The first day of September in the 942nd year a.g.l.
I was sleeping at dawn when Carle woke me by placing his hand over my mouth.
I am used to this, though danger usually comes when we're on a mission, rather than when we're safe in the Emorian army camp. I lay still, trying to ascertain the source of the danger. Carle leaned forward and whispered in my ear, "Get dressed. Be as quiet as you can."
I reached for my tunic at the bottom of the bed, then paused. The tunic was black. On its sleeve was the familiar sign of a mountain shielded by a sword. I looked at Carle, who was still crouched inches from me, dim in the moonlight, but not so dim that I could mistake the color of his uniform. He merely raised his eyebrows at me.
I scrambled into my clothes, trying to think through the haze of my sleepiness. No point in asking how Carle had been able to get hold of our old uniforms; he had contacts everywhere in the camp. The question was why we were disguising ourselves this time as border mountain patrol guards.
I checked that my thigh-blade was secure in its pocket, then took my belt from Carle's hand and knotted it round my waist. He had a sheathed sword awaiting me to hook to the belt. As he opened the flap of the tent, I saw that he too was openly armed, as though we had never been made spies.
The army camp was asleep. Only a few scattered guards remained awake; Carle, who knew the patterns of their patrolling, deftly guided us around them. We were headed, I saw, toward the northern inner gate of the palace.
Suddenly I had the feeling that this was not a mission I should be on. "Carle," I whispered, "I really don't think we should—"
"Don't you trust me?" he whispered back, arching one eyebrow.
There was only one answer to that question, of course, so I shut my mouth. We reached the guard-post of the inner gate, whose guards were watching our approach oh-so-idly, with their hands not-so-idly resting on their sword-hilts. Two of the guards, I noticed with a sinking heart, had spears.
However, those guards allowed us to come within speaking distance before they lowered their spears crosswise to bar our way through the gate. Carle said not a word; he merely held up a piece of paper, folded four times in the manner of Emorian letters. As he did so, I caught a glimpse of it: it was blank of everything but a seal impressed upon black wax.
The lieutenant of the watch glanced at the seal no more than a second before shouting an order. The spears were raised, and we walked through the gate. The lieutenant asked, "Would you like an honor escort, sublieutenant?" He looked at Carle rather at me; the colored hems of our old tunics showed our former ranks.
Carle declined with a courteous word, and we continued on our way, climbing the hill toward the palace. I waited until we were well out of earshot before I said furiously, "Carle, that was nothing but Quentin's latest letter to us. It must be a death-sentence crime to lie your way past the palace guards like that."
"Did I lie?" Carle looked cheerful. "It's not my fault if other men make incorrect assumptions. Anyway, you needn't worry – it's only a flogging offense for you, and then only once you've entered the palace."
He had not, I noticed, indicated what the penalty would be for him if we were discovered. I opened my mouth to protest further, and then let it hang open. I had just seen what we were approaching.
Even in the dawn hours, the palace was brightly lit from the flames that shone upon it. The light danced upon what I had never seen from outside the wall: carvings in the marble. Carvings of men fighting, judging, embracing, feasting, drinking, gambling, dancing, and, I swear, sitting down to play Law Links. All of the glories of Emor's peace were there, etched in figures so real that it seemed they would walk out of the palace's marble at any moment.
I did not realize that I had stopped until I felt Carle's hand on my shoulder. "Happy birthday, Adrian," he said.
I could not speak, nor even turn my eyes from the carvings. After a moment, Carle added, "Arpeshian artists. Enslaved, no doubt, but they served their art nonetheless. I hope they were granted their freedom afterwards. . . . Well, come. We need to be inside before the day's first hour."
He did not say why. I continued forward, trailing behind Carle now, thinking more and more that, all other considerations aside, I did not deserve to enter this place. Besides, I told myself with some relief, it was doubtful I would be able to enter. Carle had managed to fool the lieutenant of the watch at the northern inner gate, but there would be more stringent scrutiny of us at the northern entrance to the palace, which lay ahead.
