Thraxas and the Ice Dragon / Траксас и леденият дракон: Двадесета глава

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Chapter Twenty


King Gardos looks anything but confident as he surveys the assembly of senior figures in front of him. We're expecting him to bring us up to date on recent developments, but after a brief greeting, he hands over to General Hemistos to do it for him.


"Simnia's almost ready with their full army," reports the General. "But I don't have such good news from elsewhere. Kamara has promised very little. The Niojan ambassadors tell us they're facing delays. Jon, Amara and Bandid have promised to send what they can but none of them have large armies. As for the League of City States, they've been cut off by Prince Amrag taking Turai and they're terrified to leave their borders.


"What about the Far West?"


"Kastlin promises some archers but who knows how long it will take them to arrive? As for the Elves in the Southern Isles," The General raises his hands. "A messenger eagle arrived today and the news wasn't good. They hope to be able to sail soon, but we can't count on them bringing anything like the number of warriors they did last time."


This causes some disquiet. Everyone knows we need the Elves. We can't defeat the full forces of the East without them. The General turns to Lisutaris. "Mistress of the Sky, what's the situation with your Guild?"


"Every Sorcerer in the West will be here if I have to summon them with a transportation spell. If our army isn't going to be as strong as last time, we'll still have the most powerful Sorcerous force ever assembled."


The dignitaries are temporarily heartened. Lasat Axe of Gold punctures the mood by reminding everyone that Orcish sorcery is also stronger than it used to be. "They still control dragons, and their means of countermanding our sorcery have grown stronger. Only last month, Mistress of the Sky, you found yourself bested by their leader, Deeziz the Unseen."


"I was not bested," says Lisutaris, cooly.


"Turai fell."


"And I'm about to take it back. Which brings us to the next issue. It's time we selected a War Leader."


Hemistos frowns. "Not everyone is here yet."


"There are enough of us. We need a War Leader now and I put myself forward, as Head of the Sorcerers Guild."


General Hemistos looks rather dubiously towards King Gardos, probably wondering if it's going to be awkward for a Samsarinan to support Lisutaris. It will be if Gardos wants the position himself. The first person to speak out is the leader of the Niojan delegation.


"We were on the point of proposing Bishop-General Ritari."


Ritari is commander of the Niojan Eastern armies. I've no idea what sort of man he is, but it hardly matters. There's no chance of the West following a Niojan leader. No one much likes them, even if they do have a very high opinion of themselves.


"Shouldn't the position go to General Acarius?" asks a delegate from Juval. "He's our most experienced soldier."


"He's also past sixty," mutters one of the Niojans.


"I support Lisutaris," says the leader of the ambassadors from Abelesi, a small state on the South Coast. "She has the most experience in warfare."


Voices are raised and the meeting quickly loses all sense of order. I was expecting as much. Choosing a War Leader has never been an easy process. There's no formally recognised way of doing it. No laws or treaties between the nations specify how it should be carried out. It's simply a matter of finding a person that most people will follow, and that's often proved difficult. It's sometimes happened that the soldier or politician most qualified for the task hasn't been chosen, because neighbouring countries didn't trust him, or were envious. Nations are always jealous and suspicious of each other. That's one reason the post has sometimes been filled by a Sorcerer. With their guild being international, they're not quite so strongly identified with a single country.


The Niojans press their case for Bishop-General Ritari but the feeling in the Assembly Hall is that no military man can command enough support. Despite this, people hang back from agreeing on Lisutaris. Their doubts are given voice by Charius the Wise, who suggests that if the War Leader is going to be a Sorcerer, it should be Lasat Axe of Gold.


"Would that not be rather irregular?" asks the Ambassador from Abelesi. "Lisutaris is head of the Guild, after all."


"Not everyone agreed with that decision," says Charius. "There were doubts about the veracity of the voting."


"There were no doubts!" thunders Lisutaris. "I was the clear winner." That's true, as far as it goes. She did win the election, but only after some cynical manoeuvring involving theft, bribery and blackmail, carried out by the most shameless citizens in Turai. Me and Makri, mostly. I remain proud of our efforts. The King, who's been silent for a while, directs a question at Lasat. "Do you seek the post?"


"I would accept it, if necessary," replies Lasat.


"We'd favour Lasat Axe of Gold over Lisutaris," says the ambassador from Simnia. That's not a great surprise. Simnia has never liked Turai.


"As would my Samsarinan troops," adds Baron Mabados.


"But the Elves wouldn't," I say, raising my voice. "Every Elvish Island trusts Lisutaris." That shuts everyone up for a moment. We need the Elves.


"Perhaps it's not quite time to, eh…" the King looks hopelessly at General Hemistos. The General himself seems unsure of how to proceed.


"I suggest waiting a day or two," says Lasat. "To give us time to reflect."


That probably means to give hime time to bribe people. It's not satisfactory, but the meeting breaks up without agreement. Lisutaris has taken it all fairly calmly, though she's every right to be furious at the disloyalty of the Samsarinan Sorcerers. As we're leaving, the King approaches. I'm expecting him to consult with Lisutaris over important war matters, but instead he asks Makri about his dragon.


"He's doing well," Makri tells him. "He's been flapping his wings. I think he might be flying soon."


"Excellent! You must keep me informed. Lasat is constructing a special barrier to contain the creature once it can fly."


"I hope the dragon eats Lasat," says Lisutaris, as we leave the Assembly Hall. "Damn him and these Samsarinans. And the Simnians."


"I can't really see the Niojans supporting you either," I say. "They don't like women in positions of power."


"Life would be a lot easier if the Elves were here."


"Could we hold off till they arrive?" asks Makri.


"No. It needs to be decided soon. Prince Amrag isn't going to waste any time."


I notice Makri rubbing her ribs, and ask her about her injuries. She says she's fine.


"Are you ready to fight tomorrow?"


"I suppose so."


"You don't sound keen."


Makri shrugs. She's still not enamoured of the tournament.


"You need to win," I tell her. "Now more than ever. If it comes down to a straight choice between Lisutaris and Lasat, your status as her fighter might count for a lot. Lasat is sponsoring Elupus, it'll sway peoples' opinion if he wins."


"That sounds stupid," says Makri. "And illogical."


"People are stupid and illogical."


"I'm afraid Thraxas is right," says Lisutaris. "Is is important that you do better than Elupus. Quick, hide me."




"Kublinos is back there. I can't take any more of his romancing me at the moment."


Makri and I shield Lisutaris as we move away, trying to evade Kublinos.


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