Chapter 10: On Shaking Ground
Kiara leaned forward as much as her stays and bodice and dignity allowed, hands clenching the arms of the throne so tightly that she felt her rings digging into the soft gilding. “So that I am clear on this creature’s claims. He is a former service-slave, served a contract, lived on his own in the south, took a second contract in order to buy property for his family, and claims that Tabor-Kirov used that as an excuse to contract his mother and siblings, then refused to release them when challenged. And so he followed Tabor-Kirov here, obtained a costume and pistols and killed him so that as per law and custom all contracts would be cancelled and the family released.” She sat back and took a deep breath. “Is there any record that he attempted to seek help from one of the imperial agents when they visited the Tabor-Kirov lands?”
Pushkin shook his head. “No, Imperial Majesty.”
“Has his petition for justice from the crown been located?”
Major Grigorii Donn shook his head. “No, Imperial Mistress, no such petition has been found in any of the possible locations. That may be because he admits that he never tried to file one.”
Donn seemed to gulp and looked at the floor, running his hands up and down the rolled-up papers that he held. “Because he claims that Your Imperial Majesty is not a legitimate ruler and that only when the true Emperor Pawl returns from hiding will it be worth petitioning the crown for aid.”
Do not scream, do not explode, do not order the man flogged to death. Kiara fixed her attention on the carved and painted flowers above the doorway at the end of the smaller reception room, counting the leaves and petals until she calmed down and could speak in a cool, civilized manner. “How interesting. Given that there is no need for me to sit justice on the man, I believe that I will ignore his insult. The number of witnesses and the heinous nature of the deed make a trial moot. Or do I misremember the law?” She looked at the clerk standing off to Andre’s right.
He bowed. “Imperial Mistress, you remember correctly. Murder of the first kind, that is murder planned in advance and committed before more than four witnesses does not require a trial unless certain extenuating circumstances are present or the family of the deceased requests it. Based on the known facts, the sentence is five blows with the five-tailed whip and death by hanging, since the killer is not of the nobility. It may be commuted to life in exile if the church petitions and your Imperial Majesty grants such mercy.”
“Thank you.” She turned to Andre. “Has the church requested such?”
“Not yet, Imperial Majesty, and I doubt Archpriest Boris will do so. He is rather preoccupied at the moment.”
Kiara almost smiled at his marvelous understatement. Archpriest Boris had to discipline at least a half-dozen monasteries and convents caught attempting to hold service-slaves, among other violations of state and church laws. She drummed her fingers on the arm of the throne, considered her options, and decided. “Tabor-Kirov’s body has been interred, the liturgies said as his widow and family requested, and no petition from them or the church has come to my attention. Execute the man tomorrow, on the road leading west. His family may claim the body after,” she counted. “After eight days. The church may also do so if they ask.
“Lord Pushkin, I realize it is late in the year for couriers to travel, but I want copies of every service contract from the Tabor-Kirov lands, and if Lord Savin protests, remind him that I am Godown’s agent to act for the good of all of Godown’s children, and that the Most High has no patience for those who abuse their privileges or fail to do their sworn duty.” If the weather holds, the message will get to Sweet City before noon tomorrow, and it will take another four days of hard riding to get to Tabor-Kirov. That should be fast enough to keep Savin from doing something foolish. He’d not disobeyed her this far, but if even a hint of truth existed in the murderer’s claims, then she needed to act before Godown did.
“As you command, Imperial Majesty, so shall it be,” Andre and Maj. Donn said, bowing again. A scribe finished writing out her orders and presented her with the paper and a lit sealing candle. She removed her ring and he dropped wax onto the page. She pressed the signet into it, then signed below, Klara Alsice Svendborg EgG, Empress by the grace of Godown. The scribe gave the copy to Donn. He bowed and placed it on top of the sheaf of legal documents. The killer would have tonight to pray and meet with a priest, then die tomorrow. He’d already endured ten blows of the five-tailed whip during questioning, so no more would be administered.
