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One Hundred Eighteen
Year One Hundred and Thirty One
Ninhursag gave Ygerna an annoyed look. “What is this about?”
“I will reveal that once the room is sealed and the meeting has begun,” the Sidhe woman replied smoothly. “You only have to wait a few more minutes.”
Ninhursag grumbled softly and headed for a seat as Ganieda poked her head into the room. “You wanted to see me, Ygerna?”
“Let’s step outside for a moment.” They went into the hall and Ygerna handed Ganieda a video player. “Iain asked me to give this to you as early as I could.”
The Snugglebunny Splice’s eyes went wide. “You’ve seen him.”
“That’s what I’m meeting with them about and yes. The rest is private until after this meeting.”
Ganieda eyed the player. “What is this for?”
“I haven’t been allowed to view it, but I was told that it’s a recording of Geraldine’s destruction at the hands of Eirian. Come find me after the meeting and I can tell you more.”
Ganieda pulled her gaping mouth shut. “You do realize I want to plant my butt here until you come out of this meeting.”
“If you have other duties, carry them out. The last thing you want to do is get in trouble and not be able to see me for a while.”
“Shit. I’ve got training with Bellona.”
“Come see me after dinner. I’d like to see this recording too and I can then put things into some context for you.”
“Is he all right?”
“Iain is a survivor, Ganieda, and has well learned the lessons we have given him in how to prevail. He is far more than merely all right.”
Ganieda’s fangs gleamed in her grin. “I should have expected that. I’ll find you after dinner.” She tucked the player into a pocket.
“Just remember that you hold the only recording of that event that exists on this world,” Ygerna cautioned her. “Not even Theodora has a copy. If you break or lose it, we’ll have to wait for Iain to come home to see it.”
Ganieda took the player back out of her pocket. “I’ll put it in my safe before I go to training.” She bobbed her head and vanished.
Ygerna went back into the meeting room and counted heads to ensure everyone was present. “Theodora, seal the room and I revoke privacy for you. Hopefully you can help me keep from making too many mistakes. Please share with Daya.”
Theodora appeared with Daya standing next to her. “With special permission from Ninhursag, Daya has returned to this universe for this meeting. She will return to the Addams’ universe after this meeting is over with only a few seconds having passed there. Ygerna, the room is sealed and thank you.”
“I called this meeting,” Ygerna said as she settled into her chair, “because, early this morning, Emerald came to see me. She took me and the Grimoire of Danu to Iain and I wanted to report on what I saw, what I did and what Iain told me and asked me to tell you.”
“She is telling the truth,” Theodora said into the sudden ringing silence. “She left and returned and has been medically cleared per the new return protocol. Please let her speak and save any questions until after in case she answers them in her briefing.”
Ninhursag and April exchanged a look. “Proceed,” Ninhursag said.
“First of all, Iain reassured me that he is quite well and I saw no signs he was being deceptive. Second, I was there for four days and I was kept secluded as much as he could, I believe in an attempt to lessen any possible threat from his teacher. I interacted with him, a woman who was my assistant in what I was asked to do, Emerald, Eirian and I met one other. I’ll get into that more in a moment.”
She sipped at a glass of water. “Iain told me he has been on that world for over a century at the point he asked me for help. He has added to his undead harem, and I was asked to come there and provide the means to return one of them, a sun elf named Helesatra Vyshaan, to life.”
“Why,” Lucifer asked. She smiled. “Please excuse me, but has any of his undead harem been brought to life before?”
“No,” April replied. “This is new.” She looked at Ygerna. “Please continue.”
Ygerna put her phone down on the table and keyed the holographic display live. An image of Helesatra in her true form appeared, wearing the comfortable robes that she preferred. “This is Helesatra Vyshaan. She is a sun elf of mixed ancestry.”
Kasserine frowned. “Do you know her lineage?”
“I do. She was my assistant in preparing for the ceremony and we talked a great deal. Helesatra was the first child born of the crown princess and heir to the Empire of Vyshaantar. They were involved in a war with several opponents that was of a religious nature, started by a proclamation from the highest ranked priests of the god Corellon that the empire had done something wrong and all Vyshaan nobles who carried the bloodline of the emperor within their veins must die.”
“It must have been a terrible thing that they did,” Kasserine said. “Corellon is the head god of the elven pantheon and his priests are revered in most places there are elves. I have never heard of a proclamation like this from them before.”
“Well, things must have been pretty bad for the empire because the Emperor made a deal with a type of devil called a pit fiend to father Helesatra with this princess, who did not survive the pregnancy. Helesatra was born and this pit fiend was to receive her when she turned eight and, in return, he was to provide troops from Hell to aid the empire in its war. This means that she is half pit fiend and half sun elf. I did some research this morning and pit fiends are the highest rank of devil that is not truly unique. They are just below the diabolic lords in rank and some can be lords in their own right. They are incredibly powerful.”
April paled. “That’s horrible. I can’t imagine what a devil would want with a child.”
“He only wanted her soul,” Ygerna corrected the Duelist. “And I understand that, at the time I was there, this pit fiend had been neutralized. Outside of specific circumstances, I do not think they can be permanently killed.”
“Was Iain involved,” April asked.
“I don’t know. Helesatra is very protective of Iain and she didn’t know me very well, so her caution is frustrating but commendable. I would not be surprised to find out that he was, especially considering the situation I found myself in. Helesatra hated her family and Iain had arranged for her to have the opportunity to kill them all and end the threat they represented to her. I was there when she did. I did not witness the executions but I did watch a recording of the events afterwards. She was not cruel, but she showed them no mercy.”
She took another drink of water. “I was to bring Helesatra back to life so that she, as the last living member of the royal family and the only one that could not be tied to her family’s sins, could claim the throne. Iain intended her to be their queen, restructure the empire into a queendom, and make them satellite clan. But Helesatra had plans of her own and she carried them out in a method that makes me think she will be an excellent queen once she gets her feet under her. Considering our talks, I expect her to do that quickly.”
“What did she do,” Lucifer asked curiously.
“She told Iain that she would only do what he wanted if he married her and made her inner clan.” Ygerna smiled. “It turns out she had fallen in love with our Iain and gambled for the reward she’d always wanted but never thought she’d get.”
April was staring at Ygerna. “Did he agree to her terms?”
“He did. He does not love her, but he will. Helesatra spent most of her life on the run from her grandfather, the Emperor Vyshaantar. She knows very little about being a queen, but she is determined to bring the nobles of her new queendom to heel. To that end, she has already been corresponding with me for advice. From our discussions, she seems to be a good student.” She smiled. “And considering the time differential, I may be hearing from her several times a day until Iain returns.”
“If she’s queen, she’ll be expected to produce heirs,” Kasserine noted.
