Very Few Are Left (Revisited)

Very Few Are Left (Revisited)

A while back I decided to re-do a prompt with the same character in the same universe, but at a different part of their life. As usual, Domerin had a lot to offer. But I thought his idea was rather cheaty – since it actually involved a different version of himself (even if he does inhabit the same universe as the one the previous prompt was set it). But I did like it, so here it is; it’s kind of a companion piece to the prompt it’s a re-write of as well. (You can read the original Very Few Are Left here.)
. . .

The obsidian walls of the general’s chamber gleamed in the flickering lantern light. Even built of such a dark material, the sitting room was grand enough to feel open and spacious. Rich crimson rugs covered the floor, decorated with intricate designs. The fine furniture was upholstered in scarlet silk. Even the wood of the general’s desk was stained a rich cherry color, so bright it almost seemed as though blood had seeped into the wood.

Despite the gauzy curtains and the fancy tapestries, General Lorcasf was still the most impressive thing in the room. Since he was not preparing for battle, he did not wear his ruby-studded black armor, the sight of which often set his enemies trembling. It was heavy, awkward and bulky and didn’t accommodate the kind of lounging he’d decided to spend the day indulging in. Instead he wore robes the color of red wine, embroidered with black patterns inlaid with meticulously cut  onyx gemstones so that he, too,  glimmered when the light struck him. He was decorated with golden jewelry, much of it studded with blood-colored rubies. The largest was on a ring on his right hand – a gift from the Warlord himself. The most delicate of the red gemstones studded the earrings set into his left ear, connected by a tiny golden web of chains.

He did not rise when the knock sounded at his door, calling only, “Come,” and expecting the order to be followed.

This early in the day, the door was unlocked. He had yet to engage in anything private and, besides, he had been expecting this particular visitor.

The lesser general looked downright drab compared to everything surrounding him, but General Lorcasf motioned for him to make himself at home anyway. One had to cultivate a considerable amount of influence in the lower ranks to keep them loyal. Fear didn’t always work, though it had been General Lorcaf’s preferred method for some time. He didn’t like to deal in favors; he was stingier than the Warlord in that regard.

Ziefest, his visitor, bowed from the waist before proceeding into the room and perching on one of the fine armchairs, as if he expected to be driven from it momentarily. General Lorcasf frowned; did the man bring bad news?

“You have those reports I asked for?”

Ziefest reached into a small leather satchel he carried and produced a small, thin box, no doubt filled with parchment. He set it on the table between them, but the general did not reach for them. “Organized to your particular preferences, my lord. I double checked them myself. You won’t have need of an inventory for a long time.”

The frown eased from his features, though a smile did not take the frown’s place. “Excellent, Ziefest. I have always been pleased with your work. But it isn’t the inventory I’m most interested in discussing.”

His visitor’s lips formed a thin smirk. His meticulous practices endeared him to most of the Warlord’s highest-ranking warriors, which allowed him a certain freedom of movement even General Lorcasf could not claim. He heard things that most prying ears could not. Spies had their uses, but the members of Magus’s court were too used to shielding themsleves and their secrets from their enemies to let their tongues slip often. That’s why ensuring the loyalty of a man like Ziefest was worth the hassle. After all; if the general’s plans came to fruition, he could provide Ziefest with more wealth and power than the current Warlord would ever be willing to bestow upon him. Ziefest was no clever warrior, but his cunning had plenty of other uses.

“Whispers around the fortress favor you still, my lord. There are those who believe Magus will choose you as his successor in the coming weeks.”

General Lorcasf snorted. “They have whispered the same for years now. If Magus were ever going to name an heir, he would have done so by now. Damn fool probably thinks he’s immortal.”

“Well, he’s certainly trying to be.”

For nearly fifty years now, Warlord Magus had ruled these lands with an iron fist. Much to the dismay of his neighbors, age had not slowed his thirst for blood and expansion. But he rarely rode onto the battlefield himself these days and, when he did, only to observe. He liked blood sport; that was certainly how General Lorcasf had first turned the Warlord’s eye in his direction. But it was easy now to note the arthritic tremble in his hands when he thought no one was paying attention. He could lift a sword, and had power enough in his body left to wreak devastation with it, but if he were ever forced to fight a skilled opponent without assistance, it would be his doom.

It was the without assistance part that caused so much difficulty. There were still troops in his ranks who had served within his early campaigns, men who had grown up at the Warlord’s side, swearing to die in his defense. General Lorcasf would be more than pleased to fulfill that desire, but he needed to ensure he had enough men of his own to offset their ranks. Even if Magus agreed to single combat, he’d have to enforce the rules of the challenge, especially when the Warlord was no longer around to keep his war pups in line.

“And have his mages solved that particular riddle yet?”

Ziefest snorted. “If magic was all it took to keep a man alive forever, we’d have no dead mages, would we? Even the previous Archmage’s notion of bonding the warlord with a demon the way the master mages do only ended in disaster – for the Archmage anyway. Why do you think he was so interested in your kind in his early days?”

