This is boring and has spoilers, but it helped me figure some things out.
Premier Shield Jules Sato of the Source and Shield Service council sat back in his chair with a sigh prompted by frustrated boredom. He hated these meetings. They literally lasted days, at times, they left him feeling tied into knots, and they were happening with greater frequency.
It didn’t help that the number of the members of the council had been increased to an unwieldy twenty-one. A smaller group meant a more efficient group, each member describing the events of their multiple jurisdictions. Now, each member had a sole jurisdiction, and so had to have their say, their lengthy more-detailed-than-necessary say. Votes stretched on because every single person had to enter their input, even when they were merely echoing what someone else had already said. It was excruciating.
Jules claimed to be ill for as many meetings as he could get away with. The Speaker had hinted that such behaviour might result in his losing the esteemed position of Premier Shield. Jules had hinted in return that he didn’t care. It wasn’t as though he had sought the post in the first place. He’d felt compelled to take it because no one else would. He’d rather be out at a hot site doing real work.
“Are we sure Shield Petrov Delacour participated in the Jigo City riots?” he asked.
It was a serious matter, he knew that. It was just that it was buried among so many trivial discussions – Couldn’t the depth of the stone to be used in Cooper Street be left to the designers? – that it was difficult to bring to truly significant discussions the attention they merited.
Source Leander Styvesant, who managed general administration for the council, referred to one of his documents. “We have accounts from seventeen witnesses.”
Jules was disgusted and sickened by the event. Jigo and their closest neighbour, Semses, had a long tradition of football matches. The current year had been packed with unprecedented hostility, as the Emperor had chosen to pour into Semses coin to improve streets and bridges while neglecting Jigo. Their final match had been brutal, full of injuries and allegations of cheating.
When Jigo had lost, its residents had gone mental and tore down their own city. Not Semses, which would have made a tiny shred of sense. No, the residents burnt down their own buildings and toppled their own statues and dug up their own streets. It was phenomenally stupid, and all over a game.
That a member of the Triple S would participate in such a disgusting activity was nauseating. Jules felt so ashamed. “This one has demonstrated illegal behaviour in the past, yes?” he asked.
“Several instances of theft - ”
Jules couldn’t understand why members of the Triple S bothered to steal anything. The challenge, perhaps.
“Public drunkenness, participation in a bar brawl, and grabbing the mayor by the arm. We have many written complaints, which have been, in recent times, increasing in number and level of animosity.”
“What is your recommendation?”
“He’ll definitely need to be penalized. His Source appears unable to exert any effective control over him.”
Jules dreaded the next question, a lot, but it had to be asked. “Does anyone have any thoughts on this manner?”
Of course, they did. They all did. And Jules could pretty much predict what each of them would say.
“It’s never wise to denigrate Pairs,” said Shield Temulen Lavoisier, who, baffling though it was, managed affairs between the Triple S and regulars. “It damages the reputation of us all.”
Lavoisier had, Jules thought, been on the council for far too long, having lived outside the walls of the Academy for too short a period of time. If he’d ever known how the regulars worked, he’d forgotten. Because otherwise there was no excuse for giving such an asinine opinion.
“Regulars are demonstrating decreasing tolerance for lenience with Pairs,” said Source Anktyvan Eurybice, also a liaison with the regulars. He was Lavoisier’s partner, they despised each other, and what one said, the other was driven to oppose.
Everyone knew this, of course, which meant anything either of them said was meaningless. But the council had to listen to them anyway. The council needed a better way to fire people.
“We can’t allow illegal behaviour to continue with no response from us,” Eurybice continued.
Lavoisier waved a hand. “The regulars understand Pairs are entitled to a little latitude.”
“We need to add new additions to the Runners barracks,” Source Nuri Wincinty announced.
Everyone stared at her, though none of them should have been surprised. She did this at least once a meeting, throwing in a new subject before the last one had been tabled.
“We’re discussing Delacour’s criminal behaviour,” said Speaker Shield Devo Regulos, who had the duty of, among others, keeping discussions focused. As focused as possible.
