Prophecy of Tears: CH5: Fury
Fury - part 3
Sirdar Ashrod Starkweather of the Order of the Coiled Dragon shook his white-maned head and surveyed the multitude of officers packed into the theater-like briefing chamber of the Gladius Dei. Nearly every Pennant and Talon Commander of the Order of Wrath and the Order of the Coiled Dragon was in attendance for this briefing. Starkweather shook his head and returned his attention to Fury.
"Sirdar-Prime," he said slowly. "With all due respect, the brethren hold grave misgivings about the course you're setting us on. Our knights will follow your lead, of course." He produced a tired, wintry smile. "But the fact remains that we are all committing treason."
The last word fell into a crystalline silence, a fragile space between heartbeats. Fury felt the tension curdling the air. The last civil war in the Blood Eagle had been ages ago, but it stood as the most bloodily fratricidal war in tribal history. No one wanted to relive that horror.
She nodded gravely and fixed her gaze on Starkweather. "Sier Starkweather, believe me, I appreciate your candor. For the last week, you've all worked like the devil's own to mobilize our forces for an offensive aimed at Outermost. The pressure has been tremendous. I thank you -- all of you." Then she allowed herself a smile of genuine pleasure, sharing that feeling with the entire assembly. "Your labors have borne fruit."
Starkweather's granite features remained impassive, but Fury glimpsed the spark of puzzlement in his eyes. Puzzlement… and interest.
"Ma'am?" he asked. "This old soldier may be missing something. Would the Sirdar-Prime care to elaborate?"
"Of course. Hakim, begin the briefing."
Sikkyn-Captain Hakim Sevaya stood, holding a control pad in one slender hand. He was Fury's intelligence officer and together with Narr-Captain Felice Chalad, one of the two constant fixtures on Fury's staff. The crew of the Gladius Dei had christened the pair "Fury's Ravens." Eventually, the Pennant officers and knights picked up the nickname, so these days everyone knew who "the Ravens" were.
He cleared his throat before beginning. "Siers, one week ago you received instructions to begin mobilizing for a massive offensive into the Erasmus Axis. The goal of such an assault would drive through the systems held by Chapters of the Order of the Talon and thence to Outermost." He paused for a moment as a large holo-display unfolded darkly in the space above them, displaying the chain of star systems between Charybdis and the Blood Eagle heartworld of Outermost. "The seat of the Great Eagle and the heart of House Konovalev's holdings. The reason for such an assault was to galvanize the Exiled Bloodlines into mobilizing against an invasion. By mobilizing to defend against us, they would be more prepared when DiVaragas chose to move."
"'Was to galvanize,' Sikkyn-Captain?" interjected Starkweather.
Sevaya returned a curt nod. "'Was,' Honored Sier. Our goals have been accomplished."
Starkweather's face hardened. Even in the dim light of the chamber, Fury saw similar expressions on other faces as the realization dawned on her officer corps that they'd been used in a game of deception.
Unfazed by the rustle of murmurs, Sevaya continued. "The Konovalev have moved to a priority alert status, and Court has called for all Houses to call up the reserves. Tribal allies have been contacted as well. House Nagashima is gathering its levies, as are the DeBures and - reluctantly - the Eun Alba. The Sabot-Styx have moved to secure gateway worlds. The Halakar have shifted the bulk of their peripheral forces to Bira Marduk. The Order of the Talon are already combat-ready. It appears Sirdar Do'Brennin has kept his Pennants on priority alert for some time."
"Old Marius was always a canny one," observed Starkweather. "And of course we Starkweather have already mobilized. The Order of the Coiled Dragon has been here for over three months." He addressed Fury directly. "Cut to the chase, milady. You've just told us our opponents are preparing themselves so that any venture we make toward Outermost will be a bloody, costly fight. I thought the point of our rapid mobilization was to catch them off guard. It now appears that hope is impossible." Several dozen heads nodded agreement.
