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Field Marshal Marcus had left General Boars in charge of the defense of Qul Hoth, a lakeside trading city to the east of the capital. He found himself not only surrounded by an army of Confederate troops, but also a mob of city officials. The latter were begging him to surrender, to prevent their beautiful city from being burned to ashes by the jars of dragon fire the Confederacy was threatening to rain down upon them if they did not.
"But we always surrender!" the mayor insisted looking with horror at the stake barricade surrounding his city.
"Times change and so do rulers. We cannot afford for the port to fall to the enemy. If the Confederacy gains control of the Qulos River, they will be able to use it to sail in supplies and men to Qul Tos, where the real battle is. It would also divide the kingdom in half, splitting up our garrisons," General Boars shouted.
"But tradition!" the mayor and the city council members shouted as one. For centuries, control of Qul Hoth had exchanged hands between Huron, Tal Sith, and Qul Tos. Each time an invading army had approached, Qul Hoth surrendered without a fight. In return, the mayor and his council were usually left in place to run the city as if nothing had changed other than where the taxes went. Not even when the city was founded had the city had a wall, fort, towers, or even stockade.
This time, however, Qul Hoth was in Centurion hands… eight thousand against thirty, with a fleet of fifty armed riverboats. Boars knew he had enough men to hold the city and protect the mouth of the Qulos River, but having only twenty ships at his command did worry him. For, while on land a single Centurion warrior could easily kill or maim three or more of the enemy, there was less he could do on water.
"I will not surrender this city to anyone!" Boars shouted down the politicians. "There are things more important than your traditions. The whole kingdom is at stake."
"Qul Tos is… we on the other hand are Hothians… men of the lake. What have we ever cared about our Tosian cousins?"
"What is this?" Boars asked confused.
The mayor sighed. If he were dealing with any other man of the east, he would not have to explain his city's history. "We do not see ourselves as being Tosian, Sithian or Huron. We are our own people, and have survived as such by being pacifists. Look at our arched buildings, nothing like the tiled flat roofs of the Tosians. We even have our own language, more akin to Jadoorian instead of eastern Centurion. We may live in Qul Tos but the only lives we see worth defending are those of our Hothian brothers and sisters.
"Then protect them you will… for before I see this city fall I will have it burned to the ground. Your markets, mansions, theaters, and harbors will be turned to ash. Your people will then be scattered across Ares where your people will lose their sense of self."
"You would not dare!" the mayor fumed.
I do dare… so if I were you I would go to those men and woman protesting outside and tell them to pick up a sword, for if this city falls, so will your people." Boars said as he summoned two of his guards.
"This will not be the last we speak of this!" the mayor yelled as he was escorted out of the tavern Boars was using as his base.
Once the city officials were gone, a lieutenant approached the general. "Your orders?"
"Have the food and water supplies watched. Do not let a single Hothian serve a meal to our men. I will not risk the Hothians poisoning us like the Famulus did to Admiral Urrack.
"Yes general." The officer saluted. "What of the protestors?" he asked over the faint shouting coming from the windows.
"Issue a curfew… between the mid suns. Anyone found on the street afterwards will be drafted to serve as a Famulus."
"It will be done."
"Good, now bring me my supper and a glass of wine. Dealing with fools leaves bitterness on my tongue.
"I will see a pair of lamb chops and spiced potatoes are brought up." The lieutenant bowed before leaving.
As he waited for his meal, Boars watched as buildings were brought down with ropes and iron hooks, barricading the narrow streets, soon there would be only one path through the city to the port. General Boars was betting that the path would soon be learned by some patriotic Hothian, who in turn would let the Confederacy know. It would be that man's fate to lead the enemy into a trap. It was the general's fate that he would be the destroyer of Qul Hoth. But, as a Centurion, he was going to fight like one.
Lord Brashear, a stout man in his early thirties, walked down the halls of the palace toward the bronze doors that led to the center of power in Tal Sith. Inside, the young king Samuel waited for his most loyal of tax collectors. As soon as Brashear was granted entry, he went down on his knees and crawled his way toward the middle of the circular room before bowing his head down to the green carpeted floor.
"Rise, Brashear," the king, in his mid-twenties, commanded.
The Earl stood up on his feet, but kept his head aimed at the carpeted floor. "Your majesty, how may I be of service?"
"You have always have been of good service. Your tax collectors make our treasury fat with silver, gold, cattle, and wheat."
"But you have need of me somewhere else?" Brashear asked, knowing that had to be the reason for this summons, as tax collection was still two seasons away.
"The war with Qul Tos is not proceeding as well as we wish…" King Samuel began. "Huron thinks they are the only real power in the Confederacy and the King's representative, Sirrus, has been using our men to do his dirty work."
"I do not see why Tal Sith should tolerate such a situation," Brashear grinned, face still down.
"We agree… It is good to have a loyal servant that shares the king's thoughts."
"How would you like us to correct this matter?" Brashear asked.
"We would like you to personally take over command of our men… also try to convince the other kingdoms to follow you. You just make sure that when the city falls… that it is our men who control the royal treasury of Qul Tos.
"That should not be a problem, your majesty. I only ask permission to make certain arrangements with the Qopo."
"The Qopo? What could you have to do with such men?"
"The Qopo are not all that bad."
"They are slavers," the king said with disgust.
"Not much difference between our serfs and their slaves," Brashear pointed out.
"Except we can't sell our serfs… We also do not kidnap people to place on market.
"I will try to not laugh at the fact that not a few of the Qopo would see your majesty as the type of person they prefer to sell -- educated and well trained.
"Better that you do not… but tell me, what do you want from them?"
"Something that will get the other kingdoms' attention," was all Brashear would say.
Once he left the royal palace, Brashear made his way to the Qopo embassy. The two story building did not so much represent the government of the dark-skinned men as the traders who had dealings within Tal Sith. Entering the room, he found it warm and dry compared to the early summer air outside, the heat of several fires causing beads of sweat to form on his forehead. The Qopo hated living outside their tropical homeland. In their legends, the Qopo believed that long ago they were the only people on Areas… that all others were invaders who should be enslaved. It was one of the reasons that there was a great deal of animosity between Qopo and Rapa. The Rapans, the Qopo held, had betrayed their loyalty to the land by leaving it. As a result, Rapan ships were always prime targets of Qopo slavers.
Brashear, however, was not interested in slaves. The Qopo had other goods that the nobleman wanted.
"Lord Brashear, how may I serve the king's tax collector?" the merchant Dodofan asked.
"I have need of something special… something only you can give me."
"I did not know that Tal Sith was short of anything." Dodofan said, even as greed grew in his eyes.
"Yes, but it seems our ally, Huron, thinks they should have sole command of our expedition in Qul Tos. His majesty has sworn me to see that the Hurons are reminded that we are supposed to be allies in this venture, sharing both in the sacrifices and the rewards.
"And what do you have in mind?"
"I am thinking of something not large in numbers but formidable to get Huron's attention."
"I think I know to what your lordship is referring. I will have to warn you that bringing such cargo across the Inner Sea will be expensive."
"We are willing to pay."
"Good, so long as the war is over by autumn, then I do not see a problem." Dodofan nodded.
"What is wrong with it lasting until winter?"
"That is when I return home, your lordship, and when I go home so does my cargo… that is unless you are willing to pay for my discomfort.
"How much more?" Brashear asked suspiciously.
The merchant wrote a figure on a piece of parchment.
Brashear waited until the scowl that had formed on his face had faded before replying. "Then we better pray that the war does end soon."