“The barracks must be enlarged,” Wincinty insisted. “It needs to be discussed.”
“And it will be. It’s on the agenda. We’re discussing Delacour now.”
Wincinty scowled, crossed her arms, and pouted.
Moving back to Delacour, everyone put their opinion on the table. Lipchitz abstained, as he often did, which prompted Jules to sometimes contemplate kissing the man’s feet.
“Punishment,” Jules barked when it was his turn. It was a bit of a game for him, to strive to provide an answer in as few words as possible.
Finally … finally … the vote was taken and it was decided Delacour needed to be sanctioned.
Then there was required a discussion concerning the nature of the sanction. It was decided to eschew the traditional punishment, sending Delacour and his Source to a cold site where the Pair’s skill would be useless, thereby humiliating them in front of the regulars. As the number of unneeded Pairs left reliant on the resources of the regulars increased, those regulars came to resent the Triple S even more.
Instead, it was decided that they would offer to the mayor of Jigo City Delacour’s services to aid in the repair of the buildings and roads. Given his lack of skill in such areas, he would have to perform the least respected of physical labour. Jules approved of this sentence. It would be a harsh lesson for Delacour, the regulars would witness his punishment and would hopefully be pacified, and his Source would not be dragged into facing sanctions he hadn’t earned, which was the unfortunate repercussion of many traditional punishments.
When that matter was finally put to bed, the Speaker raised the next. “I understand the Emperor has shown some interest in the Pair at Emerad.”
Shield Tam Dunn, part of the Pair that acted as a liaison with the monarch, nodded with a mournful expression. “They’re talented, and the Duchess of Waswa has, apparently, donated a considerable amount of coin to the Crown.”
“Waswa is a cold site,” Jules reminded her.
“The duchess is aware of this, we think. She believes having a Pair will give her a cache her peers lack.”
That was true. “Is the Emperor’s plan common knowledge?”
“Not yet. The Erstwhile Pair sent me word on the sly. I propose we call the Emerad Pair back before the Emperor can give any kind of order, and send a less obviously talented Pair to Emerad. Trago and Jewlin are skilled enough to manage the site, but they have less flair. The duchess might not want them.”
“This will aggravate the Emperor,” Lavoisier objected.
“He’s already aggravated,” Jules commented.
“So aggravating him further would be unwise.”
“We can’t let him continue to violate our rights and authority.”
“If we pull them before the Emperor makes an order, he won’t think we’re challenging him,” Dunn said. “It’ll just look like a coincidence.”
As far as Jules was concerned, they should be able to move the Pairs around as they wished regardless of whatever orders the Emperor made. The law gave them that right. Sometimes, though, there were times when a bully had to be managed rather than confronted up front. That was an unfortunate reality.
And while he would never admit it to anyone else, Jules felt a level of satisfaction in outthinking an opponent that relied on brawn – or something akin to it – with the result that the opponent was unable to figure out just what the hell had happened.
After an hour of discussion, it was decided that the Emerad Pair would be permitted to be transferred, on the grounds that it might be handy to have a loyal Triple S Pair observing the goings on of the Duchess of Waswa. Jules thought it a terrible idea – What did the Emerad Pair know of surreptitious surveillance? – but over half of the council thought it was fantastic.
“All right,” said the Speaker. “Source Shintaro Karish and Shield Dunleavy Mallorough.”
Almost everyone at the long table groaned.
Jules closed his eyes for a moment. The Westsea Pair was among the most aggravating out there. He’d come to hate the sound of their names. But they couldn’t be ignored. “Shield Kaagan, do you have anything to add to your report?”
Kaagan snorted. “They’re the worst liars I’ve ever come across.”
“Interesting, but not helpful,” Jules said drily.
“Mallorough was obstructive and we couldn’t get Karish to stop acting like an idiot long enough to effectively answer any of our questions.”
“It was frustrating,” Pedulla added. “They lie badly, but they’re persistent in refusing to admit to anything, either. We can’t force them to confirm our suspicions.”
Source Foxin raised his eyebrows. “You’re too soft, Evro.”
