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Heaven is Bloodless, Part Four



Masterpost

They make their introductions to the Alban ambassador in residence first—the famous John Gill, as it happens. He isn’t as ancient as they had supposed; in fact, he is a man of middle age, gray hair brushed back from his high forehead. He’s a hair shorter than they, his form straight as a rule, nor given to paunch.

He invites them to sit in his office, a room ascetic to the point of Spartan discipline, and gives them a weak smile. “You’ll forgive the mess,” he says with a wave of his hand, and Leonard wonders if this is a mess then what in God’s name order could be? “I am new to this post, you see, my predecessor having been taken by the pox some weeks past.”

“Pox?” Leonard repeats, immediately leaning forward to examine the man out of habit. To his relief, his skin is clear, but— “How long, how many taken?”

Gill seems taken aback by his intensity, and gazes at Jim in question. “He’s a healer,” Jim explains. “A damn fine one, too. Telling him all you know is a good idea, trust me.”

The ambassador’s gaze flicks back and forth between the letters and the men. “As you will, then,” he says, coming to a decision. He tosses the packets of paper on his desk, steepling his fingers together thoughtfully. “We’ve chosen an ill time to attempt a settlement, not that we knew it at the time. There’s too little rain in the growing seasons and too much of it in the winter. The natives have had time to prepare their stores over the years, but we, of course, have not.”

He flips open a tall, leather bound folio of a series of maps. Jim and Bones lean in closer to examine it; it looks much like the one Komack had shown Jim all those months ago. “Much of this area is also naturally given to swampland,” Gill continues, “and the insects that thrive there are vicious indeed.”

“They carry the disease?” Bones frowns, brow furrowed in thought. “What about the Natives—the Algonquins and the Cayuga?”

“They seem to be immune. That hardly fosters good will, as you can imagine,” Gill says ruefully.

“Is it true immunity or do they have medicines we do not?” Bones asks. He turns to Jim. “When the de Courcels and Shahrizai ventured to the Nahuatl Empire a hundred years ago, the Nahuatl were able to stem off certain blood diseases with chicona bark.” He turns back to Gill expectantly.

The ambassador doesn’t appear to be impressed. “You may find, my dear fellows, that the Natives here are rather less—friendly—than those we have met in generations gone. They are hardly like to share anything they might know with us.”

“They seem to have gotten along with the Yeshuites,” Jim says, taking a gamble. “A few of them at least.” He is gratified to see Gill’s eyes widen fractionally at this statement, but the man’s expression remains closed.

“The Algonquin are fascinated with the Yeshuites’ particular brand of monotheism,” Gill says with a dismissive gesture. “Simple minds think alike, I suppose.”

“I never found much simple ‘bout religion of any stripe,” Bones responds smartly, and Jim flicks a repressive glance to his consort.

“Be that as it may,” Jim continues, “we’d planned to venture into their lands on a diplomatic mission. If we find anything out about this pox of yours, we will be certain to share it.”

“Gods be kind,” Gill says, “but that the disease may be gone for a time! If you wish to go gallivanting into the wild, on your heads be it! I’ll not stop you.”

And with that, they are dismissed.

“Well, that was fun,” Jim says once they are safely outside.

“Is that the word for it?” Bones raises an eyebrow, and Jim shoots him a canny look before dissolving into relieved laughter as they reach their horses. They mount once more, saying nothing further until they are well away from the Alban embassy.

“That was close, Bones,” Jim confesses. “Gill’s not sharing everything he knows—obviously—but it seems like what he doesn’t know—”

“Is a lot?” Bones suggests wryly, and Jim represses the wild urge to laugh again.

“Something like that. You want to go visit your apothecary, then?” The apothecary would not only be able to replenish Bones’s medicinal stores, restoring his peace of mind, but might have a better sense of what medicinal plants were used locally. As he expected, the healer nods emphatically. “Good idea,” Jim says. “Let’s go.”

They backtrack the way they had come carefully, keeping in mind the directions the Tiberian woman had given them earlier. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do them overmuch good, and they find themselves caught once more in what passes for traffic in the market square. “Damn, should’ve taken another street,” Jim says ruefully.

