Noble Gases Chapter 6

By tadthornhill (Tipped by 2 people!)


 <--Chapter 5


 They had reached the last stage of their journey south: The Mended Hills. Even Lord Xenon’s research had not given them any specific information on this region, just the general knowledge he had already accumulated from hundreds of turns of travel. Fortunately the road was better than in the forest, so even the move penalty from Robbing and his men being in manacles wouldn’t slow them down too much.

 

The first few hexes were gently rolling hills with B-eagles flying overhead and occasionally swooping down after a field mouse or some other tiny feral. As it was with their trip through the Sure-Would Forest, the Mended Hills turned rough after half a turn. The road got steeper and more up-and-down than rolling, with the occasional switchback. When they crested the peaks of each hill they could see wolves prowling and howling some ways off. Their group was now too large to bother though, so all the wolves did was prowl and howl.

 

Earlier that morning, John-Boy had been bragging that he wasn’t afraid of anything. Red Bill had been making jokes that John-Boy was too slow in the head to be afraid. This proved not to be true. Wolves turned out to be the one thing he was afraid of. John tightened his grip on his chains, and wouldn’t look up from the road until they were through the hex.

 

The next hex proved even rougher terrain. The hillsides were so steep and rocky the Titans must have flipped a coin to determine if they’d call this hill or mountain terrain. The road still cancelled out most of the move penalty, but it still felt difficult, even though they were making good speed.

 

 They didn’t see any ferals right away, but Lord Xenon remarked on the cries of a Mountain Lying. He said it was a medium sized cat that could make itself sound like it was in a different place than it really was. Lord Xenon also explained that they were really quite easy to hunt, you simply listened carefully for them and then looked in the opposite direction. Oggie wasn’t sure if he was joking or not.

 

“The real thing to worry about in hexes like this is warhawks. They can’t disengage like most ferals.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“You may have noticed as a stabber, that you couldn’t keep from engaging those Pix units, but as a warlord you were able to negotiate with Robbing back there.” Lord Xenon waved behind them at the prisoners.

 

“I thought that was just because the Pix were attacking and Robbing was only threatening attack.” Oggie turned his head back to look at them. Red Will and Sir Helium were getting along very well together, cracking jokes at everyone else’s expense.

 

“That’s not it at all. If you had been a simple stabber we would have had to hold you back. Or just let you die while we captured Robbing and his men. We would have had to croak them though, they’re not worth our upkeep as prisoners, and we couldn’t have got them onto Prytain’s upkeep like you did. Well played back there, too. Just because we’re mercenaries doesn’t mean we like fighting. It’s always a risk. You were able to win the engagement without fighting; that’s always safer.”

 

“Ummm, thanks. I guess.” Oggie was confused. Mercenaries didn’t like fighting?

 

“Now back to what we were talking about: warhawks. In this terrain, you have to look up too.”

 

Oggie jerked his head up. He had been looking down at a pothole to keep from tripping into it. The sky was clear—no warhawks.

 

“So, they’ll attack ferals tougher than them?”

 

“They’ll attack anything. They’ve got nothing holding them back. And they breed quickly to make up for losses.”

 

Oggie didn’t ask any more questions as they walked along, but his eyes were on more than the road from then on. As dire as Lord Xenon’s warnings were, the Mountain Lyings kept their distance, and they didn’t run into any Warhawks—something must have been keeping their population down.

 

Finally, their journey was done. They crested the last of the Mended Hills to see a farm hex below them, and beyond that, the city hex of Caer Melyn itself. It was getting dark, so they hurried to make it across the hex boundaries before the turn ended.

 

They reached the farm hex and immediately felt the move penalty from the hills drop. It was a good thing they had been traveling on a good road, none of them had a move remaining higher than two, and Friar Tic was down to a half a move left. If they hadn’t had that road, they would have been spending the night outside the city gates.

 

“Hail the Capital!” Oggie shouted as they finally approached.

 

“Who goes there?” the reply came down from high on the walls.

 

“Warlord Og-118 with a short stack of barbarian mercenaries and another short stack of barbarian prisoners!”

 

There was a long wait and then the gates began grinding open. On the other side of the gate stood a caster in blue robes with gold stars all over it and a tall, conical Hat to match. He had his hands in his sleeves and a very dignified look on his face. Behind him were three female courtiers dressed in close-fitting duds that barely covered them, one in red, one in green, and one in blue. They were each wearing headgear oddly resembling the ears of a Wabbit.

 

“I am Master Kestrel, chief Hat Magician and advisor to King Utha Panjandrum. He conducts his formal courts in the mornings, so he will receive you then.” The caster took his hands out of his sleeves and waved at the woman in green.

 

“Marian here, will escort the prisoners to their rooms. You are not being put in dungeon cells, but you will not be permitted to leave them without escort for any reason. Any attempt to leave will be considered hostile action.”

