Friday, 15 October 2010

The Return of the Exiles

                                                      Chapter 13

It was all over. Edward was returning to reality. The pleasure and warmth of the honeymoon would now give way to the pain of real life. Sheltered from the outside world in the protection of their holiday house for three weeks, Edward and his bride Kitty had loved and laughed and played with no thoughts other than each other. They had soared up into the heavens on the wings of their passion and sunk into the gentle arms of their soft downy peace. At times, they had lain on the bed just talking quietly. At other times, they walked through the parkland hand in hand, kicking the fallen brown leaves to make crunching sounds. Like children let out of school early, they had splashed in puddles and ploughed through mud. Soon now, other people  and their problems would intrude into their togetherness and they would have to take up their responsibilities. They would have to change the way they would like to live to the altar of other peoples' needs.
The horses strained as they plodded on up the hill through the rain which had settled over Rombuli as a sign that autumn was almost upon them. The wheels of the coach the horses were pulling splashed through puddles and the mud, slipping sometimes as though reluctant to progress any further. Coat collars pulled high around their chins against the rain, the driver and his assistant sat huddled on their seat staring gloomily at the summit of the hill the coach was negotiating. They had run this journey many times but now they wished they were in the dry stables in Nimmar at the journeys end. Shivering in the wet, the escorting soldiers sat on their horses gloomily contemplating the miles to their destination through the curtain of the rain. Some silently cursed the Sergeant who had given them this assignment to escort the Counsellor back to Nimmar from Shardlaw, while others stolidly did their duty.
Inside the carriage, Edward Eastland sat looking out of the window at the saturated countryside, frowning at the thought of the way his life had changed. He was shivering in the chill and wishing he and Kitty were back home in their rooms in the Mansion on the Island. Home, he thought ironically. I am now calling the Mansion home rather than the seat of the enemy I used to consider it. How times change. It did not seem all that long ago when I was fleeing from Nimmar to return to my real home in Alskar. Then it was fear that drove me on, fear of what I might find at the end of my journey. There was a certainty about who was the enemy then and all I had to do was to defy them. Now I am thinking of the Mansion, where those I considered the enemy lived on the Island of Peace in Nimmar, as home. How times change.
He turned and smiled at his companion, his wife of two weeks sitting by his side. Kitty was slumped in her seat as close to Edward as was possible, bundled up in clothes, her fur hat pulled tight around her head and a scarf wrapped around her face so that only her eyes were visible. From the shadows covering those eyes, Edward could not work out whether she smiled back or not. Reassuringly, he squeezed her shoulders and returned to his gloomy contemplation of the slowly passing wet countryside.
For some reason, when they had entered the Lodge it had felt to Edward that he was returning home but he was certain he had never been there before. Now he and Kitty were returning to Nimmar and to the making of decisions about what action had to be taken to preserve the Empire.
Outside the coach, the horses with a snort topped the hill and started down the other side. The end of the journey was now in sight. The  town of Nimmar was visible across the river, the lights of the houses starting to sparkle in the evening gloom. To Edward's left on this side of the river, the lights of the vast  barracks were also clear. Further on through the gathering dusk and the drizzle, he could just make out the Island and their destination of the Mansion. It was too gloomy to make out the Temple. Home, thought Edward, though even now it was strange to call this place which he had considered enemy territory, home.
After crossing the bridge over the Solar River which separated the Barracks from the town of Nimmar, the carriage followed the left fork of the road towards the town, the road to Alskar leading away up the hill to disappear into the trees. Rattling over the cobbles as they negotiated the road through the town, the carriage passed the Meeting Hall, dark and quiet now, to one side of the town square. Reaching the Alskar River, they crossed the bridge to the Island, stopping briefly for the sentries at the gate to identify the occupants of the carriage, and then on up the hill to the Mansion.
As soon as the carriage came to a stop at the front entrance to the Mansion, Kitty stirred, gathered the folds of her cloak around her and descended the carriage steps. Looking neither to right or left, she swept ahead of Edward into the building. She was half way up the stairs before Edward caught her and then they walked behind her maid, Zita, to their apartments.
" I will never be warm again," Kitty moaned through chattering teeth, standing in front of the fire warming her hands. " I need a hot bath."