“Friend Kirk! Is that you? It is!” Jim looks over in the direction of the familiar voice, and grins widely as Rebbe David waves at them enthusiastically. He has a heavy satchel at his feet, filled with copies of his book, standing outside of the storefront of what is probably a bookseller as well as a printer. The scents of thick printer’s ink and the oil the men use to clean their equipment are heavy in the air.

“Rebbe!” Jim greets him with genuine enthusiasm, dismounting to clasp his hand in greeting. The ever-exuberant Rebbe, however, throws his arms around Jim, giving him the D’Angeline kiss of greeting on either cheek. “Missed me, have you?”

“My dear boy!” The Rebbe shakes his head. “If you only knew what foolishness I have witnessed since last we met, I swear by the Heavenly Host—”

“That’s a ‘yes’ then.” Bones’s voice is tart as he dismounts, but his smile is genuine as he greets their friend in Yeshuite. “Hello again, Father.”

“Well said, my boy, well said! Your fluency grows in leaps and bounds, even in days!” The Rebbe pats his upper arms in proud pleasure as he answers in the same tongue. Bones looks pleased, then the man continues, “Mind your stress forms, though!” He repeats the word for then, consonants heavy, and Bones repeats it several times until the Rebbe is pleased.

Jim peers at the bag of books. “How’s business?” he wants to know.

The Rebbe lets out a long sigh, putting his arms around them both companionably. “My boys,” he says in a low, confidential tone, “I have spent twenty years exploring this continent, and visited New Londinium thrice. I regret to report that if its population has tripled, its collective intelligence has not!”

One of the booksellers inside the store nearby peers at them curiously through the window, and the Rebbe smiles at him widely. The man gives him an odd look then goes back about his business. The Rebbe’s smile falls. “Quod erat demonstratum,” he says dourly in the old scholars’ tongue.

Sic transit gloria mundi?” Jim counters, and the Rebbe laughs.

“The glory of us all, if we had any to spare!” the Rebbe agrees, thumping him on the back appreciatively. “Now then! What are you two doing about town this afternoon?”

“We were heading to the apothec—” Bones breaks off, and Jim joins him in staring as several men, Aragonian by their dress, lead three women and two children by ropes through the street. The women keep their heads down, their long hair covering their faces; they are simply clad in doeskin dresses and leather boots. The children, a boy and a girl, sport similar tunics and leggings of the same material, though they are barefoot. Their expressions are blank, and they keep their eyes firmly on nothing in particular. “—cary,” he finishes vaguely. He turns to Jim, who is staring after them, the previously warm summer sun on his back abruptly turning cold. “What’s happening?”

Jim doesn’t answer, he just grabs the reins of his horse and follows, angrily intent, as Bones and the Rebbe follow. He doesn’t have far to go at all; another block, and they are in another market square—one built for a completely different sort of trade.

“What’s going on?” Bones repeats in the voice of a man who knows the answer to his own question: he just doesn’t want to believe it.

Jim wishes he could tell the healer he’s wrong.

Two Aragonians lead a line of people, their hands bound, up onto a wooden stage. They are far from Tiberium, but these constructions—their purpose is clearly identical, all the world over.

“It’s a slave auction,” Jim says roughly. He feels sick, and there’s a pounding in his head. “Oh, Elua have mercy.”

“All the old world’s sins brought to the new,” Rebbe David says in disgust. He lapses into Yeshuite, murmuring a prayer and bowing his head. Everything suddenly recedes into the background, then, because being lead up onto the dais is a woman with two small boys.

That’s when Jim’s vision whites out.

Mom’s hand was sweaty and cool in his. Sam held onto her other hand, and she held them both close. “You have to be brave, now, you hear me?” she murmured. “Brave, just like your Father!”

The heavyset man in fine clothes pulled them away from her, up the stairs to the wooden stage. Mom bit off a cry, and Jim blinked into the sunshine in his eyes. It was the first light they’d seen in days, and at first he was blinded by it.

Sam’s hands were on his shoulders.

“What’s happening?” he had wanted to know, but Sam shushed him. He couldn’t understand the words the man was saying, he was only aware of the sun on his face and the sounds of Mom crying nearby.


