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Warren, returning to his men at the arena, had to give them the terrible but not surprising news that they were to be used for the amusement of the people, fighting as gladiators.
After he was given his test and dressed in gold like Harper, Warren gathered all the gold-shirted men to form a new alliance. As far as the former High Inquisitor cared, the ones who had failed to earn a gold shirt were traitors, men not committed enough to the cause.
"We will be competing in five different games," Warren explained. He had kept it a secret from the all but Harper but he had learned some of the language of the Lahore from the secret histories of the Church of the Mother.
"What are they?" One of the men asked.
"The first is that you will be paired with one of the blue shirts… chained together. As far as I am concerned I want you to allow them to die, so long as your own life is not put at risk."
"Why?" Harper asked.
"The Lahorians believe us to be more than barbaric… let's prove that to them by showing how we treat the weakest of our own," Warren explained.
"That is almost a third of our numbers!"
"The weakest third!" Warren insisted.
"What other games will they have us play?" Another man asked.
"If you have not guessed, the men with the animals painted on their shirts are to face the lions, bulls, leopards, bears, and such. They will not be trained as gladiators but only to serve the purpose of an amusing death."
"One will be war games… teams against teams. The last is reserved for the best… one on one combat. It is only by winning a series of such combats that one can earn one's freedom." Warren grinned, offering that temptation to his men.
"And we are to allow you to be the one who gains his freedom?" Harper saw at once.
"Am I not the best with the sword?" Warren insisted. "Am I not High Inquisitor? Do you not serve me?"
"Yes, your grace, but how many of our men will die for you to gain your freedom?"
"That is why only the best are allowed to compete in one on one combat… the 'Challenge' they call it. Since the Lahorians do not like their champions dying, all that one has to do is yield to one's opponent and one's life is spared. You just cannot yield too often or you will see yourself fed to the lions."
"How soon until we can compete in the 'Challenge'?" Harper asked.
"We must first make a show of ourselves… Considering some of our skills as Inquisitors I am sure we can give our opponents a death that the crowd will love." Warren snickered.
"The enemy is camped thirty miles east from here," Marcus reported pointing on the map. "With the bridges out, it will take them almost a week before they can reach the city."
"Have all the citizens been evacuated?" Varrus asked.
"Yes… most of them were more than willing, hearing that the vanguard is over fifty thousand in itself."
"They must always be in need of re-supply then. How are our raiding parties doing attacking their wagon trains?"
"I do not know… over the last month the number of reports we have been receiving from them has dropped off. The only information on what is happening to the east of the capital is coming from General Boars in Qul Hoth," Caleb replied.
"It would not be a far off a guess to say that our raiding camps have been destroyed?" Philip grunted.
"Yes…" Marcus nodded.
"What of your followers?" Philip asked Varrus. Since his and Jason's appearance, an almost religious cult had been growing around them.
"You know better than to ask about that. Jason's position is clear. They can help take care of the refugees, but not take part in the battles," Varrus replied.
"I do not know if you will be able to keep them restricted to doing that," Kristen spoke up. "They feel this is a holy war, not just against serfdom but in defense of their gods."
"Be as that may, Jason will not allow such an order to be given. Nor is anyone at this table to encourage otherwise," Varrus warned.
Philip sighed. "So be it… but at the rate your followers are growing there soon will be an established religion around the two of you. With that will come both power and responsibility."
"All I can say is that neither Jason nor I have done anything to encourage them."
"Still… they see you as messengers from the gods, if not gods yourselves. If you and Jason keep denying this, it will only lead to disaster," Marcus replied.
"If they ever find out that it is not true, the disaster will be greater," Varrus counter argued.
"Let the people believe what they want to believe," Philip grunted, tired of the argument.
"So how are the remaining arrangements for the siege?" Kristen asked after a long silence.
"Twenty-five thousand Centurions guard the city, another twenty in the palace, Labyrinth, and Keep. The Backdoor Fort has only five hundred men at the moment, but when we start bringing in supplies, we will send down more men," Marcus replied.
"How are our supplies holding?" Varrus asked Caleb.
"We have half a year's wheat crop and all the mixed grain we bought from the other kingdoms, before the war started, is in the silos next to the keep. The whole kingdom is on rations but we can survive a few years," Caleb said with pride.
"Unfortunately Qul Hoth is not in as good a situation," Marcus sighed.
"How much longer can the city hold out?" Philip asked.
"Since the city was allowed to grow without a wall or any other defensive structure, the only thing General Boars can do is set up barricades and tear down bridges. As for food, they are almost out," Marcus replied.
"Why was the city never evacuated?" Varrus asked.
"The Hothians, as they prefer to call themselves, refused to leave. Since we only have a few thousand Centurions there, it would have taken too much time to force the whole population out. We are talking about tens of thousands of the most stubborn people in the kingdom.
"Then they deserve what they get," Philip replied.
"So they do," Marcus agreed as he stood up to leave.
"Meeting over?" Kristen asked?"
"Yes, it is late. Tomorrow we will need to see that the nearby farms are burned lest the Confederacy decides to use them," Marcus answered.
"They are already abandoned fortunately." Varrus sighed as he too stood up to leave.