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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!
Re: STICKY: Midst Toil and Tribulation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Jun 17, 2012 8:12 pm

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Midst Toil And Tribulation - Snippet 20

Irys smiled faintly.

"I'm sure it did . . . sometimes, My Lady. But as you say, not always."

"No," Mairah agreed. "The thing is, though," she turned her head to look into Irys' hazel eyes with a gentle smile of her own, "that until she did try talking to someone about it, she could never really know whether this was one of the times it would help."

Their eyes held for a moment, and then Mairah's smile faded.

"You're still worried about how she felt about her father, Your Highness." She shook her head ever so slightly when Irys opened her mouth. "Of course you are." She shrugged, never looking away from the princess. "When there's been so much hatred for so long, so much bloodshed -- when two families have stored up so many mutual wrongs -- it has to be that way. And, if I'm going to be honest, I'd have to admit I believe Sharley -- Her Majesty, I mean -- had much more cause to hate your father than he ever had to hate her. For that matter, I won't pretend that if your father had come into her power, she wouldn't have found it very, very difficult not to take his head and call it justice, not vengeance."

"And would you have agreed with her, My Lady?" Irys asked, so quietly her voice was scarcely audible through the sounds of wind and wave.

"I'm a Chisholmian, Your Highness. King Sailys was my King, not just my cousin's friend. And I was over twenty when he died. I knew him -- knew him personally, not just as a king -- as well as how he came to be where he was and die the way he did. So, yes." She met Irys' gaze very levelly. "Yes, I would've called it justice. Perhaps it would've been vengeance, as well, but it would've been just, wouldn't it?"

Their eyes held for a long, still moment, and then Irys' lips trembled and her gaze fell.

"Sometimes justice seems to solve so very little," she half-whispered, and Mairah touched her shoulder gently. She looked up again, and the older woman's eyes were as gentle as her touch had been.

"Sometimes justice solves nothing at all," she said. "And vengeance solves even less. Have you heard how Sharleyan addressed your brother's subjects after one of them attempted to assassinate her on her very throne?"

"No." Irys shook her head, her folded hands tightening on one another. She hadn't learned of that assassination attempt until after she'd reached Destiny, and a part of her dreaded the way that experience must have hardened Sharleyan Ahrmahk's hatred for the princedom of her birth.

"I wasn't there myself," Mairah said, "but the clerks took down a transcript of every one of her sessions sitting in judgment . . . including that one. She'd just pardoned four convicted traitors, and when she looked at the body of the man who'd tried to kill her, she said 'Surely God weeps to see such violence loosed among His children.' And then she said 'Despite anything the Group of Four may say, God does not call us to exult in the blood and agony of our enemies!'"

"She did?" Irys' eyes widened, and Mairah nodded.

"She did. And she meant it. Empress Sharleyan is a good hater, Your Highness, but it's hard to make her hate in the first place. If that's what you truly want, then you harm someone she loves or victimize the weak, but I doubt you'll enjoy the experience in the end. She hated your father because he'd hurt someone she loved and because -- much as I realize you loved him -- he victimized a great many people weaker than he was. But she hated him, and because of what he'd done, not you or your brother, and she isn't one to visit vengeance upon someone's children or family. Neither is Emperor Cayleb -- if for no other reason, because neither of them would stoop so low as to take vengeance upon an innocent for someone else's crime. But it goes deeper than that, as well, especially with Sharleyan."

"Why?" Irys asked simply, and Mairah smiled sadly.

"Because you and she are so much alike. Because she lost her father early, and she knows the pain that brings. Because she knows who was truly behind his murder, and who planned your brother's murder, as well, and she is a good hater when it comes to the viciousness of a man who could kill a little boy out of cold, calculating ambition. Because people have tried to murder Cayleb, the man she loves, and she's seen the cost of that, as well. And because people've tried to murder her, not just once, but four times -- twice in the last five years, plus the two assassination attempts her Guard defeated before she was fifteen years old. Your Highness, her own uncle tried to have her murdered -- or, at least, aided those who wanted her dead, whether that was his own intention or not -- and the only reason I'm alive, most probably, is because her uncle was also my cousin's friend and he 'arranged' the riding accident that left me with a broken leg when Sharleyan made her trip to Saint Agtha's. But the stories you may've heard about Saint Agtha's -- the stories about how she picked up her dead armsmen's muskets and killed at least a dozen of the assassins herself . . . they're true, Your Highness. She knows what you've felt about your father, and she knows how terrified you've been, how desperate to protect your brother. She's felt those things herself, and I promise you this -- no matter what may lie between the House of Daykyn and the House of Tayt or the House of Ahrmahk, my Empress will never allow harm to come to you or to Daivyn. If the need were to arise, she would pick up a musket -- or a rock, if that was the only weapon she could find -- and defend both of you just as she and her armsmen defended one another at Saint Agtha's. She couldn't do anything else and still be who she is."

Irys gazed at her, tasting the iron certainty in her words. Lady Hanth might be mistaken; she wasn't lying, and Irys smiled a bit tremulously as she reached up to cover the hand on her shoulder with her own palm. She started to say something, but then she stopped, gave her head a little shake, and inhaled deeply. She squeezed the older woman's hand, and then turned back to gaze at the passing fortress once more.

"I wonder if Daivyn's finished pestering Lieutenant Aplyn-Ahrmahk out of all patience yet?" she said instead.
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Re: STICKY: Midst Toil and Tribulation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Wed Jun 20, 2012 7:48 pm

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Midst Toil And Tribulation - Snippet 21

.III.
Brahdwyn's Folly,
Green Cove Trace,
Glacierheart Province,
Republic of Siddarmark

"Damn it's cold!"

Sailys Trahskhat cupped his hands and breathed into them as if he actually thought he could warm them through his thick gloves. Byrk Raimahn looked at him quizzically across the fire, and Trahskhat grimaced.

"Sorry about that, Sir. Guess it was pretty obvious without my saying, wasn't it?"

"I believe you could probably say that, yes," Raimahn agreed.

They were three days into the month of April and, technically, the season had tipped over from winter into spring ten days ago, but "spring" was a purely notional concept in northern Siddarmark, and especially among the high peaks of the Gray Wall Mountains, at the best of times. This winter had been particularly harsh, and the locals assured them they still had at least three or four more five-days of cold and ice before the thaw set in. He believed them. It was hard not to, given that at the moment the "spring" temperature was well below zero on the Fahrenheit scale Eric Langhorne had reinstituted here on Safehold.

That would have been more than cold enough for a couple of Charisian boys, even without the cutting wind; with the wind, it was as close an approximation to hell as he ever hoped to see. He remembered how cold he'd thought Siddar City was in the winter, and found himself longing for that balmy climate as that Glacierheart wind sang hungrily about him. He shivered, despite his thick, putatively warm parka and lifted the battered tin teapot out of its nest of embers. He poured himself a cup, cradling it in his own gloved palms, holding it so the steam could provide at least a momentary illusion of warmth to his face and cheeks. Then he sipped, and tried not to grimace. Calling such an anemic brew "tea" was a gross libel, but at least it was hot, and that was something he told himself as it glowed its way down his throat into his hollow-feeling belly.

He wouldn't feel so frozen if he didn't also feel so constantly hungry. Unfortunately, even with the food Archbishop Zhasyn had brought with them, there was nowhere near enough to go around. Half of the relief expedition's draft animals had already been slaughtered for the precious protein they represented, and it was unlikely the others were going to survive more than another couple of five-days.

If that long, he told himself grimly with another sip of the hot water masquerading as tea. Welcome to "spring," Byrk. I wonder how many of the ones who've made it this far are going to starve before the snow melts?

He and Sailys were a long, long way from home, and he turned away from the fire to contemplate the Gray Walls' frozen, merciless beauty. There were mountains in Charis as well, of course. Some of them even had snow on their summits year-round, despite the climate. But Charisian mountains also had green, furry flanks, with trees that tended to stay that way year round and snow that stayed decently on the highest peaks, where it belonged. These mountains were far less civilized, with steep, sheer sides carved out of vertical faces of stone and earth, thrusting raw, rocky heads above the tree line to look down on narrow valleys lashed by snow and wind. Beautiful, yes, and indomitable, but without the sense of warmth and life Charisian mountains radiated. Not in winter, at least. People had lived here in Glacierheart for centuries before anyone really tried to explore Charis' mountains, yet these valleys, precipices, and peaks had a primal, un-subdued ferocity that laughed at the notion humanity might ever tame them. He felt . . . out of place among them, and he knew Sailys felt the same.

He gazed out over the long, narrow valley known as the Green Cove Trace and hoped none of his sentries were going to lose fingers or toes -- or noses -- to frostbite this time. Or, for that matter, that none of them had become as numbed in mind and alertness as they no doubt felt in body. None of them had the opportunity for a fire like this one, not where the smoke might be seen, and he tried not to feel guilty about that.

