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A Mighty Fortress: Chapter Four

       Last updated: Monday, January 25, 2010 20:23 EST



City of Manchyr,
Duchy of Manchyr,
Princedom of Corisande



    The Blood of your slain Prince cries out from the very stones of your City! The boots of the slaves and lackeys of the Monster who shed that Blood march through your streets! The voices of Apostate Priests speak in your Churches! The Defenders of the True Faith are driven into silence and hiding!

    How much longer will you endure these Insults? These Affronts to both God and Man? How much longer . . .

    Paitryk Hainree frowned in concentration as he considered the composing stick and the current line of type. As a silversmith, he was a skilled engraver, but he’d discovered (not to his surprise) that there were very few similarities between engraving and typesetting. For one thing, he still had trouble reading the mirror-imaged letters. There was no problem identifying each letter as he took it from the proper pigeon hole of the job case (although he still had to look to be sure it was the proper pigeon hole), and it was easy enough — ahead of time — to chart out which letters had to go where on the composing stick before they were transferred to the form and bound together. But his brain still persisted in reading each word as he set up the type, and he’d discovered that it tried to trick him into reading the letters in the “correct” order instead of in the reversed order they had to go into for the press.

    Still, it wasn’t an impossible skill to acquire, and if it wasn’t the same as silversmithing, there were similarities. He’d always liked the detail work, the concentration on the little things, working with metals, the fine coordination of hand and eye. The printer’s was a different art, but it was still an art, and he’d found that the part of him which had never expected to become a street agitator treasured the retreat back into an artisan’s role, even if it was only temporary.

    He reached for the next letter, and behind his focus on the task in hand his mind was busy. This broadsheet would be transported from the carefully hidden basement press through a network of dedicated supporters. Copies of it would be tacked up all over the city by tomorrow night. Of course, parties of the City Guard would be busy tearing them down by the following dawn. Not all of those City Guardsmen would agree with their orders in that regard — Hainree was sure of that — but they’d obey them. The “Regency Council” and that traitorous bastard Gahrvai would see to that!

    Hainree discovered his jaw was clenching once more and ordered it to relax. It obeyed . . . after a fashion, and he drew a deep breath. Just thinking about Sir Koryn Gahrvai was enough to send rage pulsing through every vein. Gahrvai’s effortless defeat at the hands of Cayleb Ahrmahk and his army could have been put down to mere feckless incompetence. In his more charitable moments, Hainree would even have been prepared to put at least some of it down to simple bad luck, or to the fact that Shan-wei looked after her own. But Gahrvai’s decision to actually accept command of the traitorous forces prepared to do Ahrmahk’s will here in Corisande had to make a man wonder. Had he truly been simply unlucky, or incompetent, or had there been something more sinister at work? Some quiet little understanding between him and the invaders?

    Had his treason against Corisande and the House of Daykyn begun only after his defeat . . . or before it?

    Most of the time, Hainree was willing to accept that Gahrvai’s present position was a case of opportunism after the fact, not an indication of treason before the fact. And he’d realized, even without Father Aidryan’s gentle hints, that accusing Gahrvai and his father of having plotted with Cayleb ahead of time would be . . . premature, at this point. In the fullness of time, that might change, especially as the debate over exactly whose hand had hired the assassins to strike down Prince Hektor and his eldest son matured. Personally, it seemed obvious to Hainree that those who’d profited the most by the prince’s murder were those most likely to have planned that murder. And, taken all together, he couldn’t think of anyone who’d profited more heavily than the members of the “Regency Council” set up to govern the princedom according to Ahrmahk’s demands. They could call themselves Prince Daivyn’s council all they wanted to, but that didn’t change who they truly answered to . . . or the fact that they’d somehow managed not simply to survive but to come out with even more power than they’d had before.

    Nor did it change the supine surrender of the princedom’s parliament, Hainree thought, scowling down at the composing stick. He supposed it was unreasonable to expect Parliament to defy Ahrmahk’s will, as dutifully expressed through the “Regency Council,” with the Charisian Viceroy General Chermyn and the better part of sixty thousand Charisian Marines occupying Corisande. Chermyn had twenty thousand of those Marines right here in Manchyr, and while he’d made some effort to avoid parading them too blatantly through the streets of the city, everyone knew they were there. As did the members of the House of Lords and the House of Commons. So, no, it wasn’t surprising Parliament had voted to give Ahrmahk everything he asked for.

    On the other hand, there might well be a difference between what they’d voted for and what they really intended to do. By all reports, Parliament would be breaking up shortly, with all of its members returning to their homes, out from under the eye — and the bayonets — of the occupation. It would be interesting to see what happened then. He knew the hard skeleton of organized resistance had already come together here in Manchyr, and his own contact from that skeleton assured him the same thing was happening outside the city. It remained to be fleshed out with sinew and muscle, but those other things would come in time. And not all of them from sources Hainree might have expected. In fact, from a few stray words his contact had let drop, Hainree strongly suspected that the resistance’s leadership had already made discreet contact with several members of Parliament, as well. No doubt they’d planted quite a few equally discreet seeds that would bear fruit in due time.

