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“I thought you asked me to take care of your dog while you were on Beta,” Byerly protested. “This is a horse.”

“Max isn’t too big,” said Donna, although it was true that the flat seemed entirely too full of fur and tail and jumping. “Your place is too small. And too quiet.”

By groaned. “I liked it when it was quiet.”

Max eventually gave up on trying to lick By’s fingers – which he kept lifting fastidiously out of the way – and went to snuffle at a small, silky black cat which had obviously been competing with its owner for the most comfortable spot on the couch. Max growled; the cat’s ears went back; Donna began to have a few compunctions about inflicting Max on her favorite cousin for the next two months. “Will your cat be all right?”

Oh, yes. He has ... tactics. By the way, when I secure Vorrutyer House, I might be able to do it so that nobody knows it’s me. No promises, though. Do you want me to try?”

“How would you do that? No, never mind.” Byerly had connections, the exact nature of which he had never discussed, but Donna had a private theory or two. She amended her question. “Why would I want you to do that?”

“Never mind. Just an idea I had. I’ll let you know if it pans out, and you can tell me if you want me to go through with it.”

“All right.” Byerly had a lot of ideas, some of which were brilliant and some of which were insane, and it was never easy to tell the difference between the two, but as long as he intended to ask permission for whatever-it-was he was planning, she figured she could sort it all out later.

“Anything else?”

“Yes.” Donna rummaged in her purse and came up with a pair of scissors, and cut off a lock of her hair. “Death-offering for Pierre.”

“You do have beautiful hair,” he remarked, as he twined it around his fingers. When you wanted to know what By was really thinking and feeling, you looked at his hands; and just now, they were expressing – regret? Uncertainty? Grief? If so, it was almost certainly grief for her and not for Pierre. Dammit, By, don’t do this to me, don’t make me feel like this.

She shot him a quelling look. “By, I thought we had sort of a mutual non-incest pact.”

A quick jerk and a clench of the knuckles. It appeared that this hit lower and harder than she had intended – which wasn’t, actually, a surprise given certain portions of the family history. She decided she wasn’t sorry. It was hard to draw a flinch out of By.

There was a sudden swipe from the corner of the sofa, followed by a howl. Byerly’s hands relaxed, and he smirked. “Will your dog be all right?”

“Eventually. He has a learning curve. Not a terribly steep one, mind, but he’ll figure it out.”

“Any other instructions?”

“Not really. Um, if you get any bright ideas run them by my attorney first? And if you don’t want Max to wake you up first thing in the morning, take him out for a run at midnight instead.”

“I’m not usually home at midnight.”

“Three in the morning?”

“Better. Oh, I’d almost forgotten. I have something for you.”

To Donna’s bemusement, By’s idea of a suitable going-away gift turned out to be a leather-bound volume of Shakespeare’s comedies and a bottle of a bright blue liquid, bearing the label of a popular brand of mouthwash.

“By, if you’re trying to tell me I have bad breath, you had better say it right out.”

“Of course not. It’s for after your surgery. A special concoction of my own, in case they don’t give you the good painkillers.”

Donna reflected that any special concoction of Byerly’s was likely to be illegal on every known planet, unless, of course, no government knew about it yet. In which case it probably hadn’t been tested for safety. On the other hand, it would come in handy if it worked as advertised, which it probably did. “Thank you,” she said, resigned to becoming an interplanetary drug smuggler. “So, about the Shakespeare. You couldn’t have given it to me on flimsies? There’s a weight allowance for baggage, you know.”

Byerly looked affronted. “This one is an antique. It belonged to our great-great-grandfather.”

Donna examined the book dubiously. It didn’t look old enough to date from the Time of Isolation. “He doesn’t seem to have read it much.”

“Well, it is the comedies. I think old Pierre’s tastes ran more to Titus Andronicus. Anyway, I thought you could do with something more interesting than the shuttle line magazine to read on the journey.”

She looked at By and shook her head. “Don’t tell me you share the Barrayaran reverence for Shakespeare. You don’t seem like the type at all.”

“Oh, I have a great deal of reverence for Shakespeare. I just don’t think he’s saying what Barrayar thinks he’s saying, most of the time.”

