A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows by Poul Anderson. Chapter 9, 10, 11, 12


{That was four years ago, in the planet-wide winter of eccentrically

orbiting Talwin. Having landed simultaneously from the warships which

brought them hither, Captain Sir Dominic Flandry and his opposite

number, Qanryf Tachwyr the Dark, were received with painstaking

correctness by the two commissioners of their respective races who

administered the joint Merseian-Terran scientific base. After due

ceremony, they expressed a wish to dine privately, that they might

discuss the tasks ahead of them in frankness and at leisure.

The room for this was small, austerely outfitted as the entire outpost

necessarily was. Talwin’s system coursed through the Wilderness, that

little-explored buffer zone of stars between Empire and Roidhunate; it

had no attraction for traders; the enterprise got a meager budget. A

table, some chairs and stools, a sideboard, a phone were the whole

furniture, unless you counted the dumbwaiter with sensors and extensible

arms for serving people who might not wish a live attendant while they


Flandry entered cheerily, 0.88 gee lending bounce to his gait. The

Merseian officer waited, half dinosaurian despite a close-fitting

silver-trimmed black uniform, bold against snowfields, frozen river, and

shrunken sun in crystalline sky which filled a wall transparency behind


“Well, you old rascal, how are you?” The man held forth his hand in

Terran wise. Tachwyr clasped it between warm dry fingers and leathery

palm. They had no further amicable gesture to exchange, since Flandry

lacked a tail.

“Thirsty,” Tachwyr rumbled. They sought the well-stocked sideboard.

Tachwyr reached for Scotch and Flandry for telloch. They caught each

other’s glances and laughed, Merseian drumroll and human staccato. “Been

a long while for us both, arrach?”

Flandry noted the inference, that of recent years Tachwyr’s work had

brought him into little or no contact with Terrans, for whatever it

might be worth. Likely that wasn’t much. The Empire’s mulish attitude

toward the aggrandizement of the Roidhunate was by no means the sole

problem which the latter faced. Still, Tachwyr was by way of being an

expert on Homo sapiens; so if a more urgent matter had called him–To be

sure, he might have planned his remark precisely to make his opponent

think along these lines.

“I trust your wives and children enjoy good fortune,” Flandry said in

polite Eriau.

“Yes, I thank the God.” The formula being completed, Tachwyr went on:

“Chydhwan’s married, and Gelch has begun his cadetship. I presume you’re

still a bachelor?” He must ask that in Anglic, for his native equivalent

would have been an insult. His jet eyes probed. “Aren’t you the gaudy

one, though? What style is that?”

The man extended an arm to show off colors and embroideries of his

mufti. The plumes bobbed which sprang from an emerald brooch holding his

turban together. “Latest fashion in Dehiwala–on Ramanujan, you know. I

was there a while back. Garb at home has gotten positively drab.” He

lifted his glass. “Well, tor ychwei.”

“Here’s to you,” the Merseian responded in Anglic. They drank. The

telloch was thick and bitter-fiery.

Flandry looked outdoors. “Brrr!” he said. “I’m glad this time I won’t

need to tramp through that.”

“Khraich? I’d hoped we might go on a hunt.”

“Don’t let me stop you. But if nothing else, my time here is limited. I

must get back. Wouldn’t have come at all except for your special


Tachwyr studied Flandry. “I never doubted you are busy these days,” he


“Yes, jumping around like a probability function in a high wind.”

“You do not seem discouraged.”

“N-no.” Flandry sipped, abruptly brought his gaze around, and stated:

“We’re near the end of our troubles. What opposition is left has no real


“And Hans Molitor will be undisputed Emperor.” Tachwyr’s relaxation

evaporated. Flandry, who knew him from encounters both adversary and

half friendly since they were fledglings in their services, had rather

expected that. A big, faintly scaled hand clenched on the tumbler of

whisky. “My reason why I wanted this meeting.”

“Your reason?” Flandry arched his brows, though he knew Tachwyr felt it

was a particularly grotesque expression.

“Yes. I persuaded my superiors to send your government–Molitor’s–the

proposal, and put me in charge of our side. However, if you had not come

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Categories: Anderson, Poul