Just before their car set down, Flandry protested to Kossara, “God damn
it, why does your parliament have to meet in person? You’ve got holocom
systems. Your politicians could send and receive images … and we
could’ve rigged untraceable methods to call them and give them the facts
“Hush, darling.” She laid a hand across his fist. “You know why.
Electronics will do for ornamental relics. The Skupshtina is alive, it
debates and decides real things, the members need intimacies,
“But you, you have to go among murderers to reach them.”
“And I fear for you,” she said quietly. “We should both stop.”
He looked long at her, and she at him, in the seat they shared. Beryl
eyes under wide brow and bronze hair, strong fair features though her
smile quivered the least bit, height, ranginess, fullness, the warmth of
her clasp and the summery fragrance of herself: had she ever been more
beautiful? The vitality that surged in her, the serenity beneath, were
no work of a drug; it had simply let her put aside shock, exhaustion,
grief for this while and be altogether Kossara.
“If there is danger today,” she said, “I thank God He lets me be in it
He prevented himself from telling her he felt no gratitude. They kissed,
very briefly and lightly because the car was crammed with ychans.
It landed in a parking lot at the edge of Zorkagrad,
None farther in could have accommodated the swarm of battered vehicles
which was arriving. Besides, a sudden appearance downtown might have
provoked alarm and a quick reaction by the enemy. A march ought to have
a calming effect. Flandry and Kossara donned cowled cloaks, which should
hide their species from a cursory glance when they were surrounded by
hemianthropoid xenos, and stepped outside.
A west wind skirled against the sun, whose blaze seemed paled in a pale
heaven. Clouds were brighter; they scudded in flocks, blinding white,
their shadows sweeping chill across the world, off, on, off, on. Winged
animals wheeled and thinly cried. Trees around the lot and along the
street that ran from it–mostly Terran, oak, elm, beech, maple–cast
their outer branches about, creaked, soughed Delphic utterances though
tongue after fire-tongue ripped loose to scrittle off over the pavement.
Rainpuddles wandered and wandered. All nature was saying farewell.
The ychans closed in around the humans. They numbered a good four
hundred, chosen by their steadcaptains as bold, cool-headed, skilled
with the knives, tridents, harpoons, and firearms they bore. Ywodh of
Nanteiwon, appointed their leader by Kyrwedhin before the
parliamentarian returned here, put them in battle-ready order. They
spoke little and showed scant outward excitement, at least to human eyes
or nostrils; such was the way of the Obala. They did not know the ins
and outs of what had happened, nor greatly care. It was enough that
their Gospodar had been betrayed by the enemy of their forefathers, that
his niece had come home to speak truth, and that they were her soldiers.
The wind snapped two standards in their van, star white on blue of Yovan
Matavuly, ax red on gold of Gwyth.
“All set,” Ywodh reported. A shout: “Forward!” He took the lead. Flandry
and Kossara would fain have clasped hands as they walked, but even
surrounded must clutch their cloaks tight against this tricksy air. The
thud of their boots was lost amidst digitigrade slither and click.
At first it was predictable they would encounter nobody. Here was a new
district of private homes and clustered condominium units, beyond the
scope of forcefield generators that offered the inner city some
protection. Residents had sought safer quarters. An occasional militia
squad, on patrol to prevent looting, observed the procession from a
distance but did not interfere.
Farther on, buildings were older, higher, close-packed on streets which
had narrowed and went snakily uphill: red tile roofs, stucco walls of
time-faded gaudiness, signs and emblems hung above doorways, tenements,
offices, midget factories, restaurants, taverns, amusements, a
bulbous-domed parish church, a few big stores and tiny eccentric shops
by the score, the kind of place that ought to have pulsed with traffic
of vehicles and foot, been lively with movement, colors, gestures broad