Inner Peace (Through Superior Firepower) – Episode 030
Yeah, there were grander capitals in Erfworld. That was true.
Jillian had seen cities woven from black iron, cities of soaring brass arches and snowy-white marble, a jumble of complicated little aqueducts beneath a rainbow-tinged waterfall, a city in the sand, tilted like a castoff seashell, cities of smoke and of glitter, of reeds and of weeping rust. But in all her travels she had yet to see the like of Faq, her home.
On the one hand, she hated the design of this place. The outer walls were ridiculously high for a city that would probably never have to repel an attacking army on the ground. The squat and venerable Abe Pagoda was nothing like the soaring mooring tower she’d have liked to have, with berths for dozens of heavy fliers. And (Titans forbid) if they ever had to defend this city from the air, all those casters they kept in that sad little tower would be wishing for one with a decent boost.
But those were just the gripes of her Chief Warlord side. Really, she always surprised herself with how much she loved this place.
Perched upon her great bulky megalogwiff, she flew in high over green terraces with carefully tended gardens, shining fountains, and ponds full of tasty fish. The orderly streets fanned out below her in symmetrical patterns of curves and rays. Sides with a Signamancer always kept the tidiest cities in Erfworld.
Yeah, Faq could best be appreciated from the air like this. But few people ever saw it from up here. Adderall Hawk, Faq's Mathamancer, was their only talking unit with the flying special. The last Jillian had heard, he only ever used it to go meditate on the nearby mountaintops.
She certainly couldn't imagine her father taking any pleasure flights on gwiffonback. No. Too undignified and improper for a king. Members of the Royal Court were above that sort of thing (or in this case, beneath it). And they almost never flew out to Otoh or Kibo, either. No reason for the intellectuals to go out to the farm and watch the bread appear.
So looking upon home from the air was a treat just for her, just for the wayward Princess and her warriors. For scores upon scores of turns she had flown far away to put her life up for this elegant, stuffy, manicured, snooty, beautiful city. Out there in the field, the sons and daughters of Faq had fought and fallen, in gruesome scenes of valor that would remain unknown to those who slept here.
The Court, of course, had no interest in glory.
Truth be told, neither did she. Glory was a fairly stupid thing to fight for. But those who had gone to meet the Titans in support of their side deserved better than a polite cough and a change of subject, and that's what was waiting for her on the ground.
She realized she was stalling, spiraling lazily around the garrison. She grunted at herself in disgust. Okay, sightseeing over. This was not how she tackled her problems. She had her orders.
Princess Jillian nosed her stack into a sharp dive, straight toward that ridiculous hut they called a “tower.”
Upon the flat landing near the top of the pagoda, an honor guard raised the bells of their banner-hung trumpets and called out a fanfare in brassy harmony. "Blatt, bippa, braaaang... Buh-brang! Buh-braaaang!"
Huh. That was new.
Bright flares shot upward from the roof in blazing yellow and green, Faq’s colors. A flock of white doves was released from the eaves.
Squads of sharply synchronized soldiers raised their spears in reverent salute to her approach. The steel tips of twoscore spears glinted in the sunlight.
And that was...very new. And unexpected. Okay, when and why did they pop new infantry? What did they expect to do with these troops? Wait, were those knights? When were they going to tell her about all this?
She tugged on the reins and brought her enormous, silent beast into a leisurely approach, on a level with the tower top. She could barely believe this reception, and she wanted to appreciate it. Had there really been this much of a change at Court? About defense, and...about her?
“How ‘bout all of this?” she remarked over her shoulder to Chip Tunage, whose megalo followed closely along at her flank.
“Hm?” he said.
“This welcome,” she said, indicating the tower.
Chip frowned a bit, looking oddly apologetic. “Well, you know,” he shrugged, “what’d you expect, right?”
Jillian wasn’t sure what he meant by that, and turned and looked again at the tower top. Behind the honor guard, in the shade of the upwardly curving rooftop, she could now see a full formal reception. There stood her father and the entire Court. All of Faq’s casters were there, in their humble matching robes. Servants waited in the shadows with teacups and sweetmeats.
She recognized the slender Add Hawk, standing right next to big Brother Orwell the Lookamancer. There was Marie LaVraie, the Predictamancer, and Sister Betsy Murgatroyd the Healomancer. The Signamancer, Brother Labeler, stood beside Jack Snipe, their indispensable Foolamancer. Moothfott the Moneymancer stood at the right hand of King Banhammer, of course. Even the lowly and disfavored Shockmancer, Rusty Trombone, was standing off to one side.
They all smiled at her serenely as she pulled beside the edge of the tower top. Floating on the cool breeze came the gentle whisper of bamboo flutes.
At first bump, she threw down her reins and dismounted quickly and smartly, sliding down her megalo’s yellow flank. She planted her boots on the worn hardwood, which was littered with yellow rose petals in a trail that led straight to her father the King.
There he stood, his great arms crossed in judgment. But his face was smiling proudly, as if to say “All is forgiven, welcome home.”
She heaved her shoulders up, blew out a long breath, and stalked her way forward. Her boots clomp-clomped over the flower petals.
A few steps from her father, Jillian veered from the trail. Head forward, eyebrows low, she walked up to Jack Snipe, not even breaking her stride.
“Okay. Cut this crap,” she scowled at him, closing in face-to face.
“Aww,” said the Foolamancer, looking around. “Aw, now,” he frowned, “I plead best intent, of course. But yes all right, I know an order when I hear one.”
He jerked his head, and the flute stopped in mid-note. The entire tower top emptied of personnel and decorations, except for Jack, Jillian, and off to one side the Master of the Garrison, Sergeant Lepper. These were the only two who had actually come to greet her return.
Jillian nodded to the Sergeant's shaky salute, and turned back to the skinny little caster who had made this whole trick appear. “Jack...”
“It was just for your eyes, of course, Royal Highness. The point was made. That’s the reception you ought to’ve had.” His gaunt face was earnest and unapologetic, his tone insistent. “Our Yellow Rose has returned! And it is...an injustice to treat the flyer landing as a servants’ entrance.”
Poor Jack Snipe. He was maybe the only caster at Court who was actually fond of her. She could imagine him standing up for her in their little late-night philosophy circle. He played his role of Knave and said the things only a Royal fool could really get away with, but being her friend still cost him a lot.
“Hey!” she yelled at the Captain and her troops alike. “This caster tried to use his Foolamancy on me, and I caught him. Everybody turn around, you shouldn’t have to see this. S’gonna be a little brutal.”
Her troops, on her order, turned their heads away.
She grabbed the rail-thin man by his shoulders, and popped him right in the lips with a quick kiss. Then she drew him to her, and crushed him mightily against her armor. “Thanks,” she whispered.
“Of...of course Mistress,” said Jack humbly.
Jillian released him, then took a few steps back toward her megalo and unbuckled a saddlebag. She slung it over her shoulder and stalked into the tower. “They want me at Court, right? I’m going to change, ’cause... I guess they’ll want me to.”
“They do,” said Jack. “But Highness...please don’t ever.”
When the troops looked back, they winced. Jillian couldn’t imagine what picture Jack had put in their eyes, but she laughed wickedly as she skipped down the wooden staircase.