Chapter Eighteen


Waiting for War 


Ragarian had traveled by land all the way from the Holy City of Ka to the eastern City of Karian.  He would have liked to have been able to travel on to the City of Magor where General Toragor had built the greatest Army base that Khanlar had ever known.  However, he had thought it wise to accept the advice of those he trusted and therefore he had not traveled to the actual front lines, of what he and his supporters believed would one day be the site of the greatest battle in Khanlar's History. 

There was a definite sense of humiliation in having to have made the journey by land, however the chance of his being captured had he taken the normal route by sea from Rangar to Norden and then by caravan down the road from that city to Karian, had forced him to have little or no choice in the matter.  

As it was the twelve day journey had been an educational, if uncomfortable one.  Along the way Ragarian had understood the problem he would have to face one day from the obvious disparity between the elite of his kingdom and the absolute poverty of the majority of his subjects.  The road from city to city throughout his journey had been paved and reasonably well looked after, but the tracks which left the road into the small villages and hamlets where most of the people lived, were little better than animal trails through a forest.  The inhabitants of these places had come out to watch him pass by, with his caravan of splendid coaches and wagons, escorted by well equipped guards and silken robed dignitaries.  These common subjects of his realm, hats in hand and heads bowed, had stood dirty and barefoot in many cases, accepting for the moment their position at the bottom rung of civilization, but in his heart Ragarian knew it was only a matter of time before this subservient majority would register their discontent and rise against the power elite that he headed. 

The Nation of Karian itself was a backwater of civilization, it's city being a bastion that stood in the center of forests that had changed little since time had begun.  Yet it had a certain charm and could well support the lifestyle of a Court in the field.  Prince Regirian of Karian had provided his eminent guests with the run of his palace and everything that his obvious wealth could create for a short stay by the most powerful man in the world.  Therefore that Spring morning the Priest of Priests met with his War Cabinet in the throne room of the palace and allowed Regirian the honor of joining them.  In fact Ragarian had not felt so optimistic in months and his journey to this place had provided him with a feeling of certainty he had not experienced in years. 

Khanlar was finally showing signs of a vibrant economy and seemed to have all but recovered from the collapse created by the first war with the Asigan Alliance.  In the West the best harvest in many years had all but replenished the storage sheds and granaries, to the great relief of all his people, almost as much as to Ragarian himself.  Most of the degenerates and parasites had been removed from society, either by his own Relocation Forces, or taken away by the Guardians to fuel this invasion, or merely by the availability of employment that had been given to them once again. 

As he had entered the City of Karian the day before he had noted the extensive repairs that had been carried out in the last year, not only to the walls, but to every structure within the city as well.  The road along which he had traveled had also been renovated and Karian was an example of what he had seen the length of his route.   

In Araz no less than twenty new ships had laid at anchor in the bay.  Warships greater than any the Church Navy had commissioned in years.  Yes Ragarian certainly felt that his administration had accomplished great things in the previous year, and it showed in his voice as he addressed his assembled officers.  In a way he had much to thank Prince Jarin and the Guardians for, for their invasion had provided a much needed impetus to the changes that Ragarian had championed against the odds a few months back. 

"Gentlemen it would appear that we are almost ready to drive these heretics back into the sea, and then go on to regain the islands they have made their sanctuaries."  His words were received with much agreement and warmth by the hundred or so officers and a like number of Administration officials gathered in the room.  "I am told by General Toragor that we are all but decided upon a frontal attack upon Vanzor in a matter of weeks, is that not so Alin?" 

"It is Sire."  General Toragor replied,  "My staff and I believe that in less than a month we shall be well ready to mount the attack we have all been waiting for this last year my Lord." 

Ragarian flinched at the General's words.  It was a year.  Almost twelve months to the day since he had first received the news that Vanzor had fallen.  It had taken them a year to build an army and complete the supplying and training necessary to call this meeting today.  Ragarian still did not understand why Prince Jarin and his Guardian allies had not pressed on the attack during that time.  They had taken Goja and it's sister island Yadar and of course they had effectively nullified Atlar when they had occupied Hamir, yet looking back he realized that they might have gone on to conquer every city east of Lake Asiga had they chosen to advance.  The Church Forces had been in complete disarray for weeks following the invasion and the Brotherhood might well have annexed the whole north eastern territory of Khanlar had they merely marched into it, rather than stay to fortify Vanzor. 

". . . we of course have the catapults on both sides of the Eastern Waterway to prevent their Blackships from entering it, which has allowed us to use Utan to supply our forces in the field.  We have also diversified our supply routes to take advantage of our northern ports and our control of the land."  General Toragor had been talking for some time, however the Priest of Priests had missed most of the beginning of the General's speech, he had been so deep in thought. 

"There is no chance that their accursed Blackships could cut off those supplies if we find ourselves engaged for a long period in the forthcoming campaign General?"  Ragarian already knew the answer, but asked the question to ensure that the other officers present also knew it. 

General Toragor answered, either in ambitious optimism, or to impress the others attendees of this conference.  "None Sire.  We have nothing as yet that can out-sail them, however even their speed and fire-power is nothing if they are sufficiently outnumbered.  Even their whole Navy, should it unite to attack us, could not take on either of our fleets provided we decide where to do battle.  Admiral Koranik's fleet in the north has fifty two ships of the line and Admiral Vishnay in the south commands a fleet of fifty six warships.  The Brotherhood's fleet is still a potent force if they could engage our fleet in an open battle, but if they unite to attack our Southern Fleet then our Northern Fleet would be on their Nations like Pavia's Dragon, and vice versa.  We may not be able to attack them in their home waters, but we can keep them out of ours!" 

"I like the news General!"  Ragarian smiled, although he found himself still not able to allow himself to believe his commander in chief completely,  "I truly like this news!" 

"In four weeks or so Sire, I will have twenty thousand men assembled for battle, along with three regiments of cavalry and three corps of artillery.  We will merely need to advance upon them like a butcher corners a herd of sheep.  We will wear them down with a continuous hail of death.  Legion after Legion advancing and fighting, withdrawing and being replaced by fresh troops, until we grind into them like a loose waterwheel." 

At that moment one of Prince Regirian's servants arrived to announce that luncheon was ready.  Ragarian almost jumped up, taking General Toragor's arm he led the old soldier from the room with what could only be described as glee.   "You know Alin, my appetite is greater today than I can remember it being for years."  Ragarian stated truthfully, and he and the General laughingly led the assembly from the throne room into the dining room with everyone enjoying the ambience of the moment.  

 * * * * * * *

 A Future is Made Not Won  

In Norden the year since Prince Jarin had led the invasion of Vanzor was coming to an end for Perigan Marlinger as well, however it was a year he would have preferred not to have had to live through sometimes.   

Perigan would never forget the day of his ex-wife's ultimate dishonor for as long as he lived.  He had thought that everything in his personal life had finally re-arranged itself to where he could not only accept it, but actually find life fulfilling again.  Most important of all to him was how both of his daughters had welcomed Liana into their home, for they had taken her into their hearts in exactly the way that he had, immediately and without question. 

His ex-wife however, incurring the jealousy of her employer's wife, had taken up residence with the old male retainer of her employer that had given her her first entrance into that life.  Her obvious flirtations with her employer had finally become too obvious, and to her dismay she had discovered that the wealth she so coveted was in fact the property of her employers wife.  Desperate to hide her newly discovered problem she had grabbed the first fool she could blame, to take the suspicion off the man who controlled her income.  The fact that she had not yet entered her thirties and the retainer was already retired out of service and at the end of his sixties, she dismissed as totally unimportant.  Her employer's wife  obviously wished to see an end to her embarrassment, so she openly welcomed the match and even encouraged it by making the new couple family friends. 

Perigan was just glad it was all over.  His marriage had been annulled only weeks before Liana had arrived on his doorstep and although his daughters seemed to desperately dislike the old man their mother had taken up with so suddenly, Perigan merely assumed that they saw him as the villain who had destroyed their family life.  But that day when at the end of a normal week both of his daughters refused to leave with their mother for the weekend, Perigan had little warning of the horror that was about to enter his new family's life.  He only discovered that when the militiaman arrived at the behest of his ex-wife and her new lover, ostensibly empowered to take Perigan's children to her. 

The Militiaman was a middle-aged professional with life weary eyes and when Perigan showed the man his children's clothing packed for the weekend trip and the man saw the girls dressed and ready to go, his brisk manner disappeared and he requested that Perigan allow him to talk with the children alone for a few moments.  As requested Perigan had gone out onto the patio, wishing that Liana was not away for the hour visiting one of her new friends.  Then the horror began.  The militiaman came out onto the patio, putting away his notebook and making for the gate where Perigan's ex-wife awaited in her carriage. 

"You could be in a lot of trouble Master Marlinger."  The Militiaman snapped,  "Why haven't you reported your children's allegations?" 

Perigan had been confused at the man's tone and therefore was still trying to work out what it could be that he was being accused of, when the man continued.  "You really don't know, do you?  You have no idea of what I am talking about do you?" 

"Absolutely no idea whatsoever,"  Perigan replied,  "What allegations?  About what?" 

The officer rebuttoned the pocket into which he had just pushed his notebook.  "Your children are accusing your ex-wife's benefactor of molesting them.  They refuse to go anywhere near him, and if what they are telling me is true I don't blame them.  Mind you I don't want you doing anything Master Marlinger, you leave everything to the system." 

Perigan finally realized what the officer was saying.  His ex-wife's benefactor, that senile old man, was molesting his daughters.  The officer saw the anger suddenly rising up in the mild little apothecary and he put his hand on Perigan's shoulder reassuringly. 

"Look, I have kids of my own.  I understand exactly how you feel, but if you take matters into your own hands you will finish up in a lot of trouble.  I will tell your ex-wife that she can not take them until all of this is sorted out.  You will have someone from the Administration contact you, but I suggest you go out and get yourself a lawyer and make sure you keep your children away from your wife's home and her boyfriend."  

