“That’s preposterous!” Beren nearly barked.
“Is it so? They have the ear of every merchant this side of the Wyvern. Surely you can see that an alliance with their house is worth—“
“They’re useless! Merchantmen who have supported Lord Dante on many occasions!”
“And they would make powerful allies while simultaneously emptying the coffers of Lord Valnor and his ilk. Surely you can see that in a war of attrition, the best course of action is to bleed their supply.”
“I have no intention of making this a ‘war of attrition’. Blast it all, you’re beginning to sound like that wicked witch!” Beren spat.
Valeaus could only smile in response. “My lord, I shall take that as a compliment. Rhea is wise, powerful, and far more intelligent than you or I.”
Beren responded with a “harrumph!” and sat with his chin resting on his fist to think. Valeaus decided not to prod the lion any further, and left him to his thoughts. He knew that Beren was not a stupid man, but he was extremely brash and liable to rush into something that he was not wholly prepared for. All the cards of the midlunds rested in this man’s hands—if he tipped his hand too soon, it would mean spell chaos for the region.
When Beren next spoke, it was with far more calm and thoughtfulness than before. “If I do not act quickly, then Valnor will discover that my banners have been called and that they march north. No amount of bewitching from Rhea will stop that information from reaching his ears!”
“That is so,” Valeaus agreed.
“My strength lies in my numbers and my arms of war. The northern armies now lay ruined. They are weaker than ever.”
“Valnor is vulnerable. He mourns for his father and Jaden has no power over the northerners.”
“Again, very astute my lord.”
Beren began to show his annoyance. “Then why, in the nine hells, am I to wait in the southlunds while I woo some damnable merchants!”
“Because, my lord,” Valeaus explained calmly, “You do not have the support of the Court. Lord Valnor does. You move against him now, you move against the might of Westra.”
Beren was cowed somewhat, but he would not be deterred. “I do not care about Dragonfell. I have the might of lower Conrath, and the greatest army ever seen since King Daniel called the banners during the Ogre Campaigns. Why should I fear some squabbling delegates?”
“Because those squabbling delegates are not merely fashionable ladies and pompous men, my lord. They are the people of Westra. Try as you might, you cannot hope to rule the lower lands by ignoring her people. You may defeat lords, knights, and armies, but you cannot defeat a people. They are the true might of Westra, my lord.”
When Beren hesitated, Valeaus pressed on. “The people of Westra are starving, they are restless, and they are in need of leadership, my lord. You can offer that to them. The only power that these nobles have over them now is held up by the strength of their coffers. Bleed them dry, and the people will have no one to turn to but you. Strike at their leadership now, then they will rally their troops, their wealth, and the spirit of their people at you. Wait until the people have overthrown their leaders, and you will have won a war without ever swinging a sword.”
Beren was silent for a long while to consider Valeaus’s words. Finally, he simply snorted in disapproval. “You Dragonfell types are all backstabbing liars, you know that? You rob honorable men like me of the days when we could look at our enemy in the eye and fight him like a true warrior.”
Valeaus nodded in agreement.
“Alright, ranger. Tell me your plan. I warn you, though—if I do not favor the end result, then Rhea will be the least of your worries.”