A Mighty Fortress (Safehold Series #4)by David Weber
"Young Cayleb Ahrmahk has accomplished things few people could even dream of. Not yet thirty years old, he's won the most crushing naval victories in human history. He's smashed a hostile alliance of no less than five princedoms and won the hand of the beautiful young Queen Sharleyan of Chisholm. Cayleb and Sharleyan have created the Charisian Empire, the greatest… See more details below
"Young Cayleb Ahrmahk has accomplished things few people could even dream of. Not yet thirty years old, he's won the most crushing naval victories in human history. He's smashed a hostile alliance of no less than five princedoms and won the hand of the beautiful young Queen Sharleyan of Chisholm. Cayleb and Sharleyan have created the Charisian Empire, the greatest naval power in the history of Safehold, and they've turned Charis into a place of refuge for all who treasure freedom." "But their success may prove short-lived. The Group of Four, the clique that controls the Church of God Awaiting - and, through the church, most of Safehold - has decreed their destruction. Mother Church's entire purpose is to forever prevent the very things to which Charis is committed, and she will not rest until the Charisian abomination has been erased forever." "The Group of Four's first attempt failed, but they're determined to learn from their mistakes. Now they have no choice but to adopt some of Charis's innovations for themselves. Their mighty fleet, equipped with the new weapons, will soon be launched against Charis." "But there are still matters about which the Church knows nothing, including Cayleb and Sharleyan's adviser, friend, and guardian, the mystic warrior-monk named Merlin Athrawes. Merlin knows all about catastrophic battles against impossible odds, because he is in fact the cybernetic avatar of a young woman named Nimue Alban, who died a thousand years ago. As Nimue, Merlin saw the entire Terran Federation go down in fire, and slaughter at the hands of a foe it could not defeat. He knows that Safehold is the last human planet in existence, and that the technological stasis Mother Church was created to enforce will be the death sentence of the human race if it is allowed to stand." Mother Church's juggernaut is rumbling down on Charis, but Merlin Athrawes and a handful of extraordinary human beings stand in its path. The Group of Four is about to discover just how potent the power of human freedom truly is.
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A Mighty Fortress
By David Weber
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2010 David Weber
All rights reserved.
Lizardherd Square, City of Manchyr, Princedom of Corisande
"So I don't know about you people, but I've had more than enough of this dragon shit!" Paitryk Hainree shouted from his improvised speaker's perch on the municipal fire brigade cistern.
"Bastards!" a voice came back out of the small crowd gathered outside the tavern. It was early in the morning, on a Wednesday, and like every other tavern on the face of Safehold, all the taverns of the city of Manchyr were closed and would stay that way until after morning mass. The sun was barely up, the narrow streets were still caverns of shadow, but the clouds overhead already promised rain by afternoon, and the humidity was high.
As, Hainree noted, were tempers. It wasn't a huge crowd, in fact it was considerably smaller than the one he'd hoped for, and probably at least half the men in it were there more out of curiosity than commitment. But the ones who were committed —
"Fucking murderers!" someone else snarled back.
Hainree nodded vigorously, hard enough to make sure everyone in his angry audience could recognize the gesture. He was a silversmith, by trade, not an actor or an orator, and certainly not a priest! But over the last few five-days he'd had the opportunity to profit by the experience and advice of quite a few men who were trained priests. He'd learned how voice projection and "spontaneous" body language could support and emphasize a message — especially when that message was backed by genuine, burning outrage.
"Yes!" he shouted back to the last speaker. "Damned right they're murderers, unless you want to believe that lying bastard Cayleb!" He flung up his hands in eloquent contempt. "Of course he didn't do it! Why, what possible motive could he have had to order Prince Hektor's murder?"
A fresh chorus of outrage, this time formed of pure anger rather than anything as artificial as words, answered him, and he smiled savagely.
"Goddamned butchers!" yet another voice shouted. "Priest-killers! Heretics! Remember Ferayd!"
