Imager's Challenge takes up immediately after the conclusion of Imager. Still recovering from injuries received in foiling the plots of the Ferran envoy, Rhenn is preparing to take up his new duties as imager liaison to the Civic Patrol of L'Excelsis. No sooner has he assumed his new position than he discovers two things. First, the Commander of the Civic Patrol doesn't want a liaison from the infamous Collegium, and soon has Rhenn patrolling the streets of the worst district in the city. Second, Rhenn receives formal notice that one of the High Holders, the father of a man Rhenn partly blinded in self-defense, has declared his intention to destroy Rhenn and his family.
Rhenn's only allies are the family of the girl he loves, successful merchants with underworld connections. In the end, Rhenn must literally stand off against gang lords, naval marines, Tiempran terrorist priests, the most powerful High Holder in all of Solidar, and his own Collegiumand find a way to prevail without making further enemies and endangering those he loves.
The Imager Portfolio
#2 Imager’s Challenge
#3 Imager’s Intrigue
#6 Imager’s Battalion
#7 Antiagon Fire
#8 Rex Regis
#9 Madness in Solidar
#10 Treachery’s Tools
#11 Assassin’s Price (forthcoming)
Other series by this author:
The Saga of Recluce
The Corean Chronicles
The Spellsong Cycle
The Ghost Books
The Ecolitan Matter
About the Author
L. E. Modesitt, Jr., is the bestselling author of the fantasy series The Saga of Recluce, Corean Chronicles, and the Imager Portfolio. His science fiction includes Adiamante, the Ecolitan novels, the Forever Hero Trilogy, and Archform: Beauty. Besides a writer, Modesitt has been a U.S. Navy pilot, a director of research for a political campaign, legislative assistant and staff director for a U.S. Congressman, Director of Legislation and Congressional Relations for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a consultant on environmental, regulatory, and communications issues, and a college lecturer. He lives in Cedar City, Utah.
Read an Excerpt
The Second Book of the Imager Portfolio
By L. E. Modesitt Jr.
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2009 L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
All rights reserved.
On Vendrei, the twentieth of Erntyn, just before the bells rang out the seventh glass of the morning, I hurried across the quadrangle of the Collegium to the administration building to meet with Master Dichartyn — imager Maitre D'Esprit, the director of all security operations for the imagers of Solidar, the second-most senior imager of the Collegium Imago, and my immediate superior. The faint mist that had hovered above the grass earlier had lifted, and the morning was cooler than usual, perhaps foreshadowing the end of harvest and the coming chill of fall. Both moons were high in the morning sky, with Artiema full and Erion waning, although they were easy to miss in the white sunlight angling over L'Excelsis, sunlight that tended to turn the granite buildings of Imagisle a whitish gray.
As I reached the open door to Master Dichartyn's first-floor study, the first bell rang out from the tower of Anomen Imagisle.
"Come in, Rhennthyl."
I entered the small room with its single desk and bookcase, and but two chairs. Master Dichartyn stood beside the narrow window with its louvered leaded glass panes cranked full open. He turned and nodded for me to close the door. His dark brown hair was shot with gray, more than even a few months before, it seemed to me, but the circles under his eyes did not seem quite so dark, and his narrow face was not quite so haggard. A faint smile rested on his lips.
I closed the door, but did not sit.
"How are you feeling, Rhenn?"
"Most of the soreness in my ribs is gone, and Master Draffyd feels that I'm ready. He did suggest that I wear the rib brace for another two weeks as a precautionary measure."
"Given your ... tendencies, that's doubtless wise." He gestured toward the writing desk, on which rested a silver pin — the four-pointed star of the Collegium, encircled by a thin band of silver. "You've seen those, haven't you?"
"Only on Master Poincaryt, sir. I wondered if he wore it because he was the head of the Collegium."
Master Dichartyn shook his head. "You know we don't wear images of rank ... not precisely. The pin merely signifies that you are a master imager, but not what class of master. We've found that it reduces misunderstandings for those imagers who have to work outside the Collegium. You wouldn't be wearing it except for your assignment as Collegium liaison to the Civic Patrol of L'Excelsis." He paused. "Go on. Put it on."
