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The Mamelukes

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Saturday, October 07, 2006

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The BYTE Fiasco


PART One: Treason






CHAPTER 1 Victory






      The rain had slacked off to drizzle, leaving the battlefield wet with both water and blood. There were screams of dying men, horses, and centaurs, but the thick rain and fog softened these if not the sudden crack of a .45 pistol. The smell of blood hung heavy in the air, bright copper smells mingled with the muskier odor of centaur blood. There were two suns in the sky, neither visible for long through the gray clouds, but the True Sun shone through near the horizon for a moment as it set. The dimmer Firestealer made bright spots two hours high.

Rick Galloway, Colonel of Mercenaries, Warlord of Drantos, Eqeta of Chelm, and one time Captain, United States Army, rode painfully after his wife. There was no way to catch her, not with his horse blown from three days hard travel and a day of fighting. He felt the weight of his armor dragging at him, and he ached all over.

His heart sang. She’s alive, unhurt, safe! And the darkness had lifted from her soul. She rode laughing through the rain, the war axe hanging from its strap on her pommel. It was forgotten now, but moments before she had been swinging that axe about her head, charging like a Valkyrie into a battle that seemed all but lost. Now they rode through the aftermath of battle and victory. More horses screamed in pain, men wandered aimlessly with haunted eyes. A few peasants had already crept out to rob the dead and dying. Rick turned to give orders, then shook his head. Let others take charge now. The battle was won.

And I have my wife back! Rick grinned widely.

Tylara do Tamaerthon, Eqetassa of Chelm, High Justiciar of Drantos, and the loveliest girl Rick had ever seen looked back to see that Rick was falling behind. She reined in. “You said you would race!” she said. “You forfeit!”

“I love to hear you laugh,” Rick said. “Tylara—I thought I’d lost you.”

She reined in until she was beside him. “I was lost, my husband. My love. And I may yet be, there is much you do not know.”

“I think I do. If you mean the Children of Vothan.”

“My assassins. That is not the worst. I killed Caradoc,” she said. “My most loyal man, my rescuer, and I sent the Children to kill him like a dog in the streets.”

Rick glanced around. MacAllister was twenty paces behind. Jamiy, his orderly and shield bearer, had lost his horse and was farther back still waiting another. A few troops rode ahead with Padraic, his Guards commander, but there was no one to overhear. “I know that, too,” Rick said. And I know why. I would never have done it, but something had to be done—

“And you forgive me?” She let her horse drop back until they were riding side by side, close together.

“I could forgive you anything,” Rick said. “Would, and do.”

“Would I could forgive myself,” Tylara said. “But I never will. Rick, I thought I did right. And there was so little time to decide.”

“I know. Tylara, when I heard that Caradoc was dead in a street riot, dead before he could return to what he thought was his home, I was glad. It was the only way! Alive he would have entangled us in war with the Galactics! And with good reason, too. I was glad he was dead. But I thought it good fortune, luck, not—later I learned better. You should have told me.”

“It was an act of dishonor. Should I have dishonored you as well as myself? But all seemed lost—my husband, my lord, we will speak more of this another time,” Tylara said. “I am glad you know. I brooded—”

“I know. I didn’t know why, and I thought it was me.”

“I am sorry, my love. I was afraid. And you were cold, and I thought I had lost your love—”

“And I thought I had lost you. It’s done and over,” Rick said. “We stand together now, now and forever. And whatever there is to fear, Tylara, we face that together.”

She smiled and reached for his hand. “Now and forever,” she said, so low that he barely heard her. They rode on in silence.

“I think the king does not know any of this.” Tylara gestured ahead. Ganton, Wanax of Drantos, stood by the banner of the Fighting Man. His golden helmet was dented, and his armor was stained with blood, but he stood proudly enough, with a dozen dead enemies at his feet, hundreds more in front of his position. He looked much older than his years, a man now rather than the boy he had been when he came to the throne, even if his years were not those of a man. A score of the chivalry of Drantos stood around him to shout his praises.


“A Victory for Drantos alone! Without Roman aid! Ganton’s victory,” someone shouted.

“Ganton alone! Ganton Imperator! Ganton the Great!”

The shouting quieted as Rick and Tylara rode up.

“Lord Rick,” Ganton said. The triumphant grin faded. “I had heard that you were here.” Suddenly he looked smaller and younger, as he might have when Tylara was his Guardian and not his Justiciar; a teen aged boy for a moment before standing straight like a king again.

“Aye! Majesty! He was here in truth!” Three lords of Drantos appeared out of the rain. “The battle was lost, we knew not where you were, where our troops were! The rain silenced the Great Guns, clouds and rain hid the enemy. The armies of the Five rallied to the attack. All seemed lost, and then Lord Rick came! In an hour he had taken command, led us across the field to fall upon the enemy! Did you not know? You were near lost, Majesty, the day was near lost, the enemy was upon you when Lord Rick fell upon them from behind!”

Ganton turned to his lords. “Is this true?”

Some shrugged. One or two said, shamefacedly, “Aye, Majesty. It was a near enough thing.”

“So it was none of my victory,” Ganton said. “Well, a day. A victory none the less. And I have not greeted you properly, Lord Rick. Welcome!”

“I think little good will come of this,” Tylara muttered.

Rick painfully climbed down from his horse to kneel in greeting. “My thanks for your welcome, Majesty.”

“So you arrived just in time,” Ganton said. “To save me yet again. Stand up, Warlord. I must think of a suitable reward.”

Rick got to his feet. He felt unsteady, as the fatigue of his forced marches followed by a day of battle caught up with him. “I need no reward, Majesty. I have only done my duty.”

“Yet, I recall, we had agreed that your duty was to hold the West against the invaders there,” Ganton said.

“They are held,” Rick said. “Held and more than held. And when news of this day comes to them, they will likely fall back to their own lands.”

“News of this day,” Ganton said. “News of your victory.”

“Not mine, Majesty. Yours. You commanded here.”

Ganton gestured around him, at heaps of dead and dying men and horses. Some of the dying stirred feebly, and here and there a horse screamed in pain. The bright blue and yellow of the priests of Yatar moved among the wounded. “Commanded. I stood my ground, here, and we held,” Ganton said. “We held. I thought to let them come to me and break their teeth.”

“Aye! Nobly done!” one of the knights shouted. “A thousand fell before you! Nobly done!”

“Aye, say nobly done,” Ganton said. “Say bravely done, but say stupidly done as well, since I left no one in command able to exploit our deeds.” He shrugged, then grinned. “And Yatar and Christ have rewarded me, for in my hour of need came once again Lord Rick and Lady Tylara to win the day for me. Well done, Lord Rick. Well done, and welcome.”

