David Weber posted this on the Bar.
A Mighty Fortress – Snippet 01
September, Year of God 893
City of Manchyr,
Princedom of Corisande
“So I don’t know about you people, but I’ve had more than enough of this dragon shit!” Paitryk Hainree shouted from his improvised speaker’s perch on the municipal fire brigade cistern.
“Bastards!” a voice came back out of the small crowd gathered outside the tavern. It was early in the morning, on a Wednesday, and like every other tavern on the face of Safehold, all the taverns of the city of Manchyr were closed and would stay that way until after morning mass. The sun was barely up, the narrow streets were still caverns of shadow, but the clouds overhead already promised rain by afternoon, and the humidity was high.
As, Hainree noted, were tempers. It wasn’t a huge crowd, in fact it was considerably smaller than the one he’d hoped for, and probably at least half the men in it were there more out of curiosity than commitment. But the ones who were committed —
“Fucking murderers!” someone else snarled back.
Hainree nodded vigorously, hard enough to make sure everyone in his angry audience could recognize the gesture. He was a silversmith, by trade, not an actor or an orator, and certainly not a priest! But over the last few five-days he’d had the opportunity to profit by the experience and advice of quite a few men who were trained priests. He’d learned how voice projection and “spontaneous” body language could support and emphasize a message — especially when that message was backed by genuine, burning outrage.
“Yes!” he shouted back to the last speaker. “Damned right they’re murderers, unless you want to believe that lying bastard Cayleb!” He flung up his hands in eloquent contempt. “Of course he didn’t do it! Why, what possible motive could he have had to order Prince Hektor’s murder?”
A fresh chorus of outrage, this time formed of pure anger rather than anything as artificial as words, answered him, and he smiled savagely.
“Goddamned butchers!” yet another voice shouted. “Priest-killers! Heretics! Remember Ferayd!”
“Yes!” He nodded his head again, just as vigorously as before. “They can say what they want — this new ‘archbishop’ of ours and his bishops — but I’m not so sure you aren’t right about Cayleb’s precious ‘Church of Charis’! Maybe there are some priests who’ve abused their offices. No one wants to believe that — I don’t want to, do you? But remember what Archbishop Wyllym said in his report about the Ferayd Massacre! There’s no doubt Cayleb lied about how terrible the original attack was, and it’s for damned sure he and all his other bootlickers have been lying about how ‘restrained’ their response to it was. But even so, Mother Church herself acknowledged that the priests who were hanged — hanged impiously, with no proper Church trial, by ‘Archbishop Maikel’s’ own brother, mind you! — were guilty of wrongdoing. Mother Church said that, and the Grand Vicar imposed a personal penance on the Grand Inquisitor himself for letting it happen! Does that sound to you like Mother Church can’t be trusted? Like we can’t rely on her to deal with abuses and corruption? Like the only answer is to defy God’s own Church? Cast down the vicarate Langhorne himself ordained?”
There was another snarl of fury, yet this one, Hainree noted, was less fiery than the one before. He was a bit disappointed by that, but not really surprised. Corisandians, by and large, had never felt directly threatened by the policies of the Church of God Awaiting and the Lords of the Temple Lands. Certainly not the way Charisians had felt when they discovered their entire kingdom had been condemned to fire and the sword by that same Church. Or, at least, by the men who controlled it.
Still, it would have been inaccurate — and foolish — to pretend there weren’t plenty of Corisandians who had their own reservations about the Church’s current rulership. Manchyr was a long way from the Temple or the city of Zion, after all, and Corisandians as a whole were undoubtedly more independent-minded in matters of religion than the Inquisition or the vicarate at large would truly have approved. For that matter, plenty of Corisandians had had sons or brothers or fathers killed in the Battle of Darcos Sound, and it was common knowledge that Darcos Sound had been the disastrous consequence of a war which had seen Corisande and its allies conscripted to act as the Church’s proxies. Among those for whom religious fervor and orthodoxy were major motivators, they burned with a blinding, white-hot passion that surpassed all others. The majority of Corisandians, however, were far less passionate about those particular concerns. Their opposition to the Church of Charis stemmed far more from the fact that it was the Church of Charis, linked in their own minds with the House of Ahrmahk’s conquest of their princedom, than from any outraged sense of orthodoxy. For that matter, Corisande undoubtedly harbored its own share of the reform-minded, and they might well find themselves actively attracted to the breakaway church.
