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       Flood Tide, p.1

           C. J. Cherryh
 
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Flood Tide


  WHERE IN HELL AM I?

  Mondragon could not remember what had happened to him, how long he had been here.

  "Come on, come on," voices said, as they gathered him up off the bottom of a boat and a vision out of hell swung about him, oil-light and black-cloaked figures. They stumbled over a body in the bottom of the boat, someone who wasn't moving—they said, handing him on to someone else, "He killed Depagian."

  He thought he was going to fall as they passed him ashore and a gap of water opened under his feet—he could not have saved himself; but they hauled him up the steps and into a great open doorway, more oil-light, blond stone, a desk, a cleric sitting there with a book open in front of him.

  The priest said, "Canon court," while they held him on his feet. The priest said, in the disinterested voice of record-keepers everywhere, "Thomas Mondragon, a Falkenaer, resident of the city, charged with conspiracy, with espionage, with sedition, with theft, with murder of one Everett Depagian, with resisting arrest, with—"

  The voice came and went in his hearing. He watched the pen move on the paper. The priest said, "Put him in number three," and made another note in his book—after which the cardinal's men dragged him off to a place with barred cells at one end, a place of echoes and strange noises. Mondragon felt cold of a sudden, not sure what sounds he was hearing and what he was remembering; one thing blurred with the other, one prison was very like the other, and all that kept it focused was the surety that he had no great deal of time left. . . .

  C.J. CHERRYH invites you to enter the world of MEROVINGEN NIGHTS!

  ANGEL WITH THE SWORD by C.J. Cherryh

  A Merovingen Nights Novel

  FESTIVAL MOON edited by C.J. Cherryh

  (stories by C.J. Cherryh, Leslie Fish, Robert Lynn Asprin, Nancy Asire, Mercedes Lackey, Janet and Chris Morris, Lynn Abbey)

  FEVER SEASON edited by C.J. Cherryh

  (stories by C.J. Cherryh, Chris Morris, Mercedes Lackey, Leslie Fish, Nancy Asire, Lynn Abbey, Janet Morris)

  TROUBLED WATERS edited by C.J. Cherryh

  (stories by C.J. Cherryh, Mercedes Lackey, Nancy Asire, Janet Morris, Lynn Abbey, Chris Morris, Roberta Rogow, Leslie Fish)

  SMUGGLER'S GOLD edited by C.J. Cherryh

  (stories by Mercedes Lackey, Roberta Rogow, Nancy Asire, Robert Lynn Asprin, Chris and Janet Morris, C.J. Cherryh, Lynn Abbey, Leslie Fish)

  DIVINE RIGHT edited by C.J. Cherryh

  (stories by Lynn Abbey, Nancy Asire, C.J. Cherryh, Leslie Fish, Mercedes Lackey, Chris Morris, Janet Morris, Bradley H. Sinor, Roberta Rogow)

  FLOOD TIDE edited by C.J. Cherryh

  (stories by C.J. Cherryh, Nancy Asire, Mercedes Lackey, Leslie Fish, Roberta Rogow, Bradley H. Sinor, Lynn Abbey, Janet Morris, Chris Morris)

  Title

  C.J. CHERRYH

  DAW BOOKS, INC.

  DONALD A. WOLLHEIM, PUBLISHER

  375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014

  FLOOD TIDE Copyright © 1990 by C.J. Cherryh

  All rights reserved. Cover art by Tim Hildebrandt.

  Maps by Pat Tobin.

  "Flood Tide" Copyright © 1990 by C.J.' Cherryh.

  "The Testing" Copyright © 1990 by Nancy Asire.

  "Don't Look Back" Copyright © 1990 by Mercedes Lackey.

  "Walking on the Waves" Copyright © 1990 by Leslie Fish.

  "Where's the Fire" Copyright © 1990 by Roberta Rogow.

  "Wheels within Wheels" Copyright © 1990 by Bradley H. Sinor.

  "Marriage" Copyright © 1990 by Lynn Abbey.

  "With Friends Like These" © 1990 by Mercedes Lackey.

  "Rapprochement" Copyright © 1990 by Janet Morris and Chris Morris.

  "Merovingian Folklore 102" Copyright © 1990 by Mercedes Lackey.

