This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely




НазваниеThis is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely
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THE TYRANTEric Flint &
David Drake
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.

Copyright © 2002 by Eric Flint & David Drake

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.

A Baen Books Original

Baen Publishing Enterprises
P.O. Box 1403
Riverdale, NY 10471
www.baen.com

ISBN: 0-7434-3521-4

Cover art by Gary Ruddell
Map by Randy Asplund

First printing, April 2002

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Flint, Eric.
The tyrant / by Eric Flint & Dave Drake.
p. cm.
ISBN 0-7434-3521-4
1. Life on other planets—Fiction. I. Drake, David. II. Title.
PS3556.L548 T97 2002
813'.54—dc21 2001056094

Distributed by Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020

Production by Windhaven Press, Auburn, NH
Printed in the United States of America
To Torgny, and to Frieda's memory Also in this series, by David Drake & S.M. Stirling:The General:The Forge
The Chosen
The ReformerAlso by David Drake & Eric Flint:The Belisarius series:An Oblique Approach
In the Heart of Darkness
Destiny's Shield
Fortune's Stroke
The Tide of VictoryMAPS 
 PART I:
THE TRIUMVIR
Chapter 1When Verice Demansk had been six years old, his grandfather had taken him one day on a tour of the statuary in the gardens of the family's estate. The tour had finished in front of the statue of the All-Father."Whatever else you do," the old man had told him sternly, "make sure it will meet the approval of this god. The others—gods of love and war, the harvest, whatever—must always be respected also, of course. But, in the end, this god will be the judge."Demansk was now a middle-aged man himself, with his own august presence, beard turning gray, long string of honors to his name, and bearing the title of Justiciar of the Confederation. His grandfather had died many years earlier. But, staring up again at the statue on a summer day, he could remember that moment perfectly. And he understood, finally, why his feet seemed to have brought him, without his even being aware of where he was walking, before this statue in the gardens.He stared up at the painted marble face of the god for perhaps three minutes. Then, sighing softly, made his final decision.Treason. * * *Another man would have called it something else. "The good of the nation," "the needs of the hour," whatever. Some wormy turn of phrase. But Verice Demansk would not. First, because he had never been given to euphemisms, nor to lying. Secondly—more important—because if he didn't think he was honest he wouldn't have made the decision to become a traitor in the first place."In this, as in many things," he said softly to himself, "evil is wasted on the wicked. Only the virtuous can truly plumb its depths, because only they have the necessary strength of conviction."He recognized the thought as a modification of one of Prithney's Dialogues. And he found himself wondering, for a moment, what comment the father of his own grandchild might make about it. All Emeralds were prone to flights of philosophic fancy anyway, but Adrian Gellert was even a graduate of the Grove. A genuine Emerald scholar—a breed which Demansk had always thought was about as far removed as possible from the hard-headed practical way of thinking of such men as himself.He mused on the contrast between grandfather and father, for a moment, still standing before the statue of the All-Father.Demansk was a Justiciar of the Confederacy of Vanbert, the great nation which ruled half the world. Adrian Gellert had been born in Solinga, once the capital city—insofar as that term wasn't laughable—of the Emerald League, the collection of squabbling and quarreling city-states clustered on the north coast of the single great continent of the planet Hafardine. The single great continent we know of, Demansk corrected himself. Emerald scholars had long since convinced their Vanbert conquerors that the world was round—and so, who was to say what lands might exist somewhere across the great Ocean?The Confederation had conquered the Emeralds half a century ago. Demansk's own grandfather, in fact, had led the army which forced Solinga itself to capitulate.And what would he think now, I wonder? Demansk could still remember the old man vividly. Fierce old man, as accustomed—unlike modern noblemen—to working with pigs and leading farmhands in their labor as he was with the Council chamber and army maneuvers. And, though this was perhaps fancy, Demansk thought he could remember his grandfather