But Carle did not go that way. Instead, he veered to the left, following along the side of the palace as we made our way past the carved figures. They were growing more archaic in tone now, and as I scrutinized them, I realized that the artists had set out to tell the tale of Emor's history. Here was the Battle of Mountain Heights, which had widened the empire. Here was the civil war of Emor's early history. And here, at the very beginning—
But I did not see how the artists had chosen to depict the first Chara, for just before that point in the carvings came a set of steps leading down to a dark doorway that I might easily have missed if I had not still been following Carle. There were no guards at the door; I wondered whether the door led to one of the underground furnaces that were said to heat the palace.
Carle tried the door, found that it was unlocked, and swept it open with one arm. He stepped inside—
—and stopped immediately. A blade touched his throat.
A sword was at my heart, and a second one had slid between my hand and my sheathed sword, though I had barely made it over the threshold. A voice, cool and dark with humor, said, "Visitors, gentlemen? Or have you come to stay with us?"
Whatever this place was, I gathered that it was not the sort of place which normally received visitors. Carle cleared his throat, which was rather brave of him, considering that a dagger tip still lay upon it. "Our apologies," he said. "We were told to come in by way of the north entrance. I take it we have entered through the wrong door?"
The passageway beyond the door was as black as the Jackal's fur. All I could see in the wavering torchlight was my captors – two young guards with determined looks on their faces – and the speaker: a lieutenant who held his blade against Carle with such ease that I guessed he was not unfamiliar with the use of sharp instruments. I glanced round at the darkness again, feeling my uneasiness increase.
The lieutenant, for his part, was taking in our appearances. He snapped the fingers of his free hand, and the guards lowered their swords, though they remained watchful. The lieutenant lowered his own blade but did not sheathe it. "Credentials," he said crisply.
Carle silently showed the letter, and then, at the lieutenant's gesture, handed it over. The lieutenant held it up to the light and scrutinized it for a long moment as I felt sweat trickle down the back of my neck. I could hear the faint sound of moans now, further down in the dark passage, and my nose was twitching from unpleasant smells.
"Well," said the lieutenant finally, "if you are a forger, then you are a good one. And I dare not break this particular seal to check the contents of the letter. My congratulations, sir. If you are a spy, you are a spy of high skill."
Carle bowed silently, as though he had been granted a genuine compliment, as indeed he had.
"I suppose," said the lieutenant, still with that dark humor that seemed to characterize his profession, "that you have an urgent need to see the Chara." He cocked his head at Carle, and I found myself wondering which of the cells beyond us were reserved for potential assassins.
"No, sir," said Carle firmly. "Basil son of Orson."
"Indeed? You are creative in your pursuits. —Innis. Cedron." The lieutenant turned his attention to the guards. "Give these men an honor escort to the council chamber. Stay until they are received by the council. You will forgive me," he added, "if I do not escort you there myself. I have work to do this morning." He fingered his dagger.
Carle cleared his throat. I did not think he did so this time out of acting. "My thanks," he said briefly.
The lieutenant gave him a brief smile. "Perhaps we shall meet again."
"Perhaps not." Carle's voice was expressionless.
The torturer laughed then and waved us past, escorted by the guards. As we left, I looked back and saw that the torturer was watching us, as though memorizing our appearances.
That is how we managed to break into the Chara's palace, the most heavily guarded building in all the world.
The main guard at the door of the council chamber was a subcaptain, but he barely glanced at the letter Carle held up before saying, "I fear that the High Lord's clerk is not available this morning, sublieutenant. He has been called into an early-morning meeting of the council."
"Oh?" replied Carle in so bland a voice that it took all my training not to look sharply at him. "We will wait for him in his office, then."
I held my breath, but the subcaptain, who was standing in front of two copper doors that reached halfway to the sky, merely barked an order at a guard in front of a much smaller door to the left of the council chamber's entrance; this door was so dull-looking in appearance that I had missed seeing it. Our escort guards from the dungeon, relieved of their burden, turned away, and I felt something that had been tight around my throat loosen somewhat.
