With new alliances forged and old regimes fractured, Merlin—the cybernetic avatar of Earth’s last survivor and immortal beacon to humanity—and the colonies of Safehold have many adventures ahead in Through Fiery Trials, the continuation of David Weber’s military science fiction series. Available January 8th from Tor Books.
Those on the side of progressing humanity through advanced technology have finally triumphed over their oppressors. The unholy war between the small but mighty island realm of Charis and the radical, luddite Church of God’s Awaiting has come to an end.
However, even though a provisional veil of peace has fallen over human colonies, the quiet will not last. For Safefold is a broken world, and as international alliances shift and Charis charges on with its precarious mission of global industrialization, the shifting plates of the new world order are bound to clash.
Yet, an uncertain future isn’t the only danger Safehold faces. Long-thought buried secrets and prophetic promises come to light, proving time is a merciless warden who never forgets.
Read chapter 1 on the Tor/Forge blog, and continue with chapter 2 below!
YEAR OF GOD 901
City of Tellesberg,
Kingdom of Old Charis,
Empire of Charis.
God, I hope this works out,” Sharleyan Ahrmahk murmured fervently, standing beside her husband and gazing out a palace window into the steady, warm rain of Tellesberg.
“Sweetheart, we can still change our minds,” Cayleb Ahrmahk replied. He wrapped one arm around her, hugging her tightly, and she leaned her head against his shoulder. “If you aren’t on board with this, just say so.”
“I can’t. I can’t!” Uncharacteristic uncertainty hazed Sharleyan’s tone, but she shook her head firmly. “You’re right about how much more effective he could be knowing the truth. I mean, Lord knows he’s been pretty damned ‘effective’ already, but if he could access the SNARCs directly, tie his com into the net so we could discuss things in real time…” She shook her head again. “It’s just that I’ve already lost Uncle Byrtrym, and he and Ruhsyl were always so close.”
“I know, but Ruhsyl’s also a lot more flexible than he was,” Cayleb pointed out. “And there was never any doubt about his commitment during the Jihad.”
“As far as reforming the Church, yes. And he’s been wholehearted in supporting the Church of Charis, too. But this is going an awfully long step beyond that!”
“Sharley, stop.” Cayleb kissed her forehead. “We can always do this another time. Or not do it at all. We can just go ahead and have the family dinner we asked him to stop over for, then put him back aboard ship and send him on home to Cherayth. Or Maikelberg, anyway. And then we can think about it some more and brief him when we transfer the court back to Chisholm in June, if we decide we need to go ahead after all.”
She looked up at him for a moment, but then she drew a deep breath and shook her head one more time.
“No. I’ve dithered about this for over two years already. If we don’t bite the bullet and go ahead and do it, I’ll go on dithering for the next twenty!”
“Only if you’re sure,” he said. “I’ve been pushing for this, and I know I have. But I want you to be sure you’re on board with it because it’s the right thing to do, not just because you know how in favor of it I am.”
“Have I ever hesitated to disagree with you when I thought something was a bad idea?” she challenged with a familiar glint. He chuckled at the very thought and shook his head. “Well, I’m not hesitating because I think this is a bad idea. I’m hesitating because even good ideas can go wrong and because I love him so much. That’s the real reason.”
He put his other arm around her, capturing her in the circle of his embrace, and they leaned their foreheads together while the rain pattered steadily outside the window.
“That was delicious,” Ruhsyl Thairis, Duke Eastshare, said.
He sat back from the table with his snifter of after-dinner brandy and smiled at his hosts. Darkness had fallen, and the rain fell even harder than before. Outside the window overlooking the palace gardens the gas jet lamps burned like wet diamonds in the rain and a pleasant breeze—damp but gentle—fluttered the edges of the tablecloth.
“It certainly should’ve been,” Cayleb replied with a grin. “I made it clear enough heads would roll if it wasn’t, anyway!”
“Oh, a paragon of ruthlessness if ever I met one!” Eastshare chuckled. “No wonder everyone’s so terrified of you here in Tellesberg.”
“Actually, I really can be ruthless, when I have to,” Cayleb said, and Eastshare’s eyebrows rose, because the emperor’s tone had turned unwontedly serious.
