The Two of Swords: Part 10

The Two of Swords: Part 10

K. J. Parker

www.orbitbooks.net

B
Y
K. J. P
ARKER

The Fencer trilogy

Colours in the Steel

The Belly of the Bow

The Proof House

The Scavenger trilogy

Shadow

Pattern

Memory

The Engineer trilogy

Devices and Desires

Evil for Evil

The Escapement

The Company

The Folding Knife

The Hammer

Sharps

The Two of Swords (e-novellas)

B
Y
T
OM
H
OLT

Expecting Someone Taller

Who’s Afraid of Beowulf?

Flying Dutch

Ye Gods!

Overtime

Here Comes the Sun

Grailblazers

Faust Among Equals

Odds and Gods

Djinn Rummy

My Hero

Paint Your Dragon

Open Sesame

Wish You Were Here

Only Human

Snow White and the Seven Samurai

Valhalla

Nothing But Blue Skies

Falling Sideways

Little People

The Portable Door

In Your Dreams

Earth, Air, Fire and Custard

You Don’t Have to be Evil to Work Here, But It Helps

Someone Like Me

Barking

The Better Mousetrap

May Contain Traces of Magic

Blonde Bombshell

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Sausages

Doughnut

When It’s A Jar

The Outsorcerer’s Apprentice

The Good, the Bad and the Smug

Dead Funny: Omnibus 1

Mightier Than the Sword: Omnibus 2

The Divine Comedies: Omnibus 3

For Two Nights Only: Omnibus 4

Tall Stories: Omnibus 5

Saints and Sinners: Omnibus 6

Fishy Wishes: Omnibus 7

The Walled Orchard

Alexander at the World’s End

Olympiad

A Song for Nero

Meadowland

I, Margaret

Lucia Triumphant

Lucia in Wartime

Copyright

Published by Orbit

ISBN: 978-0-356-50617-3

All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental
.

Copyright © 2015 by K. J. Parker

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.

The publisher is not responsible for websites (or their content) that are not owned by the publisher.

Orbit

Little, Brown Book Group

Carmelite House

50 Victoria Embankment

London, EC4Y 0DZ

www.orbitbooks.net

www.littlebrown.co.uk

www.hachette.co.uk

Contents

Title Page

By K. J. Parker

Copyright

Four of Spears

About the Author

Four of Spears

As the coach pulled away, he made an effort and didn’t look back. Instead, he opened his bag, took out a book and started to read. It was the sort of book that has pictures in it, and not much text.

At Strepsi Ochoe he got out and spent an hour in the inn, a small drab place he knew only too well. Then the military mail arrived, and he went out and introduced himself to the driver, who opened the coach door for him and offered him a rug.

There was another passenger, a stocky man in a grey travelling cloak with a hood. “Hello, Oida,” he said. “I was beginning to wonder if you were all right.”

“I’m fine,” Oida said, tucking the rug round his knees. “I got a bit held up, that’s all.”

“Success?”

Oida considered his reply. “Not too bad,” he said. “I made a mess of some aspects of it, but by and large it went well.”

His companion grinned. “One theory is that you’re a completist,” he said, “you can’t rest till you’ve had them all. I’ve got to tell you, that’s not actually possible. They’re being born and dying all the time, how could you possibly keep up?”

Oida clicked his tongue. “Do you want my report or not?”

“Don’t bother, I know the basic facts. A good job well done, as always. You’ll be pleased to hear the boy Daxin’s safely on his way. Apparently her Majesty’s beside herself with worry about him. Tell me, do you think it’d be a good idea to drop a hint or two, let her know he’s safe? Or don’t you want to spoil the surprise?”

“I think it might be nice if he writes her a letter,” Oida said, after a moment’s thought. “Nothing in it about where he is or who’s looking after him, just I’m safe and well, having a nice time, wish you were here, that sort of thing. Otherwise, she’s perfectly capable of starting a civil war, and that wouldn’t help anybody.”

“Good idea,” the man in the hood said. “You know, I do believe you’re a romantic at heart.”

“With all due respect,” Oida said, “go to hell.”

“I imagine it comes from writing all those soupy ballads. You spend so much time putting yourself into the mind of the common man—”

“Have they found Forza Belot yet?”

The hooded man frowned at him. “Them as asks no questions,” he said sharply. “Now, there’s a little job we’d like you to do for us. If you can spare the time, of course. I know how busy you are.”

Oida sighed. “You know perfectly well what my priorities are,” he said. “Where to this time?”

From his sleeve the hooded man produced a little jar of preserved figs. He offered one to Oida, who refused, then ate one himself. When he’d quite finished, he said, “Have you ever heard of a place called Morzubith?”

“Actually, yes,” Oida replied. “It’s where Director Procopius is from, isn’t it?”

“Very good. Do you know where it is?”

“No.”

The hooded man inclined his head. “Not many people do,” he said. “It’s out on the Western moors, just before you go downhill and fetch up on the steppes. They tell me it’s so remote, they haven’t even sent any men to the war yet. Principal industries are sheep-rearing and logging. Climate—”

“Yes, fascinating. What have I got to do?”

