Off Armageddon Reef (Safehold Series #1)

Off Armageddon Reef (Safehold Series #1)

by David Weber

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Humanity pushed its way to the stars - and encountered the Gbaba, a ruthless alien race that nearly wiped us out.

Earth and her colonies are now smoldering ruins, and the few survivors have fled to distant, Earth-like Safehold, to try to rebuild. But the Gbaba can detect the emissions of an industrial civilization, so the human rulers of Safehold have taken extraordinary measures: with mind control and hidden high technology, they've built a religion in which every Safeholdian believes, a religion designed to keep Safehold society medieval forever.

800 years pass. In a hidden chamber on Safehold, an android from the far human past awakens. This "rebirth" was set in motion centuries before, by a faction that opposed shackling humanity with a concocted religion. Via automated recordings, "Nimue" - or, rather, the android with the memories of Lieutenant Commander Nimue Alban - is told her fate: she will emerge into Safeholdian society, suitably disguised, and begin the process of provoking the technological progress which the Church of God Awaiting has worked for centuries to prevent.

Nothing about this will be easy. To better deal with a medieval society, "Nimue" takes a new gender and a new name, "Merlin." His formidable powers and access to caches of hidden high technology will need to be carefully concealed. And he'll need to find a base of operations, a Safeholdian country that's just a little more freewheeling, a little less orthodox, a little more open to the new.

And thus Merlin comes to Charis, a mid-sized kingdom with a talent for naval warfare. He plans to make the acquaintance of King Haarahld and Crown Prince Cayleb, and maybe, just maybe, kick off a new era of invention. Which is bound to draw the attention of the Church...and, inevitably, lead to war.

It's going to be a long, long process. And David Weber's epic Off Armageddon Reef is can't-miss sci-fi.

Safehold Series

1. Off Armageddon Reef

2. By Schism Rent Asunder

3. By Heresies Distressed

4. A Mighty Fortress

5. How Firm A Foundation

6. Midst Toil and Tribulation

7. Like A Mighty Army

8. Hell's Foundations Quiver

9. At the Sign of Triumph

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780765353979
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 01/02/2008
Series: Safehold Series , #1
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 800
Sales rank: 167,594
Product dimensions: 4.21(w) x 6.81(h) x 1.22(d)

About the Author

David Weber is a science fiction phenomenon and the author of the Safehold series, including By Schism Rent Asunder, By Heresies Distressed and A Mighty Fortress. His popular Honor Harrington and 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. His other top-selling science fiction novels include Out of the Dark, the Dahak books and the Multiverse books, written with Linda Evans. He has also created an epic SF adventure series in collaboration with John Ringo, including We Few. His novels have regularly been Main Selections of the Science Fiction Book Club. Weber has a bachelor's degree from Warren Wilson College, and attended graduate school in history at Appalachian State University. He lives in South Carolina.

Read an Excerpt


By David Weber


The Terran Federation Navy fought desperately for over forty years, but the ruthless species known as the Gbaba slaughtered the human race's extra-Solar colonies one by one. Now the end had finally come; Earth herself lay under siege by an enemy humankind could not defeat.

And so mankind undertook one last throw of the dice: Operation Ark. Earth’s final colonizing expedition was meant to build a new civilization, on a planet so distant even the Gbaba might never find it, and without the high-tech infrastructure whose emissions might betray its location. To protect and conceal that expedition, the Navy’s final fleet was prepared to die to the last ship. Lieutenant Commander Nimue Alban volunteered to serve on the flagship of that fleet, knowing that she and everyone else aboard it would die…which was exactly what happened.

So she was a little surprised to wake up in a cave on a planet called Safehold. She was even more surprised to discover that she'd been dead for eight centuries…and that the fanatic administrators of Operation Ark had used mind control techniques to create a false, brutally suppressive religion in which every single Safeholdian believed. One whose entire purpose was to forbid invention and innovation forever.

Everyone on Safehold knows the Church is the consecrated custodian of God's will. Everyone knows forbidden technology is the work of the Devil. And everyone knows that anyone who dabbles in the forbidden must be destroyed, lest everyone's soul be lost forever to damnation.

