Through the Cracks Ch4 bit – Honor

“You were that scared of him and you asked questions?” Karal blurted.

“It’s what I do, young man.” Sejanes’ wry smile took the sting from the words. “I’d seen something remarkable. Impossible. Something that could change every assumption the Empire had about Yamato and its people. Of course I asked questions! While we were packing every last essential and Imperial dependent to clear out on the next possible ship to Chi’in,” he added wryly. “Longest month of my life.”

Kerowyn leaned back, eyes half-shut and waiting. “So what did you find out?”

“Enough to make sleep rare and precious.” Sejanes sighed. “You have no idea what’s landed in your lap, Captain. Battousai’s not a hitokiri. He is the hitokiri. The shield of the Ishin Shishi. Katsura’s right hand. The Shogunate’s nightmare. Their swordsmen couldn’t touch him. Their priests couldn’t curse him. Their spies couldn’t find him – and onmitsu are good, Captain; good as any Herald-spy.” He shook his head. “The Ishin Shishi would strike. The Shinsengumi would chase them. And one man – only one – would step between them. Survivors said the last you saw were eyes like flame, and the last you heard was a challenge: Go back the way you came, or die.

Karal buried his fingers in Altra’s fur. “He let them go?”

“If they ran. If they weren’t between his people and escape.” The mage wove his fingers together. “The last week I was there, one of the guard barracks was completely wiped out. Thirty men dead in less than an hour, five Ishin Shishi prisoners gone – and no sign of anyone but a single swordsman.” Sejanes smiled wryly. “Rumor was, those Shinsengumi had gotten their hands on Katsura. Temporarily.”

Kerowyn pursed her lips in a silent whistle. “You admire him.”

“I would have taken him for the Empire’s service in a heartbeat,” Sejanes confessed. “That skill, that honor, in Tremane’s hands? We could have-” His breath caught.

“Used him, as Katsura did?” Karal said softly.

“Ha.” Sejanes’ bark of laughter was bitter, and sad. “I knew you’d see it, young man. I knew you, if anyone, would see it.”

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44 thoughts on “Through the Cracks Ch4 bit – Honor

  1. “Precisely why this one was hoping to keep a low profile.”

    :Probably would have pulled it off if you didn’t have to keep saving people from attention-grabbing idiots.:

    “One is quite aware of that, Sano.”

    :Grumpy.:

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      1. 1. Sejanes has political skill. He gets the decision maker and the guy who will see what he wants seen in the same meeting, no one else who will complicate things, and a different legitimate reason to have that group meet.
        2. Kero is the decision maker. She seems essentially a minister whose portfolio is this specific family of problems. (There’s another related problem group that Kaoru is working on under Talia’s remit.) I am reminded of Barrayar’s Auditors, except those are regular compared to Heralds.
        3. Kenshin does not fully understand Valdemar’s power structure.
        4. I do not understand it. We’ve got the equiarchy, the monarchy, the aristocracy, and one presumes a bureaucracy. One assumes that the aristocracy isn’t entirely vestigial, but I do not recall the aristocrats having enough control over fiefdoms to rebel. Herald ability to get funding and military support suggests a centralized bureaucracy. I’ve vague recollection of non-Herald ministers. The Heralds seem to be functionally a secret police, and perhaps a theocracy. (Who send the spirits which animate the Companions? Are not the Companions a major part of the ideology that makes Heralds Heralds?) I’m a dull plodding sort, so the way the Heralds move portfolios around would be very confusing for me.

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      2. If anyone understands Valdemar’s power structure, I wish they would tell me. There’s supposed to be Queen, Heraldic Circle advising her, and a Council of nobles and major merchant types. As far as I know. How it works bureaucracy wise? Very skimpy details.

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      3. (Pulls out her copy of Closer to Home) As far as I can tell, the mundane paper-pushing work is done under the Seneschal, who is in charge of the Treasury, and who supervises the supplies and clerky stuff for the Guard and the Heralds, who seem like most of the civil-servicey types. The Seneschal also seems to supply the funds for spy work and information gathering, but the person running the networks seems to vary (probably follows aptitude). In the Collegium and Herald Spy series it’s the former King’s Own, but in Honor it’s the Weaponsmaster.

        The crown seems to have control over the army and the guard, and the right to levy troops from their nobles and do conscription if necessary.

        Individual towns in Valdemar seem to vary between two types- those that are run by noble liege-lords directly, and those that elect their own representatives and have their own internal bureaucracy that’s more or less independent of the crown, but subject to royal authority. I get the impression that most towns in Valdemar outside of Haven just aren’t that big, since you would think they would have dedicated Heralds like Haven does if so.

