The Noble Gases Chapter 10

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  <--Chapter 9


Now I have my own stack, for real, not just an escort mission. Oggie was overjoyed. He was on his own mount, leading his own stack of lancers riding east to war. In fact, the entire army was moving east. Everyone was going to Writing for the big war in the east.

 


 

Things had started looking bad for the negotiations. Once the Noble Gases had left, King Utha threw his mug across the room, then emptied its immediate replacement and threw that across the room too. “Are they trying to beggar me? I can understand charging a fair price for their services, but this is ridiculous! I’d almost have to be a Moneymancer just to pronounce this number! Look at this price, Kestrel!”

 

The chief caster hurried across the room to look at the price quote. Before he picked it up, Utha shouted, “Never mind that, how many operator Hats do you have?”

 

“Two, majesty, I started right away and used all my juice. I have another one almost done.”

 

“Good enough. Go back to your shop and get to work. No, not you, Tic. You’re going east. Whatever’s going to happen they’ll need a Healomancer there. Grab a Mewl and head out… Now!” At his last order, Master Kestrel set the Hats on the table and the two casters scurried out. As they left, two Bunnies came in. Oggie recognized them as two of the three that had greeted them the night before.

 

“You two. What are your names?”

 

“Marie, sire.”

 

“Marian, sire.”

 

“Marie? Marian? And my first Operator was Marilyn? Titans’ Numbers! It’s Signamancy. Pick up those two Hats. You’re now Operators. Marian, gather Robbing Hood and his Very Men as escort and head north to Caer Lial. When you get there, you become the official Caer Lial Operator. Report to Warlord Okay and relay my orders to start popping more Very Men. Also, tell her Robbing is her new second in command.”

 

The two Operators squealed, hugged each other, and picked up their Hats. Marian ran out to obey her orders, while Marie stood, Hat in hand, waiting for further orders.

 

“Marie, you’re going to be the Caer Lundein Operator. Report to Dick Whittington there. Oggie, over there in the corner, will escort you east when he leaves. For now, send a message to my son to hurry up.”

 

“What shall I send, Sire?”

 

“Ahhh, message follows: Assess situation soonest. Hiring negotiations breaking down. I need to know how badly I have to have these mercenaries. This communication method is great.” He paused for a moment, “And then give it to me to sign. Oggie, you get along with those robbers, go tell them that further negotiations will wait until I get more intel from Artha.”

 

Oggie nodded and left the room. The great hall was empty except for a few Bunnies rearranging furniture. Most off the nobles had left, but there was one Heavy warlord that it seemed no-one could wake.

 

The Gases’ stun effect will wear off at the end of the turn, Oggie thought, but only a Healomancer could move him before— His thoughts broke suddenly and he walked over to one of the Bunnies. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but who is that?”

 

“Oh, that’s Count Theodore Out. We tried to wake him sir, but we had no luck.”

 

“Hmm, we have a Healomancer now…”

 

“Oh, thank you for the idea, sir, I’ll go get him.” She ran to the map room and quietly slipped in. After a minute, she came out with Friar Tic.

 

Provigil, Ritalin, eh.” Friar Tic waved his hands and the noble shook his head and looked around.

 

“Sorry, don’t usually fall asleep in court, did anyone say anything?” he stood up and looked down his nose at them.

 

“No, excellency, there were others affected.” The Bunny smiled respectfully and nodded.

 

“Well, your services are done, Healomancer; I feel fine.” The count got up, stretched and headed out, completely ignoring Oggie and the Bunny.

 

Oggie looked as he walked off, “Is he always that way?”

 

“What way is that, sir?” the Bunny put down the count’s chair she was moving.

 

“Rude. He didn’t even give us a nod or thank Friar Tic.”

 

“He’s a nobleman. I’m a servant. You’re both low level. Why, is that odd, sir?”

 

“I guess not, but I don’t like it. Thank you for your help—  Oh, I never asked your name.”

 

She smiled and blushed, “I’m Marianne, thank you for asking.” She bent over, grabbed the chair, and carried it off.

 

Oggie stared after her, and then realized he had an order. “Oh, by the way, Marianne, can you point me toward where the mercenaries are quartered?”

 

She set down the chair and said, “Right this way, follow me.”

 

As Oggie approached the knights’ quarters he heard loud arguing through the door. Marianne knocked, softly at first, and then louder. The arguing suddenly stopped and Count Neon opened the door and peered out.

 

“We’re busy. It would be best if you left.”

 

“I'm just here with a message."

 

"Well?"

 

"The king would like to get word from his son before continuing negotiations. That probably won’t be until this evening.”

 

“Our thanks, our courtesies, good day.” Count Neon shut the door.

 

Oggie stared at the door, then at Maryanne, then headed back to the throne room to tell the King. On the way, he passed Zoot, rolling a barrel of beer the way he had just come.

 

The king had been irritated at Count Neon’s response, but not angry. He didn’t have any other orders, and he didn’t seem likely to give any. Oggie felt that standing around hoping for orders was a courtier’s attitude—or a servant’s, so he excused himself and went to look for something more—warlordly. This was also his first turn in the capital, so he wanted to see what it was like.

 

‘Bigger’ was all he came up with. Standoffish, too. Everyone seemed to know their place. The noble and the high-level warlords didn’t seem to want to talk to him, either because he was low level, or common, or just plain young—Oggie couldn’t tell. The Bunnies were happy to talk, ‘just as soon as I get this task done, sir.’ When he went up to the garrison to talk to the troops, he found out just how boring stabbers really were.

