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

yourself, I imagine the conference would have proved as empty as my

datholch claimed it would, when I broached the idea to him.”

I can’t blame the good datholch, Flandry thought. It does seem ludicrous

on the face of it: discussions between Intelligence officers of rank

below admiral or fodaich, who can’t make important

commitments–discussions about how to “resolve mutual difficulties” and

assure the Imperium that the Roidhunate has never had any desire to

interfere in domestic affairs of the Empire–when everybody knows how

gleefully Merseian agents have swarmed through every one of our camps,

trying their eternally damnedest to keep our family fight going.

Of course, Molitor’s people couldn’t refuse, because this is the first

overt sign that Merseia will recognize him rather than some rival as our

lord, and deal with his agents later on, about matters more real than

this farce.

The intention is no surprise, when he’s obviously winning. The surprise

was the form the feeler took–and Tachwyr’s note to me. Neither action

felt quite Merseian.

Therefore I had to come.

“Let me guess,” Flandry said. “You know I’m close to his Majesty and act

as an odd-job man of his. You and your team hope to sound out me and

mine about him.”

Tachwyr nodded. “If he’s to be your new leader, stronger than the past

several, we want to know what to expect.”

“You must have collected more bits of information on him than there are

stars in the galaxy. And he’s not a complex man. And no individual can

do more than throw a small extra vector or two in among the millions

that whipsaw such a big and awkward thing as the Empire toward whatever

destiny it’s got.”

“He can order actions which have a multiplier effect, for war or peace

between our folk.”

“Oh, come off it, chum! No Merseian has a talent for pious wormwords. He

only sounds silly when he tries. As far as you are concerned vis-a-vis

us, diplomacy is a continuation of war by other means.” Flandry tossed

off his drink and poured a refill.

“Many Terrans disagree,” Tachwyr said slowly.

“My species also has more talent than yours for wishful thinking,”

Flandry admitted. He waved at the cold landscape. “Take this base

itself. For two decades, through every clash and crisis, a beacon

example of cooperation. Right?” He leered. “You know better. Oh,

doubtless most of the scientists who come here are sincere enough in

just wanting to study a remarkable xenological development. Doubtless

they’re generally on good personal terms. But they’re subsidized–they

have their nice safe demilitarization–for no reason except that both

sides find it convenient to keep a place for secret rendezvous. Neutral

domains like Betelgeuse are so public, and their owners tend to be so


He patted the Merseian’s back. “Now let’s sit down to eat, and afterward

serious drinking, like the cordial enemies we’ve always been,” he urged.

“I don’t mind giving you anecdotes to pad out your report. Some of them

may even be true.”

The heavy features flushed olive-green. “Do you imply our attempt–not

at final disengagement, granted, but at practical measures of mutual

benefit–do you imply it is either idiotic or else false?”

Flandry sighed. “You disappoint me, Tachwyr. I do believe you’ve grown

stuffy in your middle age. Instead of continuing the charade, why not

ring up your Chereionite and invite him to join us? I’ll bet he and I

are acquainted too.”}

{The sun went down and night leaped forth in stars almost space-bright,

crowding the dark, making the winter world glow as if it had a moon.

“May I turn off the interior lights?” Aycharaych asked. “The outside is

too glorious for them.”

Flandry agreed. The hawk profile across the table from him grew

indistinct, save for great starlight-catching eyes. The voice sang and

purred onward, soft as the cognac they shared, in Anglic whose accent

sounded less foreign than archaic.

“I could wish your turban did not cover a mindscreen and powerpack, my

friend. Not merely does the field make an ugliness through my nerves

amidst this frozen serenity; I would fain be in true communion with

you.” Aycharaych’s chuckle sounded wistful. “That can scarcely be, I

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Categories: Anderson, Poul