The general’s elongated ears twitched. “Spilling Elven blood doesn’t grant our longevity.”

“No, but he thought raising one might.”

General Lorcasf made a soft sound of disinterest and reached for a goblet of wine he had set aside prior to Ziefest’s arrival. He did not offer his guest a glass. “And if I were to declare myself heir to all of this?” He made a circular motion with his left hand.

“There are still those who would oppose you, my lord, but very few are left.”

This time, the sound the general made in response was thoughtful. Most of his opponents had been conveniently eliminated on the battlefield, an eventuality ensured by General Lorcasf’s agents. Sometimes he bribed them to abandon their leader in a moment of dire need. Every now and then he asked them to lead the enemy to the proper location. And more than once he had paid a man to kill his master himself. It had been amusing to watch a few of his cleverer opponents wriggle out of his traps only to be slain by the Warlord for failure to complete their assigned tasks one too many times.

Such was life in the court of Warlord Magus.

“That is good news indeed, Ziefest. Name them.” He had already used one of his most powerful, and most loyal, mages to ensure that no one would be able to overhear this afternoon’s conversation.

“General Abolan,” Ziefest said without hesitation.

The general dismissed that notion with a flick of his wrist. “He is absolutely loyal to the Archamge, and the Archmage will soon be absolutely loyal to me. Abolan will do what the Archmage wills. He’s always been beholden to his personal oaths.”

“Is a man who serves himself ever absolutely loyal to another?” Ziefest countered. “What if he thinks he needs to protect the Archmage from himself?”

The general considered the question while he swished wine back and forth across his tongue. He shook his head as he swallowed. “So long as I don’t try to reassign him, I don’t see him causing me trouble. War is that man’s religion. So long as he maintains whatever duty he currently considers sacred, he’ll be easy to manipulate. Who else?”

“General Zhal.”

General Lorcasf snorted. “He’s almost as old as Magus.”

“But in considerably better shape.”

“True.” The general tilted his head while he once again considered his opponent. “And most likely to challenge me for leadership even if I defeat Magus fairly.” Since fair wasn’t a rule most of Magus’s generals played by, he was probably going to have to arrange to remove Zhal from the picture before he enacted his plans. Either that or make certain he was away when the moment came.

“A threat worth noting, but not a difficult challenge to overcome; who’s next?”

“Viaust, Garrigha, and Mosneg.”

“Hmm…” Friends were quite difficult to maintain in Magus’s court, which made General Lorcasf wonder if these three were bonded by some other means. “See if you can sway Viaust. She’s the most dominant of that group. If she takes our side, the others will follow. Otherwise, we might have to test the bonds of that particular friendship, don’t you think?”

“Indeed, my lord. That leaves only Angris and Turlage.”

“Turlage is an idiot,” the general snarled with disdain.

“I agree, my lord, but he’s a loud idiot and you don’t want him raising a fuss at the wrong moment.”

“Another good point.” General Lorcasf sighed. There might come a day when he no longer had to suffer the presence of fools. It would make all his struggles worthwhile. “But he’s expendable and it should be easy to make it look accidental.” And there were plenty of people who hated Turlage, which would make his demise a great deal cheaper.

“But Angris is tricky. Her style and skill are unique. It would be a shame to lose them.” She came from a small land conquered by Magus when she had been a child. Like him, she was one of only a handful of remaining survivors. Though she had been young when she was taken into Magus’s army, she had clung to her dying culture and considered her ascension through the ranks as proof that their methods were superior. Not that Magus cared so long as she, and her troops, remained efficient.

“Give me some time to think on that one,” the general said at last, draining the last of the wine from his goblet before setting it aside again. “You have served me well Ziefest, and I am pleased. Though not surprised. You are more dependable than most.”

Ziefest slid to his feet and bowed from the waist again. “You flatter me, my lord. It is a pleasure to serve someone who can recognize talents such as mine. If you would excuse me. I believe I may be able to approach Viaust this very evening, since I’m certain you do not want to delay.”

The general nodded to grant his visitor’s dismissal request. He did not rise and follow Ziefest to the door, though no doubt he would lock it soon. With all the pieces of his grand conquest falling so rapidly into place, the time had come to approach the plan’s ultimate linchpin. But the Archmage would side with him; he knew it. He had spent his entire adult life wooing that man, parading his accomplishments before his eyes, even rising to glory simply to turn the man’s eyes in his direction. Securing his cooperation would be a triumph of its own, one he had long waited to indulge in.

General Lorcasf slid to his feet, crossed the room and slid the bolt lock on the door to his quarters. He would begin with a feast. There was much to prepare.

2 Replies to “Very Few Are Left (Revisited)”

  1. Hi, Megan! This is a really engaging piece. I don’t know the characters, but I liked Lorcaf right off. He reminds me of Lord Varys, a favorite, dealing with one of his “little birds.” Thank you for sharing it.

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