Deleted scene from The Maker’s Mask, in which Ligeia negotiates an alliance with Mukhtar Prime. Some bits of this got cut out and used in the conversations between Ligeia and Karely in The Hawkwood War.
‘My four-year-old daughter asked me today why the throne in the Maker’s Tower has been passed from mother to daughter to sister to great-niece since the time of Katharine Boccamera. When both men and women had ruled at Coronath, at Ailebroc, at Prémontré itself, was it fair?
What was I to tell her? That just because it seemed ridiculous in these times to say that no woman could be Maker, that no woman could be Prime, there was no guarantee that the future would be as equitable? That fairness had nothing to do with it, in a world where we are the sole guardians of the Swarm?
Perhaps I should have said that to her. Cimmenze would have said it to me.’
– Jendayi Boccamera (230-278 S.A), Book Of Days
Ligeia Boccamera had to pick up her skirts as she waded across Federets Mukhtar’s throne-room. The floor was covered with what had once been rushes from the terraces. At present it was a a rank, ankle-deep mess varying in consistency between paste and bird’s nest. Cempaka, walking at a bodyguard’s proper distance behind her mistress, trod heavily on something that crunched. Ligeia tried very hard not to think china cup or lizard skull?
One side of the throne-room was filled with the back of the huge mechanical cradle that held the Eye of Rancour. Nanes spidered to and fro in the scaffolding, and a technician in a dirty fur jerkin was tapping on joints and making notes on a portable screen. At the far end of the room stood a dais with four thrones on it, draped with the skins of beasts out of the iceworks. Federets Mukhtar sprawled in one of the thrones. His hair hung down in greasy grey ringlets beside his square bearded face. A huge screen hung behind him. It was the null grey of dead tech.
Three grubby children played about Mukhtar Prime’s feet. Ligeia supposed they were some of his bastards, but only because she knew his unfortunate wife had been dead since 411. To her certain knowledge, his eight legitimate children, most of whom had also died in the Plague of 411, had been brought up in exactly the same squalor. The smell of unwashed bodies and stale food hung in the air. Ligeia was grateful that she hadn’t chosen to visit in high summer. Cempaka smiled at the children. Ligeia didn’t bother.
Two of the children fled behind the screen as she approached, making its surface flutter up briefly in purples and greens. Mukhtar Prime looked up, slowly and without much pleasure.
“Oh, it’s you. Back from Ailebroc, I see. Child born safely? Right number of fingers and feet? If you’re looking for husbands to bring up with her, I could find you two or three. Four, if Ellcen recovers from his fever.”
Ligeia bowed. “Thank you for your kind welcome, Mukhtar Prime. How fares your Spire?”
“All the better for minding our own business,” said a precise voice.
It was Mukhtar Prime’s eldest bastard, as cadaverous as his father was fleshy. The room suddenly felt five degrees colder. He sat down in the other throne, looking like something out of the more foreboding kind of religious painting. Ligeia had never been able to work out why Karely Mukhtar looked like such a death’s-head – possibly it was the combination of overhanging browbones with an over-short nose, possibly his pale eyebrows and very retiring hair – but it was her firm belief that he had survived the holocaust of 411 simply because the Angel of Death mistook him for a subordinate.
“Get out of that chair, you foul-air-contaminated gyampang, you’re not my heir,” said his father irritably.
Karely ignored him. The remaining child, a small girl with a runny nose, scrambled up into her half-brother’s lap.
Mukhtar Prime gave a sharp-toothed smile. “What brings you here, Lady Boccamera? Has your sister Catha decided to accept my offer of marriage?”
“I feel her place is at Lionvarre, Mukhtar Prime,”
“So, it’s the Kapellans, then. What are you prepared to offer us to come and fight them with you?”
“It’s no fight of ours, Father,” said Karely in a dull ash-scraping of a voice.
“It might be, if the Boccamera are willing,” his father contradicted him. “How much will you pay for our help, Lady Boccamera?”
“Is there something in the terms of our alliance about payment?” Ligeia wondered pleasantly.
