Trust Me

Chapter 5

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*All commander units not on duty, report to the throne room immediately after rations*


Prince Willy was woken up the next morning by Orders. His father’s voice sounded positively majestic for once. He quickly dressed and as it was his turn for rations a loaf of bread and a salami popped for him on the small table the twolls had finished for him the turn before. He grabbed them and ate quickly as he rushed downstairs. He was the only one there for half an hour.


A pair of Stabbers brought a table in and set it before the throne and then came back in with the king's morning rations. King Nelson trudged in while this was happening and sat down to eat. “What are you doing here, Willy-my-boy?”


“I received Orders to report. Wasn’t I supposed to be included?”


“Oh, no, no, no.” The king replied hastily, “You’re definitely supposed to be here, I just didn’t expect anyone here so quickly.”


“But you gave an Order.”


“Well. Yes.” King Nelson frowned, “The order was to be after breakfast. I didn’t mean to hurry. I certainly didn’t plan on it, and everyone else knows. You'll see. But this gives us time together, son. How are you finding your studies?”  King Nelson stopped speaking and began to shovel food into his mouth. With the king too occupied to speak, Willy went ahead and described how his first few turns had gone.


As focused as he seemed on his morning rations, King Nelson was still a very attentive listener. His clucks of disapproval and grunts of approval were all well-timed to keep Willy talking while he ate. When Willy was done, King Nelson asked him to go over a few points again in more detail. Willy had just repeated his feeling while commanding a Wascally Wabbit when Mucky Water came sauntering in, wearing engraved armor instead his usual coveralls. He paused to spit his usual glob of black spit into a brass jar by the door and then saluted the king as he made his way up to the front.  


“Yer majesty.” He said, knuckling his brow.


As the king finished up the last of his breakfast, Lord Nimrod and Mistress Jeri came in along with a half stack of level two and three warlords. Apparently, Sir Burt and Sir Ernie were on permanent guard duty below. Finally, Chief Swamp Twoll Kwaki entered, his pace a rolling gait.


In his wrinkled hand Kwaki held something long and thin and white--a wand made of wabbit bones. “Pew! Pew, pew, pew!” He said, pointing it at various units as he entered. It had absolutely no effect. “Here ya go mon.” He said, placing it in Prince Willy’s hands, “One wabbit bone wand. As ordered.”


“It looks wonderful. What does it do?” Willy asked, turning it in his hands. It was cleverly Fabricated, and made of several stacks of bones, shaped and woven together so tightly that they didn’t move against each other in the least, but were one solid rod a foot long and barely thicker than his thumbs together. Instead of a stone, the wand was topped with a beautifully polished wabbit skull, with nasty, big, pointy teeth.


“Do? We twolls, mon. Not castahs.” Kwaki laughed, “Ya asked fo wand, not magic wand. Ya wanna magic wand? Magic it up real good.”


Willy started to turn red, “But-”


“He can’t do that.” Mistress Acquire said drily, “Wands can only be made magic at fabrication. You’ve given him a cleverly fabricated stick--and a lesson.”


Willy turned even redder, “Is that a rule? If it is, then I’ll just break the rule. I’m a Carneymancer, aren’t I?”


She lifted an eyebrow. “Maybe. We’ll talk about it later. That’s magic business.” Mistress Acquire turned back to the throne, “What have you called us here for, your majesty, surely not to listen to magical theory?”


“Hugh Bolydes of Milktoast has sent an army into Our kingdom and likely intends to take Heap.”


“The Liar!” She hissed. “He said he wouldn’t attack again until we’d built up enough in the treasury to make it worth his time, and he knows we can’t have done that yet.”


“Right.” King Nelson replied. “We have to hold it. We can’t fight for it and then ransom it back later. Your contract out of kingdom would be for too long. Mucky, you take Willy and an army and go hold that city or take it back if they get it before you get there. The rest of you, advise me on how big of an army he gets to take with him.” And so, the argument began.


They argued about what they had and what King Hugh would send against them and what they needed to defend both the city and the capital and the other cities of Mudbury from their neighbors.  If they sent too much to one battle, then they could win that battle, but their enemies would hit them one after another and they’d lose all the other cities quickly. Mudbury’s current strategy was to lose their cities slowly, and then ransom them back quickly. Their neighbors made money off Mudbury and Mudbury survived.


Willy was surprised to see that everyone wasn’t immediately following Mucky’s ideas on what to do to defend Heap. He was the Chief Warlord after all, wasn’t he supposed to come up with all the plans, and wasn’t everyone supposed to agree with them? He seemed to favor a fairly balanced approach, with mixed infantry, and stabbers in the front. Meanwhile, warlord Mudd wanted more archers, while warlord James Ewell (who Willy hadn’t met yet) wanted more pikers. Chief Twoll Kwacki was laughing and disagreeing with everyone, while Long Leon the courtier was nodding soberly and agreeing with everyone--even Kwacki. His father was just sitting there, watching everyone argue, like he was waiting for something to happen while Chief Moneymancer Acquire argued over the cost of everything. It seemed like nothing was getting accomplished.


“I’d like to make a suggestion.” Willy said suddenly. No-one paid him any attention, they just kept standing in a circle facing the throne while arguing. Willy slipped around behind the circle and started patting people on the backs. “Maybe I can come up with an idea that will work, it’s not really worth arguing with each other over, is it?” And with a spark of juice, everyone he touched was looking at him, instead of each other.


“Well?” Mucky asked, putting his thumbs behind his shoulder straps. “What does a level one caster with less than a stack of turns behind him, no history of combat, and no croaks stiffer than a level one feral have to say to us?” He was obviously insulted.