“I know you can,” the duke said after a moment. “But I’ve never known you to be trivial about it. Admittedly, dinner isn’t a trivial affair, but still—”
He shrugged, and Cayleb flickered a smile. But he also shook his head.
“I’m serious, Ruhsyl. And the truth is that Sharley and I didn’t ask you to stop off in Tellesberg on your way home just because we wanted to have dinner with you. Oh, that would’ve been reason enough! And you saw how happy Alahnah was to see you. But the truth is, there’s something we need to discuss.”
“Of course.” Eastshare set his brandy glass on the table and looked back and forth between his emperor and empress. “What is it?”
“This is going to be difficult, Ruhsyl,” Sharleyan said. She reached out and took his hand in hers. “I’m afraid it’s going to be painful, too. Not because of anything you’ve done,” she added quickly as his eyes narrowed. “Cayleb and I couldn’t possibly have a finer general or a better friend. But there’s something we have to share with you, and I’m afraid it may be hard for you.”
“Sharley,” Eastshare said, covering their clasped hands with his free hand, “I can’t imagine anything you could tell me or ask of me that I couldn’t give you.”
“I hope you still feel that way in about an hour, Your Grace,” another voice said, and Eastshare looked over his shoulder to see that Merlin Athrawes had just entered the room. The tall seijin looked unusually sober this evening, and the duke cocked his head.
“Should I assume, then, that this is more seijin business, Merlin?”
“In a lot of ways, yes,” Merlin replied. “But, actually, it starts well before the first seijin ever set foot on Safehold. In fact, it begins before the Day of Creation itself.”
Eastshare’s nostrils flared and he looked quickly back at Sharleyan. She only nodded, and he returned his gaze to Merlin. His brown eyes held Merlin’s eyes of seijin blue for a long, steady second.
“That… sounds ominous,” he said then. “On the other hand, I’ve never known you to lie to me. So why don’t you get started?”
“Of course.” Merlin dipped his head in a curiously formal little bow. Then he straightened and squared his broad shoulders.
“First,” he began, “you have to know why there was a ‘Day of Creation’ here on Safehold at all. You see—”
“You really mean it,” an ashen-faced Ruhsyl Thairis said the better part of ninety minutes later. “You really mean it.”
“Yes, we do, Ruhsyl,” Sharleyan said softly. “And it’s not just Merlin’s word for it, either. Not just the ‘coms’ or the ‘holograms.’ Not even that.” She waved at the fireplace poker Merlin had twisted into a pretzel in a casual demonstration of his “PICA’s” superhuman strength. “We’ve been to ‘Nimue’s Cave.’ We’ve seen it. And Merlin’s used his ‘technology’ to save both our lives more than once. The proof is there, Ruhsyl. It truly is.”
“No, Sharley.” He shook his head, his voice sad, but there was no hesitation in his tone. “The evidence may be there, but not the proof.”
“Ruhsyl—” Cayleb began, but Eastshare raised his hand, far more demandingly than he ever had to Cayleb Ahrmahk before, and shook his head again, harder.
“Don’t, Cayleb.” His tone was harder, flatter, than it had been. “I believe you’re a good man. I believe—I’ve always believed—you love Sharleyan dearly, and that you’re a man of honor, doing what you believe you must. But not this. Never this!”
“Ruhsyl, it’s not—”
“Not one more word, Merlin! Or… Nimue. Or whoever—or whatever—the hell else you may be!” Eastshare snapped, glaring at the man who’d been his friend for years. “I trusted you. More than that, the people I love trusted you! Spare me any more lies, any more perversions!”
“Ruhsyl,” tears gleamed in Sharleyan’s eyes, “no one’s lied to you, I swear it!”
“You haven’t, and Cayleb hasn’t,” Eastshare grated, “but this demon sure as Shan-wei has!” He emphasized Shan-wei’s name heavily and deliberately. “And he’s lied to you, and he’s lied to Maikel Staynair, and he’s lied to the entire world! Can’t you see that?”
“No, I can’t,” she told him. “Because he hasn’t. I told you this would be hard, but it’s the truth, Ruhsyl. It’s nothing but the truth, and we’ve told you because we’re so tired of not telling you. Because we owe you the truth.”
“I believe that’s exactly what you’ve done, but the fact that this… this thing has convinced you to believe its lies doesn’t make a lie the truth and doesn’t change blasphemy into something else.”
