The Solitude of Death, Part 2

The High Council of Fangalin met in a large dining hall in what used to be the Imperial Governor’s mansion on the planet of Numoris. There were 32 councilors total, and they were all gathered around a large rectangular table, discussing the course of the war against the Empire. There were two contentious topics on the agenda, and volume and anger were both in great supply.

Zhemeen Fortulis sat at the head of the table, observing the fiery speeches and impassioned gestures without emotion. The Supreme Commander of Fangalin was both part of and above the High Council. The Fangalin Charter, which provided the foundation for all of Fangalin’s laws, stipulated that the Commander had to be chosen by a majority vote of the full Council from among their number. But that was the only real power that the High Council possessed. Every other function they carried out was purely advisory. The Charter required the Supreme Commander to listen to the advice of his Council, but it did not require him to follow that advice.

As a man of action, Fortulis found these meetings to be more tedious than enlightening, but he was loyal to the Charter, and so he did what it said. In reality, if he had chosen to disregard the Charter, in this or any regard, there was nothing that anyone could do about it. The Charter was adamant that the Supreme Commander be supreme in all respects. The word of the Commander was law, and there was no one and nothing that could circumvent or undo any of his commands or orders. Wellin Votara, the first Supreme Commander and the author of the Fangalin Charter, strongly believed that for Fangalin to succeed, the Supreme Commander needed full freedom to do what he believed needed to be done.

This meant that once a man (and it could only be a man – the Charter specifically forbade women from becoming councilors) was elected by the High Council to the post of Supreme Commander, he was there for life. Supreme Commanders could not be removed from their post for any reason save death. It was, potentially, a recipe for disaster if the Council elected someone incompetent, but the Charter contained a detailed description of how every member of Fangalin, from the least to the greatest, should behave, and loyalty to the Charter was drilled into every member of Fangalin from the moment they were born or joined.

Fortulis struggled to bring his attention back to the matters at hand. There were only two items on the Council’s agenda today, but they were both highly controversial. The first was whether or not Fangalin operatives should assassinate one or more of the men claiming the title of Emperor. The second was how to deal with the various factions that the Empire had split into, whether Fangalin should play one against another, or if the Grand and Invincible Army should indiscriminately sweep them all from the galaxy.

In reality, as much as Council meetings bored Fortulis, he really did need to pay attention to this one. He was unsure how to proceed in both of these matters. Things had gone well for Fangalin since they had come out of hiding three years earlier, but the conquest of the Empire was not proceeding as fast as he had hoped. Yes, the Grand and Invincible Army had won victory after victory, but the Imperial Fleet was still resisting, and that resistance was getting stiffer with every battle.

“I’m telling you, we should just kill that buffoon on Trisitania!” bellowed Councilor Heskin Non, his face bright red and sweaty, “If we have the opportunity to kill an Emperor, why wouldn’t we take it?” Non was fired up about this topic, but then again, Non was fired up about most anything. His normal speaking voice was considerably louder than most people were when they yelled.

“Your thinking is flawed,” responded Councilor Dren Calabane. His voice was much quieter, but contained a dangerous edge, “Our goal is the destruction of the Empire, not individual Emperors. If the Emperor is a fool whose actions do more harm to the Empire than they do to us, then it does not benefit us to eliminate him. What if someone competent takes his place?”

“Nonsense!” boomed Councilor Non, “Of course it benefits us to assassinate the Emperor! Cut off the head and the body will die, that’s what I always say! Anything we do to damage the Empire benefits us!”

“You’re not listening to me, Non,” Calabane said, exasperated, “I’m saying that the death of Embamor II will not damage the Empire in any way, and it may even strengthen them. If that drunken idiot was the Supreme Commander of Fangalin, wouldn’t we welcome it if Imperial assassins came to eliminate him for us?” There was considerable muttering around the table at this. Every Councilor was well aware that the only way a Supreme Commander would leave his office was if he died. The idea that someday a bad Supreme Commander might have to be assassinated by the Council was one that every Councilor had without talking about it. Calabane had come dangerously close to speaking the unspeakable.

After an awkward silence, Fortulis cleared his throat. “In any case,” he said firmly, trying to break the tension, “I think that we have discussed this issue enough for one day. I will make sure to let you all know what I decide, when I decide it.” He banged his gavel on the table, hard. “The Council is dismissed.” That pronouncement caused some more muttering, as there was another issue on the agenda, but the word of the Supreme Commander was law.

Dren Calabane came up to Fortulis as the other councilors filed out of the council chamber. “My lord, I hope you are aware of the importance of the other item on the agenda.”

“I am aware, Councilor,” Fortulis said with a voice like stone. Fortulis didn’t particularly like Calabane, not least because he didn’t seem to hold Fortulis in awe like the other Councilors did, but he also had to admit that Calabane was the most competent man on the Council. “Rest assured that we will discuss it tomorrow. For now, I have dismissed the Council, and that includes you.” Calabane bowed and withdrew, but he didn’t even bother to disguise the scowl on his face.

To be continued…


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