Chapter Thirteen


Prince, Priest or Fool


Ragarian watched the three Guardians sat in the ornate chairs before him, as he tried to establish what weaknesses they might have that he could exploit to his advantage.  They had come to Ka a few days before with their servants and they had kept themselves totally to themselves during the two days he had kept them waiting for the audience, which was now taking place.  The one that was doing most of the talking was a small man with a name very similar to the Priest of Priest's own, he was called Razarian.  He chattered like a bird in a fact filled linking of words that left his mouth almost without pause, while his two companions only talked when this little man bade them add to his argument some fact or explanation.  The second of the three was a tall, skinny fellow called Kroran and the last was an ordinary looking, slightly overweight and bearded man in his late forties who went by the name of Tagorsan.

The offer they had brought to Ragarian was in fact very interesting, if somewhat strange and he could see little to lose by agreeing to give them what they wanted and ending the interview there and then, however he held a deep mistrust for everything to do with their Order and he could not for the life of him work out why they should be making the suggestions to help him that they were now presenting.  They had a well prepared reasoning of course, but it seemed to lack enough importance for the three of them to have traveled across the world to put it to him and so he let them go on talking, watching and waiting for the real reasons to appear.

"Your Highness."  Razarian said with what to Ragarian's mind took the guise of genuine feeling,  "We are, as you know, an Order devoted to Peace and the good of all mankind and the news we receive daily regarding these outlaw remnants of the Asigan Alliance and how they are disrupting life in many parts of your realm, has brought us to the conclusion that we must do all that we can to restore the peace that Khanlar knew for centuries, before the Brotherhood erupted onto the scene."

"And for yourselves, Guardian Razarian?"  Ragarian asked with a little more of a sneer than he meant to give.  "Other than the good you will do for mankind, what is it that your Order will gain by what you suggest?"

"For ourselves. . ."  Razarian went on, seeming to miss the sarcasm,  ". . .we have a need to provide for the Nation which is our home in these troubled times.  Our population grows with every month and the land area we have in Lunza is very hard pressed to support our people these days."

"So your Highness. . ."  The fat one jumped into the conversation,  ". . .with the sudden death of Prince Hagor of Dag and no immediate heir to take his place, we saw the opportunity to increase the lands we could farm to feed our people.  At the same time we thought we would be able to solve some of your problems with what is left of the lawless element of the Brotherhood."

This time Ragarian snorted out loud in contempt, not caring what these three white haired, pompous little men thought of him.   "And what makes you think, Guardian Tagorsan, that you would have any luck in rounding up these outlaws and persuading them to take themselves off to Dag, to be farm laborers and slaves for your Order?"

"We are both well educated men my Lord Ragarian. . ."  Razarian again,  ". . .These people have no choice at the moment but to live off the produce of your administration by criminal means, or face the only other alternative available to them, which would be to give themselves and their families up to a lifetime of slavery.  They have nowhere to go and unless they allow your troops to either kill them or put them in chains, they are destined to a very short life as hunted outcasts.  I agree that we are only offering them a life of hard labor with the implied opportunity of a possible productive future, but we shall also be offering them the opportunity to escape the only choices you offer them, which everyone in this room will agree, is but the choice between a sudden unnatural death or an early natural one."

It was obvious that Razarian was the leader of the delegation, as both of the other Guardians deferred to him, so Ragarian addressed him directly,   "So your Order will go to these outlaws and instead of death or slavery, you will offer them deportation off of the mainland to become farm workers.  In return, you wish me to hand you title to the islands of Dag, Suvak and Palan.  You also, if I understand you right, agree to take the total responsibility of ensuring that none of these outlaws will ever return to the mainland of Khanlar without my knowledge."

"Exactly so Sire.  We shall round up the few hundred outlaws in the western Nations and transport them to Dag and in return, all we ask is that you pass to us the title of the islands of Suvak and Palan and the island Nation of Dag.  In fact your Highness, we are also authorized to offer you the sum of five thousand gold crowns for that title, to offset your loss of taxes over the next hundred years."

Ragarian somehow managed not to let his surprise show at the last statement.  In fact the little Guardian went on speaking for a short while, not realizing that the Priest of Priests had stopped listening already.  When the man had finished Ragarian put his fingers together and pretended to consider the situation for a few minutes.  The silence was deafening before he finally said to them,   "Return in two days and I will give you my decision."

After the Guardians left the audience room and returned to their apartments Ragarian sat for several hours trying to work out what he could have done for the Gods to have handed him such a sweet deal at this moment in time.

The Nation of Dag was perhaps one of the poorest places on Earth, with little to make it important to anyone or anything.  It's total population was less than four thousand and it was one of the most desolate places in Khanlar, it was so poor in fact that old Prince Hagor had finally given up trying to recruit a wife of the Royal Blood.  Every Noble father in the land had refused even his ugliest daughter to the constantly in debt ruler of that gods-forsaken place.  Apart from the tiny city of Dag itself, which Ragarian had never visited but had been led to believe was little more than a collection of wooden huts, gathered around a small and decrepit two story stone palace of less than a dozen rooms, there was nothing on the island other than a virgin oak forest, which for the centuries since Dag had been founded had been only used for swine to forage in.  The wood in itself might have been useful, save for the fact that transporting it to the mainland, where there was already an abundance of lumber, would have priced it out of the market.  In fact it was said on the mainland that any Dagorian with half a brain and the ability to swim, headed for the mainland the moment he realized he had been born in the place. 