muttering, after the conquest was over, that no good would come of it. "Damn Emeralds! Put three of them in a room, you've got eight opinions on any subject under the sun. They think too much! That's a disease, boy, nothing else. And it's contagious, so be careful. Stay away from the bastards."His lips quirked a bit. "Well, I tried, Grandfather," he whispered softly. "But . . ."In this, too, he would be honest. It was always tempting to blame others for one's ills. But, in truth, the rot within the Confederacy of Vanbert was not of Emerald origin. If anything, he suspected, the Emeralds might be part of the solution. One Emerald, anyway. Adrian Gellert, the father of Demansk's grandchild. No, Demansk knew full well the Confederation was rotting from within, and the rot had no alien source. Simple greed, and sloth, and envy, and corruption—all homegrown. Like gout of the spirit. Inevitable, perhaps, a disease brought upon itself by a nation which had grown too powerful too quickly. Or, to use a more homely simile, the stomach-ache of a reckless child after stuffing himself at the dinner table.Demansk's jaws tightened. He had just selected himself to be the purge, after all. And, here also, he would not hide behind simile and metaphor. His purge would be far more brutal than that of a parent forcing too much food out of a child. Blood, not vomit—though there would be plenty of that, too—would be the product of his labor. * * *That thought set his feet moving again, and he found himself wandering through the gardens anew. With the self-awareness that had always been part of him, Demansk understood within a short time where his feet were leading him.Soon enough, he was there, standing before it. The statue of Wodep, painted in red. He stared up at the image, for a moment, his own green eyes meeting the black-painted eyes of the savage-looking idol. Then, lowered his head.Not in hesitation or fear, simply in thought. He had never cared much for that statue. Odd, perhaps, given his undoubted skill at the god's art. But Demansk had never been an enthusiast of battle, much less a lover. That was why, he sometimes thought, he was so good at it.No, his head was simply lowered in thought. Having decided upon treason, it remained to implement it. And some of that implementation would involve the clash of armies in the field. Some, not all—Demansk allowed himself the hope that much of it might be accomplished using less ferocious means.But, as his thoughts of the coming campaign followed their own steps, he soon relinquished the hope. True, some of it would involve political maneuver. As ruthless as war, perhaps, though not as bloody. But some of it . . . He could see no way around it. At the heart of Vanbert's rot lay the great landed estates. (His own numbered among them, he reminded himself.) They had, like a cancer, destroyed Vanbert's yeomanry and replaced it with a huge caste of slave laborers. Conquered foreigners, for the most part. Demansk would do what he could to make the revolution as painless as possible. But he had no illusions. The overseers on his own estate were mild, by Vanbert standards. Demansk saw to it. But even his own slaves would be prone to violence when the yoke was lifted. The slaves on many of the great estates would explode like a volcano.It would be . . . bloody. The more so because Demansk would not hesitate, as other would-be reformers had done, when the time came. When a new slave rebellion erupted, he would yoke it to his purpose. But doing so would require letting the thing burn itself out.His head still lowered, he lifted his eyes beneath thick eyebrows and looked up at the statue again. It's not as if the All-Father hadn't warned us. Some crimes can only be purged with blood. The lash repaid by the hammer, or the hoe sharpened to an edge. The statue's eyes, painted solid black like those of a monster, gazed back at him pitilessly. He could almost hear the god's imperious demand: "Do what you must! Be what you must! But give it a true name. Whatever else, do not lie to yourself."And what am I? wondered Demansk. What am I to become? "The reformer." He shook his head. Demansk was not a reformer, because "reform" was now impossible. The Confederacy of Vanbert could not be fixed, the way a broken machine is mended. The whole thing needed to be torn apart—wrecked completely—and built on different principles.He would be . . . what, then?A revolutionary, perhaps. But that term fitted him poorly. He was no slave, leading a slave revolt. Demansk was one of the most powerful men in the whole Confederation, after all—and one of the richest. Hardly