Bunny Velvetino listened more to the quiet humming in her head--the vibration of the G-strings of all of Transylvito's units, and one in particular--than she did to the fuddled words of Bennie and Don.
These two men came to the smoking room every night, and didn't smoke. They sat in big chairs by the hearth, but rarely lit a fire. Each night, they drank more or less the same amount of marsala, got more or less the same amount of drunk, and had more or less the same conversation. Bennie talked about the treasury. Don talked about other Rulers. They were units of habit.
And so, she supposed, was she. She didn't have to join them. It had been many hundredturns since she'd had anything significant to contribute to these chats. Her verbal projections made Benjamin uncomfortable, she knew, even though he understood her problem with speech.
But Don would miss her, so here she was. She sat off to herself, looking out the latticed window into the night, drinking lemon water and eating exactly four sugar biscuits, spaced out at intervals over the hours before the King would retire. It would soon be time for biscuit number three.
Only when their conversation turned to Caesar did Bunny return her full attention to the room, being careful not to betray any outward interest. Not that they were likely to notice, but caution about her secrets was a habit too... one she'd paid a heavy price to learn.
"Caesar's says he's eyeballin' Carphone, after that field strike," said Benjamin. "If he could pull it off cheap, that'd make us happy." When the Moneymancer said 'us,' he meant Transylvito's treasury.
"It was a good battle," said Don. Over the past two turns, Caesar had gotten in some sneaky scouting on a Carpool advance, and decimated their column with fast hit-and-fly strikes. The enemy force was in retreat in the south. The Chief Warlord had almost singlehandedly stabilized Transylvito's position.
"Another good one, yeah," said Benny, raising his crystal tumbler in a vague toasting gesture before drinking. "I'm tellin' ya. The hotter the battlespace, the better he does out there. It's like the Titans are lookin' over his shoulder."
The Moneymancer smiled as he said this, but Don was indifferent. "I'd hope it means stability until my heir pops," said the King. "That's all I ask. Queen Jillian is in an enviable position. She can risk herself more freely now that Prince Albert had arrived.""I'd say less freely," said Bennie. "Since she trashed half her army. Her very expensive army."
"Yeah, I know. Give it time," said Don. "She'll build it back up."
"Okay, Don, okay," said Benjamin. "We'll give it time. But no more money." He wagged his finger at his Ruler.
Don King sipped his drink. "No need right now," he said. "The opportunity may have passed, but so has the urgency."
"Eh. Still seems pretty urgent to me."
"Nah," said Don. "The Worm moved his capital far away from us, and he's halted his advance. Jetstone didn't fall. The battle accomplished that much. When Queen Jillian is ready, she can pry the city of Gobwin Knob outa Stanley's little fingers, expand Faq to the east. By then, we'll likely be in a position to lend her some aid again."
This was another conversation they'd repeated often, and Bunny's attention began to wander away again. But then Benjamin said, "Yeah? What kinda aid, though? You plan to send your heir? Or Caesar?"
"She's got Vinny... I should send Caesar, since he hates her that much," said Don, smiling. "Make him fight beside her, and win. Maybe they'd even bond."
Both men chuckled.
"But nah, I don't think he's gonna live that long, the way he sticks his neck out. Know what I'm saying? He's in a dangerous position. Things are bound to happen, eventually. And... and maybe that would be for the best."
Bunny breathed slowly and deliberately. She left biscuit number three on its plate, and took a sip of water instead.
"Yeah, but he keeps risin' to the occasion," said Benjamin. "You know, they talk about units with Fate blessings on 'em. I don't know much about that, but he keeps surviving these fights like he's meant for something. Maybe you should be careful, Don. Maybe that's your throne."
"Pff, please. Maybe he wants it," said Don King. "But you can't tell me the Titans do, Bennie. They want a Royal. If Caesar's got other ideas... he wants to come at me, fine. I could see that. I prob'ly would, too, in his position. But I got that conti-*hic* contingency covered."
He leaned back and craned his neck toward her. "Don't I, Bunny?"
When all four biscuits had been eaten, and both drunken men had wandered off to their bedchambers, Bunny some dolls to tidy the smoking room. Then she walked the palace corridors alone.
Most units couldn't claim to enjoy the absolute faith of their Ruler. Almost everyone alive must deal with the possibility that their King or Overlord could see fit to disband them at any time, for any reason. They had only the Titans to answer to.
But Don would never do that to her. He needed her like he needed air. And he didn't think to question her, any more than you'd question whether the air for your next breath will be there for you.
That faith had been earned at a terrible cost. A very long time ago, when she had not truly known her own heart, or Don's, or Prince Ponzie's, she'd made a choice. Because of it, she had forever lost her connection to those who shared her craft. She had lost her voice. And her lover had lost his life.
For a few thousand turns, perhaps, Bunny had dwelt in the agony of regret. But eventually, she just gave it no thought anymore. This was simply her life now.
That was a dangerous thing to do, where such a hard lesson was concerned. She had forgotten not to fall in love. And now it seemed a hauntingly similar choice loomed ahead.
She had reached her chamber door, but as she touched the handle, it felt strange to her. The moonlight flickered, and she shivered.No, not the door handle. And no the light. It was a sense she had forgotten how to feel. Someone was plucking at her G-string...