Best not to dwell too heavily on the heresy, Paitryk, Hainree told himself. Leave the ones already on fire over that to burn for themselves. Father Aidryan’s right about that; they’ll be hot enough without you. Spend your sparks on other tinder.
“I’ve no doubt God and Langhorne — and the Archangel Schueler — will deal with that, in time,” he said out loud. “That’s God’s business, and Mother Church’s, and I’ll leave it to them! But what happens outside the Church — what happens in Corisande, or here on the streets of Manchyr — that’s man’s business. Our business! A man’s got to know what it is he stands for, and when he knows, he has to truly stand, not just wave his hands about and wish things were different.”
The last word came out in a semi-falsetto sneer, and he felt the fresh anger frothing up.
“Hektor!” a wiry man with a badly scarred left cheek shouted. Hainree couldn’t see him, but he recognized the voice easily enough. He should have, after all. Rahn Aimayl had been one of his senior apprentices before the Charisian invasion ruined Hainree’s once thriving business, along with so many other of the besieged capital’s enterprises, and Hainree had been there when a cracked mold and a splash of molten silver produced the scar on Aimayl’s cheek.
“Hektor!” Aimayl repeated now. “Hektor!”
“Hektor, Hektor!” other voices took up the shout, and this time Hainree’s smile could have been a slash lizard’s.
“Well,” he shouted then, “there’s a hell of a lot more of us than there are of them, when all’s said! And I don’t know about you, but I’m not ready — yet — to assume that all of our lords and great men and members of Parliament are ready to suck up to Cayleb like this so called Regency Council! Maybe all they really need is a little indication that some of the rest of us aren’t ready to do that, either!”
* * * * * * * * * *
Sergeant Edvard Waistyn grimaced as the crowd streamed closer and its chant rose in both volume and anger. It was easy enough to make out the words, despite the majestic, measured tolling of the cathedral’s bells coming from so close at hand. Of course, one reason it might have been so easy for him to recognize that chant was that, unfortunately, he’d already heard quite a few other chants, very much like it, over the last few five-days.
And it’s not anything I’m not going to be hearing a lot more of over the next few five-days, neither, he thought grimly.
The sergeant, one of the scout-snipers assigned to the First Battalion, Third Brigade, Imperial Charisian Marines, lay prone on the roof, gazing up along the narrow street below his perch. The crowd flowing down that street, through the shadows between the buildings, still seemed touched by just a bit of hesitancy. The anger was genuine enough, and he didn’t doubt they’d started out in the full fire of their outrage, but now they could see the cathedral’s dome and steeples rising before them. The notion of . . . registering their unhappiness was no longer focused on some future event. It was almost here now, and that could have unpleasant consequences for some of them.
Still and all, I’m not thinking this is one as’ll just blow over with only a little wind. There’s rain in this one — and some thunder, too, like as not.
His intent eyes swept slowly, steadily across the men and boys shaking their fists and hurling imprecations in the direction of the rifle-armed men formed up in front of Manchyr Cathedral in the traditional dark blue tunics and light blue trousers of the Charisian Marines. Those Marines formed a watchful line, a barrier between the shouters and another crowd — this one much quieter, moving quickly — as it flowed up the steps behind them.
So far, none of the sporadic “spontaneous demonstrations” had intruded upon the cathedral or its grounds. Waistyn was actually surprised it hadn’t happened already, given the ready-made rallying point the “heretical” Church of Charis offered the people out to organize resistance to the Charisian occupation. Maybe there’d been even more religious discontent in Corisande than the sergeant would have thought before the invasion? And maybe it was just that even the most belligerent rioter hesitated to trespass on the sanctity of Mother Church.
And maybe this crowd’s feeling a little more adventurous than the last few have, he thought grimly.
“Traitors!” The shout managed to cut through the rhythmic chant of the assassinated Corisandian prince’s name. “Murderers! Assassins!”
“Get out! Get the hell out — and take your murdering bastard of an ’emperor’ with you!”
The volume increased still further, difficult as that was to achieve, and the crowd began to flow forward once again, with more assurance, as if its own bellowed imprecations were burning away any last minute hesitation.
I could wish General Gahrvai had his own men down here, Waistyn reflected. If this goes as bad as I think it could . . . .
A group of armsmen in the white and orange colors of the Archbishop’s Guard marched steadily down the street towards the cathedral, and the volume of the shouts ratcheted still higher as those same protesters caught sight of the white cassock and the white-cockaded priest’s cap with its broad orange ribbon at the heart of the guardsmen’s formation.
