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STICKY: How Firm a Foundation Snippets

This is the place where we will be posting snippets of soon-to-be published works!
Re: STICKY: How Firm a Foundation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Thu Sep 01, 2011 9:02 pm

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How Firm A Foundation - Snippet 40

.VI.
Archbishop's Palace,
City of Tellesberg,
Kingdom of Old Charis

Winter in Tellesberg was very different from winter in the Temple Lands, Paityr Wylsynn reflected as he stepped gratefully into the shaded portico of Archbishop Maikel's palace. Freezing to death wasn't much of an issue here. Indeed, the hardest thing for him to get used to when he'd first arrived had been the fierce, unremitting sunlight, although the climate did get at least marginally cooler this time of year than it was in summer. The locals took the heat in stride, however, and he loved the exotic sights and sounds, the tropical fruits, the brilliant flowers, and the almost equally brilliantly colored wyverns and birds. For that matter, he'd acclimated well enough even to the heat that the thought of returning to Temple Lands snow and sleet held little allure.

Especially these days, he thought grimly. Especially these days.

"Good morning, Father," the senior of the guardsmen in the white and orange of the Archbishop's service said.

"Good morning, Sergeant," Paityr replied, and the other members of the guard detachment nodded to him without further challenge. Not because they weren't fully alert -- the attempt to assassinate Maikel Staynair in his own cathedral had put a conclusive end to any complacency they might once have felt -- but because they'd seen him here so often.

And I'm not precisely the easiest person to mistake for someone else, either, I suppose, he reflected wryly, looking down at the purple sleeve of his cassock with its sword and flame badge. I doubt there are half a dozen Schuelerites left in the entire Old Kingdom by now, and most of them are Temple Loyalists hiding in the deepest holes they can find. Besides, I'd stand out even if I were a Bédardist or a Pasqualate.

"Welcome, Father Paityr. Welcome!"

The solemn, senior, and oh-so-superior servants who'd cluttered up the Archbishop's Palace under its previous owners had become a thing of the past. The palace was vast enough to require a fairly substantial staff, but Archbishop Maikel preferred a less supercilious environment. Alys Vraidahn had been his housekeeper for over thirty years, and he'd taken her with him to his new residence, where she'd proceeded to overhaul the staff from top to bottom in remarkably short order. A brisk, no nonsense sort of person, Mistress Vraidahn, but as warmhearted as she was shrewd, and she'd adopted Paityr Wylsynn as yet another of the archbishop's unofficial sons and daughters. Now she swept him a courtesy, then laughed as he leaned forward and planted a kiss on her cheek.

"Now then!" she scolded, smacking him on the shoulder. "Don't you be giving an old woman the kind of notions she shouldn't be having over a young, unattached fellow such as yourself!"

"Ah, if only I could!" he sighed. He shook his head mournfully. "I'm not very good at darning my own socks," he confided.

"And are you saying that idle layabout Master Ahlwail can't do that just fine?" she challenged skeptically.

"Well, yes, I suppose he can. Poorly," Peter said, shamelessly maligning his valet's sewing skills as he hung his head and looked as pitiable as possible. "But he's not a very good cook, you know," he added, actually getting his lower lip to quiver.

"Comes of being a foreigner," she told him, eyes twinkling. "Not but what you don't look like he's managed to keep a little meat on your bones." Paityr sniffed, looking as much like his starving seminarian days as he could manage, and she shook her head. "Oh, all right. All right! You come around to my kitchen before you leave. I'll have a little something for you to take back to your pantry."

"Bless you, Mistress Ahlys," Paityr said fervently, and she laughed again. Then she turned her head and spotted one of the footmen.

"Hi, Zhaksyn! Run and tell Father Bryahn Father Paityr's here to see His Eminence!"

Anything less like the protocol in a typical archbishop's residence would have been all but impossible to imagine, Paityr thought. Of course, so would the footman in question. The lad couldn't be much older than sixteen or seventeen years old, his fuzzy beard (which needed shaving) just into the wispy silk stage, and his head came up like a startled prong buck's as the housekeeper called his name.

"Yes, Mistress Vraidahn!" he blurted and disappeared at a half-run.

Not, Paityr noticed, without darting an even more startled look at him. And not just because of his Schuelerite cassock, he felt sure.

Paityr had always been more than a little amused by the typical mainlanders' perspective on the provincialism of the "out islands" as they dismissively labeled Charis, Chisholm, and Corisande. Tarot (which was the least cosmopolitan of the lot, in Paityr's opinion) got a pass from mainland prejudices because it was so close to the mainland. Still, the Tarot Channel was over three hundred miles wide, and more than one mainland wit had been heard to observe that good cooking and culture had both drowned trying to make the swim.

And what made that so amusing to him was that Charisians were actually far more cosmopolitan than the vast majority of Safeholdians . . . including just about every mainlander Paityr had ever met. The ubiquitous Charisian merchant marine guaranteed that there were very few sights Charisians hadn't seen, and not just their sailors, either. Every nationality and physical type in the entire world -- including the Harchongese, despite the Harchong Empire's insularity -- passed through Tellesberg eventually. Despite which, Paityr Wylsynn still got more than his share of double takes from those he met.

His fair skin had grown tanned enough over the years of his service here in Old Charis to almost pass for a native Charisian, but his gray eyes and bright red hair -- touched to even more fiery brilliance by all that sunlight -- marked his northern birth forever. There'd been times he'd resented that, and there were other times it had simply made him feel very far from home, homesick for the Temple Lands and the place of his birth. These days he didn't feel homesick at all, however, which had more than a little to do with the reason for this visit.

"Paityr!" Father Bryahn Ushyr, Archbishop Maikel's personal secretary, walked briskly into the entry hall holding out his hand. The two of them were much of an age, and Paityr smiled as he clasped forearms with his friend.

