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Law Links 5
GOD OF JUDGMENT
 

CHAPTER ONE

The ninth day of September in the 941st year a.g.l.

A whole week has passed since Carle and I became spies for the Chara, and we haven't yet begun our training, though we have memorized the Law of Disclosure, and Wystan has spent several hours each day explaining our duties to us. I had thought that we would be trained by one of the other spies, but Wystan says that we cannot be allowed to come into contact with any other of the Chara's spies from this time on.

"The trouble with you two," he said, "is that you know too much. Generally, the spies I send out know nothing beyond what I have told them myself and what they have learned from their own investigations. That way, if a spy is caught and questioned, he can reveal little to our enemies. But you two have been patrol guards. That means you know the identities of every Emorian spy who works in Koretia, and you have spoken to many of them about their work."

"I thought that we were allowed to do that, sir," I said.

Wystan nodded. We were standing in his tent – he had not offered us seats because we were supposed to be mere laborers, but out of courtesy he had remained standing himself. "I have always allowed the Chara's spies to exchange information with the patrol, because the more that the patrol knows about what is going on in Koretia, the better it can do its job. You were right to question the spies about their work – when you were guards. But that creates a cursed dilemma for me now. If either of you is captured and speaks under questioning, every Emorian spy in Koretia may be arrested."

Carle began to speak, then stopped himself. Like me, he was dressed in a peasant-brown tunic that was covered with mud, since we had spent the morning struggling to raise and secure a badly-made army tent that was consonant with our status as the bottom-ranked men in the headquarters. Not long afterwards, we had passed Neville, and he had carefully slid his gaze away from us, pretending that we weren't there. To my relief, Carle had seemed almost satisfied by this. "Our highly dishonorable dismissals wouldn't make a difference to someone who held us in real friendship," he told me. "As a result of this experience, we'll be able to tell who our true friends are."

Now Wystan said, "I am taking a great risk in sending you to Koretia, but I think the information you are likely to obtain will be worth the risk. This means, though, that you will need to be doubly on your guard against capture, and you will need to be prepared for the consequences if that happens."

So then he told us what would be done to us if we were captured, and afterwards he sent us to the city prison to watch a suspected murderer being interrogated, since our torturers use the same methods as do the Koretian torturers. Then we returned to Wystan and he asked us whether we were sure that we wanted to take on this duty, and we both said yes, though I was feeling quite sick by that point.

I told Carle afterwards that I wasn't sure I could hold out against such methods. He replied, "The man who requested an extra twenty lashes? The man who broke his left wrist on patrol and didn't tell anyone about it for four hours?"

"We were hunting a tricky breacher that day," I murmured.

"I could cite a dozen other examples. No, if anyone breaks under questioning, it will be me. The only thing I can think of to do if I'm captured is to keep reciting to myself the Justification of the Law of Vengeance. If I hold in mind all of the burdens that the Chara undergoes for this land, it may help me to bear my own better."

Incidentally, Wystan said he would have sent us to visit the palace dungeon for our lesson about torture, if our dishonorable dismissals had not prevented that. Carle and I have talked about how much fun it would be to sneak into the palace, but with no serious intent. We've been in enough trouble recently as it is.

o—o—o

The eleventh day of September in the 941st year a.g.l.

We finally have a tutor: Hylas, one of the royal messengers.

I'd known, of course, that the royal messengers are members of the Division of Disclosure, since they carry both official and unofficial messages throughout the Three Lands. I didn't realize, though, that they carry, not only messages from high army officials and council lords, but also reports from spies who want to send information back to Wystan quickly. Nor did I realize that most of the royal messengers are former spies and that they are occasionally called upon to resume their old duties.

"It is the best of two worlds," said Hylas, as he checked over our tent to assure himself that we kept nothing there that would reveal our true rank. "Royal messengers receive the privilege of meeting noblemen and high officials, but we also have occasional fun tracking the enemy. And our work is vitally important to the empire: we bring the first news of anything that happens in the Three Lands, whether it be of war or peace, plague or celebration. —What in the name of the dead Charas are you keeping this here for?" Hylas held up my copper honor brooch, which he had removed from under my sleeping pallet. I received the brooch last spring for an episode not worth recording here; any patrol guard would have done the same, and I was embarrassed at the way Carle kept thanking me for days afterwards.

"I didn't know where else to put it," I said.

