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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2019 год
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“Let me explain it over dinner,” Dokken said, tapping the stallion’s sides with his heels. The horse moved at a faster pace. “Come to my villa. Garien is preparing fish tonight.”

Unable to think of anything else to say, Tharion rode his mare up the steep hill path to Dokken’s home in the cliffs.


Garien, the chef, served a wonderful broiled trout from Dokken’s fish farms, seasoning it with herbs from the kitchen garden, served with a sautéed medley of tomatoes, onions, and unfamiliar green pods.

Dokken fell to his meal with gusto; after every three bites he methodically dabbed his mouth with a dyed linen napkin. His eyes were half-lidded as he savored the fish, peeling away crisped skin and flaking the delicate white meat.

Tharion sat at the polished rose-granite table, resting his elbows on the cool, slick surface. He tasted one of the sliced green pods, not a familiar vegetable raised in the greenhouse levels of Guild Headquarters. He found it tasty, but with an odd texture. “What is this? A new vegetable from the Platform gene library?”

Dokken speared a pod with his fork and held it up from his glazed terra cotta plate. “Okra. It’s a relative of cotton, and the kenaf we plant for paper fiber. I decided that since my kenaf was thriving so well, I would try the okra. You should taste Garien’s gumbo sometime.” He popped the vegetable into his mouth. “It amazes me what still remains untapped up in the Platform’s genetic bank.”

They finished their dinner with small talk about the season’s newly recovered lands, novel crafts and products emerging from the villages, and the annoying activities of the other landholders. Tharion maintained an impassive expression, since landholders always complained about their rivals.

One of the servants came in to clear away the dishes and to refill their wineglasses. Dokken swirled the dark red liquid in his clear glass, then sipped. Tharion drank the sour wine out of politeness, but he didn’t like the taste. Dokken seemed torn between criticism and enjoyment of the vintage.

“This is a Chianti,” he said, “a dark wine that’s traditionally Italian. The bottles are supposed to be wrapped in wicker, but nobody has cultivated the right kind of reeds for old-fashioned basketry. Maybe Sardili will try it down at the delta.” Dokken took another sip of the wine. “Let’s go sit by the fire.”

The landholder’s leather clothes creaked as he rose. To Tharion, in his loose white cotton garments and overrobe, Dokken’s breeches and tunic looked heavy and uncomfortable.

Tharion followed Dokken across the tiled floor to the sitting room. He took one of the chairs next to a snapping fire that did more to drive off the night’s chill than any of the villa’s corner thermal units. “Where’s Maximillian?”

“Away.” Dokken pushed his boots close to the fire and stared at the glowing embers. “I also just returned from another sojourn a few days ago. He’ll be back soon.”

By now, Tharion had learned not to be bothered by Dokken’s evasiveness. He relaxed in a comfortable chair, staring into the flickering flames, uneasy to see such an outrageous waste of wood, which had to be cut and shipped in from the pine forests in Toth Holding.

He sipped his bitter wine again. Dokken began one of his tangential lectures. “Trust me, this isn’t how Chianti is supposed to taste. The ground and climate here is dry and rocky, like parts of old Italy, and it should be perfect for growing grapes and olives. But the fruit tastes awful, even after decades of conditioning the soil. I’m still working on it, though. Either I’m improving, or my sense of taste is irreparably damaged. Maybe I’ll try coffee next, I can’t remember how long it’s been since I’ve had a good, rich cup of real coffee.”

Tharion made a noncommittal sound, though he couldn’t imagine where Dokken had ever tasted “real” coffee. He didn’t interrupt, though, but tried instead to relax and enjoy the fire.

All through dinner, Dokken had not broached the subject of the allegedly important new information he had learned. He knew better than to push his mentor; Franz Dokken was a master at playing his hints in the right order, drawing inevitable conclusions, manipulating results by virtue of his wise perspective and generous patience.

They sat in silence by the fire, sipping wine. Waiting.

Finally, Dokken raised himself out of his chair and refilled their glasses with the bad wine. “All right, my friend, I know you’re getting anxious,” he said. “Let’s go out onto the balcony.”


Dokken set his wineglass on the polished ledge and placed both hands on the stone rail, looking down at the courtyard below. Clay pots filled with explosively colorful geraniums sat in the corners of the balcony.

The main towers of the villa rose up above them, walls of creamy stucco, roof overhangs of red tile, and a satellite dish antenna on the tallest tower, pointed out toward the stars. Below, mulberry bushes adorned the grounds, carefully watered and fertilized.

Dokken turned to his guest. “In civilized Earth society, I would be offering you a fine cigar.”

“A cigar?” Tharion asked. He’d never heard of the thing. “What is that?”

Dokken looked up at the veiled stars, as if trying to find the Earth system out in the galactic forest of lights. “Carefully selected tobacco leaves dried and rolled into a cylinder. You light the end, then inhale the smoke. It contained a mild narcotic, which was also a carcinogen. Rather pointless, I suppose, but there was a time when cigars allowed for wonderful social affectations. I hear Hektor Carsus is contemplating cultivating tobacco at his holding, but he doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

“One too many vices from Earth?” Tharion asked, wondering if Dokken would ever get around to the point.

The landholder waved away the thought. “No, the soil and the climate are lousy for tobacco. Not rich enough yet. I looked into it. Give us another few centuries of working the land.”

Tharion finished his Chianti and found that he didn’t want any more. Dokken would toy with him all night long, avoiding the question unless Tharion pushed. “Franz, about this important information you were going to tell me—”

Dokken smiled, as if he had been wondering how long his protégé would wait—but an interruption from the firelit sitting room disturbed them. Garien was setting out two small glazed saucers of honeyed strawberries, but a dark, slim woman pushed past him.

