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Authors: Ian Tregillis

Tags: #Fiction / Alternative History, #Fiction / Fantasy / Historical

The Rising (The Alchemy Wars)

BOOK: The Rising (The Alchemy Wars)
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For Sara, of course

PART I
FRIENDS IN THE GAME

One cannot accomplish as much by well-doing as by having friends in the game.

—B
USINESS PHILOSOPHY OF
K
ILIAEN VAN
R
ENSSELAER, A FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR OF THE
D
UTCH
W
EST
I
NDIA
C
OMPANY

Thos.: They write here one
Cornelius-Son
Huygens hath made the Hollanders
an invisible eel
a metal man to
swim
stalk the
Haven at Dunkirk
Estuary, and sink all th’ shipping there.

Pennyboy Jr.: But how is’t done?

Cymbal: I’ll shew you, Sir. It is an Automa….

—B
EN
J
ONSON
,
T
HE
S
TAPLE OF
N
EWS
,
FIRST PUBLISHED
1631; P
OST
-A
NNEXATION VERSION FIRST PERFORMED CA
. 1693 (
AUTHOR UNKNOWN
)

Q: Why must my mechanical(s) undergo alteration before the ship can set sail? I adhere to the terms of my lease and keep my Clakkers in excellent order!

A: Many leaseholders are surprised and confused by this requirement when they first travel overseas with their
mechanical servants. Rest assured, the requirement is not an indictment of you as a leaseholder. It is a requirement of maritime law, first put forward in a royal decree of 1831. It is a special precaution with the
sole purpose
of ensuring your safety, the safety of your fellow passengers, and the integrity of the vessel. Under certain rare circumstances, standard shipboard operations may subject your mechanical(s) to situations not covered by the standard hierarchical metageasa embedded during their original forging. The nautical metageasa are temporary addenda that ensure all shipboard Clakkers will function properly under all circumstances, no matter how unlikely or unusual.

Q: I’m only traveling for a short time. I don’t want my Clakkers to become bogged down and inefficient because they carry superfluous metageasa.

A: They won’t be. The metageasa for all noncrew mechanicals will automatically and instantaneously revert to their prevoyage conditions upon disembarkation at the destination port.

Q: I lease my servants with my own money. They should be loyal to me!

A: They are, and always will be. The nautical metageasa
in no way
alter the terms of your lease. However, just as safety considerations require human passengers to comply with the instructions of captain and crew, shipboard servants are subject to geasa imposed by the crew. This may, under limited circumstances, delay fulfillment of your own directives.

—E
XCERPT FROM
I
NTRODUCTION TO
N
AUTICAL
M
ETAGEASA FOR
F
IRST
-T
IME
L
EASEHOLDERS
,
A PAMPHLET FOR PASSENGERS OF THE
B
LUE
S
TAR’S
N
ORTH
-A
TLANTIC
L
INE, PUBLISHED BY THE
W
ORSHIPFUL
C
OMPANY OF
S
HIPWRIGHTS
, R
OTTERDAM
(1919)

CHAPTER
1

A
s had become his custom in recent mornings, Hugo Longchamp, captain of the guard of Marseilles-in-the-West, climbed the tallest tower in New France to await the end of the world. Doom had proved slow to arrive. The captain was getting impatient.

Puffs of frozen breath limned his beard with silvery hoarfrost, aging him a year for every step he mounted. The ice beads dangling from his eyelashes lent a kaleidoscopic beauty to the play of torchlight on the slick snow-dusted ribbon of stairs. The winds had dropped with the temperature overnight. So, while Longchamp’s nose had frozen shut the moment he stepped outside, forcing him to breathe through his mouth like a leaky teakettle, at least he didn’t have to contend with breezes eddying around the tower to jiggle the stairs. Or was it too cold for the polymers to retain their elasticity? That was the province of chemists and technicians. Longchamp was neither. He was a soldier.

The twinkle of stars slowly dissolved into the steely gray of a predawn sky. A rosy band ascended from the horizon; it grew brighter, and the stars fainter, each time he completed a circuit
of the helical stairwell. One celestial light did not twinkle; it glowed like a garnet suspended in the Belt of Venus. Mars.

He paused to admire the lights of Marseilles-in-the-West spread before him like votive candles in the narthex of the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Jean-Baptiste. Torchlight dotted the boulevards of the city, hinted at the spindly spokes of avenues and wagon paths, shone from kitchen windows and bakeries, glinted from ice in the basins of dormant fountains, and sparkled on the shore of the Saint Lawrence. A boundary of hard shadow cleaved the tapestry of lights where the city met the seaway. The darkness stretched across the inky waters to envelop the border with Nieuw Nederland and the lands beyond. Where, even now, the enemy stirred.

An orange flare momentarily lit the sky over the river. Fire from a gas burner stoked the envelope of hot air holding a tethered observation balloon aloft. The flames illuminated the balloon’s bulb-shaped canopy like a paper lantern. A few moments later, another flare pierced the darkness a mile downriver from the first. Cold morning; the balloonists would burn through their fuel quickly. Longchamp imagined those mad bastards shivering under layers of fur and grateful for any chance to hold numb hands to the flames if even just for a moment.

