The 14th Baron Mochrum sat on the wooden bench, nestled against the back wall in his castles council chamber.
He knew it was dark there. Any casual passer-by would not detect his presence, he needed some solitude. Sat here after council meetings was one of the few places he could achieve this, such were the demands on his time.
He sighed heavily, the weight of the message in his hand was negligible even with the embossed wax seal of the Aeddan Council, the elaborate parchment paper, the leather envelope, the undoubtedly expensive ink, it was still only a few grams. The words contained on the pages though…, they were the heaviest he had ever read, he could feel the stress headache slowly building behind his eyes even now. His mood darkening he steadied his breathing and focused his mind, re-reading the missive again. More slowly this time and with more care, looking for anything he might have missed that would improve his mood. He knew it would not help and at some point he was going to get into a pointless argument with some household servant or worse, his wife, damn this stupid letter!
He ran his eyes over it again.
War, Muster, Levy, Prydia, the Marcher Barons, oaths of fealty, Canlasterians, Yordans, Edmund Bluefort, Kendall III, Reckart Nevall, Summoned, Duty, again and again Duty, Princess Cyon, Tribute, War. He felt the bile in his stomach rise again, more indigestion rather than sickness, all caused by nothing more than words on a page.
He had of course heard that civil war had broken out even here, far out on the Outer Eastern Marches of the Prydian Precinct the news had arrived. He had even offered prayers for Prydia and the Princess hoping that it would stay far away from his fiefdom and his people but it had arrived, not on the prow of an armoured starship, but borne on paper by a single courier blackening his soul with ink on the page.
He knew he was procrastinating sat here with the missive but he did not want to act. That would make it real instead of the anxious knotted weight that sat heavily on chest like the fear after a bad dream that it had become.
Time was needed to plan his response properly.
He looked out over his council chambers. It was a large room in the heart of his castle. His house standards draped the walls alongside the Prydian banners. Old Earths ‘Fleur-de-lys’ in white on a field of Storm Blue edged with Gold. Well, that has to go, the Canlastrians had chosen blue as there colour and he would not risk one warrior lost due to an overeager child who could properly identify his targets heraldry.
Apart from the Standards the room was dominated by a large circular wooden table, of a rich dark wood, waxed or varnished he had never learned to tell the difference and used for over two centuries by his forebears. Scattered over it were some papers, wax and the seal of his house, some other loose writing implements, some data pads, two decanters, one empty and one half full of water, and some glasses that he and the council were drinking from an hour ago.
The other end of the room was dominated by a large wooden double door. Outside were 2 household knights on guard duty, Erka & Sven he remembered. Sven’s wife has just had a second daughter about three weeks ago. They had drank a few ales that night celebrating and now he was supposed to order him to war. He could not face Anyilga if anything happened to her husband, he was simply not cut out for that. What choice had these selfish, greedy, treacherous bastards left him?, his anger spiked again.
His eyes sought out distraction in the vaulted council room. He could not see the doors to the left used by the servants but from here he could see the door to the right that led eventually to his own chambers. The white, bare stone of the chamber meant it did not not require too much artificial light allowing for the pools of shadow he now wallowed in.
He had to look to his levy. Out here his domain needed garrisoning. Raiders and pirates, both human and alien were always a problem this far out. The wealth of his families dominion was both a blessing and a curse, he and his forebears had always kept there forces well equipped and had made point of always finding instructors with combat experience outwith there own existing command structure. This helped keep the retinues combat training to a high standard but the wealth that allowed this was one of the reasons that raiders and pirates came. Only the most desperate types. For they could expect no mercy out here. His house had a reputation to maintain, this aided in keeping the wolves away as much as the weapons they purchased and crafted.
This led his thoughts to another problem. The segregation of male and female troops in Prydian service, well he was simply going to ignore that one. His retinue was not segregated and he was not going to arbitrarily enforce that. If anyone made an issue of it he would tell them to formally raise the issue with his council here on Melholm.
And then the Code Gallant. That was going to be hilarious. He can see them all now, lining up to be the first to the breach, competing for the ‘honour’ of being in the first wave. Well, he was not going to get involved. It had no place here in the Outer Eastern Marches, survival was the hard enough without wrapping it up in arcane rules from another age. His rank permitted him certain leeway and his reputation would stem a number of complaints but ultimately if any orders he received were to induce his retinue to banal acts of recklessness, he would simply ignore them.
