"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."
"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.
"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."
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.
"So...you 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 right...it 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."