The Trace faded into the blueness of mountain morning shadows as it snaked its way north towards Hildermoss Province, and if their information was as accurate as usual, there were men headed down that valley at this very moment. Men who were just as grim of purpose -- and just as filled with hate -- as Byrk Raimahn's men.

He lowered his gaze to the charred ruins of Brahdwyn's Folly and understood that hatred entirely too well. The blackened timbers and cracked foundations of what had once been a prosperous, if not overly large, mountain town thrust up out of the snow drifts, like tombstones for all the people who'd died here. Died in the original attack and fire, or died of starvation and privation afterward. The actual graves were hidden beneath the snow, overflowing the modest, rocky cemetery surrounding the equally charred ruins of the town's church. Brahdwyn's Folly's priest and a dozen members of his congregation had been locked inside that church before it was fired, and as he looked out across the wreckage, Raimahn wondered how that barbarity had become so routine that it seemed almost inevitable.

"You reckon they're still coming, Sir?" Trahskhat asked after a moment, and Raimahn shrugged. He still wasn't certain how he'd become the commander of a double-strength company of riflemen, but there wasn't much question about how the solid, reliable Trahskhat had become his second in command.

Trakskhat's loyalty to the Church of God Awaiting, his faith in the vicarate as the Archangels' stewards on earth, had carried him into exile in a foreign land where he and his family were insulted and harassed on a daily basis by bigots who hated all Charisians, regardless of their faith. It also had reduced the star third baseman of the Tellesberg Krakens to the harsh labor, meager salary, and penury of a longshoreman on Siddar City's waterfront, and he'd accepted that -- accepted all of it -- because the faith which had made him a Temple Loyalist had required it of him. Because he'd been unable to accept the schism splintering God's Church, despite the tolerance and legal protection the Crown and Church of Charis had guaranteed to the Empire's Temple Loyalists. His stubborn integrity and his belief in God had left him no other choice but to turn his back upon his native land and live in exile from all he and his family had ever known.

Until the "Sword of Scheuler." Until he'd seen the rapes, the murders, the atrocities committed in Siddar City by mobs harangued, armed, and all too often led by men in the vestments of Mother Church's Inquisition. His own family had been swept up in that carnage, his children threatened with murder, his wife with rape, as well. He'd fought back, then, and as the mob closed in on their fleeing families, he and Raimahn had resigned themselves to death in the frail hope that by standing to die in the streets of Siddarmark's burning capital they might buy the people they loved the time to reach safety. And the two of them -- and their families -- had been saved from that mob only by the arrival of armed Charisians led by a Siddarmark-born Reformist.

A lot of attitudes had gotten . . . clarified that day, including those of Byrk Raimahn and his grandfather. That was why Claitahn and Sahmantha Raimahn had taken Sailys' family under their protection in Siddar City and promised to get them safely back to Charis as soon as they could find room aboard ship for all of them. It was also why Sailys' Trahskhat was no longer a Temple Loyalist, and for someone with his integrity, the outcome of that change had been inevitable.

"No reason to think they're not coming, Sailys," Raimahn replied after another sip of so-called tea, and shrugged. "The information we fed Fyrmahn should've been convincing, and he's a determined son-of-a-bitch. Don't forget the Trace is the only real way through the Gray Walls east of Hanymar. If they're coming through from Hildermoss, this is where they have to do it. Then there's Father Gharth's report that he's been reinforced. The Father's sources could be wrong, but I don't think they are, and if he has been reinforced, he has more mouths to feed." The young man smiled bleakly. "I'm pretty sure that last raid of Wahlys' will've pissed him off enough -- and hurt him enough -- to send him straight at a prize like this one. If he's smart enough to see the hook he could still pass it up, but given his track record?" He shook his head. "I don't see him doing that, Sailys. I really don't."
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Re: STICKY: Midst Toil and Tribulation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Jun 24, 2012 8:07 pm

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Midst Toil And Tribulation - Snippet 22

Trahskhat nodded, and glanced up the valley himself. His eyes were harder than Raimahn's, and his expression was as bleak as the mountains around them.

"Can't say that disappoints me, Sir," he said, those stony eyes dropping to the ruins of Brahdwyn's Folly. "Can't say that disappoints me at all."

Raimahn nodded, although he wasn't really certain he shared the older man's feelings about that. Or that he wanted to share them, at any rate.

He'd seen more than enough of Zhan Fyrmahn's handiwork to know the man would have to be high on anyone's list of people the world would be better off without. He wouldn't be quite at the top -- that spot was reserved for Zhaspahr Clyntahn -- but he couldn't have been more than a half-dozen names down. It had been Fyrmahn's band, along with that of his cousin, Mharak Lohgyn, who'd burned Brahdwyn's Folly and butchered its inhabitants. Ostensibly, because they'd all been Reformists, hateful in the eyes of God, and there'd actually been three or four families in town of whom that was probably true. But Zhan Fyrmahn had had reasons of his own, even before the Grand Inquisitor's agents had stoked the Republic's maelstrom, and there was a reason he'd taken such special care to exterminate Wahlys Mahkhom's family.

Mountaineers tended to be as hard and self-reliant as the rocky slopes that bred them. From everything Raimahn had seen so far, Glacierheart's coal miners took that tendency to extremes, but the trappers and hunters like Mahkhom and Fyrmahn were harder still. They had to be, given their solitary pursuits, the long hours they spent alone in the wilderness, with no one to look out for them or go for help if something went wrong. They asked nothing of anyone, they paid their own debts, and they met whatever came their way on their own two feet, unflinchingly. Raimahn had to respect that, yet that hardness had its darker side, as well, for it left them disinclined towards forgiving their enemies, whatever the Archangel Bédard or the Writ might say on the subject. Too many of them were feudists at heart, ready to pursue a quarrel to the bitter most end, however many generations it took and despite anything Mother Church might say about the virtues of compassion and forgiveness.

Raimahn had no idea what had actually started the bad blood between the Mahkhom and Fyrmahn clans. On balance, he was inclined to believe the survivors of Brahdwyn's Folly, that the first casualty had been Wahlys' grandfather and that the "accident" which had befallen him had been no accident at all. He was willing to admit he was prejudiced in Mahkom's favor, however, and no doubt the Fyrmahns remembered it very differently. And whatever had started the savage hatred, there'd been enough incidents up and down the Green Cove Trace since to provide either side with plenty of pretexts for seeking "justice" in the other family's blood.

That was Zhan Fyrmahn's view, at any rate, and he'd seized on the exhortations of the inquisitors who'd organized the Sword of Schueler as a chance -- a license -- to settle the quarrel once and for all. If it hadn't been that, it would have been something else; there was always something haters could appeal to, something bigots could use. But when the hate and bigotry came from men who wore the vestments of the Inquisition, they carried the imprimatur of Mother Church herself. It wasn't simply "all right" for someone like Fyrmahn to give himself up to the service of hate and anger, it was his duty, the thing God expected him to do. And if two or three hundred people in a remote village died along the way, why, that was God's will, too, and it served the bastards right.

Especially if their last name happened to be Mahkhom.

I wonder how many times Fyrmahn's reflected on the consequences of his own actions? Raimahn had wondered that more than once, and not about Fyrmahn alone. Does he realize he turned every survivor of Brahdwyn's Folly into a dyed-in-the-wool Reformist, whatever they were before? If he does, does he care? And does he even realize he and the men like him are the ones who started all of this? Or does he blame Wahlys for all of it?

He probably did blame Mahkhom, and his only regret was probably the fact that Wahlys hadn't been home when he and his raiders massacred Brahdwyn's Folly. It would have worked out so much better from Fyrmahn's perspective, especially since it would have prevented Mahkhom from becoming the center of the Reformist resistance in this ice-girt chunk of frozen hell. Raimahn had no idea if Mahkhom had truly embraced the Reformist cause, or if, like Fyrmahn himself, it was simply what empowered and sanctified his own savagery and violence. He hoped it was more than simple hatred, because under that icy shell of hate and loss, he sensed a good and decent man, one who deserved better than to give his own soul to Shan-wei because of the atrocities he was willing to wreak under the pretext of doing God's will. But whatever the depth of his belief, whatever truly drove Wahlys Mahkhom, by this time every Temple Loyalist within fifty miles must curse his name each night before lying down to sleep.

Archbishop Zhasyn's right; we do lay up our own harvests the instant we put the seed into the ground. And I can't blame Wahlys for the way he feels, even if I do see the hatred setting deeper and deeper into these mountains' bones with every raid, every body. It doesn't matter any more who shed the first blood, burned the first barn, and how in God's name is even someone like Archbishop Zhasyn going to heal those wounds? For that matter, who's going to be left alive to be healed?

Byrk Raimahn had no answers to those questions, and he wished he did, because deep inside, he knew he was more like Wahlys Mahkhom -- and possibly even Zhan Fyrmahn -- then he wanted to admit. That was why he was out here in this ice and snow, sipping this watery tea, waiting -- hoping -- for the men he wanted to kill to come to him. Men he could kill without qualm or hesitation because they deserved to die. Because in avenging what had happened to Brahdwyn's Folly he could also avenge the arson and the rape and the torture and the murder he'd seen at Sailys Trahskhat's side in Siddar City's Charisian Quarter the day the Temple Loyalists drove the "Sword of Schueler" into the Republic's back. Perhaps he couldn't track down those Temple Loyalists, but he could track down their brothers in blood here in Glacierheart.

