Chapter Sixteen


Escape from Despair


Razarian held the nib of his quill pen a little away from the paper, brushing the feather lightly against his chin.  His signature on the document before him would seal the historic decision that three of the four men around the table that night had already signed.  It was written in language that made it little more than any other memo the four of them might issue, yet it did much to shape the future of the government they represented, in fact it might well affect the fate of all of Khanlar, for many years to come.

"My friends, we are changing the way warfare is conducted when we issue this order, you know.  Since History began, every disagreement, every revolution and every war, whatever it's size or importance, has been fought with the concept that he who controls the land also controls the world.  We are changing that today.  We are stating that he who controls the Sea controls the world."  Razarian added his signature to those of General Sandar, Admiral Kovis and the Guardian Tamerin, looking at the latter as he finished it with a final flourish and asking in a careful voice.  "Are you absolutely sure of this my friend?"

"More than anything I have ever supported."  Tamerin replied.  "But understand, it was not something that I arrived at by natural intelligence or instinct.  I was trying to collect together the various options the Church would have when our invasion was discovered.  As I collected and examined the options the Church would have, I realized that each and every one of them depended to a great extent upon their being able to use the ocean routes to deliver their counter attack.  Without the freedom to sail into the cities of Khanlar the Church is denied the speed and supplies it needs, for until they can repair the super-structure of bridges and roads that connect the cities together, they will not be able to manage the supplies necessary for an all-out offensive against us, unless they can control the sea routes."

Tamerin took up a pointer laying on the map of Khanlar that was spread out on the table between them, touching it first to the Nation of Dynlar in the West and then to the Nation of Vanzor in the East.   "Khanlar is a continent, but it is also an island.  Twelve hundred miles from east to west, nine hundred from north to south.  If we can deny the Church the ocean, we can deny them time to retaliate and we can make their task ten times harder.  It is the most simple and yet the most unexpected defense we have available to us.  The fact that it is available to us is provided by the simplicity of the way a man's mind will work and the fact that history in Khanlar has designated that war is fought on land and trade is maintained by sea.  Even we island dwellers on Lunza have always considered this to be fact, yet this time the facts are changed.  We are not the Asigan Alliance, land-locked when defense is considered, neither are we without the wherewithal to change the way warfare is conducted."

"You think that is why Manator pushed through the building of the fleet?"  Admiral Kovis asked, leaning forward to look at the map, almost as if he had never considered the facts that Tamerin was pointing out to them.

"I doubt it."  Tamerin answered, "Don't get me wrong, I do not belittle the knowledge of the Guardian General, I just think that he saw the fleet as a way to establish the necessary link between Lunza and the invasion forces on the mainland.  If he had understood fully the advantage he had given us, I have no doubt he would have pointed it out to us."

"Run over the concept again, I may have to defend this independence of ours to Prince Jarin one day."  General Sandar had signed the document willingly, yet had kept his own counsel most of the session.

"We have taken Vanzor and Hamir."  It was Razarian who spoke,  "We have built the greatest fighting fleet the world has ever seen, and here we are less than twelve hours after our first victory with complete control of the whole Eastern Seaboard.  Now we use my Intelligence Legion's operatives throughout Khanlar to attack every ship and installation that could be used by the Church to mount a naval campaign against us.  Admiral Kovis leaves this room tonight with a copy of this order we have just signed, to take on every Church Warship he can bring to battle.  Every ship of every Nation that he can get out to sea and engage he either sinks or captures, until the seas are denied to any vessel flying the colors of the Church or their allies.  This, General Sandar, will give you the time to build your defenses and make your troops ready for the next stage in our plans.  As for explaining this to Prince Jarin. . .  well I for one believe he had given us the power to do this in his speeches and orders of the last few weeks, we are just preempting anything that might arise to prevent it."

"Guardian Razarian."  General Sandar's voice was low and sincere as he spoke,  "I understand that Prince Jarin is not ready to take complete control of the situation, even though for all intents and purposes we are the only people that will ever be allowed to voice that fact.  I understand better than any of you the gaps in his experience.  I traveled with him through Khanlar and I have been his constant companion since he took the title of Khan.  I know that in terms of life experience he is guided by the fully lived experience of a ten year old, yet he is the Khan.  By blood and by appointment.  For as long as we work to promote the Cause he proclaims and recognize that he is our anointed sovereign, then I am your man; should I ever feel that we go counter to that goal and understanding I shall be your greatest enemy."

Admiral Kovis nodded and his demeanor proved his loyalty to the Khan was no less sincere than General Sandar, but it was Tamerin who spoke the words that followed Sandar's statement that evening.  "General Sandar, the loyalty of every man in this room to Prince Jarin is beyond doubt.  Razarian and I swore a bonding oath to the Khan before Manator would allow us the positions we hold within his administration.  Our loyalty to the Khan is above that to our own Order.  Yet we must protect him from that which he needs to be protected from."

