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STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets

This is the place where we will be posting snippets of soon-to-be published works!
Re: STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Fri Jan 29, 2010 12:12 am

DrakBibliophile
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A Mighty Fortress - Snippet 10


"Well, maybe Merlin can give us an estimate," Cayleb said.

"Maybe." Sharleyan knew her tone sounded a bit tentative, but she also figured she was entitled to at least a little anxiety, given the nature of her projected itinerary.

"Nervous?" Cayleb asked gently, as if he'd just read her mind . . . not that it would have required any esoteric talent to be able to figure out exactly what she'd been thinking.

"A little," she admitted, nestling more comfortably against him. "It's not something I've ever done before, after all."

"Well, I've only done it twice myself -- once, really, if you're talking about round trips," Cayleb said. "On the other hand, Merlin's done it a lot. Of course, he didn't take me 'out of atmosphere" -- the emperor pouted for a moment -- "but he didn't have as far to go then as he does this time. And if he's confident his 'stealth systems' are up to the trip, I'm not going to argue with him."

"Very big of you, since you're not the one making this particular trip," she pointed out dryly.

"No, I'm not," he agreed. "In fact, I wish I were." He hugged her more tightly against himself for just a moment. "Still, given that he can only fit in one passenger, I think you may actually be a better choice for this first trip than I'd be, in some ways. And I know Father Derahk says everything is just fine, that all this morning sickness is perfectly natural, but I'll still feel better having Owl say the same thing."

"Me, too," she acknowledged, then giggled just a little nervously against his shoulder. "Still, it does feel a bit strange to be talking about getting a . . . machine's opinion."

"Just 'strange'?" Cayleb asked softly.

"All right," she said after a moment, her own voice more serious, "I'll admit it worries me a little, too. I can't help that. I know, up here," she raised one hand to tap her temple," that everything the Church ever taught us is a lie. I know that, and I truly believe it. But I was still raised a daughter of Mother Church, Cayleb. Somewhere down inside, there's that little girl reciting her catechism who can't help being a little scared when she thinks about walking into the very lair of Shan-wei herself. I know it's silly, but . . . ."

She let her voice trail off, and his arm tightened around her.

"I don't think it's 'silly' at all," he told her. "It's been less than five months since you found out about Merlin and all the rest of it. As a matter of fact, I think that's one reason you make a better choice than I do just now. After all, I've had a lot longer than you have to adjust -- as much as anyone can, at least -- although I'd be lying if I said I don't still have my own worried moments. And I understand exactly what you mean. It's not a matter of having doubts, just a matter of realizing how completely and totally you've broken with everything you were brought up knowing you were supposed to believe. On the other hand, I've found it helps to ask myself if someone like 'the Archangel Langhorne' is supposed to've been would ever have let someone like the Group of Four take over his church if he actually existed!"

"There's that," Sharleyan agreed grimly.

Cayleb was right, she thought. And as he'd said, it wasn't that she had any doubts about the truthfulness of everything Merlin Athrawes had told them, either. On the other hand, the occasional spasms of deeply programmed anxiety she felt left her less than totally confident about how the rest of the planet Safehold's population was going to react when the time finally came to reveal the full truth about the Church of God Awaiting. It was going to be ugly, at the very least, and deep inside, she felt sinkingly certain it would turn out to be much worse than that, in the end.

It couldn't be any other way, really. Not when every human being on the entire planet had been taught the same things she'd been taught. Believed the same things she'd always believed. Believed in the Holy Writ's version of God's plan for Safehold, and in The Testimonies' description of the Day of Creation. And how could they not believe those things? The "Adams" and "Eves" who'd written those testimonies had told the absolute truth, as far as they knew it. Of course, they hadn't known their memories had been altered during their long cryonic journey (she still had trouble understanding how that bit had worked) from a doomed planet called Earth to their new home. They hadn't known the "archangels" who'd appeared to them in human form as God's messengers and deputies had actually been members of the colonizing expedition's command crew.

And they hadn't known the "Archangel Langhorne" and the "Archangel Bédard" had deliberately and cold bloodedly murdered Dr. Pei Shan-wei and everyone else who'd disagreed with Langhorne's plan to lock Safehold into a pre-technical civilization forever.

So it wasn't a bit surprising that their totally accurate accounts of what they had seen and experienced, thought and felt, after awakening here on Safehold should be so damnably consistent and convincing. Worse, there were literally millions of them . . . and not one of them disputed the Church's official version.

Well, maybe one of them did, she reminded herself, thinking of the journal of Saint Zherneau. It wasn't part of the official Testimonies, and there was no question in her mind what the Inquisition would do, if it should ever discover that journal's existence. But Saint Zherneau -- Jeremy Knowles -- had also been an Adam, and his version of events didn't agree with the Writ, The Testimonies, or Mother Church herself. Of course, that was because he'd been part of Pei Shan-wei's Alexandria Enclave. He'd known the truth about Safehold, about the genocidal Gbaba who had destroyed something called the Terran Federation and driven this last remnant of the human race into hiding. He'd known what was supposed to happen here on Safehold -- known the mission planners had never intended for all memory of the Gbaba to be lost. That they'd recognized that sooner or later mankind and the Gbaba would meet again, and that while it was essential for humanity to temporarily abandon technology while it hid among the trackless stars, it was just as essential for that technology to reemerge once more in the fullness of time.

And it was for knowing that truth -- for refusing to abandon that truth -- that Pei Shan-wei and every other living soul in the Alexandria Enclave had been slaughtered by Langhorne's Rakurai -- the cataclysmic kinetic bombardment which had transformed Alexandria into the officially damned and accursed Armageddon Reef.

But Knowles, his wife, and his brother-in-law and sister-in-law had survived, hidden away in a tiny colony settlement called Tellesberg which would one day become the capital of the Kingdom of Charis. They'd written their own testimony, their history of what had really happened, and hidden it, hoping that when it was rediscovered, centuries later, someone would be willing to recognize the truth when he finally saw it.

Someone had been, and the Brethren of Saint Zherneau had guarded that knowledge for over four hundred years, passing it on, nurturing it in secret, working by gradual degrees to undermine the crushing political and spiritual tyranny of the "Church" Langhorne and Bédard had created. There'd never been many of them, and they'd always had to be insanely cautious, yet they'd never given up.

The fact that they'd believed Knowles' journal when they read it still awed Sharleyan, in many ways. The intellectual and spiritual integrity it had taken to accept that lone voice of dissent was staggering, whenever she thought about it. She hoped she would have been able to do the same thing, yet deep inside, she doubted it. Put her faith in a single voice of protest, however passionate, rather than the massed testimony of eight million other Adams and Eves? Accept the word of someone who'd died almost seven hundred years before Sharleyan's own birth, rather than the word of the living, breathing Church of God Awaiting? Reject every single belief about the will of God she herself had been taught from girlhood?

No. Despite her own deep disappointment over the Church's failings, despite her recognition of the degeneracy and venality of the men who controlled that Church, despite her deep-seated conviction that the Church had to be somehow, impossibly purged of its corruption, she'd never once questioned the fundamental, underlying "truth" she'd been taught about Langhorne and Bédard. And, if she were going to be honest, she never would have . . . if she hadn't met someone who'd been dead even longer than Jeremy Knowles.

Merlin Athrawes. Seijin Merlin The most deadly warrior in the world, seer of visions, Cayleb's protector, mentor, friend, and guide. All of those things . . . and also a PICA -- the "personality integrated cybernetic avatar" which housed the memories, hopes, and dreams of a young woman who had once been named Nimue Alban.

Merlin, the one being on the planet of Safehold who knew the truth about the Terran Federation and its destruction because he had seen it with Nimue's own eyes. Because Nimue herself had died over nine hundred years ago, deliberately sacrificing her life so that this planet, Safehold, might someday become not simply mankind's refuge, but the cradle of humanity's rebirth.

No, I would never have believed it without Merlin, she admitted. I would've wanted to, I think, but I wouldn't have. Despite how much I love Cayleb, I don't think even he could have convinced me of it. But I've got Merlin. We've got him. And given that, how could I not believe?

* * * * * * * * * *

"I wish you were here, Cayleb," she said now, wistfully, and heard a soft chuckle in her ear.

"I wish I were, too," her husband said from their bedroom in Cherayth . . . well over six thousand miles away. "And not just because Edwyrd and I are going to find it a bit difficult to explain where you are if someone happens to notice you're away."

The water-clear earpiece tucked into her right ear relayed his voice from the "security com" she wore on a golden chain around her neck.

"Fortunately," a second, deeper voice observed, "you're one of the most talented . . . fabricators I've ever encountered, Cayleb."

"Any diplomat learns to lie with the best of them, Merlin," the emperor replied.

"Why do I suspect that you learned to 'lie with the best of them' trying to explain away little things like broken windows, stolen apples, and all those other childhood infractions of which you were undoubtedly guilty?" Merlin Athrawes inquired from the skimmer's forward cockpit.

"Because you know him?" Sharleyan suggested innocently.

"Probably," Merlin said dryly, and Sharleyan chuckled.

Well, maybe the "communicator" is magic, she thought. But if it is, at least it's magic I've started getting used to. I wonder if I'll ever get to the point of taking it for granted the way Merlin does, though?

Sometimes, she suspected she would; other times, she was positive it would never happen. It was simply too marvelous, too impossible, for that. Yet there were also those moments when her own lack of familiarity with Merlin's miraculous toys actually became an advantage.

The com she wore around her neck was a case in point. It was considerably smaller than the one Merlin had originally given her, and her lips twitched in another, less crooked smile as she considered why that was. It hadn't occurred to her, at first, that coms could be smaller than the one he'd initially shown her, but as she'd encountered more examples of the often incredibly tiny bits and pieces of "technology" Merlin had shared with her and Cayleb, a possibility had crossed her mind.

From the beginning, she'd decided that figuring out ways to conceal things like the communicators had to be one of their highest priorities. Small as the original, handheld units Merlin had given them might be, they were still obviously -- and dangerously -- alien looking. They didn't belong to Safehold's homegrown (and allowable) technology, and anyone who saw one of them would realize that. It might not be very likely anyone ever would see one of them, but unlikely wasn't the same thing as impossible, and as Merlin himself had pointed out, if the Group of Four ever discovered their enemies truly were dabbling in the proscribed knowledge of Shan-wei, the consequences could be disastrous.

Especially if they could prove it.

So she'd asked Merlin if there were smaller, even easier to hide "coms" tucked away in "Nimue's Cave." There hadn't been, but as Merlin considered her question, he'd realized there was no inherent reason he couldn't make one smaller. Most of the existing units' size was more a consequence of having to provide something large enough for a human hand to manipulate comfortably than of any unavoidable technological constraints. The same basic capabilities could be provided by something far smaller, if those manipulation requirements were removed. In fact, they had been, prior to the Federation's destruction, in the form of the surgically implanted communicators the Terran military had issued to its personnel. Of course, he didn't have any of those, and surgically installing something which would cause the eyebrows of any healer who discovered it to become permanently affixed to his hairline would probably have been a bad idea, anyway. But if he had Owl redesign a com to respond only to spoken commands -- for "voice activation," as he described it -- even an external com could be made little larger than the end joint of Sharleyan's slender thumb.

Which was precisely what he'd done, using the "fabrication unit" in the cave where Pei Shan-wei and Commodore Pei had hidden Nimue's PICA (and all the other tools they'd provided for Merlin's use) to manufacture the new devices. Just as he'd used the same fabrication unit to hide Sharleyan's com in the golden pectoral scepter she wore about her neck. Cayleb wore a matching scepter -- they were exact duplicates, down to the maker's stamp and the tiniest scratch, of the pectorals she'd commissioned as a welcome home gift for his return from Corisande -- and they'd have to be literally smashed apart to reveal the forbidden technology concealed at their hearts.

While he was at it, he'd produced yet another marvel in the form of the "contact lenses" Sharleyan wore at this very moment. At first, the thought of actually sticking something into her own eye -- even something as clear and tiny as a "contact lens" -- had been more than she was prepared to undertake. Cayleb had been more adventurous, however, and his delight had been so great Sharleyan had gathered her courage and taken the same plunge.

She was glad she had, since the tiny lenses not only corrected the slight but irritating farsightedness which had been growing worse over the last couple of years, but also permitted her new, tiny com to project its imagery directly onto the lenses. She could view remote imagery, transmitted to her over the com, without the betraying "hologram" the original, larger com had produced. In fact, she and Cayleb could actually view images garnered by Merlin's SNARCs -- those "Self-Navigating Autonomous Reconnaissance and Communication" platforms she still understood only poorly -- which was actually letting them assist Merlin and the artificial intelligence called Owl in the endless struggle to cope with all the intelligence material Merlin's network of SNARCs made available.

Merlin had followed up the same idea and provided the same ability to everyone else who'd been added to what Cayleb had dubbed "the inner circle" -- the list of people who knew the entire truth and had been cleared to use the coms. There weren't many of them, unfortunately, but the list was growing slowly. In some ways, that only made it more frustrating, of course. The ability to stay in close, instant communication with people literally thousands of miles away -- not to mention communicating with Owl, or the ability to view Merlin's "visions" for themselves -- was an advantage whose importance would have been literally impossible to overstate. At the same time, it was something which had to be used with extraordinary care. They couldn't afford to have too many of the wrong people start wondering just exactly how it was that they managed to coordinate so perfectly over such vast distances, for example. And, in some ways, the ability to talk to some of their closest allies only made their inability to do the same thing with all of them even more incredibly frustrating.

Still --

Stop that, Sharley! She told herself severely. You're letting your mind wander on purpose, and you know it.

Which, she admitted, probably wasn't too surprising, under the circumstances.

She looked ahead and saw the vast curve of Safehold stretching out before them. It was beginning to grow lighter, she realized, and felt a fresh stir of awed delight as she realized they really were catching up to the day which had already left Chisholm so far behind.

"How much longer to your cave, Merlin?" she asked, and heard his quiet, amused chuckle over the com. Apparently she hadn't managed to pitch her voice quite as casually as she'd intended.

"About twenty-five minutes, Your Majesty," he replied. "Just over another seventy-five hundred miles or so."
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Mon Feb 01, 2010 12:07 am

DrakBibliophile
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A Mighty Fortress - Snippet 11

II
Nimue's Cave,
The Mountains of Light,
The Temple Lands.

Sharleyan knew she was gaping like a child witnessing a stage conjuror's illusions for the first time, but she couldn't help it. For that matter, she hadn't particularly cared, either, as she'd watched in breathless, un-alloyed delight while Merlin brought the recon skimmer down into the thicker air and bright daylight of the Mountains of Light.

"Thicker air," indeed! She snorted at her own thought. You're still high enough you'd pass out almost instantly -- not to mention freezing to death almost as quickly -- if you weren't locked up inside Merlin's skimmer, you silly twit!

The mountain peaks reaching up toward them were crowned with thick, eternal blankets of snow. It was already high winter in these latitudes, but those mountains would have been snow-covered whatever the time of year, she thought, and adjusted the visual display, shivering inside as she gazed at their bleak, icy summits and the glaciers oozing ever so slowly down their flanks, and watched ice crystals blow on the thin winds, glittering in the bright sunlight.

