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STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets

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STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets
Post by Duckk   » Wed Jan 13, 2010 6:25 pm

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Reserved for official snippets from A Mighty Fortress.
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Re: STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets
Post by Duckk   » Wed Jan 13, 2010 6:26 pm

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A Mighty Fortress - Snippet 01

September, Year of God 893

I
Lizardherd Square,
City of Manchyr,
Princedom of Corisande

“So I don’t know about you people, but I’ve had more than enough of this dragon shit!” Paitryk Hainree shouted from his improvised speaker’s perch on the municipal fire brigade cistern.

“Bastards!” a voice came back out of the small crowd gathered outside the tavern. It was early in the morning, on a Wednesday, and like every other tavern on the face of Safehold, all the taverns of the city of Manchyr were closed and would stay that way until after morning mass. The sun was barely up, the narrow streets were still caverns of shadow, but the clouds overhead already promised rain by afternoon, and the humidity was high.

As, Hainree noted, were tempers. It wasn’t a huge crowd, in fact it was considerably smaller than the one he’d hoped for, and probably at least half the men in it were there more out of curiosity than commitment. But the ones who were committed –

“Fucking murderers!” someone else snarled back.

Hainree nodded vigorously, hard enough to make sure everyone in his angry audience could recognize the gesture. He was a silversmith, by trade, not an actor or an orator, and certainly not a priest! But over the last few five-days he’d had the opportunity to profit by the experience and advice of quite a few men who were trained priests. He’d learned how voice projection and “spontaneous” body language could support and emphasize a message — especially when that message was backed by genuine, burning outrage.

“Yes!” he shouted back to the last speaker. “Damned right they’re murderers, unless you want to believe that lying bastard Cayleb!” He flung up his hands in eloquent contempt. “Of course he didn’t do it! Why, what possible motive could he have had to order Prince Hektor’s murder?”

A fresh chorus of outrage, this time formed of pure anger rather than anything as artificial as words, answered him, and he smiled savagely.

“Goddamned butchers!” yet another voice shouted. “Priest-killers! Heretics! Remember Ferayd!”

“Yes!” He nodded his head again, just as vigorously as before. “They can say what they want — this new ‘archbishop’ of ours and his bishops — but I’m not so sure you aren’t right about Cayleb’s precious ‘Church of Charis’! Maybe there are some priests who’ve abused their offices. No one wants to believe that — I don’t want to, do you? But remember what Archbishop Wyllym said in his report about the Ferayd Massacre! There’s no doubt Cayleb lied about how terrible the original attack was, and it’s for damned sure he and all his other bootlickers have been lying about how ‘restrained’ their response to it was. But even so, Mother Church herself acknowledged that the priests who were hanged — hanged impiously, with no proper Church trial, by ‘Archbishop Maikel’s’ own brother, mind you! — were guilty of wrongdoing. Mother Church said that, and the Grand Vicar imposed a personal penance on the Grand Inquisitor himself for letting it happen! Does that sound to you like Mother Church can’t be trusted? Like we can’t rely on her to deal with abuses and corruption? Like the only answer is to defy God’s own Church? Cast down the vicarate Langhorne himself ordained?”

There was another snarl of fury, yet this one, Hainree noted, was less fiery than the one before. He was a bit disappointed by that, but not really surprised. Corisandians, by and large, had never felt directly threatened by the policies of the Church of God Awaiting and the Lords of the Temple Lands. Certainly not the way Charisians had felt when they discovered their entire kingdom had been condemned to fire and the sword by that same Church. Or, at least, by the men who controlled it.

Still, it would have been inaccurate — and foolish — to pretend there weren’t plenty of Corisandians who had their own reservations about the Church’s current rulership. Manchyr was a long way from the Temple or the city of Zion, after all, and Corisandians as a whole were undoubtedly more independent-minded in matters of religion than the Inquisition or the vicarate at large would truly have approved. For that matter, plenty of Corisandians had had sons or brothers or fathers killed in the Battle of Darcos Sound, and it was common knowledge that Darcos Sound had been the disastrous consequence of a war which had seen Corisande and its allies conscripted to act as the Church’s proxies. Among those for whom religious fervor and orthodoxy were major motivators, they burned with a blinding, white-hot passion that surpassed all others. The majority of Corisandians, however, were far less passionate about those particular concerns. Their opposition to the Church of Charis stemmed far more from the fact that it was the Church of Charis, linked in their own minds with the House of Ahrmahk’s conquest of their princedom, than from any outraged sense of orthodoxy. For that matter, Corisande undoubtedly harbored its own share of the reform-minded, and they might well find themselves actively attracted to the breakaway church.

Best not to dwell too heavily on the heresy, Paitryk, Hainree told himself. Leave the ones already on fire over that to burn for themselves. Father Aidryan’s right about that; they’ll be hot enough without you. Spend your sparks on other tinder.

“I’ve no doubt God and Langhorne — and the Archangel Schueler — will deal with that, in time,” he said out loud. “That’s God’s business, and Mother Church’s, and I’ll leave it to them! But what happens outside the Church — what happens in Corisande, or here on the streets of Manchyr — that’s man’s business. Our business! A man’s got to know what it is he stands for, and when he knows, he has to truly stand, not just wave his hands about and wish things were different.”

The last word came out in a semi-falsetto sneer, and he felt the fresh anger frothing up.

“Hektor!” a wiry man with a badly scarred left cheek shouted. Hainree couldn’t see him, but he recognized the voice easily enough. He should have, after all. Rahn Aimayl had been one of his senior apprentices before the Charisian invasion ruined Hainree’s once thriving business, along with so many other of the besieged capital’s enterprises, and Hainree had been there when a cracked mold and a splash of molten silver produced the scar on Aimayl’s cheek.

“Hektor!” Aimayl repeated now. “Hektor!”

“Hektor, Hektor!” other voices took up the shout, and this time Hainree’s smile could have been a slash lizard’s.

“Well,” he shouted then, “there’s a hell of a lot more of us than there are of them, when all’s said! And I don’t know about you, but I’m not ready — yet — to assume that all of our lords and great men and members of Parliament are ready to suck up to Cayleb like this so called Regency Council! Maybe all they really need is a little indication that some of the rest of us aren’t ready to do that, either!”

* * * * * * * * * *

“Hek-tor! Hek-tor!”

Sergeant Edvard Waistyn grimaced as the crowd streamed closer and its chant rose in both volume and anger. It was easy enough to make out the words, despite the majestic, measured tolling of the cathedral’s bells coming from so close at hand. Of course, one reason it might have been so easy for him to recognize that chant was that, unfortunately, he’d already heard quite a few other chants, very much like it, over the last few five-days.

And it’s not anything I’m not going to be hearing a lot more of over the next few five-days, neither, he thought grimly.

The sergeant, one of the scout-snipers assigned to the First Battalion, Third Brigade, Imperial Charisian Marines, lay prone on the roof, gazing up along the narrow street below his perch. The crowd flowing down that street, through the shadows between the buildings, still seemed touched by just a bit of hesitancy. The anger was genuine enough, and he didn’t doubt they’d started out in the full fire of their outrage, but now they could see the cathedral’s dome and steeples rising before them. The notion of . . . registering their unhappiness was no longer focused on some future event. It was almost here now, and that could have unpleasant consequences for some of them.

Still and all, I’m not thinking this is one as’ll just blow over with only a little wind. There’s rain in this one — and some thunder, too, like as not.

His intent eyes swept slowly, steadily across the men and boys shaking their fists and hurling imprecations in the direction of the rifle-armed men formed up in front of Manchyr Cathedral in the traditional dark blue tunics and light blue trousers of the Charisian Marines. Those Marines formed a watchful line, a barrier between the shouters and another crowd — this one much quieter, moving quickly — as it flowed up the steps behind them.

So far, none of the sporadic “spontaneous demonstrations” had intruded upon the cathedral or its grounds. Waistyn was actually surprised it hadn’t happened already, given the ready-made rallying point the “heretical” Church of Charis offered the people out to organize resistance to the Charisian occupation. Maybe there’d been even more religious discontent in Corisande than the sergeant would have thought before the invasion? And maybe it was just that even the most belligerent rioter hesitated to trespass on the sanctity of Mother Church.

And maybe this crowd’s feeling a little more adventurous than the last few have, he thought grimly.

“Traitors!” The shout managed to cut through the rhythmic chant of the assassinated Corisandian prince’s name. “Murderers! Assassins!”

“Get out! Get the hell out — and take your murdering bastard of an ‘emperor’ with you!”

“Hek-tor! Hek-tor!”

The volume increased still further, difficult as that was to achieve, and the crowd began to flow forward once again, with more assurance, as if its own bellowed imprecations were burning away any last minute hesitation.

I could wish General Gahrvai had his own men down here, Waistyn reflected. If this goes as bad as I think it could . . . .

A group of armsmen in the white and orange colors of the Archbishop’s Guard marched steadily down the street towards the cathedral, and the volume of the shouts ratcheted still higher as those same protesters caught sight of the white cassock and the white-cockaded priest’s cap with its broad orange ribbon at the heart of the guardsmen’s formation.

“Heretic! Traitor!” someone screamed. “Langhorne knows his own — and so does Shan-wei!”

Perfect, Waistyn thought disgustedly. Couldn’t've come in the back way, could he now? Don’t be daft, Edvard — of course he couldn’t! Not today, of all days! He shook his head. Oh, isn’t this going to be fun?

* * * * * * * * * *

Down at street level, Lieutenant Brahd Tahlas, the youthful commanding officer of Second Platoon, Alpha Company, found himself thinking very much the same thoughts as the veteran sergeant perched above him. In fact, he was thinking them with even more emphasis, given his closer proximity to the steadily swelling mob.

And his greater responsibility for dealing with it.

“I can’t say I’m liking this all that much, Sir,” Platoon Sergeant Zhak Maigee muttered. The platoon sergeant was half again Tahlas’ age, and he’d first enlisted in the Royal Charisian Marines when he was all of fifteen years old. He’d been a lot of places and seen a lot of things since then — or, as he was occasionally wont to put it, “met a lot of interesting people . . . and killed ‘em!” — and he’d learned his trade thoroughly along the way. That normally made him a reassuring presence, but at the moment his face wore that focused, intent-on-the-business-in-hand expression of an experienced noncom looking at a situation which offered all sorts of possibilities . . . none of them good. He’d been careful to keep his voice low enough only Tahlas could possibly have heard him, and the lieutenant shrugged.

“I don’t much care for it myself,” he admitted in the same, quiet voice, more than a little surprised by how steady he’d managed to keep it. “If you have any suggestions about how to magically convince all these idiots to just disappear, I’m certainly open to them, Sergeant.”

