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The Emperor's Agent -- In Vino Veritas

A reader asks me how much Elza remembers of her past selves, of the events of Black Ships, Hand of Isis and Stealing Fire. Generally speaking, not much consciously. However, it's all there, and when something brings it to the fore it's at her fingertips. In this case, from wine comes truth. When Elza gets drunk with Corbineau and tells him her woes, Lydias has rather a lot to say!



We drank. He spread his hands around the glass as though examining each finger. "What happened?" he asked. "With you and the Marshal, I mean. You seemed so happy in Munich. And now he's…."

"Miserable?" I asked, cocking an eyebrow.

Corbineau shook his head. "Frustrated. Explosive. I don't mean that he does anything he shouldn't, but he feels like it's all coiled there, just beneath the surface, and if something touches the powder off it will all explode. Mind you, I love working with him. Always have. I think the world of him, don't mistake me. But he's tinder waiting for the flame, all the time now."

"I don't know," I said, and was surprised to hear the sadness in my voice. "I have no idea what he's thinking anymore. We haven't talked in nearly three years, Jean-Baptiste, not once."

"Why? What happened? Whose fault was it?"

I sighed. "I suppose in the beginning it was Moreau's."

"What did he do?" Jean-Baptiste asked, refilling my glass for me. "I know you were worried he'd find out and have his revenge on Michel."

"It wasn't that," I said. "It was that he gave him a lot of money."

Jean-Baptiste Corbineau refilled my glass again. "What did the Emperor do?"

I sighed and took another drink. The hanging lanterns swayed seductively in the breeze, and the crowd seemed quieter. "He didn't just double it. That would have been too easy."

"Too easy?"

I put my head on Corbineau's shoulder. "Too easy for Michel to refuse. No, he offered him everything he ever wanted, glory and beauty and the hand of a princess. And a place at his side. What have I ever had that could compare to that, Jean-Baptiste? What have I ever had that could compare to Alexander?"

"You are quite drunk," Corbineau said, his arm around me. "Alexander who?"

"Alexander the Great," I said, my mouth running on ahead of my mind. "Who else? I was fool enough compete this time. I should know better. I do know better. He is the perfect Companion. 'He too is Alexander.' I know better. And I held on, because I did not want to give him up. Because I did not want to lose him."

"You and Michel?" Corbineau seemed to be having some trouble following this, which was silly as I was making perfect sense.

"I tried to talk him out of it. I got him to ask to go on the Santo Domingo expedition instead when the Emperor offered him Inspector General of Cavalry. I got him to ask. But he wasn't assigned."

"And a good thing too," Corbineau said, taking a long drink of brandy. "Almost everybody on the Santo Domingo expedition died."

I held my glass out for more brandy, the room spinning in quite a comfortable way. "Do you remember Persia, Jean-Baptiste?"

"I've never been to Persia," Corbineau said. He sounded unaccountably baffled.

"The wedding." I waved my glass around. "The princesses. Stateira and Drypetis. Hephaistion married Drypetis, so that their children would be kin. His and Alexander's."

"That was a really long time ago," Corbineau said carefully. "And I'm not sure what it has to do with anything."

"I watched them get married," I said, my voice choking. "My wife was already dead, dead in Gedrosia. I watched Hephaistion marry her. And why not? Why shouldn't he? He was grave and beautiful and he would make her very happy."

"What in the world does this have to do with Michel and the Emperor?" Corbineau asked. "Elza, you have completely lost me."

"He offered him Drypetis, don't you see? The hand of Joséphine's goddaughter, Aglae Auguié. Inspector General of Cavalry, his son-in-law for all practical purposes -- the money and the title and the honor and the princess -- everything he could possibly want. Perhaps he knew the way to buy him. Or perhaps he caught that fire too. Michel came back from every meeting ablaze. The ideas, the conversation, the fire that leaps from mind to mind -- they would build a new world together, a new world to be won! Do you see that, Jean-Baptiste?"

"Do we not all blaze from that fire?" Jean-Baptiste said quietly. "Do we not all see that new world to be won? Isn't that why we're here? That we may not return into the night of centuries past, but keep the best of the Revolution, tempering the white horse with the black? That we may move forward without the madness, without the blood of thousands running in the streets from the guillotine, the downtrodden paying back their oppressors a thousandfold? And yet that we may harness this lightning, schools and national law courts, freedom of religion and of conscience? Are we not all afire?"

I turned about and looked at him muzzily. "I've never heard you talk like that before," I said.

"I'm not really a lightweight, Elza."

"I never thought you were," I said drunkenly. "I knew you were a Companion too." I put my head on his shoulder, breathing in the smell of his sweat, the stale smoke of hours in a tavern. "My dear, true friend."

