Brightvale History: The Two Kings - Part Eleven
As the sun rose, the first of the palace staff began to enter the castle. By mid morning, a functioning kingdom was starting to work. William was fascinated to see that the entire bureaucracy of the kingdom seemed to have been designed to pick up and move in a moment's notice – tax records included.
“William,” Vienna explained, “Brightvale is a political tinderbox. Everything has to be able to be moved easily, or else we'd never get anything done.” The Royal Acara's mood had been greatly improved with the arrival of Évora earlier that morning. The poor Hissi had been so exhausted from traveling all night that Vienna had sent her straightaway to bed, but her very presence near by made life seem safer somehow.
“There are some things that will never make sense about your country,” the brown Blumaroo said, shaking his head.
“Like Meridell makes any more sense,” she countered.
“I think we've finally got some numbers on how many troops we have now,” Tomar said, joining them. “We've got a little more than half from each of your brothers' armies. Nearly a quarter of them are wounded in some way, but that still leaves you with an army larger than both of your brothers' forces combined.”
“Any word on what my brothers are doing right now?” Vienna asked.
“From what I understand, Milan headed for the palace at first light.” The Royal Kyrii shook his head. “He left his wounded that couldn't travel, so I took the liberty of sending some of our refugees to go bring them here.”
“So many.” Vienna sighed. “Dublin was only one of the first, wasn't he?” She missed her watchful yellow shadow. He and William would have gotten along well, had they gotten the chance to actually get to know each other. She pulled herself back into the present. “Uncle, please keep me updated on what my brothers are doing.”
“You'll know right after I do.”
Vienna spent the rest of the day trying to put the country back together. Yes, all the nobles who had switched to her side would be allowed to keep their titles and lands. No, she wasn't going to take away land from the nobles who still followed her brothers; they weren't hers to give away. Yes, all laws were still in effect. No, she wasn't going to gather up her troops and sweep down on her brothers' armies in a wrathful vengeance.
She welcomed the work; keeping busy kept her from brooding. She was debating finding William and seeing if he'd join her for lunch when Uncle Tomar burst into the room, panting. “There you are,” he gasped. “I'm getting too old for all this running about.”
“What is it?”
“Milan's taken up a defensive position in the palace, and Lucca's right on his heels.”
Vienna stared at her uncle. “Defensive position? With what? The palace's century old catapults?”
“I guess so,” he replied. “Either way, he's not going to last long against the trebuchets that Lucca is ordering to be built.”
Until Vienna wanted something done outside the castle, there wasn't much for William to do. The brown Blumaroo realized that he was superfluous, and decided to head down to the infirmary to see if he could help there.
“Thank you for the offer,” a nurse said when he asked. “But since we've got all the hospital staff here now, we're doing fine.” She paused. “If you feel like sitting and talking to the ones who are awake, I'm sure they'd love to have someone to visit with. Some of them are getting pretty bored.”
William decided he could handle some morale work. He wrote a letter home for a young Ixi who couldn't have been more than seventeen. The poor kid had broken his arm, and with a bulky cast going from wrist to armpit, he had been trying (and failing) to write with his other hand. William then played a game of Kacheekers (and deliberately lost) against a graying Korbat who referred to the battle the other day as a “delightful little civil war” and told William that he should have seen the last one, which was “far superior in terms of intrigue, with the mass poisonings and all.” William then decided to see if last night's victim was still here.
“Oh yes,” the nurse said when William asked where he was. “The poor dear was touch and go for a while, but he's going to pull though. We moved him over to the corner over there where it was quieter.”
He followed the direction she pointed, quickly finding the sleeping patient. He certainly looked better than he had last night, though William suspected that clean bandages replacing the muddy and torn clothes made up the majority of the improvement.
The patient stirred, cracking open a brown eye as much as his swollen face would let him.
“Morning,” William greeted. “It's good to see you decided to stay with us.”
“William?” the patient rasped. “Is...” A cough interrupted him. “Is Vienna safe?”