And with that he was gone. 

Perigan had gone back into the house in shock.  Things like this did not happen to people like him.  His daughters had run up to him and hugged him, crying with happiness and saying sorry at the same time.  In a daze Perigan had gone  into the kitchen and begun making something for them to eat. 

The following months had been like a daydream to Perigan.  All around him the world was changing, for except for his home, everything else in his life was new and sometimes terrifying and always it seemed, disturbing. 

His private knowledge of the Brotherhood's activities kept him informed of the build-up in the East and the great changes that were getting ready to take place in Khanlar.  Norden, like many other cities in the land, was already beginning to show the cracks in the new economy of the land and great events were shaping before his very eyes.  His relationship with Liana brought them closer and closer together and in the Autumn they were married, with his daughters as the proud bridesmaids.  Yet everyday the events brought about by the Militiaman's visit became even stranger as they progressed. 

A person from the Administration did come, but had appeared somewhat confused and after a long conversation with the children had advised Perigan to get himself a good lawyer and to get as many doctor's reports on their claims as he could afford.  He found a lawyer, with the recommendation of a neighbor, and soon found why the thought of legal action in Khanlar frightened so many people.  The bills were terrifying.  No less so were the costs imposed upon him by the doctors who examined and interviewed his children, but the most frightening part of it all was the intrigue which took over almost immediately after the militiaman's visit. 

His lawyer had requested him to get a copy of the Militiaman's report.  Yet when Perigan had walked to the Militia Post and requested a copy they had informed him that there was no such report.  However, his contacts on behalf of the Khan's Intelligence Service had located a clerk who worked in the Militia Post and a contraband copy had been delivered to him secretly.  With the copy in his possession he again requested a real copy from the authorities, only this time he had the case number at hand.  A few days later he was informed that the case had been transferred to another post, a post in that part of the city where his ex-wife and her benefactor resided.  Worse still, his contacts informed him that his ex-wife's benefactor had once served in that very post as a militiaman himself in his younger days, before going to work for her employer. 

He immediately contacted the second post and was informed that a Sergeant Salazin was handling the case.  Perigan tried for many days to get in touch with the Sergeant to no avail and it was not until he talked to the Station Officer that he was able to get Salazin to talk to him.  However his only conversation with the man left him with the knowledge that in Khanlar's system, Justice had little chance against money and influence.  Sergeant Salazin was blunt and to the point.    "So you think your daughters were raped?  Bring them over here and I'll have them thoroughly, and I mean thoroughly, examined.  You want them to go through that?  You want them to stand up in front of a judge and have the whole world know they have been used and played with. . .  and probably asked for it?" 

"I never said they were raped. . ."  Perigan was thrown off guard by the obvious rancor of this man who, in theory anyhow, was entrusted to maintain the law,  "Who are you trying to protect anyway?  My daughters, or the man that abused them?" 

"Don't lose your temper with me fool.  You are a foreigner here.  You go around accusing an ex-militiaman and you are going to find yourself serving time.  How long do you think you would last in prison if the guards didn't care what happened to you?" 

"Prison?  Why would I end up in prison?  I'm not the criminal in this affair.  Look. . ."  Perigan insisted,  "I have no argument with you.  Are you going to do anything about this case.  The man, whether he served in the Militia or not, stands accused of breaking the law." 

"Little man, you will most definitely have an argument, as you put it, but you will have it with every Militiaman you ever meet for the rest of your life, if you go through with this."  The Sergeant's tone had softened a little,  "I suggest you just drop everything and forget it, before you get in so deep you can't get out." 

"And the report in front of you?"  Perigan persisted, "What are you going to do about that?" 

"Nothing.  I have no report.  I have never heard of it, or you, or your daughters.  It does not exist.  Now get out of here and let this thing be forgotten.  Otherwise someone just may find stolen property in your house, or worse.."  With that said, the Sergeant picked up the report and with some showmanship, tore it in two and then dumped it in the waste basket beside his desk. 

Perigan left the Militia Post in the worst temper he had ever experienced.  Yet he knew that he was unable to do anything about what was happening, unless he was willing to sacrifice to this desperate system of government everyone he loved and held dear.  If the Militia lived up to the Sergeant's threats how long would Liana, or his daughters, survive if he were incarcerated or, as the worse case scenario would suppose, if he were dead? 

After that it got worse.  His ex-wife refused any contact whatsoever with her children as the months passed.  The lawyers kept sending bills.  The doctors kept sending bills.  His work was all-consuming of his time.  In one of the many incidents which were to prove the influence of his ex-wife's benefactor, he was pushed around by two obviously out-of-uniform militiamen in an alley and advised to go back to his home city.  His business was suffering, leaving him earning less and less, as he desperately needed more and more.  At one point, to keep food upon the table, he had to accept Liana's offer of her own little hoard of coin.  All in all, without Liana to support him and his daughters need of him, there were times when he wondered why he bothered to go on living through the nightmare his life had become since the militiaman's visit. 

At last, after more than nine months, the day of the Court Case came around.  His lawyer had filed for restraining orders on his ex-wife's benefactor, when it became obvious to Perigan that the authorities were not going to process the case.  In actuality the case was postponed and tied up for months, with Perigan's requests and complaints ignored completely.  The time could not have been worse for them.  Liana was in her last month of pregnancy with their first child, the due date less than a week away.  The Khan's Forces were preparing for something big, and his business was on the verge of bankruptcy.  Perigan also had the worst cold he had had in several years. 

The Court Case proved to be a farce from beginning to end.  Five days of watching his business suffer at a time when he could ill afford it, and five days of watching the smug, self-satisfied contempt of his ex-wife, who acted for all the world as if her own daughter's welfare and safety were secondary at the best, to her continued relationship with her provider.  The benefactor of his ex-wife did not appear at all, he was in contempt of a Court Order to appear throughout the proceedings, however the Judge refused to even talk about it.  Judge Koltesar was also to refuse all evidence, witnesses and even all but one of the doctor's reports, which Perigan had paid so much to obtain.  Even then, the pomposity of Judge Koltesar was such that he saw the plaintiff in another case while that one doctor's evidence and opinion was being presented.  Liana was refused the chance to testify.  But most important of all was the fact that his ex-wife brought her own witnesses who, with his ex-wife taking the lead, began to tell lies in a never ending progression of perjury throughout the days of the hearing.  The Judge, a vain man who carefully combed his thinning white hair every time he entered the room, casually threw out any piece of evidence which might help Perigan's case and accepted without question every lie the other side presented.  It soon became clear that there was no way that any judge could even pretend impartiality and conduct a case the way that Judge Koltesar was conducting this one.  The pompous Doctor Wilsonar his ex-wife hired, whom Perigan had only met once, many years before when trying to gain access to his children and then for only twenty minutes or so, in his ex-wife's company, came into the court and took the witness chair.  Then in a two day rambling of lies he testified to having either carried out tests on the children and Perigan, or claimed that the Apothecary had refused certain tests, stating that his examinations had convinced him that Perigan was a megalomaniac and completely unfit to be a father. 

One favorable oral deposition, from the children's own doctor of many years, was entered into the written record by Perigan's ex-wife's lawyer Horlikar, who had taken it, stating the exact opposite of what he had indeed actually said.  The doctor had stated that the children had been molested, but in the written version presented by the lawyer she stated that he had said they had not.  In the end, after five days of hell, during which Liana had gone into labor in the Courtroom, Perigan had been placed upon three years criminal probation not to in any way harass his ex-wife or her benefactor, or he would go to jail.  The sentence was given him for refusing on one invented occasion to allow his daughters to be taken to the ex-wife's benefactor's residence.  Even one of his ex-wife's employers staff had been trotted into the room to commit perjury about that event.  As a final insult, delivered by the gleefully, smiling Judge, Perigan was then sentenced to pay ten thousand gold crowns to his ex-wife's lawyer to cover her costs.  As Perigan left the court he had the opportunity to say a few words to his ex-wife's lawyer, asking her how she could act in such a way when the lives of two young children were at stake. 

"You have children,"  Perigan said,  "How could you do what you have done today?" 

"It's how I make my living."  The overweight and visibly perspiring woman had replied, hardly giving Perigan the benefit of her attention, as if that somehow excused her human responsibilities. 

Perigan and Liana watched his daughters being taken away from them that night by his sanctimonious ex-wife, the four of them crying unashamedly.  Their son was born three days later. 

The real defeat came some months later.  Levisan, the children's doctor since they were babies, whose evidence had been changed, agreed to return to the court with Perigan and Liana to state his proof of the injustice they had been dealt.  However the news of his decision leaked out somehow and he had visited Perigan in a very confused state, claiming that his life had been threatened, and giving over an affidavit he had signed and had notarized, stating what he had promised to say before Judge Koltesar.  When the Court date came Doctor Levisan never appeared and when Perigan offered up the affidavit Judge Koltesar almost burst a blood vessel, accusing Perigan of being `obsessed' and making some rather startling threats.  Later Perigan was to find out that Doctor Levisan had been found dead.  Probable suicide the Militiamen had called it, but a few nights later a man sidled up to Perigan and whispered:   "Your doctor friend is dead.  If you do not drop this action as of now so will you be." 

Perigan had sat for hours when he got home, trying to think of a way to obtain justice and protect his daughters, but in the end he had realized that no-one could fight the system from the position Judge Koltesar had put him into.  All he could do was to try to live with the injustice, try to protect his daughters, as best he could and try to provide a life for his new wife and son.  

* * * * * * *



There were four other men in the room when Jarin entered.  Four men upon whom he relied and trusted, even as he trusted himself and sometimes he believed he trusted them even more than he did himself, when it came to military matters. 