That evening the earth shook in New Rodi. Once more, the trembling upset people and made the hanging candle lights swing, but caused no major harm. Kiara had been almost amused as she stared at the ripples in her soup bowl. At dawn she attended liturgy as she usually did. In theory the church did not require her to attend worship as much as it demanded of others, because her duty as defender and judge of Believers, but Kiara had not availed herself of that dispensation yet. And given the rumors of unhappy murmurs about the treatment of service-slaves and commoners in general, plus the earth shakes and other odd things, visible devotion seemed to be the safest route.
Two snows had swept through New Rodi before the documents from Tabor-Kirov arrived. “My apologies, imperial mistress,” the courier whispered. “Storms in the south and near Muskava delayed the riders. Roads are washed out and the harvest lost around Muskava from the rain and ice. Anything not harvested is rotting in the field, especially the white-root and orange-root plants.”
“There is no need to apologize when Godown Himself diverts the path,” Kiara assured the young man. “What of the apfel, ah, apple harvest?”
He looked down again. “Imperial Mistress, several lords forced their people to leave the grain standing and the roots in the ground so that the apples could be collected and pressed for wine and spirits.”
That can’t be. No one is that stupid. “I see. Thank you and you are dismissed.” The boy bowed where he knelt, stood, bowed again and departed. Kiara drummed her fingers on the arm of the throne. Oh, dear. I hope the storms and cold didn’t damage the chokofee farms. They only started producing full crops three years ago. I’m not certain I can still survive without chokofee. Crop losses, a lord killed while speaking to her, a smoking mountain, Kiara shook hear head. What will Godown send next? Thanks be that glitterwings can’t fly across the sea.
A most unhappy Andre Pushkin presented his findings from the Tabor-Kirov records two days later. Kiara read them and demanded to see things for herself. She read through five of the enormous books before standing so fast that the chair fell over, gathering her skirts, and storming out of the room in the chancery. She began pacing the long painting hall, listening to the storm winds snarling around the palace and trying to calm her temper. At last she gave up and let anger flame, giving her steps even more energy as she strode back and forth along the hundred meters of hallway. One of her maids and a footman waited at one end, the maid working on a knitting project.
The killer had not lied. And Ivan Tabor-Kirov the elder had kept records of his abuses. Two women re-listed as birth-slaves even though their parents had been free farmers when they were born. A family hired to farm for a season, then claimed as service-slaves on a ten-year contract without their realizing what had happened, and the contract remaining unsigned. The killer’s widowed mother and younger brothers and a sister enslaved despite the contract being short-term for one son only, and then the lot of them given to Savin after the young man fled. Men beaten and their wives and children assaulted for daring to challenge their contracts, children falsely listed as birth-slaves or gift children, Kiara recited the list of abuses with each step. And all of it for Tabor-Kirov’s benefit. Her agents had taken some of the other account books as well, and he had not spent enough on clothes and bedding and other necessities for his servants and service-slaves and others. Nor had he pursued the Harriers when they carried off a dozen of his people. Kiara wanted to have Tabor-Kirov’s body dug up and flogged for making her look bad and for offending Godown. In that order. Perhaps the courier had been right about the lords near Muskava demanding that the food harvest wait on the liquor harvest. “Damn him.”
“If you refer to the late Lord Tabor-Kirov, I fear that is beyond the skill of any in NovRodi.”
Kiara finished her lap and stopped. Andre bowed. “I am, I will say, concerned about the known and purported actions of certain nobles. It suggests that they have forgotten from where their privileges and properties come,” she enunciated. “It also suggests that a warning and perhaps an example must be given.”
“Or would it be better to reward those who have acted well first, Imperial Majesty, then discipline the erring, so that the erring have time to mend their ways?”
“In normal times I would agree with you. These are not normal times. I cannot risk the lords further offending Godown and bringing disaster down on us all.” She stopped, considered, and added, “and the church. The western men were correct about the monasteries trying to force them into service contracts. And where was the priest and bishop to tell Tabor-Kirov to stop breaking the law?”
Andre stroked the little winter beard he’d begun cultivating. “Imperial Mistress, I do not know.”
“Neither do the three regional Archpriests, I suspect.”
