Part 13: Banana's go with Everything



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Marco could remember his first hangover.

 

He’d been three turns old when Marie, Celeste, Zheng and he had snuck out of their barracks in Uppenup, crept through the city’s outer Garrison in the dead of night and into the barracks for transiting troops. They found one that still had a fire going and a LOT of noise and singing, and the quartet oh-so-cleverly and subtly went in through the back door and pretended to be the city Garrison coming in off duty.

 

Even though they looked basically the same as the city garrison, they must have seemed as fresh popped as strawberry tarts hot from a baker’s oven to the visiting troops. Because in hindsight, they were waaaay too chummy. The men and women of General Tso’s second brigade shared their Tarzhale, chatted them up, and then egged them on to drink more and more. One, two, four, seven bottles? Marco lost count. They played acrobatic games made all the harder with their increasing drunkenness, then they brought out strange jungle herbs and even stranger liquors, and were finally kicked out into the cool near morning darkness.

 

He’d carried a nearly unconscious Zheng, and Marie did the same for Celeste. Marco had no idea how they made it back to their own barracks, least of all without being spotted. Marie was just giggling non stop at his clumsy, drunken rendition of “Binty-bine Nottles of Neer on the wall.”

 

Morning, which must have come two or three hours later at most, was announced when Drill Sergeant Nass Tay literally kicked them all out of their cots. To this turn, Marco wasn’t sure which punishment had been worse: the hellabad Sargeant Nass put them through in basic training that day, or the epic hangover of his own devising that accompanied him throughout.

 

----------

 

As consciousness slowly came to Marco, he was unhappy to find there was a brand new contestant in the running now.

 

He fought to open his eyelids, and could only barely make out blotchy shapes inside of a tent, lit by a cherry-red hued Powerball.

 

His head pounded with the thunderous beating of a Giant's heart; as it quieted he began to hear voices, one, a peppy falsetto.

 

«--and as agreed General, we'll take the nobles to safety in our capital, and send them back once you oust the Komissars.»

 

Another blotch, this one slim and straight, spoke… No, the voice was imperious, far more commanding than conversational. «You have my thanks lady Faustina Bargain. We can’t have the aristocracy dirty their hands with this rotten business of fratricide. Once we overthrow the usurpers, we’ll need them to be blameless to legitimize the new peerage to Erfworld at large.»

 

The feminine voice crooned admiringly «You take such a burden upon yourself, general.» All sweetness and honey and white-hot arrowheads jammed into Marco’s skull.

 

«Let me at least help you with that one.» And here Marco managed to distinguish a hand ending in a well manicured index finger with pretty blue nail polish. Pointed at him.

 

«Yes.» The general dragged out the world in a low drawl. «His ability to rouse the infantry was… Troublesome. No doubt due to his lower station and being Promoted. I doubt you’ll get much use out of him, but perhaps your Turnamancer will have better luck. You are free to take him.»

 

A third voice cut in. «Sir, ma'am, please, let me croak him. He’s a liability and probably won't turn.» The figure, a squat and hairy man, pulled out a sword. «I’d be honored if you let me take on THAT burden.» Rather than fear, Marco felt bile rise up in his throat at the sound of his voice.

 

«Ah, Lieutenant Hu...» Marco managed to make out some of General Franco’s features. «Thank you, for volunteering to make that sacrifice. But we have another in mind for you.» The General nodded his blurry head at a figure Marco hadn’t noticed before, because she had been standing so very still.

 

In one swift, clinical motion Marshall Watt lunged, leaving a trail of after images that hurried to catch up with her real self. Something bright and steel and shiny popped out of the Lieutenant’s chest.

 

A cacophony of cloth crows cawed at the commotion and fluttered on their furniture-perches inside the tent. This was too surreal, was it all a nightmare? Marco tried to will himself awake.

 

Hu managed to gurgle and sputter. The sword in his grip fell carelessly as he desperately tried to push out the one sticking out of his chest. He walked a half step, lost his balance and tumbled down, X’s in his eyes and a look of confused betrayal on his face.

