A Mighty Fortress – Snippet 06

A Mighty Fortress – Snippet 06

Royal Palace,
City of Talkyra,
Kingdom of Delferahk

“What do you think they really want, Phylyp?”

Irys Daykyn’s tone was calm as she gazed across the dinner table’s empty plates at her legal guardian, but the hazel eyes she’d inherited from her dead mother were darker than could have been explained solely by the lamps’ dimness.

“Mostly, I think, what they’ve said, Your Highness.” Phylyp Ahzgood, Earl of Coris shrugged. “Oh, I don’t doubt they’ve got more in mind than they’ve actually said so far. But as far as what that ‘more’ might be, your guess is almost certainly as good as mine,” he said. And he meant it, too. Irys Daikyn might be only seventeen years old — not quite sixteen, in the years of the planet upon which humanity had actually evolved — but she was scarcely a typical seventeen-year-old. Not even a typical seventeen-year-old princess.

“I don’t expect they’ve issued their . . . invitation, let’s call it, because of their vast concern for Daivyn, though.” Coris’ tone was biting. He wouldn’t have let anyone else hear him using it about the Group of Four, but neither he nor Irys had any illusions about that particular quartet, and no one else was present. “At the same time,” the man who had been Prince Hektor of Corisande’s spymaster for so many years continued, “I think it could probably be worse than it actually is. At least they’re not insisting the two of you accompany me!”

“Why should they bother to invite me, whatever their motives?”

Irys’ face had tightened, and Coris found himself nodding in acknowledgment. He’d meant his final sentence at least partly as an attempt at humor, but he wasn’t really surprised, after the fact, that it had fallen flat under the circumstances. And he no more doubted than Irys did that, as far as the Group of Four was concerned, she herself had very little value. Her little brother Daivyn was the legitimate Prince of Corisande — even Cayleb and Sharleyan of Charis acknowledged that much — even if he was currently in exile. But Irys? She was simply a sort of unimportant second thought. She had no intrinsic value as a political pawn in the Group of Four’s eyes, and they certainly weren’t going to waste any time worrying about what a fugitive princess in exile, subsisting solely (so far as they knew, at any rate) upon the niggardly generosity of distant relatives, might think.

Which was incredibly foolish of them, in Phylyp Ahzgood’s opinion, no matter how reasonable they obviously thought it was.

So far, anyway. It was entirely possible they would eventually learn the error of their ways. Probably quite painfully, he thought with a certain, undeniable satisfaction.

“I’m afraid you have a point about that, from their perspective, at least,” he said in answer to her question. “On the other hand, my own point stands, I think. If they had any immediate plans where Daivyn is concerned, they’d probably insist I drag him along, as well.”

Despite the very real affection in which she held her “guardian,” and despite her own worries, Irys couldn’t quite keep from grinning at Coris’ sour tone. It wasn’t really funny, of course — a journey of the next best thing to nine thousand miles would scarcely have been a mere jaunt in the country, even in the middle of summer. With winter coming on fast, it was going to be a highly unpleasant experience no matter what happened. And its final stage had the potential to be actively dangerous, for that matter.

“You don’t think it’s just because of how hard the trip’s going to be?” she asked, indirectly voicing her own worry where Coris was concerned.

“No, I don’t.” The earl’s lips tightened, and he shook his head. “Duchairn would probably worry about that, especially given Daivyn’s age. Even Trynair might worry about it, for that matter, if only because of his awareness of Daivyn’s potential value. I doubt it would even cross Maigwair’s mind to worry about dragging a nine-year-old through hip-deep snow, though. And Clyntahn –”

Coris broke off and shrugged, and it was Irys’ turn to nod. Vicar Zahmsyn Trynair was probably as cold-blooded and calculating a chancellor as the Church of God Awaiting had ever produced in all the nine dusty centuries since the Day of Creation. He was far more likely to regard Daivyn Daykyn purely as a potential political asset than as a little boy whose father had been brutally murdered. And, by all reports, Allayn Maigwair, the Church’s captain general, had about as much imagination as a worn-out boot. Expecting it to occur to him to worry about Daivyn would have been as foolish as it would futile.

