<--Chapter 8


Look north—nothing, look south—nothing, look noreast—nothing, look soueast—just the road curving back toward Writing. Just a hex and a half and we hit Writing. I never realized before how big the world really is. It’s funny though, a turn and a half of travel and I still haven’t expended any move. I wonder what that feels like. Maybe Lancer Belmont can tell me…

 

Marilyn stopped her musings and looked over and back slightly at the lancer who was also riding point.  She had invited him up to ride next to her as they rode, but he made it clear he had orders to stay behind her. He was, however, willing to ride only half a pace behind her and off to one side, so she could still ask him questions without too much trouble.

 

The lancers were all thin stabbers with both hair and spears that were longer than usual. She had not been introduced to Belmont’s stackmates, but she thought that one of them was named Delmar and another Anita. Belmont’s hair was blue, and Marilyn thought for an instant that if he got the right padding and clothes that he could be mistaken for a Bunny. She didn’t say anything though, he probably wouldn’t take it well.

 

“Oh, Belmont?” Marylin fluttered her eyelashes and opened her eyes wider. It always made male units more talkative. “What does it feel like expending Move? I’ve been a garrison unit all my life, so I have no idea. Even now, the hobby horse is expending Move, not me.” She smiled as he turned to look at her; all the Natural Signamancy she’d learned over the turns could be put to use in a different way.

 

“Well, miss, it’s like picking up something heavy.” Long pause. “But still something you can carry.” Another long pause. “And then carrying it for the rest of the day.” Belmont was not a fast talker. “And every move you spend is like picking up another weight.” These pauses were useful to think about what he was saying. “Then, when you run out of move…” Marilyn looked at him closely, from the look on his face, he was carefully choosing each word. “Well, I guess you know what it’s like feeling like you can’t move another hex, even if you don’t feel tired.”

 

There was a longer pause, and Marilyn realized he had stopped talking. She nodded. “Yes, I guess you’re right. It was such a different feeling when I was promoted to field. Even walking around Caer Melyn I had more—energy. It was like a whole new Erf opened up for me. But then I suppose it did.” Marilyn giggled. “Have you always been a Lancer?”

 

“No, miss, his majesty promoted me… Me, I used to be a stabber, a spearman… But most of the stack were pikers…

 

“I wonder why his majesty chose to promote you rather than just pop a lancer.”

 

“Well, I dunno, miss… But I’m happy… Me, I’d rather be a lancer than a stabber any day.”

 

Something to think about. Something to thing hard about.

 

“You don’t have to call me miss. I’m not a warlord.” She cocked her head, it seemed like he was being respectful, but she didn’t know why.

 

“Ah, thank you, miss… But you’re still higher rank than I am… Um, Gwalchmai is the stack leader, not me… And you’re in your own stack… So that makes you at least a stack leader.”

 

“Oh. Oh, my. I didn’t think of that.”

 

They crossed the hex boundary, and suddenly, the morning sun went behind some clouds. Marilyn looked back and saw that the prince and Gwalchmai were still riding in the sun. The hex boundary was normally hard to see, but looking back, the shadows from the clouds made a sharp line across the road. As she turned her neck around front again, she could barely make out the level 3 city of Writing in the next hex.

 

Behind her was the clop, clop of one of the horses moving faster than the others. In a moment, Gwalchmai had caught up to the front of the line. He indicated that the prince wanted her back in the middle and took point himself. When she dropped back to the prince, he pointed to the city ahead.

 

“That’s Writing, Marilyn. Level 3. City manager: Jim Oldberry. Known for the three B’s: beer, Bulbs, and biscuits.” He smiled at her confused look. “They brew better beer than anywhere in the island, they have bakeries that cook biscuits that are good for field rations. The biscuits supply forage higher than their schmucker value. Once, when there was trade off island, we were able to make a steady income (although not high) from them.”

 

“And Bulbs?”

 

“Ah, yes, Bulbs. A heavy unit that’s good in siege warfare. Not good for anything else though, so we don’t pop them anymore. Ah, we’re almost there.”

 

Marilyn had not noticed at first, but along with the clouds this hex had a shallow slope downward to it in the direction they were going. They had gotten through it almost without noticing, in part due to the speed of their mounts. They were hailed by the guard, and as soon as Sir Gwalchmai let them know who was in the party they threw open the city gates. The city manager stood there wringing his hands.

 

“Very sorry not to have the gates open your highness, but we had heard from Caer Lundein that there was a barbarian army landed. We were keeping the city gates closed just in case.” He kept ducking his head nervously as if he was worried that he was going to be punished for something.

 

Just in case the enemy took out or ignored a level 5 capital site? Marilyn thought, And I thought I was timid. She looked around with a new appreciation of what she saw. Let’s see, if I was a scout, what would I say? Size: one, two, three stacks of archers and three also, no two of stabbers on this wall; Activity: garrison duty; Location: city of Writing, west gate; Unit: oh, I already covered that, didn’t I; Time: midday; and Equipment: I don’t know, city gates? Whoops, the prince is moving out, he’s ahead of me. I’ll have to get faster. Or will I? I’m not a scout, I just need to know what scouts do.

