"I think we should withdraw to your chambers once more and discuss this matter," the sorcerer said.
"There's no need to do that," Barthou protested.
"This situation is entirely out of hand," his newly appointed lapdog, Timgad, blurted.
"No," Tenedos corrected. "The matter is well under control, in spite of what you gentlemen think.
Now, shall we retire for a few moments?"
There was hasty agreement. The Rule of Ten rose, and started for the exit. Tenedos turned to me and signaled.
I spun. 'Ten men!" I shouted, and there was a clatter as soldiers ran down the stairs from the gallery.
Among them were Svalbard and Karjan.
"What isthisT Timgad protested.
"You shall find out shortly." Timgad was apoplectic, and Scopas took his arm and dragged him out.
"How could you bring armed soldiers into our most private chambers?" Barthou hissed.
"I invited them because I don't trust you," Tenedos said calmly. "However, I mean them only as personal protection, not as a threat."
I nearly smiled, knowing the ten hard men against the wall behind me hardly presented a pacifistic image.
"So what is it you desire?" Scopas said. "This matter, as Timgad said,is getting out of hand."
"Many things. We shall start with what's been said already. The matter of land for my soldiers shall be handled immediately, not within a year or so. Second, those whom you name barons, like Tribune a Cimabue, shall be given hereditary ranks, instead of the shameful life-peerages."
"How dare you dictate to us?" Barthou shrilled.
"I dare, because of those men who stand behind me. I dare, because I am a true Numantian. I dare ...
because I dare."
"Go on," Scopas said grimly.
"You are given forty-eight hours from this moment. At the end of that time, you are to announce that the Rule of Ten is withdrawing from actively governing to an advisory position, and that you have finally found the emperor you were ordered to name, and supposedly have been seeking all these decades."
"And what if we don't?"
Tenedos stared at Barthou until he looked away.
"A year ago, the army was in the streets of Nicias, doing your bidding, bringing peace," he said. "If you do not obey my orders, it shall rule Nicias with the sword once more.
"And you shall bitterly rue the consequences.
"You cannot change what will happen. I shall be emperor, with or without your b.u.mbling approval. The time has come for changes, and I have been chosen by Saionji to make them.
'Think well, think wisely," Tenedos said grimly. "For the blood shall be on your hands."
Without farewell, without salute, he stalked out, paying no heed to the gabble and shouts from behind.
THIRTYThe CrownI stood beside the altar, the high priest at my side. He held a heavy box in his arms, a box made of solid gold and crusted with gems.
The huge temple was full. Every n.o.bleman and -woman who could reach Nicias packed its main floor and balconies.
The center aisle was lined with soldiers. All of them were tribunes or generals.
Trumpets blared, the great doors opened, and Tenedos entered as the audience stood. Instead of seer's robes, he wore the simple uniform of an army officer, but without badges of rank or decorations.
Music from an unseen orchestra swelled, and Tenedos paced slowly toward the altar. As he pa.s.sed each officer, the man knelt in obeisance, and the men and women behind them bowed humbly.
He reached the foot of the altar and stopped.
"Are you the man named Laish Tenedos?" the priest asked.
"I am he."
"You are chosen by the Rule of Ten, in the names of Umar, of Irisu, of... of Saionji," the priest stumbled over the last-minute addition to the ritual, and I heard gasps from the audience, "of Panoan, and all the rest of those mighty beings who created and watch over Numantia, to lead us.
"Laish Tenedos, I require you to promise that you shall govern wisely and well, frequently consulting the G.o.ds to ensure you rule in wisdom, mercy, and justice, never treating your subjects with cruelty or disdain, never leading them into war without justification."
"I so vow."
"Then I proclaim you emperor of Numantia."
He opened the box and took out the single gold circlet.
'Tribune Damastes a Cimabue, Baron Damastes of Ghazi, Count Agramonte, you have been chosen the most worthy to crown the emperor. Take this diadem from my hands, and place it on your ruler's brow."
I lifted the circlet. As I did, I saw Maran in the audience, her face a beacon of love and hope.
I placed the circlet on Tenedos's brow, then knelt, bowing my head.
And that was how came to the throne.
On that day we stood on the summit of the highest mountain. All the world's glory spread below us.
It was the beginning of the end.
About the Author is the co-author (with Allan Cole) of the Sten series and the bestselling Anteros trilogy. As a solo writer, he is the author of the Shadow Warrior science fiction series from Del Rey.
Both Ranger and airborne-qualified, he was part of the first troop correspondent forStars and Stripes.
He edited outlaw motorcycle magazines and, as a freelancer, wrote for everything from the underground press toLook magazine,Rolling Stone, and prime-time television. He is now a full-time novelist living in Washington State.
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