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Chapter 17


To Trust or to Fear

Mass suicide of the Chen – Kronus returns home – Manegus Acquilla is questioned by the Emperor concerning the ways of Kronus – Acquilla gives report: neither treachery nor vanity; no consumption of human flesh; breaking custom and tradition; caring for the wounded; burying the dead – Emperor wonders if Kronus is a threat or a blessing – The Emperor tests Kronus’ loyalty – Kronus is given the iron bracelet – Kronus is Sent to Asia

 

1  On the waters of the frozen seas came the mighty war ships of Drakonia, carrying upon their decks and within their bowels, the armies of Seti-Kahn; being some six hundred thousand men under heavy arms.

2  And there was numbered among the implements of war, some four thousand tanks, ten thousand heavy pieces of field artillery, eight thousand multiple rocket launchers, and two thousand jet fighter-bombers; for the Emperor wished to war against the Chen for vengeance sake.

3  But there was detached from all these forces, an army of eighty thousand men of war; and these did land upon the shores of Alaska, behind the forces of Ahgi Wynnaki; and with great haste they moved against the Chen to destroy them.

4  Yet did the Chen cheat the armies of Seti-Kahn the honor of some great battle; choosing instead to kill themselves by mass suicide; and there fell in the darkness of the night some forty-five thousand men of war; and there was not left even one among them to greet the armies of Drakonia.

5  Thus did there come to an end, the command of Kronus Maximillius; for upon the coming of Seti-Kahn was Kronus given imperial orders to return unto the fortress city of Trajenium, to give account of all which he had done.

6  And unto all those seniors which had survived the ordeal of that harsh and deadly winter campaign, even they did receive by order of the Supreme Commander, the iron bracelet of war; causing each man to be separated from his companions, to be reassigned to the many and several divisions of Seti-Kahn.

7  And the armies of Drakonia did gather themselves upon the seas, and they did set sail for the empire of the Chen, to land themselves along the shores of Asia; for Seti-Kahn was anxious to regain for himself the Emperor’s favor through conquest and victory.

8  Now in the city of Trajenium, in the fortress palace of the Emperor, did Manegus Acquilla stand fearfully before the Emperor; for he had been most secretly ordered to come and give some report on the doings of Kronus Maximillius.

9  And the Emperor, standing alone in the halls of the great court, held in his hands the secret reports of the Stazzi; for in the command of Kronus was there assigned the secret agents of the Stazzi who did but pass themselves as being senior cadets only.

10  Yet had they been ordered by the Emperor to report on all which Kronus did against the Chen; to make known to the Emperor such capabilities and mannerisms as did most make the man.

11  And the Emperor, standing poised and calmly aloof, spoke unto Manegus, saying: “Tell me now of Kronus, for I have a great many reports which do but speak of those things which are most easily seen about the man;

12  Hoping and seeking through such apparent doings, to reveal to me the innermost thoughts of the man himself; yet in all these things does the true man elude me altogether.

13  What then can you say of him, for in these reports do I see a man of dark and brilliant cunning; for on the one hand do we see a man of war and genius; but on the other do we see a man of strange, uncommon ways.

14  For we have read of his tactics and strategy against the greater forces of the Chen; yet do we also read how that he does but stand alone in the midst of some inward solitude, to guard well the counsels of his heart.

15  Yet did the men which served him, hold him in high regard, and would most gladly lay down their lives for his sake; thinking themselves as highly favored and deeply honored to stand beside him.

16  Still did Kronus hold at bay the traditions and customs of all our ways; refusing to allow those which serve us, under his command, to eat the flesh of the fallen Chen; neither would he permit our warriors to torture the enemy which fell into their hands, causing that he should rob them of their rightful sport.

17  Tell us, therefore, of the man Kronus; for the Stazzi see in him a man to fear; for they feel most certain that a man such as Kronus could, in future years, press hard against my very throne, to seize it for himself; having secured to himself the loyalty of all our military forces.

18  Speak then and hold not back; tell us whether or not we should fear so strange and brilliant a man; for it is needful that we make secure against every threat, the throne of my fathers before me.” Such were the words which the Emperor spoke.

19  And Manegus Acquilla, the hero of Terra Borah, spoke in straight forward fashion, saying: “Your Majesty, I know well the man Kronus; for these past several months have I stood beside him, being myself watchful and curious of all his ways.

