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Author: L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
Publisher: Tor, 2011
Series: The Imager Portfolio: Book 4
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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Hundreds of years before the time of Imager, the continent of Lydar is fragmented.  Years of war have consolidated five nations into three--Bovaria, Telaryn, and Antiago. Quaeryt is a scholar and a friend of Bhayar, the young ruler of Telaryn. Worried about his future and the escalating intrigues in Solis, the capital city, Quaeryt persuades Bhayar to send him to Tilbor, conquered ten years earlier by Bhayar’s father, in order to see if the number and extent of occupying troops can be reduced so that they can be re-deployed to the border with warlike Bovaria.

Quaeryt has managed to conceal the fact that he is an imager, since the life expectancies of imagers in Lydar is short. Just before Quaeryt departs, Bhayar’s youngest sister passes a letter to the scholar-imager, a letter that could well embroil Quaeryt in the welter of court politics he had hoped to leave behind. On top of that, on his voyage and journey to Tilbor he must face pirates, storms, poisonings, attempted murder, as well as discovering the fact that he is not quite who he thought he was. To make it all worse, the order of scholars to which he belongs is jeopardized in more ways than one.



"You'd think the Tilborans would have more sense," snapped Bhayar. "Some of them, anyway." His dark blue eyes appeared almost black in the dim light of the small study that adjoined his receiving chamber. In the midafternoon of summer, the air barely moved, even with the high arched ceilings, and when it did, it only brought the smells of the city up the hill to the palace overlooking the harbor of Solis. He walked to the map displayed on the wooden stand, scowled, and then looked to the man in scholar's brown.

"Why would you think that?" Quaeryt replied in the formal Bovarian in which he'd been addressed, as always. He smiled politely, his thin lips quirking up slightly at the corners. Despite the itching of his slightly-too-long nose, he did not scratch it.

"Don't bait me, scholar." The Lord of Telaryn added only a slight emphasis to the last word. "Tell me what you have in mind."

"Only your best interests, my lord." Quaeryt shifted his weight off his slightly shorter left leg. The higher heel of his left boot helped, but the leg ached when he stood for long periods.

"When you talk like that, you remind me of the sycophants who surrounded my sire in his last days."

"Why might they have talked like that?"

"Answer my question!"

"Have you considered why I—or they—would avoid answering a demand delivered so forcefully?" Quaeryt grinned.

Abruptly, Bhayar laughed. "There are times... friend or no friend…"

"Every time anything went wrong in Tilbor immediately after your sire conquered it, his first solution was to issue an edict. If that didn't work, he killed people."

"It worked, didn't it?"

"It did indeed. It still does. But... exactly how many of your soldiers are stationed in Tilbor and not on the borders with Bovaria? How many weeks would it take to get the companies from Tilbora or Noira to Solis—if you had enough ships to carry them?"

"I could commandeer merchantmen."

"How long before they became as unhappy with you as the Tilborans are?"

"They won't turn to Kharst." Bhayar laughed.

"Not until they forget what he did to the Pharsi merchants in Eshtora. How long will that be? As long as you've had garrisons in Tilbor?"

"Quaeryt! Enough of your questions. You're as bad as Uhlyn was. Scholars and imagers! A ruler can't live with them, and a strong one can't live without them. You'll turn my hair as white as yours." A fist outsized for the lord's wiry frame slammed onto the pale goldenwood of the desk.

That was always Bhayar's rejoinder when he tired of dealing with the issues behind the questions, Quaeryt mused behind a pleasant smile, and never mind the fact that Quaeryt's hair was white blond and that he was actually a year younger than Bhayar, who had just turned thirty.

"Namer's demons, I hate Solis in the summer. I'd even prefer the mist stench of Extela when the winds blow off the mountain."

Mist stench? Abruptly, Quaeryt recalled that some of the ancient volcanoes north of the old capital occasionally still belched ash and fumes.

Bhayar blotted his forehead with a linen cloth already soiled in more places than not, for all that it had been fresh and white at noon. "Instead of raising all these questions, why don't you offer an answer?"

Quaeryt grinned. "I don't recall your asking for one."

"I'm asking now. What do you suggest, my friend, the so-knowledgeable scholar? Tell me what I can do to remove the troops from Tilbor without immediately inviting another rebellion?"

"Let me think about it."

"Don't think too long."

"After breakfast—eighth glass of the morning," suggested Quaeryt, knowing that was too late for the early-rising lord.