Rick and Tylara exchanged glances. “Without your anvil, my hammer would have fallen on empty fields,” Rick said. Which was true enough. Ganton had stood like a rock in the middle of the tide of battle. “The bards will sing of your victory.” Or I’ll have their heads…

“Tell me of the west,” Ganton said.

“Majesty. Dravan and Chelm hold fast for you, though Captain General Ailas with twenty thousand holds the plains north of Castle Dravan for the Five Kingdoms,” Rick said. “I could have hoped the Five would send a less competent general. Ailas is well dug in, and has learned the use of scouts. His light cavalry is as good as ours, he has built fortifications, and from somewhere he has learned camp sanitation. He is well supplied from the north.”

“He learned what you call sanitation from you. And he is supplied from harvest off your lands,” Ganton said dryly.

“Yes, Majesty. But the upshot is that it would take a frontal attack against fortified positions to dislodge him. That would lose so many we could not defend against the next onslaught. So I’ve sent pandours into his backfield—”

“Pandours, my lord?”

“Light cavalry raiders. Live off the land. Guerrillas, we sometimes call them. They’ll harass him, intercept supplies, generally give him problems.”

“That cannot force him to withdraw,” Ganton observed.

“Perhaps so, perhaps not, Majesty, but they’ll surely make him less likely to advance until he hears of your victory here.”

“Ah. And who leads these – pandours?”

“Lord Murphy,” Rick said. Murphy, a merc who’d got lucky, and was now a Drantos lord in his own right. Another complication in Rick Galloway’s command structure. Did Murphy obey Rick as Colonel of mercenaries, as Eqeta of Chelm, or as Warlord of Drantos? It might make a difference….

One of the junior lords in Ganton’s train thrust forward. “Majesty, during the battle a message arrived from Lord Murphy. I had not time to tell you before. It is directed to Lord Rick. The messenger learned from a semaphore station that Lord Rick was coming here, and has come looking for him.”

“A message,” Rick said.

“Bring it,” Ganton ordered. “Bring it here. It may be important.”


# # #


There were two messengers, one a sturdy burgher from a town near Castle Dravan, the other a kilted clansman of Tamaerthon. The burgher carried a small cask, the clansman a shield wrapped in leather. Both wore sashes and armbands in the household colors of Chelm. When they saw Rick, Tylara, and Ganton together they hesitated.

“You have a message,” Ganton said. “From the Bheroman Murphy.”

“Majesty. We were directed to Lord Rick.” The young clansman indicated his armband. “As you see, we are in the service of the Eqeta and Eqetassa.”

“Then give it to them,” Ganton said.

The clansman glanced at Rick, who nodded. “Out with it.”

“Lord,” the messenger said. “Lord, a hundred stadia northwest of here we came upon a caravan. We attacked it, and captured much plunder. The leader of the caravan was killed in the battle. This is his shield."

He gestured, and the other messenger helped him to unwrap the shield with a flourish.

“Defaced, argent, a rampant griffin sable crowned or,” someone muttered.

“Akkilas?” Ganton muttered. “The heir?”

“We believe so,” the messenger said. “This is his head.” He opened the cask and poured out alcohol. His companion laid out a cloth, and the head rolled onto it. Sightless eyes stared up. The alcohol had preserved it well enough.

“Griffin earring,” Ganton’s herald muttered. “It could well be him.”

“Does anyone here know Prince Akkilas?” Ganton asked.

“No, Majesty.”

“My compliments to Prince Strymon, and if he pleases could he come,” Ganton said. “Surely he’ll know him.”

“At once, Majesty.”

“Akkilas,” Tylara said. “Brother of Sarakos.”

“The heir,” Ganton repeated. “Heir to the High Rexja,” Ganton said.

“Formerly the heir,” one of Ganton’s lords said excitedly. “Now, Majesty, you are heir!”

“He is,” the herald shouted. “By the same claim that the High Rexja held himself entitled to Drantos. Hail Ganton, heir of the Five Kingdoms!”

# # #

Strymon, Crown Prince of Ta-Meltemos, was tall and serious, well known as a man of high honor and quixotic chivalry. Heir to one of the Five Kingdoms, he was allied with Ganton and Drantos, but subject to neither, and what he would do if there came a direct order from his father to abandon that alliance neither Rick nor Ganton knew. Strymon stared down at the head on the cloth. “It could be him,” he said. “I have not seen him for years.”

“Akkilas is dead!” one of the lords shouted. “Ganton is heir!”

“High Rexja is elective,” Strymon said. “Surely all know that.”

“But it has been within the House of Sarakos for four generations,” the herald protested. “The Five have always elected an heir to Radalphes the Great.”

“There has always been a direct heir to Radalphes,” Strymon observed dryly. “Until now. Majesty, I believe your claim is through your mother?”

“Yes. I take it you do not accept.”

Strymon smiled thinly. “I am Prince of Ta-Meltemos, not Wanax, and were my father dead and my inheritance secure I would still be one vote among five. It is not for me to accept or deny, Majesty.”

“Yes.” Ganton looked around at the aftermath of battle. “It grows late, and I confess I am weary.”

“Well earned, Majesty!” several lords shouted.

“Earned or no, I need rest. Let us resume this another time. Prince Strymon, my thanks for your aid in this battle. Lord Rick, a splendid victory. We shall think how best to take advantage of it. And how to reward you. Good evening, Prince, Lady Tylara. My lords. You all have my leave.”

Rick limped to his horse and let Jamiy hold it for him. “I can do with a bath,” he said. “For all that I did more riding than fighting.”

“And that is the best victory of all,” Strymon said. “Fewer killed than might be, and I believe Drantos is safe enough for the moment.”

“With no small aid from you,” Rick said. “My thanks for that. And I will not forget that you returned my lady unharmed.”

“We were much pleased to have her as our guest,” Strymon said. “What I gained in healing knowledge alone is worth far more than any ransom.” He paused. “You have no camp here, and the Wanax has forgotten to provide for you. You are both welcome guests in my camp. It is a soldier’s camp, but perhaps more than you brought on your march.”

“I had expected to stay with the clansmen,” Rick said. “But your offer is generous. Tylara?”

“My father must needs be told, but I think we have much to speak of with Prince Strymon,” Tylara said.

Rick was unsurprised to see that his orderly had found a new mount. “Jamiy, my respects to Mac Clallan Muir, and we beg his forgiveness for the night. See that he is informed,” Rick said. “Prince Strymon, if your hospitality to your guests is as gracious as my lady tells me you give to your prisoners, we would be fools to decline.”

“Good. I will ride ahead to order preparations,” Strymon said. He spurred his horse.

