The Silk Mind

Ashlin Smith is bored with his apparently pointless job in the Royal Badger Survey, and is trying to quit so he can go and be a blacksmith like his family expected. However, the true purpose of the Badger Survey is a lot less boring than he knows or would prefer.

Ashlin, Jenna, Justin and Derk face monsters natural and unnatural as they are tangled up in political intrigue and the civilization-threatening side-effects of ancient sorcery.

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32. A Balance is Restored

The capital port and city of Atlar was wet and windy most times of the year, but when winter storms took a good long run-up at it over the Great Western Ocean, they blasted it with such ferocity that it was a hazard to a man’s life for him to be out of doors. Roof tiles, flower pots, a surprising number of dead pigeons, all fell and splashed into the filth running in the narrower and poorer streets.

The wider and more prosperous streets had proper deep gutters at the edges of the roads, and raised, slightly less filthy pavements for foot traffic, and beneath all this was the new sewer system that had been completed only a few years before.

This was a city that had nearly been at war. But war was for now averted, and times, if not the weather, were good. The foreign political situation had certainly been tense for a few weeks, but you don’t start a naval war in winter, not in these waters, nor do you try to march armies over the mountains that border Atlar to the north. So there was time—until spring at least—for the warlike rhetoric to be forgotten, and re-phrased more carefully if not actually retracted. Faces and therefore lives would be saved.

The Second Regent of Atlar had come into his own in response to the recent threat. He had been firm with Norfjord that no war-ships would be allowed through the straits of Atlar to menace its trading relationship with Andaro. He had been adamant in turn that trade would continue with Andaro on fair terms—respecting Atlar’s neutrality—or not at all. He was reasonable and even-handed and statesmanlike, and brought the Royal Houses of his fractious and hot-tempered neighbours together to overcome the tragic accident and subsequent misunderstanding that had led to so many harsh words being said.

The misunderstanding was not yet completely restored to the state of being an understanding, but the reliably awful climate of the Atlar peninsula had given everyone a reprieve.

As for the Fer Shea, their representatives had departed west shortly before the “accident” occurred. Their presence would arguably have made for further complications, but after a brief meeting with the Regent Counsel they left. Willem, Second Regent of Atlar had been glad. They gave him the willies.

The crew of the Fer Shea ship had been giving many an impressionable lass more than that. Or maybe exactly that. But that was a problem for next summer, and maybe not such a problem after all, really. Those same lasses probably would have “fallen backwards without thinking forwards” sooner or later anyway, and the children would be raised normally enough. They would not grow up into dangerous and inscrutable creatures of myth, at least.

Willem sat down to dinner with his oldest and most loyal adviser, Doctor Grey.

“It is all over, then, the dangerous time you referred to?”

“Willem, I wish I knew.”

“Oh, I don’t like the sound of that. You always know things. It's your job to know them, I would say.” The Regent poured a glass of wine. “You always knew what was what when my father was Regent, and you knew everything when Mad Uncle Len was on the throne, to hear father tell it.”

“It was your great-uncle Leonard who saw everything. I made what sense of it I could.”

“Well, you made a lot more sense of Atlar than any number of kings have made of some countries I could mention. What sense can you make of things now?”

“Some.” Doctor Grey mused. “There will be no war. Olaf’s death in Andaro cannot be attributed conclusively to poisoning. For one thing, his food-taster was unharmed. The accusations made by Norfjord’s nobility, while a serious provocation, do not amount to cause for war. By spring, commercial interests will have smoothed over injured pride. I imagine even the indignant nobles who backed Olaf’s claim to our throne are nonetheless making their investments and plans on that assumption.”

“And the ... other thing?”

“Ah, that. There was a fire on Lord Bern’s estate, which destroyed quite a large area of woodland. There was also the possible murder of Lord Bern and some of his men, but eye-witness reports are confused. The deceased may have instead been attacked by a wild animal that they had caught and were planning to release for a hunt.”

“I know you are not telling me everything. There was also a robbery?”

“Strange to say, yes there was. Some tapestries were destroyed and a book was stolen. The late Lord’s servant was unable or reluctant to describe these items in detail, and so no further investigation could be pursued.

“In any case, it is the privilege and prerogative of the lords to prosecute crimes carried out on their own estates---and therefore their responsibility. The most likely heir to the Bern estates is young, and illegitimate. It will be long before his legal claim to the land can be established, and I can’t see the executors of the estate squandering money on a manhunt, nor time they could better spend stuffing that money into their pockets before the boy comes of age.”

“A book, though,” Willem pressed.

“Yes. Now if there had been a book, and it were of interest to the Crown in a matter relating to the more unusual duties of state, then that would fall under the jurisdiction of the Crown Library. I can assure you that if such a book came into their possession, they would take the responsibility for its storage very seriously.”

“You may consider me so assured. But as for any other things Mad Uncle Len warned us about?”

“The last was the badger. We have done what we can about that, and if there is more to it, Leonard didn't have time to tell me so. We are now in the dark, unless visions of the future are hereditary, and you have something to tell me? No? Oh well.”

Doctor Grey chewed and swallowed a piece of meat, and looked over to the window, whose shutters were tightly closed, although still rattling a little with the force of the wind outside.

“Although there is no particular reason to fear the dark itself, when you know there are plenty of things out there that are to be feared—so many losses and griefs—it is most inconvenient not to be able to see them coming.”

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