The book should be available now so this is the last snippet.


Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 50



Royal Palace,

City of Manchyr,

Princedom of Corisande.

“You’re joking!” Sir Taryl Lektor, the Earl of Tartarian, stared at Sir Rysel Gahrvai. “Tell me you’re joking — please!

“Is this my ‘Oh, I’m so funny’ face?” Sir Rysel, also known as the Earl of Anvil Rock and the head of Prince Daivyn Daykyn’s Regency Council, shot back.

“Sweet Bédard.” Tartarian dropped into his normal chair at the long, heavy council table, staring at Anvil Rock while his racing thoughts tried to process the information.

The earl was a strong-minded, unflappable individual. Anvil Rock had been given ample proof of that over the last tumultuous few years, especially since Prince Hektor’s death had forced them into their present roles as his son’s official regents in a princedom occupied by the empire most of Hektor’s subjects were convinced had hired his murder. Tartarian was Corisande’s senior admiral — or had been, when Corisande had possessed a navy — and he’d been Anvil Rock’s closest ally in holding the princedom together. In many ways, Anvil Rock knew, his friend was actually more mentally flexible than he himself was, and he’d come to rely upon the other earl’s resilience almost as much as he did upon his integrity.

Not that resilience was the very first word which would have occurred to anyone looking at his current expression. Despite the gravity of the news, a tiny part of Anvil Rock took a certain satisfaction in seeing Tartarian look just as flabbergasted as he had when the message arrived.

“What in Langhorne’s name was Phylyp thinking?” Tartarian demanded.

“Well, according to his message, he was mostly thinking about keeping the boy — and Irys — alive,” Anvil Rock replied. Tartarian looked at him sharply, and Anvil Rock scowled, sliding into his own chair at the head of the table. “Oh, come on, Taryl! You and I both know — in fact, we’ve known the from the beginning, however long it took us to admit it to one another — that Cayleb Ahrmahk never had Hektor murdered! Obviously, Phylyp’s come to the same conclusion, and according to his message, Clyntahn was preparing to have Daivyn and Irys murdered as well. And for exactly the same reasons.”

His voice turned hard, almost as cold as his expression, with the last six words, and his eyes held Tartarian’s across the table. Tartarian looked back for a second or two, then nodded.

“I know,” he said, explicitly admitting something the two of them had been taking for granted the privacy of their own thoughts for a long, long time.

Emperor Cayleb’s analysis of all of the reasons he’d had for not killing Hektor had been convincing, yet the suspicion had lingered that just perhaps Empress Sharleyan might have arranged it without ever mentioning it to her husband. That notion had been knocked firmly on the head for both of them during Sharleyan’s own visit to Corisande the previous year, however, and it had been making steady headway through the rest of Hektor’s subjects since then. Acceptance of Cayleb and Sharleyan’s innocence was still far from universal, especially given the fact that the princedom remained under Charisian occupation, however lenient that occupation might attempt to make itself, but the change since the days immediately after Hektor’s murder was dramatic. And quite a few other Corisandians had been drawing the same conclusion Tartarian and Anvil Rock had drawn about who else might have had their prince and his heir assassinated. It was producing an interesting quandary for the Temple Loyalists, who’d managed rather effectively to use resentment over Hektor’s murder to bolster loyalty to “the Old Church” in the face of the Reformists’ slowly but steadily growing numbers. What had helped them in the past was beginning to hurt them now, and if Coris had anything remotely like proof that Clyntahn had now ordered Irys and Daivyn’s murders . . . .

“I assume he told you something more than simply that he was taking the children and running by Tellesberg for a friendly visit?” Tartarian said after a moment in a voice much closer to normal.

“As a matter of fact, he did.” Anvil Rock leaned back, one hand toying with the hilt of his dagger. “I’ll get you the entire dispatch to read for yourself, of course. The entire Council’s going to need copies, as soon as I can get them made, but some of its information has more to do with how Phylyp came to his conclusions than I’d care for the rest of them to know at this time.”

“What sort of information?” Tartarian’s eyes narrowed, and Anvil Rock shrugged.

“Oh, the fact that he’s had a double agent planted on Wyllym Rayno for years, for example. In fact, it was Hektor who planted the man on the Inquisition even before he inherited the throne himself. I think that’s one tidbit we might keep to ourselves. I don’t think it would bother North Coast too much, but I’m not so sure about Airyth, and I think Margo might still have some . . . issues about it.”