Ygerna nodded. “She will be his wife in truth and he will be the prince consort and possibly have Vyshaan titles of his own. Iain will restore his fertility and father her children.”
“Who is the other person you met,” Vanessa asked.
“She is named Quick Bite and she is a kobold.”
Kasserine looked surprised. “You are fortunate that you were not attacked. Kobolds are nasty filthy creatures who skulk in caverns and waylay passersby.”
Ygerna touched her phone and the image of Quick Bite appeared. “I believe you may need to reassess your beliefs about kobolds, Kasserine. As you can see, Quick Bite is quite clean and is wearing silks and fine linen. The quality is quite high, with a very tight weave that was not machine made. This makes sense as I understand she is the leader of the kobold tribe that serves Iain. She is wearing understated but elegant jewelry, mostly of jet and other dark semiprecious stones in silver settings, but she was wearing a single diamond that held some enchantment I didn’t recognize. She was quite cultured, and I only met her because she came by with a couple of artisans to make sure I approved of the altar that had been set up for Helesatra’s resurrection and to make changes if necessary.” She smiled. “The altar was quite nice. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one like it. The required carvings were all present but there were many additional ones of kobolds, elves, dwarves and dragons. I suspect that the dragon carvings were mostly of Iain. Everything had been inlaid in jet and silver and the altar itself had been made of a red and white marble that showed off the carvings and inlay very nicely.” Her eyes twinkled merrily. “I have pictures of it that I’ll show during our next magic classes.”
“What else is there,” Ninhursag asked.
“Everyone that I met had a twee,” Ygerna said. People stared at her. “Before I left, Iain briefed me on what had been transpiring. I don’t think he told me nearly everything that was going on, and I learned nothing new about why his teacher had sent him there in the first place, but I did learn a lot that we didn’t know before. I’ve given Theodora the timeline that Iain gave me, and she will make that and recordings of the discussion he and I had available only to the command staff. For everyone else, this is still covered under privacy. I realize that this sounds arbitrary and petty and, in truth, it is.”
“Then why keep it private,” Daya asked curiously. “If you know you’re being petty, why do so?”
“The time I spend with Iain is exactly that, mine, just as everyone else’s time with him is theirs. We are having this meeting because I take my responsibilities to the clan seriously and that is the only reason we are having this meeting. I no more wish to share any of my time with Iain with anyone else than anyone else would want to share it with me.”
“Your reasoning is valid and accepted,” Ninhursag said. “I accept your invocation for everyone here.” She looked around the room. “Does anyone wish to dispute this?”
“May I tell Ava,” Kasserine asked. “I have few secrets from her.”
“Ava is my friend,” Ygerna said with a smile. “But I will be the one to tell her what I wish her to know, not you.”
“This isn’t your secret,” Daya noted to Kasserine, “if that helps.”
“It doesn’t, not really,” Kasserine replied. “However, I understand and I accept your invocation. I will tell Ava to ask Ygerna.”
Ygerna nodded. “Iain told me that he will be gone over seven hundred years and not the five he’d expected when he left. He did not explain why. He told me what April asked of him of being gone here for a day for every century he is there, but he did not tell me if he would be gone seven days or the original five. I suspect he hasn’t decided yet.”
“Iain told me that he’d let me know when to be there for his arrival,” April said. “When he does, I’ll inform Ninhursag. Did he find love?”
Ygerna smiled. “You mean besides the women here that he loves?”
“Yes,” April said curtly.
“You already know about Helesatra. She fits the pattern of the women he loves and I believe he will love her fairly quickly once she is alive and he spends time with her. He told me about two other women he is interested in.” She touched the phone and the image changed to a dark black skinned woman with long white hair and red eyes. She was wearing an elegant black and silver bustier and skirt but was barefoot. “This is Zilvra, and she is a drow priestess of Eilistraee. I understand she’s the high priestess in the valley. While I do not know where this valley is, Iain explained it’s where he settled after coming to this world. From some things that Helesatra and Quick Bite said, I believe it is located somewhere in a mountain chain and is quite secluded. That suggests that whatever this project of his is, it does not require him to spend long periods of time in cities.”
Kasserine frowned. “According to Kerrik, the drow are almost uniformly evil. He did say that there were a small number who were not, but that they were few and far between. Still, I doubt Iain would love anyone who is truly evil in her heart and I doubt a woman like that could deceive him for long.”
“Iain assured me that she is not evil.” Ygerna looked at Theodora. “Could I get some tea instead of this water. It is distilled and flavorless.”
“It is on the way,” Theodora assured the Sidhe.
“Thank you.” Ygerna looked at Ninhursag. “The last woman that Iain told me about is Arithallos. She is a silver dragoness that he was introduced to by Xune. He said that he and Arithallos have been lovers for decades.” She touched her phone again and the image changed to show a middle aged looking elf woman wearing a linen tunic and skirt. “I do not have a picture of her as a dragon. Iain provided all of the pictures that I do have.”
Lucifer cocked her head. “Who is Xune?”
“I asked that too. Xune is a gold dragoness that Iain adopted. I don’t know the circumstances behind the adoption. When I asked, Iain said that was a story for later.” Ygerna shrugged as a drone rolled into room, pushing a tea trolley. “He also declined to provide an image of her.”
“How did Iain recreate Grey there,” Ninhursag asked.
“He said that he was killing evil dragons and taking their hoards,” Ygerna explained with a smile. “He killed one that had a tribe of kobolds serving it and some of them decided that since he’d proven he was stronger than Zartalymere, the dragon he’d killed, they would serve him. He made them clan as an attempt to take firmer control of them so he could control their behavior better.”
April paled. “He said he was killing dragons? What exactly does killing dragons mean?”
Ygerna’s eyes twinkled with suppressed mischief. “I asked him that too. He said that was another story for later. I think he intends to explain it once he returns.”
April growled loudly. “We have a lot invested in Iain. He’d better not be recklessly endangering himself again.”
“And who’s definition of recklessly do you think Iain is going to use,” Ygerna asked, the twinkle in her eyes getting stronger.
April’s fist clenched as she growled louder.
“Why are you deliberately seeking to provoke April’s anger,” Lucifer asked.
“I am a victim of the same definitions that Iain is,” Ygerna said with a pert smile. “I have been pregnant before and I know full well when I will be unable to carry out my responsibilities to my clan and that time has not yet arrived. Still, I am forced to no longer train as I wish to and I resent it deeply. Iain, according to what we know about his life with his teacher, has spent two centuries away, more or less, and the whole time he was without us. While that is regrettable, it also suggests that, since Iain has not died during these absences, he is aware of his limitations on and off the battlefield. And before you condemn him as merely being lucky so far, please keep in mind that Iain has the most vested interest in remaining alive out of all of us. And I, for one, have seldom see him be reckless with his safety unless he felt the safety of one of us was in dire peril.” She poured herself a cup of tea and leaned back in her chair. “And now, other than an observation that I think is vital, my report to you is complete.”
