Kyrzhad set about deciding future conquests for his new general. He poured over the map of the cities of the four lands, marking the seven he had already sealed the fate with white stone Charqis pieces. He marked the cities ruled by the Dark Ring with grey pieces, the Inquisition’s cities with black pieces, and obedient cities with blue.
He couldn’t move against the Dark Ring or the Inquisition because their allegiance was too important to send sieges against them. He wouldn’t send Hadrax against any of the loyal citied either. Not until they showed signs of rebellion.
Yndarr had always been a problem. Long ago, it had been the capitol. When his family rose to prominence, though, they had chosen their native city as their capitol and Yndarr had fallen to its own desires. Now, it needed to be brought under imperial control. The old House that governed the city had ceased to hold favor at court and withdrew their support.
Besides, Yndarr was also the city where the bard resided. He hated the bard. That ancient crackpot had held sway over the four lands for way too long, his stories keeping the people literate on their histories. The emperor didn’t want the people to remember their past. It was unnecessary, in his view, to hold onto past glories or past battles.
Yes, the bard must die. His oral histories had to cease. The past had to be forgotten so that the nobilis could easily enslave the people. It was important to erase all forms of learning.
He placed a white stone upon Yndarr, marking it as a new target. Atlea, which stood a few leagues to the east of Yndarr, also needed to be brought back to the imperial fold. He placed a white piece upon it as well. Standor, too, was given a white piece along with Grekos, Reisok, Linguaria, Kossak, Scythos, Fyrbord, Corbad, Aaras, Aliskandariya, Aeaea, and Ebb.
Twenty-seven cities in all had been marked for conquest. Barracha, Ali, Epheso, Pharus, Uru, Uxmal, Fantasalia, Karathagos, Valhul, Olympisia, Camolo, Celtus, and Troyanus had all become targets. Either their lords were no longer court favorites, had been at the meeting of generals from whom Hadrax had rose to his majesty’s call, or had rebelled outright against the imperial rule. All were great cities, full of commerce and wealth. Wealth that the emperor desired.
He wrote the list in his own his own hand, including details of why the cities had to fall. Later, he would deal with Aesgurd, Jurtenheim, Mythgrad, Uruk, and Trynog. For now, he would slowly feed the twenty-seven he had picked as new targets. The war would slowly spread beyond the region of Korlabdis, but for now it had to be contained.
Bez had picked up on the emperor’s plan. Though he could care less about the other twenty three cities or their incompetent governors, he did care about Yndarr. It was his home, and the home of thousands of uncommitted mages. He had to call the mages from the other cities on the emperor’s list and form a defense for Yndarr.
He called a youth to him. The boy came willingly and waited for instruction. Bez hastily wrote twenty-seven messages, all containing the same plea, rolled them up, sealed them, marked them with the names of each city, and handed them to his companion.
“Go to each of the cities on these scrolls and deliver them to the first mage you find,” he instructed the youth, “once you have done so, wait for his reply and then bring it to me. Godspeed, son.”
The youth nodded and disappeared. Bez smiled and imprinted the city names in the thoughts of the youth just in case he could not actually read. He only hoped that the boy would be able to deliver each message and return in time, before the city became embroiled in a war that it could not win.
Yndarr’s armies were now leaderless, since he had cast his pox upon the governor. It seemed that the governor had been too weak from his use of lotus to survive the spell which had been meant to disfigure him, not kill him. but then, the spell had killed the governor’s whole family. Their bodies lay rotting in their rooms, the palace smelled of death.
But the armies had grown used to the lack of communication from their governor. Left to their own devices, they had settled into a cycle of raping and pillaging—and whatever other lawless activity they could find to occupy their time. When war hit, they would be useless. Bez only hoped that the mages would come to his aid.
He called a second youth to him. writing several more messages, he rolled them, sealed them, and handed them to the youth.
“Know you where the mage’s sanctum be?” He asked the youth.
“Yes, father bard,” came the reply.
“What about the House of Brynn?” Bez inquired.
“Yes, kind bard,” the youth averred, “I know where all the mages go.”
“Good,” the bard replied, “deliver these messages to each of the mage strongholds throughout the city. Dark times are coming.”
The youth nodded and vanished. The bard was gathering his army. He only hoped that it was going to be strong enough to win the war that was coming. With luck, it would be.
Drom stood upon the parapets of Standor. He could see the runner headed for the city. His power of foresight had told him to stand watch, and good that he did. He was the first to see the runner.
“Open the gates!” He yelled down to the guards. “A runner approaches!”
The guards mindlessly obeyed his cry. The gates swung open and awaited the runner’s arrival. Drom rushed down to meet him. As the youth staggered in, he collapsed into Drom’s arms. The boy looked up into the eyes of the mage.
“A message from the bard,” the boy gasped.
“Rest my boy,” Drom replied with a gentle smile, “I will handle things from here.”
The youth lost consciousness and Drom removed the twenty-two remaining messages from his hands, then handed the guards silver.
“Make sure he is given a room at the nearest inn,” he instructed, “and then raise the alarm. The bard never sends a message without reason. He must’ve picked up plots against our cities.” He turned to the other sentry. “Have your commander meet at the Mage’s Sanctum in one hour.”
The sentry nodded in affirmation, then helped his companion take the youth to the closest inn. Two sentries filled their place without being told. Drom vanished to complete the youth’s mission. Being a mage, he had no need to be a runner. He merely had to think of where he wished to be and he would appear on the streets there.
An hour later, every mage in Standor was gathered at the Mage’s Sanctum. Drom stood at the center of the inn, Bez’s message in hand. He had broken the seal on it and waited for them to be seated. The commander of Standor’s garrison sat among them.
“Fellow mages,” Drom began, “and city commander. We received a message from our friend the bard.”
“What does it say?” The whole room inquired with a single, unified voice.
“Mages of Standor,” Drom continued, “be warned that the emperor has plotted against your city as well as my own. Yndarr no longer has a standing garrison or a governor. I am imploring you to come to Yndarr’s aid. Your city’s garrison should be able to stand on their own without the aid of magic, unless the governor capitulates and cedes control of the city to the emperor’s new general, Hadrax.
“Advise your city’s commander to do whatever he needs to do, but most of all, to be prudent and plan for war. The emperor has declared war upon his subjects and we are all that stands between him and total destruction of the four lands. While we do have enough time to make preparations, since Hadrax now makes war upon cities closer to his current location of Korlabdis, we do not have much time.
“I am in hopes that the mages from those cities now besieged have begun moving in our direction and will be agreeable to our plea of aid. I also pray that you will also come to the aid of your mage-brothers in Yndarr. Yours in magick, Bezreddyn.”
“I will get my men ready, mage,” the commander replied, “you and yours do as you see fit.”
“My dear commander,” Tharkis smiled, “We will cast a protection and power spell to aid you before we decide whether we go to the aid of the bard…or whether we stay and help you fight.”