The ice wars of dominia, p.7
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       The Ice Wars of Dominia, p.7
 

           Hylton Smith
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  The minute elapsed without any agreement, so Sendzai chose the pair who would conduct the first rescue or suffer next at the stake. The deafening noise didn’t prevent the pair from tracking the trajectory of the projectile and they were mightily relieved that it fell and exploded some twenty yards short of its target. They were released and sprinted to the stakes, only to find that as they got within ten yards, all three who were bound to the stakes appeared to be lifeless. They closed in to check and began to choke on invisible fumes. They fought to get back to the location of the cannons, but only made a few yards before they collapsed and screamed for help. Once there was silence, and Sendzai was sure they had expired, he led the remaining two toward the fallen pair. They were filled with apprehension but Sendzai calmed them down.

  “As long as you are with me you will come to no harm. We shall inspect the bodies together.”

  They only went as far as Kiozo advised and then halted. Sendzai spoke very deliberately to the remaining pair.

  “You have observed our capability to kill without actually striking the target. You may call out to those at the stakes or those who believed they were still alive.”

  When they received no answer the two East Korellians were certain that Sendzai would order their own execution. They were amazed at his next declaration.

  “You must now return with us; you are not safe without my presence. Tomorrow I shall give you papyrus which describes what has taken place here. You are advised to take this to your highest military officer other than Kyklos. Tell them that unless they surrender Kyklos to us, I will authorise this invisible death to rain over your entire population. No one will escape. You know, just as your Generals do, that this has been caused by the killing of our innocent women and children by Kyklos. He was intent on seeking revenge for his brother’s death, which had nothing to do with us. We do not wish to inflict harm on the East Korellian nation – only their animal of a leader. You will have one additional day to deliver Kyklos to his fate with us. You must remain here until tomorrow then.”

  *

  The advice of Ventaninho was heeded, and the leaders of all nations of the alliance congregated at the battlefront. All except Lupus. Upon the return of Karim the fate of the North Korellian icon was sealed. T’slane had been briefed about the success Salamand had achieved with the subjects of Lupus, insisting that this meant the real power now lay with Negrosa. The body of Lupus was taken during the night and tied to a lone high tree, where it would be seen by the enemy lookouts. This in effect hardened the resolve of Negrosa and his inherited army toward these treacherous beasts of Dominia. The most reluctant were now the most vociferous in the clamour to attack T’slane. When the advice of all three Travellers and Salamand was offered, offensive ardour cooled sufficiently for the leaders to thrash out a treaty which satisfied all participants. The most contentious point was the division of land after the conflict was over. This had to take in the assumption that any which was currently Dominian territory would be included in the equation, once the regime had fallen or surrendered. The far-reaching prospect of there being no Dominia was appealing to all Korellians, and fuelled the clamour for closer ties between them than anyone could remember. With the draft treaty in place and all available manpower registered, the thorny problem of command reared its head. The debate centred on whether there should be one overall Commander, or each nation would play the role agreed at the outset of the march on T’slane. The Travellers chose to remain as information gatherers and giving tactical advice based on such verified data. The potential stalemate melted away when both Altocotl and Grenthe endorsed the option of one Commander-in-Chief, and simultaneously declined the honour. It left only three possibilities, and the choice was made easier by Negrosa’s inexperience and the hot-headed nature of Berbus. The weight of the Loci vote helped cement Salamand as the temporary figurehead of the coalition.

  Accordingly the battle formation was set out, and they now knew it would find its way to T’slane via Karim. This was to be a war in which the protagonists could count on the adversaries having almost instant access to the intentions of their respective enemies. The outcome would therefore hinge on other means of prosecuting a successful campaign. The coalition recognised that they would have to maximise their three-to-one advantage of Travellers. Salamand conferred with and eventually convinced the others that the two flanks should set off with the objective of forming a pincer on T’slane’s position, but break forward at the last moment and apparently head straight for Carthos. This task was requested by Negrosa and Berbus. Salamand would lead the head on attack on T’slane’s position with the Machu and Aurorans on each side. The strategy was based on the proposal that information should be perceived by the foe as possible disinformation. Flexibility would become an important weapon.