He wasn’t alone in his early-morning vigil. In addition to the observation balloons and their airborne watchers, he knew that somewhere far below, wardens shivered in shoreline blinds, their dark-adapted eyes trained across the waters straining for any signs of a tulip incursion. Part of him expected that, any moment, the shriek of a warning whistle would pierce the darkness. A tight ache radiated from the spot between his shoulder blades. Though partly the symptom of a pointless effort to suppress his shivering, the ache had become his constant companion. Even in the warmest barracks his shoulders had taken to hunching in subconscious expectation. It took an
effort of will, and a longtime campaigner’s discipline, to force himself to relax. Only a fool wasted energy on things he could not control.

The enemies would arrive according to their own schedule. No sooner, no later. Their return would be as the Lord’s return: like a thief in the night, the day and hour of their coming unknown to even the wisest of men.

Instantly regretting the thought, Longchamp crossed himself. Only an inherently evil impulse would drive a man to compare the risen Christ to the heretical Dutch and their sacrilegious contempt for the immortal soul. He wasn’t a saint. Just a recidivist sinner, like all men. He made a mental note to include this transgression in his weekly confession. Then he fingered the rosary beads looped around his belt and said a quick prayer to the Virgin, begging her to intercede on his behalf.

His knees creaked like a lych-gate in dire need of oiling when he gained his feet. They never used to do that. Perhaps the aging wasn’t entirely an illusion.

By the time he ascended another revolution of the cloistered spiral stairwell, the sky glow had brightened sufficiently for Longchamp to extinguish his torch. He shouldn’t have used it in the first place; soon the citadel would be under siege discipline, and then they’d all have to get reacquainted with working in the dark. But the stairs of the Porter’s Prayer could be treacherous at the best of times, not to mention when glazed with frost. He couldn’t serve the Throne and the Church with two shattered legs.

The stairs passed beneath the skeletal frame of an unfinished gantry and the tracks of a recently rebuilt funicular. Longchamp’s breath frosted the metal tracks as well as the dark insulation wrapped about the pipes that shunted water ballast between the upper and lower cars. He wondered, not for
the first time, how they kept the ballast water from freezing. They had a thousand little tricks, the storied chemists of New France.

Tricks that had kept the tulips and their mechanical demons at bay for centuries. That alone was a miracle. But they couldn’t keep the upper hand forever. This was the most frightening thought of all, and one he tried to keep to himself: that the long tradition of French chemical innovation would falter, or hit a long plateau, and the precarious balance in their centuries-long arms race with the Dutch would irrevocably shift. One day soon the clockwork tide would once again crash against the outer keep of Marseilles-in-the-West; perhaps this would be the time it swept them away.

The final revolution afforded him a grand view of fallow farmland stretching to the west and north, bordered by leagues of winter-bare yellow birch. The Saint Lawrence flowed to the east and south of Mont Royal, upon whose slopes Marseille-in-the-West sprawled like a lazy cat. Standing atop the Spire always made Longchamp feel as though he could see clear across the world: across New France, across the ocean, all the way to Europe and Old France. Longchamp had never seen Paris, of course; he’d only heard family stories passed down from some great-umpty-great uncle who’d fought for Louis XIV before the Exile.

By now the predawn light was bright enough for him to see the sentries pacing the star-shaped perimeter of the Vauban fortifications hundreds of feet below. His soldiers, the distressingly few men and women who had survived the last siege and the later massacre inside the walls, paced the inner and outer keeps. They looked like a handful of peppercorns sprinkled across the icy perimeter of the Last Redoubt of the Exile King of France. They were too few, the perimeter too great. The forced conscriptions weren’t bringing in new bodies quickly
enough. Longchamp made another mental note, this time to speak to the comte de Turenne, who carried the marshal general’s baton.

A renewed breeze fluttered Longchamp’s beard, drew tears from his eyes, snaked through buttonholes and seams. But the exertion of the climb had warmed him enough that the icy streamers didn’t stipple him with gooseflesh. And later, when he wore armor and fought for his life—and the lives of his people, and his king—he’d be too hot, too exhausted to feel cold. The cold would come after his frail human body had succumbed to the relentless advance of the ticktocking metal horde. He pulled a knit cap over his brow to cover his ears and wiped the wind-tears from his eyes. He squinted to the southeast.

Looking for the telltale glimmer of burnished metal. For the beginning of the war. And, if Longchamp were feeling particularly fatalistic, the beginning of the end.

End? Perhaps. But a long, slow one. And extremely hard-won. The tulips and their clockwork slaves would have to earn their victory.

Mingled scents wreathed his perch atop the Spire. A faint hint of muddiness from the river, woodsmoke from a hundred hearths, the humid weight of impending snowfall. The wind tickled his face not unlike the soft touch of a lady down near the docks with whom he had a passing familiarity. He wondered if he’d have time to see her again before the dying started.
Not killing
, he thought with a sigh; you can’t kill a clockwork. Only deactivate it. And pray to Jesus, and the Virgin, that another didn’t take its place. That the defenses outlasted the metal men.

