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TFT snippet #5

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TFT snippet #5
Post by runsforcelery   » Fri Jul 27, 2018 7:51 pm

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White Fountain's earldom lay in southeastern Tiegelkamp, and he'd been raging against Rainbow Waters for almost three years now, ever since three of his manors had been gutted by a serf insurrection. That particular outburst had been purely local and the Spears had suppressed it quickly, with all their customary, brutal finesse, but one of White Fountain's cousins and his wife had been caught by the serfs before the Spears could intervene. The cousin had at least died relatively quickly; his wife had been less fortunate as the serfs vented their hatred for all the generations of their wives and daughters who'd been casually raped by their betters.

Star Rising understood White Fountain's rage. He simply had zero sympathy for the man. He did feel a certain degree of compassion for White Fountain's cousin-in-law, but it was precisely White Fountain's sort of idiocy that had guaranteed the sporadic outbursts which had speckled the map of North Harchong ever since. There were times — a lot of them, and they'd been growing steadily more frequent since well before the Jihad — when Star Rising felt nothing but despair as he contemplated his fellow aristocrats' attitudes.

"He wouldn't have come," someone else pointed out to White Fountain. "Whatever else he may be, he wasn't that stupid! He knew damned well what would've happened to him."

"Then it should damned well happen to him where he is!" White Fountain snapped. "Are you telling me we don't have any assassins who could get to him even in Saint Cahnyr?"

I'm pretty sure that's been tried, Star Rising thought caustically. Bit hard to get an assassin through to a man who's got several hundred fanatically devoted veterans watching his back, though. And more power to him!

"I understand why you're upset, My Lord," a third courtier said. Star Rising couldn't remember his name, but the fellow was attached to Duke North Wind Blowing's staff somehow. "And I deeply sympathize with your losses. But the Empire is huge, and there have always been some . . . unfortunate incidences of insurrection, even without any outside incendiaries. That's simply a fact of life, and it's one we've all learned to deal with. I agree it's past time something was done about Rainbow Waters, but it's not as if these scattered incidents pose any significant threat."

Several other voices muttered in agreement. There was, Star Rising noted, a certain lack of confidence in them.

"Well, I don't like what just happened to Captain of Horse Nyangzhi," someone else muttered. "That was less than fifty miles from the capital, for Chihiro's sake!"

"I know it was," North Wind Blowing's man said, and Star Rising frowned as he tried again to remember the idiot's name. "But the city guard has the situation well in hand here in Shang-mi; there haven't been any additional incidents in over a five-day; and if the rabble haven't taken to their heels and found deep, dark holes to hide in by the time Earl Winter Glory's column gets here next five-day, they'll learn a lesson they won't have time to forget!"

The mutter of agreement was louder and more fervent than before, and Star Rising shook his head ever so slightly.

"Do you think White Fountain has a point?" Blue River asked him very, very quietly, and Star Rising arched a thoughtful eyebrow.

His family had known the other man's for a long time and the two of them had always maintained a reasonably friendly relationship. That didn't mean as much as it might once have, though, and he rather regretted the headshake which had probably prompted Blue River's question.

"About Rainbow Waters?" he asked after a moment.

"White Fountain's had a bug up his arse about Rainbow Waters for years now," Blue River snorted. "I'm pretty sure he thinks Rainbow Waters is the reason Hsing-wu's Passage freezes every winter!" Star Rising's eyes widened ever so slightly at the searing contempt in the other baron's quiet voice. "No, what I'm worried about is whether or not he's right to be as scared shitless as he is about the other shoe."

Now that's an interesting insigh t, Star Rising thought. And here I thought I was the only fellow at court smart enough to figure out just how scared White Fountain really is.

"I don't know," he said out loud, equally quietly but rather more frankly than he'd intended. "I'm pretty sure Rainbow Waters isn't directly involved in any of this, though."

Blue River cocked his head with an air of polite skepticism, and Star Rising shrugged.

"Oh, he's got plenty of reason to be pissed off with North Wind Blowing and the rest of His Majesty's ministers. That's certainly true! But I've met the man. I think he's probably more sympathetic to the serfs than anybody here in Shang-mi. For that matter, after his time commanding the Mighty Host, I'm pretty sure he's a lot more sympathetic to them than he ever was before he left the Empire himself. But however true that might be, he knows as well as anyone — probably better, considering what he saw in the Temple Lands after the Sword of Schueler — just how ugly any general insurrection could get." Star Rising shook his head. "There's no way he'd knowingly contribute to something like that."

