Crown of Slaves (Honorverse Series)by David Weber, Eric Flint, Peter Larkin (Read by)
The Star Kingdom's ally Erewhon is growing increasingly restive in the alliance because the new High Ridge regime ignores its needs. Added to the longstanding problem of a slave labor planet controlled by hostile Mesans in Erewhon's stellar backyard, which High Ridge refuses to deal with, the recent assassination of the Solarian League's most prominent voice of public conscience indicates the growing danger of political instability in the Solarian League - which is also close to Erewhon.
In desperation, Queen Elizabeth tries to defuse the situation by sending a private mission to Erewhon led by Captain Zilwicki, accompained by one of her nieces. When they arrive on Erewhon, however, Manticore's envoys find themselves in a mess. Not only do they encounter one of the Republic of Haven's most capable agents - Victor Cachat - but they also discover that the Solarian League's military delegation seems up to its neck in skulduggery.
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Crown of Slaves
By David Weber
Baen BooksCopyright © 2005 David Weber
All right reserved.
Chapter One"I'm really nervous, Daddy," whispered Berry, glancing almost furtively at the resplendently uniformed soldiers who seemed to line the entire length of the hallway leading to Queen Elizabeth's private audience chamber.
"No reason to be," gruffed Anton Zilwicki, continuing to advance stolidly toward the great double doors at the end of the hallway. The doors, like much of the furniture in Mount Royal Palace, were made of ferran. Even at the still-considerable distance, Anton could easily recognize the distinctive grain of the wood, as well as the traditional designs which had been carved into it. Ferran was native to the highlands of his home planet of Gryphon, and he'd done quite a bit of work with the stuff in his youth. Most Gryphon highlanders did, at one time or another.
Part of him-the rational, calculating side which was so prominent a feature of his personality-was pleased to see the wood. The wooden doors, and the carvings on them even more so, were a subtle reminder to everyone by the Winton dynasty that they valued their Gryphon highlander subjects as much as Manticorans proper. But Anton couldn't help remembering how much he'd hated working with the stuff as a boy. The root of the word "ferran" was a none-too-subtle indicator of its most outstanding property other than the attractive grain and rich color.
The enormous muscles in Anton's forearms were the product of his weight-lifting regimen as an adult; but, already as a boy, those muscles had been hard and powerful. Ferran could not be worked by weaklings. The stuff was almost as hard as iron, and just as easy to shape with hand tools.
Anton's lips twitched. The same accusation-or its kin, at any rate-had been leveled at him, and quite a bit more often than once. Damn you, Zilwicki! Hard as a rock and just as easy to move!
That very morning, in fact, and by his lover Cathy Montaigne.
"I think Mommy was right," whispered Berry. "You should have worn your uniform."
"They put me on half-pay," he growled. "I'm supposed to wear that silly dress uniform-most uncomfortable thing I own-afterward? Like a poodle sitting up to beg forgiveness?"
Berry's nervous glances at the guards in the hallway were now definitely furtive, especially the glance she cast at the four soldiers following them a few steps behind. Clearly enough, the teenage girl was half-expecting the Queen's Own Regiment to arrest them on the spot for ...
Whatever fancy legal phrase covered: charged with being the stubborn disrespectful lout Anton Zilwicki and his adopted daughter.
"The Queen didn't put you on the beach," she hissed hastily, as if that disclaimer might possibly establish her own innocence. "That's what Mommy kept saying to you this morning. I heard her. She was pretty loud."
The thing that flashed immediately through Anton's mind was a soft pleasure at Berry's use of the term Mommy to refer to Cathy Montaigne. Technically, of course, she wasn't. Berry and her brother Lars had been adopted by Anton, and since he and Cathy were not married the most that Cathy could officially be called was ...
Again, his lips twitched. Daddy's girlfriend, maybe. Paramour, if you wanted to be fancy about it. "Anton's squeeze" was the term Cathy herself enjoyed using in proper company. The former Countess of the Tor took a childish pleasure in seeing pained expressions on the faces of polite society.
For Berry and Lars, born and raised in the hellhole of the Old Quarter on Earth's capital city of Chicago, the legalities were meaningless. Since Anton's daughter Helen had found and rescued them from the catacombs, Berry and Lars had found the first real family they'd ever had. And Anton was glad to see the ease with which that knowledge now came to them.
