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STICKY: Midst Toil and Tribulation Snippets

This is the place where we will be posting snippets of soon-to-be published works!
STICKY: Midst Toil and Tribulation Snippets
Post by Duckk   » Tue Apr 10, 2012 7:43 pm

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Reserved for official snippets of Midst Toil and Tribulation.
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Re: STICKY: Midst Toil and Tribulation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Thu Apr 12, 2012 11:18 am

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These snippets are from a rough draft of the book and will contain typos.

I will be posting them on Mondays and Thursdays.

Midst Toil And Tribulation - Snippet 01

Midst Toil And Tribulation
David Weber

March
Year of God 896

.I.
Gray Wall Mountains,
Glacierheart Province,
Republic of Siddarmark

Snow veils hung in the clear, icy air, dancing on the knife-edged wind that swirled across the snow pack, and the highest peaks, towering as much as a mile higher than his present position, cast blue shadows across the snow.

It looked firm and inviting to the unwary eye, that snowpack, but Wahlys Mahkhom had been born and raised in the Gray Walls. He knew better, and his eyes were hard and full of hate behind his smoked glass snow goggles as his belly snarled resentfully. Accustomed as he was to winter weather even here in the Gray Walls, and despite his fur-trimmed parka and heavy mittens, he felt the ice settling into his bones and muscles. It needed only a momentary carelessness for a man to freeze to death in these mountains in winter, even at the best of times, and these were far from the best of times. The Glacierheart winter burned energy like one of Shan-wei's own demons, and food was scarcer than Mahkhom could ever remember. Glacierheart's high, stony mountainsides and rocky fields had never yielded bountiful crops, yet there'd always been at least something in the storehouses to be eked out by hunters like Mahkhom. But not this year. This year the storehouses had been burned -- first by one side, then by the other in retaliation -- and the fields, such as they were, were buried beneath the deepest, bitterest snow anyone could remember. It was as if God Himself was determined to punish innocent and guilty alike, and there were times -- more times than he liked to admit -- when Wahlys Mahkhom wondered if there would be anyone left alive to plant the next year's crops.

His teeth wanted to chatter like some lowland dancer's castanets, and he dragged the thick scarf his mother had knitted years ago higher. He laid the extra layer of insulation across the snow mask covering his face, and the hatred in his eyes turned harder and far, far colder than the winter about him as he touched that scarf and with it the memory of why his mother would never knit another.

He raised his head cautiously, looking critically about himself once more. But his companions were as mountain-wise as he was. They were just as well hidden under the white canopies of the sheets they'd brought with them, and he bared those edge-of-chattering teeth in hard, vengeful satisfaction. The snowshoe trek to their positions had been exhausting, especially for men who'd cut themselves dangerously short on rations for the trip. They knew better than that, of course, but how did a man take the food he really needed with him when he looked into the eyes of the starving child who would have to go without if he did? That was a question Wahlys Mahkhom couldn't answer -- not yet, at any rate -- and he never wanted to be able to.

He settled back down, nestling into his hole in the snow, using the snow itself for insulation, watching the trail that crept through the mountains below him like a broken-backed serpent. They'd waited patiently for an entire day and a half, but if the target they anticipated failed to arrive soon, they'd be forced to abandon the mission. The thought woke a slow, savage furnace of fury within him to counterpoint the mountains' icy cold, yet he made himself face it. He'd seen hate-fired determination and obstinacy kill too many men this bitter winter, and he refused to die stupidly. Not when he had so many men still to kill.

He didn't know exactly what the temperature was, although Safehold had remarkably accurate thermometers, a gift of the archangels who'd created Mahkhom's world. He didn't have to know exactly. Nor did he have to know he was nine thousand feet above sea level on a planet with an axial inclination eleven degrees greater and an average temperature seven degrees lower than a world called Earth, of which he had never heard. All he had to know was that a few moments' carelessness would be enough to --

His thoughts froze as a flicker of movement caught his eye. He watched, scarcely daring to breathe, as the flicker repeated itself. It was far away, hard to make out in the dimness of the steep-walled pass, but all the fury and anger within him had distilled itself suddenly into a still, calm watchfulness, focused and far colder than the mountains about him.

The movement drew closer, resolving itself into a long line of white-clad men, slogging along the trail on snowshoes like the ones buried beside Mahkhom's hole in the snow. Half of them were bowed under heavy packs, and no less than six sleds drawn by snow lizards accompanied them. Mahkhom's eyes glittered with satisfaction as he saw those sleds and realized their information had been accurate after all.

He didn't bother to look around for the other men buried in the snow about him, or for the other men hidden in the dense stands of evergreens half a mile further down that icy trail from his icy perch. He knew where they were, knew they were as ready and watchful as he himself. The careless ones, the rash ones, were already dead; those who remained had added hard-learned lessons to the hunter's and trapper's skills they'd already possessed. And like Mahkhom himself, his companions had too much killing to do to let themselves die foolishly.

No Glacierheart miner or trapper could afford one of the expensive Lowlander firearms. Even if they could have afforded the weapons themselves, powder and ball came dear. For that matter, even a steel-bowed arbalest was hideously expensive, over two full months' income for a master coalminer, but a properly maintained arbalest lasted for generations. Mahkhom had inherited his from his father, and his father from his father, and a man could always make the ammunition he needed. Now he rolled over onto his back under his concealing sheet. He removed his over-mittens and braced the steel bow stave against his feet while his gloved hands cranked the windless. He took his time, for there was no rush. It would take those men and those snow lizards the better part of a quarter hour to reach the designated point, and the mountain air was crystal clear. Better to take the time to span the weapon this way, however awkward it might be, then to risk sky lining himself and warning his enemies of their peril.

He finished cranking, made sure the string was securely latched over the pawl, and detached the windless. Then he rolled back over, setting a square-headed quarrel on the string. He brought the arbalest into position, gazing through the ring sight, watching and waiting , his heart as cold as the wind, while those marching figures crept closer and closer.

For a moment, far below the surface of his thoughts, a bit of the man he'd been only three or four months earlier stared aghast at what was about to happen here on this high, icy mountain trail. That tiny fragment of the Wahlys Mahkhom who'd still had a family knew that many of those men had families, as well. It knew those families were as desperate for the food on those lizard-drawn sleds as the families he'd left huddling around fires in the crudely built cabins and huts where they'd taken shelter when their villages were burned about their ears. It knew about the starvation, and the sickness, and the death that would stalk other women and other children when this day's work was done. But none of the rest of him listened to that tiny, lost fragment, for it had work to do.

The center of that marching column of men reached the base of the single pine, standing alone and isolated as a perfect landmark, and under the ice and frost-clotted snow mask protecting his face, Mahkhom's smile was the snarl of a hunting slash lizard. He waited a single heart beat longer, and then his hands squeezed the trigger and his arbalest spat a sunlight-gilded sliver of death through that crystal mountain air.
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
*
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: STICKY: Midst Toil and Tribulation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Apr 15, 2012 8:21 pm

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Midst Toil And Tribulation - Snippet 02

.II.

Tellesberg Palace,
City of Tellesberg,
Kingdom of Old Charis,
Charisian Empire

Merlin Athrawes sat silently in his darkened chamber, eyes closed as he contemplated images only he could see. He really ought to have been "asleep," taking the nightly downtime Emperor Cayleb had mandated, but he'd been following Wahlys Mahkhom's group of guerrillas through Owl's SNARCs for over a five-day, and the distant AI had been instructed to wake him when the moment came.

Now he watched bleakly as the arbalests sent their deadly quarrels hissing into the totally surprised supply convoy.

They should've been more cautious, he thought grimly. It's not like both sides haven't had plenty of experience murdering each other by now.

But they hadn't been, and now the men struggling to deliver the food their families needed to survive screamed as steel-headed shafts ripped into them. Steaming scarlet stained the snow, voices shouted frantic orders and useless warnings, the men trapped on the trail tried to find some shred of shelter, tried to muster some sort of defense, and another volley of bolts ripped into them from the other side of the narrow valley. They tried desperately to turn the sleds, tried to break back the way they'd come, but a trio of quarrels slammed into the rearmost snow lizard. It collapsed, screaming and snarling and snapping at its wounds, and the trail was too narrow. No one could get past the thrashing, wounded creature, and even as they discovered that, the other jaw of the ambush -- the men hidden in the evergreens where the valley floor widened, armed with swords and axes and miners' picks -- flung themselves upon the stunned and decimated convoy.