* * *

The journey to Beta Colony was a tedious one, involving multiple wormhole jumps. Dear, loyal Armsman Szabo spent most of the days in his cabin being jump-sick; Armsman Theophilos turned out to be terrified of galactics, especially the women, and also kept to his cabin. Donna was not inclined to mingle with the other passengers; it could lead to ... complications. By the time she remembered about the copy of Shakespeare in her luggage, she was almost bored enough to read it, although she’d never cared much for Shakespeare at school. They had mostly read the tragedies: too much archaic language, and stories that seemed to consist mostly of men being idiots with wholly predictable results.

She began with the first comedy, decided that it didn’t seem very comedic (it was something about a sick king) and began to flip idly through the pages. Byerly’s precise handwriting in the margins caught her eye; apparently the book wasn’t that much of an antique, or else he was conceited enough to think his notes would increase its value. Anyhow, he had written Cloten = Alexi Vormoncrief?

Donna snorted, and then realized she would have to read the damn play to fully appreciate this comparison. Well, she had plenty of time on her hands.

* * *

You must forget to be a woman; change
Command into obedience: fear and niceness –
The handmaids of all women, or more truly
Woman its pretty self – into a waggish courage
Ready in gibes, quick-answer’d, saucy and
As quarrelous as the weasel ...

Ah, thought Donna, so that’s what this is all about. She had been reading along indulgently, entertained less by the play itself – which had a perfectly ridiculous plot – than by Byerly’s ability to find uncanny parallels between the characters and members of high Vor society.

There was no note in the margins equating Pisanio with Armsman Szabo, but she could see that one for herself.

Of course, if Szabo held the opinion that “fear and niceness” were the handmaids of all women, he was smart enough to keep it to himself. She observed, also, that Shakespeare seemed to have slipped up; surely Imogen would have to change obedience into command, not the other way around.

I see into thy end, and am almost
A man already.

First, make yourself but like one.
Fore-thinking this, I have already fit –
‘Tis in my cloak-bag – doublet, hat, hose, all
That answer to them; would you in their serving,
And with what imitation you can borrow
From youth of such a season, ‘fore noble Lucius
Present yourself, desire his service...

Ah. Got it. Imogen was becoming a servant, at the same time she was becoming a boy. This was not precisely parallel to Donna’s situation, except in the sense that all Vor were born to serve. She was, after all, doing this for Szabo, and for the rest of her household, and the men and women of her District, all of whom would be royally screwed if Richars became Count, whereas Donna herself could walk away from it all.

What’s your name?

Fidele, sir.

Meaning faithful. Yes. She liked that.

* * *

Jupiter?” Donna threw the copy of Shakespeare across her cabin, and added, for good measure, “Fucking Jupiter?” after it bounced off the wall. What kind of a resolution was that?

There was a gentle tap at her cabin door. “M’lady?” Theophilos’s voice, more deferential than Szabo’s. “Is everything all right?”

“Yes. It’s just Shakespeare. He was being an idiot.”

“Very good, m’lady. Good night.”

* * *

My people do already know my mind...

Byerly had evidently grown bored with finding Vor parallels; most of his notes on The Merchant of Venice merely assessed the wisdom of offering up a pound of flesh as collateral to your worst enemy and of arranging marriages by casket-lottery. (The latter, he noted, probably could not actually have worse results than traditional Barrayaran methods. Having experienced said methods – once – Donna was inclined to agree.)

I’ll hold thee any wager
When we are both accoutred like young men
I’ll prove the prettier fellow of the two,
And wear my dagger with the braver grace,
And speak between the change of man and boy,
With a reed voice, and turn two mincing steps
Into a manly stride...

“No, not like that.” Armsman Szabo, more or less recovered from his jump-sickness, ran his hands through his hair in exasperation. “Sprawl, don’t curl. Try to take up more space.”

Donna flung herself onto the bunk again, attempting a sprawl. “Was that better?”

“That was worse. It was a flounce. Men don’t flounce.”

“My first husband did.”

“The idea isn’t to do what any particular man does. Or even any particular Count. What you will need to become is the platonic ideal of a Count. If you are not the man people look at and desire, you’re sunk before you even begin.”

“So the platonic ideal of a Count takes up lots of space and crowds everyone else out, and also he expects everyone to worship him just for existing. Yeah, that sounds about right.”

“No. He does not expect to be worshipped by anyone. But he draws people to him, all the same.”

... and speak of frays
Like a fine bragging youth, and tell quaint lies
How honorable ladies sought my love,
Which I denying, they fell sick and died;
I could not do withal; then I’ll repent,
And wish for all that, that I had not killed them;
And twenty of these puny lies I’ll tell ...
... I have within my mind
A thousand raw tricks of these bragging Jacks,
Which I will practice.