But a tiny fraction within Operation Ark's leadership remembered the truth and believed in human dignity and freedom. They've left Nimue Alban to oppose that monstrous creation, and they've given her a carefully hidden cache of technology and the capabilities of the android body in which her memories, loves, hopes, and dreams live on. It's her job to somehow provoke the that human progress which the Church of God Awaiting has worked centuries to crush.

Now, in a new guise—that of the apparently male “Merlin”--Nimue comes to Charis, a mid-sized kingdom with a talent for naval warfare, to make the acquaintance of King Haarahld and Crown Prince Cayleb, and maybe, just maybe, kick off a new era of invention. In this excerpt, Merlin, having managed to save Cayleb from an attempted assassination, speaks with King Haarahld for the first time…


Royal Palace, Telesberg,

Kingdom of Charis

"Seijin Merlin, Your Majesty," the chamberlain said quietly as he stepped through the open doorway and bowed. Merlin followed him into the small presence chamber -- more of a working office, really, it seemed -- and bowed a bit more profoundly than the chamberlain. King Haarahld's court was looked down upon by the courtiers of such sophisticated lands as Harchong because of its casual informality and ability to get along without a veritable horde of servitors. Still, Haarahld was a king, and one of the more powerful ones on the face of Safehold, whatever others might think.

"Seijin," Haarahld said, and Merlin looked up.

He saw a man of middle years, stocky, for a Charisian, and taller than most, although shorter than his son and considerably shorter than Merlin. Haarahld wore the traditional loose-cut breeches and thigh-length linen over-tunic of the Charisian upperclass, although his tunic was bright with bullion embroidery and bead work. The belt about his waist was made of intricately decorated, seashell-shaped plaques of hammered silver, the golden scepter badge of one who'd made his required pilgrimage to the Temple gleamed on his shoulder brooch, and the glittering fire of the emerald-set golden chain which was his normal badge of office glowed upon his chest. He had a neatly trimmed beard, somewhat more luxuriant than Merlin's own, and the slight epicanthic fold common to most of Safehold's humanity.

Haarahld VII was fifty-two local years old, just over forty-seven standard, and he'd sat on his throne for just over twenty local years. In that time, he'd come to be known -- by his own subjects, at least -- as "Haarahld the Just," and his level eyes considered Merlin thoughtfully. He was putting on a bit of extra flesh these days, Merlin noticed. Judging from his chest and shoulders, he'd been a man of heroic physique in his youth, but maintaining that sort of fitness, especially at his age, must have been the next best thing to impossible given his immobile right knee. His leg stretched out straight in front of him, his heel resting on a footrest, as he sat in a comfortable but not particularly splendid armchair behind a desk cluttered with documents and slates.

One other person was present. A bishop of the Church of God Awaiting with silvering dark hair and a splendid patriarchal beard, stood at the king's right shoulder. His three-cornered cap bore the white cockade of a senior bishop, but lacked the ribbon of an archbishop. His eyes were bright as they considered Merlin, and his white cassock bore the oil lamp emblem of the Order of Bédard.

The sight of that lamp set Merlin's teeth instantly on edge, but he made himself suppress the instinctive reaction firmly. Much as he hated to admit it, the order which bore Adorée Bédard's name had changed over the years into something far different from anything its ostensible patron would have wanted to see. Besides, he'd "seen" this bishop often enough through his SNARCs to strongly suspect what impelled Haarahld to trust him so totally.

"Your Majesty," he murmured in reply to the king's greeting after only the briefest of pauses. "You do me honor to receive me privately."

"Perhaps," Haarahld said, studying his visitor intently. "Some might feel I've slighted you by not greeting you and thanking you for my son's life in a more public audience."

"But at that more public audience, Your Majesty, I would undoubtedly have been uncomfortably aware of all of the spanned crossbows watching me so alertly. Here," Merlin smiled charmingly, "I need worry only about the two bodyguards behind that screen."

He nodded towards the exquisitely detailed lacquered Harchongese screen behind the king, and Haarahld's eyes narrowed. The bishop's, however, only considered Merlin with a sort of calm curiosity.

Interesting, Merlin thought, but his attention was mainly focused on the king, waiting for his reaction. Which came after a heartbeat in a single word.