It didn't last long. That was the sole mercy. No one was taking prisoners any longer -- not in Glacierheart, not on its frontier with Hildermoss. Caring properly for one's own wounded was close enough to impossible under the brutal, broken-backed circumstances; no one had the resources to waste on the enemy's wounded . . . even if anyone had been willing to spare an enemy's life. But at least Mahkhom's band wasn't as far gone as some of the guerrillas stalking one another through the nightmare which had once been the Republic of Siddarmark. They spared no one, but the death they meted out was clean and quick, without the torture and mutilation which had become the norm for all too many on both sides of the bitter hatred which had ripped the Republic apart.

Only three of the attackers were wounded, just one of them seriously, and they stripped the dead with quick, callous efficiency. The wounded snow lizard was dispatched with a cut throat, and half a dozen raiders harnessed themselves to the heavy sled. Others shouldered packs taken from the dead man whose naked corpses littered the snow, and then they were gone, slogging off down the trail to the point at which they could break away towards their own heavily guarded mountain fastness.

The bodies behind them were already beginning to freeze in the bitter cold.

As he watched the attackers hurrying off, Merlin felt unclean as he realized he didn't feel the horror those freezing bodies ought to have evoked in him. He felt bitter, helpless regret as he thought about the women and children who would never see fathers or sons or brothers again, and who would succumb, quickly or slowly, to malnutrition and the icy cold of the winter mountains. And he felt a blazing anger at the man who was truly responsible for what had happened not just here in this single mountain valley but throughout the entire Republic in the months since Zhaspahr Clyntahn's "Sword of Schueler" had been launched at Siddarmark's throat. Yet as he gazed down through the SNARCs at the corpses stiffening in the snow, he could not forget, try as he might, that they were the corpses of Temple Loyalists. The bodies of men who had reaped the savage harvest of their own sowing.

And buried within the rage he felt at the religious fanatics who'd let themselves be used as Clyntahn's weapon -- who'd torched food supplies, burned villages, massacred families on the mere suspicion they might harbor Reformist sympathies -- was his fury at himself. Cayleb and Sharleyan might regret all too many of the things they'd been called upon to do to resist the Group of Four's tyranny, but they weren't the ones who'd touched off the cataclysm of religious war on a planetary scale. No, that had been the doing of Merlin Athrawes, who wasn't even human. Who was the cybernetic avatar of the memories of a young woman almost a thousand years dead. Someone without a single drop of real blood in his veins, immune to the starvation and the cold claiming so many lives in the Siddarmarkian mountains this terrible winter.

And worst of all, it had been the doing of someone who'd known exactly how ugly, how horrible, religious warfare -- the most dreadful, all-consuming warfare -- could be. As he looked at those bodies, Merlin knew he could never pretend he hadn't known this was exactly where any religious war must lead. That hating, intolerant men would find in religion and the name of God the excuse to commit the most brutal, barbaric acts they could imagine and congratulate themselves upon their saintliness even as they did. And that when that happened, men like Wahlys Mahkhom, who'd come home from a mountain hunting expedition to find his village burned to the ground by Clyntahn's followers and his entire family dead, would find the counter-hatred to be just as brutal, just as merciless, and call their vengeance justice. And perhaps the most hellish thing of all was that it was impossible to blame Mahkhom for reacting just that way. What else could any sane person expect from a man who'd found his mother hacked to death? Who'd buried his three children, the eldest of them less than six years old, and held his wife's raped and mutilated body in his arms while he sobbed out the wreckage of a heart which would never heal? Indeed, it was a miracle he and his followers had given their enemies clean deaths, and all too many other Reformists wouldn't have. They would have given their foes exactly what their foes had given them, and if along the way they caught some innocent who was simply trying to survive in the chaos and the cruelty and despair, that was just the way it was.

It's feeding on itself, he thought, shutting away the image of those naked bodies at last. Atrocity leads to counter-atrocity, and men who can't avenge themselves on the ones who murdered their loves avenge themselves on anyone they can catch. And that creates still more hatred, still more thirst for vengeance, and the cycle goes right on building.

Merlin Athrawes was a PICA, a creature of alloys and mollycircs, of fiber optics and electrons, not flesh and blood. He was no longer subject to the biochemistry of humanity, no longer captive to adrenaline and the other physiological manifestations of anger and fight-or-flight evolutionary programming. And none of that mattered one whit as he confronted the hatred burning inside him and his inability to penetrate the far-off Temple in the city of Zion.

If I could only see what's happening there, he thought with an edge of despair. If I could only know what they're doing, what they're thinking . . . planning. None of us saw this coming in time to warn Stohnar -- not about anything he hadn't already picked up on his own, at any rate. But we should've seen it coming. We ought to've known what someone like Clyntahn would be thinking, and God knows we've had proof enough of the lengths to which he's willing to go!

In many ways, his ability -- his and his allies' -- to see so much only intensified and honed his frustration at being denied access to Zion. They had more information than they could possibly use, especially when they couldn't let anyone else suspect how that information had come into their possession, yet they couldn't peer into the one spot on the entire planet where they most urgently needed to see.

But it wasn't visions of Zion Merlin Athrawes truly wanted, and he knew it. What he wanted was to bring Zhaspahr Clyntahn and his fellows into his own reach for one, fleeting moment, and he wanted it with an intensity he knew had come to border all too nearly upon madness. He'd found himself thinking about Commodore Pei more and more frequently as the brutal winter of western Siddarmark grew steadily more and more savage. The Commodore had walked into Eric Langhorne's headquarters with a vest-pocket nuke; Merlin Athrawes could easily have carried a multi-megaton city-burner into Zion and destroyed not simply the Group of Four but the entire Temple in a single cataclysmic blast. The death toll would have been hideous, but could it possibly be worse than what he was watching happen inch by agonizing inch in Siddarmark? Than the deaths this war had already cost Charis and its allies? Than the deaths it would cost in the months and years ahead?

And would it not be worth it to cleanse himself of the blood guilt for starting it by ending his life -- if life it truly was -- like the biblical Samson, bringing down his enemies in his own destruction?

Oh, stop it! he told himself harshly. You know it was only a matter of time before that lunatic Clyntahn would've unleashed the Inquisition on Charis even without your intervention. And do you really think for a moment he would ever have stopped again, once he'd tasted that much blood? Of course he wouldn't have! You may be partly -- even largely -- to blame for where and when the bloodletting started, but you aren't responsible for what was already driving it. And without your interference, Clyntahn would already've won.

It was true, and in his saner moments -- the moments when he didn't sit in a darkened room watching the carnage, tasting the hate behind it -- he knew it was true. Just as he knew the Church had to be destroyed if humanity was going to survive its inevitable second meeting with the genocidal Gbaba. But truth . . . truth was cold and bitter bread, laced with arsenic and poisoned with guilt, at times like this.

That's enough, a voice which sounded remarkably like Sharleyan Ahrmahk's said in the back of his electronic brain. That's enough. You've seen what you told Owl to show you. Don't sit here and beat yourself to death over things you can't change, anyway. Besides, Cayleb's just likely to check with Owl and find out you stayed up late . . . again.

Despite himself, his lips twitched and a spurt of gentle amusement flowed through his rage, blunting the sharp edges of his self-hatred, as he pictured Cayleb Ahrmahk's reaction if he did discover Merlin's infraction. It wasn't as if Cayleb or Sharleyan thought for a moment that even an emperor's wrath could make any impression on Merlin Athrawes if he chose to ignore it, but that wasn't the reason Cayleb had issued his edict, nor was it the reason he would have pitched a truly imperial tantrum over its violation. No, he would have berated Merlin with every . . . colorful phrase he could come up with because he knew how much Merlin needed that. How much the PICA "seijin warrior" of myth and legend needed to be treated as if he truly were still a human being.

And perhaps -- who knew? -- Merlin truly was still human on some elemental level that went beyond fleshly envelopes and heartbeats and blood. Perhaps he wasn't, too. Perhaps in the end it didn't matter how much blood guilt he took upon his soul because perhaps Maikel Staynair was wrong. Perhaps Nimue Alban truly was as dead as the Terran Federation -- perhaps Merlin Athrawes truly was no more than an electronic echo with no soul to lose.

There were times he hoped that wasn't so, and other times -- when he thought of blood and pain, of thin-faced, starving children shivering in mountain snow -- when he prayed it was.

My, you are feeling morbid tonight, aren't you? he asked himself tartly. Maybe Cayleb's even righter than you thought to insist you get that downtime of his. And maybe you need to get up in the morning and drop by the imperial nursery to hug that goddaughter of yours and remember what this is all really about.

He smiled more naturally, dreams of guilt and bloodshed softened by the memory of that laughing, wiggling small body in his arms like God's own promise the future would, indeed, somehow be worth its cost in the fullness of time.

