Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 02

Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 02


Tellesberg Palace,

City of Tellesberg,

Kingdom of Old Charis,

Charisian Empire

Merlin Athrawes sat silently in his darkened chamber, eyes closed as he contemplated images only he could see. He really ought to have been “asleep,” taking the nightly downtime Emperor Cayleb had mandated, but he’d been following Wahlys Mahkhom’s group of guerrillas through Owl’s SNARCs for over a five-day, and the distant AI had been instructed to wake him when the moment came.

Now he watched bleakly as the arbalests sent their deadly quarrels hissing into the totally surprised supply convoy.

They should’ve been more cautious

, he thought grimly. It’s not like both sides haven’t had plenty of experience murdering each other by now.

But they hadn’t been, and now the men struggling to deliver the food their families needed to survive screamed as steel-headed shafts ripped into them. Steaming scarlet stained the snow, voices shouted frantic orders and useless warnings, the men trapped on the trail tried to find some shred of shelter, tried to muster some sort of defense, and another volley of bolts ripped into them from the other side of the narrow valley. They tried desperately to turn the sleds, tried to break back the way they’d come, but a trio of quarrels slammed into the rearmost snow lizard. It collapsed, screaming and snarling and snapping at its wounds, and the trail was too narrow. No one could get past the thrashing, wounded creature, and even as they discovered that, the other jaw of the ambush — the men hidden in the evergreens where the valley floor widened, armed with swords and axes and miners’ picks — flung themselves upon the stunned and decimated convoy.

It didn’t last long. That was the sole mercy. No one was taking prisoners any longer — not in Glacierheart, not on its frontier with Hildermoss. Caring properly for one’s own wounded was close enough to impossible under the brutal, broken-backed circumstances; no one had the resources to waste on the enemy’s wounded . . . even if anyone had been willing to spare an enemy’s life. But at least Mahkhom’s band wasn’t as far gone as some of the guerrillas stalking one another through the nightmare which had once been the Republic of Siddarmark. They spared no one, but the death they meted out was clean and quick, without the torture and mutilation which had become the norm for all too many on both sides of the bitter hatred which had ripped the Republic apart.

Only three of the attackers were wounded, just one of them seriously, and they stripped the dead with quick, callous efficiency. The wounded snow lizard was dispatched with a cut throat, and half a dozen raiders harnessed themselves to the heavy sled. Others shouldered packs taken from the dead man whose naked corpses littered the snow, and then they were gone, slogging off down the trail to the point at which they could break away towards their own heavily guarded mountain fastness.

The bodies behind them were already beginning to freeze in the bitter cold.

As he watched the attackers hurrying off, Merlin felt unclean as he realized he didn’t feel the horror those freezing bodies ought to have evoked in him. He felt bitter, helpless regret as he thought about the women and children who would never see fathers or sons or brothers again, and who would succumb, quickly or slowly, to malnutrition and the icy cold of the winter mountains. And he felt a blazing anger at the man who was truly responsible for what had happened not just here in this single mountain valley but throughout the entire Republic in the months since Zhaspahr Clyntahn’s “Sword of Schueler” had been launched at Siddarmark’s throat. Yet as he gazed down through the SNARCs at the corpses stiffening in the snow, he could not forget, try as he might, that they were the corpses of Temple Loyalists. The bodies of men who had reaped the savage harvest of their own sowing.

And buried within the rage he felt at the religious fanatics who’d let themselves be used as Clyntahn’s weapon — who’d torched food supplies, burned villages, massacred families on the mere suspicion they might harbor Reformist sympathies — was his fury at himself. Cayleb and Sharleyan might regret all too many of the things they’d been called upon to do to resist the Group of Four’s tyranny, but they weren’t the ones who’d touched off the cataclysm of religious war on a planetary scale. No, that had been the doing of Merlin Athrawes, who wasn’t even human. Who was the cybernetic avatar of the memories of a young woman almost a thousand years dead. Someone without a single drop of real blood in his veins, immune to the starvation and the cold claiming so many lives in the Siddarmarkian mountains this terrible winter.

