Book 3/Page 39/Transcript

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"Let me say that I was overjoyed to hear Vinny's report of your safe return home to Faq," said the mental image of the King of Transylvito, floating in the air. "I'd imagine that you expected to hear from me before now. I hope you will forgive my tardiness. Of course," he added, shrugging his big shoulders helplessly, "I might have held similar expectations of my own."

Jillian winced. "Yeah. Sorry, Don."

"You know that Bunny is at your disposal, any time you'd like to hear a friendly voice."

Jillian, in her nightgown, shifted uncomfortably on the edge of the bed. "I guess I wasn't so sure you'd be all that friendly, after Spacerock."

"A reasonable concern," said Don, his face darkening. "I knew King Slately for longer than anyone else in Erfworld. He was my ally, and my friend. And now he exists no more, in part because of a decision you made on the battlefield."

Jillian swallowed. Out in the field, mostly at night, she had rehearsed in her head what she would say to him at this moment.

"I'm sorry...that Jetstone couldn't defend its capital against an inferior force trapped in its own airspace. But I don't have to justify myself to you, Don. If you'd been there—"

"Precisely. You do not need to justify anything to me, Queen Jillian," said Don King gravely. "King Slately was also my peer. As you are my peer. Your decisions are yours alone to make. But perhaps it would be a good moment, now that you are home and in your own bed, for a wise Ruler to consider the consequences of her actions."

She had expected a fight. This stopped her cold.

After a moment's pause, Don continued. "What have you gained, Jillian? What have you lost? Does it seem a wise choice to you now? I offer you my perspective on anything you wish to share with me. As your peer. And your ally. And as for my friendship...that was never in question. I hope you understand that."

Jillian closed her eyes, and exhaled. "You know about Ansom?" she asked quietly.

Don's image nodded. "King Tramennis tells me you took him as booty."

That made her smile a bit. "You could say that," she said. "I thought I was saving him. That's the way we always played it. We went to each other's rescue. We kept score. This time...was going to put me one ahead of him."

Don seemed amused by this. "I see. And what happened?"

She gave him an abbreviated account, since Thinkagrams don't last forever.

" can imagine that," she said. "I had Stanley the Worm at the tip of my sword. Then bam, I'm jumped. Dismounted. Falling into the trees. He really did his best to croak me. No hesitation whatsoever."

"So much for taking turns rescuing each other, hm? So then, Ansom has finally perished?"

Jillian looked at the floor. "No, he got repatriated. But that...wasn't really Ansom, Don. I, uh..." She looked up, smiling painfully. "I really screwed up. You're wasn't a wise decision."

Don raised his eyebrows. "I am confused. You lived. He lived. Stanley lived? How did that all come about?"

Jillian tried to form an answer, but felt the tightness of the NDA spell gripping at her chest. That, of course, was the worst part of all of this; it was Charlie who had saved her from Ansom, from Stanley. She was even with Ansom, who'd truly been lost at the battle for Gobwin Knob. She understood that, finally. But now she owed Charlie. She would have to save him someday, to be even. "I can't really say."

Don's image nodded, as if he understood.

"Jillian...others might be inclined to see cowardice in your choice, but I see a certain nobility there. Reckless and foolish, of course, but noble. There is a passage from Scripture that comes to mind. Give me one moment..."

The image lowered its gaze. She couldn't picture his hands, but he seemed to be leafing through a book on his desk. At one point, he licked his thumb.

"Ah, here. This is from the Book of Buddy. 'For a King or a Warlord may cut a fine swath by sword, yet still they may fall to an enemy blow. Or a King or a Warlord may hide behind walls, safe from the weapons of their enemies, but still they may starve and depop. But the King or the Warlord who goes forth, a sword in one hand to conquer, a shield in the other to protect, shall both progress and conserve, and therefore prosper, whatever their Luck may bring. Wisdom stands with one foot on either side of the bell curve.'"

She sort of stared at the image of Don, waiting for what he was saying to click. It didn't.

"I don't use a shield," she pointed out.

"And it shows," said Don, smiling. "And I don't use a sword, as you can see from my big fat belly and my terrible Signamancy. We could both, perhaps, learn something from this passage. Some Rulers play for gains, and some play to prevent losses. You could have stayed and protected Slately, but you made a play for Ansom instead. You played for a gain, as is in your nature. It is not the choice I would have made, but I can respect it."

She looked at his image dubiously. "Really?"

"Ansom was a Royal," said Don. "If he could have been redeemed, turned, restored to himself? That, I believe, was an effort worth making. We've lost too many lately. Far too many. I do miss my talks with Bea."

Jillian nodded, but didn't say anything. Of course that's what Don cared about: Royalty. Even as a sitting Queen, Jillian wasn't sure she agreed with him.

"But," said Don, brightening suddenly, "we will soon have new gains! My son or daughter will pop in less than forty more turns. And since Vinny also mentioned that your Turnamancer returned safely, I assume that yours will pop...tomorrow? Are you excited?"

Actually, Jillian had been trying not to think about it. Avoiding thinking about things was a skill on par with her swordsmanship.

"Of course," she lied.

"What are you hoping for?" asked Don King eagerly. "Prince? Or a Princess? Warlord or a Caster?"

"What I really want," said Jillian, looking down at the rug where her slippered feet were planted. Her ankles looked swollen, for some reason. She guessed her own Signamancy was changing, too. "Is a flyer. I think I'd be happy with anyone, if they could fly."

Don King smiled. "So you wish for still another sword. Be careful, that's—"

But the image faded. The Thinkagram had ended.