Brightvale History: The Two Kings - Part Five
“You do realize that we won't be able to just saunter up to Seville and ask to see Vienna,” William said, as he and the Draik crawled out of the access hole to the sewers.
“We won't have to,” Darius explained. “Trust me on this. We're going to go visit an old friend of mine, a carpenter.”
William's silent cocked eyebrow spoke volumes.
“Two vagabonds wandering on the roads to a besieged city will arouse suspicion. Especially if they reek of sewage,” Darius explained. “A tradesman and his apprentice, on the other hand, will be fairly invisible. It'll also make pleading ignorance easier, as wandering tradesmen are often behind in the news.”
“Do you know anything about carpentry?” William asked. “Because I don't.”
“Not the slightest, my dear boy,” Darius admitted. 'But we won't have to tell anyone that.”
Vienna cracked open her tent door, peering though the slim crack out into the pre-dawn light. True to his word, Dublin had moved his cot right in front of her tent, blocking the door from entry. Vienna used the time before he woke to heat up water for a cup of coffee and to make herself presentable. Just because she was a captive in the middle of a battlefield didn't mean she had to look disheveled. She sorely missed Évora's help styling her hair, but with only some difficulty she managed a somewhat elegant sweep into her hair. Once she was satisfied, she poured a second steaming cup of coffee.
“Good morning, Dublin,” she greeted the sleeping yellow Zafara, opening the tent flap. “How do you take your coffee?”
He jerked up, a sword appearing in his hand before he was all the way up. Vienna suspected that he had stored it under the cot – under the pillow seemed like a foolish place for something that sharp. Seeing her, he relaxed. “Good morning, Highness.”
She offered the cup. “Cream or sugar?”
He gave her a grateful look. “Sugar would be wonderful.”
“Help yourself,” she offered. “I fear that we are both going to have a long day today. I have pastries as well; Évora worried that military camp food wouldn't agree with me.”
He gave her an amused glance while taking a Sausage and Cheese Pasty. “This is packing light?”
Vienna shook her head. “It is when your brother thinks that you may betray him, at the urging of his most trusted adviser.” She didn't want to say out loud that while Nicolas was worried that she intended to poison her brother, she had the same fears of Nicolas. From Dublin's face, she didn't have to. His widened eyes suggested that he'd understood her meaning.
Sipping his coffee, the Zafara looked at Lucca's camp closer to the town. “You know,” he admitted, “when I was younger I used to envy your brothers.” Shaking his head, he added, “When I got older, I realized that I would never make a good leader. I hate bossing people around.”
“Do you have any brothers?”
“Two.” Gesturing towards the other camp, he added, “They're both with Lucca, along with my father.”
“I suspect that nearly everyone in our camp has a similar story,” Vienna admitted. “If you don't mind my asking, why are you here with Milan instead of with your father?”
“Because my father and my brothers are too obsessed with the idea of rank.”
At Vienna's confused look, he elaborated, “My father thinks he's better than anyone else, simply because he's a Duke. It doesn't matter if the carpenter in our estate has been working with wood for thirty years; my father knows more about it simply because he's The Duke. My brother's are just as bad.” He laughed. “I once saw my eldest brother argue with the family doctor how to set broken bone after he had a bad fall and broke his arm. The poor doctor just smiled and nodded while my brother gave exacting instructions on how to do it, and then gave my brother a potion to knock him out so he could set the bone properly.”
Pausing, the yellow Zafara shook his head. “If I had to sum up the differences between your two brothers, I would say that Lucca is in favor of nobles' rights, and Milan is in favor of peasants' rights.” With a shrug, he admitted, “What we probably need is a stance somewhere between the two, but as it sits right now, I think it's too easy for the nobles to run rampant over everyone else.”
Vienna sighed. “I could never choose between my brothers,” she admitted. “It's like trying to rip my heart into two. I love them both too much. But neither of them seems to be content with that.”