        Nobles seem to be running off a modified feudal system, in that they get income from farmers and miners and what-have-you on their lands. They administrate their estates with their own officers. They have to pay taxes to the crown. They do _not_ get to determine their own law, which is done by the crown. Basic judicial stuff may be done by a town official, a magistrate, or by a Herald, who seems to fill the role of an Appeals judge in that they are a higher authority and do a bit of everything when it comes to dispute resolution (ex. determining land boundaries, rehearing cases where the parties want a second opinion, I would assume asset distribution in divorce/wills cases). What they get out of being attached to Valdemar as vassals is probably part security (in that we hear several times in the Collegium/Spy series that people can petition to become part of Valdemar) and part infrastructure and trading. The roads and bridges are apparently maintained by the crown via the Guard outposts. Towns are noted as being able to _leave_ too, but they also lose all those nice benefits of being protected and Healers and Bards won’t go to them due to danger.

        You actually see some of the basic Circuit work in the Collegium series, plus the relations between noble houses.

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      4. IIRC, in the Exile books it was made clear that the Monarch’s Own would be running the spy rings… only he was a bit preoccupied by having one foot in the Havens.

        Thanks for the Closer to Home info, I have to admit I haven’t read the latest Valdemar installments after “Take a Thief” drove me batty.

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  2. I think it’s because they spread the details over a fair amount of books, but what it looks like is that most of Valdemar(except the oldest sections) is basically a confederacy of small nations and what used to be small nations(who get absorbed in, but keep basically their leaders, just with the royal family put into place above them). So, nobility in their own lands and in their own right are pretty much the bureaucracy, which would normally be a recipe for feudal level disaster except! there’s more then a few safety valves built in, one being Heralds can very rarely inherit(and as far as I know, even that requires a vote) so they’re outside the nobility and the common folk(and for their position, comparing them to Imperial Auditors isn’t a bad one, just more aware they can screw up) Also, while it’s not commonly known exactly what Companions are, and they can make mistakes, they do pretty much stop the Herald Circle as a whole from being corrupt.

    What really is amusing is probably the biggest reason that they’re functioning isn’t really the Heralds(though that helps!), it’s the Bards and the Collegium system as a whole. With the way it’s set up, every single Bard, Healer, and most of the Guard(Army) officers get trained in one place, to the same standard, and mix in with people from all over the nation. And the Bards are responsible for making sure everyone gets an education(As it’s mandatory education, oddly enough, for every child. Has been for a long time.)

    Honestly, I’d almost like a Bardic book, as that part of the setting gets mostly glossed over, but with Bardic Gifts and spy/information training, they’re a rather scary part of it.

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      1. It’s rather easy to get away with not doing mandated stuff if nobody is checking up on it.

        Or they don’t realize that when the local in-charge person assures them that “everyone that should is getting their education” that they might not be intrepreting “should” the same way.

        And if, once again, the Wiki is accurate, Holderkin have good reason (to their minds) to avoid that general education. Because someone might challenge the status quo. Because educated people tend to ask annoying questions like “Why?”

        Plus they tend to be very hostile to any “outsiders”

        In “Foundation,” the main character overhears a full Herald saying this:

        “Holderkin!” the first man groaned. “Oh, blessed gods, may I never have to ride that circuit again. Even with that briefing – they are as touchy as a hive of hornets, and you would think that I was the enemy, not the Karsites!”

        (the two Heralds were discussing the need for the Collegium – one of them was against it because the Trainees weren’t as supervised but had to concede that they were getting a lot of Chosen without even a basic education because of things like a lot of small kingdoms had decided to become part of Valdemar were of the opinion that pig ignorance was the proper lot of peasants plus situations in Valdemar and Heralds on circuit don’t have time to be training four or more Trainees plus doing their own work especially if one of them has to get the basis of reading and writing first . . .)

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      2. Oof! That fits.

        …Though honestly, you have to wonder how Holderkin could get away with marrying off 13-year-olds, flat out. That has horrible, horrible health effects, and I can’t imagine any reputable Healer not raising a truly unholy rage about that to the Crown, flat out.

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      3. Actually, they were doing the minimum. That’s why Talia knew how to read, write, and do her sums. It’s also why they actually had to work with the council to pass that they also had to talk about Companion’s choice.

        Also, most of the time, it’s the Bard’s job to double check. Given the Holderkin seem to be set up to be as hostile to them as much as any Puritan society would likely explain why they got away with it for some time.

