Warlord S. M. Stirling and David Drake



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Chapter Eleven


"Ser."

"Hunnha!" Raj sprang erect, throwing aside a blanket he didn't remember pulling over himself.

"Ser, we're here." M'lewis' voice had a lisp to it now, with most of his front teeth missing. A thick cup of kave steamed in his hands. Raj took it, trying to stop the tremors in his own.

"I was back in the desert," he said, more to himself than anyone else. Most of the other fifteen figures scattered around the lounge of the steamboat Orbital Paradise were as unconscious as he had been a moment ago. All were as filthy-shaggy, uniforms caked and stained until the original color was undetectable. "On the retreat, the third night, when they tried to overrun us again, and the gun blew up, you know. I was back there."

"We're here, ser," M'lewis repeated patiently.

Raj took three careful deep breaths, and a sip of the kave; it had plum brandy in it, and the combination hit the acid tension in his stomach hard enough to make him gasp. The others were beginning to stir, as the city noise penetrated the shuttered windows; Suzette slept on, looking absurdly young curled on the cushions beneath a window. Then the steam whistle cut loose above their heads, and every single one of them rolled upright with a weapon in their hands, crouched and ready. The steamboat's captain had not objected to their commandeering the upper salon, not more than once, at least.

And none of them was going to be able to sleep without their rifles by their sides, not for a long time.

"Arrg," Foley said. "I feel worse than I did when we got on this tub."

True enough, Raj thought dully. When you were riding fast you didn't have time to think. The whistle roared again; they were well past the cut where the docking canal took off from the Hemmar and passed through the thick water-gates of East Residence. The Orbital Paradise was a hundred feet long and half as wide, a shallow-draft hull just big enough to carry the engines that wheezed and chuffed beneath them, with a superstructure like a rectangular wedding cake topped by the twin smokestacks. The paddle wheel at the rear churned into reverse as they slid into the dock, nudging into the rope buffers.

The quays were as crowded as usual, all except this one. A troop of heavy cavalry waited, down where the crewmen were manhandling the gangplank across to the pavement and looping thigh-thick ropes to the bollards; men in the uniform of Vernier's Own. Twenty men on powerful Newfoundlands, in black uniforms and gauntlets, burnished black steel breastplates, helmets topped with black jersauroid plumes. All of them were leading extra dogs, ready-saddled.

The lieutenant of the escort saluted and began a speech of some sort as Raj and his Companions clattered down the gangplank; he stopped in mid-word as they walked past him without pausing.

"My, ain't they purty," M'lewis lisped, as the Descotters swung into the saddle with graceless ease.

"Barholm wanted me soonest," Raj said. "Probably for the frying post. Let's not keep the executioner waiting, shall we?"

* * *

"Out! Useless sluts, halfwits, out, out!" barked Anne, Lady Clerett. She was dressed in pale cream with black trim, the colors of mourning, and she swept forward toward her friend with arms outstretched. "No, wait, you, fetch refreshments, prepare the baths, fetch clothing for Lady Whitehall. Well, don't stand there gaping, go!" The slavegirls fled in a twitter of voices and fabric.

"Oh, Anne," Suzette mumbled, letting herself slump forward. Her carbine thumped to the floor and the Hammamet carpet as she rested her head on the other woman's shoulder and let the strong maternal hug support her weariness. But business could not wait more than moments.

"I'm filthy, I've got fleas, your dress," she said, as Anne guided her to a chair. A flash of acute embarrassment at her state went over her; the room was not large, but it was roofed in pale yellow glass and walled with torofib silk printed in delicate patterns of reeds and lotus and jewel-scaled marsh sauroids. Cool air sighed up through cast-bronze grills in the floor, driven by steam-powered fans in the vaults far below. Nobody could say that Anne used her position with new-rich showiness; she had set herself to learn an aristocrat's version of good taste with the same fierce determination she used on any other task she undertook. A good deal of it had been tutoring by her friend Suzette, Missa Wenqui as she had been then . . .

"Here, sweet," Anne said, hard triumph in her voice, as she pushed a silver frame across the inistaria table between them. "You've got just time to read this, then a bite and a shower and my masseur and a full dress-up."

Suzette blinked crusted, red-rimmed eyes down at the frame. It was the letter she had sent from Komar, but annotated in vermilion ink, a man's blocky writing. By the end of the missive the pen had been pressed hard enough to tear the paper.