It was the first time she'd ever been to the continent of East Haven. In fact, it was the first time she'd ever been to the mainland at all. She'd always intended to make the pilgrimage to Zion and the Temple, just as the Writ enjoined all of God's children to make it, but there'd always been too many charges on her time, too many decisions to make. Too many political crises for the first true reigning queen in Chisholm's history to deal with.

And the last thing I need is to be making any "pilgrimages" to the Temple now, isn't it? She thought bitterly. Somehow, I don't think I'd enjoy the Inquisition's greetings. On the other hand, Vicar Zhaspahr, the day is coming when a lot of Charisians are going to be heading for Zion, whether the Inquisition wants to see us there or not.

"You're sure no one's going to see us, Merlin?" she asked, glancing at the secondary display that showed Merlin's face.

"I'm sure, Your Majesty," Merlin replied, smiling reassuringly back at her out of the same display. "Nobody really lives here, even in the summer, and the SNARCs have the entire area under observation. Trust me, there's no one down there. And even if there were, I've got the skimmer in full stealth mode. We'd be invisible, as far as they were concerned."

"I don't mean to dither," she said half-apologetically.

"Your Majesty -- Sharleyan -- you're doing one hell of a lot better than I imagine I'd be doing if our positions were reversed," he assured her.

"I doubt that, somehow," she said dryly. "It's probably just that I've learned to pretend better than you realize. I think it comes with being a queen. Mahrak always told me it was vital to convince people you were calm and in charge, no matter how scared you really were."

"Father always told me the same thing," Cayleb agreed in her ear, and she heard a sharper edge of envy in his voice. She knew he was watching the imagery relayed from the skimmer, but she also knew that wasn't the same thing as actually being there.

And I'm probably the only person who wishes he were here more than he does!

She suppressed a nervous chuckle at the thought.

"Either way, it won't be much longer," Merlin assured her. "Watch."

"Watch wh--?" Sharleyan began, then froze, her eyes wide, as Merlin flew straight into a sheer, vertical face of stone.

They weren't actually moving all that quickly, a corner of her brain realized. Certainly not compared to the velocity of their flight here, at any rate! But they were going quite fast enough for her heart to leap up into her throat. She felt herself tensing uselessly for impact, then exhaled explosively as a portal literally snapped open in front of them.

"Merlin!"

"Sorry."

There was genuine apology in the deep voice . . . but there was also an undeniable edge of amusement, and Sharleyan made a mental note to find out whether or not it was possible to throttle a PICA. And, for that matter, to throttle her insufferable lout of a husband, she thought as she listened to him laughing over the com.

"I suppose you think that was astonishingly funny, don't you, Cayleb?" she inquired in a dangerously affable tone as the skimmer swept down the center of a huge, perfectly circular, brightly lit tunnel.

"Ah, no. No, not actually," the emperor said instantly, once again demonstrating his acumen as a tactician.

"Good," she told him. "As for you, Merlin Athrawes --!"

"I know you're going to make me pay for it," he told her. "But . . . it was worth it."

Cayleb laughed again, and this time, Sharleyan discovered she had no choice but to join him. Her pulse was decelerating towards normal once more, and she shook her head as the tunnel stretched on and on ahead of them. They were moving slowly enough now for her to see that the stone walls around them were smooth and polished, almost like mirrors, reflecting the impossibly bright glow of the endless line of overhead lights running down the center of its curved roof. There was room enough for at least half a dozen craft the skimmer's size to have passed through it a breast, and she found herself feeling very small -- almost tiny -- as they drifted onward through it.

"How far down does this go?" she asked.

"Well, the cave is underneath Mount Olympus," Merlin told her. "At the moment, we're still about two miles from the mountain itself, coming in from the north. And when we get there, we'll be just over twelve thousand meters -- that's about seven and a half miles -- down."

"Seven and a half miles?" Sharleyan repeated very carefully, and Merlin chuckled. There wasn't a good deal of genuine humor in the sound, she noticed, and wondered why.

"Well, that's seven and a half miles below the summit, not below sea level," he pointed out before a reason for the pain shadowing his chuckle had occurred to her. "Still, I suppose it's deep enough to be going on with." She sensed his shrug. "Commodore Pei and Shan-wei wanted to make certain no one would stumble across me before I woke up."

Sharleyan started to respond, then stopped herself as she suddenly grasped the reason for the pain in his voice. It was hard for her to remember, sometimes, that people who had been dead for the better part of a millennium, as far as she was concerned, had died only a handful of years ago, as far as the man who had once been Nimue Alban was concerned.

"Anyway," Merlin went on after a moment, his tone deliberately brighter, "after they tucked me away, they filled the entire complex with an inert atmosphere. Which means there wasn't really anything down here that a flesh and blood human being could have breathed. But Owl's got the environmental plant up and running, so there's going to be plenty of air when we get there."

"Well, that's a relief," Sharleyan said dryly, wondering exactly what an "inert atmosphere" was.

"We strive to please, Your Majesty," Merlin assured her. "And speaking of getting there . . . ."

Even as he spoke, the recon skimmer slid out of the tunnel into a far vaster chamber, and Sharleyan inhaled sharply as still more overhead lights came on, illuminating a stupendous cavern shaped like a flattened hemisphere. Its walls curved up and inward, smooth as the tunnel had been, to join an equally smooth, flat roof a good two hundred feet overhead. Yet tall as it was, it was much, much wider, and as the skimmer drifted out into it, she realized its vast, pavement-flat floor was crowded with dozens of devices and machines which looked at least as marvelous as the recon skimmer itself. The skimmer slid smoothly onward for another few moments, then floated smoothly into a landing beside a duplicate skimmer, nestled in the lee of another, far larger aircraft of some sort. They touched down under the sweep of an enormous wing that dwarfed their own vehicle, and as Sharleyan stared up at the chamber's roof, she realized the cavern was at least a thousand yards across.

"My God," she heard herself murmur.

"What is that thing, Merlin?" Cayleb asked over the com, and she heard the wonder in his voice, as well.

"Which 'thing'?" Merlin asked.

"The one you just landed next to!"

"Oh." Merlin shrugged. "That's what we call an 'assault shuttle,'" he said. "Think of it as one of the landing craft we took to Corisande, but designed to move troops from orbit down to a planetary surface."

"How many troops?" Cayleb's voice was suddenly more intent, more calculating, and Merlin's and Sharleyan's images looked at one another with matching smiles as the emperor's military instincts engaged.

"Only a couple of hundred," Merlin replied in a deliberately casual tone.

"'Only' a couple of hundred, is it?" Cayleb repeated dryly.

"More or less," Merlin agreed, and Sharleyan straightened as the skimmer's twin canopies opened.

Cool air, fresh-smelling but with just a whisper of a stone-edged tang, flowed about her, and Merlin climbed out onto the self-extending boarding ladder and held out a hand to her.

She took the hand and let him guide her down the ladder, though she was scarcely so old and feeble -- or pregnant -- that she needed the assistance. On the other hand, she realized, maybe she did need a little help. She was so busy gawking at all of the wonders around her that she didn't realize she'd reached the bottom of the ladder until her questing toes jarred against solid ground instead of finding the next rung, and she stumbled, on the brink of falling, until that hand lifted her effortlessly back upright.

She gave herself a shake, then smiled at Merlin.

"I'm impressed," she said.

"Oh, you haven't seen anything yet," he assured her.

* * * * * * * * * *

"-- and this is the medical unit," Merlin told Sharleyan the better part of an hour later.

They didn't have an unlimited amount of time, but he'd deliberately taken long enough to let her settle down a bit. Her ability to cope with the wonders coming at her had both impressed and surprised him, although it probably shouldn't have. He'd already known she was one of the smartest, toughest-minded people he'd ever met. Still, all of this had to be more than a minor shock to the system, however well-prepared she'd thought she was, and they had long enough to let her regain her mental balance before she faced the examination for which she'd come the next best thing to half way around the planet.

"I see," she said now, tilting her head to one side to regard the gleaming curves of the diagnostic instruments above the comfortably padded, recliner-like couch. There might have been the very slightest edge of a tremor in the two words, but even with his PICA's hearing, Merlin wouldn't have sworn to it. She gazed at the unit for a few moments, arms crossed in front of her, palms rubbing her forearms gently, as if against a slight chill, then smiled crookedly at him.

"Somehow this doesn't look like any healer's office I've ever visited," she observed.

"I know." Merlin smiled sympathetically. "I promise the doctor is 'in,' though." He raised his voice slightly. "Owl?"

"Yes, Lieutenant Commander Alban?"

Sharleyan recognized the voice of the AI -- the "artificial intelligence" -- Merlin had named "Owl." She'd heard that voice quite often, now, over the earpiece of her com. She'd even discussed things with its owner . . . and discovered along the way that Merlin had a point about how literal-minded and unimaginative Owl was. He still seemed miraculous enough to Sharleyan, but he could be a little slow. Yet this was the first time she'd heard that voice speaking to her from the open air, and she looked around quickly. Almost, she thought a moment later, as if she expected to see some wizened little scholar pop out of a cupboard somewhere.

The thought made her smile, and she shook her head at Merlin.

"Hello, Owl," she said out loud.

"Good morning, Your Majesty," the computer replied. "Welcome."

Sharleyan saw one of Merlin's eyebrows rise at the last word and wondered why, but she had other things on her mind at the moment.
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Wed Feb 03, 2010 12:07 am

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2121
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
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A Mighty Fortress - Snippet 12


"I trust you won't feel offended if I seem a little . . . anxious, Owl," she said. "I mean, I don't doubt your competence for a moment, but this is all new to me."

"And to me, Your Majesty," the computer returned, and Sharleyan snorted. Now that was a reassuring thing for her "healer" to be telling her at a moment like this!

"Owl may never have personally done this before," Merlin put in, shooting a nasty look at a tiny glowing light Sharleyan suddenly realized probably indicated the location of Owl's visual pickup. "But that's because he's basically a tactical computer. Until he ended up as my librarian, he was in charge of dealing with weapons, not health issues. The medical computer which will actually be handling the examination did this hundreds of times before the Commodore and Dr. Pei stripped it out of its transport and parked it down here, though. All Owl is going to be doing is telling it to get started."

"I see." Sharleyan regarded Merlin gravely, fighting a desire to smile at his obvious exasperation with the AI. "But how much practice has it had since?" she asked, putting a deliberate edge of anxiety into her own voice.

"Well, as far as pregnancies are concerned, not all that much," Merlin admitted. Rather against his will, she thought, and gave him a look that was just as worried as she could possibly manage. "It's fully up to the job, though," the PICA went on reassuringly. "And it's already got your medical records on file."

"Really?" Sharleyan blinked. "How did that happen?" she asked, her eyes narrowing as her lively curiosity was piqued and distracted her from teasing Merlin to get even for that trick with the cliff side.

"Oh." For a moment, Merlin looked nonplused. Then he shook himself. "Uh, well, actually," he said, "I had to give it your full profile. I used one of the remote diagnostic units one night. When you were asleep," he added.

"When I was asleep?" She gave him the sort of look nannies gave young children who insist they certainly don't know anything about any missing cookies. No, Ma'am! Not them! "And just why did you do that, Seijin Merlin?" she inquired rather tartly. "Without mentioning it to me, I mean."

"Well, at the time, the Brethren still hadn't agreed you could be told about the Journal," Merlin said. "That meant I couldn't explain it to you."

"That meant you couldn't explain it to me then," she pointed out implacably. "It doesn't say a word about why you couldn't have explained it to me since. Nor does it answer the really important question. That would be the one about why you did it at all."

Merlin looked at her for a long moment, then shook his head. He'd known this moment was going to come, he reminded himself. And he didn't really expect her to be too upset with him . . . .

Sure you don't, he thought dryly. That's why you've been in such a tearing rush to come clean, isn't it, Seijin Merlin? And why the hell does Owl have to suddenly start displaying spontaneous autonomous responses right this minute? If he'd just kept his damned mouth shut, like usual . . . .

"All right," he sighed. "The reason I gave the medicomp your records -- and yours, too, Cayleb," he added to the emperor he knew was listening in from Cherayth, "was so that it could manufacture standard nanotech for both of you."

"'Nanotech'?" Cayleb repeated over the com, pronouncing the word very carefully, and Merlin nodded.

"Yes. Nanotechnology consists of very, very tiny machines -- so tiny you couldn't see them with the most powerful magnifying glass any Safehold optician could possibly grind. In this case, they're medical machines, designed to work inside the human body to keep it healthy."

"There are machines inside us?" Sharleyan knew she sounded a bit shaken by the idea, but that was fair enough. She was shaken. And not just a little bit, if she was going to be honest about it, either.

"Yes. But they're so tiny no one would ever realize they were there," Merlin assured her hastily. "And they won't hurt you -- or anyone else -- in any way!"

"Should I assume from what you've just said that you put these . . . machines inside both of us?" Cayleb asked, and there was a faint but undeniable sternness in the question.

"Yes," Merlin said again, and squared his shoulders. "You and your father were both going off to war, Cayleb, and I needed you both." His face hardened and his voice grew harsher, harder. "I lost your father, anyway," he grated, unable, even now, to fully forgive himself for that, "and I don't plan on losing you, too. Certainly not to anything I can prevent! So I injected you with the standard Federation nanotech when you were asleep. And I did the same thing to Sharleyan after she arrived in Tellesberg. And" -- he shrugged again -- "if this is the time for coming clean, I suppose I should admit I did it for Maikel and Domynyk and . . . a few others, too."

"But . . . why?" Sharleyan asked.

"Because it will keep you from getting sick."

"Sick from what?" Cayleb asked.

"From anything," Merlin said simply.

"What?" Sharleyan blinked at him again. Surely he didn't mean --

"From anything," Merlin repeated. "You'll never have cancer, or pneumonia, or even a cold again. And if you're injured, it will help you heal more quickly. A lot more quickly, in fact. Actually, that was one reason I hesitated to inject it. If a healer happens to notice how fast one of you recovers from a cut or a broken bone, it could lead to . . . questions."

"Wait a minute," Cayleb said. "Just wait a minute. You mean neither of us will ever be sick again? Not ever?"

"Exactly." Merlin sighed yet again. "I don't have the anti-aging drugs to go with it, even if we dared to use them in the first place, but that much, at least, I could do And you were both too important to what we're trying to accomplish for me not to do it, too." He shook his head, and his expression was still hard, like something hammered from old iron. "I can't keep you or Sharley from being killed in an accident, Cayleb, and we've already had proof enough I can't guarantee you won't get killed in some stupid battle. But I will be damned if I lose either of you one minute before I have to something as stupid as a frigging germ!"

Sharleyan felt her own expression soften as she recognized the raw, genuine emotion behind that response. She still wasn't entirely certain what a "germ" was, although she thought she had a pretty good idea. But that wasn't really the point, and she knew it. No, the point was that Merlin Athrawes was still Nimue Alban, as well, and that Nimue had lost her entire universe nine hundred years before. Just as Merlin Athrawes knew he was going to lose his entire universe -- or all the people in it who mattered to him, at least -- as well. She'd tried before (without, she knew, succeeding) to imagine what that must be like, how it had to feel, for someone who so obviously and deeply loved the friends he knew must all ultimately die and leave him behind. Now, as she looked into those sapphire eyes -- and they were eyes, damn it, not bits of glass and metal and "technology!" -- she knew that however important she and Cayleb might have been to Merlin's great task here on Safehold, that was only a part -- and not the greatest one -- of his true motivation.