  "Merovingian Songs" copyright © 1990 by Mercedes Lackey.

  All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.

  "Merovingen Nights", "Merovin", "The Signeury", "The Det", "Moghi's Tavern" are registered trademarks belonging to C.J. Cherryh.

  DAW Book Collectors No. 834.

  First Printing, November 1990

  DAW TRADEMARK REGISTERED U.S. PAT. OFF. AND FOREIGN COUNTRIES —MARCA REGISTRADA,

  HECHO EN U.S.A.

  Printed in the U.S.A.

  CONTENTS

  Because the stories in this volume overlap in time they are, by the authors' consent, printed here in a "braided" format—so that they read much more like a novel than an anthology. The reader may equally well read the short stories as originally written by reading all of a given title in order of appearance.

  For those who wonder how this number of writers coincide so closely—say that certain pairs of writers involved do a lot of consultation in a few frenzied weeks of phone calls as deadline approaches, then the editor, presented with the result, has to figure out what the logical order is.

  Flood Tide, C.J. Ckerryh 11

  The Testing, Nancy Asire 21

  Flood Tide (reprised), C.J. Cherryh 33

  The Testing (reprised), Nancy Asire 41

  Flood Tide (reprised), C.J. Cherryh 53

  The Testing (reprised), Nancy Asire 59

  Don't Look Back, Mercedes Lackey 63

  Flood Tide (reprised), C.J. Cherryh 97

  The Testing (reprised), Nancy Asire 101

  Walking on the Waves, Leslie Fish 113

  Where's the Fire, Roberta Rogow 161

  Wheels within Wheels, Bradley H. Sinor 175

  Marriage, Lynn Abbey 189

  With Friends Like These, Mercedes Lackey 235

  Flood Tide (reprised), C.J. Cherryh 245 Rapprochement, Janet Morris and Chris Morris 263

  Flood Tide (reprised), C.J. Cherryh 325

  APPENDIX

  Merovingian Folklore 102, Mercedes Lackey 329

  Merovingian Songs, Mercedes Lackey 335

  Index to City Maps 337

  Merovingian City Maps 341

  Merovan Sea Floor and Hemispheric Maps 344

  MAPS

  FLOOD TIDE

  by C. J. Cherryh

  Nights were getting cold again, stiff wind skirling down the black waters of the Grand, nights that in better times would have seen Moghi's porch crowded with skips and poleboats and even the odd fancy-boat, while the noise of folk at serious drinking made a cheerful sound over the water.

  The lanterns were still lit, but there was no fancyboat in sight, for damn sure, as Jones poled her skip softly up against the siding. She hopped down to the well and racked the pole with time enough, even counting the Grand's harborward current, to make a leisurely grab after the bow-rope and the ring by Moghi's steps—simple tie-up, no plans to linger. It was trade she was after. She kept at work despite the fact she went in warm clothes and often (at least in the hours before dawn) slept under a roof in a real brass bed, nor ever wanted for food these days. She still kept old customers. Mind where you can tie up to, Mama would say. Time comes, storm or flood or fever, ye got to know the spots you can get to—

  Meaning there was places you could tie up without being swept to harbor and places you could sleep without your throat cut, and Moghi's was a place if you ever had a way into the back rooms, you didn't ever give it up, no, not for yourself and not for the damn fool man you took up with, even if he had gotten hisself tied-up at Kamat and all—and even if ever'body in the Trade was whisperin' about Jones' man and what in hell was he up to?

  Old Mintaka Fahd outright asked, being Min, and being fond of gossip, You an' that pretty feller not havin' any trouble, are ye?

  Jones had said, calm as could be. She's business, Min, pure business.

  And Min: What kind o' business?

  After which, Min, denied the gossip, went on to ask didn't she worry a
bout them Kamat women and all them hightown folk and then to say, dreamily, how she had had her a hightowner once, when she was young—

  Damn right. Jones worried. She carried worry up and down the canals these days, these terrible days when people disappeared right off the walkways or knocks came on doors at night. You could see, sometimes, that black poleboat going out and coming back to the College or the Signeury, at which if you got caught facing it in some dark canal you just poled past minding your business like she was any boat; and sweated a little, because you maybe got a look at a dead man's face—such as folk wasn't supposed to see, or know about, and him staring at you so scared he gave you nightmares—

  She clambered barefoot up the ladder to Moghi's porch like the Dead Harbor ghosts was after her, and into the safe light that showed through the windows, a little warmer just by that.