The maid helped her off with her cloak. " Your bath is ready for you in the other room. On instructions from the Governor's wife, I took the liberty of laying out your dress so that you will be ready to take dinner with the Governor, his wife and some of the other officials as soon as you are bathed and changed Madam. Come into the bedroom and I will help you out of these clothes. We will soon have you warm again."
Kitty smiled dreamily with a look as though the world was suddenly a nice place and she kissed Edward before disappearing into the bedroom. Tulla, the servant who had served Edward since the first time he had come to the Mansion, appeared with a tray containing a steaming pitcher and some mugs.
" Drink this and it will warm you after the journey," Tulla advised, taking Edward's cloak and handing him a hot drink. " I know you won't be pleased but Imperial Master Borovic asked to be informed as soon you had arrived. When I heard that the carriage was outside the Mansion, I sent word to tell him you were back. Your bath will be ready as soon as you wish though I think the Imperial Master wishes a word before you get ready for dinner."
Edward had hardly had time to finish his drink, let alone think about what Boric might want to see him for so urgently, before there was a knock at the door. Leaving Edward to his drink, Tulla went to open the door and shortly showed Boric into the room.
" Hello Edward. I trust you had a pleasant holiday," Boric greeted Edward cheerfully as he marched into the room like the soldier he was. " Is my sister here with you or did you leave her behind at the Governor's lodge so that you can have some peace?"
" She came back with me. The holiday was very pleasant while it lasted, though the journey back was terrible, long and cold. I am still trying to get warm. Kitty went straight into her room for a hot bath to warm up," Edward replied waving to a chair which Boric occupied. " What brings you here so soon after I arrived back?"
" Can't a friend come and greet somebody after they have been away? Isn't a brother supposed to ask after the welfare of his sister?" Boric continued to smile.
" You could have waited until dinner," Edward remarked sourly." What is so important that it could not wait?"
" We are in a bad mood, aren't we? Has married life got you down so quickly?" Boric laughed but waved his hand to stop Edward speaking. Seriously he continued, " No you are right. The Governor asked me to see you as soon as you returned from Shardlaw. I am to brief you on the meeting you and I, and some others, will be having in the morning with the Governor. There will be people at the dinner tonight who will not be involved in the meeting tomorrow. The Governor obviously doesn't want to discuss the complications confronting the Empire in front of them. It appears that the position of the Empire has got worse even over the short time you have been away. Intelligence we have gathered indicates that the forces controlling the rest of the Empire are about to invade Sardonia and Rombuli as soon as the winter is over. Well, to be truthful not intelligence exactly. We have lost contact with everyone living the other side of the Lake and the Linapun River. We do know there is already fighting in Walloonia, with almost half that province occupied by the enemy. As far as we can tell, and without any direct information about what is happening behind enemy lines, it is at best a guess, is that the enemy is massing troops on the Sandarian border. What will be discussed at tomorrow's meeting  is what we can do to hamper the invasion. The Governor wanted to give you an opportunity to think about it before the morning. With this information and some thought overnight, you can be part of the discussion and give him any advice you might think helpful."
" Boric, you know I am not a soldier. I cannot think how any advice of mine could be helpful to the Governor or anybody else when it comes to opposing an invasion," Edward replied shrugging his shoulders and shaking his head. " You are the soldier and, along with Silker, can give a military opinion. Nelvask and Latask are the one's with power. They should be able to suggest ways of combating the enemies power. I am just a tradesman from a small place called Alskar. What could I possibly contribute in such august company?"
" No, Edward, don't you go putting on that country bumpkin act to me. I know you too well for that to work. You are intelligent and far more worldly wise than you make out. Like the Governor, I expect you will be able to contribute to our discussions," Boric stood up ready to leave and get ready for dinner with the Governor. " I must go and get ready for dinner but you think it over."
" All right, I will think about it." Edward growled.
" Just be there in the morning," Boric said as he left.
The next morning, Edward got ready for the meeting of the Governor's Council on his own. When he had been awaken by Tulla, Kitty had refused to leave her bed. Just get Zita to bank up the fire, she had demanded as he left the bedroom. Over a quick breakfast Edward's thoughts had drifted over what had happened at the dinner the night before. Though on the surface things appeared normal, underneath there had been a tension not evident at any of these semi-formal occasions that Edward had attended before last night. This worried Edward and as he walked through the Mansion to the Council Chamber, the tension he had felt the night before returned.
