Days of searching had failed to find the Esaf Mileu in the wizard guild or anywhere else. General Corsordas had taken the title of Regent Mileu, and assumed full command of the government until such time as the Esaf returned. Corsordas had no doubt that his Esaf would return; the prophesy of his immortality virtually guaranteed it. But until then it was necessary to maintain order within the nation. To provide firm and confident leadership in this time of crisis.
His spies told him that the Esafi Condeu had taken similar action in her nation following the death of her husband. She was smarter than many people gave her credit for. Yet most of her army was defeated, most of her holdings had fallen to the local warlords. Warlords who appeared for the most part to be aligned with the ultimate enemy, Kratia.
He stared out the small open window that overlooked the Bay of Damanusk, sometimes called the Lesser Western Sea, though it was only a stubby finger of the Great Western Sea. The waters were calm today and stretched in an unbroken deep blue sheet to meet the lighter blue of the sky at the gently curving horizon. The smell was fresh, and the Regent was loath to turn his attention back to the chamber, for the acrid smell of the fear inducing incense permeated the air.
He had taken drugs that left him immune to the incense, of course. He could not allow his judgment to be affected by externally induced emotions, but the smell itself was repugnant. He was sure his body guards agreed with his opinion as well. And they definitely appreciated being allowed to share the immunity drugs, unlike the few volunteers that were chained to the corners of the room, undrugged and clearly terrified.
He turned away from the window to stare at the four Lords. They did their best to stand firm and proud, but the effects of the fear drugs were clearly noticeable. Tanas had a nervous twitch at the corner of his mouth; Nasan’s hands trembled; Rankor kept looking around the room with too-wide eyes, and Osiri’s breathing was shallow and quick. A quick glance confirmed that his guards and advisors showed no effects from the incense. Particularly important for the guards, with their crossbows loaded and aimed at the heads of each of the magicians.
The Lords claimed that one of their own had planned and initiated the economic and political chaos that had swept most of the planet. Kratia, they said, operating out of Minas Palanar had raised an army and engineered strategic energy shortages that would foster a major civil war in Condeu. Similar conditions existed in Mileu, and the Lords advised an immediate but rather subtle attack on her forces before a similar fate was met here.
The fact that Kratia was the motive force for the war came as no surprise to Corsordas or his advisors. The information that they had pieced together from spies and official couriers had led them to the same conclusion two days ago. There was sharp disagreement, however, on what course of action should now be pursued. The advisors argued that Kratia had lost whatever advantage she may have held with respect to warring with Mileu. Condeu would certainly fall, but she had taken too long to force the victory on to Mileu. The borders were now heavily fortified and continuously patrolled. There were simply no opportunities that a potential enemy could use to advantage.
The Lords had argued that Kratia possessed new and deadly weapons, that these weapons might make her forces decisively stronger. His advisors doubted that this was the case, although his troops had found some evidence to support their claim in the form of many small holes and metal pellets in the walls of Icon’s house. The holes and pellets were also in Icons body, and the bodies of the Esaf personal guard that had been discovered nearby. This strongly supported the wizards’ story. But even if true it would not make a difference to the ultimate outcome, since the Mileu had vastly superior numbers of troops and all of them were mobilized.
Now it was time for the regent to decide a course of action. He sighed.
“Strip the Lords of all wands, jewelry, and clothing,” he commanded. “Move them to the dungeon. Maintain the current level of fear in their cells.” Two of the guards moved forward to obey. “Put their belongings in safekeeping,” the regent continued. “I will not have anything lost or stolen! And leave the sensiball with me.”
He turned to his smirking advisors. “Don’t be so quick to smile. Summon all the army commanders for an emergency planning session to start in two hours. And prepare the nation for war.”
“War, sir?” asked one of the advisors. “Then you intend to attack Kratia after all?”
Corsordas turned to the staff. “There are two types of beast,” he said. “Predator and prey. If we do nothing but wait, we act like prey and attract the attention of Kratia’s hungry eyes. Mileu is no sheep waiting for the slaughter! We attack, though the likely outcome is that we will emerge weaker than we are now.”
“Your orders, sire?” asked the advisor.
“We will attack Condeu, seizing all available territory and resources. Should Kratia decide to press on with her conquests, she will find an aggressive Mileu with the conquered land providing a very substantial buffer zone protecting us. She may decide it is wiser to negotiate a peaceful settlement with us than risk losing what she has so recently gained.”
The advisors looked at one another in silence, than dispersed to carry out their ruler’s orders.
He had not told the advisors of the message he had received from the Esafi Condeu. Delos was too far away and of too little strategic value to consider saving. Besides, she was in no position to bargain, though he admired her pride. It would be a miracle if she and her army lasted another week. Too bad. Perhaps in other situations an alliance would have been possible.
Corsordas turned back to look at the sea, but a wind had come up and the blue mirror was broken by a thousand ripples and dark clouds had moved in from the horizon.