Portia’s notion of manhood seemed more attainable than Armsman Szabo’s, Donna decided, and certainly more like the young men she had known in real life ... with a handful of honorable exceptions. She liked Portia better than Imogen, who had been too fragile and innocent for her tastes. Portia had brains and a sharp tongue, and she acted for reasons that made sense: not because she was afraid to do anything else, not because someone told her to, but because there were certain spaces that were closed to women, and because there was something worthwhile to be done in those spaces.

* * *

When they got to Beta, it became apparent that not everyone saw these reasons as sufficient.

There was a mandatory psychological interview before the medical treatments began; Donna had been assured that it was all a formality, that the Betans could not legally block her from having the surgery as long as she was of age and not under coercion.

“How old are you?”

“Thirty-nine standard.” She trusted that was old enough to meet the first qualification, even if people here did lead impossibly long lives.

“Exactly?”

“Thirty-nine, ten months, and odd days.”

“At what age did you realize you were really a male?”

“Um. Forty, I expect.”

Her assigned gender therapist, who had been filling in the forms in a rather perfunctory way, snapped to attention. “Wait, what?”

“I’m not a male. Not yet.”

“So you don’t ... identify as male?” The therapist frowned and scribbled some notes on a flimsy. “Why are you doing this, then?”

Donna looked levelly at her. “Because I choose to.” Second qualification, met.

“Er’m. You’re from Barrayar?”

“Yes.”

“Mmm. We find that people from ...” (the therapist was plainly groping for the right euphemism) “... mm, traditional cultures sometimes – ah, do not always understand the full range of choices they have available to them.”

For the first time, Donna began to be a little nervous. Was it possible that the therapist thought all Barrayarans were under coercion, by definition? Would Donna be able to persuade her otherwise?

“Well, for example, sometimes people assume that if they are attracted to men it means they really ought to be a woman, or vice versa. Which isn’t true at all, it just makes them people who are attracted to the same sex. Or sometimes, even, people with non-stereotypical interests and hobbies – like female athletes, for example – imagine they have a problem that can only be fixed by surgery, when the only real issue is that it’s frowned upon in their culture. Are you a lesbian, by the way?”

“Not especially.”

“Not especially?

“Well, I suppose my preferences are ... a bit flexible, really. It runs in the family. But I’ve never actually gotten around to putting it into practice. With three marriages, and all the other men in my life, I never had the time.”

The therapist was clearly flummoxed by the nonchalance of this confession, and Donna found that she was rather enjoying herself (malice also ran in the family). Ha, let the condescending Betan twit chew on the possibility that she might have gotten Barrayar all wrong. Of course, she mostly hadn’t, but Donna didn’t have to tell her that.

“All right. I just wanted to make sure you knew that you can lead any sort of lifestyle you want, whether it’s in a woman’s body or a man’s. It’s all a matter of free choice.”

“I have chosen this. Freely.”

“Very well.” The therapist signed the papers.

She wondered, later, how free a choice it truly was. Betans knew what the word patriarchy signified in theory – they used it rather a lot, actually – but they seemed to have no gut feeling for what it meant in practice.

She turned again to Shakespeare, who seemed to understand certain things better than the Betans.

* * *

O God, that I were a man! I would eat his heart in the market-place.

Much Ado About Nothing had not been one of Byerly’s picks. She’d found that one on her own, and it was a gem, by far her favorite. It didn’t have a girl-disguised-as-a-boy plot, which must have been why By had overlooked it. It did have just the right words for Richars.

A goodly count, Count Comfect; a sweet gallant, surely! O that I were a man for his sake! or that I had any friend would be a man for my sake! But manhood is melted into courtesies, valor into compliment, and men are only turned into tongue, and trim ones too; he is now as valiant as Hercules that only tells a lie and swears it. I cannot be a man with wishing, therefore I will die a woman with grieving.

One could be a man with wishing now. That was heartening: in a millennium and a half, the human race had actually managed one or two improvements.

... but then there was a star danced, and under that was I born ...

