By Jerry Marty

Before the head table, a hundred dancers turned in unison, ten by ten, each holding a ribbon in his outstretched hand. The ribbons described a hundred graceful arcs, red alternating with white: the colors of friendship and alliance.

Jasper Ir'Khalia sat at the right hand of the Master Of Clans. Six Clanmen -- allies of Jasper and the Master -- sat at the head table with them, looking down on the festivities. At a table to their right sat eight men and women who, like Jasper, wore the light blue uniform of the Outreach Service, with red-and-white sashes. To their left were eight more Clanmen who would be powerful in the new order.

This alliance, this new order -- these things were Jasper's invention, assiduously constructed over the course of his time on Perrya. On his arrival at that lonely blue-and-green jewel, Jasper had found a score of turbulent clans living a Bronze Age existence. He had cajoled and persuaded the Clanmen; where these tactics failed, he tricked and manipulated them. Perrya was the seventh Lost World that Jasper had shepherded back into the flock of the Universal Terran Protectorate.

One thousand one hundred forty-seven years of isolation had shrouded the name of the mother planet in myth and sufficed to make these people forget what they had once been. In the next twenty years, Perrya would be transformed by the Outreach service. A whole generation would grow up free from want and fear; they would be literate, and they would embrace technology. Perrya's Dark Age would come to an end.

Jasper should have been happier, but the truth was that he was in a hurry. He had already received his next assignment; he was needed on a planet named Yosouri without delay.

"Are you not joyful, Master Ir'Khalia?" roared the man next to him, speaking a dialect of English stunted by centuries of decay. "It is the day of victory! The day of our alliance with the Clans of Terra!"

Jasper turned and smiled, guided more by long-trained diplomatic reflexes than by conscious thought. "I am, Kulogu. I am joyful, and I am sorry that I must leave."

"But you will return, eh? We will have a festival, eh?" Kulogu said. "Dancers and food for you. All the world will come to show the red-and-white!"

Colors were the obsession of Perrya; the choice of hues displayed by the Clanmen had an almost hypnotic effect on the populace. This, once Jasper understood it, had been the key to his success. "I look forward to it," Jasper said lightly, masking his unease at the thought.

If he were to return, twenty years from now, he would expect to find no dancers; he might even find that the significance of those colors had been forgotten. The Protectorate's education programs would leave little time for the native arts and local history that had so enchanted Jasper on his arrival. The influence of color on the Perryan mind, that phenomenon which so vexed the scientists simply by being verifiable, would become a little-known footnote of history.

His final report would include a recommendation that an intensive cultural preservation effort be made on Perrya. His superiors were very accustomed to reading such recommendations from Jasper. He expected that they would ignore it in due course. And for that reason, Jasper never wanted to see Perrya again.

Jasper's page walked before him through the doors of King Eshadric's palace on Yosouri. The King's thoughtful provision of a servant was the sort of impeccable courtesy that marked his people. Broland was no slouch at his duties; he was exceptionally bright, well-trained, and knowledgeable. Jasper lacked for nothing.

Comity, however, was not sufficient for Jasper's purpose. Jasper was here because the campaign on Yosouri was in trouble. King Eshadric had proved most intractible, and he had shocked the Protectorate by defeating two Service-backed insurrections. Jasper was impressed. He wanted to see for himself what Eshadric was made of.

"His Excellency Jasper Ir'Khalia," Broland cried before him, "Emissary from the Senate of the Universal Terran Protectorate!"

The inside of the great central dome was not of local manufacture. It was the upper part of the University Ship that had landed with the original colonists twelve hundred years before; Eshadric's ancestors had simply built a larger edifice around it. Jasper found himself entranced by the artistry with which the landing struts and curved hull of the hypership had been integrated into the French Renaissance-inspired castle -- no doubt modeled after a holo from the ship's computer before the last of its power drained away.

Jasper was expected. The Chamberlain escorted him straight to Eshadric's chambers.

Eshadric was a young man; his heirs were toddlers, years away from their majority. Some agents might have toyed with the notion of assassination; but the Outreach Service expressly forbade such methods, and Jasper loathed them personally. Eshadric must be convinced or compelled to lead his people into the Protectorate fold. That was Jasper's mission.

Before Eshadric's ornate chair sat a table divided into a multitude of little squares; and upon this table sat many carved wooden pieces and blocks. The game was Yosouri-Regna -- King of the World. Jasper had studied it intensely, pored over the rules, even programmed his computer to play it. It was the ubiquitous game of Yosouri, an indispensable component of social ritual at the highest levels.

Eshadric did not stand. He was a sovereign and Jasper an ambassador. "We are pleased to receive you, sir," Eshadric said. "Be welcome to Yosouri, and to my palace." The Chamberlain withdrew, leaving Broland and Jasper alone with the King.

"It is my honor to be received, Your Majesty," Jasper replied. He walked forward and Eshadric motioned toward a chair on the opposite side of the table. Jasper sat. Broland remained standing at his side.

Eshadric held up one of his wooden figurines. "We have this morning decreed that the rules of Yosouri-Regna shall be changed throughout the land in your honor," he said. He motioned to Broland to take the piece from his hand. "The Emissary," Eshadric said. "He may advance without fear of capture, yet like every other piece, after he advances, he reveals all enemies in the squares closest to him."

Broland handed the piece to Jasper. It was beautifully carved, like all the rest. It wore colors alien to Eshadric's court -- the uniform of the Outreach Service. "Your Majesty's gesture is... overwhelming," Jasper said. "Is it not true that the rules of the game have endured unchanged for five hundred years?"

"They have," Eshadric answered. "And in all that time, Yosouri was not changed -- but now it is changed, because you are here. It follows that the game must change as well."