Despite the situation, Maigee snorted. He rather liked his young lieutenant, and whatever else, the boy had steady nerves. Which probably had something to do with why he’d been selected by Major Portyr, Alpha Company’s CO, for his current assignment.

And Maigee’s of course.

“Now, somehow, Sir, I can’t seem to come up with a way to do that just this very minute. Let me ponder on it, and I’ll get back to you.”

“Good. In the meantime, though, keep your eye on that group over there, by the lamp post.” Tahlas flicked one hand in an unobtrusive gesture, indicating the small knot of men he had in mind. “I’ve been watching them. Most of these idiots look like the sort of idlers and riffraff who could have just sort of turned up, but not those fellows.”

Maigee considered the cluster of Corisandians Tahlas had singled out and decided the lieutenant had a point. Those men weren’t in the crowd’s front ranks, but they weren’t at the rear, either, and they seemed oddly . . . cohesive. As if they were their own little group, not really part of the main crowd. Yet they were watching the men about them intensely, with a sort of focus that was different from anyone else’s, and some of those other men were watching them right back. Almost as if they were . . . waiting for something. Or anticipating it, maybe.

* * * * * * * * * *

The cluster of Church armsmen was closer, now, Waistyn observed, and the quantity of abuse coming from the crowd swelled steadily. It couldn’t get a whole lot louder, but it was getting more . . . inclusive as shouts and curses with a clear, definitely religious content added themselves to the ongoing chant of Prince Hektor’s name.

“All right, lads,” the sergeant said calmly to the rest of the squad of scout-snipers on the roof with him. “Check your priming, but no one so much as moves an eyelash without I give the order!”

A quiet chorus of acknowledgment came back to him, and he grunted in approval, but he never took his eyes from the street below him. Despite his injunction, he wasn’t concerned by any itchy trigger fingers, really. All of his Marines were veterans, and all of them had been there when Major Portyr made his instructions perfectly — one might almost have said painfully — clear. The last thing anyone wanted was for Charisian Marines to open fire on an “unarmed crowd” of civilians in the streets of Corisande’s capital. Well, maybe that was the next to last thing, actually. Waistyn was pretty sure that letting anything unfortunate happen to Archbishop Klairmant would be even less desirable. That, after all, was what Waistyn’s squad had been put up here to prevent.

Of course, unless we’re ready to start shooting anyone as soon as they get in range of him, it’s possible we might just be a tad late when it comes to the “preventing” part, he thought with profound disgust.

* * * * * * * * * *

“Blasphemers!” Charlz Dobyns shouted, waving his fist at the oncoming Archbishop’s Guard. His voice cracked — it still had an irritating tendency to do that at stressful moments — and his eyes glittered with excitement.

Truth to tell, Charlz didn’t really feel all that strongly one way or the other about this “Church of Charis” nonsense. In fact, he hadn’t chosen his own war cry — that had been suggested by his older brother’s friend, Rahn Aimayl. And he wasn’t the only person using it, either. At least a dozen others in the crowd, most of them no older than Charlz himself, had begun shouting the same word, just as they’d rehearsed, the moment someone caught sight of Archbishop Klairmant’s approach.

From the way some of the people around them were reacting, Rahn had been right on the mark when he explained how effective the charge of blasphemy would be.

Personally, Charlz wasn’t even entirely certain exactly what “blasphemy” was — except for the way his mother had always clouted him over the ear for it whenever he took Langhorne’s name in vain. And he had no idea how the Church of Charis’ doctrine might be at odds with that of the rest of the Church. He was no priest, that was for sure, and he knew it! But even he found it difficult to believe the more spectacular stories about orgies on altars and child sacrifice. Stood to reason that nobody could get away with that right here in the Cathedral without everyone knowing it was happening, and he’d yet to meet anyone who’d actually seen it. Or anyone he would have trusted to tell him whether or not it was raining, at any rate!

As far as the rest of it went, though, for all he knew this new ‘church’ of theirs could have a point. If even a quarter of what some folks were saying about the so-called “Group of Four” was true, he supposed he could understand why some people could be upset with them. But that didn’t matter, either. They were the Vicars, and so far as Charlz could see, what the Vicars said, went. He certainly wasn’t going to argue with them! If someone else wanted to, that was their affair, and he knew quite a few Corisandians seemed to agree with the Charisians. In fact, at this particular moment, there were a Shan-wei of a lot more people inside the Cathedral than there were standing outside it shouting at them.

For that matter, Charlz’s own mother was the housekeeper for the rectory at Saint Kathryn’s. He knew where she was this morning, and from what she’d said in the last few five-days, Father Tymahn seemed to be leaning heavily towards this new Church of Charis, as well.

But that was really beside the point, as far as Charlz was concerned. In most ways, he shared his mother’s immense respect for Father Tymahn, yet in this case, she was missing the true point. No. The true point — or at least the one which had brought Charlz here this morning — wasn’t doctrine, or who wore the archbishop’s priest’s cap here in Manchyr. Or it wouldn’t have been about who wore the cap . . . except for the fact that the man who did had sworn fealty to the Empire of Charis, as well as the Church of Charis, in order to get it.

It wasn’t so much that Charlz was a fanatic Corisandian patriot. There really weren’t all that many Corisandian “patriots,” in the sense that someone from the millennium-dead Terran Federation might have understood the term. Loyalties in most Safeholdian realms — there were exceptions, like Charis and the Republic of Siddarmark — tended to be purely local. Loyalties to a specific baron, or earl, or duke, perhaps. Or to a prince, or an individual monarch. But not to the concept of a “nation” in the sense of a genuine, self-aware nationstate. Young Charlz, for example, thought of himself first as a Manchyrian, a resident of the city of that name, and then as (in descending order of importance) a subject of the Duke of Manchyr and as a subject of Prince Hektor, who had happened to be Duke of Manchyr, as well as Prince of Corisande.

Beyond that, Charlz had never really thought all that deeply, before the Charisian invasion, about where his loyalties lay or about relations between Corisande and the Kingdom of Charis. In fact, he still wasn’t entirely clear on exactly what had provoked open warfare between Corisande and Charis. On the other hand, he was only sixteen Safeholdian years old (fourteen and a half, in the years of long-dead Terra), and he was accustomed to being less than fully clear on quite a few issues. What he did know was that Corisande had been invaded; that the city in which he lived had been placed under siege; that the Corisandian Army had been soundly defeated; and that Prince Hektor — the one clearly visible (from his perspective, at any rate) symbol of Corisandian unity and identity had been assassinated.

That was enough to upset anyone, wasn’t it?

Still, he’d have been inclined to leave well enough alone, keep his own head down, and hope for the best if it had been solely up to him. But it wasn’t. There were plenty of other people here in Manchyr who definitely weren’t inclined to leave well enough alone, and some of them were getting steadily louder and more vociferous. It seemed pretty obvious to Charlz that sooner or later, if they had their way, people were going to have to choose up sides, and if he had to do that, he knew which side he was going to choose. Whatever had started the quarrel between Corisande and Charis, he didn’t need any dirty foreigners poking any sticks into hornets nests here in his hometown.

(And they had to be dirty foreigners, didn’t they? After all, all foreigners were, weren’t they?)

“Blasphemers!” he shouted again.

“Blasphemers!” he heard someone else shouting. It wasn’t one of his friends this time, either. Others were starting to take up the cry, and Charlz grinned as he reached under his tunic and loosened the short, heavy cudgel in his belt.

* * * * * * * * * *

“That’s enough!”

Rather to Paitryk Hainree’s surprise, the voice of the young Charisian officer in front of the Cathedral was actually audible through the crowd noise. It probably helped that he was using a leather speaking trumpet, but more likely, Hainree reflected, it had to do with the fact that he’d been trained to be heard through the thunder of a field of battle.

What surprised him even more was that the front ranks of his crowd — No, mob, not “crowd,” he thought. Let’s use the honest word, Paitryk. — actually seemed to hesitate. His eyes widened slightly as he saw it, then narrowed again as he recognized at least part of the reason. The Charisian had raised his voice to be heard, true, but it wasn’t a bellow of answering anger. No, it was a voice of . . . exasperation. And the young man’s body language wasn’t especially belligerent, either. In fact, he had one hand on his hip, and it looked as if he were actually tapping his toe on the Cathedral’s steps.

He looks more like an irritated tutor somewhere than an army officer confronting a hostile mob, Hainree realized.

“It’s Wednesday morning!” the Charisian went on. “You should all be ashamed of yourselves! If you’re not in church yourselves, the least you can do is let other people go to mass in peace!”

“What d’you know about mass, heretic?!” somebody — he thought it might have been Aimayl — shouted back.

“I know I’m not going to throw rocks through a cathedral’s windows,” the Charisian shouted back. “I know that much!” He gave a visible shudder. “Langhorne only knows what my mother would do to me if she found out about that!”

More than one person in the crowd surprised Hainree — and probably themselves — by laughing. Others only snarled, and there was at least a spatter of additional shouts and curses as Archbishop Klairmant passed through the cathedral doors behind the Marines.

“Go home!” The Charisian’s raised voice sounded almost friendly, tinged more with resignation than anger. “If you have a point to make, make it someplace else, on a day that doesn’t belong to God. I don’t want to see anybody hurt on a Wednesday! In fact, my orders are to avoid that if I possibly can. But my orders are also to protect the Cathedral and anyone in it, and if I have to hurt someone outside it to do that, I will.”

His voice was considerably harder now, still that of someone trying to be reasonable, but with an undertone that warned them all there was a limit to his patience.

Hainree glanced around the faces of the four or five men closest to him and saw them looking back at him. One of them raised an eyebrow and twitched his head back the way they’d come, and Hainree nodded very slightly. He wasn’t afraid of going toe-to-toe with the Marines himself, but Father Aidryan had made it clear that it was Hainree’s job to nurture and direct the anti-Charis resistance. That resistance might well require martyrs in days to come, yet it would need leaders just as badly. Possibly even more badly.

The man who’d raised the eyebrow nodded back and turned away, forging a path towards the front of the now-stalled crowd. Hainree watched him go for a moment, then he and several of the others began filtering towards the back.

* * * * * * * * * *

Damn me if I don’t think the lad’s going to do it! Platoon Sergeant Maigee thought wonderingly.

The sergeant wouldn’t have bet a single Harchong mark on Lieutenant Tahlas’ being able to talk the mob into turning around and going home, but Tahlas had obviously hit a nerve by reminding them all it was Wednesday. Maigee had expected that to backfire, given the shouts of “blasphemer” and “heretic” coming out of the crowd, yet it would appear the lieutenant had read its mood better than he had.

