The Ice Wars of Dominia, p.14Hylton Smith
It actually turned out better than she could have hoped. She was halted at the border and ordered not to proceed further. When she explained why she wanted to see Salamand, the border guards told her they would convey this request to the leader, and she would have to wait at the border for a response. Salamand didn’t arrive until the next day and kept his distance. Meridia made her appeal.
“It is clear that some of us will survive. Others could benefit from Dominia’s medical expertise, but Khaled has been found guilty without a fair hearing. My own condition is such that I no longer pass the plague to others who have not been infected so far. We need our allies to assist in reconstruction of what remains of our nation. At the very least we need access through your lands to other Loci if we cannot expect help from you or Khaled. Are you going to abandon us?”
Salamand tried to explain that he could not take decisions which may put his own people at risk.
“They are rightly worried about further risk of infection, so we need more time to be sure the quarantine can be lifted. On the second point, regarding our borders, we can only open them on specific request for exceptional circumstances. All of our people are adamant that Korellia must be considered as being equal to every other nation, and that includes respect of our designated borders. I can see this may appear different from your perspective, because a united Korellia is the only territory which effectively cuts off all other nations from one another. We can only make a special request for your passage to Dominia if we could somehow be presented with proof that Khaled was innocent of inflicting the plague on us. We are at present in a state of ‘undeclared war’ with Dominia. This special request would also depend on irrefutable proof of all Aurorans having been cleansed. I am sorry to deliver such news to you but there is nothing more I can say at this moment.”
Meridia looked scathingly at the potential new leader of Korellia and released her tirade with a frenzied passion.
“So this is what we can expect from the western alliance. With friends who behave as enemies, I must question the point of being a member of such a fickle association, which is guided by a leader who cannot be relied upon when his supposed allies are struck down. I realise that we Aurorans have little in the way of fighting men to bring to the table now, compared to the time when my father gave his life voluntarily, to help you repel Dominian aggression. The plague was a common enemy, and we will survive without your help. You may consider our membership of your clique is at an end, but I ask you one last favour. Please send a messenger with the outcome of this meeting to Altocotl. I request him to visit us, as we cannot be granted access to him through your sacred territory”
She departed in a buoyant mood, now that she had all the ammunition she needed to speak with Altocotl. First she needed to make sure Lennart’s recovery was keeping up with her own, as he would evoke a more subtle but sympathetic response.
Karim had enjoyed the accusations which rained down on Khaled, but was disappointed that it hadn’t provoked a return to direct hostilities. The cold war which currently prevailed did however mesh with his previous intent to introduce a diplomatic phase to the game. He seemed at first to have chosen the wrong nation from which to observe developments, especially as the Aurorans had lost around eighty per cent of their number. He changed that view when he heard of the appointment of Meridia, whose reputation he had studied carefully. One difficulty he had encountered was to keep out of the way of Ragna, who fortunately met with Ventaninho frequently since the plague had descended upon humanity. These intervals of absence gave him the chance to appear in front of Meridia, posing as his arch enemy, Ragna. On the first occasion he had hoped to scavenge more detail of what was brewing in her mind. He was therefore astonished but delighted at the welcome he received.
“How many times must we go over this? You advised my father and my brother – how did that help us? We find ourselves in the most serious situation since the cataclysm, and all you seem to talk about is the threat of this Karim. I did say talk about, as you never actually do anything. Why don’t you go and join your friend Ventaninho and bless the Machu with your indispensible theories? I really don’t see the point in you hanging about here, and I have no intention of listening to any more of your entreaties to concentrate on things other than our immediate predicament. Now please leave.”
Karim had a flash of inspiration and morphed to Aggar. “I am honoured to meet you at last. You will not know me but I currently help in the agricultural programme. Of course this is a subterfuge.”
He then shifted shape to Karim and although Meridia had never met the former advisor to Khaled, she began to fathom what was happening in front of her, and said, “Please terminate this performance, and state your purpose, as I am expecting guests.”
The admission that he was indeed Karim opened up the scope of the dialogue dramatically. She had not forgotten Ragna’s claim that Karim was all powerful and feared by Ventaninho and himself. She also recalled that he was considered to be devious and untrustworthy, and such a combination spiked her interest further. Karim could not resist the opportunity to flesh out his strategy for the game.
“It may be a game to you but I am afraid it is all too real for humanity. Nevertheless I can spare you a few minutes – proceed.”
When Meridia had digested the mischief proposed by Karim, she pondered how he could be of use. She finally offered him a challenge.
“Would you be interested in disposing of Ragna and taking his place? This would offer you an excellent cover for your plans, and more importantly for me, the chance to completely redesign the Auroran nation.”