The guards at the door to the Council Chamber saluted by banging their fists on their chests and stood aside to let him enter. Inside the Council Chamber at the large oak table, shining in the light from the windows, seven men sat, all looking round as Edward came into the room.
" Good morning Edward," Rulask greeted him from his place at the head of the table. " You sit next to Nelvask."
Once Edward was seated, Rulask turned to the others and said. “ We are all present now and we can begin. The clerk will take notes of the meeting as it progresses. Before we start the formal business, I will introduce everybody here. On my left are Latask, the Covenenter, Imperial Grandmaster Eion Silker, head of the Imperial Army in Sardonia and Rombuli, Chief Elfring, representing the Sardonians, and Calum Moorland, Mayor of Nimmar. On my right, Nelvask the Teacher of the Rombuli, Edward Eastland representing the Rombuli of Alskar Province and Imperial Master Boric Borovic, head of my personal troop. For those who were not here for our previous meetings, I will hand this meeting over to Latask who will explain what is happening and why each one of you in particular is here. After his explanation, we will then come to the main part of the meeting, which is to decide what can be done and what part we can all play in the future."
Latask stood, his posture rather stooped but his white robe gleamed in the light and his hood thrown back from his close cropped grey hair. He looked around the table before starting to speak, as though to gauge the thoughts of each of the men, his face grim. 
" I will keep this short but it is necessary for the benefit of Mr. Moorland and Chief Elfring who are with us for the first time.” He nodded briefly in their direction. “ The Imperial government in Sardonia and Rombuli has been aware for some time that all is not well in the rest of the Empire. You all have some vague notion of the powers of the Covenent, of how we can communicate with our minds over long distances. To put things bluntly, I have lost contact with the rest of the Empire. This has never happened before to my knowledge. The only contact I have had is with Nomal and Rembert, two Covenenters in Walloonia. The last report I had from them was that Walloonia is under attack. Indeed, the enemy had occupied half the country before the advent of winter and Nomal and Rembert have their hands full trying to organise the defence of Walloonia and cannot assist us. For the last couple of months, I have lost contact with these two Covenenters as well. The only reason I can think of is that they have been pushed back beyond the mountains and their thought transfer can no longer reach me. To try to find out what has happened in the rest of the Empire, Governor Rulask sent some soldiers and the other Covenenters across the River Linapun but we have not heard from them since they entered the land across the river. None has contacted us and none has returned. We are cut off and on our own as far as help from the rest of the Empire is concerned. In order to get some help I asked Edward Eastland to contact Nelvask as the Priest of the Rombuli and he came to help. That is briefly my analysis of what has happened."
Governor Rulask nodded as Latask resumed his seat and turned to Imperial Grandmaster Silker. " What is your assessment of the situation from a military point of view?"
Eion Silker scratched his iron grey hair with a large calloused hand and shrugged. He stood, his back straight, his knuckles on the table and said in a tone as though instructing his men before a battle. " I am a soldier and I do not know much about the arcane goings on of the Covenent. All I know is that they have provided the Empire with stability and a great deal of intelligence during my time serving with the Imperial Army. From my reading of the military situation, it appears likely that Sardonia and Rombuli will be invaded come the spring and the melting of the snow. The enemy, whoever they are, will not move until the spring because fighting in winter is a logistical nightmare for any army. We may have longer if the Walloonians hold out. I would not bank on help from there if what Nomal has told us is anywhere near the truth. That is one of our big problems. We cannot gain any intelligence from the rest of the Empire. I will have to act on guesswork when we plan our response to any invasion. We do not know what we are up against, how big their invasion force will be or what power they will have at their disposal. The Imperial Army has never had to face this situation, indeed we have not had a civil war for many centuries. Do not look so startled, Mister Mayor. There might be some power on the other side we do not know anything about but the bulk of the army facing us will be highly trained Imperial Troops. That in my mind is called a civil war. Unless we come up with different tactics from those taught at the Imperial Army College, they will know what our response will be. The other factor we have to consider is the number of trained soldiers at our disposal. At the last count, there are four thousand trained Imperial soldiers in Sardonia and Rombuli. Even allowing for troops to keep the rest of the Empire under control, the enemy will be able to put at least one hundred thousand troops into the field against us and Walloonia. With those odds there is only one winner. Gentlemen, the short answer to our dilemma is we need more trained soldiers."