Silence reigned for a few moments before Admiral Kovis took up the conversation and continued the examination of the policy they had just signed into being.   "My fleet will engage and destroy, or capture, every ship that could be used against us.  I have divided the fleet into four squadrons of six blackships, each with a flotilla of lesser vessels to act as supply and service to them.  Yet there is little or nothing we can do to stop the trade along the Waterway, that is where your men must prevail Razarian.  If we stop all the ocean traffic of the Church, yet the Waterway stays open, well then, they can still supply an army to attack us here in Vanzor within the month."

"And they will!"  Tamerin said,  "There is almost nothing we can do to stop them.  Within a week or so the whole Waterway, from Jega to Bizon will look like a military zone.  Even so, if we can control the seas we will still have the advantage.  Razarian's men will cut the mooring ropes, pull the plug, or set the torch as often as they can, but the Waterway will still serve the Church.  The point is gentlemen, it will make their lives ten times the more difficult, if they can not supply those cities that have for generations neglected their roads and relied upon supply and trade by the sea."

"And the Khan?"  Sandar asked quietly,  "I have no stomach for what I still have doubts may indeed by subterfuge, though I understand well the reasons for it."

"General Sandar. . ."  It was Tamerin who spoke,  "If the Church had known of our invasion and been waiting for us with a division of two cavalry regiments and a few siege engines, the Khan's decision to attack Vanzor without cavalry might well have been the death of us.  As it was, our intelligence proved correct and the day was won.  Prince Jarin made a major tactical error in public and he stated it so loud that we had no choice but to go along with it, or prove his lack of knowledge of tactical warfare.  We can not allow our present naval superiority to be compromised in any such way.  When we have achieved our objectives the Khan will rule Khanlar, the end of this is far more important than the methods and deception used to achieve it."

The little Guardian began to roll up the map as he signaled the end of the meeting, addressing Razarian and Kovis as if he were doing no more than inviting them to join him for dinner later.   "Razarian, let urgency be your motto in this, by week's end we need ships burning from Karden to Sedanna.  Admiral Kovis, I expect a report to reach me every day for the next month of another successful sea battle where we have sunk or captured the enemy.  Now gentlemen I suggest we end this meeting and put our plan into immediate and urgent action."

General Sandar stood up and took up his helmet to leave the room, remembering almost at the last second to address Admiral Kovis.   "May God go with you Admiral.  May the Khan be victorious by your actions."  Admiral Kovis came to his feet and slapped his fist to his chest in salute at Sandar's words, saying,  "Victory to the Khan!"

And then the secret meeting ended and the four most important men in the Khan's forces left the room to enact the program they had just formulated.  

* * * * * * *

 Imperial Confusion

Ragarian found it hard not to lose his temper at the sight of the dozens of terrified administrators rushing all over the place in the Great Hall, trying to assemble and interview everyone who had news of what was happening.  The latest messenger he would have had put to death, if it would have helped anything, however nothing appeared able to help the situation at this moment, so Ragarian had the babbling fool dismissed as fast as possible.

A large and ornately decorated map of Khanlar had been laid out on a large table, not twenty feet from Ragarian's throne and from it the picture of the situation was fast becoming that of a disaster.  That morning he had been enjoying the Spring beauty of his garden, when the first messenger had arrived and summoned him to the Great Hall.  When he arrived there he found a group of tired and travel-stained couriers waiting for him.  His advisors and administrators had assembled no less quickly and soon almost everyone of any importance, including General Toragor, was in the room when the nightmare began.  After less than fifteen minutes Ragarian had managed to instill some semblance of order and sanity to the assembly and had then decided to leave, to enjoy his lunch while they analyzed the situation.

He returned an hour later to discover that anarchy had again taken charge.  Ragarian entered the throne room and it was a riot of confusion, as senior officers of the Army and officials of the Church ran around in little less than studied panic.  His throne, raised on it's carpeted dais as it was, stood isolated and empty of course.  Suddenly it seemed to Ragarian that the scene was a portent of the situation.  The throne was serene and isolated from the anarchy that raged beneath it.

The Priest of Priests did not need to look at the map to know the details of the latest disaster.  He could see the smoke through the windows, far off in the distance behind the land bridge which separated the Bay of Rangar from that of Karden, where at this time no less than fifteen of the twenty Warships anchored there were going up in flames.  The fires had been set by the galley slaves of all people, who had somehow managed to free themselves during the night.  Many of them now lay dead on the shores of the Bay of Karden, where his troops had started murdering them before he had been able to get orders to them not to, and a lot more of the poor creatures had drowned while trying to swim to safety across the bay to the coast of Samur.  Yet the most stunning news was that from the far side of the Continent, news that left him feeling sick to his stomache.

Vanzor had fallen.  The absolute impossibility of that fact made Ragarian wince.

How could his people have been so blind and just not know that an army had been building itself on Lunza readying itself to launch an invasion?  That was the only place it could have come from.  How could he have been so stupid not to have guessed what those hell cursed Guardians had been up to, when he had blindly sold them the ability to build an Army.  Why had he left it so late in the day to send spies to discover what they were doing on Lunza?  Vanzor had fallen!  The whole Royal Family, the garrison and everyone who had a horse, or a pair of frightened enough feet, had run away so fast they had nearly made it to Magor before the invading army had actually got to the gates.