“My Lady,” Darius said. “Envoys from both Milan's and Lucca's armies are here to meet with you.”
“Oh dear,” Vienna sighed. Visions of them breaking out into an argument flashed though her head. “Please try to keep them from starting a fight with each other.”
“I don't think that's what they're here for,” Darius said. “I suppose you don't want to see them at the same time?”
“I think that would be just asking for trouble,” Vienna admitted. “Let the one who was here first in first. That should be neutral enough to keep trouble from brewing up.”
“That would be the one from Milan's camp.”
Vienna shrugged. Milan's envoy, Lucca's envoy; she wasn't looking forward to speaking to either one of them. She settled into a tall backed chair, and took a deep breath. This wasn't going to be pleasant.
Milan's envoy proved to be a hulking purple Kougra.“Greetings, My Lady,” he said, bowing. “I suspect you think I'm here to carry a message from your brother?”
“The thought had crossed my mind,” Vienna admitted.
He shook his head. “I fear that is not the case.”
“Then why are you here?”
“To ask if your offer for sanctuary is still open.” At her stare, he continued. “Princess, your brother is mad. The things he has ordered; they are not the things that a decent man, a sane man, would order his troops to do. We want out. All of us.”
Vienna's eyes watered. She had judged him so harshly, before she'd even heard his story. And he'd come to her, asking for help. “Bring your men,” she said in a soft voice. “They will be welcome here.”
“Thank you, Princess.” Turning slightly to the door, the Kougra had second thoughts, and turned back. “It is my guess that the envoy from Lucca's camp is going to ask the same question I had. There will be room for everyone? Lucca's men are no better off than mine.”
“If there isn't room,” Vienna said with a firm nod, “we'll find a place that has it. Bring anyone who wishes to come.”
The Kougra's guess was correct. A green Buzz came in, with almost the exact same story. Vienna reassured him that he was more than welcome to bring all of his troops. Both envoys left, promising to return with all of their troops by morning.
“You realize what this means, don't you?” Darius asked with a wide grin.
“We have a lot more mouths to feed?” Vienna asked, rubbing her temples. She was exhausted. And grumpy. All she wanted at this point was a hot bath, a soft bed, and William's shoulder to cry on.
“You did it. Your brothers have no troops left, they can't hurt anyone but themselves now.”
“But at what cost?” Vienna asked the orange Draik, thinking of the infirmary full of the wounded, and those who would never get better, like Dublin.
“At a cost much smaller than what it would have been if you did nothing,” Darius insisted.
“Now what?” Darius grumbled. “This is nearly over.”
“Vienna!” William burst into the room, panting heavily. “You have to come. Now.”
“Come?” Vienna felt a twinge of panic. Was there another assassin? Had the truce between the soldiers fallen apart? Was the war starting again?
“Come on!” William grabbed her hand and practically drug her down to the infirmary.
“William, wait! Where are we going?”
He didn't answer, instead he lead her though a maze of cots until they stopped in front of one tucked into the corner. Vienna stared at the patient, a very bandaged, battered, and bruised yellow Zafara. Her heart felt like it skipped several beats as she realized who she was seeing. “Dublin?”
“Princess,” he whispered. “I'd stand, but William threatened to hit me if I tried.”
Feeling somewhat faint, Vienna sat on the edge of his cot. “Oh, Dublin.” She reached up and stroked his cheek. “I'm so sorry. This is all my fault.”
He shook his head. “You did exactly the right thing,” he rasped. “Don't apologize for it.”
“We thought you were dead.”
“Almost was,” he admitted. “Very lucky.” He fumbled until he found her hand. “Made a promise.” His speech was slowing down, and the yellow Zafara was clearly drifting back into unconsciousness.
“Yes, you did,” she she agreed. Bending, she planted a kiss on his bandaged forehead. “My Champion,” she whispered. She was certain she saw the faint flutter of a smile before he slid back to sleep.
Vienna looked at William, her resolve hardening. “Tomorrow at first light, I want a company of men.”
“What for?” William asked.
“We're going to go see my brothers.”
