War Maid’s Choice – Snippet 46

“According to my sources, Yurokhas is most definitely not going to be involved,” Sahrdohr replied. “One of Sir Jerhas’ senior clerks told me — confidentially, of course — that His Majesty was very firm about that and that His Highness was very meek and dutiful about accepting the King’s instructions.”

“Of course he was.”

Varnaythus shook his head. Prince Yurokhas was almost certainly the only person in the entire Kingdom of the Sothōii who would meekly and obediently accept his monarch’s instructions…and then cheerfully go and do exactly what he’d intended to do all along. It wasn’t something for the faint of heart, even in Yurokhas’ case, but by now he’d had years of practice. More than enough of them to accustom King Markhos to the notion that it was going to go on happening. In fact, it had gotten even worse since Crown Prince Norandhor’s birth four years ago, when Yurokhas had suddenly become second in line for the crown. He’d always chafed against the restrictions imposed by his place as Markhos’ heir, and now that he’d become so much less irreplaceable…

“That could work out quite well, couldn’t it?” Varnaythus continued. “Assuming that campaign goes as well as I’m sure we all hope it will, at any rate.”

“That’s true. Such a tragic possibility for any good, loyal Sothōii.” Sahrdohr allowed himself a suitably mournful expression for a moment, then shrugged. “Of course, we still have a long way to go before we can convince Cassan to take advantage of the opportunity at his end, and unless we can move against both of them simultaneously –”

He grimaced, and Varnaythus nodded. Eliminating one of the royal brothers would be a less than optimal outcome. In fact, it might well prove disastrous, depending upon the circumstances under which that elimination occurred.

“That’s a worthwhile point,” he acknowledged, “but if this was going to be easy, They wouldn’t have needed us, would they? They could have gone on trusting it to idiots like Jerghar or Dahlaha.”


“I take it the numbers Tellian provided to Shaftmaster confirmed what we’d expected?” Varnaythus asked, changing the subject.

“Unfortunately.” There was no amusement in Sahrdohr’s grimace this time. “I’m not senior enough to have sat in on any of the meetings myself, but I was able to get my hands on a true copy of Sir Whalandys’ notes courtesy of my capture spell. I’ll transfer a copy to you at the end of our conversation, but I don’t think you’ll be any happier with them than I was. Assuming Kilthandahknarthas’ estimates are accurate — and when was the last time one of his estimates wasn’t accurate? — Tellian Bowmaster is about to become the richest Sothōii noble in history. Phrobus only knows how much Bahnak is going to make out of it, but the Exchequer’s share of Tellian’s income alone is going to add somewhere between ten and twelve percent to its annual revenues. And that’s from its direct share of his income; it doesn’t even count all of the indirect revenues the Crown is going to generate off of the increased trade.”

Varnaythus’ jaw clenched. He’d known the numbers were going to be bad, but he’d continued to hope they wouldn’t be quite that bad. Unfortunately, the wizard lords of Carnadosa weren’t very good when it came to estimating trade revenues and opportunities. The economy they’d rebuilt in Kontovar depended upon totally different means of manufacture and transport, and the truth was that he’d been slow to fully recognize the implications of the Derm Canal. As it was, he’d come to suspect Kilthandahknarthas was being deliberately conservative in the estimates he was sharing with his partners in the project, which suggested all sorts of unpleasant possibilities if it couldn’t be stopped after all. On the other hand…

“The Purple Lords aren’t going to like that at all, are they?” he said thoughtfully.

“I think that would be putting it rather conservatively, actually.” Sahrdohr’s irony came through the link quite well, Varnaythus thought. “This is going to literally ruin at least a dozen of their major trading houses. In fact, it’s probably going to be a lot worse than that, especially if the Spearmen come on board with Kilthandahknarthas and Tellian as enthusiastically as I expect they will. If Bortalik Bay suddenly isn’t the only — or even the best — gateway to the Spear, the consequences will be devastating for them.”

“Yes, and they’ll resent it, won’t they?” Varnaythus’ eyes gleamed. “And while they’re resenting it, who are they going to blame for it?”

“Ah?” It was Sahrdohr’s turn to pause, eyebrows rising in speculation. He sat that way for perhaps fifteen seconds, then nodded. “Yes, that would have unfortunate repercussions for any sense of loyalty they might feel for their neighbors to the north, wouldn’t it?”

“Which might make them more open to conversations with their neighbors to the south, don’t you think?” Varnaythus almost purred.

“I suspect it might,” Sahrdohr agreed. “Of course, that doesn’t change our instructions, does it?”

“No, but it might not be a bad point for me to include in my next report.”

The two wizards’ gazes met in shared understanding. There was very little chance they would be ordered to cease their efforts to strangle the entire project before birth, but it never hurt to have a fallback position ready. Pointing out the potential benefits — especially when that potential was as large as it might well prove in this instance — which could still accrue if they failed in their mission could well contribute to their own continued existence if worse came to worst.

“I think that would be a very good idea,” Sahrdohr said, and Varnaythus snorted in amusement.

“And may I ask how your mission in Halthan is faring so far?” the magister asked after a moment.

“Reasonably well,” Varnaythus replied. “I think we need to look more closely at Baroness Myacha, though. She’s not the bedchamber trophy we thought she was. Worse, I think she has a brain that works, and she seems to be unfortunately…resilient.”

“Another one with a latent Gift?”

“Possibly. Quite possibly.” Varnaythus shrugged. “We’ll have to see what we can do about tracking back on her pedigree, but I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if she has at least a touch of it. It runs in too damned many of the old families to make me happy.”

“You think she has the True Sight?” Sahrdohr’s unhappiness with that thought was obvious.

“If she does, it’s completely untrained, and without training, the worst likely outcome would be for her to be vaguely uncomfortable around me without being able to put her finger on why. I didn’t see any sign of that this afternoon, although that doesn’t prove anything.” Varnaythus grimaced. “I’ll just have to add her to the list of people in this accursed barony that I need to avoid as much as possible. It would help if Borandas weren’t as besotted with her as he obviously is, though.”

“Wonderful.” Sahrdohr shook his head with a disgusted expression.

“Oh, it’s not that bad. Potentially inconvenient, I agree, but as I say, I’m not that concerned about her realizing Talthar is a glamour.”

“No, but what if she should find herself feeling ‘vaguely uncomfortable’ around him and happen to discuss that with her husband’s cousin the mage?” Sahrdohr challenged. “And what if her husband’s cousin the mage has already figured out she could have a touch of the Gift herself?”

“Which is the reason I’m going to do my best to avoid her,” Varnaythus pointed out in an oblique acknowledgment of the magister’s point.

The magi had made it a matter of high priority to collect every scrap of information they could on the art, and that unmitigated pain in the arse Wencit of RÅ«m had made it an equally high priority to answer their questions and hand over the not inconsiderable personal library he’d managed to salvage from the wreckage of Kontovar. As a result, they were far better informed about wizardry than their Carnadosan opponents were about the powers of magi, which meant Master Brayahs was probably as conversant with the symptoms of a latent Gift for the art as Varnaythus himself.

“In the meantime,” he went on in a determinedly brisk tone, “the rest of my visit here seems to have gone quite well. It’s remarkable how gems of high quality open doors, isn’t it?”