Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 25

Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 25


Tellesberg Palace,

City of Tellesberg,

Kingdom of Old Charis,

Empire of Charis

Sharleyan Ahrmahk stood beside her husband in the bright sunlight. A warm breeze danced and curtsied around the terrace, rustling and chattering in the broad-bladed palmettos, spike-thorn, and tropical flowers which surrounded it. A pair of spider monkeys chased one another through the sword-like canopy of nearpalms high overhead, scolding and screeching at one another, their voices clear but distant through the wind’s voice. Closer at hand, a brilliantly colored parrot sat on one limb of the ornamental sugar apple tree in the tree well at the center of the terrace, ignoring the human intrusion into its domain, hooked beak burrowing as it preened, and the same breeze brought them the whistles and songs of more distant wyverns and birds.

Crown Princess Alahnah lay in the hammock-like canvas cradle, embroidered with her house’s coat of arms, which had been a gift from the crew of HMS Dawn Star the year before. The stitchery of the ship’s sailmaker and his mates would have done any professional seamstress proud, and their gift had touched Sharleyan to the heart as the entire crew manned the yards with huge, beaming grins and watched Captain Kahbryllo present it to her on the infant princess’ behalf. An empress had countless finer cradles for her child, many of them exquisite treasures of the woodworker’s art, but not one of them meant as much to her as that simple length of canvas. Alahnah was too young to worry about things like that, but she, too, had loved that cradle from the very first day the ship’s motion had lulled her to sleep in it, and they’d made it with plenty of room for growth. It fitted her just fine at fourteen months, and now she lay making happy, sleepy sounds while Hairyet Saltair, one of her nannies, substituted for the ship’s motion and kept it gently moving.

A single blue-eyed armsman — a major of the Imperial Guard — stood at the feet of the shallow steps leading up to the terrace from the garden proper. Another, more grizzled armsman, this one a sergeant, stood beside the princess’ cradle, but somehow their armed presence only emphasized the peacefulness of the moment. Because, perhaps, of the only other person on that terrace — a white-haired man in an orange-trimmed cassock who seemed to carry peacefulness around with him like a personal possession.

“I guarantee you plenty of people will insist — after the fact, of course, and only when they can pretend they think we can’t overhear them — that we ought to’ve done this in the throne room,” Cayleb said now, one arm around Sharleyan’s waist while he kept his eyes on the path winding its way between the banks of landscaped greenery. “And they’re going to come up with all kinds of ‘reasons of state’ we ought to’ve done it, too. You know they will.”

“Of course they will,” Sharleyan replied. “On the other hand, most of those ‘reasons’ are going to be — what was that delightful phrase of Zhan’s yesterday? ‘Kraken-shit,’ I believe? — manufactured by people whose real objection is that their own highly aristocratic selves weren’t present. We really shouldn’t encourage him to use language like that, I suppose, but the description does fit, doesn’t it?”

“I know that. And you know that. Hell, they know that! Not going to shut them up, though. In fact, it’s only going to make it worse than if they’d had some substantive complaint!”

“Now, now,” Maikel Staynair soothed. “I’m sure you’re worrying unduly. And even if you’re not, I’m confident we’ll manage to weather the tempest of their disappointment. If it will make you feel better, I’ll even admonish them for it from the pulpit next Wednesday.”

“Oh, I’m sure that will make it all better!” Cayleb rolled his eyes. “I think we’d make out better dropping hints about headsmen, actually.”

“Such bloody-handed tyranny is not the best way to endear yourselves to your subjects, Your Majesty,” Staynair pointed out.

“Who said I wanted to endear myself to them? I’ll settle for shutting them up!”

Staynair chuckled, and Cayleb practiced a theatrical scowl on him.

“Don’t encourage him, Maikel,” Sharleyan said severely.

“Me? Encourage him?” Staynair eyed her reproachfully. “Nonsense!”

“No, it isn’t.” Sharleyan smacked him on a still-muscular shoulder. “You enjoy it as much as he does. Which, you might note, is my diplomatic way of saying you’re just as bad as he is.”

“He is not just as bad as I am,” Cayleb said with immense dignity. “How can you, of all people, say such a thing? I’m far worse than he is, and I work harder at it, too.”

It was Sharleyan’s turn to roll her eyes, but they were interrupted before she could respond properly.

“Seijin Merlin!

The voice came around the bend in the path before the boy who owned it did, but not by much. The youngster hurled himself around the turn, running hard, and left the ground several feet in front of the blue-eyed armsman. He launched himself with the fearless, absolute assurance that he would be caught, and the armsman laughed as he snatched the small, wiry body out of midair.

“I’m glad to see you, too, Your Highness,” he replied in a deep voice. “It would appear your voyage hasn’t imbued you with enhanced dignity, though, I see.”

