Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 01

These snippets are from a rough draft of the book and will contact typos.

I will be posting them on Mondays and Thursdays.

Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 01

Midst Toil And Tribulation

David Weber


Year of God 896


Gray Wall Mountains,

Glacierheart Province,

Republic of Siddarmark

Snow veils hung in the clear, icy air, dancing on the knife-edged wind that swirled across the snow pack, and the highest peaks, towering as much as a mile higher than his present position, cast blue shadows across the snow.

It looked firm and inviting to the unwary eye, that snowpack, but Wahlys Mahkhom had been born and raised in the Gray Walls. He knew better, and his eyes were hard and full of hate behind his smoked glass snow goggles as his belly snarled resentfully. Accustomed as he was to winter weather even here in the Gray Walls, and despite his fur-trimmed parka and heavy mittens, he felt the ice settling into his bones and muscles. It needed only a momentary carelessness for a man to freeze to death in these mountains in winter, even at the best of times, and these were far from the best of times. The Glacierheart winter burned energy like one of Shan-wei’s own demons, and food was scarcer than Mahkhom could ever remember. Glacierheart’s high, stony mountainsides and rocky fields had never yielded bountiful crops, yet there’d always been at least something in the storehouses to be eked out by hunters like Mahkhom. But not this year. This year the storehouses had been burned — first by one side, then by the other in retaliation — and the fields, such as they were, were buried beneath the deepest, bitterest snow anyone could remember. It was as if God Himself was determined to punish innocent and guilty alike, and there were times — more times than he liked to admit — when Wahlys Mahkhom wondered if there would be anyone left alive to plant the next year’s crops.

His teeth wanted to chatter like some lowland dancer’s castanets, and he dragged the thick scarf his mother had knitted years ago higher. He laid the extra layer of insulation across the snow mask covering his face, and the hatred in his eyes turned harder and far, far colder than the winter about him as he touched that scarf and with it the memory of why his mother would never knit another.

He raised his head cautiously, looking critically about himself once more. But his companions were as mountain-wise as he was. They were just as well hidden under the white canopies of the sheets they’d brought with them, and he bared those edge-of-chattering teeth in hard, vengeful satisfaction. The snowshoe trek to their positions had been exhausting, especially for men who’d cut themselves dangerously short on rations for the trip. They knew better than that, of course, but how did a man take the food he really needed with him when he looked into the eyes of the starving child who would have to go without if he did? That was a question Wahlys Mahkhom couldn’t answer — not yet, at any rate — and he never wanted to be able to.

He settled back down, nestling into his hole in the snow, using the snow itself for insulation, watching the trail that crept through the mountains below him like a broken-backed serpent. They’d waited patiently for an entire day and a half, but if the target they anticipated failed to arrive soon, they’d be forced to abandon the mission. The thought woke a slow, savage furnace of fury within him to counterpoint the mountains’ icy cold, yet he made himself face it. He’d seen hate-fired determination and obstinacy kill too many men this bitter winter, and he refused to die stupidly. Not when he had so many men still to kill.

He didn’t know exactly what the temperature was, although Safehold had remarkably accurate thermometers, a gift of the archangels who’d created Mahkhom’s world. He didn’t have to know exactly. Nor did he have to know he was nine thousand feet above sea level on a planet with an axial inclination eleven degrees greater and an average temperature seven degrees lower than a world called Earth, of which he had never heard. All he had to know was that a few moments’ carelessness would be enough to —

His thoughts froze as a flicker of movement caught his eye. He watched, scarcely daring to breathe, as the flicker repeated itself. It was far away, hard to make out in the dimness of the steep-walled pass, but all the fury and anger within him had distilled itself suddenly into a still, calm watchfulness, focused and far colder than the mountains about him.

The movement drew closer, resolving itself into a long line of white-clad men, slogging along the trail on snowshoes like the ones buried beside Mahkhom’s hole in the snow. Half of them were bowed under heavy packs, and no less than six sleds drawn by snow lizards accompanied them. Mahkhom’s eyes glittered with satisfaction as he saw those sleds and realized their information had been accurate after all.