In the still, small hours of the night, when he faced his own soul with bleak honesty, he knew what he most feared in all the world: that if he'd stayed in Siddar City, he would have become the very thing he hated, a man so obsessed with the need for vengeance that he would have attacked any Temple Loyalist he encountered with his bare hands. Not because of anything that Temple Loyalist might actually have done, but simply because he was a Temple Loyalist. But here -- here in the Gray Walls -- the lines were clear, drawn in blood and the corpses of burned villages by men who branded themselves clearly by their own acts. Here he could identify his enemies by what they did, not simply by what they believed, and tell himself his own actions, the things he did, were more than mere vengeance, that what drove him was more than just an excuse to slake his own searing need for retribution. That he was preventing still more Brahdwyn's Follies, stopping at least some of the rape and murder. He could loose his inner demons without fearing they would consume the innocent along with the guilty and perhaps -- just perhaps -- without the man his grandparents had raised destroying himself along with them.

* * * * * * * * * *

"Well?" Zhan Fyrmahn growled.

"Looks right, at least," Samyl Ghadwyn replied. The burly, thick-shouldered mountaineer shrugged. "Plenty of footprints. Counted the marks from at least a half-dozen sets of sleds, too, and nobody took a shot at me. This time, anyway."

He shrugged again, and Fyrmahn scowled, rubbing his frost-burned cheeks while he stared along the Trace. The trail snaked along its western side, climbing steadily for the next mile or so, and the small Silver Rock River was a solid, gray-green line of merciless ice four hundred feet below his present perch. The river's ice was no harder than his eyes, though, and no more merciless, as he considered the other man's report.

Every member of his band was related to him, one way or another -- that was the way it was with mountain clans -- but Ghadwyn was only a fourth cousin, and there were times Fyrmahn suspected his heart wasn't fully in God's work. He didn't have the fire, the zeal, Mother Church's sons were supposed to have, and Fyrmahn didn't care for his habitual, take-it-or-leave-it attitude.
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Re: STICKY: Midst Toil and Tribulation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Wed Jun 27, 2012 8:06 pm

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Midst Toil And Tribulation - Snippet 23

Despite which, he was one of their best scouts, almost as good a tracker as Fyrmahn himself and more patient than most of the others.

"I don't like it, Zhan," Mharak Lohgyn muttered, his voice almost lost in the moan of the wind. "The bastards have to know we'll be coming for them."

"You've got that right." Fyrmahn's cracked and blistered lips drew up in a snarl, and the icy fire in his eyes mirrored the black murder in his heart.

Mahkhom and his heretic-loving cutthroats had stolen the food Fyrmahn's own family needed to survive the last bitter five-days of winter. Yes, and they'd massacred that food's entire escort in the process. Not one of the guards had survived, and it was obvious at least seven or eight of them had been taken alive by their enemies only to have their throats cut like animals. What else could anyone expect out of heretics? And what else could anyone expect out of Mahkhoms?

We should've killed the lot of them a generation ago! Cowards -- cowards and backstabbers, every one of them!

The glare in his eyes turned bleak with bitter satisfaction as he remembered the way Mahkhom's woman had begged his men to spare her children's lives even as they ripped away her clothing and dragged her into the barn. The bitch hadn't even known they were already dead. If only he could have been there to see Mahkhom's face when he came home to Fyrmahn's handiwork!

Nits may make lice, he thought coldly, but not when somebody burns them out first. Father Failyx's right about that!

"They may've decided we can't come after them," he said after a moment. "Schueler knows they killed enough of us when they stole the food in the first place! If they don't know about Father Failyx and his men, they may figure they hurt us too badly for us to do anything but crawl off into a hole and die for them."

Lohgyn's jaw tightened, and Fyrmahn cursed himself. Lohgyn's brother Styvyn had been one of the murdered guards, and Father Failyx had said the words over the pitiful, emaciated body of his youngest daughter just before they set out for this attack.

"Sorry, Mahrak," he said gruffly, reaching out to touch his cousin's shoulder. Lohgyn didn't respond in words, but Fyrmahn could almost hear the creak of the other man's jaw muscles. After two or three heartbeats, Lohgyn gave a curt, jerky nod.

"You may be right," he said, ignoring both the apology and the pain that evoked it. "But it makes me nervous. No offense, Samyl, but somebody should've spotted you."

Ghadwyn only shrugged again. There might have been a little spark down in his eyes at the implication that anyone could have seen him coming, but whatever his other faults, the man was a realist. There were bastards on the other side who were just as skilled at the tracker's trade as he was . . . and who knew the penalty for a moment's carelessness as well as he did, too.

"If they'd seen him, he wouldn't be standing here now," Fyrmahn pointed out. "He'd be lying out there somewhere with an arbalest bolt in his chest or a knife in his back." He bared his teeth in an ugly grimace. "You think any of those bastards would pass up the chance to do for one of us?"

Lohgyn frowned. Fyrmahn had a point, and Wahlys Mahkhom's men had proven how good they were when it came to killing any of the Faithful who entered their sights. They were no more likely to pass up the opportunity to kill one of Fyrmahn's men than Fyrmahn's men were to let one of them live. Yet even so . . . .

"I just can't help wondering if they're trying to be sneaky," he said finally. "What if they saw Samyl just fine? What if they just want us to think they've pulled back to Valley Mount?"

"Set a trap for us, you mean?"

"Something like that." Lohgyn nodded. "If they're sitting up there in the hills with those damned arbalests, waiting for us, they might just have chosen not to take a shot at Samyl until they could get more of us out in the open."

It was Fyrmahn's turn to nod, however grudgingly.

"Might be you've got a point. But unless you're suggesting we just turn tail and crawl back to camp empty-handed, we've got it to do if we're going to find out."

Lohgyn's eyes flickered again at the words "empty-handed." He seemed about to say something sharp, but then he drew a deep breath and shrugged instead.

Fyrmahn turned and glowered up the steeply climbing trail, thinking hard. There was another way to the ruins which had once been Brahdwyn's Folly without using the Trace, but Khankyln's Trail was long and roundabout. It would take them at least three days -- more probably four, given the weather conditions and the effect of so many five-days of bad food (and too little of it) upon their stamina -- to go that way. If the reports that Mahkhom was retreating to the protection of the larger town of Valley Mount, taking the stolen food with him, were accurate, he'd be three quarters of the way there, even allowing for the anchor of his surviving women and children, before Fyrmahn's band could hope to overtake them. Besides, Khanklyn's Trail was too narrow and tortuous for them to get sleds through. If they were fortunate enough to catch Mahkhom and recover the food, all they'd be able to take back with them would be what they could backpack out. And their lowland allies couldn't possibly get through it with them, either.

But if Lohgyn's fears were justified, if it was a trap . . . .

Well, Father Failyx is right about that, too, he told himself grimly. Sometimes serving God means taking a few chances, and at least any man who dies doing God's will can be sure of where his soul's spending eternity.

"All right," he said. "Mahrak, Lieutenant Tailyr's about a thousand yards back down the Trace. Send one of your boys down to get him."

Lohgyn waved to one of his men, who disappeared quickly around one of the twisty trail's bends, and Fyrmahn turned back to his two cousins.

"This is why Father Failyx sent Tailyr along in the first place," he said grimly, "so here's how we're going to do this."

* * * * * * * * * *

"Seems you were right, Sir," Sailys Trahskhat said, peering through the Charisian manufactured folding spyglass as he lay in the snow at Raimahn's side. They'd climbed the knife-backed ridge from the burned out town's limited shelter when the first sentry reports came in. "That's Fyrmahn down there, sure as I'm lying here."

The younger man nodded. He'd never seen Zhan Fyrmahn before today, but the man had been described to him often enough. That tangled, bright red beard and the patch over his left eye could belong to no one else, and he felt a bright tingle of eagerness dance down his nerves.

Gently, Byrk. Remember what Grandfather always said.

"I think you're right," he said out loud, a bit surprised by how calm he sounded. "But my grandfather hunted a pirate or two in his day, you know. And he always told me the worst thing that could happen to somebody who'd set an ambush was to find out the other fellow had known it was an ambush all along."

"See your point," Trahskhat replied after a moment, lowering the glass and looking down with his unaided eyes at the black dots on the trail so far below them. "And they aren't pushing forward the way we'd like, are they?"

"Not as quickly as we'd like, anyway," Raimahn agreed. "That" -- he gestured with his chin at what had to be between sixty and seventy men inching their way up the trail -- "looks like an advanced guard. And one that's better organized than anything Wahlys and his lads've seen out of Fyrmahn before. It's showing better tactics, too, sending out a patrol to clear trail for the rest of it, and that other bunch back there isn't moving at all. I don't think it's going to, either -- not until Fyrmahn gets word back from the leaders that the coast is clear. In fact, I think those might be some of those reinforcements we've been hearing rumors about. They're acting a lot more disciplined, anyway. Almost as good as our own boys."

