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

{At last Eonan told Kossara about a person in the mountain community

Salmenbrok who could give her some useful tidings. If she liked, he

would take her and Trohdwyr on his gravsled–he didn’t trust her vehicle

in these airs–and introduce them. More he would not yet say. They

accepted eagerly.

Aloft he shifted course. “I bespoke one in Salmenbrok because I feared

spies overhearing,” he explained. “The truth is, they are four in a cave

whom we will visit. I have asked them about you, and they will have you

as guests while you explore each other’s intents.”

She thought in unease that when the Diomedean went back, she and her

companion would be left flightless, having brought no gravbelts along.

The ychan got the same realization and growled. She plucked up the nerve

to shush him and say, “Fine.”

The two men and two women she met were not her kind. Racial types,

accents, manners, their very gaits belied it. Eonan talked to them and

her passionately, as if they really were Dennitzans who had come to

prepare the liberation of his folk. She bided in chill and tension,

speaking little and nothing to contradict, until he departed. Then she

turned on them and cried, “What’s this about?” Her hand rested on her

sidearm. Trohdwyr bulked close, ready to attack with pistol, knife,

tail, foot-claws if they threatened her.

Steve Johnson smiled, spread empty fingers, and replied, “Of course

you’re puzzled. Please come inside where it’s warmer and we’ll tell

you.” The rest behaved in equally friendly wise.

Their story was simple in outline. They too were Imperial subjects, from

Esperance. That planet wasn’t immensely remote from here. True to its

pacifistic tradition, it had stayed neutral during the succession fight,

declaring it would pledge allegiance to whoever gave the Empire peace

and law again. (Kossara nodded. She had heard of Esperance.) But this

policy required a certain amount of armed might and a great deal of

politicking and intriguing abroad, to prevent forcible recruitment by

some or other pretender. The Esperancians thus got into the habit of

taking a more active role than hitherto. Conditions remained

sufficiently turbulent after Hans was crowned to keep the habit in tune.

When their Intelligence heard rumors of Ythrian attempts to foment

revolution on Diomedes, their government was immediately concerned.

Esperance was near the border of Empire and Domain. Agents were smuggled

onto Diomedes to spy out the truth–discreetly, since God alone knew

what the effect of premature revelations might be. Johnson’s party was

such a band.

“Predecessors of ours learned Dennitzans were responsible,” he said.

“Not Avalonian humans serving Ythri, but Dennitzan humans serving their

war lord!”

“No!” Kossara interrupted, horrified. “That isn’t true! And he’s not a

war lord!”

“It was what the natives claimed, Mademoiselle Vymezal,” the

Asian-looking woman said mildly. “We decided to try posing as

Dennitzans. Our project had learned enough about the underground–names

of various members, for instance–that it seemed possible, granted the

autochthons couldn’t spot the difference. Their reaction to us does

indicate they … well, they have reason to believe Dennitzans are

sparking their movement. We’ve been, ah, leading them on, collecting

information without actually helping them develop paramilitary

capabilities. When Eonan told us an important Dennitzan had arrived,

openly but with hints she could be more than a straightforward

scientist–naturally, we grew interested.”

“Well, you’ve been fooled,” burst from Kossara. “I’m here to, to

disprove those exact same charges against us. The Gospodar, our head of

state, he’s my uncle and he sent me as his personal agent. I should

know, shouldn’t I? And I tell you, he’s loyal. We are!”

“Why doesn’t he proclaim it?” Johnson asked.

“Oh, he is making official representations. But what are they worth?

Across four hundred light-years–We need proof. We need to learn who’s

been blackening us and why.” Kossara paused for a sad smile. “I don’t

pretend I can find out much. I’m here as a, a forerunner, a scout. Maybe

that special Navy team working out of Thursday Landing–have you heard

about them?–maybe they’ll exonerate us without our doing anything.

Maybe they already have. The commander didn’t act suspicious of me.”

Johnson patted her hand. “I believe you’re honest, Mademoiselle,” he

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Categories: Anderson, Poul