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East of the Sun, West of the Moon: Chapter Three

       Last updated: Saturday, December 17, 2005 23:06 EST




    Herzer was walking back from another round of meetings at the War Department when he heard his name called. It was mid afternoon and he could have easily gotten a hansom cab for the kilometer or so walk, but after six hours of sitting on his butt listening to staff officers arguing about details of logistics trains a walk felt good.

    He turned at the call, though, and was surprised to see Mike and Courtney Boehlke, all dress up in their festival best.

    "Mike," he said, taking his friend's hand. "What in the hell are you doing in Sodom on Poma?"

    "Business," Mike said, grumpily. The farmer was browned by the sun, short and stocky with a shock of hair that was blonde on the near edge of white from bleaching. "Talking to damned bureaucrats."

    "A common problem in this town," Herzer said. "Courtney, you're looking entirely edible," he added, hugging the short, buxom redhead. Despite having at least a half a dozen children, she had still retained her pre-Fall figure, which was set off very nicely by a scoop neck dress, and was one of his favorite people.

    "We're trying to get some of the land they're opening up in the Sippa delta," Courtney said. "It's not going well. By the way, congratulations! We heard you're engaged to the Council Woman! When's the wedding?"

    "You'll be among the first to know," Herzer said, looking around. "If you're not doing anything, let's get a drink. Simak's isn't bad," he added, pointing at a nearby tavern.

    When they were seated with mugs in front of them, beer for Herzer and Mike and wine for Courtney, Herzer raised and eyebrow.

    "So you're deserting my farm?" he asked, jokingly. He had purchased a piece of land in the first days after the Fall, using just about his last available capital and a lucky lottery. Since he knew he was for the legions, he had turned the management over to Mike and the joint farms, which were side by side, had been steadily improving over the year and recently had started to produce a nice profit.

    "I'm not deserting you, Herzer," Mike said, gruffly. The farmer was short and prickly to a fault but he and Herzer were good enough friends that the major recognized it for just his normal tone. "There's a good manager for both farms and the rotation schedule is working like a clock. It's just..."

    "He's bored," Courtney interjected, somewhat sourly. "He needs more of a challenge. So he wants to drag me and the kids back into the wilderness."

    "Sippa delta is excellent farm land," Mike protested. "It'll grow shoestrings! And with the river right there transportation costs will be nothing. Getting it back to the markets on the coast is a problem, but they're bound to get the ports running at Nawlins sooner or later."

    "So what's the problem?" Herzer asked, frowning.

    "The damned bureaucrats," Mike snarled. "They're locking up all the land for the ag corps. The legislation had a hundred loopholes in it and the bureaus that are in charge of distribution are spreading it out using a scale based on 'proven property.' Now, between us, we've got six thousand hectares and I can point to all of it as 'proven' in my name. But Koberda Yoon has over ninety thousand. So they use this scale. With six thousand they only want to open up a hundred and sixty hectares to me, but they're opening over a hundred thousand to Koberda-Yoon. And the payback period is based on total grant, so I've got two years to prove out and Koberda has thirty."

    "Crap," Herzer said, shaking his head. "No wonder you're pissed."

    "Furious," Courtney said, nodding. "It was all I could do to drag him out of there before he started cracking heads."

    "I've often been tempted in this damned town," Herzer admitted, thinking of a certain Duke. "But it only gives you more grief. No, you need somebody with connections to find the loophole in the loophole. There are always 'waivers' or 'exceptions' in something like this." He frowned and shook his head. "I don't do politics, but...Megan does. Damnit, though..."

    "You don't want to ask her?" Courtney said, suddenly focused.

    "No, I don't," Herzer said, shrugging. "But I will. It just goes against my grain that you have to have a 'friend at court' to get your rights. That's not how it's supposed to happen."

    "We tried to get in to see Commons Member Bouseh," Mike said, shrugging. "But he was 'busy.'"

    "I'm not sure what Megan can do, if she can do anything," Herzer said, standing up. "But there's only one way to find out."

    "You don't want us to go, do you?" Courtney asked, shaking her head.

    "Yes," Herzer answered, simply. "She's my fiancée. You're two of my best friends. It's time you met."

