"My lord," Dalan meekly worded with a brief bow. "If we were to assist this rebellion, we would be making ourselves a direct target for Kaliat. Not only this but not aiding him to quell this uprising would rouse suspicion in other nearby clans. I have to come to suggest that we meet this call to arms with six thousand of our own warriors."
"This is preposterious!" roared the General of the Left, Master Fai Dan of the Southlands. His shout resonated through the Grand Hall as he let loose an open back hand at air to brush off the tactian's words. "Six thousand of our own men to Kaliat? We cannot simply deploy more than half our forces there to answer a small revolt!" cried out the old general.
"If my estimate is correct, this 'small revolt' as you said, would number roughly fifty thousand. Even with aid from Stromwel and Iden -- even with a keen strategic countermeasure -- The Capital of Kaliat stands little chance against a force of that size. This demand is to adequately support our Empire and its stability." Dalan replied defensively.
"Bah! Arrogance! Such a number seems to be drawn with no verity when Lang's forces have been reported to be no more than twelve thousand!" Fai Dan spat back vehemently, pointing and shaking a finger in Dalan's direction. "Your imaginings seem naught but pooled from out of the woods and dirt we walk upon."
"Indeed," Dalan said back with a smile before looking up at the Rear General's confused, vacant stare.
The Prefect Jourdyn leaned forward in his chair as his eyes fixed to Dalan's unusual expression, curious as to what the young tactician could see that the Fai Dan could not. "Explain, please. Where is this estimate of fifty thousand based from, Master Dalan?" Jourdyn asked in interest.
Dalan lightly folded his open hand over the other holding the owl fan, bowing his head slightly before answering. "My lord, while Master Fai Dan is correct in the estimate of Gravis's known military power, it does not account for the bulk of his entire force as a whole. If I may elaborate?"
"Continue," Jourdyn muttered with a rather intrigued nod.
"Lord Bardock Lang is known for his ability to lead and persaude the common people by acting as part of them," the young tactian replied, gesturing with his fan to point out of the Hall. With a sense of elegance, he slowly swept cool brushes of air to his face while exchanging glances between the two in his answer. "Whether these are his true feelings or a charade to move those to his will is not for me to discern at the moment," he said, "What stands as truth is that this power of inspiration remains his true weapon. He is also no fool; he knows his abilities and will use them to his advantage, regardless of intentions."
Jourdyn looked on while Fai Dan rolled his eyes in disbelief.
Dalan pressed on, bringing the fan back to his respectful position at the waist. "His people have been quite... liberal with their feelings toward our Emperor, as of late. Many are farmers, woodsmen and the like, some of which have been reported rioting in Kalah Province and near Black Gate."
"My lord, it--" Fai Dan began to interject, but Jourdyn raised a hand in the general's direction with a harsh glare to silence him. "Let him finish, Fai Dan," he sternly commanded, then looking back at Dalan whom went on to explain even further.
"These people openly support this uprising, my lord," said Dalan "They see this as a wake of revolution, a chance to end what they feel is oppression. Bardock knows his people well and with the amount of people and how prominent these professions are in Gravis, it is actually a safe estimate that nearly half are suited to fight and join the resistance. Doing so bolsters his forces without sacrificing too much of the land's cultural profit to fund his rebellion." Dalan paused for breath and looked to a speechless Fai Dan to make his point.
"So you see, my lord, Master Fai Dan is quite accurate in his accusation," the smiling tactian explained, "This sum I have brought before you is indeed pooled from the woods and dirt we walk upon -- or rather, that the common people walk upon. Woodsmen and farmers are still fit to fight despite lacking any martial training. Even while better skilled to chop wood with an axe or till fields with a pick, they will raise sword and spear when something gives them the right nudge. Lang will utilize and exploit this." Jourdyn grinned back slightly at the strategist, amused at the elaborate consideration as well as his advisor's potential.
"Master Dalan, I would like to speak with you more in private in my chambers while I consider this." said the prefect, "In the meantime, Fai Dan, I expect you to await my orders on this matter. I will send for you when I have come to a decision. You may go."
Fai Dan bowed, blinking with frustration but affirming that he would honor the command. "Yes -- Of course, my lord," stammered the general in embarassment.
Dalan also took a bow, turning the fan so that it was held behind his back before following Jourdyn out of the grand hall. However, what Jourdyn could not hear was a sigh of relief from the tactical advisor, as Dalan seemed to know his lord's decision already.
It was already past noon and the sun was beginning to descend into the east. Preparations must be made and all he could do is trust Dalan at this point.
Janos Rand strolled from the fortress courtyard with a heavy heart of both concern and devotion. His dark grey robes swayed with the gentle breeze as he made his way into the neighboring city. It was long since a time that he was last able to gaze about the city in wonder and a small but proud smile made its return to his lips. Passing by citizens on busy streets, he once more took in the prosperity that was his home: Sothreath, a warm-weathered port city on the southern coast of Azelas.
Sothreath consisted mostly of crude, box-like buildings constructed from stone or whiterock clay. It's structures served as houses, inns, taverns and store-fronts for many a capable merchant. The city had always flourished with business in these hours. Street vendors displaying their varieties of domestic and foreign goods, most within wooden kiosks along city roads. Most of these kiosks and lean-tos were covered in tattered sheets of cloth to protect wares and merchants from beating sunlight, or occasional rain showers that were common in the Fall. Among these many curiosities were coats made from tanned animal hides, which were commonly taken from the hunting of feral hounds found in both Shurad and Gravis. Other goods included exquisite textiles and frabrics from the seat of the Empire, Kaliat. Trinkets and jewelry from Tristam and Rast were also fairly common. Sothreath's food markets had always seen repeated business; selling meat from cattle and crops from the farm countryside as the laborors hauled frieght from the docks to the south. Truly, the land of Azelas thrived most from within its heart and prize-jewel; the trading hub of Sothreath.
