(Note: A Choice of Weapons originally appeared in Absolute Magnitude #12, Winter 1999)
A Choice of Weapons
by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
The number of High Houses is precisely fifty.
And then there is Korval.
-- From the Annual Census of Clans
On file with the Council of Clans, Solcintra, Liad
"I AM NOT worthy."
Daav yos'Phelium bowed low. When he straightened, it was not to his full height, but
with carefully rounded shoulders and half-averted face: a lesser being, faint with terror at his own
His mother would have laughed aloud at such obvious mummery. His delm--Korval
Herself, she who held the future and life of each clanmember in her sedately folded
hands--merely lifted an elegant golden eyebrow.
Daav schooled himself to stillness--small challenge for one who was a scout--face yet
averted. He did not quite bite his lip, though the inclination was strong. Not all of his present
display was artifice; it was no inconsiderable thing to bring Korval's Own Eye upon oneself, true-son though he be.
A full Standard minute passed before Korval shifted slightly in her chair.
"In the one face," she said, reflectively, and in no higher mode than that of parent to child,
"the question of how long you might stand there, cowed and silent, beguiles my closest interest.
On the other face, it is Daav before me, and one cannot be certain but that this is a ploy
engineered to rob us both of the pleasure of attending Etgora's certain-to-be-tedious evening
gather." The mode shifted, and she was his delm once more, chin up and eyes no warmer than
"Elucidate this sudden unworthiness. Briefly."
Mode required that a petitioner accept the Delm's Word with a bow. Daav did so,
forehead brushing knees, and returned to the round-shouldered pose of inferiority.
"I have today received my quartershare accounting from dea'Gauss and with it certain
documents needful of my attention. One of those documents was the Delm's Formal Declaration
of Heir, in which I discover myself named Korval-in-future." He moved his shoulders, easing
tension that was born not only of the unnatural posture.
"The information amazes?" Korval-in-present inquired. "Surely you are aware that you
have been trained for the duty since you had sense of language."
Daav inclined his head. "But I was not trained alone. Er Thom has been at my side,
schooled as I was, word and gesture. We studied the same diary entries. We learned our
equations at the same board. All in accordance with Delm's Wisdom--that two be conceived and
trained to the duty, to insure that Korval would have its delm, though yos'Phelium's genes twice
He paused, daring a quick glance at his delm's face from beneath modestly lowered
lashes. No sign--of irritation, impatience, boredom. Or humor. Chi yos'Phelium had been a
Scout herself before duty called her to delmhood, forty Standard years ago. Her face would
reveal whatever she wished to show.
"Er Thom," Daav murmured, "has a steady nature; his understanding of our history and
our present necessities is entirely sound. Of course, he is a master pilot--indeed, his skill over-reaches my--"
Korval raised her hand.
"A discussion of your foster-brother's excellencies is extraneous to the topic." She
lowered her hand. "Daav yos'Phelium professes himself unworthy to assume the duty he was bred
and trained for, thus calling a Delm's Decision into question--that is your chosen theme. Speak
Daav took a deep breath, bowed. She was correct--of course she was correct. A Delm
could not be wrong, in matters of Clan. That the Delm had mis-chosen her heir was no fault of
her judgement, but his own error, in withholding information she required. He had intended to
speak ere she had chosen, but he had not expected her to have chosen so soon.
He came to his full height and met his delm's chill eyes squarely.
"Perhaps, then, I should have put it that I am unfit for the duty. While I am off Liad,
performing even the most tedious of tasks required by Scout Headquarters, my temper is serene
and my judgement sound. I am scarcely a day on the homeworld and I am awash in anger. People
annoy me to the edge of endurance. Mode and measure grate my patience. I cannot say with any
certainty that my judgement is sound. Indeed, I fear it is dangerously unsound." He bowed again,
buying time, for this next was difficult, for all it needed to be said.
"I had been to the Healers, last leave, and asked that the distemper be mended."
"Ah," said Korval. "And was it so?"