After the initial chapters which set up the story, the series is set about a thousand years in the future, on the planet Safehold. The people have forgotten their origins on the planet Earth, and returned to a lower level of technology. This had been a deliberate direction by leaders of the original settlers, to prevent the colony world being found by the alien Gbaba.
The Church of God Awaiting has a strong influence across the nations of Safehold, ruling from a central location called the Temple. But the leadership of the Church is corrupt, more interested in power than spiritual guidance. In particular, the power is in the hands of a sinister group of vicars called the “Group of Four”.
The island nation of Charis is a progressive nation, geographically far from the Temple, and a great sea power. The Group of Four feel threatened by Charis, and plan to destroy it.
There had been some dissenting members among the original settlers, who had believed that suppression of technology was wrong, and that the inhabitants of the planet should know about the alien threat, and plan to counter it. This group had brought an android from Earth, intending that this android might return the world to the correct path.
This android has the memories and personality of a woman, Nimue Alban, who had died in space near Earth, fighting the Gbaba. The android remains deactivated in a hidden base until about 1000 years after settlement. Then once she wakes up, and learns of the current situation, she decides to take on a male persona, and becomes Merlin Athrawes. Merlin had been provided with a great deal of high technology. He decides that his best strategy is to help Charis in its conflict with the Church, and to encourage the nation’s development of technology.
The series is very detailed. It includes lots of details about manufacture of weapons and ships, and details of sea battles. There are many characters, and their names are spelt strangely (although many of these are familiar names, spelt and pronounced slightly differently). There are maps at the beginning of each book, and list of names and a glossary at the end of each book, which are necessary to consult to keep things straight.
Except for the first book in the series, the titles of all the others are taken from Christian hymns.
Off Armageddon Reef (2007)
In the 24th Century, Earth and its colonies are attacked by an alien race called the Gbaba, who seem determined to wipe out the human race. The war continues for years, but eventually a fleet of spaceships, containing the remaining humans, escape and travel far into space, hoping the Gbaba will not find them.
They settle a planet called Safehold. Most of the colonists have been in cryogenic suspension animation until landing.
The leaders of the Administrative Council, Eric Langhorne (Chief Administrator) and Adorée Bédard (Chief Psychologist) wipe the memories of the colonists before reviving them. This way, they argue, the world will not have advanced technology, so will not be discovered by the Gbaba. They establish a religion, the Church of God Awaiting, with the members of the Council as angels and archangels, representatives of God, and a holy book called the Holy Writ, part of which (the Proscriptions of Jwo-jeng) specifies the types of technology which are forbidden.
Pei Shan-wei, of the Council’s Techies faction, argues that humanity will eventually develop technology anyway, and it is better that they be warned about the Gbaba threat.
Pei Kau-yung, Shan-wei’s husband, is in the Moderates faction, and has retained the position of military commander of the planet. Kau-yung and Shan-wei are ostensibly estranged, but they have done this as a strategy to retain some influence close to the leadership.
However, in response to Shan-wei’s opposition, Langhorne bombards the Alexandria Enclave, killing Shan-wei and all of her faction. (Henceforth, Shan-wei is known as a Fallen Archangel, and her name used in much same way as “the Devil” or “Hell” is used in our world.) The bombardment weapon, from a platform in orbit, is henceforth referred to as Langhorne’s Rakurai (lightning bolt), a word which is often used as a metaphor for a sudden destructive force.)
Kau-yung retaliates by wiping out most of Langhorne’s and Bédard’s faction with a suicide-bomb.
About 900 years later, Nimue Alban wakes up, in a hidden base in the Mountains of Light on Safehold. This base is later referred to as Nimue’s Cave.
The original Nimue had been killed in battle against the Gbaba, back in space near Earth. This later Nimue is actually a PICA, a Personality-Integrated Cybernetic Avatar – an android into which the memories and personality of the original Nimue had been copied. Kau-yung, Shan-wei, and others of their group, realising the possible direction things were going, had smuggled the android onto one of the spaceships, with the hope that she could set Safehold back on the correct path. They had programmed the android’s activation for this time. A recording of Kau-yung’s voice gives her a briefing.
Nimue’s Cave has all sorts of high technology equipment. She has an intelligent computer called Owl, a skimmer, and surveillance devices called SNARCs (Self-Navigating Autonomous Reconnaisance and Communication platforms).
