A Mighty Fortress – Snippet 38

A Mighty Fortress – Snippet 38

Coris had never heard of something a native of Old Terra would have called a “hydrofoil,” but in many respects, that would have been a reasonable analogue for what he was looking at. Hornet’s outriggers extended much further beyond the footprint of her hull, because unlike a hydrofoil, they had to plane across the surface of the ice, rather than relying on hydrodynamics for stability. Aside from that, however, the principle was very much the same, and as he’d looked at the iceboat’s lean, rakish grace, he’d realized Hahlys Tannyr was exactly the right sort of man to captain such a vessel. In his case, at least, the Church had slipped a round peg neatly into an equally round hole, and Coris had found himself wondering just how typical of the Lake Pei iceboat captains Tannyr truly was.

The under-priest’s pride in his command had been readily apparent, and the earl’s obvious admiration — or awe, at least — had clearly gratified him. His crew’s cheerfulness at seeing him had also been apparent, and they’d gotten Coris, Seablanket, and their baggage moved aboard and settled quickly.

“The wind looks good for a fast passage, My Lord,” Tannyr had told him as the two of them stood on Hornet’s deck, looking out across the frozen harbor. Despite the snow which had fallen overnight, wind had kept the ice scoured clear, and Coris had been able to see the scars of other iceboats’ passages leading across the wide, dark sheet of ice and out through the opening in the Lakeview breakwater. At the moment, there had seemed to be very little breeze stirring at dockside, however, and he’d quirked an eyebrow at the under-priest.

“Oh, I know there’s not much wind right here,” Tannyr had replied with a grin. “Out beyond the breakwater, though, once we get out of Lakeview’s lee . . . Trust me, My Lord — there’s plenty of wind out there!”

“I’m quite prepared to believe it,” Coris had replied. “But just how do we get from here to there?”

“Courtesy of those, My Lord.” Tannyr had waved a hand, and when Coris turned in the indicated direction, he’d seen a team of at least thirty snow lizards headed for them. “They’ll tow us out far enough to catch the breeze,” Tannyr had said confidently. “It’ll seem like that takes forever, but once we do, I promise, you’ll think we’re flying.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Now, remembering the under-priest’s promise, Coris decided Tannyr had been right.

The earl had declined Tannyr’s offer to go below to the shelter of Hornet’s day cabin. He’d thought he’d seen approval for his decision in the under-priest’s eyes, and Tannyr had entrusted him to the charge of a grizzled old seaman — or was that properly “iceman,” Coris had wondered? — with instructions to find the earl a safe spot from which to experience the journey.

The “tow” away from the docks hadn’t been nearly as laborious-seeming an affair as Tannyr’s description might have suggested. That could have been because Coris had never before experienced it and so had no backlog of wonder-dulling familiarity to overcome. Unlike Tannyr and his crew, he’d been seeing it for the very first time, and he’d watched in fascination as the snow lizards were jockeyed into position. It had been obvious the lizards had done this many times before. They and their drovers had moved with a combination of smooth experience and patience, and heavy chains and locking pins had clanked musically behind the frothing surface of commands and encouragement as the heavy traces were attached to specialized towing brackets on Hornet’s prow. Given the complexity of the task, they’d accomplished it in a remarkably short time, and then — encouraged by much louder shouts — the snow lizards had leaned into their collars with the peculiar, hoarse, almost barking whistles of effort with which Coris had become familiar over the last month or so. For a moment, the iceboat had refused to move. Then the runners had broken free of the ice and she’d begun to slide gracefully after the straining snow lizards.

Once they’d had her in motion, she’d moved easily enough, and as they’d eased steadily away from the docks, Coris had felt the first, icy fingers of the freshening breeze which Tannyr had promised waited for them out on the lake. It had taken them the better part of three-quarters of an hour to get far enough out to satisfy Tannyr, but then the snow lizards had been unhooked, the senior drover had waved cheerfully, and the tow team had headed back to Lakeview.