"All right," Blue River said after a moment. "I see your point. But the fact that White Fountain couldn't find his arse with both hands when it comes to figuring out who's behind it doesn't really address my original question. Do you think we all ought to be scared shitless?"

Star Rising looked at him levelly, considering very carefully. Then he shrugged mentally. He and Blue River had known one another a long time, so he nodded towards one of the many discreet alcoves which were always part of a gathering at court.

The two of them stepped into it and Star Rising stood where he could keep an eye out for any curious ears that might wander into proximity.

"I don't know how scared we ought to be," he said then, quietly, behind the cover of his fluted wineglass, "but we damned well ought to be more scared than North Wind Blowing or any of His Majesty's councilors are willing to admit."

"That's what I was afraid of," Blue River said equally quietly, "but I don't have any military background. How bad is it?"

"It's not like I've got decades of 'military experience' of my own," Star Rising snorted, lifting his left arm slightly. It ended just above the elbow. "I lost this and got invalided home less than six months after Rainbow Waters took over the Mighty Host." His lips twitched in a humorless smile. "Probably the best thing that ever happened to me, even if I didn't think so at the time! But I'll tell you this, the Spears don't have a clue how war's changed. And they aren't remotely as well equipped as they ought to be."

Blue River was an experienced courtier. His expression never changed, but his eyes were dark and worried, and Star Rising shrugged.

"Every rifle we managed to build during the Jihad — muzzleloaders and St. Kylmahns alike — went to the Mighty Host. I think His Majesty's councilors managed to overlook that minor point when they convinced him to issue the decree against the Mighty Host's return."

Blue River nodded. Both of them knew precisely why North Wind Blowing, Waisu VI's first councilor, had issued that decree over the Emperor's signature, but Star Rising wondered if Blue River fully appreciated just how stupidly shortsighted it had been. From the look in his eyes, he probably did.

"Practically none of them, especially the St. Kylmahns, were issued to the Spears or the other Army units retained at home," Star Rising continued. "And, to be honest, Duke Silver Meadow's acquisition programs since the Jihad have met with only . . . limited success."

This time Blue River's mouth twisted in bitter understanding, and Star Rising nodded ever so slightly. Mangchywan Zhyung, Duke Silver Meadow, Waisu VI's Minister of the Exchequer, was ostensibly in charge of the Empire's spending. In fact, Zyingfu Ywahn, who could claim only the modest title of First Permanent Underclerk, not only supervised the Empire's spending but formulated the policy for it. He was new in his job — he'd replaced Yang Zhyanchi in late 899 when Zhyanchi was fired as his nominal superiors' scapegoat for the ruinous state of the imperial treasury — but he'd been making up for lost time. His rapaciousness was almost as great as that of the aristocracy to which he would never be admitted, and vast sums which should have gone to reequipping the Harchongese Army had gone into his own pockets — and those of his aristocratic patrons — over the last four years.

"I have to say, that's what worries me the most," Star Rising said, although that wasn't strictly speaking true. What worried him the most was the reason the Army was likely to need all those weapons it didn't have. "And it's what makes these latest rumors especially . . . bothersome."

"What?" Blue River's eyes narrowed. "Why?"

Star Rising's eyebrows rose, then he took another precautionary glance out of the alcove. From his fellow baron's expression, he truly hadn't heard.

"I don't know if this is accurate," he said softly, "but if it is, I'm pretty damn sure that 'spontaneous attack' on Captain of Horse Nyangzhi's column was anything but spontaneous."

Blue River swallowed visibly. The capital had buzzed with rumors about the extermination of Nyangzhi's entire force — almost a thousand of the Emperor's Spears slaughtered to the man — for the last seven days, and the whispers about what had happened to Nyangzhi and his senior officers had been especially disquieting. But that obviously wasn't what Star Rising was talking about.

"From everything I've been able to turn up, the serfs had plenty of reason to want Nyangzhi dead," Star Rising continued, "but what he was doing when they caught up with him — according to my sources — was escorting a convoy to the capital from the Jai-hu manufactory. A convoy of rifles."