Silence hovered in the buried stillness of "Nimue's Cave," and then Sharleyan Ahrmahk reached out. She touched the PICA in which her friend lived gently on the forearm. And she smiled.

"I hope you won't be offended if I point out that it's just a little cool in here -- even for a Chisholmian girl -- to be taking off my clothes, Doctor."

"Oh, that won't be necessary," Merlin assured her with an answering smile, his blue eyes softening as he recognized the deliberate change of subject. Or of emphasis, at least. He put his hand lightly over the slender one on his arm for a moment, then waved the same hand at the waiting examination chair. "Just stretch out on the couch, here. Owl will handle everything from there."

Sharleyan looked at the elevated chair again and shrugged, and he extended that same hand once more. She took it, stepped up onto the stool beside the chair, and seated herself. The examination couch's surface moved under her, conforming to the shape of her body, but that much she took in stride. She'd already experienced the same sensation with the recon skimmer's flight couch, after all.

"So I just lie here? That's all?"

"That's all," Merlin confirmed.

She gazed at him for perhaps another two seconds, then drew a deep breath and leaned back into the couch's embrace.

"Just go ahead and relax," Merlin encouraged her, and her eyebrows rose as the seijin's voice shifted. Its deep, masculine timbre flowed higher, shifting into a throaty contralto Sharleyan had never heard before. It remained recognizably Merlin's voice, somehow, yet the empress realized suddenly that who she was actually hearing, for the very first time, was Nimue Alban, not Merlin Athrawes.

She turned her head, looking at him, and he smiled. It was a gentle, oddly sad smile, and she cocked her head, looking a question at him.

"I haven't gotten to be Nimue in a long time, Sharleyan," that contralto voice said, "and it occurred to me you might be a bit more comfortable with her than with Merlin, under the circumstances. Besides, you're here for something Nimue always wanted to experience. Children -- babies. . . They weren't something responsible people were bringing into the world when she was alive. Not when everyone knew the Gbaba were going to kill us all, anyway."

Sharleyan reached out, laying her hand gently on Merlin/Nimue's forearm once more as she recognized the sorrow behind that smile.

"I always knew I'd never have a child," Nimue said quietly from behind Merlin's face and mustachios. It was the most bizarre thing Sharleyan had ever witnessed, yet there was a strange, perfect "rightness" to it, as well.

"I knew it was something that could never happen to me. But I never realized, never imagined, I'd be standing here today, watching someone who is going to become a mother." Nimue laughed sadly. "It's ironic, isn't it? I always expected to die young. Now I'm nine hundred years old, and -- who knows? -- I could be around for another nine hundred. And I'll still never have a child of my own."

"Oh, yes you will," Sharleyan said softly. "This child is yours, Merlin . . . Nimue. This child will live, will grow up, only because of you. Cayleb and I would never have met without you. I would have died at Saint Agatha's without you. Charis would be a burned and slaughtered ruin without you. The Group of Four would win -- Langhorne would win . . . without you. The Writ says a child is more than just flesh of its parents' flesh, and the fact that it lies about so many other things doesn't mean it lies about everything. Whatever else happens, Cayleb and I will always remember, always know, this is a child we share with you, as well as with each other. And I swear to you, Nimue," brown eyes looked deep into eyes of sapphire blue, seeking the centuries-dead young woman behind them, "that one day, whether Cayleb and I live to see it or not, all the world will know that, too."

They looked at one another for several long, silent moments, and then Merlin smiled again. There was still sorrow in that smile, but there was more than that, as well, and gentleness, and the swordsman's sinewy fingers patted the slender, female hand on his mailed forearm.

"Well, in that case, why don't we go ahead and get this done?"
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Re: STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Fri Feb 05, 2010 12:09 am

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A Mighty Fortress - Snippet 13

III
Castle Mairwyn,
City of Serabor,
Barony of Larchros,
Princedom of Corisande

Damn, it's cold enough to freeze the balls off a mountain slash lizard, Sahlahmn Traigair, the Earl of Storm Keep, thought as he climbed down from the saddle at last.

October was summer, not winter in Corisande, but no one could have proved it by the cold, icy rain pounding the streets and roofs of Serabor. The same icy mountain rain which had pounded him and his companions for the entire day just past. It wasn't as if Storm Keep was unfamiliar with the local weather. His own earldom lay just to the northeast of Larchros, and he'd been a fairly frequent visitor here over the years. More than that, the jagged Marthak Mountains formed the border between Larchros and the Earldom of Craggy Hill. Despite the fact that the equator passed directly across the northern Marthaks, there was snow on their highest peaks almost year-round, and the Barcor Mountains, in whose foothills Serabor nestled, were even taller.

It's not really cold enough to freeze anyone, I guess, he admitted grudgingly, reaching back to massage his posterior as the rest of their sizable party of servants, retainers, and guards dismounted around them. It sure as hell feels that way, though!

"Welcome to Castle Mairwyn, My Lord," a voice said, and Storm Keep turned to the speaker. Rahzhyr Mairwyn, Baron Larchros, was just as wet -- and looked almost as miserable -- as Storm Keep felt, but he still managed a smile. "If you're not too thoroughly frozen, I expect there's a fire and hot chocolate – or maybe even something a bit stronger – waiting for us."

"Now that, Rahzhyr, sounds like the best idea I've heard all day!" Storm Keep said with a smile of his own.

"Then let's go find both of them," Larchros invited, and waved for Storm Keep to accompany him as efficient grooms led their mounts away.

The earl nodded, and the two of them headed out of the brick-paved stable yard, across the castle's main courtyard, and up the steps to the massive, old-fashioned central keep. Castle Mairwyn was well over three centuries old, and despite the enlarged, many-paned windows which had replaced most of the Keep's upper firing slits, the old fortress looked its age. Personally, Storm Keep preferred his own much newer residence in the city of Telitha, looking out over the sparkling blue waters of Telith Bay. He certainly preferred the scenery, at any rate. However picturesque they might be, Serabor's narrow, twisting streets were a far cry from Telitha's broad, straight avenues. But that was because Serabor was perched atop a "hill" which would probably have been called a mountain anywhere except in the Barcors. The last mile or so to the city's gate had been a steady uphill slog which had been pure, un-distilled misery for their horses, and the castle itself crowned the solid plug of granite Serabor had been built around so long ago.

Still, Storm Keep thought, whoever picked this as the place to build a castle knew what he was doing. Just getting at it would be an unmitigated pain in the arse. And actually storming the place would be a hell of a lot worse than that!

That wasn't a consideration he would have spent a great deal of time on as little as three months ago; at the moment, though, it loomed large in his thinking.

They reached the top of the steps and entered the keep's main hall. Lady Larchros was waiting for them, smiling in welcome, and Storm Keep was delighted to see that she was, indeed, holding a steaming cup of hot chocolate in each hand.

"Welcome home!" Raichenda Mairwyn said, smiling at her husband, then switched her attention to Storm Keep. "And twice welcome for the visitor, My Lord! The watch warned me you were coming, and given the weather, I was sure both of you would appreciate this."

She extended the steaming cups, and Storm Keep smiled broadly as he cupped both chilled hands around the welcome warmth.

"You are a hostess among hostesses, Lady Raichenda," he said, then raised the cup and sipped appreciatively. The warmth seemed to flow through him, and he sighed in bliss. "Langhorne will reward you in Heaven," he assured her.

"Perhaps so, My Lord." Her voice and expression had both turned sober. "It's to be hoped it will be for more than a simple cup of chocolate, though."

"May it be so, indeed," he murmured, meeting her eyes levelly. Apparently she was even deeper into her husband's confidence than Storm Keep had anticipated.

Well, you've known for years that he dotes on her, he reminded himself. And woman or not, she's one of the smarter people you know, for that matter. Even if he hadn't told her a word, she'd guessed what's toward soon enough.

"In the meantime, though," she continued, "I've had hot baths drawn for both of you. Mairah" – she nodded to one of the serving women hovering in the background – "will show you to your room, My Lord. I imagine there's a fair chance your baggage is at least a little damp, given the weather. But you and Rahzhyr are much the same size, I believe, and I've had a selection of his garments laid out for you. I'll have your valet sent up to join you as soon as he comes in from the stables. For now, please – go soak the chill out of your bones!"

* * * * * * * * * *

An hour or so later, and feeling almost sinfully warmed and comfortable, Storm Keep found himself seated in a richly upholstered chair in the chamber Larchros used as an office. The baron's clerk was nowhere in sight, but Father Airwain Yair, Larchros' chaplain and confessor, sat in a marginally plainer chair on the far side of the fireplace. Rain pattered against the windows and gurgled musically through gutters and downspouts, a coal fire seethed quietly in a shallow grate, decorative cut crystal glittered on the marble mantle above the fire, and all three of them had snifters of brandy at their elbows. It was as peaceful and welcoming a scene as Storm Keep could have imagined, yet Yair's expression was anxious as he looked at Larchros.

"So the traitors have truly decided to capitulate to Cayleb, My Lord?" The priest sounded as if even now he found it difficult to believe.

"In fairness, Father," Storm Keep said before the baron could speak, "it's not as if the Regency Council had a great deal of choice. With Prince Hektor and his son both dead, Daivyn out of the princedom, and Cayleb besieging the capital, their only real options were surrender or standing a siege which could end only one way."

"True enough, Sahlahmn," Larchros' voice was considerably harsher than the earl's had been, "but there's a difference between a tactical decision to surrender a city and what Father Airwain has so aptly called 'capitulating.'"

"There, I can't argue with you," Storm Keep conceded, his own voice bleaker. "Mind you, I do think there's some point to Anvil Rock's argument. With no army left in the field, with our navy sealed up in port, and with Cayleb in position to bring in still more troops whenever the urge struck him, what were we supposed to use to stop him from doing whatever he wanted? He already had thousands of men in the Princedom, and he hadn't even begun deploying any Chisholmian troops here, so he still had every single soldier in Sharleyan's army -- a considerably larger and even more professional army than the one he'd already brought with him, I might add -- in reserve. I, on the other hand, have less than eighty armsmen in my entire guard. How many do you have?"

Larchros growled, but he couldn't dispute the earl's point. It had taken Prince Fronz, Prince Hektor's father, the better part of twenty years to complete the process of stripping his nobles of their feudal levies, but he'd managed it in the end. And, truth to tell, Storm Keep and most of his fellow aristocrats had seen the wisdom of his policy -- after the fact, at least. After all, the Royal Army, with its core of professional, long term troops, would have made mincemeat out of any levies one of them (or even an alliance of several of them) could have put into the field against it, anyway. None of them could afford to maintain a force which could have changed that, even assuming Fronz had been willing to let them try. Which he hadn't been. He'd made that point rather firmly, and the plain truth was that most of his magnates had been just as happy to avoid the sort of occasional fratricide which had wracked parts of Corisande with dreary predictability under Fronz's father and grandfather. At least this way each of them was spared the expense of maintaining his own private troops while the Army saw to it that none of his fellows were in a position to threaten him.

Unfortunately, that policy of Prince Fronz's had just come home to roost with a vengeance.

"The largest force any of us – even someone like one of the dukes – can command is barely enough to keep the peace in his own lands, and not one of us has any of the new weapons," the earl pointed out remorselessly. "Would you like to try to stand up to a battalion or two of Charisian Marines, with their damned rifles and artillery, with that?"

There was silence for a moment, profound enough for all of them to hear the patter of the persistent rain against the chamber's windows. Then Larchros shook his head.

"No," he said. "Or . . . not yet, at least."

"Exactly," Storm Keep said very, very quietly, and he and the baron looked at one another.

It wasn't as if they hadn't discussed the situation at length during the endless ride from Cherayth to Serabor. They'd had to be at least a little circumspect, since there was no telling which set of ears, even among their own retainers, might be eager to curry favor with the Charisian occupiers by carrying tales. But they'd known one another for a long time. Neither of them had been left in any doubt about where the other stood. On the other hand ....

"It's going to have to be handled carefully," Storm Keep pointed out softly.

"Oh, I agree entirely." Larchros grimaced. "Unless I'm mistaken, at least some of those southerners are actually willing to stand in line to lick Cayleb's hand . . . or his arse, for that matter!" He shook his head in disgust. "And I never thought I'd say this, but I'm pretty sure Anvil Rock is, too."

"Truly, My Lord?" Yair shook his head. "I confess, I always thought the Earl was completely loyal to Prince Hektor. Not to mention Mother Church!"

"So did I, Airwain." Larchros shrugged. "From the way he reacted to any suggestion we play for time, though, I'm beginning to think we were both wrong about that. Either that, or the guts have gone out of him. Not to mention his damned son!"

Storm Keep considered pointing out that Sir Koryn Gahrvai, the Earl of Anvil Rock's son, had probably done as well as anyone could have in the face of the Charisians' crushing tactical superiority. Blaming Gahrvai for his army's defeat, however satisfying it might be, was scarcely an exercise in fair-mindedness.

On the other hand, fair-mindedness isn't exactly what we need just now, either, the earl reminded himself. And if being pissed at Anvil Rock and Gahrvai helps . . . motivate Rahzhyr or some of the others, then so be it.

"At any rate, Father," he said out loud, looking at the priest, "Anvil Rock, Tartarian, and North Coast have made it clear enough they aren't prepared to countenance any sort of armed resistance. And before he left for Chisholm, Cayleb – damn his soul! – made it even clearer than that that anyone who wasn't prepared to swear fealty to him would be deprived of his titles and his lands." He shrugged. "I can't say it came as any great surprise. That was the reason he summoned us all to Manchyr in the first place, after all. And however bitter the pill may taste, he's also the one who won the damned war, so I don't suppose anyone should be astonished when he acts the part."

"And this . . . abomination, My Lord? This 'Church of Charis' of his?"

"And he delivered the same ultimatum to the clergy, Father," Storm Keep admitted heavily. "I'm sure you'll be hearing from your bishop – your new bishop, I suppose I should say – to that effect soon enough."

"Bishop Executor Thomys has accepted the schism?" Yair stared at the earl in disbelief.
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Re: STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Mon Feb 08, 2010 12:16 am

DrakBibliophile
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A Mighty Fortress - Snippet 14

"No. In fact, the Bishop Executor and Father Aidryan apparently managed to get out of Manchyr, despite the siege lines," Baron Larchros answered for Storm Keep. "No one seems to know exactly how they did it, but the fact that they seem to've done it suggests 'Emperor Cayleb' isn't quite as infallible as he'd like us to believe!"

"Then who –?"

"Bishop Klairmant. Or, I suppose, I should say 'Archbishop Klairmant,'" Larchros said bitterly, and Yair blanched visibly.