And worst of all, it had been the doing of someone who’d known exactly how ugly, how horrible, religious warfare — the most dreadful, all-consuming warfare — could be. As he looked at those bodies, Merlin knew he could never pretend he hadn’t known this was exactly where any religious war must lead. That hating, intolerant men would find in religion and the name of God the excuse to commit the most brutal, barbaric acts they could imagine and congratulate themselves upon their saintliness even as they did. And that when that happened, men like Wahlys Mahkhom, who’d come home from a mountain hunting expedition to find his village burned to the ground by Clyntahn’s followers and his entire family dead, would find the counter-hatred to be just as brutal, just as merciless, and call their vengeance justice. And perhaps the most hellish thing of all was that it was impossible to blame Mahkhom for reacting just that way. What else could any sane person expect from a man who’d found his mother hacked to death? Who’d buried his three children, the eldest of them less than six years old, and held his wife’s raped and mutilated body in his arms while he sobbed out the wreckage of a heart which would never heal? Indeed, it was a miracle he and his followers had given their enemies clean deaths, and all too many other Reformists wouldn’t have. They would have given their foes exactly what their foes had given them, and if along the way they caught some innocent who was simply trying to survive in the chaos and the cruelty and despair, that was just the way it was.

It’s feeding on itself,

he thought, shutting away the image of those naked bodies at last. Atrocity leads to counter-atrocity, and men who can’t avenge themselves on the ones who murdered their loves avenge themselves on anyone they can catch. And that creates still more hatred, still more thirst for vengeance, and the cycle goes right on building.

Merlin Athrawes was a PICA, a creature of alloys and mollycircs, of fiber optics and electrons, not flesh and blood. He was no longer subject to the biochemistry of humanity, no longer captive to adrenaline and the other physiological manifestations of anger and fight-or-flight evolutionary programming. And none of that mattered one whit as he confronted the hatred burning inside him and his inability to penetrate the far-off Temple in the city of Zion.

If I could only see what’s happening there,

he thought with an edge of despair. If I could only know what they’re doing, what they’re thinking . . . planning. None of us saw this coming in time to warn Stohnar — not about anything he hadn’t already picked up on his own, at any rate. But we should’ve seen it coming. We ought to’ve known what someone like Clyntahn would be thinking, and God knows we’ve had proof enough of the lengths to which he’s willing to go!

In many ways, his ability — his and his allies’ — to see so much only intensified and honed his frustration at being denied access to Zion. They had more information than they could possibly use, especially when they couldn’t let anyone else suspect how that information had come into their possession, yet they couldn’t peer into the one spot on the entire planet where they most urgently needed to see.

But it wasn’t visions of Zion Merlin Athrawes truly wanted, and he knew it. What he wanted was to bring Zhaspahr Clyntahn and his fellows into his own reach for one, fleeting moment, and he wanted it with an intensity he knew had come to border all too nearly upon madness. He’d found himself thinking about Commodore Pei more and more frequently as the brutal winter of western Siddarmark grew steadily more and more savage. The Commodore had walked into Eric Langhorne’s headquarters with a vest-pocket nuke; Merlin Athrawes could easily have carried a multi-megaton city-burner into Zion and destroyed not simply the Group of Four but the entire Temple in a single cataclysmic blast. The death toll would have been hideous, but could it possibly be worse than what he was watching happen inch by agonizing inch in Siddarmark? Than the deaths this war had already cost Charis and its allies? Than the deaths it would cost in the months and years ahead?

And would it not be worth it to cleanse himself of the blood guilt for starting it by ending his life — if life it truly was — like the biblical Samson, bringing down his enemies in his own destruction?

Oh, stop it!

he told himself harshly. You know it was only a matter of time before that lunatic Clyntahn would’ve unleashed the Inquisition on Charis even without your intervention. And do you really think for a moment he would ever have stopped again, once he’d tasted that much blood? Of course he wouldn’t have! You may be partly — even largely — to blame for where and when the bloodletting started, but you aren’t responsible for what was already driving it. And without your interference, Clyntahn would already’ve won.

It was true, and in his saner moments — the moments when he didn’t sit in a darkened room watching the carnage, tasting the hate behind it — he knew it was true. Just as he knew the Church had to be destroyed if humanity was going to survive its inevitable second meeting with the genocidal Gbaba. But truth . . . truth was cold and bitter bread, laced with arsenic and poisoned with guilt, at times like this.

