Two guys sitting around talking
Each novel under Jurisdiction has been built to stand alone as much as possible, so that someone who hadn’t read any of them could pick up any of them and not be completely lost. That means doing a certain amount of rehearsal of the facts and situations and et cetera. This is a scene where Stildyne and Andrej sit around in his surprisingly reconfigured quarters and talk about Joslire. Let’s just agree to pretend that I am not, in fact, a raging egomaniac with delusions about how patient people can reasonably be expected to be with regard to discarded draft material.
For more than nine years now Andrej Koscuisko had lived as an officer in Fleet, dressing himself or being dressed in the uniform of the day of whatever sort, fitting himself into Fleet-standard quarters and Fleet-standard medical laboratories. He was the inheriting son of the Koscuisko prince, the one who would invariably be described as “the son of the Koscuisko prince” while his four brothers were each merely “a son of the Koscuisko prince.” He knew how to fit himself into his environment, and minimize the disruption he caused within the community.
But the ship on which he had returned to the Ragnarok these months gone past had been the Malcontent’s beast, and St. Andrej Malcontent had been a cheerfully disruptive element all of his short and disreputable life. The pilot that Andrej’s cousin Stanoczk had given him had done a thing, before he had taken the Malcontent’s beast — a Kospodar thula, one of the leanest, meanest couriers ever to leave the Arakcheyek shipyards — to go on about his business.
The furniture in Andrej’s front room had been changed, without his knowledge or consent. Instead of the low sturdy standard arm-chairs there were three in the Teresh style, the old style, heavy wooden chairs with arms but no backs and a cushion that could be used as a small shield if need should be. The pilot, Cousin Ferinc — a favorite of Stoshik’s — had brought the wooden man, as well, but Andrej had discarded it.
A Dolgorukij prince was accustomed to men at his back at all times, and the wooden man was a chair-back to lean against for men without households; but Andrej had no need of a plank of wood to support his shoulders. He had Security. He leaned against them quite enough already, if in the mostly figurative sense. He went without an artificial support to his chair.
He had had so much more meaningful and nourishing support from his Security, in the past. Joslire Curran had been assigned to his service at Fleet Orientation Station Medical, when he had gone for his training in the Protocols and arts of torture prior to his first active duty assignment to a ship of war. That had been Scylla, and Captain Irshah Parmin had been really very patient with him all in all, and from time to time in the moments between drowsing and waking Andrej’s body still remembered that Security Chief Samons had been as astounding a beauty as he had ever seen. She had been there at port Rudistal, as well.
They had just arrived, and the administrator of the Domitt Prison had sent his own ground-car to escort Andrej to his temporary special assignment. Someone had thought the administrator was actually in his ground-car, and there had been an ambush in the streets.
Andrej could remember the piercing cold of the wet air from the river, the skies blacker than most above a city — Rudistal at that time being still at its earlier stages of industrial development, and having relatively little energy to spare to light its buildings at night — the stars so clear, so white, so far away. Hateful.
Looking down upon the streets of port Rudistal where the street-lamps cast their hazy illumination over the rubble in the street, Joslire’s blood black beneath the artificial lights of the emergency response team’s portable spotlights. Is it the day, Joslire had asked him. I pray that it may be.
And therefore because Joslire had judged the extent of his own wounds correctly, because Joslire had the right to claim the day of his deliverance with honor and die of wounds received in the pursuit of his lawful duty, because Andrej had loved him too much to keep him alive to continue as a slave Andrej had killed him. In some ways it was the one murder he could feel least like a criminal for, and in others it was the killing of which he was the most ashamed or regretted most bitterly. But he had seen no alternative.
Joslire had been Emandisan in this life, and had carried five-knives. Andrej had wondered how an Emandisan knife-fighter had come to be condemned to the Bond but at the moment of Joslire’s death he had asked only what was to be done with Joslire’s knives, because five-knives were widely understood to be significant cultural artifacts for Emandisan, and those that Joslire had carried as a slave were sure to be inquired after when Emandis found out he was dead. Joslire had grinned, very cheerfully, happily, as if at the paying-off line of a long and complicated joke.
What, those knives? Joslire had said — well, words to that effect. I haven’t worn my own five-knives for years. My knives are your knives, my life is your life. To the end with thee, my master, and beyond.
So that when Andrej had come back to Rudistal after the lengthy trial that had exposed the scandals at the Domitt Prison, that had vindicated the chance Andrej had taken when he’d cried failure of Writ and put an end to the prison’s hellish regime and its furnaces that were fed so constant a diet of Nurail flesh dead and alive; when he had been called back to Port Rudistal to execute the judgment of the Court at Chilleau Judiciary against Administrator Geltoi and the more corrupt of his cronies; when Andrej had returned to the scene of Joslire’s death he had not been entirely surprised to find a delegation of Emandisan waiting for him to obtain Joslire’s knives and take them back to Emandis.
When it had come right down to the moment, however, Andrej had found himself incapable of surrendering them, and at the point at which the discussion had become the most heated one of them had suddenly grasped Andrej’s outstretched hand and turned it back to front, where it was scarred. Where Joslire had put the mother-knife through his own hand and Andrej’s alike at the moment of his death, and all but laughed for the joy of being free. Then they had all suddenly found themselves with nothing more to say — there was his hand, yes, it was scarred, what of it? — and had all gone away.
