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Trumpets of War

A mad king slain, a realm to reclaim.

The High King Zastros and his evil witch queen had finally met their match when they'd challenged Milo Morai and his Confederation Army to battle. Yet with the menace of Zastros destroyed, the Confederation faced a still greater challenge--for in his mad campaign, Zastros had drained the very lifeblood from his kingdom of Southern Ehleenoee.

Only chaos now reigned there, as bandits, killers, and bands of renegade warriors roved the land, slaughtering all who opposed them. Milo had pledged to bring peace back to this devastated realm. But could his former enemies, now become allies, be trusted to live by Confederation law in their troubled lands? Or did traitors wait to betray Milo's warriors to a terrible doom?

Book 16 of the Horseclans series

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Robert Adams

Robert Adams (1932-1990) was a career soldier whose Horseclans series drew on his military background to lend verisimilitude to the exploits of 26th Century of immortal mutant warriors in a balkanized North America. The Coming of the Horseclans (1975) was the first of 18 novels in the sequence, which ended, with The Clan of the Cats (1988), only on account of the author’s death.

His non-Horseclans work included two other series. Castaways in Time (1980) and its five sequels were a mix of alternate history and time travel. The Stairway to Forever and Monsters and Magicians (both 1988) were the only volumes to appear of a projected fantasy series.

He also co-edited several anthologies, among them Barbarians (1985, with Martin H. Greenberg and Charles H. Waugh), four Magic in Ithkar volumes (1985-87, with Andre Norton), Robert Adams' Book of Alternate Worlds (1987, with Pamela Crippen Adams and Martin H. Greenberg) and Robert Adams' Book of Soldiers (1988, same co-editors).

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Excerpt

Prologue

At the head of a force numbering five hundreds of thousands, the largest host ever seen upon this land in all memory, Zastros, High King of the Southern Ehleenoee, had invaded the Kingdom of Karaleenos, to his immediate north. But despite his vast force—partially, actually, because of that force’s very vastness and consequent difficulty to keep always under firm, central control and keep supplied—his advance had not been either easy or inexpensive. What with green crops and forage burned where they had stood, most sources of water poisoned or foully polluted before him, while hit-and-run partisans nibbled at his flanks by both night and day, he soon was losing as many men to desertion as he was losing to enemy action or disease; furthermore, the deeper that the host penetrated into the hostile land, the larger became the percentage of loss figures, with severe malnutrition of men and beasts added into the horde of troubles, as the hyperactive partisans now closed in to his rear picked off most of the supply trains bound for the army.

Nothing that High King Zastros did or ordered done seemed to work to his advantage or that of his hosts from the moment that any of them set foot into Karaleenos. Gallopers sent back into Zastros’ own lands with messages had a distressing tendency to not return; so too did the various units he sent back to organize and /or guard trains of the desperately needed supplies. When message arrows loosed by unseen bowmen rained down on camps of sleeping men promising uncontested passages and guides to potable water to any man or group of men returning south, out of Karaleenos, whole units began to desert Zastros, noble officers and all. One understrength squadron of his lancers even defected, went over into the service of his waiting enemies.

Nonetheless, the host he-led into camp on the southern bank of the Lumbuh River still was formidable enough to daunt many a captain. But those high-ranking heralds who crossed over the ancient stone bridge—the only way remaining to cross the swift-flowing river short of rafting, which would have been suicidal in the face of the solidly fortified north bank—returned long of face with exceedingly bad news.

It seemed that High King Zastros was facing not only King Zenos of Karaleenos and his army, but the High Lord of Kehnooryos Ehlahs, the Lord of the Pirate Isles, and several strong contingents from as many states of the barbarian Middle Kingdoms, plus thousands of mercenaries. Altogether, said the heralds, they totaled a force almost as large as that one which by now followed Zastros’ Green Dragon Banner, outnumbering the southerners, indeed, in horsemen.

