stamped into the Council Chamber in a filthy temper, his robes swirling about
him like banners leading an infantry charge. Looking directly ahead and
ignoring those already seated, he all but marched to his throne set at the end
of the table furthest from the door.
table was crowded with his administrators, each with their own body servant
stood behind them ready to run errands, or serve their respective masters every
wish. Then there were twenty five of Ragarian's Personal Guard evenly
placed around the perimeter of the room, with a further grouping of assembled
clerks and heralds at a table behind his throne, ready to look up references and
take complete notes of everything that was said. More than one hundred
people had been sweating and breathing in this dark and dank mausoleum for the
past hour. The place stank!
the windows and let some air into this place." Ragarian
snapped at some minor clerk as he took his place. Before that the room had
been completely silent from the moment he had entered. Servants and even
some of the clerks ran to obey the command, throwing open the great leaded
windows to let a great flood of fresh ocean scented air into the room,
accompanied by the far off sounds of the waves that forever crashed onto the
granite cliffs two hundred feet beneath them. "We
shall dispense with the usual rigmarole Gentlemen, I am late and there is much
to deal with. . ." He waved away the herald stepping forward to
recite from the Court Role the agenda for the day, much to the startled
embarrassment of the poor man, who hustled off trying to contain within his
fumbling hands the ceremonial sized roll of parchment as he did so, ".
. .We can also forget the usual social and court rubbish, this meeting is going
to get some very real results, or I will be replacing some of the members of
this council before the day is out."
volunteered comment or suggestion, which was just as well, for Ragarian felt
that the first pandering fool to begin some preamble of sanctimonious fawning
might easily lose his head, understanding the Priest of Priest's present mood.
All around him these days Ragarian found only bureaucracy and inefficiency,
where every task down to the most menial job in his administration seemed to
have no less than a dozen people involved in it, with not one of them able, or
willing, to take the responsibility when it was invariably botched. He
waited at least a full and very pregnant minute before he spoke again and when
he did he noticed that not one of the officials present seemed willing to take
their eyes off that small area of the table's surface directly in front of them.
the last month it would appear that the God's themselves have taken on a very
strange sense of humor, in that all the news I hear is bad news. One month
ago we sat here and discussed how we were going to stop losing ships at sea,
prevent outlaws from burning off our crops and destroying bridges, and how we
were going to gain control over the corruption and crime which appear about to
declare a state of anarchy within Khanlar. Instead the reports of
accidents, mishaps, crimes and man-made disasters are increasing with every
passing day." He paused for a few seconds and then changing
from what had been almost shouting he said quietly, "Is there anyone
present who would like to take responsibility for this crisis?"
Now they looked at him. A few incredulous looks, a few sidelong, careful and evaluating glances, but the majority just showed how inept they were for their faces betrayed no emotion whatsoever. Ragarian's wrath gave way for a few seconds to complete frustration, making him feel like a man trying to reinforce a crumbling dam with handfuls of mud as it disintegrated all around him. As he replaced one bumbling incompetent, he without fail uncovered the existence of at least three more.
General Toragor rescued him from the feeling of having lost the initiative, by
offering an almost whispered statement that no doubt he hoped would please his
Lord. "Sire, we have canceled the proposed demobilization of
the 6th Army and I am re-assigning them to patrolling the Southern Nations."
almost smiled at the politically correct reference to the Nations of the Asigan
Alliance, however the humor left as soon as it had risen.
we are no longer fighting an organized army that we can bring military tactics
to bear upon. . ."
they are." Ragarian said very softly.
Exclaimed a large man at the other end of the table. Ragarian searched his
memory, Portanlin, the Bishop of Mozag, appointed immediately after the war by
his predecessors. Again Ragarian felt as if he and he alone, truthfully
understood the situation in the countryside outside of the major cities that was
bringing calamity upon Khanlar across the land. He aimed both his gaze and
his words directly at Portanlin, staring directly at that spot between the
Bishop's eyes with monolithic intensity. It was a trick he had learned
many years ago and it almost always reduced the person it was aimed at into
dropping their eyes, for to them it appeared as if the person doing it was in
fact out-staring them, when in reality the user of this trick never had to
achieve actual eye contact themselves.
