Ragarian watched General Toragor leave the room with a feeling of some sorrow. It was no secret that the Priest of Priest's had a high regard for the General, but in the nearly three years since Toragor had been forced to surrender his army in Predon the man had aged greatly. His hair was now almost white and he had lost a great deal of weight, yet he still held himself erect and he was still the best strategist the Church had been able to produce.
Even as General Toragor and his officers had been sailing along the coast back to Ka, Prince Jarin had launched a series of expert attacks that had seized the Nations of Araz, Mozag and Zikon in a matter of a few weeks. The latter two cities had all but opened their doors to their old Alliance cousins, but in Araz General Kaledir had put up a brave defense. The result had been more than half of his men dead or badly wounded and a predictable and eventual ignominious retreat from the field.
Everything had happened so fast, Ragarian thought as he looked back on it, for in less than two months the Khan's forces had successfully invaded and conquered almost a quarter of Khanlar and the Church had been helpless to prevent it. It seemed ridiculous now, but at the time they had been so sure that their Army would push the Khan's forces back into the sea, they had done little or nothing in the way of planning in their strategy to face a situation where their own Army could be destroyed. Looking back Ragarian could not understand why his Generals had not moved their remaining troops, who incidentally had numbered more than ten thousand, up to front line positions in case they might be needed. As it was, it had proved impossible to bring those reserve forces together fast enough to be of any use to their cause and by the time an Army had been assembled in Hedir the campaign was already decided. To have launched an attack at that time would have been merely to sacrifice what trained men they had left to defend themselves with.
In the weeks immediately following General Toragor's surrender at Predon the Church Empire lost the opportunity to take the lead in anything, in fact for almost all that time the situation could only be looked back upon as a time of fear and anarchy throughout the Church Army and the Administration. Huge stock piles of supplies had been lost to the enemy, to say nothing of the manpower the Khan's command suddenly found at their disposal, but the greatest losses for the Church was the loss of face with those Princes still loyal to the Old Order and the lost confidence of the people themselves, as the seriousness of the situation came home to them and they understood the size of the defeat that had been served to them by their leaders.
Was it already three years since those days of fear and confusion? How the world had changed in that short period of time. Thank the Gods for diplomats Ragarian thought, as he gathered up the papers from his meeting with the General, remembering as he did so that meeting in the village of Kitania in the border country of Araz, where he had met Prince Jarin of Natan, now the self-crowned Khan of Khanlar, for the first time. Ragarian smiled to himself as he also remembered how he had seen the similarities between them both. The Battle of Araz had been over less than a week, when an envoy had come to Ka to suggest a Peace Conference and so it was that the two sides had met and decided to try to live in peace with each other. It was of course a complete farce to expect anything of the sort to ever happen, but it gave the common people a feeling of relief and it was obvious to everyone at that conference, that neither side would have benefited from an all out war at that point in time.
The enemy had suggested that all erstwhile citizens of the Asigan Alliance who wished it, should be allowed to emigrate to the territory the Khan held and Ragarian had agreed, on the basis that all people who lived in the occupied territories who wished to leave should also be allowed to do so. Little else was accomplished during the two days of negotiations, even though the document it produced was fifty pages thick, however both sides seemed to be more concerned with gaining a breathing space than anything else, so the pageantry and the oratory were not completely wasted when they achieved it.
The meeting Ragarian had just concluded with General Toragor had changed little. The Church Army was still growing and there were more men in training now than at any time since the Great War, but they were still not strong enough to contemplate an outright attack on the enemy. At the same time it appeared that the enemy was not strong enough either to think about annexing any more territory at this time.
Ragarian had been able to bring about great changes in thinking in the staid and sober conservatism of his administrators since the Khan's troops had proved superior in the field of battle. It was obvious after the defeat of General Toragor's army, to everyone in Ragarian's government, that the Church was now fighting a War for the hearts and minds of the people of Khanlar and not just for the bodies and greed of the population, which had been the way used to control the power brokers and the masses for centuries. The elite had no choice, but to be tied in to the establishment and therefore gifts were now always accompanied by veiled threats. Land grants to the middle class went hand in hand with the trouble makers of the lower class being sold into slavery, where they could be controlled and effectively deployed within the economy without a voice.
To every Bishop or Priest who preached a sermon of less than Hell and Eternal Damnation for anyone who failed to obey even the smallest command of the Church, went a posting to some impoverished hamlet that reduced their standard of living considerably. To every craftsman or merchant who solved a problem of administration, or managed to somehow increase production, went an Absolution or a Grant of Privilege.
The old Warrior Orders of Monks that had given the Church it's power centuries before were re-emerging as a force within the land, as religious young men felt the pull of the new promises of fame and fortune that these organizations once again offered the zealous youth of Khanlar. The more heroic of the young men were talking of a Crusade against the heretics, urged on of course by the Church in every town meeting, or Herthesday sermon from the pulpit. So strong was the movement that the old Orders of Warrior Monks were gaining new recruits, or converts one might even say, every day of the week and were once again growing in power throughout the Nations still controlled by the Church.
"Bring me three converts and I shall give you a position of control. Bring me a Regiment of Holy Warriors and I shall give you a Princes Reward", became the method of running the Church Army, just as it had been centuries ago.
But as some became richer and thereby more loyal, others became impoverished to the point of selling their children into slavery, which did however, in it's own way, make them all the more controllable by the Church, which still of course controlled everything within the Nations it still ruled with the Absolute Power and Blessings of the Gods Themselves.
In only three years the Church Empire and it's nemesis, that territory controlled by the Khan, had developed into totally separate worlds. Apart from the few diplomats who travelled between the two governments, there was no other contact whatsoever between them. Those of the elite, the merchants or the middle classes who chose to leave for new lives in the Khan's Territories, of which there were fewer every month, were warned quite bluntly that they would suffer a very severe punishment should they ever talk about anything they knew which might benefit the aims of those who ruled the Occupied Territories, as the Church referred to those Nations controlled by the Khan. Patrols kept a constant watch on every border and any boat or ship leaving port in the Church Empire, or the Khan's Territories, left with a contingent of loyal soldiers to ensure it's return without contacting the enemy.
"Stalemate!" Ragarian said aloud to himself, "Balance and counter balance."
Ragarian in his Palace in the Holy City of Ka was kept informed of everything that happened in the occupied territories and as they advanced by change, he in turn tried to match that advance within the territory held by his government. Yet even as he introduced a minimum wage for peasants, so the landlords and merchants purchased more slaves to offset the need for poor people's labor and effectively every change Ragarian introduced was obstructed by avarice, greed and establishment influence.
The ship yards of Karden, Eron and Navis tried to create ships that would be a match for the blackships, but after many millions of crowns had been invested, the only result were larger vessels of the same old design which merely rode the ocean with more difficulty and despite their increased armament, just made larger prizes for the enemy. In the same manner road building projects had eaten up millions of crowns also and had provided only sub-standard roads and highways, while lining the pockets of every official involved with bribe money.
Ragarian fumed. Officials were hung or replaced. Little changed however in the Church Empire, for tricks once learned are hard to cast aside without stringent enforcement of rules to ensure it. Yet neither he nor his senior advisors had wasted the months since that embarrassing defeat in the East. Conscription efforts had been increased, training had been made the highest priority of his Generals and today no less than two out of three of all men between the ages of seventeen and thirty were in uniform within the Church Empire. The one advantage that the Church had over the Khan's Government was it's population superiority, even if that superiority had not to date proved an effective weapon, Ragarian was prepared to send every man, woman and child he could arm against the heretics the first chance he had to do it. Millions of crowns were being channeled into building an intelligence gathering machine and tonight his Generals would bring to him their best strategy for regaining the lands they had lost.
General Toragor returned to the Priest of Priest's chambers again that evening, after they had enjoyed separate dinners. With him he brought several of his senior officers and a few of his supporters from the Council of Bishops and after they had taken their places, according to rank and importance down either side of the great oak table, Ragarian took his own place at it's head.
"Well Gentlemen, are we yet prepared to invade and reclaim the lands the Pretender has stolen from us, or are we merely here to develop yet more plans and authorize yet more appropriations?"
"Actually your Highness it would appear that we have been handed a piece of luck by the Gods, which if it proves to be true could well allow us a greater advantage in pressing our aims, than anyone would have thought possible only a few weeks ago." It was Bishop Asanian of the Order of Mansa who spoke, his deep voice rumbling from his ox-like frame like far off thunder.
"And what might that be Bishop?" Ragarian asked innocently, even if he did know the answer before the Bishop put it into words.
"Well Sire, it transpires that the wife of our enemy the Khan is somewhat unashamed in her bedroom exploits, in fact one might say, bluntly Sire, that the woman is a slut." The real animosity in the Bishop's voice was refreshing in an age where most Bishops engaged in less than normal behavior when it came to affairs of the lusty heart. "The woman has taken to herself a pair of love pets as our tavern trash would call them. A serving wench and an ex-slave, the wench she had wedded off to this ex-slave and they serve her during the day as her maid and her house man, and then at night they serve her as her bed mates. To top it off, it would appear that she has got herself pregnant by the ex-slave and to our good fortune the maid has decided that being a plaything, even to an Empress, is sinful. A few weeks ago this young girl confessed everything to one of our informers, a priest of the Goddess Herthe, posing as a Priest to their new God in the City of Vanzor."
"How does this help our Cause Bishop?" Ragarian said, quickly tiring of the slow monotonous tones of the warrior monk.
"It has allowed us access to the very bedroom of the Khan my Lord. This Malinda, the maid Sire, has opened doors to our informer that could never have been breached without her help. A few nights ago we gained access to the troop deployments of our enemy Sire. The Khan's personal copy of these papers was copied in detail in his bedroom by our informer, while the stupid wench stood guard at the door." General Toragor had taken up the discussion, "Also Sire we have discovered that in a few days time every Field Commander, every senior officer and every official of any importance whatsoever in their line of command, will be in Vanzor to celebrate the birthday of the Khan's son at a Ball that his wife is organizing."
"And your plan to take advantage of this information General?" Ragarian asked.
"I intend to commit our armies to the field Sire, to engage and destroy the Khan's forces while they are without their senior officers to lead them, or an efficient chain of command to counter our action or, for that matter, attack us anywhere on the line!"