Tartarian nodded. Sir Bairmon Chahlmair, the Duke of Margo, had been a political ally of the Earl of Craggy Hill, and as Prince Daivyn’s distant cousin, he probably had a better claim to the throne than anyone else currently in Corisande. There was no evidence he’d been part of Craggy Hill’s “Northern Conspiracy,” though, nor had he ever given any sign of cherishing designs upon the throne. That didn’t mean the man responsible for protecting that throne could afford to assume he didn’t cherish those designs, however, and Margo was clearly less than comfortable with Corisande’s new Reformist church hierarchy. For that matter, so was Trumyn Sowthmyn, the Earl of Airyth. Neither Tartarian nor Anvil Rock doubted Airyth’s loyalty to Prince Daivyn for a moment, but he was almost as uncomfortable as Margo where Reformism’s steady spread was concerned. The thought that Earl Coris had been spying upon the Inquisition probably wouldn’t sit as well with either of them as it might with others, no matter what his spy might have reported . . . or prevented.

“You may have a point,” Tartarian conceded. “I agree there’s no need to find out at this point, at any rate.” He smiled thinly. “If Phylyp actually manages to get home, we can always let him explain it in person.”

“Or not explain it,” Anvil Rock agreed. “But the rest of his message is actually fairly straightforward. It reads like a really bad novel, you understand, but it is straightforward. When he found out Clyntahn was planning to have Daivyn and Irys killed — probably, he says, because there wasn’t enough resistance to Charis here in Corisande to make the pig happy — there was only one place left to run.” He grimaced. “I’m inclined to think he was right about Clyntahn’s reasoning.”

“I imagine he was.” Tartarian nodded. “Not that we had a lot of choice about cooperating. On the other hand, no matter what we’d done, the same idea would’ve occurred to a man like Clyntahn eventually.” He shrugged. “What possible drawback could there be to the murder of a ten-year-old boy and his sister, after all?”

“None that I can think of.” Anvil Rock’s expression was as disgusted as Tartarian’s. “Phylyp couldn’t see one from Clyntahn’s perspective, either, and he’s always been the sort of fellow who likes to lay out sheet anchors well ahead of time. Apparently he’d been in correspondence with Earl Gray Harbor well before he got confirmation Clyntahn had decided to act. And — you’ll love this part, Taryl! — before those frigging fanatics murdered him, Gray Harbor sent one of Seijin Merlin’s friends to . . . discuss the details of exactly how the heir to the Corisandian throne might ‘escape’ into the safety of Charisian custody. And then, Cayleb and Pine Hollow sent Merlin himself to orchestrate the escape!” He smiled at Tartarian’s expression, but then his expression sobered. “From what Phylyp had to say, it was a damned good thing Merlin was there, too. Without him — and, I might add, without the assistance of the Imperial Charisian Navy and the personal services of the Duke of Darcos — none of them would’ve gotten out of Delferahk alive.”

“It sounds like all that is going to make fascinating reading,” Tartarian said. “And you’re right, it’s exactly like Phylyp, and it proves he hasn’t lost his touch. Or his instincts. I doubt he was happy at the thought of asking Charis for help, but given the nature of the prize, he had to know Gray Harbor would jump at the chance. And pull out all the stops, too.” It was his turn to smile with sardonic amusement. “I could point out that losing them after agreeing to help them ‘escape’ would’ve been absolutely disastrous from Cayleb and Sharleyan’s viewpoint. If I were inclined to point out cynical, calculating political realities, that is.”

“Of course you could. And the same thought occurred to me. None of which changes the fact that the only reasons either of them is still alive are Seijin Merlin, Cayleb, and Sharleyan. That gives them a certain degree of leverage with me, at least.”

“And with me,” Tartarian agreed. “Still, it does raise the question of exactly what Cayleb and Sharleyan will do with them now they’re safely out of Delferahk, doesn’t it?”

“Oh, indeed it does.” Anvil Rock showed his teeth. “Thanks to Phylyp we have at least a bit of a head start, but I’ll be very surprised if there’s not a message — an official message, I mean — from Tellesberg arriving shortly. And I don’t think someone like Cayleb or Sharleyan is likely to overlook just how much additional ‘leverage’ this is going to give them with the rest of Corisande, either.”

“Well, if they should suddenly have turned into drooling idiots, I’m sure Pine Hollow hasn’t. For that matter, Staynair’s a pretty smart fellow — and one who understands mercy can be a much deadlier weapon than any amount of bloodthirsty terror. And then, let’s not forget the redoubtable Seijin Merlin. ‘Official’ adviser or not, he’s probably got more influence with them then all their official councilors combined! They go out of their way to hide it in public, but he’s always there, and I couldn’t help noticing the way both of them keep the corner of one eye on him no matter who else they’re talking to. And then there’s that seijin spy ring he seems to have going in every corner of the world.” Tartarian shook his head. “They listen to that man, Rhysel. He never seems to put himself forward, never seems to intrude, but they trust him to do one hell of a lot more than just keep them alive, and I don’t blame them one damned bit, given the quality of advice he seems to offer.”

