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Snippet #12

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Snippet #12
Post by runsforcelery   » Thu Nov 01, 2018 12:19 pm

runsforcelery
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I'm off to Atlanta for SphinxCon in about 20 minutes, so here is the next snippet before I go.

______________________________________________

“Symyn has a point, Sire,” Harless said, speaking up at last. Mahrys glanced at him, and the duke shrugged. “We’re not the only ones trying to improve our manufacturing ability, Sire,” he pointed out. “The good news is that Siddarmark’s in so much trouble. Its currency is effectively close to worthless now, and the ongoing situation in their western provinces is getting worse, according to my sources.”

Mahrys nodded. In addition to his responsibility for the Empire’s diplomacy, Harless ran its spy networks. They’d taken horrendous losses during the Jihad. It had almost been as if the Charisians, or at least that accursed seijin, Athrawes, had actually been able to peer inside men’s minds and know when they were spying for someone else. But Harless had rebuilt steadily over the last five or six years.

“From what we’re seeing so far, Siddarmark’s efforts to ‘industrialize’—” Harless used the Charisian-coined word with an expression of distaste “—have hit a major roadblock. Whether it’s a long-term setback or only temporary is impossible to say at this point, but it does give us an opportunity to at least make up some ground on them.

“As I say, that’s the good news. The bad news is Dohlar.”

Mahrys’ expression turned thunderous. The Kingdom of Dohlar had been Mother Church’s most effective champion during the Jihad, at least until the Mighty Host had fully engaged the combined forces of Siddarmark and Charis. One might have expected that to have post-Jihad repercussions for the traitorous Earl Thirsk and the even more despicable Sir Rainos Ahlverez, who’d betrayed the Army of Justice in the South March. Unfortunately, it hadn’t. In fact, Dohlar was enthusiastically embracing the Charisian mode of “industrialization,” despite the social unrest it must provoke. Nor was Charis, in the person of the insufferable Duke of Delthak, unaware of the openings that decision provided. The Gorath Bay Railroad, a joint Dohlaran-Charisian venture, had broken ground on its first automotive works barely two months ago.

“I can’t speak to the economic consequences of Thirsk’s arse-kissing with Charis,” Harless went on. “Diplomatically, though, they’re drawing closer and closer together, and Silkiah is actively licking Charis’ hand. I think they’d rather be beholden to somebody who’s hundreds of miles away by sea than to Siddarmark, which is only just on the other side of their northern border. And Charis has a bigger bowl of gravy to dip their spoon into, at least at the moment. So we’re in danger of finding ourselves frozen out, and unless we’re able to build our own manufactories up, we’ll find ourselves dependent on our potential enemies. We’ll actually have to buy our weapons from Charis or one of its lackeys, and only fools—which, unfortunately, neither Cayleb nor Sharleyan are—would sell us weapons that could actually threaten them.”

“I’m aware of that,” Mahrys said, his tone rather icier than the one he normally addressed to his cousin.

“We know that, Sire,” Gahrnet said, drawing the Emperor’s potential ire back away from his brother. “I think Rhobair’s point—and mine, too—is that time isn’t working for us, except, perhaps, in the case of Siddarmark. We need to rethink our approach to this, and we need to be willing to adopt Charisian tools. We damned well don’t need the mindset that comes with them, but we need the tools themselves.”

“How would you like to proceed?” Mahrys asked, sitting back in his chair.

“I think we need to organize ourselves better, Sire,” Gahrnet told him. “You need to sit down with your Council, or at least with us, and define exactly what you want to accomplish. I know we’ve discussed it many times, but those discussions have been a bit . . . amorphous. I’m thinking we need to set specific goals, and specific mileposts to accomplish in pursuit of those goals. I suppose what I’m talking about is a sort of ongoing, coordinated process. What I’d really like to see is a plan that covers, say, the next five years and will be periodically reviewed and modified as events make necessary. At the end of every year, we’d extend our planning period for another year, sort of a . . . a rolling horizon.”

Mahrys nodded thoughtfully, and Gahrnet hid his satisfaction. He was a loyal servant of the Crown, but he wasn’t blind to the opportunities which would fall his way if he was made the official custodian of any such plan. The pecuniary possibilities alone were enormous. Although what was even more important, he told himself virtuously, was that that sort of centralized control would leave him far better placed to produce the “industrialization” Desnair required.