"Yes!" He nodded his head again, just as vigorously as before. "They can say what they want — this new 'archbishop' of ours and his bishops — but I'm not so sure you aren't right about Cayleb's precious 'Church of Charis'! Maybe there are some priests who've abused their offices. No one wants to believe that — I don't want to, do you? But remember what Archbishop Wyllym said in his report about the Ferayd Massacre! There's no doubt Cayleb lied about how terrible the original attack was, and it's for damned sure he and all his other bootlickers have been lying about how 'restrained' their response to it was. But even so, Mother Church herself acknowledged that the priests who were hanged — hanged impiously, with no proper Church trial, by 'Archbishop Maikel's' own brother, mind you! — were guilty of wrongdoing. Mother Church said that, and the Grand Vicar imposed a personal penance on the Grand Inquisitor himself for letting it happen! Does that sound to you like Mother Church can't be trusted? Like we can't rely on her to deal with abuses and corruption? Like the only answer is to defy God's own Church? Cast down the vicarate Langhorne himself ordained?"
There was another snarl of fury, yet this one, Hainree noted, was less fiery than the one before. He was a bit disappointed by that, but not really surprised. Corisandians, by and large, had never felt directly threatened by the policies of the Church of God Awaiting and the Knights of the Temple Lands. Certainly not the way Charisians had felt when they discovered their entire kingdom had been condemned to fire and the sword by that same Church. Or, at least, by the men who controlled it.
Still, it would have been inaccurate — and foolish — to pretend there weren't plenty of Corisandians who had their own reservations about the Church's current rulership. Manchyr was a long way from the Temple or the city of Zion, after all, and Corisandians as a whole were undoubtedly more independent-minded in matters of religion than the Inquisition or the vicarate at large would truly have approved. For that matter, plenty of Corisandians had had sons or brothers or fathers killed in the Battle of Darcos Sound, and it was common knowledge that Darcos Sound had been the disastrous consequence of a war which had seen Corisande and its allies conscripted to act as the Church's proxies. Among those for whom religious fervor and orthodoxy were major motivators, they burned with a blinding, white-hot passion that surpassed all others. The majority of Corisandians, however, were far less passionate about those particular concerns. Their opposition to the Church of Charis stemmed far more from the fact that it was the Church of Charis, linked in their own minds with the House of Ahrmahk's conquest of their princedom, than from any outraged sense of orthodoxy. For that matter, Corisande undoubtedly harbored its own share of the reform-minded, and they might well find themselves actively attracted to the breakaway church.
Best not to dwell too heavily on the heresy, Paitryk, Hainree told himself. Leave the ones already on fire over that to burn for themselves. Father Aidryn's right about that; they'll be hot enough without you. Spend your sparks on other tinder.
"I've no doubt God and Langhorne — and the Archangel Schueler — will deal with that, in time," he said out loud. "That's God's business, and Mother Church's, and I'll leave it to them! But what happens outside the Church — what happens in Corisande, or here on the streets of Manchyr — that's man's business. Our business! A man's got to know what it is he stands for, and when he knows, he has to truly stand, not just wave his hands about and wish things were different."
The last word came out in a semi-falsetto sneer, and he felt the fresh anger frothing up.
"Hektor!" a wiry man with a badly scarred left cheek shouted. Hainree couldn't see him, but he recognized the voice easily enough. He should have, after all. Rahn Aimayl had been one of his senior apprentices before the Charisian invasion ruined Hainree's once thriving business, along with so many other of the besieged capital's enterprises, and Hainree had been there when a cracked mold and a splash of molten silver produced the scar on Aimayl's cheek.
"Hektor!" Aimayl repeated now. "Hektor!"
"Hektor, Hektor!" other voices took up the shout, and this time Hainree's smile could have been a slash lizard's.