“Heretic! Traitor!” someone screamed. “Langhorne knows his own — and so does Shan-wei!”
Perfect, Waistyn thought disgustedly. Couldn’t’ve come in the back way, could he now? Don’t be daft, Edvard — of course he couldn’t! Not today, of all days! He shook his head. Oh, isn’t this going to be fun?
* * * * * * * * * *
Down at street level, Lieutenant Brahd Tahlas, the youthful commanding officer of Second Platoon, Alpha Company, found himself thinking very much the same thoughts as the veteran sergeant perched above him. In fact, he was thinking them with even more emphasis, given his closer proximity to the steadily swelling mob.
And his greater responsibility for dealing with it.
“I can’t say I’m liking this all that much, Sir,” Platoon Sergeant Zhak Maigee muttered. The platoon sergeant was half again Tahlas’ age, and he’d first enlisted in the Royal Charisian Marines when he was all of fifteen years old. He’d been a lot of places and seen a lot of things since then — or, as he was occasionally wont to put it, “met a lot of interesting people . . . and killed ’em!” — and he’d learned his trade thoroughly along the way. That normally made him a reassuring presence, but at the moment his face wore that focused, intent-on-the-business-in-hand expression of an experienced noncom looking at a situation which offered all sorts of possibilities . . . none of them good. He’d been careful to keep his voice low enough only Tahlas could possibly have heard him, and the lieutenant shrugged.
“I don’t much care for it myself,” he admitted in the same, quiet voice, more than a little surprised by how steady he’d managed to keep it. “If you have any suggestions about how to magically convince all these idiots to just disappear, I’m certainly open to them, Sergeant.”
Despite the situation, Maigee snorted. He rather liked his young lieutenant, and whatever else, the boy had steady nerves. Which probably had something to do with why he’d been selected by Major Portyr, Alpha Company’s CO, for his current assignment.
And Maigee’s of course.
“Now, somehow, Sir, I can’t seem to come up with a way to do that just this very minute. Let me ponder on it, and I’ll get back to you.”
“Good. In the meantime, though, keep your eye on that group over there, by the lamp post.” Tahlas flicked one hand in an unobtrusive gesture, indicating the small knot of men he had in mind. “I’ve been watching them. Most of these idiots look like the sort of idlers and riffraff who could have just sort of turned up, but not those fellows.”
Maigee considered the cluster of Corisandians Tahlas had singled out and decided the lieutenant had a point. Those men weren’t in the crowd’s front ranks, but they weren’t at the rear, either, and they seemed oddly . . . cohesive. As if they were their own little group, not really part of the main crowd. Yet they were watching the men about them intensely, with a sort of focus that was different from anyone else’s, and some of those other men were watching them right back. Almost as if they were . . . waiting for something. Or anticipating it, maybe.
* * * * * * * * * *
The cluster of Church armsmen was closer, now, Waistyn observed, and the quantity of abuse coming from the crowd swelled steadily. It couldn’t get a whole lot louder, but it was getting more . . . inclusive as shouts and curses with a clear, definitely religious content added themselves to the ongoing chant of Prince Hektor’s name.
“All right, lads,” the sergeant said calmly to the rest of the squad of scout-snipers on the roof with him. “Check your priming, but no one so much as moves an eyelash without I give the order!”
A quiet chorus of acknowledgment came back to him, and he grunted in approval, but he never took his eyes from the street below him. Despite his injunction, he wasn’t concerned by any itchy trigger fingers, really. All of his Marines were veterans, and all of them had been there when Major Portyr made his instructions perfectly — one might almost have said painfully — clear. The last thing anyone wanted was for Charisian Marines to open fire on an “unarmed crowd” of civilians in the streets of Corisande’s capital. Well, maybe that was the next to last thing, actually. Waistyn was pretty sure that letting anything unfortunate happen to Archbishop Klairmant would be even less desirable. That, after all, was what Waistyn’s squad had been put up here to prevent.
Of course, unless we’re ready to start shooting anyone as soon as they get in range of him, it’s possible we might just be a tad late when it comes to the “preventing” part, he thought with profound disgust.
* * * * * * * * * *
“Blasphemers!” Charlz Dobyns shouted, waving his fist at the oncoming Archbishop’s Guard. His voice cracked — it still had an irritating tendency to do that at stressful moments — and his eyes glittered with excitement.