"Thank you for fitting me into his schedule on such short notice, Bryahn."

"You're welcome, not that it was all that much of a feat." Ushyr shrugged. "You're higher on his list than a lot of people, and not just because you're his Intendant. It brightened his day when I told him you wanted to see him."

"Sure it did." Paityr rolled his eyes, and Ushyr chuckled. But the secretary also shook his head.

"I'm serious, Paityr. His eyes lit up when I told him you'd asked for an appointment."

Paityr waved one hand in a brushing away gesture, but he couldn't pretend Ushyr's words didn't touch him with a glow of pleasure. In a lot of ways, whether Archbishop Maikel realized it or not, Paityr had come to regard him even more as a second father since his own father's death.

Which is also part of the reason for this visit, he reflected.

"Well, come on," Ushyr invited, and beckoned for Paityr to accompany him to the archbishop's office.

* * * * * * * * * *

"Paityr, it's good to see you."

Maikel Staynair rose behind his desk, smiling broadly, and extended his hand. Paityr bent to kiss the archbishop's ring of office, then straightened, tucking both his own hands into the sleeves of his cassock.

"Thank you, Your Eminence. I appreciate your agreeing to see me on so little notice."

"Nonsense!" Staynair waved like a man swatting away an insect. "First, you're my Intendant, which means I'm always supposed to have time to see you." He grinned and pointed at the armchair facing his desk. "And, second, you're a lively young fellow who usually has something worth listening to, unlike all too many of the people who parade through this office on a regular basis."

"I do try not to bore you, Your Eminence," Paityr admitted, sitting in the indicated chair with a smile.

"I know, and I really shouldn't complain about the others." Staynair sat back down behind his desk and shrugged. "Most of them can't help it, and at least some of them have a legitimate reason for being here. Fortunately, I've become increasingly adroit at steering the ones who don't off for Bryahn to deal with, poor fellow."
*
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Re: STICKY: How Firm a Foundation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Sep 04, 2011 9:00 pm

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How Firm A Foundation - Snippet 41

The archbishop tipped back in his swivel chair, interlacing his fingers across his chest, and cocked his head to one side.

"And how are your mother and the rest of your family?" he asked in a considerably more serious tone.

"Well, Your Eminence. Or as well as anyone could be under the circumstances." Paityr twitched his shoulders. "We're all grateful to God and to Madame Ahnzhelyk and Seijin Merlin's friend for getting so many out of Clyntahn's grasp, but that only makes us more aware of what's happened in the Temple Lands. And I suppose it's a bit difficult for them -- for all of us -- not to feel guilty over having managed to get here when so many others didn't."

"That's a very human reaction." Staynair nodded. "And it's also a very irrational one. I'm sure you realize that."

"Oh, I do. For that matter, Lysbet and the others do, too. But, as you say, it's a very human reaction, Your Eminence. It's going to be a while before they manage to get past that, I'm afraid."

"Understandable. But please tell Madame Wylsynn my office and I are at her disposal if she should have need of us."

"Thank you, Your Eminence." Paityr smiled again, gratefully. The offer wasn't the automatic formula it might have been coming from another archbishop, and he knew it.

"You're welcome, of course," Staynair said. "On the other hand, I don't imagine that's the reason you wanted to see me today?"

"No," Paityr admitted, gray eyes darkening. "No, it wasn't, Your Eminence. I've come to see you on a spiritual matter."

"A spiritual matter concerning what? Or should I say concerning whom?" Staynair's dark eyes were shrewd, and Paityr sat back in his chair.

"Concerning me, Your Eminence." He drew a deep breath. "I'm afraid my soul isn't as tranquil as it ought to be."

"You're scarcely unique in that, my son," Staynair pointed out somberly, swinging his chair from side to side in a slow, gentle arc. "All of God's children -- or all of them whose minds work, at any rate -- are grappling with questions and concerns more than sufficient to destroy their tranquility."

"I realize that, Your Eminence, but this is something that hasn't happened to me before. I'm experiencing doubt. Not just questions, not just uncertainty over the direction in which I ought to be going, but genuine doubt."

"Doubt over what?" Staynair asked, eyes narrowing. "Your actions? Your beliefs? The doctrine of the Church of Charis?"

"I'm afraid it's more fundamental than that, Your Eminence," Paityr admitted. "Of course I have the occasional evening when I lie awake wondering if it was my own hubris, my own pride in my ability to know better than Mother Church, that led me to obey Archbishop Erayk's instructions to remain here in Charis and work with you and His Majesty. I'm neither so stupid nor so self-righteous as to be immune to that sort of doubt, and I hope I never will be. And I can honestly say I've experienced very little doubt over whether or not the Church of Charis has a better understanding of the mind of God than that butcher Clyntahn and his friends. Forgive me for saying this, but you could scarcely have less understanding!" He shook his head. "No, what I'm beginning to doubt is whether or not I have a true vocation after all."

Staynair's chair was suddenly still and silence hovered in the office. Then the archbishop tilted his head to one side and pursed his lips.

"I imagine no priest is ever fully immunized against that question," he said slowly. "However clearly we may have been called by God, we remain mortals with all the weaknesses of any mortal. But I have to tell you, Father, that of all the priests I've known, I can think of none whose vocation seemed clearer to me than your own. I realize another's opinion is scarcely armor against one's own doubts, and the truth of a priest's vocation is ultimately between him and God, not him and anyone else. Despite that, I must tell you I can think of no one into whose hands I would be more willing to entrust God's work."

Paityr's eyes widened. He deeply admired and respected Maikel Staynair and he'd known Staynair was fond of him. That he'd become one of the archbishop's protégés. Yet Staynair's words -- and especially the serious, measured tone in which they'd been spoken -- had taken him by surprise.