    "I wish it was under better circumstances, though," Courtney argued. "Maybe we shouldn't do this."

    "This is Washan," Herzer sighed. "Unfortunately, it's not so much what you know or what you can do but who you know. You coming?"

    "Yeah," Mike said, standing up. "Come on, Courtney."

    "I like Raven's Mill," Courtney said, but she stood up and followed the men out of the tavern.

    "Great," Mike said, gruffly. "We can retire there."



    "Megan," Herzer said happily when he came in the apartment and discovered that she was actually there. "This is Courtney and Mike Boehlke, two of my oldest and best friends."

    "Miss...Count..." Courtney said, nervously, trying to curtsey.

    "Courtney," Megan said, quickly getting up from the couch where she was pouring over notes and walking over to take the woman's hand. "Give me a break," she said, grinning and pointing at Herzer. "I'm marrying him. You don't have to curtsey, but you could keep me in your prayers."

    Courtney laughed at that and grinned, showing a deep dimple on one side. "Well, I haven't heard many complaints and most of the ones I have heard boil down to 'no more!'"

    Megan smiled and offered her hand to Mike as Meredith floated into the room.

    "Mike, it's good to meet you at last," Megan said. "Herzer's told me so much about you."

    "Well, we had to hear about you in the newspapers," Mike said, shaking her hand sharply and then looking away. He met Meredith's eyes for a moment then looked away from them as well.

    "The best friends are always the last to know," Megan said, leading them over to the couch. "Meredith, I think I'm done with this for a bit. If you could ask Shanea to round up some drinks? Tea or is it late enough for something stronger?" she added, looking at the visitors.

    "Herzer dragged us away when I was half way through a glass of wine," Courtney said. "But it's up to you."

    "Wine for Courtney," Megan said. "And for me as well, the Raven's Mill Chablis perhaps? Mike? Wine?"

    "Beer if you don't mind," Mike said, tersely, looking around at the well decorated apartment. "I'd have thought that a council member would have a house or something."

    "Houses are at a premium in Washan," Megan admitted, shrugging. "And this is closer to work."

    "The shorter distance she has to travel, the less chance of an assassin getting to her," Herzer added, sourly.

    "Ick," Courtney said, shaking her head.

    "Megan," Herzer said, "do you have a few minutes?"

    "Actually, I have all night amazingly enough," Megan said. "I was planning on spending the evening with you."

    "Ouch," Mike said, standing up. "Maybe we should go."

    "Sit," Herzer said. "This should hardly take all evening. The thing is, Mike and Courtney have a problem and I don't know how to help them. I hope you do." He paused as Shanea came in followed by Meredith. As Shanea handed out the glasses and set a chilled bottle on the table Meredith took an outlying seat.

    "Here you go, hero," Shanea said with a grin, handing Herzer a glass dark with liquor. "Neat bourbon. Side of sassafras tea."

    "What would we do without you, Shanea?" Herzer said, grinning.

    "Tell me when you're ready to dump whatsername and we'll find out," Shanea said with a wink and a wiggle as she left.

    Mike's mouth dropped open at the by-play but Megan just rolled her eyes.

    "Shanea, and Meredith for that matter, were with me when I was incarcerated by Paul Bowman," Megan said, shrugging. "Each of us dealt with it in our own way. In Shanea's case, it helped that she was a minx. And still is."

    "If it's not too personal a question," Courtney said, hesitantly, "how did you deal with it?"

    "By making myself busy," Megan answered, honestly. "By creating projects for myself and by planning his assassination. And, finally, by carrying it out. It wasn't pleasant and I prefer not to talk about it, much more than that. And please don't ask Meredith about it at all."

    "I won't," Courtney said, shaking her head. "I'm very glad, though, that you were a strong and capable person and I'd like to...well..." she ended, holding up her glass. "Good luck to you and Herzer. He's a very good guy. I hope you'll be happy."

    "That I'll drink to," Mike said, holding up his own glass of beer.

    After they had sipped Megan set her glass down with a clink and looked at them gravely.

    "Okay, why do you need a friend in court?"

    After Mike explained their dilemma Megan frowned.