 

The General sighed. «Blasted oaf, even croaked he’s a nuisance, drooling on the handmade Lotto carpet. Might as well roll him up in it until he depops. Watt? Please see to his remains.»

 

The Marshall’s blurry outline moved, only to be obscured as the general walked close and put a hand under Marco’s chin, lifting up his head.

 

Marco had only just started getting the hang of focusing on far off people, so when the general came close his face took up Marco’s entire field of vision. «I realize you may be out of sorts, lieutenant. That’s understandable. Lieutenant Hu has just croaked you, after all.»

 

For a brief moment, Marco’s addled mind took the general at face value and panicked, making his heart race. «Nnnnot cr--»

 

The general squeezed Marco’s chin and went on calmly. «When they learn of the betrayal, all of the Komissars will be asking me: “Hu did it, Capo, Ida Know?” Or perhaps. “Watt, Wai, would she do it?”

 

He went on, clearly enjoying the sound of his own voice. «And I’ll tell them: it was all a terribly well orchestrated plot. Hu was on first; he struck out Capo with a feint by distracting him with a “captured” Lady Faustina, only to release her and hand the Capo over. Ida Know, Wai were second and third respectively; incapacitated with a Dollamancy trinket. With our commanders stolen from their bases, Hu and Faustina ran for home. Watt gave chase. Hu would have gotten away with it too, but he didn’t count on you, kid. Meddling in the deep jungle, negotiating with the Guewilla’s. Well.»

 

Franco tightened his grip on Marco’s jaw painfully. «You really shouldn’t have left on your own, lieutenant. Though he croaked you, the delay was just what Watt needed to catch up. Sadly, he croaked to an unlucky crit before we could capture him.»

 

He paused for a moment, then gestured carelessly at the body Marshall Watt had finished rolling up. «Hu had free access to my sending Hat. Pinning this on him will be trivial. So when the Komissar’s ask, I’ll just have to say “Hu dunnit.” And they’ll believe me.»

 

Marco was having trouble processing everything the general was saying in his addled state, but the story seemed at least possible, if not plausible. It was at least good enough that the Komissars wouldn't be unanimous or quick enough to mobilize an entire division to capture or stop the General’s forces.

 

The general let go of Marco’s chin, and his neck couldn’t support the weight. When he managed to look up with the best glare he could manage, the General wasn’t even looking in his direction. «Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a Monarchy to restore.»

 

He followed the general’s retreating steps, only for a heart shaped, beautiful face to appear in front of his. The woman had intense straight red hair, with arched and thin eyebrows framing bright blue eyes.

 

She smiled and put a hand on his shoulder reassuringly. «Just relax. When you wake up you’ll be feeling right as rain.»

 

She took a step back and put a strange metallic canister in front of his face, he could make out something like “Ba-- Sle-- Ga--” written on the side. She pushed down on a button at the top, and sprayed him with a strange smoky gas.

 

Suddenly every breath he took was a breath stolen away. He was barely conscious to begin with, and his struggling --He now realized he had become a prisoner, and his hands and legs were bound with manacles-- only hastened his fall into a merciful, painless slumber.

 

As the last glimmer of consciousness abandoned him, he wondered if Sargeant Nass Tay would kick him out of bed again.

 

--------

When Marco next woke, it was to rough shaking.

 

«Boss! Boss! C’mon, wake up!» The urgent whisper helped Marco cut through the haze of unconsciousness.

 

Marco forced his eyes open and saw Danny’s rough face peering at him through iron bars. He was in a wagon of some kind, and Danny had grabbed his prisoner’s frock through the bars to drag him close and shake him awake.

 

He tried pushing himself up to a sitting position on the cart’s wooden floor, but his arms, legs, and even neck weren’t responding. He was completely incapacitated. Marco looked around at the small space and then to Danny.

 

«Danny, wh- what’s happened? Did the Guewilla Chief get away? Can you-- break me out?»

 

The Macheteer looked over his shoulder; Marco only then noticed his brother Jace was there too, facing away from the cart and keeping watch.

