Culled from Judith Deuteros’ secret report on Blood of Eden activities, this story was originally published in the trade paperback edition of Harrow the Ninth.
COHORT INTELLIGENCE FILES
As outlined in emergency planning guidance regarding kidnapping or hostage taking of any member of the Cohort, this report is made:
To the best of detainee’s capacity, while minimising additional risk of harm to detainee or other Cohort personnel;
Covertly, in such a way that hostile actors cannot develop or implement the report to use against the Nine Houses, or encourage a ransom strategy;
For the purposes of assisting the Cohort, should the detainee be killed or incapacitated.
This report has been created in code and stored in a subdermal implant under Cohort procedures, in the hope that if the body is recovered the Cohort may use intelligence received to counteract later threats to the Nine Houses.
This report has been assembled by Captain J. Deuteros (Dead Fleet, Dve Territorials 12th Necromancer’s Unit). This report is created during Hostage Doctrine Phase Three: the period of captivity.
At the time of this entry I am five months into forced captivity by enemy insurgents. This is my continued attempt to create a report. My current opportunity has been enabled by our move from spaceflight to what appears to be a ground encampment. I have not been privy to enough geoinformation to compile any useful positional data. The area surrounding the enemy encampment is temperate with two dominant layers of green foliage. There are animals. Birds cry at night. When I am taken out to look at the sky there is a large ringed planet visible from daylight to dusk, but my attempts to measure its angular diameter are at best imprecise.
I’ve recovered from my initial relapse after gut alteration. My weight has levelled out. My captors’ procedures were conceptually primitive but sophisticated in execution. They have still failed to regrow my stomach or bowel, as they lack the basic techniques required to do so, but have outsourced their functions to apparatus outside my body for the interim. I have endured multiple infections since but have not yet managed to die. The stomach pouch was removed on a previous excursion to what they said was an abandoned “steal planet.” I understand that they use the word “steal” for what we would term “shepherd.” They were willing and able to coerce me into assisting in surgery with my necromancy. Camilla Hect told them that if they left me unsedated during the operation I would be able to facilitate the joining of a nonorganic implant to the damaged oesophagus and body of the stomach. I attempted dissembling to ask her to convince them to leave both hands free, not one. This failed to work on Camilla Hect.
The operation went ahead. Severe reflux required another landing in order to fix it. I was sedated for the majority of the time. Hect provided competent guidance. The ambient thanergy was thin.
The corpse has still failed to rot. The princess says they are leaving it outside in significantly fluctuating temperatures, under observation, and it still fails to rot.
ENTRY: CAMILLA HECT
I will not retread old reports. My fears for Camilla formerly the Sixth persist. She is not given as much leeway as the princess, but she is no longer kept in confinement. Security anklet only, wired to a severe but not fatal electrical shock. Since my previous report they used it on her once, which hospitalised her for a week.
Camilla Hect is in the process of being converted to their cause. Their breakthrough was the Blood of Eden commander they refer to as We Suffer. I can give no identifying description of We Suffer; I still haven’t seen any of the ranking officials unmasked. Ever since we were moved into We Suffer’s remit, Hect has let herself be persuaded into listening to propaganda. The crucial element was from something they call Source Gram, which Hect told me about firsthand. To believe Hect, Blood of Eden has been consorting with elements from within the Nine Houses for much of the last myriad. As this is exactly what Blood of Eden would want us to believe, I remain sceptical. Hect repeats We Suffer’s claim that Source Gram came from within the Sixth House around six thousand years ago, an incident that apparently even We Suffer admits has fallen into Edenite mythology. We Suffer and Hect often mention a “break clause.” What this refers to I will not speculate.
To be fair, Hect was open in her discussions with me during her hospitalisation. I do not imagine that this is due to any deference toward my rank. She says that Blood of Eden knows things about the Sixth House that an outsider could not possibly know, but that their references are all incredibly antique. She said that if the Sixth House saw fit to discuss something with insurgents, even in its infancy, then she wanted to know what. I told her that whatever it was would mean nothing and be nothing and only shadows on the wall. I reminded her that radicalisation was a fate worse than death not only to her but to the Sixth House. I also reminded her that she had been hospitalised because an official said they wanted to take her bones away and said that they would not serve in a cell where a necromancer’s minion was allowed to carry “wizard bones” around, direct quote. I was there when they tried to forcibly take the bones away and they were forced to shock her. I could do nothing.
All Camilla Hect said when I reminded her was Yes, Captain, I know.
And I said to her, Then what? What is pushing you toward this? Why are you letting them pour this poison into your ears and taint the memory of a House you love? And she said, Well, the Warden would want to find out.
Once Hect mentions Palamedes Sextus there’s no reasoning with her. Both the princess and I now understand this. During our hospitalisation when I could not get information out of her we played chess using the ceiling tiles and our imaginations. Hect has a good memory for where the pieces are, which helped when the sedative they gave me dulled my mind. I will admit with all honesty that even had I been in perfect physical condition I would be no match for her in chess. Only the princess gives Hect a good game.
