"You've done well, Lord Sennary: three days to quell the
northern riots. Lady Zovia is still struggling. To what do you attribute your
"I gave them food, sir, from army stocks. We have enough left for a week or so, all that's necessary before Ansle can ship us another consignment."
Justan nodded. "I'll instruct Lady Zovia to do likewise. It will take longer for fresh supplies to reach her, but she should still have sufficient stores at hand to take the heart out of the totally unexpected uprising."
He refused the bait. "How long before I may join you in Elbienau?"
"Soon, but I regret that I cannot yet be specific: greater stability is yet needed in the recently-conquered territories before Nolley's recruits can take over occupation duty from our more experienced troops. The Followers are splintering into god-specific factions, and I must reluctantly assume that at some stage they'll want to fight one another."
Sennary stretched out his hand, shadowed where the sun was glinting off the sphere. "If you're proposing to intervene, rather than let them get on with it, that means you want the army to move on soon after you have your stability. Are you backing any particular cult?"
He looked weary. "The Vitalists are strong in the west, the Children of Keskh in the north: both faiths advocate peace for the moment, and they'll probably coalesce in time. Other groups are rapidly losing their leaders... Perhaps two months from now at the latest, we can make our assault on the Lowlands and Elet."
Sennary brushed a smudge of dirt from his comsphere with the back of his glove. "My Citadellians are shaping up well. Organising them along the pseudo-democratic lines you suggested has certainly allowed the ranks to weed out unpopular and incompetent commanders, although whether their replacements will prove any better remains to be determined. I think they'll perform admirably, but there'll need to be a battle test before we can conclude - "
"You don't have to make a case, Lord Sennary, they'll be fully involved in the remainder of the campaign." He sighed.
"I've been thinking about the merits of installing a democratic structure in the Purasan states as a whole. There are so many of them, with inter-region rivalries, that even a single-nation assembly might be possible without compromising the greater interests of empire. By first creating elected bodies for towns and villages, the firebrands will get enough of a sniff of power to be kept busy, but only in a purely local domain. After a year or so, we could have a host of tiny states federated to your realm, all firmly rooted. If you put an Estavian or Akrean parliamentarian in charge - "
Justan was grinning. "I understand what you're saying, Lord Sennary: you feel that you're not going to be needed in Purasan for too much longer, and you would therefore prefer to return to the front as soon as possible."
"I hadn't intended it to be quite so obvious, sir. Forgive my enthusiasm."
"Done. I'll need you anyway: the Lowlandic army may be far smaller than ours but their soldiers have access to drugs specially suited for use in combat. We've obtained samples, and tested them: the results are impressive - better than anything we can yet match with magic. For a period of several hours, users are completely without fear, are uncaring of pain, phenomenally strong, and totally alert. They're worthless for days after the effects wear off, but well-timed applications of such stimulants could complicate our efforts to capture key targets. Furthermore, once we've subjugated them, the Lowlanders are likely to use other mind- affecting substances directly on us, as a further way of fighting our presence. There's a whole industry based around exhilarants, depressants, hallucinogens, hypnotics, all easily obtainable in a variety of forms that can be administered in several different ways."
"Bad for morale, if nothing else."
"In time we will control them, we have too much power for any resistance to last more than a few months. We can destroy their factories, burn their fields, starve them, execute their leaders, even obliterate entire villages; there are many means of bringing a nation to order. However, they could delay us long enough to prevent an assault on Elet this season, which will mean a late start on the southern countries next year."
"I see, sir. We'll win, but it'll be messy."
Justan leaned back, his comsphere image shooting away from Sennary's eyes. "Chancellor Ansle may be able to help in that respect. Has he told you of his new invention?"
Sennary couldn't see quite enough of Justan to make out his expression, but he sounded unusually smug. "I know it involves dead bodies, that's all."
"Yes, well I told you that much myself. It appears he has a way of animating them."
Did he say animating? "You mean, like resurrection?"
Justan folded his arms, straightened up his frame. "Only superficially. When I say Ansle, by the way, I doubt he's done the work himself - he's far too occupied with his ministerial job. Someone else is the powerhouse driving the project: Ansle has merely stumbled across it and given it his patronage. Essentially, the heart of the idea is a form of modern-day necromancy, an application of prosthetic magic. He takes a corpse and brings all of it to life at once. I don't know what it has for brains, but Ansle assures me he'll have a command spell within two weeks. If tests work out, he can go into production immediately, and a month from now we'll have a regiment. We'll try it out on the Lowlanders, I think; see what good their chemical concoctions are against the dead."
Sennary was aghast. Ansle was raising the undead of nightmares, and Justan approved! He breathed slowly, calmed himself before commenting. "May I speak candidly, sir?"
Justan nodded. "Of course."
"I think it's a very bad idea." Wrong in so many ways, where to start? "On the practical side, there's insufficient time for trials, you'll be releasing something that you can't be sure will react as expected. What if the reanimated bodies retain memories of their previous lives? Or accumulate them only gradually, over a few weeks? And morally, I find the whole concept repellent. What about the relatives of the dead? People with religious beliefs? You really think that folk can cope with seeing their dead spouses walking around? Magic should be used for the benefit of mankind, not its debasement. If I die, will I be brought back to fight the living? Will you?"
"In times of war, Sennary, the normal boundaries of what may or may not be considered decent do not apply. You seem to be motivated mainly by an instinctive dislike of the notion, rather than any rational objections, but yes, there are philosophical questions regarding the ethics of imbuing life into what is dead. Until peace comes, however, we cannot afford to ignore opportunities when they are presented. No-one argues that using parts of the deceased to replace or enhance one's own limbs or vision is in any way reprehensible. Ansle is merely extending to its logical conclusion what is already a well accepted aspect of society."
Sennary was holding his temper very well, knew the consequences of releasing it. "With respect, sir, we could have peace right now if you so wished. The pressure for war comes from you, in your ongoing conquest of all civilisation. When you started, it was from a standpoint of enlightened superiority. The Messenger was clearly wrong, and we had to do all we could to stop his invading our homeland. If that meant walking all over the Eastern Voths, Davia, Akrea, Estavia, so be it. But now, with this, we are showing to the world how decadent our culture has become; some would even call it evil. We need to set limits, saying in what circumstances we should not apply magic." He wavered. "If bringing back the dead like this doesn't lie beyond such limits, what could there ever be that would?"
Justan had closed his fingers together, was thinking. "There is something in what you say, Lord Sennary, but for one flaw. We now know how to animate the dead. That knowledge will not simply disappear, it's with us forever. Ansle could stop the Academy's work, yes, but someone else will carry it on, burrowed away in a quasi-legal factory deep in Cala Bay Town. If I don't myself control the legions of the dead, then someone else will. The ability to manufacture total prosthetics is here to stay; therefore, if the spell is certain to be harnessed anyway, it is far more preferable that responsible people oversee its use, rather than power-seeking psychopaths."
"But there are ways to keep such knowledge hidden! The gesture sequences for putting the clicks into click-wells is split into sixty fragments and -"
The King had raised his hand. "No, Lord Sennary. The click- well spell is known not to prove; anyone attempting to reconstruct it from partial knowledge would almost certainly fail. This spell of Ansle's, though, is the re-application of magic already widely used; it is a different situation altogether. Do you see?"
Sennary's shoulders drooped. "I concede, your majesty." I tried.
21st January 1999: isif54.htm