Klairmant Gairlyng, the Bishop of Tartarian, one of the Princedom of Corisande's most respected prelates, came from the Temple Lands themselves. To be sure, the Gairlyngs scarcely constituted one of the truly great Church dynasties. If they had, Klairmant would undoubtedly have ended up with a more prestigious bishopric. But he was still at least a distant cousin of several current vicars, which had always given him a great deal of moral authority within the ranks of Corisande's clergy. Worse, he'd served his see for sixteen years now, without taking a single vacation trip back to Zion, and earned a reputation for unusual piety in the process. Having him acknowledge the primacy of the heretic Staynair constituted a serious blow to the Church's authority, and one of Yair's hands rose. It signed the scepter of Langhorne, and Baron Larchros barked a laugh which contained very little humor.

"I'm afraid the good bishop isn't the only servant of Mother Church who's turned his coat -- or should I say his cassock? -- Father," he said flatly. "In fact, I think that may've been the most disturbing thing about this 'Special Parliament' of Cayleb's, when you come down to it. Over a third – almost half, really – of the Princedom's bishops were prepared to proclaim their loyalty to the 'Church of Charis.'" His lips worked in disgust. "And where bishops led the way, is it any surprise the rest of the priesthood followed suit?"

"I can't . . ." Yair shook his head. "I can't believe –"

He broke off, and Storm Keep reached out to pat his knee with a comforting hand.

"It's early days yet, Father," he said quietly. "Yes, I'm afraid Gairlyng truly intends to . . . reach an accommodation, shall we say, with Cayleb and Staynair. I don't pretend to know what all of his motives are. On the one hand, he's known Tartarian for years, and as far as I know, they've always been on excellent terms. That might be part of it. And, to give Shan-wei her due, I suppose it's possible he's at least partly trying to head off any sort of pogrom here in Corisande. The Charisian version of the Inquisition is hardly likely to treat any open resistance by 'Temple Loyalists' gently, after all."

Although, he admitted to himself a bit grudgingly, this "Viceroy General" Chermyn's Marines have been a lot "gentler" than I would have expected . . . so far, at least. Musket butts and bayonets are bad enough, but bullets are worse, and he's been mighty sparing with those, under the circumstances.

"And maybe Gairlyng, Anvil Rock, and Tartarian all see an opportunity to feather their own nests, and Shan-wei with heading off any 'pogroms,'" Larchros said bitingly in response to the earl's last observation.

"And maybe that, as well," Storm Keep conceded.

"You said over a third of the bishops have accepted Staynair's authority, My Lord," Yair said to Larchros. "What's happened to those who refused?"

"Most of them have gone into hiding like Bishop Amilain, I imagine," the baron replied, and this time there was at least a hint of genuine humor in his thin smile.

Amilain Gahrnaht, the Bishop of Larchros, had 'mysteriously disappeared' before Larchros set out for Cherayth. The baron didn't officially know exactly where Gahrnaht had taken himself off to, but he knew Father Airwain did. So did Storm Keep. That, in fact, was the main reason the earl was prepared to speak so frankly in front of a mere chaplain he scarcely knew personally.

"With the semaphore stations in the hands of Gairlyng's sycophants," the baron continued more somberly, "it's hard to know what's really going on, of course. A lot of bishops and upper-priests refused – like Bishop Amilain – to obey Cayleb's summons at all. In the case of bishops who refused, he and Gairlyng appointed replacements before he left, and 'Viceroy General' Chermyn's announced his intention to send troops along with each of those replacements. He says there will be no mass arrests or persecutions of 'Temple Loyalists' as long as they refrain from acts of 'rebellion.'" Larchros snorted viciously. "I can just imagine how long that's going to last!"

"But . . . but Cayleb and Staynair have been excommunicated!" Yair protested. "No oath to either of them can be binding in the eyes of God or man!"

"A point I bore in mind myself," Larchros agreed with a grim smile.

"And I," Storm Keep said. "In fact, I imagine quite a few of Prince Daivyn's nobles were thinking about that. For that matter, I'm quite certain Bishop Mailvyn was, as well."

"Indeed?" Yair perked up noticeably. Mailvyn Nohrcross was the Bishop of Barcor. Unlike Gairlyng, he was a nativeborn Corisandian. In fact, he was a cousin of the Baron of Barcor, and his family wielded considerable influence both within the Church and in secular terms, as well.

"I wouldn't say we've actually discussed it, you understand, Father," Storm Keep said, "but from a couple of 'chance remarks' he managed to let fall in my presence, it's my belief Bishop Mailvyn believes it will be wiser, for now, to pay lip service to this Church of Charis. At any rate, I feel reasonably confident he'll do his best to . . . buffer the blows to those who remain privately loyal to Mother Church."

"In fact," Larchros looked at his chaplain rather pointedly, "if anyone were to have the opportunity to discuss it with Bishop Amilain, I suspect Bishop Mailvyn would be prepared to quietly extend his protection to a fellow prelate unjustly deprived of his office."

Yair looked back at him for a moment, then nodded, and Storm Keep shrugged.

"The truth is, Father Airwain, that no one really knows what's going to happen. My understanding is that Cayleb intends to leave affairs here in Corisande in the hands of the Regency Council . . . 'advised' by his Viceroy General Chermyn, of course. Apparently he cherishes the belief – or the hope, perhaps – that now that he's taken himself off to Chisholm, people may forget he had Prince Hektor murdered. That's the real reason we all spent so many five-days parked in Manchyr even after he sailed for Cherayth. Anvil Rock, Tartarian and the others were busy hammering all of us over the head with how deeply committed they are to doing their best to preserve the Princedom intact and defend its ancient prerogatives. They say Cayleb has promised them he'll leave Corisande as much self-rule 'as possible.' I leave it to you to judge just how much 'self' there's going to be in that 'rule'!"

The priest's nostrils flared with contempt, and the earl nodded.

"Precisely," he said. "For now, at least, though, he's left Anvil Rock and Tartarian to deal with maintaining order while he dumps the . . . thorny problem, shall we say, of settling the Church's affairs into Gairlyng's hands. There were rumors swirling around Manchyr that Staynair himself may be visiting us in a few months' time. For now, two or three upper-priests from Charis are playing the part of Gairlyng's intendants, and no doubt keeping an eye on him for Staynair's version of the Inquisition. Unless I'm seriously mistaken, Cayleb figures his best chance is to at least pretend he plans to ride Corisande with a light rein, if only we'll let him."

"You think that's why he's agreed to accept Daivyn as Prince Hektor's heir, My Lord?"

"I think that's part of it, certainly." Storm Keep waved one hand slowly, like a man trying to fan a way through fog. "To be honest, though, I don't see what other option he had. He's made it clear enough that whether we want it to or not, Corisande's just become part of this 'Charisian Empire' of his. That would have been a hard enough pill to force down the Princedom's throat under any circumstances; after Prince Hektor's murder, it's going to be even harder. If he'd set straight out to put one of his favorites in the Prince's place, or claimed the crown directly in his own name, he knows the entire Princedom would have gone up in flames. This way, he and the 'Regency Council' can hide behind Daivyn's legitimacy. He can even pretend he's looking out for the boy's best interests, since, after all, he never had anything to do with Prince Hektor's assassination, now did he? Oh, no, of course he didn't!"

The earl's irony was withering.

"And then there's the consideration that with Daivyn safely out of the Princedom, he's neatly deprived any potential resistance of a rallying point here in Corisande," Larchros pointed out. "Worse, Anvil Rock and Tartarian can claim they're actually looking after Daivyn's claim to the crown when they move to crush any resistance that does arise! Look at the cover it gives them! And if Daivyn is ever foolish enough to come back into Cayleb's reach, he can always go the same way his father and older brother did, once Cayleb decides he doesn't need him anymore. At which point we will get one of his damned favorites on the throne!"

"In a lot of ways, I don't envy Cayleb the mouthful he's bitten off here in Corisande," Storm Keep said frankly. "Murdering the Prince and young Hektor was probably the stupidest thing he could have done, but Langhorne knows enough hate can make a man do stupid things. I can't think of any two men who hated one another more than he and Prince Hektor hated each other, either, especially after Haarahld was killed at Darcos Sound. And let's not even get started on how Sharleyan felt about the Prince! So maybe he simply figured the personal satisfaction of vengeance was going to be worth any political headaches it created. And if he didn't know Daivyn was already out of the Princedom, he probably figured controlling a little boy would be easier than controlling someone young Hektor's age, so killing the Crown Prince may have seemed sensible to him, too . . . at the time. For that matter, as you just pointed out, Rahzhyr, he could always have had Daivyn suffer one of those 'childhood accidents' that seem to happen to unwanted heirs from time to time." The earl's expression was grim, and he shrugged. "But now he doesn't have Daivyn in his hands, after all, and that leaves the entire situation in a state of flux."

"What do you think is going to happen, My Lord?" Yair asked quietly. "In the end, I mean."

"At this point, I truly don't know, Father," the earl said. "If the Regency Council can keep a lid on things for the next several months, and if Gairlyng and the other Church traitors can cobble together some sort of smooth-seeming transition into this Church of Charis, he may actually make the conquest stand up. I think the odds are against that, and, to be honest," he showed his teeth in a smile which contained absolutely no humor, "I intend to do everything I can to make them worse, but he might manage to pull it off. For a while, at least. But in the long run?"

He shrugged.

"In the long run, as long as Daivyn stays free, there's going to be a secular rallying point for resistance. It may be located somewhere else, and any sort of direct contact between us and him may be all but impossible to maintain, but the symbol will still be there. It doesn't matter if the 'Regency Council' claims to be acting in his name or not, either. As long as he's outside the Princedom and 'his' council is obviously taking its orders from Cayleb, its legitimacy is going to be suspect, to say the very least. And the same thing is true for Bishop Executor Thomys, as well. As long as the true Church's hierarchy remains, even if it's driven underground, then any effort to replace it with the 'Church of Charis' is going to be built on sand. Eventually, Cayleb and his cat's paws are going to find themselves face-to-face with a genuine popular uprising, Father. When that happens, I think they'll find their authority runs a lot less deeply than they thought it did. And it's the nature of that sort of thing that one uprising plants the seeds for the next one, whether it succeeds or not. So when the day comes that Cayleb is forced to pull his troops off of Corisandian soil, and recall his ships from Corisandian waters, to deal with threats closer to home, I think those of us who have been planning and working and waiting for that day will be in a position to give him a most unwelcome surprise."
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Wed Feb 10, 2010 12:04 am

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2121
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A Mighty Fortress - Snippet 15

IV
King Ahrnahld's Tower,
Royal Palace,
City of Gorath,
Kingdom of Dohlar

Lywys Gardynyr, the Earl of Thirsk, was in a less than cheerful mood as the guardsmen saluted and their commanding officer bowed him through the open door.

Langhorne, how I hate politics -- especially court politics, he thought harshly. And especially court politics at a time like this!

Of course, he admitted a bit grudgingly as one of the Duke of Fern's innumerable secretaries met him with a deep bow, just inside King Ahrnahld's Tower, it could have been worse. In fact, for the last two years or so, it had been worse -- a lot worse. Things were in the process of looking up enormously, at least for him personally, and he was grateful that was true. On the other hand, he could have wished they'd started looking up a bit sooner . . . and at not quite so cataclysmic a cost for everyone else.

The secretary led him down a short, broad hall, turned a corner, ascended a shallow flight of stairs, and knocked gently on an ornately carved wooden door.

"Enter!" a deep voice called, and the secretary pushed the lavishly decorated panel wide.

"Earl Thirsk is here, Your Grace," he announced.

"Excellent. Excellent! Come in, My Lord!"

Thirsk obeyed the deep voice's invitation and stepped past the secretary into a luxurious, sunlit office. The walls of King Ahrnahld's Tower were over three feet thick, but some remodeler had laboriously cut windows, reaching almost from floor to ceiling, through the thick masonry. They filled the chamber with light and at least the illusion of warmth. It was a welcome illusion, given the icy weather outside. The reality of the fire crackling on a wide hearth did considerably more to hold off the chill, however, and he was grateful for it, even if the chimney did seem to be smoking just a bit.

"Thank you for coming so promptly, My Lord," the owner of the deep voice said, rising to stand behind his desk.

Samyl Cahkrayn, the Duke of Fern, was a man of medium height, thick-chested, with still-powerful arms and hands, despite the years he'd spent in offices very like this one. His hair had silvered with age, yet it was still thick and curly, despite the fact that he was several years older than the grizzled, gray Thirsk. Those sinewy hands were soft and well manicured these days, though, without the sword calluses they'd boasted when he was younger, and he'd discovered that a quill pen was a far more deadly weapon than any blade he'd ever wielded.

"My time is His Majesty's, Your Grace," Thirsk said, bowing to the Kingdom of Dohlar's first councilor, "and sea officers learn early that nothing is more precious than time." He straightened once more with a smile which was decidedly on the thin side. "Changing tides have little compassion, and winds have been known to shift whenever the mood takes them, so a seaman learns not to dawdle when they're a favorable."

"I see." Fern returned the earl's smile with one which was even thinner, then gestured gracefully to the other man who'd been waiting in the office. "As a matter of fact," he continued, "Duke Thorast and I were just discussing that. Weren't we, Aibram?"

"Yes, we were," Aibram Zaivyair, the Duke of Thorast, replied. There was no smile at all on his face, however, and the "bow" he bestowed upon Thirsk was far closer to a curt nod.

"You were, Your Grace?" Thirsk asked, raising one eyebrow slightly in Thorast's direction. It probably wasn't wise of him, yet under the circumstances, he couldn't quite refrain from putting a certain innocent curiosity into his tone.

"Yes, we were," Fern said before his fellow duke could respond. The words were identical to Thorast's, but there was a small yet pronounced edge to them. Thirsk heard it, and met the first councilor's eyes. The message in them was plain enough, and the earl nodded in acknowledgment and acceptance.

He's probably right, too, Thirsk reflected. Much as I'd like to watch the bastard squirm, I'm still going to have to work with him, so rubbing too much salt into the wounds probably isn't the very smartest thing I could do. But, damn, it felt good!

"As you say, Your Grace," he said out loud. "And, to be honest, I can't say I'm completely surprised to hear it. It's not as any of us have an unlimited supply of time, is it?"

"No, we don't," Fern agreed, and waved his hand at a large armchair set facing his desk. "Please, be seated, My Lord. We have a great deal to discuss."

"Of course, Your Grace."

Thirsk seated himself in the indicated chair and leaned back, his expression attentive. Although Fern's formal note hadn't stated the official reason for his summons to the first councilor's private office, he'd been fairly certain what it was about. Finding Thorast waiting with the first councilor -- and looking like a cat-lizard passing fish bones, into the bargain -- confirmed the earl's original surmise. What remained to be seen was exactly how far Thirsk was about to be formally "rehabilitated."

"As I'm sure you're aware, My Lord," Fern began after a moment, "Mother Church's Captain General, Vicar Allayn, determined some months ago that our initial shipbuilding programs required a certain degree of . . . modification."

Well, that's one way to put it, Thirsk thought sourly. After all, it would hardly do to say "The fucking idiot finally got his thumb out of his arse and realized he'd wasted Langhorne only knows how many marks building exactly the wrong damned ships," even if it would be considerably more accurate.

"Although I'm sure many of the galleys we originally laid down will still prove useful," Fern continued, "it's apparent that, as Vicar Allayn has pointed out, we're going to require a galleon fleet of our own when the time comes to take Mother Church's war back to the apostate."

