Brightvale History: The Two Kings - Part Six
“I have to admit,” William said. “Your idea of traveling as carpenters was a stroke of absolute genius.”
“Less genius and more experience,” Darius admitted in an amused voice. “When his late Majesty was younger, he liked to travel out in the cities in disguise to see what his citizens really thought and what were the real problems they struggled with were. It was his idea to travel as tradesmen, and it worked really well.”
“It's just about as close as you can get to being invisible,” the brown Blumaroo marveled. “I hope you don't mind if I steal this idea for later use.”
“Well, let's hope our invisibility holds out,” Darius muttered. “We're getting near Seville, and things might get tricky.”
The pair rounded a sharp bend in the road, and found themselves facing an armed roadblock. Darius muttered a word William was unfamiliar with. “What was that you just said?” William said. “I'm afraid I was a little distracted by the great big roadblock guarded by the grumpy people with swords.”
“Just act casual and let me do the talking,” Darius said in a quiet tone. “We might be able to get though.”
“Halt!” An armed Buzz raised his arm to block the pair's way as William and Darius approached. “Where are you going?”
“My apprentice and I are headed to Deaverton,” the orange Draik said, his face as innocent as the sky. “My second-cousin's woodworking shop has some openings, and this life of constant road travel is getting hard on my old bones.”
“Meridell, eh? You don't have a Meridellian accent.”
“That's because I'm from Brightvale,” Darius said with an easy smile. “My father moved here a couple years back before I was born, but the rest of his family lives across the border. My mother's from here; well, not far from here, just north of Sylvan.”
The Buzz relaxed a bit. “What about your apprentice?”
“I'm from Meridell,” William confirmed, launching into in the same outrageous accent he'd teased Vienna with earlier. “Ya see, me ma's cousin is one step removed from hisself over 'ere's second cousin, so ma sixth cousin 'ere took me in under his wing, so to say.”
“I...” The guard shook his head. “You Meridellian's ideas of family relations are insane. So you've nothing to do with the local politics?”
“Local politics?” Darius asked. “I'm afraid I know nothing of the area. Is there some sort of trouble with the local lord?”
The guard shook his head, “Worse. But never you mind, since you'll be not staying. Go on through and good luck getting that job.”
“Wasn't that a little excessive?” Darius asked as they passed though the roadblock.
“More than a little,” William admitted. “Fun, though.”
“Where did you learn that impossible accent?”
“When I was a kid, we lived near a big mining town. Some of the locals would talk like that to confuse the non-natives. You can have all kinds of conversations without anyone understanding what you're talking about, but sound close enough to Common that they feel too embarrassed to admit that they can't understand you.”
“A useful dialect,” Darius observed.
“Very, but good luck finding anyone else who understands it.”
“You there!” a voice called from the side of the road. “Stop!”
“Not again,” Darius sighed. “William, if you have to talk, you may want to keep using that accent for a while.”
“Yessir,” William chirped.
“Don't talk too much, because I sure can't understand a word you say,” the Draik warned.
“What are you two doing?” a burly Tonu demanded.
“Traveling to Meridell, my good sir,” Darius said. “I'm a carpenter, and this is my apprentice here. We're on our way to my second-cousin's shop.”
“Carpenters, you say.” The Tonu gave the pair an appraising eye. “No need for you to travel all the way to Meridell for work, we've got some for you right here.”
“We do have someone expecting us,” Darius said. “I would hate to be late.”
“I insist,” the Tonu growled, as several other armed people stepped out of the bushes. “King Lucca has need of good carpenters at the moment.”
“I see,” Darius said. “Well, I suppose that the King would certainly count as a good cause, wouldn't you say? Very well, what kind of work?”
“Fortifications, I'm sure a master such as yourself will produce very good wooden stakes.”
“Ah yes.” Darius gave the Tonu a weak smile. “Stakes. My favorite.”