Out of curiosity I once asked her if she had played her necromancer. She said that it bored him because two moves in he knew how the match would go. I asked her why she enjoyed playing in that case. Hect called it an act of meditation. She said it was good to play out the game even if you knew how it was going to go.
As I recall Lieutenant Dyas also enjoyed chess. Many of my cavalier’s habits are becoming the work of recollection; others are indelible.
ENTRY: CORONABETH TRIDENTARIUS
There is no way of softening this. Coronabeth Tridentarius has already been radicalised.
The princess, always so quick to sympathy and so quick to violence, was an easy mark from the start. I told her this once and she struck me. I was grateful at the time that she still viewed me as strong enough to strike. The princess cries over every sob story and her blood boils at any perceived injustice. She has already been weakened from a life spent pretending to be a necromancer. I am humiliated to have never seen through the lie. I have known the princess since childhood and I am sorry to say I assumed what everyone else assumed: her strength, rather than her weakness. Camilla Hect’s opinion is that the whole Tridentarii stratagem was the initiative of Ianthe Tridentarius. Though I was taken in by the twins’ swindle I am not taken in by this. Coronabeth Tridentarius has never been party to anything she did not want to do, and never successfully carried out a plan she didn’t think up first.
They started by letting the princess receive our meals, a classic tactic forcing her to recognise them as caregivers. They also let her be the one who fed me, obviously another tactic to force me to do the same. This one backfired, as I would have always refused to let Camilla Hect, whose bedside manner I admit is impeccable, nurse me in my weakness. To have Coronabeth Tridentarius near me in my suffering only hardened my heart. All the while she would tell me the things they had told her, as though she wanted me to argue her down. At first I tried. Then I realised she was just using me to sharpen her own reasoning.
Their main grievance is the resettlements. They are outraged that thanergenic conversion of a planet makes it no longer habitable for its previous organic life. Given that conversion happens over centuries and that all inhabitants are moved to a new planet with full economic support from the Nine Houses, I argued against sympathy. They accuse us of unprovoked war. Now that I understand more of the dark commonalities in the insurgencies the Houses face, I’d be ashamed to talk about provocation in Eden’s shoes. The princess and I debated that one until she had to be removed from my bedside. Their other line of attack is the business contracts. They claim that the services asked of them by the Emperor were set down in lifetime contracts by previous generations, who assumed the contracts would be terminated upon the Emperor’s death. When I pointed out that his primary title is the Emperor Undying and that this was a crime of assumption the princess called me a number of names I will not reproduce here. The main takeaway, that I am a shill and a stoolie, only serves to demonstrate how open she was to this, and from how early on. She didn’t want to be convinced, but to convince me.
I will attempt her defence and her condemnation together. The princess was abandoned by her sister for a Lyctorhood I still do not understand. Prince Naberius Tern was killed before her eyes by that same sister. Tern’s role in her life as a cradle cavalier cannot be overstated. Just because every cavaliership does not look like Palamedes Sextus and Camilla Hect’s enmeshment does not mean that a less obsessive bond is more lightly ended. What happened at Canaan House was not something she had been trained for and she should have been debriefed and assisted by Cohort specialists afterward: it was a combat situation. Yet it was a situation completely brought about by Blood of Eden pawns, if what Hect says about the Lyctor impersonating Dulcinea Septimus is true. Much of my information about what happened at Canaan House is cripplingly secondhand. My failure in the operation is down to a lack of imagination and leadership and a complete unreadiness to serve the Cohort in the capacity they granted to me. My father in his capacity as Fleet Admiral asked me beforehand if I was ready to serve. I answered yes and I have made myself a liar. And if I was unready, with all my preparation, then how could the princess be ready—a woman who never left the Dominicus system? One might as well damn the dead Duchess Septimus.
The Edenite selection of Crown Princess Coronabeth Tridentarius as their main target is also critical to her indoctrination. I was never an option, as a Cohort soldier and nearly dead. There was a significant argument early on whether to put me through interrogation and then kill me, or just to kill me. Camilla Hect also made herself unattractive for coercion. The first four weeks she remained nonverbal. The princess was inevitably their mark. Under concerted pressure in such a situation, focused specifically on her, how could she fail to be moved? She has enough education and intellectual interest to latch on to their talking points, but no firsthand knowledge of what service is like.
Hect maintains I am incorrect. Hect maintains that Coronabeth’s intervention kept us all alive, and that the princess deliberately put herself in harm’s way. What am I to believe? That the princess was and remains an innocent victim, or that the princess maintained the pose of innocence and has become a victim anyway? She sincerely believes that the Houses have done wrong, and worse, that they are being led incorrectly. The tips of her ears go pink when she is genuinely impassioned.
Note to self: rewrite this. The sedatives are making you discursive and worse.
The corpse is still as it ever was. I asked Hect if the scavengers had got at it. She said that animals refused to touch it even when encouraged.