 

While she slowed and looked around, the rest of the party had moved off. The lancers were nowhere to be seen and Prince Artha was going through the doors to the city hall with Gwalchmai right behind him. The doors slammed shut and she was alone in the courtyard. Meanwhile, the city manager was heading toward the kitchens. His mood had completely changed.

 

“You! Bunny! Come with me! We need to get lunch ready for the prince. I’ll need you to carry it to him. Hurry up!”

 

“I’m not a Bunny, I’m an Operator.”

 

“What’s that? Some new kind of Bunny? You’re a courtier unit, you look like a Bunny, you’re dressed like a Bunny, you’re a Bunny. No one ever gave your unit type credit for intelligence. This is my city. Do you have standing orders to disobey city managers?”

 

She just looked at him and stammered.

 

“Of course, you don’t.” he continued, “You can’t even maintain coherent speech. We’re going to the kitchens to get food, then we’re going to the prince, and you can tell him why you tried to disobey me.”

 

Marilyn followed him quietly. They were going to the prince after all, a little side trip to the kitchens wouldn’t hurt. This must be her fault. She wouldn’t be having this problem if she hadn’t pretended she was a scout when they entered the city.

 

The stabbers didn’t know anything about getting a lunch together, so she got them going in the right direction. Even if the City Manager couldn’t tell, all the other non-command units could tell she was special, so they all obeyed her orders when he wasn’t interfering. Then her hat started humming.

 

“What’s that disbanded noise? If you make me look bad, I swear, I’ll—”

 

Marilyn whipped her hat off. “Klondike 50001.” A note popped out of her hat with the king’s seal on it. A note for Artha. “I’m very sorry sir, I have to get this to the Prince immediately.”

 

“What do you mean? You can wait while we get the food together!” The city manager had turned red and started screaming.

 

“I told you before, sir, I’m an Operator, not a Bunny. It is my Duty to carry messages to the Prince. If you want to interfere with that Duty,then please tell the prince.” Without another word, she left the room.

 

As she went across the courtyard to the great hall, she ran into Gwalchmai.

 

“Sir Gwalchmai, I’ve got a message from the king for the prince.”

 

“Where have you been? The prince wants you. Did you get lost again, Marilyn? Where’s your duty?” Gwalchmai sounded very irritated.

 

Just then, the city manager ran up behind her, “Sir Gwalchmai, I had her helping me get lunch for the prince, and then she just rushed off, saying she had a message from the king. Have you ever heard such nonsense? I insist that you order her back to the kitchen to help finish with lunch. She was doing well enough at that until she decided she didn’t want to.” He put his hands on his hips and stared at Sir Gwalchmai.

 

Gwalchmai looked at Marilyn, hat in her hands. “Or,” he said slowly, “I could order her to send a note to the King through the Magic Hat in her hands, telling him that he needs to consider disbanding his Reading city manager for gross stupidity and interference in his majesty’s direct orders regarding this unit’s Duty.” He smiled broadly, “Another option is that we could both let her do her Duty and carry that message to the prince. Which would you prefer? This is your city after all.”

 

The city manager shrunk immediately and changed back to his fawning tone. “I’ll be happy to take your advice on this Sir Gwalchmai.”

 

“Wise. Marilyn, hurry up, you have your Duty.”

 

Assess situation soonest. Hiring negotiations breaking down. I need to know how badly I need these mercenaries. This communication method is great. —Utha Rex

 

“Marilyn, respond in the affirmative. Oldberry, I’ve got to go now. No time for lunch. Thanks, anyway.” Prince Artha looked over at the city manager cowering in the corner. “Get Marilyn a cavalry coat. We’ve got a storm hex to go through to get to Caer Lundein.” Oldberry rushed out of the room.

 

“What’s got into him, Gwalchmai?”

 

The knight just shrugged and winked at Marilyn. “He must be worried about something. I’ll go get the lancers formed up.” He left also and Marilyn and Artha were alone in the room with a couple of stabbers and a tray of meat and cheese. Artha turned to Marilyn.

 

“So tell me, what happened, why were you late getting here?”

 

“When we entered the city, I tried to scout the gate. I was slow at it though, and fell behind. Then the city manager pulled me for kitchen duty, and I didn’t have any direct orders. I’msorryI’msorryIdidin’tmeantodoanythingwrong.”

 

“I guess I wasn’t clear enough. Any orders by any unit not in my presence that you feel will interfere with you getting a message to me are to be politely declined and then referred to me. Your Hat comes before any other service you can do me. Is that clear?”

 

“Yes, highness.” She said meekly.

 

“Good, let’s see what kind of jacket he can get you. You’ll need one for that storm hex.”

 

When the city manager returned, cowering, he had a jacket that fit her perfectly. It was black, with full sleeves, high in front and long in back. The split in back for riding made Marilyn feel like she had two tails.

