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By Schism Rent Asunder: Section Thirty Five

       Last updated: Friday, May 2, 2008 22:46 EDT



City of Manchyr,
Princedom of Corisande

    The afternoon sunlight was not quite unpleasantly warm on Hektor Daykyn's shoulders. The jingle and squeak of armor, weapons harnesses, and saddle leather surrounded him along with his guardsmen, and his mind was busy as he rode through the streets of Manchyr.

    The day had started out better than he'd expected. The army's field maneuvers this morning had gone well, and he'd been pleased by the apparent cheerfulness of the troops. Of course, none of them were going to stand around looking despondent where he could see them, but there was a difference between men who were simply obeying orders, and men whose hearts were in their work.

    Hektor rather doubted that his soldiers — most of whom, after all, were fairly bluff, unimaginative sorts — suspected how much they and their maneuvers had done to enhearten their prince. Or, for that matter, quite how much he needed enheartening these days. It was hard to work up much in the way of exuberance when he contemplated the sledgehammer Cayleb Ahrmahk must be busily assembling to drop on his princedom. The fact that it hadn't landed yet was at least some comfort, however, and suggested he might have at least a couple of more months before it did. And, as his troops' attitude had just reminded him, every single day he could find for himself was one more day in which he could make Cayleb's task more difficult.

    Which is probably only going to be enough to give me a rather dubious — and posthumous — moral satisfaction, he admitted to himself. Still, that's better than nothing. And it's always possible — remotely, at least — that I can put myself in a position to make enough trouble for him that it would be worth his time to at least consider negotiating.

    He snorted at his own thoughts as he considered how he would have reacted — had planned on reacting, in fact — if the Group of Four's invasion plans had succeeded and their positions had been reversed. The old cliché about the drowning man and the straw came rather forcibly to mind, under the circumstances.

    At least it gives me something to do while I'm waiting!

    He glanced back over his left shoulder at the sturdy, rather stout gray-haired man riding half a horse length behind him. Sir Rysel Gahrvai, the Earl of Anvil Rock, was one of his distant cousins and his senior army commander, the land-going counterpart of Earl Tartarian. Traditionally, the army had far less prestige in Corisande than the navy. In that much, at least, Corisande and Charis were much alike — probably inevitably, given the fact that they were both essentially just very large islands. But unlike Charis, Corisande had at least possessed a standing army composed of regular, professional troops at the beginning of the current unpleasantness. Mostly, Hector was forced to admit, that was because he was rather less beloved by certain of his subjects (and several of his nobles), especially in Zebediah, than Haarahld of Charis had been by his. The existence of a standing army whose loyalty was to the prince who paid it and not to its own individual feudal lords had constituted a pointed suggestion to those unloving souls that they would be well advised to keep their unflattering opinions of Prince Hektor to themselves.

    On the other hand, no one — least of all Hektor — had ever truly anticipated that Anvil Rock's troops might find themselves faced with repelling someone else's invasion of Corisande. The assumption had always been that if they were going to be involved in any invasions, it would have been them invading someone else.

    But at least Anvil Rock didn't seem too downcast. In fact, his general attitude was as robust as Tartarian's, although Hector suspected it was for slightly different reasons. Sir Rysel had abruptly found himself one of the most important men in the entire League of Corisande after decades of playing second fiddle to the Navy, and despite the gravity of the situation, he found the unusual situation rather exhilarating. Hektor might not share his cousin's exhilaration, but he was perfectly content with Anvil Rock's attitude as long as the man kept pushing his own preparations as persistently and powerfully as he had up to this point.

    The prince caught the earl's eye and twitched his head, summoning Anvil Rock up beside him. The earl touched his horse with his heels, trotting a bit faster until he reached Hektor's side. Then he slowed again, riding stirrup-to-stirrup with him.

    "Yes, My Prince?"

    "I thought the maneuvers went well," Hector said. "Please pass my compliments on to the field commanders."

