Chapter Seven

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"We need to know where we stand," his uncle had said. "If we don't know what we have at home how could we hope to defend ourselves?"

Sandon read between the words. The new Minister of the Interior had been tasked with preparing the defence of Dunholm, and as someone who had no experience with military matters he recognised he needed enough information to ask the questions of the people who did without losing the respect of his new office. And because of that it couldn't be the Minister himself who found out the basic information and risked sounding like an idiot, so it was up to Sandon to expose his own inexperience in lieu of the Minister's.

Sandon welcomed the chance at deep embarrassment. It took his mind from the looming war. And how he was treating Arabella. It might be she was already beginning to think he was not a real man, so what were a few other men thinking the same?

The most logical person to speak to would have been General Salter. But the General was a perceptive man, and would likely has seen directly through the questions and whom Sandon was asking for. Also, and Sandon tried to tell himself this was the secondary reason, the General intimidated him. So in inspiration driven by desperation he decided to begin not with the city's military defence, but the civil.

His first stop at was Justice Cornice Talisker. Justice Talisker was well known, his notoriety gained not through great military victories in the Isles' name - his reputation had come through time's inertia. The Justice had been at head of Dunholm's judiciary for forty years, and Sandon felt every minute of that service as he waited in the Justice's office. The room was filled with nick-nacks and ornaments from across the empire; effigies carved from dark red wood, the spiralled tusk of some beast from the far west, and the floor was taken up by once-thick rugs, worn to thread across favoured routes. The room had the feeling of a grotto, but with a view through the windows of the Evenflow's silvery surface the white crenellations of the Palantine peaking above the city's roof line.

The Justice greeted Sandon from a wheelchair and when Sandon had asked to whom he might speak in order to begin to understand what the Minister could summon to defend the city Justice Talisker responded with a slew of chewed Mearcish which dropped off as the Justice's head bobbed down until his chin rested on chest and he began to snore gently. Sandon stood attentive for some heartbeats afterwards, unsure if the Justice would jerk awake with a snort and continue, until he felt embarrassingly caught in the moment. Justice Talisker's secretary saved his dignity by saying the Justice had told him he could speak to Sheriff Coniston at the guard house on Stanchion Island.

She didn't offer to expand on the translation, but she did helpfully write the name and address down and show him out with a smile.

Sandon decided to walk. From memory Stanchion was only two islands away, and if he used the high bridges between he wouldn't have to climb any steep streets.

He had also decided he needed some time to think about Arabella. It was the least a man could do in his situation, and if he was to call himself one he should begin to act like it.

She had not spoken about it the night before, but she was worried about her father. She had been saying he had been acting out of character for, what, a week now? Sandon had not un-subconsciously ignored her worries. Christopher Beaumont was another man he could not measure himself against. He was a storm of a man, with a personality which outstripped his short, portly form. Whenever Sandon had exchanged words with his father-in-law-to-be he was left feeling as if he were being spoken down to, regardless of the extra six inches of height he had. It was for that reason he had not asked him permission for Arabella's hand.

That, and he suspected her father may have said no.

Thankfully Christopher Beaumont had not brought the matter up since the proposal, but he had caught the looks he had given Sandon and could read what they meant.

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