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       Betrayer, 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

  DAWN 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.

  DAWN Books Collectors No. 1543.

  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 : 978-1-101-54981-0

  To Joan and Buzz:

  good neighbors, good friends.


  It was boring sitting by a sick person. But Cajeiri sat. And wondered if bullets counted as being sick.

  He remembered the ship and his associates up in the heavens, and he wondered if Lord Geigi would keep his promise and help him find out if his letters ever got to the space station.

  He remembered his two lost bodyguards and wondered how they were—if they were even alive.

  He remembered Barb-daja, who had hair like nand’ Bren’s, like sunlight, and whom Great-grandmother thought a silly person. But Barb-daja had been very brave, in her odd way. And she didn’t deserve to be kidnapped. He had been, once, but he was clever, and the kidnappers had had no luck at all. Barb was not as tough, and she had no way at all to talk to anybody who asked her questions. She could just say “Bren” and “Toby,” and then somebody might figure out what she was saying, and that would not be good.

  He thought about his mother and father, off in Shejidan. They were going to have another baby. But he was not going to let that baby be better than he was.

  He hardly knew his father and mother. They had given him to Great-grandmother, and he had gone off to space to grow up, well, as grown up as he was, and they hardly knew him, either. So he had to prove to them that he was the best and the smartest and the quickest. He would prove that to everybody, when he got a chance.

  Mostly, right now, though, he had to keep his promises. And he had given nand’ Bren a promise. And even Great-grandmother had to respect it.

  He sat. And sat. And even did his homework and read the book on protocols, which was so dull that sitting was exciting.

  He waited. Which was all he could do, day and night. He slept, his bodyguard slept by turns, and they just waited.


  There was a sleek red and black bus parked out on the lamp-lit drive, outside this magnificent administrative palace in the heart of Tanaja, in the Taisigin Marid. That bus held a number of the Assassins’ Guild, armed with guns and explosives, and it held itself as a private fortress, surrounded by local forces—who as yet had not moved against it.

  In the relative peace and quiet dark of the upstairs suite in the palace, in the baroque bedroom with its four-poster that Bren Cameron occupied, thick velvet draperies masked its lack of windows. It was black as the depths of a cave. And there was no way to tell the time except by his pocket watch on the side table, the lighted display of which said it was just before dawn.

  At least there had been no gunfire, no alarms from his bodyguard, or they would have notified him. The peace had officially lasted through the night. Tensions might be a little less now that nerves had had time to settle.

  For which he was sincerely grateful.

  Getting out of bed—still in the dark—was its own trial. A large bruise had spread across his chest, and he knew he had to put the compression wrap back on and, worse, put on that damned bulletproof vest again. He’d almost rather be shot without it, but the risk of that actually happening was still far too high.

  He was human, an official in the service of the atevi, who owned most of this planet. He was, in the course of that service, on the southern coast, a guest in the house of the enemy, with no assurances that hospitality would continue.

  He had come to negotiate with the lord of the Taisigin Marid, a district virtually at war with the Western Association, the aishidi’tat, which he had come to represent—if one counted the aiji-dowager, the grandmother of Tabini-aiji, as officially equivalent to Tabini-aiji himself . . . and Ilisidi clearly counted it that way. Ilisidi, the aiji-dowager, had considered it a good moment to make a radical move and had told him to take that shiny red and black bus and get over here, where no official of the aishidi’tat had ever set foot. His mission was to talk to Machigi, who had never actually seen a human, and persuade him not to go on expanding his power to the west.

  The whole Marid district, the Taisigi, Senji, Dojisigi, Sungeni, and Dausigi clans, who were supposed to be part of the aishidi’tat, had never been tightly joined to it. They had conducted assassinations on the west coast for years, and recently they had sponsored an attack on Bren’s own coastal estate at Najida and on his person at neighboring Targai—hence the painful bruise.

  Thus far Machigi, lord of the Taisigin Marid, the master of this house, this city, this district, had been willing to talk to him. But he had no assurances that mood would last. Machigi was a young autocrat who ruled a fractious, faction-ridden clan in a local association that had always gone its own way, and nothing was guaranteed.

