King Cayleb's private dining salon,


Royal Palace,


City of Tellesberg,


 Kingdom of Charis


            "May I refill your glass, Maikel?" King Cayleb asked late that evening, still holding the bottle of wine from which he had just refilled his own glass.


            "Yes, Your Majesty. Please." The archbishop extended his glass and smiled almost mischievously. "At least one good thing's come out of Corisande," he remarked, looking at the label on the bottle.


            "Something good has to come out of almost anywhere," Cayleb replied as he filled the glass. He seemed totally focused on the minor task, as if he found its mundaneness reassuring. Or perhaps distracting.


            He finished, set the bottle back on the table, and sat back in his chair.


            Officially, this was simply a private supper with his archbishop, at Maikel's request. With Gray Harbor out of the kingdom, and Staynair acting as first councilor in his place, there had been several such suppers. At which, of course, Captain Athrawes had always been the king's chosen bodyguard. That precedent had come in handy tonight.


            "All right," he said quietly. "I've had at least a few hours to think over what the two of you have told me. I have to admit that it . . . hurts a little bit to discover there was a secret this profound that Father never shared with me, but I understand why he wasn't free to make that decision by himself."


            "Cayleb," Staynair's voice was equally quiet, "it was never a matter of trust or distrust. It was only a matter of the procedures which had been set up four hundred years ago. Procedures which have served the Brethren of Saint Zherneau — and, I think, the entire Kingdom — well."


            "I said I understand, Maikel." Cayleb met the archbishop's eyes with a steady, level gaze. "And I think the real reason it hurts is that Father never had a chance to tell me the secret on my thirtieth birthday, after all."


            "I wish he had had that opportunity," Merlin said softly, contemplating his own wineglass, watching the ruby light pool at its heart. "Your father was one of the finest men I've ever known, Cayleb. In fact, he was an even better man than I ever would have realized without the Archbishop's little revelation."


            "Ah, yes. His 'revelation.' An excellent word for it, Merlin. Almost –" Cayleb switched that level gaze to Merlin "– as astonishing a revelation as your own."


            "Well," Merlin's smile was lopsided, "I did tell you I'd explain everything if the day ever came when I could."


            "Which, in this case," Cayleb said rather pointedly, "was more a case of the day when you had to, wouldn't you say?"


            "Fair enough." Merlin nodded. "On the other hand, there's also this. With Archbishop Maikel and the journal of Saint Zherneau to vouch for me, I figured you were a lot less likely to decide I was a lunatic. Or that you'd been wrong to trust me, after all."


            "There is that," Cayleb agreed, and folded his arms across his chest. The intensity of his gaze faded into something else, a look of wonder, almost reverence, with what might have been still just a lingering trace of fear. Or, at least, apprehension.


            "I can hardly believe it even now," he said slowly, contemplating Merlin from head to toe. "To be honest, I don't know which . . . confuses me more — the fact that you're dead, or the fact that you're a woman."


            "In point of fact," Staynair said mildly, "I'm not at all certain Merlin — or Nimue — is dead."


            "Oh, trust me, Your Eminence," Merlin said in a tone that blended wryness with a lingering, aching grief, "Nimue Alban is dead. Has been, for over nine hundred of your years. As dead as all of her friends . . . and as dead as the Terran Federation."


            "I've tried to visualize what you must have seen, experienced." Staynair shook his head. "I can't, of course. I don't suppose anyone could."


            "In some ways, it's not that different from what you and Cayleb — and King Haarahld, of course — have faced right here in Charis," Merlin pointed out. "If we lose, everything that matters to you will be destroyed. Although, mind you, I'm hoping for a rather happier outcome this time around."


            "As are we all," Staynair said dryly.


            "Well, of course we are," Cayleb said, still gazing at Merlin with those perplexed and wondering eyes. "I have to say, though, Merlin, that however hard I try, I just can't visualize you as a woman."


            "Which speaks well of my chosen disguise," Merlin said, then surprised himself with a chuckle. "On the other hand, that first rugby game you and Ahrnahld got me involved in was almost my undoing."


            "What?" Cayleb's eyebrows knitted. "What are you talking about?"