Humanity at this time has spread throughout the planet, and consists of several nations. The Church of God Awaiting exerts its influence across the world. The Church has much of the characteristics of the Catholic Church of our world, but with the Archangels – especially Langhorne – taking the place of Christ. The clergy form a hierarchy of priests, bishops and archbishops, with the top level being the vicars (corresponding to the cardinals of the Catholic Church) with the Grand Vicar being the titular head of the Church. (Priests are however allowed to marry.) The Church governs from the Temple in the city of Zion on the continent of Haven.
But the leadership of the Church is corrupt, more interested in power than spiritual guidance. The Grand Vicar is a mere figurehead. The real power is in a group of vicars called the “Group of Four”, the most sinister member being Zhaspar Clyntahn, the Grand Inquisitor. The other members are: Zahmsyn Trynair, the Chancellor; Rhobair Duchairn, the Treasurer; and Allayn Maigwair, Captain General of the Church’s armed forces.
The island nation of Charis is geographically far from the Temple. It is a progressive nation, it is the main sea power, has been developing “innovations”, and has abolished slavery. The Group of Four feel threatened by Charis, because of its developing power, and its distance from the Church’s influence.
Two of Charis’s neighbouring nations – Emerald and Corisande – are potential enemies of Charis, having ambitions to take over its territory.
Nimue, recognising the patriarchal nature of Safehold’s society, modifies the android body to become male, taking the name Merlin Athrawes, and the role of a seijun, a legendary holy man and warrior. Merlin chooses the progressive Charis for his involvement. He arrives in time to rescue Charis’s Crown Prince Cayleb from an assassination attempt, and is thus accepted into the palace as Cayleb’s personal bodyguard.
Merlin is able to use SNARCs to discover threats to Charis, which he explains to Charis’s King Haarahld and Prince Cayleb as “visions” which he, as a seijun, receives. And his android strength and fighting skill are also attributed to the powers of a seijun. And recognising that eventually Charis’s enemies will attack, he provides advice on how to improve Charis’s industry, weapons and ships.
The Group of Four acts more quickly than expected, ordering all of the sea-faring nations – Emerald, Corisande, Chisolm, Tarot, and Dohlar – to attack and destroy Charis. But Merlin’s surveillance forewarns the Charis Naval forces, which engage Tarot and Dohlar off the coast of Armageddon Reef (the former site of the Alexandra Enclave), and the other enemy forces in Darcos Sound, closer to home.
By Schism Rent Asunder (2008)
[Title comes from the hymn “The Church’s One Foundation”.]
Charis has won the sea battles against the five nations warring against it. However King Haarahld has been killed, and Cayleb succeeds to the throne.
Archbishop Maikel Staynair of Charis recognises that the Group of Four had been responsible for the war against his country. He denounces Mother Church for its corruption, and declares the Church of Charis to be separate from Mother Church, thus creating a schism. When they hear of this, Mother Church declares Cayleb and Staynair to be heretics.
However there are many people in Charis who are opposed to the break with Mother Church, (these people are called Temple Loyalists,) and some of these take violent action. There is an attempt on the archbishop’s life, which Merlin defeats.
Cayleb realises that the Church will attempt to attack Charis again, and it will be necessary to build up military strength. He sends his First Councillor, Earl Gray Harbor, to Queen Sharlayan in the Kingdom of Chisholm with a proposal of, not just an alliance, but marriage. (Chisholm had been reluctant participants in the recent conflict.) After some consideration, Sharlayan accepts, and comes to Tellesberg, the capital of Charis, where Cayleb and Sharlayan are married. Thus Charis and Chisholm are combined into a new Charisian Empire, with Cayleb and Sharlayan as co-rulers. (The Kingdom of Charis is now referred to as “Old Charis”.) They will reside in each of Old Charis and Chisholm for part of each year.
Charis has blockaded the main port of the Princedom of Emerald, and attacked another harbour. Prince Naahrmahn, ruler of Emerald, surrenders to Cayleb, and Emerald is incorporated into the Charisian Empire. Cayleb makes Naahrmahn his Imperial Councillor for Intelligence.
Archbishop Maikel takes Merlin to the Monastery of Saint Zherneau, and introduces him to the Abbott, Father Zhon Byrkit. There are ancient documents there, in particular, the Journal of Saint Zherneau (or Jeremiah Knowles), one of the original colonists, who had been taught the truth by Shan-wei, of humanity’s origins, its technological past, and the true nature of the “archangels”. Thus the truth is known by the Brotherhood of Saint Zherneau. Merlin reveals his true identity to Maikel, and later to Cayleb.
