Chapter 25: Collapse
Erygan lazily pulled out his pipe and filled it with Ristan pipeweed. The match he struck to light the weed cast strange shadows over his face. Daliana sat, leaning back into her chair, across the table from him, glaring. Edya stood between the two, feeling unsafe, studying the maps and reports in front of her, trying to avoid the notice of the two Morschcoda, King and Queen. Marrdin was doing much the same, where he sat on the far side of the room engaged in a quiet conversation with Kallin. Edya could feel the tension in the room waiting to snap. The wrong word would have any of the four Morschcoda in the room at each others’ throats in moments. She had seen it happen before at The Councils. Then, it had been dangerous. Now, it would be devastating. And if that happened, they would lose Erygan and his army, which would lose them Rista and Marrdin as well. Norrin might even pull out of Dishmo Kornara. She needed that to not happen. “My guess,” she said in hopes of reducing the tension in the room, “is that Makret has retreated back towards Agrista. He knows that we know that he doesn’t have the strength to attack any one of us directly, so he’s going to fall back into land that the Deshika know until their reinforcements arrive from Alega, or wherever they’re coming from.” She looked around again. Erygan seemed to be ignoring her, and Daliana looked like she had not heard her. Suddenly, everything went wrong.
“You had no right to even ask Kallin to bring his army westward, Erygan.”
Erygan did not sit up. He did not even pull his pipe out of his mouth. He just kept meeting Daliana’s relentless stare and answered her. “Whether I had the right or not is beside the point. We need The Learned, here and now, not three hundred leagues to the west four months after Makret has crushed us.”
“Kallin represents Storinea, a part of my Empire. You have no right to issue orders to anyone who answers to me.”
Erygan did take the pipe out of his mouth this time. “To you?” The contempt in his voice was unmistakable, but Erygan did not shout. Not yet. Edya almost wished he would. “You rule this ‘Empire’ because Taren named you his heir. That may be because you’re his daughter, and maybe it’s because he just couldn’t find anyone better for the job. Either way, Drogoda has no Morschcoda, so you answer for it as well your own Dothoro. Daken isn’t here, and Galeth is on a mission you assigned him, so you also speak for Meclarya, as you do for Caladea, Armanda, and Noldoron, all for the same reason. Storinea is the only one of your countries with a Morschcoda here, and now you demand answers from me, while I don’t even call you Queen.” He clamped his pipe back in his mouth as he stood up. “I don’t owe you allegiance, nor do I want to. Let the other Morschcoda decide what they will. You aren’t Taren, and you aren’t yourself, Daliana. And until you are yourself again, I am leaving this city.” With that he left, pushing open both of the heavy doors as if they weighed nothing. Marrdin also left, but reluctantly. Whatever the distance between them, Rista and Drogoda were the two closest nations, bound tightly together by the similarity of their magic. Not even an hour passed before they could hear the Erygan’s small army and Marrdin’s much larger one march away. Kallin continued to read his papers, not daring to look up over them. Daliana continued to glare at the door that Erygan had left through.
For one brief moment as Erygan was speaking about Drogoda’s lack of a Morschcoda, Edya believed that both the Shadow Lord’s eye and Marrdin’s had been directed at her, not Daliana. She began to wonder if, as Carde had said, she could take the Flowing Throne for herself. But she knew the power of that chair better than any of the Morschcoda. She did not believe that it would allow someone of her common born blood to master it.
Outside of Alquendiro, the tall Lord of Shadows and the taller Lord of Ice stopped, when the high, ancient towers of the palace of Alquendiro were just visible above the horizon. The flag of Drogoda was flying proudly from their peaks, but even the largest standard flying from the pinnacle of the Topmast could not be made out at the distance from which they stared back to the south.
“I hoped that she would be like her father, Marrdin. Taren would have understood what I did and why.”
“She is like her father, Erygan. The same pride, the same arrogance. The same compassion.”
Erygan shook his head. “But not his patience, or his deep understanding of the way things work in this world.”
“Those come from experience, not just age. Taren was a warrior and a king. Daliana has been on the front lines of Dothoro’s political battlegrounds for centuries. She has yet to fight a real war.”
“And in such people, all our hope is placed. Ironic.”
“Ironic that those who have never even defended themselves must now stand against the world and its armies?”
