Chapter Twenty Four


The New Order


A decade and a half had passed since Ragarian, the last Priest of Priests, had surrendered the Holy City of Ka to the Army of the Khan.  The old gods were already being forgotten, their temples converted to the new One and Only God throughout the land, and the old order of priests and bishops who had once been the privileged class of Khanlar, had been replaced by a kinder legion of holy men who lived far more frugal lives.  The monastery towns, with their orders of Warrior Monks, had also disappeared quietly into history, leaving fewer legends than the millions of nameless slaves who had once toiled across the land.  Slavery had ended almost without a murmur, owners and ex-slaves being swallowed up in the concourses of commerce, to deal or labor as their talents permitted. 

Like the calm after the storm, or the satisfaction after a feast, Khanlar had quietly succumbed to a quiet life of building and expanding its grasp on true civilization.  The City of Ka had subsided into being a quiet university city, while Asiga had doubled in size to accommodate the new administration.  After the Khan, Perigan Marlinger was perhaps the best known man in all of Khanlar, and his quest for order had moved the continent into a well adjusted machine that ran everything that constituted life these days within the Nations.  However, there really were no Nations anymore, they were little more than provinces, without power or independence of any kind.  A craftsman from Vanzor might just as well find himself working and living in Navis as he might in his own home city.

The Director General's vision of a united Khanlar as a single Nation was complete.  New roads connected the country like ribbons of stone, built by laborers from every land and paid for by a single currency that had turned the old Nation's coin into collector's pieces.  Today every ship that sailed the oceans or the inland waterways had a hull that was painted the uniform Khanlarian black and no longer did it have the name of it's Nation painted on it's stern, but rather the port from which it sailed. 

The Guilds had reassumed their control of Commerce within Khanlar with the Director General's backing and support.  No man worked a trade or a profession without papers from the relevant Guild Master, and Perigan Marlinger controlled the Guilds and the appointment of their Masters and Councils with a careful political hand.  For those who would try to cheat the Status Quo, there were the Work Legions, an institution that Perigan had defended and nurtured since the end of the War.  Strike an anvil without papers from the Metal Smith's Guild and you would find yourself lost in a forest work camp for twelve months, sail on a ship without Seaman's Papers and you might not see the sea again for five years.  There was no underground economy in Khanlar, for seven thousand ex-soldiers of the Khan's Regiments now served as the Khan's Police, and the General of the Khan's Police reported directly to the Director General. 

Prince Jarin was the Khan of Khanlar, yet since his wife's death he had become a besotted drunk, quite often not able to remember the year, let alone the day of the week, and General Sandar who commanded the Khan's Armed Forces was a soldier, who always looked to the Director General for direction. 

Despite the obvious dictatorial power that Perigan Marlinger enjoyed, Khanlar had never known better times.  It was truly a golden age.  The granaries were full, employment was easy to find and well paid.  Crime was all but unknown, for there was no escape or haven for anyone who was stupid enough to revert to it as a career.  Work hard and prosper, oppose the system and suffer had become the code of the day and Khanlarians throughout the land knew that it would be unwise to try to oppose his system. 

Ragarian, the last Priest of Priests, suffered from being almost completely forgotten by those he had once ruled, neglected in his lifetime sentence to isolation on the island of Pazor.  The once proud color maroon that had been the uniform of the Army of the Church was now reserved for those who cleaned the streets and maintained the sewers, as a color it was held in as much disrespect as a color as the old gods were given compared to the Almighty One and Only God, no one would use it for clothing, no more than they would smear cow dung on their faces as make-up. 

Khanlar had gone from one extreme to the other in a decade.  Anarchy had been replaced with Order.  Self serving individual preservation had been replaced by an overpowering need to be part of the ordered and tidy whole.  And in the Director General's Palace in Asiga the diminutive Perigan Marlinger wore his power with conviction.


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Epilogue or Prologue?


The years had gone by very fast and this evening Prince Jarin dismissed the servant, who had just cleared the plates from the table, with a quiet word of thanks and turned back to face the others at the table.  The occasion for the dinner was his own birthday and the meal had as usual been beyond complaint of any kind.  As his guests talked amongst themselves, Jarin thought of those who were not sat at the table and for a moment suffered great sadness. 