Truth to tell, Charlz didn’t really feel all that strongly one way or the other about this “Church of Charis” nonsense. In fact, he hadn’t chosen his own war cry — that had been suggested by his older brother’s friend, Rahn Aimayl. And he wasn’t the only person using it, either. At least a dozen others in the crowd, most of them no older than Charlz himself, had begun shouting the same word, just as they’d rehearsed, the moment someone caught sight of Archbishop Klairmant’s approach.
From the way some of the people around them were reacting, Rahn had been right on the mark when he explained how effective the charge of blasphemy would be.
Personally, Charlz wasn’t even entirely certain exactly what “blasphemy” was — except for the way his mother had always clouted him over the ear for it whenever he took Langhorne’s name in vain. And he had no idea how the Church of Charis’ doctrine might be at odds with that of the rest of the Church. He was no priest, that was for sure, and he knew it! But even he found it difficult to believe the more spectacular stories about orgies on altars and child sacrifice. Stood to reason that nobody could get away with that right here in the Cathedral without everyone knowing it was happening, and he’d yet to meet anyone who’d actually seen it. Or anyone he would have trusted to tell him whether or not it was raining, at any rate!
As far as the rest of it went, though, for all he knew this new ‘church’ of theirs could have a point. If even a quarter of what some folks were saying about the so-called “Group of Four” was true, he supposed he could understand why some people could be upset with them. But that didn’t matter, either. They were the Vicars, and so far as Charlz could see, what the Vicars said, went. He certainly wasn’t going to argue with them! If someone else wanted to, that was their affair, and he knew quite a few Corisandians seemed to agree with the Charisians. In fact, at this particular moment, there were a Shan-wei of a lot more people inside the Cathedral than there were standing outside it shouting at them.
For that matter, Charlz’s own mother was the housekeeper for the rectory at Saint Kathryn’s. He knew where she was this morning, and from what she’d said in the last few five-days, Father Tymahn seemed to be leaning heavily towards this new Church of Charis, as well.
But that was really beside the point, as far as Charlz was concerned. In most ways, he shared his mother’s immense respect for Father Tymahn, yet in this case, she was missing the true point. No. The true point — or at least the one which had brought Charlz here this morning — wasn’t doctrine, or who wore the archbishop’s priest’s cap here in Manchyr. Or it wouldn’t have been about who wore the cap . . . except for the fact that the man who did had sworn fealty to the Empire of Charis, as well as the Church of Charis, in order to get it.
It wasn’t so much that Charlz was a fanatic Corisandian patriot. There really weren’t all that many Corisandian “patriots,” in the sense that someone from the millennium-dead Terran Federation might have understood the term. Loyalties in most Safeholdian realms — there were exceptions, like Charis and the Republic of Siddarmark — tended to be purely local. Loyalties to a specific baron, or earl, or duke, perhaps. Or to a prince, or an individual monarch. But not to the concept of a “nation” in the sense of a genuine, self-aware nationstate. Young Charlz, for example, thought of himself first as a Manchyrian, a resident of the city of that name, and then as (in descending order of importance) a subject of the Duke of Manchyr and as a subject of Prince Hektor, who had happened to be Duke of Manchyr, as well as Prince of Corisande.
Beyond that, Charlz had never really thought all that deeply, before the Charisian invasion, about where his loyalties lay or about relations between Corisande and the Kingdom of Charis. In fact, he still wasn’t entirely clear on exactly what had provoked open warfare between Corisande and Charis. On the other hand, he was only sixteen Safeholdian years old (fourteen and a half, in the years of long-dead Terra), and he was accustomed to being less than fully clear on quite a few issues. What he did know was that Corisande had been invaded; that the city in which he lived had been placed under siege; that the Corisandian Army had been soundly defeated; and that Prince Hektor — the one clearly visible (from his perspective, at any rate) symbol of Corisandian unity and identity had been assassinated.
That was enough to upset anyone, wasn’t it?
Still, he’d have been inclined to leave well enough alone, keep his own head down, and hope for the best if it had been solely up to him. But it wasn’t. There were plenty of other people here in Manchyr who definitely weren’t inclined to leave well enough alone, and some of them were getting steadily louder and more vociferous. It seemed pretty obvious to Charlz that sooner or later, if they had their way, people were going to have to choose up sides, and if he had to do that, he knew which side he was going to choose. Whatever had started the quarrel between Corisande and Charis, he didn’t need any dirty foreigners poking any sticks into hornets nests here in his hometown.
(And they had to be dirty foreigners, didn’t they? After all, all foreigners were, weren’t they?)
“Blasphemers!” he shouted again.