Ever since Ragarian could remember, every joke about human stupidity had been made about the Dagorians.  Why, only a few days ago he had heard the latest in a long string of anti-Dagorian humor that still made him chuckle.

A poor Dagorian laborer had finally saved enough to get passage to the mainland, where he had applied for a job on a construction site, only to be told by the foreman that Dagorians were far to stupid to work on his contracts.  Getting angry the Dagorian had asked the foreman to prove that Dagorians were stupid, so the foreman had raised his hand, palm outward, in front of a wall and asked the Dagorian to punch it.  When the laborer had punched at the foreman's hand the foreman had dropped it, allowing the poor man to break several fingers as he had hit the wall.  The Dagorian had then given up and returned home.  His first night home, having drunk several drinks, the Dagorian met his cousin, who inquired why he had returned to Dag.

"Well I applied for a job, but the foreman proved to me that all of us Dagorian's are too stupid for him to employ."  the man replied.

"Oh Yeah!"  His cousin had countered,  "Well I ain't stupid!"

"Yes you are!"  Said the Dagorian, lifting his hand up, palm outward, in front of his face,  "I'll prove it to you.  Hit my hand!"

Five thousand gold crowns.  As for that representing a hundred years of taxes, well even the notion was ridiculous.  In the last two centuries the place had contributed less than three hundred crowns and owed three times as much to the treasury at this very moment.

Either the Guardians had finally shown their weakness, which was a desperate lack of land to live on, or there was something that he was missing in their presentation to him.  There had to be a catch.  Somewhere in all those words he had to have missed something.  The offer to round up most of the outlaws that remained of the Brotherhood and ship them to a place which the Church Navy could blockade to ensure that those malcontents remained there, well that was just icing on the cake.  Five thousand gold crowns for the title to three inconsequential islands. . .  Ragarian finally came to the conclusion that perhaps the Guardians were telling the truth.  The three islands they were asking for would double their land area and although those wind swept places were the back of beyond to Khanlar proper, they were next door to the over-populated island Nation of Lunza.

It was also logical that if the Guardians were really going to cut down the forest and convert it into lumber for building and ash to break up the clay there which they said they wanted to farm, then they would indeed need a supply of labor to do it.  He had heard many tales over the years of the soft living the inhabitants of Lunza enjoyed.  They were traders of the highest professionalism and from their ability to work a deal they had prospered and built a very rich little community, in fact it was their reputation for making deals where they bought one lamb and walked away owning the whole flock that caused his misgivings.  However, lore had it that as laborers Lunzans were ill-fitted to such tasks, which would therefore explain their need for slaves.  The remnants of the Brotherhood would therefore be a logical and free labor pool, for the Lunzans to exploit to perform the manual tasks they considered themselves too good for.

Even though he already knew that he had approved the deal and that everything made good sense when viewed from the Guardian's perspective as well as his own, Ragarian still had a nagging fear that he had missed something.  The fact that his visitors and their fellows might well have had a hand in murdering the Prince of Dag to bring this deal to the table, merely crossed Ragarian's mind and was dismissed as unimportant.  He found however that five thousand gold crowns and the chance to be rid of the problem of what remained of the Brotherhood outlaws, seemed to greatly reduce the nagging fear that he had missed something.  

* * * * * * *

Creating the Base

Many days later Razarian met with Manator and Prince Jarin in the Map chamber of the Guardian's palace and laid out the scroll he carried on the table, holding down it's corners with four gold crowns as he reported his success to his superiors, obviously enjoying the task.

"This Manator, is the document that takes the first step in the great plan we have agreed to pursue.  Suvak, Palan and Dag are now ours, with the blessing of His Highness Ragarian, Priest of Priests himself."  He smiled and walked to the huge wall map, calling it alive and then taking up a long pointer to indicate the three islands that stretched southward from Lunza on the map.  The long stick touched the light colored stretches of water between the four islands in turn. 

"Although it is not apparent to anyone standing on the deck of a ship sailing between our islands, they are in fact the peaks of great mountains that rise from the ocean floor, forming a ridge of which we see only the crowns.  The deepest point below the ocean surface between our islands is no more than seventy five feet, here between Dag and Palan. . ."  He touched the point he mentioned on the map,  ". . .and already our engineers have started dumping rock into the sea at the tip of each island in a project which will eventually become a causeway to link the islands together.  Then the whole chain will in actuality all become one continuous island, which a man could walk along from the southern most point of Palan right up here to the northern most point of Lunza.  We shall then build a paved road, wide enough for three heavy wagons to drive abreast of each other, that will run the length of this land mass from Palan to the City of Lunza.  We are already clearing the land for future production and we have begun quarrying rock for this causeway from all four islands as well."