“Go on, now,” Tahlas said, his tone gentler as the mob’s volume began to decrease and he could lower his own voice level a bit. “Disperse, before anyone gets hurt. I don’t want that. For that matter, whether you believe it or not, Emperor Cayleb doesn’t want that; Archbishop Klairmant doesn’t want that; and it’s for damned sure — if you’ll pardon my language — that God doesn’t want that. So what say you and I make all those people happy?”

* * * * * * * * * *

Charlz Dahbyns grimaced as he felt the mood of the crowd around him shift. Somehow, this wasn’t what he’d anticipated. This Charisian officer — Charlz had no idea how to read the man’s rank insignia — was supposed to be furious, screaming at them to disperse. Threatening them, making his contempt for them clear. He certainly wasn’t supposed to be just talking to them! And reasoning with them — or pretending he was, at any rate — was just too underhanded and devious to be believed.

And yet, Charlz wasn’t completely immune to the Charisian’s manner. And the other man had a point about its being Wednesday. Not only that, but the Charisian’s mention of his mother had reminded Charlz forcibly of his own mother . . . and how she was likely to react when she found out what her darling boy had been up to when he was supposed to be at mass himself.

He didn’t know what thoughts were going through the minds of the rest of the crowd, but he could sense the way the entire mob was settling back on its heels, losing the forward momentum which had carried it down the street. Some of the people in it — including some of Charlz’s friends — were still shouting, yet their voices had lost much of their fervor. They sounded shriller, more isolated, as if those voices’ owners felt their own certainty oozing away.

Charlz took his hand away from the truncheon under his tunic and was a bit surprised to discover he was actually more relieved than regretful at the way things had so unexpectedly shifted.

He started to turn away, then paused, his eyes widening in shock, as the man who’d just walked up behind him brought something out from under his own tunic.

Charlz had never seen one of the new “flintlocks” which had been introduced into the Corisandian Army, but he recognized what he had to be seeing now. It was a short, squat weapon — a musket whose stock had been cut down and whose barrel had been sawn down to no more than a couple of feet. It was still far bigger and clumsier than the pistols which equipped the Charisian Imperial Guard, and it must have been extraordinarily difficult to keep it hidden, but the flintlock which had been fitted in place of its original matchlock didn’t need the clumsy, smoldering, impossible-to-hide, lit slow match. That had probably helped a lot where concealing it was concerned, a corner of Charlz’s mind thought almost calmly.

He watched, frozen, as the weapon rose. It poked over the shoulder of another young man, no more than a year or so older than Charlz himself, standing beside him. The other young man twitched in astonishment, turning his head, looking across and down at the muzzle as it intruded into the corner of his field of vision . . . just as the man holding it squeezed the trigger.

* * * * * * * * * *

The sudden gunshot took everyone by surprise, even experienced noncoms like Waistyn and Maigee. Perhaps it shouldn’t have taken the sergeants unaware, but Tahlas’ obvious success in calming the crowd had lulled even them just a bit, as well.

The man behind that musket had marked the Marine lieutenant as his target. Fortunately for Brahd Tahlas, however, no one would ever have described the would-be murderer’s weapon as a precision instrument. It was a smoothbore, with a very short barrel, and loaded with meal powder, not corned powder. Less than a quarter of the slow-burning, anemic propellant had actually been consumed before the rest was flung out of the barrel in a huge, blinding cloud, and the bullet’s flight could only be characterized as . . . erratic.

The unfortunate young man who’d been looking at the muzzle at the moment it was fired screamed in agony as his face was savagely burned. He staggered back, clutching at his permanently blinded eyes, and four or five more people who’d been unlucky enough to be standing directly in front of him cried out in pain of their own as blazing flakes of gunpowder seared “coalminer’s tattoos” into the backs of their necks. One especially luckless soul actually had his hair set on fire and went to his knees, howling in panic and pain as he beat at the flames with both hands.

Charlz Dahbyns was far enough away to escape with only minor singeing, and his head snapped around, looking for the musket’s target.

* * * * * * * * * *

“Shit.”

Lieutenant Tahlas wondered if Platoon Sergeant Maigee even realized he’d spoken out loud. The single word was pitched almost conversationally, after all. Not that it was going to make a lot of difference.

The musket ball had almost certainly been meant for him, the lieutenant realized, but it hadn’t found him. Instead, it had slammed into the chest of one of his privates, a good four feet to his right. The Marine went down, clutching at the front of his suddenly bloody tunic, and Tahlas realized something else. Major Portyr’s orders had been perfectly explicit on the matter of what Tahlas was supposed to do if firearms or edged weapons were used against any of his troops.

“Fix bayonets!” he heard his own voice command, and the men of his platoon obeyed.

He saw many of those in the crowd suddenly trying to back away as steel clicked and the long, shining blades sprouted from the ends of his Marines’ rifles. Some of them managed it; others found their escape blocked by the mass of bodies behind them, and still others reacted quite differently. Expressions snarled, truncheons and clubs came out from under tunics, and the front of the mob seemed to solidify somehow, drawing together. It seemed clear the people in those front ranks were ready for a fight.

For now, Brahd Tahlas thought grimly. For now, perhaps.

He looked at his bleeding private, and his jaw tightened as his expression hardened into something far less youthful than his years. He’d seen dead men enough at Talbor Pass. He looked away again, meeting Maigee’s eye, and his youthful voice was a thing of hammered iron.

“Sergeant Maigee, clear the street!” he said.
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Shields at 50%, taunting at 100%! - Tom Pope
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Re: STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets
Post by Duckk   » Wed Jan 13, 2010 6:26 pm

Duckk
Site Admin

Posts: 4088
Joined: Sat Aug 08, 2009 5:29 pm

A Mighty Fortress - Snippet 02

II
Maikelberg,
Duchy of Eastshare,
Kingdom of Chisholm

"So," General Sir Kynt Clareyk, Imperial Charisian Army, late Brigadier Clareyk of the Imperial Charisian Marines and recently knighted and ennobled as the Baron of Green Valley, said as he poured wine into his guest's cup, "what do you think, Seijin Merlin?"

"Of what, My Lord?" the tall, blue-eyed Imperial Guardsman in the black and gold of the House of Ahrmahk asked mildly.

He picked up his cup and sipped appreciatively. Clareyk's taste in wine had always been good, and his promotion hadn't changed the ex-Marine in that respect. Or in any other respect that Merlin Athrawes could see. He was still the same competent officer he'd always been, with the same willingness to roll up his sleeves and dig into a new assignment. The tent in which they currently sat while icy autumn rain pounded down against its (nominally) waterproofed canvas canopy was evidence of that. The day after tomorrow would be Cayleb and Sharleyan Ahrmahk's first anniversary, which also made it the anniversary of the creation of the Empire of Charis, and Merlin couldn't help comparing the chill, wet misery outside Green Valley's tent to the brilliant sunshine, tropical heat, and flowers of that wedding day.

The difference was . . . pronounced, and while Green Valley might be a mere baron, and one of the Empire's most recently created peers to boot (he'd held his new title for less than four five-days, after all), it was no secret Emperor Cayleb and Empress Sharleyan both thought very highly of him. In fact, it was no secret that he'd been hauled back to Chisholm from the newly conquered (more or less) Princedom of Corisande precisely because of how highly they regarded him. Given all of that, one might reasonably have assumed that a man with his connections could have found comfortable quarters in the nearby city of Maikelberg rather than ending up stuck under canvas with winter coming on quickly.

And a northern winter, at that, Merlin thought dryly, glancing at the large, dripping spot in one corner of the tent where its roof's theoretical waterproofing had proved unequal to the heavy rain. He's a southern boy, when all's said and done, and he's not going to enjoy winter in Chisholm one bit. The rain's bad enough, but there's worse coming. Snow? What's that?!

Which, as Merlin understood perfectly well, was the real reason Green Valley had taken up residence in this tent instead of a luxurious townhouse, or at least a comfortable room in one of the city's more respectable inns. An awful lot of other Charisian ex-Marines were about to spend a Chisholmian winter under less than ideal conditions, and Green Valley wouldn't be moving out of his tent until the last man under his command had been provided with dry, warm space of his own in the barracks being hastily thrown up.

"'Of what,' is it?" the general repeated now, sitting back in his folding camp chair beside the cast-iron stove which was doing its best -- successfully, at the moment -- to maintain a fairly comfortable temperature inside the tent. "Now, let me see . . . what could I possibly have been asking about? Hmmm . . . ."

He frowned in obvious, difficult thought, scratching his chin with his eyes screwed half- shut, and Merlin chuckled. There weren't all that many people on the planet of Safehold who felt comfortable enough with the fearsome Seijin Merlin to give him grief, and he treasured the ones who did.

"All right, My Lord!" He acknowledged defeat with a grin, then let the grin fade slowly. "Actually," he went on in a considerably more serious tone, "I've been impressed. You and Duke Eastshare seem to be managing the integration process even more smoothly and quickly than Their Majesties had anticipated. It's my impression that you're basically comfortable with the emerging command relationships, as well."

His tone made the final sentence a question, and Green Valley snorted.

"I'd expected a somewhat more . . . visionary comment out of you, Merlin," he said. "In fact, I'm a little surprised His Majesty felt it was necessary to send you all the way up here to look things over with your own eyes, as it were."

Merlin managed not to wince, although that was coming to the point with a vengeance. On the other hand, it was a reasonable enough observation, given that Green Valley was one of the relatively small number of people who knew Seijin Merlin was far more than merely Emperor Cayleb Ahrmahk's personal armsman and bodyguard.

Over the last few years, virtually everyone in what had become the Empire of Charis had learned that all of the old fables and fairytales about the legendary seijin warrior-monks were not only true, but actually understated their lethality. There was absolutely no question in anyone's mind that Seijin Merlin was the most deadly bodyguard any Charisian monarch had ever possessed. Given the number of assassination attempts he'd thwarted, and not just on the emperor, it was no wonder he was kept constantly at Cayleb's back, watching over him, protecting him both in the council chamber and on the field of battle.

But what Green Valley knew -- and very few of his fellow Charisians even suspected -- was that Cayleb and Sharleyan had another and very special reason for keeping Merlin so close.

The seijin had visions. He could see and hear far distant events, know what was happening thousands of miles away even as it happened. His ability to literally sit in on the war councils and political deliberations of Charis' enemies was a priceless advantage for the beleaguered empire, and his role as Cayleb's bodyguard was a perfect cover. He truly was the deadly and efficient guardian everyone thought he was, but that very deadliness provided ample reason for his permanent proximity to Cayleb and Sharleyan. After all, not even a seijin could protect someone from an assassin if he wasn't there to do the protecting, now could he? And so any potentially suspicious souls understood exactly why Captain Athrawes, with his eyes of "unearthly seijin blue," was constantly at the emperor's elbow, and it obviously had nothing at all to do with visions. Merlin was a bodyguard, not an adviser and an oracle. Any village idiot could figure that much out!