"That is a very clear-sighted view, Your Majesty," Jasper said.

Eshadric smiled. "Come," he said. "Let us begin." He began to sort through his pieces.

Jasper looked at his own little army with some nervousness. He had played against his computer many times, but never against a human being. And now there was another variable, one for which he was not prepared -- the Emissary. He sighed inwardly. It was just a game to him. To Eshadric, to the Yosourii, the game was honor and life. "I yield the first touch to Your Majesty," Jasper said.

"We thank you," Eshadric said, "but you are our guest. You may touch the field first."

"Still I yield," Jasper said.

Eshadric looked up from his pieces. "Ahh... cunning." He smiled and placed a long wooden piece -- several squares in length -- in the center of the field. They began to build the hills and woods of their battlefield, one wooden block at a time, alternating between sides. Jasper's courtesy conceded a small advantage to Eshadric, but allowed him to see Eshadric's evolving strategy and react accordingly.

Yosouri-Regna was not a quick game.

Once their hills and woods were finished, each man began to place his heroes on the board. The figurines were short and squat so that they could be placed on their sides with the stand facing the opponent; until the armies were engaged, neither side would know where his enemy's strongest heroes were.

The Emissary could change all that. Jasper thought furiously about what he could do with the new piece as he organized his army. He placed his heroes in a pattern that had worked tolerably well against the computer -- all his cavalry and archers on the right, pikemen and footmen in the center and left. The asymmetrical arrangement had a kind of balance to it. His infantry might be forced back; but with a crushing advantage in horsemen on his right, he should be able to annihilate whatever cavalry the King had there and then sweep across the board. Like a revolving door, his weak flank would invite Eshadric farther forward than he could safely go.

When the last piece had been placed, Eshadric gazed at the board. He pointed at the ragged mound of wooden blocks in the center, whose foundation Eshadric had placed in the first move -- a dominating hill in the center of the field. "A crucial position, my dear Ambassador, don't you think?"

"I agree," Jasper said. "Though I must say that my people think not so much of positions as of speed and surprise."

"Ahh... surprise, of course," Eshadric said. "Warfare without honor. But how can you endure the consequences of such things?"

"In our experience," Jasper said, "the quicker the peace, no matter how it is arrived at, the better for everyone."

"Fascinating," Eshadric said. He moved one of his pieces in the center forward -- toward the hill. "Our experience on Yosouri has been very different. We find that only an honorable peace endures, and that peace with honor proceeds from war with honor."

"You pit strength against strength," Jasper said, moving a piece on his right -- a horseman, but he took care to move it no farther than a pikeman could move, as it was yet unrevealed. "That leads to great waste."

"Does it?" Eshadric moved another piece in the center. The great distance of the King's first two moves demonstrated that both pieces were cavalry of some sort. "If the weaker yields before the stronger, after a fair test, then nothing is lost."

"That ignores a vast spectrum of possibilities," Jasper said, continuing his deceptively slow advance on the right. "If one chooses the time and place of the test to catch an opponent at his weakest, one has an advantage."

Eshadric shook his head, and pressed forward in the center. "But what does such a test reveal?" he asked. "Nothing."

"It reveals which party has the power to compel the other to do his bidding," Jasper said.

Eshadric smiled again. "As the Universal Terran Protectorate desires to compel me," he said.

"I believe you are a wise man," Jasper said. "I believe that you will come to the conclusion that membership in the Protectorate serves your interests."

Eshadric nodded slightly, not in agreement but rather in simple acknowledgement. "The Protectorate does not understand honor," he said. "Until it does, its cause here is lost." He sighed, seeming almost sad. "You are its third Emissary to our court. Are you a man of honor, Jasper Ir'Khalia?"

"I believe so," Jasper said, moving another stealth lancer forward on his right.

The King paused, looking at the board. "That is a rare and fascinating answer, Ambassador," he said. "I quite like it." Suddenly he reached to his left and moved a piece into the center of Jasper's right-hand advance. "My Lancer Observer -- have you any pikemen there to foil him?"

Jasper blinked, surprised by the King's sudden change of direction. "No," he said. Pursing his lips, he reached over to reveal the clump of pieces that he had moved forward. If there had been any real pikemen there, the King's Lancer would have fallen before completing his move; but that had been a bluff. Was the King cheating, using mirrors or imperceptible marks upon the pieces? That seemed impossible. The notion went against everything that Jasper had learned about the Yosourii. Rattled, Jasper charged the brave Lancer Observer with his Lancer Guardian, and defeated it.

"A spirited counter, and first blood to you," Eshadric said, calmly continuing to mass his cavalry in the center.

"Why change the game for me, Your Majesty?" Jasper asked. "There have been other Ambassadors." He began to move pikemen forward.

The King moved another unrevealed piece from his center into what appeared to be a blocking position against Jasper's right. "The moment of truth approaches, Ambassador, does it not? The Protectorate redoubles its efforts. It must soon come to open war."

Jasper tried to hide his discomfort as he stared at the game. "I sincerely hope that such a day will never arrive."

Eshadric nodded sympathetically. "When it does, it shall change Yosouri forever; and you are the herald who announces its onset." His voice diminished; he too was fixed upon the game board. "Therefore we honor you."

Jasper's tactical plan was in a shambles. "I believe I should concede at this point," he said.

"Not at all," the King said earnestly. "Your strongest heroes are unscathed."

"But you have already seen through my plan," Jasper averred.

"You are here to learn the path to victory, are you not?" Eshadric asked patiently.

"You will teach me how to win?" Jasper asked, thinking to himself -- Win what? This game? The next game? Eshadric's Kingdom?

"Of course."


