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TFT Snippet #10

This fascinating series is a combination of historical seafaring, swashbuckling adventure, and high technological science-fiction. Join us in a discussion!
TFT Snippet #10
Post by runsforcelery   » Fri Oct 19, 2018 1:04 am

runsforcelery
First Space Lord

Posts: 2230
Joined: Sun Aug 09, 2009 10:39 am
Location: South Carolina

Okay, I have been away for a while. Some of you may know why, but it involves a face plant into a cement floor on the Thursday before DragonCon which resulted in a broken nose, or loose teeth, and a concussion which still hasn't cleared quite completely but is much better. About a month after the fall — that is, right at the end of September — my head suddenly cleared (literally overnight) to an enormous extent. Frankly, until it did, I hadn't really realized just how foggy and disorganized I was. Computer displays don't really help the condition, which is one reason that I think I am still having lingering aftereffects, but they really are a lot better, and my nose didn't get crooked and I didn't actually lose the teeth, although my dentist tells me that a big reason I didn't lose one of them is that I still have the wire retainer glued back of my lower teeth from my braces. Apparently, that stabilized the loose teeth until the ligaments could begin to tighten up again. Who would have thunk it?

Anyway, I had no sooner started clearing up than I got in the airplane for the Uncompromising Honor signing tour. That went really, really well everywhere except the San Diego Navy Exchange, where the signing was initially scheduled, then canceled because the books hadn't gotten there, and then put back on the calendar when they found the books. It's not too surprising that turnout was low with that confusion and bearing in mind that you needed military I the as either active duty or retired to get onto the base and to the Exchange in the first place.

And, as I may have mentioned on Face Book, the book is doing really, really well. It is on several bestsellers list, including the NYT top ten for hardcover fiction and were combined print and e-book, so I'm pretty happy about that.

It does mean, however, that I have gotten behind snippets, and this was gently — well, relatively gently pointed out to me by someone here on the forum (who shall remain nameless). Thus prodded, I decided that I needed to give you another snippet, and this one is about six thousand words long as a sort of apology the time between them. And it doesn't end with a teaser, because it would be unkind to me to do that after I have left you without any snippets at all for so long. :lol:

Anyway, here it is:

__________________________________________________

.VII.
Manchyr Palace,
City of Manchyr,
Princedom of Corisande,
Empire of Charis.


“Do you need anything else, My Lord?”

“No, Sailys. Thank you, I think we have everything we need . . . as always,” Koryn Gahrvai said with a smile.

“Well, it’s good of you to say so, anyway, Sir,” Sailys Kylmohr said. He looked around the sun-filled dining room again, checking the arrangements, giving the table one last examination, then bowed. “If you discover that you do need anything else, just ring,” he said.

“We will, I promise,” Gahrvai told him.

Kylmohr nodded and withdrew, and Gahrvai looked across the table.

“Maybe we should find something to complain about—or demand, anyway,” he said. “I think he feels . . . underutilized with Daivyn and Irys and the kids gone.”

Nimue Chwaeriau chuckled. Over the last two or three years, she’d discovered she really liked Koryn Gahrvai, and part of it was their shared sense of humor. And of the absurd, she acknowledged, thinking about how . . . unlikely it was that the two of them should be sitting here in this sunny room over nine hundred years after her own death.

“I don’t know if he feels ‘underutilized,’” she said out loud. “But judging from this spread, the cooks certainly do. Look at all this food! What? They don’t know how to cook for less than twenty?

Gahrvai laughed, but she did have a point. The breakfast table was spread with melon balls, cut fruit, toast and biscuits, a side platter of sliced cheeses and smoked fish, half a dozen different sauces and dressings, an enormous warming pan heaped with scrambled eggs, another containing enough bacon for at least six people, and two steaming pots—one of chocolate for him and one of cherrybean for Nimue.

“If you don’t want to break their hearts, you’re going to have to help me eat at least some of this,” he pointed out.

“I know. And it’s not as if I can’t enjoy the taste,” she said, pouring herself a cup of cherrybean and adding a miserly dollop of cream. “There are times I wish I could actually feel hungry, though,” she went on a bit wistfully, looking down into the cup as she stirred it. “It’s really true that hunger is the best spice.”

“You can’t program yourself to feel that?” he asked curiously, and she shrugged.

“I can, but it’s not the same, somehow. It’s like I’m fooling myself and my brain knows it.” She frowned, still stirring but more for something to do than because the cherrybean needed it. “It’s not an actua l sensation, I suppose. Not like my sense of touch or smell, when I’m absorbing real stimuli.” She finished stirring and laid the spoon aside. “It’s just different at the end of the day. I never played with my PICA as much as a lot of people who owned them did, so I never really realized that particular difference existed . . . before.”

“I imagine there are a lot of differences,” he observed, and she looked up quickly, arching an eyebrow. “It’s just that you don’t talk very much about what I guess you might call ‘before and after,’” he said with a small shrug.

“Aren’t very many people I could talk about with it.”

“Not outside the circle, anyway,” he replied, but it was an acknowledgment of what she’d said, she realized. Not agreement with it.

