Ardenai lay on the pile of rags and straw which served for a bed, shivering convulsively, his breath coming in short, rattling gasps like a fish out of water, and the woman looking down at him was utterly disgusted. She leaned into the man who was with her and whispered something which made him giggle, then her ugly, lantern-jawed face twisted into a sneer, and her milky eyes turned angrily on the mine superintendent.
“Thatcher, you brought me in here for this?”
Her voice was neither male nor female, and despite his terror, Gideon was fascinated…
“Simply, I do not desire a war,” Ardenai said, side-arming a rock with the force of a slingshot against the wall of the ravine. “I want Sarkhan to face me armed only with his wits. On Calumet, that’s all he will have.”
“He can bring a whole army, though,” Gideon panted, crunching along beside his long legged companion. He’d had no idea that Ardenai’s idea of stretching their legs would involve a brisk jog in hundred and ten degree weather. The sweat was rolling into his eyes, and the fact that Ardenai reveled in such misery did nothing to make Gideon any happier. “Can we turn back?”
That, was as flat a statement as any Gideon had ever heard. What Ardenai wished to know, Ardenai was about to find out. Gideon excused himself and went to take a quick bath. He had the feeling he was going to be sweating, and he’d discovered with a little coaching from the Equi, that bathing, even in a river using bark and herbs, could be a pleasant pastime.
Ardenai appeared, handsome and half smiling, sleeves cuffed to the forearms on a deep red tunic which softened his eyes to brown and made him look quite the ideal father to listen to a young man’s problems. He ordered breakfast…
Kehailan just stood there, looking at the empty spot in the docking ring and shaking his head. “Of course you know without any shadow of a doubt who took it,” he said irritably.
“Did I say that?” the man in the adjutant’s uniform asked, his eyes, his voice, his attitude all proclaiming his contempt for Kee’s defense of his father. “All I said was, the only fugitive we have who is intelligent enough to fly a prototype clipper is Ardenai Firstlord.”
Squire Fidel squirmed uncomfortably under those electric blue eyes. “I’m sorry,” he said again, desperately hoping to sound sincere, “but what can I do? He was here, I swear he was. My men will tell you he was here.”
“Yet no one saw him … bleed, but you?” Konik sounded scornful. “Very thin, don’t you agree? You have not one shred, not a single shred of evidence to back up your story. Perhaps you are a spy, paid to confuse us in our search for this man.”
“Two down, one to go,” Sarkhan muttered, pushing over the queen on his chessboard. “I like the rumor I hear. I especially like the one about Ardenai doing away with the lady Io. Somehow I doubted he would.”
“Apparently he did, though. I didn’t do it,” said Konik, who was sitting opposite him at the small table.
He was scarcely in a position to be recognized as noble, but Ardenai was getting his traveling legs under him and cultivating a close-cropped beard to hide his sharp featured, too-easily- recognized face. He took his papers from the man who had stamped them, put his knapsack over his shoulder, and ambled onto the largely featureless street of a sprawling agricultural outpost in sector six.
Tactical Wing Commander Ah’ree Kehailan Ardenai twisted miserably on his bed, seeking sleep which would not come. His store of tales about how to get to sleep, even his attempts at meditation had failed, and he lay staring into the darkness. Far away he could hear the sound of space-locks and the comings and goings of various sized vessels. They were in the belly of Seventh Galactic Alliance Shipyard Five for, as Captain Eletsky put it, a little fine tuning. And they might actually have needed it. Many ships went back after their maiden voyage and had things tightened up a little here and ther
“Will you please hurry up?” Ardenai commanded, no less urgently than he’d spoken to his mount, and the narrow yellow eyes of the old doctor above him grew narrower yet. “Well, you’re about the slowest thing on this planet, Pythos!”
“Sstop it!” the creature hissed, and his long tongue darted in annoyance. “Go to ssleep as thee was insstructed to do.” He rattled his scales as if shaking Ardenai off his back. “Thee dares to sspeak to me in ssuch a manner? I am appalled.”
On the last morning he awoke as Ah’rane Ardenai Krush, the covers felt good, and he snugged them over one shoulder before checking the motion of his hand to his wife’s side of the bed. She wasn’t there. He sighed and forced his thoughts with practiced determination on to other subjects. No need to run lesson plans through his head. Today was a school holiday, and he had a meeting of the Educational Council in Thura. He’d thought about not going, but High Priestess Ah’krill had called the meeting, and one did not refuse such a summons, even if it was one’s birthing day. He opened his eyes