Sandar wore the braid of a General upon the sleeve of his tunic these days but as usual he was pacing the floor in front of the window with all the patience of a cadet awaiting his examination results.  He had never been happy just sitting around, as he so often put it to the others and yet once they got down to business Sandar could stay wide awake in his chair until midnight, if the situation demanded it.  There was also the obvious tedium Sandar felt and did little to hide, in holding the Army in Vanzor.  For although he saw the strategic reasoning in waiting for the Church Army to attack the position they had been fortifying for the last two months, the waiting game they were all playing did not sit well with Sandar's instincts at all. 

Razarian, also as usual, was completely oblivious to the others and did not even look up when Jarin came in, so engrossed was he in the book he was reading.  The little, bird-like Guardian had become one of the Khan's most important advisors, for there was no doubt that he had an uncanny knack of being able to predict what the mass of the population would do in response to any given set of events.  It was also certain that the Intelligence Corps he had built was one of the most valuable tactical advantages they had on their side for any upcoming conflict. 

Tamerin was fully occupied with a large map he had spread out on the table.  He looked up and smiled a greeting as Jarin entered the room and then immediately went back to scrutinizing the documents before him.  Tamerin, like Razarian, looked as if he was four fifths of the way to a death of starvation, yet he had proven on more than one occasion the exceptional stamina he could put out from that skeleton of a body.  Tamerin had joined the Khan's original council on the recommendation of Manator, in fact the insistence if Jarin remembered rightly and he had proved to be the best tactician of them all, time and time again.  He seemed to have an instinctive way of knowing where the weakest point of any defense would be and where the strongest attack could be made, which of course made Tamerin invaluable to their Cause as they harried the Church, while that blundering bureaucracy that was their enemy tried to build a force to drive them from the mainland. 

The fourth member of the Khan's inner council was Admiral Kovis, whose command of their fleet had enabled them to control not just the seas nearest to them, but also to gather in more supplies than they really needed, from their enemies attempts to ship food and large amounts of military material by sea.  The old pirate had shaped the Brotherhood's new navy into the greatest sea-power Khanlar had ever seen and there was no doubt that just the sight of one of his black ships bearing down on them, was enough to strike terror into the heart of any sailor not on their side in this War. 

Jarin put down the papers he was carrying on the table beside Tamerin's map, a little harder than he needed to have done.  Everyone took their seats immediately without his having to say anything and in seconds he had their undivided attention. 

"Gentlemen we appear to have come to a situation of stalemate with our enemy."  Jarin then pointed to the three large maroon blocks Tamerin had placed on his map,  "They sit in their camps waiting for us to come out and we sit behind our fortifications waiting for them to try to come in.  Obviously we are at the long-term disadvantage in this situation and therefore I would appreciate your ideas on how we get ourselves out of it." 

"The answer Sire may be very simple."   Said Tamerin, before anyone else could reply,  "I mean no disrespect Sire, but what we have here is a very advantageous situation to my way of thinking.  If I may be allowed to explain?" 

"Prove me wrong if you are able to Tamerin, but I believe finding the right answer might be far harder than you expect."  Jarin gave him permission to continue, but he actually looked put out at the tone of his advisor's reply, which had not been intended as a reprimand in any way. 

"Sire, I have absolutely no wish to prove you wrong and would find no satisfaction in doing so, if I could."  His seriousness brought a smile to Sandar's face behind him,  "However, in the long term our situation could develop into one where we might face a defeat.  I have to reach that decision, because the Church Army has the rest of Khanlar to supply it and we are dependent upon what we can grow, steal or manufacture here in Vanzor, on Lunza, Goja or on Dag.  Also Sire, they have taken up positions which show that they are relying upon that very set of circumstances coming about.  In so doing they have presented us with the possibility of a somewhat spectacular victory, if we are able to pull it off." 

He placed some more maroon blocks on the map one at a time, telling them all what they represented as he did so,  "Here, in the Monastery on Tor Mountain they have a Troop of a few hundred men, who appear to have no other purpose than holding that Gods forsaken place and keeping an eye on us whenever the weather allows.  That means most of the day, now that the days are getting longer and I believe that if they lost that post we could move around any way that we pleased without them being any the wiser, or fore-warned of anything we might plan to do."  He placed another small block on the City of Utan and went on,  "Once we hold Tor we shall be able to move on Utan almost unopposed."

His statement obviously shocked Sandar, who immediately interrupted Tamerin's explanation.   

"Why in the name of the Gods should we play about with Utan, surely we would be better off taking out one of their encampments?"  Sandar said, in words that held no scorn, but nevertheless appeared to annoy Tamerin.  However, before the latter could explain his reasons, Razarian did it for him. 

"Sandar, give Tamerin credit for only saying what he has already worked out thoroughly beforehand in his head."  Razarian pointed at the little maroon block which stood on the map over the City of Utan and continued in his matter-of-fact tone,  "Kovis here is causing the Church all sorts of problems in trying to supply their people by sea, but Utan is on the Waterway.  Word has it that more than half of the supplies getting to our enemies out there, is coming down the waterway and being unloaded through Utan."  He crossed his arms and laughed out loud,  "Gods, if we could take and hold Utan, we would cause the Church more trouble right now than if we invaded and captured Ka itself." 

Everyone gathered closer around the map and slowly the truth of Tamerin's calculations began to be obvious to them all.  Tamerin himself saw no reason to wait for the rest of them to catch up with his mind trail and carried straight on with his proposal.   "If the Church still has spies, then there is no doubt they expect us to try to take either Magor, where the biggest threat to us is housed, or Comkar, which is the most convenient.  Is that not what all of our own troops expect us to do General Sandar?" 

"That's the talk amongst the soldiers, I'll admit that Tamerin, but does it really matter what the men expect us to do?"  Sandar replied. 

Razarian seemed impatient and snapped,  "If our men think we are going to do it, then it is obvious that the enemy is just as intelligent and has probably come to the same conclusion."  He lost his nerve on this one almost immediately however, and said,  "Actually Tamerin, I had myself half decided that is what we would have to do next.  Are you telling us that your fertile little mind has thought up some other devious plan?" 

"Right!"  Said Tamerin ignoring the jibe,  "It is my suggestion that we make everyone believe that Magor and Comkar are indeed our next targets and that we intend to make our move against Magor very soon.  The Church Generals in Magor will know within a matter of days of our own soldiers finding out about it.  Then they will move their attention to that area of the front and immediately begin to strengthen the preparations they have already made against our advancing on those cities." 

"Then we launch a surprise attack on Utan?"  Kovis asked cautiously. 

"I suggest we all stop this guess and tell game and let Tamerin just go ahead and lay out the whole plan he has devised, from start to end without interruption from us."  Jarin said, tiring of the good-natured bickering these friends seemed to enjoy so much. 

"Thank you Sire."  Tamerin said and launched immediately into his proposal.  "What we have here, is the opportunity for a huge double double bluff.  First we put it out that we are going to attack Magor first and then turn to make a forced march to take Comkar.  During the three days or so we have to allow for the Church to hear of our intentions and a couple more days for them to move their troops to where we want them, we quietly dispose of the garrison at Tor.  We also move enough of our ships out, one or two at a time to cause no concern to watching eyes, to go to Suvak.  There they will take on the men we have there that have now completed their training and have been formed into regiments which the Church may very well not know about yet.  We can not be sure of that of course, but of one thing we can be sure, our new regiments will be begging for a chance to fight.  Six days from now we shall send the Wolves regiment north on Kovis's ships to appear to be going to lay off of Comkar, awaiting the arrival of the main army moving north after they have dealt with Magor." 

Tamerin moved one of the eight regimental tokens and placed it in the sea off the peninsula which separates the city of Comkar from the City of Rigan.  He picked up two new tokens and placed the two new regiments, only recently formed from new recruits, on the island of Suvak.    "Now the plot thickens, gentlemen.  The Eagles, supported by our new arrivals, with banners flying and a full band leading them, will march out of Vanzor following the river towards Magor."  He placed his finger on the river then, a few miles west of the City of Vanzor where the Khan's Dike joined it to the River Tor and smiled at them all in turn in a knowing way,  "Here my friends is our tactical advantage.  The ford at Mogar's Holding.  Here we control the river and we have a fortified defense line between us and Magor, then, for the benefit of our enemy, we shall appear to dig in and wait for the charge we expect to come."  His hand moved and a finger traced quickly along the coast from Vanzor to Utan,  "While the main force is carrying this out, our friend General Sandar here will be taking the Khan's Guard and the Dragons Regiment up the Waterway to take Utan.'" 

"Damn, it's certain to work!"  It was Sandar who spoke.  "Our main force establishes a defensive line north of Utan and the Guards and the Dragons just move in and take the city.  Once we hold it the whole thing is over, they would have a hell of a job fighting their way past our main army and then be faced with the task of trying to take on a city already held by crack troops with an immediate victory under their belts, trapped as they would be between our two armies."   

"Let us just say that the odds are very much in our favor that they will not take the chance of leaving their positions to try to recapture Utan at that time and leave it at that."  Tamerin said,  ". . .and if you let me finish Sandar, you may see that there are more plums waiting to be picked from this tree than it would at first appear." 

He touched in turn the three large blocks which showed the Church encampments,  "From what Razarian's Intelligence Corps has learned, the command status in the Church Army given to each camp would appear to show that they expect us to attack their main force at Magor head-on and that is what they are deployed to prevent."  He touched the southern most maroon block sitting on the map,  "Here in Tovar they appear to have their weakest force and from all the reports we have, it's command officers are without doubt the least experienced of those we face.  I think it is obvious that this position is meant only to hold us until they could bring up reinforcements, should we ever decide to try advancing through the valley it controls to strike into the heartland of Church controlled territory.  Therefore, we can expect them to draw troops away from Tovar to strengthen the defense of Magor, if they can be convinced that is our main objective.  That gentlemen would leave Tovar relatively weak to any concentrated effort on our part to take it from the enemy.  I would suggest that if Utan falls quickly and the commander of the Church Army does not immediately realize that Magor is not our primary target, it would be possible for a force from the Khan's Guard, supported by those troops the Dragons could spare, who would be acting as cavalry in this action, to move on Tovar and take it without much trouble." 

