Issue Number 23
There are dangers in the life of a reporter. Sometimes the truth comes at a high price in risk and danger. Getting this interview put me at as great a risk as I have ever been in and only by keen marksmanship did I survive to tell my story. But I get ahead of myself.
I arrived at Regina prime looking forward to my interview. In all the years I have worked as a reporter on Regina the greatest prize was a interview with the remote, proper Grand Admiral William Grey. Outside a press conference there was no time for superfluous words with the media. Few of we in the press corps could imagine him smiling, much less out of uniform.
Then, without warning, just a day ago a very special messenger asked if I could make time to do an interview with Grand Admiral Grey, the very special messengers husband.
I have interviewed over a hundred sophonts over the years. Every time it was a scheduler, publicist or agent that tried to set the ground rules. The more powerful the target, the more strict the rules. I have never been invited to go riding by a Duchess and asked to bring a recorder in case something useful for your article comes up. I accepted the offer. I would have accepted the offer even if one of the most beautiful noblewomen in the Imperium hadnt delivered it.
That is why I was standing in the morning sunlight, amazed at the beauty of the animal being led out to me by that same Duchess, Danirelle Grey. We exchange horse talk for a moment, her knowledge outpacing mine by a good furlong when the sound of a galloping horse catches our attention. A beautiful bay hunter gracefully clears the paddock fence, his rider flowing with the animal in perfect harmony. Duke William Grey rides toward us, his smile reflected by his wifes radiant happiness.
The Iron Duke swung out of his saddle and embraced his wife with a kiss, then thrusts out his hand, his smile dampened but not gone. We mount our horses and set out. The Duke asks if I have remembered my recorder since notes on horseback are nearly always too jumbled to use. I have it and we start out at a walk while I try to remember the last time an interviewee was so concerned about my journalistic needs. It happens, but its rare, and its always those interviews that are the most telling.
We ride for most of the morning. It is surprising how comfortable the Grand Admiral truly is on horseback considering the cutting edge technology he commands. His wife is known for her interest in horses, but few realize the Grey family keeps their stable not out of fashion, but out of passion. Even on horseback though, he keeps a weather eye out. Nothing escapes his notice, not even that I am asking gentle questions, establishing a rhythm to the interview.
Go ahead and ask the hard questions, Mr. Boone. he says evenly.
I do, and this most private man answers them. His answers come slowly as he considers them. His phrasing is most careful about his first wifes death. To this day Admiral Vessers death is debated, and Grey refuses to confirm her final act was to protect the Imperium from a dangerous betrayal by the very people the late Admiral had trusted and supported.
His answers are more forthcoming about his second wife, the femme fatale Countess Arabella dMontgaine. The Countess was known for her charm, wit and extravagant tastes. For the first time Duke Grey admitted his second marriage was in fact an arranged union.
I thought it would at least make our families happy. he said with a rueful shake of his head. Almost from the first Arabella realized how little we had in common, and it upset her more than she let on. I didnt see how much the strain had affected her until it was too late.
We rode in silence for a while when suddenly the Duchess reined in her horse just seconds before Grey did the same. I was slower and my mount suddenly shied and tossed his head nervously. Then the Duchess drew and shot with the speed that earned her the nickname Viper. I turned in my saddle and stared at the twitching form of a feral Greater Thragger, his hunting tongue twitching just inches from my horses hoof.
With the hard won experience she earned serving justice on a dozen outlying worlds the Duchess put two more rounds into the ragged beast to make sure of him. Only then did we see the gaunt hollows along his flanks and the tattered collar with the ID tag cut off. Danirelle Grey looked angry, her azure eyes glinted as she dismounted. She showed a sheriffs aspect as she took a spine from the dead creatures ruff and the collar.
Starved, at least twenty kilos underweight. the Duchess said prodding him with a graceful boot. Thraggers may be dangerous, but the lazy idiot that abandoned this poor bastard is worse.
I reflect that I would hate to see those blue eyes angry with me. For all her grace and beauty this is a woman who took a womans justice against foes and dangers throughout the Spinward Marches. Her family (Kalugin) has been in the Marches for as long as the Marches have existed on a map. Perhaps that is where her sense of justice and duty to the people Behind the Claw sprang from. All I know is they, and I, had a protector as beautiful as the causes for which she fought.
We ride a little ways further, and fall back into the dance of reporter and subjects. The Duke speaks of a lonely childhood without a trace of self pity, the Duchess of her hopes for Victoria Aledon, and all the other children she has worked with so quietly behind the scenes. It is hard to imagine that this young woman who glows when she speaks of her hopes for a family of her own could ever have chased down some of the most dangerous criminals in the Marches.
We come to a fork in the trail, and they differ on the fastest route back. I ride ahead to judge the outcome at the Dukes suggestion. I can barely make them out as I signal the start. They part, each a swift growing figure as they push themselves and their mounts to the limit. Neither carries a whip but their mounts push hard for their riders. The Duchess whirls up with her blonde hair streaming in the wind to win by a heartbeat, and claims a quick kiss for her prize. The moment passes but her glow lingers as they head back wistfully to the barn and the resumption of their duties.
I am strapped into the shuttle before I realize how aptly the rides end matched the lives of this couple. Duty has taken them down different paths, the Dukes way has been protecting the Imperium while his lady took up the gun to protect those lives that make up that Imperium. Now those trails have come together, destinys riders going side by side.