|Babylon 5: The Lord Roglark Saga
Author: Illithid PM
A multi-part story dealing with the life and times of a Centauri House Lord Jentavus Roglark , as well as others from the younger races. Mostly canon, it takes place after the Dilgar War but before the Earth-Minbari War.Rated: Fiction T - English - Sci-Fi - Chapters: 12 - Words: 75,696 - Reviews: 4 - Favs: 5 - Follows: 4 - Updated: 03-07-12 - Published: 03-28-11 - id: 6853076
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
December 21, 2241: Immolan District Orbital Anchorage, Terhali's Satisfaction
The last time the galaxy had truly seen the Centauri Republic go to war was against the Orieni Empire, over three centuries ago. All of the other myriad skirmishes, engagements, actions, conflicts, and battles, were against vastly inferior enemies. When the Centauri came against older less robust races, often they retreated without fighting, allowing the Centauri to absorb their abandoned colonies. More than a score of unique cultures fell before the awesome might of the Centauri Republic, some never to be seen again. Many of the conquered worlds were unable to even fend off the Centauri fleets; others never raised a finger in their defense, simply thinking the Centauri gods. Even when the Narn fought them in The Uprising, had the Centauri been united and all working together, the Narns would have remained slaves, or become one of those unique cultures that simply vanished.
But the Centauri were not united during The Uprising, and thus began what they called the Dotargadore: the 'Long Retreat'. In less than twenty years the Centauri had fallen back to borders that had not been on any map in living memory. Old Emperor Peraini, and much of the Republic, turned their eyes away from their former subjects for a time and looked elsewhere.
It was there that they found Earth, sometimes called Terra, and her people the humans. They were more similar to the Centauri in appearance than any species they had found (or conquered) up to that point. For once, the Centauri did exactly what they claimed to have done for others: they took Earth and her inhabitants to the stars. Now while some have claimed that without the superficial similarity both species shared, the Centauri would have enslaved them as they had so many others, it did seem to many that the Centauri were genuinely fond of Earth and her people.
Eventually, however, the novelty wore off, and Earth lost some of its shine in the eyes of Old Emperor Peraini. It was never known what exactly caused his change of heart; it is entirely possible his madness alone provided whatever catalyst was necessary. In any event, the Centauri cast their covetous eyes upon Earth and her treasures. Old Emperor Peraini ordered his general, admirals, and a few select Houses, to secretly prepare invasion plans for the Earth Alliance.
Against their better judgment the Centauri military did as they were ordered. They developed a plan for a two-pronged assault jumping off from Quadrant 1 going to the Vega colony and Beta 9 simultaneously, and then hitting Orion and Proxima 3, and then combining for the Sol system itself. A bold plan that the Emperor found enticing, but his military knew would lead only to ruin. They judged the Earth Alliance (and rightly so) a power to be reckoned with. Perhaps not on the same level as the Centauri, or the Hyach yet, but certainly not to be scorned. In his mild madness Old Emperor Peraini demanded that forces be gathered, materials stockpiled, and forces trained.
One of the nobles chosen to spearhead the attack was Lord Quillan Roglark, the father of Jentavus. The Old Emperor had taken a liking to him, judging him steadfastly loyal to the Republic, putting Quillan Roglark deep into his confidence. The Emperor rewarded him with gifts for his loyalty repeatedly, even giving his House an Octurion-class battleship.
But like the other military leaders, Quillan saw the plan to invade as folly. It was he that first suggested that "...should we join in war against the Terrans, they will consider it a betrayal and regard our destruction their crusade, not stopping until Centauri Prime was ashes." Though he always appeared to be the Emperor's man, in reality he worked with the military to prevent any possibility of the invasion actually happening. Quillan had the foresight to see that if the Centauri Republic attempted to cross swords with the Earth Alliance at that time, without her full might and the support of many Houses, it might mean the end of the Republic. Quillan walked the razor's edge playing his double game with Old Emperor Peraini for nearly a decade, until at last the mild madness of the Emperor degraded his faculties enough to declare a Regency, allowing the plans to be shelved. Though Quillan did not live to see the Dilgar War, many which had know him saw his predictions about the Earth Alliance come true.
Lord Jentavus Roglark stood on the repaired Admiral's Walk of Terhali's Satisfaction, gazing out at the colony of Immolan V. It was one of the oldest and the most pleasant of the Centauri colonies, more of a second homeworld. The odor of fresh paint from the recent repairs still permeated the air of the ship. As Terhali's Satisfaction slowly turned to put the planet to her aft, the fleet came into view. It was a vast array, filling the skies above Immolan in every shade of purple, blue, silver, and gold: the might of the Centauri Republic. Warships of every kind were laid out in a perfect, lethal martial symmetry, waiting, straining for the moment their leashes were slipped. Lord Roglark felt a fierce moment of pride that he had lived long enough to see the Republic reawaken, along with a deep sense of satisfaction that he had had helped to rouse her from her ignoble slumber.
Fleet tankers were still moving through the armada, topping off the bunkers of those ships that carried fighters. Though Immolan had a proper orbital anchorage, it was overwhelmed by a fleet of this size. But then again short of Centauri Prime, or Quadrant 1, no other place had one even this large. Quadrant 17 did, once upon a time, but the station at Quadrant 17 would probably not be ready for at least another month. That was still a fantastically short amount of time from its virtual destruction, quite a feat of engineering considering the amount of damage it had sustained. Though it would not help on the first leg of the Drazi campaign, save as a supply depot, once the repairs had been completed ships could use it as a repair facility rather than go back to Immolan.
Many Houses, both Major and Minor had sent warships and men for the Drazi offensive. Most of the ships had jumped to Immolan, though some of the volunteer House units had to come from other systems and would join the fleet at the final rally point, Nefua III, before leaving Centauri space to fight the Drazi. Some of the fleet from Quadrant 17 was here as well, awaiting their vengeance and a chance to redress their shame. Many moderate Lords and their clients were now joining the fight, their pride of nation borne like a naked dagger: Hirso, Mollari, Jaddo, Harisha, Cartagia, and many more Houses all of the way up to the sixth tier. Their ships represented the most varied of the color schemes, each ship and squadron painted in accordance with the House's desire. Even a few of the more mercenary Basif Lords had sent a few ships, hoping to gain favor and prestige. A certain portion of the Imperial Guard had been released for the campaign, their classically painted warships standing out by their uniformity amongst the varied throng.
There were a great many of the Republican Reserve, the relatively drab ships having been here the longest. They had spent extra time being put through special training and integration at Immolan under Lord Roglark's direction. Like the other Republican units under his command in Quadrant 1, Lord Roglark wanted and needed them to operate as valued members of the fleet. The extra attention was already bearing fruit as they had improved performance in maneuvers and gunnery. They were at last feeling a sense of pride at being counted as equals to the other House units. In a display of that newfound pride, many of the Republican units had contrived to purchase more personalized paint schemes, often the cost being carried by the officers and crew. Many were realizing they did not have to be the bastard sons of the House units, and had every right to sit at table with them.