* * * * * * *
From Grace to Damnation is but one Step
Kirene lay upon the bed face down, naked, satisfied and relaxed. Beside her Paris was stretched out on his back, almost slipping into the sleep of exhaustion, while Malinda was rubbing lotion softly into her mistress's back. She sighed as Malinda's fingers massaged away the tension between her shoulder blades and she allowed herself the luxury of complimenting herself on how she had handled matters over the last few days.
When she had realized that she had caught Parsis' seed two months before, she had panicked that her adventures might be found out and she would find herself thrown out of her position in disgrace. However, as luck would have it, Jarin had himself performed his duties as a husband the month after and when she had told him that she was pregnant he had insisted that they celebrate, never for a moment thinking to question whether or not the child that she was announcing was in fact his. In a way that had made her feel a lot better, for the absolute arrogance of the man in thinking that he was the only man who wanted her body, and that her body might not be worth the sharing with someone that could satisfy it, almost called for him to be dealt such a hand.
Tonight she had watched in almost uncontrollable excitement as Paris had demonstrated to her how he had once impregnated young girls for his master, when his duties as a slave had been to keep a chain of wet nurses operational for that man's business and produce babies that the man could sell for an extra profit. Parsis had constructed a replica of the mounting stool on her orders and tonight he had tied Malinda down on it. Kirene had thoroughly enjoyed watching him using Malinda as the unwilling partner in his demonstration, urging him to be more aggressive and at one point grabbing handfuls of Malinda's hair to force her face up to where she could kiss her, while Parsis grunted his completion of the rape. It had excited Kirene to the point that they had left poor Malinda strapped to the stool while they had exhausted themselves on the bed.
She felt Malinda's hands massaging her buttocks and turned her head to smile at the girl, "I'm sorry if it was uncomfortable for you Malinda. . . you know leaving you all tied up while we enjoyed ourselves, I promise we won't do it to you again."
"It's alright my Lady, I feel better now." The girl replied.
Kirene turned over and reached up to put her hands on the girl's waist, gently pulling her young body down onto the bed. Wrapping her arms around Malinda, Kirene pulled the girl to her, until she could feel the young woman's breasts pressed tightly against her own. Then she kissed her, slipping her tongue into Malinda's mouth to taste the liquids there, while her hands began to explore the soft skin of the girl in her arms. Parsis snored at the same moment that the first sigh of passion escaped Malinda's lips.
* * * * * * *
The Grand Ball
The Khan's wife Kirene looked beautiful in her new white gown, with it's bodice stitched with hundreds of little fresh-water pearls and their son Jatrin stood beside her trying hard to act grown up in his new blue suit. There must have been a thousand people in the room, mostly officers in dress uniform, each with his own war story or new ambition to talk about, while their wives and ladies competed with each other to be wearing the latest fashion, or sharing a little gossip with the wife of someone of higher rank than their own husband or escort. Officials from every branch of government moved around the room, using this occasion to forward a pet project, each wearing the medallion of their calling on a ribbon around their neck. Guardians, Army Officers, Civil Officials, priests and ladies and gentlemen from all corners of the land the Khan now ruled, all were attending with the singular intent of being seen at the Khan's Ball.
For Prince Jarin, just being the Khan was a big enough headache most of the time, but acting as host to such a futile waste of time as this peacock-like parade, made him want to scream. Jarin envied the woodsman his solitude using his axe in the open air, he envied the soldier marching with his regiment to follow out orders and he envied the boys of all ages, who would get up early tomorrow morning to go fishing in that secret place that their grandfathers had thought secret also, many years ago. Jarin nodded and smiled, waved and replied, while the whole population of his land it seemed, set out to gain his attention. For two hours he listened to people praising themselves, or him and trying to gain his approval of some project they thought would benefit from his support.
Kirene obviously enjoyed these occasions and for days afterwards she would natter on about who was with whom and who wore what and who said this or that. . . until sometimes Jarin felt like banning all Balls as a threat to National Security. This one however, was going to end early for him, for it was to honor a young boy who would one day rule Khanlar and no-one would misunderstand if the Khan took his own son back to the nursery. The Ball was less than two hours old when Jarin picked Jatrin up, tickled him to make him laugh and then bounced out of the room with his son over his shoulder. A little while later Jatrin was tucked up in his bed asleep and Jarin was sipping wine alone in his study, away from the cantering and cat-calling of the ballroom.
On his own in the study, Jarin found himself able to relax for the first time in weeks. Ever since the morning he had boarded the Angel for the invasion of Vanzor, he had been working almost nonstop. That was years ago now and Jarin realized as he sat there how rarely he had had time to himself. He was still in full uniform and knew that he had spent too long a time being the Khan, to even now relax to the point of being unpresentable should some emergency come up.
The Khanlar Board stood against the wall behind his desk to the right, the pieces remaining in the same positions they had been the night Manator had left his room before the invasion. It had traveled across the sea from Lunza to Vanzor since then, but some servant's attention to detail had unpacked and replaced the pieces the way they had been when it had been packed up. On the wall above the board was a map of Khanlar and on it, Jarin could see just how much they had achieved since they had invaded Vanzor. New roads joined the cities in their territory to each other, an asset to both commerce and military strategy and the new cities they had built, where once only religious houses had stood, shone from the map in bright scarlet ink.
The map however, also showed that they controlled less than a quarter of the land mass of Khanlar and beyond their borders religious fanatics awaited the moment when they would be able to drive them back into the sea. As it was, it did seem that the Church seemed content to build and plan, rather than launch an all out Holy War against his better trained and equipped troops at this time. The Brotherhood's greatest problem of course, was the effect their invasion and swift advance into their new territory had had on the Church Economy, to say nothing of the trouble they still caused the Church in the Nations it controlled and were causing them at sea, where the Brotherhood's Fleet in effect ruled the entire coastline of Khanlar. Even so, it was only a matter of time before Jarin's people would have to meet them in battle, for if the enemy did not attack them, the Brotherhood would soon need more land to support it's ever increasing population and they would have to invade again, as the only way to obtain that needed land must be at the Church's expense.
There were days when Jarin just wanted to get out of the Palace, out of his uniform, out of his role of leader and take off into the woods. Tonight was such a time and the more he looked about his study, the more he felt trapped by events. The Brotherhood now had forty thousand men in uniform, men who were better equipped than any soldiers before them and they were ready to launch their attack to take several more cities from the Church at any time. The only thing that was stopping them making the first move was Jarin himself. Prince Jarin, Khan of Khanlar, wanted to see the death and suffering end and yet he knew that there would come a day, when it would be his order that would return Khanlar once again into the darkness of Civil War.
On his desk stood a music box, crafted out of mother of pearl and pure gold and Jarin lifted the lid to hear it play him a tune that Sandar had told him was a favorite of his childhood in the palace of Natan. It's tinkling little notes made the room seem even bigger and if possible, made him feel more alone. When the Church Emissary had placed it in his hands that very morning, the paradox of two men who talked in threats and counter-threats exchanging the beautiful presents they did, seemed ridiculous. The last such meeting had ended only a few hours before it had been time to dress for the Ball this evening and the Emissary's apology for not being able to attend, had in truth helped Jarin face the event. Now however, he could only see how pointless these talks were in the long run of things. A few prisoners exchanged, a load of grain allowed to sail unhindered to a town where the poor were starving, all of these things would be unnecessary if they were only able to live in peace with each other. What dreams Jarin had had when he had instigated these meetings. He had imagined that in time they would be able to right all the wrongs of their times, without resorting to the battlefield and the judgment of arms.
This last meeting however, had shown him once and for all that there really was no hope that such diplomatic exchanges could provide the answer he sought, for when reason from one man's mouth is heard with suspicion by another man's ears, no conclusion can ever be trusted. It really does not matter how high a man sets his dreams, nor how honorable his intentions may be, if he is not able to see and understand the society around him. Reality is often the hardest master of all to work for, but it is the only master of any given moment. These days Jarin clung to Manator's advice like a drowning man clutches at anything that happens to float by him. He worked totally on the assumption that one could only achieve success by doing what was right, the problem was that a lot of the time he was no longer sure exactly what was right. Prince Jarin of Natan, Khan of Khanlar, was just a man and he was as often confused by events as was any plowman or merchant out there in the heartland.
* * * * * * *
From a Woman's Point of View
Kirene undressed herself tonight. To be absolutely honest she had decided that most women were no more than stupid girls and she had enough stupidity to deal with these days without bringing it into her bedroom. She threw the dress on the floor as she stepped out of it and suddenly realized just how close she had come to losing her temper in the Ballroom with that stupid wife of Colonel Zavir. The woman was as fat as a barrel, insisted upon wearing pink, perspired like a boar and had dared to ask Kirene when Jatrin would be having his brother.
No matter which way she looked at it, she was fast becoming just another ornament to Jarin, something of equal value to his horse, which he fussed over when he needed it and never gave it another thought when he did not. Tonight was a typical example. Hundreds of people had watched her for hours after Jarin had just up and left the Ball, without so much as a wave to her. She had seen the side-looks of the women there and heard the whispered sniggers, as she had played the hostess without the aid of the host. For a husband Jarin was no more than an occasional visitor these days.
She pulled back the sheets and looked down on the plump expanse of mattress before her. What had happened? It had not been like this in the beginning, then she and Jarin had been inseparable. Now there were times when she did not see him for months on end and he was able quite often to take off for weeks to inspect some far-flung settlement, hardly even remembering to tell her he was going. Why she had even bothered to leave Lunza she could not understand.
She threw herself down on the bed, turned onto her back and kicked into it with her heels. Damn. He paraded about in dress uniform all the time, nodding to acquaintances, acknowledging those who served him, as if he were as omnipotent as the God they had brought into being. And while he was the center of everything, good little Kirene whom he had saved from poverty and illiteracy, walked behind him like a pet dog waiting for a pat.
"No longer. Your Highness. No Longer!" She shouted defiantly as she pulled up the covers and turned on her side to go to sleep without the company of her husband, as was becoming more and more usual these days. Then without warning she was unable to stop herself bursting into tears.
After a few minutes she got up and went to the door, wrapping a nightgown around her as she went. Once in the corridor she soon found a servant and she sent him immediately to call Malinda from her apartments, telling him that he was to tell the girl it was important and that she should hurry.
Returning to her rooms she poured herself a glass of wine and paced up and down before the dying fire, until at last there was a knock on the door and Malinda slipped into the room.