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      4. *Nod* Well, the Bards ought to take a lesson from similar problems in the New England colonies. There were actors who kept themselves fed by giving lectures on various subjects – agriculture and other nonpolitical stuff among them.

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      5. Holderkin worldbuilding has always been a hot mess. I mean, if they kept the kids so ignorant, how was Talia so familiar with Vanyel’s story? Herald, mage, and gay is what Holderkin kids learn about as a popular hero? Even if they are sneaking the knowledge?

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      6. Re Talia’s book of Vanyel’s story – if I recall correctly, she got it from a trader via the brother that encouraged her. Let me just quickly check….

        A peddler gave it to her. Now, whether that peddler was a Valdemaran agent or not….

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Valdemar having a confusing power structure is the realistic part. The part where the author repeatedly handwaves serious issues that would legitimately cause problems is what always annoys me.

      The bit where they have a council of all the religions, and everybody has to elect a “Father Patriarch” to represent all religions to the queen, is just ridiculous. Not even the Romans tried that one. They had the pontiff maximus, but he was just the head priest of the state religion because somebody had to do all the ritual stuff like never touching the ground. He certainly wasn’t secretary of religion.

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      1. Question: If Yamato has eight million gods, how many shintai clones did the refugees bring? Do shrines of different Kami count as different cults as far as representation in the council goes?

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      2. Heh! “Eight million”, as I understand it, is poetic shorthand for “infinite in number”. As for shintai – they brought clans from Kyoto. I’d be surprised if the amount of family shrines didn’t cover quite a few kami. Not to mention if they found any new ones where they moved, yet… 😉

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      3. Mwahaha… yup, they sure could. (And some flavors of Japanese Shinto and Buddhism are really, really different from each other. Not to mention what esoteric cults may have emerged under the pressure of disruption and exile.)

        And they would probably want to worship the kami of their new country, too, or get to know the small kami of the neighborhood. Which would probably include vrondi and other elementals, at least as herald beasts working for gods or favored by gods.

        The “No one true way” stuff is very Nineties, but in a free society, it is not helpful. A free society needs its people to practice their beliefs with enthusiasm and fervor, limited only by stuff that breaks the peace or the civic law. Religions need the society to give them space and not meddle, without giving undue weight to one or another religion as long as everybody is a good citizen and not coercive. But then religions have to be free to compete on a level playing field, with plenty of info available to all. Valdemar handwaves this a lot, not even showing the struggle inherent in pitting different good values against each other. The Karse thing is handwaved by the local god showing and changing things, but that is hardly an answer on a practical basis.

        Valdemar doesn’t want a single established state religion because lots of deities collaborated on Companions and Heralds. But they do have a state religion that keeps popping out Companions, whether or not they let the chapel go to ruin. The books seem determined not to talk about who the deities are, although they do talk about the holy days. They also don’t seem to have much interest in having moral teachings (except the legal code for using mind magic) or having proverbs or wisdom teachings. There are no philosophers, even though that is a big thing in polytheistic and medieval societies, and you don’t get math or engineering without lots of philosophers. There’s not much teaching the Heralds objective info about the religions of Valdemar, for that matter.

        Finally, it is weird that almost nobody but Holderkin-related people grapple with philosophical monotheism, which most polytheistic societies have somewhere in their religious systems (although a dearth of philosophers will probably do that). Even if you have a gaggle of good gods, somebody usually made the world or heads the celestial bureaucracy, with other gods subordinate. There are some dubious comments about the Light expressing itself through different outlets, but that is about it.

        Also, I found it pretty funny that Valdemarens criticized the Empire for having imperial deification and ancestor worship in lieu of gods, when they have their ancestors -running Valdemar- as Companions and reincarnated Heralds. I mean, really.

        Liked by 2 people

      4. Of course, the generic “scholars” that we hear about might include philosophers, and some of the libraries seem to include wisdom lit. But in general, Valdemar is not a place for intellectual curiosity outside the approved bounds.

        Oh, and there is one book that mentions “print” and another that mentions cheap art “etchings” (the beginning of Owlflight), but nobody seems to be doing much with them. Which argues a young technology, possibly magical in nature.

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      5. Japanese woodcut prints are crazy on the colors, too, which was something European printers skipped as too hard until pretty late. With the incunabula and other early prints, they had assistants color in a black ink picture outline, just like illuminators in book manufactories often had their assistants do. (Often done in the back of the bookshop. More money paid meant deluxe binding and lots of colors painted in.)

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      6. And one more thing – without much sacred literature or pan-continental secular classic poetry to want copies of, and without philosophers and religious figures arguing long distance through pamphlets and books, there is not much incentive for a book culture; so it can’t do much to encourage a print culture.