Furthermore, their spokesman—Milos Morai, High Lord of Kehnooryos Ehlahs, King Zenos’ northern neighbor, with whom Zastros had been more than certain that the Kingdom of Karaleenos was at war—had flatly refused to cross the river and come to battle with the southern force.

Was the High King to continue his advance, he must fling his army against the well-fortified north bank, which meant that the bridge must first be taken... and a thick, solid stone wall had been erected entirely across it near to the northern end of the span and topped with mechanical spearthrowers, which last meant that win, lose or draw, the Green Dragon Banner was certain to have fewer men following it after the assault than before.

That had been when High King Zastros’ staff had most sorely regretted having advised him to order most ail of the war-elephants—which huge beasts it had been impossible to keep properly fed, anyway—killed and butchered to feed his starving troops while still on the march northward. Now, all that remained was a brace of elephant cows, draught beasts, which had been used to draw his monstrous wagon-mounted pavilion.

Nonetheless, the officers and specialists had hurriedly altered a couple of sets of war-elephant armor for the smaller—and now very undernourished—cow elephants, given them a crash course in the bare rudiments of elephantine battle training, then used them to spearhead the advance of a picked force across the bridge, one morning.

The elephants had not liked it from the beginning. Only the repeated pricking of spearpoints from behind and the fact that with the two of them abreast the space was too narrow for either to turn about kept them going for as long as they did.

When the elephants were a little beyond the middle of the bridge, the defenders had set afire the corduroy of pine logs overlaying the stones of the roadway, and as the roaring fire neared them, the two elephants went mad. Smashing down a stretch of rail—stone, wood and all—one of the cows had tumbled into the river. Thus granted the requisite space, the other had turned about and headed back south at a much faster pace than she had proceeded north, now heedless of just what or whom she knocked over or stepped on, her tender trunk rolled tight for protection and her eyes wide with fear and pain.

With one elephant either drowned or captured by the enemy and the other clear out of her head and last seen headed south at respectable speed, Zastros had set the artificiers of the army to fabricating a big wheeled tower a third again as high as the wall that stood on the bridge. He had kept them at it all of that day and through the night, as well. But it had never been used, for the assembled troops had not moved onto the bridge when so ordered, stubbornly just standing in their ranks, sullen-faced, pretending to not hear the orders. Not even when Zastros sent mounted troopers of his personal guard among the mutineers to maim and slay would the recalcitrants obey the commands to proceed against the enemy, though they had unhorsed and slain not a few of the Green Dragon Guards before the remainder had managed to fight their way out of the ranks.

Each succeeding hour of each succeeding day after that shameful debacle had seen calamity piled atop misfortune for High King Zastros and his miserable forces on that ill-starred venture of conquest. So repeatedly were their string of camps attacked by mounted archers, boatloads of pirates and, on one occasion, even a mob of swampers that the threatened men did the instinctive thing, moving themselves and their camps closer and ever closer together; true, this did make effective defense easier, as it shortened the perimeter, but it also made the spread of any disease or illness—and there were more than enough of each category among ill-nourished men in swampy camps—faster and more certain.

The High King, desperate for supplies now, sent off the last full-strength squadron of horsemen he owned with orders to escort back a complete train. The pitiful survivors of the last supply train to get up to the starving army reported that that squadron had not even paused at the border post, but had ridden on south.

As that word passed about the sprawling camp, the Host of the Green Dragon began to melt away like a chunk of river ice under a hot sun. In droves, the soldiers turned their faces south and quitted the camps that now were filled with starvation, disease and death. Those officers or sergeants so unwise as to try to stop the deserters were lucky to be left beaten into mere insensibility rather than dead of a swordthrust or an axe-swipe. And units ordered to pursue and kill or capture the deserters were as likely as not to, rather, join them and head for home.

