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BLACK CHAMBER

by S.M. Stirling


 

CHAPTER EIGHT:

 

Schloss Rauenstein
Kingdom of Saxony, German Reich
September 12th, 1916(b)

 

Even with the presence of the two great warlords and their entourage, Castle Rauenstein had some empty space within the rambling pile built and rebuilt and burned and built again over the last eight centuries in a dozen different styles. Ciara led her to the new wing after they’d been dropped in the courtyard, which had probably been a generation old when Mozart was born.

“They’ve put us in together,” she said, still looking a little shaky, as they climbed the stairs past what had been the main public rooms to bed-chambers and suites. “We’re lucky at that, most of the men are six to a room.”

We’re both working hard at not thinking too much about the details of what we saw, and each helps the other with that just by being here. The last thing I want now is solitude.

The bedroom was large, and had probably been uncluttered in the Biedermere style of three generations ago before the von Herders turned their country estate over to the government; there was a faded but excellent Shiraz rug on the floor, catching early-afternoon rays from the two square-paned windows. Now besides a large four-poster bed it held a great piano shining in burnished ebony, one small battered trunk that was probably Ciara’s, the two large yellow Vuitton ones that belonged to Luz, and more miscellaneous items shoved in here to get them out of the way. She thought the small pile of English-language volumes and magazines beside the bed were Ciara Whelan’s own; the books had titles like Principles of Wireless Telegraphy by someone named Pierce, and the magazines were similar.

Not my idea of light travel reading, but there’s no accounting for tastes.

“I hope you don’t mind sharing?” Ciara said, being polite, and possibly a little wary of the glamorous, deadly stranger.

She didn’t sound as if she expected Luz to be upset. In a family of her background it would be rare for daughters to have their own individual bedrooms, or beds for that matter, and unmarried guests would share sleeping quarters with their own gender and age. Luz had been the sole child of affluent parents, starting out upper-middle-class and moving on to borderline-wealthy before they died. But she’d spent enough time as a guest at her father’s clients’ houses, at finishing schools—European ones often had startlingly primitive ideas of what was appropriate accommodation for young ladies—and in college digs not to be picky.

Not to mention time with the Chamber since, when sometimes privacy meant the men looked the other way while I squatted.

The thought made her take a quick look, first at the water jugs and basins and towel-sets on a bureau, and then under the bed after she stowed her suitcase and hatbox; yes, it was back to a chamberpot, and baths might mean a towel, a tin tub and having buckets carried in. She sighed a little, but that wasn’t any novelty either; not all that many places were as modern as the house her engineer father had built in Santa Barbara.

At least it’s a clean pot and has a good tight-fitting lid. In fact, apart from a little dust and... that old smell you rarely get outside Europe... the room’s very well-kept.

“There’s a lavatory one floor up,” Ciara said helpfully. “But it’s usually full of men and I don’t fancy waiting in line with them. There’s an orderly who comes by twice a day for the pot, and you can reserve the bathtub for an hour if you ask a day ahead... I will say for these Germans, they’re clean. Much more so than I’d expect for men together on their own, the which usually is like bears with furniture or pigs in the parlor, not human beings at all.”

“It must be a bit difficult, being the only woman here.”

“Most of them have just ignored me, and the rest mostly act decent.” She flushed. “Colonel Nicolai, though... he’s a masher and a cad!”

Luz raised her brows sympathetically; that was a revoltingly common problem, always getting in the way of things when you least expected it. People said you had to expect it, but she’d never met anyone who could give her a convincing explanation of precisely why. Except they’re like that, which was a circular argument if she’d ever heard one, and she’d never found just because very logical.

“You had... problems with him? He tried to give you insult?” she said, which was a phrasing any woman would understand.

Ciara smiled; it was brief, but she was getting a little color back. Her teeth were white and slightly uneven, a generous smile in a large full-lipped mouth.

“Not any more... well, not that problem. I gave him a good slap with my shoulder behind it when he couldn’t understand plain spoken language in English or German, which hurt my hand some and his face more. Then I showed him the business end of a pin when he gave signs of thinking that was just a love-tap.”

She touched one of the amber-headed pins through her hat and piled hair; they were nearly a foot long, and would be like an unrebated fencing foil in the right hands, or at least an Italian stiletto. From the momentary look of steely determination in the turquoise eyes, Ciara had probably been absolutely ready to use it. That was another sign of courage, and Luz felt a glow of approval.

I’m quite taken with this girl, and not just because she saved my life. Though possibly she didn’t understand exactly how brave it was here and now.

Germany wasn’t the sort of place where powerful men could just carry young women off or openly have their way by force, save perhaps on some Junker estate far from the cities where the local police were the lord’s creatures and he was the magistrate himself. That sort of thing would be more likely in Hungary, and common as the rain in Rumania or Andalusia or Sicily. But nobody in wartime would have said much if a nameless foreigner disappeared.

Though I don’t think Nicolai would actually endanger a mission out of pique at getting put in his place by a woman. He’s far too much of a cold fish. If Ciara wasn’t useful to him, though...

Luz felt a little surprised at how strong the flush of answering anger was, and decided that the ghastly demonstration had thrown her emotions off-balance.

“And just what he deserved,” she said firmly. “No woman’s a piece of meat to be snapped at by hungry dogs.”

In an ideal world you wouldn’t have to do things like that. But then, in an ideal world people wouldn’t be plotting to massacre each other with nerve gasses, either. You make the best of what you have.

“Yes, but try and convince a lot of men of that!” Ciara scowled and glanced aside. “That was probably why he made me... see that thing today. To punish me.”

Luz nodded. “Undoubtedly. But I wouldn’t think you’ve much else to fear from him. He needs you for this... thing, and my judgment is that he’ll put everything aside for that.”

That is a very strong hint that you must not baulk openly at cooperating with this mission, or he will kill you or worse.

“You think so?” Ciara asked, flashing her a grateful look.

“I’m fairly sure of it. Mind you, I’d avoid him afterwards, were I you,” she finished. “By a continent or an ocean.”

“Thank you!” Hesitantly. “And thank you for... for comforting me.”

Luz waved a hand. “We’re in this together.”

She’s lonely, far away from home and friends and kin for the first time in her life, absolutely isolated among enemies and desperate for help. She wants to like me and trust me. And if I say so myself, I’m fairly good at getting people to do both... whether they should, from their own points of view, or not. Fortunately for Ciara Whelan, trusting me is just about her only hope of getting out of this alive. And I hope she does, she’s made the right decisions and she’s... rather charming herself, in a naïve sort of way.