Eshadric moved a horseman from the center of the board toward Jasper's right -- a direct challenge. "Because you would learn, Ambassador -- and as a man of honor, I may not refuse."

On a fine summer day later that month, King Eshadric rode into the field with his magnificent army to face a troublesome outland chieftan by the name of Andhuro. Among the brightly colored banners of Eshadric's vassals, one was conspicuous by its absence -- that of Duke Wilias. Jasper knew that the Duke's rebellion, backed by the Outreach Service, was on the horizon.

Jasper and Broland watched from a nearby hill as Eshadric's army faced Andhuro's. He had traveled there with the sturdier of Eshadric's courtiers. It was now understood that Eshadric had bigger problems than this petty kingling Andhuro. But a challenge had been given; and the King must demonstrate his strength.

On a wide field, flanked on both sides by thick woods, the armies prepared for battle. Both commanders placed their splendid horsemen and greatest lords in the very center of their lines. On the ends, near the woods, both sides had placed their poorest troops.

A tactical travesty, Jasper thought. A simple butting of heads, brutal and artless.

He turned to Broland. "Are all battles on Yosouri like this? Cavalry in the center, just waiting to go at it?"

Broland nodded. He was closer to Eshadric's age than to Jasper's; and his answers always carried a touch of youthful enthusiasm with them. "Oh yes, sir, I would say so. Is it not a sight to see? The charge will show who is the stronger."

"Do you really believe that, Broland?" Jasper asked. "You'd leave it to chance like that?"

"To chance, sir? Not at all," Broland answered. "The charge of the true King will surely prevail."

"But it might not," Jasper said. "There are a thousand things that could go wrong. A horse throws a shoe at the wrong moment. They charge across a patch of bad ground and are slowed down. Does that make Andhuro the true king?"

"Those things do not happen to a true King; and if they do, his heroes triumph in spite of it," Broland said.

"And if King Eshadric loses?"

"He cannot," Broland averred.

"Why is that?" Jasper asked. "It looks like an even fight to me."

"Andhuro has come to challenge the King's honor; and in all the world there is no man who is more true to his word, nor one who is more pure in his devotion to the art of chivalry, than the King." Jasper waited for Broland to go on, to finish this manifestly inadequate explanation, but he did not.

"You believe this makes him invincible?" Jasper asked.


Jasper looked out at the armies. "I've seen men shoot lightning out of their hands, Broland, and I've seen men who can brainwash their people by wearing the right colors. But never once have I seen a man who is immune to tactics, nor one who controls fate."

The great armored hosts of the King and his challenger began to thunder toward each other. Broland watched in fascination.

"See here," Jasper said, pointing down at the field. "Woods on both sides. Does the King guard his flanks? No. What would he do if his enemy had sent archers into those woods, or worse yet, had sent a picked force of cavalry into them? Does he have reserves to meet them? No. He has no plan--"

"But sir," Broland said, "what good would such a dispersion of effort be? Then Andhuro's knights on the field would be fewer, while they muddled through the woods."

"But when they arrived on the flank, Broland--" Jasper made a motion with his hand, trying to express the idea of a mounted force knifing behind Eshadric's line. "They would be behind his flank, able to roam where they would. Every man on that flank would fight looking over his shoulder. A sharp strike would do them in, and rout Eshadric's army."

"Why should they be so weak?" Broland asked.

"Because men who know that their enemy is behind them fight with terror," Jasper said. "I've seen it many times."

"But surely their spirits are fortified by the knowledge that their enemy has wasted his heroes so foolishly," Broland said.

Jasper's eyebrow went up. "Wasted?"

"Even the foot soldiers play Yosouri-Regna. They know that a man sent so far away from the battle is useless. They know that one who misplays the game so will surely be conquered."

"This is battle," Jasper snapped. "Not a game with squares and wooden pieces. The rules are different."

As the clash began below them, Broland's mask of subservience was finally shrugged aside. "And you would have us play our games, fight our wars, by the rules of the Protectorate?"

Jasper stared at the field. It was difficult to pick out what was going on. There were a hundred tiny struggles to be seen; and it seemed to Jasper that there was not a whiff of tactical acumen to be seen among them. "There are no wars in the Protectorate. Differences are settled by laws and judges. These are institutions of honor."

"So you have said before," Broland said. "Yet the Protectorate is prepared for war."

Jasper's face wrinkled in puzzlement. "I wouldn't say that..."

"The Protectorate is prepared for war against Yosouri."

Jasper sighed. "War -- hardly. If the Protectorate came here with all its power, there would be no war. It would come with men in impenetrable armor... machines that flew through the air. You wouldn't be able to fight them." He watched in disbelief as men whose foes had fallen strode across the field in search of unengaged enemies. They passed up opportunities to help their comrades; and never were they set upon unawares.

"Machines, you say?" Broland asked. "But if a machine is victorious, what is learned? Machines do not reign."

Here and there, while Jasper watched, an outmatched warrior would back away and bow to his opponent. The victor would speed off in search of another conquest; the vanquished would remain on one knee, insensible to the battle around him. "Men who understand how to use machines will reign, Broland. It is an immutable truth of human history."

"On Yosouri," Broland said, "men who understand honor reign."

Jasper frowned at Broland's obstinance as he watched the battle progress. Inexorably, King Eshadric's men established their mastery of the field. And when enough of Andhuro's men had yielded, horns began to sound from Andhuro's side.

"Victory!" Broland cried. "Andhuro concedes the field. The King's mastery has been proved!"

Jasper surveyed the armies. The footmen on the flanks had never even come to grips. "I take it Andhuro loses his head now?"

"The King may demand it," Broland said. "But I think he will simply require Andhuro to make a vow of peace and submission for ten years' time."

