the same moment that the Arrow had sailed into Lunza carrying Jarin and his
Guard back from their mission in Kiba, Ragarian, Priest of Priests, was facing the
terrified Monk who stood before him in the Great Hall of Ka and wished he could
open up the man's brain to discover the real truth. The fool had knelt
before him for nearly two hours, obviously convinced that he had witnessed a
miracle at Kiba. The problem Ragarian faced was still unfolding to him and
he took little comfort that everyone his agents had interviewed seemed as sure
of the facts as this simple little man and what each of them had told
individually collaborated each other's story to the letter.
had read the Laws of the One and Only God so many times during the day and a
half since someone had found them outside the gates of the city and had brought
them to him, that he already knew them by heart. The fact that he could
not fault them in morality or academic excellence, seemed to pose a real problem
to the Church, which of course meant himself, and it was a problem he had not
yet been able to decide how to handle.
there had been an artist present to capture that scene it could have been used
as an illustration of that moment in time, a moment that was to be written into
the History of Khanlar as one of the most important of all time. Ragarian
had held his position of power long enough for him to be able to say that he
indeed controlled the destiny of Khanlar, sitting alone in his study with the
scroll containing the Laws of the One and Only God spread out before him on his
desk. All around the walls of the room hung the portraits of the most
important of Khanlar's gods and goddesses, their likenesses almost life-size in
their ornate gilt frames. In the corner opposite the door stood a larger
than life marble statue of Herthe, the base surrounded by fresh flowers which
were replaced every morning and in front of the goddess burnt a flame within a
small golden burner. The great leaded window doors which led onto the
balcony were open as usual, despite the cold weather, with the sound of the
ocean far below adding a touch of reality to the scene. Three large larch
logs burnt in the hearth and caught the occasional draft which gusted every now
and then, as did the flame of the candle which illuminated Ragarian's desk.
Priest of Priests himself was dressed in a dark crimson colored cassock, his
shaven head protected by a skull cap of the same color. He seemed
oblivious to the cold coming in from the open doors, or the searing heat upon
his back thrown out by the fire, as he finished reading again the well written
scroll before him. Finally in disgust he rolled it up and retied the light
blue ribbon that held the two parts together.
basic details of the story boiled down to a simple tale. Someone calling
himself Prince Jarin of Natan had proclaimed himself the Messenger of this One
and Only God and had managed to stand uninjured when attacked from close
quarters as he delivered his words to a crowd of frightened monks in Kiba.
A spear that had been thrown at this individual had been brought in as evidence
and the steel tip of it had obviously been thrust into Hell itself, for it was
covered with pock marks that looked like it had actually boiled without melting.
scroll, along with the detailed notes he had taken during his interview with the
priest who had witnessed the event at Kiba, lay before him. He placed his
finger tips together and absentmindedly blew through them while he considered
his options. The most obvious solution would be to accept this new God
into the many he already controlled the worship of, until he could modify the
message it proclaimed to be more in tune with the needs of the Church;
however, this was all but impossible when the man that was leading this new cult
was completely outside of the Church's control. If this Lord, or whatever
he called himself, were to continue as the main preacher of this new faith, then
there was no way to control it. Unless Ragarian himself could obtain the
authority to interpret the needs and requirements of this new god, then there
could be no new god. That was obvious. However, that would mean
disposing of this Prince Jarin, the Lord, or whatever, and as long as this
fellow could prevent harm to his person, then a simple assassination was out of
the question. Somehow this new religion had to be absorbed under the
authority of the Church, thereby coming under his control, or it had to be
denounced and destroyed!
had already dispatched a troop of Cavalry to try to round up the erstwhile monks
of Kiba, who seemed to have set off in every direction preaching this new cult,
however he already knew that it was too late to prevent the spread of this new
creed entirely. As if this new God was not enough trouble in itself, there
was also the problem with the Bishop of Zikon, who had been openly operating his
own private slave ring. . . then there was the food shortage in Araz,
where they were holding three Priests hostage in a mine until the Gods sent
food. . . it seemed never to end!
had the priest who had witnessed Prince Jarin's appearance at Kiba called again
and when the man had been ushered in and sat opposite Ragarian across the desk,
the Priest of Priests again brought forth his quill and paper and began asking
further questions of him. "How
did this `Lord', as you call him, get into the city that night. I take it
the gates were locked and the guards posted?"