“In the short-term,” he went on more confidently, “I believe we need to look very closely at adopting the concept of these ‘railroads’ of the Charisians, Sire. As I understand it, no individual rail wagon can carry as much cargo as a large barge, but each automotive can pull scores of wagons and we can build the damned things anywhere. We don’t need rivers, and if we made them a Crown monopoly, I imagine they’d bring in enormous amounts of revenue to help fuel our other efforts.”

Mahrys nodded again, far more enthusiastically. The Holy Writ prohibited secular rulers from charging for the use of the canals it was the godly’s responsibility to build and maintain. That didn’t mean it didn’t happen. The Canal Service cut across all national boundaries, at least in theory, and was responsible for levying the service fees which helped pay for the canals’ maintenance. Those fees were supposedly earmarked solely for canal maintenance, but they had a persistent way of hemorrhaging into the local authorities’ coffers. It was all very sub rosa, however, and discretion required that the pilferage be reasonably modest lest Mother Church’s auditors be forced to take notice.

But the Holy Writ didn’t cover “railroads.” Their revenues belonged to whoever owned them, and if every Desnairian railway belonged to the Crown. . . .

“For now,” Gahrnet said, “we’d have to buy our automotives, and probably our rails, direct from Charis. The good news is that those moneygrubbing bastards would cheerfully sell us the rope to hang their own grandmothers if the price was right, so I don’t see any problem with the purchase itself. Once we have an automotive or two of our own, we can take them apart and see if our mechanics can figure out how to build more of our own. I don’t see why that should be impossible, Sire, especially if we insist that our mechanics have to be trained in Charis to keep them in service once we get them home.”

“That will cost a lot of marks,” Pearlmann pointed out. His tone was more that of a man making an observation than someone raising an objection, and Gahrnet nodded.

“It will, but we still have the gold mines. And,” he turned to face the Emperor more squarely, “once we begin building our own railroads and demonstrate how useful they are—for farmers, not just manufactory owners—and start charging to transport freight and passengers, I expect it would turn quickly into a net profit maker, not an ongoing charge on the Exchequer.”

“Anzhelo?” Mahrys looked at the chancellor, one eyebrow raised.

“I can’t guarantee that, Sire,” Pearlmann said. “I’d be extraordinarily surprised if Symyn isn’t right, though. It’s one of the reasons those frigging Charisians like Delthak are dragging in marks hand over fist!” He glowered at the thought. “Frankly, it’s about time somebody else invaded their trough.”

“There’s something to that,” Mahrys agreed. “On the other hand—”

The Emperor broke off, looking up with a frown as the door to the council chamber opened.

“I beg your pardon, Your Majesty,” the uniformed footman said, bowing deeply. “A messenger has just arrived for Duke Harless. He says the matter is urgent.”

“Urgent enough to interrupt this meeting?” Mahrys asked coldly.

“So he says, Your Majesty,” the footman replied, still bowing.

The Emperor cocked a rather fulminating eyebrow at Harless, then grimaced.

“Very well,” he said. “Send him in.”

“Of course, Your Majesty!”

The footman disappeared, to be replaced a moment later by a tallish, dark-haired man in the expensive but sober tailoring of an upper-level government bureaucrat.

“A thousand apologies, Your Majesty,” he began, “but—”

“Yes, yes!” Mahrys waved an impatient hand. “I know—it’s urgent. And,” he relented slightly, “you don’t normally waste our time, Sir Hyrmyn. But get to it, please.”

“Thank you, Your Majesty,” Sir Hyrmyn Khaldwyl, who was effectively Harless’ senior deputy, bowed almost as deeply as the footman had. Then he reached into his tunic, withdrew a large envelope, and passed it to the duke.

“This just arrived from our embassy in Yu-kwau, Your Grace,” he said. “I took the liberty of reading it as soon as it was delivered.”

“Yu-kwau?” the Emperor repeated sharply, and Khaldwyl nodded.

“Yes, Your Majesty.” His expression was grave. “I’m afraid it’s been confirmed. Emperor Waisu is dead.”