Many of the Vorchan Lords had sent portions of their fleets, a smaller group accompanying their squadrons personally. Among those personally going on campaign were his old friend Lord Brazita, who should have been Governor of Quadrant 17; 'Papa' Jarno, old enough to be Roglark's grandsire; Lords Crusis, Anethol, and Rojes, had come to personally lead their ships. House Trefara had sent their oldest son Stirius and a battlegroup based around their Octurion battleship Shalimar's Desire. Lord Refa, having just been named Ambassador to the Corillani Theocracy, was forbidden by law to leave on campaign. He had instead sent another battlegroup and his personal envoy in the form of Count Desdinova Tyrcos. But despite all this, many Vorchan Lords had sent only token forces, or prevaricated about coming on campaign. Most notable was Luco Vezini, founder of the Vorchan faction.
It had been decided at the meeting of theatre commanders that the war needed to be continued against the Drazi. The Massacre of Quadrant 17 could never have happened without the Drazi's active participation in drawing off and pinning down most of the late Lord Tesu's garrison. The Centauri Republic had made no demands: of remuneration, or trade concessions, or ceding of territory as recompense for their complicity with the Narn. Emperor Turhan had only requested an offer of apology, which had been promptly rebuffed by the headstrong Drazi government. They considered themselves a warrior people, well matched to any invaders. They had held off the Dilgar for more than two years, their leader Stro'kath being responsible for the death of the Dilgar's legendary tactician Dar'sen. In all their long history, no foreign invaders had ever set foot on their homeworld of Zhabar. They had skirmished with the Centauri (and all of their other neighbors) for nearly five centuries, often causing as much damage as they received.
But in all of those centuries, only a small fraction of the full might of the Republic had been brought to bear against the Drazi. The Centauri had used tactics to fight the Drazi much like the Dilgar had: holding actions, nuisance raids, hit and fade attacks, interceptions, and the occasional small pitched battle. But no longer.
Lord Roglark stood, arms clasped behind his back, gazing at the fleet he was to command. He saw a few shuttles putting off from various ships; their small ion drives flaring into blue-violet tails as they accelerated toward House Refa's flagship, the battlecrusier Rossingol's Truth. Lords Vezini and Refa had called a meeting of the present Vorchan Lords, nominally to celebrate the Scirafus Antopurna. It was an ancient tradition, literally translated as the 'Cup Before the Northwest Wind', a last drink between comrades before taking ship to war. In the days of the Xon Wars (where the tradition originated), the northwest wind blew most directly to the lands of the Xon. Lord Roglark also suspected they would also like to talk political strategy before the Emperor arrived insystem later today.
As Lord Roglark mused on the upcoming meeting, he heard ringing footsteps behind him. Lord Roglark turned to greet his friend, "Yes Captain?"
Captain Thendon Classion stopped and came to attention, clicking his iron-shod heels together and bowing from the waist. He stood from the bow, the short fringe of his Flag Captain epaulettes swaying. "My Lord," he said, "You asked to be reminded when we are to depart for Rossingol's Truth."
Lord Roglark sighed then smiled at his friend, glad that most of Thendon's wounds had healed so splendidly. He still had a small bit of facial and body scarring, but Lord Roglark knew Thendon would bear those new scars in pride.
Today would be a busy day, first the Scirafus, followed by a visit from the Emperor when he arrived this evening. Emperor Turhan had chosen to honor Lord Roglark with a private audience upon his arrival. The Emperor was also paying him a fine compliment, as the audience was to be aboard Terhali's Satisfaction. He could have simply commanded Lord Roglark to an audience either on the surface at the Adjunct Palace, or aboard his own ship Son of Kiro, before the fleet left the anchorage at Immolan.
"Let us be about it then," he said. Lord Roglark strode off the Admiral's Walk, with Captain Classion in tow. As he exited the bridge he said, "Ante-Commander Ordillo you have the conn."
The third-officer, a relation of the House Telepath Trajus, snapped to attention from his console saying "Aye my Lord!" Lord Roglark's last view of the bridge before the lift doors closed was of Ordillo, sitting down in the ornate Captain's chair.
The lift carried Captain Classion and Lord Roglark deep into the interior of Terhali's Satisfaction. Twice the lift had stopped to admit other men of the crew, each greeting him with bow and a "Good day my Lord."
They all exited the lift at its terminus, the dismissed junior men scattering quickly ahead of Lord Roglark and Captain Classion. The lift was not in a direct line above the flight deck, causing Lord Roglark, Classion, and the crewmen to follow two side corridors. Men stopped and came to attention as they walked, with Lord Roglark waving them onward past him, knowing that they had other duties to perform.
Lord Roglark and Captain Classion arrived at the flight deck, crossing its vast expanse to the waiting shuttle. The escort fighters were thrumming in the launch frames, waiting for the launch alert. Captain Classion walked up the ramp into the shuttle, Lord Roglark one step behind. The flight crews saluted as the door sealed. Lord Roglark and Captain Classion settled into their chairs. A squad of House Roglark marines had already boarded and were using handholds for the lift off. The launch alarm sounded causing the flight crews to scatter. The engines of the four escorting Sentri fighters ramped up to a shriek even as the engines of the shuttle rose to a new higher crescendo.
Abruptly the escorts catapulted out into space, the shuttle following at a much more sedate pace. Lord Roglark stared out of the viewport, momentarily seeing Immolan below before it jumped out of his vision as the shuttle turned into the fleet.
Following the escorting fighters, the shuttle ran down through the fleet to Lord Refa's battlecrusier, Rossingol's Truth. Lord Roglark snorted and shook his head in disapproval at the name of the ship. Lord Refa was showing his hubris at naming a cruiser in the manner of a battleship. House Refa had no Octurion-class battleship, and clearly had named this battlecruiser in emulation.
The shuttle slowed, lining up with the flight bay on the battlecruiser. Unlike the battleships, the flight deck on cruisers was to the aft, between the drives. The drives themselves barely glowed, producing just enough thrust to keep the ship on station. The fighters peeled off as Lord Roglark's shuttle passed through the energy field that retained the atmosphere. He briefly glimpsed a group of others standing on the deck as the shuttle landed.
The door opened as the ramp slid down to the deck. Lord Roglark could hear several men just beyond the threshold. He stepped down the ramp into the brighter lighting of the flight deck. The officer of the deck stepped forward as Lord Roglark asked, "Permission to come aboard?"
While bowing from the waist the officer said "Aye, my Lord! Permission granted. Lord Refa bids you welcome!"
Lord Roglark, Captain Classion, and a pair of marines walked over to the group of nobles that had already landed. In the group were Lord Ansilo, Minor Lord Esposial, and Count Mintrose, all with their retinues of officers, soldiers, and functionaries. The Vorchan nobles made sounds of welcome as Lord Roglark, Captain Classion, and their marines joined the crowd.
Lord Refa's Sub-Prefect appeared from a side corridor. He cleared his throat loudly to get everyone's attention, then said, "My Lords, gentlemen, if you will please follow me I will take you to Lord Refa and his other guests."
They all followed as the Sub-Prefect led them into the bowels of the battlecrusier. All of the other nobles deferred to Lord Roglark as he took the front position in the procession. As they were led to the other Vorchan nobles, Lord Roglark surreptitiously inspected the interior of Refa's ship. Everywhere he looked, the functional structure of the cruiser was hidden by ostentatious displays of wealth. It seemed every fitting was gilded; every surface covered with reliefs, even the floors had a sound-deadening coating. He noticed some unfamiliar, oddly shaped structures in a few of the alcoves. He drifted over to one of them as they walked to get a closer look. What he found gave him a start. "Great Maker!" he thought, "Those are statues!" Lord Roglark was stunned in spite of himself. He had never seen a warship decked out in such finery save Son of Kiro, the Emperor's personal cruiser. He wondered if the vessel was even intended for battle.
