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by Engor

Chapter 57

Xarax was not happy. He knew that every minute's delay was making an already tricky situation worse. Aldegard had to be told of Julien's return as quickly as possible so that he could deal with the rumours which were sure to run unchecked through the R'hinz if the Emperor failed to create a new Mirror for Dvârinn. But it was impossible to fly in this sort of weather. Eventually he might be able to find a Guide to take him to Nüngen, but he was reluctant to make use of the Guides at the moment: there were too many unanswered questions about their part in the Emperor's disappearance, and he couldn't be sure that some of them at least were not working with Yulmir's enemies.

So since he was stuck on the Gyalmangs' trankenn he decided to use the time to gather information by using his ability to blend into the background to listen in on private conversations. This was fairly easy, not least because nobody would think to protect themselves from concealed haptirs – after all, apart from the Emperor's Haptir, whom nobody ever saw, haptirs never left Kretzlal. For most inhabitants of the other eight worlds haptirs were no more than creatures who only existed in fairy stories.

The first thing his eavesdropping uncovered was that Lord Margoth of the Vedaris was having a torrid affair with one of the newly-married daughters of his liege lord, and that the lady's husband, the Noble Lord Aughtem, even though he had not yet visited his wife's bed (he preferred to receive the attentions of a muscular lieutenant of the guard) was intending to have his revenge in a way which his wife's lover would not enjoy at all. Aughtem had declared his intention of giving his wife an exquisite pie whose contents would include, among other delicacies, her lover's family jewels. Convention, he asserted, permitted him to do this with impunity, because although unmarried ladies were free to entertain themselves in any way they wished, such amusements were considered most unbecoming once a lady had taken her wedding vows. The fact that he did not consider his private life to be in any way restricted by his own vows didn't seem to bother anyone who was aware of his intentions.

As far as Xarax was concerned this was of no real interest, but the second thing he found out about was potentially far more important. It seemed that the Noble Lord Nandak, soon to be First Lord of the Ksantiris, was gathering his most ambitious vassals around him in preparation for a campaign to extend the dominion of his House into new areas, ones which his Noble Father had inexplicably ignored. He also felt that some minor archipelagos, which were displaying unwholesome aspirations towards independence, needed to be reminded of their allegiance as soon as possible, even if that should mean entrusting their government to more reliable hands – the hands, for example, of the new First Lord's most faithful vassals. Naturally Lord Delian of the Gyalmangs was determined to demonstrate that he was the most faithful of Lord Nandak's vassals, which is why his trankenn was sailing, despite the appalling weather, to rendezvous with the First Trankenn, where he would be able to reiterate his allegiance to his Lord in the clearest possible way, with his ship sailing behind the First Trankenn, while the other nobility would have to rely instead on being transported to their master's presence by Guides.

But what really piqued Xarax's interest was an exchange between Delian and his Master-at-arms. The Master-at-arms of a Noble Family was responsible for the training and upkeep of the Family's army, but also for everything that directly or indirectly concerned the Family's weapons, and in the discussion overheard by Xarax, Lord Delian informed his Master-at-arms in carefully indirect language that Lord Nandak had promised to supply him with some 'decisive arguments' recently discovered in a secret cache that dated from before the fall of Tchenn Ril. In other words, the Lord of the Gyalmangs had been offered, in exchange for his support, the use of forbidden weapons which would give him a position of unchallengeable supremacy over his enemies.

Of course, this was nothing new: Nandak was far from the first young wolf to dream of building himself an Empire and using unorthodox methods to achieve it. But in this case the timing was clearly bad, and if it wasn't nipped in the bud it would set a dreadful precedent. And of course the real problem was that nobody could deal with this properly except the Emperor.

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