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At last—Cajeiri has his young guests from the starship, three young folk entranced by weather and trees and creatures with minds of their own. It’s all he dreamed of...
But now safety is foremost: Cajeiri’s grandfather has been assassinated, hostile Assassins Guild invaded Great-uncle’s house, and now Bren Cameron, paidhi-aiji, who was sent to keep the aiji’s son safe, has more than the young guests on his mind. The aiji-dowager knows who’s to blame for the attacks, and they’re going after him.
The fact that the person responsible is in the heart of Assassins’ Guild Headquarters, the most closely guarded fortress on the continent, is not going to stop her.
Bren Cameron has the pieces now, of a decades-old plot that’s been threaded through Guild actions going back before his arrival on the continent, and more—he knows the person responsible is going to find out he knows, and find out within hours.
They have no choice. If they don’t move, the other side will.
And the lives of the boy, the guests, the entire ruling family are at stake.
By the charter of the Assassins’ Guild, there are several requirements preceding a legal assassination. First comes the Filing of Intent. In this process, a Document of Intent is entered into the official state registry, stating the issue between the parties, so that there is a permanent record, sealed, ribboned, and kept in archive. Any answering document is similarly filed.
There must then be a public advisement of impending Guild Council action, and an opportunity for the Assassins’ Guild Council to obtain depositions from both sides. Only after determining that there may exist adequate cause for a Filing, does the Guild Council debate the merits of the Filing, and consider the potential for remedy short of lethal action. This deliberation may, at the Council’s sole discretion, entail testimony from Guild members employed by either or both sides of the debate as to whether there can be any settlement. And there may be yet another delay imposed while the Guild urges resolution short of action.
If all measures have failed to secure a legal resolution, the Filing is approved by Council vote, and there is a date set after which action is possible.
The Filing is published, and all parties are notified.
This affords an opportunity for the targeted party’s bodyguard to take precautions, and a date and hour after which the complainant’s bodyguard may initiate offensive action, entering whatever premises it needs to in order to reach their target.
In the case of lords or officials employing a permanent bodyguard, the bodyguard on either side will be in contact with the central Guild at all steps of the process. No advantage of information will be given to either side, but in the event an attacking or defending unit wishes to suspend action, they may contact the Guild and let the Guild mediate a solution mutually acceptable.
Generally in small cases, particularly involving property or divorce, approval is given by an office of the Council, without Council debate, but with the deposition of witnesses. Once the Filing is approved by this process, there is a time limit imposed, usually of ninety-nine days, after which all attempts to carry out an assassination must cease and the Filing is set aside.
In practice, the Guild wishes to avoid bloodshed among its own members, and Guild units may at any time ask a truce in which to advise their lord that their defense has failed and that he must cede whatever is at issue, since he and they will not otherwise survive.
The number of lords who have pressed a case against the advice of their own bodyguards is relatively small. A unit abandoning its lord or surrendering him to capture or death may be prosecuted, except if the lord has issued a false statement in the Filing or if the lord is judged to have been mentally or physically incapable of sound judgment. The latter escape clause has frequently been supported by relatives and servants.
In the case of a private citizen who has no regular bodyguard, a complainant must engage the services of the Assassins’ Guild from the date of the Filing, and the case is heard by the Office of the Council. The defendant against the Filing must, on notification, either cede the case, if property or a divorce, or hire Assassins for his protection for the usual ninety-nine days— an expensive proposition for the ordinary citizen to maintain long term, hence a heavier burden of time for the complainant— but there are occasional pro bono Filings.
Lethal force in civil disputes is common in potential— but far less common in actuality. The Filing of Intent affords a cooling-off period, requires depositions and an official vote at some level acknowledging that a wrong exists, and it offers constant opportunities for Guild to secure a negotiated settlement.
A Filing of Intent is absolutely required before action may be taken against a person or institution, except in defense against an illicit attack. In that case, whatever force the defender can muster on the spot is legal. An attack is defined as a movement within arm’s length of the defender, or the first use of a distance weapon or weapon of stealth such as poison.
It is absolutely forbidden for anyone other than a Guild Assassin to bring violence against a fellow citizen, except in defense of self, employer, household, clan property, or national treasure. A person who violates this law is outlawed, subject to lethal Guild action with no time limit.