I picked up the pin and fastened it onto my gray waistcoat — the same cut and style as worn by all imagers — at the same spot where Master Poincaryt had worn his, just below the point of the left collar of my pale gray shirt.
"Good. That's where it belongs. Now ... take it off. You only wear it while you're away from the Collegium and on duty with the Patrol — or going to or returning from such duty."
"You'll report to Commander Artois at eighth glass on Lundi. After that, I imagine you'll have to be there at seventh glass. Do you know where the Patrol headquarters are?"
"They're a block or so up Fedre from East River Road, aren't they?"
"That's right. Now ..." Master Dichartyn fingered his clean-shaven chin, not that any imager was bearded, as he often did when he was considering how to word something precisely. "Commander Artois is a solid, sometimes brilliant man. He doesn't like the Collegium, but he does like imagers like you — too brave for your own good. He knows that you've taken out the Ferran and three other assassins." Master Dichartyn smiled wryly. "He also doesn't like facts being kept from him, but he's not terribly fond of surmises or other ideas that aren't backed with solid evidence. This could present a certain problem for you."
I could see that, because I often felt how things might go long before I could prove it. While I was usually right, I certainly wasn't infallible, and that could prove difficult.
"Oh ... you might be interested to know that while you were recovering, the First Minister of Ferrum recalled their delegation to Ferrial for consultations and a proper period of mourning for the death of Envoy Vhillar."
"Did Master Poincaryt have to suggest anything?" I wanted to know if the head of the Collegium had been required to use the threat of revealing that Vhillar had been a renegade imager.
"Apparently not." There was a glint in Master Dichartyn's eyes before he added, "The letter of sympathy for the unfortunate accident did mention that Master Poincaryt also sent his regrets for the loss of such an able envoy with talents that were far beyond his portfolio. That was sufficient, it appears."
"From time to time, you will continue to meet with Maitre Dyana, Rhennthyl. Your skills in indirection may be adequate for the civic patrollers, but they leave something to be desired for someone who will need to deal with High Holders in the future."
That was a veiled reminder and reprimand all in one. "Yes, sir."
"Now ... so far as your new duties go ... you've studied the procedures manual of the Civic Patrol closely, but remember that events on the street seldom accommodate themselves to written procedures. I'm certain that you've considered this, but wherever possible, let the patrollers have the credit for what happens. If matters go badly, and it is your fault, take the blame. Take all of it. Do you understand?"
"Yes, sir." What that meant was that matters had better not go badly where I was involved.
"Do you have any questions?"
"No, sir." I didn't know enough about my new duties to have questions, and as in so many events of the past year, I had the feeling that by the time I knew enough to ask questions, it would be too late.
"Unless you run into extreme difficulties, I'll see you here next Jeudi evening at half past five."
"Next Jeudi at half past five."
He nodded, and I inclined my head in return, then opened the door to the small study, a chamber most modest for the second-most powerful imager in Solidar, and perhaps in the entire world of Terahnar.
As I walked across the quadrangle to return to my quarters and to continue my studies of the procedures manual of the Civic Patrol, I couldn't help but wonder over the circumstances that had brought me from a journeyman portraiturist to an imager Maitre D'Aspect. While I certainly hadn't planned on being an imager, I knew that being an imager was far more palatable to my father than being an artist had been. As an imager, even as a low-level master, I had status, even a hint of power, and that was something my father the wool factor could appreciate, and now that I had a beautiful and acceptable young woman in Seliora interested in me, my mother was hopeful that, despite her Pharsi background, a marriage would be in the offing.
