Trust Me

 

Chapter 7

 


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“Welcome to Heap. We’re very sorry about the misunderstanding, but you’re here early. We'll be happy to ration your troops this turn, but you have to leave next turn.” Willy stuck out his hand.

 

The Warlord leading the enemy forces remained seated on his Axmander, his back pike-straight, and stared down at Prince Willy's hand as if it were a ten-turn croaked fish. “Why would I, Aristagorus, a level five warlord of Milktoast be willing to accept anything less than the town of Sorites that your kingdom has foully stolen from mine?”

 

“Well, we can parley over that, I suppose.” Willy said. “Let me have someone set up a table.” His mind raced with the effort to control this warlord with nothing more than a cold reading. If he could just reach out and touch him Willy would know the innermost beliefs this warlord stood on, butt it was too risky, it would look like an engagement. He had to work more cautiously.

 

“Why should I even bother with that?” Aristagorus paused, “And why would I talk with a level one caster in the first place?"

 

He's hooked. “Three things. One, it’s our turn, we can do whatever we want: move in, move out, raze, build, I can cast any spell I want—do you even have a caster with you?” Prince Willy could tell from the other's frown that he didn’t. “Two, I know something you don’t know—I know the disposition of my enemy’s forces. You don’t have any swamp-capable scouts to tell you who’s watching hidden in those trees on the other side of that hex boundary behind me.” Aristagorus' frown was becoming more mobile as he thought about this.

 

“And third, you know something I don’t know.” Willy folded his hands and smiled.

 

Aristagorus didn’t want to ask, but his curiosity got the better of him. “What’s that, caster? Of the many things I know better than you, which helps you more than me?” He sneered.

 

“You know what they'll say about you back home if you refuse a parley offer from the crown Prince of Mudbury.” Prince Willy smiled even more broadly.

 

“Set up your table.” Aristagorus spun his mount around and headed back to his troops, kicking only enough mud up to count as an insult rather than an engagement.

 


Willy and Muddy were sitting at the table, waiting for Aristagorus to come over with what ever units he chose. They had a half-stack of pikers behind them, everyone else was either in the city or still hidden in the trees.

 

“Dis bettah work out good, prince, or we’re in a woild ‘a hurt.” Mucky said around his usual mouthful of chewing tar.

 

“We’re in a world of hurt if it does work, we’ve just got a fighting chance.” Willy agreed.

 

Across the way a pair knights were splitting out of the enemy forces, trailed by their own half-stack of pikers.

 

Aristagorus and the other knight were riding high horses, all the better to look down on them with. The two dismounted with a haughty flourish and took their seats.

 

“Not much of an army.” The other knight said, laughing, “You almost put an entire stack together--almost.”

 

“Well, we didn’t have any reason to show you more of our army. I mean, you already know you’re trapped off-turn between a city wall and an unknown force, we thought your warlord was smart enough to parley under those conditions.” Willy paused. “And look--he is. Maybe if you listen to him, you’ll learn something.”

 

“What have you called us here for, Chief Warlord Mucky Waters?” Warlord Aristagorus asked formally.

 

“Well,” Mucky shrugged, “We kinda got an arrangement goin’ see? Your king doesn’t hit us harder’n we ken take, ‘n we don’t hit back. Works real good. You git schmuckers, we get peace--of a sort. Problem is, you hit us before we wuz ready dis time. We ain’t got enough ta give ya.”

 

“In times like these the contract for your Moneymancer would be a bit longer.” Aristagorus leaned back.

 

“Which would give us even less nex’ time.” Mucky opened his arms.

 

“Not out problem.” Aristagorus smiled.

 

“So da king looked at da records. Surprise, yer a whole lot earlier dis time around.” Mucky leaned forward.

 

“What can I say? Our kingdom needed the funds a little sooner than expected.”

 

“Not our problem.” Now Mucky smiled.