Mukhtar Prime pried something crusted off his collar and flicked it away into one of the room’s shadowed corners. “Times change. Back when my ancestor first made common cause with Ti-Laris Boccamera, a lot of things were easier to come by than they are now.”
“Materia,” said Karely.
His father glared sulphurously at him. The girl-child scrabbled out of Karely’s lap and retreated behind the screen. Mukhtar Prime transmuted the glare into a soapy smile as he turned back to Ligeia. “A friendship that costs nothing is worth nothing.”
“Prayer carries us half way to God, fasting brings us to the door of His palace, and generosity opens the catch-panel,” parried Ligeia.
“If God cares to give me more materia and more men, then I’ll consider being generous.”
Ligeia wondered what it must be like to be able to talk so flippantly about God. “Cempaka, give me the portable screen. Mukhtar Prime, I’d like you to look at this.”
The screen cast a grey light up into Mukhtar Prime’s face, making him look suddenly thin-skinned and thin-boned, nearer to a fragile eighty years old than his actual shrewd and robust sixty-five. “What is it?”
“It’s a contract I made with Ruvini Gentileschi.”
The agreement floated within the screen, signed with the Boccamera Tree and the Gentileschi Key. Mukhtar Prime scowled as he looked at it. Karely levered himself out of the throne and came to stare over his father’s shoulder. “So you got yourself into debt to the Gentileschi,” grunted Mukhtar Prime finally. “Stupid of you, but God knows they charge a fortune for the use of their damned facilities, and more each year. What’s it to me?”
“Look at this clause,” said Karely, pointing. “She’s promised them templates for Igaliku- and Hvalsey-class drones.”
“That’s worse than stupid,” Mukhtar Prime leaned forward, foursquare and glaring. “What d’you mean by showing this to me? If you give the Gentileschi drones the Eye of Rancour will knock them out of the sky…”
“Not all of them, Father,” said Karely. He had the most neutral voice Ligeia had ever heard.
Mukhtar Prime leaned back in the throne, his greasy curls picking up shorter brindled hairs from the skin draped over the back. “You won’t do it. Lucastine would come back to haunt you.”
“Lucastine would cheer me on. Think about it, Mukhtar Prime. Why would I offer these drones to the Gentileschi unless I had something better?”
“Her sister Tzenni,” said Karely in his drab mutter. “I told you about the savings we made by using her modifications to the power subsystems…”
“Bugger the power subsystems, and bugger you too with a misfiring Ordainer.” Mukhtar Prime shoved the screen back at Ligeia. “Va jemoy miye. I believe you mean it. You’d bet on your sister’s designs against Sabna Boccamera’s Igalikus and Hvalseys, would you?”
“It’s three hundred years since Sabna’s first Swarm flew, and Tzenni’s a genius,” said Ligeia demurely. “Of course, I’d still prefer to pay back the Gentileschi before the interest grows ruinous.”
“You want scrip? I thought you were here to beg for an army.” Mukhtar Prime looked positively alarmed. “You’re not thinking of borrowing it from me, are you? I haven’t got it.”
“And as for Kapellan Prime, he hasn’t got a hundredth to bless himself with,” said Karely.
“Not in scrip, perhaps.” Ligeia put a delicate hand on the throne’s arm and leaned forward into Mukhtar Prime’s space, and into the sour, meaty old-man smell of him. “In salvage. I’ve looked at the Swarm’s readings of the last time we saw Shainault a thousand times, and I know I’m right. Their Retort’s dying.”
Mukhtar Prime looked around at the shadows. “Retorts don’t die.”
“Tell that to the Dukovy of Kashnagar.”
“Kashnagar.” Mukhtar Prime tasted the word. “They say there was nothing left when the Quinn-Laos rode to the rescue.”
“Went in there in breath-masks, you mean, when they were sure everybody was dead,” dissented Karely.
Mukhtar Prime huffed a breath into his beard and sat upright in his throne again. “You think you can do it?”
Ligeia had never been a good liar. She was, however, remarkably adept with the neatly trimmed and pinned truth. “Would I be here if I did not?”