Jim returns to the here and now, blinking rapidly. He feels like being sick, and forces himself to breathe steadily and evenly.

“Jim?” Bones asks questioningly. The healer looks worried. “You look—”

“I’m fine, Bones,” Jim says shortly, his eyes on the woman and children on the stage.

The Aragonian auctioneer on the dais is calling out to the crowd in a pidgin of Aragonian and Alban. He pushes the young woman forward. “A fine Cayuga squaw,” he declares loudly. “Young—needs training,” he adds as she looks up at him for the first time. Her expression is defiance mixed with loathing, and Jim feels like his heart might pound out of his chest, it’s beating so hard.

“The hell you say—” Bones says.

“I said I’m fine!” Jim snaps back as the man keeps talking.

“Won’t need to have any bad habits broken out of her,” the auctioneer says. “The children are thrown in for good measure—they’ll be easy to train!” Their faces are perfectly blank. “Let’s start the bidding at two ducats!”

“Adonai and Elua have mercy,” Jim mutters through numb lips.

“My boy?” The Rebbe has one hand on Jim’s back, but he feels frozen. “I know it’s unpleasant, but you must know how this world of our works—”

“Two ducats!” One man calls from the crowd.

“Three!”

“Five!”

The bidding continues. Jim feels more sick than ever.

“Quick, how much do you have?” Bones starts counting out coins in his palm, a deep furrow between his brows.

“What?” Jim stares at him in bewilderment, startled out of his malaise like a bucket of cold water had been thrown on him. “What, no, we can’t—”

Bones looks at him, hazel eyes intense, gold flecks standing out sharply. “We can help some.”

“Ten ducats!” A man’s voice carries over the crowd, and Bones flinches in disappointment, because they do not have near enough between them to match that.

Jim’s mouth is dry, because the voice is Sam’s.

The auctioneer looks surprised, and not a little pleased. “Ten! Do I have eleven? Eleven? Sold for ten!” And that concludes the matter; the woman and children are taken away, and then a dark-hued man is brought to the block.

“Was that—?” Bones asks in astonishment, but Jim doesn’t answer. He is walking away on feet that feel like they are on nettles, and is only too grateful to be somewhat alone when he is thoroughly sick.

~

They don’t make it to the apothecary’s, or to the Aragonian ambassador’s, or indeed, any of their other intended destinations that afternoon. Instead, Bones regards him with thin-lipped dismay, but doesn’t say a word as he gets Jim mounted on his horse, leading the both of them through the streets on foot. The Rebbe follows them in uncharacteristic silence, and it’s only when they get back to their townhouse that he thinks he should have gone to Sam then and there, and said something.

He has no idea what he would have said, or could have said, but he wishes it nonetheless.

Bones hands the horses to Kyle, who thanks him quietly as he stares at their odd little band, bewildered. Rand comes out to greet them.

“Tea, as hot as you can make it,” Bones tells her. “Add sugar to it for the shock.”

Rand presses her lips together and nods, disappearing to the kitchen without another word.

“I don’t want tea,” Jim mutters mutinously, but he knows that scowl on Bones’s
face well enough to know there’s no real point in arguing.

“Sit,” Bones orders, and Jim glares at him. “I said, sit,” Bones repeats.

“You do not look well, my son,” Rebbe David says carefully. “We are concerned for you.” The old man does look worried, and that more than anything is what gets Jim to comply.

Rand brings out a pot of tea on a tray, along with a sugar dish, several cups and spoons. If she finds anything odd about a Yeshuite Rebbe taking tea with them, she keeps it to herself. “Anything else?” she asks, looking from Jim to Bones.

“That’ll be all, thanks,” Bones says to her with a short nod, and she departs with a small frown. He pours a cup for Jim, adding several spoonfuls of sugar. “Now you’re goin’ to drink all this,” he says to Jim as he presses it into his hands, “and you’re goin’ to like it, dammit.”

“Optimist,” Jim says with a trace of his old fondness, and gives the healer a salute before downing its contents. The tea is hot and sweet, and he hates to admit it, but his head does feel clearer for it, and his mouth no longer feels fuzzy. He puts the cup down and Bones refills it.