 

“It is if we make it that way…” Aristagorus leaned forward until the two were close together.

 

“Warlords. Please. This is parley, not combat.” Willy leaned forward and separated the two. He had been told repeatedly not to cast during parley, even by accident, and that it would break parley, ruin everything and probably get him croaked--but what was the harm in a hot reading? While he was in contact with warlord Aristagorus he Read him, even if he didn’t try to cast on him. It appeared to be a passive ability that didn’t cause an engagement. It let him know beyond doubt what his enemy Believed, though.

 

Chief Warlord Mucky gave him a look, but he didn’t say anything upon being touched, and soon the three of them were in their seats again. The knight with their enemy handed him a bottle and the two shared a drink and then turned back to the table again.

 

“Well?” Aristagorus asked.

 

“Well, what?” Willy asked back.

 

“Well, what are you going to offer besides, ‘please don’t croak us’ at this parley table?” Aristagorus asked.

 

“Your name.” Willy said, pulling out his schmucker and beginning to flip it.

 

“I already have a name.”

 

Willy nodded, “And how good do you think that name’s going to be back home if you lose your ruler’s units in an unwinnable battle?”

 

“What do you mean unwinnable?” Aristagorus scowled.

 

Prince Willy counted off on his fingers, “One, your enemy suddenly has a noble caster, and you don’t even know what type. Two, they’re fighting when they never have before. Three, they’re keeping their army successfully hidden--or veiled.” Willy waved behind him at nothing. “Four, you don’t even know what we’ve brought... should I keep going or do you want to take a turn to scout our force or call for reinforcements?”

 

“I’m not  afr-“

 

“You know what they’d say about you if you lost, don’t you?” Prince Willy interrupted the warlord across from him. He wasn’t here to parley anymore than that unit was. Willy was here to play on his beliefs and confuse him.

 

The other knight finally stood up with his teeth clenched. “No worse than they’d say about him if he went back there with his tail between his legs.” The knight flipped the table over, spun Warlord Aristagorus around and started marching off with him. "You have until we reach our lines to run for yours."

 

Whoops. Willy thought. I forgot there was two of them. Next time I have to pitch my words for my entire audience--if there is a next time.

 

Mucky got the pikemen to take the pavilion as they all beat feet back to the forest line where the rest of their army was waiting.

 

“Why did you have them grab the tent, but not the table and chairs?” Willy asked.

 

“Table and chairs might break deir formashun lines. Tent’ll break our firin’ lines.” Mucky replied tersely. Then he put his hands to his mouth and shouted, “Hey Lord Nimrod, Lord Ewell, hey Andy, getovahere! Plan B’s a bust, time for plan C!”

 

“Plan B? C?” Willy asked.

 

“Yeah,” Chief Mucky explained as the others came over, “Plan A is ‘ask real nicely’, Plan B is ‘ask not so nicely’.”

 

“And plan C?”

 

Mucky threw an arm over Willy’s shoulders, “Titan’s above, boy! This is yer poppa’s city; don’t ya think it’s time ya just took it and gave it ta him?”

 

 

The Milktoast Stabbers formed up into two lines, a shorter line facing inward towards the level 1 city, and a larger one facing outward towards the unknown relief force. Warlord Aristagorus may not have known what Willy and Mucky had planned, but he knew it was going to be a stiffer fight than a level 1 garrison would be. On the walls, a few units watched, waiting and wondering if they’d get a promotion to field and a signal to open the gates and make a sally.

 

“Awwright!” Mucky called out, “It’s still our turn, so let’s go out there and take our town and take that hex. Who’s with me?” He got a loud cheer at this and then the first part of their army moved into the hex to engage with the Milktoast elite stabbers.

