With her elbow propped against a hardwood cabinet, Jillian held up her head. Her eyes were half open to the dim green gloom. Absently, she stroked a petal of the stale flower in her hair.
She couldn‘t sleep in this chair, wearing armor, and she didn‘t want to. Marie was napping loudly in the adjoining bedchamber. Jack was (probably) asleep on the divan here in the anteroom, though he made no sound at all. A lone lantern held back the night.
They had talked.
They weren‘t going to do anything, but they‘d talked a lot. Enough to calm her down. Enough to leave her with the feeling that this was all coming to some kind of conclusion, and that the time for her to act would come very soon. Sister Marie had listened to her: about Olive and all her tricks, about the buds, about the brittleness and poverty of Haffaton, about Judy, and about all of the casters they had used up and wasted. She had also reluctantly told the Predictamancer about the note from Delphie Temple addressed to Jillian by name, and about the secondhand Prediction that she would croak the Ruler of Haffaton.
“I undastand,” Marie had told her, taking her hand. “The time is coming shotly when what is necessary won‘t be what the King wants. I will stand with you, to see it done. That I promise, Princess.”
“What about you, Jack?” she‘d asked him then. “Foolamancy might help. You wanna pit your tricks against hers?”
The Jack bowed his head, and made a mock casting gesture. “You have my acts.”
For right now, that was enough. She kept her vigil, only wanting all of this brain-bent craziness to finally end.
Well...and wanting a flower.
Jack and Marie awakened simultaneously, still well before the dawn.
Silent orders came rarely–Chief Jillian gave all the orders in the field, and King Banhammer preferred the occasional written edict to express his will–but they were certainly a ruler‘s prerogative. They all simply knew that His Wisdom wanted them to gather in the Wizard‘s Hall, immediately.
Jillian had never seen the Wizard‘s Hall of Efbaum, but the King‘s order told them which of the umpteen flights of stairs to descend, and where to find the doors.
“Hate this place,” muttered Jillian. Just moving around in Efbaum gave her waves of nausea.
“You have good reason,” said Marie.
“The Signamancy‘s fascinating, though,” said Jack Snipe, who never stopped looking around. “Who could imagine a place like this? What sort of ruler created it?”
“Friend of Judy‘s, she said,” said Jillian. “I think a lot of weird stuff went on here, a long time ago.”
The Wizard‘s Hall turned out to be the centerpiece of the garrison. Huge iron doors hung partly open, leading to a ridiculously long hallway of stone arches, all in emerald green. The floor was of glossy black marble. Sconces lined the walls, but only about every eighth one had a glowing powerball in it, so it was hard to see anything but the way forward.
At the end of the passageway another set of great doors opened into an enormous hall. The place was stark and empty. Shimmering green curtains hung down from above, but the ceiling was too high up and dark to be seen. At the opposite side of the hall stood an altar-stone and dais, lit by brazier torches and backed by a tight row of emerald columns. King Banhammer and Dame Branch stood upon the dais, with Brother Orwell standing in front of it.
“My daughter, and my trusted friends!” boomed Banhammer happily. The echoes of the hall gave his voice even more weight. “Come forward. Come and rejoice. Come home to me!”
The sick knot in Jillian‘s stomach clenched up a little tighter.
“Home, Yah Wisdom?” said Marie, as the three of them approached. They could see that Banhammer wore a white robe now, similar but more plain than the one Dame Branch was wearing. “I would say we ah very fah from home in this place.”
“Are we?” laughed Banhammer, “or is that because we cannot see what is before us?”
“Well, the lighting is fairly atrocious in here,” said Jack, glancing upward.
“I can see fine,” said Marie, quietly. The three of them reached the dais and stood beside Brother Orwell, who nodded to them serenely. Jillian kept her mouth shut, watching Dame Branch. But the Florist only smiled and stood beside the King with her hands folded.
“Haffaton has conquered Faq,” said Banhammer, “exactly as you Predicted, Sister Marie Lavraie.”
“You know what I Predicted,” said Marie, keeping her gaze fixed on her ruler.
“Yes, well the question has always been, ‘What of us then?‘ After the fall of Faq, how could we preserve the wisdom and scholarship of the Court? We had always assumed no refuge, no allies. We believed that no place existed which would allow us the freedom to be as we were.” He folded his meaty hands together and took a deep and solemn breath. “We were, it seems, very wrong. That place is here. Haffaton...shall become our new home!”
“No,” said Jillian, in a low and warning tone.
Her father pretended not to hear. “Before I turn, I will send for the rest of the Court. Each of you must turn before me, or else you will become barbarians.”
“No!” shouted Jillian. She drew her sword from her back, even though it was useless until at least dawn, when the chillaxe‘s spell would expire.
“My daughter, I expected no different,” said Banhammer, with a sad little frown. “This course is my will. You are welcome to stay and serve our new side. But if you cannot abide this, then you are free to go as a barbarian, with full provisions and my blessing.”
Jillian just stood and looked at him, her mouth hanging a bit open. He had the light of happiness in his eyes. Whatever Dame Branch had said to him, she had no chance of topping it. No chance. She couldn‘t think of any words at all.
She replaced the sword in its scabbard. She paced a few steps, feeling lost. “I will not turn,” was all she could say.
“I will,” said Brother Orwell, taking a step forward. “This can be a new dawn for us.”
“Harmonious!” said Banhammer, smiling warmly. “It can and will be. You are right, and you know this is my desire, and my command. Kneel, Brother.”
“I know, and I obey,” said Orwell. He knelt and bowed his head, but left his cap on.
Dame Branch took the King‘s hand and spoke, saying, “Orwell, do you consent to turn your allegiance to the side of Haffaton, and its Ruler, for all the rest of your turns?”
“I do!” he shouted enthusiastically. There was a shimmer of magic, and his raiment turned to white and black. So fast. Jillian couldn‘t believe it. This was less real than a flower dream.
“Rise,” said Banhammer.
“I don‘t take orders from you, King of Faq” smiled Orwell.
“Indeed!” exclaimed Banhammer, with another laugh.
“Rise,” said Dame Branch.
“Yes, Chief Florist,” said Orwell, and stood.
“Sister Marie? Jack Snipe?” grinned Banhammer, looking deeply pleased. “Which of you shall be next?”