A messenger had recently informed them that the remaining Warships of their Eastern Fleet were bottled up in the Bay of Hamir.  From the latest reports several had been fired as they had tried to escape and a couple more had been driven onto the rocks and sank, while trying to keep out of range of the catapults the enemy had installed on Hamir.  Ragarian began to follow the servant who was clearing a way for him across the throne room, fuming at the lack of viable alternatives he appeared to have available to him to react to the present situation.  If he had been able, he would have dispatched the Eastern Fleet to rain fireballs on the citizens of Lunza, however if the news did not change soon he would not have enough ships left to do anything at all in the east.

Two attacks by the garrison of Atlar, backed up by a militia contingent from Bizon and a hundred or so sailors, had been beaten back with no damage to the enemy, but with very serious casualties to his own forces.  Gods damn them.  The invaders could walk into Atlar and Bizon at this moment and there was no-one with the courage, or the means from what he could ascertain, to oppose them.  Perhaps they already had, for the latest news arriving in the Capital was already several days old.  Even getting information was proving almost impossible as most of the sea lanes were controlled by the enemy's Blackships, preventing the message carrying packets from getting to Ka, while Church couriers were being torn from their horses by a resurgence of outlaws that seemed to be moving according to some grand design that appeared to have out-foxed his own generals every time.

The inefficiency of his information gathering machine was brought home to Ragarian even as he mounted the steps to take his place upon his throne.  What idiot had decided to put the control center of the World at one of it's extremities?  He had once toyed with transferring his Court to Asiga, but had brushed the idea aside based upon the conservatism of keeping it where it had always been.  That had been a mistake.  If he were in Asiga he would have more recent news and would be able to make better decisions, however that was not the case and therefore he dismissed it from his mind, as he desperately tried to evaluate his options and strove to sum up the situation his administration found itself in.

From Rutan to Norden, Luzan to Comkar, they were getting messages every few minutes of sabotage, slave riots and the general anarchy of organized revolt.  Ragarian pushed a Novice out of his way as he crossed towards the map table, when the boy just happened to move too slowly.  The youth lost his balance and fell, and trying to protect the papers he was carrying, he slammed heavily onto the marble floor.  Suddenly Ragarian found that his composure had returned.  He went to the boy and helped him to his feet, wiping away the trickle of blood that escaped the young man's lips, from where he had bitten his tongue as he had fallen.  After making sure the boy was all right, Ragarian returned to his throne telling a guard he passed to make the many people present quiet.  The Guard tried once or twice to gain quietness in the room, but many of the people at the back of the room obviously never heard him and the noise continued.  At that moment a young monk burst through the doorway, running across the room towards the map table.

"Silence!"  Ragarian's voice echoed off the walls all around the chamber.

Suddenly the young monk running towards the map table realized that no-one else was even moving, so great was the shock that those in the room obviously felt at that moment.  He skidded to a stop only feet from the table.  Somewhere at the back of the hall someone said something to a neighbor and this time Ragarian's voice was little more in volume than his normal speaking voice, yet everyone heard him.  "The next man that lifts his voice above normal conversation level will have his tongue torn out and he will be served it for his supper this evening."  The silence was deafening as the Priest of Priests continued,  "And the next man who runs in this Hall will have the skin peeled from his feet and he will spend the next month on a tread mill in the kitchens."

Silence, if not sanity, returned to the Hall immediately.

Ragarian sat down on his throne again and continued as the officers of his Court once again directed their attention to him.

"So the Prince of Vanzor has run away from his City to protect his skin from a small army of ex-outlaws.  He will find that no-one, Royal Prince, Priest or common soldier is expected to run away from my enemies.  The coward is to be hung before the sun rises tomorrow morning, along with every Priest and soldier that left the City of Vanzor with him." 

Many of the faces in the room paled at Ragarian's cold menacing tone, but no-one raised an objection of any kind to his harsh sentencing of those that had failed to die for him.  The Priest of Priest's then urged his followers to come closer to him and when that ocean of serious faces were assembled in a tight crowd below the throne, he went on:    

"This morning some galley slaves escaped and fired our fleet in Karden.  Many of them were killed for it.  Gentlemen death is a reward for a galley slave.  In future any galley slave who runs away from his rightful place shall be blinded and then chained to an oar, where he shall spend the rest of his useful life providing a benefit to society.  A dead slave is worth nothing to us.  Nothing at all.  The same fate shall await any soldier who deserts his post.  Indiscriminate executions weaken our strength, therefore, if we need to put the fear of the Gods into anyone, we shall promise them a lifetime of pain and suffering.  That my friends is a far worse punishment than merely offering to end a life that may not be worth the living of it anyway!" 

His audience was listening hard now,  "My friends we have been surprised and shocked by the events of the last week, yet we should be thankful that we have had so little opposition to the rightful rule of the Church for so many years and we should deal with our problems from the position of strength that we still occupy.  We must prepare to do battle.  We must prepare to defend civilization from these heretics.  We must regain what we have lost and ensure that we are never caught unawares again.  Do this and we have absolutely nothing to fear!"

