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HFQ Official Snippet #22

This fascinating series is a combination of historical seafaring, swashbuckling adventure, and high technological science-fiction. Join us in a discussion!
HFQ Official Snippet #22
Post by runsforcelery   » Sat Apr 11, 2015 10:35 pm

runsforcelery
First Space Lord

Posts: 2425
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Location: South Carolina

Hi, guys —

I'm currently at Willycon, in Wayne. Nebraska, and having a very good time. However, I do have intranet access, so here's the next snippet. Enjoy!
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“Make sense to me,” Merlin acknowledged, and took her elbow as they began making their way up the steep slope. “I suppose that’s the reason for the Bedardist chapel in the same cave?

“Of course it is,” Aivah replied, although the combination of thin air and exertion left her rather breathless.

He arched an eyebrow at her, and she chuckled.

“Like I said, there’s no such thing as being too remote, Merlin, but we have to have some traffic in and out of the Tomb. And we normally have a dozen or so Sisters here, where their official job is to care for the Holy Bedard’s chapel and live lives of deep meditation and prayer. We call them the Keepers, and you might not believe just how sought-after that duty is. Our veneration for the Saint’s never precluded sharing his tomb with the Archangels, and the Sisters’ve always felt a strong kinship with the Bedardists, so there’s nothing fraudulent about our devotion to her chapel. And few other houses of religion, including the Abbey of the Snows, offer such a wonderful opportunity for contemplation and prayer. All of us treasure that, and this is the very heart of what our Order was created to accomplish, a place where we can be who and what we truly are without fear of giving away the secret of our existence. It’s a refuge we can return to, a place where we can be with our sisters and rejuvenate both our purpose and our faith.”

“The Brethren of Saint Zherneau feel the same way about their monastery in Tellesberg,” he told her, and she nodded.

“We’re like them in an awful lot of ways, I suppose, although I have to say that the way they accomplished so much . . . preparation in Charis before you ever arrived is more impressive than anything we’ve achieved. And I envy their ability to accept the truth about you so much more readily than many of my Sisters will be able to.”

“Don’t sell yourselves short!” Merlin shook his head and then half-lifted her over a particularly difficult section of the putative trail they were following. “You’ve been at least as active for four hundred years longer than they have, and you’ve done it in the belly of the beast, as it were. Right here on the Mainland — even in the heart of Zion, for God’s sake!”

“Oh, I know that.” She smiled up at him and patted his parka covered breastplate in thanks as he set her back on her feet. “What I meant is that they not only managed to survive after learning the truth — the full truth about the Archangels and the Church, which we never did — but to hang onto their own faith in God despite all the lies they knew had been told in His name. That’s impressive, Merlin.” It was her turn to shake her head. “I hope the Sisters can do the same thing.”

“Really?” He gazed down at her, sapphire eyes dark.

“Of course I do.” She met those eyes levelly. “I think Archbishop Maikel’s entirely correct. Your waking up here, the corruption of the vicarate, the Group of Four’s actions, the rise of the Reformists, King Haraahld’s readiness to accept your help and defy Clyntahn, and the creation of the Charisian Empire — for that matter, the existence of two people as remarkable as Cayleb and Sharleyan to lead that empire. . . I genuinely believe all of that truly is God working to reveal the truth to His children once again, Merlin. I don’t pretend to understand all His purposes, or why He’s waited so long to act, and as an intellectual exercise, I’m prepared to admit I may believe all of this is part of His plan because I’m not brave enough to reject my faith in Him. But in here,” she pressed her left hand against her own chest, “there’s no doubt about Him or about His love for His children.”

She grinned suddenly.

“I was prepared to topple the vicarate if the opportunity presented itself, Merlin, because I knew it couldn’t possibly be doing His will, whatever it claimed. If I believed God Himself was calling me to do that when I also believed every sentence of the Writ was His own inerrant word, how can I possibly question this newer and far greater revelation you’ve shared with me?”

“You’re a remarkable woman, Nynian Rychtair,” he told her. “I don’t imagine I’m the only one who’s ever told you that, but I trust you’ll acknowledge that I have a rather clearer perspective on that than most others to.”

“Merlin, your perspective — not simply on the situation here on Safehold but on what it means to be human — has to be the closest thing to truly unique that’s ever existed.” Her grin faded into an intense, serious expression and she shook her head. “I’ve tried to imagine what that sort of perspective might be like, but I don’t think I can. I don’t think anyone else could.”