"Well," he shouted then, "there's a hell of a lot more of us than there are of them, when all's said! And I don't know about you, but I'm not ready — yet — to assume that all of our lords and great men and members of Parliament are ready to suck up to Cayleb like this so-called Regency Council! Maybe all they really need is a little indication that some of the rest of us aren't ready to do that, either!"
* * *
Sergeant Edvard Waistyn grimaced as the crowd streamed closer and its chant rose in both volume and anger. It was easy enough to make out the words, despite the majestic, measured tolling of the cathedral's bells coming from so close at hand. Of course, one reason it might have been so easy for him to recognize that chant was that, unfortunately, he'd already heard quite a few other chants, very much like it, over the last few five-days.
And it's not anything I'm not going to be hearing a lot more of over the next few five-days, neither, he thought grimly.
The sergeant, one of the scout-snipers assigned to the First Battalion, Third Brigade, Imperial Charisian Marines, lay prone on the roof, gazing up along the narrow street below his perch. The crowd flowing down that street, through the shadows between the buildings, still seemed touched by just a bit of hesitancy. The anger was genuine enough, and he didn't doubt they'd started out in the full fire of their outrage, but now they could see the cathedral's dome and steeples rising before them. The notion of ... registering their unhappiness was no longer focused on some future event. It was almost here now, and that could have unpleasant consequences for some of them.
Still and all, I'm not thinking this is one as'll just blow over with only a little wind. There's rain in this one — and some thunder, too, like as not.
His intent eyes swept slowly, steadily across the men and boys shaking their fists and hurling imprecations in the direction of the rifle-armed men formed up in front of Manchyr Cathedral in the traditional dark blue tunics and light blue trousers of the Charisian Marines. Those Marines formed a watchful line, a barrier between the shouters and another crowd — this one much quieter, moving quickly — as it flowed up the steps behind them.
So far, none of the sporadic "spontaneous demonstrations" had intruded upon the cathedral or its grounds. Waistyn was actually surprised it hadn't happened already, given the ready-made rallying point the "heretical" Church of Charis offered the people out to organize resistance to the Charisian occupation. Maybe there'd been even more religious discontent in Corisande than the sergeant would have thought before the invasion? And maybe it was just that even the most belligerent rioter hesitated to trespass on the sanctity of Mother Church.
And maybe this crowd's feeling a little more adventurous than the last few have, he thought grimly.
"Traitors!" The shout managed to cut through the rhythmic chant of the assassinated Corisandian prince's name. "Murderers! Assassins!"
"Get out! Get the hell out — and take your murdering bastard of an 'emperor' with you!"
The volume increased still further, difficult as that was to achieve, and the crowd began to flow forward once again, with more assurance, as if its own bellowed imprecations were burning away any last-minute hesitation.
I could wish General Gahrvai had his own men down here, Waistyn reflected. If this goes as bad as I think it could ...
A group of armsmen in the white and orange colors of the Archbishop's Guard marched steadily down the street towards the cathedral, and the volume of the shouts ratcheted still higher as those same protesters caught sight of the white cassock and the white-cockaded priest's cap with its broad orange ribbon at the heart of the guardsmen's formation.
"Heretic! Traitor!" someone screamed. "Langhorne knows his own — and so does Shan-wei!"
Perfect, Waistyn thought disgustedly. Couldn't've come in the back way, could he now? Don't be daft, Edvard — of course he couldn't! Not today, of all days! He shook his head. Oh, isn't this going to be fun?
* * *
Down at street level, Lieutenant Brahd Tahlas, the youthful commanding officer of Second Platoon, Alpha Company, found himself thinking very much the same thoughts as the veteran sergeant perched above him. In fact, he was thinking them with even more emphasis, given his closer proximity to the steadily swelling mob.
And his greater responsibility for dealing with it.