And it will, he thought softly, prepping the commands which would switch him to standby mode. When you look down at that little girl and realize why you're doing all this -- realize how much you love her -- you know it will.
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
*
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: STICKY: Midst Toil and Tribulation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Wed Apr 18, 2012 8:53 pm

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Midst Toil And Tribulation - Snippet 03

.III.
The Temple,
City of Zion,
The Temple Lands

"I hope you still think this was worth it, Zhaspahr," Vicar Rhobair Duchairn said grimly, looking across the conference table at the jowly Grand Inquisitor.

Zhaspahr Clyntahn looked back with a face of bland, expressionless iron, and the Church of God Awaiting's treasurer managed -- somehow -- not to snarl. It wasn't easy, given the reports pouring in from Siddarmark, and he knew as surely as he was sitting there that the reports they were receiving understated the destruction and death.

"I don't understand why you seem to think all this is somehow my fault," Clyntahn said in a flat voice. "I'm not the one who decided when and where it was going to happen -- you can thank that bastard Stohnar for that!"

Duchairn's lips parted but he stopped the fatal words before they emerged. He couldn't do much about the contempt and anger in his eyes, but at least he managed to refrain from what he truly wanted to say.

"Forgive me if I seem a bit obtuse," he said instead, "but all the reports I've seen -- including Archbishop Wyllym's -- seem to indicate the Inquisition is leading the . . . resistance to the Lord Protector. And" -- his eyes swiveled to Allayn Maigwair, the Temple's captain general -- "that somehow quite a few Temple Guard 'advisors' wound up assigned to the men who launched this 'spontaneous uprising.' Under the circumstances, I'm sure you can understand why it might seem to me you were a bit more directly evolved in events there than anyone else in this council chamber."

"Of course I was." Clyntahn's lip curled disdainfully. "I'm Mother Church's Grand Inquisitor, Rhobair! As such, I'm personally answerable to the Archangels and to God Himself for her safety. I didn't want to create this situation in Siddarmark. You and Zhasyn made your . . . reasoning for keeping the traitorous bastards' economy intact amply clear, and however little I liked your logic, I couldn't really dispute it. But that didn't absolve me from my responsibility -- mine and my Inquisitors' -- to watch Stohnar and his cronies. If it came down to a choice between making sure marks continued to flow into the Treasury and letting the entire Republic fall into the hands of Shan-wei and those fucking Charisian heretics, there was only one decision I could make, and I'm not about to apologize for having made it when my hand was forced!"

"Forced?" Zahmsyn Trynair, the Church's chancellor was obviously unhappy to be siding even partially with Duchairn, but he arched his eyebrows at Clyntahn. "Forgive me, Zhaspahr, but while you may not have intended for events to take the course they did, there seems little doubt that your 'Sword of Schueler' got out of hand and initiated the violent confrontation."

"I've told you and told you," Clyntahn shot back with an air of dangerous, put-upon patience, "if I was going to have a weapon ready to hand when I needed it, I could hardly wait to start sharpening the blade until after Stohnar had already struck, could I? Obviously a certain degree of preparation was necessary if the true sons of Mother Church were to be organized and ready to move when they were most sorely required. Yes, it's entirely possible a few of my inquisitors honed the Sword to a keener edge than I'd intended. And I won't pretend I wasn't more than a little taken aback by the . . . enthusiasm with which Mother Church's children sprang to her defense. But the truth is that it's a good thing Wyllym and I had started making preparations, and the proof is right there in the reports before you."

He jabbed a thick forefinger at the folders on the conference table. Duchairn had already forced himself to read the contents of his folder fully and completely, and he wondered what would have happened to Mother Church long since if his Treasury reports had borne so little resemblance to the truth. There were mountains of facts in those reports -- facts which he had no doubt at all were true. But the very best way to lie was to assemble carefully chosen 'truths' into the mask you wanted reality to wear, and Wyllym Rayno, the Archbishop of Chiang-wu, was a master at doing just that.

It's to be hoped he does at least a little better job of telling Zhaspahr the truth, Duchairn thought bitterly. Or is it? For that matter, could Zhaspahr even recognize the truth if someone dared to tell it to him these days?!

"You've got the figures, Zhasyn," Clyntahn went on sharply. "Those bastards in Siddar City were buying three times as many rifles as they told us they were! Just who in Shan-wei d'you think they were stockpiling them against? Could it possibly have been the people -- us; Mother Church -- Stohnar was lying to about the numbers he was buying? I don't know about you, but I can't think of any other reason for him to hide them from us!"

The Grand Inquisitor glared at Trynair, and the chancellor glanced uneasily at the treasurer from the corner of one eye. Duchairn could see what little backbone Trynair might still possess oozing out of him, but there wasn't a great deal he could do about that. Especially not when he strongly suspected that even though Rayno had inflated the figures grossly, Stohnar had been stockpiling weapons as quietly and secretly as he could.

God knows I would've been stockpiling them like mad if I'd known Zhaspahr Clyntahn had decided it was only a matter of when -- not if -- he was going to bring my entire Republic down in fire and blood!

"And when you add that to the way Stohnar, Maidyn, and Parkair've been coddling and protecting the Shan-wei-damned 'Reformists' -- not to mention entire communities of Charisians! -- throughout the Republic, it's obvious what they had in mind. As soon as they thought they had enough rifles for their immediate security, they were going to openly invite Charis into an alliance. Can you imagine what kind of reward they might've demanded from Cayleb and Sharleyan for giving them a foothold here on the mainland itself? Not to mention selling the entire Siddarmarkian Army into their possession? Langhorne, Zahmsyn! We'd have had Charisian armies pouring across the Border States and into the Temple Lands themselves by summer, and you know it!"

The Grand Inquisitor's fire was directed at Trynair, but no one doubted its true target was Duchairn. The chancellor wilted visibly, and Duchairn knew the image of Siddarmarkian armies sweeping across the Border States had been one of Trynair's darkest nightmares -- however little chance there'd been of its ever actually happening -- for years. The thought of those same armies equipped with Charisian weapons, allied to the monarchs who'd sworn to destroy the Group of Four forever, had to be the most terrifying thing the chancellor could imagine . . . short of finding himself face-to-face with the Inquisition as Clyntahn's other enemies had, at any rate.

"Father Zohannes and Father Saimyn had reports from reliable sources that the Army was supposed to conduct an 'exercise' closing the frontier with the Border States as soon as the first snows fell," Clyntahn continued. "An 'exercise!'" He sneered and curled his lip. "One that would've just happened to put all of those rifles he wasn't telling us he had on the frontier right across the shortest path from Zion to Siddarmark City . . . or from Siddarmark city to Zion. Obviously they had no choice but to act when they did, whether it was what any of us wanted or not!"

Duchairn's jaws ached from the pressure it took to keep his teeth closed on what he really wanted to say. Of course Zohannes Pahtkovair and Saimyn Airnhart had reported Stohnar intended to seal his borders! They were Clyntahn's creatures, and they'd report whatever he needed them to!

"No one could regret the loss of life more than I do," Clyntahn said piously. "It's not the fault of Mother Church, however -- it's the fault of her enemies. We had no choice but to act. If we'd hesitated for so much as five-day or two, Langhorne only knows how much worse it could've been! And if you expect me to shed any tears over what happened to heretics, blasphemers, and traitors or their lackeys, you'll be a long time waiting, Zhasyn!" He slammed one beefy hand on the tabletop. "They brought whatever happened to them on themselves, and however bad that might have been in this world, it was only a foretaste of what awaits them in the next!"

He glared around the chamber, nostrils flared, eyes flashing, and Duchairn marveled once again at the man's ability to believe whatever he needed to believe at any given moment. Yet surely he had to realize he was lying this time . . . didn't he? How could someone manipulate, twist, and pervert the truth that thoroughly if he didn't know, somewhere deep inside, what the truth actually was? Or did he simply rely on his subordinates to tell him whatever "truth" he needed to know to suit his requirements?
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
*
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: STICKY: Midst Toil and Tribulation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Apr 22, 2012 8:40 pm

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Midst Toil And Tribulation - Snippet 04

The treasurer's stomach twisted with familiar nausea as he thought about the other reports, the ones Clyntahn hadn't had time to "adjust." The ones about the atrocities, the rapes, the murders not simply in the Republic's communities of expatriate Charisians, but across its length and breadth. The churches burned with priests -- even entire congregations -- inside them because they carried the taint of "Reformism." The food stores deliberately burned or contaminated -- or outright poisoned -- in the teeth of winter. The sabotage of canal locks, despite the Book of Langhorne's specific prohibitions, to prevent the western harvests from being transported to the eastern cities. Clyntahn could pass all of those off as "unfortunate excesses," unintended but unhappily inevitable in the face of Mother Church's loyal sons' fully justified and understandable rage, but it had happened too broadly -- and far too efficiently -- not to have been carefully orchestrated by the same people who'd given the order for the uprisings in the first place.

