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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   » Sun Feb 21, 2010 11:05 pm


Posts: 2189
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

A Mighty Fortress - Snippet 20

IHNS Ice Lizard,
City of Yuthain,
Shwei Province,
Harchong Empire

"Welcome aboard, My Lord."

"Thank you, Captain --?" Phylyp Ahzgood replied, arching one eyebrow as he returned the bow of the stocky, bearded man in the uniform of the Imperial Harchong Navy who'd been waiting for him at the inboard end of the boarding plank.

"Yuthain, My Lord. Captain Gorjha Yuthain, of His Imperial Majesty's Navy, at your service." The officer bowed again, more deeply, with that certain special flourish of which only the Harchongese seemed truly capable.

"Thank you, Captain Yuthain," Earl Coris repeated, acknowledging the introduction, and smiled with genuine if weary gratitude.

This wasn't his first visit to Yu-Shai, and he hadn't really cared much for the city the first time round. It wasn't the townsfolk that bothered him, but both the city and the provincial administrations possessed every bit of the arrogance and insufferable sense of superiority stereotype assigned to all Harchongese bureaucrats. The permanent bureaucracy which administered the Empire was highly skilled. When properly motivated, it could accomplish amazing feats with astonishing skill and efficiency. Unfortunately, it was equally corrupt, and that skill and efficiency tended to vanish like snow in summer when the proper "spontaneous gifts" weren't offered. The fact that he and his royal charges had been little more than political fugitives -- and fugitives who were very, very far from home, at that -- had meant the local officialdom had expected considerably more generous "gifts" than usual, and Phylyp Ahzgood had a constitutional objection to being gouged.

This Captain Yuthain, however, was something else again. Coris recognized a type he'd seen often enough back home in Corisande -- a professional seaman, with quite a few years of tough naval service behind him and a marked lack of patience with the sort of bureaucrats who'd extorted every mark they could out of the earl the first time through. Coris doubted Yuthain would turn up his nose at the possibility of garnering a few extra marks here and there. He might even not be completely above a little judicious smuggling -- or above looking the other way while someone else did the smuggling, at any rate. But any venality on his part would be little more than surface deep, unless Coris missed his guess, and his competence -- and his own confidence in that competence -- were obvious.

That was good, and the gleam of humor the earl seemed to detect in Yuthain's eye was another good sign. Unless Coris was mistaken, Captain Yuthain was going to need a good sense of humor -- and all that competence -- in the next few five-days. The icy wind was brisk enough down here by the docks, in the shelter of the breakwaters and the waterfront buildings. It was going to be a lot brisker once they cleared the port, too. There was a reason a trip by galley across the Gulf of Dohlar in the teeth of a West Haven winter was nothing to look forward to. Not only that, but what waited after his arrival in the port of Fairstock, in the Empire's Malansath Province promised to be substantially less pleasant even than that.

Coris was perfectly well aware of that, yet after more than a full month's travel by coach and horseback, the thought of spending three or four five-days aboard a ship was positively alluring. The deck might move under his feet, probably fairly violently, at least once during the voyage. But Phylyp Ahzgood had been born and raised in an island princedom. He'd discovered early on that he was actually a very good sailor . . . and he'd just once again amply proved that he was not a good equestrian. In fact, it took all the self-restraint he possessed to keep himself from kneading his aching posterior.

"I can tell you've had a less than restful journey so far, My Lord, if you'll pardon my saying so," Yuthain observed, brown eyes twinkling ever so slightly as he took in Coris' mud-streaked boots and slightly bowlegged stance. "Ice Lizard's no fine cruise ship, and I'm afraid that this time of year she's likely to live up to her name, too, once we're clear of the land. But we'll not be sailing until tomorrow morning's tide, so if you'd care to get your gear stowed aboard, you can get at least one good night's sleep tied up wharf-side. For that matter," he twitched his head towards the lamp-lit windows of a tavern at the end of the wharf, "the Copper Kettle sets a good table, and it's got a decent bathhouse attached out back. A man who's spent the last few five-days aboard a saddle might be thinking a good, hot, steaming bath would be the best way to start his evening."

"He might indeed, Captain," Coris agreed with a smile which was even more grateful, and glanced over his shoulder at the equally travel-worn servant at his heels.

Rhobair Seablanket was a tall, thin man, probably close to fifty years old, with stooped shoulders, brown hair, dark eyes, and a full but neatly trimmed beard. He also boasted a long nose and an habitually lugubrious expression. He looked, to be brutally honest, like the compulsive-worrier sort of man no one had ever heard tell a joke, but he was a competent, if occasionally overly fussy, valet, and he was also Corisandian. That hadn't been a minor consideration when Coris hired him after Captain Zhoel Harys had safely delivered the earl and his two royal charges to Yu-Shai for their first visit to the city, on their way to Delferahk. There'd been no question of taking servants with them aboard the cramped merchant galley Wing, given their humble cover identities, and Coris had been delighted, for several reasons, to engage Seablanket when the Harchongese hiring agency turned him up. The man's accent was a comforting reminder of home, and his competence -- in more than one area -- had been more than welcome in the long, weary five-days since Coris had engaged him.

"Yes, My Lord?" Seablanket asked now, correctly interpreting his employer's glance.

"I think Captain Yuthain's advice is excellent," Coris said. "I fully intend to take advantage of that hot bath he just mentioned. Why don't you go ahead and get our gear stowed aboard? If I've got a dry change of clothes, unpack it and bring it over to the -- the Copper Kettle, was it, Captain?" Yuthain nodded, and Coris turned back to Seablanket. "Bring it over so I'll have something to put on, and if the kitchen looks as good as Captain Yuthain is suggesting, bespeak dinner for me, as well."

"Of course, My Lord."

"And don't forget to bring a change for yourself, too," Coris admonished, raising one forefinger and wagging it in the valet's direction. "I imagine you're just as frozen as I am, and I'm sure they've got more than one tub."

"Yes, My Lord. Thank you!"

Seablanket's normal expression lightened noticeably, but Coris merely shrugged his gratitude aside.

"And now, Captain," the earl said, returning his attention to Yuthain, "please don't think me rude, but the sooner I get into that hot tub of yours, the better. And while I'm sure Ice Lizard is an admirably well found vessel, I'm also going to be spending quite a bit of time as your guest. I'm sure we'll have entirely too much time to get to know one another between here and Fairstock."

* * * * * * * * * *

The Copper Kettle's bathhouse was plainly furnished, but well-built and fully equipped. Coris spent the better part of an hour immersed up to the neck, eyes half-closed in drowsy content as steaming water soaked the ache out of his muscles. He'd endured more time on horseback -- or in one of the bouncing, jouncing stage-coaches that bounded between posting houses on the more heavily traveled stretches -- over the past few months than in his entire previous existence, and he felt every weary mile of it deep in his bones. To be fair, the high roads here in Howard were far better designed, built, and maintained than their ostensible counterparts in Corisande had ever been. Broad, stone-paved, with well designed drainage and solid bridges, they'd made it possible for him to maintain an average of just over a hundred miles a day. He could never have done that on Corisandian roads, and to be honest, he wished he hadn't had to do it on Howard's roads, either. The fact that it was possible didn't make it anything remotely like pleasant, and the earl's lifetime preference for sea travel had been amply reconfirmed over the month since his departure from Talkyra.

Of course, that had been the easy part of his projected journey, he reminded himself glumly as he hoisted himself out of the water at last and reached for the towel which had been warming in front of the huge tiled stove that heated the bathhouse. The Gulf of Dohlar in October was about as miserable a stretch of seawater as anyone could ever hope to find. And while Coris had formed a high initial impression of Captain Yuthain's competence, Ice Lizard was a galley, not a galleon. She was shallow draft, low-slung, and sleek . . . and it was obvious to the earl's experienced eye that she was going to be Shan-wei's own bitch in a seaway.

Assuming they survived the passage of the Gulf (which seemed at least an even bet, if Captain Yuthain proved as skilled as Coris thought he was), there was the delightful prospect of another thirteen hundred miles of overland travel -- this time through the belly-deep snows of November -- just to reach the southern shores of Lake Pei. And then there was the even more delightful prospect of the four hundred-mile trip across the lake. Which would undoubtedly be frozen over by the time he got there, which -- in turn -- meant he would have to make the entire trip -- oh, joy! -- by iceboat.

That experience, he had no doubt, would make Ice Lizard look exactly like the fine cruise ship Yuthain had assured him she wasn't.

It's a good thing you're not fifty yet, Phylyp, he told himself glumly as he finished toweling off and reached for the linen drawers Seablanket had thoughtfully placed to warm in front of the stove. You'll probably survive. It's a good thing you made sure your will was in order ahead of time, but you'll probably survive. Until you actually get to Zion, at least.

And that was the crux of the matter, really, wasn't it? What was going to happen once he reached Zion and the Temple? The fact that the writ summoning him had been signed by the Grand Inquisitor, as well, not just the Chancellor, hadn't exactly put his mind at ease. Not surprisingly, he supposed, since he rather doubted it had been intended to do anything of the sort. Trynair and Clyntahn couldn't possibly see Daivyn as anything more than a potentially useful pawn. Someday, if he could finally, somehow reach the chessboard's final file, he might be elevated -- converted into something more valuable than that. But Daivyn Daykyn was only a very little boy, when all was said, and Clyntahn, at least, would never forget for a moment that pawns were meant to be sacrificed.

Coris had done his best to reassure Irys, and he knew the princess far too well to serve up comforting lies in the effort. In the earl's opinion, the girl was even smarter than her father had been, and she wasn't afraid to use the wit God and the Archangels had given her. She had all her father's ability to carry a grudge until it died of old age, then have it stuffed and mounted someplace where she could admire it at regular intervals, but -- so far, at least -- she'd usually shown a fair amount of discretion in choosing which grudges to hold. That might well change -- indeed, might already have changed -- given how her world had been shattered into topsy-turvy ruin in the last year or so, but despite her youth, she was just as capable as Coris himself when it came to reading the political wind, recognizing the storm clouds gathering about her younger brother. That was why he'd told her the absolute truth when he'd said he doubted the Group of Four had any immediate plans for how they might most profitably utilize Daivyn. Yet sooner or later, they would have plans, and that was the reason they'd decided to drag him all these thousands of miles through a mainland winter.

When the time came, they would want to be certain Phylyp Ahzgood understood his place. Recognized his true masters, with a clear vision, un-blinkered by any lingering, misplaced loyalty to the House of Daykyn. They intended to underscore that to him . . . and to see him for themselves, form their own judgment of him. And if that judgment proved unfavorable, they would remove him from his position as Daivyn's and Irys' guardian. If he was quite unreasonably lucky, he might even survive the removal rather than be quietly and efficiently disappeared. At the moment, he'd give odds of, oh, at least one-in-fifty that he would.

Well, Phylyp, my boy, he thought, slipping into an embroidered steel thistle silk shirt, you'll just have to see that they form a favorable opinion, won't you? Shouldn't be all that hard. Not for an experienced, conniving liar such as yourself. All you have to do is keep any of them from getting close enough to figure out what you really think. How hard can it be?

* * * * * * * * * *

"I've got to be getting back to the Copper Kettle," Rhobair Seablanket said. "He's bound to be finished with his bath by now. He'll want his dinner, and as soon as I get it served, he'll wonder why I'm not in the bathhouse myself." He grimaced. "For that matter, I'll wonder why I'm not neck-deep!"

"I understand," the man on the other side of the rickety desk in the small dockside warehouse office replied.

The office wasn't exceptionally clean, nor was it particularly warm, and its tiny window was so thoroughly covered with grime no one could possibly have seen through it. All of which only served to make it even better suited to their purposes.

"I understand," the other man repeated, "and so far, at least, I think my superiors are going to be satisfied. At any rate, I don't think anyone's going to want to give you any . . . more proactive instructions."

"I hope not," Seablanket said with obvious feeling. The other man arched an eyebrow, and the valet snorted. "This man is no fool, Father. I'm confident of everything I've reported so far, and I think your 'superiors'' original estimate of his character probably wasn't far wrong. But I'd really rather not be asked to do anything that might make him start wondering about me. If he ever realizes I'm reporting everything he does to someone else, he's likely to do something drastic about it. Please don't forget he was Hektor's spymaster. You know -- the one all of Hektor's assassins reported to?" Seablanket grimaced. "Corisandian intelligence was never too shy about dropping suitably weighted bodies into handy lakes or bays -- or swamps, for that matter -- and the two of us are about to sail across the Gulf of Dohlar in winter. I'd sort of like to arrive on the other side."

"Do you think it's really likely he'd react that way?" The other man actually seemed a bit amused, Seablanket noted sourly.

"I don't know, and if it's just the same to you, Father, I'd rather not find out. It's always possible he'd exercise a little restraint if he figured out who planted me on him the last time he was in Yu-Shai, but he might not, too. For that matter, he might not care who it was."

"Well, we can't have that!" The other man stood, straightening his purple, flame-badged cassock, and raised his right hand to sign Langhorne's scepter in blessing. "My prayers will go with you, my son," he said solemnly.

"Oh, thank you, Father."

It was, perhaps, a sign of just how preoccupied Seablanket truly was with the more immediate threat of the Earl of Coris' possible reactions that he allowed his own irritation to color his tone. Or it might simply have been how long he'd known the other man. Perhaps he realized it wasn't actually quite as risky as someone else might have thought.

After all, even one of the Grand Inquisitor's personal troubleshooters could have a sense of humor, when all was said.
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
Re: STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Wed Feb 24, 2010 12:13 am


Posts: 2189
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

A Mighty Fortress - Snippet 21

November, Year of God 893

Imperial Palace,
City of Cherayth,
Kingdom of Chisholm;
HMS Dawn Wind, 54,
Dolphin Reach

"What do you think about Merlin's and Owl's latest reports on Corisande, Maikel?" Sharleyan asked.

She and Cayleb sat in Prince Tymahn's Suite, the rooms just down the hall from their own suite which had been converted into a combined library and office. It lacked the remodeled, heated floors of their bedroom, but a brand-new cast-iron stove from the Howsmyn Ironworks had been installed, and the coal fire in its iron belly gave off a welcome warmth.

"You've both seen the same imagery I have from Merlin's SNARCs," Maikel Staynair pointed out over the plug in her right ear. His voice sounded remarkably clear for someone better than four thousand miles, as the wyvern flew, from Cherayth. "What do you think?"

"No you don't," Cayleb shot back with a grin. "We asked you first!"

"Harumpf!" Staynair cleared his throat severely, and Sharleyan grinned at her husband. Their contact lenses brought them the archbishop's image as he sat in his shipboard cabin, looking out over a sunset sea, with Ahrdyn draped across his lap. His own lenses showed him her grin, as well, and he made a face at her. But then he shrugged, and his tone was more serious as he continued.

"As far as the Church goes, I think we've been extremely blessed with Gairlyng and -- especially -- men like Father Tymahn," he said very soberly. "We're not going to find any Charisian 'patriots' in Corisande, even among the clergy, any time soon, but the reform element in the Corisandian hierarchy's proved rather stronger than I'd dared hope before the invasion. And the really good news, in many ways, is how many of those reformists are nativeborn Corisandians, like Father Tymahn. That puts a Corisandian face on voices of reason, and that's going to be incredibly valuable down the road.

"From a more purely political perspective," the archbishop continued, "I think General Chermyn and Anvil Rock and Tartarian are about as on top of things as we could reasonably ask, Your Majesty. That's Bynzhamyn's opinion, too, for that matter. Neither of us sees how anybody could be doing a better job, anyway, given the circumstances of Hektor's murder and the fact that there probably aren't more than a half dozen people in all of Corisande -- even among the most reform-minded members of the priesthood -- who think Cayleb wasn't behind it."