Captain Classion, always sensitive to his Lord's disposition, inspected the ornamentation as well. Shaking his head Classion said quietly, "Unless all of this is physically bolted to the floors and walls my Lord, I think Lord Refa is in for quite a surprise once Rossingol's Truth comes under fire."
Lord Roglark grunted in agreement. He had heard a slowly rising undercurrent of noise as they got closer to their destination. The group rounded a corner and came to a loud, brightly lighted room. Lord Roglark thought for a moment about the layout of a typical Primus-class battlecruiser and knew they were entering the area close to the captain's quarters. He immediately saw differences from the standard battlecruiser: the hallways had been obviously changed, and he could not recall such a large room in this part of a Primus.
They entered a room full of officers, marines, and honor guards. They all saluted the newcomers, giving Lord Roglark a quick "Zu-ah!" Except for the newcomers, there were no nobles in the room. Lord Roglark saw two House Refa marines, armed and standing at attention on either side of a door.
"My Lords," the Sub-Prefect said, "Lord Refa awaits in the adjoining room."
Count Mintrose and Lords Ansilo and Esposial broke off their conversations and made their way to the other door. Lord Roglark shook his head once, glancing at Captain Classion, regretting that he was to be left behind. Classion caught his look, gave Lord Roglark a half smile and slightly shrugged. Lord Roglark shook his head disapproval at Lord Refa's segregation. In this room were the men of action, the ones that would be taking their ships into harm's way. "The Scirafus was meant for these men as well as for me, " he thought.
As they crossed the threshold, Lord Roglark's ears hummed and he experienced a brief moment of vertiginous nausea. "Lord Refa must be using scatter generators to prevent eavesdropping," he thought. "I wonder why..." He had once or twice experienced similar feelings in the sanctums of the wealthy and powerful, as he crossed the boundary of a scatter generators' field. Most nobles used the simpler interference modules to prevent being recorded electronically. Scatter generators were large, often having to be built into a structure. They were also hideously expensive as they not only prevented audio recording, but also created a subsonic 'noise' that supposedly prevented most telepaths from being able to concentrate their abilities.
The other Vorchan Lords glanced at the doorway as Lord Roglark and his accompanying group entered. They promptly gave short bows and words of greeting. Tables of refreshments had been laid out though there were no servants in attendance; they had been dismissed, as the Scirafus Antopurna was for nobles and soldiers alone. Recorded background music played as Lord Roglark walked over to where Lord Luco Vezini, Lord Matan Quaros, and Lord Antono Refa were talking with Lord Toden 'Papa' Jarno. Of Refa's associate, Count Desdinova Tyrcos, there was no sign.
Whipcord-thin, Toden Jarno was of average height though he appeared shorter as he stood slightly stooped, using an ornate bone and platinum sword cane. The cane was legendary, having been carved from the bones of a Narn that he had killed with his own hands during The Uprising. His silvery-white fan of hair bobbed as he talked animatedly with Refa and Vezini. Over a century old, he had outlived all of his sons and daughters and most of his grandchildren. Many Houses were salivating about what would happen to the proud House Jarno after 'Papa' was gone. His only surviving male grandson was a guileless, dreaming simpleton married to an unattractive harridan.
A smile split Lord Jarno's elegantly mustachioed face as he saw Lord Roglark approach. "Roglark!" he said. His gnarled hand snatched up a full brivari goblet from a table. He extended it saying, "Come, come, have a glass and join us." He winked at Lord Roglark with one slightly rheumy eye and said, "I do believe you will recognize the vintage."
Lord Roglark took the proffered goblet, nodding to Quaros, Refa, and Vezini. As he savored the first sip, Lord Roglark realized with a bit of surprise that it was his family's label. "It is from my House," he said. House Roglark turned out good brivari, in the older, less refined, unblended style. It sold well with the middle classes and lower nobility.
Lord Refa gave his typical slash smile and said, "I made sure we were stocked with your House's vintage in honor of you Roglark." With Refa, things were often not as they appeared, and Lord Roglark wondered if there was a deeper purpose behind the obvious salute. He could think of nothing specific, but he knew Lord Refa could clearly afford the ultra-premium level of liquor.
Lord Roglark glanced at the other Vorchan nobles mingling about the room. He noticed two that were not of the Vorchan faction: Lord Urza Jaddo, and Lord Londo Mollari. He knew they were close friends, having been in the same fighting society as youths. Jaddo seemed to have made himself comfortable, his brash personality fitting in with the present company. He was one of the most recent moderate Lords that had joined the campaign, welcoming the chance to add his House's warships in the campaign against the Drazi. Lord Roglark could tell by his tone and words that it would not be long before Lord Jaddo counted himself among the Vorchans rather than as a moderate.
Of Mollari, Lord Roglark was not so sure. He seemed a bit more withdrawn than his friend Jaddo, though Lord Roglark knew his reputation as a careful strategist. He was a bit surprised that Mollari had chosen to send ships for the campaign. Mollari was not coming with the fleet himself. Like Refa, Mollari was a sitting ambassador and had been forbidden to go on campaign. Lord Roglark knew he had pressing matters as Ambassador to the Earth Alliance. Mollari had recently been tasked to secure the continued neutrality of the Earth Alliance, to blunt any overtures of friendship from either the Narns or the Drazi, and to forestall any calls from the League for a crusade against the Republic like the one against the Dilgar. Lord Roglark caught his eye and briefly raised his glass in salute, Mollari returning in kind.
Lord Refa abruptly began striking his glass with a utensil, the crystalline ringing calling everyone's attention. Once all eyes were on him, he characteristically deferred to Lord Vezini. Refa preferred to work behind the scenes whenever he could. Lord Luco Vezini started the Scirafus Antopurna, calling upon the blessing of the Great Maker, asking for the aid of the Lord of War, the benevolence of the Master of the Waves, the favor of Mistress Fate, and the forbearance of Mother Death. Every man in the room gave the proper responses at the appropriate times. They all drained their glasses, and the final part of the Scirafus Antopurna began.
In the days during the Xon wars, those that were not going forth to battle each took a bottle and poured those taking ship a final glass, promising to keep the remainder to drink with them upon their victorious return. In the event that those going to battle did not return, those staying behind also promised to save the bottle for their fallen comrade's surviving sons. Should that not be possible, they were to pour the portion of the bottle belonging to their fallen comrade into the sea, that he might still drink it in the afterlife.
They all lined up into two rows, those going to war facing those staying behind. Lord Roglark was disturbed to see those leaving for war were outnumbered by more than two-to-one. There was a small bit of confusion and embarrassment as those staying behind realized each man could not participate in the ritual, they were too many.
