Maxion snapped to his feet and quickly bowed. “My Lord and Master, they arrived this morning and have already begun policing the city. Marshal Law has been implemented and there will be no further pillaging. Your Imperial Guard is free to follow you into the fray.”
“Be sure you and your soldiers do not fatten yourselves at the cost of my city,” Mandrean said. “Your life means little to me and the thought of ending it would not cause me the slightest regret.”
“As always.” Maxion said calmly. “My only desire is to serve you and the Empire. There will be no corruption under my watch.”
“That would be a first” Mandrean sneered. “Now leave my site and attend to your duties.” Maxion bowed and left the room with all possible speed.
“Donorus.” Mandrean yelled. “Where are you with your orders?”
Donorus called his pawns to the great map. “With the disruption to the Fifth Division, the Sixth has been sent to bolster the defense at the mouth of the Mystic River. They are double-timing their march and should link up before the end of the day. Even if he traveled all day and night, Grithinshield could not reach the river before my reinforcements.
“The Seventh and Eighth Divisions are moving into position as you instructed. It will take several days but I am confident they will create an impenetrable web to prevent any escape to the east.”
“Your search is moving too slowly.” barked Mandrean. “Take personal command of your forces and see that they leave no holes through which Grithinshield can escape.”
Donorus nodded and bowed in his armor. “By you leave,” he said as he turned and left the court.
Mandrean turned his gaze on Tecious. The old man did not wait for his name to be called. He knew his Master’s questions and answered preemptively. “Your quarry was last seen headed due south on the main highway out of Marinhalk. There was no sign of them at the nearest town and no road branched off between here and there. I must therefore conclude that they have gone off-road. The wet fall in the northern part of the province has left much of the grain crops in the fields. To a general like Grithinshield it would give ideal cover for an escape.”
“What of your men?” Mandrean demanded. “Are they searching for them as I ordered?”
“My Emperor, patrols have been dispatched to every chokepoint where they might travel. Their orders are to report but not engage our enemy. If they are indeed fleeing to the south, they will inevitably be spotted. What you do with them from there is your decision, My Emperor.” Tecious turned and hobbled beck to his seat.
Then he placed his cane proudly in front of himself and rested both hands upon its handle.
Mandrean simply nodded and then looked to Gramlick. “Well, Old One?” he asked. “Are your forces on the move as I commanded?”
Gramlick showed great offense at the title and stared at his former pupil with an icy glare that even made the overly pompous Emperor quiver. After what felt like eternity, Gramlick stated plainly, “Either address me by my title or turn me to ashes. I am no dog deserving of a verbal lashing.”
Mandrean had become quite impressed with his new power and ever more arrogant. Even so he realized he’d crossed the line with the wrong person. He found himself in a position where he desperately needed to save face but had to make a concession. He could not apologize or back down. He needed another solution. With the eyes of the court fixed on the ruler, he found a compromise.
“I believe I misspoke,” Mandrean said casually. “I had meant to say ‘Old Friend’. It would seem minor pleasantries evaded me at this crucial juncture.”
Gramlick was all too aware of the situation and decided to give one last pass to his Emperor. “I should have figured it was an oversight, My Lord” he graciously commented. “Let me advise you of my efforts.
“As I had suspected, Linvin is fleeing south for the Sorrowful Sea. Should he be unable to cross, he will run into fierce opposition to the west. I have strengthened the garrisons along the Lake and have the equivalent of two full divisions methodically pressing eastward. They will be slow but unwavering. If Linvin stays in the Empire he will not be able to avoid my soldiers. Are my efforts satisfactory, My Emperor?”