    "Of course, My Prince!" Anvil Rock's broad smile of appreciation was clearly genuine, and Hector reached out to touch him lightly on the shoulder.

    "I appreciate all your efforts, Rysel," he said. "And I realize you don't have a lot of time to make preparations. Is there anything else I can do to help you along?"

    Anvil Rock considered for a few seconds, puffing his bushy mustache, then shrugged.

    "Since you've asked, My Prince, there might be one thing."

    "Such as?"

    "I was over at the Royal Arsenal yesterday," Anvil Rock said just a bit obliquely. "Sir Taryl had invited me to watch the proof firing of the second lot of the new guns."

    "Really?" Hektor cocked his head to one side. "What did you think of them?"

    "I think they're very impressive. And I can certainly understand what happened to Black Water if all the Charisian ships, or even just their galleons, carried guns like them. Under the circumstances, I see why Tartarian wants as many of them as he can get, too."

    Anvil Rock finished speaking, and Hektor's eyebrow rose higher.


    "I beg your pardon, My Prince?"

    "I heard a 'but' rattling around in there somewhere, Rysel. Would you care to tell me why I did?"

    "I suppose you did," Anvil Rock admitted. "As to why . . . ."

    He gazed ahead down the broad avenue leading towards Hektor's palace for several thoughtful breaths, then shrugged again.

    "My Prince, I understand why the Navy needs the new guns. And I understand that we've got to rebuild the fleet as quickly as we can. But to be honest, I don't think there's any way we're going to be able to manage all of that rebuilding before Cayleb and the Royal Charisian Navy come calling. That means they're going to be able to land troops almost anywhere they want, with no real significant resistance from our own Navy. I'm not blaming Taryl — Earl Tartarian — for that. It's not his fault. In fact, it's not anyone's fault, but it still means it's going to be up to the Army — and me – to defeat any invasions, since the Navy can't stop them from happening in the first place."

    He paused, looking steadily at his prince, and Hektor nodded.

    "I think you're exactly correct about that," he agreed. "And?"

    "And under those circumstances, I think it might be a wiser use of our resources and the time available to us to produce cannon for the Army's use, not the Navy's. Or, at least, not exclusively for the Navy."


    Hektor frowned thoughtfully, considering what Anvil Rock had just said. And, as he did, he realized the earl had a point. A very good one, in fact.

    No one on Safehold had ever heard of "field artillery." Not in the sense in which the term had once been used on a planet called Earth, at any rate. Safeholdian guns had been too big, too massive, too slow-firing. On their clumsy, wheelless"carriages," they were virtually immobile. Once emplaced, moving them again wasn't something to be considered, especially in the presence of the enemy.

    But given the lightness and handiness of the new Charisian guns, that might not be true any longer. The sort of naval carriage the Charisians had developed — and which Tartarian's artisans and foundry workers had duplicated from Captain Myrgyn's sketches — wouldn't be very practical for field use, but surely something else could be worked out.



    "May I assume you've been giving some thought to exactly how you might mount and use artillery in the field?" he asked aloud.

    "Actually, Koryn's been thinking about it," Anvil Rock replied, and Hektor nodded. Sir Koryn Gahrvai, Anvil Rock's eldest son and heir, was also one of the earl's senior troop commanders. And despite the nepotism which had inevitably favored his career, he happened to be very good at what he did.

    "And what has Koryn come up with?"

    "A new carriage, for one thing," Anvil Rock said. "It's more like a two-wheeled cart than anything the Navy would use, but it looks to me as if it'll work. If it's built sturdily enough, at least. And I'm guessing they could be towed by two-horse teams fairly rapidly. Might work better with four horses, rather than two, of course. Or we might try it with draft dragons. They don't much care for the sound of gunfire, though. I think horses would probably be steadier. You'd need a lot more of them per gun, and their endurance would be lower, but they'd also be faster, over shorter distances."