Irys and Hektor, with Nimue’s strong backing, had nominated him for the inner circle shortly after Zhaspahr Clyntahn’s execution, and he’d taken the truth in stride better than many other nominees. And he’d also cast the deciding vote against recruiting his father. Much as he loved Sir Rysel, he feared the true nature of the inner circle’s war against the Church of God Awaiting would have pushed Earl Anvil Rock’s flexibility one push too far, the same way it had Ruhsyl Thairys. He’d also proven even more perceptive than Nimue had thought he was.

“I suppose you’re right,” she said after a moment. “I can’t talk about it with anyone outside the circle. I just . . . don’t talk about it with the rest of you. Not even Merlin, really.”

“Why not?” he asked, sitting back in his chair, and her eyes widened at the . . . gentleness of that simple, two-word question.

Gahrvai breakfasted with Daivyn, Irys and Hektor, and the royal children two or three times each five-day, and Major Chwaeriau had become a part of the royal family of Corisande, not simply its most deadly bodyguard. As such, she normally joined them at table, for breakfast, at least, and the adults had gotten into the habit of turning those occasions into working sessions as well as meals, although the twins were getting old enough to pick up on conversations around them, which meant they’d have to change that soon. But she’d been a little surprised when she’d realized that Gahrvai had become a close friend, not just a colleague. Indeed, she hadn’t realized until recently how much she looked forward to the days when he joined them, as well.

Normally, she would have traveled with Daivyn and Irys, although she had complete faith in Tobys Raimair and Hairahm Bahnystyr, who officially headed their security details. This time, however, she’d stayed home, ostensibly to assist Gahrvai in the expansion of the Royal Guard in the face of the growing royal family, so it made sense for the two of them to continue to share breakfasts. Technically, she was an officer of the Imperial Guard, not the Corisandian Royal Guard, but she’d been detailed to Manchyr for over six years now. In that time, she’d become one of the Royal Guard’s own by adoption, and as a seijin, it was reasonable for her to remain in Manchyr, available to Gahrvai if he needed her, especially when all her royal charges would be safely in Merlin’s hands from the moment they stepped off the ship in Cherayth. Of course, the real reason she’d been left home was that with Irys, Hektor, and Phylyp Ahzgood all off to Chisholm, the inner circle had wanted at least two of its members in Corisande in case something came up.

Something like the carnage in Harchong, for example, she thought darkly. But for all its grimness, the thought was fleeting, banished by something else as she heard the gentleness in that question.

“Mostly, I guess, because there’s not much point,” she said finally. “The only person who’d really understand is Merlin, and I don’t have to discuss it with him.” She quirked a bittersweet smile. “After all, I am him.”

“No, you aren’t,” Gahrvai disagreed, spooning a portion of the scrambled eggs onto her plate before he served himself. “You started as the same person. I understand that—intellectually, at least; my brain still has a little trouble processing it. But you’re very different people now, Nimue.” The badly scarred cheek he’d acquired the day of Hektor and Irys’ marriage pulled his quick grin off center. “For example, I can’t really imagine Merlin as a woman.”

“He’s not.” Nimue shrugged. “Now at least. Not even in his own mind, I’m pretty sure. I mean, I can’t be positive about that, and in the Federation, it wasn’t unusual for people who had last-generation PICAs to experiment with shifted genders. I was never tempted, though. I guess I’m pretty firmly heterosexual. And because we used to be the same person, I know Merlin had never been inclined to experiment that way before it was his turn to wake up in Nimue’s Cave, either. But his PICA’s chassis’s height meant he didn’t have any choice but to reconfigure himself as a man . . . and it looks like he’s still just as heterosexual as I am, if in a somewhat different way.” She shook her head with a smile. “I’m happy for him—happy he’s adjusted so well, I mean. He’s way too tall to ever pass as a woman on Safehold, even if he wanted to. Which, now that he’s found Nynian, I can’t imagine him wanting!”

She took a slice of toast and passed the bread basket across to him.

“It must be odd to realize there’s someone else—a man, in this case—who has all of your memories and life experience right up to the moment you opened your eyes here on Safehold,” Gahrvai said, spooning marmalade onto his own toast.

“I’ll admit, it’s not something I ever expected,” she conceded. “It’s . . . comforting though, in a lot of ways. The Federation—everyone and everything Nimue Alban ever knew—is dead.” Her eyes turned shadowed. “It’s good to know there’s someone else who remembers them the way I do. It’s sort of like they’re not really all gone as long as someone remembers them.”

“I can see how that could work,” he said thoughtfully. “I haven’t been through anything remotely like that—not on that scale. But we’ve all lost a lot of people right here on Safehold since the start of the Jihad. And you’re right. As long as we remember them, they’re not completely gone, are they?”

“And then there’s Nahrmahn,” Nimue said dryly, deliberately injecting humor into the conversation, and smiled as she watched him laugh.

“Nahrmahn is . . . unique, in so many ways!” he agreed. “I imagine there were quite a few people—electronic personalities, I mean—back in the Federation, but somehow I doubt any of them were quite like him.”

“I think that’s a fairly safe assumption.”

“But, then again, I don’t think there was ever anyone quite like you, either,” he said. “Back in the Federation or here on Safehold.”

She stiffened because that gentleness was back in his tone.

“What makes you say that?” she asked slowly.