There were a few problems with being an imager that they did tend to gloss over, such as my having been wounded twice in the past year, and others that I hadn't mentioned in any detail to them, such as my unresolved difficulties with High Holder Ryel, who was absolutely certain, sooner or later, to try to destroy me in some fashion or another, or the fact that Seliora's family, while certainly wealthy, still possessed certain connections that were highly useful, but not necessarily totally legal.CHAPTER 2
Although Samedi was the first day of the weekend for most people in L'Excelsis, for me the weekend didn't begin until almost noon — at the earliest. I still had to rise just before dawn and hurry down to the exercise chambers. Because of the bruises and other injuries I'd suffered in dealing with the Ferran spy and his assassins after the Council's Harvest Ball, I couldn't do a number of the exercises, and my running was far slower than it had been. After the four-mille run, I just stood there on the west side of the quadrangle, catching my breath, panting, and sweating. My ribs ached, but not so badly as they had almost three weeks earlier.
Clovyl stepped over to me. "Not too bad for a cripple." Even though he was an imager tertius, he was in charge of conditioning and training for all imagers in the covert branch of the Collegium, and he knew exactly how much to press me. "You're improving."
Not too bad at all, considering I'd only been able to run for the past week or so, but then, I'd been in good shape before the explosion that had thrown me into the stone wall surrounding the Council Chateau, and my shields had taken the brunt of the impact, although Master Draffyd had pointed out that was also why I'd been bruised all over, because they had distributed the impact as much as cushioning it.
"We'll wait another few weeks before you get more training in hand-to-hand combat," he added. "Master Dichartyn thinks you'll need it sooner or later."
I just nodded. My suspicions were that Master Dichartyn felt I needed it more to keep me humble than for any other reason ... but he'd been right most of the time. I just had to remember what Seliora's Pharsi grandmother had said — that while Master Dichartyn and the Collegium were not my enemies, neither were they my friends. The Collegium looked out for the best interests of imagers as a whole, not for individual imagers, and individuals often paid the price. That was why Claustyn — one of the friendliest imagers I'd known — had died in Caenen, the only reminder a stone plaque bearing his name on the memorial wall adjoining the dining hall. I didn't even know how or why he'd died.
"I'll let you know," Clovyl added before turning away and addressing Dartazn. "You're slowing down there."
"Late night last night, sir." Dartazn smiled apologetically.
I couldn't help grinning as I walked back toward my quarters in the building that housed single imagers tertius and a few single junior masters like me.
After showering and shaving, I dressed and headed for the dining hall. Once there, I still felt strange taking a seat at the masters' table, the smaller table at one end of the hall, set perpendicular to the two long tables, one for imagers primus, and the other for imagers secondus and tertius. My lack of ease came from the fact that I'd only been a master for a little over two weeks, and I was by far the youngest at the table. Ferlyn was the only master who was close to my age — the only officially revealed master, at least, because some of the field and covert operatives, such as Baratyn, who headed security at the Council Chateau, held the hidden rank and pay of Maitre D'Aspect. I sat next to Ferlyn, and we were joined by Isola who, although technically a tertius, was granted master privileges as the chorister of the Nameless at the Anomen D'Imagisle.
"Good morning, Rhenn, Ferlyn."
"Good morning," I replied. Isola was always cheerful, and while we were generally expected to attend services on Solayi evening, for me that had been no real problem, because her homilies were usually so good that it didn't bother me that I wasn't even sure whether I believed in the Nameless.
"Did either of you see Veritum this morning?" asked Ferlyn.
"I'm part of Clovyl's morning torture group. I usually don't get a chance to pick up the newsheets until after breakfast. What's happened now?"
"The Oligarch of Jariola claims that the Ferrans are massing forces on the border next to the coal mines, and Chief Councilor Suyrien has sent a communiqué to Ferrial suggesting that Solidar regards that as a hostile and provocative act."
"Is our southern fleet heading north from Caenen and Tiempre?" asked Isola as she passed the flatcakes and berry syrup to me.
"There's nothing in either Tableta or Veritum," Ferlyn replied. "The First Speaker of Tiempre issued another warning about our trade agreement with Caenen, though."
"Their implied surrender," I said dryly. "What did he say?"
"Something about now Solidar would pay deeply and in its heart for the treachery of its agreement with the demons of Caenen, that sort of thing." Ferlyn snorted.
