<--Chapter 21



Marilyn looked over at King Utha. He looked happy to be starting formal court for the first time she could remember in a long, long time. Her instincts from thousands of turns of being a Bunny were still there, but she didn’t feel the Duty to make him happy. That wasn’t her problem any more. Well, any more than it was every other unit’s Duty. She wasn’t a Bunny, she was an Operator. Let Dolores deal with it, she was smart, she could run the Bunnies. And look, there was Zoot, bringing the King a big, steaming mug of cocoa. Marilyn had no idea what the king wanted--but Zoot did--she was a Bunny. Marilyn was an Operator instead, she passed messages by Hat and told Important Units what they needed to hear. Miriam was an Operator too. Right now, the entire court needed to hear that court was about to start. Everyone settled down and the king started to speak.


“We, Utha Panjandrum, King of Prytain, protector of the realm, do hereby open this royal court. Let the Caster known as Reggie Daycart approach.”


He looked more confident than when he had first come through the portal, his duds less wrinkled, his back straighter, the circlet on his head straight and more finished-looking. Reggie strode to the front, bowed politely and waited for the king to speak, with his hands clasped in front of him.


“You have been instrumental to Our successes in this recent tribulation.” The King started. “You have accomplished everything you said you could and everything you said you would. The improvements to Message Hats that you have helped with have let us coordinate our Motion more accurately than any but one of your own kind could have. My advisor tells me that we have also met our part of the bargain. With the labors you have undertaken on our behalf, you have gained a greater understanding of your own art and are now Adept, rather than merely Apprentice.” King Utha spoke slowly and gravely, what he did was as much show as it was talking. It was one more reason he hated formal court. He wanted to see the show, not be the show.


“I cannot thank you enough for this contract majesty.” Adept Reggie wasn't stuttering anymore. “Along with the greater knowledge of my own art, your Chief Caster,” he paused to nod at Master Kestrel, “has helped me strengthen this Protection Band of mine.” He touched his forehead. “I will have no fear of mental control by Professor Hubris when I return to my home in the Magic Kingdom.” He smiled broadly. “While I know you have a celebration planned, I hope it would not be rude if I could take my leave before it starts? I have a home to return to, and friends I have not seen in many turns.”


“Of course, of course.” King Utha smiled affably. He was perfectly content the Thinkamancer was leaving as soon as possible. Even with all Reggie had done, Utha had never forgiven what a Thinkamancer had done to his grandfather. Adept Reggie bowed and withdrew.


King Utha took a drink of cocoa and then said, “The mercenaries known as the Noble Gases are cordially invited to present themselves before Our throne.”


All eyes turned as the six knights marched the length of the throne room, their backs straight, their heads high, and their eyes forward. They had imposed on the city manager for some court clothes and looked every inch the noblemen they were, in rich brocades, shining gold and glittering jewels. As one they stopped before the king and made identical formal, courtly bows.


“We and our Side are well served by your offer of service. The wealth you have saved us is far more than the cost of your contract. The minor loss of our city of Upswitch is a perfectly understandable strategic gambit. We have an additional bonus for you.”


All six of them looked up, no longer with formal looks on their faces.


“As you know, when dealing with the Saxmen marauders who left their ships, a number of them chose capture to death. Some of that number have the special (Sailor). We shall pay their upkeep for twenty turns and put them at your disposal, along with a ship large enough to carry you where you wish.” There was no way either Saxmen or Noble Gas were going to turn to Prytain, and he wanted both groups off his island as quick as possible.


“True generosity.” Count Neon replied.


“For the turn, we invite you to stay for the victory celebration and eat and drink your fill.” The King continued.


“Now that's generosity.” Sir Helium said. The knights withdrew as gallantly as they had approached.


“All casters of the court, present yourselves.” The king bellowed.