The next day she announced her decisions at a formal court council meeting. Her oldest son, Boris Pawlson, stood in the back of the hall with one of his tutors, attending his first court council. Kiara wore one of the dresses based on her Imperial Guard uniform, a way to remind the lords just what backed up her decrees, besides Godown’s hand. Some of you wouldn’t listen to Godown unless He appeared in front of you in fire and storm, and then you’d still quiz Him just to be certain. “It has come to the attention of the crown that certain lords are abusing their privileges and neglecting their duties. Given the recent ass-ass-een-ate-ion of Ivan Tabor-Kirlov, I believe you have been reminded that even the poorest, most humble creature of Godown’s will be heard when it cries to Godown for aid. ‘For lo, He hears the murmur of the meez in their nests and the pleas of the unfledged chick. Surely He hears the prayers of the innocent and suffering.’ And ‘the word of Godown is everlasting, full of truth and wisdom from age to age, for He shall exalt every valley and lay low every mountain, shall make the rough places into plains and the seas into dry land before He neglects His children.’ Godown has given the noble and the monarch many gifts, but with those come many duties. We are to serve the servants. We are to feed and clothe those in need. We are to shelter the widow and orphan. We are not to work them to death. We are not to compel what should be given in love, or to break our sworn word for the sake of our own desires.”
Kiara stopped to allow them time to think. As she did, a scribe handed her a written copy of her pending decree. “Hear this. Those lands given to Lord Tabor-Kirov by the crown are revoked and returned to the imperial holdings. He knowingly broke the law, compounding the crime by hiding his deeds. For assisting in that deception, Lord Savin loses half his given land and his guardianship of the Kirov children, who will be brought into the care of the crown. Lord Karlinov, the crown is reclaiming your forest grants because of your attempts to interfere with the foresters’ rights. They answer only to the crown in all but matters of basic law, as all well know. Lord Nilgal, congratulations on bringing in your apple crop. The crown revokes your exemption for the liquor taxes since you put liquor before feeding your people. I know,” she held up one hand, stopping the fat noble from protesting. “No man knows what the next day’s weather brings. But to delay grain and whiteroot harvest by two weeks, even with the mirror towers warned of coming storms? Threatening parents if their children dared bring in some of the root crop instead of trying to work in the apple sheds? That is inexcusable. The monasteries that attempted to violate law and custom by keeping service-slaves have also been disciplined, and priests warned that if they observe violations of the laws of mercy, they must warn the offender and then tell their superiors.”
Kiara stopped, watching the men. Nilgal scowled at her, running one hand up and down the lapel of his coat. Karlinov whispered to Korbin, who seemed unmoved, arms folded, shaking his head a little as he listened. Old and young Poliko seemed to be comparing thoughts, and several of the others appeared shaken, as if they’d never considered that what the crown granted it could also revoke. One or two men looked smug, including Broislov and Mandrovic, and she made a note to keep an eye on them, or for Pushkin to have the chancery keep an eye on them.
“I will also remind everyone that only the children of on-contract service-slaves may be listed as birth-slaves. The children of any free man, no matter if he has served a contract or not, are free until they choose to sign a service contract.”
Several more men grew thoughtful and the whispers increased. Kiara sat back and opened her fan, waving it a little to move the air as she watched. Boris Pawlson and his tutor were deep in conversation and Kiara took that as a good sign. He needed to learn how to crack the whip as well as to reward those who pleased. “The floor is opened.” Now they could bring other matters to her or to the general council.
Mandrovic, tall and gangly like a storch raised one hand. “Yes?”
“Imperial Majesty, is it true that a smoking mountain has been reported in the northwest?”
That certainly stilled conversation. Kiara nodded. “Yes. It is called a wol-kane-oo and it seems to be having an ee-rupf-tink. The oldest records mention that such a thing happened before the founding of Muskava, during the Lander years. It makes dust and ash, and shakes the ground. Why it does that, and what exactly an ee-rupf-tink is the account did not say.”
“Imperial Majesty, is it a sign of Godown’s anger?” That came from the elder Lord Poliko.
