The rest of the trip was made in silence. At least for Phineas. Everyone else was caught up in chatter about the city as they neared it. At least, until they were only one hex away. At that point Chip raised a fist in the air and let out a loud, "Order!" Everyone made an effort to march in straighter rows and stand at greater attention. It was time to impress a foreign kingdom.
"Queendom, actually," Phineas reminded himself.
As they neared the level three boarder city, Phineas noticed banners hanging from the wall that were the same as the ones he saw back at Port Manteu. They had the imperial seal
of Ponchovilla stamped on them. During the voyage across the sea, he once asked Chu about the symbolism. He said the double brushstrokes were supposed to represent the simple, yet powerful presence of their side in Erfworld. Phineas didn't really buy it, and doubted the Duke seriously did either.
When they reached the gate, the troops of Traz stood at attention and waited for the portcullis to be raised. When it did, eight units marched toward the city. On foot. Phineas was one of them, as well as Prince Chip and Duke Fuman, of course. The others in their stack included Duchess Nukem, Wally, Lord Blankenship, and Lady Winfrey. Chip said it was a good idea to go in with a max stack of commanding units.
He also said it was a good idea to leave the rest of their forces outside of the city under the watchful eye of their other casters and warlords. Phineas wasn't sure if this was the best course of action, but didn't know enough to make a better suggestion. He at least agreed that it was a good idea not to leave any of their units unlead.
The eight of them were met by a group of royal guards and were led across the city to the courtyard. The city itself was made of simple round, stone buildings with twig roofs. The main roads were paved with similar stones, but the alleyways and side roads were made of dirt. There were weeds growing up through the cracks and along the edges of buildings in a lot of places, which gave the entire city a somewhat scruffy look.
When they reached the courtyard, their stack was led to a spot not far from the garrison's entrance. They lined up in two rows and stood formally as a row of guards stood at attention on either side of them. The whole ordeal was making Phineas a little nervous, but apparently they had to wait for something.
Just as Phineas was about to loose his patience and try to ask the Prince what they were doing, the garrison door opened and two men stepped out. They both wore dull golden robes that flowed down to the ground. They had oversized sleeves and wore ornamental sashes draped over their shoulders. On their heads were slightly pointed hats that Phineas personally thought were not very attractive. They each had mustaches, but one of theirs was thicker and also had a small patch of whiskers on their chin.
"Why hello there, envoys of Traz. I am Dalí," said thin mustache.
"And I am Vandyke," said chin hair.
"Welcome to the royal side of Ponchovilla."
"Welcome to the royal side of Ponchovilla."
Phineas was a little creeped out by how well they managed to talk in unison. And the way they walked with exaggerated gracefulness didn't help much either.
Dalí continued, "We are courtiers sent by Queen Chevron herself in an effort to aid you in your... stuation."
"It pains us to think what could be happening to your Princess Eliza at this very moment." The two courtiers looked at each other, frowned, then nodded at Vandyke's statement. "Come, come. We will discuss everything in the planning chamber over a cup of tea."
"Tea fixes most everything," Dalí interjected. Chip seemed slightly perturbed but politely accepted, and they followed the queen's representatives into the tower.
The tower was not much to look at. It was pretty much a wider and taller version of the buildings they walked past outside. It was round, made of stone, and had a roof made of sticks. They walked halfway up it before reaching the city's "planning chamber." The term was used mighty loosely in this case. There were bookshelves stack to the ceiling along the walls, and in the center of the room was a large round table. When the ten of them sat around it, everyone was elbow to elbow. And the woman who brought in the tea barely had enough space to walk around the edge of the table to serve everyone.
After minimum requirement of pointless chatter was reached, Chip turned the conversation back to the main topic. Saving Princess Eliza.
"So what can you two tell us about the side that we are headed towards?" Chip asked as piles of maps were being brought in from some other room in the tower.
"What would you like to know?" Vandyke asked.
"Tell us about their King. King Red was it?"
"Overlord Red," Dali corrected. "Or as he likes to be called, The Red Baron. From what I've gathered, he was once a noble warlord in the service of King Murphy. He was a kind king. Helped our side out a lot back before he croaked. But alas, it seemed everything that could go wrong would go wrong for the poor guy."
"So," Vandyke interrupted, "when he saw a large army marching toward his capital while it was undermanned, he made his only warlord present into an heir, then sent the order to any unit that could reach the capital within two turns to recall to his city."
"King Murphy decided to lead a small force ahead and fight, you see. It was his plan to stall the invading army and give his city enough time to build up some defenses. While at the same time doing his side a favor and taking himself out of the picture."
"Well, it worked. A little too well. When poor King Murphy went to confront the invaders, he discovered too late that the forces were almost all low levels. Ones and twos, you see."
"It turns out it was meant to be a bluff strategy. The other side was going to hold the city ransom. But instead they lost half their forces and croaked a king."
"And of course, you know what that means. Through no deserving reason, The Red Baron became an overlord. With his new ill-gotten power, Red systematically abused old alliances and deceived former friends of his king in order to make his side into a formidable foe once again."
Everyone was silent for a few moments after that. Dali and Vandyke because they had finished their story, and the rest because they were busy absorbing all of the new information. But eventually Prince Chip spoke up again. "If that is the case, how did my aunt, Princess Eliza, end up as an ally to the likes of him?"
Dali sighed, "Alas, we do not have a clear answer for that one. Only suppositions."
"Suppositions will have to do," Chip remarked.
"Very well," Vandyke continued. "When last she departed from Ponchovilla's employment, she was headed in the direction of Dinaco to look for more mercenary work. Unfortunately our relationship with Dinaco has soured since then, so we did not hear any news from her in a long while."
"And then when we approached one of the baron's cities many turns later, we found her and her troops defending it. We then sent a-"
"Yeah, you sent a warlord to parley, yadda, yadda, yadda, we know the rest." Chip seemed anxious to get to the meat of the problem.
"So," Chip said as he flattened out one of the maps on the table and pointed to a particular location. "Is the princess still in this city? The one with the large castle? The one your queen said she was in when we sent her the thinkagram?"
The courtiers looked down at the map then up again in unison. Then Vandyke replied. "I'm sorry, but your princess is in another castle. But fear not," he said, holding up the palm of one hand reassuringly. "Or latest scouting sortie tells us that she is currently in a city that is slightly closer, and should have even easier defenses to overcome."
And with that, the warlords dove into devising strategies on how to approach the city, what unit formations to use and how to handle the situation when they arrived. The courtiers answered questions when asked, often with long-winded answers, but otherwise remained silent. Phineas himself gave little advice. After all, he was a caster. He still wasn't sure what his king was thinking when he made him an adviser to Chip. War was for warlords, casting was for casters.
The only real snag during the discussions was when Chip asked how many units Ponchovilla would be sending to aid Traz forces. The courtiers seemed embarrassed to admit that they couldn't really afford to send any due to recent escalations in their disputes with Dinaco. They said their land forces were not as strong as they should be to begin with and that they were stretched too thin right now. But they were also quick to reassure us that our own troops should be more than enough to take one city. That is, if the city even needed taking.
As the end of the turn neared, the warlords headed out of the city, armed with maps and new strategies. And Polly and Seymour joined Phineas in the city. They would be staying behind under the protection of Ponchovilla while the column moved two more hexes toward Princess Eliza. With that small bit of extra movement today, they should be able to make it to the princess in just two more turns.
The three casters watched from the top of the tower as their army marched onward, then watched the courtiers head back to their capital as Ponchovilla's turn started. Phineas thought it would be neat to spend a few turns in a new city, and it looked like it would be, but that didn't explain why he had a chill up his spine.