In the event a person finds himself thus outlawed, he is permitted to surrender to the aiji’s judgment, in consultation with the Guild.
Edward P. Wilson, Translator, ret., The Assassins’ Guild, Emeritus Lecture Series #133, The University of Mospheira . . .
There were rules of operation for every guild— and in the case of the Assassins’ Guild, the rules were literally a matter of life and death.
There were rules against collateral damage.
There were rules about specificity of the target. An assassination had to be announced a certain number of days in advance. And the target was limited to the individual named.
There were rules about protection of children and uninvolved parties, like neighbors, or guests.
There were rules forbidding aerial attack, explosive traps, and the use of wires where any other individual, including servants, might accidently run afoul of them.
And there were rules forbidding damage to property. An action was not supposed to happen, say, where it might damage artworks, national treasures, livestock, or a person’s means of livelihood.
Well, they’d done that, a bit, this morning. There was bound to be complaint.
Bren Cameron closed the computer file. The last time he’d read Wilson’s paper on the topic, he’d been on a plane bound across the straits to serve a new aiji in Shejidan. He’d been, in that long-ago meeting with the Secretary of State, handed his credentials, computer-printed. He’d been handed the official dictionary, containing all the words approved for him to use in communication with the atevi.
And with that, State had launched him, the youngest paidhi who’d ever held the office, as Wilson-paidhi’s replacement.
He’d been excited by the appointment, scared to death of the responsibility— and completely unsure whether a novice in Wilson’s job was going to survive the year— in the real sense of life and death— or even whether he might be met at the airport by some party that wasn’t official, and he’d have no way on earth to know who he was really dealing with.
He’d studied the Ragi language for years. He was good at math, a requirement for the language study program. He’d qualified as a backup translator for the Department of State, intended to become one of those faceless individuals who sat in little cubicles parsing atevi publications for clues to policy and mining them for new words that weren’t officially approved, but that ought to be known to other translators.
He’d landed at Shejidan airport on a sunny afternoon. He’d been met by two of the aiji’s own black-uniformed bodyguard and escorted up into the Bujavid, the fortress on the hill that rose picturesquely above the red tiled roofs and maze-like streets of the capital. He’d been assigned living quarters, a modest suite in the servants’ wing.
Then he’d been handed a small ring with three keys, and had had only enough time to toss his bag into the room before his escort had led him on a confusing route to a barren office roughly three meters by three.
The office supplies, on otherwise vacant shelves, had consisted of a packet of copying paper, a packet of fine paper, three well-used pens— computers were not part of the technology surrendered to atevi at that point— and three somewhat worn message cylinders. On that small desk had stood a bottle of ink, a bundle of reeds, a pen-rest, a shaker of sand, and a waxjack for the seals he’d create with the resized seal ring he’d worn back to the mainland. It was Wilson’s ring, surrendered along with the office.
He still wore it. And used it.
He’d had no clue on that day even how to use the waxjack. Left to his own devices, he’d found the lighter beside the device, lit the wick, and discovered that its whole function was to melt white wax from a winding coil on its baroque stand and drip it— he’d hastily inserted a piece of paper to prevent a wax spatter on the brass plate below— into a small, nicely unstained white puddle on a document. One adjusted the flame to prevent the wax collecting soot.
That, indeed, was what it did. It was the finest instrument in the little office. In point of fact, it was the only instrument in the little office, except a penknife to sharpen reed pens— literally, to shape pens out of the little bundle of reeds, a species that grew to a natural size, of a certain toughness, and that actually made Ragi calligraphy rather easier, once one got the knack.
He’d made his first impression with his ring of office on a letter to Tabini-aiji officially reporting his presence, his satisfaction with the arrangements, and his hopes for a good relationship between atevi and humans. He’d put his rolled letter into one of the little message cylinders, the nicest. And there he’d sat— Bren Cameron, from the human enclave on the island of Mospheira, on the Earth of the atevi, the sole human allowed to set foot on the mainland— wondering how he was going to get his letter delivered.
He had become staff to Tabini-aiji, the young ruler of the Western Association, the aishidi’tat, which for complicated historical reasons amounted to the rest of the planet. The wax that would bear his seal imprint was white, like the ribbon that would tie his— at that time— very short queue.