Charisian privateers are sailing the seas, capturing ships and cargo of the enemy nations. The Group of Four retaliate by closing all ports to Charisian ships.
Many Charisian merchant ships are docked in the harbour of Ferayd, in the kingdom of Delferahk. The Delferahkan troops receive orders from the Inquisition to take possession of them all. But this turns into a massacre of the Charisians, including women and children, as many of the ships are family businesses.
When the news gets back to Tellesberg, the Charisian Navy attack and destroy the Ferayd port.
By Heresies Distressed (2009)
[Title comes from the hymn “The Church’s One Foundation”.]
In Ferayd, the Charisian admiral orders the hanging of several priests – the members of the Inquisition who had ordered the troops to massacre the Charisian merchants. This goes against the Church law that only the Church can punish priests, and when the word gets back to the Group of Four, they are not pleased.
Cayleb and the Charisian Navy head off to Corisande to wage war with it. Merlin is with Cayleb. The Grand Duke of the island Duchy of Zechariah, part of the League of Corisande, makes peace with Charis without a fight. The Navy arrives at the Corisandian port city of Dairos, and take possession of it.
From there the Charisian Marines fight on land against the Corisandian troops. The war is long, but ultimately the Charisians win; this is due to their improved weapons and strategy, but also because Merlin is providing surveillance information to Cayleb, who makes suggestions to the Marines, taking care to disguise the origin of the intelligence.
In the Corisandian capital Manchyr, the ruler, Prince Hektor, decides to send his daughter Irys and his younger son Daivyn out of the country, for safety’s sake, in the care of Phylip Ahzgood, Earl of Coris. Hektor keeps his oldest son and heir, Crown Prince Hektor, with him. Earl Coris and the two children leave Corisande secretly, and eventually arrive at the palace of King Zhames in Talkyra, the capital of Delferahk. (Zhames’s wife, Queen Hailyn, is Hektor’s cousin.)
In Old Charis, Empress Sharleyan makes a visit to the Convent of Saint Agtha, taking a large number of guards with her. But this visit had been anticipated by former bishop, Mylz Halcom, leader of an underground group of Temple Loyalists. Halcom has brought a large number of armed men to assassinate Sharlayan, and they proceed to attack the guards. In Corisande, Merlin has picked up the potential attack on his surveillance equipment, and quickly flies his skimmer to Old Charis, which takes a few hours. He arrives in time to save Sharleyan and wipe out the remaining attackers, but most of the guards are dead. Merlin must then reveal his true nature to Sharleyan, to explain his presence when he was supposed to be far away in Corisande.
Prince Hektor realises he has lost the war, and decides to surrender to Emperor Cayleb. However, before he can do so, he and his son are assassinated by a member of the Inquisition. But the Corisandians generally believe that Cayleb had ordered the assassination.
The members of Hektor’s council surrender to Cayleb, and form a Regency Council, representing Prince Daivyn, whom they recognise as Corisande’s new ruler, subject of course to the rule of the Charisian Empire. (The boy prince is of course in exile in Delferahk.)
Cayleb leaves an occupation force in Manchyr, and returns to Chisholm, where he meets up with Sharleyan. They will now rule in Sharleyan’s home kingdom for several months.
A Mighty Fortress (2010)
[Title comes from the hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God”.]
In Corisande, the Church of Charis becomes the official church. Many churches willingly become part of the Church of Charis. However, Temple Loyalists are allowed to worship in their own churches as long as they don’t break the law.
There are protests and riots in Manchyr against the Charisian occupation, the murder (as they see it) of Hektor on Cayleb’s orders, and the schismatic church. These protests are spurred on by members of the Inquisition present in Corisande. But the Corisandian Guard put the riots down, and generally peace returns.
In the north of Corisande, a group of noblemen form the “Northern Conspiracy” plotting against the new regime – the overlordship of the Charisian Empire, and the Regency Council. They communicate with the Grand Duke of Zebediah, who, although he had made peace with the Charisian Empire, is willing to smuggle Charisian-made guns to the Northern Conspiracy.
On the mainland, the Church orders the various nations to build ships and weapons in preparation for the war against the Charisian Empire. This war will be a Holy War, or Jihad. This includes the nations Dohlar (who had previously been defeated by Charis), the Temple Lands, the Harchong Empire, and the Desnairian Empire.
Merlin gradually increases the “inner circle” of people (especially the advisers to the Charisian Emperor and Empress) who know Safehold’s true origins and Merlin’s true nature, and as people are added, they get access to Owl and its surveillance equipment and data banks, and communicators to talk with each other, including across long distances. However, people are only added when it is agreed by the Brotherhood of Saint Zherneau, because of the danger of betrayal. This use of advanced technology often enables the inner circle to know about distant events long before everyone else around them, but they have to keep their knowledge secret.
