."

Wilkorn nodded.

"How much better are the new rifles?"

"They're better, but not enough to make a difference except to a sharpshooter aiming at targets more than four hundred yards away. You can load them faster, as well. We'll end up buying more, but not for a while."

"Several others have bought over two hundred of them. I'm thinking they were bought by High Holders."

"I can't say I like the sound of that, not if they're the ones who shot your young imagers." Wilkorn frowned. "And why would a factor be using that many of them?"

"I don't know, and that bothers me. I can't see him targeting young imagers. That seems more like High Holders. In that light, you might keep an even closer eye on Hehnsyn."

"I can do that." Wilkorn sighed. "Hate it when Lorien gets involved." "That makes two of us."

After more general conversation, and a few parting pleasantries, Alastar left the headquarters building, and he and Konan began the ride back to Imagisle.

As he neared the Bridge of Desires, just before second glass, Alastar was struck immediately by the two imagers positioned beside the sentry box on the Imagisle side of the bridge, neither of whom was Alyna. When he reached the middle of the bridge he could see that one was Akoryt and the other was Taryn, who immediately called out, "Maitre Alyna is fine."

Which means that someone else has been shot.

Alastar said nothing until he reined up beside the sentry box and looked down at Akoryt. "Who got shot?"

"Primus Wrestyl. The shooter hit him in the back of the skull. If Maitre Alyna hadn't been there, we might well have lost another student imager."

"How did it happen?"

"They were over there on the slope. It's shielded from the north and west, but the shooter was under that tree to the south on the west side of the river. It's the only place anywhere that could have hit the two. It's a tiny space. The shooter must have waited for glasses."

"You said 'two.' "

"Alyna saw Wrestyl fall, and she did something to protect Boltyn. Then, because she couldn't see the shooter from the sentry box, she ran onto the causeway to the bridge and imaged a hail of iron darts, then froze him in place. There was another shooter, but no one ever saw him. He loosed at least ten shots at Alyna. Taryn and I crossed the bridge under full shields and brought back the body and the first shooter's gear. The body's in the surgery. It wasn't the blond man."

Ten shots at Alyna? Alastar managed not to swallow.

"No one saw the other shooter," added Taryn. "Even Alyna didn't see him, but she pointed us to where he had to have been. She'd imaged more darts, but didn't know if she'd hit the second man. We checked the area around where we thought he was, and found nine spent cartridges, but nothing else. Well... some blood, but it wasn't enough to stop him from getting away."

"Or from someone helping him get away. Were there any signs of mounts?"

"There was no way to tell if they had them tied up behind the shops. No one remembers seeing anyone in particular. It's a busy place. People tie up mounts, visit the shops, and then leave."

"Where's Alyna?"

"At the surgery... or maybe in your study. She said she'd be there after she learned what she could from Gaellen."

Alastar decided to ride directly to the administration building, not only to see whether Alyna was there, but to discover if there were any other messages. Once he left his mount with Konan and made his way toward his study, he found that Maercyl was alone in the anteroom.

"Dareyn gets tired in the afternoon," the second explained. "Maitre Alyna is in your study, and you have a message from the Factors' Council."

"Thank you." Alastar took the sealed missive and entered the study, looking to Alyna as he closed the door behind himself. "Are you all right?"

"Tired, but I'm fine. I've already had a lager." Alyna remained seated in the middle chair before the desk. "How about you?"

"I had to lose my temper with Lorien and stand over him while he wrote the denials of all the High Holder petitions," Alastar began as he sat down in the chair beside Alyna. "Then I went to see Marshal Wilkorn... and discovered that one Subcommander Hehnsyn, a junior son of Cransyr, had ordered a thousand heavy rifles for the army-- without authorization--and that when Wilkorn tried to relieve him of his duties, Lorien insisted that he not do so, because he said he didn't want any more trouble with the High Holders. When I mentioned the rifles to Lorien, he did say that the army had had a procurement problem with them, but denied knowing the subcommander who made the order in Wilkorn's name, yet Wilkorn insisted that Lorien not only knew, but directed him not to relieve Hehnsyn. Most disturbing was the fact that someone duplicated Wilkorn's seal and signature without his knowledge."