Green Valley knew better than that. Indeed, he'd come to suspect that Merlin was as much mentor as adviser. That most of the radical innovations which had provided the margin -- so far -- for Charis' survival in the face of its enemies' overwhelming numerical advantages had come from the seijin's "suggestions" to the Charisians who had actually developed them into workable propositions. The baron suspected that for the excellent reason that he'd been one of those Charisians. It had been Green Valley, as a major in the Royal Charisian Marines, who'd played the lead role in developing revolutionary new infantry tactics built around the field artillery and rifled flintlock muskets which had "just happened" to appear in Charis shortly after one Merlin Athrawes' arrival. He'd worked closely with Merlin in the process of accomplishing that task, and they'd worked even more closely together, in many ways, during the Corisande campaign. In fact, the victory which had won Green Valley his title (and his knighthood) and sealed Prince Hektor of Corisande's defeat had been possible only because Merlin had revealed his ability to see visions to him.

And, so, yes -- Baron Green Valley knew far more than the vast majority of his fellow subjects about Merlin Athrawes. But what he didn't know -- what Merlin devoutly hoped he didn't even suspect -- was how much more Merlin truly was.

I'd really like to get him added to the inner circle, the seijin reflected, and I know Cayleb and Sharleyan both agree with me, too. In fact, I think we have to get him added. It simply doesn't make sense not to bring him all the way inside, and I don't think we have to worry about any crises of religious conscience on his part.

That last thought really did almost make him wince, given its direct bearing on the reason he was here.

"Their Majesties actually sent me for several reasons, My Lord," he said. "One of them, in many ways probably the most important, was to let me evaluate your progress -- yours and Duke Eastshare's, I mean -- firsthand. When I can actually ask questions, maybe even make a few suggestions in His Majesty's name. It's hard to do that if all you're doing is watching a vision."

"I can see where that would be true," Green Valley agreed. He didn't seem at all upset by the notion of Merlin's "evaluating" his progress in his new assignment, the seijin noted.
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Re: STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets
Post by Duckk   » Wed Jan 13, 2010 6:27 pm

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A Mighty Fortress - Snippet 03


"And the second reason, almost equally important," Merlin admitted, "is to get me close enough to Eastshare to . . . interact with him."

This time, Green Valley only nodded. Merlin wasn't especially surprised -- the baron had always been an astute and diplomatic fellow. He understood that, even with him, Merlin could scarcely come right out and say "They want me to see whether or not Eastshare is a traitor . . . too."

The good news was that Merlin was almost certain Eastshare wasn't. The bad news was that, despite all the seijin's "unfair" advantages, Merlin was only almost certain he wasn't. And, unfortunately, the fact that the duke was effectively Empress Sharleyan's uncle by marriage, that he was the brother-in-law of the recently deceased Duke of Halbrook Hollow, and that he'd been Halbrook Hollow's senior general, second in command of the Royal Chisholmian Army, for the better part of fifteen years, meant that "almost certain" wasn't nearly good enough.

Not in the wake of Halbrook Hollow's treason.

"May I ask what your impressions have been so far?" Green Valley asked politely. "In a general sense, of course. I wouldn't want to ask you to get too specific about any particularly deserving ex-Marines -- assuming there are any of those around, of course -- and embarrass me with your effusive praise," he added, and Merlin snorted.

"You know, My Lord," the seijin said in an almost meditative tone, "I've always heard that a certain . . . brashness, one might say, is an integral part of any Marine's personality. You wouldn't happen to know how that rumor might have gotten started, would you?"

"Me?" Green Valley widened his eyes innocently. "I'm not a Marine, Seijin Merlin! I'm an officer in the Imperial Army. In fact, I've got a written commission around here somewhere to prove it. So what would a bluff, honest, naturally modest Army officer know about Marines and their overinflated self-images?"

"Oh, an excellent point," Merlin agreed. "I can't imagine what could have come over me to ask such a question."

"I should certainly hope not," Green Valley said a bit severely as he picked up the wine bottle and topped off Merlin's cup once more.

"Well, at any rate, in answer to your question, my impressions so far have been just about universally good." Merlin's tone and expression had both turned serious once again. "To be honest, I hadn't really realized quite how good the Chisholmian Army was. I should have, I suppose, given the role it played under King Sailys. Not to mention keeping Queen Sharleyan on the throne -- and alive -- after Sailys' death, of course. I mean, two-thirds of its senior officers are veterans of Sailys' campaigns, after all, and it's obvious Eastshare -- and Halbrook Hollow, for that matter -- did an excellent job of training and equipping them in the first place."

Green Valley nodded slowly, his gaze thoughtful, and Merlin shrugged.

"Obviously," he continued, "their equipment hasn't been as good as what we took to Corisande with us -- but, then, no one's has, when you come down to it. And, just as you've undoubtedly been discovering, their formations and drill are all oriented around tactics which have just become obsolete. But, again, they're scarcely alone in that. Given the weapons available to everybody a few years ago, my impression is that Eastshare's troops could at least hold their own against any of the mainland armies, man-for-man, and probably kick their arses for them, for that matter. Except for Siddarmark, of course."

It was Green Valley's turn to snort. The Republic of Siddarmark's army was widely acknowledged -- with good reason -- as the most effective armed force in Safehold's history. On land, at least. Siddarmark's navy was virtually nonexistent, and the Royal Charisian Navy had reigned supreme upon Safehold's seas even before Merlin Athrawes' arrival in Tellesberg. Anyplace a Siddarmarkian pike phalanx could find a place to stand, though, it reigned supreme. Which explained the Republic's successful, sustained expansion southward towards the Desnarian Empire over the past hundred and fifty Safeholdian years or so. That expansion had been halted only when the Lords of the Temple Lands guaranteed the frontiers of the Grand Duchy of Silkiah, in the Treaty of Silk Town, in 869.

Silkiah was at least nominally independent, although its grand duke paid a substantial yearly tribute to Desnair. He also paid one to the Lords of the Temple Lands every year, although that one was called a "tithe" and, until very recently, had been paid by every Safeholdian ruler. Not officially to the "Lords of the Temple Lands," of course, but that was only because the Lords of the Temple Lands all just happened to be members of the Church of God Awaiting's Council of Vicars, as well. Their dual role as both secular and temporal rulers gave them a significant unfair advantage, yet it imposed certain disadvantages, as well. Especially now. The Lords of the Temple Lands had been nervous for a long, long time about that magnificent Siddarmarkian army just on the other side of their shared frontier, and over the years, they'd used their power as princes of the Church to help discourage any adventurism on the part of a succession of the Republic's lords protector. The Treaty of Silk Town might be the most flagrant example of their intervention, but it was scarcely the only one. That hadn't exactly helped the Church's relations with the Republic, although it had scarcely seemed likely to provoke an open breach, whatever some of the Vicars might have thought, given the Church's unassailable supremacy.

But now . . . now that the Church's supremacy had been assailed, all of the anxieties which had been entertained by decades of Church chancellors had just acquired an entirely new point. There was no real evidence of any general movement of Siddarmarkians to embrace the Church of Charis, yet that didn't keep the Group of Four -- the quartet of powerful vicars who truly ruled the Church -- from worrying about what might yet happen.

I wish it would happen, Merlin thought more than a bit wistfully, but however much Stohnar resents the Church -- or the Group of Four, at least -- he's not about to climb out on a limb with Charis. I don't think it's because he disagrees with Charis' accusations of Church corruption or because he has any illusions about the "sanctity" of the Group of Four and their motivations. But he's pragmatic as hell, and as well aware of the balance of power as anyone. In fact, he's better aware of it than almost anyone else. Besides, from what I've seen, he doesn't think any move to break with the Church would find general support in Siddarmark. And, for the moment at least, it looks like he's right about that.

"The thing that impresses me most about the Chisholmians, to be honest," the seijin continued out loud, "is how readily and smoothly they seem to be adapting to the new tactics."

He raised one eyebrow at Green Valley, inviting comment, and the baron nodded.

"You're right about that," he agreed. "It seems to me that their officers are grasping the reasons behind the new tactics even faster than our troops did. And they're not just going through the motions in order to keep Their Majesties happy. For that matter, they're not even just duplicating what we've got to teach them, either. Instead, they're thinking about why we made the changes we've made and looking for ways to make what we've already accomplished even more effective."

"That's been my impression, too," Merlin acknowledged.

"As a matter of fact, I haven't seen a sign of what I was most worried about," Green Valley said. Merlin's eyebrow rose again, and the baron shrugged. "Charis has never had anything anyone in his right mind would call an 'army,' Merlin. We had a navy second to none, and nobody wanted to face our Marines at sea, but in terms of anything a land power would describe as an army, Charis wasn't even on the map.

"Here in Chisholm, though," he continued, sitting back in his chair, his expression intent, "the Army's clearly the senior service. It was the Army that broke the power of the great nobles and provided the stability here at home that let the Empress' father -- and her, in her turn, of course -- build the Kingdom's prosperity. King Sailys may have started building a navy as soon as he could, since Chisholm needed it to protect its commerce against Corisandian privateers, but it was only the prosperity created by the Army which let him do that. So while we Charisians have tended to lavish our admiration and pride -- not to mention the dragon's share of our wealth -- on the Navy, it's been the other way around in Chisholm."
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Re: STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Fri Jan 15, 2010 12:06 am

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A Mighty Fortress - Snippet 04


He shrugged again.

"Under those circumstances, what I was most afraid of was that the Chisholmians would automatically reject our advice about the new tactics. After all, what could a bunch of Marines know about the real conditions and requirements of fighting a war on land? In a lot of ways, that would only have been a reasonable question, too. For that matter, I imagine more than a few Charisian naval officers felt exactly that way where the Chisholmian Navy was concerned, when you come down to it. And the fact that it was our Marines who did all the actual fighting in Corisande -- that their Army was completely left out, sitting here at home -- could very well have fanned their resentment. Oh, they said they accepted the logistics arguments. That they understood we could only supply so many men across so many miles of ocean, which meant we couldn't afford to take along anyone who wasn't already equipped and trained with the new weapons. But I was afraid that, whatever they might have said, they would have resented being treated like some kind of farm team and left sitting in the dugout while the big-league players went off to war.

"As a matter of fact, that was what I expected to happen, and not just because of any petty concern about the Army's 'honor,' either. You know as well as I do that prestige -- and the ability to point to past accomplishments -- play a big role in how big a budget an army or a navy can expect to see coming its way. This is a professional army, with a professional officers corps, Merlin. They have to have been worried that being left home while someone else did all the fighting was going to . . . adversely effect their career prospects, one might say. I've seen a distinct undertone of resentment out of quite a few civilian Chisholmian bureaucrats who seem to think Charis has gotten an unfair share of the power and advantages under the Empire, so I don't think it would have been unreasonable for the Army to've felt that way."