He didn’t bother to look around for the other men buried in the snow about him, or for the other men hidden in the dense stands of evergreens half a mile further down that icy trail from his icy perch. He knew where they were, knew they were as ready and watchful as he himself. The careless ones, the rash ones, were already dead; those who remained had added hard-learned lessons to the hunter’s and trapper’s skills they’d already possessed. And like Mahkhom himself, his companions had too much killing to do to let themselves die foolishly.

No Glacierheart miner or trapper could afford one of the expensive Lowlander firearms. Even if they could have afforded the weapons themselves, powder and ball came dear. For that matter, even a steel-bowed arbalest was hideously expensive, over two full months’ income for a master coalminer, but a properly maintained arbalest lasted for generations. Mahkhom had inherited his from his father, and his father from his father, and a man could always make the ammunition he needed. Now he rolled over onto his back under his concealing sheet. He removed his over-mittens and braced the steel bow stave against his feet while his gloved hands cranked the windless. He took his time, for there was no rush. It would take those men and those snow lizards the better part of a quarter hour to reach the designated point, and the mountain air was crystal clear. Better to take the time to span the weapon this way, however awkward it might be, then to risk sky lining himself and warning his enemies of their peril.

He finished cranking, made sure the string was securely latched over the pawl, and detached the windless. Then he rolled back over, setting a square-headed quarrel on the string. He brought the arbalest into position, gazing through the ring sight, watching and waiting , his heart as cold as the wind, while those marching figures crept closer and closer.

For a moment, far below the surface of his thoughts, a bit of the man he’d been only three or four months earlier stared aghast at what was about to happen here on this high, icy mountain trail. That tiny fragment of the Wahlys Mahkhom who’d still had a family knew that many of those men had families, as well. It knew those families were as desperate for the food on those lizard-drawn sleds as the families he’d left huddling around fires in the crudely built cabins and huts where they’d taken shelter when their villages were burned about their ears. It knew about the starvation, and the sickness, and the death that would stalk other women and other children when this day’s work was done. But none of the rest of him listened to that tiny, lost fragment, for it had work to do.

The center of that marching column of men reached the base of the single pine, standing alone and isolated as a perfect landmark, and under the ice and frost-clotted snow mask protecting his face, Mahkhom’s smile was the snarl of a hunting slash lizard. He waited a single heart beat longer, and then his hands squeezed the trigger and his arbalest spat a sunlight-gilded sliver of death through that crystal mountain air.

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25 Responses to Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 01

  1. Drak Bibliophile says:

    “Contain typos” not “Contact typos”. [Grumble Grumble]

  2. PeterZ says:

    Ahhhhh! Relief at last.
    Thanks, Drak.

  3. PeterZ says:

    The war in Siddermark is going to be remarkably ugly, vicious and deadly. No prisoners ’cause you gotta feed prisoners and anyone alive simply means they have another chance at returning to steal back their supplies.

    This sounds like the balkans in the making. The hatred shown in this snippet is the kind that will last for generations.

  4. robert says:

    This is much less about ideology and all about survival. We are (so far) missing the details of how this came to be, but I’m sure that we will find out…slowly, since we only get two snippets a week. Talk about starvation…

    With a September 18th release date, that is about 40 snippets. Meager rations.

  5. PeterZ says:

    Indeed it is about survival. Unfortunately, the hatred generated will still go bone deep.

  6. max says:

    I will not surprise anyone when I say I want more snippets ^^.

    Thx Drak Bibliophile and Mr. Weber!

  7. robert says:

    @7 PeterZ, I agree. Religious hatred seems to last forever, but for war crimes, if the guilty are dealt with, it dissipates in a generation. At least for most people it does. For others it often devolves into something like a grudge that lasts forever.

  8. PeterZ says:

    Agreed robert. My point was that each side would blame the other regardless of fault. The ambushers know their target. The others won’t know anything except their enemies stole their food. Easy to find blame here.

