Friday, June 26, 2009

Asael VI

This is part of my ongoing novel. Think of it as Killer Angels taking place in a musket and magic fantasy world with characters that combine the religious sensibilities of American revivalism with Beowulf-like blood feuds. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition is about to take on a whole new meaning.

Introduction, A Note from the Author, Prologue, I, II, III,IV, V

Asael had been seven at the time of that conversation and he still did not understand what Ima had meant by that.

Having finished setting up his pieces and placing Colonel Kochba’s two remaining ones on the board as well, Asael pushed a pedes forward. It was the one in front of the regina, not his usual opening, but the Colonel was clearly a powerful attacker in the open. Asael knew that if he was going to win this he was going to have to close this game off. Colonel Kochba sent a matching pedes. The next few moves were quick, as Colonel Kochba responded to Asael’s moves mechanically, from book memory.

Colonel Kochba cleared his throat. “You have been creating quite a stir over at command. Your paper has won you quite a following, Serariah, Strategos Hayes and I at least.” The words came out very matter of factly, but something in his tone told Asael that the Colonel had been weighing these words for quite some time.

Serariah responded rather tartly, as if to end the conversation before it began. “When I resigned from the military, Strategos Hayes disowned me and I have not spoken to him since.” Colonel Kochba moved another piece on the board and gave an innocent smile. “You were his favorite and you broke his heart after all the effort he put into getting you into school, in making sure you did not get kicked out and getting you a commission despite the fact that you had no family and no connections.”

“And now I teach applied mathematics and occasionally even publish on the subject matter.”

“Like your little fifty page discourse on the economics of cavalry, ‘Twenty Pounds of Hay and Eight Pounds of Oats.’ If I did not make it my practice to keep an eye out for your work I might have missed it.”

“That article was a purely theoretical exercise in applying physiocrat principles to a military problem, something no one in the military would ever do so I think I am safe in saying that nothing there can be said to be of any relevance to the military.”

“You analyze the cost of maintaining a cavalry grade horse, raising it, training it, feeding it and getting onto a battlefield. You conclude that horses are an economic liability.”

Seeing an opening Asael moved his eques. Colonel Kochba continued to speak: “You suggest, what were your words, ‘that we send the horse and its rider down to the sea’ and that ‘the horse is of greatest value to the military when boiled down for glue.’ Serariah, I know I was an utter failure at teaching you horsemanship, you were a lousy student, but isn’t this taking your revenge against me a little too far.”

“I do not consider the universal application of mathematics to be an act of revenge. I take it that you do not dispute my calculations.”

“You do realize that if you ever got past the Joint, the beards would put you on trial for heresy.”

“For speaking evil of the horse or for suggesting that even the Mesivta is under the authority of universal mathematical law. I think I am capable of supporting myself through Holy Writ on both counts.”

Colonel Kochba moved again and Asael was certain now that the Colonel had blundered.

“How about for being so pedantically orthodox and yet so suspiciously not of their kind that one can only surmise that you are a plant put in place by the Devil to facilitate the corruption of the faithful? I would be too obvious a plant so we can safely rule out the Devil ever recruiting me.”

“The king shall not have many horses lest his heart turn astray” chanted Serariah. “'Many,' said the Rabanan, to mean more than is needed to pull his chariot.”

“And a king to exclude our Republic and the beards, incorruptible in their piety, who act as its stewards,” said Colonel Kochba, using a mocking sing-song voice.

“This gives me a past pedes on you," said Asael. "If I play this right I should have be able to ennoble it."

Colonel Kochba gave Asael a wry smile. Asael closed his eyes and saw Colonel Kochba’s face turn loathfully demonic as it seemed to sprout scales and horns. Colonel Kochba looked at the board and gingerly turned over his rex in resignation. “I guess that should teach me to pay better attention next time.”

Serariah moved alongside his son; first he shook his son’s hand and then Colonel Kochba’s before beginning to put the pieces away. “So now you have lost to both of us. No more games for you to hide behind. If you want something you are going to have to come right out and ask for it.”

“I am not asking, I am offering.”

“I am not coming back to the military and that is final,” bellowed Serariah.

“Would not think of asking it. I know you too well, Serariah, and have too much respect for you. I am actually offering you the job you already have.”

“How can you offer me something I already have?”

“In three months time you are set to be reviewed for tenure. Knowing you, your chances of getting tenure are about what mine are for being appointed head beard.”

“I have made my share of opponents.”

“Half of the university staff, including several deans. Sometimes I really do not get you Serariah. You gave up being Hayes’ golden boy, with his full protection, for a world in which you actually have to play politics, which you have no skill with, and you actually think you are going to survive.”

“I do not play politics. I do my job and the rest I leave in better hands. ” Serariah emphasized the last words with a sense of calm resignation; there could be no doubt whose better hands he meant.

“You have a wife, two children, with a third on the way.” Colonel Kochba shrugged his shoulders. “I do take an active interest in my best friend’s personal life.”

“If that is my fate it will be no less than I deserve.”

“Well better hands are coming through.”

“I have no need for any favors from Hayes, I still owe too many on that account.”

Colonel Kochba held up his hands with his palms facing Serariah and Asael. “I spoke to some friends and those friends spoke to a friend, who just happens to be the chancellor of Bar Enosh University, which by a strange coincidence is the university that, barring divine interference, is going to be the third university to deny you tenure and fire you.”

“I do not require any favors from you either,” barked Serariah, his patience spent.

“This is not a favor. I just wished to pass on the good news that the chancellor thinks you are going to pass the review and get tenure with a fifty percent raise in salary. He sounded very confident of that.”

“What is the catch?”

“None! I was just hoping to send a mixture of cadet officers and NCOs to this fine university. I hear the faculty is superb and, since we no longer send our boys to Wolfenbuttel, I have suggested that we give them a university education closer to home.”

“What do you want from me?”

“I am giving you the only sort of students you are qualified to teach and I want you to teach them the sorts of things you do best. The essay on cavalry should make for a wonderful start. The rest I will leave to your unique brand of creativity.”

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