He went at night, because this decision was not open to debate. As [[Ruler, Don could not specifically sense whether his subjects were asleep, but he knew that Caesar, Bunny and Benjamin were all in their respective bedchambers, and had remained there for at least the last two hours.
If Vanna said yes to his offer, then there would certainly be trouble with any or all of them. But then she would be a Transylvitian unit, subject to Ceasar's orders and imbued with at least a notional level of Loyalty to the side and Duty to the crown.
If she declined his offer, then his commanders did not need to know he had ever been down here.
"Oh, Don..." was what the Turnamancer actually said in response "I never expected this. Tights. Um, maybe?"
It was a perpetual topic among the other Rulers he corresponded with. It got dragged up at every discussion and debate. What was ultimate? Was it the Titans unknowable will? The side's prosperity? The King himself? The lives of his subjects? Security? Treasure? The preservation of the realm and its ideals for future kings?
Many answers were given, some falsely. King Dickie, for example, could eloquently speak of Noble ideals he did not hold to. Don knew that Dickie's actions proved his only true Duty was preservation of himself. He was far from the only one like that.
Don King of Transylvito had substantially changed his mind on this question, since Bea, and this thing with Lord Gotti and Charlie was making it all the clearer where he stood. There were Shenanigans happening. Out in the world and within his own palace walls, actual Titanic struggles were unfolding. They involved powers beyond his comprehension, powers which he could not hope to oppose.
He knew what he wanted now: to put an end to the Shenanigans, without losing his kingdom. (Or his life, preferably. But is pleased him to discover that it was a notably lower priority.)
There was no way to end all the Arkentool users and fallen Titans and stolen heroes at once. He would have to side with one, and turn on the others. One at a time, cautiously, gaining power where he could, and with preservation of the realm kept firmly in mind at all times, he would send them all out of this world.
To that end, he'd made some more demands of the Maybe-a-Titan Charlie, demands that would prove if there was an imminent attack here in the capital or not.
"I want a unilateral declaration of non-aggression," he'd said. "Ten million Shmuckers if any Charlescomm or Faq unit or ally so much as cuts a toenail off-a any Transylvitian unit in the next twenty turns."
A non-aggression pact would allow them to use Gotti's plan with the bats, without relying on Gobwin Knob's contract, the terms of which were hypothetical and unknown.
"C'mon, I can't Sign a pledge for Faq," Charlie had scoffed.
"Okay, then I want a pledge that Charlescomm will conquer Faq, should any Faq forces attack this city," he'd volleyed back.
The astronomically high demand was intended to be refused, just the standard opening insult. Two million hadn't worked on Stanley, so he went with ten to be safe. This tactic was just meant to help clarify whether or not Faq and/ or Charlescomm would be coming to Transylvito soon and with bad intent. If not, Charlie would likely make a low counteroffer. That would itself tell Don most of what he needed to know.
But Charlie had not seemed at all insulted or evasive. He got a real serious look in his eye. "I will agree to yer terms," said the little blue face, "under one condition. Okay? Listen. Gotti had a scroll with him. It looks like this..."
She blushed, and held her arms to herself. "I mean...why?"
"Lots of reasons, Vanna," he said, quite truthfully. But then he didn't know which ones he wanted to share. Which ones would sway her decision. She was a game-player. There was no point in trying to snow her now. But what reason would matter most to her?
He nodded. "Transylvito will assume your obligations and any penalties."
And with Charlie," said the King, since she couldn't. "It's taken care of. You're in the clear. I think you'll be doing what he really wanted you for, anyway."
She stared, unwilling to give him anything on that. Perfectly understandable. And he knew which reason to give her now. She didn't need to hear his personal feelings, why he selfishly wanted her here in the palace for life. She'd need to hear the practical one, the big one, the plan.
For a moment, she kept up the blank stare, then the dawning realization made her brown eyes go wide. "So you can disband him?"
Don took a long breath through his nose, his eyelids half shut. "No. So that I can give him an order," he said. "But disbanding is certainly a contingency, should Lord Gotti refuse it."