Kirene, his wife and the mother of his sons, had been taken from him before he had achieved his greatest triumph and the pain still lived with him, but it was Manator, his greatest advisor, who had died before they had finally overcome the evil Church that had sent his murderers to his home, that Jarin missed dearly this night.  None of the men in the room tonight would have been in their situation today, had not the Guardian General almost single-handedly put into motion the events that had swept away the Old Order.  Quietly suggesting, advising, chiding yet rarely using to the full extent the power and authority that were his to use, diplomacy and guidance had always been Manator's way. 

This night of all nights Jarin would have given almost anything to be able to spend with his old friend and mentor, for these days the Khan often felt the malaise of frustration and discontent.  Like a horse kept in the stable, Jarin felt as if he were all but unemployed these days, for there is little for a Warrior King to do when there are no battles left to fight.  Khanlar all but ran itself these days, like a big efficient machine tended by an army of clerks and managers, directors and deputies too numerous to know, whom his loyal Director General managed with the ultimate of efficiency. 

Jarin had visited Lunza only a few weeks before to be present for his eldest son's graduation from the University there.  The place had been restored, as far as any visitor would notice, from it's destruction by an army of fanatics during the War, but behind the smart new facades Jarin knew that almost all of the knowledge that place had once proudly stored was gone forever.  A few of the books had survived, to be stored with almost religious reverence in the new library, but all of the machines had gone.  The miracles would not return to Khanlar either.  The Belt of Power that had once protected him, had no power today and the Guardian's staffs, still carried as symbols of authority, would never again pulse with energy to protect their bearers.  No lights burned in the vaults these days when someone opened the doors.  The vaults were dead, and almost all the ancient knowledge had died with them. 

Thinking of his younger son Volan, Jarin also saw Kirene again in his mind.  Not the drunken peasant falling around the room and shouting insults, but the kind and shy young Kirene whose love he had taken so long ago in a beautiful forest in Natan.  He had left his apartments the night Kirene had died giving him his youngest son and he had never returned.  All these years later guilt still plagued him and the last coherent words his wife had taunted him with still ended many a nightmare, even today. 

Both of his sons had been with them earlier, two intelligent handsome young men of whom Jarin was more proud than he could ever tell them.  They were different from each other in many ways;  Jatrin was sophisticated and academic, yet no slouch in his military training and as fine a swordsman as any man in Khanlar, whereas Volan was more out-going and adventurous.  Larger than his brother in size Volan had a voracious appetite, be it for food or action and there were many times when Jarin had needed to take him to task ever since the boy had been able to walk.  Volan carried his mother's coloring, in that he was blond like her, but both of his sons had Jarin's gray eyes. 

Tamerin, the greatest strategist Khanlar had ever known had died only a few months after his mother, a year after the victory he had masterminded.  History mentioned the little Guardian often, but it gave Jarin the place of hero and conqueror and credited him with the victories.  Jarin knew however, that it had been the brilliant mind of the sometimes absent-minded tactician that should have been awarded the victor's laurels.  It had been his nimble mind that had discovered the weaknesses of their enemy and had countered them at every turn, often to the complete bewilderment of his Lord who would eventually be credited for the events that followed.  Yet Tamerin would have seen no problem with the way History had recorded the events, for to him the War had been no more than an elaborate game of Khanlar, where he had used living beings instead of play pieces. 

Even the seemingly invincible Colonel Zavir had quietly slipped away to meet his maker during his sleep a year ago.  Admiral Kovis had died a sailors death, when his ship had gone down during a storm off Goja, two years after he had taken the surrender of the Church Fleet in the Bay of Rangar and Razarian had passed away only a few months back, after assuming Manator's role as Guardian General for the last years of his life.  The last Priest of Priests still lived on, confined to the island of Pazor and many of the men who had assisted in his downfall were gathered about the table that evening. 

"I sometimes wonder how long our dream will survive us my friends."  Jarin said quietly, almost to himself and yet the whole table went silent and Perigan Marlinger, his loyal and efficient Director General, who was sat on the Khan's right, lent over and answered the unasked question. 

"Sire, our dream will survive for all time, provided that we make provision for it to be protected for that long, by those who are able to do so."  Said the Director General. 

Jarin looked at his most able administrator and yet again he was amazed at the man.  To look at Perigan was to see a gray haired and frail old man, yet within that unimpressive body was a spirit that could not even contemplate the concept of defeat, in anything he had ever attempted.  Somewhere in the palace, Perigan's wife Liana would be waiting for him even now.  They had had four children together and yet even today when they were in the room together, anyone present soon found thoughts of romance leaking into their minds.  The years had been as kind to Liana as they had been unkind to her husband and her beauty was enhanced by the obvious air of contentment that surrounded her.  Often those who did not know them, assumed immediately that Perigan was her father, yet Jarin knew there was no man better loved by his wife in the whole of Khanlar. 

