Caliburn Sjeldnjar was lying in wait for his only niece’s husband, Archduke Franz of Terrencia. That involved staying judiciously out of arm’s reach because he suspected that a fit, retired major-general on the shady side of sixty would not enjoy having direct, personal proof of the accuracy of his suspicions about a fit man roughly thirty years younger. Just to keep things civil he coughed before that young man entered what could be considered the kill zone of an ambush.
“Yes?” Franz reacted much as Caliburn had expected, moving from relaxed to tense almost instantly.
“I was wondering if the Terrencians have a formal view on the matter of Rune and the Cadleran succession?”
“The Cadleran succession is a matter for the Cadlerans,” replied Franz automatically. “Wait, Rune and the Cadleran succession? Oh, because of your mother, of course. Doesn’t Rune follow her father?”
“There’s some question as to whether acknowledged equals ‘legitimate’ under Cadleran law,” answered Caliburn, using the Cadleran word for lack of an exact equivalent in the language they were speaking. “The matter’s been with legal experts and in committee almost since her maternal grandmother announced her existence. We, like you, agree that it’s a matter for the Cadlerans, although Constantine has requested of our royal cousin that a negative decision not be phrased to suggest that she doesn’t count.”
“That would be unkind given her history,” agreed Franz, “and I can’t imagine King John being deliberately unkind. A number of other things, but not that.”
“I agree,” nodded Caliburn. “That’s not Jack’s style at all. If he sets the wording it will be very polite and about the circumstances of her birth, not about her. The current Prime Minister, on the other hand….”
“Yes, I know what you mean,” agreed Franz. “Although, I’d be surprised if it was at all important in the end. I mean, she’s what, third cousin, twice removed, to King John?”
“Third cousin,” corrected Caliburn. “Our family has a bigger generational gap than theirs.”
“I wasn’t going to say anything,” promised Franz. “By the way, do you know anything about this Genakuran Pig Eradication Board job they’re offering me? I would have thought it was right up your alley.”
“Oh, they asked me,” said Caliburn Sjeldnjar to his nephew-in-law, “but I’ve retired from all that sort of thing – no more foot slogging through swamps of uncertain depth or sleeping up trees for me, thank you. I gave them your name instead.”
The younger man looked puzzled. “Thank you, I think, but why?”
“You need something to do, you need to be seen doing something, and having spoken to a few of your friends at the wedding reception, I wouldn’t be surprised if you have applicable skill sets.” He took in Franz’s expression and added, “You don’t get to my final rank without picking up a clue or two. Everyone in my profession has that one friend, but all of your friends are like that.” He finished with a lifted eyebrow.
Franz sighed. “So, how does my supposed skill set apply to a wildlife control program?”
“You and Rune haven’t discussed Genakuran pigs, have you?” Caliburn was deadly serious.
“No, should we have?” Franz was obviously wondering what he was missing.
“The Genakur were a Samoyedic-speaking tribe who invaded us roughly a quarter of the way into the tenth century, well before the Church arrived up here.” Caliburn’s voice dropped in pitch in the manner of a story teller trying to bind his audience. “They were supposedly following the visions of their religious leaders, and aside from a tendency to massacre their way across the country side with cavalry, part of their force was made up of hybrid creatures created of dark sorcery. Frankly,” his voice returned to a more normal tone, “no-one knows if the things were an Atlantean creation, came out of someone’s reconstruction of Atlantean work, or were a completely separate development somewhere in central Siberia. They do sound like exactly the sort of problem that made the old Han Emperors ban sorcery in their territories.”
“You said hybrid creatures,” prompted Franz.
“Well the ones we have left are mainly porcine,” allowed Caliburn, “but there’s wolf in the mix and some of them used to walk upright, climb trees, and be able to open doors.”
“Exactly. Our ancestors apparently eliminated that strain back in the 1700s.” Caliburn gave a crooked smile, “One of the problems we have with these things is that they’re aggressively reproductive. Farms up in Outofaeste where the remnant population is don’t keep pigs, dogs are inside animals, and the locals always lock their doors. Even so, I’ve met a few people from those parts with odd noses and or sharp teeth.”
“What did you do?” Franz was seriously curious and it was oddly appealing, but both of them were in relationships so Caliburn put the impression aside.
Caliburn shrugged. “Nothing. If they’re our loyal citizens, soldiers, and subjects to the Queen then it’s nobody’s business what their ancestry is. It’s the same deal with helots. The wild ‘pigs’, on the other hand, are a menace to public safety. There’s a reason I mentioned sleeping up trees.”