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Chapter 11


Fields of War

Breaking tradition – Manegus Acquilla: the Senior Commander of A’Kontay – History of Seti-Kahn – The First Instructor speaks with Manegus – Appeasing the father, while yet honoring the son – A cunning plan – The son is appointed to the Captaincy – The Great Game: battling for the Emperor’s Standard – The games begin – A’Kontay wins the Standard of the empire – The rage and contempt of Seti-Kahn

 

1  So the son of Areta did all senior cadets elect to follow; having shown in himself a cunning and perception beyond that of other men; possessing in himself a confidence and strength uncommon and rare.

2  Soliciting from all his peers a strange alliance filled with high regard and deep devotion; for in the son of Areta did they see for themselves the surest path to glory and prestige; whereby they might find themselves advantaged midst some power and privilege of their own.

3  And from that day did all senior cadets refrain their hands from tormenting all younger cadets; for it was agreed upon by all, that they speak unto the young with strong voices filled with firm regard.

4  To shape through words and constant encouragement, the hearts and minds of all which proved young and tender; to build through discipline and rough humor, the strength and resolve of every boy which was brought unto A’Kontay.

5  And all those which proved young and tender, even these did look upon the son of Areta with deep regard; seeing in him a man both strong and fair; to see in him the object of all their admiration.

6  But when the commanders of A’Kontay saw the fullness of all these things, they grew deeply troubled; for they thought it not good that one cadet should seize for himself the allegiance of all other cadets.

7  Now the senior commander of A’Kontay was a man named Manegus Acquilla, the hero of Borah Terah, a man of great harshness and brutality; and being made aware of the son of Areta, and of all his words unto the senior cadets;

8  Even he did summon unto himself every centurion and instructor of the academy; and together they did conspire to bring down into shame, the son of Areta; for each man remembered full well the story of Seti-Kahn.

9  How that when he, himself, was a senior cadet at the barracks of A’Kontay, even he did become as some great one; for every cadet trembled before the cruelty of Seti-Kahn, pledging unto him a frightful allegiance, for he was a violent and vengeful youth.

10  Evensomuch that every instructor and centurion did begin to fear for his very life, causing that they should rule more harshly over him than they ever had before, lest he take against every man singly, a frightful retribution in the years ahead.

11  So was it thought expedient to rule most sternly and without relent over Seti-Kahn; but in the days of his ascendance, when he was appointed the Supreme Commander of all military forces, even he did reach back into the days of his past.

12  And finding all those which had ruled over him at A’Kontay in the days of his youth, even these did he cause to perish most secretly; and there was none to escape the awful wrath of Seti-Kahn, for he was a violent man made drunk with blood and power.

13  Thus in that present day did the senior commander see with alarm the rising of some greater man, for the son of Areta had proven himself already a man of ascension and power; and all those which were made to rule over him did fear on every side.

14  For if they did not break in pieces the son of Areta, then would Seti-Kahn, his father, take swift action against even every one of them; to crush them beneath the weight of all his dreadful fury.

15  And if they should rule too harshly over the son, while yet they failed to break him, then in the days of his ascendancy, when he should prove himself the man of greatest power, then would every commander be made to perish at his hands.

16  But Manegus Acquilla was a cunning but prudent man, not given to brash or hasty actions, but being instead most thoughtful and discerning of the issues at hand; seeking always the best means by which he might achieve the greatest advantage for himself above all others.

17  Now there stood forth to speak unto the chief commander, the first instructor, even he which was foremost above all the rest; being himself a brave and fearless man, saying:

18  “Tell us, Manegus, what shall we do with the son of Seti-Kahn? For except we find some means to subdue him, to break his hold upon the senior classes, then shall his power grow stronger still.

19  Then shall his dreadful father, in the seeing of this, reach forth unto our very door to crush even all of us, believing in his fury that we, ourselves, have elevated the boy far beyond his peers, thinking in his mind that we have failed to bear down strongly enough upon him.

20  Being made to assume that in the greatness of his son have we found some advantage for ourselves in the days to come, causing that so fierce a man as Seti-Kahn should brood most darkly against us.

21  And yet, if we even now should increase our harshness against the boy, to strive with all our might to break him, then are we still made to stand on feeble ground.

22  For in all these years among us has the son of Seti-Kahn refused to break or bend before any man, being made in himself but all the stronger because of it, refusing in himself to yield before such outward pain as others would inflict upon him.

23  Then shall he at some future time remember darkly such cruelties as we would rain upon him today; and like his father before him, he shall reach back to find us; and we shall perish in some dark and lonely place, to lie unremembered and unsung midst the shadows of the grave.”

24  Now when Manegus Acquilla heard this he pondered deeply, seeking by some subtle means to sweep away the fears of all those which were gathered before him; and when he was decided, he spoke, saying:

25  “Let us not fear but act swift and wisely instead, for we can appease the father while yet we honor the son; for by such a means as I shall place before you shall we save our lives against the vengeance of Seti-Kahn today, while likewise we shall preserve ourselves against the wrath of the son tomorrow.

26  For you know that in the four hundred years since our founding has the Emperor’s Standard never come unto A’Kontay; for the competition for so great a prize do even all the noble academies struggle most fiercely to gain for themselves.

27  Let us, therefore, prove ourselves more cunning than ordinary men, and with all manner of haste and good reason seek to honor the son; appointing unto him the captaincy of the senior classes, that he might both strive and fail in so great an endeavor.

28  And all those which today would give unto him their favor, even these will turn against him in the midst of their defeat; thinking the sum of all his words but the guise of some deceit; and they shall cast most quickly away, all their regard for him.

