Book 3/Page 64/Transcript
Sleeping in here was a problem.
Prince Albert had only slept one other time in his life so far. Part of popping as Royal heir involved an upgrade to the tower; quarters designed specifically to suit him materialized inside the tower top when he did. And his huge apartment suite had included a magnificent riveted-iron sleigh bed with fine linen dressing.
That bed was not for sleeping, though. It was for other purposes (as that Vanna babe was gonna discover soon).
Instead, there was a closet. And in the ceiling of the closet were two sockets, lined and cuffed with black satin. These were for his feet. He slept upside down, and his first night's sleep had been a great one.
He was rightside up now, though, sitting in a wooden chair, propping his head with his hand. His elbow was planted on top of a chest of drawers. The chair arm was digging into his ribcage. These were lesser quarters than his own, by a lot.
He didn't think he had fallen asleep at all, but he must have, since he woke up when someone knocked on the door.
"What?" he muttered, lifting his head.
There was very little light in this room, but Count Doombats had a yellow powerball trailing in the air behind him. Albert gave him a bleary glare. "Why?"
"I brought you something to eat," shrugged the Count. "Possibly."
Albert squinted. "You possibly brought me something to eat?"
He looked away, at the bed that took up half the space in this room. Then he thought better of that, and looked at the far wall instead. "Fine. I'll allow it."
The door swung wide, and Count Doombats floated inside. He was clutching a duck cloth bag with a drawstring on it. He closed the door with his free hand, and waved the powerball off to a corner. He hovered there in front of the Prince of Faq.
"There's only one chair in here," said Albert, not rising. "You could sit on the bed, I guess."
The Count glanced at the bed very briefly. "Nah. It would be disrespectful. I'll fly."
Something in the heavy white sack that Doombats was carrying moved on its own. Albert pulled himself up out of his slouch and leaned forward curiously, looking at the bag. "Whatcha got?"
The Count smiled. "Game," he said. With his spare hand, he gripped the bag tightly around the middle. Something inside it squeaked. He adjusted his grip, then pushed the bag's opening down, causing the small, furry head of a rodent to poke out.
"Whacamole," said Count Doombats. "They're a local delicacy you got around Faq. They're not bad, if you can catch one."
The whacamole swiveled its head and looked around, but made no further sound. It was weird that the Count was talking about serving wild-caught rations to a Prince, but maybe this was part of Mom's punishment. She seemed to want to take him down a peg. So he guessed he'd better not act like it bothered him.
"Okay," said Albert. "You gonna take it to the kitchen and cook it?"
"Well, I was thinkin," said the Count, with a weird little smile on his fanged face. "You seem to have some Transylvitian Signamancy, y'Highness. Gray skin, flying special... attitude. You'd fit right in back home. They'd love ya there. I'll take ya to meet Don King sometime."
Albert raised one pierced eyebrow.
"But," continues Doombats, gesturing in his direction with the bagged rodent. "it ain't a perfect match. Round ears, purple eyes... and above all, straight teeth. So I was wondering if you can do this."
The Count lifted the bag to his mouth, and swiftly bit the rodent on the neck. It went limp almost at once, but for several seconds after, Count Doombats kept his mouth on it. He closed his eyes and swallowed, five or six times.
"Ah," said the Transylvitian, tilting back his head. Albert thought he saw a red stain on the Count's fangs, which quickly vanished. "Yeah, we don't have these at home. Good stuff. You wanna try?" He held out the bagged animal, which hung limp and did not move.
Albert did not "wanna try," but he knew when he was being tested. He could recognize a dare. The Transylvitian Noble was not gonna come in here and play tough guy and pull any kind of stunt that Prince Albert couldn't match.
He took the bag in both hands, intending to chomp down on the thing and rip its head off with his teeth, just to show this foreign clown who he was talking to. But he made the mistake of looking the creature in its dazed, black eyes. He saw fear and confusion, and he paused for a moment. The bag was warm. He could feel the little animal shift its body in his hands, wriggling with what little strength it had left.
He took two deep breaths, then looked up. "I don't think I have the life drain special, Count Doombats," said Albert. "Mom would've said something." He offered the animal back.
