Trust Me

Chapter 1


 

It was an unappealing hex.

 

A swamp hex surrounded by swamp hexes.

 

It was in the middle of a large swamp, but not even the largest on Erf.

 

A Dirtamancer would call it resource-poor, a Florist would say it was unfit for farming, and a Mathamancer might even tell you that the Numbers in the hex coordinates themselves were completely unremarkable. Thin, slow-moving clouds partially blocked the sun this morning as it tried to illuminate the eastern corner of the hex. It was only a weak glare on the horizon rather than the ball of brilliant Shockmancy it was for so many other hexes. The only thing that saved this hex from complete oblivion was the level three capital city in the middle.

 

If Mudbury had been a level five, it would likely have taken up most of the hex. As it was, there was a wide expanse of land around it. Grass and tall, twisted trees covered with grayish-green moss grew out of algae-covered ponds around the city walls. The Mudbury capital guard was attentive--as attentive as it was possible to be with nothing to see. Mudbury had enemies, but none of them thought it was worth capturing the capital. They merely preyed on the side's cities and then ransomed them back or took schmuckers not to attack in the first place. The only thing that made this arrangement possible was that the Titans had seen fit to bless Mudbury with a Moneymancer. She was off on one of those ransom missions right now.

 

The city inside the walls was as moss-covered and bent as the trees outside. Mudbury had the usual spread of buildings for a level three city, garrison, butchery, smithy, and many others, everything made of grey clapboard and red brick—all poorly arranged and even more poorly put together. The tower in the center was too tall to be attractive when compared to its width and too short when compared to its city but it stood up and gave the usual bonuses to casters. It was also slightly off center as it formed a rough triangle with the throne room and the practice courtyard in the center of the city. Visitors always turned up their nose at the Signamancy of decay and decrepitude as they walked down the streets, but were surprised at the clean, solid construction inside. It was as if the kingdom was hiding competence behind a veneer of failure. The only unpleasant interior was the throne room.

 

Khaki, taupe, tan, sepia, beige--there were more shades of brown in this room than there were words to describe them. With smooth, bulbous curves over everything and amber windows above, it was supposed to look richly appointed. Instead, only the inherent courtesy and diplomacy of the courtiers that visited kept them from calling it a pile of—well, I’ll be courteous and diplomatic too.

 

This particular morning, King Nelson was waiting for his heir to pop. The turns had not been kind to him and his Signamancy showed it all too well. He was a tall, overweight man with brown robes that were tight in the waist and loose in the chest, as if they were made for a different unit. Or, as if he had been a far different unit once than what he was now and yet had never bothered to change his duds.

 

As the sun finally crested the horizon, a soft *plop* could be heard in the moist morning air and a unit came into existence standing on the mud-brown carpet. He had a sleepy, sheepish smile on his long face and long, straight blond hair parted right down the middle of his head. The unit stood there looking up at his king and father without weapons of any kind or even wearing armor, just a simple long-sleeved white shirt with both pants and a vest in a soft, chocolate brown. He was clearly a noble unit though; on the breast of his vest was the outline of a heart, cut partway through by a Shockmancy bolt and pierced by a magic wand.

 

King Nelson looked down his own equally long nose at his new son for a minute without speaking, and then without moving his head he asked, “Leon, what am I looking at?”

 

The courtier behind him leaned forward ever so slightly. “Ah buh-lieve, that is you-ah heir, sahr.” Leon was dressed in brown courtier’s duds so faded they were almost gray and was as thin as the king was not. Visitors were always startled twice when they saw him. His skin was so faded they believed at first the king had an Uncroaked courtier. Then they were surprised again when he spoke, and they realized he was still alive.

 

“I know he’s my heir, you idiot. I’ve been waiting for this boy to show up for two hundred turns. Look at him!” King Nelson waved angrily at the new unit.

 

“Ah am, you-ah majesty. Prince Willy Mudbury, Castah: Cahnymancer (novice)”

 

“That’s just it! A caster! Not a warlord! A caster! And a Carnymancer at that! What on Erf am I supposed to do with a Carnymancer?”

 

“The Titans know you-ah heart majesty; Ah do not.”

 

“I don’t want a Carnymancer for an heir!”