"I'm honored, Your Eminence," he replied after a moment. "That means a great deal to me, especially coming from you. Yet the fact of my doubt remains. I'm no longer certain of my vocation, and can a true priest -- one who had a true vocation to begin with -- ever lose it?"

"What does the Office of Inquisition teach?" Staynair asked in reply.

"That a priest is a priest forever," Paityr responded. "That a true vocation can never be lost, else it was never a true vocation to begin with. But if that's true, Your Eminence, did I ever have that true vocation to begin with?"

"That is what the Inquisition teaches, but as you may have noticed," Staynair said a bit dryly, "I've found myself in disagreement with the Office of Inquisition on several minor doctrinal matters lately."

Despite Paityr's own concern and genuine distress, the archbishop's tone drew an unwilling chuckle out of him, and Staynair smiled. Then his expression turned serious once more.

"All humor notwithstanding, my son, I believe the Inquisition has been in error in many ways. You know where most of my points of disagreement with the Grand Inquisitor lie, and you know it's my belief that we serve a loving God who desires what's best for His children and also desires that those children come to Him in joyous love, not fear. I can't believe it's His will for us to be miserable, or to be crushed underfoot, or to be driven into His arms by the lash.

"You and I have differed on occasion on the extent to which the freedom of will and freedom of choice I believe is so critical to a healthy relationship with God may threaten to confuse and disorder our right understanding of God's will for us and for all of His world. Despite that, I've never doubted for a moment that you've looked upon the task of disciplining the children of Mother Church with the love and compassion a true parent brings to that duty. I've never seen a malicious act, or a capricious decision. Indeed, I've seen you deal patiently and calmly with idiots who would have driven one of the Archangels themselves into a frothing madness. And I've seen the unflinching fashion in which you've stood fast for the things in which you believe without ever descending into the sort of mental and spiritual arrogance which know that anyone who disagrees with them must be completely and unequivocably wrong. That's the priest I see when I consider whether or not you have a true vocation, Father Paityr, and I ask you to remember that it's the Writ which says a priest is a priest forever and the Inquisition which has interpreted that as meaning that a priest who loses his vocation was therefore never in fact a true priest at all. Search the Writ as you will, my son, but you will never find those words, that statement, anywhere in it."

He paused, letting silence lie over the two of them once more, yet Paityr knew the archbishop wasn't done yet. So he sat, waiting, and after a moment Staynair continued.

"I'm a Bédardist. My order knows more about the ways in which the human mind and the human spirit can hurt themselves than most of us wish we'd ever had to learn. There's no question that we can convince ourselves of literally anything we wish to believe, and there's also no question that we can be far more ruthless -- far more cruel -- in punishing ourselves than any other reasonable person would ever be. We can -- and we will, my son, trust me in this -- find innumerable ways in which to doubt and question and indict ourselves for things only we know about, supposed crimes only we realize were ever committed. There are times when that truly is a form of justice, but far more often it's a case of punishing the innocent. Or, at the very least, of punishing our own real or imagined misdeeds far more severely than we would ever punish anyone else for the same offense.
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Re: STICKY: How Firm a Foundation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Tue Sep 06, 2011 9:07 pm

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How Firm A Foundation - Snippet 42

"I'm not going to tell you that's what you're doing. I could point out any number of factors in your life which could account for stress, for worry, for outrage, even for the need to punish yourself for surviving when your father and your uncle and so many people you've known all your life have been so cruelly butchered. I believe it would be completely valid to argue that all of those factors combined would be enough to push anyone into questioning his faith, and that's the basis of any true vocation, my son. Faith . . . and love.

"But I don't believe your faith has wavered." Staynair shook his head, tipping his chair further back. "I've seen no sign of it, and I know your love for your fellow children of God is as warm and vital today as it ever was. Still, even the most faithful and loving of hearts may not hold a true priest's vocation. And despite what the Office of Inquisition may have taught, I must tell you I've known men who I believe had true and burning vocations who have lost them. It can happen, however much we may wish it couldn't, and when it does those who have lost them are cruelest of all in punishing themselves for it. Deep inside, they believe not that they've lost their vocation, but that it was taken from them. That they proved somehow inadequate to the tasks God had appointed for them, and that because of that inadequacy and failure He stripped away that spark of Himself which had drawn them into this service in the joy of loving Him.

"Only it doesn't work that way, my son."

Staynair let his chair come forward, planting his elbows wide apart on his desk blotter and folding his hands while he leaned forward across them.

"God does not strip Himself away from anyone. The only way we can lose God is to walk away from Him. That is the absolute, central, unwavering core of my own belief . . . and of yours." He looked directly into Paityr's gray eyes. "Sometimes we can stumble, lose our way. Children often do that. But as a loving parent always does, God is waiting when we do, calling to us so that we can hear His voice and follow it home once more. The fact that a priest has lost his vocation to serve as a priest doesn't mean he's lost his vocation to be one of God's children. If you should decide that, in fact, you are no longer called to the priesthood, I will grant you a temporary easing of your vows while you meditate upon what it would then be best for you to do. I don't think that's what you need, but if you think so, you must be the best judge, and I'll go that far towards abiding by your judgment. I implore you, however, not to take an irrevocable step before that judgment is certain. And whatever you finally decide, know this -- you are a true child of God, and whether it be as a priest or as a member of the laity, He has many tasks yet for you to do . . . as do I."

Paityr sat very still, and deep inside he felt a flicker of resentment, and that resentment touched the anger which was so much a part of him these days. It was like the breath of a bellows, fanning the fire, and that shamed him . . . which only made the anger perversely stronger. It was irrational of him to feel that way, and he knew it. It was also small minded and childish, and he knew that, too. But he realized now that what he'd really wanted was for Staynair to reassure him that he couldn't possibly have lost his vocation. That when the Writ said a priest was a priest forever it meant a true vocation was just as imperishable as the Inquisition had always insisted it was.

