Warlord S. M. Stirling and David Drake

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Chapter Fourteen

A roaring chorus of soldiers' voices echoed back from the houses of Port Murchison, louder than the frenzied cheering of the crowds:

"The heathen in his blindness bows down to dirt
an' stone;
He won't obey no orders, 'nless they is 'is own;
He keeps 'is side-arms awful: he leaves 'em all about—
Then up comes us Regulars and we poke the
heathen out!"

The Expeditionary Force was marching into the city down the Sacred Way in a mass two battalions wide, each in column of fours. Raj and his household first, and then the 5th Descott and Poplanich's Own, in the position of honor at the front; then the Arch-Syssup of the diocese with a chorus of priests and nuns, then cavalry, guns, infantry, long columns of stumbling prisoners roped neck-and-neck, wagons filled with captured banners and weapons . . . The citizens were massed on the sidewalks behind barriers of infantry holding their rifles across their chests, on balconies and rooftops; they threw streams of flowers at the soldiers, muck and rotten vegetables and dogshit at their former overlords. Star Spirit priests stood on every corner to bless the return of the True Faith.

"Spirit-damned waste of time," Raj muttered to himself, keeping his gaze fixed straight ahead.

"We all have our burdens to bear," Staenbridge said beside him. Ehwardo snorted laughter on the other side, brushing flower-petals off his tunic. Suzette smiled regally, nodding and waving to the crowd.

Well, they certainly can't afford to have the Admiral back after this, Raj mused. Which was also the reason Ludwig Bellamy and his father were in the parade a little farther back, conspicuously well-treated and armed.

Gerrin muffled a shout of laughter, looking over his shoulder. Raj snuck a look back himself, pretending a genuflection to a Syssup spraying holy water from a platform. Kaltin Gruder had fallen out by the outer line of the 7th Descott Rangers, sweeping off his helmet and bowing in the saddle as his dog caracoled and pranced. A striking young woman in the mantilla and shawl of a matron was waving from the wrought-iron balcony of an affluent-looking townhouse; she covered her face with her fan and flung a rose. Gruder snatched it out of the air and bowed again with the stem between his teeth before galloping back to his position at the head of the battalion.

"Damned fast work, even for Kaltin." Staenbridge laughed.

"Damned bad example," Raj said grumpily. Although Gruder's reputation didn't do him any harm with the troopers, to be sure.

Port Murchison was much like a Civil Government town, of a rather old-fashioned type; the streets were lined with three-story buildings of whitewashed brick and stone, arched arcades on the ground floors and screened balconies above. No gaslights, and not much of a factory district; the fountains were not working, and though the houses and shops were fairly well kept, the surface of the road was not, cracked and uneven and actually muddy in places.

"I just hope they love the Civil Government as much once Tzetzas's tax-farmers get here," Raj said ironically.

Ehwardo snorted. "Even Tzetzas only loves Tzetzas because he's paid to," he said.

They wound into the plaza, a big U-shaped pavement surrounded by public buildings and the townhouses of wealthy nobles. There was a dry fountain in the center, the marble pile of the Palace of the Vice Governors—the Admirals, for the last three generations—at the head. The ancient Star Temple, with a high golden dome and pillared portico, stood to its right; there was no many-rayed Star at its peak, though. Raj's lips tightened in genuine anger. He had been in to survey the route, earlier, and he had seen enough of the damage the Squadron had wrought in the churches, even in the ones they had converted to their own cult. Holy statues splashed with bullet-lead—the Squadrones seemed to have a particular liking for shooting off the noses—mosaics ripped up, icons burned . . .

"Vandals," he muttered. "Nothing but a bunch of fucking vandals."

a universe of vicious children, raj whitehall, said Center, and us.

Grooms ran to take their horses as they stopped before the steps of the Palace; he laid the ceremonial mace in the crook of his arm and turned to hand Suzette down from Harbie. She stepped regally by his side, her fingertips resting on his arm and the plumes of her headdress nodding. The officers and civil dignitaries followed him as he walked up, seating themselves as he turned at the marble plinth that divided the stairs and served as a raised podium; that put him nearly a story above the level of the pavement, with a fine view out over the plaza and down to the wall. He rested easily with his left hand on his saber hilt, letting the breeze ruffle fingers through his dark curls and watching the remainder of the Expeditionary force march in and drop to parade-rest. All except the units already busy, of course.

