King Glennen of Eldador gave me a job to do - avenge his wife's death - and hey, you know me, I am to please!

So maybe he didn't say, "Attack the invincible city, sack it and pretty much slap the faces of every important person on Fovea," but then again I never went to charm school. I kind of do what I do.

But you know what I wish he had said? I wish he'd said, "Lupus, if you do plan to go sack the invincible city, you better make darn sure you have a way out of there, because the Uman-Chi are the most powerful Wizards on the planet, and every other nation is a friend to them."

Yeah, that would have been pretty good advice.

These are the continuing adventures of Randy Morden, a man from our world thrust into another where magic is real and technology sounds pretty far-fetched. As the chosen of a god named "War," Randy has a mission to fulfill a destiny that he doesn't understand and, incidentally, to keep himself and his family alive while doing it.

In Indomitus Vivat, the stakes are raised as War drives Randy to greater stakes and greater consequences, and pathway that could lead to empire, or straight to hell!

Indomitus Vivat is the second book of the the Fovean Chronicles and the conclusion of Indomitus Est.

Chapter: The Almadain

A white stallion that Men called ‘Blizzard’ stood with a Man on his back on a street made of stone, in a city made of stone, where arrows flew around him and magic crackled the air. Screams from warriors and lesser horses tore his ears; blood and smoke and the acrid stink of fear filled his flaring nostrils. He stomped a metal-shod hoof and brought sparks up from the ground, bobbed his head and snorted in anger while the Man debated with its mate on a lesser horse next to him.

It hadn’t always been this way, the white stallion remembered. He’d been free once. He’d been the Almadain – first stallion and protector of his kind. He’d run with the wind in his mane on the Wild Horse Plains, guarding the Herd That Cannot be Tamed, sacred to the goddess Life, the sun or the moon hanging over him, thick grass at his hooves, mares to breed with all around him, his sons and daughters as far as his brown eyes could see.

But then the man-god Steel had come to him, and sent him south to the lands where Dwarves and Uman and Men dwelt, to find the one with hair light like his own, and blue eyes, and to carry that one forward on his back into a future unknown.

The Almadain could have refused. He had no love for Men. Men had hunted his kind, come to steal his foals, his mares. Men stank of the flesh they consumed, they made things that cut and stabbed, hard bits that pinched the gums and thick leather that chaffed the back and sides. Men were killers no better than the loafer wolves that weeded out the sick and the weak from the herd, except that Men preyed on the strong.

But Steel had shown the Almadain a future where this one Man ran free, with no horse to guide him, hunting where he would, feeling detached from the world. In that future, the Man killed with a hunger worse than all of the loafer wolves that the Almadain had ever seen. In that world, Men and Uman came by the hundreds and took the plains where the Herd ran, and enslaved or killed the Almadain’s kind, driving them under the lash in homage to the god War, sweeping out encased in armor to conquer and destroy.

The Almadain could not really understand that hunger. It wasn’t horse-like to want more grass than the herd could eat, to want to see farther than the edge of the plains. These were man-thoughts. But not understanding them didn’t make them unreal, and the Almadain needed no convincing what were the vices of Men.

And so, the Almadain had left his herd, his mares, his foals, and turned south. He’d found the Man and befriended him, borne him on his back, run with him into sharp steel and screaming men and horses. Where the Man was strong, the Almadain had been strong as well, and together they had protected the Man’s herd.

More importantly, in the quiet times after the battles, after the blood that flowed and the voices that screamed, while other horses stood trembling and fearing the next day, the horse called Blizzard and the Man called by many names had come together. The Man had curried him with soft brushes, picked the dirt and worse from his hooves, stitched his wounded sides sometimes and run his fingers through his mane and tail.

Sometimes in the dark of night, the man with white hair had taken the Almadain’s head in his arms and held it; and shook with grief and let the tears from his strange, blue eyes. Sometime the man spoke softly to the horse, going on for a long time, not really saying anything with his words, but conveying with his scent and with the sound of his voice that the things he saw, that the things he did were as terrifying to he himself as to the Almadain and to the other creatures, the Dwarves and Uman and Men, whom they together visited these things on.

In the quiet in the night and after the battles, the Man had come to love the horse, and the horse the Man in some ways. The sacrifice had proven its worth – the Man might be a conqueror, a killer, a predator but, thanks to the love of a horse, not a monster.

Steel heels touched the horse’s sides. That meant start forward. Blizzard bobbed his head and obliged, leading hundreds of horses not quite like him into the heat of battle, the smell of blood, the chaos of the worship of the god War.

And before the violence wiped all other thought away, the horse called ‘Blizzard’ reminded himself that, in fact, the Man had not become a monster yet.


Chapter: Exit, Stage Left

An important part of any invasion is what to do if you actually survive it.

Here I was in the center of Outpost IX, having just killed a whole lot of Trenboni citizens, corrupted the Scitai archers who had helped me pull that off, breached the gates of the city proper and then straight up threatened all and, yes, murdered some of the delegates to the Fovean High Council. Uman-Chi Wizards, the best in the world (arguably after my beloved wife, Shela, who’d come with me alongside 5,000 Wolf Soldiers and 500 Aschire archers) where trying to rain down destruction and hell fire on us, and I had a problem.

I couldn’t keep the city, so I really, really needed to leave it. More importantly, I needed to leave it, and survive – preferably with those members of my entourage whom I hadn’t gotten killed already.

I didn’t want to march back across the Silent Isle to the Scitai-occupied portion with every Trenboni warrior they could muster on my tail and their Wizards turning my soldiers into frogs, neither did I really believe that the Trenboni Navy would sit idly by while I boarded my Theran fishing vessels with my remaining warriors.

We double-time marched it to the wharves, now almost four thousand strong. There we found the merchant ships from the Free Legion Shipping company which Ancenon ran, but which we were all welcome to use any time we wanted to. While I’d been making bloody war on the Trenboni and killing delegates to the Fovean High Council, Dilvesh, who bore the green symbol of the Free Legion, the question-mark turned upside-down, as our only Druid, had been commandeering Ancenon’s ships and ordering them to dump their cargo. The ships had come here on legitimate business from the day before, and the Trenboni fleet had focused on keeping ships out, not in. I’d arranged to have all manner of products shipped from Thera into Outpost IX, either directly or through other ports. Ships come here on legitimate and actually pretty normal business brought no attention to themselves, and now it was just a matter of using them.

Each ship had orders to leave when her capacity in horse and warriors were onboard. From there we made a mad dash to Thera and the safety of Eldador.

“Think that they’ll call for an embargo against us at the next council meeting?” Dilvesh asked me. He, Shela and I took the same ship and had pulled away from port. All around us our vessels were peeling away from the wharf as soon as they were loaded.

“I think we may see them before that,” I said.

Dilvesh had his own reasons for doing this. I knew them from what I had experienced with the Druid in Conflu. Dilvesh’ purposes might be his own, but they served mine here and now.

I spat into the ocean in the wake of my lead ship. They’d come after Alekanna and the Free Legion because they thought there’d be no consequences for their actions. Let them see the high price for guessing wrong.

Karel of Stone, the newest member of the Free Legion and the one whose mark was silver, had decided to stay on the Silent Isle. His people would be recognized as a part of the raid and might feel retribution. Shela had promised to make an appearance on their portion of the Silent Isle if she had to.

“Sail, ho! Trenboni Tech Ship!” I heard from the crow’s nest.

“Where away?” our captain called. I didn’t know the man. The sailors in Free Legion Shipping were Ancenon’s, not mine.

“To stern and closing, five sails!”

I turned and cross the wheel deck, putting my hands on the well-worn railing to stern, where I could see five ships pursued us, running against the wind. A mystical breeze that would affect no other ship propelled Trenboni ships. I had marveled at them before but not now.

“We might have to put a few ships in their way to hold them while the rest escape,” Dilvesh told me.

I would do it if I had to but I didn’t like it. I also didn’t think that our merchant ships were going to hold off the Trenboni for very long. If they could overrun us then they would, and had plenty of time for it during the long voyage to Eldador from Trenbon.

“Shela?” I asked my wife. She focused her eyes past the horizon, then closed them and turned back to me, shaking her head.

“Water is not my god,” she said. “And Power isn’t in play here, not like he’d been in Outpost IX. Those ships are the combined effort of powerful Wizards, White Wolf. I am no match for them.”

I nodded. Shela wasn’t invincible; she’d just been smart about picking her battles.

I turned to the Druid standing to my left, dressed in his usual white robe and brown cowl, his curling green hair peeking out from underneath it. His brown eyes searched to stern as mine had.

“The trick with the boards?” I asked him.

“I can,” he said, “but not before we’re in range of her weapons. If I’m swimming for my life or on fire, I won’t be able to cast spells.”

And people thought I had a strange sense of humor.

I turned back to Shela standing to my right in her Andaran raider outfit – the black leather halter and skirt slit up the side, dressed in thigh-high boots with flat heels for riding and a black leather overcoat with narrow lapels and wide sleeves which would not inhibit an archer; the cut of its back down to just above her knees.

“Is one of our other Wizards available?” I asked her.

She closed her eyes and then opened them immediately. “I have Devinor,” she said. “He is solid.”

“Have him attack us,” I said.


“Shela, do it!” I told her. “Set our sails on fire. Dilvesh, make us take water – not a lot and nothing you can’t fix. Remember we have horses.”

The Druid looked at Shela, Shela looked at me. She shrugged and did what she’d been told. He closed his eyes and followed suit.

A sailor screamed in our rigging when our sails exploded in a sheet of flame. The ship lurched to one side a moment later, our sailors screaming “fire” and “breach” at the same time.

We were dead in the water; the Tech Ships would overtake us in a moment.

“They will sink us as they pass,” Dilvesh said.

“Prepare to repel boarders!” our captain cried.

“Belay that command!” I said. The captain turned on his heel on the open poop deck and turned his face up to the wheel house to see who’d countermanded him.

“Fight your fire, save your ship,” I commanded him. “Leave boarders if there are any to us.”

He nodded and redirected the crew.

We waited breathless as the Tech Ships fanned out. Magic eyes scanned us; my skin crawled at the thought of it.

“What are we doing?” Dilvesh asked me.

“There is a place where I am from where men go through the snow on sleds pulled by dogs,” I said. “Sometimes there are wolves in these places. When the wolves are starving, they will attack the men on their sleds, and outrun the dogs.”

"And?” Shela asked, irritated. She’d almost exhausted herself, her will the only thing keeping her on her feet, and she likely wanted to see her daughter again.

“And sometimes, when you can’t fight the wolves, you push one man off of the back of the sled. He dies, but the rest live.”

“I don’t want to be thrown to these wolves,” Dilvesh said.

“If the wolves are smart, then they keep after the sled,” I said. “More meat there, and you wouldn’t throw one to these wolves if you didn’t know you were no match for them.”

“You think they will bypass us and go after the fleet,” Shela said.

“I think they won’t waste their energy on a sinking ship,” I said. “I think they’ll let Water have us and go after the rest.”

They closed on us. We could see their sails, then we could see their sailors.

“We’re within their range,” the captain called to us from the poop deck. His crew had confined the fire and but they’d done it with water. The ship leaned badly, the man-powered pumps unable to keep up with the flow. The horses screamed in the hold, Blizzard among them.

“Dilvesh?” I asked him.

“Still too far.”

They kept coming, fanning out, ready to pass us, or getting out of the way for one to take the shot.



“She is powering her weapons,” Shela said. “I can feel it.”

“Don’t do anything,” I said. “They might just be checking to see if there is a Wizard here.”

“I won’t be able to protect us -” she said.

“You wouldn’t be able to anyway,” I interrupted her. “Not against five ships and their Wizards onboard.”

She bit her lip.

We waited. The shot didn’t come.

“By the power of Earth and Water,” Dilvesh shouted, reaching out a pale hand like a claw toward the Trenboni ships. “I command thee, part!”

The nearest Tech Ship pitched forward as if it had hit a shoal. Next the one beside it did the same, and then the other three.

Fire lanced out of the sky at us. Shela lowered her head and held up her hand to protect the ship, her long black hair falling to cover her face. The crow’s nest caught on fire. Another sheet of flame came at us from another of the ships and again she held up her hand in defiance.

“Fix us, get us out of here, Dilvesh,” I said.

He intoned, and the fire on the ship blinked out. I didn’t see the hull fix itself, but I had to assume it had.

“Captain, how long to rig sails?” I called.

“As fast as we bloody well can!” he told me. He had better things to do than answer my questions.

Another wave of fire rippled across the ocean, followed by another effort by Shela to defend us. This time they scorched the hull.

“I can help you,” Dilvesh said to Shela.

“A few more attacks like that and you will have to do it all,” she told him, her long, black hair already wet with her sweat. “Such power!”

They’d already rigged the jib and unpacked the mainsail on deck. The ship inched forward on that one small sail’s effort.

A bolt of lightning flew toward it. Those Uman-Chi were no fools! This time one of our own sailors stood up and took the blast, falling dead in the water that the rest of us might live.

“Such courage,” Dilvesh muttered.

“Dilvesh, fight their fire,” Shela said. “I will take their energy attacks. Can you give us rougher seas?”

“I might,” he said.

The sailors were hauling the mainsail. The Tech Ships ported badly, one of them down to the water line. Even if the Uman-Chi could repair their hulls they would have to pump out the water.

Another lightning bolt. Shela fell to her knees. It skipped across the deck and scored the rails.

The sailors kept hauling. Dilvesh took up the fight for Shela.

“Sails up!” the captain called. Dilvesh waved his hand in a circle over his head and then pointed at the mainsail. It filled with wind and the ship lurched forward.

A sheet of flame overran the stern. A blast of lightening blew out the side of the wheel deck.

Shela stood and held out her hand. Another lightning bolt – she moaned as she diverted it. Dilvesh squelched the fire.

The next sheet of flame didn’t make it to the ship. A bolt of lightning seared the water of Tren Bay but didn’t touch us.

Shela passed out unconscious. Dilvesh sat down next to her.

“Let’s not do any sledding,” he said to me.

I smiled.

The ships returned us to Thera, where the Wolf Soldiers debarked and were greeted both by the thousand I’d left as home guard, and a cheering throng of Eldadorians who considered this victory their own. The Uman-Chi weren’t a people whom most loved, and Queen Alekanna had been popular. Glennen had made no secret of whom he blamed for the attack on the manor that had cost the Queen her life, and neither had I.

I took a day to rest and then started down the long road to Eldador the Port from Thera, one hundred Wolf Soldier guards in tow. People along the way, in little towns and hamlets that had been springing up like daisies across the countryside, would step out and wave to us as we passed. When we camped, they came to beg us to tell our stories, to meet the infamous Wolf Soldiers and, if they could, perhaps The Conqueror himself.

Of course, that was me, and I really didn’t feel much like The Conqueror, more like the guy who took a cheap shot at the Trenboni and got away with it. We told our own stories and we heard theirs, about the coming shortages of food from Sental, the worry that maybe this would all backfire, and of course the love for the Heir Apparent, which also happened to be me.

I’d been brought here from Earth by a god named War, as his instrument. I’d been told to lead a successful life. Some might think that rising from common peasant to Duke and generally the most feared military man alive right now would qualify, but War didn’t feel that way. He wanted more.

He’d informed me recently that he wanted me to take over the monarchy of Eldador, and to do that meant to get Glennen out of the way. The problem was that I really liked Glennen. Glennen had shown faith in me when I had just been a mercenary with this idea of an army like the French Foreign Legion. Glennen had been a friend to me just because he liked my character, and I kind of didn’t want to assassinate him.

War had this bad habit of torturing me when I didn’t do things his way, and I really didn’t want to go through that again. If I had to go through that or kill Glennen, then I’d kill Glennen.

If I had to go through that or kill me, well – there ya go.

So now I had to do this balancing act that involved pleasing a god that could torture me, a King that could ruin me and a whole lot of people who now really, really wanted to kill me, and who’d probably like to do that in the messiest way possible.

So when common farmers came up to me with this look of worship in their eyes and said things to me like, “Oh, wow, you’re The Conqueror!” and “We love you, Duke Rancor the Just,” it made me feel like a real scumbag sometimes.

Because I was on my way to be named the Heir and then put the process for Glennen to be something other than my King in motion, this made for one of those times.

When you get right down to it – I’m really not that nice of a guy.


Chapter: The Sled Dogs

I sat with Glennen and his kids in Eldador the Port, in the royal palace. I told them all of the attack on Outpost IX, the sack of the invincible city, the warning. He felt satisfied with what I had done. That’s a good thing because I don’t know what more I could do.