Seizing the moment the Priest of Priests continued,  "I want an order for me to sign before me in an hour, instigating the call-up of every free, able bodied male in Khanlar between the ages of eighteen and twenty six years old to serve our Cause.  I want a series of training camps set up within a matter of days where these men can be sent to become soldiers!"

The room was now silent and clerks were taking notes, while more senior members of his administration whispered agreements between themselves.  "General Toragor.  You will assemble every soldier of our Army and move them east to occupy the cities, towns and even important hamlets, in every Nation not in the hands of these heretics in that part of Khanlar.  You will prepare for the greatest war of a thousand years and you will build defense works from the northern coast to the southern sound, while we gather enough information to develop a plan of action that can not fail!"

General Toragor nodded and gave whispered orders to a subordinate, who immediately left the room to execute whatever those orders demanded.  Ragarian continued,  "Send messengers to every Prince and Bishop in Khanlar, to take effective measures immediately to defend their cities and monasteries and to conscript or hire a militia that will equal at least one man in every twenty five in the population, who shall be trained and equipped in preparation for the counter measures we shall need to take to overcome this present situation."

"Admiral Vishnay!"  Ragarian looked directly into the eyes of the commander of the Khanlarian Navy.  "You will prevent these Blackships from moving west in any way you can.  I want fleets of warships between these heretics and our free ports.  Do you understand?"

"Yes Sire."  The Admiral looked nervous,  "However Sire, if the news we are receiving is correct then we have lost no less than a third of our fleet already, perhaps as much as half.  I would like your permission Sire, to conscript some of the larger ships in the trading fleets belonging to the free Nations, to be converted to warships to carry out your orders."

"Take no more than two ships from each Nation Admiral."  Ragarian replied, then added,  "If as many of our ships have been destroyed as we are led to believe, then every shipyard in Khanlar is to be charged with the building of replacements.  We can not allow these people to control the seas, but neither must we lose our ability to trade and communicate!"

And so the initial shock of the Invasion was blunted by Ragarian's words within the highest levels of Church Government.  Princes of the Royal Blood across Khanlar soon heard of the hanging of their cousin who had until only recently ruled Vanzor and garrison troops everywhere heard of the hanging of their brother soldiers who had run from the enemy.  Within days of Prince Jarin's forces taking Vanzor, the market for people increased four times in Khanlar.  Every Captain of every Nation's Militia was out trying to hire the very best recruits for his Prince, while at the same time every City in the land became a beehive of activity as craftsmen and laborers, slaves and even women, worked long hours to rebuild walls, defense works and weaponry which had been neglected for nearly a decade.  Throughout the land the unemployed found employment, as the Army recruited the fit and the jobs they left behind when they went to the Army, became the prize of those left behind at home.

Princes who now knew that to desert their Nation was certain to gain them a sentence of death, or worse, like being blinded and chained to a galley oar, looked to the defenses of their cities with a sudden and all consuming interest.  Those who had allowed those defenses to crumble from neglect, suddenly found coin enough to recruit laborers by the hundred to rebuild their city walls.  Those who had saved their money, rather than go to the expense of outfitting their required quota of troops, just as suddenly realized that the need to be prepared might in fact control the length of their own very important lives.

After the fall of Vanzor the price of slaves doubled and then doubled again, before a month had passed.  Materials of all kinds went into immediate short supply.  Dealers in lumber, stone, bricks and all types of metal became rich overnight as inflation ran unchecked throughout the economy.  Shortly after that, the already high prices of grain and other storable food products entered the race and the explosion of demand made prices soar to reach previously unheard of highs.  In fact the invasion by the Khan's forces on the western coast improved greatly the economy of Khanlar everywhere, as those who stood to lose the most, vied with each other to protect themselves and their possessions.  And the stories of the Army of the Brotherhood who had taken the Island of Hamir and the Nation of Vanzor were exaggerated with every telling.  And so it was that the economy of fear grew.  

* * * * * * *

 Victory Eases Further Victory


After the successful capture of the City of Vanzor, the news spread like wildfire amongst those who were still oppressed by the Church and what it's post war policies had brought to the people of Khanlar.  Soon refugees from the Nations that once formed the Asigan Alliance began heading towards Vanzor and slaves frpm all Nations joined them.  In ever increasing numbers the movement east grew, until it seemed that everyone on the back roads, or little known forest tracks, of Khanlar was traveling towards the rising sun, fleeing the conditions that had reduced them to being almost nothing under the Church system.  They came alone, or they traveled in small groups of friends or neighbors.  Some came with what was left of their families, while others met on the road and moved eastward in groups, for both the company and the protection that numbers afforded them.  All of them were journeying on a pilgrimage that had instilled into them the first true hope that they had known in many years.  Freemen, slaves, the illiterate and the educated, the old and the young, men, women and children, all of them seeking something they did not have where they had been before, be it justice or revenge, morality or self respect, a chance for their children, or safety for their parents, they set out for Vanzor in a great, almost instinctive, migration towards hope.

