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Chapter Five

Harrington City would have been only a large town on Manticore, but it seemed much bigger, for Grayson architecture reflected the limits of Grayson's pre-Alliance tech base, with none of the mighty towers of most counter-grav civilizations. Its buildings were low-growing and close to the ground—thirty stories was considered a monster—and that meant the same amount of housing spread out over a far wider stretch of ground.


Honor still found that a bit odd as her ground car purred down Courvosier Avenue and she gazed out at her capital. She'd gotten over her discomfort (not without a struggle) at learning any steading's capital always bore the steading's name, but watching the buildings pass reminded her yet again of the vast differences between Graysons and Manticorans. It would have been far more efficient to use the newly acquired technologies to build proper towers—one tower would have held Harrington City's total population with ease, and it would have been easy to seal it against the hostile environment, as well—but Grayson didn't do things that way.


Honor's subjects were a baffling mix of obstinate tradition and inventiveness. They'd used the new technology with impressive innovation to build this entire city from the ground up in barely three T-years, which had to be a record for a project of such size, but they'd built it the way they thought it should be, and she'd been wise enough not to argue the point. After all, it was to be their home. They had a right to make it one they were comfortable in, and as she gazed down broad cross streets and green swathes threaded through the city grid, she had to admit it felt right. Different from any city she'd ever before known, but curiously and completely right.


She pressed the button to lower the armorplast window and inhaled the sweet scents of dogwood and cherry as the car entered Bernard Yanakov Park. A thousand years, she thought. The struggle the first few Grayson generations had waged to keep just themselves alive had been more terrible than most people could imagine, yet a thousand years of Graysons had preserved the trees of Old Earth, as well. The sheer labor involved in preserving dogwoods, not because they were useful but simply because they were beautiful, was daunting, yet they'd done it. These trees might no longer be identical to the Old Earth originals, but they were close, and Grayson cherries were still edible—by Graysons, at least. Honor herself would never dare eat them, unless they came from one of the orbital farms, where the original Terrestrial strains had been maintained unchanged or imported anew once Yeltsin's Star regained interstellar capability, yet the natives had adapted sufficiently to handle them. They'd had to, for it was physically impossible to completely decontaminate planetary farmland and keep it that way.


Or it had been, she reminded herself, glancing up at the towering crystoplast dome that covered the entire city and several thousand hectares of as yet empty ground. People on Grayson lived more like the denizens of an orbital habitat than a normal planetary population, and their homes were sealed enclaves of filtered air and distilled water, but Harrington City was different. For the first time, Grayson architects had been able to design a city as a living, breathing unity—one whose people could walk its streets without emergency breath masks—and the same technology would soon be extended to the agricultural sector, as well.


Food production had always been a major limiting factor on Grayson's population. Not even its natives could survive for long on vegetables grown in unreclaimed soil, and keeping farmland decontaminated was a nightmare task, so over two-thirds of their food was grown in space. The orbital farms were far more productive, on a volume-for-volume basis, than any dirt-side farm, but building them had been hideously expensive, especially with pre-Alliance technology. Historically, simply feeding its people had soaked up something like seventy percent of Yeltsin's gross system product, but that was about to change. Sky Domes' projections indicated that food could be produced in domed farms—essentially nothing more than vast, self-contained greenhouses—for little more than two-thirds of the orbital habitats' ongoing production costs and with far smaller startup investments.


The consequences, both economically and for the population the system could support, would be stupendous. Sky Domes wasn't merely going to make Grayson cities nicer; it was going to eliminate factors which had forced Grayson to practice draconian population control throughout its history, and only the influx of Manticoran technology and Honor's own financial backing had made it possible.


She felt a deep, uncomplicated sense of triumph at the thought and smiled up at the dome, but then the ground car turned a last corner, and her smile vanished. A line of demonstrators ringed Yountz Center, the heart of Yanakov Park, like stony-faced vultures, ignoring the taunts and jibes flung at them by a small crowd of native Harringtons. An expressionless cordon of the Harrington Guard in their jade tunics and lighter green trousers guarded the protesters against anything more physical than taunts, and Honor felt LaFollet's anger beside her. The major hated the Guard's responsibility to protect people who despised his Steadholder, but she managed to keep her own expression serene. It was hardly a surprise, after all. The agitators had pulled in their horns of late, yet she'd known they'd be here today.