The kids all cried, even his oldest son, Tartan, almost a man. I could see that the boy hated showing his weakness but I couldn’t blame him myself. They had all loved Alekanna. They all knew what had happened. They’d been told what had been done to avenge her, and they knew that, unless we had to defend against some retaliation, than there would be no more. They understood that they should be keeping their guards up for a while.

“She still isn’t here,” Glennen said to me once the kids filed out. He had been drinking. He had always drunk, but in the days that I had been here he hadn’t stopped once.

“The kids saw that more clearly than the rest of us,” he drawled. “They are the ones who have to get over this.”

“Don’t underestimate your own need,” I said. “You’re drinking a lot.”

He shook his head. “N’more than usual,” he said. “You don’t know me like you think you do.”

“I guess not,” I said. No point in arguing with him.

“Yer goin’ back to Thera?”

I nodded. “The Free Legion is meeting there,” I said.

“Betch’er Uman-Chi are kinda upset, what with you blowing gates off their city like that,” he chuckled, more to himself than me.

Then he looked me in the face. “Wuzzit with you and gates, anyway? You know how expensive those things are?”

Yep, he was drunk all right.

Glennen called court and named me Heir to the Throne of Eldador later that day. His Oligarchs nodded sagely and the royal court as well. They’d had to deal with him more than I had. One of the Oligarchs informed me that he felt especially loyal to me now.

We both gave Glennen a year before he drank so heavily that I had to step in and run the whole shooting match.

From there I returned to Thera. On Blizzard’s back I did it in four days – the Wolf Soldier Lieutenant whose command they were had a fit but it wasn’t like he could do anything about it – they made it to the city three days after I did. The cold weather made the road hard and encouraged Blizzard to his greatest efforts. He had gotten his belly wet on the ship and the run did him good. At some points I could barely contain him. I arrived at the Casa de Mordetur to find the rest of the Free Legion already there.

We met in my War Room on All Gods’ Day. We planned to celebrate in the city afterwards. Ancenon and D’gattis were livid, Karel of Stone amused. Dilvesh and Nantar and Thorn were ready to write the whole thing off and Arath had already been in contact with the Toorians to negotiate shipping their summer wheat and natural fruits and vegetables in preparation for the Sentalan shortages predicted next years. I had already decided to invest heavily in Toorian futures and had quietly bought into a shipyard in Andurin, where I could start building ships to move south.

It surprised me how much I missed Drekk. His quiet contempt for everything material, so unusual in a thief, had been a stabilizing factor. I still anticipated his next raw comment. Funny that I should miss the Uman who barely spoke to me, except to tell me that I’d done something wrong. It is strange how you can come to count on that sort of thing.

Perhaps it really is your critics that make you.

Karel of Stone could replace him in his own way. He reported from the same network. He told us that there were thoughts of retaliation, but that they were few and not serious. If we could sack Outpost IX and walk away from it, then we could go anywhere.

I don’t know what had inspired the thief to help me. He knew I didn’t like him.

“The damage will take years to repair, if it can ever be repaired,” D’gattis told me directly. “Some of what is lost is Cheyak architecture which can never be replaced. The rest is extremely expensive –“

“No,” Arath said. He was emphatic, half-standing. “Not a chance.”

“Of what?” D’gattis answered him. His ambiguous eyes flashed angrily.

“Of using gold from Outpost X to rebuild Outpost IX,” Thorn said.

“I don’t believe a vote has been called,” Ancenon interjected.

“I would vote, `No`,” Nantar said, flatly.

“As would I,” Karel said.

“And I,” Dilvesh joined them.

D’gattis regarded me with even more hatred. I just shrugged. This wasn’t my doing.

“I’m told that Trenbon just made a great deal of wealth on some sold property,” I said off-handedly.

Ancenon slammed his fist down on the table, fuming. Karel of Stone laughed outright.

“Do you know how many were made to suffer in this raid of yours, Lupus?” D’gattis demanded.

I nodded. “Four children, a husband,” I said. “A woman whose last moments of life were humiliation and pain.”

“The children and wives of two thousand Trenboni Royal Guard,” Ancenon added. “Merchants and tradesmen facing the rest of the winter with nothing.”

“This might be said of the Sentalans, and of the Volkhydrans, as well, Ancenon,” Nantar said, softly. “And yet, you don’t seem to want to spend gold to help them.”

D’gattis sniffed. “We cannot be held accountable for the people of every nation in the world, Nantar,” he informed us.

Thorn stuck his nose in the air and did his best to imitate him. “Neither,” he said, “can we.”

It ended that simply. If the Uman-Chi called for a vote to rebuild Outpost IX, then it would go against them. The Fire-Bond prevented them from taking the gold to do it themselves. I firmly believed that they only wanted the credit and the glory of donating to the rebuild, without having to actually extend themselves.

None of the Free Legion stayed for the All God’s Day celebration in Thera, which marked the end of the old year and the start of the new. Shela and I ended up staying in and having the house musicians play for us. She’d been trying to teach Lee to smile and I lay back in the luxury of a break from wondering who would be the next person trying to kill me, or who I would need to kill.

It wouldn’t last.

I awoke in the morning with my wife in my arms, my daughter already up and watching us from her bassinette, the sun shining through an open window and a message delivered to me from a liveried Uman.

The new staff still needed to learn the rules like, “If it is one of those very rare times when I decided to sleep in, let me.”

“Shall I return after you dress, your Grace?” he asked me.

I nodded. This was one of those mornings when I could have really used a cup of coffee.

He excused himself, the head butler, an older Uman, closing the doors to the bedroom behind him.

“The whole staff needs work,” Shela said, stretching.

“How did our beloved daughter let you sleep in late?” I asked her.