While those looking to escape the rule of the Church moved east so also did a great number of those whose lives were intertwined with it's success begin to move west.  Merchants and landlords of the ruling elite started to send their children in ever increasing numbers to become students in schools and colleges in the western Nations.  Older family members were similarly sent for extended stays with relatives and friends who lived in the Nations of the west.

The down trodden survivors of the Brotherhood living in the Nations that had once formed the Asigan Alliance welcomed the news of the conquest of Vanzor with secret celebrations.  People who had been sold into slavery after the Great War for supporting the Cause of the Brotherhood, started to imagine the days when their chains would be removed.  The citizens of the once proud Nations of the Asigan Alliance were not the only ones to see the invasion and the subsequent capture of Vanzor as an occasion in History worth remembering.  Tens of thousands of slaves, freeman laborers, poor farmers, academics and craftsmen across Khanlar either welcomed the news, not openly of course, or wondered if perhaps there was a chance that the enlightened days of Prince Zorigan might soon return to the land.

Within ten days of the conquest of Vanzor by the Khan's troops, that area of Eastern Khanlar still under the rule of the Church sank into a state of disorganization that bordered upon anarchy, if it did not in fact embrace it completely.  The psychological shock to the system that the invasion and subsequent victory brought to the order of things destroyed every visage of normality, in many sectors of the public and private sectors of those Nations.  Militiamen turned a blind eye to murder and mayhem, yet would lock up an innocent young mother for failing to bring all of her children to the temple on the Sabbath. 

Gold coin in the hand of the Officer of the Guard would allow convicted felons the chance to free themselves of their chains and leave town, or could prevent the investigation of a rich man's rape of a poor girl.  The local Prince's Militia might well steal the goods from a merchant passing through town, just as old scores were settled in the alleys and on the highways, as Law and Order degenerated into a code of "he who has the might, or the gold, has the right to make and enforce his own law".  

* * * * * * *


From the moment Vanzor was taken, the Khan's troops worked day and night to make that Nation safe from counter attack.  The citizens of Vanzor found themselves working alongside the soldiers as a great dike was dug along the many miles between the River Vanzor and the River Tor, twenty miles from the city of Vanzor itself.  While this was being done the border areas of the Nations of Utan and Magor, which appeared to be deserted, for so many of it's people had fled, were open to the invaders to pillage.  The Khan's soldiers were able to cross the borders into both of those Nations and round up huge herds of sheep and cattle unopposed, as their minders either came over to the Khan's Cause, or took off for places west.  Whole villages and small towns gave themselves up by desertion, to a systematic looting by the Khan's foraging parties and the lands for twenty miles the enemy side of the borders of Vanzor were deserted.

The earth excavated from the twenty foot wide ditch was piled on the enemy bank and some fifty feet back on the Vanzorian side a stockade wall of sharpened logs was built.  It was an engineering feat never before attempted that anyone alive had heard of.  Teams of horses harnessed to great earth moving wagons stamped and sweated in four hour shifts throughout the day and night, just as teams of men manhandled prefabricated eight foot wide log sections into place along the stockade wall.  Across the land between the Rivers Tor and Vanzor the dike stretched and less than four weeks after they had landed, the Khan's soldiers were able to divert the waters of those rivers to fill that man-made ditch.  To the north of their positions they fortified the River Vanzor itself with a stockade wall and small stone forts were built every half mile around the entire border of the Nation of Vanzor.

On the island of Hamir the men of the Wolves Regiment fought seventeen engagements during the weeks it took their brothers to build the defenses of Vanzor.  Most of those engagements were with ships of the Church Fleet, which constantly tried to escape the trap that they had been put into by that strategic landing and there were five actual attempts at landing on the island itself by Church Troops, all of which were soundly defeated.  After twenty three days of almost constant action, the Church Authorities in Atlar gave up and accepted the de-facto stalemate.  The men of the Wolves were therefore able to relax a little, spending most of their days from then on erecting a stone castle and building a wall around the island itself.  The statistics which came to Colonel Zavir from the Khan's Intelligence Corps, one month after his men had first landed on Hamir, showed that for the seven men he had lost and fourteen wounded men he had sent back by ship to Dag, the Church had lost nine ships of the line and more than a thousand experienced men dead, many of whom had drowned when their ships were sunk trying to escape the Bay of Hamir.  The Church had also suffered hundreds upon hundreds of it's men being seriously wounded in their vain invasion attempts upon the small island.

Admiral Kovis' sea campaign proved successful from the moment it was implemented, for it was found that apart from their military deficit in competitiveness with the Blackships, the Church Navy had suffered a massive loss of morale with the invasion of Vanzor and the humbling of their Eastern Fleet in the Bay of Hamir.  The indentured or kidnapped crews of the Church Navy had no stomach to pit their wallowing, out-matched galleons against the seagoing superiority of the Blackships, many of the crews throwing themselves overboard and risking the open sea, rather than face the prospect of battle with the Brotherhood's Navy.  Mutiny had as much to do with the destruction of the Church's Navy as did the lack of preparedness and the mismanagement for years by their Admirals.

