Ansle found Davia boring. The capital, Vadessa, was close
enough to civilisation to provide some home comforts, but the rest of the
country was provincial beyond belief - few towns could even boast light-
sets in their streets, for life, they had to rely on lanterns! The buildings
everywhere were architecturally regimented, and that fixed the tone for the
whole wretched society: everyone so eager to assimilate that they lost all
trace of individuality. If nothing else, Breska's short reign had injected new
dynamism into the population, although understandably Mitya couldn't have
allowed it to continue. Known troublemakers had simply been executed.
Their leaders, however, had been subjected to shells; it's harder for
followers to make martyrs of people who are still alive, even if they are
bereft of mind. He smiled. He had to admit it, Justan was rather sharp.
There'd been fewer guards on the gates this morning, and they'd waved him through. Consequently, he'd arrived early, and had found himself obliged to wait. He was now seated in a large, velvet- covered chair in a large, velvet-covered antechamber. Had this been Cala, he might have imagined that the room was itself in a large, velvet-covered palace; however, it was Vadessa, and even the royal residence had sandstone walls and a slate roof that co-ordinated depressingly well with those of the city's other buildings.
A bewigged footman-type opened the ornate, double doors. Ansle resisted the temptation to flick out a pilatory at him, but only because he wasn't sure in which order two of the last four segments came.
The footman spoke with an accent that probably sounded very pompous to Davian ears, but which to Ansle merely came over as `foreign'. "Their majesties will see you now, Chancellor."
"`Their majesties'..." He rose, walked through the doors as if the footman was an intrinsic a part of the opening mechanism, and bowed. Before him sat Mitya, with Justan reclining to her right in a hasty copy of her throne. After a suitable interval, The King stood, strode towards Ansle, hand outstretched.
"Chancellor, welcome to Davia. It was good of you to come at such short notice." He wasn't much taller or heavier than Ansle, but his grip was cement.
"How could I refuse an invitation not only to a coronation, but also to a wedding? Especially when delivered by the fair General Nolley - and the less fair thirty-six armed guards she brought with her."
Justan laughed. "Nolley is the youngest of my generals, Ansle, and she sometimes feels awkward when required to officiate people of repute. Come, let us be seated." He beckoned him to follow, walked behind the thrones. Large, colourful maps were spread across a pair of tables pushed up against one another. Davian-style lettering indicated their origins, although Ansle didn't doubt that Justan also kept East/Trad auto- scale charts, too. Damned Chewt-Farmer gets everywhere nowadays.
It wasn't until he'd flopped into a chair that he realised Mitya had come over too. A sickening thought suddenly seized him: perhaps Justan was the pawn, not Mitya, and actual power rested in her hands, not his? Oo-er! With relief, he dismissed the idea; he'd had plenty of person-to- person meetings with Justan before, and it was diamond clear that The King was a very shrewd operator - no question. Also, Ansle was fairly confident, his majesty had never even met Mitya until last week in Vothland. Quite long enough to become infatuated, though? Maybe, but Mitya was only makeover-beautiful, too formulaic to be special; rather, it was The King who had the classical good looks, who knew exactly how to use them...
In which case, why did Mitya's presence cause Ansle to feel so edgy? She was looking at him in such detail, like she was weighing him, assessing his value...
"Here is a list of the personnel who must be eliminated." Justan passed Ansle a handwritten document. The King's own handwriting: now that was exceedingly irregular. "Read it later," he added.
"Of course, sir: I wouldn't dream of attempting to do so prior to your deactivating its binder." Justan surely knew he'd perused a draft list already, and had begun making the necessary preparations.
"We're only planning to use this strategy on Akrea, initially. The Estavian leaders should realise that they will be next unless they co- operate, so hopefully they'll invite us in. They'll justify their actions publicly by announcing that we'll help defend them against the teeming hordes of the Messenger's forces, or some such nonsense. If they don't ask for our help, however, we will be obliged to take them out in the same manner as for Akrea; they'll have no way of stopping us. Of course, as elected leaders are rarely people of principle, I do expect they'll readily capitulate, and that further action will be unnecessary."
"A wise approach, sir. Do you have a timetable in mind?"