Sire. In fact the Abbot interviewed the gate-keeper almost immediately the
next morning and I was present when he did so. The old man most obviously
did not open the gates Sire, that was obvious by his composure and he insisted
the key had never left his possession. The gates were locked before Prince
Jarin arrived and were still locked after he had left. There were several
witnesses who thought they saw a ball of light descend from the sky at midnight
into the square, however the Abbot dismissed them as either hysterical or not
too bright Sire. In other words Sire, we have no idea how He got into the
he came without companions, guards or servants?" Ragarian
realized there were no questions left that he had not asked before.
Sire. He was alone."
asked several more questions, however less than half an hour had passed before
he sighed and dismissed the idiot kneeling before him. There were no new
questions to ask. Now there was a messenger from a new God, calling
himself the Prince of Natan. Ragarian called the guards and had the
confused yet sincere old Monk taken away. Of all the problems that faced
him this overcast Autumn morning he decided that he would first deal with Bishop
Gagorin of Zikon. . .
* * * * * *
A Mean City
looked out at the City of Ka several days after the news had come from Kiba, as
his carriage moved slowly through the streets, making him angry that the horses
could not be urged into a faster pace. Whoever had thought up the idea
that by moving at this snail's speed proved to the populace, who watched and
bowed their heads as the carriage passed them, that all was well and under
control, had been an idiot. Today Ragarian was more than eager to meet
with the Generals of the Army of the Church. It seemed that from the very
day of his Anointing the whole fabric of Society had begun to unravel and now
there was talk that one of the Asigan Princes had risen from the dead and was
proclaiming a new God of Gods that would drive out the Priests of the Old Order.
More importantly to Ragarian of course, was that the rumors were beginning to
weaken his long sought absolute control over everything that made up the fabric
of Khanlarian society.
tried to judge the feeling of the people by watching the faces of those who
turned to pay their respects as the carriage passed through the streets.
It was a cold day, with a fog-like, ice cold drizzle falling from a sky the
color of lead and the people were wrapped up well to keep out the cold, yet he
somehow felt that they were not as convinced as they had once been of his Gods
Given Authority, as he searched for clues in their faces. It was as if
they were watching and waiting to see how things would turn out. That was
it. They should have been screaming at him to destroy the usurpers and
drive out the heretics. Instead they showed their respect in silence.
They were waiting to see what would happen, waiting to see what he would do to
counter the threat that faced everything he stood for as Priest of Priests.
fools, can you not see that it is your perception of the truth that is as much
to blame for the situation in our land as the truth itself?"
Ragarian said softly, almost speaking to himself. "If every one
of you was to begin to work for the good of Khanlar, rather than standing around
waiting for someone or something else to do it for you, we might solve our
problems a great deal sooner."
fact was however that some of that old conviction had left him also over the
last few weeks, in fact there were mornings when he wondered if he was the only
High Priest that the Gods had not talked to after their anointing. Maybe
he was not the chosen one, perhaps he should have told the truth when they asked
him if he heard those Voices, but these doubts he was able to hold within
himself even as his confidence ebbed away with every new problem. If he
was not the chosen one, he was a good man and his intelligence was equal to that
of any other man he had ever met. If he was not meant to be the Priest of
Priests would not the Gods have struck him down the moment he lied?
always he managed to compose himself. He had done it before the carriage
drew up to the Army Headquarters building, yet as he walked up the steps flanked
by Marazar, his ever faithful disciple, he wondered why everything had started
to go wrong, seemingly from the very moment that he had taken up the mantle of
power. The Rebellion had been over almost five years and it had appeared
as if there was nothing to challenge the power of the Church and therefore
Ragarian as it's head, only a short while ago. Now, within a matter of a
few weeks it seemed, everything appeared to be in doubt, there could even be a
Prince of the Blood wandering about somewhere claiming to be the instrument of a
new and all powerful God. In a way Ragarian prayed that this Prince
Jarin's claims were true and that he had indeed risen from the dead, because if
they were not, then it meant he was most definitely working with the help of the
Guardians on Lunza and they had been a thorn in the side of the Church for many
generations. He hoped above everything that it would not lead to a
confrontation with those dabblers in the Magic Arts.