Tamerin moved the respective tokens to stand on Tovar on the map.  "It is my guess there will be no more than a few hundred men left to hold Tovar, if our enemies fall for our story." 

Razarian touched Tamerin's arm to stop him for a moment,  "I can bring in upwards of five hundred resistance fighters from the heartland to reinforce such an action, if you need me too!" 

"Thank you Razarian. . ."  Tamerin replied,  ". . .but I would prefer your people to take this mountain to the north of Tovar and use it to harry the Church Army camped at it's base with a continuous rain of arrows when they run, if they could do it?" 

"Consider it done!"  Razarian said and stood back again. 

"As you can see Gentlemen, it is my hope that by the time our enemy realizes that he has been fooled, we shall hold the City of Utan and both Tor and Tovar Monasteries and be dug in south of the river with three well equipped regiments." 

"While all this is happening in the south Tamerin, what will I be doing up here with a fleet loaded with the Wolves.  What are we?  Just a decoy?"  Kovis asked, obviously feeling he would rather be in the action in the south. 

"You  Admiral Kovis.."  Tamerin moved the small token and placed it beside the one of indicating the position of the Wolves,  ". . .are the final nail in the box that we shall bury this Church Army in.  Instead of Comkar, you will sail down the northern side of the Peninsula and attack the city of Rigan!" 

Tamerin placed both tokens on that city and Jarin saw that everyone was about to start asking questions at once, so he told Tamerin to continue and successfully thwarted what otherwise might have developed into a debate, before Tamerin would be able to finish explaining his complex strategy.   "Thank you Sire.  As you can see gentlemen, after we attack Tovar the troops presently occupying it will have to escape westward and even if they have the heart to rejoin the main army, which I doubt, it would take them the rest of the day to regroup and get there.  Add to our enemy's confusion the fact that there will be no flashing heliograph from Tor Mountain to give him accurate intelligence to work with and then to hear that we have also launched an attack on Rigan. . ."  He looked at Kovis and said,  ". . .I expect you to provide no less than five hundred armed sailors in that attack Kovis, which along with the Wolves should outnumber the Rigan Garrison no less than two to one.  Also Kovis, we shall need every ship we have available on the day for I want every man that lands at Rigan to have a horse after the town is taken."  He smiled and quickly added before Kovis could get his comments in,  "Except your sailors Kovis, when the town falls they go back aboard the fleet and return to their original position, just out of sight of the City of Comkar this time." 

"This plan appears to be getting very complicated Tamerin, I myself prefer simple solutions to tactical needs if they are possible."  Jarin interjected. 

"I am sorry Sire, in this case my aim is to confuse the enemy and therefore a simple plan would not work."  Tamerin said and then he held up his hands in a gesture that invited questions. 

"I liked it up to the attack on Rigan Tamerin."  Sandar said seriously,  "However if I was the enemy commander I would dig in at Magor and send as many men as I could spare to join up with the Comkar militia and then I'd damn well take Rigan back and probably destroy most of your force up there, horses or no!" 

Tamerin nodded in reply and then asked,  "And where would you join the two forces up to retake Rigan Sandar?" 

After a few moments of thought Sandar stabbed a finger to a point on the map several miles to the east of Comkar where there was a bridge the reinforcements coming up from Magor could use to cross the river.  The others all nodded their agreement with Sandar's choice,   "Then I'd march straight up the valley and knock all kinds of hell out of the Wolves."  Sandar said, feeling he had proved his point. 

"Exactly!"  Said Tamerin,  ". . .and that is exactly what I hope our enemy decides to do Sandar." 

Everyone was suddenly talking at once until Jarin called a stop to it and allowed Tamerin to continue, his face glowing with excitement.   "That is why we must have horses!"  Tamerin said,  ". . .for when our men in Rigan see the enemy coming up the valley, they will mount up and ride across the peninsula to attack their real target!"  His finger traced across the land to the north of the hills which would form the eastern barrier of the valley the Church Troops would have to use and then down across the peninsula to finally jab and stay, on Comkar.  "Gentlemen, once we have the enemy committed to retaking Rigan and our troops must wait until they are almost at the city gates before they make their escape, no amount of forced marching will get their infantry back to Comkar before we have taken it and have two thousand men in place to defend it.  For when the Wolves come riding in from the west we shall land the Hawks Regiment along the coast to the east." 

Kovis nearly exploded with laughter.  "Gods. It's obvious even to an old fool like me.  When what's left of the garrison of Comkar sees my fleet sailing up the sound and a full regiment of cavalry charging down on them from the north they're going to take to their heels after their friends!" 

All of them went quiet then, trying to take in what Tamerin's complicated moving of pieces had achieved.  Brotherhood tokens now occupied Comkar, Utan, Tovar and Tor.  The enemy pieces had been grouped either around Magor or to the south of Rigan, effectively split in two so that the Brotherhood controlled the field.  It was pure genius. 

"Tamerin, I'm glad you are working with us and not for the Church."  Jarin said feeling the tremble in his voice that Tamerin's proposals had provoked,  "I have never seen anything like it and no matter how I try to fault it, I don't see how we can lose very much even if they do turn out to be more clever than they have been to date."  He reached across the table and shook the Guardian's hand and all the others began congratulating him, as if what he had just shown them had already happened.  Everyone began talking at once and Sandar left the table to fetch a flask of wine and some glasses, when Tamerin said in a quiet voice,   "But I haven't told you the best part yet." 

His words brought immediate silence to the room and they all turned their attention to the map where Tamerin stood pointing at the large maroon block outside of Magor.  In a theatrical move he suddenly picked it up and put it in his pocket.    "I suggest that when the enemy commander starts planning and carrying out his move to deliver our force in Rigan a smashing defeat, he just might not notice if we moved everything we have in the south up to be ready to move in on Magor."  Tamerin started placing tokens one after another just to the south of Magor on the map.  "It is my intention Sire that we build up our numbers here as fast as we can, with a very open display of all the strength we can bring to bear, after the force sent to rescue Rigan has left the enemy encampment."  He moved a token from Vanzor to put it besides the others south of the river on the map.  "We shall bring the Wildcats to Vanzor during the night and they will march to join the others with as many men as we can find to fill uniforms.  It will be a matter of numbers at this time, when the enemy is making up it's mind what to do next, and the more men they see the less chance there will be of them risking a large part of their Army to hold onto Magor." 

Tamerin picked up each of the tokens he was talking about and placed them on Magor.  Guards, Eagles, Dragons, Bears, Badgers and the Wildcats.  Even allowing for men lost and garrisons left behind in the new territory they had just won there would be no less than five thousand men in that host.   "How many men would you leave to hold Magor General Sandar, if you were the enemy commander and saw a victory in Rigan?" 

"Gods!"  Sandar said in a hushed tone,  "We would out-number them at least two to one.  Their men in the north could never get back in time to help them." 

"Precisely.  We shall hold Utan, Vanzor, Tovar and Comkar at the moment we enter Magor and take over their defense works.  The entrance into Comkar is narrow enough, that I believe the Hawks will have no problem in holding it.  Our main force, having captured Magor, will then march north east to come up behind the enemy, thereby forcing him to leave the field and retreat to Rigan.  That gentlemen is my plan!"  Tamerin took the glass that Sandar still held, but seemed to have forgotten, as the full meaning of what he had just said dawned on the General and Tamerin lifted it in an exaggerated toast to them all.

* * * * * * *

 Nature Bows to No Man

It is said that in Love, War and the rearing of children, few things ever happen as planned or predicted.  In the case of the Brotherhood's campaign to extend their rule in the north eastern Nations of Khanlar, that saying proved yet again to have much truth in it.  To begin with a great storm blew in from the north east that prevented their ships sailing for Suvak in the time scale they had planned for themselves and as trying to make up time by sending them out of Vanzor in a flotilla, might well have warned their enemies that they had other plans than just attacking a City in the center of the land, they decided to add a few days to their timetable. 

The lost time was in some respects a blessing, for it allowed the Khan's spies to warn them of the reinforcements the enemy brought up, once they learned of the imminent advance on Magor.  Fifteen hundred new recruits joined the main force of their adversaries in Magor and a thousand more experienced troops were marched into the Nation of Comkar, where they set about building a line of fortifications half a mile outside that city, between it's already imposing new walls and the Khan's Army to the south.  The worst news however was that two thousand troopers gathered from the cities in the east, who had not been out of uniform since they had fought in the Great War, had been posted into Utan and had begun to improve the fortifications there.  If anything, this increase in enemy strength only forced the Khan's advisors to carry through their plan, rather than consider not going ahead, for they knew that if they waited, the Church would soon have them so outnumbered, any chance of the Khan's forces taking the offensive would be denied to them. 

At last everything was ready and they had lost six days from their planned timetable.  On the designated morning of an early summer's day, under a brilliant blue sky and in full sunshine, their main army marched out of Vanzor according to Tamerin's strategy, with Banners flying and the band playing their hearts out.  The Eagle Regiment had however been replaced by the newly arrived Wildcat Regiment, well ahead of their planned entry into the plan.  After long discussions, it had been decided that Sandar might need the Eagles to gain the fast victory he would need in Utan to bring everything else into it's given place in the plan.  Sandar's force had set off along the coast road towards the city of Utan the night before they launched the main force into the field.  The Monastery of Tor was already in their hands at that time, ensuring that no flashing signals would warn the sleeping town of their approach.  The Legions were a mile to the east of the City of Magor two hours before dawn and were in their places when the sun came up the next day. 