"Indeed?" Haarahld said, and Merlin smiled again.

"This is Thursday, Your Majesty. Assuming you've stuck to your regular duty schedule, it should be Sergeant Haarpar and Sergeant Gahrdaner."

The chamberlain stepped quickly to one side, right hand falling to the dagger sheathed at his hip, the bishop touched the golden scepter of Langhorne hanging upon his breast, and even Haarahld sat up straighter in his chair. But the king also raised one hand, and shook his head sharply at the chamberlain.

"No, Pawal," he said. "After all, our guest is a seijin, is he not?"

"Or something else, Sire," the chamberlain said darkly. He glowered at Merlin with eyes full of suspicion, and his hand left his dagger hilt only reluctantly.

"Your Majesty," Merlin said, "my weapons have all been left in my chamber. Your guardsmen were extremely courteous, but they also searched me very carefully before permitting me into your presence. Surely, one unarmed man is no threat to a monarch whose servants are as loyal to him as yours are to you."

"Somehow, Seijin Merlin, I doubt a man such as you is ever unarmed, as long as he has his brain," Haarahld said with a slow, appreciative smile of his own.

"One tries, Your Majesty," Merlin conceded.

The bishop's lips twitched in what might almost have been a stillborn smile, and Haarahld leaned back in his chair once more, considering the blue-eyed stranger even more thoughtfully than before. Then he nodded and looked at the chamberlain.

"Pawal, I believe we might offer Seijin Merlin a chair."

Pawal Hahlmahn looked moderately outraged, but he also carried a straight-backed but upholstered chair from the corner of the room and set it down facing Haarahld's desk.

"Please, Seijin," Haarahld invited. "Be seated."

"Thank you, Your Majesty."

Merlin settled into the chair and cocked his head, his eyebrows raised.

"Yes, Seijin," Haarahld said with a suspiciously grin-like smile, "the interrogation will now begin."

"I'm at your service, Your Majesty." Merlin inclined his head again, politely, and Haarahld chuckled.

"I find that difficult to believe, Seijin," he said. "Somehow, I have the distinct impression that it's more a case of Charis finding herself at your service."

Merlin smiled, but behind that smile he winced. Haarahld VII, in person, was even more impressive than he'd been observed from afar via SNARC.

"Before we begin," Haarahld said more seriously, "allow me to extend my personal thanks for your intervention on Cayleb's behalf. Without you, he would be dead, and for that I and my house stand in your debt. How may I reward you?"

"Your Majesty," Merlin said with matching seriousness, "while I'm sure some token of your gratitude is in order, it might be as well to draw as little attention to me as possible."

"And why might that be?" Haarahld asked.

"Because I'll be far more useful to Charis if my presence here doesn't become general knowledge."

"And why should you care to be of use to me?"

"Your pardon, Your Majesty," Merlin said almost gently, "but I didn't say of use to you. I said of use to Charis. The two are closely related, but not, I fear, identical."

"The King is the Kingdom!" Hahlmahn snapped, then flushed darkly as he realized he'd spoken out of turn. But despite the flush, there was no hiding the fresh anger in his eyes.

"No, My Lord Chamberlain," Merlin disagreed. "The King is the heart and soul of the Kingdom, but he is not the Kingdom itself. Were that true, then the Kingdom would perish with his death."

"The Church teaches that King and Crown are one," the bishop observed, speaking for the first time, and his voice and expression were both carefully neutral.

"And I don't dispute that point with the Church, Bishop Maikel," Merlin said, and the priest's head cocked to one side as the stranger named him correctly. "I simply observe that the King who is the heart of the Kingdom isn't merely a single individual, but all individuals who hold that office and discharge those duties in the name of the Kingdom. And so, while the King and the Kingdom are one, the mortal man who holds that office is but one man in an endless chain of men who hold their crowns in trust for those they are charged to guard and protect."

Haarahld glanced up at Bishop Maikel, then returned his attention to Merlin and gazed at him without speaking for the better part of a full minute. Finally, he nodded slowly.

"A valid distinction," he said. "Not one all monarchs would agree with, but one I can't dispute."