Which is exactly the point I made to the moron in my reports -- my detailed reports -- eighteen months ago, if memory serves, Thirsk reflected.

Of course, it had been made tactfully but firmly -- very firmly -- clear to him that he was to keep his mouth shut about how long Vicar Allayn Maigwair had totally ignored his own warnings about what Cayleb Ahrmahk's heavy, gun-armed galleons had done to the Royal Dohlaran Navy's galleys in the battles of Rock Point and Crag Reach.

"As I'm sure you're aware, the Captain General ordered a major shift in our building plans six months ago," the first councilor said. "It took some five-days for that change in direction to be integrated into our own efforts here in Gorath" -- in fact, it had taken over two months, as Thirsk knew perfectly well -- "but we've undertaken a large scale conversion program on existing merchant galleons. Work is well under way on the new ships now, as well, and several of our original vessels are being altered on the ways. Duke Thorast" -- Fern nodded in Thorast's direction -- "tells me the first of our converted galleons will be ready for service within the month and that the first of our new galleons will be launching quite soon after that, although it will obviously take rather longer than that to get them rigged and ready for sea. When they are ready for sea, however, My Lord, I intend to call upon you to command them."

"I'm honored, Your Grace," Thirsk said quietly. "May I ask, however, if I am to command them in King Rahnyld's service, or in that of the Temple?"

"Does it matter?" Thorast asked, his tone sharp, and Thirsk looked at him calmly.

"In many ways, not at all, Your Grace," he replied. "If my impression of the number of ships to be manned is correct, however, we'll have no choice but to impress seamen. Just finding experienced officers is going to be extremely difficult, assuming it's possible at all, and our supply of experienced sailors may well be even more limited, relative to the numbers I'll require."

Thorast's lips tightened. He seemed about to say something, then glanced at Fern and clearly changed his mind.

Probably just as well I didn't point out that his idiot brother-in-law, Malikai, is one of the main reasons we're so short of sailors, the earl reflected dryly. Especially since he's done everything he could for the last two years to hang responsibility for that fiasco around my neck! And what Cayleb's privateers have done to our merchant fleet -- on his own watch -- hasn't done one thing to help the shortage, either. Not to mention considerably reducing the potential supply of those converted galleons Fern was just talking about.

"And your point is, My Lord?" Fern inquired as if he were totally unaware of Thirsk's thoughts . . . which he most definitely was not.

"My point, Your Grace, is that it will make quite a bit of difference whether those seamen are being impressed by the Kingdom of Dohlar or by Mother Church. While I realize no one likes to admit it, many of His Majesty's subjects have little or no compunction about avoiding the Navy's press gangs, and I regret to say that not a few of their fellow subjects have no compunction about helping them do it. Frankly, it would be unreasonable to expect anything else, I'm afraid, given the common seaman's lot aboard a ship of war.

"If, however, they're being impressed for service in Mother Church's name, I think it likely many who might otherwise attempt to avoid service will be more willing to come forward. Moreover, I believe it's even more likely that those who might otherwise assist the . . . less enthusiastic in avoiding the press gangs are far less likely to do so if that would run counter to Mother Church's commands."

Fern frowned thoughtfully. Although the first councilor had never himself served at sea, he had risen to high rank in the Royal Army before turning to a political career. He understood the question Thirsk was really asking.

"I see your point, and it's well taken, My Lord," the duke conceded after several seconds. "Unfortunately, I can't answer it at this moment."

"May I speak frankly, Your Grace?"

"Of course, My Lord." Fern sat back in his chair slightly, his eyes narrowing, and Thirsk gave a small shrug.

"Your Grace, I realize Grand Vicar Erek has not yet chosen to decree Holy War against Charis." Thorast stiffened noticeably, but Fern only sat there, and Thirsk continued in the same calm voice. "Among ourselves, however, as the men who will be responsible for answering Mother Church's summons when it comes, a certain degree of bluntness is in order, I think. No one in the entire Kingdom can possibly doubt why Mother Church is building such an enormous fleet. Given the Charisians' actions over the last couple of years, it's inevitable that Mother Church is going to move openly against Cayleb and Sharleyan as soon as it's practicable to do so. I'm positive Cayleb and Sharleyan realize that, as well, unless all of their spies have been miraculously rendered deaf and blind. That being the case, I believe it would be better to acknowledge from the beginning exactly whom the ships -- and their crews -- will serve, and why. Pretending otherwise will fool no one, yet may make it more difficult to get the ships manned. Under the circumstances, I would vastly prefer to be able to tell my officers and men what they will be called upon to do from the start."

There was silence in the office for the better part of a minute. Even Thorast looked more thoughtful than belligerent -- for the moment, at least. Finally, Fern nodded slowly.

"Again, I see your point, My Lord," he said. "And I confess I'm inclined to agree with you. At the moment, however, I have no instructions from the Captain General or the Chancellor in this regard. Without such instructions, it would undoubtedly be . . . premature, shall we say, to begin unilaterally declaring our belief that Holy War is coming. That being the case, I don't believe we can authorize you to begin impressing men in Mother Church's name. Not yet, at least. But what I can do is ask Bishop Executor Ahrain to consult with the Captain General by semaphore. I'll inform Vicar Allayn that I'm in agreement with you on this matter. I'm inclined to think that while the Grand Vicar may not wish to declare Holy War quite this soon, Vicar Allayn" -- or the rest of the Group of Four, at least, the first councilor carefully did not say aloud -- "will agree that it's self-evident the fleet is being raised in Mother Church's service."

"Thank you, Your Grace," Thirsk murmured.

"You're welcome." Fern gave him a smile which looked mostly genuine, then turned to other matters.

"Something you may not be aware of, My Lord," he said briskly, "is that the Grand Inquisitor has personally ruled that the new artillery mountings do not constitute any infringement of the Proscriptions. While I'm sure all of us could wish this point had been clarified sooner, all of our new artillery will be modified as it's cast to incorporate these 'trunnions.' In addition, I've been informed that a technique has been devised for adding 'trunnions' to existing guns. I'm scarcely an artisan myself, so the details of the process don't mean much to me, but I feel confident that an experienced sea officer like yourself will understand them.

"In addition, we'll be adopting the new sail plans, and I've been informed that our gunsmiths will soon be beginning construction of a new and improved musket, as well. Taken all together, I believe this means --"
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets
Post by Alistair   » Fri Feb 12, 2010 5:27 am

Alistair
Rear Admiral

Posts: 1257
Joined: Wed Dec 30, 2009 5:48 am

Drak is late so here it is

I hope no one minds

A Mighty Fortress - Snippet 16

V
Archbishop’s Palace,
City of Tellesberg,
Kingdom of Charis

“Another glass, Bynzhamyn?” Archbishop Maikel Staynair invited, reaching out a long arm to lift the brandy decanter and arching one salt-and-pepper eyebrow suggestively.

“I suppose, under the circumstances, it couldn’t hurt, Your Eminence,” Bynzhamyn Raice, Baron Wave Thunder, agreed.

The baron was a large man, with a completely bald head and a powerful nose, who had risen from humble beginnings to his present position on the Royal Council of Old Charis. Although Prince Nahrmahn of Emerald had become the official Imperial Councilor for Intelligence, Wave Thunder had been King Haarahld’s spymaster before Cayleb ascended to the Charisian throne, and he continued to hold what was almost certainly the most sensitive of the new Empire of Charis’ intelligence positions. He held that position because he was so very good at what he did, although he’d recently acquired certain advantages he had never previously dreamed might exist.

He and Staynair sat in the cleric’s third-floor study in the Archbishop’s Palace beside Tellesberg Cathedral, listening to the background sounds of the benighted city through the study’s open windows. The night was relatively cool — for Tellesberg in October, at any rate — which was a relief after the day’s heat, and the city noises were muted this late in the evening. They would never quite cease, of course. Not in Tellesberg, the city that never quite slept. But they were definitely diminishing as the night deepened, and the palace was far enough from the eternally-busy docks for the noises which continued to be hushed by distance.

The archbishop’s official residence sat in a stately park of just under three wooded, beautifully landscaped acres, which were worth a not-so-small fortune in their own right, given the price of real estate in Tellesberg. The palace itself was a magnificent building, having been built of golden-hued Ahrmahk marble and designed to house one of Mother Church’s archbishops in the splendor appropriate to his high office, but Staynair’s tastes were rather simpler than those of most of Old Charis’ previous prelates. The magnificent furnishings with which his immediate predecessor had filled this study, for example, had been removed early in Staynair’s tenure. He’d replaced them with furniture he and Ahrdyn Staynair, his years-dead wife, had assembled during their lives together. All of that was tasteful enough, but it was also old, comfortable, and (obviously) well loved.

At the moment, Staynair lay tipped back, half-lying in a recliner his wife, Ahrdyn had commissioned for him when he was first ordained a bishop. He’d had it recovered at least twice since then, and from the condition of the fabric, he was going to have to have it reupholstered yet again sometime soon. The reason he was going to have to do that (this time) lay contentedly curled in his lap, purring in happy possessiveness. The snow-white cat-lizard whose claws had shredded the upholstery of the recliner-shaped scratching post with which he had been so obligingly provided — and whose name was also Ahrdyn, despite the fact that he happened to be male — was clearly in no doubt as to who owned who, whatever any silly humans might think.

Now Ahrdyn-the-lizard interrupted himself in mid-purr and raised his head to look disapprovingly up at Staynair as the archbishop leaned far enough to the side to pour fresh brandy into Wave Thunder’s proffered glass. Fortunately for the cat-lizard’s view of the proper organization of the universe, the refilling process didn’t take long, and his mattress’ anatomy settled back into the appropriate position relatively quickly. Better yet, the hands which been distracted from their proper function resumed their dutiful stroking.

“It’s such a relief to realize that the Empire’s spiritual shepherd is made of such stern stuff,” Wave Thunder observed dryly, gesturing with his glass at the large, powerful hands rhythmically stroking the cat-lizard’s silky pelt. “I’d hate to think you could be readily manipulated — or, God forbid, allow yourself to be dominated!”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Staynair replied with a serene smile.

“Oh, of course not!” Wave Thunder snorted, then allowed a fresh sip of brandy to roll across his tongue and send its honeyed fire sliding down his throat. He savored the sensation, but then his expression sobered as he returned his attention to the true reason for this evening’s visit.

“I understand the logic behind your travel plans, Maikel,” he said soberly, “but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I have some significant reservations about them, as well.”

“I don’t see how the man charged with your responsibilities could feel any other way.” Staynair shrugged very slightly. “In fact, in many ways, I’d really prefer to stay right here at home, myself. And not just because of the possibility of lurking assassins, or any of the more mundane hazards involved in the trip, or even of the fact that I anticipate spending quite a bit of it being ineffably bored.” He grimaced. “On the other hand, and even giving all of those reasons I should stay home their just weight, I still can’t possibly justify not going. First, because it’s my spiritual responsibility as Archbishop of the Church of Charis. We’ve had more than enough of absentee archbishops who visit their archbishoprics for a single month or two each year! God’s children deserve better than that, and I intend to see that — to the best of my own ability — they get it.”

Staynair’s lips tightened, and his eyes darkened. Wave Thunder knew better than most that Maikel Staynair was one of the most naturally gentle men the human race had ever produced. At that moment, though, looking into those eyes, seeing that expression, he realized yet again what a vast gulf lay between the words “gentle” and “weak.”

“And even if that weren’t true — which it is, and you know it as well as I do,” Staynair resumed after a moment, “it’s absolutely essential that people outside Old Charis have a face to put with my name. Or, rather, with my office. It’s not going to be very much longer before the Group of Four does manage a counter attack. When it does, the Church of Charis will face the first true test of its strength and stability. And, frankly, at this particular moment, the extent of that strength and stability is still very much an unknown quantity. I’m confident about the state of the Church here in Old Charis, and I’m optimistic about Emerald and Chisholm, given my correspondence and the . . . other intelligence avenues available to us. But it would be terribly unfair to people like Archbishop Fairmyn in Emerald or Archbishop Pawal in Chisholm to expect them to stand firm in the face of a tempest like that one is going to be — and hold their own clergy with them — without at least having had the opportunity to meet their Archbishop face to face.”

“I said I understood the logic,” Wave Thunder pointed out. “But I may be just a bit more focused on those assassination possibilities than you are. I know you’re going to have your own guardsmen along, and frankly, the fact that you’ll be a moving target is actually going to make any sort of coordinated attack, like the one on Sharleyan, more difficult to put together. It could still happen, though, Maikel, and I’m not going to be very happy about that possibility until you’re either safely under Merlin’s eye in Chisholm or back here, where I can keep an eye on you. There are too many people, completely exclusive of the Group of Four, who’d really, really like to see you dead about now. If I have my way, though, they’re going to go on being disappointed in that regard, if you don’t object to strongly.”

He gave the archbishop a stern look, which turned into something a bit more like a glower when Staynair answered it with one of complete tranquility. They looked at one another for a second or two, and it was Wave Thunder who abandoned the struggle first.

“In addition to that little area of concern, however,” he continued, “having you out of the Kingdom for so long is going to cause its own share of problems that don’t relate directly to the Church — or any potential assassins — in any way, and you know it. For one thing –”

He tapped the lobe of his right ear with an index finger, and Staynair nodded, his own expression rather more sober than it had been. Like Wave Thunder’s, his own ear held the almost invisible earplug for one of Merlin Athrawes’ security coms. The baron had been one of his own very first nominees to be added to Cayleb’s “inner circle” when Merlin made the devices available after the attempt to assassinate Sharleyan had come so terrifyingly close to success.

In the almost five months since the assassination attempt, both Staynair and Wave Thunder had become accustomed to the many advantages the coms provided. Indeed, the archbishop often thought Wave Thunder found those advantages even greater than he himself did, which was hardly surprising, given the nature of the baron’s duties. As a priest, Staynair couldn’t be entirely happy about the degree of intrusiveness into others’ lives which Merlin’s SNARCs made possible, but he also knew that Merlin, with Cayleb’s and Shareyan’s strong approval, had set up “filters” (whatever they might be, which was a subject still well beyond Staynair’s current understanding) to limit that as much as possible. For that matter, and despite the fact that any man might have been tempted by expediency after spending as long as Wave Thunder had spent managing all of the Charisian spy networks, Staynair trusted the baron’s integrity enough to not spend too many nights lying awake worrying over what privacies he might be violating. He knew the baron habitually spent at least an hour every night now conferring with Owl and reviewing the day’s intelligence information, but he also knew he was more than content to leave the actual monitoring of the various reconnaissance platforms up to the computer. If Wave Thunder looked at something, it was only because it fell into the parameters he’d defined for Owl — parameters designed to insure it was really important — and not out of any sort of voyeurism.