 

«We dun’ know. All kinda rumors are flying around. But listen--»

 

Danny looked into his eyes, with a real concern and an edge of panic. «We ain't got no commanders any more! Hu’s missing. And you, the capo, countess, viscountess-- yer all prisoners, gettin’ shipped off!»

 

Marco grimaced as he took it all in, his chest hurt too, felt like Hu’d cracked at least one rib, making him have to take breaths between sentences. «Danny, listen, I’m-- I’m incapacitated. I can’t move. Can you get me, or anyone else, out?»



Danny shook his head rapidly twice, swatting his straight black hair against the bars. «No can do Boss, this Paddy Wagon’s got some kinda fancy lock, only opens to a commander’s orders. Me an’ the men aint got enough muscle to break it, prolly need a Heavy.»

 

Wait, there were others? Marco looked around beyond the bars. It was nighttime and off turn. Given that the General’s tent and pennants were in the distance, it looked like they were all still at least camped with the main army.

 

Marco wheezed out, just loud enough to be heard by only them two. «Th- There’s more of you… rebels?»

 

«Yeah, at least four stacks-a us. Mostly from the fifth. General gave an address, tried ta squash the rumors. Said we was savin’ the side from Komissars who betrayed the emperor, that the ‘nanners are really our friends, and that you all are getting shipped off fer safe keeping. Most guys bought it, but not us. Th’ fact that most-a us lost our C.O.’s, and that a lotta th’ infantry units who went with him didn’t come back ‘neither got a few of us spooked.»

 

Of course. The units stacked with him, the Eighties, and Ida’s Macheteers and Archers, and probably most of the units that had heeded his call to disobey had probably all been… Marco swallowed. All either left in a separate hex to avoid them talking about what happened, or croaked.

 

Titans, had he… had he gotten them all executed? He pushed the thought away. Time enough to wallow in guilt later. Right now, Danny and Jace were very much alive and needed his help.

 

«Listen to me kk-- closely Danny. The General’s a traitor. He was the one that stopped us finding Guewillas. He kk--croaked Hu, and he’s got a warlady from the Banana Republic in his tent, sh-- she’s the one taking us away. Yeah, he’s planning to march on Tar Zhay to croak all the Komissars. But th-there’s no way they betrayed the emperor, --and there’s no way the BR will hold up their end of the --deal. We have to get word out-- have to slow the columns down. Buy time. Get the Basics with you to-- to stay and sabotage equipment, supplies. And I’m ordering you to-- to get out of here. Get as many jungle capable units as you can and-- and just go. Head into the jungle. Try to find a scout, or another commander, or get to a city-- to anyone!»

 

Danny’s eyes went wide. «Y’want us to just leave you here, and go into the jungle unled?»

 

«Yes.» Marco said firmly. To an outsider looking in, the scene had to be a big joke, a farce. An incapacitated and imprisoned warlord ordering away his few loyal troops, rather than trying to break free, and sending them unlead into the jungle.

 

But he had to give them hope.

 

«You can do it. Survive. Find your way through. Warn th-the Side about the general. I know you can because--» and he actually used the pause for breathe to good effect, looking from Danny to Jace. «Because you won’t be alone.»

 

Danny followed his gaze and turned to look at his brother, who must have been listening closely because he looked over from his vigil back to the two of them. Jace put a hand on Danny’s shoulder and nodded.

 

Danny looked back to Marco, seeming much more like his usual bad-Ascii self. «Okay boss. But what do we do if we run into the general’s men, or Banana Republicans? We’ll just auto engage.»

 

Marco thought about this. When he and Zheng had gone through the jungle unlead, they’d managed to bend the standing order to engage Banana Republicans to avoid outright attacking by virtue of “engaging” them with a field of traps. But the Macheteers would do well, better even, with an actual order.

 

Marco picked his phrasing carefully. «Okay, then I order you, and any units you tell this order to-- refuse the orders of commanders you think or know are-- traitors. And not engage the General’s men, Banana Republicans, or Ferals unless-- unless you think it’ll get you something worthwhile.»

 

Jace picked that moment to raise his left hand in warning and put his right on his holstered machete, he was hearing someone.