As soon as the sun was high enough in the sky to see, Vienna, William, and a probably excessive amount of armed men rode out to the palace. Vienna had been quite touched with the number of men who had volunteered to come, but since there were only fifty two Uni volunteers, Vienna thought it diplomatic to limit the number of troops to however many could ride there, who were not already injured. Her non-injured clause disqualified a surprising number of volunteers.
Vienna frowned, the tall needle-pointed spires of the palace should have been slowly rising over the horizon as they rode up the hill. Cresting the hill, she could see why. They were gone. Sometime during the night, one (or possibly both) of her brothers had torn them down. The rest of the palace wasn't in much better shape, with walls sagging, and rubble strewn everywhere. The orange Uni she was riding came to a startled stop. “What happened here?”
“I don't think I want to know,” Vienna said, staring in horror at her father's beloved palace.
“What do you want to do?” William asked.
“Send down three groups of men. One to capture Milan, another to capture Lucca, and the the third will have to handle anyone else my brothers' may still have.” She turned and gave everyone within sight a warning look. “I want them all alive, and unharmed.” Pausing she amended the last bit. “Well, as unharmed as possible.”
Vienna had no idea how many troops her brothers may had left by this time, but only a dozen remained with her as the other mounted solders streamed down towards the palace. She sincerely hoped that neither Milan or Lucca thought quickly enough to try to attack her and her small group before her troops captured her brothers.
In a surprisingly short time her soldiers returned, dragging along two very distressed looking Royal Eyries and one very unhappy green Skeith. Vienna decided that the height advantage of addressing her brothers from the back of an Uni was too good to waste. Keeping her voice very mild, and ignoring Nicolas completely, Vienna greeted them. “Hello, brothers.”
“Vienna, you can't do this,” one of them snarled. Vienna realized with a start that she couldn't tell them apart. She'd never had any difficulty before.
“Where's Dublin?” the one on the right said suddenly. “If he's not with you, what did you do to him?”
That one had to be Milan, Vienna decided.
“Dublin's dead,” Nicolas said, looking a bit smug. “He died trying to stop your sister in her escape. One in a long list of people she'll have to account for someday.”
Vienna felt a surge of triumph. “Oh no,” she said, giving the Skeith a wicked grin. “He's not dead. Your assassins weren't as good as you thought.” Unable to stop herself, she added, “If I was you, I wouldn't have gone for the lowest bidder. Really, Nicolas, one hundred gold pieces for a Princess? I've got to be worth more than that.” Seeing Milan's surprised face, she added, “Didn't you know, dear brother? Nicolas has been trying to have me killed for quite some time now.”
“She lies!” the green Skeith hissed.
“Really. Then how did you know about Dublin?” Vienna countered. “You were almost right, except for the him being dead part.”
“Vienna,” Milan pleaded. “Nicolas mislead me. You were entirely right to step in and protect my kingdom...”
“Your kingdom?” Lucca snarled. “You are quite mistaken, this is my kingdom.”
“I'm afraid you're both wrong,” Vienna said in a stern voice. “Brothers, you had your chance, and you blew it. This is my kingdom.” She gave them both her brightest smile. “And coincidentally, I have the support of all of the nobles, and I'm assured I have the support of everyone else too. If you'd like to magically conjure an army to argue, now would be the time.”
She paused for theatrical effect; the only sound in the breeze was the muffled sound of snickers from her soldiers.
“Well,” she said after the pause had time to make it's point. “In that case, allow my men to show you the way to the custom built dungeon that Uncle Tomar's prepared for you. And don't worry about getting lonely,” she finished in her sweetest voice. “Uncle Tomar has promised me that the three of you are going stay together for the rest of your lives, just the three of you.”
As Milan, Lucca, and Nicolas were lead off, William drew up to her side. “Are you alright?”
Vienna took a deep breath. Now that the actual confrontation was over, she could feel the adrenaline that had kept her going draining away. “No,” she admitted, starting to shake. “In fact, I think I'm going to be sick.”
To be continued...