  The central thrust began and the expected staggered hail of arrows darkened the sky. These longbow flurries were easily absorbed by the attackers hunkering down in protective formation behind their sturdy shields. The slow progress toward T’slane’s position was going well and conserving ammunition. Karim informed his leader that Berbus and Negrosa were closing the circle around them. This caused T’slane to issue orders for the longbows to switch their attention to the rear of the Dominian forces, and prepare the crossbows for the frontal defence. He stated that the heavier, short range arrows would penetrate the enemy shields. Karim suggested he should consider retreating some distance to ensure they were not cut off from their backup forces. T’slane didn’t like such open challenge to his command, even though some of his long-serving officers obviously agreed with Karim. When Ventaninho appeared, first alongside Negrosa and then Berbus, he gave the signal for them to turn toward Carthos. Karim’s interpretation of this confirmed his earlier concern, and he repeated his suggestion to pull back. T’slane lost patience with his advisor and told him to merely report on the movements of the enemy, and leave the strategy to those who had experience of warfare. He also reminded his Generals that there was more than enough reserve outside the gates of Carthos to despatch the barbarians heading that way.

  “In fact, they are doing us a favour – we only need concern ourselves at present with the foe ahead of our position. Let them come.”

  He countermanded his previous order for the longbows to switch. By the time Karim had returned with the news that Berbus and Negrosa had now joined forces and were heading back towards them, there was little time to regroup. In the confusion, the communication from Ventaninho to Ragna and Rubina triggered a swift advance from Salamand. He had detailed the Machu and Aurorans to fan out and distract the crossbows while his own warriors produced their first retaliatory hail of arrows. At this short distance the power of the bows ensured maximum damage to those enemy archers with the deadly crossbows. The ranks of T’slane’s prized front line were decimated in very short order, but not before some of them had struck Grenthe and Sondor while they were exposed and barking out orders. Sondor sustained instant fatality as the arrowhead took much of his brain with it on exiting his head. Grenthe was not so lucky, as the short arrow travelled right through his throat, and although it miraculously severed only minor blood vessels, it split his trachea. A second, longbow arrow penetrated one of his lungs. He was immediately surrounded by attentive pike-men and stretchered to a safe distance. He motioned for Grun and Meridia to join him as he was unable to speak. The meaningless noises only added to his frustration. He realised he was dying as blood trickled into his sputum and emerged from his mouth. His sole intention was to confer the leadership of the nation to Meridia. He died without being able to articulate his wish, and according to tradition Grun took command, although the Aurorans would now contribute little to this ensuing battle.

  The well-rehearsed Machu tactic of applying camouflage to their person and scaling trees provided them with a good vantage point for their blowpipes. Salamand’s thrust was now to flush the rapidly depleting Dominian contingent into the path of these Machu poison darts. Meanwhile, Berbus an
d Negrosa had begun to pepper T’slane’s rear-guard. His Generals were now emboldened to overtly criticise his handling of the encounter. They maintained that there was only one option left if they wanted to preserve significant forces for the next skirmish. They insisted that they should take Berbus and Negrosa head-on while they still had the potency of some crossbow units. T’slane refused to hear of such cowardice and reasserted his defensive strategy, while ordering Karim to instruct the reserve at the walls of Carthos to deal with the attack from Berbus and Negrosa.

  “The Aurorans are paralysed with grief now that we have slain their leader. We must try to achieve the same with Salamand and the Machu.”

  Before he left, Karim put it to the Generals that there was a third option.

