pretentious cosmic picture


10. Cabolki Cathuria. This laughing master of the empire took the privateers back into the service of the kings. He sent covert expeditions into the lands north of Honrar and north and west of Reir. He set up guards of his own along the northern borders of the Utnir wall, watching posts set every so often. He watched with concern, though, when the old doddering Emperor of the Titans died, and a new, more capable Emperor took the throne at Setitiys. But he was shocked at the move that was made.

An emissary from the Titans was sent to Honrar, unarmed and bearing only letters of state. Though the soldiers watched his every move, he made no overt act, and old furniture suitable for a giant's stature was fetched, and he was received by Cabolki in honor. "You have a message for me?"

"Yes. The Emperor in Setitays, the latest of the Athpo line, the beloved of the Tjisir-blood, the master of Cathrarho, to his errant yet capable subject, Cabolki Cathuria, greetings."

"Subject?" said one outraged official, but Cabolki raised his hand for silence.

"Continue, please."

"We are pleased with the cleverness and industry your people have shown; though never had the full might of the Titan's empire been turned towards you, yet you have done bravely and well against those we sent against you. Having been estranged from us for centuries, we think you overestimate the burden of our rightful dominion over the little folk.

" Yet we recognize you have legitimate greivances, and regret the barbarity shown to some of your folk, who are my subjects. Humans have been eaten as delicacies, or killed for amusement. Such never should have happened. We wish your advice. As a well-beloved father would I be to you, my estranged subjects. In this dangerous world, we think the little folk, the humans, are best under the protection and teaching of the giants, as we taught you many things when we first came from drowned Tesut and you were savages hunting naked and with no metals.

" Yet...perhaps there is room for negotiation. It would be my dearest wish to see Honrar and Reir reunited from the Titans' empire from which it sprang. You have taught us much; we will not underestimate you again. If Honrar and Reir will willingly submit to the governorship of a Titan, a representative of the Empire, we will declare it unlawful, under punishment of death, of a human ever being eaten, or killed without any justifiable reason that the authorities can sanction, such as the case of great crimes. This will be empire-wide, and thus spare the lives of thousands of humans outside the reach of your small lands.

"Nor will the present leader of Honrar or of Reir be without responsibility and honor under such a governor. Indeed, we may elevate them, so they will be the advocate for the little folk in front of the throne of the Emperor. Instead of ruler of a small corner of Cathrarho, Cabolki Cathuria can help all humans under our preview, and advise our gracious Emperor how best to deal with them.

"It would sadden the Emperor to have his gracious offer refused; for if that is the case harsher measures must remain in force, lest we lose the human servants we love, and they injure themselves, and the Emperor will regretfully but firmly deal with his errant subjects...if need be, with the full force of the Empire. We ask for Cabolki Cathuria to consider the good of all humans everywhere, and not put the pride of ruling a small corner of Cathrarho in the way of his helping an entire continent's humans."

All looked at Cabolki when the speech was finished, and his normal laughing demeanor was very serious, for a change. Finally he said, "I would like to thank the Ambassador, and would like him to convey my thanks to the Emperor for his gracious and kingly message. Understand, though, that such a great change as you speak of cannot be done without consulting others. I beg that the Ambassador enjoy the freedom of C'Stepho, as our guest, for a few days."

The others were startled at his not outright refusing, but he motioned for his highest advisors to meet him in his chambers. The Ambassador did a half-bow, not sure to treat Cabolki as an equal or not. Cabolki's advisers gathered in a room, as he turned to them.

"I want to make sure we are agreed on this; from the Titans' point of view, it's a fair offer. More than fair; this is the first time they have ever treated humans as beings they can make deals with and negotiate with. Truth to tell, if the offer is genuine, I might be able to set in motion changes that will free all of Cathrarho from the worst excesses of the giants against humans. Do I have the right to refuse? Is there any other possibility except an out-and-out refusal?"

The Queen of Reir spoke up. "Two-thirds of Reir just escaped the giants' yoke in the last generation. If you dealt with them, we would have to secede and try to set up our own kingdom. Doubtless many would think we couldn't succeed...but of course, they said that about Honrar at once point. My people wouldn't stand for being under a giant's yoke again."

"I was pretty sure that would be your answer, Lilbea."

Another spoke. "If you were to accede, many of our people, who were forcibly freed from the giants' yoke, would desert us. They would hide in the deserts northwest of Reir, if need be."

"Good. Than you don't think many would blame me if I didn't accede."