White was the heraldic color of the paidhi-aiji— a neutral party, the translator who conveyed messages between the atevi world and the human population who’d dropped, unasked, onto their planet.
All of Mospheira lived on the tolerance of the atevi. And the last decade or so, after a period of progress, had been a particularly anxious time— first the unexpected death of Valasi-aiji, then the rule of the aiji-regent, Ilisidi, Valasi’s mother. Ilisidi had ceased meeting with Wilson-paidhi, who described negotiations with her as like talking to a stone statue.
Then Valasi’s son, Tabini, had come of age, demanding the legislature elect him aiji and set aside the aiji-regent. And among his first acts in that office, Tabini had indicated to Wilson that he should go back to Mospheira and not come back.
Wilson’s word for Tabini had been— dangerous.
Bren had had that warning. He’d read Wilson’s notes.
He’d come into his office as a babe in the woods, no older in years than Tabini-aiji, and dropped into a very different life, a foreign world to which he was obliged to conform, right down to the clothes he was wearing and the ribbon that had barely enough braid to pin to.
He’d learned a lot over the years. He’d changed . . . oh, a great deal.
He sat here now on a regular train, in company with his own bodyguard, the four closest people in the world to him— towering, black-skinned, black-haired, black-uniformed. The only color about them was the deep, burning gold of their eyes.
And he loved them— loved them, although that had been one of the words not only missing from that early dictionary— but forever missing from the entire atevi mindset. Atevi didn’t love. Everybody on Mospheira knew that. They didn’t love and they didn’t have friends.
But atevi had man’chi, which in the case of these four, and their Guild, meant everything. They were his. They’d walk through fire for him. And he loved them for it.
They, of course, still thought that love was for salads and man’chi was for people you’d die for.
That slightly mismatched feeling wasn’t supposed to go both ways, either, but it did.
They’d damned near died for him this morning, and Banichi had one hand supported in a half-zipped jacket because he was too damned stubborn to wear a sling. “I can still use it,” was Banichi’s answer, and Banichi’s partner Jago and teammates Tano and Algini simply shrugged off their unit-senior’s hard-headedness as drug-induced, and watched out for him.
More than physical, that wound. Banichi had taken down a former teammate this morning— an enemy, an old relationship with a bitter history. Banichi was on painkillers and around the clock without sleep. He was finally getting a little on the train. So were his three teammates.
Banichi’s team hadn’t asked Banichi any deep questions on the matter, not that Bren had heard. Not even Jago had asked, and she happened to be Banichi’s daughter— a fact it had taken Bren years to learn, and that no one within the unit ever acknowledged.
Most in this very ordinary train car were black-uniformed Guild, and most were taking the chance to catch a little sleep: Bren’s own four-person bodyguard, Ilisidi’s, and the elder bodyguard of Lord Tatiseigi of the Atageini— all, all had nodded off.
Ilisidi was sleeping in her own way, fully and formally dressed in many-buttoned black lace, with her cane somewhat before her and her hands on it— she at least had her eyes shut, and one was not always sure whether she really was asleep. The dowager admitted nothing about her age, but it was considerable. Lord Tatiseigi, beside her, attempted to stay awake, but he, of Ilisidi’s generation, was giving way, too. The youngsters at the other end of the car— Cajeiri and his three young guests— human youngsters, all just under or over the age of ten— were all collapsed. Cajeiri’s young bodyguard was cat-napping by turns, that unit stubbornly staying on duty in the presence of so many exhausted senior units.
Jase Graham, in the seat across from Bren’s, was dead to the world. His two bodyguards, Kaplan and Polano, were up forward in the next car, with their five detainees, who would not be enjoying the trip in the least.
Jase was one of the four ship-captains— and another of Cajeiri’s birthday guests. At least Jase had come down to the world with the human youngsters. But he’d actually come down, Bren was increasingly sure, because Lord Geigi, atevi master of half the space station, had gotten a briefing that had very much alarmed him.
Bren tapped computer keys with a code that had to be input, or certain stored data would vanish, and certain hidden files would, at very great inconvenience, expand and install themselves instead.
The file Bren called up now was simply titled: For my successor: Read this.