Coris had watched them go, but only until crisp-voiced commands from the cramped quarterdeck had sent Hornet’s crew to their stations for making sail. The closer-to-hand fascination of those preparations had drawn his attention away from the departing snow lizards, and he’d watched as the iceboat’s lateen sail was loosed. In some ways, his familiarity with conventional ships had only made the process even more bizarre. Despite the fact that his brain knew there were probably hundreds of feet of water underneath them, he hadn’t been able to shake the sense of standing on dry land, and there’d been an oddly dreamlike quality to watching sailors scurrying about a ship’s deck when the gleaming ice had stretched out as far as the eye could see with rock-steady solidity.

But if he’d felt that way, he’d obviously been the only one on Hornet’s deck who did. Or perhaps the others had simply been too busy to worry about such fanciful impressions. And they’d certainly known their business. That much had been clear as the sail was loosed. The canvas had complained, flapping heavily in the stiff breeze whistling across the decks, and Hornet had stirred underfoot, as if the iceboat were shivering with eagerness. Then the sail had been sheeted home, the yard had been trimmed, and she’d begun to move.

Slowly, at first, with a peculiar grating and yet sibilant sound from her runners. The motion underfoot had been strange, vibrating through the deck planking with a strength and a . . . hardness Coris had never experienced aboard any waterborne vessel. That wasn’t exactly the right way to describe it, but Coris hadn’t been able to think of a better one, and he’d reached out, touching the rail, feeling that same vibration shivering throughout the vessel’s entire fabric and dancing gently in his own bones.

The iceboat had gathered way slowly, in the beginning, but as she’d slid steadily farther out of Lakeview’s wind shadow, she’d begun to accelerate steadily. More quickly, in fact, than any galley or galleon, and Coris had felt his lips pursing in sudden understanding. He should have thought of it before, he’d realized, when Tannyr first described Hornet’s speed to him. On her runners, the iceboat avoided the enormous drag water resistance imposed on a normal ship’s submerged hull. Of course she accelerated more rapidly . . . and without that selfsame drag, she’d have to be much faster in any given set of wind conditions.

Which was exactly what she’d proven to be.

* * * * * * * * * *

“Enjoying yourself, My Lord?”

Hahlys Tannyr had to practically bellow in Coris’ ear for the question to be heard over the slithering roar of the runners. Coris hadn’t noticed him approaching — he’d been too busy staring ahead, clinging to the rail while his eyes sparkled with delight — and he turned quickly to meet Hornet’s captain’s gaze.

“Oh, I certainly am, Father!” the earl shouted back. “I’m afraid I didn’t really believe you when you told me how fast she was! She must be doing — what? Forty miles an hour?”

“Not in this wind, My Lord.” Tannyr shook his head. “She’s fast, but it would take at least a full gale to move her that quickly! We might be making thirty, though.”

Coris had no choice but to take the under-priest’s word for it. And, he admitted, he himself had no experience at judging speeds this great.

“I’m surprised it doesn’t feel even colder than it does!” he commented, and Tannyr had smiled.

“We’re sailing with the wind, My Lord. That reduces the apparent wind speed across the deck a lot. Trust me, if we were beating up to windward, you’d feel it then!”

“No doubt I would.” The earl shook his head. “And I’ll take your word for our speed. But I never imagined that anything could move this quickly — especially across a solid surface like this!”

“It helps that the ice is as smooth as it is out here,” Tannyr replied.

He waved one arm, indicating the ice around them, then pointed at yet another of the flagstaffs, all set upright in the lake’s frozen surface and supporting flags of one color or another, which Horent had been passing at regular intervals since leaving Lakeside.