Manator took up the conversation then, explaining to Prince Jarin a little more of the strategy.  "Our agents have already begun spreading the word on the mainland and we expect to pick up more outlaws, as Ragarian calls them, at the rate of a few hundred every week, as they make their way east.  No one knows just how many ex-members of the Brotherhood are in hiding at this time, nor how many have merged into the population across the Nations.  The Church of course has played down their numbers, to maintain their hold on things and prevent a nation wide panic.  They openly admit to several hundred, whereas we estimate that between ten to twelve thousand people will cross the straits from Khanlar to Lunza by the time this campaign is over.  Many of them are not outlaws of course, but we need everyone we can recruit, just so long as they oppose the Church and support our Cause.  We are already building accommodations for them to live in once they arrive."

Razarian pointed to the green island of Dag on the map as he took up the conversation.   "The oak forest on Dag will provide the lumber we need for a completely new fleet of ships we shall build following carefully the plans we have taken from the vaults.  It is a pity that you have changed your occupation these days Jarin for we shall have need of many charcoal burners in the coming months.  Every scrap of wood not converted to lumber will be turned into charcoal and what is left over will become ash to break up the heavy clay of Dag, which we intend to turn into the most productive farmland in Khanlar over time.   We shall need the charcoal to fire the great furnaces we shall build, in a new city that will be constructed on the eastern shores of Dag to house our shipyards.  That place shall be named Hagir, after a character in a story book we found in the vaults.  It is a wonderful tale about a man who built a great warship for a king in some legendary land.  The story goes on incidentally to tell that the ship then came alive and had a soul of it's own.  The smoke from these shipyards should not be seen from the mainland, for it will be blown away from land by the wind for the main part of the year and any passing ship that does happen to see it, will report back to the priests in Ka that we are indeed burning off the forest to provide ash to break down the clay, so that we can farm the reclaimed lands, which is exactly what we told his Highness Ragarian."

Manator chuckled and returned to the table to pour himself a glass of watered wine.   "You know Jarin, much of the success of our Order is based upon the careful preparation of facts to be presented to others in a way that they can accept, yet which in fact hide the real reasoning behind our actions."  He sipped the wine and laughed quietly again,  "It has always struck me as funny that what one man sees as a difficulty, another can see as an advantage.  Poor old Prince Hagor was always complaining that Dag consisted of nothing but rock and clay and the only crop he could grow successfully was a forest that he could not sell.  What he saw as his problem we see as the very raw materials we need to develop that island.  The forest will provide us with building lumber, sturdy oak planks for our ships, charcoal to fire our smithies and ash to break up the clay into fertile soil.  The clay will also provide us with the raw material to make the best bricks in Khanlar and the rock will be used to build great buildings and create a road that will allow us to develop a new center of civilization."

Razarian took up the conversation,  "The island of Suvak will become the base for your Army Jarin.  It's central position between the two main land areas of our new domain, makes it ideal and by building gate houses at each end of the causeway as it leaves each island, security will be completely controllable.  Suvak is fifteen miles long and less than five miles wide at it's widest part, therefore we have decided that it is possible to turn it into a great castle in it's own right.  We shall make it the most secure place on Earth by the time we are done.  The monks at the monastery there are already preparing to leave and we shall provide them with passage back to the mainland next week.  Then the building work can begin."

"I trust your judgment completely of course. . ."  Jarin said,  ". . .but how will we feed these people we are bringing over, it seems to me that Lunza is already bursting at the seams and from what you say we could double the population and then double it again in the next few months."

"I do not think our young friend knows just how wealthy our Order is Manator."  Razarian said with a chuckle.  "Jarin my boy, we own half the gold in Khanlar, all safely stacked away in the vaults and everyday our merchants are buying supplies, in inconspicuous amounts in markets from Vanzor to Dynlar.  A little here, a little there and Lunzan ships sailing round the clock to carry the merchandise back to our store rooms and granaries.  I doubt that the Priest of Priests has ever realized it, but many of his local shortages are caused by our astute and very discrete merchants, making deals with his not-so-honest administrators.  Once these men take our gold they become addicted to it Jarin and in their addiction they begin to offer us assistance far beyond even what we ask, for a man who commits a crime soon not only justifies himself for being without honor, but he will actually make his dishonorable act a thing of honor to himself.  It is of course to our advantage that a man who breaks the law, rarely broadcasts the fact to anyone who might be able to gain by seeing him punished for it.  Do not worry about supplying your army, or our people Jarin, that is someone else's responsibility and that someone is an expert in his trade."

"So why have we gone to the trouble of buying three more islands?"  Jarin asked politely.

"To spread ourselves and gain the secrecy we need."  Manator replied.  "Right now if the Church were to embark all of their troops to take Lunza, we would put up a good fight, but we would without doubt eventually lose.  A year from now they would have to take four islands, heavily defended and with our supplies spread through several bases.  I believe even the present strength of the Church would find us a little too much to bite off and swallow a year from now."

"So why all the secrecy?"  Jarin asked  "Why did we not just walk in and annex Dag?"

"Ah, the impetuosity of youth."  Said Razarian with more humor than Jarin felt comfortable with.  "Only a raving madman, or an idiot, would rape a woman and risk the consequences, when a few presents and some well chosen words would make her his willing and very attentive companion.