But pleasure was for a later time. This was a moment for a father's stern instructions. So Anton removed the smile, came to an abrupt halt, and half-glowered at his daughter. He ignored the four soldiers who abruptly found themselves coming to an unexpected halt, almost stumbling into their charges.
"And so what?" he demanded. He made no attempt to keep his basso voice from rumbling down the hallway, although the thickening Gryphon highlander accent probably made the words unrecognizable by the time they reached the ears of the majordomo standing by the far doorway.
"The monarch stands at the center of things, girl. For that, the Crown gets my allegiance. Unconditional allegiance, too, so long as the dynasty respects the rights of their subjects. But the reverse stands true as well. I do not condemn Her Majesty for the actions of 'her' government, mind. It's a constitutional monarchy, and as things stand at the moment, that would be silly. But she gets no praise for it, either."
He almost laughed, seeing Berry swallowing. To the former urchin of Chicago's underworld, power was power and "the laws" be damned. No laws nor lawmen had prevented her from suffering the horrors she'd lived through. Nor would they have, ever, in the world she'd come from. All that had ended it was the naked violence of Anton's daughter Helen, a young Havenite intelligence officer named Victor Cachat, and a dozen ex-slave killers from the Audubon Ballroom led by Jeremy X.
Yet a father's job is to educate his children, and Anton would no more shirk that duty than any other.
He heard one of the soldiers standing behind him clear his throat in a none-too-polite reminder. The Queen is waiting, you fool!
A splendid opportunity to continue the lesson, he decided. Anton gave the soldier-the sergeant commanding their little four-man escort-his most intimidating stare.
And quite intimidating it was, too. Anton was a short man, but so wide and extravagantly muscled that he looked like a something out of a legend of dwarven kings. The blocky head and dark eyes-hard as agates, at times like these-only heightened the effect. The soldiers staring at him would no doubt be wondering if Anton could bend steel bars with his bare hands.
He could, in fact. And the soldiers were probably also suddenly remembering that the grotesquely built man glowering at them had, in younger days, been the Star Kingdom's champion wrestler in his weight class.
All four of them took a half-step back. The sergeant's right hand even twitched ever so slightly toward the sidearm holstered at his side.
Good enough. Anton wasn't actually seeking an incident, after all. He let his eyes slide away from the soldiery and come back to his daughter.
"I'm no damn nobleman, girl. Neither are you. So we ask no courtier favors-nor do we bend our knees. They put me on the beach, and the Queen said nothing. So she can live with it as well as they or I can. That's why that uniform is in the closet and will stay there. Understand?"
Berry was still nervous. "Shouldn't I, maybe, bow or something?"
Anton rumbled a laugh. "Do you even know how to 'bow'?"
Berry nodded. "Mommy showed me."
Anton's glower was coming back in full force. Hastily, Berry added: "But not the way she does it-or used to do it, anyway, before she became a commoner."
Anton shook his head. "Bowing is for formal occasions, girl. This is an informal audience. Just stand quietly and be polite, that's good enough." He turned and resumed his progress toward the doors leading to the Royal Presence. "Besides, I wouldn't trust you to do it right anyway. Sure as certain not if Cathy showed you how, with all of a noblewoman's flourish and twirls."
His lips twitched again, his good humor returning. "When she's in the mood-not often, I admit-she can make any duchess turn green with envy with that fancy bow of hers."
If nothing else, by the time they reached the doors and a glaring majordomo began swinging them open, Anton's display of highlander contrariness seemed to have relaxed Berry a bit. No doubt she'd reached the conclusion that the Royal Displeasure soon to descend on her father would be so thoroughly focused on him that she might emerge unscathed.
In the event, however, the Queen of the Star Kingdom greeted them with a smile so wide it might almost be called a grin. Against Elizabeth's mahogany skin, the white teeth gleamed brightly. From what Anton could determine, the sharp-toothed gape on the face of the Queen's companion Ariel seemed even more cheerful. Anton was no expert on treecats, but he knew they usually reflected the emotions of the human to whom they were bonded. And if that vaguely feline shape lounging casually across the thickly upholstered backrest of the Queen's chair was offended or angry, there was no sign of it.