Finally, the surviving peers of the Southern Kingdom met in secret council and sent a trusted man across the river in a boat by night to meet with Milos of Kehnooryos Ehlahs, King Zenos, Lord Alexandros the Pirate and the other leaders of the Northern Host and try to arrange—indeed, if necessary, beg for—bearable terms for a surrender. Of course, Strahteegos Thoheeks Grahvos tehee Mehseepolis keh Eepseelospolis doubted, all things weighed and considered, that even their chosen emissary could get decent terms out of the northerners, but one could always hope... and pray.

That had been why he had been as stunned as the rest when Captain Vahrohnos Mahvros had come back from across the river to repeat the words of the High Lord of Kehnooryos Ehlahs.

Mahvros of Lohfospolis looked half again as old as his actual age of thirty years, his darkly handsome face drawn with fatigue and the nervous strain of the last thirty-six hours, but his voice remained strong as he addressed this council of the highest-ranking noblemen left to his race.

“My lords, I spent most of this day past with High Lord Milo, King Zenos of Karaleenos, Lord Alexandros Pahpahs of the Sea Isles and the Thoheeks Djehfree of Kuhmbuhluhn... although Lord Milo seems to speak for all, most of the time.

“Lord Milo swears that no man or body of men marching or riding southwards from here, armed or unarmed, will be harmed or hindered, do they go in peace. Indeed, if they proceed along the main trade road, they can be certain of guides to show them to sources of unpolluted water and even small quantities of animal forage.

“Lord Milo emphasized that he wants none of our arms, equipment or supplies, none of our animals, none of our rolling stock, not even our tents. We are welcome to bear back anything that we brought north from out of our own lands. He demands only the surrender of the persons of the High King and Queen, them and any loot stripped from the lands of King Zenos.”

“Harrumph!” interjected Thoheeks Mahnos of Ehpohtispolis. “This Lord Milos is most welcome to that precious pair, say I. Good riddance to exceedingly bad rubbish!”

“Yes, yes,” Grahvos agreed, “we made a serious, a very costly error with Zastros, and we know that, we all know that now. But no one of us could have known away back when just how much he had changed in the wake of his catastrophic defeat at the Battle of Ahrbahkootchee and his three years of exile. Hopefully, it is not yet too late to save our homelands from any more of Zastros’ misrule.

“Well, if the High Lord of Kehnooryos Ehlahs wants the High King and his witch-wife as full ransom payment for all of the rest of us, our alternatives are few, and each one more bitter than the last: we can just continue to sit here while the soldiers desert individually and in whole units until starvation or camp fever or an arrow in the night takes us off, or we can gather what forces are left and biddable to our orders and essay another assault against that deathtrap bridge... although, to my way of thinking, falling upon our swords would be an easier and a cleaner and a quicker way of suiciding.

“But, my lords, our people down south don’t need us all dead, they need us all alive, so I say we should just leave Zastros and Queen Lilyuhn to our esteemed former foemen and take ourselves and our warbands back home, for as God knows, we and they have more than enough to accomplish or try to accomplish there. How says the Council?”

Seven ayes immediately answered his question. Grahvos nodded. “Agreed, then. Now that that much is settled, we must bring another thorny matter into the open. Who is going to rule without Zastros, eh? Each one of us here has just as much claim to the Dragon Throne as the next. But can the Kingdom of the Southern Ehleenchee survive yet another three or more years of civil war and general anarchy? I think not.

“Take a good look around this table, gentlemen, and while you do so, reflect that our Great Council was once made up of thirty-two thoheeksee. Including Zastros, there are now only nine thoheeksee within our camp. If young Vikos made it back home all right, there are still but two li vi ng thoheeksee in all of the lands of the Southern Ehleenoee.

“What of all the rest, gentlemen? I’ll tell you what: twenty of our near or distant kin, almost two thirds of the original Council, died senselessly and uselessly while dishonorably fighting like cur-dogs over a stinking piece of maggoty offal!”

Grahvos stared each of his peers hard in the face, then went on in grim tones. “I say: no more, gentlemen, no more. If we name another of our own number king, just how long will it be before one or more of us others is tempted to enlarge our warband to overthrow and replace him?”