He gazed at her for another moment, then looked back down at the slippery trail as he considered what she’d said. She probably had a point, yet her own life experience undoubtedly put her in a better position to understand his own perspective than anyone else on Safehold — outside Nimue Chwaeriau, at any rate.

“I —” he began, only to stop in mid-word.

“What?” she asked.

He looked up the slope for a second, then smiled crookedly at her.

“I’ve been monitoring the remotes Owl deployed around the Tomb. One of your Sisters just looked out the window, it seems. There appears to be just a bit of consternation raging up ahead.”

“I can imagine,” Aivah said dryly. “I suppose that under the circumstances, we should probably pick up the pace — pick up my pace, really — so we can set their minds at ease a little sooner.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Sister Emylee, the senior Keeper, sat in the plain but comfortably cushioned wooden chair across the refectory table and watched Aivah and Merlin sip hot tea. She was in her mid-fifties, two or three years older than Aivah, with dark hair beginning to show broad swaths of silver and eyes the color of a clear winter sky. At the moment, those blue-gray eyes were dark, filled with shadows and lingering questions.

She’d sent the other Keepers — there were only nine of them at the moment — back to their duties. It said a great deal for the Sisterhood’s discipline that they’d gone without argument, although not even their obedience had been enough to prevent lingering looks over their shoulders. Only four of them had ever actually met their Mother Superior, and there’d been consternation in plenty when Aivah turned up in the depth of winter, on foot, with Merlin in tow.

Sister Emylee, Merlin thought, obviously shared that consternation in full.

“I’m pleased to see you, Mother,” she said after several moments, “but I’m sure you can understand how . . . astonishing I find your arrival here. And yours, of course, Seijin Merlin.”

“As I’m sure you’ve already realized, Sister Emylee, the seijin has quite a lot to do with my arrival,” Aivah replied. “After all, you’ve read Saint Kohdy’s journal.”

The Keeper’s eyes flickered as Aivah mentioned the journal in front of Merlin, but she only bent her head in acknowledgment. Aivah sipped more tea, then set the heavy mug on the table and met Sister Emylee’s gaze levelly.

Seijin Merlin is, indeed, a seijin in the old sense of the word,” she said quietly. “I can tell you of my own personal observation that he has all of the capabilities Saint Kohdy had, and several I doubt even the Saint possessed. And,” she smiled faintly, “I can now honestly say I understand the journal’s references to being transported by the Archangels’ hikousen. It’s . . . not quite what we thought it was, but the actual experience is certainly miraculous enough.”

“The Seijin’s been touched by the kyousei hi?” Sister Emylee’s eyes widened, and Merlin shook his head.

“I would never make such a claim, Sister,” he told her. “And, trust me, no holy fire burns about me!” He quirked a smile at her. “Madam Pahrsahn — well, Mother Nynian, really, I suppose — has a somewhat questionable sense of humor. I’m sure you’ve observed that for yourself.”

Aivah shot him a humorous glare, and the nun chuckled. The byplay seemed to relax her, and she sat back in her chair.

“The truth is, Emylee,” Aivah said then, “that when Saint Kohdy wrote about his hikousen he wasn’t actually referring to the kyousei hi the way we thought he was. A hikousen was actually a . . . a vessel empowered by the mysteries of the Archangels, I suppose is probably the best way to describe it. Seijin Merlin can summon the same sort of vessel to his service when he requires it, but the kyousei hi which enveloped the hikousen of the Archangels themselves was visible to mortals only because they were the Archangels’ own vehicles.”

Sister Emylee’s eyes widened once more, this time in wonder rather than shock, and Merlin nodded gravely. It went against the grain to give even passing credibility to the lie of the “Archangels,” but it was scarcely the first time he’d had to tread the measures of a Safeholdian’s faith carefully. And, as Sandaria Ghatfryd demonstrated, even a Sister of Saint Kohdy was likely to be ill prepared for the wholesale destruction of all she’d been raised to believe. If Sandaria found the truth difficult to accept even with the evidence of Nimue’s Cave all about her, how could anyone expect Sister Emylee to accept it without that evidence?

Aivah was right . . . again, he acknowledged. I may not like it, but it’s clearly time for a variant on the ‘the seijin sees visions’ gambit.

And, as had been the case with King Haarahld and his councilors, that explanation was entirely true . . . as far as it went. That was important to him, and Aivah had agreed it was essential that they never lie to the Sisters. The potential consequences if those who’d trusted them discovered they’d been lied to were bad enough to contemplate, but for all the masks Aivah had been forced to assume, all the times she’d had no choice but to dissemble, her position was as driven by moral considerations as by pragmatism. She owed her sisters the truth; if she couldn’t give it to them in its entirety, she would at least give them no falsehoods in its place.