“I think that’s your way of saying I’m not behaving.” The youngster braced his hands on the armsman’s shoulders so he could lean back against Merlin Athrawes’ mailed, supporting arms and look into those sapphire eyes. “And, if it is, I don’t care.” He elevated his nose and sniffed. “Lady Mairah says I’m perfectly well behaved compared to her stepsons, and I’m a prince. So I get to choose to do what I want sometimes.”

“Somehow I don’t think that’s exactly what Lady Hanth said, Your Highness,” Merlin replied, shifting Prince Daivyn to sit on his left forearm as the rest of the prince’s party followed him more sedately around the bend.

“Allowing for a certain liberality of interpretation, it’s not all that far off, Seijin Merlin,” Lady Hanth herself said. “I do think it wouldn’t hurt His Highness’ dignity for you to go ahead and set him back down, though.”

“As you wish, My Lady.” Merlin smiled, half-bowed to her, and set the boy on his feet. Daivyn grinned up at him, and the armsman ruffled his hair with an answering smile, then looked up at Princess Irys and the Earl of Coris.

“I see you made it safe and sound after all, Your Highness,” he greeted Irys.

“As did you, Major Athrawes.” She smiled almost as warmly as Daivyn as she took note of his new rank. “I’ll admit now that I was less confident than I could have wished that we’d see you again. But now that we do, thank you.” She laid a hand on his forearm, her expression turning very serious. “Thank you very much. For my life, and for his.”

She laid her other hand on Daivyn’s shoulder, and Merlin gazed into her hazel eyes for a moment, then bowed again, more deeply.

“It was my honor to have been of service,” he said softly. “And seeing the two of you here — and observing that someone” — he glanced down at Daivyn’s tanned face — “seems to’ve grown at least three inches — is all the reward I could ask.”

“At the moment, it’s also all the reward we can give you,” Irys said. “In time, I hope that will change.”

“That won’t be necessary, Your Highness.”

“I know.” Irys smiled, recognizing the sincerity in his voice and, even more importantly, in his eyes as he gazed down at Daivyn’s beaming expression. “But it’s important to me — and to Daivyn — that we show the rest of the world we recognize our debt.”

Merlin merely bowed again, then turned towards the terrace, and Irys followed the turn gracefully.

She found herself at last face-to-face with what were arguably the most powerful monarchs in the world, even if they seemed remarkably unaware of it at the moment.

They were both several years older than she was, although they still struck her as absurdly young to have accomplished as much — and acquired as many enemies — as they had. Cayleb Ahrmahk was taller than she’d expected, and a bit broader of shoulder, although still shorter than Merlin Athrawes, and the emerald-set golden chain which marked a king of Charis winked green and golden glory on his chest. The crown of Sharleyan Ahrmahk’s head barely topped his shoulder, and her slender, not quite petite figure showed no sign she’d ever borne a child. The silken hair confined by the simple golden circlet of her light presence crown was so black the sunlight seemed to strike green highlights from it, her eyes were as brown as Cayleb’s, and her strong, determined nose was ever so slightly hooked. There was very little of classic beauty about her, but she didn’t need it, Irys thought — not with the character and intelligence sparkling in those eyes as they rested in turn upon Irys and her brother.

They gazed at one another for several seconds, and then Irys drew a deep breath, squeezed Daivyn’s shoulder gently with the hand still resting on it. He turned and accompanied her obediently as she walked steadily towards the terrace. The boy’s eyes darkened and she felt his shoulder tighten under her fingers, but her own expression was composed, almost serene, and only someone who knew her well could have recognized the tension swirling in her hazel eyes. Phylyp Ahzgood, Earl of Coris, followed the two of them, half a step back and to her Irys’ left, his expression as serene as her own, and Cayleb and Sharleyan watched them come.

They reached the terrace and climbed the steps, and Coris and a suddenly very sober-faced Daivyn bowed deeply while Irys curtsied. Then all three Corisandians straightened and stood gazing at the Emperor and Empress of Charis.


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49 Responses to Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 25

  1. tootall says:

    So Drak, ol’ buddy, ol’ pal, oh Mighty Dragonn, now that War Maid’s Choice is out, I don’t suppose you could double up on the snips for this one?

  2. d says:

    did anyone else wonder why Merlin only had one eye for a second there?

    • MTO says:

      Yes! I think I had to read that 3 times to convince myself he wasn’t saying that.

      • robert says:

        And an odd construction, too:
        “Phylyp Ahzgood, Earl of Coris, followed the two of them, half a step back and to her Irys’ left,…”

    • Doubting Thomas says:

      For clarity, a couple of commas would have been nice

      “A single, blue-eyed, armsman” or at least that is the way I read the passage.