            "Cayleb," Merlin said patiently, "think about it. A PICA is fully functional, and I do mean fully functional. It can do anything, mimic any response, an organic human body can do . . . and I spent twenty-seven years — almost thirty of your years — being a woman. Trust me. There are some things that just don't change all that easily. Finding myself in the water, naked as the day I was born, and surrounded by all of those nice, equally naked, muscular, slithery male bodies . . . . I discovered that there's this physical response men have. I'd always realized, in an intellectual sort of way, that it happened, of course, but I'd never expected to experience it, you might say."


            Cayleb stared at him for a moment, and then he began to laugh. It started out quietly, but it didn't stay that way, and there was something deeply cleansing about the hilarity. Something that chased that lingering trace of fear — if that was what it had been — out of his eyes forever.


            "Oh, my God!" he managed to gasp between roars of laughter. "That was why you stayed in the water! Why you were so damned careful about that towel!"


            "Yes, it was," Merlin agreed rather repressively. "There've been other adjustments, but I have to admit that that one's probably been the most . . . interesting."


About Eric Flint

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19 Responses to BY SCHISM RENT ASUNDER — snippet 70

  1. Tim says:

    kudos on the handling of the summary… humorous, yet conveys the depth of the disclosure. Well done.

  2. Maria says:

    Well, I was half right. Change of scene but not a change of subject. :-) With that nefarious quote people on the bar have been alluding to. My, my. And none guessed right. ;-P

  3. Summercat says:

    Very well done. Short summary, we see that Cayleb has processed the info, no need to rehash what the reader already knows…

    …and sticking in some humor. Laughter is the best way to acceptance.

  4. Jon says:

    No OMG response to the fact that his bodyguard isnt human in a literal sense, not just the suspicion that Cayleb had?

  5. Mike says:

    Yes, this is a reasonable example of telling more by writing less. It’s the kind of thing Weber should do more of — like he used to do earlier in his career.

    There are still bits that are a bit too expository, in my opinion, but this is a much better scene than the one at the firing range.

  6. JNees says:

    So it finally comes, the long awaited bombshell, not with a band, but with a snicker. Hitchcock used to say taht exploding a bomb will get excitement for a minute, but giving a glimpse of the bomb, can give excitement for half an hour. Of course, then you have to defuse the bomb, and so he did.


  7. E says:

    Wonder if Merlin can bust out the old Nimue body after all this time.
    Perhaps now is a good time to start cheating on the Proscriptions.

  8. Gil says:

    Well, as usual DW makes us all laugh. Now how about the King’s future Marriage? We have many possiblilities for humor there especially now…. But on a more serious note, the technology edge that Charis now enjoys need not ever be eroded, just have to worry about that KE cannon in the sky so to speak. Lots of stuff going on…. Just more to enjoy.

  9. Kar says:

    I guess it worked out fine… I don’t know… for some reason Weber’s recent works aren’t like his inital ones. In some ways, they’ve improved, but the story seems more like reading a journal than an actual story. I like his initial works like Path of the Fury. He did a good job there. Oh well, I guess even authors change.

  10. Aaron Van Dessel says:

    With Merlin’s secret out of the bag, he can now just point out which technology he can give and how he knows it. to Cayleb anyways.

  11. Summercat says:

    For those who say that Weber’s stuff is different now that it was when he first started:


    Even Asimov’s style changed. I can sell his early stuff from the later stuff, usually. Piers Anthony used to be a decent writer. I havn’t spent much time reading into differences between the Hyperion saga and the Olympos saga, but I think there may be a few styleistic differences between Dan Simmons’ books.

    As people write more, over longer periods of time, they change. Perhaps the Weber of 1990 would have groaned at the stuff he writes today, but then again, perhaps the Weber of 2008 winces each time he reads his earlier stuff. After all, it’s been nearly 20 years since Insurrection came out, and a lot happened that can influence people to change.

    And yes, even my hero Terry Pratchet has changed style and form, just compare early Discworld to new Discworld.

