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The Emerald Sea: Chapter Three

       Last updated: Saturday, April 3, 2004 02:06 EST



    The walk to Duke Edmund’s was mercifully uninterrupted. Herzer couldn’t figure out, for most of the walk, what was wrong. He knew that he was feeling intensively anti-social but it was more than that. Raven’s Mill was the town where, in many ways, he had grown up. Admittedly he spent less than a year in the town after the Fall, but he should have felt at home upon his return. God knows he’d thought longingly of getting back half the damned time at Harzburg. But for some reason “good feeling” just wouldn’t come. For some reason the town felt like his uniform: Just a little too loose. Little changes, like a new sign over Tarmac’s Tavern, stood out and left him feeling even more irritable. Just as he reached the Town Hall he started to get a handle on the problem. Part of it was uncertainty about his future. The plans that had been sent to him during most of the Harzburg mission had spoken of bringing him back as a trainer. Not one of the sadistic mad-men that ran first phase – Herzer understood the importance of running the trainees into the ground while having no desire to perform the job himself – but as an instructor in the forming Officer Basic Course. He was, in his opinion, more suited to taking the course, but the pool of trained officers was so small he could understand the need to throw him into the breach.

    However, the peremptory “return at earliest possible moment” did not bode well for a routine training assignment. What he particularly did not want was to run into someone who might ask him why he was back so soon. And be in the position of being able to satisfy neither their curiosity nor his own. As he approached the entrance to the town hall the two guards at the door braced to attention. Gone were the days of half awake guardsmen with rusting weapons leaning up against the wall. The guards were permanent members drawn from the militia and trained with the Blood Lords. Just enough to know they didn’t want to be Blood Lords was the joke. Blood Lord training and “winnowing” was merciless and even after a recruit passed the tests to join the fraternity training continued unabated. Running up and down Raven Hill in full rucksacks was just the start of a daily regimen that was brutal to the point of sadism. But that, and a belief in teamwork that went all the way to the bone, meant that Blood Lords could outfight and, often more important, outmaneuver enemies that were their numerical superior. “Fight until you die and drop” was just one of their unofficial mottoes. And nobody fought like Blood Lords. He walked inside and took the left turn to Edmund’s office but was stopped almost at the door by a secretary. That was another new iteration.

    “Can I help you?” the woman asked. She was faintly familiar but Herzer couldn’t quite place her. Dark hair, just below median female height…nope, wasn’t coming.

    “Herzer Herrick,” Herzer replied. “I’m under orders to see Duke Edmund ‘at the earliest possible moment.’”

    “He’s very busy,” the women said with a sniff. Whoever she was, she didn’t appear to recognize him either. “Why don’t you just take a seat?”

    Herzer didn’t bother to smile he just took a parade rest position, hands behind his back, legs spread shoulder width apart, and simply looked at her.

    “Why don’t you go tell Duke Edmund that I’m out here,” he said in a totally neutral voice. He let his eyes do the rest. “Now.”

    It was a technique he’d picked up from Gunny and as usual it worked. The woman was more than willing to pass the buck to someone who, she clearly hoped, might put him in his place. It wasn’t the most politic way to deal with a petty-power-hungry functionary, but it tended to work.

    In this case the woman looked at him poisonously for a moment then got up and knocked on the door.

    “Duke Edmund,” she said, opening the door without a word from the interior, “a Herzer Herrick insists on seeing you immediately.”

    “That’s because I told him to, Crystal,” Edmund replied, mildly. “Send him in.” As Herzer walked through the door he remembered where he had met her before; the name had crystallized the memory for him.

    “Nice to see you again, Crystal,” he oozed insincerely as he stepped through the door. “How’s Morgen?”

    He carefully shut the door behind him and then saluted with right fist to left breast.

    “Lieutenant Herrick reporting,” he said neatly.

    “Can it, Herzer,” Edmund growled, standing up and stepping to a cup-board.

    “Care to cut the trail dust?”

    “If you please, sir,” Herzer replied. “What’s with the Cerberus at the gates?”

    “She’s anything but a dog,” Edmund replied. “But whether she knows it or not, she’s temporary. I had a protégé of June’s holding down the desk but she’s on maternity leave.” He handed the lieutenant a glass dark with liquor. “Salut!”

    “Blood and steel,” Herzer replied, taking a sip. “Very mellow.”