"He is right Jarin."  Said Manator.  "Our diplomacy has given us breathing space.  Now when our supporters come over to us, they will do so with the Church's blessing, even encouragement and Ragarian will concentrate on his many other problems, certain of which we shall carefully manufacture for him.  It will be some time before he seriously considers us again.  We have become an accomplished task in his mind, so that he can now forget us and get on with other things and in that false feeling of safety, he allows us to plan his downfall.  It is a little less than honorable I suppose, in fact one could even accuse us of downright deception, but even if the Church is not yet aware of it, we are at War with them and in War the only important thing after all is to win.  The good things, the honorable face of society, the humane and civilized things. . .  well often they must wait until after the war is won I am afraid."  

 * * * * * * *

A New and Better Future

By the first day of Spring the last of the Monks had left the monastery of Suvak and ships bearing ragged groups of erstwhile outlaws and their families began arriving every day in Dag.  These refugees were taken directly from the docks to a holding camp a few miles south of the city, where they were interviewed, medically examined and then given papers re-directing them to the next stage in the program for which they were best suited.  For those not transferred directly to the Army, what awaited them was little more than slave labor on the many clearing and building projects which were underway across the four islands that now made up the Nation of Lunza.  They however enjoyed privileges most slaves never had access to on the mainland, which ranged from comfortable and secure lodging to regular good meals, from attentive medical treatment to schooling in both academic and trade subjects for those in need of them.

The City of Dag itself was systematically torn down and rebuilt over the first six months after it became part of the Lunzan State, with it's citizens being absorbed into the society with full and equal rights.  Dag grew in size three times during that first half year and would have grown more no doubt, except that craftsmen were in demand throughout the islands and new arrivals with a trade found themselves absorbed into the guilds within hours of their arrival, yet still there were never enough experienced hands for the work available.  All through the Spring every man, woman and child found themselves fully employed in the building projects, the greatest of which was without doubt the construction of the inter-island highway which ran like a paved ribbon from the southern most island of Palan to the city of Lunza in the north. 

Thousands of tons of rock were actually carried in carts and baskets propelled by human effort, to build the great causeways and the road that was to link the islands into one continuous Nation.  Over the next few months the handles of a thousand hammers turned black from human sweat, breaking the rock that was to pave that highway, mixed with cement manufactured in a new factory on the outskirts of Hagir to a formula gained from a book in the Archives.

In Hagir, on the eastern coast of Dag, a great shipyard with three dry docks was constructed and in it ship wrights, from those refugees of the sea-going Nations of Dang, Sedanna and Dala, were soon at work laying the keels for a new navy, built with the lumber gained as woodcutters slowly cut their way through the oak forests of the island. 

On Suvak the old Monastery was renovated to act as a Military Headquarters surrounded by barracks, warehouses and all the other buildings necessary to house an ever growing army, laid out with military precision in uniform rows along uniform streets, all contained within a stone wall almost fifty miles long, twenty five feet high and never less than ten feet thick, that followed the island's coastline.

On Palan, Guardian architects designed and built a great cathedral and many other buildings to house the administrative center of the growing Church of the One and Only God, having first obtained the permission of the Priest of Priests to construct a temple to the Goddess Herthe.  Razarian had explained to Jarin the reasoning behind this blatant misrepresentation as being the only answer to what was otherwise a paradox that might have seriously hindered the greater benefits of their overall plan, for the place grew like a great fortress out of the southern cliffs of the island and soon became a wonder for the sailors on every passing ship to admire.

To openly admit that they supported the new religion to the Priest of Priests would have at the very least have identified the Order of Guardians and the now expanding Nation of Lunza, as a potential threat and at the worst Ragarian might have revoked his order legalizing the annexation of the three new territories, or even at a long shot ordered an invasion to round up the leaders of the new religion that threatened his authority.  On the other hand, when they were so consciously assisting in the conversion of all the people who lived on their island chain to accept the superiority of the One and Only God, not to have provided the pomp and circumstance religion needs to lead the faithful, might well have undercut their efforts at home.  The deception was therefore planned and enacted and although the Church of the One and Only God's Priests grew slower than the other branches of the administration, it soon appeared to Prince Jarin that the shaven head priests in their dark blue habits were everywhere, working just as hard as any lay member of the Nation in the never ending building program.

There was little rest for anyone living on the four islands for many months.  Spring came and went and then Summer moved through Autumn and the first signs of winter began to appear before the work started to slow down.  Even the children worked during that time, grouped together under the caring guidance of chosen minders, they mixed their days between schooling, play and working as general clearers and cleaners, from one end of the islands to the other.

Farmers who had returned to their old profession after years as outlaws, found themselves working from before dawn until after sunset, as they cleared, plowed and planted an ever increasing acreage.  By the onset of winter it seemed that every square inch of the islands had been converted to a well tended garden, being either built upon, paved over, or plowed for crops and the landscape acquired a cared for look not common in Khanlar. 

