Andrin had forced herself to See the SUNN Voicenet report. She had only an extremely limited telepathic Talent, but it was more than enough to follow Voicenet transmissions. After witnessing that report, however, she found herself wishing passionately that she'd had no telepathic Talent at all. Not even the nightmares she'd experienced in her own Glimpses had been enough to prepare her for the sheer horror of what Shaylar Nargra-Kolmayr had endured before her own death.
The events themselves had been horrible enough, but the sheer power and clarity of Shaylar's Voice had stunned a universe. Everyone had known that she'd been one of Sharona's top Voices, but the intensity of her link with Darcel Kinlafia had been staggering. Every nuance of her emotions, her suspicions, her observations—every spike of terror, every gut-wrenching spasm of grief, every glorious, white-fire instant of courage—had hit every telepath on Sharona squarely between the eyes.
I promise, this is the last time I'll harp on it. But a wide segment of the population being able to experience the Massacre firsthand has made the release of this information so much worse, and definitely ignited war-fever.
IMS Prince of Ternathia was an armored cruiser—twelve thousand tons of sickle-prowed armor plate, with four twin nine-inch turrets, two each fore and aft, and a broadside of fourteen six-inch guns. Her sister ship, IMS Duke Ihtrial cruised watchfully to port of the liner, interposed between her and any threat, and Andrin wondered just how anxious Master-Captain Farsal chan Morthain, the escort commander, was feeling this fine morning as she stood here, enjoying the exuberant wind. It wasn't often, after all, that the emperor, the heir-secondary, the entire Privy Council, the speakers of all three of the Ternathian Houses of Parliament, a sizable chunk of the most senior members of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the most senior lords justicar of the Emperor's Bench, over seventy members of Parliament, and the Imperial chiefs of staff were all packed aboard a single ship.
Officially, chan Morthain and his cruisers were out there to guard Windtreader against "pirates," but there hadn't been a single pirate operating in the waters between Ternath Island and Tajvana in centuries. The possibility of some lunatic in a fast boat loaded with explosives probably figured far more prominently in chan Morthain's thinking. Personally, Andrin felt quite certain that the cruisers were intended much more as a precaution—and possibly a somewhat pointed hint—designed to get the attention of some of Ternathia's less scrupulous "allies" than as a defense against any sort of criminals.
Oh yeah, Andrin, family and the bulk of ther Ternathian government are on a cruise liner bound for Tajvana, and escorted by two armored cruisers. Eight 9-inch guns on a Ternathian armored cruiser. Also, does Andrin want a cookie for realizing part of the reason they have protectors and bodyguards?
Like Janaki's Taleena, Finena was an imperial Ternathian peregrine, but she looked like no other hawk which had ever broken shell in the imperial aviary. She'd hatched from the final clutch of Emperor Zindel's beloved falcon Charaeil, and though she wasn't quite a true albino—her eyes were as dark as any other peregrine's—she showed none of the bold bluish-gray plumage of male peregrines, nor even the browner tones of the females of the species. Her plumage was a dazzling white, and she showed mere shadows of gray where other peregrines' underparts would have been marked with sharply visible black bars. And while she wasn't a true sentient, like the dolphins and whales or the great apes, she came very, very close. Unlike any other longwings in the world, imperial Ternathian peregrines were never hooded, even after the completion of their training. Like other falcons, their natural prey was other birds, not ground game, but imperial Ternathian hawks like Finena were intelligent enough to know when it was time to fly. They required no blindfolds to prevent them from seeing other birds passing overhead, nor did they require jesses to keep them from leaving their human companion's fists without permission. Finena might not be a true sentient by most people's standards, but she was an extremely smart bird—one Andrin had hand-raised from an eyas.
And the Ternathians have been selectively breeding falcons (royal symbol, remember) for size and intelligence for so long, they've created a near-sapient sub-species to serve as their animal mascots. So smart and well-trained that their handlers need none of the traditional gear of falconry.
Uromathian kings and princes carried falcons as status symbols; that much of the traditional Ternathian practice they'd adopted. But unlike the Ternathian imperial house, they left their birds' routine daily care to hawk handlers and were always careful to fasten the birds securely to their wrists when they carried them—and to hood them, whenever they weren't actively hunting. It was true that none of their birds were Finena's intellectual equal, and Andrin was prepared to admit—if pressed—that carrying other, lesser breeds bareheaded under all circumstances might be . . . less than prudent. But she still considered hooding them simply for the falconer's convenience a barbaric and cruel practice, and her lip-curl of disdain turned into a sinful smile as she anticipated the expressions of the Uromathians when they caught their first glimpse of a Ternathian grand princess with a white Ternathian imperial peregrine.