    "The legislation initially had a number of competing distribution plans," Meredith stated. "The one that came closest to the final bill included both a lottery and a proven distribution plan. It was killed in committee primarily by a few commons that were heavily supported by various ag corp lobbyists. Since a number of the higher ups in the Agriculture Department have worked for ag corps they clearly felt they could get a better distribution plan through the bureaucracy than in congress. And they were right."

    "It's not right, though," Megan admitted. "Agriculture is still the basis of the UFS economy and, correct me if I'm wrong, but the majority of agriculture is still small farmer. Correct?"

    "Eighty percent thereabouts according the last report I scanned," Meredith said. "I haven't been concentrating on it, though."

    "Exceptions we could use?" Megan asked, nodding.

    "Military members," Meredith said. "They can apply for a grant with a very long proven period and only a portion of the property has to be proven. Herzer, for example, could apply for up to six thousand hectares and only have to prove out six hundred within twenty years. And he can buy additional land at a very low cost. How low was not specified in the legislation and depends upon the value of the property. There are no exceptions, however, for general farmers. Not in the legislation."

    "That's not right," Courtney said. "Nothing against the military, Herzer, but..."

    "I suspect it's a means of retaining trained officers," Megan said. "It reverts if they resign their commission?"

    "All but proven lands and even then they only can retain up to twenty percent," Meredith said. "All lands revert to their heirs upon their death in service, proven or unproven, with no penalty."

    "That's why," Megan said, musingly. "What about council members?"

    "Up to one hundred thousand hectares," Meredith recited. "Only one thousand need be proven within twenty years. Dukes up to fifty thousand, same conditions."

    "I wonder if Duke Edmund knows that?" Megan said, smiling slightly. "Mike, how much land could you manage?"

    "I want my own farm," Mike temporized. "My own land. Not to manage tenant farmers."

    "Oh, we can arrange that I'm sure," Megan said, musingly. "And it doesn't solve the basic problem of the bureaucracy screwing people like you. There are several ways to approach this and I think we should use most of them. The first, Mike, is that small farmers like yourself need to get more organized. Preferably, form a political party but at the very least form some sort of a union that can hire lobbyists and make political contributions. Sorry, but that's how the system works and you either use it or you get used. There are enough farmers, both as a source of funds and direct voters, that with a little organization the commons will not dare ignore you. The second layer will be directed specifically at this problem. I could, frankly, use an income that's not dependent upon my subscription from the government. Therefore, Herzer, myself and possibly Duke Edmund will apply for grants of land and consider buying a few more parcels with the agreement that you manage them. The last point will be to ensure that the bureaucrats know you have friends in high places. I think we're going out to dinner."

    "Dinner?" Courtney said, clearly confused.

    "Somewhere where people will see Countess Megan Travante and her fiancée consulting with their agricultural manager," Megan said, grinning. "And by tomorrow, anyone that is anyone will know who you and Mike are and I'll guarantee that you'll have a different reception at the Agriculture Department."

    "I don't like this," Mike said, shaking his head. "I don't know what I expected but it wasn't this. Maybe a letter to somebody in the department that would get me a better, or at least higher, meeting. But this is..."

    "Underhanded and indirect," Megan said, nodding. "Herzer, you want to try to explain."

    "Well, it's how the town works," Herzer said, shrugging. "I don't like it but as Duke Edmund says, democracy isn't the best government just the best that's ever been discovered. And this is how it works. The politicians get up and make speeches but where the deals get made are at parties and small meetings like, well, this one. You realize that you're doing a tit for tat, right?"

    "No?" Mike said.

    "Think about it. Megan makes sure you get your farm and you manage hers. That's how the town works. And it means that you've got an ear in Washan when something happens because part of her income is dependent on you being able to do your job. And it means that from now on you won't have trouble with bureaucracy or the ag corps. Everybody is a little afraid of councilors. But, right now, I think Washan is more terrified of Megan than Queen Sheida. Sheida sits in her aerie and manages things at long distance, not really getting involved in the political hustle-bustle. Megan walked into one party last night and walked out with agreements to build a new legion and upgrades to the Nawlins ports, both of which were dead in the water before she walked in."

    "Oh," Courtney said, looking a little pale.

