I do not own anything that David Weber came up with.
I've been re-reading Weber's "Honor Harrington" series, and of course one of the things that has me writing fanfics is thinking about how things could turn out differently. In this case, I was set to thinking by the disastrous end of the appropriately named Ashes of Victory that set up the renewal of war a few years down the road thanks to the idiocy of Manticore's new government, and this is the result. Around half comes straight from the book, but the ending is extended and very different.
Elizabeth III came to her feet in one supple motion, and her fist slammed down on the conference-room table like a hammer. More than one person in the room flinched, but her new prime minister in place of Allen Summervale, the Duke of Comarty — whose assassination, along with Earl Gold Peak and so many others of Elizabeth's family and friends, had resulted in the fall of her government and its replacement by the so-called 'loyal' opposition — seemed totally unperturbed.
"Your Majesty, this offer must be given deep and serious consideration," High Ridge said into the ringing silence.
"No," Elizabeth repeated, her voice lower but even more intense, and her brown eyes locked on the Prime Minister like a ship of the wall's main battery. "It's a trick. A desperation move."
"Whatever it is, and whatever Citizen Chairman Saint-Just's motives," Foreign Secretary Descroix said in the tone of sweet reason Elizabeth had come to loathe passionately, "the fact remains that it offers a chance to stop the fighting. And the dying, Your Majesty. Not just on the PRH's side, but on our own, as well."
"If we let Saint-Just squirm out now, when we have the power to crush him and his regime, it will be a betrayal of every man and woman who died to get us to this point," Elizabeth said flatly. "And it will also be a betrayal of our partners in the Alliance, who count on our leadership and support for their very survival! There's only one way to insure peace with the People's Republic, and that is to defeat it, destroy its military capabilities, and make certain they stay destroyed!"
"Your Majesty, violence never settled anything," Home Secretary New Kiev said. The countess looked uncomfortable under the scornful glance the Queen turned upon her, but she shook her own head stubbornly. "My opposition to this war has always been based on the belief that peaceful resolution of conflicts is vastly preferable to a resort to violence. If the previous government had realized that and given peace a chance following the Harris Assassination, we might have ended the fighting ten years ago! I realize you don't believe that was possible, but I and many of the others in this room do. Perhaps you were right at the time and we were wrong, but we'll never know either way, because the opportunity was rejected. But this time we have a definite offer from the other side, a specific proposal to end the killing, and I feel we have an imperative moral responsibility to seriously consider anything which can do that."
" 'Specific proposal'?" Elizabeth repeated, and jabbed a contemptuous index finger at the memo pad before her. "All he proposes is a cease-fire in place — which neatly saves him from the loss of Lovat and his capital system — to provide a 'breathing space' for negotiations! And as for this sanctimonious crap about 'sharing your pain at the loss of your assassinated leaders' because the same thing happened to them — !"
Her lips worked as if she wanted to spit.
"The situations certainly aren't precise parallels, but both of us have experienced major changes in government," High Ridge pointed out with oily calm. "While everyone, of course, deeply regrets the deaths of Duke Cromarty and Earl Gold Peak, it's possible that the shift in political realities and perceptions resulting from that tragedy may actually have some beneficial results. I can hardly conceive of Pierre having sent us an offer like this one, but Saint-Just is obviously a more pragmatic man. No doubt it was the change in governments which led him to believe we might seriously entertain the notion of a negotiated settlement. And if that's true, then the final peace settlement would, in a way, become a monument to Duke Cromarty and your uncle, Your Majesty."
"If you ever mention my uncle to me again, I will personally push your face through the top of this table," Elizabeth told him in a flat, deadly tone, and the baron recoiled physically from her. He started to speak quickly, then stopped as an even more deadly hiss came from the treecat on her shoulder. High Ridge licked his lips, eyes locked on Ariel as the 'cat bared bone-white fangs, then swallowed heavily.
"I ... beg your pardon, Your Majesty," he said at last, into the stunned silence. "I meant no disrespect to your — I mean, I was merely attempting to say that the changes on both sides of the battle line, however regrettable some may have been, may also have created a climate in which genuine negotiations and an end to the fighting have become possible. And as Countess New Kiev says, we have a moral responsibility to explore any avenue which can end the enormous loss of life and property this war has entailed."
Elizabeth looked at him contemptuously, but then she closed her eyes and made herself sit once more. Her temper. Her damnable temper. If she had any hope at all of stopping this insanity it was to convince at least a minority of High Ridge's colleagues to support her, and temper tantrums weren't going to do that.
