“How many are there?” Mandrean Inquired.
“One hundred and eighty riders are suitable for duty and are ready to ride,” Vipis answered.
“That will be sufficient to guard me,” Mandrean told the commander. “Have my horse and one for Necromancer waiting by yours and inform the men we are leaving at once.” The commander nodded and stood. He gave the fist salute and rushed from the room.
Mandrean turned to his Court Magician and said tauntingly, “Be sure to dress warmly. These rides can become frightfully cold.”
“Fear not for me, My Master,” Necromancer said as he prepared to follow the commander. “A fire burns within me that will ward off the harshest of winds.” With a half-hearted bow he left the room.
Mandrean gave a nod to Fendri. Then the House Master stood and proclaimed. “The court is dismissed.” There was a good deal of mumbling as the courtiers exited the hall. Soon only Mandrean, Fendri, Gramlick and a hand full of guards remained. Mandrean snapped his fingers and the guards left.
With only the three individuals left, Mandrean approached Gramlick. “I have a special task for you, my Teacher. Maxion is as crooked as a tree-branch in the wind. You will stay here and see to it no coup is attempted in my absence. Furthermore, there are many displaced citizens who are likely hungry and cold. See the issue is handled.”
“How will I enforce your authority when Maxion has a Legion at his command?” Gramlick asked.
Mandrean held out his open palm and had it immediately filled by an envelope bearing his seal. “These orders give you the right to act in my stead. I have personally sent for a Legion of your men to camp just outside of town. They will be here tomorrow. Your soldiers will beat Maxion’s any day.”
“Then why leave Maxion here at all?” Gramlick asked. “I could have handled this alone.”
“I am testing him,” Mandrean explained. “He will not know of your forces and his allegiance will be proven in the coming days. He also has recent experience with handling rebellious people. You, on the other hand, will see to it the people are here when I return. Now go to your quarters and take some rest.”
Mandrean could see his former tutor playing through scenarios in his head as he limped from the room. Only Fendri and Mandrean remained. The emperor turned to the Master of his House and handed him six envelopes.
“What are these,” Fendri asked as he looked at the seals.
“These are orders I want you to personally deliver to Numbers One through Six,” Mandrean said slyly.
“To the concubines?” Fendri asked.
“No,” answered Mandrean grimly. “You know of whom I speak.”
Fendri paused a moment as he realized to whom his master was referring. “If I may be so bold, My Master, what do these orders say?”
Mandrean smiled and answered, “They are insurance. If I wanted you to read them, they would not have been sealed. Take heart in the fact I would not have given them to you if I thought you would open them. The less you know the better you will be, Fendri.”
“Now, I must vanquish a rat my forces are in the process of trapping. With his death dawns the birth of a Mandrean Empire that shall rule the world. I bid you goodbye, Dear Fendri.”
Mandrean strode toward the door. Fendri looked at the sealed orders and then at his master. “Manenvious,” he called out. Mandrean stopped mid-stride and turned angrily to view his friend. “Remember the first thing Gramlick taught you,” Fendri reminded. “’Never underestimate your opponent.’” Mandrean snorted in disgust and left the room.
Fendri stood alone with his orders in hand and heard only his racing heartbeat. As he turned to leave a strong wind blew through the shattered remnants of the great doors and extinguished all the torches in the room. Fendri felt a sense of foreboding as he returned to his wing of the palace.