Luz looked around the room again, this time with security in mind. The clutter and the upheaval made it impossible to tell if there were any listening devices; it wasn’t probable that someone had gone to the trouble of installing the bulky and expensive gear that was gradually revolutionizing clandestine surveillance... but it was entirely possible.

“Do you feel like a rest?” she said. “I wouldn’t blame you a bit.”

Ciara shuddered. “I’d not like to lie quiet just now, and sleep still less,” she said. “Climb the walls and shriek like the Woman of the Barrows, perhaps.”

Well, that’s understandable. Distraction, then; I could use some myself.

She was keeping the precise details of what they’d seen out of her mind with a practiced effort of will, but it wasn’t easy. She moved to the piano and sat, testing a few keys, surprised to find that it was in tune. There was a tall mahogany rack of sheet music beside it; a quick glance showed all the usual favorites, including a lot of arrangements for piano solos, or piano and violin.

It wouldn’t do for us to rush out, though. If there are listeners, that would arouse suspicion.

“Do you play, Miss Whelan?” she said, which was a soothingly conventional thing to ask.

“I do that. I love music, though my voice is middling at best, but the good sisters taught us piano, and my Aunt Colleen has a rare talent for it and tutored me more. Ours was an upright, of course, a Steinway, not a great concert grand like this!”

There was pride behind that, as well as gratitude at talking of anything else but the horror they’d seen. One of the first signs of middle-class status was a parlor and a piano to put in it, a luxury families would scrimp and save and do without to achieve. Not that it didn’t bring a breath of culture into settings otherwise bare of it, which could be well worth making the winter coat last another year.

“Someday people will have all the music they want, the best performances from the great orchestras in recorded form,” Luz said, caressing the satiny wood.

“True! But there are problems to be solved first, which won’t be until they use electrical recording and not just acoustic. In the meantime even a good Victrola sounds like the music was filtered through a tin bucket.”

“This doesn’t,” Luz said, touching a key and letting the sound reverberate through the room.

“Sure and it’s a very good piano, the best I’ve ever set fingers to,” Ciara said. “Though it took getting used to. Ninety-seven keys! And in tune, for a wonder, rather than knocked about by the soldiers, though I think the man they had in here before me may have worked it up. He left some music in his own hand. Couldn’t make head nor tail of it, though—no melody at all, all these clashing cords.”

“Modern music, and I can’t say I like it. This is a Bösendorfer Imperial 290,” Luz said, stretching her hands to supple them. “Viennese, and you won’t get any better instruments in Europe, though the French would dispute that. I’ve never liked the metallic tone they prefer, myself. I’ve played on Bösendorfers before, thought not this model, and always wanted one, but they cost the earth, and you can’t carry a piano around with you. They started making these back around the turn of the century, because Ferruccio Busoni wanted it for his transcription of Bach’s Chaconne. The von Herders must love music, you don’t often see these in a private home.”

“Maybe they should have taken it with them. Though this is a private home in the same sense and way as saying the King of England’s family lives above the shop!”

Luz laughed. “It weights five-eighths of a ton, too!” she said, which got an answering chuckle. “And you’d have to disassemble it to get it out of the building.”

She let her fingers drift into a piano solo arrangement of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, the bright carefree sound like gleaming strings of gold and silver through the still air of the room. Perhaps not appropriate on this grisly day... or perhaps perfect, for reminding you that there were things in the life of humanity other than war and the breaking of nations.

After a minute she let the tune drift off, and Ciara sighed. “You play very well, Miss Carmody; I always loved Mozart, but I’ve only heard that piece performed once by a full orchestra.”

“That’s a pity. Though personally I think a chamber group is just as good, it’s what he usually wrote for. I’m actually better with stringed instruments.”

“There’s a fiddle here...”

She rummaged and pulled out a violin case from behind a stack of crated books. “But I’ve never gone beyond the beginnings with these.”

Luz took the case and opened it, then blinked. “¡Ay, qué bonita!” she said. “Now, leaving this here goes beyond carelessness; either the von Herders are criminally negligent, or their servants are. This would disappear eventually if it hadn’t been out of sight, military discipline or no! I’d be tempted to steal it myself, if the circumstances were right; it’s a lot easier to walk off with than the piano.”

Ciara chuckled—though Luz had been perfectly serious about taking it—and said: “It’s an ancient and venerable violin, then?”

“Not all that old—just over fifty years, twice my age—but Viennese too, and very good quality. See?”

She held the case so that the light revealed the label inside: Gabriel Lemböck Anno 1862.

Reverently she lifted the instrument free, turning it to enjoy the lustrous sheen of the oil varnish and subtle craqueleur on the distinctive one-piece back.

“I’ve never touched one of these before, but I’ve heard them.”

She took out the bow, checked it and the condition of the strings.

“Pitch?” she said, putting it under her chin and looking at Ciara.

The other woman leaned over and tapped the D and F just below A on the piano, then the C just above, to give a starting pitch for the A string on the instrument. After a minute Luz had the violin ready, and tested it with an arpeggio. The tone was dark and velvety, but with a light and easy response; it filled the room effortlessly, projecting without harshness, pure and buttery at once.

“Oh, that is pretty!” Ciara said, her strained face lighting up. “It makes most of the ones you hear sound like a cat in a hurdy-gurdy.”

Luz nodded. “I’m tempted now to steal it just to see that it gets proper treatment... except that I couldn’t guarantee it. I doubt I could get the Germans to let me mail it home!”

She stood, and ran through a tune her father had liked, an old Irish planxty called the Raggle-taggle Gypsy-O that had meant something special to him and her Mima; one of her first memories was of him singing it to her, while Luz rested in her arms.

After a moment Ciara sat and began to echo it on the piano, singing the words in a voice that was a little thin, but true:

 

"What care I for house and land?
What care I for daddy’s money-o?
I'd rather have a kiss from my gypsy lover's lips
I'm away wi' the raggle-taggle gypsy-o!"

 

Luz stopped with a laugh at the trailing last note. “Do you want to try that Mozart piece, but for piano and violin, Miss Whelan? I think there’s sheets for it there in the rack by your elbow.”

It does help when you have interests in common.

“I’d love to; I’ve heard it done that way.”

They set up the music—Luz put hers flat on the top of the piano—and Ciara began; not sophisticated playing, but adept and full of spirit, the sort of style someone developed if they’d played a good deal alone, for their own pleasure and probably hearing an ideal instrument in their mind.

After a moment Luz closed her eyes and let out a deep breath to expel everything else from her consciousness and began. Mozart had been a repellant human being, by all accounts, but his work had been touched with the finger of something from beyond the world of common day, and deserved all respect. It was the art that mattered, not the artist. They followed each other through the long quick dance; when she looked up again the last notes of the coda were dying away.

