|Jack and Ansom sit on a bench in the war room. Jack's legs are crossed and he smiles at Ansom. Ansom is leaning forward and looking down.|||
Oh, he'd supposed that the big, serious man was a perfectly competent warlord and strategist. Certainly Ansom had a mind, just not a mind worth plumbing. Ansom never said anything he didn't mean, and he never did anything that couldn't be fully explained in a single sentence. "Prince" Ansom had transitioned smoothly from being the standard bearer for Royalism, to being the standard bearer for Toolism. So where was the riddle there?
Not even the fact that he'd been [Jillian]]'s lover distinguished him, particularly. The Yellow Rose made unfortunate choices all the time. It said very little about the ones that she chose. Or didn't choose.
He and the warrior had been seated in the first row of risers by Spacerock's tactical table for the better part of an hour, as Ansom told him the tale of his captivity and escape. (The part where he'd tackled the Queen of Faq and plummeted from a great height while still squabbling was Jack's favorite bit.)
The warlord shook his head. "No," he said, almost apologetically. "At least, I don't believe so."
Jack smiled and nodded. "I thought you might say so. I, ah, took the liberty..."
He gestured subtly, and made the ringing noise in Ansom's head cease. He'd been building it up there ever since coming into the room. It was a trick he had picked up at the Court of Faq, which he had sometimes applied to annoy Moothfott or Betsy, whoever was being insufferable.
The warlord cocked his head curiously, then nodded. "I see."
"Not being able to speak about Charlie was like that for me," said Jack. "And Sister Wanda still bears that burden." The Foolamancer leaned forward, locking eyes with the warlord. "But what I used to feel for Jillian was much the same, you know. A subconscious ache, a burden unminded, a sound I could not hear until it had stopped."
He leaned back again, casually glancing up at the ceiling and memorizing the shadows. "All the most interesting people have a ringing like that, I find. You've got one on you now. I can tell."
Ansom, his shoulders as square and stiff as ever, took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. "If so, it isn't her," he said gloomily. "I'm... not sure I ever loved her. When I was popped again, I didn't hear the ringing stop."
Jack smirked. "Then how do you know it's not still ringing?"The man knotted up his brow, frowned and said nothing. His consternation was quite genuine and gratifying, but Jack felt obliged to release him from the rhetorical cage.
|Close-up of Ansom, looking depressed.|||
"Noooo, it's not her," he scoffed. "It's more what she said, isn't it? That you were 'already gone.' You may not love her now. As you say, you may never have loved her. But you certainly did like to chase after one another. You liked it when she took you for a prize. But now she's giving up on you."
Ansom was silent. And Jack knew when to let a man chew.
"She has a Turnamancer," said the warlord, after a long while.
"She's a Royalist," said Ansom, turning his head to meet Jack's eyes. "Jillian's intentions were to turn me to Faq. The Turnamancer didn't know if it was possible, but I was not troubled by it."
Jack studied the wrinkles in the warlord's brow, with an eye and a memory so sharp that he'd be able to project a precise map of them, like a mountain range, if you asked him to do so a thousand turns from now. "You are worried now," he said.
Jack raised an eyebrow. So here was Ansom's ringing, after all. Not his lover, but his brother.
The warlord looked up at him again and said, with utmost seriousness, "Do you think we are alive?"
"Yes," said Jack, tilting his head slightly. "Well, some of us more than others. But hasn't that always been the case? Decrypted or not?"
He'd meant it as a joke, but Ansom's expression only darkened further.
"That's it, Foolamancer. I think... that Ossomer must have believed something, felt that something... was more important than the will of the Titans. He was a... deeply traditional man. He still loved Jetstone." Ansom swallowed. He seemed to be struggling for his words. "But when I look in my own heart, I feel nothing like that. Not for Jillian, nor for Jetstone, nor for the ideals of Royalty. I only want to see the world ruled by Tools."
"I see," said Jack, foregoing sarcasm. This was just what he'd come down here to find out: whether or not Ansom could be trusted in the field without risk of turning. Time to come right out and ask it, he supposed. "And are you worried that when you go to Jetstone or Faq, that these feelings will reawaken in you?"
Ansom held his lips together for a moment, his eye darting around in thought."I am worried that they won't," he said quietly. "I am worried that I am already gone."