“Again,” the healer instructs firmly. They repeat the process twice more, and only then does Bones relent. “Now then, do you want to talk about it?”

“Not really,” Jim answers.

“If I may, my son.” The Rebbe squeezes Bones’s shoulder, and sits next to Jim. “There’s often a great gulf between needing and wanting. You may not want to do this, but in my experience, it seems you may need to.” His gaze flickers between the two men pointedly. “I will see myself out,” he says in a more normal tone of voice as he stands, concluding in Yeshuite. “I will hope to see you again soon. Peace, my sons.” And he is gone.

“He’s right, Jim,” Bones says quietly. “I mean, I can guess what it is—was. But—”

“Let it go, Bones,” is what Jim means to say, it really, really is, but what comes out instead is, “You don’t know what’s like. Not really. I mean, you knew that—you had the hope that one day you’d make your Marque, and then you’d belong to yourself. When you’re on the block like that—it’s not that way at all.”

Bones frowns, pouring more tea into Jim’s cup and adding the last of the sugar Rand had brought out for them. He presses the mug into Jim’s grasp, holding his own warm hands over Jim’s cold ones. “That was a long time ago, Jim.”

Jim laughs, and Bones flinches because even Jim knows it sounds rather unhinged. “It’s like a fairy tale, Bones. ‘Once upon a time there were two little boys, and they were sold onto a galleyship. Once upon a time, a little slave boy met a kind Duke—”

Bones’s warm hands are on Jim’s cheeks now, cupping his face. “Once upon a time, there was a brave man who saved a kingdom.”

The frozen thing inside of him starts to thaw as he takes in the other man’s heat. “And once upon a time there was a healer who saved a hero, and he was the strongest man of all.”

Bones doesn’t answer, just takes the cup away and pulls Jim into his arms, holding him until all of the awful, cold feeling is gone. He didn’t even know he’d been shivering until Bones pulls blankets around them both.

“Was it just shock or did you have—well, flashbacks or anything, too?” Bones asks sometime later. “Oh, don’t look at me like that, kid! I’m a healer, I need to be prepared for these things.”

Jim rubs at his eyes, which feel tired and sore, almost as if he’s been crying. He still shivers intermittently, but his stomach is starting to rumble with hunger, and apparently hours have passed.

“Just shock, I guess,” Jim says. “It was—surreal, is the only way to describe it, I guess. What do you think Sam’s doing, buying slaves? Don’t answer that,” he adds immediately. “I don’t want to know.”

“You could always ask him,” Bones suggests. “Just a thought.”

~

One of the many things wrong with Bones’s otherwise brilliant plan, Jim thinks, is that he has no idea where Captain Kirok lives in the port settlement, nor can he subtly investigate in his guise of D’Angeline Ambassador. So he has to put the matter in the back of his mind—as far back as it will go, in fact—and instead focus on the present, which at this moment is sitting in the Aragonian embassy, waiting for the appearance of one Don Diego de Escabarres.

He’s alone for this little excursion; well, Hikaru is in another sitting room in another part of this house, which is the finest that Jim has yet been in since coming to Terra Nova. The rooms on the first floor are all meant for the business of diplomacy—the sitting room, the large dining room Jim had glimpsed as he was led down a lengthy hallways to this room, which is presumably Escabarres’s office. It is a far turn from that of John Gill: This office is all gleaming furniture, tall bookcases with a glass windows and row after row of books, and sumptuous seats for guests.

Jim isn’t taking advantage of that very fine seat right now, however; instead, he’s examining the title on the spine of those volumes surrounding him. If they were transported half a world away here from Aragonia, then they mean enough to their owner to give some insight into his mind. A man’s soul lives in his books is a D’Angeline proverb of the Siovalese, one that Jim has come to know and appreciate over the years. The books on these shelves are heavily thumbed and worn, with little or no gilt and often bound with little more than vellum.

