The ice wars of dominia, p.4
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       The Ice Wars of Dominia, p.4

           Hylton Smith
 
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  “I will meet with your leader, but this does not imply that I will take up his offer. I will have many questions, but I can see that only he can give me answers upon which I can rely. It therefore makes sense for me to return with you. I have however one question for you. How many other tribal leaders have you invited to participate in your plan?”

  Ventaninho immediately saw the thrust of Salamand. “Only one, Altocotl has restricted this initial offer to two tribes. Berbus has also been invited. Is this a problem?”

  Salamand’s face slowly changed from business-like to smiling recognition of the real reason for the offer.

  “Not at all, that would be truly logical. Let us prepare to leave.”

  *

  Ragna and Rubina decided to make a more accurate assessment of the forces of each nation. They quickly confirmed just what the Aurorans were up against. Their current rather threadbare ‘army’ could only muster three thousand souls, and this included teenagers and a sprinkling of Nordic-hardened females. By contrast, both the Machu and Tor-Azen could comfortably whip up well over fifteen thousand trained fighting men. The difference between these armies, which effectively bracketed Dominia and the respective Korellian buffers, was the potential for further recruits. The Tor-Azen were complete in this respect, whereas the Machu ranks could continue to grow to seventeen thousand over time. If the Korellians could set aside their differences they could number close to five thousand soldiers at their disposal, but this was not likely to happen. Dominia could boast of nineteen thousand, well drilled recruits. They also had the option of training up to about four thousand reservists. Although this could in theory provide an extremely difficult conquest for any other single nation, it raised the issue of the danger of alliances being forged by the outlanders. A potentially more worrying aspect was that of sustenance. Dominia, unlike the others was now surrounded by potential conflict, and except for the relative trickle of the Nile, it was now landlocked. This creeping siege scenario had been flagged up by T’slane, but not taken too seriously by Khaled. The almost concurrent arrival of the Loci had woken him to his Commander’s concern, hence the rather belated strategy of contracting Korellians.

  Ragna suggested to Rubina that the Aurorans’ best option was to seek talks with the Machu.

  “Failing that, and considering the strategy espoused by the Tor-Azen, we should consider whether Dominia could see the attraction of cooperation. If they were to exercise more control over the North Korellians, which we believe they want, we could complete the wedge between the Machu and the Tor-Azen.”

  Rubina was unconvinced. “Our knowledge continually highlights their intention to rid themselves of all Loci. We cannot trust them. I think it could be better to share the siege situation with both the Machu and the Tor-Azen. Whilst the latter may not be keen on joint military battles, they could surely see the benefit of starving Dominia into submission. Their fortress of Carthos becomes their Achilles heel. The Korellians would see an opportunity to return the treatment they have received for decades, and the Machu can share the benefit of the collapse of the one common foe. This way, no nation has to lose more of their fighting units than necessary. It might also make the post-conflict settlement easier to implement. This is important because if we avoid multiple battlefronts we have less trust to recover.”

  Ragna nodded in approval, despite the veiled duplicity. “Another aspect of your suggestion would then become decisive. The Dominians have developed over the last few decades by the classical circular fortress expanding into already cultivated land. This required the arable land to increase in proportion and shape to sustain the increasing numbers of mouths to feed. This has worked well with only the Korellians to deal with, because they are not united enough to exploit the fatal weakness. Defending their food supply against a coherent siege strategy of acquisition of their crops would be much more difficult than the sporadic incursions of the Korellians. It would be interesting to know if they are preparing another survival plan since the Loci arrived.”

  They decided to speed up their access to Grenthe even if this meant they would be seen as being suspiciously different from pure Aurorans. It would at least dispel the bush fire of wraiths and spirit people.