There were sober nods and mutterings of agreement with his hard words all round the table.

At length, Thoheeks Bahos grunted the obvious question in his rolling bass voice. “All right, but then just what are we to do, Grahvos? We Southern Ehleenohee must have a strong ruler. But another tyrant like Hyamos and his lousy son would beget another rebellion; you know that and so do we.”

Grahvos once more gave his place to Captain Vahrohnos Mahvros, saying, “Now, lad, tell them the rest of it, that which you told me when first you returned.”

“My lords, while awaiting us and even while fighting us, the High Lord Milo has persuaded King Zenos and Lord Alexandres to merge their lands and folk and destiny with him and his in what he calls his Confederation. With his client state of the Thoheekseeahn of Kuhmbuhluhn, Kehnooryos Ehlahs, Karaleenos and the Sea Isles, he will rule over and command more forces and resources than even the richest and largest and most powerful of the barbarian Middle Kingdoms.”

The seven seated thoheeksee squirmed, cracked knuckles and shot furtive, worried glances at one another and at Grahvos. With such a newmade power immediately to their north, they might not have enough time to bring the kingdom back to enough order to repel a retaliatory invasion. Perhaps... perhaps they should, after all, fight here and die rather than live on to see their patrimonial lands occupied by hordes of aliens?

“My lords, the new High Lord of Kehnooryos Ehlahs, Karaleenos, the Sea Isles and Kuhmbuhluhn has freely offered the thirty-three thoheekseeahnee full-standing memberships in his Confederation. All nobles are to retain their lands, cities, rights and titles, only their sworn allegiance will change, for there will no longer be a king, but rather a prince and three or four ahrkeethoheeksee, these to be chosen and appointed from among the thirty-three; the twenty-eight or -nine will be responsible to them, and they, the High Lord’s satraps, will speak for the Confederation. There will never be another king.

“In practice, each thoheeks will act as royal governor of his lands for the High Lord. Once each year, all will meet to work out taxes and any other matters with the High Lord’s emissaries.

“Please understand, my lords, the High Lord is bringing no pressure to bear, he demands no immediate answer to or acceptance of this offer. He bade me say only that Council should be told, think on the matter for as long as they wished and only then answer yea or nay. I have done his bidding, my lords.”

The first to speak subsequent to the dropping of this bombshell was Thoheeks Mahnos. “What of our war-bands, Vahrohnos Mahvros? What had this High Lord Milos to say of them? Does he mean to take them all into his army, march them away, leave us defenseless?”

But it was Grahvos who answered the question, prefacing his answer by saying, “I had all of this of the good Mahvros a little earlier, of course. Now, naturally, we will be expected to furnish some troops for the Army of the Confederation and to maintain a trained spear levy, as we always have done. Noblemen will not be denied bodyguards and some armed retainers, nor will cities be ungarrisoned, but the large warbands must be dissolved.”

Thoheeks Bahos nodded emphatically. “Good and good, again. Give a man—any man—a small army to play with and all hell is likely to break loose. Besides, I’d liefer see my men pushing plows than pikes, any damned day. You have my aye yet again, Grahvos, on this matter. Foreign ruler or nay, no king and no war sounds more than good to me.”

There had been a few, halfhearted dissenters, but within a scant hour, the matter had been talked out and settled, for the firm yet eminently fair government of Kehnooryos Ehlahs had been the subject of speculation and grudging admiration for the thirty years since its inception, and all of the thoheeksee agreed that almost any form of rule was far preferable to the howling chaos that had enveloped their lands during the last decade or so.

That done, the meeting broke up and the senior noblemen scattered to their various commands to order their forces, prepare to break camp and march as soon as possible. But they had agreed to meet again, each with a retinue of reliable, loyal, well-armed men, at King Zastros’ pavilion at a specified time. There still was work to do before they once more became their own men.