there was one thing that rose the hackles on the back of Ragarian's head it was
those Gods cursed Guardians. He had of course read much about the Order of
Guardians over the years and he had learned early in life that there had not
been a High Priest in three hundred years that had had the courage to do
anything against them, or their private island Nation of Lunza. They were
without doubt learned men and their knowledge of medicine was far in advance of
what any doctor on Khanlar, including Ragarian himself, could ever expect to
practice. It had been an unwritten rule for centuries that they were
allowed to come and go in Khanlar as they wished, in fact they always traveled with papers that carried the Priest of Priest's own seal. They rarely
ventured into Khanlar these days however but when they did they always applied
for permission in the most diplomatic of ways and, of course, they always
received it. If they were indeed behind this new religion everyone was
talking about then there were going to be some very serious problems arising
from it, of that Ragarian had no doubt whatsoever.
was as if with every step he mounted, another problem rose to be examined in his
mind. Forget this Prince Jarin, forget his new God, forget the potential
problem of the Guardians on Lunza and he would still have a dangerous set of
circumstances to deal with. The whole economy of Khanlar, for which he was
ostensibly responsible as of his anointing, had undergone a violent realignment
after the War and although it had been contained during the reign of his
predecessor it was now bordering upon total anarchy and was obviously beginning
to get out of control. Two years of bad harvests had left most of the
already depleted granaries empty and so many animals had been killed during the
War and in the years immediately following it, that the production of meat was
now lower than it been for several generations. The War had also killed
many of the craftsmen and artisans leaving an imbalance of unproductive women,
children and old people to be supported by the men of working age. The
need for hospitals and care for those maimed in the battles of the war had
placed a drain on most small communities and had increased the ranks of
criminals and beggars in society to almost unmanageable proportions. Add
to all those problems the sudden increase in births and everything began to
border on the impossible. It seemed as if every woman in Khanlar from
fourteen to forty, married and unmarried, was walking around pregnant and
carrying a child under twelve months old in her arms. As if all of these
insurmountable difficulties were not enough, it was proved day after day that
many of the administrators and officials appointed by the Church to take the
place of deposed or distrusted former office holders, had misused their powers,
or proved to be incapable of doing what they had been appointed to do. All
in all Ragarian decided, the actions taken by his predecessors had failed and
having won the War it appeared that they had been set upon losing the Peace.
seemed set on claiming thousands of poor, young and old lives before the winter
was out and the spring wheat could be harvested. The roads were full of
refugees traveling from village to village, town to town or Nation to Nation,
seeking work and better conditions. The laws which forbade them from
taking to the road and leaving their homes were no longer possible to enforce
due to the ever increasing number of people breaking them. And now, as if
the Gods were working to bring as much trouble into the crisis as possible, it
appeared as if the discipline of the Army was beginning to break down again!
through the halls and corridors of the Hall of the Army building Ragarian felt
his anger pushing towards boiling point. The place was more like an
aristocratic private club than the nerve center of the largest army the world
had ever seen. Carved oak paneling, polished for centuries with linseed
oil and beeswax, complimented the deep and dense pile crimson carpets.
Gilt framed portraits of long forgotten generals, and huge canvases depicting
battle scenes, hung on every space large enough to accommodate them. Suits
of armor and carefully displayed weapons were everywhere. There was a deep
and everlasting smell of power and certainty about the place which Ragarian
could not fail to notice. This building had felt the feet and heard the
voice of many a Priest of Priests before him and it made him feel as if the very
building itself laughed at his sense of urgency and mocked his power this
room the meeting took place in had almost floor to ceiling leaded windows on two
sides, framed in even more carefully tended dark oak paneling. Huge bronze
chandeliers hung from the ceiling and burnt enough candles in a day to light a
farmer's home for a year, just as the great table around which the Generals now
sat could have seated the total inhabitants of many a hamlet.
meeting began with more complaints and counter-blaming than even Ragarian had
expected. General Jarandar, commander of the 4th Legion, was typical of
his commanders, newly appointed he had been unable to stop the rot that had
begun even before he had taken command. His Army held the eastern area of
what had once been the territory of the Asigan Alliance, two thousand men who
were supposed to keep order in the Nations of Zoria, Natan, Mang and Dala.