Unfortunately, the number of other people in Old Charis who had been cleared for the level of information available to the two of them literally could have been counted on the fingers of one hand. (Assuming Ahrdyn had been prepared to relinquish one of Staynair’s hands long enough for the computation to be accomplished.) In fact, the only people so far equipped with the communication devices were Staynair himself; Wave Thunder; Dr. Rahzhyr Mahklyn at the Royal College; Admiral Sir Domynyk Staynair, the Baron of Rock Point (and Maikel Staynair’s brother); Sir Ehdwyrd Howsmyn, who was undoubtedly the Empire of Charis’ wealthiest single subject; and Father Zhon Byrkyt, the Prior of the Monastery of Saint Zherneau. There were others Staynair would desperately have preferred to see added to that list, but that decision was neither his, nor Cayleb’s and Sharleyan’s, alone. And, despite his own impatience, he had to agree with Cayleb’s original decision to set things up that way. Maddening though it might so often be, he was prepared to admit the overwhelming force of the arguments in favor of proceeding with almost insane caution where the expansion of the inner circle was concerned.

Which is about the only thing that lets me maintain a semblance of patience with Zhon and the rest of the Brethren, he reminded himself. The fact is, though, that someone has to be that voice of caution. And let’s be honest with ourselves, Maikel. At this point, it’s a lot more important we not tell someone it turns out we couldn’t trust after all than that we add everybody we’d like to the list.

“Domynyk is already out of the Kingdom,” Wave Thunder continued, “Howsmyn is pretty much anchored to his foundry right now — which, I might point out, is the next best thing to eleven hundred miles from where we happen to be sitting at the moment, in case it’s slipped your mind — and Father Zhon is about as close to a hermit as someone living in the middle of Tellesberg gets. So when you leave the Kingdom, that will leave the Emperor or Empress with direct access only me and Rahzhyr, here in the capital. Rahzhyr isn’t a member of the Council at all — yet, at least — and, to be brutally frank, I don’t have the amount of influence with Rayjhis that you do. He and I are friends and colleagues, and he trusts my judgment in a lot of specific areas. But I don’t begin to have the status you have with him. Or with the rest of the Council, for that matter. If they head off in some wrong direction, I’m not going to be able to rein them in the way you could.”

“Agreed.”

Staynair nodded, and his eyes darkened for a moment. Wave Thunder was entirely correct about his own influence with Sir Rayjhis Yowance, the Earl of Gray Harbor and First Councilor of the Kingdom of Old Charis. The two of them had known one another almost literally since boyhood, and they trusted one another implicitly. Yet that wasn’t the only reason why Gray Harbor trusted Archbishop Maikel Staynair’s judgment so deeply.

Just as it isn’t the only reason I haven’t even considered suggesting Rayjhis be added to the “inner circle,” he thought with more than a trace of sorrow, then grimaced at his own perversity. It’s really pretty stupid for an archbishop to regret the depth of a kingdom’s first councilor’s personal faith, he told himself severely.

Perhaps it was, yet he did regret it, in some ways, and he was too self-honest to deny it, especially in the privacy of his own thoughts. Like every other living Safeholdian, Gray Harbor had been brought up in the Church of God Awaiting, and despite his burning hatred for the Group of Four and the other men who had corrupted that Church, his faith ran deep. It was an absolutely essential part of who he was, of what made him such a strong and honorable man.

And it was the reason Sir Rayjhis Yowance could never be told the truth about “the Archangel Langhorne” and the entire, perverted lie upon which Langhorne’s Church rested. It would destroy him. Or perhaps it wouldn’t. He was a strong man, and his faith was powerful. He might weather the storm . . . but Staynair was certain the struggle would be a terrible one. One which would, at the very least, thrust him into an agonizing crisis of conscience that would paralyze the strong, confident decisiveness which was so much a part of him — the very things which had made him so very outstanding in his present position.

Personally, Staynair would have breathed a deep, heartfelt prayer of gratitude if all it cost them was the most effective first councilor to have served the Kingdom of Charis in at least two generations. Perhaps that was shortsighted of him as an archbishop, but he’d been a priest long before he was a bishop, and he prayed nightly that he would never become more concerned with “matters of state” than with individual souls. Yet the priest in him was dreadfully afraid that a first councilor would not be all it cost them . . . and in that fact lay a microcosm of Maikel Staynair’s true quandary as a man of God.

There was no question in Staynair’s mind that God had to recognize the strength and passion of the faith of a man like Rayjhis Yowance, however that faith had been distorted by the very people who’d been charged with nurturing his soul. As Staynair himself had once told Merlin Athrawes, God might demand much from some of His servants, but whatever else He might be, He wasn’t stupid. He would never condemn a man like Rayjhis for believing as he had been taught to believe.

Yet when — and how — did Staynair and the others like him, who knew the truth, proclaim that truth? That day must eventually come. Ultimately, faith could not be based upon a deliberate lie, and those who knew the lie had been told must expose it. But how? When? And at what cost to those who had been reared to believe the lie? Despite his own faith, Maikel Staynair never doubted for a moment that when the truth was told, there would be many who decided God Himself must be a lie, as well. He dreaded that moment, dreaded the possible cost to all of those souls, yet he knew it must be done, anyway. Just as he knew that the religious conflict which that schism would bring to life would, in many ways, dwarf the present one.

Which was why they first had to destroy the Group of Four and break the Church of God Awaiting’s stranglehold on all of Safehold.

Which, in turn, brought him back to the problem of his own impending departure and the hole that would leave in the Council.

“To tell the absolute truth, Bynzhamyn, I’m not really that worried about Rayjhis,” he said. “It’s not as if you and I have had to spend all of our time ’steering him’ into doing the things we know Cayleb and Sharleyan want done, after all. I mean, he’s already doing them, and God knows he’s demonstrated often enough how competent he actually is. Besides, there are practical limits to the amount of ’steering’ we could do. Unless you want to stand up in the middle of the next Council meeting and announce that you ‘hear voices’?”

“Not likely!” Wave Thunder snorted.

“Well, there it is, then, when you come down to it.” Staynair shrugged again. “Rayjhis isn’t the sort to go charging off in some idiosyncratic direction without at least discussing it with the rest of the Council first. When that happens, if you think, based on something you know that he doesn’t, that he’s about to make a mistake, you’re just going to have to do the best you can. I wouldn’t push it too hard, if I were you, until you’ve had a chance to discuss it directly with Cayleb and Sharleyan, in any case. It may well be that if we all put our heads together, we can come up with some way to . . . restrain his enthusiasm, let’s say. And, knowing Rayjhis, even if we can’t find a way to do that, he’s hardly likely to do anything stupid or risky enough to create a genuine danger.”

“You’re probably right about that,” Wave Thunder conceded. “No, you are right about that. All the same, I really don’t like having the Court in Cherayth this way.” He grimaced. “I’m sure Green Mountain and Queen Mother Alahnah felt pretty much the same way when the Court was here in Tellesberg, and I know it’s something we’re all going to have to get used to, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy it.”

“No, it doesn’t,” Staynair agreed. “In fact, sheer distance — and how long it takes for messages to cross between its various parts, openly, at least — is the Empire’s biggest weakness, and we all know it. I’m pretty sure the Group of Four does, too, and I imagine anyone as smart as Trynair and Clyntahn is going to do his best to take advantage of it. Of course,” Staynair showed his teeth in a most un-archbishop-like smile, “they don’t know quite everything, do they? We may be sitting here fretting about how to ’steer’ Rayjhis, but they don’t have a clue of the fact that you or I can discuss a situation ‘face-to-face’ with Cayleb and Sharleyan anytime we have to!”

“Which only makes it even more frustrating when we can’t talk to someone else anytime we have to,” Wave Thunder growled, and the archbishop chuckled.

“The Writ says patience is one of the godly virtues,” he pointed out. “Interestingly enough, so do all of the other religions Owl and I have been reading about. So you’re not going to get a lot of sympathy from me just because it’s a virtue which you notably lack, Bynzhamyn!”

“I hope you still find it humorous when you’re sitting on a becalmed galleon in the middle of the Chisholm Sea,” Wave Thunder replied, dark eyes gleaming. “Patience, I mean.”
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Re: STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Mon Feb 15, 2010 12:16 am

DrakBibliophile
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A Mighty Fortress - Snippet 17


"Somehow I suspect being becalmed in the Chisholm Sea is going to be one of the least of my problems in the middle of the winter," Staynair said wryly. "I've been advised to pack a lot of golden-berry tea, for some reason."

The gleam in Wave Thunder's eyes turned into a snort of amusement. Golden-berry tea, brewed from the leaves of the golden-berry tree, which grew to a height of about ten feet and thrived in almost any climate, was the standard Safeholdian treatment for motion sickness.

"You may find the thought amusing," Staynair said severely, "but I rather doubt I'm going to feel the same way when we're looking at waves as high as a cathedral spire!"

"Probably not," Wave Thunder acknowledged with a grin. He leaned back in his own chair and sipped more brandy for several moments, then looked back across at Staynair.

"And Nahrmahn?" he asked. "Have you pressed Father Zhon about that recently?"

"Not really," Staynair confessed. "I'm still in two minds, myself, if the truth be told. I understand how valuable Nahrmahn could be, but I don't really have a good enough feel for him yet -- as a man, and not just a prince -- to feel comfortable predicting how he'd react to the complete truth."

"He's handled the 'Merlin has visions' version of the truth well enough," Wave Thunder pointed out.

"So has Rayjhis," Staynair countered. "Oh, don't get me wrong, Bynzhamyn. If there's anyone who's . . . mentally flexible enough, let's say, to accept the truth, it's got to be Nahrmahn. And I'm very much inclined to believe Merlin -- and Cayleb, for that matter -- are correct about where he's placed his fundamental loyalties now. Maybe the problem's just that Emerald was the enemy for so long. I mean, it's possible I'm carrying around some kind of automatic prejudice towards all things Emeraldian, including the Prince of Emerald, myself. I don't think I am, but that doesn't mean I'm not. I'm just . . . uncomfortable in my own mind about how . . . stable his loyalties are. That's not the right word." The archbishop waved one hand, his expression that of a man unaccustomed to being unable to express himself with precision. "I guess what it comes down to is that I haven't really been able to spend enough time with him to feel I truly know him."

"Well, that's fair enough," Wave Thunder conceded. Prince Nahrmahn had spent no more than a month and a half in Tellesberg before departing for the Corisande campaign with Emperor Cayleb. He'd returned to Old Charis two months ago, but he'd stayed in Tellesberg for less than two five-days before departing for Emerald. No reasonable person could have complained about his priorities, given the fact that he'd seen neither his wife nor his children in the better part of a year, but it did mean that Staynair -- and Wave Thunder, for that matter -- had enjoyed precious little opportunity to truly get to know him.

"Maybe you'll have the opportunity to get better acquainted during your pastoral visit," the baron pointed out, and Staynair nodded.

"I plan to make a point of it," he said. "For that matter, I think it's entirely possible he may end up sailing back to Chisholm with me, as well. And as you so tactfully pointed out a few moments ago," the archbishop grimaced, "that ought to give me plenty of time to get ' acquainted'."

"I understand ocean cruises are supposed to be an excellent opportunity to make lifelong friendships," Wave Thunder observed, and Staynair snorted. Then the archbishop's expression turned a bit more thoughtful.

"Actually," he said in the tone a man used to admit something he found at least mildly surprising, "I think a genuine friendship with Nahrmahn is definitely a possibility." He shook his head with a bemused air. "Who would've thought that a year or two ago?"

"Not me, that's for sure!" Wave Thunder shook his own head rather more forcefully, then glanced at the clock. "Well," he set his brandy snifter back down, "I suppose I ought to be getting back home. I'd like to say Leahyn is going to be wondering where I am. Unfortunately, the truth is that she already knows where I am, and she's probably got a pretty fair idea of what the two of us have been up to." He grimaced. "I don't doubt that she's going to give my breath the 'sniff test' as soon as I come in the door."

Staynair chuckled. Leahyn Raice, Lady Wave Thunder, was sometimes described as "a redoubtable female," which was accurate enough as far as it went. She was almost as tall as her husband, and no one had ever accused her of being frail. She also had strong opinions on quite a few subjects, a sharp tongue she wasn't at all afraid to use, and a keen intelligence which had quite often helped her husband solve a particularly perplexing problem. She was also warmhearted and deeply caring, as the priest who'd been her bishop for so long knew better than most. She went to considerable lengths to disguise the fact, however. She wasn't really all that good at it, though. She and Bynzhamyn had been married for the better part of twenty-five years, and while Staynair knew it amused Wave Thunder to play the "wyvern-pecked husband" to his friends, everyone who knew them recognize that the truth was distinctly different. Still, there was no denying that Leahyn Raice had a distinctly proprietary attitude where the care and feeding of her husband were concerned.

"The real reason she picks on you is that heart attack, you know," the archbishop said now, mildly.

"Of course I know that!" Wave Thunder smiled wryly. "On the other hand, that was six years ago, Maikel! The healers have all said a little wine now and then -- or even whiskey, in moderation -- won't hurt me a bit. In fact, they say it's probably good for me!"

"If I didn't know they'd given you permission, I wouldn't have invited you to deplete my stock," Staynair pointed out.

"Well, I just wish one of them would have another talk with her!"

"Nonsense!" Staynair shook a finger at him. "Don't try to mislead me. This is part of the game you two have been playing for years, and I'm really not sure which of you enjoys it more." He eyed Wave Thunder shrewdly. "Most of the time, I think it's you, actually."

"That's ridiculous." The spymaster's voice was less than fully convincing as he pushed himself up out of his chair, Staynair noticed. "But, in any case, I do need to be getting home."

"I know," Staynair replied, but something in his manner stopped Wave Thunder half way to his feet. The baron's eyebrows rose, and then he settled back again, his head cocked.

"And what did you just decide you were going to mention to tell me after all, Maikel?" he asked.

"We have known each other for quite a while, haven't we?" Staynair observed a bit obliquely.

"Yes, we have. And I know that expression. So why don't you go ahead and tell me instead of sitting there while I pull something you already know you're going to tell me about out of you by inches?"

"Actually," Staynair's voice was unwontedly serious, almost hesitant, "this is a bit difficult for me, Bynzhamyn."

"Why?" Wave Thunder asked in a markedly different tone, his eyes narrowing with concern as the archbishop's genuine -- and highly unusual -- discomfort registered.

"Tomorrow morning," Staynair said, "Father Bryahn will be at your office bright and early to deliver a half-dozen crates to you. They aren't very large, but they're fairly heavy, because they're packed almost solid with paper."

"Paper," Wave Thunder repeated. He leaned back in his chair again, crossing his legs. "What sort of paper, Maikel?"

"Documents," Staynair replied. "Files, really. Collections of memoranda, depositions, personal letters. You can think of them as . . . evidence."

"Evidence of what?" Wave Thunder asked intently.

"Something like twenty years worth of documented corruption within the vicarate and the Inquisition." Staynair's voice was suddenly very flat, his eyes cold. "Evidence of specific acts of extortion, blackmail, theft -- even rape and murder. And evidence that Zhaspahr Clyntahn, at least, knew about quite a few of those acts and conspired to conceal them."

Despite his many years of experience, Wave Thunder felt his jaw drop. He stared at his old friend for several seconds, literally speechless, then shook himself violently.

"You're not joking, are you? You really mean it!"

"I do." Staynair sighed. "And I really wasn't going to tell you I had it, either. Unfortunately, accidents do happen, and I am going to be making some rather lengthy voyages in the next few months. So I decided I had to hand it to someone before I sail, just in case."

"And how long have you had it?" Wave Thunder asked in a careful tone.