He patted my back. "Tell me about Mademoiselle Auguié, Elza. You can tell me it all."

Comments

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
sockich
Jun. 12th, 2013 08:30 am (UTC)
This is lovely and heartbreaking and oh, Elza (and oh, Lydias). *cuddles them both*

And I'm at work, so I don't have access to my spreadsheet, but do we know who Corbineau was before? I want to say someone in Raves of Falkenau but I'm drawing a blank on anything else. Was he in Persia? Sorry and feel free to ignore me if you don't want to answer, but this is one of my favourite parts of the books, finding out who was who when.
jo_graham
Jun. 12th, 2013 12:01 pm (UTC)
They certainly both need a cuddle! Both of her, as it were.... Jean-Baptiste is a good friend.

He was Adam Trcka in Ravens of Falkenau. He didn't appear in the first three books. So he really has no idea what she's talking about!

In The Emperor's Agent Elza finds out who a lot of people were and actually believes it. Which changes everything.
sockich
Jun. 13th, 2013 09:57 am (UTC)
He was Adam Trcka in Ravens of Falkenau. He didn't appear in the first three books. So he really has no idea what she's talking about!

Thank you! :)

In The Emperor's Agent Elza finds out who a lot of people were and actually believes it. Which changes everything.

I can't even begin to tell you how excited I am for this book.
jo_graham
Jun. 13th, 2013 10:14 am (UTC)
That's the step she needs to take, and the scary one to her as it would be to us -- what if it were real? What if it weren't a vision or a dream or a delusion or a creative conceit? What if she had to live as if it were 100% really real?

That's as big a jump for Elza, child of the Enlightenment as she is, as it is for us. What if it were real?

I've been playing with a flashback scene that may go somewhere in the Order of the Air books about the Lodge in World War I, about how Mitch got into the Lodge and that very question -- what does an ordinary guy, a high school football player who was supposed to go to law school and then joined the army, do when he has the choice to believe the impossible or not?

Jerry: (wonderingly) It's all real.
Mitch: (happily) I always wanted it to be.
sockich
Jun. 14th, 2013 09:08 am (UTC)
That's the step she needs to take, and the scary one to her as it would be to us -- what if it were real?

I can't wait to see how this plays out.

And I really, really hope we get to see those Order of the Air flashbacks at some point, because that sounds fantastic.

Jerry: (wonderingly) It's all real.
Mitch: (happily) I always wanted it to be.


:D
linneasr
Jul. 2nd, 2013 01:46 pm (UTC)
Oooo.... :-) Yes, heartbreak - it never really goes away, I suppose. *sigh* Yep, as sockich mentions, cuddles all 'round would not go amiss. Thanks for this!
jo_graham
Jul. 2nd, 2013 05:08 pm (UTC)
Lydias still has some feelings! :)

But on the other hand, so does Hephaistion. And Lydias never stopped to wonder if perhaps this wouldn't have been more if he hadn't said so quickly that it was nothing. After all, Hephaistion couldn't push. Lydias was under his command, and it would have been dishonorable.

He has always wondered what happened to Lydias in the chaos after his death. He has always wondered if terrible things happened.
linneasr
Jul. 2nd, 2013 05:13 pm (UTC)
Mm. That will have interesting echoes with Michel and Elza, then! And, given Lydias' own experience with command after Hephaistion's death, Elza will have a deeper perspective to draw upon. I am so eager for this book!!
jo_graham
Jul. 2nd, 2013 05:24 pm (UTC)
Oh yes! Because Lydias didn't die young in some horrible way. He lived forty years, and he carried Ptolemy's banner on many fields until he was old. He lived in Alexandria, and he had a peerless lover and a wife he cared for, and children and grandchildren and a white city by the sea. Lydias won. And that has shaped Elza ever since.
linneasr
Jul. 2nd, 2013 05:39 pm (UTC)
Yes, I see: Lydias thinks himself rejected by Hephaistion, and a widower, but finds a satisfying life despite the early losses. I would expect that Elza will not (ever) be stopped by loss. An indomitable spirit.
jo_graham
Jul. 2nd, 2013 06:21 pm (UTC)
You're right. She never will be. And Elza has a lot of really bad things ahead of her. But nothing will ever stop her, and ultimately that's why her story isn't Hand of Isis. This is everything she's learned since then, every trick in the book from Georg and all the rest. And the thing she learned from Lydias -- winning is possible. Even when it looks like you've lost completely, you can still win.

Which is a good thing, because the world she wins is our world. The ideals of the revolution -- human rights, public education, the rule of law -- are the basis of our world.
linneasr
Jul. 3rd, 2013 08:38 am (UTC)
Yes, and grateful I am for it. :-)
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )