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|Credit: Roy Lathwell|
“Until recently,” Perin replied, “I did not travel in the circles of Captains and Protectors. But as a Striker, I once overheard Captain Ruslem speak of him. His description of Captain Anlayt was, shall we say, not flattering.”
“Perhaps I should consult our codes and laws. There must be some good reason to remove him from office.”
“If Ak’koyr will allow it. Would you risk a civil war between two of Camac’s three remnants?”
“Four, if you count the southern coast.” Jira grimaced. “But they are so far removed, that there may as well be only three.”
“I find it interesting, that the good Captain would not spare so much as a ketch for carrying regular dispatches,” said Perin, “but he is willing to raise a small fleet to make war on the East.”
“Not only a fool, but a bloody-minded fool.” Jira thought of their visit, and of Anlayt’s off-hand admission; he had ordered Koyr’s mad slain, their corpses thrown into the harbor. Koyr will be haunted for centuries for that injustice, she thought. Perhaps eternally. Camac’s laws demanded that even the corpses of enemy soldiers be treated with respect, and Jira had followed those laws through the long year of rampaging mad folk as much as possible. She pushed aside the indignities of burial pits and mass cremations, and focused on the positive. They had wrapped each corpse, had sung names where they were known, and mourned each death. And they had done so once again, for forty-odd Eastern men who died in a needless raid. Perhaps it would be enough. If the Northern Reach stayed free of unhappy shades, if they could cling to some final shreds of civilized conduct…
• • •
Later, in her chambers, Jira began a reply.
Captain Anlayt, of Ak’koyr:Perin read the draft, and laughed at Jira’s strikethrough. “I note that you did not mention the aid packet we plan to send to Ryddast,” he said.
I have received your dispatch. I am truly glad to hear that you were able to deal with the raiders, especially with a day’s warning. The names of your four fallen soldiers were honored here in the Northern Reach, as is proper. But sinking five ships, with all 150 on board, seems excessive. Some of them may have become willing forced laborers in exchange for food, as are the eight Eastern raiders we captured here, not to mention the possibility for further intelligence.
Our Eastern captives tell us of food shortages, and of inequalities of distribution, at least in Ryddast and other nearby former provinces. The old provincial governors, or the “lords” who have replaced them, will be glad to send hordes of half-starved men to their deaths. They will be twice glad if it is enough to repel your force with heavy losses on both sides.
Perhaps you yourself should offer their lords a duel to the death, winner take all.
There has been enough death in the last year. If you have the resources to mount a “punitive expedition to the East,” you certainly have the resources to keep the Royal Road open, at least between Koyr and this garrison. The cohort remaining here, and the folk, are willing to do their part. Keeping order and maintaining trade routes are the primary duties of Protectors and Captains in a general crisis. You have succeeded in the first part. We might debate methods, but in the end you have kept order and preserved a valuable resource.
Now for the second part. Captain Phylok tells me that the spring fishing near Isenbund has been excellent so far, and they are sending us much of their surplus of pickled glacierfish. We are sending them casks of wine in turn; a fairly recent vintage, but good table wine by all counts. There is plenty of both wine and fish, and both we and Isenbund would be glad to trade for salted beef and preserved orchard fruit.
Finally, there is the matter of the southern coast. Protector Kontir tells me that several cities are in reasonable order, and in no need of aid. This is fortunate, because we must assume that the provisioning stops, including Gran Isle and Westmark, are no longer functioning. Neither the cities under Kontir nor we can provide timely aid to the other. Therefore, I am of a mind to sever our ties, in as friendly a manner as possible, and allow them to determine their own fate. Have you any advice in this matter?
Signed, Protector Jira, Acting Governor, Northern and Gulf Provinces
“If only there was a way to see that it gets to the folk, instead of their ‘lord’ or whatever he wants to call himself,” Jira grumbled.
“Perhaps there is a way. You know of the sea caves?”
Jira smiled. “Ahh. You suggest we land at the sea caves, and transport the aid packet overland to Ryddast’s border?”
“I promoted you for good reason, Perin. Who are you assigning to the mission?”
“Mostly former Easterners. Striker Nars, of course. He was born in Pyrlast, not Ryddast, but an Easterner leading the way will perhaps meet a… a less-unfriendly reception. They will take one of the prisoners, as a guide, so that our aid reaches those who need it.”
“Good thinking. But if he escapes?”
“Then our soldiers will leave the aid package where the Eastern folk will find it, and retreat with all haste.” Perin looked at her. “Protector, do you think he would try to escape? They all seem content with their lot.”
“So close to home? He might forget.”
“They use the term wol’it much.”
Jira raised an eyebrow. “Woldt? I know a little Eastern, but not that word.”
“Wol’it. Striker Nars says it describes a sense that anything has to be better than the present circumstance.” Perin chuckled. “It was used ironically, before, to mock one who was emotionally overwrought, but now? They use it in a literal sense. Better to be a well-fed slave than starving and supposedly free, they say.”
“Perin…” Jira grinned. “It occurs to me that we can do more—much more—than dropping a single aid packet. Send food, yes, but also send directions to follow the Eastrim Mountain Road to the plains. Anlayt said the cattle still roam free. They can hunt or herd, as they see fit.”
“Will Anlayt approve?”
“Anlayt is too focused on his own little fiefdom. If any settlers avoid the coast, he will never know.”