Off Armageddon Reef
|Series:||Safehold: Book 1|
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Humanity pushed its way to the stars - and encountered the Gbaba, a ruthless alien race that nearly wiped us out.
Earth and her colonies are now smoldering ruins, and the few survivors have fled to distant, Earth-like Safehold, to try to rebuild. But the Gbaba can detect the emissions of an industrial civilization, so the human rulers of Safehold have taken extraordinary measures: with mind control and hidden high technology, they've built a religion in which every Safeholdian believes, a religion designed to keep Safehold society medieval forever.
800 years pass. In a hidden chamber on Safehold, an android from the far human past awakens. This "rebirth" was set in motion centuries before, by a faction that opposed shackling humanity with a concocted religion. Via automated recordings, "Nimue" - or, rather, the android with the memories of Lieutenant Commander Nimue Alban - is told her fate: she will emerge into Safeholdian society, suitably disguised, and begin the process of provoking the technological progress which the Church of God Awaiting has worked for centuries to prevent.
Nothing about this will be easy. To better deal with a medieval society, "Nimue" takes a new gender and a new name, "Merlin." His formidable powers and access to caches of hidden high technology will need to be carefully concealed. And he'll need to find a base of operations, a Safeholdian country that's just a little more freewheeling, a little less orthodox, a little more open to the new.
And thus Merlin comes to Charis, a mid-sized kingdom with a talent for naval warfare. He plans to make the acquaintance of King Haarahld and Crown Prince Cayleb, and maybe, just maybe, kick off a new era of invention. Which is bound to draw the attention of the Church... and, inevitably, lead to war.
It's going to be a long, long process. And it's going to be the can't-miss SF epic of the decade.
The Terran Federation Navy fought desperately for over forty years, but the ruthless species known as the Gbaba slaughtered the human race's extra-Solar colonies one by one. Now the end had finally come; Earth herself lay under siege by an enemy humankind could not defeat.
And so mankind undertook one last throw of the dice: Operation Ark. Earth's final colonizing expedition was meant to build a new civilization, on a planet so distant even the Gbaba might never find it, and without the high-tech infrastructure whose emissions might betray its location. To protect and conceal that expedition, the Navy's final fleet was prepared to die to the last ship. Lieutenant Commander Nimue Alban volunteered to serve on the flagship of that fleet, knowing that she and everyone else aboard it would die…which was exactly what happened.
So she was a little surprised to wake up in a cave on a planet called Safehold. She was even more surprised to discover that she'd been dead for eight centuries…and that the fanatic administrators of Operation Ark had used mind control techniques to create a false, brutally suppressive religion in which every single Safeholdian believed. One whose entire purpose was to forbid invention and innovation forever.
Everyone on Safehold knows the Church is the consecrated custodian of God's will. Everyone knows forbidden technology is the work of the Devil. And everyone knows that anyone who dabbles in the forbidden must be destroyed, lest everyone's soul be lost forever to damnation.
But a tiny fraction within Operation Ark's leadership remembered the truth and believed in human dignity and freedom. They've left Nimue Alban to oppose that monstrous creation, and they've given her a carefully hidden cache of technology and the capabilities of the android body in which her memories, loves, hopes, and dreams live on. It's her job to somehow provoke the that human progress which the Church of God Awaiting has worked centuries to crush.
Now, in a new guise--that of the apparently male "Merlin"--Nimue comes to Charis, a mid-sized kingdom with a talent for naval warfare, to make the acquaintance of King Haarahld and Crown Prince Cayleb, and maybe, just maybe, kick off a new era of invention. In this excerpt, Merlin, having managed to save Cayleb from an attempted assassination, speaks with King Haarahld for the first time…
Royal Palace, Telesberg,
Kingdom of Charis
"Seijin Merlin, Your Majesty," the chamberlain said quietly as he stepped through the open doorway and bowed. Merlin followed him into the small presence chamber -- more of a working office, really, it seemed -- and bowed a bit more profoundly than the chamberlain. King Haarahld's court was looked down upon by the courtiers of such sophisticated lands as Harchong because of its casual informality and ability to get along without a veritable horde of servitors. Still, Haarahld was a king, and one of the more powerful ones on the face of Safehold, whatever others might think.
"Seijin," Haarahld said, and Merlin looked up.
He saw a man of middle years, stocky, for a Charisian, and taller than most, although shorter than his son and considerably shorter than Merlin. Haarahld wore the traditional loose-cut breeches and thigh-length linen over-tunic of the Charisian upperclass, although his tunic was bright with bullion embroidery and bead work. The belt about his waist was made of intricately decorated, seashell-shaped plaques of hammered silver, the golden scepter badge of one who'd made his required pilgrimage to the Temple gleamed on his shoulder brooch, and the glittering fire of the emerald-set golden chain which was his normal badge of office glowed upon his chest. He had a neatly trimmed beard, somewhat more luxuriant than Merlin's own, and the slight epicanthic fold common to most of Safehold's humanity.