There is a priest in Manchyr, Father Tymahn Hahskans, who has always had Reformist tendencies, but had been warned against being critical of the Church leaders. Now that he is part of the Church of Charis, he feels free to preach on his true thoughts. People flock to his church to hear his sermons. But a member of the Inquisition kidnaps him and tortures him to death. Merlin receives the surveillance too late to rescue Hahskans, but he sends information to the Corisandian Guard about where the inquisitors are hidden, so the Guard can arrest them, eventually to be executed for their crimes. Contrary to the Inquisition’s expectations, the Corisandians generally have sympathy for the murdered priest.
In Zion City, there is a secret group of Reformist vicars and other clergy, called the Circle, headed by Vicar Samyl Wylsynn, and assisted by his brother Hauwerd. The group has existed for many years, and hope to fight against the corruption of the rest of the vicarate and the Group of Four. But they realise that Zhaspar Clyntahn has found out about them, and will soon take action against them. Samyl Wylsynn tries to get as many as his members out of the Temple Lands as he can without raising suspicion.
Ahnzhelyk Phonda runs a brothel in Zion City – in fact many of the vicars are her customers. Ahnzhelyk also has an extensive secret business network. She is in touch with the Circle, and is helping smuggle the families of members of the Circle out of the Temple Lands. (This is important, since, when the Inquisition captures and tortures a supposed heretic, they also torture his wife and children.) Merlin changes his appearance and, taking on the persona of Ahbraim Zhevons, a seijin who is supposedly an associate of Merlin, he visits Ahnzhelyk, warning her that the time has come to close down operations, and evacuate everyone.
Zhaspar Clyntahn moves to arrest the remaining members of the Circle, and any of their families who hadn’t escaped, and any other vicars and priests of whom he is suspicious. Hauwerd Wylsynn kills his brother Samyl to avoid him falling into the Inquisition’s hands, and then fights the Temple Guard until he dies. The arrested priests are imprisoned in preparation for being tortured to death.
Zhasyn Cahnyr, Archbishop of the Province of Glacierheart, in Republic of Siddarmark, is a member of the Circle. He is warned in time and flees to Siddar City, the capital of Siddarmark. (Siddarmark is in East Haven, on the Safeholdian mainland, and only the Border States separate it from the Temple Lands.)
The other members of the Group of Four are shocked at what Clyntahn has done. Trynair and Maigwair feel they have to go along with it. But Rhobair Duchairn, having undergone a renewal of faith, makes his displeasure apparent, but he feels trapped in a situation he cannot change. Instead he increases his charity work for the poor in the city, which has been very much neglected. Clyntahn sees Duchairn as a weakling, but so far no threat to him.
King Gorjah of the island Kingdom of Tarot feels isolated. Tarot is not getting much assistance from the Temple to rebuild their ships. The Temple suspects that Tarot had been responsible for leaking information to Charis during the previous attack. So Charis begins exerting pressure on Gorjah to switch over to Charis’s side, by placing ships in nearby waters, by letters from Charis’s First Councillor, Earl Gray Harbor, and finally a visit from Merlin, in his persona of Ahbraim Zhevons.
Father Paityr Wylsynn was originally the Inquisition’s representative to the Archbishop of Charis, but with his Reformist leanings, has willingly accepted the Church of Charis. Paityr is the son of Samyl Wylsynn. He learns about the deaths of his father and uncle. He receives a letter from his stepmother saying that the family has escaped from Zion, but doesn’t know their current whereabouts, and worries about whether they are safe.
A squadron of Charisian naval ships, under Admiral Gwylym Manthyr, arrives at the islands in the disputed territory between Dohlar and Harchong, which had not been fortified. They make their bases on Claw Island and Trove Island. They raid any merchant ships from Dohlar and Harchong, capturing ships and supplies, thus hindering the enemy in their ship building, as well as adding to their own supplies.
Admiral Gardynyr, Earl of Thirsk, is in charge of building up the Dohlaran naval fleet, and training its crews, and is doing a good job of it.
While attacking a convoy of supply ships near Dohlar, Manthyr discovers that they are escorted by Dohlaran naval vessels, and a sea battle ensues. The Dohlarans are better fighters than the Charisians expected, and there are many casualties on both sides.