And the Skinners. Not even the Spirit of Man with a thunderbolt in hand could control Skinners in a town; he'd camped them a kilometer from the walls, with a continuous stream of high-proof liquor and highly paid entertainment, and a cavalry battalion to watch them. Muzzaf's work; invaluable man . . .

At last the final unit came to a halt and crashed into parade rest; the prisoners were elsewhere, filing off to the bullrings he was using to pen the Squadron captives and their families for now. The other half of the square was black with civilians, including a clump of important personages directly below the stairs.

"Citizens of Port Murchison," he began in Spanjol. The acoustics were superb, as they had been when the long-ago engineers laid the buildings out. "You are once more united with the Civil Government of Holy Federation—and with Holy Federation Church." Deafening cheers from the crowd, while the soldiers stood patiently at the easy.

"Soon we will begin the work of rebuilding this province and making it secure for all time. Rest assured that the Army of the Civil Government is here as a liberator, not a conqueror. All citizens will be protected in their persons and property"—as long as they don't go near the Skinners—"and any offense by military personnel should be reported immediately. By the same token, any disloyalty, any treason, any failure of cooperation with the new and lawful authorities, will be crushed without mercy."

Everyone had seen the bodies from Gerrin's pursuit piled in windrows under the gates, and selected individuals were being marched out to see the battlefield and help with the mass burials. Most of the inhabitants would probably get the point.

"Please disperse, and remember that this city and district remain under martial law for the present. Go about your usual business, and further instructions will be issued as needed. The remainder of this day is a public holiday, and the warehouses are to be opened for an issue of free wine to the citizenry."

That brought hearty cheers, and the crowd began to flow out rapidly enough, helped by soldiers with guardia armbands. When Raj resumed, it was in the Army's own Sponglish:

"Fellow-soldiers," he began, then had to halt while a roaring cheer battered at him. He blinked in slight surprise, then held up his hands for silence.

"Fellow-soldiers, I'm not a politician, so I'll keep this short. We've come a long way together, and done great things. By our count, every one of you has done in at least three barbs"—massed laughter—"which is a good start. Remember, the job's not over yet! The barb Admiral is still loose, raising more troops, and Curtis Auburn isn't back yet either. There's more fighting to come, so don't let your guard down.

"Also remember this is a city of our own people, not a conquered enemy. You're guests where you're billeted—act like it. There's enough honest liquor and willing women in this town without acting like bandits. Everyone will get leave over the next week, in rotation; and just so you can drink the Governor's health, I'm authorizing a donative of six months' pay for everyone—"

This time the cheers were enough to make the stone vibrate slightly under his feet, and lasted for minutes.

"—as an advance. You've all done well and I'm proud to lead you. Dismiss to quarters!"

Trumpets blew, but instead of scattering the men began to chant:


He waved good-humoredly, but the chanting did not stop; the men surged forward around the stairs, their helmets thrusting upward on the muzzles of their rifles.

Spirit, some idiot will start hailing me for the Chair next, he thought with genuine alarm; no Governor forgave demonstrations like that, spontaneous or no. He smiled and saluted and turned, leaving the officers and dignitaries to follow in his wake.

The huge audience hall was almost full as well, with a crowd whose gowns and jewelry shone under the skylights high above; soldiers with polished bayonets stood at rigid attention, clearing an aisle down which ran a red-velvet carpet. The Arch-Syssup of the Diocese of Port Murchison greeted him, and Raj knelt to receive the anointment of power, a dab on both temples and a touch of the the wired headset that symbolized contact with the Spirit's Net. There was a certain irony in it, for him. . . . Then he was striding toward the Chair, high on its dais at the end of the room, blinding-bright in a peacock glory of sapphire and emerald and silver. Blazing mosaics covered every wall; even the Squadrones had not touched the huge abstract Star that covered the solid portions of the ceiling, glittering with burnished platinum.