The hooded man told him; he listened blank-faced. “That should be all right,” he said. “What’s the timetable?”

“Well, you need to be in Choris for the Remembrance Festival,” the hooded man said, “you’re the main attraction, or had you forgotten?”

Oida did some mental arithmetic. “I think I’d better cancel that,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll have time.”

“Nonsense. You can’t not be at Remembrance, think how disappointed they’d all be. And directly after that it’s the Queen’s birthday, you can’t possibly miss that. No, you should have plenty of time, if you don’t dawdle. Not a problem, particularly,” he added with a smile, “since there’ll be no distractions.”

“Oh, don’t start that again.”

“Talking of which.” The hooded man turned round in his seat and pulled out two brass tubes from behind the seat cushions. “Your friend. This one’s a record of the personal information she’s given us at various times – her initial interview, sundry reviews and interrogations. All about her background, family, early life. You’ve read it, of course.”

“Some time ago,” Oida admitted. “Look—”

“Just run your eye over it again, there’s a good chap.”

Oida glowered at him, took the tube, poked out the roll of parchment with his fingertip, unscrolled it and glanced down the page. “Yes, I know all that,” he said. “But if you seriously think—”

The hooded man leaned forward and tweaked the page out of his hand. “The other roll,” he said, “is what we’ve found out about her. You know, routine enquiries. Actually, most of it only came to light when you recommended her for promotion. We always do an investigation, as you know. Well,” he added. “Read it.”

There wasn’t that much, about half a standard roll, written in orthodox administrative minuscule. Oida read it, rolled it up and put it back in the tube. The hooded man took it from him. “Interesting?” he said.

Oida shrugged. “Not particularly.”

“Aren’t you just the tiniest bit interested? She lied on oath, for one thing. Repeatedly. Strictly speaking, I should cashier her from the Service, at the very least.”

Oida looked up sharply. “You’ll do no such thing.”

That got him a big smile. “Now, then,” the hooded man said. “And, no, I’m not inclined to take official notice of it, at this time. But ask yourself. Why would anyone risk their career and their life, lying about things like that?”

“Has it occurred to you she doesn’t actually know about it herself?”

The hooded man shrugged. “It’s possible,” he said. “But unlikely, in my opinion. More to the point, did you know? Does that explain your interest?”

Oida’s face didn’t change. “I’ll ignore that,” he said. “Look, she’s a superb operative, one of the best we’ve got. She does as she’s told, she gets the job done—”

“She murdered a political officer at Beloisa.”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing. More to the point, I trust her. We work well together. One of the conditions of my working for you is, I choose my people. I thought that was understood.”

The hooded man sighed. “The last thing I want to do is make problems or break up an eminently successful team. But when people lie, I want to know why. Most lies are easy to understand, it’s when people lie for no apparent reason that I get concerned. You do see that, don’t you?”

“I’m sure she doesn’t know. If she knew, it’s like you said, why would she lie about it?”

The hooded man thrust the two rolls into his sleeve. “How you conduct your affairs is your business,” he said, “so long as it doesn’t cause problems for Division. I’m just warning you, in the friendliest possible way; be aware of this, bear it in mind, and don’t put me in a position where I have to do anything about it. Do you understand?”

“Perfectly.”

“Of course you do, you’re a smart fellow. Now, tell me about Blemya. Is it true that the Revisionists are poised to take over the Lower Chamber?”

He answered about a hundred questions as clearly and honestly as he could, glad of the respite. When the hooded man finally ran out of things to ask him about, he said, “You never answered my question.”

“What question?”

“Forza Belot.”

The hooded man was silent for a long time. “I don’t know anything about that operation,” he said at last. “I don’t think anybody at Division does, either. As far as I can tell, it’s being run entirely from Central, and you know them, they wouldn’t tell you if your hair was on fire. My guess—” He paused and smiled. “Which is based on nothing but supposition, intuition and uncorroborated rumour—”

“Yes?”

“He’s dead,” the hooded man said. “He got a bad bump on the head, never came out of the coma. Which means Senza Belot has got to go. Don’t ask me why the war’s still going on, he should’ve had it wrapped up with a ribbon on it by now, even with no money and no men. I can only conclude he still believes his brother is alive, and he daren’t do anything in case Forza swoops down on his neck with an incredibly smug grin on his face. But the fact that Senza’s done nothing at all suggests to me that he can’t be sure, therefore he doesn’t know any more about it than we do. Less, probably. I hope so, anyway. That’s beside the point. If Forza’s dead, Senza has to be put down. Who’ll get that job I simply don’t know. I should think you’re fairly safe, since your future’s mapped out in great detail for at least the next three months, and I’m sure they’ll want to act before then. That said, if you were thinking of having an accident and breaking a leg, this might well be a good time.” He smiled. “Subject closed. What a lot of weather we’ve been having lately.”

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