“I’ve been thinking it for quite some time,” he replied a bit obliquely. “Actually, I’ve been thinking about it since the first day I met you standing outside Irys and Hektor’s door!” He snorted. “I couldn’t decide whether I was more pissed off because no one had told me you were coming or because you’d managed to waltz right through all of my security arrangements without a single soul even spotting you.” He shook his head. “Little did I realize that you were even more of a seijin than the seijins!”

“Well, I told you Merlin and I had certain unfair advantages. But what’s brought this up this morning, Koryn?”

His smile faded, as if he’d realized she wasn’t going to let him evade her question. Or, perhaps, as if he didn’t want to evade it.

“Because it’s taken me until this morning to get up the courage to bring it up,” he said, looking across the table into her eyes.

“Am I that fearsome?” She tried to make it a joke, but she didn’t fully succeed, because the look in his eyes . . . frightened her.

“One of the most fearsome people I know,” he told her. “And not just because I know you could slice and dice your way through the entire Royal Guard any time you chose. I mean, I suppose that is a bit . . . sobering. But it’s not really part of how I think of you. Not anymore.”

“How do you think of me, then?”

“As the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met,” he said, and there was no banter at all in his tone.

She stared at him across the table, and the heart she no longer had raced as she felt herself falling into that dark, steady brown gaze. Then she shook her head.

“I’m not,” she said. “I can think of a dozen women right here in Manchyr who are a lot more beautiful than I am, Koryn.”

“Far be it for me to tell a seijin she’s wrong, but you are. Wrong, I mean, as well as the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met.”

“Koryn, I’m not even really a woman,” she said, and wondered why she’d put it that way even as she said it.

“In the words of Lieutenant Raimair, that’s dragon shit, Nimue.” His voice was firm. “You just said Merlin is a man, and he is. One of the most masculine men I’ve ever met, actually. I sometimes think that’s because he was once a woman and it gives him a perspective most mere men can never have. But you, my dear, most assuredly are a woman.”

That long vanished heart seemed to leap in her synthetic chest at the words “my dear,” but there was enormous pain behind that leap, as well, and she shook her head again, harder than before.

“Don’t go there, Koryn,” she said quietly.

“Why not?” His voice was equally soft, but his eyes held her.

“Because you’re talking to a machine with a ghost living inside it,” she told him sharply. The bitterness in her own tone shocked her, but she continued unflinchingly. “It’s not a woman, it’s a machine. One I can configure to pretend to be anything I want it to. I’ve been a man, just as much as Merlin, when I needed to. I can’t make myself taller or shorter, but what else would you like to see, Koryn? A brunette? A blonde? An old woman?” She cracked a laugh. “Oh, I can pretend on a lot of levels, Koryn. A last-generation PICA is fully functional, after all. But whatever it might look like at any given moment, it’s only a machine pretending it’s a woman!”

“I wasn’t talking about the purely physical,” he said calmly, “but I’m well aware of your . . . chameleon abilities. I’ve seen you being those other people, remember? And I’ll admit that, in some ways, that makes you even more fascinating to a simple Safeholdian boy. But I’ve seen the file imagery of Nimue Alban, too. Aside from the hair color—and the height—you’re identical to her, and I don’t want anything else. Mind you, I’d feel the same way about you however you happened to look at the moment—well, except for the man part, maybe. And the reason I would is that I’m not talking to a machine with a ghost living inside it, however . . . configurable you may be. I’m talking to an artificial body with a person inside it. A soul inside it, just as much as there’s a person or a soul inside me.”

“Really?” She looked down at the piece of toast in her hand, then waved it almost angrily as she looked back up at him. “This isn’t even fuel for me, Koryn. I’ve got a fusion reactor inside me with years’ worth of reactor mass. I could walk across the bottom of the damned ocean without breathing for months, much less eating! This is just raw material to be available the next time I change into someone else entirely.”

“And you eat it because you enjoy the flavor,” he countered. “That’s a very human motivation, and maybe that means you do need it for more than just raw material. But it’s also completely beside the point. And the point is that I’ve always admired and respected you, even when you were ‘just’ Seijin Nimue. When I found out who you really are, what Nimue Alban sacrificed for you to be here at this moment, doing what you’re doing, what I felt was a lot more like awe. Over the last several months, though, I’ve discovered I feel something else, as well.”

She looked at him, refusing to speak, not certain herself why she felt so frightened, and he let the silence linger for two or three seconds before he reached across the table and touched her wrist gently.

“I’ve discovered I feel something I never expected to feel,” he told her. “I’ve discovered that you’re not just my colleague, not just the avatar of Nimue Alban, not just a seijin, and sure as hell not just my friend.”

“Don’t, Koryn,” she said softly, almost pleadingly. “Don’t.”

“Don’t what? Tell you I love you?” She flinched, but he only shook his head. “I hate to say it, but I can be a bit slow sometimes, so it surprised me, too, when I realized. It’s true, though. I do love you, Nimue Chwaeriau. I’m sorry if that upsets you, but there’s not much I can do about it.”

His smile was whimsical, but his eyes were dark, dark as they bored into hers.

“Koryn, you don’t know what you’re saying. You don’t know what you’re saying it to!”

“Yes, I do. Maybe better than you do.”

“You think so?” she asked harshly.