When, gathered at the appointed time, they finally pushed into the mobile pavilion of Zastros, it was to find Queen Lilyuhn lying dead on the floor of the audience room. Within the bedchamber, on the great bed, lay High King Zastros. He was not dead, but so stupefied with drugs or alcohol or, more likely it was felt, a concoction of both that not even shaking or slapping would induce him to even twitch or open his eyes.

After making one last try, Grahvos turned from the sleeper and shrugged, saying, “He’s out like a snuffed torch, gentlemen.

But it makes no difference, awake or asleep, the bastard’s still deposed. Let High Lord Milos waken him. We came mainly for the jewels and the gold and the other emblems and symbols; those treasures belong to our race, and what used to be the Kingdom of the Southern Ehleenoee is going to need their value before we get reorganized. Let’s find them and the pay-chests and get on the march for home.

“One of you pull off Zastros’ signet and find his sword—they should go to his young nephew, Kathros. But, gentlemen, please, no obvious plundering hereabouts; if you must steal, please steal small. I don’t want our prospective overlord to think ill of us... nor should any of you, for remember, our future now lies tied up into his new Confederation.”

There was a short, sharp battle with Zastros’ bodyguard officers when the chests and treasures were borne out of the pavilion and men made to load them into a waiting wagon, but the thoheeksee and their retainers ruthlessly cut down any man who made to draw sword or level spear against them, and with their officers now all dead or dying, the rest of the Green Dragon Guards wisely slipped away, tearing off their embroidered tabards as they went, for there was nothing to be gained by support of a deposed and probably dead king.

Well aware that whatever was left unguarded would certainly be thoroughly looted by the unattached camp followers, Thoheeks Grahvos stationed Captain Vahrohnos Mahvros and two hundred heavy infantry to guard the ex-king’s hilltop encampment until the High Lord’s troops arrived. He also entrusted to the younger man a large parchment package of documents—all of them signed, properly witnessed and sealed—containing written oaths of fealty to the Confederation from every landholder in the dispersing army.

Within thirty-six hours after the deposing of Zastros, all of the organized warbands were on the march southward and the Green Dragon Banner atop the pavilion waved over a scene of desolation. Outside the still-guarded royal enclosure, precious few tents remained erect or whole. Only discarded or broken equipment was left, and a horde of human scavengers flitted through swarms of flies feasting on latrines, garbage pits and scattered corpses of men and animals.

Grahvos was the last thoheeks to depart, having seen most of the troops on the march before dawn. Leaving his personal detachment at the foot of the hill, he rode up to the royal enclosure and, when admitted, rode on to dismount before the pavilion.

“Any trouble so far, Mahvros?” he asked of the captain. The younger nobleman shook his head. “Nor do I expect any, my lord. Oh, my boys had to crack a few pates and wet a few blades before they convinced the scum that we meant business here, but we’ve been avoided since then.”

“But what of after the rest of us are well down the road?” asked the thoheeks skeptically.

Mahvros shrugged. “My lord, there’re damned few real soldiers—men trained to arms—left down there. And anyway, none of the skulkers are organized, it’s every man for himself. No, I assure my lord, everything will remain just as it now is here, when the Confederation troops come.”

“What of Zastros, Mahvros?” inquired the thoheeks.

“Has he awakened yet?”

“No, my lord.” The captain shook his head. “He still lives and breathes, but he also still sleeps. But I ordered the Lady Lilyuhn... ahhh, disposed of. Her death-wound was acrawl with maggots, and it was a certainty she’d be too high to bear by the time the High Lord came.”

Grahvos sighed. “It couldn’t be helped, you know. That guard most likely was the one who killed her. There was fresh blood on his spearbutt, and that butt fitted perfectly the depression in her skull. Nonetheless, please tell the High Lord that I’m sorry.

“Also, Mahvros, tell him that I’ll see the Thirty-three all convened in the capital whenever he so desires. I am certain that he and King Zenos will want some form and amount of reparations—they deserve it and I’d demand such in their place—but please emphasize to them that some few years are going to pass before we can any of us put our lands back on a paying basis.”