Kiara beckoned. Father Martin had been listening from a seat near the throne. He stood and addressed the group. “There is nothing in the Writ and Commentaries that suggest that a dusty mountain was part of the Great Fires, if that is the question. Even the accounts of less certain authenticity, including the ‘Vision of St. Basil’s Lamb’ do not mention anything like a dusty mountain. It is said that the easterners have a work entitled ‘Commentary on the Vision of St. Mou’ that could be taken to describe fire and melted rock coming from the ground during the Great Fires, but the easterners consider that account to be of questionable origin, dating from several hundred years after the Great Fires.” He snorted a little. “And that assumes that one agrees with the existence of a Saint Mou.”
Several people frowned, Lord Korbin made St. Issa’s sign, and Kiara stifled a sigh. She’d never encountered the devotees of St. Mou that plagued the Eastern Empire and some of the Imperial Free Cities. Apparently the saint had not attracted as much of a following in the trading cities and Sea Republics, and given their dependence on Lander technology, Kiara could see why. She’d learned about him, of course, but he sounded like a miserable soul if half the stories attributed to him were true. On the other hand, if Godown did all that some of His followers claimed, none of us would be left alive to worship Him.
Lord Gretchanii raised his hand and she acknowledged him. “My lords, Imperial Majesty, many years ago when Great Pjtor ruled NovRodi, a man known only as Landis served him as interpreter, guide, and warrior in the southern lands. Landis told my grandfather about seeing the Split Sea while he was a captive of the Harriers. According to the family chronicle, Landis told grandfather that several mountains along the sea glowed at night as fire flowed out of them, and the air stank like rotten eggs. He said the ground shook and in places the Harriers and Turklavi claimed that it felt hot, as if fire burned beneath. The shakes split the ground open and allowed the sea to form, or so the Harriers thought, and spoke of how the Landers had offended their goddess and she danced in a way that caused the ground to tremble and then break apart under a Lander city, dropping it into the ground. Landis did not believe in the goddess, but averred that he had felt the ground shake and saw the glow. The Turklavi and Harriers shun the Split Sea. Perhaps the dusty mountain is a cold version of a fire mountain, Imperial Majesty?”
She’d read about Landis, and how Great Pjtor never doubted his words. “It, it could certainly be possible, Lord Gretchanii, since the Writ says that the worlds of Godown are wonderfully and fearfully made, and fire coming from the ground sounds terribly fearful to me.” A few men chuckled while others stared at her or Gretchanii, eyes open, mouths turned down and clearly appalled at their words. “It was said in Hämäl that well to the south, on the south edge of the Triangle Mountains near the Eastern Empire’s protectorate of Tivolia, burning air came from the ground not far from a place where earth oil bubbled up, and that the air smelled bad and animals shunned the place. All things are possible to Godown.”
“Ameen,” a few voices agreed.
Several lords of court complained about their loss and others bemoaned the reminder about the laws, but no one challenged the empress’s words, at least not openly. I don’t care what you think in your hearts. That is between you and Godown. Your conduct worries me far more. Lord Pushkin departed court to check on his lands, but not before introducing several young men to Kiara. All the youngsters had earned excellent recommendations for business knowledge, diplomatic skill, or other useful matters, and one was an accounts keeper of unusual talent whom Kiara promoted and assigned to the tax office that very day, making him exceedingly happy. Which shows that truly Godown made a person for each task, as long as you search long enough to find them. He also warmed her bed a few times and seemed trainable, but liked numbers more. She accepted his semi-rejection with good grace and instead took Issa Ivanson as her winter lover. He’d served as a secretary-clerk in New Dalfa and did very well, especially with matters of trade. Issa possessed an amazing memory for merchandise and trade goods, danced passably well, had limited ambitions, and knew enough not to claim more than Kiara granted. She liked a handsome face and good body, but competence and skill mattered more.
“Imperial Majesty, if the records are correct, the Frankonians are not abiding by the trade agreement,” Ivanson warned one cold afternoon as they worked in her office. First a storm swept New Rodi with a ferocity Kiara could barely recall, then the clouds departed and cold so hard it froze the ink in the wells in her office bit the city. At Kiara’s orders soldiers visited the poorest part of the cities and the church allowed the truly needy to shelter within monasteries and convents until the killing cold eased. The snow squeaked and even heavy-laden freight sleighs left no tracks as they skimmed over the drifts. All the horses required ice caulks on their shoes, and Kiara knew that the rumors of buried villages and dardog attacks would prove true.
