One man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist. Here's the rebels, Gloria's problem in the east.
Two men sat at the head of a long table in an upper room. The windows faced southwards and three pools of wintry sunshine spilled to the highly polished surface of the table. Other than that central piece of furniture the room was dingy, with dirty fissures veining the whitewashed walls and sloping beamed ceiling. Behind the men a claret flag was pinned to the wall, its yellow emblem being an arc of seven stars above a pair of crossed swords.
The first man had some eastern blood and his round face was smooth and sallow. Despite a pair of worried dark eyes that roamed beneath a cap of silky black hair, he looked younger than his forty years. And fit too, for within his leather fighting coat George Pictor kept a broad and muscular body.
‘John, I’ll grant you we could cause some trouble with that gunpowder in the short term, but there is not enough for a concerted bombing campaign,’ said George, turning a couple of leaves on the pile of papers before him. ‘And it goes without saying that we have no prospect of getting cannon and shot.’
John Cygnus glared at the leader of the Mizar Liberation Army with a sparkling blue eye that missed as little as its blind white companion saw. Firmly in the middle years, tall and spindly, he was wrapped in a black greatcoat. His sparse grey hair was tied back in a single tatty knot, and dirt filled his fingernails and the long creases in his rubbery jowls.
‘Well it’s true,’ said George, stealing a timid glance at Cygnus. ‘For the sake of the Holy Sun why don’t you wear your eye patch?’
‘Just imagine what’s happening right now on the Sanin,’ said Cygnus, ignoring his comrade’s disgust at his blinded eye, ‘Gloria Digbone will not want to risk another damaging raid on an outlying arsenal.’ He stopped and waited for a reaction from George with the hanging open-mouthed expectation of a dog awaiting a treat.
‘Ack, even if she did gather all her gunpowder and take it to the Castle it would be far too risky to make an attempt on it.’
‘Look George, you’re not going to stop Gloria coming east this spring – our only hope would be if she had no powder for those guns.’
‘Or perhaps, we don’t get drawn into the set-piece battle she craves?’ said George. ‘We employ the usual hit and run tactics. Wear them down.’
‘What if Gloria then decides to turn her artillery on our towns?’
‘Then we will fight her in the rubble,’ said George doggedly. He got up and went to the fireplace, prodding the blistered log into action, ‘In any case, John, how can you be so sure that Mistress Digbone has no capacity to make more gunpowder?’
‘There are the rumours for a start. Before Gloria’s father went away, the few workers that were involved in the project are said to have mysteriously disappeared. Morgan is a cunning and devious man. He trusts no one. Not even his own daughter, particularly so with such a powerful secret.’
‘Humpff,’ said George.
‘You should strike while the iron is hot,’ said Cygnus. ‘Take the chance to rid the world of this menace once and for all.’
‘Then again, there’s no guarantee that Morgan Digbone can’t come back.’
‘Nooo…but Dorada’s sources indicate that if you disregard the usual bluffing from the Castle, the reality is that Gloria’s father hasn’t been seen for many years now.’
George sat back down and extracted another paper, letting his eyes linger on it, before sighing dejectedly, ‘I suppose Morgan reckons he doesn’t have to return, since he left a mad and powerless King behind him in the Seat of the Iron Realm.’
‘George, we all know the Protectorate of Mizar went with King Amenor’s sanity. But that was sixteen years ago. We’ve been doing all right on our own, especially lately.’
‘I’d stand to lose the best fighters from the Seven Towns, not to mention many of our Izarian mercenaries, in any attempt on the Castle – tell me, what would that do for our cause?’
‘Listen George,’ said the old terrorist, ‘if Gloria settles her differences with Shaula then you’ll have to act against that consolidated arsenal.’
‘Queen Ellen bears grudges in perpetuity,’ argued the leader of the MLA, ‘it’ll be no different with Gloria.’
‘Maybe,’ said Cygnus. ‘But equally, you couldn’t just stand by and let those Shaulan animals loose in our towns. You’d have to go out and confront them.’
Oh, those rebels.
Best wishes and regards