“Even though Seijin Merlin has access to his own hikousen, he can’t simply go dashing about the world in it,” she continued now. “Not openly, at least. I’m sure you can imagine how Clyntahn and the Inquisition would denounce it as proof of his demonic origins, especially if it wasn’t touched by the kyousei hi whenever it was seen!”

She rolled her eyes, and Sister Emylee nodded emphatically.

“Well, for the same reasons, I can’t just suddenly appear in Zion — or anywhere else, for that matter — either.” This time Aivah laughed softly. “Your Keepers’ reaction when the seijin and I came hiking up the mountainside makes that clear enough, doesn’t it?”

Sister Emylee nodded again, winter-blue eyes twinkling, and Aivah smiled back at her, then allowed her expression to sober once again.

“The real reason the seijin brought me here was to allow him to examine the Journal, Emylee. As Saint Kohdy himself recorded, seijins are touched only by the anshinritsumei. For all their other abilities, they aren’t Angels or Archangels, and he wishes to consult Saint Kohdy’s account of the War Against the Fallen for whatever insight it may provide. And —” she met Sister Emylee’s eyes levelly “— to read the sections of the journal we’ve never been able to.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Saint Kohdy’s tomb was beautiful.

The chapel dedicated to Bedard was lovely enough, although small. The simple chambers of the Keepers were half-built and half carved into the stone of the cavern walls to either side of its entrance. That entrance had itself been closed by a stone wall, pierced by four beautiful stained glass windows which portrayed famous episodes from the Archangel Bedard’s acts on Safehold. Little light came through them in the winter, but in the summer they must have turned the cavern’s interior into a jewelry case of richly colored illumination. That light was also directed inward, to where the archangel’s chapel, dominated by a statue of her, holding the lamp which was her symbol, sealed the end of the cavern.

Or what seemed to be its end, at any rate.

In fact, the cavern extended over a mile deeper into the mountain, and it was only part of an even larger series of caves which ran much farther, although the Sisters of Saint Khody had closed off his tomb from the rest of the cave system with a masonry wall. There were no stained glass windows here, but the native stone of the natural cavern had been smoothed and polished to form a perfectly circular rotunda, then carved with scenes from Saint Kohdy’s life. Alternating, perpetually lit lamps of silver and gold, filled with perfumed oils, had been set into those walls at regular intervals. Centuries of lamp smoke and incense had darkened the rough stone roof of the cavern, and their light spilled over the carven panels and filled the hushed reverence of that chamber with honey-toned illumination.

The sarcophagus at the rotunda’s center had been carved out of a single massive block of de Castro marble. That rose-colored stone, marked by dense swirling patterns and quarried from the de Castro Mountains in North Harchong, was the favorite medium of the Church’s sculptors and architects. Exactly how the stone for the sarcophagus — over ten feet long and four feet tall — had been hauled to its present site was undoubtedly a story worth hearing, but Merlin already knew whose hands had created the larger-than-life recumbent effigy of the saint which adorned it. The detail of that incredibly lifelike image was breathtaking, and the sides of the sarcophagus were ornamented with a beautiful rendition of what appeared to be infinitely repeating patterns of highland lilies, the flower associated with martyrdom and the seijins who’d battled the forces of darkness in the War Against the Fallen.

Like the reliefs adorning the cavern’s walls, the creation of that sarcophagus had been no an easy task. Nor had it been accomplished quickly, and every square inch was the work of the Sisters of Saint Kohdy, for no outsider had ever set foot here before Merlin himself.

There’d been no stonemasons or sculptors among the Sisters who’d first concealed Kohdy’s body here. That had come later, as the hidden order slowly increased in number and some of its members with the talent for the task were trained for it in the great Zhyahngdu Academy in southern Tiegelkamp. Zhyahngdu had produced the Church of God Awaiting’s sculptors for almost nine hundred years, and it was obvious that the Sisters whose hands had created the beauty around him could easily have been among the most famous of all Safeholdian artists. But they hadn’t chosen to share their talent with the rest of Safehold; all of it had been lavished on this hidden, polished gem they’d known the rest of the world would never see, never even know existed.

He stood for a long, silent moment with the respect the faith and piety of the tomb’s creators and caretakers deserved. The man buried here had been no more divine than the “archangels” who’d created the Church he’d served. But that took nothing away from his service, just as nothing could ever diminish the fidelity, belief, and devotion of those who revered his memory, and Merlin’s nostrils flared as he inhaled the perfume of the lamps which burned perpetually in Kohdy’s memory.