And just what does Zhaspahr think is going to happen now? the treasurer asked himself bitterly. Siddarmarkian armies on the Border States' frontier? A Charisian foothold on the mainland? Charisian weapons and gold pouring into Stohnar's hands now that those hands have become Mother Church's mortal enemy? He's guaranteed all of those things will happen unless, somehow, we can crush the Republic before Charis can come to its rescue! If he had to do this -- if he simply had to unleash this bloodshed and barbarity -- couldn't he at least have done it effectively?

And then there was the devastating financial consequence of the effective destruction of one of the only three mainland realms which had actually been managing to pay their tithes. How did Clyntahn expect the Treasury to magically conjure the needed funds out of thin air when the Inquisition was systematically destroying them at the source?

But I can't say that, can I? Not with Zahmsyn folding up like a pricked bladder and Allayn nodding in what has to be at least half-genuine agreement. And even if I said it, it wouldn't make one damned bit of difference, because the blood's already been spilled and the damage's already been done. The best I can hope for is to find some way to mitigate at least the worst of the consequences. And maybe, just maybe, if this works out the way it could, then --

He chopped that thought off, scarcely daring to voice it even to himself, and made himself admit the gall-bitter truth. However disastrous this might prove in the long term, in the short term it actually bolstered Clyntahn's power. The dispatches coming in from Desnair, the Border States, the Temple Lands, even -- especially! -- the Harchong Empire made that clear. The vision of Siddarmark collapsing into ruin was terrifying enough to any mainland ruler; the mere possibility of Siddarmark becoming a portal for Charisian invasion was even worse. Those rulers didn't care at this point whether Stohnar had truly been planning to betray them as Clyntahn claimed. Not anymore. What mattered now was that Stohnar had no choice but to betray them if he wanted his nation to survive . . . and that every one of them scented the chance to scavenge his own pound or two of flesh from the Republic's ravaged carcass. And with the hysteria in Siddarmark -- the atrocities against Mother Church which Clyntahn's atrocities were bound to provoke -- the schism would be driven even deeper into the Church's heart, which was exactly what Clyntahn wanted. He wanted the polarization, the fear, the hatred, because that was what would give him the power to destroy his enemies forever and make Mother Church over into his own image of what she was supposed to be.

"I have to agree with Zhaspahr," Maigwair said. Duchairn eyed him with cold contempt, and the captain general flushed. "I'm not in a position to comment on or second-guess the Inquisition's reports," he went on defensively, "but the reports coming to me from Guardsmen in the Republic confirm that there really were a lot more muskets -- almost certainly rifled muskets -- in Siddar City than there ought to've been. Somebody was obviously stockpiling them. And it's certainly fortunate" -- his eyes cut sideways towards the Grand Inquisitor for just a moment -- "that we'll have had time to get the Guard fully recruited up to strength and equipped with more of the new muskets by the time the snow melts. At least half of them will be rifled, as well, and I understand" -- this time he looked squarely at Clyntahn -- "that your agents have managed to ferret out some of the information we most desperately need."

"The Inquisition has come into possession of quite a bit of information on the heretics' weapons," Clyntahn acknowledged. "We're still in the process of determining what portions of that knowledge we may safely use without encroaching upon the Proscriptions, but I believe we've found ways to duplicate many of their weapons without dabbling in the demonic inspiration which led the blasphemers to them."

He looked admirably grave, Duchairn thought bitterly. Every inch the thoughtful Inquisitor General truly finding ways to guard Mother Church against contamination rather than planning how he would justify anything that needed justifying.

"We've discovered how they make their round shot explode," he continued, "and I have a pair of trusted ironmasters devising a way to duplicate the effect. It's not simply a matter of making them hollow, and finding a way to accomplish it without resorting to proscribed knowledge has been tricky. There's also the matter of how you detonate the 'shells,' as the heretics call them. It requires a carefully compounded form of gunpowder to make the 'fuses' function reliably. Fortunately, one of Mother Church's most loyal sons managed to obtain that information for her -- obtain it at the cost of his own life, I might add -- and we should be able to begin making our own fuses within a month or two. By spring, you should have field artillery with its own exploding shells, Allayn."

The Inquisitor smiled benignly as Maigwair's eyes lit, and Duchairn closed his own eyes in despair. Maigwair had been in an understandable state of near panic ever since the Charisians had unveiled the existence of their exploding round shot. The possibility that he'd finally be able to put the same weapons into the hands of his own far more numerous troops had to come like a reprieve from a death sentence. He'd gladly overlook the deaths of a few hundred thousand -- or even a few million -- innocent Siddarmarkians if the outcome offered him an opportunity to equalize the difference between Mother Church's combat capabilities and those of her enemies.

Especially when the possibility of a military success in the field will probably keep him out of the Inquisition's sights, as well, Duchairn thought bitterly.

He drew a deep, deep breath, then straightened and opened his eyes once more. It was his turn to look across the table at Clyntahn, and he saw something cold and pleased glittering in the other man's eyes.

"I can't argue with you or Allayn about where we are now, however we got there, Zhaspahr," he made himself say. "I agree it's profoundly regrettable the situation should've erupted so suddenly and uncontrollably. I'm deeply concerned, however, about reports of starvation -- starvation among Mother Church's loyal children, as well as the heretics. I think it will be essential for us to give priority to moving food supplies into the areas controlled by her faithful sons. I realize there will probably be some conflict between purely military and humanitarian transport needs, but we'll have until the snow melts to make plans. I fear" -- he met Clyntahn's gaze levelly -- "that we'll lose far too many lives to starvation, cold, disease, and privation before spring, but it's essential Mother Church show her concern for those faithful to her. That's no more than her children deserve . . . and the very least they will expect out of us as her vicars."

Their gazes locked, and Duchairn knew it was there between them. Knew Clyntahn recognized that this was a point from which he would not retreat. He saw the familiar contempt for his own weakness, his own softness, in the Grand Inquisitor's eyes, saw the disdain in the twist of Clyntahn's lips at how cheaply he could buy Duchairn's compliance -- his assumption of complicity, for that was what it would amount to. Yet it was the best bargain the treasurer could hope for at this table, in this conference room, and both of them knew that, too.

Silence hovered for a moment, and then Clyntahn nodded.

"Of course they'll expect it from us, Rhobair." He smiled thinly. "And you're the perfect choice to organize it for us."

"Thank you, Zhaspahr," Duchairn said as Trynair and Maigwair murmured their agreement. "I'll try to cause the least dislocation possible in purely military movements."

He returned Clyntahn's smile with one of his own while black murder boiled in his heart. But more than simple hatred simmered at his core. He sat back in his chair, listening to Clyntahn and Maigwair discussing the new weapons in greater detail, and his eyes were cold as he contemplated the future. It was astounding, really. Zhaspahr Clyntahn understood plots, cabals, treachery and treason. He understood lies and threats, recognized the power of terror and the sweet taste of destroying his enemies. He knew all about the iron rod, how to break the bones of his foes. Yet for all his power and his ambition and ruthless drive, he was utterly blind to the deadly power of gentleness.

Not yet, Zhaspahr, he thought softly. Not yet. But one of these days, you may just discover that the hard way. And if God is good, He'll let me live at least long enough to see you do it.
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Re: STICKY: Midst Toil and Tribulation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Wed Apr 25, 2012 9:02 pm

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Midst Toil And Tribulation - Snippet 05

.IV.
Gorath Cathedral,
City of Gorath,
Kingdom of Dohlar

"Therefore, with angels and the Archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we glorify your glorious Name, evermore praising You and saying, holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, creator of all the world, Heaven and earth are full of Your glory. Glory be to You, O Lord, our maker. Amen."

Lywys Gardynyr, Earl of Thirsk, signed himself with Langhorne's scepter, rose from the kneeler, and seated himself in the richly upholstered pew with a suppressed grimace for the soft depth of that upholstery.

He'd been raised on his family's estates, far from the Kingdom of Dohlar's capital city and its cathedral, and he really preferred the plain, wooden pews of his youth to the glittering luxury of Gorath Cathedral. Of course, he preferred a rather plainer and less ostentatious lifestyle in general than that to which the wealthy and powerful of Gorath treated themselves. He'd found that distaste for ostentation becoming steadily more pronounced where religion was concerned and he felt it now, even though he had no choice but to acknowledge the magnificence of the cathedral's architecture, statuary, and stained-glass. There was no denying the glitter of its altar service, the smoothly gleaming perfection of its floor, paved in the golden stone for which Dohlar was famed and set with the Archangels' personal sigils, the majesty of its twin scepter-crowned steeples. He'd made his obligatory visit to the Temple in far-off Zion, and he knew Gorath Cathedral was but a smudged copy of the very home of God on earth, yet despite its smudges, it towered high into the heavens to the glory of God and the Archangels. And despite his cross grained preferences, its beauty was almost enough to help him forget, at least momentarily, the war being waged for the heart and soul of Mother Church.