And then there was Zhaspahr Clyntahn. Irys no more doubted than Coris did that the Grand Inquisitor would simply have looked blankly at anyone who might have had the temerity to suggest he should bother his own head one way or the other about Daivyn’s well-being.

“If they were contemplating any significant change in their calculations where he’s concerned, they might want him in Zion, where he’d be handy,” the earl continued. “For that matter, I think Clyntahn, at least, would want the opportunity to . . . impress Daivyn with just how serious an interest the Inquisitor and his associates take in him.” He shook his head. “No, I’m inclined to think it’s pretty much exactly what Trynair’s message suggests it is. They want to be sure I fully understand their plans for him. And to get my own impressions of the situation in Corisande, of course.”

For a moment, Irys looked as if she wanted to spit, and Coris didn’t blame her a bit.

“I’m sure they’ve got better sources than I do — than we do,” he said. “Or, at least, that their sources can get their reports to Zion faster than our agents can get reports to us. But anything they know about Corisande is secondhand, at best, even if it is more recent than anything we’ve heard. I’m not surprised they’d want to pick the brain of one of your father’s councilors.”

“Especially his spymaster’s brain, you mean.” Irys’ lips twitched a brief smile. It was very brief, though. “And especially now that Father’s dead. No doubt they want your impression of how our people are likely to have reacted when Cayleb assassinated him.”

This time, Coris only nodded. He’d watched Irys Daykyn grow up. In fact, as he’d once admitted to her, he’d been present on more than one occasion when her diaper had been changed. He knew exactly how close she’d been to her father, exactly how she’d taken his murder. And, although he’d tried his very best to keep her mind open to other possibilities, he knew exactly who she blamed for that murder.

Personally, Coris’ suspicions lay in a somewhat different direction. But there were dangers, especially for her, in laying those suspicions too plainly before her.

“I’m sure that’s one of the things they’ll want to discuss,” he agreed. “At any rate, though, I think this probably means they’re planning on leaving you and Daivyn here in Talkyra with King Zhames, at least for the foreseeable future. It’s going to take me better than two months just to get to Zion, and I don’t have any idea how long they plan on my staying once I get there. Since I don’t think they’re contemplating separating me permanently from Daivyn, or that they’re likely to be planning on sending him anywhere without me along as his guardian, that probably means they expect to leave him right here for at least five or six months. Probably longer, actually.”

“I can’t say I’d be entirely sorry if they did.” Irys sighed and shook her head. “Neither of us really likes it here, but he needs some stability, Phylyp. Needs some time in one place to heal.”

“I know.” Coris reached across the table and patted the back of her left hand gently. “I know. And I’ll do my best to convince them of that, as well.”

“I know you will.”

Irys smiled at him, hoping he didn’t see the edge of fear behind her expression. She knew Phylyp Ahzgood. Despite the reputation some assigned him, she knew how loyal he’d always been to her father, and she herself trusted him implicitly. Probably more than she really ought to, she thought sometimes. Not because she thought there was truly any likelihood of his betraying her trust, but simply because — as her father had always said — no one who sat on a throne, or who was responsible for supporting someone who did, could ever afford to completely trust anyone.

But there was a reason her father had selected Coris as her own and Daivyn’s guardian. And part of that reason was that in Phylyp Ahzgood’s case, at least, he’d set aside his own injunction against trusting too deeply.

Which is exactly why they’ll try to separate us from you, if they realize the truth, Phylyp, she thought. For right now, they may well believe all those stories you and Father always encouraged about your own ambitions and sinister motivations. But if they ever figure out where your true loyalties lie, that you aren’t prepared to cheerfully sacrifice Daivyn for your own advantage, or to curry favor with them, you’ll become a potential liability, not an asset. And if that happens, Trynair and Clyntahn won’t hesitate for an instant about declaring us — or Daivyn, at least — official wards of the Council of Vicars.

