SOME GOLDEN HARBOR – snippet 39:

The noise from the crowd outside was vibrantly excited, and the Councilors who’d reached the anteroom were talking in spiky concern as Daniel led his party down the balcony stairs. He stretched his arms, overhead and then back behind him, to loosen the muscles. His left shoulder throbbed from the knock the club’d given him, but he had full strength and movement in the limb.

He grinned cheerfully at the milling nervousness below: the RCN was ready for action. As usual.

“Daniel?” Adele murmured, but just then Yuli Corius reached the outer door with Fallert behind him. Corius raised his hands high and the mob beyond the line of armed guards bellowed in response. Daniel paused, lifting a hand to warn his companions.

The aides from the other balcony were with their principals in the anteroom now, relaying orders over radio links. The guards outside parted, some of them glancing back with set expressions. Corius passed out of the building and into a troop of his own blue-sleeved retainers. He raised his hands again, gesturing toward the steps at the other end of the plaza.

When Corius had moved out of sight and the noise had abated a smidgen, Adele leaned close again and said, “Daniel, I have business that’ll prevent me from attending the assembly. I’ll explain later.”

“Yes, of course,” he said, turning his head slightly; Adele might not be able to hear the words but at least she could see his lips moving. “Good luck.”

Now that Corius had taken the crush away from the plaza outside, the other Councilors were leaving. Daniel started down again. He didn’t know what Adele had in mind, but she wasn’t somebody whose work he had to oversee.

And looking out through the open doorway, it was pretty obvious that he had enough on his plate already.

“Commander Leary?” Councilor Waddell called as Daniel reached the bottom of the stairs. “I wonder if I might have a word with you on a personal matter.”

It was a question only in form. Daniel looked at him. He half expected Adele to wait to hear this, but she and her servant slipped past and out of the building with the stream of Councilors. Waddell stood with a single aide, the young man with curly hair and broad shoulders who’d been present at Manco House the previous day.

Tovera’s intelligent and frequently very useful, but how Adele can stand to have her around is beyond me. That was a thought for another time, though.

“I’m not aware of any personal business between us, Councilor,” Daniel said, but he turned into the alcove under the stairs he’d just come down. There was enough room for them despite the presence of a statue of a robed orator with two fingers raised.

Hogg lounged against the wall, picking his nose and looking completely the rustic buffoon; his mouth drooped slackly as he eyed Waddell’s aide. Daniel would’ve thought Hogg was overdoing the act, but he’d learned–as his servant had known from the beginning–that city folk would believe any lack of culture or intelligence in a countryman. Hogg made himself so easy to underestimate that opponents frequently didn’t know what’d hit them.

“I think you found some property of mine last night, Leary,” Waddell said, coming within arm’s length. His voice was pitched to be lost in the continuing background of crowd noise at any distance from the two of them. “I know you’ll want to return it for the sake of friendship.”

“I have no property of yours, Councilor,” Daniel said. “Nor friendship either, I’d have said.”

He cleared his throat and went on, “You referred to ‘personal business’, but I might mention my plan to hire some additional crew here. If so, they’ll be RCN personnel to be tried by their captain for any infractions they happen to commit on Bennaria. Though of course that won’t have any bearing on matters between you and me in our private capacities.”

He knew that his face had stiffened from its usual smiling pleasantry, but he kept remembering the body he’d found in the dressing room. That needn’t have been at Waddell’s orders and might even have been against them, but it was a predictable result of hiring the sort of scum Waddell had picked.

The anteroom had emptied except for the two of them and their retainers. Guards wearing green-and-yellow rosettes like the aide’s cap badge looked anxiously through the doorway but they didn’t enter.

“I see,” said Waddell. “I see indeed. Well, Commander, I’m sure that Nataniel Arruns will be in real danger if so resourceful an officer ever begins doing the job for which he was sent to Ganpat’s Reach. Good afternoon, sir.”

Waddell turned on his heel and stalked toward the doorway, flanked by his aide. Just before he exited, he turned and snapped, “Until we meet again, of course!”

Hogg scratched his right armpit. “Still want to push into the ruck on the other side a’ the square, master?” he asked, his eyes focused on the plaza.

“Yes, Hogg,” said Daniel. “I’m sure the crowd will be full of whores and pickpockets and the usual run of city layabouts.”

He paused, smiling again. “They’ll raise the average tone over what we’ve been dealing with thus far today.”