"My Lord," she said finally, her voice almost back to normal, "the point is that there hasn't actually been a change on their side of the line. Didn't you listen to anything Amos Parnell said? Pierre and Saint-Just have been the moving force behind everything that's happened in the PRH since they murdered President Harris and his entire government. This man is a butcher — the butcher of the People's Republic. He doesn't care how many people die; all he cares about is winning and the power of the state. His state. Which means any 'peace proposal' he might extend is no more than a ploy, a trick to buy time while he tries desperately to recover from a hopeless military position. And if we agree to negotiate, we give him that time!"
"I considered that possibility, Your Majesty." High Ridge was still a bit green around the gills, and his forehead was damp with sweat, but he, too, made a deliberate effort to speak normally. "In fact, I discussed it with Admiral Janacek."
He nodded to the new First Lord of the Admiralty, Sir Edward Janacek, and the civilian head of the Navy straightened in his chair.
"I've considered the military position in some detail, Your Majesty," he said with the patronizing air of a professional, although he'd last held a spacegoing command over thirty years before. "It's certainly possible that Saint-Just's motive is, in part, at least, to buy a military breathing space. But it won't do him any good. Our qualitative edge is too overwhelming. Nothing they have can stand up to the new systems developed from Admiral Hemphill's work." He beamed, and Elizabeth ground her teeth together. Sonja Hemphill was Janacek's cousin ... and the First Lord acted as if all of her ideas had come from him in the first place.
"Certainly they haven't been able to stand up to Earl White Haven so far," Elizabeth conceded, enjoying Janacek's wince at the name "White Haven." The enmity between the two admirals went back decades, and it was as bitter as it was implacable. "But who's to say what they can come up with if we give them time to catch their breath and think about it?"
"Your Majesty, this is my area of expertise," Janacek told her. "Our new systems are the product of years of intensive R&D by research people incomparably better trained and equipped than anything in the People's Republic. There's no way they could possibly be duplicated by the PRH in less than four or five T-years. Surely that should be enough time for us to either conclude a reasonable peace settlement or else prove Saint-Just has no intention of negotiating seriously! And in the meantime, I assure you, the Navy will watch them like hawks for any sign of future threats."
"You see, Your Majesty?" High Ridge cut in smoothly. "The risks from our side are minor, but the potential gain, an end to a financially ruinous and bloody war against an opponent whose worlds we have no desire to conquer, is enormous. As Countess New Kiev says, it's time we gave peace a chance."
Elizabeth looked back at him silently, then let her eyes sweep the conference table. One or two people looked away; most returned her gaze with greater or lesser degrees of confidence ... or defiance.
"And if our Allies disagree with you, My Lord?" she asked finally.
"That would be regrettable, Your Majesty," High Ridge acknowledged, but then he smiled thinly. "Still, it's the Star Kingdom which has footed by far the greatest share of the bill for this war, both economically and in terms of lives lost. We have a right to explore any avenue which might end the conflict."
"Even unilaterally and without our treaty partners' approval," Elizabeth said.
"I've examined the relevant treaties carefully, Your Majesty," High Ridge assured her. "They contain no specific bar to unilateral negotiations between any of the signatories and the People's Republic."
"Perhaps because it never occurred to the negotiators who put those treaties together that any of their allies would so completely and cold-bloodedly betray them," Elizabeth suggested conversationally, and watched High Ridge flush.
"That's one way to look at it, Your Majesty," he said. "Another way is to point out that if we succeed in negotiating peace between the Star Kingdom and the People's Republic, peace between the PRH and our allies must also follow. In which case it is not a betrayal, but rather accomplishes the true goal of those treaties: peace, secure borders, and an end to the military threat of the People's Republic."
He had an answer for everything, Elizabeth realized, and she didn't need any signs from Ariel to know that virtually every member of the Cabinet agreed with him. And, she admitted with bitter honesty, her own attitude hadn't helped. She should have kept her mouth shut, controlled her temper, and bided her time; instead, she'd come out into the open too soon. Every one of High Ridge's fellow cabinet members knew she'd become their mortal enemy, and it had produced an effect she hadn't anticipated. The threat she posed to them — the vengeance they all knew she would take as soon as the opportunity offered — had driven them closer together. The natural differences which ought to have been driving them apart had been submerged in the need to respond to the greater danger she represented, and there was no way any of them would break lockstep with the others to support her against High Ridge, New Kiev, and Descroix. And without a single ally within the Cabinet, not even the Queen of Manticore could reject the united policy recommendations of her Prime Minister, her Foreign Secretary, her Home Secretary, and the First Lord of the Admiralty. Oh, theoretically she had the power, but it was a power that no monarch of Manticore had ever exercised — and therefore there was no way to predict if the new precedent would favor the Crown or the Cabinet ... meaning the Lords. And to add the inevitable deadlock of a constitutional crisis now, when the war was at such a critical juncture...