Walking back over to his horse, he put foot into stirrup, then turned back. “One other little thing, Mahvros, my boy. The Council met for a very brief session just before dawn, this morning. Thoheeks Pahlios was your overlord, was he not?”

Brows wrinkled a bit in puzzlement, the vahrohnos nodded. “Yes, my lord, but he was slain nearly two years ago at—”

“Just so,” Grahvos interrupted. “He and all his male kin in the one battle. We’re going to have to affirm or reaffirm or replace the Thirty-three rather quickly, and, quite naturally, we want men that we know in advance will loyally support us and the Confederation. That’s why we chose you, this morning, to succeed the late Pahlios.”

Delving into the top of his right boot, Grahvos brought out a slender roll of vellum and placed it in the hand of the stunned captain, saying, “Guard this well, Thoheeks Mahvros. When you’re back home, ride to the capital or to my seat and you will be loaned troops enough to secure your new lands, if that’s what it takes.

“Now, I must be gone.” He mounted and, from his saddle, extended his hand. “May God and His Saints bless and keep you, lad. And may He bring you safely home.”

Reining about, Strahteegos Thoheeks Grahvos rode down the low hill to where his personal retainers awaited him.

After turning over the onetime-royal enclosure and ail that it contained to the High Lord, Milo Morai, Mahvros dutifully delivered the package of documents and the oral messages to the great man. That much done, he showed him the smaller document, shyly accepted the congratulations heaped upon him by the High Lord and the others of his retinue, then gave his own oaths of loyalty, in person, witnessed by all then present.

Then that night, while Confederation Army infantry guarded the hilltop enclosure in their places, Thoheeks Mahvros saw his retainers treated to all that they could eat from off the broiling carcasses of a brace of fat cattle, several casks of pickled vegetables, rounds of army bread and watered wine. He himself sat that night at a groaning feast-board with the High Lord and a select company.

That night saw his initial introductions to three men who were to become his lifelong friends and whose names were to be writ large upon the pages of the early history of the Consolidated Southern Duchies of the new Confederation of Peoples.

Sub-strahteegos Komees Tomos Gonsalos was the first. The red-haired half Ehleen, half mountain Merikan was a full first cousin of none other than King Zenos of Karaleenos himself. He was, announced the High Lord, to be commander of the mixed force of Confederation troops he was sending along with Mahvros and his retainers to be turned over toThoheeks Grahvos, his for as long as he needed them to help restore order to the lands of the Thirty-three Thoheeksee.

The second man was a Kindred chief of one of the Horseclans, the Merikan race from off the faraway Sea of Grass who had, thirty years agone, conquered Kehnooryos Ehlahs. Pawl Vawn, chief of that ilk, was typical of his ancestral stock—blond, blue-eyed, small-boned and very wiry, with flat muscles and great endurance. Under Tomos Gonsalos, he would be leading some hundreds of Horseclans horse-archers and a small contingent of the leopard-sized felines called prairiecats.

Another squadron of cavalry—lancers, this time—was to be in Tomos’ force. After deserting High King Zastros’ army for good and sufficient cause, Captain Komees Portos and his men had been taken, entire, into the Army of the Confederation; now they were all to go back to their original homeland on loan from their new sovereign. Press of duties had kept Portos from that dinner that night, but Mahvros knew of the tall, silent, saturnine cavalry leader and had even met him a few times. His reputation had been one of leadership, rare ability and, prior to his desertion from the Green Dragon forces, unmatched loyalty; indeed, such had been his well-earned name in that army that upon the disappearance of him and his force, the general assumption of his superiors and his peers had been that he and his had been wiped out by the partisans, no one even suspecting that such a paragon of faithfulness would desert, much less go over to the enemy.