That’s enough,

a voice which sounded remarkably like Sharleyan Ahrmahk’s said in the back of his electronic brain. That’s enough. You’ve seen what you told Owl to show you. Don’t sit here and beat yourself to death over things you can’t change, anyway. Besides, Cayleb’s just likely to check with Owl and find out you stayed up late . . . again.

Despite himself, his lips twitched and a spurt of gentle amusement flowed through his rage, blunting the sharp edges of his self-hatred, as he pictured Cayleb Ahrmahk’s reaction if he did discover Merlin’s infraction. It wasn’t as if Cayleb or Sharleyan thought for a moment that even an emperor’s wrath could make any impression on Merlin Athrawes if he chose to ignore it, but that wasn’t the reason Cayleb had issued his edict, nor was it the reason he would have pitched a truly imperial tantrum over its violation. No, he would have berated Merlin with every . . . colorful phrase he could come up with because he knew how much Merlin needed that. How much the PICA “seijin warrior” of myth and legend needed to be treated as if he truly were still a human being.

And perhaps — who knew? — Merlin truly was still human on some elemental level that went beyond fleshly envelopes and heartbeats and blood. Perhaps he wasn’t, too. Perhaps in the end it didn’t matter how much blood guilt he took upon his soul because perhaps Maikel Staynair was wrong. Perhaps Nimue Alban truly was as dead as the Terran Federation — perhaps Merlin Athrawes truly was no more than an electronic echo with no soul to lose.

There were times he hoped that wasn’t so, and other times — when he thought of blood and pain, of thin-faced, starving children shivering in mountain snow — when he prayed it was.

My, you

are feeling morbid tonight, aren’t you? he asked himself tartly. Maybe Cayleb’s even righter than you thought to insist you get that downtime of his. And maybe you need to get up in the morning and drop by the imperial nursery to hug that goddaughter of yours and remember what this is all really about.

He smiled more naturally, dreams of guilt and bloodshed softened by the memory of that laughing, wiggling small body in his arms like God’s own promise the future would, indeed, somehow be worth its cost in the fullness of time.

And it will

, he thought softly, prepping the commands which would switch him to standby mode. When you look down at that little girl and realize why you’re doing all this — realize how much you love her — you know it will.


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47 Responses to Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 02

  1. Mike says:

    “Previously, on Safehold,…”

  2. tootall says:

    Tough stuff…
    I also would like to know what’s going on in Zion- how each member of the GoF is reacting to all this.
    Given Merlin’s fore-shadowing- perhaps that’s the next scene.

  3. ET1swaw says:

    First survivor’s guilt, now blood guilt (along with a justifiable Gbaba paranoia and a self-determined personal responsibility for the future of the human race); what a load to carry.

    Nimue/Merlin has a mighty dark stain to overcome (in his/her own mind at least) as (s)he of all people (especially as (s)he is still uncertain of the PICA’s humanity/soul) knew what religious war meant!!

    IMO Merlin is human still, if for no other reason than the self-hell he can inflict!

    And as I commented on for the first snippet: the author has not turned a blind eye or glossed over the nasty bits. He has not fully lionized the good guys nor villianized/demonized the bad guys (with the notable exception of Clyntahn who was written from the beginning IMO as a waste of flesh to give history’s human-monsters a run for their infamy).

    And AFAIK the Gbaba threat is only peripheral knowledge at best for anyone (with the sole exception of Nimue/Merlin) still alive on the surface of Safehold. For Nimue/Merlin it is soul-deep (even if second-hand from the PICA’s progenitor); as it would nearly be for any resurrected Angel/Archangel (and for them it would be heavily leavened with self-justification and denial). IIRC even the recovered knowledge of Saint Jehrome?sp? and any other colonists was NEAT-based (therefore factual/historical presentation) carrying none of the emotional baggage.

  4. PeterZ says:

    @3 ET1swaw, Clyntahn may be all you state. He isn’t however, a characature. He has depth and works under an internally consistent set of moral guidelines. These guidelines are nowhere near those of the rest of humanity, but even Clyntahn isn’t written simply by using those characteristics which most easily hated by a reader. Not at all. His character is written by extending a set of not uncommon beliefs to their logical conclusion. Its that internal consistency that pulls the reader into Clyntahn’s character and makes him truly detestable.