someone who could call himself a "revolutionary" and keep a straight face.Other terms flitted through Demansk's mind. "The usurper." No, that implied a man simply driven by personal ambition. Whatever his other existing sins and crimes-to-be, Demansk could honestly say that he did not act from motives of personal gain."The redeemer." He snorted. He was not trying to save men's souls, nor purify the "spirit" of the nation. He was simply trying to save it from sliding completely over the edge into an abyss of ruin and corruption.For a moment, then, he felt a trace of humor and chuckled a bit. His plans hinged, to a great extent, on that mysterious young Emerald by the name of Adrian Gellert. A Scholar of the Grove turned into a designer of incredible new weaponry, and possessed, it seemed, of some unearthly spirit. But Emeralds were fishermen as well as philosophers, and they had an old saying about the problem with catching a shark. Who's going to remove the hook? A good hook is valuable, but . . . Demansk dismissed the whimsy. Emerald fishermen had long since solved that quandary. Make damn sure the shark is dead, that's how. He would do the same. With blood and fire and iron, and a pitilessness which even Wodep could admire. So, standing before the statue of Vanbert's god of battle, Demansk named himself. It was a simple name, and one which ignored all motives and intents. A name which simply described, and named the man by his deeds.Good enough. Even, in its own way, satisfying. Demansk would destroy Vanbert as it was, and use Emerald subtlety and wizardry in the doing. But, in the end, the great Confederation would be shattered by one of its own true sons, using a true and simple name which any pig farmer could understand.The Tyrant.  Chapter 2He was done then, with resolution. There remained the—not small!—matter of implementation. Again, his feet began moving, and he allowed them to lead him.When Demansk realized where he was going, his lips quirked again. But, this time, into something resembling a genuine smile.Say what the Emeralds would about Number and Form and all of their other fancy notions. Demansk, born and bred a lord of Vanbert, was a firm believer in the practical wisdom of feet. Calloused feet, ensconced in sturdy sandals, walking on solid and well-placed flagstones. There was a truth you could depend on.His feet took him to a third statue, this one the statue of the Gray-Eyed Lady. The statue was nestled in a corner of a patio in the garden. This part of the garden, unlike the rest, was shaggy and unkempt. As he neared the patio, Demansk could hear the object of his search humming a soft tune. He had had little doubt that she would be there. She usually was, this time of day.So, when he entered the patio, he took the time to examine the surroundings rather than the young woman who sat on a bench near the statue. Those surroundings fit the woman. It was she herself, after all, who had strictly forbidden the estate's gardeners to do their usual work here. Rather to their quiet outrage, Demansk suspected. As was often true with servants, the gardeners tended to be even more devoted to established custom and practices than their masters.He scanned the patio slowly. In the corner opposite the statue, a smoke tree had been allowed to grow unchecked. The "tree" was more in the way of a huge bush, and it had taken advantage of its liberty to spread exuberant branches in all directions. Yet, despite the luxuriance of its growth, the open nature of the plant itself allowed enough sunlight through for a multitude of smaller plants to thrive within its shelter. Some of them not so small, Demansk noted. One of the hostas bid fair to become a giant itself. And if the astilbes were groaning under the smoke tree's yoke, their abundant flowers certainly did not indicate so.Demansk looked to his right. All along that side of the square a row of lilies—more a phalanx than a row—were crowding their enormous flowers into the square. It was a riot of color against a mass of green. With, still visible, the stalks of the irises which had sent forth their own glorious phalanx earlier in the year thrusting above the lilies.His eyes flicked from a shaggy spirea to a triumphant sedum of some sort to a mound of lamb's ears; then, from another hosta to a nearby bed of marigolds. Demansk himself found the odor of those flowers a bit too acrid, but he knew that the mistress of the patio favored them. Enough so, in fact, that she relaxed her usual non-vigilance and kept the surrounding plants sufficiently trimmed to allow the low-growing marigolds their own needed share of sunlight.Marigolds. It did not surprise Demansk, when he thought about it, that his daughter Helga treasured them. She was much like they, when all was said and done. Beautiful . . .  