The Heretic – Snippet 37
This is complete nonsense of course, Center said. There is no room. There are no barrels. The Blaskoye are careful to cover their tracks, which is one of the reasons we are here.
Let Abel continue, Raj said. He’s doing exactly the right thing at the moment.
“And where did all of these pieces come from?” asked Eisenach.
“The Redlands,” Abel replied. “Can you believe it? All of them came from the Redlands. Pulled them off the packtrains of dead barbarians, mostly. The Blaskoye, they call themselves in our region. Sometimes, the Scouts would just find the barrels out there. Piles of them. Empty. And it’s funny how the Blaskoye never seem to run out of powder or musket to kill us.” He leaned forward, close to Eisenach’s face. “To kill my men,” he finished with a low growl.
“I-I’m sorry to hear that,” the director replied, his voice shaking and his face going from the red flush to a deathly pale.
Human electrochemical reactions may be slow compared to electromagnetic responses on an individual basis, but their ability to achieve rapid system-wide effect is really quite impressive, particularly when the adrenalinoid neurotransmitters are involved, Center commented.
“District Commander Dashian — my father — has all of those labeled barrels and more. Testimony of captured Blaskoye transcribed to papyrus and attested to by priests.”
“Obtained under torture, no doubt.”
“It is very difficult to get a Redlander to talk otherwise,” Abel replied.
“Who can believe barbarian lies?”
“The details of Blaskoye agreements never to attack Cascade so long as powder shipments continue,” Abel continued. “Names. One in particular keeps popping up, Director Eisenach.”
Eisenach sighed, looked down and rubbed his eyes, then turned his head back up but couldn’t meet Abel’s gaze. “I suppose these are to be sent to Lindron? These vile tales that besmirch the name of good men? Decent men who are merely trying to keep violence and death away from their families, their kinsmen.” He looked on the verge of tears.
He’s taken the bait, said Raj. Now set the hook, lad.
So it’s back to lad again, is it? Abel thought. But he really did care, and Raj was right. Time to set the hook.
Abel pushed his chair back a few finger spans and considered the director. When he spoke again, it was in a calm tone of reasonableness, even reconciliation.
“Certainly. Commander Dashian is a man of the world,” he said. “He understands these things. That’s why he sent me to discuss the matter with you personally rather than shipping the evidence he’s been gathering for the past two years downriver to Lindron. Out of regard for you, Director Eisenach, and people like you who don’t deserve the calamity such a revelation would bring about. On yourselves. Your family name. That of your clan and tribe.”
“Yes, yes,” Eisenach murmured. “That’s just, that’s right.”
Abel leaned forward again, now all understanding and compromise. “But Director Eisenach, we need that powder. We need the three bargeloads that were promised and another shipment — oh, let’s call it ten wagonloads — to bring you current. We need it to fight back, don’t you see? Surely you understand how that is also just and right. And how delivering those three barges and ten wagons would keep the barrel shards and those papyrus scrolls from traveling to Lindron, to the Captain of the Tabernacle Guard, or even to the Chief Prelate himself.”
“I do see that,” Eisenach said, nodding his head furiously. “I do. But it’s very difficult.”
“You see, they’ve been demanding more.”
“The thrice-damned Redlanders, that’s who! The Blaskoye!”
“I see,” Abel said.
“They’ve cleaned out our production for the past three months. We meet their demands, and then they want even more. I tell you, it’s –”
“– Barbaric?” Abel said.
“Yes! They won’t let up. Won’t let us catch a breath in production. We’re in arrears to everybody, not just to Treville.”
“That’s terrible,” Abel said.
“So you see, we really don’t have your powder.”
“Obvious not,” Abel said. “And yet, I think I see a solution.”
“I wish you would tell it to me, then.”
Abel nodded, and pushed his chair back a little more.
Give the guy a moment to breath, to let down his guard yet again, he thought.
“Let me tell you a story,” Abel said. “And I want you to correct me where I’m wrong, Director Eisenach, all right?”
The other nodded.
“I’m trying to imagine who’s really in charge around here. Is it the prelate?”
“That drunken old fool? No!” said Eisenach.
“I thought not,” Abel replied. “And his priests either spend a great deal of time…seeing to their own needs. Or else they’re crazy. So that can’t be it. But now, what about the DMC?”
“A thug,” Eisenach replied. “I saw to his appointment myself.” He chuckled.
Abel nodded. “Yes, I thought so. Bought and paid for. A bully, but not too bright, eh?”
“That’s an understatement.”
“So who is running Bruneberg and Cascade, I wondered to myself,” Abel said. “And the only answer I can come up with is — you, Director. You and the First Families.”
“Well, I wouldn’t say ‘running,’ so much as –”
“Oh, come now, Director, you’re much too modest. You are the lord of all you survey.”
Eisenach blinked, thought for a moment.
He’s almost figured out where this is going, said Raj. Almost, but not quite, the poor sod.
“I suppose you could say I have certain influence.”
“I’d say you have a deciding influence,” Abel replied. “And with that in mind, I have a proposition.”
The director rubbed his chin. “All right. I’m listening.”
“Take it from the Cascade arsenal.”
“What? No, I –”
“Think about it, Director. You have your agreements in place with the Blaskoye. Your DMC said it himself: they haven’t attacked Cascade district in twenty years. You don’t really need that gunpowder here, and we do. So give it to me to take back to Treville. Immediately.
“But that would take…yes, I suppose it could be done. I could even get the military to pack it up themselves.”
“And if the DMC objects?”
“Him? You must be joking? I’d have him strangled and tossed out a Riverfront shithole.” Eisenach mused. “And you’re sure your father will not send the barrels if I do this?”
“I’m pretty certain,” Abel said. “Like you, all he really wants is peace, commerce, and noninterference between districts.”