  9. Anonymouse says:

    Drak, you the man!

  10. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Anonymouse, David Weber is the Man. [Wink]

  11. hank says:

    Hey look at it this way: Twice a week gives us more time to debate oddball theories at great length! :)
    As for the lingering hatred in Glacierheart, I suspect the most beloved Archbishop Cahnyr may do something to change that…

  12. Doug Lampert says:

    Archbishop Cahnyr can’t do squat if both sides are attacking civilian food suplies. Heck, one side will probably blame him for the fighting. All that can help is to end the fighting quickly.

    If there is a decisive winner, and that winner stops the violence, punishes those on both sides clearly guilty of war crimes and gives fair trials, then there may not be any lasting hatred.

    Maybe I’m given a distorted view by being in North Alabama (which had a fair sized pro-union faction), but there really isn’t much actual animosity toward the Federal government or the north over the American Civil War, and parts of that war were NASTY.

    In WWII the US effectively wiped out a generation of Germen and Japannese men, and caused the survivors to undergo privation and hardship by wiping out their economies while we were at it. And there’s little or no lasting hatred because the occupations were relatively benign and the punishments were given after fairly fair and open trials (heck: Admiral Donitz, the only Furher of the Third Riche to be caught alive by the allies was only sentanced to 10 years, largely because on the worst charges his lawyers had solid evidence that both the British and Americans had done the same thing and the Emperor of Japan remained the Emperor of Japan since he hadn’t been all that involved in the government and had helped force the surrender through).

    So it can be done.

  13. hank says:

    I’ll grant your points with one big BUT. You’ve drawn your examples from 19th & 20th century conflicts but that’s not the kind of mindset we’re dealing with. Most of the planet is (rough parallels ahead!) still in a Medieval way of thought, the world is as God wants it, getting right with God is what really matters, etc, etc. Now Charis and the other Kingdoms now part of the Charisian Empire, were moving towards the major change in world view that occurred in Europe following the Black Death and continued through the Renaissance and the Reformation (ca 1350-1650 Anno Dominae) and led to the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. Getting this change to occur with a minimum of disruption and without drawing the attention of the Gabada is the biggest part of what Niume is up to as Merlin, IMO.
    At best getting everybody on a planet to change mental gears in this way is a multi-generational project. Heck, we haven’t gotten there on THIS planet yet! My point being that the people of Safehold, and in particular Glacierheart, are mostly still going to be reacting and reasoning based on the old program, not the new, so the experience of modern populations such as the American south, Germany or Japan after WWII, etc. are an iffy basis for what to expect here.
    So a man considered by every one to be good and truly saintly, like Cahnyr has been shown to be throughout the series thus far, MIGHT be able to have more influence in the aftermath (if he lasts that long) than war crimes trials etc. His is the voice they trust, Rule of Law – not so much part of their worldview.

  14. Ken says:

    A lot depends on who is fighting the war and what is done by each side. The Koreans and Chinese are still pissed at the Japanese for their occupation and atrocities. The Japanese justified their early 20th century invasions by the failed Mongol (Chinese/Korean aided) invasion of Japan in the middle ages. Talk to a whole lot of Muslims still pissed about the Crusades and that’s justification of what’s going on now. The forgive your enemy thing is by no means dominate even today. There is going to be a lot of animosity for years and it will take a long time for the wounds to heal. Charis’s side will forgive their enemies a lot quicker than the Church’s side. A lot of what is being done is personal and evil, that’s a lot harder to forgive than just battles of armies.

  15. TimC says:

    So any guesses- is this chap one of the ‘good’ survivors of the civil war or one of the Temple loyalist survivors? That we can even wonder shows how well Mr Weber balances the characters.

  16. Bewildered says:

    That assumes he is on a side other than his own. All we know is he’ll kill people and let children starve so that his group can survive.

  17. JeffM says:

    Most of you folks are forgetting one factor–the essence of the division. Indeed, almost by default the people bringing in supplies from OUTSIDE, pulled by SNOW LIZARDS, must be Temple Loyalists.