Sandar looked down on the City of Utan from the sloping ground that rose to the east of it's walls.  It was obvious that the new troops recently stationed there had not yet managed to establish themselves, as they would have done had they been given a few more days to do so.  Their tented encampment outside of the walls did have a perimeter trench and a start had been made on a turf wall, but had they had another week things might have been very different.  They were not yet accustomed to sleeping in tents either, for after years of comfortable barracks in the towns of the west, as they rose for roll call that morning they did not appear like the professional opponents Sandar had expected to be up against.  When the morning bugle called them from their slumbers there was no explosion of action, no assembly in disciplined ranks for inspection.  Instead they came from their tents yawning, half dressed and obviously the worse for sleeping out. 

Sandar looked to his left and then to his right and was proud of the four ranks of disciplined troopers kneeling in line, their crossbows loaded and only awaiting his command.  Sandar knew every line officer was watching him, when he turned to Colonel Horakor of the Eagles and said,   "I believe the time has come Alvar to test our new tactics, will you give the order to advance if you please?" 

Colonel Alvar Horakor nodded and then raised his arm, looking both left and right to make sure every Line Officer and Sergeant was watching him.  He dropped his arm and the orders rang out down the ranks. 

"On the command.  Rise.  Advance in order!" 

In perfect formation, the men came to their feet and then began the measured advance down the slope towards the encampment below.  They had covered fifty yards before the first cry of alarm rang out from the enemy.  What followed in the enemy encampment would have been funny had not the events taking place been so deadly serious.  Men ran into each other, fell over tent lines or tripped themselves trying to pull on their uniforms, as they tried to obey the orders of officers who were no more prepared for what faced them than the men in their charge.  Still out of range of any enemy return fire, yet in range for their new­ issue crossbows the Line Officers of the Guards and the Eagles shouted almost in unison, 

"On the order. Halt. First rank. Kneel. Prepare to fire. Aim. Fire!"  Five hundred crossbows sent their missiles screaming into the confused enemy bellow them.  "First Rank. Hold your place. Other ranks. Advance three paces!" 

The three ranks who had advanced behind the first rank paced past them, giving the first rank time to reload, before their Sergeants gave the order for them to rise.  They then became the last rank instead of the first.  The orders rang out again, 

"First rank. Kneel. Prepare to fire. Aim. Fire!" 

A second volley of five hundred crossbow bolts tore into the confusion and panic that was taking place in the enemy positions below them. 

Sandar could not believe what he was witnessing.  Like a machine of death his troops were advancing down the slope towards Utan five paces at a time and the enemy could do little or nothing to stop them.  When he had first learned these new tactics of advance for crossbow equipped infantry, he had thought it far too simple to be as effective as it was now proving.  If the truth be told, he had on more than one occasion voiced his opinion that having men advance in line only made them better targets for the enemy.  Now that he was seeing it in action however, he had to admit that he had no better suggestion for how to decimate the enemy.  In perfect discipline the blue uniformed soldiers paced, knelt and fired.  Row upon row of silent, synchronized warriors, their blue horsehair crests lifted from their steel helmets by the morning breeze.  His troops were creating more panic than would have happened had Pavia's Dragon left the sky and attacked the town on their behalf.  The extra range of their new crossbows was the deciding factor, yet even without it he knew the tactics they were employing allowed a concentration of firepower that itself alone could well have won the day.  Even as he was thinking it, the first bolts from those troopers below efficient enough to be fighting back, began to fall quite close to his men.  Before he could interfere the Line Officers called the order. 

"Stand your ground. Rear Ranks. Stand Fast. First Rank. On your bellies. Down. Second Rank. Prepare to kneel. Kneel. On the Order. Prepare to fire by ranks. Third  Rank. Fire. Reload. First Rank. Fire. Reload. Second Rank. Fire. Reload!" 

The orders continued like the repetition of waves hitting a beach and volley after volley slammed into the encampment beneath them, with details of runners bringing fresh supplies of steel-tipped bolts from the carts that followed the advance.  The constant withering fire these tactics produced soon began to take it's toll on the enemy, who could do nothing to counter it, being just out of range as they were.  A few brave Church Troopers managed to advance a few yards and here and there in the ranks, an Eagle or Dragon Trooper, or a Guard would keel over, to be immediately replaced by a man from the fourth rank which stood in reserve. 

At last flags of surrender began to wave in the tented area below them.  No less than half of the original numbers in the camp now lay where they had fallen, dead or wounded beyond further service to their commander.  The Line Officers began to look more often to Sandar, even as they continued the orders that were sending volley after volley of death dealing bolts into those Church Troopers trying to keep up the fight.  Sandar however, his face set like stone, his eyes never wavering, remembered the Battle of Dala years before, when Church Troopers had continued to pour fire into Brotherhood Troops even after they had surrendered and had nowhere to run, nor weapons to fight back with.  At last he raised his hand and shouted his order to stop the slaughter.   "Dala is avenged. Hold your fire!" 

His words rang over the still dew-wet grass and echoed away into the silence, as the sound of winging bolts and the screams of those hit, turned into a mounting moaning of horror from below them.  Church Troopers threw down their weapons and turned to helping their wounded friends, as the Guards, Dragons and Eagles marched in perfect order down the grassy slope to take possession of the camp.  However effective the advance had been and the fact that the majority of their enemies were now prisoners, the time that the advance had taken had allowed the city itself to prepare.  The gates were closed and troopers lined the parapets armed with crossbows.  The defenders of Utan were to wait over an hour, before Sandar's troops had moved out their prisoners and reorganized. 

Colonel Horakor came up to Sandar then, his face showing signs of doubt at the destruction they had been able to inflict upon the enemy.   "General Sandar.  The results of this first engagement are almost unbelievable Sir."  He took a kerchief from his tunic pocket and wiped his face,  "We have fourteen dead and twenty seven wounded. . .  eight seriously.  The enemy has. . ."  He paused, almost as if afraid to be called a liar,  ". . .the enemy has suffered eight hundred and seventy three dead, with more than five hundred more who might well die before evening and no less than a thousand or so more walking wounded.  Sandar. . .  less than three hundred of them suffered no injury at all!" 

"I would say that we have won a pretty impressive victory then Alvar."  Sandar replied. 

"Yes General. . ."  Alvar Horakor hesitated and then said,  ". . .perhaps we should have offered them surrender earlier. . .  I think that. . ." 

"We are soldiers Colonel Horakor, our profession demands that we kill people."  Sandar looked at his friend and sought to help his guilt,  "Alvar, have you forgotten the War already?  What we did today was retribution for what they did a hundred or more times to us, when they had the upper hand.  Remember Dala Alvar, tell your men to do the same.  What we did today was necessary, it is going to save thousands of lives before this thing is over.  We needed to give a warning here today Alvar, to create a myth that we are worse than the Angels of Death to those that would stand against us.  The enemy must fear our wrath and respect our honor when they come up against us in the future.  Tell the men that Alvar, tell them that!" 

Colonel Alvar Horakor, veteran of many campaigns and soldier that he was, composed himself quickly and nodded.   "You are right, General.  You'll hear nothing more about it from me.  I apologize for what I suggested." 

"Accepted!"  Sandar replied,  "Now bring up the fire-throwers and let's get this thing over with before the Church has reinforcements down upon us." 

Armies had used catapults to hurl bundles of burning rags, barrels of oil, rocks and many other projectiles at cities ever since warfare began, but the fire-throwers Sandar had brought up were catapults like no city had been attacked with before.  These little machines of death were the product of knowledge gained from the Archives of the Guardians Palace in Lunza.  Compared to the siege catapults of the past, which had needed twenty men to maneuver them, these little contraptions were pulled up like unloaded carts by a pair of horses.  Three men could move the thing around with ease and it was light enough for two men to operate from the cart and set it up ready to fire. 

Sandar had eight fire-throwers at his disposal and they were brought forward and ready to begin firing, within ten minutes of him calling for them to advance.  The projectiles were stored in two wagons, whose sides and top had been plated with steel sheets to prevent marksmen on the walls above them firing fire arrows that might otherwise turn these new weapons against their owners in a fearful explosion.  The projectiles, like their new crossbows, were also the product of forgotten knowledge.  The size of a man's head, they were perfectly round, except for a short spout into which the fuse was set.  They were filled with a type of lamp oil, distilled by secret formulae which, when the ceramic shell shattered on contact, would spill forth.  It was then ignited in a terrifying explosion by the flaming wick, which the gunner lit just before launching the projectile. 

Sandar had seen the weapon demonstrated several times and he had no wish to use it against the innocent inhabitants of the City of Utan, unless of course that proved the only way to take the place without risking high casualties amongst his own men.  So he instructed the gunner of the first weapon to send only one well-aimed fire-bomb against the gates of the city.  The gunner made his preparations, checked them carefully and then looked up to Colonel Sandar for the order to fire.  Sandar nodded and the man slammed home the trigger.  The bomb arched through the air to make a perfect hit on the gates as instructed.   

The flash, the excruciating sound of the explosion and the plume of smoke which curled skyward, had only happened ten minutes past when Sandar's emissary rode forward under a flag of truce to offer and then accept, the City of Utan's surrender, in front of the gaping, charred hole where the city gates had once been. 

The Nation of Utan fell to the Khan's army less than three hours after the order had been given to begin the Battle.  The enemy's wounded were treated on the field and those able to travel, were sent in chains aboard the ships Sandar took possession of that had been in the harbor at the time of the attack. 

The Monastery island of Yadar in the Nation of Goja had been designated a prisoner of war camp for the duration and there the prisoners that the Khan's Army would take during this war would be interrogated and, if possible, converted away from the Church Cause.  Sandar wasted no time in the take over of Utan and two hours later, leaving half of the Eagle Regiment under the command of Colonel Horakor as a garrison, he led the rest of the Eagles, the Dragons and his own Guards Regiment north to complete the next part of Tamerin's strategy.