She activated a PICA function she hadn’t used since the moment she first awoke in Nimue’s Cave, then reached up with her free hand and peeled away her entire face. A skull looked out at him, the planes of its structure shimmering with the bronze tone of Federation synthetics, not the white of human bone, and her gleaming sapphire eyes made it look even more inhuman as they looked back at him from it.

This is what I am, Koryn!” the lipless mouth below those eyes said.

“And your point is . . . what?” he asked, never looking away, never flinching.

She stared at him, and he met that stare levelly.

“Do you really think I could have spent the last three years learning about the Federation and its technology without understanding that the woman across the table from me—the woman I’ve realized I love —wouldn’t exist without it? That if it hadn’t been possible for Owl to build the body you live inside, I never even would’ve met you? Of course I understand that, Nimue! And how could I possibly think that whatever it took for me to meet you is anything but a miracle? That you’re anything but a miracle? Good God, woman! Do I look like an idiot?!”

She stared at him, still holding her face in her hand, then shook her head. A tear glimmered at the corner of one of those eyes as her PICA’s autonomous programming responded to her emotions.

“Koryn,” she said, “there are any number of women—real women, flesh and blood women—who would love to love you. But I’m not them.”

“Are you telling me you don’t feel anything for me?” he asked levelly. “Because I think I may not have been the only slow learner in this room, and I think you do. I think you may not have let yourself think about it, but I think you do.”

She sat motionless, the perfect electronic memory of a PICA spinning through five-days, months— years —of conversations over this very table. Of planning sessions for the Royal Guard even before he knew the truth of what she was. Of jokes and laughter. Of the way she’d found herself turning towards the door when her more than human hearing recognized his stride coming down the hall. Of the . . . happiness she’d come to relax into when she was with him.

“I—” she began, then stopped. Shook her head.

“You’re my friend,” she said finally, and her voice sounded uncertain somehow, almost tentative, even to herself.

“Among other things,” he said. Then he gave her a smile that was more lopsided than his scarred cheek could have accounted for. “Do you think you could put your face back on?” His smile grew a little broader. “It’s hard to read your expression when you don’t have one.”

“Which?” She astonished herself with a spurt of laughter. “An expression? Or a face?”

“Both. It’s sort of hard to have the former without the latter,” he pointed out, and she realized he truly was totally relaxed, comfortable with the gleaming synthetic skull she’d just showed him.

“All right,” she said, and used both hands to replace the artificial skin and muscles she’d peeled away. She smoothed the seam with her fingertips, triggered another command, and the hairline join vanished as the nanotech fused “skin” and “muscle” once more. Then she crossed her arms and looked across the table at him.

“Koryn, maybe I do feel something more than just friendship. But it’s not what you need. I can’t give you what you need.”

“So Merlin can’t give Nynian what she needs?” He leaned back, folding his own arms. “Strange. They seem very happy together!”

“But—”

She stopped again, with no idea what she’d started to say, and his eyes were warm and gentle. She felt herself falling into them and dug in her heels. He didn’t understand. Not really. He couldn’t, and—

“Nimue,” he said, “stop being afraid.”

Afraid?!” she said sharply.

“Afraid,” he repeated.

“Of what?” She felt almost angry now. “Of you?

“Of the Gbaba,” he said, and she twitched fully erect in her chair in complete surprise.

“What do the Gbaba have to do with this conversation?” she demanded.

“They have a lot to do with the reasons Nimue Alban never let herself love someone,” he said unflinchingly. “Not the way I love you. Not the way I think you may have let yourself love me without realizing it.”

She stared at him and realized her lips had begun to tremble.

“Nimue Alban was going to die,” he told her. “She was going to die, and so was her entire world and anyone she let herself love, so she didn’t let herself. Not the way she could have. The way a person as special as she was should have. Do you think I wouldn’t realize it had to be that way? I can’t begin to truly understand how terrible that knowledge, that decision, must’ve been, the kind of emotional and spiritual scars they had to leave, but I know it was terrible and I know there are scars. I only have to watch you and Merlin, see how deeply you feel, how incredibly, fiercely protective you are, to understand that much. You knew you’d be dead before you were forty, and so would anyone you’d let yourself love. Tell me you didn’t build barriers. Tell me you didn’t wall away part of yourself just so you could continue to function, kill a few more Gbaba, before they murdered your entire species!”

Another single tear trickled down her synthetic cheek, and he reached across the table to wipe it with a spotless linen napkin.

“I can’t begin to imagine what that was like. Maybe I see a shadow of it in the possibility of the ‘archangels’’ return, but not the reality. But even though you’re still Nimue Alban in every way that counts, you don’t live in her world. You live in mine—in ours. This world doesn’t have to end. It may, as far as we’re concerned, if the ‘archangels’ come back and undo everything we’ve accomplished, but it doesn’t have to. This isn’t a threat we can’t possibly defeat, and we sure as hell don’t know we’re doomed! And even if we were, it wouldn’t matter. I love you, and that’s what matters. Not how long we have, not whether or not your body’s synthetic. And not whether or not you deserve to be loved when you’re still alive and all the people Nimue Alban did love are dead.”

She twitched as if he’d struck her. And, in a way, he had, because she’d never thought about it that way.

Never realized he was right.