Nothing was wasted in this economy.  Every scrap of waste wood was gathered by women with small carts who spent their working hours at nothing else, to be recycled as ash to mix into the clay or manufactured into mulch in great vats which appeared everywhere.  Every basket of prunings, grass clippings and even the waste from vegetables prepared for the table, were gathered each day and taken to those vats, where they would be allowed to rot down to provide compost for the fields and gardens.  Grass seed was scattered over the more inaccessible areas and where the forest had not yet been cleared, herds of cows, sheep and deer were tended and harvested in the most efficient manner, by men either too old, too young or too disabled for other work.  After centuries without change the hillsides of Dag were sculpted to the needs of man, changing from wilderness to carefully tended gardens and farmlands even as the seasons changed.

The Guardians obviously knew from the outset however, that there would never be enough meat produced on the islands to serve the needs of it's growing population and the importation of tons of meat could have been a certain clue to the Church authorities on the mainland to the real size of the new population.  That was something the Guardians did not want known at that time and so the shipyards first task was to build and equip a fishing fleet.  Using mass production techniques taught them by the Guardians, the ship wrights of the northern most yard at Hagir were soon launching a new fishing boat every ten days. 

These ships, with their stern cabin and two masts, would leave the island of Lunza from the fishing village of Toran every day on the first tide, always sailing east into the great ocean.  The fleet sometimes sailed for days away from land into the emptiness of that uncharted world of heaving blue water, but as time passed they learned where to cast out their nets and soon they were bringing back a huge harvest to feed the population.  In Toran the fish sheds sent out boxes of fresh fish packed in ice and an industry grew up to produce smoked fish, which soon became a favorite delicacy of the people.  Toran was also able to produce a harvest of fertilizer as well as food, for again nothing was wasted.  Everything that could not be eaten was dried in great ovens and ground down on huge stone mill wheels, until it was reduced to a powder that the farmers welcomed as if it was worth more than gold dust, which to them of course it most definitely was.

The cities of Lunza and Dag grew and expanded, while three new cities were laid out by Guardian architects, rising from the landscape in buildings of red brown colored bricks, yellow Lunzan limestone and capped with red clay tile roofs.  The town of Rolon grew around the Lunzan end of the causeway connecting it to Suvak, while it's larger cousin of Hagir blossomed to house the workers in the dock yards on the eastern coast of Dag.  On the southern most tip of Dag the small hamlet of Tamal was built, until it was larger than the old city of Dag had been prior to the takeover, to house the foresters and charcoal burners, farmers and herdsmen, with their families and to provide lodging for those who traveled to the Cathedral of Palan.  Even with the three new islands added to their domain, the Guardians knew that the shortage of land would continue to haunt them for many years to come and so most of the new buildings they designed were three stories high and connected to each other in long rows.  However, they never forgot the human need for green plants, trees and flowers and this need was met by having wide tree lined streets and large open squares with garden areas in their center.  Fountains and water gardens were planned into the towns, as were human gathering places, where squares of shops were built around paved areas on which enterprising Innkeepers soon placed tables, to allow the population to rest and watch the world go by, while they sipped refreshing drinks at the end of a work shift.

On the northern outskirts of Rolon the Guardians built a factory to manufacture cloth, using water wheel driven looms, whose design had been taken from books in the vaults.  Many women who had lost their husbands in the troubled years, congregated there to begin a productive life again working as weavers and loom minders.  Soon after opening the factory they were producing the heavy serge cloth, for which the town was to become famous in years to come and Lunzan merchants on the mainland were already bidding for the wool harvest of the next spring. 

The brick factory on Dag produced ship loads of distinctive red brown bricks, each one carefully hand thrown into it's molding box by a master craftsman.  Yet no matter how many bricks left the kilns each day, there never seemed to be enough for the bricklayers who labored to build the new towns.  Jarin spent a day with some of those men, when they were building the new housing in Tamal and was even persuaded by one of them to lend a hand.  He learned how to throw the mortar onto the previous line of bricks and then trowel a lump of wet mortar onto the end of the brick he was placing, before he put it down and moved it into place with a slight squashing side to side movement that forced the mortar beneath it to ooze out on both sides.  Then he would run the trowel along the joint to take off the excess and with a twist of the wrist slap it back onto his mortar board.  He learned to chop and turn the mortar on his board, to allow the water in the mixture to keep all of it moist and prevent it from drying off at the edges.  He also learned that every brick had a smile which must always be inverted as one laid the brick in place.  Every brick when it is thrown has open lines in it's face which form into the shape of a series of curved indented lines that look like smiles as the brick sags in the turning out and drying.  The bricklayer explained how, if one laid the brick with the smile in place, any rain water that landed on the brick during it's lifetime in the wall would collect in the bottom of the smile and eventually destroy it.  That little trick of laying the brick sadly could double the life of a wall the old man had told him, adding one more fact to Jarin's ever growing store of knowledge.

Even in the brick factory nothing was wasted.  Every day the floors were swept and the gathered dust and chips were loaded into bags and placed aboard a wagon.  Broken bricks and larger chips were crushed beneath a large piston like hammer, which was driven by a water wheel and the dust and sand produced were also shipped out on that same wagon.  Mixed with compost and wood ash and then plowed into the thick clay of Lunza, Suvak and Dag it would one day form part of the most productive farmland in Khanlar.