"They're unhappy we didn't declare war on Caenen over their killings of our envoy's staff members," I suggested. "Then they could have had an excuse to invade and grab land."
"Submissive treaties are a less expensive way for the Council to get cheaper raw materials."
"The Abiertan Assembly is debating a declaration of neutrality, or they were last week," offered Isola. "If war breaks out, that would deny us use of the ports in the Abierto Isles for recoaling and resupply, wouldn't it?"
"If they pass such a measure," Ferlyn replied, "but I'd judge that they're stalling to keep Ferrum from declaring war on them, while they wait to see what we'll do."
That seemed more likely to me, but I concentrated on the corn flatcakes and sausage and syrup, along with the mug of hot tea that I'd poured.
"Does Ferrum have that large a navy?" asked Isola.
"Only ours is larger, and not by much, but our ships are newer and better. They have a larger army and more troop transports. If we didn't stop them on the high seas, they could certainly overrun the Isles."
I didn't pretend to understand the hostility of the Ferrans, especially since both Ferrum and Solidar tended to emphasize freedom of commerce, and neither was controlled by a hereditary ruler, despot, or oligarchy in the way lands like Jariola, Caenen, or Tiempre were. My own experiences with the late and less than honorable Klauzvol Vhillar suggested that they were every bit as ruthless as the Collegium was reputed to be.
I just listened as Isola and Ferlyn talked.
After breakfast, I hurried north along the west side of the quadrangle toward the large, oblong, gray granite building that held workrooms of various sizes, as well as some of the specialized manufacturing chambers — all lead-lined so that one imager's work didn't affect another's, the same reason why we all had separate quarters with lead-lined walls and leaded glass windows — because imagers' dreams and thoughtless desires could have most unfortunate consequences — as I well knew. After I'd become an imager tertius, Master Dichartyn had arranged for one of the smallest workrooms with northern light to be turned into a portraiture studio, and one of my additional duties, as possible, was to paint the portraits of senior imagers. I'd only just completed the first — that of Master Poincaryt — not only the head of the Collegium, but also a Maitre D'Esprit, one of but two, the other being Master Dichartyn. Master Poincaryt was supposed to come by the studio to see it sometime after eighth glass. He hadn't seen the finished version, and I was more than a bit nervous about showing it to him.
Because I reached my workroom-studio with a good quarter glass to spare, I spent the time sketching an alternative design for the portrait of Seliora. While the convention was to paint most portraits — especially of women — in a sitting position, I'd decided to do Seliora standing. I'd seen the miniature that Emanus had done of his unacknowledged daughter — Madame Juniae D'Shendael — and that had been done with her standing, and it had a power that a sitting portrait seldom possessed.
Absently, I still wondered exactly what the connection had been between Vhillar and Madame D'Shendael. They hadn't been lovers. Political allies, perhaps, since Vhillar had represented Ferrum — which opposed all blood-based hereditary nobility, such as the High Holders of Solidar or the Oligarchy of Jariola — and since Madame D'Shendael had been writing and pressing for a Council of Solidar with at least some councilors being directly elected, rather than being appointed by their guilds or associations or by a vote among High Holders.
Just as the first bells of eighth glass began to chime from the anomen tower, Master Poincaryt stepped through the open studio door. "Good morning, Rhennthyl."
"Good morning, sir."
Master Poincaryt frowned, ever so slightly, an expression that lent severity to a lined and squarish face softened but a touch by a chin that was slightly pointed and rounded. Under jet-black hair and heavy eyebrows, also jet-black, his pale gray eyes took in everything, as always. He wore exactly the same gray garb as did every imager, with the addition of a small silver four-pointed star circled in silver and worn high on the left breast of his waistcoat, seemingly identical to the one Master Dichartyn had given me the day before. "Do I want to see the final version of the portrait?"
Excerpted from Imager's Challenge by L. E. Modesitt Jr.. Copyright © 2009 L. E. Modesitt, Jr.. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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