She sighed and told herself she should be grateful for the general drop in demonstrations. The pickets who'd besieged Harrington House on a daily basis had abandoned their posts entirely in the last week, and Honor still felt a guilty sense of delight over the reason they'd decamped. The first counter-demonstration had apparently been staged on the spur of the moment by a hundred or so of Sky Domes' construction workers. They'd arrived spoiling for trouble, and the two groups of pickets had indulged in a lively exchange of personal opinions which had given way to an even more lively exchange of blows and ended with the construction workers pursuing their foes down Courvosier Avenue with obviously fell intent. The same thing, except for the appearance of several dozen Harringtons who weren't Sky Domes employees, had happened the next day, and the next. By the fourth day, there were no hostile placards at her gates.


Honor had been enormously relieved, both by their absence and by the Harrington City Police's scrupulous neutrality. She suspected the HCP had deliberately waited until the anti-Steadholder groups were in full flight before moving in to quell the various riots, but that wasn't the same thing as Honor's having used them to suppress dissent. Best of all, her stern injunctions to Andrew LaFollet had kept her personal armsmen completely out of it, and the riots had given her a legitimate excuse to exclude any demonstrators from today's ceremonies.


But even so, today was too important an event—and too positive an occasion—for her enemies to let pass without attempting to ruin it, and they raised their voices in a denouncing chant as they saw her car. Her jaw clenched as some of the words came to her, but she maintained her calm expression somehow, and then the car swept past them and a sudden surf of cheers drowned their chant as the vehicle passed through the Center's gates.


"The Center" was a small complex that included the Yountz Pavilion and half a dozen other buildings surrounding a small lake, and its grounds were packed. Colored banners waved overhead, a band took up the swelling strains of the Steadholders' March, scores of police—some borrowed from Mayhew Steading to make up the needed numbers for the occasion—lined the access road to restrain the shouting crowd, and Honor felt herself relax as a jubilant roar of genuine welcome swept over her. She raised a hand to acknowledge it, and Nimitz rose in her lap. The 'cat preened as the cheers redoubled, and she laughed as he poked his muzzle out the window and twitched his whiskers at his admirers.


The car pulled up at the foot of the platform work crews had erected before Yountz Pavilion. The facing temporary bleachers were crowded to the bursting point, and Honor climbed out into the tumult of music and shouting voices while picked guardsmen snapped to attention in a double row. Her cheeks heated as the waves of sound rolled over her. Even now, she found it hard to accept that she was these people's direct, personal ruler, and she fought the urge to explain that they'd mistaken her for someone truly important.


She set Nimitz on her shoulder as Howard Clinkscales stepped forward to greet her. Her burly, white-haired regent leaned on his silver-headed staff of office as he bowed deeply, then extended his arm to her and escorted her between the lines of guardsmen to the platform's stairs. The band reached the end of the Steadholder's Anthem with perfect timing as they stepped out onto the platform, and the cheers faded into silence as Honor released Clinkscales' arm and crossed to the flag-draped podium.


Another white-haired man, this one frail with pre-prolong age and dressed all in black, relieved only by the white of an antique clerical collar, waited there for her. She dropped one of her newly mastered curtsies to him, and the Reverend Julius Hanks, spiritual head of the Church of Humanity Unchained, extended his hand to her with a smile, then turned to face the crowd and cleared his throat as she took her place at his side.


"Let us pray, Brothers and Sisters," he said simply, and the crowd fell instantly silent as his amplified voice floated over them. "Oh God, Father and Tester of Mankind, we thank You for this day and for the bounty with which You have rewarded us in this, the fruits of our labor. We beseech Your blessing on us always as we face the Great Test of life. Strengthen us as we rise to its challenges, and help us to know and to do Your will always, that we may come to You at the end of all labor with the sweat of Your work upon our brows and Your love in our hearts. And we most humbly beseech You to bestow Your wisdom always upon our leaders, and especially upon this Steadholder, that her people may prosper under her rule and walk always in the sunshine of Your favor. In the Name of the Tester, the Intercessor, and the Comforter, Amen."