    The man believes that salvation comes through works (obediance) not Grace. Anything, then, that increases the number of people obeying God also increases the number of people who will be saved in the end. That anything as we have seen is a truly important qualifier.

  5. PeterZ says:

    I have to say that I loved this passage. It is one of the most moving I have read from DW. Bravo!

  6. Ed says:

    Collateral damage is a good reason to win a war as quickly as possible. The longer it drags on the more there is.

  7. Nimitz13 says:

    Clyntahn’s religious views are a bit more narrow than saved by obedience/grace. Let’s not forget, Clyntahn believes that God’s will is whatever HE believes. He’s a narcissistic megalomaniac and a sociopath to boot. Stalin/Hitler/Mao/ and Jack the Ripper all in one. His thinking IS internally consistent, but diabolically twisted to anyone who actually has a conscience, and to have such a man leading the COGA is practically heresy in itself – at least in the kinder words of the Writ.

    He’s an interesting character in that he doesn’t THINK what he does is evil, he actually thinks he’s saving people’s souls. Of course he’s also increasing his own power and wealth in the process, but of course that is also “God’s will!”

    It will be interesting to see what whatever is due to awaken in the temple thinks of Clyntahn – and how in creating the COGA it ultimately enabled such an evil man to rise to power.

    Would that Clyntahn should undergo the entire litany of tortures outlined in the book of Schueler! But the good guys don’t work that way, or they wouldn’t be the good guys. But OH how they want to…

    It’s great to be back to discuss the next novel, hello again to everyone, and I’ll say it for the first time…


  8. PeterZ says:

    @7 Nimitz13, oh I agree. Clyntahn does think his will is God’s will. God and his archangels gave him authority after all. Safeholdians must be obedient to him, who uses the authority God gave him, in order to be obedient to God. I just don’t believe its any sort of phychosis, it is what Langhorne’s lead to if followed to their logical conclusion.

  9. PeterZ says:

    @9 Correction: should read- …,it is what Langhorne’s policies (CoGA doctrine) lead to…

  10. Elim Garak says:

    I keep wishing that we would get some interesting and fresh characters back again. For me the only part of this series worth rereading is the one with the princess (Irys) in the very end of the previous book. I don’t really care about most of the other characters. Merlin is the only possible (marginal) exception. Everyone else is so dry and predictable that it’s painful.

    Unfortunately I am also fairly certain that princess Irys is going to hook up with the incredibly boring midshipman Hektor Aplyn-Ahrmahk. That’s pretty much inevitable in books like this. There are only two characters on that ship – and in fact in the series – of this age. Therefore they will hook up, get married, etc. :-(

    That’s why I look forward to the parts about engineering, industry, and gun design. There at least I get to learn something new and surprising. The rest of it? Meh.

  11. Drak Bibliophile says:

    That’s Lt. Aplyn-Ahrmahk not Midshipman Aplyn-Ahrmahk. [Wink]

    As for Irys and Hektor getting together, the Snerk Collar is flashing a warning to me. [Grin]

  12. PeterZ says:

    Once again the great wyrm dons his collar so that all us little people may enjoy the fruits of literature early.
    My thanks, Drak. Your sacrifice is greately appreciated.

  13. Elim Garak says:

    Huh, if Irys and Aplyn-Ahrmahk don’t get together then that would definitely freshen things up. :-)

  14. Doug Lampert says:

    @13, Yeah, those two getting together has been pretty well telegraphed for at least two books prior to their even meeting. If they are initially friendly and then end up despising each other would certainly be different and surprising.

    I don’t expect it to happen.

  15. JeffM says:

    @13. Well, Elim, the rest of us are sorry that you find that “predictable”. I find it amusing that Irys might fall for someone also named “Hektor”.

  16. tootall says:

    One of the great things about Safehold is that there’s no e-arc, no “predictions” that are dead on, just interesting conversations-

    Nice to get a “Bleek” again.

  17. Peter S says:

    I very much agree with Nimitz13 and PeterZ’s analysis of Clyntahn – a character who is astonishingly fascinating and repellent at the same time. DW has created a painfully memorable character there, in some ways fore interesting than Merlin/Nimue (and in others, NOT!)
    BTW, I’ve missed these conversations. Glad you’re all back!