“See that?” he asked, and the earl nodded. This particular staff boasted a green flag, and Tannyr grinned. “Green indicates smooth ice ahead, My Lord,” he said. “Only a fool trusts the flags completely — that’s why we keep a good lookout.” He twitched his head at a distinctly frozen-looking man perched in Hornet’s crow’s-nest. “Still, the survey crews do a good job of keeping the flags updated. We should see yellow warning flags well before we come up on ridge-ice, and the ridges themselves will be red-flagged. And the flags also provide our piloting marks — like harbor buoys — for the crossing.”

“How in Langhorne’s name do they get the flags planted in the first place?” Coris half-shouted the question through the exuberant roar of their passage, and Tannyr’s grin grew even broader.

“Not too hard, really, once the ice sets up nice and hard, My Lord! They just chop a hole, stand the staff in it, then let it re-freeze!”

“But how do they keep the staff from just keeping going right down into the water?”

“It sits in a hollow bracket with crossbars,” Tannyr replied, waving his hands as if to illustrate what he was saying. “The brackets are iron, about three feet tall, with two pairs of crossbars, set at right angles about half way along their length. They bars are a lot longer than the width of the hole, and they sit on top of the ice, holding the bracket in position while the hole freezes back over. Then they just step the flagstaff in the bracket. When we get closer to spring, they’ll buoy each bracket to keep it from sinking when the ice melts, so they can recover them and use them again next winter.”

Coris nodded in understanding, and the two of them stood side by side for several minutes, watching the ice blur past as Hornet slashed onward. Then Tannyr stirred.

“Assuming my speed estimate’s accurate — and I modestly admit that I’m actually very good at estimating that sort of thing, My Lord — we’re still a good eleven or twelve hours out from Zion,” he said. “Normally, I’d be guessing even longer than that, but the weather’s clear, and we’ll have a full moon tonight, so we’re not going to have to reduce speed as much when we lose the daylight. But while I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself up here, you might want to think about going below and getting something hot to drink. To be honest, I’d really like to get you delivered unfrozen, and we’ll be coming up on lunch in another couple of hours, as well, for that matter.”

“I’d prefer arriving unfrozen myself, I think,” Coris replied. “But I’d really hate to miss any of this!”

He waved both arms, indicating the sunlight, the deck around them, the mast with its straining sail braced sharply, and the glittering ice chips showering away from the steadily grating runners as they tore through the bright (although undeniably icy) morning.

“I know. And I’m not trying to order you below, My Lord!” Tannyr laughed out loud. “To be honest, I’d be a bit hypocritical if I did, given how much I enjoy it up here on deck! But you might want to be thinking ahead. And don’t forget, you’ve got a full day of this to look forward to. Believe me, if you think it’s exhilarating right now, wait till you see it by moonlight!”

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41 Responses to A Mighty Fortress – Snippet 38

  1. Tim says:

    yawn… I’m sure there is a reason for this background, but… Sort of missing what Merlin or Caleb are doing

  2. Joseph says:

    One thing about all of this: it really sinks home how much importance Zion has in the eyes of the planet. The sheer amount of resources and energy that the last few snippets have indicated that go into keeping that city fed, watered and talkative are staggering.

  3. lethargo says:

    I personally find the last couple snippets worthwhile just because they have a cool iceboat in them…not that cool iceboats by themselves would make a worthwhile book, but I certainly don’t mind a snippet or two of iceboating.

  4. Mike says:

    Besides there is already a series of books written about a cool iceboat. Check out “Icerigger” by Alan Dean Foster. (The sequels were OK, but not as fun as the original.)

  5. Bretski says:

    If it’s cool Iceboats you want try the Icerigger trilogy by Alan Dean Foster. Its a tad less complicated than Mr Webbers works but enjoyable…….with lots of barbarians in Iceboats.

  6. Tootall says:

    If one was setting up an organization where one was going to be all powerful, why put one’s “Zion” someplace which has such miserable weather for a good part of the year?