On the evening before her surgery, she took Armsman Szabo out to dinner. He was good company: loyal, kind, possessed of a sense of humor so dry that it was usually lost on outsiders, but very much appreciated by Donna. Besides, it would be the last time she would be able to go out with a man who admired her as a woman – and she knew that Szabo did, although he would have died before admitting it. (One had a sixth sense about these things; she wondered if she would be able to tell when women were admiring her as a man. Did men ever really get subtlety? She would miss subtlety, although she supposed it might be only a consolation prize, a gift of shadows and half-light given in exchange for not having real power.)

The blond boy who had been shadowing her for the last few days turned up at the restaurant shortly after they did, and was shown to the table just behind them. He was ImpSec, of course. No doubt he’d been chosen for the job because he didn’t look Barrayaran, but Donna had deliberately bumped into him the day before, and she’d spoken with him long enough to catch the accent. He wouldn’t be able to overhear very much – she’d picked a place with a band and asked to be seated near the dance floor for just that reason – but it was rather a nuisance having a third wheel.

Donna considered various ways of messing with the ImpSec boy’s head. Having an affair with him was a moderately appealing prospect, but there simply wasn’t time any more. Unless he liked men, in which case there would be a whole world of time after her surgery, but she was hoping to hide her tracks well enough that he wouldn’t be able to catch up with her. The Armsmen had orders to shift their lodgings and go to ground, and the Betans had been well paid to hide her medical records.

She could try to convince him she was having an affair with Szabo, just for the hell of it. That would at least supply a vaguely plausible, wholly-uninteresting-to-ImpSec reason why she might have decided to go on holiday to Beta with Szabo, and it meant that once they disappeared, the boy would be looking for them at the Orb instead of the hospital.

“Would you like to dance?”

“Very well, m’lady.” (Szabo almost never called her m’lady. He had served them for twenty-five years, and enjoyed the usual range of old-family-retainer privileges. A tiny, tiny hint of flirtation, or a reminder to her that he knew his place, and knew not to flirt? It occurred to her that proles had their own gifts of shadows and half-light.)

She leaned in as she led him out to the dance floor. “ImpSec’s watching,” she whispered, with a glance toward the blond boy’s table. He couldn’t very easily follow them when he was here alone, although he seemed to be trying to go to work on the waitress – waitperson – whatever you called it if it was a hermaphrodite. This part could be amusing.

“Ah.” Szabo drew her in closer, and kissed her on the brow. Oh, very nice. She could trust him to know exactly how to play this scene. Was asking him to do this a little unfair to him? She considered the pressure of his hand on the small of her back, and decided that if it was unfair to him, it was surely unfair to her in precisely the same ways. (She’d never slept with any of her brother’s armsmen, for very good reasons that had to do with power and consent, but it did occur to her, at the eleventh hour, that it was a missed opportunity.)

Szabo glanced at the young man. “Would you like Theophilos and me to do anything about him?”

“I don’t see that there’s much you can do that we haven’t already planned. Shift ground, lie low, do your best to confuse him. Oh, and don’t try to visit me in the hospital, whatever you do.”

“Very well,” said Szabo, but his fingers tightened a little, and she could tell he did not like this last prohibition. “But – don’t you need us as witnesses?

“They wouldn’t allow you to watch the surgery anyway. And you’ll know me when you see me again.”

“Yes. I would know you anywhere.”

“What do you really think of all this, Szabo? Truly?”

“I think you are very brave.”

“What else?”

“I wish you did not have to do this. I had hoped – we had all hoped – that you might have a son someday, and your brother might confirm him as his heir.”

“This is a surer way.” Children could die, she thought; young men could die, and had died before; she, Lady Donna, was about to die in a sense, but she would be reborn. She was a survivor, and she didn’t care to leave the survival business in anybody else’s hands.

“Yes, but – well, it isn’t natural, is it? Not what anyone would wish for their sister or daughter.”

Ah, the truth would out. She generally found prole conservatism easier to take than Vor conservatism; at least it was less self-serving. Then again, it was exasperating when people kept wanting things that were against their own interests. (It was also sort of embarrassing when Armsman Theophilos kept gawking at Betans with bodily modifications and then running away in terror, but that was neither here nor there.)

“Lots of things aren’t natural. Living in houses isn’t natural.”

“People have been living in houses since time out of mind.”

“And people have been getting gender reassignment surgery since before we left Earth. It isn’t very new to anyone except us.”

Szabo looked dubious, but he didn’t press the point. The band had begun a new song; the ImpSec boy had finally coaxed the hermaphrodite waitperson to join him on the dance floor, which was their cue to move back to their table and leave the ImpSec boy stuck with his new partner for the space of the next dance. She maneuvered Szabo to the edge of the floor: last time dancing with a man, last touch of the hand, last chance to play the old familiar game the old way.