Many a Church official and Church Navy Admiral had grown rich by short-changing the men and vessels under their command.  Many put to sea with a shortage of supplies and crews only controlled by harsh and unfair discipline.  Galley slaves willingly allowed themselves to be flung overboard rather than row against the Khan's ships, they went still wearing the chains which assured them of a death by drowning, as their contribution to the victory of the blackships over their persecutors.  Captains and Deck Officers were routinely hung or assassinated by their crews during a voyage and no less than four Warships were deliberately scuttled by their own sailors during the first month following the inglorious fall of Vanzor.

Even before the news that Vanzor had fallen reached the Priest of Priests in the Holy City of Ka, the eastern seas were already firmly controlled by Prince Jarin's Fleet from Goja to Predon.  Two dozen ships of the Sword class roamed the coastline of Khanlar in four squadrons of six ships of the line, gathering up merchant ships of the Church Nations, whose bad luck it was to be in the same part of the world at the time.  The Church Navy was decimated in the short war that followed the invasion of Khanlar.  It's eastern fleet was either trapped in Atlar or had already been destroyed, either as it's captains tried to escape or by the fire ships the Khan's Navy had sent into the Bay of Hamir before a strong northeaster.  In Karden, Navis and Norden many ships had been set on fire or holed by saboteurs, some had even been fired by their own galley slaves still chained to the benches.

The Church Navy had numbered more than two hundred ships prior to the invasion of Vanzor, ranging in size from the small packets that the Administration used for it's messenger service to the great three decked warships that were it's pride and joy.  Yet they were all soundly defeated in every encounter with the better equipped and tactically superior Blackships of the Khan's Navy.  Of the sixty four warships sailing the seas when the invasion of Vanzor began, only thirty four were still seaworthy a month later.  In the one real sea battle off the coast of Dang the Church Navy had proved hopelessly outclassed by the faster, more maneuverable and better armed blackships of the Khan's Navy and of the twenty ships that had begun that battle only seven were able to limp back to Navis, when the fleets finally disengaged due to a storm coming in from the south.  Had the storm waited a day or two it was probable that the Khan's Navy would have sunk, or captured, every warship Admiral Vishnay had sent against them.

The invasion of Vanzor completed and knowing his troops to be in total control of that situation, Jarin decided to take a small contingent of his Royal Guard along with the Lions Regiment and lead an attack on the Nation of Goja himself.  The entire Khanlarian Seaboard was now firmly under the control of a great fleet of Blackships.  Another twelve blackships had been launched and had joined the Khan's Fleet since the invasion of Vanzor.  Four squadrons of these terrifyingly efficient floating war machines now sailed without opposition around Khanlar, one squadron based in Lunza policed the Northern Seas without any opposition, the second in Vanzor blockading the mouth of the Eastern Waterway and a third using Dag as it's base sailed the length of the Southern Ocean causing havoc to Church shipping and trade.  The last squadron, Jarin's flagship was now leading south having left Vanzor on the evening tide.  As he walked the wheel deck of the Angel while it plowed through the moonlit ocean that night, the pomp and circumstance of the moment overcame him.  Spread out behind the Angel, like a fan centered on it's wake, sailed a squadron of nine tall Blackships, silent in their passage over that silver sea.  The men were sleeping below and apart from the night watch Jarin was alone when Sandar came up on deck.

"Gives you a great feeling of power to be on a mission like ours on a night such as this my friend, does it not?"  Jarin said as he took the hot cup from Sandar's outstretched hand.

"Aye Sire.  It is as if the very ocean is our ally and the night is charged with magic."  All the ceremonial that had surrounded them these past weeks slipped away, as the two friends stood at the rail and looked out upon a sea that seemed made of molten silver.  "I must admit that I am surprised that our enemy has been unable to mount a better defense against us my Lord.  It is as if the Gods themselves have paved our way with victories since the hour we sailed out of Lunza."

"The enemy has lost his mobility Sandar."  Jarin gazed out at the heaving ocean that stretched to the end of the world,  "We out-number and out-class him at sea and he has yet to control the situation on land.  If he moves all of his soldiers east to confront us, he will be unable to rule in the lands he does own, and that will not change while our saboteurs and agents that are so well hidden amongst his own people.  There has never been a war fought like this one before Sandar.  There are no armies fighting armies, each with it's obvious Cause and supporters.  Here and now, Khanlar suffers from the age old symptoms of a dying system.  It is a situation that can only lead to total anarchy, unless either I, or Ragarian, can learn to hold control of what we have marked out for ourselves on the maps without this degenerating into an ongoing war of attrition."

"I agree Sire.  In theory we have no chance of holding what we have won, until you consider the technology that the Guardians have given us.  If Ragarian could build a fleet of Blackships, copy our tactics and weapons and imbue his people with the belief they had no choice but to win or die, as our people believe, then our lesser numbers would be overrun in a month."

"Then we must be sure he does not have the chance to do it."  Jarin emptied his mug and placed it on the deck.