Of the knights prostrate on the field, some were mortally wounded and others maimed; but many had bowed to their opponents or been sprawled helplessly in their overweight armor. The trial of strength had not been as costly as Jasper expected. "Ten years," he said. "What does Eshadric get from that? Andhuro will rebel as soon as he's ready to fight again."

Broland laughed. "And break his vow?"

"Yes, break his vow. People do it all the time."

Broland looked at Jasper with a puzzled expression. "That is extraordinary, sir," he said. "It would not have occurred to me."

Jasper flipped his computer open and sat it on the table in his room. Before the computer finished loading its software, he put a plain gray metal box on the table and pressed a button on it. He sat with his back to a stone wall that he had checked over very carefully, with sight and sound and a sonar imager. The blank wall and the audio scrambler combined to create a secure environment for his uplink.

A woman's face appeared in profile on his computer screen. She turned to look at Jasper from the screen. "Jasper," she said. "You're late." Her name was Virginia Casalis -- Jasper's boss, the Outreach Service chief-of-station in the Yosouri system. She spoke with a cultured air; she was an up-and-comer in the Service, younger than Jasper, trained for strategy and administration instead of field operations.

"I was watching a battle between Eshadric and one of the outland kings, Andhuro," Jasper said. "Andhuro's surrender took longer than I anticipated."

"Understood," Virginia said. "What happened?"

"Eshadric won," Jasper said. "No tactics at all, just a simple head-on clash. His deployment precisely matched everything we have on file." The Service had monitored several of Eshadric's victories -- including two over Service-backed insurgents.

"Observations," she said crisply.

"They seem outrageously complacent," Jasper said. "So sure of themselves, so attached to their ways... I'm no longer surprised that some of our people came out of here crooked. Especially the ones who watched Eshadric beat the people we were behind."

Virginia paused. "You're not going wobbly on me, are you, Jasper?" It was not an empty question. Outreach Service agents were always at risk of going native, coming to believe in the strange notions and customs of the societies they were studying.

"Not a bit," Jasper said, but there was trouble in his heart as he said it. "Bad luck once or twice, suddenly everyone thinks it's destiny or fate."

"Bad luck," she said, "or a secret weapon. Or Eshadric happens to be smarter than the entire Outreach Service Operations Group put together. I need you to tell me which. What do you think?"

"Eshadric is very intelligent; you knew that." Jasper paused to think. "But he can't conjure up the impossible out of thin air. I say bad luck as of right now."

Virginia's brow furrowed. "We don't have much time, Jasper, and you know that I loathe that answer. If there's some factor we haven't taken into account, some hidden strength -- you have to find it. Denton says that Wilias will take his shot within the next two weeks." Denton was Jasper's counterpart in Duke Wilias' court. He had spent years cultivating a friendship with Wilias, inculcating him with the ways of the Protectorate. Wilias would toe the line as soon as he had toppled Eshadric.

"Understood, Virginia." Time was indeed pressing; upward of fifty small craft -- bearing salvage experts, medical teams, even a pre-fabricated civil service -- had been waiting in orbit for months, since the first attempts failed. Jasper paused. "Eshadric sees it all coming. He is very clear on my role in all this. But even knowing that, I don't see how he can stop it."

"I've decided to form a task force just in case," Virginia said.

"You mean actually invade? With our own assets?"

"Yes," she answered. "I don't like it, but the fact is that another failure will set us back years and raise a lot of questions. If we must take Eshadric down to secure Yosouri, so be it."

Awful visions swam through Jasper's mind -- visions of the King's palace being torn apart by laser cannon, visions of decades of violent cultural assimilation without benefit of local leadership.

He had put a brave face on it for Broland, praying that the Yosouri would see the light without making a war of it. But Jasper had now lost five games of Yosouri-Regna to the King. Eshadric would listen to Jasper's descriptions of the Protectorate and its ideals, and then invariably set them aside. Eshadric seemed more intent on teaching Jasper the subtleties of Yousori-Regna than on the future of his Kingdom and his planet.

"Virginia," he said, "that would be such a disaster--"

"I know," she answered. "But if Wilias fails, and if you can't bring Eshadric around, then I will do it." She sighed. "I know this is difficult, Jasper. But I need you to reach deep down, do whatever it takes to pull this mission out of the fire. It's the best thing for Yosouri."

Jasper sighed. Peaceful integration of these wayward planets was always a delicate process. Jasper had succeeded with distinction seven times before. "I'll find a way," he said. "If there is a secret, I will discover it."

When Duke Wilias took the field, Jasper could see Denton's influence in his every move. By Yosouri convention, Wilias should simply have marched his army to the border of his Duchy and challenged Eshadric to come and subdue him. Wilias, however, did not stop at his border; instead, his army stormed ahead and occupied a set of hills overlooking Eshadric's palace. Jasper saw the potential of Wilias' position immediately. The hills would mask any maneuvers he chose to make. If he chose to concentrate on one of Eshadric's flanks -- precisely as Jasper had foreseen during the battle with Andhuro -- he might deliver a fatal blow.

Eshadric was walking into a trap.

As Jasper stood with Broland on a hillock in the rear of the King's army, he found it painfully difficult not to reveal what he was seeing. Broland, however, was a good student. "It seems that Duke Wilias finds your arguments very persuasive," he said.

"Do you think?" Jasper answered laconically. "What do you see?"

"He has already discarded his honor by leaving his lands," Broland said. "And he prepares for what you have called the war of maneuver. He has established himself in secure ground, cloaked the movements of his army... He proposes that the King should fight him at a disadvantage."

Jasper smiled. "Very good. And how should the King respond?"

