Gramlick displayed irritation at the comment. “I need not be patronized, My Lord. If the others must greet you then I must do so as well. Do you not remember anything I taught you about the value of maintaining discipline?” The general did not wait for a response. He bent his head as low as he could without losing his balance. Upon rising he firmly called “Pawns.”
Eight pawns numbering eleven through eighteen clustered nearly on top of one another at the eastern edge of the Silver River. They huddled at the very frontier of the Empire.
Mandrean showed intense concern for the health of Gramlick and discreetly allowed the general to lean against him for support. “The leg seems to be much worse since our last meeting. You should let my physicians tend to you.”
“Your offer is most kind My Lord. I took the liberty of consulting them earlier in the day on the matter of my leg. They were of one opinion about its condition and I was of another. At this point opinions will not change facts. My time is short. What I still have, as always, belongs to you my Pupil and Master.”
Mandrean appeared heartbroken by the revelation. “Perhaps if they were to remove the leg it would give you time?”
“Regardless of the measures taken,” Gramlick explained, “The result will be the same. What time I have left will be lived with the dignity I have strived to display my entire life. I shall leave on my own terms. Before I do, we have the matter of this latest invasion you have planned for Romadon.”
“Are the preparations complete?” Mandrean asked with excitement.
“In my mind,” Gramlick retorted, “They will never be complete. This plan is a logistical nightmare. It will not work.”
Mandrean’s temper began to rise but he restrained its wrath out of respect for his mentor. “Were you not the one who told me our previous invasions through the Romadon Gap were likely annihilated after being encircled and cut off from supplies? This is the only way to prevent that from happening again.”
“My Lord,” Gramlick argued as he pointed at the map. “Even with eight full divisions you are talking about a very thin front stretching from the Endless Mountains to the Great Western Forest. If I were defending against such an assault I would cluster my forces in areas where I could bring all my men to bear against weak links in the front. Then I would penetrate your lines and sweep around from behind. End game.”
“This time,” Mandrean corrected with excitement. “We have been storing provisions for this attack for over a year. Previously we had to stop our advance because the Gap was so vast supplies could not keep pace. This time the supplies will flow from the depots right behind the army. Those fools in Romadon will not have a chance to regroup. We will drive them before us straight through the Gap and into their heartland.”
“They are expecting an attack,” Gramlick noted. “It’s not like we could hide the buildup. Come spring they will be lying in wait for us.”
“All the more reason I have decided not to wait for spring,” said Mandrean. “I want the assault launched within a fortnight.”