“No. Ironic that the daughter of one of the greatest military leaders to ever live has never stood on a contested battlefield. How will she hold her empire together? I can only wonder.”
“She has Edya.”
“And she’ll need her. But will Edya understand that what I said was meant as much for her as for Daliana?” He shook his head and looked away from the towers and fluttering banners that seemed on the edge of the world. “The words of a Morschcoda mean either nothing or too much.” He kicked his horse into a trot, and wheeled north to his home. Marrdin looked at the banner of a people so much like his own, and yet so different. And then he too turned his horse to the north and the home he could not return to.
Back inside of the city, Edya stared hard at her new Queen. “That was badly handled, my lady.”
“You’re never that formal with me, Edya” Daliana snapped. “Why now?”
“Because Erygan is right.” She paused and braced herself for the explosion that she was certain would follow. It did not come. “My lady?”
Daliana still had not looked at Edya, or even really registered her remark. “Yes, general?”
“Well, Morschcoda Erygan is right. You aren’t yourself.”
“No. I’m not” she said heavily, after a noticeable pause. “I’ve felt it slipping away ever since I was named Taren’s heir. I haven’t had the time to come to terms with what that means. I haven’t even had time to understand what those terms might mean. I knew that I would have to stay in Alquendiro. I just wasn’t prepared for how long. It’s been over one month, and there isn’t enough green in this city.” She let out a long breath. “I need to go back to Dothoro. I miss the forest. There, I know how things work. I’m as lost here as you are among the Morschcoda.”
“And what of me, your majesty?”
“What of you, Kallin?”
“What shall I do now? I brought my army eastwards because of Erygan, and now, he is gone, and his empire and yours are on poor terms with each other. Do I take my army back Dorok-Baan? Makret will certainly hear about what has happened here.”
“And why do you think that?”
“I do not believe that Makret is the traitor that both he and we say he is. For some reason, I feel in my bones that Taren planned much of this, maybe even Makret’s betrayal. Perhaps Erygan knows that. And perhaps Erygan and Makret are planning something together.”
“Because Taren wanted to ensure that he could deal as much damage to The Kindler and the Deshika as possible. The best person to do that now, of course, is Makret, who leads the Deshik armies while The Kindler is away. And Erygan has both the best reasons and the best chance to do that damage with Makret. But my question stands. Do I and mine go back to Dorok-Baan?”
It was Edya who answered. “No. It would take too long, and if we needed you, we would need to wait even longer. We might be conquered before you’d arrive.”
“I’m sorry Edya, but only a Morschcoda or the Empress can allow me to stay here. The Learned is my country’s Elite force, after all.”
“Elite force my ...” She let the comment fade, but continued arguing immediately. “Your country’s only permanent army, you mean.” She paused to see if Daliana would order Kallin one way or the other. She did not even acknowledge the discourse. “Fine, go then.”
Kallin gave a small bow and left. Edya thought that she could just see a frown on his face. She might have to have a talk with him, informally of course, before he left the city. She could not avoid the politics of her situation right then. She turned and looked at Daliana.
“I am going back to Eshtam-Nis. Today. You’re in charge here until I return.”
As Daliana left the throne room, Edya began to wonder about Drogoda’s Flowing Throne. Though she did not believe it would accept the common blooded Morschen that she was as its master, she began to feel that it might not have a choice. She knew that she had no choice but to try.
Edya walked through halls seldom used by anybody in the palace. As one of Taren’s guards, it had been her duty to know all of these deserted passages. And now that knowledge was useful, though walking through the deserted halls was painful for her. An assassin had tried to kill Taren over three and a half centuries before, in the tunnel she now walked through. Her father had been a member of the Spear on that day, and had died in Taren’s place. She had never heard what had happened to the assassin, but she still walked in silence, honouring her father’s memory through the preservation of the country Taren had ruled. Almost as soon as Daliana had left the city, Edya had summoned Kallin, who had not yet departed, and Merchant Prince Ren Enschiva, who was the chief member of the Merchant’s Conclave in Drogoda. She also asked, as one did not summon such people, the heads of Drogoda’s two main Great Houses who were from the city, Lady Elshay Cabrinda and the ancient Lord Barthen Grosht, who was well into his eleventh century. Even now, he wore armour of an ancient design, and a massive sword hung at his side. In contrast to him, the Lady Elshay wore an expensive gown of blue and green, which Ren eyed with an expert glance. It was likely that Ren, as the foremost merchant in all of Drogoda, and who had made his first fortune in textiles, had sold or given her the dress. Elshay Cabrinda was the Provincial Governor of the Island of Alquendiro, and sat on the Mordak Council, as did Ren Enschiva. Edya would have summoned the whole council, but the other three Governors were not in the city. As for the military advisors, she herself could speak for all of them if needed, as she herself was the highest ranked of all of them, and she needed to do so.