 

“Ah would beg to diffah, majesty. Ah buh-lieve you me-ahly do not wish to be known to have a Cahnymancer fo-ah an heir.” Leon's face took on a pensive look. “It is possible, Ah suppose, that you do not wish to admit to yo-ahself that Mudbury needs a Cahnymancer. Still, the Titans have blessed you with one and you must make do.”

 

King Nelson had nothing to say to that, he merely sat and scowled for a minute. Then, he cleared his face, looked at his son and said, “Willy-my-boy, what shall We do we with you? You’re a caster. You’re a Carnymancer. So tell me, how can We best use a Carnymancer to help Our side?”

 

“What does it mean to be a Carnymancer?” Willy asked.

 

“What does it mean to be a Carnymancer?” King Nelson shouted, pounding an arm of his throne. “Did you hear that Leon? Not only did the Titans “bless” me with a caster instead of a warlord, they gave me an idiot as well! At least a Stabber is popped knowing how to stab!” He folded his arms and slouched in his throne. “What am I supposed to do with this boy?”

 

“Pe’haps Ah can be of assistance, sahr.” Leon replied calmly, bending his head down over his king, “He is, aftah all, not even a turn old yet. A Stabbah may, as you say, be popped knowin’ how to stab, but that is all the Titans ask of them. Those of us with mo-ah talent need mo-ah lea’nin’ to use ou-ah talents to the fullest.” He straightened up and walked forward to address Willy directly. “Willy. As yo-ah fathah, the king, has said, a stabbah is popped knowin’ how to stab. You have asked what it means to be a cahnymancer. This Ah cannot tell you, but you can tell me. Ev’ry stabbah is popped with a desi-ah to stab. Ah, as co’ti-ah was popped many, many tu’ns ago with a desi-ah to advise my king. Examine yo-ah soul Willy; what is it you most desi-ah right now?”

 

The room fell silent for a moment as Willy followed Leon’s instructions. Then he replied, “I want units to trust me.”

 

King Nelson grabbed his head, bowed it, and slowly shook it as if he was trying to take it off. “Willy,” he said with his teeth gritted, “Go find Chief Warlord Mucky Water and have him teach you about local forage; I need to have a chat with Leon here.”

 

“Sure, dad.” Willy left happily; it seemed to have been the right answer.

 


 

“So, yer the new prince. Straighten up and let me have a look at ya. Please.” Mucky Water paused for a moment and then turned his order into a request when he realized it wasn’t being instantly followed. He was used to being obeyed, but he understood why a royal caster was outside his chain of command--outside of direct combat, that is. The chief warlord was a short squat unit with a pair of tridents slung over his back and a simple cap with a nasal for a helmet. There had been no enemy sighted for many turns, so with the everpresent heat and humidity he hadn’t bothered with armor that morning, just a pair of blue overalls and some knee-high boots.

 

Mucky Water walked around Willy in a circle, sizing him up and assessing his numbers, all perfectly normal for a fresh-popped caster. “No weapons, huh? Howza king expect me ta teach ya ta forage if ya can’t kill anyt’ing?” He put something in his mouth and started chewing.

 

“I don’t know. I’m a caster. Maybe I can cast a spell.”

 

“I’ll believe that when I see it. C’mon.” Mucky spat some black muck out on the ground and motioned Willy to follow him.

 

Willy shook his head as he was promoted from garrison to field unit and felt his move rise from 0 to 9; the entire world was open to him now, he had been trapped in this hex and had never known it. He’d have to figure a way to make sure he was never a garrison unit again. Mucky looked at him as they walked through the city gates. He cocked his head, frowned, and kept walking without saying anything. When they got to the edge of the grass around the city, he dismissed a piker he had guarding a small, flat-bottomed boat and had Willy get in, then he got in after. The entire time he managed to avoid touching Willy.

 

“Now.” Mucky started. “We’re gonna go foragin’. Ya ain’t met Jeri yet, but she’s our Moneymancer, and she worked out that it was cheaper for the king ta have us be field troops and forage summa the time than ta be garrison and have our rations pop automagically--but jest summa the time. We’re gonna go out and I’m gonna show ya what ta eat and what not ta, and what ta hunt for.”

 

“Why did you frown when you looked at me?” Willy asked as Mucky rowed out into the swamp.

