A Novel of Ethshar

The Spell of the Black Dagger

An Outtake: Chapter Thirty-Eight

Welcome to a section I wrote in an early draft of The Spell of the Black Dagger, then cut before sending it off to the publisher.

This time it's an entire chapter I removed as unnecessary to the story. This was the original Chapter Thirty-Eight, showing the ruling triumvirate of the Hegemony of the Three Ethshars debating what they should do about Tabaea.

Chapter Thirty-Eight

"What if I married her?" the young man said, leaning back in his high-backed chair.
     "What good would that do?" a woman seated along the wall demanded.
     "Well, then she'd be legitimate, you see," the young man explained. "She'd be part of the family."
     "Lord Wulran," a middle-aged man seated at the little table said, "we cannot leave this woman on my father's throne!"
     "Of course not," a somewhat older man declared. "She's nothing but a thief and a usurper."
     "She's a thief and usurper who conquered a city, Lord Azrad," Wulran pointed out.
     "What of it?" Azrad VII, overlord of Ethshar of the Spices, snapped.
     "Well, that's rather more than you or I did to win our thrones, you know. Don't you think we might find some way to use this ambition, rather than destroying it?"
     "No," Azrad replied, "I don't. Don't make me regret your father's untimely death any more than I already do, Wulran."
     Wulran III, overlord of Ethshar of the Rocks, flushed angrily. "You leave my father out of this," he replied.
     "You seem determined to leave my father out, as well, Wulran," Ederd the Heir answered. "I won't have it. He must be restored to his throne immediately!"
     "If it's so damned important, then why isn't he here to speak for himself?" Wulran demanded.
     "Because he's a sick old man -- he can't leave his bed. The trip here was too much for him."
     "Oh, but ruling a city isn't?"
     Ederd rose to his feet, fists clenched in fury; Azrad raised a calming hand.
     "It's not your father you're concerned about," Wulran said, when the tension had subsided slightly. "It's yourself. You want your chance to rule a city. I don't blame you, you know; seven years ago, much as I loved my father, I wanted my turn, too, and you've been waiting a lot longer than I ever did. I didn't want it as soon as I got it, but you're what, fifty years old, and still waiting?"
     Ederd almost snarled. "I'm forty-seven, which you could remember if you tried, and you, my dear nephew, are a spoiled child who never had to grow up, and I think it's a shame that the laws of primogeniture said that the throne should pass to the son, and not one of your aunts. Overlord at nineteen! The gods must have decided to play a joke on us all, taking your father when they did!"
     "And they played a crueler one on you, leaving your father so long!" Wulran retorted. "If you're thinking you'd be ruling in my place if my aunts had been in the line of succession, you're forgetting that your wife has two older sisters."
     "I hadn't forgotten," Ederd replied. "Either of them would be better than you, and you'd be a better man if you ever bothered to listen to their advice..."
     "Both of you," Azrad bellowed, "silence!"
     The two younger men settled back in their seats, glaring sullenly at one another.
     When Azrad was reasonably sure that Wulran and Ederd were not going to start shouting again, he looked around the room at the gathered nobles and courtiers, then got to his feet and announced, "We cannot possibly approve what this Tabaea has done. She has no claim to the rulership of our sister city, Ethshar of the Sands; she isn't of noble blood, by any definition, and no higher authority than her own has appointed her. Ederd the Fourth is the rightful overlord, and his son after him, should the overlord be unable to resume his duties. The question is not whether or not we should accept Tabaea's usurpation; it's what we should do about the fact that we do not accept it."
     "What can we do?" Wulran asked, as he slouched to one side and rested his chin on his hand.
     "You can send your armies to take the city," Ederd replied. "You can send the navy to blockade the harbor."
     Azrad and Wulran exchanged glances.
     "I think you better tell him, Lord Azrad," Wulran said. "He won't believe it from me."
     Azrad sighed. "My dear cousin Ederd," he said, "We aren't going to send any armies. We can't. And we don't even have a navy worthy of the name. I wish your father had kept you more up to date on these matters."
     "So do I," Ederd replied. "Why can't you?"
     "Because we don't have real armies any more; we have the city guard. Fighting a battle, staging a siege or storming a walled city, that's not the same thing as catching thieves or collecting taxes or breaking up a riot. Our soldiers are strong and brave enough, and we train them how to defend our cities, but they don't know anything about attacking them."
     "They could learn..."
     "Of course they could -- but while they're learning, what will Tabaea and her followers be doing? Who'll be guarding our cities? And then there are the matters of supply -- we don't have enough oxen and wagons to make a proper supply train any more, we'd have to take them from the merchants and farmers, and how long do you think our people would stand for that? And if we wanted to mount cavalry -- well, we couldn't, there aren't enough horses, not even if we stripped bare the stables of every aristocrat in the entire city. We've been at peace for over two hundred years, Ederd, and armies are expensive, and a good army is always looking for an excuse to fight, and none of my ancestors -- or your ancestors, or Wulran's -- wanted that. If we had real armies, we'd have been fighting each other, or trying to conquer the Small Kingdoms, or raiding into Sardiron, and what good would any of that do? My five-times-great grandfather, and your own ancestor Anaran, and Wulran's progenitor Gor of the Rocks, quite deliberately destroyed the vast army they inherited when the Great War ended, and they did that to ensure that while we might not have perfect peace, at least we wouldn't have any more really big wars."