Almost.

Now he watched Bishop Executor Wylsynn Lainyr lower his hands from the upraised position of supplication and turn from the altar to face the sparsely occupied cathedral. He crossed to the pulpit and stood behind it and its gold and gem-encrusted copy of the Holy Writ. But instead of opening the splendidly illuminated volume, he simply folded his hands upon it.

Thirsk looked back at the bishop executor stonily, face carefully expressionless. He didn't like Lainyr. He hadn't especially liked Ahrain Mahrlow, Lainyr's predecessor, either, but he'd found himself deeply regretting Mahrlow's heart attack, especially when he'd found himself increasingly at odds with Lainyr's policies and the way the bishop executor had insisted upon treating the Charisian prisoners who'd surrendered to him. He'd heard the details of what had happened to those same prisoners after he'd been ordered to surrender them to the Inquisition, as well, and those details had filled him with a cold and bitter self-loathing. He'd had no choice. It had been his duty, and triply so: as a noble of the Kingdom of Dohlar, charged to obey his king's commands; as the commander of the Royal Dohlaran Navy, charged to obey his lawfully appointed superiors; and as a son of Mother Church, bound to obey her commands in all things. And then there'd been his duty as father and grandfather to do nothing that might give Ahbsahlahn Kharmych, the Archbishopric of Gorath's Schuelerite intendant, an excuse to cast his family to the same Inquisition which had butchered those prisoners of war.

He knew all of that, and none of it made him feel any less unclean. Nor did he expect what was about to happen here in this glittering cathedral to change that.

He glanced to his right, where Bishop Staiphan Maik, the Navy's special intendant, sat between the Duke of Fern, King Rahnyld IV's first councilor, and the Duke of Thorast, Thirsk's immediate superior. Maik's face wore as little expression as his own, and he remembered the auxiliary bishop's advice to him the day the peremptory order to surrender his prisoners had arrived. It hadn't been the advice he would have anticipated out of a Schuelerite, but it had been good.

Better than I realized at the time, the earl thought grimly. Especially since I hadn't realized -- then -- just how closely the girls and their families are being watched. Purely for their own protection against crazed Charisian assassins, given my role in handing the Charisian Navy the only defeat -- modest though it may've been -- it's ever suffered. Of course.

He felt his jaw muscles ache and forced himself to relax them. And the truth was, he didn't know which infuriated him more -- the discovery that the Inquisition and the Royal Guard had decided to "protect" his family to make sure they remained hostages for his own obedience, or the fact that he couldn't truly decide even now whether or not he would have continued to obey if his family hadn't been held hostage to ensure he did.

It's supposed to be clear-cut. Black and white -- right and wrong, obedience or disobedience, honor or dishonor, godly action or service to Shan-wei. I'm supposed to know where my duty lies, and I'm supposed to do it without fear of any consequences I may suffer for doing what I know is right. And in any other war, it would be almost that clear-cut, almost that simple. When one side tortures prisoners to death and the other treats its prisoners decently, without abuse or starvation or the denial of healers, it should be easy to know where honor and justice -- yes, and God and the Archangels! -- stand. But this is Mother Church, the keeper of men's souls. She speaks with Langhorne's own authority in our mortal world. How dare I -- how dare anyone -- set his merely mortal, fallible judgment in opposition to hers?

That was a question too many people had been forced to confront in the last five years, and the sheer courage -- or arrogance -- it had taken for so many of them to decide against Mother Church filled Lywys Gardynyr with mingled horror and awe. A horror and awe made only deeper by the growing hunger he felt to make the same decision.

No, he told himself harshly. Not against Mother Church. Against that sick, murderous son-of-a-bitch Clyntahn and the rest of the "Group of Four." Yet how much of that anger of mine, that hatred, is Shan-wei's own snare, set before me and all those many others to seduce us into her service by perverting our own sense of justice? The Writ doesn't call her "the seducer of innocence" and "the corrupter of goodness" for nothing. And --

"Brothers in God," the bishop executor's voice interrupted the earl's thoughts. All eyes focused upon him, and he shook his head, his expression grim. "I have received directions from Archbishop Trumahn, sent from Zion over the semaphore, to speak to you about fearful tidings. It's for that reason I requested all of you to join me here in the cathedral this afternoon. Partly because this is by far the best place for me to give you this news, and partly so that we might join in prayer and supplication for the Archangels' intervention to protect and comfort two innocent victims of Shan-wei's spite and the machinations of sinful men who have given themselves to her service."

Thirsk felt his jaw tighten once more. So he'd been right about the reasons for this unexpected gathering of the kingdom's -- or, at least, the capital's -- highest nobility . . . and the senior officers of the Dohlaran army and navy.

"I'm sure that by now all of you, given your duties and your sources of information, have heard the wild tales coming out of Delferahk," Lainyr continued harshly. "Unfortunately, while there may have been little truth in much of what we've heard, there has, indeed, been a basis for it. Princess Irys and Prince Daivyn have been kidnapped by Charisian agents."

A rustling stir ran through the cathedral, and Thirsk snorted as he heard a handful of muttered comments. What is it actually possible some of these men hadn't heard the "rumors" Lainyr was talking about? If they were as poorly informed as that, the kingdom was in even more trouble than he'd thought it was!
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Re: STICKY: Midst Toil and Tribulation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Apr 29, 2012 8:32 pm

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Midst Toil And Tribulation - Snippet 06

"That is not the story you're going to hear from Shan-wei's slaves and servants." Lainyr told them. "Already Shan-wei's claim that the prince and princess were 'rescued' rather than kidnapped has set its poisonous roots in the credulous soil of parts of Delferahk. In due time, no doubt, it will become the official lie spread by the so-called Charisian Empire and its eternally damned and accursed emperor and empress. Yet the truth is far different. The Earl of Coris, charged to protect the Prince and to guard his sister, instead sold them to the same Charisians who murdered their father in Corisande. Indeed, some evidence has emerged to suggest it was Coris who provided the blasphemer, excommunicate Cayleb's assassins with the means to enter Manchyr without detection in the first place. The Inquisition and King Zhames' investigators have yet to determine how he communicated with Cayleb and Sharleyan of Charis from Delferahk, yet the proof that he did is self-evident, for the 'guardsmen' King Zhames allowed him to recruit to protect the legitimate ruler of conquered, bleeding Corisande instead aided in his kidnapping.

"And lest anyone believe for even one instant that it was not a kidnapping, let him reflect upon this. The Charisian agent who led in this crime was Merlin Athrawes himself -- the supposed seijin who serves as Cayleb Ahrmahk's personal armsman. The Charisian agent who, through the use of Shan-wei's foul arts, massacred an entire company of the Delferahkan Royal Guard who sought only to protect Daivyn and Irys. Guardsmen who were sent to protect those defenseless, orphaned children on the direct instructions of Bishop Mytchail, Delferahk's intendant, after he was forewarned of the threat by no less than the Grand Inquisitor himself. Father Gaisbyrt, one of Bishop Mytchail's most trusted aides, and another member of his order, sent to be certain of the Prince's safety, were murdered at the same time.

"At least two survivors of the Guardsmen heard Princess Irys herself crying out for rescue, begging them to save her brother from the same murderers who butchered her father, but Shan-wei has stepped more fully into our own world than ever since the Fall itself. We don't know what deviltry she armed her servant Athrawes with, but we know mortal men found it impossible to stand before it. Before he was done, Athrawes had burned half Talkyra Castle to the ground and blown up the other half. He stole the finest horses from King Zhames' royal stable, he and the traitor Coris bound Princess Irys -- bound a helpless, desperately struggling young maiden -- to the saddle, and he himself -- Athrawes, 'Emperor Cayleb's' personal servant -- took Prince Daivyn up before him despite the boy's cries for help, and they rode from the burning fortress where Prince Hektor's children had been protected into the night."

Lainyr turned his head slowly, sweeping the pews with bleak, cold eyes, and Thirsk wondered how much -- if any -- of the bishop executor's tale was true. And whether or not Lainyr himself believed a word of it. If he didn't, he'd missed a stellar career upon the stage.