fought a very well organized army when we took on Prince Zorigan Bishop
Portanlin, why is it unbelievable that some of the officers we failed to round
up should not now be creating a central command? Come to that we never did
identify Prince Zorigan amongst the dead did we? That old goat was one of
the greatest minds Khanlar has ever seen, and even if he is dead, why is it
impossible that he could have made plans for annoying us in case he was
defeated?" Ragarian found that even as he spoke the words his
sarcastic jibe, it in fact had much in it's favor from a logical point of view,
so much so that he found his temper cooling, for here was a new possibility for
his intelligence to examine.
if this is so, and it has it's logic by the God's, then there must be a way to
breach it. Such a sophisticated organization would need to have at least
one permanent center, or at the very least enough temporary ones for us to
infiltrate." It was Bishop Canarar from Araz who spoke next,
"I would suggest Sire that instead of waiting for them to attack us
before we can act, we might find it more profitable if we prepared a trap for
them that was too opportune for them to resist."
it so, if it is possible to do so." Ragarian said, "Suggestions
room broke into many conversations at once and might have continued until
Ragarian chose to end it, except that Bishop Vanatin of Rangar stood up at that
moment. Vanatin was a man that Ragarian had little liking for, however he
held the popinjay in high esteem. The man dressed effeminately, had his
hands manicured daily and always smelled as if he had just left his bath, but
his mind was as sharp as any in Khanlar. "Sire."
Even his voice was sweet, it was far too affected however to be any measure of
what he might be thinking, "I for one would trust any man in
this Chamber, however. . ." Ragarian smiled, for he truly
doubted that Vanatin had ever trusted anybody, but he nodded to the man to
continue, making a mental note to investigate this obviously politically gifted
man as soon as resources allowed. ". . .however, it might be
wise to expect that if such a clever plot has been hatched, then it is not
unlikely that there just might be a spy in this very room as we speak. I
would suggest therefore Sire, that you choose a small committee from amongst us
and retire to discuss strategy in more secret a manner. I apologize to
everyone present, I really do not mean to presume anything, nor cast doubt upon
anyone, but I think we all know that what I suggest might be possible."
Ragarian said, feeling even more respect for this man's ability with a situation
needing delicate control "Let us continue and deal with the
more mundane matters of our responsibilities gentlemen, I will then send my
guards to collect a small contingent of you later, say half a dozen to begin
with and we shall pursue this matter further. Thank you Vanatin, your
advice is well taken, as always."
meeting then settled into an embarrassed few moments of contemplation of what
had just transpired, before Ragarian allowed the clerk to begin reading the
roll, noting just how astonished the man was with what he had just heard.
* * * * * *
few hours before sunset Ragarian sat in his study with the five men he had
chosen to discuss the possibility of an organized campaign against his realm.
General Toragor stood near the fireplace, nursing a goblet of cognac he had
barely touched in the thirty minutes since he had poured it. In his early
sixties Toragor looked every inch a General, nearly as tall as Ragarian himself,
the man had half again the Priest of Priest's bulk, all of it distributed with
the obvious demeanor of a man who exercises regularly. He was related to
several of Khanlar's oldest Royal Houses and had received his education in the
Monastery City of Mansa, which had for centuries produced some of the finest
military brains in the Church Army from it's military monks. Bishop
Vanatin sat opposite Ragarian, his legs crossed beneath his robe affecting a
pose that would have not been out of place amongst nuns in a convent. The
man oozed education and arrogance, he knew his abilities and everything about
him projected that assured knowledge. Bishop Canarar occupied the chair to
the right of him and Admiral Vishnay sat to Ragarian's left. At the far
end of the small table between them Administrator Polonik sat with a note pad
ready to take notes.
us begin with the obvious." Ragarian started the
conversation, "Firstly we must assume that many of our own
people may be involved in this scheme for the sake of profit, if not for
political idealism, therefore we must be sure that we do not show our hand
before we have achieved our objectives. I therefore expect gentlemen, that
we shall leave this room with each of you charged with individual tasks that you
shall perform in utmost secrecy. Charge those you use only with the task
at hand and tell them no more than they need to know to carry out their own
individual responsibility to our scheme."
nods and agreement were those of people hearing the stating the obvious, however
it was Admiral Vishnay who threw the first conversational dice that evening.
"Sire, if there is indeed an organized rebellion taking place, then I
must believe that they have a base of some sort somewhere. You do not take
ships at sea by swimming up to them, they must have ships. If they have
ships, then just so they must also have a base to supply and support them!"
necessarily so Admiral." It was Vanatin who spoke.