The Ternathian royals are big on falconry, so the Ternathian court follows, then lesser nobles, then the rest of the world until a gentleman at a formal event is considered half-dressed without a bird on his arm or shoulder. Even in Uromathia. I like this bit of depth to the Sharonan culture. It reminds me of a story I heard (which I cannot speak to the veracity of) that Europe's generations-long love affair with powdered wigs began with a single balding French king.
Finena preened on Andrin's arm as she caught her companion's emotions. They didn't share true telepathy, the way a cetacean or a chimpanzee shared with a translator, but their bond was very real, nonetheless, and Andrin felt it glowing between them as she turned and started for the external stair—which the sailors insisted on calling a "ladder"—from the promenade deck to the boat deck, above.
And of course they have a mysterious bond no one can adequately explain. Like no David Weber character before.
"My dear Grand Princess! How you've grown!"
Andrin could never decide later whether it was his patronizing tone or the ironic, languidly malicious look he swept up her tall, admittedly sturdy figure as he straightened his spine which did the most to leave her white-faced with fury. Not that it really mattered, she eventually concluded. Either one would have been more than enough, and if they hadn't done it, the lazy, mocking glitter in his light-colored eyes—the self-congratulating amusement of an adult making clever remarks which would sail right over a mere child's head—would have accomplished the same thing anyway.
"My dear Earl," she said, in tones fit to freeze lava, looking down her nose at him from her towering inches, "how nice to see someone of your . . . imposing stature this morning."
He blinked, and his face went blank. She wondered whether his confusion stemmed more from the evidence that she hadn't missed his mockery after all, or from the sheer disbelief that any snip of a schoolgirl would dare to cut him off at the knees.
"Ah, ahem, well—"
She turned her back on him in mid-stammer and whistled sharply. Finena wheeled high above her, then came hurtling down with the speed of a striking snake. Peregrines could attain velocities of over two hundred miles per hour in a stoop, and the smack of talon against leather as the hawk flared her wings at the last moment sounded shockingly loud above the wind. The white falcon turned a baleful eye on Earl Ilforth and hissed. Andrin had never heard such a sound from any hawk, let alone Finena, and Ilforth actually stumbled backward a step as she turned back to survey him through icy eyes.
"You were saying, My Lord?"
"I just wanted to say what an honor it is, to share a voyage of such importance with His Imperial Majesty and Your Grand Highness."
"I see. I was rather looking forward to the voyage myself."
She didn't actually emphasize the verb all that strongly, but it was enough to bring an angry scarlet stain to his cheeks.
How to Make Friends and Influence People.
I'm just going to throw manners, diplomacy and getting along with people even if they're unpleasant on the heap of things Andrin's parents really should have taught her a long time ago. Or at least
before bringing her to an international conference on an existential threat.
Oh, and context. Earl Ilforth is the Speaker for the Hourse of Lords in the Ternathian Parliament, making him a political figure of no small importance, and this is the first time they've ever spoken face-to-face. In fact, the book establishes that literally everything she knows about this guy before htis conversation is a.) his position b.) his towering reputation as a fop and a dandy and c.) her mother doesn't like him and goes out of her way to avoid him. That's it.
Really, I'm powerfully reminded of a similar scene in the Honorverse, SVW, where Honor makes a point to antagonize and shut up a junior officer for daring to introduce himself and reference a shared history (she'd once punched a cousin of his.) though Andrin can be excused some for at least being a teenager.
Unlike Uromathia, Ternathia had outlawed the custom of dueling generations ago—which, she found herself reflecting, was a pity. Or perhaps not. Chan Zindico, who hewed to the millennia-old tradition of Calirath guardsmen, had begun her tutoring in self-defense when she was twelve, and seven words from the Earl of Ilforth left her with a sudden, passionate longing to see him on the firing range with his pasty face centered—briefly—in the sights of her favorite Halanch and Welnahr revolver.
Firearms, falconry and presumably hand-to-hand, though, are totally necessary skills in a royal. As is shooting people who seem a little too smug in your presence. Apparently pistol duels are legal in Uromathia, illegal in Ternathia. Anyone want to take bets on the odds of there being a pistol duel before the series ends?
Of course, Ilforth is a Designated Political Antagonist, and so a moron who will doubtlessly further provoke her into-
"Your Grand Highness, I humbly beg your pardon." His voice was suddenly different as well. Lower, more hurried, without the polished confidence which had sneered through his tone before. "I . . . seem to have made hash of this conversation, and it was never my intention to be offensive. If I have caused you grief in some fashion, I sincerely beg your forgiveness."