Ninhursag put a warning hand on April’s as the Duelist opened her mouth. April shot her an irritated look but refrained from speaking as the Elfqueen looked at Ygerna. “And what is your observation?”
“I believe that we have, unintentionally perhaps, been doing the man we all love a severe disservice. This disservice might well increase his chances of being severely injured or killed. Fortunately it is easily remedied, although many of us will not wish to implement it.”
Lucifer’s eyebrows had risen as Ygerna was speaking. “And what is this disservice we have done Iain?”
“What have we encouraged, if not demanded, from Iain whenever he returns from one of his training sessions or missions to his teacher?” Ygerna looked around the room. “We have insisted that he lock away the events that he has experienced and reset his memories to right before he left us. That is two centuries of surviving and learning that he may not be able to access anymore, and all because we fear he will have forgotten about us, something that I can attest during my visit that he has most certainly not done. That knowledge might save his life or the life of one of us or our children. Most importantly, it tells Iain that we don’t trust him to keep loving us during his absences.”
April had gone ashen. “Did he say that,” she almost whispered.
“Iain would never be so callous as to tell any of us anything even remotely suggesting such a thing,” Ygerna replied. “And I did not ask him if he thought such a thing. He would never admit something such as that, even if he did. And it doesn’t matter if he recognizes the insult or not, for the insult is still given by us to him and we now realize what we have done. The question is now, what will we do about this?”
“What you’re suggesting is pure conjecture,” Vanessa said. “Do you have a shred of proof that what you’re saying is true?”
“I do not.”
“You see,” Vanessa began.
Ygerna spoke over her. “Theodora and Daya do. They have Iain’s uploads of his memories.”
Vanessa froze. “But,” she broke off and shook her head. “Theodora? Daya?”
Theodora shrugged. “It’s all under privacy.”
Lucifer sat up straight. “Once you helped us to find a way around privacy in order to understand something you felt we vitally needed to know to protect Iain. Is this something we vitally need to know and, if so, can you help us to understand it again?”
Theodora and Daya exchanged a look. I told you how precious Lucifer was before during that situation.
Daya nodded. Apparently, she’s still that precious. Will you answer her question or shall I?
I will. “Yes and yes.”
“Does Iain lock some of his memories away when he returns from his visits to his teacher?”
“I cannot answer that question.” Theodora shrugged at Lucifer’s sudden look of frustration. “I can’t.”
Kasserine looked thoughtful. “If we were to assign a specific value to Iain’s memories, that changed as he gained or lost them, would the number that those memories reflected be the same right before he left on one of his training missions and right after he returned from one?”
“Almost. The value upon return would be a small percentage higher.”
Kasserine nodded. “If Iain were not to lock away any of his memories of one of these trips, would that second number be higher than it would be if he did?”
“Is that reflected in the numbers I just asked about, based upon just before he left and right after he returns?”
“So he does lock away memories,” April murmured as eyes went wide around the room.
“That is not a question and, if it were, I could not answer it without violating privacy.”
April looked at Kasserine. “Keep going.”
“Would it be possible to assign a subset of numbers to the various memories Iain has, based upon their subject, such as love, sex, survival, food, warfare and others?”
“Yes, but that could allow identification of elements that bears too closely to the actual contents of Iain’s memories to allow me to answer anything about them.”
Kasserine paused while she thought for a moment. “If we assigned a value to the memories Iain has of combat and another to the memories he has of survival, would the numbers for these, right before he leaves and right after he returns, but before he does his reset that April has described, would those two sets of numbers be significantly different?”
Theodora grinned. “Yes.”
“Would the ones right before the reset be higher than the ones right before he left?”
“I have been told,” Kasserine continued, “that Iain was once sent to be the student of a powerful formal mage and then did errands for him for several years. On that particular trip, would the sets of numbers previously discussed have been significantly different right before he left and before he did the reset on that trip?”
“Was the value before the reset the higher one?”
Kasserine leaned forward alertly. “Do you feel that the information that the value just before reset represents would improve Iain’s chances of survival on a day to day basis or help him help one or more of us to survive in the here and now?”
Daya glanced at Theodora. Now look at who is being precious.
I’m busy. “Yes.”
Kasserine looked at the others. “I believe that answers the question about whether or not Iain’s memories of his time away could be useful for his and our survival, at least in general. What do we do with this knowledge?”
“Theodora,” April asked, “has Iain, once he started loving someone, stopped?”
“I cannot completely answer that question due to privacy,” Theodora replied.
“Has Iain ever stopped loving one of us,” Lucifer asked.
“Never, not even after some of us died.”
“All right, we know,” Ninhursag said. “What should we do with this knowledge?”
“That’s obvious,” Lucifer replied calmly. “We ask that he change what he has been doing. He did this once and we accepted it because it meant we could pretend he was never gone. But just like with Scheherazade, Dianthus and Irena, we have to accept that Iain has had experiences without us and accept the whole Iain, not just the Iain who is here while rejecting the Iain that is not. In our current situation it is critically important since, because we insisted on it, Iain has found women there to love and he will not slight them anymore than he would slight us. But it will help if we explain what we’ve realized and ask that he not pretend to be as he was.” She smiled. “After all, Iain will bring these three women to meet us, at the very least. They are family and, it appears, they are clan and so all three of them could claim a place here with us.”
April gave her a startled look. “He’d bring them here?” She sighed. “Yes, that is the logical progression from what we asked him to do. He doesn’t stop loving once he starts, and if we’d been smart enough, we’d have realize that him loving other women is not going to be different from him loving us.”
“There is something else to consider,” Daya said. “These women will have known Iain for far longer than we have. I think Iain will try to ensure any potential conflicts between the two groups is kept to a minimum, but we all are aware of how destructive even minimum conflicts can be if pokegirls are involved.”
“I think,” Vanessa said into the sudden tension that filled the room, “that we should not go creating problems that we do not yet know will exist. We haven’t even met these women yet and none of them are pokegirls. We should welcome them as we would welcome any other woman Iain brought to us, just as we did Mielikki and, to a lesser extent in the beginning, Monica.” She smiled. “And let us not forget that Iain is not yet aware of what Marguerite, Dominique and Zareen are off doing. I am certain that any women Iain brings to us will make us stronger, just as all of the other women he has brought to us have done.”
“I’m not so sure about Monica,” April muttered.
“Iain didn’t bring her to us,” Lucifer pointed out. “The Blue League made us decide between kidnapping her and murdering her. I, for one, am glad we chose the way we did.”
“I think we are moving beyond the scope of the meeting as I called it,” Ygerna announced. “Does anyone have any questions for me before I end it?”
“You said Theodora has the details of your briefing,” Ninhursag said. “Have they been stripped of the emotional loading and are they just words or memories?”