No choice, Elizabeth thought despairingly. We can't afford a constitutional crisis now, however badly this tarnishes our honor ... my honor. If only there was the least hint of a precedent, like Benjamin used to pull off the Mayhew Restoration —
She stilled as her thoughts of the Mayhew Restoration brought another memory to mind, from when her now dead prime minister had reported the events surrounding that Restoration, and then-Captain Honor Harrington that had been at the center of those events. And most particularly, of a piece of vid recording from the bridge of the HMS Fearless — Captain Harrington sitting in the captain's chair with Hammerwell's Salute to Spring pouring from the ship's internal com. Her serenity was obvious in spite of the eye patch, massive bruising, and unnatural stillness of dead nerves covering half of her face thanks to injuries suffered in her desperate defense of Protector Benjamin, as she took her nearly crippled ship on a death ride in a hopeless defense of a world that wasn't hers, all for the honor of her queen ... the honor of Elizabeth. And while Honor had survived that ride to become Steadholder Harrington of Grayson and eventually Duchess Harrington of Manticore, all too many of her crew had not. Elizabeth could not throw away the honor that sacrifice had protected unless there was absolutely no other choice. Was there?
Elizabeth leaned back in her chair, ignoring the shared glances of the members of her Cabinet as she thought furiously. All right, ignore the question of the possible precedent and consider the short-term ramifications for now. If I refuse their united recommendations, how will they respond? For starters, Janacek would use his position as First Lord of the Admiralty to freeze the Alliance's fleets in place, but ... That is what the offer is calling for, anyway. The only difference is that it would be a freeze without the useless negotiations. That isn't actually much of a threat. Would he threaten to abandon systems we already occupy? No. That would be disastrous. High Ridge's 'secret' cache of blackmail files would be able to hold the Conservative Association in line for even that, but there is no possibility of New Kiev and Lady Descroix holding enough of their members in the Lords to keep the government from falling — and with that betrayal Lord Alexander might pick up enough support to form his own government even without the personal contacts lost with Allen's death.
So militarily, no worse than this 'proposal' of Saint-Just's calls for. How about financially? True, the constitutional requirement that all money bills originate in the House of Lords gave them a theoretical edge, bit quick consideration brought her to the same conclusion — her Cabinet might freeze military spending at a level only permitting maintenance of the status quo, but they wouldn't defund the military for the same reason they wouldn't abandon captured systems. No, short term there was nothing they could do that would make the situation worse than it already was.
That left the long term, and the uncertain precedent that would result, and there ... She remembered again Captain Harrington's willingness to risk all with the near-certainty of the useless deaths of herself and her entire crew, for Elizabeth's honor. I can do no less.
She abruptly straightened in her seat, and many of her Cabinet paled as her 'cat straightened as well, again baring his fangs in a triumphant snarl. Apparently unnoticing of their reaction to Ariel, she rose to her feet and gathered her 'cat up in her arms so that he could flow up to her shoulder. Smiling grimly, she said, "It seems, my lords and ladies, that we will be adding a constitutional crisis to our current difficulties. You may care nothing for Manticore's honor, but I do. I reject your proposal, and any future proposals that call for negotiations without representation of the other members of the Alliance. This matter is ended until such a time as you bring a proposal that meets that requirement."
And with that the woman the treecats had named Soul of Steel turned her back on the table and strode from the conference room, leaving behind a Cabinet stunned silent at the abrupt turn of events and just beginning to panic.
Currently this is a one-shot, though it could become the prologue for a future story starting up at about the same point as War of Honor, with a peace settlement signed between Haven and the Alliance, the current government still in place thanks to the united front needed against Queen Elizabeth, and an increasingly desperate Mesa maneuvering to set Manticore and the Andermani Empire at each others' throats while sowing domestic turmoil in the reborn Republic of Haven. Crown of Slaves would still mostly happen as in canon, but not necessarily much else.