It had made him wonder. He had asked. But he had been drunk with the absolute power of pain, in those days, and had put his question in forceful and challenging terms — how could it be that such a man should be a slave, and not have died fighting? And do not even think of suggesting cowardice, or you insult the Emandis, and every Emandisan knife-fighter, and Joslire’s knives, and Joslire, and me for loving him.
There had been a report. He’d received it in the early months after his arrival on the Ragnarok. He hadn’t had the resources to read it and understand it; all of his energies had been absorbed in trying to understand what was happening to him there and how he was to keep his people safe from outrage and atrocity at the hands of a captain who abhorred boredom above all things and enjoyed the sight of a defenseless soul’s suffering.
Now Captain Lowden was dead, though Andrej had no intention of admitting his guilt in the matter. Lowden was dead, Andrej had decided that it would be better to face the penalty for treason than work the Bench’s ferocious will in torture any longer; and they were in transition to Emandis Station for monitors and armament.
The Ragnarok had been launched as an experimental test bed for the black hull technology, among other technical innovations. She had never been commissioned as a ship of war. She carried her full complement of armed Wolnadi four-soul fighters for self-defense, she had that one battle cannon that Two had found hiding out as a case of deck-wipes at Silboomie Station; she needed eight more to make up her inventory with one always in reserve, and the rounds to match. For a start.
And Captain Lowden was having his revenge on Andrej, though Lowden was dead.
“According to these reports you should be a hero to his family,” Stildyne said. Stildyne wasn’t sitting exactly across the table from him. There wasn’t all that much room at the table once one put three old-fashioned Teresh chairs around it, and Andrej had grown less formal with Stildyne since they had come back from Azanry than he had ever been in the past.
His cousin Stanoczk had told him that he was not behaving well where Stildyne was concerned, that a careful respect and precise protocol was no way to show respect and gratitude for a man who had taken such good care of Andrej over the years. Andrej didn’t want to begin thinking about Brachi Stildyne and Stoshik, so he spoke instead.
“And yet I was the cause of Joslire’s death, Brachi. Worse, I killed him, even knowing that the captain had forwarded a petition for revocation of Bond.” Because Joslire and his team had single-handedly defended Scylla against a sapper’s attack that would have destroyed the ship. He’d told Joslire about the revocation of Bond as Joslire lay dying, hoping to persuade Joslire to call back his request.
He should not have hoped. Joslire’s soul was that of a particular sort of warrior, to whom death with honor was a treasure to be embraced and welcomed when it came no matter what. “I fear accusations, in the heart if not in the mouth. Resentment. Anger.”
“The expiration of a Bond under such circumstances means accumulated pay and benefits for the survivors, free education and transport and medical care for life, a privileged status under Jurisdiction,” Stildyne reminded him. All true, and all either slightly humorous or in poor taste, considering that the same Bench that honored such a man’s survivors had enslaved the man, and probably murdered many if not all of his friends and family, in the first place. “And the investigation you demanded reversed the decision, restored his honor. Brought down the existing government, it says here.”
“Only as an incidental effect.” Andrej couldn’t really concentrate on that, he was distracted. He knew — he thought he knew — where Stildyne was going; Andrej was sure he dared not be honest with him. And yet Stildyne had surely earned his trust, and the right to be told the truth. “If the clan-consortium hadn’t indulged themselves against their ancestral enemies none of it need to have happened.”
He would never have met Joslire. He would never have survived his first years in Fleet, and learned how to be a man under horrifically adverse circumstances. The disgrace of Joslire’s family had been the saving of Andrej’s life. It was difficult to avoid a sense of gratitude toward the reactionaries in the Emandisan government who had made it all possible, and yet how could he contemplate gratitude toward people who had shamed and abused and enslaved a man who still held so important a place in Andrej’s heart?
“So you really can’t believe they will be at least polite to you. And why is it so important now, when it hasn’t been important for — how many years?”
This was what Andrej could not afford to say. “I don’t know how to put it into Standard, Brachi.” Well, yes, he did, but Stildyne would probably come up with objections if he did. “I have not been near to Emandis in these years. Now that we will be so close I can’t neglect my one opportunity to stand before his tablet and tell him that he is with me still, and that I am grateful to him for that.”
There were ways in which that was the plain truth, though he didn’t want to discuss them with Stildyne. Stildyne was a practical, pragmatic man who kept his spiritual life strictly to himself, if he had one. Mystical theories about the balance of a knife or why a catch had opened of itself when Andrej had needed it, and never before or after, were likely to elicit a raised eyebrow above a narrow-eyed and skeptical expression . . . nothing more.
“And in order to do this you need to take every bond-involuntary assigned to this ship down with you, as your Security.” Oh, Stildyne knew that there was an agenda, Andrej was certain of it. Stildyne knew he was not being entrusted with the truth. That was no way to respect Stildyne.
“I meant to take them home with me to Azanry, and was prevented. A few days in a service house is a very poor substitute.”
What was he going to do? Stoshi was due within a few days; they were to meet Stoshi at Englin, on their way to Emandis Station. Stoshi was entirely capable of telling Stildyne everything. There was no predicting. Speaking to Stoshi about it would do no good; Malcontents kept their own counsel.
“When we stand on the hillside of his family before his tablet, I will tell you why I have this need. You will understand then, and there. This I hope and trust.”
And he would, too. Once Stoshi had done as Stoshi had promised it would be safe to open his heart to Stildyne, because then it would be too late for Stildyne to feel duty-bound to interfere. Stildyne would understand why Andrej had not been able to take Stildyne into his confidence earlier.
And if not, then what was one more debt of honor owed a man to whom he already owed too many to be counted, let alone repaid?