 

He finally found something to do on the training grounds. The Lancer Training Warlord was putting two companies of lancers through their paces. The lieutenant had a white helmet with a wide, slanted brim. He sat his saddle like he was popped in it.

 

“Team B: right wheel! No, blast it! Right wheel! Do I have to tie a wisp of straw to your right hand again? There! That’s more like it! Excellent position maintenance Charley! Keep it up! What are you here for?”

 

“Sir, Duty, sir.” the trainees chanted as one.

 

“Louder! I want the King to hear you!” he shouted back

 

“Sir! Duty! Sir!”

 

“And why are you here, lad?” he asked more softly.

 

Oggie looked up at the warlord and saw him grinning down at him, the pencil moustache on his lip twitching slightly into a smile.

 

“Sir, Duty, sir!” Oggie winked.

 

“And what is your Duty, warlord?” the training officer asked.

 

Oggie thought for a moment, “To command troops and kill the king’s enemies.”

 

“That’ll do for a start. With an answer like that: what are you, level two?” he asked, and then turning back to the trainees, “Take five, boys! Talk among yourselves! Find out what your comrades learned!” he slid easily off his horse, held out his hand and said, “Lieutenant Cooper McGregor, level 5, his majesty’s lancers, training division.”

 

Oggie saluted, then shook his hand, and replied, “Ahhh, Og-118, warlord level 2, his majesty’s—” Oggie’s voice trailed off as he realized he didn’t really have a place.

 

“Between postings, eh? Well, how about a little fun on the practice field then?” McGregor smiled and then spun around to the troops talking by the water tank. “Training over! Report to Garrison Commander for temporary posting! Diiiismissed!”

 

The trainees all led their horses to stalls in the shade and headed out of the training grounds.

 

Lieutenant McGregor put his arm around Oggie’s shoulder, “So, you’re awfully fresh, Oggie, can I call you Oggie?”

 

“How did you know my nickname?”

 

“What else would it be? Now, how did you start? Were you raised up from infantry, like most of us, or popped a warlord?”

 

“I started as a garrison stabber.” Finally, Oggie thought, someone that wants to talk about what I’m interested in!

 

“What luck, me too. I was a spearman to start, that’s why I became a lancer. I already had the spear, but the riding came later. And the command of course. Real eye-opener there, eh?” McGregor elbowed Oggie at the last comment. “Do you want to learn this? Make you more useful to the king…”

 

“That would be wonderful. Can I actually learn it? I mean, Robbing Hood said he couldn’t teach me Archery.”

 

“Well, every combat unit knows how to fight—of course, and every unit can ride a mount as soon as they get on, but using one in combat is a different skill. It’s a skill granted with knighthood—of course, but unlike archery, it can be trained.”

 

They spent the rest of the afternoon, and quite some time into the evening on the practice field, with Oggie picking up the basics of mounted combat. A few other warlords came and went, some offering observations, and some instructions, but for most of the time it was Lieutenant McGregor doing the teaching.

 

They were unsaddling the mounts and putting them in their stalls when they both received Orders.

 

Oggie: bring mercenaries to map room

 

McGregor: promotion: field unit: move to Writing at start of next turn

 

“Titan’s Toenails, Oggie! We’ve got battle orders! See you in Writing!” McGregor hurriedly finished grooming his mount and ran off to his quarters. Oggie, feeling the pull of Orders, headed to the mercenaries’ quarters.


 

“So,” Baron Radon said, his hands flat on the table, “We enter phase two of the negotiations. My associate’s outburst aside, we’re not raising our price just because of your outburst earlier. Nothing personal, but you obviously don’t hire mercenaries much.”

 

King Utha nodded and then waved to Master Kestrel, who took a scroll over to Baron Radon. “This is the contract. Will you sign it?”

 

“Hmm, full upkeep for the length of the contract—basic necessity of course; the success bonus is a bit lower than we asked—but not low enough to be an insult; first call on healomancer—good of you to include that, we’ll have to put that on our future contracts. Hmmm, that’s a pretty high bonus on potential caster capture—are you sure you want it?” Baron Radon looked up at King Utha suspiciously.

 

“Absolutely.”

 

“We’ll also want full tactical and strategic intel. We don’t need to write your battle plans, but we’re not meat for the grinder. You said you wanted to wait for intel, what’s key that brought you back to the table?”

 

“They have a rhyme-o-mancer.”

 

“And you want one.”

 

“And I want one.”

 

“What’s the enemy army size?”

 

“You may have the use of the new Caer Lundein Operator, for now, ask my Chief Warlord yourself.”

 

Marie stepped forward at the last comment, her notepad at the ready.

 

The knights moved to a corner and huddled up. Then, after a few minutes of hushed conversation, the knights broke up and Baron Radon replied, “We’re in. Three more things. We want her for the whole war, mounts, and Oggie as liaison.”


 Chapter 11--> 


 

Notes

 

A mewl is a unit that looks like a cross between a donkey and a cat. They can be used either as a mount or a draft animal. They are stubborn though, as a draft animal, they won’t pull units as cargo unless the unit is incapacitated. They make an exception for one Mewl Driver.

 

Utha’s method of choosing Operators may be haphazard, but it does have plenty of natural Luckamancy. Marilyn unconsciously chose to help Bunnies with names like hers. Later Bunnies had their locations picked by Caster Nimue based on how well they’d work with their respective city managers. And don’t feel sorry for the future Writing Operator Merika. She’s getting what she deserves.

 

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