  Warmer still when she walked in the door. The dusty-silky boards were better than fancy carpet under her feet, and the smell of Moghi's beer and whiskey was sweeter than the polishing-oil and perfume smell of Kamat House.

  It was all the Trade here. In nervous times, folk tended to stick to their own kind, and the pole-boatmen that ferried hightowners here and there about town didn't bring hightowners here nowadays, didn't bring strangers here at all, or they got cold stares with their beer and they got bumped on the canals or their poles fouled, which was the Trade's way of saying a hook was next. There wasn't a face in here she didn't know, and her walking in only got a passing look, a quiet sociable nod from Willy Kandar and his brothers, which was like being told ever'thing was safe, nothing out of the ordinary.

  A body came in out of the dark these days and never knew what she was going to hear or the looks she was going to get, the kind that told you right off they knew you didn't know some bit of bad news yet.

  But she went to the bar and handed Jep the tally from Hafiz, and Jep slid her back a paper, crisp, first-time-used paper, the kind that all but stopped her heart.

  It wasn't any more than folded. She opened it and it was writ in that fine writing she never could do, but she had learned to read. It said,

  I paid for your room. I'll be there. Wait, however long. M.

  She thought, Damn him. She was suddenly flut-tery in the stomach. She thought, Thank the Lord—said, "Jep, gimme a whiskey on my tab." She thought, He don't want me comin' to Kamat tonight; and then: Lord, is he comin' from there or is he out in the town t'night?

  She thought about Mondragon on some kind of Kalugin business, Anastasi damn-'im Kalugin, who had this nasty way of calling Mondragon in and wanting to know things that could get you killed in this town. So Mondragon might not be sitting safe in Kamat tonight. That Wait could mean there was a real solid reason Mondragon wanted her in Moghi's safe room that had nothing whatsoever to do with the fact there was a crazy Kamat m'sera carrying a baby to her wedding and getting harder and harder to deal with—

  (Hell, his door had a lock and all. And they used it, when they were in that brass bed, which had stopped one night-time visit.)

  But if things in Kamat had gotten past sensible, and he was just walking over from Kamat with a notion of a little lovemaking in Moghi's upstairs Room, that was a quick walk down and over Fishmarket Bridge. He knew what time she usually got back from Satterday runs to Hafiz, he might just walk in the door. —But what did anybody do in Kamat at this hour, that he wasn't here waiting for her, instead of her sitting in that upstairs Room till he just happened to drop by?

  Damn, it did sound like he was out in the town, where Tom Mondragon had no business being these days—with folk too scared even to open their mouths in their neighborhood taverns for fear of who might be listening. They'd hanged this poor crazy fool last week for no more than saying things the whole town knew anyhow, and Jamie White, a hightowner lad, no more than twenty-six, had himself a heart seizure (they said) in the Justiciary offices, but whispers said it was down in the basement of the Justiciary, where a room was that, thank the Lord, no canalsider ever saw.

  She had not recognized that pale scared face in the boat tonight. It might well be some hightown man. A body wanted to forget things like that, that a body couldn't help nor do nothing about—

  But she had looked at a dead man, she knew; and she had this note of Mondragon's in her fingers, and she drank her whiskey standing at the bar, because chance was Mondragon was just coming over the walk any minute now, and he was only intending a nice, quiet night where they could talk private-like and not worry about Kamat business— but damn him, he didn't put a time: Mondragon never liked to write things like that, in the case of that note getting misplaced.