Someone inhaled sharply. Not in surprise, but in consternation, and Mahrys’ jaw tightened. He’d never much cared for Waisu, or for Harchongians in general, for that matter. But he’d always recognized a certain commonality of interest between his own crown and that of Harchong, because both had been bastions of stability against the steadily encroaching madness out of Charis, Siddarmark, and the Reformists. In fact, Mahrys and Harless had tried for the last couple of years, with a uniform lack of success, to inveigle Waisu into a post-Jihad alliance, or at least into an agreement to coordinate policy with Desnair.

But if events in North Harchong were as bad as preliminary reports suggested—and as this one seemed to confirm—the situation was even worse than Mahrys had believed. If Harchong went down, Desnair truly would be alone against all of the “progressive” forces seeking to destroy the order and stability God and the Archangels themselves had established here on Safehold.

Waisu never listened to us, the Emperor thought grimly, and look what that got him!

In reality, Mahrys knew, it had been Waisu’s ministers, like Grand Duke North Wind Blowing, who’d refused to listen with all the traditional—and invincible—arrogance which made Harchongians so universally detested. Although, to be honest, North Wind Blowing had probably been more concerned about getting too close to someone whose social policies were as “liberal” as Desnair’s. Now, though—

“Has Zhyou-Zhwo taken the Crown yet?” he asked.

“Not as of yesterday, Sire,” Harless replied, looking up from the dispatch he’d been rapidly scanning. “And while Hyrmyn’s right that the Emperor’s death has been confirmed, it hasn’t been officially announced yet. The confirmation is solid, Sire, but it was made unofficially to our ambassador. Probably by someone in Yu-kwau but not in the Crown Prince’s inner circle, if you take my meaning.”

Mahrys grunted in understanding. No doubt a lot of South Harchongians were less than enthralled by what the imperial family’s abrupt arrival entailed for local power arrangements, especially if the Hantais’ exodus ended up being more prolonged than anyone had initially predicted.

“I wonder what he’s waiting for?” Pearlmann murmured, and Traykhos shrugged.

“I don’t have any idea, but he can’t wait too long. Not without risking a serious threat to the continuity of the Crown’s power. They can’t afford anything remotely like an interregnum with things going as badly in the North as they appear to be going.”

“Agreed,” Mahrys said, sitting farther back in his chair and stroking his mustache in thought. He stayed that way for several seconds, then leaned forward and planted his hands on the conference table.

“Agreed, and given what’s happening in the North, he may be more amenable to our diplomatic viewpoint than his father was.”

“Forgive me, Sire,” Gahrnet said dryly, “but is Zhyou-Zhwo likely to be any freer to ignore his ministers than his father was?”

“That is an interesting question,” Mahrys acknowledged with a bleak smile. “On the other hand, our earlier reports indicate that quite a few of those ministers didn’t make it out of Shang-mi, either.”

“No, they didn’t,” Harless agreed. “They have to be doing a lot of . . . reorganization, and according to my agents in Shang-mi, Zhyou-Zhwo’s been resentful of the bureaucrats’ influence for a long time.”

“So he may see this as an opportunity to ‘reorganize’ things on a basis more to his liking.” Mahrys nodded. “And even if he doesn’t, even Harchongese bureaucrats have to be shaken by what’s happened to them and their families. And who are they going to blame for it?” The Emperor smiled coldly. “I’ll tell you who they’re going to blame. They’re going to blame Charis and the Reformists for provoking the Jihad and they’re going to blame the Grand Vicar for ending the Jihad. And they’re especially going to blame him—and Maigwair—for what happened to the Mighty Host.”

His smile turned even thinner and colder as he met his advisors’ eyes.

“I believe it might be time for a personal message of condolence from one Emperor to another,” he said.




March
Year of God 904




.I.
Shan-Zhi Forest
and
Pauton Cathedral,
City of Pauton
Boisseau Province
Harchong Empire.



Bairahn Mahgynys peered through the eyepiece and turned the adjusting screw with finicky precision. The marker on the graduated rod came into sharp focus and he nodded in satisfaction. He straightened, checking the numbers on the survey transit’s graduated base ring, then carefully recorded them on his log sheet.