Instead however, his men were split up into six units that spent as much time
controlling the situation in the neighboring Nations of Bizon, Atlar and Thar as
they did in maintaining order in the conquered territories. Jarandar was a
good officer, loyal and dedicated to his profession, yet he painted a picture of
shortages and a lack of moral and discipline that had led to drunkenness and
desertion by what had once been a proud contingent of soldiers.
Howidar of the 5th Legion described no less negative a picture, explaining how
he had needed to hang five of his soldiers, one a long-term sergeant, for raping
the daughter of a blacksmith in Rigan and then killing her father when the man
had tried to stop them. Tale followed tale, describing the breakdown of
the military super-structure over the past year. Ragarian heard with
dismay how the 3rd Legion had been forced to raid a warehouse in Navis to be
able to feed themselves, after the local Prince there had refused to supply them
as was his duty. In Luzan a group of disgruntled soldiers of the 1st
Legion had actually burnt the local Bishop's house to the ground, after they had
discovered that he had re-routed supplies meant for their comrades into his own
Enough of this!" Ragarian finally spat out, ending the ever
more competitive claims and counter-claims of his Generals as to who had the
gravest problem. He allowed the silence to deepen before he began his own
opinion of the situation. "It
would seem to me that we are agreeing that we are only just barely controlling
the situation. What I am hearing is a tale of impending anarchy and we are
the people charged with preventing it from happening. If that is the case
and I can assure you that it is, then before this meeting ends we must and we
shall begin actions to regain complete and absolute control of the situation."
audience sat in silence, resembling small boys who had just made fools of
themselves and not at all the powerful officers of society he had charged them
to be. Loyalty, Ragarian was finding, had it's price. "General
Howidar. It would appear that your actions in the North West have had the
desired effect, inasmuch as the more violent disruptions within our forces have
reduced themselves since you showed that you have no reluctance to use the
hangman's art to maintain discipline. It would appear that you have built
a reputation throughout the army in the last few months for being a
disciplinarian of some worth."
tall and gaunt General of the 5th Legion nodded somberly at his commander in
chief, almost acknowledging the fact that his actions had been those of a
patriot, whereas they had been no more than the desperate attempt of a man who
had lost control to regain it. Ragarian returned the nod, amused that his
anger that the situation had been allowed to develop in the first place could be
so well controlled. "Your
reward however may seem more like a punishment General, yet Khanlar has need of
both your reputation and your kind of justice right now."
Ragarian continued, "I want to use that combination to bring a
sense of discipline back to our forces as fast as we can arrange it. Put
bluntly General I want you to hand your command over to someone we can trust and
assume an entirely new command, that of Justice-General for the Army.
Recruit yourself a force of say, five hundred men and a few dozen justices and
set about cleaning up the more flagrant disciplinary problems we have been
talking about. Take up residency in the monastery city of Panzan and
organize it so that six months from now not one single trooper in our army will
so much as steal an apple for fear that he will fall into your hands."
it done, my Lord." Was all that General Pang Howidar said and
the ice cold conviction his voice carried made Ragarian wonder, just for a
moment, how far this obviously fanatical man might take his charge.
will tell if we can handle the problem of discipline in our army gentlemen.
I trust we shall see immediate improvements, yet even so if we are unable to
handle the rot in our society at all levels then solving one problem will merely
aggravate the others." Ragarian fiddled with the papers in
front of him for a moment, yet it was enough to bring ambition to the fore in
General Jarandar of the 4th Legion.
Perhaps the greatest of our problems with society at this time is that the dregs
of it have multiplied greatly since the war." The General
received a nod from Ragarian and continued, "I would suggest my
Lord that unless we remove those who are eating at civilization from the bottom
and that they can be put to some use for the first time in their lives, our
problems may well increase. If it please you Sire, I would be honored to
take the scum from our cities and towns and put them to productive work in camps
where their ever consistent failure to run their own lives could not damage the
changes you are planning."
on exactly who you would group into this class General?"
Ragarian asked, pretending to be involved with one of his papers.
criminals and the mentally retarded, would be my first choice my Lord. I
could establish a series of camps in places far from the centers of population
and work these people to clear the forest and provide lumber to fill our needs
Sire. We could use them to quarry rock, reclaim swamps, things like that,
but most importantly we could remove them from the honest society they presently
prey upon, get them out of sight and out of mind, so to speak."
it General, and keep me informed, the idea has merit."
