LIAB Prologue 19
Art by S. Turner
Turns since TBfGK: 23
Dhrystone was a city of great enduring power, one of Jetstone's three Level Fives. A sprawling stone citadel with an equally impressive garrison, its mossy gray ramparts rose up out of the dense pine forest with serene grace.
This city was one of the few things Prince Ossomer considered beautiful enough to be worth standing and admiring for a while. It was built much as he himself was: tall, hard, chiseled, majestic, and quietly, implicitly violent.
In Ossomer's studied opinion, Dhrystone also popped the finest soldiers in Erfworld. They were the standard by which all others might be measured.
It was for that reason that the city had been popping only infantry since he became Chief Warlord. Ansom had been wasting its output on Gumps; Father had a hands-off policy where decisions of the Chief Warlord were concerned. But twelve stacks of eight Pikers and eleven stacks of six Stabbers had now popped since Ansom fell. Given present circumstances, that was surely worth more than seven Gumps.
Most of those troops had first been sent eastward, to settle the unfortunate skirmish with Haggar. Ossomer's first major challenge.
Haggar was a quarrelsome, vexing neighbor. They were Royal, but they had refused to join the Coalition against Lord Stanley. When word of Ansom's defeat at Gobwin Knob came down, they had taken it as an opportune moment to strike at Pantstown, a long disputed Level One on the Jetstone side of the River Phoenix. Even as King Slately pleaded that this was a time for all Royals to unite, Haggar had to be gauche.
Well. Ossomer decided that if they could not be made to see light, then he would make them see stars.
He took Pantstown by surprise, then blasted his way through the gap and took Toughskin and Oshkosh as well. He laid siege to a third city, Sansabelt, and sent word to Haggar's King Dickie that the days of courtly emissaries and bean-counter diplomacy over tea were finished. Unless they accepted alliance, Jetstone would march on the capital and annex Haggar into a greater kingdom, perhaps then spinning it off into a new side with Ossomer himself as King.
It was a bluff, of course. Jetstone had been crucially weakened in the loss to Gobwin Knob, and was risking nearly everything with this gambit. But Haggar quickly acceded and joined the growing Royal Crown Coalition II, along with Transylvito, Unaroyal, FoxMUD, Hobbittm, Sofa King, Hyatt (which was technically a Regency, but committed to preserving Royal supremacy), and "Faq" (apparently a small new kingdom allied with Transylvito).
As a result of all of that senselessness, Ossomer now arrived at Dhrystone at the head of a column of about six hundred units and five warlords, of Haggar and Jetstone alike. He fretted that they were not more. Every unit lost in the recent battles on either side was a loss for the Coalition, a waste they could ill afford.
Having already been announced and hailed, Prince Ossomer paused on the gravel road, and stood before the city's gates in silent contemplation. His captains knew to hold their distance, and their tongues. He stared up at Dhrystone's great tower, at the pikes and lances along the walls. Too few, too few. He might one day make a last stand for Jetstone. If so, he prayed the Titans would let it be in this place.
There was much to plan, and everything at stake.
This column would take provisions here and continue on toward Bridgestone and Firestone, cities which lay on the border with Unaroyal and were the closest Jetstonian cities to the fight. From there, they would accept Unaroyal's decision: to call for Jetstone's aid, or cede the capital to Stanley's forces and send what units it could salvage to the other Coalition sides. There was yet time to prepare a counterstrike or some kind of massive--
Ossomer raised one thick black eyebrow. This was the closest thing his taut, disciplined body had to a startle reflex. He turned around.
Hovering low over the heads of his officers was a single Unipegataur stallion wearing a large gold earring and outfitted with a gold-inlaid white Jetstone saddle with Royal radishes. Its rider, a slender man in light segmentata armor, was his older brother Prince Tramennis. The warlords and officers saluted at full attention as he landed, grinning.
"Tramennis!" Ossomer smiled, but with no small bewilderment. "Were you not intending to meet us at Firestone? How did you have the move?"
"I cheated of course," declared Tramennis as he dismounted adroitly. His caligae sandals crunched the gravel. "I set up a relay through Rollingstone and Penistone." He patted the Unipegataur on the flank and nodded his thanks to it.
Ossomer approached, and was met with a spirited embrace. Tramennis hugged Ossomer at the chest plate, standing more than a head shorter than his younger brother. But then, nearly everyone was shorter than Ossomer. "Really," he chided, slapping his brother's back fondly, "that is a waste of flyers."
"Nonsense! I'm telling you, we should do it more. The enemy is." He stepped back and put his hand on his hip, beside the hilt of his rapier. "Anyway, Prince's privilege. I knew I'd want to talk to you after diplomatic rounds."
He looked around, to see that the warlords and officers still stood at a distance which allowed private conversation. His face darkened. "But now?" said Tramennis with a tense sigh, "I need to."
Tramennis was rarely anything but buoyant. This tone meant more bad news. "Oh?"
"I have learned the details," he said. "Of our brother's fate, I mean." His slate blue eyes locked on Ossomer's.
Ossomer set his jaw. "I see." He took a breath, let it out, and shook his head sadly. "You are not going to tell me his life ended well, are you?"
Tramennis shook his head. "No, I am not going to tell you that, Ossomer." He leaned forward, and his voice dropped to a whisper. "For Ansom lives."