SOME GOLDEN HARBOR – snippet 34:

“They are my whimsy,” Krychek said. “I began collecting them before my exile.”

He walked to the case on Adele’s left and rotated it, then pointed to a simple pipe with a bowl of dark root-stock and a stem with noticeable wear. Many of the others didn’t appear to have been used.

“This was my grandfather’s,” Krychek said musingly. “He was smoking it when he died. That and his name are the only things that remain to me of him.”

He met Adele’s eyes. “I do not smoke myself,” he said. “But I collect.”

Krychek settled into his seat again and cleared his throat, frowning. “You wish to know about Bennarian politics,” he said. He shrugged. “There are four great magnates, Waddell above all; Fahey and Knox; and there is Corius, who sets himself against all the others. Waddell leads the Council, but he’s not greedy. Not too greedy. He leaves some cream for the rest; more than they’d get fighting him, at least.”

“If Waddell isn’t interested in driving the Pellegrinians off Dunbar’s World…,” Adele said, pursing her lips as she looked into the display of her data unit. “Then Corius is our only hope?”

She’d brought the unit out without really being aware of what she was doing. A flick of the wands brought up a graph of payroll records for the five Counciliar Houses represented at the meeting in Manco House. It was the first thing she’d checked after entering the Councilors’ databases.

“Perhaps,” said Krychek. “He’s a reformer, this Corius. He thinks the common people of Bennaria should have some of the cream themselves. A victory on Dunbar’s World would give him greater status.”

“Do you mean that he says the common people should have more?” Adele said harshly. “What other evidence is there that he believes what he says?”

Lucius Mundy had said similar things as head of the Popular Party, but he’d literally ridden on the backs of his supporters down Straight Street to the Senate House a month before Adele left to complete her schooling on Bryce. Representatives of the poor districts of Xenos dined at the Mundy table in the run-up to every election that Adele could remember… but they were clients dining with Mundy of Chatsworth. None of them was likely to misunderstand the fact that their role was to aid Senator Mundy in his plans for the betterment of their position.

“You’re a cynical one, Mundy!” Krychek said with a laugh. “More wine, then? No? Well, Corius says the people should have more, I’ll leave it at that. But he’s gathering soldiers, two thousand of them.”

Adele said nothing for a moment, staring at the graph already on her display. Councilor Waddell had some three hundred armed retainers, allowing for the possibility that she’d misallocated men who might be clerks. None of the other Councilors had more than two hundred, putting Corius’ private army on a different scale from those of his rivals.

“Do you think he’s planning a coup here on Bennaria, then?” she asked, meeting Krychek’s eyes calmly. She didn’t bother asking whether he was sure of his figures; that would simply insult his intelligence and make him less forthcoming. Besides, the numbers matched the capacity of the transports Corius had rented.

“No,” said Krychek. “No, he doesn’t have men enough to defeat all the Councilors put together–and they’ll unite against him if he tries, you can be sure of that.”

He snorted. “Corius is sure of that, he’ll have no doubt,” he went on. “His family’s always been powerful here, so he was born knowing how the rest of the Councilors think. And besides….”

Krychek rose swiftly and smoothly to his feet. His right arm lashed out, hurling his empty glass into the dummy fireplace set into the bulkhead across from him. He was a strong man; the impact smashed the glass to little more than dust.

“And besides,” Krychek resumed calmly, looking down at Adele, “if Corius intended a coup, he would hire me and my good fellows, would he not? A hundred and eighty men, trained as shock troops and long experienced in crewing a ship, this ship. Experienced in holding their own among the dregs of the galaxy.”

Adele took her left hand out of her pocket. She bent to retrieve the wand she’d dropped when her host moved unexpectedly, but she didn’t take her eyes off his face.

She didn’t speak, either. A matter that so raised Krychek’s emotional temperature was nothing for her to start dabbling in verbally unless she had to.

“I owe you an explanation,” Krychek said, though from his tone he was more bragging than apologizing. “Why I behave in this way.”

“You owe me nothing but common courtesy,” said Adele calmly. “If you want to break a glass in your own residence, the reasons are none of my business.”

Though if you startle me like that again, she thought, you may not survive the experience. Which will pose problems for me as well.

“We had to leave Port Dunbar very suddenly,” Krychek said, turning to stare at a display of pipes. “We were the only ship to lift from the harbor after the invasion. Their shots were hitting our hull and pierced an outrigger. There was danger, yes, but less danger. Arruns would certainly have hung us all had he captured the city. Maurice didn’t come with us–he went by land to Ollarville and took commercial transport from there.”

The flamboyance was gone from Krychek’s tone and demeanor. He seemed a sharp man; Adele suspected he’d noticed that her reaction to violence wasn’t to cower.

“I recall him saying that,” Adele said, a politely neutral comment. She met her host’s eyes, but the little data unit was busy gathering all the information available from the Mazeppa.

“We’d just come back from a trading voyage,” Krychek continued, facing Adele again with a leisurely movement that couldn’t be mistaken for a threat. “We hadn’t restocked yet, and our thruster nozzles were thin. Very thin, I learned, but there was no choice. We lifted for Bennaria while the Pellegrinians shot at us, and landed as quickly as we could.”