LIAB Text 33
King Slately followed his son out the stateroom door. At the corners of the alcove, piker guardsmen in white snapped to attention and stomped. A slinking servant girl tugged on a golden rope. A courtier bowed low, awaiting the King's will.
"To the tower top, for parley," Slately told that one, without breaking stride. "Battle to follow."
"Yes, sire." He scurried off.
Tramennis had already bounded halfway down the length of the carpeted hallway. Slately cleared his throat loudly. The Prince pulled up and waited, turning and bowing his head, but with a little smirk.
Slately nodded to him. There was time. A king need not trot. He strode forward, as stern and regal as his wretched little legs would carry him.
Signamancy was a terrible curse. The Titans knew his true nature. No unipegataur-riding warrior king was he, no towering leader and orator. Over the three-thousand or so turns he had ruled, he had only once seen battle, and that from a well-guarded turret. And so he had shrunk. Gone white and fat. A crown and ermine robes could do only so much to glorify his squat frame.
Nor would he complain of it, truly. Such was the Titanic will. In their infinite wisdom, let it be so.
But what of the Signamancy of his only remaining son? Slately considered him as he approached: slight, wispy, dandyish. And now, Chief Warlord. They were a pair, were they not? To be about to fight a battle?
Without another glance, he continued deliberately for the throne room. Tramennis fell in beside him, and together, the King and Prince proceeded.
Prince Tramennis was the sixteenth of Slately's twenty-three sons and daughters, popped at a time when they were flush with princes and princesses but generally short of warlords. Therefore, he had not allotted the extra turns to pop this one as an heir. One look at his scrawny frame, and Slately had sent him off to a far-flung campaign to the northeast, not much caring about the outcome.
Tramennis had neither conquered nor fallen on that mission, but had cornered the enemy and opted to negotiate. He returned with a new alliance, including quite a nice little tribute from the former enemy side.
Thereafter, there was little thought of sending him out to fight. He traveled with courtiers as ambassador-at-large, an unusual role for a Royal unit, but how it had paid off! If one did the Mathamancy, Slately supposed that Tramennis may have earned his upkeep more than any of his siblings. Hm.
At the throne room, they did not pause, but they gathered up a large entourage of courtiers and nobles. The Royals spake not, while the rest of the lot formed an excited, babbling wake. The King and Prince walked reverently beneath the gaze of the hall's statues: many heroes, a few disappointments, all Royals of Jetstone. And all with better Signamancy than the two of them. Slately regarded them.
There stood Victor, his first son, fond of music and beloved of the court. And Lustrius, his third. That one ought to have been a king. Titas, laconic and grim. Forthewin, who could command and conquer, but whose legendary Luckamancy eventually wore out. Wonderloaf, who fell bravely in his first battle, sliced down while still fresh. And on, and on.
In each case, Slately had done as a king ought to do: let them lead. It was not for a King to manage the armies in the field. Tradition held that the Chief Warlord made the hard decisions, and the King saw only to the management of Schmuckers and other assets, such as deployment of artifacts and casters.
He was doing that again now. But he had never felt so uneasy about it. This new light on Charlie, this strange warning about the warlord who beat Ansom, who destroys mountains...
Slately glanced at Tramennis, the diplomat. Of course he wished to negotiate. It was in everyone's nature to play to one's strengths. But in this case, was it so well advised?
Tramennis caught his glance, and met his father's eyes with a questioning look. Slately cleared his throat.
"I have every confidence in you, my son," he said, with great gravity. "I'm certain you will make the kingdom proud again."
The Prince said nothing, but his face slowly split in a broad grin. He looked as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulder. There might even have been a tear forming in the corner of his eye, as he squared his shoulders and looked at the grand archway ahead of them. He looked ready to face anything now.
Such was the worth of the king's currency, and Slately spent his lies well.