Governor Rulask nodded again as Silker resumed his seat. " Thank you Imperial Grandmaster. We will leave the subject of our response for later. Nelvask, do you wish to say anything at this point?"
Nelvask smoothed his neatly trimmed beard and looked around the table. He did not stand. " I have been thinking about what we are up against a lot over the last few days. The facts as we know them are few but within those facts there must be some clues as to where from or from who this power emanates. In order to gain an understanding of the way my thoughts have gone, I am afraid we have to explore a little of our history. With Latask's permission, I will give my brief account of that history. If he has anything to add, he can speak when I have finished. At this stage you will have to accept what I say as the truth because this is not the time to enter into a debate about philosophical questions on the meaning and purpose of life. Some of you might be aware of the legend of the Mystical Mountain and the so called Circle of the Good, placed there by our Maker. I use the Rombuli expression  for the Supreme Being even though the Covenent call this being God. The Circle was created to teach the message of peace and harmony to the peoples of this world. Suffice to say that on the Mystical Mountain there came to be three groups within the Circle. There was the Covenent led by Tulka, the True Believers led by Sidon and the rest who were the scholars loosely led by the High Priest. For a long time there was constant debate about the true purpose of the Circle, the argument largely between the Covenant and the True Believers. The Covenenters started to wear white robes, the True Believers blue. We will brush aside the reasons, Latask can tell you more than me about this period. During a dispute, the origins of which I will not bore you with, I was banished from the Mountain. The Maker told me to seek out the Rombuli who needed my help. This I did and I found them fleeing across the land during the great climate change. I led them here to this land which they settled. The Covenent left the Mountain shortly after me and travelled to Parison where a great nation was arising. Using their power, the Covenent helped the Parison people to build and establish the Empire. We all know the history of the Empire so there is no need for me to detail this part of the story of how they incorporated Sardonia and Rombuli into the Empire."
Nelvask paused and took a drink of water. " What I have been thinking is what became of the other faction, the True Believers? What ever we are up against in the rest of the Empire must be something that has power. The only other thing that I can think of which has the power to impose their will across the land is the True Believers. To Latask and I, it is important to answer the question of how they have imposed that power but to the rest of you it is important that we work out what we are going to do to counter act that power. Latask?"
Latask looked across the table at Governor Rulask and then spoke at his nod in his direction. " Leaving aside my views on why we voted to exclude you from the Mountain, your analysis appears sound. There is only one other source of power in the world and that is the True Believers faction. How they have managed to stop all communication though I have no idea. Indeed, at the moment I do not even know where to start in contemplating that much power. All it gives us is something to ponder."
Governor Rulask frowned but then shrugged his shoulders. " Your impenetrable theories might be true but we will have to trust you two when it comes to the employment of what we regard as magic. What we have to do now is plan how we are going to counter this threat. As a soldier, Imperial Grandmaster Silker, your opinion."
Silker grimaced and shrugged his broad shoulders. " As I said just now, we do not have enough trained soldiers to do anything about a direct attack. With odds of twelve to one, we can do nothing to stop their advance. I took the liberty of looking at the way the Imperial Army conquered Rombuli and I can see no difference in the situation we face now. The invasion was on three fronts. The Imperial Army came in three waves, one across the lake, one across the ford and one across the bridge in the north in a pincer movement towards the Rock. The Sardonians and the Rombuli armies fell back and only committed themselves to a pitch battle on the plain before the Rock. As I see things we can only follow similar tactics though with so few soldiers, any pitched battle is doomed. If we have to make a stand, it will either have to be outside Nimmar in Derek's Gap or at the Alskar River by Alskar Town. All we can do is hope that Nelvask and Latask can hold them up with their power at these places. The other thing we can do is to leave some men behind to harass their backs and hit their supply lines in the same way as the Rombuli did under Derek Gorland's leadership. It almost worked for them even though the Imperial Army vastly out numbered their troops and were highly trained. I must admit, it is not much of a strategy but it is the only one I can come up with at short notice. Latask, I know it is really a delaying tactic, hoping that something will come up. I can see little hope of it succeeding unless you two come up with a way to counter their power."