"And the fact that you can't, Your Majesty, is the reason I'm here," Merlin said simply. "While all kings may be ordained by God, all too few prove worthy of their coronation oaths. When one sees the visions which I've been given to see, that fact becomes sadly evident."

"Ah, yes, those 'visions' of yours." Haarahld pursed his lips, then chuckled and raised his voice slightly. "Charlz, you and Gorj may as well come out and join us."

A moment later, the lacquered screen shifted to one side, and two Royal Guard sergeants stepped out from behind it. Both wore black cuirasses, the breastplates emblazoned with the golden kraken of Charis,. They also carried spanned, steel-bowed arbalests, and they regarded Merlin warily as they took their places at their king's back.

"I must admit," Haarahld said, "that I found your performance rather impressive, Seijin Merlin. As, no doubt, you intended I should. Of course, it's always possible sufficiently good spies could have provided you with that information. On the other hand, if my personal household is that riddled with spies, my house is already doomed. So, since you obviously want me to ask the question, I will. How did you know?"

Despite his whimsical tone, his brown eyes sharpened and he leaned slightly forward in his chair.

"Your Majesty," Merlin replied, "these three men --" he waved one hand, taking in the two Guardsmen and the chamberlain " -- are, I believe, loyal unto death to you, your son, and your house. I trust them as fully as I trust you, yourself. And Bishop Maikel has been your confessor for -- what? Fifteen years now? But while what I'm about to tell you may prove difficult to believe, I hope to be able to offer you proof I speak the truth. And I believe that if I can prove that to you, you'll understand why it must be kept as secret as possible for as long as possible."

He paused, and the king nodded without even glancing at his retainers. The three of them continued to regard Merlin with wary eyes, but Merlin saw how their shoulders straightened and their expressions firmed at the king's obvious confidence in their trustworthiness. Bishop Maikel simply moved a half-step closer to Haarahld's chair and rested one large, powerful hand lightly on its back.

"As I'm sure Prince Cayleb and Lieutenant Falkhan have already told you, Your Majesty," he began, "I've lived for many years in the Mountains of Light, and in the process I've developed some, though far from all, of the reputed powers of the seijin. It isn't a title I would lightly claim for myself, yet it may be that it fits.

"At any rate, it's been given to me to see visions of distant places and events, to hear the voices of distant people. It's as if an invisible bird perched on the wall there," he pointed at a spot on the plastered wall not far from an open window, "or on the branch of a tree, and I saw through its eyes, heard through its ears. I've never seen the future, and I can't call up the past. I see only the present, and no man can see all that transpires everywhere in the entire world. But the things which I have seen have focused more and more tightly upon Charis, upon your house, and upon Cayleb. I don't believe that would happen by accident."

Haarahld's eyes seemed to bore into Merlin's. The King of Charis had a reputation for being able to pull the truth out of any man, but Merlin gazed back levelly. After all, everything he'd said was completely truthful. If eight standard centuries at the same address didn't count as "living for many years" in the Mountains of Light, he couldn't imagine what would. And his "visions" had focused more and more upon Charis, and definitely not by accident.

"What sorts of visions?" Haarahld asked after a long, still moment. "Of whom?"

"As I've said, I see and hear as if I were physically present. I can't read a page, if it isn't turned; I can't hear a thought, if it isn't spoken. I can't know what passes in the secret places of someone's heart, only what they say and do.

"I've seen visions of you, Your Majesty. I've seen you in this chamber with your personal guards, seen you with Chamberlain Hahlmahn. I've seen you discussing the Hanth succession with Cayleb and matters of policy with Earl Gray Harbor. I saw and heard you discussing the new patrols off Triton Head with High Admiral Lock Island when you instructed him to reinforce Falcon and Warrior with Rock Shoal Bay and her entire squadron."

Haarahld had been nodding slowly, but he froze abruptly at the mention of Lock Island. Not surprisingly, Merlin thought, given that he and the high admiral had discussed those reinforcements -- and the reasons for them -- under conditions of maximum security. None of their precautions, however, had been directed at a SNARC which could deploy reusable parasite spy bugs.

"I've seen visions of Cayleb," Merlin continued. "Not just in conversation with you, but riding to the hunt, with his arms master, even at his books." Merlin smiled slightly and shook his head at that. "And I've seen him sitting in council with you, and on shipboard.

