Inner Peace (Through Superior Firepower) - Episode 033
“Princess Jillian, fust let me say ‘welcome home.‘ The side is sustained in paht by your wuck in distant lands. And I thank you.”
Jillian had to parse the Court-speak of that opening. “I” thank you, not “we.” At Marie‘s words, all of the Court members did place their palms together and nod to her, except the King. But she knew there were dissenters among them. Jack had told her that some of them felt strongly that she should never have been popped. He wouldn‘t say which ones, but several of them didn‘t think that Faq could stand the “moral burden” of being a mercenary side, instead of a true bubble kingdom. They were just that lofty.
And “work,” she‘d said, not “fighting.” They didn‘t like to use the f-word around here. Jillian had the instinctive urge to jump in and skewer the euphemism like a game bird, to say, “You mean ‘lopping off heads to pay your upkeep?‘ You‘re welcome.” But she kept her face carefully blank. In a sword fight, you plant your feet and bend your knees and don‘t overreact to your opponent‘s every motion. Here, keeping your lips together was just your basic defensive stance.
Besides, she really wanted to hear this business about her father and the Titans.
So she nodded back, and Sister Marie continued, “You ah a very brave woman, Princess. And the naytcha of bravery is something we often discoss here. You ah a brave woman, physically, yes. I wondah if you are so brave intellectually? Or spiritually? I am afraid I don‘t know you well enough. What do you think?”
Jillian felt the pointed challenge of that question, but she didn‘t really understand what the Predicatamancer was getting at. “I do what I need to do, Sister Marie,” she said in a low voice. “Not much of my ‘work‘ is intellectual, as the Court never forgets to remind me. Spiritual? You‘ll have to explain that one to me.”
Marie nodded. “So. An enemy swings a club at you. They want to smash your skull, yes? And you, of course, don‘t let them. You ah not afraid. You know where your head is at, and you move it so you don‘t let the club hit it. It wucks something like that?” Many of the Court members grinned at the abstract and silly description of combat.
Jillian smiled as well, but mainly because she was thinking of several occasions when she didn‘t quite move her head in time. “Something like that, yes.”
“So, intellectually, it‘s the same thing. Someone wants to smash your ahgument. If you don‘t really know what you think, then it‘s like you don‘t know where your head is. You don‘t move, and they smash you. Ahgument ovah. You have to be brave and stand up for the truth.”
Jillian had doubts about that analogy, but said nothing and nodded. The concept of intellectual cowardice was not something she wanted to think about.
“Spiritual bravery is the hoddest,” continued Sister Marie. “Sometimes, some very hod truth comes along that wants to smash your spirit. You lose someone you love. You find out something about the world that you can‘t face. Or wuss, you find out something about yourself. In thot case, you will stand there and get smashed to pieces if you don‘t know who you really ah.”
To Jillian‘s ears, this sounded like the typical windy sophistry of the Court of Faq, but it still gave her a gnawing feeling in her stomach. There was maybe something to it. Maybe. She wasn‘t going to follow along willingly, not right now. But some night out on the trail, she would lie under the stars and think about these ideas and try to work some sense out of it all.
“I see,” was all she said.
“As a Predictamancer, I have to be brave in spirit. I see so many hod truths! Many times, I know if I share what I see, then the truths will stay true, but they get hodda. People can‘t face hearing their Fate, so they fight and make it much wuss. Your fatha,” said Marie, very seriously, “is the bravest of us all.” There were nods of assent.
Jillian looked at the King. Brave? There were lots of words she might use to describe him, but that wasn‘t exactly first among them. “Why is that?”
“Because he knows his Fate,” said Marie. “He will fall, and this coppital will fall. I so Predict it.”
The words felt like one of those times Jillian hadn‘t moved her head out of the way fast enough. She was still looking at King Banhammer, who nodded to her with great poise. A moment ago, she had been imagining leaving Faq as an adventure. But something about the way the old man met her eyes brought home the weight of it. They were serious. Faq would fall, and father would be gone.
“Oh, no,” was all she could manage to say.
