How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 36

          “You think she’s a wife or daughter who managed to get out?”

          “Possibly. Or even a mistress.” Maidyn shrugged again. “The amount of cash and all those deep investments she had tucked away here in Siddar were certainly big enough to represent someone important’s escape fund. It could have been one of the vicars who saw the ax coming, I suppose, although whoever it was must have been clairvoyant to see this coming.” He grimaced distastefully. “If someone did see a major shipwreck ahead, though, whoever it was might have put it under a woman’s name in an effort to keep Clyntahn from sniffing it out.”

          “But you don’t think that’s what it is,” Stohnar observed.

          “No, I don’t.” Maidyn passed the brandy glass under his nose, inhaling its bouquet, then looked back at the lord protector. “She’s too decisive. She’s moving too swiftly now that she’s here.” He shook his head. “No, she’s got a well defined agenda in mind, and whoever she is, and wherever she came from originally, she’s acting on her own now — for herself, not as anyone’s public front.”

          “But what in God’s name is she doing?” Stohnar shook his head. “I agree her sudden arrival’s directly related to Clyntahn’s purge, but if that’s the case, I’d expect her to keep a low profile like the others.”

          The two men looked at one another. They’d been very careful to insure that neither of them learned — officially — about the refugees from the Temple Lands who’d arrived so quietly in the Republic. Most of them had continued onward, taking passage on Siddarmarkian-registry merchant vessels which somehow had Charisian crews . . . and homeports. By now they must have reached or nearly reached the Charisian Empire and safety, and personally, Stohnar wished them well. He wished anyone that unmitigated bastard Clyntahn wanted dead well.

          A handful of the refugees, however, had remained in Siddarmark, seeking asylum with relatives or friends. At least two of them had found shelter with priests Stohnar was reasonably certain nourished Reformist tendencies of their own. All of them, though, had done their very best to disappear as tracelessly as possible, doing absolutely nothing which might have attracted attention to them.

          And then there was Aivah Pahrsahn.

          “I doubt she spend so much time gadding about to the opera and the theatre if it wasn’t part of her cover,” Maidyn said after a moment “And it makes a sort of risky sense, if she is up to something certain people wouldn’t care for. High visibility is often the best way to avoid the attention of people looking for surreptitious spies lurking in the shadows.

          “As to what she might be up to that the Group of Four wouldn’t like, there are all sorts of possibilities. For one thing, she’s investing heavily in the Charisian trade, and according to Tymahn, her analysis of why Clyntahn’s letting us get away with it pretty much matches my own. Of course, we could both be wrong about that. What I find more interesting, though, are her decision to buy into Hahraimahn’s new coking ovens and her investments in foundries. Specifically in the foundries Daryus’ been so interested in.”

          Lord Daryus Parkair was Seneschal of Siddarmark, which made him both the government minister directly responsible for the Army and also that Army’s commanding general. If there was anyone in the entire Republic who Zhaspahr Clyntahn trusted even less (and hated even more) than Greyghor Stohnar, it had to be Daryus Parkair.

Parkair was well aware of that and fully reciprocated Clyntahn’s hatred. He was also as well aware as Stohnar or Maidyn of all the reasons the Republic had been excluded from any of the Church’s military buildup. Which was why he had very quietly and discreetly encouraged certain foundry owners to experiment — purely speculatively, of course — with how one might go about casting the new style artillery or the new rifled muskets. And as Parkair had pointed out to Maidyn just the other day, charcoal was becoming increasingly difficult to come by, which meant foundries could never have too much coke if they suddenly found themselves having to increase their output.

“I don’t think even that would bother me,” Stohnar replied. “Not if she wasn’t sending so much money back into the Temple Lands. I’d be willing to put all of it down to shrewd speculation on her part, if not for that.”

“It is an interesting puzzle, My Lord,” Maidyn acknowledged. “She’s obviously up to something, and my guess is that whatever it is, Clyntahn wouldn’t like it. The question is whether or not he knows about it? I’m inclined to think not, or else the Inquisition would already have insisted we bring her in for a little chat. So then the question becomes whether or not the Inquisition is going to become aware of her? And, of course, whether or not we — as dutiful sons of Mother Church, desirous of proving our reliability to the Grand Inquisitor — should bring her to the Inquisition’s notice ourselves?”

“I doubt very much that anything could convince Zhaspahr Clyntahn you and I are ‘dutiful sons of Mother Church,’ at least as he understands the term,” Stohnar said frostily.

“True, only too true, I’m afraid.” Maidyn’s tone seemed remarkably free of regret. Then his expression sobered. “Still, it’s a move we need to consider, My Lord. If the Inquisition becomes aware of her and learns we didn’t bring her to its attention, it’s only going to be one more log on the fire where Clyntahn’s attitude is concerned.”

“Granted.” Stohnar nodded, waving one hand in a brushing-away gesture. “Granted. But if I’d needed anything to convince me the Group of Four is about as far removed from God’s will as it’s possible to get, Clyntahn’s damned atrocities would’ve done it.” He bared his teeth. “I’ve never pretended to be a saintly sort, Henrai, but if Zhaspahr Clyntahn’s going to Heaven, I want to know where to buy my ticket to Hell now.”

Maidyn’s features smoothed into non-expression. Stohnar’s statement wasn’t a surprise, but the Lord Protector was a cautious man who seldom expressed himself that openly even among the handful of people he fully trusted.

“If Pahrsahn is conspiring against Clyntahn and his hangers-on, Henrai,” Stohnar went on, “then more power to her. Keep an eye on her. Do your best to make sure she’s not doing something we’d disapprove of, but I want it all very tightly held. Use only men you fully trust, and be sure there’s no trail of breadcrumbs from her to us. If the Inquisition does find out about her, I don’t want them finding any indication we knew about her all along and simply failed to mention her to them. Is that clear?”

“Perfectly, My Lord.” Maidyn gave him a brief, seated bow, then leaned back against the wall once more. “Although that does raise one other rather delicate point.”

“Which is?”

“If we should happen to realize the Inquisition is beginning to look in her direction, do we warn her?”

Stohnar pursed his lips, unfocused eyes gazing at something only he could see while he considered the question. Then he shrugged.

“I suppose that will depend on the circumstances,” he said then. “Not detecting her or mentioning her to the Inquisition is one thing. Warning her — and being caught warning her — is something else. And you and I both know that if we do warn her and she’s caught anyway, in the end, she will tell the Inquisitors everything she knows.” He shook his head slowly. “I wish her well. I wish anyone trying to make Clyntahn’s life miserable well. But we’re running too many risks of our own as it is. If there’s a way to warn her anonymously, perhaps yes. But if there isn’t, then I’m afraid she’ll just have to take her chances on her own.”