All three casters left their places behind the throne and arranged themselves in a row in front of him. “Master Kestrel, Caster Nimue, you have implemented the new Message Hat system swiftly and efficiently. It is everything I could have possibly wanted, and more. Friar Tic, you have made yourself one of us from the first turn you turned, using your wisdom and your juice to heal my units when most in need. You have been as loyal as if We had popped you Ourselves. You have your King’s gratitude. Think deeply, all of you, what you would like: turns in the Magic Kingdom to study, full purses to purchase the tools of your trade there, turns that you may work on projects of your own pleasure. Think carefully and return to me at a later time with your desires.” They all smiled and bowed and then returned to their places behind him.


“Bring forth the prisoner!” King Utha ordered next.


Instead of the one prisoner he had asked for, the guards brought up two units in chains. While nearly every unit of the Angle army had run in fear when Mistress Acute stopped singing, Lute had stayed by his Incapacitated mistress. He had been thrown in chains along with her, as the units capturing her had no idea what to do with him. His lute was clearly not a weapon, so they left it with him. Without her singing he was only capable of simple music. He was miserable, and he looked it.


Mistress Acute was her usual fiery self. Just after she was taken, she demonstrated a command of profanity, vulgarity, obscenity, and abuse that impressed even Viscount Krypton. For an entire turn. Without stopping. Or repeating herself. Not wanting the king to have to put up with this, she had been gagged, and the gag had only been removed when it was communicated that the only thing her swearing would get her would be a gag. The king may have wanted a rhyme-o-mancer, but it was going to be work turning this one.


“I didn’t want two prisoners, I only wanted one, disband it!” the king yelled.


Caster Nimue leaned forward, “They share some kind of a bond, majesty, perhaps it would be better if I found out what it was before you disbanded it.” She whispered in his ear.


The king stroked his chin, “That one probably isn’t worth the effort it would take to croak him. Throw him in the dungeons until I decide what to do with him.” Two stabbers immediately followed those orders.


“You, however, how would you like to turn?” King Utha said with an unnatural purr in his voice.


Mistress Acute merely spit on the carpet.


“There is the Tower of Song in Gallopton, you could sing there to your heart’s content.”


She spit again.


“I want a rhyme-o-mancer, and a Predictamancer told me I couldn’t have one until I got one in battle. You’re an amazing rhyme-o-mancer, I don’t want to have to croak you and find another.” King Utha leaned forward.


This time she spat in his face.


King Utha looked close at her. He’d never heard of a Ranged (Special: Spit) in a human unit before, but you could never be sure… Nope, pure rhyme-o-mancer. “You will be confined to the dungeons of Gallopton; that is as close to the Tower of Song as you will ever get until you wear the Prytani Green with gold dragons. There you will sit and molder until you turn. While you are there, think what it would be like to be on a side where the ruler values you for your art rather than just for what it will bring him.” He waved to a couple of knights, “Take her away! Count Out!”


“Yes Majesty!” one of the knights holding her replied.


“Are these the only Angles in my kingdom?” the King asked.


“They are, Majesty, this one, and the jester that just left.” Many of the other nobles had been unhappy to be left out the main war, so as the army that mustered in Writing they had taken units out and hunted down every Angle that was left. The count had the wits to interrogate the enemy warlords on the size of their army, so they knew when they were done.


“Now for more joyless business.” The king continued, “Not everyone who deserves to be honored can be here today. War Lady Holly did Us good service during this war, but alas, her opposite number in the Angle Army had both Numbers and Fate when he met her, and she has been croaked. We hereby rename the city of Homes in her honor. For those of you who are here, well let’s start with War Lady Rhonda Rowdy. Step forth!” He called.


She’d lost a leg in the last charge at Gallopton, but Friar Tic had been close enough to stabilize her. The next turn, all her hits were back, and she walked up to the throne as if she’d never lost it.


“You gave us good service in this war, and we give you city managership of Hole. It is in the center of our kingdom, so if we need you again in any part, we can call you quickly.” The king raised his scepter over her. Rhonda was probably more interested in the opportunity to be in every conflict in the kingdom than being city manager of Hole, but there were plenty who wanted city managerships, so the king had to make it look like he was rewarding her. She bowed and withdrew.