“I talked to Nahrmahn a few weeks ago,” Koryn told her. “We were talking about the first Siddarmark campaign, when Merlin came up with his insane, brilliant plan to send ironclads fifteen hundred miles inland on the canals. That was so out-of-the-box the Temple boys never saw it coming. How could they have?! But has Merlin ever discussed that winter with you?”

“No . . . ,” she said slowly. “He gave me a download, a summary, of it. We’ve never really discussed it, though.” She tilted her head. “Why?”

“Because we almost lost him,” Koryn said softly. Her eyes widened, and he shrugged. “I don’t know if even Merlin realizes that, but it’s true. He blamed himself for this—for all of this—and he hated himself because of all of the people he’d personally killed. The people who never had a chance of surviving against him. He wouldn’t talk about it, wouldn’t admit it to anyone else, but the guilt and the pain inside were consuming him, Nimue.”

Her nostrils flared as she remembered all the times Merlin had shouldered her aside, the way he’d taken the burden of bloodshed out of her hands so often. She’d realized from the start that he was protecting her from the kind of blood guilt he felt, but she hadn’t realized that guilt had burned as deeply and with as much power as Koryn was describing.

“He just . . . shut down,” Koryn continued. “He wouldn’t talk to Cayleb or Sharleyan, or even Maikel, about it. He wouldn’t talk to anyone . . . except Nahrmahn. And from a couple of things Nahrmahn didn’t say, I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have talked to Nahrmahn, either, if Nahrmahn hadn’t pretty much taken it out of his hands. But you’re making the same mistake he did, Nimue. Probably because you used to be the same person. You aren’t in that dark a place, but it’s still the same mistake.

“He felt responsible for all of us, and because he’s a good person, a moral person, it was his job to protect us, not our job to shoulder some of his responsibility for what happened. But isn’t that another way of saying he thought we were all children? That we weren’t adults? But we are adults, you know. We’ve made our choices, every one of us, and we know exactly what we face because you and he have explained it to us, every step of the way. You haven’t deceived us, you haven’t misled us, you haven’t duped us, and you sure as hell haven’t forced us! We’re standing beside you because we want to. Because you gave us the chance, as well as the choice. Because we’re proud to be here. And if we’re all going to die in the end, then we’ll do that beside you, too, and never look back. Not because some existential, unstoppable force like the Gbaba didn’t give us any choice, but because we had a choice. Because unlike the Federation, we have a chance to win, and you and Merlin and Pei Shan-wei and Pei Kau-yung and all of the other men and women who died to put you here gave us that chance.”

His own eyes gleamed with unshed tears, and he shook his head at her.

“Maybe there never were any real seijins, not the way the Church teaches about them. But you and Merlin are what seijins ought to have been. What seijins like Khody may actually have been, despite the Church. And if you’re going to march through my life like some mythic heroine brought to life by magic pretending to be technology, then don’t you dare not let me walk through it beside you! You may be a thousand years older than me, looked at one way, but I’m thirteen years— standard years, not Safehold—older than you were when you transferred to Excalibur, and I’m damned straight not a child. I have the right to stand beside you and look the future in the eye just like you do. I have the right to die for what I believe in, for the truth you and Merlin have taught me, if that’s what happens, just like Nimue Alban did. But most of all, I know what I’m saying, and I have the right to say it and have you look me in the eye and tell me you don’t love me if that happens to be the truth.”

Their eyes locked across the breakfast table, and she felt her mouth quiver as the intensity of that demand burned through her.

“So tell me,” he said softly. “Tell me you can look me in the eye and tell me that.”

The palace seemed to hold its breath around them as his face blurred beyond the veil of tears her artificial eyes produced. And then, slowly, she shook her head.

“No,” she heard herself say, and those tears were in her voice, not just her eyes, as her hand reached out across the table. “No, I can’t.”



.VIII.
Protector’s Palace,
Siddar City,
Republic of Siddarmark.


“So we can consider this finally confirmed?”

Lord Protector Greyghor Stohnar looked across his desk at Samyl Gahdarhd, the Republic of Siddarmark’s Keeper of the Seal, and Gahdarhd shrugged.

“It’s not going to be really confirmed for a long time to come,” he said. “Not with the entire damned Empire apparently going up in flames. But having said that, I think it has to be true. If he’d gotten out, Yu-kwau would have been trumpeting it to Langhorne’s Throne by now.”

“And if he didn’t get out, given what we know did happen in Shang-mi, it was probably just as ugly as the reports say it was,” Daryus Parkair, the Republic’s Seneschal, said bluntly, his expression grim. “If they got their hands on him, the best thing he could hope for was that it was quick . . . and I doubt to Shan-wei that it was.”

Stohnar nodded slowly and ran one hand through his hair. He was only fifty-one, but that hair had gone completely white and the fingers of his hand had developed an irritating, almost continual tremor.

At the moment, his brown eyes were dark as he tried to imagine what it must have been like. Like Parkair, but unlike Gahdarhd or Henrai Maidyn, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Stohnar had been a soldier in his time. He’d seen the ugliness of combat. And despite that, he was grimly certain nothing he’d seen could have compared to the streets of Shang-mi as the screaming rioters overran Emperor Waisu’s guardsmen and stormed the coach. The gentlest version they’d heard said Waisu had been beaten to death. The uglier version said he’d been literally ripped apart alive, using his own carriage horses to inflict the same punishment his Spears had inflicted on so many serfs over the years.