  7. Bret Hooper says:

    @1 Tim: Yeah, I enjoyed this snippet, and unlike some, I don’t too much mind the background in-filling, but I really LIKE Cayleb and Sharleyan and Nimue/Merlin (wish I could get to know them personally) and they are the ones I most enjoy reading about.

  8. Mike says:

    @5 Maybe we’ll find out someday. But maybe it was just to showcase the miraculous HVAC system in the Temple.

  9. AVD says:

    Coris will have to escape. he’s making points with one ice captian. perhaps that will come up later.

  10. Kevin says:

    Actually, I’m finding it fascinating just how much money the church has to dish out for all these items, such as the ice boats, the lake charting, the inns of Lakeview, all the captains and teams that they’ve shown here. I wonder just how bottomless the temple’s coffers really are; they’ve never had to worry about the inflow of cash, and the corruption that was displayed in Desnair? a few snippets ago has to be a lot greater with the temple’s own bailiffs and even the vicars themselves. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that they have money trouble a lot sooner than one might expect.

  11. john says:

    not really clear on why we need such looong boring information on winter ice sleds….

  12. jgnfld says:

    “lateen sail”…that’s NOT a square rig at all??? First we’ve heard of such a thing outside Charis. What gives? Or is Weber trying to say something here?

  13. Duncan says:

    @9 John: Because David is a superb storyteller, he realises that he needs changes of pace in the story to keep the readers attention and enjoyment to the maximum.

  14. justdave says:

    @19 could it be Tannyr is a member of the Circle?

  15. Mike says:

    As an aside — why do some posts show up in the wrong order in these threads? Does the software use the local time of the posting computer rather than the server computer?

  16. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Mike, not sure what you’re seeing but sometimes comments get delayed by the system until somebody approves them (back stage).

  17. Summertime says:

    Huzzah! for Alan Dean Foster. That “Icerigger” trilogy is really good reading, like most of his work.

  18. Peter S says:

    I speculate that we are going to see a mad chase _back_across the lake when Coris has to escape from Clyntahn, in another fifty pages or so. This will be after Corris convinces himself that Clyntahn had Prince Hector killed, and will probably involve flight by a number of the junior members of the Circle too. I expect some fighting with it – furious Schulerites in other iceboats perhaps, with Tannyr having to out-sail them across some treacherous ice – maybe a satisfying crash when one of the pursuers falls through a soft spot. looking forward to it! :-)

  19. TimC says:

    And maybe they could move those flags – the ones which have been so carefully explained!

  20. Maggie says:




  21. Peter Z says:

    Please!!!! I hope Barnes and Nobel gets their copies early. The attendant said they would likely NOT sell early. Would anyone know if this is true or not?

  22. msj says:

    @22 – David’s books (like other folk with best sellers) tend to have a hard lay-down date which generally translates into a contractual obligation on the part of bookstores not to sell early. But individual stores sometimes miss the lay-down date restriction during stocking.

    Find a bookstore open after midnight and you’re golden….

  23. robert says:

    April 13 is the release date but Amazon tells me that April 19 is my ship date which is OK because I have 2 books on hold at the library by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, so I will be reading good books ’til then.
    In any event we are almost done with snippets and we won’t know Coris’ fate from snippetland.

  24. John Driver says:

    @19 Peter,

    Don’t underestimate David Weber’s ability to pack in the pages between one event and the next. I just purchased another copy of “By Heresies Distressed”. The paperback this time. IT’S 618 PAGES! Not counting the list of characters and the glossary. I’m not complaining, just awestruck at this verbal talent.

  25. lethargo says:


    One time I went to my local Barnes and Noble and asked the information desk when an upcoming Weber book was coming out. They said it was coming out the next day, and may have even said they had received it but could not sell it yet. I said OK, walked to the sci-fi/fantasy section, and there was the Weber book. I took it to the checkout and got it a day early. Bonus!

    In other words I have also seen what @msj said about dates being ignored during stocking.

  26. Mack says:

    I got my copy yesterday.

