A Mighty Fortress – Snippet 07

City of Manchyr,
Duchy of Manchyr,
Princedom of Corisande



The Blood of your slain Prince cries out from the very stones of your City! The boots of the slaves and lackeys of the Monster who shed that Blood march through your streets! The voices of Apostate Priests speak in your Churches! The Defenders of the True Faith are driven into silence and hiding!

How much longer will you endure these Insults? These Affronts to both God and Man? How much longer . . .

Paitryk Hainree frowned in concentration as he considered the composing stick and the current line of type. As a silversmith, he was a skilled engraver, but he’d discovered (not to his surprise) that there were very few similarities between engraving and typesetting. For one thing, he still had trouble reading the mirror-imaged letters. There was no problem identifying each letter as he took it from the proper pigeon hole of the job case (although he still had to look to be sure it was the proper pigeon hole), and it was easy enough — ahead of time — to chart out which letters had to go where on the composing stick before they were transferred to the form and bound together. But his brain still persisted in reading each word as he set up the type, and he’d discovered that it tried to trick him into reading the letters in the “correct” order instead of in the reversed order they had to go into for the press.

Still, it wasn’t an impossible skill to acquire, and if it wasn’t the same as silversmithing, there were similarities. He’d always liked the detail work, the concentration on the little things, working with metals, the fine coordination of hand and eye. The printer’s was a different art, but it was still an art, and he’d found that the part of him which had never expected to become a street agitator treasured the retreat back into an artisan’s role, even if it was only temporary.

He reached for the next letter, and behind his focus on the task in hand his mind was busy. This broadsheet would be transported from the carefully hidden basement press through a network of dedicated supporters. Copies of it would be tacked up all over the city by tomorrow night. Of course, parties of the City Guard would be busy tearing them down by the following dawn. Not all of those City Guardsmen would agree with their orders in that regard — Hainree was sure of that — but they’d obey them. The “Regency Council” and that traitorous bastard Gahrvai would see to that!

Hainree discovered his jaw was clenching once more and ordered it to relax. It obeyed . . . after a fashion, and he drew a deep breath. Just thinking about Sir Koryn Gahrvai was enough to send rage pulsing through every vein. Gahrvai’s effortless defeat at the hands of Cayleb Ahrmahk and his army could have been put down to mere feckless incompetence. In his more charitable moments, Hainree would even have been prepared to put at least some of it down to simple bad luck, or to the fact that Shan-wei looked after her own. But Gahrvai’s decision to actually accept command of the traitorous forces prepared to do Ahrmahk’s will here in Corisande had to make a man wonder. Had he truly been simply unlucky, or incompetent, or had there been something more sinister at work? Some quiet little understanding between him and the invaders?

Had his treason against Corisande and the House of Daykyn begun only after his defeat . . . or before it?

Most of the time, Hainree was willing to accept that Gahrvai’s present position was a case of opportunism after the fact, not an indication of treason before the fact. And he’d realized, even without Father Aidryan’s gentle hints, that accusing Gahrvai and his father of having plotted with Cayleb ahead of time would be . . . premature, at this point. In the fullness of time, that might change, especially as the debate over exactly whose hand had hired the assassins to strike down Prince Hektor and his eldest son matured. Personally, it seemed obvious to Hainree that those who’d profited the most by the prince’s murder were those most likely to have planned that murder. And, taken all together, he couldn’t think of anyone who’d profited more heavily than the members of the “Regency Council” set up to govern the princedom according to Ahrmahk’s demands. They could call themselves Prince Daivyn’s council all they wanted to, but that didn’t change who they truly answered to . . . or the fact that they’d somehow managed not simply to survive but to come out with even more power than they’d had before.

Nor did it change the supine surrender of the princedom’s parliament, Hainree thought, scowling down at the composing stick. He supposed it was unreasonable to expect Parliament to defy Ahrmahk’s will, as dutifully expressed through the “Regency Council,” with the Charisian Viceroy General Chermyn and the better part of sixty thousand Charisian Marines occupying Corisande. Chermyn had twenty thousand of those Marines right here in Manchyr, and while he’d made some effort to avoid parading them too blatantly through the streets of the city, everyone knew they were there. As did the members of the House of Lords and the House of Commons. So, no, it wasn’t surprising Parliament had voted to give Ahrmahk everything he asked for.

On the other hand, there might well be a difference between what they’d voted for and what they really intended to do. By all reports, Parliament would be breaking up shortly, with all of its members returning to their homes, out from under the eye — and the bayonets — of the occupation. It would be interesting to see what happened then. He knew the hard skeleton of organized resistance had already come together here in Manchyr, and his own contact from that skeleton assured him the same thing was happening outside the city. It remained to be fleshed out with sinew and muscle, but those other things would come in time. And not all of them from sources Hainree might have expected. In fact, from a few stray words his contact had let drop, Hainree strongly suspected that the resistance’s leadership had already made discreet contact with several members of Parliament, as well. No doubt they’d planted quite a few equally discreet seeds that would bear fruit in due time.

In the meanwhile, Paitryk Hainree would concentrate on cultivating and fertilizing his own little plot right here in the capital.

* * * * * * * * * *

Hainree was far too intent on his work to have noticed the tiny device perched in one corner of the basement’s ceiling. Even if he hadn’t been distracted by the printing press, it was extremely unlikely he would have seen the thing. It was the next best thing to microscopically small, although even at that, it was larger than some of its still smaller brethren, and if anyone had told him what it was capable of doing, he would have dismissed the claims as something out of a fairy tale.

Unfortunately for him, he would have been wrong, and later that evening, in the far distant city of Cherayth, an imperial guardsman with a fierce mustache and a neatly trimmed dagger beard leaned back, eyes closed, and rubbed the scar on his cheek with a thoughtful finger as he contemplated the imagery that tiny surveillance platform had transmitted to him.

I’d really like to pay a visit to Master Hainree, Merlin Athrawes reflected without ever opening his eyes. He and his friends are getting just a little bit better organized than I could wish. On the other hand, we’re building up a pretty detailed organizational chart on them. Of course, it would help if we could tell someone in Corisande that we are, but I suppose you can’t have everything.

He grimaced sourly at the thought, yet he also knew he was correct. He didn’t like how much of his own — and Owl’s, and Cayleb’s, and Sharleyan’s — time was being consumed by the project, but he’d spread his SNARCs’ remote platforms thickly throughout the Corisandian capital. As each member of the emerging resistance cadre was identified, one of the parasite platforms was assigned to him full time, and these people’s internal organization wasn’t nearly as sophisticated as it could have been. Aidryan Waimyan — and there was someone Merlin really wanted to have a word with — had done his best to instill a cellular organization, at least at the very top. Unfortunately for him, he had to make do with what was available, and at least some of his . . . associates were too direct for that sort of sophistication. They had far more enthusiasm than professional detachment. And, as far as Merlin could tell, very few members of the Earl of Coris’ intelligence services had so far been co-opted by Waimyan.

Of course, we don’t know how long that’s going to last, now do we? he reminded himself.