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Author: L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
Publisher: Tor, 2019
Series: The Imager Portfolio: Book 12
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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Solidar is in chaos.

Charyn, the young and untested ruler of Solidar, has survived assassination, and he struggles to gain control of a realm in the grip of social upheaval, war, and rioting. Solidar cannot be allowed to slide into social and political turmoil that will leave the High Holders with their ancient power and privilege, and the common people with nothing.

But the stakes are even higher than he realizes.



On Lundi morning, the sixteenth of Juyn, Charyn was up earlier than usual, most likely because the day promised to be particularly hot, a reminder that the first days of spring, heralded by the Spring-Turn Ball, were some three months gone, and there wasn't that much of summer left. Unlike his late father, he was always an early riser, trying to cram in a host of matters before going to his study to begin dealing with the routine daily matters of being Rex. After pulling on exercise clothes, he made his way to the guard post in the alcove off the main entrance to the Chateau.

Guard Captain Maertyl turned. "Good morning, Your Grace."

"Good morning, Guard Captain. Is there anything I should know?"

"Nothing out of the ordinary, sir. As I told you on Samedi, Lead Guard Charseyt is on leave for the week."

"If he needs more time..."

"His sister is taking care of the children. She lives within a few blocks." Maertyl smiled sadly. "Knowing Charseyt, being here might be better than having too much time on his hands."

Charyn nodded. He thought he understood that.

He and Maertyl walked back through the Chateau and out into the open rear courtyard and then to the enclosed and covered courtyard where all of the Chateau guards were assembling, not in full uniform, but in trousers and worn shirts. Charyn moved to the corner behind Maertyl.

Maertyl stripped off his uniform jacket. "Guards, ready!"

"Ready, Guard Captain!" came the response.

With that, Maertyl began the morning exercise routine.

Charyn had been joining the guards for exercise most weekday mornings for months, and the majority of guards no longer even looked in his direction. While it might have seemed definitely unregial to Charyn's father, after all the assassination attempts Charyn had weathered, joining the guards was the safest way to get exercise, and exercise helped not only to keep him fit, which might also increase his chances of avoiding further attempts, but also, at least in part, to keep his mind from dwelling excessively on both Alyncya and Palenya.

Once he finished exercising, he slipped away and up to his apartments to wash up and dress, before going down to the breakfast room. By the time he'd eaten and made his way to his study, right before seventh glass, it was more than clear that the day was going to be hot and hazy, hardly surprising given that it was midsummer.

Just before he reached the circular back staircase, Norstan appeared. "Your Grace?"

The seneschal looked slightly discomfited.

"What is it, Norstan?"

"Sir ... Chorister Saerlet has requested an appointment for him and Chorister Refaal to see you, today, if possible."

Charyn frowned. After all that had happened to his family at the Anomen D'Rex, he hadn't attended services there since his father's memorial service. Saerlet had sent at least one note saying that he hoped to see the Rex. And Refaal was the chorister for the largest anomen in the city, the Anomen D'Excelsis. He'd also replaced Chorister Lytaarl, who had been the brother of Factor Elthyrd. "Did he say why?"

"His messenger just said that Chorister Refaal had a matter that would be of interest and import to you."

Interest and import? That could mean anything. Still, his Lundi wasn't that busy, unlike Meredi, when he had the monthly meeting of both councils.

"I'll see them at the first glass of the afternoon."

"Thank you, sir." Norstan inclined his head.

When Charyn reached the study door, he nodded to Moencriff, one of the two Chateau guards most often assigned to duty outside the study. "Good morning. It's likely to be quiet today."

"Nothing wrong with quiet, Your Grace."

Once he was seated behind the wide table desk, Charyn reached for the copy of the master ledgers provided by Alucar, whose entries he had been perusing over the weekend in preparation for the Wednesday Council meeting. Alucar hadn't finished compiling the latest figures on shipbuilding and the new shipyard, because the report from Solis hadn't arrived until late on Vendrei, but Charyn needed a better feel for the other expenditures.

Some four glasses later, he had almost finished jotting down the notes he wanted to review when the chimes struck first glass and Moencriff announced, "Chorister Saerlet and Chorister Refaal, sir."

"Have them come in."

The round-faced Saerlet was sturdy, but not fat, his glistening dark black hair slicked back with just traces of white at his temples, and he wore the same dark gray jacket, trousers, and shirt Charyn had seen before when he wasn't conducting services, while around his jacket collar was the black and white chorister's scarf that did not quite reach his belt. He stopped short of the chairs before the desk and inclined his head.

Refaal looked to be around fifteen years older than Charyn himself. His face was oval, his skin smooth, and his hair was a dark brown. His jacket, shirt, and trousers were all dark green, as was his scarf.

"Good afternoon, Choristers." Charyn gestured to the chairs in front of the table desk, then reseated himself.

"Thank you for seeing us so promptly, Your Grace," offered Saerlet, not quite unctuously.

"I appreciate your willingness to convey information that might be of interest to me."

"The information came to Refaal," declared Saerlet, "and I thought you should know."

"It is information both of interest to me and to Chorister Saerlet, but also to you." Refaal paused. "Have you heard of the True Believers?"

True Believers in what? was Charyn's first thought, but he only said, "No, I haven't."

"I fear we both may be hearing more of them in the days, seasons, and years ahead." Refaal continued, "They are a group of former choristers and their followers who claim that the majority of choristers of the Nameless have forgotten both the meaning of the Nameless and the true teachings of Rholan. They claim we are misleading those who worship in our anomens."

"In what way do they claim you're misleading worshippers?"

"They claim that we urge the people to follow the laws of the land, even when those laws are inequitable and unjust, and that when we do we are urging people to seek the favor of the Nameless in a fashion that promotes injustice."