There were several sections to the file that came up: codes, notes on various topics, dossiers on numerous people, who to contact first and second. He double-checked that list in consideration of recent events, and of who was advantageously located at the moment, with the legislature in session. He kept the index of the collection sparse, and frequently updated. If a successor took over in a moment of crisis, that paidhi would need certain information fast. He had duplicated these essential files in Ragi and in Mosphei’, since he had no idea in what language his successor might be more fluent. Both, he hoped. Both, would be good.
But there were longer sections that followed his emergency notes, because some things weren’t just lists of names. Some things had to be understood in sequence . . . and ideally in Ragi, from the Ragi point of view.
There was, notably, a new section he had, over recent days, rated important enough to include in the handbook.
He’d gotten a lengthy and very secret file from Lord Geigi of Kajiminda, the day before Geigi had left for the station. Geigi himself figured in the account . . . in the third person. Geigi was far too modest, and far too generous, and definitely underplayed his own importance in events.
“Understand, it is not formally written. It is only a private memoir, very private, and far too blunt. I have not been discreet or courteous, nor even used the honorifics of very great people I would by no means offend. Were it to fall into any hands but yours in this state, I would resign in mortification. But some record needs to be made, by someone who knows things no one of this age will admit.”
“One perfectly understands.”
“You play some part in it. Please fill in anything missing. Correct my misapprehensions of human understanding: that is the important thing. And next time we meet in person, Bren-ji, I shall be very glad to receive your notes to add to mine.”
Geigi had added then, somewhat diffidently, “I may someday, in my spare time, put all these notes into order. I have even thought I might write a book— though one far, far more careful of reputations and proprieties. I would hold your view of events very valuable. I know where I transgress regarding my own customs; but if I violate yours, please advise me.”
It was a remarkable, a revealing narrative— scandalously blunt, by atevi standards. He profoundly trusted Geigi— and it was in an amazing amount of trust that Geigi wanted him to read it. He had taken it with him in the thought that a vacation would give him time to add the promised notes from a human perspective. And he had done a little of that writing, before the vacation had turned out to be other than a vacation.
Today . . . today definitely had not been.
But at the moment, almost as sleep-deprived as Banichi and unable to come down from the events of the morning, he wanted Geigi’s comforting voice, the accent, the habitual wry understatement.
The occasional poetic bent.
His ally was safely in the heavens.
On Earth, after all the events Geigi’s narrative described, things were not quite as stable.
None of them were, in fact, supposed to be on this train. The train belonged to the northern districts of the aishidi’tat. It was bringing a few spare cars southward toward Shejidan. No one should be on board.
And they were supposed to be hosting the preliminaries for young Cajeiri’s birthday party up north, in Atageini territory, at Lord Tatiseigi’s Padi Valley estate, with Jase Graham and the three human children from the space station— Cajeiri’s personal guests.
In uncommon haste, the aiji-dowager had swept up the entire birthday party and headed them all back to the capital. She hadn’t yet notified Tabini-aiji they were coming . . . but then, their bodyguards weren’t trusting outside communications channels of any sort this morning.
With a continent-spanning rail system that ran on a very precise timetable, it would have been impossible and dangerous to keep the movement of their high-priority train completely a secret from other trains on the tracks. So for the benefit of everybody who needed to know anything— including the Transportation authorities— this train was still running empty, its window shades down, a typical configuration for cars out of service. The story they’d given out to Transportation was simple: a legislator in the capital had a family emergency in the north. On legislative privilege, that lord, with his staff, needed a pickup at the Bujavid station in Shejidan at mid-afternoon, and this was an already composed train that could do that handily. That was the story they had fed to Transportation: the train, composed as it was, an older train and coming from the north, could accomplish the pickup in the capital and return to the north to resume its regular operation this evening with no great disturbance to the system.
The track they were using required no routing changes, and one doubted that Transportation would do any checking of the facts behind the order . . . such things happened when a lord had to attend to unexpected business. The dowager’s staff had found an engine on the northern line deadheading one surplus passenger car and three empty boxcars back to a regional rail yard where normally they would have dropped off the passenger car and picked up freight. It had not been that far from Lord Tatiseigi’s little rail depot at the time they had found it— an older, short-bodied train, moreover, and headed in the right direction. Perfect choice.