"Sire, we must understand that it is only a matter of time before he will have manufactured copies of everything we have in the way of weapons.  His sergeants will learn our tactics in short order and start retraining the soldiers under their command.  It is only a matter of time.  That is why I believe we must continue to conquer and control, until the time when we are strong enough to face everything he has without any fear of being outnumbered."

"If he only gives us the time we still need my friend."  Jarin touched his hand on his friends arm.

And so the two most senior officers of the Brotherhood left the almost empty deck to the Officer of the Watch and the helmsmen, not hearing the confidence those two old sailors shared after hearing the conference between their leaders.  

* * * * * * *

 The Surrender of Goja


The Lions and the Wolves Regiments scrambled ashore a little to the east of the City of Goja, on the southern coast of that Nation, an hour or so after dawn.  Taking advantage of a low lying fog, they crossed the island undetected and they were at the gates of the city itself before the alarm was raised.  Jarin stood just beyond the tree line of the copse where the more than two thousand men they had brought to this place stood silently at attention in silent ranks, flanked by the equally silent trees.  The shadows of a rising sun illuminated the dark blue uniforms, resplendent helmets and sparkling eyes of the soldiers awaiting only the call to advance. 

"It would seem that again our enemy has chosen to leave his defenses open to us Sire."  Sandar whispered to Jarin.  The good captain had moved quietly up to stand beside his Lord.

"So it would appear my friend."  Jarin lifted the eyeglass again and spent several minutes inspecting every aspect of the walls and layout of the city beneath them.  In the harbor a small trading ship flying the colors of Rutan was busily preparing to sail.  The gates had already been opened wide, to allow the herdsmen of that nation to go forth to mind their herds of cattle for which Goja was famous.  Jarin turned and looked behind him, lifting his right hand and holding it there until he had received an acknowledgement from the line officers behind him.  Lifting his left forefinger to his lips in the universal request for silence Jarin then dropped his right hand.  Noiseless hand signals from his officers began the advance.

In unison the Lions and Wolves Regiments began their silent advance upon the town.  They covered the four hundred yards to the walls of the city without anyone giving the alarm, their crossbows loaded and held at the ready.  Before the startled guards in the gate house could react soldiers of the Lions Regiment were spreading through the streets of the town.  To give the defenders their due they did try to mount a battle to save their city, but out-numbered and out-maneuvered as they already were by the time they began to fight back, they had no chance whatsoever of stopping the well disciplined troops of the Khan's invading force from taking the city of Goja in a matter of minutes.

Jarin, surrounded by three dozen Royal Guards, followed the Lions, keeping to the main thoroughfare while the regular troops spread out through the side streets and alleys.  Thirty seven of Goja's defending soldiers died and another hundred or so were wounded, before their harassed commander finally threw down his sword in frustration and surrendered the city.

A small contingent of Lions gathered together the Prince of Goja and his family, along with three dozen or so priests, servants and Gojan officers and escorted them to the docks of that city, where they were allowed to board one of their ships and leave the island for the mainland, flying the blue and white flag that would give them passage through the Khan's fleet.  Jarin occupied the deposed Prince's Palace even while this was happening, and he and his officers were able to enjoy the great breakfast that had in fact been prepared originally for their enemies, so fast had been the victory.  All of Goja's remaining citizens were brought in small groups to the main square and informed by officers of the Khan's invading army that they had the choice to join his Empire, or take ship for the mainland after their Prince.

When those who had chosen to leave were escorted under armed guard to the docks, Jarin stepped forth onto the Palace balcony and addressed his new subjects.   "I am Prince Jarin, Khan of Khanlar.  I am on a crusade to free the people of Khanlar from the shackles of a corrupt and criminal Church and it's minions.  Lunza, Dag, Vanzor, Hamir and now Goja are under my protection.  You are now citizens of the Brotherhood of Nations.  A squadron of my Navy will be stationed in Goja and my troops will garrison it."

There were no cheers.  In fact his audience could best be said to be experiencing a mood of shock.  Several thousand helpless former citizens of Goja merely stood before their new ruler in what could only be termed acceptance, even if it was colored by a sense of confusion.   "Your lives will change only in that you have now come under my protection,"  Jarin continued,  "Your industry will be rewarded, your labors will continue, but your lives from this moment on are caught up in the greatest current of change the world has ever seen and one day you will tell your grandchildren of this day and of the great things it brought to Goja."

With that Jarin turned on his heel and left the balcony, noting that the great banner of the Brotherhood already flew from the standard at the top of the tallest tower on the palace.  A few hours before sunset, two other ships carried the three hundred or so Gojans and visitors from other Nations caught up in that place by the invasion, out of Goja headed for the Nation of Thar.

