The Noble Gases Chapter 5

By tadthornhill (Tipped by 2 people!)


<-- Chapter 4


 

Oggie looked at his prisoners the next morning with satisfaction. ‘Very Men’, huh? More like ‘Very Hungry Men’. They were gobbling down their rations like they’d never had any before. Maybe they hadn’t, maybe they’ve been living off forage the entire lives.

 

“You know, rations are a lot different than forage; we’ve been living off forage our entire lives.” John-Boy said. He was the tallest and the widest of the Very Men. All of them had rather intimidating signamancy. They were all tall, with bulging muscles and square jaws. Very Men, indeed. Except, that is, for Friar Tic, their Healomancer. The only thing bulging on him was his belly, but he made up for it with a long beard.

 

“Pretty good foraging,” Sir Helium said, “If you can feed a healomancer, a warlord, and archers with forest specials.”

 

“It was good for a while.” Red Will agreed. The other Very Men were dressed in green, aside from Friar Tic in his brown healomancer’s robes, but Will was wearing the same outfit the others were in, but in a bright shade of red. How Oggie had missed him in the forest he couldn’t tell.

 

“Yea,” Mulch, the one with the youngest signamancy agreed, “Until these last few turns. Things started to go bad about ten turns ago; the deer got better at hiding. Hill-and-Dale depopped two turns ago from hunger. We drew straws, and his was shortest. I still miss him; he was a good singer.  Someone else was probably going to depop next turn.” The rest of the prisoners mumbled their agreement.

 

Oggie thought about the end of the encounter the previous day. He had gotten some more experience when the manacles had gone on Robbing and the Very Men, but he was still only level two. It seemed that just capturing the bandits had been enough to win the engagement, but with no combat the experience boost had been quite a bit lower. Also, command experience felt different than combat experience. He’d only gotten a tiny bit of command experience as stack leader. He got much more as an actual warlord. Well, I didn’t lose anyone, so there is that. How many warlords can say that.

 

Since Robbing Hood and his Very Men put them over stack bonus, Og made plans for Viscount Krypton Gutripper to take charge of them if they ran into combat. He’d have to continue to stack with the rest of the Noble Gases to follow his orders to escort them south.


 

“Og-118 has gotten me another short stack of barbarians.” King Utha said over breakfast. Everyone turned from their rations and looked at him. He had invited Marilyn to join him at breakfast that morning, instead of serving it, along with Artha, Kestrel and Nimue.

 

“Really, father. How remarkable. I didn’t notice any combat.”

 

“Well, now I’m paying prisoner upkeep to a warlord, an apprentice healomancer, and three archers with some kind of special. I’ll see what I want to do with them when they get here. I want you to leave this turn, though. They’ll catch up with you later.” He turned to his chief caster. “Kestrel, have you looked at her plan?” he said, waving at Marilyn, eating quietly at the end of the table.

 

Kestrel steepled his fingers, “Well, your majesty, we’re both in favor of it. Or at least that’s the way I read the look on Nimue’s face when I explained it.” Nimue blushed at this. “The only question is cost. What your majesty is asking is rather complicated. Interesting—definitely, possible—very likely, expensive—almost certainly. We may even have to link to do it, and that requires hiring a Thinkamancer. Very likely two, one to link, and one to separate us, to prevent what happened to poor Hadrian.”

 

King Utha nodded at this. Hadrian’s Wall had been a success, but the Thinkamancer hadn’t warned King Publius ahead of time about the possible damage to Hadrian when they broke link. The Thinkamancer came out of it with a slight headache, the barbarian dirtamancer with a bad one, and Hadrian had croaked. There was no one to complain to, and if King Publius had done anything to the Thinkamancer about it, the dirtamancers would have put a giant black stone ball in front of Prytain’s portal, forever blocking them from the Magic Kingdom. Neither he nor his heir ever hired from the Magic Kingdom again.

 

“How can we trust them?”

 

“That is a matter of some concern, majesty, I will need to visit there and see if anyone has any advice.”

 

“And how can you trust them?” Prince Artha broke in.

 

“We can’t highness, we can only trust our wits. But with enough questioning, I hope to know who to trust. I will not be hiring the Thinkamancer that hurt us so badly, of course.”

 

“Of course.”

 

“How about your part in this Nimue?” the king looked down at his junior caster.

 

“Coming up with the code is clearly so simple even a Bunny can do it. If Master Kestrel is confident I can weave the codes into the Hats, then so am I.”