"Aye Sire."  It was the middle-aged Admiral Kamir, who had taken old Kovis's place as commander of the fleet.  "The people will never allow themselves to be enslaved again and as long as freedom survives, so shall our dream survive." 

"Yet less than half of our brave citizens even bothered to vote at the last elections

Kamir."  The Khan replied,  "And Perigan's new Order to force those who do not vote to pay a fine will only bring more to the polling stations, it will not increase their ability to choose the right advisors to serve on my Council."

The conversation ebbed and flowed and the Khan's followers watched again as he slowly sank into the depression for which he had become famous these last few years, continuously refilling his glass until he was obviously the worse for the drink.  They were not to know the real cause of their Lord's discontent however, for none of them had come to the play without a background and experience to draw upon, as Jarin had.   

Only a few weeks ago he had taken a small party of his Guards and had returned to the swamps of Mang, for the first time since he had awoken there, which was the nearest thing to being born that he could claim.  He had found the island, where he had opened his eyes to discover that he had no memories and he had all but stroked the tree that had supported him all those years before.  It was as if the years after that moment had never been.  In the silence of the swamps, with his men keeping a courteous distance and silence, he had stood on that sorry spit of sand and thorn bushes for two hours and he had finally left it feeling for all the world as if he had been no more that a puppet all those years; moving from situation to situation upon the advice or direction of others, until in the end he was the most powerful person in all Khanlar.  Yet if all of those people who had in fact molded and guided his life had not arrived in it, he might today, still be building charcoal fires in the forest of Natan. 

An hour or so later the gathering broke up and Jarin left the table for his bed, staggering little as the result of the alcohol he had consumed, and most of the others had soon gone to their own homes.  Only Perigan Marlinger, General Sandar and a few others remained at the table. 

"What do his doctors say Sandar?"  Perigan asked, when only the inner circle were left at the table. 

"What they always say. . ."  The abrupt soldier answered.  "That he is suffering a depression which no medicine can cure and for which no-one has yet been able to find a cause.  Seems his great-grandfather suffered the same illness and in his case he finished up killing himself." 

"Gods protect him."  Peran Vanquestor said, touching his heart and forehead in the old country way of warding off evil spirits.  "I think it is the inactivity that is doing for him.  He has nothing to do that interests him any more.  He has achieved all that he set out to achieve and he feels like a race horse would feel if it were confined to pulling a cart." 

"Gods protect us."  Perigan said quite seriously.  "The people see Jarin as almost divine, they see him as the keystone to everything we have achieved and I have long wondered how they will react when he dies, God knows what they would do if he committed suicide." 

"Change the subject."  Sandar ordered, pouring himself another glass of wine.  "How goes the Country?" 

"Far better than any of us dared even hope when we started out."  Replied Perigan, bringing a chuckle or two from those around the table.  "If we have a real problem it is that by improving the standard of life and wiping out war, we seem to have a population that is growing far faster than we expected.  If I have any worries at all, it is that we shall have too many people for the land to support a generation or two from now." 

"I concur."  Peran Vanquestor agreed.  "We are already supporting twice as many people as we were when the Great War broke out.  We have replaced and doubled the population that were wiped out in the Wars already and many of the children born after the Great War are now having children of their own.  We have not had a famine or a plague since we put down the Old Order.  Thirty years from now we could have doubled, or perhaps even tripled, the number of people we will have to feed." 

"What happened to the ships we sent out looking for the fabled lands?"  Sandar asked Kamir.  Interest around the table increased with Sandar's words, for all of them had heard since children of the legendary lands across the oceans, which were the basis of many of the oldest Khanlarian fairy tales. 

"They've only been gone a few weeks."  Kamir replied,  "Yet with every day I begin to believe that they will find land and I have nightmares about what else they will find." 

"Does anyone know how this fairy tale idea of finding other lands across the oceans ever came about."  The questioner was a large red haired man called Kapolar, who had turned the old Royal Courier Service into a civilian mail carrying service after the war.

"It's no fairy tale idea Kapolar."  Replied Kamir,  "The marble slab we found in the Palace at Ka showed several land masses other than Khanlar on our planet.  The slab was very old, so there is every possibility it predates even the books that were destroyed when the Church troops sacked Lunza.  Also we have enough stories of strange clues washed up on our beaches over the centuries.  I myself have seen the beaded sandal they found in Rigan fifty years ago." 