and a bit acrid.There had been times when Demansk had regretted that harsh edge to his daughter. Despite his official august status, Demansk shared very little of the hauteur of the average Vanbert nobleman. So, where most such would have—did, in fact, those who knew her—found his daughter outrageous, he simply found her annoying. At times, at least.But . . . he had always loved her, and deeply. More so, though he would never have admitted it to anyone, than any of his three sons. And he had realized, from the time she was a little girl, that his daughter was a marigold. A sun-lover, who would die in the shade.Watching Helga now, from his position in the corner, Demansk suddenly understood that he had tended to his own daughter much as she had attended to her garden. Violating custom and tradition, true; but giving her the room she had needed to grow strong. And the air, and the sunlight.He took some comfort from that knowledge, for a moment. Once he stepped into that patio, he would set in motion a train of events that would pile a mountain of sins and crimes onto his name. The marigold herself would be the instrument for many of them. But, whatever else, Demansk would be able to go to the afterlife pointing to that vigorous flower. This too, gods, was my doing. Damn me if you will. By now, of course, his daughter had noticed him. Demansk could see her examining him out of the side of her eyes. She would have detected him long before he arrived, in fact. She was as alert as any skirmisher in Demansk's legions, and would have made a better sentry than most. But she said nothing, allowing her father the same room he had always allowed her. That was her way, and it was one of the many reasons Demansk treasured her. She simply returned her eyes to the infant suckling at her breast, and resumed humming her little tune.Tune? Demansk had to suppress a laugh. It was a medley, actually. A ridiculous pastiche of three songs: an Emerald hymn, usually sung at religious festivals; a semi-obscene ballad popular among the seamen and pirates of the Western Isles; and one of the marching songs of the Vanbert legions. He began to stride into the patio, but was immediately forced to slow down and concentrate on where he put his feet. A good half of the patio's worn flagstones were overgrown by a medley of ground-covering plants even more exuberantly jumbled together than the "tune" his daughter was humming. Aggressive vinca warred with carpet bugle; red phlox with yet another variety of sedum. In the shadier spots, silver beacon valiantly held its own.In truth, the plants were all hardy—all the plants in Helga's part of the garden were—and could have withstood his sandaled passage easily enough. But Demansk took a subtle pleasure in avoiding destruction, as he marched toward it."You don't have to be so prissy, Father," Helga murmured, smiling faintly. "They'll survive."For a moment, Demansk felt his facial muscles struggling between a scowl and a smile.As usual, the smile won."In the good old days," he muttered, "girls wouldn't have dreamed of being so disrespectful to their fathers. Who"—his voice grew stern—"ruled their families with a rod of iron."Helga's own smile widened. "Oh, please. In the 'good old days,' our illustrious forefathers were illiterate pig farmers. Standing on a dirt floor under a thatch roof, clad in rags, piglets nosing their bare feet—pissing on them, often enough—and bellowing their patriarchal majesty to a huddle of wrinkled women and filthy children. What I never understood is where they got the rod of iron in the first place." Slyly, looking up at her father under lowered eyelids: "Must have stolen it, since the beggars were certainly too poor to buy it."Demansk grinned. " 'Stole it'? Well, I suppose. 'Plundered it' would be more accurate."He lowered himself onto the bench next to her and added: "Say whatever else you will about those illiterate pig farmers, they were the toughest beggars the world's ever seen." "True enough," she admitted. "Although you don't have to be so smug about it.""And why not?" he shrugged. "Would anyone else have done a better job of ruling the world? Would you have preferred the pirates of the Isles, or the endlessly bickering Emeralds? Or the barbarians of the south?"His daughter made no riposte. In truth, she had no disagreement with him on the subject, and they both knew it.Demansk's gaze fell on his grandson's face. The boy had done with suckling, now, and his eyes were studying his grandfather in the vaguely unfocused and wondering way of infants.Bright blue eyes, quite unlike the green eyes Demansk shared with his daughter—much less the brown eyes which were normal for those of Vanbert stock. And already the fuzz on the infant's head showed signs of the corn-gold splendor it would become.Demansk cleared his throat. "Speaking of Emeralds . . .  