* * * * * * *

 Double Bluff

Being Prince Jarin of Natan must have held many responsibilities, but being Khan of Khanlar with his army in the field, made demands on Jarin which were totally new to his limited experience and that seemed to last from the moment he opened his eyes in the morning, until the time he closed them at night.  For the moment however, he was away from the constant attention of his officers and advisors, as he paced along the line behind the trenches the men of his main army had dug and occupied during the last few days.  Even so, there was no peace from the thoughts which ran through his head and he found himself wishing that he were able to be in several places at the same time.  Everything depended upon what his opposite number in the Church Army did next.  Utan had been taken three days before, Tor had been in their hands since the day before that.  Rigan had fallen almost without a fight to talk about in the early afternoon, although Jarin would not learn of it for several hours.  A few minutes before a courier had brought him news that Tovar was held by a garrison made up of men of the Eagle Regiment.  His own Guards and the Dragons Regiment, were even now engaged in a forced march north east towards his own position. 

In the enemy camp however, little had changed since they had first arrived in the field several days ago.  Jarin knew that out of range of their crossbows, many thousand Church troopers were probably watching their position from the safety of the impressive line of stone and turf walls.  They had constructed these impressive defenses during the months of stalemate that had led them to this day's action and they seemed formidable obstacles to a quick and efficient victory from where Jarin viewed them.  In an hour or so it would be dark and still the enemy had made no move to fall for Tamerin's plot, no more that is that Jarin could determine from what he could notice looking at the Church encampment. 

At last, even as night was beginning to close in around them, Razarian came hurrying towards him, obviously excited with the news he carried. 

"They have fallen for it Sire!"  He said in a proud whisper as he joined Prince Jarin.  The two of them moved further away from the trenches, so that none would overhear their conversation.

"Immediately dusk gave them cover they moved out at least eight thousand men."  Razarian could hardly contain himself, as he passed on the information brought in by his spies.  "According to our intelligence reports Sire, that leaves less than four thousand men to defend Magor and more than half of those are raw recruits." 

"Information on this development has been sent to Admiral Kovis and Colonel Zavir?"  Jarin inquired, already knowing the answer his efficient Spy Master would give. 

"Three riders were dispatched by separate routes as soon as we knew Sire and by now one of our ships is flying as much canvas as it can, with orders to reach the fleet and give the news to Kovis."  Razarian answered. 

"How soon will we know if the garrison at Comkar has also done what Tamerin predicted, Razarian?"  Jarin asked, avoiding a tent line as they moved back towards his quarters. 

"My men are in the field around the city Sire and they have a man with them from the Guardians who has a light-lance.  There is another on top of Mount Paran who will relay the message to Vanzor, then it will be dispatched to us by courier as soon as it is received."  Even as Razarian explained the system to him, they reached Jarin's tent and a courier came into the camp on a lathering horse.  The man dismounted in a running leap and dropped to his knee before the Khan, holding up the scroll he had pulled from his pouch as he had dismounted.   "The Comkar garrison has left that city heading west Sire!"  The courier panted. 

Jarin stood holding the unopened scroll almost unwilling to believe the good news.  The enemy had followed Tamerin's predictions to the letter.  Razarian was moving around slapping his hands together like a man who had just become a father.  The excitement and exhilaration at the news that Razarian and he were experiencing, was brought to an abrupt end with the arrival of Tamerin.  They were ready to shake his hand and congratulate him, but his words were so much of an anti-climax they were left staring as he said to them, "It would appear things are progressing as expected Sire."  That was all he said to the wonderful news.  Then he turned on his heel and went off, to do whatever it was he had to do.  Obviously to him whatever presently occupied his attention was far more important than confirmation that his predictions of what would happen had just been proved true. 

During the night Tamerin made some adjustments to his previous strategy.  The forced night march of the main army of Church troops, meant that they would be in a position to attack the Brotherhood troops in Rigan in only a matter of a day or so, perhaps only an hour or so after dawn two days hence, if they managed to keep up the pace they had started out at.  Therefore the plan to have the Brotherhood's fake army join them on the field at Magor, which had been planned so that it could be observed by the enemy as it marched in, had to be revised.  If they left it until daylight, so that they could instill a little fear into the reduced enemy forces before them, it might mean that there would be time for Jarin's opposite number to about-face and rush back to the rescue of Magor before they could effect a complete victory.  For them to take advantage of the situation they would need to mount their attack before dawn and take Magor within a few hours, before the main Church Army could be informed and given a chance to return.  Tamerin's change of plan however, had an advantage and he explained it to them as he indicated the effect it would have on the enemy.   "I suggest we use our fake army to give the enemy something more to worry about."  He said as he made adjustments to the positions of various tokens on the map.  Sandar had rejoined them only minutes before after seeing his men into quarters after their forced march back from Tovar and Tamerin addressed his idea directly to the tired General. 

"If you were in our enemy's position Sandar, what would you expect our army to do if the following was to happen tomorrow morning, as he was marching on Rigan?  They can't use the heliograph during the night, so he will be committed to the attack on Rigan before he can be informed about the state of the campaign here as it will stand then."  Tamerin continued, pointing at the map to illustrate his comments,  "He knew that Utan and Rigan had fallen before he headed north.  In the morning he will hear that Tor and Tovar are in our hands as well.  Then the commander he has left behind in Magor will undoubtedly find a way to get a messenger to him and he will learn that his main base is under attack and in serious danger, as our forces outnumber theirs by a very large margin."  Tamerin picked up the fake army token and placed it on the map some way north of Vanzor,  "What do you think he will do, when he is informed that another large force is marching towards Comkar, by which time Rigan will have been evacuated by our troops there and he will know that they too are heading for Comkar.  And as if he will not have enough on his mind right then, he might even have been informed that our fleet is sailing up Comkar Sound?  Well Sandar, what do you think he will do, remembering of course that the men he has with him have just completed an all night forced march?" 

Sandar did not answer for some time.  He was lost in his own thought process as he considered the position the enemy would find himself in at noon the next day.  At last he moved back from the map and sat down in his chair.  Then he gave his answer.   "There will be very little that he can do."  Sandar said,  "He will have thousands of men who will be exhausted and would be of little use to him afterwards, if he decided to force march them towards Comkar.  Even if he did try to get to the city before our fake army increases the force at Comkar, he would find it very hard to dislodge our men from the fortifications there before we had time to get help to them from our main force here in Magor." 

"Precisely,"  Said Tamerin,  ". . .and remember he is not to know that the fleet in Comkar Sound does not have a few thousand troops aboard it." 

"The same logic applies to prevent him from trying to get back to Magor,"  Sandar said, almost to himself.  "In fact, when we start north with our main army after we have taken Magor, he is going to be in a very tight situation.  With the victories at Utan, Tovar and Rigan we have deprived him of a sizable amount of his strength, then add to that what he will lose at Magor and the small garrison he left in Comkar.  The man will have lost no less than two fifths of his army." 

Colonel Manorion of the Wildcats added his comments at that point,  "Taking into account our fake army and the men he may believe we could have aboard the fleet, the man is looking at a force that both outnumbers him and is riding a wave of victories.  I thank the Gods I am not in his shoes right now." 

"Gentlemen."  Tamerin snapped, changing from the confident quiet voice he normally used when his plans fell into place,  "I believe the enemy Commander will be more concerned with saving the army he has left, rather than trying to force us into open battle, considering the shape he will find himself in tomorrow after Magor has fallen to us."  He picked up the maroon block which represented the enemy's main force and placed it without flourish upon the city of Predon.  "It is my belief Gentlemen that our brave commander of the Church's Forces will run away!" 

The officers in the tent looked from one to the other, their faces showing obvious enjoyment in Tamerin's prediction.  Jarin had to admit that he was more than a little self-satisfied with the words himself and Razarian was beaming all over his face. 

"I can see gentlemen that all of you see this action on our enemy's part to be a positive one for our Cause."  Tamerin did not look as happy as the rest of them at that moment and Jarin's sudden feeling of apprehension was proved justified by the Guardian's next words.   

"If the enemy does get away to Predon, as I am sure he will, then although tomorrow may be celebrated as a great victory for our people, the coming weeks may well hold more threats for our Cause than I for one would like to have hanging over our heads." 

"What do you mean, my friend?"  Jarin asked, fearing the answer,  "We shall have taken away almost half of his strength and we shall hold seven Nations instead of three by this time tomorrow night, how can that pose a threat to us?"   

"It is possible to see such a result in another light Sire."  Tamerin answered,  "The Church army will have lost a lot of raw recruits and garrison troops, but our enemy will have left the field with a large number of his field force still intact.  Gods know he can replace the men he lost inside a week, even if he is forced to take them from the men the Church already has in uniform."  Tamerin continued, his face taking on an even more serious look,  "On the other hand we shall control some new cities and a great deal of what has been our enemy's territory for generations.  Cities from which those rich enough to do so, will have run back into areas safer for them and that includes all the administration staff who ran those cities.  We shall also be left with thousands of poor people expecting largess to rain down upon them.  Thousands of hungry people who will expect us to provide them with food and thousands more of the same people, that have been convinced by years of preaching and dogma that we are at best heretics and at worse totally evil and possessed of devils.  Gentlemen, we just might lose more men after this campaign than we will lose during it.  Remember how our renegades harried the Church administration after they had defeated us in open warfare." 

"Are you saying that we should end the campaign now, go back to Vanzor and sit around waiting for them to come and get us?"  Sandar said sharply. 

Tamerin did not take offense by Sandar's remarks or his tone, as he replied,   

"No General, that is not what I am suggesting at all, you know me better than that.  In fact we have no alternative now but to play out the rest of this affair as it has been presented to us.  What I am saying though, is that we shall now have to continue this campaign until we have created a wall strong enough to keep the enemy out until such time as we are strong enough to climb over that same wall and go forward and totally destroy him." 