Everywhere on the four islands it seemed that everyone was working every hour that the Gods gave them.  Before dawn the streets were busy with workers on their way to their employment and long after sunset they remained busy, as people moved to their secondary activities under the light of the seemingly always burning oil lamps.  Like a large family who have just taken over the farm they have worked many years to acquire, the whole population labored every hour they could, neither taking a vacation, nor complaining about the workload they carried.  

 * * * * * * *

And the Legions Build


The first day of winter that year Jarin spent on the Parade Ground at Suvak watching the fourth contingent of newly graduated troops assemble behind their banners.  Later that night, after the day's pageantry and ceremony, Manator came to Jarin's rooms, his face serious and with what was obviously a matter of great importance on his mind.  Kirene was already in their bed, whether waiting for her husband or lost in a dream of her own making, Jarin did not know, but a quick glance through the door at her innocent smiling face lost in some dream or another, proved she would not object to Manator and her husband talking most of the night.  Their son was asleep in the cot beside his mother's bed, his face serious with that expression that very young babies adopt when they sleep.  When Jarin returned to the main room of his apartments his old friend was already seated and drinking a glass of wine, so Jarin picked up his own glass and sat down across the table from him.

Between them on the table a Khanlar board stood laid out ready for a game.  It was a new set, presented to Jarin by a group of Natanese who had come to Lunza in answer to the call put out by the Guardians.  The men had each taken a special part in it's manufacture and it was without doubt one of the finest Khanlar sets in existence, for they had put many hours into the making of it.  The board had been crafted from rare hardwoods and stood on four perfect brass feet that were shaped in the form of lion's paws.  The squares were inlaid pieces of ivory and onyx, seventy two in each color, polished to be without flaw in their level with one another and separated by carefully placed gold wire.  The pieces had each in turn been exquisitely carved in wax, and then cast in bronze from the molds so carefully made of each individual carving, after which they had been painted and decorated with precious metals, so that each looked like a miniature human being, frozen into a pose it would hold for all time.  Two fairy armies lined up ready to do battle, they faced each other across the board, one in the uniforms of the new Brotherhood and the other in the maroon colors of the Church.  Tiny swords and helmets of real silver and bronze adorned each figure and the Priest of Priests stood across the board from a small sculpture of Prince Jarin himself in full dress uniform as the Khan.

Manator picked up a Cavalry piece in the colors of the Church and moved it forward to open the play.  He did it in a seemingly absent-minded manner, yet Jarin knew that no one of intelligence, especially not Manator, was ever casual when it came to a game of Khanlar.  Jarin opened by putting a Cavalry piece of his own forward.

"There was a meeting today of the Council."  Manator stated bluntly, coming directly to the point,  "The general opinion was that you should travel through the country you are preparing to conquer."  He reinforced his first move by bringing a Warrior forward. 

"Do you think Colonel Sandar would allow me to do that?"  Jarin half joked, moving a second Cavalry piece forward to stand before his opener.

"He has been informed."  Manator said quietly.  ". . .and he has asked to be allowed to go with you.  The Council has agreed that he may travel with you if it is your wish also.  You will of course wear the belt of power and you will go in the disguise of a Lunzan Merchant with all the necessary passes, licenses and permits needed to allow you to travel at will.

The Guardian General sipped at his wine and studied the board for a moment before going on.   "I was against this idea from the start Jarin, for I have always thought that without a Prince of the Royal Blood the Brotherhood might just fall apart, to say nothing of my concern for the welfare of a dear friend.  However, it appears that your death might be as great an incentive to our Cause, through the revenge motive it would bring, as would your being alive and actually leading your army, or so the majority opinion believes.  My concerns for a friend were brushed aside by reference to the child you and Kirene gave birth to a few months ago.  You see my friend, the Council believes that unless you have first hand experience of how life is lived on Khanlar and especially in the cities that remained loyal to the Church during the Great War. . .  well, it is their feeling you would not be fully equipped for the decisions you will have to make after the invasion."

"I would of course prefer to be alive to lead my army, if my opinion counts for anything that is."  Jarin said, not feeling as confident as the words sounded.  "Why, after all this time would anyone decide that now is the moment for me to go wandering about through Khanlar?"

Manator finished his wine, carefully placed the empty glass back on the table and increased his line of Warriors facing Jarin's Cavalry.  Jarin in turn brought his fourth mounted figure forward to complete the block he had built for his defense.

"It is the opinion of the majority that it would be the best thing."  Manator said,  "You can of course refuse, but that would lose you much of the support you have already gained and there are still those who only cooperate with us because it is the majority will of the Council that they do so.  Those people still believe we should stay out of the affairs of Khanlar and busy ourselves with the tasks we were created to perform.  For you to refuse to go would increase their numbers, of that I have no doubt, my friend."

"Then I must go, must I not?"  Jarin said, somewhat shocked by the news that not all of the Guardians supported the Great Plan as he had always believed.  "When must I leave and how long am I to wander about in Khanlar?"

