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By Heresies Distressed: Chapter Seven

       Last updated: Wednesday, April 22, 2009 05:50 EDT



Royal Dockyard
City of Cherayth,
Kingdom of Chisholm

    “Thank you, Commander Ahzmynd,” Captain Andrai Gyrard said as the Chisholmian officer behind the desk signed off on the requisition order for replacement spars. Properly speaking, Gyrard ought to have left this interview to his purser. A full captain, the commanding officer of one of the Imperial Charisian Navy’s most powerful galleons, had far better things to do with his time than to spend it hobnobbing with dockyard officers just because he wanted a few spare spars before heading off to conduct an invasion. And if that was true of most galleon skippers, it was especially true of the man who commanded Emperor Cayleb’s flagship. Handling routine chores like this one so that their captains didn’t have to was precisely the reason the Navy had pursers in the first place.

    “You’re welcome, Captain Gyrard,” the Chisholmian said, setting his pen back into its desktop holder as he looked up from the document with a smile. “At least this is one requisition I can be certain is going to end up where it’s supposed to end up, rather than on the black market somewhere!”

    Gyrard chuckled, although, truth to tell, he wasn’t certain whether or not Commander Ahzmynd truly had been making a joke. Prior to Chisholm’s involuntary participation in the Group of Four’s attack on Charis, the Royal Chisholmian Navy had been fighting a losing battle against corruption and peculation. Certain of its officers, secure behind the protection of highly placed aristocratic patrons, had been far more interested in finding ways to line their own pockets than with safeguarding their navy’s combat readiness. All sorts of vital supplies had “mysteriously disappeared,” and all too often, officers who’d tried to do something about it had paid a stiff price in highly placed aristocratic enemies.

    So it was entirely possible that this particular Chisholmian was referring to the sweeping reforms which had been rammed through his own navy by the Earl of Sharpfield, its senior officer, as part of the navy’s mobilization before his departure for Emerald and the Battle of Darcos Sound. Any truly competent officer must have welcomed those reforms, after all.

    There was another possibility, however, and that second possibility helped to explain why Gyrard had come to deal with this matter in person. Much of Safehold accepted the stereotype of the Kingdom of Charis as “a kingdom of moneylenders and shopkeepers,” populated by greedy, scheming Charisians who were always on the lookout for ways to squeeze a mark out of any opportunity which came their way. There was an enormous amount of unspoken envy in that stereotype, of course, but that made it no less real. And there were more than a few Safeholdians who would have added “unscrupulous, dishonest, and shifty” to all the other adjectives. After all, if they hadn’t been unscrupulous, dishonest, and shifty, then they wouldn’t have been so much wealthier than those far more worthy souls who cherished the stereotype in the first place!

    Since the invasion fleet had arrived in Cherry Bay, its Charisian officers had encountered quite a few people who obviously shared that stereotypical view of them.

    “Seriously, Sir,” Ahzmynd said, “it’s been a privilege to be able to supply your requirements. And,” his eyes hardened ever so slightly, “I, for one, was delighted to have the opportunity to do it. Especially here.”

    Those no-longer-smiling eyes met Gyrard’s, and Cayleb’s flag captain felt himself relax internally. Not everyone in what had been the Royal Chisholmian Navy before its merger into the new Imperial Charisian Navy would have shared Kynai Ahzmynd’s opinion on this particular subject. The invasion fleet’s decision to bypass Kraken Bay, where the city of Port Royal had been built almost a century ago expressly to serve as the Navy’s primary base, to anchor in Cherry Bay, so much further to the north, might not have been the most subtle possible way to deliver a message, but it had certainly been effective. The incredible mass of galleons anchored off Chisholm’s capital city — and especially the fifty thousand Imperial Charisian Marines embarked aboard the transports — was something not even the most ambitious Chisholmian aristocrat could overlook. As pointed suggestions went, this one was more pointed than most. And those who had found the greatest personal advantage under the old system had understood exactly who been intended to absorb that point.

    “I’m glad you feel that way, Commander,” Gyrard said now. “And I’ve been impressed by the professionalism you and most of the other dockyard officers have displayed.”

    “It’s been a relief to be able to display it,” Ahzmynd said, with rather more frankness than Gyrard had expected, even now. “I won’t pretend that anyone in the Navy was happy about what you Charisians did to us at Darcos Sound.” His mouth tightened briefly, and his eyes darkened, but then he shook himself, and his mouth relaxed. “On the other hand, it wasn’t exactly like you’d been left a lot of choice, was it? Most of us understood that, too. The ones of us who could think, at least. And,” he bared his teeth in a tight smile, “since Earl Sharpset got home, those of us who found that difficult to understand seem to have been finding ourselves with quite a lot of, un, free time on our hands.”

    The Chisholmian’s dust-dry tone was so biting Gyrard snorted in amusement. Sharpset had returned to Chisholm with the surrendered galleys Emperor Cayleb — although he’d been King Cayleb at the time, of course — had “spontaneously” returned to Chisholm even before he had proposed marriage to Chisholm’s queen. Since the earl’s return, and especially since Queen Sharleyan had accepted Cayleb’s proposal, Sharpset had attacked the twin problems of his own navy’s lingering corruption and the challenge of preparing for the merger of the Chisholmian and Charisian fleets with vigor. In the process, quite a few Chisholmian officers had found themselves abruptly turfed out of their comfortable, profitable assignments. At the same time, those of them who appeared to be prepared to resist the merger had also found themselves summarily relieved of duty.

    “Fair’s fair, Commander,” the flag captain replied after a moment. “Most Charisians understand how little choice Chisholm had about obeying the Group of Four’s commands. We know it wasn’t your idea to attack us, and most of us deeply regret how many of your people were killed or wounded in someone else’s war. At the same time, I won’t pretend there aren’t also Charisians who aren’t exactly prepared to simply forgive and forget. And, by the oddest happenstance, those officers who share that attitude seem to be finding themselves with quite a bit of unanticipated ‘free time’ of their own.”