Goja was a valuable and strategic prize, even if it was not a great one.  It's population was less than sixty thousand and it had no wealth or raw materials to speak of.  In normal times it would have been of little use to any expanding administration.  It was, however, wartime and that changed greatly the value of controlling the island Nation of Goja.  From the western most point of Goja a few catapults could control all sea going traffic along the important Straits of Calvazan, through which all eastern bound vessels sailing along the southern coast reached the eastern ocean.  It also meant that as long as Prince Jarin's forces controlled the straits, any Church warships coming from the West to attack the Khan's domain would have to take to the great ocean to the east of Goja, where they would be no match for the Sword class fighting ships of the Khan's Navy, a squadron of which was already making arrangements to use Goja as it's base.

Other than it's strategic position Goja had one other asset very necessary to Prince Jarin's armies.  The Nation of Goja was the largest producer of boots and shoes in Khanlar and Prince Jarin knew his men would fight far better if they fought in well made boots.  The leather to make this footwear was locally grown as well, harvested from the huge herds of cattle that outnumbered the human population of Goja many times over.  It was a place built upon the economy of cattle.  After footwear the next most important items Jarin's army would benefit from were the supply of dried and salted meat and huge wheels of cheese Goja produced, provisions that had once profited the Royal House of Goja's treasury from it's contracts with the Church Navy.

In a single sweep the whole eastern seaboard of Khanlar had fallen under the complete control of the Khan's Navy.  The cities of Predon, Rigan and Comkar in the north and Atlar in the south were now completely cut off from all supplies that used to come to them by sea.  In most cases with coastal cities in Khanlar that could amount to as much as eighty percent of everything.  Shortages were felt immediately and the ever present threat that at any moment a fleet of black ships might sail into the harbor, carrying thousands of crack troops, as they had at Vanzor, Hamir and now Goja, made those Nations very poor places to find one's self in, after the fall of Goja.

Before the day was out the Angel and two other ships of what was now the Gojan Squadron, set sail towards Vanzor.  The entire contingents of the Wolves and Lions Regiments were now garrisoned on Goja, the other two ships sailing escort for the Sword were loaded to the gunwales with the contents of the many storehouses on the island they had just left empty.  Cheese, dried meat, casks of salt beef, hundreds of hides of leather and two hundred recently slaughtered carcasses of beef filled their holds.  The Angel plowed heavy laden through the blood colored ocean, while Jarin and Sandar watched the sunset from the wheel deck as they talked.

"Do you realize Sire, our troops have yet to be truly tested?"  Sandar seemed perplexed.  "What happened in Goja is exactly the same as we found when we invaded Vanzor and Hamir.  Quick and frightened surrender.  We could probably take every city on the Eastern Seaboard in a week with the troops we have already."

"I have no doubt my friend that we could."  Jarin replied,  "Yet to do so in my opinion would ruin our Cause in less than three months.  You should talk more to Tamerin, he fears as I do that we are prodding a giant that has not yet found out exactly how much we can harm him.  We are like a small bee landing on a person.  His only concern is to brush us off before we harm him, not knowing that should we sting him he could well die."

"Sire, I am just a soldier.  If we can win the war why do we hold back?"  Sandar seemed truly confused and appeared to be unable to see beyond the victory he foresaw as being easy.

"We could win the War and then lose the Peace, my friend.  That is why I wait."  Jarin took the glass of mulled wine brought to him by a trooper.  Sipping the hot liquid he continued,  "In another two months or so, we shall have fifteen thousand troops under our command.  Even now we present the Priest of Priests with a formidable problem, yet he holds some very strong cards.  The longer he can keep us bottled up in Vanzor the better he can organize a resistance and bring an army to defeat us, yet at the same time we are strong enough to call a stalemate for many months.  The key to this game will be holding the naval advantage; as long as our fleet manages to out fight the Church Navy and control the seas, the Church will have a major supply problem in servicing an army of a size great enough to drive us out of Vanzor.  Yet if we were to split our forces to try to hold say, half a dozen cities, then he could pick us off one city at a time."

"I still feel that with every victory we weaken them my Lord."  Sandar countered.

"Aye.  And ourselves.  No, we need this time as well my friend.  The best thing that could happen to us right now is that the Church Army were to try to evict us from Vanzor.  Our defenses are sound, our morale high, and we could evacuate our troops before any real disaster overtook us, just because we control the oceans.  However, I doubt that the Church Generals are going to be willing to waste their best troops in an unsuccessful attack on us just yet, more's the pity."

Sandar was called away at that moment by one of his men, leaving Jarin to ponder the situation on his own.  He understood Sandar's frustration and he knew it was echoed by many of his officers.  They were uncontested on the field to date, they had longer range and better siege capabilities than their enemies, in fact they could be claimed to be undeniably superior to any force the Church could put against them.  However, the Church had a great hinterland of men and supplies to call upon, and could mount an attack outnumbering the Khan's forces many times over should they decide to do so.  That was what had lost the Great War.  The Guardians had advised and Jarin had welcomed, the concept of bringing the enemy into the man killing trap that they had made of Vanzor.  Already the Church was building the greatest army base the world had ever seen at Magor, a few scant miles west of their earthworks.  The time would come soon enough for his officers and soldiers to prove their superiority.  It began to rain and Jarin went below to sleep away the rest of the voyage back to Vanzor.


 * * * * * * *


Chapter Seventeen

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