The Darkmage Conquers, Chapter 13.

Dan makes a deal. The general from the North faces the real thing.

Chapter 13.
The Imperial Palace.
Kelvahn watched as Gander walked up to him with a rather strange expression. “You seem puzzled, Gander.”
“I had a rather interesting conversation about some things yesterday and I’m not sure how to ask you about them.”
“Who was the conversation with and what did you want to discuss?”
“Lymseia Reymyar, and she hinted that there were reasons that we have our rather eclectic bunch of characters in the Justiciary.”
“You haven’t asked about that before.”
“Frankly, I didn’t think about it until the woman brought it up. I should have, because I certainly knew about the Justiciar sterotype before I was brought to the Empire and how things were different. I suppose that it was part of generally keeping my head down, but I never thought to ask why things had changed so much.”
“We can’t have the deep discussion that this requires right now. I will say that there are things coming up in the Conclave concerning the Justiciars and that presentation that you gave was more important than you knew. Especially since you were so obviously professional. You caught some families off guard. They were expecting an ignorant slave that I was propping up and not the able and competent professional that you projected.”
“What happened to the Justiciars that we replaced?”
“They were caught, one by one by scandals of their own making. They were replaced at first by members of their own families and then by people like Traelion, Bellas and then you. We will discuss this at length in a more discreet setting later. So other than the hints about the Justiciary’s past what did Lymseia want to discuss?”
“My current case. Apparently she has quite a bit that she can reveal at the right time.”
“I imagine that she can. Keep me apprised of what she says.”
“She made no effort to hide what she was. She paraded it into the Imperial palace as if it was her right.”
“It is and I am not surprised.”
“She also seems to know me better than I would have expected. Now I know that Saphielle and Enania are her daughters. Are there some more children?”
“I will leave that for you to discover. You certainly have the resources.”
“That is if I could get to my office. Well, back to the circus.”
Kelvahn grinned as Gander headed into the crowd. He was maturing amazingly quickly and asking the right questions at last.
The Darkmage looked at the statue in front of him. The mana flow had been frustratingly slow and the delay had been almost painful. Fortunately his enemies had not discovered the Amplifier as yet. Another five day at this rate and he should be able to have enough reserves for operate the Amplifier for a time, at least. The Army should have reached the center of the Empire as well. Then he could get some sleep at last.
Galan came into Narbeth’s office. “Has the dowager Empress been here yet?”
“No, why?”
“We had a visitor here. Lymseia Reymyar came in full regalia.”
“That would not make mother happy. Apparently Lymseia did not stay long.”
“She just talked to Justiciar Dawkins briefly.”
“The plot thickens. She must have discovered the little task that Gander is doing for us. She probably wanted to let Gander know to look into certain things.”
“That, and making a scene.”
“I wish that she had been a bit discreet about that.”
“I imagine that she was, about certain things. Of course, she does not like your mother at all.”
“No, she does not. On the other hand, she liked father very much and was willing to be the mother I needed at times. I was rather upset when mother drove her out after the Blight. If she deigns to return, let me know.”
Zirgoccol.
Dan looked at the unusual man in front of him and asked, “So you want to make a deal. A deal about what?”
“This needs to be discreet, but I want to buy grain for my boss.”
“Who is your “boss?”
“Great Captain Zylvyre.”
“Now why would I want to sell grain to Paeris Zylvyre? For that matter, why does he want the grain?”
“It’s easy, really. He and a bunch of other people were left in the lurch. A lot of people, for whom things were supposed to be arranged for and were not. The Great Captain does not believe that his associates will make any arrangements and that your father would not want a large group of people to starve.”
“What do you offer in exchange?”
“The Great Captain acquired some materials recently and he is offering to return copies to you in exchange for allowing him to purchase the grain to keep the people in the Retreat that are still here alive. He is also willing to let you take most of the remaining slaves, since feeding them is the issue at hand.”
“Some people may not like that.”
“Then those people should have made sure to make arrangements before heading off to the capital to play fun and games with your father.”
“I will take this up with my father. What is your name.”
“They call me Wiz.”