My corpse, however, has decided to live. My body has made that decision for me over the past five months, first under triage and then after the multiple operations. Accepting a body that no longer works is akin to what I imagine amnesia is like. I am slow in understanding my new limitations. I am not mobile, although Hect is ruthless in encouraging the exercises for my legs. She says eventually walking will not pose such a threat to my insides, which still remain partially outsourced to machines, and that I will be independent and able to move. I cannot envision this future. I never experienced the physical vitiation that some necromancers suffer. The Second House’s signature thalergy transferral does not burn the necromancer’s tissue so viciously, especially in necromancers who enjoy more competency than genius. I could run a kilometre in ten minutes, which was among the fastest for my adept group in the junior reserves. Marta could run it in five.
The planet is a typical thalergy planet, but when the princess asks to take me outside in the chair they still cuff my hands first. They have a very gestural idea of “wizardry,” which is the kindest term they use for necromantic aptitude. I’m grateful for the outside visits. It is in these moments I attempt to get my bearings of the world around me for these reports. The princess sourced me paper, as these people have such a wealth of organic textiles at their command that they see no shame in processing it to waste on writing. I refused it. This wasn’t on moral grounds, but because I can’t stand to make use of the stuff. The princess and Hect and I all agree we hate the texture. The princess takes me outside to some suitable spot and tries to be charming and I ignore her, which is my last defence. Inevitably we have an argument that opens my staple wounds back up.
Her approach varies. I don’t understand it. On one desperate occasion she offered to kill a local animal so that I could use the thanergy to try to heal myself. When I rejected this she offered that she would do bodily injury to herself “if I liked that better.” We had an argument. On another occasion in a particularly foul and quixotic mood she told me that Blood of Eden commandos must each kill a wizard, as they put it, in order to graduate to special operation units. She said she thought I could be her first kill. I indicated she should go ahead if she was so satisfied with fish in a barrel. We had an argument.
I asked her why she listened to these people, why she was throwing off her contentment and her faith when she owed them so much. The princess told me that she had felt for a long time that the Cohort movements didn’t make sense to her. She said what would be most economically productive was intermingling with these people, allowing immigration and absorption into the Nine Houses; that shepherd planets got more costly the further the Houses extended themselves, and that instead of creating long-lasting industry we were doing little more than slash-and-burn trading. Scattershot, she said. Notwithstanding the moral issue.
She said she and her sister had always been interested in the way the Houses were being run, and that Ianthe had encouraged her interest. She had always thought we were being wasteful. I told her this wasn’t ideology, it was economics. I asked her if she was ready to sell her birthright for economics. She said as a Second I should be more than willing to sell my birthright for economics. We had an argument. Afterward she said it was much more than theory. She said she had groomed herself for something and all it had done was make her unfit for the purpose. What purpose?
I said, Princess, these people cannot stand us, they can’t stand even the concept of us.
She was silent for a long time, and then she said, That’s the only sticking point. When I tried to talk to her about it, seeing this wedge of daylight, she said, Don’t talk to me about this one yet, Judith. I’m still fighting myself. Wait and see who wins.
As though it were a duel.
Coronabeth Tridentarius is too easily moved by her passions, whatever she says about the theory. She is being taught how to fire a gun by some of We Suffer’s underlings. They give her low-bore ammunition and teach her how to hit a target. Camilla says she has a good eye.
Coronabeth and Camilla and I are forced into close quarters and our relationships have undergone many changes over the past months. We are prisoners, even if the two of them do not express it this way to each other. We are all different people. I doubt Camilla Hect would ever have sought out my company in any other circumstance, nor I hers. Her necromancer and I never thought much of each other. In a different time I would have found ways to apologise to Palamedes Sextus, whom I at the very least critically misjudged, but even then I doubt we would ever have found close or common ground.
What Camilla Hect and I understand is that we do not begin to understand each other’s grief. She does not mince her words. In many ways she was wasted on cavaliership to the Master Warden, but I cannot think of anything I could say to her that would meet with a less impressed response, and I can’t honestly judge a cavalier who saw their cavaliership as their entire life. I think Camilla the Sixth and her adept failed to reach the critical point that many cavaliers and their adepts have to reach, where they understand the scope and the limits of what they will be to each other for the rest of their lives. I thank the Emperor’s mercy that I had a cavalier who taught me that so early.
The princess has by turns tried to charm Camilla, play with Camilla, flirt with Camilla, and cajole Camilla. Camilla is currently unmoved. This lack of response might have been dangerous except for the pouch around Camilla’s neck: the princess knows that she would have better luck flirting with the earthly remains of Palamedes Sextus. I asked Coronabeth bluntly if she had designs on Camilla, who at the end of the day, is an attractive human being at the peak of physical health, contemporary in age, and also unexpectedly knows the value of quiet. Oh no, she said, and she seemed surprised I would ask. She said, one half plus one half is only ever half. I questioned her mathematics.
She said, Do you have designs on Camilla? I said that romance was the furthest thing from my mind and should be the furthest thing from hers. I said that in such a febrile atmosphere it was for the best if we did not make any connections that Blood of Eden could exploit. The princess asked me if at any point blood had ever flowed in my veins or if it had always been graphite shavings. We had an argument.