"Were the King also to abandon his honor," Broland went on, "he should quit this field, garrison his palace with an adequate number, and strike for the bridge which Wilias must have if he is to return to his lands."

"Also good," Jasper said. "And once Wilias leaves his position, he will be marching on the King's ground. The advantage would be all to the King."

"But the King will not abandon his honor."

Jasper sighed inwardly. He should be feeling more of a thrill of anticipation; but a part of him wept at the thought of Eshadric's imminent fall. "I suppose not."

The battle began strangely, disjointedly. Eshadric marched his proud line forward toward the hills, but nothing was there to meet him, save for a few of Wilias' banners adorning the hilltops. This did not deter the King. His army crept forward; and once they were close to the hills, with a cry, the Royal cavalry charged up the slopes.

That, of course, was the thing Wilias had been waiting for. From the hills on the far left and right of Eshadric's line issued a flood of horsemen. They did not strike Eshadric's flanks directly. They swept past and then began to wheel around, to attack from behind as Wilias' slower footmen began to press the flanks from the front.

Eshadric's signallers began to wave their flags with great alacrity. The danger was now obvious to the King as well. The only possible remedy was plain to Jasper. The King's excellent cavalry arm, having already driven Wilias' pickets off the hilltops, must now charge to one flank or the other, and there try to redeem the impending disaster.

Jasper watched in shock as Eshadric's horsemen disappeared over the hilltops.

On both flanks, the King's pikemen rushed to the rear and planted their weapons against the coming charge. Raggedly and instinctively, the King's soldiers began to curl their flanks backward. Nowhere did the line dissolve into panic, as Jasper expected it to.

Jasper had seen the King's footmen in training. Never was the notion of defending against a rear attack even contemplated. "When did they learn to refuse their flanks?" Jasper muttered.

"It is plain to all what must be done when the enemy has abandoned honor," Broland said. "He may attack from any directon, hence one must defend all sides."

"It's a beautiful sight," Jasper said, exasperated, "but it isn't enough. They will still be crushed. Eshadric has lost the battle of maneuver; and... pulling back the flanks to resist the cavalry won't save him. It will just delay things."

"Yet all of Wilias' horse is before us," Broland said. "There is none but his Household Guard to protect him when the King's cavalry attacks."

"The King's cavalry isn't going to find Wilias," Jasper said. "He could be anywhere behind those hills. They're chasing shadows."

"Wilias is without honor," Broland said. "And for that reason the King is invincible. From that I conclude that the King's cavalry will soon take Wilias prisoner."

Jasper looked at Broland sadly. Wilias was the one irreplaceable part of Denton's plan; that Denton would let him endanger himself was unimaginable. "No, Broland," Jasper said softly, "this is the end. Eshadric is finished."

For the first time in Jasper's association with Broland, the page's face tightened in an involuntary spasm of anger. "He is not, sir! His honor will prevail."

"Honor is not a force of nature, Broland," Jasper said tightly.

Broland's gaze left the battlefield and focused on Jasper. "You speak of the things you would teach us, sir -- the secrets of medicine, and flight, machinery, yes, even nature. But do you also learn?"

"These worlds -- your world, Broland, has been lost for a thousand years..."

"Does the Protectorate learn?" Broland repeated. "Does it have allies, or slaves?"

Jasper tore his eyes away from Broland and looked back to the battlefield. He could not bear to continue the argument.

On the flanks, as Jasper had foretold, things were grim. The King's line had effectively broken in half, and his army fought as two encircled masses. They had no help from the gently rolling field they fought in; there was no ditch or creek bed on which to anchor a defense. Eshadric's flagmen were still. He had no commands left to give.

After a hard-fought repulse of the cavalry's initial rush on both flanks, Wilias' horsemen pulled back to regroup. Their first charge had been disorganized; they had evidently been counting on surprise and panic to break up the flanks. These foreign tactics had not quite sufficed to rout the King's army, though they had yielded a favorable position. The old Yosouri standby -- mass and shock -- would come next.

Eshadric's pikemen grimly braced for the coming charge.

The charge on the right came first. The lancers, after suffering grievously from four ranks of pikemen, punched through the line and began streaming into the void behind them. That flank, Jasper saw, was doomed.

On the left, the Wilias' cavalry was checked again. Of the archers, who Eshadric had placed near the center of his original line, most had fled to the left. These turned the defeat of Wilias' cavalry there into a rout. That flank would survive.

Then banners began to reappear on one of the hilltops. In that tight cluster of flags, all but one were Eshadric's. The other was that of Wilias. The peals of war-horns began to sound across the plain -- short-long, short-long, short-long.


The bloodletting abated slowly. On the right, where Eshadric's force had fallen apart, the slaughter continued for ten minutes.

Eshadric's glittering cavalry cascaded down the hill. At long last, Jasper could not contain his curiousity; he pulled out an electronic spyglass and trained it on them.

Wilias, his herald, and a sullen Denton were surrounded by a sea of Eshadric's men.

Jasper put down his glass, dumbfounded. "They got him." He thought for a moment. "And you say this is because he has no honor?"

"With respect, sir," Broland said, "what else could it be?"

What else, indeed. Bad luck?

Nobody's luck was that bad -- nobody's luck but the Yosourii. Thanks to Eshadric's incomprehensible triumph, Virginia's troops would soon be on their way.

Jasper settled wearily into his chair, facing Eshadric across the table once again.

"Please hear me, Your Majesty," Jasper said as he placed the last of his pieces on the board. "The men who are coming are not like Wilias or his vassals. They are not men of honor who were convinced to give it up. They will not make the mistakes that Wilias made; they know how to fight." He paused. "They know how to fight our way, Your Majesty. And they will bring terrible weapons. You cannot stand against them."