 

“Please, gentlemen, come with me.” Marian stepped forward and beckoned toward the left. Robbing and his Very Men just stood there with their mouths agape, as if they had never seen a female unit before. Then, when she turned to lead them and looked over her shoulder to make sure she was being followed they rushed into place behind her, Robbing at her side.

 

“Zoot shall escort the mercenaries. While you are not confined to your rooms as the prisoners are, it would make things—simpler—if you chose not to leave.” He waved again and the woman in blue stepped forward.

 

“Welcome gentle Sir knights, welcome to Castle Melyn. We are nice and we shall attend to your every, every need!” She smiled sweetly, and clasped her hands together, waiting for them. Sir Helium elbowed the knight next to him in the ribs, gave him a knowing smile, and they all followed.

 

“Marie, show Warlord Og to his room. You have no restrictions placed on you at all Og, but you would be wise to spend your time thinking carefully about what you will tell the king so as not to waste his time.”

 

Marie smiled at Oggie and gestured for him to follow her. As he followed behind, Oggie noticed that part of her uniform was a large replica of a Wabbit tail, right where the tail would have been on a Wabbit. It didn’t seem to be armor or anything, so Oggie had no idea why it was there. Instead of focusing on her tail, or what was beneath it, Oggie decided to start going over in his head what he would say to the king the next morning.

 


 Marilyn was looking at a map as they rode along. This was the first time she could remember ever having Move, and it was lovely. She didn’t know why field units seemed to take for granted their ability to change hexes. Not only that, but having a mount was letting her move even faster. It was a Hobby Horse, so it wasn’t good for combat, but it was a mount. And it was hers.

 

According to the map they would be going through the cities of Bristle, Swindle and Writing to get to Caer Lundein. Artha had talked about the trip taking two turns, so they were probably going to stop the night at Swindle. She was going to see three—no, four new cities.

 

She had been a garrison unit for so long she had practically memorized every inch of the Caer Melyn hex, as well as the view looking out from every side. It had gotten boring over the several hundredturns since she had popped. Marilyn looked around at the farmland hex they were passing through. It was just like what she had seen from the city walls, only clearer and real. She could reach out and touch the plants.

 

In the past, she had mostly only seen plants from the walls. There was the time they had a Florist, Agnes Arbor, but she had mainly been focusing on making the wheat grow thicker in the farms. Marilyn had been to the flower garden she kept in the city. Agnes had never wanted help with it, but she had never told anyone to stay away either.

 

It had lasted as long as Agnes had. She died in a raid up north while improving a farm when the Pix attacked and—that was the end of her. Some warlord or another had cleared the garden out to use as a practice range after that. Kestrel had been popped soon after. The Titans must have felt sorry for Prytain, losing two casters so close together. It had taken them a long time to give Prytain another.

 

Their first turn of travel went without incident. They passed through Bristle at midday without stopping. It was a port city, and this was the first time Marilyn had seen the ocean, but she didn’t get a good look, just a harbor with a few boats and ships in it. They were still different.

 

The afternoon was unremarkable also. Neither Artha or Gwalchmai had a reason to send a message, so they didn’t talk to her. They seemed to be talking about some battle they had been in several hundred turns ago up north. It was nice hearing Artha speak, even if what he said didn’t interest her. When they approached Swindle the city gates flew open and they were greeted warmly by the city manager, Maddie Burnoff. Or at least Artha and Gwalchmai were, the lancers were pointed toward the barracks, while she was treated like she wasn’t even there. The only Swindle unit that even spoke to here was the one that took her Hobby Horse.

 

“Marilyn?” He was talking to her. Artha was talking to her.

 

“Yes, your highness?” This was going to be her chance.

 

“Please send a message to my father letting him know that we have arrived in Swindle safely.”

 

Yes! She had her first real order as an Operator! She quickly took the Hat off her head, pulled out paper and pencil to write the note and spoke the magic word. And then felt it quiver as the message disappeared. There was no response, but then she hadn’t expected one.

“Message sent, Highness.” She smiled, returned the Hat to her head, and saluted.


 Chapter 7-->


Notes

The Bristle Channel has different topography than the Bristol Channel, it runs due east-west its entire course. This makes the route from Caer Melyn to Caer Lundein a straight shot, without having to go north around it. If it had not been for this, they probably would have moved the capital to Caer Lundein. It also has the effect of putting the level one city of Bath on a partially submerged one hex island. With no farmland nearby, and the only income from fishing, the Kings of Prytain have never had a reason to increase its level.

I retconned Dick Whittington to being a courtier rather than a warlord. Most of Prytain’s southern city managers are courtiers; Prytain keeps the warlords in the north where the Pix are.