Original Concept, Cousin Ferinc

Two or three drafts behind the eventually published version of The Devil and Deep Space, Cousin Ferinc didn’t have a personal history with Stildyne, and had no relationship with Marana or Anton Andreievitch (and looked different).  I’m including this only because it’s got some Stildyne-Ferinc interation in it that might be mildly interesting.


Stildyne strolled down the narrow hall of the second level beneath the ground floor, chewing on his lip in a contemplative manner.  The chief of House security – Chavis Mollinar, whom he had been encouraged to call “Chuvishka” – had his office down here, within what had once been the Matredonat’s holding area.  Should he make a point of pursuing his aims, or should he yield to the restrictions of hospitality and let it go?  He had been trying to decide for days, now, but it hadn’t been so much of a problem because he hadn’t really faced the decision point.  And now he faced the decision point.

Hospitality could count for nothing where the safety of his officer of assignment was concerned.  A man was not expected to be reasonable about Security issues.  Stildyne paused outside Chuvishka’s office and knocked; after a moment the voice called out to him to come in, so he pushed the door open and stepped down into the small room, pulling the door closed behind him by its leather strap-latch.

“Stildyne.”  Chuvishka was a burly man of indeterminable age, not tall, but built a very great deal like a statuary support pillar.  He’d risen from the plank-wood table that he used for his desk, and gestured toward the guest-bench with every evidence of being glad to see him.  Stildyne took the offered seat, wondering whether he was imagining things, or whether it really was still warm.  “What brings you to my snuggery, my friend?”

Stildyne didn’t take it personally.  He and Chuvishka were both Security professionals, after all.  Chuvishka’s people were very, very good, come to that – the best, as his Excellency had told him with modest pride, that money alone would not suffice to purchase.  “I’ve had something on my mind, friend Chuvishka, for quite a while now.  It troubles me.  I’ve come to seek your advice.”

No trace of suspicion, no hint of impatience in Chuvishka’s dark brown eyes.  There wasn’t a soul at the Matredonat with subdued eye-color, Stildyne had noticed that.  Peoples’ eyes were bright blue, or they were dark blue-gray, or they were quite gray, or they were so brown that they were almost black.  He’d thought the peculiar, very pale blue-gray of Koscuisko’s eyes was a secondary subracial characteristic of Aznir Dolgorukij; but there was no proving that hypothesis at the Matredonat.

“Of course, friend Stildyne.  How could I possibly help?  Perhaps you would like to come to the table with me, and have a discussion over the mid-meal.”

No.  In fact he had particular reasons for wanting to stay right here.  “I’d rather be private, if you don’t mind.  But it won’t take me long to say what I have to say.  If you don’t mind listening.”

Chuvishka reached around behind him, and pulled two glasses and a brown leather flask off of the wall-shelf behind his chair.  Uncorking the flask, he poured two glasses out; cortac brandy, brown, nutty, fragrant with apples and rich as the fruit of the blackwood tree.  Stildyne accepted the offered glass with deep gratitude.  He knew perfectly well that Chuvishka would have preferred it had he not been here.  It was the mark of a great soul, to offer cortac to a man you really didn’t particularly want to see just at present.

“What is on your mind, friend Stildyne?”

All right.

Stildyne leaned forward with his elbows on the table, nursing the glass of cortac brandy carefully as he spoke.

“I’ve been seeing someone around here from time to time, you remember I asked you about him.  Cousin Ferinc, I think you said.  And his Excellency said that he was one of the Malcontents.”

Chuvishka looked honestly confused.  “Cousin Ferinc, yes.  We see him around here from time to time, he comes and goes.”

And had come and gone over a period of perhaps five, perhaps seven years.  Nobody was quite certain.  Nobody seemed to feel the least bit concerned over which it might have been, seven or five.  There was something about Malcontents that simply turned off peoples’ curiosity, somehow.

“He was out there watching his Excellency at morning exercise for a few days.  You know, there was something that looked a little unusual about him.  And when I pointed him out to his Excellency, he said something very disturbing.”  Pausing for a sip of the cortac brandy before he went on, Stildyne rehearsed his thoughts, to be sure that he had them all in order.  “He said that he thought he had seen Cousin Ferinc before.  He was quite definite, he thought that the man looked familiar.  This presents an obvious problem, for me.”

Chuvishka was letting him talk.  Stildyne appreciated that.  “Because if his Excellency recognizes people, but I don’t know who they are, then they may not be what or who he thinks they are.  What if he recognized Cousin Ferinc from another context, entirely?  What if Cousin Ferinc is not the man he seems to be?”

Chuvishka shook his head, smiling.  “None of the Malcontents are the people they seem to be.  It is one of their most potent weapons.”