There doesn't seem to be much doubt who sired him."Helga snorted softly. "There is no doubt at all, Father."When her green eyes came up again, they came level and even. No lowered lids, now; not even a pretense of daughterly modesty or demureness."There have been only three men who have had carnal knowledge of me. Counting, as the first of those, the pack of pirates who gang-raped me after I was kidnapped." The shrug which rippled her muscular shoulders would have awed the demigod who, legend had it, held up the world. A titan, dismissing flies. "I know neither their names nor do I remember their faces. Nor do I care."Her right hand, as well shaped and sinewy as her shoulders, caressed her baby's cheek. "Then there was the Director of Vase, into whose hareem I was sold by the pirates and remained for a year. A fat old man, who managed to get an erection—so to speak—exactly twice on the occasions he summoned me." Another snort, this one derisive. "And then, I'm quite certain, faked an orgasm after a minute or so, once he felt he'd maintained his manly reputation."Despite himself, Demansk couldn't quite suppress a chuckle. Helga's lips twitched wryly in response. And, for a moment, Demansk was as awed by that little smile as the demi-god would have been at the shrug.No woman he had ever known—no man he had ever known—could match his daughter's calm acceptance of life and its woes. It was not that she was blind, or stupid, or naïve. Simply that she had the strength to regiment horror and misery, and turn them to her own purposes instead of being broken by them."And then there was Adrian Gellert," Helga continued, the flat tone in her voice replaced by lilting warmth, "who was neither old, nor fat, nor—trust me, Father—had the slightest difficulty with any of the business." Smugly: "Nor, I am quite certain, faked anything."She hefted her baby and held him up before her. "This child is Adrian Gellert's and no other. You can be as sure of that as the sunrise. He was born much too late to have been one of the pirates', that's certain. And as for the old fat Director of Vase—" Her soft laugh bordered on a giggle. "Look at your grandchild, Father! Even if that old toad could have managed it, do you think his son would look like this?" Her eyes were almost glowing. Some of that glow, of course, was because of the child. But most of it, Demansk knew, was because of the memory of the father. "He has Adrian's eyes, his hair—even that whimsical smile."Demansk sighed. His face, he knew, was stiff as a board.Helga studied him for a moment. "I have always been blunt, Father. Why should that disturb you now? It happened. You know it, and I know it. So why should we pretend, or try to cover my shameful past with vague phrases?"He shook his head abruptly. "It's not that. It's . . ." His voice trailed off. For all his own quite-famous bluntness and directness, Demansk simply could not say what needed to be said. He had never been able to say it; not once, in all the months since Adrian Gellert had returned Helga safely to her family."Oh," murmured Helga. "That." Her own face was as stiff and rigid as his own."Father, please. Do not insult me. For all my occasional sarcasm on the subject of our 'illustrious forefathers' and the 'grandeur of the Confederacy,' I am a daughter of Vanbert. In the bone, and the blood, and the flesh. And, for damn sure, in the spirit."She plumped the baby back firmly on her lap. "I knew from the moment the pirates seized me that you would refuse to pay the ransom. I would have been furious if you had. The rest of Vanbert may have grown soft and corrupt, but not Demansk. Not us! Sophisticated we have become, and literate—and why not? But we, if no other family, are the true Vanbert breed."Her green eyes were like two emeralds, as hard and unyielding as they were beautiful. "We do not pay ransom to pirates. We suffer their cruelties, if we must. And then, when the time comes, we wreak our vengeance. And our vengeance, and our memory, is a thing of terror to our enemies."Demansk swallowed, fighting back tears. He had known, of course, what would be the fate of his virgin daughter once he refused the pirates' demand for ransom. Ravished, first, by the entire