The Count nodded, taking the bag from him. "I figured."
He tucked the whacamole's head back into the bag, pulled the drawstring closed, and casually tossed the sack onto the top of the chest of drawers, where it landed with a thump and another weak squeak.
Albert winced just a tiny bit, and the Count made a curious face.
"Duzzat bother you?" he asked, pointed a thumb toward the bag.
"No," said the Prince. But it was a lie, and sounded like one even to his own ears. The Count only gave him a long, silent stare. "Shut up," added Albert after a while.
"That bothers you," said the Count, pointing again to the bag on the dresser. Then he pointed to the figure lying on the bed. "... but that doesn't?"
On the bed, breathing his last, was City Sergeant Brevis, the man Prince Albert had incapacitated with his knife. Faq had no Healomancy available, and there was no budget to buy a scroll, so the unconscious Brevis would croak tomorrow afternoon at the start of Faq's turn. Queen Jillian had ordered Albert to stay here with the unit until that happened.
"It was an accident," snapped the Prince. "I said!"
"Oh I believe you," said the Count, putting up his hands. "Her Majesty doesn't, but I absolutely do."
Albert's felt his face scrunch up. "You gotta tell her, then! Come on! I didn't do it! I didn't mean it! You saw!"
The Count nodded sympathetically. "Okay, y'Highness. I'll tell her."
"Thank you!" It came out like an angry yell, even though Albert felt relieved and grateful.
"She might not listen, though," said the Count. "I mean, I can't blame her for thinkin' that. She'd rather believe you're a mean-tempered liar than that bad a shot, you know? It's tough to think that your heir can't throw at a target without hittin' friendlies."
"Arright, so. Level with me, Prince," said Count Doombats. "So I can help your mother see the truth here. How bad a shot are you?"
Prince Albert shook his head. "I'm a great shot."
Count Doombats pursed his lips and stared, as if saying, "is that so?"
"I'm a great shot!" snarled Albert. "Anyone can critical miss!"
"Yes and no," said the Count. "A critical miss... in yer specialty... in a training exercise... leading to the critical incapacitation of a friendly unit? I ain't no Mathamancer, but what is that, about a one in fifty thousand accident? Hundred thousand? Whatever, it takes a special kind of bad-at-what-you-do. So what happened? What were you thinking? Did we make the sackcloth targets too realistic or something? You couldn't tell 'em from the real units?"
Prince Albert stood up slowly, and stepped up to face Count Doombats, keeping his boots on the floor. It was pretty clear now this guy was playing, and he needed to step off. Albert got up in his face and said nothing. He could do that "silent stare" thing right back.
The Count didn't flinch. "Look if you're a terrible shot, it's gonna come out. But if you are a great shot, then every time you hit a target, it'll just confirm what Queen Jillian thinks of you. So which is it, y'Highness? Did you do him on purpose? Or did you miss?"
Albert's chest heaved a few times as he glared at the Transylvitian. He considered taking a swing at him, but he couldn't do that under terms. Not for damage. And since he wasn't the Chief Warlord, he didn't even have the authority to break alliance.
But of course, a punch wouldn't change the truth.
"I'm a great shot," he said again, more quietly.
"Yeah," said the Count, "of course you are. Terrible commander, but a great shot. 'Cause, see, a commander knows his decisions have consequences. Your mother ain't so good at seeing those either, sometimes. But she knows that if you're leading, you gotta own your own actions.
"She put you down here to watch him pay the price for what you did," said Doombats. He put his arm out straight and pointed at Sergeant Brevis, without breaking eye contact with Albert. "You think it matters to him whether you did it on purpose or not? You did it. You gotta own up to that, Prince."
Albert kept his chin raised up, but said nothing. Annoyingly, his right knee started to shake.
The Count appeared not to notice. He turned and floated away from the standoff, plucking the sack from the top of the chest. He opened the door and looked back at Albert.
"It's good to know you got some sympathy, y'Highness," said the Count, holding up the bag and shaking it. He then used the bag to point at the bed. "But ain't it kinda misplaced? G'night."