Luz gave a long sigh, her eyes half-closed with pleasure. It had been a good while since she’d been able to give herself to the music so completely, or enjoyed playing with someone so on first acquaintance.

“Oh,” Ciara said. “That was lovely! Thank you, Miss—”

Her face changed slightly as she realized she didn’t know the real name, and Carmody was someone else’s. Someone else who’d probably come to a bad end, at that. Luz shrugged and smiled wryly.

Not quite singing in harmony yet, she thought. But give us time.

“Please call me Luz,” she said. “You can say it’s a childhood nickname. Pardon me if I’m presuming on brief acquaintance, but...”

It was a little quick for first names, even for two young women in these informal days, but the time since their meeting had been rather intense. And they were the only Americans here, though Ciara wouldn’t be certain of that yet.

“Do call me Ciara, Luz,” she said shyly. Then, more firmly: “We need to—”

Luz leaned closer and spoke softly, but without the sibilance that carried: “We need to talk, but not necessarily here.”

She glanced around the cluttered room, then picked up a copy of The Electrical Experimenter from the beside dresser; the June 1916 issue, price twelve cents, editor Hugo Gernsback, with a rather gaudy but fundamentally accurate cover about electrical guidance of aerial torpedoes launched from above that should never have been allowed to leak to the civilian press. Skimming through it she found an illustration advertising Murdoch Complete #55 headphones for six dollars each. Luz held it up in one hand while pointing to it with the other, then glanced around, putting a finger of her free hand to her lips and finally tapping an ear. Ciara looked puzzled for a moment, then shocked.

Luz shrugged; and made a palms-up, maybe-yes-maybe-no gesture. Ciara spoke brightly... and very slightly artificially and a bit too loud, though Luz found it a creditable performance for an amateur.

“Let me show you around, Luz!”

They went down a floor, and then through a hallway. “They were taking things out of here yesterday, so it’s probably... yes!” Ciara said.

The near-empty ballroom was well-lit by a long string of windows giving out on a view of the forested Ore mountains, a mirror-lined space impossible to eavesdrop on invisibly, and unlikely to attract some staff-aide busybody. The windows were open, letting in air still comfortable with September but damp and fresh and pine-scented, and cool enough to hint at what the Central European winter would be like once the weather broke in these remote uplands still haunted by wolf and boar. It was exactly the sort of room Mozart had written for and performed in, too; probably the piano’s original home.

Ciara sank into one of the spindly-looking chairs ranged along the wall, all carving and gilt, and folded her hands together in her lap, fingers working on each other. She was still pale but determined.

“We need to talk,” she said after a moment’s silence, looking up sharply. “After what we saw... I’m certain I’ll have no part of this horror the Germans are making for our country. You’re an agent for the government in Washington?”

“Yes. The Black Chamber; you’ve heard of it?” Luz said.

And you shouldn’t have assumed that was the truth because it was mostly likely, but still... perhaps dancing around it wouldn’t have helped either.

Ciara’s eyes widened; the name was frightening, from her perspective, but now reassuring as well. A name of secret power, reaching out into an enemy citadel.

“Yes. Oh, thank God!”

Then: “How do I know you really are? You might be working for the British!”

Luz smiled wryly. That’s a bit of healthy skepticism, she thought.

Aloud: “Welcome to the world of the Intelligence operative, where everything depends on trust and nobody can trust anyone.”

Ciara put her hands to the sides of her head. “It’s like a hall of mirrors!”

“Let’s put it this way: you know for certain that I’m not working for the Germans and do want to stop this. And this morning I saw you lie to them, so I know you’re not working for them either. Besides, do I look English?”

“No,” Ciara said, her head slightly to one side. “You might be Welsh though, or Black Irish... but I’d have said Italian or French or Spanish, or even Greek. So tell me who you really are, then.”

Ciara’s voice challenged, and their eyes met.

Luz thought for a moment, pursing her lips. She wants to believe me, she mused. But she knows that and she’s fighting it. The odd thing is that I’m telling her the actual truth, mostly... Is she any good at picking up on that?

“All right,” she said, decision firming. “I’m going to do something dangerous, but you did save my life when you confirmed my cover, and we need to work together. I’ll tell you the truth. Not all of it, because what you don’t know you can’t yield if they interrogate you, but what I do say will be true.”

Ciara nodded, obviously reserving judgment. “Who are you? Really? What’s your name?”

“Luz,” she said. “It means—”

Light, in Spanish. I speak Spanish... well, I can read it and speak a bit.”

Luz smiled a little. “Luz O’Malley Aróstegui,” she said.

There are times when the main problem is remembering which one I’m using. Knowing that wouldn’t help the opposition.

“Thank you,” Ciara said. Then as a thought struck her: “That’s not too much of a risk?”

“Names are the small change of intelligence work at this level. The crucial thing is that they think I’m Elisa Carmody de Soto Dominguez. If they discovered I wasn’t her, I’d be dead anyway regardless of who I really was.”

Then the red-gold brows went up. “You are Irish? And part-Mexican, like Elisa?”

“Not Mexican. Cubana on my mother’s side, Irish on my father’s. Boston Irish, that is, three generations from Erin.”

“Oh? And you born on the South Side, I suppose, two blocks over and up one street from myself?”

Well, that’s a little more healthy skepticism! Luz thought. Not bad, when you must want something to cling to like a life-ring after a shipwreck. This one is nobody’s fool, just vastly inexperienced.

“Nothing so convenient,” Luz said in reply. “I was born in California, in the house my father built in Santa Barbara—that’s a town...”

“Just north of Los Angeles, by the map,” Ciara said.

“The Irish get around, don’t they?

“Well, that we do. How did that happen?”

“His grandfather Pat O’Malley came over in the first famine year. From Kilmaine, in County Mayo, with nothing but the rags on his back and the lice in his hair and very much of nothing but hunger in his belly. He worked carrying a hod full of mortar, then laying the bricks, then built a little contracting business with a pair of wagons and a few men and boys working for him. His son built it bigger until he was a man of substance... as such things went for an Irishman and a Catholic in Boston in his day... and sent my father to MIT—class of ’87.”