"I've been examining it for about a month now," Staynair admitted. "It took a while to get here from -- Well, never mind about that."

"And you weren't going to tell anyone about it?" Wave Thunder shook his head slowly. "Maikel, if your description of what you have is accurate, then you have to realize even better than I do just how critical that sort of evidence could be. Especially if we can document it."

"To be honest, that's part of the problem." Staynair leaned back in his own chair. "What I have are duplicates of the original evidence. I'm personally completely convinced of its authenticity, but there's no way I could prove all of it isn't simply a clever forgery, and that definitely makes it a double-edged sword. Frankly, I think we could do ourselves enormous damage in the propaganda war between us and Zion by publishing allegations we can't prove."

"Maybe," Wave Thunder conceded. "On the other hand, no matter what kind of 'proof' we had, the Group of Four and its mouthpieces would swear up and down that it was all a forgery, anyway. I mean, it doesn't matter how much genuine proof we have; people on both sides are going to make their minds up based on what they already believe. Or what they're willing to believe, at any rate."

"I know. And I thought about that. But there's another issue involved, as well."

"What sort of 'issue'?" Wave Thunder asked warily.

"This information was delivered to me under the seal of the confessional," Staynair said. "The person who delivered it to me agreed to trust my discretion about the use I might choose to make of it, but I was told the source of the documentation in my role as a priest. And the person who gave it to me doesn't wish the identity of the source to become known."

"Not even to Cayleb or Sharleyan?"

"Not to anyone." Staynair expression was somber. "I think the person who delivered this to me is probably being overly cautious, Bynzhamyn, but that isn't my decision to make. And I have to agree, given what I've been told -- and what I've already seen of the documentation itself -- that if the Group of Four should suspect, even for a moment, that we have this information and -- especially! -- how it came into our possession, the consequences for a very courageous person would be devastating. For that matter, the consequences would be fatal, and quite probably for a large number of other people, as well."

The archbishop's eyes, Wave Thunder realized, were as troubled as the baron had ever seen them.

"In many ways, I really ought to hand this over to Hainryk for safekeeping, I suppose." Staynair said slowly. "I thought about that . . . hard. But in the end, I decided this was an occasion where finding the best way to balance my responsibilities to the Empire and my responsibilities to God required very careful consideration. I'm not fully satisfied with the answer I've come to, but it's the best I've been able to do after praying in meditating about as hard as I've ever prayed or meditated in my life."

Wave Thunder nodded slowly. Hainryk Waignair, the Bishop of Tellesberg, was the second ranking member of the Church of Charis' episcopate here in Old Charis. In fact, Waignair would be the acting Archbishop of Charis until Staynair returned. He was also a Brother of Saint Zherneau, which meant that -- like Wave Thunder and Staynair -- he knew the truth behind the lie of "the Archangel Langhorne" and the Church of God Awaiting. He and Staynair were very old friends, as well as colleagues and brothers of the same order, and Wave Thunder knew that Staynair trusted Waignair implicitly, both as a man and as a priest. The baron had no doubt that it must have taken a great deal of prayer and meditation, indeed, to bring the archbishop to the point of leaving this with him, and not with Waignair.

"Speaking as a member of the Imperial Council, and as the Archbishop of Charis, and as Cayleb's and Sharleyan's adviser, there's absolutely no question in my mind that I should already have handed all of this information over and told you and them exactly where it came from, Bynzhamyn," Staynair continued. "But speaking as Father Maikel -- as a priest -- I cannot violate the sanctity of the confession. I won't. The Church of God Awaiting may be a lie, but God isn't, and neither is the faith of the person who trusted me in this matter."

Wave Thunder had started to open his mouth to argue. Now he closed it again as he recognized the unyielding armor of Maikel Staynair's faith and integrity. Speaking purely for himself, Bynzhamyn Raice had found he was considerably less confident of the existence of God following his discovery of the truth about the Church of God Awaiting. He wasn't comfortable admitting that, even to himself, yet there was that nagging suspicion -- possibly a product of his spymaster's necessary cynicism -- that if one religion could have been deliberately fabricated, then all of them might have been. He was too intellectually self-honest to deny that doubt to himself, but it didn't keep him up at night, unable to sleep, either. Whether God existed or not, the Empire of Charis was still locked in a death struggle with the Group of Four, and laying itself open to charges of atheism (a word Wave Thunder had never even heard of until he gained access to Owl's computer records) would only hand someone like Clyntahn a deadly weapon.

But whatever doubts he might find himself entertaining, he knew there was no doubt at all in Maikel Staynair. The archbishop was as far removed from a fanatic as a human being could possibly be. Wave Thunder was pretty sure Staynair was aware of his own doubts, but he was even more confident that if the archbishop was aware of them, he would never condemn the baron for them. That simply wasn't the way Staynair worked, and Wave Thunder had found himself hoping that the God Maikel Staynair believed in -- the God who could produce a man like Maikel Staynair -- did exist. But if Staynair had given his word as a priest, then he would die before he broke it.

Which, when you come down to it, is the real difference between him and someone like Clyntahn, isn't it? Wave Thunder thought. Clyntahn believes in the Church. In the power of the Church, not of God, despite the fact that no one has ever shown him a scrap of evidence to cast doubt on God's existence. Maikel knows the Church is a lie . . . but his faith in God has never wavered for a moment.

"All right, Maikel," he said quietly. "I understand your thinking. And I respect it. But if you deliver this evidence to me, then it's going to be my duty to make use of it. Or, at least, to examine it all very carefully. You know how much insight we got into the Church and the Inquisition from the files Domynyk captured in Ferayd. From what you're saying, these documents could tell us a hell of a lot more -- if you'll excuse the language -- than they did."

"I realize that. It's one of the reasons I hesitated so long about giving them to you. I even considered leaving them here to be delivered to you only in the event that something did happen to me, along with a cover letter explaining what they were. In the end, though, I decided I needed to explain to you in person, and I decided that for many of the same reasons I decided to leave it with you and not Hainryk. Hainryk is my brother in God and one of my dearest friends, and he has the courage of a great dragon, yet his deepest and truest joy lies in his priesthood, in ministering to the needs of his flock. That's a great deal of what made him such a perfect choice as the Bishop of Tellesberg -- well, to be honest, that and the fact that I knew I could place complete trust in his loyalty. But if I left this with him, it would put him in a most uncomfortable position. I think he would recognize the same issues I recognize, yet I can't be certain of that, and I refuse to put him in the position of carrying out binding instructions from me which might violate his conscience as a priest.

"From a more practical perspective, he truly detests politics -- even church politics, though he knows he has to be aware of them. Secular politics, diplomacy, and strategy are things he would far rather leave in other hands, however. Which means he's far less well informed and aware of the . . . imperial realities, shall we say, than you or I. He would definitely not be the best person to be evaluating the information in these files for its possible significance and value to the Empire.

"You, on the other hand, have a very keenly developed sense for all of those things. If there's a single person in all of Old Charis who could more accurately judge the value of this material, I have no idea who he might be. Which is why I decided to leave it with you . . . and to make you aware of the reasons I can't tell you exactly where they came from, or who delivered them to us. I trust your discretion, and I know you'll handle them with extraordinary care. And" -- Staynair looked levelly into Wave Thunder's eyes -- "I know you won't tell a soul where you got them until and unless I give you permission to do so."

The baron wanted to argue, but he recognized an exercise in futility when he saw it. And the fact that Staynair trusted him enough to hand him something like this meant it was unthinkable that he should violate that trust.

"All right," he said again. "You have my word, in that regard. But on one condition, Maikel!"

"And that condition is?"

"If something does happen to you -- God forbid -- then I'll do what seems best in my own judgment with this evidence." Wave Thunder held Staynair's eyes as levelly as the archbishop had just held his. "I'll do my best to protect your source, whoever it is, and I'll be as cautious as I can. But I won't accept something like this without the understanding that my own duties and responsibilities will require me to decide what to do with it if you're no longer around to make the call. Is that understood?"

"Of course," Staynair said simply.

"Good."

There were a few moments of silence, and then Wave Thunder snorted quietly.

"What?" the archbishop asked.

"Well, it just occurred to me to wonder if you're planning on telling Cayleb and Sharleyan about this?"

"I'm not in any tearing rush to do so," Staynair said wryly. "I'm sure they'd respect the responsibilities of my office. That's not the same thing as saying they'd be happy about it, though. So, if it's all right with you, I'm just going to let that sleeping dragon lie."

"As a matter of fact," Wave Thunder smiled crookedly, "I think that may be the best idea I've heard all night!"
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
*
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Wed Feb 17, 2010 12:07 am

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2121
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

A Mighty Fortress - Snippet 18

VI
Saint Kathryn's Church,
Candlemaker Lane,
City of Manchyr,
Princedom of Corisande

There were rather more people than Father Tymahn Hahskans was accustomed to seeing in his church every Wednesday.

Saint Kathryn's was always well attended, especially for late mass. And, he knew (although he did his best to avoid feelings of undue satisfaction), especially when he officiated at that service, rather than the dawn mass he truly preferred. The Writ enjoined humility in all men. And, diligently though Father Tymahn strove to remember that, he wasn't always successful in that respect. He was as mortal and fallible as any man, and the number of guest members who attended when the schedule board outside Saint Kathryn's announced that he would be preaching that Wednesday sometimes touched him with the sin of pride. He did his very best to put that unseemly emotion aside, yet it would have been dishonest to pretend he always managed it. Especially when one of his parishioners told him they'd heard one of his sermons being cited by a member of some other church.

Yet this morning, as he stood in front of the altar, just inside the sanctuary rail, listening to the choir at his back and looking out at the crowded pews and the standing room only crowd piled against Saint Kathryn's outer wall, he felt more anxious than he'd felt in decades. Not because he had any doubts about what he was going to say -- although he didn't expect this sermon to be wildly popular in all quarters of the city, to say the very least -- but because he was finally going to get to say it. He'd been silenced often enough over the years, warned far more often than he cared to remember to keep his mouth shut on certain subjects and called on the carpet whenever he strayed too close to those limitations.

And now, when you're finally in a position to speak from the heart at last, Tymahn, at least half of your audience is going to figure you're a Shan-wei-damned traitor currying favor with the occupation!

He felt his face trying to grimace, but he smoothed the expression back out with the ease of long practice. At fifty-six, he'd held Saint Kathryn's pulpit for over ten years. He was hardly some newly ordained under-priest, and he knew better than to demonstrate anything which could be misconstrued by even the most inventive as uncertainty or hesitation. Not in the pulpit. There, he spoke with God's own voice, at least in theory. By and large, Hahskans had always felt confident God would give him the words he needed, yet he also had to admit there'd been times he'd found it difficult to hear God's voice behind the Church's message.

This time, at least, he didn't have that particular problem. Of course, as the Writ itself warned in more than one passage, delivering God's message wasn't always the best way to make oneself popular with God's children. Men had a tendency to decide God ought to be clever enough to agree with them . . . and to ignore anything He might have to say on a subject if it didn't agree with them. In fact, sometimes the messenger was lucky if all they did was to ignore him.

At least Archbishop Klairmant and Bishop Kaisi had promised him their support if -- when -- things got ugly. That was quite a change from Bishop Executor Tohmys' attitude where this particular subject was concerned, although Hahskans wasn't entirely clear yet on who was going to support them. The new Archbishop and the new Bishop of Manchyr were making waves enough of their own, already, and he suspected there was going to be more than enough ugliness to go around before they all safely reached port once more.

Assuming they did.

Which was another thing the Writ had never promised would always happen, now that he thought about it.

The choir drew towards the end of the offertory hymn and Hahskans raised his right hand and signed the Scepter of Langhorne.

"Lift up your hearts, my children."

The liturgy's familiar, beloved words rolled from his tongue as the organ's final note followed the choir's voices into silence. The simple injunction was quiet in that stillness, yet he felt its comfort strengthening his voice as it always did.

"We lift them up unto the Lord, and to the Archangels who are His servants."

The massed answer rumbled back in unison, filling the ancient church, bouncing back down from the age-blackened beams overhead.

"Let us now give thanks unto the God Who made us, and unto Langhorne, who was, is, and always shall be His servant," he said.

"It is meet and right so to do."

All those extra voices gave the reply additional power, yet there was more to that strength than simple numbers. The formal response carried a fervency, spoke to a need, that went far beyond the ordinary comfort and fellowship of the mass. These were no longer simply the words of a well-worn, perhaps overly familiar liturgy. This time, today, in this church, the people behind that response knew themselves as God's children in a world afloat upon the proverbial sea of troubles. They were frightened, and they turned -- as always -- to Mother Church and her clergy for comfort and guidance.

"It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks unto you, O Lord, Creator and Builder of the Universe, Everlasting God. Therefore, with the Archangel Langhorne and the Archangel Bédard, and all the blessed company of Archangels, we laud and magnify your glorious Name; evermore praising you and saying --"

"Holy, holy, holy," the congregation gave back, their voices joining and enveloping his own in their merged majesty, "Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of your glory: Glory be to you, O Lord Most High. Amen."

"Amen," Hahskans finished quietly into the silence after those massed voices, and smiled as the tranquility of his vocation flowed through him yet again.

It's all right, he thought. Whatever happens, wherever it leads, it's all right, as long as You go with me.

"Be seated, my children," he invited, and feet shuffled and clothing rustled throughout the church as those in the pews obeyed him. Those standing against the wall could not, although he sensed many of them leaning back against the solid stonework and ancient wooden paneling. And yet, in many ways, the congregation's relaxation was purely physical. Only an easing of muscles and sinews so that minds and souls might concentrate even more fully on what was to come.

He smiled and crossed to the pulpit, where he opened the enormous copy of The Holy Writ waiting there. The massive volume was considerably older than Hahskans. In fact, it had been donated to Saint Kathryn's in the memory of a deeply beloved mother and father by one of the parish's few truly wealthy families three years before his own father had been born, and it had probably cost close to twice Hahskans' annual stipend even then. It was one of Saint Kathryn's treasures -- no mass-printed copy, but a beautiful, hand-lettered edition, with illuminated capitals and gorgeous illustrations filling the margins and flowing down the gutters between columns of words. The scent of candle wax and incense was deeply ingrained into the jewel-set cover and the heavy, creamy, rich-textured pages. As he opened the book, that scent rose to Hahskans like the very perfume of God, and he drew it deep into his lungs before he looked back up at the waiting congregation.

"Today's scripture is taken from the fifth chapter of The Book of Bédard, beginning at the nineteenth verse," he told that sea of faces, and took some extra comfort from it. Perhaps it was a good omen that this Wednesday's text was drawn from the book of his own order's patron.

"Behold," he read. "I will tell you a great truth, worthy of all men and sacred unto the Lord. Hear it, and heed, for on the Final Day, an accounting shall be demanded of you. The Church is created of God and of the Law of Langhorne to be the keeper and the teacher of men's souls. She was not ordained to serve the will of Man, nor to be governed by Man's vain ambitions. She was not created to glorify Man, or to be used by Man. She was not given life so that that life might be misused. She is a great beacon, God's own lamp, set upon a mighty hill in Zion to be the reflector of His majesty and power, that she might give her Light to all the world and drive back the shadows of the Dark. Be sure that you keep the chimney of that lamp pure and holy, clean and unblemished, free of spot or stain. Recall the Law you have been given, the will of God that will bring you safe to Him at the last, utmost end of time. Guard her always, keep true to the Writ, and all will be well with you, and with your children, and with your children's children, until the final generation, when you shall see Him and We who are His servants face-to-face in the true Light which shall have no ending."