"Agreed," Cayleb said, his own expression sober. "All the same, I have to admit I'd feel a lot better if the Brethren would let us go ahead and bring Hauwyl fully inside. If we'd been able give somebody in Corisande one of Merlin's coms, I'd sleep a lot more soundly at night."

Sharleyan nodded, although, truth to tell, she wasn't entirely certain she would have been in favor of giving Hauwyl Chermyn a communicator. It wasn't that she doubted the Marine general's loyalty, intelligence, or mental toughness in the least. No, the problem was that despite Chermyn's genuine hatred for the Group of Four, he still believed -- deeply and completely -- in the Church's doctrine. As with Rayjhis Yowance and Mahrak Sahndyrs, there was simply no way to know how he might react if they tried to tell him the truth.

And it's not as if they're the only ones that's true of, she acknowledged unhappily to herself. Or as if they were the only ones who could be so much more capable if we only dared to tell them everything we know.

Unfortunately, they couldn't, despite the difficulties that created. It was bad enough that they couldn't tell Gray Harbor, given his position as the effective First Councilor of the Charisian Empire, but Sahndyrs, the Baron of Green Mountain, was at least equally important in light of his duties as First Councilor of the Kingdom of Chisholm.

Not to mention the tiny fact that he's Mother's lover (whether I'm supposed to know that or not) and the man who taught me everything I know about being a queen, she thought unhappily. Why, oh why, couldn't the two political advisers Cayleb and I both lean most heavily upon have just a little bit less integrity . . . where the Church is concerned, at least?

"I've done my best to ginger up Zhon and the others, Your Grace," Staynair told Cayleb, his tone a bit wry. "And I have to say, in the interests of fairness, that they've actually become much more flexible about approving additions to your inner circle. After being so miserly with their approval for so long -- for so many entire generations of the Brethren, when you come down to it -- that's really quite remarkable, when you think about it."

"Agreed," Cayleb said once more, acknowledging his archbishop's slightly pointed but unmistakably admonishing tone. "Agreed! And however irritating it may sometimes be, I have to admit that having someone put the brakes on my own occasional bursts of . . . excessive enthusiasm isn't exactly a bad thing." The emperor made a face. "I think all monarchs have a tendency to fall prey to expediency, if they aren't careful. And sometimes I think the rest of the Brethren might've had a point when they worried about that 'youthful impatience' of mine while they debated telling me about it."

"I don't think I'd go quite that far," Staynair replied. "At the same time, though, I won't pretend I'm not relieved to hear you say that, either."

"Oh, I'm maturing, I am," Cayleb assured him dryly. "Having Merlin and Sharley right here at hand to whack me over the head at the drop of a hat tends to have that effect, you know."

"Maybe it would, if your skull wasn't quite so thick," his wife told him, smiling as she ran her fingers through his hair. He smiled back at her, and she snorted in amusement. But then she leaned back in her own chair and shook her head.

"At least, where Corisande is concerned, you and I are closer than Tellesberg, at the moment," she pointed out aloud. "And even with the over-water links, the semaphore between here and there -- or from here to Eraystor, for that matter -- works for us now, not the Group of Four. We can get dispatches to Manchyr a lot quicker from Cherayth."

"That helps," Cayleb agreed. "In fact, as far as the semaphore's concerned, we're actually better placed here than we would be in Tellesberg, since Cherayth's much closer to our geographic center. It's not the same as being there to keep an eye on things in Corisande myself, though. And, for that matter, I'm none too delighted at having to send them overland through Zebediah, even if we did personally vet the semaphore managers," he added a bit sourly.

"No, it's not the same as being there," she acknowledged. On the other hand, they both knew why he wasn't still in Manchyr, personally overseeing the restive princedom's incorporation into the Empire. And completely leaving aside all of the personal reasons she was glad he wasn't -- including the one which was just beginning to affect her figure -- the cold-blooded political calculation which had brought him "home" to Cherayth seemed to be proving out in practice. Sharleyan wasn't foolish enough to think Earl Anvil Rock and Earl Tartarian were going to keep the lid nailed down on the conquered princedom's many and manifold boiling resentments forever. The "spontaneous" street demonstrations in Manchyr -- and quite a few of them truly were spontaneous, she admitted, completely independent of the activities of people like Paitryk Hainree -- were an ominous indication of heavy weather just over the horizon. But it was obvious from Merlin's SNARCs that it would have been even worse if Cayleb had remained in Corisande. At least, unlike Cayleb, Anvil Rock and Tartarian were also Corisandians themselves. And at least they were governing Corisande (officially, at any rate) as the regents of Prince Daivyn, not in the name of a foreign conqueror. Everyone might still see that foreign conqueror lurking just behind Daivyn's (empty) throne, yet it still gave them a degree of legitimacy in Corisandian eyes which Viceroy General Chermyn simply could not have enjoyed.

Of course, that was its own jar of worms. And a particularly squirmy jar it was, too.

I wish I didn't sympathize with Irys as much as I do, she thought grimly. And I know I can't afford to let that sympathy influence me. But I also know what it's like to have your father murdered. I know exactly what that can do to someone, and however much I may have loathed and hated Hektor Daykyn, he was her father. She loved him, loved him as much as I loved mine, and she's never going to forgive Cayleb for having him assassinated any more than I ever forgave Hektor for buying my father's murder.

Sharleyan Ahrmahk was only too well aware of the bitterly ironic parallels between herself and Irys Daykyn, and despite her own burning hatred for Hektor of Corisande, she truly did feel a deep, pain-laced sympathy for Hektor's surviving, orphaned children. And if there was one person on the face of Safehold who would never underestimate just how dangerous a "mere girl's" blazing determination to avenge that murder could truly be, it was Sharleyan of Chisholm.

Which only makes me worry even more about Larchros, Storm Keep, and all of their damned friends and neighbors. If only we could just go ahead and arrest them all for what we know they're doing.

That, however, was the one thing they absolutely couldn't do. Cayleb had been right when he'd decided he couldn't simply replace conquered princes and nobles with people who would inevitably be seen as his favorites. No, he had to leave legitimate nobles who had sworn fealty to him in place . . . unless and until he had incontrovertible proof the princes and nobles in question had been guilty of treason. Which, since they couldn't possibly present evidence from the SNARCs in any open court, meant all they could do was to keep a wary eye on what Merlin had christened the "Northern Conspiracy."

And, if she were honest, she wished even more passionately that they could move openly even against the street agitators. She supposed there really wasn't any reason they couldn't arrest commoners "on suspicion," assuming there'd been some way to identify them to General Chermyn. Or to Koryn Gahrvai. But just how did one go about indentifying them to anyone outside the inner circle without raising all sorts of potentially disastrous questions? And even leaving aside that not-so-minor consideration, did they really want to start down that road? She didn't doubt there might come a time when they'd have no choice, but as Cayleb had just pointed out, it was always tempting (and seldom wise) to succumb to expediency. As far as she was concerned, she'd prefer to delay that time when they had no choice for as long as possible.

Of course, there were some other weighty, purely pragmatic arguments in favor of their current "hands-off" approach, as well. The "database" of agitators Merlin had Owl building continued to grow steadily, and there were many advantages in letting that proceed undisturbed . . . up to a point, at least. Not only would they know where to find their organized enemies when the moment finally came, but letting the other side do its recruiting undisturbed also served to draw the most dangerous opposition together in one group, to give them a single target they could decapitate with a single strike.

And, she reflected, sifting through Owl's reconnaissance "take," as Merlin calls it, helps us evaluate why someone joined the resistance. I never realized how valuable that could be, until he pointed it out. Knowing what motivates people to actively oppose you is incredibly useful when it comes to evaluating the effectiveness of your policies. Or how other people perceive those policies, at any rate. And it doesn't hurt to be able to judge the character of your opponents, either. Not everyone who joins up with people like Hainree and Waimyn belongs in the same basket with them. There are good and decent people on the other side -- people who genuinely think what they're doing is the right thing, what God wants them to do. It's hard enough remembering that even with the proof right in front of us. Without it, I don't think I'd be able to remember at all when sentencing time rolls around.

At least the effort wasn't burning up as much of their time as it might have. Now that Merlin had gotten the process up and running, Owl routinely assigned parasite sensors to each additional anti-Charis activist as he was identified. At this point, neither Merlin nor Cayleb or Sharleyan were trying to keep track of everyone being added to the files. If the "filters" Merlin had put in place were doing their jobs, Owl would identify any important Corisandian churchman, noble, or member of Parliament who crossed the path of anyone in the database. At that point, those involved would be brought to Merlin's attention and flagged for closer future observation. Several of the more important (or more active, at least) of the street agitators had also been added to the "special watch" list, and Owl routinely notified Merlin of anyone new who crossed those people's paths, regardless of the newcomer's rank. For the most part, though, all they were really doing was to develop their list of active opponents and continue to chart the slowly growing, steadily more sophisticated organization those opponents were putting in place. And hard as it was watching it grow when they couldn't nip it in the bud, none of them were foolish enough to think they could have prevented it from happening, in one form or another, whatever they did.

And sooner or later, we will be in a position to break their organization, too, Sharleyan thought. In fact, sooner or later we'll have to, and not just in Manchyr, either. The "Northern Conspiracy" is going to be on our little list, too. Eventually, they will give us evidence we can use, once we "discover it" through more acceptable avenues. And when we do, they'll discover just how efficient our headsmen are.

She was rather looking forward to that day, actually.

"Well," she said, "at least it doesn't look like Corisande's going up in flames tomorrow morning. It doesn't hurt that you're on your way for your first pastoral visit both here and in Corisande, either, Maikel. And I imagine" -- her voice turned just a bit smug, undeniably it turned smug -- "that once word gets out that we're finally about to produce an heir it's going to upset certain people I could mention almost as much as it's going to reassure all of our people."

"Oh, I'm sure it is," Cayleb agreed in a tone of profound satisfaction. "I'm sure it is."

"And neither is Emerald," Staynair told them both. "Going up in flames, I mean."

None of them were speaking loudly, but the archbishop's voice was lower pitched than either Cayleb's or Sharleyan's. They had the advantage of thick, stone walls, and of a heavy door of solid nearoak, warded by two imperial guardsmen personally selected for their duty by Merlin Athrawes and Edwyrd Seahamper. No one was going to get close enough to eavesdrop on them.
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
Re: STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Fri Feb 26, 2010 12:22 am


Posts: 2189
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

A Mighty Fortress - Snippet 22

Staynair, on the other hand, was ensconced in the admiral's cabin aboard HMS Dawn Wind, one of the Charisian Navy's newer galleons. As quarters went aboard cramped, overcrowded warships, it was a spacious abode, well-suited to the archbishop's dignity and the privacy the duties of his office -- not to mention his own need for meditation and prayer -- frequently required. Of course, it was aboard one of the aforementioned cramped, overcrowded warships. Which was to say that the bulkheads were thin, the doors were anything but solid nearoak, and people were likely to inadvertently intrude upon his privacy at any moment. Fortunately, he'd already firmly established a tradition of retiring to his cabin every evening to enjoy the sunset through the stern windows and meditate. By now, his staff was accustomed to protecting his privacy during those moments. As long as he kept his voice down -- and the cabin skylight closed -- it was extremely unlikely anyone would hear his voice over the inevitable sounds of a sailing ship underway. And even less likely that anyone who heard him speaking would be able to make out words. The logical assumption would simply be that he was praying, and anyone who thought that was what was happening would get themselves out of eavesdropping range as quickly as they could.

"In fact," the archbishop continued now, "I think Emerald is going to be almost as happy to hear about your pregnancy as anybody in Old Charis or Chisholm, Sharleyan. They're committed now -- they know that -- and they're as eager to see the succession secured as anyone else."

"Really?" Sharleyan said. "I think that's been my own impression," she admitted, "but I also have to admit I've been a little afraid it was my impression because that was the impression I wanted to have, if you follow me." She grimaced slightly. "In some ways, I think, having all this access courtesy of Merlin's SNARCs only makes it harder to figure out what people are really thinking. I've spent years training myself to estimate things like that accurately on the basis of second- and third-hand reports. Interpretively, I suppose you might say. Now I'm actually trying to look at people directly and decide for myself, and I've discovered that it's hard to get some sort of objective feel for what that many people are really thinking from direct observation. No wonder Merlin's tended to get himself buried under the 'data overload.'"

Her voice softened with the final sentence, and Cayleb nodded in agreement. He still didn't fully understand how the "high-speed data interface" Merlin's PICA body had once possessed had functioned, but he didn't have to understand how it had worked to understand what it had done. Or to understand how bitterly Merlin regretted its loss. Having had personal experience now of the sheer quantity of imagery and audio recordings flooding in through Merlin's planet-circling network of reconnaissance platforms, he only wished he had a "high-speed interface."

Fortunately, they were making at least a little progress. And while Cayleb wasn't positive, he suspected Owl was getting progressively better at sorting and prioritizing information. Whatever Owl was doing, though, the ability to assign specific portions of what Merlin called the "intel take" to someone besides just Merlin had helped enormously. There were limitations, of course. No one else had Merlin's built in com equipment; they had to speak out loud, instead of sub-vocalizing, if they wanted to communicate with Owl (or anyone else), which severely limited where and when they could interact with the AI. And all of them were also creatures of flesh and blood, prey to all the weaknesses of the flesh -- including the need for food and at least a reasonable amount of sleep.

For that matter, even Merlin had discovered the hard way that he did need at least the equivalent of rest if he was going to maintain his mental focus. More to the point, Cayleb had figured that out, as well, and ordered him to take the "downtime" he needed to stay fresh and alert.

Which, in fact, was precisely what he was doing at this very moment. Or he'd damned well better be, at any rate, because if Cayleb or Sharleyan caught him listening in when he was supposed to be "sleeping" -- and Owl had been ordered to report him, if it happened -- there'd be hell to pay.

"Well, in this case, Your Majesty, I think your impression is accurate," Staynair told her. "As a matter of fact, I suppose I might as well go ahead and admit I was hugely relieved by my own observations here."

"Here" wasn't actually quite the correct word anymore, Sharleyan reflected. Dawn Wind had sailed from Eraystor Bay on the afternoon tide. At the moment, she was making her way -- slowly, especially for someone who had experienced Merlin's recon skimmer -- out into the western half of Dolphin Reach, and she was no wyvern, able to ignore reefs, shoals, islands, currents, and unfavorable winds. If they were lucky, and if Dawn Wind managed -- oh, unlikely event!-- to avoid any major storms and made a relatively quick passage for this time of year, she would cover the seventy-three hundred sea miles to Cherayth in "only" about ten five-days.

Sharleyan hated -- absolutely hated -- having Staynair stuck aboard a ship for that long, yet she'd been forced to agree with him that it wasn't really as if they had a lot of choice. It was essential for the ordained head of the Church of Charis to visit all of the new empire's lands, and unlike the Church of God Awaiting, the Church of Charis had decreed from the outset that its bishops and archbishops would be permanent residents of their sees. Instead of making brief annual visits to the souls committed to their care, they would make one -- and only one -- visit to the Church of Charis' annual convocation each year. The rest of their time would be spent at home, seeing to their own and their flocks' spiritual needs, maintaining their focus on what truly mattered. And the Church's annual convocation would be held in a different city every year, not allowed to settle permanently into a single location which would, inevitably, become an imperial city -- the Charisian equivalent of the City of Zion -- in its own right.