“Blasphemers!” he heard someone else shouting. It wasn’t one of his friends this time, either. Others were starting to take up the cry, and Charlz grinned as he reached under his tunic and loosened the short, heavy cudgel in his belt.
* * * * * * * * * *
Rather to Paitryk Hainree’s surprise, the voice of the young Charisian officer in front of the Cathedral was actually audible through the crowd noise. It probably helped that he was using a leather speaking trumpet, but more likely, Hainree reflected, it had to do with the fact that he’d been trained to be heard through the thunder of a field of battle.
What surprised him even more was that the front ranks of his crowd — No, mob, not “crowd,” he thought. Let’s use the honest word, Paitryk. — actually seemed to hesitate. His eyes widened slightly as he saw it, then narrowed again as he recognized at least part of the reason. The Charisian had raised his voice to be heard, true, but it wasn’t a bellow of answering anger. No, it was a voice of . . . exasperation. And the young man’s body language wasn’t especially belligerent, either. In fact, he had one hand on his hip, and it looked as if he were actually tapping his toe on the Cathedral’s steps.
He looks more like an irritated tutor somewhere than an army officer confronting a hostile mob, Hainree realized.
“It’s Wednesday morning!” the Charisian went on. “You should all be ashamed of yourselves! If you’re not in church yourselves, the least you can do is let other people go to mass in peace!”
“What d’you know about mass, heretic?!” somebody — he thought it might have been Aimayl — shouted back.
“I know I’m not going to throw rocks through a cathedral’s windows,” the Charisian shouted back. “I know that much!” He gave a visible shudder. “Langhorne only knows what my mother would do to me if she found out about that!”
More than one person in the crowd surprised Hainree — and probably themselves — by laughing. Others only snarled, and there was at least a spatter of additional shouts and curses as Archbishop Klairmant passed through the cathedral doors behind the Marines.
“Go home!” The Charisian’s raised voice sounded almost friendly, tinged more with resignation than anger. “If you have a point to make, make it someplace else, on a day that doesn’t belong to God. I don’t want to see anybody hurt on a Wednesday! In fact, my orders are to avoid that if I possibly can. But my orders are also to protect the Cathedral and anyone in it, and if I have to hurt someone outside it to do that, I will.”
His voice was considerably harder now, still that of someone trying to be reasonable, but with an undertone that warned them all there was a limit to his patience.
Hainree glanced around the faces of the four or five men closest to him and saw them looking back at him. One of them raised an eyebrow and twitched his head back the way they’d come, and Hainree nodded very slightly. He wasn’t afraid of going toe-to-toe with the Marines himself, but Father Aidryan had made it clear that it was Hainree’s job to nurture and direct the anti-Charis resistance. That resistance might well require martyrs in days to come, yet it would need leaders just as badly. Possibly even more badly.
The man who’d raised the eyebrow nodded back and turned away, forging a path towards the front of the now-stalled crowd. Hainree watched him go for a moment, then he and several of the others began filtering towards the back.
* * * * * * * * * *
Damn me if I don’t think the lad’s going to do it! Platoon Sergeant Maigee thought wonderingly.
The sergeant wouldn’t have bet a single Harchong mark on Lieutenant Tahlas’ being able to talk the mob into turning around and going home, but Tahlas had obviously hit a nerve by reminding them all it was Wednesday. Maigee had expected that to backfire, given the shouts of “blasphemer” and “heretic” coming out of the crowd, yet it would appear the lieutenant had read its mood better than he had.
“Go on, now,” Tahlas said, his tone gentler as the mob’s volume began to decrease and he could lower his own voice level a bit. “Disperse, before anyone gets hurt. I don’t want that. For that matter, whether you believe it or not, Emperor Cayleb doesn’t want that; Archbishop Klairmant doesn’t want that; and it’s for damned sure — if you’ll pardon my language — that God doesn’t want that. So what say you and I make all those people happy?”
* * * * * * * * * *
Charlz Dahbyns grimaced as he felt the mood of the crowd around him shift. Somehow, this wasn’t what he’d anticipated. This Charisian officer — Charlz had no idea how to read the man’s rank insignia — was supposed to be furious, screaming at them to disperse. Threatening them, making his contempt for them clear. He certainly wasn’t supposed to be just talking to them! And reasoning with them — or pretending he was, at any rate — was just too underhanded and devious to be believed.
