Authors: C. J. Cherryh
Tags: #bren, #cherryh, #short story, #foreigner, #science fiction, #sf
A Foreigner Short Story
C. J. Cherryh
Closed Circle Publications
Spokane WA 99228
copyright © 2012 by C.J. Cherryh
All rights reserved
Closed Circle Publications
Spokane WA, 99228
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Cover design: Jane Fancher
for Jo Ann,
who asked the question
About the Author
C.J. Cherryh, two-time winner of the Hugo Award for Best Novel and once for Best Short Story, is the author of more than 60 novels. These include numerous independent novels in the Alliance-Union universe, as well as the Chanur books, the Foreigner series, and others, and fantasy books such as
Fortress in the Eye of Time
C.J. Cherryh is one third of Closed Circle Publications.
A Foreigner Short Story
The tiled rooftops of Shejidan glistened a dull pale red in the twilight, twisting rows of many-storied dwellings clustered in their ancient associations, the old heart of the oldest, greatest city on the continent. There were, one well knew,
cities on the Isle of Mospheira that never seemed to sleep— cities in square grids, blazing with lights once the sun went down; but Shejidan’s maze of streets went more softly into the night, content with the starlight and the moon.
One might take the view below for peaceful...looking down on those roofs from a balcony high up in the hilltop fortress— the Bujavid, that both protected and ruled the massive continent.
One might think, so quiet the city was, that the whole world was in good order, and that nothing disturbed the peace.
But people had been quietly hoarding food for days, and the trains had seen an uncommon traffic of people outbound, leaving the capital and seeking the safer quiet of their clans elsewhere.
Fear ran those twisted walkways.
Tabini was infelicitous twenty-two— a number partly redeemed because it was
divisible by two moderately felicitous elevens. Tomorrow he would turn felicitous twenty-three, a number that struck fear into the world not for its sums and divisions, but because at twenty-three, Tabini, son of Valasi-aiji, grandson of the aiji-regent, would be legally of age to rule...and to claim his rights to the succession.
Infelicitous eight was the number of years since Valasi-aiji had died— under circumstances some called suspicious. Valasi had died, and Valasi’s mother Ilisidi, the aiji-dowager, had become regent for his minor son— not to universal rejoicing.
Tabini remembered vividly the moment he had heard the news of his father’s death— he remembered the sun on the wall opposite the old arrow-slit, in his retreat at Malguri. His grandmother’s bodyguard had come up to the ancient tower to tell him. He recalled the yellow stone, the crack in the ruined floor. Every detail came back to him. The precise words he would never forget: “Your father, young gentleman, has died. The causes are not clear.”
Are Grandmother and I next? he had wondered. Fourteen was young to be assassinated, but it was not unheard of, in the world’s history.
His grandmother had snatched him up in that hour, whisked him down from ancient Malguri and they had gone back to Shejidan, clear across the continent, by a mode of travel no aiji of the atevi had ever used before: they had
in a small, very cold plane— slow, by the standards of today’s fleet of jets, but faster than anyone in Shejidan had remotely expected them.
His grandmother had rallied her allies by the sheer unexpectedness of her arrival— and by the fact his grandmother had her own Guild already in place in the western Guildhall, and allies she could call on. His grandmother had cleared his father’s mistresses and the current wife out of the Bujavid with a suddenness that had stunned and deeply offended several clans. The legislature had gone into emergency session to prevent her— and could not achieve a quorum— since some maintained the session was not legal.
In that confusion, Ilisidi had proclaimed herself, for the second time, aiji-regent of the aishidi’tat, ruler of the world, in the name of a minor son. She effectively controlled, for one major asset, the leadership of the Assassins’ Guild— and the size of her personal bodyguard, threaded through the west as well as the East, was, for a lord of the aishidi’tat, unprecedented.
In two days, the mistresses’ relatives had found retreat the best defense. Her enemies had had a falling-out, and attempted to use the issue of the plane flight to draw her own conservative base into the argument. A few ‘counters had attempted to find adverse numbers in the event, but her supporters had their own ‘counters, and they found predictions of disaster in the other party. In two days, Ilisidi had presided over Valasi’s funeral, and on the third, the felicitous third, she had taken up residence in Valasi’s apartment, replacing all Valasi’s staff with her own.
She had been, from the hour of her landing in Shejidan, in charge of the government.
Down in the starlit town tonight people were preparing buckets of water in case the water failed, weapons in case of civil disorder, food in case of disorder and siege, and those districts that had electricity were bringing oil lamps out of storage, in case of power failure. Tabini knew these things. His bodyguards had told him it was going on.
Would he launch a claim immediately as tomorrow dawned? He might have no choice. There were those who would launch it for him if he delayed— and his inaction would signal badly for the future of his rule.