"They rode east," the prelate continued in a cold, flat voice. "They rode east into the Duchy of Yarth until they reached the Sar River. And at that point, they met a party of several hundred Charisian Marines who had ascended the Sar in a flotilla of small craft while the Earl of Charlz' forces were distracted by the wanton rape and pillage -- the total, vicious destruction -- of the defenseless town of Sarmouth. A single platoon of Delferahkan dragoons intercepted the kidnappers, but they were in turn ambushed by the hundreds of Charisians hidden in the woods and massacred almost to the man. A handful of them escaped . . . and bore witness to the casual, callous murder of yet another consecrated priest of God who'd sought nothing but to rescue a captive girl and her helpless brother from their father's murderers.

"And then they escaped back down the Sar to Sarmouth, where they were taken aboard a Charisian warship which will undoubtedly deliver them to Cayleb and Sharleyan themselves in Tellesberg."

The bishop executor shook his head, his eyes like stone, and touched his pectoral scepter.

"It chills the heart to think -- to imagine, even for a moment -- what may befall those innocent victims in Charisian hands," he said quietly. "A boy of barely ten years? A girl not yet twenty? Alone, without protectors in the same bloody hands that butchered their father and older brother. The legitimate Prince of Corisande, in the grip of the godless empire which has conquered and pillaged that princedom and given Langhorne alone knows how many innocent children of God over into the grips of its own heretical, blasphemous 'church.' Who knows what pressure will be brought to bear upon them? What threats, what privations -- what torture -- would such as Cayleb and Sharleyan shrink from inflicting upon their victims to bend them to their will?" He shook his head again. "I tell you now, my sons -- it's only a matter of time before those helpless children are compelled to repeat whatever lies their captors put into their mouths.

"And lest anyone believe this was anything other than the outcome of a long, carefully laid strategy, consider the timing. Daivyn and Irys were stolen away from their protectors at the very instant Greyghor Stohnar was plotting to sell Siddarmark to Shan-wei! Can you conceive of the consequences if he'd succeeded? Of how the credulous, the weak, among Mother Church's children might have reacted to the simultaneous rebellion and apostasy of one of Safehold's true great kingdoms and the 'spontaneous and voluntary' acceptance of the Charisians' savage conquest of Corisande by its rightful Prince? And what boy of such tender years would withhold that acceptance with not simply himself but his innocent sister -- his only living relative -- in the hands of heretics and torturers?

"No, my sons, this was a meticulously thought out, organized, and executed strategy, as monstrous as it was ambitious, and while it may have failed in Siddarmark, it succeeded in Delferahk. The future ramifications of Coris' treason and Charis' ruthlessness are yet for us to discover, but I tell you now that we must be wary. We must be on our guard. The Charisians have Daivyn and Irys, and they will force them to tell whatever lies best suit Charisian purposes. We have only the truth -- only eyewitnesses to murder and kidnapping and arson, to rape and pillage -- and Shan-wei, the Mother of Lies, knows how to defile the truth. That's a game she's played before, one which led to the destruction of Armageddon Reef and mankind's fall from grace into the captivity of a sinful nature, and we dare not permit it to succeed this time any more than Langhorne permitted it to succeed the first time. It's essential that the truth be known, far and wide, and that no one be permitted to spread Shan-wei's filth unchallenged. That's the message Archbishop Trumahn sends us in the Grand Inquisitor's name. As I stand here, the same message is being transmitted to every kingdom, every princedom, every cathedral, every intendant in all the world, and I call upon you as Mother Church's faithful sons, to do your part in protecting the truth against the foul fabrications of priest-killers, regicides, blasphemers, and heretics."

Silence hovered, and Thirsk stared back at Lainyr, refusing to look away lest those sitting closest see the disbelief burning in his eyes. Unlike any of the rest of them, he'd met Cayleb of Charis. He'd been only a crown prince then, not a king or an emperor, yet some qualities went to the bone, unchanging as stone and less yielding than steel. Ruthless with his enemies when he felt it necessary Cayleb might be -- Thirsk knew that from personal experience, as well -- but someone who could dishonor himself the way Lainyr was describing? Someone who would abuse or torture children helpless in his hands? No, not that king. Not that man, whatever the potential prize. That was what Zhasphar Clyntahn did, and Cayleb Ahrmahk would never stoop to Clyntahn's level. Eternally damned heretic, apostate, and blasphemer he might indeed be, but always a man of honor . . . and never a torturer.

Lainyr gazed out across the cathedral's pews for at least another full minute, then his nostrils flared as he inhaled deeply.

"And now, my sons," he said softly, "I ask and charge you to join with me in a mass of intercession. Let us beseech Langhorne and Chihiro to protect their servants Irys and Daivyn even in the very hand of the ungodly. And let us also beseech the Holy Bédard and all of the other Archangels and angels to be with them and comfort them in this time of peril and trial. It is for us, their servants in this world, to free that brother and that sister -- and all of God's children -- from the power of heresy and evil, so let us rededicate ourselves to that holy purpose even as we commend Irys and Daivyn to their protection and comfort."
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Re: STICKY: Midst Toil and Tribulation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Wed May 02, 2012 8:50 pm

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Midst Toil And Tribulation - Snippet 07

.V.
HMS Destiny, 54,
Sea of Justice

"Oh, my!"

Princess Irys Zhorzhet Mhara Daykyn shook her head as the small, wiry, sunburned-but-tanning-quickly youngster squealed in delight. The ten-year-old stood at the back edge of HMS Destiny's quarterdeck, leaning back sharply with bare feet braced hard against the taffrail, while he clung to the wildly bent rod with both hands. He wore no shoes, only a pair of cutoff shorts enormously too big for him, but a canvas harness -- the type the Imperial Charisian Navy used with deckside safety lines during hurricanes -- was fastened about his bare torso. The harness was firmly anchored to the binnacle beside the ship's double wheel, and two burly, seasoned-looking petty officers (either of whom weighed four or five times as much as the boy in question) stood alertly to one side, grinning hugely as they watched him.

"It's a kraken! It's a kraken, Irys!" the youngster shouted, managing to hang onto the rod somehow.

One of the watching petty officers reached out as if to lend a hand, but he visibly thought better of it. The boy never noticed; he was too busy having the time of his life.

"It's not really a kraken, you know, Your Highness," a voice said quietly, and Irys turned her head quickly. Lieutenant Hektor Aplyn-Ahrmahk (known on social occasions as His Grace, Duke Hektor of Darcos) smiled at her. "A kraken would've already snatched the rod out of his hands," he said reassuringly. "He's probably got a forktail or a small neartuna. Either of which," he added with a reminiscent smile, "will be more than enough of a challenge at his age. I remember my first neartuna." He shook his head. "I was only a year or so older than His Highness is now, and it took me over an hour to land it. And I might as well admit I needed help. The damned thing -- pardon my language -- weighed more than I did!"

"Really?" Irys gazed at him for a moment, then gave him a smile of thanks. "I know he won't really go overboard, not with that harness. But I still can't help worrying," she acknowledged, her smile fading slightly. "And I can't say I was very happy about the thought of his actually landing a kraken with all those teeth and tentacles!"

"Well, even if I'm wrong and he has hooked a kraken -- and he and the petty officers manage to land it, which they probably wouldn't without a lot heavier line -- someone's going to hit it smartly between the eyes with an ax before it's allowed on deck." He shrugged. "The kraken may be the emblem of the House of Ahrmahk, Your Highness, but nobody wants to feed a hand or an arm to a real one."

"I suppose not," she said in a suddenly softer tone, looking away, and his sun-bronzed face turned darker as he realized what he'd just said.

"Your Highness, I --" he began, but she reached out and touched his forearm lightly before he could finish.

"It isn't your fault . . . Lieutenant. My father should've thought about that. And I've been forced to . . . adjust my thinking where the blame for his death is concerned." She turned to face him fully. "I don't doubt Emperor Cayleb would have killed him willingly in combat, but, then, Father would just as willingly have killed Cayleb. And after what Phylyp's learned, there's no longer any doubt in my mind that it was Zhaspahr Clyntahn who had Father and Hektor murdered. I won't pretend I'm reconciled to Corisande's conquest, because I'm not. But as for Daivyn's safety and my own, I'm far safer swimming with a Charisian kraken than waiting for an offal lizard like Clyntahn to have us both murdered at the time that suits his purposes."

"You are, you know," he said quietly, laying one sword-calloused hand over the slender, long-fingered one on his forearm. "I don't know how this will all work out, but I know Cayleb and Sharleyan, and I know Archbishop Maikel. Nothing -- nothing -- will happen to your brother under their protection. Anyone who wishes to harm either of you will have to fight his way through the entire Imperial Army, Marine Corps, and Guard. And" -- he smiled suddenly, wryly -- "past Seijin Merlin, which would probably be harder than all the rest put together, now that I think about it."