“In what way are they breaking the agreement?” Several possibilities come to mind.
He held up a page covered in his neat and orderly hand. “They are charging the same fee on trimmed and untrimmed timbers, Imperial Majesty, they are sending red as well as white wine, their merchants are selling the bolt wrapping cloth instead of keeping it for their own use, and are selling it as general use fabric instead of rough use. The Frankonians are also re-exporting furs as their own and charging double. That comes from both the Fielder family business and A’asterdee’s chief factor here, who says the Trade Prince lodged a formal complaint with the Frankonian ambassador as soon as they learned of it. Those giant cat pelts? The Frankonians were cutting them into smaller sizes and marketing them as Triangle Range mountain cat pelts.”
Kiara lifted the hem of her short jacket and looked at the fur trim. “This is mountain cat and it has spots. The plains cats did not have spots.”
“Exactly, Imperial Majesty, which is what makes one wonder just how blind the Frankonain was who tried such a thing. Mountain cat furs are two layer as well unless someone combs out the inner layer so the outer pelt can be used for a warm-weather garment.” He rolled his eyes. “Which made almost as much sense as those odd short-in-back coats and putting stuffed birds in one’s hair.”
Kiara shook her head as she tried to imagine such things. “The fashion for floured hair had passed not long before I was old enough to have worn the look, but my mother’s maid told me about it.” She sighed. “I will never understand the Frankonian crown’s policies. A prickle-pig seems more welcoming.”
He shrugged. “Imperial Majesty, the Dalfans wondered if something in the green-colored wine that the Frankonians reserve for their own use affected their judgment. But they survive.”
“They do.” Kiara looked at the list of meetings and business she needed to attend to. “The furs. That is not acceptable. As I recall they have a different definition of trimmed timber than we use, so that could be a simple misunderstanding.”
“They do, Imperial majesty, and it could well be.” he used his earth-coal stick to make a mark on the list. “If it is your desire, I will speak with one of the clerks who knows the Frankonian dialect about that.”
“Please do. Tell the market master that he is to intercept any more of the bolt wrappers that appear on the sales tables and do as he sees fit, since they are mis-labeled and not for sale to private customers. The wine should be refused and sent straight back to Frankonia.” The usual first penalty was a warning and small fine, with the offending item paraded through the markets for all to see. After that, well, it varied, but Master Ivan seemed to have some creative ways to let the punishment fit the crime.
And so the winter passed, both quickly and slowly. Kiara spent more time with Boris Pawlson. He’d reached the age of reason and she tried to include him in court events, explaining what she’d done and why over breakfasts. He looked very much like Jeffrey but with Pawl’s build and coloring, although not his lack of grace and bulging eyes. Kiara still was not certain who had fathered her son, but suspected that it was Pawl. Boris’s tutors had taught him that he was Pawl’s son and he believed it with his whole heart. Kiara had no idea how to treat him, exactly, so she talked to him as if he were a small adult. He learned quickly and asked good questions, but grew bored easily. Master Thomas assured her that all boys his age had the same failing and that it was not a sign of the same problem Pawl had suffered from.
It lacked only four days to the Feast of Godown’s Mercy before the snow melted enough to allow Kiara to ride out to the park. She basked in the sun, and after dealing with two refusals and much messing about, dismounted from Red’s back and loosened his girth, then felt under the saddle to see what bothered him. She couldn’t feel any sore spots or wrinkles in the saddle cloth, so she checked his legs, looked in his ears, inspected his feet. Nothing. She stood in front of him, hands planted on hips. “Horse, you are being foolish.” She started to tighten his girth when she heard galloping hoofs getting closer and he jerked, trying to pull loose from the tie rack. “Easy!” She grabbed his head and held it down, calming him. “Easy there, Red, easy.” I am going to skin the fool—
A panic-stricken courier raced up, scattering gravel and further irritating her. “Imperial” he gasped, “Mistress, Imperial,” gasp, “Mistress, a message from the Turklavi lord.” Gasp.
