Book 2 - Text Updates 018
Charlescomm was formally allied with no side in this battlespace, and so the six of them had taken their turn at dawn.
Following the well-trodden road, they sailed up to Haggar's column undetected. Silently, they passed along its seven-hex length, using veils to blend with the roadside trees.
After relaying full intelligence on the dispensation of Prince Sammy's units to Charlescomm, they settled into positions. Lindsay and Paris ended turn at the head of the column, Miley and Brittany at the rear. Hilary and her partner Avril took up a risky blind, directly over the heads of Prince Sammy's leadership stack. They kept the rising sun at their backs, relative to the warlords, and spent most of their juice to shine out their shadows. It was tricky, but worth it. Nearly everything the Haggar warlords said was relayed through Hilary to the capital.
Charlie himself was not receiving, so the intelligence was handled at the tower by Fox Force Five. Since yesterday, communications through the Arkendish were blacked out, which always put everyone in a bad mood. Hilary missed Charlie more than she ever could have said. It meant so much to know she could call him any time (though of course, she only did so on business). Being cut off, even for a turn, left her with an ache in her chest.
That ache had moved to the pit of her stomach when Sammy ordered the column to restack for maximum veil-spotting. "Watch the skies," he'd said.
She relayed this information with everything else, and even queried the tower for any updates to her orders. But the tower had nothing for her. Minutes passed, with no indication that any veils had yet been blown. Within this hex, Sammy did not even seem to be following his own directive. He rarely glanced up at the sky, and never directly sunward.
It was good. But Haggar's turn would eventually start. That would bring fresh spot checks, and there was nothing they could do about it. With this many scouts and warlords, one of them was sure to be spotted. And Haggar had plenty of archers.
Oh, Charlie... Don't let me go without hearing your voice one more time.
Glowering, Prince Sammy paced around the dirt road in a semicircle around her.
"What's Charlie giving for the release of a captured Archon lately?" he snarled. "What're you worth, huh?"
Hilary's left leg was broken below the knee. This and her other injuries left her in a heap on the ground. She had not been wounded in the fight. When the arrows began to fly and Avril fell, Hilary had unveiled, descended, and surrendered. But that was not good enough for the Prince of Haggar.
She lifted her head and looked at him with her good eye. "Over nine thousand," she said.
Sammy spat on her again.
"So I've spent twenty-seven so far," he said. He slapped his fist into his palm, then shook it at her. "You think I won't make it thirty-six? Start talking!"
She was about to repeat her call-script cue: "Details about my mission, and a wide variety of other intelligence points, are available for a negotiable fee." It would probably get her croaked this time, she felt.
But then, the warmth. The well-being. There was a jagged gap in the front of her smile, but she did smile.
"Please hold for Charlie," she told Sammy in her smoothest neutral/professional voice. With difficulty, she sat upright. Then she held up her fingers, and framed the Prince's beastly head.
This thinkagram was the kind where they could all see and hear. There were diagrams and pretty pictures, little colored bars that were supposed to mean things. Sammy let him ramble. This guy was smooth. He was going on about coalignment of interests or some other claptrap, but Sammy had him. He'd caught this pail of crap in the act, shot down three of his spies and captured one...yeah. And the turn had started early. Good day so far.
"Shut up," he said, partly for the benefit of the warlords standing at his back, but mostly for the pleasure of telling the dude to shut up. His guys snickered. "You don't get it. We're hip to your game, man. Jetstone keeps going on about it. About how you wanna wipe out all the Royal sides. Well they're prob'ly right! You're spyin' on us now...prob'ly have an ambush waiting, right? Got just the right set of these little chick toys waiting up the road when we move. Sucker play, right?"
"Ambush?" said Charlie. He cleared his throat. "Capital idea, Highness. And funny you should mention it." There was a pause, then the image in the Archon's hands flickered, first to a ghostly female face, then to a very familiar scene. Sammy stared at it. The great lighthouse tower, the harbor below, the sun over the water. It was just like the scene on the Royal crest, except that waves were actively rolling in to the beach.
"This is a current view of the City of Haggar, Prince Sammy. The stationed complement in your capital is a bit meager, isn't it? Only one-hundred-ninety infantry, mostly on the outer walls, eighteen heavy units, fifteen small flyers, two warlords, two casters, and seven courtiers. Seaside, you have two level two vessels and a level four, with an available complement of seventy-five infantry, seven small flyers, one heavy flyer, and one more warlord."
Sammy said nothing. But he knew these numbers were exactly correct.
Charlie continued. "Available within one turn's move would be three heavy flyers, twenty-one small flyers, sixteen infantry and no warlords, plus one more level three vessel with twenty four infantry. The next unit the city will pop is a non-heir Royal warlord, in nine more turns. Congratulations in advance, by the way. What do you think of this intelligence assessment so far?"
There was mumbling behind him. Sammy still said nothing.
"Look. To spell it out for you in very small words, Prince: no, I do not want to wipe out all Royal sides. I intend for the Royal Crown Coalition to put Gobwin Knob down hard at the Battle for Jetstone. And you are going to help. Because if I were to plot an ambush against Haggar, do you suppose I would have placed that ambush in the field, where you are strong? Or at your capital, where you are weak?"
Sammy again said nothing, and this time his warlords were smart enough not to, either.
"So. On this turn, you and your forces will do exactly as I order. If you deviate from my instructions, then that picture of the sun rising over your pretty city will happen exactly one more time."