“What is the meaning of this unorthodox meeting, General Reeshnar?” asked Barthen as he saw Edya enter. The old man’s voice was still deep and strong.
“Lord Barthen, I must apologize for the suddenness, but that couldn’t be helped.” She paused for a moment, trying to decide which course to take. She decided on the most direct one. “Whether you are aware or not, the alliance that the Drogodan Empire has with the Kingdom of Torridesta is on the verge of collapse. We need their support if we are to win this war with the Deshika. Not only that, but our own Empire is crumbling from within. Queen Daliana has had no contact with any of the Morschcoda who serve her aside from Morschcoda Kallin for over one month. Supposedly, they were under orders to report at the end of every week, if possible. Neither have we heard from Admiral Jreshti at the Dragon’s Claws. Queen Daliana has left the capital, leaving Drogoda without an authority figure not solely attached to the military. We need to change that, and quickly.”
“Lord Barthen” Lady Elshay interrupted, “if there is to be a new Morschcoda, it must be one of energy, and sound mind, quick and decisive. You are, to say it delicately, not as young as you once were. So,” she said turning on Edya, “I think I should be the one to take on this lofty title.”
“I would agree,” said Edya carefully, especially emphasizing the word ‘would’, “if not for the fact that when I begged you to consider taking the title not more than one week ago, you had me forcibly removed from your house and slammed your door in my face. No, I’m here to say that I think I should take the title of Morschcoda.”
“You?” The contempt in Elshay’s voice was unmistakable. “You are not the leader of a Great House.”
“No. I am the leader of something much larger: the Army of Imperial Drogoda.” The implied threat made Ren shift uncomfortable, and Barthen cough, but Elshay had no problem with ignoring the obvious meaning of the statement.
“What difference does that make?”
Edya sighed, and went into a long and complicated political explanation to avoid seeming like she was holding a sword to the throat of those who were there. “While Taren was alive, I had authority throughout his entire Empire equal to that of a Morschcoda in his or her own land. Well, Makret did, and as I was named High General to replace him, I inherited that power, while Taren was alive.” Though Kallin shifted upon hearing the traitor’s name, and not Druoth as the rest of the Morschcoda called him, he said nothing. “The Morschcoda were sworn to Taren, and as Taren’s High General, if needed I could assume that I was able to order their cooperation. I can’t do that anymore. Since none of the Morschcoda who swore to Taren are sworn to Daliana in the same way, I’ve lost much of my authority outside of the army. Those who sat on the Council with Daliana are reluctant to recognize her as their superior, and since they consider her their equal, I’m not their equal anymore. I need that authority back if I am to keep this country and this empire from falling apart even as the Deshika are poised for invasion.” When she finished, Kallin gave a small nod, satisfied with how Edya had talked her way out of the corner Elshay had been trying to back her into.
“Invasion? With fifteen thousand soldiers? I think you overestimate them and their abilities, High General.”
“Not when Deshik reinforcements numbering over four hundred thousand soldiers are on route to our shores.”
Though it looked like Lady Elshay privately doubted both the number Edya stated and Edya’s sanity, she asked in a perfectly calm and polite voice “What would you do as Morschcoda?”
“I can, and will, authorize the arming of merchant ships, the seizure of vessels sailing to ports controlled by Deshika. I can ‘invite’ the armies of our allies inside of Drogoda, so that our full force can be gathered in time to stop, if not destroy, this new army.”
“Why can Daliana not do that?”
“Because Daliana is gone.” Edya kept her frustration from showing, barely. “She has returned to Eshtam-Nis to rest and regain control over herself.”
Elshay simply crossed her arms. “I will not stand for a soldier to take the Throne of Waves.” The way she said it made it sound as though her decision was final. The others had a different opinion.
