In The Absence of Eagles: Book 1 of the The Chronicle of the Shires

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Chapter 10: Decisions

Chapter 10: Decisions

The Royal Council Chamber, which usually rang with the sounds of voices and debate, was unusually quiet this morning. Everyone knew the importance of what would be discussed, so an air of anticipation hung thick over the room. Reports had been received of further incursions by the Natas, while a fresh report claimed they had linked up in the south with Gershonites. This was a new and disturbing development for those weighing a response.

Queen Refinnej called the meeting to order. After updates from several lands were heard the issue at hand was reopened.

King Machir was the first to speak. “Yet again we are at the same point as yesterday and since then more land has fallen. Will we be here tomorrow discussing the same issue and hearing of more suffering? No, we must resolve to act decisively and immediately.”

Refinnej agreed. “You are correct Machir. We must act but more importantly we must have a plan. To act without a well constructed course of action is folly but also would be dangerous. First though, we must immediately send messengers to recall the army which is across the Great Sea.”

King Naeman couldn’t believe what he heard. “Them?” he snorted. “Come now, I hope that’s not what you’re placing your faith in Refinnej. Besides, we don’t even know if they still exist. There’s been no word from Criosd Pherein for over two years. No, there is no profit for us in that.” Then with a hard look directed at the queen of Carnelian he said, “I say they are all dead from one source or another. We are on our own here and can no longer place any hope in an absent leader. The era of the Golden Eagle is finished.”

An audible gasp of surprise was heard at the declaration. Queen Refinnej though was unmoved. “None the less, we should still try. We will need those troops for our defense since they were the best we had and,” she added with a defiant look, “the best led.”

Several of the kings sprang to their feet in outrage at the comment made, but before any of them could respond, Ozni of Chalcedony spoke. “Gentlemen, we are talking around the issue. Messengers are well and good but what shall we do with the here and now?”

Out of the shadows Elder Samej stood, walked to the center of the room and addressed the assembled. “The great host over the sea is not lost and they should be recalled. As for the here and now, if the Natas and those from Gershon have linked up then the Black Sceptre has been raised. This is only the beginning of the extension of the dark evil of Mephistopheles. The Confederation of the Shires must not only act together swiftly, but also decisively.”

“You sir have not been bid to speak,” Ashbel spoke in reply, contempt dripping in his voice. “Your services were called for yesterday but are no longer desired here. You have no voice and therefore no right to be here.”

“Remove this man,” the king of Chrysolite ordered to a guard. “These matters are too important to be interrupted by a spectator.”

“Hold your hand!” responded Queen Refinnej in a firm voice. “This man has as much right to be here as you,” she said walking to the side of Elder Samej.

Flanking the man on the other side was Princess Rebekah with a look of defiance on her pretty face.

“What do you mean by this Refinnej?” demanded Ashbel.

“I have named Elder Samej as High Counsel and Steward of Carnelian. He speaks for me and for this land,” the queen answered looking evenly about the room.

A choked gasp of astonishment filled the room, which swiftly turned into an uproar.

Ashbel along with several other kings rushed forward to the three in the center of the room, anger evident on their faces. Mitt Cela and Hai’asi leapt to the side of the Elder Samej and the two women, hands on their weapons. The pair defiantly dared the mob to try anything. Their action stopped the blustering men cold, unwilling to test the resolve of the dangerous looking men.

“Refinnej!” a furious Ashbel screamed. “You dishonor this chamber by elevating this common man. Only yesterday he was unknown not only to the council but to yourself as well. What do you mean by this outrage?”

Ashbel then turned to speak to the other rulers and shire representatives.

“Far too long has Carnelian controlled the actions of this council!” he declared. “Far too long this shire has told us what to do! What claim do they have to determine our destiny? Ancient tradition! Now they bring this man in and make him steward? And who do they choose? A man with no connections! He is nothing more than a nostalgic throwback to a bygone era.”