A not insignificant part of the library consists of those books about the exploration of Terra Nova and its flora and fauna. There’s The True Account of the Explorations of Thierry de la Courcel by Balthazar Shahrizai among others, but most of these books recount the histories of the Empires to the South. It’s been a century; enough is known about Terra Nova that geographers suspect it is one continent and not two, but as for the size of them—that remains to be seen—

He’s startled from his reflections by a polite cough behind him. Jim turns around. A small man, neatly dressed and bespectacled, peers at him with interest from where he stands just in the doorframe. He is slightly built, bones as fragile-seeming as a bird’s, with brown hair gone largely to silver tied back in a ponytail. His clothes are simple, of inexpensive cut but fine fabric. His eyes flicker when he sees Jim with—expectation?

“Good day,” Jim says politely, nodding his head in acknowledgement. “Don Diego de Escabarres, I presume?”

“You presume correctly,” the don says. His voice is nasal and slightly reedy. “You are one Jim Kirk nó Pike.”

“I am,” Jim assents with another small nod. Escabarres doesn’t say anything more, just continues to look Jim over. It’s not sexual; far from it, in fact, but that makes the sense of being visually weighed and measured that much more disconcerting.

At last he comes over to Jim, taking his hands in greeting. “How do you do?” When he lets go, he circles his fist briefly over Jim’s own, in a gesture that might have been a stretch but isn’t.

Are you a member of the Unseen Guild?

Jim rubs the side of his hand in answer, as if it were sore. I am. “The sun’s awfully bright here.” The code phrase feels foolish, but at least it is sunny today. “I’m not quite used to it.”

“You will be in time,” the man says mildly. He cocks his head to the side with curiosity. “You were Pike’s student?” he asks abruptly.

Jim can’t be surprised, then. “I still am,” he says softly.

Escabarres’s lips twitch in a ghost of a smile. “Of course you are. Of course. Well then,” he says in an entirely different tone of voice, “have a seat, and let’s have a chat, shall we?”

Jim sits in the one of the low, comfortable chairs that the ambassador indicates, Escabarres sitting opposite him. “As you know, I’m here representing the interests of Terre d’Ange for King Komack.” The Aragonian man nods his head, so he continues. “We’d like to extend diplomatic ties to the natives, in conjunction with our fellow nations here in New Londinium of course.”

“Of course,” Escabarres says mildly, in just such a way that Jim can tell a jest is being had at his—or Komack’s—expense.

Not quite following, Jim keeps going. “I want to meet with several of the local tribal leaders here. When I spoke with John Gill, he mentioned that there had been outbreaks of the pox. My”—he changes his words at the last moment, some instinct telling him that a vague answer is better—“a physician of my house would like to talk to their healers. Perhaps there may be some hope for cures in the local plants.” He keeps his eyes carefully wide and innocent. “I can’t imagine why no one else has done such a thing.”

Escabarres nods his head thoughtfully. “We are a growing colony, as you well know. Despite the difficulties of the past years, we have finally reached a veneer of civilization in this place.” He raps his knuckles on a nearby table sharply. “But a veneer is not enough, no? We must have substance as well!” He stands up rapidly, perusing one bookcase for a heartbeat, then pulling out a volume less aged than the others, handing it to Jim.

Paradisi in Sole, the title page reads. There’s an elaborate frontispiece of a garden and a pair of nude figures, one male and one female, tending to it. A stylized sun takes up part of the top of the page, and in it is the name of God in Yeshuite. It’s a new book; Jim flips through it, discovering not a few of the pages are yet uncut, and most of them are profusely illustrated with woodcuts, though not painted ones.

“It contains many plants of the new world as well as the old,” Escabarres explains. “It was written by John Parkinson, the apothecary to the Alban royal court. Those parts of it regarding local plants, however, were written by a local woman.”

“Who?” Jim asks, closing the book before he becomes absorbed in it totally. “I’d like to meet with her, if she’s amenable.”

“Oh, I’m sure she’s amenable,” Escabarres says lightly. “The only problem is, she’s dead.”

The woman’s name had been Leila Kalomi. She had been friendly with the Cayuga, up until the moment they killed her.

“But why?” Jim asks. “An Alban botanist?” He shakes his head in bewilderment. “Did she have enemies?”

“None that are known.” Escabarres shrugs. “If she was killed, it would have been for one of their rites, we suspect.” He smiles, a little ruefully. “We Aragonians worship Mithras. Such things were not unknown even on our shores, long ago. But these people are in their infancy yet—they have not yet emerged from their own dark ages into the light.”