They shuffled about, trying to decide who should participate in the Scirafus. Lord Roglark stood with his empty glass held out, growing more impatient, angry, and disgusted by the moment. With the exception of Lord Londo Mollari and his friend Lord Urza Jaddo, the other Lords elbowed and argued about who should participate in the ritual, acting like an assembly of ill-mannered schoolboys. "Not a one of them is grappling for a chance to fight for the Republic, and only a few even sending more than a pittance of ships or men" Lord Roglark thought, "But they seem happy enough to gouge out each other's eyeballs to pour for a Scirafus Antopurna." He realized with a start that most of those staying behind were cronies of Vezini and by extension, Refa.
Shaking his head in anger, Lord Roglark was about to chide the scuffling nobles when he noticed Lord Jarno. The ancient noble was shaking slightly as he gripped his cane and glass brivari goblet. At first Lord Roglark thought the trembling was just a result of advanced years, but as he saw the scowl on Jarno's face, Lord Roglark realized it was rage. Lord Roglark glanced at the other nobles going to war, and the same mixture of anger, impatience, and growing disgust showed on their faces. Abruptly Papa Jarno swung his arm and smashed his empty goblet to the deck. Conversation stopped as everyone snapped around to find the origin of the shattered glass.
"I am ashamed!" Lord Jarno barked. "We," he growled, motioning to the few "are about to depart for war against the Drazi, while all of you," he leveled an age-crooked finger at the many, "stand there bickering and squawking like a gang of undersexed hags!" The other nobles going to war murmured their assent.
Realizing this might get out of control, Lord Vezini stepped over to Lord Jarno. He reached out and grasped Jarno's arm. Through his politician's smile he spoke in a soothing voice, "Come now Papa..."
Lord Jarno wrenched his arm away from Vezini snarling, "Do not EVER call me 'Papa' again!" Still quivering with fury he motioned to Lord Refa and said, "From this serpent I expected nothing less, with his 'timely' appointment to the Corillani, yet even still he has sent a significant force and his best man." He turned back to Vezini continuing, "But you! I had thought better of you, Vezini." Jarno shook his head sadly, the fan of white hair fluttering. "You had best thank the Great Maker that I am not your father, because if I were, I would shave your head and have you whipped by slaves from one end of this ship to the other for your cowardice!"
The silence in the room was deafening. Lord Vezini's smile slid away from his eyes, though not his mouth. Everyone stood aghast as Lord Jarno spit on the deck and said, "I will not share one of our cherished traditions with the likes of these capomani." There was a quick intake of breath at the word 'capomani', it being an insult to military men, a questioning of their bravery. Literally translated it meant 'hearth commander', or one 'who commands from home'. It was an insult that dated from the early wars on Centauri Prime, used for admirals and generals that would not lead from the front, but rather stayed home and let their subordinates do all of the dying. Lord Roglark remembered his friend from Earth, Admiral Patrick Doyle, telling him the Terrans had a similar insult: 'chateau general'. He found that he could not disagree with Lord Jarno. The self-serving actions of his brother Vorchans were nigh on revolting.
After delivering his insult, Lord Jarno turned and limped from the room, his bone cane tapping. Just before he crossed the edge of the scatter generator field he gave his parting shot, "You father must be vomiting inside his burial vault to have a son like you, Luco Vezini."
The silence was heavy in the room. Lord Roglark had seen this before: once the Vorchans achieved some sort of victory, they turned on each other. Those more self-serving began to use the prestige from the victory for their own ends, rather than for the betterment of the Republic, or even the advancement of more Vorchan ideas. He had thought perhaps this time would be different than all those others, perhaps because the victories had reawakened thoughts and feelings absent in the masses for more than a generation. Here was a chance to restore the prestige, the glory, and the pride of the Centauri Republic, and men like Vezini, and Refa, and their sycophants would squander the opportunity to keep themselves safe.
Placing his still empty glass on a table, Lord Roglark looked at his fellow nobles, and saw some of those not going to war seemed despondent, some ashamed, and some petulant. "Perhaps I can salvage this situation," he thought. "My Lords," he said, "Conscript Fathers, please listen." The room turned to him as he deeply inhaled and continued, "Tomorrow we embark for war, war beyond our own borders for the first time in fifty years." He paused, gauging the reluctant nobles that had not chosen to go to war. They almost seemed asleep, lazing in that same ignoble slumber that his beloved Republic had just shaken off.
Lord Roglark gestured vaguely to the wall, and by extension the space and ships beyond. "Out there our soldatii wait, ready to do their duty for the Republic." He turned and pointed to the door Lord Jarno recently exited, "Beyond the door are the commanders and captains that will lead them, that will carry our banners. They are all your vassals and clients, the loyal guardians of all we hold most dear." He paused and looked about the room. Though both Urza Jaddo and Londo Mollari were gazing at him with the new light of fervor in their eyes, the Vorchan Lords still seemed asleep, not willing to meet him in the eye, all save Vezini's quiet fuming and Refa's reptilian stare. "Will you not go with them?" Lord Roglark quietly asked.
He looked them over again, fighting to contain his contempt, then continued in a sterner voice, "The Republic calls you to your duty Conscript Fathers: the hour is at hand." Lord Roglark stretched out his arms and asked, "Will you not go with us? Will you not go forth to claim victory, and honor, and glory for the Republic?"
He paused again, finally seeing some small result of his words with the reluctant Vorchan Lords. He inhaled to speak again but was cut off by Lord Urza Jaddo, "By the Great Maker! Even if no others come, I shall go with you Roglark!" He jumped to grasp Lord Roglark's arms in the gesture of friendship. As he stepped into the group of nobles going to war, they greeted him warmly, slapping his back.
Lord Roglark turned again to the reluctant nobles and said, "Urza Jaddo shames you all." That seemed to be the breaking point of a few of the remaining nobles. Abruptly Lords Ansilo and Hamata, along with Counts Mintrose and Grausay stood up straighter, cast a contemptuous glance at Vezini, and walked over to Lord Roglark's side of the room, all of them shouting, "I too, shall go with you!"
Even with those four, there were still far too many staying safely home. "Will you not come with us?" he asked one last time. Lord Roglark tried to control his anger at these selfish nobles, some whom he had wrongly called friends, putting their own petty agendas ahead of the good of the Republic. A wave of hot rage swept over him as he shook his head angrily then asked in a hissing whisper, "Where are the Vorchans in this room?"
He gestured to the Lords standing with him saying, "Ah, I see some, about to cover themselves in glory, ready to do everything the Republic requires." Lord Roglark looked the remaining up and down contemptuously. Allowing some poison into his voice he said, "Yet all I can see here are a gaggle of fainthearted malingerers." "Scavengers," Lord Roglark said bitterly. "Scavengers that would drape themselves in stolen bloodstained banners and use the honor and glory earned by others for their own avaricious aims." He shook his head sadly continuing, "All the while staying safely at home to diddle their serving women." Lord Roglark snorted, "Just like wild basifs, ready to steal prey from those that gave their life-blood to earn it."
The insulted nobles began murmuring, with Lord Vezini finding his voice first, "Now see here Roglark..."
Lord Roglark held up his hand, cutting off the sputtering Vezini. Motioning to Vezini and his companions Lord Roglark snarled, "I will NOT go to war with THESE!" He snatched up his empty glass from the table and hurled it to the floor, adding its shards to Lord Jarno's. There was a quick bombardment of brivari goblets as all of the nobles going to war, almost as one, cast their glasses to the floor.