Ciara’s face thawed a little. Luz had thought it might; though every word of the story was true, she couldn’t have made up anything better to appeal to someone from the Irish enclaves of the Bay State. It wasn’t impossible for those who’d landed hungry and in bug-crawling rags from the coffin ships to better themselves in America, but it wasn’t easy either beyond getting what a strong back and willing hands would bring, enough to eat meat with the potatoes five days a week and buy shoes and put a roof over your head. The streets of Boston in particular hadn’t been paved with gold for the sons of the Gael, being at the time the most purely English and Protestant place on the western side of the Atlantic Ocean. Though nowadays Irish political bosses ran it, to the vast chagrin of the likes of the Lowells and Cabots and Saltonstalls, and the Irish themselves felt the Italians and French Canadians stepping on their heels.

Then the younger woman frowned, in thought rather than anger.

“That wouldn’t be... wasn’t there an O’Malley who helped build St. Agnes on Fourth Street, wouldn’t take anything but his costs for it? I remember a plaque, when I went to school there.”

“I think so,” Luz said. “Though I couldn’t swear to it without looking through Papá’s papers in the trunks in the attic at home.”

“Well, then,” Ciara said, less suspiciously. “How’d he meet a Cuban lady?”

Papá met my mother in Cuba in ’91, but her family were... are... hacendados, sugar-barons. Owners of plantations, and of slaves by the hundred in the old days—which in Cuba means ‘before 1888’. Old family, richer than God and prouder than Satan as the saying goes, and they didn’t much fancy plain Patrick O’Malley the bricklayer’s son at the table of an evening or fathering their grandchildren, even though he was laying out their new cane-railway and mill, so he and Mima eloped. There was also the matter of a man they did want her to marry, without consulting her wishes very much.”

That brought a shyly charming smile, one that made Ciara look more like her twenty years.

“And you?” Luz said.

“My father was Irish-born,” the younger woman said. “He came over in ’85 with his sister Colleen, him on the run from the English law. She had nobody else to look to and was crippled in one foot besides. He had enough to start a bookstore in south Boston. We might have met, perhaps!”

Luz returned the smile and felt her shoulders relax slightly. That was sincerity if she’d ever heard it, and profound relief at not being alone among malignant strangers, and desperate hope that an ally had been found, someone who knew what they were doing. Luz would very much have regretted having to kill this naïve well-meaning youngster who’d wandered into waters much deeper and more shark-infested than she could have imagined.

“Probably not,” she said. “My father was the only son of an only son...”

“The poor man!” Ciara said. “There was only me and my brother Colm in my family too; my mother died when I was born, and Da never took another. Being ill by then, and saying he was no use to a woman.”

Luz nodded; that made them both children of unusually small sets. She went on:

“And my father was almost as glad to leave Boston as his granddad had been to board the coffin ship out of Galway; he said he preferred to live where he could be just an American, not a jumped-up bogtrotter beneath the feet of the Back Bay snobs.”

That brought a flash of understanding. Luz went on: “We lived in California when we weren’t on the move from project to project, mostly in the Latin countries, or the west when we were in America. No kin in Boston when my grandparents had passed, and no sister or brother for me, and so not much reason to visit. And you?”

“Just my brother Colm.”

For a moment the bright blue eyes went narrow and very hard.

“The Sassenach killed him in April, in Dublin, he’d gone back to fight for Ireland as our father had in his day. Da had been ailing for a long time, and that news was the death of him, as sure as a bullet. A stroke. I sold the bookstore and volunteered for... well...”

“Courier work for the Clann na nGael? Which means the Irish Republican Brotherhood, too,” Luz said.

A quick nod. “I thought it was revenge for my Colm,” she said. Luz’ face went bleak. “I understand. I joined the Blac k Chamber because my parents were killed in Mexico by the revolucionarios. I was in the room when it happened, hiding... five years ago, now, so I’d have been about your age then.”

Ciara gave a small shocked gasp, but didn’t venture any offensive stranger’s sympathy, just a quick nod.

“I thought... I thought this was for Ireland,” she said. “But it’s not. They’re going to use that stuff we saw on us. On America. I won’t help with that, even if it means my life. In Boston I felt very Irish, but here in Germany I’ve realized that it’s American I am, at seventh and last.”

Si,” Luz said. “That’s well put! At a guess, they’re planning to use it on our port cities—as many of them as they can, though I don’t know how. Yet. That’s an incredibly deadly weapon, far worse than chlorine or phosgene or even the new mustard-gas. There were only a few pounds in that mortar-shell, and it killed them all; killed or crippled or drove gibbering mad. One twenty-pound shell, a thousand men. Imagine tons of it released on a city.”

Ciara blanched and crossed herself, swallowing hard and obviously imagining it on her city. “Mother of God!

“Exactly. I’ll have to get the details out of Horst, or otherwise; that’s why I’m here. We caught wind of some plot, but only vague hints. They were reckless sending von Bülow... the white-haired man, he’s a chemist... to America with all that in his head, but at a guess he was picking the sites for the attacks in full detail, so they needed someone fully briefed. They’ll have been factions in the government and military here who didn’t think it would work, or even had scruples about it, so he needed to make it convincing. He and Colonel Nicolai.”

Ciara took a moment of frowning thought. “What... happened to the real Elisa?”

“Were you close?”

“No, we only met once, for a moment, and that when I was fifteen and she about the age I am now. I wasn’t altogether sure you weren’t her; people change fast in those years and you’ve much the same hair and complexion, until I saw your eyes close—hers were light hazel-brown, and yours are that blue that’s almost black, something you won’t forget.”

Luz pursed her lips. “I did say I’d tell you the truth, so what happened to her was... very bad things, probably followed by death, after we caught her. That’s not my side of the job, but I won’t pretend I don’t know about it. There’s no Hague Convention for spies, we’re vermin without rights if we’re taken by an enemy. That’s how this game works, and those are the stakes we’re playing for here, you and I. It’s harder than going for a soldier.”

Ciara winced a little, but Luz could see she’d gained a little more confidence by her frankness.

“What can we do?” she said. Then she dropped her head into her hands. “Oh, God, I keep seeing those men—”

Then she raised her face and said fiercely: “They only wanted to be free!”

Luz laid a hand on her shoulder for a moment, before she stepped back. “That’s natural. That was a... hard thing to see.”

“You’re used to... such things,” Ciara said. “I’m not and I feel... empty inside. And I keep imagining it happening to my friends and my neighbors.”

“I’m not used to things like that,” Luz snapped, and then controlled the flush of anger; it was part of the reaction.

She took a deep breath: “Not a thousand men gassed like rats in a cage to prove a theory! And I’ve seen hard things, yes, but it always... does something to you. You can shove it away for a while, but it comes back later.”