Silker lapsed into a troubled silence and sat down his expression gloomy. It was obvious to all in the room that Silker did not look forward to trying to carry out his plan.
Edward nervously intervened looking round the table warily. " Governor Rulask, can I speak?"
Governor Rulask smiled. " Edward, you are here as an equal member of my council. If you have a contribution to make, go ahead and speak."
Edward blushed slightly, conscious that all eyes were now concentrating on him and the rest of the Council were waiting for him to speak. " Don't take what I am about to say as an implied criticism but I believe your thinking is rather narrow. Grand Master Silker informs us that there are only four thousand trained Imperial Army soldiers and that they face overwhelming odds. It does not look great from even to somebody as ignorant of military tactics as me. On the other hand there are a great many Rombuli men and, for all I know Sardonian men, who would be willing to fight for their country. It is their country, after all, even though you might not think so because Sardonia and Rombuli have been controlled by the Imperial Army and Imperial Administrators for years. I think we are ignoring the people who care about what happens to their countries."
There was a stunned silence round the table. All eyes were staring at Edward as though he had uttered a profanity. 
Breaking the silence, Nelvask laughed loudly. " Well done, young Edward. You have now opened up the can of worms they were not willing to open."
" What do you mean by that?" Latask asked, frowning.
" To my way of thinking, you have one of two options if you follow Edward's advice," Nelvask answered still smiling. " On the one hand, you can try to compel the Rombuli to join your army and, in that way, resist the army coming from the rest of the Empire. You could do this by Imperial decree. On the other hand, you could set the Rombuli free from the restrictions on movement, citizenship and religion and see if they volunteer to help you."
It was Latask's turn to laugh loudly and look at the Governor with raised eyebrows. 
With a shake of his head, he said, " So that is what you and Edward are conspiring to bring about. You want the thing he could not bring about by force, to be conceded just like that. I think this is a crazy idea and we should dismiss it now. There is no knowing where this will lead. We will be fighting the enemy from the rest of the Empire with one eye on our backs waiting for the knife between the shoulder blades."
Edward reacted angrily by banging the table and rising to his feet. " Latask, I may want my people free but this is not the time to argue about my motives. Believe me, I have not spoken to Nelvask about this before and the idea only occurred while I was listening to you speak. All I was trying to do was to help formulate some policy that would at least give us a chance of success. There are thousands of people out there in Rombuli and Sardonia who might be willing to help given the chance. These are good people with the same motives, needs and wants as your precious Imperial grand families. They might be willing to help for no other reason than this is their land, this is their ancestral home. You might sneer at that because to you every act by those other than the Imperial families must have a sinister motive. Of course, it might be that you are so steeped in thinking everything is a conspiracy against the Empire, you cannot see genuine offers of help. That is your arrogance but it could be the thing which loses us the Empire and all you have worked for. If that is the case, you are more stupid than I first thought."
Latask looked as though he was going to explode, as though electric discharges were coming from his finger. Nelvask held his breath and prepared to come to the aid of Edward. 
Governor Rulask banged the table hard with his fist and stopped Edward saying any more. " This must stop right now! If we are to combat the enemy, we have to have at least a semblance of unity. I know trying to be civil to some of the people round this table might be difficult for some of you. I know Latask and Nelvask have a history of opposition to each other and of disagreement. They have put their suspicion and mutual dislike behind them and try to think about what is best in our situation. I think this proposition from Edward Eastland is worth pursuing. Silker, what do you say?"
Imperial Grandmaster Silker sat looking out of the window, his hands tracing patterns on the table. As he waited for the Imperial Grand Master to speak, Edward noticed that the fingers of his right hand would not straighten, as though they were fixed permanently bent round the hilt of a sword. Silence descended on the room as everybody waited for the soldier to speak but Silker continued to look out of the window. His expression hinted at somebody who had something bad to say but did not know how to put his thoughts into words. At last he looked back at Governor Rulask and shrugged.
" Obviously it would give me more men to deploy to the battle field but, as a soldier, I wonder what good it would do having these untrained men facing trained soldiers. There is also the logistics of getting the men here for what little training we could give them in the time available to think about. Finally, there is the question of how we can coerce them into setting out on what is really a suicide mission." Silker lapsed into silence.
