Silence blanketed the Great Hall as the King’s Minister, a wizened elf of indeterminate age and hairstyle, stood to address the War Council.
“There is discord on the western frontier. News reaches the Council of increased pirate activity along the eastern seaboard. Troop movements have been spotted in the south by the eagles. Esteemed brethren, it would seem that war is upon us.” Heads nodded around the War Table in muted acceptance as the Minister continued. “And this is a war that we cannot win without an arrow-proof battle strategy”. This was exactly what the country needed, leadership in a crisis using reliable, authoritative words like ‘strategy’ that just sounded so… sensible.
Suddenly Captain Pragmatik, the Head of the Queen’s personal guard, snapped out of his thousand yard stare to hurl the words: “What does the Minister know of strategy?” You always knew where you stood with the Captain, mainly because he was a troll and you always know where they are standing. Not seeming to notice the shocked whispers (including a lone ‘ooh’ from the Secretary of Over-Analysis as he shifted in his sleep), the Captain continued, flecks of gravel spitting from his lips. “Tell us of this strategy that will save our lands.”
“We have a strategy for war!” screamed the Minister, slamming a gnarled fist on the oak table with the strength of a much stronger fantasy character. “We will use our troops to repel the invaders on all sides, utilising the most advanced munitions from the King’s Armoury and the finest horses from Her Majesty’s stables. In doing this, we will reclaim our lands sustaining minimal casualties, thereby restoring the rightful order”.
“So ,” replied the Captain quietly”. Your strategy to win this war is… to wage war. How illuminating”.
“Lord Agilus!” boomed a voice from the head of the table. “I assume that you have a better idea?” The King rarely spoke, but when he did people listened so as to avoid a fate that included the side-effect of being dead.
The Captain nodded in deference before responding. “Strategy is indeed key, that is true my Lord King Ceo, but only when it tells us something that we didn’t already know. The Minister’s ‘magical thinking’ may sound convincing but it lacks any guiding principles that could lead to specific actions.”
The Queen, finally moved to speak, locked an inquiring gaze on the Captain that made his earlier thousand yard stare seem a guilty glance in comparison. “Then what of these guiding principles that will lead to specific actions in our coming war, Lord Captain?” Heads swivelled from the Queen to the Captain as though an arrow had been loosed and the spectators were eager to see where it might fall.
“Our guiding principles shall be three-fold Your Highness” replied the Captain, nodding deferentially. “Firstly we shall parley with our border Barons, offering them decentralised rule in return for their arms and support”.
“Preposterous!” The shrill voice of the Chief Architect of Nothingatall rang out in the confines of the chamber. “We will cede no power to these underlings. Our centralised power has been hard-won across the generations and we will not dilute it under my watch”.
“Arg” mumbled the Secretary of Over-Analysis as he shuffled into a more comfortable position, lightly snoring with quill at the ready.
“The world is changing Lord Chief Architect”, the Captain responded sadly. “Would you have the border lands make alliances with the invaders instead? You may find that when it comes to material matters their fealty is not to the King but to their purses and to the chance of food on the table during the long winter to come”.
“And the second principle my Captain?” interjected the Queen, earlier amusement now veering towards curiosity.
“Secondly my Queen, we shall split our forces into two at each of the three borders. One half of each troop will travel away from potential battle sites and into the Uncharted Lands. They will go unnoticed as we will deploy the Navy along the entire coast. The invaders, fearing an attack, will turn their attention to the sea. But there will be no such attack. The troops shall turn back from the Uncharted Lands, while eyes are elsewhere, and attack from behind. This is how we shall win the ground battles”.
“And thirdly, my Lord Captain?” prompted the Queen.
“Thirdly, while there will be times that only force can achieve our aims, we must always be prepared to negotiate with our adversaries to advance our common interests.”
The Minister, having hoped, rather in vain, that the Captain would have disgraced himself by now, was finally spurred into a repost. “I do not see how these principles the Captain speaks of differ in any way to the battle strategy that I have already laid before the Council!”
“Then you know not the difference”, responded the Captain quietly, “between a good strategy and a bad one. A good strategy must provide direction; a bad strategy provides none. It is principles that provide direction. Willpower and impressive – yet empty – words will never be enough to get things done.”
A sudden crashing sound caused all attention to move to the Secretary of Over-Analysis (rudely dragged from a lovely fantasy in which his work was actually valued, by his falling off his chair). “Then what of action?”
The Minister sat back in his seat. “Well said, Secretary. Let us accept for now that these guiding principles are of use. But how to turn them into the specific actions you talk of; surely the Captain would agree at least the need for detailed planning to coordinate our troops?”
“Ideas without action are indeed hallucinations, and some degree of planning is required to turn ideas into action. But we must not forget that planning is inherently fallible as it speaks to us of the future. You can spend as much time on the battle plan as you want, but you’ll have to rip it up once the fighting starts. Our principles will provide us with tight targets, that is true, but to get the best out of our people we must employ loose controls and not impose detailed plans.”
“The Captain speaks in riddles” spat the Minister. “Too many years on the front have addled his brain”.
William Addle, Master of the Libations, glared at the Minister; he wished people wouldn’t use that expression.
“My Lord. Rather than planning our whole campaign in advance, we must leave tactical choices to the troop captains. It is their actions on the ground that should influence our overall planning as we celebrate our wins and analyse our losses.”
“You would cede authority from the Council to the field then?” The Minister could by now hardly suppress his anger. “This is treason!”
“Lord Minister, I have served in the Army. The Council’s place is to tell the soldiers what is required, and that is how things should be. But it is the troops who must decide how and when they deliver.”
Silence reigned once more in the hall as the King pondered what had been said. The Council had always operated in the same way up until now. Formulation of strategy was something that the Ministers passed on from father to daughter to son through the ages (and the Minister came from a long line of dead people). But the world was changing and new methods were necessary. What the King decided now had the power to change the future of his people…..