“But the evidence is right here in front of your eyes,” Sharleyan said pleadingly. She touched the twisted poker and stared into his eyes. “The proof is right here!”
“I don’t see anything that one of Shan-wei’s demons couldn’t have produced!” Eastshare retorted. “And the Writ didn’t call her ‘Mother of Lies’ for nothing! Am I supposed to believe that what he has to say and to show me here turns nine centuries of the truth into a lie? Oh, it’s a clever lie, I’ll give ‘Nimue’ that! But compared to the Writ, The Testimonies, every written word of history for nine hundred years, to the miracles that happen every single day in the Temple? Sharley, how could you and Cayleb fall for this? Have you forgotten what Chihiro said about Shan-wei? Forgotten how she deceived and seduced our entire world into evil?”
“No.” Eastshare’s nostrils flared and he rose from his chair, facing Merlin with fiery eyes. “If this is what Byrtrym had come to suspect, no wonder he joined forces with the Temple Loyalists.” Tears glistened on his own cheeks. “And, God help me, if this is what he was trying to stop, Sharley, I wish to God he’d succeeded. I love you, but if this is what he was trying to stop, then at least you’d have died as one of God’s own.”
“I’m still one of God’s own.” Sharleyan’s mouth quivered and her face was wet, but she raised her head and met his eyes without flinching when he darted another look at her. “I will always be God’s own, Ruhsyl. And that’s why I have no choice but to bring this world back to Him and away from the filthy lie Eric Langhorne and Adorée Bédard and Maruyama Chihiro told a thousand years ago!”
“Listen to yourself, Sharley!” Eastshare pled.
“I have listened, Ruhsyl,” she said softly. “I’ve listened not just to Merlin, not just to Maikel, not just to Jeremiah Knowles and thousands upon thousands of years of recorded history from long before ‘Creation’ here. Not even just to Cayleb. I’ve listened to my own heart, my own soul. And you’re right, if I’m wrong I’ve given myself to damnation and I’m leading this entire world into it right along with me. But I’m not wrong. And Merlin’s no liar, no demon. And Pei Shan-wei was a good woman—not an archangel; a woman—who was murdered as the very first victim of the lie which has kept this entire world in chains for a thousand years.”
“And you’re not going to retreat one step from that, are you?” Eastshare’s voice was quiet, and she shook her head. “No, of course you aren’t,” he said. “Because you’re a brave woman, and—like Cayleb—a woman of honor. And of faith. And this is what you truly believe, but, oh, Sharley, you’re so wrong. And I can only pray that in the end you fail. Because the thought of what this world will become if you succeed is more than I can stand.”
Silence hovered against the backdrop of the pounding rain, and then Ruhsyl Thairis, Duke of Eastshare, looked back at Merlin Athrawes.
“I won’t damn you to hell, because that’s where you came from in the first place,” he said. “But I will tell you this. I will never bow my head or bend my knee to your foul mistress, and I curse the day I helped you defeat Zhaspahr Clyntahn. I know I’ll face the price for that someday—someday very soon—but I know the truth now. So you go ahead and do what you have to do, because if you let me walk out that door alive, I will denounce you from the steps of Tellesberg Cathedral!”
“Of course you will,” Merlin said sadly. “It takes a man of honor to know a man of honor, and I can’t tell you how deeply I regret what I see in your eyes when you look at me now. I know you don’t want to hear this, but I have always been—and I remain now, despite what you believe, what you think—honored by your friendship.”
Eastshare’s lips twisted, but he said nothing, only glared.
“Ruhsyl, we wouldn’t have risked telling you this if our only option had been to kill you if you couldn’t accept it,” Merlin told him. “Sharleyan and Cayleb love you too much for that. I love you too much for that.”
“It is the only option you have,” Eastshare said flatly.
“No, it isn’t.” Merlin reached into his belt pouch and extracted a small, cylindrical rod of glittering crystal. “And someday, when the time comes, we’ll have another conversation, you and I. Until that day, I can only say I respect and admire you as much as I’ve ever respected or admired another human being and I would give anything in the universe to not have to do this.”
Excerpted from Through Fiery Trials, copyright © 2018 by David Weber.