“Lieutenant Cooper MacGregor, Warlord and Lancer, approach the throne.”


It was Cooper's turn to be recognized. He marched up, his hat jaunty as ever, snapped up on one side and the brim straight out on the other. When he reached the throne, he swept it off, placed it over his heart and bowed deeply.


The King smiled down at him and began speaking. “Lieutenant Cooper. We also recognize your efforts in this war. For many turns before this you have striven mightily to turn Stabbers into Lancers and the results have pleased us greatly. You have taught those who knew less than you and you have been humble enough to learn from those who knew more. You know when to hold a position and you know when to fold up one and leave it. We find Ourselves both without a commander for our Lancer Battalion and with a unit worthy of that posting. We promote you now to Captain Cooper MacGregor, Commander of His Royal Majesty's Lancers.” There was widespread applause at this, no-one wanted to say anything bad about James Ewell, but he was nowhere near as well loved as Cooper was. Cooper would have his pick of recruits when he brought the battalion back up to strength. He might even get a few junior knights.


When the cheering had died down, King Utha stood up and motioned with his hands for everyone to remain seated. He looked around the room, his mouth half open as if he was about to say something. It had the desired effect. A complete hush fell over the room, and every eye focused on the king.


“Behold, even with all those receiving well-deserved praise, there is one unit whose actions are worthy of especial honors.” Utha hated using the high formal speech, but there were times you just had to. “Bring him forth.”


Oggie entered the room, looking very solemn. He had no idea what was going on, but Prince Artha had come to him the night before and talked to him about heroism and nobility. Then Gwalchmai had come and talked about courtesy and valor. The next morning, instead of his usual uniform, he was given a white robe and a gold belt and told that when he entered court, he had better look good and serious. Artha and Gwalchmai marched him to the front, and just as he got ready to bow, the King said, “Kneel.” Oggie knelt.


“This Is Oggie.” The king said to the court, “He was popped a simple stabber in Caer Lial to protect the side from the Pix. When he saw some strange barbarians stun his stack leader with song, instead of standing useless, he called the city warlord. When his stack leader could not obey his warlord’s orders in battle, he guided his stack as best he could with no command statistic.” For some reason that Oggie couldn’t figure out, the entire court gasped suddenly.


The King continued. “When he was made warlord and given escort of these strange barbarians south to Our capital, he took the opportunity to learn all they would teach of the world around. When he met some starving barbarians in the Sure-would Forest, he chose to negotiate them into captivity rather than uselessly fighting them. This wisdom gave Us an apprentice healomancer, a warlord with a stack of fine units, and the template for a forest-capable unit of our own to smite the evil Pix to the north with.” There were short cheers here.


“While waiting for further orders he learned how to be more use to us as a Lancer. He followed orders as a Lancer and became one with his lance and his reserve lance. He fought well, and in the final battle, it was his idea that was the seed for the victory tactic, and his hand that struck the blow that captured the enemy rhyme-o-mancer and won the battle.” King Utha drew his sword and held it flat over Oggie's head.


“We make you a knight of Prytain.” He tapped Oggie lightly on the head. “Rise, Sir Oganesson Legbreaker, and join your fellow nobles along the wall.” The hall erupted into cheering. The few there who knew Oggie, were happy for him, and those who didn’t, well they took the King at his word. He was the king, after all. Sir Oganesson rose shakily with a shy grin and walked over to a spot where several nobles had made room. Next court he would be far down the hall, but today--being honored--he could be close to the king.


When the cheering had died down King Utha said, “Considering his familiarity with Rhyme-o-mancy, We charge Sir Oganesson with the City management of Gallopton, and the security of the prisoner he took. Prince Artha! Stand forth!”


Gwalchmai clapped Artha on the shoulder and took his place on the wall as Prince Artha stood in front of the king.