"I know." Merlin nodded. "I've seen the same thing -- from the bureaucrats, I mean -- although, for some strange reason, they seem a bit more leery about showing their resentment around the Emperor or the Empress."

"No, really? I wonder why that might be?" Green Valley mused with an innocent smile, and Merlin snorted.

"As I say, I really was concerned about the Army's possible resentment over being 'left out' of the Corisande campaign," Green Valley went on. "And I have seen a little bit of it, but not very much, thank Langhorne."

"So they don't seem to be upset about the sudden infusion of all the Marines, either?" Merlin asked.

He was watching Green Valley attentively. The baron had been chosen for his present assignment, despite his relative youth -- he was still well short of forty -- and painfully new elevation to the aristocracy, not simply because he was so good at his job, but because of the acuity of his insights. Now Green Valley gave the seijin a wry headshake, as if admonishing him for having asked a question to which they both so obviously already knew the answer.

"No, it hasn't," he said out loud. "Partly, I think that's because of their professionalism. They're more interested in learning how to do their jobs even better than in defending their reputation for how well they already do them. In that respect, they remind me a lot of our naval officers like Earl Lock Island and Baron Rock Point. They're professionals first and prima donnas second, or even third.

"But, as I say, that's only part of the reason." Green Valley's eyes were narrow, now, his expression intent. "I think probably an even bigger reason is that, aside from its very uppermost ranks, such a huge percentage of the Army's officers are commoners. One of the things I think most frustrates the great nobles who are so unhappy with the Emperor and the Empress is the way they've been shut out of any real positions of power in the Army. It would be stupid of them to be surprised by that, I suppose, since the whole reason King Sailys and Baron Green Mountain -- and Halbrook Hollow, to give the man his due -- created the Royal Army in the first place was to restore the Crown's prerogatives at the expense of the nobility. After the amount of fighting that took, I don't think it should astonish anyone that they decided against handing out generalships to any noblemen whose loyalty to the Crown they weren't totally sure of. And the fact that lowborn soldiers could-- and have -- risen to high rank in the Army helps explain how enthusiastically the commons support it. Here in Chisholm, the Army holds exactly the same position -- as far as the commons are concerned, at any rate -- as the Navy does in Charis, and it's young enough and professional enough to be genuinely flexible." He shook his head. "I honestly never expected just how flexible it really is."

Merlin nodded in agreement. He'd been a bit more optimistic about the Royal Chisholmian Army's willingness to adopt the new weapons and tactics than some Charisians had been, but even he had been pleasantly surprised by the Chisholmians' enthusiasm for the changes.

And, the seijin thought, Green Valley had an even better point than the baron himself might realize about the Army's importance in the eyes of the Empire's Chisholmian subjects.

By and large, the majority of Chisholmians appeared firmly united behind the decision to fuse the kingdoms of Chisholm and Charis (now almost universally referred to as "Old Charis," just to keep things straight) into the new Charisian Empire. Not all of them were, however. Some -- and especially those who were most prone to think in terms of their own power and influence -- doubted that the promised equality between Chisholm and Old Charis could (or would) truly be maintained. Old Charis boasted half again the population of Chisholm, and its economic wealth was at least four times that of Chisholm. Its manufactories and merchants had held a dominant position in Chisholm's economy even before the two kingdoms had united, the Charisian merchant marine dominated all the seas and oceans of Safehold, and the Royal Chisholmian Navy had disappeared -- almost without a trace -- into the much larger Royal Charisian Navy, even if the resulting union was officially called the Imperial Navy.

Under the circumstances, it probably wasn't unreasonable for at least some Chisholmians to nourish a few doubts about how long it would be before Chisholm openly became the junior partner -- one might almost say the second-class partner -- in the imperial relationship.

Cayleb and Sharleyan were determined to prevent that from happening. The fact that Sharleyan was Cayleb's co-ruler, that she had governed the entire Empire in her own name from Tellesberg while Cayleb was off at war in Corisande, and that it was she -- not Cayleb -- who had overseen the creation of the new Imperial Parliament, had gone quite some way towards accomplishing that goal. The fact that the imperial capital would be located in Cherayth, the capital of the Kingdom of Chisholm, for half the year, and in Tellesberg, the capital of the Kingdom of Charis, for the other half of the year, went even further. It assured the citizens of Chisholm that Charisian viewpoints would not be allowed to dominate the imperial government simply because the people arguing for those viewpoints enjoyed a far better, far closer, and uninterrupted access to the Emperor and Empress.

The formation of the Imperial Army was intended to be yet another reassurance. The Chisholmian Crown's two great supports under King Sailys and Queen Sharleyan had been the fierce loyalty of the Chisholmian Commons and the Royal Army. As Green Valley had just pointed out, it had been the Army, backed by the political and financial support of the Commons and with its ranks filled primarily by commoners, with which King Sailys had broken the arrogant power of the Charisian aristocracy's great magnates. It was that same Army and the even fiercer loyalty -- the love -- of those same commoners for the dauntless courage of the child-queen who had succeeded Sailys after his untimely death which had allowed Sharleyan to survive. And those same deep reservoirs of support were what had carried them with her in her decision to wed Cayleb and create the Empire.
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Re: STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Mon Jan 18, 2010 12:01 am

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A Mighty Fortress - Snippet 05


She and Cayleb were both fully aware of that, which was why, just as Cayleb had insisted Chisholmian merchants and manufacturers must have equal access to the Empire's markets, both foreign and domestic, the two of them had decreed that it was Chisholm which would take the lead in the formation of the Imperial Army. There were those among the Royal Charisian Marines who had objected (although they'd been wise enough to do it quietly, in most cases) to that decision. Whose sense of pride in their own organization, in the way it had grown so explosively, the fashion in which it had smashed its opposition in Corisande, was deeply offended by the notion that the Marines should not only go back to being purely a shipboard and amphibious force but also transfer the majority of the Corisande campaign's veterans to the Army.

Those who'd been sufficiently foolish to make an issue of their objections had been . . . found other duties, however.

"I think probably still another part of it," the seijin said out loud now, "is the fact that Cayleb and Sharleyan have made it so abundantly clear that whereas Charis is reasonably going to take the lead where naval affairs are concerned, it only makes sense to give that same role to Chisholm where the Army is concerned. Which is why you're an Army officer now, of course. The decision to fold the bulk of the Imperial Marines over into the Army -- and respect the seniority of the Army's existing officers in the process -- wasn't an easy one, but Cayleb and Sharleyan were right to insist on it, I think."

"Absolutely!" Green Valley's nod was more vigorous and emphatic than Merlin's had been. "The officers I'm working with obviously see that decision as proof Their Majesties meant what they said about the organization of the Empire's armed forces. Especially after -- well . . . ."

The baron's voice trailed off on a most unusual note of something that was almost -- not quite, but almost -- embarrassment, and Merlin smiled without any trace of humor.

"Especially after the Army's top commander conspired with the Temple loyalists to murder -- or at least kidnap -- Sharleyan, you mean?"

"Well, yes, actually," Green Valley admitted. He shook his head slightly. "Hard to blame them for worrying about it, really. In their place, I'd certainly have been afraid the Crown would entertain serious doubts about the Army's basic reliability. Especially given how popular Halbrook Hollow was -- with the common troopers, not just the officer corps. He's the one who built this entire Army, Merlin. He shaped it, he commanded it in most of its critical battles, and he led its soldiers to victory in every campaign. How could they not have worried about whether or not the Crown would feel it couldn't afford to trust their loyalty after something like that? For that matter, a lot of them felt shamed by his actions. They hadn't done anything wrong, but he was their commander, and at least some of them feel his treason has stained them, as well."

"I know exactly what you mean," Merlin said soberly.

And the truth is, he told himself silently, that at least some of the Army's officers do entertain the same doubts Halbrook Hollow did. Like the noble Earl of Swayle, for example.

Barkah Rahskail, the Earl of Swayle, was young, only thirty-seven Safeholdian years old. He was also very tall for a Safeholdian, within an inch or so of Merlin's own height, and rakishly good-looking with his fair hair, dark eyes, and sun-bronzed complexion. Back when Merlin Athrawes had been Nimue Alban, she would definitely have given Swayle a close look.

But in addition to his good looks and noble birth, Swayle was a dyed-in-the-wool Temple Loyalist. He'd done a better job of hiding it than quite a few of his fellows, including Halbrook Hollow, but Merlin had no doubts about his fundamental beliefs. What he didn't know yet was where Swayle's ultimate loyalties lay. Would his repulsion against the Church of Charis' "apostasy" and "heresy" -- and, quite possibly, the death in disgrace of an army commander he'd deeply admired and respected -- drive him into treason of his own? Or would his and his family's long-standing loyalty to the House of Tayt -- unusual, actually, among the high Chisholmian nobility -- and his oath as an officer of the Royal Army hold firm against those forces?

Merlin was afraid he could guess which way Swayle would jump in the end. But he hadn't jumped yet, and neither Cayleb nor Sharleyan was in the habit of punishing people for what they might do.

Which suited Merlin Athrawes just fine, when it came down to it.

I'm keeping an eye on all of the ones we know shared at least some of Halbrook Hollow's doubts, he reminded himself. And if Cayleb and Sharleyan aren't going to hammer anyone until and unless someone decides to emulate Halbrook Hollow, they won't hesitate if the time ever comes to bring that hammer down, either. I know they hope they won't have to, but they'll do it if they do have to. And at least it looks like the ones with Temple Loyalist leanings are definitely in the minority . . . for now.

"And Duke Eastshare?" he asked out loud. "What's your read of how he feels about all this, My Lord?"

"You're asking me to comment about my commanding officer, Seijin Merlin," Green Valley said with a sudden -- and unaccustomed -- edge of severity, and he frowned. "I understand why you'd be concerned, but, to be honest, I don't think it's really appropriate for me to be passing judgment on His Grace's loyalty to the Crown."

Merlin allowed one of his eyebrows to arch in mild surprise. He started to respond, then stopped.

Actually, he thought, Green Valley's . . . stiffness was a judgment on Eastshare's loyalty. Particularly since it clearly didn't stem from any reluctance to risk antagonizing a powerful noble in the extraordinarily unlikely event that word of any criticism on his part would ever make it back to Eastshare.

What it is, is an indication of just how much he's discovered he respects Eastshare, Merlin told himself. If he had any doubts about Eastshare's loyalty, he wouldn't respect him, either, no matter how flexible the Duke might be in a professional sense. So the fact that he doesn't want to answer is an answer.