"Give it to a friend to keep or toss it in a well – do you want to lose your life over a piece of metal? Koretian spies swarm these headquarters during the daytime. They have little luck overhearing conversations through the thick tent-cloth – guards will move them on if they linger too long in one spot – but they do succeed in taking note of movements, and they'll occasionally rifle through tents when the owners are absent. One of their jobs is to discover if any man visiting Wystan regularly is what he claims to be."

He tossed the brooch to me, and Carle took it from me with a grin. He had already handed his own belongings over to Sewell and had suggested that I do the same, but I hadn't understood the reason for his suggestion until now.

"How does one become a royal messenger?" I asked to cover my embarrassment.

"We must pass a strenuous test – riding speed is most important, next to an ability to keep our mouths shut. We generally know what the letters we carry contain, so only the most trustworthy men in the empire can become messengers. If you are really ambitious, you could try for the highest-ranked post in the espionage division: private messenger to the Chara. That is an honor worth working for. You'd carry only messages from the Chara, and their replies, and you'd report only to him. . . . You're keeping your sword?" This last remark was addressed to Carle, for Hylas was now inspecting our outfits.

Carle nodded. "I have no great skill with a dagger, I fear."

"You shouldn't have to use your sword either. Spies don't fight – remember that. Only if you're on the point of capture should you defend yourself, and then I would suggest using your thigh-dagger. Spies can't afford to be honorable in their methods of killing." Hylas twirled Carle unceremoniously around to look at his back. "Hmm. Straight, formal posture. If you're carrying a sword, we might disguise you as a nobleman."

"A nobleman?" said Carle in consternation.

And so, despite Carle's protests, Carle is now the heir to a Koretian village baron, and I am his blood brother who travels with him wherever he goes. I thought that Carle would simply nick himself with a dagger to create the vow mark, but he said that he had better know how such a ceremony is performed, so we underwent the mixing of blood, except that we made our vows to the Chara rather than to a god. I know that this blood vow makes no difference to us – we were bound from the moment that he offered me his wine – but still it pleases me that we have been linked by the customs of both our native lands, as though creating a double chain-link of friendship.

o—o—o

The twelfth day of September in the 941st year a.g.l.

Last night, Carle and I discussed what Hylas had said about becoming a royal messenger. I had thought that Carle would be excited at the idea of being able to work with council lords and perhaps even the Chara, but he said, "Tell me, have you heard Hylas speak a single word about the law?"

I thought a bit and realized that I hadn't; nor had I heard most of the soldiers in these headquarters discussing the subject.

"My father wanted me to work for a town council," said Carle, scratching his legs. The section of the headquarters where we are now located is filled with fleas, so we've resigned ourselves to waking up each morning with red marks on our skin. "He said that the only talent I had was in book-learning, and so he had me memorizing languages and laws from an early age – that's why I know as many laws as I do. But I wanted to join the border mountain patrol, and the only reason I learned those laws was because I knew that patrol guards were law-lovers, and I wanted to be one too."

"You are a law-lover," I said. "Quentin told me that you know more law than any other soldier he'd met."

"That's a compliment in the patrol, but it hardly says much in the regular army. High officials like Wystan know the law well, but how many lower-ranked soldiers do you think are interested in the law? They believe that, if you're fighting battles or spying on Koretians or carrying messages, you don't need to care about the law."

I was silent a while, biting at my knuckles. It was late night, and our tent was lit with the faint light of a brazier fire. We had the tent flap closed, since it was cool outside, and through the thick cloth I could hear nothing except the sound of several palace guards making the rounds in the headquarters.

"So do you think we made a mistake in taking up this work?" I asked finally.

"Oh, I didn't say that. One of the troubles with us Emorians is that we don't know enough about our southern neighbors. When I joined the mountain patrol, I was surprised to find out how little even the patrol guards know about Koretia. Think on Quentin. He's a borderlander, he's the lieutenant of a patrol that deals daily with Koretians, yet I doubt that he knows a single Koretian religious rite, other than the funeral rite that I taught him. And the less that Emorians know about Koretia, the more likely we are to have trouble with that land."

Carle reached over to a bag near him, bit into the blackroot nut he found there, and made a sour face. In conformity with our image as ground-poor peasants, we are now eating a steady diet of peasant food. I thought that I knew what poverty was, having come from a poor village and having lived the harsh life of patrol guard, but I'm beginning to realize how desperately hard most men's lives are. I will be glad when we travel to Koretia, and I become a nobleman's blood brother, with a style of living to match.