It was perfectly credible that a legislator in Shejidan might want to get home quickly, given the current political emergency in the north. The rail office had obliged a quiet and high-level Guild request and cleared that train from the northern line to come all the way up to the Bujavid station for that pickup— being a short-bodied train, it could do it— and they would immediately turn it around and send it back up north. One freight shipment would have to be rescheduled for a later train, but it was nothing that needed any special notice to district directors.
The train had made one very brief stop in its passage, a matter of Lord Tatiseigi’s own privilege, a pause which would have attracted no great notice from the Transportation Guild, either— so they hoped. Such small stops, a request for the next passing train to delay for a small pickup, usually involved a crate or two, or even an individual letter, on a clan lord’s privilege— a practice that came down from a slower, less express-minded age, that occasionally caused a small delay in traffic, but it was a lordly and district prerogative the legislature had been unable to curtail.
That old custom served them now. Their other choice would have been to bring the armored Red Train up from the Bujavid to let them travel back in style, in the aiji’s personal car— and that would not only have cost precious hours, it would have excited notice. Armor plate was a good thing. But it was far better not to need it.
The last thing the public had known of the dowager and the foreign visitors’ whereabouts was that the dowager’s plane had taken the dowager and the heir, and possibly Lord Tatiseigi, off across the continental divide to the East, to await the birthday guests at her estate at Malguri . . . about as secure an estate as there was anywhere. The public knew that the space shuttle had landed earlier than anticipated, bringing down three human children who would entertain the heir preceding his official birthday in the Bujavid— and by now the public probably knew that Jase Graham, one of the four Phoenix captains, had accompanied the children on their flight— a perfectly understandable arrangement. Jase had spent no little time on the planet and had a previous appointment in the aiji’s court. It was perfectly logical he should come down for a visit, and perfectly reasonable, too, that he and the human children would bring human security with them . . . so if that had been reported, it was no serious issue.
And as for where Bren-paidhi had entered the picture, the paidhi-aiji would quite logically have stayed behind the dowager’s party and met that shuttle to assist the foreign guests . . . and escort them across the continent to Malguri.
If the news services had reported, however, that the foreign guests and the paidhi-aiji had not flown east at all, but had been conveyed to Lord Tatiseigi’s estate at Tirnamardi, to meet the dowager and Lord Tatiseigi there, people would have said the news services had gone slightly mad. Of course it was a ruse, and not a very clever one. Of course the visiting humans and the paidhi-aiji had gone on to Malguri, most probably by plane, since the transcontinental journey by rail was brutal.
Humans— visit Tatiseigi’s estate at Tirnamardi? Impossible. Lord Tatiseigi was head of the Conservative Caucus, which routinely deplored human influence and supported traditional ways against the encroachment of human technology and mores. It was barely conceivable that that elderly and conservative lord would be joining the dowager and meeting a collection of human guests at remote Malguri. Host them at his ancient estate? No.
The news services might have found out by now that there was news happening at Lord Tatiseigi’s estate. Taibeni clansmen with their mecheita cavalry and with trucks and supplies, had moved into the estate’s extensive grounds some days ago, while Lord Tatiseigi was still in the capital. That strange report might foretell another skirmish in an ancient war, since Tatiseigi’s Atageini clan and the neighboring Taibeni clan had been technically at war from before the foundation of the aishidi’tat.
Mere days ago, however, in the capital, Lord Tatiseigi had signed a formal peace with the Taibeni lord by proxy. If the news services had phoned either Lord Keimi of the Taibeni or either of Lord Tatiseigi’s residences, neither source would have confirmed it.
And if the news services had by now gotten wind of the treaty, they would still be astonished to see that Taibeni had been allowed within the ancient hedges and onto Tirnamardi’s well-kept grounds. Lord Tatiseigi might have maintained two hundred years of technical unity with his other neighbor, the Kadagidi, while shooting at them on occasion, and vice versa, in periodic clan warfare— and one might be brought to believe that, after all this time, Lord Tatiseigi might finally have admitted the Taibeni clan to the same status as the Kadagidi, creating a framework within which business between the clans could occasionally be arranged . . . but . . . on the estate grounds?
Was there possibly more to it? Could there be an Atageini move in concert with Taiben, against the lately-disgraced Kadagidi?