The princess said Blood of Eden thinks necromancers keep wide and witless harems of nonaptitude House citizens whom they have sex with, often after their death. We agreed they must have procured a piece of niche pornography and gotten the wrong idea, although she was amused and I was not.
I did not understand why they were interested in my physical health, enough to employ practitioners of their medical arts in my care. I initially assumed they were gathering data, but judging by their stories they have gathered enough dead necromancers to conduct anatomy lessons for the rest of time. As they have no adepts themselves, what secrets could they hope to glean from my body? Now I understand what they want from me. It’s become obvious that I must find a way to end my own life.
They blindfolded me and cuffed my wrists to the gurney. I am impressed they think me capable enough to warrant these precautions. The princess kept telling them that necromancy doesn’t work this way; I’m only grateful that she did not remind them that blindfolds mean nothing and handcuffs very little, in case they decided I didn’t need my eyes nor my hands. They ignored her. They gave me the sedative. They had to give me the counter-sedative when they took me on board another vessel, the injection between my thumb and forefinger, and by the time I had stopped palpitating I saw they had wheeled me on board a Cohort ship.
The ship was a Gorgon-class vehicle. Even partially sedated I could recognise at once what class it was; Gorgons fell out of use before I was born, but my father said he always had a soft spot for them. When I was nine he pulled rank to take me on board one at the sidereal museum on Trentham. He always called the Gorgon neither fat nor flesh nor good dry bone: it was the last time they had tried to design a light craft that still had room for a stele. Blood of Eden must have captured or stolen one intact.
The moment I saw the stele I underwent the phantom reaction, which I hadn’t had since I was very young. I shed phantom reactions when I was an auxiliary. Too many adepts took months to overcome aptitude dyspraxia in space, which the lieutenant always called arse over elbow: dropping cups or missing chairs or overcorrecting, the laziness of a body accustomed to necromantic backup. When I saw the stele I attempted to get out of the chair by drawing on any thanergy pooled around me, which had the effect that I tried to fall out of the chair.
They said to me, Do you know how to use this? I gave the Cohort interrogation response until they brought in Camilla and put their gun to her head. Either Camilla Hect is as good as a Cohort veteran under the gun barrel, or she simply doesn’t know how quickly a bullet can kill, which I doubt. Under this duress I told them I understood how the stele worked but had no ability to use it myself. I said it needed to be bathed in thanergy-enriched blood by at least three adepts and that the carvings needed to be kept clear of crusts or clots. I said one necromancer alone would not be able to use it as an anchor and that it needed to be energised on a thanergenic planet, so it would never be of any use to them.
Blood of Eden convened for a while. Their commander, We Suffer, was brought in. They talked with her and then they applied what they said was deoxygenated blood. The stele spluttered. They asked me why it did that. I said that I didn’t know. They applied the usual pressure, but not so much that it degraded my condition. I told them all I could offer was theories and my limited understanding. I told them that the stele had a number of bone cylinders within that would retain some thanergy, to help with deep-space transitions. I wouldn’t say any more.
They blindfolded me again and re-sedated me. Camilla told them I’d already had too much. I wish Camilla would stop acting on my behalf.
Blood of Eden have a stele-capable ship. My only hope is that I am the only necromancer they have in their possession. I keep telling myself this has to be the case. I keep coming back to the idea that their safeguards would have been better if they’d ever had a live necromancer in captivity, that they would understand the aptitude better. I reason that no necromancer in better physical condition would have failed to kill themselves. I convince myself that any necromancer in worse physical condition would be dead.
But why did they let me live? Why have they kept me other than to use me? They have no interest in my potential as leverage. I hoped to keep my father’s identity from them, but Camilla Hect told me they knew from the start. Why do they know all this? How are they getting their intel? How were they not noticed travelling to the heart of the Nine Houses?
You think you live behind a shield and then it comes to light that you have been cowering in a fog, and I will never be able to correct things, I will never be able to tell anyone of the danger. I must end my life as a mystery, not as an object lesson. There is a grace to dying as a prisoner of war.
I asked the princess and Camilla Hect to kill me before Blood of Eden can do worse.
Camilla said no. The princess said she would think about it. I am desperate.
I don’t feel particularly well, but that’s not related to anything. Sweating a lot at the moment. I can’t seem to get warm.
Camilla Hect is getting on whatever final nerve keeps trying to nourish itself in my body. I realise I am a terrible patient. If I had an ounce more social charm I would apologise to her for my obvious resentment, which we both know is deferred and humiliating self-hatred. The lieutenant used to say that my greatest virtue was that I would always recognise when I was wrong, and my greatest flaw was an inability to communicate or even acknowledge that recognition to anyone else.
But I am not wrong here. The Edenite We Suffer cannot protect Camilla from the wrath of the others. The command chain is not clear to me. They call Suffer “Commander” and defer to her, but she appears to be a tagalong in a group that is not originally hers. The Edenites keep throwing around words like “wing” and “cell” and “jurisdiction,” and quarrel with We Suffer when she makes decisions. I would have said that the Nine Houses had nothing to fear from such a group except that we so obviously do.