“You have a suggestion, then?”
“I hope you’re not recommending we transfer them,” said Dunn. “That would be perceived by the Emperor as defiance. I don’t think we’re ready to jump into his face like that, not right now.”
“Agreed,” said Jules.
“No, but that doesn’t mean we have no lever at all. They are very fond of Aryne Malkar.”
That had come out of nowhere.
“Surely you’re not planning to harm her!” Dunn gasped.
Jules stared at Foxin, appalled.
“Not at all. But we do have the ability to make things very uncomfortable for her, if Karish and Mallorough think they can defy us. I believe they would feel responsible if their behaviour resulted in any unpleasantness experienced by Malkar.”
What the hell was Foxin thinking of? “We don’t need to do anything,” Jules snapped. “There is no problem with them being there, right now. They are managing the events.”
“Pairs aren’t supposed to work in the birthplace of their Sources,” Lavoisier said.
“Because they have difficulty channelling the events,” said Jules. “That’s not the case here.”
“And because they may develop intense relationships in the area that Pairs are supposed to avoid,” Lavoisier added.
“Flown Raven has the greatest collection of casters in the world,” said Jules. “Mallorough is learning to cast from them. We know this. It is of benefit to us all that we leave her there, allow her to learn as much as possible.”
“Shields aren’t supposed to be learning to cast,” Lavoisier muttered.
“None of us are supposed to be doing a lot of the things we’re doing,” said Jules. “It’s necessary. We can’t let tradition blind us.”
“They lie to us!” Kaagan shouted, startling everyone. “They’re arrogant. They’re out of control. They need to be brought here and reminded of their place.”
“You have to admit they’re an embarrassment,” said Styvesant. “All those stories about whoring, drunkenness ….”
“Diligence,” Jules’ Source, Wongoi Zoffany, added. “They are respectful to the people they work with. They perform labour they aren’t required to do.”
“We don’t know what the truth is,” said Lipchitz. “All of it could be.”
“Or none,” Zoffany countered.
“That’s the point,” Kaagan snapped. “We should have this information. They have a duty to tell us. They’re refusing to. They need to be brought back here.”
Everyone piled on, then.
Jules got a headache.
After a while, Regulos knocked on the table until everyone shut up. “We’ll take a vote,” he said. “Those in favour of bringing Karish and Mallorough back.”
Ten to ten.
Everyone looked at the Speaker. One of his other duties was to break ties.
Jules liked the Speaker for a number of reasons. Sensible, calm, intelligent, patient, while firm enough to keep twenty personalities in line.
But especially because he didn’t take an age to make a decision. “Karish and Mallorough will remain in Flown Raven.”
“But - ” Kaagan said.
Regulos cut him off with a look. “Karish is managing events where he shouldn’t be able to. There is no predicting the worth such an example might ultimately be. Mallorough is learning to cast. Pulling them now might infuriate the Emperor, something we can’t afford to do right now. There are many reasons to have them stay, and no important reason to bring them back.”
Shield Lucitani, secretary of the council, made note of the decision.
The council moved to other subjects. Income streams, suppliers, the latest discussions with the mayor of Shidonee’s Gap, and yes, the additions to the damn barracks. The sun was sinking by the time the last item was ticked off the agenda.
“I believe that’s everything,” the Speaker announced.
Oh, thank Zaire.
“Wait a moment,” said Wincinty. “I think we should talk about how we’re going to manage the Emerad Pair.”
Jules glared at her.
Every meeting. Every damn meeting. They would address a matter, spend an hour debating about it, take a vote, and move on. And then, at some point – usually when everyone was preparing to leave - Wincinty would raise the issue again, as though they’d never discussed it in the first place.
Jules couldn’t figure out whether the meetings were her only form of social interaction and she therefore wanted to drag them out, or she was just that stupid.
Shield Jules Sato, Premier Shield of the council of the Source and Shield Service, was to be, at all times, disciplined and temperate.
Still, given the trial of constant idiocy presented by Wincinty, he could be forgiven for leaping over the table and throttling the woman.