The infantry force was to be a mercenary or Freefighter unit of the Middle Kingdoms, the condotta of a redoubtable veteran Freefighter captain, Guhsz Hehluh, he and his company presently under long-term contract to the High Lord of Kehnooryos Ehlahs.

The third man “commanded” the last “unit” that would make up Tomos Gonsalos’ brigade of mixed troops. Gil Djohnz was a Horseclansman, like Chief Pawl Vawn, but compared to that magnate, his “force” was minuscule—only some half-dozen mounted men, a small remuda of spare horses and a few pack mules were almost all of it. But the word “almost” was most important in this instance, for the entity that the word covered was rather large and the presence of that entity imparted a sizable addition of threat to any foes that Gonsalos’ force might face. That entity was a cow elephant, self-named Sunshine, ridden and handled and cared for by Gil Djohnz.

“I was not aware, Lord Milo, that any save us of the Southern King—ahh, of the Consolidated Duchies, that is, used elephants in war, ere this,” Mahvros remarked at that point.

The High Lord smiled. “We don’t... or, rather, didn’t, when all of this started. Sunshine is spoils of war, or, to be more accurate, like Portos and his squadron, Sunshine defected from Zastros and joined with us.

“On the day of the attack on the bridge fortifications, it was. When we fired the bridge roadway, one of the two elephants leading the assault, you may recall, burst through the downstream rail and fell into the river. That was our Sunshine. She came wading ashore a bit downstream from the bridge, and I was summoned to the spot along with a few Horseclansmen I had by me just then.

“I am telepathic, you know, and I instantly discovered that I could communicate—actually converse—with Sunshine as easily as I converse with my horses or with other telepathic humans. Although frightened, she was in no way vicious, and as soon as she knew that we meant her no ill, she indicated that her armor was very uncomfortable and begged us to relieve her of it. Stripped of armor and padding, she was an appalling sight. She was literally skin and bones—you could count her every rib and vertebra.”

Mahvros sighed and nodded. “Yes, my lord, your partisans were all damnably effective in denying the Green Dragon Army the supplies and sinews of war we needed so desperately then. Indeed, most of the real war-elephants were slaughtered on the march because there was nothing to feed them. The two we had remaining upon our arrival were still alive only because they had been used to draw High King Zastros’ pavilion.”

“Well, I am returning her to the south, to the land she came from, Mahvros,” stated the High Lord. “For all that she expresses unlimited devotion to me and would stay near to me, were it up to her, I think she’ll be better off in a warmer, less humid environment than the lands around Kehnooryos Atheenahs, much less in the western mountains where 1 mean to eventually remove my capital.”

Mahvros shrugged. “My lord, permit me to say that elephants seem to work as well in snow and cold as any other domestic beast, nor do mountains seem to affect them adversely; indeed, they are reputed to be almost as surefooted as goats. True, most of ours come from the flat plains of the far west, around the shores of the New Gulf, yet the thoheeksee of Iron Mountain have bred their own war and draught elephants for generations high in the northern mountains.

“However, I, for one, am overjoyed at my lord’s decision to release this one, for elephants of any sort, if properly managed and utilized, can be invaluable to any army, and I am certain that Thoheeks Grahvos will be most appreciative of this kind generosity added to the other loan of trained troops. News of such unasked magnanimity is certain to go far toward guaranteeing the continued loyalty and respect and love of your high-lordship’s new subjects in the south.

“It has been my experience that the pattern of the reign of a new king is often set—both for ruler and ruled—quite early in that reign by acts which denote generosity or selfishness. Your high-lordship has begun his tenure well, I would say.”

Milo Morai pursed his lips and regarded the young thoheeks for a moment in silence, then said, “My boy, you are wise beyond your actual years, in addition to being brave, loyal and loquacious. Continue to serve me as well as you serve Thoheeks Grahvos and the late Zastros and you will not remain a mere captain thoheeks for long, I vow. Such a mix of valuable talents in a man so young as are you is a rare and precious find for any state or ruler, and I am not known for dismissing or for wasting such talents and men.”