    And shortly being a “Temple Loyalist” is about to become…passe, neatly healing any rift. After all, the Gbaba are a much bigger threat than your ancestors having been fools and supporting the Temple.

  18. PeterZ says:

    @17 JeffM I agree the snow lizards are a give away. As for the hatred ending with the Gbaba….much of it, but not all of it.
    @14 Ken I would tend to agree. I further suspect that Temple Loyalists will tend to follow one religion more than any other. Don’t know which it may be, but most will likely choose one. Reformists will likely choose another. The hatred will find life well after there are no longer Temple Loyalists.

  19. Daryl says:

    This resonates with me as I personally know people involved in the Balkans conflict and it matches stories told by them about the Serb/Croat situation. One that is so similar is what happened to Serbian irregular units returning home after inflicting atrocities on Croatian peasant villagers.

  20. JeffM says:

    @18. What you’re missing is this: “Well honey, you’re right-your Grampa is a little funny that way. He can’t help it, but be nice to him, ’cause he’s only gonna live another twenty or thirty years, while you have three hundred. Let me plug you into the learning machine, and you can catch up on the actual history before you go off to kindergarten this morning, we have a few minutes before your bus.”

  21. PeterZ says:

    @20 JeffM, actual history doesn’t change the values the different groups hold. Its the values that fuel hatred. Unless you want use the NEATs to adjust personalities that wont change how passionately people react to different values.

  22. JeffM says:

    NEATs don’t have to change personalities–just educate people to actual facts.

    Matter of fact, I am convince that once the truth is known, many people will conveniently “forget” which side their ancestors might have once been on…it beats admitted that great-grandma was fooled by the likes of Clyntahn, doesn’t it?

  23. ET1swaw says:

    And never forget that history is, even at best, a story.

    Merlin only intellectually knows (and the inner circle but a shadow of that) what religious war has meant for the human condition. And Siddarmark (with both sides emphasizing irregular/guerilla warfare and terrorism (intimidation and fear) tactics) is going to be nastier than most (most especially in hardscrabble areas like Glacierheart where the line between death and survival is so very thin at the best of times)!!

    It makes for a great opening though, and I am glad to see the author not glossing over (or turning a blind eye) to the nasty bits (as our history tends to do (especially at the most basic level)). Lionization of the good guys (to the historian’s perspective) and villianization of the bad guys is an easy trap to fall into and some subjectivism is part of being human. With this opening (and without outright statement as to the POV character’s side) the author IMO seems to maintain objective viewing without loss of the visceral emotions involved in his current viewpoint character.

    And lastly: Regretfully IMO lasting hatred is the easiest to invoke and the most difficult to leaven within the human condition. It will be generations (even with the Gbaba threat (of which IIRC only Merlin and maybe the inner circle is aware) to assist in the process) before the hatred fades and the many different sides coalesce. Though their technology is Early Modern/beginning Industrial Revolution; IMO their mindset is more Pre-Renaissance Medieval!! (Think fallout from the Crusades rather than even the ACW, much less WWI/WWII)

  24. summertime says:

    Concern is expressed,and not for the first time, about the Gbaba finding the humans. They would surely have to cast a wide net since, I seem to remember from the first book in the series, the humans had gone ten years in hyperspace before emerging and finding a habitsble planet in Safehold. Doesn’t that appear to be a little beyond any likely Gbaba sphere of influence? Even if they continued to improve in technology, and maintained a burning desire to eradicate humans, the humans must surely be beyond their reach, even if they know for sure that humans are out there, which may or may not be the case. Am I wrong here? Are the Gbaba still a realistic threat, or will the humans have to go back and find them when technologically able?

  25. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Summertime, remember that the indication that the Gbaba existed was a destroyed civilization within human space.

    So apparently the Gbaba send out fleets/scouts looking for other intelligent life far from the areas they control/live.

    By now, the Gbaba may believe that they have wiped out mankind, but in time their standard search pattern may still find Safehold.

    Oh, it is very likely that the Gbaba haven’t improved in technology.

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