We Suffer has told Camilla to stop carrying the bones. The princess has asked Camilla to stop carrying the bones. She has not responded.
I have not asked Camilla to stop carrying them, as I have no desire to act like her commanding officer. But I was angry at myself and scratching about for allies and knew Camilla Hect was a valuable asset and something essential to save from Blood of Eden’s grasp. I was embarrassed and angry at her while she was treating the sores on my legs that come from lying down too much. I controlled myself by trying to reach out.
I told her that I had served a long time with Lieutenant Dyas. She asked, How long? I said, Eight years, with formal cavaliership for seven. I said, I knew her before that but it took me a while to catch her eye. Hect seemed interested in that and asked, so I felt it might be the rare time to elaborate. I told her that the lieutenant, five years my senior, had always been an object of interest to the trainees but kept herself to herself. Obviously this engendered near-hero worship among us. I told her the truth: that Dyas never sought me out nor gave me any deferential attention as the Fleet Admiral’s child. A consummate professional, always. We first partnered on the Dominion for a training exercise after her original partner went out early on an injury. Meeting in person did not, as it so often does, inoculate against hero worship. I found Dyas to exceed my impossible teenage standards. We found out that we liked the same books.
I said to Hect, I hadn’t actually read them as closely as I’d made out to the lieutenant, in that initial conversation. I had to go back and reread all of them in a hurry.
Hect said, That’s the first human thing you’ve ever told me about yourself.
I didn’t know what to say to that. Camilla Hect every so often says something that is impossible to reply to. How have I represented myself as anything other than fallible? But I told Hect about how Dyas and I started our friendship. How when my father visited me a few months from then and gave me the list of probable cavalier nominees to look over, I had the guts to suggest Marta Dyas. He was surprised—he’d heard of her, but my father hears about everyone. I told Hect that he’d shot me down. Said that a promising soldier like Dyas wouldn’t want to interrupt an extramural career for something that would keep her intramural; would see it as a millstone not an honour. Said he’d investigate but that I was wrong to hope.
I told Hect about how Lieutenant Dyas had agreed to a year’s trial to see if I suited her. My father said he had never seen me so happy. I told her how good a year that was. I was fifteen at the end of it. Lieutenant Dyas was everything a cavalier ever should have been, and in her private life thoughtful, considerate, insightful. Everything she did, she did well. Everything she didn’t do well she threw herself against so that she could do it better, or understand her weaknesses. I said, She loved music. She was an excellent dancer. She never took a seat when we were enduring a Fifth or Third ball. And she never let weakness master her. I said to Hect, The night after you and she fought the duel at Canaan House, when I took her upstairs and asked how she was, all Dyas said was: I need a drink.
Camilla Hect smiled over that. I hastened to reassure her that the lieutenant wasn’t chemically obsessed or vulnerable in that way, she just appreciated a beer. Camilla said she thought as much, that Dyas didn’t seem the type. I will admit that I was glad that Camilla didn’t ask what she might have had cause to ask; that she didn’t autopsy my decision-making. She didn’t ask me what I had been thinking during that fight.
Having gotten Hect to smile and having maintained one of the longest conversations we had ever had, I thought it was time to draw blood. I said to Camilla that I had esteemed Lieutenant Marta Dyas more than anyone I had ever met since. I told her what was true: that if the lieutenant had lived instead of me, Camilla and the princess would currently be better off.
Camilla said, I know the feeling.
I asked her if I could tell her something private. Camilla said, Sure.
I told her that when I was seventeen I was overwhelmed by the cavalier relationship. I told her that I hadn’t expected it to feel that way. I told her, using efficient and unsentimental language, that the love Lieutenant Dyas showed me as my cavalier—in all the ways she had made us one flesh—turned my head completely. I told her how deeply I had fallen for Marta Dyas as a woman, to the point where one evening I tried to make things different between us. At this point I tried to find the words with Camilla, honourable words, and Camilla Hect said: You propositioned her?
I said, Yes. She was the age I am now; I was seventeen. I’d been secretly reading material . . . I was convinced . . . I thought it was a natural development, or at least, one nobody had to know about. Lieutenant Dyas was so handsome, so attractive, so alive. In my childhood I had already developed a taste for . . . strength, physical vivacity. What’s more, it’s a necromancer’s privilege to see their cavalier in moments of vulnerability. I was very susceptible.
Camilla said, She turned you down.
The Sixth House is renowned for its quick and accurate conclusions, but I’m still dismayed by this reality coming to live so completely in Camilla Hect.
I said to Camilla, Yes; and it was the best and kindest, most honourable thing Marta could have done for me. She didn’t have to tell me in so many words what we both knew, that the relationship between cavalier and necromancer could so easily curdle into codependency . . . a loss of self on both sides. An obsessive fusion of halves, not two complementary forces. We were both Cohort born and bred; I should have known better. She forgave me instantly. The fog cleared much quicker than I deserved. I knew without having to be told what I’d done wrong . . . And I didn’t err, ever again.
Camilla said, Captain Deuteros, why are you telling me this?