    “Laid it down nearly thirty years ago,” Edmund replied. “It should be.” Herzer observed Sir the Honorable General Edmund Talbot, Duke of Overjay carefully but could see little signs of change in the last year. The duke was heavy-set with a full beard and a shaved head. He was wearing gray linen trousers and a blue tunic of a fine woolen material, the edging of which was embroidered in yellow. The clothing was worn smooth from use but had the look of being comfortable clothing rather than old. He could have been anything from a hundred to two hundred years old, judging by the fine lines on his face and the flaccid skin on his forearms, but Herzer knew he was closer to three hundred. He had a solid, calm look that he somehow projected to those around him. Wherever the Duke went, even if it was in the middle of a battle, chaos lessened and order followed. It was another trick, like his ability to pitch his voice to be heard above a battle and the knack of always knowing where to be, that Herzer was desperately trying to figure out.

    “You’re wondering why I called you in so abruptly but we really should wait until…” the Duke said then paused as the door opened.

    “It’s fine, we know him,” Daneh Ghorbani said as she stepped through the door.

    “I sleep with him every night, he won’t mind me barging in.”

    Doctor Ghorbani was middle tall for a female, perhaps a meter and three quarters, with long red hair that was currently braided down her back. She was heavily bosomed and inclining to a plumpness that was decidedly odd in the post-Fall society. Prior to the Fall human genetics had been tinkered with to such an extent that all but minimum fashionable body fat tended not to form. She wasn’t fat, the term “padded” came to mind; on her it looked good. She, like her paramour Edmund, seemed to project a field of calmness around her, even when putting down annoying underlings. And she looked well, which Herzer found, to his surprise, was of sudden immense importance. She was followed by what could have been her younger sister but was in fact her daughter. Unlike her mother, Rachel Ghorbani was anything but calm.

    “Father, you have to get rid of that insufferable woman,” she said hotly as soon as the door was closed.

    “So I’ve been told,” Edmund replied with a smile. “Daneh? A glass of wine?”

    “Isn’t it a little early?” Dr. Ghorbani asked, glancing at the drinks in their hands.

    “I’m sure the sun is over the yard arm somewhere in the world,” Duke Edmund replied, pouring a glass of wine that caught the light through the window like a ruby.

    “Yes, thank you, father, I will have some,” Rachel said, acerbically.

    “Of course,” Edmund chuckled, pouring another glass and handing them to the women. “A toast: to a smooth sea and a fair journey.”

    “What journey?” Rachel blurted out.

    “The one that Herzer and I, at a minimum, are going to be taking.”



    Chansa snarled and shook his head as the modeling projection completed its run. No matter how many times he ran the model, the current projections made invasion of Norau impossible.

    The room that he worked in was low and cramped for his huge bulk, a sub-basement under the council chambers that had only recently been found and reopened. It wasn’t that he’d been relegated to a sub-basement, it was simply that lately it fit his mood. Let Celine scamper about her laboratories and Paul create his insane workrooms to “do the work of the people.” This tiny room controlled more raw power than any other room on earth. But with all that power, he still couldn’t make the impossible possible.

    It wasn’t a matter of forces. The implementation of the Change program, while hampered by the various program lock-outs that bitch Sheida had started, was continuing apace. And the Changed males made more than adequate soldiers, while their females were sturdy enough to do most of the drudgery of food supplying. And arms were not an issue, either. Not only did Ropasa have supplies of them for historical reasons, inserting the same sort of training as the combat and farming training of the Changed was not difficult. A special class of Changed had been created that made excellent artisans.

    No, the problem was logistics.

    Lifting his entire force would leave Ropasa stripped of garrisons. Not only did that mean that Alliance forces could make strikes against them, it also meant being unable to prevent internal revolt, which was a very real problem among the Unchanged. Second of all, supplying that entire force over nearly two thousand kilometers of ocean was chancy at best. Impossible if there was any coherent resistance. And the likelihood of such resistance was high.

    So any invasion would have to be attempted with less than his full force. Since projections showed that less than the full force would be inadequate to destroy current Norau forces, something had to be done.

    Thus far the attempts to weaken the United Free States had been failures. If anything they had left them stronger. First the disaster with Dionys, which still left him cringing, then other attempts to take over territory had been stymied. There were neutrals in Norau, groups resisting integration to the UFS, but by the same token they also resisted aligning themselves with New Destiny. And projections showed that at the current rate of UFS increases in manpower and military buffering there was no point at which an invasion had better than a fifty/fifty chance of succeeding.