"Wait a minute, Tamerin,"  Jarin said, feeling a little more confused than he liked to feel at such times,  "First you tell us that we shall soon hold more than we can handle, are you now asking us to gather in even more trouble by going on to conquer other Nations?" 

"Sire, if what I expect to happen tomorrow happens, then I do not see that we have any other alternative."  Tamerin moved down the table a little and pointed again to the map.  "I do not expect the enemy Commander to stay in Predon Sire, that would leave him isolated.  Predon has no port to speak of and the sand bars there prevent any sizable ship getting in close enough to bring him supplies.  In fact he may avoid the city altogether and march straight on to Norden.  Once he gets there he has access to supplies and reinforcements.  He will be able to build an army while we are trying to maintain order in the cities and countryside we will have taken during this campaign.  If we allow that to happen, a few weeks from now we may well be dragging a beaten army back to Vanzor, with several thousand fresh Church troopers breathing down our necks!" 

"All right!"  Sandar snapped,  "So what do you suggest we do, if we have no alternative but to follow a plan that dictates that we end up that way anyhow?" 

"We have one move that no-one would expect us to take right now.  It is a move that could give us several months breathing time between the end of this campaign and the beginning of the next one.  We have an opportunity gentlemen, if our enemy does indeed run, that could bring us a victory greater than anyone would have considered possible a few days ago."  Tamerin took a coin from his pocket and placed it on the map for all to see,  

"We can take Norden before he gets there and then we will trap him in Predon, for us to finish off at our leisure!"

* * * * * * *

Night March

Jarin adjusted the belt of power to make it more comfortable as he felt the familiar pulse against his mid-section proving that he was once again invincible.  During the invasion and subsequent conquest of Goja one of the enemy crossbowmen, hiding in a second floor room along the main street, had recognized the tactical advantage that could be achieved by killing the leader of the enemy forces and he had risked his own life in waiting for the perfect shot as Jarin had walked with his Guards down the center of the main street towards that city's Palace.  The bolt had been accurate and well timed and, but for the belt of power, would most probably have ended Jarin's life there and then.  Instead it had lost it's strength when it had encountered the force field which surrounded him.  He had felt a slight burst of static electricity, just as one sometimes does during a thunderstorm, and heard a crisp sizzling sound, like when one touches a piece of meat to boiling oil, only it was so short in duration he might not have noticed it, save for the fact that he had experienced it before in Kiba.  Since then Jarin had been careful to administer to the needs of his belt carefully, always fretting when he needed to send it back to Lunza to be recharged.  In fact the previous times it had left Vanzor he had accompanied it.  This last time he had been too busy to take the few days that needed and had sent three of his Guards; they had returned with the life saver only two days before, due to a storm that had just ended and Jarin could not explain the complete feeling of relief he felt today, as once again he felt it's power pulsing almost undetected into his stomach as he prepared again for battle this morning. 

There were at least four more hours of darkness before the sun would rise behind them, but already the vanguard of his army were moving out of the fortified positions and preparing for the advance which would take them into Magor a few hours from now.  Company after company marched past his tent through the darkness, in an eerie game of follow-my-leader.  Each company was followed by small carts which carried the soldiers huge, steel-plated assault shields, along with the munitions and rations that would be needed for the coming battle, all but sliding past Jarin on their well-greased wheels towards the front.  There was no moon, but the sky was clear of clouds and therefore it was by starlight that the army moved forward.  Scouts had gone ahead of them, laying long colored cords along the path to the battlefield.  The sergeants of each company let these cords run through their hands as they followed the predetermined path through the darkness, the sergeant's men merely having to follow their leader to ensure they did not lose their way.  Luckily the ground was hard, for it had not rained for more than two weeks, which allowed the heavily laden carts that followed each company to easily keep up with their marching comrades. 

With their shields, javelins, pikes, spears and an ample supply of quivers fully loaded with crossbow bolts, to say nothing of the bulky rations and supplies needed for such a campaign, carried by the carts, the men were able to travel lightly, with crossbows slung across their backs, swords slapping against their thighs and a short spear leaning against their shoulder, in case they might be ambushed along the way. 

For what seemed like hours, company after company, regiment after regiment, passed Jarin's headquarters moving west towards the enemy.  Then came the Artillery Corps, it's Colonel and his officers leading ten units of fifty men, each unit equipped with ten two man catapult wagons and each catapult wagon being closely followed by a steel sided wagon, manned by three more troopers,  carrying the ammunition they would use in the battle to come.  Sandar joined Jarin as the last wagon pulled past them and was adjusting his scabbard as he addressed his sovereign. 

"General Toragor must be twenty miles north of Magor by now Sire, maybe thirty if he is force marching them.  With luck he will be forty, maybe fifty, miles away from Magor with some very tired troops, when we mount the attack.  I just talked with Razarian, he's about to pull out for Vanzor, and his people are watching the Church Army on it's route.  Seems the enemy is hell bent on getting to Rigan as fast as they can." 

Orderlies brought up their horses and they had mounted and were soon pulling out to join the cavalry regiments, which were already moving forward in short squadrons.  The vanguard of the cavalry was following the lead of two grooms, who walked before them carrying lanterns for the troopers to follow, and the last two men in each squadron carried a lantern also, to act as a guide for those that followed them.  The starlight caught the polished insignia of a blue steel cuirass here and there as the cavalry moved through the night, but other than that even the cavalry moved with almost wraith-like silence as the Khan's Army advanced in silent procession through the night to do battle. 

"I remember that you knew the accent of that girl we picked up in Norden.  What was her name?  Do you know the City of Magor well Sandar?"  Jarin asked, as they rode slowly past the cavalry units to reach the head of the mounted column. 

"I have relatives there my Lord.  My maternal grandparents were merchants in the City and I visited them often as a boy. . ."  The conversation ended as a scampering rabbit, disturbed from it's burrow, dashed between the forelegs of Sandar's horse, causing the General to wrestle with the reins to regain control of the animal.  Then they were at the head of the cavalry column and fell in beside Colonel Marisgar and his bannermen, their great banners now folded and wrapped and being carried like hooded pikes, as the company made it's way through the darkness. 

They arrived some hours later on the wooded hills overlooking the great military encampment stretching itself larger than the city itself to the eastern side of the City of Magor.  Guard fires burnt their way towards being embers in the valley beneath the invading army they had brought here, few enough and spaced far enough apart, to prove that the camp had lost the majority of it's inhabitants to the northward forced march of General Toragor and his expeditionary army, now many miles away heading towards Rigan.  The infantry of Jarin's army were already forming ranks for the advance when he and General Sandar arrived, the regimental supply wagons having already taken position behind their squadron to roll forward carrying the weapons of attack, or defense should the need arise. 

The Eagles held the southern flank, those of it's men that had been left to garrison Utan already having been relieved by garrison troops so that they could join their comrades for this great battle.  The Dragons were acting as cavalry for this campaign, so the Bears were therefore given the northern flank of the mass of infantry.  Jarin's Royal Guard Regiment stood in the center of the line, flanked to the south by the Badgers Regiment and to the north by the Wildcats Regiment, with their distinctive closed helmets.  Behind the Wildcats and the Badgers, the Artillery Corps had drawn up their catapults, each drawn by hooded horses so that they would be able to advance with the main force.  The Regiments, each now numbering a thousand men, were drawn up in five ranks with their Regimental Bands behind them.  Jarin and his staff stationed themselves on a small rise in the ground, directly behind the Guards Regiment who held the center of the line.  The cavalry had been divided into ten companies, five stationed at the tip of the northern flank, five at the southern end of the line.   

It was still an hour before dawn when Jarin gave the signal and fifty fire-bombs silently entered the sky over the standing infantry.  These messengers of death exploded in the enemy camp below them lighting the whole landscape and throwing the walls of Magor into stark relief against the black sky behind it.  Like a signal, the explosions were followed by the sound of a hundred drums taking up the march, followed by a fanfare of a hundred bugles.  The fanfare had hardly ended when the next wave of missiles took to the sky in deadly flight and the Khan's Line Officers called the advance. 

Leaving the shelter of the woods, drums beating and fanfares urging them on, the thousand man wide wave of destruction that was the Khan's Army marched forward.  In a measured and determined pace, the absolutely controlled advance of the regiments of the Brotherhood moved towards the camp beneath them, where confused and terrified enemy soldiers were already running to man the defensive walls, silhouetted by the fires now exploding all around them.  Another volley of fire-bombs flew through the air, then another before the Line Officers, having counted the paces advanced, screamed for a halt and the preparation to fire.  They had advanced fifty yards when the first ranks knelt and brought their crossbows up to the shoulder.  The orders rang out and as they had at Utan and the Khan's forces began a slow and deliberate advance, pouring volley after volley of death delivering bolts into the enemy.  Now however, these volleys took on the unnerving effect of truly screaming as they poured down upon their enemies, for each bolt the Khan's soldiers loosed this night were now fitted with a small and simple device that caught the wind it created in a cleverly fashioned whistle.  Like banshees from Hell, the bolts coursed through the night sky a thousand at a time. 

Twenty or more volleys of bolts had been loosed, before the catapults were brought up behind the advancing infantry and again began lobbing their globes of death into the camp below.  The infantry were now within a hundred yards of the first defensive wall and the Church troop's return fire was beginning to have an effect, as the occasional bolt from below found it's way into their ranks.  Sergeants began calling for shields to be brought from the rear.  Orderlies, heeding the urgency of the moment, unloaded the cumbersome defensive shields from the carts which had kept up with the advance and ran forward, to hand them to the rear ranks of the infantry.  In minutes these soldiers had moved past their comrades and slammed the base of the shields into the turf, creating a wall a thousand yards long and five feet high of tempered steel, over which the Khan's infantry now began sending wave after wave of screaming, death delivering bolts, their supplies renewed by panting orderlies running between the front and the supply wagons. 