Blue River's jaw tightened. The city of Jai-hu, on the western flank of the Chiang-wu Mountains, was home to one of the relative handful of foundries which had been established in North Harchong during the Jihad. North Harchong's rivers and rugged terrain had never lent themselves to the sorts of canals which served most of Howard and both Havens. That was why the vast bulk of the Jihad's foundries and manufactories had been built in South Harchong, where the huge amounts of coke and iron ore they required could be freighted in by water and the weapons they produced could be freighted back out again. The transportation argument had been irrefutable, at least until the Imperial Charisian Navy cut all shipping routes across the Gulf of Dohlar, and even the imperial bureaucracy had had no choice but to bend to then-Treasurer Rhobair Duchairn and Captain General Maigwair's insistence that the foundries be built where they would be most efficient.

It was unfortunate that His Majesty's bureaucrats could collect such a smaller slice of graft off of contracts placed in South Harchong, but as the Grand Inquisitor had pointed out at the time, sometimes God's service required sacrifice. In the case of the imperial bureaucracy's pockets, that sacrifice had probably amounted to several million marks. Which had nothing at all to do with why all of the Army's current orders were being placed with the far smaller, far less efficient, far more corrupt manufactories in North Harchong, of course.

"How many rifles?" Blue River's voice was barely above a whisper, and Star Rising shrugged.

"That I don't know," he acknowledged. "But in fairness to North Wind Blowing and Ywahn, they have managed to substantially increase Jai-hu's capacity. I'd be surprised if it was less than several thousand."

Blue River paled, and Star Rising didn't blame him one bit if this was all coming at him cold. The thought of "several thousand" modern rifles in the hands of serfs ought to scare any aristocrat "shitless," he reflected.

"Langhorne," the other baron muttered, then moved so that he, too, could look out over the crowded chamber from Star Rising's side.

"I hadn't heard that," he murmured, "but it makes sense out of something I did overhear yesterday."

"What?" Star Rising asked, equally quietly.

"One of His Majesty's gentlemen-in-waiting was having a very quiet but . . . heated discussion with one of North Wind Blowing's people. I couldn't linger to hear all of it, of course. But apparently, His Majesty thinks this would be a good time for him and the entire imperial family to pay a long overdue state visit to Yu-kwau."

Their eyes met, and Star Rising grimaced. Yu-kwau was almost three thousand miles from Shang-mi as a wyvern might fly. It was also in South Harchong, where there'd been none of the unrest which had begun to flicker across North Harchong.

"North Wind Blowing's man assured him there was no cause for alarm with Winter Glory on his way. From what you're saying, though . . . ."

"For all I know, he was absolutely right about that," Star Rising said. "On the other hand, he might be wrong, too."

"My family is visiting my wife's parents," Blue River said. "At Zhowlin."

Their eyes met. Zhowlin was one of Shang-mi's satellite summer vacation cities, thirty miles southeast of the capital on the Shang-mi-Suwhan High Road. Its city wall was rudimentary, little more than decorative, and it was surrounded by the estates of both the wealthy and the modestly well-to-do . . . which had no walls at all.

"If you have relatives in Boisseau, you might want to send them on a visit there," Star Rising said softly. "Unless you have relatives in the South, of course."



. III.
Shang-mi-Jai-hu High Road,
Mai-sun Forest,
Tiegelkamp Province,
North Harchong


"Can you believe this crap," Lyangbau Saiyang snarled. The Earl of Winter Glory was not noted for his equable temper at the best of times, but his expression was savage as he thrust the message at Lord of Foot Chyang, his second in command.

Chyang took it a bit gingerly. Unlike Winter Glory's, Chyang's birth barely qualified him for inclusion in the Harchongese squirearchy. His family were small landholders in Stene Province, and there were times when he was acutely aware of his humble origins. Like the times when the Earl launched one of his tirades against their superiors. Not agreeing with Winter Glory was always a bad idea, but depending on who was listening, agreeing with one of his diatribes might be an even worse one.

The lord of foot unfolded the crumpled message and scanned it quickly, ignoring the totally blank expression of the mounted courier who'd delivered it. Then his nostrils flared, and he shook his head.

This time the Earl had a point.

"They're only getting around to telling us this now, My Lord?" he asked, looking up with an incredulous expression.

"You saw me open the dispatch!" Winter Glory half-snapped, and Chyang nodded quickly. When the Earl was in one of his moods, rhetorical questions could go right past him.