That meant the Archbishop of Charis would be traveling most years just as surely as any of his subordinate prelates. It would have been unthinkable for any Grand Vicar to make the same sort of journey and subject himself to all the wearying effort involved in it -- or, for that matter, the inescapable perils of wind and weather inherent in such lengthy voyages -- but that was fine with Maikel Staynair. The greater and more numerous the differences between the Church of Charis and the Church of God Awaiting, the better, for a lot of reasons, as far as he was concerned, and he was determined to establish the pattern firmly. Firmly enough that no empire-building successor of his would find the tradition easy to subvert.

His current tour was part of building that tradition. Yet it was more than that, too, for he was determined to personally visit every capital of every political unit of the Charisian Empire -- and as many more of the major cities as he could manage, as well. As Wind Thunder had so grumpily pointed out before his departure for Emerald, it was a security nightmare, in many respects. God only knew how many Temple Loyalists would simply have loved to stick something sharp and pointy between the ribs of "Arch Heretic Staynair," as the Loyalist broadsides had dubbed him, but the number had to be enormous. The attempt had already been made once, right in his own cathedral. Who knew what kind of opportunities might arise -- or might be manufactured -- in someone else's cathedral? On the other hand, he was right. He had to establish that kind of personal contact with as much as possible of the new Church's clergy if he expected that clergy to accept that he truly cared about its worries, its concerns, its agonizing crises of conscience, as it coped with the spiritual demands of schism.

And he does care, Sharleyan thought. He truly does. He understands what he's asking of them. I don't believe anyone not completely blinded by intolerance and hatred could fail to recognize that after five minutes in his presence, and that's the exact reason he has to be doing this, however much what I really want to do is lock him up safe and sound inside Tellesberg Cathedral and the Archbishop's Palace.

"So you're satisfied about Emerald, at least. Where the Church is concerned, I mean," Cayleb said, and Staynair nodded.

"I don't think Prince Nahrmahn's Emeraldians have quite as much . . . fire in their bellies, let's say, as we have back home in Tellesberg," he said. "On the other hand, they weren't the people the Group of Four intended to have raped and murdered, either. At the same time, though, I was deeply gratified by how clearly people in Emerald already recognized the fundamental corruption that let the Group of Four come to power in the first place. It's become increasingly evident to me that many -- indeed, I'm tempted to say most, if that's not a case of letting my own optimism run away with me -- of Emerald's churchmen saw the Temple's corruption long before Nahrmahn ever decided to swear fealty to the two of you, at any rate. And, believe me, those who did recognize it know they could have been Clyntahn's next target, even they weren't the first time around. In fact, I'm coming to the conclusion that we may discover a larger reformist movement and commitment than we'd initially anticipated in most places."

"A reformist commitment," Cayleb repeated, and Staynair nodded again, far more serenely than Sharleyan suspected she would have been able to in response to the same question.

"One step at a time, Cayleb," the archbishop said calmly. "One step at a time. Merlin was right when he said God can creep in through the cracks whenever He decides to, but we're going to have to let Him do this in His own good time, I think. First, let us correct the gross, obvious abuses. Once we have people in the habit of actually thinking about matters of doctrine and church policy it will be time to begin suggesting . . . more substantive changes."

"He's right, Cayleb," Sharleyan said quietly. Cayleb looked at her, and she reached across to touch the side of his face. It was a conversation they'd had often enough, and she knew how bitterly it grated upon his sense of responsibility that he literally dared not rip away the mask, expose the full, noisome extent of the lies and perverted faith which were the entire foundation of the Church of God Awaiting. Not doing that was going to be the true supreme challenge of his life.

"I know he is, love," Cayleb replied. "I don't have to like it -- and I won't pretend I do -- but I know he's right."

"In the meantime, I'm starting to think young Saithwyk might actually make a good candidate for the inner circle, in a year or two," Staynair said.

"You're joking!" Sharleyan realized she was sitting bolt upright in her chair, her eyes wide.

"I don't know why you should think anything of the sort, Your Majesty."

Staynair's tone was imperturbability itself, although there was a slight twinkle in his eyes, and Sharleyan felt her own eyes narrowing. Fairmyn Saithwyk was the newly consecrated Archbishop of Emerald. Barely forty years old -- less than thirty-seven in Terran Standard Years, in point of fact -- he came from a conservative family, and his nomination had been firmly supported by Emerald's House of Lords. That was scarcely the pedigree of a rebellious radical, she thought. Yet as she studied Staynair's expression --

"You're not joking," she said slowly.

"No, I'm not." He smiled gently at her. "You might want to remember that I'm the one with primary responsibility for evaluating Owl's reports about the senior clergy," he pointed out. "Given that, I don't suppose it should be too surprising for me to have a somewhat different perspective. On the other hand, you should also remember who it was who nominated him in the first place."

"Nahrmahn," Cayleb said thoughtfully.

"Precisely, Your Grace." Staynair bobbed his head in Cayleb's direction in a half-bow. "You, of course, were never faced with the necessity of making a nomination, given my own fortuitous -- and vastly qualified -- presence right there in Tellesberg."

Cayleb made an indelicate sound, and Staynair chuckled. But then his expression sobered.

"You didn't have that luxury in Corisande, though, Cayleb. And Sharleyan didn't have it in Chisholm. Or Nahrmahn in Emerald. Mind you, I've been quite satisfied with everything I've seen of Braynair. Both by the way he supported me and the Crown when Sharleyan organized the Imperial Parliament here in Tellesberg, and by the way he's supported both of you -- and me -- there in Cherayth, since. And I think you've been quite satisfied with him, too."

He held Cayleb's eye until the emperor nodded, then shrugged.

"We take what God gives us, and we do the best with it that we can, Cayleb," he said simply. "And in this case, I think He's given us some sound timber to work with. Pawal Braynair is a good, solid, reliable man. He's loyal to God and to Sharleyan, in that order, and however much he might have wished it weren't so, he recognizes how corrupt the vicarate's become. I'm sorry to say I don't think he'll ever be ready for the complete truth, any more than Rayjhis or Baron Green Mountain, but he's just as good a man as they are.

"Yet I'm actually inclined to think Nahrmahn may have found an even greater treasure in Saithwyk." The archbishop's lips seemed to twitch for a moment, and he shook his head. "I'm not at all certain, mind you, but I rather had the impression he was probing to see just how . . . revolutionary, in a doctrinal sense, I was prepared to be. I don't have any idea yet where it is he wants to go, although I'm sure I'll get around to figuring it out soon enough. I'll want a little longer to watch him in action, mind you, but I'm serious. I think that ultimately he may make a very good candidate for the inner circle. And let's face it, the more senior churchmen we can recruit, the better."

"Well, I doubt anyone could argue with that," Sharleyan conceded. Then she shook herself and stood.

"And on that note, Archbishop Maikel, I'm going to call this conference to an end and drag my husband off to bed before he decides to break out the whiskey and stay up all night carousing with you long distance."

"Carousing?" Cayleb repeated in injured tones. "I'll have you know that one doesn't 'carouse' with an archbishop!"

"I didn't say he'd be the one doing the carousing, either," she pointed out with a stern twinkle. "And while it's barely the twentieth hour where he is, it's well past twenty-fourth here. An empress in my delicate condition needs her sleep, and if I'm going to get any sleep, I need my hot water bottle. I mean, my beloved husband." She grinned at him. "I can't imagine how I came to . . . misspeak myself that way."

"Oh, no?" Cayleb climbed out of his own chair, eyes laughing while both of them heard Staynair chuckling over the com. Sharleyan regarded him with bright-eyed innocence and shook her head.

"Absolutely," she assured him. "I would never think of you in such a purely utilitarian and selfish terms! I can't imagine how a phrase like that could have somehow slipped out that way!"

"Well, I can," he told her ominously. "And I assure you, young lady -- there's going to be a penalty."

"Really?" She cocked her head, then batted her eyes at him. "Oh, goody! Should I ask one of the guardsmen to find us the peach preserves? After all, it's not going to be all that much longer before I start losing the athleticism to really enjoy them, you know."

Cayleb made a strangled sound, his face turning a rather alarming shade of red as he fought his laughter, and she giggled delightedly, then looked at the archbishop and smiled sweetly.

"And on that note, Maikel, goodnight."
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
Re: STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Mon Mar 01, 2010 12:13 am


Posts: 2189
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

A Mighty Fortress - Snippet 23

Archbishop's Palace,
City of Manchyr,
Princedom of Corisande

"So, My Lord," Archbishop Klairmant Gairlyng kept his tone rather lighter than he actually felt at this particular moment, "now that you've been here for a five-day, what do you think?"

"In what regard, Your Eminence?" Bishop Zherald Ahdymsyn responded blandly as the archbishop and his two guests stepped into Gairlyng's study.

"Zherald . . ." Bishop Kaisi Mahkhynroh said, raising one chiding index finger, and Ahdymsyn chuckled. Then he looked back at Gairlyng.

"Forgive me, Your Eminence." There was an edge of contrition in his voice. "I'm afraid my sense of humor sometimes betrays me into unbecoming levity. I think that's at least partly a response to the fact that I used to take myself much too seriously. And, as the Writ says, God made Man to smile, as well as to weep."

"That's true enough, My Lord," Gairlyng agreed. "And sometimes, laughter is the only way to avoid weeping, I think." He walked around the desk to the comfortable swivel chair behind it, and a courteous sweep of his right hand indicated the even more comfortable armchairs facing it. "Please, My Lords. Make yourselves easy. May I offer you any refreshment?"

"Not for me, thank you, Your Eminence." Ahdymsyn seated himself in one of the indicated chairs. "After we've finished our discussions here, I'm dining with Earl Anvil Rock and his son. I understand Earl Tartarian and at least one or two other members of the Regency Council will be joining us, as well." He grimaced humorously. "As a bishop executor of Mother Church, I developed a remarkably hard head. Now, as a lowly bishop once more, and given to somewhat more abstemious habits, I don't seem to have quite the capacity where alcohol is concerned before my jokes become a bit too loud and my judgment becomes somewhat less reliable than I think it is." He frowned thoughtfully, rubbing one eyebrow. "Or that's one possibility, at any rate. Another is that I never was quite as immune to its effects as I thought I was, but no one had the nerve to point it out to me."

He smiled broadly, but then his expression sobered and he looked very levelly into Gairlyng's eyes across the archbishop's desk.

"Odd, isn't it, how no one seems to want to challenge the judgment of Mother Church's senior clergy?"

Silence hovered for a moment or two, and then Gairlyng looked up at the aide who had escorted him and his guests from Manchyr Cathedral to the Archbishop's Palace.

"I think that will be all, Symyn," he said. "If I need you, I'll call."

"Of course, Your Eminence."

The dark-haired, dark-complexioned young under-priest's brown cassock bore the Scepter of the Order of Langhorne, as did Gairlyng's orange-trimmed white cassock, and there was a sort of familial resemblance about them, although the under-priest was obviously a nativeborn Corisandian. Had he been several years younger, or had Gairlyng been several years older, he might have been the archbishop's son. As it was, Ahdymsyn was relatively certain it was simply a case of a young man modeling his own behavior and demeanor upon that of a superior whom he deeply respected.

And it would appear there's quite a bit to respect about the Archbishop, Ahdymsyn thought. Rather more than there was to respect about me in the good old days, at any rate!

His lips twitched again, remembering certain conversations which had once passed between him and then-Bishop Maikel Staynair. It was, he reflected (for far from the first time), a very fortunate thing that Staynair's sense of humor was as lively as his compassion was deep.

The door closed behind the departing aide, and Gairlyng returned his attention to his guests. He'd gotten to know Mahkhynroh surprisingly well over the past month or two. Or perhaps not surprisingly well, given how closely he'd been compelled to work with the other man since his own elevation to the primacy of Corisande and Mahkhynroh's installation as the Bishop of Manchyr. He wouldn't have gone quite so far as to describe the two of them as friends yet. "Colleagues" was undoubtedly a better term, at least this far. They shared a powerful sense of mutual respect, however, and he'd come to appreciate that Mahkhynroh had been chosen for his present position at least in part because he combined a truly formidable intellect with a deep faith and a remarkably deep well of empathy. Despite his installation by a "foreign, heretical, schismatic church," he'd already demonstrated a powerful ability to listen to the priests -- and laity -- of his bishopric. Not simply to listen, but to convince them he was actually hearing what they said . . . and that he would not hold frank speaking against them. No one would ever accuse him of weakness or vacillation, but neither could any honest person accuse him of tyranny or intolerance.

Ahdymsyn, on the other hand, was so far a complete unknown. Gairlyng knew at least the bare bones of his official history, yet it was already obvious there were quite a lot of things that "official history" had left out. He knew Ahdymsyn had been Archbishop Erek Dynnys' bishop executor in Charis before Dynnys' fall from grace and eventual execution for heresy and treason. He knew Ahdymsyn came from a merely respectable Temple Lands family, with considerably fewer -- and lower placed -- connections than Gairlyng's own family could boast. He knew Ahdymsyn, as bishop executor, had more than once reprimanded and disciplined Archbishop Maikel Staynair when Staynair had been simply the Bishop of Tellesberg, and that he had been imprisoned -- or, at least, placed under "house arrest" -- following the Kingdom of Charis' decision to openly defy the Church of God Awaiting. And he knew that since that time, Ahdymsyn had become one of Staynair's most trusted and valued "troubleshooters," which explained his current presence in Corisande.

What Gairlyng did not know, and what it was becoming rapidly evident to him he'd been mistaken about, was how -- and why -- Zherald Ahdymsyn had made that transition. He thought about that for a few seconds, then decided forthrightness was probably the best policy.

"Forgive me, My Lord," he said now, returning Ahdymsyn's level regard, "but I've begun to suspect that my original assumptions about how you . . . come to hold your present position, shall we say, may have been somewhat in error."

"Or, to put it another way," Ahdymsyn said dryly, "your 'original assumptions' were that, having seen the way the wind was blowing in Charis, and realizing that, whatever defense I might present, the Grand Inquisitor and the Chancellor were unlikely to be overjoyed to see me again in the Temple or Zion, I decided to turn my coat -- or would that be my cassock? -- while the turning was good. Would that be about the size of it, Your Eminence?"

That, Gairlyng decided, was rather more forthrightness than he'd had in mind. Unfortunately . . .

"Well, yes, actually," he confessed, reminding himself that however he'd become one, he was an archbishop while Ahdymsyn was merely a bishop. "As I say, I've begun to think I was wrong to believe that, but while I don't believe I'd have phrased it quite that way, that was more or less my original assumption."

"And, no doubt, exactly the way it was presented to you here in Corisande before the invasion," Ahdymsyn suggested.

"Yes," Gairlyng said slowly, his tone rather more thoughtful, and Ahdymsyn shrugged.

"I don't doubt for a minute that the Group of Four's presented things that way, whatever they truly think. But neither, in this case, do I doubt for a moment that that's exactly what they think happened." He grimaced once more. "Partly, I'm confident, because that's precisely the way they would have been thinking under the same circumstances. But also, I'm very much afraid, because they've spoken with people who actually knew me. I hate to admit it, Your Eminence, but my own attitudes -- the state of my own faith -- at the time this all began ought to make that a very reasonable hypothesis for those who were well acquainted with me."

"That's a remarkably forthright admission, My Lord," Gairlyng said quietly, his chair squeaking ever so softly as he leaned back in it. "One I doubt comes easily to someone who once sat as close to an archbishop's chair as you did."

"It comes more easily than you might think, Your Eminence," Ahdymsyn replied. "I don't say it was a pleasant truth to face when I first had to, you understand, but I've discovered the truth is the truth. We can hide from it, and we can deny it, but we can't change it, and I've spent at least two thirds of my allotted span here on Safehold ignoring it. That doesn't give me a great deal of time to work on balancing the ledger before I'm called to render my accounts before God. Under the circumstances, I don't think I should waste any of it in pointless evasions."

