Chapter 84 Hat

        Count Feathe stroked his Adam's apple. "No, Ansle. Your seat on the grand council must be tied to your position as chancellor of the Academy. If you were at present the foreign minister, or the minister for science, I might perhaps entertain your meriting an extra vote; supplies, however is a portfolio that becomes worthless once hostilities cease, and it should not be accredited with a level of influence disproportionate to its status."
        Ansle glanced around the table; no face betrayed any spark of support, not even Nic's. "I concede," he announced. "The grand council will consist of Count Feathe, the present minister of agriculture; Lord Tenrin, minister for health; Duchess Lusia, the treasury minister; myself, chancellor of the Academy; General Nolley, marshal of the south - and, shortly, of the east; a board-level representative from Magicorp, yet to be decided; likewise one from Agritech. All to have one vote each."
        There was a murmur among the assembled leaders. A thin-faced man with slicked-down hair raised a hand. "Non-voting chairman to be rotated every four months between the baronies of Chrest and Ulgrey..." His voice was nasal.
        Ansle strummed, irritably. "Yes, Baron Ulgrey, as you say. So, then, it's agreed?"
        All at the table indicated acceptance.
        He straightened his papers. "Well, now we've finalised the control issues, I think it's time we discussed just how this whole campaign is going to work. General Nolley, you've been spending a lot of time preparing the details, so if you'd like to explain our plans?"
        She stood. "Thank you, Chancellor. Now if everyone could just move their notes away from the centre for a moment, please, I've set a relief map where we can all see it."
        There were a few seconds of disgruntled complaint as cluttered pens, cups and dim-glow name-plates were removed from the middle section of the conspirators' heavy, square table. Nolley made some two dozen rapid gestures that twinked into being a large, illusory, three- dimensional representation of Murak, Svala, Galur and Soat. She'd built it over the past few days, but hadn't given it visibility until this moment. Ansle was impressed - he always fell for blind design - but didn't let it show.
        "So," she said, coolly, "I'll start by outlining our military objectives for the first day, then I'll go on to describe briefly the procedures we're adopting for the arrest of specific individuals. I'll finish with an appraisal of the situation after one week. Is that alright by everyone?" She looked from side to side; no argument.
        "Carry on, General," said Ansle, self-important.
        She gave a tic of a smile, continued. "Well, it's been difficult to move the troops into place without thereby signalling our intentions. However, of our primary targets, only the White River dam need wait until day two. At the end of day one, we expect to hold the barracks and naval dockyards at Zovia," she pointed, "the royal palace, the comsphere exchange and the newspaper printworks in Cala," she pointed again, "the Summer palace in... what is it, Captain?"
        The younger woman who had entered was obviously nervous, saluted to compose herself. "There's a call on your field comsphere, Ma'am."
        Nolley scowled at her. "I told you we were not to be interrupted! Leave us immediately; inform the caller that I cannot be disturbed." She turned to resume her talk, noticed the officer hadn't moved, span round on her. "Immediately!"
        "B-begging your pardon, Ma'am, but it's The King."
        There was a moment of shared surprise. Then, just as the panicked questions began to break, Nolley raised her hand, authoritative. "Silence!" She looked at Ansle. "I'll have to go, or he'll be suspicious..."
        "Permission granted." He glanced at the young captain, away, then back again, looked for longer.
        Nolley straightened her tunic. "You know enough to give the remainder of the overview, Chancellor? I'll try to be back in time to do the battle projections myself." Hurried.
        "Of course," he answered, rising. She took her helmet, followed her officer impatiently towards the door.
        Ansle waited, testily, until they'd left. The captain's face had definitely seemed familiar, but he couldn't place where he'd seen it before. On a former student, probably, or a failed interviewee...
        He affected his lecturing voice. "Well, I'm afraid I'm rather old-fashioned in that I usually prefer chalk to Chewt-Farmer, but on this occasion General Nolley has provided us with a most useful illusion. Indeed, prior to this meeting she confided in me that she even has some surprise animation sequences prepared. I confess that, despite this information, I still failed to suppose that the unexpected flow of motion she had promised was to be her own..."
        There was polite laughter in the room.
        Nolley and her captain were running as fast as they could down the corridor outside.
        "Continuing where she left off, then..." He surveyed the illusion, slowly, as if gathering his considerable thoughts. "The other key points we will hold before the end of the first day are the Rodya border crossings with Davia," he pointed, "and with Vothland," he pointed, "and the Leskina bridge to Chaien." He pointed.
        The explosion blew away a third of the East Wing of the Academy of Magical Sciences.
        Five seconds later, General Nolley picked herself up from the stone floor at the corridor's end, dust still filling the air. Her chitinised helmet lay spinning where she'd thrown it, sprinkled in glitters of broken glass.
        "Are you alright, Noll?" The captain was cut badly, bleeding at the temple and cheek, but she didn't look to have anything broken. Nolley was inestimably relieved.
        "Fine, fine, but get those wounds of yours seen to this instant - and that's an order!"
        Her sister was happy to obey.

* * *

        It was thirty minutes before Nolley felt she had seen enough to be able to make a preliminary report to Justan. Everyone knew what had happened, it was obvious: someone had been casting a spell, and it had backfired.
        The scale of the devastation was such that the forensics people were bound to surmise that its root cause was probably the colour loss of a heavily-enchanted artefact, but whether they'd figure it was the table that had gone up, Nolley didn't know. However, since fortune had splintered it to oblivion along with everything else in the room, she rather doubted that enough evidence existed to prove anything at all conclusive about the `accident', save that it had occurred.
        As for Ansle, well, Justan had summed him up nicely: "He wants to be a leader, but he doesn't want to lead."
        In her briefcase was a leather wallet with two mirror-like panes of fine, Akrean glass bonded to each half. In the left she could see Justan, waiting; she cleared her throat.
        "I regret to inform your majesty of the sad death of three of your most senior ministers, two of your most loyal barons, and your dear friend Ansle of Malith, chancellor of the Academy."
        He looked up, nodded, slowly. "General Nolley, my distress at hearing this news cannot be measured." He smiled.
        "It was a freak mishap, there were no survivors. I was lucky to escape death myself." She grinned.
        "Then perhaps you should work on your sprinting, General!" He frowned, suddenly. "Oh, I also have bad news to impart. Count Feathe's son died last night in Bridges; we think he was assassinated by a member of an underground resistance movement, but the killer left no clues. I only learned of it myself an hour ago. Unfortunately, my staff could not inform the Count, he was apparently detained on important business in Cala."
        She feigned concern. "Then he had no heir when he died, so his title and lands are forfeit to the Crown."
        "I believe that such is the law, yes. However, the Crown is presently enjoying a surfeit of titles and lands, and, furthermore, it cannot allow an estate as important as Count Feathe's to remain unattributed for long. I wonder if perhaps I should grant it to a worthy follower. Someone like yourself, General Nolley?"
        She chuckled. "I, sir? A noble?"
        "It's not so bad. There are certain privileges enjoyed by those of rank..."
        "Nobles can marry royals..."
        "And when my year of mourning Mitya ends..."

Copyright © Richard A. Bartle (
21st January 1999: isif84.htm