Ciara looked up, met her eyes for a moment and then nodded. “I thought about what to do... but I don’t know anyone in the American government, even if I could get away from here. And who’d believe a girl with such a tale anyway? Half the time men don’t listen to you when you try to talk to them about anything but themselves or the weather or what’s for dinner, if you know what I mean. It’s as if they don’t hear what you’re saying unless you’re saying certain things.”

Luz gave her a wry smile. “Yes, and I do know what you’re talking about, as one girl to another! But I’m a Chamber operative, I’m trained for this work, and I can get people to listen.”

And if it came to the last piece to play, I can talk directly to the President, since I played Bear with him and his children at Sagamore Hall. As long as I don’t waste it on trivialities... and this is definitely not trivial.

“Precisely how to get the information out once we’ve got it... that we’ll have to improvise.”

And I’m certainly not telling you anything about codes or drop-boxes!

Aloud she went on: “I’m here under deep cover. First we need solid intelligence; numbers, places, times. This would have to be closely coordinated, however they plan to do it. An overwhelming onslaught attack, probably coordinated with a massive offensive on the Western Front.”

“I need to think,” Ciara said. With a shudder. “Though not about what we saw. I wish I didn’t have to think about that!”

Wait until you see the faces in your dreams, Luz thought grimly but did not say. Or in that hour when you lie wakeful before the sun rises.

Instead she went on: “We’re supposed to be known to each other, so it’s natural enough that we talk. See this?”

She ran her right finger behind her right ear, as if dealing with a mild itch. “That’s the sign it’s safe to really talk. Do not say anything that you wouldn’t say to the real Elisa unless I give you that sign, right? Remember that!”

Ciara nodded, though Luz wasn’t very confident she would remember, especially under stress. Consistent falsehood was hard for amateurs, but you did what you could.

Then she went on: “In the meantime I’m going to practice a bit, if you don’t mind.”

“Practice?” Ciara asked.

“A physical drill. I need to settle my nerves too, and it’ll seem in character to Horst if he happens by.”

Luz stood and made each muscle of her body relax. That itself helped calm the mind. Then she flipped the navaja from her pocket into her hand and snapped it open—the thumb stud that let her do that one-handed was the only modification she’d made to it, and it would have offended old Pedro’s purist soul. As the click-click-click of the blade locking sounded she dropped lightly into guardia stance, crouched with right foot forward, right hand at waist level with the curved hilt held in a saber grip and the cutting edge down and the right, left hand open in front of her navel and moving fluently in graceful sinuous curves.

The quick darting movements took her out of herself, a dance with the invisible... until she took one final deep breath, imagined her enemy coming in with a thrust to her face, and threw herself forward under it to land on left knee and left hand in the pasada baja, body bowed, right leg straight back and knife hand flung forward with her weight behind the lunge of the point into his gut just below the breastbone. After a moment’s stillness she swept her right foot around slowly, using the change of balance to sway upright again.

“Faith,” Ciara murmured, looking a little wide-eyed. “And do they teach you that in the Black Chamber?”

Luz blinked back from the state of absolute concentration. Her body felt purged, loose and balanced, cleaned of the poisons the morning had brewed as the music earlier had cleared her mind. She controlled her breathing and rolled her head and shook it, then sank into a chair. She was sweating a little, but it was worth it.

“No, I learned that as a girl, oddly enough.”

“Can I see it? The knife.”

Luz flipped the weapon and offered it across her palm. “Careful! It’s sharp.”

“It’s... well-made,” Ciara said with a slightly queasy fascination. “And heavy.”

“Heavy for a knife, light for a sword,” Luz said. “About the best of its type I’ve ever seen.”

It was old and finely crafted and the hilt use-smoothed, a pound of Toledo steel and brass and bone and mother-of-pearl. Luz took it back and closed it—there was a ring on the back at the join of blade and hilt; you ran your middle finger through that and pushed up. That pulled the pin free and unlocked the ratchets and it snapped shut like the folding straight razor it had originally been named for.

“This saved my life the night I was conceived,” she said as she slid it back into her skirt pocket and sat again.

“It did?” Ciara said.

Her voice held a little of a child’s appetite for wonders, or someone who’d always loved tales of the faraway and strange.

As I do myself, Luz thought, with a smile; and this was one of the oldest family stories her parents had told her. And it will appeal mightily to this romantic youngster, who very much wants to be somewhere else right now.

“I told you my parents eloped? In the middle of the night, and rode for the coast—my father had a boat waiting there. There was a full moon, and my father stood on the saddle to help Mima down from the balcony, as I was told, and carried her before him on the saddlebow through the fields and woods, hotly pursued.”

Ciara’s eyes shone at the image, imagining starlight and the lovers’ hair mingling in the rush of speed. “Pursued? Her family sent men to bring her back?”

“After them yes, but more likely to kill them both, to avenge the Aróstegui family honor, you see. Certainly to kill Papá. So, old Pedro El Andaluz... the Andalusian, that night he brought the horses, and followed along behind. He was born in Seville, a deserter from the Spanish army who’d gone to work for the Arósteguis long before. As a coachman, in name, and he was superb with horses, but really as my mother’s bodyguard from the time she was a little girl.”

“She needed a bodyguard?”

“A rich girl in Cuba in those days? Oh, por Dios, yes. Bozal runaways and mambises in the mountains when they were in the country, hampas in town. There wasn’t much law in Cuba even between the rebellions, except what the strong made for themselves; not like today when there’s an American-run police force and the gendarmerie the Marines trained. Pedro wasn’t the only armed man in their employ, and God have mercy on the common man my mother’s Papá took against. He’d be lucky to get off with a beating.”

“But Pedro helped your mother elope?” Ciara said eagerly.

Luz nodded. “He said it was time for her to have a man and children of her own, and a real man, not a eunuch in breeches, which is what he thought of the one her parents had picked. This navaja... carraca, it’s called too, or la Sevillana... was his. He left it to me, along with his guitar, the only two fine things he owned. So, they got away from the casa grande without raising the alarm, but after a while Pedro could tell they were being tracked through the jungle; this was not far from Santiago de Cuba, the Aróstegui estates are mostly there, south of the Sierra Cristal, in the good sugar land of the valley bottoms. My father agreed with him, they thought they’d be overtaken before they got to the cove, and they didn’t want my mother exposed to a gunfight, but they couldn’t leave her alone either.”

Ciara clapped her hands together. “And what did Pedro do?”

“Sent mother and father forward, saying he’d catch them up. They waited at the boat, more and more anxious; there were a couple of shots, and silence... and my father told me later he was feeling torn in two but would have pushed off in another instant for his beloved’s sake, except that Pedro did show up. Strolling, and wiping the blade on the seat of his britches; he always wore estilo andaluz, even after thirty years in Cuba.”