    "I'd agree to help you even if you didn't agree to manage my farm," Megan said, looking at Herzer and frowning. "Because you're friends and you need somebody who understands the system. This is not a tit-for-tat."

    "Well, hell," Mike said, shrugging. "I'd do it anyway because you're friends. But, hell, I'm not sure about a hundred thousand, two hundred thousand hectares. That's big management."

    "All of it doesn't have to be proved out," Megan pointed out. "And I trust you where I wouldn't trust one of the ag corps to manage it."

    "If you think we're up to it, we will be," Courtney said, still looking a trifle pale.

    "And now, I think we should consider where to go to dinner," Megan said with a smile. "And we can talk about old times and you can tell me all of Herzer's secrets and embarrass him."



    "So where did you three meet?" Megan asked as they were being seated. She'd carefully chosen a restaurant that would not be too upscale for their clothing and had changed to match. Herzer was still in undress day uniform which fit closely enough. The restaurant, however, was a frequent hang-out of congressional aides if not the commons and Peer members. When Ashley had sent a hurried message that Megan wanted to dine there, the staff had nearly had apoplexy.

    "In Raven's Mill, right after the Fall," Courtney said, frowning as she looked at the menu and blanched at the prices. "This food is outrageous!"

    "My treat," Megan said. "Traditional in a business deal like this so don't try to argue. And any restaurant that fit the bill for what we're trying to achieve would be as expensive. Or more so. And the food is, at least, good. You wouldn't believe how bad the food is in some of the really expensive restaurants in town. How'd you get to Raven's Mill?"

    "Well, I'd lived nearby," Courtney said, shrugging. "I met Mike on the road and we sort of ganged up for protection, you know how it was..." She trailed off unhappily.

    "I do," Megan said. "The area I was in wasn't taken by the Changed for about six months. Once New Destiny established control it was actually a bit better and they didn't burn and loot everyone. But when they were passing through was...bad. Very bad."

    "Well," Courtney continued, "we got checked in at Raven's Mill. Did you have something like that?"

    "No," Megan said, interested. "Edmund was there from the beginning, right?"

    "Oh, yeah," Courtney said. "And you could tell. I mean, it's just a couple of weeks after the Fall and it's, like, civilization. You got checked in and they asked you questions about your skills and stuff then they put you up for a few days to get your head together. After that you had to get to work. Anyway, we met Herzer the first night, I think, right Mike?"

    "Yeah, first night," he said, sipping his beer.

    "So we hung out together until we joined the apprenticeship program and we were in that together too. Then, well, he joined the Legions while we were still in the program and Mike hit it off with Myron Raeburn who was the guy in charge of the farming program. He decided that running a farm was what he wanted to do. Herzer helped with that, too."

    "Just a bit," Herzer said. "I had picked up a few extra credits and I figured Mike was a good bet."

    "More than that," Courtney said. "He'd gotten an ox and some other livestock in the lottery. There he was laid up in bed..."

    "Laid up?" Megan asked, frowning. "You were wounded?"

    "Injured," Herzer said, chuckling. "I hit my head on a branch while I was riding."

    "Herzer!" Courtney protested. "I can't let you get away with that. We were rounding up ferals to get some food and separate out the young ones and things so we could use them for farm animals. I mean, most of them had been from farm breeds so they could be used again. Anyway, this big boar..."

    "Courtney," Herzer said.

    "Shut up. Anyway, this big boar was about to gore Shilan and Herzer charged it on his horse, that was Diablo, right?"

    "Yeah," Herzer said, grumpily. "It was Diablo."

    "He charged it and got it with a spear and kept it from getting Shilan but then when Diablo jumped over the boar he hit his head on a branch. It darn near killed him."

    "Sounds like my Herzer," Megan grinned. "You should see him on a dragon. But the question is: Who is Shilan?"

    "Oh, Shilan was from the apprenticeship program, too," Courtney grinned. "I don't think she and Herzer ever really had a 'thing' you know, but they were pretty chummy," she added, grinning more broadly.

    "Thanks, Courtney," Herzer growled.

    "Then there was...what was the name of that red-head?" Courtney continued.