He stowed the logbook in his rucksack and looked up, listening to the work crews widening the muddy cut through the fringe of the unconsecrated Shan-Zhi Forest. The sharp, crisp sounds of axes and the steady rasping of long, two-man crosscut saws were overlaid by shouting voices, whistling dragons, the occasional crack of a drover’s whip, and the crashing sound as trees toppled to the ground. It was a far, far cry from what Mahgynys had witnessed upon his arrival here in Boisseau, just over a month ago.

“Time to move,” he said, looking up from the logbook. “How are the trail-breaking crews coming?”

“You’re catching up to them,” Hauzhu Shozu told him with a crooked grin. “You’re only a couple of miles behind now. Your part seems to go a lot faster than their part.”

“Why His Grace pays them so much,” Mahgynys replied with a broader smile.

“He does, really,” Shozu said more soberly, and it was true. Oh, by the standards of someone like Mahgynys—a trained and highly skilled professional—the peasants and escaped serfs swinging those axes and saws weren’t paid very much at all. By the standards of the Empire of Harchong, however, Duke Delthak’s wages were scandalously high. In less than two months, every man in one of those crews would earn better than a year and a half of anything he’d ever earned before. That was why attitudes had changed so much over the past six five-days. What had been sullen, half-unwilling wariness—the sort of wariness serfs and peasants always showed someone who promised something good in their lives—had transformed itself into enthusiasm. The thought of money in a man’s pocket, of the promise that they —peasants, even serfs —would be trained to operate and maintain the steam automotives which would someday snort their way through the forest along the roadway they were clearing . . .

Shozu shook his head mentally, still unable to fully process it himself.

“We get this project finished,” Mahgynys went on, collapsing the legs of the transit’s tripod while one of Shozu’s assistants began rolling up the surveyor’s chain, “and the pay’s getting better all around.” He looked at Shozu steadily. “Of course, getting it finished’s going to depend on a lot of things the Duke can’t control.”

“We’re doing our best.” Shozu shrugged rather more philosophically than he actually felt. “It helps that so many people trust Bishop Yaupang. And Baron Star Rising’s always been fairer with the common folk than a lot of nobles. I’d be lying if I said I was positive they could make it work, though.”

“Going to depend a lot on people like you,” Mahgynys said quietly, and Shozu nodded.

Unlike two-thirds of the Harchongians Duke Delthak had hired for his survey crews, Shozu was a free peasant. In fact, by the standards of a Harchongese commoner, he was a significant landowner, with over twelve hundred acres under the plow. It had taken his family the better part of two centuries to put together a parcel that size through marriages, purchases, and land swaps, but it had made Hauzhu Shozu a man of influence in the community around Rwanzhi. He was also fully literate and remarkably well-educated for a Harchongese peasant . . . and his third eldest son had actually been accepted by one of the small, secular academies in Shang-mi.

Which was why he had no idea whether or not Zhyqwo was still alive.

“Like I say, we’re doing our best. And, to be honest, having you people here surveying the right-of-way is the best argument in favor I could give any of my neighbors!”

It was Mahgynys’ turn to nod and hope his expression concealed his own doubts. Not as to whether or not this was a good idea, but whether or not it was going to work. It was just like Duke Delthak to jump in before anyone could have guessed either way about that. Overall, the duke had a pretty fair record of guessing right, but there’d been a few disasters, like the bath his investments had taken in Siddarmark following the collapse of the House of Qwentyn. Mahgynys didn’t have access to the actual numbers on that, but if the ones he’d heard bruited about were anywhere near accurate, they would have wiped out many a lesser individual’s fortune. Of course, no one else on Safehold, aside from the emperor and empress, had ever amassed a fortune remotely as vast as the duke’s. If anyone could afford to back a hunch, it had to be him, and his investment partners were generally willing to follow his lead. It might have taken a little more argument this time to bring them around. Then again, it might not have. When Their Majesties politely suggested to one of their most loyal cronies that an investment would be welcome, it would have taken a board member with balls of steel to argue with the duke’s decision to make that investment.

