Trust Me

Chapter 6

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This was a bad idea. Willy thought to himself again as he watched the monster approach in horror. The Crocogator was swimming right at him as if it knew exactly who had made the noise. I am about to croak. Arrows were shedding off its armor plated back as easily as water drops, and that huge jaw was opening wider and wider, revealing stacks-worth of long, sharp teeth, a tongue easily as big as  he was, and even a little dangly thing way, way in back, half-hidden in the darkness of the monster's throat. On impulse, Willy cast a light spell on the dangly bit. That was stupid. He thought. How can that help?


“Theah we go, boys!” he heard Warlord Mudd shout, “Pwince Willy’s given us a tahget to shoot at. Aim foa the light!” All the archers stopped shooting at the ‘gator’s armored hide and started on its unarmored gullet.


That’s going to hurt it, they’re shooting down the mouth like Barney said. Willy thought, but how can I stop it from closing its mouth again? Then, another foolish idea came to him. He grabbed one of the oars that the pikers he was with had let go of, and turning it sideways, used it to prop the ‘gator's jaw open just as it was about to close on him. It flexed dangerously and began to give. It's not strong enough! I’m ‘gator food! He panicked.


“Suppoht yoah prince!” Warlord Ewell yelled out. “You pikahs with him, follow his lead and prop that monstah's jaws open with yoah pikes!” The three pikers in Willy's boat quickly followed orders. Seeing their courage, Willy reached out to them, patting them and reassuring their belief that a Mudbury piker could stand firm under any circumstances. I can at least make them feel better, even if I’m only doing everything else halfway. Then, he reached out, touched the ‘gator, and with the last of his juice, built up its belief that nothing could match it, that it was the king of this hex and that it could kill anything. Then, he ducked back, and stayed hidden.


The archers followed Warlord Mudd's lead and fired volley after volley down the monster's throat. No matter how many hits it took, its belief held that it could survive anything and that it could kill anything--if it could just close its jaws. But it couldn’t. The three pikes and the oar held firm, the harder it tried to crush down the stronger they held, until the pikers were dealing hits without even touching their weapons. It lost hit after hit, but it held to the belief it would win. The last thing it lost before its life was that belief.


They all stared at it in silence for a minute, its dead body thrashing in the water, jaws still propped wide open. Then Chief Warlord Mucky Water broke the silence. “Awright, good job croakin' ‘at t'ing everybody. Somebody get a rope aroun’ it an’ we'll haul it to da nex’ hex where dere's sum land to butcher it.”


“’Gator soop fa dinna tanight!” Barney hooted, “T'ree cheers fo’ da Prince, ya? Hip, hip—”


“Huzzah!” everyone responded.


“Hip, hip—”




“Hip, hip—”




What is every unit cheering for me for? Willy wondered. They dealt the hits. The other warlords gave orders that worked instead of just doing things randomly. Why do they believe I was the reason we won?


Andy paddled over to Prince Willy's boat and shook his head. “Mon, ya really broke dat Crocogator’s heart, not lettin' him close his jaws like dat.”


“It wasn’t just me.” Prince Willy protested, “These pikers helped too. I just stuck an oar in. Their pikes kept his jaws open.”


“Ya hear dat boys?” Andy turned to the pikers, “Da Prince jes' called ya heartbreakers. Ya tink dat a compliment o' wat?” The pikers were slapping each other on the shoulders and congratulating each other just for surviving the engagement.


“Good enough name.” Chief Warlord Mucky interrupted. “You t'ree pikers kept da Prince alive. Yer reward is ya get ta keep doin' it. Go ahead and stack wit' him from now on. Yer his personal guard. Da Heartbreakers. Break da heart of anyone wat wants him croaked. An you too.” He said, pointing at a fourth piker, “He’ll need at least a half stack ta start.” He folded his arms. “Andy, Barney, get that corpse lashed up, we ain’t got all turn.” Then Chief Mucky sat down as his own personal guard rowed him away.



They made one more hex and camped for the night. The trolls butchered the carcass, and as promised, Crocogator soup was on the menu that evening. Willy spent the evening getting acquainted with his new personal guard.


“So ah, what are your names? Tell me something about yourselves.” He asked.


Campbell, Tench, Lynch, and Blair—and, like most infantry, they were not a talkative bunch. Campbell and Tench had popped from the same stack many turns ago and gone out to fight to defend another city, and now only the two of them were left. Lynch and Blair were each the lone survivors of their original stacks.


“Well, that means you’re all Lucky.” Willy said, trying to take their minds off their fallen stackmates.


“Hope we didn’t use it up with that monster.” Tench replied, “Lady Luck doesn’t like being leaned on—Titans bless her.” The others all nodded. Lady Luck was a common superstition among infantry.


