PART FIVE: QUESTIONS OF LIFE
By four hours past midnight, Sor's war council had degenerated into a shouting match. Not only were the military leaders fighting with the citizen representatives, but they were squabbling with each other. To give the situation an opportunity to defuse, the king called an adjournment. He needed logic and strategy from his advisors, not heated vituperations. The next few days would be difficult for them all, especially if they proved unable to work together.
Eya remained in the little throne room with the king. Since broaching the subject some four hours ago, she had not mentioned the potential role of magic in the upcoming battle. Despite Sor's reluctance to discuss it, however, she felt the idea merited more consideration than it had been given. If the king understood what she was proposing, he would agree with her.
"Your Majesty," she began.
Sor looked her in the eyes before letting out a heartfelt sigh. "I'm surrounded by stubborn men with bloated egos. Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn't dismiss my current council and fill every post with a woman. That way, maybe things would get done without all this wrangling."
"We're making progress..."
"Too slowly. I had hoped to have a full battle plan prepared by dawn. Now, I'll be lucky if one is ready by the time the attack comes."
"Your Majesty, there's something I want to discuss."
"You want to bring up the subject of magic again," surmised Sor.
The king sighed again. "I thought I made my feelings clear. I'm willing to use magic only as a last resort. The power you and I have should not be wasted. If physical force can accomplish our aims, there's no reason why magic should be employed."
"Even to save lives?"
"Even to save lives," said Sor. "Because in the end, it could cost them. My advice to you is to husband your resources for when you truly need them."
"But I have enough energy to act now and later."
"I don't, and it's because I once thought as you did that I'm in this situation. You always believe that your wellspring of emotion is endless - until you scrape the bottom. Lost emotions don't grow back. You have to develop new ones, and that takes time and effort."
"I didn't realize," said Eya.
"No one does. I can't afford to allow people to realize how little I can use my powers. I'm not impotent, Eya, but I can't fight a magical war - not unless I'm willing to risk everything."
"Then let Mat and I use our powers. He's taught me much about self-control. I'm sure I could avoid damaging my emotional stability, and the use of magic in this battle could mean the difference between victory and defeat."
"I can't allow it."
Eya's expression turned stony. "Frankly, I don't see how you can stop me."
"What did you say?" demanded Sor, his tone dangerous. His eyes bored into hers, but she didn't flinch.
"Apparently, I have more power than you do. Are you going to have me arrested? Thrown in the dungeon? I'll just break out, and if you don't have the magical strength to restrain me, there's little you can do to stop me."
"This is absurd. Of course I'm not going to have you arrested, but as my subject, you have a responsibility to..."
"I'm not your subject, Your Majesty. I never swore fealty to you. I'm officially an itinerant from Falnora."
"Very clever. But your mentor is one of my subjects, and if I command him to restrain from magical activity, he'll obey me."
"I'm sure he will, but that won't stop what I'm going to do. I'd prefer if we could come to some agreement, Your Majesty. Magic would be more effective if sanctioned by the Crown and incorporated into the overall battle scheme."
Sor broke eye contact. "I'll consider it."
"Don't take too long, Your Majesty. As you said, progress is too slow already."
Sor bit back an angry retort. As a king, he was not used to being spoken to in this manner, but if anyone was in a position that gave them the right, it was another Apath. Wizards were not shackled by the conventions of society. And, regardless of how much it rankled, he found Eya's forthrightness refreshing. Perhaps he had been surrounded by sycophants for too long. Even his old chancellor Rim had rarely challenged him openly.
"There's more to be considered here than the issue of using magic or not. How is it to be used? What kind of magic? Can you be certain that what you unleash won't do as much damage to our men as to the dwarves? Saying you're going to use magic in battle is different from doing it."
"I wouldn't have made my proposal if I hadn't considered those things. One of the elements of my training with Mat has been foresight."
"That sounds like Mat. Cautious and conservative. What makes you think he'll participate?"
"You're right when you say he's cautious. He doesn't like using his powers but, given the situation, there won't be any problem getting his agreement." Eya paused before adding, "There may even be a way that you can participate. I've been working on a method..."
At that moment, the door to the little throne room burst open and an out-of-breath soldier rushed in. After executing a perfunctory salute, he stood impatiently at attention.
"What is it?"
"A report from the West, Your Majesty. Large groups of watchfires spotted fifteen to twenty miles distant. It is my commander's opinion that the army of Tsab is encamped there."
"Damn!" exploded Sor.
"We counted some sixty fires, Your Majesty, which would indicate a force of one-thousand men. It was only by accident that one of the outer scouting patrols ventured that far west, but my commander has ordered a full legion to proceed there for observation. After sunrise, we should have confirmation of who they are."
After dismissing the courier, Sor rang the pull-bell to summon Jav.
Moments later, the chancellor arrived with uncombed hair and disheveled robes. Apparently, he had been catching a few moments of sleep. "Your Majesty?"
"We have an additional crisis, Jav. The recess is over. Get the men back in here now."
As soon as the chancellor had departed to recall the council members, Sor turned to Eya. "I thought you said that there couldn't be an alliance between Hwo and the dwarves, that there was nothing he could offer them."
"This is too odd to be a coincidence. In fact, it has the stink of a conspiracy. Hwo has to know that this city is about to be attacked by the dwarves, and he's put his men in position to strike as soon as the first battle is over."
"Maybe one of his distant scouting parties spotted the dwarves and he decided to take advantage of the situation."
"Considering how well the dwarves have sneaked up on us, I think that unlikely. Somehow, Tsab and the dwarves are working in concert, and that may sound the gong of doom for Vorti. Dealing with the dwarves alone was difficult enough. Now, facing Tsab in addition... If you have any brilliant notions of how magic can get us out of this one, I'll listen."
"As a matter of fact," considered Eya. "There might be a possibility."
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