  18. ET1swaw says:

    @4 PeterZ: Perhaps I mispoke (miscommented?). I in no way think Clyntahn is a simplistic villain!!! What gets to me is his internal consistency coupled with my view of his motivations/action. In my eyes he is a hedonistic megalomanical misogynistic sociopathic psychopath with a god complex and the firmly held belief that ANYTHING which is to his benefit is God’s direct will and that any blessing he receives is both well-earned/deserved and no less than his minimum due. Yet in his own eyes he is an ascetic worker toward the salvation of lesser humanity and COMPLETELY justified in ANY action he might take!

    @17 Peter S: I want to, but I just can’t look away from Clyntahn!! IMO DW has created the perfect character on which to apply: “He just needed killin’ I guess” and the old joke about poisonous reptiles dying after biting him (if they don’t just give him a free pass as ‘birds of a feather/professional courtesy’).

    And regretfully the old “Abyss” quote is again proving true.


  19. Nimitz13 says:

    @18 Rob: I couldn’t have said it better myself – although I TRIED!


  20. PeterZ says:

    @18 Rob, I think this is a chicken or egg discussion. I agree that he is as you envision him. I want to emphasize that he came by that view as his most basic nature was constantly being reinforced by how the CoGA was structured. We know that the Archangels will return. I assume that seeded in the CoGA doctrine are messages to that effect as well as emphasizing God’s and the Archangels active participation in the world. The CoGA was given authority over humanity. The officers of the church have authority over the CoGA. It follows then that if God or the Archangels didn’t like what the CoGA did that they would take an active role and change things.

    Clyntahn simply did what he did and found increasing success indulging his most basic nature and vilest urges. It must follow in his mind that he is the cure for the rebellion against the CoGA and by extension God. Did not God constantly grace his activity with success after all? My view is that Clyntahn is the innevitable conclusion of Langhorne’s church.

  21. PeterZ says:

    Elim Grak and Doung Lampert,

    Suppose that Sharleyan (and Alanah too perhaps) die in a Rakurai attack? Won’t that shake things up? Will Cayleb marry Irys? What happens if Irys and Hektor are already falling for each other when this happens? Will Chisholm feel slighted? Things would be worse of both Alanah and Sharley die. As awful for some readers as that outcome may be, it would faciltiate the incorporation of Corisande into the Empire. So for all you other readers with no romance in your souls, take heart! Misery is only a few keystrokes away.

  22. tootall says:

    #21 WOW, where did that come from? Never, never, never, even considered that- love it!

  23. PeterZ says:

    To make matters even more interesting, suppose we incorporate the VR2 units. Suppose that Sharley is recorded and exists in the VR unit after her body dies. She dies publicly so OWL can’t manufacture a PICA of her. OWL may create a PICA for Sharley but the identity of Sharleyan is dead and if Alanah dies also, Cayleb must mary someone that can publically produce an heir.

    All these plot decives that DW has introduced makes the potential twists and turns positively byzantine.

  24. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Part of the fun of these discussions are the “interesting” plot twists DW’s fans think he’s going to pull.

    Of course, he does pull some interesting plot twists. [Wink]

  25. PeterZ says:

    I’m rooting for predictable, Drak. I LIKE Hektor. I just want to give some of the more hard hearted fans some hope.

  26. Mike says:

    I thought there was some statement made a long time ago that PICAs represented the ultimate expression of technology on Earth right at the end, and so it’s just not possible to fab one up in the batcave. Or am I misremembering that?

  27. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Yes and no, Mike.

    The problem is that Owl doesn’t have the plans for a PICA.

    With the plans, Owl could build one.

    Currently to build one, Owl would have to analyse Merlin’s body but the process could be dangerous to Merlin.

    Merlin has asked Owl to build a VR unit that could hold his personality while the procedure took place.

  28. tootall says:

    The thing about building another PICA is: Who gets it? (ie in whose image) Who gets to live “forever”?
    Who decides? Clythan’s been “sort of” playing god. Does Merlin really do it?

  29. Doubting Thomas says:

    My personal bet for the next PICA is Nahrmahn, after he spends a few years in the VR unit.