They’d managed it the last time, though barely. But that was before some fool in New Amsterdam had destroyed the tulips’ brand-new Forge. The first ever built in the New World.

Nobody knew who had done it, but people on both sides of
the border assumed French agents were behind the sabotage. Though why the king or pope would sanction such a blatantly suicidal act of war, nobody could say. The French consoled themselves with the belief that if the destruction of the Forge had been carried out by their own countrymen, it was surely at the behest of the semimythical Talleyrand. Clever, cunning, courageous Talleyrand: hero of dozens of folktales and twice as many songs. Voyageurs passed the miles of their endless treks belting out chansons de geste celebrating the exploits of New France’s trickster hero.

Talleyrand has a plan
, the citizens of New France reassured one another.

Not the present Talleyrand
, thought the captain.
He couldn’t plan his way out of a garderobe without a map and two gallons of axle grease.
They wouldn’t take such spurious comfort in the machinations of a mythical stranger if they’d actually met the inbred ass wart.

Longchamp knew no more than anybody else, but he would have sworn the destruction of the Forge sounded like the handiwork of an exiled and notoriously single-minded former vicomtesse of his acquaintance. A rather stubborn one with an infuriating penchant for overestimating her own cleverness. Whose hubris caused no end of trouble and worse for the people around her. What insanity had driven her to twist the tiger’s tail like that? What game had she in mind? Did she, in fact, have a plan?

But the speculation was pointless. The past was forever in the past. Longchamp could only look forward and prepare for what was to come.

The sun crested the horizon. Sunlight glinted on the jagged crust of ice hugging the riverbanks. Longchamp watched for the glint of newly risen sun to betray the movement of burnished clockworks across the border. When they came, they’d
march straight to the shoreline, and into the water, and under it, and across the riverbed, and burst through the ice as they mounted the French side of the border. They would march and march until they reached the walls of Marseilles.

They would swarm across the Saint Lawrence to occupy and burn the villages and farmhouses along the seaway. They’d swarm through the fishing villages of Acadia, along the Atlantic coast. They’d spread like a disease through the Great Lakes. They’d spread north and taint the shores of Hudson Bay.

But not today. Not yet.

A riot of color greeted the risen sun. The plastic cloister bannisters blazed like braided chains of rubies. Nacreous lacquers in the massive chamber atop the Spire shone with a rainbow swirl of blues, greens, and yellows like a sheen of oil atop a rain puddle. Longchamp adjusted his cap, pulling it lower over his brow to shield his eyes from the glare. The tip of the Spire, where the funicular tracks ended, housed the chambers where the privy council met. And, above that, the king’s apartments.

Winter sunrises came and went without the tumult of birdsong that accompanied mornings other times of year. Most birds had flown south for the winter. No birdsong to serenade the sun; only the whisper of air, the
hiss
of frost under his boots, the
scritch
of scarf and beard. He peered over the railing to the wall of the outer keep far below, where a few dozen new conscripts shivered in the shadows. Their training unfolded with a curious silence, the shouts and crashes and curses dispersed by the chill winter air before they reached Longchamp’s ears. Even the unique—and uniquely dreaded—
chug-chug-chug
of the epoxy cannon compressors was inaudible at this distance. Wisps of vapor wafted from the pressure valves.

It was never a good day when they needed the cannon. Needing the cannon and having nobody to operate them would be catastrophic. Hence the new conscripts. For centuries, every
able-bodied man in New France did three years’ service when he reached majority. But the king hadn’t won any hearts with his edict extending that to women and forcefully conscripting one in every five able-bodied citizens under the age of fifty. Thank the Lord he was smarter than his father, the previous Exile King of Fallen France.

The shivering conscripts circled around the cannon, their breaths forming a line of silvery pennants as the first rays of the rising sun swept down the Spire to graze the walls of the outer keep. Tough as meringue, these recruits. He’d consider it a blessing if even a quarter of the newcomers developed a crumb of usefulness. Merchants were the worst. Fishermen: Now those were folks who knew hard work and didn’t flinch from it. The coureurs de bois, too. The forest runners were tough as moose jerky, and no strangers to hardship. If anything, they reveled in it. He wished the king’s call to arms all Godspeed through the waterways and wilderness of New France, that it might reach the ears of every voyageur, coureur, and trapper in the realm. Some might ignore the call, or pretend they’d not heard it. But Longchamp knew these men; he’d been one of them, for a while. Few would want to return to civilization only to find their contracts nullified, the scrip crumpled in the brassy fist of a mechanical demon, their hard-earned money worth less than a mouthful of a Dutchman’s piss.

The low sun elicited no telltale glinting from the forests and fields on the south side of the Saint Lawrence. No omens. Well, then. It seemed Queen Margreet and her bootlicker colonial governor of Nieuw Nederland didn’t intend to murder the good men and women of New France quite yet. Longchamp could make use of the extra time by polishing a few turds.

He turned his back on the sun and started the long descent to the inner keep.

BOOK: The Rising (The Alchemy Wars)
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