I took a final glance down the corridor we had been walking. It was filled with people and sunlight, being lit from above by windows high in the wall, next to the arched ceiling. Nobody seemed to be taking notice of us. Why should they, when this corridor was filled with high-ranked army officials? It was a mercy that we hadn't stepped into the path of Captain Radley.
The corridor made the palace look like an extension of the army camp. I wondered where the civilian palace officials dwelled.
I discovered the answer in the next moment, as Carle and I entered the narrow passage running alongside the council chamber. We had to squeeze our way past a man carrying a large stack of books, another man carrying a map so large that it threatened to drown us, a third man juggling various papers in his hands as though deciding which ones to drop, and a large group of boys, all with ink-stained hands, standing in a group and discussing loudly the probable reasons for today's council chamber meeting.
I wonder how the Great Council managed to think amidst all this chaos. Then I realized that the passage did not run immediately next to the chamber; a set of rooms separated the corridor from the chamber. I caught a glimpse of one such room as someone slipped through its doorway: it was filled with men sitting at desks, making calculations with abacuses and occasionally jotting down the results on slates or paper. None of the men spoke a word as they worked.
"Carle," I whispered, "how are we going to find the clerk's office?"
Carle looked at me the same way he had the first time he tried to teach me to memorize the complex clauses of the Law of Grave Iniquity. "The clerk's office? Don't be silly. That will soon be filled with those chattering boys we just passed. Undergoing an inquisition by a trained torturer is easy in comparison to being quizzed by a room full of boys. They'd have our names, ranks, and lineages within half a minute. —Ah, here we are."
Without pausing, he swept open a door that was ajar. I stepped in and found myself in a cubbyhole of a chamber, barely large enough to accommodate a desk and chair that were set against the far wall. Light poured in from the skylight above, onto a stack of books on the desk. An inkwell, papers, and pen stood ready at hand. I went over to inspect them.
"These have recently been used," I reported as Carle closed the door to the corridor. "The ink is barely dry."
"If its owner returns, we can easily explain our presence," Carle said serenely. "This is one of several study chambers, used by any palace official or guest who visits the council for research purposes. We, of course, are here to research the origins of the border mountain patrol, and we were accidentally assigned the wrong room." He was busy moving back the chair to the middle of the chamber. I saw him inspect the corridor door as he did so, obviously wondering whether he could block the entrance, but the door was so old-fashioned that it had a hinged panel toward the top. The panel had no latch we could tie closed, and it was too high up to block with the chair, so there was no point in trying to block the rest of the door.
As I came forward to help Carle move the desk, I said, "You do the best pre-mission scouting of anyone I know."
Carle flashed me a smile. "Pre-mission scouting of the Chara's palace? Don't be ridiculous. The army officials and palace officials are as closed-mouthed as a Koretian god about the layout of the palace. They wouldn't have told me anything about this place."
"But then . . ."
"I had Myles write to Neville and ask. Myles told Neville that he was planning a visit to the Great Council – he was vague about when. There are advantages to having a baron's heir as one's childhood friend. Myles says that he hopes you have a very exciting birthday, and that if you're caught and flogged, he'll never forgive me."
Evidently, Carle had not revealed to Myles that his own punishment if we were caught was likely to be far worse. I opened my mouth to voice my misgivings, and then closed it again as Carle stepped toward to what had been half-hidden behind the desk we had just moved: a door.
He opened it a crack. Light laughter entered the room like a scented breeze. The laughter subsided quickly, and I heard a man speak, authority cloaking his tone. I could not quite catch the words that he spoke.
Carle was peering through the crack in the doorway with as much concentration as though he had just sighted the Jackal. I silently made my way up to him and tapped his arm to remind him that I still existed.
He took his gaze away from the scene long enough to whisper in my ear: "They're all there. All thirty council members. The High Lord is closest to us, at the head of the table. He's the one speaking." He peered at the scene again, widening the door's gap so that he could look further down the chamber. I saw the moment when the blood drained from his face.
"The Chara?" It took all my effort to speak the words.
Carle nodded but did not move. I remembered my wine oath and did not draw my dagger to force him out of the way.