Then, finally, he turned from the sarcophagus to the equally beautiful golden reliquary which housed Saint Kohdy’s journal. It sat atop a pedestal of gold-inlaid marble in a niche carved into the cavern’s northern wall, flanked by an armor tree bearing an antique cuirass and helmet and a featureless block of de Castro marble impaled by a long, straight bladed sword. The armor looked like bronze, and the sword like Damascus steel, but both were actually made of battle steel, and that sword could have been drawn from its stony sheath by anyone. For that matter, it could have been drawn through that block of stone, for its edge was every bit as keen as that of the wakazashi riding at Merlin’s hip.

Aivah and Sister Emylee stood watching as he crossed to the reliquary and opened it. The volume which lay within it appeared to be bound in leather, but that, too, was deceptive. He lifted it gently from its velvet nest, opened the cover, and looked down at the strong, sharply slanted handwriting of its first page. Like the armor and the sword, the journal was made out of advanced synthetics, and its pages were as flexible as the day they’d been extruded.

“My name is Cody Cortazar,” it began, “and I am an Adam, honored far beyond any mortal man might have deserved to stand beside the Angels and Archangels themselves against the forces of Darkness.

“My service began in the dark days of the opening battles of what has become the War Against the Fallen. Much of my memory of my early life has become unclear, almost as if it had been no more than a dream, but I remember volunteering to serve against the Fallen. And I remember awakening in the sacred sickbay, attended by the Archangels’ servitors and with my mind filled by knowledge and skills far beyond the merely mortal, endowed by the very touch of God.

“The fight against Kau-yung’s followers was not going well, and . . . .”


"Oh, bother!" said Pooh, as Piglet came back from the dead.
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Re: HFQ Official Snippet #22
Post by NervousEnergy   » Sat Apr 11, 2015 10:53 pm

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Thanks for the snippet, and enjoy the con! Wish I was there...
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Re: HFQ Official Snippet #22
Post by Alistair   » Sat Apr 11, 2015 10:57 pm

Alistair
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Wow!
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Re: HFQ Official Snippet #22
Post by ksandgren   » Sat Apr 11, 2015 11:10 pm

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Thanks for the snippet, rfc!

I'm sure many will speculate on the details, but I'm grateful that it appears that at least a portion of the reveal can be accepted by the devout.
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Re: HFQ Official Snippet #22
Post by phillies   » Sat Apr 11, 2015 11:17 pm

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Location: Worcester, MA

Have a good time at the convention.

Perhaps at some point we will be at the same convention.
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Re: HFQ Official Snippet #22
Post by BobG   » Sat Apr 11, 2015 11:20 pm

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Location: Westford, MA

Thank you, David.
SF & Fantasy: The only things better than Chocolate.
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Re: HFQ Official Snippet #22
Post by Dilandu   » Sun Apr 12, 2015 12:20 am

Dilandu
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Thank you, RFC!

P.S. Congratulations to all the Cosmonautics Day!
------------------------------

Oh well, if shortening the front is what the Germans crave,
Let's shorten it to very end - the length of Fuhrer's grave.

(Red Army lyrics from 1945)
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Re: HFQ Official Snippet #22
Post by Down Under   » Sun Apr 12, 2015 12:38 am

Down Under
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Thank you RFC

Down Under
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Re: HFQ Official Snippet #22
Post by tootall   » Sun Apr 12, 2015 1:08 am

tootall
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Some of Kau-yung's folks "apparently" survived to fight Langhorne's followers. I note that he doesn't say that the war is against Shan-wei. So we can't be sure- yet- exactly the politics of those he's being tasked to fight.
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Re: HFQ Official Snippet #22
Post by Dilandu   » Sun Apr 12, 2015 1:22 am

Dilandu
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Location: Russia

tootall wrote:Some of Kau-yung's folks "apparently" survived to fight Langhorne's followers. I note that he doesn't say that the war is against Shan-wei. So we can't be sure- yet- exactly the politics of those he's being tasked to fight.


Well, why they shouldn't? They were military; not the Shain-Wei stuff. Even if some purge of military command was planned, the destruction of colony administration center threw the situation on havoc.
------------------------------

Oh well, if shortening the front is what the Germans crave,
Let's shorten it to very end - the length of Fuhrer's grave.

(Red Army lyrics from 1945)
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