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personal, at least not as far as Maniakes was concerned. But the men of
Makuran might have captured Tatoules without knowing he was brother to the
Avtokrator by all indications, he didn't know it himself. The lot of ordinary
prisoners could be too often was harsh.
And yet that ambiguous letter from Tzikas gave him far more knowledge of
Tatoules' actions and whereabouts than he had for Parsmanios. His other
brother might have been swallowed by the earth, for all the report of him that
came back from the westlands.
He noted that Tzikas had done his best to raise imperial wrath against
Provatos, his fellow general in the westlands. Since he didn't know the
circumstances under which the two men were supposed to have cooperated, he
couldn't decide which of them was in the right here. That troubled him; he
knew he needed to take firmer control over his officers if the army was ever
to become effective against either Makuran or Kubrat.
But he could not simply leap atop the army and ride it as if it were a placid
mare. The generals, especially in the westlands, had got used to taking
matters into their own hands, for the good and simple reason that Genesios had
given them no choice he led not at all. Having gained power even if not enough
to hold back Sharbaraz they were reluctant to surrender it to Videssos the
city.
"To the ice with them all," Maniakes raged to Rhegorios. "They act like a herd
of virgins fit for nothing but the convent and want me to waste my time
seducing them one by one."
"The truth is, they're just a pack of whores," Rhegorios said.
While Maniakes agreed with that, it didn't help him find a way to deal with
his independence-minded generals. He took the question to his father. The
elder Maniakes plucked at his beard and said, "Having a good-sized army under
your command in the westlands will bring them to heel soon enough."
"Would bring them to heel, you mean," the younger Maniakes said. "As things
are now, the only way I'll be able to put troops in the westlands is buying
off the Kubratoi so I can free up some of the men who are trying to hold them
back. I hate that, but what choice have I?"
"None I can see," his father answered. "What you have to do, though, is make
sure Etzilios can't find any way to cheat you."
"I've been doing my best there. My commissioners and the khagan's cronies have
been dickering for weeks about where we'll meet, who we can bring with us, and
other small details." Maniakes' smile showed his sardonic streak. He went on,
"The only trouble is, while we're dickering, Etzilios' men keep raiding us. As
best I can tell, he thinks that's part of the way negotiating gets done."
The elder Maniakes sighed. "He has gained our attention, hasn't he? The only
way I can think of to make him stop is to threaten to go to war without limit
against him if he doesn't give over, and that "
"That will just make him laugh," the younger Maniakes finished. His father
nodded. He went on, "He may be a barbarian, but he's no fool, worse luck. He
knows the only way we can fight a big war with him is to quit fighting
Makuran, and we can't afford to do that. Even if we did, we might get another
mutiny out of it the troops remember how Likinios tried to make them winter
north of the Astris and what happened afterward."
"Ah, but would they mutiny for fear of having to spend the winter on the
frozen steppe, or in hope of casting you down and setting another in your
place?" The elder Maniakes spread his hands. "That wasn't a question I
intended you to answer, son."
"The why doesn't much matter, anyway," the younger Maniakes said. "One more
civil war and we pretty much hand Videssos over to Sharbaraz, anyhow. Then
he'd have to try and rule it. Seeing him struggle with that is the one reason
I can think of for losing." Before his father could speak, he added quickly,
"I'm joking, by the good god."
"I know you are. I wasn't going to twit you about that. But I can make a
pretty good guess, I think, about when Etzilios will rein in his raiders and
graciously consent to accept the gold you want to give him."
"If I have enough gold to pay the tribute," the younger Maniakes said
gloomily. "All right, Father, if you feel like foretelling, tell me when
Etzilios will leave us in peace."
"Right about the time the harvest is done," the elder Maniakes answered.
"He'll steal all he can up till then and take away as much grain as his horses
can carry. Nomads often live right on the edge of starving and make up for
what they can't raise themselves by robbing their neighbors. This way,
Etzilios will have our farmers working for him."
"The ones he leaves alive, anyway," the younger Maniakes said. He considered.
"You may well be right. That means another couple of months of attacks,
though, and not much time after the harvest season to meet with Etzilios and
pay him off before the fall rains turn the roads to muck."
"Maybe we should hope they start early," his father said. "The Kubratoi won't
be able to do much in fall or winter, either. Come spring, you'd be able to
pay the khagan and buy peace through the campaigning season."
"I'd like that," the younger Maniakes replied. "I see only one thing wrong
with it." His father waited expectantly. He explained: "It would be convenient
for us, and Etzilios won't let that happen."
The elder Maniakes barked a few syllables of wheezy laughter and clapped him
on the shoulder. "I wish I could say you were wrong, but I don't think you
are."
Bagdasares rose from his prostration with a quizzical look on his face. "You
do me great honor, your Majesty," the wizard said, speaking Videssian with the
throaty Vaspurakaner accent that put Maniakes in mind of his grandparents,
"but truly, the mages of the Sorcerers' Collegium can do this as well as I.
Better," he added in a burst of candor that made Maniakes like him very much.
"That may be so, but you can do it well enough," Maniakes answered, "and I
trust you, which is more than I can say for the sorcerers of the Collegium.
They were here through Genesios' reign. Who knows what some of them may have
done?"
"He used that skinny old man for the worst of his conjurations," Bagdasares
said.
"So everyone tells me and that skinny old man is now conveniently vanished," [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]