“You don’t look like a member of the Ravathrya.”
“I’m not. The Great Captain pulled me out of a gutter, hired me and I do things like this now.”
“The Great Captain is not known for being loyal to his people.”
“I am aware of that. On the other hand, if you look at the people he did leave behind, for the most part, they did ok. He did what he thought he had to do and has had to deal with the lousy deck he was dealt. In any case, I will return in a five day.”
Dan watched the man leave from the door, turned to Hubys and said, “Hubys, I think that I will need to go to Innshys and I will definitely need to send a message to Dad.”
“What did he want?”
“To buy some grain. Who he is buying for is the strange thing.”
“Who was he buying for?”
“Great Captain Zylvyre.”
“That is very strange indeed.”
‘Yes it is. Apparently the Great Captain feels that he is responsible for the Retreat and that the Darkmage and his children are too distracted by the events in the capital to take care of the Retreat. So he is making the arrangements that he can and using what has to make the arrangements.”
“I think that your father will be very interested.”
“So do I.”
The lieutenant watched the man leave the Qinvaris mansion and get into a cab. The lieutenant had been tracking the man for some time because he was certain at this point that “Wiz” Askew was working for Great Captain Zylvyre, handling the technical and other tasks that the Great Captain needed. Now just what he was doing talking to the Qinvaris was a bit of a mystery. As far as the Lieutenant knew, Wiz was a Clear addict, but Greasy had said that he had not even approached any of the dealers and he didn’t show any evidence of the addiction now. He had also made restitution for his thefts. Other than his employer, apparently he had turned his life around. All of that added to the the Great Captain’s mystery. Heading for his car, the lieutenant returned to his office. The sergeant found him and said, “He went back to his hotel. So far he’s visited his old employers and the Qinvaris.”
“I doubt that either one will tell us what he was up to.”
The Timberlands.
Victor Shahana turned to Timber and said, “There used to be a lot more up here than there is now. I wonder what happened.”
“The Blight and not being able to get food up here after the mana drain. That portal is huge and this place looks as of nobody has been here since the mage wars.”
The town they were going through was covered in moss with the remains of a very large portal sticking up from the ruins of the building that had hosued it. Timber continued, “That portal is twice the size of the portal that Adiun built for the Portal Service.”
“What portal was that?”
“They were using it for one way ports. Adiun wanted a big portal to make setting up portals easier. Most of the time it was used for fun and games at the Camp and the Retreat.”
“Making the Darkmage miserable. How did you know about it?”
“I used it to help move stuff up here from the Lower City and I may have contributed a time or two to the mayhem. It was fairly easy to live trap and compel to sleep animals and then take them down and put them in a cart or wagon. It is amazing what happens when skunks suddenly find themselves in total chaos.”
Victor laughed. “I imagine that things smelled fairly rotten for a long time. The road seems to be obviously heading right to the mountain. I don’t see the road going up the mountain or a pass.”
The group rounded a bend and a huge tree to see a large tunnel portal with its Imperial construction still standing strong in spite of the moss and weathering over its face. The tunnel itself was an open mouth large enough to swallow a pair of large trucks.
Timber said, “That is incredible.”
“Yes it is. I think some people will want to see this.”
“Do we go through?”
“We should have lights and a truck brought up. Why don’t we start a camp in that town back there? We don’t know what’s on the other side of the mountain and I don’t want to trip something up that will hurt the Timbertown.”
“I can’t really argue with that. Llorva gets upset when I take stupid chances and with the kid coming, I don’t want to upset her.”
Innshys.
Saevel was sitting in front of the guard station when Vinny and Lord Qinvaris emerged from the portal. Saevel stood up and called out, “Hi Lord Qinvaris!”
“Has my son arrived?”
“He’s at the hotel. He came in the taxi last night.”
“Good, I will go there. Why are you here?”
“Mom and dad want me here far away from home and near Aunt Amarille. My sisters are at Aunt Amarille’s. I’m just doing my deputy duty and watching the town.”
“I need to go, so I will leave the town in good hands.”
Vinny and Richard went over to the small hotel and Dan was waiting inside. “Good, you got my message.”
