“No. Absolutely not. The day this nation bows to such a demand is the day we trade away our freedom and tell Kai we have no interest in his protection.”
Ember relaxed. The King had spoken. The Crown, at least, would not turn her over.
The King looked at others gathered around the large meeting table in his study.
“That is my position, at least.” He sighed. “The Isolation party will certainly take a different stance, and we should expect them to gain some ground once the numbers get out on the possible imperial commitment.”
She tensed again. No. It was expected.
“Four-hundred thousand regulars is a terrifying number,” he said. “Our agents are already working on finding out how serious the Empire is about that, but we already know they can deliver on it if they really want to.”
Ember watched him. He still wasn’t looking at her. Why?
“Trin, you’ve been out there,” the King said. “What can you tell us about the Empire’s regular forces?”
Trin waved her hand at the files scattered across the table. Ember examined her face. That was genuine worry creasing her brows.
“I don’t know what I can say that isn’t already in our file on the Fire Legions. Their muskets are slow, loud, and inaccurate, but dangerous. I’ve seen them against unarmored and lightly armored opponents and they tend to rip limbs off. The cannons are just as slow, but more accurate and far more deadly. A full set of drax plate might keep you alive with one of the smaller field guns, but it would still toss you around and break some bones. Their rockets are fast, loud, and explode and start fires when they hit. Worse, the Legions bring what seems like an endless supply of them to any battle.”
“Can we stop them?”
“If we call up the militias we can match them for numbers, and our bows are far deadlier. Our explosives too.”
Ember nodded. She had seen the Fire Legions in action, and nothing they had carried the same world shattering punch as the Salshiran heavy explosives.
“Bows we have,” High-General NarDannen said, reaching for the file on the Fire Legion weapons again. “But we have a limited supply of the heavy ballistas, especially the new ones, and our stockpile of special arrows and bolts is still very limited.”
“Trant arms is in full production and VarKenik is close behind,” Tala said.
“I’ll have them push for triple production rate,” the King said. “The military budget has enough extra for the factory expansions and I’m sure we can get a general contribution from the citizenry. Gidahn, call for a volunteer contribution to the militia fund for the arrows, as well. That should cover most of the new ammunition. Put it into whichever mix you want.”
“I’ll see to that today. I’d also like a supply of the air and steam mortars if they’re ready for production…” He looked at Tala hopefully.
Ember looked at Tala as well and noted that the woman was still avoiding looking at her. In fact, it seemed worse lately than it had ever been before.
“We worked out the bugs. Those are going into production this week.” She pulled one of the files out and handed it to NarDannen. “These are the final specs.” She switched her attention to the King. “Also, our armor should help,” Tala said. “We tested a few captured muskets against our standard kren composite and the plates deflected most of the shots. The round balls don’t seem to penetrate the weave easily. The report’s back in the main weapons office if you want it.”
The King shook his head.
“I’ll take your word for it. And thank you. Most of our militia has kren armor.” He nodded to himself. “That is very encouraging.”
“Muskets only make up about a quarter of their infantry,” Trin said. “They still use archers in their cavalry, and their heavy cavalry has plate armor that will deflect even our arrows at long range. And again, these will be blooded regulars against militia. Regulars backed by plenty of auxiliaries.”
The King sighed.
“Gidahn, I want you to put out a ten-percent call up today. Just for training, but do it. I want plenty of hands ready to use the new weapons. I’ll sign the order as soon as we’re done here.”
“I’ll see to it.”
“No one has brought up the worst part,” Bethania said from the place near the corner of the room.
Trin glanced at her, then looked at Ember and back to the middle of the table.
“Garagrans,” Ean said. “The Legions are backed by Garagrans.”
“Three per legion,” Trin said. “Plus each high-general’s personal coterie. So, close to three hundred.”
“Our army is trained for this, now,” Bethania said.
“We’re more ready than ever before. Of course, I’d certainly like to run the militia through some live drills as well…” He looked at Ember.
Ember met his gaze then looked away and shook her head.
“I’m sorry. It’s all I can do to work with the horse trainers these days.”
She saw the General nod.
“There is no shame in that, Ember,” Bethania said. “You are where you are.”
Ember avoided her gaze.
“Cheer up, all of you,” the King said. “The situation I see is far from hopeless. If the Empire truly wants to take our country, they will have a terrible fight on their hands. Personally, I don’t think they will succeed. Or that they’ll want to, once they they get a full sense of the cost.”
Ember looked up to meet his gaze. He was smiling. It was almost honest.
She glanced at Ean. Still avoiding her.
But Tala was looking right at her.
Ember looked away, feeling a twist in her stomach. She was sure there would be many, many more looks like that to come, from more than just Tala. And even if they didn’t band together and throw her out, there was nothing to say that she wouldn’t die just as surely when the Empire burned its way in.
Why couldn’t she fly? Why couldn’t she fight?
Why not now, when she needed it more than ever?
This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.
Where are you, Kai? Is this how you treat your people?
I’m yours now.
Where are you?