"Malinda, thank the Gods, I want you to tell Parsis he is to go directly to the docks and take the first ship for Lunza. I think there is one leaving in less than an hour to take one of the Guardians back, the poor man is suffering from gout I think." She took several gold coins from her purse on the table, "There isn't time to have papers drawn up, so tell him to use my name and buy passage. He is to open up my rooms in the Palace and bring back a carriage to the docks and wait for us. We are going home Malinda!"
"But my Lady, the Khan is in Vanzor. . ." the girl was obviously flustered, ". . . and the Prince Jatrin, my Lady, shall we be taking him with us? I could go to . . ."
"They do not need me Malinda, neither of them need me!" Kirene cut her off, "I am damned if I am going to be insulted and used like some body slave. Go and tell Parsis to leave right away, I do not want him to miss that packet. Then come back here and help me pack. We will be leaving this place on the first vessel out of the harbor after daybreak."
With a quick "Yes, my Lady" Malinda was gone. Kirene downed the last of the wine and then poured herself another glass.
* * * * * * *
A Mentor's Advice
Manator held the quill with wavering fingers this evening, but he managed to make passable letters that did not betray the infirmity he felt within his old bones. The paper was of a good quality however and that made it simpler to write upon.
My Dearest Friend,
It is so short a time Jarin, since I found you sleeping with Kirene beneath the oak tree in the forest and yet more has happened to us since then than many men experience in a lifetime. My friend I weaken and soon I shall go forth to meet my maker and trust that He will forgive me for all the actions I myself have reason to regret in my old age.
Once Jarin I also was a dreamer. It is funny my friend, for although you see the body of an old man, I am very often my old twenty year old self inside it. I remember the blood rushing through my veins at the sight of a beautiful girl and there were a few I told small and some not so small lies, to get them under the covers when I hungered for comfort. I also remember the shock of assuming power and leadership and finding that there was no sudden change in myself that would help me to deal with it. I see that fear in you sometimes Jarin. I see how you fear to judge or decide when in fact there is no other but yourself to do so. I understand the fear that power brings and the feeling of inadequacy when the solutions seem always to be beyond our powers of logical reasoning.
That is why I am writing you this short note my friend. To tell you that no man knows the answers more than half of the time and even then he will suffer doubts if he has any honesty in him at all. You have survived as the Khan, because you are the Khan. Lately I perceive a tendency in you to forget your friends and advisors in the daily rush of government and I would warn you to maintain those friendships at all costs. Take an hour each day to talk to those closest to you, for they alone will support you when your own time of need shall come, as with all of us it always must.
Also my friend, you must understand that your responsibility to Kirene is something that you should talk to her about sometimes. I know that you see what you are doing as the only way to provide a safe future for her and Jatrin, but that is a man's reasoning and Kirene is not a man, never will be and could not think like one if she wanted to. She most probably could never understand that men and women do not look at life in the same way.
Women my young friend, it has become plain to me as I have gained the experience of many years and the many relationships that came with them, see the future in an out-of-focus manner compared to the way a man will see it. Women base their actions only upon the Present and then only if they can be convinced to face the fact that what they have is reward enough. They fear the future, in a basic instinctive way, Jarin. In the future they will lose their beauty, their children will leave home and they will be left with only a life of drudgery in their eyes, compared to the romance and excitement that their youth gives to them. Men however, look forward to the Future as a reward, they will strive, invest, fight and live in miserable conditions to provide for the Future. For in the man's future he sees maturity and respect, he sees removal of responsibility for protecting and providing for his children, for will not his sons become men responsible for themselves and his daughters marry and become the responsibility of other men, while he retains both their love and respect.
This I see as the real area of strife between men and women my friend. For the man, Now is for preparing and building, but for the woman now is to enjoy and gain. Therefore it needs much communication between the two, if a marriage is to be a partnership. Just as men instinctively see potential reward in the Future, women instinctively expect to lose in the Future. Do not expect to understand women my friend, just try to understand, for there will never be more that you will be able to give to a woman than that. You may find that in so doing you will lose the Kirene you have placed in your heart, my friend. She is a wonderful person, kind, considerate and in love with you I have no doubt, how unfair that she has to think like a woman, is it not?
I wish you well, Jarin, you are the son I never had and I believe you will outshine even my admiration for you as time matures you, but above all my friend, I wish you true happiness.
You shall be given this note only after I am gone from this body and I wish to end our friendship with my thanks to you, for being the good man that you are Jarin. You may have doubts, but I have no doubt at all that the greatest thing I have done in my life is assist you to the power you now hold in Khanlar. God be your friend Jarin and may happiness be yours, as you have brought happiness and hope to thousands. I am proud of you.
Manator signed the document and powdered it before rolling it into a tube and binding it with a ribbon. Then he called his servant Aerlon and gave him instructions to hold it until the proper moment came.
The Guardian General then went to bed, glad that he was in Lunza that night and not in Vanzor. Had he been at the Khan's Court he would have had to find an excuse not to attend the Ball they were holding this evening. Personally Manator was convinced that such things were a waste of both time and money.
* * * * * * *
General Sandar found Prince Jarin in his study. Sandar of course did not much like spending time in the Palace in Vanzor, but the birthday of little Jatrin had been something he did not want to miss. The Ball however had made him feel like an outsider, he could not dance and he found it hard to make polite conversation with junior officers and civilian officials, to say nothing of being forced into polite chit chat with their wives and daughters.
"I thought I might find you hiding here Sire." He said as he closed the door behind him.
"Is there news?" Jarin asked urgently, sitting up in his chair. They both knew that the Church was planning something, but as of yet even Razarian's network of spies had been unable to bring in specific news of what was happening.
"No change Sire," Sandar said, accepting the glass of wine Jarin offered him, "We are still getting reports of troops moving about, extra solders in some of the cities on the border and the like, but nothing definite about anything yet."
"What did you think of today's meeting?" Jarin asked.
"The Church is up to something, no doubt, but somehow I feel they are waiting for us to do something first, so they can pull it off." Sandar replied.
"I get the same feeling," Said Jarin, "It's like waiting for an opponent to open a flank break in a game of Khanlar. I feel that if only we saw what they were planning to do, it would be so obvious we would kick ourselves for not seeing it before."
"You know how I feel about it." Said Sandar calmly, "They've all but evacuated Zoria and the majority of those rich enough to do so left Bizon and Atlar weeks ago. If it wasn't for Tamerin saying that he sees it as an offered bait to pull us in, I'd say march on all three cities right now!"
"That's what I mean," Said Jarin thoughtfully, "You would think that they would increase their troop strength in the cities nearest to our lines, not reduce it to where they become very inviting targets for us. Still there is nothing you and I can do about it tonight old friend. What say you we play a game of Khanlar?"
Sandar looked at the board, seeing a game already in progress. "It looks like you are already in a game." He said.
"That game Manator started several years ago, I thought it was about time I continued it. You take the Church, Manator set you up well, I believe."
The General brought the board over and spent some time working out the possible strategy Manator might have been establishing. Then he sat down across the board from Jarin and made his first move.
Sandar spent most of his time around the Khan, but it had been a while since the two of them had been alone. Jarin was not much past thirty and yet to Sandar the Khan seemed to have matured beyond his years since he had known him. In the early days it had been just a matter of obeying orders, but now he had a true respect for Prince Jarin.
Sandar saw beyond the outward show of confidence and knew that often Jarin would have exchanged his position as Khan for that of any Line Officer. Yet the young ruler had the knack of picking the right advisors and then listening to their advice. He was sometimes sharp, but he managed his temper well and he had genuine concern for the welfare of his people.
Sandar consolidated Manator's advance by moving another cavalry piece forward and decided that Prince Jarin of Natan was as good a choice for the post he held, as any other man Sandar had ever met.
The two friends had been playing for some time, in fact dawn would soon arrive. Jarin moved a warrior forward and was reaching for the wine flask, when Razarian threw open the door and rushed into the room.
"Sire. They've made their move. General Toragor has just crossed the Waterway and captured Utan. It's obvious Sire, they mean to take Vanzor before our main army can get here from the West!"
The Khanlar Board that had been so important only seconds before would be ignored for a long time, as the men who had played upon it went away to play with the lives of real armies.
* * * * * * *
The Outlaw Brigade
"Captain Vanquestor?" The messenger who asked the question was obviously out of breath and Peran put down his knife and fork and hurried chewing the piece of meat he had just put in his mouth. He swallowed it before he had broken it up sufficiently and had to take a mouthful of water to wash it down, before he could reply.
"Yes. What is it?" He managed at last.
"Sorry to interrupt your dinner Captain, but the Guard Commander wants to see you right away."
Peran removed his napkin from his lap and carefully folded it, placing it to the left of his still full plate as etiquette demanded, before he stood up.
"This had better be important, I missed my lunch today and my belly thinks my throat has been cut." The man obviously could not answer the comment, so Peran followed him out of the Inn and along the street through the darkening night towards the barracks.
"Thank the Gods you were here Captain." The Guard Commander jumped up from his desk as Peran entered the room. He was a small man and looked more like a clerk than the Commander of the Guard for a City the size of Mozag.
"So what is so important my dinner has to wait?" Peran asked in a good-humored manner that belied his actual displeasure at being disturbed.
"I am Lieutenant Parator Sir. Duty Guard Commander. The Church has invaded Sir. I received the news not fifteen minutes ago and with everyone in Vanzor for Prince Jatrin's birthday, you are the senior officer in Mozag. I thought you would want to take command immediately."
Peran did not know how to answer the man. He had no knowledge of the forces here in Mozag, in fact had it not been for a series of small interruptions he himself would have been in Vanzor tonight for the Ball.
"If I am not mistaken Sir," Peran finally ventured, "The Guard Commander of a City outranks a mere Line Captain, does he not?"
"Yes Sir, he does. But our Guard Commander is in Vanzor." The little man said apologetically, "I am the highest ranking officer here and I am a Lieutenant Sir. The enemy has not arrived yet, but I think Sir that you will have to assume command."
Peran was beginning to find the situation annoying and the fact that his belly kept reminding him that he was famished, did not help his mood. However he hid his frustration from the Lieutenant as he answered him.
"Right. Well first things first. Close the gates. Double the men on the walls. Prepare whatever fire-throwers you have. I am going to finish my dinner, I will return here in thirty minutes and I would like you to have every commissioned officer here when I do. Got that?"
