HMS Empress of Charis,
Hannah Bay,
Grand Duchy of Zebediah

Cayleb Ahrmahk stood on the quarterdeck of HMS Empress of Charis once again as the column of galleons wended its way past Grass Island. Shoal Island lay almost thirty miles to the north, and the broad waters of Grass Reach stretched before them. It was almost ninety miles yet to the harbor of the city of Carmyn, and he tried very hard not to feel closed in by the surrounding land.

It wasn’t especially easy, even though his intellect stubbornly insisted that it ought to be.
His flagship and the squadron which she had rejoined were just over twenty-six hundred miles south-southwest of Cherry Bay. That meant the local climate was much closer to the one to which Cayleb was accustomed. If anything, it was too hot, despite the fact that it was technically winter, since they were still — barely — north of the equator at the moment, but that wasn’t the reason he felt uneasy.
Hannah Bay measured almost two hundred and forty miles from east to west. That was a lot of water, especially when the Imperial Charisian Navy was effectively the only navy in these waters. Still, it was four hundred and seventy miles from Carmyn to the mouth of the Talisman Gulf. Four hundred and seventy miles between the capital of Zebediah and the open waters of Carter’s Ocean.
Four hundred and seventy miles moving deeper and deeper into the embrace of the enormous island of Zebediah.
He didn’t like being that far from the open sea. For him, as for almost any Charisian, the sea meant safety. It meant room to maneuver, to dodge, and it meant an element of which Charis was the mistress . . . and a place where the lesser seamen of other lands intruded at their peril.
Stop being an old woman, Cayleb! he scolded himself. “Open sea,” indeed. Just what do you call thousands of square miles of seawater if it’s not “open?” And it’s not exactly as if anyone could sneak up on you, even if anyone had anything to do the sneaking with!
He glanced for a moment at Merlin Athrawes, standing protectively at his right shoulder even here. At that particular moment, Cayleb knew, Merlin was watching through those SNARCs of his. The emperor was confident that he still had only the most imperfect grasp of exactly what a “SNARC” was, but he didn’t have to know exactly what it was as long as Merlin knew. All Cayleb had to know was that Merlin’s invisible, wyvern’s-eye view encompassed not simply all of Hannah Bay, but the Gulf of Talisman — and all the other waters stretching about Zebediah like all-enveloping arms — as well. If there’d been a single warship out there in a position to threaten his fleet’s stately progress, Merlin would have known it.
Actually, Cayleb reflected, the real danger probably lies in coming to rely too heavily on Merlin’s “special abilities.” They may not always be available. For that matter, they certainly won’t be available to anyone besides me, because he’s my bodyguard. So maybe it’s just as well if I go on feeling nervous, even knowing Merlin is keeping an eye on things, as long as I don’t let that nervousness distract me from what has to be done. After all, I also need to bear in mind the fact that he won’t be available to other commanders when I assign them their missions. Wonderful. I just found something else to worry about!
His lips twitched as he considered his own perversity. It was remarkable how much that helped his mood, and he half-turned to face the shortish, rotund prince standing beside him.
“Any last-minute advice, Your Highness?”
“Not really, Your Majesty.” Prince Nahrmahn shrugged. “You simply need to continue to think about the Grand Duke much the way I’m certain you grew up thinking about me. Never forget that he’s a naturally treacherous, oily sort of fellow, with a fondness for assassins and all the personal charm and warmth of a sand maggot, and you can’t go too far wrong. I won’t say he’s actively allergic to the truth, mind you. Although, on mature consideration, I do feel relatively confident that any completely truthful statement which accidentally found its way into his mouth would cause him acute indigestion, at the very least.”
“An . . . interesting characterization,” Cayleb observed with something that sounded suspiciously like a chuckle.
“But an accurate one, I think.” Nahrmahn looked up at the taller and younger emperor, and his expression had become very serious. “At this particular moment, Your Majesty, Grand Duke Zebediah is trapped between the kraken and the doomwhale, and he knows it.”
“But which is which?”
“On balance? I’d say the Empire is definitely the doomwhale, but Hektor of Corisande makes a very respectable kraken. And then there’s the fact that Zebediah knows as well as we do that the true struggle ultimately lies not between you and Hektor, but between you and the Temple. He’s fully aware that at this time you have the power to crush him like an eggshell if he isn’t accommodating to you, but he’s equally aware that Hektor isn’t simply going to forgive and forget if he turns his coat to support Charis. It may not be very likely Hektor is going to survive, but Zebediah won’t be prepared to rule that possibility out completely. And whether Hektor survives or not, the Group of Four will most definitely still be waiting when the smoke clears here in the League.”
“Which means he’s going to be extraordinarily accommodating . . . as long as I keep my dagger firmly at his throat,” Cayleb said.