"I'm sure you're right about that!" Irys laughed, squeezing his arm gently. "I may still worry about whether or not he got away safely, but when it comes down to it, I think Daivyn's right. I've come to the conclusion there are very few things Seijin Merlin couldn't do if he put his mind to it. And I might as well admit that knowing a man like him serves Cayleb and Sharleyan did almost as much as Phylyp to convince me how wrong I'd been about them. Good men can serve bad rulers, but . . . not a man like him."

"You're right about that, Your Highness." Aplyn-Ahrmahk pressed down on her hand for a moment, then blinked and took his own hand quickly away. For a moment, he seemed remarkably awkward about finding somewhere else for that hand to go, especially for a young man who was so perpetually poised and composed, and the tiniest trace of a smile flickered across Irys' lips.

Her brother's fresh squeal of delight drew her eyes, and she released the lieutenant's forearm and reached up to adjust to her wide-brimmed sun hat. The brisk wind of the Sea of Justice grasped at it with playful hands, flexing and pulling, bending all its cunning towards snatching it away, and her eyes gleamed in pure, sensual pleasure. It was summer in Safehold's southern hemisphere, but the Sea of Justice was a brisk place any time, and the wind had a crisp edge, despite her brother's eagerness to shed his shirt at a moment's notice. But there was a sense of freedom, of life, in that wind. Intellectually, she knew the ship was bearing her to another sort of captivity -- one she had no doubt would be genteel, kind, and as unobtrusive as possible, yet captivity nonetheless. Somehow, though, that didn't really matter at the moment. After the endless, dreary months confined in King Zhames of Delferahk's castle above the waters of Lake Erdan, the blustering wind, the sunlight, the smell of salt water, the play of light on canvas and rigging, the endless rushing sound of water, and the creak of timbers and cordage all swirled about her like life itself. For the first time in far too long she admitted to herself how bitterly she'd missed the rough, feathery hand of the wind, the kiss of rain, the smell of Corisandian grass as she galloped across the open fields.

She felt the lieutenant at her side, her assigned escort here on Destiny's deck. She was the only female member of the galleon's entire crew, and she wondered how the Charisians had come to overlook that minor fact. In a way, it was comforting to know they could overlook things, and she was no shrinking violet. It was . . . an unusual experience to find herself without a single maid, female body servant, or chaperone, and she had no doubt three quarters of the court back in Manchyr would have been horrified by the very thought or her suffering such an insult. Or as horrified as they could have been over mere insult to her station given how much of their horror quotient would have been used up by the notion of any nobly born maiden of tender years, sister of the rightful Prince of Corisande or not, finding herself with her safety and virtue alike unprotected aboard a Charisian warship!

Yet not a single one of those Charisians -- not a seaman, not a Marine, not an officer: not one of them -- had offered even the slightest discourtesy. True, men who'd been at sea for months on end, some of them even longer, without sight or smell of a woman, watched with almost reverent eyes whenever she came on deck. Despite that, she was convinced that even without knowing what their officers would have done to anyone who'd dared to lay so much as a finger upon her, they wouldn't have anyway. Oh, some of them might have; they were human beings, and they were men, not saints. But the instant anyone tried, his own fellows would have torn him limb from limb. Which didn't even count what Tobys Raimair or the rest of her own armsmen would have done.
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Re: STICKY: Midst Toil and Tribulation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun May 06, 2012 8:22 pm

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Midst Toil And Tribulation - Snippet 08

No, she'd never been safer in her father's palace than here on this warship of a hostile, heretical empire, and that was the true reason for the lightness in her heart. For the first time in far, far too long, she knew she and, ever so much more importantly, her brother were safe. And the wiry young man beside her in the sky blue tunic and dark blue trousers of the Imperial Charisian Navy was one of the reasons she was.

She glanced up at him from the corner of one eye, but he wasn't looking at her. He was watching Daivyn and grinning hugely. It made him look absurdly young, but then he was young, over two years younger even than she herself. Only that was hard to remember when she recalled his voice out of the darkness, leading his men in a charge against the Delferahkan dragoons who'd outnumbered them better than two-to-one to rescue her and her brother. When she recalled merciless brown eyes in the moonlight and the flash of the pistol as he put a bullet through the brain of the inquisitor who'd done his best to trick those dragoons into massacring her and Daivyn. When she remembered his competence and certainty on the long boat trip downriver to Sarmouth and safety. Or, for that matter, when she watched him and his easy assurance giving commands to men three times his own age here aboard Destiny.

He would never be a handsome man, she thought. Pleasant looking, perhaps, but not remarkably so. It was the energy that was so much a part of him, the quick decision and the agile brain, that struck any observer. And the confidence. She remembered that moonlit night again, then remembered the lecture Admiral Yairley had given him when they finally reached the Sarmouth and came aboard Destiny. She had a suspicion Yairley had lectured him more for her benefit than for his own, but she was a princess herself. She understood how the game was played, and she'd been grateful to the admiral for making it clear to her that Aplyn-Ahrmahk had proceeded entirely on his own to complete his mission -- and just incidentally save her own life -- when any reasonable man would have turned for home. She'd suspected that was the case from one or two remarks the seaman under his command had made during the trip down the river, but the lieutenant had simply brushed the entire notion aside. Now she knew better, and she wondered with a wisdom beyond her years, hard-earned as a prince's daughter, how many young men his age, with that accomplishment to their credit, could have refrained from attempting to bask in a young woman's admiration.

"That fish is going to have him into the water, safety harness or not!" she said now, as Daivyn was dragged bodily forward despite his braced feet.

"Nonsense!" Aplyn-Ahrmahk laughed. "He's not strong enough to hang onto the rod if the safety line comes taut!"

"Easy for you to say!" she said accusingly.

"Your Highness, you see that fellow standing to His Highness' right -- the one with all the tattoos?" Irys glanced up at him and nodded. "That's Zhorj Shairwyd. In addition to being one of the best petty officers in the ship, he's also the squadron's champion wrestler and one of the strongest, quickest men I know. If it even looks like your brother's headed over the taffrail, Shairwyd will have him, the fishing rod, and whatever's on the other end of it, dragged up onto this deck faster than a cat-lizard jumping on a spider rat. I didn't -- I mean, Captain Lathyk didn't pick him at random to keep an eye on the His Highness."

"I see." Irys carefully took no note of his quick self-correction. Now that she thought about it, though, Aplyn-Ahrmahk always seemed to be in the vicinity when Daivyn was on deck, as well. It was obvious the prince liked him, and Aplyn-Ahrmahk had a much more comfortable, easy way with the boy than most of the other officers aboard Yairley's flagship.

"Tell me, Lieutenant," she said, "do you have brothers or sisters of your own?"

"Oh, Langhorne, yes!" He rolled his eyes. "I'm the middle one, actually -- three older brothers, an older sister, a younger sister, and two younger brothers." Irys' eyes widened at the formidable list, and he chuckled. "Two of the older brothers and both of the younger ones are twins, Your Highness, so it's not quite as bad as it might sound. Mother used to tell me she'd thought four would be quite enough, though she'd been willing to entertain the thought of five, but she never would've agreed to eight! Unfortunately, Father didn't tell her twins run in his family. Or that's her story, at any rate, and she's sticking to it. Since they've known each other since they were children and Father has twin brothers, though, I've never really believed she didn't know that perfectly well, you understand. Still, I have to admit it was a relief when they were able to pack me and two of my brothers off to sea."

"I expect so," Irys murmured, trying to imagine what it would have been like to have seven siblings. Or, for that matter, any immediate family beyond Daivyn at this point. She envied the lieutenant, she realized. Envied him deeply. But that stack of brothers and sisters undoubtedly did help explain his comfortable approach to Daivyn. And so, she thought suddenly, must the peculiar circumstances of his ennoblement. He was a duke, a member -- if only by adoption -- of the House of Ahrmahk itself. She wasn't as familiar with the Charisian peerage as she wished, especially in her current circumstances, yet she was fairly sure no more than a handful of the Empire's nobles could take precedence over him. Yet he'd been born a commoner, one more child in a brawling, sprawling, obviously happy family who'd never dreamed of the heights to which one of their sons would rise. And so he was neither a commoner dealing with a prince, afraid of overstepping his place, nor a noble by birth, trained to understand that one simply couldn't casually ruffle a young boy's sun bleached hair if it should happen the young boy in question was the rightful ruler of an entire realm and must be safely fortified within the towering buttresses of the respect due his exalted birth.