 

Well, since he’s being polite now, “Thank you so much, this goes perfectly with my Hat.”

 

“I’m happy you like it.” The city manager snapped his fingers at a unit behind him. The archer came up with a thin black stick with a white top. “Perhaps carrying a cane will help keep other units from ‘mistaking’ your status.”

 

He’s not being polite, he’s just groveling. “Thank you so much.” Marilyn took the cane, spun it under her arm and tipped her Hat. “I will always remember this.” Then Artha’s unspoken order to leave tickled in her brain, so she followed him out.

 

Their horses were waiting, so they mounted and rode out—max speed. The rest of their trip was a blur, the farm hexes were the same pleasant ones she had seen on the rest of the trip. Two hexes away from Caer Lundein they hit the storm hex: one side of the boundary it was a pleasant, sunny day, the other side—sheets of water were falling from the sky, lightning flashed above them, and thunder roared in return. Even with her Hat and new jacket she was getting thoroughly soaked.

 

And then, an hour later, it was suddenly over. They were back in a pleasant, sunny farm hex. The world was not only stranger than she had imagined it was stranger than she could imagine. As they approached the city gates, they creaked slowly open. Two ranks of pikers snapped to attention as they rode in as fast as her hobby horse could move. They crossed the city to the far eastern walls and were joined by a courtier riding a Kitcat.

 

“Thank you for coming, your highness, I perhaps did a bad job describing the army. I was hoping for more than two stacks of lancers…” His voice trailed off as he realized the prince was ignoring him. He trailed after Gwalchmai and Marilyn, who had not broken step any more than the prince had. They reached the Wall Zone and began climbing the stairs to the top. And then, suddenly, the four of them were looking down from the high, city walls at the army on the plains below. There was a lot of army to look at.

 

Artha started assessing the situation immediately. “Looking at the colors, the enemy force is likely an alliance, one side of the force facing us is in yellow and black and the other in gold and purple. What else do you see out there Gwalchmai?”

 

“Pretty normal looking army. Purple and gold is bigger, but they’re mostly infantry, stabbers with oversize shields backed by pikers.  Yellow and black has mounted and Heavies though. I wish we had some Heavies.”

 

“You know why we don’t—not worth the cost in garrison, and not worth the value in the forest to the north.”

 

“Wait, they’re breaking ranks, maybe there’s a warlord coming out to parley.”

 

What came out was definitely not a warlord. It was a courtier, a court fool to be precise, carrying something they couldn’t make out. The unit was a dwarf with a three-cornered hood in the side’s colors and pants and a jacket of multicolored diamonds. When he lifted the object he was carrying over his head the enemy army cheered and they could make out what it was. It was a lute.

 

Then the army cheered again, louder this time, as a woman made her way to the front. She was wearing a loose white blouse with a black cincher tied around her waist and holding the hem of her long, flowing skirt. When she reached the front, she started dancing in a circle with the lute-player, singing:

 

We can dance while we’re fighting

We can croak our foes just fine

'Cause our foes don't dance

And since they don't dance

Well, they're gonna die this time

 

Say, we can fight who we want to

Cause our foes don’t stand a chance

And we can act like we own

All of Erfworld

Cause they don’t know The Dance

 

And when we dance

(And play)

 

We can fight who we want to

From the start of turn to its end

And we can deal out the blows

And mow down our foes

And leave none alive but our friends

 

Say, we can dodge if we want to

‘Cause our enemies will miss

And you can laugh in their face and put them in their place

And I can watch them scream and hiss.

 

And say, we can dance, we can fight

Everything's going just fine

We can fight, we can dance

And we’ll get through the battle’s grind

We can fight, we can dance

Hold up the sword in your hands

When we fight, when we dance

No one else stands a chance

Battle dance

Oh well, the battle dance

Ah yes, the battle dance

 

We can dance if we want to

It’ll save your life and mine

As long as we all use it, never gonna lose it

We’re gonna win the fight

 

We can dance while we’re fighting

We can croak our foes just fine

'Cause our foes don't dance

And since they don't dance

Well, they're gonna die this time

 

I say, we can fight, we can dance

We’re gonna take control

We can fight, we can dance

Pikers chop ‘em up with your poles

We can fight, we can dance

Hold up the spear your hands

We can fight, we can dance

No one else stands a chance

 

Oh well, the battle dance

Ah yes, the battle dance

Doing the battle dance

 

She repeated the last few lines several times as the armies on the plains before the city followed her lead and started dancing as they moved forward.

 

“Marilyn.”

 

“Yes, Highness?”

 

“Send a note off to my father. Quote: With respect, put kingdom on war footing immediately. Send all available troops to Reading. Caer Lundein likely to fall. Hire the new mercenaries immediately with minimal negotiation and send them on also. Enemy has talented Rhyme-o-mancer. By Order: Artha, Chief Warlord of Prytain.

 

“Yes, highness.”


Chapter 10-->


 

 

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