“No, I don’t want a third place setting, thank you,” she told the chef with weary patience, heading straight for the balcony.

Dokken frowned, then sighed. “Schandra, could you please excuse us while we finish our conversation?”

The woman, Dokken’s longtime lover, placed her hands on her slender hips and widened her coal-black eyes. Her hair was long and silky, like spun obsidian, and her features had a smooth exotic cast that spoke of an African/Asian genetic mixture. She wore a scarlet blouse and a swirling black skirt, both made of the luxurious silk that had made his holding famous. “No, Franz, I won’t just excuse you. I’ve been polite over and over again, and you always forget to make time to talk to me. A few days ago you got back from being gone for two weeks, out of touch with everyone, riding around your holding like some sort of scout, and we still haven’t talked. Maximillian won’t say a word to me—and I need to discuss our family.”

Dokken raised his eyebrows with a long-suffering expression and turned from Tharion as if begging his indulgence. “What family, Schandra? We don’t have a family.”

“Ah, now you’re getting the point, Franz. Everyone else on this planet has children, and we don’t. Is it so wrong for me to have a couple of dreams, too?” Obviously, Tharion thought, Schandra had been rehearsing the discussion with her mirror while waiting for Dokken to return from his sojourn in the outer lands.

Tharion thought about Dokken’s legendary lack of heirs, the rumors of his sterility. A great landholder such as Franz Dokken should have long ago assured his inheritance, rather than risk losing all the lands he had claimed.

Tharion sympathized with Schandra, though: he, like all Truthsayers, had been rendered sterile by constant use of the Veritas drug.

“Schandra, I don’t wish to discuss this now,” Dokken said calmly.


“Later. Now, if you’d please leave us alone—”

“When? Can I make an appointment? You put me off every time I want to talk to you.”

“Schandra, this may come as a shock, but I don’t keep you around for your conversation skills.” Dokken’s eyes narrowed, and his voice, though soft, held an unmistakable harshness. “I did not take you under my wing and spoil you with everything a woman could want just so I would have someone to chat with.” He glared at her with a fury he rarely showed to anyone. “Now, if you don’t leave immediately, I will throw you headfirst off of this balcony. Perhaps you’ll break your neck in one of the mulberry bushes. Then who will feed your precious silkworms?”

From the landholder’s expression, Tharion didn’t think Dokken was joking.

After a frozen moment, she forced a laugh. “All right, later then. Let’s do lunch sometime.” Schandra departed, taking one of the dessert plates with her, as if as an afterthought.

“I apologize for that,” Dokken said. “Women become so incensed about little things they have no control over, yet all the while they remain blind to the Big Picture. I never promised her children, yet now she thinks she has a right to demand them.”

Tharion toyed with his empty wineglass, set it on the balcony rail, then bent to sniff one of the geraniums. “It’s none of my concern, Franz,” he said. “My wife Qrista gets incomprehensible sometimes, though with the Veritas we can’t keep any secrets from each other.”

“A frightening thought,” Dokken said.

“Sometimes it is,” Tharion admitted. “Now, about this news?”

Dokken smiled, and in that unmasked glance he seemed immeasurably ancient. “I think I might have found some way to stop the black market smuggling of Veritas. You see, by interrogating the woman you saw in the square tonight, the one who was selling the stolen drugs … I discovered her source!” He fixed Tharion with his gaze, as if daring the Truthsayer to read his mind. “I know how Veritas is being taken from First Landing and distributed among the other holdings.”

Tharion perked up. “How?”

Dokken shook his head sadly. “I regret to say the culprit was one of my own men. Cialben, my associate for twelve years. You’ve met him. He was behind it all, and I was blinded by my own trust.”

Tharion blinked. “Yes, I remember him. How did he—?”

“Don’t worry. I’ve taken care of it. After tonight, much of the black market trafficking will stop. You can rest easy.”

Tharion stiffened. “What do you mean you’ve taken care of it? Did you take matters into your own hands again? I can’t allow you to keep—”

“Oh, be quiet, Tharion!” Dokken said curtly. “You’re not thinking again. Because this smuggling is chipping away at your Guild’s power, the last thing you want is to make a public spectacle of how thoroughly you’ve failed. Who would believe in a Truthsayer’s impartiality when he’s digging for knowledge that affects the Guild’s own monopoly on Veritas? It is against the law for any person other than a legitimate Guild Truthsayer or Mediator to use the drug. No deliberation is required.

“I have taken care of Cialben, quietly and permanently. It will be an unsolved crime, but the black market smuggling will stop, at least on this end. That’s all you need concern yourself with.”

Tharion cinched his blue sash tight against the night chill that had suddenly begun to sink into his bones. He pressed his lips together, bristling at how Dokken treated him—like a child. “Where is he? A Truthsayer should interrogate him! We could get a lot more information.”

Dokken’s cool expression told him that there would be no interrogation. None at all. Tharion shook his head angrily. “When will you ever consult me before you do something like this, Franz? I deserve to be part of the decision.”

Dokken snorted with impatience and downed the rest of his wine, turning to go back to the fire and his dessert. “I have my own problems, Tharion. Some of the landholders are allying themselves against me. I can feel it, though they’re keeping it quiet. We could even have a bloodbath like the civil war sparked by Hong and Ramirez almost a century ago. That’s my main concern right now.

“For now, I’ve stopped the smuggling, Tharion—what more could you have accomplished by involving yourself? Get on with your work, and I’ll get on with mine. I need you to be strong for my coming battles.”

Then Dokken shouted for the chef to bring another plate of strawberries to replace the one Schandra had taken.
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