Friday, October 8, 2010

Return, Part 3

“How did he get away?” Ardeo demanded a few days later, still fuming. “How did he do it?”

Odacer looked up from his paperwork, an exasperated expression on his face. The two men were sitting in Odacer’s far larger command pavilion, theoretically doing paperwork. Not many people realized just how much paperwork had to be gotten through to keep a military campaign operational. Paper reports made by literate officers, tallies on casualties, wounded, and fit for service, interviews from scouts on terrain and preparations, estimates from engineers and prefects on the status of this piece of artillery or that piece of equipment, and dozens of other things, and each one had to be vetted by the general in charge or a delegated officer.

Even worse was the accounting. Few people realized how much money went into keeping an army of professionals in the field, armed, fit, and deadly. Nor did many people realize just how intricate the accounts for an army was. Every expenditure had to be tabulated, every piece of booty acquired had to be recorded, estimates on rate of consumption for everything from salt, grain, and meat, to wear and tear on equipment and wages. And all of the gods help you if it was not done in quintuplicate!

“Ardeo, you’re my dearest kinsman, but if you don’t shut up about our escaped assassin and help me get through this paperwork, I swear by all the gods that I am going to make you the centerpiece of the experiment to find out how he escaped!”

Ardeo scowled, and said nothing. When Nerva had handed Kuso over to them for justice, Odacer had issued orders that the man be dangled from the camp ramparts. A slow, torturous death, it was also a visible reminder to the Fianna to behave themselves. Not two days later, he was gone, missing. A thorough search of the entire camp revealed that he had gotten clean away.

Grousing under his breath, Ardeo did as he was told, reviewing the accounts for his Iyazan legion. It was just as well that the Rigsraadet was financing the entire expedition! He certainly would not have shelled out the sort of money required just to marry the sister of the Emperor, even for Imperial Kinsman status. It had been an uncharacteristically canny move on the part of the Emperor to insist that the Rigsraadet pay the costs for the divorce, and to phrase it in such a way that even a war was covered as a cost of divorce! He expressed this sentiment to his cousin after he had calmed down.

“The Emperor does have a few intelligent advisors, in spite of how poor his retinue of hangers-on are. Thasa was one, which makes his death all the more pitiable. Karadord and Bakun are also canny men, for all their flaws.”

Before this discussion of the Imperial court could continue, Marcus entered, a perturbed expression on his face. He had been given duty as officer of the day, parked outside his father’s headquarters to screen those who came to see the general, as well as routing inquiries to the proper place. It was boring desk duty that ill-suited the young man, but even Ardeo appreciated the grim humor behind it. If Odacer had to suffer behind a desk with mountains of papers in front of him, so did his kin!

“What is it, Marcus?”

The youth hesitated, then blurted, “Imperial Guardsmen, Father! A full mounted troop of them!”

That brought Ardeo to his feet, even though Odacer remained at his desk. Imperial Guardsmen were Fianna rotated into duty at the Blackstar Castle, the Emperor’s residence. They wore distinctive scarlet-lacquered armor and clothing, and traveled with the Emperor or his chosen representatives directly from the capital.

“Only a troop means a high-ranking delegate of the Emperor,” Odacer said musingly. “If it were the Emperor himself, he’d have brought the entire legion, and then some. Send in the Emperor’s representative, Marcus.”

Even as Marcus turned on his heels, Ardeo quietly moved to stand beside Odacer. While he might be the Duke of Iyaza, he lacked the standing to remain seated before an Imperial representative. Only Archdukes had quite that much clout, and he would not become one until he was safely married to the Emperor’s sister.

The two men who walked in were different from each other in every way. Neither of them was known to Ardeo, but Odacer recognized them. “Andrej Palev Karadord,” Odacer said calmly, his gaze on the shorter of the two.

Ardeo studied the shorter man intensely. Karadord was dark of hair and eye, broad in the shoulder and chest, and walked with so much inherent confidence that he seemed much taller than he was. He was just beginning middle age, with a light sprinkling of gray at his temples that did not harm his good looks. He wore armor, and the amulet with the Imperial sigil around his neck made it obvious he was the Emperor’s representative. Much was said about Karadord, not all of it complimentary. He had once been a Sonoman lord, who had made the attempt to take control of that nation’s throne by force. The fractious Sonoman nobles had united to stop him from displacing their puppet-ruler, forcing him to abandon his attempt and flee. He had found sanctuary with Zeno, and risen high in his favor ever since.

Karadord smiled, revealing small, even teeth. “I thank you for the courtesy of my full name, Archduke Odacer Militiades Mircea. Not many Sandoran nobles do me such honor.”

“I am a fair man, Andrej Palev. Just because you lost your title in Sonoma does not make you less of a nobleman. Besides, you’re not a bad soldier, so you deserve that much. To what do I owe this honor?”

“Business, I fear, strictly business.” The stout man sat in Ardeo’s chair easily. “The Emperor has sent me as his representative to oversee the final settlement of the various domains of the rebels.”

“I see…” Odacer leaned back in his chair. “I take it the Emperor does not trust my judgment?”