“Precisely, Your Majesty.” Nahrmahn inclined his head slightly. “You know, I always found your house’s stubborn tendency to survive and its general all-around competence extremely irritating. It’s remarkable how my attitude in that respect has changed over the last few months.”
“Flattery, Your Highness?” Cayleb’s eyebrows arched, and his brown eyes gleamed with amusement.
“Oh, of course!” Nahrmahn smiled. “After all, I am one of your courtiers now, am I not?” He swept the Emperor a deep bow, surprisingly graceful for one of his physique, and Cayleb smiled back at him. But then the Emeraldian prince sobered once again.
“Jesting aside, Your Majesty, I must admit that I’m both surprised and impressed by the maturity of the judgment you’ve consistently demonstrated. To be blunt, you’re extraordinarily young for any ruler, far less for the ruler of an empire the size of the one you and the Empress are busily hammering together. That’s enough to make a man nervous, at least until he gets to know the two of you.”
“Indeed?” Cayleb cocked his head, and Nahrmahn nodded.
“You’ve demonstrated a remarkable palette of abilities, actually,” he said in an almost detached, analytical tone. “Military capability, skilled diplomacy, a steadiness which is quite remarkable in someone as young as you still are, integrity — which, I’m discovering, can be an extraordinarily dangerous weapon when it comes to diplomacy; probably because we encounter it far too infrequently to build up defenses against it — and intelligent ruthlessness coupled with what I can only call a pragmatic compassion.” He shook his head. “That collection of abilities would be rare in a man twice your age. Your father was obviously an even better teacher than I’d ever realized.”
“I believe he was,” Cayleb agreed softly.
“And then there’s the Empress,” Nahrmahn continued with a quirky smile. “In her own way, I suspect she’s actually even more dangerous than you are. She’s certainly one of the two smartest women I’ve ever met in my life, and the fact that she managed not simply to survive but to actually strengthen the power of the Chisholmian Crown despite the best efforts of a pack of noblmen four or five times her age only underscores her own capabilities. Frankly, the two of you together are positively frightening, if you’ll excuse my frankness.”
“I’ll not only excuse it, I’ll take it as a compliment.”
“Probably you should. And,” Nahrmahn pursed his lips thoughtfully, “there’s another aspect to it, too. One that hadn’t occurred to me until I’d had the opportunity to meet both of you and acquire a firsthand impression of you.”
“And what aspect would that be?” Cayleb asked when the Emeraldian paused.
“For a time, at least, I’m inclined to think your adversaries may well be going to underestimate you simply because you are young. They’re going to assume that however intelligent you may be, you’ll still be prey to the impetuousness of your youth. In fact, I must admit that was my own first thought when I heard the details of the ultimatum you delivered to Earl Thirsk after Crag Reach. The way they were reported to me, you were quite . . . bloodthirsty about the consequences he’d face if he rejected your surrender terms. They struck me as the sort of, um, extravagant intentions one might have expected out of youthful inexperience, let’s say.”
“Good.” Cayleb chuckled. “They were supposed to.”
“Indeed, Your Majesty?”
“Oh, don’t mistake me, Nahrmahn. If he’d rejected my terms, I would have renewed the action . . . and there would have been no more offer of quarter until every last one of his ships had burned or gone to the bottom. Never think I wouldn’t have done it.”
Nahrmahn Baytz looked into the no longer gleaming brown eyes which had gone hard as frozen agates and recognized the truth when he heard it.
“And I’ll also admit that I wanted to make the consequences of attacking my kingdom crystal clear, not simply to the Earl, but to the entire world. The next ruler the Group of Four bribes or coerces into attacking Charis will never be able to pretend he didn’t know ahead of time exactly how Charis was going to respond. And in case anyone missed that after my conversation with Thirsk, I rather suspect they’ll take my point after our message to King Zhames.
“But I also figured it wouldn’t hurt for people like Clyntahn and Trynair to think they heard a young man’s arrogance talking. My father once told me it was a wonderful and always-to-be-treasured thing to be loved by your friends, but that it was essential to be feared by your enemies. And after fear, the next most essential thing where your enemies are concerned is that they underestimate you. Better never to be attacked at all, but if you are going to be attacked, the more overconfident your enemy is, the better.”
Nahrmahn gazed for several seconds at the young man who had become his emperor, and then he bent his head in a gesture of respect.
“I’m feeling better and better every day about the fact that I ended up losing to you and your father, Your Majesty.”
“Really? Because I’m such a splendid and lovable fellow?”
“No, not really,” Nahrmahn said dryly, and Cayleb snorted in amusement. Then the Emeraldian continued. “The reason I’m deciding I don’t feel so bad after all is that at least I didn’t lose to someone who simply stumbled into the ability to kick my well-padded arse up between my conniving ears.”