Manator moved a Cavalry piece forward, siting it so that his advanced Warriors covered it and thereby forcing Jarin to start his minor pieces moving forward.  "You have tonight to bid goodbye to Kirene.  The Arrow awaits you at this moment, ready to sail on the morning tide.  You were to be given more time, but the debate dragged on until the last moment."  He opened a side flanking movement into the game by advancing a warrior to the left and then he said,  "You will be picked up again in a month, or whenever you arrive at the place they have chosen.  I am sorry that you must leave your family at this time my friend, but the majority must rule."

They talked little more about this startling news, but instead lost themselves in the careful strategies of Khanlar for the next few hours, enjoying the quiet, warm comfort that a room has after nightfall when most other people have gone to their beds.  The candles burned lower and as time wore on the game established four separate fronts, three of which presented Jarin with major problems and they were well into the second flask of wine before Manator called it a night and left for his own apartments.  He stood to leave, looking down on the board, as if memorizing the exact position of each piece and nodded thoughtfully as Jarin bade him good night.   "Sleep well my friend and may the Gods grant you a safe journey.  I look forward to finishing this game when you return.

Jarin escorted Manator to the door and closed it behind him after he had left.  Then he went to his bed, grateful for the warm company of Kirene's sleeping body beside him as he dropped off into a fitful sleep.  

* * * * * * *

Where Stands a Wife at the Start of a Campaign?


It was a few minutes before dawn the next day when he woke Kirene, sitting on the bed beside her.  Her hair was tousled and her eyes were red rimmed with sleep as he told her the news.  She began to rise, but he put his hand on her shoulder and told her not to bother, she sat up nevertheless, bunching the pillows up behind her.

After he had explained the facts to her, she seemed almost angry.  "I sometimes wonder what these people really want of us Jarin."  She rubbed her face where the sheets had creased it.  "They keep talking about you being the Leader, they call you their Prince and are always giving you titles but it seems sometimes that they treat you like you are just another one of their servants."

"I feel the same way at times, my love."  Jarin replied,  "But after all that they have done, I guess they have the right to expect me to go along with their plans.  At least we live in luxury we could not have dreamed of a short while ago Kirene."

"Sometimes I would exchange this luxury for the contentment we had before the Holding was destroyed."  She looked drawn as she spoke,  "Then we could make our own choices, whereas now we seem to be running this way and that, just to be polite or fit into someone else's plans."

Jarin realized that there had been many times when he would have agreed with her and that included this present decision the Council had just announced to him through Manator, but instead he kissed her and bid her go back to sleep, tucking her in as she snuggled back down under the covers.  As he blew out the lamp he realized both of them were having difficulty becoming civilized as fast as it was being thrust upon them.  Then he put aside his personal feelings and set off to find Colonel Sandar and board the Arrow for Khanlar.

Almost two years had passed since Jarin and Kirene had first met Manator in the forest.  Kirene had soon discovered after arriving in the Nation of Lunza that her life in the Palace of the Guardians as the Lady of the Highest Prince in the Land, was one that was full of activities, both state and private, yet she found that more and more lately, she resented the way Jarin always seemed too busy to have any time for her.  From the moment she had told him that she was pregnant she had somehow expected him to show his love and concern by being with her, to always be there, showing her the love he always told her he had for her, but instead it seemed he spent more time away from her now than he had before she had broken the news to him.

It was strange how she could now look at how she had changed during the time they had been in Lunza, almost as if the she doing the examination was a separate person to the she being examined.  Like two lives being lived alongside each other through the passage of time.  She felt that she was in fact two bodies walking along the road of life together, twins separated by place and person, one unsophisticated, uneducated and poor, living on Havor's Holding for ever, while the second twin walked the corridors of power as the wife of a Prince, poised and educated, sophisticated and secret within herself. 

Ever since they had arrived on Lunza, perhaps even from the time they had first met Manator, Kirene had learned to keep her own counsel whenever others were present.  She spoke rarely these days, controlled her movements and deferred to everyone and by doing so, she had yet to find herself in a situation where she had been publicly embarrassed. 

Kirene had understood the power of her beauty almost as soon as she had found it and now she had found that she was able to use it to mask herself from every stranger she met.  When she had first put on the clothes of a lady in that dressmakers shop in Atlar she had been surprised at the transformation she saw in the mirror that they had provided for her.  Her first instinct had been to bow low to the reflection, lest she insult the aristocratic beauty she saw there.  Then, as she had walked back to the Traveler's Rest with Jarin, she had seen the looks she received from the men they passed in the street and she would never forget the feeling of power that had surged through her veins as the understanding had come to her.  One stranger after another had bowed, smiled or deferred to her, as she had walked that short distance and in their eyes she had seen a reaction that was new to her.  Everyone of them had the same look in their eyes, a mixture of lust, admiration, fear and embarrassment.  She had known, there was no other word for it, she had just known, that they would have returned any interest she might have shown them with gratitude and there was no other word for that either.

Instinctively she understood that if she looked like a Lady and acted like a Lady, then there was no way anyone would know she was not a Lady, unless she told the fact herself, either openly or without realizing that she did so and with that knowledge, she had purposefully become the demure and quiet person she now was.  It was not a game, nor could anyone say that she was acting a part, although that might have been true at the beginning, it was something she was very proud of and the more it fooled people, the prouder she became.