"I see," Gairlyng said. And I'm beginning to think I see why Staynair trusted you enough to send you here in his name, the archbishop added silently. "But since you've been so frank, My Lord, may I ask what actually led you to 'face the truth,' as you put it, in the first place?"

"Quite a few things," Ahdymsyn replied, sitting back in his own chair and crossing his legs. "One of them, to be honest, was the fact that I realized what sort of punishment I would face if I ever did return to the Temple Lands. Trust me, that was enough to give anyone pause . . . even before that butcher Clyntahn had Archbishop Erek tortured to death." The ex-bishop executor's face tightened for a moment. "I doubt any of us senior members of the priesthood ever actually gave much thought to having the Penalty of Schueler levied against us. That was a threat -- a club -- to hold over the heads of the laity in order to frighten them into doing God's will. Which of course, had been revealed to us with perfect clarity."

Ahdymsyn's biting tone could have chewed chunks out of the marble façade of Gairlyng's palace, and his eyes were hard.

"So I hadn't actually anticipated that I might be tortured to death on the very steps of the Temple," he continued. "I'd accepted that my fate was going to be unpleasant, you understand, but it never crossed my mind to fear that. So I'd expected, at least initially, that I'd be incarcerated somewhere in Charis, probably until the legitimate forces of Mother Church managed to liberate me, at which point I would be disciplined and sent to rusticate in disgrace, milking goats and making cheese in some obscure monastic community up in the Mountains of Light. Trust me, at the time I expected that to be more than sufficient punishment for someone of my own exquisite epicurean tastes."

He paused and looked down, and his eyes softened briefly, as if at some memory, as he stroked one sleeve of his remarkably plain cassock. Then he looked back up at Gairlyng, and the softness had vanished.

"But then we learned in Tellesberg what had happened to the Archbishop," he said flatly. "More than that, I received a letter from him -- one he managed to have smuggled out before his execution." Gairlyng's eyes widened, and Ahdymsyn nodded. "It was written on a blank page he'd taken from a copy of the Holy Writ, Your Eminence," he said softly. "I found that remarkably symbolic, under the circumstances. And in it, he told me his arrest -- his trial and his conviction -- had brought him face-to-face with the truth . . . and that he hadn't liked what he'd seen. It was a brief letter. He had only the single sheet of paper, and I think he was writing in haste, lest one of his guards surprise him at the task. But he told me -- ordered me, as my ecclesiastic superior -- not to return to Zion. He told me what his own sentence had been, and what mine would undoubtedly be if I fell into Clyntahn's hands. And he told me Clyntahn's inquisitors had promised him an easy death if he would condemn Staynair and the rest of the 'Church of Charis'' hierarchy for apostasy and heresy. If he would confirm the Group of Four's version of the reason they'd chosen to lay waste to an innocent kingdom. But he refused to do that. I'm sure you've heard what he actually said, and I'm sure you've wondered if what you heard was the truth or some lie created by Charisian propagandists." He smiled without any humor at all. "It would certainly have occurred to me to wonder about that, after all. But I assure you, it was no lie. From the very scaffold on which he was to die, he rejected the lies the Group of Four had demanded of him. He rejected the easy death they'd promised him because that truth he'd finally faced was more important to him, there at the very end of his life, than anything else."

It was very quiet in Gairlyng's study. The slow, measured ticking of the clock on one of the archbishop's bookcases was almost thunderous in the stillness. Ahdymsyn let that silence linger for several moments, then shrugged.

"Your Eminence, I knew the reality of the highest levels of Mother Church's hierarchy . . . just as I'm sure you've known them. I knew why Clyntahn had the Archbishop sentenced, why for the first time ever the Penalty of Schueler was applied to a senior member of the episcopate. And I knew that, whatever his faults -- and Langhorne knows they were almost as legion as my own! -- Erek Dynnys did not deserve to die that sort of death simply as a way for a hopelessly corrupt vicarate to prop up its own authority. I looked around me in Charis, and I saw men and women who believed in God, not in the corrupt power and ambition of men like Zhaspahr Clyntahn, and when I saw that, I saw something I wanted to be. I saw something that convinced me that, even at that late a date, I -- even I -- might have a true vocation. Langhorne knows, it took God a while to find a hammer big enough to pound that possibility through a skull as thick as mine, but He'd managed it in the end. And, in my own possibly long-winded way, that's the answer to your question. It's not the answer to all of my questions -- not yet -- I'm afraid, but it's something just as important. It's the start of all my questions, and I've discovered that, unlike the days when I was Mother Church's consecrated vice regent for Charis, with all the pomp and power of that office, I'm eager to find answers to those questions."

Ahdymsyn drew a deep breath, then he shrugged.

"I'm no longer a bishop executor, Your Eminence. The Church of Charis doesn't have those, but even if it did, I wouldn't be one again. Assuming anyone would trust me to be one after the outstanding job I did last time around!"

It was no smile, this time. It was a broad, flashing grin, well suited to any youngster explaining that fairies had just emptied the cookie jar. Then it faded again, but now the eyes were no longer hard, the voice no longer burdened with memories of anger and guilt. He looked at Gairlyng from a face of hard-won serenity, and his voice was equally serene.

"I'm something far more important than a 'bishop executor,' now, Your Eminence. I'm a priest. Perhaps for the first time in my entire life, really, I'm a priest." He shook his head. "Frankly, that would be far too hard an act for any high episcopal office to follow."

Gairlyng gazed back at him for a long, thoughtful moment, then looked at Mahkhynroh. None of that had been the answer he'd expected out of Zherald Ahdymsyn, yet somehow it never occurred to him for a moment to doubt the other man's sincerity.
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
Re: STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Wed Mar 03, 2010 12:19 am


Posts: 2189
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

A Mighty Fortress - Snippet 24

Which is the biggest surprise of all, really, he thought. And where does that leave you, Klairmant?

He thought about that carefully. He was the consecrated Archbishop of Corisande, as far as the Church of Charis was concerned. Which, of course, made him an utterly damned apostate heretic where the Church of God Awaiting was concerned. After what had happened to Erek Dynnys, as Ahdymsyn had just reminded him, there was no doubt in his mind what would happen if he or Ahdymsyn or Mahkhynroh ever fell into the hands of the Inquisition. That was a thought fit to wake a man wrapped in the cold sweat of nightmares, and it had, on more than one occasion. In fact, it had awakened him often, making him wonder what in the world -- what in God's name -- he'd thought he was doing when he accepted his present office.

And now this.

As archbishop, he was Ahdymsyn's ecclesiastic superior. Of course, Ahdymsyn wasn't assigned to his archbishopric, so he'd properly come under Gairlyng's orders only when those orders did not in any way conflict with instructions he'd already received from Maikel Staynair. Still, in this princedom, in this archbishopric and this office, Ahdymsyn could neither give Gairlyng orders nor pass judgment upon him. All he could do was report back to Staynair, who was thousands of miles away in Chisholm, assuming he'd met his planned travel schedule, or even farther away than that, in Emerald or in transit between Eraystor and Cherayth, if his schedule had slipped. Yet Ahdymsyn was Staynair's personal representative. He was here specifically to smooth the way, prepare the ground, for Staynair's first pastoral visit to Corisande. Despite everything, Gairlyng had expected a far more overtly political representative, especially given Ahdymsyn's hierarchical pedigree. But what he'd gotten . . . what he'd gotten raised almost as many questions in his own mind -- questions about himself -- as they'd answered about Zherald Ahdymsyn.

"My Lord," he said finally, "I'm honored by the honesty with which you've described your own feelings and beliefs. And I'll be honest and say it had never occurred to me that you might have . . . sustained that degree of genuine spiritual regeneration." He raised one hand, waving it gently above his desk. "I don't mean to imply that I believed you'd accepted your present office solely out of some sort of cynical ambition, trying to make the best deal that you could out of the situation which had come completely apart for you in Charis. But I must confess I'd done you a grave disservice and assumed that that was much of what had happened. Now, after what you've just said, I find myself in a bit of a quandary."

"A quandary, Your Eminence?" Ahdymsyn arched one eyebrow, and Gairlyng snorted.

"Honesty deserves honesty, My Lord, especially between men who both claim to be servants of God," he said.

"Your Eminence, I doubt very much that you could -- in honesty -- tell me anything that would come as a tremendous surprise," Ahdymsyn said dryly. "For example, I would be surprised -- enormously surprised -- to discover that you had accepted your present archbishopric solely out of a sense of deep loyalty and commitment to the Empire of Charis."

"Well," Gairlyng's voice was even drier than Ahdymsyn's had been, "I believe I can safely set your mind to rest upon that point. However," he leaned forward slightly and his expression became far more serious, even somber, "I must admit that despite my very best efforts, I felt more than one mental reservation when I took the vows of my new office."

Ahdymsyn cocked his head to one side, and Gairlyng glanced quickly at Mahkhynroh. This wasn't something he'd admitted to the Bishop of Manchyr, yet he saw only calm interest in the other man's eyes before he looked back at Ahdymsyn.

"First, I would never have accepted this office, under any circumstances, if I hadn't agreed Mother Church -- or the vicarate, at least -- has become hopelessly corrupt. And when I say 'hopelessly,' that's exactly the word I meant to use. If I'd believed for one moment that someone like Zahmsyn Trynair might demand reform, or that someone like Zhaspahr Clyntahn would have permitted it if he had, I would have refused the archbishopric outright and immediately. But saying I believe Mother Church has been mortally wounded by her own vicars isn't the same thing as saying I believe the Church of Charis must automatically be correct. Nor does it mean I'm somehow magically free of any suspicion that the Church of Charis has been co-opted by the Empire of Charis. Mother Church may have fallen into evil, but she was never intended to be the servant of secular political ambitions, and I won't willingly serve any 'Church' which is no more than a political tool." He grimaced. "The spiritual rot in Zion is itself the result of the perversion of religion in pursuit of power, and I'm not prepared simply to substitute perversion in the name of the power of princes for perversion in the name of the power of prelates."

"Granted." Ahdymsyn nodded. "Yet the problem, of course, is that the Church of Charis can survive only so long as the Empire of Charis is able to protect it. The two are inextricably bound up with one another, in that respect, at least, and there are inevitably going to be times when religious policy is shaped by and reflects political policy. And the reverse, I assure you."

"I don't doubt that for a moment." Gairlyng reached up and squeezed the bridge of his nose gently between thumb and forefinger. "The situation is so incredibly complicated, with so many factions, so many dangers, that it could hardly be any other way." He lowered his hand and looked directly at Ahdymsyn. "Still, if the Church is seen as a creature of the Empire, she will never gain general acceptance in Corisande. Not unless something changes more dramatically than I can presently imagine. In that regard, it would have been far better if she had been renamed the 'Reform Church,' perhaps, instead of the Church of Charis."

"That was considered," Ahdymsyn told him. "It was rejected because, ultimately, the Group of Four was inevitably going to label it the 'Church of Charis,' whatever we called it. That being so, it seemed better to go ahead and embrace the title ourselves -- I speak here using the ecclesiastic 'we,' of course," he explained with a charming smile, "since I was not myself party to that particular decision. And another part of it, obviously, was that mutual dependence upon one another for survival which I've already mentioned. In the end, I think, the decision was that honesty and forthrightness were more important than the political or propaganda nuances of the name."

"Perhaps so, but that doesn't magically expunge the unfortunate associations in the minds of a great many Corisandians. Or, for that matter, in my own mind, and I was scarcely born here in Corisande, myself." Gairlyng shook his head. "I don't claim to understand all of my own motivations myself, My Lord. I think any man who pretends he does is guilty of self-deception, at the very least. However, my primary reasons for accepting this office were four.

"First, my belief, as I've already said, that Mother Church has gone too far down the path of corruption under her current hierarchy to be internally reformed. If reform is even possible for her at this late date, it will happen only because an external threat has forced it upon the vicarate, and, as I see it, the Church of Charis represents that external threat, that external demand for change.

"Second, because I desire, above almost all other things, to prevent or at least mitigate the religious persecutions and counter-persecutions I dread when I look at a conflict such as this one. Men's passions are seldom so inflamed as when they grapple with issues of the soul, My Lord. Be you personally ever so priestly -- be Archbishop Maikel ever so gentle -- violence, vengeance, and counter-vengeance will play their part soon enough. That isn't an indictment of you, nor even an indictment of the Church of Charis. The Group of Four began it, not you, when they launched five other princedoms at the Kingdom of Charis' throat. But, in its way, that only proves my point, and what happened at Ferayd only underscores it. I do not wish to see that cycle launched here in Corisande, and when this office was offered to me, I saw it as my best opportunity to do something to at least moderate it in the princedom which has become my home."

He paused, regarding Ahdymsyn steadily until the other man nodded slowly.

"Third," Gairlyng resumed, "I know there are far more members of the Corisandian priesthood who share my view of the state of Mother Church's soul than anyone in the Temple or in Zion has ever dreamed. I'm sure I need hardly tell you this, after what you've seen in Charis, and in Emerald, and in Chisholm, yet I think it deserves to be stated anyway. The Group of Four, and the vicarate as a whole, have made the serious, serious error of assuming that if they can suppress internal voices of criticism -- if they can use the power of the Inquisition to repress demands for reform -- then those voices and those demands have no strength. Pose no threat. Unfortunately for them, they're wrong, and there are pastors in this very city who prove my point. Bishop Kaisi is already aware of several of them, but I hope, My Lord, you'll take the opportunity to attend mass at Saint Kathryn's soon. I think you'll hear a voice you recognize in Father Tymahn's. I hope, however, that you'll also recognize that what you're hearing is a Corisandian voice, not that of a man who considers himself a Charisian."

He paused once more, raising one eyebrow, and Ahdymsyn nodded again, more firmly.

"A valid distinction, and one I'll strive to bear in mind," the bishop acknowledged. "On the other hand, I scarcely thought of myself as 'a Charisian' when all of this began. I imagine that, in the fullness of time, your Father Tymahn may actually make something of the same transition on his own terms."

"He may, My Lord." Gairlyng's tone conveyed something less than confidence in that particular transition, and he grimaced.

"I'll be honest," the archbishop went on, "and admit that the sticking point for quite a few Corisandians is the assassination of Prince Hektor and the Crown Prince. Whatever his faults from the perspective of other princedoms, and I'm probably more aware of them than the vast majority of Corisandians, Prince Hektor was both respected and popular here in Corisande. Many of his subjects, especially here in the capital, bitterly resent his murder, and the fact that the Church of Charis hasn't condemned Cayleb for it makes the Church, in turn, suspect in their eyes. And, to be brutally honest, it's a point upon which those trying to organize opposition to both the Church and the Empire are playing with considerable success."

"The Church," Ahdymsyn said, and for the first time there was a hard, cold edge in his voice, "hasn't condemned Emperor Cayleb for the murder of Prince Hektor because the Church doesn't believe he was responsible for it. Obviously, condemning the rulers of the Church's sole secular protector for an act of cold-blooded murder would be politically very difficult and dangerous. Nonetheless, I give you my personal assurance that Archbishop Maikel -- and I -- genuinely and sincerely believe the Emperor had nothing at all to do with Prince Hektor's assassination. If for no other reason than because it would have been so incredibly stupid for him to have done anything of the sort! In fact --"

He closed his mouth with an almost audible snap and made an angry, brushing-away gesture before he sat back -- firmly -- in his armchair. The office was very still and quiet for several seconds, until, finally, Gairlyng stirred behind his desk.