"My husband was so interested," Anne said. "And Chancellor Tzetzas was . . . horrified at what his subordinates had done in his name." A lazy cat-smile. "So horrified that he signed over every inch of land and scrap of personal property in the County of Komar to the Vice-Governor." Her fingernails pressed the inlays of the table. "He's too useful . . . Barholm thinks he's too useful . . . to dispose of now. And Suzie—" the long-fingered hands closed on hers "—your man certainly came out of this better than anyone else. Better than that fool Stanson, who seems to have done nothing more than get half his behind shot off. Which should make him twice as stupid."

"I missed," Suzette mumbled, fatigue-poisons blurring her eyes.

"What was that?" Anne looked up sharply.

"I said, he won't be missed," she replied more clearly. A thought made her blink at Anne's mourning clothes. "Someone's died?" she asked.

"Someone's going to, my dear. Someone's going to."

* * *

Raj felt himself toppling forward off the bench and jerked himself upright again. He was attracting a few glances, here in the Star Chamber, but less than might be expected; theological controversy was the city's pride and sport, and there was plenty of it here. The great round chamber was filled to capacity with Hierarchs, Sysups, Analysts, Grammers, Church dignitaries of every type and variety from all over the Civil Government; there were even representatives of the Central and Western Territories Sysuprics, in old-fashioned vestments and talking with Spajol accents. Many of them looked a little uneasy, since the Spirit of Man of This Earth was the state cult in the areas ruled by the Military Governments, and the Orthodox from those lands were not used to operating so openly.

Barholm sat behind him, on a throne that had risen soundlessly to head-height on a hydraulic column; he was in full vestments as Supreme Pontiff, strictly speaking the Governor's prerogative, resting his chin on one fist. The light through the Star-shaped skylight in the domed ceiling cast a hard glitter on the jewels and metallic thread in his robes, the gold and ebony of the chair.

"And it says clearly in the Canonical Handbook," the speaker at the podium in the center of the room was droning, "that the greater set subsumes the lesser, the metaphysical implications of this being, firstly, that all subroutines are necessary but not sufficient to the operation of the code, and secondly, that an operational subroutine may therefore be treated as a virtual entity in, though not obviously for or by, itself. Thus if—as I hold Orthodox doctrine to state—the Spirit of Man of the Stars is the Spirit governing all stars, and since the Star of This Earth is unquestionably a Star, and since This Earth is unquestionably in orbit around that Star and therefore under the celestial influence and governance of that Star, then the Spirit of Man of This Earth—" there was an audible gasp at the mention of the deity of the western heretics who ruled in the barbaricum and lost territories "—is actually no more than a facet of the Spirit of Man of the Stars!"

"Heresy!" Shouts of outrage from the sloping tiers of seats. The speaker was a Regional Sysup from Ayzof, a town on the northeastern shore of Pierson's Sea; she was in full cannonicals, silver jumpsuit and overrobe, and headdress with wire-rimmed glasses and Starburst over her head. "Heresy!" A claque of Renunciate Nun abbesses in the upper tiers tried to start a chant: Dig up her bones! Dig up her bones!

"Silence!" Barholm thundered. "This is a meeting of the rulers of Holy Federation Church, not a street riot!" Monastic guards trotted around the pathway behind the upper seats and pushed or clubbed the white-suited abbesses back into their seats. It was a minute before the buzz of conversation died down; Barholm's own aides on the bench beside Raj were engaged in a heated if whispered debate, arguing the use of the archaic plural in the Cannonical Handbook's terminology for "Star."

"—and therefore," the Regional Sysup was continuing doggedly, reading from the notes on the lectern before her, "the This Earth Spiritists are, though they know it not, neither heretics nor pagans such as Christos or Jews or Muslims, but rather children of Holy Federation Church in schism from ecclesiastical authority only, and therefore ripe for reunion." She touched her amulet, a commo unit of venerable age, the cracks in its synthetic housing inlaid with precious metals. "Endfile."

"Endfile," the assembled clergy murmured.

"The Chair logson the Honorable Sysup-Representative of the Priest of the Residential parish," Barholm intoned. The man who took the podium next was tall and lanky, with a nasal Western accent to his archaic book-learned Sponglish; the representative of the Priest of the old Residence, second only to the Governor in the formal hierarchy of the Church, but under the political control of the Earth Spiritist barbarians of the Brigade.