The only drab things in the chamber were the uniforms of his troops, grim and worn. There was a certain symbolism in that, too. His boots sounded, harsh metal on the stone of the dais; there was an iron clatter from the chape of his saber scabbard as he turned, holding aloft the mace of office. Heads bowed like flowers rippling before a breeze, and stayed bent in a low bow until he seated himself and laid the mace on the broad arm of the Vice Governor's Chair. Suzette took the consort's chair, lower down the stairs.

"Gentlemen," he said, "we have a program of work before us. I suggest that we begin."

Faintly through the doors and the thick stone, he could hear the soldiers chanting his name.

* * *

"Spirit damn you, get those drumsticks back! Don't drip grease on this!" Raj said again, resting his palms on the map.

The big room was buzzing with officers, administrators from Berg's contingent, and members of the Port Murchison city administration; few of those last had been Squadrones, anyway, and most seemed enthusiastic about the new order. Cork-boards were ranged around the walls, covering the murals, and maps and lists were pinned to them; more were scattered down the long glossy table. Suzette had gotten the household organized in record time, and Admiral Auburn's own servants were wheeling around trays and dispensing a working lunch. Some of the officers showed a tendency to gnaw on the honey-garlic sauroid sticks while leaning over important documents. . . .

"We've got to patrol vigorously," Raj went on, his finger tracing a circle around Port Murchison, "but not in penny-packets; Auburn's men will be trying to snap up foraging parties. Gerrin, see to it. Which reminds me—Muzzaf, what's the news on grain supply?"

"No more than two weeks currently, counting the extra mouths," the Komarite said, looking up from a huddle of clerks at the foot of the table.

"Right. Put out an offer for, hmmm, ten percent above current market for clean threshed grain, beans, meat, fruit, alfalfa fodder—payable in hard cash. The enemy will try to stop us, of course; coordinate with Gerrin. We can name collection points and use the captured wagons."



The artilleryman flourished a pad. "Messer Raj, the walls are in a mess—crumbling on the outside, down to the rubble core in places. The city services—it's a pigsty, looks like nothing has been kept up in a century. You saw what the main avenue was like—the delivery pipes from the aqueduct blocked years ago, and the ham-handed pigs have never gotten them properly fixed. The sewer system—" He shuddered. "Don't ask."

"Do what you can; organize night-soil carts if you have to. I'm worried about the bull-rings"—where fifty thousand Squadron men, women, and children were crammed; plague was no respecter of nationalities.

He looked over at the halcalde, the mayor, a sleek-looking civilian named Carlo Arrias. "Messer Arrias, do you have anyone who knows the systems?"

"Certainly, Messer General," the man said, rubbing his hands together and grinning. Well, somebody's happy, at least. "The Squadrones would never authorize the funds—as long as the whorehouses and bars were open the city was working fine to their tastes; real warriors live out in the country." A trace of bitterness there. "There's emergency repairs we can do. A relief to finally get something done in this job."

"Grammeck, see to it; you can use on-duty units for labor, and prisoners when we've gotten them organized. Maximum priority on the defenses." His first impulse was bunkers and earthworks, but against the barbarians a nice high masonry wall would do, if it stood. "Then roads, here and around the city."

Thank the Spirit we didn't have to fight in the rainy season, he thought, sipping at a cup of soup. Even the main arteries near the city were in shocking condition.

"Will do, sir."

"Now, about billeting," Raj said. Arrias frowned.

"Messer general, couldn't more of the troops be accommodated in Squadron properties?"

Raj grinned. "Not until they've been properly inventoried and stripped," he said. "I can keep them from stealing too much from living, breathing fellow-citizens, but not from absent barb heretics. Speaking of which, Jorg; I want three full battalions of infantry on continuous patrol as guardia; I'm authorizing you to take over whatever police arrangements this city had—"

He looked at Arrias. The man spread his palms: "The Admiral didn't like civilians having any sort of armed organization," he said apologetically. "We had a volunteer watch, but it was mostly poorer Squadron members."