"Yes Sir." Said the Lieutenant, saluting as Peran turned on his heel and started back towards his dinner.
When Peran returned thirty minutes later, feeling the better for having been allowed to finish his much needed meal, he quickly changed his mind about the little Lieutenant. The man had obviously not over-reacted to the situation as Peran had at first thought. There were more than fifty junior officers in the room when Peran walked in. Somebody yelled "Attention!" and the time taken by those present coming to order and saluting him gave Peran time to gather his wits. He returned the salute and advising the men in the room to sit down, he made his way to the desk wondering how exactly he was going to handle this. He was a Captain all right, but a Captain in the Intelligence Legion and it was years since he had acted in a Line Officer role. Finally he turned to face the audience and found a sea of attentive faces staring at him.
"You Sir. . ." Peran singled out the small Lieutenant who had first offered him command, "I arrived here only a few hours ago, bring me up to date on the situation."
"Yes Sir." The young Lieutenant stood to attention. "About an hour ago a messenger arriver here and informed me that the Church Army has breached the wall some ten miles north of us and approximately ten to twenty thousand enemy troops are marching towards us at this very moment. They bypassed the fort at Ramitar without attacking and it would seem that they are intent upon engaging our main army. . . which at this moment in time is us Sir. . . here in Mozag."
The man sat down when he had finished and Peran himself remained seated for what seemed like a long time, trying to absorb the seriousness of the situation he found himself in. Finally he pointed to another young man in the uniform of a Supply Officer.
"You Sir. Bring me up to date on our strength in Mozag."
"Lieutenant Sataris Sir. Supply Corps. At this time Sir the Lions and the Wildcats Regiments are in Mozag with the Khan's Guards, approximately three thousand men Sir. The City Garrison numbers six hundred, the 3rd Cavalry Regiment is also stationed here Sir, that's another five hundred. Above that we have a Work Legion of one thousand men stationed at the hamlet of Krisalik five miles east of the city Sir. Then we have about four hundred men with the Supply Corps and probably another five hundred men with the 2nd and 8th Artillery Units, Sir!"
"Six thousand men and no senior officers? Right?" Peran tallied.
"Yes Sir!" The Supply Lieutenant answered.
Peran sat for several minutes thinking, while his audience waited in obedient silence. Finally he realized that if the enemy was indeed marching towards them with a force that outnumbered them by as many as three to one, they faced a very unsettling and probably very short, future if they remained here, without a command structure that could respond to the impending attack. His next question he aimed at a young cavalry lieutenant.
"You Sir. Imagining that your senior officers have been informed of our predicament and they set out immediately from Vanzor, how long would it take them to return here?"
"Several days longer than it will take the enemy to get here Sir!"
"You as worried as I am boy?" Peran threw back at him.
"Yes Sir!" The boy smiled. In fact Peran's retort had relaxed the whole room considerably.
"I take it you have all recognized my uniform and understand that I am not a regular army officer. However gentlemen, being a Captain in the Intelligence Legion somewhat supposes that if you have survived long enough to make the rank, then you are probably intelligent enough to go on surviving." This time several of those present actually chuckled out loud.
"Right. Well I suggest gentlemen that we react to this situation in a way that will counter act the obvious advantage our enemy thinks he has right now. If our commanders can not get to us, then I suggest we get to them!"
His words unlocked almost every tongue in the room and to control the situation he had to almost yell "Attention!", which to his satisfaction immediately returned order to the assembly.
"You Sir. . ." Peran pointed at an older man at the back of the room in the uniform of a Lieutenant in the Work Legion. "Bring your Work Legion into the City. Now man. Ride as fast as you can and bring them in!" The man jumped up and was gone before Peran continued. "Lieutenant Sataris I want you to provide weapons for the Work Legion. Crossbows preferably, if you can find them. Then you Sir. . ." Peran pointed at another Work Legion Lieutenant, "You will get half of those men up onto the walls with half of the Garrison troops. Lieutenant Parator, you will assume command of the Walls until dawn, at which time you will select someone to relieve you. Half the Garrison and half the Work Legion will stand down until the enemy actually attacks."
Peran felt his audience beginning to lose their previously obvious feelings of impending doom. He continued as if he did this sort of thing every day, again nodding towards the Supply Lieutenant. "Sataris. Your men will remain in the city, they will bring the garrison strength up to a level that should allow you to hold the city until relief arrives. You have the Garrison troops plus a Work Legion, volunteers if you can get them, to hold the city. You are hereby field-promoted to the rank of Captain and you will act as second in command for Lieutenant Parator who will assume the rank of Captain." Now, he pointed to a Supply Lieutenant, "I want you to hitch up every wagon you can find and every horse in the city not pulling one of those wagons is to be saddled. All three regiments and as many support troops as we can take, will leave with me as soon as we can. Go to it Lad!"
"Yes Sir!" The young Lieutenant actually threw Peran what for all the world looked like a look of relief as he ran from the room.
"The rest of you. Assemble your men. We have to get out of here before the enemy traps an important part of the Khan's Army for the duration. Attention. Move gentlemen. We leave inside thirty minutes!"
As if to add impact to Peran's orders a Sergeant opened the door and shouted directly at Peran.
"The enemy has been sighted Sir. They will be here inside the hour!"
Suddenly the room was empty and Peran was alone. Then it hit him. By this time tomorrow he would either be a hero, or the world would brand him a coward and a traitor for all time.
"Hurrah for the Outlaw Brigade!" He said to the now empty and silent room.
* * * * * * *
The War Room
In the Council room of the Khan's Palace in Vanzor those officers who had been awake, or had been pulled from their beds to be there when the first news arrived that the Church Army had invaded their territory, gathered there again this evening in a mixture of excitement, apprehension and shock. Twenty four hours had passed since they had first received the news. A servant was still finishing the task of candle lighting as Sandar, Razarian and Prince Jarin entered. The three of them went at once to the map table and the officer there began telling them the news, while pointing out strategic points on the map as he talked. Couriers seemed to be arriving every few minutes to thrust more recent messages into the officer's hand and he incorporated them into his explanations. When all the new information had been explained, Razarian thanked the officer and took over command of the map table.
"It would appear that they have been planning this for months and last night, when all of us were here for Jatrin's birthday, they took advantage of the occasion and attacked." He took a paper from a young messenger, scanned it and went on, "There appear to be five major fronts and we were unprepared for all but one of them. Damn they must have eyes and ears everywhere." The Khan's Intelligence Commander looked angry at himself.
"The worst threat from the Church Forces, appears to be the one which attacked Utan. Reports say they have fifteen thousand troops, with a thousand cavalry and a large number of siege engines." Razarian took another message from a newly arrived courier and then he smiled for the first time since he had brought Jarin and Sandar news of the attack the night before. "God's, Utan hasn't fallen. The city is still in our hands. That should hold Toragor for a few hours at least, he won't dare move on towards Vanzor with Utan still holding out behind him."
"How many troops does the city have?" Sandar asked quickly.
"Two thousand, maybe less." Razarian replied.
"Thank the Gods we spent so much time strengthening the defenses there." Jarin said, "They should be able to hold out for several days at least with the advantage in range they have and the new walls we put up to defend them should withstand any attack by Toragor's siege engines."
"We no longer have an advantage in crossbow range!" Colonel Zavir had joined them and held out a paper he had just taken from another courier. "Seems they got hold of a few of our new crossbows and duplicated them. Our men are reporting that range is now about equal for both sides."
Razarian was placing Maroon tokens on the map, which a flustered assistant had just run into the room to give him.
"We are holding at Utan and because of it General Toragor seems to have halted his section of the advance." He placed another token on the map a long way from the City of Utan. "The Eagles have engaged five thousand Church Troops who got over the wall to the south east of Araz. Our men are operating as light infantry and cavalry and appear to be causing some concern to the Church's advancing infantry in that action."
"How well organized are our troops at this time?" Jarin asked, moving up to the table.
"Surprisingly well as a matter of fact Sire." Razarian replied. "Our Junior Officers have merely replaced themselves with non-commissioned officers and moved up to take over the positions left vacant while their commanders are trapped here in Vanzor with the rest of us."
"What about Mozag?" Jarin said, "We have seven thousand men there, can't we deploy them to reinforce our weaker flanks?"
"The enemy attacked Mozag with an army of at least twenty thousand men, maybe more and they now surround the city." Razarian replied, thrusting a paper at Sandar who appeared about to contradict him, "The Guards, Lions and Wildcats with a large number of support personnel had the time and good sense, to get out before they were trapped there. Reports from the city say two thousand troops remain and they believe Mozag can hold."
"Where did these runaways go?" Sandar exploded as he joined them, "Who the Hell is giving the orders?"
"Reports say they are heading east to save us. As for command structure. . . well, it would appear the Line Officers have assumed that role as of now. What else could they do Sandar, with every senior officer here in Vanzor? Stay in Mozag, where they would have been blocked up and useless to us or themselves?"
"You said there were five fronts?" Jarin questioned.
"I did." Said Razarian, "Utan, Mozag, Araz we know about, the fourth attack was from the sea, by a fleet of fifty ships sailing with troops to land between Comkar and Rigan we guess. That fleet has been defeated, dispersed and removed as an immediate threat by the fast thinking of a squadron of our own black ships. Our boys sailed straight into the enemy and started hurling fire-balls at them. It appears we lost six ships ourselves, before the Church fleet pulled off and started sailing for home."
"And the fifth front?" Said Sandar.
"Lunza!" Razarian replied. "They have a fleet landing troops right now in Lunza. After the first news of their ships sailing from Karden we have heard nothing Sire. All we know for certain is that one of our spies has reported that a fleet is most certainly presently disembarking troops on the island of Lunza."
Everyone around the table was stunned by the news. It was Sandar that brought them out of it.
"We'll get to that later. First let's do something about our own position." He said. Everyone again turned to the map table. All the senior officers were now present in the room.
"It would appear that the main force of our enemy is going to be here within three days, four at the most. . ." Sandar put his finger on a spot between Karian and Zikon. "I'll guarantee there is a secondary force of several thousand men going to come over the wall during the night to join them, or at least hold the wall while their main force advances."
"Right!" Tamerin had entered the room and joined them at the table without anyone noticing his presence until he had spoken. "And I believe that they will head straight for Vanzor and us. I do not think they will stop to take on any of the cities in between, they have already found that our new fortifications are too tough a nut for them to crack without many days siege and they do not have the time for that."