 

Out of time, Marco looked into Danny’s eyes for acknowledgement, and felt he’d gotten the nuance of the order. «Okay Danny, then-- then I guess it’s goodbye.»

 

Danny didn’t say a thing, just looked at him for a long second. There was something in that smoldering gaze he hadn’t expected. A promise. He was going to make the Banana Republic, and the general, pay for this.

 

The pair vanished into the darkness, using their Jungle Capable special to scurry away as silently as jungle cats.

 

Marco saw a pair of knights approaching, and faked being unconscious. He’d been hoping to listen in on them, think up some strategy. Unfortunately, with the weight of exhaustion and injuries on him, he wasn’t faking being asleep for very long.

 

--------

 

Marco woke up after start of turn the next day, finally feeling all the aches and pains and incapacitation had left him.

 

He blinked away the cobwebs and marveled at the mid-day sun, surprised to be alive… Wait, mid-day?!

 

The wood floor beneath him vibrated as the caged cart rolled along. He scooted over the cart’s right side and held onto the bars, and saw he was being escorted by stacks of Banana Republican infantry and Navatari elves walking on each side.

 

Panic rising, he looked around and saw there were maybe a couple of hundred units in this procession, with a few other wagons and coaches in it, all being pulled or pushed by Battle Bears and LFN’s.

 

They were hard to spot, but he noticed pairs of Knights and Banana Rangers riding Painted Horses; each horse reflexively mimicking the surrounding in a form of Natural Foolamancy Veil.

 

He gripped the bars tightly. This was real. He was a prisoner, and they were taking him to be Turned!

 

He moved to the other side of the cart, rushing past the cold prisoners rations, and tried to see if he could find the other Noble commanders in the procession. No dice, so he tried yelling. «Capo Civil! Lieutenant Civil!»

 

«Hey, quiet in there!» One of the knights yelled back, riding closer to the cart.

 

Marco kept yelling. «Ida know! Wai!»

 

Like lighting, the knight’s pike hit the fingers on his right hand holding onto one of the bars. He let out a brief yell and pulled his hands away.

 

The knight (a Lancer, really) that had been riding closer came up to the cart and looked in with annoyance «Yeah? Well, I know why! Because I say so! So shut up!»

 

Confused at his gibberish, Marco gave him a good look. This was the first time he’d seen a Banana Republican knight up close. The BR’s own jungle capable units were called Models, just basic infantry with the Jungle Capable special. Promoted Models were called Supermodels, and sometimes gained the Dance Fighting special on top of the promotion.

 

The first thing that caught his eye about this Supermodel knight was the incredibly extravagant uniform he was wearing, even by BR standards.

 

It included: banana patterned sheer fabric, a feather studded diadem for a helmet, fur trim along the armor jacket, three belts (two buckled just loose enough to spin around like bracelets), exposed abs, an armored banana hammock, zippers everywhere, trailing gauze from the cuffs and sleeves, leather chaps, an eye level high collar… wow. Really, it might have been easier to list something about his uniform that wasn’t incredibly weird and extravagant.

 

He must have been telegraphing his distaste with the knight’s uniform because he shot Marco another venomous look and hoisted his pike high, as if to thrust it through the bars. «Keep staring old yeller, and I’ll put you down.»

 

Despite his dire straits, Marco knew the knight was bluffing. That Lady --Faustina?-- Was taking him to their Turnamancer, so if they were going to croak him they’d have done so already.

 

The worst this fashion freak could do was beat him, and after five days of Dance Fighting torture and surviving the queen mother of all royal pains yesterday?

 

This all came down to one question: was whatever beating this little knight was capable of worth knowing whether and where they were keeping the other commanders?

 

Decision made, Marco raised an eyebrow at the knight, smirked, and said sardonically. «Really? That was the best threat you could come up with? Not even an easy one like “You’re gonna be Tar-get practice” or “I’ll make you Tar Zhay you’re sorry?” Then again, with an outfit like that your standards are obviously pretty lo--»

 

The knight yelled in anger and Marco flipped onto his back to avoid the lance strike into his cage and, in a feat of bravado he felt very nicely faked, laughed uproariously. «And your aim is just as bad!»

