The ice wars of dominia, p.18
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       The Ice Wars of Dominia, p.18

           Hylton Smith
 
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  *

  Meridia asked Karim what he considered to be the weakest link in their plan. He didn’t see any glaring oversight and assumed she did. She kept returning to the nuisance potential of North Korellia.

  “I am untypically indecisive in my assessment and therefore do not have a plan which is compatible with the overall strategy. Eliminating them would invite dissent from Thule, and he is now close to Dominia, who I see as the real problem. Allowing them to become part of that axis is equally worrying if harmony is not maintained. If for some reason they turn to us, I would have grave reservations about being sympathetic, as they would surely become an unwanted distraction.”

  Karim asked why she was so consumed with Dominia being the major problem, especially as they stood to gain from the trade pact for some time to come. When the reply was forthcoming she admitted it was more of a feeling than as a result of thorough analysis.

  Karim asked, “Have you forgotten, or did you miss something when the Travellers indicated the ice would begin to relent? The topography of this region clearly shows the dish in which Carthos lies. The melt water will gradually meander to find its own level. Streams and rivulets will be welcomed at first, but when the acceleration takes hold, most of the water will try to reach the Nile, but Carthos will be surrounded by a lake. This inconvenience may occur to Khaled’s scientists, but the power to remedy the advance of flooding will not be within their capability. By contrast, the ability of a Traveller to accelerate the process is certain; it would be merely a question of when. I cannot disagree with your view of the North Korellians, but Thule is different. I would suggest he has similar reservations about leaving them to their own devices. He may even have a solution in mind, as he knows his better choice would be to stand with Dominia, and they will not entertain Quervos’ rabble. Do you feel better now?”

  The smile was testament to the affirmative, and she wandered off to see Erik, before returning to Dominia to pick up Altocotl.

  *

  While Karim was guiding Itzan on the assembly of the repaired turbine, Lennart recovered a healthy quantity of cable and interface parts. The question arose as to storage of the generated power. Karim suggested that for now it might be prudent to simply divert excess to a means of melting ice. He described it as giving nature a helping hand.

  “As more functions are added to the primary uses of electricity, the demand will rise to consume this surplus. We should be ready then to install a second turbine and then seriously look at storage.”

  Itzan nodded and said, “That fits with my other project. One hundred years ago, this place was desert. Sand is silicon dioxide and if we opencast mine it we can make glass in our new forge, when it is complete of course. With sheet glass we can increase the productivity of our agricultural programme. It would also make sense to construct stone buildings and glaze the openings to retain the heat from our turbine.”

  Karim patted his back and encouraged him to prioritise his work better, reminding him that unfinished prototypes aren’t any more useful than no prototypes. He also said that he should always mention these ideas to Meridia, as she was utterly convinced that technology would be the arbiter of success in this new world. The young man was now even more motivated, however his own world was about to be shattered.

  *

  Altocotl’s return saw him looking frail and tired. He gathered the Generals together and in the presence of Meridia, Itzan and Lennart, he told them his time was considered to be very short.

  “There is nothing more to be done other than for my last wishes to be respected. My succession has always worried Itzan, as his talent lies elsewhere. He has made it clear to me that he wishes to serve his nation by technical innovation. You must all, as I have, allow him this freedom of choice. My other heir, Erik is not going to get to know his father, and that I will certainly miss. His time will come. I therefore wish Meridia to continue as your leader until then. I am sure you will agree that together we have carved the blueprint for a better future and you know her well enough to be confident this will continue under her guidance. If anyone has concerns or questions please raise them now.”

  The silence was interrupted only by restrained whimpering from Itzan. His father beckoned him to come and sit at his side. He comforted the boy by telling him that it was goodbye but not farewell.

  “I will be with you in all that you do my son, and I will share in your pride. You have already shown me that our future is inextricably entwined with your dreams of technology for the people.”

  The attendees began to file out of the tent until only Aquades remained. He knelt as he pledged to protect Itzan, Erik and Meridia in every way possible. He also made Altocotl’s burden a little lighter when he sincerely endorsed Meridia’s role.

  Chapter 22

  While Quervos was procrastinating over every consequence of turning to the East or West, he was informed of the advance of Thule’s chariots from the East. Thinking that it heralded important discussions he quickly raised an escort and headed off to meet the incursion. His rehearsed indignation at such an unprovoked display of force would count for nothing. He soon discovered it was a decision he had to make rather than a discussion in which he expected to participate. Thule explained that both he and Khaled were wary of the Loci expansion and in order to preserve balance, thus peace, the Korellian integration would finally happen.

  “You are either with us and you stand down immediately or we will take control of the region by force. I apologise for the abruptness of this action but we could not allow similar terms being dictated to you from the Loci.”

  Quervos had deliberately chosen a small escort because he knew that his army was ludicrously deficient in comparison to that of Thule, with or without Dominian support. He therefore confidently challenged the effrontery of issuing such an ultimatum on his sovereign territory. This was his long-awaited moment of oratory as leader of his people. His torso was peppered with more than twelve crossbow arrows of Dominian origin, and he lurched then slumped to the ground. Thule indicated to the escort that Quervos had misunderstood the message.