He looked up into a silence which had suddenly become far more intense than it had been, and he smiled.

"This is the Word of God, for the Children of God," he told them.

"Thanks be to God, and to the Archangels who are His Servants," the congregation replied, and he closed the Writ, folded his hands on the reassuring authority of that mighty book, and faced them.

His earlier fear, his earlier anxiety, had disappeared. He knew both of them would return, for he was merely mortal, not one of the Archangels come back to Safehold. Yet for now, for this day, he was finally free to deliver the message which had burned in his heart of hearts for so long. A message he knew burned in the hearts of far more of God's priests than those who wore the orange of the vicarate might ever have suspected.

"My children," he began in a deep, resonant voice, "it has not been given to us to live in tranquil times. Unless, of course, you have a somewhat different definition of 'tranquil' than I've been able to locate in any of my dictionaries!"

His smile broadened, and a deep mutter of amusement -- almost but not quite laughter -- went through the church. He treasured it, but then he allowed his smile to fade into a more somber expression and shook his head.

"No," he said then. "Not tranquil. Not peaceful. And so, frightening. And let us be honest with one another, my children. These are frightening times, and not just for ourselves. What father doesn't strive with all his might to keep his children fed and safe? What mother fails to give all she has within her to guard her children from harm? To banish the shadows of the nightmare and the bad dream? To bind up all the hurts of the spirit, as well as the scraped knees and stubbed toes of childhood? All that is within us cries out to keep them from danger. To protect them. To guard them and keep every threat far, far away from those we love."

The silence in the church was profound, and he turned his head slowly, letting his eyes sweep the congregation, making direct contact with as many other eyes as possible.

"It is Mother Church's task to keep all of her children from harm, as well," he told them. "Mother Church is the fortress of the children of God, raised and ordained by the Archangels to be God's servant in the world, established as the great teacher to His people. And so, in times of danger -- in times of pestilence, of tumult, of storm and fire and earthquake . . . and war -- the children of God turn to God's Holy Church as a child seeks his father's arms in the windstorm, his mother's embrace when nightmare rules his night. She is our home, our refuge, our touchstone in a world too often twisted by violence and cruelty and the ambition of men. As the Holy Bédard herself tells us, she is a great lamp set high on a hill, illuminating all of us as she illuminates every inch of God's creation with the reflection of His holy Light."

He paused once more, feeling them, feeling the weight behind their eyes as his words washed over them, and he inhaled deeply.

"This is one of those times of tumult and war," he said quietly. "Our Princedom has been invaded. Our Prince lies slain, and his son and heir with him. We have been occupied by a foreign army, and the clergy of a strange church -- a schismatic church, separated and apart from Mother Church, at war with Mother Church -- have come to us with frightening, heretical words. Thousands of our fathers and sons and brothers were slain at the Battle of Darcos Sound, or fell in battle here, defending their own soil, their own homes. And as we look upon this tide of catastrophes, this drumroll of disasters, we cry out to God, to the Archangels -- to Mother Church -- seeking that promised guidance and protection, begging for the inner illumination which will lead all of us to the Light in the midst of such Darkness. Allow us to make some sort of sense of the chaos and somehow find God's voice amid the thunder.

"I know there are many in this Princedom, in this very city, who call upon us to rise in just resistance, in defiance of the foreign swords and bayonets about us. To cast off the chains and dishonor of oppression. And I know that many of you, my children, are torn and frightened and confused by the sight of Mother Church's own priesthood splitting, tearing apart into opposing factions. Into factions being denounced -- and denouncing one another -- as traitors, heretics, apostates. 'Blasphemer!' some shout, and 'Corrupter of innocence!' others return, and when the shepherds assail one another, where shall the sheep find truth?"
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Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Fri Feb 19, 2010 12:06 am

DrakBibliophile
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A Mighty Fortress - Snippet 19


He unfolded his hands and very, very gently, reverently, caressed the huge book lying closed in front of him.

"Here, my children."

He spoke so softly those farthest from the pulpit had to strain to hear him, yet still his superbly trained voice carried clearly.

"Here," he repeated. "In this Book. In the word of God Himself, and of the Archangels he sent into His world to do His work and to carry His Law to us. Here is where we will find truth.

"And yet," his voice gained a little strength, a little power, "as Langhorne himself warned us would be the case, the truth is not always pleasant hearing. The truth does not always come to us in the guise we would prefer. It does not always tell us we have been correct, that it must be someone else who has been in error, and it is not always safe. It demands much, and it brooks no self-deception. If we fall from a tree, the truth may be a bruise, or a sprain, or a broken limb . . . or neck. If we do not heed the word of God in time of peace, if we ignore His truth in times of tranquility, then we must learn it in the tempest. He will send His truth in whatever form He must in order to make us -- His stubborn, willful, self-absorbed children -- hear it, and that form can include foreign warships, foreign swords and bayonets, and even 'heretical' priests forced upon us at sword's point by foreign rulers."

The silence was as deep, as attentive, as ever, yet it had changed, as well. It was . . . harder, tenser It was wary and watchful, holding its breath, as if the people behind that stillness were aware he was about to say something he had never before been permitted to say.

"The Holy Bédard tells us in today's scripture that Mother Church is not the servant of Man. That she is not to be perverted and used for the vain, corrupt ambition of this world. That she is to be kept without spot or blemish. We do not wish to believe she could ever be anything else. That God would ever permit His Church to fall into evil. Permit His great lamp to become a source not of illumination, but of Darkness. We cry out in anger if anyone dares to tell us our wishes are in vain. We brand those who tell us such things can happen to Mother Church with every vile label we can conceive -- blasphemer, heretic, apostate, excommunicate, accursed of God, servant of darkness, spawn of Shan-wei, child of evil . . . the list goes on forever. And yet, much though it grieves me, bitterly though my heart weeps within me, it is not the 'heretics' who have lied to us. It is not the Church of Charis which has become the handmaiden of Shan-wei.

"It is Mother Church."

A deep, hoarse almost-sound of protest swept through the congregation. It was bone-deep, filled with pain, and yet no one listening to him found the words to give that protest shape and form. No one cried out in rejection. And that failure, the fact that the protest was inchoate, unformed -- a cry of grief, not one of denial -- told Tymahn Hahskans a great deal about the sheep of his flock.

Tears burned behind his eyes as he felt the conflicting tides sweeping through his congregation's hearts. As he recognized their sorrow, the fear not simply of what he had already laid out before them, but of what they sensed was yet to come, and the soul-deep dread which was the precursor of acceptance.

"I am not the only one of Mother Church's priests who has longed to cry out against her oppression," he told them. "Not the only one of her loving children whose eyes have seen the corruption growing and festering at her very heart. There are more of us than you may ever have guessed, and yet we have been ordered to keep silence. To tell no one we've seen the blemishes growing, the chimney of her lamp begrimed. To pretend we haven't seen worldly power, wealth, and the pomp and secular glory of princes become more important to those charged to keep her safe and clean of spot than their own duty to God and to the Archangels."

His voice rose, gaining steadily in power, touched with the denunciatory power of the visionary, and his dark eyes flashed.

"We have been ordered -- I have been ordered -- to keep silence about all these things, yet I will keep silent no more. I will open my mouth, and I will tell you, yes. Yes! My children, I have seen all of those things, and my eyes, made sharp by sorrow and disappointment, have grown disillusioned. I have seen the evil hiding beneath the fairness of Mother Church's surface. I have seen the men called to the orange who have turned their back upon God's true message, given the hearts not to God but to their own power and ambition. I have seen her captivity, and heard her cries for succor, and grieved for her bondage in the dark hours of the night, as have others, and our hearts are heavy as stones, for if she can give harbor to corruption, then surely anything can. If she is not proof against evil, then surely nothing is, and there is no hope in us. No help for us, for we have failed the Holy Bédard's great charge, and God's own Church has been defiled. Mother Church herself has become the doorway of evil, the portal for Shan-wei's dark poison of the soul, and we -- we, my children! -- are the ones who have let that terrible, terrible transformation come to pass. By our silence, by our acceptance, by our cowardice, we have become the accomplices of her defilers, and do not doubt for one moment that at the end of all things, we shall be called to account for our most grievous faults!

"And yet . . . ."

His voice trailed off into stillness, and he let that stillness linger. Let it build and hang heavily, filling Saint Kathryn's like some throbbing thunderhead, pregnant with the very rakurai of God. And then, at last, after a tiny eternity, he spoke again.

"Oh, yes, my children. . . and yet. The great 'and yet.' The glorious 'and yet'! Because God has sent us hope once more, after all. Sent it in the most unlikely guise of all. In the words of the 'apostate,' in the division of the 'schismatic,' and in the teachings of the 'heretic.' I know how shocked many of you must be to hear that, how dismayed. How frightened. And yet, as I examine the doctrine of this 'Church of Charis,' I find no evil in it. I find anger. I find rebellion. I find denunciation and defiance. But none of that, my children -- none of it! -- do I find directed against God. Or against the Writ. Or against what Mother Church was ordained to be and, with God's help, will one day be again!

"I do not say the Empire of Charis came to our shores solely out of the love all children of God are called to share with one another. I will not tell you worldly ambition, the contest of princes squabbling over baubles and the illusion of power, has played no part in what has happened here . . . or in what happened in Darcos Sound when the corrupt men in Zion sent our sons and brothers to destroy those who had dared to reject their own corruption. Men are men. They are mortal, fallible, imperfect, prey to ambition and to the hatreds of this world. They are all of that. Yet even so, they live in God's world, and God can -- and will -- use even their weaknesses for His great purpose. And as I look upon His world, as I meditate upon His word," again, the hands gently caressed the great book before him, "I see Him doing precisely that. I tell you now, and no 'foreign heretic' has put the words into my mouth, what the Church of Charis tells you about the corruption, the decadence, the evil, of the 'Group of Four' and those who serve their will is God's own truth, carried to us in the tempest of war because God's Church would not hear Him in the time of tranquility. The men in Zion, the men who think of themselves as the masters of God's Church, are not shepherds, but wolves. They serve not the Light, but the deepest, blackest Dark. And they are not the keepers of men's souls, but the enemies of God Himself, set free to wreak Shan-wei's ruin upon us all . . . unless those who do serve the Light stop them and cast them down utterly.

"God's sword has been loosed in the world, my children. We are fated to live in the shadow of that sword, and it is up to each of us to decide where we will stand when His truth demands an accounting of us. That choice lies before each and every one of us. We ignore it at our peril, for those who do not choose to stand for the Light will find themselves, in the fullness of time, given to the Dark. I beseech you, as you face this time of tumult, choose. Choose! Take your stand for God as God gives you the power to see it, and gird yourself for the greater and still sterner test to come."

* * * * * * * * * *

Merlin Athrawes shook himself and opened his eyes, letting the imagery recorded by the tiny sensors deployed inside Saint Kathryn's Church slip away from him. He sat up in his chair in Cherayth, thousands of miles from Manchyr, feeling the sleeping quiet of the palace all around him, and something deep within his molycirc heart seemed to be beating against the confining cage of his chest's synthetic composites.

The power and the passion of Tymahn Hahskans' sermon echoed inside him, driven by the man's personal, burning faith. A part of Merlin, even now, wanted to mock and deride that faith, because, unlike Hahskans, he knew the lie upon which it rested. He knew what Adorée Bédard had truly been like. Knew that, in many ways, Zhaspahr Clyntahn and Zahmsyn Trynair were far, far closer to Eric Langhorne than someone like Maikel Staynair could ever be. He longed -- longed with a depth and a strength which shocked him more than a little, even now -- to hate Tymahn Hahskans for worshiping mass murderers like Bédard and Langhorne.

Yet he couldn't. He literally could not do it, and he smiled crookedly as he contemplated the sublime irony of it all. Adorée Bédard had been personally responsible for brainwashing every single colonist planted on the planet of Safehold into believing that he or she had been created, given the breath of life itself, in the very instant their eyes opened on this world for the first time. She'd built the entire lie, brick by brick. Every word of "The Book of Bédard," whether she'd actually written it herself or it had simply been attributed to her after her own death, had been dedicated to supporting that lie, shoring up the coercive edifice of the Church's tyranny.

And yet, despite all of that, it was the Order of Bédard -- men like Tymahn Hahskans, like Maikel Staynair -- who were the spearheads of the reformist movement. Who insisted on taking the words of Adorée Bédard and actually applying them. Insisted upon holding those who corrupted the Church's power accountable.

Merlin Athrawes wasn't going to make the mistake of assuming that anyone who supported the Church of Charis automatically supported the Empire of Charis, as well. The world -- and the workings of the human heart -- were too complicated, too complex, for that simple a parallelism to govern. Yet Merlin had also known, thanks to the unique perspective his SNARCs conferred upon him, that the anger against the Group of Four's corruption had never been limited solely to the Kingdom of Charis. Even he had failed to fully appreciate the power of that anger as it bubbled away beneath the surface, for the coercive power of the Church -- and especially of the Inquisition -- had kept it beneath the surface. Unseen and unheard, where it was not permitted to challenge the authority and power of those who had made themselves masters of the Church.

There were others like Hahskans. Merlin had known that from the beginning of this struggle. He never doubted that they would demand the right to speak their minds and their hearts where the Church of Charis was concerned, as well, but he'd known they recognized the evils which afflicted the Temple. He'd hoped they would find their voices when the Inquisition's stifling hand was lifted from their mouths, and he'd been deeply pleased when Tymahn Hahskans' name had headed the list of reconfirmed parish priests in Klairmant Gairlyng's first proclamation as Archbishop of Corisande. Whether Hahskans himself realized it or not, Merlin's SNARCs had revealed to him long ago that the rector of Saint Kathryn's was one of the most respected priests in all of Manchyr. And there was a reason that was so, a reason Hahskans deserved every bit of respect the laity of the Corisandian capital gave him, and not simply because he was a gifted preacher. He was that, of course, but the true reason he was so respected -- even beloved -- was that only the blindest or most cynical of people could possibly have denied the intellect, the integrity, and the limitless love which filled that man of God.

He is a man of God, too, Merlin thought now. Filtered through the prison of the Church of God Awaiting or not, Hahskans truly has found his own way to God. As he himself says, he's not the only priest in Corisande who's seen the corruption in Zion, but there's damned well not another man in Manchyr who could possibly have seen it more clearly . . . or denounced it more fearlessly. And if I'd ever doubted there truly is a God, finding a man like this in a church in the middle of Manchyr, of all places, would prove there is.

The man who had once been Nimue Alban shook his head again and then, although he would never again need oxygen, drew a deep and cleansing breath.

"All right, Owl," he murmured. "Now let's see the take from Manchyr Cathedral. I doubt Archbishop Klairmant's going to be able to beat that one, but let's give him the chance to try."

"Of course, Lieutenant Commander," the distant AI replied obediently, and Merlin closed his eyes once more.
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Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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