“She didn’t you oaf of a man,” she said. “You slept through three feedings and three changings as well. Your ability to tune out the sounds you don’t want to hear is making you a poor father.”

“But a better husband,” I added. She didn’t get it.

I pulled on my leather pants, a loose fitting shirt and house slippers. Some nobles would have added robes and ascots and all sorts of other things, but I didn’t go in for that.

Some of the same nobles would have met a messenger like this in the throne room or someplace similar, but that also wasn’t in me.

I left the bedroom with Shela unbuttoning her blouse for another feeding; I passed the head butler and biffed him on the back of the head.

“Send someone into the bedroom when I am asleep again, and you will be cleaning stalls in the stable,” I told him.

He nodded.

That was me.

I found the Uman in the big circular anteroom just inside of the main door. The room had been tiled in black and white like a checkerboard and a wooden stair with a bronze frame descended counter-clockwise along the wall from a second floor landing. The landing opened up to a roof garden that Shela loved, and could be lined with archers if we were defending the house from attack.

That was me, too.

“Your Grace,” the Uman greeted me.

I nodded.

"The Heir is summoned back to Eldador, the City,” he said, “by order of your liege lord, the King, Glennen Stowe.”

How could I be so not surprised?

“How soon does he want me?” I asked.

“I am to escort you on horseback,” he said. “So as soon as you may.”

I shook my head. “Is there trouble, or don’t you know?” I asked.

“I would be a poor source of information to you,” he said, spreading his hands, palms up. “However, I can tell you that it is the royal Oligarchs who summon you in the King’s name.”


“Rest after your journey,” I told him. The head butler appeared from behind me. “Afeer, here, will provide for you. If you would like to sleep, we will provide for you.”

“Thank you, your Grace,” he said.

“It will take me a day to get my affairs in order. Afeer will assign 500 Wolf Soldiers to escort you back to Eldador the Port.”

“You, then, decline the invitation, your Grace?” he asked me. You could read the worry on his face.

I shook my head. “I will leave tomorrow and catch up with you the next day,” I told him. “We will arrive in Eldador together.”

He nodded. I turned. Normally, I would have talked to him more, but you don’t do that when you’re a Duke and the Heir. Kind of a pain in my ass, but there you go.

Back in our room, Shela sat in her rocker, our daughter to her breast. Shela practically glowed. For just a moment, I wondered if I could get out of going to Eldador.

No way. I stood and watched her, my shoulder on the doorjamb. She sat and let me, waiting for me to speak.

“The Oligarchs are summoning me to Eldador.”

She looked up. “That didn’t take long.”

“I would be more surprised if they didn’t call, I think.”

“So would I,” she agreed, then looked back down at Lee’s face.

“So you want me to stay here when you go?” she added.

"Am I that predictable?”

She smiled. “You are so predictable, I can use you to tell what time of day it is.”

“Can not.”

She kept smiling, then after a moment said, “You would have said, ‘us’ if you wanted me to go with you.”

I hadn’t even recognized that.

“How long will you be gone?”

“I don’t know. Depends on the situation.”

“How many Wolf Soldiers are you taking?”

“Five hundred.”

She nodded.

“You know I want to go,” she said.

“I know. If it’s more than a week, I will send for you.”

“Thank you.”

I bathed, dressed, and assembled my own Oligarchs. I gave them the information they needed to run the place. Who could do what, what they shouldn’t decide on, and some more instruction on the security of Thera.

“I am not declaring martial law,” I said, “but if you think that a ship pulling into port is suspicious, or if you see a band of more than three men come in, or if small bands keep coming in, use the Wolf Soldiers to arrest them or, if they resist, kill them.”

That made all three frown. “We have a tourism trade…” Thebinaar began.

“We won’t if we’re overrun,” Ann told him.

“Who would try to sack Thera?” Def snorted.

“Who would try to sack Outpost IX?” I asked him.

“Still,” Ann continued, as if none of us had spoken, “three is too low. If someone is trying to sneak in an invasion force, they need no less than 10,000. That means you have to move in groups of twenty or more, or your outlying army will be detected before you have in half your numbers.

I shook my head, thinking of how few men had supposedly been inside the Trojan horse. “Just a few men inside to start killing guards, then your army strikes before you know you’re unprepared.”

“But that argues to increase our outlying patrols,” Def said. “More of them searching deeper. More thorough.”

“Are we trusting other Eldadorian cities?” Ann asked me.

I thought about that. I’m the Heir, I knew that Rennin approved of my appointment, but I also knew that Groff of Andurin didn’t share his opinion. He didn’t want it; he just didn’t want me to have it.

“I am going to say that any party of armed troops has to say why they’re here,” I said, finally. “Eldadorian cities have sacked each other before. And increase the patrols. That’s a good idea.”

“How many troops are we keeping here?” Thebinaar asked.

“I am only taking 500 as a personal guard.”

“Horse?” Ann asked.

“Mounted infantry. I need to move fast,” I said.

She nodded. “Then we have seven hundred heavy horse in the city, and another five hundred in training,” she said. “Two thousand, three hundred Wolf Soldiers in the city, and another thousand in training.”

“A thousand?” I asked. We had never had a thousand in training.

“Sack the un-sackable city and you would be surprised how many want to cast their lot in with you,” Def said. “I turned away two thousand more, and put them on the trail to Angador.”

I smirked to myself. “That should come as a nice surprise to Arath,” I said.

“We will be back up to pre-invasion strength before the War months,” Thebinaar said. “Depending on our losses in the summer campaigns, we could be twice this size next year.”

“Until then, we are vulnerable,” Ann said.

“Well, not vulnerable, so much as affected,” Def said. “There isn’t anyone who is going to come here to this city with 10,000 troops. Even the Trenboni can’t muster so many to that end. And until they do, we won’t lose the city.”

