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       Deceiver, p.1

           C. J. Cherryh

  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright Page


  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  CJ Cherryh

  CJ Cherryh

  Tanya Huff

  S. Andrew Swann


  RM Meluch

  DAW Titles by C.J. CHERRYH

  Raves for Deceiver:

  and the “Foreigner” series:

  “Cherryh’s gift for conjuring believable alien cultures is in full force here, and her characters . . . are brought to life with a sure and convincing hand.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “A seriously probing, thoughtful, intelligent piece of work, with more insight in half a dozen pages than most authors manage in half a hundred.”


  “Close-grained and carefully constructed . . . a book that will stick in the mind for a lot longer than the usual adventure romp.”


  “A large new Cherryh novel is always welcome . . . a return to the anthropological science fiction in which she has made such a name is a double pleasure . . . superlatively drawn aliens and characterization.”

  —Chicago Sun-Times

  “As always, Cherryh alternates complex political maneuvering with pell-mell action sequences in an intensely character-driven SF novel sure to appeal to the many fans of this series.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “Her lucid storytelling conveys enough backstory to guide newcomers without boring longtime series followers. The characters are well drawn, and Cherryh’s depiction of both human and alien cultures is riveting.”

  —Library Journal

  “. . . . transforms the book into an absorbing combination of anthropological SF and ‘The Ransom of Red Chief.’ Faithful Foreigner saga followers, in particular, will have a ball.”


  DAW Titles by C.J. CHERRYH


















  Serpent’s Reach |Cuckoo’s Egg


  Merchanter’s Luck | 40,000 in Gehenna


  Brothers of Earth | Hunter of Worlds

  THE FADED SUN Omnibus:

  Kesrith | Shon’jir | Kutath



  The Pride Of Chanur | Chanur’s Venture | The Kif Strike Back


  Chanur’s Homecoming | Chanur’s Legacy



  Gate of Ivrel | Well of Shiuan | Fires of Azeroth




  The Tree of Swords and Jewels | The Dreamstone


  Port Eternity | Wave Without a Shore | Voyager in Night



  Copyright © 2011 by C.J. Cherryh

  All rights reserved.

  DAW Books Collectors No. 1508.

  DAW Books are distributed by the Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

  All characters and events in this book are fictitious.

  All resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental.

  The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal, and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage the electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

  First Printing, April 2011





  ISBN : 978-1-101-54980-3

  To Jane.


  It was an interesting little pile, the stack of wax-stained vellum that occupied the right side of Bren Cameron’s desk, in his office, in Najida estate, on the west coast of the continent.

  This stack of letters held treason. It held connivance. It held the intended fall of the whole coast.

  It also held a set of interesting names.

  Machigi of Taisigi clan was one of them.

  Now there was a piece of work. A younger man, quite young for a clan lord, in fact, he had inherited the ambitions of his predecessors down on the southern coast, but he had proved himself far, far more clever—and more dangerous.

  A child named Tiajo was another name. A child of fifteen—and probably not as innocent of political ambitions as her tender age indicated. Machigi had intended to marry her off, a political wedge into the west coast—and as quickly make her a widow.

  Once her husband was dead, of course, her relatives would step in to help run his estate—and that estate, a Maschi clan property, held treaty rights up and down the southeast coast of the continent . . . a district long coveted by Taisigi clan.

  The third name, everywhere in those papers, was the addressee and source of those papers: Baiji of Maschi clan, nephew of Lord Geigi of Kajiminda. Baiji, who was the former lord of Kajiminda, betrothed of Tiajo—and the object of Machigi’s long-running plot.

  Baiji, who happened, at the moment, to be locked in the basement under Bren Cameron’s feet, a prisoner stripped of all titles.

  Najida, Bren’s estate, sat on a peninsula within Sarini Province, on the southwestern coast of the aishidi’tat, the nation-state that spanned the continent. Bren Cameron, paidhi-aiji, was interpreter and advisor to Tabini-aiji, who was ruler of the whole aishidi’tat. And in recent days, Bren himself had become the target of an assassination attempt directed from Taisigi clan.

  Hence the sound of hammering, which was distantly audible. The staff was repairing damage to the garden portico from the latest of Machigi’s little ventures . . . and fortifying the house against the next.

  Meanwhile, up on the space station, Lord Geigi himself, the lord of Kajiminda and of all of Sarini Province, had enough to do running atevi affairs on the station. He had not been pleased to hear the account of his nephew’s misdeeds.