"I understand, My Lord," he said out loud, rather more formally than had become the norm for his conversations with Green Valley. The baron looked at him for a moment, then gave an almost imperceptible nod, and his frown vanished.

"So, overall, you're satisfied?" Merlin continued in a more normal tone, and Green Valley nodded again, more firmly.

"Overall, I'm very satisfied. I wish -- and so does Duke Eastshare -- that we could have provided even more Marines as cadre, but we both understand why Their Majesties had to leave General Chermyn a big enough garrison force in Corisande. I also wish we could get the new rifle shops and cannon foundries set up here in Chisholm more quickly, but Chisholm simply doesn't have the pool of experienced mechanics and craftsmen Old Charis does. At least the first couple of shipments of rifles have already come in, so not everyone is drilling with broom handles.

"On the plus side, in addition to everything else we've just been talking about, I have to admit that the Duke and his officers seem to have a better grasp of the realities of fighting on land than we do -- than I do, and I'm the fellow who developed all our new infantry tactics." He snorted. "They pay me a flattering amount of attention, and they listen damned carefully to everything I say, particularly given the fact that, unlike them, I actually have field experience with the new weapons. But the truth is, they've already pointed out a lot of places where my ideas -- and not just about tactics, either; they've got a lot more experience with army logistics than we have -- could stand some improving. In some cases, a lot of improving."

And it says very good things about you, My Lord, that you not only recognize the truth when you see it but that you're willing to admit it -- to others, and not just yourself, too, Merlin thought.

"So you think I'll be able to go back to Cherayth and tell Their Majesties the great army integration project is going well?" he said out loud.

"Yes," Green Valley said, looking steadily into the seijin's blue eyes, making it plain just how many levels he was actually speaking on. "Yes, I think you can tell them it's going very well."
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Re: STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Tue Jan 19, 2010 11:37 pm

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A Mighty Fortress - Snippet 06

III
Royal Palace,
City of Talkyra,
Kingdom of Delferahk

"What do you think they really want, Phylyp?"

Irys Daykyn's tone was calm as she gazed across the dinner table's empty plates at her legal guardian, but the hazel eyes she'd inherited from her dead mother were darker than could have been explained solely by the lamps' dimness.

"Mostly, I think, what they've said, Your Highness." Phylyp Ahzgood, Earl of Coris shrugged. "Oh, I don't doubt they've got more in mind than they've actually said so far. But as far as what that 'more' might be, your guess is almost certainly as good as mine," he said. And he meant it, too. Irys Daikyn might be only seventeen years old -- not quite sixteen, in the years of the planet upon which humanity had actually evolved -- but she was scarcely a typical seventeen-year-old. Not even a typical seventeen-year-old princess.

"I don't expect they've issued their . . . invitation, let's call it, because of their vast concern for Daivyn, though." Coris' tone was biting. He wouldn't have let anyone else hear him using it about the Group of Four, but neither he nor Irys had any illusions about that particular quartet, and no one else was present. "At the same time," the man who had been Prince Hektor of Corisande's spymaster for so many years continued, "I think it could probably be worse than it actually is. At least they're not insisting the two of you accompany me!"

"Why should they bother to invite me, whatever their motives?"

Irys' face had tightened, and Coris found himself nodding in acknowledgment. He'd meant his final sentence at least partly as an attempt at humor, but he wasn't really surprised, after the fact, that it had fallen flat under the circumstances. And he no more doubted than Irys did that, as far as the Group of Four was concerned, she herself had very little value. Her little brother Daivyn was the legitimate Prince of Corisande -- even Cayleb and Sharleyan of Charis acknowledged that much -- even if he was currently in exile. But Irys? She was simply a sort of unimportant second thought. She had no intrinsic value as a political pawn in the Group of Four's eyes, and they certainly weren't going to waste any time worrying about what a fugitive princess in exile, subsisting solely (so far as they knew, at any rate) upon the niggardly generosity of distant relatives, might think.

Which was incredibly foolish of them, in Phylyp Ahzgood's opinion, no matter how reasonable they obviously thought it was.

So far, anyway. It was entirely possible they would eventually learn the error of their ways. Probably quite painfully, he thought with a certain, undeniable satisfaction.

"I'm afraid you have a point about that, from their perspective, at least," he said in answer to her question. "On the other hand, my own point stands, I think. If they had any immediate plans where Daivyn is concerned, they'd probably insist I drag him along, as well."

Despite the very real affection in which she held her "guardian," and despite her own worries, Irys couldn't quite keep from grinning at Coris' sour tone. It wasn't really funny, of course -- a journey of the next best thing to nine thousand miles would scarcely have been a mere jaunt in the country, even in the middle of summer. With winter coming on fast, it was going to be a highly unpleasant experience no matter what happened. And its final stage had the potential to be actively dangerous, for that matter.

"You don't think it's just because of how hard the trip's going to be?" she asked, indirectly voicing her own worry where Coris was concerned.

"No, I don't." The earl's lips tightened, and he shook his head. "Duchairn would probably worry about that, especially given Daivyn's age. Even Trynair might worry about it, for that matter, if only because of his awareness of Daivyn's potential value. I doubt it would even cross Maigwair's mind to worry about dragging a nine-year-old through hip-deep snow, though. And Clyntahn --"

Coris broke off and shrugged, and it was Irys' turn to nod. Vicar Zahmsyn Trynair was probably as cold-blooded and calculating a chancellor as the Church of God Awaiting had ever produced in all the nine dusty centuries since the Day of Creation. He was far more likely to regard Daivyn Daykyn purely as a potential political asset than as a little boy whose father had been brutally murdered. And, by all reports, Allayn Maigwair, the Church's captain general, had about as much imagination as a worn-out boot. Expecting it to occur to him to worry about Daivyn would have been as foolish as it would futile.

And then there was Zhaspahr Clyntahn. Irys no more doubted than Coris did that the Grand Inquisitor would simply have looked blankly at anyone who might have had the temerity to suggest he should bother his own head one way or the other about Daivyn's well-being.

"If they were contemplating any significant change in their calculations where he's concerned, they might want him in Zion, where he'd be handy," the earl continued. "For that matter, I think Clyntahn, at least, would want the opportunity to . . . impress Daivyn with just how serious an interest the Inquisitor and his associates take in him." He shook his head. "No, I'm inclined to think it's pretty much exactly what Trynair's message suggests it is. They want to be sure I fully understand their plans for him. And to get my own impressions of the situation in Corisande, of course."

For a moment, Irys looked as if she wanted to spit, and Coris didn't blame her a bit.

"I'm sure they've got better sources than I do -- than we do," he said. "Or, at least, that their sources can get their reports to Zion faster than our agents can get reports to us. But anything they know about Corisande is secondhand, at best, even if it is more recent than anything we've heard. I'm not surprised they'd want to pick the brain of one of your father's councilors."

"Especially his spymaster's brain, you mean." Irys' lips twitched a brief smile. It was very brief, though. "And especially now that Father's dead. No doubt they want your impression of how our people are likely to have reacted when Cayleb assassinated him."

This time, Coris only nodded. He'd watched Irys Daykyn grow up. In fact, as he'd once admitted to her, he'd been present on more than one occasion when her diaper had been changed. He knew exactly how close she'd been to her father, exactly how she'd taken his murder. And, although he'd tried his very best to keep her mind open to other possibilities, he knew exactly who she blamed for that murder.

Personally, Coris' suspicions lay in a somewhat different direction. But there were dangers, especially for her, in laying those suspicions too plainly before her.

"I'm sure that's one of the things they'll want to discuss," he agreed. "At any rate, though, I think this probably means they're planning on leaving you and Daivyn here in Talkyra with King Zhames, at least for the foreseeable future. It's going to take me better than two months just to get to Zion, and I don't have any idea how long they plan on my staying once I get there. Since I don't think they're contemplating separating me permanently from Daivyn, or that they're likely to be planning on sending him anywhere without me along as his guardian, that probably means they expect to leave him right here for at least five or six months. Probably longer, actually."

"I can't say I'd be entirely sorry if they did." Irys sighed and shook her head. "Neither of us really likes it here, but he needs some stability, Phylyp. Needs some time in one place to heal."

"I know." Coris reached across the table and patted the back of her left hand gently. "I know. And I'll do my best to convince them of that, as well."

"I know you will."

Irys smiled at him, hoping he didn't see the edge of fear behind her expression. She knew Phylyp Ahzgood. Despite the reputation some assigned him, she knew how loyal he'd always been to her father, and she herself trusted him implicitly. Probably more than she really ought to, she thought sometimes. Not because she thought there was truly any likelihood of his betraying her trust, but simply because -- as her father had always said -- no one who sat on a throne, or who was responsible for supporting someone who did, could ever afford to completely trust anyone.

But there was a reason her father had selected Coris as her own and Daivyn's guardian. And part of that reason was that in Phylyp Ahzgood's case, at least, he'd set aside his own injunction against trusting too deeply.

Which is exactly why they'll try to separate us from you, if they realize the truth, Phylyp, she thought. For right now, they may well believe all those stories you and Father always encouraged about your own ambitions and sinister motivations. But if they ever figure out where your true loyalties lie, that you aren't prepared to cheerfully sacrifice Daivyn for your own advantage, or to curry favor with them, you'll become a potential liability, not an asset. And if that happens, Trynair and Clyntahn won't hesitate for an instant about declaring us -- or Daivyn, at least -- official wards of the Council of Vicars.

She looked across the table at him in the lamplight, studying his expression and, for a moment, at least, feeling every bit as young as the rest of the world thought she was. Wishing she were still young enough to climb up into his lap, put her head down on his shoulder, and let him hug away her fears while he promised her everything would be all right.

But everything wasn't going to be "all right," ever again, and she knew it.

Don't let them take you away from me, Phylyp, she thought. Whatever else happens, don't let them take you away.
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Re: STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Fri Jan 22, 2010 12:01 am

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A Mighty Fortress - Snippet 07

IV
City of Manchyr,
Duchy of Manchyr,
Princedom of Corisande

CORISANDIANS!

CITIZENS OF MANCHYR!

The Blood of your slain Prince cries out from the very stones of your City! The boots of the slaves and lackeys of the Monster who shed that Blood march through your streets! The voices of Apostate Priests speak in your Churches! The Defenders of the True Faith are driven into silence and hiding!

How much longer will you endure these Insults? These Affronts to both God and Man? How much longer . . .