  27. Peter Z says:

    @27 Dude! That’s pure evil!…..Do you live in Colorado, by chance? Where did you buy it?

  28. Rekes says:

    Having successfully conquered local market forces in the current MMO of my choice, I feel inclined towards evil villainy at the moment.

    This ice-skiing boat segment is probably the ultimate relevant information for destroying the Church! With Charis’ industrial complex expanding, it is inevitable that they shall generate global warming! Thinning the ice and dooming the church to wait for land carriers during winter, thus when they inevitably run out of grain when their fields turn to dust in the hotter summers of the future, they shall be forced into cannibalism to survive the harsh winter in their religious capital! Mwahahahahahahahagh!

    Buy low sell high? Nah. Buy OUT sell REALLY HIGH! AHAHAHAHAHAH!

    Seriously though… ZZZzzz…

  29. Geoff says:

    As to the background – before you turn a “bad guy” into a “good guy” you’ve got to first make him human, and then make him likeable.

    Coris was Hektor’s right hand man, and every segment that has him at the end of BHD and the start of AMF have him moving ever so much into the likeable territory. Childish wonder and all.

    My bet is that he either survives the meeting with the church, finds out who really killed Hektor and becomes an ally, or is played into a martyr on how evil the church is. But probably the first.

  30. mike dillon says:

    The orbital bombardment systems is defended by lasers, interceptor missiles etc. Ok, could the assault shuttle be used to dump a huge cloud of “buckshot” in its path say an opposing orbit for maximum closure rate and do it from a standoff range to protect to shuttle from counter fire? The cloud of buckshot should take out solar panels, antennas, and other exposed command and control sensors

  31. AVD says:

    if the ice melts they can ship food in normally…

    hmm, perhaps. I doubt it would work, just because normal space debris haven’t disabled it by now, but its possible.

  32. Duncan says:

    @31 Geoff: If the orbital equipment is layered in battle steel or armorplast which is likely then “orbital buckshot” would have virtually no effect

  33. jgnfld says:

    @31…I find it hard to believe that any sort of passive armor could survive a collision with any significant object traveling in the range of 20+kps (as the closing speed would be in a counterorbit). Defense for that would be deflecting the object or maneuver, I would think, rather than passively absorbing. A solid hit would change the orbit significantly as well if a hit were allowed possibly to the point of intersecting Safehold.

    For example, each 20kg mass placed in the way would liberate (if it hit something solid enough, of course) .5*20kg*(20 km/sec)^2 or 4 gigajoules of energy in an instant. This is the energy equivalent of 1 ton of TNT liberated basically on an area of, say, (10cm)^2 if it were delivered in the form of an iron ball. Put a thousand such masses into a counterorbit and you’re beginning to get into the A-bomb range.

  34. John Driver says:

    @34 jgnfld, David Weber may have a better imagination than you.

    From “Off Armageddon Reef” Chapter 4 (Chapter 3 of May, Year of God 890)

    It was ridiculous. She’d seen planetary-defense command bunkers which had been flimsier than the Temple, and she wondered which brilliant lunatic had decided to plate that silver dome in armorplast? It looked as if the plating was at least seven or eight centimeters thick, which meant it would have been sufficient to stop an old, pre-space forty-centimeter armor-piercing shell without a scratch. It seemed just a little excessive as a way to keep the dome and that ludicrous statue of Langhorne bright and shiny.

    Granted that 20+ kps of velocity on 20 kg of mass would be orders of magnitude larger, but it’s also only 7 or 8 centimeters thick. What if the orbital weapons platform had armorplast that was meters or better yet kilometers thick. With that much mass all those little bumps wouldn’t produce a measurable change in its orbit.

    Also, OWL tried to send a SNARC in and even with advanced stealth technology that effectively made it invisible, it was detected and destroyed thousands of kilometers from the platform. This doesn’t bode well for a non-stealthed passive iron ball making it through the defenses.