"We hear you, sir," Eshadric said with a kindly tone. "And we are most thankful for your warning; indeed, we hold you in the highest esteem for your candor."

"Bow to the Protectorate, Your Majesty," Jasper said softly. "Or it will be like Wilias, only many times worse. You cannot deny the horror you felt when you saw the slaughter of your footmen."

Eshadric breathed in deeply. "We do not deny it, sir. We felt great sorrow -- indescribable sorrow." He shook his head. "But we shall not abandon our people to such things. We shall rally them and fight."

"Fight and die, Your Majesty, and for what--"

"Fight and prevail, sir, for our sacred honor."

Jasper closed his eyes briefly. "Tomorrow I must leave, Your Majesty. I am truly sorry."

"We understand, sir," Eshadric said. "And we pray then that your last game with us shall be a memorable one."

Jasper nodded. "Of course."

He looked at the board without enthusiasm. He was an agent of catastrophe here. The spirit of Yosouri would be irreparably scarred by the coming invasion. If the game of Yosouri-Regna survived a hundred years hence, would they remember the first Emissary? And what would they say of him?

In the twilight of King Eshadric, before the Emissary departed, the King asked him to play one more game...

All right, Jasper thought to himself. A memorable game. He looked at his setup. He had prepared for another refinement of his strategy of overloading one flank, but now he threw that plan to the wind. He would give the King a glorious charge. That he was horribly out of position to do so bothered him not at all. What did it matter that his horsemen were halfway across the field, and would arrive at its center in disorder? Jasper felt joy at that moment, as he immersed himself one last time and more deeply than ever before in the ethos of Yosouri. He would go forward with honor. He would give Eshadric a game to treasure; a game that Jasper owed him, with the moment of the King's ruin so near.

Jasper placed his hand on the greatest of his heroes, the Lancer Imperator. He picked up the figure and moved it from its hiding place toward the center of the board. Then, placing one finger on the edge of its stand, he tipped it up, revealing it to Eshadric.

"But sir," Eshadric protested, looking at Jasper, "he is not yet embattled, nor spied by the Emissary -- he need not show himself."

"To honor his adversary," Jasper said, not meeting the King's eyes, "he will wear his device openly."

At the edge of his vision, Jasper saw Eshadric's eyes sparkle. "Ahh..." the King breathed with an expression of wonder. "A gallant man, and one to be reckoned with." He tore his eyes away from Jasper and stared intently at his own heroes. "Then no less than our own Lancer Imperator may ride to face him." Eshadric picked up one of his own pieces and moved it to a hilltop near Jasper's man. Eshadric tipped his piece up.

On they came, the rest of the two hosts, all the lancers and chargers on both sides forming up for a gallant clash of arms. The pikemen and archers and footmen plodded forward until they were almost toe-to-toe; and all was ready for battle.

Jasper and the King each had but a few hidden pieces left. Jasper now leapt forward with his Emissary into the midst of the King's host.

"What here?" Eshadric asked. "There is nothing left to see. But we sense a trick at work -- for the Emissary now blocks our Lancer Imperator." He looked askance at Jasper. The Emissary was safe -- could not be harmed -- and by placing it in the path of the Lancer's charge, Jasper had put the King at a disadvantage. "And we might do the same -- but in truth, we feel your method to be less than honorable."

Jasper nodded. "I assure Your Majesty that my honor is intact," Jasper said.

"So you will not withdraw the move?" Eshadric asked.

"I will not," Jasper said.

A hint of disappointment and frustration crept into Eshadric's eyes. "Very well," he said. "I shall not do the same." He picked up his Lancer Regent and moved it to attack. "The clash begins, and my Lancer Imperator balked by a puckish Emissary."

Without hesitation, Jasper reached for his Emissary and moved it from the center of the King's cavalry to a cluster of unrevealed pieces far on Eshadric's side of the table.

Eshadric's eyes widened.

"Reveal, Your Majesty," Jasper said.

Eshadric tipped up the six pieces nearest the Emissary. One of them was the Sovereign, whose loss would mean the end of the game. It was surrounded by pikemen -- proof against cavalry, less effective against the other pieces.

Eshadric gazed at the board. "Oh, boldly done," he breathed. "Boldly done, indeed, sir. And we ask your forgiveness for our insult--"

"Of course, Your Majesty."

"By our lack of faith, sir, you have gained a point," Eshadric said. Jasper's Emissary had simply been en route to his rendezvous with Eshadric's Sovereign. The King's hasty judgment of Jasper now placed him at a disadvantage. "We fear we cannot take the time to imitate you. We must make what we can of our advantage in the charge, and hope that it is enough."

"I agree, Your Majesty."

"And if your archers should come too close to our Sovereign, then we are ruined!"

"I believe so, Your Majesty."

Eshadric's eyes came alive with anticipation. His Lancer Imperator charged, placing many of Jasper's horsemen in jeopardy. "To it, then!"

Jasper reached for a doorknob when he reached Virginia's office. There wasn't one, of course. Motion sensors in the hallway detected his movement and opened the door for him. All around was the hum of machinery and electronics, something that Jasper hadn't heard for many months.

Virginia Casalis was swamped, and her cramped office did nothing for her mood. She had been in this glorified closet, the best room available on the converted freighter that served as Yosouri Station, for almost two years. She looked back and forth between two flimsy plastic viewscreens, one held in each hand. At length, she sighed and put one down. "Comm to Milena," she said to nobody in particular. "Go with your first plan for the Interim Government. You've got four days to complete their preparation. Priority to medical services and food distribution. There will be pieces that need picking up." A soft chime indicated that her message had been sent.

"We're invading, then?" Jasper asked.

