The Heart of the Mirage

Free The Heart of the Mirage by Glenda Larke

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Authors: Glenda Larke
on the other hand, had lightened. The red streak had become a flash of copperish gold.
    ‘Aemid been upsetting you, Legata?’ he inquired.
    ‘Oh, shut up, Brand. I sometimes wonder if the two of you are worth the trouble!’
    ‘Ah. Well, I do know of a remedy for that, of course,’ he drawled, fingering his slave collar.
    I ignored that and changed the subject. ‘Brand, has Aemid ever spoken to you about Kardiastan?’
    He dropped the pose and was serious. ‘Never, Legata. I wish she would. I’m curious about the place myself. It’s funny, that; I’ve met a number of Kardi slaves over the years and there’s not one who’s ever told me a thing about their homeland. Still, it shouldn’t worry you; the Brotherhood must have been able to tell you anything you wanted to know.’
    ‘You’d be surprised,’ I said gloomily. ‘All I received from my esteemed Brothers was a history lesson aboutthe conquest. As remarkable as it may seem, they know nothing about the Kardis. They don’t even seem to understand much about the situation there now, and yet we purport to rule the place.’ Even as I said the words, I wondered if they were true. Perhaps it was simply that the Brotherhood had not been honest with me. Rathrox, for example, must surely have known about the coming Stalwart invasion, yet he had not mentioned it, any more than I was going to mention it to Brand now.
    Distrustful old bastard , I thought, thinking of the Magister Officii.
    I continued, confirming my thoughts with my own words, ‘And this even though Rathrox Ligatan was actually there for a time. Years ago, though. He was assistant to General Gayed. Although Pater wasn’t in charge of the original invasion; Bator Korbus was.’ I nodded at Brand’s startled expression. ‘Yes, the Exaltarch himself, in the days when he was High General and nothing else. But I’m not surprised you didn’t know; believe me, taking part in that first Kardiastan campaign is not something any of them boast about.’
    Intrigued by the Exaltarch’s personal interest in my mission to Kardiastan, I had done some research. As a result, I thought I now knew just what had prompted the bitterness in Korbus’s voice when he spoke of the land of my birth. More than twenty-five years ago he’d had his pride wounded and time had not effected a cure; on the contrary, the original injury had festered. The Exaltarch hated Kardiastan.
    The thought of a Tyranian defeat apparently amused Brand. He smiled as he asked, ‘The campaign wasn’t successful?’
    ‘Tyrans was thoroughly routed at a place called the Rift. I gather it’s a huge valley gashing the country fromside to side. Rathrox described it to me as a place of howling winds and inhospitable terrain. When our legionnaires tried to cross it, fearful windstorms maddened their gorclaks and swept away their stores and camps. And all the while the Kardis harried them. So many soldiers were never seen again, and those who did manage to retreat told strange tales.’ I snorted in disparagement as I recalled Rathrox’s account. ‘Such silly stories: warriors—both men and women—glowing with an eerie light, whirling winds that whipped swords out of hands, legionnaires who suddenly dropped dead with burn marks scorched through their cuirasses…Silliness to explain an inexplicable defeat. What is true, and almost as hard to believe, is that the legions involved were nearly wiped out. That first campaign was a dismal failure, the only time Bator Korbus ever personally lost a battle. He returned to Tyr immediately afterwards. He left the problems to Gayed and Rathrox and went back to begin his bid for the Exaltarch’s seat.’
    ‘So how did Tyrans win in the end?’
    An unexpected gust of wind hit the Flying Windhover and we were dappled with spray as she heeled. I said, ‘There were other campaigns in the years that followed, some equally disastrous. Eventually the legions changed their tactics. They used small groups of

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