Ragarian neglected to add that General Jarandar had just voiced the very system
that he himself would have suggested. had the General not done so for him.
Toragor then spoke, obviously voicing a well thought out and long considered
speech which he had wanted to bring before his only superior in Army matters.
for a long time now I have been troubled by the way our whole Army is organized.
I understand that it has been this way for many centuries and has served us
well, however the War against the Asigan Alliance appears to me to have
identified several weaknesses and contradictions which it might be well to
change." The General spoke in a slow and considered formation
of words, almost as if he had practiced them to be sure that each one was
correct to put his point across, "As you know Sire, I learned
my trade in the Order of Mansa, which was established by the Church and has
provided many of the Generals and members of the Officer Corps for centuries.
Yet I feel that we have been given an establishment that is more geared to
preventing the control of the Army than enforcing it. I believe that in
the original thought process more was given to preventing any one Prince or
Church Faction gaining control, which might possibly lead to a civil war between
various power factions, than to providing an efficient chain of command under
the Priest of Priests."
found himself enthralled by the General's presentation, and when it looked like
the General was about to falter, probably worrying that what he was saying might
be considered revolutionary, if not heretical, the Priest of Priests urged him
on with nods and hand movements rather than words.
at it this way Sire. At least half of the men in Khanlar that follow the
profession of a soldier are not under my command as your General, in fact I can
not even give you an accurate count. They instead report to the Prince who
employs them. Their loyalty is to a Nation and it's Prince, not to the
Church or to Khanlar as a whole. It is my belief that is why it took us
years, instead of days, to defeat the Asigan Alliance. Even in the Army
itself I have several Generals who operate almost autonomously. In other
words Sire, if you were to order me to gather every soldier who in theory owes
loyalty to the Church it might take me weeks to do so."
to your desire General. What would you have me do?"
Ragarian was enthralled.
I would suggest that a Prince only be allowed to maintain a Guard sufficient
enough to guard his own palace, the militia of each City should be made up of
regular soldiers of the Church Army, under the command of a Captain who reports
to myself. Then I would impose overall authority of my staff on every
General who commands a Legion in the field, and I would build military camps
that were independent of the Cities or Nations in ever aspect, even to declaring
that the land they stand upon is the property of the Church. Then I would
insist that my oath of loyalty, and the oaths of those who follow me in this
post, should be to yourself as the Priest of Priests and not, as it presently
is, to the Council of Wardens of the Church. Then every officer, from
General right down to a Corporal, should also be to the Priest of Priests,
through the chain of command. Put bluntly my Lord, I believe that every
soldier who carries arms, other than the private guards of Princes, Bishops and
other important members of society, should report through my command to
yourself. If we are to carry the responsibility Sire, then we should also
be entrusted with the necessary authority to make it possible to do the task we
have been given."
Council of Wardens might not like this idea General, neither would the Royal
Houses or the many officers of the Church, however you make a strong point in
light of our experiences in trying to put down the revolution of the Asigan
Alliance. I can immediately give you authority over every branch of the
Church Army, in fact consider it done, I will have the papers drawn up to allow
you to enact a re-organization to bring about efficiency. However, when it
comes to my assuming absolute control above and without the Council of Wardens
and the Princes. . . well that needs a lot of thought and consideration, but
your points are well taken. We shall establish a Commission to prepare a
report on the subject."
meeting settled into a period of some quiet discussion after that, as everyone
realized just how daring a scheme General Toragor had proposed, but eventually
they returned to the more mundane subject of the present situation and it was
General Jarandar who broached the subject of paying for the reforms they were
suggesting, without bankrupting the Church Treasury. "Until
we are able to enforce the Binding Laws Sire, might it not be a sensible
solution to preventing the mass migration of poor people by levying a fine upon
Princes when their people are returned to them? If I were a Prince I would
change my thinking greatly if it cost me every time one of my people decided to
seek their fortune in another Nation. As it is the present situation
benefits a Nation when it's poor decide to go elsewhere and become someone
that is a brilliant idea General." Ragarian replied,
"I shall have decree drawn up that shall charge a Prince five golden
crowns each time we have to return to him one of his own beggars.
