September 6th -- Alebad
"I have a brother across the seas. When I hear from him, he too speaks of war as a game. A game too, his life. No matter my urgings, he freely stakes himself toward the slightest matter he deems worthy."
Aepyornis lifted his hand slightly. "Perhaps Lord Valdrix may be a liability, if he thinks lightly because he does not understand the depth of our purpose. However," he turned his hand, "if he thinks lightly because of the depth of his understanding, then like my brother he is the sort that a cause needs most. I should like that we make this distinction."
He stared intently on his palm before drawing it to a fist around an imaginary insect. It was released after just a moment, free to bother other spirits.
"With the devastation of the northeast, I fear that no amount of unity or dedication will spell a successful offensive. However, my view of the Stage stands broad yet shallow. Please, appraise me of what assets you can beyond Lord Valdrix."
September 12th -- Alebad
"You know of course that Innocent has relocated here from the north, bringing both the faith and his sister with him. We'll soon have a fine playhouse in Volkanita and I'm hopeful that others will follow," Cathal answered the question obliquely, but as he did so he pictured the war room with its great maps of the Colonies and neatly pigeon-holed scrolls densely written with reports from agents across the southern lands, and in its midst the oval table of ancient oak about which his commanders discussed the coming war.
There was much speculation in Alebad as to the nature of that war cabinet. Some said that to the left of the Imperial Lord sat Duke Valdrix, guardian of the realm's warchest and captain of the city garrison. Others said that it was Marshal Khain who sat there, deposed Prime Minister of Oritolon. All agreed however that Lord Hendrik the Lord of War must surely sit in the righthand seat.
And what of the two mysterious figures who were seen from time to time in those precincts? One was rumoured to be Lady Allyah, the former Pontifex of Alowca, whilst the other was a youth reputed to bear a striking resemblance to the once infamous Anomalous Psyche though it surely must be some distant relation rather than the ancient schemer.
"In truth 'tis quite the cast who cluster about my standard, like moths drawn to a bright flame in the depths of a moonless night," Cathal looked intently at his friend, reading his face for the subtle signs betraying his knowledge. There were few secrets which could be concealed long from a shaman of Aepyornis's stature.
Interlude -- Alebad
A large crowd thronged the city square, gathered to the stage that carpenters had spent half the night erecting from rough-hewn timbers and which pages had since festooned with bunting and the banners of the many nobles houses of Minas Thalion.
All there assembled had heard the rumours of imminent war from Oritolon, and many secretly feared their peaceful way of life must surely come to an end under the iron legions of that southern power. But for the most part they put a brave face on matters, knowing in their heart of hearts that fear would do little to aid their cause.
As the hours ticked past the sun reached its zenith and began its graceful descent into the west. A light breeze blowing up the river estuary from the eastern ocean caught the banners and pennants, blowing them to and fro, but still the crowd grew larger. It seemed as if the entire realm were gathering though the crowd more likely was no more than ten thousand.
Many there had heard tales of their Imperial Lord's past, of the signs and wonders attributed to him. Young gossips whispered to their companions that he was a sorcerer, skilled in the arts of the Bakkar peninsula, whilst grizzled Alowcan exiles spoke of the general they'd followed to the slaughter of Abaka Fields whose loyalty to the Gods had sustained that people through many hardships. But most ignored such nonsense, for he was just and fair ruler. So it was that after a while a natural hush seemed to fall across the assembly.
As the sun finally touched the citadel a chorus of trumpets rang out from the battlements and the great gate swung open. From within emerged the Imperial Lord, a blue surcoat with the arms of Minas Thalion over his coat of chainmail, flanked by his squire Emrys bearing his scabbarded sword.
The two walked solemnly to the stage and took their positions upon it, Cathal pausing a moment to study the faces of his people before addressing them in a voice which carried clear across the square and into the surrounding streets.
"Knight Electors, Noble Burghers and Commons of Minas Thalion, we stand upon the brink of War.
I know this news will be hard to bear for the many amongst our company who travelled here seeking respite from the wars of our neighbours, but it seems there are those who seeing the peaceful idyll which we have created in these fair lands can think only of its destruction.
The Prime Minister Malice of Oritolon is such a man and considers it his right to deny all whom he personally despises the freedom to live peacefully beyond his borders, declaring it an insult to his majesty and an unjust provocation.
If it is an unjust provocation to draw breath and hold an independent thought then certainly we are guilty of such, and for that we shall never apologise. Here within the ring of our warriors' steel it is for us to decide how we live, with whom we consort, and to which Gods - if any - we shall bend our knee.
For the past several weeks I've sought to find a peaceful resolution to this crisis, extending many gestures of friendship to Prime Minister Malice, but it seems that he is well named for each has been rebuffed with increasing unpleasantness. Some amongst you who have read the pamphlets circulated in Oritolon and bearing his name will know that his mind has been set on War throughout his recent election campaign - even as Lord Cleatus has assured us of the contrary here in our own courts of justice. Such is the character of this man that he holds perjuring one of his most respected advisors of little weight compared to his hunger for conquest.
I have offered Oritolon one last opportunity to restore peaceful relations but my heralds confirm that a declaration of War is even now being prepared against us by the Prime Minister and that it will be delivered within the next twenty-four hours. However he is far from unanimously supported by his own knights and though he considers himself sufficiently secure to discount their opinion we must never forget that many who will march against us do so out of duty, not out of spite. Though we must defeat them in battle let us never forget that they are men and women of noble hearts, lead maliciously to war against their better nature.
Tomorrow their full weight will be turned against us, but we shall not buckle. For we fight not only for our freedom but for theirs as well. Through victory in arms we shall overturn this unjust regime and restore the good friendship which so long stood between our peoples."
Cathal's squire knelt by his side, offering him the hilt of his sword. He placed his hand about the grip and drew it from its scabbard to hold aloft, the blade seeming for a brief moment to outshine the afternoon sun.
"Our cause is Justice, against whom even the gates of hell cannot prevail."