  3. Lucas says:

    pretty sure he meant single as in one person

  4. Peter S says:

    @ d – One eye? What made you think that?

  5. arrrgh says:

    I think Cayleb should give the prince/princess a flagship, one manned entirely with native born Corisandian citizens. I am sure there are enough spread through the empires navy. That might be something of a diplomatic win, and it might also bring a lot more Corisandian citizens into the empires ranks.

    Just a quick idea :)

    • JeffM says:

      First, why do they need a flagship? Flagships are for fleet commanders.

      Second, it would be FAR more apt to give then a ship with a fully integrated crew, one that reflects their integration to the empire rather than separation.

  6. TenofSwords says:

    @ Peter S I think this can give that impression: “A single blue-eyed armsman” is grammatically correct, but a bit clumsy.

    • d says:

      yep, that would be it.

      • Graham Kent says:

        No, not grammatically correct, but an all too comment error; when 2 adjectives describe a single noun they should be se separated by a comma, thus: “a single, blue-eyed armsman”
        Graham from London

        • JimHacker says:

          Actually, for some reasonI don’t quite understand a list of two adjectives doesn’t require a comma (single blue-eyed armsman) although its prefferable to avoid misinterpretation. You only require one when its a list of three or more. According to my old english teacher.

          • Alan says:

            It depends on whether the adjectives are serial or cumulative. Here inserting the comma would tell you the adjectives are serial and should be read that way, that there is one blue-eyed guardsman, rather than a guardsman with one blue eye.

            • JimHacker says:

              No, for some reason two serial adjectives don’t require a comma even if it is advisable. I believe its to do with English’s german roots, where two adjectives never have a comma whether serial or cumulative.

    • Robert H. Woodman says:

      It could also mean an unmarried armsman with one blue eye.


    • JimHacker says:

      I think ‘A lone blue-eyed armsman’ is stronger and solves the problem.

      • JeffM says:

        You missed, “A blue-eyed armsman”.

        Otherwise redundancy, because we usually don’t have “a DOUBLE blue-eyed armsman”. ;)

        • JimHacker says:

          Well with ‘single’ you’re right. But i think the point is to convey that there is only one guardsman rather than that he is one of those present. Thus ‘lone’ is not redundant.

  7. Shanuson says:

    These snippets are pure toture. Why do they have to end when it starts to get interesting.
    Why does TOR do no e-arcs?
    *grml grml*

    (although thought at first that thats a armsman with only one eye)

  8. SCC says:

    Something off here
    Phylyp Ahzgood, Earl of Coris, followed the two of them, half a step back and to her Irys’ left, his expression as serene as her own, and Cayleb and Sharleyan watched them come.
    Should there be an extra comma before Irys’ or is it something else?

    • BobG says:

      I think the her is extraneous:

      Phylyp Ahzgood, Earl of Coris, followed the two of them, half a step back and to her Irys’ left, his expression as serene as her own, and Cayleb and Sharleyan watched them come.

  9. BobG says:

    Aren’t Lt. Commander and Major at the same level of rank (E-4, IIRC) ? So has Merlin finally made it back to her old rank – not that OWL cares in the least.

    • BobG says:

      Oops, I meant O-4.

      • Doug Lampert says:

        Modern US Military and everywhere else that I know of at present they’re the same rank (O-4 as you state).

        This doesn’t tell us all that much about Safehaven, they seem to be basically following US military rank structure, but once upon a time Captain meant Captain and even having Ensign as a rank is fairly anacronistic to the tech being used.

        • Aethor says:

          Nope… check Wikipedia, US Navy – Liutenant Commander is O-3, same as US Army – Captain.
          An army major is O-4, ranks with naval Commander.

          So, Merlin made it back to his/her old rank when he became a captain.

          • Doubting Thomas says:

            Wikipedia is wrong in this case. O-4 is LtCdr. Its been that way since at least 1900. O-1 is Ens., O-2 is LTjg, O-3 is LT, to get to full CDR you must make O-5

          • Randy says:

            0-1 ens = 2nd lt
            0-2 ltjg = 1st lt
            0-3 lt = capt
            0-4 lt cmdr = major
            0-5 cmdr = lt colonel
            0-6 capt = colonel

  10. Brom says:

    It does seem to be a mixture – aboard the RCN/ICN warships, we have seen mids, warrants, ensigns, lieutenants and captains (although the LTs were numbered with the XO being the 1st LT). Only ashore have we seen LCDRs and CDRs … and COMOs.

    FWIW, the RN used to have more flag ranks than either enlisted or (sub-flag) officer ranks.

    • Alan says:

      Once upon a time in the Royal Navy the officers complement on a sailing ship was the captain and a number of lieutenants numbered from 1 down. The first lieutenant was second-in-command and replaced the captain in the event of death etc etc and everyone else moved up a notch. The Safehold first lieutenants may be an appointment rather than a rank.