"Waaal," he drawled. "Thissehere argument is interestin', but I cain't rightly say it means much. Because whether or not we think the Brigaders is heretics, they surely does think we is heretics, and won't nohow reenter communion with Holy Federation Church. Unless you planning to whup them." Barholm tensed, then relaxed fractionally. "Endfile."

"Endfile," the crowd murmured, sounding disappointed at the pithy brevity.

Raj remembered an ancient chronicle he had read, of a previous synod: a Sysup from the provinces had said, In East Residence, if you ask a baker for bread he will tell you that the Spirit proceeds from the Stars; if you inquire of the bath attendant whether the water is hot, she will reply that the Spirit proceeds from the Man of the Stars.

since you are in communion with me, and i am representative of the federation, does this not make you the avatar of the spirit?

Raj clutched at his amulet, imagining himself rising and speaking to the assembled hierarchs. He shuddered, feeling a nausea-panic almost as great as the one he had felt when Tewfik's squadrons charged home into the Valley of Death. Bad enough to be the Sword of the Spirit, and a piss-poor job I've been doing of that—

A page pressed through the crowd and handed a message up to the Vice-Governor; Barholm held up his hand for silence.

"Your pardon, Users of the Spirit of Man of the Stars," he said flatly. "Urgent secular business calls me away. The Sysup-Patriarch of East Residence will preside in my place."

"Captain Whitehall!" he continued, in a loud carrying voice.

"Your Exaltedness!" Raj said, crisply enough, but the dust and stubble made him feel as out of place here as a cootch-dancer in a Renunciate's cell. And the dried blood that spattered him had had more than enough time and heat to become very noticeable.

"You have your men with you?"

"Ah, that is, yes, Your Exaltedness; in the antechamber." Where they had refused all orders to stand down, and had their guns ready. For what, Raj did not like to think; by rights, they should want Barholm to have him sent to the frying pole.

"Here." The Vice-Governor's chair slid down with noiseless smoothness. He reached out and picked up a page of notes from an ArchSysup on the tier behind him, scribbled on the back of it and handed the paper to Raj. A simple Pass Captain Whitehall and escort to any section of the Palace. Barholm Clerett, Vice-Governor.

"And take this." He pulled at a ring on his finger; Raj felt a prickle of awe as it dropped into his hand. A diamond the size of his thumbnail, somehow shaped into the likeness of a Starburst, with white fire glowing within. The Vice-Governor's signet, a smaller twin to the one in the Governor's diadem, a relic from before the Fall and as holy as any computer. "Nobody will dispute your passage with this, I think."

Raj nodded stiffly and went to one knee as Barholm continued, "Report to the Governor's personal quarters, with dispatch, Captain Whitehall."

"The, ah, your quarters, Exaltedness?"

"No. My uncle's." Barholm's eyes met Raj's, as dispassionately flat as his tone. "He's about to officially designate me as his heir."

* * *

"But you can't go in there," the chamberlain said, wringing his hands.

"Orders of the Vice-Governor," Raj said. There was a ghostlike quality to the whole affair; it reminded him of the endless ride along the north flanks of the Oxheads. After a few days memory and sleep and waking had blurred, until he was unsure of when and where he was, of whether what he saw was reality or dream or the endless holographic scenarios that Center painted on the canvas of his eyes.

"Governor Vernier is sick," the man continued, as if Raj had not spoken. He ignored the signet ring as well, although the men of Vernier's Own had passed the armed scarecrows who were Raj's Companions at the sight of it. And they were recruited mostly from the Clerett home estates, in Descott. Barholm's estates, of course, when the childless Vernier died . . . The chamberlain wore a steel collar, and his position showed how his master trusted him. That and the jewels on his hands and belt.

"They won't stop badgering him." The slave major-domo's voice rose another octave. "None of them cares about him, none of them, I won't have any more people in there, not if I have to die to keep them out!"

Kaltin Gruder and Foley stepped past Raj, putting their faces close to the servant's. Kaltin's face showed only eyes and mouth, through the bandages that turned his head into a white ball; the eyes were dead, as they had been ever since a pompom shell exploded on his brother's chest, just before the Colonists broke off their pursuit. The bandages were spotted with blood from the wounds beneath, and the smell of disinfectant showed that his face would be considerably less handsome when they were unwound. Foley's face had all its youthful almost-prettiness, but there was no youth at all in his eyes, and no more expression than in the shotgun muzzles he rested on the chamberlain's throat.