  “I shall repeat this one last time. If you do not have the ability to comprehend what I said, look at it this way. The urgency is solely to act ahead of the Loci. You would not have exactly the same choice with Meridia. She may offer the same terms but they would in reality mean the cleansing of North Korellian people from the face of the Earth. We cannot countenance that and must intervene. You will have the chance to integrate with our nation or defend what you believe in – decide now.”

  Thule marched on to personally guarantee the safety of any citizen who joined the cause. Faced with that or certain death it became a bloodless coup.

  Thule’s first action was to begin to position chariots at the borders with the Loci. His second was a swift return to inform Khaled of his action and the reasoning behind it. At first the Dominian leader was angry at the news, and began to think this former General was wedded to the display of military power as a deterrent. Thule asked for patience while he explained.

  “It does not matter much who took the territory as such; it is the people who represent the latent problem. I suspect that Meridia may be pleased that we acted first, and that our reaction would have been exactly the one you have just displayed to me, if she had taken North Korellia. When calm heads were given their say, regardless of where they were from, it would have been one of relief that the rogue piece has been removed from the chessboard. Of course she will make the most of her indignation, from claims that it threatens the stability of the region, to overtures for restructuring trade agreements. You may be asked about any intentions you may have in future relations with my nation, by her, and by me. When all of this is played out, what remains is that the way is clear for a race to economic supremacy. Anyone who believes Meridia will be happy with shared dominance is naïve to say the least. I am trying to help in creating a fair competition for the accolade of last nation standing. All of the temperate zon
e was our land after the comet struck; it belonged to the Illia and the Korell. While I can understand and accept the Loci had no choice but to precede the ice, and arrive in this domain, they are immigrants. The obligation is on them to respect our culture, not try to impose theirs upon us. If Grenthe was still alive maybe that would be possible. The same would apply to the failing Altocotl, but not Meridia, or that Traveller. Now we have the chance to show them that there are only three nations competing for the spoils, and that may soon become one. It is implied and not spoken. It is also a question of how this eventuality is realised. A military engagement by them would not be supported by the Tor-Azen. I know Sendzai is retired, but this would not be their way, and I have a strong personal relationship with him. Meridia will be aware of this and be cautious about alienating her neighbour. We should seek ways of endorsing the independence of the Tor-Azen, by increased trade for technology and an upfront commitment to lasting peace with them.”

  Khaled digested this analysis and admitted that Thule had made some points which resonated with Dominian objectives. He was curious about the upfront cost he had in mind, as he was sure it would land at the door of Dominia. He was wrong.

  “In the interests of further cooperation with the Tor-Azen I am going to gift them a substantial part of what we took from North Korellia. I hope you have not forgotten how nervous Sendzai is about Korellian neighbours. I believe Kanzaki shares this concern. We will be neighbours they can trust. It would also be helpful if I gave them the history lesson and you were able to welcome back the descendants of the old Korell to your nation. The Tor-Azen are fastidious in their respect of tradition; this will be a very powerful argument in building our relationship with them. It has the merit of making Meridia suspicious of any increase in independent dealings with us. Did you discuss the history with the Elders?”

  Khaled indicated that Thule’s account was indeed accurate. He had sensed this moment had been threatening to arrive for some time and confessed that there was enthusiasm amongst the Elders for the return of the prodigal nation. Thule was quick to stress the cornerstone of such a reunion was Khaled’s leadership.

  “This seat of Carthos is the ancestral home of all Korell and you must guide us through any stormy waters we may encounter.”

  He knelt and kissed Khaled’s hand, his eyes remained steely despite the trickle of fluid they could not contain.

  *

  Altocotl was at peace and Meridia knew the people would demand a traditional funeral. It concerned her that the leaders of all nations would be expected to attend. She didn’t want to reveal the wind turbine at present and authorised it to be decorated by the citizens. It was unpopular with Itzan, even though he was distraught at the loss of his father. He had only recently got to know him as a friend rather than a leader, and he was proud of the esteem in which he was held by everyone, so he didn’t allow his worry about the turbine to surface. Lennart comforted his friend, relating his own sadness at the passing of Grenthe and devastation over the loss of Grun. There was a role reversal as Itzan took a closer interest in Lennart’s efforts to produce a dictionary. It was no ordinary explique of words in one language. He had made journals of the various verbal translations he had performed. It seemed logical to him that a cross-reference of all the words he knew in every dialect in the temperate zone would be useful for those occasions when he couldn’t be in two places at once. Itzan was so impressed that he suggested a further ‘refinement’.

  “Would you be able to use this to create a short language which is derived from all of the others? I seem to remember there used to be something like that in the twentieth century – it was called Esperanto. It never really succeeded, maybe because English had become the business language of the world. You could make yours a business language to help all nations cooperate.”

  Lennart thought this was a fantastic challenge and hugged his friend. Meantime Meridia arranged for a barge to be built by the people, ready to be launched into the western ocean. It was quite a trek on foot, and this might dissuade other leaders to attend, but if not, it was well away from the forge and the turbine. She had arranged for Karim to ignite the pyre with ‘lightning from the heavens’, but only told the citizens their pilgrimage to the ocean would be rewarded spectacularly.