Yes, but.  Chuvishka surely knew that there was a qualification there; surely he realized it the moment he said it.  “Maybe he only seems to be Malcontent.  Maybe he really isn’t even so much as that.  His Excellency feels secure, here, safe at home.”  It was intended to be a compliment to Chuvishka, who seemed willing to accept it as such.  It was also true.  Koscuisko had not looked so rested in years; so Koscuisko was not dreaming.  “I can’t feel as safe as he does as long as there are unanswered questions about this Cousin Ferinc.  Who he is.  Where he came from.  Why he has the particular interest in his Excellency’s family, and his Excellency’s self, that he seems to have.  Why his Excellency thought that he looked familiar.  Why I think there’s something familiar about him.  And I can’t find him to ask him.”

Well, he could find him.  He had found him, in fact.  But he was a guest here, and he wasn’t going to push his advantage.  For all he knew there was more than one way to get out of a room like this without being seen.  “His Excellency told me to ask Cousin Ferinc why he looked familiar, he said you could ask a Malcontent anything.  Not if I can’t find him, I can’t.  But it’s not as though he’s simply left the area.  I still see him around, from time to time, watching his Excellency.”

He was doing more talking than he usually did, but he wanted to be clear with Chuvishka.  He was almost sure Chuvishka knew that he knew that Cousin Ferinc had been meeting with Chuvishka himself in here, just when Stildyne had interrupted with his knock on the door.  “It makes me nervous,” Stildyne concluded, and took another taste of the cortac brandy.  “People don’t generally follow him around watching him from doorways and shadows and hedgerows unless they have something unfriendly in mind.  I hope I’m not insulting you, Housemaster.”

As a formal title Housemaster could be applied to the head of Security, of the administrative staff, of the ornamental gardens, of the kitchen gardens, of the kitchens themselves, and of the linen-workers.  Not to mention the domestic animal management and the motor stables, and probably one or two others beside.  How the Respected Lady – that was the formal title of the mother of Koscuisko’s child, Respected Lady – could keep them all straight was impressive; that Chuvishka could keep them all secure was not to be scoffed at or disregarded in any way.

“Only I haven’t lost any of his Security, not yet.  And I don’t want to start now.  You might not have heard, but the story has it that he tends to over-react to losing his Security, whether or not it’s their job to stop a charge for him.”

Now, at last, there was the sound of a latch being lifted, and the wall at the side of the room opened out.  Stildyne had wondered whether Ferinc would reveal himself; or whether he had perhaps gone on as soon as Stildyne had sat down.  It was with considerable relief and gratification that he watched Cousin Ferinc step down from the hidden closet into the room.

“Perhaps another glass, friend Chuvishka,” the man suggested.  “You do not need to hint to me, Stildyne.  I know very well.”

Close up, Cousin Ferinc was a tall man who seemed to be the merest hair past his physical prime – or simply old enough to have made his Warrant by now, had he stayed in Security.  Had he been in Security.  He had a square face and a square jaw to go with his square shoulders, and he moved with a quiet sort of confidence that told Stildyne everything he thought he needed to know about where Andrej Koscuisko might have seen the man before.

“Were you there, when Joslire Curran claimed the Day?” Stildyne challenged, directly.  And it seemed a fair chance that Ferinc would reply as directly, except that Chuvishka interrupted them both, standing up from the table.

“That which belongs to the Malcontent, let no man try to borrow.  You’ll excuse me, friend Stildyne.  Finish the brandy, you two, or it’ll go off.”  And he left the room, setting the cortac flask on the table in front of Stildyne as he did so.

Cousin Ferinc sat down.  “You have questions, Chief Warrant.  Listen, and I will tell you.”  That was a phrase characteristic to his Excellency, in Stildyne’s ear; it was startling to hear it from Ferinc.  He had heard it more than once since he’d got here, however, so it was probably just some sort of an idiomatic habit.  “Push me that flask.  My name is Cousin Ferinc.  I come from under the mantle of Saint Andrej Malcontent, of most revered sanctity.  And who would not be curious about the son of the Koscuisko prince?  I am tolerated around his Household because I am occasionally useful.  What else?”

And every word of it wholly true.  But not the whole truth.  “What Chuvishka said just now, what does it mean? ‘Cousin Ferinc.’”  Two words with anyone in Two’s shop and he would know exactly who this man was, or who he had been.  But he didn’t have that access, not just now.

“A proverb.  It means I’m minding my own business.  An outlandish concept for you, I’m sure.”  Cousin Ferinc filled a glass, and took a drink.  But not too much at once, Stildyne noted.  He might be irritated to have been tracked down, aggravated at being questioned.  But he wasn’t letting himself forget to keep his wits about him.

“Be a little fair.  You drink with Chuvishka. You know about Koscuisko, and his Security.  You must know that Security professionals can’t afford to mind their own business.  Where has his Excellency seen you before?”  Stildyne took another sip of the cortac brandy, savoring its rich sweetness.  “Why should I believe a word you say?”

Cousin Ferinc grinned at that, and peered into the amber elixir in his own glass.  “Well.”  Maybe Ferinc was going to come clean; maybe not.  At least he was thinking about telling the truth, or Stildyne would turn in his Warrant.

