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|Author||Blaine Lee Pardoe|
|Cover artwork||Romas Kukalis|
|Interior artwork||Duane Loose|
|First published||1 June 1995|
|Era||Clan Invasion era|
|Timeline|| 21 December 3028 (prologue)|
8 August 3057-1 January 3058
The novel was made available on BattleCorps on 24 April 2010 as a PDF file (text only, without cover, pictures, or any other interior artwork except for the usual BattleCorps frame graphics). The PDF copy includes a disclaimer stating that it was created from a pre-final edition text that might differ from the printed version and that canon-wise, the print edition trumps the PDF edition.
From the back cover
|“|| "Authorized to sacrifice your personal honor..." With these words Chancellor Sun-Tzu Liao dispatched Death Commando Loren Jaffray to the planet Northwind. His mission: to singlehandedly destroy the elite Northwind Highlanders, the mercenaries who abandoned the Capellans in their hour of need thirty years before. As the grandson of famous Highlander warriors, Jaffray is the perfect instrument to exact Sun-Tzu's revenge. He can win the mercenaries' trust, then divide the Highlanders from within to ignite a war for control of their homeworld.
But Prince Victor Davion is not about to give up this key planet without a struggle. And now, while Northwind and the rest of the Sarna March erupt in war, Loren must wage his own personal battle—one between honor and duty. A battle that can only be fought alone.
The prologue, set 21 December 3028, describes how the Northwind Highlanders discuss Hanse Davion's offer of giving them back their homeworld Northwind if they would switch their allegiance over to him (the "Northwind Agreement"). The vast majority of the Highlanders vote to accept the offer. Only a small number of dissenters including Corwin Jaffray balk at the perceived betrayal and remain behind in the Capellan Confederation. It is noted that the desertion of the Northwind Highlanders sealed the fate of the Capellan Confederation in the Fourth Succession War.
Almost three decades later, Captain-General Thomas Marik summons his ally, Capellan Chancellor Sun-Tzu Liao, and urges him to step up guerilla warfare in the Sarna March. He also permits Sun-Tzu to take his fiançe, Thomas's daughter Isis Marik, with him to Sian to announce in some six months' time that their wedding will take place yet six months later. Sun-Tzu concludes that he has successfully spurred Thomas Marik into action by providing false evidence that his son Joshua Marik has since died in the care of House Davion and was replaced by a body double (which would incidentally be revealed as factually accurate). An ancient star map in Marik's office draws Sun-Tzu's attention to Northwind as he is leaving, and on a hunch he decides to enact a plan involving Death Commando Loren Jaffray that he had been hatching for some time.
While ostensibly giving his bride-to-be a tour of his realm, Sun-Tzu visits Krin on 8 September where he observes a Death Commando training exercise in which Major Loren Jaffray, whom Sun-Tzu had earmarked for the Northwind mission, excells against great odds. He meets Jaffray in person and puts him on his mission to infiltrate the Highlanders, remove Northwind from the Federated Commonwealth and neutralize the Northwind Highlanders. As a diplomatic envoy would be too obvious, Loren Jaffray will be sent "privately" as he is a descendant of famous and respected Northwind Highlander MechWarriors; Sun-Tzu hopes this will earn him their trust.
Jaffray arrives on Northwind to a mixed reception. While he gets a warm welcome from Colonel William MacLeod (who is nevertheless wary of a Death Commando "on vacation"), many pro-Davion Highlanders such as Major Chastity Mulvaney fear he might be trouble. The Federated Planetary Consul of Northwind, Drake Burns, is more concerned with protocol and with keeping the world factually under FedCom control while his aide-de-camp Colonel Drew Catelli, head of the Consul Guard company, is positively alarmed.