  But Machigi was also in a bit of a bind with his neighbors to the north, the Dojisigi an
d the Senji, who were making a bid for power, which was why the aiji-dowager had thought it a smart move to send one Bren Cameron to conduct more or less clandestine talks with Machigi.

  Bren set his feet on the floor and went in quest of the light switch in this windowless room. Knocked into a table he belatedly remembered.

  Found the door.

  Found the light switch.

  He had left his two valets across the tenuous border at Targai. He could call servants from Machigi’s household, but he opted not to do that; he didn’t want Machigi’s people inside this suite of rooms any oftener or any longer than absolutely necessary.

  Lights went on, brutally bright. He squinted, went in search of clothes, and was very glad someone—in his exhaustion yesterday he could not remember who, but definitely one of his four bodyguards—had at least opened his baggage last night and hung his wardrobe to shed its wrinkles.

  Investigation of the top bureau drawer proved someone had put his linens, his gun, and his shaving kit where he liked to have them. Probably Tano. Or Jago.

  He hoped his bodyguards, next door to this room, were finally getting a little sleep. He had no wish to disturb them at this hour asking where his socks had gone.

  He had fallen asleep last night without his evening bath . . . a scandal in itself. A hot bath this morning was unutterably attractive—and there existed that uncommon luxury for atevi guest quarters, a private bath and private accommodation down the inner hall of their suite, instead of down a common hallway and shared with every resident on this floor. There was a servant’s access in the same inner hall; his staff had fixed that door, so that was not a security issue.

  So he could feel safe in that hall, and a bath was beyond attractive—it was diplomatically necessary. Humans smelled odd to atevi, especially after a day or two—vice versa, too, but he was a minority of one here, in a place that had never seen a human. So that was item one on his list, in an uncertain day. Light from the bedroom gave him light enough in the hall to get to the bath and turn that light on.

  The bath provided a curious little one-person tub, quite unlike the communal bathing facilities in every great atevi house he had yet visited, and more like, at least in principle, what he would expect on his native island of Mospheira. It was atevi-scale, large for a human, a quickly filled little step-down tub—one stepped onto the seat and then down into the tub, then threw the lever to block the drain, threw another to admit hot water, which came out steaming, and then threw a third to mix in cold water just in time to save one’s toes from scalding.

  He settled down as the water rose around his ankles. He let the bath climb fairly rapidly to his chin—a foot short of the top of the atevi-scale tub. The water steamed pleasantly in the cool air, and he shut off the flow and leaned his head back and shut his eyes.

  The heat embraced the sore ribs and eased the pain. He could stay here, oh, indefinitely.

  But he had left his bed because the thoughts that had started to circle through his head had not been conducive to rest.

  And now back those thoughts came, the moment he shut his eyes.

  It was not quite accurate to say he was the first human to visit Tanaja. In fact, he was, by an undetermined number of hours, the second. Barb, his ex-lover and currently his brother Toby’s partner, had shown up in his suite last night.

  Barb had been kidnapped from Najida, where Toby still was.

  Barb, by the grace of his host, had arrived here apparently unharmed.

  She had arrived that way. She’d hit the floor hard last night. His bodyguard, specifically Tano, had had to stop her from a move that could have gotten them all shot—Machigi’s guards were on a hair trigger and were unused to emotional outbursts from excitable humans—and one hoped she was not concussed.

  Barb had taken her situation pretty well, considering. She might not understand everything that was going on, but she had understood she was not in a friendly place and had shut up. She wasn’t conversant in the language. She’d been unable to communicate with anyone to any extent; and being Barb, she’d be vastly upset until she could talk to someone.

  He had acquired, besides Barb, Veijico, a very young member of the Assassins’ Guild, who didn’t belong to him . . . in any number of senses. Veijico’s assigned lord was Tabini-aiji’s son Cajeiri, aged eight, who was back at Najida, presumably safe, presumably well, in the care of his great-grandmother, the aiji-dowager.

  Which was where Veijico ought to be. But when Barb had been kidnapped, Veijico and her partner Lucasi had taken off in hot pursuit of the kidnappers—and Veijico had gotten herself caught by Machigi’s forces, right along with Barb.

  Complicating matters—as if matters wanted more complication—Veijico’s equally young partner, Lucasi, another Guild Assassin, was armed and missing somewhere out in the wide rolling hills beyond Tanaja.