“Hod truth,” nodded Marie. “But old news here. I made this Prediction before you were evah popped. It‘s the reason you wah popped. Your King ordered an heir to carry on the side, because he is the kind of man who can face a hod truth and still do the right thing,” said Marie. “Thot is bravery of a different and higher ordah. Now you must face that same hod truth, and you must find the spiritual bravery to do your part in it. So. Will you?”
She looked at the faces around the table. They really didn‘t like her, most of them. They certainly didn‘t like having to depend on her. Jack gave her a look that was hard to read, but in his hand he cupped a yellow rose blossom, a tiny bit of Foolamancy that only she could see. It was the perfect little gesture of confidence.
“I said I do what I need to do,” she said. “What‘s the plan?”
The plan was nothing like what Jillian had pictured. They weren‘t going to evacuate the side en masse. When trouble came, all the casters would flee into the Magic Kingdom.
Jillian‘s role now was to forego her mercenary duties and scout the world for a capital site or barbarian capital city. She should capture that city, making it Faq‘s fourth, then be prepared to move the side‘s capital there once Faq fell and she became Queen. The casters would then pass through the new portal and join her.
The treasury would dwindle while she hunted for a new home, so time would be tight. But when she succeeded, the fourth city would add much needed Shmuckers to their treasury.
There was no consideration in the plan for the survival of Faq‘s non-caster units, other than “surrender if possible.”
“My preference would be a distant island, or someplace at least as isolated as here,” her father said.
“Mm, yeah,” said Jillian. “Those are just lying around all over the place out there. I‘ll go fly out and grab one tomorrow. Do you have a color preference?”
“Search, Jillian. We have time,” said the King.
“Yeah? How much time?” she asked.
Marie shifted on her cushion and looked uncomfortable. “I am not sure,” she said, squinting as if trying to see. “I‘ve felt for a long time thot we wah safe. I didn‘t believe Haffaton would be the agent of our distroction. It still does not feel as if this city will fall very soon. But Predictamancy does motch bettah with events than particulahs. How Fate plays out is up to us. Haffaton could be the one to conquah us. I don‘t know. They ah getting so close. You should try to hurry, but...you should have some time yet.”
“Once this is done, daughter, you will be the keeper of my legacy.” The King was leaning forward and looking her in the eyes earnestly. “I must ask you to swear to uphold the ideals of Faq after I am gone.”
“Well that part shouldn‘t be too hard,” the Princess shrugged, “since those ideals include abandoning most of your people.”
The table fell into a prickly silence. Glances were exchanged. Jillian didn‘t much care.
“If our units croak, they will do so alongside their King,” said Moothfott the Moneymancer. “There‘s no dishonor in that. Fate will claim its price, Princess Jillian. That‘s the way of things. But the wisdom of Faq will be preserved, and that is all that can be saved. Find us a fertile patch and the seed will sprout anew.”
Nods of assent. Jillian scowled at them. “No,” she said. “I don‘t like it. I would tell you exactly why I don‘t like it, but I‘m still counting up all the reasons.”
Sister Marie leaned forward. “Princess, recall what I said about intellectual bravery.”
“Yeah, I remember,” said Jillian stubbornly. “You said, ‘fight for the truth.‘ And the truth is: that plan is terrible.”
Around the table, some of the casters began leaning and whispering.
“No, Highness,” said Marie patiently, “the truth is terrible. Thot‘s what we must face. But the plan is good. You find it a chollange to your way of thinking, so you don‘t like it. But you must be brave enough to accept it as necessary.”
“Brave?” Jillian balked. “You think this plan is brave? Scampering away like pac-rats and leaving everybody else here to croak?” She shot the King an angry look, but then suddenly broke out in a predatory grin as something occurred to her.
She turned her head and aimed that grin directly at Marie. “Okay. Okay, then show me intellectual bravery,” Jillian said. “Show me how you all handle an idea that‘s not what you want to hear. Because I‘ve got one. Ya ready?”
She looked around the table, waiting until the whispering stopped and all eyes were upon her again. “Let‘s take this whole show on the road,” she said. “As Chief Warlord, I say we go to war with Haffaton, and win.”
