Tens, or maybe hundreds, of the small crablike creatures scurried around her feet by the lake's molten shoreline. Stone, sand, steel and man, all fused into a smooth black crater by the enormous heat of orbital fusor bombardment.
Seven years ago it had been the site of an atmosphere processor. Seven years ago it had been occupied by rebels during an uprising, and at the command of the previous steward her husband had molten it from orbit. An act that had put an abrupt end to the rebellion. Even the ruling class was thrown into a war of words over the matter, had Vought the steward been right in ordering the destruction of the processor, and the death of hundreds? Had it been right of the baron Gorey to turn his ship's fusor battery on the planet it was set to defend, and in a momentary hot white discharge melt the site with such intensity that the radioactive remains of the plant's reactor were encased in glass at a depth of 20 meters below the surface? The nobles were divided. The freemen and serfs, less so, on the contrary they seemed it had also sown the seeds of further rebellion and dissent.
They would tear each other to pieces. Tyranny and civil war was brewing. The civil war had been coming for a long time anyway. For every single plot of land there were at least two nobles laying claim, the old reclaimant families - returning to their domains after being driven from them by the Mundus Humanitas, and younger lines, appointed by the emperor Darikahn himself to again populate what had then been a barren rock encircling a yellow star for generations.
Steward Vought had been replaced by the more progressive steward Eliazar. The armed forces put under the collected command of the mercenary Sheva, who both sides had agreed to be either sufficiently moral or corrupt to be entrusted with the task. But the animosity hadn't gone away, just found other expressions. A war was coming, one way or another, she contended and shifted her attention back to what was taking place further out in the crater.
A play-war among young armigers.
A raft was suspended in the middle of the crater, surrounded by water waist deep. The game was simple, be alone on the raft for twenty seconds to claim a gold ribbon. At which time the combatants again waded out in a circle around the raft, so wide that they couldn't cross swords with the closest neighbors, and the game started all over again. Though the swords were little more than blunt rods, they carried enough weight to break bones of the unwary. There had been a hundred of them at the start of the day, now perhaps twenty had received so grave injuries that they had been forced to leave the field.
The political symbolic undertones of the game couldn't be missed by anyone, and from the spectators there was much shouting of advice, cheer and curses at the young participants.
She brought her binoculars up to get a closer look at the chaos around the raft. Drenched and heaving, many of them bleeding from minor cuts, none of them more than teenagers, they fought for the treasured solitary position on the raft. Some of them carrying a ribbon around their necks - indicating victories in previous rounds, some even carrying several.
She turned to the younger woman beside her, nudging her shoulder to get her attention in the ruckus.
"Iberis, dear, I lost track of my son again, can you spot him?"