Chief Elfwing suddenly spoke, his voice modulated like the wind racing across his grass lands. " Governor Rulask, can I speak now?"
Governor Rulask nodded in his direction. 
" The Sardonians may not have been trained to act as an army. Since the coming of the Empire, they have never been allowed to do so by your people,” Chief Elfwing started, his long black hair drawn back from his face in a pony tail making him look stern. His eyes were like pools of black water as he gazed around the table. " The Sardonians are, however, some of the best horsemen in the Empire. A great many of my countrymen spend a large part of their lives in the saddle looking after your herds of horses. We have to act in unison when rounding up the horses and breaking them for work. Because of the need for protection most of us are reasonably familiar with weapons. What we need is organisation in the basics of acting as an army. Your soldiers can give us that training if you have a will to do so. With my limited knowledge of military matters, there is the basis of a light cavalry troop among the Sardonians."
Governor Rulask held up his hand before anybody else had a chance to speak. " Let me review what has been said at the meeting so far. Imperial Grandmaster Silker has pointed out that we have only a few soldiers with which to defend Sardonia and Rombuli. He told us that, from a soldier's point of view, the position is hopeless. All we can hope for is to delay the inevitable defeat until something turns up. This is not a very attractive proposition. A heroic last stand is not what I had in mind but we have to face the facts. Nelvask and Latask have given us some clues as to the possible power behind the invasion. They hinted that they would be able to counter any magic that is brought to bear against us in the field. Edward and Chief Elfwing have suggested that there are more men if we can bring ourselves to look beyond the immediate trained army. How can we pull all of this together?"
Latask stood and surveyed the men around the table. " If we have to make a stand, it will have to be somewhere where Nelvask's and my power can enhance the other. Looking at the map... Can we get a map of Rombuli and Sardonia brought here?"
Governor Rulask turned to the clerk. " Will you arrange for a map to be brought here while we break for a drink, please?"
When they resumed after some light refreshments, there was a large map on the wall behind Rulask's seat. Silker took up position in front of the map using a large pointer.
 " Going back over what I outlined of the invasion of Rombuli by the Empire, I can now illustrate what happened. The invasion was on three fronts, here at Lake Sardonia, here at Maldale Ford and here at the Canyon Bridge or the Bridge of Sighs as the Sardonians call it. The Sardonians and Rombuli defended these positions until it was certain that they could not hold their lines. They then fell back in these directions."
He traced the retreat paths on the map. " They pursued hit and run tactics, making stands at every place that it was possible to defend, holding up the Imperial Army advance for a while before retreating. The whole object was to draw the Imperial Army towards the Rock and there make a stand and fight the pitched battle to defend Sardonia. They were defeated here more by Latask and his Covenenters than any fighting by the Army. Derek Gorland led the Rombuli contingent away from the battle through the Gorland Pass above what is now the Governor's Lodge north of Shardlaw. The Rombuli made a stand here with a small contingent of troops but the bulk retreated on to what became known as Derek's Gap, here north east of Nimmar. There they made a stand. What is significant to us though, is as they retreated, small groups of their troops went into the hills and acted as a harrying force behind the advancing Imperial Army. They picked these troops from those familiar with the areas where they were deployed. These groups managed to slow the advancing army down by attacking the supply lines and reserves, making the Army have to deploy a significant number of men to search out these bands. In the end, the Rombuli abandoned Nimmar and retreated to Alskar. They could have held out at Alskar for some time if they had chosen to do so but Derek Gorland their leader convinced them that enough was enough. He then surrendered to the Imperial Army. We will have to pursue a similar tactical plan if we are to have any hope. Defences can be built at Alskar. The question is will this place be where Nelvask and Latask can concentrate their power? I am a soldier and I do not understand how they will help."
Latask went to stand by the map. " We have no idea what power, or magic if that is what you want call it, the other side will use, though if the invasion is driven by the True Believer faction, we can guess. You will have to trust Nelvask and me on that issue. Yes Alskar is a position where we can deploy our magic to the best effect. You see here where there is only one way across the River Alskar and that is at the town. At the most the gap is less than a mile wide and we should be able to defend that with our power."