“So what is so important that I had to leave the Conclave?”
“Paeris wants to make a back door deal for the grain for the Retreat.”
“Now that is interesting. What is he offering?”
“Copies of all the ledgers and paper that he made off with in the raid.”
“Copies? That is very interesting. Why not the originals?”
“I didn’t ask, but I expect that Paeris expects that his uncle will want them.”
“And then be disappointed when his back room tactics are not as effective as he expected. Was there anything else?”
“Most of the Ravathrya slaves in the Retreat.”
“Now that is something that will interest Rebecca, your grandmother and mother as well. I think that I will give you the ok. Put the details together. Tell whoever Paeris sent that getting the paper and the ledgers soonest would be a good thing.”
“Will do. I was rather surprised by the character that Paeris sent.”
“How so?”
“I did some checking and he is a former Beinan employee with a drug habit. His drug was Clear. When I met with him, he didn’t have any of the signs and didn’t seem to be the type that would work for Paeris. I want to talk to grandfather about what Paeris did. Wiz seemed to think that Paeris abandoned all those people so that they would be better off than they would be under the Ravathrya.”
“Looking at the various people that we know that Paeris did leave behind, he may be right. I had never thought of Paeris that way. Now that his father is dead and the man is more or less working independently, we will have to see. In any case, watch your step with him.”
“I will, dad. As far as I am concerned this is just another business deal to get something we want.”
“Ok, I need to get back to the Conclave, so I will be going. You take care.”
“I wish that I had more to do.”
“You are where you are because the House needs you there. You have done a lot already. I’m hoping that I can convince Tarranth to stop driving all over the Empire, but he’s working another project.”
“What?”
“Finding out where the Darkmage’s little army came from. The Darkmage is really starting to annoy me with his sending soldiers and forcing me to kill them. Even worse, he’s making it fairly easy to do just that.”
“There’s another army out there?”
“North of Elysahone. It is not having a good time as there is very little fodder up there since we don’t have any rice and the places were all empty, so we planted those big fields and went big from the start up there.”
“Do you need my help?”
“Stay where you are. Keep the banks from getting too nervous. If you need a project, you can help the Bienans with the supressors.”
“We already are. The whole school is. After what we did with the Blight, the Dragonmaster made some hints. The suppressors are a big deal.”
“I know. Just about everybody in the capital has made rather strong arguments that the things should be shut down and so far they have not worked. I need to go.”
Dan watched his father leave and prepared to get the cab back to Fayspire and the train to Zirgoccol.
House Qinvaris Lands, North of Elysahone.
The General looked at the body that his cavalry had brought back and sighed. This was the face of the enemy and everything about it spelled trouble. The young apparent mortal, with slave collar and peasant clothing was bearing a colored hat, a harness with a colored Qinvaris badge and a strange weapon. A weapon that the boy had put to good use before the troopers had overwhelmed him and some others who had managed to retreat, leaving the mortally wounded boy behind them. The forage had been thin on the ground and encounters with small units armed with the strange weapons were becoming more frequent and taking their toll. The idea that most of the slaves on the Qinvaris lands might have such weapons and be proficient with them was more than a bit terrifying. The general had been force marching his army in the general direction of Elysahone, which had paid off in towns barely evacuated and food and forage left behind as well as only having to deal with the penny packets of militia that he had encountered. On the other hand, the milita had been using hit and run attacks, blocked roads and emplaced small companies to delay his troops and prevent the foraging the army desperately needed.
Davrian Umemyar turned to Horatio Chickering, who had replaced his farm supervisor hat with the hat that Chickering had hoped he would never have to wear, general of the militia. “They are moving fast.”
“That character is taking a chance that he can move faster than we could react. With the small portals down and what we had two years ago, he would have been right. With the telegraph and trucks, he’s about to get burned.”
General Grevaris came up and said, “My division is ready, but it’s your show, Horatio.”
“Richard’s orders are to give the clown a chance to surrender, but if he doesn’t to use every piece of heavy stuff to smash him as hard as possible.”