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      7. I considered describing Heralds as a cult in my ‘WTF is the government of Valdemar’, but decided that would be too abrasive, argumentative and inconclusively backed by the evidence. This fic heavily mentions a common Herald willingness to sacrifice their lives for the Herald cause. What are the beliefs that enable this? Are they picked as susceptible to Herald ideology when young, then brought up to it under the influence of their companions, or are they picked because their pre-existing beliefs of whatever variety have developed that quality?

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      8. Agreed on the Annoying Handwave. You want a council of all religions to pick just one guy to talk to the monarch? *Dies of sarcastic laughter* Can you just imagine the many varieties of Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and other faiths in the U.S. trying to pick just one guy to talk to Congress?

        Nope. Not gonna happen.

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  3. Lackey is of a generation of fantasy writer that has most likely done a fair amount of research into medieval details. IRL, there were a fair amount of charter/free towns who had paperwork from a monarch or other prince granting them independence of local nobility. No little friction there.

    Thinking like a jerk, there are other reasons beyond size to deny non-capital cities a permanent division of an organization that does what Heralds do. Empire building. Haven is the royal stronghold of power. If other cities rivaled it in size, and had headquarters administering Heralds, the Heralds could potentially be factionalized. Or, in times of decreasing Herald numbers, hold on to Heralds that could be sent elsewhere to serve the Crown’s needs.

    Back to Cracks while the present is likely legally ambiguous, the question is raised whether the Yamato settlement is going to be independent of Valdemar, a holding of Yamagata or Shimazu as Valdemaran nobles, or a charter town.

    More generally, is Valdemar designed to be a shambolic mess that needs Heralds in order to not explode? Doesn’t matter, as long as there are Heralds, it is good story fodder. I feel better about sticking Heralds into that Exalted/WH40k inspired administrative nightmare, and have more ideas for making things worse.

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    1. *G* These are good points; I suspect Yamagata wants to push for independent, his Edoko want a charter town, and they might end up with a noble holding just so Selenay can make sure everyone’s clear on how the chain of clan loyalties gets sorted out. Because that is a headache.

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  4. The holderkin aren’t monotheistic, though. There are people mentioned who are(The People of the Book, Karse and the Sunpriests as a whole, various small towns in other series(Kethry’s hometown and Lady of a Thousand Faces, for instance), but yes, as a series that relies a lot on divine intervention, there isn’t a lot about religion until you get to a)Tarma or b)Karal.

    And it’s pretty clear Heralds are people selected because they put the good of other people first and are extremely self sacrificing(Actually came up in Arrows). Heck, this may explain a lot about why the religions are so quiet, most of their possible priests are actually selected as Heralds. Also, there’s clearly some sort of divine agreement in place, we just have no idea what it was given the characters don’t, other then the story about the first king and how they got Companions.

    I honestly think the major part of the issue with worldbuilding is that all of our viewpoint characters never really engage in it(For instance, it’s offhandingly mentioned that there’s a major Religions course, but it only comes up once and we only get a glimpse of it), and that, annoyingly, the vast majority of our viewpoint characters are basically either teenagers or people who have no reason to look into this stuff. (Another reason if she ever does the Sun and Shadow book, I’m picking it up for the darn worldbuilding.)

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    1. Heh, then I totally forgot the worldbuilding, which is not the author’s fault.

      Actually, philosophical atheism would be a possible. “Gods are just superpowered magical beings, whom we have to respect lest they zot us or we mess up good plans; but we should not worship them.”

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    1. Guards usually do get the short end of the shaft in fantasy stories . . .

      Kind of a shame that the Heralds’ don’t work with the Guard more of the time. Assigning a Herald to a patrolling unit of Guards would have some neat advantages – rapid communication, the Herald has back-up when they run into trouble, etc.

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      1. They aren’t much involved in most stories, but there has been mention of Heralds assigned to the Guards, even when Valdemar isn’t on a war footing.

        Essentially, the Guards seem to be militia/local cops. The Heralds are the adjudicators/messengers/spies/consciences of the people. There certainly aren’t enough Heralds to go around doing the policing jobs, so that’s a big part of what the Guard does.

        The possibility of working with the Guards is mentioned in (just off the top of my head): “FIrestorm”, the LHM trilogy (though that’s more on the war footing side of things, like in Valor), I think it’s mentioned in “By the Sword” (but not certain about that), and it’s mentioned in the Owl trilogy a time or two. I think there are others, but those are the ones that I definitely remember it being mentioned in. Oh, and in “Foundation”, the first of the Collegium series; the Herald who finds Mags often works with the Guard.

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