  Likewise Ilisidi, Tabini-aiji’s grandmother, the aiji-dowager, who had happened to be Bren-paidhi’s guest—along with her great-grandson Cajeiri, son of Tabini-aiji—had not been pleased with Baiji of Kajiminda or his promised bride, no, not in the least.

  And factor in the Edi, the aboriginal people of the island of Mospheira. The Edi, uprooted by the treaty that had given that island to humans, had settled on this coast of the continent . . . and had immediately become the enemies of Taisigi clan and their whole district
, further south. The Edi, lacking a lord of their own, had been represented in the aishidi’tat by the lords of Kajiminda for the last two centuries, and the Edi were up in arms about their old enemies of Taisigi clan trying to move into that lordship.

  Bren Cameron’s job as paidhi-aiji, interpreter, and mediator between Tabini-aiji and the two human powers—one on earth and one above the heavens—ordinarily included occasional peacemaking between atevi factions. But in this case, he was in the middle of the conflict, his erstwhile neighbor Baiji was the object of the conflict . . . and Taisigi clan?

  Taisigi clan was not in the least interested in peace or mediation. In the whole history of the aishidi’tat, the Taisigin Marid had never been interested in peace . . . never mind their recent overtures toward Tabini-aiji. Taisigi clan and its local association, the Marid, had claimed the southwestern coast of the continent two hundred years ago, when humans had landed on the earth. They had claimed it when the aishidi’tat itself had been forming. And, denied possession of that coast, and having the Edi moved in on that land, the Taisigi and their local association had tried to break up the aishidi’tat from inside. Then they had tried to overthrow it by seceding from it. Then they had rejoined the aishidi’tat, and most recently had tried to rule it by backing a coup in the capital—all these maneuvers without success. This last year, Tabini had come back to power in Shejidan on a surge of popular sentiment and driven the usurper out, hounding him from refuge to refuge while the Taisigin and the Marid as a whole had tried to look entirely innocent of the whole thing.

  But neither had the aishidi’tat ever succeeded in bringing the Marid district under firm control. Lately, Tabini-aiji had even hesitated in kicking the Farai, another Marid clan, out of Bren-paidhi’s apartment in the capital. Oh, no, the Farai were all for Tabini-aiji’s return: they had helped him; they were a strong voice down in the Marid, and they could be negotiated with. Of course the Marid had seen the light, and really wanted peace . . . so the Farai could not be tossed out of Bren-paidhi’s apartment. The apartment was theirs, after all, granted the aiji would only acknowledge they had inherited it via an obscure marriage with a fading clan fifty years ago . . .

  It was, after all, all they wanted in return for their persuading the other clans of the Marid to make a lasting commitment to the aishidi’tat and finally put an end to all the rebellions . . .

  This stack of incriminating letters—which the doubledealing Baiji had, oh so slyly, preserved behind a panel of his office—told quite another story about the Farai and the whole Marid.

  The letters represented the proposed marriage, involving a modest marriage portion of family antiquities that weren’t Baiji’s to dispose of—they were Lord Geigi’s—and the union of Baiji with young Tiajo and her family down in the Marid.

  Fifteen. Old enough to be auctioned off, young enough that the question of an heir could be delayed a year or two. Long enough, one supposed, for the Marid to lay firm claim to the estate itself, by sheer firepower. Had the marriage actually happened, Tiajo’s southern clan, one of three major clans in the five-clan Marid association, would naturally have moved some of its servants in to attend the bride. Baiji would have been dead within a year of the bride producing an heir.

  And immediately on Baiji’s untimely death, the grieving widow would have immediately laid claim to Kajiminda in the name of whatever offspring she had produced. She would get the backing of the entire Marid—and the Marid would finally gain that foothold on the southwest coast that they had been plotting so long to get.

  Baiji hadn’t planned on that latter part—the part about him dying—but anybody of basic intelligence and any experience at all of atevi politics could see that one coming.

  Anybody of common sense, too, could anticipate that, once in that position, and sitting in Kajiminda, young Tiajo’s family, in Dojisigi clan, would be nudging Machigi of the Taisigi for more power and importance within the Marid.

  And of course the Dojisigi family members, backing Tiajo’s claim, would be sitting in Sarini Province, hiring Guild Assassins and creating their own power base on the west coast, in a bid to protect themselves within the Marid, as their own greatest threat. They would go after Machigi.

  Machigi, of course, smarter than that, would possibly assassinate his Dojisigi cousin in the Marid, possibly simply terrify him into peace . . .

  And under the guise of an intra-associational dispute within the Marid, Machigi would take control of the Dojisigi, preparatory to setting his own relatives in command of the new Dojisigi holdings on the southwest coast.

