« (General Leontinus Pelaelagus) »
Leontinus watched as his staff headed out of the temple. He turned and went to find Ancius Paalogus, Heramakos’ private secretary and unofficial second in command.
Leontinus smiled his thanks to his companion for opening the door as he entered the room. “Guard the door, make sure we’re private,” he ordered the man.
Ancius passed a hand through the few strands of greying hair that were fighting a losing war against baldness. “Sit, please sit Leon,” Ancius gave his friend a bitter smile. “I suppose you want to know what’s going on?”
“Yes!” exploded Leontinus. “That conference was absurd. What’s got into Heramakos? The centaur Khan’s going to go up in smoke. And insulting Cressiida was stupid.”
“The insult to the centaurs was calculated. The council has wanted an excuse to put them in their place for some time now. As to why Heramakos has seemingly gone off the rails, well...”
Ancius tapped his nose, “Do you know Heramakos’ three spawn? And their spawn?”
Leontinus scowled, “Obnoxious, entitled, self-important twits.”
“Precicely,” Ancius nodded. “They were spoiled and indulged from the instance of their birth. Well even Heramakos has come to despise them.”
“So?” asked Leontinus impatiently.
“Well, Hainrich was Heramakos’ illegitimate son. His favourite son. And the elves killed him.”
Leontinus’ eyes opened wide in surprise. “Why in Chaos’ name did he send Hainrich on a suicide mission then?”
“It wasn’t supposed to be a suicide mission. There are a lot of elves sympathetic to the council’s aims at Aldrya’s court. The death of some peasants would give Hainrich a sufficient excuse for his actions. No one would believe. But the nobles would be able to see that things died down. And his ransom would have been sweet. I honestly don’t understand what went wrong.”
Leontinus looked at his friend with disbelief. “The dungeon is on the frontier. You won’t find powerless peasants in that kind of town Ancius. As for the nobles you were counting on, they wouldn’t voluntarily leave the comforts of court to rough it on the frontier.”
“Oh!” said Ancius as he digested the explanation. “So you’re saying Hainrich killed someone, and not some unimportant peasant.”
Leontinus’s lips thinned as he wondered once again at the oblivious blindness of the hereditary priesthood of the Sunlord. The way they denied the humanity of two thirds of the population of the world was criminal. And he feared suicidal.
“What about Cressiida? She and her assassins are not the best people to insult. Especially if you are intending to leave them behind.”
Ancius laced his fingers together as he rested his hands on his ample belly. “We only hired the Night Wolves to deny their use to our enemies. Heramakos snapped, he dislikes their patron goddess Lira'laasa Nightsky, just like all good followers of Sol Triumphant.”
“Then dismiss them and get them out of Sunhame. Or send them somewhere distant on a scouting run,” Leontinus almost begged.
“You worry too much Leon. We have the forces to crush the elves and the centaurs, and we will.”
“Our army is mostly foot. Pikes and spears mostly. The centaurs will run rings round us. Yes we will win, but it will be expensive. My men will die because they are not optimised to catch a mounted foe,” complained Leontinus.
“We can recruit more Leon. There are always lots of peasants available. And we will hire the animal nomads as usual. Heramakos sent Faldara Swifthands to raise her people.”
* * *
Back in his HQ General Leontinus sent out messages and arranged meetings. He had a lot to do before his regiments were ready to march. He had noble officers to chase up. He smiled grimly, maybe he would be able to get some of the worse offenders out of his hair.
The temple would be angry when they finally realized that paying a noble born officer for one thousand battle ready troops that didn’t exist, was going to hinder their grandiose plans. Now he had to safeguard his paperwork most carefully, or it would be his head on the block.
Somehow, he suspected the animal nomads would not be showing up in numbers. His spies among the temple servants told him about the stable master’s attempt to steal Faldara Swifthands horses. That and the way the lower level functionaries of the temple had seen fit to insult the woman. And she was a Storm Khan. The Storm God was hot tempered and proud, as were their agents.
The fact the woman had left the temple at a gallop heedless of the citizens of Sunhame, was telling. His healer had been cursing her name for the work she had caused him.
This coming campaign had all the signs of a gods awful fowl up. Oh, they would win. The elves lacked discipline; they couldn’t stand up against his pike phalanxes. The problem was going to be the centaur bows. And the centaur armies were well disciplined and trained.
« (Cressiida Ioalovna) »
Cressiida reached out with her mind to her partner even as she followed the obnoxious self-important under-priest. « Any problems love? »
« Everything is fine Cressy, just caught a nice fat rat. »
Cressiida smiled at her weasel’s happy thoughts, it relaxed her. Something she needed today. Heramakos was being especially obnoxious today.
The under-priest opened the door to Ancius Paalogus office and waved her in with an insolent smile. Cressiida decided there and then to ensure the little swine met Buris’ black mamba one night soon. She ignored the piglet and swept into the office.
Anicius watched his visitor silently until the door was closed. Then he asked, “What is the difference between silence and movement?”
Cressiida froze for an instant, “The sound of a man dying,” she offered suspiciously.
Anicius grinned, “What is the difference between a virtuous thought and a virtuous action?”
“Power,” snapped Cressiida as she sensed the power in the riddle. “So you are an illuminate? A Riddler?”
“Yes. The Emperor calls you to service lady.”
“I have a contract. Much as it pains me,” offered Cressiida.
“I can release you from your contract. And I do. The Emperor calls you to service lady.”
Cressiida thumped her chest with her left fist. “I hear and obey.”
Anicius smiled and relaxed. “Just continue as you are for the time being. Check out the gates. You might have to open one soon.”
“As the Emperor wills,” replied Cressiida.
Cressiida narrowed her eyes as she inspected Anicius, “I honestly wouldn’t have believed the power of illumination would hold in the heart of this temple.”
“You need to trust in your abilities Cressiida. The gods cannot see us. Not truly, you just have to be careful.”