"If you'll recall, My Lord," he said, and his tone was oddly calm, almost mild, considering what had just passed between him and Ahdymsyn, "I said I had four primary reasons for accepting this office. I fully realize that what you were about to say, what you stopped yourself from saying because you realized how self-serving it would sound, is that you believe it was Mother Church who had Prince Hektor killed."

Ahdymsyn seemed to stiffen in his chair, but Gairlyng met his gaze levelly, holding him in place.

"I do not believe Mother Church ordered Prince Hektor's murder," the Archbishop of Corisande said very, very quietly, his eyes never wavering from Ahdymsyn's. "But neither do I believe it was Emperor Cayleb. And that, My Lord, is the fourth reason I accepted this office."

"Because you believe that, from it, you'll be in a position to help discover who did order it?" Ahdymsyn asked.

"Oh, no, My Lord." Gairlyng shook his head, his expression grim, and made the confession he'd never intended to make when these two men walked into his office. "I said I don't believe Mother Church had Prince Hektor killed. That, however, is because I'm morally certain in my own mind who did." Ahdymsyn's eyes widened, and Gairlyng smiled without humor. "I don't believe it was Mother Church . . . but I do believe it was Mother Church's Grand Inquisitor," he said softly.

"You do?" Despite all of his formidable self-control, and all of his years of experience, Ahdymsyn couldn't quite keep the surprise out of his voice, and Gairlyng's thin smile grew ever so slightly wider without becoming a single degree warmer.

"Like you, My Lord, I can imagine nothing stupider Cayleb could possibly have done, and the young man I met here in Manchyr is anything but stupid. And when I consider all the other possible candidates, one name suggests itself inescapably to me. Unlike the vast majority of the people here in Corisande, I've actually met Vicar Zhaspahr. May I assume you've done the same?"

Ahdymsyn nodded, and Gairlyng shrugged.

"In that case, I'm sure you'll understand when I say that if there is one man in Zion who is simultaneously more prepared than Zhaspahr Clyntahn to embrace expediency, more certain his own prejudices accurately reflect God's will, and more confident his intellect far surpasses that of any other mortal man, I have no idea who he might be. Prince Hektor's murder, his instant transformation from one more warring prince to a martyr of Mother Church, would strike Clyntahn as a maneuver with absolutely no disadvantages, and I'm as certain as I'm sitting here that he personally ordered the assassinations. I can't prove it. Not yet. In fact, I think it's probable no one will ever be able to prove it, and even if someday I could, it wouldn't suddenly make the notion of being subordinated to Charisian control magically palatable to Corisandians. But knowing what I know of the man, believing what I believe about what he's already done -- and what that implies about what he's prepared to do in the future -- I had no choice but to oppose him. In that respect, at least, I'm as loyal a son of the Church of Charis as any man on the face of the world."

Zherald Ahdymsyn sat back once more, regarding him for several silent moments, then shrugged.

"Your Eminence, that's precisely the point at which I began my own spiritual journey, so I'm scarcely in a position to criticize you for doing the same thing. And as far as the Church of Charis is concerned, I think you'll find Archbishop Maikel is perfectly prepared to accept that starting point in anyone, even if it should transpire that you never reach the same destination I have. The difference between him and Zhaspahr Clyntahn doesn't have anything to do with their confidence they'll someday reach God's goals. Neither one of them is ever going to waver in that belief, that determination. The difference is that Clyntahn is prepared to do whatever he must to reach the goal he's dictated to God, while Archbishop Maikel trusts God to reach whatever goal He desires. And," the bishop's eyes warmed, "if you can actually meet Archbishop Maikel, spend a five-day or two in his presence, and not discover that any Church he's responsible for building is worthy of your wholehearted support, then you'll be the first person I've met who can do that!"
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
Re: STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Fri Mar 05, 2010 12:10 am


Posts: 2189
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
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A Mighty Fortress - Snippet 25

Royal Palace,
City of Manchyr,
Princedom of Corisande

Sir Koryn Gahrvai sighed with relief as he entered the palace's heat-shedding bulk and got out of the direct path of the sun's ferocity. November was always warm in Manchyr, but this November seemed determined to set a new standard.

Which we don't exactly need, on top of everything else, he thought as he strode briskly down the hall. Langhorne knows we've got enough other things generating "warmth" all over the damned princedom!

Indeed they did, and Gahrvai was -- unfortunately -- in a far better position to appreciate that minor fact than he might have preferred.

The guards standing outside the council chamber door came to attention at his approach, and he nodded back, acknowledging the military courtesy. He recognized both of them. They'd been part of his headquarters detachment before that . . . unpleasantness at Talbor Pass, which was the main reason they'd been chosen for their present duty. Just at the moment, the number of people he could trust behind him with a weapon was limited, to say the least, he thought as he passed through the garden door.

"Sorry I'm late," he said as his father looked up from a conversation with Earl Tartarian. "Alyk's latest report arrived just as I was getting ready to leave my office."

"Don't worry about it," his father said just a bit sourly. "You haven't really missed much, since it's not like we've managed to accomplish a whole hell of a lot so far today."

Gahrvai wished the sourness in that response could have come as a surprise, but Sir Rysel Gahrvai, the Earl of Anvil Rock, had a lot to feel sour about. As the senior of the two designated co-regents for Prince Daivyn, he'd wound up head of the prince's Regency Council, which had to be the most thankless task in the entire princedom. Well, probably aside from Sir Koryn Gahrvai's new assignment, that was.

If there were six nobles in the entire princedom who genuinely believed Anvil Rock hadn't cut some sort of personal deal with Cayleb Ahrmahk, Gahrvai didn't have a clue who they might be. Aside from Tartarian (who was probably as thoroughly detested these days as Anvil Rock himself), Gahrvai could think of exactly three of the deceased Prince Hektor's councilors who genuinely believed Anvil Rock and Tartarian weren't solely out for themselves.

Fortunately, Sir Raimynd Lyndahr, who continued to serve as the Keeper of the Purse, was one of those three. The other two -- Edwair Garthin, the Earl of North Coast, and Trumyn Sowthmyn, the Earl of Airyth -- had both agreed to serve on the Regency Council, as well (although with a marked lack of enthusiasm on North Coast's part), because they'd realized someone had to do it. Archbishop Klairmant Gairlyng, whose position automatically made him a member of the council, as well, appeared to agree with North Coast and Airyth where Anvil Rock and Tartarian were concerned, but he'd never been one of Hektor's councilors. The council's final two members, the Duke of Margo and the Earl of Craggy Hill -- neither of whom were present at the moment -- had held positions on Hektor's council . . . and shared the rest of the nobility's general suspicion about Anvil Rock and Tartarian's motives to the full.

Not having them here today isn't going to make them any happier when they find out about this meeting, either, Gahrvai thought as he walked across to his own place at the circular council table. On the other hand, I can't think of anything that would make them happy.

Sir Bairmon Chahlmair, the Duke of Margo, was the Regency Council's highest ranking nobleman. He'd also been a distant -- very distant -- cousin of Prince Hektor, and it probably wasn't too surprising that he resented having a mere earl as Daivyn's regent instead of himself. Wahlys Hillkeeper, the Earl of Craggy Hill, on the other hand, was quite a different breed of kraken. It was entirely possible Margo nursed a few ambitions of his own, under the circumstances. Gahrvai didn't think he did, but he well might, and not without at least some justification, given the current, irregular circumstances. Yet if there was an edge of doubt about him in Gahrvai's mind, there was none at all about Craggy Hill. The earl's ambition was far more poorly hidden than he obviously thought it was, despite the fact that, unlike Margo, he possessed not even a shred of a claim on the crown.

The good news was that the two of them were outnumbered six-to-two whenever it came down to a vote. The bad news was that their very inability to influence the council's decisions had only driven them closer together. Worse, one of them -- at least one of them -- was leaking his own version of the council's deliberations to outside ears.

Which probably explains why Father didn't make any particular effort to get the two of them here today, Gahrvai reflected.

"Actually, Rysel, saying we haven't accomplished anything today isn't entirely fair," Tartarian said in a rather milder tone.

"Oh, forgive me!" Anvil Rock rolled his eyes. "So far we've managed to agree on how big a stipend to set aside for Daivyn from his own income. Of course, we haven't figured out how we're going to get it to him, but I'm sure we'll come up with something . . . eventually."

"I realize you're probably even more worn out with all of this than I am," Tartarian said. "And I don't blame you, either. But the truth is that we've at least managed to handle the correspondence from General Chermyn."

"Handle?" Anvil Rock repeated. "Just exactly how did we 'handle' that, Taryl? If I recall correctly, it was more a matter of getting our marching orders than 'handling' anything."

Obviously, Gahrvai thought, his father was in one of his moods. Not surprisingly.

"I'd scarcely call them 'marching orders,'" Tartarian replied calmly. "And neither would you, if you weren't so busy pitching a snit."

Anvil Rock's eyes opened wide. He started to shoot something back, then visibly made himself pause.

"All right," he conceded grudgingly. "Fair enough. I'll try to stop venting my spleen."

"A little venting is perfectly all right with us, Rysel," Lyndahr told him with a slight smile. "It's not as if the rest of us don't feel exactly the same way from time to time. Still, Taryl has a point. From my read, the Viceroy General" -- it was clear to Gahrvai that Lyndahr had used Chermyn's official title deliberately -- "is still doing his best to avoid stepping on us any harder than he has to."

Anvil Rock looked as if he would have liked to dispute that analysis. Instead, he nodded.

"I have to admit he's at least taking pains to be courteous," he said. "And, truth to tell, I appreciate it. But the unfortunate fact, Raimynd, is that he's not telling us anything we don't know. And the even more unfortunate fact is that, at the moment, I don't see a damned thing we can do about it!"

He looked around the table, as if inviting suggestions from his fellows. None, however, seemed to be forthcoming, and he snorted sourly.

"May I assume the Viceroy General was expressing his concern over the latest incidents?" Gahrvai asked after a moment, and his father nodded.

"That's exactly what he was doing. And I don't blame him, really. In fact, if I were in his position, I'd probably be doing more than just expressing concern by this point."

Gahrvai nodded soberly. Given the white-hot tide of fury which had swept Corisande following Prince Hektor's assassination, it wasn't surprising the princedom seethed with resentment and hatred. Nor was it especially surprising that the resentment and hatred in question should spill over into public "demonstrations" which had a pronounced tendency to slide over into riots. Riots which seemed to be invariably punctuated by looting and arson, as well, if the City Guard or (more often than Gahrvai liked) Chermyn's Marines, didn't get them quenched almost immediately.

By an odd turn of fate, the people suffering most frequently from that arson tended to be merchants and shopkeepers, many of whom had been blamed for profiteering and price gouging once the Charisian blockade of Corisande had truly begun to bite. Gahrvai was certain quite a few longstanding, private scores (which had damn all to do with loyalty to the House of Daykyn) were being settled under cover of those riots -- and, for that matter, that some of that arson was intended to destroy records of just who owed what to whom -- although he was in no position to prove anything of the sort. Yet, at least. But even if some of the motivation was somewhat less selfless than outraged patriotism and fury over Hektor's assassination, there was no denying the genuine anger at Charis' "foreign occupation" of Corisande which was boiling away at the bottom of it.

And, inevitable or not, understandable or not, the unrest that anger engendered had equally inevitable consequences of its own. The terms Emperor Cayleb had imposed were far less punitive than they could have been, especially in light of the decades of hostility between Charis and Corisande. All the same, Gahrvai was certain they were more punitive than Cayleb would really have preferred. Unfortunately, the emperor had been able to read the writing on the wall as clearly as anyone else.

"I agree, Father," he said out loud. "I suppose it's a good thing, under the circumstances, that the Viceroy General recognizes the inevitability of this sort of thing. At least he isn't likely to overreact."

"Yet, at least," North Coast said.

The earl was a thickset man, getting a bit thicker through the belly as he settled into middle age. His thinning hair still held a few embers of the fiery red of his youth, and his gray eyes were worried.

"I don't think he's likely to overreact no matter what happens, My Lord," Gahrvai said frankly. "Unfortunately, if we can't get a handle on this unrest, I think he's going to feel forced to take considerably more forceful steps of his own. Frankly, I don't see that he'll have any choice."

"I have to agree with you, Koryn," Earl Airyth said somberly. "But when he does, I'm afraid it's only going to make things worse."

"Which is undoubtedly why he's showing restraint, so far," Lyndahr pointed out. He shifted in his chair slightly, facing Gahrvai more squarely. "Which, in turn, brings us to you, Sir Koryn."

"I know," Gahrvai sighed.

"You said you had a report from Alyk?" Anvil Rock asked.

"Yes. In fact, that report is probably the closest thing to good news I've gotten lately. He says his mounted constables are just about ready."

"That is good news," Anvil Rock said, although his feelings were obviously at least somewhat mixed, for which Gahrvai didn't blame him a bit.

Sir Alyk Ahrthyr, the Earl of Windshare, had a reputation as something of a blunt object. A well-deserved reputation, if Gahrvai was going to be honest about it. He'd been accused, on more than one occasion, of thinking with his spurs, and no dictionary was ever going to use Windshare to illustrate the words "calmly reasoned response."

On the other hand, he was aware he wasn't the most brilliant man ever born, and Gahrvai knew better than most that the impetuous earl had actually learned to stop and think -- for, oh, at least thirty or forty seconds -- before charging headlong into the fray. In many ways, he was far from the ideal commander for the mounted patrols about to assume responsibility for maintaining order in the countryside, yet he had two shining qualifications which outweighed any limitations.

First, whatever anyone else might think, the survivors of Gahrvai's army trusted Windshare as implicitly as they trusted Gahrvai himself. They knew, whether the rest of the princedom was prepared to believe it or not, that no one could have done a better job, under the circumstances, than Gahrvai, Windshare, and Sir Charlz Doyal had done. That the combination of the Charisian Marines' rifles, the long range of the Charisian artillery, and the deadly amphibious mobility of the Charisian Navy had been too much for any merely mortal general to overcome. And they knew another commander, other generals, might very well have gotten far more of them killed proving that. As a consequence, they were willing to continue to trust their old commanders, and that trust -- that loyalty -- was more precious than rubies.

And, second, just as important as the troops' trust in Windshare, Gahrvai had complete faith in the earl. Perhaps not without a few reservations about Windshare's judgment, he conceded, although he did have rather more confidence in that judgment than some of the Regency Council's members. But whatever reservations he might quietly nurse about the earl's . . . sagacity, he had complete and total faith in Alyk Ahrthyr's loyalty, integrity, and courage.

So maybe he doesn't have the sharpest brain in the Princedom to go with them. These days, I'll take three out of the four and thank Langhorne I've got them!

"What about the rest of the army, Koryn?" Tartarian asked.

"It could be better, it could be worse." Gahrvai shrugged. "General Chermyn's reissued enough muskets for our total permitted force, and we've converted all of them to take the new bayonets. At the moment, we still don't have any artillery, and, to be honest, I can't really blame him for that. And, all the muskets are still smoothbores. On the other hand, they're a hell of a lot better than anyone else is going to have. That's the 'could be worse' side of things -- none of the troublemakers we're likely to face are going to have anything like the firepower we do. Unfortunately, I don't have anywhere near as many men as I wish I had. As many as I'm pretty damn sure we're going to need before this is all over, the way things seem to be headed, in fact. And the ones I do have were all trained initially as soldiers, not city guardsmen. Until we actually see them in action, I'm not as confident as I'd like to be that they aren't going to react like combat troops instead of guardsmen, which could get . . . messy. That's the 'could be better' side."