  *

  General T’slane was reflecting on the tightening noose facing Dominia. In terms of trained warriors, technology, and the transition from nomadic to agrarian society, they should have been in a better position. He firmly believed this was no longer the case, and the blame lay exclusively at the door of Khaled. The choice was stark. Either remain loyal and face virtual certainty of death, or leverage the support of the army to overthrow the leader. It wouldn’t be easy because Khaled was a paternalistic ruler, and the people did not fully understand the approaching threat. In addition, this ‘farmer’ Reda was given too much influence by Khaled, simply because he helped keep the masses quiet with his control over the Serfs. This was however a military matter and T’slane felt duty bound to act before it was too late. He was also suspicious of Karim, and how he had come by the information he had passed on to Reda. It disturbed the General that his own intelligence people should have been able to confirm or refute this data, but could not. The final straw was Khaled’s frequent refusal to deal the Korellians a fatal blow. They had always been a nuisance, but now the military landscape had provided them with the very platform he had predicted. They needed to be neutralised. He arranged for a clandestine gathering of his most trusted aides.

  *

  Salamand listened intently to Altocotl’s proposal through the interpretation of Ventaninho. He didn’t interrupt at all, carefully weighing up the assurances and evaluating the risks. Eventually he spoke.

  “Your information gathering on our tribes seems to be quite accurate, and your conclusion that our most feared enemy is famine, can also be conceded. Many of the Korellian citizens simply see this as how it has always been, but the primary responsibilities of leadership are safety and sustenance. You do not ask anything in return for the great favour you offer. That makes our natural tendency to mistrust others come to the fore. Allowing us safe passage through your ranks will plant seeds of a trap in the minds of many tribal chiefs. However, my main question is of a different nature. What is it you are expecting from me that would balance the bargain which is too good to refuse?”

  Altocotl knew he was not dealing with a barbarian, which fitted the generally held reputation the Korellians had earned for themselves. He decided on reciprocal honesty.

  “We have a common difficulty with Dominia. You have to live with their tolerance of you as an underclass. Before any Loci arrived here, they could have wiped you from the face of the Earth at any time. I will not insult your intelligence by elaborating. For us, the problem is their legitimate need to prevent us and other Loci obtaining living space. They have to change their priorities sooner rather than later to avoid war on multiple fronts. That is an absolute certainty, defined by the Loci having nowhere else to go. The ice will take longer to recede than we have the luxury to procrastinate. Your part in all of this will define who will prevail, regardless of whether your people actually survive. So, you also face a difficult choice – who can you trust most? You have a long-standing history to judge them, we are new and you must find a means to apply the same judgement to us. The decision becomes academic if you starve. The Dominians will also come under pressure for sustenance when the war begins, so you will find it even more difficult to feed your people. I would venture to suggest you will not be afforded any help from them; they cannot guarantee it anyway. Your safety in our domain is underpinned by our own need to stand firm with you against their inevitable strike. We would be incredibly stupid to harm you.”

  Salamand acknowledged the logic and agreed to the offer.

  “I request an escort back to my people, so that we can begin to learn the fishing and farming techniques from you. I think you will find that it won’t be long before Berbus is willing to accept your strategy. He will make gestures
of bravado and try to drive some kind of bargaining, so he can maintain his image in the tribe, but he will ultimately concede.”

  Chapter 5

 

  The temperate zone was not completely infertile. A century of cool condensate, evaporation, and re-precipitation had slowly woven conditions which transformed desert into wooded and grassy lands. So far, only the Dominians had truly capitalised on the opportunity to cultivate this vegetation and breed protein from the pockets of surviving burrowing mammals and avian species. Even in only four generations, this had produced physical distinctiveness between themselves and the scattered tribes of Korellia. Although these brigands, with the exception of Salamand, had never tried to emulate the Dominian culture, others would now enter the fray. The Loci had in their different ways mentally retained the fundamental principle of graduating from nomad to farmer. The cardinal rule of continually winning a surplus from nature in itself depended on a cohesive social order. This was something the Korellians had never mastered. Salamand was determined to change this, now that the perfect conditions had arisen, with the influx of the Loci. The offer from Altocotl was the first step. The initial training had been confined to his most trusted advisors who had a leaning toward science. This in itself had been a difficult grooming task for Salamand, as the more vociferous hawks in the tribe had castigated such folly, declaring that the only productive investment in their youth should be one of military prowess. The small group, including Salamand quickly picked up the key techniques in construction and application of bulk net-fishing in the precarious tidal conditions. The new supply of these nutritious shoals began the erosion of the resistance of some of the warmongers, and the news spread to Berbus. The sight of the two tribes working alongside one another, albeit in silence, was a pivotal point in the shaping of the power shift to the west of Dominia. It was also helpful to T’slane, in the execution of his strategy to save the Motherland from ‘falling from within’.