Back in Tellesberg, Sharleyan gives birth to a daughter, Crown Princess Alahnah.
Manthyr’s ships get caught in a storm while attempting to return to Claw Island. They get blown off course and end up in the Gulf of Dohlar, where they encounter the Earl of Thirsk’s fleet. Most of Manthyr’s ships are too damaged to escape, so they engage in battle, giving the less damaged ships a chance to escape. In the end, the survivors surrender to Thirsk.
Merlin sends a message to Koryn Gahrvai, head of the Corisandian Guard, providing the location of the Northern Conspiracy. (Merlin has told Gahrvai and the Regency Council that he has a network of seijuns. This explains how he can deliver messages using remote devices while not physically present.) The Corisandian Guard and the Imperial Marines raid the northern city of Telitha and arrest the conspirators.
The ships built by the Temple Lands and the Harchong Empire are stationed in Hsing-Wu’s Passage, to the north on continent of Haven. They need to be deployed before the winter freeze. These countries have not been able to produce enough ships’ guns. The Group of Four consider whether to send the ships to the west, and then south to Dohlar, or to the east, and then south to Desnair, either of which countries have manufactured sufficient guns.
Charis learns through Merlin’s surveillance devices that the captains have been given orders to head for Desnair, but that this is a ruse, and they will be redirected to Dohlar at the last minute. From Dohlar, the most logical targets will be Chisholm and Corisande. So Charis sends most of their naval vessels off to defend Chisholm and Corisande.
But then when the Temple Lands ships (called the Navy of God) and the Harchong ships set off, Merlin realises that they are heading for Desnair after all. (The Group of Four had concluded that Charis must have an extensive spy network, and had planted the story of redirection to Dohlar as misdirection.) The Charisian Empire do not have enough ships in position to attack the enemy fleet or to defend Old Charis. Some of the available ships head out to meet the enemy, while others head back to Old Charis to collect the newly developed explosive shells. Charis is badly outnumbered and will have to rely on luck and their better naval skills.
How Firm a Foundation (2011)
[Title comes from the hymn “How Firm a Foundation”.]
Merlin had previously noticed energy sources underneath the Temple. These may be high technology detection devices from the original settlement. (For this reason he hasn’t dared to plant surveillance devices inside the Temple.) He is also aware of the kinetic platform in orbit which had bombarded the Alexandria Enclave, and wonders whether evidence of advanced technology might set it off again. He performs an experiment in the remote Castaway Islands, setting up several steam engines. So far there is no reaction from the kinetic platform, or the devices under the Temple, but he decides to wait.
Steam power would be beneficial to Charisian industry. Another potential obstacle is Father Paityr Wylsynn, responsible for ensuring that new inventions do not violate the Proscriptions of Jwo-jeng. He has not yet been included into the inner circle, and the truth about the Archangels could destroy his faith, and make him turn away from the Church of Charis.
Paityr Wylsynn arrives to inspect the foundry of Ehdwyrd Howsmyn, where all the iron smelting occurs for ships and ships’ armaments. All the new inventions used by the foundry had previously been submitted to, and approved by, Wylsynn, as being acceptable under the Proscriptions. But the massive scale these innovations have been put to disturbs him – these would not have been acceptable to Mother Church. He finds himself in something of a crisis of faith: by being part of the Church of Charis, and opposed to Mother Church, is he still being faithful to God?
In Zion City, the Group of Four, but especially Clyntahn, are upset about the Navy of God’s defeat in the Marovian Sea (in the battle at the end of “A Mighty Fortress”). The Church had poured millions of marks into the shipbuilding, and now they have to rebuild. They will need to increase taxes and sell off Church-owned property. They also need to figure out the secret weapon Charis used to cause ships to explode.
Sharleyan, with baby Alahnah, and Merlin, travels by ship from Chisholm to Zebediah, to administer justice to the treasonous Tohmys Symmyns, Grand Duke of Zebediah.
In Talkyra, Delferahk, Irys and Phylip Ahzgood (Earl of Coris) are starting to think that Cayleb may not have been responsible for Prince Hektor’s death, and that Charis may not be as black as Mother Church is painting them. Coris has a group of Corisandian guards who are faithful to him, who have the responsibility for protecting Irys and Daivyn. He warns Tobys Raimair, the commander of his guard, to watch out for assassins, not necessarily from Charis. The Group of Four might be inclined to stir up resentment in Corisande against Charis.
