"It is the will of Lon," began the Messenger, even before his
adviser had prostrated himself. Giqus was so surprised that he nearly looked
his master in the eye.
"Messenger? I do not understand. What is the - "
"Invasion!" The Messenger laughed, quickly, cutting short before he finished.
Giqus just knew that he simply had to have mistaken the emperor's meaning. Surely! He must have done! Yet none could ever tell with the man-god. "Invasion?" he repeated. "But Justan has the Estavian army to command now, we cannot hope to invade this year. We need time, to sow the seeds of the Message once more."
"The thinking of gods is beyond ... the ken of mortals. We will not invade Akrea or Estavia, it is King Justan who will invade ... our lands."
"But Purasan is crushed, Messenger! The last great city of the south has fallen to us. The Holy Army can easily hold at the Erva until Winter sets in, when war-making becomes impossible. Come Spring, we will have regained enough of our support in - "
"King Justan will invade." The Messenger's interruption was almost sung, airily. "We will allow him to cross the Erva."
Giqus pondered. "You're hoping to trap him? Pull back, surround his forces, overwhelm him?"
"It is not ... my plan, Giqus. It is that of Lon, my father. He has promised the Messenger help, from Taloss, goddess of all wars." He chuckled.
This is dangerous. Giqus ran his thumb through his beard. The Messenger had never before involved other gods, even when a victory was already assured. If he claimed Taloss was on the side of the Holy Army, and yet it still lost the battle, then matters would require some very careful explaining. His master was clearly taking a risk, but any attempts to talk him out of it would be futile. After all, he had been told what to do by Lon himself...
"You are silent, Giqus."
"I was considering, my lord, what form this assistance from Taloss might take." He waited for a reply, but none was forthcoming. He was about to make a conjecture of his own, when the Messenger finally spoke.
"The Holy Army, for a period of up to one day, will be unharmed by all things magical."
The spellmaster felt a heavy sickening welling just below the base of his ribcage. This was it. How in the world could the Messenger ever deliver on a promise like that?
"Our army must be told. It will give them ... heart." The whine of the son of Lon and Lona cut the air. "You, Giqus, must tell them."
"Me, Messenger?" He was momentarily confused; his god- driven ruler had some plan, but there was no time right now to ascertain its nature.
"Take my guard, proceed to Dreimen. Take also the magical sphere, which so treacherously ... betrayed us. Tell the Believers ... that when you break its glass, Taloss will come, will caress them, will enter their bodies, protect them. Tell them, Giqus."
"I will, Messenger, as you command. But, if I may be permitted to ask, why is it I who must go? I am old, I do not travel well; there are others who would do better than I."
The Messenger half-snarled, sounded disappointed. "People must see, Giqus, that although magic has ... hurt them, it cannot while Taloss lives in their souls."
Giqus suspected more - it wasn't a strong enough reply. "There are many magic-users in your guard, Messenger. I believe that it is not solely for my magical skills that I am needed."
"Indeed not. It is symbolic. Symbols are powerful." The Messenger was tapping his foot, as if listening to the music of his voice. Giqus was unnerved. "It was you, Giqus, who told the Estavians that King Justan's spell-casting troops had been withdrawn."
"But at your command, Messenger! I warned you that Chewt was acting - "
"It is therefore because of you that Estavia surrendered to King Justan."
"But - "
"So, Giqus, it is you who must redeem yourself, to save the victims of your deception. When you crack the glass globe, shattering magic's ... grip on the world, Taloss will accept your ... renunciation. She will swathe her followers in ... her godly presence."
Giqus gasped audibly as realisation gelled. If the morale-boost didn't work and the battle was lost, he - a magic-user - would be the scapegoat. He felt the god-emperor's snare closing about him. "But Messenger, if Taloss is not impressed by my plea for forgiveness, if she believes I am insincere, then defeat will surely follow! The Holy Army will burn my limbs."
"Perhaps then, Giqus, you should ensure that Taloss ... is disposed to help."
21st January 1999: isif25.htm