“What you will do is hardly the point,” broke in Lord Barthen, “because I will stand for her. After all, the throne of Drogoda has always belonged to men and women of war. We are not governed, nor have we ever been, by the gold scepter of politics, but by the steel sword of war. And now we need it more than ever.” He stood up, slowly and stiffly. “I vote for General Reeshnar as the new Morschcoda of Drogoda.”
Ren also stood. “The Merchant Clans have never been silent in a succession, nor will we be now. But all merchants understand the profits of war, and we have always backed one who understands warfare for us to deal with. And so I think that I can speak for all the Merchant Clans in Drogoda as I also cast my vote for Morschcoda General Edya Reeshnar.”
Kallin stood up next, not giving Lady Elshay any time to voice an argument. “And on behalf of the Morschcoda Council of Anaria, I recognize the newly appointed Morschcoda Edya Reeshnar of Drogoda.”
“Thank you Morschcoda Kallin. My first act as Morschcoda is to extend an invitation to The Learned of Storinea to remain in the city until such time as they wish to leave or are no longer needed.”
He smiled and nodded. “On behalf of my soldiers, I accept your invitation, Morschcoda Edya.”
Edya looked out from the high walls of Alquendiro’s palace. Only a few people got to see the view from those walls, and though as High General, she could have gone there if she had wished, she never had. Now she did, seeking the solitude that she knew she could never have again. Someone was there ahead of her, and turned around to greet her as she stepped out onto the palace roof.
She choked back a cry as the man turned around. He was not Taren, but he resembled him so closely. “Greetings, Morschcoda Reeshnar,” the man said as he bowed his head, which she took to mean he held himself as almost equal with a Morschcoda.
“Greetings to you as well, though I don’t know you. I’m afraid that I must also ask how you know that I’m the Morschcoda of Drogoda. I was only named a few hours ago.”
“I know much that happens throughout Anaria. When you were named High General, I expected that Taren’s death would soon follow. Your claim, as High General of Drogoda, was really the only one that had a chance for the title of Morschcoda in the absence of such a man as Taren was.”
“That still doesn’t explain who you are.” A hard edge crept into her voice. She expected evasive answers from Morschcoda or other politicians. She did not want them from others.
“Forgive me. I forgot that you yourself have never been to the Garuthen Mountains. I” he said, drawing himself up to his full height, “am El Darnen.”
Edya was speechless for several minutes. “But, if you’re here, then-”
“Morschcoda Mectar is safe. She was leaving the mountains herself when I decided that I should visit Alquendiro and speak to Daliana once again. Her Majesty is here?”
“Queen Daliana left the capital earlier today.”
“Nyjeta. I needed to talk with her. Is Morschcoda Erygan here?”
“No, he left before Daliana did, and in a bad mood.”
“Quandro Hesta!” he swore loudly. It was a more refined version, meaning the Old Morschen way of speaking, of the more common curse ‘Three Hells.’ “I don’t have time to go after him myself, and by now he’ll be well beyond the range of my abilities.”
“Morschcoda Kallin is here.”
“Worse than useless to me.”
Just then a soldier marched up and handed a message to Edya. “Who’s it from?”
“Grand Admiral Tarick Jreshti, Morschcoda.”
Taking the letter, she broke the seal, a water lily in the center of a rippling pattern, which she recognized as the Admiral’s seal from when she saw his Signet ring in Grathen Harbour, and quickly scanned the contents. They did not make her feel any better.
“What is it?”
She did not know how advisable it was to tell the man who claimed to be El Darnen about her battle plans, but she did anyway. “Admiral Jreshti was supposed to ambush a huge Deshik fleet at the Dragon’s Claws. He waited there for almost one month before the fleet arrived. It was much larger than anyone thought it would be. He thinks that he may have destroyed as much as one quarter of the Deshik reinforcements, but there were still over four hundred thousand warriors to deal with before he had to retreat. He lost all but six of his ships.”
“The Admiral has done his part, but your navy can do no more.” He paused in thought for a moment. “Though if it could, I believe that Lord Barthen Grosht might be more than willing and perfectly able to take on a new position.” He gave her a look that seemed to imply that she should put Lord Barthen in charge of the navy. “Unfortunately, this may be the first and last discussion that we will ever share with each other.”
“What do you mean?”