Ahzhelyk Phonda has arrived in Siddar City, in the Republic of Siddarmark. She has reinvented herself as Aivah Pahrsahn, a wealthy society lady. She meets with Archbishop Zhasyn Cahnyr, to plan their encouragement of the Reformist movement.
Greyghor Stohnar is the Lord Protector, the elected ruler of the Republic of Siddarmark. He is not popular with Zhaspar Clyntahn, who considers the Republic not sufficiently under Church’s control. But Siddarmark is one of the world’s wealthiest nations, important to the economy of Safehold, so until now Clyntahn hasn’t taken action against it. The embargo is in place preventing Charisian vessels arriving in Siddarmarkian ports, but this is being circumvented by Charisian merchants arriving aboard ships registered to other nations, another factor which irritates Clyntahn. Also there is a growing Reformist movement in the Republic.
In Tellesberg, Paityr Wylsynn visits Archbishop Maikel Staynair, tells him about his crisis of faith, and wonders whether he should leave the priesthood. Staynair reassures him and recommends he take a retreat at Saint Zherneau’s.
Wylsynn finds the experience at Saint Zherneau’s restful. Meanwhile, the monks of the monastery are considering whether to include him in the inner circle. It seems specially a risk since Wylsynn is a member of the Order of Schueler, that is, the Inquisition.
Cayleb and Nahrmahn return by ship from Chisholm to Old Charis to address the problems arising from their recent victory: large numbers of prisoners of war, captured enemy ships, etc. The captured ships will be added to the Charisian Navy, and more men need to be recruited to crew them.
Paityr Wylsynn meets again with the Archbishop. Cayleb is present, and Merlin arrives; he has come by skimmer.from Sharleyan’s ship near Corisande. They tell Wylsynn the truth about Safehold’s origins; he finds it overwhelming, and a blow to his faith.
Wylsynn tells them that his family has a tradition that they are descended from the Archangel Schueler. He possesses two artifacts: the Stone of Schueler (a lie detector) and the Key. When combined they project images and play back sound (including the voice of Schueler). Merlin concludes that the Key is a data storage device. The Key can be used on an altar in the Temple to call for help from the Archangels if Safehold is in danger. The “Vision of Schueler” predicts the Archangels will return 1,000 years after the Creation (the settlement of the planet).
After this, Wylsynn spends a further period of time at Saint Zherneau’s to think through his new understanding. This leads to acceptance, and freeing up his insistence that inventions should comply with the Proscriptions.
In Siddar City, Siddarmark, Byrk Raimahn, lives with his grandparents, expatriate Charisians, who had moved to Siddarmark because they didn’t agree with the Charis’s break with Mother Church. Byrk is one of the young men who are admirers of Aivah Pahrsahn, who gather round her at her parties. But Byrk is also secretly a Reformist, and a follower of Aivah.
There is a sizable Charisian community in Siddar City. Some have been there for some time, as merchants. Others arrived when Charis broke with the Temple. There are divisions amongst the Charisian community: some are Temple loyalists, some Reformists. Some disagree with Charis’s break with the Temple, but are also unhappy with what the Group of Four are doing.
Many of the Siddarmarkians are antagonistic towards the Charisians living in their country. They see them all as heretics, and also think they are taking the jobs of local people. Sailys Trahskat, an expatriate Charisian who has a labouring job, has had locals throw stones or rotten fruit at him, calling him a heretic.
In Dohlar, Gwylin Manthyr and his men are imprisoned in hulks in Gorath Bay. They are treated badly, and although Earl Thirsk has done his best to treat them honourably, their guards regard them as heretics, and undeserving of proper treatment. They are suffering ill health, injuries, poor diet, and some of the men are dying.
Then Thirsk is ordered to deliver the prisoners to the Inquisition. This means of course that they will be tortured to death. Thirsk is not happy about this, and believes it dishonourable to treat prisoners of war, who have surrendered, like this. But Bishop Staiphan Maik, who sympathises with him, warns him that if he does not obey, Thirsk and his family could receive the same punishment. Thirsk apologises to Manthyr, but complies with his orders. Gwylym Manthyr and his men are delivered to Inquisition, to be transported across country to the Temple in uncomfortable wagons. The Inquisition and guards treat the prisoners badly: they are already sick, injured and starved, and the guards beat them. They are displayed to residents of towns along the way, as an example of what happens to heretics.
Sharleyan has continued on from Zebediah to Corisande. She sits in judgement on the members of the Northern Conspiracy and their supporters. They have already been tried and convicted in Corisandian courts; she only has to sentence them. The main group are sentenced to death. Some of the supporters are pardoned when there are mitigating circumstances.