Perhaps he remembered his own oath, for after a moment, he shook his head, like a man who has been stunned and is returning to his senses. "You watch now," he whispered to me. "The Chara is at the far end of the table, next to the lowest-ranking lords. He looks quite ordinary in appearance; I wouldn't have recognized him if I hadn't given my oath to him when I became a patrol guard." He stepped back, and I began to step forward, my heart beating a rhythm through my entire body.
Then Carle abruptly shut the door. Before I could scream in anguish, I heard Carle say, in a voice of forced cheerfulness, "Well, fancy meeting you here."
I turned to look. Neville stood in the doorway to the passage.
I could have cursed myself then – cursed myself and Carle too, for not thinking of this possibility. "This is one of several study chambers, used by any palace official or guest who visits the council for research purposes," Carle had said. Any palace official – such as Neville, of course. Neville had told Myles about the chamber he himself worked in when he visited the council.
For a moment, Neville merely stared at us. He was holding a book, the book he had no doubt gone to fetch for his work. He looked very much like the summoners' clerk that he was. Then his face cleared. He stepped inside, closed the doors, and said sharply, "What are you doing here?"
"Spying," Carle replied blandly.
Neville responded by groaning. "You fools. Don't you two know that it's a death offense for men such as yourselves to enter the palace? Even if you were still an army official, Carle, it would be death for you to persuade Adrian to enter here, since he was under your care."
Carle said nothing. I could not say what he was thinking. Myself, I was wondering whether the dark torturer we had met in the dungeon below the palace would be brought into such matters.
Neville groaned again and laid his book down. "Fools," he repeated. "How did you sneak in here, anyway?"
"Through the dungeon," Carle replied. "It is a weak point in the palace's defense. You should alert the captain of the palace guard to that fact."
"I should— For love of the Chara, will you listen to yourself? Your trial will be all the alert that the palace guard needs. And once you made your way through the dungeon, how did you find this place?"
This time Carle kept quiet. After a minute, Neville's mouth twisted. "I see. So I'm as much a fool as you are. I should have remembered your Peaktop connections. Did Myles know that you—? No, never mind." He waved away the question. "You have to get out of here quickly – and it won't be through the dungeon. It's not as easy to leave there as it is to enter." He sighed heavily. "I'll have to try to smuggle you out through the east entrance, I suppose. If you walk behind me, the guards may assume that you're my guests."
"That is kind of you." Carle's voice was grave. "And it is generous of you to be speaking to us."
For the first time, Neville hesitated. His eyes slid away, and he cleared his throat. "Yes. Well. Whatever you've done in the past, you don't deserve to receive a Slave's Death for a mere prank – and since the world hasn't ended, I'll assume that you have not sold your loyalty to one of Emor's enemies. Therefore, this must be a prank." His voice was firm, but his gaze flicked toward Carle as he spoke.
"It is Adrian's birthday," Carle explained. "I wanted him to have a chance to see the Great Council."
"Ah." Neville's voice lost its harshness. "That I can believe. Unfortunately, there's no provision in the Chara's law to allow for breaking into the palace for the sake of granting a birthday wish. We had better get both of you out now."
Carle cleared his throat. "Perhaps," he said, "it would be best if you helped us leave one at a time. We'd be less conspicuous that way."
Let it be recorded here: Carle is the most manipulative spy that the Chara has ever possessed the good fortune to have working under him. Five minutes later, I was alone in the chamber.
I waited until I was sure that Neville wouldn't nip back to retrieve his book, and then I cautiously opened the door.
The Council Chamber was a vast room, bigger than any I had ever seen in my life. Much of my village could have been housed in it. Like the side chambers and the corridor, it was lit by a skylight. Now that the sun was well above the horizon, the blue sky shone over the chamber, with a patch of sunlight falling upon the head of the table, where a book lay open.
The chamber was empty.
