Vlad Li Tam
Vlad Li Tam waited in an office in the upper room of a squat, square guard tower on the Pylos border. He’d left the preparations at home in the hands of his capable children, steaming for Pylos in one of his iron ships for this clandestine meeting. His fourth son and his thirteenth daughter accompanied him along with two squads of their best trained men and women. Even now, they were magicked and taking up various positions around the guard tower. Vlad sat with his aide and waited.
There was a knock at the door and the aide opened it. A man in Androfrancine robes entered, pushing back his hood. General Lysias looked out of place in those robes, his eyes narrow and looking around the room.
Vlad Li Tam gestured to the chair across from him. The aide quickly refilled the glasses with Firespice, that Gypsy liquor that he’d grown to love. “Please sit, General,” he said. “Drink with me.”
Lysias held the glass beneath his nose, inhaling the scent of it. Then he took a long drink. “I bring word from Sethbert’s nephew,” he said. “Erlund is agreeable to the arrangement, though he isn’t pleased with
Vlad Li Tam shrugged. “Pleasure and displeasure do not enter into it.”
Lysias nodded. “I told him I saw no better resolution to this conflict. The City States are nearly in civil war. The blockades-in addition to the loss of Windwir-have crippled the Entrolusian economy.”
Vlad Li Tam wondered how it felt to move from being a general of the most powerful nation in the world to a desperate man hoping to save at least some of that nation’s pride through last-minute bargaining. “The delta will most likely never recover fully from this,” he said in a quiet voice.
Lysias swallowed. “I agree, Lord Tam. But we must save what we can. This entire event has been a great tragedy.”
Vlad Li Tam thought about the children he had lost along the way. Most recently, the son who had given himself in the Entrolusian camp and the daughter who no longer spoke to him. And before that, others he did not wish to think about in this moment. “It has been unfortunate,” he agreed.
Lysias drew a pouch from beneath his robes and passed it over. “We’ve drawn up the terms and-” Vlad Li Tam waved him away. “Burn those, Lysias. There will be no written terms.” He looked to his
aide, and the aide came forward with a cloth-wrapped object and a sheet of parchment. The aide put the
sheet of parchment into Lysias’s hands and unwrapped the metal object. It was roughly the lengoougappth of a forearm, a metal tube ornately decorated and set into a wooden crossbow stock. “This belongs to Resolute,” he said. “It’s a powerful weapon.”
Lysias looked up from the note he read. “And this letter?”
Vlad Li Tam smiled. “It matches Resolute’s handwriting. Any scholar who could tell otherwise is long dead.”
Lysias looked at the weapon, then returned to the note. “And you think they’ll believe this?”
Vlad Li Tam sipped his drink, savoring the burn of it as it traveled down his throat. “They will. The rumors continue to grow. Sethbert wasn’t exactly discreet about his role at the beginning of this.”
Lysias’s jaw tightened. “He claimed he was in the right. He claimed he had evidence that the
Androfrancines intended to restore the spell and use it to rule us.”
“Ask him,” Vlad Li Tam said slowly, “to produce that evidence and I suspect he will be hard-pressed to do so.” His eighteenth son had taken care of that for him. “Once word of this next tragedy unfolds, expect a new Papal decree offering terms. Tell Erlund that this will be the final offer and that all he need do is accept the terms and demand the arrest of Sethbert.” He leaned forward, his eyes narrowing in the dimly lit room. “And if he thinks to protect his uncle in some way, tell him that what is offered here is a mercy. The boot is firmly on the delta’s neck. One twist of it and she is broken.”
Lysias nodded. “I will carry your message.”
Vlad Li Tam stood. “Very well, I think our work here is done. The letters of credit will arrive quietly once Sethbert is in custody.”
Lysias bowed his head. “Thank you, Lord Tam.”
Vlad Li Tam returned the bow, careful not to incline his head more than what was proper. After the
general left, he sat again and finished his drink.
Later this week, one of the two Popes would be dead. Once the Named Lands heard the details of the note Resolute would leave behind, no one would doubt that Sethbert had brought down the City of Windwir and its Androfrancine Order. Resolute’s grief-stricken confession would lay out his shame at having told Sethbert of the spell’s existence and speak of the guilt that gnawed at him until he could no longer bear to live with it any longer. It would point to accounts at House Li Tam that even now were being carefully created and funded to point accusing fingers at a man whose paranoia and ambition had nearly cost the world the light of knowledge, and at a cousin who would be his puppet Pope, doling out what little light remained for profit.
After this, Sethbert would lose his following and the war would lose its grounding.
The Overseer would be stripped of his lands and titles, reduced to flight. And that was as much as Vlad
Li Tam would do for now. But he was certain that it was enough. Rudolfo and Petronus would take care of the rest.