“They are in clear violation,” Evin said. “Here is the writ. I will have an adjunct watch the action. I wish that I could stay, but I must return to the Conclave.”
“They should reach Sataesi in two days or so. That’s where things get hot.”
The Hidden City.
The four young Justiciars walked down the gangway of the steamer. When they reached the bottom there was an elven lady waiting for them and Tom said, “Hello grandmother. You were here all the time.”
“Hello Tom. Is this your wonderful lady? You made quite a catch. You must be Naexi.”
‘Naexi, this is my grandmother, Sarya Steelmaker. She is also your mother’s cousin. I think that they have been plotting together.”
“Definitely. Aunt, this is Julien D’ Ambray and Elenaril Zeastearos.”
“Was your journey successful?”
“We cannot really say, grandmother,” Tom said. “We did resolve some things and have some more mysteries to look into.”
“I guess that I will have to horse trade with Gander for what you found.”
“Gander can tell you more than I can at present.”
“Naexi, it is so good to meet you at last. Why don’t I take you all to the café?”
“We were planning to use the portal and report to Gander.”
“You will have to wait a bit in any case. The suppressor has been draining the portal and useage has become even more restricted than it was.”
“The suppressors are causing a lot of trouble,” Tom said. “Naexi has a stack of writs to hand to her father from exiles suddenly remembering that they are Imperial citizens and can ask for such things as claims against lost business. There were more people who had small portals that used them for business than you might expect, to say nothing of the radio stations. The embassy had a stack of writs and nasty letters from various people rather upset that somebody has just up and jammed them from all the Blasted Lands countries.”
Sarya giggled. “I don’t think that the Darkmage was in touch with the way the world had subtly changed. Even if the Ravathrya were performing the raids, banking and trade were increasing and since the Ravathrya were taking people back and forth, communication happened. Now people have lost that and they are upset. The Dragonmaster is here and we can discuss that with him. I have a taxi.”
The taxi took them to the café and they were joined by the Dragonmaster, Mr. Steelmaker and Bill from Mrs. Steelmaker’s office as they went over the various writs and other complaints and the situation in the Empire. As dinner ended, Qambois said, “Justiciar Dawkins is lucky to have such dedicated subordinates.”
“He makes it entertaining,” Tom said. “He is a good boss to work for and he has a way of handing out the most unusual cases. For instance, the spider lady, who I am glad has met her end.”
“So you know how Lady Flingladui met her end?”
“Not the details, as we were in the Republic when it happened. We read the story in the papers. On the other hand, the Darkmage was an idiot. Murdering Lord Sarceran like that over essentially nothing was about the most stupid thing that he could have done. Lady Sarceran has a reputation and keeps an iron hand on the business. Then I imagine that Lady Flingladui was hungry and instead of going home and hunting some slave, she probably went out in the Cloud City where one of the Sarceran boys, the ones that Folluin had with various mistresses baited the lady and it was done.”
“Folluin Sarceran has bedwarmers?” Sarya asked. “I’m surprised that his wife puts up with that.”
“Put up with it? She likes the fact that she has three partners and a bunch of boys in the business. There was that stupid one child rule and since Lady Sarceran has a daughter in public and a son that lives out on the estate, she doesn’t have enough family to watch the business, so having a crew of boys to handle the business and some partners that she picked up out of the various houses and House slaves works out for her. Her mother in law encouraged that.”
“So the family business stays in the family.”
“That is about the size of it.”
“What other cases can you discuss?”
“The darkmages in the Mortal Kingdoms is one of our recent cases. We worked with the fae, the Qinvaris and the Mage enforcers on that cleanup, with some assistance from the Church.”
“A rather electic group to work on something like that.”
“We discovered the activity when we investigated the death of King Aestaeros’s uncle after Jimmy and Talissa smelled something funny when they were assaulting the faery kingdom. Jimmy told Gander and Gander sent us to look into it. We received testimony from the last of the Grand Master’s mage enforcers that had been sent to Dolmon and found the traces of mage residue in the stone that had collapsed. Afterwards we started a discreet investigation. We found the mages when the Blight was launched and they came out in the open when the Darkmage arranged the death of the Emperor. We stopped them just a bit late. We did collect a lot of information about the operations of the Darkmage and what he had planned for the Mortal Kingdoms. That was one reason that King Aestaeros was at the Conclave. The Darkmage was planning to have the Mortal kingdoms launch armies at the Empire when the rest of it went down. Then the Darkmages were supposed to take the Mortal kingdoms over.”