20  And this I know full well, that in the man Kronus is there neither treachery nor vanity; neither have I discerned in him any guile. But in all things has he proved himself both fair and forthright in all his dealings.

21  For the Stazzi trust no man, seeing in all but themselves, the seed of some future treason; viewing all who would serve you with scorn and constant suspicion; being hopeful to pull down the greatest and mightiest whereby they might advance themselves; whispering into your ears the coming of some constant threat, of which there is no end.

22  But of Kronus do I know most fully, finding in him a man worthy of trust and high regard; for in all his doing did he place first and foremost the good of his Emperor; and next did he place the good of his men;

23  Giving to himself no place or consideration, but in all things comported himself an honorable and brave warrior, bearing upon his shoulders a great many burdens without complaint;

24  Showing himself in battle both calm and deadly, possessing in himself a knowledge of the Chen and their language, being of itself uncommon and unexpected; for he, himself would question all captives regarding their customs and traditions.

25  Then did Kronus dress himself as an officer of the Chen, and in the midst of the storm did he calmly walk into the camp of the enemy, and after two days he came again unto us, bearing a great many secrets which the enemy did give him.

26  But in certain aspects of his command did Kronus act in uncommon fashion; for he forbade the eating of human flesh, claiming the flesh of the Chen unfit for consumption, being itself the flesh of weaker men.

27  Thus did he command that if any man should desire the flesh of another, then should they eat the flesh of their own bodies; for the strong should feed only upon the strong, and not upon the dead; for in battle do only the weakest fall, while the strong are made to live in victory.

28  Yet did I counsel strongly that Kronus rescind the order given; telling him boldly and to the face that it is the custom and tradition of warriors to eat the flesh of others.

29  But he would not relent, claiming the habits of his Emperor superior to the customs and traditions of lesser men; for he made known to every man how that the Emperor would not eat the flesh of any man, for there was no man which could prove your equal.

30  And not this only; for Kronus would not permit that we should kill those which were gravely wounded among us; believing in his mind that all our warriors were the property of the Emperor.

31  Thus did he command that unto whichever soldier fell wounded among us, even we should care for him; to give unto the wounded, such aid and comfort as should befit brave fellows.

32  Neither would he leave abandoned on the fields of war, the bodies of our dead lest the Chen derive some knowledge of us; but did with zeal and effort retrieve the fallen, to bury them with words of praise and honor beneath the snow and bitter wind.

33  And when I asked him the reason for his orders, to remind him of the laws and customs of our military code, he did speak forthrightly:

34  Saying that if we would care for those which fell gravely wounded upon the field, then might they recover from the harshness of their wounds, to prove themselves in future years as men of strength and duty, to return to the Emperor, a warrior of greater worth.

35  And those which were not wounded among us, did fight with greater zeal; believing rightly that if they should fall upon the fields of battle, then would their brave companions take them back to safety and there would they be cared for.

36  Thus would Kronus gather our wounded to care for them; and setting over them a fearsome guard, he would order them taken into the Fortress of Octavius, away from the fields of war, permitting that we should move about more freely, to engage the enemy in moments of advantage and opportunity.

37  Such was the care of Kronus for those which served him; which thing did cause every man to fight more fiercely, and endure more greatly; to achieve for their Emperor some greater victory.

38  For we did cause to perish, through the cunning of Kronus, some sixty thousand men of war, while we ourselves did lose just three hundred only; being ever watched over by Kronus Maximillius.

39  For though he seem solitary and aloof in the midst of his command, still would he walk among the men which served him; speaking to them words of encouragement, and brave good humor.

40  And on that day when he stood relieved of his command, still did he go unto the Fortress of Octavius where he might most publicly thank Borah Graccus for such support as he did render; charging him one last time to care for the men which served him and which fell wounded upon the fields of war.

41  This then is the Kronus which the Stazzi know not of, neither will they permit themselves to see; being themselves most treacherous and craven, filled with spite; while Kronus did prove himself the greater man, being in himself a man of most uncommon honor.”

42  Such were the words of Manegus Acquilla, and the Emperor on hearing this, sighed a heavy sigh; and he spoke unto Manegus, saying: “You have answered well and bravely. How then shall I reward you? For whatsoever you shall ask of me, even that will I give unto you.”

43  And Manegus answered him, saying: “I ask only to serve you, Your Majesty. I ask for nothing more beside.” And the Emperor smiled and said: “Go then till I have need of you; for I shall remember well the name of Manegus Acquilla.”

