“Where is General Gramlick?”
The youngest of the commanders stepped forward and spoke.
“He begs your forgiveness, My lord, but he has taken quite ill and
has sent me in his stead.”
“What is the matter with him?” the emperor asked in a somber
“His leg, Sire. As you know, it has been deteriorating for some
time. The physician was forced to remove it completely today.
Even with the procedure, however, his condition continues to
If it had been anyone else, Mandrean would not have accepted
any excuse for missing such an important meeting. Gramlick,
however, was a special case.
Mandrean was grief-stricken in his manner. His bravado had
fled. He retreated into his throne and gestured for a servant to
come over. Quietly, the emperor ordered the servant to fetch his
master’s personal physician and send him to aid with the general.
After the servant departed, it was quiet for a moment in the hall.
The great man knew that he dare not show his weaker side and
buried his emotions for the time being.
“And who might you be that the great Gramlick would send
you in his stead?” Mandrean inquired.
“I am General Tathbar, my lord. I am his number two…his
“I am familiar with the concept of a number two, Tathbar. You
are insolent as I recall, but Gramlick must see something in you.
So go ahead, give me the report for the Western province.”
Tathbar swallowed hard and spoke at first with a high-pitched
voice. “Economically, there have been two years in a row of poor
harvests. With the Empire counting so heavily on this region for
food as well as taxes, there has been a deficit in food production
“The farmers are being hurt and desperately need help in
subsidies. What’s more, areas of marginal soil, which were farmed
every other year, have been pressed into service. The result is soil
depletion and low yields. Our analysts estimate that those lands
need to lie fallow for a minimum of two years with subsides paid
to the farmers to assure the land is left to regenerate.”
Though the statement was dry, Mandrean managed to sift
through it and find the implications. “So you’re suggesting that I
should pay more money to the farmers who are producing less so
that they don’t have to work as hard?”
Tathbar held up one palm and said, “I think you fail to see the
bigger picture here, Sire…”
Mandrean began to rage. “I fail nothing. You tell those lazy
peasants that they not only need their normal contribution this
season but must also pay what they were short from last year.
Their excuses will not be tolerated.”
“With all due respect, My Lord, no order can increase harvests.
They produce all they can, but they can only reap what the land
grows. The price of flour is rising and looks to go higher. Only
drastic action will avoid starvation and migration to the territory.”
Economics were, in large part, lost on Mandrean. He had no
skill or interest in the field. His rationalizations on the subject were
often crude and harsh. Even with that being the case, he was
prudent enough to seek council.
“What sort of action do you suggest?” the emperor inquired as
thoughts of peasant rebellions flashed through his mind.
Tathbar knew his answer would not be liked by his master and
stuttered as he gave it. “Well…we have found…a large grain
reserve in the region that could be dispersed to alleviate the
situation. Prices would stabilize and the relatively higher prices
would enable tax payments and field rotation by the farmers.”
Mandrean listened to what sounded like the perfect solution and
smiled until his skeptical side began to ponder. “And what is this
reserve you speak of?”
Tathbar paused and then responded quickly, “The stores the
Legions have amassed over the last few years for the invasion of
“Out of the question,” Mandrean fired. “Our forces will need
those supplies for the prolonged offensive.”
“My lord, there is no way to invade any time soon. In the last
two years, our legions have been depleted by nearly two divisions.
We are in no condition to attack anyone. The grain disbursement
would only make use of resources being unused. In two years we
could be in a position to attack but not now.”
Mandrean was seething. “Two years? What kind of general do
you fashion yourself? And why have you allowed my armies to
erode? Gramlick would never allow this.”
“Sire, we have been hit hard by desertions. Morale is poor, and
it is due in large part to the terrible defeat in the Valley of Broken
Soldiers. We lost over a division there from my province alone.”
“Valley of Broken Soldiers? That area is called Trader’s Alley.”
“The men, Sire. They renamed it after our defeat at the hands of
Mandrean jumped to his feet. His anger blocked the pain it
caused. “Guards.” Four guards surrounded the general and began
to whip him. The once crisp uniform was quickly torn apart and
soaked in blood. He covered his face, but there was no salvation
for the rest of his body.