Brilliant. We create the monies we need and give them a reason for
managing their own people better at the same time."
fact Sire. . ." General Jarandar continued, "If
a Prince has to pay more in taxes to the Church, it will mean that he will have
to raise more taxes from his own people, which eventually boils down to the
people having to create more income for themselves to be able to pay these
increased taxes. More income should mean more work to produce it,
therefore we might well be able to give the economy a jump start by imposing new
taxes at this time and we do have the perfect vehicle for that purpose at hand."
on General." Ragarian urged.
if I am to build camps to sop up the dregs of our Princes societies we shall be
helping them, therefore it would make sense to them that they should be expected
to finance it through new taxes. In other words they will provide the
finances we need to build the camps, however the income and profits we shall
generate once the camps are operational will be going directly into the Church
Treasury, thereby giving us the funds we need to re-organize the army."
Jarandar. . ." Ragarian chuckled, "If ever
you find that soldiering is not to your mind anymore, perhaps I could interest
you in a position in the Treasury?"
laughed at the Priest of Priests' semi-serious joke and the meeting took on a
much lighter, yet still serious tone, for the remainder of the time they were
hours later Ragarian left the meeting promising his Generals that he would move
Heaven and Earth to assist them. He rode back through the rain to his
palace convinced that rescuing the situation had as much to do with replacing
most of his administration as it did with countering the resurgence of the
teachings of the Brotherhood and this new problem of a One and Only God.
* * * * * *
Prince of Atare
Gregorian of Atare dismounted from his horse at that point in his journey where
the road from Atare emerged from the gorge through the ridge which formed the
narrow bridge of land that was the entrance to the Rangarian Peninsula.
His guards followed his example and gathered a few yards off while he looked
down on the land that stretched away towards the Bay of Rangar. By turning
his head he was able to direct his eyes to look east, where the other side of
the ridge, carpeted with the forest that he loved flowed to meet Karden Bay.
Beneath them to the south the gorge was filled with sunlight and from their
viewpoint atop the ridge they could see the natural artery which joined the
eastern part of his Nation to the western area where the City of Atare guarded
the southernmost shores of Karden Bay. Most of the trade from the east
followed that ancient trade route that brought it's caravans and wagon trains to
the gates of his city, as did all of the land traffic from the Southern
Continent which crossed Lake Asiga by ferry from Asiga to Mozag.
Royal House of Atare had been blessed by the Gods to own a Nation that stretched
from sea to sea across the neck of the peninsula that housed the nations of
Rangar and Karden and the Holy City of Ka itself. By the chance of Fate
and the bureaucracy of the Church Authorities his family and his people had
grown rich. Traffic from the Bay of Rangar to Karden Bay traveled his
road, between the small seaside towns of Maniris and Asarin, paying taxes into
his coffers. Traffic crossing his land to enter either Rangar or Karden,
or visit the Holy City did the same and his city lived well on the trade of
merchants, Churchmen and visitors who spent the night there before submitting
themselves to the day of petty officiousness they would need to enter Ka itself
after passing through the gates of the great wall.
wall which guarded the Rangarian Peninsula was actually the border between his
nation, Atare and the Nations of Rangar and Karden and there was no way to
approach it's gates without crossing Atare. This morning the sky was the
most brilliant blue he had ever seen and it seemed like he stood on the crown of
the world from his position on the ridge. He had come here to be
pleasantly surprised to find that the roads would not need any repair for at
least another twelve months. A few yards from where his horse nibbled on
the short grass that was all there was to be found hereabouts, the main road
from Hedir and the Nations of the south east ran along the east of the ridge,
crossed by the small road which ran from east to west across his Nation. A
small guard house stood on the other side of the road, a stone box that housed
his guards and tax collectors. To the north the road met the gates of the
great wall not a mile away, cutting across the green landscape like a collar of
green-gray stone some forty feet high. Behind the wall he could see the
peninsula stretching away to rise into the majesty of Khanlar's second highest
mountain. Looking southward down the ridge the highest mountain in Khanlar
rose like a sleeping blue-green giant wearing a cap of white. To the east
the white city of Atare nestled against the ocean, the river which ran through
it catching the midday sun on the wakes of the craft which sailed it's waters.