About Eric Flint

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31 Responses to BY HERESIES DISTRESSED — snippet 29

  1. Alistair says:

    What a great passage I have a soft spot for Nahman so I am glad he is coming over though I hope the empress won’t miss him to much I suspect she needs his intelleigence as much as Cayleb

  2. Bret Hooper says:

    @ last, the action is about to begin! And guess who will come out the winner!


  3. Alejo says:

    I wondered when Nahrmahn would make an appearance. Perfect example of “He’s an SOB.” “yeah, but he’s our SOB.”

  4. Peter says:

    “Integrity….can be an extraordinarily dangerous weapon when it comes to diplomacy…”

    Reminds me of the Atriedies (sp?) family policy in Dune – to buy loyalty with loyalty. Nahrman is a veeeeeryyyy interesting fellow.

  5. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Alejo, I hope you’re talking about the Grand Duke not Prince Nahrmahn. Nahrmahn isn’t a SOB. [Wink]

  6. Alistair says:

    I wonder what aggreement he will get out of the grand duke and what will Zebedeahs relationship be with the Empire?

    vassal but with own army and more independence than Emerald?
    Sub Unit of the kingdom on the same level as Emerald?

    A mixture?

  7. E says:

    If I were Hektor, I’d waste what little rebuilt naval power I had on bottling up Charis in Hannah Bay or using them as fireships once the Charisians dock.

  8. RobertHuntingdon says:

    E, if Hektor actually knew where Cayleb was at the moment, I suspect without a doubt he would at least consider it. But fortunately he doesn’t have SNARCs to help him out.

    OT, it was nice to get a real meal of a snip instead of a light snack of a snippet for a change. Frankly I’d just as soon get this long a snippet all the time and get only one a week.


  9. Bob G says:

    @7 – I’d be very surprised if Cayleb didn’t have picket ships to prevent such an occurrence. I doubt much could survive a run-in with even a light cruiser.

    BTW, during the Napoleonic Wars, the French had the death penalty for any (British) sailor convicted of manning a fire ship. I don’t know if it is the same in Safehold, but if so, then a fire ship would probably be a suicide mission.

  10. Maggie says:

    Welcome back Nahrman! I adore every perspicacious particle of your pudgy person!

  11. JN says:

    That was a much better drawn coversation than the ones in Chisolm.


