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By Schism Rent Asunder: Section Seven

       Last updated: Wednesday, November 7, 2007 06:09 EST




Breygart House,
Hanth Town,
Earldom of Hanth

    "Move, damn you! I want this street cleared!"

    Colonel Sir Wahlys Zhorj reined his horse around so angrily that the animal sunfished under him. He reacted — predictably, in Captain Zhaksyn Maiyr's opinion — by pulling the reins even shorter and leaning forward to slap the back of the horse's head.

    Sir Wahlys (only Maiyr wasn't supposed to know that the "Sir" was self-bestowed) snarled and jabbed his index finger in the general direction of the waterfront.

    "I don't give a damn how you do it, Captain, but you get this street cleared all the way to the wharves, and you do it now!"

    "Yes, Sir," Maiyr replied in a stony voice. Zhorj gave him one more fulminating glance, then jerked his head at his small party of aides and went cantering back towards the center of town, leaving Maiyr to his own devices. Which, in a lot of ways, suited Maiyr just fine.

    Of course, in other ways, nothing about this entire bitched-up situation suited Zhaksyn Maiyr at all.

    He turned a glare of his own towards the shouting, smoke, and general hullabaloo of the street Zhorj had ordered him to clear. It was going to be an unmitigated pain in the arse however he went about it, he reflected. And whatever "Sir" Wahlys might think, it wasn't going to make the situation any better.

    He isn't really idiotic enough to think it'll do any good, Maiyr thought angrily. He just doesn't have any better ideas. Which isn't all that surprising, either, I suppose.

    The truth was that Colonel Zhorj was a reasonably competent field commander, with a genuine talent for managing the logistics of a mercenary cavalry company, which happened to include Maiyr's mounted arbalesteers. No one knew exactly where he'd come from originally, but his reputation as someone prepared to ask very few questions of his employer had preceded him. And for the last couple of years, he'd been Tahdayo Mahntayl's senior troop commander here in the Earldom of Hanth.

    And mightily unpopular he's made himself . . . and all the rest of us, Maiyr thought bitterly.

    "All right," he told his troop sergeant, "you heard the Colonel. If you have any bright ideas, this is the time to trot them out."

    "Yes, Sir," the gray-haired sergeant said sourly.  He was a highly experienced man, and his expression was even sourer than his tone as he looked past Maiyr at the defiant riot and shook his head. "As soon as one occurs to me, you'll be the first person I tell."

    "Well, that's remarkably helpful," Maiyr observed dryly.

    "I'm sorry, Sir." The sergeant's voice was a bit chastened, and he shook his head again, in quite a different manner. "I just don't see any way to do it without leaving blood in the street, and I thought we were supposed to be avoiding that."

    "Apparently, the Colonel has just changed our orders in that regard." Maiyr and the noncom exchanged speaking glances, and then the captain shrugged.

    "Well, whether it's a good idea or not, we've got our orders. On the other hand, I'd just as soon not kill anyone if we can help it."

    "Yes, Sir." The sergeant's agreement was obvious, although Maiyr doubted he felt that way for the same reason the captain did. The sergeant simply understood that bloodshed begat bloodshed, and that there was no nastier kind of fight than one against a true general insurrection. Maiyr, on the other hand, was familiar with the House of Ahrmahk's reputation, and he thought giving King Cayleb any more reason to come personally looking for one Zhaksyn Maiyr was an enormously bad idea.

    Besides, it went against the grain to kill people with as many legitimate reasons for hating their local earl as these people had.

    "Most of them aren't that well armed," he thought aloud for the sergeant's benefit. After all, he added to himself, we've spent the last two years confiscating every weapon we could get our hands on. "They're also on foot. So we'll try a show of force, first. I want half of our troopers mounted. They'll take the center of the street and try to push the rabble in front of them. I don't want any casualties we can avoid, so tell them that they're to fire over the rioters' heads unless we're actually taking fire from them. Make sure that's understood."

    "Yes, Sir."

    "I want the other half of our men dismounted. I know they'll bitch about walking to work, but if these people scatter into the alleys and warehouses, we need someone who can follow them — at least long enough to make sure they keep running. Tell them to take their staffs with them. I don't want edged weapons used except in direct self defense."

    "Yes, Sir."

    The "staffs" in question were heavy, three-and-a-half-foot long lengths of seasoned ironwood. They might not be edged, but they were easily capable of breaking bones or crushing skulls. Still, he hoped the rioters would recognize that he and his men were doing their best to avoid general bloodshed.

    Not that there was really much likelihood of that.

