Eric got me the snippets to post.

A Mighty Fortress – Snippet 02

Duchy of Eastshare,
Kingdom of Chisholm

“So,” General Sir Kynt Clareyk, Imperial Charisian Army, late Brigadier Clareyk of the Imperial Charisian Marines and recently knighted and ennobled as the Baron of Green Valley, said as he poured wine into his guest’s cup, “what do you think, Seijin Merlin?”

“Of what, My Lord?” the tall, blue-eyed Imperial Guardsman in the black and gold of the House of Ahrmahk asked mildly.

He picked up his cup and sipped appreciatively. Clareyk’s taste in wine had always been good, and his promotion hadn’t changed the ex-Marine in that respect. Or in any other respect that Merlin Athrawes could see. He was still the same competent officer he’d always been, with the same willingness to roll up his sleeves and dig into a new assignment. The tent in which they currently sat while icy autumn rain pounded down against its (nominally) waterproofed canvas canopy was evidence of that. The day after tomorrow would be Cayleb and Sharleyan Ahrmahk’s first anniversary, which also made it the anniversary of the creation of the Empire of Charis, and Merlin couldn’t help comparing the chill, wet misery outside Green Valley’s tent to the brilliant sunshine, tropical heat, and flowers of that wedding day.

The difference was . . . pronounced, and while Green Valley might be a mere baron, and one of the Empire’s most recently created peers to boot (he’d held his new title for less than four five-days, after all), it was no secret Emperor Cayleb and Empress Sharleyan both thought very highly of him. In fact, it was no secret that he’d been hauled back to Chisholm from the newly conquered (more or less) Princedom of Corisande precisely because of how highly they regarded him. Given all of that, one might reasonably have assumed that a man with his connections could have found comfortable quarters in the nearby city of Maikelberg rather than ending up stuck under canvas with winter coming on quickly.

And a northern winter, at that, Merlin thought dryly, glancing at the large, dripping spot in one corner of the tent where its roof’s theoretical waterproofing had proved unequal to the heavy rain. He’s a southern boy, when all’s said and done, and he’s not going to enjoy winter in Chisholm one bit. The rain’s bad enough, but there’s worse coming. Snow? What’s that?!

Which, as Merlin understood perfectly well, was the real reason Green Valley had taken up residence in this tent instead of a luxurious townhouse, or at least a comfortable room in one of the city’s more respectable inns. An awful lot of other Charisian ex-Marines were about to spend a Chisholmian winter under less than ideal conditions, and Green Valley wouldn’t be moving out of his tent until the last man under his command had been provided with dry, warm space of his own in the barracks being hastily thrown up.

“‘Of what,’ is it?” the general repeated now, sitting back in his folding camp chair beside the cast-iron stove which was doing its best — successfully, at the moment — to maintain a fairly comfortable temperature inside the tent. “Now, let me see . . . what could I possibly have been asking about? Hmmm . . . .”

He frowned in obvious, difficult thought, scratching his chin with his eyes screwed half- shut, and Merlin chuckled. There weren’t all that many people on the planet of Safehold who felt comfortable enough with the fearsome Seijin Merlin to give him grief, and he treasured the ones who did.

“All right, My Lord!” He acknowledged defeat with a grin, then let the grin fade slowly. “Actually,” he went on in a considerably more serious tone, “I’ve been impressed. You and Duke Eastshare seem to be managing the integration process even more smoothly and quickly than Their Majesties had anticipated. It’s my impression that you’re basically comfortable with the emerging command relationships, as well.”

His tone made the final sentence a question, and Green Valley snorted.

“I’d expected a somewhat more . . . visionary comment out of you, Merlin,” he said. “In fact, I’m a little surprised His Majesty felt it was necessary to send you all the way up here to look things over with your own eyes, as it were.”

Merlin managed not to wince, although that was coming to the point with a vengeance. On the other hand, it was a reasonable enough observation, given that Green Valley was one of the relatively small number of people who knew Seijin Merlin was far more than merely Emperor Cayleb Ahrmahk’s personal armsman and bodyguard.

Over the last few years, virtually everyone in what had become the Empire of Charis had learned that all of the old fables and fairytales about the legendary seijin warrior-monks were not only true, but actually understated their lethality. There was absolutely no question in anyone’s mind that Seijin Merlin was the most deadly bodyguard any Charisian monarch had ever possessed. Given the number of assassination attempts he’d thwarted, and not just on the emperor, it was no wonder he was kept constantly at Cayleb’s back, watching over him, protecting him both in the council chamber and on the field of battle.

But what Green Valley knew — and very few of his fellow Charisians even suspected — was that Cayleb and Sharleyan had another and very special reason for keeping Merlin so close.

The seijin had visions. He could see and hear far distant events, know what was happening thousands of miles away even as it happened. His ability to literally sit in on the war councils and political deliberations of Charis’ enemies was a priceless advantage for the beleaguered empire, and his role as Cayleb’s bodyguard was a perfect cover. He truly was the deadly and efficient guardian everyone thought he was, but that very deadliness provided ample reason for his permanent proximity to Cayleb and Sharleyan. After all, not even a seijin could protect someone from an assassin if he wasn’t there to do the protecting, now could he? And so any potentially suspicious souls understood exactly why Captain Athrawes, with his eyes of “unearthly seijin blue,” was constantly at the emperor’s elbow, and it obviously had nothing at all to do with visions. Merlin was a bodyguard, not an adviser and an oracle. Any village idiot could figure that much out!

Green Valley knew better than that. Indeed, he’d come to suspect that Merlin was as much mentor as adviser. That most of the radical innovations which had provided the margin — so far — for Charis’ survival in the face of its enemies’ overwhelming numerical advantages had come from the seijin’s “suggestions” to the Charisians who had actually developed them into workable propositions. The baron suspected that for the excellent reason that he’d been one of those Charisians. It had been Green Valley, as a major in the Royal Charisian Marines, who’d played the lead role in developing revolutionary new infantry tactics built around the field artillery and rifled flintlock muskets which had “just happened” to appear in Charis shortly after one Merlin Athrawes’ arrival. He’d worked closely with Merlin in the process of accomplishing that task, and they’d worked even more closely together, in many ways, during the Corisande campaign. In fact, the victory which had won Green Valley his title (and his knighthood) and sealed Prince Hektor of Corisande’s defeat had been possible only because Merlin had revealed his ability to see visions to him.

And, so, yes — Baron Green Valley knew far more than the vast majority of his fellow subjects about Merlin Athrawes. But what he didn’t know — what Merlin devoutly hoped he didn’t even suspect — was how much more Merlin truly was.

I’d really like to get him added to the inner circle, the seijin reflected, and I know Cayleb and Sharleyan both agree with me, too. In fact, I think we have to get him added. It simply doesn’t make sense not to bring him all the way inside, and I don’t think we have to worry about any crises of religious conscience on his part.

That last thought really did almost make him wince, given its direct bearing on the reason he was here.

“Their Majesties actually sent me for several reasons, My Lord,” he said. “One of them, in many ways probably the most important, was to let me evaluate your progress — yours and Duke Eastshare’s, I mean — firsthand. When I can actually ask questions, maybe even make a few suggestions in His Majesty’s name. It’s hard to do that if all you’re doing is watching a vision.”

“I can see where that would be true,” Green Valley agreed. He didn’t seem at all upset by the notion of Merlin’s “evaluating” his progress in his new assignment, the seijin noted.