He drew in a deep breath of chill air, then quietly withdrew from the balcony and shut the doors. There was no danger from rifles at this height above the city— it would be a remarkable eye that could even note his presence on the balcony. But he shut the doors all the same, and walked from that little breakfast room into the sitting-room of his Bujavid apartment. Supper was past. He often took a small brandy at this hour, and his servants waited to provide it, but he did not feel in the least celebratory this evening, and one brandy might lead to unwise two.
His bodyguard was there— they always shadowed him, at least two of the four— Nochidi and Keigan were with him now. The other pair were likely doing what wise bodyguards would do at such a time— gathering information, keeping an ear to Bujavid security, which he did
command, and which might not give his bodyguard the exact truth when consulted.
Nochidi and Keigan were, like everyone around him, originally his grandmother’s men, trained in the Eastern Guild, and tonight— he wondered just ever so slightly whether the loyalty they gave him had ever overcome the loyalty they owed the aiji-dowager.
“Tea,” he said, and servants moved to make it for him, and for his bodyguard if he sat down with them.
He did that.
They were older men. He could not remember a time they had not been part of his life. They were— all atevi were— darkskinned, golden-eyed, eyes shimmering a little in indirect light as they sat opposite him. These two wore the black leather of the Assassins’ Guild, the guild among other guilds that maintained the law of the aishidi’tat, the Western Association. Their predecessors had stood off the humans, and confined the invaders all to their island enclave. They were, always, protectors of lords and officers, preserving order, balancing powers, conducting negotiations— preventing the aishidi’tat from sliding back into chaos.
And if his grandmother, as aiji-regent, had decided that her grandson should not see tomorrow, if she had given the order— they had all come from her service, and might go back to it tomorrow.
He sat with them and drank the tea, as he always had— he trusted Eidi, his major domo, as he always had. Though he could not to this hour say definitively where his staff’s loyalty rested, still, he had trusted them for all these years, and found doubting them more uncomfortable than trusting them tonight.
Would they take
orders in the other direction, and assassinate his grandmother? They might. He had been in the servants’ care almost from the day of his birth— from the day his grandmother had dismissed the Taibeni clansmen his Taibeni mother had tried to attach to him as bodyguards. She had set her own Guildsmen to guard
grandson day and night. These two had been with him literally from his infancy, setting their lives between him and harm. The four had ridden with him, hunted with him, laughed with him— warned him of dangers. Their Guild could order them independently. There was that, too. But ultimately— their man’chi, their sense of loyalty, their sense of center and balance in the universe, took precedence.
So he drank the tea his servants made, and wondered what his bodyguards were thinking tonight. Perhaps they asked themselves if he
make a move against his grandmother, and if they would be put to that painful choice.
“Have we heard from the aiji-regent this evening, nadiin-ji?”
“From her aishid, nandi,” Nochidi said quietly...they knew what was on his mind, every bit of it. And he would not ask them even yet where their man’chi lay. It could shift in an instant. And when man’chi shifted, at such a time— the whole world tilted. Aijiin rose and fell. People’s lives changed. People died.
“Was there anything remarkable?” he asked, and Keigan said,
“Only the advisement of factional meetings, nandi. There will be such, in coming days.”
“Beyond any doubt.”
“Your grandmother,” Nochidi said, “thought you would prefer dinner with your own staff this evening, so Cenedi says.”
He had not been surprised that no invitation had come. He nodded. “Absent her move against me,” he said, which he had not said, yet, this year, “I shall not move against her. Be assured.”
“You may not have a choice, nandi,” Keigan said.
“The factions will move without us, you mean.”
“Order,” Keigan said, “may suffer. They have waited for this day, both for and against.”
“Neither side,” Nochidi said, “is more reasonable than the other. Either may take independent action.”
“Not sanctioned by the Guild.”
“No,” Nochidi assured him. “There is no legal motion afoot.”
It was good to hear. But the question hung in the air, what he would do, whether he would start proceedings to claim the aijinate, whether he would decide to rule now— or to take his father’s course, and wait, while factions plotted, plots crossed plots, and some died.
He had given no public clue, made no public statements at all. It was, he thought, wise to plan his moves— and make them decisively; unwise, too, to tell even his supporters what sort of ruler he
be. Everyone had an opinion— most saying that he would be more liberal than his Grandmother. Some were quite wrong in their assumptions. Some thought he would be easy— but he did not decline their support...for now.
Mospheira had its opinion of him, certainly. And he had one regarding their representative. The paidhi, the translator for the humans— was weak. His father had gotten concessions from Wilson-paidhi that had changed— everything— and offended the traditionalists.
The traditionalists had willingly backed his grandmother’s assumption of power when Valasi died. A sea trade had long existed between the atevi mainland and the human enclave— and it had increased markedly in Valasi’s time. There had arisen new markets. New imports. Now there had come to be a great appetite for such things— to the distress of the kabiuteri, the kabiu masters, who arranged what was proper, down to the flowers in an entryway, or the seasonality of fruits and fish on the table.