I said, I wanted to let you know how lucky I was. She and I could have made that mistake together. It was such a near miss. I wouldn’t hold it against anyone else, except that I would want them to know that such a thing is never determined, never inevitable, like all the things I told myself that night when I was seventeen. If it had happened it would have been wrong and it would have hurt both of us.
Camilla said, I can’t comment.
I said, Hect, I was lucky. I was so lucky. I’ve been fortunate my whole life—tested my whole life—and I’ve always managed to pull through by the grace of others. I’ve taught myself those hard lessons, and you can learn those lessons from me if I have nothing else to offer you . . .
Camilla said, Captain. Come out and say it.
I said, You’re obsessed with those bones and they are going to kill you. All for an empty remembrance of someone who should have taught you the danger of obsession.
And Hect withdrew from me and was silent for a long time, if not still. Eventually she said, At least when the Warden acts like he knows everything, he generally does.
I tried to tell her that what she had just said was indicative of everything that was going wrong, referring to him in the present tense, but she turned away from me and crossed to the door. She said at the threshold, Thank you. I’ve had enough education. Then she left.
Much later the princess came into my cell to talk to me and asked me what the hell I’d said to Camilla, her words. There is no way in this universe or in the universe contained within the River that I will ever tell Coronabeth Tridentarius the finer points of anything that went on between Marta Dyas and myself, so I just said I’d tried to help her.
She said, For God’s sake, Judith, you can barely help yourself.
I said I, who had had a healthy relationship with my cavalier, was obliged to help others who hadn’t had my privileges.
She said if that was the way I had put it to Camilla then I was lucky to be alive.
I have an internal infection. My gut fused correctly to whatever grisly artificial thing they put inside me, but I’m dying. The princess says after the disappointment of the stele and the Gorgon they are arguing over whether or not to let me die. I thank the Prince Undying my God, merciful in justice and gentle in remembrance, for this being so. I haven’t thanked God enough over my life. It always seemed incredibly sentimental. And I didn’t wish to presuppose his interest.
They won’t let Camilla Hect in to see me, whether or not she would want to, on the belief that she might try to give me antibiotics. They are letting the princess in reluctantly. She says the Edenite commander We Suffer is of the opinion that I should live no matter what, but she is faced with the opposite opinion from literally every other Blood of Eden soldier. The princess says they all fought at Lemuria and have set opinions. (It won’t help at this stage, but Lemuria is their term for New Rho.) Commander We Suffer has demanded I receive pain treatment. I would prefer it if I didn’t.
The princess said to me, in frankly imperious tones, that I had to live. She said she always expected me to become Fleet Admiral Deuteros. I said I had never lived in any such expectation. I said I hoped if I ever had to take on such a burden I would be old enough not to feel oppressed by it. I told her she wouldn’t understand. When she asked me why not, I said I was just an administrator; she was a princess. A king.
She said there was no king but the Emperor. I said her problem was a lack of job opportunities. She laughed a little and said, Too right.
I am ready to die rather than be used as a weapon against my Houses. I am not depressive, and I have not begun thinking I have no more to offer. I have a long life ahead of me and I want to use it in service of the Emperor, as I am not fitted for anything else. But at this point, I would rather die.
In and out of a new delirium. High fever. I don’t feel anything. I’m almost peaceful. I wish Marta had been allowed this death.
Awoke very calm to discover the princess. Too weak to argue. Asked her instead from my position as a Cohort captain and a fellow child of the Nine Houses, and on the strength of our childhood acquaintanceship, not to lose the faith and give in to Blood of Eden.
Instead of making promises the princess said, Acquaintanceship? I’ve known you since I was eight.
I said, I know.
She asked me if I remembered the first season my father came to visit her mother and father, when I’d been nine and she and Ianthe had been just a year younger. I said, Yes (because I haven’t ever forgotten). She said, smiling, You were so hard to play with! I only got you to unbend by the end of the visit. I remember running . . . falling headlong, smashing flat on my face . . . You came over to help me up, so I pretended I was hurt much worse than I was. I always used to fake to Babs that I was about to die to make him cry when he was little, but he’d stopped really buying it, and I found myself doing it for you . . . I couldn’t believe you fell for it. It was wonderful, like being in a play. You were so cute, so chivalrous. I’d thought you would be boring to the core, but there you were, playing the sad soldier when I pretended I was like to die.
I said, I knew you were lying the whole time.
She said, laughing, You did not! You just don’t remember! You were holding my hand and saying you’d stay with me until it was all over! You just don’t remember!
I didn’t call her a hypocrite. The princess has never indicated she remembered anything. It’s not like we reminisced about childhood much; a letter here and there, cursory thank-you notes. Congratulations on promotions. I never had a promotion without sooner or later the arrival of flowers—if I was at home—or if I was shipside, a bundle of dizzyingly coloured flimsy, painstakingly folded into petals and sepals. Blatant shades of red and purple.
She said, Did you know? Every birthday we got to have one person we’d invite and our mother and father would get to invite the rest, and Ianthe always invited whoever Babs didn’t want to see at the time, and I always invited you.