"I'm afraid there is no alternative," Virginia said. "I should like to have your comments on the tactical plan before it is finalized."

"Of course," Jasper said. "Virginia -- we're going in with flyers, artillery, the whole deal?"

"As much as I could pull together," she said. "As you know, the Outreach Service budget never anticipated having to go through with something like this."

"I've got another thought," Jasper said. "Simpler, almost certainly more effective."

"For God's sake, say it then," Virginia said, half-distracted by a holographic projection of arrival times that hung in the air to one side.

"Here it is," Jasper said. "No flyers, no artillery, no drops. Just soldiers in light armor with blade weapons. Take them on in a straight-up fight."

Virginia blinked, giving him her full attention. "Blade weapons?" she asked. "Swords, you mean? I don't think I quite gather the point."

"Look, I know you're putting together a plan using superior mobility to land at critical points, establish defensive positions, be all over the place before anyone can react -- that's fine, but it won't work here. Everything will go wrong, trust me. Match Eshadric's strength, meet him face-to-face, beat him in a fair fight--" Jasper snapped his fingers. "The whole planet will submit just like that, I guarantee it."

Virginia gave him a hard look. "You've gone wobbly, Jasper."

"Virginia, no -- I've been watching, seeing things happen that seem like bad luck, but they aren't. You sent me to find a secret. Well, I found it. They believe in honor, they believe that the... the world will protect them if they are honorable and smite them if they aren't. Only..." Jasper stood and gestured with his arms, clenching his fists. "They're right, Virginia. It's deeply ingrained--"

Virginia was shaking her head. "You've seen it all, Jasper, but you never fell for it before. Tell me you're joking, Jasper."

Jasper wanted to pace, but there was no room for that. "It's deeply ingrained in their culture, Virginia. The laws, the customs, even -- even the games, Virginia. You can't win in Yosouri-Regna except by being honorable. The people believe in it. It isn't a myth; it isn't imaginary. That's how Wilias was taken. Denton can't explain it any other way."

"My God, Jasper," Virginia breathed. "What's happened to you?"

Jasper suddenly became aware of his own agitation. He stood still and breathed deeply. "I realize that it sounds insane, Virginia. I realize that it's impossible, unscientific, ridiculous. It may well be the oddest thing we've ever found in the Lost Worlds. But..." Jasper searched for the core of his conviction. "We're trained to go on instinct, Virginia. This is what my instinct tells me. I've watched Eshadric for months. I've spent hours upon hours with him. All those times, I never came close to beating him--"

"Beating him at this game, this Yosouri-Regna?"

"Yes. Until the last time. I tried being honorable, doing it as a stand-up fight, no deception, no trickery." How could he describe to her the exhilaration he still felt from the bout? "I won, Virginia. I watched, I listened..." Jasper hesitated under the weight of Virginia's incredulous stare. "I won."

Virginia gazed at him evenly for a moment. Then her eyes dropped to a plastiscreen on her desk. "That will be all, Jasper."

They had the decency to let Jasper watch the battle from the command crawler, but unlike Denton, he was not at the center of things. He stood in a corner, discarded.

Word had gone around. Jasper Ir'khalia, veteran of seven successful Outreach campaigns, had cracked. They had too much respect for his work to do anything but give him a wide berth.

The Service went in with enough force to crush Eshadric and his knights in shining armor a hundred times over. Drop troops secured vital points, including Eshadric's palace, in a neatly co-ordinated surprise attack. They somehow missed Eshadric himself, but Virginia, watching the course of the battle from orbit, was confident that the war was all but won. Eshadric would surely attempt to gather his army; and as soon as he showed his face to do that, drop troops would be dispatched to bring him in.

Jasper watched the viewscreens intently. Foot patrols crept through villages and castles; flyers lazily circled the sky looking for targets. In only a few places had either the populace or Eshadric's men offered any resistance. It was as though the King and his army had simply melted away.

Jasper ignored the agents and officers who were constantly threading their way throught he cramped crawler. It was better not to acknowledge them. They had begun to look at Jasper with pity.

Jasper absently moved aside when he heard someone come to a stop next to him and open an equipment locker. "Sir," a voice said. Jasper almost jumped out of his skin at the familiar sound. He turned to look. It was Broland, wearing an Outreach Service uniform, surveying the contents of the locker.

Jasper's eyes widened. "Broland? What are you doing here?"

"Quiet, sir," Broland said softly. "I'm an Emissary."

"An Emissary," Jasper breathed. Was he hallucinating? How could Broland possibly have infiltrated the crawler? "So I see."

Broland looked around at the winking viewscreens, listened briefly to the torrent of reports and questions echoing through the crawler. "It's so marvelous, sir. I can see everything from here."

Jasper was paralyzed with indecision. Should he sound the alarm? He reached out with one hand and touched Broland. He was there. "How did you get in here?"

Broland shrugged. "I walked. From over there." He pointed toward the crawler's entrance. Jasper knew for a fact that the heavily armed guards had instructions to admit nobody. Broland's presence was just a shade more impossible than anything Jasper had seen before.

Something snapped in Jasper then. He had told Virginia what to do, and she had ignored him. "Because you advance without fear of capture..."

"Ah," Broland said, pointing at a nearby viewscreen. "It begins!"

The monitor displayed an open field that was being used as a fueling pad. Suddenly, far in the background of the picture, one of the flyers burst into flames. Every head in the room jerked toward that viewscreen. The field was crawling with figures wearing Eshadric's colors. Sporadic laser fire began to erupt all over the pad. In the foreground, men with swords swept up to a flyer that was almost ready for takeoff. The ground crewmen fled; Eshadric's soldiers clambered up onto the wings and demanded the pilot's surrender.