And instead, the archbishop had given him this. Had given him, he realized, nothing but the truth and compassion and love . . . and a refusal to treat him as a child.

The silence stretched out, and then Staynair sat back in his chair once more.

"I don't know if this will make any difference to what you're thinking and feeling at this moment, my son, but you're not the only priest in this room who ever questioned whether or not he had a true vocation."

Paityr's eyes widened, and Staynair smiled crookedly.

"Oh, yes, there was a time -- before you were born; I'm not as young as I used to be, you know -- but there was a time when a very young under-priest named Maikel Staynair wondered if he hadn't made a horrible mistake in taking his vows. The things going on in his life were less cataclysmic than what you've experienced in the last few years, but they seemed quite cataclysmic enough for his purposes. And he was angry at God." Their eyes met once more, and Paityr felt a jolt go through his soul. "Angry at God the same way the most loving of children can be angry at his father or his mother if that father or mother seems to have failed him. Seems to have let terrible things happen when he didn't have to. That young under-priest didn't even realize he was angry. He simply thought he was . . . confused. That the world had turned out to be bigger and more complex than he'd thought it was. And because he'd been taught it was unforgivable to be angry at God, he internalized all that anger and aimed it at himself in the form of doubts and self-condemnation."

Paityr's jaw tightened as he felt the echo of that young Maikel Staynair's experience in himself. Until this moment, he wouldn't have thought Staynair could ever have felt what the archbishop was describing to him now. Maikel Staynair's faith and love burned with a bright, unwavering flame. That flame, that unshakable inner serenity, was the reason he could walk into a hostile cathedral in a place like Corisande and reach out even to people who'd been prepared to hate and revile him as a heretic. Not only reach out to them but inspire them to reach back to him in response. It was who and what he was. How could a man like that, a priest like that, ever have been touched with the darkness and corrosion Paityr felt gnawing at his own soul?

"What . . . May I ask what that young under-priest did, Your Eminence?" he asked after a long, aching moment, and to his own surprise, he managed to smile. "I mean, it's obvious he managed to cope with it somehow after all."

"Indeed he did." Staynair nodded. "But he didn't do it by himself. He reached out to others. He shared his doubts and his confusion and learned to recognize the anger for what it was and to realize it's the people we love most -- and who most love us -- who can make us angriest of all. I wouldn't want to say" -- the archbishop's smile became something suspiciously grin-like -- "that he was a stubborn young man, but I suppose some people who knew him then might have leapt to that erroneous conclusion. For that matter, some people might actually think he's still a bit stubborn. Foolish of them, of course, but people can be that way, can't they?"

"I, ah, suppose they can, Your Eminence. Some of them, I mean."

"Your natural and innate sense of tact is one of the things I've always most admired in you, Father Paityr," Staynair replied. Then he squared his shoulders.

"All jesting aside, I needed help, and I think you could use some of that same help. For that matter, I think you're probably less pigheaded and stubborn about availing yourself of it than I was. As your Archbishop, I'm going to strongly suggest that before you do anything else, before you make any decisions, you retire for a retreat at the same monastery to which I retreated. Will you do that for me? Will you spend a few five-days thinking and contemplating and possibly seeing some truths you haven't seen before, or haven't seen as clearly as you'd thought you had?"

"Of course, Your Eminence," Paityr said simply.

"Very well. In that case, I'll send a message to Father Zhon at Saint Zherneau's and tell him to expect you."
*
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Re: STICKY: How Firm a Foundation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Thu Sep 08, 2011 9:04 pm

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How Firm A Foundation - Snippet 43

.VII.
HMS Dawn Star, 58,
Hannah Bay,
and
Ducal Palace,
Carmyn,
Grand Duchy of Zebediah

It was even hotter than the first time he'd been to Hannah Bay, Merlin thought. And while that might be of primarily theoretical interest to a PICA, it was of rather more pressing relevance to the flesh-and-blood members of Dawn Star's still breathing ship's company. Particularly to those -- like Empress Sharleyan herself -- who'd been born Chisholmians and not Old Charisians.

"Dear God," Sharleyan said, fanning herself as she stepped out onto the awning-shaded quarterdeck with Sergeant Seahamper, "you warned me it would be hot, Merlin, but this -- !"

"I'll admit I didn't expect it to be quite this warm," Merlin said. "On the other hand, you are almost directly on the equator, Your Majesty."

"A point which has been drawn rather sharply to my attention," she replied tartly.

"At least you're not the only one suffering from it," Merlin offered helpfully, eliciting a glare of truly imperial proportions.

Crown Princess Alahnah had been a happier baby since the stormy weather had eased, but it would appear she had not yet developed her father's tolerance for warm temperatures. "Cranky" was a frail description of her current mood, as Sharleyan was better aware than most.

"Perhaps I'd better rephrase that, Your Majesty," he said, and heard something suspiciously like a chuckle from Seahamper's direction. He glanced at the grizzled sergeant, but Seahamper only smiled back at him blandly.

"Perhaps you had," Sharleyan agreed pointedly, reclaiming his attention from her personal armsman. "Unless you'd care to go see if you can get your goddaughter into a more cheerful mood yourself, that is."

"It's always my honor to undertake even the most difficult of tasks in your service, Your Majesty," Merlin replied with a bow. "Impossible tasks, however, are beyond the abilities even of seijins."

"Don't I know it!" Sharleyan said feelingly.

The empress walked to the rail and the officers and seamen whose station was the quarterdeck moved back to give her space as she stood gazing out across the bay's blue waters. They looked seductively cool as they sparkled and flashed in the relentless, brilliant sunlight, and she wished fervently that she could take advantage of that coolness. Unfortunately, she had other things to deal with, and her mouth tightened as she looked at the six Imperial Charisian Navy galleons anchored in company with Dawn Star. Twenty more galleons -- transports flying the imperial banner -- lay between them and shore, with lighters and longboats ferrying their cargo of Imperial Army troops ashore. She doubted very much that those reinforcements were going to be necessary, given Thomas Symmyns' unpopularity with the people of Zebediah. In fact, she'd argued against bringing them along, but that wasn't an argument Cayleb or the Duke of Eastshare, the Army's commander, had been willing to entertain, and Merlin had voted with them. Rather enthusiastically, in fact, if her memory served.