"I can't say I'm liking this all that much, Sir," Platoon Sergeant Zhak Maigee muttered. The platoon sergeant was half again Tahlas' age, and he'd first enlisted in the Royal Charisian Marines when he was all of fifteen years old. He'd been a lot of places and seen a lot of things since then — or, as he was occasionally wont to put it, "met a lot of interesting people ... and killed 'em!" — and he'd learned his trade thoroughly along the way. That normally made him a reassuring presence, but at the moment his face wore that focused, intent-on-the-business-in-hand expression of an experienced noncom looking at a situation which offered all sorts of possibilities ... none of them good. He'd been careful to keep his voice low enough only Tahlas could possibly have heard him, and the lieutenant shrugged.
"I don't much care for it myself," he admitted in the same quiet voice, more than a little surprised by how steady he'd managed to keep it. "If you have any suggestions about how to magically convince all these idiots to just disappear, I'm certainly open to them, Sergeant."
Despite the situation, Maigee snorted. He rather liked his young lieutenant, and whatever else, the boy had steady nerves. Which probably had something to do with why he'd been selected by Major Portyr for his current assignment.
And Maigee's of course.
"Now, somehow, Sir, I can't seem to come up with a way to do that just this very minute. Let me ponder on it, and I'll get back to you."
"Good. In the meantime, though, keep your eye on that group over there, by the lamppost." Tahlas flicked one hand in an unobtrusive gesture, indicating the small knot of men he had in mind. "I've been watching them. Most of these idiots look like the sort of idlers and riffraff who could have just sort of turned up, but not those fellows."
Maigee considered the cluster of Corisandians Tahlas had singled out and decided the lieutenant had a point. Those men weren't in the crowd's front ranks, but they weren't at the rear, either, and they seemed oddly ... cohesive. As if they were their own little group, not really part of the main crowd. Yet they were watching the men about them intensely, with a sort of focus that was different from anyone else's, and some of those other men were watching them right back. Almost as if they were ... waiting for something. Or anticipating it, maybe.
* * *
The cluster of Church armsmen was closer, now, Waistyn observed, and the quantity of abuse coming from the crowd swelled steadily. It couldn't get a whole lot louder, but it was getting more ... inclusive as shouts and curses with a clear, definitely religious content added themselves to the ongoing chant of Prince Hektor's name.
"All right, lads," the sergeant said calmly to the rest of the squad of scout-snipers on the roof with him. "Check your priming, but no one so much as moves an eyelash without I give the order!"
A quiet chorus of acknowledgment came back to him, and he grunted in approval, but he never took his eyes from the street below him. Despite his injunction, he wasn't concerned by any itchy trigger fingers, really. All of his Marines were veterans, and all of them had been there when Major Portyr made his instructions perfectly — one might almost have said painfully — clear. The last thing anyone wanted was for Charisian Marines to open fire on an "unarmed crowd" of civilians in the streets of Corisande's capital. Well, maybe that was the next to last thing, actually. Waistyn was pretty sure that letting anything unfortunate happen to Archbishop Klairmant would be even less desirable. That, after all, was what Waistyn's squad had been put up here to prevent.
Of course, unless we're ready to start shooting anyone as soon as they get in range of him, it's possible we might just be a tad late when it comes to the "preventing" part, he thought with profound disgust.
* * *
"Blasphemers!" Charlz Dobyns shouted, waving his fist at the oncoming Archbishop's Guard. His voice cracked — it still had an irritating tendency to do that at stressful moments — and his eyes glittered with excitement.
Truth to tell, Charlz didn't really feel all that strongly one way or the other about this "Church of Charis" nonsense. In fact, he hadn't chosen his own war cry — that had been suggested by his older brother's friend, Rahn Aimayl. And he wasn't the only person using it, either. At least a dozen others in the crowd, most of them no older than Charlz himself, had begun shouting the same word, just as they'd rehearsed, the moment someone caught sight of Archbishop Klairmant's approach.
Excerpted from A Mighty Fortress by David Weber. Copyright © 2010 David Weber. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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