A Mighty Fortress – Snippet 28

A Mighty Fortress – Snippet 28

City of Fairstock,
Province of Malansath,
West Harchong Empire

The falling snow was so thick no one could see more than a ship’s length or two in any direction.

The Earl of Coris found that less than reassuring as Snow Lizard crept cautiously into the Fairstock roadstead. Captain Yuthain had furled his sail and gone to oars as soon as the leadsman in the bow found bottom at ten fathoms. Sixty feet represented considerably more depth of water than Snow Lizard required, but only a fool (which Yuthain had conclusively demonstrated he was not) took liberties with the Fairstock Channel. It measured the next best thing to two hundred and fifty miles from north to south, and if most of it was easily navigable, there were other bits which were anything but. And there wasn’t a lot of room to spare. At its narrowest point, which also happened to offer some of the nastiest, shifting sandbanks, it was barely fourteen miles wide . . . at high water. Fairstock Bay itself was a superbly sheltered anchorage, well over two hundred miles wide, but getting into it could sometimes prove tricky.

Especially in the middle of a snowstorm.

Frankly, Coris would have preferred to lay-to off the entrance of the channel until the weather cleared. Unfortunately, there was no guarantee the weather would clear any time soon, and Captain Yuthain was under orders to deliver his passenger to Fairstock as quickly as possible. So he’d crept very cautiously and slowly inshore until he’d been able to run a line of soundings which let him locate himself by matching them with the depths recorded on his chart. Even after he was confident he knew where he was, however, he’d continued to proceed with a caution of which Coris had wholeheartedly approved. Not only was it distinctly possible, in these visibility conditions, that Snow Lizard wasn’t really where he thought she was, but there was always the equally unpleasant possibility that they might meet another vessel head-on. The narrowness of the channel and the atrocious visibility only made that even more likely, and Phylyp Ahzgood hadn’t come this far at the summons of the Council of Vicars just to get himself drowned or frozen to death.

“By the mark, seven fathom!”

The cry floated back from the bow, oddly muffled and deadened by the falling snow, and despite his thick coat and warm gloves, Coris shivered.

“I imagine you’ll be happy to get ashore, My Lord,” Captain Yuthain remarked, and Coris turned to face him quickly. He’d been careful not to intrude on the captain’s concentration while Yuthain conned Snow Lizard cautiously up-channel. It wasn’t the sort of moment at which one joggled someone’s elbow, he reflected.

Something of his thoughts must have shown in his expression, because Yuthain grinned through his beard.

“This next little bit’s not all that bad, My Lord,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to sound overconfident, but I’d say the really tricky parts are all safely past us. Not but what I imagine there was a time or two when you were less than confident we’d get this far.”

“Nonsense, Captain.” Coris shook his head with an answering smile. “I never doubted your seamanship or the quality of your ship and crew for a moment.”

“Ah, now!” Yuthain shook his head. “It’s kind of you to be saying so, but I’m not so sure telling a fearful lie like that is good for the health of your soul, My Lord.”

“If it were a lie, perhaps it wouldn’t be good for my spiritual health. Since it happens to have been a completely truthful statement, however, I’m not especially concerned, Captain.”

Yuthain chuckled, then cocked his head, listening to the leadsman’s fresh announcement of the depth. He frowned thoughtfully down at the chart, obviously fixing his position afresh in his brain, and Coris watched him with the respect a professional deserved.

As it happened, what he’d just said to Yuthain really had been the truth. On the other hand, despite his recognition of the captain’s skill and the capability of his crew, there’d been more than one moment when Coris had strongly doubted they would ever reach Fairstock. The Gulf of Dohlar in winter had proved even uglier than he’d feared, and once they’d cleared the passage between Cliff Island and Whale Island, they’d encountered a howling gale which he’d been privately certain was going to pound the low-slung, frail, shoal-draft galley bodily under. The steep, battering seas had been almost as high as the galley’s mast, and at one point they’d been forced to lie to a sea anchor for two full days with the pumps continuously manned. There’d been no hot food for those two days — not even Yuthain’s cook had been able to keep his galley fire lit — and icy water had swirled ankle deep through the earl’s cabin more than once as the ship fought for her very life. They’d survived that particular crisis after all, yet that had scarcely been the end of the foul weather — or the crises — they’d faced. Snow, bad visibility, and icy rigging had only made things still worse, and Coris’ respect for Yuthain and his men had grown with each passing day.