    "We'll push straight down the street towards the harbor," he continued. "I want the squad leaders to make sure the buildings on either side of the street are really cleared. I don't expect them to stay that way for long once we've moved on, but let's at least give it our best shot, Sergeant."

    "Yes, Sir. Whatever you say." The sergeant was obviously content to leave the responsibility up to Maiyr. As far as he was concerned, orders didn't have to make sense, as long as there was at least a reasonable chance of carrying out the ones he'd been given.

    "All right, Sergeant," Maiyr sighed. "Let's get them saddled up."



    Tahdayo Mahntayl, who would have been the Earl of Hanth for two years in exactly one more month, stood with Sir Styv Walkyr on one of Breygart House's balconies glaring west towards the smoke and tumult rising between them and the Hanth Town waterfront. The broad waters of Margaret Bay stretched as far as the eye could see beyond the wharves and warehouses. The bay could be as stormy a body of water as anyone was likely to find, Walkyr thought, but today, it was far calmer than Hanth Town.

    "Goddamn them!" Mahntayl snarled. "I'll teach them better this time!"

    Walkyr bit his tongue rather firmly. The "earl" obviously hadn't managed to school his unruly subjects in the last two years. Exactly what made him think he was going to manage it in the next two days escaped Walkyr.

    "Who the hell do they think they are?" Mahntayl went on. "This is all that bastard Cayleb's fault!"

    "Well," Walkyr said as reasonably as he could, "it's hardly a surprise, is it? I mean, you know how it must have stuck in his and his father's craws when the Church rammed the decision in your favor down their throats."

    "What d'you mean, 'the decision in my favor'?" Mahntayl snarled. "I had the better claim!"

    It was even harder for Walkyr to hold his tongue this time around. The truth, as Mahntayl surely knew inside, was that his claim had been as completely and totally specious as Sir Hauwerd Breygart and his supporters had insisted all long. Walkyr had no idea where Mahntayl had gotten hold of the forged correspondence which purported to establish his claim to the earldom, but that it was a forgery was beyond question, whatever the Church had decided after receiving sufficient inducement from Nahrmahn of Emerald and Hektor of Corisande.

    Apparently, Mahntayl had begun to entertain a few delusions upon that head, however. For years, as Walkyr knew perfectly well, all the so-called "Earl of Hanth" had really hoped for was that he'd be a big enough nuisance that Breygart — or possibly Haarahld of Charis — would decide to buy him off just to make him go away. But then, contrary to all expectations, the Church had abruptly and unexpectedly decided in favor of his obviously fraudulent claim, and his horizons had suddenly expanded. Now that he'd had two years in Hanth, he wasn't prepared to give up his purloined title. In fact, he was no longer prepared even to admit that it had been fraudulently obtained in the first place.

    Unfortunately, Walkyr thought dryly, his loving subjects — and Cayleb Ahrmahk — aren't in agreement with him on that minor point. And if Tahdayo still had the sense God gave a slash lizard, he'd already have taken Cayleb's offer and found a fast ship to somewhere else.

    Which is exactly what I ought to be doing, whatever he finally chooses.

    "I only meant to say," he said now, mildly, wondering what crossgrained, quixotic instinct kept him here in Hanth still trying to save Mahntayl's hide, "that Haarahld and Cayleb took the decision against Breygart personally. We both knew that at the time, Tahdayo." He shrugged. "Obviously, now that he's come to the point of open conflict with the Church, he doesn't see any reason to pussyfoot around where a situation in his own backyard is concerned. And with Emerald and Corisande's navies mostly either at the bottom of the sea or anchored off Tellesberg as prizes, there's no one who's going to be able to stop him.

    "So, after coming this far, I should just cut and run with my tail between my legs?" Mahntayl demanded harshly.

    "I prefer to think of it as salvaging what you can now that the luck's turned against you. If there's any way you could stand off Cayleb's entire navy — and his Marines — I don't know what it is."

    "Bishop Mylz swears the Church will protect us."

    From his expression, even Mahntayl must have recognized how lame his own tone sounded, Walkyr thought. Bishop Mylz Halcom was one of only four of the Archbishopric of Charis' bishops who had refused the summons to Tellesberg to endorse Maikel Staynair's elevation. His diocese included Hanth and most of the other earldoms and baronies along the eastern shore of Margaret Bay. Clearly, he had hopes of establishing some sort of citadel for what he insisted on referring to as the "true Church" here in Margaret's Land until the Council of Vicars could somehow come to his aid.

    Which only means he's as delusional as Tahdayo. Maybe even more so.

    "I'm sure Bishop Mylz means what he says," he said aloud. After all, one couldn't exactly call a bishop of Mother Church a frigging lunatic even if — or perhaps especially if — he was one." But whatever his intentions and hopes may be, I'm not sure he fully understands the gravity of the situation, Tahdayo."