  12. Peter Z says:

    @6 The Grand Duke seems likely to betray Cayleb regardless of the offer. Offer him his own Principality uner the Empire and any lands lost to Hektor. When he betrays his vows be prepared to crush him like a sand maggot beneath your slipper and have Nahrmahn do the crushing to rub salt in the wound.

    That way it is clear that Cayleb has made a good offer, but will keep open the possibility of creating an example pour encourager les Corisandians which they will enjoy as well as glean the proper meaning from.


  13. Mike says:

    JN, I hate to say it, but after 20-30 Weber books it is obvious that if you are looking for Weber’s skill with dialogue to get better, you are wasting your time. You are right that this bit was a tad better than some of the really clunky stuff, but pigs don’t fly and robins don’t wallow and Weber doesn’t write well. It obviously doesn’t stop people from buying and reading his books, though, because he has other skills (mainly in plotting and detailed world-building) that really appeal to many SF readers.

  14. robert says:

    #13 Mike–again, I agree with you. The same bits of so-called conversation and humor are found in book after book. Sometimes chapter after chapter. And conversation is what he does way too much of. Strip out the seemingly endless bad guy dialogue from his books and some of those 800 – 1000 pagers could be a few chapters shorter. Many action sequences are actually shorter than the setup for them. In “Storm From the Shadows” there is so little action and so much dialog that the whole book is a set-up for the next book. And what is most irksome is that he doesn’t need all that detail. We get it right away and we do not need pages and pages of why the bad guys are doing what they are doing.
    Once more, I long for the likes of “On Basilisk Station” instead of the overblown stuff he did with Linda Evans.

  15. lockswriter says:

    The funny thing is, I couldn’t tell if this snippet was Weber praising his hero, or Nahrmahn praising the guy who has him on a leash.

  16. E says:

    Hektor doesn’t have SNARCs, but he’d be a fool not ot have spies. And geographically speaking it doesn’t take much to guess where your adversary will go to consolodate with a turncoat who rules the neighboring island when the capital is located at one end of a bay. Picket ships are effective, but even Charis would be hard pressed to stop a dozen ships from sailing in at night between their lines if they were on a suicide run. And the thing about fireships is that they are panic inducing when used in the right way at night. Hektor might try instead for an outright assassination (miracle cloth) but the one who might actually pull one off easily would be the Duke of Zebediah who will be hosting (and feeding, I assume) Cayleb. Hektor might still have Cayleb poisoned at any function meal, but if Merlin is thorough with his SNARCs he’ll have the palace staff watched down to even mouthing the word ‘poison.’

  17. Peter says:

    I wonder if Merlin will serve as Cayleb’s food-taster during this expedition?

  18. Michael says:

    @ 16: E, are you certain that poisons would work on Cayleb? Didn’t the injection that Merlin gave to Cayleb (mentioned offhand in the later portion of OAR) provide immunity to most disease, a longer life, and also resistance to poisons? I don’t have the book onhand, but it was descibed as the body essentially recognizing down to a a genetic level what was its own and what wasn’t – and killing off the whatever wasn’t. That would seem to indicate it would attack poison. Granted, that doesn’t eliminate whatever harmful effects the poison might have, but if it’s slow acting, the nanotech might kill it off first. Something that would cause Cayleb to die in seconds would still probably kill him though.

    I may be misremembering entirely though.

  19. jason says:

    Didnt Merlin use some kind of nano meds on Cayleb to prevent any sickness? Think it would work w/poisons

  20. E says:

    @18 Immunity to disease and longevity yes, poisons: didn’t say.

  21. robert says:

    Does somebody know something? Why are we talking about poisons? ‘Fess up!

  22. Paul says:

    I think poisons just came up as a possible way of taking Cayleb out.

  23. E says:

    Ahh… longevity through health as indirect effect, but no antigerone and nothing about poison.
    Pg 537 in the Paperback of OAR.

