IPTSF Text 32
Even tea ceremonies have their natural limits. Royal patience might be infinite, but least Royal stomachs and bladders are not.
As various members came and went from the table, words of idle conversation flashed and forked around Jillian like lightning in distant clouds. The game of Court was to hold the interest of Court, so the players kept playing. She was new in their midst, but that only made her a topic, rather than a new contestant. It was just as well with her; she hated this crap. She ignored their subtle jabs, and only spoke in answer to direct questions, the occasional lightning strike sent her way.
Her turn to hold the table came when all the Court members had returned from necessary ablutions. Brother Orwell appeared and sat, apologizing for his absence. Jillian knew that Lookamancy could be time-consuming, especially when an intruder might be veiled, and she respected his devotion to his Duty. Only Rusty was missing, although not really missed. She hadn’t seen him since her return, and could do without that privilege.
In the past, some of her trouble at this table had certainly come from the way she spoke. She’d learned by falling and floundering and failing in front of these faces: you don’t yell. Whatever you feel, however important your point or dire your appeal, you do not shout at Court, or else you automatically lose.
Even knowing that, the dam of Jillian’s frustration would often build up and burst anyway. Her word-battles here were usually lost in a rout. So she planned to keep it to the facts. Those were dramatic enough.
“The situation out there is...pretty bad, I have to say,” she told them. She tried to keep her eyes moving, making contact with each of them equally in a show of respect. Don’t play favorites. She kept tight control over her delivery. Slow. Calm. Space between your words. Breathe. “We haven’t seen the other side of Haffaton’s territory; it goes way out past anywhere we’ve ever scouted. I know you’ve seen their scouts around here lately.”
There were nods, and Jack raised a finger, saying, “They’ve been through, but they haven’t seen us. Of that I’m certain. They believe this city is a lake, actually.”
The combination of Jack’s Foolamancy, Orwell’s Lookamancy, and Marie’s Predictamancy allowed Faq to remain off the enemy’s maps. That system was pretty good, but not perfect. It could be overwhelmed. Jillian had listened to some of the legends about other bubble kingdoms, shuffled in among the stories she swapped with her patron sides. In those tales, things never ended well for those who tried to hide from the world, whatever clever tricks they were betting their survival on. But of course, no-one told stories about the sides that managed to stay undetected. It would be nice if they could find one of those. They could really use an ally right now.
“I know,” said Jillian, “and I believe you. But it’s getting to the point where someone’s going to want to go for a swim in the lake, for whatever reason. We’re almost completely surrounded. We really need to do something.”
Oh? That seemed like...bait. But even though Jillian did not trust it, she couldn’t help nibbling. “Really? So, um... Do you want to hear my plan?”
Her Father’s smile broadened into real amusement. “Oh, no quite the opposite! There is already a plan for our predicament. But you are the only one here unfamiliar with it.”
Several at the table chuckled with the King. Jillian didn’t. “Right. Everyone but the Chief Warlord knows the plan,” she said dryly.
“You’ve been busy, of course,” said Banhammer facetiously. He liked to do that to her. “In any event, it isn’t a war plan. It is an escape plan.”
Jillian tilted her head, evaluating him. She respected a good escape plan. “Escape for whom? And to where?”
“Well,” said her father, his smile going a bit sad, “not for me. But escape for Faq. An evacuation plan for when we can no longer avoid detection here.”
He gave her some time to absorb this idea, and her tactical mind took it and ran.
Evacuation! All right...let’s see, depending on the timing, if they popped mainly megalos, how many turns before they could load up the bulk of Faq forces for transport? And how would that work, exactly? With this many commanders, they could distribute most of the treasury into individual purses, so unit upkeep could be maintained for oh, a dozen, two dozen turns, depending. That’d be enough with the right destination city, but where exactly did they plan to go?
If the Court had a plan, then maybe they knew the target already. But she was already nominating some pushover sides within a 20-turn flight that they could grab and take over. Brangelina and Bennifer were both pretty shaky. If they could take Bananastan and its huge treasury, they’d be set for upkeep for ages. There was always money in Bananastan.
Jillian actually liked this better than her own plan, which was back to seeming kind of crazy in comparison. She’d just never imagined they would be willing to pack up and leave here.
Oh wow, yeah. Actually fly away from Faq. She could picture it: a grand sky armada, an entire side on the move, on a quest for a new home. And she with her warriors protecting the ragtag fugitive fleet, like...like a battle star. Her father would finally see the worth she and her warlords—
“Wait,” she looked at Banhammer suddenly. “Whaddya mean, not for you?”
The King tilted his head and smiled even more wistfully. “Precisely what I said. When the time comes, the side will be yours to lead.”
In battle once, Jillian had taken an arrow right in the navel. This idea that she’d become a ruler seemed to retrace that arrow’s route. “Aw, no. Not me,” she said, looking around the table. She looked at her father with irritation. “Oh, what are you gonna do, abdicate?”
“No,” said her father. And for once, he was looking upon her without the condescension, just meeting her eyes. It was somehow worse than his usual I-know-more-than-you-ever-will smirk. He cleared his throat.