Fury held up a hand and stood, forestalling Sevaya's answer and motioning him to sit. It was time.
"Sirdar Starkweather and all of you: let me apologize for misleading you. However, doing so was necessary to accomplish our intent." As she spoke, she felt her control war with a surge of passion. "For too long, we have waited for the Great Eagle and the Exiled Bloodlines to reinforce us against an imminent Starwolf invasion. We have fought along the Starwolf border in the hope of distracting DiVaragas. We have tried to consolidate our frontier to guard our tribe's holdings. We have even tried to negotiate, using the Children of Phoenix as an intermediary." She smiled humorlessly. "Once."
"Now we wait in the shadow of the Wolf. With the numbers facing us under the leadership of Ursula DiVaragas, our only choice is to be crushed. Or so we have come to believe." She leaned forward, both hands on the mirrored table before her. "The Bloodlines look for a sign before they will commit to helping us. By the time DiVaragas finishes with us, they will have that sign. But Siers, I tell you that I do not care to wait for death." Her voice took a sudden edge. "We are mobilized for an invasion. Let us not waste that effort.
"I am bound for Ymir, to strike the Wolf in the teeth." Fury swept the room with her gaze, watched a shockwave of stunned expressions pass through her audience. "We will come to grips with DiVaragas on our terms, Siers. We choose the time of battle! We choose the place! We will hit the yappers in the core of their strength and show them they are not invincible!" Heart pounding, she took a breath and moderated her voice to a calm tone, as if she were asking someone to tea. "Will you join me?"
For a moment, no one moved. This time the silence was electric. Then Starkweather jolted to his feet.
"Raw God," he said in a near-whisper. "This is insane. But it's not treason…!" His face lit up as he roared, "I'm with you, by Blessed Christ and Holy Hunter! I'm with you, Sirdar-Prime! And all the Starkweather Bloodline as well! Lead us to Ymir!"
The room thundered as her other officers surged to their feet en masse, echoing Starkweather's sentiment with cries of "Ymir! Ymir! Ymir!"
Fury's good eye burned wetly. She lowered her head and blinked for a few moments until self-control returned.
Raw God. It had worked.
The Bloodlines were mobilizing, and she finally had the freedom to act. Her officers would follow her into the jaws of death. It was more than she dared hope for. It was exhilarating and intoxicating all at once. She pushed the feeling down as much as she could. Now more than ever, she needed her trademark coolheadedness.
After the tumult died down and the officers again occupied their seats, she smiled at the assembly. "Siers, I thank you for your loyalty. I need not tell you that you should keep this as secret as possible. We are now sealing all potential security leaks… since they've now served their purpose. Now," she turned to Sevaya. "The Sikkyn-Captain will resume the briefing. It should come as no surprise that you will have different assignments and different targets." A smattering of laughter greeted this comment.
She sat as Sevaya stood. The holodisplay now showed an icy world frosted with a legion of clouds.
The display shifted, the viewpoint pulling away from the planet and retreating into space. Red triangles appeared around Ymir itself and spead in clusters at the planet's Lagrange points. More red triangles appeared in the vicinity of the jumpgate. The sheer number of red triangles settled the mood in the room instantly.
"Raw God--!" someone breathed. Fury saw many officers shift uncomfortably.
Ymir. The Starwolf Muster, the largest army ever assembled in the wilderzone. Ursula DiVaragas, who had sworn an Oath of Vengeance against the Blood Eagle for the death of her son.
Fury was reminded of an ancient poem, one that celebrated the glory of a doomed charge against impossible odds. What was the line that summed up their situation? she wondered. Ah, yes: 'Into the teeth of hell rode the gallant six hundred….'
Maybe someday a minstrel would sing of the Blood Eagle's charge into Ymir. After the Zone Vox witnesses had spread it as news, of course. But first….
First there was work to be done.
"Siers," began Sevaya in his usual detached manner, "there is a POW camp here, next to the planetary capital of Skyrholm…."
Chapter 5: Start