It was a great day!
was probably the youngest Prince in Khanlar, having succeeded his father who had
died only a few weeks before from complications to old wounds he had suffered
fighting in the war to defeat his old friend Prince Zorigan of Asiga. Once
Gregorian's father had been one of Prince Zorigan's greatest supporters, as a
youth his father he had even studied under Zorigan and had attended the
University in Asiga before he had ascended the throne of Atare. Prince
Gregorian had only been a young boy when he had accompanied his father to Asiga
to meet with the father of the Asigan Alliance, yet he would never forget the
splendor that was Asiga in those days.
His father, along with the Prince of Hedir and the Prince of Jontal, who was Zorigan's son-in-law, had discussed the idea of building a road from Asiga to the gates of the great wall. It had been a grand plan, ambitious as all of Prince Zorigan's plans were, yet it had fired the imagination of a young boy, silently observing the great minds who conceived it. An old architect, Gregorian could not recall the man's name although he still remembered every detail of his appearance, had brought in a model of a great bridge. Prince Zorigan, already old, was never meager in his ambitions and he had informed his astonished guests that he intended to build a bridge, just like the model, across the great western waterway a few miles south of the City of Jontal. The old Prince had given Gregorian the model at the end of the meeting and today it stood encased in a glass box in pride of place in his study, as it had when his father had occupied that room.
was a grand plan and even today as he stood looking at the adequate road his
engineers maintained with such devotion, Gregorian wondered if he would have
been seeing the northern leg of the great road which ran from Asiga to Dang on
the southern coast of the continent. What an accomplishment it would have
been. A route from Dang right through the Nations to the Holy City of Ka,
yet it had never happened and probably never would now. The stretch from
Asiga to Jontal was less than a third complete when the war had broken out, yet
it still made his imagination soar just to think about it.
the War Atare had fared better than most of the Nations of Khanlar, probably
because most of it's income was derived from the road taxes they charged to
merchants and diplomats, Church officials and Army movements passing through
their land. After the war that traffic had in fact increased, even though
much of the bulk trade was now carried by ships away from the highway robberies
and outlaw attacks now so common in Khanlar. There was also the bonus that
his father's careful forethought had provided for before and during, the war
itself. His father had been nothing if not a careful and meticulous man
and he had foreseen the chaos that would follow the war and he had made
provisions for his people to not only survive it, but to benefit from it.
the war had ended it was the miserly secretion of grain and other necessities
during the war that brought great trading opportunities to the House of Atare.
Gregorian's father had not allowed the profiteering that many Nations had
entered into in supplying food and supplies to the Army at exorbitant prices and
therefore they were able to gain even higher prices and favors by careful
husbandry of their resources until prices were topped out by the inflation of
desperation that followed the war. The old man had even been canny enough
to realize that ultimate victory was certain and that how long that actual
victory took had no effect on Atare, which was so far from the actual
battlefields of the conflict. He had therefore excused every artisan and
craftsman in his nation from service in the war by Royal Proclamation, so that
when the war did indeed come to an end the economy of Atare was able to swing
right back into full production. Also, by careful diplomatic alliances,
the clever old Prince of Atare had managed to make sure that his Nation did not
have to garrison any troops of the Church Army. All in all Gregorian's
father had been able to turn the Great War to his advantage, leaving Gregorian
to inherit a Nation in far better economic and social shape than any other on
even his father had under-estimated the seriousness of the situation which would
follow the war in many ways. Atare had always maintained the largest and
probably most efficient Militia in the Nations of the North East, but even they
had been unable to completely control the despair and lawlessness that had
followed the war. Today the Atarean Militia had a thousand men in uniform
and had managed to keep them even after General Toragor had reduced the size of
every other Nation's Militia and had garrisoned Church Troops on all the other
cities. Gregorian's father understood his unique relationship with the
Church and the strategic position of his land which protected the peninsula
where the Church had it's most important center. Weeks of careful
diplomacy and negotiations had encouraged the Priest of Priests to allow him to
keep his forces, with only the hint that the Atarean Forces would be the only
buffer between the Holy City of Ka and the mainland, should the Army ever decide
to replace him.
The new taxes that had recently been imposed however had been another matter. His father had been unable to stave off that edict and today they were the largest expenditure of the Royal Treasury. Somewhat disillusioned, Gregorian caught up his horse and re-mounted it. His guards did the same and they set out at a walk down the small road towards the town of Maniris, where he had business with the town's administrator.
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