Home > Sweep in Peace (Innkeeper Chronicles #2)(8)

Sweep in Peace (Innkeeper Chronicles #2)(8)
Ilona Andrews

The wall behind me creaked as the inn bent toward Dagorkun, responding to the tone of my voice. The otrokar’s hand went to his knife.

I waved my fingers and the wall snapped back to its normal state. “I won’t let anyone or anything interfere with the peace talks in my domain.”

Arland set his cup on the table. “You should test her, Dagorkun. She couldn’t possibly be that powerful.”

I pointed the handle of my broom at him. The vampire grinned, flashing his fangs, and chuckled.

“I see.” Dagorkun rose. “Thank you for the tea, Innkeeper.”

I solidified the floor and led him to the door. He pulled on his cloak and walked into the night. I waited until the inn announced his departure and turned to Arland.

“Ours is an old rivalry,” he said. “You can’t blame us. They are barbarians. Do you know how one becomes a Khan? One would expect a proper progression – a ruler’s son, learning statecraft at his father’s knee, studying with the best tutors, gaining experience under the guidance of talented generals on the battle field, building alliances, until finally he takes his rightful place, supported by his power base. One would expect this, but no. They elect him. The army gathers and votes.” He spread his arms. “It’s ridiculous.”

Of course, hereditary aristocracy was much better. That never went wrong. How silly of them to try this thing called democracy. I wondered what he would say if I reminded him that the US was a republic. “Shall we see to the rooms?”

“It would be my pleasure.” Arland rose and I led him to the hallway. We turned left this time. The hallway brought us to the formal stairway of pale grey stone. Crimson banners of the Holy Cosmic Anocracy hung on the walls, illuminated by delicate glass ornaments that glowed with gentle pale light. Arland raised his thick eyebrows. “Just like home.”

Perfect. We started up the stairway.

“Six months ago House Krahr was going stale from the lack of war,” I said. “Now suddenly you’re involved in the Nexus Conflict? What happened?”

Arland grimaced. “House Meer happened. What is taking place on Nexus isn’t a war; it’s hell. It’s been going on for over a decade, and it’s too much for any one House. About a year into this war, the Holy Anocracy had divided the Houses into seven Orders to share the burden of the conflict. Each Order takes the responsibility for Nexus for a year. House Krahr is the House of the First Order. We already fought on Nexus half a decade ago.”

Every time he said Nexus, he paused for a tiny second the way one would before saying Hell in the true sense of that word. Five standard years ago he would’ve been a seasoned knight. It must’ve been terrible, because the memories of it still haunted him.

The stairs ended in a stone arch. The walls here rose to a dizzying height and the blood-red banner of the Holy Anocracy hung from the ceiling with the Holy Fangs and the eight point star emblazoned in silver on it. The star commemorating the vampire progress to interstellar flight wasn’t above or below the stylized fangs, but sat between them. The symbolism was clear: the Holy Anocracy would bite the Galaxy with its fangs and swallow it. Without a word, Arland lowered himself on one knee and bowed his head. He closed his eyes for a moment, then rose, as if the heavy armor he wore was light as silk. We stepped through the arch.

“Two months ago the Sixth Order was scheduled to take over, but the two major Houses of the Sixth Order had been decimated, one by a war and the other by a planet-wide natural disaster. They had neither the means nor the power to mount a suitable defense against the otrokar offensive. They were willing, but it was determined that we would lose our hold on Nexus if they bore the sole responsibility for it. The duty should’ve passed to the Seventh Order. The Seventh Order consists of four Houses, with House Meer being by far the most powerful. House Meer dishonored itself and refused to fight. Given as the other three houses in the Order are small, and two of them are also warring with each other at the moment, the responsibility for Nexus passed on to us.”

I frowned. “House Meer can do that?”

“No, they can’t. The Anocracy will excommunicate them and level economic sanctions, but they are willing to risk it. They’ve been eyeing our holdings for years. When we come off the Nexus rotation, our House will be exhausted. It will take us years to recover. House Meer will attack us when we’re at our weakest and the riches they will rip from our corpse will more than offset any economic sanctions. The Anocracy embraces victory and shuns defeat. The Preceptor of Meer may sacrifice his eternal soul on the altar of betrayal, but his descendants will be welcomed into the fold of the Holy Church.”

Yes, they would be too powerful and too rich to remain ostracized. “On Earth we say that history is written by the winners.”

Arland nodded. “I’ve spent the last two months on that cursed planet. I’ve lost men, I’ve lost family, and I don’t intend to lose anyone else. If I have to make peace with the Horde, so be it. It would be infinitely easier if the Khan were coming himself instead of the Khanum. The Khan is a great fighter and a great leader; he understands diplomacy and he is the man the Horde wants to follow into the slaughter. The Khanum is a great general; she plans their wars and their battles, which the Khan then leads. I do not relish dealing with Dagorkun’s mother.”

He stopped. Bright rooms of pale stone spread before us, the lines elegant and powerful. Green vines dropped from the tall ledges, cascading to the floor. The floor was polished stone, the furniture solid dark wood, and the linens crimson and white. Floor to ceiling windows opened onto narrow stone balconies. It was a serene place, elegant and beautiful to behold the way a honed functional blade was beautiful.

Arland turned around, his face puzzled. “This is Zamak, our House’s coastal castle.”

“It’s a duplicate,” I said. “Unfortunately I couldn’t reproduce the sea, but I was told the view of the orchard is soothing. Does it meet with your approval?”

“It’s perfect,” he said.

Yes. Great. Wonderful. Fantastic.

“How will the meal orders be handled?”

My stomach tried to pirouette out of me. Somehow I made my lips move. “Should any of your party have special dietary needs, please list them for me and I will do my best to meet them.”

“Absolutely.”

Ten minutes later I watched Arland step into a bright red glow, turn into a star, and shoot up to the night sky. The inn chimed in my head, informing me of his departure and I sagged against the door frame.

The food. I had forgotten about the food.

What was I going to do?

Chapter 3

Most successful inns had a staff. Some jobs required a dedicated person: usually there was a chef, a bookkeeper, sometimes a kennel master, if the inn catered to guests with animal companions. Typically the innkeeper’s family handled many of these tasks. In my parents’ inn, I worked as a gardener. It was my responsibility to keep the vast flower gardens, service the ponds, and maintain the fruits trees. I loved the gardens. They were full of this small secret places that were just mine. My memory served the delicate scent of apricots in bloom, their dark crooked branches bearing small white flowers, rows of strawberries, the two yellow cherry trees I used to climb… All of it was gone now, disappeared without the proverbial trace, together with the inn and my parents within it.

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