At her questioning look Luz said with a fond smile at the memory that rose up before her mind’s eye:

“Think of a matador, but scruffy instead of glittery, and with a sash, and a black silk bandana tied around his head and knotted at the back. And a patch over his left eye, which he’d lost years before, and a gold ring in one ear; like a pirate in a pantomime, except it was no act. And then he bowed and said No need for hurry, they will not trouble us any more, Don Patricio, Doña Luciana, and my father said: How?

“And Pedro just smiled and said: ‘La Sevillana los beso. They kissed the girl from Seville, and she left them too breathless to pursue the matter.’ La Sevillana is a Seville girl, but it’s a nickname for that type of knife, too.”

It was a literally murderous pun.

“He... well, he sounds sort of appalling,” Ciara said, torn between delight and horror. “Brave and loyal, to be sure, but... a bit wicked?”

Luz grinned reminiscently. “Oh, he was. A barratero, a killer and a rogue and no mistake. He drank and gambled and chased girls—caught quite a few, too—and was bone-idle about anything that didn’t involve horses or fighting or betting money. Papá was always getting him out of scrapes, or jail, or both, which he took as nothing less than his due from el patrón. In the old days he’d have trailed a pike behind Pizarro or Cortez.”

“Still, I can see why your parents put up with him!” Ciara said.

Luz nodded. “When I was about six, playing in a garden while my parents took the siesta in hammocks—we were in Mexico, Durango, Papá was laying out an irrigation project on an estate in the Laguna district—I heard this buzzing sound and my mother gasped and made this little shriek. I looked around and there was the head of a rattlesnake not a foot from my face with Pedro’s hand around its neck; a big one longer than a man’s leg, and he snapped its spine with his thumb. He’d seen it coiling while I played at scratching the soil with a stick, and he’d glided in and caught the thing, faster than the snake itself.”

She gestured to show the motion, a flicking snatch. “My father went white as a sheet when he saw the snake, for in the hammock he could never have gotten close enough. He called it a brave deed of Pedro’s, though.”

“Indeed it was brave!” Ciara said. “A rattlesnake with his bare hand! The man was a hero, and must have had no nerves at all. Brave and loyal indeed, to do that for another’s child.”

Luz chuckled again. “¡Verdad! Pedro smiled a little and said: ‘De nada, Don Patricio, estas viboras Mexicanos always give themselves away before they strike. Whether they walk or crawl they brag with every breath.’ I do still remember the pink color of its mouth, and the drops on the ends of the fangs.”

Ciara gasped. “The poor child you were, I’m surprised you weren’t shocked into convulsions!”

Luz shrugged. “I was young... I just said: Can you show me how to catch snakes like that and can I have the rattle and a bracelet from the skin, Abuelo Cabo?

“What did he say to that?” Ciara said, laughing.

“Laughed long himself, and told me I could have both, as befitted a princess.”

“You called him... Granddad Corporal, that would be?”

Luz nodded. “It sounds right in Spanish; he had been a corporal in the army, which is how he came to Cuba. Enlisted because it was that or the public garrote, and left the King’s employ in Havana over a little matter of stabbing a sergeant who wanted too big a cut of his winnings with the dice. Mima called him tio, Uncle, or sometimes Cabo Pedro, Corporal Pedro.”

“Was that when he showed you how to use the knife? It strikes me it’s not something you could learn overnight.”

“It started a little after that. I asked him to teach me after I saw him practicing, the way I did just now. I think he liked that I didn’t flinch at the snake, and that I loved the look and feel of the navaja. Though he had high standards, sometimes when we’d gotten on beyond the basics I’d end a session with tears running down my face from tiredness and pain in the muscles... that was part of the teaching, you see, to learn to work through pain and see if I really meant it.”

“And your mother didn’t mind?”

Mima didn’t know about the lessons... officially. She’d have had to disapprove if she admitted she knew, like when Father started teaching me to ride man-fashion and taking me on hunting trips.”

Though she didn’t disapprove very loudly or long about that, Luz thought. Perhaps because she always felt a little guilty he’d have no sons, about which he said not a word nor glance nor sigh, though the lack of more children was a grief to them both.

More cheerfully she went on: “Pedro said his sister had always carried a navaja tucked into her garter, a little one, so that anyone who raised her skirts without asking got a little something, but not what he was looking for.”

Ciara chuckled; her face looked charming when she did, not just pretty but keen and interested.

“It looks... very graceful,” she said. “Like a dance. And so quick!”

“It is a dance,” Luz said. “One that makes you quick. Flamenco de la muerte, Pedro called it. When he handled a blade... suddenly he wasn’t this scruffy skinny old man with two days white stubble and a cigarillo hanging out of the corner of his mouth any more; he was a dancer, a toreador, quick and quiet as a cat. He taught me all three styles of pelea de navaja. The barratero, which is street fashion; Gitano, for the flash and fancy and for el duende... the demon, the spirit; and then Sevillano for the art. By the time I was sixteen he allowed I was quite passable.”

“Well, I’ll call him a grand old man for saving you that way,” Ciara said. “What happened to him?”

“He fell off a horse one night and broke his neck, in Santa Barbara,” Luz said; lightly, but remembering the bitterness of not being there, since it had been during her first year at Bryn Mawr. “Probably drunk and probably on his way back from an assignation with a cook at the Potter Hotel. He must have been... at least seventy then. Better so. My parents were killed the next year, and he couldn’t have saved them. Nothing could.”

She shook herself a little. “Your father owned a bookstore, you said?”

“Indeed he did! Or rather, we did; in an old house, and then two we knocked together. I helped him with it from as early as I could remember, and ran it after he was too ill. There was hard work to it, and I learned the buyer’s part too which meant traveling about a little, even to New York once!”

There was an innocent pride to her voice, and Luz hid a smile. There was more than a little respect in what she was feeling anyway. For a girl to succeed at a hard-bargaining trade like that required more than brains; it needed plain grit, and in large quantities.

And I don’t suppose she’d have ended up here in Castle Rauenstein, if she were a shrinking violet, Luz thought.

“But it was a grand education, even better than going to High School! A quiet life, but I loved the books; reading them, and cataloguing, and the smell and feel of them, and finding just the right one a customer wanted. And the way it felt like a thousand friends were always waiting for me to drop by. My brother didn’t want it, and started doing more with motors and electrics—though I helped him with that too, when I got the chance.”

“You have a knack for that?”

“Oh, yes. I—“ She blushed. “Well, I know it’s not ladylike, but...”