“You speak lies!” Squire Belac shouted from his bench unable to contain himself any longer. “He is the greatest mind in this room!” the teen blurted out in a fit of passion.

Ashbel grabbed hold of this outburst for his advantage. “Here we see another insult of the council from Carnelian by the lapdog of this supposed elder,” he cried out pointing towards Belac. “The boy still doesn’t know that his place is to be unseen and unheard. They would give great power to ones such as these? This cannot be allowed.”

Ashbel could sense his power over the situation returning with each rehearsed tirade. The ambitious king had felt his mounting control slip with the news of the fall of the Fortress of Timnach. It had in fact shaken him as well as the others. In addition, the arrival of Samej had thrown him off too. But his mind was swift and recovery swifter. Now with the tables turned in his favor once again it was time to press the real ambition he’d hoped to have the opportunity to advance.

“These my friends are dark days, ones full of challenge,” Ashbel declared. “Yes, we have been invaded, but the unanswered question is why? We also have been advised by some that war is our only option. We have witnessed the desperate actions of a diminishing kingdom bent on maintaining its power.”

Refinnej tried to speak in response but was silenced by the majority.

“This is the counsel of reminiscence,” Ashbel continued. “The way of war and aggression may have been the preferred choice of our long-departed ancestors. Now though it is no longer an appropriate response in our modern and refined society. No, they would lead us to total destruction.”

There was a murmur of agreement from those who had never anticipated such a time in their reign. Any choice but the hard one seemed preferred so fear and pragmatism overtook courage.

“I say that a delegation of the Confederation ride immediately to seek Ahriman and those he has joined,” the king of Chrysolite announced, picking up on this mood, “if in fact he has joined them. Then we can discover whatever injustice they feel, allowing us to rectify the situation without force of arms. With proper presentation and the right negotiation we cannot help but avert tragedy.” Pausing, with hands on his hips, Ashbel concluded, “That is the way of CIVILIZED men.”

Elder Samej broke into booming laughter, barely able to contain himself.

Ashbel allowed his rage to boil over. “You insult us again!” He lashed out. “See how he mocks this obvious course? I will not tolerate it.”

He moved in a threatening way toward the man. Then looking at Mitt Cela and Hai’asi, hands tightly gripping their weapons, he stopped after only one step.

“No Ashbel, you insult your countrymen and the memory of your ancestors.” Samej’s expression changed from merriment to deadly serious. “You profess to speak wisdom about something you do not understand. You believe that these we face can be bought with gold and land and soothed with eloquent words. You would have this council believe that you can sit down and debate with them as we are doing here. Yours are not the words of a king yours are the words of a slave.” Watching Ashbel’s eyes bulge out in rage, he finished with, “a slave to comfort and self-interest.”

The new High Steward of Carnelian turned from the seething king to the rest of the gathered nobility. “There is a time to discuss and debate, even to negotiate,“ Samej declared, “but this is not one of them. We face a foe that will not stop to speak until they have accomplished what they seek.”

He knew he had their attention. No one spoke in opposition now, anticipating what would be said.

“And what might that be? I think you know as well as I. Total dominion over all our lands is what he seeks. Then will Mephistopheles and his host Ahriman speak, but only with sword or whip. We did not choose war, war was thrust upon us. If we stand united we can overcome them, if not, we will fall.”

This time Ashbel, having regained control over his emotions, was cool and unfazed by Samej. He could see that while some were moved by the speech they were scared and didn’t want to believe this was the only way. In his mind he knew the proper path and what he desired. He would set these sheep straight.

“A fine speech,” Ashbel began clapping in mock homage, “but one wholly impractical, like this council has become of late. It is time for men of vision to look beyond the sword and to a new era, a new future.”

“What exactly do you mean by that Ashbel?” Jashud queried in an accusing tone.

”What I mean Jashud is that Chrysolite will no longer tolerate such leadership and direction. There is no more time to waste on fruitless discussion. Unless the Royal Council decides for negotiation immediately we will withdraw from the Confederation and would encourage any with a like mind to do the same thing.”

