Dae looked over the broad table that dominated the Gallagrin Royal Command room. For years the milieu depicted on the table had been focused on Gallagrin alone, with the troop placements of the various noble houses being of primary concern because they were either busy murdering each other, or had to be positioned so that doing so was a less attractive option than staying where they were.
“We need to change the scale of the representation,” Dae said, speaking to Faen Kemoral and a small group of Alari’s military advisors.
“We have a standard projection map which shows us ten miles of space into the Green Council’s borders,” Faen said.
“We’ll need more than that,” Dae said. “How prepared is the Scout Corp for deep recon assignments?”
“We can handle it,” Ogma Daili, the acting chief of Gallagrin’s Reconnaissance troops said. Like many branches of the Gallagrin military, command had rested until a month prior with one of the unlanded Gallagrin nobles. As those nobles were all under arrest, Gallagrin’s armed forces were following the next person down along each of the chains of command. Ogma at least seemed ready to handle the transition of power, though Dae knew she couldn’t depend on that being true in all cases.
“With all due respect to the Recon Corp,” Faen said, “You can’t know that. Recon has been tasked only with observation of Gallagrin’s internal state for close to a century, and their missions into the Green Council have never penetrated deeply into that Realm. Our troops will face obstacles they have no ability to foresee and potentially no ability to overcome.”
“Agreed. These won’t be the kind of assignments Recon is used to, but we need their intel,” Dae said. “And not just on the Green Council.”
“Senkin is cooperating with us though, aren’t they?” Faen asked.
“Senkin is looking out for their own interests,” Dae said. “At the moment those seem to align with ours, and they’ve been bloodied enough by the Council that they’re not likely to turn any aggressive eye in our direction. We’ll let our ambassadorial staff in Senkin keep us up to date on conditions there. It’s Inchesso which we’ll need Recon to scout as well.”
“We have ambassadors in Inchesso as well though, and they’re not reporting any significant troop movements,” Faen said.
“Not reporting is not the same as not seeing any,” Dae said. “Especially in light of the embassy that Queen Alari dispatched to the Lialarus family, we should be seeing rapid mobilization of their forces in one direction or the other within the next forty eight hours.”
“Two days?” Ogma said. “How long do we have to infiltrate and setup observation posts.”
“Twenty hours at that outside,” Dae said. “And they need to be secure. The effort is useless if we lose our Recon troops in the process. We need a steady stream of information, not one heroic burst of it.”
“We will make it happen,” Ogma said, her eyes wide as she clutched the side of the table.
“How?” Faen asked, turning to Dae rather than Ogma. “Akorli, your wonderful at inspiring heroics, but overextending our forces here is the surest method of hurling ourselves into the jaws of defeat. We cannot afford to fight a war on two fronts.”
Dae sighed, but smiled as well. Faen Kemoral was a reasonable man and a seasoned soldier. His advice and tactics were tempered by years of experience and a mind that saw past the usual layers of obfuscation life presented. That he was running behind her on this occasion was solely due to the secrecy Alari had shrouded her plans in.
“Ogma, please seal the doors,” Dae said. They were closed but invoking the privacy wards meant the three of them were incommunicado from the outside world for the next hour at a minimum. Dae knew her luck. Something would go wrong in that time, something her authority was needed to resolve. Sometimes though it was necessary to embrace a bit of chaos in order to head off a much large set of problems.
“The Queen left secret orders didn’t she?” Faen asked, sinking in her chair and bowing his head.
Wordlessly, Dae passed a letter to him that bore the Royal insignia in the wax seal that closed it.
“Secret orders?” Ogma asked, after invoking the glyphs on the doors. “Why would she do that?”
“Because she knows Highcrest is filled with spies,” Faen said, weighing the letter in his hand like it was a sleeping serpent.
“Should I be present for this?” Ogma asked. It was too late for her to leave, but Dae appreciated the offer. Unfortunately for Ogma, she wasn’t going to escape the promotion Dae had in mind for her.
“Only members of the Gallagrin War Council are allowed to know these plans,” Dae said. “So yes, you are requested and required to be present for this.”
“What about the rest of the War Council?” Ogma asked.
“The War Council is fully assembled,” Dae said, causing Faen close his eyes and pinch the bridge of his nose.
“The Queen cannot expect the three of us to manage an entire war effort,” Faen said at last.
“She doesn’t,” Dae said. “We’re going to manage four war efforts.”
Faen scowled while Ogma’s expression melted into confusion. Dae simply gestured towards the envelope.
“She cannot possibly be serious,” Faen whispered as he completed the missive.
“You might have impressed her a bit too much over the years,” Dae said.
“Oh no,” Faen said. “No, no you don’t. There is nothing of me in this madness. This is on your head!”
“I am possibly somewhat guilty as well,” Dae said. “But please note who bears the title of Supreme Commander of Gallagrin Forces.”
“She only gave that to me because she’s all but made Queen in her place already!” Faen’s face had turned an amusing shade of crimson.
“I don’t understand,” Ogma said, glancing back and forth between the two senior commanders in the room. “What has the Queen instructed us to do.”
“She’s asking us to sink the realm,” Faen said. “We’re supposed to do the impossible or watch everything fall apart.”
“He’s painting a bleaker picture than is actually the case, strictly speaking,” Dae said. “The Queen’s not asking us to do anything impossible. Just very very difficult.”
