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Imager's Challenge

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Imager's Challenge

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Author: L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
Publisher: Tor, 2009
Series: The Imager Portfolio: Book 2
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-Genre Tags: High Fantasy
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Still recovering from injuries received in foiling the murderous plot of a Ferran envoy, Rhenn begins new duties as imager liaison to the Civic Patrol of L'Excelsis. While dealing with his new duties, which include patrolling some of the most dangerous streets in the city, Rhenn receives formal notice that a vengeful High Holder, the father of a man Rhenn partly blinded in self-defense, has declared his intention to destroy Rhenn and his family.

Rhenn's only allies against this vendetta are the family of the woman he loves, successful merchants with underworld connections. Rhenn must stand against gang lords, naval marines, Tiempran terrorist priests, the most powerful High Holder in all of Solidar, and ultimately his own Collegium-and prevail without further endangering those he loves.



On Vendrei, the twentieth of Erntyn, just before the bells rang out the seventh glass of the morning, I hurried across the quadrangle of the Collegium to the administration building to meet with Master Dichartyn--imager Maitre D'Esprit, the director of all security operations for the imagers of Solidar, the second-most senior imager of the Collegium Imago, and my immediate superior. The faint mist that had hovered above the grass earlier had lifted, and the morning was cooler than usual, perhaps foreshadowing the end of harvest and the coming chill of fall. Both moons were high in the morning sky, with Artiema close to full and Erion waning, although they were easy to miss in the white sunlight angling over L'Excelsis, sunlight that tended to turn the granite buildings of Imagisle a whitish gray.

As I reached the open door to Master Dichartyn's firstfloor study, the first bell rang out from the tower of Anomen d'Imagisle.

"Come in, Rhennthyl."

I entered the small room with its single desk and bookcase, and but two chairs. Master Dichartyn stood beside the narrow window with its louvered leaded glass panes cranked full open. He turned and nodded for me to close the door. His dark brown hair was shot with gray, more than even a few months before, it seemed to me, but the circles under his eyes did not seem quite so dark, and his narrow face was not quite so haggard. A faint smile rested on his lips.

I closed the door, but did not sit.

"How are you feeling, Rhenn?"

"Most of the soreness in my ribs is gone, and Master Draffyd feels that I'm ready. He did suggest that I wear the rib brace for another two weeks as a precautionary measure."

"Given your ... tendencies, that's doubtless wise." He gestured toward the writing desk, on which rested a silver pin--the four-pointed star of the Collegium, encircled by a thin band of silver. "You've seen those, haven't you?"

"Only on Master Poincaryt, sir. I wondered if he wore it because he was the head of the Collegium."

Master Dichartyn shook his head. "You know we don't wear images of rank ... not precisely. The pin merely signifies that you are a master imager, but not what class of master. We've found that it reduces misunderstandings for those imagers who have to work outside the Collegium. You wouldn't be wearing it except for your assignment as Collegium liaison to the Civic Patrol of L'Excelsis." He paused. "Go on. Put it on."

I picked up the pin and fastened it onto my gray waistcoat-- the same cut and style as worn by all imagers--at the same spot where Master Poincaryt had worn his, just below the point of the left collar of my pale gray shirt.

"Good. That's where it belongs. Now ... take it off. You only wear it while you're away from the Collegium and on duty with the Patrol--or going to or returning from such duty."

"Yes, sir."

"You'll report to Commander Artois at eighth glass on Lundi. After that, I imagine you'll have to be there at seventh glass. Do you know where the Patrol headquarters are?"

"They're a block or so up Fedre from East River Road, aren't they?"

"That's right. Now ..." Master Dichartyn fingered his clean-shaven chin, not that any imager was bearded, as he often did when he was considering how to word something precisely. "Commander Artois is a solid, sometimes brilliant man. He doesn't like the Collegium, but he does like imagers like you--too brave for your own good. He knows that you've taken out the Ferran and three other assassins."

Master Dichartyn smiled wryly. "He also doesn't like facts being kept from him, and he's not terribly fond of surmises or other ideas that aren't backed with solid evidence. This could present a certain problem for you."

I could see that, because I often felt how things might go long before I could prove it. While I was usually right, I certainly wasn't infallible, and that could prove difficult.

"Oh ... you might be interested to know that while you were recovering, the First Minister of Ferrum recalled their delegation to Ferrial for consultations and a proper period of mourning for the death of Envoy Vhillar."

"Did Master Poincaryt have to suggest anything?" I wanted to know if the head of the Collegium had been required to use the threat of revealing that Vhillar had been a renegade imager.

"Apparently not." There was a glint in Master Dichartyn's eyes before he added, "The letter of sympathy for the unfortunate accident did mention that Master Poincaryt also sent his regrets for the loss of such an able envoy with talents that were far beyond his portfolio. That was sufficient, it appears."

I nodded.

"From time to time, you will continue to meet with Maitre Dyana, Rhennthyl. Your skills in indirection may be adequate for the civic patrollers, but they leave something to be desired for someone who will need to deal with High Holders in the future."

That was a veiled reminder and reprimand all in one. "Yes, sir."

"Now ... so far as your new duties go ... you've studied the procedures manual of the Civic Patrol closely, but remember that events on the street seldom accommodate themselves to written procedures. I'm certain that you've considered this, but wherever possible, let the patrollers have the credit for what happens. If matters go badly, and it is your fault, take the blame. Take all of it. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir." What that meant was that matters had better not go badly where I was involved.

"Do you have any questions?"

"No, sir." I didn't know enough about my new duties to have questions, and as in so many events of the past year, I had the feeling that by the time I knew enough to ask questions, it would be too late.

"Unless you run into extreme difficulties, I'll see you here next Jeudi evening at half past five."

"Next Jeudi at half past five."

He nodded, and I inclined my head in return, then opened the door to the small study, a chamber most modest for the second-most powerful imager in Solidar, and perhaps in the entire world of Terahnar.

As I walked across the quadrangle to return to my quarters and to continue my studies of the procedures manual of the Civic Patrol, I couldn't help but wonder over the circumstances that had brought me from a journeyman portraiturist to an imager Maitre D'Aspect. While I certainly hadn't planned on being an imager, I knew that being an imager was far more palatable to my father than being an artist had been. As an imager, even as a low-level master, I had status, even a hint of power, and that was something my father the wool factor could appreciate, and now that I had a beautiful and acceptable young woman in Seliora interested in me, my mother was hopeful that, despite her Pharsi background, a marriage would be in the offing.

There were a few problems with being an imager that they did tend to gloss over, such as my having been wounded twice in the past year, and others that I hadn't mentioned in any detail to them, such as my unresolved difficulties with High Holder Ryel, who was absolutely certain, sooner or later, to try to destroy me in some fashion or another, or the fact that Seliora's family, while certainly wealthy, still possessed certain connections that were highly useful, but not necessarily totally legal.

Copyright © 2009 by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.


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