  30. Drak Bibliophile says:

    That’s assuming that Nahrmahn is in the VR unit. There’s no text evidence that he is. [Wink]

    On the other hand, remember that Nahrmahn is dead and buried. His son has taken his throne. No way can Nahrmahn “come back” from the dead.

  31. ET1swaw says:

    Something that just came to mind:
    Clyntahn is fully self-justified and IMO nearly free from feelings of guilt or remorse;
    OTOH Merlin (who at her base is Nimue Alban: a female combat-tested military officer lost from her time and place) is acting contrary to her humanistic urges as an embraced DUTY to the race (and to hopefully protect her new friends; though her lifespan presupposes their deaths within her long period of rememberance).

    The snippet actually has me wondering how much can she take? IMO her soul is human and that means limitations. What happens when she surpasses her admittedly high breaking point?

  32. PeterZ says:

    @31 Rob,
    Your post assumes both a finite amount of stress can be borne and that once gained it can not be relieved. Both I think are faulty assumptions. Friends and loved ones relieve stress and her religion relieves guilt through forgiveness. So long as she has the social support and her faith, she can tollerate whatever life has in store for her. Kill or remove those close to her and Nimue is in trouble. So that’s why I think Merlin dies in the end. Nimue simply cannot go on forever losing each and everyone of those people that support her as time remorselessly marches on.

  33. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Agree Peter, IMO eventually “Merlin” will go back to Nimue’s cave and “turn off” to wait until he/she is needed.

    Already, we’ve seen that with the Inner Circle and Owl, Merlin isn’t absolutely needed.

    Useful yes, but Nimue’s work would go on even if she’s dead or shut down in her cave.

  34. Maggie says:

    As I came to this page in the wistful expectation that the cupboard would be bare until June, what do I find but a juicy snippet and the gang all here! I add my thanks to the great Dragon who keeps us going until the tome is released!
    @32 & 33: Guys, I think you are right on target. Once Merlin’s work in each era is done he will sleep until Britain, er, Safehold needs him again…. Heck, I can even see Merlin downloading his consciosness into non-corporeal form if necessary: Or am I getting too Ghost In The Shell here?

  35. ET1swaw says:

    @31, @32, @33: I agree with you all. I mispoke (miscommented?) once again leaving the assumption that I meant a one-time event.
    Her burden of duty is closer to vacuum and black hole than the allegorical(metaphorical?) feather and mountain IMO.
    She DOES have a support system, but IMO it is heavily mitigated against by the attendant losses of those close to her.
    I (as you seem to) can not conceive of maintaining that-closeness/that-burden over the whole of her expanded existence (at least without a fundemental change to her psyche).
    I wonder (and possibly Merlin/Nimue does as well) how she might put protocols into effect that will mitigate her negative results if she goes off her rails and/or assist her in maintaining her sanity/equilibrium.


  36. PeterZ says:

    @35 Rob, I don’t think it was misspeaking as much as my wanting to clarify MY emphasis. I suspected we were largely in agreement. Enough losses would probably destroy me too. Learning to think of people as usefull sources of stress relief but little else ’cause they are gonna die and you will not sounds like an awful survival mechanism to develope.

    Interesting about the san check code. Hadn’t considered that. You must have read more Lovecraft than I.

    Welcome back, Maggie! This forum misses something without your pithy posts.

  37. Nimitz13 says:

    MAGGIE!!! We canna start ‘or discussions wi’out ye! Can’t wait to hear your first sonnet, ode, or limerick!

    There’s been some excellent analysis of both Merlin and Clyntahn here. I found the contrasts most compelling in that Merlin – who is literally a machine, is vastly the most human, while Clyntahn, undeniably human in form down to his DNA is actually the Frankenstein’s monster of the series. This is what we English Minors (and we Computer Science Majors most assuredly cannot!) call irony. Every now and then when the MWW gets criticized for shallow characters, predictability, and books based solely on plot, action, and warfare, we get a gem like this snippet.