“I noticed that myself,” Anvil Rock agreed, then he straightened in the massive wooden chair and inhaled deeply. “I noticed that,” he repeated, “and between you and me, I think it’s a good thing they do. And, also between you and me,” he met his friend’s eyes levelly, “I’ve never been happier to hear anything in my life then the news that Daivyn and Irys are safely clapped into durance vile in Charisian hands instead of being honored guests of King Zhames.”

“You and me both. Of course, it does lead to the interesting question of how the Regency Council goes about announcing this to the Princedom. And, of course, the minor matter of what our official position on requesting Daivyn’s return to Corisande might happen to be.”

“Both excellent points, and decisions which have to involve the Council as a whole.”

“Oh, I know that. But don’t you think it might be a good idea for the two of us to go ahead and decide what the ‘Council as a whole’ is going to decide after we get done explaining its choice — you did notice I said ‘choice,’ as in the singular form of the noun? — to it?”

“You’re entirely too cynical sometimes, Taryl,” Anvil Rock said severely, and Tartarian snorted.

“Not cynical, pragmatic,” he shot back. “And you know this situation’s far too tricky to let it bog down in too much debate.”

“True.” Anvil Rock pursed his lips thoughtfully for several second, then raised his eyebrows. “Since we’re alone, there’s no point pretending you’re not the brains of the team. What do you think we should be doing?”

Tartarian chuckled and shook his head. There was some truth to Anvil Rock’s statement — Tartarian did tend to be more mentally agile — but there was nothing at all wrong with Anvil Rock’s brain. It was more a case of the tenacity with which he focused on the task at hand narrowing his vision until alternate possibilities could slip past him unnoted.

“Well, I think we should get Koryn and Charlz in here and listen to their advice before we make any hard and fast decisions,” Tartarian said after a moment. Sir Koyn Gharvai, Anvil Rock’s son, commanded the new model Corisandian Army responsible for maintaining domestic order . . . under, of course, the supervision of General Sir Zhoel Zhanstyn, who’d replaced Haiwyl Chermyn as the Charisian viceroy in Corisande when Chermyn assumed the title of Grand Duke of Zebediah. And Sir Charlz Doyal, his chief of staff, doubled as the Regency Council’s effective chief intelligence officer.

“If anyone has a feel for how the Princedom’s likely to react to this, it’s them,” Anvil Rock agreed. “I think we need to bring in Archbishop Klairmant, too.”

“Not until after we talk to Koryn and Charlz, though,” Tartarian said quickly, then grimaced as Anvil Rock looked a question at him. “I trust Klairmant as much as I trust anyone in this world, Rhysel, but he’s already riding a restive horse. You know how much more ground the Reformists have been making ever since Staynair’s visit and — especially! — Sharleyan’s. I’d trust him to give us the best advice he has, but, frankly, this is more a political than a religious decision. Oh, it has enough religious implications to sink a galleon, but the actual decision belongs to the Council, and he’s not on it. And the reason he’s not was specifically to insulate the Church from these sorts of decisions. I suspect there’s going to be a lot of uncertainty — and a lot of renewed questions — in most people’s minds now that Daivyn’s actually in Charisian custody, however he got there, and it’s likely to have all sorts of impacts on that truce Klairmant’s been maintaining between the Reformists and the Loyalists. I just think it would be a lot better if he can honestly say he wasn’t consulted ahead of time about any political decisions we and the rest of the Council may take.”

“You may have a point there,” Anvil Rock conceded after a moment, his expression thoughtful. “In fact, I think you do. And I’ve already sent for Koryn and Charlz, but they’re out supervising a field exercise. It’ll take them a while to get here, and I’d still like to hear your current thinking while we wait.”

“All right.”

Tartarian got out of his chair, folded his hands behind him, and crossed to one of the council chamber’s windows to look out over the sun-drenched landscaping of the palace courtyard. He stood that way for quite a few seconds before he turned back to his friend and fellow councilor.

“I think we have to be cautious,” he said seriously. “If we don’t seek Daivyn’s return to Corisandian soil, we’ll provide fresh fodder for the anti-Charis hotheads, and Langhorne knows there are still plenty of them left, even after Sharleyan’s visit. On the other hand, she and Cayleb are going to be very cautious about letting the two of them come home, for a lot of reasons. And if they do let them return home, how much freedom of action will Daivyn — and his Regency Council — truly have? Turning him into their puppet here in Corisande could have all sorts of downsides from their perspective, including validating the anti-Charis element’s suspicions, but they’d be fools to let him return without at least some binding restrictions. Yet by the same token, if they refuse to let him come home — especially if we press them on the issue — the consequences could be even worse. At that point, the people who’re already inclined to distrust them and their lackeys — that would be us, Rhysel — will declare that they didn’t really ‘rescue’ him and Irys at all, no matter what that corrupt, nefarious spymaster Coris or their other lackeys here in Manchyr may claim. Instead, the sinister Seijin Merlin and his agents kidnapped them, snatching them out of the safety of their kinsman’s custody for the sole purpose of using him as a tool here in Corisande.”

