When I wrote the summary of this episode for the outline, I was already excited to write it. I knew, beyond a doubt, that it was going to be one of the most exciting and interesting episodes to write, because Vere is such a fascinating character, and we would finally get to spend a significant amount of time in his viewpoint. We’ve had brief snippets in his viewpoint, like in All Cooped Up and No Place to Go, and Fallen Angel, but we’ve never had an episode where the main events of the story revolved around the Guardcaptain. Bread and Steel was going to change that, with a story leveraging his particular talents and traits in service to the peculiar setup of Merolate’s military.
Although I think the episode came out well, it proved more of a challenge to write than I expected, in part because Vere is so distinctive and confident. If Kiluron or Doil had been in charge of the humanitarian expedition to Sankt, we would have had a very different story, but with Vere in charge it was necessary to do things a little differently. He’s a very confident and assertive character, and that meant that he would need a different set of challenges. A simple confrontation between him and the leaders of Sankt would be insufficient for the task, and play too closely to his strengths; I needed a conflict that would play to Vere’s weaknesses. I found it in Drelta.
If you’ve been reading my works for awhile, you’ve probably realized that I have a certain fascination with systems of government, and that I like to take them to various extremes and see where they go. That’s how Merolate became a “Primedom” in the first place – I didn’t want just a typical king-prince-nobility scheme, despite taking advantage of some other fantasy tropes. Looking back at the rivalry between the democratic Athens and the authoritarian Sparta, I thought it would be interesting to play with non-warfare dynamics and conflicts between proponents of those two systems, and Old Sankt, which I deliberately modeled as a sort of Mediterranean style nation-state, seemed the perfect forum. Plus, it would give Vere something to think about; he knows enough history and philosophy from his poetry interest to be dangerous, but he also is far from being an expert, especially on Sankt itself.
The danger, of course, was in making this too polemic. I didn’t want readers to feel like I was proselytizing for a Western-style democratic system of government with Bread and Steel. To help prevent that, and because it made more sense for character and world-building purposes, I made Vere highly skeptical of Sankt’s flirtations with democracy. After all, there are many who would claim that a benevolent dictatorship is the optimal form of government, so it didn’t seem like too much of a stretch, especially for the practical, military-minded, deep-thinking Vere.
Despite its challenges, or perhaps because of them, I think this came out as a good episode. Not a great episode, but a very solid, stand-alone story about Vere, and a part of the Blood Magic world of which we’ve previously learned only very little. I don’t think that we’ll be coming back to Sankt in a significant way any time soon, but I do hope that you’ll enjoy your visit in Bread and Steel.
As the audience chamber doors boomed shut behind Delvun, the ambassador from Old Sankt, Doil’s careful effort to maintain his composure fled. He turned to Prime Kiluron, opened his mouth to speak, closed it again, rephrased, opened his mouth to speak again, and closed it again. He needed to say something diplomatic, because just exclaiming to the Prime that he had made a terrible mistake was not going to help anyone.
He opened his mouth once more, and a noise had actually started in the back of his throat, when Kiluron held up his hand, forestalling Doil’s words. “Before you say anything,” Kiluron said, “let me see if I can do it for you.” Doil shut his mouth, and Kiluron continued, acting as if he were quoting. “’My lord, you’ve made a terrible mistake. I know that you want to help the people on Old Sankt recover from the cyclone, but look at the state of the Union. In less than a year, we’ve lost a Prime, had a war with a demon that included devastation of our existing reserves of natural resources, and suffered from a contaminant that has left our cities reeling. Don’t you pay attention when the ministers are meeting? We’ll be lucky to have enough reserves for the winter, much less extra to give aid to Old Sankt. And yet here you’ve promised them things that we don’t have.’” He paused. “How am I doing so far?”
Doil hesitated. “My lord, I wouldn’t presume to put it quite so baldly…”
Smirking, Kiluron waved him down. “I know. But as it happens, I do actually listen when my ministers meet, or at least I do some of the time. So I do realize that we are hardly as a Union in a position to offer much in the way of aid to anyone. I even remember enough of your briefing to know that Old Sankt is still a political mess, and that we’ll probably never get any kind of benefit from the effort we put in now, and that there’s about no chance that they would come to our aid in the future. Despite all of that, this is not one of the decisions that I’m uncertain about.”
“But why?” Doil asked.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Kiluron replied. “And that’s all there is to it.” Standing, he gestured for Doil to follow him. “That being said, I do realize that just sending aid would probably be a disaster and would ultimately end up helping only a very few people who I’m not particularly interested in helping. That’s why I’m planning to send Vere.”
Doil thought about that for a moment. “That’s…downright politically devious of you, my lord.”
“And here I was just thinking it was a practical way to ensure that the aid gets to the people who actually need it,” Kiluron replied, but Doil could tell he knew he was being political.
As they walked, Doil began running numbers in his head. “It will take some time to put together the supplies and get the crews ready. We’ll probably have to divert some ships from the Nycheril expeditions in order to put this together. Admiral Ferl won’t be pleased about that. It would be convenient if there were a way to divert the ships directly instead of routing everything through the Merolate port, but I don’t think that’s logistically feasible.”
Kiluron smiled. “Thanks, Doil.”
Pausing in making mental lists, Doil looked at him. “Er, for what?”
“Once you knew I’d thought it through and made up my mind, you didn’t keep trying to talk me out of it, and you didn’t keep acting like it was a bad idea. You just jumped right into figuring out how to make it happen.”
“That is my job, my lord,” Doil observed, but he was pleased. He always worried that Kiluron thought he was too critical, and that he could never know enough to really be a good advisor. “I should go put together the necessary teams to ensure that the logistics for this expedition come together appropriately.”
“Good plan,” Kiluron said. “I’ll go tell Vere the good news. He’s been seeming kind of restless recently, so I figure he should be pleased at the chance to get back out into the field again.”
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