Paitryk Hainree frowned in concentration as he considered the composing stick and the current line of type. As a silversmith, he was a skilled engraver, but he'd discovered (not to his surprise) that there were very few similarities between engraving and typesetting. For one thing, he still had trouble reading the mirror-imaged letters. There was no problem identifying each letter as he took it from the proper pigeon hole of the job case (although he still had to look to be sure it was the proper pigeon hole), and it was easy enough -- ahead of time -- to chart out which letters had to go where on the composing stick before they were transferred to the form and bound together. But his brain still persisted in reading each word as he set up the type, and he'd discovered that it tried to trick him into reading the letters in the "correct" order instead of in the reversed order they had to go into for the press.

Still, it wasn't an impossible skill to acquire, and if it wasn't the same as silversmithing, there were similarities. He'd always liked the detail work, the concentration on the little things, working with metals, the fine coordination of hand and eye. The printer's was a different art, but it was still an art, and he'd found that the part of him which had never expected to become a street agitator treasured the retreat back into an artisan's role, even if it was only temporary.

He reached for the next letter, and behind his focus on the task in hand his mind was busy. This broadsheet would be transported from the carefully hidden basement press through a network of dedicated supporters. Copies of it would be tacked up all over the city by tomorrow night. Of course, parties of the City Guard would be busy tearing them down by the following dawn. Not all of those City Guardsmen would agree with their orders in that regard -- Hainree was sure of that -- but they'd obey them. The "Regency Council" and that traitorous bastard Gahrvai would see to that!

Hainree discovered his jaw was clenching once more and ordered it to relax. It obeyed . . . after a fashion, and he drew a deep breath. Just thinking about Sir Koryn Gahrvai was enough to send rage pulsing through every vein. Gahrvai's effortless defeat at the hands of Cayleb Ahrmahk and his army could have been put down to mere feckless incompetence. In his more charitable moments, Hainree would even have been prepared to put at least some of it down to simple bad luck, or to the fact that Shan-wei looked after her own. But Gahrvai's decision to actually accept command of the traitorous forces prepared to do Ahrmahk's will here in Corisande had to make a man wonder. Had he truly been simply unlucky, or incompetent, or had there been something more sinister at work? Some quiet little understanding between him and the invaders?

Had his treason against Corisande and the House of Daykyn begun only after his defeat . . . or before it?

Most of the time, Hainree was willing to accept that Gahrvai's present position was a case of opportunism after the fact, not an indication of treason before the fact. And he'd realized, even without Father Aidryan's gentle hints, that accusing Gahrvai and his father of having plotted with Cayleb ahead of time would be . . . premature, at this point. In the fullness of time, that might change, especially as the debate over exactly whose hand had hired the assassins to strike down Prince Hektor and his eldest son matured. Personally, it seemed obvious to Hainree that those who'd profited the most by the prince's murder were those most likely to have planned that murder. And, taken all together, he couldn't think of anyone who'd profited more heavily than the members of the "Regency Council" set up to govern the princedom according to Ahrmahk's demands. They could call themselves Prince Daivyn's council all they wanted to, but that didn't change who they truly answered to . . . or the fact that they'd somehow managed not simply to survive but to come out with even more power than they'd had before.

Nor did it change the supine surrender of the princedom's parliament, Hainree thought, scowling down at the composing stick. He supposed it was unreasonable to expect Parliament to defy Ahrmahk's will, as dutifully expressed through the "Regency Council," with the Charisian Viceroy General Chermyn and the better part of sixty thousand Charisian Marines occupying Corisande. Chermyn had twenty thousand of those Marines right here in Manchyr, and while he'd made some effort to avoid parading them too blatantly through the streets of the city, everyone knew they were there. As did the members of the House of Lords and the House of Commons. So, no, it wasn't surprising Parliament had voted to give Ahrmahk everything he asked for.

On the other hand, there might well be a difference between what they'd voted for and what they really intended to do. By all reports, Parliament would be breaking up shortly, with all of its members returning to their homes, out from under the eye -- and the bayonets -- of the occupation. It would be interesting to see what happened then. He knew the hard skeleton of organized resistance had already come together here in Manchyr, and his own contact from that skeleton assured him the same thing was happening outside the city. It remained to be fleshed out with sinew and muscle, but those other things would come in time. And not all of them from sources Hainree might have expected. In fact, from a few stray words his contact had let drop, Hainree strongly suspected that the resistance's leadership had already made discreet contact with several members of Parliament, as well. No doubt they'd planted quite a few equally discreet seeds that would bear fruit in due time.

In the meanwhile, Paitryk Hainree would concentrate on cultivating and fertilizing his own little plot right here in the capital.

* * * * * * * * * *

Hainree was far too intent on his work to have noticed the tiny device perched in one corner of the basement's ceiling. Even if he hadn't been distracted by the printing press, it was extremely unlikely he would have seen the thing. It was the next best thing to microscopically small, although even at that, it was larger than some of its still smaller brethren, and if anyone had told him what it was capable of doing, he would have dismissed the claims as something out of a fairy tale.

Unfortunately for him, he would have been wrong, and later that evening, in the far distant city of Cherayth, an imperial guardsman with a fierce mustache and a neatly trimmed dagger beard leaned back, eyes closed, and rubbed the scar on his cheek with a thoughtful finger as he contemplated the imagery that tiny surveillance platform had transmitted to him.

I'd really like to pay a visit to Master Hainree, Merlin Athrawes reflected without ever opening his eyes. He and his friends are getting just a little bit better organized than I could wish. On the other hand, we're building up a pretty detailed organizational chart on them. Of course, it would help if we could tell someone in Corisande that we are, but I suppose you can't have everything.

He grimaced sourly at the thought, yet he also knew he was correct. He didn't like how much of his own -- and Owl's, and Cayleb's, and Sharleyan's -- time was being consumed by the project, but he'd spread his SNARCs' remote platforms thickly throughout the Corisandian capital. As each member of the emerging resistance cadre was identified, one of the parasite platforms was assigned to him full time, and these people's internal organization wasn't nearly as sophisticated as it could have been. Aidryan Waimyan -- and there was someone Merlin really wanted to have a word with -- had done his best to instill a cellular organization, at least at the very top. Unfortunately for him, he had to make do with what was available, and at least some of his . . . associates were too direct for that sort of sophistication. They had far more enthusiasm than professional detachment. And, as far as Merlin could tell, very few members of the Earl of Coris' intelligence services had so far been co-opted by Waimyan.

Of course, we don't know how long that's going to last, now do we? he reminded himself.
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Re: STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Mon Jan 25, 2010 11:23 am

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Sorry this is late. I had internet problems.

A Mighty Fortress - Snippet 08


There were times when Merlin was deeply tempted to hop into his recon skimmer, buzz down to Manchyr, and personally eliminate Waimyan. It wouldn't be particularly difficult. In fact, it would be childishly simple and, under the circumstances, one of the more pleasant chores he could have assigned himself. Unfortunately, unless he was prepared to remain in Corisande full-time and spend his nights doing nothing but eliminating resistance leaders, he'd be rather in the position of King Canute. Worse, he would deprive the resistance of its organized leadership, and he didn't want that. Far better to leave Waimyan in position for now, however irritatingly competent and industrious he was proving, rather than shatter the resistance's cohesion. That might change, yet for now it was far more useful to know exactly who its leaders were, exactly where they might be found when the time came, and exactly what sort of plans it was making and what information it was passing to its various satellites. Breaking up the current organization would almost certainly deprive it of its increasing effectiveness, but only at the cost of replacing it with a formless, unorganized movement which would be almost impossible to monitor the way they could monitor the present situation. Not to mention one which would be far more difficult to uproot when the moment to take action against it finally arrived.

I only wish, he thought, returning his attention to the SNARC's imagery, that I didn't expect them to do so much damage in the interim.

* * * * * * * * * *

"I know it's a pain in the arse," Hauwyl Chermyn growled, standing with his hands clasped behind him while he gazed out his office window at a vista of cloudy rain. "And, truth to tell, what I'd really like to be doing is shooting the bastards the instant they turn up!"

Brigadier Zhoel Zhanstyn, commanding officer of the Imperial Charisian Marines Third Brigade, looked at his superior's back with a faint smile. It was mostly a smile of affection, although it might have held just a trace of amusement, and possibly just a little exasperation. If it did, though, that last emotion was directed at the situation, not at Viceroy General Chermyn.

And if the Old Man needs to vent his spleen at someone, I suppose I'm the logical candidate, Zhanstyn reflected. It's not like there's anyone else he can let down his guard with.

That would probably have been true with just about any senior officer in Chermyn's unenviable position, the brigadier thought. Combining the roles of occupation force commander and official viceroy for Emperor Cayleb and Empress Sharleyan would have been a stiff enough challenge for almost anyone. Given Chermyn's distaste for politics, coupled with his previous lifelong success at avoiding anything that even smacked of duty at court, it would have been difficult to find someone who felt less suited to the task.

Fortunately for the Empire of Charis, it had never occurred to Hauwyl Chermyn to decline his present post. And the reason that was fortunate was that no matter how ill-suited he might have considered himself, he was almost certainly the very best man available for the job. The Viceroy General might not like politics, and he might be unpolished (to say the very least) by courtly standards, but that didn't mean he didn't understand politics, and his iron sense of duty and integrity was coupled with a bulldog pugnacity any fool could sense from clear across a room.

There was no doubt that the noblemen and commoners who'd assembled in Parliament here in Manchyr had sensed it, at any rate, and none of them had been stupid enough to challenge him. Not openly, at any rate. Zhanstyn had no doubt that quite a few conversations in various cloakrooms and private apartments had centered on clandestine ways to evade Chermyn's determination to enforce the policies Emperor Cayleb had laid out before his own departure for Chisholm. For the moment, though, the viceroy general had his hand firmly around the throat of Corisande's great lords.

That had been made easier by the fact that, like the wealthier members of the House of Commons, the great aristocrats had too much to lose. That made them cautious, unwilling to attempt open resistance, especially after Chermyn -- in his blunt, unpolished, uncourtly, yet crystal clear style -- had made it abundantly clear what he intended to do to any noble who violated his new oath of fealty to the Charisian Crown. The fact that diplomatic circumlocution was so utterly foreign to him had gone a great way towards making certain no one in his audience doubted for a moment that he'd meant every word he said. And that any excuses about oaths to the excommunicated not being binding would leave him remarkably unmoved when he and his siege artillery turned up outside any oathbreaker's castle walls.

"But pain in the arse or not," Chermyn continued now, swinging away from the window to face the brigadier, hands still clasped behind him, "it's the way it's got to be. For now, at least." He grimaced. "Mind you, I'd like nothing better than to get my hands on the damned ringleaders! There's not much doubt in my mind that most of these poor bastards're being more or less led around by the nose." He made a disgusted sound midway between a snort and a snarl. "And I've read the damned broadsides, same as you. Somebody's stirring this pot, and I've no doubt His Majesty was right about what it is they're after. Which is why I'm not going to give it to them."