“Which means we will continue to grow,” Thebinaar said.

If it could only be that simple. In my own mind, I knew exactly what I would do now to draw us out and weaken us. I could only hope that my enemies weren’t thinking of it.

There were plenty of those now.

I marched through the gates of Eldador the Port at the head of 500 Wolf Soldiers, Blizzard in his full barding raising and lowering his head as Eldadorians and tourists stood aside for us. The wolf’s head banner snapped under the flag of Eldador on my lance and on my standard bearer’s pole.

I arrived on the 21st day of the month of Adriam, in the eighty-second year of the reign of the Fovean High Council. The wind blew cold, the horses loving it. At a time when most market places had shut down, the one in Eldador thrived.

I’d been told that the one in Outpost IX had yet to be rebuilt.

We marched to the palace gates, near the center of the city. The streets bustled with people in their furs or heavy cloth overcoats. Some stopped to look at us, some didn’t care.

We weren’t in the city twenty minutes before a rider met us from the palace.

“Your Grace, Mordetur of Thera?” he asked.

“And you are?” I responded.

“The squire of the Oligarchs, your Grace,” he said. “I am here to ask you to proceed to the palace with haste.”

“We are going there right now,” I told him.

“With greater haste,” he said. I’d seen that look in the Navy. Something very bad had happened.

I kicked Blizzard into a canter, the Wolf Soldiers behind me doing the same. One blew a single note on a bugle to clear the crowd, which came as a real surprise to me because I didn’t know I had buglers.

We got some good speed down the main way. The thunder of two thousand hooves gives you plenty of warning to get out of the way, especially on cobblestones. We were at the palace in less than half an hour.

A huge fountain had been built outside of the gates to the palace. A statue of the goddess, Life, here depicted as a beautiful girl in a short skirt and large bare breasts, spewed water from her hand in many high, arcing streams. The breasts, of course, nursed the world.

They had probably not been intended for Glennen to cop a feel, but then, I don’t think he asked the sculpture. By even casual observation, he was propositioning her, dressed in a breach clout that accentuated the extreme size of his hairy belly.

“Oh, crap,” I said.

“Oh, I hope he doesn’t,” the squire said. “Although he does pee in the fountain when the mood strikes him.”

As we got nearer, we could hear his slurred speech as he argued with the statue.

“C’mon, gurlie, you can give us a little taste, eh?” he told her. “Maybe jess a li’l dribble? I could do with jess a dribble.”

I rode Blizzard right to the fountain’s edge. “Your Majesty,” I said.

He turned, trying to adjust his bleary eyes. “Who? Lupus, you bastard, issay you?”

I smiled. “It is,” I said. “Can I bring you back to the palace?”

“Not till this bitch here gives me some rec’nition,” he said, scowling. “I’m a bachelor, now, yanno.”

How did I know this would be at the root of it? “Your Majesty, I can get you a woman who would appreciate you, if you want one,” I told him.

He looked at me owlishly. “Not that child you married?” he asked.

Yes, it had been a good idea that not to bring Shela.

“No, some other.”

He squinted his eyes at me. “Not her sister?”

“No,” I said. I held out my hand to him. “Please, your Majesty. Come inside. You must be freezing.”

He looked down at himself. “Yanno, I don’t feel it. But yeah, maybe I will put some pants on.”

He stepped onto the wall of the fountain, put his weight on its slippery surface, and of course did a back flip right into the pool. I saw his head smack the statue.

I don’t think Life had appreciated his offers. Five of my men were off their horses, me with them, as we leaped to his aid.

I knew enough to be careful as we moved him. “Watch his head and neck,” I told them. One man pulled his sword and we tied his head to it with a few rags, then secured the sword’s blade to his back, immobilizing him as best we could. Meanwhile four Eldadorian regular army brought a litter from the palace and we rolled him into it, to bring him back inside and to his rooms.

Hundreds of people saw the debacle. I would have worried about the scandal, except that it had probably been going on since I left. We’d gone way past scandal.

Glennen lay on his bed, sodden and freezing. The room had been built to be lavish, with gigantic bay windows and real glass to look through. The hard wood floor had been polished to a shine, except where our steel-shod boots had marred it. His four-poster bed came with a canopy, piled high with quilts. A table stood by the door and couches by the window, the bed and the far wall, where a gigantic mirror hung.

He hadn’t shaved in several days, but he had been drinking regularly. His son, Tartan, stood to one side of his father as two royal healers tended him. His Oligarchs and I spoke quietly at his tables.

“How long has this been going on?” I asked. I had just dispatched the captain of my guard to bed down the men and stable the horses.

“Since All Gods’ Day,” one of them said – the one I had met first, who had come to Shela and me in our hotel room. It occurred to me that I either didn’t know or didn’t remember any of their names.

“He began drinking early, he drank all day and into the night. Then he started to break things, until he passed out. Two days later he started again.”

“This is what he does now,” another said. They were all male, all Men, and all old. “He drinks, he attacks, and he tells us things that are on his mind.”

“Sometimes they are terrible things,” the third said. Of the four of them, he was the only one with short hair. Like the others, his was white, his robes were white, and he wore sandals. They all carried a twisted oak staff as a sign of office. I didn’t know why.

“He cannot cope with the loss of the Queen,” the first said. “And of course, we can hardly hold him responsible for his actions.”

“Except that we must,” the fourth Oligarch said.

Couldn’t argue with that. I knew alcoholism when I saw it. He wouldn’t stop if he didn’t have to, and he didn’t have to unless his kingdom revolted or someone assassinated him.

This could play right into War’s hands, I thought. No point in taking the King out if he was going to do it for us.