“My interactions with Iain are personal. Theodora has politely turned my memories into words, like the Wolf database is.”
Ninhursag nodded. “Theodora, for the time being, that information is restricted to the command staff. Later I will release it to the general staff if it becomes necessary.”
“Clan does not normally keep secrets from clan,” Daya said. “There is little military significance in what Ygerna has given us and the harem will know soon enough that Ygerna has seen Iain. I would suggest that decision might be in error.”
“I’m concerned about the information about us possessing the Grimoire getting out,” Ninhursag replied. “While I trust the goblins, there are two Danu goddesses around who could be listening at any time and that book seems like something they’d like to get their paws on.”
“We could remove the reason that Ygerna went in the first place,” Daya countered. “That would remove the information about Helesatra, the Grimoire and Emerald as well as shadow walking. I wouldn’t recommend adding lies, just don’t say anything about why she went.”
“That would work,” Ninhursag said thoughtfully. “Let’s do it that way.”
“Did you see Mielikki,” Vanessa asked.
Ygerna looked surprised. “Is she there? I didn’t see anyone except Iain, Helesatra and Quick Bite.”
“That’s classified at the command staff level until she returns since it’s a clan survival issue,” Ninhursag said. “She went there yesterday to work on expanding her power base to help us if it comes down to a showdown between us and the Danu goddesses or any other deities.”
“I will tell no one,” Ygerna assured her. “But I wasn’t even aware she was gone.”
“Good. Let’s keep it that way.” Ninhursag looked around the room. “I think we’re done. Thank you for this briefing, Ygerna.”
“You are welcome, but being clan is very much like being back in the service of my king and queen. I have duties and I will always carry them out, regardless of my personal feelings on the matters involved. Informing you of what I saw was something that I needed to report so that we can all be aware of what Iain is doing, what he tells us and what we might be able to deduce from what I saw and heard.”
“Do you miss being queen,” April asked.
“That is a very personal question,” Ygerna said with a smile to take the sting from her words. “The treatment I received at the hands of Faelan, Shikarou and the kingdom kept me very angry for a long time and I longed for the power to punish their insolence, so I missed being queen very much. Iain’s gestures of friendship were honest, refreshing and surprising. I think that if, perhaps, I had fled to someone like him and someplace like this instead of to Shikarou and his games, I would not have missed being queen nearly as much as I did.” Her smile warmed. “Of course, I am also well aware that if I had fled from Eoghan to here, Iain would have put me back on the throne of the Order if I had truly wanted it. I can’t think of how he would have defeated Eoghan and Germanicus, but I am certain that he would have found a way, with your help. Shikarou and his did defeat our Eoghan and Germanicus, but he couldn’t have cared less about expending resources to aid me in any way, especially since it would have restored my independence from his control. Iain and you would have felt differently if I were living among you at that time.”
April laughed. “I believe we would have too.”
“Theodora,” Ygerna said formally, “I end this meeting. Thank you very much for your assistance in this.”
“What did you want with Ganieda,” Ninhursag asked as she stood.
“I had to give her something from Iain. It is the only thing he asked me to deliver, and it was not a gift, but I think it was Iain keeping a promise to Ganieda about something she desperately wanted. I can say no more than that. Privacy and all.”
“Well, we all know about Iain and his giving us what we desperately want,” Lucifer stood and stretched slowly. “If she wants us to know what it is, then she’ll share.” She chuckled. “So, who wants in on the betting and what are the stakes going to be?”
“What betting,” Vanessa asked.
“Iain may return in two days or he may return in three or four. Which is it going to be? Even April can bet until the two days have passed. After that, she may have insider information and is ineligible.”
Ninhursag shook her head. “It’s your idea, Lucifer. You figure it out and tell the rest of us.”
Lucifer grinned. “I will.”
Arithallos was reading a book when she heard the voice calling rather loudly from outside her cave. “Mistress?”
She put the book down and stepped far enough away to shift to her dragon form without worrying about overturning her reading area before heading for the entrance. Outside she could see a dozen kobolds, all kneeling towards the entrance. They were all wearing the black and silver vests over their other clothes that showed they were clan. “Yes?”
A gold dragonwrought kobold lifted his head. “Mistress, I am Tadgh and we’re the survey team I really hope you were told to expect. Master and Quick Bite were here a few days ago, from what I was told before we were sent here via a temporary gate.”
“You don’t have a name like the other kobolds I’ve met in the valley.”
Tadgh’s tongue lolled in his grin. “Mistress, when the tribe was small and everyone knew everyone else, names could be simple. Then we met Master and we had to grow up. Now the tribe is much larger and, when we become adult, we take adult names. Some of us take elven or human or dwarven names.” He drew himself up proudly. “I was lucky enough to get to pick a name from the Master’s list.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Master gave us a bunch of names from someplace else. Mine comes from a place called Ireland. Everyone wants to use the names from Master’s list because Master gave it to us, so there’s a lottery and only so many from each hatching get to pick names from his list and each name can only be used five times in each generation.”
“That makes sense. I was told about the survey team. What do need from me?”
“Mistress, we are supposed to survey your entire cave system and the surrounding area. I would ask that you escort us when we are in places you would not like us to be unaccompanied, at least until you get to know us better and are more comfortable with our presence. I assure you, that we were carefully selected and no one here has a tendency towards sticky fingers.” He glanced back at the others. “And I have warned them that you will get to keep any hands that have such fingers on them.” He smiled. “If you want, you can keep the rest of the thief, too. Master would kill it when we return if you don’t.”
“I don’t think Iain would have let a bunch of vandals come here,” Arithallos said confidently. She shifted back to her elf form. “Come with me and I will give you a tour of my home.”
“Thank you, Mistress.”
“This is nice,” Zilvra said as she watched the stream flow past. “And nothing at all like I expected when you invited me on a picnic.”
Iain chuckled. They were picnicking in a large chamber in the Underdark that was way off the normal travel paths and miles underground. The ceiling was covered with a harmless, luminescent fungus that didn’t do anything to light up the chamber, but did weave an intricate tracery of soft purple, yellow and green with brighter circles of red where it interacted with a different fungus that was extremely toxic if touched or ingested. “While I’m glad you like it, it was my second choice. There’s a very nice tropical island that we’ve claimed off the coast of Chult that is, unfortunately, experiencing hurricane force winds and driving rain. I didn’t think it would be easy to eat in that.”
Zilvra was watching a small bat chasing something through the air just under the ceiling. It crossed under one of the red circles and suddenly began flying in a panicky circle that got tighter and tighter that rose towards the ceiling as the fungus reeled in the filament the bat was stuck to. The fungus extruded dozens of them in fishing attempts to catch flying prey. “I think this is much nicer than a place filled with bright sunlight and hot sand, Iain.”