"Yes, Sir," Zhanstyn acknowledged. Although, truth to tell, it wasn't exactly as if he'd objected to the viceroy general's instructions or policy. On the other hand, he was pretty sure Chermyn knew he understood his superior's "explanation" was more in the nature of a way for Chermyn to let off pressure of his own before it did him a mischief.

"The last thing we need to offer up to the bastards behind all this are martyrs," Chermyn growled now, turning his head to look back at the water-streaming panes of glass. "I think most of these people are at least willing to keep their heads down, if the troublemakers'll just leave them alone. I'm not saying we could keep the lid on the pot forever, but all we really have to do is keep it screwed down until Anvil Rock, Tartarian, and the rest of the Regency Council get their feet on the ground. Build up at least a little legitimacy. That business at the Cathedral the other day" -- he turned his head back, his eyes meeting Zhanstyn's suddenly -- "that could've turned nasty. Bad enough to lose one of our own, but if that young lad of yours -- Lieutenant Tahlas, wasn't it?" He paused until Zhanstyn nodded, then snorted again. "If the boy had lost control, let his men stack the bodies the way I've no doubt they wanted to instead of settling for cracked skulls and a few broken bones, it would've given the bastards on the other side exactly what they wanted."

"I've already commended Lieutenant Tahlas, Sir," Zhanstyn said, making no effort to hide how pleased he'd been by the viceroy general's remembering the young man's name. "And I agree with what you've just said. All the same, Sir, if they keep pushing, and especially if we lose more men, we're going to have to push back. It's one thing to show restraint; it's another thing if the other side decides restraint is really weakness."

"Agreed." Chermyn nodded grimly. "That's one reason I want Gahrvai's formations stood up as quickly as possible. I'd rather put a Corisandian face on this whole confrontation, drop us back into a support role." He showed his teeth in a thin smile. "D'you suppose any of these people are going to realize just how much we don't want to kill any more of them than we can help?"

"In a perfect world, Sir, I'm sure they would. In the world we've got --?"

The brigadier shrugged, and Chermyn chuckled harshly. Then he squared his shoulders and marched back across to his desk. He settled into the chair behind it and picked up the first of the folders piled on his blotter.

"Well, as you've just suggested, it's an imperfect world, Brigadier," he observed. "And that being the case, I suppose it's time we dealt with some of those imperfect little details. Starting with this request from Brigadier Myls." He tapped the top sheet of paper and the folder with an index finger. "I think he's got a point about being spread too thin."

"I agree, Sir." Zhanstyn grimaced. "That's not to say I like it, but I agree he's got a problem. And, unfortunately, I can already see where you're thinking about finding the manpower to solve it for him."

"Sharp as a tack, that's you," Chermyn said with another, much more cheerful-sounding chuckle. "Now, where do you think I should start robbing you?"

"Well, Sir, I was thinking that if we took Alpha Company out of the 2/3rd, then took Charlie Company out of the 3/3rd, we'd have a pretty good mix of experience and enthusiasm. Then, if we added --"
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Re: STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Tue Jan 26, 2010 11:53 pm

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A Mighty Fortress - Snippet 09

October, Year of God 893

I
Merlin Athrawes' Recon Skimmer,
Safehold Low Orbit,
Above The Anvil.

Empress Sharleyan of Charis had been prepared for marvels -- or she'd thought she was, anyway. But the reality was so far beyond what she'd expected that she'd discovered all her preparations had been in vain.

She sat in the "recon skimmer's" passenger compartment, with her nose perhaps two inches from the inside of the clear "armorplast" which covered it like some perfectly transparent bubble, staring out at the night-struck sky. The moon rode high and clear, shining like a new, incredibly bright silver coin against the blackest heaven she had ever imagined, spangled with stars that were even more impossibly bright than the moon. They were odd, those stars, burning with pinprick clarity, without even the faintest trace of a twinkle. She'd never seen stars that sharp, that clear, even on the coldest winter night, and she shivered as she remembered Merlin's explanation.

We're so high there's not even any air out there. Not enough to matter, anyway. She shook her head. It never even occurred to me that the only reason they "twinkle" is because we're seeing them through so many miles of air that it distorts our view. I always thought "clear as air" meant really clear, but it doesn't, really, after all. And now I'm up above all of that. I'm on the very threshold of what Merlin calls "space."

No other Safehold-born human being, she knew, had ever been as high before. Not even Cayleb on his journey between Corisande and Charis. She stared down, down, to where the planet itself had become a vast, curved globe. To where the cloud tops so very far below the skimmer were silver and deepest black, drifting across The Anvil, that stormy sweep of water between Chisholm and Hammer Island. She couldn't make out the surface from this height, not in the dark, not using her own merely mortal eyes. She knew it was there, though, and all she had to do was turn her head and look at the "visual display" to see that vast, wind-ruffled stretch of saltwater in perfect detail. Merlin had shown her how to manipulate the display's controls, and the skimmer's computer-driven sensors happily generated daylight-bright, true-color imagery of anything she cared to gaze upon. She could focus closer -- "zoom in," Merlin called it -- until even the most distant objects below seemed little more than arm's-length away, too.

And yet, as Cayleb had warned her would be the case, that marvel, that God's eye view, paled beside what her own eye saw when she gazed out through the armorplast.

It's because the "imagery" is magic, she thought. Merlin can call it whatever he wants, but it is magic, and my emotions know it, whatever my mind may be trying to tell them. It's like something out of a child's tale, something that's not quite . . . real. But this -- the moon, these stars, those clouds -- I'm seeing them with my own eyes, and that means they are real. And I'm seeing them from thousands upon thousands upon thousands of feet in the air. I'm actually up here, flying among them, and they're really, really out there, all above and about and beneath me.

She drew a deep breath, smiling more than a bit crookedly, as that thought reminded her of the previous evening . . . .

* * * * * * * * * *

Sharleyan finished throwing up (she hoped) and wiped her face with the hot, damp towel. Her mouth, she reflected, tasted as bad as she could remember anything's ever tasting. Her stomach heaved again at the thought, but she suppressed the sensation sternly. Muscles hovered on the brink of revolt for a few precarious seconds, then subsided . . . for the moment, at least.

"Better?" a voice asked, and she looked up from the basin in her lap with a wan smile.

Despite both the fire crackling behind her husband and the embedded tile pipes circulating heated water under the bedroom's tile floor, the air was chilly, to say the least, and the fresh towel he'd just taken from the kettle on the bedroom hearth steamed in his hand. Under the circumstances, it was understandable that the emperor had wrapped a blanket around himself as he stood beside their bed, however un-regal he might look at the moment. In fact, Sharleyan was of the opinion that it went beyond un-regal to something approaching silly.

On the other hand, she thought, he did climb out of bed and hand me a towel the instant he heard me throwing up. That's got to count for something . . . even if the whole thing is his fault.

"Better . . . I think," she said, adding the conditional when her stomach gave another tentative heave.

"Good."

He whisked the towel with which she'd wiped her face -- and which had already cooled markedly -- out of her hand and replaced it with the one he'd just wrung out. The used towel went back into the kettle, and he carried the basin into the adjacent bathroom. A moment later, she heard the toilet flush. Then he returned, setting the basin carefully on the bedside table beside her before he climbed back into the bed himself and wrapped his arms around her.

"Ow!" she objected as cold feet wiggled their way under her.

"Well," Cayleb Zhan Haarahld Bryahn Ahrmahk, Duke of Ahrmahk, Prince of Tellesberg, Prince Protector of the Realm, King of Charis, and by God's Grace Emperor of Charis, said reasonably to Sharleyan Alahnah Zhynaifyr Ahlyssa Tayt Ahrmahk, Duchess of Cherayth, Lady Protector of Chisholm, Queen of Chisholm, and by God's Grace Empress of Charis, "they got frozen in your service. The least you can do is help me thaw them out again!"

"And if the shock of being poked with two lumps of ice makes me throw up again?" she inquired darkly.

"At the rate you're throwing up, whether I poke you with ice or not isn't going to make any difference," he told her philosophically. "Besides, you're facing the other way."

Some things could not be allowed to pass by any self-respecting empress, and Cayleb squawked as she whipped around and slender, vengeful fingers found his armpits. In one of the universe's less fair dispensations, he was far more ticklish than she was, and she pressed her despicable advantage ruthlessly.

"All right! All right!" he gasped finally. "I surrender! I'll thaw my own feet out, you ungrateful and unreasonable wench!"

"Ooooh! 'Wench' is it?" she retorted, and he shouted with laughter as she redoubled her attack. Then he rolled back over, caught her wrists, and pinned them down. She started to wiggle, only to stop as he bent over her and kissed her forehead.

"But you're my very most favorite wench in all the world," he told her softly, and she shook her head with a smile.

"You really need to work on your technique, Your Majesty," she told him. "On the other hand, considering the source -- and the fact that that's probably the very best your poor, primitive male brain can do -- I accept your apology."

"Apology?" He quirked one eyebrow. "I don't remember making any apol--"

She smacked her hip into him sideways, and he paused in mid-word, his expression thoughtful.

"What I meant to say," he corrected himself in a dignified tone, "was that I'm gratified -- deeply gratified -- by your forgiveness."

"Which is why you'll live to see another dawn," she told him sweetly.

"A consideration which did cross my own mind," he conceded, and gave her forehead another kiss before he settled back.

Given the way her own mouth tasted, she couldn't fault his kisses' placement, she admitted as his right arm went back under and around her and he drew her head down on his right shoulder. She nestled close, treasuring the warmth of their blankets, inhaling the smell of him, and he raised his arm behind her in a hug which happened to let his right hand caress her hair.

"Seriously," he said, "how long do you expect this to go on?"

"Too long, however long it is," she said darkly, then shrugged. "I'm not sure. Mother says she was never morning sick at all, and neither was Grandmamma, as far as Mother recalls, so that's no help. Or particularly fair, now that I think about it. And according to Sairaih, her mother was morning sick for at least ten months. Or was it an entire year? Two years?" The empress shrugged again. "Something like that anyway."

She grimaced fondly, and Cayleb chuckled in sympathy. Sairaih Hahlmyn had been Sharleyan's personal maid since she'd been a little girl, and she seemed to be enjoying the present moment rather more than the empress was. She was certainly hovering for all she was worth, and no matter what Father Derahk, the palace healer might say, Sairaih could be relied upon to think of one of her innumerable female ancestors who had experienced the same problem, only incomparably worse. No doubt she fondly imagined she was reassuring her charge by telling her how lucky she was that things were so much less bad than they could have been.

Or something.
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Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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