crew. Then sold into a lifetime of slavery. But—He, too, was Vanbert. Of the old and true breed, undiluted and pure, for all the magnificence of his library and the glorious trappings of his villas and mansions. However far removed Demansk was in most respects from those ancient pig farmers, in one respect at least nothing at all had changed. He was tough. The soft feel of his daughter's hand on his cheek startled him. He had been lost there, for a moment, without his usual soldier's alertness for motion. For all their feminine slimness, the fingers were strong. And tough. They moved through the short gray-and-brown bristles as easily as a sharp scythe through wheat. As easily as the fingers of a pig farmer's daughter did whatever work was necessary. Without flinching, without complaint."Stop it." Her voice surprised him as much as the touch. The curt command was warm, almost humorous. "It wasn't that bad, Father. Really. A few horrible days, at the beginning. Then—honestly—even worse was the year's tedium that followed in the hareem. I was bored almost to the point of insanity."Again, that demigoddess shrug. "Father, if I had been a son of yours, I would have been expected to serve in the legions. And would have done so, of course, and gladly. Eagerly, in fact. The chances are quite good that, at some point or other, I would have been wounded in a battle. Possibly killed."A strong slim finger poked at the cloth covering his midriff, right above a scar. Then again on his lower thigh, where ridged flesh peeked beneath the tunic. And again, tracing the old wound which trailed down his left arm."So tell me, Father. When you received these wounds, were you in pain? Was your mind dazed with shock, for a time? Did you whimper—or rather, grind your teeth to keep from whimpering? Did you curse your fate? Did some part of your soul shriek outrage and protest at the universe?"By then, Demansk was laughing. Softly, but aloud. "Oh, gods—yes! It was all so unfair. I was quite indignant."Helga's laughter matched his own. And, for the thousandth time in his life, Demansk felt himself almost drowning in adoration of his daughter. Adoration—and pride. This too, gods, was my doing. Damn me if you will. "So why should it be any different for me?" Helga demanded. "Is rape any worse than a blade tearing into your body? In some ways, yes, I suppose. It's more humiliating, certainly.""Don't be so sure of that," grunted Demansk. His hand rubbed the scar over his belly. Some part of his mind, idly, was pleased to note the absence of fat. The muscle there was perhaps not as hard as it had been in his youth. But it still felt like a board, at least, if not a bar of iron."I got this scar because the man I was matched against in my first battle was vastly better at mayhem than I was. At that young age, anyway. He toyed with me, even—dammit! In the middle of a battle!—taunted me, played with me. Then took me down at his leisure, leering the whole time."He found himself gritting his teeth at the memory. Then, realizing what he was doing, barked a laugh. "Gods, he was good! I felt like a virgin in the hands of a rapist, I swear I did. I can remember my cheek slamming into the ground and the feel of his sandal stamping over me as he went on to his next victim. I was in a daze for . . . some time, while everything around me was a blur of noise and confusion and pain. The only clear thought I can remember was that I realized how Errena must have felt after Wodep took her in his beast form. Used, humiliated, discarded like so much trash. As if all that was left of her was the bones tossed into the litter, after her flesh was eaten."They were silent for a moment. Then Helga said, "Yes. And my—let's call it a 'wound'—didn't take months to recover from, as yours did." She eyed that portion of Demansk's midriff skeptically. "You're lucky, at that, you survived at all. If the blade had penetrated your bowels, you'd have spent weeks dying in agony.""True enough," said Demansk. He took a deep breath. "All right, daughter of mine. I thank you—bless you—for understanding."Seeing the way Helga's figure eased into relaxation, Demansk realized that she had misinterpreted the purpose of his visit. Again, he cleared his throat."But that's not actually why I came to talk to you. Although I'm certainly glad we did. There is something else. Something . . . greater." His lips twisted bitterly. "If 'great' isn't an obscene word to use, given the subject."His daughter's level and even gaze was back. All humor was gone."Oh," she said. "That."Silence, for an instant. Then, as suddenly as a burst of sunlight erupting