Utha held out his hand for another drink of cocoa and then smiled. “All these honors, all this praise, none of it would have been possible without the labors and leadership of the Chief Warlord. He found useful units, he put them in their places, he--convinced—his king they needed to be there.” Utha said the last with a rueful grin. “It is Our decision to reward Prince Artha by making him Prince Palatinate of Our Colony of Caer Edyn.” There was complete and utter silence.


Then Prince Artha spoke up, “Ahhh, father?”




“The Pix hold Caer Edyn. It’s not--actually--yours.”


There was a long pause. Then King Utha leaned back and laughed, “Well, do something about it, boy! I didn’t make you Chief Warlord just to give you a good reason to drink with your friends!”


Many Turns Later



Sir Oganesson was going to have to be drunk for this. He was going to have to be very, very drunk indeed. But it was his Duty. Warlady Okay had set the example, lead a party after a battle; it helps morale.


“Yo!” Sir Oganesson jumped on a table and crashed together the two mugs of beer he had just emptied. “Congratulations to the garrison on beating off another Saxmen attack! Special congratulations to Louie the Piker on making level 2. Louie! This is your party!” He would have toasted Louie, but you never toast with an empty glass--or mug, Lady Fate doesn’t like it.


There was loud cheering.


“A lot of you have been asking lately for the story of how I got knighted.”


More cheering.


“Well, considering how much rhyme-o-mancy was a part of it, I figured I’d put it off until I could do it in rhyme.”


There was hushed silence from everyone who was paying attention--and painful yelps from everyone who wasn’t--as silence was enforced.


“But I couldn’t.”


Now there were exclamations of disappointment.


“Sooo, I asked for help.”


Tentative cheers. Sir Oganessson had listened carefully to his help about how to play a room and build excitement.


“From the caster in the dungeons below us.”


Loud boos.


“Hey, hey, I know,” He held up his hands to quiet the crowd, not realizing that he still had mugs in them, so a Bunny rushed over and filled them up again. “But she was willing to help, just to have something to do, even thought the story ends badly for her.”


Muted cheers.


He took a long swig from one of his mugs. And then a longer one from the other.


“So, without further ado, here’s Oganesson’s Ballad:”


Now here's a little song that I've got to sing

About one bad knight with a sword to swing

It started up north in Caer Lial

With Okay the Warlord and me (Oggie)

I popped as a garrison stabber there

Just me and my stack and a damn sharp spear

Sittin’ by the gate—nothin’ but the wait

Lookin’ up north for the Pix that we hate.

Up to the north—what do I see?

Half a dozen knights are there comin’ to me

They sing and they dance like they think it’s fun

I look all around me and my stack is stunned

Lookin' for a fight I run into a song

They’re called the Noble Gases and they look real strong


They tell a little story that sounds well rehearsed

They roam the land and how they work as mercs

The king was on the hat and soon they’re on the job

He’s got a war, we’re headed south, and now I’m not a slob

I said, "What happens now?"

They said, “You’re gonna see!”

Then we heard a sound

An arrow hit the ground

A voice called out, “You move and you’re croaked.”

And what I heard next about made me choke.


"Now my name is Robbing Hood, I've got a stack hidden near

Empty out your purses and you won’t croak here

The woods hex is my friend, you really can’t win

I’ll run and hide, they’re deep inside, then do it all again."

Argon opened his mouth - he had surprise, we had a song

You think I’m almost done but it's gonna get long


So, he sang the song and that stack was stunned

I told Robbing “The battle is done,

You can be a prisoner and we can head south

Or we can croak you when you open your mouth

He said, I'll follow you, so I can beg the king for mercy

My men are all depopping ‘cause we can’t make our upkeep.

I give you my word it happened like that

I picked up a prisoner’s stack


So, we make it down to capital town

Now some guys in the east have made the king frown

It’s King Utha, you know his name

And we’re sent to the east to break siege on Lundein

We rode for two turns the we hit the town

We found them in the city, so we rode them down

Then we head north, gonna make the Saxmen fold

We meet them in a valley, but they take us cold

Now Cooper said, “Oggie learn this well,

We lost one battle, but we fight like hell

The knight says we’re leavin’ cause this town ain’t no fun

Petty little battle when we want the war won.