“I’d planned a midnight picnic there, but I understand. I suppose I’d be a bit nostalgic for my home terrain too, if I could go visit it.”
“I saw where someone had been clearing and leveling the floor of this cavern when we entered,” Zilvra slid around to rest against his side. “I presume that it’s one of our projects.”
“It is.” Iain gestured towards the ceiling. “The red fungus is incredibly toxic. The trap teams discovered how useful it is and have started incorporating it into some of their new trap designs. They got our druids and underground farmers involved in trying to cultivate it. It’s hard to grow and we’re still hunting new sources while we figure out what are the best conditions for it to thrive in. Here, there’s a lot of it and we’re building an outpost and claiming the entire chamber. Nothing sentient lives in it and very little animal life at all.”
Zilvra knew what that meant and looked around them curiously. A cavern like this would normally be prime real estate for the denizens of the Underdark. “What was here?”
“Oh, this place had been some kind of huge battleground a long time ago. We destroyed some ghosts, but the real threat was a huge collection of yellow musk creepers that were adapted to underground living. Anything that entered the area got turned into zombies that added to the local population. Thanks to the battlefield, as well as the decaying bodies of the yellow musk zombies, the ground here is incredibly fertile, so they did pretty well until we came along. Most of the plants were destroyed but a couple dozen of them were hauled off and will end up in one of the dangerous specimen greenhouses. The musk is quite fragrant and almost intoxicating and some of our people want to see if it can be distilled into a marketable perfume or maybe some kind of mind controlling potion our agents can use. The only other real problem here is that almost nobody can drink the water from that stream.”
“About a mile upstream there’s another cavern that a rookery for a huge colony of subterranean bats. Thanks to their guano, the stream has concentrations of nitrates, phosphates and potassium so high it’ll make most people very sick if they drink it. Twice a year the stream floods this entire chamber. That is part of what keeps the soil here so fertile. This should make a good place to grow edible and brewing fungi for the clan. And it’s close enough to Yala that we can share it with the colony.”
Zilvra picked up Iain’s glass of wine and sipped delicately. He glanced at her and she grinned. “My glass is so far away.” He snorted and she laughed. “Does that mean that Yala is going to happen?”
Iain nodded. “We waited long enough for Arithallos to get used to having kobolds of her own before broaching the idea of turning the small contingent into a full colony. She didn’t argue against it for long. She doesn’t like being alone and this will keep her safer than pretty much anything except moving to the valley, which she’s categorically refused to do. That and Xune has been regaling her about how fast my daughter’s hoard has been growing, so Ari was already interested in the income that Yala will provide to her and agreed to be the governess of the new colony, providing she got the same terms Xune has.”
“So everything is good with Yala.”
Iain shrugged. “It has one potential future issue. We now have two colonies, those being Yala and Nambale. Both of them have dragons as governors. That means that any new colony will expect a dragon as governor and I’m fresh out of spare dragons.”
Zilvra gave him an amused smile. “Is the next colony likely to be organized in the next twenty years or so?”
She took his hand and placed it on her stomach, palm down. “Then perhaps this one might help when the time comes.”
Iain grinned and kissed her. “This is wonderful news.”
“You surface people have strange priorities. I am happy that I’m pregnant, but pregnancy itself isn’t something to celebrate. It’ll be time to celebrate when our child is safely delivered and determined to be healthy.” She chuckled. “There is one small matter of concern, though.”
“I’m pretty sure that I got pregnant the first time we had sex after you became fertile. That’s going to start some interesting rumors about your fertility. And if Helesatra turns up pregnant soon too, those rumors are going to go wild.”
“April suggested that I should be careful when I’m fertile because she was worried my sperm would crawl away to find women to impregnate.”
“I guess we’ll find out if she’s right. If Solnys or someone who spends any time around you turns up unexpectedly pregnant, we’ll have to see if it’s yours.” She gave him an innocent look. “And we’ll have to check on any eggs that Quick Bite lays.”
Iain gently bumped her nose with his. “You think you’re so funny.”
“I am heir to one of the most powerful houses in Guallidurth,” Zilvra said loftily. “If I say I am funny, then I am.”
Iain simpered abruptly. “Please forgive me, mistress, for my stupidity.”
Zilvra poked him with a sharp fingernail. “Stop that.”
He grinned. “Fine.”
“I know you’re going to Vyshaan tomorrow. What will you be doing there, besides spending time with your other wife?”
“Helesatra has asked for an impartial survey of the army, now that the war is over and the units are being consolidated as part of the stand down.”
“You will be conducting this audit?”
“I’ll have help. Runner and the rest of the Dragonslayers will be helping and showing the sun elves what we expect from our military.”
Zilvra looked up into his eyes. “Who should I feel sorry for, you or them?”
“Definitely me. They are only going to be getting the distilled wisdom of our military strategy and tactics. That’s easy to comprehend, once I hammer it into the bricks that many of them seem to have for brains.”
“From what we know, the Empire did not encourage original thinking,” Zilvra pointed out. “Their officers gave orders and those orders were obeyed.”
“Then they are to be congratulated on a job well done since I’ve already noticed that there’s a whole lot of extraordinarily repetitive thought going on over there.” He shrugged. “We’ll bring them or, if necessary, their children around.” He took a deep breath and let it out. “Now, we were not supposed to be discussing business on our picnic. I believe some beautiful drow woman insisted on that.”
“She did,” Zilvra said with a smile. “So let’s just sit and you can hold me.”
Count Petren Nendro hit the ground with a grunt of pain, the impact driving the air from his lungs. He gasped for air as he glared up Iain, who gave him a cold smile as he handed the reins of Nendro’s horse to one of his retainers. “I didn’t ask you to get off your horse, your lordship. There was no request. That was an order. Don’t ignore my orders again.” Iain looked up at the retainers, who were still on horseback. “Now you lot get off your horses, now, and nobody else gets jerked off of them.”
They quickly dismounted, one of them helping Nendro back to his feet. “You bastard,” the count hissed in a combination of anger and pain. “If you weren’t the Royal Consort, I’d challenge you for that.”
Iain glanced at him. “Don’t let that stand in your way. Any time you think you’re ready, you just step right up and get your ass kicked.”
Nendro sneered. “You don’t know our laws very well. You’ll face my champion.”
Iain grinned. “I know your law perfectly well. I’m going to kick the ass of your champion and then I’m going to kick your ass. Colonel!”
Runner came racing up and went to attention. “Master!”
“Get with Sir Carris Oakfell and assemble both units of troops. I’m sure that Count Nendro would like to have everyone witness my humiliation and I’d hate to disappoint him.”
“Master!” Runner zipped away.
“I decide the terms of my challenge,” Nendro snarled. “It will be to the death.”