Karim jumped at the opportunity, and said it should be done as soon as possible, suggesting she sent a message, apologising to Ragna for her recent rudeness, and her hope that they could make a fresh start. He said he would track his fellow Traveller while he worked as Aggar, and then suddenly materialise to obliterate Ragna. Meridia accepted his suggestion, and acted on it immediately, because she wanted it out of the way before hopefully being able to engineer a second meeting with Altocotl, assuming the first went well. In any event, as she could not despatch her own messenger to Ragna because of the quarantine, she would have to ask Altocotl to deliver her false apology. However, she didn’t want Karim to be involved in her initial seduction scene with the Machu leader.
Sendzai welcomed Thule and Jaden, but made it clear that the plague, and the uncertainty it had spawned meant he would have less time for the young man than he had promised.
“I am sorry to tell you this but we are in a state of flux, our council of Sages seem incapable of taking interim decisions. The people are worried and I have had to step back into the shoes I happily vacated.”
Thule understood and in fact claimed he was in a similar quandary. Apparently Salamand had overstated the unanimity of all Korellia when he rebuffed Meridia.
“Only Berbus and I challenged his action. He did not ask us to join him, to meet with her, and although we concurred with keeping the quarantine in place, we did want to allow her passage to Altocotl. We could have cleared this route of any vulnerable citizens. Berbus also made the point that as all nations have had fatalities we need to benefit from knowing exactly what the human vulnerability is. It is obviously more acute in Aurorans, yet some have the immunity we all require. There is even a difference within Meridia’s family. The interpretation Salamand conveyed to Meridia has angered many Korellians, some from his own tribe. I have to depart to help quell the unrest. I understand your situation completely, and so I am grateful for any time Jaden can spend with you. He is a keen observer and a quick learner; he will not get in the way.”
Altocotl received the request from Meridia via Salamand’s messenger and responded positively. She was pleasantly surprised to hear that he had somehow negotiated her very passage through West Korellia which had been denied by Salamand. It had been assisted by the pressure of Thule and Berbus, and was granted
When Meridia arrived she was seen as both a risk and a heroine. Her Machu escorts were asked to remain separate from the rest of the population for a period of observation. Only Altocotl was allowed to be in her presence initially. He began by asking how he could help. She thanked him profusely for accepting her request when her nation had endured such devastation.
“Apart from the emotional loss of family, we have had to discipline ourselves to burn the corpses as soon as they had lost their battle with this pestilence. When only one in four recovered from the initial symptoms, it was almost impossible to keep to this most urgent task. We believe we have got through the worst and now seek help to rebuild our nation, even though it is now in reality but a community in terms of numbers. I would however like to explore the accusation that the food donated by Khaled was truly the cause of the pandemic, and even if that was proved, why the Auroran people have been affected so much more than others. There is also the small matter that, contrary to early reports, Dominians were more vulnerable to its symptoms than Korellians, Machu or Tor-Azen. Does it not strike you as strange that Khaled, if guilty of such treachery, would fail to protect his own citizens from contracting the plague? He has the best medical expertise and facilities by far of all nations, in what is left of this habitable space, and I want to avail of that knowledge if he is willing to help. Can I persuade you to join in the war against a possible repeat of the infection? We may suffer even more if it mutates to other means of spreading; we do not know if it infects us by one exclusive method or can employ multiple contagion mechanics.”
Altocotl found her logic persuasive, and agreed to speak with Khaled directly, if he could not convince the West Korellians of the benefits in understanding more about the plague. This in effect, meant reinforcing the pressure on Salamand, as he was aware of the lobby of Berbus and Thule to the same end. Altocotl enquired about the health of Lennart, who was, as usual cowering behind Meridia. She began to explain and lost composure midway through the tale, having implanted the picture of an astute diplomatic leader impaired by the duty of caring for an utterly disoriented sibling.
“It has been difficult for Lennart, with most of his family dying in such a short time. He has always been uncomfortable with people outside his family, now he is so traumatised that I fear his health will continue to deteriorate. I will never desert him, and will not dilute my pledge to continue my father’s work for our people. He used to say ‘these periods of adversity must be seen as character-building’, even if at the time they appear to be insurmountable.”
Altocotl asked if he was just as uncomfortable with young people, and Meridia locked onto her objective with a balance of humility and determination.
“Not quite so much, for some reason he does not feel he is being judged by others of his own age. Of course there are exceptions – especially younger children can be cruel. This has been another problem for him, insofar as we lost proportionately more young people than adults to the disease.” The seed had been successfully sown. “You must have had the same concerns for the youth of your nation. When they disappear in such numbers it produces a different kind of threat – one in which the number of fertile couples remaining can give up hope so easily. I do have a complex task to tackle, but I will succeed.”
The offer came without more violins being required, Altocotl mentioned his son Itzan. He saw this as a two-way therapy. Lennart would avail of a new friend and Itzan would benefit from having the presence of someone very much less fortunate to consider.