Luckily for Darius and William, carving stakes didn't require any actual carpentry skills. “We're fortunate,” Darius panted, “that they didn't want us to build a trebuchet or some other form of siege weapon.”
William shook his head. “We'd never be trusted with something like that,” he said in a low voice. “If not built just right, a trebuchet can explode into hundreds of pieces of shrapnel when released; and that's a quick way to lose a lot of your own men. Press-ganged labor gets menial tasks; important things would be assigned to the men of a loyal lord.”
“You know a disturbing amount of this stuff,” Darius commented, tossing his now finished stake into the growing pile. “It's a good thing no one pays attention to us; our soft hands would give us away in a heartbeat. Look at that. I'm getting a blister on top of my blister.”
“I prefer the blisters to the slivers,” William said. “I've got one somewhere in the joint of my thumb, and I can't for the life of me get it out.” He grunted, tossing his newly finished stake next to Darius's and started a new one. “I wouldn't mind the stupid sliver if it hadn't managed to position itself in such a way that I keep managing to catch it on things.”
Looking up, the orange Draik hissed.
“What's the matter?” William asked.
“Thomas is here? I thought he had retired!”
“I told you he's Lucca's adviser.” William handed Darius a new stake to be carved. “Don't you remember?”
“Well, yes. But I thought that was only until the boys had settled in. I never thought he'd be out here in the middle of a war camp.”
“Do you think he'll recognize you?”
“If he sees me? I'm positive of it.”
“Better keep your head down and work then,” William warned. “If Lucca thinks we're here on Milan's behalf, this will get ugly very fast.”
The pair concentrated diligently on their task, but William could feel the eyes of the watchful Moehog on him. Two stakes later, the watched feeling still hadn't left. Finally the brown Blumaroo risked a glance toward where Thomas had been standing, to see the green Moehog staring at them. Not good.
“All right you slowpokes,” an armored guard yelled. “Lunch time! Line up outside the red tent.”
“I shudder to think of the food quality,” Darius muttered under his breath.
“You two.” The guard pointed at them. “Yes, you,” he growled when Darius and William looked up in surprise. “You come here.” He took them to a different tent, and gestured for them to go inside. William had the sinking suspicion that they'd been discovered. Lucca was going to be furious at the perceived betrayal by his father's old adviser. Poor Vienna, she'd never know that he'd managed to get so close. She'd probably think that he betrayed her; ran to Meridell to save himself. The idea of her hating his memory made him sick.
Stepping though the tent flap, they were met with not a furious Royal Eyrie, but a grinning green Moehog. “Darius,” he asked in an amused voice, “why are you in the press-gang labor making stakes?”
“Because I'm a carpenter,” the orange Draik said in a matter of fact voice.
“Ah, I do recall that carpentry was your favored cover occupation. And I see you managed to drag our Meridellian ambassador into this with you.”
“Actually, I'm the one who drug him,” William corrected. “Poor Darius was enjoying his retirement until I showed up and practically kidnapped him.”
“I see.” The Moehog bowed his head in thought. “Would I be correct in thinking that you went to him because you were asked to?”
William risked a quick look at Darius, who gave a slight, almost imperceptible nod. “Yes,” William said.
“And that it wasn't either of the kings who sent you on this errand?”
“No, sir. I wouldn't be a very good ambassador for Meridell if I took orders from a Brightvale king.”
“Would I also be much amiss if you accepted this errand because the one who asked was pretty?”
“Well,” William admitted, “I didn't go just because she was pretty. But I certainly think that she is.”
“I thought so.” Thomas gave him an amused look. “Now this puts me in a fairly difficult quandary. What am I to do with you two? I certainly can't toss you two back out into the labor fields in good conscience, and Lucca would have a fit if he knew you were here. Nor can I just turn you loose, because you'd only be caught again.”
William and Darius exchanged nervous glances.
“I suppose there is really only one thing I can do,” Thomas said with a sigh, reaching into his desk.
To be continued...