“You are aware that if we fight to the death, Her Majesty is likely to be rather unhappy with us both. Me, she’ll yell at. A lot. As for you, she just might strip your titles and property from you, if you should somehow win or your family if you lose. Is that worth getting yourself killed and your family made destitute?”
“It will be to the death! Sir Traejon!”
A muscular sun elf wearing good armor stepped forward. Iain remembered being introduced to him as Sir Traejon Greenshadow. Iain nodded to him “Are you sure you want to do this?”
“I am Count Nendro’s champion,” Greenshadow said easily. “It is my job to uphold his honor.”
“You didn’t actually answer my question,” Iain replied. “But whatever.” He turned to watch as the infantry company he’d been auditing marched up. They were nominally under the command of Count Nendro, with Sir Carris acting as the actual unit commander. Marching alongside them was the Dragonslayers, the unit that had killed Aardath of the Shimmerscales. They’d become an elite unit of mobile light infantry in the century since then and Iain had brought them along to show the sun elves what he expected them to eventually look like.
The company didn’t look bad, but it was obvious that, during the drawdown, a problem had arisen or, perhaps, more accurately, hidden problems had finally become visible. The Empire had been at war for thousands of years but had never really had a standing army. Only the tremendous size of the Empire had allowed it to have the forces it had used to subdue its neighbors or go on the offensive during the last of the Crown Wars.
Instead, the vast majority of its forces had been feudal in makeup, levies drawn up by the local lords to satisfy their duties to their liege and, on up the chain, eventually to the Emperor. These units rotated in and out every few years and, of course, went home in the spring and fall to plant and then harvest what crops had survived the passage of the seasons. That meant that most of the rank and file were farmers and hunters, and they’d been more than happy to return to their homes as soon as peace had broken out. Both Helesatra and Iain had wanted this to happen, since it was these farmers, hunters and other skilled laborers who were going to guarantee the Queendom’s recovery from the ravages of the Crown Wars and bring prosperity back to Vyshaan.
But it meant that the remainder of the army was commanded by an officer corps of nobles who had been born and raised in the Crown Wars and, if truth be told, wasn’t very good at anything except leading their troops, and that only as the officers and nobles had decided that they deserved to be led. Some of them weren’t very good at leading troops, either.
The issue that had turned into a duel between Iain and Greenshadow had been, at heart, a simple one. Both the sun elf unit and the kobolds had been scheduled for a twenty mile forced march. To the infantry, this was nothing new. Vyshaan’s army was known for its mobility.
But their noble commander, Count Nendro, as well as his retainers, had expected to spend the day on horseback, riding alongside the infantry as they forged along the route Iain had laid out for them.
Iain had pointed out that, when the wheels did come off, said officers would find themselves on foot along with everyone else and had ordered them to leave their horses behind. Nendro had decided to hear Iain’s order as a suggestion and ignored it.
Thus, the small problem.
Sir Carris Oakfell marched up and stopped. He looked straight between Nendro and Iain as he spoke, which showed he was smart enough to be concerned about the chain of command and who could give him instructions. “What are my orders, sir?”
Iain had mixed feeling about Sir Carris. In many ways, he was a typical sun elf. He was arrogant, more than a little conceited regarding sun elf superiority and, as a hereditary knight and the son of a count, a Vyshaantar noble to the ends of his toenails. To his credit, Sir Carris was smart, quick to learn and fiercely dedicated to his men and to the queendom. He was the kind of elf who would take a voluntary rearguard and fight to the end to let his men, and Nendro, escape.
“There is going to be a duel for the count’s honor between Sir Traejon and me,” Iain said quietly. Carris’ eyes went wide. “You and your unit are going to witness, so spread them out so they have decent vantage points and settle them down. Colonel Runner will do the same with the Dragonslayers.”
“Yessir.” Carris headed for his men at a trot.
Iain looked at Sir Traejon. “Go prepare for the fight. I’ve agreed to fight you first, so the count is safe to be alone with me.”
Sir Traejon nodded. “Yes, Lord Grey.” He headed for his horse.
Helesatra and Iain had discussed, three months before, what his role was going to be in the new Queendom of Vyshaan. She’d suggested giving him a duchy and making him a duke as well as prince consort.
Iain had demurred, noting that he already had too many balls in the air with his mission and the clan. And, as he’d pointed out, as the Grey, he outranked everyone in Vyshaan except her, and as she was bringing in Vyshaan as an outer clan subordinate to Grey, he also outranked her, at least technically. Becoming a Vyshaan duke would be a demotion. It would also place him under her command at times and would make the other nobles think they understood his place in the world, which was as equal to the other dukes. None of that would help him do his job in the queendom.
Just to be safe, Helesatra had made Iain the supreme commander of the army in order to hopefully minimize the amount of pushback Iain would get from the nobles commanding the units. It seemed to be working about as poorly as Iain had expected, but they couldn’t say they hadn’t been warned about what was going to happen to any dissenters.
Legally, Iain was within his rights to have Count Nendro tied down and his head chopped off. But Iain didn’t want to butcher out the leadership of Vyshaan’s military. The queendom shared a border with Keltormir and, while Keltormir had acknowledged the end of the war with Vyshaantar, they hadn’t stood down any of their armies. This was something that filled Iain with more than a little concern, especially after a quick talk with Shatris had confirmed Iain’s suspicion that Raloric desperately wanted to expand the kingdom. Peace might give him that opportunity, with both Vyshaan and the clan as potential targets for his expansionist tendencies.
That meant that Vyshaan needed even its crappy leaders, if nothing else as grist for the mill while more valuable units were moved into the path of any sudden thrust from Keltormir. But, while Iain didn’t intend to butcher his way through the Vyshaan nobles, there would have to be a few object lessons and, so far, Count Nendro had seemed to be volunteering to be the first of them.
The troops had been spread out in a semicircle and Iain moved into the center of it to wait for Sir Traejon. Count Nendro watched him with eager eyes from where he stood with the reins of his mount in his hand.
Iain reached out with his twee to somewhere in Chult. Selsharra?
Her response was immediate. What is it, Iain?
I’m in Vyshaan and I’m about to fight a pair of duels, one after the other. I’d like you to come here to monitor. He sent a mental image of Count Nendro. If he tries to run away during the first duel, I’d like you to slaughter his horse and keep him from escaping. If he tries to get more of his retainers involved in my duel, I’d like you to slaughter him instead.
Why do you want the horse dead?
This stupidity all started because Count Nendro didn’t feel like marching with his troops. So now I have to defeat his champion and then I’m going to kick his ass.
It’s not a moon horse, is it?
Iain smiled. No. I doubt they want to spend much time around someone like him.
Selsharra appeared beside him. The sun elves murmured in surprise while the kobolds were silent. They thought they knew who she was. “I’ll take care of it. Do you want me to officiate too?”