"As I have often discussed with the Minister of Justice," replied Charyn, "the law is not always as just as it could be, and at times there don't seem to be practical ways to improve certain laws, or to use the law to remedy certain ills ... but I'm not sure how urging people to follow the laws has anything to do with seeking favor with the Nameless or that not following the laws is more likely to please the Nameless. You don't assert that, do you?"

"Neither of us would condone that," interjected Saerlet smoothly.

"We certainly don't," added Refaal. "I offer homilies that suggest we should all do our best to follow the precepts of the Nameless, as did Rholan. There are scores of references to what Rholan said about law--and all of them boil down to the same precepts. Justice is what men should do, while law is what codes and powers require them to do, and that is invariably less than what they should do or what the Nameless requires of them. All good choristers are familiar with those words."

"I'm afraid I don't see the problem. Have I missed something?" asked Charyn.

The two choristers exchanged glances, before Refaal cleared his throat and said, "Two weeks ago, these True Believers stormed the Anomen D'Ruile. Chorister Tharyn had to flee for his life. These ... fanatics claim that he is the avatar, whatever that means, of the ancient Tharyn Arysyn who barred Rholan from the anomen in Montagne. They shouted that his presence demonstrated the corruption that has overtaken the anomens of the Nameless."

"How did you discover this?"

"He wrote me from a small town near Ruile where he is hiding in fear for his life."

"What about the Civic Patrol?"

"The Patrol Captain there said that since no one was hurt and that the anomen wasn't damaged and that Tharyn couldn't identify any of the True Believers, there wasn't much the Patrol could do."

"He couldn't identify people who threatened his life?"

"I forgot to mention that they wore white gowns with hoods that concealed their faces." Refaal added sardonically, "White for purity, of course."

Charyn had to wonder if Chorister Tharyn just might be ... less than the measure of probity presented or assumed by Refaal. Certainly, Charyn's limited experience in dealing with Chorister Saerlet had been suggestive that Saerlet was always wanting more, ostensibly for his anomen, not that Charyn was about to allude to that, especially at the moment. "It sounds as though Chorister Tharyn has made some enemies. Would you know how that might have happened?"

"He's a good chorister, and devoted to the Nameless. It's not just about him."

Not just about him? Interesting word choice. "If it's not about him, then what is it about?"

"These True Believers aren't just in Ruile. Other choristers have reported that there are some in Ferravyl, and in Tilbora and Midcote."

Charyn frowned. Ferravyl wasn't that far from Ruile, but Midcote was more than a thousand milles from either. "How long have you known about the True Believers?"

"Chorister Ellkyt in Tilbora wrote me about them two years ago," replied Refaal. "That was when I was chorister in Talyon."

"Why did he write you? Did they threaten him?"

Refaal shook his head. "He lost part of his congregation to them."

And part of their offerings ... and his income, no doubt.

"There have been threats before, but nothing this violent," added Saerlet.

"You didn't ever mention anything like this," Charyn said mildly. "Is that because reports from other choristers went to Chorister Lytaarl as head of the anomen in L'Excelsis?"

"Oh, no," said Saerlet. "Every anomen is separate. Organizing the anomens, with a head chorister like a High Holder or a Rex ... that would be a form of Naming. We just correspond with the choristers we know. My family comes from Suemyron, and I know more choristers in Antiago and to the west of L'Excelsis, while Refaal tends to know more in the east."

"Through all of the east of Solidar?" asked Charyn.

"No, Your Grace. I do know a number. I only know Ellkyt by correspondence because he helped a distant cousin many years ago. He sent me copies of letters from other choristers."

Saerlet cleared his throat. "I did hear something about the True Believers from Chorister Baardyn last autumn in Eluthyn, but I thought it was an isolated instance."

"What did Baardyn say?"

"Not all that much. He'd heard of an anomen in Semlem that had been taken over by them ... that is, before the local High Holder ran them out. High Holder Lenglan, I think it was. The younger, that is. His father..." Saerlet shook his head.

Charyn had never heard of Lenglan, although it was clear there was something notorious about Lenglan's father, but with something around fifteen hundred High Holders, he couldn't be expected to know, let alone remember, all of them. "Have either of you heard of anything else?"

The two exchanged glances once more, then both shook their heads.

"If you do," continued Charyn, "I would appreciate your letting me know."

"We will," said Saerlet.

"It's was my duty and pleasure, sir," declared Refaal. "Perhaps at some time you could come and visit the Anomen D'Excelsis. It dates back to the time of the Bovarians, with some improvements, of course."

"And, Your Grace," added Saerlet smoothly, "I know events have weighed heavily upon you, but your presence at the Anomen D'Rex has been sorely missed. I would hope that you might be able to attend services at least now and again. I do believe that it would serve you well if word got around that you were present at services."

And it would likely serve you well, also. "You make an excellent point, Chorister Saerlet. Indeed, you do." He paused. "I cannot make a commitment to be there every Solayi, nor would it be wise for me to inform you or anyone when I might again attend services, but your observation has merit, and I will give it serious consideration." Charyn rose from his chair. "I do thank you both for coming and for letting me know about the True Believers."

"It was our duty as choristers and as loyal subjects," replied Saerlet.

Refaal nodded in agreement, then inclined his head, as did Saerlet, and the two turned and made their way from the study.

Once the door closed, Charyn recalled that Refaal had requested a meeting not long after Charyn's father's assassination, and that Charyn had deferred such a meeting. Was the talk about the True Believers just a ploy to meet Charyn?

Charyn frowned. With two of them and the specifics they had mentioned, there was likely enough to the True Believers to disconcert the two choristers ... and, self-serving as Saerlet was about Charyn attending services, he was also right. Charyn knew he had withdrawn from public view far too much ... but ... he still needed to be very careful.

Copyright © 2019 by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.


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