"Um." Trahskhat grimaced and rested his chin on his folded forearms. "Not so good, then, is it, Sir?"

"Could be worse." Raimahn shrugged. "They could've decided to send everybody around the long way, instead."

"There's that," Trahskhat acknowledged. "And at least it doesn't look like the powder's going to be a complete waste, anyway."

"No, it isn't. I wish we had Fyrmahn farther up the trail, but we never expected to get all of them. Besides, we need someone to take our message back to our good friend Father Failyx, don't we?"

"Aye, that we do, Sir." Trahskhat's voice was as grimly satisfied as his eyes. "That we do."
*
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Re: STICKY: Midst Toil and Tribulation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Jul 01, 2012 7:53 pm

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Midst Toil And Tribulation - Snippet 24

* * * * * * * * * *

Zhan Fyrmahn watched the force he'd sent ahead make its cautious way up the trail.

He didn't much like Lieutenant Zhak Tailyr. The man had all of a typical Lowlander's contempt for someone like Fyrmahn and his fellow clansmen, and his finicky Border States accent grated on a man's nerves. Fyrmahn was a loyal son of Mother Church, and he hated the heretical bastards who'd sold themselves to Shan-wei even more than the next man, but whenever he heard that accent, it was hard to forget the generations of mutual antagonism between Siddarmark and the Border States.

Despite that, Fyrmahn had been glad to see him when he arrived. Not because of any fondness he felt for Tailyr himself, but because the lieutenant was part of the three hundred-man force of volunteers who'd struggled forward from Westmarch to join Father Failyx. It would have been nice if they'd brought more food with them instead of becoming yet more hungry mouths who had to be fed somehow, but they'd complained much less about their short rations than he would have expected of soft, citified Lowlanders, and Tailyr was an experienced officer of the Temple Guard. The sort of drill-field tactics the Guard trained for had little place in the fluid, small-scale warfare of these rugged, heavily forested mountains, but they'd been a visible sign of Mother Church's support. And they'd offered him a core of disciplined, well-armed infantry.

He'd brought fifty of them along just in case he needed them to break the resistance he'd anticipated at Brahdwyn's Folly. Now he'd found another use for them, and they moved steadily upward along the trail behind the advanced patrol of twenty more of his clansmen.

Ghadwyn had taken point again, fifty yards in front of his companions. That was close enough they could provide covering fire with their arbalests but far enough ahead to trip any traps before they could close on the entire patrol, and the rest of his men. He didn't like sending them ahead that way, but his mountaineers were obviously better than Tailyr's Lowlanders at this sort of thing. Someone had to do it, and even if he'd --

CRAAAACCCCCKKKK!

Samyl Ghadwyn never heard the sound that went racketing and echoing about the valley, startling birds and wyverns into the sky with cries of alarm. The big, soft-nosed .48 caliber bullet was a bit smaller than the standard Charisian rifle round, but it slammed into the back of his neck with sufficient energy to half-decapitate him. It struck like a mushrooming hammer, from behind and above, hurling his corpse forward to land with one arm dangling over the dizzy drop to the frozen river below.

Fyrmahn jerked at the sharp, ear-splitting blast of sound. He'd been watching Ghadwyn, seen the way his cousin went down, recognized instant death when he saw it, even from this far away, and his head whipped up, eyes wide as they darted about, seeking the shot's origin. None of his own men were armed with matchlocks, and he'd never fired one of the lowland weapons himself, but he recognized the sound of a shot when he heard one. Yet how could anyone have gotten close enough to score a kill-shot like that?! Fyrmahn might never actually have fired one, but he knew the things were notoriously inaccurate. He'd never heard of anyone hitting a man-sized target with one of them at more than a hundred yards or so, especially with that sort of pinpoint accuracy, and no one could have gotten that close to the trail without being spotted, could they? It was ridic --

"Shan-wei!"

He swore savagely as the man who'd fired stood up, sky lining himself without a qualm as he began reloading his weapon. He was at least four hundred yards higher up the mountainside above Ghadwyn's corpse, and he moved unhurriedly, with the arrogant contempt of someone who knew he was far beyond any range at which his enemies could have returned fire.

Fyrmahn was too far away to make out any details, but the other man's musket seemed too slender -- and too long -- for any matchlock. Yet it couldn't be anything else, could it? He'd heard rumors, tall tales, stories about the heretics' new, long-ranged muskets -- "rifles," they called them -- and Father Failyx and Tailyr had admitted there might be some truth to those rumors. But the Schuelerite had promised all of them the heretics couldn't have many of the new weapons, and any they might possess must all be back in Siddar City! That apostate traitor Stohnar would never have sent any of them off to the backwoods of Glacierheart when he knew he'd need every weapon he could lay hands on come the spring. And even if he'd been willing to send them, surely they couldn't have gotten here this quickly through the iron heart of winter!

Yet even as he told himself that, he heard another thunderous crack from the snow and boulder fields above the Trace. Smoke spurted from the hidden rifleman's position, twenty or thirty yards from the first shooter, and the rearmost of Fyrmahn's clansmen stumbled forward, dropping his arbalest, as the heavy bullet smashed into his shoulder blades. He went down, writhing in the suddenly bloody snow, and then more rifles opened fire. Dozens of them, the sound of their thunder like fists through the thin air, even at this distance. He watched helplessly, teeth grinding in rage, as his entire patrol was massacred. Four of his kinsmen lived long enough to run, but they were easy targets on that narrow, icy trail. One of them got as much as thirty yards back down the path before a bullet found him, as well. None of the others got more than twenty feet.

Fyrmahn swore savagely, his fists clenched at his sides, watching the merely wounded twist in anguish or turn and begin crawling brokenly towards safety. He couldn't hear the screams from here, and he was glad, but he didn't have to hear them. He could see their agony . . . and the bullets those unseen rifles continued to fire, seeking them out one by one until all of them lay as still as Ghadwyn himself.

Tailyr's detachment had frozen when the rifles opened fire. It was clear they'd been as stunned as Fyrmahn, but they reacted quickly, and they were wise enough to know pikemen and arbalesteers had no business charging riflemen along a narrow, slippery ribbon of ice and snow. They turned, instead, moving swiftly back down the trail, and Fyrmahn drew a deep, bitter breath of relief as they turned a bend, putting a solid shoulder of earth and stone between themselves and those accursed rifles.

At least they weren't going to lose any more of their men, and he made himself a burning, hate-filled promise to repay Makhom and his Shan-wei worshiping bastards with interest for this day's bloody work. They couldn't have enough damned rifles to stand off the forces of God for long, and when the time finally came, Zhan Fyrmahn would take the time to teach them the cost of apostasy properly. Until then, though --

The end of the world cut him off in mid-thought.

He stumbled backward, flinging himself to the ground in shocked terror, as the ear-shattering explosion roared. No, not the explosion -- it was an entire series of explosions, a chain of them roaring high up on the mountainside above the Trace, and he heard the high, distant screams of Tailyr's men as they looked up into the maw of destruction.

It was a trap, Fyrmahn thought numbly, watching the entire side of a mountain erupt in red-and-black flowers of flying rock and snow. A long, cacophonous line of them, fifteen hundred yards and more in length. None of the charges were all that large individually, but there were a great many of them and they'd been placed very, very carefully. The sharp, echoing explosions folded together into a single, rolling clap of thunder . . . and then even the thunder disappeared into a far more terrifying sound as uncountable tons of snow and rock hammered down like Langhorne's own Rakurai.

The avalanche devoured over a mile of mountain trail . . . and forty-eight more of Zhan Fyrmahn's clansmen. Neither they, nor Lieutenant Zhak Tailyr, nor the body of a single one of his volunteers was ever found.

* * * * * * * * * *

"Think they got the message, Sir?" Trahskhat asked, watching the long, dark pall of windblown snow, rock, and dirt rising like a curtain above the Trace.

"Oh, I think they may have, Sailys," Byrk Raimahn said softly. "I think they may have."
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Re: STICKY: Midst Toil and Tribulation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Wed Jul 04, 2012 8:08 pm

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Midst Toil And Tribulation - Snippet 25

.IV.
Tellesberg Palace,
City of Tellesberg,
Kingdom of Old Charis,
Empire of Charis

Sharleyan Ahrmahk stood beside her husband in the bright sunlight. A warm breeze danced and curtsied around the terrace, rustling and chattering in the broad-bladed palmettos, spike-thorn, and tropical flowers which surrounded it. A pair of spider monkeys chased one another through the sword-like canopy of nearpalms high overhead, scolding and screeching at one another, their voices clear but distant through the wind's voice. Closer at hand, a brilliantly colored parrot sat on one limb of the ornamental sugar apple tree in the tree well at the center of the terrace, ignoring the human intrusion into its domain, hooked beak burrowing as it preened, and the same breeze brought them the whistles and songs of more distant wyverns and birds.