 

Hmm, thought Master Kestrel, A bit jealous of the idea, eh. This might be the impetus she needs to get good at her craft. I’ll have to play it carefully though, don’t want her to do it for the wrong reasons. He cleared his throat, “And I am confident. How is the treasury set, majesty?

 

“We are secure for now. It really depends on if we can protect Caer Lundein. Go to the Magic Kingdom and get a quote from the Thinkamancers; I’ll review it and the treasury when I have an idea of what these barbarians will cost. Artha?”

 

“Yes, father?”

 

“Ride out when breakfast is over. Take Gwalchmai and the lancers we selected last turn. Your mission is scouting though, not attack. I don’t want to attack until we know what is attacking us.”

 

Artha wolfed down the last of his rations, got up, saluted, and left at a jog. Marilyn turned to Master Kestrel. “May I get that Hat from you Master, so that I won’t hold them up?”

 

Kestrel reached into his Hat and pulled out a black circle that he untwisted and then snapped open into a shiny, cylindrical black, silk Hat. “Here you are, operator, I don’t think you’ll be needing those ears anymore, will you?”

 

Marilyn blushed. “No, sir, thank you sir.” She put on the Hat, and somehow it went as well with her Bunny duds as her ears did. She ran off after Artha.


 

Her chance had come! Her chance had finally come! Her chance to do something, to do something real. For thousands of turns Marilyn had been serving at Caer Melyn. She had been watching for what the kings and warlords had wanted, and over that time she had seen the way they behaved toward each other and toward her and the other Bunnies. This had given her an almost Predictamantic ability to sense what was needed of her.

 

Marilyn had taught this skill over the turns to her friends. Some Bunnies came and asked for her help, some didn’t. The ones that did, always ended up better at their jobs, and happier in their Duty. The ones that didn’t? Well, for some reason they were the only ones around when the king or an overlord needed nookie.

 

She had become the unofficial head of the Bunnies over time, serving first the emperors of Caer Melyn and then kings of Prytain. Unofficial, because the rulers never paid attention to the Bunnies. Except Artha. Artha. Artha was wonderful. Artha was the first heir to ask her name, and then use it just to say hello. He had said last turn that he did it just to get loyalty, but still, he did it. He knew her name—and other Bunnies too. He knew Margie and Dolores and Joanne too.

 

And then yester turn. Yester turn he had asked her a question. No, he asked her a Question. She’d been asked plenty of questions, from ‘Which wine is best?’ to ‘Do these duds look good on me?’ to ‘Hey. Is somebunny up for some nookie?’ But this had been a real question. She knew that Bunnies were a type of courtier, just like stabbers were a type of infantry and Hat Magicians were a type of caster, but there was always something missing.

 

She wanted to advise. She wanted to be the kind of courtier that gave the ruler advice that was listened to. It didn’t have to be followed, just listened to. Back when she served emperors, there were courtiers who gave advice, but these turns the kings didn’t pop courtiers. Just warriors to fight and Bunnies to serve and casters to cast.

 

The kings had made up for the lack of courtly advisers by having the warlords and the casters advise them, but Marilyn wanted to also. And yester turn she got her chance. Prince Artha had ordered her to give advice. And then listened to it. And then he had actually advised King Utha Panjandrum himself to follow it. And the king had thought about it.

 

King Utha had even seated her at his table this morning while he ate. Because of Prince Artha. And he had talked with his casters about it and they were going to do it. And Master Kestrel had named her the first Operator of the kingdom of Prytain, and given her her very own Hat. She wasn’t a Bunny anymore. She was an Operator. She would follow Prince Artha anywhere, and Operate a Hat for him. Her chance had come. 


  Chapter 6 -->


 

Notes

You may notice certain similarities between Prytain and GB. And some real differences. No-one would expect to walk from Carlisle to Caerleon in 3 three days, and from Caerleon to London by horse in two days would not be hard. Sherwood Forest is in the wrong place also. Why is this different? So they can get there at the speed of plot.

 

Why didn’t Oggie and the NG stop at Redpool on the way? It was out of their way; it would have added an extra turn. Why didn’t they stop at Manu? Manu was razed during the last War of the Three Kingdoms by the armies of Caer Lundein and never rebuilt. If you can guess where I got the city names from you’ll know why it was never rebuilt.

 

This story is long before the current organization in the Magic Kingdom. No GMTTA, no message board, no council, no qualified casters. The Magic Kingdom is just a place for barbarian casters to escape to if their side is about to fall. The population is much lower, and the island has not been divided up neatly yet.