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CHAPTER THIRTEEN The Blood of Patriots

This time Lantu had company as he awaited the Synod's pleasure. Fleet Chaplain Manak sat beside him . . . and two cold-eyed, armed Church Wardens flanked them both.

Lantu sat very erect, pressing his cranial carapace against the bulkhead behind him, and tried to ignore the Synod's policemen. He'd always found Wardens vaguely distasteful-had some intuition warned him he might someday find himself under their inspection?

His eyes tried to stray to Manak again. The fleet chaplain worried him, for Manak was old, and he was taking this waiting, grinding tension poorly. He sat bent-headed, inner lids closed and arms crossed before him. They'd been separated for days, yet his old friend had said not a single word in the dragging hours since the Wardens had "escorted" them here.

He sighed internally, maintaining his external impassivity. They'd known their retreat might rouse the Church's ire, but he hadn't counted on the heat of the Synod's reaction. It wasn't as if his fleet had been destroyed, after all. True, a disturbing percentage of the battle-line was in yard hands, but his withdrawal had prevented far worse, and he'd managed it in the face of massed fighter attacks launched from ships so distant his own vessels could hardly even see them!

Yet the Quaestors' harsh questions had ignored his achievement in preserving Terra's Sword, and he knew their attitude reflected the Synod's. The churchmen saw only that he'd failed to drive the Sword home in The Line's vitals, and it seemed the fact that he'd warned them of the danger ahead of time only made them angrier. Certainly the Quaestors had harped on that point, asking again and again if he had not gone into battle expecting defeat and so fled prematurely.

Lantu had answered calmly, yet he labored under a keen sense of injustice. He'd been overruled and ordered to attack by the Synod and the Prophet himself, so why must he and Manak bear the stigma of failure?

Because, a small, still voice whispered, you're a single admiral and Manak a single prelate. You're expendable; the Synod isn't.

The hatch opened, and the soft, sudden sound startled even Manak into looking up. A Warden major stood in the opening.

"First Admiral. Fleet Chaplain. The Synod requires your presence."



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