Lord Roglark knew he dared not offend Refa too deeply. Though the other Vorchan nobles he had just insulted had sent few men, ships, or materials, Refa had sent an entire battlegroup. Also, as the new ambassador to the Corillani, a wrong word or lack of diligence from him could possibly create problems for the campaign. Corillani space was alongside the fleet's major supply lines, and they had no love for their former Centauri overlords. He gave a short head bob to Lord Refa saying, "Lord Refa, I thank-you for your hospitality, and largesse in outfitting the fleet." Lord Roglark glanced sidelong at the murmuring nobles surrounding Vezini and said, "But I believe we cannot stay." Lord Refa pursed his lips, shrugged, and gave a small nod in return. Lord Roglark turned and marched from the room, all of the nobles going to war departing with him. Lord Mollari drained his glass and bowed to Lord Refa, then quickly departed as well.
As soon as Mollari crossed the edge of the scatter generator field, the room burst into noise as the Vorchan nobles began grousing and babbling amongst themselves. Lord Vezini turned to Refa and said, "That thrice-damned whoreson! Just who in the Seven Yellow Hells does Roglark think he is, damned second-tier upstart..." Lord Vezini immediately looked contrite remembering his ally was also a second-tier family, "No offense meant Refa," he quickly added.
Lord Refa gave another of his thin smiles and waved away the apology saying, "None taken, of course." Refa stroked his chin for a moment then asked, "What do you intend to do about this Luco?"
Vezini thought for a moment. A smile slowly grew, splitting his whiskered face, though the smile did not enter his eyes. He looked over at the other Vorchan Lords, listening to their indignation. Vezini drained off his glass and said, "Perhaps Roglark has outlived his usefulness." A malicious light sprouted in his eyes as he said, "Excuse me Refa, I must talk to a few people." Lord Vezini moved over to the other Lords and bombastically entered their conversations, laying the groundwork for his plans.
Lord Refa sat back down in his chair and watched Vezini for a few moments. Without turning he quietly said, "You heard?"
Count Desdinova Tyrcos silently glided up behind his liege. "And saw," he replied.
"Things are moving quickly," Refa said. "I had not thought Roglark would break with Vezini so soon."
"It seems his recent...ah...brushes with Mother Death have only...emboldened him," Tyrcos mused.
"Indeed," Refa agreed. "Most men would become more cautious after such experiences," he said. Shaking his head he continued, "Perhaps two incidents so close have given him a sense of invulnerability."
"Tesu was a fool to awaken such...dauntlessness," Tyrcos growled.
Refa shrugged saying, "A miscalculation."
"Tesu is a worm," Tyrcos said. A half smile curled up as he said, "But if he is...no longer of value..."
"No," Refa ordered. "Like an exposed piece on a jamour table: if we leave him out there, he will deflect attention from...other movements."
Tyrcos let out a pent up breath then asked, "And after this piece has...played its part?"
"You know he is yours my friend," Refa said in a placating tone.
Tyrcos grunted his approval. Refa continued to watch as Vezini held forth to his reinvigorated allies across the room. Each one was gazing at the performance with a mercenary gleam in his eye, adding quick comments and snatches of laughter. "They really do sound like a gang of undersexed hags," Refa thought.
"Is Vezini right?" Tyrcos asked, breaking their silence. "Has Roglark outlived his usefulness?"
Refa heard the hunger in the question. "Patience, my good Count Tyrcos." Refa shrugged then said, "In time he will no longer be needed."
He could hear the sigh of discontent as Tyrcos said, "As you wish, my Lord."
As he sat watching his nominal comrades, the dark machinery of Refa's thoughts spun to life. After a moment he turned to Tyrcos and said, "No, we need Roglark for a bit longer my friend." A great deal of laughter chorused from across the room as Vezini said something bawdy, drawing the attention of both Refa and Tyrcos. "Now that one on the other hand..." Refa said as he slightly gestured to Vezini, "After today's debacle, his usefulness has just about run out." Refa paused then added, "As has Lord Jarno's."
A predatory smile split the face of Desdinova Tyrcos as he said, "As you wish my Lord."
Lord Roglark set a quick pace back to the flight deck. The House Refa Sub-Prefect had to scamper to keep up, trying to escort Lord Roglark and his group of nobles and officers. The group behind was angrily discussing the situation. Captain Classion and his marines wisely kept quiet, knowing that until he had calmed down, their Lord preferred to be angry in silence. Classion was able to grasp the basics of what had happened by listening to the other nobles and their officers, and worried that perhaps his Lord had gone too far.
The short flight back to Terhali's Satisfaction was almost completely silent. Lord Roglark's only words were to tell the shuttle pilot to take off, and to give Captain Classion permission to sit. Lord Roglark quickly paced the small cabin of the shuttle, arms behind his back, and a storm upon his brow. Thendon Classion knew his Lord well, and refrained from any comment during the flight.
Once on board Terhali's Satisfaction Lord Roglark dismissed the marines with a short barked order. He gazed at the flight deck, watching the pilot ease his shuttle back into its proper pre-flight position. The evolution took longer than usual as other members of the crew were hanging multi-colored bunting and pennons in anticipation of the Emperor's arrival later this evening. Lord Roglark waited a moment longer then said, "Walk with me, Thendon."
Captain Classion followed Lord Roglark to his quarters. Once there Lord Roglark continued to pace after waving Classion into a chair, which Thendon did not take. Still standing at attention, he waited a beat before saying, "My Lord..."
Lord Roglark stopped his pacing and turned on Captain Classion. Though the Captain was no stranger to dangerous situations, and was a decorated combat veteran, what he saw in his Lord's face gave him pause, and a small bit of fear. Lord Roglark was in a towering fury, one the likes of which Classion had rarely seen in all their long years of friendship. The first time was over the suspicious death of his younger sister, Lady Adanetta. A bloodbath had ensued over that, with a young Jentavus Roglark exacting a hideous vengeance for what turned out to be an assassination . Classion did not wish to see such things repeated here and now.
Lord Roglark saw his old friend nearly recoil in fear from him, the blazing fire of his anger was immediately quashed. Shoulders slumping, head down, he took a deep breath and rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. When he looked up, though some of his anger remained, the white-hot rage, the world-destroying fury, was gone. He sighed and said, "Thendon, my friend...I am sorry."
Captain Classion gave him a wry smile saying, "You do not have to apologize to me." He paused then said, "But Jentavus...what you have done..."
Lord Roglark dropped down into a stuffed chair, Captain Classion taking one opposite. "Yes, I know," Lord Roglark said. He immediately sprang up out of the chair and began moving about the room saying, "But you weren't there Thendon. You didn't see how they were: scuffling and arguing for a chance to pretend to fight for the Republic." He paused then added, "It was revolting." He gave a short laugh and said, "Did you hear what 'Papa' Jarno called them?"
Captain Classion smiled in spite of the situation, and simply said, "Yes."
Lord Roglark shook his head angrily, his fan of hair rippling, as he said, "It is just like always: once the Vorchans achieve any sort of victory, they turn on each other trying to reach the top. Each one cutting the throats of the other so they can stand on the bodies of the dying." He snorted in disgust and said, "Our good friends from Earth have a phrase for just such a display: they call it a 'circular firing squad'."
Thendon chuckled and said, "The Terrans have a quaint saying for everything."