She looked across the table at him in the lamplight, studying his expression and, for a moment, at least, feeling every bit as young as the rest of the world thought she was. Wishing she were still young enough to climb up into his lap, put her head down on his shoulder, and let him hug away her fears while he promised her everything would be all right.

But everything wasn’t going to be “all right,” ever again, and she knew it.

Don’t let them take you away from me, Phylyp, she thought. Whatever else happens, don’t let them take you away.

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25 Responses to A Mighty Fortress – Snippet 06

  1. Mike says:

    I’m finding the whole “wait until she finds out who really killed her father” thing a bit tedious. It’s too much like the same idea Weber has been milking for several books now in the Harrington series.

  2. Ove says:

    Nice establishing of the main players, I expect we will see the Group of Four in chapter 4.

  3. Karina says:

    She makes for a good additional enemy for Caleb. I like finding out that Coris has his doubts about who truly killed her father and why he’s keeping the info from her. Of course that could wind up backfireing somehow. Say, he winds up dead.

  4. Elim Garak says:

    Umm… “subsisting solely (so far as they knew, at any rate) upon the niggardly generosity of distant relatives, might think.”?

    Am I the only one that found that choice of words disturbing? Besides its uncomfortable US cultural connotations, there is no way it would survive a couple of hundred years on Earth, followed by 800 years on an alien planet.

  5. Paul says:

    Niggard doesn’t have cultural connotations. A niggard ( http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/niggard ) is “an excessively parsimonious, miserly, or stingy person”

  6. laclongquan says:

    Elim, you are too suspicious. I dont think it’s that way at all. Beside, US cultural connotations are not the only thing left their marks on the extincted Federation. The US was extincted, so is the Federation, thousands of years before the date above.

    Mike, what on earth you are talking about? What mystery you are talking about? As far as I remember, Harrington series have no mystery.

  7. Shadow says:

    He’s speaking about the “Let’s see how Elisabeth, Honor & Co will react when they discover the truth about Mesa and their nanites” moment. Which is a turning point we know about since years, and yet are still waiting to see happening.

    That’ll probably be the best part of Mission of Honor. Can’t wait the snippets…

  8. Rekes says:

    I wonder why no one else seems to have thought up making themselves a Seijin (even if in name only) in other nations to get what they want out of the war.

  9. Peter Z says:

    Rekes, Merlin is tough act to follow. Any othr seijin would have to approximate his legend. In short ain’t happening this side of another PICA.

  10. Drak Bibliophile says:

    While Merlin is a ‘hard act’ to follow, IIRC there is text evidence that most Safeholdians see seijin as only existing in “fairy tales”.

    Also, there appears to be a history of fake seijin popping up.

    Claiming to be a seijin would more likely get the response of “prove it”.

    Also the few ‘true’ seijin appear to have been called seijin after the fact not during their lifetime.

  11. Maggie says:

    I agree with you, Drak. On the other hand, the temptation to interject a Simon Magus type subplot might be overwhelming….

  12. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Well David Weber posted a snippet from later in the book that introduced a friend of Merlin.

    This friend pays a visit when Merlin would be too far away to be ‘personally’ involved.

    Any “Simon Magus type” might get a visit from this friend of Merlin. [Evil Grin]

  13. Douglas says:

    @4 – We’re probably seeing some “translation” in all of the Safehold speech. While they speak English on Safehold, there’s been some language drift regardless, so “niggardly” isn’t the word used in any case.

  14. Rekes says:

    A “fake” seijin need not qualify himself based on the physical prowess Merlin has. They could claim esoteric understandings of the Writ that proves Charis’ superiority is demonic in origin. They could claim to be a prophet; I understand that the Church doctrine has not allowed for regular humans communicating with God so this would be a new thing. Or they can be con artists.

    Drak may I ask for a link? :)

  15. Peter Z says:

    I can’t see the G4 placing anyone else between God and them. This would inadvertantly support the Charisian position that the G4 are not faithfully acting as God’s agents. Why else would God send another human being to repeat Himself if the G4 were faithfully acting as his agents? So even if this seijin proports to speak with God and agrees with everything the G4 say, Clyntahn will get rid of him quick and queit.