Slowly, as though drawn by an invisible chain, I walked over to the head of the table and looked down at the volume lying open there. My hand reached out to touch the neatly scribed words:
For though the Chara is the Embodiment of the Law, he is also a man, and unless there is a private man willing to undertake the burdens of becoming High Judge, there can be no High Judgment in this land. And if there is no High Judgment, this land ceases to exist, for its peace is the peace of the Lawmaker and the laws which he gave to the Emorian people. It is the Chara's duty to proclaim those laws, and it is his foremost duty to place thoughts of others before his own needs. Yet, lest his duties become so burdensome that he be broken in spirit and body—
"I hope, young man, that you are not a spy."
I flinched back, not only out of guilt at being noticed, but also out of an awareness that if I allowed myself to be caught this easily while in Koretia, I wouldn't live long.
The man beside me looked to be between fifty and sixty years of age; he was dressed in a gold-edged tunic and had a finely gilded sword clipped to his belt, but it wasn't clear whether he was a lord or a town baron. He was smiling, but there was a stern undertone to his words that told me he wasn't joking.
"A spy, sir?" I tried to sound as though such an ambition had never occurred to me.
The man pointed wordlessly to the table. Only then did I notice the pen, inkwell, and wax box sitting next to the paper scribbled with words.
Innocence and fear caused me to stammer, "I didn't see— That is, I didn't notice the paper, sir. It was the book – I've never read a law book before. I wanted to know what the laws look like when they are scribed on paper."
"I see." The man's voice relaxed. "Well, that is just as well. You are better occupied in reading the law than in reading my poor interpretation of what it means."
I stared at him with helpless awe for a moment; then I remembered to bow.
"A lover of the law, are you?" he said.
"I try to be, High Lord." I felt myself growing warm with embarrassment.
The High Lord reached over and closed the book to reveal the title stamped on the spine. "This is the volume dedicated to the Great Three. Have you heard of the Great Three?"
My mind was still so much on the volume that I promptly picked up where I had left off reading and said, "'Yet, lest his duties become so burdensome that he be broken in spirit and body, the people must be willing to respect the manhood of the Chara and take on whatever burdens they can for his sake. For the Law is like a golden chain which binds all people together, freeing each man through this binding to pursue his individual duties and joys. Each link of the chain is of equal worth, and the failure of a single man to follow his duty can cause the chain to break and the land to fall into war and chaos. Yet by the same token, any man who goes beyond the normal bounds of his duty and undertakes extra suffering for the sake of the Law can relink the broken chain and bring peace once more. Though no one but the Lawgiver may know of his sacrifice—'"
I stopped in confusion, realizing that I had been reciting for far too long and that the High Lord had no intention of interrupting me. His smile deepened as he said, "Not many men can recite by heart the Justification to the Law of Vengeance. What caused you to memorize that section?"
"I used to be a border mountain patrol guard, High Lord," I said. I hesitated, but the High Lord was nodding as though this were explanation enough, so I was emboldened to add, "A friend of mine taught me the law. He knew more about the law than anyone else in the patrol."
"Ah, then you two must be the soldiers who brought my clerk the message from Lieutenant Quentin; the subcaptain of the watch told me that you were here. May I see the letter, please? I expect that it is a response to a matter that the clerk and I have been discussing."
I felt the same sickening of the stomach I had experienced when the Baron of Blackpass came close to finding out my secret. I had been able to deceive Blackwood, but I could not lie to the High Lord. "There is no letter for you, High Lord," I replied in a low voice. "We just implied that in order to be able to sneak in here."
The High Lord's smile disappeared. His forehead was now creased with lines of concern that dipped low like his eyebrows. "Well, then," he said quietly, "I fear that I must ask for your name and division."
This was a question I was never supposed to answer truthfully, but again I could not imagine lying to the High Lord. "My name is Adrian son of Berenger, High Lord," I said. "I am a sublieutenant in the Division of Disclosure."
After a moment, the side of the High Lord's mouth quirked up. "I identified you correctly, it seems. What caused you and your companion— Who is he, by the way, and where is he?"
I said reluctantly, "He is Lieutenant Carle of the same division, High Lord. He is trying to sneak back out of the palace right now."
"Good luck to him, then; we will see how skilled the Chara's spies really are. What caused the two of you to slip your way in here?"
