“It’s been a big day in Haffaton!” said Charlie. “Hasn’t it? You know, most of what goes on in Erfworld is pretty dull, after a while. It’s all the same ebb and flow of battle, conquest, alliance, diplomacy, treachery... But this is pretty novel, isn’t it? A trial?” The Overlord’s voice was deep and masculine, but his tone was bright, almost chipper. “So Judy is gone...with the shoes, Olive Branch is Overlady, and you have her on trial? Do I have all that right? Definitely new and interesting ground there. Hello, Olive.”
King Banhammer watched from the bench, and the rest of the Court had arranged themselves to face Jack Snipe. The Foolamancer was receiving a Thinkagram from Charlie, and projecting it into the air as a glowing rectangle in front of him. At the moment, nothing showed there but the gold wings of the Charlescomm crest on a bright blue field, and the words, “YOUR BATTLESPACE SOLUTIONS PROVIDER.” But the Overlord’s woody voice filled the air throughout the little green courtyard.
“Hello, Charlie,” said Olive quietly. From this angle, Jillian could see her face well. The Florist wasn’t even attempting a smile.
“It may be an awkward and regrettable circumstance, Lord Charlie,” said Banhammer, “but I cannot apologize for it. This is our best, most enlightened means to gather the truth and avoid acting rashly, and we hope you can help us. We’d like to forego any further violence, if that can be.”
“Also novel! And very civilized. You have nothing to apologize for, Your Highness,” said Charlie warmly. “But it’s a bit unexpected. You know, given that you’re a mercenary side. You want to avoid violence? I mean, I don’t know much about you, King Banhammer, but your warlord there hires out her sword to do violence all over the West. And she’s pretty good at it, too.”
Jack cocked his head and looked her way. “Hello, Warlady Jillian. I’m glad to see you’ve come in out of the rain, and found your way to freedom. Or, nearly so.”
Jillian winced. The image in the air hadn’t changed, but something about the way the disembodied voice echoed made her aware that Charlie’s attention was focused on her now. “Thanks,” she muttered.
From her left flank, the looks of disapproval from the Court hit her like arrows skittering off her armor.
“You know, I’d always wondered where you were based,” said Charlie. “We never tracked you all the way home to wherever ‘Faq’ was. And now this time around, look at where you are. El-Efbaum, of all places! I’m sure there’s a story...”
“If you are willing, Lord Charlie,” said King Banhammer, “we have need of your sworn testimony.”
“Of course! My time can be had for most any reason, at the rate of eighty shmuckers a minute. I will not reveal information of a strategically sensitive or personal nature, or anything I have been paid not to talk about. What am I testifying to?”
“Well. The defendant is charged with attempted patricide,” said Banhammer. “But as regards a fee, I would hope that the seriousness of these—”
“Of Judy? That’s...technically hericide, isn’t it?”
Banhammer cleared his throat. “Of you,” he said.
“They know I’m your daughter,” said Olive, her voice low and bitter. “And they think I tried to croak you.”
Charlie gave the briefest pause, but his voice never lost its sunny tenor. “What else do they know, Olive?”
“More than you want them to,” said Olive coldly. “Still more, if this goes on.”
“Ah. So the question is, um... Hmh.” Charlie’s voice seemed to stumble and trail off. Then he instantly brightened again. “Well, the question is, how does it feel to be a ruler, Olive? I mean, are you getting a new perspective on things? Maybe changed your mind on some of those old, ah, discussions we’ve had?”
Olive glanced around the courtyard. “Under the circumstances, I haven’t had a lot of time to think about that.”
“Mm. Well, you know. Circumstances can change so quickly. But I’m asking, if your present situation were, ahm...resolved, would you perhaps be willing to reconsider some things?”
Olive folded her manacled hands and looked down at the stone tiles, bowing her head. “I think we could see eye-to-eye on the...territorial matter. But there’s no way I’m yielding the g—”
The air was rushing past Jillian’s ears as she willed her mount to leap across the courtyard, so she didn’t catch all of Olive’s second sentence. The next word might have been “garden.” What she caught was the Florist’s full body with the weighty wall of the gwiffon’s breast. In one crashing movement, the mount slammed her down to the stone and covered her from head to toe. There wasn’t even time for her to cry out. She made no sounds now, either.
“I can change her circumstances a lot faster than you can, Charlie,” she snapped viciously at the floating rectangle. “Watch me.”
King Banhammer stood up so quickly that his chair was thrown backwards into the bush behind him. “Princess!”
Jillian turned and shouted back into her father’s face, matching his outrage. Maybe topping it. “This prisoner,” she hefted her sword and pointed it down, to indicate the spot below the gwiffon where Olive was pinned, silently suffocating, “is the ruler of the largest side in the world! The one that conquered Faq? Remember it? She does not get a chance to negotiate terms with the most powerful mercenary side in the world! We have one city now, they have sixty-nine.”
She swung her sword in a violent arc to point at Jack and the Charlescomm logo. “And he’s her father. Who do you think he’s gonna make a deal with? Huh?”
Her father pointed a stabbing finger. “Let her up!” he ordered.
Jillian clenched her teeth and resolved to disobey, straightening in the saddle. How could he not see the danger in this? She forced her tone lower, calmer. “Look, Charlescomm has forces in the area. I’ve seen them! If Charlie comes at us, I can’t guarantee we’ll be able to hold—”
The King gripped the edge of the marble bench and heaved the whole thing aside. It flew for an impressive distance, before striking the patio stones and cracking into four or five slabs. It was the first even vaguely violent act she’d ever seen him commit. He stomped forward to the gwiffon’s flank and barked up at her.
“You will not execute this prisoner! We are civilized! Let. Her. Go!”
Jillian flinched with the effort of refusing the order again, but felt herself slipping into a cold pool of certainty. “I will execute her, before I let her negotiate with Charlie.”
Banhammer’s eyes flashed. He bared his teeth and raised his palms.
“You are disbanded!” he snarled, and clapped his hands.
Rob's Other Comic Project: Duel In The Somme--Read it from the beginning!