Kiara let her eyes go half closed. “Is this person here in New Rodi?”
Gasp. “No, imperial mistress.”
“Is he close by?”
A head shake. “No, imperial mistress.”
“He is not here, he is not near by, he is not attacking New Rodi. Why did you charge up and startle my mount, interrupting my ride and disturbing the peace if it is not an emergency?”
The boy stared at her, gape mouthed. “Be—Because it is a message from the Turklavi lord, Imperial Mistress.”
Her eyes flashed wide open and Kiara strode over to the boy’s side. He rode a small horse and she reached up, taking him by surprise. She grabbed his jacket collar and pulled him down to eye level. “If it is not an emergency, boy, do not endanger me and others with careless haste. Do—You—Understand?” If you don’t I’ll pull you out of the saddle and flog you with my riding stick.
“Ye—Yes, imperial mistress.” She shoved him upright, more or less, and returned to Red.
“I will return to the palace when I am finished here. Go. On foot, since you can’t treat your mount properly.”
He walked the horse away, and Kiara saw the beast limping on the off-side hind leg. Idiot. She confirmed that Red’s girth was tight, untied him and mounted. Horses, good horses, cost far too much to ruin for no reason at all. Even a message from the Turklavi, if it was not something like a battle notice from a war leader camped outside the city gate, did not deserve that kind of behavior.
Kiara rode back to the palace slowly. Red kept dancing and sidling, acting far more foolish than usual. “What is the matter with you, beast?”
He threw his head back and screamed, eye rolling, as the other horses in the street did the same. The ground trembled, birds launched into flight, and the water in the canal sloshed. A cart horse tried to bolt but the heavy load slowed him enough that a passing cavalry man caught the big gelding’s headstall and stopped him. Kiara rode through the commotion and urged Red into a walk. Servants swarmed the courtyard, bringing horses out of the stall block. Kiara dismounted. “You. See to him, and if necessary, overnight the stock in the riding park.”
“Yes, Imperial Mistress.” Kiara went up the stairs against the stream of people rushing out of the building. They stopped, bowed or knelt, and when she continued indoors, followed.
“Are the fires out?” She asked, quietly, calmly. “Have the rooms been checked for candles and lamps that fell over? What about slop pots that tipped over? You, hang those pictures on the wall again.” He’d been removing them.
“But, Imperial Majesty, the Turklavi are attacking the city!”
“No they are not. The earth shook and a message has arrived. That is all. I was in the park and saw no Turklavi. The messenger saw no Turklavi. Return to your duties.”
Several hours passed before order within the palace returned to Kiara’s preferred level, and she had to control a number of rumors before falling into bed. A welcome voice startled her. “My lady, I appreciate the excitement but such dramatic doings are not necessary.” Andre Pushkin appeared beside the bed. Kiara wiggled out of the feather mattress and embraced him, then let him kiss her hand. “For a city under siege by the entire Turklavi army New Rodi is remarkably well-preserved.”
“I almost horsewhipped a messenger for galloping into the riding park to inform me that a message had arrived. Nothing more, just a piece of yellow paper in a yellow cloth carrier.” They kissed and his hands wandered. “And then another earth shake.”
“Yes, I was dismounting at my townhouse when the ground began to move. And then the rumor wave reached the foreign district.” He sighed. “The young are so foolish. The old even more so.”
“Agreed. I trust your journey proved less exciting.”
He caressed her rump through her night-dress. “Much so in some ways, far less so in others. But that can wait. I have traveled long to gaze on such beauty.”
“Only to gaze on or—?”
She heard him chuckle. “Or.”
The next day’s sunrise never happened, at least not as it usually did. A faint, yellow ball rose into a yellow sky and the light looked sickly and flat. It provided no heat and only dim, vague shadows appeared even at noon. Stripes darkened the sun as it set, like clouds and fire smoke both covered the western sky. But the earth remained solid and unmoving, much to Kiara’s relief. She had enough to deal with. A yellow sky and the yellow letter together? Truly Godown has interesting taste, or a strange sense of what is funny. She kept such thoughts well to herself.