“When we are absolutely sure that both you and Lennart are no longer able to pass on the infection I will ask Itzan to begin to gain your brother’s confidence, and now I will travel to Korellia. You can stay here until I conclude my discussions with the Korellians, and one of our medical people will monitor your condition, so that I have proof you are clear to mix with others when I return.”
By the time Altocotl was cleared to enter Korellia, the pressure on Salamand had now been intensified by the North Korellians choosing to install an interim leadership concept, and it didn’t involve Negrosa. They felt that there was no single person strong enough in all aspects of strategy to cover the present fluctuation toward war or peace. They wanted to exhaust every possible avenue to a lasting peace agreement yet have the reserve option of staying alert for signs of fragmentation, which could so easily descend to renewed hostility. They therefore chose Moussa as the military aide to Quervos. Moussa was perceived as being more oriented to military diplomacy than Negrosa, and as such would assist Quervos in pressing for peace talks to resume. This included making Salamand aware of their recommendation to investigate Khaled’s claim of innocence more objectively. Salamand was now in no doubt he had to reconsider his stance on Meridia’s plea, before she was officially declared risk-free.
Jaden had quickly become fascinated with Tor-Azen history and culture, especially their prowess in swordsmanship. He had, in his years as a hostage, learned to be extremely observant of detail, and he applied this almost photographic memory to sketch the construction manuals and operating principles of their cannon, pistols, rifle prototypes, and chariots. He was able to peruse these when Sendzai was spirited away to strategy council. He correctly determined that the materials and techniques required to build the arms were to the east, and those which constituted the ammunition, depended on the formulation of gunpowder.
Both Meridia and Lennart were now considered to be of little risk in passing on infection, and Altocotl had returned without persuading Salamand to give a definitive answer. Altocotl claimed he would ultimately concede, but at present there was only procrastination in the air. When Itzan was introduced to Lennart, both Meridia and Altocotl were amazed at the immediate affinity which developed. The adults of the various Loci nations had painfully accumulated vocabulary of the language of their counterparts, but detailed semantic interpretation was often provided by their chosen linguists. Itzan had always been too preoccupied with his fascination for all things technical to pick up even rudimentary foreign expressions. The efforts of Altocotl to push him to at least try to learn Dominian words fell on stony ground. He had once again stressed to Itzan that when he became leader, Dominesque would in all probability gravitate to the ‘world language’, and the Korellian dialects were rooted in the same mother tongue. Lennart had never been asked to engage in such lofty aspirations, because of his perceived disability, and this was the source of astonishment of the two leaders. Within just a few days Lennart was talking more than at any other time of his young life, and much of it was in Machu. Meridia had some difficulty holding back her emotions.
“How can this be? He has never shown any signs of such abilities before.”
Her sadness turned to embarrassment, a new experience for her. Altocotl suggested that perhaps the demands of nomadic life didn’t easily accommodate the honing of skills which didn’t offer obvious or direct benefit to the group.
“This thought has just dawned upon me because I have all but categorised my own son as a failure, simply because he has no interest in being my heir.”
Meridia immediately shed her pangs of guilt and registered the import of what Altocotl had revealed in his own moment of introspection. Lennart was obviously gift
“This is simply a hurdle rather than an impasse. The reward is the security of economic dominance. There is currently a lot of sleep being lost about the Korellian intransigence over the sealing of their borders. Because the Auroran population has now dwindled to less than five hundred, we have a surfeit of living space. If the Tor-Azen were willing, I would be prepared to offer them the vast majority of our more fertile domain. The proviso would be the need for them to secede all of their current land to Korellia, who would then have to agree to two access strips, one which runs east to the raw material source, and the other west to the Machu. The advantage to the Tor-Azen would be to live adjacent to Auroran Loci, with access through the last mentioned corridor to the others. The Korellians would benefit from far more land, which still surrounds Dominia, but with no potential enemy to the East. The creation of such a techno-economic bloc would leave us well placed to benefit more than the others from the receding ice, as your domain already borders on the ocean. The fish farms would be a powerful inducement to the Tor-Azen if you were willing to make them an offer in exchange for minerals. You do not need to rescind the current allowance to West Korellia, but they will now have to pay, just like the Tor-Azen. They must also accept that this was all provoked by their edict on border controls. We merely say that we respect their need to do this, and the fish supplies will become a trade rather than remain free. One example of barter could be the supply of nuts, berries and scarce fruit. This would allow us to keep our technical strategy totally secret, as we are just trading one food source for another. Turning to the boys, I have gleaned from Lennart that your son is obsessed with creating electricity. He has apparently already made primitive batteries, but is frustrated by not being able to match them up with items which could be useful to our societies. He dreams of using electricity for giving light, powering of inanimate objects for transport, and most importantly conversion to heat. If we can help him, the demand from other nations would bring true economic prosperity to the new Loci bloc.”
The Ice Wars of Dominia by Hylton Smith / Actions & Adventure / Science Fiction have rating 2.3 out of 5 / Based on37 votes