“More wine, Javian.” Mukhtar Prime held out his cup. It had great chunks of ruby inlaid around the base, and someone else’s filmy dregs staining it purple inside. One of the children darted forward with a grubby jug. Ligeia smiled politely, and vowed to bathe in sanitiser the moment she was back at Lionvarre. “Better us than a parcel of nameless looters. It’d be saving the art, at least, and the fittings from the oratory. It’s our duty by God to do that. Besides, Kapellan Prime owes me money.”
“That was twenty years ago, and the accountants have written it off,” objected Karely.
His father smiled widely under the beard. “Twenty years of interest.”
Karely Mukhtar looked as close to agitated as Ligeia had ever seen him. “Father, consider. If it was possible to strip a Spire for its assets, Bela Malabranca would have done it to us.”
“No one believed you could steal a Retort until Pike Hawkwood did it.”
“Father, do you want to go down in history in the same breath as Pike Hawkwood?”
Mukhtar Prime waved his hand dismissively. He was wearing a lot of heavy rings, and they were all very dirty. “You think we can do it, your Spire and mine together?” He breathed sour wine and avarice into Ligeia’s face. She didn’t flinch. “You do think we can. And if I won’t back you, you’ll poison the very air for me by giving drones to the Gentileschi, is that it?”
“I’m giving you the choice, Mukhtar Prime.”
He frowned. “I’d want my fair share of the spoils, mind. Considering that I’d be bringing both my land-leviathans – unless you’re thinking of drawing Shainault into the reach of the Eye?”
“I hadn’t even thought of it,” said Ligeia honestly. She reminded herself not to underestimate this man. Or his eldest bastard, either, even if he did look like a corpse and sound as if he’d been brought up in a stationery-cupboard. “If you can see how it can be done…”
“Short of getting agents into Shainault, I can’t,” Mukhtar Prime admitted. “Since I shall be bearing the brunt of the expedition, it’s fair that my share of the profit…”
“Half and half,” Ligeia interrupted him precisely. “Half for me, half for you, after I’ve deducted the cost of paying off the Gentileschi.”
“You can take that out of your half and welcome.”
That was what she had expected from the start, but if she hadn’t bargained, he would only have balked at something else. She swayed gracefully back again out the throne’s arms, taking the longest breath she’d taken since she entered Coronath, and never mind the smell. It was done.
She drew off a thumb-ring that she had put on for the occasion, one she’d never liked, and passed it to Cempaka, who knelt properly to proffer it to Karely. She supposed it would soon be as grimy as all the rest. Mukhtar Prime examined his own fingers solicitously. Karely looked at his father, who looked at the one large bloodstone on Karely’s bony fourth finger. Stone and setting were scrupulously clean. “Foul air swallow you, you old lobo miye,” said Karely with an utter lack in his voice of either emphasis or surprise. “That was my mother’s.”
Ligeia straightened her shoulders and raised one very pale eyebrow. “I should like to know what insult I have given to make you refuse to exchange a pledge of faith under Ordnance with me, Mukhtar Prime. If you are trying to make the point to me that you are Prime and I am not, may I remind you that I am Boccamera Prime’s heir until the time of her maturity.”
“All right, I know he’s a bastard and you were sired by some man Lucastine made sure she’d bought the legal rights to before she nailed him to her bed.” Mukhtar Prime’s lurking glare conveyed and he’s still worth ten of you to Ligeia, though she wasn’t sure Karely saw it that way.
She continued to look him in the eye, calmly, as if she could wait until the end of the world. Mukhtar Prime bit back a curse. He wrenched off a signet ring depicting a snake vomiting up a large chunk of garnet and threw it at her. She caught it neatly. It was too big even for her thumb, which at least saved her skin from contact with Mukhtar Prime’s dirt.
Cempaka backed up behind her mistress again, looking glad her part was over. Mukhtar Prime indulged in a fit of laughter that turned into a fit of coughing. “I suppose you want to talk about troop numbers.”