    It was maddening.

    He looked up as an avatar of the Demon appeared and tried not to grimace. Just what he needed.

    “Yes, Lord Demon?” he asked. The Demon was, like his namesake, a fairly chaotic entity. It always paid to stay on his good side, such as there was.

    “I understand you suffered another setback in Norau?” the Demon rumbled. It was impossible to tell what the actual person looked like under the black armor, other than being an outsized humanoid. The armor was full articulated plate from the horns on the helmet, though the tusks, down to the talons on the boots. The rumor was that the being underneath was simply a smaller version.

    “Would you care to detail it?”

    “Not particularly,” Chansa said bitterly, then shrugged. “Harzburg is a town with some strategic importance to one scenario of an invasion of Norau. I attempted to take over the town using proxies. I supplied them with a small amount of power and some arms as well as guidance. They attempted to take over the town. They failed.”

    “Edmund Talbot again?” the Demon said, soothingly.

    “He sent one, one damned Blood Lord and a year’s work went down the drain!”

    “The man is incorrigible,” the Demon replied. “But he does train good subordinates. I have always found that choice of subordinates is important in any endeavor. The Council, for all its strengths, has been a group that had little in the way, or need, of subordinates, so it is not surprising that you have less…experience with the handling of them. In that regard…” he continued, gesturing in the air as another avatar appeared, “might I commend the services of my protégé, Brother Conner.”

    “You do me great honor in the term, Lord,” the man said. He was tall but apparently entirely unChanged with a lean, ascetic look and less than his first century in age. Dark hair fell to mid shoulder length. He was almost normal until you looked at his eyes the irises of which were almost perfectly white. His pupils were tiny black dots in the middle.

    “You are too kind, Lord Demon,” Chansa said after a moment. “But I’m not sure what to do with him.”

    “I would suggest that you do what you do best, prepare the armies of New Destiny for the invasion,” the Demon replied acerbically. “And let Conner handle the destabilization. He has…experience in these matters.”

    “Ah.” Chansa paused again then shrugged. Favors from the Demon generally had a hidden cost, but they also weren’t to be turned aside. “Thank you, Lord Demon.”

    “I’ll be leaving you two to your work,” the Demon replied, fading out of the air. “Have fun.”



    “Paul is preparing a fleet on the coast of Ropasa,” Edmund said, pulling out a map and setting it on his desk. “Here in Brethan and in Neterlan. And he’s assembling armies of Changed near both areas.”

    “Invasion?” Herzer asked.

    “That’s the apparent intent,” the Duke replied. “And it’s borderline that he could be successful.”

    “At an invasion?” Daneh said. “How? He’s got to cross the whole Atlantis ocean and then attack a prepared enemy. I’m not much on the military end, but that doesn’t sound feasible to me.”

    “We don’t have much in the way of troops, Daneh,” Edmund replied with a shrug.

    “There’s unorganized and organized militia, yes, but they’re not going to count for much but positional defense. You can’t even really use them for sallies. And the ‘positions’ that most of the towns have aren’t much. And you’d be surprised how many over the beach invasions have been successful. If the country was castellated, that is if we had lots and lots of castles as Ropasa does, it would be impossible. As it is, it’s just very risky.

    “One of the ways to play a war like this is deterrence. That is, make it clearly so impossible for something to happen that nobody in their right minds would try it. And hope that your enemy is in their right mind. In this case, we have to eliminate any chance of such an invasion succeeding. To do that, we have to control the sealanes.

    “We’re working on that on the coast. The Navy has been working on a new class of warship that should make things very unpleasant for anyone attempting to cross. But a few warships, probably in the wrong place, aren’t going to deter them. Nor should they.

    “What we need are allies that control the sea-lanes.” He looked up significantly at Daneh who shrugged.

    “I think that’s supposed to mean something, but I have no idea what.”

    “The mer,” Herzer interjected. “Weren’t they reported as concentrating, post-Fall, down in the Southern Isles?”

    “Exactly,” the Duke said. “If we have the mer on our side, between them and the delphinos, who are going to follow their lead, and the dolphins they have attached to them, at the very least we have total reconnaissance of the potential invasion fleet. Fighting it might be another matter, but I’d be surprised if they couldn’t do something along the lines.”