  24. Bob G says:

    I really don’t think the Grand Duke would poison Cayleb,knowing that 50,000 armed and potentially P.O.’ed marines are standing offshore, with at least a dozen cannon-eqipped galleons. Still, I’d bring my own wine.

    The image of Merlin tasting, then taking a deep sip of poisoned wine before pouring it down the sand maggot’s throat is amusing.

  25. Jeff Ehlers says:

    I doubt Hektor could find a way to successfully poison Cayleb to begin with.

    And the problem with poisons, especially those strong enough to kill, isn’t that the body doesn’t recognize them as dangerous, but usually that they’re extremely toxic. That’s why many poisons will kill within minutes if they’re in a sufficiently large dose. So in a way it doesn’t matter if Cayleb’s body would recognize it as poison or not. Unless it were a small dose, he could very easily still die even with Merlin’s little wizardry.

  26. E says:

    The best argument I have against poisoning at this point is that it wouldn’t be culturally constant like it has been in Earth history, given that the Big battle of Armageddon was handled with rakurai at the enemy’s home and with swords elsewhere. So Safeholdians have a primarily straitforward approach to mass conflict.

    The Grand Duke shouldn’t have a reason to poison Cayleb but you never know what motivates a potential enemy.

    Hektor can get Cayleb poisoned if he has independent cells of agents in Zebediah and especially in the palace. My guess would be that Cayleb will spend maybe a five-day in Zebediah if things go right, so whether fireships or poisonings, Hektor will have time to send some orders and have them carried out within that timeframe, especially if he’d had the logistics set up in advance. If he timed a fireship attack to coincide with a state dinner function in which Chayleb was poisoned, all hell would break loose if he could pull off that level of coordinated strike.

    Regardless of Hektor, something is going to happen in Zebediah and really it’s their proximity to the enemy that cranks up how many somethings can happen.

    Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

  27. John Driver says:

    There’s been some speculation that Tomhys Symmyns, the Grand Duke of Zebediah, might try to either poison in some other fashion betray Cayleb. I don’t think that’s likely since Nahrman’s estimation is that not only can Cayleb reach an accomodation with him, but that the Grand Duke will behave himself while Cayleb is in essence holding a knife to his throat. On the other hand, Prince Hektor knows how loyal the Grand Duke is and hasn’t shown the slightest worry about him. This suggests to me that Prince Hektor already has agents in place to take appropriate action. I think it more likely that any action in the next few snippets are going to stem from Hektor’s agents. If those agents act on longstanding contingency instructions and not on newly issued orders from Hektor, then Merlin might not be able to give much advance notice. Things just might get exciting.

  28. RobertHuntingdon says:

    I like your theory JD. Exciting is fun to read! :)


  29. E says:

    Maybe Hektor will do the old fashioned thing and send swordsmen as assassins. I’ve been thinking about Cayleb’s training from Merlin, he hasn’t really had much chance to use the samurai style of swordsmanship and I doubt Weber would have written a whole chapter for it if he didn’t intent a detailed fight involving Cayleb. Plus, there’s Excalibur.

  30. Maggie says:

    Poisoning as a method of assasination is more anecdotal than practical in the long run. In order to do it in a subtle manner the victim must be already sick or debilitated, or the administration must be small amounts long term (Catherine Medici or Blanche White, for example, use of powder arsenic, thalium, poison impregnated gloves). The killer would need to have constant access to the proposed victim. Just cramming the victim with a massive dose (Gee, ingest this huge and obvious dose of nicotine, liquid arsenic, nightshades, etc.) results in the “AAAGH!” moment where the killer is left standing over the corpse with everyone looking at him. Not likely. Only works if you are a Borgia or Strozzi, safe and secure in your home town where no one is going to say it was anything other than indegestion or “the fever”.

  31. Maggie says:

    Personally, if one feels that strongly about it, I prefer the low cut evening dress and the deed done with a pearl handled revolver in a beaded evening bag. Of course if any of you gents did that it would just be—weird…

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