“It would be a foolish enterprise if we did not.” Ligeia brought the screen forward again. Karely frowned and dabbled a hand in it. Figures and glyphs swam around the bloodstone ring. Ligeia made corrections and predictions as needed. Mukhtar Prime coughed again and snapped his fingers imperatively for the screen. He stared into it, displeased. “Bloodthirsty, aren’t you?”
“I want peace, and an end to the Feud.”
“That’ll happen when the last Boccamera lights candles and ties up memory-streamers on the anniversary of the death of the last Kapellan.”
“It’s an outcome I’ve contemplated,” said Ligeia, and meant it. “How about the last Malabranca?”
“They can go to the wind and sky with no one to tie up streamers for them.” Mukhtar Prime grunted disgustedly. “You’re not expecting me to march on Aeyorn, are you? It’s stuffed with heretical weapons. I know my limitations.”
“I have no interest in marching on Aeyorn,” said Ligeia. The Order’s intelligence was that Latinus Malabranca was at Shainault, and, she told herself firmly, there was no way even Tzenni could have gone out for a walk and accidentally ended up at Aeyorn. “Shainault will be battle enough. We should move as soon as possible, so as not to lose the element of surprise.”
“Even with the Retort making weaponry and provisions at the top of its specifications, it’ll be four longdays before we’re outfitted properly and ready to move…” Karely began.
“Make it one.” His father leaned across and cuffed him jovially on the arm. “Use her sister’s modifications.”
Karely ducked his head and muttered something. Ligeia retrieved her screen and bowed to Mukhtar Prime, giving him his due as Prime; and to Karely, as Maker to Maker. “My regards to your heir,” she said as neutrally as possible.
It still reaped her a glare. Mukhtar Prime’s only surviving legitimate son had gained his earring at thirteen and contracted meningitis in the wake of the Plague six months later. No one had seen much of him since, nor of the one surviving daughter of the marriage, who was occasionally visible on state occasions waving palely from a balcony.
“The same to your Prime. Gentileschi Prime’s get, is she?”
“No. Dio’s.” Ligeia managed to say it quite naturally, but he’d scored a hit on her, all the same, and both of them knew it.
“Him,” said Karely scornfully, for once expressing a clear opinion. He blinked as he met Ligeia’s eyes. His eyebrows were so pale as to seem more a trick of the light than the real thing. “Gentileschi Prime’s put him in charge of raiding parties, once or twice. He leaves his wounded behind.”
Yes, thought Ligeia, he does. “God bless our alliance, Mukhtar Prime,” she said.
“God bless our alliance, Lady Boccamera.” Mukhtar Prime’s pouchy eyes narrowed. “Would you really have given drones to the Gentileschi if I hadn’t agreed to aid you?”
Ligeia raised a pale eyebrow. “The Gentileschi thought I would.”
“Ruvini Gentileschi’s a bad scrat to cross. You won’t be using their facilities again. Not if you want a child rather than a dribbling lump of protoplasm, that is.”
Ligeia reflected that the Mukhtar Heir must be doing better than anyone thought, if his father could afford to make remarks like that. “I doubt anyone will be using their facilities, come another generation. They’re four hundred years old. It’s no wonder they’re starting to creak.”
Mukhtar Prime scowled. “So is the Eye of Rancour.”
“I’ll bear that in mind, the next time we come to make a bargain. God keep you, Mukhtar Prime.” Ligeia bowed and began her long retreat down the fetid hall. She had the satisfying sense that great things were moving around her, like all the separate adjustments of machinery that swung the cradle of the Eye of Rancour. She and God between them would manage this somehow, and bring her sisters home.
She hoped the threat of Gentileschi drones would move the cynical old bastard to commit his forces fully; she couldn’t think of anything else that would. Cimmenze had managed to turn the Mukhtars out in force by stealing their heir, but she suspected that if she kidnapped one of Mukhtar Prime’s children he would just be thankful to be spared the cost of its food and education, and the child itself would probably give Tristis nits.
Think of it as reaping what you sowed when you didn’t turn out to support Mother the day she died, Mukhtar Prime, she thought coolly; if you’d done your duty by the alliance then, you wouldn’t have to deal with me.
Copyright © 2010 Ankaret Wells