Stohnar suspected the ugly version was also the accurate one.

“I really don’t like myself very much for saying this,” he said, “but there’s part of me that can’t help feeling a certain satisfaction about what happened to him.” He shook his head. “What does it say about me that I could want anyone to die that way?”

“It says you’re a human being who saw millions of your own citizens murdered in an invasion that Waisu’s army helped lead, my Lord,” Dahnyld Fardhym, the Archbishop of Siddarmark replied gently. “And the fact that you don’t like feeling that way says you’re a human being whose moral compass still works.”

“I’d like to think you’re right, Dahnyld,” Stohnar said. “I’d like to think you’re right.”

He turned to gaze out his upper-story office’s window across Protector Palace’s wall at the roofs of Siddar City. He looked at them for several seconds, then turned back to the men gathered in his office.

“I don’t see a thing we can do about what’s happening in Harchong,” he said then. “And, to be honest, we’ve got enough problems of our own. Speaking of which, how bad is it, Daryus?”

“It isn’t good,” Parkair replied frankly. “It’s not a total disaster, though. Not yet, at least. And we’re one hell of a way short of Sword of Schueler levels.”

“So far, anyway,” Gahdarhd amended in a sour tone. Parkair cocked an eyebrow at him, and he shook his head.

“Oh, your estimate’s accurate as far as it goes, Daryus. The problem is I’m not sure it’s going to stay that way. And to be honest, that’s mostly because we lost Archbishop Zhasyn. If anybody had the moral authority to sit on those idiots, it was him. But he just . . . used himself up during the Jihad. He and Archbishop Arthyn got the reconciliation courts set up, but we needed more time and we didn’t get it.”

Stohnar nodded heavily. Arthyn Zagyrsk, the Archbishop of Tarikah, and Zhasyn Cahnyr, the Archbishop of Glacierheart, had indeed created the reconciliation courts that both Stohnar and Rhobair II had signed off upon. That provided at least a legal framework for the return of some of the millions of Siddarmarkian Temple Loyalists who’d fled to the Temple Lands during and after the Jihad. The courts had offered a means to adjudicate legal claims and property ownership as an essential part of rebuilding a stable society. What they hadn’t provided was a moral framework, a basis for genuine reconciliation between one-time neighbors who hated one another with a bitter, burning passion because of the atrocities and bloodshed which had turned the Republic’s western provinces into a corpse-littered wasteland dotted with the mass graves of the Inquisition’s death camps.

Maybe Gahdarhd was right. Maybe Zhasyn Cahnyr’s moral authority as the fearless wartime archbishop of Glacierheart could have made a difference. Unfortunately, they’d never know. And not just because he’d “used himself up during the Jihad,” either. Oh, there was plenty of truth to that, but in a just world, he would have been given the final years of peace he’d so richly deserved. Instead, he’d literally worked himself to death as the passionate spokesman for compassion, godly charity, and reconciliation.

And in that final monumental task of his life, he’d failed.

“I don’t think it’s going to get anywhere near as bad as it was during the Sword, Samyl,” Parkair disagreed. “What I think you’re probably right about, though, is that it’s going to be with us for a long, long time. And, frankly, all the speculators pouring in are making it a hell of a lot worse. They’re pissing off both sides, because both of them see them for what they are: carrion-eaters.”

Stohnar winced, but Parkair—as always—had cut to the heart of the matter with all the tact of a pike charge.

“Unfortunately, we can’t keep them out,” Maidyn said. “Not unless we want to issue a decree or pass a law which makes it illegal for our own citizens to move from one province to another. Or to offer to buy up land that’s lying fallow and untenanted. Even if the price they’re offering is maybe as much as fifteen percent of its pre-Jihad value.”

His expression was disgusted, and Stohnar snorted.

“I’d love to restrict migration. For that matter, I’d love to declare martial law and prohibit any land sales, if that’s what it took to get a handle on all this profiteering! But I don’t have the constitutional authority. Neither does the Chamber, under existing law, and the noble and high-minded delegates from Tarikah and Westmarch would fight us tooth and nail if we tried to get the kind of legislation to change that passed.”

“Old Tymyns might not,” Parkair said.

“I’ll give you that Tymyns would at least recognize an honest thought if it crossed his mind.” Stohnar’s tone was caustic. “But Ohlsyn and Zhoelsyn have him convinced they’re honest. And don’t get me started on Trumyn or Ohraily! And all the rest of them are right in the speculators’ pocketbook, too. Besides, if I take them on over this, I’ll alienate a lot of the other delegates, and we can’t afford that. Not when we’re coming up on the vote on Thesmar or your proposals, Henrai. Thesmar we could probably get through anyway, but not your bank. So you people tell me—where do I make my fight? On trying to control the speculators or on trying to get your bank chartered?”

“Langhorne, I wish Tymahn was still alive,” Maidyn sighed. “Even I’m not sure ‘my’ bank is the right answer, Greyghor, but we’ve got to do something! And Braisyn’s worse than useless.”

Stohnar ran his hand back through his hair. He’d been doing that a lot lately.