Come, lady, die to live.

* * *

What country, friends, is this?

This is Illyria, lady.

And what should I do in Illyria?
My brother he is in Elysium...

She could not sleep, so she spent the last night reading Twelfth Night instead.

... danger shall seem sport, and I will go ...

Her third husband had been an Antonio. He was half-Escobaran, but Barrayar offered greater scope for his talents, which ran to a sport called pegasus-racing. Only Barrayar could have invented a sport that involved anti-gravity horseshoes and no protective gear: one that carried men close to the sun.

Unlike her second husband, he hadn’t balked when she told him she was a Vorrutyer, and intended to remain one. With Georgy, it had taken the promise that their son would probably end up as Pierre’s heir to sweeten the deal, and even then, it hadn’t stayed sweet long enough for the son to become a reality. With Tony, no such promises could be made, since the half that wasn’t Escobaran was very much prole, and Pierre had been ... mostly traditional. It hadn’t mattered, because Tony had understood how she felt about her name. She’d tried not being a Vorrutyer once, when she was very young and had every prospect of becoming a countess, and it had been an unexpectedly wrenching experience that left her unwilling to play around with her identity in the future.

Ironic how things worked out, sometimes.

I am all the daughters of my father’s house
And all the brothers, too...

Szabo was probably right; she ought to have remarried after the accident. Pierre had wanted her to, and she had always tried to keep faith with Pierre, in all important things. It was, of course, unlikely that Pierre would have approved of this particular way of keeping faith, which was why she hadn’t revealed her plan to a living soul while her brother was still alive. But – Tony hadn’t been the only sudden death in the family, and she had been reluctant, afterward, to give more hostages to fortune than herself. Faith, she reflected, was a complicated matter, and so was identity.

... I my brother know
Yet living in my glass; even such and so
In favor was my brother, and he went
Still in this fashion, color, ornament;
For him I imitate ...

Pierre was not going to have such an afterlife, since Armsman Szabo had firmly nixed him as a model. The platonic ideal of a Count did not, apparently, wear gold foil in his hats to protect against Cetagandan mind control rays. In his more lucid moments Pierre had seemed to understand that the real dangers lay closer to home, but he could not be prodded into talking about the succession, and, for fear of damaging his fragile grip on reality, Donna and the armsmen had never pushed very hard.

Lord Dono could wear Pierre’s clothes, at any rate. Was going to have to wear his clothes for a while, since Donna had already spent more money on this expedition than she actually possessed. Maybe he could splurge on a new wardrobe after he became Count, and take Byerly along as a consultant; By would love that. If he became Count. Improbably happy endings existed in Shakespeare, but they weren’t guaranteed here, not by a long shot.

Thrice-welcome, drowned Viola!

She set the book aside and permitted herself, for once and always, to weep for Pierre. She wouldn’t be allowed to after tomorrow, at least not in public.

* * *

Dono read most of The Two Gentlemen of Verona while under the influence of Byerly’s special concoction. That was just as well, he decided; it was the sort of play that only made sense if you were on powerful drugs. He considered going back to Cymbeline and reading it again if he had time before the stuff wore off.

I’ll force thee yield to my desire.

Yeah. Been there, done that. No snarky comments from Byerly, just a small tick mark in the margins to indicate that he’d been paying attention, and that he wanted his cousin to pay attention.

All that was mine in Silvia I give thee.

An exchange of goods. Men closing ranks, trading commodities that were not theirs to trade. Dono was going to be on the other side of those exchanges now. Did he even want that? Almost certainly not; and yet, better to be on this side than that one.

It was sort of hard to concentrate, probably because of all the drugs. He shut the book and wondered whether anybody would stumble across his female organs and be able to make use of them. He amused himself by making up an inventory, like Olivia in Twelfth Night. Item, two ovaries, still functional; item, one uterus, never used; item, one vagina, very well used ... Damn, it hurt to laugh after surgery, and oh, it would be good to have Szabo here. He swallowed some more of the blue stuff and fell into an uneasy sleep, filled with dreams of rope-ladders and bandits and small dogs. Funny, he thought in a flicker of semi-consciousness, hadn’t this all begun with a small dog? ... Not much to be done about that except to have only big dogs in the future, or to become a big dog yourself ...