Kiara looked at the two sheets of paper from the envelope. The pages were several centimeters larger than the standard correspondence sheets she used and bore a beautiful hand-painted tracery of leaves, flowers, and snakes around the borders. “Imperial Mistress,” the chancery clerk in charge of Harrier correspondence said, “none of the earlier materials from the Harriers or Turklavi are printed, and it is most unlikely that the Harriers would have printing machines, Imperial Mistress. They do not travel well.”
“Yes, Imperial Mistress. We have a large collection of captured documents and correspondence between Great Pjtor and the then chieftain, less from more recent years.” The odd man scuffed the floor a little with one large shoe. “Most of it is threats, insults, and warnings, Imperial Mistress, as you might expect from two energetic young men.”
“Ah.” Perhaps I should not have ordered Maldovo to destroy the Harrier letters and Turklavi letters in Pawl’s office unread. Well, at the time it was important to burn them before anyone else knew. They’d come inside other things, so even the messengers did not know what they carried, thanks be. As it was this page gave her enough to deal with. “Is it the same message or two different ones?”
“If I might turn it around, Imperial Mistress?” She nodded her permission and he shifted the Turklavi page so that he could read it. He ran his finger over the text backwards, right to left, and his lips moved as he read. “The first section is the same, a salutation and formal invocation of the Rajtan’s power as the goddess’s hands on Solana.” He looked up. “Imperial Mistress, my lords, Solana is an ancient, Lander name for Colplatschki.” At their nod he went back to reading. “The second section is the same.” His finger moved again, stopped, backed up, and his lips moved more slowly. “This is not. The rajtan says that the Turklavi and Harriers have legal right to NovRodi going to before the Great Fires. Ah, quote, ‘As Selkow the Merciful and beautiful gave the eastern lands to the believers after the great uprising, with charter and script; as she sent her fires to cleanse the land and sends them once more, so too shall I, the hand of the goddess, cleanse the lands of unbelief and of injustice. Selkow hears the cries of the oppressed and answers them with fire and sword.’ That is not literal, Imperial Majesty, because the literal has the verb in the center of the phrase in order to provide balance to the words and preserve a poetic—” He looked up again. “Your pardon. It is rare for me to get a new text to look at.”
He studied the rest of the page. “The final paragraph is the same in both languages, Imperial Mistress, my lords. The land is to convert to the worship of Selkow, all churches to be destroyed and their treasures melted and given to Selkow, and the women are to leave or be enslaved as repentant believers.”
Lord Gretchanii blinked. “That’s different. Usually they kill all women and girls. There is no offer to convert and live or to leave, just to die.”
“I do not find any of those options desirable,” Kiara stated. “The part about injustice. Do you know what that refers to?”
The translator shrugged very broad shoulders. He should have been in the army, except he could barely walk; his hips twisted and he used two crutches. “No, Imperial Mistress. What little I have read about the Turklavi and their religion claims that to them, their goddess is a beautiful dancer who created the world and cares for her animals and believers just as Godown does. I have seen one image of her, and I’m not certain a woman with six arms, pseudo-boar tusks, and wearing severed heads as a belt is what most men consider beautiful.”
Ugh. I don’t want to even imagine. How barbaric. “What about the possible legal claim?” She looked to Andre Pushkin, who had been lurking behind the archivist, Greatchanii, Mandrovic, Broisov, Poliko, and Generals Maldovo and Bryson. Admiral Ivan Androv stood beside Pushkin.
“Imperial Majesty, it is the same as the Frankonian claim from the time of Great Pjtor. They state that under the laws of the Landers and before, they have a right to settle because the population of NovRodi is so sparse. Two generations ago, that might have been true, that we had few people. Today? Not so true, and even if it were, the Lander laws vanished with the Landers.”
Kiara considered the letter and how to respond. Should she? “General Maldovo, how many troops do we have in the south and west?”
“Only a few thousand at best, Imperial Majesty. The spring call up will not begin until after the feast of Godown’s Mercy. I suspect it is closer to a thousand, because of planting.” He sighed.