Lord Roglark chuckled right along and said, "They do indeed, Thendon, they do indeed."
"What shall we do now Jentavus?" Classion asked.
"I have probably started several new feuds today..." Lord Roglark trailed off. He inhaled deeply then continued, "But be that as it may, even if the nobles I insulted do not claim vendetta against me, at the least they will withdraw their support for the war."
"The Drazi are vicious fighters,"Captain Classion thought, "We will need every ship we can get." "How much will we lose?" he asked.
Lord Roglark stopped in his tracks and calculated. "A rough estimate," he said, "about eight percent of the total force, mostly in lighter warships. Closer to ten percent of the available munitions, support vessels, and supplies."
Even after all of this time, Classion was still impressed by Lord Roglark's memory. "That cuts our margins a bit thin, my Lord," he said. "Can the other nobles, or perhaps the Emperor..."
Lord Roglark stopped him and said, "After today's events, that is exactly the course I am..." Abruptly the inter-ship comms played the hail for Lord Roglark, interrupting his words. He held up a hand to Captain Classion and said, "I am here."
"Comms here, I am sorry to disturb you my Lord," the Comms Officer said in a placating tone. "We are receiving a video transmission from the Emperor's ship: he will be entering the Immolan system within the hour and commands you to receive him immediately after."
"You have recorded the message?" Lord Roglark asked.
"Yes, my Lord." There was a pause then the Comms Officer said, "I am transferring it to your console now, my Lord." Lord Roglark's desk console chirped signaling it had received the recording.
"Good," Lord Roglark said. He paused then continued, "Acknowledge the message and send this reply: we are overjoyed that his Majesty will arrive shortly, and would be delighted to receive his Majesty entirely at his convenience."
"Aye, my Lord," the Comms Officer said. "Comms out."
As Lord Roglark turned toward his desk, Captain Classion said, "If you will excuse me, my Lord. I will go and relieve Ordillo." Lord Roglark nodded. Captain Classion stopped in the doorway and said, "I will be on the bridge if you need me, my Lord."
Once he was gone, Lord Roglark sat at his desk. He punched in the commands for the computer to lock the door. He then activated an interference module, and turned on the playback of the transmission from the Emperor's ship. Immediately the plump figure of Lord Olish, the Royal Secretary, appeared. The opulent interior furnishings of Son of Kiro, the Emperor's cruiser, back dropped him.
As Lord Olish droned out the formal words of his message, Lord Roglark punched in an encryption code to the console, then spoke the word, "Rutzhel," into the voice pickup. Rutzhel was a word in Xonach, the millennia-dead language of the extinct Xon, meaning 'mystery' or 'surprise'.
The screen flickered and a second recording began to play, having been carried secretly within the other, official, message. This new message also featured Lord Olish, the Royal Secretary. Lord Olish had been silently in the employ of Lord Roglark for the past two years.
"My Lord," Olish began, "The Emperor will arrive shortly at Immolan. He brings a gift for House Roglark: replacement warships to replace your personal losses at Ardun." Lord Roglark 'hmphed' as Olish continued, "Once your audience with him is concluded, he will offer you a boon, a special request for you alone in recompense for your exemplary service against the Narns, and as an allurement for future loyal service." Lord Olish's round face split into a smile. He gave a slight bow and said, "Good luck, my Lord."
Lord Roglark leaned back in his chair. He put his boots up on the desk as he mulled over this new information. Certainly, the replacements for lost Roglark warships were welcome. He had re-outfitted several losses from his two clients House fleets with ships from his own, purchasing other warships to fill in his gaps. As for the boon, it could go a long way to make good on the soon-to-be-leaving support from the insulted Vorchan nobles.
Like a thunderbolt, an idea came to Lord Roglark: a possible plan that could use the Emperor's boon in such a way as to solve several problems at once. It came so suddenly that Lord Roglark started violently, jerking his feet off the desk and slamming his chair to the deck. He quickly erased the official message, and filed away the unofficial message in case it was needed in the future. Lord Roglark then stabbed the Comms button.
"Aye, my Lord," the voice said. "Comms here."
"Get me Casamir, at the House Estates on Centauri Prime, as quick as you can," Lord Roglark ordered.
"Aye, my Lord," the Comms Officer said. Almost two minutes went by as the Comms Officer worked on the request. Lord Roglark could overhear the sounds of the bridge over the open pickup as the connection was being made. The background sounds stopped as the Comms Officer said, "I have Estate Manager Casamir for you, my Lord."
"Route it through down here and apply level six-and-six encryption." Lord Roglark said. No encryption was perfect, especially not in the Centauri Republic, where breaking codes and reading other's messages was a widely enjoyed pastime. Only short burst transmissions could be protected, not actual conversations by two parties. "But six-and-six should at least make anyone trying to listen in be unable to break it until it no longer matters," Lord Roglark thought.
There were a few seconds as the reroute and encoding took place before his Estate Manager appeared on the screen. "Casamir here, my Lord, " he said. "This is a secure line."
"Casamir," Lord Roglark said, "I need you to link in with my wives and no one else."
Casamir bowed and said, "By your command, my Lord." He began working on his end of the connection. Within minutes, both Lady Chantra and Lady Glaianna appeared in a separate box on the screen. They appeared to be together, and judging by their thick robes and wet topknots, they must have been in the pool. "How...odd...that they are together," Lord Roglark thought.
Chantra looked and sounded concerned as she said, "What is it Jentavus?"
Lord Roglark smiled broadly, showing his pointed incisors. "My dear ladies," he said. "I have some important news."
Lord Roglark and Captain Classion rode the private lift down from Lord Roglark's quarters. His message to Chantra and Glaianna had cut their margin of time down to the bone. Lord Roglark checked his timepiece again as the lift dropped to the flight deck level of Terhali's Satisfaction. The doors opened and they hurried out into the hallway. On an Octurion-class battleship, the admiral's private lift was not in line with the flight deck, forcing them to take a side corridor.
They entered the flight deck and hurried to where the Emperor's shuttle would land. Across the entire expanse of the flight deck were white, purple, and gold bunting and pennons. Off to one side a band waited, instruments at the ready. A line of House Roglark and client officers stood at attention flanked by a double file of House Roglark marines. Lord Roglark and Captain Classion finished their walk across the flight deck to wait upon Emperor Turhan and his coterie.
They passed along the line of officer's, all of them saluting Lord Roglark as he passed. Once they reached their place at the head of the line, Lord Roglark turned to Captain Classion and quietly asked, "Is my uniform in order Thendon?" Shaking his head he said, "That new valet, Pagion, is hopeless."
Lord Roglark's old military valet had died at Ardun when Terhali's Satisfaction had been so badly damaged. Classion quickly inspected Lord Roglark's uniform. Everything seemed properly laid out, especially now that Lord Roglark wore no Governor's sash. Now that he was about to leave the Republic on campaign, Lord Roglark had shifted Quadrant 1 to his client, Minor Lord Keldane. As Governor-in-absentia, Lord Roglark only wore a Quadrant 1 ribbon through a buttonhole. Lord Roglark's Gradicolco had fallen askew during their dash across the deck. Classion reached out and straightened the rich blue ribbon and medal around Lord Roglark's neck saying, "Your valet has done fine."