Despite his contrariness of the moment, Anton could not keep himself from warming toward the Queen. He was still a Crown Loyalist, when all was said and done, even if that once-simple political philosophy had developed a lot of curlicues and embroidery in the years since he'd met Catherine Montaigne. And he approved of this particular monarch, from all that he'd been able to see of her since she came to the throne.
The knowledge was all from a distance, however. He'd never actually met Queen Elizabeth, other than seeing her at a handful of large official gatherings.
He caught a glimpse of the young woman seated next to the Queen making an almost-furtive motion at the small console attached to her own chair. Glancing quickly to the side, Anton spotted a discreetly recessed viewscreen in the near wall of the small chamber. The display was dark now, but he suspected that the Queen and her companion had been observing him as he approached down the hallway-in which case, they would have heard his little exchange with Berry. Every word of it, unless the audio pickups were a lot worse than you'd expect in the palace of the galaxy's most electronically advanced realm.
He was not offended by the notion. In his days as a Navy yard dog, he might have been. But Anton's many years since as an intelligence officer-which he still basically was, even if in private practice-had given him a blasé attitude toward surveillance. So long as people respected his privacy, which he defined as his home and hearth, he didn't much care who snooped on him in public places. Whatever his other faults, Anton Zilwicki was not a hypocrite, and it wasn't as if he didn't do the same himself.
Besides, it was obvious from her smile the Queen wasn't offended. If anything, she seemed amused. He could sense Berry's relaxation as that knowledge came to her also.
But Anton wasn't paying much attention to Berry. As they continued to advance slowly toward the elaborate chairs which served Elizabeth and her companion as informal thrones, Anton's attention was given to the young woman seated next to the Queen.
At first, he thought he'd never seen the woman before, not even in file imagery or a holograph. As he drew nearer, however, he began connecting her features with those he'd seen in a few images taken when the girl was considerably younger. Soon enough, Anton had deduced her identity.
The age was the final giveaway. Anton was no expert on couture, but it was obvious even to him that the young woman's apparel was extremely expensive. The kind of clothing that would be worn by a noblewoman serving as the Queen's adviser. But this woman was much too young for that. Granted, prolong made gauging age rather difficult, but Anton was sure this woman was almost as young as the teenager she looked to be.
That meant a member of the royal family itself, or close kin, and there was only one such who fit the bill. The fact that the girl's complexion was so much paler than the standard Winton skin color just added the icing to the cake.
Ruth Winton, then, the daughter of the Queen's sister-in-law Judith Winton. Ruth had been sired by a Masadan privateer but adopted by the Queen's younger brother Michael when he married Judith after her escape from captivity. If Anton remembered correctly-and his memory was phenomenal-the girl had been born after Judith's escape, so Michael was the only father Ruth had ever known. She'd be about twenty-three years old now.
Because of the awkwardness of the girl's paternity she was officially not part of the line of succession to the throne. Other than that, however, she was in effect Queen Elizabeth's niece. Anton wondered what she was doing here, but he gave the matter no more than a fleeting thought. He had no idea what he was doing here, after all, since the Queen's summons had come as a surprise to him. He was quite sure he would discover the answer soon enough.
He and Berry reached a point on the floor which Anton decided marked a proper distance from The Royal Person. He stopped and bowed politely. Next to him, Berry did a hasty and nervous version of the same.
Hasty, yes-but still far too elaborate for Anton's taste. However much of his rustic background Anton might have abandoned when he left Gryphon many years earlier, he still retained in full measure a highlander's belligerent plebeianism. Kneeling and scraping and kowtowing and fancy flourishes before royalty were aristocratic vices. Anton would give the Crown his loyalty and respect, and that was damn well all.
He must have scowled a bit. The Queen laughed and exclaimed: "Oh, please, Captain Zilwicki! The girl has a splendid bow. Still a bit awkward, perhaps, but I recognize Cathy's touch in it. Can't miss that style, as much trouble as Cathy got me into about it, the time she and I infuriated our trainer by doing what amounted to a ballet instead of an exercise. It was all her idea, of course. Not that I wasn't willing to go along."
Anton had heard about the incident, as it happened. Cathy had mentioned it to him once. Although Cathy rarely spoke of the matter, as girls she and the Queen had been very close friends before their developing political differences ruptured the relationship. But, even then, there'd been no personal animosity involved. And Anton had not been the only one who'd noticed that, after Cathy's return from exile, there was always an undertone of warmth on those occasions when she and Queen Elizabeth encountered each other.