“Nothing.” Willy said sheepishly, then, more loudly, “but if you’d asked what a Carneymancer who’d never done things your way has to say about doing something differently than you usually do it, I might have an answer.”


“And.” King Nelson added, “If you’d asked what the prince had to say in his first royal council you might have gotten an answer. I didn’t order him here just to listen. If I don’t like what he says I’ll tell him to shut up, but as my heir he has to talk, not just listen.” When no else said anything after him the king turned to Willy. “Well, talk, boy.”


“I’ve listened to you all talk. We know how we fight them, and so do they, since they’ve done it so much. They’ll send their elite stabbers to take out our stabbers, and their slingers to fight our archers.”


“Of course, that’s why we need more stabbers, our stabbers are less powerful than theirs.” Mucky replied, folding his arms.


“That’s why we need less stabbers--I mean fewer--we’ll lose if we fight stabber to stabber just like we always have.”


“And what do you suggest?”


“No stabbers. We send lots of pikers to stop their stabbers, and lots of archers to kill them.”


“And what exactly do you propose to keep their slingers busy while this is happening?”


“Twolls. Loads and loads of twolls. They can hide somewhere and then run out and flank after the first engagement.”


There was complete silence for a moment after Willy’s final suggestion, and then the throne room filled with Kwacki’s giant roars of laughter.



After further modification, they had gone with the core of Prince Willy’s plan, and he found himself on a tiny flatboat on his way to Heap. The boats themselves were actually the core of the Mudbury defense. They were small enough they could be used unskilled, and large enough to hold a half stack of infantry or two heavies. They were maneuverable and shallow of beam, so they could be used in nearly all hexes, and light enough to be carried where they couldn’t. They were even tough enough that only the most dangerous swamp ferals bothered to attack them. Without these boats, the Move penalty through the swamps would have been almost prohibitive. As Warlord James Ewell put it “we doan’t have to be the bestest, just fuhstest with the mostest.” As things stood, they were masters of their terrain. Well, Journeymen of their terrain, the crocogators were the masters.


“What’s a crocogator?” Willy had asked.


He was being rowed in one boat by a few pikers, while a pair of twolls were rowing a boat next to him. All around him were other boats like this filled with units. They were all part of the Grand Army to Rescue Heap and Save the Kingdom. Willy thought that if he’d been a rhyme-o-mancer he could have come up with a better name. `


“Plenty dam’ big feral.” Andy answered. He was one of the few twolls with a leadership stat, so he and Barney, the other twoll leader had been given the temporary status of warlords.


“Tasty too.” Barney added, “But dangerous. Not worth fightin’ unless you feelin’ wild. Then, doan matta watchu fight, fightin’s good.”


“Yah, tasty.” Andy agreed, “But tough. Tough hide, tough teeth, tough claws, lotsa hits. Even gotta tough belly.”


“How do you kill them then?”


“Ain’t nothin’ tough on the insides.” Andy grinned. “You jes wait til they open they’s mouth and then stab o’ shoot dem on da insides.” Both of the twolls laughed at this. “Course ya may not wants ta stay where ya can git bit.”


“What do they look like?”


“Oh, ya know when ya see one. Ya know, mon.” Andy grinned widely, showing all his long, sharp teeth, and then running a claw over them for effect. Next turn, Willy knew.


It was just another unremarkable swamp hex, formed of muddy, greyish-brown water with tall, wide-spread trees forming a canopy over the few tufts of swamp grass and small blue flowers that grew out of the scattered islands the wabbits lived on. The algae-covered water was slowly and uniformly moving from southeast to northwest—well, not uniformly—there was one crosscurrent moving toward the boat next to Willy filled with a half stack of pikers. And then the boat wasn’t full anymore.


A huge mouth rose out of the water, long and narrow and rimmed with sharp white teeth. Before anyone could react, it bit down on one of the pikers, its long, sharp teeth sinking into the unit's arm and pulled it underwater. There was some thrashing and then the shattered remains of the piker's oar floated to the surface.


“Crocogator!” his stack mates cried out.


ALL UNITS SHIP OARS AND CLEAR FER ACTION. COMMANDERS AN’ SCOUTS LOOK FER CROCOGATOR SIGN. Mucky Water's voice rang in Willy's head almost immediately after. He drew his daggers and looked for more currents going against the flow. There was a clatter as all the other units of the strike force did their best to follow his orders.  The pikers didn’t really have anywhere to plant their pikes, and the archers didn’t have enough room for a proper draw.


“De Crocogator, him no full yet, mon.” Barney whispered across to Willy. “It take two, maybe t'ree pikers ta fill dat monster. Plenty big gator dis time. Plenty big, plenty hungry, yah mon.” He shook his head sadly and tightened his grip on his fishing spear.


I’m not a warlord. Willy thought. How can I fight this thing? How can I lead? He asked himself as he looked at the scared pikers in the boat with him. Then the answer came to him. By being what I am. A caster—and a Carney. I just have to believe, or at least make everyone else believe, it doesn’t matter if I believe or not. He cleared his throat and started his patter. “Guess what y'all?” He said, smiling and looking at the pikers in the boat with him. “You’re going to be heroes—big, damn heroes. You’re going to kill a giant Crocogator." He leaned forward to touch them and build up their belief in their ability to stand firm. “Watch this.” Willy slapped the water and shouted, “No token!” releasing a Hoboken straight down to the bottom of the pond where it exploded harmlessly with a quiet bubble—quiet above the water, that is. The sound below the surface must have been painful, because the Crocogator surfaced with a roar and began swimming right towards Willy’s boat.


Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. He thought.