Abruptly a ringing alarm blared once, alerting the party that the Emperor was about to dock. The flight deck door opened to space, surrounded by the faint glow of the gravitic field holding in the atmosphere. The Emperor's shuttle floated inside and landed in the marked off section of the flight deck, the bay door booming shut. Lord Roglark and his officers came to attention as the ramp slowly lowered. Down the ramp came a squad of Imperial Guard, taking up station in a double line, matching up to the longer line of House Roglark marines. Lord Roglark saw the band tense in anticipation as Emperor Turhan appeared at the top of the ramp and slowly walked down. The instant his foot touched the deck they began to play "Fanfare of the Gods". It was not the currently accustomed music played to welcome the Emperor, that usually being "Hail the Emperor Comes". Lord Roglark personally found the newer piece having an almost singsong quality, and felt it was inappropriate in formal settings.
Behind the Emperor came two of his Imperial Tetrapathy, gossamer white veils covering their faces. As he stood at attention, Lord Roglark found himself idly wondering if either of the women were the one he had mentally crossed swords with in the Imperial Palace. Behind the telepathic women came another cadre of Imperial Guards and several low ranking members of the Royal Court.
As Emperor Turhan stopped in front of Lord Roglark and his officers, the band finished with a final flourish. Lord Roglark and his officers bowed low from the waist to the Emperor. Turhan waved to give everyone leave to rise from the bow.
"Greetings your Majesty," Lord Roglark said as he rose, "welcome aboard Terhali's Satisfaction."
"Thank-you, Jentavus, Lord of the House Roglark, Erusalum," Emperor Turhan said, giving the more traditional form of greeting. He stood looking at Lord Roglark for a moment then said, "You may present your officers."
Beginning with Captain Classion, Lord Roglark introduced the officers in turn. As each officer was introduced, Turhan politely asked each a small personal question, or referenced a family situation. Though the Emperor's natural aloofness and indifferent air marred the gesture somewhat, Lord Roglark was surprised at Turhan's attempt at amiability. He found some of his disdain for the Emperor crumbling and a grain of respect begin to form. Regardless of the fact that it was a politician's trick, remembering and asking after such details, it was still a compliment to his men. Having been blessed by the Great Maker with a truly dazzling memory, Lord Roglark was still cognizant how difficult others found it to correctly remember small details and facts. He did wonder however, why the Emperor had gone to so much trouble to be briefed in such depth about his officers.
Lord Roglark observed Turhan as he paused before each man, almost as if waiting, then gave a faint smile, and began to reel off intimate knowledge about the subject. Lord Roglark had seen the look before: in the Centaurum, in recordings of public relations events, and most recently in the Imperial Palace gardens during his audience before the battle at Kotac. With a leap of intuition Lord Roglark realized how Turhan was performing his mental feat. "I would be willing to wager half of the family estates his women are feeding him what he needs to know," Lord Roglark thought. "I must be cautious..."
Once all of the introductions were finished, Lord Roglark asked the Emperor, "Would your Majesty care to see more of Terhali's Satisfaction?"
Emperor Turhan paused to consider the offer then said, "I believe this version of the battleship has four observation domes?"
"Ah, after our last refit, we only have two remaining, your Majesty," Lord Roglark said. "One high aft near the bridge, and one ventral amidships."
Turhan turned to address his group, "I shall proceed alone to the ventral observation dome with Lord Roglark." His Court bowed deeply. Turhan immediately gave them leave to rise and they shuffled to the side.
Lord Roglark whispered to Captain Classion, "See to the comfort of the Royal Court until we return, and clear the areas surrounding the ventral observation dome."
Classion nodded, then extended his arm to the Court and said, "My Lords, if you will follow me."
"Lead on, Lord Roglark," Turhan said.
Lord Roglark led the way to the across the flight deck to the larger troop lift, as 'alone' for the Emperor meant no less than four Imperial Guardsmen and the two members of the Tetrapathy. They all boarded the lift. Lord Roglark said, "Ventral deck," to the computer as the doors closed. They arrived in only a moment.
Lord Roglark exited first, the Emperor's party following. He led the way to the ventral observation dome. Riding on the ventral spine of the battleship, it was a small blister, a near-globe of transparent duotanium. Around the middle was a ring-shaped catwalk, allowing the viewer to look over the edge straight down, or around in an arc of nearly three hundred degrees.
Emperor Turhan went around to the center of the catwalk, motioning for Lord Roglark to follow. Lord Roglark came out to the Emperor, his iron heels ringing. The view was as breathtaking as the one from the bridge. Ships of every size dotted the starscape, lambent jewels softly reflecting the sunlight in shades of violet, gold, silver, and blue. Most of their drives were nearly dark, just a slight actinic flickering to show they were holding station against Immolan's gravity. He could just see the Son of Kiro and her escorts. Lord Roglark stared at them a moment, seeing that they were more numerous than the Emperor's normal escort.
Turhan saw the direction of his gaze and said, "Some of my escorts are a gift to House Roglark, to replace your losses in the battles with the Narn."
Though he already knew Turhan was giving him the ships, he was surprised at how many there were. Worried that the two telepathic women might pickup some inkling of his foreknowledge from a surface scan, Lord Roglark began to mentally recite his ditty. He bowed from the waist saying, "I am grateful for your Majesty's generosity."
The Emperor was looking at the vast Roglark-blue underbelly of the battleship: the symmetrical arrangement of the matter cannons, the scattering of sensor nodes, the rows of ion cannon turrets, the long battle laser emplacement, and lastly, the vast twin black rails of the mass drivers. Shaking his head slightly to put off a shudder, he sighed and said, "Lord Roglark, I wish to give you another gift. A boon. Any request that I can grant." He gave a faint smile adding, "Within reason of course."
Lord Roglark bowed again, hiding his smile while saying, "Again your Majesty, I thank-you."
Turhan turned to face Lord Roglark fully and asked, "So, what is it you desire that is within my power to grant?"
Lord Roglark had thought long on this, having put together a whirlwind plan for his boon. The emergency communications with home had put the final pieces into place. "If it please your Majesty, I would like the right to absorb all of House Tesu within House Roglark."
The Emperor gave him an icy stare and said, "What you ask is not easy, Lord Jentavus Roglark."
"If you allow this Majesty," Lord Roglark said, "much unpleasantness can be avoided."
"How so?" Turhan asked.
Lord Roglark inhaled deeply, savoring his sense of triumph for just a moment before speaking, "As I am sure your Majesty is aware, during my last visit to Centauri Prime, and assassin made an attempt on my life." Face now impassive, the Emperor nodded for him to continue. "It was discovered that the employer of the assassin was Felix Tesu the Lesser." Turhan stood silent. Lord Roglark took that as permission to continue, "I had considered declaring the Marrago against Felix Tesu, or having him killed in the manner he selected for me." A vicious grin appeared on Lord Roglark's face as he said, "Or simply having him abducted and allowing my telepath Trajus to have some time alone with him."
Emperor Turhan pursed his lips and said, "Some of what you suggest could be construed as open warfare between Houses." He paused, and then turning his attention to the starfield said, "Something I have forbidden."
Lord Roglark gave short bow and said, "Of course your Majesty. I had also considered denouncing him to the Centaurum for breaking your law on House warfare." He paused then said, "But that will lead to his House, at best, being broken, and Tesu himself being beheaded as a traitor."