“She wants us to fight a war with the Green Council, Inchesso, Senkin and Paxmer all at once,” Faen said. “That’s not possible for any for any three armies combined, and you might not have noticed, but we don’t even have one army at the moment!”
“Our lack of an army is a challenge, I will admit that,” Dae said. “But none of this is insurmountable.”
“No offense Lady Akorli, but have you been drinking the same water and eating the same food as the queen,” Ogma asked.
“We’re not poisoned,” Dae said. “And we’re not crazy. The Queen made a solid case for why we need to fight those battles. Now we need your help to figure out how we can managed it.”
“Well, let’s see,” Faen said. “First we’ll need a magical squad of flying armored sky carriages that we can assemble here by tomorrow. Then we’ll need Wind Steeds that can fly for endless periods of time off the High Roads. Oh and they’ll need to be combat trained so that when the Green Council launches their aerial defenses our forces can fight back.”
“We don’t have any forces like that,” Ogma said. “Wind Steeds can’t carry things off the High Roads for long and armor cuts into their range too much.”
“If we had that though, could you pull off the reconnaissance missions?” Dae asked.
“Well, sure, give us the right tools and we can do anything,” Ogma said.
“Excellent,” Dae said. “Have your troops ready tomorrow morning then.”
Faen narrowed his eyes as disbelief etched glacial valleys into his brow. Dae watched as those valley melted away and Faen worked out what her plans were.
“Please tell me I’m wrong,” he said. “Please tell me you are not intending to request aid from a realm we are also planning to declare war on?”
“Ok, I am not planning to request aid from a realm we are planning to declare war on,” Dae said. “I am planning on requesting aid from my mother.”
“Who is the next best thing to the current Queen of Paxmer!” Faen said.
“She’s very specifically refused that title,” Dae said.
“I am somewhat lost here,” Ogma said. “What can Lady Akorli’s mother do for us and why are we declaring war on Paxmer?”
“We aren’t declaring war on Paxmer,” Dae said. “Nor are we declaring war on Senkin.”
“But we are preparing to fight on four fronts at once,” Faen said. “Which is suicidal.”
“I agree,” Dae said. “We can’t fight enemies on all sides. That doesn’t mean we can afford allow ourselves to be attacked from any side though.”
“I’m not sure I see the distinction between those two in practical terms,” Ogma said. “Where are we going to deploy our forces?”
“Only where we need to,” Dae said. “Which is why the scouting mission is one I will ask the Paxmer Dragon Regent to assist us with.”
“Has it occurred to you that if your mother lends us the use of Paxmer’s dragons, those monsters will be in perfect position to ravage our countryside when we declare war on Paxmer?” Faen asked.
“The Paxmer dragons still cannot abide our soul, or Inchesso’s,” Dae said. “We’re in no greater danger from them if we work together than if we remain separate. Less in fact, since if we’re working together we’ll know where they are.”
“How will the dragons be able to help us?” Ogma asked.
“You asked from battle carriages?” Dae said. “Dragons are substantially harder to shoot down than any war carriage ever made, and they can travel much farther.”
“How are we going to get down…” Ogma started to ask but cut herself off. “Pact wings. We’re going to send the scouts who are pact bonded in on the dragons. They can fly to ground and perform reconnaissance there!”
“Exactly,” Dae said.
“And how will we get them out again?” Faen asked.
“That’s what the army will be for,” Dae said.
“That’s courting disaster,” Faen said. “The scouts will be deep within hostile territory. No support. No supplies. Just themselves and for each one we lose, we’ll grow steadily less able to reach and help the others.”
“Sir Kemoral, you just described the exact situation the Scouting Corp trains for,” Ogma said. “We will have a challenging time managing the number of volunteers we’ll get for these missions.”
“Since when is the Scout Corp the crazy one?” Faen asked. “I thought the Breachers were supposed to be our near Berserker units?”
“No offense to your troops sir, but who do you think goes in before them and tells them where to go?” Ogma asked, a satisfied smile gracing her lips.
“Sleeping Gods preserve me,” Faen said, shaking his head. “Ok, so we might be able to make the Scout missions work. We still have the problem where we’re about to be invaded by the Green Council and our army is in a state of complete disarray.”
“We do have some difficulties to work out there,” Dae said. “The Royal Army needs to stay here in Highcrest. The nobles would revolt for their freedom without those swords nearby to remind them how vulnerable their necks are.”
“The Ducal forces are on formal lockdown in the home provinces,” Faen said. “So far fear of the Queen’s wrath have kept them in place, but in the face of an invasions, it’s difficult to say how they’ll react.”
“There is one other force we can call on,” Dae said.
“A commoner levy will be slaughtered,” Faen said. “Even if we could somehow arm them, they lack the training needed for a serious military venture and none of them would carry Pact spirits.”
“Queen Alari would never authorize a war levy for those very reasons,” Dae said. “But you’re forgetting about a standing military that is still loyal to the Queen.”
“The Dawns March?” Faen asked. “But they’re not common troops. They’re meant to keep the nobles in check, and they’re all specialists.”
“Special circumstances demand special troops,” Dae said.
“There aren’t enough of them though!” Faen said.
“Then we’ll have to work out a way to supplement their ranks,” Dae said. “We’ve got a half hour at least before the doors open, so let’s brainstorm how we’re going to produce four armies worth of troops when we can barely pull together a quarter of one at the moment.”
“Is it always like this?” Ogma asked.
Faen broke out a rare smile as he turned to the Scout Commander.
“No, no,” he said. “Usually it’s much worse.”