"And just as I've seen those visions, I've seen your people. I told Cayleb that what I've seen gives me a good opinion of you, Your Majesty, and it does. In all honesty, and without seeking to curry favor with you, I haven't been given a vision of any other king of Safehold who comes as close as you do to the ideal the Church proclaims. You aren't perfect. Indeed, if you'll forgive me, you're far from it. But you also know you aren't, and, perhaps even more importantly, you've taught your heir to know the same thing. Those qualities, that sense of responsibility, are too rare and precious for me to see them lightly cast aside. I believe the reason I've seen what I've seen has been to bring me here to offer my services, such as they are, to the preservation of this kingdom and the tradition of service its monarchs strive to uphold."

"The praise of the praiseworthy is especially welcome," Haarahld said, after another long, thoughtful pause. "I trust you'll forgive me, however, for pointing out that praise and flattery sometimes blur."

"Especially when the one offering them desires something," Merlin agreed. "And, to be honest, Your Majesty, I do desire something." Haarahld's eyes narrowed, and Merlin smiled. "I desire to see Charis become all she may become," he said.

"All she may become," Haarahld repeated. "Why Charis? Even if everything you've said about my myriad good qualities were accurate, why pick this kingdom? It can't be because of any sense of loyalty to my house, since the one thing you obviously aren't is a Charisian. So, if you'll forgive me, Seijin Merlin, it must be because of something you want out of Charis. Some goal or objective of your own. And while I'm deeply grateful for your part in saving my son's life, and although only a fool could fail to recognize the value of an adviser who sees what you appear to see, no king worthy of his crown could accept such services without knowing that what you want is also what he wants."

Merlin leaned back in his own chair, gazing thoughtfully at the Charisian monarch, then nodded mentally. Haarahld VII was just as tough-minded as Merlin had expected, but there was a hard core of honesty, close to the king's surface. This was a man who could play the game of deception, of bluff and counter bluff, with the best of them, but it wasn't the game he preferred.

Of course, it remained to be seen if Bishop Maikel was equally tough-minded and resilient. Normally, Merlin wouldn't have been very optimistic about that where a bishop of the Church of God Awaiting was concerned, but Maikel was hardly typical of the breed.

For one thing, the king's confessor was a Charisian. So far as Merlin had been able to determine, he'd never left the kingdom in his entire life, except to make his own pilgrimage to the Temple, and he was the highest ranking native Charisian in the entire archbishopric's hierarchy. Haarahld's choice, ten years before, of Maikel Staynair to be Bishop of Tellesberg, as well as his confessor had, not been popular with Archbishop Erayk's predecessor. But Haarahld had clung stubbornly to his prerogative to nominate the priest of his choice to the capital's see, and over the years, Maikel had become a member of the king's inner circle of advisers.

Which could be a good thing . . . or a very bad thing, indeed.

"Your Majesty," Merlin said finally, "why did your great-grandfather abolish serfdom here in Charis?"

Haarahld frowned, as if surprised by the question. Then he shrugged.

"Because it's what he believed God wanted of us," he said.

"But serfdom exists in Emerald," Merlin pointed out, "and in Tarot, Corisande, and Chisholm. In Harchong, the lot of a serf is little better than that of a beast of the field. Indeed, they treat their draft animals better than they do their serfs, because those animals are more expensive, and in Desnair and Trellheim, they practice outright slavery. Even in the Temple Lands," he looked up from the king's face to meet Bishop Maikel's eyes with just a hint of challenge, "men are bound to the land of the great church estates, although they aren't called serfs. Yet not here. Why not? You say it's not what God wants of you, but why do you believe that?"

"The Writ teaches that God created every Adam and every Eve in the same instant, the same exercise of His will through the Archangel Langhorne," Haarahld said. "He didn't create kings first, or nobles, or wealthy merchants. He breathed the breath of life into the nostrils of all men and all women. Surely that means all men and all women are brothers and sisters. We may not be born to the same states, in this later, less perfect world. Some of us are born kings now, and some are born noble, or to wealth, or all three. Yet those born more humbly are still our brothers and sisters. If God sees men that way, then so must we, and if that's true, then men aren't cattle, or sheep, or horses, or dragons. Not something to be owned."

