PART TWO: THE CLASSLESS SOCIETY
Spring in Vorti ripened into summer. As if in recompense for the paucity of the yield of the previous year's crops, this season's harvests were abundant. The famine that had crushed the people during the winter ended, although the scores of dead could not be recalled to life. Despite the end of rationing and the return of full meals, the growing sentiment against the current ruler did not lessen. For the first time since Kan had taken the throne in 515, nearly seventy years ago, the populace was eager for their king to be deposed.
Perhaps, if not for Til and his secret legion of supporters, the ill-will toward Sor might have died out with the onset of the warmer weather. But the chancellor had his rabble-rousers continue to stir up rumors - both new and old - that portrayed the king as arrogant and unconcerned about his people. The lack of merchants and traders from Llam, Fels, and Tsab supported the tales of hostility between those cities and Vorti, and Til did his best to foster an atmosphere of worry about the possibility of war.
Siv and Til continued to meet, the former acting as liaison between the chancellor and his clique of supporters. Til was not yet ready to make a public announcement about his lineage and intentions. When he did that, he wanted to be certain of two things: that the citizens of Vorti would be almost unanimous in their acclaim of him and that Sor's position would be so tenuous that he would have to concentrate all of his efforts upon staying alive. A man fighting for his existence rarely had time to go on the offensive.
Two nights before Midsummer's Day, the conspirators met in the usual drinking venue, The Wet Spot. Til was in a jubilant mood, since his latest tactic to foment paranoia within the palace had worked. Through a series of counterfeit missives and false eyewitness testimony, he had convinced the king that Vorti's militia was on the verge of rebellion. The truth of the matter was that the army remained firmly behind the king, led as it was by one of Sor's staunchest supporters, a general named Ryf, but Til's influence over His Majesty was such that he had been able to convince Sor that General Ryf was involved in a plot against the Crown.
"He'll probably be executed within the next week or two, if I know Sor. When he suspects a conspiracy, he acts quickly, and he knows someone close to him is involved in a revolutionary plot. He just doesn't realize that the one person he trusts is the conspirator," said Til with a chuckle.
Siv didn't find the situation amusing, and wasted no time repeating, for perhaps the dozenth time, his concerns to Til. "If he's so paranoid, it's only a matter of time before he starts wondering about you. You're taking too many chances. Why not get out now, while there's no real danger?"
"Because it would give Sor too much warning. We're still half-a-season away from being ready to move. If I go underground now, Sor will have enough time to come up with a counterattack plan. Our best chance is to keep him off-balance. I can do that as long as I'm in the position I'm in now. And trust me, he won't become suspicious, at least not until it's too late. I'm the only vocal supporter he's got."
"You sure he's going to have Ryf executed?" asked Siv, his tremulous voice betraying how unconvincing he'd found his companion's arguments.
"Sooner or later."
"The people aren't going to like that. Ryf's a big hero on the streets."
"If I were Sor, I'd be more concerned about the militia's reaction than that of unarmed citizens. Ryf's the most popular commander this city's had in over a century. His execution will cause a schism between the palace and the city barracks. It's possible that even some of the Royal Corps will defect."
"Ultimately, it's public opinion that's going to put you on the throne. We have to bleed as much value as we can from this current situation."
"Of course! And it's going to be your responsibility to churn the peoples' emotions. Use this to get them to hate the king even more. Convince them that starving them wasn't enough - now he wants to disband their military protection. Lie to them - they won't know, and, if they do, they won't care. Start some unsavory rumors, like General Ryf is going to be executed without a trial because he dared speak against some of Sor's recent policies."
"Sor the tyrant," murmured Siv.
"Sor the Apath tyrant," corrected Til. "Never let them forget about his powers. Always keep that fear alive, that he could turn on anyone the way he turned on the nobles." After a moment's pause to take a deep draught from his mug, the chancellor added, "Speaking of Apaths, I assume there's nothing more on Wil."
Siv shook his head. "Since that one rumor proved false, there haven't been further traces. Even if we confined our search to the Halcyon Meadows, our chances of finding him don't look good. Personally, I think he's dead by now."
"A pity. He could have been an asset. No matter, though. We go on without him."
"Aye," agreed Siv.
"Any further information from your king about when his troops will be ready to march?" asked Til. Thus far, King Hwo had not committed to either the number of troops he was willing to put under Til's command or when he would make them available. The chancellor could understand the reticence of Tsab's king. Hwo wouldn't put himself in a position from which he couldn't safely withdraw until victory was assured. So it was up to Til and his small band to erect an unshakeable foundation first.
"Nothing," said Siv. "In fact, there haven't been any messages in the past week. Communication with Tsab is becoming more difficult, with Sor's new restrictions on couriers entering the city."
That was another of the king's new laws. All couriers bearing dispatches from Tsab were subject to search and seizure and only five were legally permitted within the city's limits at any one time. Since almost any courier that came to Vorti also visited the other five major cities, this meant that correspondence between Vorti and her neighbors had become limited.
"Oh," added Siv. "I located the house of that blind woman you were asking about. Meg, I think her name is. It's on a secluded plot of land near the river. She almost never goes outside and rarely has visitors. What do you want with her?"
Til's lips curled slightly into another of his secretive smiles, "All will be revealed in time. Keep watch on her and let me know if anything unusual transpires. Aside from you, dear Siv, she may be my greatest ally."
Siv nodded, even though he hadn't understood Til's meaning. How could some hermit be important to the overthrow of a king? Sometimes, the chancellor found great entertainment in weaving unnecessarily complex and convoluted plots, but Siv was unwilling to admit his confusion lest it cause Til to lose faith in him. Better to act as if he understood now, and let comprehension grow as new layers of the plan were peeled away.
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