A Mighty Fortress – Snippet 08

There were times when Merlin was deeply tempted to hop into his recon skimmer, buzz down to Manchyr, and personally eliminate Waimyan. It wouldn’t be particularly difficult. In fact, it would be childishly simple and, under the circumstances, one of the more pleasant chores he could have assigned himself. Unfortunately, unless he was prepared to remain in Corisande full-time and spend his nights doing nothing but eliminating resistance leaders, he’d be rather in the position of King Canute. Worse, he would deprive the resistance of its organized leadership, and he didn’t want that. Far better to leave Waimyan in position for now, however irritatingly competent and industrious he was proving, rather than shatter the resistance’s cohesion. That might change, yet for now it was far more useful to know exactly who its leaders were, exactly where they might be found when the time came, and exactly what sort of plans it was making and what information it was passing to its various satellites. Breaking up the current organization would almost certainly deprive it of its increasing effectiveness, but only at the cost of replacing it with a formless, unorganized movement which would be almost impossible to monitor the way they could monitor the present situation. Not to mention one which would be far more difficult to uproot when the moment to take action against it finally arrived.

I only wish, he thought, returning his attention to the SNARC’s imagery, that I didn’t expect them to do so much damage in the interim.

* * * * * * * * * *

“I know it’s a pain in the arse,” Hauwyl Chermyn growled, standing with his hands clasped behind him while he gazed out his office window at a vista of cloudy rain. “And, truth to tell, what I’d really like to be doing is shooting the bastards the instant they turn up!”

Brigadier Zhoel Zhanstyn, commanding officer of the Imperial Charisian Marines Third Brigade, looked at his superior’s back with a faint smile. It was mostly a smile of affection, although it might have held just a trace of amusement, and possibly just a little exasperation. If it did, though, that last emotion was directed at the situation, not at Viceroy General Chermyn.

And if the Old Man needs to vent his spleen at someone, I suppose I’m the logical candidate, Zhanstyn reflected. It’s not like there’s anyone else he can let down his guard with.

That would probably have been true with just about any senior officer in Chermyn’s unenviable position, the brigadier thought. Combining the roles of occupation force commander and official viceroy for Emperor Cayleb and Empress Sharleyan would have been a stiff enough challenge for almost anyone. Given Chermyn’s distaste for politics, coupled with his previous lifelong success at avoiding anything that even smacked of duty at court, it would have been difficult to find someone who felt less suited to the task.

Fortunately for the Empire of Charis, it had never occurred to Hauwyl Chermyn to decline his present post. And the reason that was fortunate was that no matter how ill-suited he might have considered himself, he was almost certainly the very best man available for the job. The Viceroy General might not like politics, and he might be unpolished (to say the very least) by courtly standards, but that didn’t mean he didn’t understand politics, and his iron sense of duty and integrity was coupled with a bulldog pugnacity any fool could sense from clear across a room.

There was no doubt that the noblemen and commoners who’d assembled in Parliament here in Manchyr had sensed it, at any rate, and none of them had been stupid enough to challenge him. Not openly, at any rate. Zhanstyn had no doubt that quite a few conversations in various cloakrooms and private apartments had centered on clandestine ways to evade Chermyn’s determination to enforce the policies Emperor Cayleb had laid out before his own departure for Chisholm. For the moment, though, the viceroy general had his hand firmly around the throat of Corisande’s great lords.

That had been made easier by the fact that, like the wealthier members of the House of Commons, the great aristocrats had too much to lose. That made them cautious, unwilling to attempt open resistance, especially after Chermyn — in his blunt, unpolished, uncourtly, yet crystal clear style — had made it abundantly clear what he intended to do to any noble who violated his new oath of fealty to the Charisian Crown. The fact that diplomatic circumlocution was so utterly foreign to him had gone a great way towards making certain no one in his audience doubted for a moment that he’d meant every word he said. And that any excuses about oaths to the excommunicated not being binding would leave him remarkably unmoved when he and his siege artillery turned up outside any oathbreaker’s castle walls.

“But pain in the arse or not,” Chermyn continued now, swinging away from the window to face the brigadier, hands still clasped behind him, “it’s the way it’s got to be. For now, at least.” He grimaced. “Mind you, I’d like nothing better than to get my hands on the damned ringleaders! There’s not much doubt in my mind that most of these poor bastards’re being more or less led around by the nose.” He made a disgusted sound midway between a snort and a snarl. “And I’ve read the damned broadsides, same as you. Somebody’s stirring this pot, and I’ve no doubt His Majesty was right about what it is they’re after. Which is why I’m not going to give it to them.”

“Yes, Sir,” Zhanstyn acknowledged. Although, truth to tell, it wasn’t exactly as if he’d objected to the viceroy general’s instructions or policy. On the other hand, he was pretty sure Chermyn knew he understood his superior’s “explanation” was more in the nature of a way for Chermyn to let off pressure of his own before it did him a mischief.

“The last thing we need to offer up to the bastards behind all this are martyrs,” Chermyn growled now, turning his head to look back at the water-streaming panes of glass. “I think most of these people are at least willing to keep their heads down, if the troublemakers’ll just leave them alone. I’m not saying we could keep the lid on the pot forever, but all we really have to do is keep it screwed down until Anvil Rock, Tartarian, and the rest of the Regency Council get their feet on the ground. Build up at least a little legitimacy. That business at the Cathedral the other day” — he turned his head back, his eyes meeting Zhanstyn’s suddenly — “that could’ve turned nasty. Bad enough to lose one of our own, but if that young lad of yours — Lieutenant Tahlas, wasn’t it?” He paused until Zhanstyn nodded, then snorted again. “If the boy had lost control, let his men stack the bodies the way I’ve no doubt they wanted to instead of settling for cracked skulls and a few broken bones, it would’ve given the bastards on the other side exactly what they wanted.”

“I’ve already commended Lieutenant Tahlas, Sir,” Zhanstyn said, making no effort to hide how pleased he’d been by the viceroy general’s remembering the young man’s name. “And I agree with what you’ve just said. All the same, Sir, if they keep pushing, and especially if we lose more men, we’re going to have to push back. It’s one thing to show restraint; it’s another thing if the other side decides restraint is really weakness.”

“Agreed.” Chermyn nodded grimly. “That’s one reason I want Gahrvai’s formations stood up as quickly as possible. I’d rather put a Corisandian face on this whole confrontation, drop us back into a support role.” He showed his teeth in a thin smile. “D’you suppose any of these people are going to realize just how much we don’t want to kill any more of them than we can help?”

“In a perfect world, Sir, I’m sure they would. In the world we’ve got –?”

The brigadier shrugged, and Chermyn chuckled harshly. Then he squared his shoulders and marched back across to his desk. He settled into the chair behind it and picked up the first of the folders piled on his blotter.

“Well, as you’ve just suggested, it’s an imperfect world, Brigadier,” he observed. “And that being the case, I suppose it’s time we dealt with some of those imperfect little details. Starting with this request from Brigadier Myls.” He tapped the top sheet of paper and the folder with an index finger. “I think he’s got a point about being spread too thin.”

“I agree, Sir.” Zhanstyn grimaced. “That’s not to say I like it, but I agree he’s got a problem. And, unfortunately, I can already see where you’re thinking about finding the manpower to solve it for him.”

“Sharp as a tack, that’s you,” Chermyn said with another, much more cheerful-sounding chuckle. “Now, where do you think I should start robbing you?”

“Well, Sir, I was thinking that if we took Alpha Company out of the 2/3rd, then took Charlie Company out of the 3/3rd, we’d have a pretty good mix of experience and enthusiasm. Then, if we added –”