“Which is what Clyntahn’s going to say, whatever we do,” High Rock pointed out.

“I’m less concerned about that asshole than I am about people closer to home.” Tartarian’s tone was harsh and his eyes had gone cold. “When he sent his frigging ‘Rakurai’ into Corisande and killed eight hundred people right here in Manchyr, I decided once and for all which side I’m on, as far as the Church is concerned, Rhysel. And don’t pretend you didn’t do exactly the same thing! I know better, and Koryn’s even further into the Reformist camp than you are!”

Anvil Rock looked back at him without speaking. Silence hovered for several heartbeats, and then Tartarian shrugged.

“At any rate,” he continued in a lighter tone, “I’m more concerned about the effect on people close enough to make their . . . displeasure immediately evident. Trust in Clyntahn’s veracity’s taken a serious hit here in Corisande even among a lot of the Loyalists and even before we make Phylyp’s letter public; as long as we can avoid doing anything that would tend to support Clyntahn’s version of events, I don’t really expect his fulminations from Zion to have much effect. The people who still trust him will take them as coming straight from the Writ no matter what we say, but they’re already so firmly in the anti-Charis — and anti-Regency Council — column that it won’t make any difference to the overall situation. It’s the ones with open minds we have to worry about, and that means coming up with a way to help this whole hairy mess land as softly as possible.”

“So you think we shouldn’t press them for his return?”

“I think we should buy some time by sending messages asking about his and Irys health, asking for assurances of their physical safety, and asking for the two of them to be allowed to communicate directly with us.” Tartarian turned back to the window. “That would be the natural first step no matter what, and the sailing time between us and Tellesberg will work in our favor. We publish the glad news of their safety to the Princedom as a whole, and we also publish copies of our letters to them and to Cayleb and Sharleyan to show our concern and demonstrate we’re pushing to regularize the situation. And I think we should also publish a copy of the Council’s renewed oath of loyalty to Daivyn as rightful Prince of Corisande, witnessed by Klairmant for Mother Church. It would only be appropriate for us to renew the oaths we took in his name now that he’s out of Church custody . . . and it would also be a way for us to demonstrate our loyalty is to him — which means to Corisande — first and foremost.”

“All right.” Anvil Rock nodded. “All of that makes sense. But after we send all that and, presumably, get a response?”

“A lot will depend on what Cayleb and Sharleyan indicate they’re willing to consider. I’m sure they’re both more than bright enough to realize how important it will be for us to have some guidance into what they’re thinking before we start proclaiming any public positions of our own. At the moment, I’m inclined to think the next step for us would probably be to ask for Daivyn’s return, though. The phrasing of both the peace treaty and our oaths as councilors gives Cayleb and Sharleyan a certain amount of wiggle room in this instance, but they have recognized him as Duke of Manchyr and as Hektor’s legitimate heir to the crown. There are all sorts of stipulations in there about what he’ll have to do to be allowed to assume the crown, but there’s no question of his claim to it. So I think we can approach this with an air of calm, even courtesy, by couching our requests at least initially as a request for clarification on how Charis interprets those stipulations. If we work it right — and I think that’s going to include being as public as we can in our messages, publishing our correspondence as broadly as possible, at least on this point — we can spend as much as two years in civil, rational discussion. We can make our loyalty to Daivyn crystal clear, and we can let Cayleb and Sharleyan demonstrate their own reasonableness in the form of their replies and willingness to discuss things with us. Assuming they’re smart enough to see what we’re doing, the process should give us quite a lot of time for temperatures to cool.”

“And if, after we do all that, Daivyn and Irys refuse to cooperate with Charis — or, for that matter, if it appears to us that they’re being constrained or that Cayleb and Sharleyan have decided to deny him the crown after all?” Anvil Rock asked softly.

“In that case, we’re all in a hell of a mess,” Tartarian replied, equally softly. “I doubt Daivyn and Irys would be in any physical danger, even then, but if it looks to our people here in Corisande like they might be — or if enough of our people decide Cayleb and Sharleyan aren’t going to let Daivyn take the crown, no matter what they may’ve promised — I have no idea how they’ll react. The one thing I am afraid of, though, is that in a situation like that one, what might happen could just make what Craggy Hill, Storm Keep, and the others tried look like a children’s birthday party.”