Chapter Eleven


Rebirth of The Brotherhood


At 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.

Ragarian 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.

If 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.

The 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.

The 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.

The 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!

Ragarian 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!

Ragarian 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?"

"Yes 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 city."

"And he came without companions, guards or servants?"  Ragarian realized there were no questions left that he had not asked before.

"None Sire.  He was alone."

Ragarian 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

Ragarian 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.

Ragarian 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.

"You 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."

The 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?

As 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.

If 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.

It 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.

Starvation 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!

Walking 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 morning.

The 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.

The 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. 

General 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 storehouses.

"Gentlemen.  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."

His 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."

The 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."

"Consider 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.

"Time 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.

"Sire.  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."

"Elucidate on exactly who you would group into this class General?"  Ragarian asked, pretending to be involved with one of his papers.

"Beggars, 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."

"Organize 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.

General 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.   "Sire, 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."

Ragarian 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.

"Look 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."

"Cut to your desire General.  What would you have me do?"  Ragarian was enthralled.

"Sire, 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."

"The 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."

The 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 else's problem."

"Now 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."

"In 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."

"Go on General."  Ragarian urged.

"Sire, 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."

"General 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?"

Everyone 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 there.

Two 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.  

* * * * * * *

The Prince of Atare  

Prince 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.

The 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.

The 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!

Gregorian 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.

It 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.

Since 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.

When 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 the continent.

However, 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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Chapter Twelve

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