"It is also possible that these pirates who are attacking our ships
are using ships that return to our own ports after they have taken one of our
vessels. They would merely have to sink each vessel they capture after
robbing it of it's cargo, from there proceeding on to killing the crew and
feeding them to the fish. If it happened at night, or in deserted waters,
who would know? Then, having dropped off the stolen cargo at some deserted
beach for their fellows to hide, they could sail back into port without
could put a stop to that by searching every ship about to leave port for the
armament they would need to carry off such a capture."
General Toragor looked almost happy for the first time in weeks, "Come
to that we could inspect them when they return as well, compare their papers,
check for injuries, for it would be a rare occurrence if some of them did not
get injured in their line of work, and we could search each vessel that docked
anywhere in Khanlar for any clues that they might have loaded and off-loaded
contraband cargo between leaving port and returning."
if they left Araz and sailed to Cimar, or some other port, and then returned to
Araz quite innocently after doing as you suggest Bishop Vanatin? How would
we ever discover their extra little escapade had happened en route?"
It was Bishop Canarar's talent that he was a cynic.
a soldier on every ship leaving port with papers to hand to the Garrison
Commander at every port that vessel puts into." Admiral
Vishnay snapped. "Pass a law saying that every ship sailing the
seas must carry what we could call an Inspector General, pay these bodies well
so that they can not be bribed and make them understand the penalties for
failure and you will know for sure that no shenanigans will go on on the open
sea between legal activities."
it so." Said Ragarian, confirming that Polonik was actually
still making notes of the conversation, "Brilliant
Admiral, a simple yet certain solution."
Sire they do have a base unknown to us." Vanatin said
quietly. ". . .and if they do Sire, it has to be where normal
sea traffic can not discover it, which would place it on the seaward side of one
of the many islands around our coast. It could be anywhere, or there might
be a secret bay somewhere along our very great coastline which is not on our
that is the case then it can be found. I will put a squadron of ships to
sailing around the whole continent to search for such a bay."
Said Admiral Vishnay. "And so that it does not become common
knowledge, even to those carrying it out, we can in fact charge them to re-map
our entire coastline."
I will assemble a regiment of Cavalry to ride around the continent along the
coastline to search from the land-side." Said General
Toragor. "I can charge the Colonel leading the regiment with
the task of seeking out areas that could be used by smugglers. That will
raise few eyebrows my Lord, the God's know smuggling has become a national
pastime these last few years."
Make it happen soon gentlemen." Ragarian stated.
Finally he felt that they were achieving something and he made a mental note
that it was indeed probable that it was the traditional system of large, almost
ceremonial, meetings that had been used to rule the Church all these years, that
might in fact be contributing to the failures in his administration, then he
added, "That will be the first part of our plan, then if no
such bay is found and if all of our ships prove innocent, we will know for sure
that these pirates operate from one of the island Nations. If three months
from now we know it must be so, then we shall send a fleet to blockade those
nations and enact our wrath upon the perpetrators."
It was Polonik who spoke, "I have noted that the only Island Nations
with their own ships, are Lunza, Mardis, Dag, Morlan and Goja. I would
suggest Sire, that it might be sensible to send squadrons of our best fighting
ships to investigate the other islands that are without Nation status around our
coastline as soon as possible."
it done." Said the Admiral.
The smooth voice of Vanatin once again entered the conversation, "I
would if I might, suggest another possible avenue that we might use to ferret
out these criminals. I have several retainers that I trust completely whom
I could employ to search out information. I believe that we all have such
people available to us. What if we were to combine these resources and
send them out to begin seeking answers to our other problems. They might
find out things that alone would be useless, but assembled into an overall
report we just might identify where our land based problems are coming from."
would expect you to organize that my friend." Said Ragarian,
hearing his voice say the words of trust, while his heart at the same moment
instructed him to keep a very watchful eye on this man, whose assistance tonight
was only proving that he might well be a formidable adversary one day if things
continued to disintegrate around them.
would be honored Sire." Vanatin replied.
so the most important matters were resolved. The conversation continued
another hour, but it only held minor improvements on the original plan.
Ragarian however was pleased when they left his chambers that night.
Perhaps they were about to turn the tide.
* * * * * * *
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