A deep, reverberating "amen" echoed from the crowd, and Honor joined it. She hadn't converted to the Church of Humanity—that was one of the things which most infuriated the street preachers—yet she respected both the Church and the personal faith of people like Reverend Hanks. She was uncomfortable with some elements of Church doctrine, yet for all its lingering sexism, the Church was a vital, living organism, a central part of Grayson life, and its beliefs were far less rigid and fixed than some.


Honor's interest in military history meant she knew only too well how often the intolerance of religious bigotry had exacted its price in blood and atrocity, how seldom a single faith had enjoyed universal acceptance without becoming an instrument of repression. And she knew how fanatical the original Church of Humanity had been when it shook the dust of Old Earth from its sandals to found its own perfect society on this beautiful, deadly planet. Yet somehow the Church had avoided repression here. There had been times, in its past, when that was not true. She knew that, too, for she'd applied herself to the study of Grayson history with even more intensity than she had to that of Manticore. She had to, for she must learn to know and understand the people accident had called her to rule. So, yes, she knew of the periods when the Church had ossified, when doctrine had hardened into dogma. But those periods seldom lasted, which was all the more surprising in such a deeply traditional people as those of Grayson.


Perhaps it was because the Church had learned from the horrors of Grayson's Civil War, when over half the planet's total population had perished. Surely that terrible lesson had cut deep, yet she thought it was only half the answer—and that the very world on which they lived was the other half.


Grayson was its own people's worst enemy, the invisible threat perpetually waiting to destroy the unwary. That wasn't unique to Yeltsin's Star, of course. Any orbital habitat offered its inhabitants countless ways to do themselves in, and many another planet was equally, if less insidiously, dangerous. But most people in such environments either became slaves to the traditions they knew spelled survival or else developed an almost automatic, instinctive rejection of tradition in eternal search for better ways to survive. What made the Graysons different was that, somehow, they'd done both. They did cling to the traditions they'd tested and found good, yet they were simultaneously willing to consider the new in ways even Manticorans were not, for the Manticore System's three inhabited worlds were friendly to Man.


She raised her head as the silence of prayer eased into the rustle and stir of bodies, and once again she felt the dynamism which imbued these strange, determined people who had become hers. The balance of tradition and its sense of identity set against the need to conquer their environment and the drive to experiment that created. It was an oddly heady brew, one she envied, and as she turned to face her subjects and a fresh ovation rolled up to meet her, she wondered yet again how her own infusion into it would ultimately affect it.


She gazed out over the faces. Thousands of intent, expectant faces, all turned towards her, and spoke sternly to the butterflies in her middle. The soft, almost chirping sound of amusement Nimitz made in her ear helped, and she smiled out at the enormous crowd.


"Thank you for that kind, if somewhat overwhelming, welcome." The sound system carried her soprano clearly, and a ripple of laughter greeted her wry tone. "There are a few more of you than I'm used to speaking to at one time," she went on, "and I'm afraid I'm still a bit new at making speeches, so I'll keep this simple. And—" she waved at the heavily laden tables dotted across the grass "—since I see the caterers are waiting, I'll keep it short, as well."


That woke fresh laughter and a spatter of applause, and her smile became a grin.


"I suppose that shows me your priorities," she teased, and shook her head. "Well, since you're all so hungry, let's not waste any more time.


"We're here," she went on more seriously, "to dedicate the city dome. This is a new steading, and, for the moment, at least, a poor one. You all know how stretched our fiscal structure is right now, and you know, even better than I, how expensive it is to build a new steading from the unreclaimed ground up. You know how hard you've worked, how much each of you, and all the people still out on the projects, who can't join us here today, have sweated and labored to create this beautiful city." She waved at the park around them, the buildings looming beyond its trees, and the sparkling, half-invisible dome above them and let her voice fall silent for a moment, then cleared her throat.