44  So Manegus Acquilla returned to his place, to await such orders as the military should give him; and the Emperor, being alone, walked to and fro in the great hall of the palace, weighing in his hand the things which he both read and heard; and to himself the Emperor spoke, saying:

45  “What shall I do with Kronus Maximillius? For I know not if he is a threat which I must kill, or the seed to some greater glory; for in all his ways is he a most unusual and exceptional man, finding in the midst of battle, a victory where none was expected.

46  For in Kronus do I see a rare and remarkable man, having strange and peculiar ways; a warrior of genius and uncommon courage, being in his command a great and fearless killer who abhors the killing of any man.

47  Yet do I fully know that he, himself, did slay his mother for kindness sake, to save her the savagery of brutish men; to deliver her with gentleness into the darkness of the grave.

48  But for all his strength, still does Kronus show in his person neither arrogance nor conceit, being empty himself of any vanity or pridefulness;

49  Being himself a man most trustworthy and unassuming, giving praise and thanks to those which serve him, but demanding none for himself beside; putting the needs of his men above his own; treating every man with kind regard, as if every man was his equal.

50  And not this only, for the name and image of my person does he hold before every man; claiming of himself that I am the great one worthy of emulation.

51  How then shall I regard so strange a man; for in all these things could there be secretly hidden, a cunning both subtle and dangerous; causing that in future years I should regret his life and service.

52  For I know not if my throne be truly safe while yet this Kronus lives; or if in his living and continued service, I should find for myself the greatest glory of all; to stand supreme and unquestioned as the greatest and mightiest of all Emperors.”

53  In such manner did the Emperor speak within himself; and reaching forth his hand, he signaled unto a servant; and when he was come, the Emperor spoke, saying: “What of Kronus?”

54  And the servant answered, saying: “He is here, Your Majesty, and even now does wait in the outer chamber.” And the Emperor hearing this, commanded: “Bring the man to me.”

55  But as the servant turned to go, the Emperor spoke again unto the servant saying: “Tell me: In what manner did you find this Kronus when first I summoned him to my court?”

56  Then did the servant answer, saying: “Your Majesty, I did find the man in the gardens of the palace, playing in the midst of children.”

57  And hearing this the Emperor laughed, saying: “Go and fetch me this brave and fearless warrior, and bring to me also, a cup of bitter wine.”

58  And when the servant was gone, the Emperor spoke to himself, saying: “A man who plays with children can be no threat to me; for this cause will I let him live, yet in one thing only must I prove him.”

59  Now there was brought unto the Emperor, Kronus Maximillius, and the servant which brought him gave to the Emperor a cup of bitter wine; and seeing the Emperor, Kronus did most gravely salute; and the Emperor spoke, saying:

60  “You have proved yourself a cunning man indeed, yet tell me Kronus, if you be truly loyal and obedient unto me.” Kronus answered him, saying: “I will obey in all things, Your Majesty.”

61  Then did the Emperor speak again, saying: “Let us then see for ourselves if this be true; for I am called to force judgment upon you; for I know that you killed your mother, to shame your father’s house. Yet would I not judge you publicly, for you are a brave and noble man.”

62  And holding up the cup of wine, the Emperor spoke unto Kronus, saying: “Know then most noble Kronus, that in this cup have I placed a bitter and deadly potion; and if you drink of it, you will surely die. Drink then and prove your faith unto me.”

63  And Kronus, being calm and firmly resolved, drank of the wine fully and without complaint; and the Emperor marveled, saying: “In truth are you brave and worthy of trust, casting aside your very life to give obeisance unto me.”

64  Then did the Emperor reach into his tunic, and drawing forth his hand again, he revealed an iron bracelet with a gold serpent wrapped round about it, bearing the Emperor’s seal; and the Emperor spoke, saying: “The cup is false Kronus, but you are true. Receive this as a gift from your Emperor.”

65  Then did the Emperor place the iron bracelet upon the wrist of Kronus, saying: “Serve me Kronus, and I shall prove your greatest ally; only be you careful in the using of my name; for even an Emperor must walk lightly among the dogs of war, lest they leap up themselves to kill me.”

66  And from that day was Kronus made the secret ally of his Emperor; and the Emperor gave unto Kronus such written orders as would place him in the Office of War and Strategy; and in haste did send him unto Asia to give service unto Seti-Kahn in the conquest of the Chen.

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