"How many do you have? Do we have?" North Coast asked. Gahrvai looked at him, and he shrugged. "I know you sent us all a memo about it. And I read it -- really I did. But, to be honest, I was paying more attention to the naval side of things when I did."

Well, that made sense, Gahrvai supposed. North Coast's earldom lay on Wind Daughter Island, separated from the main island of Corisande by East Margo Sound and White Horse Reach. Wind Daughter was very nearly half Corisande Island's size, but it boasted less than a quarter as many people. Much of it was still covered in old-growth forest, and ninety percent of the population lived almost in sight of the water. Wind Daughter's people tended to regard inhabitants of "the big island" as foreigners, and (so far, at least) they seemed far less incensed than the citizens of Manchyr over Prince Hektor's assassination. Under the circumstances, it didn't really surprise Gahrvai that North Coast had been more concerned over how the Charisian naval patrols were likely to affect his fishermen than over the size of garrison the island might be going to receive.

"Our total force -- field force, that is -- is going to be a little under thirty thousand," he said. "I know thirty thousand sounds like a lot of men, and, frankly, I'm more than a little amazed that Cayleb agreed to let us put that many Corisandians back under arms at all. But the truth it that it isn't really that big a number. My Lord -- not when we're talking about something the size of the entire Princedom. As long as I can keep them concentrated, they can deal with anything they're likely to face. If I have to start dividing them into smaller forces, though -- and I will, just as sure as Shan-wei -- the odds start shifting. Frankly, I don't see any way I'm going to be able to put detachments everywhere we're really going to need them. Not if I'm going to keep them big enough, new muskets or not, to make any of us happy."

North Coast nodded somberly.

"The real problem," Anvil Rock observed, "is that we're going to have enough combat power to stomp on any fires that spring up, but we're not going to have enough numbers to give us the sort of coverage that might keep the sparks from flaring up in the first place." He looked unhappy. "And the real problem with stomping on fires is that everything else in the vicinity tends to get stomped on as well."

"Exactly, Father. Which is why I was so glad to see Alyk's report. I'm going to start deploying his men to the other major towns, especially down here in the southeast, as quickly as possible. He's not going to be able to make any of his detachments as big as we'd all like, but they'll be more mobile than any of our infantry. They'll be able to cover a lot more ground, and, frankly, I think cavalry is going to be more . . . reassuring to the local city guardsmen."

"Reassuring?" His father smiled thinly. "Don't you mean more intimidating?"

"To some extent, I suppose I do," Gahrvai admitted. "On the other hand, a little intimidation for the people who'd be most likely to give those guardsmen problems is a good thing. And I'm not going to complain if the constables suggest to the local guard officers that remembering they're supposed to be maintaining public order instead of leading patriotic insurrections would be another good thing."

"I'm not either," Anvil Rock said. "Even though there's a part of me that would rather be doing exactly that -- leading a patriotic insurrection, I mean -- instead of what I am doing."

No one responded to that particular remark, and, after a moment, the earl shrugged.

"All right, Raimynd," he said. "Now that Koryn has his troops ready to deploy, I suppose it's time we figure out how we're going to pay them, isn't it?" His smile was wintry. "I'm sure that's going to be lots of fun, too."
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
Re: STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Mon Mar 08, 2010 12:09 am


Posts: 2189
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

A Mighty Fortress - Snippet 26

HMS Rakurai, 46
Gorath Bay,
Kingdom of Dohlar,
HMS Devastation, 54,
King's Harbor,
Helen Island,
Kingdom of Old Charis

The brisk afternoon wind had a whetted edge as it swept across the dark blue waters, ruffling the surface with two-foot waves. Here and there a crest of white foam broke almost playfully, and the sharp-toothed breeze hummed in the rigging. Gorath Bay was a well sheltered anchorage, and it was always ice-free year round. But the present air temperature was barely above freezing, and it took very little wind to make a man shiver when it came slicing across the vast, treeless plain of the bay.

The Dohlaran seamen assembled on the deck of HMS Rakurai were certainly doing their share of shivering as they stood waiting for orders.

"Down topgallant masts!"

Captain Raisahndo's voice rang out from the converted merchantman's quarterdeck in the official preparatory order, and petty officers gave their working parties warning glances. Earl Thirsk had decided to grace Rakurai with his presence this afternoon, and it had been made thoroughly clear to everyone aboard that today would be a very bad day to be less than perfect.

"Topgallant yardmen in the tops!"

Feet thudded across the deck as the designated topmen flooded up the ratlines. They swept up them like monkey-lizards, fountaining upward into the rigging, yet the dulcet tones of petty officers gently encouraged them to be still speedier.

"Aloft topgallant yardmen!"

The fresh command came almost before they'd finished collecting in the tops and sent them scurrying still higher, swarming up to the level of the topmast cap.

"Man topgallant and mast ropes!"

More seamen moved to their stations at deck level, manning the ropes run through leading blocks on deck, then through blocks hooked to one side of each topmast cap and down through bronze sheaves set into the squared off heels of the topgallant masts. Each mast rope then ran up its mast once more, to the other side of the topmast cap and a securing eyebolt. The result was a line rigged through the topgallant mast heel, designed to support the mast's weight as it slid down from above and controlled by the deck party assigned to each mast. Other hands eased the topmast stays and shrouds, loosening them slightly, and the next command rang out.

"Haul taut!"

Tension came on the mast ropes, and the officer in charge of each mast examined his own responsibility critically, then raised his hand to signal readiness.

"Sway and unfid!"

Seamen threw still more weight onto the mast ropes, and high above the deck, each topmast rose slightly as the rope rove through its heel lifted it from below. Its heel rose just far enough through the square hole (just barely large enough to allow the heel to move in it) in the topmast trestletrees for a waiting hand to extract the fid -- the tapered hardwood pin which normally passed through the heel and rested on the trestletrees to support the topgallant's weight and lock it in place.

"Lower away together!"

The topgallant masts slid smoothly, gracefully down in almost perfect unison as the men on the mast ropes obeyed the command. Breeching lines and heel ropes both guided and restrained the masts, although the anchorage was sheltered enough, even with the brisk breeze, that there was no real danger of the yard going astray.

The purpose of the exercise wasn't to bring the masts clear down on deck and stow them, and their downward progress ended when their heels came to a point just above the hounds on their respective lower masts. At the same time the spars came down, the topmen tended to the topgallant rigging. They eased the stays and backstays carefully as the masts descended, then secured it on the topmast caps. If the topgallants had been going to remain struck for any period of time, a capstan bar would have been pushed through the secured stays and lashed into place to help keep things under control. No one bothered with that particular refinement this afternoon, however. There wasn't much point, since all hands knew they were to enjoy the pleasure of completing the evolution at least three more times before the day was over.

"Lay down from aloft!"

The order brought the topmen back down, even as a heavy lashing was passed through the fid hole and secured around the topmast to hold it in place. The ship looked truncated with her topgallant masts and topmasts doubled that way, but the topgallant was securely stowed in a manner which reduced the height of her rigging by almost a third. The result was to reduce wind resistance aloft and to reduce her rigging's center of gravity, which might well prove the margin between survival and destruction in the teeth of a winter storm.

The last line was passed, the last lashing secured, and all hands watched tensely as the captain and the admiral surveyed their handiwork. It was a moment of intense stillness, a sort of hushed watchfulness burnished by the sounds of wind and wave, the whistles of wyverns and the cries of gulls. Then Earl Thirsk looked at Raisahndo and nodded gravely.

No one was foolish enough to cheer at the evidence of the admiral's satisfaction. Even the pressed men of the ship's company had been aboard long enough to learn better than that. But there were broad grins here and there, born of combined relief (none of them had wanted to consider how the captain would react if they'd embarrassed him in front of the admiral) and pride, the knowledge that they'd done well. Completing an evolution like this in harbor was child's play compared to accomplishing it at sea, in the dark, in a pitching, rolling vessel. Most of them knew that -- some, the relatively small number of seasoned seamen scattered amongst them, from intensely unpleasant personal experience -- but they also knew it was something they were going to have to do eventually. None of them were any more enamored of the notion of sweating for the sake of sweating than the next man, but the majority of them preferred to master the necessary skills here rather than trying to pick them up at the last minute in the face of a potentially life-or-death emergency at sea.

That was an unusual attitude, in many ways, especially for crews which contained such large percentages of inexperienced landsmen. Sailors who'd been snapped up by the press gangs tended to resent being dragged away from their snug homes ashore -- and from wives and children who depended upon them for support. Given the risks of battle, not to mention the vagaries of disease or accident, the odds were little better than even that they would ever see those wives and children again. That was enough to break any husband or father's heart, but it didn't even consider the fact that their impressment generally rendered their families destitute overnight. There was no guarantee the ones they loved would manage to survive in their men's absence, and even if they did, hardship and hunger were all but guaranteed for most of them. Under the circumstances, it was scarcely surprising that, more often than not, pressed men had to be driven to their tasks, frequently with calculated brutality, until they fused into a cohesive ship's company. Sometimes they never achieved that fusion at all, and even many of those who eventually would find their places simply lacked the experience -- so far, at least -- to understand why relentless training was important to them, and not simply to their demanding, hectoring officers and hard-fisted petty officers. That wasn't the sort of attitude which normally evoked cheerful eagerness for swarming up and down masts on an icy cold afternoon when they could have been below decks, out of the cutting wind.

The attitude of Rakurai's company was quite different from that, however. In fact, it was different from that which would previously have been seen aboard almost any Dohlaran warship with so many pressed men. Partly that was because this time there'd been relatively little brutality, and that which had been employed had been carefully calculated, fitted to the circumstances which demanded it and administered with ruthless equity. There'd still been at least a few incidents where it had been unnecessary, where a bosun's mate of the "old school" had resorted to the use of fists or the over enthusiastic employment of his "starter" (a knotted length of rope used to whip "laggards" along), but they'd been remarkably few compared to what would have happened in most other Dohlaran fleets.

Partly that was because so many of the navy's "old school" bosun's mates (and captains, for that matter) had been lost in the disastrous campaign which had ended at Rock Point and Crag Hook. Mostly, though, it was because the fleet's new commander had explained his position on that particular point, among others, with crystalline clarity. And because it had turned out he'd actually meant it, as well. So far, eleven captains who'd made the mistake of assuming he wasn't serious about his orders concerning unnecessary punishment or brutality had been relieved in disgrace. Given the fact that two of those captains had been even better born than the earl, and that one of them had enjoyed the patronage of the Duke of Thorast himself, none of his remaining captains were inclined to doubt he'd meant what he said the first time.

There was another reason, as well, though -- one that grew out of acceptance from below even more than out of restraint from above, and one which had won Earl Thirsk a degree of devotion almost unheard of among impressed seamen. No one knew exactly how word of it had gotten out, but it was common knowledge in the fleet that the earl had personally argued that since the fleet was being manned for Mother Church's service, Mother Church ought to assume responsibility for the well-being of the pressed men's families. The wage of a common sailor in the Royal Dohlaran Navy wasn't much, but Mother Church would see to it that the money was paid directly to a man's family during his absence, if that was his request. More than that, and totally unprecedented, the Church had promised to pay a pension to the widow of any impressed seaman who died on active service and to provide for the support of his minor children, as well.

All of which helped to explain why there were remarkably few groans of resignation as the captain and the admiral returned to Rakurai's poop deck and the captain reached for his speaking trumpet yet again.

"Up topgallant masts!"

* * * * * * * * * *

"They're getting better at that than I'd really like," Sir Domynyk Staynair, the Baron of Rock Point, observed quietly.

The one-legged admiral leaned comfortably back in an overstuffed armchair, the wooden peg which had replaced the calf of his right leg resting on a foot stool in front of him. Kraken-oil lamps burned brightly, hanging from the deckhead, and the sleeping bulk of his new flagship was quiet about him as she lay at anchor while he watched the recorded imagery play out before his eyes. The lowered topgallant masts were moving back up into position as smoothly as they'd descended, as if controlled by a single hand, and he shook his head.

"Agreed," Merlin Athrawes' voice replied in his right ear, speaking from his palace bedchamber in Cherayth, the better part of seven thousand miles away. It was just past midnight in King's Harbor, but the first, very faint traces of an icy winter dawn could be seen out of Merlin's window. "Of course, it's all still drill, under pretty much ideal circumstances. And they still aren't as good at it as our people are."

"Maybe not," Rock Point conceded. "Then again, nobody's as good at it as our people are, and I'd just as soon keep it that way." He shook his head again. "Proficiency builds confidence, Merlin, and the last thing we need is for these people to start feeling confident about facing us at sea." He paused for a moment, head cocked as if in thought, then snorted. "Allow me to correct myself. The next to last thing we need is for them to start feeling confident about their competence. The last thing we need is for them to actually develop that competence. And that, unfortunately, is exactly what Thirsk seems to be doing."

"Agreed," Merlin repeated, this time in something much more like a sigh. "I've discovered that, despite myself, I rather admire Thirsk," he continued. "Still, I've also discovered that I can't quite help wishing he'd encountered a round shot at Crag Hook. For that matter, I can't help wishing King Rahnyld had gone ahead and had him executed as a scapegoat for Armageddon Reef. It would've been grossly unfair, but the man's entirely too good at his job for my peace of mind."

"I suppose it's inevitable they could turn up at least one competent sailor if they looked long enough and hard enough," Rock Point agreed sourly.

"I don't think all the time he spent on the beach hurt any, either," Merlin pointed out. Rock Point raised an interrogative eyebrow, and Merlin grimaced. "The man's got a brain that's probably at least as good as Ahlfryd's," he pointed out, "and he's got more actual sea experience than almost anyone else the Church can call on. I think it's pretty obvious he spent the time they left him ashore to rot using that brain and that experience to analyze all the mistakes Maigwair and idiots like Thorast have been making. They were stupid to park him there, and I'm just as glad they did, but the downside is that they gave him plenty of time to think. Now he's putting the fruits of all that thinking to work."

Rock Point made an irate sound of acknowledgment -- something midway between a grunt and a growl. Like Merlin and Cayleb, the baron had come to the conclusion that Thirsk was almost certainly Charis' most dangerous current adversary. As Merlin had just pointed out, the man had a brain, and a dangerously competent one. Worse, he wasn't a bit afraid of what Merlin called "thinking outside the box." His insistence that the Church provide for the families of impressed seamen was unheard of, for example. There'd been bitter resistance to the entire notion, and not just from the Church. Quite a few of the Dohlaran Navy's senior officers had mounted a ferocious attempt to defeat the suggestion. Some of that resistance had been pure reflex in defense of "the way things have always been." Some of it had stemmed from a fear that the practice would become customary -- that the Navy would be expected to assume the same financial responsibilities in the future. But more of it had arisen from simple resentment of the authority and support which both the Duke of Fern and Captain General Maigwair had thrown behind Thirsk. And from Thirsk's willingness to use that support to smash his way through their sullen resistance. Reformers were seldom beloved, and the degree to which they were resented and loathed was usually in direct proportion to how desperately reform was needed.
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
Re: STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Wed Mar 10, 2010 12:10 am


Posts: 2189
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

A Mighty Fortress - Snippet 27

There's a lesson there, Merlin reflected. Or a damned sharp bit of irony, at any rate, given how unpopular "reformers" like Cayleb Ahrmahk and Maikel Staynair are proving in the Temple just now!

"You realize," the baron said after a second or two, "if he actually manages to get their navy reorganized for them, Thorast and the others will toss him to the krakens just as soon as they figure they can possibly get along without him."

"Of course they will," Merlin agreed a trifle sadly. "I think he knows it, too. Which only makes him even more dangerous, from our perspective."

"So we'll just have to do something about him ourselves," Rock Point said more briskly. "Gwylym's about ready to sail."