I stared down at my toes as I answered. "We have long wanted to see the palace, High Lord. Lieutenant Carle has often told me about this chamber. He hopes to work for a town council some day, and we both love the law. I suppose," I added miserably, "that it makes no sense for me to say that, since we have both just broken the law."
When I finally looked up again, I saw that the High Lord was still smiling. "No, but to witness the truth, I probably would have done the same when I was your age. Tell me about yourself. You are a borderlander, are you not?"
"Yes, High Lord, I am from the Koretian borderland."
"Does Koretia have a borderland? I had not realized that."
I suppose that my face must have reflected what I thought, for the High Lord laughed as he said, "One of my notorious failures as a council lord is that I have little knowledge of affairs in other lands – which can be a great disadvantage at moments like the present, when a war is bubbling at our borders. But I have no fear that Koretia's civil war will affect Emor in any serious way, so I would rather devote my time to studying the law, since that is a hard enough duty as it is."
I bit my tongue to keep myself from commenting on what the High Lord had said. Perhaps my silence came across as shyness, for the High Lord gently added, "I wish I could spend more time with you, learning about your native land, but I must meet privately with the Chara in a short while. Do you have any questions about the council before I go?"
I was encouraged by this indication that he would not order the council guards to arrest me, so I said boldly, "Lieutenant Carle told me that the Chara was here earlier, and that he sat at the very bottom of the table, next to the junior-most lord. Why is that?"
"A good question," said the High Lord. "Tell me, do you know the law-structure and the division of powers?"
"Of course, High Lord," I replied rather blankly. "Doesn't everybody? I memorized that at the beginning of my studies."
"Perhaps in the border mountain patrol that sort of knowledge is common, but you would be surprised how few Emorians actually understand what the Great Council does. I need not tell you, then, that the council has independent duties with which the Chara may not interfere; the council is servant only to the law where those duties are concerned. Thus, the Chara may not even speak in this chamber except with my permission, and he attends meetings here only as the council's guest, not as the master that he is to us at all other times."
"So you are like the Chara to the council," I said, musing aloud. "In a way, that makes you an embodiment of the law."
After a while, I realized that the High Lord had not replied. When I looked at him, I saw that he was scanning my face.
"In a way," he said slowly, "though my duties are not so burdensome as those of the Chara. Tell me, do you plan to stay in the army long?"
I found this question ominous, and was opening my mouth to deliver an extended apology for breaking into his council quarters when my attention was caught by a figure nearby, gesturing desperately at me.
The High Lord caught sight of him at the same moment. "Is that your companion?"
"No, High Lord," I said hastily as Neville unhappily complied with the High Lord's gesture to join us. "He is just a palace dweller I know. He did not help me to sneak in here."
The High Lord made no reply. He had opened the inkwell on the table and was leaning over to write something on a fresh piece of paper. Neville took the opportunity to frown at me and mouth questions, but I ignored him as the High Lord finished scribing his words, took a ball of wax from the box, and sealed it with his ring. As he handed me the paper, he said, "This will allow you to leave the palace without being stopped by the guards, but I would like your word that you will not enter here unlawfully again. I suspect that you will have lawful opportunities to visit the palace in the future."
I could not interpret his smile, so I said, "You have my word, High Lord. I am grateful to you for your mercy and your kindness."
"Not at all," said the High Lord. "I always enjoy talking with another law-lover. You never answered my question, though. Had you thought of doing council work in the future?"
I was aware of Neville standing at my elbow and gazing at me with suspicion, no doubt wondering what lies I had been telling the High Lord, so I phrased my reply carefully. "I have no idea whether I would ever have such an opportunity, High Lord, though I would like to do some sort of work with the law. It is really my friend, though, who deserves to do council work. He is quite learned, and everything I know about the law comes from him."
"I wish that I had had a chance to meet Lieutenant Carle," said the High Lord, blithely unaware that he was destroying my cover, "but talking with you, sublieutenant, has certainly given me a new perspective on what the Chara's spies are like. Perhaps our paths will cross again some day."
He left then, and I bowed. When I straightened again, I found that Neville was staring at me, his mouth hanging open with shock.
The second day of September in the 942nd year a.g.l.