    "I see the two of you have been thinking about it," Hektor observed. "And given the circumstances we're probably going to be facing shortly, I think you're probably right about who's going to need artillery worse. Especially if you and Koryn can work out tactics to use it effectively."

    "We've been kicking that around, too," Anvil Rock said. "Of course, anything we come up with at this point is going to be purely theoretical, you understand. Can't be any other way until we get some actual pieces to try out our notions, and even then –"

    "Look out, Your Highness!"

    Hektor's head snapped up as one of his guardsmen suddenly spurred his horse. The beast leapt forward, drawing abruptly even with Hektor's mount, and the guardsman right hand shot out. Hektor's eyes went wide as that hand literally jerked him off of his horse, yanking him up against the guardsman's breastplate even as the bodyguard simultaneously twisted himself around sideways in the saddle. The prince was reaching for his dagger in automatic self-defense when he heard — and felt — the guardsman's sudden, convulsive gasp. The iron-hard grip which had hauled him bodily out of his saddle slackened suddenly, and Hektor found himself falling untidily to the street's cobblestones. He hit hard, sending a bolt of pain through his left forearm as he landed squarely on top of a fresh, moist pile of horse manure, but he scarcely noticed either of those things. He was staring up at the guardsman who had attacked him.

    The guardsman who was slumped forward in his saddle with the two arbalest quarrels which would otherwise have struck Hector sticking out of his back. His cuirass' backplate had slowed the missiles, but they must have been fired from very short range, because they'd punched right through it.

    As Hektor watched, the guardsman started to slip sideways out of his saddle. The prince hurled himself to his feet, reaching up, grunting with effort and the fresh pain in his left arm as he caught the dead weight of the man who had just saved his life.

    He went back to his knees, holding the bodyguard, watching blood bubble from the other man's nostrils.

    "Window," the dying young man got out. "Saw them . . . in the window . . . "

    "I understand," Hektor said, bending over him. "I understand."

    "Good," the guardsman got out, and then his eyes lost focus forever.



    "No sign of them, whoever they were," the Earl of Coris said harshly. "We're still tearing that whole part of the city apart, but they must have had their escape route planned well in advance."

    "Is that all you can say?" Sir Taryl Lektor demanded. The Earl of Tartarian sat beside Anvil Rock at the conference table, as if Hektor's top military advisers were closing ranks against his spymaster. Whether or not that was actually what they were doing, the shared unhappiness of Corisande's navy and army commanders was obvious, and Coris' mouth tightened.

    "What would you prefer? That I spin fancy tales to sound more efficient? We don't have a single witness who actually saw them. The only man who did see them is dead, which means we don't even have a description of them, and the arbalests were still in the room they fired from. They simply dropped them and walked away, and the room itself is part of a counting house office suite that's stood empty for months. No one saw them arrive; no one saw them fire the shots; and no one was watching for them when they left. There's no way for us to tie anyone to the weapons even if we'd had any suspects in custody!"

    "Calmly, Phylyp," Hektor said, turning back from the window where he'd stood gazing out over the harbor. His left forearm was in a plaster cast, supported by a sling, and despite his words, there was a tightness around his mouth which owed nothing to the pain of the broken arm.

    "How do you expect me to be calm about this?" Coris demanded. "They came within inches of killing you today, Hektor. Don't you understand that?"

    "Believe me, I understand it only too well." Hektor's voice was suddenly harder, colder. "And I want that guardsman's — Ahndrai's — family taken care of. He not only died to save my life, but, as you just pointed out, he was also the only man in the entire detail who even saw them. There aren't enough men like that to go around. There never are. So you see to it that his family knows I'm grateful. Knows they'll never want for anything."

    "Of course I will," Coris said more quietly.


    Hektor turned back to the window, then looked up as the chamber door opened and a tall young woman with Hektor's hair and her dead mother's hazel eyes came quickly through it.

    "Father!" The newcomer wore riding clothes. Her hair was windblown, and her eyes were dark, intent, in a worried face. "I just got back to the Palace. They just told me! Are you all right?"