"I hope none of the Zebediahans are going to take the wrong message from this," she said now, quietly enough that only Merlin's ears could hear her.

"I'm not sure there is a wrong message they could take from it," he replied sub-vocally from behind her, and she smiled slightly as she heard his voice over the com earplug. "I think it's as important for the lesser nobility and the commoners to understand you and Cayleb aren't going to put up with any more nonsense as it is for any of Zebediah's more nobly born confidants to get the same message. Nobody in a place like Zebediah is going to stick his neck out in support of what may be a simply transitory regime. Unless they're pretty sure you plan to hang around -- and to enforce the new rules -- people are likely to keep their heads down. Especially when you add in the fact that coming out in favor of Charisian rule is going to get them on the wrong side of the Inquisition and Mother Church, as well."

"I know," she murmured back. "I just can't help thinking about Hektor's efforts. These people haven't had a lot of good experiences with foreign troops, Merlin."

"No," he agreed, enhanced vision watching the first squads of Army troops debarking onto Carmyn's wharves. "It's time we changed that, though, and Kynt is just the man to make a good start in that direction."

Sharleyan nodded. Kynt Clareyk, the Baron of Green Valley, was an ex-Marine. Although only a recent addition to the inner circle, he'd cherished his suspicions for some time where Seijin Merlin's role in the innovations which had made Charis' survival possible were concerned. He was also one of the new Imperial Army's most highly regarded officers. Even his Chisholmian-born fellows, who tended to regard Marines as excellent for boarding actions and smash and grab raids but fairly useless for extended campaigns, listened very carefully to anything Green Valley had to say.

"I can't help wishing we had something which more immediately demanded his talents, though," she said after a moment. "Or perhaps I should say I hope nothing happens here which immediately demands his talents."

"Until we figure out how somebody with an army our size invades something the size of the mainland, I think this is probably the best use for his talents we're likely to find," Merlin said philosophically. "Thank God. For a while there I was afraid we might really need him in Corisande after all."

"That could still happen," Sharleyan pointed out.

"Not with Koryn Gahrvai and his father sitting on the situation," Merlin disagreed. "The only real chance Craggy Hill's lot had was to convince the Duke of Margo and the Temple Loyalists to support them against the Regency Council's 'traitorous ambition to replace our rightful Prince with their own tyrannical despotism in the service of traitors, blasphemers, and heretics.' When that appeal fell flat, I knew we had them. For now, at least."

"I wish you hadn't felt compelled to add the qualifier," she said dryly.

"To quote a truly ancient aphorism from Old Terra, 'Nothing's sure but death and taxes,' Your Majesty." Merlin smiled as the Empress' straight, slender shoulders quivered with suppressed laughter, then cleared his throat.

"Excuse me, Your Majesty," he said out loud, "but I believe Master Pahskal is trying to attract your attention."

"Thank you, Merlin," she said, turning from the rail and smiling at the sandy-haired young midshipman who'd been shifting his weight uneasily from one foot to the other.

Faydohr Pahskal had just turned thirteen and he was the son of a family of Cherayth fishermen who'd never imagined he might come into such proximity of his queen and empress. He'd obviously been torn between whatever instructions he'd received from Captain Kahbryllo and an acute uncertainty over the wisdom of disturbing Empress Sharleyan when everyone else had obviously withdrawn to the far side of the quarterdeck to give her privacy.

"Should I assume the Captain's sent you with a message, Master Pahskal?" she asked with a smile.

"Ah, yes, Your Majesty. I mean, he has." Pahskal blushed hotly, although it was difficult to tell, thanks to how severely his fair skin had burned under the last couple of days' intense sunlight. "I mean," he continued, rushing the words a bit desperately, "Captain Kahbryllo sends his compliments and asks if you would be pleased to go ashore in about one hour, Your Majesty."

"That would suit me quite well, Master Pahskal," Sharleyan said gravely. "Thank you."

"You're welcome, Your Majesty!" Pahskal half-blurted, touched his chest in salute, and dashed away, obviously relieved at having discharged his mission without being incinerated by the imperial disfavor.

"It's hard to believe Hektor was even younger than that at Darcos Sound," Sharleyan said, her smile turning a bit sad, and Merlin nodded.

"It is, although I doubt even Master Pahskal seems quite that young when it's simply a matter of life or death, Your Majesty."

"Am I really that terrifying?"

"To a thirteen-year-old?" Merlin laughed. "Your Majesty, the thought of facing you and Cayleb can turn strong men's knees to water. When a mere midshipman finds himself trapped between the doomwhale of his captain's instructions and the deep blue sea of an empress' potential unhappiness, the only thing he wants to be is somewhere else. Preferably as quickly as possible."

"Do you think he'll get over it eventually?" Sharleyan asked, trying very hard not to laugh herself.

"Oh, probably, Your Majesty. If he spends enough time in your vicinity, that is. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if that was why Captain Kahbryllo sent him instead of coming to speak to you himself."

"You may be right," Sharleyan said. Then she snapped her fingers and gave her head a half-shake.

"What is it, Your Majesty?" Merlin asked.

"I should have asked young Pahskal to pass the word to Spynsair and Father Neythan, as well."

"I doubt Captain Kahbryllo forgot to include your personal clerk and your senior law master in the message queue, Your Majesty."

"No, but I should have made certain."