He half-glared at Merlin, and Merlin shrugged.

"And would you agree with that, Bishop Maikel?" he asked quietly.

"I would."

The priest's voice was deep and powerful, well-suited to preaching and prayer, and there was a glitter in his eyes. They weren't quite as hard as Haarahld's, but there was no retreat in them, either, and Merlin nodded slowly. Then he looked back at the king.

"Other rulers would appear to disagree with you, Your Majesty," he observed. "Even the Church feels differently, to judge by her own practices in her own lands, at any rate. But you do believe it. And that, Your Majesty, is my goal, my objective. I believe the same thing you do, and I see no other powerful kingdom which does. I respect you, and in many ways, I admire you. But my true loyalty?" He shrugged once more. "That belongs not to you, or to Cayleb, but to the future. I will use you, if I can, Your Majesty. Use you to create the day in which no man owns another, no man thinks men born less nobly then he are cattle or sheep."

Hahlmahn glared angrily at him, but Haarahld only nodded slowly, his expression thoughtful.

"And that's the true reason I want Charis not simply to survive, but to prosper," Merlin said. "Not because I love empire, and not because I crave wealth, or because I confuse military might with the true strength of a kingdom. But while it may not be given to me to see the future, I know what future I would like to see. I know what values, what laws, what sort of monarchy, I believe God wants called forth. And at this time, Your Majesty, Charis offers the best hope for the future I would like to see to ever come to pass. Which is why I said from the very beginning that I came not to serve you, specifically, but to serve Charis. The idea of Charis, of her future."

Haarahld drummed lightly on one arm of his chair with the fingers of his right hand, then glanced up at Bishop Maikel.

"Maikel?" he said quietly.

"Sire," the bishop said without hesitation, "I can quarrel with nothing this man has said. I know your hopes, your aspirations. And I know what it is you most fear." His fingers stroked his pectoral scepter again, apparently unconsciously, and his nostrils flared. "If I might, Sire?"

Haarahld the nodded, and the bishop looked back at Merlin.

"I've never met an actual seijin," he said. "Once in my life I met a man who claimed to be a seijin, but what he was in reality was a charlatan."

"Your Eminence," Merlin said when the bishop paused, "I haven't claimed to be a seijin; I've claimed only that I have some of the powers ascribed to seijin."

"I observed that," Maikel said with a small smile. "Indeed, while I would never claim to be the equal of my esteemed colleagues in the Temple as a theologian, I've engaged in my share of theological debate. And, perhaps as a consequence of that, I was struck by several things you didn't say."

"You were?" Merlin's politely attentive expression never wavered, but internal alarms began to sound as the bishop gazed at him levelly for several seconds.

"According to many of the tales I read when I was younger," Maikel said finally, "a true seijin frequently is known only after the fact, by the nature of his deeds. Others may give him the title; he seldom claims it for himself. The nature of these 'visions' of yours, however, will strike many as ample evidence that whatever else you may be, you are not as other mortal men. So perhaps we can all agree 'seijin' is the word best suited -- for now, at least -- to describing whatever it is you are.

"But having agreed to that, what are we to make of you and your purposes? That, I'm sure you will agree, is the critical question. And my answer to it is that the Writ teaches that the true nature of any man will be shown forth in his actions. It matters not whether that man is a king, a merchant, a seijin, or a peasant; in the end, he cannot conceal what he truly is, what he truly stands for. So far, you've saved Cayleb's life. Whether or not God sent you to us for that specific purpose, I don't know. But, in my judgment, it was not the act of one who would serve darkness."

The bishop looked at his monarch and bent his head in a curiously formal little bow.

"Your Majesty," he said, "I sense no evil in this man. I may be wrong, of course -- unlike the Grand Vicar or the Chancellor, I'm merely a humble, unlettered, provincial bishop. But my advice to you is to listen to him. I know the darkness which is settling about us. Perhaps this man and the services he offers are the lamp --" he touched the embroidered sigil of his order on the breast of his habit "-- you require."

