“I am only dressing my part, My Lord. If it is offensive to you I will wear more casual attire at our next encounter.”
“Fear not General Donorus,” Mandrean chided. “I am sure you will find a way to wear all your medals on a quieter uniform. I am fully aware of your accomplishments. I need see no ribbons to remind me. Now tell me of your Province.”
Donorus nodded and called out “Pawns.” Five more boys raced forward with the numbers four through eight branded on their clothing. They took up positions east of Marinhalk. Five stood at the mouth of the Mystic River while the others dispersed in a uniform pattern that stretched to the Great Eastern Sea.
“As you have requested,” Donorus began. “We have established a base on the south side of the Mystic River in the Unclaimed Territory. Sartan has taken no notice of the infringement and leads me to think they have lost interest or at least the interest to fight for the land. A deeper penetration will likely prove my conclusions to be correct.”
Mandrean held out his palm and Donorus stopped speaking. “You are arguing for something you will not get,” Mandrean said plainly. “I had the base established to be certain Sartan would not be interfering with my plans. Starting another war with them is not on my agenda. If you want to prove you are worthy of all those medals, tell me what is happening in our newest province.”
Donorus looked at his pawns with dismay. “I presume you are inquiring about the limited taxes paid to The Empire.”
“Forget the Empire,” Mandrean roared. “I am the Empire. Two years ago I sent you to conquer one of the most lucrative trading nations in the world. Their armies fell in little more than two months. Yet, in all the time since then, I have not seen one bit of gold reach Marinhalk. Those funds were the chief reason for annexing them. Where are they?”
Donorus’s anxiety grew into distress as he formulated his answers. “My Lord, though we captured the land we were unsuccessful at doing the same with their merchant fleet. The vast majority abdicated to the south and joined the fleets of Rador directly to the south and Valia further still. That significantly reduced revenues for taxes. We have also had problems finding suitable leaders for the various counties. The new citizens of the Empire have fought the adoption of our policies. Our appointees are rebelled against on a regular basis and few of their own people are willing to help our government. Add to that the abysmal conditions of the roads and the bandits who prey upon our wagonloads of taxes and there is little wonder you have seen no tithes.”
Mandrean rubbed his forehead as though he was searching for a wound. “Why have I not killed you yet?” he asked rhetorically. “For two years you have had five full divisions to subdue the population and find my money. Here we sit with no funds and no viable answers.”
Donorus held up one finger and mentioned weakly, “To be fair the Fifth Division is at less than full strength at the moment due to some unforeseen natural phenomenon.” Linvin mustered all his will to prevent himself at laughing at the statement.
“Oh do shut up.” snapped Mandrean. “Your incompetence is not the result of the loss of a handful of goblins. A poorly dressed marching band could have defeated their army. Yet with all the resources at your disposal, you are unable to attain your true goal.”
“We have exported vast quantities of foodstuffs from their farms and ranches,” Donorus offered. “The wealth of the empire vanished when we arrived. It was likely carried away by their fleet.”
“Or your soldiers,” Mandrean accused. “You and your men are more corrupt than any in the empire. After what General Maxion just tried to make me accept, that is making a strong statement. So I will make a stronger statement to you and him. Before we meet next you will both have my tribute in great quantities or I will have your heads in their place. I don’t care how you get it or how many people need to die. Deliver my bounty or forfeit your lives. Now sit back down. I can’t have you crying and rusting your pretty armor.” A chorus of laughter was heard from the gallery. The disgraced general angrily took his seat.