"Seventh glass. I still don't see why you don't want to stay in the palace. I've offered far better quarters than you have on Scholarium Hill…"

"The quarters are indeed better, but I'd end up being of no help to you." Or to me. "And rulers soon tire of friends or retainers who outlive their usefulness." That was accurate, but not the real reason for his determination to avoid the palace for as long as possible. "Besides, you'd want me to get up at the Namer-fired glass that you do."

"You're not that lazy. You just like me to think you are."

You and everyone else. "But I am. I don't work the way you do. I'm just an itinerant scholar fortunate enough to have schooled some with the Lord of Telaryn."

"Bah... we'll let everyone else think that.…" Bhayar blotted his forehead again. "Why did he insist on moving the capitol here?" Before Quaeryt could have answered, not that he had any intention of doing so, the lord went on, "I know. I know. A port city on a big river and a good harbor makes more sense for trade and for moving armies. And Grandmere…" He shook his head. "I don't have to like it."

Quaeryt wondered about what Bhayar might have said about his grandmother, but decided not to ask. He'd pressed enough. "Tomorrow at seventh glass, then, sire?"

"Go!" Bhayar shook his head, but then grinned again.

"I hear and obey." Quaeryt's words were light, verging on the sardonic.

As he left the study and entered the private corridor separating the receiving hall from the study, Quaeryt forced himself to walk without limping, uncomfortable as it was, but he tried never to limp in the palace or when he was around Bhayar. He glanced into the large chamber, on the third level, the highest one in the palace, where, when necessary, Bhayar sat on the gilded throne that had been brought from Extela by his sire sixteen years before and received visitors or handed down formal pronouncements or sentences. Even the wide windows didn't help much in keeping the chamber cool in the height of summer.

Quaeryt made his way to the west end of the private corridor, where the palace guard unlocked the iron-grille door, allowing the scholar to make his way down the windowless and stifling staircase, past the grille door on the second level to the main-level grille door. Another guard unlocked that door as well. Quaeryt stepped carefully along the shaded and colonnaded walk that bordered the west end of the palace gardens, taking his time so that he could enjoy the cooler air created by the fountains. His enjoyment was always tempered by the knowledge that oxen—and sometimes prisoners—turned the capstan-like pumps that lifted the water to the reservoirs on the uppermost level at the rear of the palace. He was careful not to look into the gardens. After passing the guard at the top of the side steps, he walked down to the gate used by favored vendors and visitors to the palace.

"Good day, scholar," offered the taller soldier of the two at the gate in accented Bovarian.

"The same to you. I don't envy you in this heat."

"Some of the mist from the gardens drifts down here. It's better than the main gate, let me tell you."

"I can imagine." Quaeryt smiled and stepped out onto the wide stone sidewalk below the wall, a sidewalk that bordered the north side of the stone-paved avenue.

Across the avenue to the south and below the palace were the public gardens, open to those suitably attired, according to the judgment of the palace guards stationed at the two entrances. There weren't that many fountains there, and the cooler venues would already be taken. He turned right and started back toward the hill to the west, close to a vingt away, that held the Scholarium Solum... and the Scholars' House.

The one-legged beggar boy was a good two blocks west of the palace grounds. Beggars weren't allowed any closer.

Quaeryt flipped a copper to the beggar boy. "That's from Lord Bhayar." His words were in common Tellan.

The beggar frowned.

The scholar flipped a second copper. "And that's from me, but you wouldn't have either without your lord."

The beggar looked at the coppers. "Could you a gotten 'em any dirtier, lord scholar?"

"Complaints, yet? Next time I might try." Privately, Quaeryt was pleased. It was easier to image a shiny copper than a worn and grubby one, not that anyone would have cared about coppers, but coppers added up to silvers, and silvers to golds, and few would think that a scholar who had dirty coppers was actually imaging them.

The scholar studied the avenue ahead of him, taking in the pair of youthful cutpurses, seemingly playing at bones, on the far side of the flower vendor, and the drunken lout who lurched out of the tavern. His appearance was timed too well and he was just a tad too tipsy. Quaeryt imaged a patch of fish oil onto the heels and soles of his polished boots, just before the fellow reached him.

The man's heels slipped from under him, and the slam-thief flailed before hitting the stones of the sidewalk. "Friggin'... sow-slut…"

Obviously, the would-be grabber was having a slow day. Otherwise, he wouldn't even have bothered with a scholar... unless he knew who Quaeryt was. That could be a problem.

"Do you need help?" Quaeryt asked, expecting the usual knife.

Copyright © 2011 by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.


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