She was surrounded every day by true aristocrats and people who had strived for years to attain the position in society they possessed and yet she was able to mix in their company as an equal, carefully smiling and nodding as was necessary.  She found herself gliding gracefully through rooms populated with the best that society had produced, yet inside she was still little Kirene Havor, the daughter of a penniless charcoal burner, who secretly studied everyone and everything she saw, every hour that she was awake and she found that she was able to fool them all.  In a way her respect for those around her diminished, little by little, as they accepted her and as they themselves appeared to quickly come to respect her company.  She often wondered why they were so willing to welcome the presence of a quiet, well-mannered beauty without question and then she realized, that had she been the short framed, heavily built peasant woman that her own mother had been, lacking the benefit of fine clothes and manners, it was more than probable that they would have treated her with disdain, had they noticed her at all.

Even when she had been pregnant, this thought had never left her mind and in truth the constant effort to play the part she had chosen, sometimes became very tiring, both physically and mentally.  She was always conscious of how she looked, how she moved and every other detail that made her the socially accepted person she had become.  She spent hours each day secretly checking every aspect of her appearance and she never forgot that every morsel of food she chose, every hour of sleep she missed and in fact everything that affected how she looked to those she was in contact with daily, were important beyond the slightest moment of negligence.

She demurely glided through every day alone, a vision of perfection to the best of her ability.  She never missed a comment which might help her and she never interrupted any advice she heard which might make her part in this great play the more convincing.  Alone was almost her way of life, even when she was surrounded by crowds of courtiers, counselors, servants and even friends.

Her husband seemed rarely there to be with, or available to confide in or defer to, in moments of encounter where her hauteur began to slip.  In the old days back in the forests of Natan Jarin had always had time for her, he had always been there whenever she needed him to take the lead and in fact, she had grown to womanhood enjoying his careful words, soothing advice and the warmth of his never denied comfort.  She had been in love with him from that first day when she had found him half dead in the undergrowth, soaked to the skin and unconscious, delivered to her as the Prince she had always dreamed of.  When she had first found him, she had thought him to be dead, his skin had been so white, but when she had screamed he had moved, almost as if he was trying to curl up into a ball, while at the same time reaching with his delicate hands to find his place, like a small child who has lost for a moment his appointed position between his parents in the bed.

Yet he had been dressed in the most beautiful of clothes, with jewelry that matched his handsomeness even that close to death.  His hair had been perfection despite his wounds and soft to her hands, as she had stroked his head to comfort him.  As the years had passed his very presence had meant safety, security and all those other good feelings that will always be love to any young and romantic maiden.

As she had grown and matured he had always been there, quietly strong and always understanding, sometimes like a big brother and at other times able to make her blush without thought, but when she had gone to her mother and tried to talk about her feelings for him, her mother had laughed.  Then her mother had sat her down and explained how babies were made, how one day soon she would have to find a husband to look after her and lots of other advice that had kept her confused for days.  It was the idea of being married off to a stranger and the stuff about babies, that had occupied her mind for weeks after that.  In the woods that day, when he had put his hands upon her breasts, well everything had happened so fast, it had felt as if she was in a dream.  It was a dream of her own making of course, a dream she had had a great many nights, when she had woken up flushed and embarrassed.  It was like sitting by the fire on a cold night with one too many cups of mother's home made wine in your belly, fantasizing about the future.

In a way she regretted that it had happened now, although she realized that life might be very different for her, or it might have ended that day the Holding had been destroyed, had Jarin not been swept away by the offer she had made him of her body for his male satisfaction.  She had wanted the baby of course, but there was the nagging doubt that it had happened too soon.  Perhaps she would have been lucky if she had not caught his seed for a year or so, like mother had told her some girls experienced when they first got married. 

Still, all in all things were wonderful, compared to how they had lived on the Holding in the forest of Natan.  She had wardrobes full of fine dresses and undergarments of lace and silk and boxes of jewelry.  She lived in a great palace, in the finest apartments, amidst splendor and luxury she had not imagined even in her wildest day dreams a few years ago.  There were her friends as well, Malinda and Rabella, who insisted upon calling her "My Lady, Kirene", but were good fun in all other respects.  She could write in a passable hand now and read more words than she had ever thought possible for one brain to remember.

There were of course some mornings these days when even her brain was affected by her new love for wine.  The liking for that soothing, mind-numbing escape, had begun as a way to get to sleep when Jarin was away, but it had developed to a situation where there was hardly a night these days when she did not drink so much of it, that she could rarely remember the actual act of going to bed.

It was a life of course that every girl in the land would want, if she had the chance to get it.  Her husband was handsome, rich beyond the understanding of most people, a true Prince of the Royal Blood and in the shadow of his importance, she walked in her own importance and she was the mother of his baby and his heir.  Yet she longed for some of the things other woman took for granted.  If only Jarin had more time to be with her.  If only she was still the most important thing in his life. . .  Kirene suddenly realized that the tears were running down her cheeks again as she thought about it.


 * * * * * * *


Chapter Fourteen

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