Carle said, "No, I'm glad that I'll have a chance to see for myself the land I spent so many years learning about, and that you'll be my guide for what I see. A few years spent in Koretia could be of great help to me in the future. But I'm beginning to think that my father is right. Perhaps my destiny does lie in a town council in the end."

"So you want to become a town councilman?" I said.

Carle laughed as he slapped a flea with the sheath of his sword. "That's being overambitious, don't you think? I'll be satisfied if I can find a position as a council clerk or porter. More likely the only position I'll be able to find is as a scribe to some village council that can't afford to hire real talent."

"Don't be foolish!" I said heatedly. "You're far better at the law than that. You know that you could be a town councilman if you tried."

Carle looked over at me then, the right side of his mouth crooking up. "Well, I'll confess that I do have a secret plot that will allow me to obtain a very honorable office."

"What is that?" I asked and undid my belt in preparation for bed.

"I have a friend whom I expect will be a council lord some day, and when that happens, I plan to see whether he can find me a job as a bottom-ranked official of the Great Council."

"Have I met this friend?" I asked curiously, pulling my tunic over my head.

"In a manner of speaking."

I froze in the ridiculous position of having my arms straight over my head, pulling up the tunic. Carle was sitting on his bed, leaning back against one of the tent posts; the shadow of my arms and tunic was just touching his bare feet. He looked back at me steadily, and after a moment I remembered to move again. Pulling the tunic off, I said, "You and Quentin. Quentin thought that I would be a mighty soldier, and look what happened to me: I nearly caused a war."

"That's the only question in my mind – whether you'll end up a captain or a council lord. You'd be equally good at both, so you mustn't let my plight influence your choice."

"Stop making silly jokes." I reached down to unlace the leather shoe-straps binding my legs. "When was the last time a lesser free-man was appointed to the Great Council?"

"Sixty-five years ago."

"There, you see? You knew the answer in an instant, just as you know the answer to any law question. If anyone's destined to become a council lord, it's you."

"May the high doom fall upon you, man . . ." Carle followed this up with a colorful string of oaths and concluded by saying, "Why should I have impossible ambitions like that when I have you as my friend? Believe me, I'm quite content to follow in your wake, wherever your talents take you. —Never mind, never mind, there's no point in arguing about the hypothetical all night. All I meant to say was that I'd like to do council work some day – if I survive a few years as a spy. That may be ambition enough."

And that remark brought us out of our dreams and back to reality.

o—o—o

The thirteenth day of September in the 941st year a.g.l.

We received a letter from Quentin today, by way of Hylas. Since Carle and I are not accepted as spies until we have completed our training, the patrol hasn't yet heard of our new assignment, but Neville wrote to the patrol and let everyone know of our disgrace.

Quentin wanted to know whether he could be of any help in finding us better jobs.

"I told you we'd find out who our true friends are," crowed Carle, waving the letter. "Heart of Mercy, was there ever such a man as that? We bring grave dishonor upon his patrol – or so he thinks – and he breaks the great taboo against communicating with us, in order to offer his assistance. By the law-structure itself, I can't wait to see him again. Cursed be his reticence. I'm the same rank now as he is; he's going to hear what I think of him, whether he likes it or not."

o—o—o

The nineteenth day of September in the 941st year a.g.l.

Any illusions I had about the life of a spy being full of excitement are now gone. Carle and I just spent a week in training, gathering information about the width of farm fields. Hylas says we'll be lucky if we receive such an interesting assignment when we go to Koretia.

We were sent to the Emorian borderland as an experiment to see whether Carle could pass as a Koretian. We were nearly required to spy on Quentin's home village, which would have been amusing, but Carle explained to Hylas that we had both met Quentin's grandfather. So I missed my chance to meet Quentin's grandfather again and to understand better why Quentin is so reluctant to be in contact with his family.

Carle and I have decided not to respond to the lieutenant's letter. Anything we wrote now would have to be a lie; we'll be able to give him the truth soon enough.

Last night, as we were sorting through the information we'd gathered and trying to decide whether the Chara needed to know which fields were covered with weeds, Carle said, "The one I feel sorry for in all this is Quentin. He was planning to retire at the end of this year, but now he'll have to wait a year or two while he trains your successor."

