“He has a very good sense of self preservation,” the subject of the comment’s daughter said bluntly. “If he can be convinced that being heard talking by the wrong people will have him turning up dead, then I’m sure he can keep his mouth shut. Besides, if he believes half of what he puts in his books then he must have a very malleable memory, and that would make it very easy for him to forget a lot of things.”
“You think so?” The man with the large gun looked speculatively at his old classmate. “So Valentine, if talking about who and what you’ve seen here will get you killed by us or picked up and emptied by Frangal’s people, can you keep your mouth shut?”
“Of course I can, Kasadmir. I can even not put in a book,” the fairer, slighter man added with a flash of humour and a smile.
“Good. And I prefer Highguard.” The man with the gun didn’t smile.
“Then I prefer Trugrove, thank you muchly.” The smile hadn’t moved. Valentine Trugrove glanced around the crowd in the hangar. “You know, anyone would think you’d just finished raiding Frangal’s dispersed local outposts and now you’re planning to take out the provincial commandant’s citadel.”
The break in conversation within earshot was filled in by the sound of hand weapons being drawn and cocked. Weapons aimed at the velvet clad Trugrove.
“What did I say to cause offence?” Trugrove looked around, expressions and tone both sunny.
His daughter bowed her head and hid her face in her hands.
Trugrove glanced from her to Highguard and said, “That’s exactly what you’re planning to do, isn’t it?” He was speaking quietly now. “What have you gotten my daughter into? What part does she play in all of this?”
Highguard looked at her for a moment and then said to Trugrove in a suddenly gravelly voice, “I didn’t get her into anything. She got herself into…things.”
She took her face out of her hands and added in an explanatory tone, “I was in Graneda when they took over there.”
“Ah,” Trugrove nodded, then persisted, “But what do you do?”
“You can’t tell what you don’t know.” Her look was not precisely bleak but certainly chillingly pragmatic.
“I’m really not going to be happy when I find out the answer, am I?” Trugrove smiled at them both. “Just remember that I’ve made a career out of finding things out. I may not plan to put it in a book, but Overlord Frangal’s people are never going to believe I don’t know what my own daughter is up to, so not telling me is not keeping me safe.”
“But it is keeping us safe,” pointed out Highguard. He finished putting his weapon together and then said to her, “Slither, it’s time to go do your thing.”
She looked at her watch. “So it is. I’ll see you all afterwards.” She nodded to Highguard and her father, waved at the rest of the group who’d been watching the exchange with interest and walked over to another group standing around what appeared to be a briefing table. Her father noticed that there was some shoulder slapping in greeting and one man she briefly clasped hands with and greeted by name, “Tailish!”
“Slither, good t’ see yuh.” It was the accent that made her father really look at the man: maybe five years older than his daughter; untrimmed blond-brown hair and facial fuzz that accidentally gave him a semi-leonine look; fair skin; and a low baritone. There was something vaguely familiar about him that Trugrove couldn’t put his finger on. Like most of the rest of the people in the room he was wearing a dull, not-quite black colour in trousers, boots, long skirted coat, and a loose weave scarf tied cravat-fashion at the throat. When he moved his arms a quick eye, and Trugrove had one, could catch the edge of something on his arms that didn’t move as cloth would or the coat did.
Trugrove’s own coat was cut almost immodestly high at the front, showing off his still boyish figure and incidentally making it clear that he couldn’t be carrying any large weapons. He watched in silence as the group around the briefing table had their meeting, the conversation pitched too quietly for him to hear it from where he was and too many people facing the wrong way or articulating poorly for him to get more than snatches from lip reading. He was still silent as the group left, dispersing even before they left the hangar with his daughter going off on her own. Her brown hair was knotted up at the back of her neck, letting him see the set of her shoulders clearly and he wondered for a moment if he would recognise her if he saw her face.
Then he turned back to Highguard and said, “I’m not going to fight in your insurgency or whatever it is for you, but let me have a spare medkit if you’ve got one? I can treat the wounded.”
Highguard looked at him, measuring something, and asked, “Why?”
“So if you get my daughter killed today, I can take her home to her mother.” Trugrove waited.
“Medics are over by the north wall,” Highguard pointed. “The rest of us move out in under an hour. Must say I never figured you for a family man.”
“I wouldn’t call me that,” returned Trugrove, “except, perhaps in my wife’s presence, but my children are not interchangeable or replaceable.” The face he turned to Highgrove suddenly didn’t look anything like the sunny visage he normally presented to the world. “Not ever, not for anyone. Understand me?”
Highguard nodded. “Yes, I think I do. Our Slither’s more like you than she thinks, isn’t she?”
This is now followed by Parents...3.