“Jamiy,” Tylara said. “Inform my father that I will join my husband for the night as guest of Prince Strymon. And you may remain in the clan camp, we will not need you before morning.” She waited until Jamiy had ridden off. “Prince Strymon wants to speak with us alone.”

“You know this?”

“Was it not obvious?”

Rick shook his head. It hadn’t been obvious to him. “What will he want to speak about?”

“Ganton’s claim, where this army goes, the war with the Five Kingdoms,” Tylara said. “And he would learn more of the Galactics.”

“How much did you tell him?” Rick asked.

“Little, my love. Only that you are a great warrior from a far place, brought here by men of great power but little courage.”

“An interesting summary,” Rick said. “True enough.”

“My husband, Strymon for all his chivalry is Prince royal of Ta-Meltemos, undisputed heir to one of the Five Kingdoms, and has as good a claim to be High Rexja as Ganton. His interests were ours when the armies of the High Rexja stood in Drantos, but now? I cannot think he will be pleased to see Drantos armies march past our northern borders no matter where they head.”







CHAPTER Two: The Prince Royal of Ta-Meltemos





Strymon’s accommodations were military rather than luxurious, but comfortable enough. Tylara pointed out a field hospital. Priests of Yatar bustled about among the wounded. Acolytes tended fires and boiled cloths for bandages. Priest surgeons scrubbed meticulously before and after tending the wounded, and the dead were carried far downwind from the hospital. “He has learned fast,” she said.

“Your teaching while you were his prisoner?”

“Yes, my lord husband. Was that not proper? You have told me that knowledge is not to be hoarded.”

“Indeed, my most wise lady wife. It was very proper to teach the germ theory of disease. My surprise is at how fast he has learned.”

“Cleanliness has always been pleasing to Yatar,” Tylara said. “His priests needed little persuading.”

And there are priests of Yatar in both armies, Rick thought. Judging by the small red crosses on the shoulders and left breast of their blue and yellow robes, nearly all the priests of Yatar in Strymon’s force were converts to the New Faith, which accepted Christ as the Son of Yatar. What that would do to Tran politics was more than Rick could guess.

But at least there was enough hot water for a bath. When they reached the tent assigned to them he was delighted to see there was a large tub to soak in. Hot water and a tub! And Tylara was smiling, enjoying their renewed friendship. Like falling in love all over again! He thought of inviting Tylara into the bath with him, but that might shock Strymon’s servants. Prince Strymon was an heirless widower, but unlike his brother was rumored to be somewhat prudish in both habits and speech. And Tylara had her own bath. But by God we’ll sleep together, Rick thought. For the first time in months…


Rick’s pistols and sword were missing when he emerged from his bath. So was his armor. A page explained they were to be cleaned. “Prince Strymon has ordered they be returned to you so soon as you need them,” the boy said. His voice was strong, but Rick thought he saw fear in the boy’s eyes. As well he might. The boy indicated new clothing laid out on the bed. “And if you and your lady will come to dinner when you are dressed?”

Rick dressed in silence. There would be no point in complaining to a ten year old boy, and there was no one else he could speak to. May as well play this one as it lies…

Guardsmen held umbrellas to protect them from the rain as they were conducted to Strymon’s command tent. “My pistol’s missing,” Rick muttered.

“As well mine,” Tylara said. “Likewise my dagger.”

“What the hell?”

Tylara shrugged. “Prince Strymon’s honor and chivalry are known everywhere, and I have more than good reason to know those stories are not false,” she said. “Whatever his reason, we will know in good time. I am certain he means us no harm, and I think we would do best to trust him.”

“Trust is fine,” Rick thought. Then he laughed.

“My husband?”

“I keep thinking how Mason would have fits if he knew,” Rick said.

“Ah.” Tylara grinned. Art Mason would never let Rick go out in public without full armor, chain mail over flak jacket, pistol in shoulder holster, short sword and dagger and a full escort. And here they were both in garta cloth robes and slippers, while their armor was away to be polished and oiled and their weapons were God alone knew where.

“And Major Mason is not without his reasons,” Tylara said. “Yet I feel safer here than I would in similar conditions in the camp of our own Wanax.”

“You know something I don’t?”

“Know?” She shook her head, a slight gesture that still said volumes.

Rick frowned. Ganton had seemed friendly enough. But Tylara understood Tran dynastic politics far better than Rick ever would. Relax and enjoy it, Rick thought. Nothing else to do.


Rain drummed on the tent roof, and sometimes a gust of wind shook the walls. For the most part Strymon’s tent caravan was proof against the weather. A long trestle table had been set up, with an almost white tablecloth, and pewter dishes. A cheery fire blazed in one corner of the tent. Rick inspected the portable fireplace with approval, and made a mental note to have one made for his own travel caravan. An open faced Franklin stove, with sections of chimney made of some kind of ceramic and held together with metal collars. He had seen nothing like it in Drantos. The Five Kingdoms pretended a superiority that Drantos didn’t admit. Could this be evidence that it was more than pretense?

Dinner was far more than Rick had expected, and Strymon’s troops had liberated a store of wine from the enemy’s camp. Like most of the wine on Tran it was thinner and more tart than Rick liked, but it was strong enough and left a good aftertaste. When Rick drained his cup it was filled again without his asking. He caught Tylara’s eye. She grinned slyly, and Rick asked for water as well as wine. After that he was careful not to drain his wine cup again. Tylara thought he drank too much, and when he was being reasonable he knew that was true. And tonight he would need his head clear. Strymon was no fool.

Strymon drank plentifully but from a different jug. Tylara watched, saying nothing, until after dessert was served and the dishes cleared away. Strymon dismissed the servants.

“It is odd that you are here,” Strymon said.

“I came for my wife,” Rick said simply. Tylara beamed. She looked happier than she had since they were first married. It must have been terrible, a great secret like that with no one to tell it to, he thought. And that won’t happen again. I nearly lost her!

“I did not mean here at this battle,” Strymon said. “All her time when she was my captive your lady promised me that you would work the most terrible revenge if any harm came to her, until I thought to see you come out of the mist at any moment. No, my lord, I mean that you won the battle today. Much as I am pleased to have you here, you should be the honored guest of the Wanax, not of his ally.”

“So should be you,” Tylara said simply.

“He was exhausted,” Rick protested.

Strymon politely ignored him. “Then you believe as I do?” he asked Tylara.


“What are you two talking about?” Rick demanded.

“Oh. My husband is a direct man,” Tylara said. “Quick to trust, and never thinks another may harbor ill thoughts. My lord husband, we mean that with Akkilas dead, the world has changed a very great deal for the Wanax Ganton, and he was hardly too exhausted to know that. Or to know who won his battle for him.” She smiled. “You ‘Saved his bacon,’ I believe your Major Mason would say.”