    In the meanwhile, Paitryk Hainree would concentrate on cultivating and fertilizing his own little plot right here in the capital.



    Hainree was far too intent on his work to have noticed the tiny device perched in one corner of the basement’s ceiling. Even if he hadn’t been distracted by the printing press, it was extremely unlikely he would have seen the thing. It was the next best thing to microscopically small, although even at that, it was larger than some of its still smaller brethren, and if anyone had told him what it was capable of doing, he would have dismissed the claims as something out of a fairy tale.

    Unfortunately for him, he would have been wrong, and later that evening, in the far distant city of Cherayth, an imperial guardsman with a fierce mustache and a neatly trimmed dagger beard leaned back, eyes closed, and rubbed the scar on his cheek with a thoughtful finger as he contemplated the imagery that tiny surveillance platform had transmitted to him.

    I’d really like to pay a visit to Master Hainree, Merlin Athrawes reflected without ever opening his eyes. He and his friends are getting just a little bit better organized than I could wish. On the other hand, we’re building up a pretty detailed organizational chart on them. Of course, it would help if we could tell someone in Corisande that we are, but I suppose you can’t have everything.

    He grimaced sourly at the thought, yet he also knew he was correct. He didn’t like how much of his own — and Owl’s, and Cayleb’s, and Sharleyan’s — time was being consumed by the project, but he’d spread his SNARCs’ remote platforms thickly throughout the Corisandian capital. As each member of the emerging resistance cadre was identified, one of the parasite platforms was assigned to him full time, and these people’s internal organization wasn’t nearly as sophisticated as it could have been. Aidryan Waimyan — and there was someone Merlin really wanted to have a word with — had done his best to instill a cellular organization, at least at the very top. Unfortunately for him, he had to make do with what was available, and at least some of his . . . associates were too direct for that sort of sophistication. They had far more enthusiasm than professional detachment. And, as far as Merlin could tell, very few members of the Earl of Coris’ intelligence services had so far been co-opted by Waimyan.

    Of course, we don’t know how long that’s going to last, now do we? he reminded himself.



    There were times when Merlin was deeply tempted to hop into his recon skimmer, buzz down to Manchyr, and personally eliminate Waimyan. It wouldn’t be particularly difficult. In fact, it would be childishly simple and, under the circumstances, one of the more pleasant chores he could have assigned himself. Unfortunately, unless he was prepared to remain in Corisande full-time and spend his nights doing nothing but eliminating resistance leaders, he’d be rather in the position of King Canute. Worse, he would deprive the resistance of its organized leadership, and he didn’t want that. Far better to leave Waimyan in position for now, however irritatingly competent and industrious he was proving, rather than shatter the resistance’s cohesion. That might change, yet for now it was far more useful to know exactly who its leaders were, exactly where they might be found when the time came, and exactly what sort of plans it was making and what information it was passing to its various satellites. Breaking up the current organization would almost certainly deprive it of its increasing effectiveness, but only at the cost of replacing it with a formless, unorganized movement which would be almost impossible to monitor the way they could monitor the present situation. Not to mention one which would be far more difficult to uproot when the moment to take action against it finally arrived.

    I only wish, he thought, returning his attention to the SNARC’s imagery, that I didn’t expect them to do so much damage in the interim.



    “I know it’s a pain in the arse,” Hauwyl Chermyn growled, standing with his hands clasped behind him while he gazed out his office window at a vista of cloudy rain. “And, truth to tell, what I’d really like to be doing is shooting the bastards the instant they turn up!”

    Brigadier Zhoel Zhanstyn, commanding officer of the Imperial Charisian Marines Third Brigade, looked at his superior’s back with a faint smile. It was mostly a smile of affection, although it might have held just a trace of amusement, and possibly just a little exasperation. If it did, though, that last emotion was directed at the situation, not at Viceroy General Chermyn.

    And if the Old Man needs to vent his spleen at someone, I suppose I’m the logical candidate, Zhanstyn reflected. It’s not like there’s anyone else he can let down his guard with.

    That would probably have been true with just about any senior officer in Chermyn’s unenviable position, the brigadier thought. Combining the roles of occupation force commander and official viceroy for Emperor Cayleb and Empress Sharleyan would have been a stiff enough challenge for almost anyone. Given Chermyn’s distaste for politics, coupled with his previous lifelong success at avoiding anything that even smacked of duty at court, it would have been difficult to find someone who felt less suited to the task.

    Fortunately for the Empire of Charis, it had never occurred to Hauwyl Chermyn to decline his present post. And the reason that was fortunate was that no matter how ill-suited he might have considered himself, he was almost certainly the very best man available for the job. The Viceroy General might not like politics, and he might be unpolished (to say the very least) by courtly standards, but that didn’t mean he didn’t understand politics, and his iron sense of duty and integrity was coupled with a bulldog pugnacity any fool could sense from clear across a room.