Crown Princess Alahnah lay in the hammock-like canvas cradle, embroidered with her house's coat of arms, which had been a gift from the crew of HMS Dawn Star the year before. The stitchery of the ship's sailmaker and his mates would have done any professional seamstress proud, and their gift had touched Sharleyan to the heart as the entire crew manned the yards with huge, beaming grins and watched Captain Kahbryllo present it to her on the infant princess' behalf. An empress had countless finer cradles for her child, many of them exquisite treasures of the woodworker's art, but not one of them meant as much to her as that simple length of canvas. Alahnah was too young to worry about things like that, but she, too, had loved that cradle from the very first day the ship's motion had lulled her to sleep in it, and they'd made it with plenty of room for growth. It fitted her just fine at fourteen months, and now she lay making happy, sleepy sounds while Hairyet Saltair, one of her nannies, substituted for the ship's motion and kept it gently moving.

A single blue-eyed armsman -- a major of the Imperial Guard -- stood at the feet of the shallow steps leading up to the terrace from the garden proper. Another, more grizzled armsman, this one a sergeant, stood beside the princess' cradle, but somehow their armed presence only emphasized the peacefulness of the moment. Because, perhaps, of the only other person on that terrace -- a white-haired man in an orange-trimmed cassock who seemed to carry peacefulness around with him like a personal possession.

"I guarantee you plenty of people will insist -- after the fact, of course, and only when they can pretend they think we can't overhear them -- that we ought to've done this in the throne room," Cayleb said now, one arm around Sharleyan's waist while he kept his eyes on the path winding its way between the banks of landscaped greenery. "And they're going to come up with all kinds of 'reasons of state' we ought to've done it, too. You know they will."

"Of course they will," Sharleyan replied. "On the other hand, most of those 'reasons' are going to be -- what was that delightful phrase of Zhan's yesterday? 'Kraken-shit,' I believe? -- manufactured by people whose real objection is that their own highly aristocratic selves weren't present. We really shouldn't encourage him to use language like that, I suppose, but the description does fit, doesn't it?"

"I know that. And you know that. Hell, they know that! Not going to shut them up, though. In fact, it's only going to make it worse than if they'd had some substantive complaint!"

"Now, now," Maikel Staynair soothed. "I'm sure you're worrying unduly. And even if you're not, I'm confident we'll manage to weather the tempest of their disappointment. If it will make you feel better, I'll even admonish them for it from the pulpit next Wednesday."

"Oh, I'm sure that will make it all better!" Cayleb rolled his eyes. "I think we'd make out better dropping hints about headsmen, actually."

"Such bloody-handed tyranny is not the best way to endear yourselves to your subjects, Your Majesty," Staynair pointed out.

"Who said I wanted to endear myself to them? I'll settle for shutting them up!"

Staynair chuckled, and Cayleb practiced a theatrical scowl on him.

"Don't encourage him, Maikel," Sharleyan said severely.

"Me? Encourage him?" Staynair eyed her reproachfully. "Nonsense!"

"No, it isn't." Sharleyan smacked him on a still-muscular shoulder. "You enjoy it as much as he does. Which, you might note, is my diplomatic way of saying you're just as bad as he is."

"He is not just as bad as I am," Cayleb said with immense dignity. "How can you, of all people, say such a thing? I'm far worse than he is, and I work harder at it, too."

It was Sharleyan's turn to roll her eyes, but they were interrupted before she could respond properly.

"Seijin Merlin!"

The voice came around the bend in the path before the boy who owned it did, but not by much. The youngster hurled himself around the turn, running hard, and left the ground several feet in front of the blue-eyed armsman. He launched himself with the fearless, absolute assurance that he would be caught, and the armsman laughed as he snatched the small, wiry body out of midair.

"I'm glad to see you, too, Your Highness," he replied in a deep voice. "It would appear your voyage hasn't imbued you with enhanced dignity, though, I see."

"I think that's your way of saying I'm not behaving." The youngster braced his hands on the armsman's shoulders so he could lean back against Merlin Athrawes' mailed, supporting arms and look into those sapphire eyes. "And, if it is, I don't care." He elevated his nose and sniffed. "Lady Mairah says I'm perfectly well behaved compared to her stepsons, and I'm a prince. So I get to choose to do what I want sometimes."

"Somehow I don't think that's exactly what Lady Hanth said, Your Highness," Merlin replied, shifting Prince Daivyn to sit on his left forearm as the rest of the prince's party followed him more sedately around the bend.

"Allowing for a certain liberality of interpretation, it's not all that far off, Seijin Merlin," Lady Hanth herself said. "I do think it wouldn't hurt His Highness' dignity for you to go ahead and set him back down, though."

"As you wish, My Lady." Merlin smiled, half-bowed to her, and set the boy on his feet. Daivyn grinned up at him, and the armsman ruffled his hair with an answering smile, then looked up at Princess Irys and the Earl of Coris.

"I see you made it safe and sound after all, Your Highness," he greeted Irys.

"As did you, Major Athrawes." She smiled almost as warmly as Daivyn as she took note of his new rank. "I'll admit now that I was less confident than I could have wished that we'd see you again. But now that we do, thank you." She laid a hand on his forearm, her expression turning very serious. "Thank you very much. For my life, and for his."

She laid her other hand on Daivyn's shoulder, and Merlin gazed into her hazel eyes for a moment, then bowed again, more deeply.

"It was my honor to have been of service," he said softly. "And seeing the two of you here -- and observing that someone" -- he glanced down at Daivyn's tanned face -- "seems to've grown at least three inches -- is all the reward I could ask."

"At the moment, it's also all the reward we can give you," Irys said. "In time, I hope that will change."

"That won't be necessary, Your Highness."

"I know." Irys smiled, recognizing the sincerity in his voice and, even more importantly, in his eyes as he gazed down at Daivyn's beaming expression. "But it's important to me -- and to Daivyn -- that we show the rest of the world we recognize our debt."

Merlin merely bowed again, then turned towards the terrace, and Irys followed the turn gracefully.

She found herself at last face-to-face with what were arguably the most powerful monarchs in the world, even if they seemed remarkably unaware of it at the moment.

They were both several years older than she was, although they still struck her as absurdly young to have accomplished as much -- and acquired as many enemies -- as they had. Cayleb Ahrmahk was taller than she'd expected, and a bit broader of shoulder, although still shorter than Merlin Athrawes, and the emerald-set golden chain which marked a king of Charis winked green and golden glory on his chest. The crown of Sharleyan Ahrmahk's head barely topped his shoulder, and her slender, not quite petite figure showed no sign she'd ever borne a child. The silken hair confined by the simple golden circlet of her light presence crown was so black the sunlight seemed to strike green highlights from it, her eyes were as brown as Cayleb's, and her strong, determined nose was ever so slightly hooked. There was very little of classic beauty about her, but she didn't need it, Irys thought -- not with the character and intelligence sparkling in those eyes as they rested in turn upon Irys and her brother.

They gazed at one another for several seconds, and then Irys drew a deep breath, squeezed Daivyn's shoulder gently with the hand still resting on it. He turned and accompanied her obediently as she walked steadily towards the terrace. The boy's eyes darkened and she felt his shoulder tighten under her fingers, but her own expression was composed, almost serene, and only someone who knew her well could have recognized the tension swirling in her hazel eyes. Phylyp Ahzgood, Earl of Coris, followed the two of them, half a step back and to her Irys' left, his expression as serene as her own, and Cayleb and Sharleyan watched them come.

They reached the terrace and climbed the steps, and Coris and a suddenly very sober-faced Daivyn bowed deeply while Irys curtsied. Then all three Corisandians straightened and stood gazing at the Emperor and Empress of Charis.
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Re: STICKY: Midst Toil and Tribulation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Jul 08, 2012 6:58 pm

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Midst Toil And Tribulation - Snippet 26

"Welcome to Tellesberg, Prince Daivyn," Cayleb said after a moment, meeting the boy's gaze. "Sharleyan and I are well aware that you and your sister have to be deeply anxious." He smiled slightly. "That's one reason we arranged to greet you here, rather than under more . . . formal circumstances." He looked up briefly, his eyes meeting Irys' and Coris', then looked back down at Daivyn. "The situation's very . . . complicated, Daivyn, and I know your life's been turned upside down, that frightening things have happened to you -- and to your sister. You're very young to've all of this happening to you. But my cousin Rayjhis was very young for some of the things that happened to him, too. It's one of the tragedies of the world that things like this can happen to people far too young to deserve any of it.

"My father and I were your father's enemies," Cayleb continued unflinchingly, and the boy found the courage to look back at him unwaveringly. "I don't know what would have happened if he and I had met across the peace table the way we were supposed to. It might've turned out almost as badly as it actually did. But I tell you now, on my own honor, and on the honor of the House of Ahrmahk, and under the eyes of God, I did not order, or authorize, or buy your father's and your older brother's murders. I think you know by now who actually did." He looked up again, meeting Irys' and Coris' eyes once more before he turned back to the boy. "I can't prove what actually happened in the past, but Sharleyan and I can and intend to prove our fidelity in the future. And that's why, now, before your sister and Earl Coris, your guardian and your protector, we formally acknowledge you as the rightful Prince of Corisande."

