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"Absolutely not!" raged the silver-haired woman in the heavy tunic and breeches of sand and ebony.  She stared hard at a rather sheepish Brin as the commander of Tor Raphael stood before her and the rest of the Conclave.

"This man that you want is the most feared criminal in all of our modern history," the silver-haired woman went on in a tight voice.  "The only reason he isn't already dead is that we fear he'd somehow figure out how to kill his own executioner and escape!"

"And I understand that, honored Chair," Brin replied then shrugged.  "But the request was very specific."

"Fah!"  The silver-haired woman threw up her hands in resignation before turning to a younger woman that stood nearby.  She was a handsome lady dressed in the dark gray of Gideon's military, the rank of general on her sleeve and collar, with only a ribbon of white running through her black, pulled back hair.

"Tell her, General Eben, why this man has been imprisoned, will you?  The good commander doesn't seem to understand it when I tell it to her."

Eben, the governing general for all of Gideon's military forces, bowed her head respectfully to the Conclave's Chair before turning to Brin.  The younger officer immediately straightened as Eben's eyes fell onto her.

"Commander Nethal."  A slight smile touched Eben's handsome features.  "Of course you know our greatest military laws govern the behavior of lower ranking soldiers with regards to their superior officers.  And the greatest of those laws states that no subordinate may cause physical harm to their superior, regardless of circumstance."

"Yes, general, I know this law," Brin replied with a nod.  "It was instituted after our loss on the Day of Rebirth, when our military forces were decimated by the combined forces of the Fisted Races.  Many of our greatest losses followed instances of where our own troops turned on their commanding officers, driven made with fear."

"Exactly."  It was Eben's turn to nod, her face becoming grim.  "By this law has the man you seek been condemned.  Not because he caused physical harm to his commanding officer through his actions.  He killed him."

Brin heard several members of the Conclave, arranged in the circular room in a half moon around the front of the chamber, begin quietly murmuring to each other at that point, many of them throwing hard looks at her.  Ignoring them, she resolutely pressed on.

"A horrible crime, I agree, sir.  But, as I've already clearly stated, the request for this individual comes from the highest authority."

"And what authority is higher than the Conclave of all Gideon?" another woman asked, somewhat heavier in build, her hair steel gray and her face stern above her council chamber robes.

Brin glanced over her shoulder at the woman and immediately recognized the Mistress of the Guilds of Gideon.  The heavyset woman wielded perhaps one of the most significant powers in the human nation: that of Gideon's economy.  Her guilds operated all business within Gideon's boundaries.  Nothing happened without their say so.  And that made her question all the more pointed.  Who, indeed, had more power than the Guilds and the Military?

The commander of Tor Raphael thought quickly as she returned her eyes to Eben.  Was it in the best interest to reveal that the request had come from the Masters of the Orders of Death, a part of Gideon that most, especially the Conclave, wanted to forget?  And should she reveal what she knew of the Primiad's holy war and the Master's risky plan to stop it?

As Brin wrestled with these questions, the silver-haired Chair spoke once more, a frown on her wrinkled face.

"You will answer the question, Commander Nethal, that the member put to you," she tightly instructed in a hard voice.  "We may have suffered you to come before us because of the standing of the Seth Nethal family in the guilds and commands of our nation.  But what you ask of us is, frankly, a stain upon your family's honor!  So if you wish to expunge a small part of that stain, you will tell us by what authority do you ask this of us!"

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