" We will have to leave the military planning to you Imperial Grandmaster," Governor Rulask stated. " I will have to organise the civilian population. What is the next steps?"
" You will have to order the round up of a significant number of young men to form the bulk of our army," Silker said. " Once the order has been promulgated, we will have to get the men here for training as soon as possible so that they have a modicum of discipline by the spring and the time of the invasion."
" I think it is time, Governor, to consider my proposition," Nelvask remarked grinning at Governor Rulask. " Do we coerce these people into becoming soldiers, as Silker suggests, or do we set them free and give them something personal to defend? I have always felt people will be more likely to fight for what they regard as theirs rather than for some alien power using whips to force them to fight. It is only a suggestion, Latask but one we have to face."
Governor Rulask looked towards Mayor Moorland." What do you say to that, Mr. Mayor?"
" If what you say is true, these people are all that is left of the Empire, " the mayor stated pompously, thrusting his ample chest out with pride. " To grant them full Imperial rights can only help the situation."
Governor Rulask smiled. " All right, I will issue an Imperial decree granting all Rombuli and Sardonians full rights under the Empire. The bonded system will be abolished, there will be freedom of religion and freedom of movement. Rombuli will be able to own property without swearing allegiance to the Empire. I will work out the details."
" Do we need to collect all the young men and bring them here for training at first?" Edward asked tentatively. " Would it be possible to send out some of the army to train the men in their own villages and towns until they are certain the Empire is helping them defend their own land. Then, as they get more confident that the Empire is not the enemy, we can bring them here. That way we would not have the logistical problem of feeding them over most of the winter. One other thing before I give way to others. We have to make the best of what our men are able to do. As I understand things, the Sardonians are good at horse riding and horse management. Remember, from your history, one thing the Rombuli were expert at was making and using the long bow. I know in Alskar province there are a number of long bows hidden away which have been used by the Rombuli illegally over the years. Whether the Imperial administrators have turned a blind eye to this I do not know but we have to use this skill."
Silker nodded. " We will try your suggestion Edward. Boric, you have an idea of who are the best trainers or can find that out. I suggest you make that your task. Identify the trainers and then spread them around the country. You can then plan on how we are to bring all these groups together in time for the spring. Is that all right with you Governor?"
" That is a good suggestion," Governor Rulask agreed. " I will release you from your duties as head of my personal troops, Boric Borovic so that you can organise the training of the Rombuli."
" Thank you so much," Boric replied with hardly a hint of sarcasm. Governor Rulask smiled sweetly at the leader of his body guard.
" Before we break up and begin the detailed planning, there is one other consideration I have been thinking about, " Nelvask said. " The Imperial Army, and to a lesser extent the Rombuli, have always had an advantage in wars over their enemies in being able to communicate without the need for physical lines of communication. We have had the advantage of thought transfer between the members of the Covenent and the others like me but that ability is lost with only Latask and me available to the army. We cannot be everywhere."
Silker grunted. " We will have to train some of the Sardonians to act as messengers. They have the horsemanship. It is just one of the tasks I have set myself."
Latask looked at Nelvask and seemed to communicate something between their minds though the others could not be sure. " I think I know what Nelvask is alluding to. Edward, you can communicate by thought transfer can you not?"
" I have the power," Edward answered bluntly.
" Good," replied Latask. " We have known about you and your father for some time. We also know there are others of the Rombuli who have similar powers. How many do you know?"
" I know two other people in Alskar province," Edward answered, his voice taking on a guarded tone.
" Nelvask?" Latask asked.
Nelvask grinned." That is something you have wanted to find out for years, Latask but the Rombuli hid their powers very successfully from you. I know there are more but I have never been able to establish how many. What have you in mind?"
" If there are more and we could identify them, we will have a the basis of ready made intelligence gathering and communications network," Latask replied seriously. " I suggest you and Edward discuss how you could persuade these people to come to our aid."
Edward looked shocked. " How are we to identify these people and more importantly, if we can identify them, how are we to get them to help us?"
" That is for you to decide," Governor Rulask put in. " That will be yours and Nelvask's task for the winter. I will leave you two to sort out the details."