"Will it put your mind at ease if I go and personally bend all the sinister power of my fearsome reputation on making certain they got the word too, Your Majesty?" Merlin inquired, sweeping her a deep bow, and she giggled. Unmistakably, she giggled.

"I suppose that's not really necessary, Captain Athrawes," she said gravely, then sighed, her expression much less humorous than it had been a moment before. "And I also suppose I'm thinking about minor details as a way to avoid thinking about more momentous ones."

"It happens, Your Majesty," Merlin said with a small shrug. "But I've noticed you usually get around to facing up to all of them in the end. It seems to be a habit you share with Cayleb."

"I'd better!" she said in a considerably tarter tone. "And I imagine I'd better go and get ready for a boat trip, too. Under the circumstances, though, I think it would be wiser to leave Alahnah on board with Sairaih and Glahdys. Assuming of course" -- she rolled her eyes -- "a mere empress can convince Sairaih to stay aboard herself!"
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Re: STICKY: How Firm a Foundation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Sep 11, 2011 9:03 pm

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One more snippet remaining.


How Firm A Foundation - Snippet 44

* * * * * * * * * *

"Welcome, Your Majesty."

Baron Green Valley went down on one knee and bowed very formally as Sharleyan stepped into the throne room of the palace which had once belonged to Tohmas Symmyns, and fabric rustled as every other man -- and the handful of women -- followed his example. Only the sentries standing against the huge chamber's walls and the Imperial Guardsmen following at Sharleyan's heels remained upright. Especially the grim-faced sergeant at her side and the tall, sapphire-eyed captain at her back, with one hand resting lightly on the hilt of his sword. She rather doubted any of those kneeling Zebediahns were unaware of his presence, which was the main reason he was here, and she turned her head, regarding them all regally.

She let silence hover for almost a full minute, listening to a stillness so intense that the zinging flight of one of the local insects was clearly audible. Then, confident she'd made her point, she reached down and laid one slim hand on Green Valley's shoulder.

"Thank you, General Green Valley," she said, projecting her voice clearly and choosing his military title with malice aforethought. "We could wish the journey had been a little less tempestuous, but it's good to be here . . . and to see such an old and trusted friend again."

No one with a working brain would ever have imagined that she and Cayleb would have sent someone they didn't trust to handle the delicate task of arresting a Grand Duke, yet she could almost physically feel the way attention clicked in Green Valley's direction. It never hurt to make it publicly clear who enjoyed the Crown's trust -- and had the Crown's ear, if it came to that. Which was also the reason -- or one of them, at least -- she'd used the imperial "we."

"Rise, please," she said, tugging gently on his shoulder, and smiled as he rose to tower over her. He was tall for a Charisian, within a few inches of Merlin's own height, and he smiled back at her.

"We realize we have a great many details to which we must attend," she continued, turning to look past him and let her eyes sweep the assemblage of notables. Every senior Zebediahan noble, and a great many of the lesser nobility, as well, were present in that throne room. It was almost claustrophobically full as a consequence, although her guardsmen maintained an open bubble at least four yards across around her at all times.

Wide enough to stop an assassin with cold steel, at any rate, she thought. A bit more problematic where muskets are concerned, I suppose, but getting one of those past Merlin and the SNARCs wouldn't be the easiest thing in the world. And then there's the fact that every stitch I'm wearing, aside from my lingerie, is made out of antiballistic smart fabric. If somebody does get a shot at me, he's going to be very surprised when the miraculous favor of the Archangels comes to my rescue. She suppressed an urge to smile. Now that I think about it, that might not be such a bad thing. It'd certainly give Clyntahn and the Temple Loyalists conniptions!

"Yet first and foremost among those details," she continued out loud, keeping her voice womanfully level despite her devilish amusement as she imagined Clyntahn's reaction to her miraculous deliverance, "is our duty to thank you for the exemplary fashion in which you have performed your duties here. We and the Emperor have read your reports with great interest and approval. And while we deeply regret the necessity which impelled us to send you here in the first place, it seems evident to us that not only you but many of the loyal members of the Zebediahan nobility, faithful to their sworn word, have done all we might ask of any man in these difficult and troubling times."

She sensed the slight rustle of relief which went through the still-kneeling aristocrats as her tone registered, and she was hard-pressed not to smile sardonically.

Of course they're relieved by your attitude, Sharley. More than half of them probably expected you to come in snorting fire and breathing brimstone! That would have been Hektor's approach, at any rate. Now they're at least provisionally ready to believe they're not all going to be tainted in your eyes by past associations with Zebediah. Despite herself, her lip curled ever so slightly. I suppose it would probably be a good idea not to mention how many of them you know were toying with the idea of supporting him this time around.

It had been tempting to make a clean sweep of those who'd come closest to throwing in their lot with Symmyns and the Northern Conspiracy down in Corisande. Some of them had come very close, as a matter of fact, which didn't augur well for their continued future loyalty to Charis. Still, as Cayleb and Staynair had pointed out, thinking about an act was a very different thing from actually committing it. People dedicated to the concept of freedom of thought could scarcely go around lopping off heads just because possibly treasonous thoughts might have rattled around inside them at one point or another. Besides, knowing who the weak links were offered the opportunity to strengthen them in the future.

And in the meantime, it lets us know who to keep an eye on.

"I thank you for those kind words, Your Majesty," Green Valley said, bowing once more.

"They're no more than you deserve of us, General," she said sincerely, inclining her own head to him ever so slightly. "And now, of your courtesy, would you be so kind as to escort us?"

"It would be my honor, Your Majesty," he replied, offering her his arm.

She tucked her hand into it and allowed her to escort her ceremonially to the throne awaiting her . . . and that sapphire-eyed Guardsman followed silently at her back.

* * * * * * * * * *

"Well, that went about as well as it could have, I think," Sharleyan said several hours later.