"It will take at least three weeks to move the rest of our standing army into position. General Nolley will be organising the equipping of our reserves, which should come on stream about six weeks from now. She's also beginning the conscription and training of new recruits; these should be ready by the Spring."
"So perhaps eight weeks from now is when the assassinations should take place? Yes, that gives me time."
Justan shook his head. "It has to be before then; the Messenger is too close. Already, Akrea is beginning to bubble with religious fervour; it is controllable at present, but the increasing proximity of the Holy Army may act as a catalyst as it did in the fall of Herany."
"Four weeks then? Well thank you for giving me such a generous period of warning, sir, but really, murdering a thousand people is routinely simple, I hardly need any notice at all. Or is it just five-hundred if Estavia can wait until next month?" He knew it was around a thousand per country.
Justan smiled, as Ansle assumed he would: The King commanded enough authority that a little sarcasm from a high-ranking subject wouldn't even jot him. "You'll manage it, Chancellor; they don't have to be culled simultaneously if some other arrangement is easier."
Ansle shrugged. He was planning on three waves, taking those who could most rapidly defend themselves first. He noticed Mitya staring intently at the map. "And what does your fiancée think, sir?"
Mitya looked up, startled. Regaining her composure almost immediately, she said, "I think we ought to send aid to the Purasans."
Now it was Ansle who was surprised. That really wasn't so bad an idea! With some well-targeted magical units at their disposal, the Purasans might actually be able to hold until Winter. He looked at Justan, approvingly.
"An excellent idea, my dear, and the other reason why I asked Chancellor Ansle here today." He straightened. "Chancellor, in addition to the assassination units, I also have need of the rest of your regiment."
There was a knock at the doors. Upon Justan's command, they opened; the doorman somewhat over-exaggerated his bow as he directed a teenaged girl into the chamber. Ansle could hardly see her because of the intervening thrones, but guessed she was a lady-in-waiting.
"Your majesty," she simpered, "the royal dresser has arrived with your wedding gown."
Inwardly, Ansle groaned. Yes, that was without doubt the honey-syrup voice of a depressingly stereotypical lady-in-waiting.
Mitya frowned at the interruption, but rose nonetheless. She touched her lips to Justan's cheek, and left.
Protocol meant that Ansle had been obliged to stand, too. He tossed The King's K-killings list behind onto his chair, turned to his monarch, cocked an eyebrow. "So, now she's gone, what's the story?"
Justan frowned, feigned indignant bewilderment. "Whatever can you mean?"
"Is she pulling your strings or are you pulling hers?" He snorted. "That aid-to-the-Purasans idea - you didn't call me over for that at all, you only claimed you did so she would think you were on top of the situation. The truth of the matter, though, is that if she hadn't made the suggestion then neither of us would have considered such a course of action."
Still frowning, The King looked at the maps. "You rate me rather poorly as a tactician, Chancellor. Perhaps your skills in that area are superior to mine?" He pulled clear a sheet detailing the Purasan states. "The Purasans are fighting a guerilla war. Suppose that instead of the six units I intend to send, I was to despatch but one. Where should I place it?"
Ansle pressed down both sides of the map, spread his hands wide, hovered above it. "Somewhere important, a city, fortified if possible, nearby hills or marshes, good road access..." He pointed. "Dreimen."
There was a rustle of paper behind him; he turned to see the loose-leaf notes that Justan had given him earlier sliding to the floor. The King indicated the list's binder with a nod, folded his arms. "If I hadn't planned on helping the Purasans, why did I make `Dreimen' the password?"
Ansle felt a cold chill run through his bones. He picked up the papers, put them into order. Odd, the pages were headed `Wave 1' to `Wave 3'.
"I've made some alterations since you last saw a copy," Justan added.
The names began on the reverse side of the title page. Ansle scanned them: top of the list was `Mitya, Queen of Davia.'
He stood, momentarily paralysed, shot Justan a glance of ice.
"Such a pity that my dear wife-to-be had to leave before I unbound the register, she was so curious as to its contents. Perhaps if I hadn't relaxed security on the gates this morning, her dresser would have taken another thirty minutes to pass through the checks; he must have deliberately arrived early, expecting to endure a delay with the guards that never materialised."
Ansle was shaking.
21st January 1999: isif13.htm