He looked around the table. " Right, we now have a plan. Imperial Grandmaster Silker will organise the defence of the Province. Chief Elfwing will return to Sardonia with my proclamation and start persuading the Sardonians to co-operate. Mayor Moorland will organise the citizens of Nimmar and help me with the civil population of West Rombuli. Boric Borovic will start to organise training teams and deploy them into the countryside to begin the training. Nelvask and Edward Eastland will begin the task of setting up our communications network. We will meet again in two weeks to review progress. Thank you all for coming. May we go with our Gods. "
As Edward left the Council Chamber, Boric fell into step by his side. " Well Edward, we seem to have drawn the short straws. We are going to be in the saddle during some of the worst weather of the year trying to persuade reluctant people to follow our lead. I will assign Tag to you. You know him from the training he hasbeen giving you."
Edward watched the retreating back of his friend and sighed. Looking out of the window, he noted the leaves blowing across the Island on the wind and the rain slanting down out of a grey sky. Shuddering at the thought of the miles he would have to cover in this weather and worse when the snows started to fall, he started to wonder whether it would be worth all the effort. He did not have time to wallow in self pity for long because Nelvask came after him and asked him to come to Nelvask's room for a talk about how they were going to fulfil the task given to them by Governor Rulask.
Once back in Nelvask's room with a glass of wine in his hand, Edward observed. " This task Rulask set us is impossible you know. I have no idea where to start. What are we going to do?"
Nelvask sipped his wine and grinned." Edward, my boy, you give up too easily. Let us look at what we know." As he made his points Nelvask raised his fingers one at a time, counting off the points he was making. " First I know there are a number of Rombuli with your talents. Second, what we have to do is find them. Third, we have to find some way to start. Forth, I have tried opening my mind to these people without any response. Fifth, you must have some idea of somebody with the talent in Alskar. That is where we have to start."
" How can we start?" Edward asked.
" Think my boy, think." Nelvask poured himself another wine. " Is there anybody you know or suspect with the talent in Alskar?"
" Yes," Edward exclaimed." My father sent me to see Mr. Fox when the Imperial Officials were preparing for the visit of the Emperor. Mr. Fox and my father used thought transfer to communicate when I could not convince Mr. Fox of the seriousness of the situation. In fact I used my power to open up Mr. Foxes mind to my father's. Anyway, his daughter Margaret has the talent because we have used thought communication before."
Nelvask laughed triumphantly. " There you are Edward, my boy. We have a starting place. You will have to go and see this Margaret Fox and take things from there. If I know about these things, nobody with the talent can live in total isolation. They may be cautious about admitting their talent because of the perceived consequences if the Covenent found out but they will have shared their knowledge with at least one other person, as was the case with your father and Mr. Fox. "
" Actually my father was in contact with at least three other people besides Mr. Fox but he was reluctant to let me get involved." Edward sighed. " I know what you are getting at Nelvask. Even somebody as ignorant of these matters as me can see where you are taking me. It is going to involve a great deal of riding through winter storms to act out your theory. Besides which, if it starts to work, I will need a great deal of persuasive powers to convince the people to come here with me. You did mean to get as many together here as can be persuaded? Just like the days when you trained the talented in their skill?" 
" Edward you are a gem," Nelvask smiled at his pupil. " As you have hinted, what we have to do is start with one and then follow any links they throw up to the others. At least you have a lead. I have nothing to go on other than vague hints. What we will do is split the province up into sections. You will have to concentrate at first on Alskar, I will take the rest of Rombuli. If we are to get done in time, you will have to leave in the morning. Make straight for the Fox's farm and persuade Margaret to co-operate. It would be a good idea if you could get Mr. Fox to contact me so that I can then fill him in on the gravity of the situation. Then with his help and Margaret's you can start following the trail of contacts until you have identified all those of your age with the talent. You will then bring them back here and we can start to organise our communications network."
" You make it all sound so easy but I have a feeling it is not going to be simple and will involve a lot of hard work in the cold and snow. What will you be up to while I am away?" Edward did not sound too enthusiastic.
" I will start at Shardlaw where I am certain there are people with the talent and then work back towards Nimmar. You had better get back to your lovely wife and tell her what is about to happen. I am certain they will work out some way in which she can help the war effort while you are away. I will see you in a few weeks and make sure you have some people with the talent with you. May you travel with your Maker!"