It was a dangerous question, and Karadord proved himself to be as discrete as he was brave. “It is not quite a lack of trust in your judgment, Archduke Mircea, but a matter of arranging matters correctly. The Emperor is of the opinion that any settlement of the region should be seen to have his stamp on it in a more direct and personable manner than Fiannan legions marching and burning.”

“I see,” Odacer said noncommittally. “And does your companion happen to be a part of the Emperor’s settlement?”

“Indeed he is. May I introduce you to Varro Bius Flaccus, the younger brother of our rebellious mastermind?”

Cast in the shade by his colleague’s entrance, the younger man was taller, fair of hair and eye, but lacked charisma and self-confidence. A weaker persona in all aspects, nor an impressive one, he was dressed in fine velvets, indicating he had some money at his disposal. When Karadord introduced him, Varro bowed in Odacer’s direction before launching into a short speech.

“G-greetings, Archduke Odacer Militiades Mircea of Aiman,” he began nervously, “I do assure you. I was with the Grand Prince Sanc Tolos Caepio since winter, trying to wring out some favorable trade concessions on behalf of my brother, and I had no idea about his revolt, I do assure you.”

“Interesting,” Odacer replied. “And why, precisely, should you be allowed to succeed in your brother’s place?”

Still squinting, Varro replied, “Because I lack any sort of ambition toward reviving Respublia. It was a failed system, and I’d much rather trust to a firm hand than the sort of infighting I grew up under. I’ve already promised to give up every part of Flaccus’ holdings besides the city of Taren and enough of the hinterland to feed the city. In a practical as well as ideological way, it’d be impossible for me to try what my brother is trying.”

Ardeo finally spoke up, startled. “Why in the world would you give up so much? You’d be able to keep a pittance, if that.”

Varro blinked, then squinted at Ardeo. “You are the Duke of Iyaza, are you not? You should know. I’d rather inherit at least a part of what belongs to my family, than nothing at all.”

Considering this, Ardeo finally nodded. “You make a valid point.”

Odacer stepped in. “My thanks, Varro Bius Flaccus. My son Marcus is outside. Ask him to take you to some sort of adequate accommodation. We lack anything permanent, but I’m sure we can arrange something relatively comfortable for you.”

Varro bowed once again, and walked out. Waiting until Varro’s figure was out of earshot, Odacer spoke to Karadord. “I take it he’s near-sighted, Andrej Palev.”

“Very perceptive. Yes, he is, so he’ll never be a soldier, more the pity.”

“Not all of us are meant to be soldiers,” Odacer noted calmly.

“Quite.” Karadord placidly spoke on. “He’s something of a nobleman scholar, exceptionally well educated. He and his brother don’t get on at all. Their father favored the bookish Varro over the militant Iudaces, indulged him with books and scrolls. He owns something like a quarter-million pieces of literature.”

Ardeo blinked. “That’s the largest collection I’ve ever even heard of.”

“The Emperor himself said the same thing at the audience Varro managed to get through no small amount of pleading and bribing,” the ex-Sonoman lord replied. “One of Varro’s biggest reasons for giving up so much was to preserve his library. He realized that if you sacked Taren, a lifetime of collecting knowledge would go up in flames, and he broke down in tears at the thought that so much that his father had given him would be no more than ashes.”

“Interesting. I’ve never met someone so dedicated to books,” Odacer said.

“What’s more interesting is what he intends to do with his collection,” Karadord continued. “Once Taren falls, he plans on opening his library and his city to all seekers of knowledge, turn it into something he calls a ‘university’. His goal is to foster learning and learned thought, so I rather doubt he’ll be doing any fighting while you finish this campaign.”

“What of you, Andrej Palev? What will you be doing while I finish this campaign?”

Karadord adopted a thoughtful expression. “Well, I don’t honestly know, Archduke Mircea. The Emperor’s commission was to arrange a settlement throughout the region, so I fear I won’t be able to do very much until you do finish.”

Odacer looked as thoughtful as Karadord did. “Would you be willing to lend me a hand? I’ve only got fourteen hundred cavalry, and your two hundred would be of great assistance. And I do believe you have Imperial authority right now, so the Fianna won’t be too averse to taking orders from you.”

Karadord smiled carefully at Odacer. “I’d be more than happy to put my two hundred Guardsmen to work for you, Odacer Militiades.”

“Oh, no, you mistake my meaning. I want you to command the left wing of this army, which happens to be Fianna.”

Shock flitted across Karadord’s face before his expression was enthused with genuine gratitude. “It would be my pleasure.”

Standing up, Karadord bowed gracefully before leaving the pavilion. Ardeo looked down at his near kin, puzzled. “Why did you go and do that?”

Odacer laughed soundlessly. “Karadord is a soldier, much like I am. He wanted to fight, but he’s too proud to ask. So I had to ask. He did quite well in Sonoma, you know, would have been its Prince if he had had just a bit more time to consolidate and been a bit less outnumbered. Besides, I can’t be at both the center and the left wing. The Fianna are not dependable. They’re too orthodox, probably since they have the capacity to think pounded out of them too harshly.”

Odacer paused, then added seriously, “Besides, I really do need his two hundred troopers. I really don’t have enough cavalry, and playing nice earned me his gratitude and his horsemen.”

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