 

Regular stabbers, as everyone knows,  have a shield and either a sword or a short spear to stab with. This gives them a good balance between attack and defense. The elite stabbers they were facing had spears almost as long as pikes. It made it nearly suicidal attacking them with regular stabbers; the enemy would get a free attack in before they had closed the distance. Mucky had set up pikers in the first rank to give the elite stabbers trouble, and stabbers in the second rank, mainly just to shield against sling stones. Meanwhile, the archers were further back, taking targets of opportunity. The twolls had not been sprung yet.

 

“Now.” Mucky said to Prince Willy several more rows back, “Ya ain’t a combat caster, so ya stay here in back and watch. Ya might come up wit’ sumpin’ clever, but ya kin do that best while watchin’. Ya unnerstan?”

 

“Yessir.”

 

“Good.”

 

So, Willy watched as everything went according to plan--for both sides. Along with having longer spears, the enemy was also generally higher level, and that meant more discipline. They responded to the new Mudbury formation without any real emotion, just going about their business, stabbing and stepping. The location of Mudbury’s own stabbers was helpful though, the enemy slingers were deadly on a direct shot, but when they tried to arch over their own lines it was almost as ineffective as regular units throwing rocks. The Mudbury archers were able to do effective arching fire, however. Even with this, the skilled shield work and advance of the elite stabbers meant the battle was being lost by the Mudbury forces--until the twolls joined in.

 

With a loud “Yark, yark, yark!” the entire twoll contingent burst from the forest, carrying little swamp boats two-by-two, with heavy cudgels banging against their hips. As focused as they were on the Mudbury infantry, the Milktoast forces didn’t realize how much the battle had changed until the twolls hit the line of battle. The Mudbury pikers had made a hole for them, and the twolls put their boats upside-down on top of the Milktoast stabbers. Then, using these boats as a bridge, the next rank of twolls did the same, until they’d made a path across the ranks of elite stabbers to the unshielded slingers beyond. Then the croaking began.

 

The twolls rushed over their bridge while Mudbury pikers kept the Milktoast stabbers from reacting quickly; the one weakness the elite stabber had was a certain lack of maneuverability. By the time they could break engagement and react, the Mudbury twolls were completely among them, grinning ear-to-ear and swinging their cudgels and croaking slingers with every blow.

 

The line guarding the city was the first to react, but as they reacted, Mucky promoted the garrison to field. The newly promoted force sallied out and made a complete hash of any counterattack Milktoast had been planning. When the main army tried to turn to face an enemy on two fronts, the battle was all over but the croaking and the counting.

 

 

“You won’t be able to use that trick more than once.” Aristagorus had cuffs appear on his wrists when he surrendered, but he could still fold his arms and look defiant.

 

“Don’t have to.” Prince Willy said, “I just have to think of a new one. Right now, the unit who needs to do the most thinking is you; explaining to your king how you lost this fight. Since we don’t have much experience beating you, we’re going to have to treat you the way you treat us. Send us a caster or a courtier to negotiate a treaty and then you can have all your troops back. Until then, well, we’ll have to have your units work on expanding the dungeon zone here. Even without the Mining Special, they can still dig holes to sleep in.” He grinned unpleasantly.

 

“Y-you’ll regret this!”

 

“I’m sure I will.”

 

The slingers had been almost totally croaked, Milktoast had lost about half their elite stabbers and an equivalent number of warlords before surrender. There were also a few heavies there, Milktoast had brought Western Giants along for siege assault. As natural allies they had mainly stayed out of the battle and were willing to negotiate a separate treaty.

 

Prince Willy watched as the remaining Mudbury forces led the new prisoners away and the twolls stripped the croaked units for materials for their Fabrication. I never would have believed we would have been this successful. He thought, flipping his schmucker. But then I guess it doesn’t matter what I believe, all that matters is what I can make others believe. And that understanding opened his mind wider than any he’d had before; there were things about Fate and how it worked with Magic that that he'd never dreamed of. Is that all it takes to become an Adept? Understanding? There was still something missing, though. He was an Adept, but he didn’t quite understand it. He’d have to go into the Magic Kingdom to really understand magic.