Selsharra took a stick from her pocket and broke it. Instantly she was wearing her armor and weapons. She still had her armor from when she’d been a princess and a noble of Evermeet, but it was carefully stored in Iain’s treasure vault to keep it safe. Now she wore a chainmail suit with breastplate that was unremarkable except for the gold circlet she wore on her head. It was magical and would protect her far better than any helmet could. The suit was also magical but didn’t look like it was particularly valuable.
Iain frowned. “When did you get pockets?”
Selsharra grinned. “Sorrel showed them to me. They’re very useful for carrying things like this contingency key and I had new trousers and skirts made with them. I may have started a fashion trend in the valley since I’ve seen more people with them since.”
“I will not go quietly into that good night,” Iain muttered and was suddenly wearing his armor and weapons. He hopped once to let everything settle into place.
“Your phrase is too long,” Selsharra commented.
“I can activate my contingency with a thought,” Iain replied.
“Is that part of a spell or is that your special magic?”
“I developed the spell variant that allows both as part of the end of my apprenticeship in formal magic.”
Selsharra looked interested. “Could I ask to be allowed to learn this spell?”
“I’ll give you a copy of it when we return to the valley.”
Sir Traejon appeared from the area where the horses were being held. He’d added some weapons to his gear and carried a large heater shield bearing a symbol Iain didn’t recognize. “I am ready.”
“Selsharra, this is Sir Traejon. He works for Count Nendro and will be defending the count’s honor today.
Selsharra glanced at him. He carries himself like a veteran. Can you defeat him?
No fight is certain. The biggest problem is that Sir Traejon is a good man and I would prefer not to kill him while he won’t be operating under the same constraints.
Iain, I give back to you one of your sayings to Eirian when she’s being too clever. Do not play with your food. Eat it or do not.
I hear you. Iain drew his swords. “Selsharra will officiate, unless you have a specific reason to protest.”
“Why is she armed if she’s neutral in our conflict?”
“Under the rules we use for dueling,” Selsharra said. “If anyone tries to interfere, I am to kill them. If anyone orders or gets others to interfere, I’m to kill everyone involved. And in some cases, there are preconditions in a duel and if someone violates them, I am armed so I can enforce my judgment.”
“Not to mention,” Iain added with a smile, “I once had a duel broken up in the middle of the bout by an assault of some supernatural creatures. At that point the duel gets put on hold and, if necessary, later restarted after the attackers have been dealt with. She’s armed to help with that too.”
“That is reasonable,” Sir Traejon said.
Iain looked at Selsharra. “He said he’s ready. I don’t want to keep the nice man waiting.”
Selsharra nodded, checked the sky to see where the sun was and headed for the center of the semicircle that the troops had defined when they spread out. “Both of you come with me.” She looked back at Count Nendro when he followed. “Find a place outside of the battlefield. If you step another foot inside the arena I will declare you a legal combatant.”
Nendro froze and glared at her before stomping off to stand beside Sir Carris.
Selsharra looked at Sir Traejon. “You will start here. I’ll put Lord Grey over there and so the sun will be in neither person’s eyes.” Traejon obediently stopped and she led Iain to his starting point fifteen feet from Traejon. She dropped her voice to a low tone. “These are sun elves. Finesse is wasted on them. Crush this one and the next and be done with it.”
“I didn’t realize you didn’t like sun elves.”
“There were many at court and they were much like Count Nendro and Sir Traejon. They always resented that a moon elf family ruled by the decree of Corellon. They felt a sun elf ruler would have been much better for Evermeet.” She spat on the ground. “And now that a sun elf king sits on the throne, Evermeet is not better for it. Quite the opposite, in fact.”
“One problem at a time,” Iain replied. “Today Vyshaan. Tomorrow the world. Start the duel.”
She nodded and headed back to the center. “Sir Traejon, are you ready?”
“Lord Grey, are you ready?”
Iain flipped the transparent visor on his helmet down. “I am.”
Selsharra held out her hand. “When I drop my hand, the duel will begin.” She looked from one to the other before dropping her hand and taking a step backwards. The sun elf troops began cheering in support of Sir Traejon as the fight began.
Weapons ready, Iain and Sir Traejon closed. When they were only five feet apart, Iain, without warning and in mid stride, shifted smoothly from an advance to a charge. He deflected Sir Traejon’s counterstrike and dropped his shoulder to take Sir Traejon’s shield bash straight on, powering through it and slamming the sun elf across the ground in a flurry of limbs. He raced after the knight and stabbed him hard in the left thigh, tearing through the chainmail, flesh and driving up into the hip.
Iain took a step back as Sir Traejon screamed in agony and a large puddle of blood began running out from under his leg. “I’ve already won,” Iain said quietly. “Yield and I can save your life.”
“I cannot yield,” Traejon got out through clenched teeth. “Count Nendro has my sister and she is his surety that I will always support him.” He attempted to roll upright but didn’t have the strength. “Kill me.”
“What is your sister’s name?”
“Yield and I’ll have her rescued. You can stop working for Nendro and go to work for Her Majesty.”
His eyes met Iain’s. “Swear it.”
“I swear to you that if you yield to me now, I will immediately send my people to rescue you sister, Adromallana Greenshadow, wherever she might be, and deliver her to you at the palace of Queen Helesatra. If, for some reason, she is dead or otherwise inaccessible, I will revenge you on Nendro.”
“I yield to Lord Grey,” Sir Traejon said as loudly as he could.
His voice wasn’t very loud, but Selsharra heard it. “Sir Traejon has yielded to Lord Grey,” she called. “This bout is over.”
“Eirian, Liadan, Matilda.” Smoke poured from under his armor to become the trio. “Matilda, stabilize Sir Traejon. Keep him conscious if you can so he can witness this.”
The White Tigress grinned as she knelt and began using a healing technique. “He will remain conscious, my lord.”
Iain turned and pointed at Count Nendro, who was slowly backing away from the arena. “Liadan, fetch him, somewhat gently.”
She flickered and was standing in front of Nendro. Before he could react, she grabbed him by the throat, lifting his feet off the ground and teleported back to her original point. She lowered him to the ground and released him. “My lord wishes to speak with you. If you run, I will bring you back. I will then tear off one of your legs as punishment.”
“Count Nendro?” His eyes locked on Iain. “I am going to ask you a question. I am only going to ask it once. You will answer, completely and to your best ability. You will not argue with me and you will not ask why I am asking my question.” Iain smiled and Nendro flinched. “Any deviation from the format I have just described will cost you your life. Do you understand me?” Iain sheathed his swords as he waited.
Nendro nodded frantically. “I do.”
Here is my question: where is Adromallana Greenshadow?” Nendro’s head turned to stare at Sir Traejon. Iain grasped his face and pulled it back to look at him. “Answer the question.”
Nendro swallowed hard and Iain released him. “She is in the northwest tower of my castle, along with my son.”