"Yes, you all know that," she said quietly. "But what you may not know is how proud of each and every one of you I am. How deeply honored I am that you chose to give up places in older, established steadings to come here, to this place where there was nothing, and create such beauty for us all. Yours is an ancient world, one to which I am a newcomer, but surely none of your ancestors have done more, or done it better, and I thank you all."


A pleased, embarrassed hush answered her quiet sincerity, and she turned to beckon for a young man to join her from among the other dignitaries on the platform. Adam Gerrick still looked as if he felt out of costume in his formal attire, but the crowd recognized him and applauded loudly as the chief engineer of Grayson Sky Domes, Ltd., stepped up beside his Steadholder.


"I think you all know Mr. Gerrick," Honor rested one hand lightly on his shoulder as she made the redundant introduction, "and I'm sure you all know the role he played in designing and executing our city's dome. What you may not know, since he hasn't heard it yet, is that the success of this project," she waved her free hand at the overhead dome, "and of our demonstration farm projects, has been followed very closely elsewhere on Grayson. As I said, we're a new steading, with a strained fiscal structure, but Mr. Gerrick is about to change that. I have been officially informed by Protector Benjamin that his Council has approved a funds-matching appropriation for any city which wishes to follow our example and invest in city or agricultural domes." Several people in the crowd stiffened, looking at her with sudden, intent speculation, and she nodded. "As of this morning, Sky Domes has received definite construction commitments worth over two hundred million austins, with more to follow."


The dome itself seemed to quiver with the volume of the shout that awoke. The entire Sky Domes project had been a risky venture for a fledgling steading, and only Honor's off-world wealth had made it possible. She'd used her prize money and the income from its investment to bankroll the company to the tune of twelve million Manticoran dollars—over sixteen million austins—and Sky Domes had built Harrington City's dome at cost, expressly as a demonstration project, but the gamble had paid off. Sky Domes, Ltd., had a lock on the new dome technology, which meant income and investment and jobs for all of Harrington Steading's people.


Gerrick stood beside her, face fiery as the crowd cheered him as loudly as their Steadholder. He hadn't really considered his idea's financial implications when he first proposed it to Honor. He'd thought purely in terms of efficiency and the engineering challenge it represented, and she wondered if he realized even now how wealthy he was about to become. But whether he did or not, he deserved every penny of it, and so did Howard Clinkscales, who served as Sky Domes' CEO.


She waited for the jubilant cheers to ease, then raised her hands overhead and grinned hugely at the crowd.


"And on that note, ladies and gentlemen, let's eat!" she shouted, and shouts of laughter answered her as the spectators headed for the food. HCP officers and Guardsmen acted as traffic controllers, but her Harringtons showed more discipline than she would have expected from Manticorans. There was remarkably little confusion as they began falling into lines, and she stood watching them while she chatted with Clinkscales and Reverend Hanks. It had gone well, she thought. Much better than she'd expected, really—which only made the sudden, jarring interruption even more shocking.


"Repent!" The amplified voice blared from the top row of the emptying bleachers, and Honor turned involuntarily to face it. A single man stood there, garbed in funeral black, one hand brandishing a battered black book while the other held a microphone before his lips. "Repent and renounce your sins, Honor Harrington, lest you lead the people of God to sorrow and damnation!"


Honor flinched, and her stomach knotted. His amplifier was nowhere near as powerful as those of the speaker's stand—there were limits to the size of any speaker which could be smuggled past her security people—but he had it cranked all the way up. Feedback whined, yet his voice thundered out to every ear, and she felt her wounded, fragile center quail from the confrontation. She couldn't handle this, she thought despairingly. Not now. It was too much to expect of her, and she started to step back from the podium. Perhaps she could simply ignore him, she told herself. If she pretended he was so inconsequential he didn't even matter, perhaps—


"Repent, I say!" the black-clad man thundered. "Down on your knees, Honor Harrington, and beg the forgiveness of the God you so grossly offend by your damnable transgressions against His will!"