"So we meet them there, at Karian?" Said Sandar, putting his finger onto the map.
"I would suggest we withdraw before them and allow them to wear themselves out before we take the chance to meet them anywhere." Tamerin said quietly. "Our cities did not fall to them as they expected. Our troops did not panic and run as the enemy expected them to do, so why should we go forth outnumbered to engage them in the open field as they expect us to do? No my friends, let them continue to meet the unexpected, while we send them bad news from home."
That night the Khan's Council spread the war into many cities in Church controlled lands, as pigeons winged messages across the continent. The Khan's Blackships sailed to within catapult range of Bizon, Atlar, Thar and Dala that night and spent several hours hurling ceramic fire bombs into those places. By the morning the columns of smoke could be seen for miles around and as dawn broke over the eastern horizon, a squadron of Blackships sailed into Navis bay and within an hour more than a third of the Church's fleet there was bathed in flames.
The Priest of Priests also discovered that night just how many friends the Brotherhood had within Church controlled lands, as cities and hamlets, villages and monasteries suffered fires and other sabotage. In Dynlar a major fire sent a stampede of several hundred steers running terrified into the night. In Tarbor thirty four great hay barns were destroyed in what would become the most famous case of arson in history. In Asiga seventeen City Militiamen were stoned to death, as they tried to escape an isolated barracks overlooking the Great Market.
Despite the declaration of Total War they had sent out from Vanzor to all of their supporters however, the leaders of the Brotherhood knew that the events of the next seventy two hours would be the most important since the Asigan Alliance had first been suggested.
With all his Commanders in Vanzor, a full enemy advance taking place and several of their Regiments lost the night General Toragor showed the Church Empire's hand and attacked Utan, was without doubt the lowest ebb of Jarin's career. Every courier that was available and there seemed far too few of them, was kept very busy that night. But, as it always does, when the dawn light spilled into that stone walled room in the morning, they had at least created a sense of order and direction.
The light lances used by their information centers had the advantage of being able to operate efficiently during the hours of darkness, when there was no sun for the Church heliographs to use and the Khan's command structure used this advantage to the full. Messengers were continuously running up the stairs, along the corridor and into the command room with the latest information and as morning brought the new day, they appeared to be back in control of their situation, even if the situation they were in control of was a very bad one. None of them had had any sleep of course, but somehow the mixture of fear and excitement seemed to have given them a second wind.
Perigan Marlinger arrived in the War Room soon after Razarian and Jarin that morning and he was able to provide them with the locations of his Work Legions. Messengers had already been sent with orders to conscript these men into military service and they had been informed that they would soon be issued with weapons and placed under the command of newly promoted Captains who had already left to join them.
Admiral Kovis had sailed before dawn with a small fleet to sink the ships the Church had used to land troops in Lunza, for although they could do little at this time to aid their friends and loved ones still there, they were able to prevent the invaders from leaving the island. That it had been decided would serve two purposes, first it would prevent hostages being taken off the island, or anything else that the Church might otherwise have been able to use against them. Secondly it might prevent excesses by those troops, if they were reminded that the Brotherhood still ruled the seas and that they were trapped on the island they had taken.
Jarin also learned that the Lions, Wildcats and Guards had joined the Dragons at Magor and so far that city had not been threatened in any way, as yet. General Sandar and the other officers had left to join their men at Magor already, which would give the Brotherhood a viable force in the center of the campaign situation.
Tamerin had not attended Jatrin's birthday party, due to his mother being sick in their home, which was located in a small hamlet a few miles outside of the City. He had arrived the next day about midnight after being sent for, to the relief of Razarian and Jarin, for their need of their Tactician had never been greater than during those first hours after the invasion began. He hurried into the room that morning, only a few steps behind Perigan Marlinger with two junior officers still talking to him about what had happened since he had gone to his bed a few hours earlier. He nodded at Jarin and Perigan and immediately told Razarian to bring him up to date on the situation. While the two of them talked Perigan and Jarin managed to slip away and get a little breakfast. When they returned Tamerin and Razarian were actually smiling.
"Whoever planned this invasion had little respect for our Junior Officers." Tamerin said as they rejoined him and Razarian at the table, "I guess that they expected our men to react the way their own would react, without senior officers around to direct them and that mistake may just cost them the Campaign you know."
"I love you Tamerin." Jarin said truthfully, "You are the only man I know able to give me confidence when our situation would appear so grave."
"Thank our junior Officers Sire, for it is their swift actions which make it likely that the Church Army may just be in a very troubled position by the time the day is out." He began to point at tokens on the map as he spoke. "They must have been told of the work that we had done on our defenses, but for some reason they under-estimated how these improvements would hinder quick capture by attacking troops. Their senior Commander General Toragor is bogged down at Utan. Reports indicate that he has already lost a tenth of his men trying to attack the city walls. The fool should have ignored it and pressed on to isolate us before we could organize ourselves. Now it's too late and he has an army before him, a fortified city keeping him occupied and his transports destroyed, or running away up the Great Waterway, after the attack our fleet delivered on them last night. Did you know that most of the men aboard those barges were below decks sleeping when we attacked them? Toragor is trapped, anyway you look at it!"
Tamerin tapped one token after another as he explained the way he saw the situation.
"Araz holds. The enemy tried a frontal attack and got bloodied in a bad way and a Work Legion is marching east from Norden with four squadrons of Hawks on their way to join the defenders at Araz. The landings they attempted at Rigan and Comkar were a total failure Sire, they were driven off and badly hurt. Mozag holds and the Commander of the Church forces there did what Toragor should have done and marched on past it, however in his case it was a bad tactical mistake. Toragor's force will not be where they were supposed to be for him to join up with and although he does not know it yet, we have four Regiments and two Work Legions presently preparing a reception for him when he gets to Magor." His expression changed for a moment as he touched the Maroon token on Lunza, "What is happening in Lunza however? Well, as yet no one knows what is happening there and we can do little about it, except prevent them from leaving the place until we have time to deal with them. The troops we have in training on Suvak will do what they can of course, but we can only wait for news at this time. Kovis did the right thing there and of that there is no doubt whatsoever."
"So what do we do next Tamerin?" Razarian asked.
"Get something to eat, or take the time for a few hours sleep I think." Said Tamerin, "The fleet is at sea and will prevent further landings in the north and will also stop sea bound reinforcements getting to General Toragor. We have every man that can bear arms who is not needed to man the walls of our cities, marching towards Vanzor at this moment. They will provide a barrier that will trap Toragor where he is before this day is over. Sandar and his command will soon engage that force marching to join Toragor from Mozag. Araz will hold I believe and there is nothing we can do for Lunza. I would expect that tomorrow, or the next day, we shall engage and destroy Toragor's force at Utan." He moved tokens around as he spoke, "A few days from now our fleet can land troops behind the enemy at Araz and send relief to Lunza. Before the week is out we may have no enemy left to fight!" Almost as if the rest of them were not there, Tamerin left them and walked away to get some breakfast. As he left the room he laughed and turned round to throw out a final remark,
"Why in the Name of the Gods did that fool Toragor stay to attack Utan? That one mistake is going to cost him the War and it will cost the Church the rest of Khanlar. How in the world could someone with his experience make a mistake like that?"
None of them had an answer for him and he was gone before anyone could even think of a possible reason to explain General Toragor's mistake, in fact Jarin did not think anyone would have even recognized it was a mistake, had not Tamerin enlightened them about it.
* * * * * * *
Fate Sometimes Laughs
Parsis was tired and cold and angry. One minute the woman was in his arms crying out her love for him and the next she was treating him like a slave or worse, threatening him with every kind of punishment if he ever so much as blinked at one of her orders. There were times when he even considered throttling her as she squirmed beneath him during their love-making. One minute he had been sleeping in his bed and an hour later he had been jumping aboard the mail packet on the way to Lunza. They had arrived on the island earlier than they had expected, having been driven before a force five westerly that had slammed them without consideration from wave into wave on the quickest crossing in five years.
Parsis found a livery stable and hired a horse and rig, bribing the manager to stop his moaning at being woken before dawn. Then he had headed out towards the palace at a slow pace, trying to overcome the feeling of queasiness the trip had left him with. As he passed through the gates of the great wall that surrounded the Guardian's Sanctuary it happened. The first explosion came as such a shock it took him a few moments to quiet the horse and prevent it from bolting. Using all of his considerable strength to hold the reins tight, trapping the animals chin back against it's neck, he stood up and turned to look at the sight behind him. By then another four or five fire-bombs had crashed into the city, with more following them in so fast a succession that he could not count them. The gates behind him slammed shut and one of the guards ran to catch up with him.
"Get to the Palace. Tell them the City is under attack!" The Gate Commander shouted.
Without a second thought Parsis slapped the reins across the horses back and yelled at it to move, and soon he was hurtling along the paved road with it's street lamps flashing past him at a surprising pace. The people at the Palace did not need his warning however, and as he drove the careening carriage into the entrance drive of the Palace the events taking place almost caught him in their web before he knew it.
Flames were already taking hold everywhere. The attackers had obviously landed and made their way to the palace to time their attack to the attack on the city itself. There were Church troopers everywhere and the bodies of dead and dying Guardians and their servants seemed to cover the steps and the driveway before it. Those marvelous Staffs the Guardians used to protect themselves had been too far from the hands of their owners perhaps, or perhaps the bolts coming from the dark had killed them before they could activate them. Whatever the reason, Parsis counted at least a dozen Guardians laying on the ground sharing death with their servants.
Throwing himself from the carriage he rolled into the bushes, seeking cover before any of the Church troopers saw him and sent a bolt his way. He felt something crack as he landed and by the time he began to extricate himself from the shrubbery he knew his left arm was broken. The Palace was well taken by the fire now and Parsis could swear he felt the heat of it on his back as he ran, as if trying to catch the ridiculous shadows of himself dancing on the ground before him. He did not feel the bolt that slammed into the back of his skull. He crumpled like a lifeless puppet will fall when it's strings are cut. The shadows before him ended their dance as he fell.
* * * * * * *
Right Place, Wrong Time.
