"How many Eastern troops are still out there?" Zarsan asked, walking into the barracks.
"Zarsan!" Jonas dragged him off to one side. "You went to Luh to ask Ludrig for his archers? Why in the Creek didn't you say anything?"
"There were other reasons, Jonas. I'm sorry for being so secretive. I never hold back from my men unless it's vital that I do so. You know that." Zarsan apologised. "As for Ludrig's archers? It's time, Jonas. We need this bloodshed ended."
"Before they get to Jullit. I had theorised on that. There aren't many of them left, Zarsan. A huge number of them simply walked away and refused to participate in something so pointless. Our barracks was like the market square on a feast day at one point."
"We need them thinned out even more. I know the archers are the utter last resort but I'm still not happy with herding Agalian soldiers to their deaths." Zarsan said.
"I have a suggestion but I don't think you'll be happy with that either." Jonas told him. "We have Lafi's wife, Gertrude and Lady Lydia, his mother, in the guest villa. They stayed in East Agalia until it was obvious that they were in danger. They fled in disguise and turned up at the Halls yesterday."
"Waylon just abandoned them?" Zarsan asked in disgust.
"They both genuinely believed that they'd be sent for. I feel sorry for them and Lady Gertrude is a bit ... slow ... if you get my drift. There's a guard outside the villa incase they're approached, but they're being looked after."
"Good. And this suggestion I'm not going to like?" Zarsan prompted.
"Lady Lydia. We can escort her out there and she can tell the men that they're out of options. She only need appeal to a few and word will circulate. Your own tactics, Zarsan." Jonas shrugged.
"I'm not comfortable with using a lady in that situation." Zarsan frowned.
"I knew you wouldn't be. Me or Brock just wouldn't be believed and you'd be dead in minutes if you went out there without the army. She'll be well protected, you have my word and she'll never be in range of any weapons. I'm of the opinion that she'll jump at the chance. The male Boons aren't high on her estimation list just now." Jonas said. "Decision is yours, Zarsan. I know it's unconventional."
"I'm willing to try anything to get those numbers down. Keep her safe, Jonas." Zarsan left the barracks and headed for home. He'd just mentioned abandonment by people who were responsible for you and yet he was here, ignoring his own daughter. Florian was already there. His wife and daughter had moved in for security when the city went mad. Flora, Florian's daughter, was Kezia's minder.
"She's so good, sir." Flora handed the baby to Zarsan.
"I hope you know how thankful I am to you, Flora, and to you Phylis. I'd never have managed recently if it wasn't for you both." Zarsan cradled his baby and the women smiled and left him to it. "Harper will love her, Florian."
"Of course she will." Florian poured two glasses of wine. "I can't believe that was the first time I'd seen them for eleven years. I can't believe any of this."
"You were there right from the start, Florian and you've been there ever since. I class you, Phylis and Flora as my family too." Zarsan smiled at his daughter. "She's so much like her mother. I miss her, Florian. Ironic seeing as I was against the marriage for so long."
"Your circumstances were unique and complicated. Of course you miss her, I do too. She was a very remarkable Lady." Florian, as usual, knew the right thing to say.
"It would seem there are more remarkable ladies in the realm than anyone thought." Zarsan stood up and gently put Kezia in her crib. "Hopefully, Kezia will grow into one too."
"Just you lead the way, General Jonas!" Lady Lydia barked and Lady Gertrude sobbed into her handkerchief. "Oh don't cry, Gertie. I'm still here for you." Gertie snivelled her thanks. "See? Do you see what our menfolk have done? I agreed with my brother on so many things, General. I supported him and spoke up for him and he simply turns tail and leaves us in danger. As for Lafi? It's not easy to speak against your own son but he is like his late father. No backbone, General, no backbone." That made Gertie sob louder. "It's the truth Gertie and we have to accept that. May I ask a question of you?" Lydia hauled Jonas into the doorway. "I'm not a stupid woman, General Jonas. All this is headed towards the capture of Waylon and Lafi. What will become of them? My feelings are quite high just now, I admit, but I wouldn't want them physically hurt if it can be avoided. Jail? Exile? I'll look after Gertie."
"I have no answer for you, Lady Lydia. I don't have the authority to pass judgement. That would be up to the governmental courts of East and West Agalia and that would depend on what they were charged with. It's way out of my field. Sorry." Jonas smiled at Lady Lydia. She was clearly extremely distraught and very worried about Gertie who she obviously thought a great deal of. He reached the private conclusion that Waylon must have been a foundling.
"Thank you for explaining." Lydia took a deep breath. "Shall we go? Those soldiers need to know they're on a road to nowhere."
"Zarsan she was ... amazing." Jonas had lead Lady Lydia's escort and was extremely impressed at her communication skills. "We'll see what the cover of night brings but I'll be surprised if they don't scatter before morning. We could probably intercept the archers en route and save them a trail up the cliffs."
"Well she's certainly impressed you. What did she say?" Zarsan was impressed too. He hadn't held much hope for the plan.
"The truth, basically. She told them that Lafi and Waylon were finished. She told them if there'd been any hope for them, then she'd not have come to the Western army for shelter. Can't really argue with that." Jonas shrugged. "She reckons Waylon had some sort of breakdown that had been coming on for years and I can well believe that. She pointed out that an unfit Emperor couldn't make fair decisions on behalf of the Empire, including its army. She said it maybe wasn't his fault but he was putting them all in danger without realising it. She made it know that Waylon was mad without sounding like a vengeful family member who's been left destitute. Very articulate." Jonas said respectfully.
"I wish I'd witnessed it." Zarsan was very pleased indeed. "I was speaking to Florian earlier about remarkable women. It looks like we've found another one."
Zarsan met up with Keegan on the coastal grounds north west of Gilby.
"We could still send a few up there just incase." Keegan squinted into the sun.
"As you see fit but I doubt there'll be the numbers to cause any trouble. Just let them through. The sight of a few stragglers will finalise the demoralisation of any potential replacements." Zarsan reasoned. "How are Harper and Zari?"
"Looking forward to being with you." Keegan laughed. "Ah this has been a long time late in coming, Zarsan. I don't just mean you and Harper, I mean everything."
"We still have a fair way to go Keegan. Agalia has to be re-stabilised for a start." Zarsan pointed out.
"Appointing another Emperor. Yes I know. Ludrig says you should tell them all to bugger off and do it yourself like he does." Keegan rolled his eyes and Zarsan laughed. "Don't start with stabilising Agalia, Zarsan, start with your family. Torment knows you all deserve it."
"Did you ever hate me, Keegan?" Zarsan asked awkwardly. "Harper would have married you had her heart not been in Agalia, even after I wed Lady Kez."
"I never hated you, Zarsan." Keegan shook his head. "I respected Harper's feelings for you and I knew you presumed she'd perished in Luh. If your attitude was anything other than ignorance then I could have thought differently of you."
"You're a good man Keegan. Thank you. I'll send scouts to Jullit to send back reports."
"I'll go and tell Ludrig he hasn't missed a fight afterall."
Emperors And Kings