And yet, Charlz wasn’t completely immune to the Charisian’s manner. And the other man had a point about its being Wednesday. Not only that, but the Charisian’s mention of his mother had reminded Charlz forcibly of his own mother . . . and how she was likely to react when she found out what her darling boy had been up to when he was supposed to be at mass himself.
He didn’t know what thoughts were going through the minds of the rest of the crowd, but he could sense the way the entire mob was settling back on its heels, losing the forward momentum which had carried it down the street. Some of the people in it — including some of Charlz’s friends — were still shouting, yet their voices had lost much of their fervor. They sounded shriller, more isolated, as if those voices’ owners felt their own certainty oozing away.
Charlz took his hand away from the truncheon under his tunic and was a bit surprised to discover he was actually more relieved than regretful at the way things had so unexpectedly shifted.
He started to turn away, then paused, his eyes widening in shock, as the man who’d just walked up behind him brought something out from under his own tunic.
Charlz had never seen one of the new “flintlocks” which had been introduced into the Corisandian Army, but he recognized what he had to be seeing now. It was a short, squat weapon — a musket whose stock had been cut down and whose barrel had been sawn down to no more than a couple of feet. It was still far bigger and clumsier than the pistols which equipped the Charisian Imperial Guard, and it must have been extraordinarily difficult to keep it hidden, but the flintlock which had been fitted in place of its original matchlock didn’t need the clumsy, smoldering, impossible-to-hide, lit slow match. That had probably helped a lot where concealing it was concerned, a corner of Charlz’s mind thought almost calmly.
He watched, frozen, as the weapon rose. It poked over the shoulder of another young man, no more than a year or so older than Charlz himself, standing beside him. The other young man twitched in astonishment, turning his head, looking across and down at the muzzle as it intruded into the corner of his field of vision . . . just as the man holding it squeezed the trigger.
* * * * * * * * * *
The sudden gunshot took everyone by surprise, even experienced noncoms like Waistyn and Maigee. Perhaps it shouldn’t have taken the sergeants unaware, but Tahlas’ obvious success in calming the crowd had lulled even them just a bit, as well.
The man behind that musket had marked the Marine lieutenant as his target. Fortunately for Brahd Tahlas, however, no one would ever have described the would-be murderer’s weapon as a precision instrument. It was a smoothbore, with a very short barrel, and loaded with meal powder, not corned powder. Less than a quarter of the slow-burning, anemic propellant had actually been consumed before the rest was flung out of the barrel in a huge, blinding cloud, and the bullet’s flight could only be characterized as . . . erratic.
The unfortunate young man who’d been looking at the muzzle at the moment it was fired screamed in agony as his face was savagely burned. He staggered back, clutching at his permanently blinded eyes, and four or five more people who’d been unlucky enough to be standing directly in front of him cried out in pain of their own as blazing flakes of gunpowder seared “coalminer’s tattoos” into the backs of their necks. One especially luckless soul actually had his hair set on fire and went to his knees, howling in panic and pain as he beat at the flames with both hands.
Charlz Dahbyns was far enough away to escape with only minor singeing, and his head snapped around, looking for the musket’s target.
* * * * * * * * * *
Lieutenant Tahlas wondered if Platoon Sergeant Maigee even realized he’d spoken out loud. The single word was pitched almost conversationally, after all. Not that it was going to make a lot of difference.
The musket ball had almost certainly been meant for him, the lieutenant realized, but it hadn’t found him. Instead, it had slammed into the chest of one of his privates, a good four feet to his right. The Marine went down, clutching at the front of his suddenly bloody tunic, and Tahlas realized something else. Major Portyr’s orders had been perfectly explicit on the matter of what Tahlas was supposed to do if firearms or edged weapons were used against any of his troops.
“Fix bayonets!” he heard his own voice command, and the men of his platoon obeyed.
He saw many of those in the crowd suddenly trying to back away as steel clicked and the long, shining blades sprouted from the ends of his Marines’ rifles. Some of them managed it; others found their escape blocked by the mass of bodies behind them, and still others reacted quite differently. Expressions snarled, truncheons and clubs came out from under tunics, and the front of the mob seemed to solidify somehow, drawing together. It seemed clear the people in those front ranks were ready for a fight.
For now, Brahd Tahlas thought grimly. For now, perhaps.
He looked at his bleeding private, and his jaw tightened as his expression hardened into something far less youthful than his years. He’d seen dead men enough at Talbor Pass. He looked away again, meeting Maigee’s eye, and his youthful voice was a thing of hammered iron.
“Sergeant Maigee, clear the street!” he said.