  *

  As Lupus was making his way toward the outer walls of Carthos, his escort was suddenly ambushed while refilling their water containers from a stream. The lookouts had been posted, but became the first victims with an accurate and concurrent hail of short arrows, discharged from crossbows. The design of these weapons had been developed over time to near perfection, especially with the ingenious targeting system. Although the range was short, this compromise was balanced with lethal damage through even the most robust armour. The leader was the last man standing and immediately gestured surrender. He was bound and blindfolded for onward transit. His visual capability was restored once inside a dark cave, and as his eyes adjusted to the dimness, he recognised the voice of T’slane. The words emanating from the Dominian General were unambiguous.

  “Khaled will not be meeting with you today. The plan he had devised is obsolete. We represent the future of Dominia and therefore your fate. Unless you prove your worth in this campaign, you and your people will become the first casualties. We will assist you in seizing the lands of Western Korellia. If this is achieved with the expected efficiency, you will continue to benefit from our protection. That is all you need to know for now. We require you to instruct your army through my Commanders. Decide or this will end now.”

  Lupus had no choice. He scrawled an instruction for Negrosa to join him at Khaled’s palace and it was delivered. His interception was equally efficient and the enforced treaty was acknowledged. T’slane asked Negrosa to return and prepare for further instruction. There was now sufficient momentum for the coup to be initiated. T’slane issued orders for his praetorian units to storm the palace, but not before they had captured Reda and Karim. The operation was precise and Khaled was escorted to the subterranean keep while he awaited the arrival of the new architect of the nation’s future. T’slane delayed this meeting until he had witnessed for himself the incarceration of Reda. He took Karim to one side and explained that there was nothing to fear if he declared his support for the new regime.

  “I still wonder where you obtained such accurate information regarding the Loci. However, I am more interested in what other attributes you may have. One example would be what you will do after Reda endures the ultimate sacrifice. This is a necessary first step to rid Dominia of dangerous distraction such as diplomacy.”

  Karim was appalled at the dismemberment of the landowner in public, and its accompanying declaration of an end to appeasement of the uncivilised barbarians at the gates of Dominia.

  T’slane added, “All reservists will be called to action to underpin this war of survival. Make no mistake – it is them or us. Diplomacy can only return when we are secure once more, and with the necessary leverage to talk from a position of strength.”

  He then delegated Serfs from Reda’s estate to run the land for the new government. Having conveniently rounded up the other landowners, the policy was repeated, and their remains, like those of Reda, were scattered over the respective pastures as their final contribution to Dominia. Karim was told it was time to decide. Despite his horror at the depravity of recent events, he had not forgotten how he had felt let down by the other Travellers, and agreed to assist.

  *

  Kiozo had assembled his first prototype hand-held gun. He had decided to begin with a pistol rather than a rifle because it would appeal to the Generals as an additional, easy to carry weapon, rather than a replacement for one of their favoured assault swords. The psychology paid off. The short range meant that it would be used as a last resort, and therefore its effectiveness would be given over to the warriors rather than be subject to the conservatism of the high command. The tests went well; Sendzai congratulated Kiozo and set up a meeting with just the two of them. He had noted the muted support of his top military men, and detected their unease. His concern didn’t have to wait long to be validated.

