Petronus heard the boy’s quiet snores from the back and looked over his shoulder. It was good that he slept. He looked like he hadn’t slept for days, and Petronus could understand that. He’d not had a full night since the day he saw the cloud. And though he didn’t need much these days, he’d take what he could.
While he drove, he wondered about the boy.
It was obvious that he could speak at one time and he was certainly intelligent. Well educated, too. Probably one of the orphans-they received the best education in the world, better than any lord’s child. They received the education reserved otherwise for the Androfrancines. Hells, they were Androfrancines as far as Petronus was concerned. And they didn’t really get a choice in the matter. By the time they
were old enough to have minds of their own, they had already been filled with the backward dream, the constant looking to the past to mitigate the future. Most of the orphans joined the Order when they reached their majority. Even the girls served in some way, though their prospects were less glamorous within the male-dominated knowledge cult.
Petronus had certainly strayed from the vows from time to time-especially during his early years in the Order. But he’d always taken care, and his dalliances hadn’t lasted long enough for him to worry overmuch.
But others weren’t as careful, for reasons all their own. It was easy enough-especially for an Androfrancine, with access to the potions and powders for either man or woman who wished to avoid offspring. Maybe, he thought, life longs to recreate itself.
Still, if his assumptions were correct, the boy in the back was one of hundreds that the Androfrancines had brought into the world and then dropped into their orphanage as if the world’s best education among the world’s brightest scholars could make up for a mother who baked fresh bread and a father whose hands stank of fish.
And he saw Windwir fall. Gods, what a terrible thing to see at any age. Th kat "› Enough to plan an assassination, it seemed, though with more bravery than discretion.
And why Sethbert? The line of the boy’s face couldn’t lie. He’d meant to harm the Overseer either then and there or sometime later. Yet he’d not balked at Petronus’s intervention.
Petronus hadn’t found the letters he was looking for in the courier pouch. They should’ve been with the wagon, but then again, the boy wasn’t old enough to be an acolyte. Perhaps an internist or an assistant, though even those were usually in their majority. So certainly there were others along at one point in time. The wagon was clearly bound for the Wastes-routine by the looks of it, and not carrying anything of
value to merit a Gray Guard escort.
So both the letters and at least one other Androfrancine was missing.
And then there was the war. The two nearest armies had ridden to Windwir’s aid and were now fighting each other. Why? One of his favorite Whymer quotes was P’Andro Whym’s response to the question put to him about finding truth.
The truth, the Seventeenth Gospel said, is a seed planted in a field of stones beneath a stone and guarded by snakes. To have at it, be strong enough to move the stone, patient enough to dig the hole and fast enough to dodge the viper’s fang.
He would continue his excavation when the boy woke up, when he could be sure that there were no ears or eyes but their own. And he would not forget that vipers came in many shapes and sizes.