Despite which, he could hardly wait to get off the ship. It would have been tiresome enough to spend an entire month in such confined quarters under any circumstances. Under the conditions associated with a winter passage of the Gulf, “tiresome” had quickly given way to something much closer to “intolerable.”

Of course, there is the little fact that every foot closer to Fairstock brings me that much closer to Zion and the Temple, as well, he reminded himself. On the other hand, as the Archangel B├ędard said, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” If I get off this damned ship alive, I’ll be perfectly prepared to let future problems take care of themselves!

“I make it about another three hours to our anchorage, My Lord,” Yuthain said, reemerging from his contemplation of the chart. “If the visibility were better, we’d probably already have a pilot boat coming alongside. As it is, I won’t be so very surprised if we have to feel our way all the way in on our own. Either way, though, I think we’ll have you ashore in time for supper.”

“I appreciate that, Captain. I doubt anyone could have taken better care of me on the passage than you have, but I trust I won’t offend you if I admit I’d really like to sleep in a bed that isn’t moving tonight.” He grimaced. “I doubt I’ll get more than one night — maybe two, if I’m really lucky — but I intend to enjoy it to the fullest!”

“Well, I can’t say as I blame you,” Yuthain said. “Mind you, I’ve never really understood why anyone prefers sleeping ashore when he’s the option. Although, to be honest, back before I had my own cabin, and my own cot, I felt rather differently about it, I believe. Fortunately for my sea dog image,” he grinned at his passenger again, “that’s been long enough ago now that my memory’s none too clear!”

“I’m sure that for a seasoned sailor like yourself the ship’s motion is just like a mother rocking a cradle,” Coris responded. “Still, though, I think it’s an acquired taste. And if it’s all the same to you, it’s one I’d just as soon not acquire.”

“To each his own, My Lord,” Yuthain agreed equably.

* * * * * * * * * *

As it happened, Yuthain’s prediction was accurate. They had to make their own way until they saw the blurred, indistinct shapes of other vessels, riding at anchor, and dropped their own anchor. In fact, they’d passed close enough aboard one of the other ships to draw an irate shout of warning from its anchor watch.

“Oh, hold your noise!” Yuthain had bellowed back through his speaking trumpet. “This is an Emperor’s ship on Church business! Besides, if I’d wanted to sink your sorry arse, you silly bastard, I’d hit you square amidships, not passed across your misbegotten bow!”

The noise from the other vessel had ended abruptly, and Yuthain had winked at Coris.

“Truth to tell, My Lord,” he’d admitted in a much lower voice, “I never even saw ’em until the last moment. I think I’m as surprised as they are that I didn’t cut their cable! Not that I’d ever admit it to them, even under torture!”

“Your secret’s safe with me, Captain,” Coris had assured him, then gone below to be certain Seablanket had everything packed up to go ashore.

“I’ve checked and double checked, My Lord,” the habitually gloomy-faced valet had assured him. “Still and all, I don’t doubt I’ve forgotten something. Or misplaced it. Or that one of Captain Yuthain’s sticky-fingered sailors has relieved us of it when I wasn’t looking.”

“I promise I won’t hold you responsible for someone else’s pilferage, Rhobair,” Coris had assured him. If the promise had done anything to lighten Seablanket’s gloom, Coris hadn’t noticed it. On the other hand, his valet knew their itinerary as well as he did, and he rather doubted Seablanket was any more eager than he was for the final stage of the journey.

Now, as the earl sat on the midships thwart of the ten-oared launch which had (eventually) turned up to ferry him ashore, he found his own thoughts dwelling on the prospect of the journey in question. He was, by nature, a less gloomy fellow than Seablanket, but at the moment he’d discovered his mood was very much in tune with the valet’s. The one good thing about the weather was that there was very little wind, yet that didn’t keep an open boat from feeling like Shan-wei’s own icehouse, and he felt confident the bitter cold he was feeling at the moment was only a mild foreshadowing of what it was going to be like when they reached Lake Pei.

Or, for that matter, how cold it’s going to be between here and Lake Pei, he told himself sourly. Langhorne, I hope I really do get at least two nights in a row under a roof in a warm bed that isn’t simultaneously pitching and rolling under me!

“Easy all!” the launch’s coxswain called. “In oars . . . and bear off forward there, Ahndee!”

Coris looked up to see a long, stone quay looming up close at hand. The tide had turned long enough ago to leave the high-water garland of weed and shellfish a good foot and a half clear of the harbor, and the launch slid alongside a set of stone steps, leading down into the sea. The two or three lowest of the exposed steps looked decidedly treacherous, covered with a slushy mix of residual sea water and falling snow (where they weren’t still regularly sloshed over by the weary-looking swell), but the upper steps didn’t look a lot better. There’d been enough traffic to pack the snow into ice, and it didn’t look as if anyone had spread fresh sand across them in the last several hours.