Jaffray informs MacLeod that he has a message from the Chancellor to give to the Highlanders' ruling body. The Assembly of Warriors, however, needs a quorum to meet that is not fulfilled with three Highlander regiments posted elsewhere. Jaffray requests a Warrior's Cabel be held instead, arguing that MacLeod holds the authority to call for one. Over Mulvaney's protests MacLeod indicates that he will consider it. Six days later, on 17 September, MacLeod takes Jaffray on a walk through Peace Park where they discuss the Highlanders' issues with their current employer and Thomas Marik's surprising declaration of war from the preceding day (Operation Guerrero) that saw Marik and Liao troops pour into the Sarna March. Jaffray assures him that Houses Liao and Marik would recognize Northwind as independent and not seek to rule over the planet, just to separate Victor Steiner-Davion from the valuable elite Northwind Highlanders. Just as MacLeod informs Jaffray that he will call a Warrior's Cabel, an assassin opens fire with a needler gun and wounds them both.
On the next day, MacLeod is informed that Katherine Steiner-Davion has ordered the Highlander regiments in her newly-formed Lyran Alliance to return to Northwind. MacLeod decides to comply, because technically the regiments take their orders from Tharkad (and not directly from Victor Steiner-Davion) while in Lyran space. This is seen as an affront by Burns and Catelli. When they fail to convince MacLeod to countermand the orders Catelli suggests to Burns that he should divert the Third Royal Guards RCT to Northwind to restore order, before the returning Highlander regiments regiments—especially Stirling's Fusiliers, who were stationed nearby and are expected back shortly—can dig in.
The situation comes to a head when Catelli demands Jaffray be surrendered to his Consul Guard forces. MacLeod refuses on principle, and the standoff at the starport between MacLeod's Regiment and Catelli's Consul Guard company almost devolves into a shooting match when a sabotage program floods 'Mechs on both sides with simulated battle data pretending they are under attack. Jaffray, riding shotgun in MacLeod's 'Mech, is not wearing a neurohelmet and thus is not deceived. He notes no actual signs of weapons fire outside and recognizes the simulation for what it is, thus preventing the situation from escalating. Nevertheless, Catelli uses this as a pretext to relieve MacLeod of command and pass command of his unit to his XO, Mulvaney, field-promoting her to Colonel against he wishes. MacLeod's refusal to accept Catelli's command authority results in roughly a battalion's worth of his troops siding with Mulvaney. They declare themselves impartial in the conflict and eventually move off with Catelli while Jaffray remains with MacLeod after a standoff was agreed that explicitly includes the entire capital city of Northwind, Tara.
Jaffray had offered to surrender himself to Catelli, which MacLeod (predictably) rejected. Still, the offer, combined with having saved MacLeod's life in Peace Park, endears Jaffray to the Northwind Highlanders CO and he is invited to join MacLeod at their command center in the unfolding situation. An unknown fleet has jumped in-system, obviously Davion reinforcements. Catelli's and Mulvaney's combined forces are meanwhile moving along the Tilman river towards an old dilapidated fortification called "The Castle" (apparently a Castle Brian) that holds the supplies and parts they need. Jaffray opines that Mulvaney would not dig in there but rather stay mobile, and that her real target would be a training camp in the mountains. The Highlanders harass the retreating forces, while a Fury-class DropShip arrives via pirate jump point and lands on the Tilman river banks to rendezvous with Catelli's and Mulvaney's forces. Unbeknownst to MacLeod or Jaffray (who nevertheless realize that the ship must have carried something important or dangerous), it brought Marshal Harrison Bradford of the Third Royal Guards RCT and Major Daphine Winchester of the First NAIS Cadre with a detachment of special infantry troops. Privately, Bradford chastises Catelli for his failure to engineer an incident that would have given Bradford's troops a pretext to quickly crush the "insurgent" Highlanders; now Bradford will have to stay on Northwind much longer than anticipated. Catelli is ordered to provide another incident that will allow Bradford to occupy the city of Tara; Bradford needs the city to set a trap for Stirling's Fusiliers that will destroy the regiment and thus hopefully force the other Highlanders into submission.
A strike by NAIS troops in infiltrator suits destroys the communication equipment of MacLeod's Regiment, cutting off their link back to Tara, while the retreating Davion forces (with Mulvaney) lead them on a wild goose chase further away from the city over the next few days. At one point, Jaffray and Mulvaney face off against each other and end up with their 'Mechs intertwined below the Tilman river's surface. They have to briefly cooperate to extricate themselves, and Mulvaney mentions Marshal Bradford whom Jaffray recognizes as the CO of the Third Royal Guards RCT. Meanwhile, Catelli has an aide shoot Consul Burns back in Tara and frame anti-Davion Highlanders for the deed, thus becoming Acting Consul, another step in his plan to personally gain control of Northwind.
