Bucky said she was sure that King Posbrake knew about The Space, but they never discussed it. And he certainly never showed up down here.
Likewise, Dove had to stay out of sight, so she wasn’t free to come and go throughout the palace. She lived down by the Portal Room, in the secret quarters Digdoug had installed for her. Often, she entertained His Majesty down there.
Often, Bucky said, until dawn.
It was a shame; the Lady Barstool would have felt right at home in The Space, in a way that Digdoug never quite did.
That was not to say he didn’t enjoy the camaraderie, but the hard drinking and raucousness wore him out. For most of the past seven or eight evenings, he’d taken to eating in the Banquet Hall, gnawing on malt loaves and listening to the soldiers’ chatter. On nights when he did visit the secret tavern, he didn’t drink too much or stay overlong. He would excuse himself, then descend the stairs to his quarters at the tower’s base. There he would lie in bed with one bare foot on the stone floor, sensing out the slow, soothing power of Erfworld far beneath him, and drift off to sleep.
The Space wasn’t raucous at all right now, though. Much like the first time Digdoug came here, the place was empty except for himself, Bucky, and Chief Warlord Peck. Lord Hunt had already ridden out to battle with a vow to retake Windoski, where Chief Tunnel had yesterday been slain in a Numloch advance.
“It was a close fight,” said Peck grimly. “Had you been able to shore up the city, I’m not certain it would have fallen. It wasn’t necessary to lose our Chief Warlord. I told His Majesty as much last night. And this morning, too, as you’ll recall.”
“Loudly enough,” said Bucky, who looked to be in a foul mood once again. Digdoug nodded agreement. Lord Peck’s first Long Table meeting as Chief hadn’t gone too well.
All this while, the Warlord had been begging to be told what was really going on. Indeed, avoiding his constant, friendly, low-grade interrogation was another reason Digdoug hadn’t come around here much. Now that he was Chief and he knew the story, though...about the Predictamancer and the Carnymancer...about using a caster to deceive their own ally...Peck disapproved of every bit of it. And he wasn’t shy about saying so.
He especially disapproved of what was to come.
“Couldn’t you have flown out there and back? You’re only making golems here.”
Digdoug shrugged. “King Posbrake didn’t want me to. I’d have gone, if ordered.”
Peck made a face. “Nor does he want you to shore up the air defenses here.”
“Because the attack will be a ruse, and he wants Delkey to think it was a surprise to us.”
“That’s...my understanding of it,” said the Dirtamancer wearily. He’d gotten tired of reminding people that he wasn’t a warlord. Maybe he should wear a button, or a small sign. It wasn’t that he didn’t care; it was that nobody told him anything. He had nothing to say about strategy.
Peck stared down at the empty wooden tabletop. His jaw twitched in thoughtful frustration.
“I’ve called you both here,” he said after quite a long while, “to ask you one important question: do you think that His Majesty is being manipulated by the Carnymancer?” He looked at them both, in turn, and added, “Magically or otherwise?”
Bucky and Digdoug’s eyes met, but the Chief of Staff didn’t seem to want to say anything.
Digdoug cleared his throat. “I don’t think so,” he said.
Peck narrowed his eyes at the Dirtamancer. “It’s a matter of survival for the entire side, you know. It’s uncomfortable for us to consider these kinds of possibilities, but it’s part of your Duty to know when your Ruler may be acting against his own survival. So I ask again. In your opinion as Caster, is she applying a magical influence upon his decisions?”
That question carried the weight of an order, which forced Digdoug to thoroughly consider it before replying. “I don’t know,” he said, frowning. “I mean, I think Dove is helping us out of a problem that King Posbrake himself caused, before I even met her. Hiring the Predictamancer, I mean. That’s what made Delkey come audit our books. But Dove took care of that. I really think she wants to help us.”
Chief Peck sat up and leaned forward, putting his elbows on the slightly unsteady table. “How did she do that, magically speaking? What did she cast?”
Digdoug raised his eyebrows. “I don’t know. She cast some Carnymancy on the books themselves, I think. When Robert examined them, I’m told he wrote some things down, and then Prince Creen apologized and they left the city.”
“That’s right,” Bucky spoke up. “She also now casts on the financial reports that we send to Delkey by hat. The ones that lie about what we pay her.”
“Oh,” said Digdoug. He hadn’t known that.
“And what we’re paying the mercenaries,” said Peck. Bucky nodded. Peck put his thumb to his lower lip. “And that’s what Carnymancy does, does it? Blinds you to the truth of certain matters?”
Digdoug again looked at Bucky, whose bottom lip was clamped over her upper one in consternation. She had been there for the card game, when Dove had explained Carnymancy. But it didn’t entirely make sense with what she had done. If “cooking the books” was magical rule-breaking, then Digdoug didn’t know what rule Dove had created an exception to.
“It’s possible,” he said. “I don’t really know.”
Peck looked slightly exasperated. “Then she could have blinded both of you, as well. So why am I seeking your counsel?”
“I’m not blind,” said Chief Bucky. “And she is clearly manipulating him. I don’t know—or care to know—her methods.”
Peck raised his head. “Then His Majesty may not be acting in his own best interests. He may not be rational. This plan of his should be stopped.”
“I can’t speak to the plan,” said Bucky. “It could be exactly what we need to do to cheat Fate, or it might be sheer brain-lashed witlessness. I really don’t know. But I’m quite sure he’s not rational, because he’s in love.”
The three of them sat in silence. One of the great columns gave a slight groan.
“Do you...think she loves him back?” asked Digdoug. Bucky threw him a look that openly questioned his intelligence, but he said, “I just mean, maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe she’ll join our side. We could use another caster.”
Bucky rolled her eyes. “No, I don’t think she loves him. I think she wants money. She’s overcharging us, and she’s double-charging by taking a commission from the mercenaries.”
Chief Peck sighed, weightily. “I must say this. King Posbrake has often made use of unconventional strategy, and I have trusted his judgment all my life. But now I am Chief Warlord, and I do not think the plan is sound,” said Peck. “Hiring someone to attack you is...daft.”
“But they’ll retreat,” said Digdoug. “After they put on a good show of it for the Delkey troops.”
“Will they? Are we certain?” On the table, the Chief’s fists were both clenched. “Can we fight them off, if not?”
Digdoug thought of the improvements he’d made on his first two days in the capital. “The tower is pretty strong now. We do have some archers.”
“Make it stronger,” ordered Peck. “I will get more archers. Units from Charlescomm are already in our domain, and in three turns, they will strike.”