I said, I assumed your parents made me the invitation.
She said, It was always me. I had so much fun seeing you. You were the only person who acted like they had to get through the party for duty’s sake, and everyone else was there acting like they’d rather die than be anywhere else. Even your cav pretended she was having fun . . . But there you were, wearing your uniform, freezing me out. Perfect Captain Deuteros. Perfectly boring Judith Deuteros. Mummy said you were just the most completely Second House specimen ever to live. I went over to you when everyone else at the party would have eaten glass to talk to me . . . I had put a lot of effort into making them feel that way. There you were, and you weren’t even grateful. You were immune. You wouldn’t even tell me any good war stories when I’d been researching wars for days just because I knew you were coming. Jody, you can’t die on me. I’m so alone now.
I said, It’s been a long time since you called me that.
She said, You won’t die on me, Jody. I won’t allow it.
I said, Better death than being hooked up to that stele.
The princess was crying. She said, Won’t you say one real thing to me? Won’t you show me one single solitary human thing? Or are you going to die talking to me like it’s just another party you wish was over already?
I told her, Don’t cry over me, Coronabeth. You and I both know there’s no reason to.
She dried her eyes with her fists and said, Ianthe always said we were born cursed.
The princess hunted around the room for a while for antibiotics. She said Camilla Hect had told her what to look for. But Blood of Eden don’t leave themselves open: if this report is ever read by anyone, and I am beginning to hope that it will simply die with me, I want that to be understood. They don’t make stupid mistakes. As I wasn’t allowed to take too many liquids by mouth she wetted some soft wadding and wiped my lips with it, which brought me some relief. I tried to thank her, but she told me she didn’t want those to be my last words. So I said nothing.
She would have sat there for hours if they had not come to take her away. I recorded this when she was gone, in the last of my strength. If this document is found after all, I’ll say this: I understood Princess Coronabeth Tridentarius better than she knew—just not entirely. I think it is hell to entirely understand any other person.
I am alive. I would to the Undying God it were different.
When I came back to consciousness I had no sight, which was fine by me. I heard voices. Someone said, You absolute idiots, she’s very nearly dead.
It was not one of the voices of the other Blood of Edenites. It was new, and spoke perfectly accented House, pitched high. It was this voice that said, Who gets a toy they have been desperate for, then breaks it immediately?
There was another voice; I don’t remember what it said, or I didn’t hear it. The first voice said, It’s called handcuffs!! It’s called careful handling!! Why am I having to tell you your own business?! Why are you people always such a curious mix of the competent and the completely deranged?! It never changes, and it never has changed!! I think they just clone you all out of the same vat!! Out of my way, you wretched, cack-handed children, and let me fix it.
I felt hands on my abdomen. My shirt was pushed up, then my abdomen was opened.
I had not been entirely conscious before, and the feeling of my belly being opened up brought very little pain and then no pain at all. But it was being done to my body, and it was being done close up, with thanergy. I had not even been opened up with a knife, but with clean thanergetic unstitching. I can’t describe the process. It was beyond me, and the planet dulled my senses. But I fought my way back to consciousness the moment I felt the bloom.
The voice was very close. It said, Ugh! Then it said, Eugh! This is the best you can do, you primitives? Next time just get her to eat a rock marked “Bowel,” it’ll be about as good and inevitably cheaper. Tubing . . . tubing . . . is this plastic? God, I hate having to go rummaging . . . There!
Something dropped lightly onto the gurney, close to my thigh. Once the voice said, There, I felt that same complex thanergy bloom roll out through my entire body. I have been under the knife and lived through multiple necromantic processes, some of them internal. Nothing had ever been like what was done to me. My body was convulsed with paraesthesia. The voice said, Much nicer, much neater. This is how to do it. If you want to keep her weak, dismantle the immune system. You need her to be able to keep up a sustained thanergy field for the stele.
I understood then what was happening. My lips and tongue weren’t functioning properly. All I could say was, No, and I reached out blindly.
Someone brushed my arm away and the voice said, Oh, such heroic nonsense. It isn’t cute, you know. I really ought to have an ulcer by now . . . Maybe I should give myself one.
Someone else said something indistinct. The voice said, Yes. The ship will move if you put this thing in the station controls.
Someone else said more clearly, How will we know where the anchor is? And the voice said, I’ve given you the blasted co-ordinates, haven’t I? It won’t be in the ship’s stellar registry, so you’ll have to do the input work yourself. And you must follow the route I’ve given you afterward. You understand that if the stele is discovered by God, this is all over. I’ve tried to make it look like it wasn’t my work, but that’s not going to hold up at all on close inspection.
Another voice said something, but the shrill first voice said, I’ve facilitated your extraction mission and that is frankly as far as I am willing to go! I said twenty years ago that I’d give you a stele if you turned up the means to use one, and this is what I call cashing in abominably late. What do you think you’re going to do, march on the Mithraeum? Good luck!! Not!!! I’m done here . . . Keep this thing clean and don’t expose it to people. Make sure you wipe down its surfaces. I can’t do any more for you.