“Some of my people have decided that if the Deshika want Anaria, and are both willing and able to pay the prices that they already have to take it, no Morschen army will stop them or convince them that they don’t have the strength to defeat us. Though I don’t agree with them, their argument is persuasive, and has taken hold throughout my camp. They’ve decided that Anaria should be left to those too stupid to move on, and they intend to move westward, out of the mountains, and out of Anaria.”
“Believe me when I say that I don’t want to leave. There are those who will stay with me, but most of my people want to be left in peace, and peace means that they want to leave. I can’t do anything more except provide a safe retreat for the armies of the Morschen.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I’m sorry, Morschcoda, but everything begun by Taren is at its end. I will take my leave, now.” And with that, he left the roof.
“Rider Encarthian!” She shouted as soon as she got out to the training grounds of the Spear of Drogoda. The tall Rider, already looking different from when he had returned half dead from Rista, rode over and dismounted, bowing respectfully.
“Yes, Morschcoda General?”
“I need you to take charge of the Spear of Drogoda. You are now High General of Drogoda. Bear it well.”
“Me, my lady?”
“Yes, you. And the first thing that I need you to do is send out Riders. Erygan could be anywhere, but I need Riders to go to him and ask him to return, at my request, not Daliana’s. I also need you to carry orders to Admiral Jreshti. Tell him that I am placing Lord Barthen Grosht at the head of Drogoda’s navy. I need it to be rebuilt, and I need to know that someone who isn’t drunk most of the time is the one doing it. Take news to Morschcoda Marsharin and Gundara that the Deshika have landed. Don’t try to find Morschcoda Mectar. I don’t know where she is and don’t bother warning Daken. He must know already. You also need to send word of the Deshik arrival to Dishmo Kornara.”
“It will be done, my lady.”
Over the next two weeks, reports trickled into Alquendiro. Most were not the kind that Edya wanted to hear. The Deshika had overrun northern Meclarya, almost as far south as the Emin-Tal plateau. Daken had evacuated most of his people into the Eagle’s Roost Mountains, despite his fear that someone or something that had a grudge against the Dragon People haunted the mountain range. Western Rista and parts of Eastern Torridesta had been seized, and those that had not escaped in time pressed into slavery, those that survived, at least. Marrdin had turned back from his march near Drogoda’s northern border, just south of the Emin-Tal, where he hoped that he could ambush the Deshika if they marched further south. Erygan marched northward to ensure his own borders held, but at least recognized that Edya was the legal Morschcoda of Drogoda. He said that if called for, he would return to Alquendiro, but the Deshika were too close to Toredo to risk bringing his army. Daken refused any summons by Edya, though he too recognized her as Morschcoda. He could not afford to let any Morschledu leave his country. Galeth Tendornin had been recalled to Airachni from Dishmo Kornara, and Meclarya’s capital city was preparing for the inevitable siege, now that Makret could find no more reason to delay.
Makret himself came to Alquendiro when he heard the rumour that Edya had taken the Flowing Throne. Edya did not consider it to be the best time, but Makret compensated by providing information that she wanted badly.
“You have nerve coming here again, traitor.”
“I think you know that I only did what I had to. As did you.”
“But what I had to do didn’t come to slaughtering Morschen.”
“It will come to the same thing in the end, Edya. Especially since Taren’s final act.”
“Why especially since then?” She tried hard to contain the hatred in her voice, but she could not. The words came out harshly.
He did not question the anger. He accepted that he deserved it. “Before Taren slaughtered the Deshika at Agrista, The Kindler believed that he had the strength to slowly conquer Anaria, city by city and country by country. Then, he didn’t necessarily want to destroy the Morschcoda. He thought that you might be useful in controlling your countries once the Deshika had taken them for him. But then Taren made things difficult, which made things more complicated. It almost revealed me as a spy in The Kindler’s camp, slowing his movements, making small gains with heavy losses. I really did try to make him think that Anaria wasn’t worth the price that would have to be paid, but he cares less about the Deshika than Taren did. I tried to force the War Chiefs to release the slaves, but not even my command could do that. I did manage to get word to a dozen Ringlords before they were taken. They escaped further west, deeper into Torridesta. But it still comes back to Taren. The Deshik defeat at Agrista was no victory, no matter what I said before. It only served to convince The Kindler that larger armies and more devastating measures were needed to subdue Anaria.”