Had Merlin been a being of flesh and blood, he would have let out a long, quiet exhalation of relief. But he wasn't. And so he simply sat, waiting, while Haarahld looked deeply into his confessor's eyes. Then the king returned his attention to Merlin once again.

"And how would you serve Charis?" he asked intently.

"With my visions, as they're given to me. With my sword, as I must. And with my mind, as I may," Merlin said simply. "For example, I'm certain you've interrogated the one assassin we managed to take alive."

"That you managed to take alive," Haarahld corrected, and Merlin shrugged.

"Perhaps, Your Majesty. But while I've had no vision of his interrogation -- as I say, I see much, but not all -- I do know who sent him."

Hahlmahn and the two Guardsmen leaned slightly forward, eyes intent. Bishop Maikel's bearded lips pursed thoughtfully, and Merlin's smile was cold.

"I know it must have been tempting to lay the blame on Hektor of Corisande," he said, "but in this case, it would be an error. The men who attempted to kill Prince Cayleb were mercenaries, Desnairians hired by Prince Nahrmahn and . . . certain others, but Prince Hektor wasn't even consulted, so far as I'm aware.

"Which isn't to say he isn't involved in plots of his own. Indeed, his objection to your assassination, Your Majesty, or Cayleb's, is purely tactical, not a matter of any sort of personal qualm. From what he's said to his own closest advisers and servants and what I've read of his letters to Nahrmahn, he simply believes assassins are unlikely to succeed. And, I think, fears how your Kingdom might react if an attempt did succeed. He has no desire to meet you ship-to-ship at this time, not yet, and he believes that if Cayleb were killed and you believed Corisande was behind it, that's precisely what he would face. Which is why he prefers to undermine your strength at sea in order to weaken you for a decisive blow by more conventional means. You once called him a sand maggot, not a slash lizard, when you and Cayleb discussed him, and I believe it was an apt description. But in this case, the sand maggot is thinking in more . . . conventional terms than his allies."

Haarahld's eyes had grown more and more intent as he listened to Merlin. Now he sat back in his chair, his expression one of wonder.

"Seijin Merlin," he said, "when I summoned you to this audience, I didn't honestly expect to believe you. I wanted to, which is one reason I was determined not to. But the finest spies in the world couldn't have told you all you've just told me, and every word you've said has been accurate, so far as my own sources are able to confirm. I know someone who's said what you've said here today will understand that despite all of that, your sincerity and trustworthiness must be tested and proved. For myself, as an individual -- as Haarahld Ahrmahk -- I would trust you now. As King Haarahld of Charis, I can give no man the trust I must give you if I accept the services you offer until he be proven beyond question or doubt."

"Your Majesty," Merlin said quietly, "you're a king. It's your duty to remember men lie. That they deceive, and that often revealing a little truth makes the final deception all the more convincing. I don't expect you to accept my services, or even the truth of my visions, without testing thoroughly. And as you test, I beg you to remember this. I've said my service is to Charis and what Charis may become, not to you personally, and I meant it. I'll give you all the truth that lies in me, and the best council I may, but in the end, my service, my loyalty, is to a future which lies beyond your life, beyond the lifespan of this person you call Merlin, and beyond even the lifespan of your son. I would have you understand that."

"Seijin Merlin, I do." Haarahld looked deep into those unearthly sapphire eyes, and his voice was soft. "It's said the seijin serve the vision of God, not of man. That any man who accepts the advice of a seijin had best remember the vision of God need not include his own success, or even survival. But one of the duties of a king is to die for his people, if God requires it of him. Whatever God's vision for Charis may demand, I will pay, and if you are a true seijin, if you truly serve His vision, that's more than sufficient for me, whatever my own future may hold."

Copyright © 2007 by David Weber. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents


May, Year of God 890,
August, Year of God 890,
September, Year of God 890,
October, Year of God 890,
November, Year of God 890,
February, Year of God 891,
April, Year of God 891,
June, Year of God 891,
July, Year of God 891,
August, Year of God 891,
September, Year of God 891,
October, Year of God 891,
November, Year of God 891,
February, Year of God 892,
March, Year of God 892,
April, Year of God 892,
A Note on Safeholdian Timekeeping,
Tor Books by David Weber,

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