"Well, dying's your alternative to opening that door," Foley said with supreme disinterest. "Take your pick."

* * *

Dying, thought Raj unemotionally. He could remember a time when it might have been moving, watching the old man struggle for breath in the great canopied bed; now, it was a technical judgment, listening to the rattle of breath, seeing the blue tinge to fingertips and lips. The priest-doctors were consulting, their heads inclined together; a rubber tube and needle dripped something into his arm, and a pan of repulsive-looking vegetable matter boiled on a portable stove, giving the room a strange musky-herbal odor. The lamps were turned low, letting the afternoon sun paint the blue-silk hangings of the room with red; the eyes in the mosaics on the upper walls and coffered ceiling seemed to follow movement, reproachful.

Barholm stepped up to the bed on its raised dais, a writing board in his hand. "Uncle," he said firmly. "Uncle." He touched the older man on the shoulder, and the various members of the household scattered around the room muttered in scandalized tones.

Vernier cried out, in pain, or perhaps in grief when he opened his eyes and saw it was his nephew, not whoever he had been mumbling to. One of the doctors looked up and took a step towards the Vice-Governor, determination on his face. M'lewis intercepted him, grabbed his hand in a complicated grip that half-twisted it with a thumb pressed against the back just below the knuckles.

"Ahh, yer Reverence," he said quietly, steering the indignant cleric away as easily as a child might have been led. "It's these teeth o' mine. Pains me sommat awful, they does, since that fukkin' wog bastid of a raghead, beggin' yer Reverence's pardon, knocked 'em out. Now, if yer Reverence—"

"Rica was here!" Vernier's voice was shrill and breathy, leaving time for a panting breath between phrases. Rica, Lady Clerett, had been dead for nearly twenty years. "Why did you make Rica go away, Barhhie?" Tears slid down cheeks that had fallen in over the strong Descotter bones. "You're always pushing at me! Can't you leave an old man alone?"

The Companions and the survivors of the 5th who had accompanied Raj stood in a circle around the bed, legs braced and arms crossed in parade rest. None of them had a weapon in his hands, but none of the people around the walls seemed inclined to try pushing past them, either. The door opened; Raj looked up to see Suzette enter. He blinked, not quite recognizing the dusty figure he had seen that morning. She was in court dress; tight jewelled bodice, beret with plumes above each ear, flounced lace skirt split at the front and pinned back to show embroidered tights and slippers in flashing glimpses as she paced forward to where Anne stood at the foot of the bed. A golden formal wig covered her close-cropped black curls, falling past her shoulders, shining and straight.

She flashed Raj a tight smile and then stood beside her friend, looking down on the wasted form of His Supremacy, Viceregent of the Spirit of Man of the Stars, Supreme Autocrat, Legitimate Governor, Beloved of the Legislative Council, of the Clerett Dynasty the First. There was a detached compassion on her face as the trembling fingers plucked at the priceless ancient synthetics of the sheets. Anne's face held the same smile it had since she entered with her husband, lips slightly parted, and an expression in her eyes more suitable for something perching in a tree and watching a dying sheep.

"Uncle!" Barholm said again. "You must sign, now, it is your duty to the State."

Da Cruz moved to Raj's side, spoke sotto voce.

"I don't loik this at all, ser. Governor Vernier, he was a great man, in 'is time. And the Council should be called, I knows the law. And if he weren't no more than a cottager, 'twouldn't be right to do this, not on 'is deathbed."

observe. probability sequence, if barholm not appointed.

Barholm stood in the Council chamber, shouting red-faced. Other members were glaring at each other, waving fistfuls of paper or shaking fists; it was odd, seeing men mostly elderly and formally dressed in long robe and cap quarreling like drunks in a dockside tavern. All except for Chancellor Tzetzas, holding the codereader of office as he sat smiling in the President's seat; the Chancellor presided, until the deadlock was broken. And—

a city was burning. Raj recognized it from the perspective drawings; it was Cardahon, a County seat in the central plateau districts. Fortified with the old-style curtain wall, because it was five hundred kilometers from the eastern border; bright yellow grainfields and dusty pasture rolled away around it, where they had not been scorched by the invading army. Siege guns bellowed from the earthworks they had thrown up, big bottle-shaped muzzle loaders, and suddenly a whole section of wall tottered, crumbled downward in a cloud of dust and fell outward into a ramp that filled the moat and formed a perfect roadway into the heart of the town. Columns of robed Colony troops poured out of their approach trenches and deployed, advancing in perfect order under light fire from the stunned garrison.