     Ederd absorbed this for a moment. To help himself understand, he tried to picture his own city guard, led by Lord Torrut, attacking Azrad's city, Ethshar of the Spices.
     The image was, he had to admit, quite absurd.
     "Lord Azrad didn't even mention that there aren't any roads an army from my city could use," Wulran added quietly.
     "And the navy...?" Ederd asked.
     "We don't have a navy," Azrad said. "We have a harbor patrol. By the gods, man, if we had a navy, would the Pirate Towns still be flourishing?"
     Ederd considered that; Wulran added, "I went through this with old Azrad here about five years ago, Uncle Ederd. I wanted to stamp out the pirates -- after all, I'm hurt the worst of any of us by them, since my city's the only one west of the cape. Azrad sat me down with his treasurer and mine, and ran through the costs and profits. And they're still there, aren't they?"
     "Not worth the trouble to destroy," Ederd said. "I know that. But they didn't overthrow an overlord..."
     "Not worth the risk of fighting them, really," Azrad said. "If we could be absolutely certain of defeating them quickly and easily, it might be worthwhile. But if we lost, or even just didn't do as well as we expected -- well, there are a lot of ambitious kings and princes in the Small Kingdoms, and troublesome barons in Sardiron, and who knows, maybe someday the Tintallionese will stop fighting each other and look elsewhere. Right now, none of them ever even think of attacking the Hegemony of the Three Ethshars -- we're too big, too rich, too powerful, we're the people who destroyed the Northern Empire. And we're big and rich, all right, but we aren't anywhere near as powerful as people think we are. That's one reason we're rich, we haven't been wasting money on swords and soldiers. We're living on our reputation."
     "And you think that we might lose, if we fought this Tabaea?"
     "If we fight anyone, and don't immediately wipe our enemies from the face of the World, that will show the World that it's possible to fight us," Azrad explained. "And from then on we'll be fighting for our lives constantly, until we either lose or turn ourselves into a single huge garrison, or maybe defeat everyone else and wind up ruling an even larger empire than we have now. I don't want to rule a worldwide empire, Ederd, where I'd be constantly worrying about assassins and rebellions and palace intrigue. It's bad enough with a single city and the shared Hegemony."
     Ederd turned toward Wulran, who shrugged.
     "You know me, Uncle Ederd," he said. "I know you may think I'm foolish, but I hope you don't think I'm a coward, or not ambitious enough. Look into what it would cost, what it would mean, to build up a real army and navy and be ready to fight anyone. It would take over your entire life. And even then, it might not work; Lord Azrad hasn't mentioned the real problem with armies, and why we don't want to fight Tabaea openly."
     "What's that?"
     "Magic, of course," Wulran replied.
     Ederd turned to Azrad, who nodded. "I thought you understood that," the older man said. "In the Small Kingdoms they can fight wars because they all have an understanding that nobody will use magic -- or at least, they used to, though that's all been different since Semma became the Empire of Vond. And you'll notice that there haven't been many wars since Vond got started; it's gotten too risky."
     "I've heard that," Ederd admitted.
     Azrad nodded. "And in Tintallion, the magicians all agreed on their own to stay out of the fighting. Well, here in the Hegemony, we've never had any rules against using magic. In fact, quite the opposite -- we have a tradition of using magic in everything, and especially in wars. That's another reason nobody dares attack us; they'd expect to find themselves facing a hundred angry wizards. Probably would, too, if they attacked out of the blue. But if we attacked someone -- well, you've dealt with the Wizards' Guild, haven't you?"
     "Sometimes," Ederd admitted.
     "Then you know what they're like." Azrad gestured hopelessly. "They're crazy, Ederd. And half the time the other magicians are even worse. The theurgists and demonologists hate each other, the witches are as trustworthy as cats, sorcery doesn't work when you really need it, and the warlocks are all completely mad. If we started a war, we'd find magicians on both sides, and probably changing sides at random, or suddenly deciding in the middle of a battle that they can't interfere in politics any more, and there'd be spells going wrong, and demons running around loose..."
     "But this Tabaea murdered magicians!"
     "Yes, but she is a magician," Azrad countered. "For all we know, this is all some factional dispute in the Wizards' Guild. And when wizards argue, the only sane thing for anyone else to do is to stay as far out of the way as possible."
     "But... but then, what are we going to do?"
     Azrad VII let out a long sigh.
     "What he means," said the overlord of Ethshar of the Rocks, shifting over to lean on the other elbow, "Is that we're going to do what we always do when these things happen, what we did when Sardiron rebelled and when the Pirate Towns set up their little federation.
     Ederd turned from Wulran to Azrad, then to the faces farther from the table -- Azrad's sister Imra, several of Wulran's aunts, Ederd's own uncle Edarth.
     "Well, it's not all that bad," Azrad said, seeing Ederd's expression. "Lord Torrut's messenger reports that his men have made two assassination attempts so far, and while the Wizards' Guild isn't telling us anything useful, they do say that they expect to remove the usurper shortly. There are reports of unrest among the citizens, at all levels, and the Council of Warlocks says they're very dissatisfied with Tabaea's treatment. Sooner or later, someone will dispose of her without our doing anything, and you'll be able to walk right back in."
     "If whoever kills her hasn't taken her place," Ederd replied, "Or if the entire city hasn't been ruined.
     Azrad shrugged.

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