"Why would Hehnsyn do such a thing? What would it gain him?"

"It wouldn't gain him anything, but Vaschet claimed he never would have built the new rifle facility without the large order from the army... and he demanded damages for what he regarded as cancellation of the order. Wilkorn ended up buying fifty rifles and paying a hundred golds in damages. He admitted that the new rifles are more accurate at a greater distance."

"With the result that High Holders now have over two hundred new heavy rifles they wouldn't otherwise have. What is Wilkorn going to do about Hehnsyn?"

"Watch him closely for now."

"That's probably better for the moment."

Alastar had no doubts that Alyna had ideas about what should happen to Hehnsyn. "I talked to Akoryt. He summarized what happened. What else was there that you didn't tell him? Besides taking something like ten shots to your shields?"

"Not much."

"How badly are you bruised?'

"I'm sore all over, but there aren't any bruises. Not yet anyway."

"And it was more like fifteen shots," suggested Alastar.

"It might have been, but one at a time is different from twenty at once... twice. I wasn't counting. I just wanted to kill some of the shooters so that they wouldn't think they could keep firing away with impunity. After I made sure that Boltyn was all right." She smiled faintly. "I also didn't want anyone left to shoot at you. Your shields still aren't fully recovered."

"Probably not. Besides the one you killed, Akoryt said you wounded another one."

"Good. He should die."

Alastar raised his eyebrows. "Poisoned iron darts?"

"Of course. I studied the bullets they used. It wasn't hard to duplicate them. It's also easy to refine bleufleur with imaging. I even think I might be able to image it directly. Anyone who goes around shooting young people and children deserves what they get." She paused. "Tiranya knows how to do those darts also. She said she'd teach Shaelyt."

"Just Maitres D'Structure for now, I hope."

"Of course."

Alastar had his doubts about that, but decided not to comment. "You know Cyran has been working with Arthos to copy those bullets..."

"You want me to see if it can be done with imaging?"

"They have to fit snugly, but not too snugly, into a rifle barrel." "We don't use rifles."

Alastar nodded. "I know. I'm thinking ahead."


"I hope it doesn't come to that. Oh... one other thing." He lifted the missive. "I also just got this from the Factors' Council. I haven't read it. I forgot to tell you that Vaschet has lodged a complaint against me for forcing my way into his ironworks, a complaint that doubtless overlooks his own myriad offenses. I imagine this is a protest against my high-handed acts."

"I wouldn't wager against you." Alyna smiled sadly. "You were highhanded, you know?"

"I'm aware of that, but if I had been polite it would have taken weeks to get the information, and with four young imagers dead already, I felt that haste and high-handedness were necessary. Do you disagree?"

"No. You might as well find out what the council thinks."

"They won't be happy," predicted Alastar as he slit open the envelope with his belt knife. He began to read.

Maitre Alastar--

Factorius Vaschet has made a disturbing claim--that you forced your way into his ironworks, destroying costly gates in the process, that you killed three guards in doing so, and that you removed private financial records over his objections.

While the council understands your concerns about discovering who might be using the rifles produced by Vaschet, it feels that your actions could be a prosecutable offense under the Codex Legis. If a satisfactory explanation is not forthcoming, the council will be obligated, under its charter to protect its members, to seek a hearing before the High Justicer...

Alastar shook his head, then continued reading. seek recompense and possible punishment.

We look forward to your early response.

The signature was that of Elthyrd, as acting chief of the Factors' Council of L'Excelsis.

Alastar handed the missive to Alyna and waited as she read it. "He's being pressed by Vaschet... and others."

"Vaschet's an idiot. I'm the one trying to protect their interests, and they want to make it harder for me?"