  First Strike

  Kyklos had interrogated just about every person who had been in the vicinity of the tavern when his brother was bludgeoned to death. The fear he had generated, together with a lucrative reward, had the unfortunate effect of breeding inventiveness. It caused him to believe more of what he wanted to hear, rather than sifting through the contradictions of the eye witness accounts. The distillate of it all was that the culprit was ethnically different and had definitely sought out his brother. No real explanation of the tavern owner’s death was offered or pursued, and Kyklos fashioned his own identikit image of the aggressor, which precluded females. He had been looking for a reason anyway. Thirty of his elite bodyguards conducted a ‘guerrilla’ incursion into the peripheral camps of the Tor-Azen. The disguised purpose was to be seen to exact only retribution for the brutal murder, but in the mind of Kyklos he was simply fed up with waiting for the wars to begin. He was utterly convinced that it would produce a temporary outbreak of bushfires and then recede, as it had always done with the Dominians. This had reliably produced opportunities for the East Korellians to profit, then ‘disappear’. He hadn’t counted on the response of the Tor-Azen being so thorough and clinical. His men slaughtered eight families, mostly women and children, and left daubed messages of why this was a necessary disincentive to these usurpers of their lands. The name of Kyklos was emblazoned on each dwelling, almost as an invitation to anyone who dared to respond.

  Sendzai received this news and asked his court to be cleared of all but the two most senior Generals, Nakamukin and Mitsuno. He then asked their opinions on how they should cleanse the temperate zone of the perpetrators. The advice offered was typically different from each officer, and in Sendzai’s mind they had misunderstood the question.

  “I want a solution, not a response. If we do not demonstrate the absolute folly of engaging with the Tor-Azen, it will fail to deliver the message to the other protagonists who will ultimately be in our way. Fear is a weapon when managed correctly. I am inclined to reject both plans you have put before me. I will not respond too soon in order to implant the feeling we are weak, and encourage more foolhardy action from these barbaric hordes,
so we must be ready to deliver a riposte which shocks the entire temperate zone. Bring me Kiozo.”

  This fear Sendzai described had found its way to the minds of Nakamukin and Mitsuno. They felt threatened. Their voyage from their homeland had always flourished by a strike, followed immediately by cultural absorption. The image of a prolonged or continuous offensive campaign was a departure which didn’t sit comfortably, yet they knew of the outrage of the families still living so close to the invaders; it demanded justice and also restoration of the safety which would head off the escalating panic within their midst. They conferred on the second worry – that of the instruction to summon Kiozo. Mitsuno was guarded in his criticism of Sendzai, citing such humiliation as a sin. Nakamukin agreed, while contemplating how to turn this to his advantage even if it meant further misery for Mitsuno.

  Before Kiozo arrived, Nakamukin requested a private word with Sendzai, having already informed Mitsuno of his intention to rebuke their leader for such an embarrassing indiscretion.

  “I will comply with Sendzai’s wishes by producing the underling Kiozo, who I sponsored, but remind him of the traditional protocols of the Samurai.”

  Mitsuno appreciated this selfless gesture and happily returned to his camp to await the outcome. The private audience went well, and Nakamukin made sure that Sendzai took full account of his revised advice.

  “Great Leader, my original proposal was partially based on the invisible weaknesses in our trusted strategy in this new environment. Unfortunately, one of those handicaps takes the form of Mitsuno. He is not receptive to many of the ideas which Kiozo has presented, and I have to point out that he casts derision on the cliquot which you formed, while the rest of us can see the wisdom of your insight. If this irritant was to be removed, progress would advance rapidly. I am sure Kiozo will convince you of that himself. I would relish the opportunity to push this forward with him, and seed the ranks of our militia with the energy you outlined, for a salutary lesson to East Korellia and those who merely observe events from their realms. I would feel privileged to support and direct my sponsored weapon designer toward these goals, and I humbly request to be present during your briefing of Kiozo. This will ensure he remains focussed – I will see to it.” Nakamukin held his nerve as he awaited Sendzai’s response.

 
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