* * *

... for now I am in a holiday humour ...

After Ivan had gone, and they were all three alone in Vorrutyer House; after Byerly had opened three bottles of wine before he found one he considered halfway-drinkable, and Dono, less picky, had poured for himself and Szabo from one of the others; after Dono and By had finished saying to each other, “Oh-my-God-Ivan’s-face!” and “What ever possessed you to pick him as your witness?” and “Well, you must admit, helping Ivan get in touch with his inner bisexual would be an inestimable public service,” and “He’s Ivan, he hasn’t got one!” and “Am I hearing a bet?” and other things of that nature; and after they had finished cracking each other up, and almost succeeded in cracking Szabo up ... things seemed almost normal. And then By’s wristcom chimed, and he answered it and said in an unexpectedly sober voice, “All right, eleven tomorrow morning then,” and nobody had to ask what was happening at eleven tomorrow morning. Then they looked at one another and knew that they were walking along the edge of a precipice, and meeting with the emperor was only the beginning.

I am not furnished like a beggar; therefore to beg will not become me. My way is to conjure you...

By topped up their glasses, and said, “Well. To the emperor,” with a fair show of nonchalance, only the tightness of his hands on the bottle giving him away.

“To the emperor,” echoed Dono and Szabo, raising their glasses.

“For a visit to the Imperial Residence,” said Szabo, “I would recommend wearing something conservative, but not absolutely hide-bound.” He turned to Byerly. “That goes for you, too, if you can manage it.”

“I would never wear anything hide-bound!”

“I meant, if you can manage the conservative part.” Mouth twitching a bit, Szabo turned back to Dono. “And you must be the Count that every emperor would want. Respectful, deferential, but not obsequious. Leave the flattery to your cousin Richars. What you must give the emperor is character. Let that shine through, and a bit of charm as well.” He hesitated a moment, as if afraid of going beyond an armsman’s part. “You were incandescent when you were a woman. I’ve seen you light up whole rooms. Give him a little of that, toned down, of course.”

Dono flashed him the sort of smile that Lady Donna had used to light up rooms, once. “About right?”

More toned-down than that. A little of it goes a long way, from a man.”

“I know. I was just playing around.”

“Tomorrow won’t be any time for play,” he said rather severely, as if he were talking to the fifteen-year-old Donna again.

“I know tomorrow won’t. Today – I think I have to play with it, a little, in order to get it right later.”

Believe then, if you please, that I can do strange things...

“To Shakespeare,” said Dono, filling their glasses once again.

“Um, what?” said Armsman Szabo. He looked so bemused that Dono could only presume that Theophilos had told him about that little ... difference of opinion with Cymbeline.

“This,” said Dono, fishing the copy of Shakespeare out of his suitcase. “It’s turned out to be a rather good instruction manual.”

“You brought it back with you?” said Byerly. “I thought you ditched all of your excess baggage on Beta.”

“Well, since it was Pierre le Sanguinaire’s copy, I figured it would fetch at least five thousand marks here. No one on Beta would be interested in that.”

“Ah.” By was pretty much shame-proof, but at least he had the good grace to look vaguely abashed. “I wouldn’t bother driving too hard a bargain, actually. I said it was our great-great-grandfather’s. I never said which great-great-grandfather.”

“But you –”

“Implied, yes. Always be wary of implications. You’re likely to be dealing with some rather ... twisty people when you’re the Count.”

And since when are you a serious person who gives serious political advice? Dono wondered. This seemed almost as improbable as the Shakespeare gift had been in the first place, except at least there was no question that By did know some stuff about playing around with gender and self-presentation. Possibly in very deliberate and purposeful ways, if Dono didn’t miss his guess. He turned to Byerly, almost asked him a pointed question or two, and then decided not to. “So,” he said instead. “You think I will be Count, then?”

“I think it can be done. With luck. And with the right friends.”

“What friends? Ivan?”

“Ivan is a good start. You might also need someone a shade less ... honorable.” He had turned away and started scanning the bookshelves, with an air of absent-mindedness. “So, that thing I was going to ask you about. Let’s say, hypothetically, that I managed to make friends with Richars. Would information about his activities and associates be at all useful to you?”

Dono stared at him. “How would you even do that? You’ve hated each other since we were children.”

“Ah. Found it.” Byerly plucked the second volume of Shakespeare, The Histories and Tragedies, from the bookshelf. “Well, you see, there’s an instruction manual for that, too.”