    "Fine, Irys," he said, reaching out his undamaged right arm. "A broken arm, but aside from that, I'm fine, I promise."

    Princess Irys let her father's good arm settle around her shoulders, but she also leaned back against it, gazing up into his face with searching eyes. He didn't know exactly what she was looking for, but, whatever it was, she seemed to see it, and her taut shoulders relaxed at least partially.

    "Yes," she said softly. "Yes, you are."

    She put her own arms around him then, squeezing tightly, and pressed her face into his shoulder. He felt the tension flowing out of her, and pressed his lips to her hair.

    She's grown so tall, he thought. So much like her mother. Where did all the years go?

    "Better?" he asked gently after a moment, and she drew a deep breath and nodded.

    "Better," she confirmed, and released him and turned to face the other three men in the chamber.

    She knew all of them, of course. In fact, she'd spent more than a little time helping them — and her father — ponder the unpalatable situation they faced. At seventeen, Irys Daykyn was not a typical teenager, and her grasp of the problems confronting them was as good as any of Hektor's older councilors could have boasted.

    "They said it was arbalests," she said, and Hektor nodded.

    "It was. Ahndrai saw them at the last minute." His nostrils flared. "He saved my life, Irys . . . and it cost him his."

    "Oh, no," she said softly. Tears brimmed in her eyes for a moment. "He was so nice, Father."

    "Yes, he was," Hektor agreed.

    "Do we have any idea who it was?" she asked after a moment, with the air of someone who was just as happy to change the subject.

    "If you mean who actually fired the quarrels, then, no," her father admitted. "Phylyp's men have recovered the arbalests themselves, but we don't have any idea who the marksmen were." He shrugged. "As far as who might have been responsible for sending them, you're just about in time to help us start speculating."



    "Cayleb!" Irys more than half-hissed the name. The eyes which had been filled with tears moments before glittered with fury now, and Hektor shrugged.

    "Possibly. In fact, I'd have to say probably, under the circumstances. I'm reasonably confident it wasn't some spontaneous act of rebellion on the part of my subjects, at any rate. Beyond that, I'm not really sure of anything, though. For all I know, it could have been one of our own nobles. Someone who's afraid of what's going to happen and figures putting me out of the way might make it easier to placate Cayleb."

    "My Prince, you don't really –" Coris began.

    "No, I don't really think that's what happened," Hektor said, shaking his head. "I'm not quite that frightened of shadows yet, Phylyp! All I meant was that, as you yourself just said, we really don't know who it was."

    "It was Cayleb," Irys said coldly. "Who else would want you dead badly enough to try an assassination in the middle of your own capital in the middle of the day?"

    "My love," Hektor said, turning back to her with a crooked smile, "the list of people who would like to see me dead is a very lengthy one, I'm afraid. You know that. At this particular moment, Cayleb would be at the head of my own list of likely suspects. I'll admit that. But it could also have been Nahrmahn. Or Sharleyan — she's never made any secret of how she feels about me! For that matter, it could have been Zebediah or one of the Grand Duke's 'associates.' Or simply someone who hates me for a completely separate reason and figured suspicion would automatically focus on Cayleb instead of him. I've told you before. When something like this happens, you must never close your mind to any possibility until you have at least some firm pieces of evidence."

    "Yes, Father." Irys inhaled again, then nodded once, sharply. "I still say Cayleb's the most likely, but you're right. Until we have something more than automatic suspicion to base our thinking on, I'll try to keep an open mind about other possible suspects."

    "Good." Hektor reached out to cup the back of her head in his right palm for a moment, smiling at her. Then he turned back to Coris, Anvil Rock, and Tartarian, and his expression hardened.

    "I want to know who was really behind it," he told him flatly. "Use as many men and as much gold as it takes, but find out who was behind it."

    "My Prince, if mortal men can discover that, my investigators will. But, in all honesty, I have to warn you that the odds of success are problematical, at best. Generally, when something like this comes out of nowhere, the investigators either get a break in the first few hours or days, or else they never get one."