"Golds can make any man an idiot. But Vaschet's not an idiot. He's been forced to make the complaint and petition by whichever High Holder or Holders bought the rifles. In all likelihood... didn't you tell me that Thelia thought he would have failed if he hadn't been backed in building the new factorage?"

"She thought it was possible."

"The complaint splits the factors, or could, at a time when they should be united. Thelia did tell me she was afraid you didn't fully understand just how angry your taking Vaschet's ledgers would make some factors."

"So I was set up by Vaschet and whatever High Holders are backing him?"

"That likely wasn't the initial purpose, but Cransyr's a complete opportunist, and you gave him the opening."

"If I hadn't..."

"Dearest... I agree that it had to be done. You could have spent days or weeks otherwise, but it does create certain problems."

"Like having some factors think I'm just like the High Holders."

"Not all High Holders."

"No. Your brother wouldn't do that, and neither would Calkoran... or a few others.

"More than a few, but a lot of them don't pay much attention to what happens in L'Excelsis."

"Not until it's too late."

"There is that."

"I never asked you what you found out about the shooter."

"I had Thelia look at his garb. The cloth was fairly new. It comes from Montagne, in the same region as Cransyr's lands. So does that particular dark brown dye. I didn't recognize the rifle, but it is very new. The exterior of the barrel is octagonal. That suggests that they used a flat grinding wheel, rather than a turning bench."


"That would speed up production. It would also leave the turning benches free for more precise work."

Once again, Alastar was struck by how much Alyna knew about so many things. "You had those in Rivages?"

"And at the porcelain works."

"What about the shooter?"

"There were some silvers in his wallet, and he had a good knife. Old and well-used, but a good blade. Solid leather boots. Gaellen said they were like the ones used by the army."

"It's sounding more and more like someone, maybe several High Holders, have built a small fighting force."

"I'd have to agree--"

At that moment, there was a rap on the door.

"Maitre Cyran is here," announced Maercyl.

"Have him come in."

Cyran entered, a satisfied look on his face, and closed the door.

"From your expression, you must have discovered something. What might that be?"

Cyran grinned wryly. "That Thelia's directions needed a little help, and that Cuipryn doesn't think much of Vaschet. He was happy to tell me who bought up all the cartridge cases he machined. It won't help us much, though."


The Maitre D'Esprit nodded. "Exactly. Cuipryn only supplied the empty cases. Vaschet actually makes the complete cartridges and the bullets."

Which means he's also likely the one who made the poisoned bullets, using bleufleur from Cransyr or another High Holder.

"Did anyone else buy any?" asked Alyna.

"The army buys some every season. It varies."

"Did you find out when he sold them to Vaschet?" Alastar could only hope he did, because he hadn't asked Cyran to find that specific.

"Actually, I did. He even checked his ledgers and then wrote out the sale dates and amounts."

"That was helpful."

"It might be because his cousin's son is a junior imager."


"Eshtyl. He's a second who works for Petros. Cuipryn was worried because he didn't visit this past Samedi. He was happy to know that Eshtyl was safe... and not very happy about the shootings." Cyran extended a sheet of paper.

Alastar took it, studied it briefly, then stood. "Excellent. Let's go see Thelia." He looked to Alyna, questioningly.

"I'll wait here. Three of us in her study would be cramped."

"You're sure?"

Alyna nodded.

In moments, the two senior imagers were entering Thelia's study.

She looked up. "Yes, Maitres?"

"We need you to find transactions in Vaschet's ledger that occurred on these dates for roughly these amounts."

Thelia frowned.

"Vaschet bought the cartridges from Cuipryn, and he likely resold them at a profit to someone else."


"Now," said Alastar firmly, handing her the sheet. "Here's the information."

Neither Alastar nor Cyran said a word as the maitre of accounts opened Vaschet's master ledger. After a time, she glanced up. "It looks like he coded the cartridges as 'CC.' The golds match, but the numbers are way off."

Alastar remembered something. "High or low?"