“I do not think that head was Akkilas,” Strymon said.

“What? But why did you not say so, Prince?” Tylara asked.

“I cannot be sure, and would I be believed? Wanax Ganton is aware that my claim is as good as his. He would wonder if I played for time. And it might well be Akkilas.”

“If it’s not him, who is it?” Rick asked.

“His tanist,” Strymon said.

Rick frowned the question.

“A custom no longer followed in southern lands. Nor indeed in all of ours, but it is invariable in the High Rexja’s household,” Strymon said. “As the prince comes of age, a young man of good family who closely resembles him is selected. He is trained as companion, advisor—and possibly as target for assassination. Akkilas was fortunate. His tanist was a young man of ability, a good advisor and a better student of war than Akkilas ever was.”

“Who’d know the difference?” Rick asked.

“Any who knew them well, I suppose. The birthmarks are only similar, not identical, and the tanist was a year older than Akkilas—”

“Ah.” Tylara nodded understanding. “My lord husband means that it may not matter whose head that is, if there exists someone of ability who can claim to be Akkilas.”

“Indeed,” Strymon said. “One more complication. Among many. Lord Rick, what does your Wanax Ganton intend now? Whoever leads, whether Akkilas or his tanist or the Honorable Matthias of Vothan’s Temple, these invaders will retreat to the Five Kingdoms before they can regroup. They may again become a formidable force, but it will take time, even without the pursuit you are in no condition to make. When word of this defeat reaches Chancellor Issardos, Captain General Ailas will be recalled to the defense of the realm. He will abandon your lands in the west. The invasion of Drantos is ended.”

Rick nodded agreement. “That’s the way I read it. The war is as good as over.”

“For now, certainly,” Strymon said. “So what will Ganton do?”

Rick frowned as Tylara and Strymon looked at each other. Clearly they understood each other better than Rick did. The war’s over, Rick thought. The peasants can go back to their fields, I can go back to Armagh and work on increasing the surinomaz crop for the Shalnuksis, and we can send our best diplomats to the Five Kingdoms to settle the matter. If Issardos is smart he’ll put Strymon on his negotiating team. Now who can we send? He looked from his wife to the prince, and saw only frowns. Tylara was thinking hard. On what? Would she want to be a negotiator? She should be….

The silence lasted half a minute. “He will press forward, I think,” Tylara said finally. “Left to himself I think Ganton would return to his home and his Roman queen, that was a true love match for all that it was arranged, but his barons will demand otherwise. The nobility of Drantos smarts under remembered grievances. The inclination will be strong to press forward, seize lands in compensation for what was lost in these wars. And Ganton’s claim to the throne will be strongest if he stands with an army at the Capital of the Five Kingdoms! My Lord, I weary of war, but did I not know that my lord husband would never approve, I would myself be among those clamoring for Ganton to press his claims. My own county of Chelm has lost much to the Five, to Sarakos when he came—”

She shuddered, and Rick reached to take her hand. The memories of what Sarakos had done to her would never leave her.

“And to Ailas,” she continued, calm enough that only Rick heard the tremor in her voice. “My people should have some recompense.” She turned to Rick. “Oh, I know, I have heard you say often enough that I believe it, in a well managed land plunder is no substitute for production, labor spent planting and building and trading will bring more reward than looting. I know this, I believe this, but I do not feel it. And Ganton’s bheromen do not even know what I know. Depend upon it, they are even at this moment clamoring for him to press his claims.”

“That was my thought,” Strymon said. “And I cannot permit it.” He poured himself another cup of the thin wine. “I was never in favor of invading Drantos, and I will not say I was unhappy when circumstances made me ally to Ganton in resisting the invasion. But I cannot remain his ally when his armies march into the Five Kingdoms!”

“I am sure he will avoid Ta-Meltemos,” Rick said.

“So am I, but that hardly changes matters. Ta-Meltemos remains one of the Five. I may decline to invade others, but called to the defense of the Realm I must obey.”

“But if he comes as the High Rexja of the Five?” Rick asked. “If the Five Kingdoms become Six, as I am told they once were?”

“There is an election to be held,” Strymon said. “And I do not think Ganton will win. Certainly if he comes as legitimate monarch I will accept him, but that is not likely.”

“So what will you do?” Rick asked.

“Go home,” Strymon said. “Go home and prepare. Prepare for a war that I hope is not against you, and mostly prepare for The Time.”

“And your father the Wanax?” Rick asked.

A look of pain crossed Strymon’s face. “Did not your lady tell you? My father the Wanax Palamon is vigorous, but he has the mind of a child.”

“Oh.” I may have known that and forgotten it. What else have I forgotten that may get us killed?

“And his chief advisor Rauros is a tool of Chancellor Issardos,” Tylara added.

“On your lady’s advice I have sent my brother home to guard our family’s honor,” Strymon said. “He is a better soldier than statesman. As am I, but I am the oldest, and now I must return, and organize defense of the borders. Quickly, before the Wanax Ganton can lead his troops northward.”

Rick nodded slowly. “He can be decisive.”

“You taught him that,” Strymon said.

“I did.” Rick shrugged. “It was my duty.”

“Which you have discharged well,” Strymon said. “And I know you have taught your young king of The Time.”

The Time. The Demon Sun approached the planet of Tran, changing climates and seasons. Thrones, Dominions, and Powers were shuffled like a pack of cards every six hundred years or so, and while that happened the agriculture of the planet changed as well. And The Time was upon them.

“We have taught him,” Rick said. “Whether he has learned is not so clear. And certainly many of his lords advisors have not.”

“But it is true?” Strymon asked. “Not a stratagem your lady devised to win me over?”

“It is true enough,” Rick said. He grinned. “Tylara can charm anyone, but in this case she was telling the exact truth.”

“Truth as I learned it from Rick,” Tylara said. “The Priests of Yatar tell of The Time, when the seas shall rise and the lands shall scorch—of course you have heard those stories. But my lord husband knows why the tales are true.”

“Ah. And can you tell me?” Strymon asked.

“I can try,” Rick said. “But at the risk of insulting you, I have to ask what you know of suns and stars.”

“I have been told that the suns are great masses of flaming gas, and stars are distant suns,” Strymon said. “I suppose I believe it, but I must confess it is not a matter of great importance to me. Should it be?”

“In this instance, yes,” Rick said. He looked around the room. It was a tent, floored with rugs, and there were no solid walls. “I will need a charcoal from the fire,” he said.

Tylara went to the fireplace and returned with a cold ember. “Will this do?”