Golar swore as he tried to button up his jacket with his left hand, this was no time to be a one-armed man. The light from the fires spreading through the palace were throwing a nightmarish shadow play across the walls of his apartment by the time he finished it. Out in the night someone screamed. There were so many screams now he realized that this one must be directly below his second floor window to have been so prominent. Grabbing his sword from it's scabbard where he had thrown it on the chair the night before, he reached the door just as a crossbow bolt smashed through the glass of the window and embedded itself into the wall.
The corridor was deserted, doors open along it's length, abandoned by the fleeing guests who had been woken from their sleep just as he had been by the attack. The smoke was already thickening to the point where in a few more minutes he would be unable to see or breathe, if he could not get out. Trying hard to recall the exit locations, he covered his mouth with his hand and began running, heading for a window he remembered being on the stair well he had come up a few hours ago. Reaching the stairs he saw that someone before him had used the same route, for the window hung open into the blackness of the night. At the foot of the stairs flames were already licking their way across the carpet and the acrid smoke was thicker here. The attack obviously had been mounted from the front of the palace.
Even as he launched himself from the window into the shrubbery below, a crossbow bolt slammed into the window jam above his head. He heard the yells of his pursuers behind him as he hit the bushes and rolled as best he could, towards the darkness and away from the building. Another bolt thudded into the dirt not two feet from him as he came to his feet and began running into the darkness. Another and yet another bolt whistled through the night, both missing him by so short a margin he swore he could feel the displacement of the air as they passed. Then he was running through the trees and away from the bedlam behind him.
At last he felt safe enough to stop running and laboring for breath, he turned to look back upon the now blazing buildings he had escaped from. He had topped a small rise in the ground and from this natural viewpoint the scene of the disaster was spread out before him through the trees. The palace was now engulfed in flames and the mayhem was lit like a scene from a madman's opera as the screams and yells of the attacked and the attackers carried through the night to where he had gained comparative safety.
He had been lucky in being a visitor, for he had been put in the north wing of the Palace, furthest from the attacker's main thrust and therefore he had had the time to get out before their efficient advance through the buildings could bring them to where he was housed for the night. Those with quarters in the main building were not so lucky. They had had no chance at all in fact, for the attackers had obviously infiltrated the building before the alarm had been fully raised. He could see the carnage below him etched into the backdrop of the burning buildings, as the attackers methodically and efficiently slaughtered every living being that escaped the flames. There were obviously no prisoners being taken in this campaign and the murderous hacking and spearing of everyone not dressed in the maroon uniform of the enemy, took on the horror of a nightmare that he had trouble taking his eyes off. It was dreadful to watch that efficient destruction of every living being that moved into their path and finally, in a terror of total helplessness, Golar felt his stomach retching as he turned and ran towards the towering bulk of Mount Asilia, now framed by the lightening sky that proclaimed that dawn was less than an hour away.
As the morning progressed Golar made his way north east along the higher ground with the towering vertical face of Mount Asilia always to his left, cursing the fact that Lunza was an island. In the old days, when he and his family had taken to the forest after the Great War, there had always been a choice of escape routes, now there were none. Sooner or later the enemy would round up every one of those that had escaped their initial onslaught, for even those with two good arms would never survive the currents if they tried to swim to safety. If Suvak had managed to survive then there was a chance that rescue would come, but for the moment he was trapped, for the invaders stood between him and the Garrison on Suvak. Golar cursed out loud and caught himself talking to himself.
"You are an idiot my son." He heard himself say in a strange observing manner, "Why the Hell you decided to visit the Palace at this time of all times just makes you deserve to be caught."
The fact was that there really had been no reason for him to be in the Guardian's Palace that night, he should have been sleeping in his own bed in the barracks on Suvak where he belonged. His tunic identified him as the Commander of the Training Center on Suvak and this was the first time he had left it in over a year. He had seen the castle of Suvak built and had commanded it ever since the day it was completed and had left it only twice since then to visit the Guardians here in Lunza.
From his vantage point here on the mountain he could see the whole scenario of the present situation laid out before him like a great map to the south. The Guardian's Palace and the City of Lunza were still burning, sending great columns of smoke into the morning sky and spreading like a fog across the landscape before him. He could see Suvak, but the distance and the smoke prevented him from discerning whether anything was happening, but at least there was no smoke rising from his own home there. Perhaps they were already across the causeway and the fighting was taking place on Lunza, leaving Suvak untouched by the attack. For himself he just kept putting as much distance as possible between himself and the enemy who had destroyed the Palace behind him and would happily send him off to the next life should they get the chance.
* * * * * * *
Enemies Sometimes Look Like Friends
Jarin awoke from his nap two hours after noon and ordered that food be brought to him in the Council room, which everyone was now calling the War Room. When he walked into that crowded place, it seemed as if everyone and his father was occupied in some organized activity. Tamerin, Perigan and Razarian had assumed a position at a large, oblong, oak conference table overlooking the greater map table, where a dozen young men were busy translating incoming reports into positions shown by various tokens on the map. Jarin took his place in the fourth chair at the table and asked to be up-dated on the situation.
"Fact is the real position will not be known for a few hours yet." Tamerin answered him, "Our field Regiments and a couple of Work Legions, under the command of General Sandar engaged the enemy at Magor about two hours ago. From reports we are getting the Church Troops are performing better than they ever have before. They have a General we have not had the pleasure of facing before called Lorangir leading them and the chap's pretty good at his business."
"We have trouble there. Is that what you are telling me?" Jarin asked quickly.
"Let's say they held our first cavalry charge." Razarian replied, "They regrouped much faster than we expected and were actually launching a very disciplined attack on our defense line there, last we heard. It would seem Sire, that the Church has brought to this battle some very well trained troops for a change. These are not your country conscripts in uniform, these men are trained and seasoned professionals."
Jarin spent a few minutes summing up the position of the tokens on the map and as the truth slowly sank in, he saw the danger they were facing. Tamerin met his look of apprehension as he raised his eyes from the map.
"That is how it is, Sire." He said quietly, "General Toragor has finally given up trying to take Utan and is marching north to meet up with Lorangir's command".
"If I read the map right Tamerin," Jarin asked slowly, "We have only two Work Legions between General Toragor's advance and Magor. That would mean the enemy would have us outnumbered, and separated from our forces, if he is allowed to get there!"
"Those men in the Work Legions will not shirk their duty Sire, they will stand for as long as they can against the enemy." Perigan Marlinger said with a mixture of pride and hope in his voice.
A courier quietly entered the room and went straight to Tamerin. The Tactician took the report and read it carefully, before passing it to one of the young men operating the tokens on the map. The dark-haired youth read the paper, then started to read it again, before glancing up at Tamerin. The older man nodded and the young man started moving tokens about in haste. As the picture changed, Jarin saw the way events were shaping up for them between Magor and Utan. Tamerin did not wait for questions, but started explaining what they were seeing happen before their eyes.
"As you can see gentlemen we are witnessing the final phase of the Church's strategy. Now we know why Toragor did not come straight to Vanzor, he has orders to destroy our army, not our Capital."
"God's Tamerin. Where are all those Maroon Tokens coming from?" Razarian gasped as one new token after another was placed upon the map.
"Up-rising of the Faithful, I would guess." Tamerin replied. "Or more likely men they have been slipping in over the last year as refugees. Whatever it is, it does not bide well for us right at this moment." He got up from his chair and walked down to the map table, "Gentlemen, these new tokens do not represent armies, the problem is that they are just small groups of armed men hindering and occasionally preventing, our men from making their way towards Magor."
"Have we any reserves that can be freed to get to Magor in time to increase our numbers there?" Razarian asked quickly. He turned to Perigan, who threw up his hands as he replied.
"We have Work Legions marching south, but they are heading here or to Utan." He glanced at Tamerin, who nodded and took up the reply by calling a courier Sergeant to him. He very quietly gave the man quick orders, forcing the large soldier to lean over to understand the whispered instructions and then the Sergeant left the room at a run, his face as serious as any Jarin had ever seen. Tamerin then banged his hand on the map table to get everyone's attention.
"I want this room cleared. Everyone outside. Now!"
There were some puzzled looks, but soon Razarian, Perigan, Tamerin and Jarin were alone. The small tactician paced up and down beside the table for several seconds, before he stopped and addressed them.
"After the up-rising I think what I have to say now should be for our ears alone."
Jarin immediately exploded. "Tamerin, I want you to put your reasons forward and I want them fast. What you have done just now is inexcusable. The men in this room were my officers and advisors. You should remember my friend that I am the Khan and not one of your students."
Jarin obviously felt very angry at the way the man had taken over the control of the War Room, without bothering to even ask his permission and the anger of the moment showed on his face as he spoke. Tamerin seemed to see his mistake and began to apologize, however Jarin waved it aside and the wiry Guardian therefore launched into his latest deductions.
"Sire, we have been out-thought by whoever plans their tactics. Whoever that person is he has been kept well informed of the way we are working. The only way he could be given that information, is to have someone in his employ who works with him from right here in the War Room. I thought therefore that we needed to have that person outside while we changed our strategy."
"Isn't it possible that they just out-planned us?" Razarian asked.
"No way in a logical world my friend!" Tamerin replied, "What has been happening could not have happened, not unless someone was passing on information of what we were doing as we did it."
"What brought that idea into your head?" Jarin asked.
"These bands of rebels who have been living with us. Track their direction. They are all heading to take over and hold positions that will slow our chances of getting reinforcements to Sandar at Magor." The truth of his deductions became plain as he pointed them out to them. "Bridges, small hills beside the roads we must use, hamlets that stand right on our routes to Magor. The Church means to take out our main force at Magor, prevent our reinforcements getting through in time and then follow our men as they retreat and mop them up before they can get back here to regroup. How would they know in advance exactly where we mean to meet them? When we ourselves only decided the place as we developed our tactics, right here in this room only yesterday!"
"What was all that with the Courier Sergeant?" Perigan suddenly asked.
"I sent him to get new orders to General Sandar and our troops at Magor." Tamerin replied.
"What new orders?" Jarin asked quickly, seeming to be almost out of patience.
"Orders to get out of there and high-tail it back towards Vanzor !"
"What!" "Retreat!" "Give up Magor!" The three of them were out of their seats and beside him before he had finished saying it.
"I am your Tactician Sire." Tamerin replied quietly, "You trusted me to help you win this War. If it pleases you I can retire this very moment and relinquish that responsibility. I am doing what I think needs to be done to save the day. If Sandar stays in Magor we shall, I truly believe, be completely defeated!"
