Brightvale History: The Two Kings - Part Nine
William was the first of the ragged trio to rise. The sunlight was just beginning to gleam though the shuttered windows of the small cabin. His first thought was to check on Vienna; she'd cried herself to sleep the night before. His poor little Acara Princess, her whole life was falling apart and there was nothing he could do about it.
She woke with a start, staring at him with wide eyes. “William.”
“William, I need someplace secure.” She looked around the small cabin. “I need someplace large and strong. This place will be much too small.”
He felt slightly alarmed at her calmness. “Vienna, are you all right?”
“No,” she admitted. “I don't think I will be for quite some time. But Darius is right. I can't let my brothers continue.”
“What are you going to do?” William asked.
“I'm going to take my brothers' power away from them.” She paused. “Do you have anything I can use to write a letter?”
Grabbing the leather pouch Thomas gave him back in Lucca's camp, William dug for parchment. “You'll have to make do with an art pencil,” he warned. “A bottle of ink would be the worst thing to carry with what we've put this bag through.”
She smiled, looking oddly serene despite her tangled hair and dirt smeared dress. She took the offered parchment and pencil, and after a moment of thought, began to write. William decided that it would be rude to stare at her while she worked, and even worse to try to read over her shoulder, so he set about digging though the other pack to find food. He found that Thomas had sent them with enough pasties to feed the three of them for breakfast and lunch, but dinner would have to be arranged for.
“William, after Darius wakes up, I have to ask you to do another favor for me.”
“You have to ask me after Darius wakes up; or are you going to tell me now, and you want me to wait to do the favor until after Darius wakes up?”
She gave him a small smile. “Very funny.” Giving the parchment one last look, she nodded to herself and then folded it. “After we've had breakfast, I want you to sneak into Lucca's camp and find Thomas.”
“You're replying to his letter?” William didn't know what Thomas's letter to Vienna had said, but he did know that reading it last night had set the Royal Acara into tears again. The brown Blumaroo suspected it was about her brother, Lucca.
“I'm sending him a list of instructions.” She sighed. “I wish I knew more about Milan's camp. I have no equivalent contact there. I'll need Darius to help me there.”
“I'm not doing anything,” the orange Draik grumbled from his cot, “until after I've had breakfast.”
During breakfast, the Royal Acara explained her plan. “Thomas writes that many of my brother Lucca's troops are disillusioned. They know he's mad, but they can't jump ship to Milan's side; the issue has become too polarized. William, that's where you come in. I want you to go to Thomas and have him talk to these troops, and explain that there's a third option.”
“And what option is that?” Darius asked, looking unconvinced.
“Me.” Vienna shrugged. “I'm going to give them the option of leaving entirely. Darius, I want you to do the same thing with Milan's troops.” Pausing, she admitted, “Yours is going to be the harder of the two, because you'll have to find out who wants out on your own.”
“No offense, Vienna,” Darius said, “but there's a bit of a hole in your plan. You don't have a camp. All we have is this tiny hovel and that certainly can't serve as a base for an army. Either one of your brothers could storm though here, it's completely indefensible.”
“But we're not staying here,” Vienna explained in a patient tone. “My mother's older brother has a castle not half a day's walk from here.”
“And whose side is he on?” Darius demanded.
“Neither; he refused to get involved.” She smiled. “I know my uncle. He will not refuse me.”
“This just might work,” Darius admitted. “I'd forgotten that we were so close to your uncle here. What do we tell the troops?”
“Tell them that if they arrive at my uncle's castle tonight after midnight, they'll receive amnesty on the condition that they come without anything to place them as having been with Milan's or Lucca's camps. I want them to forget this whole thing, and not care whose camp their new comrades were in. I want this whole issue over and forgotten about in anything other than history books.”
“I'm not comfortable leaving you here alone,” William admitted as he prepared to leave.
“Me either.” Vienna looked nervous. “But I can't go into either of the camps. I'll stand out and attract suspicion. Besides, if I go to one camp and not the other, it might be mistaken as a sign of favoritism. I want each side to be treated exactly the same. That's why you and Darius have to go at the same time.” Her chin trembled, and the Acara bit her lower lip as if to keep from crying.