“Was the antimage prejudice started by the Darkmage,” Qambois asked.
“I don’t know. Certainly the Darkmage conducted activities and manipulated things to maintain the killing. The problem the Darkmage had was that there were just too many high potential children being born and too many families, some of them influential enough that it was becoming inpolitic to continue to murder children. Of course a bloody mess would have helped the darkmage somewhat, if it didn’t happen when the rest of the mess was happening. As it was, all the Darkmage accomplished was to create more enemies for himself.”
The Road To Sataesi.
The major was riding with the horsecaptain and as they passed through another empty village and up a hill, he took out his service binoculars and looked down on the city. There was a drawbridge crossing the river in front of the town and the bridge was not only up, but removed. He looked at the towers next to the bridge, cursed and handed the binoculars to the horsecaptain. “Look at the towers on either side of the bridge.”
The horsecaptain did and said, “Some sort of crude enhancement to the fortification. That should not protect them from projector fire.”
“Actually it will. They wrapped barbed wire around the towers. It’s what’s inside those sandbag bunkers that’s important. Those are machine gun emplacements, count on it.”
“So. It is just two.”
“Two that are visible from here. That would be bad enough if the army tried to assault the bridge that is no longer there. But if there are two, you can bet that there are more. Let’s back up and go back to the crossroads. I think that we just met serious resistance. We’ll go out the road about six or seven hundred yards and then parallel to the road. I should have been fussier about outriders.”
“How could they get an army here so quickly?”
“I don’t know. I just suspect that it is here.”
They rode back to the crossroads and out the side road. The major looked ahead and saw smoke and what looked like a ditch across the road with what appeared to be an abatis beside the road. As they rode back toward the army, pillars of smoke could be seen. The horsecaptain looked at them and said, “I think that you are right. Why did they make no effort to hide the camps?”
“Either they are careless or since they know where we are, they are confident that they can deploy before the army can strike. If they have machine guns deployed, any force that just assaults without preparation is going to get cut up. If Lord Qinvaris had loaned one or two to Lady Zylmyar we would not have possesion of the palace right now.”
“Why didn’t he?”
“Politics and the Proscriptions, I suspect. Out here there are no Inquisitors to pry and he can use what he likes. I was hoping that we could advance faster than he could coordinate, but it looks like we failed.”
“What is that?”
“I think that we just have our answer to how Lord Qinvaris assembled an army so fast. I should have mentioned that he motorized his farms because of the Blight. The same trucks that he and others use can move an army to where he needs it. That is one of the Republic’s new GP scout cars painted in Qinvaris cardinal red and yellow. I think that they want to parley. Why don’t we see what they want?”
The GP drove up and a man got out. He looked at the Major and said, “Major Ravathrya, I am Militia General Chickering and I want to speak to you and the general over there about avoiding bloodshed.”
“You are surrendering?”
“I am hoping to arrange that army’s surrender. Lord Qinvaris has instructed me to do so before engaging. My orders are if the army will not surrender, to crush it before it can advance further and cause injury and death to Lord Qinvaris’s property and people. I think that you know what I may have at my disposal, at least some of it. Why don’t we talk to your general?”
The Cavalry led the GP to the tent that had been set up for the general. The major and the Horsecaptain dismounted and escorted General Chickering into the tent. The general looked up and said, “Who is this?”
“I am Miltitia General Chickering of House Qinvaris and I am here to hopefully avoid further bloodshed.”
“You are going to surrender?”
“I am hoping to convince you to do so. I have been instructed by Lord Qinvaris to give you this opportunity before engaging.”
“Why would I do that?”