    "So you think Cayleb can successfully defy even God Himself, do you?"

    "I didn't say that," Walkyr replied patiently. "What I said was that the situation is grave, and it is. Does Bishop Mylz have an army tucked away somewhere? Does he have the troops and warships to support us against the Royal Charisian Navy and the entire Kingdom? Because, if he doesn't, then in the short term, yes — Cayleb can defy God's Church."

    Which isn't quite the same thing as defying "God Himself," is it?

    "I'm not going to run like a whipped cur! I'm the Earl of Hanth! If I have to, I can still die like an earl!" Mahntayl snarled, then turned and stormed off the balcony back into Breygart House.

    Walkyr watched him go, then turned back to the smoke rising from the warehouse district. All reports indicated that Mahntayl's dwindling cadre of loyalists had already lost control of Mountain Keep and Kiarys, two of the three major towns outside the earldom's capital of Hanth Town, itself. And the reports from Zhorjtown suggested that the situation wasn't much better there. Worse, both Mountain Keep and Kiarys backed up against the Hanth Mountains, and Mountain Keep controlled the Hanth end of the one really practicable pass from the Earldom of Lochair, on Howell Bay. Which meant the best overland escape route had already been closed . . . not to mention the fact that it gave Cayleb control of yet another potential invasion route.

    I don't care what Bishop Mylz and the other Temple Loyalists may think, Styv Walkyr thought grimly. However things work out in the end, Cayleb's defiance of the Church is already an established fact here in Charis. And, frankly, the way Tahdayo's spent the last two years squeezing the people of "his" earldom, they'd be ready to sign on with Shan-wei herself if it meant getting his arse kicked out of Breygart House!

    Walkyr had no idea how the tempest sweeping across Safehold would finally end — or, for that matter, if it ever would end. But of one thing he was absolutely certain. Whatever finally happened, Tahdayo Mahntayl would not be the Earl of Hanth when it was over.

    And Tahdayo knows that, somewhere inside, whether he's willing to admit it or not.

    The smoke seemed to be thicker, he observed. And he heard more than a few gunshots. Obviously, Colonel Zhorj's troopers had missed at least a few matchlocks, which had apparently come out of hiding. It wouldn't be enough to take Hanth Town away from the present management — not today, at least. But the time limit Cayleb had given Mahntayl was running out fast. In fact, it had only two five-days to go.

    Whether Tahdayo accepts it in the end or not, I'm not going to be here when his time runs out. Cayleb's obviously willing to let him run rather than risk higher casualties — especially civilians ones — here in Hanth if he decides to fight. But if Tahdayo doesn't accept the offer, Cayleb will come in here and kick his arse out of Breygart House. And in the process, he'll undoubtedly make him a head shorter. Which is probably the same thing that will happen to me, if I hang around.

    He shook thehead which was still (for the moment, at least) attached to his neck and wondered why in the world he was even hesitating. It wasn't as if he'd ever seen Tahdayo as anything more than a way to make a few marks, himself. Still, he'd been with Tahdayo for almost seven years now. Obviously, that meant more to him than he'd previously suspected.

    Which is remarkably stupid of me.

    Well, he still had at least one fivre-day in hand to work on restoring "the Earl of Hanth's" sanity. And he'd had the forethought to send quite a bit of his own share of the loot he and Mahntayl had squeezed out of Hanth to bankers in the Desnarian Empire. If he had to run without Mahntayl, he had a sufficient nest egg to keep him in comfort for the remainder of his life. Which would be a considerably longer life if he departed in time.

    Maybe I can convince him the Church really will restore him — eventually — to "his" earldom. For that matter, Walkyr's eyes narrowed, he probably really would be of considerable value to the Church as the pretender to — no, not the pretender to, the "legitimate Earl of" — Hanth. Especially if the reason he was driven out had nothing to do with the fact that his loving subjects hate his guts and had everything to do with his persecution for his steadfast loyalty to Mother Church.

    Walkyr's lips pursed thoughtfully. That really was an excellent notion, he thought. And the possibility of Mahntayl's still being recognized as the Earl of Hanth (by someone, at least) and probably being supported as befitted his title might well be enough to let Walkyr convince the man it was time to go.

    And if the Church does decide to support his claim, I can probably make the Group of Four see that it would be worth their while to keep someone who can manage him riding herd on him. For a price, of course.

    Walkyr's eyes brightened at the prospect, and he scratched his chin thoughtfully, still gazing at the smoke and listening to the gunshots, while he considered the best way to present his argument to the "earl."

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