His contemptuous words burned like acid, and something happened inside her. Something she'd thought lost forever snapped back into place like the resocketing of a dislocated limb . . . or the click of a missile tube loading hatch. Her chocolate-dark eyes hardened, and Nimitz reared high on her shoulder. He hissed an echo of her sudden rage, flattening his ears and baring his fangs, and she felt Julius Hanks stiffen beside her as the happy crowd noise faltered and people looked back. One or two Harringtons started angrily towards the speaker, only to stop as they saw his clerical collar, and she sensed Andrew LaFollet reaching for his com. She reached out and intercepted his wrist without even looking.


"No, Andrew," she said. His arm tensed as if to jerk free, and her link to Nimitz carried her his seething fury, but then his muscles relaxed. She turned her head to give him a level glance, one eyebrow arched, and he nodded in unhappy obedience.


"Thank you," she said, and moved back to her own microphone. Silence hovered as she adjusted it minutely. Her people had come to Harrington Steading, by and large, because they were among the most open-minded of Grayson's people. They'd wanted to come here, and they respected their foreign-born Steadholder deeply. Their indignation at the jarring interruption matched LaFollet's, but they also had a Grayson's ingrained respect for a man of God. That clerical collar held even the most irate at bay, and it gave the angry words far more weight, as well.


"Let me deal with him, My Lady," Hanks whispered. She glanced at the old man, and his eyes burned with anger. "That's Brother Marchant," Hanks explained. "He's an ignorant, opinionated, intolerant, closed-minded bigot, and he has no business here. His congregation is up in Burdette Steading. In fact, he's Lord Burdette's personal chaplain."


"Ah." Honor nodded. She understood Hanks' anger now, and she clamped down an iron control as her own stirred. So that was how all those demonstrators had gotten here, she thought coldly.


William Fitzclarence, Lord Burdette, was probably the most prejudiced of all Grayson's steadholders. Some of the others might be in two minds about accepting a woman steadholder; Burdette wasn't. Only Protector Benjamin's personal warning had kept his mouth shut during her formal investment, and he ignored her with icy contempt whenever he couldn't completely avoid her. There was no way Marchant had come here without his patron's permission, which suggested Burdette and those of like mind had decided to openly support the opposition and probably explained the source of the funds which had brought so many outside protesters to Harrington.


But that was for future consideration. At the moment, she faced Marchant's challenge, and she couldn't ask Hanks to answer it. Technically, he held authority over all the Church's clergy, but Grayson religious tradition enshrined freedom of conscience. If she let him slap Marchant down, it might provoke a crisis within the Church which would be bound to spill over onto her and make the political situation still worse.


Besides, she thought, Marchant's challenge was to her, and she could taste his gloating delight. The small-minded pleasure of a bigot, feeding his desire to hurt and denigrate with the sanctimonious assurance that he was simply doing God's will. His attack was too direct, too public, for her to let anyone else deal with it. She had to meet it if she was to retain her own moral authority as Steadholder Harrington, and even if she hadn't had to, she wanted to. She faced an open confrontation at last, one that had broken through to the part of her which had lain too long dormant and lost, and she shook her head at Hanks.


"No. Thank you, Reverend, but this gentlemen seems to want to speak to me." The sound system carried her voice clearly, exactly as she'd intended. Her clear, quiet soprano was an elegant contrast to Marchant's belligerent bellow, and she brought up the telescopic function of her artificial left eye, watching his expression closely, as she inclined her head towards him. "You had something you wished to say, Sir?" she invited, and the clergyman flushed as she goaded him with her very courtesy.


"You are a stranger to God, Honor Harrington!" he proclaimed, waving his book once more, and Honor felt LaFollet bristle afresh at his repeated use of her first name. As his omission of her title, it was a calculated insult from a man who'd never even been introduced to her, but she simply reached up to soothe Nimitz once more and waited. "You are infidel and heretic, by your own admission before the Conclave of Steadholders when you refused to embrace the Faith, and one not of Father Church is no fit protector for God's people!"


"Forgive me, Sir," Honor said quietly, "but it seemed to me more fitting to state openly, before God and the Conclave, that I had not been raised in the Church of Humanity. Should I have pretended otherwise?"