29  By such stratagem shall we appease the Supreme Commander which rules so harshly over us; while yet we keep such proud regard as the son would give us, for it is we who did but seek to honor him;

30  And if the son of Seti-Kahn should prove himself bitter and vengeful, then shall he turn these things against those very peers which proved themselves so shallow in their regard.

31  These then shall he seek to harm most dreadfully, visiting upon them in some future place, the fullness of all his wrath and anger; while we ourselves continue on in safety.”

32  Such was the cunning behind the words of Manegus Acquilla; and all those which were gathered did find in them some great relief from all their many fears; for in the honoring of the son of Areta would they seek to placate two opposing sides together, and thereby save themselves from certain doom.

33  Thus did it come about that when the son of Areta was but eighteen years old, being himself but a first year senior, he was appointed by the chief commander to the captaincy of all other seniors, whereby he might represent in himself the honor and prestige of the Military Academy of A’Kontay.

34  And seeing all these things, the whole company of cadets, together, felt themselves strongly advantaged; believing most firmly that with the son of Areta to lead them, they might achieve the first portion of that future glory which did await them in the shadows of the son.

35  While yet the commanders and instructors and centurions felt most certainly that once again would A’Kontay fail in achieving for themselves the Emperor’s Standard; and thereby crush beneath the weight of bitter disappointment, such high regard as every cadet did carry for the son of Areta.

36  Thus did the Academy of A’Kontay, on the eighth day of every week, compete against the noble academies within their region; bringing to each opponent the pain and shame of certain defeat; for the son of Areta was swift and cunning in attacking or defending; and there was none which could defeat him.

37  But the commanders of A’Kontay grew more confident still; believing that within the province of their own region was there no academy great enough to beat the son of Areta, but in the provinces and regions round about would there step forth that greater academy which would, most surely, beat them upon the fields of battle.

38  Yet did A’Kontay, under the captaincy of the son of Areta, continue to defeat all other academies which came against them; to gain for themselves the victory and the prize of each competition; to fly over the barracks of A’Kontay, the very pennant of each academy which they had beaten.

39  And when there flew above the grounds of A’Kontay some forty pennants, the commanders grew most fearful; for the son of Areta stood undefeated and superior above all opponents; having crushed beneath the weight of all his cunning, all those which came against him.

40  Thus did the Military Academy of A’Kontay stand poised and fully ready to seize for itself the Emperor’s Standard; having defeated in fiercest combat, every other noble academy within their province, and region, and state, and kingdom.

41  And in the autumn of the year was A’Kontay made to stand alone in the northern hemisphere of the empire; being chosen through the fires of war and battle to face the greatest of all academies within the southern hemisphere of the empire.

42  And there gathered to see the Great Game, almost every man within the borders of the empire; sitting amongst their peers before such television sets as the Emperor did provide in all barracks both military and civilian.

43  For even the Emperor himself did gather the sum of all his councilors and advisors to watch the game beside him; having set before his guests a feast of rich and manly foods; giving unto each man a great flagon of amber port made with honey and spice.

44  And all those which had proven themselves men of power and worth did wager most heavily upon the game;

45  Some believing that in the southern hemisphere was there found the greatest of all military academies; while others believed with equal fervor that A’Kontay would prove itself greater still.

46  Now the game which all academies struggled most fiercely to win was brutal and filled with hardships. For out of the two hundred cadets which had begun the competition beside the son of Areta, still did only seventy remain to compete in the greatest game of all;

47  To win for themselves the Emperor’s Standard and recognition; to stand above all other military academies as being in themselves the best of the best, and the bravest of the brave.

48  Earning for themselves the choicest of appointments upon the day of their commission; to wear upon their finger the gold ring of victory which did bear the Emperor’s seal.

49  For in the struggle to gain the Emperor’s Standard did a great many cadets fall by the way in battle; some being killed through fearsome fighting, while others fell broken and severely maimed; leaving on the fields of war only the bravest and most stout.

50  Thus did there gather from all over Drakonia, the men of the empire; from the lowest to the greatest; for the Emperor, each year, would declare as holiday, the day of the Great Game; when the greatest academy of the northern hemisphere would compete against the greatest academy of the southern hemisphere.

51  Now there gathered on the fields of war, in the valley of Chuzon, the soldiers of the north dressed in red and black; while also there gathered the soldiers of the south dressed in blue and white; each being fiercely determined to prevail against the other.

52  And in the winning of the toss did the son of Areta elect to defend; and there stood beside him but seventy men only; while there was arranged in opposition some eighty-five men which stood most resolved to seize for themselves the pennant of A’Kontay.

53  And for three hours of dreadful fighting did they battle fiercely and without relent; and at the sounding of the trumpet blast was A’Kontay declared the winner; having successfully defended the pennant against the enemy which strived to seize it.

54  But the commanders of A’Kontay were deeply troubled; for the son which they thought to honor and to shame had proven himself victorious; causing that he should stand most highly favored among the ranks of all cadets; to hear his name most loudly shouted midst joyful jubilation within the barracks of A’Kontay.

55  And there came unto A’Kontay the Emperor Maximillius Drakonus, and he presented with pomp and ceremony the Standard of the empire; and unto each cadet which both fought and survived to win the victory, unto each of these did he give the ring of victory; which ring was made large and heavy with gold.

56  And unto Manegus Acquilla did the Emperor give a gold chevron, to be worn upon the tunic; which chevron bore the Emperor’s seal; and in that moment did the chief commander see in the son of Areta, an advantage for himself.

57  But there stood beside the Emperor, in sullen rage, the father Seti-Kahn, viewing the honors of the son with cold contempt; vowing in his bitter heart to destroy the son which would usurp him.

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