Dawn: time for his report.
Sennary had finished eating, but his horse still grazed, hungry after a night of travel. Its tack rested close by; Sennary delved in a saddlebag for his comsphere, found it glowing, tapped it.
"Good morning, Lord Sennary." She was young, looked Galurian, had that irrepressibly buoyant manner that secretaries often crafted to cause maximum irritation to anyone experiencing it this early in the day.
"Start your notes," gruff. "I crossed the Schaaldt into Warnhem at about - "
"No, Lord Sennary, I have The King here for you." She smiled her wide, unemotive smile, stepped back. Justan appeared.
"Up so soon, sir?"
"Today's the day, Sennary, there's lots to be done; we can't all take time off to bicker with our consciences."
Ouch! "Better keep it brief, then, sir. What do you require of me?"
"Regarding the call you received yesterday from Roween Sage - the one that caused you to turn back..."
He grunted. "Spies at the exchange..."
"Coupled with your army tag, yes. My question: do you intend to kill Lord Porett if you meet up with him in Elet?"
Sennary jutted his jaw. "Shortly after you appointed me marshal, Ansle asked me to do so."
"Chancellor Ansle is irrelevant, and your answer is evasive. Do you intend to kill Porett?"
He shrugged. "If I have to, to stop him from offing Conley and Roween."
"Or if you catch up with him after he's done it?"
"I guess so," flinched.
"I don't want Porett to die in the immediate future; not under any circumstances."
Sennary stared into the sphere like he was paralysed.
"Come, Lord Sennary, you look worse than one of the chancellor's zombies!"
Meaning returned to his eyes. "The com-3! That's what you want!"
Justan sighed. "Porett's money helped me out of a difficult situation. You may remember that I like to repay people who have been of some assistance to me..." He smiled his half-smile. "But of course, you're correct. Porett's com-3 has certain unique properties, and Porett himself is the only person possessing knowledge of how to use it."
Sennary was thinking hard, felt something was wrong here. "You've known about the com-3 for some time, sir: why the sudden desire for it now, just when Porett's become unavailable? And didn't you personally tell him to smash it?" Ansle had also wanted it broken, insisted on it.
"But late yesterday, I learned of another of its features. A king's time is precious, and an emperor's more so: Porett's com-3 provides a mechanism for keeping awake forever."
"So do wakers, I'm shooting them now myself - even the horse takes them, doubled up."
"Wakers don't work cumulatively for more than about a month, then it's a week of sleep; hardly what I had in mind... Sparing you the technical details, Porett can `link' to an individual's body and inhabit it passively. He explained this to a certain mage he knows, with a view to linking to his own body. However, this person realised that by taking some of the later segments from husk spells, the link can be made active - controlling the body, not merely living in it. Porett doesn't know..."
He was tapping his chin. "What happens to the original owner?"
Justan laughed. "Oh, no, don't worry, it's unlikely you could use it to displace another mind, not even a husked one. You can, however, control your own body while your physical self sleeps." He grinned.
Sennary felt a churning in his brain, Justan was missing something out, it was incomplete... Suddenly, with thunderous dread, he grasped the truth of it. "Zombies don't have minds. You could flit between undead hosts indiscriminately. Hot, even when your own body died, you could live on indefinitely, riding in animated corpses! You'd be immortal!"
Justan nodded, still smiling. "I'd have been disappointed if you hadn't guessed. So now you understand why Porett must not die. For a while, anyway."
Sennary looked away from the sphere.
The King folded his arms. "Let me guess what you're thinking. `Justan doesn't want me to kill Porett, because then he can live forever. However, living forever is intrinsically wrong, totally immoral, and, especially for someone who is in control of an empire, completely undesirable. Therefore, Porett must die, and as soon as possible.'"
Sennary glanced back at him. "Close enough."
"Perhaps I can dissuade you by divulging further details of how I came by my information." He paused, sympathetically. "Did you know that your cousin Roenna spoke Eletic? She was picked up by the police in Cala, in accordance with my recent order. Routinely, she would have been put to death, but to avoid that fate she generously offered me the means to eternal life."
His face was grim. "So, Roenna was Porett's confidante. It fits." His lips were drawn tight. "Am I therefore to assume that you've spared her life for now, but that if I kill Porett she'll die?"
"What would you do in my position?"
His smile was crooked, ironic. "Find how Roween nullifies anything cast at her, then tell everybody the trick. Rid us of magic's curse forever!"
Justan raised a single eyebrow. "That's a bravely radical solution, Lord Sennary, but on balance I think that I'd rather live forever..."
A memory screamed for his attention. "Porett! He can tap into comspheres! What if he's just heard everything you said?"
"No," Justan raised a hand, "his com-3 is jammed: Lady Zovia has a call through to it right now; she's helpfully appraising him of her army's intended movements, so he can account for them in his plans."
"He'll know it's a diversion, but not what from..." Thorough.
Justan was handed a piece of paper, nodded, handed it back. "I have things to do now, Lord Sennary. Good luck, and don't do anything silly." He turned away; someone else tapped out his comsphere before Sennary could reply. Wonderful.
He reached for his saddlebags, took out the map. Only hand- drawn, not illusioned, so its scale was fixed, but his route showed clear enough. He looked up, towards Elet, imagining Justan's black, malignant cloud poised omnipotently above it. What hope had the people who would soon stand beneath its shadow? Justan, with his own armies, the democracies', the career soldiers from the Messenger's regiments, plus thousands of undead massing in the north, well, he'd flush into the Lowlands and overcome the defenders within days, simple weight of numbers - not even the need for magic! What chance did Elet have against that kind of might?
He called to his horse, thoughts of Roenna, Conley and Roween sailing across his consciousness. Conflicts...
21st January 1999: isif78.htm