I was busy checking to ensure that our tent was closed tight against eavesdroppers, and so it took me a moment to realize what Carle had said. Then I replied, "What are you talking about? You were the sublieutenant; you were going to take Quentin's place when he left."

Carle was stretched along his low cot, tracing circles around the numbers we had drawn in the dirt and were trying to commit to memory in true spy fashion. He gave me one of his crooked smiles. "I told you last year that elevation of rank doesn't work that way. You're a better soldier than I am; I knew that from the moment you disarmed me. Quentin was only waiting for you to resolve matters with Fowler before he made you his partner and began training you to lead the unit."

I looked quickly down at the ground and began digging at the dust with the tip of my boot. I too had long known that I was a better soldier than anyone in the unit except Quentin, but I had not allowed myself to think about this, so confident was I that Carle would always be above my rank. Now I wasn't sure what lay behind Carle's smile, and I was afraid to ask.

Softly as the breeze whistling against the tent cover, Carle said, "No, I take it back. It's not Quentin I feel sorriest for; it's you. You could have held the most honored lieutenancy in the Chara's armies if it hadn't been for my foolishness, and I— Well, I've lost the great joy I would have had in serving under you. I suppose that I couldn't have had any worse punishment than that."

And as I looked up, I saw that he was still smiling. With a brush of the hand, he swept away the figures we had written down, and for the next hour we quizzed each other on our information.

We proved to be equally poor at our work.

o—o—o

The twenty-first day of October in the 941st year a.g.l.

I've had no time to write for the past month, so busy have we been in our training. In light of what I wrote in my previous entry, I should add that I'm relieved to discover that Carle is a better spy than I am. At least, he's better at lying. I asked him once how he learned so well to lie, and he replied, "From living with my father." I quickly switched the subject.

He's also a master at being able to tell when other people are lying, and he can't explain how he acquired that talent. It did occur to me that his father has the same skill, but of course I knew better than to mention that to Carle. The only task I have any real skill at is hunting, and so Carle and I divide our duties the way we did in the beginning: he talks with people, and if there's a need to track anyone, I do the hunting. I feel as though we've become even closer partners than we were in the patrol.

It felt odd, then, when Wystan called me into his tent alone. He wanted to question me about how much danger I was placing myself in by returning to Koretia. I explained to him how my kinsmen would never visit Blackpass, and he seemed satisfied, but he said, "This war in Koretia has become so ferocious that I fear you might be in danger even if you are recognized by someone who is not kin to you. You will discover as a spy that one temptation you are constantly facing is to confess your true identity to sympathetic listeners. Any man of honor sickens of having to tell lies week after week, and you will reach a point where you think, 'What harm could it do to tell this one person?' For that reason, whenever possible I send Koretian-born spies back under their own identities. In your case, though, the possible harm of disclosure is double, since your life could be forfeit due to your broken blood vow, as well as due to your spying. Because of that, I am going to give you a command: You are not to reveal your identity to any Koretian. Do you understand my order?"

I nodded. I did not think it was necessary to add that I have no desire for any Koretian to know the truth of who I am. When I think of all the years I spent worshipping the gods, I am filled with shame, and no Koretian would ever understand that.

o—o—o

The twenty-eighth day of October in the 941st a.g.l.

Carle and I have finished our training. No one has told us otherwise, so I suppose we are spies now. We're awaiting our first assignment, and in the meantime we're quizzing each other so that we are sure to know our new identities if anyone should ask us.

Hylas decided in the end that it would be too dangerous to have Carle try to pass as a noble's heir; someone might know the village he came from. Instead, Carle is Calder son of Victor. His father and elder brothers were all killed in a blood feud, so he was heir to his village's barony for a short time when he was seven. But he was so ill after the murders that he went to live with another noble family, and when it became clear that he would not recover from his illness, he gave the King permission to appoint a new baron to his village. Calder stayed with the other noble family until he came of age, but because the village baron was new nobility and his father had been of the old nobility, Calder was unwilling to remain there. Since that time, he has spent his life travelling. As the former heir to a village baron, he is entitled to wear a sword.

Calder really exists; he came to live with my family when he was seven and I was four. He killed himself, though. I still remember Emlyn's face when he came to tell us that he had found Calder hanging from one of the rafters of our hall.

