The King’s personal office had a strange, barren quality to it. No paintings or tapestries adorned the one wall that was not made up mostly of windows and wrought iron. Miniature fruit trees in black clay pots and a small harpsichord were the only ornamentation. Otherwise, the room contained one cushiony blue sofa and three matching chairs, a coffee table, a grand ebony desk made with iron rivets, a plain gray-speckled carpet, and six hovering powerballs for extra light.
Posbrake took to one of the comfortable chairs, and indicated the sofa for Digdoug. He took off his simple silver crown and laid it on the table, where a service of hot coffee and shortbread had been set out for them. The King must have called for it with a silent order while they were climbing up the stairs. He smoothed out his hair, and poured himself a cup.
Coffee was another of Posbrake’s peculiarities. Homekey grew it in just one coastal city, and it was only served in the capital. As far as Digdoug was aware, the beverage had been unheard of in Follywood, and Delkey's visiting warlords all refused it in favor of tea. Digdoug liked the smell and the taste of coffee, but it gave him digestive problems and he generally avoided it. For want of anything else to say or do, though, he now made himself a cup as well.
“So, Lord Digdoug. You say I don’t know,” said Posbrake, distantly staring into the steam of his drink. “You and your golems might have fought off the whole Numloch army if I’d let you stay in Weatherbug, is that so?”
By now, Digdoug had had plenty of time to regret his misstep in the meeting. He looked down at the table. “Please forget I said that, Sire. It’s not important.”
“Mm, no. I try not to forget things. Mistakes get repeated that way.”
Was the King thinking he’d made a mistake, trading for him? Was that it? Until he’d heard Creen talk of the heir and the terms of alliance, Digdoug hadn’t realized why the trade was such a sore point for Delkey. Or...maybe he missed his son.
“I’m sorry,” was all he could say.
Posbrake sipped at his coffee, then casually leaned back in his chair and tilted his head. “But what if I did know, Digdoug? What if I knew for certain that I had to order you home so that you did not croak there in Weatherbug?”
The Dirtamancer wrinkled his brow. “Then...you’d be a Titan?”
Posbrake smiled at that. “Or I’d be a, what? You’re practically the only unit I can have this discussion with, you know. Think magic.”
Digdoug considered it. “A Mathamancer? Or no, a Predictamancer.”
Posbrake closed his eyes and smiled, nodding. “You are ordered to keep the following secret from everyone but me and Chief Bucky. Eight turns ago, we hired a Predictamancer out of the Magic Kingdom. He made several Predictions for us.”
As Homekey’s only caster, one of the problems Digdoug faced wherever he went was that people assumed he knew everything about magic. Really, he only knew the spells that he knew, plus a few things he’d heard from Follywood’s Thinkamancer and Luckamancer, and what was written about magic in the Book of Canon. He’d never even been to the Magic Kingdom. He knew and loved his discipline, but other magicks were opaque to him. And Predictamancy...?
He squinted. “That’s supposed to be bad luck,” said Digdoug. “Isn’t it?”
Although Scripture didn’t expressly say that hiring a Predictamancer was bad luck for a side, that’s what he’d been told at Follywood. And there didn’t seem to be many happy stories out there involving Predictamancy.
Posbrake smiled as if he’d expected to hear that. “Yes, so they say. But as of right now, you owe your life to it. So you’d have to call it good luck, for you.” He chuckled, and drank his coffee. The King then set the cup down on the edge of the table, added a drop more cream to it, and picked up a piece of shortbread.
If His Majesty was expecting him to say something right now, Digdoug couldn’t imagine what. Perhaps he wanted a magical opinion on the wisdom or foolishness of hiring a Predictamancer. Digdoug hadn't really formed a coherent opinion yet. It just struck him as a strange thing to do.
“But yes, it’s generally viewed that way,” Posbrake finally continued, “so now you know what particular expense I’m not eager for Delkey to know about. If King Minus were told, he would require immediate Healomancy.”
He munched on the shortbread. “But the thing is, Digdoug, I don’t care what my father thinks. He is wrong about many, many things. The whole world is wrong, at least on certain topics. I founded Homekey to prove a point, and we continue to prove my point every day. Conventional wisdom has its limits. You can’t just follow along, taking things at face value. Especially when the only reason for them is ‘tradition.’ Or worse, ‘rumor.’ Do you see what I’m saying?”
Digdoug thought about Peck’s explanation of their “wide” strategy. Having now met Prince Creen, he was inclined to agree with Lord Peck that Delkey’s problem was a difference of strategic opinion, and not just Royal snobbery like Hunt believed. He nodded. “Yes, Sire.”
“So it seemed to me that Predictamancy has a fundamental usefulness to it that shouldn’t be ignored for the sake of superstition. I went ahead and hired one as a small experiment. They work pretty cheaply. I suppose there’s not a lot of demand.”
“And he Predicted I would croak if I stayed there in Weatherbug?” asked Digdoug, curious now about how such magic worked.
“He Predicted an imminent, devastating attack on Weatherbug, with no surviving speaking units,” said Posbrake, looking distant. “So I ordered you out of the city.”
“Oh.” Digdoug gripped his porcelain cup, feeling the heat of the coffee through it. “Why just me, Sire? Why not order everyone else out, too?”
“Because that’s not how we fight,” the King said immediately, sitting up straight and giving Digdoug a solemn, lecturing look. “Sometimes we win, and sometimes we lose. But when Numloch does win, we make them pay double for whatever they gain. They’re sick of fighting us. We’ve taken a third of their empire, maybe closer to half. So if they were Fated to take back Weatherbug, we wanted to make it hard for them. Not easier. You understand?”
“That’s your whole job. Hardening targets. That’s why you’re in Homekey, Caster.”
He nodded again. “I know.”
They sat in silence for a few moments, and Digdoug sipped at the coffee. It tasted pretty good. It was rich, and warm. Viewed through his Dirtamancy sense, it was an impossibly complicated jumble of foody bits and acids, suspended in hot water. Was there any way to understand such a complex substance? Maybe a Changemancer would be able to sort out what was really in his cup, and even turn it into something more compatible with his stomach.
“Majesty, why am I hardening the tower against an air attack?” he said into the silence.
The King pursed his lips. “You did a fine job out there in Weatherbug, with that trap you left. I actually thought the city would fall, and we’d have to take it back. But looking back on the wording of the Prediction, I see how it technically came true. Kind of a little loophole in our favor.”
Digdoug stared quizzically at his Ruler, wondering whether he was building up to something or if he planned to ignore the question.
“We’re going to need another loophole like that,” said the King. Little crinkles of uncharacteristic worry appeared on his forehead. “The Predictamancer also said we would face a major attack on the City of Homekey, and that it would come by air. This information is especially included in your secrecy order.”
“Oh. I see,” said the Dirtamancer.
“Can you build a trap here like the one you did in Weatherbug?”
Digdoug shook his head. “No, that was terrain-dependent. It has to be done in a storm hex.”
“I thought so. Well, do what you can. Keep shoring up that tower today. Tonight, I’ll need you to go on a special mission.”
“Tonight?” Digdoug blinked. “How can I go on a mission at night? You mean go somewhere in the city?”
“No. I mean go into the Magic Kingdom.”