They surged up the slope crying glory to their God and to Jamal, the Settler.

observe.

* * *

Barholm stood in the Council chamber, arms crossed and face impassive, as the magnates and nobility of the Civil Government shouted and argued. Chancellor Tzetzas reclined in the President's chair, a slight uneasiness on his face as he cast sidelong glances at the Vice-Governor.

"Messers!" Barholm called. "Messers, we have wrangled long enough, while the Spirit-Deniers harry the frontiers of the Civil Government and sedition builds within. The Spirit calls—"

"Shut up, Barholm Clerett!" one of the lords shouted. "You're not Governor yet, and you never will be, if I have anything to say about it."

Barholm smiled, picking up a bell and ringing it once. "I'm afraid you won't, Messer Wagger," he said, with a tight-held glee in his voice.

The main doors burst open, and Raj walked in with a column of troopers of the 5th behind him. They tramped steadily into the center isle of the long oval chamber, steel heel-plates ringing in unison on the marble flags. A sharp command, and the two files wheeled back-to-back and brought up their rifles, muzzles and bayonets silencing the storm of protests.

"Go!" Barholm shouted. "You have sat here far too long for any good you might be doing; in the name of the Spirit, go!" And—

Raj was giving a staff briefing, in a lantern-lit tent. For a moment he did not recognize himself; lined face, grey-shot hair, and the insignia of high rank. The officers around him were strangers, more than half of them Brigade or Squadron mercenaries by their looks. Which was impossible, foreigners were never promoted to ranks some of those men held . . . The older Raj was tapping a map.



"Well, gentlemen," he said; there was an infinite weariness to the tone. "The last internal challenge to the Civil Government has been put down. Our next campaigning season will be a demonstration on the border, to show that the guerrillas in Descott County have our support, even if we cannot take the field openly."

The viewpoint switched to the map; far away, Raj could feel his body's gut tighten, his crotch shrink painfully. Nothing remained of the Civil Government, save a patch of white along the lower Hemmar River and around the capital . . .

* * *

"Just don't feel rightly about it, ser," da Cruz finished. "Ser? Yer all right?"

Raj wiped sweat from his forehead. "Tired and bruised, that's all," he said, equally quietly. There was an art to pitching your voice not to carry, as needful to a soldier as the bellow that could cut through the clamor of combat. "I don't like it either, Master Sergeant. But believe me, it's for the best," he continued.

Da Cruz nodded slowly at the certainty in the younger man's voice. "I'm yer man, ser," he said. "If you say 'tis right, 'tis right."

Vernier's liver-spotted hand signed, a shaky scrawl of vermilion ink across the bottom of the formal parchment. Raj could see that Barholm was forcing restraint on himself as he gently guided the Governor's signet ring to the wax of the seal.

"It is done!" Barholm said, turning for a moment. "I call on you all to witness—" his eyes raked the faces along the wall, many of them prominent men, Councillors and Ministers "—that it is done in legitimate form. His Supremacy has abdicated, and I—" the eyes blazed "—am Governor."

Anne came to his side, bent over Vernier's shivering body. It jerked and cried out as she pulled the signet over the swollen joint.

* * *

The faint stars of the city skies were appearing by the time Barholm finished the speech; most of the hangers-on had left, and Raj and his Companions were alone with the priest-doctors and the dying Vernier. Raj could have followed the details of Barholm's address, if he had been interested enough. As it was, fragments of platitude drifted back through the tall windows: "prosperity" . . . "Will of the Spirit" . . . "subdue the barbarians". . . . A scattering of cheers. Probably Palace servants, Raj thought, then they built to a thunderous roar, that shook the building even more than the sirens had when they wailed to summon the people.

They knew Vernier was sick; they want a strong hand on the reins, in these times. Barholm strode back through the windows, brisk and calm save for the glitter in his eyes, rubbing his hands together.

"That's done," he said. "Now for some work, and then I have to attend that cursed banquet for the Brigade ambassadors; we're not in formal mourning yet, and then we'll have to set the date for the coronation, there has to be a quiet month coming up, the ceremonies are interminable. Now," he continued, speaking to Raj: the soldier felt an indefinable flow of energy, as if some of the exultant triumph flowing through his master had been transferred to him. "There's the matter of your next assignment."