It was so shameful an incident that no one knows it happened except my family and the King and Calder's mother, who told everyone that she had given my father guardianship of Calder. As far as anyone else knows, Calder is still alive.

I'm my cousin Emlyn. Oh, I'm not using his name, but I based my new identity on him: blood brother to one of the old nobility, not important in my own right, but worthy of courtesy and attention. If Carle and I ask questions, the person we're talking with will feel compelled to answer two august persons such as ourselves. At least, I hope that is the case; our mission depends upon it.

o—o—o

The thirtieth day of October in the 941st year a.g.l.

Hylas brought us another letter from Quentin today. It was sealed, but of course Hylas knew what it said, since patrol guards are required to disclose the contents of their personal letters to the messengers who carry them. Hylas said that he heard from another royal messenger that Quentin has been sending out large batches of letters to a wide variety of people in Southern Emor for the past month, and that the letters were all aimed at securing the enclosed.

We broke the seal and looked at Quentin's message. It was a short note telling us that his grandfather had heard of our present situation and was pleased to offer us a house in his village, as well as jobs on his farm.

Carle didn't crow this time. Instead, he handed me the letter and walked rapidly out of the tent. I found him an hour later, leaning against the exterior side of the inner palace wall. He was gazing from his hilltop perch at the border mountains as he softly practiced his patrol whistles. I pretended not to notice the wet face-cloth that was thrust under his belt.

o—o—o

The fourth day of November in the 941st year a.g.l.

Carle and I are breaking our night fast in the patrol hut while everyone here eagerly plies us with questions. I think they are trying to make up for our initial reception.

We arrived at the patrol points just before dawn, and Carle whistle-signalled Quentin, rather than wait for the patrol to sight us, as we knew how duty would require Quentin to capture two men of our supposed status. The lieutenant came down alone, with his sword still in its sheath, and Carle silently handed him the sealed letter from Captain Wystan. By the time Quentin finished reading the letter, he was wearing a broad smile; I don't think I've ever seen him smile so greatly before. Then he called down the full patrol. I could see Carle watching as the guards came forward, judging each man by how he reacted to our presence. When Quentin announced our new titles, everyone cheered without hesitation, so Carle is inclined to forgive the guards who avoided looking at us; I won't even record their names here. But as Carle pointed out to me in a whisper, Quentin is the only one we can really trust now.

We will sleep here with the night patrol today so that we can arrive at the Koretian border after dark. Tomorrow we will change into the Koretian clothes we have brought with us; we will leave our Emorian clothes here. Quentin is also allowing me to leave my journal here. Usually I keep the book in Sewell's tent, which is heavily guarded since it is in the area belonging to the high army officials. But I plan to take some extra pieces of paper with me and write journal entries while I'm in Koretia. I have Wystan's permission to do this, since I will be carrying other incriminating documents in my thigh-pocket anyway. When I return to the patrol hut, I can bind the entries into my journal.

Carle has Quentin in one corner of the hut now, and from the look on Quentin's face, I take it that Carle is carrying out his promise to tell Quentin what he thinks of him. I hope Quentin recovers from this trauma.

o—o—o

The fifth day of November in the 941st year a.g.l.

Carle was yawning all through our walk last night. He and Quentin stayed up talking almost till dusk. I asked Carle what they discussed, and he said, "Our families, mainly. Quentin told me more about his grandfather. It appears that he is a very loving and solicitous man who has bullied Quentin all his life. The lieutenant as much as said that the only reason he joined the patrol was because his grandfather forced him to do so. Apparently – and again, I'm reading behind the lines here – Quentin's grandfather said that Quentin would dishonor his father's spirit if he didn't become a patrol guard. Quentin despises the work; that much he told me outright."

"But he's so good at it!" I said. "He's the best guard in the patrol."

"Possibly one of the best patrol guards of all time," said Carle, wrapping his cloak tighter against the wind that was penetrating the cave we will be sleeping in this morning. "It just goes to show how little connection there can be between enjoying your duty and doing it well. Quentin says that every time he has to wound a breacher in order to capture him, he just tells himself that his own suffering is bringing good to Emor."

I wish that I had the courage to talk to the lieutenant about such matters, but I don't think I would ever have the nerve to start such a conversation. And perhaps that's a weakness on my part, because Quentin may have always wanted somebody to talk to. Well, he has Carle now.