Don knew it at once. The sight of Vanna emerging from the gloom in a black and red version of her new gown was the end of his penance.
"I'm home," she announced to the dank dungeon walls. She sounded a little dreamy and uncertain about it.
He offered her his arm, and she took it by the crook of his elbow. Together they strolled almost ceremonially among his ancient casks, toward the far stairwell. The Kings and Queens of the vintages gave Don their silent sacramental blessing.
"I mean," said Vanna, after some time, "I feel more at home here in Transylvito than anywhere else I've been. I think...I know Her Majesty would have wanted me to be your subject. If I couldn't be hers."
"I would like to think so, too. I'd even like to think she had a hand in it," said the King, which caused Vanna to look at him sharply. It was forbidden by Scripture to speak of those whose lives had ended as if they still cared for or affected those who were still living. This was really the root of Stanley's blasphemy, if he had indeed stolen Gotti from the City of Heroes.
He patted her hand on his ann. "If only by her memory," he said, with a reassuring smile. "Her example. Through her brave act, she changed much of the thinking that goes on beneath a crown, at least in this part of the world. To those of us who knew Bea, it was as if—"
She let go of his arm, and fled.
By the time he'd turned around, the was halfway up the hallway, running in the direction from which they had come. For a moment, he felt a sharp fear. Was she betraying him? Escaping to Charlie? But there was no route of escape in that direction. This corridor had only a dead end pocket of three dungeon cells.
He heard the clanging slam of an iron door.
Trotting back as quickly as his bloated, sedentary Signamancy would allow, Don returned to find her locked in her former cell. She still wore her gorgeous evening gown, still in black and red. She stood in the center of the room, facing away from him.
"What is it?" he panted. "What are you doing in here?"
Vanna waved her hand at him, without turning to face him.
He broke the call without a word, and struggled against the order for a moment.
Being polite could not be a violation of the spirit of the order. Nor could it cause a conceivable threat. The new caster needed to be reassured. She needed to have confidence in the leadership of her new side. So there was something to accomplish.
With a bit of difficulty, therefore, he violated the order.
"Excuse me," he blurted out, and stomped away.---
They met in the cellar stairwell. This was between him and his Chief Warlord, and both men were letting courtly behavior slide. Best not to be overheard.
"There is no excuse for letting her out-a there, or letting her cast!" Caesar barked, pointing his finger straight at the floor. "It is a stupid security risk."
"No! We do not know that, Don!" the Chief shouted. "Charlie can cheat at anything. Everything! And this is a flippin' Turnamancer. If any combination here of Arkentool plus Turnamancy could let her turn to us, but still disobey orders—"
"Shuddup, Caesar," ordered the King. He had no patience for that argument. Things were looking pretty well in hand right now, based on Charlie's willingness to treat with Transylvito and Vanna's willingness to turn. Caesar just didn't know what he didn't know. He was overstepping his authority.
In fact, he was not privileged to know what his King talked about with other Rulers. Even in better days, that line had always been clear. And there were even parts of this agreement Don and Bunny had to keep secret from their own people, unless those clauses were triggered.
"Let me out of my orders," he ordered Caesar. The Chief only floated there and shook his head vehemently. Don glared back at him.
So it came down to this.
Several times in the last hundredturn, Don had told himself that if Caesar gave his Ruler any direct orders that were wrong or unjustified, that he was going to have to disband the guy. Caesar was a domestic threat, in a lot of ways. He represented the old, wrong way that Don used to run the kingdom, and he was popular with a lot of other warlords who didn't like the changes. If he was going to stick around after the heir popped, then he had to be watched very carefully for signs of undermining what Don was doing to correct his own mistakes as King.
The words, "I hereby disband you," sat right there on his tongue, tasting terrible."Caesar Borgata, I hereby..." he said, with grave intonation, "order you to lock yourself in the dungeon with Vanna, and listen to her side of the story. We will discuss this in the morning, before start of turn".
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