  Warfare, where it regarded the Marid, was endless. If it wasn’t directed outside, at the aishidi’tat, it was inside, clan against clan.

  The aishidi’tat, under Tabini’s newly restored regime, was too busy reconstructing itself after surviving the last attempt to kill it off. They would not want to involve themselves in an internal Marid quarrel, and they might think a Dojisigi-Taisigi power struggle would play itself out much more slowly, and give them time.

  They didn’t have time.

  Young Baiji, not the brightest intellect on the west coast, had played for power of his own, and landed himself in very deep waters, which Baiji still failed to figure out. He didn’t, he protested, deserve being locked up, a prisoner, in the paidhi-aiji’s basement. He was innocent. He was misunderstood. He had been spying for the aiji all the while. He should be a hero to everyone. Of course he should.

  Just ask him.

  Baiji’s unfortunate machinations had put bullet holes in the hall outside this little office. They had caused the death of one of the aiji-dowager’s guard, the serious wounding of a young man from Najida village, and the complete ruin of the large front portico over at Kajiminda estate . . . not to mention the hole Bren’s own estate bus had plowed through the garage gate here at Najida, to the detriment of the adjacent garden.

  Forgive Baiji? The paidhi-aiji was a generous and patient man. He was, more than anything else, a man for whom policy and the aiji’s welfare counted more than personal affront.

  Baiji, however, had exceeded his tolerance in any reasonable consideration.

  The quiet since the assault, about two days, had been welcome. Bren did not count on it lasting. Nor did his guest, the aiji-dowager.

  They’d had the time, among first business, to recover this cache of papers from Lord Geigi’s estate at Kajiminda.

  They’d had the time, too, to patch a largish hole in Toby Cameron’s boat—Bren’s brother Toby had been visiting here when all hell had broken loose, and Toby had been instrumental in thwarting the Marid in a secondary attack.

  So, down at the harbor at the foot of the estate, the Brighter Days was now calmly at anchor beside Bren’s own Jaishan. Toby and Toby’s companion, Barb, were living aboard, not that it was safer down there on the boat, but that Najida estate was running out of room in the house. It was dangerous for Toby and Barb to be down there, exposed to view whenever they went out on deck. But it was more dangerous, potentially, to put out to sea and try to head home across the straits, in the event some southern ship was lurking offshore.

  It was dangerous for them to come and go up to the house for meals. But Toby and Barb had stubbornly elected to take that risk, since the perimeter seemed secure and the walk up the winding slope from the dock was now safe from snipers—so they argued.

  Toby’s presence on the continent, however, posed a risk in all senses, including political sensitivity, and Bren earnestly wished he could find one single twenty-fourhour window in which Toby could safely make a run home to Port Jackson, back to the human-run island of Mospheira, where there weren’t members of the Assassins’ Guild laying plans.

  The grounds were under close and constant surveillance by the dowager’s young men, at least, and the aiji’s navy was out there somewhere—exactly where was classified.The house had reinforcements, besides: local fishermen and hunters. Najida villagers, ethnic Edi, had opted to support their local lord and his estate with their
own informal armed force against the unwelcome intruders from the Marid. Edi folk were no strangers to violence or guerilla action, and their help was certainly not inconsiderable.

  Add to that, the aiji’s forces, Assassins’ Guild from the capital at Shejidan, who had taken possession of Kajiminda grounds in support of Lord Geigi. Opposition forces had melted away from that threat—and the aiji’s forces, not to mention the Edi irregulars, were busy trying to ferret at least a dozen Marid agents out of Separti Township—having already run them out of Dalaigi. The infestation had moved, and was still dangerous—but at least it was on the run.

  Further south . . . no word from that operation either. But one expected none.

  Bren’s own bodyguard, of the Assassins’ Guild, had their own opinions of their situation, and refused to let him move about even inside the house without their being constantly aware of where he was and with whom. The aiji-dowager’s bodyguard, twenty members of that same Guild, counting Cenedi, who led them, was cooperating in house defense. And the aiji’s eight-year-old son, Cajeiri, had just acquired two young members of that Guild to back up the two Taibeni youngsters who were his bodyguards-in-training. That was twenty-six Guild personnel under the same roof, a tough objective for their enemies. They were on round-the-clock high alert, and thus far the Taisigi hadn’t made another try.

  Servant staff, too, were encouraged to stay on the estate grounds and not to go up and down the road to Najida village; and Najida fishermen were asked to stay away from the estate perimeters. The less traffic that moved on Najida estate perimeters, the easier it was to track anyone who didn’t belong there.

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