“Mind the footing, My Lord,” the coxswain warned, and Coris nodded in acknowledgment. He also reached into his purse to add an extra quarter-mark to the boat crew’s tip. That was probably exactly what the coxswain had hoped would happen, and the earl knew it, but that didn’t change his gratitude for the reminder.

“And you mind your footing, too, Rhobair,” he tossed over his shoulder as he stood and stepped cautiously onto solid stone for the first time in a month.

The solid stone in question seemed to be curtsying and dipping underfoot, and he grimaced at the sensation. That wasn’t going to help him get up these damned stairs un-drenched, un-drowned, and un-fractured, he reflected glumly.

“I don’t want to be fishing you — or the baggage — out of the damned harbor,” he added as one of the launch’s oarsmen helped the valet move Coris’ carefully balanced trunk.

“If it’s all the same to you, My Lord, I’d just as soon you didn’t have to, either,” Seablanket replied, and Coris snorted, took a firm (and grateful) grip on the hand rope rigged through eyebolts set into the side of the quay to serve as a railing, and made his way carefully up the slippery steps.

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32 Responses to A Mighty Fortress – Snippet 28

  1. You have to wonder why he’s so enthusiastic considering his fears and theories surrounding the death of the late Prince?

  2. Anyone else notice Malansath seems to be more in the “Eastern Harchong Empire”?

    At least the Earl diddn’t have to pass through Hsing-wu’s Passage!

  3. Peter Z says:

    What’s going to happen here? There is still a long way to go and a simple update of Coris’ travels is a waste of page space. Anybody have a clue? Maggie, can you try your channeling skills here? Last time you channeled a Desnairian Merchant Skipper rather well, how about a Corisandian Spy master this time.

    My WAG is that Coris either begins to suspect Seablanket or Seablanket begins to suspect Coris already knows about him.

  4. Michael says:

    @3, I’m wondering the same thing. This seems such a trivial side-show to be wasting space on. Something fairly dramatic should happen to make it worth it, else why not encapsulate all this detail into a ‘the trip sucked’ type 1 paragraph conversation once he gets to the temple?

  5. jgnfld says:

    @3 I cannot imagine a successful noble in a culture such as Corisande would do anything OTHER than suspect Seablanket from minute one. If that’s where David is going, it rings totally false to my mind.

  6. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Jgnfld, suspect Seablanket of what?

    IMO Coris likely suspects that Seablanket would ‘gossip’ with other servants so Coris isn’t likely to talk politics/religion in front of him unless Coris wants something to spread or isn’t worried if something is spread.

    Of course, if Coris knows/suspects Seablanket is a spy, then Coris is likely to not ‘fire’ him. Any spymaster knows that a spy you know about is better than a spy you don’t know about.

    For that matter, leaving Seablanket ‘in place’ may prevent Seablanket’s employers from planting another spy.

  7. jgnfld says:

    Suspect him of being a spy for someone, though not necessaily know who for. Successful nobles do not get to be old and successful by trusting intimates hired on the spot. Family retainers are retained for a lot of reasons and loyalty is among the strongest. Consider the future of the Clinkscales progeny, for example, in future Harrington generations.

    That said, I agree leaving such a one in place is probably the best strategy in any case. But if David is trying to make us think Coris will open up in any real way whatsoever to Seablanket, allow him any access to any critical inside information whatsoever, or not to make a record of what he does come to know for later reference, I’m just not gonna’ buy it.

  8. Peter Z says:

    @7 jgnfld, that’s not where I was going. I assumed Coris would suspect Seablanket, but what is he going to do about it? What startegem is he carfting to weave Seablanket into? How does Seablanket respond? That’s what my WAG suggests to me.

    This isn’t a waste of time and anything obvious will turn out to be anything but obvious. So, stop kvetching and offer your own WAG. ;-)

  9. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Well Jgnfld, imagine the ‘fun’ of the Church trying to learn what Coris is up to *if* Seablanket changes his loyalty to Coris and the Princess (even if Coris doesn’t learn Seablanket is a spy). [Wink]

    I also don’t see David Weber doing what you’re afraid of.

  10. jgnfld says:

    Oh. That’s easy: My WAG is that Coris will turn and co-opt him in some way or another either directly or by his courageous and exemplary behavior while under Clyntahn’s thumb!