 

“I was hopin’ ta see if ya had a terrain bonus or somt’in’. They don’t show up until ya get yer first move--‘cept Flight--that shows up right away ‘cause ya can fly without Move. Yer move is a little higher than normal, but the only special ya got is Caster: Carnymancer (Novice). Better learn how ta use it real good, ‘cause it’s all ya got that makes ya special. What kinda spells can ya cast?”

 

“I don’t know.” Something itched at the back of Willy’s mind, in a place, like many, that he’d never used before. He leaned forward to touch Mucky on the shoulder, “Let me see how you feel.”

 

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Mucky pulled the oars in so they wouldn’t fall from the boat and scooted away from him. “Don’t touch me. It’s bad luck ta let a Carnymancer touch ya--or so I’ve heard.”

 

Willy shrunk back also and then blinked several times and reached forward again, this time speaking quite differently. His words were fluid and confident instead of the hesitant questions he’d been asking. “Trust me. I’m your prince, I won’t give you bad luck. Even if I did, how long could it last? You were asleep last night longer than I’ve been popped.” Willy was amazed at how quickly the words flowed out of his mouth. What he said didn’t make any sense, what would he know, why would anyone believe it? But it calmed Mucky down just enough to let Willy touch him. And that touch opened Willy’s eyes.

 

A Thinkamancer, as everyone knows, can read minds. With a spell, they can know what you’re thinking and what you’re hiding and what you remember and what you think you’ve forgot. A Carnymancer reads beliefs. Willy didn’t suddenly know what Mucky thought of him, he read what Mucky believed. The lies and the truths and the things that everyunit knows. Not every single thought Mucky knew, just the ones he was sure of, deep in his soul. Willy fell back in his seat, realizing how badly Mucky felt about Carnymancers--and how Mucky believed everyone felt about them too.

 

“What’d ya do ta me?” Mucky asked suspiciously.

 

“Nothing. Nothing at all. I just learned what you felt about me. That’s all.” Willy looked down into the water.

 

Mucky’s face turned red. “Yeah well, that’s just what I’ve been told. I thought ya couldn’t read minds.”

 

“I can’t. I just got feelings and beliefs, not thoughts. Thoughts are just words. I could have ignored words, but beliefs are real. Beliefs mean something.”

 

“Whadda ya mean beliefs mean something? They’re just beliefs.” Mucky emptied his mouth and put in another bit of whatever it was he was chewing on. “I could believe the sun was gonna rise in the west next turn, but the Titans would still make it pop up in the east.”

 

“If I was to say to you, ‘I believe you can breathe underwater as well as you can above.’ could you?” Willy asked.

 

“Of course not,” Mucky replied, “It’s just words. It’s not like yer a Weirdomancer or sumtin’ castin’ a spell ta give me a Special.”

 

Willy leaned forward and rested his hand on Mucky’s foot. “Well I believe you can.” Then he grabbed him by the ankles and threw him overboard as he cast his belief into the Chief Warlord. Mucky sank like a stone.

 

Willy looked over the edge of the boat. He believed it, so it should have worked, Mucky should be able to breathe underwater. Willy stared down into the mucky water vainly for a sign of Mucky Water for several minutes. He had failed. Then, where a nearby tree grew out of the water, he heard the sound of splashing, so Willy looked up. There was Mucky, climbing up a root out of the water, onto the tree.

 

“You idjit!” Mucky’s face was dark red, “You Titan’s-cursed, off-handed, blunt-edged, idjit!”

 

“The spell worked!” Willy exclaimed happily. “I knew it would!”

 

“So, what if it worked, ya level 1, hellabound boot-brain!” Mucky waved his arms above his head and then started wiping the mud off of himself as he continued shouting. “Do ya know how nasty that water tastes ta breathe? Do ya know what kinda ferals live down there that coulda et me? Didja ever think I might want ta know how ta swim as well as breathin’ water? Row over here and pick me up! We got foragin’ ta do! The only thing I’m gonna thank ya for is provin’ that it’s bad luck ta let a Carny touch ya.”

 

The only conversation for the rest of their foraging trip were short statements and clear Orders by Mucky. That was the only spell Willy cast his first turn. But he believed and it had come true. But it wasn’t enough. He wanted others to trust him.


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