Once the door closed behind the warlord, the king motioned to one of the courtiers to approach him. “Go to Lord Bandage and tell him that I’m ordering him to gather 40 of our archers and 60 of our highest level, best pikemen from the garrison in a single stack, stack with them and lead them to the outer walls. He is also to read the message I’m about to give you now, and then send me a thinkagram when he does both. Got that?” King Galen said, giving a piece of parchment to the courtier.
“Yes, my liege.” courtier replied, still bowing.
“Then what of mine are you waiting for? Lemon?! Move!” the king shouted, losing patience. Courtier literally fled the room. Lucas smiled. The king has chosen his courtier well; this one was the leanest and the fastest of the bunch. Even Nyx grinned. Then King Galen turned to them.
“You two! Link up and make two healomancy scrolls in here. Then cast heal on two of our pikers on the outer walls. I want you ready and warmed up for some serious casting!”
“Yes, my king.” Lucas started, but they finished it together. Nyx winked at him, then removed a strand of hair in front of his face.
“I’ll start this time.” she said, raising her right hand and spreading her fingers wide.
“Marco.” she sang, so sweetly, so melodically.
“Christopher” he sang back, taking her hand with his left.
“Florence” she said next, raising her left.
“Polo.” He replied, taking it.
“Gregory.” She said, her grip tightening.
“Nightingale.” He replied, pulling her closer to him, until their heads nearly touched. He was already feeling her feelings, excitement and eagerness.
“Colombo.” she said, lowering her head on his right shoulder and closing her eyes.
“House.” he replied, doing the same, words of power that the spell was made of pulsing clearly in hir head. Then the feeling of the moment come, power overwhelming.
“Callahan’s.” two mouths whispered as one and the world widened. It changed colour too, when hir’s eyes were opened. As usual, everything was tinted with grey. Hir unarm separated and s-he had left and right hand again.
Four eyes looked around the room, to see Merry with her mouth open wide and eyes bulging, like if they are going to pop out from surprise and shock. Female mouth gave a wide, wolfish smile, lots of teeth showing, and a soprano thought came “You didn’t know we can do this, Merry, did you now?”. Male mouth just gave a small, disdainful smirk. “Scrolls and pikers, remember?” a thought came, in pleasant baritone.
“Fine.” soprano replied, “Let’s spend some juice.” they thought in unison, and the very next moment they’ve found the first red gem and the closest piece of parchment. A thought, some miniscule amount of juice spent, and one healomancy scroll was now in the tower, popping on the king’s table.
She watched the two for a full minute before finally remembering to close her mouth. It was impossible, what they did. It WAS supposed to be impossible! - she corrected herself.
Merry had heard about the link-up without a thinkamancer, but this was the first time she has ever seen it. King Galen had forbidden her to see them doing it before on the threat of disbanding on the spot if she ever tried to sneak behind his back and just do it, so Merry didn’t. It was almost sacrilegious to her discipline, to thinkamancy as a whole!
Merry knew that they were both talented casters before they’ve linked for the first time, able to cast out of their respective disciplines but this... it was unimaginable yet... they were still doing it! Her king asked her a question, unease clearly visible on his face.
“Tell me, Merry, what is the effect on casters of having 10th level Chief Warlord in the same stack with them, on the tower hexes?” he asked.
“Ten percent increase in juice and casting range, my lord, but only on the tower hexes. Half of that on any other.” she answered, still stunned. “If I may be so bold, why do you ask, sire? Lord Bandage is our highest level warlord and he is just level eight.”
“That’s not completely true, caster.” King Galen replied, with a sad smile. Melancholy, Merry thought. “Thank you for the answer, anyway.”
A hat on his table moved, knock knock. The king approached it, said “Pizarro” then read a message. He gave a wide grin, smiling for the first time today. King Galen crumbled the paper and put it in his pocket. He clapped his large, strong hands, very loudly.
“Ladies and lords” He growled “I want everyone who is not an archer or a caster out of this tower and in the courtyard. NOW!”
His order was barked, at ear shattering intensity. ‘Level ten warlord?’ Merry pondered for a few seconds, while the tower cleared and king kept watching over the hall. Another two healomancy scrolls popped on the the table. ‘But, it is not our turn! It’s Charlescomm’s! And we don’t have any level 10 warlords!’ she thought, still shocked by the link up. Then, familiar tingling of unit asking for Thinkagram, and Merry’s senses finally came back to her.
“Lord Bandage is in place and asks for a thinkagram.” she declared.
“Well, give it to him. Let’s hear what my Chief Warlord has to say.” her king replied, then sat behind his table and sharpened the quill. He smiled, oddly.
King Galen smiled, watching the tower empty. He felt almost like a prince again. World was much simpler then, he thought. He didn’t need to think about politics much. All hard questions went to the king. Should we besiege that city? Ask a king. Should we give that royal Barbarian a place to hide from the small army pursuing him? Ask a king.
And king always gave him good answers. No, you shouldn’t, it’s already besieged by two armies bigger than our own. Yes, you should. Provide him with royal escort.
They were good answers, ‘cause they made them some allies, and Healaid always needed allies. They weren’t strong enough on their own (their greatest exports were healing units to other sides, so no one liked to attack them much, less those exports stop coming and many units croak) and other Royals despised them, practically since their side’s creation, hundreds of thousands turns ago.
