Young Bleys (1991) begins the story of Bleys Ahrens, the nine-year-old child of an Exotic woman who's a sort of courtesan, moving from lover to lover. She doesn't love Bleys or anyone else, really, but enjoys the attention her prodigy of a son gains her. Bleys, who can't bear living with his mother any more, insults her in a way she can't forgive, even though he know that she's quite capable of killing or seriously injuring him in response. (After her current lover has told her she's beautiful, Bleys says quite coldly and, what's worse, truthfully "You're not, and we both know that.") Restraining her temper, she sends Bleys away to live with Henry MacLean, a farmer on Association and the brother of a former lover with whom she's remained friendly. It's the same place she had previously sent her elder child, Bleys's half-brother Dahno. (We never do learn who either Bleys's or Dahno's fathers are.) This is the last we ever see of Bleys's mother; she's never even given a name.
Henry is a widower with two sons (Dahno, a grown man, no longer lives there.) He's very religious in a fundamentalist way, as are both of his boys. He clearly loves both of them very much, though he's very strict with them as his way of raising them to be good and Godly men. They are not wealthy; all of them work hard on the farm, and they have no luxuries of any sort. Henry is building some farm machinery out of whatever parts he can accumulate, but most of their work is done by hand. Life with the MacLeans could not be more different than Bleys's life with his mother. Henry is equally stern with Bleys, who works with the rest of them. Henry's sons accept Bleys, especially the younger boy, of whom Bleys starts to grow fond. The only gulf between Bleys and his adopted family is their faith; he has none, and even though Bleys would like to attend church with the rest of them, Henry won't allow insincere prayer. Bleys, wanting to fit in with his new family, tries to discover faith within him, but it is not to be: somehow, the community finds out about his mother, and attacks him (both verbally and physically) as a "whore's son". It's not possible for his to live there anymore, and he's sent away again, this time to live with Dahno
Dahno is a giant of a man: tall, broad, heavily muscled, with a booming voice. He also has an outsized personality, unlike the introverted Bleys. Dahno has turned the Others, originally a social club for Splinter Culture crossbreeds, into a successful business. Teaching its talented members to dig out politically valuable information, Dahno has become the most successful political consultant and lobbyist in the Friendly worlds, and he's beginning to organize the off-world Others as well. For this he'll need underlings he can trust, and it's soon clear that it was Dahno who leaked the information about their mother. He makes it clear to Bleys who the boss is and what the price of disloyalty would be by slapping him around some. Dahno is his mother's son.
Bleys learns the Others' business quickly, and is full of ways to improve it. Bleys, who like many of the Cycle's main characters, grows to be extremely tall, builds himself up via exercise, masters martial arts, and works to overcome his introversion and becomes a spellbinding speaker. In addition, he becomes active in Friendly politics, cultivating the Eldest (the leader of both worlds), and becoming his chief assistant. Dahno feels the need to remind Bleys repeatedly who's in charge: Dahno is the chairman, and Bleys merely the vice-chairman, but more and more Bleys is the real leader. Dahno's goals stop at wealth and power, which Bleys is helping him achieve, but Bleys's go much further. He fears that humanity has expanded into the universe too fast and may have fatally overextended itself. He wants to lead all of humanity back to Earth where it will be safe again, letting the Younger Worlds eventually die of neglect. Bleys sees the Others' growing political power as a lever with which to accomplish this.
While looking for a martial arts instructor, Bleys meets Antonia Lu, a beautiful Eurasian teacher. They're instantly drawn together, and she gives up her other work to become his full-time instructor and lover. Their relationship is very different from Hal and Amanda's: where Amanda is independent, Antonia is subservient, accepting that if Bleys doesn't really love her or have time for her, it's because his goals for humanity take up too much of him, and that being there when he needs her is all the purpose she requires. Bleys and Dahno now travel to Earth to meet with the Others there. They decide that renting a meeting place will attract too much attention; instead, they'll swoop down and occupy a large estate for a few days, and then disappear.
(This has always seemed to me like Monty Python logic:
(This has always seemed to me like Monty Python logic:
We could rent a hotel ballroom.
No, that'll attract too much attention. We need something stealthier. How about a home invasion?)
To some extent Dickson showed the same events from two points of view before in pairs of earlier stories:
- Tam Olyn and Donal Graeme attending the same party in Solder, Ask Not and Dorsai!
- "Amanda Morgan" expanding on the siege of the Dorsai world first shown in Tactics of Mistake
- "Brothers" showing Kensie's murder and its aftermath, seen from a distance in Soldier, Ask Not and Dorsai!
There's far more of this double vision between the Hal Mayne books (The Final Encyclopedia and Chantry Guild) and the Bleys Ahrens books (this one, Other, and the posthumous Antagonist.) Here is the first example: Bleys, fascinated by the story of Hal Mayne, found alone in a spaceship and raised by his three Splinter Culture tutors, chooses to hold the meeting at his home, with tragic results. For Hal, it's one of the major, if tragic, events in his life: his tutors give their lives to save his; as a result he owes them a debt he spends the rest of his life repaying. For Bleys, with his usual lack of empathy, it's merely an unfortunate situation caused by incompetent henchmen.