Considering the Taibeni were blood-relatives of the aiji, signing a peace treaty with Taiben was a politic move for the Atageini, if a few centuries belated.
And the secrecy of it, or at least Tatiseigi’s keeping the matter low-key? Oh, well, the Conservatives never liked to change their mind in public.
But Taibeni campfires making two columns of smoke inside the famous Tirnamardi hedges? Was that permitted? Had Lord Tatiseigi, who was supposed to be off across the continent at Malguri, any inkling there were Taibeni camping on his grounds, with mecheita? Was there some sort of double-cross in progress?
Taibeni guards would not have let the news services disembark at the local rail station, not yesterday, not today, nor would they on any day in the foreseeable future. If any news services were ever to get to Tirnamardi, they would have to bring their equipment in from some other stop, such as the first Kadagidi station, taking a truck overland— and likely the Taibeni would stop them on that approach, too— betraying another puzzling situation, since the Taibeni were still technically at war with the Kadagidi, and should not be keeping track of traffic on Kadagidi land.
But perhaps the news services had not yet noticed the two— now three— Taibeni camps, despite the campfires.
Perhaps the news services had sent all their personnel buzzing around the airport in Malguri district, clear across the continent, trying to find out the truth of what was going on up at Malguri fortress— in a township without many modern conveniences, let alone good restaurants or hotels, in a town a day’s flight removed from Shejidan.
This morning, however, another column of smoke had gone up in the green midlands, this one from Tatiseigi’s neighbor, the Kadagidi estate. And since early this morning there could be no question the Kadagidi township was upset, and no more concealing the reports that the Kadagidi lands had been invaded.
Oh, there would be protests flying far and fast . . . quiet, at first, but passionate. And those would reach the news.
By now one could assume the news services would be frantic for answers, increasingly suspecting they had been diverted off a major news event that had nothing to do with the young heir’s birthday party. And by this hour, they would likely begin to get their answers . . . not from the Kadagidi estate itself, which was under Taibeni occupation at the moment, but from the aggrieved household staff, who had been sent down to the Kadagidi township after being ejected from the manor house at Asien’dalun.
Within hours, that situation would surely overshadow not only the heir’s birthday preparations, but the assassination of the heir’s grandfather, and the impending birth of another child to the aiji in Shejidan.
The aiji-dowager and her great-grandson had been intended to carry on the birthday preparations quietly, out of the way of politics in the capital and out of reach of the news services— but, in truth, Bren now suspected, even he had been misled— distracted by all the preparations it had taken to set up the Malguri story and then to divert the entire birthday party to Tirnamardi. It was very possible the dowager’s primary intention in setting up the Malguri story and visiting Lord Tatiseigi instead, had not been so much to deceive the news services, as to separate the Shadow Guild’s two prime targets: herself— and Tabini-aiji— and get good intelligence on the Kadagidi.
Their Shadow Guild enemies, lately pressed to prove they could still reach out and commit acts of terror against the aiji’s authority, had been on the move, too— but they had clearly been running behind. They’d launched a complex assassination attempt based on their estimation of where Tatiseigi would be, in their absolutely correct estimation of the effect the loss of Tatiseigi would have on the dowager’s influence with the Conservatives.
As happened, the two efforts, the Shadow Guild assassination plot and the dowager’s several-pronged plot to confuse her enemies, had bumped into one another . . . purely by accident, the kind of accident that might befall two opponents circling one another in the dark.
Inevitable, under the circumstances, that they would collide— but one could suspect that the dowager still knew more than she was saying.
"One of the best long-running SF series in existence.... Cherryh remains one of the most talented writers in the field." —Publishers Weekly
"Some of the finest work of Cherryh's long and distinguished career."—Locus
"My favorite science fiction series is C. J. Cherryh's Foreigner universe. Cherryh deftly balances alien psychology and human vanities in a character caught between being human and part of an alien race."—Denver Post
"There is plenty of intrigue…marvelous attention to detail that makes the culture of the atevi one of the most complex, multi-layered creations in science fiction…. The Foreigner series is about as good as it gets…so finely and densely wrought that you may end up dreaming of sable-skinned giants with gold eyes, and the silver spun delicacy of interstellar politics."—SF Site
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