  16. Drak Bibliophile says:

    The following was posted by David Weber on the Honorverse Conference.

    While we’re waiting for Eric to get back to his computer, I thought I’d just go ahead and give you guys this. I’m not saying anything about the point in the book it comes from.


    King Gorjah woke up rather abruptly.

    A hand suddenly clamped over one’s mouth in the middle of the night tended to have that effect. Especially upon a king whose bedchamber was at the top of the central keep of an old-fashioned castle well provided with guardsmen.

    His eyes flew open, and he started to struggle, only to stop almost instantly. There were two reasons for that. One was that the hand over his mouth might as well have been a gentle, hand-shaped steel clamp. The other was that he’d just become aware of the tip of what seemed to be an exceedingly sharp dagger pressed against the base of his throat.

    The night, he decided, was going rapidly from bad to worse.

    “I’d appreciate it if you’d be calm, Your Majesty,” a tenor voice he’d never heard before in his life said. “If I’d only wanted to cut your throat, I wouldn’t have bothered to wake you up first.”

    The calm voice sounded almost insanely reasonable, like that of a man simply pointing out that thunderclouds often meant rain.

    Gorjha could just make out the silhouette of a man’s head against the dim glow of the bedchamber’s gauzy, moonstruck drapes, and he felt a stab of gratitude that Rholynd was having a fretful night and Maiyl had insisted on having her own bed made up in the nursery tonight. At the time, he’d thought it was charmingly sweet of her to want to personally oversee the nurses; at the moment, he was deeply grateful that at least his wife and son were somewhere else.

    “On the other hand,” the voice went on pleasantly, “I’m quite sure that if, for some reason, I decided I did want to cut your throat, I could do it long before any of your guardsmen could respond to any shout on your part. If I decided to take my hand off of your mouth, so the two of us could speak as one civilized man to another, do you think you could bear that in mind? The bit about my being able to kill you before anyone else gets here, I mean?”

    Gorjha decided the owner of the voice must be mad. Still, he was very much in favor of anything which left him with his throat uncut, and so he nodded firmly.


    The hand left his mouth, and the man to whom it belonged bowed slightly. Gorjha’s eyes were able to pick out a little more detail now, and he realized the intruder in his bedchamber was considerably taller and broader in the shoulders than he himself. He also appeared to be clean-shaven, and he spoke with what Gorjah now recognized as a Silkiahan accent.

    “I apologize for my . . . unconventional methods, Your Majesty. I really do need to speak to you, though, and I’m of the opinion that neither of us would like your guardsmen, your courtiers, or — especially — Vicar Zhaspahr to become aware of the fact that we have.”

    Gorjha’s stomach seemed to congeal. He couldn’t be certain in the dimness, but it looked to him as if his visitor had smiled.

    “The thing is, Your Majesty,” the Silkiahan continued chattily, “I thought it might be a good idea for me to give a little nudge to your correspondence with Earl Gray Harbor. You may not be aware that by this time Their Majesties will have arrived back in Tellesberg, but I imagine that probably means the somewhat desultory pace of that correspondence will be picking up in the next few five-days.”

    Gorjha felt as if someone had just punched him. No one in Tranjyr — no one, with the exception of Sir Ryk Fharmyn — knew about the cautious notes which had passed back and forth between him and the Empire of Charis’ first councilor. He hadn’t mentioned them even to Baron Stonekeep! So how did whoever this was –?

    “I . . . don’t know what you’re talking about,” he managed to get out. Even to his own ears, though, it sounded like an automatic, instinctive denial with very little relationship to the truth.

    “Your Majesty!” the Silkiahan chided, and actually clicked his tongue at the king. “You know perfectly well what I’m referring to,” he continued scoldingly. “I’m afraid we don’t have time to stand around all night while you deny it, though. And, no, Sir Ryk isn’t how I found out about it.”