Raj's face twisted into the semblance of a smile. "If you think the Civil Government has a use for me, Your Supremacy," he said.

"Sir will do, in private, Raj," Barholm said. He grinned and slapped the taller man on the shoulder. "I've read your report, man!" he continued. "And had the story from the other participants. Of course there'll be work for you, you're the best Dark-damned field commander I have that's trustworthy."

Raj's jaw dropped. "Me?" he almost squeaked. Even then, he found time to wonder: the report had been fifty close-written pages, with operational orders and figures attached. And it arrived only 12 hours ago; he's been hosting a major synod, getting this abdication scam . . . ah, maneuver put together, Spirit alone knows what else—where did he find time for it?

"Actually, I'm sending you out to the frontiers again," Barholm continued. Another man came through the doors; the Minister of Ceremonies.

"Your Supremacy," the man said, going to his knees and putting his forehead to the floor.

"Consider it done," Barholm said; both giving permission to rise and instructing the man not to perform the prostration on non-ceremonial occasions, standard practice for high-ranking officials.

"Your Supremacy, let me be the first to congratulate you on the blessing of the Spirit; on us as well as Your Supremacy, that we might have right guidance."

"Yes, yes," Barholm said with an impatient wave of the hand. Behind him the rasping wheeze continued.

"Your Supremacy, it has occurred to me—forgive your servant's presumption—that the investment ceremonies would be of unprecedented splendor, if they were attended by so many distinguished Users of the Church, as are present for the Synod." Delicately: "Not to mention the implications, considering the presence of the Sysup-Representative of the Priest of the Parish."

"Good man! Excellent! Draw up a modified ceremony, emphasizing the Governor's position as supreme head of all the Church, and have it on my desk tomorrow morning."

Barholm's head turned back to Raj, and he took up the thread of their conversation without missing a beat. "We're . . . I'm going to relieve Heartwell in Sandoral. Your next posting . . . Brigadier Whitehall. Stop imitating a fish."

Raj closed his mouth with a snap. "But, sir—Your Supremacy, I lost."

"Heartwell didn't even bloody try; he went down the river ten kilometers, saw a boogeyman—because there wasn't a raghead within ten days' march—and didn't stop running until he had the gates of Sandoral locked again, and for all I know the door of the closet he was hiding in, as well." Barholm's voice was vibrant with scorn and conviction. "You took El Djem, sent back some really impressive loot, and were then defeated by a superior army—one which outnumbered you four to one by your account, and ten to one by every other."

I was defeated by a better general, Raj thought coldly. Well, then, I will just have to improve.

"Led by Tewfik himself," Barholm continued. The Minister of Finance was making polite coughing noises: the Governor held up a hand in Raj's direction.

"Yes, I know . . . Dokkermen, do I have to go over this with you again? We both know you're a fool, why do you insist on demonstrating it? Get one of your subordinates to explain 'limited liability' to you; in the meantime, take it from me, we'll make back the loans on railway extension many times over." The Minister of War tried to push past. "Yes, I'll get to that in a moment."

He turned back to Raj. "—and managed to get some of your men out, at least, as well. Tewfik, incidentally, will not be invading the Halvardi next spring. You were right about that, and your demonstration attacks succeeded brilliantly in their primary purpose." A grin that showed the skull beneath the square pug face. "There's only one drawback."

"Your—sir?"

"The Minister of Barbarians' agents have been as—" to the Minister of War, "I said, wait. Where . . . ah, yes. Jamal, the Settler himself, is going to invade us instead, with the whole Colonial field force; the Army of the North, and Tewfik's veterans from Hammamet as well." He nodded at Raj's expression. "Yes, right up the Drangosh Valley, it's the only practicable route . . . Tewfik will be in effective command, of course." He clapped Raj on the shoulder. "Don't worry, you've got eight months, and I'm giving you carte blanche."

observe.

* * *

"Ahh, I did wish to see the face of this so-valiant opponent," the one-eyed man was saying. The one eye was brown, and the face was remarkable enough to make you forget the eyepatch with the Seal of Solomon. "Take him away, then. We will see if he dies as well as he fought."

The crimson-robed guards dragged Raj away, his chains galling sores that wept puss.





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