    “So it’s a diplomatic mission?” Herzer asked. “Why you? Why me for that matter?”

    “It’s a diplomatic mission with military implications,” Edmund said. “I’m the best known, I almost said ‘notorious,’ person available on the East Coast and I’m probably going to be one of the point generals for any defense.”

    “You’re probably going to command the defense,” Daneh corrected.

    “Probably. And Herzer for some similar reasons.”

    “So what this means is that while the rest of us suffer through the winter,” Rachel said, somewhat bitterly, “you’re going to go gallivanting down to the Southern Isles?”

    “Sheida wants me to go handle the negotiations. She told me I could take whatever staff I thought was necessary. What I consider necessary is Herzer.” “So you are leaving us behind and sailing off to the Isles for the winter,” Daneh said humorously.

    “Well, maybe,” Edmund replied, in a much more serious tone. “Herzer is a damn fine junior officer, but there’s nothing absolutely vital he has to do here. Between Kane and Gunny the town should be good against anything but a major attack. And I know what’s out there well enough to know that isn’t going to happen short of invasion. So I can leave the town and be pretty sure it will be here when I get back. The question is, can the town do without both of its doctors?”

    “I’m not a doctor,” Rachel replied, but she nodded. “But I see what you mean.”

    “Say that you’re the best of the trainees, then,” Edmund admitted. “There are reasons that I want to take one or both of you along. Frankly, I’d prefer Daneh. But I don’t think it wise to take both.”

    “Well how long is this going to take?” Daneh asked. “I mean the negotiations. Port down, port back and a week or two there.”

    “One problem,” Edmund grimaced. “Sheida says that it’s important, but not important enough to port us. She’s working on some sort of device that will reduce porting power drain; she has an experimental one up and running so she can get in and out of her house. But even that will be point to point. In the meantime, we’re still down to the speed of horse and wind.”

    “How long?” Daneh repeated.

    “A month? Two? Possibly more if the weather turns against us.

    “I know my responsibilities,” Daneh sighed. “And there’s Charles to consider; I’m not sure I want to be away from him for that long. I’ll stay.” Daneh’s son had been born as the result of her rape, shortly after the Fall, by Dionys McCanoc and his men. When the child was born it was clear who had bestowed the male genes. Just as clear as the fact that the father was no longer living. Herzer rather liked the kid who, except for a tendency for mischief, appeared to have gotten nothing but his looks from his father.

    “I want you to consider carefully what I said,” Edmund replied. “I would prefer you to go and Rachel to stay. Including taking you away from Charles.”

    “Why?” Daneh asked and was rewarded with a blank stare. “Edmund, quit being mysterious.”

    “I’m not being mysterious. I have my reasons and I have reasons not to give them.”

    “That’s just Edmund’s way of saying ‘I’m being mysterious,’” his paramour said with a chuckle.

    “I’ll give you one that’s up front,” Talbot replied after a moment. “We want an alliance with them, a military alliance certainly and a trade agreement by preference. We need to know what they need, that we can supply, for that to happen. I won’t say that I want you to go talk with the women while I do the ‘men talk’…”

    “Good!” Daneh said with a smile.

    “…But I will say that we have different strengths and areas of knowledge. I’d take Myron if I thought agriculture was going to be important, but I think that areas having to do with…lifestyle are going to be far more so.”

    “I’m a doctor not an anthropologist,” Daneh said. “For that matter Rachel has a firmer grasp on pre-industrial cultures.”

    “You have a point. But I trust you judgment more than Rachel’s,” he turned to the girl and shrugged. “That wasn’t meant to be offensive, it’s just Daneh is…”

    “Older and wiser?” Rachel said then shook her head. “I’m really not offended, because I understood what you meant.”

    “I can turn over control of the local power system to Emily,” Daneh suggested.

    “She’s up to just about anything that Rachel would be. And I assume that if something major comes up, we can consult. She’s certainly up to deliveries and small repairs. Dr. Beauharnois is up in Hotrum’s Ferry if something serious occurs.”

    Talbot thought about it for a moment then shrugged. “I guess you’re in, Rachel.”

    “When do we leave?” Herzer asked.

    “Not for at least a week or two,” Edmund said. “I didn’t think you’d make it back this fast and it’s going to take at least that long for the rest of our party to get here.”

    “And who is that?” Daneh asked.

    “You’ll see,” Edmund replied. “It’s a surprise.”

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