I had seen some sailors go pretty far down this road. Drinking yourself to death is real.

“There is no way to get Tartan to take over in his place?” I asked. Tartan, hearing his name, looked up at us. “Even just as reagent or something, for the duration of his treatment?”

All four shook their heads as one. “Eldadorian law in unique, in that the monarch has all power to rule. Glennen always feared that somehow his Dukes would rise up against him.”

“Can he proclaim a new law?” I asked

They nodded. “You are wise, your Grace,” the second said. “When he is sober, or just a little drunk, we must get him to proclaim that the Heir can assume power in a crisis of health.”

“I will commence the document,” the fourth said.

“No, I am the Heir,” I said. “It should be Tartan – “

“Tartan has no standing to rule,” the third said. “If he were to suddenly take power, it would look like a coupe.”

“And it will look exactly like that if I take over,” I said. “And do you really want me to be in control of Eldador right now?”

“Your recent attack on Outpost IX,” the fourth said.

“You fear that it will be a direct affront to the Trenboni,” said the first.

“I fear that they could use it as justification to retaliate against anything Eldadorian that they want, and legitimize it before the Fovean High Council, which I just royally pissed off,” I said.

They all nodded, and then I realized that my use of slang has been interpreted as I intended. Had they adapted or had I?

Tartan approached us with a healer.

“He will live,” the healer, a white-hair Uman in a yellow robe, said. “You were wise to bind his head – his neck had snapped. We have repaired it.”

“I owe you another debt, your Grace,” Tartan said.

“I am at your service,” I said, inclining my head to him, “and to your family’s service, your Highness.”

“Actually, it is you who are ‘Highness,’ your Grace,” Tartan said. “If I am correct on the rules of etiquette, then highness falls below majesty, and you are the heir.”

“Correct as ever, Prince Tartan,” the third Oligarch said. “You are my brightest pupil.”

He nodded.

I squared off on Tartan, so I could gage him. “We need to get your father well,” I said to him. “Do you agree?”

He didn’t look into my eyes, which I didn’t like. He looked at his father, then the Oligarch’s past me, then at me, but at my face, not my eyes. “I do.”

“And if we can get him to give you the power to rule in his place, until he is well, would you work with us, and be guided by us?” I asked

He looked in my eyes for a moment, and then looked away. “Would I do as you say, and would I give power back to my father when he felt well?” he asked.

I nodded.

He thought about it.

That answered it for me right there. He would agree, but he didn’t know for sure that he meant it.

I’d have to get myself out of this one. I smiled to Tartan and I took his shoulder in my hand for a second, but I excused myself and found where my Wolf Soldiers were bedded down, and joined them.

It had been a hell of a day.

Later in the royal Eldadorian court, I sat alone on the throne atop the dais, at the end of the long, royal gallery.

One day it would be imperial, I knew. Royal was good enough for now.

“And you can see, your Grace,” the Earl informed me, “the implicit growth of the project affects not only my own earldom, but the Eldadorian nation.”

Blah, blah, blah – the man had been droning on for thirty minutes. The Rule of Fifteens came to mind again, as it often did in such circumstances.

Any meeting that took more than fifteen minutes had a second agenda. Anything that took longer than fifteen seconds to say was probably a lie.

“I humbly add that this nation’s prosperity has astounded the world under your sage leadership…”

Damn, I thought to myself. He is sucking up to me. That is another ten minutes at least.

Eventually they would learn that I didn’t respond well to it, and they wouldn’t do it anymore. The political animal is still an animal. It hunts to survive. It learns its prey’s strengths and weaknesses, or it dies.

I had been in Eldador the port for two days. Glennen had roused this morning for a while, then gone back to sleep. His neck throbbed, and the first thing that he wanted was mead. I had talked him into breakfast tea, but I could smell that they had put something in it when it came. He had ordered me to sit for him at court, then rolled over and gone back to sleep.

I think the Earl wanted to build a granary or something. I missed that part of the dissertation. Really didn’t matter because I planned on telling him, “No,” regardless.

I wished I were with Shela. It looked like I would be sending for her.

“You munificent opulence has changed Fovea for all time…”

I wondered what ‘munificent’ meant.

Having or showing great generosity.

I started on the throne. The Earl either didn’t notice or didn’t care.

You need to know these ‘three dollar words’ if you want to rule these people.

I had a feeling that War hadn’t asserted Himself to correct my grammar.

You think you do great things?

“I hope to,” I thought in my mind, knowing that He would hear it.

And I stood in a field, feeling the hot sun on me, my calloused hands on the plow before me, the smell of my own sweat mingled with the hearty funk off the horse before me, of the newly turned earth beneath my feet.

I wiped the sweat from my forehead, and looked toward the great city, Eldador, where I had never been. Even now more masons were hauling more stones to her, as if more stores would make her greater, as if the sun could not set on enough of it.

"I paid for those stones,” I thought to myself, bitterly. “A share in 6 of everything I own, to the drunken king for his wine and his stones and his better life, while I live in a stick house with a roof that might leak.”

And I stood on the solid, wood decks of the newest of the cutters pulling from Eldador the port, and I wore the uniform of a boatswain and looked up in pride at the Eldadorian flag, flying from the mizzen.

The first mate had told me that most sailors die at sea, the rest are lucky if the scurvy and the whores don’t leave them too twisted to lead a normal life. I didn’t care; my father and his before me had been sailors and I would be one as well.

“Mount the main and hard aport,” the first bellowed. The quartermaster spun the wheel and we picked up the breeze. The mains’l snapped and billowed out in all of her glory, the spray from the prow of White Stallion splashed on my face and filled my nostrils with her salty spray.