However, he could see the fear in the peoples' hearts. The Prefect had not yet addressed the current political concerns to the common rabble, likely out of fear that it would choke economic and moral stability. Despite this, even they could sense that something was terribly wrong. Rumors of House Gravis and its cecession had likely reached them and this was already beginning to shake the foundation of the Azelas people. It was only a matter of time before the civil unrest to the north would spurn a greater calamity here at home.
If the Empire fell and the land were divided once more, trade routes between the Houses and Clans would also be fractured. Crime would begin to be a dire problem and the country would be fighting its own people. There were also other nearby clans could view that situation as an opportunity to take control. All of this prosperity would be gone due to Bardock Lang's play for power.
He had to make sure that the men were ready to march soon, but he needed to stop somewhere first. His family.
"Brock, I don't give a damn if you are the Prefect's youngest son or the damned Emperor, himself! You've had enough -- The bottle, now!" cried Ashe, the barkeep of the Vermillion Barque, a popular inn and tavern near Sothreath's Docks.
Commonly frequented by sailors and other soldiers that lived in the district, the Vermillion Barque was no stranger to loud, starry nights of drunken revels.
A stout but well-muscled General of the Right, Brock Etavi waved his hand dismissively at the sprightly lass, laughing in drunken stupor while barely able to sit up in his chair. He brushed back the blonde strands of hair in his face, sweeping them back to join the rest over his half-shaven scalp. "You have a lot of fire -hic- ...woman," he said grinning carelessly, glaring at the comely lass with one eye half-open and the other completely closed. "I -hic- like that. It reminds me of me."
"Don't look at me like that, dammit. And you've had enough! Give me...the bottle!" she spat back, finally prying the wine bottle from the warrior's grip.
"H-Hey! If I wanted a new caretaker I could have asked for a priestess at Lightshore Temple," he slurred, his voice changing in volume as he clumsily wagged his finger at both Ashes walking off with the bottle. "But I chose you, lass! It's a... It's a compliment. Hey! Come back... with my wine..."
"I guess you are still in a good mood after all that's been happening, lately." spoke a familiar beritone voice from behind. Brock jerked back in his chair, nearly falling to the floor.
It was Robillard Strahn, a trader and economic advisor in the Docks District that had been known for his gift in tactics. He was called Rob by most of the locals, including Brock, whom had been his best friend for many years.
"Rrrraaaahb!" Brock shouted in his friend's face with glazed eyes and a curled smirk. Rob could smell his breath even from several steps away, which reeked of local wine and perhaps even some yensan brew from Tristam.
"Ugh," Rob protested, taking another step back from his drunk friend. "So, how long have ya been at this, then?"
"Hic...'bout two bottles ago... I think," Brock slurred back sluggishly while gazing aimlessly around the tavern. Finally, he glanced over his shoulder towards Ashe as she was clearing tables, "But somebody had to ruin my fun!" Ashe looked back at them both and sighed.
"Please take him with you," she begged, just as she was carrying empty mugs and glasses back to the kitchen behind the bar.
"Heeey! How 'bout a bottle for my friend! ...Come back!" Brock yelled flatly to the kitchen but Ashe ignored him and continued working.
"Yeah, I'd like that but we should probably get ya sober and back home," Rob replied. "B'sides, a messenger came by the shop this morning and told me to come get ya."
"Huh? Hic... w-what messenger? What are you talkin' about?" asked the General with unconvincing concern and a shaking voice.
"Your brother and cousin both called for you to a war council," said Rob. "And you-- You didn't go, did you?"
"Nope," Brock said bluntly. "I was -hic- here all night."
"Of course you were," chimed in Rob with a grin, "Come on, up we go!"
Brock draped one of his arms around Rob's back, anchoring over the shoulders and neck while his burly friend hoisted him from of his stool. Together, they both walked him towards the door leading into the steets. Ashe peeked her head out of the kitchen for a moment and smirked, "Be careful, you two. Brock, come back when you are less sloshed... and less unbearable, alright?"
"Hic...Heh, I love you too, Ashe," the young General muttered flatly before they could made it outside. "Now Rob, what's going on with my brother?"
Rob sighed in reply, carrying his armored friend that was leaning against him while watching for passersby in the way. "Dalan is trying to influence your Dad to join the fight against the rebels... in his usual odd way." He stopped at the side of the street while looking to Brock as he finished, "And only Heaven knows what Janos is doing, right now."
"Wait, you mean they aren't at the council together?" Brock asked him, now attempting to fight off his intoxication. He clinched his fists and forced his glazed, weary eyes to open just a bit more.
Rob continued with him toward the fortress. "No," he answered. "They both split up a moment ago; Dalan is still in House Etavi, probably in the war room or his private chambers."
"An' Janos?" Brock mouthed slowly before letting out a faint yawn.
"Like I said, I don't know," said Rob, "But if I had to guess, he might have left to see his wife and kid."
Brock blinked several times, feeling the wine gradually leaving his body as he continued to draw breath, "Sounds like this is getting serious. Well, you know... more serious."
"Yeah, seems that way. From the looks of Kaliat trying to get more support from the neighboring fiefs, combined with how your brother has been acting lately? I'd say he's going to need your axe and shield," Rob said evenly, before lacing in a teasing tone, "I don't think you'll be much good if ya can't keep yer head out of that wine cask."
Brock chuckled before nodding his head lazily. Both eased up the steps of the keep while the insufferable drunk spat back one last time.
"Hic, heh heh... freaking smartass."