The noise was deafening and first one and then another horse attached to a catapult frantically careened into the troops in front of it.  The Artillery officers soon retreated their charges some fifty yards behind their previous line and as if the respite in the volleys of firebombs reminded the enemy before them of their power, a series of bugles in the camp below them began sounding the retreat.  Leaving their first defensive wall, the defenders pulled back to the second, many of them being rewarded by a screaming crossbow bolt thudding unmercifully into their backs as they ran towards the rear. 

Jarin and Sandar rode immediately behind the lines, urging their men on as enemy bolts whistled through the air around them.  Jarin heard two sizzling pops, as first one and then another enemy missile hit his protective field, the third however missed him and slammed into his horse's flank.  The animal reared and then rolled, leaving Jarin only precious seconds to throw himself clear.  A dismaying cry went up from the troops nearest to him and some of his guards even left the line to rush to his aid.  Sandar jumped to dismount and helped his sovereign to rise, even as the first of the worried Guards drew close to them. 

"Get me another horse!"  Jarin yelled at the top of his voice,  "It takes more than a heretic's bolt to stop the Khan of Khanlar!" 

A cheer went up from the troops nearest him and they threw themselves back into their career of dealing death, even as the Line Officers called for the advance and sounds of bugles either end of the front proved that the cavalry had entered the battle.  The calls to advance, heralded by the cavalry's bugles, had not faded when the sun topped the hills behind them and spilled it's light onto the battlefield illuminating the disaster below them.  Fires burnt throughout the enemy camp and blackened craters showed the damage their fire bombs had had on the enemy.  Corpses lay everywhere, and the retreat of the Church troops back towards the city walls was evidenced by the number of scurrying black shapes caught in the first rays of the morning sun, as they ran from cover to cover. 

Then they saw them.  Rank upon rank of Brotherhood cavalry, galloping into the enemy encampment from the north and from the south, pennants waving from every lance, banners flapping at the head of each squadron, bugles screaming defiance, as they urged their mounts over the turf and stone walls and speared into the retreating enemy, now lost in the confusion of panic and obvious pending defeat.  Suddenly the drums of the infantry Regiments took up the unrelenting beat of their advance of death, over the first wall, over the second, moving without hesitation across the encampment like an army of mechanical ants.  The enemy was in retreat everywhere.  It became a route.  Dead and dying bodies were all around them.  Crying or vacant-eyed Church Army recruits, farm boys and apprentices only months before, threw down their weapons and pushed their hands into the air in the universal sign of surrender.  Church Officers snapped their swords across their knees and placed their hands upon their heads, only to be ignored by the stone-faced troops marching past them in their relentless advance, rank upon rank to achieve their sovereign a victory.  Small groups of defeated and disillusioned Church soldiers and their officers were left to be gathered up by orderlies running behind the infantry with arms full of manacles to shackle the prisoners. 

Jarin rode behind the advancing ranks his sword drawn, urging and congratulating his soldiers.  Beside him rode General Sandar and his other Colonels and Captains, as the men of his cavalry regrouped in skirmish lines, following the relentless advance of their infantry towards the walls of the City of Magor. 

Jarin passed close to a small band of enemy soldiers, several of them wounded and all of them milling around like men who know that only luck had saved them from death that day, who were even then being urged into manacles by field orderlies.  A junior officer in the group saw his chance and grabbed it.  Picking up a discarded lance and screaming obscenities, he attacked Jarin as if he was taking on the Devil himself, only to stop in amazement, his jaw dropping in terror, when the star finned head of the lance he tried to plunge into the Khan's body failed to penetrate Jarin's force field.  Before Jarin could stop him, Sandar had kneed his horse forward and in one efficient stroke decapitated the still baffled lieutenant.  Then ahead of them, in a thunderous stamp the whole advancing line of the Khan's Army came to a halt. 

They were no more than four hundred yards from the gates of Magor, it's walls lined with citizens and soldiers, administrators and officers, most of whom had just witnessed what they saw as the miracle of Jarin's invincibility.  Colonel Zavir called his aide, gave him hurried instructions and sent him forward at the gallop.  The man was the only moving thing on the battlefield as he rode up to the gates and yelled his challenge at those manning the walls above him. 

"Surrender or Die!"  The young man shouted, in words that would enter the history books.  The rulers of Magor chose to live.  And so was the Battle of Magor brought to an end.


* * * * * * *

Someone Always Loses   

General Toragor felt the confinement of his field command tent far more today than he had ever done in the past.  On the table before him a map of North Eastern Khanlar was spread out and on it his misfortune was illustrated for everyone to see.  Utan had fallen so fast he had been unable to do anything about it, although he was not certain that his master in Ka would see it that way.  If he had been able to send a rescue force, it would probably have been destroyed by the enemy as it had tried to cross the River Vanzor.  Then Tor and Tovar had been snatched from them by some of the best tactical warfare he had ever encountered.  For the Gods sake, the General reprimanded himself, how could he have been so stupid! 

The news from Utan had brought back to General Toragor a feeling he had not known for many years and that feeling was fear.  The accounts of the tactics used by the Brotherhood and the description of their weapons, had left him numb.  That they were as disciplined as the messengers had explained, was not enough to describe them.  In his own mind Alin Toragor thought of them as he had those soldiers of the legends he had listened to from his teachers back when he had been a novice in the Monastery of Mansa, heroes who had been able to summon up demons and call down thunderbolts from the heavens to use against their enemies.  No army he knew of had ever been able to control literally thousands of men, the way his enemy's forces had acted at Utan, yet the Brotherhood seemed to have achieved that power. 

General Toragor again looked at the map and tried to work out exactly what his enemy was trying to achieve.  The Church Army was presently camped about five miles south of Rigan.  They were exhausted after several days forced march and he had decided that a short respite to eat and rest would serve them well prior to the attack he had planned.  It was four hours into the afternoon and the cold drizzle that had started a few hours ago, added a demoralizing factor to the encampment.  All the news was bad today.  Riders had been coming in almost at fifteen minute intervals ever since dawn and he felt like he was being slowly surrounded by an evil net.  Even the hope of escape by sea was denied to him, for out in the ocean north of Predon a storm was raging and the waves prevented small boats from ferrying his men out to a rescue armada.  The fact that the only Armada he could expect to lay off Predon would be one of the enemy's own accused blackships did not change the fact that even had his own vessels been able to come to his aid, nature had already denied him that option. 

Magor had fallen in about an hour to similar tactics to those used at Utan.  Less than five hundred men of the thousands he had left there had escaped and were now retreating north to join him, followed by a great host of the enemy, that various reports numbered at anywhere from ten thousand to fifteen thousand men.  There was an army of between three and five thousand fresh enemy troops, as far as his intelligence could estimate, marching north from Vanzor toward Comkar and they were expected to arrive there before nightfall.  His own field force had been decimated in the last few days.  He had commanded a host of twenty thousand at the outset of this campaign, but today he huddled in Predon with less than eight thousand and they were hungry, tired and demoralized.  Skirmishes, bad management or resources, battles like the ones at Utan and Magor and the amazingly high desertion rate had left him unable to take the offensive.  Where the enemy was getting all these troops from General Toragor had absolutely no idea, it merely proved how bad his intelligence had been to date.  The thousand or so enemy soldiers who had taken Rigan had evacuated the city less than four hours ago and had ridden east towards Comkar.  Comkar itself had fallen to the enemy just after midday to a thousand fresh troops landed by the enemy's accursed black ships. 

His first idea, when the enemy had left Rigan, had been to pursue them to Comkar and hand them a crushing defeat, but as the day's events had progressed he had realized that in doing so he would have been isolated with an exhausted army, outnumbered by a surrounding enemy and effectively cut off from supplies.  His next plan had been to fortify this position and engage the enemy as it arrived here in open battle.  That plan had been easily forgotten, when he understood that by tomorrow morning he could be outnumbered at least three to one by an enemy who had already humiliated his troops with far better tactics and discipline.  Plan three had been formed over an hour ago and try as he could Toragor could not better it.  He would have to put his tail between his legs and run for Norden.  In Norden, General Kaledir had better than three thousand men and the port was still open to shipping to allow new troops and supplies to be brought in.  Norden it was.  He would move his army to Predon first and then on to Norden! 

Ten days later General Toragor boarded the fishing vessel at Predon his jaws clenched in anger, surrounded by other officers who were pale faced and just as embarrassed as he was.  The Priest of Priests was not to be disobeyed, but this was an order that he had no stomach for.  No commanding officer should ever be ordered to save himself and sacrifice his men, but that was exactly the order that General Toragor was at that moment obeying. 

He had marched from in Predon ten days before with his exhausted army, only to learn even as they marched that he had been completely out maneuvered again by the Khan's tacticians.  The Khan's main Army had turned west, even before the Church Army had broken camp for the march to safety from Predon where, a few hours later the Khan's troops had taken control.  Three thousand enemy cavalry had by-passed Karian completely, leaving it to be taken by the infantry that followed them and had arrived in Norden at dawn the following day.  The town had been an open prize for them.  General Kaledir had taken his men and marched west to put down some riot or another in Araz and the town militia had been no match for the well equipped enemy that charged through the city gates as they opened for the day.  Who could imagine that the fool of a garrison commander would have no guards on the walls to see the enemy advance! 

The Khan's forced marches had brought up his infantry to Predon and those devil machines that hurled fire bombs with such accuracy had completed the utter demoralization of the Church soldiers left in General Toragor's command.  There had of course been no alternative.  His men could do nothing against those missiles.  General Toragor could not have expected his men to perform a miracle and defeat an enemy which outnumbered them at least two to one and was better trained and equipped, but to surrender? . . .that had been humiliating.  As it was he had received the Priest of Priest's permission to do just that.  He and his officers were now being allowed to sail away to freedom.  

Tomorrow morning his brave men would lay down their arms and enter a life of slavery.  He could not say however who faced the worst future, his men or himself.


* * * * * * *


Chapter Nineteen

Table of Contents