  So she had her whiskey—and a second, at which Jep gave her this questioning look, as if to ask was there some worrisome thing in that note. "Ney," she said, and stared at the glasses behind the bar while she sipped the second glass, trying not even to look at the door, not to have the whole damn room knowing she was waiting, and guessing it was for a damnfool man who (the Trade knew) was on the shady side of hightown and had dealings in places canalers didn't even think about—like Kalugins, like Anastasi Kalugin, in particular, who was not in a good mood since Cardinal Boregy had gotten murdered; and the new head of the college, Exeter, backing Mischa Kalugin to succeed the governor, who at seventy and more gave everybody the shivers when he sneezed—

  Orthodoxy, hell, Mondragon had said about the hangings, with Exeter and her sneaks being so concerned about Janes and Sharrists and other such outlaw cults getting so aboveboard in Merovingen. It's fear she's using, it's putting the fear in the canalers and the fear in the Houses, it's removing Mischa's enemies and having her people ready to make arrests and cut throats the minute the governor dies—

  Hush, she'd said to him, the two of them lying abed in Kamat, where he had had to move because the Petrescu apartment was not safe anymore. And he talked like that where Kamats might hear.

  It's no secret in this house, Mondragon had said.

  But people died lately for things that were not secret. Mondragon worked for Anastasi Kalugin, who wanted to be governor, and Mondragon was supposedly a bastard Boregy on the one hand (but Boregy House was siding with Mischa and Exeter these days, turned against Anastasi) but Mondragon was Nev Hetteker, Sword of God like Karl Fon the governor up there, and knowing too much of Fon's business the way he knew too much of Anastasi Kalugin's here. Fon had been his best friend once, had kept him five years in prison, about which Mondragon did not talk much, but he waked with nightmares still—Mondragon had gotten away and tried to get to help from friends in Boregy, except the Sword had got there first and he had had nowhere to go and no hope at all till Anastasi took him up—

  And her. She had looked that cold bastard in the eyes and known this was a killer worse than any she had ever met on the canals, and worse than any crazy down in Dead Harbor. This was a man who smiled while he killed your friends and offered you fancy wine before he said he was going to hang you or worse; and Anastasi Kalugin was worried sick about Exeter. That was what she was worried for, the chance that Kalugin was likely to say to Mondragon, Go get me something on Exeter. . . .

  Wait for me, he wrote, not where he was or why or why he wanted her in the safest place in Merovingen's underside, in a place even blacklegs didn't come and where the cardinal's slinks hadn't yet shown their faces.

  Wait for me. Which meant stay off the water and out of sight and out of reach of certain kinds of trouble.

  But he wasn't out of it, damn sure.

  Mondragon had a great deal rather have been in Kamat, Marina's importunities notwithstanding, or most places in Merovingen, as happened, rather than where he was;—sitting in the carpeted cabin of Anastasi's black yacht, facing Anastasi's desk, sipping a very expensive brandy.

  "They arrested Delaree," Anastasi said.

  Bad news.

  Very bad news. Mondragon said, "He knows Ketch." "Does he know you?"

  "He doesn't," Mondragon said. "Ketch does."

  "Ketch is dead, then," Anast
asi said, like that. Mondragon felt both relief and revulsion, watching Anastasi tick off a name. "Who else?"

  Ketch had a woman. Mondragon remembered. Frightened kid, who had no idea what her man was up to, or how life had gotten better or where the money came from. He said, "Nobody," and thought of how Rani could say her man had a blond-haired, hightown friend. One damned, damned encounter, the woman walking into the foundry, overhearing too much. . . .

  "You're sure," Anastasi said.

  "I'm sure."

  "I don't pay you to have scruples, Mondragon." Anastasi looked at him a long, thoughtful moment, with that half-lidded stare behind which there was no shred of a soul. Then: "He has a girlfriend."

  "So I hear. She doesn't know me. He's kept her out of it."

  "We don't know what she knows." A note, a checkmark. "No chances. We've ways to get to Delaree in his cell. Ketch and the woman—no problem. —I won't put that detail up to you. You've other things to do."

  "What?" His hand was shaking. He rested the glass firmly against the chair arm to conceal that fact. He thought, for one wild, Jones-inspired moment of charity, of warning Rani Spence; then broke out in sweat, wondering whether, if the tremor in his voice had just put Anastasi in doubt of his loyalties, the killers might not be on his trail tonight too—and Jones'. No doubt—Jones'. Anastasi had made him sure of that: only so long as Anastasi got whatever he wanted, Jones stayed alive.

  But Anastasi occupied himself with a drawer, seeming not to notice his distress—took out a vellum envelope, held it out to him. Mondragon tossed off the brandy, stood up, thinking, Thank God. He was free, he could go, he could deliver some small piece of business to one of Anastasi's agents. . . .

 
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