Silence had taken over the empty War Room for some time, before Jarin could ask the obvious question Tamerin's statements had demanded from him.
"So we retreat from Magor? What does that gain us Tamerin, or am I just missing everything today?"
"It gives me the only chance I can see to play a counter move to their strategy Sire." He started to move tokens around on the map again. "We put every man we can spare throughout our territory on a horse, or in a cart, or on a ship and get him to Vanzor as fast as we can. In the meantime our Work Legions in General Toragor's path move out of his way and retreat eastward and the one's marching from the north will be re-routed to join us here. General Sandar should have plenty of time to lead our main army out of the trap the enemy has planned for him, before they have time to close it completely and then we draw them to us. . . and destroy them!"
As he had done so many times before, he took a coin from his pocket and laid it on the table. The gold Crown rested on the map on the fork of the River Vanzor, protected on three sides by it's waters, a few miles west of the City of Vanzor itself.
* * * * * * *
Prayers and War Cries
Seven days had passed since Tamerin had laid his golden coin on the map table and now two of the men who had seen him do it, stood in reality where the coin had been upon the map.
"You do me an honor Sire, asking me to join you here." Perigan stated, just before the rest of the officers joined them. Perigan looked somewhat older in his dress uniform and the brightness of the silver braid on his tunic showed how rarely he wore it.
Before them the men who constituted their forces were in position awaiting the imminent arrival of the enemy. When all of their officers had joined them they ran through the plan again, for the sixth time in as many hours. All along the other side of the twin rivers, which joined into one behind their position, mounted crossbowmen were preventing any surprise crossing by the enemy and small mounted units were ranging ahead of the oncoming Church Army, doing their best to harass the Church troops as they advanced in formation towards the Brotherhood's positions. The Khan's forces on the field numbered in excess of twenty thousand, but General Toragor was approaching them with more than fifty thousand men. The Khan's troops had the advantage in fire-throwers over General Toragor's siege weapons and the Brotherhood cavalry out-numbered those of the Church by two to one. However, most of the Khan's men were already exhausted by many miles of forced march to join them, whereas the enemy knew they held the advantage and had taken their own good time in coming to the field.
At last the moment came. The enemy was in sight. Their bands were already close enough that the Khan's waiting troops could identify the marching songs they were playing and the enemy banners could be read with an eyeglass without any difficulty.
"Gentlemen." Jarin addressed his Officers who gathered around him resplendent in their blue, green or black uniforms. "You know the plan. There should be no need for major changes to it, our choice of strategy has been made and the ground chosen. Even so, I urge you to make sure your aides do not miss one message or order from my Signals Officer. Being able to maneuver is our main advantage, do not take it away from us no matter how hot the situation gets. Remember that our signal men can see what is happening far better than any of you." He pointed to the three high towers they had built for their observers to be able to get a birds-eye view of the field. "Now gentlemen, to your commands. Go with my gratitude my friends and remember that what you do today will change Khanlar one way or the other for centuries to come. To your Regiments!"
The salutes were in unison and their horses stamped as his officers mounted them and set off to join their commands.
* * * * * * *
A Soldiers best friend is Good Luck.
The battle lasted for more than five hours. Five hours of bloodshed, heroism and cowardice on both sides, bravery and stupidity, fire and death, screaming horses and men wounded, dying or dead uniformed bodies littering the ground over which other men still fought. Noise, smoke, wounded men screaming for assistance, steel clashing on steel, rows of pikes lowering and rising like rows of wheat before a wind and banners flying proudly one moment, only to be brought down the next.
There was a stand-off for thirty minutes before the real battle began. Both armies stood just out of range of each other's crossbows, awaiting the order to engage. Instead both commanders gave orders for their siege weapons to soften the enemy positions and fire and rocks screamed into the ranks of both armies. The Khan's troops broke ranks to avoid the huge bundles of burning rags which fell on them from the heavens, to reform once the missile had either passed over them, or been extinguished after it fell. The rocks and stones however that the enemy sent at them did a great deal more damage, for it was hard to see them coming before they were hammering into the standing infantry. The enemy though was at a greater disadvantage, for the ceramic fire bombs from the Khan's catapults were all but invisible, now that they were painting them a light gray-blue and they made no noise before they exploded in the enemy ranks sending liquid fire over a twenty to thirty foot radius.
The Khan's gunners were obviously winning the exchange even before the Khan's 2nd and 4th Cavalry Regiments started their attack from the rear, crossing the river behind the enemy and charging up the incline to where the enemy's siege weapons were located. Afterwards they were to learn that the Khan's 2nd Cavalry lost more than two hundred men during that heroic action, but when the charge was over they had all but wiped out the Church siege engines and the enemy was forced to engage.
From his position on the high ground behind his troops Jarin could see the massed armies spread before him, like so many ranks of toy soldiers placed on a floor by young boys about to play pretend battles. However, this was no game to be followed by milk and cakes. Real men stood below him, men with mothers and fathers, wives and children, men with homes and lives that had been put on hold, while they assembled here today to kill or be killed by other men. Jarin's troops were assembled before him in tunics which identified their organization, the professional soldiers of the Khan's Infantry Regiments wore dark blue, the men of the Work Legions were clothed in green, and here and there were small units of sailors conscripted from the fleet dressed in black, while the catapult gunners moved about the field in their brilliant scarlet tunics. The regular soldiers were obvious in their plumed helmets, whereas the positioning of the Work Legions and Navy Units could be seen to be carefully placed between the Regiments, as their steel skull helmets were without plumes or decoration of any kind. The Khan's cavalry regiments, which had been formed as a separate branch of the Army only a few months before, could be identified by the color of their short jackets. Every cavalryman wore the same dark blue trousers and tunics but each Regiment was individual in jacket color, the 1st wore white, the 2nd red, the 3rd gray and the 4th Regiment wore light blue, colors that were repeated in the flowing crests of their helmets.
The Church Army also came to the field in a mass of brilliant color. The Troops brought to the Battle by individual Nations loyal to the Church came dressed in the colors of their Princes, but the majority of the Church Army wore the maroon tunics of the Regular Army, made up of both regular soldiers and conscripts from the Nations still controlled by the Old Order. The regular Church troops wore closed steel helmets, which protected the face of the wearer with both nose and cheek guards, however they were without decoration or plumes, save for those worn by officers. Regular Church Officers could be identified by the color of their plumes, Colonels wore red, Captains yellow, Lieutenants white and the shorter ones worn by non-commissioned officers were purple.
Also with the Church Army were no less than thirty contingents of Warrior Monks, evenly dispersed between the Regiments of regular Church troops. These men wore flat topped helmets with chain mail veils and were dressed in full chain mail armor, over which they wore cloaks and tunics of the color of their Orders, the black of the Mansa Order, the yellow of Panzan, the green and white stripes of Loparat, and many, many more. Marching in step and carrying their own distinctive metal bossed shields, which they beat in steady rythmn as they advanced, the warrior monks formed the elite of the Church Army, with their lances at the ready and battle-axes and swords slung at their belts.
And so the armies faced each other, dressed as if they were about to march in a Ceremonial Parade, many of them carrying weapons forged only weeks before which had never been used in battle prior to this day. Bands played on both sides, competing with each other to rouse their own troops to ever higher levels of confidence and courage, while the generals on both sides tried to establish the weaknesses of his counterpart's positioning of his regiments.
When the advance came it was the Church Army that moved to meet the Khan's waiting troops and the enemy proved that the months they had used to prepare for this invasion had not been wasted. The first rank of maroon uniformed regular soldiers advanced holding huge metal shields, acting as a wall against the Brotherhood's crossbow volleys, which began to rain down upon them as soon as they came into range. At first Jarin thought this new shield wall might prove to be the weapon that would win the Campaign, but instead the Brotherhood's artillery gunners found that the distance of the wall could be judged with accuracy and soon the Khan's catapults were bouncing fire-bombs into that steel wall. If the gunners had been able to continue they might well have annihilated the enemy before the two armies engaged each other, but a cavalry charge by the Church's Death Regiment, after fording the river, scattered the gunners manning the Brotherhood fire-throwers and although few of the enemy rode back to cross the river, the Khan's Army had by then lost the majority of their catapults. From then on it was men's arms and aim that became the important factors in the battle.
The next three hours were enacted like a game of Khanlar, as flanks opened and closed, as regiments advanced and were driven back, as lines of infantry broke and reformed and the fighting became almost all hand-to-hand engagements between opposing regiments of the line. Both sides took heavy casualties, as the battle surged and retreated, back and forth. Both sides were losing men by the hundred with every new charge, or regrouping and the Khan's troops were slowly being forced back towards the converging rivers behind them. The superior numbers of the enemy, who could allow tired troops to withdraw, replacing them with fresh units and the forced march provoked exhaustion of the Brotherhood soldiers, soon began to tell. The wearing down of his troops by these tactics was obvious even to Jarin, who watched from a distance. His own troops moved slower, obeyed orders with less speed and seemed to be taking the worst of it in most of the engagements of the last hour.
Then, as if in answer to his prayers, one of the observers above the Khan suddenly blew his horn. Jarin looked up and the man did not wait to write and then drop down his note of what he saw, he just screamed directly at his Khan and the officers with him,
"Sire. Their left flank is folding. Your Guards have broken their line. The 1st Cavalry can get through to their Command Position!"
"Send it man. Send it!" Jarin screamed back at him and saw the soldier start waving his flags like a lunatic, wind-blown scarecrow.
Below him through his eye-glass Jarin saw the 1st Cavalry's Bannerman move across to his Line Officer, screaming his message above the noise of the battle and suddenly the 1st Cavalry Regiment turned and flowed into a gallop, straight towards the folding enemy line. Trumpets blared and two troops of the Khan's 4th Cavalry broke off from their present engagements to follow the 1st. Several enemy cavalry units tried to intercept them, but it was too late and they were too few. The cavalrymen of the 1st were already surging through the crumbling ranks of Regular Church infantrymen and crossing empty ground bearing down upon the Command Post of the Church Army. Even from the distance they were watching the action from, the result to be expected was clearly certain. Enemy officers and men were running about in confusion, swords flashed and men fell as the troopers of the Khan's 1st Cavalry screamed their charging mounts into the Church Army's headquarters, their lances spearing officers and troopers alike even as those men tried to escape.