She sat in the luxurious bedchamber which had once belonged to the man now sitting in a far more humble chamber in one of the palace's more securely guarded towers. The bedchamber was actually rather more luxurious than she would have preferred, and she'd already made a mental note to have its more ostentatious furnishings removed. If nothing else, it would probably give her enough space to walk in a straight line for more than three feet at a time, she thought tartly.

"And at least you're sitting in a nice warm -- and still -- palace," Cayleb replied sourly over her earplug.

His passage back to Old Charis wasn't setting any records after all. Despite having left Cherayth almost two five-days before Sharleyan had, he still hadn't cleared the Zebediah Sea. In fact, he was barely more than twelve hundred miles from Carmyn even as he spoke, and Royal Charis was plunging wildly as she fought her way through the Mackas Strait in the teeth of a full storm roaring its way eastward from the East Chisholm Sea with what the old Beaufort scale would have called Force Ten winds, approaching sixty miles per hour. She shuddered and bucked her way through waves almost thirty feet high, with long overhanging crests. Foam blew in dense white streaks and great gray patches along the direction of the wind; everywhere the eye looked, the surface of the sea was white and tumbling; and the galleon's stout timbers quivered under the heavy impacts slamming into them.

"What's this? The Charisian seaman with the cast-iron stomach upset over a little rough weather?"

Sharleyan put a considerably more humor into the question than she actually felt. She'd spent enough time aboard ship by now herself to realize Royal Charis wasn't really in desperate straits, despite the violence of her motion. Still, even the best found ship could founder.

"It's not the motion, it's the temperature," Cayleb shot back. "You may be accustomed to freezing your toes off, dear, but I'm a Charisian boy. And my favorite hot water bottle happens to be in Zebediah at the moment!"

"Trust me, if it weren't for the motion I'd trade places with you in a heartbeat," she said feelingly. "I've learned to love the weather in Tellesberg, but this is ridiculous!"

She wiped a sheen of perspiration from her forehead. The bedchamber's open windows faced the harbor, and the evening seabreeze was just beginning to make up. It was going to get better soon, she told herself firmly.

"Nahrmahn would trade with you, too, Your Majesty," Princess Ohlyvya said. "I don't believe I've ever seen him more miserable. I think he was bringing up the soles of his shoes this afternoon."

The Emeraldian princess' tone mingled amusement, sympathy, and at least some genuine concern. In fact, her worry over her husband was clearly helping to divert her from any qualms she might feel herself in the face of such weather, and Sharleyan smiled.

"I wondered why he hadn't had anything to say," she said.

"He got the healer to prescribe golden berry tea with an infusion of sleep root, and he's been sleeping ever since," Ohlyvya told her. "Should I try to wake him?"

"Oh, no! If he can sleep, let him."

"Thank you," Ohlyvya said sincerely.

"At the moment, I find myself envying him," Cayleb remarked only half-humorously. "But since I'm awake and not asleep, was there anything we particularly needed to discuss?"

"I don't really think so. To be honest, I just needed to hear your voice more than anything else," Sharleyan admitted. "I think we got off on the right foot today, and Kynt played his part wonderfully. There are a couple of people I'd like Nahrmahn to keep a little closer eye on than we'd discussed. Now that I've personally met them, I'm a bit less optimistic about their fundamental reliability than I was. Aside from that, though, I really do think it's going well so far. I'm just not looking forward to tomorrow, I suppose."

"I don't blame you." Cayleb's tone was more sober than it had been. "Mind you, I don't think it would bother me as much as I think it's bothering you. Probably because I've already had the questionable pleasure of meeting him. In a lot of ways, I wish I could have taken this one off your shoulders, but --"
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Re: STICKY: How Firm a Foundation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Tue Sep 13, 2011 9:00 pm

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This book should be available now, so this is the last snippet.

How Firm A Foundation - Snippet 45

He shrugged, and Sharleyan nodded. They'd discussed it often enough, and the logic which had sent her here was at least half her own. The world -- and especially the Empire of Charis -- needed to understand she and Cayleb genuinely were corulers . . . and that his was not the only hand which could wield a sword when it was necessary. She'd demonstrated that clearly enough to her own Chisholmians, and as a very young monarch ruling in Queen Ysbet's shadow she'd learned that sometimes the sword was necessary.

And when it is, flinching is the worst thing -- for everyone -- you can possibly do, she thought grimly. I learned that lesson the hard way, too.

"Well, you can't take it off me," she told him philosophically. "And it's later here than it is where you are, and your daughter has gotten over her snit over the local temperature and is about to begin demanding her supper. So I think it's probably time I went and saw to that minor detail. Good night, everyone."

* * * * * * * * * *

Sharleyan Ahrmahk sat very still as the prisoner was brought before her.
He was neatly, even soberly, dressed, without the sartorial magnificence which had graced his person in better days, and he looked acutely nervous, to say the least.

Tohmas Symmyns was a man of average height and average build, with thinning dark hair, a prominent nose, and eyes that reminded Sharleyan of a dead kraken's. He'd grown a beard during his incarceration, and it didn't do a thing for him. The smudges of white in his hair and the strands of white in the dark beard made him look even older than his age but without affording him any veneer of wisdom.

Of course, that could be at least partly because of how much she knew about him, she reflected grimly.

She sat in the throne which had once been his, her crown of state on her head, dressed in white and wearing the violet sash of a judge, and his muddy eyes widened at the sight of that sash.

Idiot, she thought coldly. Just what did you expect was going to happen?

He wasn't manacled -- she and Cayleb had been prepared to make that much concession to his high rank -- but the two Army sergeants walking behind him wore the expressions of men who devoutly wished he'd give them an excuse to lay hands on him.

At least he wasn't that stupid, and he came to a halt at the foot of the throne room's dais. He stared at her for a moment, then fell to both knees and prostrated himself before her.