Jim nods, feigning understanding and possibly agreement. This account doesn’t sound quite right to him, though the Rebbe had told him that such rites did exist—they just weren’t performed on outsiders.

In their eyes, Rebbe David had explained patiently, we are the newborn babes, clasping at the breast of the world: blind, deaf, and dumb to all that is around us. He had laughed. To be honest, rather more times than not I think they are quite right!

Escabarres continues, looking out a nearby window with his hands clasped behind his back. “They are not like us, Duke Kirk, you must remember this.” But even as he speaks, one finger of his hand is tapping a light rhythm against his wrist.

It is a code, Jim recognizes, taking care to measure the length of the beats.

“As you say,” Jim says at the same time, as if pondering what he’d been told in disbelief. “I will keep this in mind, assuredly.” He pauses as he grasps the second conversation underlying that which is spoken.

We are being watched. Tread carefully, now and later. Eyes are everywhere.

“Perhaps I will postpone my visits to the tribes.” He licks his suddenly dry lips.

Escabarres turns around, nodding gravely. “That is an excellent plan, my good fellow. You will want to extend your local acquaintances nonetheless. Let me invite you to dinner four nights hence. I think you will find it most—edifying.”

“It will be a pleasure,” Jim says, standing up. “You’ve been very—helpful.”

Escabarres takes his hand again, as if in farewell, and presses another silent message into his wrist. “Christopher Pike was a very dear friend of mine. I am glad to see you prosper.”

“Thank you,” Jim says again, and they part. He’s still puzzling out the final message as he finds Sulu and they return home.

Seek Miramanee. She will help.

~

“Well that’s clear as mud, isn’t it?” Leonard says dourly as they nurse small glasses of brandy over a chess game. It’s late, but Jim can’t sleep—and consequently, neither can he. “Any ideas what he means?”

“No idea.” Jim shakes his head ruefully, running his fingers through his short hair so that it sticks up on end, making him look not unlike an alarmed porcupine. “And not much luck figuring it out tonight.” He eyes the nearby clock balefully. “What there is left of it, anyway.”

The house around them is quiet, the only sound the occasional creak of wood as the building settles.

“Rand said that John Gill told her to expect just the two of us,” Leonard says at last. “Think he’s the one watchin’ us?”

“I doubt it. Or if he is, he’s not good at it if he didn’t know how many of us there were.” Jim frowns, picking up the Rebbe’s book once more. He holds it up silently.

“Mayhap?” Leonard offers once he understands Jim’s silent question. “If he’s an actor, he’s the best I’ve ever seen, I’ll give him that.”

Jim puts the book down again, scrubbing at his face tiredly. “He doesn’t need to act—not really. Just watch and report.” He shrugs. “It’s easiest to tell most of the truth when practicing these arts, Bones. No lies to trip you up, and you do want people to trust you.”

Leonard scowls. “This is worse than Komack’s court!”

“Much.” Jim gives him the ghost of a smile. “At least at the palace, we know who the vipers are.”

Leonard pauses, staring. “You do realize that’s not remotely as comforting as intended, right?”

Jim shrugs again, looking away. “What’s comforting about it? Intrigue afoot wherever we go, lives in the balance, nations at stake.” He forces a smile. “Day ending in y, right?”

“Somethin’ like that.” Leonard gives him a small smile, then takes him by the hands to pull him to his feet. “We should go to bed, darlin’.”

“Mmm. Bed sounds nice.” Jim’s eyes are closed, making the purple shadows beneath them more prominent. Leonard rubs his thumbs over them lightly, and his consort opens his eyes once again. They are the bright blue of summer skies, and more than anything else, Leonard wishes they were back home in Terre d’Ange where they belong.

The bee is in the lavender, the honey fills the comb / but here a rain falls never-ending, and I am far from home.

De Mornay’s “Exile’s Lament” is abruptly brought to mind, and as the light sound of rain can be clearly heard on the roof over their heads, it feels truer than ever.

“Come on then,” Leonard says softly, needing Jim’s warmth now more than ever. “We’ll figure it all out in the mornin’.”

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