First Intermission 21
Turns since TBfGK: 3
Uneasily, Jillian sat.
The King sat back a bit, relaxing his posture again. "I had two heirs, both croaked. A son and a daughter. I didn't get along with my daughter, either. And my son... he made a play for the throne. Didn't work out for him." The seriousness of Don's tone gave Jillian a chill. "He would've made a bad king."
"Things changed after that. I changed how my kingdom was organized. We simplified. We dropped a lot of these frufru things about Nobilty, stuck to what was useful. We kept our titles, but we didn't use them so much. It helped clear up where the respect should really go."
Don King's gaze went distant for a moment, as if he was seeing into the past. "Caesar Borgata is my heir designate. He earned it. My Warlords respect him like they never respected the Prince or Princess. But he was only Viscount of Vitalis, barely a Noble. Recent events have forced me to reconsider whether or not that should matter."
Jillian tried to follow. "What do you mean? Gobwin Knob?"
"Specifically, I mean Stanley. His claim to a new Titanic mandate, based on his attunement to an Arkentool. Charlie has been attuned to the Arkendish for a long time, but he's careful not to claim it means anything. He's never been a threat to anybody, and he's useful, if a pain in the keister to deal with. Stanley, on the other hand, thinks wielding the Arkenhammer puts him in a class above Royalty. And he says so."
Jillian had been doing a fairly good job keeping Ansom from her mind for the last few days, but it hit her now, almost randomly. Ansom was gone. Her vision went watery. "Prince Ansom... cared a lot about that," she said. She took a deep breath, When she let it out, it stuttered a little bit.
"His father does, too," said Don King, sounding a bit kinder now. "We've been talking, he and I."
Something about Jillian's expression must have given away her opinion of King Slately. "I know," said Don King, "He's a dry turd."
She barked out a sudden laugh, and one little tear escaped down her cheek. She smeared it away with her wrist. "Yeah."
"But I like to talk with him. He makes a good deal of sense sometimes. And there are some things that only Royals can talk about, you know?" He looked at her closely. "Maybe you don't."
"I don't think I do," said Jillian softly.
"That's been your choice, but it's not a choice you can really make. Just as a mouse cannot choose to be a wolf, a wolf can't live like a mouse. You are so clearly a Royal that it pains me to see how you act. You cannot forever deny the way the Titans made you."
"How?" Jillian challenged. "How am I 'clearly a Royal?'"
"Hundreds of little ways. You act rudely on purpose, but rudeness shocks you. You hate Stanley instinctively. You tell yourself that's because he wiped out your side, and more lately, because he croaked Prince Ansom. But it's instinct. I'm told you are powerful and fearless in battle. And you loved Ansom. Did he love you?"
The question blindsided her, and she could only say, "I think so. Yes."
"Further proof. You must come to terms with your nature, Jillian. You should learn to take tea. It's nice."
She could feel herself riding on the edge of tears again. "And 'Princess?' I should learn to take that, too?"
"No," said Don King in grave seriousness. "I have a different title in mind. When I say it, you might also like to shout and throw your teacup. Please be my guest. But it is your best possible bet for getting Stanley."
His business at last. She steeled herself.
Her ears rang. She stared at Don King for a long, long moment, without breathing. No. No no. She was a beetle in a glass bottle, furiously looking for a way out, a way that he wasn't right, but slipping back down over and over again. Ansom would want this some part of her mind told her. Another part was already doing old calculations for Faq's three cities popping gwiffons and megalogwiffs on a full war footing. How many turns before she could raise enough units to take Gobwin Knob by air...?
She stood up, and looked at the table. Instead of the cup, she picked up the teapot and hurled it with a piercing scream of frustration.
But even to her own ears, it came out as a war cry.