    The casual reference to Fharmyn was the final blow. Obviously whoever this lunatic was, he knew everything.

    “All right,” Gorjha sighed. “Of course I know what you’re talking about. But who the Shan-wei are you, and what are you doing in my bedchamber?!”

    “Much better, Your Majesty,” the other man said in an approving tone. “As for introductions, my name is Ahbraim Zhevons. I know that doesn’t mean anything to you, but you can think of me as a close friend of Merlin Athrawes. I’m sure you’re familiar with that name.”

  17. RobertHuntingdon says:

    @4 & 13

    Despite so many people’s knee-jerk assumption that the word niggardly has anything to do with the so-called “N word”, it actually doesn’t. Check out the definition and etymology of the word and its root word for yourself:

    1. reluctant to give or spend; stingy; miserly.
    2. meanly or ungenerously small or scanty: a niggardly tip to a waiter.
    3. in the manner of a niggard.
    1520–30; niggard + -ly

    1. an excessively parsimonious, miserly, or stingy person.
    2. niggardly; miserly; stingy.
    1325–75; ME nyggard, equiv. to nig niggard (< Scand; cf. dial. Sw nygg; akin to OE hneaw stingy) + -ard

    The word in recognizable form goes back to Middle English days back before the US was even settled. It predates by centuries the derogatory slang term for a member of the negro race.

    So there is absolutely no reason whatsoever for the Federation to have needed to remove it from the language.


  18. TheDude says:

    Thank you! God how I hate it when people b*tch about the use of “niggardly.” It’s a false cognate, nothing more.

  19. Rekes says:

    Drak you have piqued my interest. Despite your niggardly approach to citing the location of this article, I am of the persuasion that it occurs near the beginning. My guess as to the fate of Tarot has wavered between them being forced into neutrality or into the Empire.

    Having a little trouble with the standard English reference for the name Ahbraim Zhevons.

  20. Peter Z says:

    There are some interesting parallels between this character and Merlin and Thaddeus Stevens (Zhevons) and Abraham (Ahbraim) Lincoln. If anyone is interested follow this link.


    Perhaps a bit far fetched and then again perhaps not.

  21. robert says:

    According to Webster’s Third it originated with an Old Norse verb and is cognate to an Old English word “niggle” which retains the original Norse meaning. Now for something completely different. Please.

    So, Drak, I assume this will be posted as a snippet sometime prior to publication, right? We can go ahead and speculate about it without snerking, right? Oh, good! (I have seen this on the Weber Forum’s snippets).

    Is there any reason, other than disguise, for the Silkiahan accent? Such an interesting choice. Lying between Siddermark and Dohlar and Desnair.

    And Tarot, being on Charis’ left flank as it were, is prime real estate for imperial expansion.

    But Silkiah is a good place to intercept a party traveling from Delfarahk to the Temple lands.

    DW has my mind boggling.


  22. robert says:

    Forget the @19 I was gonna say that Ahbraim Zhevons rings no bells.

  23. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Robert, unfortunately we won’t reach any part of the book where Ahbraim Zhevons appears.

    But since David Weber posted it on the Bar, you can discuss what it means.

    Unfortunately, my snerk collar prevents me from taking part. [Wink]

  24. robert says:

    @23 I hate those electric shocks, too. Husband collar. The word “no”…

  25. Anthony says:

    I wonder if requesting Phylyp’s presence and his alone is a way for the G4, or at least Maigwair’s and Clyntahn’s way, to great rid of an obstacle. After all he is traveling far in winter, and could easily disappear, be attacked by pirates or brigands, run into bad weather, etc. It’s even possible the G4 might blame it on the Charisians, especially if Phylyp were to die at sea.

    The only question is whether or not Princess Irys would see through the deception.

    Come to think of it the G4 might just want to get rid Prince Daivyn and then have Princess Irys married off to some one suitable to gain control of Corisand. Such an attempt would have to completely misread her Character though, as Merlin said keeping the poison out your your cup would be impossible.

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