Tymahn Qwentyn had thrown the full resources of his family’s banking dynasty behind the Republic in its fight for survival. The Republic had survived; the House of Qwentyn hadn’t. It could have. It should have, and that only made its collapse hurt even worse. Maidyn and Stohnar both knew the Duke of Delthak had stood ready to pour support into the House of Qwentyn. But then Tymahn had died—and at least he’d done that peacefully, in his own bed—and his older son Mahrtyn, the obvious heir apparent, had gotten himself murdered by another banker who’d blamed the Qwentyns for his own family’s ruin. And that had left Braisyn, the younger brother, who’d never expected to inherit control of the house and who’d been far more interested in freezing out his nephew Owain, Mahrtyn’s son, than anything else. The instant Owain recommended accepting Delthak’s offer to buy into the House of Qwentyn in order to save it, Braisyn had come out in full-fledged resistance and killed the entire deal.

That was what had truly wiped out the banking house. And, in the process, wiped out what had been effectively the central bank of the entire Republic of Siddarmark. Stohnar hadn’t thought of it in those terms—the concept of a “central bank” wasn’t one which had been clearly enunciated on Safehold—but that was what the House of Qwentyn had been. It was the entity which had exercised a curbing effect on unsecured lines of credit or undercapitalized enterprises, whose own loan portfolio had been so vast it effectively controlled the Republic’s interest rates. It was the entity whose officers and agents had managed the currency flow. It hadn’t done any of those things as an official agent of the Republic, but because someone had to regulate the banking system if it was to be kept stable and the House of Qwentyn had gradually assumed that role out of what amounted to enlightened self-interest.

Now it was gone. Owain Qwentyn and his wife and children had left the Republic, immigrating to Charis where Stohnar had no doubt he would soon find himself in a new partnership with Duke Delthak, given Delthak’s wyvern’s eye for talent. The rest of the House lay in ruins, with Braisyn and a dozen of his cousins bickering over the skeleton. And in its absence, an economy which would have been in serious trouble anyway, in the wake of the Jihad and the deaths of so many millions of its citizens, was on the brink of outright, catastrophic failure.

The Exchequer was already deeply in debt from the ruinous expenses of the Jihad, but at least it knew how big that debt was. No one—least of all Henrai Maidyn and the Exchequer—had any idea how many totally unsecured loans and letters of credit had been issued to fuel the speculation in land. More of them had been issued to support the importation of Charisian manufactory methods, or to fund the privatization of the Republic’s foundries in the wake of the Jihad. What they did know was that those notes and loans were trading at less than half their face value and that the value of the Siddarmarkian mark was plummeting, and not just in comparison to the Charisian mark.

“We’ve got to get the Bank—or something like it—up and running,” Maidyn said now. “The Church’s insistence on redeeming all those notes Grand Vicar Rhobair issued when he was Treasurer and paying them off at par is only making our situation worse. The Church had a lot more notes out there than we did, but despite everything, it still has the depth of holdings—and the cash flow, thanks to the tithe—to retire all its debt eventually. More than that, everyone’s realized Rhobair intends to do just that, which means the Church’s paper is still good for something besides lighting fires and wiping arses. And everybody knows Charisian notes are—literally—as good as gold. For all intents and purposes, both the Charisians and the Church are now using what amounts to paper money, and people are willing to accept it from both of them because they know both Charis and the Church can redeem their paper in specie if they have to.

“With Tymahn and Mahrtyn gone, Shan-wei only knows how much paper’s been issued—or by who—here in the Republic. That’s why no one’s willing to accept our ‘paper money.’ It’s also why my people estimate that close to a third of all our manufactories—and that includes the new ones—are about to collapse. And that’s going to throw thousands or hundreds of thousands of manufactory workers out of work. And that’s going to cause ripple effects all through the rest of the Republic. So we have to at the very least do what Charis has done and establish controls on future issues of credit. If we can figure out how to do it, we really need to do what the Church is doing, too, and retire all the notes we issued during the Jihad at their face value. Even if we can do all that, we’re still looking at all the notes other people have issued here in the Republic, so we’re still heading into a serious . . . call it a recession. If we can’t do it, we’re probably looking at a general collapse, and I have no idea how long it will last or how bad it will be. Except to say it will probably be worse than anything any of us have ever seen before.”

“We still need to get some kind of handle on what’s going on in the western provinces, too, though, Henrai,” Parkair said. “There’s got to be some way we can pour a little water on the coals before they flame up all over again!”

“Daryus, if it’s a choice between getting the Bank approved and seeing everything from Icewind to the South March border go up in flames, I have to vote for the Bank,” Maidyn said flatly. “Civil unrest, insurrection—hell, even outright civil war!—you and the Army can fight. If the bottom falls out of our economy, that’s something no army can fight. It may not get as many people killed outright, but it’ll do even more damage to the Republic as a whole. And if it gets bad enough?”

The chancellor looked around at the other faces, his expression grim.

“If it gets bad enough, you could see the Army fighting right here in the streets of Siddar City.”

His tone was flat, and when he finished speaking, it was very, very quiet in the lord protector’s office.