    "Morgen," Herzer sighed. "Courtney, are you going to do a whole list?"

    "Yes," Courtney said, grinning at Megan. "That only lasted about four hours..."

    "Four hours?" Megan said, laughing. "Four hours?"

    "From lunch until sometime in the early evening," Courtney confirmed. "Okay, maybe five. I don't know what they were doing in the interim, but they were pretty sweaty!"

    "It wasn't sweat," Herzer said, loftily. "We'd washed off in a stream. We were picking wild-flowers."

    "Oh, is that what you call it?" Courtney grinned. "Then they had an argument and Morgen stormed off. I think she works in the baths now."

    "Okay, that's Shilan and Morgen," Megan said, glancing at Herzer who was turning red. "Now. Tell me about...Bast."

    "Arrrgh," Herzer groaned.

    "Well, I wasn't there when they met," Courtney said. "But Mike was, weren't you, honey?"

    "Yeah," Mike agreed.

    "She was hanging around with Rachel Ghorbani, you know, Edmund's daughter?"

    "I've met her," Megan said, smiling faintly. "Of course, the last time I saw her she was covered in blood."

    "Really?" Courtney said. "Surgery?"

    "No," Megan noted. "She'd just killed one of New Destiny's top field agents. I spent some time sharing a cabin with her also. Nice girl."

    "Is Madame ready to order?" the waiter said, nervously.

    Megan glanced at the menu again and shrugged. "I hear they have a very good lobster."

    "Well..." Courtney said, realizing that she hadn't really been paying attention to the menu.

    "I'll have the strip steak, rare," Mike said.

    "Lobster for me," Megan added, closing her menu.

    "Same here," Herzer said.

    "Make it three," Courtney added, closing her menu and shrugging. "I haven't had lobster since before the Fall."

    "Still no tea," Herzer pointed out. "Or chocolate. Edmund complains about one and Daneh complains about the other..."

    "I hadn't heard about that," Courtney said. "Rachel killing someone. I'm surprised, it doesn't seem like her. But I haven't seen her in ages; she's hardly in Raven's Mill anymore."

    "Army surgeon corps," Herzer said. "I think she's back at Belmopan. You could run up the road and visit her if you wanted."

    "Probably won't have the time," Mike said.

    "About Bast..." Megan said.

    "Well, she met up with Herzer and just sort of picked him out," Courtney said. "Told him he'd probably clean up well or something. After that they had quite a time. She wandered off for a while then turned up again when Dionys McCanoc's group was coming. Saved your life, right, Herzer?"

    "Yeah," he said, sighing. "I'd stayed behind to cover the retreat of a cavalry patrol. Diablo was just about worn out and I couldn't outrun the group that was pursuing us. So I stayed back. I'd gotten a couple of them but I was having trouble with the rest and then Bast showed up." He paused and shrugged. "End of fight. Good guys six, bad guys nothing." He paused again and shook his head. "Make that bad guys one. Somebody... what the hell was his name. I can't believe I've forgotten his name. Anyway, they got one of the cavalry guys."

    "Was that your first fight?" Megan asked.

    "Yeah," Herzer mused. "It seems like an eternity but it's only been...five years? Jesus. All these changes in five damned years. But that's why I can't believe I don't remember his name. I thought he was going to make it but...well..." He stopped and shook his head, furrowing his brow.

    "So how long did Bast stay around?" Megan asked.

    "Not long after McCanoc got his," Courtney said as she looked at the muttering Herzer. "And we didn't see much of Herzer, either. He was always out of town. He'd show up at the farm from time to time, just passing through."

    "I think she's gone for a while, this time," Megan said. "Right after the battle of Belmopan she dimension shifted out with one of those Changed elves. Even Mother can't track her. No knowing when she'll be back or even if she'll survive."

    "Oh, she'll survive," Herzer said, shaking his head. "Thomas...Marcum, what the hell was it...?"

    "You're going to be muttering about this all night, aren't you?" Megan said, smiling. "I'm sure there are records somewhere."

    "With Edmund, it's for sure," Courtney said, smiling. "June Lasker's still the archivist in Raven's Mill. She'll have his name."

    "I suppose," Herzer said. "What did I order?"

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