LIAB Text 28
They had their first argument two hexes upriver from the bridge. It was about the word “rescue,” and it ended with Ansom riding upside down for a while.
The megalogwiff could shift a prisoner around within its huge gummy body. It might do this of its own will, or at the order of its rider. Jillian chose to fly on for a while with Ansom’s reddening head poking out from the underbelly of her enormous mount. If he had anything further to declare from down there, it would be mercifully muffled.
It failed as much of a punishment, though. Immediately after that, the stack passed through three hexes of rain showers. Ansom was dangling below, but he was dry. The group hunkered in their saddle-perches. Duncan read her look, and knew to fly close and shut up. The formation stayed tight.
Eventually, they flew out from under the clouds and entered a sunny hex. Clear of enemy units. Jillian sighed through her nose.
What was she doing? Receding away at her back was the battle she had come so far to fight. And at such a huge risk! But...
Was that really the battle she had come to fight? She felt like she had already fought her part of it.
And she won, right? She walked away from Wanda. And she took Ansom back from her. That was the right move. It was.
Disband it, it was!
So what if he didn’t feel “rescued?” And he was loyal to Wanda. So what? She knew that. So flippin’ what! It didn’t mean he was a mindless drone, like Jetstone always claimed. Ansom was no Uncroaked. She could tell. He was still Ansom. He still had his mind.
And if that mind was under Wanda’s power, then he could be forgiven. He should be pitied, in fact. She had been there herself, many times. Wanda was a force.
Yeah, well. So was Queen Jillian of Faq. She stomped her mount’s rubbery armor plate. “Get him up here!”
There was a bit of yaw in their flight as the mount shimmied Ansom’s body around the side. His stoic, unamused face rotated around toward her, as he was squeezed and kneaded up over the beast’s yellow horizon. His head was all that protruded from the megalogwiff’s body, and the beast slid it up and under an armor plate in front of her perch.
The Prince (ex-Prince?) stared up at her. His jaw and lower lip were set like the prow of a galleon. His stubborn blue eyes held her gaze. Disband him for still being so handsome, anyway.
“I want to tell you something,” she said. The wind in her face was stern and chilly, and she matched her tone to it. “You had a price on your head. You know that?”
“Of course I had,” said Ansom. “Is there a kingdom which doesn’t stand against us?”
She shook her head. “Not a kingdom. Charlie,” said Jillian. “The price on your head was probably a kingdom, though.”
Ansom scowled. “I don’t understand.”
She told him about Sammy, and what her exchange with him had meant, just before Ansom felled him. “I didn’t come here to dust you. And I didn’t intend to let it happen, if I could help it. Charlie...I guess had other ideas. But he doesn’t usually like to get directly involved in fights unless someone hires him. So I’m trying to figure out what he did to Haggar to lean on them, and why.”
Pinned in the gummy niche below the armor plating, Ansom’s head made a weak side-to-side motion. “I cannot imagine.”
“I can,” said Jillian. “And if it’s what I think, then I don’t know if I can keep doing any kind of business with him.” She glanced over at Vanna, riding the megalo to her right. She couldn’t afford to keep a caster on her own right now, but she would still need Vanna around to work on turning Ansom. She really couldn’t break ties with Charlie, not while he was footing the bill for her. Maybe after she sacked some of Stanley’s cities she would have some leeway. But then, she’d also have a Royal heir’s upkeep soon. A daughter or son...
“What do you think he was doing?” Ansom looked no less rigid, but he seemed curious now.
“He’s a Thinkamancer, right? Kind of? I guess.” Jillian bit her lip. There were things you knew you shouldn’t say, even as you felt the words coming out of your mouth. “I don’t know what he is. But he does Thinkamancy. And I think he was trying to...remove a distraction. From me.”
Ansom looked at her without any indication he followed her line of thought.
She cleared her throat. “Natural Thinkamancy,” she said. He made another vain attempt to shake his head, the goo of the megalo’s body tugged at his ears.
Jillian rolled her eyes. “Love, you idiot.”
“Oh,” said Ansom.
“Yeah, ‘oh,’” she snapped. “He reads minds, and he’s a weasel. I wouldn’t put it past him. ...What?”
Ansom’s brow was wrinkled. He looked at her almost sadly.
“I was that much-- I was that severe a tactical distraction?”
Jillian looked at him for a long moment, not knowing what to say.
“Here we are, aren’t we?” she said at last.
He had no reply. She looked out at the distant hills and took in a deep breath of cold, clean air. She let it out slowly, through puffed cheeks. “You need to go below again. I’m gonna call Charlie.”