Haarahld VII was fifty-two local years old, just over forty-seven standard, and he'd sat on his throne for just over twenty local years. In that time, he'd come to be known -- by his own subjects, at least -- as "Haarahld the Just," and his level eyes considered Merlin thoughtfully. He was putting on a bit of extra flesh these days, Merlin noticed. Judging from his chest and shoulders, he'd been a man of heroic physique in his youth, but maintaining that sort of fitness, especially at his age, must have been the next best thing to impossible given his immobile right knee. His leg stretched out straight in front of him, his heel resting on a footrest, as he sat in a comfortable but not particularly splendid armchair behind a desk cluttered with documents and slates.
One other person was present. A bishop of the Church of God Awaiting with silvering dark hair and a splendid patriarchal beard, stood at the king's right shoulder. His three-cornered cap bore the white cockade of a senior bishop, but lacked the ribbon of an archbishop. His eyes were bright as they considered Merlin, and his white cassock bore the oil lamp emblem of the Order of Bédard.
The sight of that lamp set Merlin's teeth instantly on edge, but he made himself suppress the instinctive reaction firmly. Much as he hated to admit it, the order which bore Adorée Bédard's name had changed over the years into something far different from anything its ostensible patron would have wanted to see. Besides, he'd "seen" this bishop often enough through his SNARCs to strongly suspect what impelled Haarahld to trust him so totally.
"Your Majesty," he murmured in reply to the king's greeting after only the briefest of pauses. "You do me honor to receive me privately."
"Perhaps," Haarahld said, studying his visitor intently. "Some might feel I've slighted you by not greeting you and thanking you for my son's life in a more public audience."
"But at that more public audience, Your Majesty, I would undoubtedly have been uncomfortably aware of all of the spanned crossbows watching me so alertly. Here," Merlin smiled charmingly, "I need worry only about the two bodyguards behind that screen."
He nodded towards the exquisitely detailed lacquered Harchongese screen behind the king, and Haarahld's eyes narrowed. The bishop's, however, only considered Merlin with a sort of calm curiosity.
Interesting, Merlin thought, but his attention was mainly focused on the king, waiting for his reaction. Which came after a heartbeat in a single word.
"Indeed?" Haarahld said, and Merlin smiled again.
"This is Thursday, Your Majesty. Assuming you've stuck to your regular duty schedule, it should be Sergeant Haarpar and Sergeant Gahrdaner."
The chamberlain stepped quickly to one side, right hand falling to the dagger sheathed at his hip, the bishop touched the golden scepter of Langhorne hanging upon his breast, and even Haarahld sat up straighter in his chair. But the king also raised one hand, and shook his head sharply at the chamberlain.
"No, Pawal," he said. "After all, our guest is a seijin, is he not?"
"Or something else, Sire," the chamberlain said darkly. He glowered at Merlin with eyes full of suspicion, and his hand left his dagger hilt only reluctantly.
"Your Majesty," Merlin said, "my weapons have all been left in my chamber. Your guardsmen were extremely courteous, but they also searched me very carefully before permitting me into your presence. Surely, one unarmed man is no threat to a monarch whose servants are as loyal to him as yours are to you."
"Somehow, Seijin Merlin, I doubt a man such as you is ever unarmed, as long as he has his brain," Haarahld said with a slow, appreciative smile of his own.
"One tries, Your Majesty," Merlin conceded.
The bishop's lips twitched in what might almost have been a stillborn smile, and Haarahld leaned back in his chair once more, considering the blue-eyed stranger even more thoughtfully than before. Then he nodded and looked at the chamberlain.
"Pawal, I believe we might offer Seijin Merlin a chair."
Pawal Hahlmahn looked moderately outraged, but he also carried a straight-backed but upholstered chair from the corner of the room and set it down facing Haarahld's desk.
"Please, Seijin," Haarahld invited. "Be seated."
"Thank you, Your Majesty."
Merlin settled into the chair and cocked his head, his eyebrows raised.
"Yes, Seijin," Haarahld said with a suspiciously grin-like smile, "the interrogation will now begin."
"I'm at your service, Your Majesty." Merlin inclined his head again, politely, and Haarahld chuckled.
"I find that difficult to believe, Seijin," he said. "Somehow, I have the distinct impression that it's more a case of Charis finding herself at your service."
Merlin smiled, but behind that smile he winced. Haarahld VII, in person, was even more impressive than he'd been observed from afar via SNARC.
"Before we begin," Haarahld said more seriously, "allow me to extend my personal thanks for your intervention on Cayleb's behalf. Without you, he would be dead, and for that I and my house stand in your debt. How may I reward you?"
Copyright © 2007 by David Weber
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