    A machine contains the most duty-driven, tortured, self-agonizing, yet benevolent soul in existence, while a human is one of the most shallow, self-righteous, amoral, hedonistic sociopaths with a God complex who ever soiled the pages of a literary work. From a technological standpoint, Merlin could BE God (or at least an Archangel, the closest thing,) yet he put that aside to work through humans so they could progress on their own, allowing the free will necessary for their return to the stars. Clyntahn THINKS that what he wants, God wants, so in effect his will is God’s will so he may as well BE God on Safehold. Free will is an anathema to him. Yet Merlin could snuff him out in a heartbeat, albeit with collateral damage unacceptable to a soul that burns so brightly.

    Methinks there are some religious archetypes here, but I’m not going to dig that deeply or twist the discussion that direction. I’m just going to bask in this insightful and enjoyable snippet.

    MWW, please keep tossing us these scenes that are little short of literary masterpieces. It keeps us English minors happy. (Although the CS major in me can’t wait for the shootin’ to start!)

    And lest everyone think I’ve waxed too maudlin here – BLEEEK!

  38. AJNolte says:

    @37: he’s definitely done the “more human machines” thing before though; read some of his Bolo stories. Merlin/Nimue is something a bit more complex: a human inside a machine acting as a human. The only real surprise is that we haven’t seen massive identity confusion before now.

  39. Xellos-_^ says:

    @38, Merlin/Nimue is a Ghost in the Shell.

  40. tootall says:

    One thing to consider is that Nimue hasn’t yet lived a “normal” life span. She died young and has now had 8(?)years as Merlin. I can understand that intellectually she might dread losing everyone close to her-but that HASN’T happened yet. She knows war and the losses that accompany that. AND she’s still young-emotionally-physically-. She keeps busy, has a cause, has friends her own age…. IMO, if she is to have a crisis, it would be when Cayleb et al get old.
    When ones physical body begins to fail, (or we see someone of long association fail) one begins to believe in ones own mortality. Nimue hasn’t had to deal-yet- with those issues.

  41. Sigh says:

    ‘When ones physical body begins to fail, (or we see someone of long association fail) one begins to believe in ones own mortality.’
    Would not the opposite be more likely? As Nimue sees her friends grow old and die, would it not be her immortality that she finally begins to grasp?

  42. JeffM says:

    Just on a number of fronts (right before Drak posts another segment and my words are passe)…

    A. Merlin/Nimue is going to learn that losses are a part of life. A ‘normal” person with many friends who lives a long life bears many more losses than one who is sheltered, has few acquaintances, and lives a relatively brief life. The joy is in learning to anticipate which unique person you will encounter and come to love next–as Merlin will begin to learn with his goddaughter.

    Further, when the “project” is further advanced, and his friends are living longer lifespans, those losses will be proportionately reduced. Beyond that–Nimue Alban is the ranking officer of the Terran Federation Navy, and has lots of Gbaba to kill.

    B. Nahrmann can no more come back as Nahrmann than Nimue could be Nimue. Does that mean that PICA Nahrmann couldn’t be useful? Absolutely not! Of course, Merlin already knows that Nahrmann’s only requests will be to be both tall–and handsome. ;)

    And can you imagine the indolent former Prince given a PICA body–and the opportunity to buckle some swash?

    C. Going back to the debate about Hektor and Irys…I think it would eb an interesting twist if they DON’T like one another–and are forced to marry anyway, to bind Corisande. After all, Hektor is a member of the Imperial family. Not everything is a happy ending.

  43. JeffM says:

    Oh yes–the problem of “generational hatred” is solved. The male Temple Loyalists are dead, their wives and children will starve to death. Voila! No more hatred! See how easy that is? Sigh.

    Of course, the “Victors” may well be wracked with guilt…

  44. Mike says:

    Hmmm. You guys talking about Nahrmann being dead clearly indicates to me that I missed reading a book.

  45. PeterZ says:

    @42C JeffM, if you feel that way sbout it, why not hope that Sharley dies? Cayleb marries Irys and Hektor can play Lancelot. This is a Camelot homage, n’es ce que pas?

  46. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Mike, Nahrmann died in _How Firm A Foundation_.

  47. Jim says:

    @42 Merlin/Nimue already knows that losses are a part of life. Everyone from her pre-Safehold life family, friends and military comrades has died or been murdered by the Gbaba. Right now she is the sole survivor of the planet Earth. I think the author addressed this in the first book, but I think in reality it would still be a heavy burden for Merlin.

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