Tuesday, May 23, 2017

"Eagle and Empire"

Alan Smale writes science fiction and fantasy, currently focusing on alternate history and historical fantasy. His novella of a Roman invasion of ancient America, "A Clash of Eagles," won the 2010 Sidewise Award for Alternate History. Clash of Eagles and Eagle in Exile are the first books in a trilogy set in the same universe.

Smale applied the Page 69 Test to Eagle and Empire, book three of The Clash of Eagles Trilogy, and reported the following:
It’s the thirteenth century in a timeline where the Roman Empire has survived in its classical form, and is expanding into Nova Hesperia – our North America. After many desperate battles and even more desperate diplomacy, journeys along the Mississippi in Viking longships, derring-do and general trauma, Roman general Gaius Marcellinus finds himself the central figure in a fragile truce between an invading force of three crack Roman legions – commanded by Emperor Hadrianus III himself – and a Hesperian League of Native American tribes, hastily pulled together to resist them.

And as if things weren’t dodgy enough already, by page 69 of Eagle and Empire it has become widely known that the Mongol Horde – tens of thousands of horse archers – has landed on the western coast and is making its way across the Rockies. Pushed back by Rome in Asia, Genghis Khan seeks to master the resources of Nova Hesperia instead. Familiar with the Asian steppes, the Hesperian Great Plains will be a landscape they understand, a terrain where they have the edge.

So there’s a fair amount of action to come, but page 69 is a quieter moment between Gaius Marcellinus and his adopted Cahokian daughter, Kimimela, fourteen years old. Cahokia is the great city of the Mississippian Culture, boasting 20,000 inhabitants and 120 great earthen mounds, and Marcellinus has developed a number of strong relationships there. Under the circumstances it’s not surprising that some of these are a little tense, and his kinship with Kimimela has always been rocky. Now, approaching page 69, Marcellinus attempts to reconcile before he heads off on another extended trip:
“Kimi, you once told me that I must tell you in person if I planned to leave Cahokia. Well, I am leaving now. Within the week.”

That halted her. She looked up at him, the hurt in her eyes warring with her habitual disdain. “So soon? For how long?”

“Hadrianus is sending me to seek an alliance with the People of the Hand.”
These are the Ancestral Puebloan people who occupied the area we know as Chaco Canyon (sometimes referred to as the Anasazi, although that name is considered insulting and no longer acceptable). Kimimela is naturally concerned, since Marcellinus is a key player in preserving the peace, but also:
Her expression was sour. “And so you will lead Romans again.”

“The [Roman cavalry] come with their own commander. Sextus Bassus.”

“But you will command Bassus, of course.” She looked at him with deep pain. “You are one person to Roma and another to Cahokia. And you always have been.”

“I have never lied to you, Kimimela.”

“Except when it suited you.” She looked away, but at least she did not run from him.

He began to feel irritated. “I could not always tell you all I knew. But neither could you. You knew of Tahtay’s plan to bring the Army of Ten Thousand to the Roman fortresses last year. Did you tell me?[…]Did any of you tell me about that? No, of course not.”

That was different,” she said. “We served Cahokia. You always do what’s best for you.”

His exasperation grew. “Easiest for me would be to serve Roma hook, line, and sinker. Am I doing that?”

She looked at him coolly. “Aren’t you?”

“I’m trying to do what’s best for everyone. Somehow. And ... Holy Juno, Kimi... If I die on this trip, I don’t want harsh words like these to be the last we speak to each other. Not after all this. All right?”

Kimimela grimaced.

Marcellinus might never have the chance to say this again. “Kimimela, I love you. The day I became your father was the proudest...” He swallowed and began again. “You and Sintikala are the most important people in my life. I will do everything I can to keep you safe. Everything. I would die for you. And that is the truth.”

Kimimela closed her eyes. When she opened them again, they were damp and glittering, her face forlorn. Marcellinus’s heart almost broke in that moment. He reached out to her, but she held up her hand. “But what? Always with the Wanageeska there is a ‘but.’ A something-else.”

The silence expanded between them. Kimimela stared into his eyes.

“Very well. But still I have to try to serve both Roma and Cahokia. Keep as many other people alive as possible—both Roman and Cahokian. And prepare to face the Mongol Khan. And so I must go to the southwest. The Imperator believes that he is coercing me to go, but in fact he is right, Kimi. I am the only man for the job. I should go.”
Page 69 ends here. There’s much more to this scene, and an emotional resolution, but that would take us too far.

I'm happy that this is the scene in the book pinpointed by the Page 69 Test, because it highlights Marcellinus’s greatest conflicts in the Clash books: his new friendships and allegiances, his growing understanding of family and community, while still attempting the impossible task of remaining loyal to Rome. It’s a tricky path Marcellinus is trying to walk in his new world of Nova Hesperia, and his Page 69 conversation with Kimimela illustrates that well.
Visit Alan Smale's website.

The Page 69 Test: Clash of Eagles.

The Page 69 Test: Eagle in Exile.

--Marshal Zeringue