Valador Mifalis had a reputation as someone with a great deal of patience, but the woman standing in front of him was doing her very best to test it. Mifalis, who had proclaimed himself Emperor Valador I three years earlier, was sitting on his throne, holding court. Of course, the throne wasn’t the Imperial Throne, and the court was not located in the Imperial Palace, but it would have to do for now.
The woman was an ambassador from the Republic of Hadramoris. None of the three men who claimed the Imperial Throne recognized the legitimacy of the Republic, but Valador was the only one who had not openly declared war on it. An informal truce existed between Valador and the Republic, and the ambassador, Horga Volm, was here trying to turn the truce into a formal alliance. Unfortunately for Volm, an alliance was something that the Emperor had no interest in, and unfortunately for the Emperor, Volm refused to take no for an answer.
Truth be told, Valador had flirted with the idea of an alliance with Hadramoris. The President of the Republic, Eregon Fadlamis, was one of the most popular and charismatic politicians in the galaxy, and he had managed to pull together a formidable collection of provinces under his rule. An alliance would give Valador’s claim to the Throne a substantial boost, which was tempting because Valador’s position was the weakest of the three rival Emperors.
But Hadramoris, like the rest of the known galaxy, was ostensibly Imperial territory, and Valador had no intention of being remembered as the first Emperor who gave away part of the Empire to another state. As much of a boost as a Hadramoran alliance would give him in the short-term, it would cripple his position and his claim to the Throne in the long-term.
It didn’t help that Horga Volm was an insufferable windbag. She was an enormous woman, only about 5 and a half feet tall, but easily weighing 350 pounds, all of it fat. She had a red face, short gray hair that looked a bit like a helmet, and a slight mustache.
“Your Highness, be reasonable,” Volm said for what seemed like the hundredth time, “Your claim to the throne is doomed without Hadramoran aid. General Votalin holds twice as many provinces as you, and his fleet is three times the size of yours! General Etralis has even more resources, plus the Throne itself! An alliance with the Republic is the only logical course.”
“Logical and reasonable as it may be, Ambassador, it is a course of action that would inevitably lead to my defeat,” Valador replied coldly. “What you ask for is impossible.”
“Believe me, Your Majesty, you would be much better off with the Republic as your friend than as your enemy,” Volm countered. “We have more provinces and a bigger fleet than you and General Votalin combined. We could crush you quite thoroughly if it came to war. But we would prefer peace. As confident as we are that we can hold our own against all comers, one less enemy would make our efforts against our other enemies much more effective.”
“I’m not terribly concerned about your war effort, Ambassador,” Valador said, even more coldly than before. “And I think you would find my forces to be a stiffer challenge than your bravado would indicate. But, regardless of all that, the fact remains that no citizen of the Empire would accept my rule as legitimate if I gave away Imperial territory.”
“Come now, Your Majesty,” Volm said with an ingratiating smile, “the Republic is not going anywhere. Eventually it will become obvious that the territory that we have claimed will never return to the Empire. The first Emperor to recognize that fact will not be vilified, but will in fact be lauded for his wisdom and foresight.”
“Your words are bold,” responded Valador, “but the truth is that the Republic is less than three years old. You say the Republic is here to stay? That remains to be seen. It may be as you claim. But that is a risk I cannot take. For me, it is enough that a truce remains between us.”
“If that is your wish, Your Majesty, the Republic will accept it,” Volm said. Her face retained its amiable expression, but her voice had taken on a dangerous edge. “However, keep in mind that a day will come when this war has ended. When that day comes, the Republic will remember its friends…and its enemies.” With that, Volm bowed and departed.
As soon as she left, she was replaced with another petitioner, but the Emperor’s mind remained on the Republic and its emissary. He was too canny a politician to completely ignore this new petitioner; as somebody with a lot of decisions to make and very little time to think about them, he had long ago mastered the ability to pay attention to one thing with part of his brain, and think about something else with the rest. And Horga Volm had indeed given him much to think about.
As much as the Ambassador’s words were full of excessive confidence and bravado, there was a ring of logic to them. Valador couldn’t help but be tempted by the possibility of, not only completely eliminating one enemy, but turning that enemy into a powerful ally. Valador was very conscious of his fragile position vis-à-vis his rivals. He knew that he was a much better general and leader than Etralis or Votalin, but somehow they had managed to attract much larger followings than him. His fleet had used guerrilla tactics to chip away at the territory controlled by his rivals, but he didn’t have the ships or the personnel to win a full scale battle with either of them. An alliance with the Republic would give him both of those things.
He shook his head and turned his full attention to the current petitioner. The cost was too great. He would rather lose his throne and his head than be remembered as the man who legitimately broke the Empire. He would have to find some other way to win.
To be continued…