Enemy banners fell like chopped saplings as they passed and soon Jarin could see men in the uniforms of Church Officers throwing up their hands in surrender. Brotherhood infantry, following the example of the Khan's Personal Guard, took advantage of the break in the enemy's line and soon they were also advancing to split the Church forces into two great surging mobs, led by Jarin's own Guards. The Khan's few remaining fire-throwers were now operating again and fire-bombs began falling into the enemy ranks of the right flank, which until then had held firm.
For the first time since the battle had begun the Brotherhood infantry began to advance, using the four rank firing tactics they had been unable to bring to bear before this moment, against the right flank of the Church positions. The enemy began to falter, then fold and men took off and ran, dropping their weapons in their haste, while others threw down their weapons and walked towards the Khan's troops with their hands in the air to surrender. Enemy Banners were being thrown down in surrender everywhere, as Troop after Troop of the Church's best gave up the battle as over. Here and there some Church units tried to fight a retreating action, but they had already lost the day and those that did not throw down their weapons and surrender were soon being cut to pieces.
Then the end came. Without warning the battle was over. Suddenly the only noise was the crying and moaning of the wounded. Smoke drifted over the scene in small isolated clouds, like ghosts of darkness gathering up dead souls. Horses wandered around wide-eyed and frightened, or confused and exhausted. The cavalry charge which had defeated the Field Headquarters of the Church Command, had also placed two thousand Brotherhood troops behind an enemy now split into two groups, with the Khan's Army well positioned between them. The enemy's siege weapons were out of the battle, destroyed or captured and as those officers not in Brotherhood hands tried to reorganize their commands, fire bombs and projectiles of all kinds began to fall upon them from the skies, launched at them by the reorganized Khan's Artillery Corps.
Relentlessly the four rank advance tactics of the Brotherhood troops took drastic toll of the separated groups of Church soldiers and in the last moments of the battle, the enemy found themselves being forced back towards the rivers behind them. The rivers changed color from blue to scarlet and bodies in their hundreds were now floating away down stream. In the final moments of the battle nerves broke and minds were lost amongst the defeated soldiers of the Church Army, as the pure unrelenting terror of the moment made men crack and then lose all contact with the reality they had come to this place with only hours before.
Those who were fanatics charged forward alone, screaming curses and Warcries undistinguishable from each other, only to die for their zeal. Those who were cowards fell to their knees and sobbed in fear, unable to help or protect themselves. Those who were brave cried also, for the unbelievable waste of life and reason, of which they were in part responsible. Those who had merely been caught up in the events, who were just ordinary men with ordinary lives and understanding, sank into a form of mind numbing shock, from which many of them would never fully recover.
The ground over which they had fought was burnt as if a wildfire had passed over it and any plant that had the misfortune to grow in this place had been trodden down and smashed by thousands of stamping, sliding or dragging feet. Trees had been set afire and destroyed by fire bombs, or had limbs fractured by catapult lifted rocks. The ground was puddled with blood and the excretions of terrified men and animals, who had lost control of their bodily functions. Bodies lay everywhere, uniforms destroyed as they were caught between the body they clothed and the weapon that took the life force from it. Wounded men bled to death everywhere, screaming in agony or sobbing in numbed understanding that they could never be saved. Men bereft of reason wandered aimlessly about the field, talking to themselves, or calling the names of people they would not recognize should they ever meet them.
Only one group of the enemy managed to enact a successful retreat, led by a bear of a man in the uniform of a General of one of the Warrior Orders. Even as the Church field headquarters was falling to the Khan's Cavalry, this man had his bugler sounding the retreat and regroup call that brought every Warrior monk still alive running to his side. With them many regular troopers also gathered about the man's banner, along with what was left of the Death Regiment of cavalry and those officers still alive in the enemy camp. Then with an excellently performed classic retreat action they left the field. Half of his men would set up a withering fire, while the other half would move back in disciplined order, then they would cover the first group while they too pulled back. The Khan's officers, with their hands full dealing with what was left of the Church Army had no choice but to allow that elite force to leave the field towards the south west. The escape of those Warrior Monks would go down in the history books as one of the most well executed actions of the war. After moving more than two hundred and fifty miles through enemy territory, pursued by enemy cavalry, they managed to effect their escape along the Western Waterway by barge some fourteen days later. More than sixteen hundred men escaped death or capture because of the iron will and discipline of Bishop General Asanian of Mansa that day.
Eventually the truth sank into the consciousness of every man left alive on the field. It was over. The Brotherhood had won. The Church Army, with the exception of the few hundred men who had escaped, had been completely defeated and very few of the men who wore the uniforms of that army had managed to escape the field to continue to support their Cause.
Prince Jarin of Natan was now the true Khan of Khanlar. There was no Army that could be brought to fight the Brotherhood that could even hope to prevent them from taking whatever it was that they decided they wanted. They now had only to go forth and claim the real prize. . . Khanlar itself!
* * * * * * *
Sometimes the Gods Sleep.
The day after the Battle of Vanzor Field was won a messenger arrived at the Khan's Palace with news of Lunza. The shock was as certain and devastating as any Prince Jarin had ever suffered. The men in training on Suvak had attacked the best troops the Church had been able to put into the field and despite great losses they had eventually won the day.
The fate of the attack on Lunza had brought the summary execution of the two thousand Church Troops and their commander, the day after the Khan's troops had broken through their defenses onto the island of Lunza. Most of the executions took place on the field of battle, for those fanatics refused surrender until the very end and they had less than a hundred men still living and breathing the smoke-filled Lunzan air when that end came.
The discovery of their massacre of the Guardians came as a shock to almost every citizen of Khanlar, including those who had previously supported the Church Cause and it would do much in years to come to assist the Khan's Administration in enacting the peaceful takeover of control in the newly acquired Nations.
The fanatical soldiers who had invaded Lunza had systematically murdered more than five thousand people in the few days they had been in command of the situation. Not a Guardian who had been in Lunza was left alive, as were very few of those who wore the light blue tunic of a Archivist or the white uniform of a servant to the Order of Guardians. Jarin could remember the shock of the news when the courier who came to him told him simply,
"Manator is dead. Every member of the Order of Guardians has been murdered."
As it was, the latter proved to be untrue, for some of the servants and a few of the younger Guardians, including Manator's own faithful retainer Aerlon, escaped by taking to the hills, or hiding in secret rooms and friendly houses in the City, until the troops from Suvak had put the enemy to flight. However the loss of both their friends and the Knowledge destroyed in the vaults was tremendous. The Palace had been razed to the ground. The greatest loss civilization had suffered however, was the knowledge that the Guardians and Archivists had carried within their heads, for that knowledge was the key to everything that had survived in the Archives.
It would not take long for the light-lances, Razarian's staff and Jarin's belt of power to lose their use and within a matter of weeks all they would have to show of six hundred years of study would be what was remembered by a few clerks and historians, along with the few Guardians who had survived by being on Dag, Suvak or Palan, or with the Army in Khanlar. They would of course re-establish the Order of Guardians and in time they would reopen what remained of the Vaults, but without the teachers and experts who had been murdered, it would be a long time before the Ancient Knowledge would be there for them to use again.
Jarin's greatest personal loss however, was the guidance and understanding Manator had given to him. Manator's letter to him, which Aerlon had faithfully preserved, only made him realize just how much he had depended upon the scholar and the reliable advice his old friend had been able to give to him.
* * * * * * *
Beyond Understanding and Forgiveness
Malinda was frightened. Her mistress had drunk too much wine again and her drunkenness was beginning to turn her thoughts further from normality than ever before. Kirene was almost too drunk to manage her own propulsion across the room. Her baby was almost ready to enter the world and she had removed her clothes almost an hour before, so that now she staggered around the room hugely pregnant, naked, drunk and angry. The three wet-nurses her mistress had had her summon were now also naked, according to her lady's insistence and were milking themselves into crystal goblets to the obvious enjoyment and amusement of the Khan's wife.
"Here Malinda. Come taste this one's milk!" Laughing she took the woman's teat in her fingers and milked her with clumsy and obviously painful jerks, sending a fitful stream of the opaque liquid into the glass. The women labored with cynical obedience to her mistress's orders, their bloated breasts obscene in this display, as Malinda was obliged to yet again drain the glass offered to her.
Trying to stand, Kirene lost her balance and fell to the floor, heavily. Malinda ran to her, kneeling to take the weight of her hopelessly drunken mistress. Finally she managed to assist her to stand, seeing as she did so the Khan, in full dress uniform, just inside the door that he had entered unnoticed to close silently behind himself.
"What in Hell's name is happening?" He said, not angrily, but more in the tone of a man who has seen his child attempt and injure itself in some minor adventure.
"My Lady fell Sire." Malinda apologized, fear running through her veins as she said it.
"Fell? I'm drunk you over-dressed popinjay." Kirene laughed, "Drunk because you were not here, an' I was lonely. I want to make love Jarin. . . you think I'm still pretty with this?" She slapped her belly with both hands.
"What are these women doing here?" The Khan was obviously shocked beyond any real understanding of what he was witness to.
"I'm tasting 'em for my son!" Kirene faltered and without Malinda's assistance would have fallen again, "You want me to just let any cow give milk for 'im." She laughed at what she perceived was the joke she had just told.
Jarin ushered the wet-nurses out of the room, as they pulled their smocks over their heads and adjusted the slings tied behind their necks to take the weight of their breasts. Malinda helped her mistress to the bed, pulling the covers back and then over her, as she fell into the bed, in a vain attempt by the maid servant to hide her nakedness. Kirene however was enjoying the moment and taking full advantage of what she saw as an opportunity to pay back her husband, for both real and imagined insults to herself. She kicked off the covers and opened her legs, at the same time trying to prop herself up on her elbows.
"Well your Highness. . ." She gave up and laid back, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, "Want to finally do your duty and mount your wife? Look at me man!" She coughed and then spluttered, before throwing the final insult at Jarin. "I'm ugly. Right. An' your highness only likes young and fresh girls. Damn you Rune. Where were you? Where were you?" Then she screamed and passed out.
Kirene died that same night, giving birth to a brother for Prince Jatrin. The baby came into the world squirming and yelling at the top of it's tiny lungs, while his drunken mother slipped away to atone for her sins. The Khan cried that night . . . and so did the forgotten servant girl, Malinda.
* * * * * * *
Chapter Twenty Two
Table of Contents