“I am troubled by the necessity,” One High Lord twisted his lips as if he had tasted something very sour. ”But your arguments are convincing. We shall do what is necessary to survive until the harvests are in and the Elements return.”
“From this moment onwards,” said Eioth, raising his voice and slamming his fist down on the arm rest of Halidan’s chair, and all the whispering stilled, “we shall not speak of the return of the Elements as the solution to our problems. Even if they were to rise to our call tomorrow the weather spells are still shattered, our farmlands and storage sheds are still drowned, our population is in turmoil and homeless. We must deal with all the matters before us. Take up your burdens, you fools and waste no more time with futile wishes for what was. You have served as High Lords of your demesnes during a time of peace and prosperity and now you must direct your attention to the same service in a time of turmoil, deprivation and want!” Eioth paused and glanced about. “I have given thought to the pattern of the destruction,” continued Eioth when he held their stunned attention. “We should begin directing refugees toward the outer edges of the empire. True East, South East have suffered least. North East will have to direct their own displaced to the south and east of their own demesne, depending on the degree of damage from the snow. Action must be taken to assess the amount already harvested, what is yet to be collected and what can be accessed when the submerged storage areas are no longer underwater. The far corners of our western demesnes shall report their status and take refugees as well, depending on how clear the roads are of flood waters.”
“Who shall advise South East of their part in your plans?” inquired Ventari.
“In other times we should conduct a search for a person with intelligence, education and a deep bond to all four elements to be raised and confirmed as High Lord,” said Eioth, folding his arms in his sleeves. “But no such search would prosper in this time. No such test could be applied. Therefore do I put forward the name of Mitash Serpentine, a person of great administrative skill, knowledge and sense to administer the South East for the foreseeable future. State your objections or accept my decision.”
There was some muttering but no overt protests. Bowing to the Synod Mitash left his place against the wall and lowered himself, gingerly, into the South East’s throne. It did not creak or crack and the world did not end. Mitash released a slow breath and hoped no one took note of his trembling.
“This winter will be hard,” said Eioth. “For many there will be nothing to celebrate this Years Turning beyond the fact they still live. It is our responsibility to arrange that most survive. Food may be scarce but what little we have must be brought to the survivors and apportioned equally.” He paused to glare at the archivists. “We must prepare for the possibility that the Elements might not return, or when they return it will be a weaker bond. Or when they return it will slowly, over generations. Many generations of elves.” He paused at looked around the chamber. “But, even with this truth before us I must offer one good thought, one hope for the future, one blessing will be, there will be more descendants of those of us capable of Elemental bonds. Since we, none of us, can call the Elements to us we are no longer infertile.” Astonished, excited voices rose all around the room. “Yes, indeed,” said Eioth, with a smile. “We can hope for children. And, when the Elements bless us, and return to us, there will be more to train - to educate, which will take decades. Then we shall be fortunate to have more master of elements to practice and serve. But, until then, until that moment, in order that the empire survive we must live as if they will not!”
After the synod was dismissed and most of the High Lords and their attendants departed to the training ground to examine the collapsed dome of light - and attempt, if truth be known, to refute Eioth’s pronouncement that it was the result of some old, yet unknown, mortal magic, Eioth, Federan and Mitash went in search of privacy to continue planning.
“I shall take my own advice,” said Eioth. “The mortal guard you traveled with…”
“Tormin,” said Federan.
“Yes, I need to speak to friend Tormin as soon as may be. If you will escort him to me and attempt to calm him I would appreciate the intervention. There is a regrettable tendency of people to lose the power of speech when I address them.”
Federan gave a narrow smile. “That fault you will not find in him.”
“I have already witnessed it when I ordered him to guard your door.”
Federan laughed. “Then I shall tease him about it.”
And with a bow took himself out.
Eioth waited until the sound of Federan’s footsteps faded before turning to Mitash.
“Your departure to the South East cannot wait upon Silva’s recovery, nor should we give time for the Synod to awaken and demand to debate the matter and put forth the names of others for your role. They will talk and delay and be of no use at all if I give them time. Two things you must do when you arrive. One is to discover if Chandri spoke the truth. He claimed to have protected his corner of the empire from the effects of the destruction of the weather spells. If that is true you need to take control of his Master magicians, and yes, you must do this with no magic of your own, and they must start work recovering Elemental magic. The second is to take and hold the south east for me and send what aid is needed to the true south and north to me, here. Food. Workers. Building materials, yes, but, first of all, food. And, when the spring comes, seed and assistance to work the fields.” Eioth sighed. “And you must do this with limited support from myself. I cannot send troops, it would look like an invasion, and I cannot appear to be punishing the citizens for the actions of their high lord. We must restore the appearance of peace and coherence within the empire.”
“This is a difficult task you set me, High King.”
“I do know this but I know of no one else who can meet this need.”
“One question I know those of the South East shall ask me. As I am not a master of all elements, shall you send another to be High Lord when the elements return? Or shall you chose an Elemental Master from the South East.”
“They might be as stubborn of the Synod, holding fast to the hope for the return of the Elements instead of facing the reality of life without them.” Shaking his head Eioth began to pace. “They must accept in this time the governorship of someone who is well intentioned and competent. Chandri demonstrated full well that magical abilities do not replace concern for citizens and the empire as a whole. That was something Chandri never understood. He was far too concerned with his rank, the adoration of the people, than providing good service and attendance to their needs. He was a weak man, Mitash. Weak and sly and selfish. Remember this. You are the better man. The better administrator.”
“Yes, High King.”
“But clever.” Eitoh resumed his restless pacing. “Even with all he had done, all he destroyed there was a risk this morning that Chandri might have achieved his ambition.”
“Surely the Synod would not have elevated him? I cannot believe they would be so foolish.”
“It was a close run thing. Too close. If the High Lords had been a touch more fearful. Oh, yes, it could have been me on the execution field this morning. And you and Silva and Halidan with me. Foolish? Yes, it would have been foolish in the extreme to grant him the throne and yet I feared that these self-same High Lords who perform the morning rituals even though the Elements do not rise would have listened. Would have attempted to negotiate with him, trade with him, granted him their attention and devotion in the desperate hope that Chandri would put all back as it was.” Eioth groaned. “Desperation makes fools of all of us. Once I was certain Chandri was as surprised and helpless as we I permitted his execution so that he could not spread a poison to weaken the Synod’s resolve.”
“What little resolve they carry,” muttered Mitash.
“As you say.” Eioth cast a glance toward the closed door through which Federan had departed. “Thus I need those few companions I have who have the strength of mind and will to carry difficult burdens.”
“He understands, High King. Only, their marriage is very new.”
“And the danger to Master Silva is great.”
Mitash went to respond then shook his head. “We are all in danger, High King.”