It was just that at the moment the jury was very much out on whether Baron Star Rising and his ramshackle coalition of aristocrats, rogue clerics, townsmen, peasants, and—God help them all—serfs was going to pull it off. The anathemas being thundered at Bishop Yaupang and the churchmen who dared to support him from Yu-kwau and the bloodthirsty threats of wholesale executions for any secular “traitors” following in their wake did not bode well.

On the other hand, he reminded himself, Their Majesties—and the Duke—have a habit of succeeding however bad the odds look, don’t they? It’s only that just looking at this place makes me cringe inside.

He shrugged, shouldered the tripod, and started hiking along the muddy trough being carved through the forest. Someday soon—if Duke Delthak’s current gamble paid off the way his gambles had a habit of paying off—that trough would be the roadbed for the Rwanzhi-Zhynkau railroad, connecting the Bay of Pauton to the Yalu Inlet. That was over four hundred miles as the wyvern flew, and it didn’t count the other lines which would tie the major towns of Boisseau together in a way which had never been possible before.

He wondered if even Shozu began to understand what that would mean for West Harchong’s economy and people.

Assuming they could keep the wrong people’s fingers out of the pie, at least.


"Oh, bother!" said Pooh, as Piglet came back from the dead.
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Re: Snippet #12
Post by Down Under   » Thu Nov 01, 2018 1:25 pm

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Thanks for the latest snippet
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Re: Snippet #12
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Thu Nov 01, 2018 1:25 pm

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Very Good!!!! :D
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Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: Snippet #12
Post by PeterZ   » Thu Nov 01, 2018 1:30 pm

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Thanks for the snippet, RFC!

So, Desnair and South Harchong are looking likely to team up. Desnair gets their industrial partners without relying too much on Charisian stooges. South Harchong gets an ally that may well help them recapture the North.

North Harchong appears well on their way to some sort of stable reconciliation after the rebellion. Duke Delthak appears to be speeding up the industrialization of the North. Moreover, Delthak's investments appear to be a uniting factor for the North. Those serfs and peasants see a more prosperous future for even their poorest members.

That leaves Delfehrahk, Selkar and Sodar as Howard nations looking at two expansionist empires joining forces. King Zhames will be sending his wife to Corisande pretty soon now.
Last edited by PeterZ on Thu Nov 01, 2018 3:04 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Snippet #12
Post by Eagleeye   » Thu Nov 01, 2018 1:37 pm

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Thank you! And have a nice trip and a safe return!
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Re: Snippet #12
Post by Dauntless   » Thu Nov 01, 2018 2:25 pm

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another interesting snippet. have a good time and be safe!
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Re: Snippet #12
Post by ksandgren   » Thu Nov 01, 2018 2:50 pm

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Thanks for the snippet. Enjoy the con.
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Re: Snippet #12
Post by Alistair   » Thu Nov 01, 2018 3:05 pm

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I find it difficult to believe that Charis will let Siddarmark collapse both for humanitarian reasons and also the overriding need to push industrialization along.

If i was a money trader I would be buying Siddarmark currency as I think it will improve soon.
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Re: Snippet #12
Post by PeterZ   » Thu Nov 01, 2018 3:19 pm

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Alistair wrote:I find it difficult to believe that Charis will let Siddarmark collapse both for humanitarian reasons and also the overriding need to push industrialization along.

If i was a money trader I would be buying Siddarmark currency as I think it will improve soon.

Siddermark's recovery depends on the Western Provinces finding a modicum of reconciliation. Otherwise, it's Northern Ireland at its worst. Who wants to invest in that sort of climate? The area impacted may well be 40% of Siddermark. That sort of continuous insurgency plays merry hell with consumer and financial confidence. There are more stable places from where attractive returns may be generated. So, while Siddermark's currency may stabilize, their risk profile relative to other places may suck big time. That relative riskiness creates a ceiling for the value of their currency compared to other currencies from less risky economies.
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Re: Snippet #12
Post by dobriennm   » Thu Nov 01, 2018 3:29 pm

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runsforcelery wrote:I'm off to Atlanta for SphinxCon in about 20 minutes, so here is the next snippet before I go.


This is great! :D

Too bad it means the next (and possibly last) snippet is 2 weeks away. :cry:
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