Or he could remember that one of the people in this conversation is an adult and apologize, even if he did nothing wrong. Got to admit, did not see that one coming, and I'm curious to see where it goes.
And then, as she watched his face lose even more color, she realized with an insight like a thunderclap that it wasn't so much because of what she'd done or said, as because of who she was. Who she might yet become. He truly had expected his nasty little barbed comment to go right past a "mere girl." He'd never anticipated that it wouldn't, and it was the sudden realization of the truly colossal blunder he'd made which had rattled him so thoroughly. Ridiculing the physical size of a person who might one day occupy the imperial throne wasn't the very wisest political move a man could make.
What "nasty little barbed comment"? He'd complimented her on how much she'd grown! Even if he'd said it around the most blatant sneer, with all the emphasis he could muster, it would barely count as an insult on a children's playground. Admittedly. mocking royalty for their appearance is hardly politic.
Part of her was childishly delighted by his terror. She'd never before experienced anything like this sudden, visceral understanding that she could reduce grown men to quivering protoplasm merely by displaying her displeasure, and it was a heady sensation. But if part of her was delighted, the rest was quite abruptly shaken to the core. She had a sudden vision of just what sort of disaster she could unleash if she succumbed to the habit of using that power to gratify her own petty emotions, and it terrified her.
One corner of her lips tried to quirk as she contemplated this oaf's probable reaction if she thanked him for his unwitting assistance in her imperial education. She was sorely tempted to do just that, but decided to settle for a slight nod, instead.
Right now, I am not liking Andrin very much. Can the rest of the political stuff be from Ilforth's perspective?
"You're probably wondering what instructions I carry from the House of Lords," he said with a last heavy sigh for his damaged headgear.
Andrin blinked mentally. She hadn't wondered anything of the sort, actually, but she suddenly—and belatedly—realized that she probably should have.
"Yes. Well. The Lords have made it quite clear that under no circumstances shall we yield so much as a fingertip's worth of Ternathian sovereignty over this business!"
"I see." Andrin pursed her lips thoughtfully. "I should imagine most of the other governments on Sharona share exactly the same sentiments, shouldn't you, My Lord? That wouldn't appear to leave a great deal of room for progress toward a practical governing system to deal with the crisis, would it?"
"I beg your pardon, Your Grand Highness?"
"Clearly, something must be done, administratively, to meet the crisis, or all Sharona could be at risk of attack, My Lord. Possibly even destruction. It seems to me that refusing to yield a fingertip's worth of anything at this particular moment is an exceedingly poor way to handle the worst international crisis in Sharonian history."
And naturally he wilts right before her very basic and obvious point. Naturally, despite leaving her home to the largest international Conclave in recorded history. Andrin hasn't spared a moment's thought for what her government's position might be once they get there.
"Ah, well, ahem. There may be a great deal of merit in your argument, Your Grand Highness. Which I must say is remarkably cogent for a girl barely out of the schoolroom, if you'll pardon me for speaking bluntly."
She wanted to shout her irritation to the sky, or else—preferably—hit him over the head with something large and heavy. Instead, she favored him with a frosty gaze.
"My schoolroom is hardly noted for its incompetent schoolmasters," she observed, and Ilforth reddened.
Oh, please. At this point, I'd not be amazed to learn that your parents decided, with heavy heart and sober mind, to spare you the harsh truths of arithmetic and basic literacy. I'm only certain the latter didn't happen because you were taking notes earlier, when it finally occurred to you to do so during a meeting of literally global importance.
"No, of course not. I hardly meant to imply—"
"Then perhaps you will be so good as to consider my argument's merit, regardless of the chronological age of its source."
She left him standing, hat in hand, gaping after her as she stalked clear across the broad, windswept deck to the opposite rail.
This man is entirely too easily rendered speechless by a clueless kid. I refuse to believe he's actually a political power to be reckoned with.
"He's the Speaker because he's the most senior earl in the House of Lords, and because he has sufficient money, and therefore political influence, to sway an unfortunate—one might almost say unholy—alliance of extreme conservatives, status-conscious popinjays, and ambitious men who know better but find his money exceedingly useful. Never, ever underestimate the damage Ilforth can do in—or from—the House of Lords. Thank Marnilay Herself that the power of the imperial purse rests in the Commons, Your Highness, or that blue-blooded, damnfool-tongued disaster would be able to sit back on his undeserved laurels and dictate to the Throne whenever he felt like it. Which would be every minute of the day."