  “We still have Khaled in our armoury. He had never wanted this confrontational solution. He has always tried to use the leverage of barter contracts with Korellia, and it has been successful. If T’slane had continued this with the barbarians, they would have been fighting with us against the Loci. I suggest we send an envoy to Salamand with a papyrus to explain T’slane’s error of judgement together with his head. I am certain that this will buy us safe passage back to Carthos to return Dominia to its rightful ruler. They may want negotiations on terms of peace since we committed the first act of aggression. We can agree to talks – what they bring will then be fought across the table of diplomacy.”

  *

  The Generals were able to envisage an extension to their own lives this way and that was a good starting point, everything else could be debated later. They agreed the plan and ended T’slane’s short reign in his own war tent. The envoy departed with the written offer of an end to hostilities, and T’slane’s open-eyed head, while holding the Pax-Insignia aloft.

  The peace plea produced a dilemma for Salamand. He did favour dealing with Khaled rather than another General who could replace T’slane, but he also tried to look ahead. He was not sure that Dominia – under any individual ruler would accept the kind of treaty the Machu and Aurorans had forged with Korellia. He also had one eye on what impact upon unification of all Korellia the Tor-Azen may inject. He was in addition, sensitive to the need for Grun to be able to speak with his nation sooner rather than later. He opted to meet with the Dominian Generals, but only if the other Travellers were satisfied that via Karim, they could confirm a surrender of arms as a first step.

  Karim had to agree to the first step of meeting with the Travellers of the coalition, to understand the laying down of arms must occur before any talks could begin. This gave an opportunity for the Aurorans to withdraw to safety and for Grun to address the nation prior to considering funeral arrangements for his father. Meridia knew from many discussions with Grenthe that he wanted her to assume leadership of the people, but he had never told Grun. He had felt it would be necessary to inform the nation himself of such a departure from tradition. He had envisaged this task being completed when he knew he was dying of natural causes, and gambled on that being some years ahead. Meridia could have challenged Grun’s automatic ascension, but she was astute in all things political. That would have been seen as divisive and therefore suffer failure. She kept counsel to herself for now, but realised her path to power would now have to be re-targeted.

  When they met, Karim told the other Travellers that the current offer was his idea, and he was only able to sell it to the Generals if the remaining troops were allowed to return unharmed to Carthos.

  “Please tell your leaders that I wanted to save lives on both sides. I was not against T’slane’s plan to seize Western Korellia, but when I realised the armies of Berbus and Negrosa were not heading for Carthos, and T’slane refused to listen to me, I could not condone the price both sides would have to pay for no strategic gain; we will deposit our weapons as you request as long as you allow me to report your willingness to stand aside while we return to Carthos. We both know this is only the beginning.”

  The others conferred and Rubina eventually spoke.

  “We are apparently not in the same position as you appear to be with respect to advising, and indeed processing military detail. We will relay your request to our leaders, however as observers, we cannot seem to concur with your analysis that this is only the beginning. If Salamand agreed to your bargain he would appear to be spurning a victory by not taking this segment of Dominian forces out of the equation, as prisoners. In addition, with no report of exactly what has happened filtering back to Carthos as yet, the reserves there would only see the enemy arriving at the gates unchallenged. That would inject demoralisation, and the realisation of what T’slane was trying to prevent – siege and famine. We do not think you are in a position to make demands, and if you try to deliver a different story to Carthos yourself, there are three of us to cause continual malfunction of your matrix, which would eventually mean your premature expiration. It is not too late to join with us in promoting a peaceful solution for all of the humans.”

  Karim was beginning to regret his declaration that he would acknowledge no rules of engagement at their last meeting. He accepted that he was going to have to make some concessions in order to survive. He had however inadvertently gleaned an important fact; Salamand was at the head of the pyramid for now.

  “Very well, please return to your Commander and deliver my proposal. He may see things differently to the three of you. I will ask for the weapons to be surrendered and await his deliberation on whether he wants my help in restoring Khaled to power. This in itself would fit with your desire to give peace a chance.”