    Now, as to the ramifications of this and implications for the future:

    1. Cayleb isn’t going to go WTF UR A ROBOT? at Merlin. Not after the events just off Armageddon Reef, leading up to Darcos Sound. Cayleb already KNEW that Merlin’s very existence defied the proscriptions, and that Merlin rejected the Proscriptions personally as a fraud. Confirmation of his story by Maikel and proof that Merlin truly is sent by Pei Shan-Wei to save Safehold from it’s false gods would just be icing on the cake. Cayleb WOULD have had a WTF moment, but he would have kept silent as Merlin and Maikel brought him up to speed. Perhaps we’ll see a line like this:

    “You know, Merlin,” Cayleb said after his laughter died down, “I have to admit, despite what I already knew, I had a hard time believing what you and Maikel were saying.” The young king turned away for a moment, looking out the window. “But as you two kept talking, the disbelief faded away. When my family’s confessor and leader of our branch of the Church is agreeing with the man who saved my kingdom, I admit it would have to have had Langhorn himself, in all his suppossed glory, to come and argue his own case.”

  12. Summercat says:

    Whoops. I got so wrapped up writing that, I forgot to write the other points!

    2. Everyone in the upper parts of implimenting Merlin’s ideas already know they come from Merlin. If Merlin isn’t forthcoming with new inventions and innovations, it’s possibly because there is a maximum rate of change a society can endure before it starts to fracture. Merlin’s goal is to transform Safehold into a new Alexandria, not a steampunk technocracy. All Merlin has done is be able to be forthright about the source of all his ‘inventions’.

    3. I wonder if Emerald was a destination of other parts of Shan-wei’s plan? Ones who weren’t as capable as Jere Knowles.

    4. One idea that has struck me would be Merlin, under a pen name, writing a story, “The Tradgedy of Shan-Wei”, in which the Peis would be the tragic heroes, lovers estranged by seperate ideas of what would be the best, never to be reunited when Langhorne unleashes the Raiki, and Commodore Pei chooses love over duty. Kinda trying to instill the whole ‘Other options’ idea, that there may be other interpretations of official Church history..

  13. E says:

    If Merlin is able to remove the KE satellites, he can form Charis into a technological society over 4-7 generations (100-150 years). He need not even conquer the world, he could have Charisians as the core of those who venture back into space while others restore the true history to the Loyalist countries.

    My bet for Emerald is that either Charis has rubbed off on them, in terms of being more open minded, or there is another proxy organization that keeps the truth in Emerald.
    Imagine if almost every leader in Safehold knew the real history… wouldn’t that just blow all?

  14. Aaron Van Dessel says:

    Highly unlikely. Emerald’s leader’s certainly don’t know or else we would have heard Nahram (can’t spell it, you know who I mean) would have metioned it. Chisholm doesn’t know or else we wouldn’t have the whole drama going on there. Tarot and Dohlar don’t strick me as possible breeding grounds for heresy mostly because the chirch has a better rotation system going on there. I doubt Harchong knows just because they’re hardly mentioned. Coris would also make no sense based solely willingly they’ve played the Church card before; if they knew they’d be a bit more hesitant. the only other nation that could work would be Sidmark, since they’ve been mentioned as allies of Charis.

    As for the others, they could still be working in Emerald. Remember however his name is spelled’s father (?) killed off the old ruling house and took over. not exactly the person I’d reveal the secret of the past millenia to.

  15. MarkR says:

    I think Cayleb might have also have been preprepared by the whole Archangels spirits being recalled when their bodies were destroyed myth. Strange how that afterlife mythos would also make it more readily acceptable that a new body could host a mind from a previous body.

  16. Greg says:

    4. One idea that has struck me would be Merlin, under a pen name, writing a story, “The Tradgedy of Shan-Wei”, in which the Peis would be the tragic heroes, lovers estranged by seperate ideas of what would be the best, never to be reunited when Langhorne unleashes the Raiki, and Commodore Pei chooses love over duty. Kinda trying to instill the whole ‘Other options’ idea, that there may be other interpretations of official Church history..

    Not so long as The Church exists. That’s “instant Holy War”.

  17. Aaron Van Dessel says:

    good point. had forgotten that

  18. RobertHuntingdon says:

    All the more reason to write it, Aaron, Greg. Just not to publish it from *Charis*. Instead he could print a few copies up and put them out in the Empire. Or Harchong. Or the like.


  19. John says:

    Hey, it’s 18 mins past 1 AM….where’s my snippet fix?

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