Irys inhaled sharply, astonished despite herself that Cayleb would say such a thing before he'd even begun laying out the conditions under which Daivyn might be permitted to claim his father's crown. For a moment, her mind insisted it had to be no more than a ploy, something to set the two of them at ease until the actual demands could be deployed. But then she looked away from Cayleb, her eyes met Sharleyan's, and she knew. Knew Cayleb truly meant what he'd just said.

"I don't know how this will all work out in the end, Daivyn," Cayleb went on. "The world's a messy place, and bad things can happen. You've already had too much proof of that, and I can't guarantee what will happen in Corisande, or how soon you'll be able to go home, or what will happen when you get there. But Sharleyan and I can promise you this: you're safe here in Tellesberg or anywhere else in our realm. No one will harm you, no one will threaten you, and no one will try to force you to do anything you don't choose to do. Except," he added with a sudden grin, "for the sorts of things grown-ups are constantly insisting that kids do. I'm afraid you don't get a free pass on brushing your teeth and washing behind your ears, Your Highness."

Irys felt her lips twitch, and Daivyn actually laughed. Then Cayleb turned directly to Irys and Coris.

"I'm sure we'll all have a great deal to discuss over the next few days and five-days. In the meantime, all of you are welcome guests in the Palace, but Sharleyan and I feel it would be better from a great many perspectives for you to be Archbishop Maikel's houseguests rather than quartered here. In your place, we'd feel more secure there, and we have complete faith in Maikel's ability to keep you safe. We will ask you to follow his armsmen's instructions fully in light of the terrorist attacks and assassination attempts Clyntahn and his butchers have launched here in Tellesberg but you are most emphatically not prisoners. You're free to come and go as you please, assuming you take adequate security with you. For obvious reasons, it won't be possible for any of you to leave Old Charis without our having made careful arrangements, but we understand Lady Hanth has invited Daivyn and you to visit her at Breygart House. We have no objection at all to that, nor to any other travel here in the kingdom. Indeed, we'd be delighted for you to see more of our Empire and our people than you possibly could locked up in a palace somewhere.

"It's our hope that you -- that all of you -- will recognize in time where your true enemies lie, and that those enemies are our enemies, as well. Neither of us will try to pretend we don't have all the pragmatic, calculating reasons in the world to want you to come to that conclusion. You and the Earl have both been too close to a throne for too long not to realize that has to be the case, and I'm sure both of you already see how advantageous that would be for us. But that doesn't change the truth, and it doesn't mean we or anyone else have the right to dictate to your conscience. We'll do all we may to convince you; we will not compel you. What you decide may determine what choices and decisions we have to make in regards to you and to Corisande. We can't change that, and we won't pretend we can. Yet we also believe it would be far more foolish of us, and far more dangerous, in the fullness of time, to attempt to force you to do our bidding. Not only would you inevitably become a weapon that would turn in our hand at the first opportunity, but you'd have every right to do just that, and the truth is that we have too many foes already to add such potentially formidable ones to them. We'd prefer to have you as friends; we definitely don't want you as enemies. I believe King Zhames and certain members of the Inquisition have already learned what having you as foes can cost."

He smiled very faintly, then stepped back beside Sharleyan and waved at the rattan chairs scattered comfortably about the terrace.

"And now, having said all of that depressing, formal stuff, would the lot of you please join us? We thought we'd have lunch out here on the terrace -- assuming we can keep Zhanayt's damned parrot from swooping down and stealing everything! -- and Zhan and Zhanayt will be joining us shortly. Before they descend upon us, however, we have quite a lot we'd like to discuss with you. For example, we've had Merlin's report on your escape from Talkyra, but the seijin has a tendency to . . . underplay his own role in that sort of daring do. We'd like to have your version of it, and we'd like the opportunity to answer as many of your questions as we can in a suitably informal atmosphere, as well. I'm afraid we are going to have to have a formal reception, and eventually we're going to have to have ministers and members of Parliament in to talk to both of you -- and to you, My Lord," he added, glancing at Coris again. "But there's no need to dive into that immediately. We thought we'd give you at least a five-day or so to get settled with the Archbishop before anyone starts dragging you around like some sort of trophies. Would that be satisfactory to you?"

Recognized as rightful ruling Prince of Corisande or not, Daivyn looked up quickly at Irys, who smiled just a bit crookedly.

"I think that's not just satisfactory but quite a bit more graceful than we'd -- than I'd -- expected, Your Majesty. Or Your Majesties, I suppose I should say."

"It does get complicated sometimes," Sharleyan told her, speaking for the first time, and smiled back at her. "Actually, here in Old Charis, Cayleb is 'Your Majesty' and I'm 'Your Grace.' In Chisholm, we flip." The empress shrugged with an infectious chuckle. "It helps us keep track of who's talking to whom, at least!"

"I see . . . Your Grace." Irys dropped her another curtsy. "I'll try to keep the distinction in mind."

"I'm sure you will," Sharleyan said. Then her smile faded and she cocked her head. "And before we get to all of that informal conversation, let me say formally that everything Cayleb just said he truly did say in both our names. I know -- I know, Irys -- what you felt when your father was murdered. And I know all the hatred which lay between me and him had to play a part in your thinking. But that hatred was between me and him, not between me and you or me and Daivyn. You aren't him, and imperfect as I am in many ways, I do try to remember the Writ's injunctions. I have no intention of holding a father's actions against his children, and you truly are as safe here in Tellesberg as you could ever be in Manchyr. I've lost my father; Cayleb's lost his; you and Daivyn have lost yours, and a brother as well. I think it would be well for all of us to learn from those losses, to try and find a way to create a world in which children don't have to worry about losing the ones they love so early. I can't speak for God, but I think it would make Him smile if we managed to accomplish a little good out of so much pain and loss."

Irys looked into those huge brown eyes and something -- some last, cold residue of fear and distrust -- melted as she saw nothing but truth looking back at her. That recognition didn't magically fill her with confidence for the future, nor did she think all the goodwill in the world, however sincere, could guarantee what the future might bring. Any ruler's daughter learned those realities early, for the world was a hard instructor, and her lessons had been harsher than most. Only time could tell what political demands she and Daivyn would face, what decisions might yet force them into fresh conflict with the House of Ahrmahk, and she knew it. But unlike Zhaspahr Clyntahn, Cayleb and Sharleyan Ahrmahk were neither monsters nor liars. Enemies they might yet be, or become once more, but honorable ones. They meant what they'd just said, and they would stand by it in the teeth of hell itself.

"I'd like that, Your Grace," she heard herself say, and her own lips trembled just a bit. "We've made Him weep more than enough," she went on, and saw recognition of her deliberate choice of words flicker in Sharleyan's eyes. "Surely it's time we made Him smile a bit, instead."
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Re: STICKY: Midst Toil and Tribulation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Wed Jul 11, 2012 8:02 pm

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Midst Toil And Tribulation - Snippet 27

.V.
The Delthak Works,
Barony of High Rock,
Kingdom of Old Charis,
Empire of Charis

"Well, it certainly looks impressive, Ehdwyrd," Father Paityr Wylsynn said dryly. "Now if it just doesn't blow up and kill us all."

"I'm crushed, Father," Ehdwyrd Howsmyn told the Charisian Empire's intendant in a composed tone. "I've shared all of Doctor Mahklyn's calculations with you, and Master Huntyr and Master Tairham do excellent work. Besides, we've had the smaller model running for over two months now."

They stood side by side under the canopy of smoke rising from what had become known as the Delthak Works in order to differentiate it from the additional complexes Howsmyn had under construction on Lake Lymahn in the Barony of Green Field. Or, for that matter, the two he was expanding near Tellesberg and the entirely new complex going up outside Maikelberg in Chisholm's Duchy of Eastshare. No other man had ever owned that much raw iron-making capacity, but the Delthak Works remained the biggest and most productive of them all. Indeed, no one before Ehdwyrd Howsmyn had ever even dreamed of such a huge, sprawling facility, and its output dwarfed that of any other ironworks in the history of the world.

Howsmyn didn't really look the part of a world-shaking innovator. In fact, he looked remarkably ordinary and preposterously young for someone who'd accomplished so much, but there was something in his eyes -- something like a bright, searching fire that glowed far back in their depths even when he smiled. It was always there, Wylsynn thought, but it glowed even brighter than usual today as he waved one hand at two of the men standing behind them.

The men in question smiled, although an unbiased observer might have noted that they looked rather more nervous than their employer. Not because they doubted the quality of their handiwork, but because for all of his open-mindedness and obviously friendly relationship with Howsmyn, Paityr Wylsynn was the Empire's intendant, the man charged with ensuring that no incautious innovation transgressed the Proscriptions of Jwo-jeng. He'd signed the attestation for the device they were there to observe, yet that could always be subject to change, and blame (like certain other substances) flowed downhill. If the intendant should change his mind, or if the Church of Charis overruled him, the consequences for the artisans and mechanics who'd constructed the device they were there to test might be . . . unpleasant.

