“Most of us didn’t know what we were getting in to in the first days. The politics, the scheming. I don’t envy the commander. It must have been like playing ten different games of chess at the one time, then finding out each opponent had ten other games of their own. Every move he made caused ripples on those other boards, ten great clans all scheming against each other, using every opponent’s move to their advantage. It was impressive he managed as well as he did.”Sargon Telar, “The Markex War”
There was a knock at the door, and a click as the handle turned smoothly. An aide poked his head around the side of the thick glass slab.
“Captain Tovull for you, ma’am. Shall I send him in?”
Ielar looked up from the stack of papers on the desk in front of her, making eye contact with the aide over the top of a pair of ornate reading glasses. She held the gaze for a moment, then narrowed her eyes. “…Captain Tovull?”
The aide blinked. “Aye, ma’am. Captain of the Fogrunner? You asked to send for him a few days ago.”
Ielar slapped the desk. “Ah!” she said, grinning, “yes, send him in then.”
The door eased shut with a heavy thud then opened a few minutes later, the aide leading in a well-dressed merchant, then departing. Tovull bowed.
“My lady Rakesh, a pleasure.”
“All mine,” Ielar said, pursing her lips. She propped her chin between finger and thumb, arm resting on the heavy desk in front of her, and regarded the captain for a few moments before speaking. “So I received a letter,” she said, holding up an envelope at her side, “from my good friend Garada. Iakim Suros, I’m sure you’ll be aware.”
“And Garada was telling me,” she continued, “that you’ve recently returned from the mainland. Is that right?” She cocked one ebon browplate, awaiting Tovull’s response.
“Aye ma’am, that’s right. Bringing folks back to the homeland to—”
Ielar waved a hand. “I don’t care about that. Well, I mean I do but—” She shook her head slightly, stopping. “There was another ship with you.”
Tovull’s eyes flashed wide for a brief moment before he spoke, a tell the iakim picked up on with a grin. “Yes, ma’am. Too many passengers for just one vessel.”
“Of course. You’re a capable captain, you know the correct way of doing business, don’t you? I mean, you have papers, after all!”
“But your associate vessel, they didn’t have papers.”
Tovull wavered, unsure what to say for a second. “No, ma’am, they did, they just…misplaced them.”
Ielar’s eyes widened in mock shock. “Misplaced them?”
“Yes, ma’am, there was a little hold-up with that, we were escorted by a Suros vessel until it was resolved.”
“But it was resolved?”
“Yes, they found their paperwork.”
“They found it?”
“But they couldn’t find it before?”
“Well they’d been on the mainland for a long time—”
“Ah! Of course! They’d been on the mainland, they didn’t know where their papers were.”
“But it was a Scalar ship?”
“But they didn’t have their papers?”
“No—no, they did ma’am, it just—”
“Ah, but did they?” Ielar held up the letter again. “Garada says there’s no papers for that ship.”
Tovull’s eyes went wide. “I’m sure they’ll…I’m sure they’ll be in the archives or something, ma’am, they definitely had their papers. Tanatine inspected them himself.”
Ielar gasped. “Of course! The archives! They’ll be in the archives. After all, I mean you said it yourself they’ve been on the mainland for some time.” Ielar pointed a finger at Tovull. “They’ll be old papers. The sort of papers you’d put in the archives, eh?”
Tovull’s eyeline darted from side to side. “I mean I don’t know, ma’am but it’s certainly an explanation.”
Ielar nodded in agreement. “It is an explanation.” She narrowed her eyes. “There is a problem though.”
Tovull looked at the iakim. She held a finger in the air.
“Do you not think Garada would have had someone check the archives? She’s a smart lady, isn’t she?”
Tovull murmured wordlessly but didn’t say anything.
“Well, I mean, she is. I know Garada. She’s smart. She’d definitely have thought to check the archives. And she said there’s no papers for that ship. So, I mean, that kind of throws the archive theory out, doesn’t it?”
Tovull blinked, unsure how to respond.
“So if we’re having to throw the archive theory out, then what does that leave us with? I suppose Garada could be lying,” she said, widening her eyes to emphasise the point, “but I really struggle to see why she would write a letter to me lying about this. I don’t think she would gain anything from that, do you?”
Tovull shook his head. “No, ma’am I shouldn’t think so.”
“But you would, wouldn’t you?”
“I’m sorry, ma’am?”
“Lying to me.”
Tovull didn’t respond.
“You might gain something from lying to me.”
“Because your story and Garada’s story don’t add up. Which means someone must be lying. And Garada wouldn’t gain anything from lying. And I certainly wouldn’t gain anything from lying about this.” Ielar nodded. “So that would leave you, really, wouldn’t it?”
Tovull’s jaw hung slack for a moment before he stammered out a response. “My lady, I would never—”
“Except,” Ielar said, holding up a finger, “it seems a lot like you did. And if you did, which seems like it, then just there when you said ‘I would never’, that would also be a lie, wouldn’t it? Because you’d already have lied. That’s two lies, captain, that’s quite disappointing.”
Tovull didn’t say anything. Ielar crossed to the front of the desk and pulled out a chair, gesturing to it.
“So why don’t you take a seat, and tell me the truth?”