"One for your side," Jasper whispered. He marveled at the courage of these people, running across the open field even as some of their fellows were picked off by sentries. They swiftly overran the entire pad. Jasper was overcome with admiration. "Bold. So bold, so daring. I can't describe it."

"Aren't they?" Broland breathed. "If only I could be with them..."

All throughout the drop areas, resistance awoke. The command post began to receive frantic calls for help. On one viewscreen, Jasper watched the HUD view of a Strafer pilot as he drew a bead on a cluster of lancers. His tac display went crazy as a cloud of arrows leapt up from the ground. Then his targeting electronics went dead; a million-to-one shot had sheared off his imaging radar receiver.

Jasper sighed. "We all have our duties," he said.

"Indeed," Broland said. "And now that the battle is truly joined, your Sovereign will surely send you to find mine."

In the command pit, he could hear Denton's voice rising. "Hold out -- I'm sending reinforcements. What? She's coming down here? When?"

Jasper shook his head. "They won't send me anywhere. I've been shelved."

Broland's forehead wrinkled even as he tilted his head, ears pricked. "Shelved, sir?"

Denton's voice rose again. "Five minutes -- you've got five minutes to clean this up. What? Then send them!"

Jasper took a deep breath, feeling sorry for Denton. "Leave of absence for medical reasons," he said. "I'm not on active duty. I'm not in the game."

"Not in the game, sir? But without the Emissary -- you yourself showed the King the power of the Emissary. How will you win without him?"

Jasper looked at the viewscreens. The Protectorate war machine was awakening, beginning to respond to the bizarre wave of low-tech attacks. But in many small things, Jasper could read the signs of disaster. Machinery was breaking down at an alarming rate. Friendly-fire casualties were mounting by the minute. "I'm beginning to think we won't," Jasper said.

Broland's face was a mix of exultation and sympathy. "I..." He hesitated. "Will you walk with me, then?"

Jasper nodded gamely. "Yes. Let's walk."

Out they went, without incident, past the I.D. reader, past the armed guards. Broland came to a stop in the field outside the command crawler. It seemed eerily deserted; Denton had flung the last of his reserves into the battle.

Streaks of vapor crossed the sky at every angle; Denton's flyers were busy. One trail circled in toward the crawler. A long, thick smudge hung in the air behind it.

An eerie feeling came over Jasper. "He's near, isn't he? They're searching a hundred thousand square miles for him, and he's right here."

Broland nodded. "Very near," he breathed.

The flyer came in with its retros still flaring, skidding to a halt a few hundred yards away from the crawler, between it and a forested bluff. Barely had its engines shut down when its forward hatch burst open, allowing Virginia Casalis to exit and begin her stormy progress toward the crawler. She clutched a headset awkwardly, while two aides scrambled to keep up with her. From behind him, echoing from the crawler's loudspeakers, Jasper could hear her terse and relentless inquiries.

She did not see the forest come alive with banners; she did not see the first glints of metal as hundreds of mounted knights came streaming across the field toward her. But she did flinch when the crawler guards began to spray automatic laser fire at the oncoming horde. She turned around; then, with a look of horror, she began to run for the crawler.

The crawler's gun began to fire, and knights were blown away by the squadron; but Virginia was only halfway to the crawler when they reached her. The guards uncertainly called a halt to the firing. Virginia had stumbled to her knees; Eshadric's cavalry wheeled around her to form a solid ring.

Virginia's voice crackled over the loudspeakers, shrill and fearful. "I surrender! For God's sake I surrender! Stand down, everybody!"

The guards looked at each other, dumbfounded.

The loudspeakers crackled to life again. "Denton! What do I do?"

Jasper could barely hear the low tones of Denton's strident voice from inside the crawler. "Transfer command -- we'll take hostages--"

"Are you daft?" came Virginia's voice, starting to recover its balance. "Jasper -- are you there? Are you in there? I'm placing you in command. You're to take command immediately!"

Jasper felt utterly at peace. He did not hear Denton's reply. Slowly he turned the moment over in his mind. Did he want responsibility for this debacle?

"Denton," came Virginia's voice from the speakers, "you're relieved. It's Jasper's op, and his crawler as well." The voice paused. "Jasper? Are you there?"

Broland saw the indecision on Jasper's face. He leaned over toward Jasper and whispered. "She calls, sir. Your Sovereign calls."

Jasper blinked as if shaken out of a reverie. Now he could see Eshadric's banner advancing across the field toward Virginia. He turned and snapped his fingers at one of the crawler guards. The soldier shouldered his rifle, whipped out his field comm, and offered it to Jasper.

Jasper took the comm, fitting the earpiece over his ear. "Control, cut the speakers," he said into the microphone. "I'm here, Virginia."

Virginia answered him, her voice no longer ringing out of the crawler. "Jasper," she said, "I am presently surrounded by quite a few burly men wearing metal armor and carrying very sharp implements of personal injury. What now?"

"Stand up," Jasper said. "Dust yourself off. Eshadric will be there in less than thirty seconds." He hesitated. "Are you ready to try this my way?"


"Beg his pardon for the attack. Say that his honor has prevailed over our trickery, that we'll back off. Place yourself at his mercy. There's no safer place to be than that. Got it?"

"Got it."

"I'll follow under a safe-conduct," Jasper said, looking at Broland, who nodded. "Then we'll go to the palace."

Virginia's voice hesitated. "You're going to make me play that game of yours, aren't you?"

"Yes," Jasper answered. "I am. And we'll play it until we get it right." He clicked off the comm, looked at Broland, and shrugged.

"Nobly done, sir," Broland said with a look of admiration. "You may win us over yet."


© 2003 Jerry Marty