Luz grinned and patted the pocket over the navaja. “Ciara, do I look as if I grow pale when a young lady doesn’t flutter like a helpless butterfly and swivel her eyes about for a man to help her? It’s the twentieth century, women have the vote! We can fly, and speak instantly across continents, when in our grandparents’ time the fastest way to send a message was on horseback. I’m good with guns and horses because my father trained me and it was fun, and I can keep an engine running because I had to learn that, but if you’ve the natural talent for machines, I admire it.”

“I don’t see why most people think it’s hard,” Ciara said, frowning a little in puzzlement. “It’s... seeing how things flow, the structure of them, how they fit together. Like mathematics, or music. It’s patterns.”

Luz blinked in genuine admiration. I can make figures work for me, but it’s like digging a ditch—digging a ditch if you were blind and had to do it all by rote. I can see the patterns in people’s faces and hear it in their voices or see a fight or a dance as a whole thing, but numbers? A language I have no ear for. Speaking of which...

“How did you learn German?” she said.

“From books mostly. It’s very important for the sciences, you know! And Auntie Treinel had it, her mother and father having been from a little place called Lermoos, in Austria, and she spoke it at home as a child. Though what she speaks isn’t much like the books.”

Luz raised a brow. “You have an aunt from Austria?” she said; the name Treinel was regional, not just German; very much like Ciara’s accent in that language, in fact, which was sort of a hyper-Bavarian-Tyrolese.

“Oh, she’s not really my aunt, not by blood. My father’s elder sister—Auntie Colleen—and she are both spinsters. Auntie Colleen was thirty and still unwed with no prospect of it when she came over with Da, she having no inheritance and a clubfoot, too. And in Ireland these days it’s common for folk to stay unwed anyway, unless they’ve a holding or a trade. Or a good dowry, for a lass. The which is a big reason so many leave.”

Luz nodded. It was, even if you didn’t count the huge number of Irish who were celibate religious, and those who did marry did so late in life. The Emerald Isle was full of younger brothers of farmers who were still bachelors at forty living by themselves in a loft, or with their spinster sisters; it was a habit that had come in with the Famine, and the fanatical fear of splitting the family’s possessions it had bred. Few actual farmers had perished in the great hunger, whether tenants or freeholders. It had been the landless men unable to rent a holding and depending on day-labor who had died by the hundreds of thousands, or the little cottars with a quarter-acre patch of potatoes who held as sub-tenants of a farmer in return for their labor, and their wives and children. Those with just a little more money or luck had fled wearing all that they owned. Only abroad in lands where work and food were more abundant could the Gael keep up their old habit of early marriage and big families.

“Auntie Coleen kept house for Da until he married, but by then she and Auntie Treinel were fast friends. They’ve shared a flat not far from where I live... lived, ever since then. With never a quarrel and happy as a pair of cats in a basket, with their cats, and cage of birds, and books and knowing everyone in the neighborhood and they so well-liked, for being such good neighbors always ready with a hand for those who need it from sickness or ill-luck. Auntie Colleen was like a mother to me and a good sister to Da in his illness, and Auntie Treinel helped too. Helped me with the German when I started on it as well, and with other lessons too, the way Auntie Colleen helped me with the accounting. That being how she makes a living. Auntie Treinel teaches school, but she, Auntie Colleen, since she’s lame and has a talent for the numbers, she has account books sent in and cleans them up for folk. More than one crooked bookkeeper has confessed or run for it at the mention of her name!”

Ciara frowned and went on quietly: “That’s how I knew there was something going on with the bookstore. When I started doing the accounts, a few years ago. Money flowing in and out that didn’t belong there—always balancing, but more than there should have been, and more by a good bit. The bookstore made us a fair living, until the doctor’s bills were very bad—thank the saints for the new National Health Insurance, I don’t know what we’d have done otherwise! Never a fortune, you understand, just an honest living for honest work. That other money, it was too much. Enough to frighten me.”

“Ah,” Luz said, her ears pricking up. “Not my specialty, but I’ve had specialists describe it to me. Money’s the fuel and grease of organization, and an underground one has to tap into conduits to move it around and account for it and store it places where it can’t be stolen but won’t attract attention. Especially these last few years, with income tax and currency controls and official channels for bullion transactions.”

“Yes! I knew friends came and visited my father... some of them from the Old Country... and later with Colm. They didn’t talk much about it with me. And hard men, some of them. There’s one named Sean McDuffy who sent me here...”

“Ah, now there’s a familiar name,” Luz said. “We never had enough on him for an arrest... he organized this?”

Ciara nodded, and her face went bleak. “He didn’t tell me details, but what he said made me think that what this was... that it would be some sort of arms smuggling, from here back to Boston, and then from there to Ireland on neutral ships, since it’s too dangerous for U-boats to try.”

“Mr. McDuffy keeps bad company,” Luz said thoughtfully.

Ciara nodded. “Gunmen, killers. There’s a look about the eyes, especially when they think they’re alone.”

“Oh, yes,” Luz said. I’ve seen it in the mirror at times. “Does this Mr. McDuffy know Elisa Carmody, do you think?”

“I wouldn’t know. He might, but probably not—he only came to Boston about... three years ago, to my knowledge.”

Ciara’s own face went hard and furious for a moment. “And when Colm left and then he... was killed... and father had his last stroke, I tracked McDuffy down and made them let me help.”

She bit her lip. “I was stupid!”

“No, you weren’t,” Luz said, her tone clinical rather than sympathetic, which was more helpful.

Ciara looked up. “You needn’t flatter me. I ended up here, didn’t I? And not because I was so clever.”

“I’m not in the habit of flattering. You had inadequate information,” Luz said. “It happens all the time in intelligence work. Making decisions based on outdated information, or incomplete, or worse corrupted, poisoned—what the Czar’s Okhrana call dezinformatsiya, dis-information. Then it doesn’t matter how clever you are, for the cake can’t be sweeter than the spices.”

“Dis-information? Now, there’s a devilish thing to brew up!” Ciara said with a born scholar’s indignation at someone deliberately fouling the well of knowledge.

“And devilishly effective. Did the Protocols of the Elders of Zion ever cross your bookstore’s counter?”

“Oh, yes,” Ciara said. “Henry Ford put out that edition and it was everywhere. I read it... it didn’t seem very sensible. There’s Mr. Silverberg who has the antique store who we did business with on old volumes, and I mentioned it to him, and he said some very... high-spiced things... in Yiddish. He didn’t know I spoke German, which is nearly the same... and then he said that if the Jews ruled the world from behind the scenes they would get a good deal more practical use out of this dreadful secret power! Which is a good point, when you think about it. If there’s any tribe who get the sharp end of the stick poked in their eye more than the Irish or even the blacks, it’s the Chosen People.”

