General Vor Shen was exhausted, but understandably so. After all, it was a lot of work to carve a kingdom out of an empire. But the first goal of his long labors was in sight. In a few weeks, Haasadis Ventelin would openly proclaim himself King of Midigal, and the provinces that formed this new kingdom would be ready to defend themselves from the inevitable reprisal from the Empire.
General Shen’s plans were simple but brilliant. Shen knew that Empire was severely short of manpower. Many soldiers had died in the battles of the past four years, and many more had defected to Fangalin and Hadramoris. And to Midigal, although the Imperial Fleet didn’t know it yet. On paper, General Shen, General Ventelin, and the men and women who served under them were still members of the Imperial Armed Forces. They just hadn’t followed any of the orders that had been sent to them for over a year.
That the Empire had yet to detect this deception was a consequence both of Shen’s cleverness, and the fact that the Supreme Commander of the IAF and his staff simply didn’t have the resources to verify that their orders were being carried out. Not to mention that there had been anywhere from three to five men who claimed that title in the past four years. The governance of the Empire was a confused mess right now, with verified information hard to come by. This made Shen’s job a lot easier than it would have been in peaceful times.
Once Haasadis Ventelin openly proclaimed himself King of Midigal, the Empire would attempt to respond. One or more of the men who claimed to be the Emperor would launch an attack on the Kingdom, in an attempt to “reclaim” that territory. And Shen would let the attack go forward.
This was the brilliant part. Once the Empire had attacked the Kingdom, it would be possible for Midigal to claim the moral high ground and attract the sympathy of Hadramoris and, perhaps, even Fangalin. The best part was that no matter where or when the attack came, there was little chance of it doing actual damage to the Midigalan forces. Vor Shen had a very extensive spy network, and once he knew where the attack was coming, he would pull his forces out of there, and launch a counterattack against a vulnerable area of the Empire. Whoever attempted to crush the Kingdom would get crushed in turn.
“Shen!” bellowed the voice of Haasadis Ventelin over Shen’s communicator. Shen jumped to his feet suddenly and looked around wildly. He had dozed off, and Ventelin’s bellowing had jolted him back to consciousness. He slowly settled back into his chair, his heart still pounding.
“Yes, Your Majesty?” he said in a voice that sounded much calmer than he felt.
“I’m hungry!” he said, still bellowing in his obnoxious way, “Go get me a steak or something!” Shen frowned at this, and rubbed his temples to help relieve the stress of being addressed in such a fashion, but he didn’t let his stress or irritation show in his voice.
“Of course, Your Majesty,” he replied calmly, “I’ll have a servant sent up with whatever you desire immediately.”
“No, no, no, no, no,” Ventelin said, “I want you to get it. Not a servant.”
“Um…me?” Shen asked, angry and confused, “Are you sure? Your Majesty?”
“Yeah, you,” Ventelin replied, “Steak tastes better when it’s fetched by a general. Besides, you don’t have anything better to do, right?” Shen was silent for a few minutes, and forced himself to swallow several nasty replies.
“I…will be right there. Your Majesty.”
“Good!” yelled Ventelin, “I knew you’d be a good sport! Hurry now! You wouldn’t want me to faint cause I’m so hungry!” He guffawed heartily at this weak joke, and then ended the call.
Shen sat at his desk for a few minutes, gritting his teeth in anger. He slowly reached out and grabbed something small and breakable that was sitting on his desk, and turned it over and over in his hands. His gaze was unfocused, but menacing. Suddenly, he flung the thing he was holding across the room as hard as he could, and it hit the far wall and shattered.
The sound of the object breaking brought him back to reality. He was still angry, but he knew that he shouldn’t give in to blind rage. He had plans for Haasadis Ventelin to go along with his plans for the Empire. Ventelin was just a figurehead. He just seemed to be forgetting that lately.
Vor Shen had always been the brains behind Ventelin’s plan to carve out a kingdom from the dying husk of the Empire. Ventelin partied and boasted and seduced young women, while Shen planned, worked, thought, and made connections. Ventelin did what Shen told him to do, because he knew that a king would be able to obtain more booze and babes than a general could. And Shen used Ventelin instead of claiming the crown himself for two reasons. One, Ventelin was Midigalan and Shen was not. Midigal was the key to this enterprise, and the Merchant’s Council would not have accepted anyone but a Midigalan as king. And two, Venetelin, barbarian though he was, possessed a sort of crude charisma that Shen sadly lacked.
Ventelin had been amenable to this arrangement at first, but with a crown on his head, he was starting to think that Vor Shen was just another servant. Shen would disabuse him of that notion soon enough, but his other plans were more important. He would go along with this charade for the moment. But once the Empire was taken care of, Haasadis Ventelin would be next to go.
Shen got up and headed for the door to get Ventelin his steak. As he passed the object he had broken, he realized for the first time what it was. Once upon a time, Lt. Colonel Vor Shen had met a young, loud, brash, but pliable 2nd Lieutenant named Haasadis Ventelin. Even at the beginning of their relationship, Shen had sensed that it would someday lead to something big. So when Lt. Ventelin had given his commanding officer a bottle of vodka at the end of their first tour of duty together, Shen had kept it as a memento instead of drinking it. It was now soaking into the carpet of his office.
Fitting, thought Shen, I’ve had that since near the beginning of our relationship. And now, as Ventelin himself exits the stage, so does his gift. He chuckled, and breathed deeply through his nose. As he did so, he couldn’t help notice smelling that it had been a particularly fine bottle of vodka. For some reason, that just made him laugh even harder.
To be continued…