"So when are your ships supposed to return Kamir?"  Sandar asked. 

"They carried provisions for three months, so if they do not find land they should be back about five to seven weeks from today."  Kamir replied. 

As Fate will sometimes do, the moment was too opportune for it to miss.  Even as Kamir finished the sentence, the door to the room opened and a flustered sergeant ushered a young officer into the room.  It was obvious that the man had traveled some distance and he reported his presence with a smart salute. 

"Gentlemen.  I am Lieutenant Tamason of the of the Lions Regiment.  I come to report that the Khan's Expedition has found the fabled lands of the East and we have returned with two natives of those lands as captives.  Our ships are anchored at Dang and we await orders."

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A New and Uncharted Future


Perigan Marlinger returned to his offices in Asiga, from the coastal port city of Dang, in a troubled state of mind.  Peran Vanquestor, General Sandar, Director Materian and Admiral Kamir had traveled back with him and their moods were all different.  Materian, as Director of the Royal Treasury, was concerned about the expenses the others were already committing the Treasury to spend.  Sandar and Peran were excited as they saw the opportunity for some action and Kamir was already talking of increasing the size of his fleet.  For the old Director General it was a possibility for instability.  Their expeditionary force had sailed from Khanlar with a fleet of twelve ships, carrying a full compliment of sailors and the full one thousand men of the Lions Regiment.  After three weeks at sea, they had sighted land and had sailed along the coast for another few days, until they had come to the mouth of a great river.  There they had cast anchor and gone ashore.  A week later they had taken the savages' settlement there and with a safe base established, six hundred men had marched out to explore the countryside.  They had been attacked by a large group of savages, not three hours from the settlement, which some clever Captain had named after General Sandar.  They had won the engagement and had taken two prisoners. 

It was those prisoners that the five men had just come from questioning.  They were indeed savages, if looks were anything to go by, for their skin was darker than that of any Khanlarian Perigan had ever laid eyes upon and they wore their hair almost to their waists.  Their faces had been ceremoniously scarred and their language was vastly inferior in vocabulary and very different to Khanlarian, even though it seemed to be derived from the same original language.     

However, the Khan's officers had managed to learn that the land that their expeditionary force had discovered was not quite as large as Khanlar and although their population seemed numerous, it was not as large as the twelve million people who called Khanlar their home.  There were not cities to talk of, the savages' settlements being merely crude gatherings of huts within a wooden stockade.  Neither were there any roads or bridges, that the explorers had seen, and the largest vessel they had come across would have scarce been called a canoe in Khanlar.  In all, their neighbors in this new land to the northeast were truly savages, living little better than animals in a land that the Khan's forces reported to be abundant in everything. 

The savages were armed only with crude bows, spears, clubs and stone knives when they were taken and had had nothing to compete against the Khanlarian crossbows and firebombs, which by all accounts had taken fearful numbers of the savages during that first engagement.  The captives' clothes were also of primitive manufacture, being mostly made from animal skins, although the chief amongst those taken had worn a roughly woven woolen tunic. 

The five men most trusted by the Khan, had talked all the way from Dang back to the Royal Palace, where they went immediately to counsel the Khan and although Perigan tried to temper the obvious optimism of the others, Prince Jarin became excited for the first time in many months, as they talked well into the evening and at the end of it he slammed his fist on the table in pure delight and laughed out loud. 

"Thank God my friends.  We have now found enough land to accommodate our wildest dreams for Khanlar.  Sandar you will recruit, or conscript if you have to, enough men to replace the four regiments I will take with me to conquer this new continent.  Kamir, you will place orders for fifty new blackships immediately.  Materian you will handle the details of financing and Perigan my old friend, you will provide me with people to form the administration to govern my new domain."  Jarin was obviously still excited when he left the room. 

Perigan watched his sovereign leave the room and wondered how this new turn of affairs might end.  Khanlar today enjoyed it's highest standard of living in history.  They were enjoying a golden age of plenty, in a civilization that had all but forgotten the violent and controlled lives men had lived in the past, yet there was control, a great deal of it as he realized, because he wielded much of it, and it was that control that gave them the abundance and safety.  He felt as if it were the end of an era.  This new adventure changed all the rules.  He thought to pull General Sandar aside to confide in him, old friend that he was, however he could see that it appeared that the old soldier shared none of his misgivings. 

"Here we go again."  General Sandar said with a smile, as he picked up his helmet and set off home to get enough sleep to be able to carry out his orders the next morning bright and early.


The End

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