    "That's not acceptable, Phylyp," Irys said in a cold, hard voice.

    "I didn't say it was acceptable, Your Highness. I'm only warning you and your father that it's probably what's going to happen, despite the best efforts of everyone in this room. We know now that someone who wants the Prince dead is willing to try to bring that about. That's more than we knew this morning. I'm not saying it's enough, only that it's more. We'll keep trying to find out who was behind it, but in the meantime, all we can do is take precautions to make it harder for whoever it was. And, with all due respect, I think it might be wise to increase your own bodyguards, and your brothers', as well. I don't want to alarm either of you, but if it was Cayleb, then removing all of you might very well be what he has in mind."

    "Earl Coris is right, Your Highness," Anvil Rock said quietly. "We'll all do all we can, but for now, that really amounts to little more than increasing the security around your father — and you and your brothers, of course."

    "And what do we tell everyone else?" Irys' voice was still brisk, but it had lost that tang of old, cold iron. Coris' eyebrows rose, and she snorted. "Rumors must be all over the city, by now," she pointed out. "By this time tomorrow, they'll be across the Barcors and as far as Shreve or Noryst!"

    That was an exaggeration, Hektor thought. It would take the Church's semaphore to carry any sort of message — or rumor — six hundred miles in barely twenty-six hours. Still, she had a point.

    "There's enough uncertainty and anxiety swirling around without adding this to it," she continued. "Especially if all we can say is 'We don't know who it was' when someone asks."

    "She's right about that," Hektor said. The others looked at him, and he snorted. "Of course she is! Trust me, the rumors ignorance can come up with will be worse than any possible accurate answer could have been!"

    "So what should we do about it, My Prince?" Tartarian asked after a moment, and Irys laughed. It was not an especially pleasant sound.

    "May I, Father?"

    "Go ahead," Hektor invited, settling back on his heels, and she smiled grimly at the other three men.

    "What matters most is that we put some sort of name or face on whoever it was," she told them. "That we kill any impression that it might have been some general act of defiance or rebellion from inside Corisande. And who have all of us just agreed is our most probable suspect?"

    "Cayleb," Tartarian replied. Like most men, he had a tendency to forget Princess Irys wasn't yet twenty at moments like this. In fact, she was so much her father's daughter that it could be frightening at times.

    "Exactly," she agreed. "Maybe it was Cayleb, and maybe it wasn't, but it obviously could have been him. And it's not as if we have any evidence that it wasn't him, either. Given the fact that we're at war with Charis, he'll strike most people as a reasonable suspect, and he's an outsider. The outsider, at the moment. Besides, assassination is exactly what you'd expect out of heretics. So announcing that we believe it was him will actually have a rallying effect."

    "She's right," Hektor said again, smiling at her. Then he looked back at the other three. "It doesn't really matter if it actually was Cayleb. We certainly don't have any reason to worry about his reputation, at any rate, so I'm not likely to lie awake at night worrying about whether or not we're blaming it all on an innocent man! And it will have exactly the effect Irys has just described. In fact, aside from the fact that it got a loyal man killed, this could turn out to be very useful to us."

    "As long as we don't close our own minds to the possibility that it wasn't Cayleb, My Prince," Coris said warningly.

    Hektor arched an eyebrow, and the earl shrugged.

    "Overall, I agree with you and Her Highness," he said. "Where the political consequences of this are concerned, especially. But even if this does turn out to be 'useful' in some ways, let's not forget that someone really did try to kill you this afternoon, My Prince. It's always possible they'll try again, and I don't want any of us — especially me and my investigators — to close our minds to any possible suspects or avenues of investigation until we know for certain who it was."

    "Of course, Phylyp," Hektor agreed. "Of course. But in the meantime," he smiled unpleasantly, "let's turn our minds to how we can most suitably blacken Cayleb's reputation over this, shall we?"

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