Then the voice said, Now show me this wretched body. I don’t believe this story for a second. What you’ve done is accidentally kept it airtight . . .
The door slammed when the voice had gone. At this point I tried to reach up to my head to take off the blindfold, but whatever had been done to me was half-paralytic, half-stimulant. I couldn’t reach up past elbow level. My fingertips were trembling when they found something wet and cooling on the bed. I closed my fingers around it and for the longest time could not work out what it was. It was the artificial oesophagus part.
This is the last entry I will be able to make for a long time. They intend to leave this planet in the next twelve-hour window.
The Gorgon’s stele is active. They put me in the control seat. The blood oxygenates itself through two huge organic chambers at its base: half open-work heart, half fountain. It is a miracle of its art. They keep it behind mesh and won’t let me touch it in case I somehow siphon away its properties. I know I won’t be able to do so. Its thalergy and thanergy reaction is so complex that my ability to scaffold thanergy from it is almost nil. I would sooner be able to extract eggs from a baked cake. If I can work out some way of leveraging its power for myself then I will use it, but that day is not today. And I am so weak still. I can walk, but only with help, usually from the princess. Camilla Hect says she’ll work out some kind of assistive.
I said to Camilla, It was a Lyctor.
Camilla said, Yes.
I said, Then the Houses are all doomed.
And Camilla said, The Warden and I know they can die like anyone else.
The princess took me outside this last evening. I wanted to walk, now that I could without the machine. The Edenites let us do a circuit around the makeshift camp within sight of the central ships. They put one of my ankles in an electronic cuff like Camilla the Sixth’s. One of the suns had set on the planet’s horizon. The light became multicoloured and strange. The sky was streaked with fiery green and yellow. The birds sang shrilly in the undergrowth and from far away in the high hills there was a repeated howl of thin timbre, very high and lonely. We did not argue. We didn’t even talk, just stood in that two-starred dusk together before the tree line and listened to that creature until its cries died in the night. She stopped me before the plex table where they had set the corpse in the bag of thick canvas, its zip unzipped, having been carried in from the forest where they’d left it.
I wonder if they will stop the experiments now. The corpse of the Ninth House cavalier is as pristine as when Camilla Hect convinced them to take it on board. She never explained herself fully to me. Some business about a note. When questioned, I confirmed there was nothing on the body to preserve it, no secret process I knew of, no deep flesh magic I could detect—not that I had much ability to detect. Whatever the case, she’s now some object of weird superstition among them. Hect says she was no older than seventeen.
I attended the funerals of Cohort soldiers younger than myself. I never found them poignant.
When the princess and I looked down at her face, clean of her House’s ritual cosmetics, I envied the dead cavalier her incorruptibility. The princess reached over to touch one dead cheek, whimsically smooth the red hair. I didn’t envy the dead cavalier that.
The princess said to me, I have her rapier, you know. I picked it up that day I went to find you; I found it in the skeleton rubble. The Cell Commander says to keep it locked up, but I’ve got it. I didn’t want them to throw it out.
When I told her that even a dead cavalier still had rights to their sword, she said, Oh, I don’t think she’d mind. The Ninth was sweet. She was never anything but nice to me. Then the princess said unnecessarily, She was yummy, too. Fantastic body. Makes a beautiful corpse. Don’t you think she looks just like a body in a picture book?
I said, She looks like someone who died fighting.
The princess turned to me then and took my hands. I kept my balance. She said, Jody, if I offered you that sword, wouldn’t you take it? I know how to use it. I know what it would mean. Lieutenant Dyas is dead. My own necromancer wouldn’t have me. Won’t you let me be your cavalier? Here, now, at the end of the world? Save me, Jody. Bind me to you, or who knows where I will go? What throne will I mount, if you don’t bind me down?
When I looked at her, she was not even smiling. She was eager and afraid. Yes, and beautiful, but nobody who has seen Coronabeth Tridentarius in the flesh wastes time with an adjective.
Where we are going, I know there is little hope that I will ever make a report in person. I don’t expect to stand before the Cohort again. If my report is ever found it will hopefully be by people who live very long after me, who won’t even have the tools to translate it, and for whom it will be some kind of interesting relic and not a shame of those who have lived in my time or even those who remember them firsthand. When I started this report it was in the spirit of optimism. I can now recognise it more as a prayer from a soldier who has never been good at praying. And if it is a prayer, it might as well be a confession.
It is not a confession of temptation. I wasn’t tempted by Coronabeth’s offer. There was never any possibility of it. I committed the understandable crime of desire for Lieutenant Marta Dyas, having joined my hand to hers with the best and most pure of intentions. Why would I ever knowingly take Coronabeth Tridentarius’s, having desired her already for twelve long, stupid, fruitless years?
And I said, Thank you for the offer, Your Highness, but not in this life or in any other.
FILE ENDS HERE
“As Yet Unsent” copyright © 2021 by Tamsyn Muir
Reprinted from trade paperback edition of Harrow the Ninth
Art copyright © 2022 by Gregory Manchess