To one side of the quarterdeck stood a squad of Wolf Soldiers. Haughty bastards who had never smiled in their whole lives, who never drank with the crew, who never did anything but kill or plan to kill – they are a plague on Eldador in my opinion. The Heir put them everywhere to remind the rest of us how things would be when the King’s health finally failed him.

Gendine, my best friend, clapped me on the shoulder, seeing my glare. “Be still, Vark, they are blooded veterans, and you are still a ‘wog.”

That they were. I ran to the rigging, my bare feet gripping the planks beneath me as the ship topped a swell.

That didn’t make me like them.

And my woman screamed, from our one room home in Thera. I paced outside the door, on the street, passersby nodding their respect to me or, if they knew her, giving me their good wishes.

The midwife tended her, I assured myself. The midwife knew what to do.

I couldn’t even afford to replace the bedding after her labors. At best I might replace the straw ticking and turn the mattress. The bed covers lay on the dirt floor.

This great land of prosperity called Eldador; it had not been so great for me. I had come to here a Volkhydran, my Lord’s gristmill empty and his water wheel spinning free. There was nothing there anymore. There would be nothing for a long time.

In Eldador they took almost no tax, and so all of the mills were hiring. That didn’t mean that they had room for a Man. Men were lords in Eldador, Uman worked the mills and the fields and the armories. Uman would hire 1,000 more Uman before they gave a wage to a Man.

My woman screamed again, bringing forth a new voice to this world, a new mouth to feed. Whether it would be my son or daughter anyone might guess. My woman is a whore, bringing wage to the table while I go from mill to farm to factory, begging for the chance to earn a wage.

She screamed and I could imagine that she blamed me, for my mistake to come here.

“Enough!” I shouted. The whole court jumped before me. The Earl became quiet, looking bewildered at my rage.

I had misspoken myself. I stood, and I glared at the Earl.

“You think that I am a child, that you can massage my ego and impress me?” I demanded of him.

He blanched. Lupus the Conqueror was a killer. They all knew what I had done to Sammin.

“Leave me,” I demanded. “Court for the day is adjourned.”

One of the Oligarchs approached me but I glared him away. A mural of Alekanna to the left behind the throne worked as a door and I used it. Let the masons make a new secret entrance for the security of the Heir. I wasn’t in the mood to be protected.

This is beneath you.

“Apparently it is not,” I snarled, knowing that the one I snarled at had the pain. That if He invoked the pain, then I would be helpless and do anything He wanted.

You are the instrument of War, he informed me. You do what you must, and what no one else can.

“Whatever that is.”

I took long strides down the back halls, to the King’s quarters, from where I could get to my own. I could hear the steps of the squires who attended me – no less than three for the Heir, no less than five for the King.

The Fovean Kings underestimate your ambitions. They still believe that they can control Eldador politically.

“I am sure that Constantine XI thought the ambitions of a twenty-one-year-old Sultan could be solved politically until Mehmed II overran Constantinople in 1453.”

As you have demonstrated with Outpost IX.

“I didn’t think it would be lost on You,” I said. “I thought the world should see what I would do to anyone who came after me.”

Which is not the only reason that I did it, and which He surely knew. People love to follow men who are ‘fearless’, because they can lose themselves in their maniac ambition. It is a lie to say that if you have nothing then you have nothing to lose. If you have nothing then you have everything to gain with the right person leading you.

My whole life demonstrated that.

You near your purpose, then, instrument.

Would I make the world better if I controlled it all? I would certainly make it better for me. History showed that kind of thing wouldn’t benefit too many more people.

The Egyptians had enslaved entire races at the height of their power. They had buried their wealth in giant pyramids just to prove that they could do it.

The Eldadorians held apartheid-style dominance over their subjected Uman people. They enjoyed a better lifestyle now, but if this capitalist experiment were to fail, would it be Man or Uman whose children did without? Would I have or want Uman nobles in my realm? Would Sammin be dead now if he were a Man?

As for me…

I pushed open another concealed door and I entered the King’s apartments. Glennen wasn’t here – there were too many drinking hours left in the day for that. His squires would drag his drunken body in here, shave him and bathe him and put him to bed, when the booze had overwhelmed him.

I was kidding myself thinking that I could have plied him off with some tea.

“There is a price for everything, my love,” Shela had told me.

When I had prayed to War, he had warned, “You have barely begun to do as I desire.”

Now I thought I knew what he wanted.

“The gifts of War are not without price,” I quoted my wife.

Nor should they be.

“I was a loser about to die, and you made Lupus the Conqueror, the White Wolf, Scourge of Trenbon, blooded bounty hunter, the Killer of Conflu.”

I made nothing. That is not the way it works.

“But there is also Rancor the Just, the liberator, the avenger. The one who humbled Outpost IX – the only one.”

That is as much you as the other, but this is made of your own choosing, your own free will. That is how it works, instrument. It is all free will.

“And now it is before me to take the next step, open the doors and fulfill the mission of my god.”

This is what you are brought here for.

“Just because it looks like I can do this thing, does that mean I should?” I asked quietly.

You are the servant to a god. You must learn to separate yourself from what you, as His instrument, may or may not do. You must have faith.

“Faith, or pain, you mean.”

If that is how you must understand it.

“That doesn’t sound very much like free will.”

If a god could be frustrated, as I am sure a god could, then I could sense it in War. He was not used to having His will questioned.

You are already aware that you cannot trust Tartan Stowe, he told me.

“Yes,” I said.

And that only you can be trusted for that seat and that power.

He didn’t need me to answer, so I didn’t. I had already decided on it, but the idea that War had made the effort to tell me…

Yes, he added. Finally, you have come to a glimpse of what I have in store for you.