It was all quite unacceptable, of course. Daivyn had no business dashing barefoot about a warship's deck wearing nothing but a pair of shorts, watched over by common seamen and tattooed petty officers. He had no business shrieking with laughter as he fought whatever fish was at the other end of his line, or when he was allowed -- in calm weather, under close supervision -- swarming up to the maintop with half a dozen midshipmen, many of them no more than a year or so his elders. She should be horrified, should insist he be kept safely on deck -- or, even better, below decks -- where he would be sheltered from all threat or harm. And she certainly shouldn't allow Lieutenant Aplyn-Ahrmahk to encourage him to run wild! She knew that, just as she knew the consequences if something did happen to Daivyn Daykyn while in Charisian custody could be catastrophic beyond imagining.

But it didn't matter. Not to her, and not any longer. Daivyn was her Prince, her rightful ruler, a life far too important for anyone to risk, or to allow to risk itself. And that didn't matter, either. Because he was also her baby brother, and he was alive when he wasn't supposed to be, and he was happy for the first time she could remember since they'd fled Corisande. He'd rediscovered the boyhood Zhaspahr Clyntahn and the world had stolen from him far too early, and her heart rejoiced to watch him embrace it.

And none of it would have happened without the humbly-born duke standing at her side.

"Thank you," she said suddenly.

"I beg your pardon, Your Highness?" He looked down quickly, and she smiled.

"That wasn't meant just for you, Lieutenant," she reassured him, wondering even as she did if she was being truthful. "It was for all of you -- Destiny's entire crew. I haven't seen Daivyn laughing like this in over two years. And no one's allowed him to simply run wild and be a little boy again in all that time. So," she patted him on the forearm again, her eyes misty, and her voice was just the slightest bit unreliable, "thank you all for giving him that. Giving me the chance to see him like that again." She cleared her throat. "And, if it won't embarrass an emperor's officer such as yourself to pass that thanks along to Sir Dunkyn, I'd appreciate it."

"I'll try to bear up under the humiliation of passing on your message, Your Highness," he told her with a slightly crooked smile. "I'm sure it will be hard, but I'll try."
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Re: STICKY: Midst Toil and Tribulation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Wed May 09, 2012 8:45 pm

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Midst Toil And Tribulation - Snippet 09

.VI.
The Siddar River,
Shiloh Province,
Republic of Siddarmark

"Will you please go back inside, Your Eminence?"

Archbishop Zhasyn Cahnyr looked over his shoulder at the much younger man who stood in the inn courtyard, hands on hips, glaring at him. The younger man's breath flowed out in a cloud of steam as he sighed in exasperation at his superior's deliberately blank expression. The icy wind whipping across the flat, gray ice of the Siddar River snatched the cloud into fragments almost instantly, something else of which Cahnyr deliberately took no notice.

"I simply wanted a breath of fresh air, Gharth," he said mildly.

"'Fresh air,' is it?" Father Gharth Gorjah, Cahnyr's personal Secretary and aide, took his hands from his hips so that he could throw them up in the air properly. "If this air were any fresher, it'd turn you into an icicle the instant you inhaled, Your Eminence! And don't think I'm the one who's going to go home and discuss your foolishness with Madam Pahrsahn when it happens, either. She told me to take care of you, and standing around out here until you catch your death of cold isn't exactly what she had in mind!"

Cahnyr smiled faintly, wondering exactly when the last vestiges of control over his own household had slipped from his fingers. It was kind of all of them to pretend (to others, at least) they still deferred to him over such minor matters as whether or not he had the wit to come in out of the rain -- or the cold -- but they weren't really fooling anyone.

"I'm not going to 'catch my death of cold,' Gharth," he said patiently. "And even if I were, Madam Pahrsahn's a fair-minded woman. She could hardly hold my stubbornness against you. Especially with so many witnesses prepared to testify you nagged me absolutely unremittingly to behave better."

"I do not 'nag,' Your Eminence." Father Gharth crunched through the crusty snow of the inn yard towards him, trying not to grin. "I simply reason with you. Sometimes forcefully, I'll admit, but always with the utmost respect. Now, would you please get your venerable, highly respected, consecrated and ordained arse inside where it's warm?"

"Can I at least walk as far as the stable first?" Cahnyr cocked his head. "I want to see how they're coming on the repair of that runner."

"I just talked to them myself, Your Eminence. They say it should be done by suppertime. Which means we'll be able to get back on the trail after breakfast tomorrow. I have to admit it doesn't break my heart to think we're going to be able to sit you down by a fire this afternoon, keep you under a roof tonight, and wrap you around a hot meal in the morning before we set back out." He stepped up onto the veranda with the archbishop and folded his arms. "And now that you've had that reassurance, please -- I'm serious -- go back inside where it's warm, Your Eminence. Sahmantha isn't happy about the way you were coughing yesterday, and you know you promised to listen to her before Madam Pahrsahn, the Lord Protector, and Archbishop Dahnyld gave you permission to come along."

Cahnyr cocked his head quizzically at that particularly underhanded blow. Sahmantha Gorjah had left her infant son Zhasyn in Siddar City to accompany her husband -- and Cahnyr -- back to Glacierheart. True, Zhasyn was in the personal care of Aivah Pahrsahn, one of the wealthiest women on all of Safehold, who could be trusted to guard him like a catamount with a single cub, but she'd still left him behind. And she'd done that because she and her husband regarded themselves as the children Cahnyr had never had. They'd flatly refused to let him make the journey without them . . . and especially without Sahmantha's training as a healer. She'd never taken vows as a Pasqualate sister, but she'd been intensively trained by the order, and she had every intention of using that training to keep the undeniably frail archbishop she loved alive.

Of course, under the circumstances, she was only too likely to find other uses for those skills. Ugly ones he would not for the world have exposed her to, and his expression darkened at the thought. Not that it had been his idea, or even Gharth's in this case. No, it had been Sahmantha's, and there'd been no dissuading her. She'd always been stubborn as the day was long, even when her sainted mother had been plain old Father Zhasyn's housekeeper. He'd never been able to make her do anything she didn't choose to do, and this time she'd had help. Lots of help, given the way the Lord Protector and Aivah Pahrsahn -- and that young whippersnapper Fardhyn! -- had made the inclusion of a personal healer a nonnegotiable condition of their agreement to allow him to make the trip.

If the truth be known, he was considerably senior to Archbishop Dahnyld Fardhym, the newly created Archbishop of Siddarmark. The previous archbishop -- the only legitimate archbishop, as far as the official hierarchy of the Church of God Awaiting was concerned -- was Praidwyn Laicharn, but Laicharn had enjoyed the misfortune of being trapped inside Siddar City when Clyntahn's "Sword of Schueler" failed to take the capital. He was a polished, distinguished-looking, silver-haired man, every inch the perfect archbishop, but he was an absolutely fanatic Temple Loyalist -- less, in Cahnyr's opinion, because of the strength of his belief than because of his terror of Zhaspahr Clyntahn. Had refused to have anything to do with Stohnar's "apostate and traitorous government" following his capture, and he'd denounced any member of the clergy who did as a faithless, treacherous servant of Shan-wei.

Cahnyr had known Laicharn for over twenty years. That was one reason he was convinced it was terror, not personal faith, which made the other archbishop such an ardent Temple Loyalist. And another reason for that ardency was that Laicharn understood perfectly that unlike Zhaspahr Clyntahn, Stohnar and the Reformists were unlikely to torture their opponents or burn them alive over doctrinal disagreements, which made it much safer to defy them.

Nor was Laicharn's attitude unique. The entire Siddarmarkian ecclesiastic hierarchy was in what could only be called acute disorder. Personally, Cahnyr thought "utter chaos" probably hit closer to the mark.

At least a third -- and quite possibly closer to half -- of the Church's clerics had fled to the Temple Loyalists. Losses were substantially higher among the more senior clergy, with a far higher percentage of younger priests, upper-priests, and very junior bishops openly embracing the Reformist position. That left all too many holes in very senior positions, which accounted for much of the disarray. Stohnar, Fardhym, and other prelates and senior priests in the provinces which had remained loyal to the Republic were laboring ferociously to restore at least some order; unfortunately, they had quite a few other pressing concerns at the same time. Even more unfortunately, there was a great deal of uncertainty as to just how far toward Reformism the Siddarmarkian church as a whole was prepared to go. There'd been a lot of Reformist sentiment in the Republic even before the Sword of Schueler, and the excesses of the Temple Loyalists who'd planned and executed Clyntahn's attack had hardened attitudes and strengthened that Reformist sentiment quite remarkably. Atrocities did tend to have a . . . clarifying effect when it came to choosing sides. Yet even some of the most enthusiastic Reformists hesitated to actively embrace the schismatic Church of Charis. That was going a step too far for many, even now, and they were trying desperately to find some halfway house between the Temple and Tellesberg Cathedral.
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Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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