His personal Duxis battle suit was a top of the line model. The power sword was as long as he was tall and his warriors were used to seeing him leading them whilst wearing it. Something he planned to continue and try to avoid his wife from finding out about as long as possible else that would be another shouting match. It would need repainted, Storm Blue was out, maybe he would keep his shield in it’s heraldry. At least some trace of House Mochrum would be on the field.
House Mochrum was well equipped, but he had to think what he could reasonably commit to the Prydian cause. Here on their home-world of Melholm conditions were tough, the harsh environment meant that the population lives mostly underground or in small domed towns, the only major city was here, Balstann, the site chosen long ago by his ancestors who settled here for the worlds mineral wealth. He could raise maybe 1000 muster from his existing forces and vassals and maybe another 1000 from volunteers throughout the Barony. Now his own retinue numbered just over 300 retained he could only take half though the rest must remain to protect the barony, add to that maybe 100 more retained from his vassals
So, 2000 Muster and 250 Retained, not a great amount for the scale of the war being fought. At least he could ensure that they would be mechanised, and battlesuit support was easy. They were manufactured here on Melholm as were a number of other tools of war. He could probably easily equip another 1000 muster, but where would they come from? The other Barons, Jonas & Kerwin must have received the same news, or would soon. They would be assembling there retinues and they have more population then Mochrum, but nowhere near the wealth or manufacturing base. He needed to talk to them as soon as he had more solid plan.
What if they declared for Yordan or Canlaster? No. He set his mind at ease, They were loyal to the council, he was as certain of that as he could be.
If he could convince Jonas & Kerwin, then they could probably field a whole regiment. That would certainly fulfil there obligations to the Council, and give them a distinct enough force to stop them being split up to re-enforce other units.
‘What if they all die?’, the dark unwelcome thought sprang unbidden, A whole generation of dead from your Barony and your neighbours, by his command taken to a war they should not be fighting. He swallowed nervously, he felt the pressure building inside his head.
His thoughts proceeded, summoning ideas and requirements. He would have to talk to his wife, she’d try and get him to have someone else lead telling him it was his duty to remain. Then she’d try and volunteer herself or something. Not a conversation he was looking forward to, but she would have to remain behind to rule in his stead.
His son, an excellent administrator, utterly unsuited to war. He would also be left behind, he loved the boy, but he was not throwing his families future away. Not for the Aeddan Council, not for the Princess, nor for any of them. He could remain behind with his wife, learn the skills she has at ruling, a subtler approach than his own and more effective in many ways. She simply had no interest in doing it in normal times. He’d take the risks here, not his family.
He would need to organise a staff, and then take into account what the other Barons would want. A second in command, undoubtedly another baron or firstborn, Quartermaster, Signals, Security & Personell. Operations & Intelligence would be primarily Prydian, but he would ave his own cadre as well. He would need to leave behind Roberston, his own spymaster, he would maintain the structure he had developed, but Robertson could appoint one of his own, someone competent to stand in his stead as they went to war.
Quatermaster, Sibbons, she was responsible for the relief effort on Elquadis last year. She could handle it. Signals, Davids or Van Hooikstra, both were very competent, but Davids had a large family, so Van Hooikstra it was. Security?, no idea, that needs more thought. Personnel, the mercenary Alberts, he was an excellent trainer, maybe he should be given the post, it would cause some disgruntlement, but he needed competence now, not placeholders.
Next, Shipping, the Destrier was ready, a solid light cruiser, that would carry his flag. The less ships he committed the better, the Barony needed defending, the Prydians could provide all the logistical shipping. Maybe Jonas & Kerwin could commit a ship, another point to discuss.
So much more to plan.
He has wallowed here long enough, time to share his misery with other.
He paused though, he so wanted to spare them this. Life here was hard enough, but if he held back it could only get worse. Besides that, he had sworn his loyalty and that of his house to the Aeddan Council and he would never be seen as an oathbreaker.
First, tell his love, see what she has to say. He felt awful that he would tell her first, but was heartened that he could, and she would have ideas to help. Good ones. And then she’d work out he was intending to lead, then there would be the fight….