The scene after the High Lord left me yesterday was an unpleasant one, with Neville asking me over and over whether what I'd told the High Lord was true, and me urging him for love of the Chara to keep his voice down. In the end, to hold him quiet, I had to admit that Carle and I are spies – whereupon matters grew worse, with Neville apologizing repeatedly for his error while council officials and other passersby looked our way in curiosity.
Because of this, it was some time before Neville reached the point of telling me the important news, which was that Carle had been caught and arrested while trying to leave the palace.
I would have flown at once to Carle's defense, but Neville, showing more sense than he had during the past minutes, pointed out to me the folly of such an act. As yet, Carle was charged only with entering the palace unlawfully. If it became known that I, his student, had entered the palace with him, the charges against him would likely double. For Carle's sake, I must pretend that I knew nothing of what had happened.
Thanks to Neville and a misuse of his powers as clerk to the Chara's summoners, I was soon able to ascertain that the army court, to which Carle had been taken, had placed Carle back under the care of Captain Radley. After that, all I could do was go back to the tent I usually shared with Carle and spend a sleepless night staring into the air.
In the morning, I received a command to visit the captain.
Carle was already there when I arrived. He glanced briefly my way before turning his attention back to Radley, who was flipping through a bound book.
"Ah, sublieutenant," Radley said when he finally deigned to take notice of me. "I have been reading through your records, and I see that you have been a sublieutenant for a year now. Given your excellent work on the field" – he gave me a thin smile – "it seems time that you were elevated." He cut off my stammered thanks with a wave of the hand. "I trust that your work on your next mission will be in keeping with the privilege you have received. Report to me tomorrow morning for your assignment." And he returned to his work. After a while, Carle and I surmised that we'd been dismissed.
I could scarcely hold myself back until we had reached the security of our tent and could talk freely. "It doesn't make sense; I thought for sure Radley hated me! And yet he gives me such a wonderful gift— Carle, what's wrong?"
"Nothing at all." Carle made a reasonable attempt at a smile. "Your elevation is indeed well-deserved. You ought to have been made lieutenant months ago."
I caught hold of him. Faintly through the tent cloth came the sound of army life: the clash of swords, shouts from lieutenants drilling their men, horses snorting as they were led forward. "What is it?" I asked in a low voice. "Did Radley punish you?"
"As much as he could, short of arranging my dismissal," Carle replied, turning away to pick up a wine flask. "You witnessed the punishment yourself."
I was silent a minute, then began to curse Radley methodically in every language I knew: Border Koretian, Common Koretian, Emorian, Daxion, and even smatterings of Marcadian I'd learned from Sewell. Finally Carle laughed as he raised the wine to his lips.
I was in no mood for laughter. "That god-cursed demon— Carle, he can't do this to us."
"Of course he can," Carle replied calmly. "If Radley, your high official, judges that you are deserving of honors – which you are, even if he thinks otherwise – then he can elevate you to the lieutenancy, and once elevated, you are no longer my student. So our next missions will be separate ones." He cut off my further flow of curses by handing the flask to me.
The wine steadied me somewhat, but I found myself saying, as though it could change matters, "We work much better paired than we do alone."
"Of course we do, and no doubt our records show that." Carle sat down next to me on my pallet and took the flask back from me. "Adrian, we're under the care of a man who would position the vanguard's back to the enemy if he thought it would help him take petty revenge. There's no use weeping ourselves dry about it. Fortunately, Radley doesn't know the finer points of the law." Carle grinned.
What Carle knew – what he had discovered months before, when memorizing minor laws related to our work – was only a small compensation, a very small one. According to army law, a spy who believes that his life will be endangered during a mission can, without prior permission from his high official, request another spy to assist him on that mission. Carle and I both had a lengthy laugh about this law, which was obviously created by someone who knew nothing about spying. Our lives are always in danger when we go out on the field. But we agreed that some time in the future – just once, because Radley would ensure that we never did this again – we could take advantage of this law to work together again.
I suppose this is the point at which I truly begin to sacrifice my happiness for the sake of the Chara. I only wish that the sacrifice was freely given.