"I'm well aware of the quality of their craftsmanship, Ehdwyrd," Wylsynn said now. "For that matter, I've already ridden in your infernal contraption of a boat. And I have considerable faith in Doctor Mahklyn's numbers. But 'considerable' isn't quite the same thing as absolute faith, especially when I can't pretend I understand how all those equations and formulas actually work, and this 'engine' is an awful lot bigger than the one in your boat. If it should decide to explode, I expect the damage to be considerably more severe."

"I suppose that's not unreasonable, Father. I won't pretend I really understand Rahzhyr's numbers -- or Doctor Vyrnyr's -- for that matter. But I do have faith in them, or I'd be standing far, far away at this moment. For that matter, the model tests for this one have worked just as well as for the single expansion engines, you know."

"And weren't you the one who told me once that the best scale for any test was twelve inches to the foot?" Wylsynn asked, arching one eyebrow and carefully avoiding words like "experiment," which weren't well thought of by the Inquisition.

"Which is exactly why you're here today, Father."

Wylsynn smiled at the man known as the 'Ironmaster of Charis', acknowledging his point, and both of them turned back towards the hulking mass of iron and steel they'd come to observe. It was certainly impressive looking. The open triangular frame of massive iron beams -- at least twice Howsmyn's height and almost as long as it was tall -- was surmounted by a rectangular, box-like casing. Three steel rods, each thick as a man's palm, descended from the overhead structure at staggered intervals. Each of them was actually composed of two rods, joined at a cross bearing, and their lower ends were connected to a crankshaft four inches in diameter. The entire affair was festooned with control rods, valves, and other esoteric bits and pieces which meant very little to the uninitiated.

Its very existence was enough to make anyone nervous. Before the Group of Four's attempt to destroy the Kingdom of Charis, no one would ever have dreamed of testing the limits of the Proscriptions in such a way. Not that there was anything prohibited about it, of course. Father Paityr would never have been here if there'd been any chance of that! But every one of those watching men knew how unlikely the Grand Inquisitor in far-off Zion was to agree about that. All of them also had a very clear notion of what would happen to them if they ever fell into the Inquisition's hands, and that was enough to make anyone nervous, even if he'd had no qualms at all about the work to which he'd set his hands and mind. And, of course, there was always the possibility that even Father Paityr could be wrong about those potentially demonic bits and pieces. So it wasn't surprising, perhaps, that most of the onlookers looked just a bit anxious.

The man standing directly beside it, however, seemed remarkably impervious to any qualms anyone else might be feeling. He'd never taken his eye off of the bizarre structure for a moment -- or not off of a sealed glass tube on one side of it, at any rate.

Stahlman Praigyr was a small, tough, weathered man with extraordinarily long arms and a nose which had obviously been broken more than once. When he smiled, he revealed two missing front teeth, as well, but he wasn't smiling today. He stood mechanically wiping his hands again and again with an oily cloth, his cap pulled down over his eyes as he stared at the slowly climbing column of liquid in that tube, watching it like a cat-lizard poised outside a spider-rat burrow.

Now he straightened abruptly and looked over his shoulder.

"Pressure's up, Sir," he told Howsmyn, and the foundry owner looked at Zosh Huntyr, his master artificer.

"Ready?"

"Aye, Sir," Huntyr replied. "Nahrmahn?"

Nahrmahn Tidewater, Huntyr's senior assistant, nodded and raised his right hand, waving the flag in it in a rapid circular movement. A bell clanged loudly, warning everyone in the vicinity -- and especially the crew clustered around the base of the nearest blast furnace -- that the test was about to begin.

"Anytime, Master Howsmyn," Huntyr said then, and Howsmyn nodded to Praigyr.

"This is your special baby, Stahlman. Open her up."

"Yes, Sir!" Praigyr's huge grin displayed the gap where teeth once had been, and he reached for the gleaming brass wheel mounted on the end of a long, steel shaft. He spun it, still watching the gauge, and steam hissed as the throttle valve opened.

For a moment, nothing happened, but then -- slowly, at first -- the piston rods from the huge cylinders hidden in the rectangular box at the top of the frame began to move. They pivoted on the cross head bearings where they joined the connecting rods, whose lower ends were connected to the cranks, the offset portions of the crankshaft. And as they moved, they turned the massive crankshaft itself, much as a man might have turned a brace-and-bit to bore a hole through a ship's timber. But this was no man turning a drill; this was the first full-scale, triple-expansion steam engine ever built on the planet of Safehold.

The piston rods moved faster as steam flowed from the high-pressure cylinder into the mid-pressure cylinder, expanding as it went. The mid-pressure cylinder's piston head was much broader than the high-pressure cylinder's, because the lower pressure steam needed a greater surface area to impart its energy. And once the mid-pressure cylinder had completed its stroke, it vented in turn to the low-pressure cylinder, the largest of them all. It was a noisy proposition, but the crankshaft turned faster and faster, and one of the workmen by the base of the blast furnace began waving a flag of his own in energetic circles.
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Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Re: STICKY: Midst Toil and Tribulation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Jul 15, 2012 8:15 pm

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Midst Toil And Tribulation - Snippet 28

"All right!" Huntyr exclaimed, then clamped his mouth shut, blushing, but no one seemed to care, really. They were all too busy listening to the sound coming from the blast furnace -- a sound of rushing air, growing louder and louder, challenging even the noise of the steam engine so close at hand. The steam-powered blowers of the forced draft system were bigger and more powerful than anything the Delthak Works had built yet, even for the furnaces driven by the hydro-accumulators, and Howsmyn beamed as Tairham slapped Huntyr on the back while they blew steadily harder and harder in time with the engine's gathering speed.

"Well," Wylsynn said loudly over the sound of the engine and the blowers, "it hasn't blown up yet, at any rate."

"I suppose there's still time," Howsmyn replied, still beaming. "But what say you and I retreat to the comfort of my office while we wait for the inevitable disaster?"

"I think that's an excellent idea, Master Howsmyn. Especially since I understand you've recently received a shipment from Her Majesty' favorite distillery back in Chisholm."

"Why, I believe I have," Howsmyn agreed. He looked at his employees. "Zosh, I want you and Kahlvyn to keep an eye on it for another -- oh, half an hour. Then I want you, Nahrmahn, and Brahd to join me and the Father in my office. I think we'll all have quite a few things to discuss at that point." He flashed another smile. "After all, now that he's let us get this toy up and running, it's time to tell him about all of our other ideas, isn't it?"

"Yes, Sir," Huntyr agreed with just a shade less enthusiasm than his employer, and Howsmyn bowed to Wylsynn.

"After you, Father."

* * * * * * * * * *

"I must confess I really did feel a moment or two of . . . anxiety," Paityr Wylsynn admitted ten minutes later, standing at Howsmyn's office windows and gazing out across the incredible, frenetic activity. "I know the design was approved by Owl, and I know his remotes were actually monitoring quality control all the way through, but all joking aside, it would've been a disaster if that thing had blown up! Too many people would've seen it as proof of Jwo-jeng's judgment, no matter who'd attested it. I hate to think how far back that would've set the entire project, not to mention undermining my own authority as Intendant."

"I know." Howsmyn stepped up beside him and handed him a glass half-filled with amber liquid. "And, to be honest, I'd've felt better myself if I'd simply been able to hand Zosh a set of plans and tell him to build the damned thing. But we really needed him to work it out for himself based on the 'hints' Rahzhyr and I were able to give him." He shrugged. "And he did. In fact, he and Nahrmahn did us proud. That single-cylinder initial design of theirs worked almost perfectly, and the two-cylinder is actually a lot more powerful than I expected -- or, rather, it's turned out to be a lot more efficient at moving a canal boat. Propeller design's more complicated than I'd anticipated, but with Owl to help me slip in the occasional suggestion, they've managed to overcome each problem as it made itself known.

"But the really important thing -- the critical thing -- is that I've got a whole layer of management now, here and at the other foundries, who're actually coming up with suggestions I haven't even so much as whispered about yet. And best of all, we've documented every step of the process in which Zosh and Nahrmahn -- oh, and let's not forget Master Praigyr -- came up with this design. We've got sketches, diagrams, office memos, everything. Nobody's going to be able to claim one of Shan-wei's demons just appeared in a cloud of smoke and brimstone and left the thing behind him!"

"Oh, don't be silly, Ehdwyrd! Of course they are." Wylsynn shook his head. "Zhaspahr Clyntahn's never let the truth get in his way before -- what makes you think he's going let it happen now? Besides, when you come down to it, that's almost exactly what did happen. I mean, wouldn't you call Merlin one of Shan-wei's 'demons'? I use the term in the most approving possible fashion, you understand. And while I'd never want to sound as if I'm complaining, just breathing out there does put one firmly in mind of 'smoke and brimstone,' you know."