A radical Temple Loyalist makes his way into Sharleyan’s courtroom, and fires a gun at Sharleyan. Merlin shoots him dead, but had delayed slightly because of confusion due to the size of the crowd. Sharleyan is only saved by her high tech clothing (produced by Owl) which had deflected the bullet, but she has bruising and broken ribs. But the Corisandian Regency Council and Captain of Guard do not know this, and think the shot must have missed. Sharleyan continues with the day’s sentencings, although she is in some pain. Afterwards Merlin escorts her back to her bedchamber. (After the sentencings are complete, she heads back to Tellesberg, to join her husband.)
Clyntahn believes he needs to stir up resistance in Corisande to the Charisian regime and plans the assassination of Prince Daivyn, intending to blame it on Charis. He believes Earl Coris will go along with this plan.
Without warning, Gunpowder Mill #3 in Old Charis blows up, killing 100 staff members. In Tellesberg, Cayleb and his advisers try to work out what happened. Owl’s SNARCs had only been positioned to observe the explosions from afar. But from the timing of the explosions Nahrmahn believes that it was sabotage rather than an accident. But how had a Temple Loyalist got into the Mill through the tight security?
The palace of Talkyra, Delferahk, takes delivery of a cage of 6 wyverns, intended as a birthday present for Daivyn, from Earl Anvil Rock in Corisande. (Wyverns are indigenous creatures to Safehold, similar to birds, and occur in many varieties. Many occur in the wild, and some are domesticated and used for hunting or to send messages.) The delivery man is a smuggler called Ahbraim Zhevons (yes, this is actually Merlin, in his alternative persona). Earl Coris discovers a note hidden in a hollow bar of the cage. The wyverns are ostensibly for use by Daivyn for hunting; in actual fact they are for sending messages to Tellesberg.
The Charisian Navy attack the Desnairian Empire. So far Desnair has not engaged in battle with Charis. But they have built a large fleet of ships in their shipyards in Iythria. The Desnairian ships take up a defensive position in the Inner Harbor of the Port of Iythria. There are fortresses on the shoals on either side of main channel. But, besides the explosive shells, Charis has a new weapon, specially built ships with high-angled guns, able to fire shells over the fortress walls. There is a long-fought battle, but eventually Charis wins. Duke Kholman surrenders the city, and the Charisians destroy the shipyards and all military facilities.
An agent of the Inquisition explodes a wagonfull of gunpowder as the Archbishop’s carriage passes, in Gray Wyvern Avenue in Tellesberg. The Archbishop wasn’t in it, but Earl Gray Harbor and Bishop Hainryk Waignair were, so they are killed, as well as hundreds of people nearby. The many injured are being treated at the nearby Saint Marzhory’s Hospital.
Previously Baron Wave Thunder, the Councillor for Intelligence, had broken up all the Inquisition’s spy networks in Old Charis. Cayleb and his advisers conclude that there must be agents of the Inquisition working alone, with instructions from the Temple, who don’t communicate with each other in the field. The gunpowder must have been taken from the Powder Mill which exploded, and that explosion must have been an inside job.
In the days that follow, there are several additional explosions of wagons of gunpowder in the Charisian Empire, killing many people. Nahrmahn is killed in his home city of Eraystor, Emerald. The Charisian government puts in place security measures and inspections, and all carriers of freight must be licensed. Merlin captures a man about to set off another explosion, and the man is questioned. He reveals that he is part of “Operation Rakurai”, with orders from the Temple to set off explosions to kill key people in the Charisian government and the Church of Charis.
In Siddar City, news is coming to Aivah Pahrsahn and Zhasyn Cahnyr of violent action by extreme Temple Loyalists throughout Siddarmark. Some of these seem to be supported the Inquisition’s representatives in Siddar City. Maybe this is part of a Republic-wide operation by the Inquisition.
The Lord Protector and his advisers are coming to a similar conclusion. In fact he wonders whether the Grand Inquisitor is planning a coup against the Siddarmarkian government.
In Talkyra, Delferahk, Earl Coris tells Irys he believes Zhaspar Clyntahn, not Cayleb, ordered Prince Hektor’s murder, and gives his reasons. Coris has received orders from the Inquisition to clear the way for a team of assassins (Charisian-born) to kill Daivyn.
In Tellesberg, Merlin has picked up the surveillance of the Coris and Irys’s conversation, and that they have sent a messenger wyvern to seek asylum from Charis.