Pandemonium broke out as accusations and counter accusations flew throughout the room. Order could not be restored. Like a fierce storm, which had broken out, it couldn’t be contained. Finally, the bedlam was allowed to run it course.

As the din finally began to subside Jashud’s voice rang, no longer able to control his emotions. “I will die before I talk with the rapers of my land!” he shouted.

“Nor will I,” yelled another.

“And I will not be led by a bunch of warmongers,” an opponent screamed.

Once more shouts rang out.

Ashbel’s voice rose above the others, his words having a sobering effect. “Enough! This worn-out body is not worth such exertions of energy. Chrysolite withdraws from the Confederation. Who will join us?”

Queen Refinnej leaned over to Samej, a look of urgency upon her face. “Say something! We cannot allow this to happen.”

“Your Majesty, you presuppose that something can be done once the dam has been broken,” Samej soberly responded. “No, the flood has already started. Just as that begins with the early spring rains, this is one that did not begin in the last two days.”

“What…what do you mean?” Refinnej stammered.

“This is a tide, which has been rising for some time. It has been spurred on by the ambitions of some that see such a time as their opportunity for advancement. This bold move was constructed even before the council was convened.”

A shocked look clouded the queen’s face as the reality of the accusation sunk in. She then came to understand the truth of Samej’s statement as she witnessed in silence four other kingdoms follow a triumphant-looking Ashbel out of the Royal Council Chamber.

Though some seemed unsure of their action, the group following Ashbel not only quit the chamber but left the castle altogether.

The remnant sat in stunned silence for several minutes unsure how to proceed.

Then Jashud spoke. “The vile betrayer! He’s cut our strength nearly in half. Now what do we do?”

Elder Samej, the new High Steward, had stood silent and steady as a rock in the center of the room throughout the whole affair. He’d said nothing, instead listening to what was being said. Finally he spoke. “Numbers may have dropped but a body without unity has no strength. Better to stand with those who believe then suffer division.”

Pausing for a moment, he looked squarely at everyone who remained. The faces of several brightened at the statement. “For now we must raise an army from all the remaining kingdoms to stand against Mephistopheles. We must be one vast array. He can be defeated but it must be done incrementally and in strength. We do it one place at a time and in concert, never allowing his forces to assemble en masse,” he logically explained. “We hit them swiftly and hard using our strength to exploit his weakness. A piecemeal approach will only lead to destruction.”

“And where do you propose to begin?” said Shemida of Chrysoprase pointedly.

“With incursions along most of the lands, the logical place to begin is at the village of Haccalm. We thrust west through to the Halcyon River, then to the Tartarus securing the bridges along the way. This will effectively split our enemy’s forces. From a renewed position of strength we can break north and south, gathering forces from the liberated lands and finally concentrate on rolling up the remnant.”

“Thus protecting Carnelian lands while those of my kingdom are decimated before aid is rendered?” accused Machir. “I see your new steward already is showing his favor for the elevation you gave Refinnej.”

The queen was shocked by the charge and didn’t respond. Her silence was taken as proof of the charge.

The plan was doomed to fail. Though sensible, it was being presented to a group of men scared and unused to such decisions. This type of strategic approach was beyond their limited discernment. So despite the admonitions of Samej most of the remaining kings argued for a plan which put their lands foremost in the struggle or lobbied for multiple thrusts. More fruitless debate ensued, exasperating the remaining goodwill among the members of the Confederation of the Shires.

In the end most of the other leaders left to protect their own lands as best they could alone with the troops they could muster. None were willing to compromise or see the bigger picture. Only Jashud, who now was tied not necessarily to Carnelian but those who stood at Fellicore, and Arod of Amethyst who had no land to return to, remained.

Choked with emotion, Refinnej leaned against her throne. An equally stunned Princess Rebekah slumped by her side. “This truly is the end of the Confederation,” the shaken queen could only whisper.

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