    There was no doubt that the noblemen and commoners who’d assembled in Parliament here in Manchyr had sensed it, at any rate, and none of them had been stupid enough to challenge him. Not openly, at any rate. Zhanstyn had no doubt that quite a few conversations in various cloakrooms and private apartments had centered on clandestine ways to evade Chermyn’s determination to enforce the policies Emperor Cayleb had laid out before his own departure for Chisholm. For the moment, though, the viceroy general had his hand firmly around the throat of Corisande’s great lords.

    That had been made easier by the fact that, like the wealthier members of the House of Commons, the great aristocrats had too much to lose. That made them cautious, unwilling to attempt open resistance, especially after Chermyn — in his blunt, unpolished, uncourtly, yet crystal clear style — had made it abundantly clear what he intended to do to any noble who violated his new oath of fealty to the Charisian Crown. The fact that diplomatic circumlocution was so utterly foreign to him had gone a great way towards making certain no one in his audience doubted for a moment that he’d meant every word he said. And that any excuses about oaths to the excommunicated not being binding would leave him remarkably unmoved when he and his siege artillery turned up outside any oathbreaker’s castle walls.

    “But pain in the arse or not,” Chermyn continued now, swinging away from the window to face the brigadier, hands still clasped behind him, “it’s the way it’s got to be. For now, at least.” He grimaced. “Mind you, I’d like nothing better than to get my hands on the damned ringleaders! There’s not much doubt in my mind that most of these poor bastards’re being more or less led around by the nose.” He made a disgusted sound midway between a snort and a snarl. “And I’ve read the damned broadsides, same as you. Somebody’s stirring this pot, and I’ve no doubt His Majesty was right about what it is they’re after. Which is why I’m not going to give it to them.”

    “Yes, Sir,” Zhanstyn acknowledged. Although, truth to tell, it wasn’t exactly as if he’d objected to the viceroy general’s instructions or policy. On the other hand, he was pretty sure Chermyn knew he understood his superior’s “explanation” was more in the nature of a way for Chermyn to let off pressure of his own before it did him a mischief.

    “The last thing we need to offer up to the bastards behind all this are martyrs,” Chermyn growled now, turning his head to look back at the water-streaming panes of glass. “I think most of these people are at least willing to keep their heads down, if the troublemakers’ll just leave them alone. I’m not saying we could keep the lid on the pot forever, but all we really have to do is keep it screwed down until Anvil Rock, Tartarian, and the rest of the Regency Council get their feet on the ground. Build up at least a little legitimacy. That business at the Cathedral the other day” — he turned his head back, his eyes meeting Zhanstyn’s suddenly — “that could’ve turned nasty. Bad enough to lose one of our own, but if that young lad of yours — Lieutenant Tahlas, wasn’t it?” He paused until Zhanstyn nodded, then snorted again. “If the boy had lost control, let his men stack the bodies the way I’ve no doubt they wanted to instead of settling for cracked skulls and a few broken bones, it would’ve given the bastards on the other side exactly what they wanted.”

    “I’ve already commended Lieutenant Tahlas, Sir,” Zhanstyn said, making no effort to hide how pleased he’d been by the viceroy general’s remembering the young man’s name. “And I agree with what you’ve just said. All the same, Sir, if they keep pushing, and especially if we lose more men, we’re going to have to push back. It’s one thing to show restraint; it’s another thing if the other side decides restraint is really weakness.”

    “Agreed.” Chermyn nodded grimly. “That’s one reason I want Gahrvai’s formations stood up as quickly as possible. I’d rather put a Corisandian face on this whole confrontation, drop us back into a support role.” He showed his teeth in a thin smile. “D’you suppose any of these people are going to realize just how much we don’t want to kill any more of them than we can help?”

    “In a perfect world, Sir, I’m sure they would. In the world we’ve got –?”

    The brigadier shrugged, and Chermyn chuckled harshly. Then he squared his shoulders and marched back across to his desk. He settled into the chair behind it and picked up the first of the folders piled on his blotter.

    “Well, as you’ve just suggested, it’s an imperfect world, Brigadier,” he observed. “And that being the case, I suppose it’s time we dealt with some of those imperfect little details. Starting with this request from Brigadier Myls.” He tapped the top sheet of paper and the folder with an index finger. “I think he’s got a point about being spread too thin.”

    “I agree, Sir.” Zhanstyn grimaced. “That’s not to say I like it, but I agree he’s got a problem. And, unfortunately, I can already see where you’re thinking about finding the manpower to solve it for him.”

    “Sharp as a tack, that’s you,” Chermyn said with another, much more cheerful-sounding chuckle. “Now, where do you think I should start robbing you?”

    “Well, Sir, I was thinking that if we took Alpha Company out of the 2/3rd, then took Charlie Company out of the 3/3rd, we’d have a pretty good mix of experience and enthusiasm. Then, if we added –”

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