“The major here can explain what he saw at Sataesi. I might add that the machine guns so obviously emplaced there, as insurance, I might add, are hardly the only ones that I have available. Frankly you are in a difficult position right now. You are deep in hostile territory, short on supply with no logistics to speak of, your route home could get cut off by weather or even Imperial troops porting up to Grimfrost. You probably don’t know where my troops are and I knew exactly where your army and all your deployments are. I have heavy weapons zeroed in on your army including siege projectors right now and your monsters really shouldn’t have eaten those dragons.”
“Why not?”
“Because they were both relatives of royal families, their brothers fly airplanes and daddy bought them early Winterfaire presents from the Beinans who gave them substantial discounts. You saw what some scout planes did with some spare fuel tanks. Now you get to see what dragon pilots checked out on planes designed to attack ground targets can do.”
“What if I were to take you prisoner or just kill you?”
“Then my second in command starts things up and you have to deal with that. I sent the orders out before I started out. I will give you a twentieth to send somebody out before intiating the engagement. Good day.”
The General left the tent, the GP started up and the general turned to the Major and said, “I can’t betray the Darkmage and the project.”
“I can’t make the decision for you. What I can say is that you have few options at this point. You can go forward, as the general probably expects you to, right into his fire and lose most of your army fairly quickly. You can retreat back through territory that you know has no food or attempt to find another path of advance faster than your enemies can catch you. I will add that I have seen that House Qinvaris and its allied Houses have trucks in large quantities and can move troops over their roads faster than you can advance and whatever food may be at hand away from you. I have faced Lord Qinvaris and he has given you the opportunity to survive. On the other hand, he can be utterly ruthless when he is protecting his people and very very dangerous. If the general said that he has the resources to crush you utterly, he has them. I expect that General Chickering did service in the Republic and served during a war. I doubt that you have that experience.”
“I did well in the games.”
The major shook his head. “Then you and this army will die. Those are real soldiers, not pieces in a game and you are condemning them to death with no chance of victory. You don’t know where your enemy is deployed, the weapons he has or where he will apply his main force. He can maneuver faster than you can and can see every move you make. Furthermore, your enemy has the full support of Lord Qinvaris regardless of what happens. Do you know what support the Darkmage gave the other army when it was defeated? None. I would take the surrender offer and live.”
“You would betray the Darkmage?”
“The Darkmage has probably already forgotten you. I will go and watch. You do what you will.”
Jerthath Toothgrinder looked at the army as they deployed in close order. “The idiots.”
“It’s a typical pike square,” Colonel Nueleth said. “Admittedly they should spread the projectors better.”
“They know that their opponents have rifles. They have even captured a few. Apparently they didn’t see what they can do. It’s time.”
A flare launched into the sky and exploded. Shortly afterwords there was a loud roar as four silver airplanes flew low and very fast, opening fire with machine guns and cannon, tearing rows though the pike squares before dropping small bombs on the headquarters tents. The planes made two more passes before flying off again. A whistle sounded and line of troops in dirt colored peasant clothes and the red and yellow hats of the Qinvaris militia formed line behind the enemy formation and advanced as mortar bombs started to fall in the shattered troops. The line of militia advanced and fell to one knee, opening up with volley fire on the rear and left flank of the darkmage’s army. The pike squares fell apart in panic as the survivors routed toward the center. The center and right flank pivoted as desperate officers responded to the militia line. They managed to get some sort of order as the militia advanced again, reloading on the march. The shattered army stood ready take yet more blows when the cavalry sent up the road came galloping back, running behind the army as yet another column deployed on the new right flank of the army and opened fire with rifles and machine guns, shattering the army. Hands and swords went up in surrender as the battle ended. It had lasted less than a twentieth.
The major looked at the ruin and waved to his troopers. At least he could report the destruction of the army to Lord Stormfire. Lord Petris rode up and said, “That was a show.”
“Why are you here?”
“Rolin was getting rumors about an army invading the Qinvaris from the Grimfrost road and sent me to investigate. I arrived in time to see the show this time. That was typical Richard all over.”
“I know. I wonder how he managed to get all those weapons past the Inquisition and train his troops with them.”