Emperor Turhan felt outmaneuvered. A shift of this sort, granting Roglark's request and strengthening the Vorchan faction, would be unpopular with the Basifs. On the whole, they supported most of Turhan's initiatives, not necessarily because they believed in his ideals but because they saw it as a way to gather power, or curry favor, or to settle personal differences. But beyond that, Felix Tesu was related by marriage to Lord Tirash, the Speaker of the Centaurum, a valuable ally. He was a true believer in Turhan's ideals. That was why he had put off deciding what to do with House Tesu: no decision left things as they were right now.
But, if Lord Roglark condemned House Tesu before the Centaurum...Turhan was certain the Lesser Tesu would be declared traitor. Felix Tesu the Lesser was just full of himself enough that he would not take the path his father had in honorable suicide, forcing Turhan to break the House. THAT could be much more problematic.
Emperor Turhan projected his thoughts outward, hoping his female telepaths could pick up his worries and provide advice. "He is tightly controlled...trying to block us..." came the thoughts from Ardrella. The most senior of the Tetrapathy, Vulnavia, sent to Turhan, "He has prepared for this eventuality...contingencies upon contingencies...he may be willing to compromise if you can find the path..."
Coming to a quick decision, Turhan sighed and said, "It must appear as if it is more of an...alliance or protectorate." Turhan mused a moment, turned back to face Lord Roglark and said, "If you can make it so, along with a few provisos, I will grant this boon."
"What sort of 'provisos' does your Majesty desire?" Lord Roglark asked.
Turhan began ticking things off on his fingers, "First, you must still provide for the dependents of the dead men from Quadrant 17."
Lord Roglark nodded and said, "I could do nothing less, your Majesty."
"Second," Turhan continued, "you must adhere to the guidelines for a Rite of Absorption, and allow his client Houses to decide if they will continue as your clients, or leave to find other patrons."
Lord Roglark nodded again and said, "Of course, your Majesty." Lord Roglark was certain Minor Lords Rayann and Jindalo would sign on as clients. Useless as they might be as men, their ships and materiel would be a welcome addition with the loss of Vezini's cronies. In time, he might be able to influence them to be more patriotic and less self-serving. Although Minor Lord Banadine already showed such admirable qualities, Lord Roglark was not so sure he would stay. But given a chance, Lord Roglark felt he might be able to convince him.
"Lastly," Turhan said, " as an example of good faith, you must give something toward this...alliance...someone in marriage perhaps."
Lord Roglark smile as he nodded and said, "I have just such a thing in mind, your Majesty."
Emperor Turhan seemed surprised at that last, finding it unlikely that Lord Roglark would agree to promise his oldest daughter Renetta. "Indeed?"
Lord Roglark nodded his head and said, "With your permission, Majesty, I would like to sever my marriage to my second wife, Lady Glaianna, and marry her to Felix Tesu the Lesser to solidify this...arrangement."
"Oh very well done," Turhan thought. The Emperor again regretted that such a brilliant mind could not be dissuaded from its loyalty to the past. "If only you could see how much could be accomplished if you were on my side..." "I understand you and she are not...cordial to each other," the Emperor said diplomatically.
Lord Roglark cleared his throat in embarrassment and said, "Yes, your Majesty. Though of late she and I have come to a much better understanding." Turhan stared at Lord Roglark with an arched eyebrow. Taking as a sign he should explain further, Lord Roglark said, "Glaianna is a fine Centauri woman, one who perhaps deserves someone other than me."
Turhan's eyebrow arched ever further as he said, "I am given to understand she has been known as a shrewd, manipulative, vain woman who had made it a game to try your patience at every turn."
"Yes, your Majesty," Lord Roglark agreed. "She has played that game, and played it well." He paused, considering how much to tell Turhan, then continued, "But I believe much of her...difficult personality comes from how she was traded off to my House, by an older brother that seemed to care little for her except as a bargaining chit." He shook his head slightly and said, "Perhaps if my brother Aloysien had not received his True Calling, in time he may have been able to moderate her temperament, make her feel less used to settle an argument between her great uncle and my grandsire, given her a purpose in motherhood." Lord Roglark shrugged and said, "In my home, Majesty, she serves no purpose, and can, at best, only be a distant second to my Chantra."
Emperor Turhan had heard rumors that Lord Roglark only kept the company of his first wife, and had allowed only her to bear all of his children, not just the heir. Turhan realized, abashedly, that he had no such close relationships. His wives were political (or in the case of Morella for mutual advantage). He had married off a sister before Ascending to the White, and two daughters since. It had not occurred to him to make sure of their happiness or even contentment. He vowed with his remaining daughter, and the next child to be, things would be different. His second wife was now certain she was carrying his son, and heir. "Are you certain Glaianna will agree to this?" Turhan asked.
"I believe in time she will understand what she might gain, your Majesty" Lord Roglark said. "A much younger husband, one who will appreciate her beauty more than I." He nodded and said, "She will be allowed to bear children with Felix, something I have been assured she desires greatly." Lord Roglark was certain that she would agree. He had already broached the subject with Chantra and Glaianna earlier. Both were enthusiastic about the idea. Lord Roglark had impressed on Glaianna the impressions he had of Felix Tesu: not too bright, impetuous, easily manipulated. He could see Glaianna warm to the idea that at last she might be treated as she deserved: a fine Centauri woman, able to become a mother and not vicariously live through someone else's life. Chantra had been happy that at long last, perhaps Glaianna would mellow a bit. In the last year she had grown to pity Glaianna, especially as Glaianna had wanted to take a larger role in raising the children, but knew she could not.
"Will that be enough for her?" Turhan asked.
Lord Roglark shrugged and said, "In any case, your Majesty, she understands that my House is traditionalist: if necessary she will not disobey the Patrum Famillium." It was a bit of a conceit to even mention such an eventuality. Lord Roglark suspected Glaianna was already packing her things.
The Patrum Famillium. Turhan inwardly groaned at the dichotomy of Lord Roglark. One the one hand so forward thinking as to actually desire a happy outcome for a difficult and undesired wife, yet on the other hand clinging to such an outdated concept as the divine right of the Father of the Family to do with any member of the family as he saw fit, even unto death. Turhan sighed one last time and said, "I will grant this boon to you, Lord Jentavus Roglark, Erusalum, under the condition you adhere to my previously mentioned provisos."
Lord Roglark bowed deeply from the waist and said "It is with great respect and humble gratitude, that I thank your Majesty for bestowing such tremendous gifts upon my House." Though he could keep the smile off his face, he could not keep it from his voice.
"When I return to Son of Kiro I shall make the proclamation public, that the...integration...might happen more speedily," Turhan said. He gave Lord Roglark a long stare then said, "Please inform your family as soon as I have made the proclamation."
Lord Roglark bowed again and said, "Of course, your Majesty."
Turhan turned back to the starscape, gazing at the mighty fleet gathered, and the cold stars beyond. Not having been dismissed, Lord Roglark turned his eyes out to the fleet as well. They both stood for a time, together, though each alone with his thoughts about the coming days. One saw the stars, full of regrets, wishing these times, and this war, had never come. The other saw the stars, and the only regret he had was that these times, and this war, had not come soon enough.