  11. Peter Z says:

    @9 Nice try, Drak. That’s a red herring if ever there was one! Appealing to the romantic nature of the reader, bloody low blow if you ask me. ;-)

    Its obvious that Irys will be the counter Sharleyan. Faced with similar beginnings we see how Sharley ended up differently from the choices (poorer) that Irys made. Try and sell your pipe dream to the less gullible. This thread will be filled with crushed hope and growing despair; something straight out of Dostoyevsky. Sigh, I cringe at the prospect. [shudders]

  12. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Peter Z, it is only a “Red Herring” if I know that it wouldn’t happen.

    Now, a “Pipe Dream” may be more accurate since I’ve guessed wrong before concerning what David Weber is up to.

  13. Peter Z says:

    @12 What a perfectly parsed post! My sincere congratualtions, Bravo! Drak.

  14. KimS says:

    Sharleyan was thrust onto the throne at a much younger age, in her own homeland, with the support of all the nobles (pretty much). Irys was sent away by her father, for good reasons, to keep her brother and their lineage alive. Some noble support them but others probably don’t. If Hector was not above using certain methods to try destroying Charis, why would he be kinder/gentler to his own nobles. Rule by fear and intimidation. I see the brother dying, possibly by accident and Irys marrying (a player to be named later). Does Narmahn have an older son, or perhaps the midshipman Earl?? I think she will be an independent force of nature when she learns of what the Go4/Clyntan has done. Maybe Coris will get information from the Circle.

  15. David H says:

    Maybe the Earl is about to meet Merlin (in degise) and told about Seablanket.

  16. AVD says:

    why would he need a disguise for anything but the eyes? Sides, if you were Coris would you beleive some stranger telling you your servant is a spy in the Inquisition? I’d need proof. Specially, cause I couldn’t prove the man right or wrong.

    Narmahn has a younger son.

    I personally think that the whole Seablanket thing becomes something that really hurts Coris. Seablanket will give all the info he knows and Chylntan will misinterpret it to his own devices.

  17. KenJ says:

    I don’t see Irys marrying Nahrman jr. Ever. Remember, his dad tried to kill her dad. I am sure that that would come out sometime even if it is attempted to be kept secret.

  18. Ron K says:

    1st sentence, set the scene well, but then got difficult to stay interested. (which Yuthain had conclusively demonstrated that he was not)…O.K., we got that message a long time ago.

  19. Peter Z says:

    My gut tells me that the Coris and Irys thread will be a real downer. What I really don’t know is how that will manifest.

    How will Irys impact Charis or the G4? The only way I see right now is that she will impact the integration of Corisande into the Empire somehow. I suppose that she may be instrumental in how the Church Allied nations view the G4 or change their view of the G4, but that seems a bit less likely. Outside Corisande she and her brother have no real power or impact except as symbols.

    My WAG here is that Irys & bro will either be the object of some dispicable Clyntahn scheme resulting in Duchairn acting agressively against his co-G4 partners or that Irys learns enough about the assassination of her dad and brother to go back to Corisande as her brother’s protector in chief. I doubt she will be an active partner of any of the current principals but be as KimS said a “force of nature”.

    I just don’t see where else DW can weave her into this story; she and Coris are playing too large a role for DW to simply cut her thread now.

  20. Drak Bibliophile says:

    I’m thinking Irys will learn the truth about her father’s death and will strongly involved against the Safehold Church.

    However, an alternate path might be that she never learns the truth and marries the ‘right’ person.

    Her marriage could give her a real power base to make trouble for our heroes.

  21. Peter Z says:

    @20 Drak, the only character that Irys could marry outside the good guys is the ex-Earl of Hanth. His powerbase depends exclusively on the G4. So, if Irys knows Clyntahn killed her father then marrying him seems very unlikely. The only other character that comes to mind who may prove troublesome to our heroes is ……..[dramatic pause] Father Payter Wylsyn. Should these two get together Irys’s whispers in his ear could indeed prove troublesome.

    Now if Irys finds out about Clyntahn’s little plot from Coris (through Seablanket perhaps) and Merlin discovers this little fact, rescuing this damsel in distress and her brother would be child’s play. Once in Telesburg fate will run its course.

    Not likely but possible.

  22. RobertHuntingdon says:

    Drak, she’s already learned the truth. What she hasn’t been given was PROOF that it was the truth. Or at least not convincing enough evidence to shake her emotional reaction of hatred from her automatic assumption that it had to be Cayleb.