  And one could only hope the kid didn’t shoot anybody in Taisigi territory while the diplomatic mission was in progress. Bren’s best current hope was that Lord Machigi’s men would be able to intercept the young man without getting shot or shooting him—which might not be easy, given Lucasi’s state of mind—or that Lucasi, in a sudden burst of mature judgement, would realize he was in over his head and take himself back to the safety of Targai, where he could get help and advice from senior Guild.

  But rely on youthful ambition to do that sensible thing?

  It hadn’t prevailed so far.

  And now he had two houseguests cluttering up his diplomatic initiative.

  Their host, Lord Machigi, might or might not have been responsible for kidnapping Barb in the first place. Machigi had very generously handed over Barb and Veijico when he arrived. But that was no promise of good will. Lord Machigi was certainly responsible for a good deal else, including assassinations and a widespread scheme to dominate the whole west coast.

  And Bren Cameron, paidhi-aiji, translator and negotiator, was supposed to turn this all around.

  What gave just a little leverage to the plan was, as the aiji-dowager suspected, the very strong possibility that Lord Machigi had not kidnapped Barb, had not installed a deadly mine on a public highway in Najida district, and was not behind the latest assassination attempt on him at Targai.

  In fact, Lord Machigi had had his own problems—notably his neighbors, the Senji and the Dojisigi. Machigi was a young lord who had sprung onto the scene relatively recently, pushing the usurper, Murini of the Kadagidi, to power in Shejidan—and maintaining his power when Murini went down. All through that period he had refused to be respectful of the more senior lords of the Marid, who had just assassinated his predecessor; and now, far from assuming a quiet posture after Murini’s demise, Machigi had made independent moves to expand his territory to the long-desired West.

  One had no idea how much of the ensuing mayhem in the southwestern corner of the continent was all Machigi’s action and how much was his neighbors’ trying to get ahead of the energetic young warlord they had unwittingly put in power.

  It was highly likely that Guild had mined a public road and kidnapped a minor who was a civilian, two very illegal acts, according to the rules of the Assassins’ Guild, acts that would get both the perpetrators and the lord they served outlawed. The Guild leadership back in Shejidan was proposing to outlaw Machigi and any Guildsman who served him—a very bad situation for Machigi—on the assumption Machigi had ordered it.

  It was one thing for a lord to be Filed upon by someone in particular, like a rival; that meant a small number of the filer’s Assassins might go out with Guild-granted license to take him out.

  It was quite another for a lord to have himself and all his bodyguard as well as the perpetrators of the offense outlawed by the Guild; that meant that any and every Guildsman alive, of any house whatsoever, was directed to execute the offenders and the lord who had directed them—on a priority above any other assignment in their local district.

  The aiji-dowager, on the other hand, had judged Machigi had not been responsible
for either act. She was trying to get the Guild action stopped, no mean feat, so that her emissary, namely Bren Cameron, could talk to Machigi.

  In point of fact, the actions at Najida were as obvious as a bloody handprint left on somebody’s front door—too damned obvious, too clumsy, and too many violations all at once, a score of handprints laid all over Machigi’s operations in the West. Somebody had gone overboard in his attempts to get Machigi in hot water.

  And who would both be that reckless of the welfare of the public on the west coast and be likely to profit from Machigi’s demise?

  There was a short list, comprising the four other lords of the Marid, particularly the two in the north: Senji and Dojisigi.

  But even that was not the scariest prospect. The disjointed character of the several attacks argued for a lack of central authority, several groups operating at once.

  Letting the Guild Council proceed with a declaration of outlawry might have solved the Machigi problem quite nicely—and permanently—except that one of the two likeliest lords behind the trouble would immediately move into the power vacuum, filling the space Machigi had created in the cosmos.

  And of those two, neither would be strong enough to keep any sort of peace, even inside the Marid. One would quickly assassinate the other, successors would rise up, the south would split from the north—again. The whole region would be in ferment—again. And whoever was temporarily in command of the Marid might attack the west coast, trying to snatch the power that Machigi had almost had; or he or she might just start a general war with everybody in reach, including, possibly, Tabini-aiji and the rest of the continent.

  The whole matter trembled on the edge of chaos, right at a time when the continent was just settling down from the last Marid-sponsored event.

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