She let him lie there for long, endless seconds, and as she did, she felt a sort of cruel pleasure which surprised her. It shamed her, too, that pleasure, yet she couldn't deny it. And the truth was that if anyone deserved the torment of uncertainty and fear which must be pulsing through him at that moment, Tohmas Symmyns with was that anyone.

The silence stretched out, and she felt the tension of the nobles and clerics who'd been summoned to bear witness to what was about to happen. They lined the walls of the throne room, there to observe, not speak, and that was another reason she let him wait. He himself would have no opportunity to learn from what happened here this day; others might.

"Tohmas Symmyns," she said finally, and his head snapped up as she used his name and not the title which had been his for so long, "you have been accused of treason. The charges have been considered by a jury of the lords secular and temporal of the Empire and of the Church of Charis. The evidence has been carefully sifted, and you have been given the opportunity to testify in your own defense and to name and summon any witnesses of your choice. That jury's verdict has been rendered. Is there anything you would wish to say to us or to God before you hear it?"

"Your Majesty," his voice was more than a little hoarse, a far cry from the silky, unctuous instrument it once had been, "I don't know why my enemies have told you such lies! I swear to you on my own immortal soul that I'm innocent -- innocent! -- of all the crimes charged against me! Yes, I corresponded with Earl Craggy Hill and others in Corisande, but never to conspire against you or His Majesty! These were men I'd known and worked with for years, Your Majesty. Men whose loyalty to you and His Majesty I knew was suspect. I sought only to discover their plans, to ferret out any plots they might be hatching in order to bring them to your attention!"

He rose on his knees, extending both arms in a gesture of supplication and innocence.

"You know what pressures have been brought to bear on all of us to renounce our oaths to you and to the Crown, Your Majesty. You know the Temple and the Temple Loyalists insist those oaths cannot bind us in the face of the Grand Vicar's pronunciation of excommunication against you and His Majesty and interdict against the entire Empire. Yet I swear to you that I have observed every provision of my oath, given to His Majesty aboard ship off this very city when I swore fealty to your Crown of my own free will, in the face of no threat or coercion! Whatever others may or may not have done, I have stood firm in the Empire's service!"

He fell silent, staring at her imploringly, and she looked back with no expression at all. She let the silence linger once more, then spoke.

"You speak eloquently of your loyalty to us and Emperor Cayleb," she said then, coldly, "but the documents in your own hand which have come into our possession speak even more eloquently. The testimony of the Earl of Swayle further indicts you, and so do the recorded serial numbers of the weapons which were delivered here, in Zebediah, into your own possession . . . yet ended in a warehouse in Telitha. Weapons which would have been used to kill Soldiers and Marines in our service had the conspirators in Corisande succeeded in their aims. No witness you have called has been able to refute that evidence, nor have you. We are not inclined to believe your lies at this late date."

"Your Majesty, please!"

He shook his head, beginning to sweat. Sharleyan was vaguely surprised it had taken this long for those beads of perspiration to appear, but then she realized Nahrmahn had been right. Even at this late date Symmyns hadn't quite believed he wouldn't be able to fast talk his way out yet again.

"You were given every opportunity to demonstrate your loyalty to us and to Emperor Cayleb," she said flatly. "You chose instead to demonstrate your disloyalty. We cannot control what passes through the minds and hearts of our subjects -- no merely mortal monarch can hope to do that, nor would we even if it were within our power. But we can reward faithful service, and we can and must -- and will -- punish treachery and betrayal. Recall the words of your oath to His Majesty. To be our 'true man, of heart, will, body, and sword.' Those were the words of the oath you swore 'without mental or moral reservation.' Do you recall them?"

He stared at her wordlessly, his lips bloodless.

"No?" She gazed back at him, and then, finally, she smiled. It was a thin smile, keener than a dagger, and he flinched before it. "Then perhaps you remember what he swore to you in return, in his name and in our own. 'We will extend protection against all enemies, loyalty for fealty, justice for justice, fidelity for fidelity, and punishment for oath-breaking. May God judge us and ours as He judges you and yours.' You chose not to honor your oath to us, but we most assuredly will honor ours to you."

"Your Majesty, I have a wife! A daughter! Would you deprive her of a father?!"

Despite herself, Sharleyan winced internally at that reminder of her own loss. But there was a difference this time, she told herself, and no sign of that wince was allowed to touch her expression.

"We will grieve for your daughter," she told him in a voice of iron. "Yet our grief will not stay the hand of justice."

He wrenched his gaze from hers, staring around the throne room as if seeking some voice which might speak in his defense or issue some plea for clemency even at this late date. There was none. The men and women most likely to have allied themselves with him were the ones least likely to risk their own skins on his behalf, and the last color drained out of his face as he saw the opaque eyes looking back at him.

"The jury which has inquired into your guilt or innocence has found you guilty of each and every charge against you, Tohmas Symmyns, once Grand Duke of Zebediah." Sharleyan Ahrmahk's voice was chipped flint, and his eyes snapped back to her face like frightened rabbits. "You are stripped of your position and attainted for treason. Your wealth is forfeit to the Crown for your crimes, and your lands and your titles escheat to the Crown, to be kept or bestowed wherever the Crown, in its own good judgment, shall choose. And it is the sentence of the Crown that you be taken from this throne room to a place of execution and there beheaded and buried in the un-consecrated ground reserved for traitors. We will hear no plea for clemency. There will be no appeal from this decision. You will be permitted access to clergy of your choice so that you may confess your sins, if such is your desire, but it is our command that this sentence shall be executed before sundown of this very day, and may God have mercy upon your soul."

She stood, a slender dark-haired flame in white, slashed by that violet stole, rubies and sapphires glittering like pools of crimson and blue fire in her crown of state, gazing down at the white-faced, stricken man she had just condemned to death.

And then she turned, Merlin Athrawes a silent presence at her back, and walked out of that throne room's ringing silence without another word.
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