True, the encounters were still relatively few and far between, because the Queen faced an awkward political situation. While Elizabeth herself shared Cathy's hostility to genetic slavery-as did, for that matter, the government of Manticore itself, on the official record-Cathy's multitude of political enemies never missed an opportunity to hammer at Cathy's well-known if formally denied ties with the Audubon Ballroom.
Excerpted from Crown of Slaves by David Weber Copyright © 2005 by David Weber. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
David Weber is a science fiction phenomenon. His popular Honor Harrington & Honorverse novels—including Mission of Honor, At All Costs, and Torch of Freedom — are New York Times bestsellers and can't come out fast enough for his devoted readers. He is also the author of the Safehold series of books, including Off Armageddon Reef and By Schism Rent Asunder. His other popular novels include Out of the Dark, the Dahak books and the Multiverse books, written with Linda Evans.
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For fans of David Weber's popular series about Honor Harrington, this is a fascinating side show. Weber, teamed with SciFi collegue, Eric Flint, has written a book in the Harrington universe that focuses on events that are collateral, albeir related, to the main events of the popular series. Characters from many of the worlds that make up that universe are drawn to a funeral on the gangster-founded world of Erewhon. Intelligence agents compete for influence while being pulled into a battle for the freeing of the genetic slaves of the powerful Manpower Corporation which dominates sectors of the Solarian League. Although, it must be noted, there are players in that League who plan to change that. Characters from earlier novels meet with new characters as traditional enemies find themselves on the same side. Combat against intolerant foes is mixed in to a liberal helping of philosophical debate about the nature of man, freedom, and government. Those who love Honor Harrington might be disappointed in that she appears in only one chapter. But when you have a brilliant intelligence agent from the enemy world of Haven falling in love with the 'mistress of mayhem' of the Solarian League and then teaming up with a brilliant computer hacker/intelligence novice who happens to be a Manticoran princess to create a new free world ruled by a teenager who wants to be called 'Your Mousety', you have the recipe for fun, frantastic science fiction. An absolute must-read!
First, I've read all of the Honorverse books, which are great. This being the exception. It doesn't take long to get a feel that David Weber didn't do much, if any, of the writing. The story adds a little to the Honor series, but not much. This would have be much better as a 100 to 200 page short novella. The story lingers in areas that don't really matter, and then jumps over things that make Weber books good. Nothing in the writing made me care for any of the characters. Overall the story didn't seem believable. If you have to read every story in the Honorverse, then be prepared for a sub-par read.
With problems threatening to engulf them, the Erewhon expect help from their interstellar ally the Star Kingdom of Manticore, but none has been forthcoming. Knowing that the pact is near collapse, a desperate but inept Queen Elizabeth of Manticore uses a state funeral to mend the schism and disappointment. She sends her niece Ruth Winton under the protection of Captain Zilwicki to represent her with the Erewhons. When terrorists attack Ruth and her retinue, Havenite agent Victor Cachat takes advantage of the opportunity plus Elizabeth¿s helplessness to begin forming a new alliance with the Erewhons. Not long afterward, Cachat brings together his people, dissident Manticorans, irate Erewhons and the Solarian League Navy in an assault to free a slave planet, which may leave Her Royal Highness of the Star Kingdom looking in from the outside. Using events and characters from David Weber's Honor Harrington series, Mr. Weber and Eric Flint have written an action-packed space opera that is really more a symposium of concepts wrapped in the cloak of an exciting interstellar tale. The story line is fast-paced yet readers will have much to ponder as the two authors furbish a host of ideas that dig deep into history, politics and interstellar relationships. Fans of the series, the authors, or those who appreciate an action-packed other galaxy brimming with a thought-provoking edge will enjoy the tour of the Honorverse. Harriet Klausner
It was about six years AFTER someone handed me my first Honor Harrington novel that it was read. It was less then two months later that EVERY Honor Harrington novel then published became part of my library as well as thoroughly enjoyed in the reading! My only regret is that there is no way to jump ahead and read all of the books in the "Honor-Verse" that will be published. The original series and all of the offshoots from it are fantastic. I highly recommend them to anyone who enjoys reading stories that involve plot, character developement, humor, and all around a great read.
A great read.