“He has a lot of land and one Inquisitor who spends his time at the market. He also has factories to make things and has been known to buy slaves from the Republic. You can bet that his officer corps for his militia wears collars as does his experienced noncommissioned officers. That clown walked his army right into the trap and never saw it coming.”
“A slave army?”
“Legally, yes. I would say an army of Richard’s people. You just saw what they can do.”
“I wonder what they would do against an army from the Fellowship?”
“I wouldn’t know. I would be more worried what Richard does with it now that we have seen it.”
“This is what you were afraid of when Lord Stormfire was planning his raid.”
“The admiral was worried about Imperial Marines. We hadn’t seen Richard’s militia in action. Richard didn’t even bother asking for marines this time. I think that he had this army read right from the start. How did the commander screw up so badly?”
“He got his job playing games. Suddenly it wasn’t a game anymore. I tried to warn him that the situation was hopeless.”
“I hope that the Darkmage doesn’t have too many more idiots. This is getting pathetic.”
Jerthath Toothgrinder joined General Chickering as he was walking through the mess. Aide stations had already been set up and healers were at work. The rank and file infantry were being corralled so that they could be trucked to the nearby empty Qinvaris estate that was going to serve as the preliminary POW camp. The pikes were being stacked, along with the projectors. Jerthath looked at the general and asked, “Anything to say?”
“I wish that I hadn’t had to do this. This wasn’t war, this was slaughter. Those boys never had a chance and the idiot forced me to pull the trigger.”
“What about the mages and monsters?”
“The mages got what they deserved. The monsters had to be treated as dangerous animals unless they surrendered. I didn’t really have a choice with them. Frankly I want to port to the palace and shoot the Darkmage for sending his people out like he did. All of his people.”
“Why don’t you?”
“Orders from Richard. We stay out for the capital and keep the idiots out of the estates. Richard doesn’t want to make a big deal about the fact that he had been violating the Proscriptions for a very long time. He wasn’t the only one as far as guns go. He made a point to start making his own rifles and training his farms with them after the thing with House Sarafen. He was concerned that there were other people out there who were using House Sarafen as a test, people higher up in the food chain, who had armies and bad habits.”
“House Ravathyra.”
“I’m not going to say, but there were very few candidates. There was also the fact that the emperor could have a sudden demise and the knives could come out.”
“If you look at it the right way, that is what we are seeing right now.”
“In a way, though I’m not sure if these idiots count as House Ravathyra soldiers or foreign invaders. If they are considered House Ravathyra, Rolin and his family are in real trouble, since they killed House Glynynore’s people as well as ours. Frankly this whole thing was stupid.”
General Grewenys writhed in pain as the healers worked on his leg. The whole thing had hit like lightning from the attack by the planes to the explosions in the middle of his squares and the lines which advanced behind their fire into his rear and flanks, finishing the job. The major had been right in his scorn. No game could have prepared him for what had struck the army and torn it to shreds in a heartbeat seemingly. He saw the enemy general approach and said, “I was a fool.”
“At least you understood that. Now I have my next task.”
“What is that?”
“Finding out where you came from so that I can take your survivors home.”
“You don’t want to attack my home?”
“Not particularly. Lord Qinvaris will want compensation, but he will ask that from the Darkmage, probably the Empty Lands. The Empty lands with its port facilities and potential fertile lands and hardwood stands would be worth developing. The north would probably not have that kind of potential. Frankly, Richard needs more land like he needs a hole in the head. He has too much of the Empire already and that has its downsides. He will just want to make the point that conducting an invasion of Qinvaris lands is just plain stupid.”
“We received orders to traverse Qinvaris land so that some other estates would not be damaged whose lords were supporting the Darkmage.”
“That is interesting. I suspect that Major Ravathyra gave you the orders. The Houses were all probably Houses that Richard saved from the Blight. I will leave you to the healers.”
“You don’t want my life?”
“I never did. If you had surrendered, I would just have arranged for you to go home. Richard doesn’t need more slaves, we don’t really want treasure and killing you would have been rather pointless. I have things to attend to.”
General Chickering left the general to his thoughts and his healers.

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