"Oh, bother!" said Pooh, as Piglet came back from the dead.
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Re: TFT Snippet #10
Post by elaineofshalott   » Fri Oct 19, 2018 5:11 am

elaineofshalott
Lieutenant (Junior Grade)

Posts: 32
Joined: Thu Jun 12, 2014 3:43 pm

What a lovely way to start off my morning. :D
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Re: TFT Snippet #10
Post by Undercover Fat Kid   » Fri Oct 19, 2018 5:11 am

Undercover Fat Kid
Commander

Posts: 192
Joined: Sat Oct 12, 2013 10:20 pm

Awesome sauce!
.
.
Death is as a feather,
Duty is as a mountain
This life is a dream
From which we all
Must wake
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Re: TFT Snippet #10
Post by Dilandu   » Fri Oct 19, 2018 7:56 am

Dilandu
Vice Admiral

Posts: 1577
Joined: Sat May 07, 2011 12:44 pm
Location: Russia

Well, well, it seems that Safeholdian capitalists would soon find out, that their worker's patience is not exactly limitless... ;)


P.S. The first snippet part, IMHO, could be compressed into six words as much: "RFC didn't want gay main character".

(or something is REALLY wrong with Merlin's PICA, because such major thing as person's sexuality rewrite is not "just a small glitch". Since PICA did not have any hormonal system, the shape of body literally could not affect the personality in any way. It's either hardware or software degradation on a dangerous level)
Last edited by Dilandu on Fri Oct 19, 2018 8:47 am, edited 1 time in total.
------------------------------

- Who would won in battle between strawman Liberal-Democrat and strawman Conservative-Republican?
- Scarecrow from Oz; he was strawman before it became political.

P.S. - And he have Russian twin, to watch his back)
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Re: TFT Snippet #10
Post by bigrunt   » Fri Oct 19, 2018 8:38 am

bigrunt
Lieutenant Commander

Posts: 102
Joined: Thu Sep 26, 2013 2:34 pm
Location: St Augustine FL

Please take care of yourself RFC, I am glad you are doing better with no lasting damage.
___________________________________________________________
I am the runt of the litter (Granted it was a litter of really big pups)
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Re: TFT Snippet #10
Post by Dauntless   » Fri Oct 19, 2018 8:58 am

Dauntless
Commodore

Posts: 907
Joined: Thu Apr 23, 2015 11:54 am
Location: United Kingdom

brilliant start to a friday!

most intresting. looks like siddarmark may be in for another round of "intresting times"
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Re: TFT Snippet #10
Post by BobG   » Fri Oct 19, 2018 9:10 am

BobG
Captain (Junior Grade)

Posts: 284
Joined: Sat Aug 08, 2009 4:23 pm
Location: Westford, MA

runsforcelery wrote:
Okay, I have been away for a while. Some of you may know why, but it involves a face plant into a cement floor on the Thursday before DragonCon which resulted in a broken nose, or loose teeth, and a concussion which still hasn't cleared quite completely but is much better. About a month after the fall — that is, right at the end of September — my head suddenly cleared (literally overnight) to an enormous extent. Frankly, until it did, I hadn't really realized just how foggy and disorganized I was. Computer displays don't really help the condition, which is one reason that I think I am still having lingering aftereffects, but they really are a lot better, and my nose didn't get crooked and I didn't actually lose the teeth, although my dentist tells me that a big reason I didn't lose one of them is that I still have the wire retainer glued back of my lower teeth from my braces. Apparently, that stabilized the loose teeth until the ligaments could begin to tighten up again. Who would have thunk it?

Oh <expletive deleted>! Please be careful, David. I hope you continue to get better quickly.

-- Bob Gottlieb
SF & Fantasy: The only things better than Chocolate.
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Re: TFT Snippet #10
Post by Isilith   » Fri Oct 19, 2018 10:15 am

Isilith
Commander

Posts: 240
Joined: Thu Apr 30, 2015 10:58 am

-does the happy dance!!!!!-

I GOT ONE RIGHT!!! I called Nimue and Koryn falling in love and got it right!!! :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen:


As to Siddarmark, isn't a financial crisis exactly what Charis would be expert at helping them with? Isn't the turmoil in the Western provinces something the "Charis spy network" could keep Stohnar informed on and help them quell?

Also, thank you RFC, now stop taking swan dives!!!!
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Re: TFT Snippet #10
Post by Dilandu   » Fri Oct 19, 2018 10:22 am

Dilandu
Vice Admiral

Posts: 1577
Joined: Sat May 07, 2011 12:44 pm
Location: Russia

runsforcelery wrote:Okay, I have been away for a while. Some of you may know why, but it involves a face plant into a cement floor on the Thursday before DragonCon which resulted in a broken nose, or loose teeth, and a concussion which still hasn't cleared quite completely but is much better. About a month after the fall — that is, right at the end of September — my head suddenly cleared (literally overnight) to an enormous extent. Frankly, until it did, I hadn't really realized just how foggy and disorganized I was.


Glad to hear that you are better! Take care, runsforcelery! Wish you to return in shape soon!
------------------------------

- Who would won in battle between strawman Liberal-Democrat and strawman Conservative-Republican?
- Scarecrow from Oz; he was strawman before it became political.

P.S. - And he have Russian twin, to watch his back)
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Re: TFT Snippet #10
Post by NervousEnergy   » Fri Oct 19, 2018 11:13 am

NervousEnergy
Captain (Junior Grade)

Posts: 279
Joined: Thu Apr 01, 2010 1:50 pm

We need to get the Mad Wizard a PICA.
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