"Yes, I do know," Howsmyn sighed, his expression suddenly less cheerful as he gazed out at the pall of coal smoke which hung perpetually over the Delthak Works. It was visible for miles, he knew, just as he knew about the pollution working its way into Ithmyn's Lake despite all he could do to contain it. "In fact, I hate it. We're doing everything we can to minimize the consequences, and I'm making damned sure my people's drinking water is piped down from upriver from the works, but all this smoke isn't doing a thing for their lungs. Or for their kids' lungs, either." He grimaced and took a quick, angry sip from his glass. "God, I wish we could go to electricity!"

"At least you've given them decent housing, as far from the foundry as you can put it," Wylsynn said after a moment, resting his left hand on the other man's shoulder. He didn't mention the schools, or the hospitals, that went with that housing, but he didn't need to. "And I wish we could go to electricity, too, but even assuming the bombardment system didn't decide to wipe us all out, daring to profane the Rakurai would be the proof of our apostasy."

"I know. I know!"

Howsmyn took another, less hasty sip, savoring the Chisholmian whiskey as it deserved to be savored . . . or closer to it, at any rate. Then he half-turned from the window to face Wylsynn fully.

"But I'm not thinking just about health reasons, either. I've done a lot to increase productivity per man hour, which is why we're so far in front of anything the Temple Loyalists have, but I haven't been able to set up a true assembly-line, and you know it."

Wylsynn nodded, although the truth was that his own admission to the inner circle was recent enough he was still only starting to really explore the data stored in Owl's memory. The AI was an incredibly patient librarian, but he wasn't very intuitive, which hampered his ability to help guide Wylsynn's research, and there was a limit to the number of hours Wylsynn could spend reading through several thousand years of history and information, no matter how addictive it might be. Or perhaps especially because of how addictive it was.

"I know you and Merlin've been talking about that -- about 'assembly-lines,' I mean -- for a while," he said, "but I confess I'm still more than a little hazy on what you're getting at. It seems to me you're already doing a lot more efficient job of assembling things than I can imagine anyone else doing!"
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Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: STICKY: Midst Toil and Tribulation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Wed Jul 18, 2012 7:44 pm

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Midst Toil And Tribulation - Snippet 29

"Not surprising, really," Howsmyn replied, looking back out the window. "I've been thinking about this a lot longer than you have, after all. But the truth is that all I've really managed so far is to go to a sort of intermediate system, one in which workmen make individual, interchangeable parts that can be assembled rather than one in which a group of artisans is responsible for making the entire machine or rifle or pair of scissors or disk harrow or reaping machine from the ground up. My craftsmen produce parts from templates and jigs, to far closer tolerances than anyone ever achieved before, and we're using stamping processes and powered machinery to make parts it used to take dozens of highly skilled artisans to make by hand. They can produce the components far more rapidly, and I can put more of them to work making the parts I need in larger numbers, or making the parts that take longer to make, so that I'm turning out the optimum number of parts to keep the actual assembly moving smoothly, without bottlenecks. But each of those fabricating processes is separate from all the others, and then all the pieces have to be taken to wherever the final product's being put together and assembled in one place. It's not bad for something fairly small and simple, like a rifle or a pistol, but the bigger and more complex the final product, the more cumbersome it gets."

"And it still makes your workforce many times more efficient than anything the Church has going for it," Wylsynn pointed out.

"Yes, it does, and more and more of my fellow ironmasters are starting to use the same techniques. Some of them are clearly infringing on my patents, of course." Howsmyn grinned at the intendant, who was also the head of the Imperial Patent Office. "I'm sure several of them -- like that bastard Showail -- wonder why I haven't already taken legal action. Wouldn't do to tell them how happy I am about it, now would it?" He shook his head. "Eventually, I'm going to have to take some action to defend the patents, if we don't want them asking questions about why a mark-grubbing manufactory owner such as myself isn't complaining about people robbing him blind. But even with the new techniques spreading, we're still a long way from where we could be. And frankly, we need to crank our efficiency an awful lot higher if we're going to compensate for the sheer manpower, however inefficient it may be, the Temple can throw at the same sorts of problems now that it's finally starting to get itself organized. According to Owl's SNARCs, Desnair and the Temple Lands are beginning to build new water powered blast furnaces and rolling mills, for example, with Clyntahn's blessings and Duchairn's financial backing. It won't be long before they start improving their drop hammers, too, and however good that may be for Merlin's overall plans, it's not the kind of news the Empire needs. We've got to stay as far ahead as we can, and that's especially true for me, since my foundries and manufactories are the Empire's cutting edge. That's where a real assembly-line would come in, if we could only make it work."

"How does that differ from what you're already doing?"

"In a proper assembly-line, whatever's being built -- assembled — moves down a line of workstations on a conveyor belt, or on a moving crane -- or, if it's a vehicle of some sort, on its own wheels, perhaps, once they've been attached. What matters is that it goes to the workmen, rather than the workmen coming to it. As it passes each station, the workman or workmen at that station perform their portion of the assembly process. They connect a specific part or group of parts, and that's all they do. Whatever they're building is brought to them. The work force is sized so there's enough manpower at each station to let that part of the assembly be done in as close to the same amount of time as every other part, so that the line keeps moving at a steady pace. And because each group of workers performs exactly the same function on each new assembly, they can do their part of the task far more efficiently . . . and a hell of a lot more quickly."

"I see." Wylsynn sipped from his own glass, frowning, and rubbed one eyebrow. "I hope this doesn't sound too obtuse, but why can't you do that?"

"I can do something like that with relatively small items, like pistols and rifles. I have runners on the shop floor who wheel cartloads from one workstation to another. But to do that on a true industrial scale, I need to be able to locate machine tools -- powered machine tools -- at the proper places in the assembly process. Before Merlin, we really didn't have 'machine tools,' although I'd been applying waterpower to as many processes as I could before he ever came along. Now my artisans've invented a whole generation of powered tools, everything from lathes to drill presses to powered looms and spinning machines for Rhaiyan's textile manufactories. In fact, they've leapfrogged a hundred years or more of Earth's industrial history -- largely because of the 'hints' Merlin and I have been able to give them. But all of them are still limited by the types of power available -- they're tied to waterwheels or the hydro-accumulators by shafting and drive belts. They aren't . . . flexible, and they are dangerous, no matter how careful my managers and I try to be. The steam engines are going to help, but we still can't simply locate machinery where we need it located; we have to locate it where we can provide power to it, instead. Electricity, and electric motors, would give us a distributed power network that would let us do that. Steam and waterpower don't."

"Um."

Wylsynn nodded slowly, thinking about all of the patent applications he'd approved over the last four years. Probably two thirds of them had come from Howsmyn or his artisans, although an increasing number were coming from Charisians who'd never heard of the Terran Federation. That was a good sign, but he hadn't really considered the problem Howsmyn had just described. Probably, he reflected, because he'd been so busy being impressed by what the ironmaster had already accomplished.

Like the steam engine they'd just observed. Thanks to Owl -- and Merlin, of course -- Howsmyn had completely bypassed the first hundred or hundred and fifty years of the steam engine's development back on long-dead Earth. He'd gone directly to water tube boilers and compound expansion engines, with steam pressures of almost three hundred pounds per square inch, something Earth hadn't approached until the beginning of its twentieth century. Oh, his initial engine had been a single-cylinder design, but that had been as much a test of the concept as anything else. He'd moved on to double-cylinder expansion engines for his first canal boat trials, but no canal boat offered anything like enough room for that monster they'd just watched in action. Still, the boat engines had been a valuable learning exercise . . . and even they operated at a far higher pressure -- and efficiency -- than anything attainable before the very end of Old Earth's nineteenth century.

The advances he'd already made in metallurgy, riveting and welding, and quality control had helped to make those pressures and temperatures possible, but Safehold had always had a working empirical understanding of hydraulics. That was one reason Howsmyn's hydro-accumulators had been relatively easy for Wylsynn to approve even before he'd been admitted to the inner circle; they'd simply been one more application -- admittedly, an ingenious one -- of concepts which had been used in the waterworks the "archangels" had made part of Safehold's infrastructure from the Day of Creation. But the compact efficiency of the engines Howsmyn was about to introduce would dwarf even the hydro-accumulators' impact on what Merlin called his "power budget." So perhaps it wasn't surprising Wylsynn had been more focused on that increase than on the even greater potentials of the electricity he still understood so poorly himself.

Especially since electricity's one thing we can be pretty certain would attract the "Rakurai" if the bombardment platform detected it, he thought grimly. We're lucky it doesn't seem to worry about steam, but I don't think it would miss a generating plant!

He shuddered internally at the thought of turning Charis into another Armageddon Reef, yet even as he did, another, very different thought occurred to him. He started to shake it off, since it was so obviously foolish. Even if it had offered any useful potential, surely Merlin and Howsmyn would already have thought of it! But it wouldn't shake, and he frowned down into his whiskey glass.
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Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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