The activity in the camp started to pick up as people rose and prepared for the day. “I suppose I should go and meet with my brother,” Vienna said, making a face. “It's better to show up on one's own than have him annoyed because he had to wait. It'll also give them less time to wonder what I'm doing when I'm out of sight.”
“If Nicolas accuses you, I'll have some choice words for him,” Dublin growled. “He has no right to treat Your Highness this way.”
“My brother has every right,” Vienna disagreed. “And my brother listens to Nicolas. I don't want you to get into trouble with Nicolas on my account.” Stopping outside of the tent Milan had marked as his office, she gave the yellow Zafara her best 'don't do anything stupid' look before stepping inside. “Good morning, brother.”
Milan barely noticed her entrance. The Royal Eyrie was busy staring at a large colored map plastered with dozens of pins with little flags on them. “If this information is accurate, how long will the town be able to hold out?”
“As long as Lucca continues to just sit there, about six days,” Nicolas said.
“And if he doesn't?”
“Then, Your Majesty, there is no way to tell. Not very long. There is no fresh access to water. All they have is what they managed to store up before the siege was set. I know the castle keeps at least a week's worth of water for the town in a large cistern, but there's no way to know if the citizens themselves have stored any.”
“And we have no information on how much food they have?” Milan pressed.
“There's no way to know. I would assume they've stored some, but with the harvest coming, their stores won't be very large.”
Milan slammed his fist onto the map. “Lucca! Why couldn't you have just left this between us? These people were just living their lives, and he had to come threaten them.”
“Your Majesty knows what has to be done,” Nicolas said. “We have to break the siege before the city has no choice but to surrender. Who knows what he'll do to them if he manages to get inside the walls? They've rejected them. They'd be prisoners of war in their own land. And that's if they surrender. If they don't, we could be looking at people starving to death.”
“I will not attack my own brother,” Milan snapped.
“Majesty, you don't have a choice,” Nicolas insisted.
“There is always a choice,” Vienna argued. “You just refuse to see any other alternative, Nicolas.”
The Skeith moved so quickly, Vienna didn't see his hand coming until it had already struck her face. She shrieked, putting her hand up to a bleeding lip. Dublin was almost as fast, he sword halfway out of its sheath before her glare stopped him. Visibly torn, the yellow Zafara slid the weapon back in.
“Nicolas,” Milan bellowed. “You will respect my sister.”
“I refuse to respect a spy for Lucca,” the Skeith spat.
“I am no spy,” Vienna seethed. “I don't know why you are so bent upon accusing me, when I have ever been a loving sister to my brother. You, however, have only spewed poison into my brother's ear since he came to the throne.” She raised her chin, looking the Skeith in the face. “This is Brightvale; a country of culture, of justice, and of learning. When did we listen to baseless rumors? Since when has the guilt of a person been determined without evidence? If you claim that Lucca is out to destroy our great country, honored adviser of the king, perhaps you should look in the mirror first, for I think you've managed to destroy it enough on your own.”
She spun on her heel. “Dublin,” she ordered, “escort me back to my tent. I cannot stand the filth in here.”
“At once, Your Highness,” the Zafara said, snapping to attention.
As soon as her own tent flaps closed behind her, Vienna's Royal bearing crumbled. Deep sobs welled up from her chest, and the princess collapsed onto her bed in tears. That was it, she was dead. Nicolas had hit her, stuck her without warning hard enough to draw blood; and her brother had only raised a token objection. In her brother's eyes, she was guilty. Her only protection now rested in the arms of a single yellow Zafara who now stood guard outside of her tent. Nicolas would have no problem removing the young guard. Sometime soon in the future, Dublin would vanish; Nicolas would probably have him killed, and she would be quick to follow him into that dark, endless night.
Poor William, she thought. She'd had him risk his life in vain. She didn't even know if he was still alive. That would be two good men that she'd gotten killed, and she would never have a chance to say goodbye to either of them. She would have liked to have seen William at least one more time. To tell him how glad she was to have gotten a chance to meet him, to thank him for helping her. To say she was sorry for dragging him into all of this mess. Perhaps, even, to apologize for getting him killed.
To be continued...