Rick nodded. “I am going to draw on your table cloth,” Rick said. “This circle represents the True Sun. Tran is a world, round, a ball— I suppose you know this?”

Strymon shrugged. “Again, I have been told this, but it does not seem reason. Yet, if the world is flat, what is on the underside? I am willing to believe it is a ball. I am told you have seen it as such, that your ships go—” He pointed up. “Up beyond the sky, above the Vault of the Sky, above the realm of the Day Father. I confess this disturbs me. If you have been beyond the sky, to the realms of endless day, you must have seen God.”

“I have been there, but God hides Himself,” Rick said. “Not even the Galactics have seen Him.”

“And yet they believe in Yatar?” Strymon asked.

“He is not known by that name, but yes, many believe in the Almighty,” Rick said. And how did Inspector Agzaral put it? ‘The dominant religion of the Confederation is not inconsistent with the great Monotheisms of Earth.’ Something like that. “But yes, I have seen this world as a single ball in space.” He drew a circle around the dot of the True Sun. “And this is the path this world takes around the True Sun. And now, out beyond this world, moving in a greater circle around Tran and the True Sun alike, is a second Sun that you call the Firestealer.” He drew another circle enclosing the first. “When the Firestealer is on the other side of the True Sun, it is moving farther away from Tran, because Tran is moving much faster than the Firestealer. The Stealer appears to grow dimmer and dimmer because each day it is farther away, until it passes behind the True Sun. Then each day it becomes brighter again as Tran grows closer to it.” Rick illustrated on the tablecloth. “Eventually Tran passes between Firestealer and True Sun and we have the high summers, warmer with the night lit by the Firestealer.”

Strymon stared at the table cloth. “If you say so,” he said finally. “I confess uneasiness. When I was a child I believed True Sun and Firestealer were gods. Then I found not even the priests believed this. The gods live in the realms of endless day beyond the vault of the sky, or so they say, but you have been there and did not see them. But what has all this to do with The Time? Every year there comes a time when the Firestealer stands in the night sky. It is always thus.”

Rick drew a large arc on the table cloth. “There is a third sun,” Rick said. “Red. It is smaller than either True Sun or Firestealer, and its path carries it so far away that you do not see it unless you know to look for it. But every six hundred of your years it comes closer, close enough to bring heat and light and chaos. It is coming now.”

“The Demon,” Strymon half whispered. “We see it. It grows brighter. But you say it is no more than another sun? But the Honorable Matthias said—” Strymon shrugged. “I suppose it is no matter what the priest of Vothan said. This is no speculation. You have seen all this. You know.”

“Yes, Highness,” Rick said.

Strymon laughed. “Highness. You have been higher than ever I shall, but you call me Highness. Well, a day, Lord Rick. Your lady’s stories of The Time are true, then. The seas will rise, the days grow longer, the summers hot. Waves of refugees will come from the south. The icy plains will melt, grass grow on the tundra. All this.”

“All this,” Rick said. “This and more.”

“And your part?” Strymon asked.

“I beg your pardon?”

Strymon stretched his feet out under the table and lifted his wine cup. “My lord, I am a simple man, soldier not diplomat. So, I think, are you. You will do well all the tasks that the gods give you, but you are not ruled by ambition. So. As one soldier to another, what will you do? What are your preparations for The Time? I freely confess I would copy you.”

Rick smiled thinly. “Fate has give us different roles, I think,” Rick said. “My part is different from yours. Give me a moment.” Rick drained a water glass and stared into the fire. “Highness, you have heard stories of the sky demons.”

“Yes. They are part of the legends of The Time. Do you say, then, that all the old legends are true? The seas rise, the land burns, crops fail, and evil gods rain skyfire across the land.” Strymon shuddered. “The sky demons bring the skyfire.”

“They do,” Rick said. “More than once in Tran’s history. And that is my part, Highness, to prevent the skyfire if I can.”

“How will you do this?”

“I may not be able to,” Rick said.

Tylara took his hand. “If anyone can, you will, my lord.”

“I hope so. Highness, the sky demons are real. They are not true demons, they are creatures of flesh and blood, but they were not born of human women. They see this world and all its people as you or I would see a herd of sheep, useful in potential, valuable even, but of no great importance. They want only one thing from this world.”

“And that is?”

“The essence of the plant we call madweed. They use it for pleasure, and they are willing to pay well for it.”

“Ah,” Strymon exclaimed. “That explains why you grow madweed at Castle Armagh! When it was told to me I could not believe it, yet my agents were trustworthy.”

“Trustworthy and very adept,” Rick said. “I had no idea you had agents watching Armagh. My security officers must not be as careful as I thought.”

Strymon shrugged. “We can discuss this another time,” he said. “But you grow madweed for the sky demons?”

“I do.”

“And in exchange they bring you new charges for your star weapons.” Strymon’s tone was emphatic. He reached into a sleeve pocket and retrieved a .45 ACP cartridge. “Like this.”

“Like that,” Rick agreed.

“When I was taken prisoner they naturally took my weapons,” Tylara said. “The pistol among them. Later, after the attempts on my life, Prince Strymon was honorable enough to return the pistol to me for my protection.”

Rick nodded. “Less one cartridge. That much was in your letters,” Rick said. “Now he has all our weapons.”

“Only for the moment, my lord,” Strymon said. “Only for the moment. They will be returned to you long before you have need of them.”

“All right, we’ll leave it at that for now. Prince, my wife tells me you became her friend before you ceased to be her jailer. I have great regard for Tylara’s abilities. Her father once asked me who last fooled her, and I had no answer. It is because of your kindness to her and her good opinion that I speak this frankly with you.”

Strymon spread his hands, fingers apart. “Thank you. I believe I deserve your trust.”

“So do I,” Rick said. “Despite this mystery of our weapons. So. You know what I must have from the sky demons, and why the Armagh madweed farms must be my first concern. Now I tell you that it is Armagh that will most likely suffer skyfire. With luck it will be only Armagh.”

“Luck and the favor of Yatar and Christ,” Tylara said.

Rick nodded. Tylara’s sudden conversion to the new Unified Christian Church had been a surprise, but it was no surprise that her conviction was deep. She’s never been a shallow person, Rick thought. And who am I to encourage cynicism? Maybe it’s all true, here anyway. Maybe God lets us create Him. I’m no preacher. “To business, then,” Rick said. “You have a treaty with Ganton. May I know the terms?”

“Certainly. I would gladly tell you, but perhaps—yes.” Strymon clapped his hands. “My compliments to My Lord Father Apelles, and we request his attendance,” he told the servant who answered.

“My Lord Father Apelles?” Rick said.