      • Bubbalin says:

        But the captain is a position. We haven’t been given evidence (that I can recall) of it being equivalent to a substantive rank of captain. Though, previously there may not have been a difference.

  11. dave wimperis says:

    I wonder if the next bit of dialog will be something like the
    answer to our political problems lies between Prince Davin and the occupant of yonder cradle.

  12. summertime says:

    Good to have something pleasant after all that grim hatred and violence.

  13. JeffM says:

    C’mon. If Merlin only has one eye, surely that single eye has only one Irys? ;)

    Congrats to Merlin on that promotion. I assume that Colonel Ropewalk has had one as well, otherwise he’d be looking over his shoulder.

    But where are the Imperial Marines who guard the Heir?

    • Drak Bibliophile says:

      Bad joke Jeff. [Wink]

      As for the Marines, they’re guarding the “Spare” (Cayleb’s younger brother).

      After all, little Alahnah will always be close to Sharleyan and thus safely guarded.

      Cayleb’s brother is the one who’ll be often outside of the protection of the Imperial Guard.

    • BobG says:

      Thinking more about Merlin’s rank, I’m not actually sure how it impacts things. As Cayleb’s personal guardsman and head of his guard detail, he can speak for Cayleb (and effectively with his authority) whenever he is close, or to Sharly.

      The only time it would make him susceptible to someone else’s orders are if the orders don’t interfere, in Merlin’s opinion, with the Emperor or Empress’s orders. He still has to show the appropriate respect for a senior officer, but that is effectively it.

      So I think his promotion has the main effects of making him senior to some other military officers (army captains/navy lieutenants), and so he can give them orders in his own right; and as a reward visible to the public for his rescue operation.

      That may be of some importance in the Siddarmarkian campaign.

      • JeffM says:

        I;m pretty sure that every single officer in both the Army AND Navy know that Merlin speaks with Cayleb and Sharleyan’s authority–no matter how far away. Look at his conversation with Eastshare–and how the Regency Council in Corisande respected him. And as far as “under orders”, I would guess that even Ropewalk considers Merlin a free agent. Besides, he’s Imperial Guard, not Army.

      • Zhal says:

        I think that last line is probably the most important reason for the promotion. Interacting with the Siddarmarkian Army would be much easier as a major than as a captain. Especially if Merlin is out on his own, without the emperor or empress around.

  14. tootall says:

    Bob G.
    In the US army, Major tended to be a Staff -not command-position.
    And I can’t see anyone in any allied service giving Merlin crap- unless it’s a Siddarmarkian- and Merlin didn’t get that much rank. Recall how he was out ranked by the entire regency council – they assumed that he spoke for Cayleb. IMHO the rank is indeed deserved and mostly symbolic.

  15. ET1swaw says:

    A bump to Major for Merlin, giving Irys and company (who are not in any circle of information) a patent explanation for Merlin’s closeness to the Imperial Couple and an outward evidence of their approval for his rescue of them (erasing deniability for his actions).

    A semi-domestic setting (in a garden bower no less) with none but the Imperial Couple and their child, the Patriarch of the CoC (THE religious authority for the EoC), Merlin, and Sharleyan’s (from childhood as I am sure Coris at least is well aware of) bodyguard in the immediate vicinity. WHAT A SETUP!!!

    With that audience, I believe things might be said that were never really said as far as the rest of the world knows!! Errors can be made AND recovered from!! I say again: WHAT A SETUP!!!!!


  16. Nimitz13 says:

    It’s quite significant that our favorite rulers didn’t greet Daivyn and Irys in the throne room. In every other case, the rulers of former kingdoms who have become vassal states of the EoC all appeared in the throne room, although IIRC those were private audiences, with Cayleb and Narmahn, then Cayleb & Sharley with Gorjah. Even the nobles sent to cut a deal met in private audiences in the throne room – Pine Hollow when Narmahn was ready to sue for terms.

    This is the first time that a ruler of a conquered vassal of the EoC has visited Tellesberg, and he’s 9 years old. (Earth years.) Obviously Cayleb & Sharley realized that Daivyn would be overwhelmed by a formal court setting, even a private audience, so they’ve elected for an informal one on the terrace – with Archbishop Staynair, who will be their guardian while they’re in Charis.

    I wonder if they’ll make Daivyn wait for a few months (or years) to swear fealty, giving Staynair, Sharley, Cayleb, and Irys and Coris the chance to mold him into the sort of ruler the EoC requires – someone who believe he owes his subjects everything and not the other way around.

    It’s clear from the way he leaped into Merlin’s arms that Daivyn is as enraptured by our favorite PICA now as he was during the rescue. He’s also vastly relieved that Seijin Merlin managed to escape. Bleek!

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