    If she never get that, your second idea may bear fruit. But I’m still hoping she finds (or is led to find) that evidence or proof.


  23. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Peter Z, since fake Earl of Hanth lacks any power I wasn’t thinking of him.

    It would have to be a person that we haven’t met yet and why wouldn’t David Weber create a new character? [Wink]

  24. PeterZ says:

    @23 That’s just pure handwavium if David does that. He could but that would lack his usual elegance in populating his stories. I don’t think there are enough books planned (involving Cayleb and Sharley) to develop Irys’ flunky/tool/love interest/sucker. If he’s not there now he won’t suddenly appear. If Coris doesn’t run into the Pretender of Hanth on his trip, I will have to chalk him up as a miss.

    Got to admit that you almost had me there.

    @22 RH, even with such proof, Irys won’t let go her hatred for Cayleb and Sharley. She will use or manufacture whatever justification she can to keep her hate alive and add Clyntahn to her little list. She may set it aside in order to help her brother, but that hate will eat her up. That’s why I think this thread will be a big stinking downer. I hope I am wrong, but I doubt I am. Think QEIII with specific personal objects for her hate rather than a large amorphous government.

  25. Maria says:

    I think you’ve just shot yourself in the foot there, Peter, because as of MoH, QEIII =does= let go of her hate – or maybe transfers it to the right target.

  26. Peter Z says:

    @25 I’ve always thought that Her Majesty could let go her hate of Haven because there was no personal face attached to it. Rather all the faces that could have had a hand in her father’s, cousin’s and Uncle’s deaths are dead. I don’t think she ever forgave the manty peers engaged in the conspiracy because she knew full well who they were and what they did. She may not have been able to do all the things she WANTED to do, but I doubt she gave any forgiveness either. Bad things happen when one lets hate rule one’s actions.

  27. RobertHuntingdon says:

    Oh nuts PZ, don’t you turn into another Greg D on us.

    QE3 hated quite strongly, and acted on her hate in a fashion that we all agree was suboptimal (to put it politely). But as soon as she had PROOF she was wrong, she let it go.

    If Irys is anything at all like QE3, then she will too.

    Now if she’s Cordellia Ransome, on the other hand… but she hasn’t shown anywhere near the degree of ability to believe her own lies. Tell them, yes, believe them, not so far at least. And she does not hate her own military. Nor does she terrify her own allies. Nope, not a fit.

    And I can’t think of any other major female characters from the Honorverse whom we could compare Irys to. So either she is QE3 — in which case she will get proof eventually (possibly not before she does some really bad things first) and then let her hate go — or she is a new paradigm entirely.


  28. robert says:

    @26 But what will happen to Empress Elizabeth I when she learns (and she is bound to) that while Haven was responsible for her father’s murder, it was actually Mesa’s hands that manipulated the knife? She will easily be able to transfer her hate, as will Irys if she learns the truth about her father’s murderer(s). Hmmm. Wait a minute here…

  29. robert says:

    @27 Darn it, RH, you beat me to it. Would not mind a new paradigm at all.

  30. ChrisD says:

    Re. Irys.

    Option 1 – Follow the “Arthurian” flavour from the naming and we get Morgan le Fay who ensorcels Merlin(!) and causes the breakup of the “Empire”

    Option 2 – Irys finds out the truth and proof of Hector’s assasination and a) becomes Clyntahn’s mistess so she can murder him or b) gets with “The Circle” and “Madame Anzhelyk” do destroy Clyntahn.

    (I say Clyntahn deliberately as I think her rsponse will be personal to hime and NOT general to the Group of Four; I suspect that it will only be effectively a “Group of Two” by the time that Irys becomes involved)

  31. Peter Z says:

    @27 My dear Mr. Huntingdon, I have never been on the Elizabeth is a fruitcake bandwagon. My primary point is that once a face is placed on hate it becomes a very personal thing. Letting go is not easy. So, while I agree with most of your points, I suspect that Elizabeth never did forgive those manty conspirators. Irys may follow the same path. She may never forgive Clyntahn for ordering the Hektors’ murders nor Cayleb and Sharley for creating a situation where the murders would be possible. It may be that Irys can look beyond Cayleb and Sharley’s contribution like QEIII with her own traitorous nobels, but that is not forgiveness.

    @30 I considered that option also, ChrisD. That’s why I suspect this thread to be a dark one.

  32. John says:

    I doubt she can be exactly Morgan le Fey because the Empire, in one form or another, needs to be around to finish the Go4 and go after the Gbaba.

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