  Lennart’s revelation of his dictionary to Meridia spawned another strand in her relentless attention to detail. She offered his services to other nations in producing written copies of trade treaties in any chosen language. As the boy was considered by those who didn’t really know him, as retarded, he was by the same judgement assumed to be apolitical. She began by deciding to offer this service to the Tor-Azen for their mineral trade. It would be casually mentioned after Altocotl’s ceremony.

  The traditional lighting of the pyre before launch or with flaming arrows after launch, paled by comparison with Karim’s firework display. At least that is how the people felt – spellbound. Others had seen similar examples before, usually to cremate the living rather than the dead. It was a reminder that the playing field was not yet even. Kanzaki welcomed the chance to have Lennart write the trade agreements in his own tongue.

  Khaled nudged Thule and said, “The young man would be a perfect choice to draft our intentions in both dialects, so that there is no semantic misinterpretation.” Thule shuddered but deferred to his future leader.

  Lennart was also the centre of attention with his dramatic vocal translation of the old Machu words uttered by Aquades as the fire consumed Altocotl’s final form. These words were spoken with true feeling in all languages. It impacted everyone, particularly Khaled. The ceremony was one of speaking to the Incan Gods, not offering thanks – simply telling them the story of Altocotl’s life. When it was over Khaled made a point of asking Lennart about what he had said in his Auroran and Tor-Azen tributes. A striking similarity existed in the concept of multiple deities. At the subsequent feast Khaled spoke to Aquades, Meridia and Sendzai about this curious common practice. The stories he heard struck a chord of concern in his mind. The Loci had all faced similar emotional and practical challenges in the great aftermath. They had however issued a challenge of their own – to the monotheism which had previously enveloped most of the planet. Their feeling of abandonment, even within their different religions, was contagious. Each in their own way and timescale had sought more practical interaction with powers of inexplicable dimension. It steadily became a throwback to ancient beliefs, without the nonsense of sacrificial offerings to please anyone. The Tor-Azen had roots in both Shinto and Buddhist doctrines and gradually shaped their enforced nomadic life around Amatsu Mikaboshi, the God of Evil, and Izanagi the God of Creation. Evil had to be purged regularly and the force of creation continually respected. It was simple and appropriate to the focus of a struggle to survive. The Auroran adoption of old Norse Gods was only slightly different. The Chief God Odin relied heavily on his two ravens Huginn and Munin – Gods of Thought and Memory. Respect for those who had made personal sacrifice for the new nomadic nation and introspection on how the beneficiaries could pass on the hard-learned lessons. The Incan influence was yet another variant on the theme. Apocatequil was feared as the God of Lightning, more commonly considered as natural disasters. Ataguchu was revered as the God of Creation. It suddenly occurred to Khaled that this logical pattern was crafted by the relentless difficulties strewn in their path of survival. These deities were no more than icons to keep minds on the never-ending tasks ahead. They were the glue of their ancestral societies, and now the character of the present day nations. This was a very different century of evolution to the one experienced by the indigenous population of the temperate zone. He visualised an unbridgeable gulf in the dependence on faith, between Loci and the merging Islamic culture of Dominia and Korellia. He did not detect such concern in Thule, and this increased his determination to discuss it with him. His instinct led him to delay the activity of scratching to relieve an itch, and inadvertently causing a wound. It would wait. He encouraged Thule
to make haste with his intended gesture of more land for the Tor-Azen and then they could begin to implement official Dominian citizenship for all Korellians. Exercising much more decisiveness than that to which Thule was accustomed Khaled insisted that this process would be expedited in stages.

  “East Korellians will be first, setting the example to their kin from the north. It must be done in digestible steps. It will be documented as we agreed in both languages, by Lennart. This of course is not necessary for your gift to Kanzaki, through your friend Sendzai. You must do that however you think best.”

  *

  Thule had been preparing to confront Khaled with an eminently sensible proposal of a different kind, but decided Khaled may be more receptive when his two demands had been met. He asked for an audience with Sendzai upon his return; it was not appropriate to tarnish Altocotl’s funeral with politics.

  Itzan and Karim pressed on with their grail of creating usable electricity. The young man had managed to turn his grief to a dedication of the first lights to his father’s memory. Karim had helped short-circuit much tedious development work by scavenging compatible components from locations still under the ice. A good example was the extraction and refinement of tungsten for filaments. Itzan was hungry to investigate newer technologies such as LED, but Karim urged patience.

  “The people will be a little nervous about change, even if it is for the better. The sooner we can convince them of how it can make their lives more enjoyable, the sooner you will have the demand which will attract trade benefits. At this point your position will be strong enough to convince others to invest their assets in your research. It is all about momentum.”

  The first lights weren’t just an abstract testament to his father’s selfless care for the nation, but a touchable communal ring of illumination to help dispel the nocturnal compression of social interaction. Citizens congregated every evening to talk about the hardships of the day and all manner of trivia. Itzan realised at this moment he had created the first step to usable leisure time. He smiled at Karim when he was deluged with questions as to when this could become a domestic commodity.

 
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