They said as one man. "No!"

"And yet...I wish there was a way we could have taken advantage of this. If I could send an emissary or an ambassador myself to advise their Emperor...truth to tell, even if there was only a monetary tribute, I might accede. But a Titan governor? I can't. It's not in me." mused Cabolki.

"Let me think of how I can phrase my refusal in a way that does not close the door utterly. Because despite all the successes my forebears were granted, we could have very easily suffered the fate of another of my forebears, Medahn, who died in the giants' captivity. The full force of the Titans has never been turned to us. And if it is, even Utnir may not be protection enough."

The next morning he spoke in public to the Ambassador. He dared not linger over the decision longer, or his people might think he was actually going to sell them out.

"Ambassador, please tell this to my brother Emperor." The Ambassador flinched at the implied equality, but he kept silent. "I think the offer is kind and generous, and it is not pride that keeps me from accepting. Many of my people have been recently freed from the giants' yoke, and would flee or die before accepting. Here, in this 'small corner of Cathrarho' I can be sure I can help them. As an advisor to your Majesty I could perhaps help more, but only if my advice is heeded, and not ignored. Nor will your august Majesty live forever. Will the next Emperor be a fool with a taste for manflesh? Will the new promises...more than generous, very much to be hoped for...then be rendered null and void? What hope will my people have then? I understand that you yourself would protect them as a father, but some fathers are rough with their sons, and some are gentle.

"Would it be possible for me to send an ambassador to Setitiys instead? If you want advice he can give it, but he could also see the state of the humans in your Empire. If things have improved as much as you say, then surely he might be able to turn the hearts of my people towards your gracious offer. But as it stands...I must refuse.

"I understand the might that you command, and can only counter that might is not always the winner in a fight. We are not eager to face it; but we will face whatever is sent to us...rather than die slaves."

The Ambassador sniffed. "You are ill-advised, human. If I had composed the message, it would have been much less gracious."

"And it is giants like yourself --unlike your gracious master--who make it imperative that I not accept the offer. You have my answer. Return it to he who reigns in Setitiys."

The ambassador insolently turned his back.

"The storm is coming, my friends," said Cabolki. "Brace yourselves."

The Emperor of the Titans received the answer weeks later in Setitiys, in private, as he ate breakfast. The Emperor Urymi paused and then said, "A good answer. A shame he is of the little folk."

"When will you strike, Majesty?"

"In my own time, Ambassador. In my own way. He is expecting a frontal assault. Let him wear his people down with preparedness, never seeing the stroke I aimed for him...until it is too late."

A year passed. Two. Cabolki built up his armies as much as possible, outfitted his fleet, and waited in vain for some action from the Titans' Emperor. Yet in other acts, this Emperor seemed wise and not slow to act. How would he strike?

Refugees who had escaped from their masters came from the Titans' lands. All were granted access. It seemed to him they came in even greater numbers than before. Perhaps the Titan-Emperor's secret symathy for the humans had caused him to relax his prohibitions?

He didn't notice that most of the refugees were of fighting age. That many joined the armies as soon as they could.

Five years passed...and these refugees asked for an audience with the Emperor, really a celebration to thank him. Cabolki walked in to thunderous applause. He noted with approval that a much-honored captain in the army was the leader. He was welcomed, and spoke from the podium. "I am more honored than I can say by this splendid show of gratitude. It warms me that so many have found refuge here in Hon--"

Then the captain stabbed Cabolki, expertly and cleanly. Cabolki, falling to the floor, looked up at him, mutely asking Why?

"All these in the room, Majesty...and many others...have their families held hostage by the Titans. We had to come. We have to betray you. We have to kill you."

The captain turned to the window, drawing back a curtain. "Look."

Far off, Cabori could glimpse sails---an immense fleet from the Titans.

"No alarm will be sounded. The seaward towers are manned by our men. This is the end of the Cathurian kingdom. This gives us no pleasure. But it must and shall be done, or our families perish. Others among us are torching your ships, or setting loose the hippogriffs. This is the end."

When the Titan ships were plainly visible, there was panic in C'Stepho, and at key points the traitors-against-their-will made it worse. One loyal Wingrider, though, was a brother of the queen, and she gave her young son, no more than five, to him, and they rode off on hippogriff, past Honrar, past Reir, and landed in the deserts northwest of Reir. But for Honrar, the giants had landed, and an old nightmare returned again.

The Return of the Chains had come, and hope almost drowned.

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Copyright © 1997 Al Schroeder