Tylara smiled. “He has risen since you saw him last. Justifiably. High Priest Yanulf and Archbishop Polycarp have decreed that he be raised to bishop so soon as sufficient prelates may be gathered to consummate his elevation.”

Apelles was robed in blue garta cloth and wore a large pectoral cross topped with the sun disk of Yatar, as befitted a bishop-designate of the Unified Church, and he hardly resembled the young swineherd turned clerk that Rick remembered. He can’t be thirty yet, doesn’t look twenty-five. Rick stood and bowed. It never hurt to show respect to the clergy. “My Lord Father Apelles. It’s good to see you again.”

“And you, Lord Rick. My Lady.”

Learned some courtly manners, too, Rick thought. Respectful, but mindful of the dignity of his offices. Odd how quick they pick that up…

“Lord Father, Lord Rick has requested to know the terms of my treaty with Wanax Ganton. As you were one of the witnesses, I thought it best to have you recite it,” Strymon said.

“As you will, Highness,” Apelles said.

“It will be dry work,” Rick said. “Perhaps My Lord Father would care for wine?”

“A small glass only,” Apelles said. “It is a short treaty. Ta-Meltemos withdraws from the invasion of Drantos, and will aid Drantos in war against any power other than the Five Kingdoms. In return, Drantos imposes no demand for reparations, and will aid Ta-Meltemos against enemies other than the Five Kingdoms or Rome. Furthermore, as soon as Prince Strymon and his army have departed from Drantos, I am to share with him all I know of The Time, including what I know of sky demons, sky fire, and the box that speaks to the stars. Prior to that I am free to share what I know of the healing arts, and to preach the True Religion of the Unified Church of Yatar and Christ.” Apelles shrugged. “That latter is not formally part of the Treaty, but it is an understood condition of my accompanying his Highness to the Green Palace.”

Rick frowned. “I heard nothing to prevent Wanax Ganton from pressing a claim to the throne of the High Rexja.”

“Nor I, Lord,” Apelles said. “Of course at the time the treaty was made, there was no serious thought of such. Am I to understand that the head was that of Akkilas?”

Rick looked to Strymon.

“I am not sure,” Strymon said. “I suppose I should not be surprised that you know of the head.”

Apelles shrugged. “Highness, I would be astonished if there were any man in the army who does not know of it. Your own soldiers rejoice that you have as good a claim as any, now that the heir is dead. I make little doubt that Wanax Ganton’s men feel much the same about his claims.”

“And the Treaty says nothing of any of this,” Rick observed.

“More to the point,” Strymon said, “my chief benefit from this treaty was to be knowledge. Knowledge I do not receive until I have brought my army back to Ta-Meltemos. Ganton has reaped the benefits of this agreement. I have not.”

“That is a matter of time only,” Apelles said. “I certainly intend to fulfill my part of the bargain.”

“Until Ganton orders you otherwise?” Strymon suggested.

Apelles’s expression didn’t change. “Highness, I was given an order by a king in regards to a treaty. The Wanax swore to that treaty, and I swore as a sacred witness. No order from the Wanax can change that.” He shrugged. “I do not say what I might do if I received a decree from Patriarch Yanulf nullifying the treaty, but I hardly consider that a likely event. My future seems clear enough. I shall be your advisor until am released. I expect I will also be appointed the Patriarch’s Nuncio. The arrangement is not uncommon.”

“With the clear implication that my interests and those of the Patriarch are the same.”

“Are they not?” Apelles asked.

Strymon nodded. “I suppose, I have no reason to think otherwise. Assuming that what I am told of The Time to come is true.”

“I am convinced that it is true,” Apelles said. “I believe Lord Rick and Lady Tylara are convinced. I know that Patriarch Yanulf is, for he speaks of little else by his own choice. Preparation for The Time should be the highest consideration of everyone to whom God has given authority. So says the Church. Heed that advice, Prince, and you will do well by the people God has entrusted to you.”

Strymon sat nodding to himself for a moment, then stood in decision. He bowed. “My thanks. You are welcome to join us for the rest of the evening, My Lord Father, but I suggest your time would be better used preparing to march. We depart immediately for Ta-Meltemos. I hope to have my entire army on my home soil by dark two days hence. Earlier if possible. We march.”

“You said immediately?”

“Yes. I have already given orders to my officers. Now I inform you.”

“There are wounded that should not be moved so soon,” Apelles protested.

“Yes, I had thought of that. My Lord Rick, regarding any of my troops who must be left behind, I release them into your service and custody. When they are recovered they should be escorted to our borders, or they may remain in your service if they so choose. I pledge to pay any expenses you may incur by this. My Lord Father Apelles, will this fulfill the conditions of the Treaty?”

“My Lord Rick remains Warlord of Drantos?” Apelles asked formally. “Then all is well, and we may consider leaving wounded soldiers under the orders of a Great Officer of Drantos to be a fulfillment of the treaty requirement that all Ta-Meltemos troops return to their own soil. My Lord Rick, I will leave suitable medical officers to attend the wounded and explain to them their new status. I think you will not need a large escort to guard them. All that I know of are converts to the True Faith, and their word will be good.”

He says that with a straight face, Rick thought. I suppose he believes it.

“And with your Highness’s leave I will see to my preparations,” Apelles said. He bowed and left. They could hear him speaking urgently to his assistants the moment he had left the tent.

“A young man who will go far,” Rick said.

“He already has,” Tylara said. “And did you know he accompanied me into captivity? Of his own free will, he surrendered in order to care for me.”

“I’d heard. We owe him,” Rick said. “I will think on suitable rewards.”

“I would guess that you are too late,” Tylara said. “I doubt he would set much value on any reward you or I could give him now. He looks elsewhere for his rewards.”

Rick nodded understanding. “So. Highness, you honor me with your trust, but I think I need to consult with Wanax Ganton on this request.”

“And I think I cannot allow that,” Strymon said. “I don’t know if Ganton would try to stop me from leaving, but I don’t intend to find out. With luck, the first he will know of our plans is when he finds my camp empty at dawn.”

“And us?” Tylara asked.

“You must pardon me,” Strymon said. “I regret that you must remain my guests until I have begun to march. Otherwise, honor would require you to warn Ganton, and that I cannot have.”

“You do yourself little honor to make prisoners of your guests,” Tylara said.

“My lady, I would hope you would not put it that way. Say rather that you remain my guests.”

“Until Ganton has our heads,” Rick said. “Better to be your prisoners.”

“That had not escaped me,” Strymon said. “It is fortunate that proper care of your weapons will require my armorer pages to work through the night until morning. I would not have them returned to you in less than perfect condition, nor can I hospitably allow you to depart without them. You will have all you brought here when you join me for breakfast.”