“General Bryson, how long to move an army to the Sweetwater Sea?”
He looked at the ceiling, his lips moving. Kiara waited. And waited. And waited, and started patting her foot on the carpet covering the floor under her chair. The lords rustled, the archivist coughed into his hand and Maldovo began to stare at his colleague, hands clenching a millimeter at a time. At last Bryson said, “No less than two months, Imperial Mistress. Assuming they leave from Muskava. From here? Not until harvest. The roads,” he spread his hands in a helpless gesture.
“I had not realized that the navy sank last night.”
He blinked. “Did it, Imperial majesty?” Maldovo stepped a bit away from Bryson. The cavalry commander blinked again. “You are joking, Imperial Mistress?”
Would screaming at him help? No, he seems singularly dense. “I am not joking. Load the men and supplies on ships, sail them down the coast, and unload, then march overland. Commandeer horses, shahma, oxen and mules from the farms en route as well as bringing your own.” I should not be saying this. I am a woman. I’m not supposed to know more about log-gist-eeks than my generals. One of whom is about to be a lieutenant very shortly. The admiral had one arm folded across his chest and holding the other elbow as he covered his face with his hand. Kiara agreed with him. He lowered the hand and looked to her. She nodded permission to speak.
“Most wise Imperial Majesty, it will take two weeks to confirm that all the necessary ships are seaworthy. Since we would not be moving too far from the coast, we could get by with less preparation, and could probably de-gun some of the vessels in order to free deck space for soldiers and their artillery. Allowing for repairs after winter, and for the last ice to break away, it we begin the day after the Feast of Godown’s Mercy, then four weeks, barring major storms and other complications. Lord Korbin was able to sledge mast timbers and other wood in over the winter between storms, so we are set for seasoning and to begin any repairs. And if we stay near the coasts, we can carry more men and less water and fodder for man and beast.”
That decided Kiara. “Maldovo, muster all you can and prepare to move south. Well spoken, Admiral and please proceed as you have described. Major Bryson, you are excused from any planning duties except for those needed by your platoon.”
Bryson opened and closed his mouth like a karpf. Kiara ignored him. “I believe that this is more bluster than true threat, but I do not want to take a chance. A major show of force will remind the Harriers who rules the land, and if the Turklavi have indeed decided to come in person, we will be ready to give them a proper greeting.”
After more talk of what exactly to do and how to do it, and what the lords needed to anticipate, Kiara assigned the archivist to work with the army and give them anything of use that he could find. She dismissed all but Pushkin. He gave her his hand out of her chair and together they went to the large map hanging on the wall. Kiara used her walking stick as a pointer. “This area should be safe.” She indicated the northwestern forests. “If they do try to bring an army through, good luck and we will have a lot of warning.”
Pushkin snorted. “If they think they can cross the mountains before mid-summer they are fools. And as you say, my lady, we have warning.”
She ran the stick south into the plains. “So. If they come, will they come from below the watch wall, as they originally did, moving along the river, or north of it? Or is it a bluff?”
“Bluff, my lady. Pure bluff. They will send the Harriers if anything, and we now have the mirror towers to send word of their coming and going, and lots of people in the area to fight. And no more endless field of grass for them to graze on.” He folded his arms and nodded at the map. “Savin’s angry with you, my lady, but not to the point of wishing death on himself. He and the others, if the Harriers raid, will rally and fight back.”
Kiara lowered her black and gold walking stick and planted the tip on the floor. “If they raid. I do not want to spend the treasure and launch in such early seas, but I’d prefer not to be caught with my trousers down as the saying goes.” She heard his smothered chuckle and shook her finger at him. “No.”
He caught the finger and kissed her hand. “I would not say anything along the lines of what you might possibly have been implying, my lady.” The roguish gleam in his eye and his smile warned that he was certainly thinking it.
“After the end of the great fast. I do not care to be surprised with a fourth child.”
“Of course my lady.” He seemed to look off into the distance. “After the skies clear.”
(C) 2017 Alma T.C. Boykin All Rights Reserved