    “I thought that was probably the case, Sir.” Ahzmynd’s swivel chair creaked gently as he leaned back slightly. “In fact, I didn’t see how it could be any other way, to be honest.”

    “No, it couldn’t be,” Gyrard agreed. “People are people. Some of them aren’t going to be able to put the past behind them no matter what. It doesn’t even mean they aren’t trying to, sometimes. It’s just the way it is. So it’s not really hard to understand why some officers would be . . . uncomfortable with all the changes coming at them, even completely disregarding all of the religious implications.”

    He watched Ahzmynd’s eyes as he spoke, but the Chisholmian only nodded.

    “You’re right about that one, Sir.” He shrugged. “I don’t think anyone in Chisholm, except maybe Her Majesty and Baron Green Mountain, ever expected things to come to a head with the Group of Four this way. It really hasn’t helped smooth the way for our Navy to combine with yours, either.”



    He paused and frowned for a moment, then shook his head.

    “Actually, that’s not quite true,” he said. “It’s created problems with a lot of people, of course — I think we’ve probably got more ‘Temple Loyalists’ here in Chisholm than you have in Charis, for a lot of reasons — but for other people, it’s actually helped.” He looked back into Gyrard’s eyes once more. “Charisians aren’t the only ones who could see what was happening in Zion, you know.”

    “Yes, I do know.” Gyrard nodded.

    “Well, Sir, I won’t say that anyone here in Chisholm is doing handsprings of delight at the prospect of open warfare with Mother Church, but you might be surprised by how many of us already agreed with you ’schismatic’ Charisians, at least in principle. And once Her Majesty decided to marry the Emperor, well –”

    He broke off with another, much more eloquent shrug, and Gyrard nodded once more. Sharleyan’s nobles might have been — or, at least, wanted to be — more fractious then Cayleb’s, but the flag captain had come to the conclusion that she’d been even more beloved by Chisholm’s commoners than King Haarahld had been by their Charisian counterparts before his death. That was saying quite a lot, and that deep reservoir of trust and devotion had carried her people with her. It also helped to explain why Cayleb’s demonstration that she truly was his coruler, not simply his consort, had legitimized his own authority in their eyes as probably nothing else could possibly have accomplished.

    “Tell me, Commander Ahzmynd,” Gyrard said, asking the question he’d had no intention of explicitly voicing when he came ashore for this meeting, “how do you think your fellow Chisholmians feel about Charisians now?”

    “Now, Sir?” Ahzmynd chuckled. “They still think every single one of you is out to turn a fast mark, and, to be honest, I think many of us are more than a little uneasy about all these changes — all these new weapons and ways of doing things — you seem intent on introducing. Certainly when you first arrived, most people here in Cherayth were bracing themselves just a bit. They expected an onslaught of moneychangers, loan krakens, and political hangers-on out to make a profit out of Chisholm. I think that despite everything, there were people who believed the Emperor’s marriage proposal was really only a ploy designed to let Charis get its hands on everything worth having here in Chisholm.

    “That much, at least, is changing. Or that’s the way it seems to me, at any rate. I could be wrong, of course.” He twitched his shoulders in another brief shrug. “From where I sit, though, I think that what the Emperor’s had to say so far, coupled with the fact that he’s made absolutely no political changes here in Cherayth, hasn’t brought in any of his own political favorites from home and handed them plum assignments, and the fact that he and Baron Green Mountain and the Queen Mother are obviously on such excellent terms, really has turned most of that suspicion around. The fact that your sailors and Marines have been spending so freely hasn’t hurt anything, either. I haven’t heard any of the dockside tavernkeepers complaining, at any rate! Mind you, I can think of quite a few lords and ladies who probably don’t like the new arrangement a bit, but that’s more than offset — I think, at least — by how much the common folk have been reassured. They’ve always regarded the Queen — the Empress, I mean — as one of their own, someone they can trust to look out for them. Now most of them seem willing to at least tentatively accept that the Emperor feels the same way she does. And I think we’ve at least reached a point where all but the most dyed-in-the-wool Temple Loyalists are willing to wait to hear his address to Parliament before they really decide what they think of him. If he says what I rather suspect he’s going to say, that trust in Her Majesty is going to attach itself to him –provisionally, at least — and they’ll decide they can trust him, too.”

    “I certainly hope you’re right, Commander,” Gyrard said quietly. “And it’s true, you know. His Majesty does feel the same way Her Majesty does, although, to be honest, the battle lines between the common folk and the nobility are less sharply drawn in Charis.”

    “Really?” Ahzmynd cocked his head to one side, lips pursed. “I’d heard that that was the case, Sir,” he continued after a moment. “From my perspective, it’s a bit difficult to really accept, though. It’s so different from the way things have been here in Chisholm for as long as anyone can remember.”

    “Well, Commander,” Ahndrai Gyrahrd said, sitting back in his own chair with a smile as tight as anything Ahzmynd had produced, “we’ll just have to see what we can do about changing that, won’t we? The Emperor has a saying, ‘If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.’ I’d say that’s probably one of the main reasons he and Her Majesty haven’t set out to make any political changes here in Cherayth. Baron Green Mountain and Queen Mother Alahnah are doing just fine. But if anyone thinks His Majesty is going to be any more tolerant than Her Majesty where great nobles with . . . delusions of grandeur, shall we say, are concerned, they’re sadly mistaken.”

    “Really?” Ahzmynd repeated, then smiled back at his Charisian visitor. “Somehow, Sir, I can’t quite seem to find it in my heart to regret that. Odd, isn’t it?”

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