Over Mulvaney's protests Catelli and Bradford announce that the RCT will deploy inside Tara now. Bradford's plan is to lure Stirling's Regiment into landing at the Tara spaceport which is rigged with enough explosives to destroy the DropShips (and a good portion of the city).
A token Davion force has taken The Castle while their main body apparently kept on the move like Jaffray predicted. MacLeod's forces determine from a broadbeam transmission by the approaching Stirling's Fusilers that something is amiss back at Tara and that the Highlander HQ there has gone dark, and conclude the Third Royal Guards RCT landed in the city after all. Jaffray is sent back to Tara with a small force, strung out to serve as radio relays or messengers, while the rest of MacLeod's Regiment prepare to storm The Castle. Under Jaffray's expert leadership they sneak into the city and, with the help of a Highlander infantry veteran, find out about recent events as well as the exact locations of the enemy forces and the explosives at the starport. Jaffray decides to send the veteran to Mulvaney to inform her of the situation, correctly assuming this would turn her. On their way back they run into MacLeod's Regiment sooner than expected: MacLeod had taken The Castle, left a token force there to create the impression that it was garrisoned, and had secretly moved to Tara at best speed upon receiving Jaffray's report.
On 20 October 3057 MacLeod's Regiment launches a three-pronged attack on Tara while the DropShips of Stirling's Fusiliers are on final approach. Jaffray leads a strike force against the enemy HQ, where he sends an Abort signal to the Death Commandos waiting in-system for his orders. Meanwhile, with Mulvaney switching sides against Catelli and Bradford, the Highlanders manage to warn off Stirling's Fusiliers who ultimately combat-drop into the fray. The Davion troops in Tara are vanquished, and Catelli is killed when Mulvaney sets off the explosives in one of the warehouses where he had hidden.
On 1 November, Death Commando Colonel Hertzog requests permission to have Loren Jaffray killed for sparing the Highlanders when there was a perfect opportunity to obliterate them. Sun-Tzu replies that Jaffray's mission actually succeeded, not only denying the Federated Commonwealth the services of the Northwind Highlanders fortwith but also destroying one of their elite RCTs and a NAIS cadre. To achieve this, Jaffray had to really become a Highlander, which in turn Sun-Tzu foresaw would only work if he had the option to abort the mission at the last instant; it was giving him the abort option that enabled Jaffray to succeed in the first place. In Sun-Tzu's words, Jaffray arrived at Sun-Tzu's solution of his own accord. The survival of the Northwind Highlanders as such is deemed acceptable and Loren Jaffray was expendable, his honor a cheap price to pay in exchange for the vast repercussions of his mission. Hertzog is ordered to tell his people that Loren Jaffray is on an extended special mission. Loren Jaffray meanwhile joins the Northwind Highlanders for good.
In the epilogue, Jerrard Cranston, Galen Cox and Victor Steiner-Davion discuss the events on Northwind. The Highlanders have sent Bradford back to New Avalon, and Victor wisely decides not to press charges against a good field commander, who is still useful and now deeply indebted to House Davion. Sun-Tzu Liao has sent a consignment of china plates bearing the names of the worlds he and Thomas Marik reconquered during Operation Guerrero; the top plate is labelled "Northwind" and comes with the epaulettes of Marshal Bradford and shoulder regalia from the NAIS cadre.
- Loren Jaffray
- Colonel William MacLeod
- Chancellor Sun-Tzu Liao
- Archon-Prince Victor Ian Steiner-Davion
- Battle Hawk
- Grand Titan
- Huron Warrior
- Marauder II
- Phoenix Hawk
- Shadow Hawk
- War Dog
- unspecified JumpShip Eban Emael
- The "Thomas Marik" with whom Sun-Tzu Liao speaks is actually the body double who later became known as Thomas Halas.
- At the time when "Thomas Marik" makes plans with Sun-Tzu Liao in this novel, he has not only recently learned of his son's death but also his wife Sophina Marik is either mortally or has already died recently (as established in the novel Star Lord).