She was one of the Titans' courtiers. No-one knew how many there were, but there were the three ladies everyone agreed on, Lady Luck, Lady Fate, and Lady Croak. You didn’t want to meet any of them, really, Lady Croak who escorted you to be judged by the Titans, Lady Fate who would tell you when your judgement turn was, and Lady Luck—well, you could only rely on her when you weren’t relying on her, and she couldn’t be tricked. Predictamancers, Luckmancers, and Croakamancers were supposed to be able to get along with these ladies, but no-one else could. No-one else was foolish enough to try either.


Prince Willy dug in a pocket for his lucky schmucker. “Look. I’m not a Predictamancer, they tell the future. What a Carneymancer can tell is your fortune.”


“What's that mean?” Campbell asked as the others looked on.


Yes! Willy thought. I have them hooked. “Fortune is how good or bad things are going to be.”


“What's the difference?” Blair asked.


“Well let’s pretend you asked a Predictamancer what would happen to you in an upcoming battle.” He started “The Predictamancer would read your fate and tell you you'd be incapacitated. You'd go away unhappy and you might be worried about the battle. Right?” Willy asked. They all nodded.


“Now, if instead, you went to a Carneymancer, they’d tell you you’d have good fortune in the battle ahead. They wouldn’t know what form your fortune would take, but they could tell you it would be good. Then you’d go into battle happy.”


“Yeah,” Lynch asked, “but which would be right?”


“Maybe they’d both be.” Prince Willy replied. “Let’s say you croak a warlord and she incapacitates you. That’s good, right?  You get XP.”


“As long as it’s not a fatal incapacitation.” Tench protested.


“Well, then it wouldn’t be good fortune in that case.” Willy said hurriedly. “Anyway, let me tell your fortune with this coin.” He held up his schmucker and spun it on his fingers. “This side,” he said, showing his father’s face, “Is heads, and the other is tails. Heads is good fortune in the battle for Heap, and tails is bad. Now blow on it.” Tench blew on it and then Willy flipped it up in the air and caught it. Then he slapped it down on the back of Tench’s hand and pulled his away, to show the face of King Nelson Mudbury.


“There.” Willy smiled with relief. “Good fortune. Now since I’m only a level 1 Carneymancer I can’t tell you how good, but it’s going to turn out well for you. Who’s next?” One by one his other personal guard all saw their king’s face smiling up at them from the back of their hand. And none of them could see the growing fear behind Willy’s eyes that all this good fortune would have to be balanced with bad somewhere down the road. They believed in him, no matter what he believed inside.


The next turn Andy and Barney had a surprise for him. “We worked all night on dis, prince. You dese’ve it. Prolly need it too, mon.” It was a suit of Crocogator armor. They had Fabricated all night long, with shears and heavy needles, turning the hide and sinew of the dead feral into armor that would protect him better than any other. Willy was stunned.


“I’m stunned. It’s wonderful. Can you help me get it on?”


“Nah, we twolls, not lackeys. You have guardsmen. Have them help you. We’ll tell them how.”


*Heartbreakers Assemble. * Willy ordered. His four pikers came over, one by one, and the two twolls explained how to put Willy’s armor on. Willy figured that after a while he’d be able to put it on himself in a pinch, but this first time it was probably best that his guard put it on--just to look regal. All the while they were doing it, he was spending a point of juice here and there, reinforcing their belief in him. No-one trusted Carneys, but they had to trust him, and he had to build that trust every chance he got.


When it was all done, the bonus was remarkable. It would take a warlord, a heavy, or a crit to hit him now. Before he was armored, he probably could have been taken out by a wabbit, but now--now he was a warrior.


“Nice armor.” Chief Mucky sauntered by. “But don’t go thinkin’ yer a warrior. Ya may be a prince, but as a caster, yer strictly support. Backline support. That leadership stat of yers ain’t ever gonna change much, and those daggers will do hits, but they won’t croak any unit without a crit.” He walked over and touched Willy gingerly on the shoulder. “Yer best service to your King is leadership wit’out da stat like wat ya did last turn. Ya focus on dat and we might win--maybe.” He turned away and took a deep breath, “ALL UNITS GIT READY TA MOVE OUT!!!” His shout rang out around the encampment and then he turned back to Willy and said, “Sometimes I jest like ta use my lungs.” As he walked away the entire strike force was already obeying his orders.



The next two turns passed without incident. Perhaps word had passed wordlessly between the ferals and the crocogators on the other hexes learned they were too difficult to test, perhaps Lady Luck had used up her tests for the trip, Whatever the cause, they saw nothing more ferocious than a game feral for the remainder of their journey to Heap. They arrived to find the level one city completely surrounded by the forces of Hugh Bolides.