Angles in the south, the prince needs us now

He yelled, (mount 'em up!) we did and how


So, there they were all around the town

They hit the walls hard and the gates go down

"I'm Prince Right. And I get respect

Your cities and shmuckers is what I expect"

Now Artha was with it and gives him a tap

So, I jump the rhyme-o-mancer and her leg goes *snap*

The rhyme-o-mancer's out, her song is done

Her boys get scared and all of them run

Now I’ve got a title, I’ve got a city

I’ve got a beer in each hand and my life’s real pretty.


-- The End --





King Utha uses formal court as a Natural Signomantic tool to increase Loyalty. While Loyalty doesn’t have a visible Number, increasing it for its own sake rather than just for its obvious benefit is part of that Duty that Noble side rulers find so difficult to define.


Spicymancer noticed the reference when the first chapter was published when I gave the main character the name Og and the ID# 118.  Oganesson is an artificial element in the same elemental group as the noble gases.


The Ballad of Oganesson Legbreaker follows the rhythms of Paul Revere by The Beastie Boys 


    • cu

      That's awesome news, I'll be on the lookout for the new version. You seem to have a firm grasp on writing technique, an ability to self-assess critically and objectively, and certainly don't lack ideas or work ethic, so I expect great things.

      What you posted here reads as a worthy first draft: classic conflict overarching plot, fleshy characters, engaging scenes. It just needs a clearer vision of the whole story, which you have now. Get those scissors and straps ready and give the thing the thorough trimming and tightening it is asking for!

      • tadthornhill

        Thanks to everyone for all the comments. The schmuckers were nice, I'll probably get a plush dwagon with them, but the criticism is what I was really looking for.


        Cu: I agree with everything you said. I almost feel I need to tip you for what you said. I'm one of those writers that needs to edit before they publish, and I was only editing each chapter, so Kestrel's jaunt, as you say, is really extra.

        The prophecy was even worse than you know, her speech was author tract about head-canon about a trivial sub-thread of a discussion on list.

        Nimue, well, if I ever write The Fall of the House of Panjandrum, that particular rifle will be fired.

        Right now, however, I'm completely rewriting this story. Harry Turtledove once wrote some fanfic where a Roman Legion wound up in Middle Earth to help Aragorn fight the Wars of the Ring. He decided it was a good enough story he could rewrite it in his own world. Read The Legion of Videssos sometime. Now I'm doing that with this.

        • cu

          Awesome effort! Full Erfworld setup, lots of references to pick up (Arthurian legend, Monty Python, chemistry, pop/rock/jazz music...), master class rhyme-o-mancy. You've done Erf proud, Sir Tadthornhill, stand and be tipped.

          I'll try to offer some constructive criticism, in the hope it can be of any help in your future endeavors.

          Sometimes less is more, too many threads get too difficult to braid into one coherent rope.

          For instance, Kestrel's jaunt into The Magic Kingdom could be completely removed and the story wouldn't suffer at all, quite the contrary, it would be tighter for it. Hat mechanics are not that important to merit a full side quest. And the fortune teller would disappear, which is almost always a good thing. Most of the time prophecies are used as cheap plot devices, and become the mark of lazy storytelling.

          The Noble Gasses give the story its title, but they are but side characters in it.

          Nimue gets thoroughly introduced, then she fades out and doesn't contribute anything to the plot. There was so much potential there, what with so many characters making use of natural date-a-mancy.

          Etc, etc, you get the point.

          Lack of cohesion is unavoidable when you go for a serial format and don't have a very thorough plan beforehand. It is bit of a pity that so many hours of talented effort don't render as good results as they potentially could.

          Anyway, thank you very much for sharing, looking forward to see what you come up with next.

          Cheers, and happy '19!

          • Salvage

            I have deeply enjoyed your story. Your humor and rhyme have been a pleasure. I will miss the Noble Gases. Thank you for your diligent imagination. I hope to see more from you later on. (No pressure)