"Well, we'll work out something permanent later," Raj went on. "Jorg, I want strict control. Come down like a ton of cement on anyone who so much as stiffs a barkeep or a hooker."

Menyez dragged off three of his infantry Majors and they went into a huddle at a side table over a street map of the city.

"Kaltin," Raj went on.

Gruder looked up, alert and smiling; he was nattily turned out, freshly shaved, and had a ruby stud in one ear; rumor had it that a prominent young widow had already invited him to use her townhouse as billet for his headquarters.

"Kaltin," Raj went on, "I'm still concerned about Curtis Auburn and those damned ten thousand men of his; it's only a week's sail from here to Sadler Island, he's going to have to hear about what's going on sometime. If he lands outside and joins his brother the Admiral, well and good—but he might just try attacking us here. Go over the harbor defenses—personally, and whatever records you can scrape up: get Grammeck to give you some of his people. I want a fallback plan for defense against simultaneous assaults on the walls and the outer harbor."

Port Murchison had two linked lagoons; the outer was the merchant docking area, and the smaller circular one farther inland was the military. They were joined by a canal, but only the merchant harbor was directly accessible from the sea.

"Which reminds me," he continued: "Security. We want no tales getting out to the hot-blooded Curtis."

"Ahem," Arrias said. Raj raised an eyebrow. "Messer General Whitehall, I have here"—he pulled out a slip of paper—"a small list, compiled with the help of the Reverend Arch-Syssup, of—hmmmm—questionable non-Squadron persons. You will understand, since the barbarians ruled here so long . . . and to tell the truth, there are those not anxious to see our city back under East Residence rule."

For which there are good reasons, Raj admitted. The Admirals had been sloppy, inefficient, lazy, corrupt, and occasionally oppressive rulers. The Civil Government was nearly as corrupt, but vastly more sophisticated and energetic. The Southern Territories would be better-organized and more productive now, but the local ruling class would not necessarily reap the benefits. He made an inquiring noise.

"Guildmaster Ferteryo Saylazar, to begin with," the mayor said. "He was instrumental in having the Civil Government's resident merchants interned when the news of the invas—of the liberation first arrived. And—"

Iron-heeled boots slammed to attention outside the door, and hands slapped on iron as rifles were brought to salute.

"The honorable Messer Senior Administrator Berg," a voice said briskly, as the doors opened.

"Ah, Messer Administrator Berg," Raj went on; the man came through the door and handed his riding cloak to a servant, accepting a glass of lemonade and dusting himself down.

Raj raised an eyebrow. "You didn't come in with the fleet?" he said. Orders to bring the fleet and enter the harbor sometime today had gone out to Admiral Gharderini right after the battle, while the fleet worked north in concert with the Army. There had been little contact, but according to the last report—his eyes flicked down to the map—the fleet had been resting in a cove about three kilometers south.

"No," Berg said, puzzled. "Admiral Gharderini sailed immediately on receiving news of the victory, right after Major Dalhouse arrived with his detachment. But I had some matters to get in order first . . ."

"Wait a minute—quiet, please!" The buzz of conversation died. "When did Gharderini sail? With who?"

"Yesterday: Your courier arrived, then Major Dalhouse with about a hundred men. They embarked, and steamed off right then, well, actually around midnight . . . Why?"

Raj held up a hand to stay him and turned to the halcalde. "Messer Arrias?"

"Ah—then the four warships weren't supposed to be in dock?" the mayor said nervously. He looked around, touching a finger to his cravat. How can I avoid getting sucked into Army politics I know nothing about? was written plainly enough on his face. "They've been, ah, loading supplies since last night."

"Supplies?" Raj said flatly.

"From the Admiral's warehouses. A number of export trades were the Admiral's property . . ." His voice trailed off. Raj spun on one heel like a gun-breech closing.

"Who's got the harbor sector?" he snapped.

"17th Cuirassiers," Jorg Menyez said. Everyone was suddenly conscious of the absence of Captain Hermano Suharto.