"You should never have profaned by seeking worldly power!" Marchant shouted. "Woe be unto Grayson that a heretic and woman should claim the steadholder's key as God's steward! For a thousand years, this world has been God's—now those who have forgotten His law profane it by turning to foreign ways and leading His people into the wars of infidel powers, and it was you, Honor Harrington, who brought these things to us! You corrupt the Faith by your very presence, by the unclean example and ideas you carry like pestilence! 'Beware those who would seduce you, my brothers. Heed not those who would defile the temple of your soul with promises of material things and worldly power, but hold fast to the way of God and be free!' "


Honor heard Hanks inhale between clenched teeth as Marchant quoted from The Book of the New Way. It was the second most sacred of all Grayson texts, and she felt the Reverend's fury as Marchant twisted it to his purpose. But Honor had spent hours poring over The New Way herself in an effort to understand her people, and now she blessed the sharpness of her own memory.


"Perhaps you should finish your citation, Sir," she said to Marchant, and her prosthetic eye showed her the shock on his face. "I believe," she continued calmly and clearly, "that Saint Austin ended that passage with 'Shut not your minds to the new because the chains of the past bind you tight, for it is those who cling most desperately to the old who will turn you from the New Way and lead you once more into the paths of the unclean.' "


"Blasphemy!" Marchant shrieked. "How dare you set your tongue to the words of the Book, heretic?!"


"Why should I not?" Honor returned in a tone of deadly reason. "Saint Austin wrote not simply for those who had already accepted the Church, but for those he sought to bring to it. You call me heretic, but surely a heretic is one who claims to accept your Faith and then twists it to his own liking. I make no such claim, for I was reared in another faith, but should that prevent me from reading and respecting the teachings of yours?"


"What do you know of the Faith?!" Marchant spat. "You parrot the words, but their meaning is not in you! The very key about your neck proclaims it, for woman was never meant to rule. 'Gather your sons to build the world God ordains, and guard your wives and daughters well. Protect them and teach them, that they may know God's will through you.' Through you!" Marchant repeated, glaring furiously at her. "God Himself tells us Woman is to be governed by Man, as a father governs his children, not to violate His law by setting herself against His will! You and your accursed Star Kingdom infect us all with your poisons! You lead our young men into godless war and our young women into the sins of pride and debauchery, turning wife against husband and daughter against father!"


"I think not, Sir." Honor allowed an edge of ice into her own voice as she met the clergyman's glare and chose another passage from The New Way. " 'Fathers, do not close your minds to the words of your children, for they are less fixed in the old ways. Nor should there be strife between a man and his wives. Love them and heed their council. We are all the Sons and Daughters of God, Who created us Man and Woman that we might comfort and aid one another, and a day will come when Man will need Woman's strength as well as his own.' "


Marchant went purple as murmurs of agreement rippled through the crowd. Honor felt Reverend Hanks' approval and sensed his own surprise at her command of the Church's teachings, but she kept her eyes on Marchant and awaited his next attack.


"How dare you speak of a man and his wives?" the clergyman hissed. "The union of holy marriage is a sacrament, ordained and blessed by God, while you, who fornicate in the pleasures of the flesh, spit upon all it means!"


Nimitz's snarl burned in Honor's right ear. A deep, angry growl went up from the crowd, and Andrew LaFollet cursed savagely under his breath, but her own mind was cold and clear and her eyes were deadly.


"I do not spit upon the sacrament of marriage, nor upon any other sacrament," she said, and more than one listener quailed before her icy tone, "but your own Book says, 'Without love, there can be no true marriage; with love, there can be nothing else.' And again, Sir, Saint Austin wrote, 'Yet I say to you, do not rush to marriage, for it is a deep and perfect thing. Test first, that you may be certain you are called to it by love, and not simply by the pleasures of the flesh which will consume themselves and leave only ashes and misery.' " Her dangerous brown eyes stabbed Marchant like paired lasers, and her voice was very, very quiet. "I loved Paul Tankersley with all my heart. Had he lived, I would have married him and borne his children. But I am not of your Church, however much I respect it, and I followed the customs to which I was born, as I would expect you to follow yours."


"And so you proved your unclean nature!" Marchant shouted. "You and all your sin-filled people who worship at the shrine of sensuality have no place among God's chosen!"