It was said by other royals that Queen Galenika the Traitor was barely a royal of the plaid tribe when she had defeated Cheese-eaters of Squirm and razed their capital. When she had returned home victorious, her king spurned her sexual advances and everybody knows what is said about women scorned. Because of her hideously low loyalty, she defected and made a new side where proud Squirm once stood. And all historical accounts agree that Queen Galenika never knew what was that entire Royal fuss all about, and why the other Royals tried to destroy her.
But prince of Healaid needs to know the truth. It was King’s advances that were refused. When she did so, King Saline the First had ordered her disbanded on the spot. It was her hideously low obedience, not loyalty, which saved her and allowed her to escape. She was loved by king’s own troops more than the king himself and the third of them had low enough loyalty to follow the good Queen to the birth of the new Side.
The rest was a history of battles fought by princes and princesses and negotiations lead by queens and kings. Prince Galen always liked to fight. The problem was, he was King Galen the Third now and forced to negotiate.
King’s world was complicated. World of a prince was simple. Simple problems and very simple answers, usually involving violence and gore. The problem was Charlie. And Galen was going to enjoy the answer to it.
“Well, give it to him. Let’s hear what my Chief Warlord has to say.” he told Merry when she asked. Nasty piece of work, that one. Almost croaking two casters because of her cowardice, trying to save her own skin. There was a lot of bad hitpoints between his casters because of it and King Galen kept them separated. Until now, that is, when his back was to the wall.
His thinkamancer was upset by Lucas and Nyx linking up without her. The grey shine of their eyes was upsetting to him as well, but the look on Merry’s face when she saw them linking for the first time was priceless.
Then Lord Bandage’s face flickered into focus in front of his eyes.
King Galen disliked him. Bandage was quite a weakling and pretty unimaginative tactician to boot, winning all his battles with pure numerical superiority and huge personal stacks. And arrows, lots and lots of arrows. At least he was properly paranoid, like a true royal he wasn’t, else king would have disbanded him long ago.
“I have positioned our archers on the outer walls for target practice. Prepare to heal our pikers as archers increase their accuracy modifiers. You on the tower better watch out, these archers are so green they are pooping grass. There will probably be arrows everywhere and some of the volley may hit the tower.” Bandage said.
“Understood.” King Galen said then turned to his linked casters and tower archers. “Move away from the windows and into the corners of the room, please. Thank you.” He finished then turned back to his Chief Warlord. His own table was near one of the walls and nowhere near the windows. “Done. Over and out.” he told him. A few arrows indeed entered the tower, shattering on the marble floor. The king waited for the screams to die out and rain made of steel, wood and feathers to stop.
“All healed. Two pikers are back on their feet, just as predicted.” Pair said in unison.
“Good.” the King walked up to them then whispered in Nyx’s ear. “Find me all the archons closest to the tower, please.”
Pairs eyes flickered, once, twice, three times.
“Three veiled ones near the tower window, unmoving, my prince.” she whispered back.
“Which one?” he asked, pleased by the title his ears haven’t heard for thousand of turns.
The king walked back to the table and scribbled something on the piece of parchment with his newly sharpened quill. He put it in the hat, said “Earhart” and it disappeared. Few seconds later, the hat knock knocked again.
‘I’m going to enjoy this’, King Galen thought, while giving everybody on the tower a wide smile, showing lots of his pearly whites. “Casters, cast again. Heal.” he said, savouring the moment.
Lord Bandage was always a simple archer at heart. His promotion to Chief Warlord came as surprise, those thousand turns ago. The only surviving of his stack, the highest level unit in the field, the highest accuracy and the best eyesight... it had some sense. But, he wasn’t Royal and this plan was too complicated for his liking. Why not just blast the archons out of our airspace with spells? Of course, they were veiled, but he has spent the last twelve turns stoking air defence spells on the tower and even if only every third hit, they’d still have some left.
The hat knock knocked, Lord Bandage received the message and prepared his archers for another volley. He was the one that shot poor pikers, while his elite archers had intentionally missed. Lord Bandage took his longbow again, carefully choosing an arrow. He notched it, pulled the string to his ear and waited.
Then it happened.
He saw blonde archon's shocked face for much less than a second before he served. The other two were watching the king and had their backs turned to him and his stack. Big mistake, the biggest one of their lives. His arrow had hit the blonde straight between the eyes, ending her shout, but not one arrow missed. One was close, though, hitting red-headed archon's leg. Lord Bandage turned to his stack, as proud as he was tall.
"Men and women, that was a fine good stitching. They croaked before they hit the ground." he said, getting cheers and grins from his elite strike force. Then he turned to (almost) luckless archer. "John, aim a little higher next time. Remember what I told you about distance and the air units?"
"Sorry, Novak." John said, wiping one sweaty hand on his green tights. "I got nervous. This is my first time against the fliers."
"Don't worry. You are still low level, John." Lord Bandage said, giving John a reassuring pat on the shoulder and having to stand on top of his toes to do it. He was tall, but John was taller. "It will pass once you get higher level. Now, let's end this dirty business." he added, notching another arrow. Another archon got unveiled by heal, right there over garrison and had barely had time to make her fingers in thinkagramming pose before Roger, Rafael and Serena ended her transmission and the others had finished turning her into goose.
Lord Bandage smiled, without firing second arrow, before his smile curled like two turns old milk rations left on the sun. He saw a blur on the horizon, just on the edge of his eyesight but it wasn't there when he turned to look. It was starting, for real this time.
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