"I'm sorry, My Lord. I meant to say they damned well should have told us sooner."

"Umph." Winter Glory scowled, but at least some of the irritation leached out of his expression. He snatched the message back and read it again, as if he hoped its contents could somehow become more palatable the second time around.

They didn't.

"It's probably the damned insurrectionists," he growled. "Bastards've been burning semaphore towers, I expect. For that matter, we've been out of contact with the chain for the last couple of days, anyway. Can't see crap with all these trees."

He waved irritably at the dense, unconsecrated forest stretching away on either hand. Aside from the high road's relatively narrow right-of-way, they were surrounded by a dense-growing, all but impenetrable sea of cone wood and northern oil tree. In fact, the right-of-way itself was much narrower and far more badly overgrown — not just with saplings, in all too many cases — than it ought to have been. Keeping the roadbed clear, especially of the fast-growing evergreen cone wood, was a nontrivial task, and in Chyang's opinion, this entire stretch was long overdue for another periodic logging back. For that matter, it was even farther overdue for consecration. Unfortunately, the terrain hereabout offered very little to incentivize the effort. Aside from the occasional hostel serving travelers to and from the capital, there weren't even any villages, since there was no agricultural land to support them. For that matter, there was already more farmland than anyone had serfs to work — especially after the Jihad's drafts had swept so many of those serfs off, never to return — and no one had the available labor to start logging off the unconsecrated trees. The local nobles were none too plump in the pocket, so they restricted themselves to the bare minimum of maintenance the Holy Writ required — and skimped even on that, if their local clergy let them get away with it — while they pinched their marks towards other ends.

"I don't suppose the delay's going to matter much, anyway," Winter Glory continued. "Not in the short term. We're only three days from the capital now, and it doesn't change anything about our situation. But not having Nyangzhi waiting for us when we get there . . . . That's going to be a royal pain in the arse."

"If you'll forgive me, My Lord, I'd call that a bit of an understatement," Chyang said, still grappling with the news himself. "But it happened a full five-day ago. That's what I can't get over. They could've gotten a post rider to us three days ago even if every tower in the semaphore chain is down!"

"The only thing that would surprise me would be to discover there really is someone in the capital who doesn't have his head squarely up his arse." Winter Glory handed the message to one of his aides. "File this piece of shit somewhere."

"Yes, My Lord! At once!"

Chyang watched with a certain amusement as the aide took advantage of the opportunity to remove himself from the Earl's presence.

"It's all part of the same kind of thinking that's fucked up everything else for the last six or seven years," Winter Glory went on, glowering at the deeply-shaded high road as they rode along. "First sending every frigging rifle, artillery piece, and bayonet to that idiot Rainbow Waters just so he could lose them to the Shan-wei damned heretics. Then not dragging him home to answer for the way he bungled the Jihad. So now everybody's playing catch up, trying to make up for all the time we've lost. And what are we armed with? Arbalests and matchlocks, that's what we're armed with. Except, of course, for the fifteen thousand rifles that were supposed to be waiting for us at Shang-mi. Langhorne only knows how long it's going to take to put together another shipment that size!"

"Agreed, My Lord," Chyang said. He hesitated a moment, then cleared his throat. "I can't say I'm very happy about the possibility of serfs getting their hands on that many St. Kylmahns, either," he said in a carefully neutral tone.

"I'm not doing any handsprings of joy over it, myself," Winter Glory growled. "On the other hand, they're serfs, Dzhungnan. Stupid bastards probably haven't even figured out which end the bullet comes out of yet! Even if they have, it'll take them a while to figure out anything else about how to use them." He shook his head. "Like I said, we're only three days from the capital now and at least the idiots-that-be haven't managed to lose any artillery to them yet! We've got plenty of time to get there, and rifles or no rifles, our men will do just fine from behind the walls with arbalests."

Chyang nodded, keeping his expression merely thoughtful, and hoped to hell the Earl was right about that.

* * * * * * * * * *

"Smell that, Sir?" Sergeant Mangzhin Pau said suddenly.

"Smell what?" Captain of Spears Sywangwan Zhu-chi asked, lowering the sausage he'd been gnawing on as they rode along in the cool shadows of the forest on either side of the high road.

"Dunno, Sir," Sergeant Pau frowned. "Smells almost like . . . smoke?"