“Oh.” Rick looked to Tylara and saw she was grinning faintly. So she’d understood all this long before. “I trust your pages will not harm themselves,” Rick said. “Handling star weapons can be tricky.”

“As well we know,” Strymon said. “They will have a care.”

“Until morning,” Rick said.

Strymon nodded. “We began preparations an hour after the battle ended. My main body will be on the road before first light.” He smiled. “Wanax Ganton’s army may be efficient, but I doubt he can march soon enough to catch us.”

“He has also the services of Sergeant Bisso and his star weapons team.”

Strymon shrugged. “Who are unlikely to do much without direct orders from you.”

Rick nodded. “I suppose that’s true enough.”

“And, my Lord,” Strymon said, “fortunately we are in border country that I know better than Ganton. Or you, if it comes to that. If I cannot take my army home I am a poor captain indeed.”

And he’s anything but that, Rick thought. So now what? He looked to Tylara, but got no answer.








CHAPTER THREE : Parliament




Rick and Tylara watched as the last of Strymon’s rear guard vanished over the hill. The True Sun brightened the east but was not yet visible above the wooded hills that shadowed them. There was enough light to see by, more light than bright moonlight from the evil red Demon Star. Rick felt no real warmth from the Demon, but that would change. Even now it had increased the illumination falling on the planet by at least a full percent, perhaps more. He didn’t need to feel it, the warmth was real enough. The seas were rising. Climates changed. Rain fell on the lowlands and coastal plains but not on the high pampas above the Greatscarp. A great volksvanderung was beginning, tribes migrating from the deserts, while civilizations drowned in the south, growing seasons longer but fields flooded. The southerners fled northward. Confusion everywhere, and it had just begun.

His reverie was disturbed by two pages, boys no more than eleven years old, who rode back from Strymon’s rear guard. They dismounted to kneel in front of Rick. One spread open a cloth to reveal Rick’s pistols and sword. The other opened a bag containing Tylara’s pistol and dagger. The older of the boys clapped his hands, and a grizzled veteran limped up. Rick recognized him as one of Strymon’s personal attendants. “Your armor,” the boy said. “Handral will assist you.”

“I should arm now?” Rick squinted at the brightening east. “We’ve hardly had any sleep—”

“My husband, I think sleep the least of our needs at this moment,” Tylara said. “My guess is that even now Ganton’s ushers seek us. It will do no harm to be armed before they find us.”


The messenger carried a black wand. His voice was just short of disrespectful as he shouted. “My Lord Eqeta and Eqetassa, I have been commanded by Wanax Ganton to conduct you to him, instantly upon my finding you.”

“Black rod usher,” Tylara muttered. “He has sent a black rod usher to summon Warlord and Justiciar. An insult.”

“Not if we refuse to take it as such,” Rick said.

“You are too forgiving,” Tylara said. “But I think we have no choice.”

“No more do I,” Rick said. “Good morning, gentleman usher. We were detained by Prince Strymon through a misunderstanding which now has ended.” Rick turned to Handral and the two pages. “My compliments to Prince Strymon. Tell him I say you have served him well.”

“One more strap,” Handral muttered. He pulled hard and fastened the buckle on Rick’s shoulder holster. “That’s done it.” He handed Rick his Government Model Colt.

“Thank you.” Rick checked the loads and holstered the weapon, then took a coin from his pouch and gave it to Handral.

“Thank you, my lord.”

The boys rode north, followed by the older warrior. Tylara waved, and one of the boys waved back.

“His Majesty was impatient before I left,” the usher said. “My Lord, my Lady, I urge haste.”

“Coming, gentleman usher. As you see, we are armed. Have we not time even to dress properly?”

“I urge haste,” the usher repeated.

Rick held Tylara’s stirrup while she mounted. There was no one to hold his, and swinging into the saddle with full armor was difficult. Rick painfully lifted himself into the saddle and felt sharp pains as he always did. Did the old heroes have piles?

And now what? Rick thought. Mostly he wanted a bed and a long sleep. They followed the usher toward Ganton’s camp three kilometers away, but where the road forked the usher led them to the east, toward the Ottarn battlefield, rather than west to where the main encampment would be. Rick and Tylara exchanged glances. There was nothing to do but follow.


Ganton, Wanax of Drantos, had built a stage on the hill overlooking the Ottarn River battlefield. He sat on a high dais. His Council was grouped around him one step below, and on the steps below that his Lords and chief knights sat in full array. All were in full armor. Ganton was wearing the battle crown of Drantos, but his golden helmet was carried by a page who stood on the left side of the throne. The Sword of State was held by an esquire on the right. Below and around the king were the officers of the army, and to one side an assembly of the priesthood.

“A full parliament,” Tylara said. “Lords spiritual and temporal, and commons.”

Rick nodded agreement. A parliament summoned to meet overlooking the field of a victorious battle. In tradition and fact such parliaments enjoyed special powers, including both the high and the low justice. Rick was glad of his armor. He looked behind him, to see the assembled clan chiefs of Tamaerthan, and with them Sergeant Bisso and the earth mercenaries. A dozen men. Three mortars, and there was Arkadopholous with the light machine gun. Not enough, not nearly enough….

The sky remained overcast, but there was no more rain. Chill winds whipped across the hills. They smelled of the swamps below, but there were odors of the battlefield as well. Beyond the assembly of the officer corps, troops worked to count the dead, recover weapons, and clean up the litter of battle. All but the Wanax’s personal guard, who attended the king.

As Warlord and Justiciar respectively, Rick and Tylara should have been seated with the great officers of state at the king’s feet just below the throne and a level above the Council. Instead the usher halted to place them at ground level in front of the entire array, looking upwards to the Wanax and Parliament, their backs to the officers and clansmen and Rick’s own troops. Rick looked for friendly faces in the assembly. There were few enough. And Rick and Tylara stood outside the parliament, though they should have great place within it.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” Rick muttered. Tylara made a short chopping gesture with her left hand to quiet him. Rick noted that her right hand was in her sleeve.

“The Lord Rick and Lady Tylara,” the gentleman usher announced. “My Lord Speaker, I found them at the empty encampment of Prince Strymon.”

“Empty,” the Speaker said. “The reports are true, then. Strymon has marched north without any word to us of his departure.”

“It is true enough, My Lord Speaker. Regarding the Lord Rick and Lady Tylara, they came immediately upon summons.”

“That’s in their favor,” someone muttered from among the lords.

“We greet you,” the Lord Speaker announced formally. “Majesty, the Lord Rick and Lady Tylara. My Lord Rick, a question. You did not think it meet to inform the Wanax that Prince Strymon departed like a thief in the night?”

“Very meet, right, and our bounden duty,” Rick said. “Were it possible. But Prince Strymon made it clear enough that we would not be permitted to do so.”