“There’s something you should understand about the Malcontent, Mister Stildyne.  Have you heard much of our holy Patron?”

Not really, but if Cousin Ferinc was characteristic of the Malcontent’s religious, then they were quite unlike other Dolgorukij religious professionals.  “Only that he seems to have been on the shady side of the holy hierarchy.”  And a bit more, but that had been personal, as far as Stildyne was concerned.

Cousin Ferinc was nodding.  “Okay, here it is.  As straight as I can give it to you.”  The slangy Standard phrasing sounded foreign to Stildyne, coming from Cousin Ferinc.  “There’s gotta be a pressure valve in every culture, especially one as rigidly structured as this one.  Right?”

Right.  There were the Gabbage Drunks, the three-day period during which every license was permitted.  Or the Pirie Sam cult out at Linehar, where every adult spent a year of their life doing the absolute reverse of every dutiful thing they had ever been taught.

“The Malcontent takes in people like that, people who can’t make it outside as a member of the Aznir culture.  You go to the Malcontent, you lose everything, your name, your past, everything.  And all you get in return is a place to be safe.  Whatever it takes for you to be safe.”

There was something that Cousin Ferinc wasn’t telling him, but Stildyne wasn’t sure that Cousin Ferinc was willfully concealing it.  It rather seemed that there was something too deep, too painful for Cousin Ferinc to be able to really talk about.  The fact that Cousin Ferinc wasn’t going to tell him much of anything more about specifics was clear enough.

“So you have buried your past and are a new man.  And whatever questions I have about whatever past you may have shared with Andrej Koscuisko are to be considered immaterial.  I’m not convinced.  And what do I tell his Excellency?  You were on his Security on Scylla and ran to a Dolgorukij religious cult six or seven years ago because you couldn’t take the job requirements?”

Cousin Ferinc tossed back the balance of his glass of cortac, rising to go.  “Seven years ago.  But not on Scylla.  And I wouldn’t tell him anything, was I you.  I’m sure he’s forgotten all about me.”

It didn’t help a whole lot.  But it was better than not knowing anything.  Cousin Ferinc struck Stildyne as a man with a good deal going on in his mind, but he didn’t seem to be a man deranged – as with thirst for vengeance against Andrej Koscuisko, for instance.  “Why do you need to spy on him, if he’s forgotten all about you?”

Pausing at the door, Cousin Ferinc looked back at Stildyne over his shoulder.  “I would have thought you knew,” Ferinc said, and there was no calculation or concealment in his voice.  Whatever it was, it was clearly something the man believed he had in common with Stildyne himself – “See here, you’ll be going up to Chelatring Side, in a few days.  I’ll send my Reconciler to have a word with you, there.  If you still have any questions.”

Cousin Ferinc didn’t wait for any response, he simply left the room, and Stildyne remained alone to inhale the fragrance of the cortac brandy in his glass.

There was no-one here who had come with Koscuisko from Scylla, who might have been able to tell him about Security that Koscuisko had had before he was posted to the Ragnarok.

Chuvishka clearly felt Cousin Ferinc to be no threat to his Excellency here and now, so much was certain.  But for himself Stildyne knew that Koscuisko would want to know a very great deal more about what was going on with a man come from Security to the Matredonat – a man who had the run of the Matredonat, a man who could reach out and touch the life of Anton Andreievitch at any moment.

So he wasn’t going to be able to say anything about this to Koscuisko.

At least not until he met with Ferinc’s Reconciler, whatever that meant, and maybe got some further – some actual – information.

Chelatring Side, was it?

Did Koscuisko know?

If Koscuisko knew Koscuisko would have told him.  So Koscuisko didn’t know.  So Cousin Ferinc knew things about what went on that the son of the Koscuisko prince himself did not share.  Secret Service.  The Intelligence branch of the Holy Mother’s church, and why not?  If the Malcontent’s stock in trade was with people who had nowhere else to go it was the natural place to look for the intelligence-gathering function.

Cousin Ferinc could have been making it up.  Or Cousin Ferinc could have been mistaken.

In “a few days” he would know, one way or the other.

Stildyne finished the last few drops of brandy in his glass, and picked up the flask, turning it against the light in a considering manner.  Really, cortac was beautiful stuff, as far as liquor went.  Andrej Koscuisko sweetened his cortac brandy.  How could he stand it?  It was a terrible thing to do to this lovely potion, dump sugar in it.

Shaking his head, Stildyne set the tempting bottle back down on the table, carefully.  No, he did not need another glass, although he thought he could force himself to drink it somehow.  One glass let too easily to the next.  And they were all on alien ground, here; even his Excellency, for all the fact that he had been born and raised here.  Well, on Azanry.  Perhaps not at the Matredonat per se.

He’d wait and see what news the next few days might bring from whatever place it was that was called Chelatring Side.