 

That made the knight scream and try a second time. Marco stood up rapidly and moved to the other side of the cage. «Really, you’re just embarrassing yourself. Wait, you were already doing that when you dressed this morning. Carry on!»

 

He hoped with his yelling together with the knight and the commotion the other commanders would hear him.

 

He hopped with his legs together because of the short chains shackling them, and avoided a low strike.

 

Marco lifted up one manacled hand to his chin theatrically, the other trailing behind because of the manacles. «No wonder your mount keeps changing color, it’s embarassed to be seen with you!»

 

He ducked rapidly to the right. The fact that the bars were making it impossible for the knight to try anything other than easily telegraphed thrusts was making it pretty easy to dodge, even with his chains and rolling cart.

 

«Lieutenant! Where are--!» He heard the faint yelling of Viscountess Ida, a few carts ahead of him, only to suddenly go silent.

 

And that was enough distraction. He noticed the thrust too late to move out of the way and the knight clipped him solidly in the right shoulder.

 

«Ha! Didn’t they ever teach you not to look away in a fight?!»

 

Marco smirked. «Thanks for the tip.» And he repeated a move used against him once before. He grabbed the pike with both hands and pushed to the side, leveraging it against the bars until it broke.

 

The knight was stunned, holding the broken haft of his pike. The Model Stabbers and Navatari elves marching on either side of the cart had been watching the whole stabing fiasco with amused smirks, booing and cheering. Now they drew their weapons, and he could hear calls to stop the wagon and formation.

 

Marco pulled in the third of the pike he’d broken off, it was a little shorter than a Stabber’s pike, sadly not enough to give him a Piker’s bonus. But the head was certainly deadly enough.

 

He looked from side to side, ready to dodge more pike thrusts from the other Knights that were moving in, but mostly getting ready to start stabbing at the lock to try and break out.

 

«Chains.»

 

The chipper falsetto cut through the crowd’s shouting on a completely different wavelength and frequency, and suddenly Marco’s arms and legs went spread eagle as the chains binding his arms and legs together went to the front and back of the cart, holding him suspended midair.

 

He’d been flipped to face the left side of the Paddy Wagon, opposite the knight he’d been trash talking and saw the red haired Lady Faustina.

 

She wasn’t angry, or coldly glaring, or even frowning. The mischievous smile playing on her face and eager eyes did more to scare Marco than the pike wielding knights getting in formation around her.

 

Marco did his best to smile casually. «Why, imagine finding you hanging out in a place like this?»

 

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The lady Faustina put a fork into the spaghetti plate of prisoner’s rations, delicately and methodically rolling it into a little spindle of pasta.

 

She lifted the forkful of limp spaghetti up to eye level, letting the watery marinara sauce drip off, and examined it like you would a newly encountered feral. All excited curiosity. «Your rations are so interesting! Even reduced in quality to prisoner rations, it says so very much about your Signamancy.»

 

This was the first thing she’d said in about five minutes, having ignored everything Marco taunted, joked and goaded her with so far. She was sitting on a short stool she’d brought with her when she came into his Paddy Wagon.

 

Marco’d been expecting the torture and beating to start as soon as she came in. But so far the only pain she’d been inflicting on him was making him hungry enough to want to eat that disgusting food.

 

«You can learn a lot about a unit, and a side, just from knowing what rations most of them pop.» Faustina spun the fork, making the stray spaghetti strand dance as it wrapped and unwrapped. Little drops of marinara went flying off sideways, and she giggled.

 

«For example, units in cohesive sides with a strong internal Signamancy tend to pop pretty much the same rations, like Wharf Barrage used to.»

 

Wharf Barrage… Marco thought back. That was the side the BR had annihilated sixty or so turns ago, wasn’t it? Marco raised an eyebrow. «Really? And what did they have pop?»

 

«Steaming raw grub-meal, blood-berry pie, boar guts, giblets and vittles, prune juice. Nasty stuff. But. They were strong, united.»