"The ones in Vaschet's accounts are too high."

"Cuipryn likely charged him by the pallet, while Vaschet broke the pallets down and charged by the case. See if dividing by twenty works."

After several moments, Thelia replied. "Twenty doesn't work. Twentyfive does."

"Can you tell to whom he sold them?"

"He's using the same codes for the cartridges as for the rifles, and the dates are the same or within a few days."

Which doesn't tell us all that much. At the same time, Alastar was fairly certain that the HHC code was for the High Council, but there were more than a few High Holders whose name began with 'R,' including Ryel.

After another half quint, Thelia said, "I can't find any other codes like that."

"Thank you." Alastar paused. "If you'd make a copy of that sheet for your use and return the original?"

"Yes, sir."

Alastar and Cyran walked back to the anteroom.

"Is there anything else you need from me, sir?"

"Not right now." Alastar laughed. "I'll likely think of something after you go, but I can't think of anything."

After Cyran turned, Alastar reentered his study, closing the door. Alyna waited.

"The cartridges went where the rifles went, but..."

"There's no proof besides initials."

He nodded. "I need to write a response to Elthyrd and the Factors' Council. If you wouldn't mind waiting and reading over what I write."

"I can do that. The girls are at the factorage with Tiranya."

More than two quints and several drafts later, Alastar read through what he hoped would be his final draft.

Elthyrd D'Factorius
Chief (Acting)

Council of Factors, L'Excelsis

I understand that Factor Vaschet has lodged a complaint against me, as Maitre of the Collegium Imago, for acts undertaken on Lundi, 9 Erntyn, 402, A.L., to wit:

  1. Forcibly entering his ironworks, destroying two gates in the process.
  2. Attacking and killing three guards.
  3. Assaulting Factor Vasche
  4. Removing certain ledgers.

In response:

  1. Two imagers removed the gates and entered the ironworks after they were attacked by eight armed guards who opened fire with heavy rifles. One guard was killed when the imagers defended themselves. The gates were removed, not destroye
  2. When one imager attempted to locate Factor Vaschet a second guard attacked that imager with a blade. The imager killed the guard in self-defense.
  3. Factor Vaschet was asked to reveal who had purchased large quantities of the heavy rifles used to kill four imagers to date. The imager was not inquiring about costs, profits, or any private financial informatio Vaschet refused to divulge that information and threatened the imager.
  4. The imager restrained Vaschet and removed certain ledgers, with the promise that they would be returned, and without divulging financial information to any other factors or High Holders.
  5. When leaving the ironworks, the two imagers were again attacked, this time by roughly twenty guards also armed with heavy It is possible that another guard might have died as a result of the imagers' departure. The imagers did not attack the guards, but merely rode through the formation.

Further, it is noted that bringing an action against the Collegium might be unwise since: (1) Factor Vaschet was observed to have been operating a prison and using prisoners to operate facilities at the ironworks, a practice forbidden under the Codex Legis. Should that be the case, the entire ironworks could be confiscated by the rex; (2) by failing to disclose the purchaser of heavy rifles used to murder four imagers, Factor Vaschet could be brought before even a regional justice as an accessory to murder.

Under these circumstances, it is suggested that any complaint be withdrawn, and that Factor Vaschet be investigated for his own violations of the Codex Legis.

After rereading the reply, Alastar handed it to Alyna. "Will this suffice?"

She read it slowly, then looked up. "You could still be prosecuted."

"I could, but do you think the council will press under the circumstances?"

"It's unlikely, but right now, who knows? When will you send it?"

"Tomorrow morning, unless you think I should send it now."

"Tomorrow. Wait to sign it until then... when you're certain. That's soon enough. We should go home. We both need a good meal with the girls, and they need us to be there."

Alastar could see that. He smiled and extended a hand to Alyna. She took it and rose, although she did not need the assistance, for which Alastar was most grateful, for more than one reason.

Copyright © 2016 by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.


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