  Salamand listened carefully and said he would think on it for a couple of hours. He had become leader of his tribe when he succeeded his father Durand, following his short illness. He had been able to grasp the principles of the role of a paternalistic figurehead quite quickly, and when this was coupled with a demonstrable willingness to value the lives of all of the nation’s people as he would his own, he had outstripped even Durand in terms of respect. His clean-shaven face was framed by long flowing hair and slender shoulders, and he was a very powerful orator. His first point of clarification rested on the condition of the arms to be handed in. He specified to Rubina that they must be inspected, and if they were not in working order the amnesty would be nullified. He clearly wanted to be able to copy the design of the crossbows.

  “Also I would like you to tell Karim that not only will we allow them to return to Carthos, I will escort them back personally. I wish to meet with Khaled to ensure he is alive and reinstalled as leader. Any further negotiations will be with him and no one else. If this is not acceptable to your fellow Traveller we will resume hostilities immediately.”

  Karim accepted that he had been outmanoeuvred to a degree but was willing to put this to the Generals. He feigned much more disappointment than he actually felt, yet they still took the survival route. The slow moving column of warriors began to deposit their weapons into the clearing between the two camps, under close scrutiny of Salamand and his armed inspectors.

  *

  The two East Korellian warriors who returned were very cagey about sharing their rather unbelievable encounter with Sendzai. They assumed their story would be reported to Kyklos and this would ensure their demise. They had therefore asked the leader of the Tor-Azen before they set off, if he could allow a party of high ranking officers to come and inspect the bodies without being under threat themselves. Their argument made sense, if Sendzai wished to unite the hierarchy against the leader, they would have to be totally convinced of what the alternative would cost them, and especially their families. They had been given this assurance and they proceeded with the task even though they suspected that Sendzai may have even more devious plans in mind. They approached a senior officer, and though no longer a General, they knew he would believe them, as they had served under him many times. Thule was still a highly respected soldier amongst the ranks from which he had been demoted. The fact that Kyklos had obtained power amidst a strange sequence of deaths, in the then leade
r’s family, had always troubled some of the military. He had quickly installed a mechanism of fear and backed it up with unprecedented ruthlessness in dealing with dissent. Thule decided to take the unit under his command to the place of execution, and as Sendzai anticipated, they were confused by the absence of any obvious cause of death in such fresh corpses. They left and Thule asked the two informants to go through their story again in meticulous detail. When he could find no logical explanation in their account he took the risk of returning to the borders with the Tor-Azen and asked to be shown to Sendzai, carefully explaining why. He was surprised that within half a day he was escorted to the Grand Leader.

  *

  The funeral of Grenthe was one of traditional rejoicing in his life rather than dwelling heavily on the grief which gripped his family. His body was clothed in a hand-embroidered gown, denoting his place in the post-cataclysm era. Only his face remained uncovered as the pyre was lit. The loss was felt deeply by the military, being so soon after arriving in the temperate zone, and occurring at the same time as General Sondor. It prompted many to question the benefits of the coalition, as there had been no reported casualties amongst the Machu. Grun could see he was going to need persuasive arguments to resume the conflict without causing a schism in the Auroran ranks. Grenthe’s widow, Emana, had to deal with the personal loss and that of her younger son Lennart. She was concerned that the family would splinter, primarily because she had once overheard Grenthe’s promise to Meridia that she would succeed him. Her husband had never confided in her on matters of state, but she knew Meridia wouldn’t accept being subordinate to Grun. She also knew that Grun would struggle to live up to what was now expected of him, and the time he used to spend with Lennart would be consumed by his new and onerous duties. The young man would not understand, as he idolised his elder brother, yet he did not appear to be badly disturbed when looking at the contortion left on the face of the corpse which had been his father. The young man’s mental difficulty in processing the permanent loss of his father, who had treated him well, and the temporary loss of the connection with Grun, with whom he had a very strong emotional bond, could become a defining challenge for the new leader. Grenthe’s ashes were retained in an urn which would be kept alongside those of previous leaders, beginning with Bertil Nordsen.

 
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