Lord Crush - Part 2
Crush could have done with some maps in here.
He could imagine roughly what was going on in the field, though. There were provisions in the Union agreement for the defection of a member side. Among the three sides that now made up the So-be-it Union, armies would be assembling with urgency and haste. In such a crisis, the unit limitations were lifted. They would all be popping cheap infantry.
Meanwhile, columns from Bullyclub would be streaming through Squashcourt territory on their way to the borders. Probably no real fighting had happened yet, but panicked communiques and inquiries would be flooding in to King Scrofula, demanding to know his intentions.
So his shackles did not bother Crush too much. And although the King was likely responding with threats and offers to Protip and Tapwater by now, he still hadn‘t given up on winning over his “guest.” The few fighters from Firstpost were languishing down in the musty dungeons, but the Chief Prisoner got to spend his time here in the library.
And it was not just a relatively pleasant way to pass the hours. The answer was in here, if he could work quickly enough to find it.
Nobody knew exactly why the Titans had created libraries.
A city with a good library enjoyed bonuses to magical defenses, and a few other small advantages. It was said that casters leveled more readily when your side had good libraries. Rulers gave libraries the same strategic consideration as other specialty buildings when configuring their cities.
Most warlords accepted this as the purpose of the feature. But despite the fact that all commanders could read and write, few of them actually read books. Even fewer wrote them. Only the rarest individual ever published one.
Books popped whenever a library was created or expanded. Each library contained the same three books of Scripture (“The Book of Canon,” “The Book of Retcon,” and “The Book of Fanon”), and an entirely random assortment of other volumes from all of the books which had ever been published.
The vast majority of books were dry historical records of sides and battles, which were automagically published whenever a side fell. Unfortunately, because Erfworld was so large and there had been so many sides in history, it was unlikely that a given library contained any book about a side you had ever even heard of. But they could be fascinating to read. Crush liked to imagine the lives of the people behind the turn numbers, city names, and battle statistics. There were lessons buried in those almanac tables. You could see historical patterns in the rise and fall of sides. He could study them for hours, lost in his imagination.
Automagical publishing was a form of natural Signamancy, but a Signamancer could also publish books that were authored by a person. It was an expensive spell, consuming a great many Shmuckers in addition to the caster‘s juice, so it was not done often. Typically, these manually-published books were vainglorious personal accounts by rulers, telling of their own heroic deeds and cunning. Heaping piles of hyperbole, lies, and rubbish, they were. But also entertaining, and Crush had his favorites.
Then there were books of natural philosophy. Sometimes a ruler would publish a catalog of all units and ferals known to their side, with points and notes about each. A side would be lucky to have popped two or three of these, as they could be extremely educational.
Other rulers published books of their own “wisdom,” often with language and structure mirroring Scripture. These carried pompous titles such as “The Way Things Ought to Be,” “The Secret,” “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Rulers,” and “The Titans Shrugged.” Crush didn‘t much care for these, but he read them anyway.
The book he‘d borrowed was like that: “The Principles of Peace,” by King Banhammer of Faq. Crush had found it loaded with lofty and impracticable advice for living and ruling. Most of it was useless sophistry, some of it bordered on heresy.
However, it did contain some hints about his own area of personal interest. “Faq,” it seemed, had been a bubble kingdom.
Between the pages of all these stuffy historical accounts, there were a few sides and alliances which had managed to find security and stability for long periods of time, as the So-be-it Union had.
Crush liked to study those cases, because every one of them could provide a valuable object lesson. The fact that each of those sides had a book in the library meant that they‘d all failed in one way or another. It seemed very important to study how that sort of thing could happen.
“Racket had a temper, you know,” the King had said to Crush during their “negotiations” that first evening. “He was vain, arrogant, demanding...but also quite sharp. And he knew how to have a good time. He loved the festivals. When he wasn‘t on about something, or cross with me, we could talk and laugh for hours. He was impatient with foolishness, but rarely foolish or unreasonable himself.
“I always felt that with time, his rage would diminish and his intelligence would grow into wisdom. He‘d have made an excellent king.”
Crush could see the pain in King Scrofula‘s eyes. But his capacity for sympathy was limited, given the circumstances.
“I cannot replace your son, Majesty,” said Crush. “He fell, and he is lost.”
“I‘m not asking that!” The King‘s fist was clenched. “Axe will stay Chief Warlord and heir! He‘s my son as well, Titans be praised. But I need someone around here to talk to. Someone with a brain in his head! I know Racket is lost!” He pounded his heavy fist on an oaken table, but then his eyes went distant and his voice softened. “I know it. But I cannot manage our plan without another such mind as his.
“He spoke very highly of you, Lord Crush. He said you had a fine command of strategy. And I could tell by your letter that you understood and respected him in turn. Please. Join Squashcourt, and become caretaker of this city. Help me plan this war, and fulfill our destiny.”
“I can‘t. Your plan is, um...evil,” said Crush, shaking his head, “for want of a better word. You can‘t turn on the Union.”
“I certainly can.”
“Well...yes, you can. You shouldn‘t. And it‘s ridiculous to align with the likes of Bullyclub. They‘ll use you to conquer all of us, expending your troops, and then conquer Squashcourt last. That‘s the way it goes with these kinds of things, I‘ve studied them.”
Bullyclub and the Union had gone to war twice. Each time, the fighting had taken place mostly on Squashcourt‘s lands. It hadn‘t been fun or profitable for anyone, but the Union had held them off.
“You know nothing of my friendship with Lord Maglite, Crush. Things have changed. This is the new way forward for both our sides.”
“I know the history of such arrangements!” said Crush. “You‘re almost certainly being used to break the Union.”
King Scrofula narrowed his eyes. “The Union will be broken. It will. And if you want Firstpost to survive that, then you will turn to Squashcourt and work with us–and Bullyclub–to conquer the other Union sides. We can arrange a new treaty to preserve your former side, if that is still your wish after you have turned.”
“I‘m not going to turn.”
The King looked at him in stern silence for a long moment. Crush met his eyes and did not flinch.
“The Mathamancy of this plan is clear enough,” said the King. “We only need one Union side to stay neutral while we conquer the others. That needn‘t be Firstpost. I am making this offer out of respect for my son. He would have wished for it to be you. If you refuse, I will make offers to the others.”
Crush blinked, thinking about Prince Racket. “‘Would have?‘ So he didn‘t plan this treachery?”
The King looked away. “It is my decision. Lord Maglite and I envisioned this arrangement after Racket was gone.”
“He would have been too smart to let you! This is a mistake, Your Majesty. But time remains to correct your course.”
Scrofula shook his head. “No. The plan is in motion. Bullyclub‘s forces are massed at our border. And ours are ready as well.”
“The Union can beat Bullyclub again.”
The King blew out a slow sigh through his lips. Crush could smell a trace of whiskey.
“Take the evening to consider the offer, won‘t you?”
That morning, Crush and his men attempted to walk out the city gates and head for home.
It was a mere formality, to force Squashcourt to break with the Union or let them pass as allies. Scrofula stood upon a high balcony overlooking the garrison courtyard. The King shook his head sadly, and spoke something inaudible.
Crush could now see the enemy stats on Prince Axe, and the nearly nine hundred soldiers who stood between his men and the gates.
“I surrender,” he said distantly.
Shackles popped on his wrists and ankles.