And if we hold to pattern he has tremendous blackmail on half of Parliament. The Ternathian Commons control the budget, as in HH they struggled for years to achieve.
Andrin stared at the man who held, on a daily basis, more power than anyone in the Empire except her father. She'd never heard such venom from the eternally unflappable First Councilor in her life. Nor, she realized a moment later, had anyone—including her father—ever given her such a crystal-clear glimpse into the machinations of governance.
"My father has tremendous faith in your judgment, First Councilor," she said quietly after a moment. "I would be honored if you would teach me what you can in the limited time you have available."
"You are your father's daughter in so many ways it takes the breath away," he said quietly. Then he drew a deep breath. "Very well, Your Grand Highness. Shall we begin with an analysis of the political situation in the House of Lords?"
"I would be most grateful for anything you could say to clarify that for me."
"In that case," he said, his voice dry as desert sand, "perhaps it's fortunate I hadn't made any specific plans for the balance of the morning."
And I am totally unsurprised to learn Andrin's towering ignorance of things she can't really afford to be ignorant of includes domestic politics as well as international.
Let me posit something. Janaki dies touring the multiverse, say he runs into an enraged buffalo. On receiving word of his son's death, Zindel chan Calirath suffers a fatal heart attack. Now Andrin rules, for the day or two it takes the political machine to chew her up and spit her out because she knows nothing of anything, and can't even get along with people who aren't pleasant to her. What the hell are her parents doing
She couldn't even finish. The vision was too unrelentingly horrifying for that. She'd never forgotten the earthquake which had rocked her family when her grandfather had been killed in a completely avoidable accident in the middle of an utterly ordinary afternoon in the center of his own capital city. She'd been just five years old, but that memory would be with her until the day she died.
Uh, point of order. We will establish later that Calirath bullshit precog extends to seeing their own deaths and the effect their death will have on others. So how does one die of an easily avoidable accident?
It was almost sunset of the third day of their voyage when Andrin spotted the sight she'd been waiting for all day and discovered that her breathless anticipation had been more than worth the wait. With Finena on her arm, her father beside her on the left, and Shamir Taje standing on her right, Andrin stared out at her first sight of the massive rock that guarded the narrow Bolakini Strait.
Three days from Ireland to Gibraltar on a cruise liner. Feels a little slow for period to me, but most of what I know about steamships I learned from the Big Broadcast of 1936,
and it's not like they have any reason to try and set speed records with an entire government onboard and plenty of time until the most distant member states' delegations can reach the Conclave.
The Queens of Bolakin, watching the Empire's expansion across the continent north of the Fist had accurately predicted Ternathia's intention—its need—to expand its naval presence into the Mbisi Sea to secure the southern shores of its new acquisitions. Aware that Ternathia would want control of the Fist, and that the Empire would tolerate no piracy, the Queens of Bolakin had approached the Emperor of Ternathia with a proposition: a joint garrison and shared sovereignty for the Fist, duty-free passage for both Ternathian and Bolakini vessels past the Fist, and the equal division of all duties collected on non-allied shipping through the Straits and bound for Ternathian or Farnalian ports of call, coupled with an ironclad guarantee that no Bolakini shore-runner would harass Ternathian shipping. In exchange, Bolakin offered to open her ports to Ternathian ships, giving Ternathia access to the vast wealth being carried north from the Ricathian interior, both by overland caravan across the vast Sarthan Desert and by Bolakini merchant ships plying the long western shore of Ricathia.
Bolakin is apparently a collection of ten North African city-states, which used to have sole control over Gibraltar but millennia ago worked out an arrangement to share with Ternathia. Also, they apparently also have had continuity of government for 4,500 years or so.
Two flags snapped and cracked in the wind above that mighty fortress, representing the two nations who shared sovereignty over it to this day. One was the black field and golden lion of Bolakin, rippling and wavering as it streamed out from its staff. The other was the eight-rayed golden sunburst of Ternathia on its deep green field, and as Andrin watched, both of them started down their staffs in perfect unison.
Flags of Bolakin and Ternathia. Apparently the Ternathian banner is a gold eight-point star on a green field. Now who else uses an eight-point star?
Rest of the chapter is Andrin's realization that there are armed men who will fight and die at her command, feeling overwhelmed, getting a headache and going to lie down then learning that he new serving girl (named Renatha, but you can call her "minor character we'll never see again") is a Healer too humble to get tested for potential training, which Andrin encourages her to do.