Book 2 - Text Updates 035
The bigger, more boring warlord was off to the tower to talk treaties and niceties with his living relatives. Jack Snipe observed his flightpath with very little interest. There would be no treaties today, and certainly no niceties.
The good Lord Hamster had delivered his orders.
The city below was a rather pretty one. Jack craned his neck, tilting his head at birdlike angles from his birdlike position there in the sky. He wanted to fix the place in his mind. It was unlikely to exist in this form for more than a few more minutes. Such elegant design deserved a final chance to be appreciated by a practiced eye, before an elegant design of a different kind laid it low.
At the Court of Faq, they'd played riddles. Jack was more often admired for his ability to solve than to create them, although he had presented a few favorites in his time. ("How is a Luckamancer like a Naughtymancer?" "One rules the breaks; the other breaks the rules.") But even after having spent so many interesting turns studying tactics and "lateral thinking" (for that wonderful phrase alone, he was forever in his good Lord's debt), Jack had still missed his guess on this one.
Oh, it might have worked. With the last of his juice, they could have used baffles and screens to exhaust the air defenses. Having Lady Firebaugh decrypt the falling mounts would buy them all that much more time, that much more durability. Some of them might well have survived the turn, to flee home.
For a number of minutes he'd even been quite proud of the idea. But then he heard his Lord's plan, and he knew he had lost this riddle game before he ever began. The question, "how might we survive?" was the wrong one to ask. Parson had ignored it for, "how might we still win?" In answering the greater question, the lesser was also solved.
"I had it wrong," he said to Lady Firebaugh. By order, they were paired as closely together as their dwagons could hover, each holding a scroll in one hand and a weapon in the other. She was gazing upon her servant warlord at the tower. Her face was cool and expressionless as ever, but her body was tense. She did not like something she was seeing, but Jack couldn't imagine what. "I may never learn to solve riddles quite like our Lord Hamster. But I quite enjoy trying. Do you miss the old riddle games, Lady?"
"Very little," she said, not taking her eyes from the tower.
Jack tsked sadly, and turned his gaze to where she was looking. He put his cane across his lap, not loosening his grip at all.
"There are few things I miss about that time," she added unexpectedly. "Although, I am surprised..." She glanced at him, her brow low and her voice even lower. "There was one I thought we must have in common."
He raised a brow of his own, clamping down on a jester's grin. "Ah, the Princess. Queen, rather."
Her face was set in stone, or tried to be. Few besides a Foolamancer would have noted that her shoulders had twitched, her nostrils had flared ever so slightly. The Lady had issues. Jack turned in the saddle, brightening. There might be some fun to be had in these potentially final moments after all.
"Indeed," was all she said.
"Well. I can't say it was exactly lovely to see her again, given the circumstances," said Jack, turning his head around to indicate the predicament Queen Jillian had left them in. "But I suppose I can say it was inexactly lovely. Don't you think so?"
She wouldn't take the bait, but simply raised her chin. "Why did you not turn, and leave with her? She was taking trophies."
"Hm, well... Could I ask the same of you, then, Lady?" Eyes flashed. That cracked her a little. "Could it be the same answer? I mean, I wouldn't have minded so much counting myself among Queen Jillian's trophies. But I wouldn't much have enjoyed placing, oh...thirdish among them. I would say she left with the one she really came to take. It seems there is Ansom, and then there are ancillaries. And where is the glory in being a spare?"
At that, the Croakamancer actually raised the Arkenpliers a bit and glared at him murderously. This only caused Jack's grin to escape its minimal confines. "Oh, so very frightening, my Lady. Yes, I know. You would croak me to save one of these," he said, holding up his Healomancy scroll. "And perhaps, to have a caster puppet to play with. I do know it well." She glowered, but his grin was ear to ear now.
"Yes, all right. We do share the same old affliction," he said, looking down and smiling. "But mine was never quite so crippling. No, if you want to know the true reason I declined her offer, then riddle me this: How is Queen Jillian like Lord Hamster?"
Some of the rage left her face, but she did not seem at all inclined to play along. After a moment she shook her head slightly.
Jack used the scroll to gesture all around them. "One has tabled the turn." Movement up ahead caught his eye. The forward stacks were shifting. He pointed the scroll that way, eyes twinkling brightly. A musical lilt crept into his voice. "While the otherrr..."