Zhu-chi sat suddenly straighter in his saddle. His platoon was point for the entire column, and if the sergeant was smelling smoke, then it was coming to them on the wind out of the west . . . directly into their faces.

He looked around, and the cool shade was suddenly far less welcome than it had been.

"Send a scout ahead," he said.


"Oh, bother!" said Pooh, as Piglet came back from the dead.
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Re: TFT snippet #5
Post by NervousEnergy   » Fri Jul 27, 2018 8:35 pm

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Thanks for the Snippet, oh Mad Wizard!

Looks like Winter Glory is about to get caught in a bit of a fast moving fire...
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Re: TFT snippet #5
Post by Alistair   » Fri Jul 27, 2018 9:15 pm

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Wow several snippets in a row!!!
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Re: TFT snippet #5
Post by ksandgren   » Fri Jul 27, 2018 9:35 pm

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Snippets! Thank You RFC.
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Re: TFT snippet #5
Post by Dauntless   » Sat Jul 28, 2018 4:49 am

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arblests vs rifles? well that is going to be very painful lesson. though he probably won't live long enough to learn from it.
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Re: TFT snippet #5
Post by Randomiser   » Sat Jul 28, 2018 6:35 am

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Northern oil trees - Oh dear. Upwards of 15,000 men caught in this narrow roadbed with an impenetrable forest fire raging around them. Ouch! One feels sympathy for the poor soldiers.

Winter Glory is just the embodiment of "fat and happy".

As a simple security measure, the ammunition for all those rifles will have been sent with a different convoy, won't it? :twisted:
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Re: TFT snippet #5
Post by Dauntless   » Sat Jul 28, 2018 9:41 am

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Randomiser wrote:Northern oil trees - Oh dear. Upwards of 15,000 men caught in this narrow roadbed with an impenetrable forest fire raging around them. Ouch! One feels sympathy for the poor soldiers.

Winter Glory is just the embodiment of "fat and happy".

As a simple security measure, the ammunition for all those rifles will have been sent with a different convoy, won't it? :twisted:


if it was AoG or Mighty host? yes

with these fools, you can guarantee that there was at least a respectable, if not sizeable amount of ammo.
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Re: TFT snippet #5
Post by elaineofshalott   » Sat Jul 28, 2018 10:22 am

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I'm wondering if in the long run North Harchong may end up more liberal than South Harchong. It seems like the smarter, more adaptable nobles are going to take their families South and all the rest are going to get slaughtered. In the end the South will still have some aristocrats and the North end up run by former serfs trained by the AoG.
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Re: TFT snippet #5
Post by WeberFan   » Sat Jul 28, 2018 10:29 am

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Dauntless wrote:
Randomiser wrote:Northern oil trees - Oh dear. Upwards of 15,000 men caught in this narrow roadbed with an impenetrable forest fire raging around them. Ouch! One feels sympathy for the poor soldiers.

Winter Glory is just the embodiment of "fat and happy".

As a simple security measure, the ammunition for all those rifles will have been sent with a different convoy, won't it? :twisted:


if it was AoG or Mighty host? yes

with these fools, you can guarantee that there was at least a respectable, if not sizeable amount of ammo.

I somehow get the impression that the ammunition for those 15000 rifles is already in the rebel's hands... From Snippet 4 (emphasis mine): "They needed those wagons, and that meant they needed the dragons, at least long enough to reach the crossroads five miles closer to Shang-mi, where the rest of the agricultural wagons and pack-dragons waited."
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Re: TFT snippet #5
Post by Charybdis   » Sat Jul 28, 2018 1:02 pm

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Well, I'm just running through my mind some of the more unpleasant underclass revolts and thinking of the comparisons. The Middle Europe Peasant's Revolt of the early 1500s, the Spartacus Slave Revolt of the 70s BCE, and the French Revolution offer clues about the horror that these tinderboxes are and the fire that can result from them.

I am recalled of a fable where a group of conscripted peasants have been delayed by floods from getting to their required assembly city. The leaders debate their choices until one points out that the penalty for failure to report is the same as the one for revolting, death.

When everything is black or white in terms of punishment, expect the punishees to exercise native wisdom. Aristocracy is not inherently stupid but, based upon history, it frequently puts power into the hands of some very stupid people!
-----

What say you, my peers?
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