General Lord Belfamor Hemetal bowed low to the ground as he approached the Imperial Throne. It wasn’t the real Throne, of course. It was just a chair that Valador Mifalis had found in the Revellian governor’s mansion. It was a very nice chair, yet still just a chair. But if Belfamor had his way, the Emperor would soon be sitting in the real Imperial Throne, and this pseudo-Throne could go back to whatever closet Valador had pulled it out of.
“Your Majesty,” Belfamor said as he bowed. “What can I do for you?”
“Rise, Lord Hemetal,” the Emperor intoned. “I require a status report on your latest operation.”
“Of course, Your Majesty,” Belfamor said smoothly as he straightened, hiding the sudden apprehension he felt. As far as the Emperor knew, his latest operation was an invasion of Grafllionis, a province controlled by Neminatrix on the edge of Valador’s territory. In reality, his latest operation was a full-scale invasion of Trisitania that had not been authorized either by the Emperor or by Emelien Fanas, Belfamor’s direct superior.
“I have assigned 15 ships under the command of Admiral Kryla Zomulin to the invasion of Grafllionis,” Belfamor continued. “In addition, there are 15,000 IA troops assigned to the operation as ground forces.”
“Seems like a solid allocation,” the Emperor replied musingly. “Not bad, General.” He perused something on a tablet for a few moments while Belfamor watched him with a carefully neutral expression. “Two battleships, four cruisers, and nine destroyers, correct?”
“That is correct, Your Majesty,” Belfamor replied, nodding slightly
“Yes, that will do nicely for this operation,” the Emperor said calmly. Then, continuing on in that same calm voice, he said, “So why am I hearing that you have assembled 85 ships and nearly 100,000 troops near Epikalia?”
Belfamor froze. How could Valador have learned of his preparations? He’d been so quiet, so careful. Maybe Valador was just guessing. Maybe he could still bluff his way out of this. So he said, in a very nonchalant voice, “I have no idea what you’re talking about, Your Majesty.”
“I’m sure you don’t,” the Emperor replied with an amused smirk. “There’s no need to act all coy about this, Lord Hemetal. I know exactly what you’re doing. You’re going ahead with your plan to assault Trisitania even though General Fanas denied you permission.”
“That’s absurd, Your Majesty,” Belfamor said calmly, although inwardly he was sweating bullets. “I would never so flagrantly disobey orders.”
“Of course you would,” the Emperor said, rolling his eyes. “I would do the same thing in your position. Here’s the thing. Officially, I condemn your actions and warn you of grave consequences if you continue on your current path, yada yada yada. But unofficially? I say, go for it.”
“I don’t understand,” Belfamor said with a puzzled look.
“Here’s the thing, Belfamor,” the Emperor said, all pretense at formality dropped. “I need you, desperately. Well, technically, I need your money, although your brain is useful too. Without the backing of House Hemetal, your father-in-law probably would have ground me to dust five years ago. So it’s in my best interests to keep you happy. Because if I court-martialed you and locked you up, you could just transfer the House headship to your son and send him off to Neminatrix, which is where, I gather, he would prefer to be anyway. And even if I could force you to give me access to your sizable bank accounts, that’s not my style anyway. I’d rather you help me because you want to.”
“I see,” said Belfamor with a frown. “What happens if I’m wrong, and the invasion is crushed?”
“Ah, that’s best part,” the Emperor replied with a twisted grin. “If you lose, I’m finished. Which means I won’t need your money anymore, which means that I’ll either be satisfied at your death in battle, or I get the enjoyment of having you court-martialed and executed.”
“And what happens if I win?” Belfamor asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Then you will be a hero, Lord Hemetal,” the Emperor replied, his grin widening. “Off the record, of course. Officially, I’ll have you court-martialed either way. But,” he added with a wink, “I bet you’ll beat the court martial if you come back victorious.”
Belfamor considered all of this for a moment before he responded. Finally he looked up at the Emperor with a grim frown, although there was a slight twinkle of amusement in his eyes. “It would have been nice to know this in the first place,” he said.
“If I had authorized this invasion, Emelien would have never let me hear the end of it,” the Emperor said wryly. “I’m not supposed to give you preferential treatment, after all.”
“At least one of us will be happy once this is over with,” Belfamor said, a small, sardonic smile appearing on his face.
“I don’t understand why you’re so convinced that Emelien hates you,” the Emperor said, rolling his eyes again.
“Do we really need to talk about this right now?” Belfamor snapped, his smile quickly turning to a scowl.
“We need to talk about it sometime,” the Emperor said firmly. “The One knows that I’m not going to be around too much longer. The last thing I want is for you and Emelien to start a new civil war after I’m dead.”
“Once we get the capital back, a new Senate will finally be elected, and whoever the Senate chooses to replace you, I will be loyal to them,” Belfamor replied just as firmly.
“Even if the Senate chooses Emelien Fanas?” the Emperor asked, quirking one eyebrow.
“If the Senate elects Emelien Fanas to be the next Emperor, then I will have serious doubts about the intelligence of the citizens of the Empire,” Belfamor said wryly, “but yes, I will pledge my loyalty to him.”
“I certainly hope so,” the Emperor said doubtfully, “because one way or another, this civil war will be over soon, thanks to you. And it would be a terrible black mark on your legacy if you started another one in a few years.”
“That will not happen,” Belfamor said firmly. “I promise.”
To be continued…