 

In a single delicate move of her wrist, Faustina slid the spaghetti off the fork, cleaned it off with a napkin, and hid it somewhere in her jacket. She shifted her cool blue eyes to meet his gaze. «And they never saw us coming.»

 

Marco held her gaze impassively, she was obviously monologuing some kind of prepared speech to soften him up for their Turnamancer. He’d do his best to resist.

 

Faustina went on conversationally. «So far, I’ve yet to see more than two captured or defecting commanders from Tar Zhay have the same food type pop as their rations. It’s certainly unique, but it’s also a little worrying, isn’t it?» She put the plate down on the floor carefully. Marco had been half expecting her to toss it out through the bars or throw it in his face, this was somehow more unsettling.

 

He grinned to cover up how he felt. «Not really. And hey, if you’re keeping track, why don’t you give me a breakfast menu and I’ll consider my options.» He knew she’d meant it rhetorically, but an opening was an opening.

 

The Warlady got up from the stool, managing to balance easily on the jittery floor as the cart rolled over roots and plants.

 

She gave him a frank look. «You really, really should. Consider your options, I mean.»

 

Marco scoffed. «Maybe if I’d been eating grubs your offer’d seem attractive, but I like my brioche, thanks.»

 

«Your normal breakfast is brioche?» She smiled sadly, like a friend who just found out you got turned down for a promotion. «That just goes to show what I mean. No one else on your side eats that.»

 

And the way she said it, he somehow felt even more cut off from Tar Zhay.

 

Faustina opened her jacket and pulled out a curved container, opening it to reveal an unbruised banana. «After we took over Wharf Barrage, we went to the trouble of making all their commanders feel they were part of a greater, stronger side with their inclusion. And the amazing thing? Their popped rations changed. Now they have whole banana’s, banana slices, banana bread, banana pudding or any of a hundred different banana dishes pop as part of their healthy breakfast.»

 

She put the banana down next to his plate.

 

«Yeah, well, no thanks. Banana’s don’t go with spaghetti.»

 

«No… but they pair beautifully with brioche.» She took a step closer then. «Just like they have with the popped rations of every other Tar Zhay commander who's turned.»

 

Her smile was infectious, warm and hopeful; Marco had to fight to stay deadpan. He let the silence build up, until she finally said. «Please, just think about it.»

 

She turned smartly and walked out of the cart, once the door closed she spoke slowly. «I’m going to let you down now. Chains.»

 

Marco managed to land on his feet rather than on his face.

 

«Also, for your sake, don’t try any more stunts. My Knights will be under a new set of orders now you won’t much like to test.» Faustina leaned over from the cart’s side and saddled up on her painted horse.

 

Looking after the Warlady as she rode off, to the fresh banana by his plate or prisoner’s slop, somehow, Marco felt he’d have preferred a beating.

 

-----------

The rest of the day went by without incident, though not for lack of trying.

 

The Knights and infantry around him flat out refused to even acknowledge he was there, no matter how awful his insults or jokes. About the only time he’d managed to get a reaction out of them was when he’d started examining the locking mechanism to his cart, at which point they started bashing their pikes on the cages bars and against him, beating him with noise and sticks.

 

So he was leaning against the wooden wall at the back of the cart, watching the trees roll by and units march.

 

Alone. No one to talk to. All he could do was think, and there was a lot to think on.

 

The biggie was the coming meeting with their Turnamancer. He didn’t know much about how that worked, just his own first encounter with Lucy, when her Mummies had captured him. And that had been thankfully brief and involved almost no physical torture or magic.

 

He was confident he was loyal and happy enough with Tar Zhay to resist regular attempts at turning for a good long while, but having a Turnamencer go to work on you was supposed to be on a completely different level. He didn’t know if he could hold out, and he was really afraid of what’d happen if he turned. While he hadn’t been in the Breakfast Club that long, he probably knew more about how his side really worked than anyone else they’d captured.

 

He… or… “they?” could do some real damage with that Intel.

 

And it was for just such a reason Marco was seriously considering that maybe making another breakout attempt would be worth it, even if it ended with him croaked.