Admiral Sir Dunkyn Yairley, on the Charisian ship Destiny receives secret orders. His squadron must head to Sarmouth Keep in Delferahk and destroy it. In actual fact, this is intended as cover for a party of men travelling by boat up the Sarm River to rescue Coris, Ivy and Daivyn.
Merlin receives surveillance reports from Owl of the team of assassins travelling across country; they are moving quicker than expected. He pays a visit to Earl Coris, in his persona of Ahbraim Zhevons. He tells Coris that he is a seijin, an associate of Merlin, rather than a smuggler, as he appeared on his last visit. Charis will accept their request for asylum, provided they “go public” on Clyntahn’s involvement in the effort to assassinate Daivyn, and hand over any evidence they have on implicating him in Prince Hektor’s assassination. He tells Coris about the rescue party who would be coming up the Sarm River. Coris, Irys and Daivyn would have to ride on horseback across country to meet them.
In Siddarmark there is a sudden uprising of the Temple Loyalists, attacking Charisians and Reformists, killing and destroying property. This is Clyntahn’s “Sword of Schueler” operation. Byrk Raimahn and his grandparents flee from their home. Sailys Trahskat, and his wife and children, are attacked by three men. Trahskat fights back with his baseball bat (from his time in the Tellesberg Krakens team) and kills them all.
Greyghor Stohnar, Lord Protector, waits at the Palace for the attack to come. The uprising had been a surprise, both in timing and size, and his guard seems inadequate.
A group of Charisians, including the Raimahns and the Trahskats, flees through Siddar City. Byrk sends the women, children and elderly men on to Aivah Pahrsahn’s address, while the able-bodied men prepare to defend against the attackers. But then another group of men arrive to attack the Temple Loyalists, a group with military precision and bayoneted rifles, shouting the Charisian Marine war cry. The Temple Loyalists in Siddar City are defeated, and the Lord Protector is saved.
Aivah Pahrsahn emerges from the troops to meet the Lord Protector. She had recruited several former Charisian Marines, who had been secretly training up men loyal to the current regime. She had been providing funds for the latest weapons and a commercial farm as a location for the training.
The rescue party from Destiny‘s squadron travel up the Sarm River. They’re attacked by Delferahkan troops. Some of the Charisians are killed or injured. Lieutenant Hektor Aplyn-Ahrmahk finds himself in charge. (Hektor has appeared quite a few times in the series, mostly as a crewman on Destiny. He had been adopted into the Charisian Royal Family for his services to King Haarahld before the king’s death in “Off Armageddon Reef”.) Aplyn-Ahrmahk sends the wounded men back down the river.
In Talkyra, Delferahk, Coris’s guardsmen have received indications of unusual movements between the office of Colonel Sahndahl, commander of the Royal Guard, and the office of the Inquistion’s representative to Talkyra. Then Merlin arrives on the scene (as himself this time) dressed in his Charisian guard uniform. Merlin has learned that the Bishop has ordered Colonel Sahndahl to take Coris’s guards into custody and replace them with the King’s guard, under the command of the inquistor, as supposed protection for Irys and Daivyn.
Sahndahl arrives at the tower, where the Corisandians are staying, with 45 Royal guardsmen and 5 inquisitors. Merlin kills about half the guard, with guns enhanced by Owl. The others flee.
The Corisandians plus Merlin flee on horseback. But the word is out for Delferahkan troops to capture them. Merlin takes the spare horses and acts as a decoy.
But one Delferahkan colonel suspects a diversion, and sends a detachment of men to wait at the river. The ambush would have been successful, except that Aplyn-Ahrmahk and his men had previously arrived and are in hiding, and ambush the Delferahkans in turn. So Coris, Irys and Daivyn escape and are taken down river in the boats, to Destiny, to be delivered to Tellesberg.
Siddarmark is in a state of civil war. Old Province, which contains the capital, is retained by the Lord Protector. Some of the provinces are held by Temple Loyalists, some by forces loyal to the Lord Protector, some are in dispute. The harvest was lost due to the fighting, and winter is coming. Outside the capital, the Charisian communities are effectively wiped out. Reformist churches have been burned.
Midst Toil and Tribulation (2012)
[Title comes from the hymn “The Church’s One Foundation”.]
Like a Mighty Army (2014)
[Title comes from the hymn “Onward, Christian Soldiers”.]
Hell’s Foundations Quiver (2015)
[Title comes from the hymn “Onward, Christian Soldiers”.]
At the Sign of Triumph (2016)
[Title comes from the hymn “Onward, Christian Soldiers”.]