"No, Sir. So I proved only that I loved a man as God intended and shared his love in a way different from your own." Honor's voice was as cold and level as ever, but tears streaked her cheeks as the anguish of Paul's death twisted within her like a knife, and Nimitz's harsh, angry snarl rippled over the sound system once more. She stood like a tall, slim statue, facing her enemy with her pain plain on her face, and the mutters from the crowd turned darker and angrier as they saw it.


"Lies!" Marchant screamed. "God struck down the man with whom you rutted like some beast of the fields as punishment for your sins! It was His judgment upon you, harlot!" Honor went bone-white, and vicious satisfaction twisted Marchant's expression as he realized he'd hurt her at last. "Woe be unto you, Harlot of Satan, and to the people of this steading when God's sword smites them through you! God knows the truth of your whore's heart, and—"


A sudden, bass-throated roar boiled up from Honor's subjects. It buried Marchant's voice like an ocean, and he stopped abruptly, mouth hanging open, fury-congested face suddenly pale as he realized he'd gone too far at last. He'd violated a bone-deep, thousand-year code of conduct when he publicly attacked a woman, and only the deep, instinctive respect for his collar and Honor's readiness to answer his diatribe with reasoned argument had balanced his shocking breach of all decent behavior. That balance vanished now. Every citizen of Harrington Steading knew the story of her love for Paul Tankersley and how it had ended. Now they saw her agony as Marchant ripped open her wounds, and a dozen men surged towards the clergyman.


He shouted something, but the ugly crowd bellow swamped his amplified voice, and he scrambled frantically up the bleachers. His feet slipped as he reached the uppermost tier, but he regained his balance and scurried desperately along the empty seats while the crowd thundered in pursuit, and Honor fought free of her pain and turned to grab LaFollet's shoulder.


"Stop them, Andrew!" He stared at her, as if unable to believe his own ears, and she shook him fiercely. "They'll kill him if we don't stop them!"


"Uh, yes, My Lady!" LaFollet jerked out his com and started barking orders, and Honor wheeled back to the podium mike.


"Stop!" she shouted. "Stop it! Think what you're doing! Don't make yourselves like him!"


Her amplified voice carried even through the roar, and a handful of men stopped, but her subjects' fury was out of control. Other Harringtons charged on, and they were gaining. Marchant fled madly, running for his very life while a knot of green tunics battled through the crowd towards him, and Honor clung to the podium, willing her guardsmen to reach him first.


They didn't. A shout of triumph went up as a flying tackle brought Marchant down, and he and the man who'd caught him rolled down the bleachers, bouncing from seat to seat. The pack converged like hungry hounds, and someone jerked him to his feet. He cowered down, covering his head with his arms and hands while fists and feet battered him, and then, miraculously, the Guard was there. They closed in, knocking his attackers aside, enclosing him in a ring of green-on-green uniforms and hustling him from the bleachers amid a hurricane of catcalls and shouted threats, and Honor sagged in relief.


"Thank God," she breathed, covering her face with one hand as her Guard dragged the battered, bleeding, half-conscious clergyman to safety while Nimitz hissed with fury on her shoulder. "Thank God!" she whispered again, and then lowered her hand, blinking on tears, as an age-frail arm went about her.


Reverend Hanks drew her close, and she needed his support. Nor did she feel any patronization in the fierce, furious disgust for Marchant's cruel bigotry flowing from him through Nimitz, and she leaned against him, trembling with the residual anguish Marchant's words had waked and her awareness of how close he'd come to death.


"Yes, My Lady, thank God, indeed." Hanks' resonant voice quivered with anger, and he turned her away from the crowd and produced a handkerchief. She took it and dried her eyes, still leaning against him, and he continued in that same harsh voice. "And thank you, too. If you hadn't reacted so quickly—" He broke off and shook himself, then drew a deep breath.


"Thank you," he repeated, "and I beg you to accept my apologies on behalf of Father Church. I assure you," he said, and if his voice was calmer, it was also harder—and more implacable—than she'd ever thought the gentle Reverend could be, "that Brother Marchant will be . . . dealt with."


 


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