"Major Gruder," Raj said. "Turn out the 7th Descott and get them down there. Find out what the hell is going on. See that all naval personnel return to their ships; and if you find Dalhouse, put him under close arrest and bring him here, immediately."

"Sir!" Gruder said; suddenly the carefully brushed tunic looked like the glittering skin of a hunting carnosauroid. "If he resists, sir?"

"Kill him."

* * *

Captain Hermano Suharto needed the two troopers on either side to hold him up; the bandages on his face and side were still leaking red. He tried to salute as Raj stood.

"Get this man a chair, for the Spirit's sake," he snapped. "Kaltin?"

"Gharderini right enough," the scarred young Descotter said. "And Dalhouse with some of his cutthroats, and Hingenio Buthelezi and about half a dozen others—officers from the 17th and the 1st Gaur, mostly. That seagoing counter-jumper and his Blackjackets"—marines—"had a cool half-million worth loaded by the time we got there. Captain Suharto had some of his own men there; he was arguing with Dalhouse, then the hijdaput drew down on Suharto and cut him. There would have been a firefight right there and then if we hadn't ridden up; the warships fired blanks over our heads while the bastards got back on board, then they made steam. The last anyone saw of them, they were heading right out to sea."

Raj sank back in the chair, his hands clenched white on the arms.

observe said Center:

* * *

and Dalhouse bowed before the Chair. It was a private audience in the Palace, in the Negrin Rooms; the Governor, Lady Anne, and Tzetzas seated, Dalhouse, Buthelezi and Gharderini standing as petitioners. Cool evening light came through the tall windows, picking out the ancient murals of waterfowl and reeds.

"Sovereign Mighty Lord," Dalhouse said, rising from the prostration. "With a heavy heart I bring Your Supremacy news of your servant's treason."

"Explain," Barholm said dryly. Lady Anne frowned, and the Chancellor steepled his slim fingers and raised a brow.

"Whitehall's arrogance is beyond belief, Your Supremacy!" Dalhouse's face contorted with anger. "He appoints known traitors like Poplanich and baseborn nobodies, peasants and infantrymen, to command over loyal men of good birth. Why? Because they owe everything to him, of course! Instead of sending back his loot to Your fisc as is his plain duty—as we loyal men have done—"

Tzetzas leaned forward and handed the Governor a slip of paper; this time Barholm's brows rose at the amount.

"—he spends it on donatives to buy the loyalty of his troops. I fear, I greatly fear, Your Supremacy, that Whitehall intends to make himself an independent ruler in the Southern Territories, using the Expeditionary Force and Squadron lords he's won over by bribes and by favors to their heretical cult. Already he's forbidden plundering of the abominable Earth Cult shrines, while they drip with a century's stolen wealth from Star Spirit churches."

Barholm nodded. "You may go," he said, and the three officers withdrew.

"Well?" he said.

"General Whitehall is a very able man," Tzetzas murmured, riffling a file of papers. "Even Gharderini's report concedes a smashing victory over the Squadron army. Very able . . ." He spread his hands; the dangers of extremely able commanders were never far from a Governor's mind.

"Well, we certainly can't panic on the report of a spiteful little backstabber like Dalhouse," Lady Anne said.

She glared at Tzetzas; the feud between them was old and bitter, running back to her childhood as a dancer down in the stews. Tzetzas had been her client then, in the years before she met and captivated the rising star of Barholm Clerett. Most men would have flinched before that gaze; the Chancellor merely smiled thinly and inclined his head in a show of deference as she went on:

"Either Raj Whitehall is loyal or he isn't—Lady Whitehall certainly is, and she's proved it. We can't do anything until we receive unbiased reports."

"The matter needs more thought," Barholm said, biting his lip. "We'll—"

"Good riddance," Raj said, shaking away the vision. "Major Gruder, I approve of your actions; the last thing we need right now is a major battle among ourselves. In the unlikely event that we see those swine again . . . Captain Foley"—Gerrin's friend was the most scholarly of them—"draw up formal charges of mutiny, theft, and attempted murder against them all; we'll forward it to headquarters."

"And now," he went on, "back to work."

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