“You were armed,” Lord Enipses shouted from his place just below and to the left of the Wanax. The place that should have belonged to Tylara.

“In fact we were not,” Tylara responded. There was ice in her voice as she spoke to the man who sat in her place. “The fiction was made that our weapons and armor were being cleaned, but they were certainly not available. We were said to be guests, and we acted like guests. We did not think it seemly to begin hostilities which could only end badly no matter who the victor. Think, my lord Enipses, if you can: would you have open war between Drantos and Ta-Meltemos? Hostility between Wanax Ganton and Prince Strymon? At the moment the treaty holds. Did we resist it would be broken.”

“By Strymon,” a councilor said. “No bad thing.”

Tylara looked to Rick and nodded.

No bad thing, Rick thought. He said that, and no one corrected him. It has come to this already?

“And what do you know of this treaty?” another lord demanded.

There was a roar from the assembled clansmen nobles who stood behind Rick and Tylara. “More than you daft lot!”

Tylara’s father, Rick thought. As Mac Clallan Muir, leader of the Garioch Clans of Tamaerthan, he had been a witness to the treaty, and one of its negotiators.

“Cheeky bastard.” There were other mutters from the starmen mercenaries who stood with the clansmen. “Quiet in the ranks.” Corporal MacAllister spoke in English. “At ease.”

“Prince Strymon told us of the terms of the agreement,” Rick said.

“And of course he told the truth!” one of the lords shouted. There was more clamor from the Tamaerthan ranks now, and a scattering of obscenities in English. Rick looked sternly at his mercenary troopers. Strymon had made himself popular with the troops during his period of close alliance with Ganton.

Sergeant Bisso broke the silence. “Ten-hut! Corporal, next man that speaks, take his name.”

“You note that the Wanax says nothing,” Tylara said under her breath. “He can yet disclaim any of this.”

“But he does nothing to stop it,” Rick said.

“There will be worse,” Tylara muttered. She struck a pose and declaimed, “The terms were recited by My Lord Father Apelles, a sworn witness to the treaty. Unless, Lord Epimines, you question his word, as well as that of Prince Strymon. Do you so? Perhaps we should have a trial by battle? I am certain Prince Strymon would choose to act as his own champion.” Everyone there had heard how Strymon in single combat had bested and captured Morrone, Champion and Companion to Wanax Ganton.

“I meant no dishonor to His Highness,” Epimines protested.

“I had not heard the terms before, and I listened carefully,” Rick said. “And we heard no terms of the treaty that forbade Prince Strymon from returning in haste to his own lands. Indeed, all we heard urged him to do so.” Rick shrugged. “The treaty required him to depart, and he was departing. I saw no need to interfere.”

Ganton nodded solemnly and spoke for the first time. “Indeed, that was the chief requirement of the treaty. Of course that treaty was made before we knew of the death of Prince Akkilas. Still, it must needs be honored. My Lord Rick, did His Highness tell you aught of his plans?”

Rick didn’t need Tylara’s nudge to warn him to be careful. Ganton wasn’t asking for information. If he wanted information he’d ask for it privately. This was clearly a show staged for the great lords of the realm. But why? What did Ganton want? One thing was certain, Ganton would never ignore the advice of his lords. His father had done that and had lost his throne, and that was a mistake Ganton would never make.

“Majesty, he said he would return to his capital to prepare for The Time,” Rick said. That at least had the merit of being true….

“And you believed him?”

Rick spread his hands widely. “I had no reason not to. Certainly all his questions were directed to The Time. He asked lessons in astronomy, that he might understand what is coming.”

A shout from the councilors. “Which you gave freely to a rival!”

Rival. Of course. They saw Strymon as a rival claimant to Ganton’s rights as heir to the High Rexja of the Five Kingdoms. “Yes, my Lord Enipses, freely I received that knowledge, and freely did I give it. As I have always done,” Rick said. “To all who have asked.”

There were mutters of approval from the ranks of the priesthood. “The Time comes!” a thin priestly voice shouted. “Be wary, great Wanax! God humbles the proud and the unbelievers!”

And that would be treason from anyone not in holy orders, Rick thought. Close enough even for the priests.

“We met in Council during the night,” Enipses shouted. “Warlord and Justiciar were summoned but did not attend. The Council met anyway.”

So that’s where this is headed, Rick thought.

“The War Council of Drantos has advised His Majesty to claim the throne of the Five Kingdoms,” Enipses continued. “We meet now in Parliament to confirm that decision. Lord Rick Galloway, Warlord of Drantos, have you advice to offer this Parliament in this matter?”

“My Lady Tylara is High Justiciar,” Rick said. “She speaks before me. As well you know.”

“And I say that Toris High Rexja lives a widower, and while he is elderly, he may yet take a queen and produce an heir,” Tylara said. “In the hills we know better than to count any man heirless until he is dead. Not even then. And are we certain that was the head of Akkilas?”

More shouts among the councilors. “Strymon said so.” “I heard he has doubts.”

“Aye,” Tylara said. “The prince expressed his doubts about that head. It may have been that of the tanist. So Prince Strymon said to us.”

“My lady, your pardon,” Lord Arandos said. “But is it not true that Tamaerthan has good reason to wish Drantos and the Five Kingdoms wary of each other?”

“I am Eqetassa of Chelm and a loyal subject of Drantos! And High Justiciar to the realm,” Tylara shouted. “I give the best advice I know, without fear or favor.”

Enipses stood, turned to Ganton, bowed, and received a slight nod. He turned to face Rick and Tylara. “I am commanded to say that His Majesty no longer requires service as Justiciar from Tylara do Tamaerthan said to be Eqetassa of Chelm.”

It took a moment for Rick to understand that Enipses had actually said that. He can’t be acting on his own, Rick thought. This is staged, and for a reason. Ganton is allowing this. But why?

“Said to be!” Drumold, Mac Clallan Muir, but first of all Tylara’s father, shoved his way forward from among the clansman chivalry drawn up behind Rick and Tylara. “Said to be! Who dares say she is not?”

“At ease!” Bisso shouted to the mercs. “But it sure don’t hurt to have your powder dry,” he added in English.

“Gently, Mac Clallan Muir,” Enipses called to Drumold. “You are allies, not members of this Parliament. Therefore—”

Whatever he was about to say was cut off by Drumold’s roar. “You would deny my daughter her titles! You would reject her advice? Wanax Ganton, is this your will? Barach gui haigh!” The clansmen stirred. Two young duinnie wassails left ranks to run toward the Tamaerthan camp.




Entire contents copyright © 2006 by Jerry E. Pournelle. All rights reserved.