"I know." Merlin frowned. "In a lot of ways, though, I wish you were going, instead."

"Gwylym's just as capable as I am," Rock Point pointed out. There might have been a touch of stiffness in his tone, and Merlin shook his head quickly.

"It's not a matter of capabilities, Domynyk," he said. "Believe me, no one has more respect for Gwylym than I do! It's just that I'd rather the fellow in charge of singeing King Rahnyld's beard had access to the SNARCs. Especially given how competent we've just agreed Thirsk is turning out to be."

Rock Point nodded in acknowledgment, although the acknowledgment in question was obviously a bit grudging. Still, he really couldn't argue the point. Admiral Sir Gwylym Manthyr had been Cayleb's flag captain at the battles of Rock Point, Crag Hook, and Darcos Sound. He was an experienced seaman, possessed of a singular attention to detail and an iron nerve. He was not, however, one of the "inner circle" who had been cleared for the truth about Merlin, which meant he wasn't going to be examining any "satellite imagery." Nor, for that matter, would anyone assigned to his staff.

Unfortunately, Rock Point himself was the only one of Cayleb and Sharleyan's senior naval officers who was part of the inner circle. Getting some of the others on board was a high priority, but, again, not something which could be rushed. Rock Point himself had argued strongly in favor of adding High Admiral Bryahn Lock Island to the list, and both he and Merlin were confident that the Brethren of Saint Zherneau would approve Lock Island's admission quite soon. Of course, the question then arose of just who would inform Lock Island. With Cayleb, Sharleyan, and Archbishop Maikel all out of Old Charis, it would be virtually impossible to find the right messenger -- somebody with the authority to make Lock Island listen if he didn't take it well, and somebody he'd trust enough to believe when he did listen. Baron Wave Thunder might serve in a case of dire emergency, but still . . . .

"I could probably talk Bryahn into sending me, instead of Gwylym," the baron said after a moment, but his expression was unhappy and his tone was tentative.

"No." Merlin shook his head again. "Cayleb and Sharleyan are right about that. We need you right where you are, too. Or, rather, where you're about to be. And, let's face it, Dohlar's a worry, but Tarot's right next door. And White Ford is no slouch, either."

It was Rock Point's turn to a grimace, but he couldn't disagree.

The Imperial Charisian Navy was the largest, most powerful fleet any single Safeholdian realm had ever boasted. It was rising rapidly to a strength of over ninety galleons, and it continued to expand. Unfortunately, it wasn't going to find itself matched against any other single Safeholdian realm; it was going to face the combined fleets of virtually every mainland realm. Worse, the Church of God Awaiting had poured out staggering sums to subsidize those fleets, although not all of the various kingdoms' and empires' building programs were equally advanced. The Temple Lands and the more northern ports of the Harchong Empire were considerably behind the shipyards of Dohlar and the Desnairian Empire, and that situation wasn't going to improve for the Church any time soon. But the plain, ugly truth was that even with an unlimited budget (which it didn't have) the Charisian Empire couldn't possibly have matched the mainland realms' combined building capacity. Nor was the Charisian supply of manpower unlimited, either. Ninety galleons, each with a crew of roughly five hundred, required forty-five thousand men. So far, the Navy had managed to meet its manpower requirements without resorting to impressment of its own, largely because it had always followed policies similar to the ones Thirsk had forced upon Dohlar and the Church. That was about to change, however, because there were only so many volunteers who could be attracted no matter what the inducement, and the manning situation was only going to get worse as the size of the fleet continued to climb.

And it was going to have to climb. Assuming the Church completed its current construction programs, it would command a fleet of over three hundred and ninety galleons -- better than four times the current Charisian strength. A hundred and fifty of them would be converted merchant ships, but so were a quarter of the Charisian Navy's galleons. And that didn't even consider the two hundred-plus galleys the Church had built before it realized just how outclassed galleys had become. They might not be well suited to decisive broadside duels, but they more than doubled the total number of hulls the Church could throw at its opponents, and if they were free to operate while the Church's galleons neutralized Charis' galleons . . . .

The good news was that the ships in question were scattered between five widely separated navies. No single kingdom or empire could match the Charisians' numbers, although Harchong would come close once it's winter-delayed construction could be completed. Concentrating those widely dispersed squadrons would be at least as difficult as it had been to concentrate the forces detailed for the Group of Four's original plans for Old Charis' destruction. And even after they were concentrated, their companies would be sadly inexperienced compared to the Imperial Navy's crews.

Earl Thirsk, at least, obviously recognized that fact. So did Gahvyn Mahrtyn, the Baron of White Ford, King Gorjah of Tarot's senior admiral. Unfortunately, from the Church's perspective, they were the only two fleet commanders still available to it who had ever faced the Charisian Navy in battle. The Earl of Black Water, the Corisandian commander at Darcos Sound, had died there, and Gharth Rahlstahn, the Earl of Mahndyr, and Sir Lewk Cohlmyn, the Earl of Sharpfield, who had commanded the Emeraldian and the Chisholmian components of Black Water's fleet, were now in Charisian service. Even more unfortunately (for the Church), the fact that Thirsk and White Ford had been devastatingly defeated by then-Crown Prince Cayleb had caused their advice to be discounted by almost all of their fellow flag officers.

That was clearly changing in Thirsk's case, but neither Harchong, nor the Desnairian Empire, nor the Temple Lands seemed overly inclined to profit by Dohlar's example. Tarot did, but King Gorjah continued to languish under a cloud of disapproval. It seemed clear that the Group of Four continued to blame Tarot for the disastrous intelligence leak which had permitted King Haarahld of Charis and his son to deduce the Church's strategy and come up with a counter strategy to defeat it in detail. That was grossly unfair, although with no knowledge of Merlin's SNARCs, it was understandable enough. Particularly given Charis' efforts to encourage exactly that reaction.

As a consequence, none of the Church's galley fleet had been laid down in Tarotisian shipyards. Following the Group of Four's belated switched to a galleon-based fleet, Tarot had been admitted to the building program, yet even then the Tarotisian component remained the smallest of all. And White Ford -- who was quite possibly an even better combat commander than Thirsk -- had been almost totally ignored.

Under the circumstances, the Church's numerical advantage was considerably less overwhelming than it might appear. To set against that, however, the Empire of Charis was a very large, very vulnerable target. Charis and Chisholm, in particular, were six thousand miles apart, as the wyvern flew, and it was over two thousand miles from Port Royal, in Chisholm, to Corisande's Cape Targan. A ship deployed to defend Charis was a minimum of a month from Chisholm under even the most favorable conditions of wind and weather, and it would take almost that long for a ship stationed in Chisholm to reach Manchyr, in Corisande.

Distances and transit times like that prevented High Admiral Lock Island from concentrating his own forces in a central position. In fact, he'd been forced to station twenty galleons in Chisholm, under Admiral Sharpfield and supported by the Chisholmian Navy's surviving galleys. Another ten galleons and twenty-five galleys had been stationed in Corisandian waters under Earl Mahndyr, and Lock Island had retained twenty galleons under his own command, covering Rock Shoal Bay and the approaches to Howell Bay and the Sea of Charis.

That left barely forty galleons for other service, and freeing up even that many had been possible only because the Church's war fleet was so widely scattered . . . and still so far short of completion. As more of the Church's galleons became available for service, the various Charisian defensive fleets would have to be strengthened, which would reduce the strength available for other tasks still further.

Unless something could be done in the meantime to reduce the numbers opposed to them.

That was supposed to be Manthyr's and Rock Point's assignment. Manthyr, with eighteen galleons and six thousand Marines was bound for the Sea of Harchong. More specifically, he was bound for Hardship Bay, on the largely uninhabited Claw Island. There were reasons very few people lived on Claw Island. It wasn't vey big -- barely a a hundred and twelve miles in its longest dimension. It was also little more than two hundred miles south of the equator, and its barren, mostly treeless expanses of rock and sand were about as welcoming as an oven the same size. On the other hand, Hardship Bay offered a good deep-water anchorage, and the small city of Claw Keep would offer his squadron a home port . . . of sorts, at any rate. Even more importantly, it was better than twenty-one thousand sea miles from Tellesberg which put it "barely" five thousand sea miles from Gorath Bay. It also lay off the western coast of South Harchong, however, where a quarter of the Harchong Empire's galleons were under construction, and it was less than fifteen hundred miles from the mouth of the Gulf of Dohlar.

The voyage to Claw Island would actually have been slightly shorter if he sailed east, by way of Chisholm, instead of west, past Armageddon Reef and around the southern tip of the continent of Howard, but he'd have both favorable winds and currents going west, especially this time of year. He'd probably average at least fifty or sixty miles more a day on his projected course . . . and it would still take him better than three months to complete the voyage.

Once he got there, his Marines ought to be more than sufficient to capture Claw Keep and garrison the island, especially since the only reliable source of water on the entire sun-blasted spit were the artesian wells that served Claw Keep itself. That would provide him with a secure base from which to operate against both Dohlar and Harchong. He'd be a long way from home, although he'd be within nine thousand miles of Chisholm, but he'd be well placed to blockade the Gulf of Dohlar and intercept any effort to combine Thirsk's galleons with the Harchongese contingent building further south around Shipwreck Bay, in the provinces of Queiroz, Kyznetsov, and Selkar. Even if he did nothing but sit there (and Merlin was confident that an officer of Manthyr's abilities and personality should find all manner of ways to make himself an infuriating pest), it was unlikely the Church -- or King Rahnyld or Emperor Waisu, for that matter -- would be prepared to tolerate a Charisian presence that close to them.

His galleons would be substantially outnumbered -- by almost four-to-one by Dohlar, alone, assuming the Dohlarans got all of their own warships completed and manned -- but the greater experience of his crews and captains would offset much of that disadvantage. And the simple fact that Charis was once again taking the initiative, despite its numerical disadvantage, would have profound implications for the confidence and morale of his opponents.

And if worse came to worst, he could always load his Marines back aboard his transports and withdraw.

That's the idea, at least, Merlin thought. And as a way to throw a spanner into the Church's plans, it's got a lot to recommend it. But I'd still feel better with Domynyk in command. Or if we could give Gwylym a com, at least! I hate having that big a chunk of the Navy out at the end of a limb that long when we can't even talk to its CO.

Unfortunately, as he himself had just pointed out, they were going to need Rock Point closer to home. He and the remaining twenty galleons currently available to Charis would be moving their base of operations to Hanth Town on Margaret Bay, which would put him across the Tranjyr Passage from the Kingdom of Tarot. His new base would be well placed to assist Lock Island in meeting any threat against Old Charis from East Haven or Desnair. More importantly, however, he'd be in a position to operate directly against Tarot.

And Sharleyan was right about that, too, Merlin reflected. It's more important than ever to . . . induce Gorjah to consider joining the Empire voluntarily. Or, failing that, to present him with a somewhat more forceful argument. Neutralizing Tarot would be worthwhile in its own right. Gaining Tarot as a forward base right off the East Haven coast would be even more worthwhile. And getting our hands on the galleons Gorjah's building for the Church wouldn't hurt a damned thing, either!

"I'd like to be able to do a lot of things we can't do right now," he said out loud. "Desnair's starting to worry me, for one thing, and I really wish we could get at Harchong and the Temple Lands yards! But we can't afford to uncover Old Charis and Chisholm, and that's just the way it is. If Gwylym can keep Dohlar busy long enough for you and Gray Harbor to convince Gorjah to see the light, it'll help a lot, though."

"Then we'll just have to see what we can do about that, won't we, Seijin Merlin?" Rock Point said with a smile. "We'll just have to see what we can do."
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
Re: STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Fri Mar 12, 2010 12:09 am


Posts: 2189
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

A Mighty Fortress - Snippet 28

City of Fairstock,
Province of Malansath,
West Harchong Empire

The falling snow was so thick no one could see more than a ship's length or two in any direction.

The Earl of Coris found that less than reassuring as Snow Lizard crept cautiously into the Fairstock roadstead. Captain Yuthain had furled his sail and gone to oars as soon as the leadsman in the bow found bottom at ten fathoms. Sixty feet represented considerably more depth of water than Snow Lizard required, but only a fool (which Yuthain had conclusively demonstrated he was not) took liberties with the Fairstock Channel. It measured the next best thing to two hundred and fifty miles from north to south, and if most of it was easily navigable, there were other bits which were anything but. And there wasn't a lot of room to spare. At its narrowest point, which also happened to offer some of the nastiest, shifting sandbanks, it was barely fourteen miles wide . . . at high water. Fairstock Bay itself was a superbly sheltered anchorage, well over two hundred miles wide, but getting into it could sometimes prove tricky.

Especially in the middle of a snowstorm.

Frankly, Coris would have preferred to lay-to off the entrance of the channel until the weather cleared. Unfortunately, there was no guarantee the weather would clear any time soon, and Captain Yuthain was under orders to deliver his passenger to Fairstock as quickly as possible. So he'd crept very cautiously and slowly inshore until he'd been able to run a line of soundings which let him locate himself by matching them with the depths recorded on his chart. Even after he was confident he knew where he was, however, he'd continued to proceed with a caution of which Coris had wholeheartedly approved. Not only was it distinctly possible, in these visibility conditions, that Snow Lizard wasn't really where he thought she was, but there was always the equally unpleasant possibility that they might meet another vessel head-on. The narrowness of the channel and the atrocious visibility only made that even more likely, and Phylyp Ahzgood hadn't come this far at the summons of the Council of Vicars just to get himself drowned or frozen to death.

"By the mark, seven fathom!"

The cry floated back from the bow, oddly muffled and deadened by the falling snow, and despite his thick coat and warm gloves, Coris shivered.

"I imagine you'll be happy to get ashore, My Lord," Captain Yuthain remarked, and Coris turned to face him quickly. He'd been careful not to intrude on the captain's concentration while Yuthain conned Snow Lizard cautiously up-channel. It wasn't the sort of moment at which one joggled someone's elbow, he reflected.

Something of his thoughts must have shown in his expression, because Yuthain grinned through his beard.

"This next little bit's not all that bad, My Lord," he said. "I wouldn't want to sound overconfident, but I'd say the really tricky parts are all safely past us. Not but what I imagine there was a time or two when you were less than confident we'd get this far."

"Nonsense, Captain." Coris shook his head with an answering smile. "I never doubted your seamanship or the quality of your ship and crew for a moment."

"Ah, now!" Yuthain shook his head. "It's kind of you to be saying so, but I'm not so sure telling a fearful lie like that is good for the health of your soul, My Lord."

"If it were a lie, perhaps it wouldn't be good for my spiritual health. Since it happens to have been a completely truthful statement, however, I'm not especially concerned, Captain."

Yuthain chuckled, then cocked his head, listening to the leadsman's fresh announcement of the depth. He frowned thoughtfully down at the chart, obviously fixing his position afresh in his brain, and Coris watched him with the respect a professional deserved.

As it happened, what he'd just said to Yuthain really had been the truth. On the other hand, despite his recognition of the captain's skill and the capability of his crew, there'd been more than one moment when Coris had strongly doubted they would ever reach Fairstock. The Gulf of Dohlar in winter had proved even uglier than he'd feared, and once they'd cleared the passage between Cliff Island and Whale Island, they'd encountered a howling gale which he'd been privately certain was going to pound the low-slung, frail, shoal-draft galley bodily under. The steep, battering seas had been almost as high as the galley's mast, and at one point they'd been forced to lie to a sea anchor for two full days with the pumps continuously manned. There'd been no hot food for those two days -- not even Yuthain's cook had been able to keep his galley fire lit -- and icy water had swirled ankle deep through the earl's cabin more than once as the ship fought for her very life. They'd survived that particular crisis after all, yet that had scarcely been the end of the foul weather -- or the crises -- they'd faced. Snow, bad visibility, and icy rigging had only made things still worse, and Coris' respect for Yuthain and his men had grown with each passing day.