through a cloud bank: "And it's about time!" she cried gaily. Again, she hefted the baby up before her eyes; jiggling him in a parody of the stern and vigorous way a mother shakes a sassy brat."See? I told you! Don't ever underestimate your grandpa again!"The baby's mouth gaped open in glee at his mother's exuberance. His wide-open eyes, as bright in their blue as they were vague in their focus, fairly shone in protest at such an outrageous accusation. Me? A few months old? Doubt my grandpa? Nonsense, Mother! YOU were the one— Demansk was laughing again, and not softly. His daughter's eyes moved to him, a skeptic's sideways scrutiny."Not that he didn't take a ridiculous amount of time to come to his decision," she murmured darkly. "No better than an old pig farmer, fretting over whether he should fix the fence." Her voice fell into a quaver. "Maybe tomorrer . . . my bones ache today . . . some more soup, first . . . build up my strength . . ."* * *For a time, the little patio in the garden was given over to a family's gaiety. The laughter of a father and a daughter; and the innocent, confident, unknowing glee of an infant.When it died away, Helga's face was suffused by sadness."You'll need to start by establishing your reputation. Well, not that exactly. Establishing it on an even higher pedestal than it is now. And, in the process, gaining the unquestioned loyalty of a major army."She sighed. "Which means, of course, leading a campaign against the Southron barbarians. The same ones Adrian and his brother have been stirring up against us these past few months."Demansk started to interrupt, but Helga waved him down. "Please, Father! Daughter of Vanbert. We do what we must." He could see her fighting back the tears. "If you can manage not to kill him, I would . . .  appreciate that. Immensely. But you must do what you must."* * *And so, in the end, Demansk was able to restore the proper relationship between Vanbert father—patriarch unquestioned—and his impudent female offspring."Idiot girl," he growled. "Do not think you can teach strategy to your father. Spirit and courage, yes; maneuvers, no." He grinned. "Not even close."He came to his feet like a young man, almost springing. "Idiot!" he repeated. "No, I think we'll leave your precious Adrian alone for a bit. He and his ferocious brother Esmond both. Let them stir up the Southrons and gather the forces of barbarism against us. All the better. When the time comes, that will turn the last lock."Helga's eyes were as wide as her son's, and just as vaguely focused. Demansk was delighted to see how the wise father had left the cocksure daughter fumbling in the mist."Ha! Lecture your father on strategy, now, would you? No, no, girl. Adrian's for a later time. For the moment—I'm off to the Isles."His own humor faded, replaced by an odd combination of emotions. Cold fury, overlaying a much deeper core of affection."I'll get your vengeance on your pirates, Daughter," he said softly, icily. "And then . . ." Warmth began to return to his voice. "We'll see about Adrian Gellert. He's playing his own very intricate game, be sure of it. When the time comes, I won't be surprised to see him playing with the son he's never met."He barked another laugh. "Actually, he'll be doing that soon enough! But, I think—not sure, nothing in this world ever is—that the time will come when he'll be doing so in a mansion of his own—his and yours—instead of a barbarian campsite."By now, he had left Helga completely behind. She was no longer fumbling in the mist; her eyes were as blank as a blind woman's."As they should be," stated Demansk, with all the satisfaction of a pig farmer ruling his domain. He had a hard time to keep from giggling himself. But, a kindly father as well as a stern patriarch, he took pity on her."Haven't you figured it out yet, silly girl? I need to maneuver with Adrian Gellert, not against him. But to do that I need to send him an envoy. Someone from the Confederacy of Vanbert he can trust."Helga's mouth formed a perfect "O." Her father clucked his tongue. "Odd, really. She's normally rather bright."O."Not as bright as her father, of course."O."Which is as it should—"He got no further. Helga had the baby down on the bench and was clutching her father. Not even clutching him so much as jiggling him up and down, as if he were an infant himself. It was a wonderful moment for him, one of the best in his life.Not perfect, true. There was still the dull, aching sadness of knowing that it would all be swept away, soon enough, by the coming time of blood and iron, fire and fury. 
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