 

Then there was the fate of the units under his command, the Eighties, Chief Viet, and Danny and Jacen. Even the rebels in the general’s stacks. On a fundamental level, he knew they were all prepared to croak for the side; so was he. But now he couldn’t help but second guess himself. Was there something he could have done to keep them alive?

 

The other thought that had been bothering him was something far more insidious. It was something the General had said: that it was the Komissars who’d poisoned the Emperor to rule in his place. In the heat of the moment he’d brushed it aside along with the General’s rabid Royalism. But the unscratchable itch here was that he had no way of disproving the General’s claim.

 

While he fully trusted the Komissars and felt they were being honest with him, the fact also remained that they were consistently lying to most everyone else in the side. How hard would it be to lie about what really happened to the Emperor to a couple of newly promoted Pikers?

 

And that just fed worry back to his earlier concern. One stray comment was mining his loyalty in his side, and that would make him an easier target of Turning.

 

He didn’t like that downward spiral kind of thinking. He looked around at the marching soldiers again for a distraction and realized that, sounds of marching, birds and jungle ferals aside, it was really quiet. You could usually hear at least a few whole stacks and even companies of soldiers singing in Tar Zhay’s armies.

 

So Marco breathed in (almost sighed in, really, that’s how down he was feeling) and started to sing one of the first marching songs he’d learned.

 

«The units go marching stack by stack, hurrah, hurrah!»
«The units go marching stack by stack, hurrah, hurrah!»
«The units go marching stack by stack,»
«Nobody knows when they’ll be back»
«And they all go marching down, to the sound, of their footsteps on the ground.»

 

«Two by two, one lost his shoe»
«Three by three, went up a tree»
«Four by four, kicked down the door»
«Five by five, look alive»
«Six by six, pick up sticks»
«Seven by seven, take it up to eleven.»
«Eight by eight, don’t wanna be late.»


He went through the whole cadence four, five, six times. He stopped to take a drink from the last drops of water in his tin cup at one point, and was surprised to hear someone nearby humming it. He stood up and looked to the sides of the cart and saw the Knights and infantry were still ignoring him. He was about to call out and ask who it was when up ahead in the convoy a loud crash and shouting broke out.

 

His Paddy Wagon stopped abruptly and he was thrown off his feet and against the far wall. Marco scrambled to try and get a good view of what was going on, but the fact that the front and back of his cart were wooden walls made that just about impossible.

 

He eventually found a single hole in the wood and managed to get a partial view of what was going on. One of the carts up ahead had fallen over, apparently having rolled onto a pit trap! It wasn’t long before infantry were crawling on it like flies.

 

And just like flies, they suddenly started getting swatted away.

 

He could hear bullets from slings whizzing by, hitting the units and scattering them. Just as suddenly three whole stacks of yellow furred Guewillas hit the cart, tearing off the doors! Marco didn’t have a great view, but he thought he saw them pull someone out. Maybe two? Titans, it was a rescue mission!

 

Marco yelled at the top of his lungs «Guewillas! Over here! Help!» Just like that all the worrying evaporated. The doubts, the fatalistic idea of getting croaked before turning, all of it vanished.

 

He stuck out his arms from the side of the cart and tried to get their attention, but even with the yelling he was getting shouted down by all the other knights and infantry. Just as suddenly he was snapped to the center of the wagon again, suspended in midair, and this time with a muzzle shutting his mouth.

 

Struggling was no use, so he listened and hoped they’d come his way. But the sounds of battle grew faint, and he could hear a contingent of BRs split off into the jungle. Those that were left huddled close to his cart and the others.

 

Even as the sounds of pursuit faded away, he dared to hope it might be part of a diversion, a two pronged strategy using traps and a first breakout to make a second one easier.

 

But as the seconds turned to minutes turned to hours, he realized that wasn’t the case.

 

Marco hung his head down, and started humming the marching song.

 

He found the gag made it much easier for him to bite back a sob.

 

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Part 12: Monkey Food

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Part 14: Plus(h) size heart

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Cover image by abstractangel77 for flickr.com, cropped, some rights reserved.

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