“Sir, I can see plainly enough that you are a wise man. I do not flatter you, quite the opposite. I mean to say that you are clearly too wise for flattery or any other deceit.”
Chiron said nothing, simply made a gesture for Kaara to continue.
“I will speak honestly to you and not condescend. I apologise if we have seemed disingenuous at all.”
“Not at all. Please continue.”
“We need the strength of the centaurs to defend us.”
“Why would you? We're scattered and weak, whereas you're organized and invulnerable. Not to mention safe beyond the mountains.”
“We are few and bound to our city, and the empire reviles us for simply our existence. You are many and fly over the plains at whim. Your kin, at a stroke, could seize or destroy the griffin throne once and for all.”
Chiron knew this was true. United, the centaurs would make short work of the Tibernium forces, if faced on an open field. Their infantry, near useless against his fast and accurate brethren, would be massacred. Only their Gryphon Knights composed a threat, but even they could be brought down from the sky. Many centaurs could die, of course, but the noble order's numbers are too few to make an actual difference.
“Yes, we could. We could decimate their armies and conquer the empire's lands. But her citizens are millions. Our people wouldn't be able to keep them in control, to keep any sort of fragile peace. There would be riots rebellions. Futile, of course, but never-ending. It would be a permanent state of unrest throughout the region, a constant war. What sort of life would that be, for us and the generations to come?”
“But, I know, I know, it will be an age of destruction for your kin if they dare. We do not ask you to die for us, nor anyone to die.”
Chiron laughed bitterly. A war without casualties is a fool's dream. Or perhaps the dead are considered potential recruits.
“If we cooperate, if we are careful, we can get the empire to pull back its southern borders and recognise the tribes as a free nation. It is all just paperwork, I know, but such things can save lives, and also our ways of life.”
“Do you speak of raiding? Of destroying roads and burning towns? Of slaughtering refugees? Of making the south inhabitable for the villagers, for the commoners whose life already is composed of hardship and who've done us no harm? Holding the Empire and her citizens hostage, forcing her to abandon the south? You speak of immoral warfare and cowardice! Yes, it could work, but I will not have it!”
Chiron stopped shouting. Even in this wrathful barrage, Kaara remained unflinching. But the warmth in her eyes was long gone. And watching her, Chiron recognized something else in its stead. A look, not of coldness as one would expect, but of boredom. He knew it was justified. His talk of immorality and cowardice were just feeble attempts to assert himself, his superiority . Perhaps he was even trying to appear Just
or in possession of some some other prideful, but equally nonsensical, virtue.
“I'm sorry. But your talk of war without carnage is delusive. There will always be victims; the Empire would not agree to a treaty without them. And fighting non-directly, burning crops, raiding supply lines, hurting the Empire and her populace through sheer attrition will hopefully save lives in the long run. A starving people would more gladly sign a treaty than one who've just been humiliated on the field of battle. Yes, the coward's road might be the most merciful, but I do not have to like it!”
“You are cursed and blessed, I'm afraid, to be at the crux of history. Cursed that things must change but blessed that you can affect their change.”
Chiron sighed, but said nothing. Again he noticed warmth in Kaara's eyes as well as her smile. But he returned neither warmth nor grin.
“Shall we be truly allies, then, wise Chiron? Will you help us change the world so it doesn't change so much?”
The Khan offered a tiny, almost unnoticeable, nod of agreement. Kaara said nothing and exited his yurt, bowing before she did so. Tomorrow Chiron would speak with his tribe. Tomorrow he'd send word to the other Khans. What would hopefully be known as The Centaur War of Independence was soon to begin.