    From “Off Armageddon Reef” Chapter 11 (Chapter 7 of August, Year of God 890)

    . . . Another SNARC had attempted to penetrate the defended perimeter under maximum stealth, only to be detected and destroyed while it was still thousands of kilometers from the platforms. . . .

    Even if you can get through the platforms defenses, however, unless you can instantly destroy it, you have to ask yourself what the orbital weapons platform is going to be doing while it is being destroyed. It just might be that Langhorne and his cadre are the sort who would poison the well before allowing anybody else to drink from it. Specifically, they might have programmed the orbital weapons platform to destroy the biggest part of Safeholdian civilization if it came under serious attack. By serious I mean something that could realistically destroy it. In Merlin’s situation, I wouldn’t be anxious to find out. The best situation would be to find the keys to the thing and turn it off. Good luck trying that.

    A brute force approach would be to stealthily build a massive array of defenses to intercept the projectiles from the orbital weapons platform and simulataneously saturate the platforms defenses. This doesn’t require luck, just enormous resources. You might want to wait until the war is over before trying this.

  35. DougL says:

    If the objects are expected to STAY in orbit they have an onboard manuevering system. Similar comment for a weapon that has to be able to manuever to pass over a particular target at some point.

    Thus the weapon system can manuever.

    Putting junk into a retrograde orbit is MUCH MUCH harder than dodging it (DeltaV of circa 9km/s vs. small fractions of a km/s). Who runs out of power and fuel first? The handful of smuggled stuff doing the really hard job it wasn’t designed for; or the continent destroying weapon system doing what it’s designed for with the really easy job.

    Small amounts of junk you vaporize with your defensive laser or other weapon, really large amounts of junk are trivially dodged for about 1% of the effort it took to get them into the retrograde orbit in the first place.

    The controls to the weapon system are inside the Church in Zion, and may not even be known to the gang of four, and in any case we keep getting indications of disent within the Church in Zion. They aren’t going to beat the orbital weapons with just clever tech from the cave, if that could be done then the entire series is a gigantic idiot plot with Merlin and Owl as the idiots. They’re going to need to do SOMETHING on the planet, in Zion, to set up the ability to deal with the orbital weapons.

  36. Paul Breed says:

    @27 Where…..

  37. gary says:

    Maybe there is a reason for the temple being so heavily fortified, we been assuming the orbital weapon platform is on a precise strike mode, but the archangels back then won’t know who is breaking away from the anti-technology religion centuries away. They may have left instructions to certain people that when the time comes to activate the key, move all those that are devote to the temple itself and use the key, the orbital platform may have been programmed on an armageddon mode, rain destruction on a planetwise scale, any survivors and those that are protected by the fortified temple will certainly be fearful of breaking away from the proscriptions again. Probably why the key is single use only.

  38. Daryl says:

    Seems a little strange to hide from the Ghaba by restricting technology, and then to put a very large high energy orbital weapon platform up where it is somewhat obvious.

  39. mike dillon says:

    @35 (para 4). If 7 or 8 cm of armorplast can stop a 16 inch (406 mm)AP round and the federation had the capeabilty to build armorplast meters or even kilometers thick what were the Gbaba using for offenceive weapons? It sounds like heavy federation armor could shrug off even a large nuke.

  40. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Daryl, I think the logic is as follows.

    1) The Ghaba are looking first for the radio signals created by high tech civilizations.

    2) The orbital weapon platforms are likely designed to not emit signals that can be detected over distances of several light-years.

    3) If the Ghaba are close enough to the Safehold system to detect the orbital weapon platforms, then they would be close enough to detect a life-bearing planet and we have no reason to believe that the Ghaba would not check out any life-bearing planet for intelligent life. We have no reason to think the Ghaba would spare an intelligent species that is low-tech.

    So the risk of the Ghaba detecting the weapon platforms is outweighed by the idea that the platforms will prevent a high-tech civilization starting on Safehold.

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