Smart girl, Luz thought. Remember not to confuse formal education with brains. Though I must find a gentle way to say Negro is much more polite than blacks.

Only about a tenth of Americans finished high school, though the new Department of Education under Secretary Jane Addams was prodding and poking, shaming and subsidizing the States and localities hard to make it more. The cartoonists always showed her as the Schoolmarm-in-chief with a switch in her hand, but at least you could be sure the girls wouldn’t be scanted.

“That’s an example of disinformation—and of the way people will always believe something they want to believe. The Russians came up with it because the pogroms against the Jews were hurting them in the Western countries, making it more difficult to get credits.”

“So they flung some fake dirt to make up for the real smut on their own faces!” Ciara said. “I call that shoddy behavior and no mistake.”

Luz nodded. “You would not believe how much trouble Henry Ford has caused by spreading that damned thing—he has a bee in his bonnet about Jewish bankers and people listen to him because he makes all those Model T’s and raised his workers’ wages to five dollars a day.”

“A good solid family wage for a laboring man, near as good as a machinist or locomotive engineer makes,” Ciara said, in the tone you used when making yourself be fair. “Unless he drinks it up before his wife gets her hands on it, that’ll keep the house clean and warm and good food on the table, shoes on the children’s feet and clothes on their backs and enough over for some savings against misfortune and the odd treat. And a glass of beer with dinner, no harm in that.”

“Yes, Unc... the President was quite pleased at least one of the big boys did it without being pushed the way he had to with the steel barons and the mine-owners... and the railroads provoked him until he nationalized them outright. Though that was also pour encourager les autres, a nice early example to keep the others reasonable and tell them the days when they ran Congress were well and truly over. But if only Henry would stick to making autos!”

“And the Clann na nGael told me what they knew I wanted to hear, after Colm and Da died,” Ciara said bitterly.

“Yes,” Luz said. “If it’s any consolation, they thought they were doing it for a good cause. And they probably didn’t know all the details of what we’ve seen, just that there’s a weapon and an attack planned.”

“Nothing good could come of that... that horror we saw,” she said; Luz nodded, knowing what she meant. “And I’m sure as sure they knew the Germans meant America no good, if not precisely how much bad.”

“Well... Ciara, did you ever read any H.G. Wells?”

It was a good bet, given her interests. “Oh, yes!” Ciara said enthusiastically, thinking she was changing the subject. “The Time Machine, and The Food of the Gods, and the Island of Dr. Moreau, and The War of the Worlds. Even—“ she blushed at the mention of the advanced book “—Ann Veronica. How I envied her attending the Imperial University! Though...

She frowned. “This free love thing... it seems to me that it wasn’t that free at all for her, and would have ended fine for him and badly for Ann, in the world as it is. Also he’s too old for her.”

“I suspect that’s more of a daydream by Mr. Wells,” Luz said, agreeing with every word. “That man she throws herself at is suspiciously like the author, cleaned up a bit, and Mr. Wells has an eye for young ladies, I hear. I don’t doubt he’d be pleased to have them throwing themselves at his feet, saving him the risk and work.”

“Men!” Ciara said, rolling her eyes. “The other books are fine... though now you mention it, in The Time Machine, doesn’t the time traveler take up with that Eloi girl named Weena? And she pretty but stupid as a monkey, having no speech of her own, and altogether too much like a little girl in a woman’s body, sort of a pet with a bosom? Which is revolting, when you think about it.”

“No young man of your own, then, I presume?”

“Oh,” Ciara made a dismissive gesture. “Spotty young tykes, the lot of them, and interested in a girl for only one thing—not one to hold a candle to Colm or Da. A husband off to the saloon three days in seven, wanting his corned beef on Sunday and a cradle filled every eighteen months, I do not think. Not yet; someday, perhaps, if I find one I could abide. One I could talk to about real things.”

“Ah,” Luz said. “Now, the reason I mentioned Wells... well, my father and mother read The War of the Worlds with me... when I was ill, back when I was fourteen, a bout of malaria. And something my father said then struck hard and stayed with me: that if the wilder sort of Irish Brotherhood type had been around in the book, they’d have made common cause with the Martians in an instant, if only they promised to eat the English first, and them last of all. This is not altogether different.”

Ciara gave an involuntary snort of laughter. Then she looked down. “It... what we saw today... makes me think the worse of... what I was brought up to love.”

“Ciara, there’s no country on earth that doesn’t have great good and great ill to its credit, according to its power to do either; because different as countries may be, they’re all composed of human beings at the last, and there’s a devil and an angel in all of us. Everyone should love their country, and love and respect the memory of their ancestors; there’s something wrong with anyone who doesn’t. England’s treated Ireland badly... but it was Diarmait Mac Murchada first sold his kin to Strongbow for help against his personal enemies. There’s bad, and then there’s worse.”

Ciara nodded in easy recognition of the name of the King of Leinster who’d called in armored Anglo-Norman mercenary knights and their retinues from the marcher lordships to back him in a feud, and sworn fealty to London to get their fierce and greedy aid. The Gael had always had long memories. Luz went on:

“And I’m not going to say you shouldn’t have wanted to avenge your brother, or that you wouldn’t have been justified in fighting the English. I crawled through my parents’ blood, and that night I killed the first of those who murdered them—slit his throat in the dark and took his horse and rifle. I killed more of them with my own hands over the next couple of years, during the Intervention—three of them were kneeling in front of the graves we made them dig and I shot them in the back of the head. I helped hunt the others down and watched them die. Some well, like Villa whose followers the killers were—he walked to the wall on his own and scorned the blindfold and shouted Viva Mexico! into the muzzles of the rifles as he ripped open his own shirt. Others badly, wetting their britches and whimpering for quarter, or their mothers; but they all died and it was my doing. So I’m not going to judge you, not me of all people on earth.”

“I’ve been thinking... today,” Ciara said. “That Colm died, yes, but he died as a soldier with gun in hand, fighting openly for Ireland against his enemies who were doing likewise for their country. That’s a hero’s death, death with honor, to be remembered with pride. This, what’s going on here, there’s no honor in it at all, only shame. That my brother would turn his face from me, if I had any part in it.”

Luz patted her hand. “And you’ve had the good sense to turn back when you saw it was leading you... some place you really didn’t want to go.”

She looked at the sunlight; it would be dinnertime soon. And after that she could get the results of Horst’s meeting out of him, one way or another.

 

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