Despite which, he could hardly wait to get off the ship. It would have been tiresome enough to spend an entire month in such confined quarters under any circumstances. Under the conditions associated with a winter passage of the Gulf, "tiresome" had quickly given way to something much closer to "intolerable."

Of course, there is the little fact that every foot closer to Fairstock brings me that much closer to Zion and the Temple, as well, he reminded himself. On the other hand, as the Archangel Bédard said, "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." If I get off this damned ship alive, I'll be perfectly prepared to let future problems take care of themselves!

"I make it about another three hours to our anchorage, My Lord," Yuthain said, reemerging from his contemplation of the chart. "If the visibility were better, we'd probably already have a pilot boat coming alongside. As it is, I won't be so very surprised if we have to feel our way all the way in on our own. Either way, though, I think we'll have you ashore in time for supper."

"I appreciate that, Captain. I doubt anyone could have taken better care of me on the passage than you have, but I trust I won't offend you if I admit I'd really like to sleep in a bed that isn't moving tonight." He grimaced. "I doubt I'll get more than one night -- maybe two, if I'm really lucky -- but I intend to enjoy it to the fullest!"

"Well, I can't say as I blame you," Yuthain said. "Mind you, I've never really understood why anyone prefers sleeping ashore when he's the option. Although, to be honest, back before I had my own cabin, and my own cot, I felt rather differently about it, I believe. Fortunately for my sea dog image," he grinned at his passenger again, "that's been long enough ago now that my memory's none too clear!"

"I'm sure that for a seasoned sailor like yourself the ship's motion is just like a mother rocking a cradle," Coris responded. "Still, though, I think it's an acquired taste. And if it's all the same to you, it's one I'd just as soon not acquire."

"To each his own, My Lord," Yuthain agreed equably.

* * * * * * * * * *

As it happened, Yuthain's prediction was accurate. They had to make their own way until they saw the blurred, indistinct shapes of other vessels, riding at anchor, and dropped their own anchor. In fact, they'd passed close enough aboard one of the other ships to draw an irate shout of warning from its anchor watch.

"Oh, hold your noise!" Yuthain had bellowed back through his speaking trumpet. "This is an Emperor's ship on Church business! Besides, if I'd wanted to sink your sorry arse, you silly bastard, I'd hit you square amidships, not passed across your misbegotten bow!"

The noise from the other vessel had ended abruptly, and Yuthain had winked at Coris.

"Truth to tell, My Lord," he'd admitted in a much lower voice, "I never even saw 'em until the last moment. I think I'm as surprised as they are that I didn't cut their cable! Not that I'd ever admit it to them, even under torture!"

"Your secret's safe with me, Captain," Coris had assured him, then gone below to be certain Seablanket had everything packed up to go ashore.

"I've checked and double checked, My Lord," the habitually gloomy-faced valet had assured him. "Still and all, I don't doubt I've forgotten something. Or misplaced it. Or that one of Captain Yuthain's sticky-fingered sailors has relieved us of it when I wasn't looking."

"I promise I won't hold you responsible for someone else's pilferage, Rhobair," Coris had assured him. If the promise had done anything to lighten Seablanket's gloom, Coris hadn't noticed it. On the other hand, his valet knew their itinerary as well as he did, and he rather doubted Seablanket was any more eager than he was for the final stage of the journey.

Now, as the earl sat on the midships thwart of the ten-oared launch which had (eventually) turned up to ferry him ashore, he found his own thoughts dwelling on the prospect of the journey in question. He was, by nature, a less gloomy fellow than Seablanket, but at the moment he'd discovered his mood was very much in tune with the valet's. The one good thing about the weather was that there was very little wind, yet that didn't keep an open boat from feeling like Shan-wei's own icehouse, and he felt confident the bitter cold he was feeling at the moment was only a mild foreshadowing of what it was going to be like when they reached Lake Pei.

Or, for that matter, how cold it's going to be between here and Lake Pei, he told himself sourly. Langhorne, I hope I really do get at least two nights in a row under a roof in a warm bed that isn't simultaneously pitching and rolling under me!

"Easy all!" the launch's coxswain called. "In oars . . . and bear off forward there, Ahndee!"

Coris looked up to see a long, stone quay looming up close at hand. The tide had turned long enough ago to leave the high-water garland of weed and shellfish a good foot and a half clear of the harbor, and the launch slid alongside a set of stone steps, leading down into the sea. The two or three lowest of the exposed steps looked decidedly treacherous, covered with a slushy mix of residual sea water and falling snow (where they weren't still regularly sloshed over by the weary-looking swell), but the upper steps didn't look a lot better. There'd been enough traffic to pack the snow into ice, and it didn't look as if anyone had spread fresh sand across them in the last several hours.

"Mind the footing, My Lord," the coxswain warned, and Coris nodded in acknowledgment. He also reached into his purse to add an extra quarter-mark to the boat crew's tip. That was probably exactly what the coxswain had hoped would happen, and the earl knew it, but that didn't change his gratitude for the reminder.

"And you mind your footing, too, Rhobair," he tossed over his shoulder as he stood and stepped cautiously onto solid stone for the first time in a month.

The solid stone in question seemed to be curtsying and dipping underfoot, and he grimaced at the sensation. That wasn't going to help him get up these damned stairs un-drenched, un-drowned, and un-fractured, he reflected glumly.

"I don't want to be fishing you -- or the baggage -- out of the damned harbor," he added as one of the launch's oarsmen helped the valet move Coris' carefully balanced trunk.

"If it's all the same to you, My Lord, I'd just as soon you didn't have to, either," Seablanket replied, and Coris snorted, took a firm (and grateful) grip on the hand rope rigged through eyebolts set into the side of the quay to serve as a railing, and made his way carefully up the slippery steps.
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
Re: STICKY: A Mighty Fortress Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Mar 14, 2010 11:11 pm


Posts: 2189
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

A Mighty Fortress - Snippet 29

He inhaled in relief as he finally reached the quay's broad, flat surface intact. Everything still seemed to be moving under his feet, and he wondered how long it was going to take him to regain his land legs this time. Given how extended (and lively) the passage across the Gulf had been, he wouldn't be surprised if it took considerably longer than usual.

He stepped away from the head of the stair, trying not to move too gingerly across the apparently swaying quay, then turned to watch Seablanket and one of the launch's oarsmen carrying the baggage cautiously up. The valet's expression was even more lugubrious than usual, and his long nose -- red with cold -- seemed to quiver, as if he could actually smell some sort of accident or dropped trunk stealing surreptitiously closer under cover of the veiling snow.

Despite any trepidation Seablanket might have felt, however, Coris' trunks and valises made the hazardous journey up onto the quay un-ambushed by disaster. Seablanket had just clambered back down the slippery steps after his own more modest traveling bag when someone cleared his throat behind the earl.

He found himself facing a man wearing the blue-trimmed brown cassock of an under-priest of the Order of Chihiro under a thick, obviously warm coat. The priest seemed on the young side for his clerical rank, and, although he was actually only very slightly above average in height, he also seemed somehow just a bit larger than life. The badge of Chihiro's quill on the left shoulder of his coat was crossed with a sheathed sword, further identifying him as a member of the Order of the Sword. Chihiro's order was unique in being divided into two sub-orders: the Order of the Sword, which produced a high percentage of the Temple Guard's officers, and the Order of the Quill, which produced an almost equally high percentage of the Church's clerks and bureaucrats. Coris rather doubted, given this fellow's obviously muscular physique and the calluses on the fingers of his sword hand, that anyone really needed the shoulder badge to know which aspect of Chihiro's order he served.

"Earl Coris?" the under-priest inquired in a courteous voice.

"Yes, Father?" Coris replied.

He bowed in polite acknowledgment, hoping his face didn't show his dismay. Having someone pop up clear down here at quayside, in the middle of a snowfall, on a freezing-cold day, when no one could possibly have known Snow Lizard would choose today for her arrival, did not strike him as a good sign. Or not, at least, where his hope of spending a day or two in a snug, warm room was concerned.

"I'm Father Hahlys Tannyr, My Lord," the under-priest told him. "I've been waiting for you for several days now."

"I'm afraid the weather was less than cooperative," Coris began, "and --"

"Please, My Lord!" Tannyr smiled quickly. "That wasn't a complaint, I assure you! In fact, I know Captain Yuthain quite well, and I'm confident he got you here as swiftly as humanly possible. In fact, given what I expect the weather was like, he made rather better time than I expected, even from him. No, no." He shook his head. "I wasn't complaining about any tardiness on your part, My Lord. Simply introducing myself as the fellow responsible for seeing you through the next, undoubtedly unpleasant, leg of your journey."

"I see."

Coris considered the under-priest for a moment. Tannyr couldn't be more than thirty-five, he decided, and probably not quite that old. He was dark-haired and brown-eyed, with a swarthy complexion and the lean, lively features of a man who would never find it difficult to attract female companionship. There was what looked suspiciously like humor dancing in the depths of those eyes, and even simply standing motionless in the snow, he seemed to radiate an abundance of energy. And competence, the earl decided.

"Well, Father Hahlys," he said after a handful of seconds, "since you've been so forthright, I won't pretend I'm looking forward to the . . . rigors of our trip, shall we say?"

"Nor should you be," Tannyr told him cheerfully. "The bad news is that it's the better part of thirteen hundred miles as the wyvern flies from here to Lakeview, and we're not wyverns. It's a bit better than seventeen hundred by road, and what with snow, ice, and the Wishbone Mountains squarely in the way, it's going to take us very nearly a month just to get there. At least the high road follows the Rayworth Valley, so we won't have to spend all our time climbing up and down. And I've arranged for relays of snow lizards to be waiting at the Church post houses all along our route, so we'll make fair time, I imagine, as long as we're not actively weather-bound. But even the Valley's a good seven or eight hundred feet higher than Fairstock, so I think we can safely assume the weather's going to be miserable enough to keep us off the roads for at least the equivalent of a five-day or so, anyway."

"You make it sound delightful, Father," Coris said dryly, and Tannyr laughed.

"The Writ says truth is always better than lies, My Lord, and trying to convince ourselves it'll be better than we know it will isn't going to make us any happier when we're stuck in some miserable little village inn in the Wishbones waiting for a blizzard to pass, now is it?"

"No, I don't imagine it is," Coris agreed. And, after all, it wasn't as if Tannyr were telling him anything he hadn't already realized.

"The good news, such as it is," Tannyr said, "is that I think you'll be in for a bit of a treat once we finally do get to Lakeside."

"Indeed?" Coris cocked his head, and Tannyr nodded.

"It's been a hard winter, My Lord, and according to the semaphore, the Lake's already frozen pretty hard. By the time we get there, we won't have to worry about hitting any open water on our way across. Well," he corrected himself with a judicious air which was only slightly undermined by the twinkle in his eyes, "we probably won't have to worry about it. You can never be entirely certain when a lead's going to open up unexpectedly."

"So we definitely will be taking an iceboat from Lakeview to Zion?" Coris shook his head just a bit doubtfully. "I've been to sea often enough, but I've never gone ice-sailing."

"That we will, and I think you'll find the experience . . . interesting," Tannyr assured him. The under-priest had obviously noticed Coris' mixed feelings, and he smiled again. "Most people do, especially the first time they make the trip. Hornet's quite a bit smaller than Snow Lizard, of course, but she's much faster, if I do say so myself."

"Ah?" Coris cocked an eyebrow. "That sounded rather possessive, Father. Should I take it you're going to be my captain across the Lake, as well as shepherding me safely from here to Lakeview?"

"Indeed, My Lord." Tannyr gave him a sort of sketchy half-bow. "And I can assure you that I have never -- yet -- lost a passenger during a winter passage."

"And I assure you that I am suitably comforted by your reassurance, Father. Even if it did seem to contain at least a hint of qualification."

Tannyr's smile became a grin, and Coris felt himself relaxing a bit more. He still wasn't looking forward to the journey, but Hahlys Tannyr was about as far as anyone could have gotten from the grimly focused Schuelerite keeper he'd expected to encounter for the final stage of his journey.

"Seriously, My Lord," Tannyr continued, "Hornet is much faster than you may have been assuming. She doesn't have a galley's hull drag, so the same wind will push her a lot faster, and the prevailing winds will be in our favor, this time of year. Not to mention the fact that we're far enough into the winter now that the ice's been pretty well charted and marked, so I can afford to give her more of her head than I could earlier in the year. I won't be surprised if we average as much as thirty miles an hour during the lake crossing itself."


Despite himself, Coris couldn't hide how impressed he was by the speed estimate. Or by the fact that it radically revised downward his original estimate of how long it would take to cross Lake Pei. Of course, that was a two-edged sword, in some ways. It meant he'd spend less time shivering and miserable on the ice, but it also meant he'd be meeting with Chancellor Trynair and the Grand Inquisitor that much more quickly, as well.

And it wasn't going to make the month-long journey from Fairstock to Lakeview any less arduous than the under-priest had already promised.

I suppose I should spend some time thinking Langhorne I'm still young enough to have a realistic prospect of surviving the experience, he thought sourly.

"Really, My Lord," Tannyr assured him, answering his last question. "In fact, running with the wind in a good lake blizzard, I've had her up to better than fifty miles per hour -- that's average speed, over a twenty-mile course, too, so I'm sure we were higher than that, at least in bursts -- on more than one occasion. I'll try not to inflict any weather quite that spectacular on you this time around. It's not exactly something for the faint of heart -- or, as my mother would put it, for the reasonably sane." He winked. "Still, I think I can promise you'll find the crossing memorable."

The under-priest smiled with obvious pride in his vessel, then turned his head, watching Seablanket emerge onto the quay once more with the final piece of baggage. He gazed at the valet with a thoughtful expression for several seconds, then looked back at Coris, and there was an almost conspiratorial gleam in his eye.

"I realize, My Lord, that you undoubtedly wish to complete your journey as quickly as possible. I have no doubt your impatience to set forth again is greater than ever in light of the current inclement weather and the obviously strenuous nature of the voyage you've just completed. I'm afraid, however, that I'm not entirely satisfied with the lizard team reserved for the first leg of our journey. Not only that, but I've been having a few second thoughts about our planned stopping points along the way. I've come to the conclusion that the entire trip could have been a bit better planned and coordinated, and I think we'll probably complete the trip more quickly, in the long run, if I spend a little time . . . tweaking my present arrangements. I apologize profusely for the delay, but as the person charged with delivering you safe and sound, I really wouldn't feel comfortable setting out on a journey as long as this one without first making certain all of our arrangements are going to be as problem-free as possible."

"Well, we certainly couldn't have you feeling pressured into anything precipitous, Father," Coris replied, making no effort to hide his sudden gratitude. "I'm certainly prepared to defer to your professional judgment. We can't have you skimping on your preparations if you feel any of them could stand improvement, now can we? By all means, see to it before we set out!"

"I appreciate your willingness to be so understanding, My Lord. Assuming the weather gives us a window for the semaphore, I expect tidying things up should take no more than, oh" -- Tannyr looked at the earl consideringly, like an assayer, almost as if he could physically measure Coris' fatigue -- "a day or two. Possibly three. In fact, we'd better count on three. So I'm afraid you're probably going to have to spend at least four nights here in Fairstock. I hope that won't disappoint you too deeply."

"Believe me, Father," Coris said, looking him in the eye, "I believe I'll manage to bear up under my disappointment."
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]

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