“Hey.” William cupped her face with his hands and tilted her face up towards his. “Are you ok?”
She gave him a wry smile. “So far I'm managing to hold together, but I feel like if I trip up at all, everything will all come apart. Just come back as soon as you can, I really don't feel safe by myself.”
The brown Blumaroo gave her a tight hug, and then slipped outside the door. Turning back, he nodded in satisfaction when he saw that the hunting shack still seemed to be completely unoccupied. Hopefully that would fool any prying eyes into moving on. The men the day before who had claimed that there was a 100 gold coin bounty for Vienna made him nervous. He hoped that Dublin had managed to take most, if not all, of the rest of the assassins out before going down himself. William desperately wished that the yellow Zafara could be here now, so Vienna wouldn't be alone for these long hours.
The sounds of a battle pulled the Blumaroo out of his reverie. Carefully working his way around the fight, he entered Lucca's camp though the back, pausing behind a stack of crates to find his sense of direction. If he was remembering right, Thomas should be camped somewhere to his northwest. The sound of an argument made him duck down deeper behind the wooden crates.
“Lucca, we have to move the wounded!” William recognized Thomas's frustrated voice.
“If we move them, they would be in more danger,” Lucca's voice responded.
“My King, your brother's troops are making a flank towards the camp. If he should take them prisoner... He would not treat them well. Not if yesterday's reports are correct.”
“Then we shall have to counter his flanking then, won't we?”
“But the risk, Sire. It's too great.”
“I don't have the troops to spare to move them,” Lucca snapped. “If you wish to move them, then fine, do so. But don't expect any help from me for it,.I have other matters that take my attention.”
Footsteps came toward him. William made himself as small as he could against the crates, hoping his brown fur would blend in somewhat. Seeing the green Moehog stalk past, William whispered, “Thomas!”
The Moehog spun, looking alarmed. Seeing William, he relaxed. When William pulled out Vienna's letter, Thomas's tight face burst into a grin.
“Into the woods,” Thomas whispered. “We'll have less of a chance of being interrupted there.” Nodding, William followed his lead. Once they were safely in the underbrush, Thomas was almost jubilant. “You found her! Has she agreed to help?”
“That's what the letter is for,” William explained. “She's got a plan, but she's going to need our help to pull it off.”
Quickly reading Vienna's letter, Thomas shook his head in admiration. “Clever girl, knows she doesn't have the troops to stop her brothers, so she's stealing theirs.”
“Do you know the castle she's talking about?” William asked.
“Of course,” Thomas said. “Everyone around here does. Her uncle fancies himself to be an architect, and he's been fine tuning this castle of his for decades. He even brought in architects from Meridell, and a couple from as far as the Lost Desert to come refine it. If you look up the definition of “unassailable” in the Brightvalian dictionary, it has a drawing of his castle.”
“I've seen what some people in Brightvale call “unassailable” before,” William said, not quite convinced.
“If you're referring to the walls of the Royal palace, with the south wall that might tumble at a good sneeze,” Thomas said, “then I understand your hesitation to believe me. Even you will be impressed by this castle.” Waving the letter, Thomas returned to business. “What are her requirements for someone to switch camps?”
“That it be a genuine switch.” William shrugged. “It's not so much that she wants them to join her cause, it's that she wants them to leave her brothers'. She mostly wants for them to play nice, and not try to continue Milan's or Lucca's fight inside her camp.”
“What about the wounded?” Thomas looked concerned. “We have a lot of men who simply can't fight. And Milan... Well... We heard some very disturbing stories about what he's doing to his prisoners. Nothing that I can confirm that I've seen with my own eyes, but I've heard a great deal from men I trust to be honest.”
“If they can agree to the same deal as the others, then they're welcome.” William shrugged. “She's not trying to recruit a standing army, Thomas. She's trying to take the armies away from her brothers. She doesn't care if they can hold a sword or not.”
“I'll pass this offer to our own prisoners; they deserve a way out too.” Thomas paused.“On the condition that they help carry our wounded, if they can.”
“I'll make sure that there will be medical care for them once they get there.”
Thomas clasped him on the shoulder. “You're a good man, William. Fortunes willing, I'll see you soon. I must get back before my absence is discovered.”
To be continued...