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

said. “And you may well be correct, too. Let’s exchange what we’ve

discovered–and, in between, give you some outdoor recreation. You look


The next three darkling springtime days were pleasant. Kossara and

Trohdwyr stopped wearing weapons in the cave.}

Flandry sighed. “Aycharaych.” He had told her something of his old

antagonist. “Who else? Masks within masks, shadows that cast shadows …

Merseian operatives posing as Esperancians posing as Dennitzans whose

comrades had formerly posed as Avalonians, while other Merseian

creatures are in fact the Terran personnel they claim to be. Yes, I’ll

bet my chance of a peaceful death that Aycharaych is the engineer of the

whole diablerie.”

He drew on a cigarette, rolled acridity over his tongue and streamed it

out his nostrils, as if this mordant would give reality a fast hold on

him. He and she sat side by side on a saloon bench. Before them was the

table, where stood glasses and a bottle of Demerara rum. Beyond was the

viewscreen, full of night and stars. They had left the shining nebula

behind; an unlit mass of cosmic dust reared thunderhead tall across the

Milky Way. The ship’s clocks declared the hour was late. Likewise did

the silence around, above the hum which had gone so deep into their

bones that they heard it no more.

Kossara wore a housedress whose brevity made him all too aware of long

legs, broad bosom, a vein lifting blue from the dearest hollow that her

shoulderbones made at the base of her throat. She shivered a trifle and

leaned near him, unperfumed now except for a sunny odor of woman.

“Monstrous,” she mumbled.

“N-no … well, I can’t say.” Why do I defend him? Flandry wondered, and

knew: I see in my mirror the specter of him. Though who of us is flesh

and who image? “I’ll admit I can’t hate him, even for what he did to you

and will do to your whole people and mine if he can. I’ll kill him the

instant I’m able, but–Hm, I suppose you never saw or heard of a coral

snake. It’s venomous but very beautiful, and strikes without malice …

Not that I really know what drives Aycharaych. Maybe he’s an artist of

overriding genius. That’s a kind of monster, isn’t it?”

She reached for her glass, withdrew her hand–she was a light

drinker–and gripped the table edge instead, till the ends of her nails

turned white. “Can such a labyrinth of a scheme work? Aren’t there

hopelessly many chances for something to go wrong?”

Flandry found solace in a return to pragmatics, regardless of what

bitterness lay behind. “If the whole thing collapses, Merseia hasn’t

lost much. Not Hans nor any Emperor can make the Terran aristocrats give

up their luxuries–first and foremost, their credo that eventual

accommodation is possible–and go after the root of the menace. He

couldn’t manage anything more than a note of protest and perhaps the

suspension of a few negotiations about trade and the like. His

underlings would depose him before they allowed serious talk about

singeing the beard the Roidhun hasn’t got.”

His cigarette butt scorched his fingers. He tossed it away and took a

drink of his own. The piratical pungency heartened him till he could

speak in detachment, almost amusement: “Any plotter must allow for his

machine losing occasional nuts and bolts. You’re an example. Your likely

fate as a slave was meant to outrage every man on Dennitza when the news

arrived there. By chance, I heard about you in the well-known and

deservedly popular nick of time–I, not someone less cautious–”

“Less noble,” She stroked his arm. It shone inside.

Nonetheless he grinned and said, “True, I may lack scruples, but not

warm blood. I’m a truncated romantic. A mystery, a lovely girl, an

exotic planet–could I resist hallooing off–”

It jarred through him:–off into whatever trap was set by a person who

knew me? His tongue went on. “However, prudence, not virtue, was what

made me careful to do nothing irrevocable” to you, darling; I praise the

Void that nothing irrevocable happened to you. “And we did luck out, we

did destroy the main Merseian wart on Diomedes.” Was the luck poor silly

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Categories: Anderson, Poul