Chapter 73 of Quest for the Blue Crystal

Bessia, widow of Esaf Condeu, refrained from looking east out the tower parapet of the lighthouse of Delos. She heard the crashing of the waves far below but she was not in the mood to stare at the ocean. The view of the jade colored Pheral Sea no doubt remained majestic and beautiful, but matters of great urgency robbed her of the time and inclination to enjoy it. The sound of the waves alone offered some solace. It reminded her of the energy being generated by the nearby tidal plant; energy that might yet sustain her power base until her troops could retake the hydroplant at Hornblower on the Moen.

Her gaze faced west. Inland. From her high vantage the Esafi could see the city of Delos spread out to the north and west. A city of ten thousand, swelled now to twice that by the presence of her army. She could see the cavalry forming columns in the fields beyond the gates; the infantry was close behind. Soon she would go down to them, leading the counterattack against Kratia.

There was a discreet cough behind him, and the Esafi turned to face General James Raleigh. The General was an excellent strategist and had worked out detailed plans for engaging Kratia’s forces in the most effective ways and locations. He was also an outspoken critic of the Esafi’s decision to implement those plans.

“You will try to dissuade me yet again, James?”

The general decided that the use of his first name allowed frank discussion. “Yes, though the attempt is probably futile,” he said. “But honestly, the attack is doomed to failure, your highness. Your army is a tenth of what it should be. Your energy reserves are even worse than that. The troops are demoralized at having lost nearly all the country to Mileu, or to Kratia, or to the damn local warlords that have sprung up.”

“But the timing is right, general,” she said. “Kratia’s forces are now vulnerable, pinned down by a massive Rauder army. This is our only advantage and we must take it, and take it now. If Kratia defeats the Rauders she will turn her full force to the south. Then we will truly be lost.”

“We have no defense against the weapons used by her army. The devices that hurl tiny bits of metal at such speeds that they rip through armor like a knife through cheese. It will be a slaughter, your highness.”

“I have ten thousand troops rested and ready for battle. Nearly all seasoned in some way, especially after the last few weeks. Kratia’s forces number less than three thousand and she will need to split them between two long fronts. She will be stretched too thin and her troops will be tired from endless fighting. With her army divided and weakened, either the Rauders or our army will breech her lines. She will surrender or her army will be annihilated.”

Raleigh shook his gray head. “I don’t agree. She’s a Lord, Esafi. A Lord! Devious and careful, with arcane magic and hidden knowledge to realize her dark plans. And energy to carry them out, now that she controls the hydroplant and the wind station, and who knows what other reserves.”

“We have drugs to counter her spells, and more men. Good disciplined fighting men.”

“My scouts tell me that a portion of her army is made up of defectors from the Third Army battalion that was sent to Hornblower.” The general stared at the Esafi. “They were good, seasoned men. Loyal too, I’m sure, until some trickery of witchcraft warped their minds.”

“Magic cannot take over unwilling minds, James. It’s part of the Strictures.”

“Strictures be dammed to the Desolation! I’m telling you she took over those men’s minds, and maybe she can do it again. Look what she did to Shabner! Maybe she can change the Rauder’s minds too and made them pull out. Or twist them so that they join her! I believe that she has been plotting this rebellion for a long time. Too many things have gone her way. There are rumors that she is guaranteed success by a prophesy.”

“Do you believe she has a prophesy, James?”

“She has something! Some power, some spell, some devise or inside knowledge! And until we know what her advantages are, we’ll be marching in blind and defenseless!”

“You’re turning red,” the Esafi said softly. “And you’re shouting.” Bessia turned away from the general and pointed out to the city. “Look at Delos. Look at my troops – our troops – forming ranks. That’s all that’s left of Condeu.”

The general started to reply but the Esafi cut him off. “You know I am right. A nation is defined by the territory it controls. At this time I control only Delos and a few dozen square miles of surrounding land. The rest of the land my husband once ruled is controlled by my enemies, or so strongly contested that none can be said to now rule it.”

“Esafi, what you say may be true, but there are still options open to you.”

Bessia closed her eyes and sighed. “What would you have me do?  Surrender?”

“Never, my Esafi. But negotiate perhaps.”

“Negotiate with Kratia?”

“No. Not that witch! Negotiate with General Corsordas of Mileu.”

The Esafi’s brows knitted together. “It surprises me that you think of diplomacy.”

“It’s logic and necessity. His forces are still relatively fresh; there have been some skirmishes between us, but mostly he has concentrated on clearing out the wizards from his country. If he sees wizards as a danger, then he must see Kratia as one, too. And he would certainly prefer negotiating with an honorable, long time neighbor than a wizard war-monger.”

“I am hardly in a position to negotiate. I have barely enough energy to finance what’s left of the army. What could I offer?”

The general paused for a moment. “Perhaps you could offer some territory; perhaps even Fengorus.”

“Give him a city?”

“To save a nation, sire.”

The Esafi laughed. “Mileu probably holds Fengorus already. We have had no contact with the city or the troops there for days.”

“Give him the Anro station then. That would even be better, because it’s in the territory now held by Kratia. If Mileu could join forces with us then we might have a chance.”

The Esafi was silent for a long time before replying. “General, your ideas are sound, as usual. I chose you well to lead the army. I sent out a messenger three days ago with the very intent of striking an alliance with Mileu. The terms would have been very much as you suggested.”

The general’s eyes widened. “What was his response, sir?”

“There has been no response. I sent out another messenger today, but Kratia will not give us leave to wait for a response. If she defeats the Rauders, she will fix her eyes on us. In a few days we will be surrounded and quickly choked to death. We will not last long enough for Mileu to save us, even if they decide to send aid.” Bessie grabbed a glass water pitcher, hurled it against the wall. It shattered, and the water left a damp star shaped stain on the wall. “I will not wait here to be slaughtered, general. Do you understand that?”

“I understand, Esafi.”

“I reviewed your battle plans quite thoroughly, James. I like them. Regardless of what you believe, they might even work.” She smiled sadly. “Give the order to march in accordance with the plans. I have only two changes. I will be marching with you. And don’t leave a reserve force in Delos. If we defeat Kratia, then the reserve is unnecessary; if we don’t defeat her, the reserve force is doomed as well.”

“Yes, Esafi.” The general bowed and left. Before following, the Esafi walked over the to the east opening in the stone wall. She allowed herself a single long look at the shimmering green sea.

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