I looked at the stack of Pages on the other side of my desk and was so angry I almost couldn’t speak. They were all liars. Liars every one. I had crumpled the letter in my fist without realizing it and forced myself to let go. They were hypocrites! I clenched my eyes shut before opening both my fists and my eyes, smoothing out the careful script on my blotter.
Why was I so surprised? I knew this before hand. Everyone did, really. It was just seeing the different information... the two kinds of truth sitting next to each other on my desk. It was so stark it was like a slap in the face.
I had to preside over the new award ceremony an eight day from now, for the Journalistic award.
I held the one corner of the letter from Sinimas directly in the brazier, broke it up and stirred till there was only the coals and white ashes. I wasn’t going to make Father’s mistake of flinging it vaguely in the general direction of the fire, trusting that the servants would burn them for him.
It wasn’t the writers. I shouldn’t be angry at men who were helpless. They wanted to keep their heads on their shoulders. They didn’t want to be impaled or their children ceremonially flung off the rim. They wrote the best truth they could while still keeping Father happy. The scribbler who had interviewed me after the security scandal I had caused had been grateful that I spoke to him. Father hadn’t spoken to the writers directly in years, so they were always guessing what He wanted them to report.
I tipped my chair back and started to laugh. It was so ironic. The Journalistic Award was called ‘Truth’.
I sat in Sil’s private sitting room across from his uncle, sipping tea. Since my first visit I had come down to his family house once an eight day and started visiting the other families of my companions as a regular thing. I hid my lessons from Dafidas in amongst them. And they learned from him too as they helped me be so deceitful.
My Mahid had gotten worse keeping an eye on me since the scare and I had to clench my teeth and take it, since I could hardly confess that I was responsible for their renewed vigilance.
Father had revised the whole Marble Palace’s security and the guard and the Mahid were two hairs short of ripping their long strands out by the roots in handfuls trying to close the holes and ease the redundant coverage. Some corridors would be patrolled a dozen times while others had no guards at all.
Under the stone face, Meras was both pale and haggard and dared not say anything to Father. All he could do was request single changes for ‘renovations’ or ‘maintenance’ reasons, until he could fix it and he had to be slow and careful so that Father wouldn’t notice.
My Mahid had a perfect view of me where I sat, with my back to him and beyond me Sil and Ord sat over a sha board. Dafidas sat behind a statue of a water carrier behind Sil so I could gesture to the board and we could talk and consult and move freely without giving away that I was actually talking to the retired general rather than either of them.
They weren’t actually playing but using the pieces to set up supposed battle lines. I had even gone so far as to call the Mahid in and consult on a historical battle where Mahid elite troops had made a decisive difference before sending him back to his post, reassured that I was safe and in a safe place.
I sipped my kaf and looked at Sil’s formation. “So... may I ask you, what battles did you win that earned you the name General Mud? I’ve read the report but it only gives troop numbers and ultimate outcomes to that war. It won us the coast all the way to the Rock that Guards.”
Then I leaned forward and poked at one of the pieces and gestured. Sil shook his head and moved the piece over... and waved his hand at the board. I leaned over to study it. From over his shoulder Dafidas was silent for a moment. “This one... knew the opponent general who had the local tribes hammered into a single unit, but only as long as they were winning... and that general was a hot tempered man. This one retreated and retreated in the rain until the rejin hit the Forfirian defile. Their troops were already trailing behind, horses and men foundering in the mud. The rejin retreated in good order and quickly. The tribes pursued too hard.”
I leaned forward and Sil grabbed up the pieces and set them up in a slightly different way. “See Spark? This is what this one means.”
“I see, I think... but what if...?” I moved two pieces and sat back, tilting my head back toward the side Dafidas sat. I could only see him out of the corner of my eye and wouldn’t call attention to him by looking directly at him. He continued a moment later as I put my empty cup down.
“The rain had stopped that day and the defile had a reputation for thick fog every day... This one sent three centuries on ahead up above where the fog never went with orders to light fires and make it look like they were the whole rejin. They did a good job.” He paused to take a sip from his cup to moisten this throat.
“The tribes believed themselves to be pursuing and did not expect to be ambushed. Under the cover of the fog the seven centuries fell upon the strung-out pursuit column and destroyed them.”
“Hmmm.” I bent forward and removed a piece from the table, tossed it into its box. “I see no problems with that kind of victory.”
“It was subterfuge, not a face-on battle. It was seen as... devious.”
I couldn’t understand it. How could winning a battle... where men were slaughtered, be wrong? It was a trick, yes but it was a battle. “You were supposed to stand toe to toe in the open and --- slug it out?”
“But that’s not the same as being dishonourable on the field!” I sat up and pushed the lot of the pieces onto the floor as if they were the thing that had upset me. “Sorry,” I whispered, as he drew back further into the shadow. I got up and paced away from the table, my security detail’s eyes on me.
“That battle was won by intelligence and a deft playing of the enemy general,” I said as if musing. “I think that historian just had it completely wrong.” I turned around. “Silasas, I thank you for setting up that illustration, Koren will be pleased at my analysis I believe.”
Sil nodded as he knelt on the floor and he and Ord gathered up the pieces to put them back in their box. “Let’s go back.”
Hey guys! I'm late tonight I realize, sorry. I was a little written out last night. I may put up another piece of Kyrus on Monday, even though it is Thanksgiving and I would normally be taking the day off.
Have a good weekend!