First Intermission 18
Turns since TBfGK: 3
Don King's palace was a stately marble rectangle. A rank of fluted columns supported a flat A-shaped roof. Dark green vines hung down from a ledge, dangling over an inlaid pattern of square spirals in gold leaf. Carved into the A was a scene of the Titans of Ark enjoying the companionship of young nude females. The Titans were real statues, but the female figures were Molls, holding various debauched poses that were changed up regularly. If needed, the molls could climb down and get into battle gear to defend the city, leaving the Titans alone up there. The artistic message was clear: Titans, if you let this city be attacked, you will lose your fun.
Just the anteroom to the royal court was more lavishly decorated than anything Jillian could remember from Faq. Red velvet drapes with gold-braided cords covered some walls, with others done in beautiful tile mosaics. There was a marble fountain shooting a jet of white water into the air, where it cascaded down over huge brass balls. She sat on a velvet settee, her feet on a lush strip of red carpet, and repeatedly declined offers of wine and sweets from attending Dolls in tiny white togas.
She was otherwise left unguarded. They had taken her weapons.
She didn't seriously consider trying anything, anyway. There were at least four warlords, a king, and probably guards and casters just on the other side of the imposing double doors to the court. The King was debriefing them, which could take a long time. Jillian understood that. But she was starting to need to pee, and didn't know where to do that around here. Maybe there was a place behind the curtains?
She didn't think so. And for some stupid reason, the need to avoid a faux pas that would embarrass Vinny was pressing on her. Worse than her bladder. For now.
At last she heard someone. An airy, muffled voice on the other side of the doors got progressively louder, until the guards inside clicked their bootheels and pulled the great black and purple doors open by their brass rings.
Caesar didn't wait for the doors to open any more than he needed to squeeze through. Jillian heard him mutter something terse that ended in "Yer Highness." He brushed past where she stood, and took to the air in stride. When he reached the other end of the red carpet, he shoved his way through another pair of tall doors and was gone.
She turned and looked into the court chamber.
She saw Vinny, Leather and Dewy making modest bows to a corpulent man in a blue floral print shirt, short pants, and sandals. He was also sporting an ermine-lined, pinstriped cape. Behind them, the carpet stretched into the distance of a great marble chamber, filled with statues and riches, and featuring a high throne-like bench at the other end.
The warlords each kissed a gem-encrusted gold ring on the King's hand. Just behind the King was a slight, raven-haired woman in a short skirt. A caster of some kind. Bunny? She was chewing on something, her jaw working and her mouth open, but she never seemed to swallow.
Don King smiled at Jillian more warmly than he had to his warlords. He took a step toward her and bowed his head, very slightly. "I'm afraid I have not entertained any Royal barbarians, Princess. I am at a loss for protocol. You don't seem to have a ring to kiss."
Jillian raised an eyebrow. "I'm always at a loss for protocol, King," she said. "Why not kiss your own ring for me, and we'll call it even?"
There was an awkward moment of silence, then the King's mouth split into a wide grin, and he broke into a wheezing laugh. His warlords joined him. The caster looked blank.
"Well arright, arright," said Don King, and he made a grand gesture and kissed the ring on his hand, smiling with meaty lips. Then he took the ring off and held it out in the palm of his hand. "Still. An insufficient gesture of respect I am afraid, Princess. And so I give you my ring. It was worth it fer the laugh."
Jillian didn't know what to say. Vinny and the other two looked surprised and impressed. Was she supposed to take it? What would her father have expected her to do? She stepped closer to the king, and Titans help her, some Royal part of her bent her knees and she dropped into a curtsey. Ugh. Plus, it reminded her about her bladder.
She did not reach out for the ring. "The offer is too great an honor, Highness. But in place of the ring, might I ask a simple favor?"
Don King tilted his head and nodded slightly, "I believe it is too humble an honor for one of your grace and charm, Princess. But you may trade it for anything in my power."
Which meant "sure, but nothing too costly." This courtly crap was all coming back to her, though she had wanted to believe she'd forgotten it all. The ring was a test, and she'd passed. A non-Royal barbarian would probably have taken it. A Royal would know better. Well, she was a Royal, she supposed, but there was no need to wear it like a ball gown.
"Could you not call me 'Princess?'" she said. "That's the favor. Could you call me 'Jillian?'"
Don King smiled, somehow sadly. His palm closed on the ring and he placed it back on his finger. "If that is your wish. Jillian. Being a simple man at heart, I prefer 'Don,' myself, if you would be so kind." He turned and took one step down the carpet, toward his throne at the far end of the chamber. "But I must say the word. 'Princess.' Because it is your title I wish to discuss. Vinny, Leather, Dewy, you are dismissed. Stay in the garrison for the rest of the turn. Jillian, if you please, accompany me."
With that, he and the caster began to walk. Jillian followed, being careful not to step on his cape where it trailed along the carpet. She met Vinny's eyes as they passed, but she couldn't read his expression. He simply walked away, with the other two warlords. After a few steps, she called back, "What am I in for, Vinny?" He didn't answer. "Vinny?" The guards were closing the doors between them.
Vinny paused. He turned back to her and shook his head, grinning. "Uh. You're gonna wish it'd been the dungeon." The doors slammed shut.
As she followed Don King and his caster up the red carpet, Jillian winced and guessed that Vinny was probably right. At least dungeons have latrines.
- ^ A reference to kissing the ring of the Pope or other bishop