The crazy idea she‘d been working up in the back of her head for the last two days, the one she had planned to pitch them, came spilling out of her mouth. It had occurred to her some time ago that the Lookamancy/Predictamancy/Foolamancy combination which concealed Faq‘s location could go mobile. Three casters could hide an army even better than a city.
With Marie to Predict enemy moves, Orwell to scout, and Jack Snipe to veil, it was entirely possible that they could get a large airborne force all the way to Haffaton‘s capital undetected. Then, depending on the defenses, they‘d drop out of the sky with heavies and casters, and knock out the entire vast empire in a single strike.
“If we can pull it off, then all of Haffaton‘s cities would go barbarian. So, then we‘ve got a vast empty wasteland on three sides of Faq. At that point, either we take over all those cities and run it as a traditional side that‘s too big to fail, or we just boost up the treasury by raiding and razing all those cities one at a time. We‘d be set for a thousand turns! So,” she said, slapping her palms on the table‘s edge and rattling the bone china, “how ‘bout that plan instead?”
Throughout her long, excited pitch, the members of Court had remained silent. But Jillian had been on such a tear that she hadn‘t noticed how they were sitting: almost stock still. No-one had raised a cup, or even shifted in place. Their mouths were clamped shut, and their wide eyes darted around. Even Jack Snipe looked fearful. Now that she was finished, looking around at their silence and statuelike rigidity suddenly made her guts clench up.
After several more agonizing moments in this tableau, Brother Orwell was the first to speak up. “I‘ll not ride into battle,” he said quietly, shaking his head. “I will not take lives.”
Some of the others nodded and looked about to speak, but King Banhammer‘s somber and commanding voice suddenly filled the hall.
“You will, if I order you to,” he said to Orwell, and to the entire table.
In the mead-hall of Slamalot, Jillian had once dropped a porcelain beer stein which bounced off the stone floor and then shattered on the second bounce. This scene was like that. The second shock of the King‘s words sent the members of the Court of Faq into mass babbling, even yelling. Ha! Did that mean she was winning? She hadn‘t yelled yet, right?
King Banhammer, who carried no scepter, smacked the flat of his palm on the table once. The room quickly fell silent once more, although in silent, seething outrage this time. He turned to Adderall Hawk, who was seated beside Marie.
“Is it possible?”
The Mathamancer straightened, suddenly called to his primary Duty for the first time in uncounted turns. Most Mathamancers do nothing but calculate battle odds. Add seemed taken well off-guard.
He pushed his spectacles up the bridge of his nose. “Possible? Oh...certainly. We were sending out our forces with the plan of capturing a capital, on the theory that the Princess could find one with poor air defenses. If Haffaton could be caught off guard, then its defenses would likely be as weak as anywhere else.”
“Exactly!” blurted Jillian. “See? It‘s no stupider than your plan.”
“Quiet,” said Banhammer in a soft-toned order.
“But,” added Add, “as I understand it, Haffaton‘s power is largely based on Hippiemancy. It might even be physically impossible to attack. I can‘t calculate our chances unless I know something more about their forces.”
Jillian raised a finger, and her father nodded to her.
“I talked with that Haffaton warlord we ran into,” she said to Add. “Dame Branch is their Hippiemancer. No idea what level she is, but she‘s pretty high. And they have a Croakamancer with a reputation that stretches to a lot of the sides I‘ve talked to. Lady Firebaugh. I‘ve heard she‘s been responsible for most of their conquests. But that‘s why I think the defenses will be weak. They‘ve got to be relying on uncroaked units for defense, because of their low upkeep. ...What?”
Add was pointing to Marie, whose finger was raised. Her mouth hung slack, and her eyes were wide as tea saucers. Jillian thought she‘d better give her the table.
Marie‘s voice was rough, her expression thoroughly spooked. “I would like to amend my Prediction, Your Highness,” she said to the King. “Haffaton will be the agent of your destroction, and of the fall of Faq as well. I think soon.”