Traejon lifted his head. “What is this,” he asked in a weak bellow.
“She is mine to do with as I pleased,” Nendro said. “I pleased to get her with child four winters ago.”
“Eirian, take some of the harem and bring me the lady and her child,” Iain said. “Please extend every courtesy.”
Eirian bobbed her head. “My lord, if I am to extend every courtesy, what am I to do if she has formed an attachment with this sun elf, if only because of the child, and wishes to remain where she is?”
“Well, Sir Traejon, if she refuses to be rescued, shall I forcibly abduct her and the baby to satisfy my oath to you?”
“Lord Grey,” Sir Traejon said as he lifted his head to look directly at Iain. “I must hear what happened from Adromallana herself. Only then will I believe anything that comes from the count.”
“Very well.” He looked at Eirian. “I swore an oath. She comes, either willingly or not.”
“Yes, my lord. What of any who seek to interfere in the mission you have given me?”
“If she has a maid and the maid wishes to stay with her, she may come. If anyone else seeks to interfere, warn them each once and then kill them. In any case, they don’t get to stop you or bring harm to Adromallana Greenshadow. I apologize for giving you such convoluted rules of engagement, but this is why I don’t usually swear an oath about something.”
Eirian dropped to one knee. We have not forgotten what has happened with Helesatra Vyshaan, now Helesatra Grey. It will be good to be reminded that you keep your word to all, when we decide what the future will bring for each of us in your undead harem, my lord. She grinned at him. “My lord, your wish is my command.” She vanished.
“That is an interesting turn of phrase,” Selsharra noted amusedly.
“It’s one I brought with me.”
“Is it one of these Texan sayings?”
“No, that isn’t Texan. Liadan, please keep an eye on the count.”
“Yes, my lord.” She gave Count Nendro a broad smile that made him tremble like a leaf.
Iain knelt beside Matilda. “How is he?”
She gave him a toothy grin. “You do good work, my lord. You fractured the femur the long way and you cracked his hip socket. I’ve stopped the bleeding. Do you wish him fully healed?”
“He’s going to swear himself to Helesatra’s service. That means he gets the VIP treatment.”
Matilda’s nose crinkled as her eyes twinkled mischievously and her ears canted sideways. “Does that include the happy ending, my lord?”
“It does not,” Iain said with a laugh. “Can you heal him completely or do I need to do it?”
“My lord, I am not a Nurse Joy or a Night Nurse. You will have to heal him further.”
Iain nodded. “Guard me.”
Matilda stood and turned to face the troops still arrayed around them. They’d been muttering the entire time things had been happening here. “Forever, my lord,” she said, her Orange accent even thicker than usual. “Forever.”
Iain glanced up at her for a second before looking at Sir Traejon. “I’m a cleric. Can I heal your wounds?”
He nodded. “Like you said, I need to be whole to serve my Queen.”
Iain poured healing magic into Traejon and watched the wounds knit. “You’re healed, but you will be pretty weak for a while, unless,” he let his voice trail off.
“Unless what,” Sir Traejon demanded.
Iain produced a great grape from his pouch. “Eat this.”
Sir Traejon took the grape and gulped it down. His eyes went wide. “What magic is this?”
“It’s magic for the clan,” Iain said as he stood and offered Sir Traejon a hand. Traejon took it and Iain pulled him to his feet. Suddenly the sun elf soldiers were up on their feet and cheering. Iain frowned. “What the fuck?”
Sir Traejon is the most popular of their officers, those being Count Nendro and his retinue, my lord, Liadan said in his mind. They are happy that you offered him the chance to yield, that he took it and that you seem to no longer be enemies.
Iain chuckled as he turned to Traejon. “Since you work for the queen now, you need to stay neutral and merely observe. You do not work for me and your job is not to protect me.”
Iain raised his voice. “Colonel Runner, Sir Carris, join us!”
Runner raced up and came to attention as Sir Carris walked towards them. “Master!”
“At ease, colonel.” Runner relaxed as Sir Carris arrived. “You two will bear witness and report what happens here to your troops.”
Sir Carris eyed Runner for a second. “Sir, why does he call you that?”
“According to kobold legend, they were created by the dragon gods to serve dragons,” Iain said as he turned to the count. “When they serve a dragon, they call that dragon either master or mistress. Calling an elf that is the highest compliment that a kobold can give to someone who is neither a dragon nor a kobold.” He smiled for an instant. “It’s a title I bear with pride.” He smiled at the count. “Now you will find kobolds who are enslaved to others such as ogres, drow or bugbears who call them master, but you don’t hear the enthusiasm you hear in Runner’s voice, so don’t confuse the two. You attack an ogre cave that has kobold slaves in it and the kobolds will melt into the walls just as soon as they can. You attack a dragon that the kobolds willingly serve, and they will do their best to take you with them when they die.”
“Master is right,” Runner announced cheerfully. “Slaves have nothing to protect. We are clan and we will kill our enemies or die in the attempt.”
“Count Nendro,” Iain said with a smile that made Nendro visibly shudder. “I defeated the one who used to be your champion. Am I correct in my presumption that these nice young gentlemen and women,” he indicated Nendro’s retainers, “are all of your personal levy from your county?”
Nendro nodded. “Levies are required according to the size of a lord’s holdings.” For once, he didn’t sound arrogant, but that was probably because he sounded like he was trying very hard not to let anyone know just how terrified he was. Iain knew, but he could smell the fear pouring from the elven nobleman.
“That makes this easier. You and your retainers will individually announce that you are leaving the Queen’s service, effective immediately. You will then pack your belongings and return to your county.”
Nendro flared instantly. “I will do no such thing.”
“Count Nendro, if I hear the word no come out of your mouth again, I am going to tear your throat out, with my bare hands, right here, in front of the troops and your retainers. Her Majesty has made me the supreme commander of all of Her military forces, and has given me the power of high, middle and low justice over every single one of them.”
Nendro flushed with anger. “This is unbelievable. The emperor would never have allowed this kind of atrocity to take place.”
“The emperor is dead,” Iain said flatly. “The Elven Court has his head. Queen Helesatra rules now, as his daughter and legal heir. And she has given me a directive to correct the deficiencies of her military. You have proven to be one of those deficiencies. You can either voluntarily leave Her Majesty’s service and you can go home or you can be relieved for insubordination as well as incompetence and taken to prison to await Her Majesty’s displeasure. I don’t want to arbitrarily execute you, but if you refuse to leave the military and if you then resist arrest, I will, reluctantly, end your life.” He took a step towards Nendro. “Decide.”
Nendro’s eyes flicked around the area, looking at everyone but Iain. Finally they settled on his face. “We will be allowed to return to my county?”
“Your Lordship, my jurisdiction over you for what I am doing ends when you leave Her Majesty’s service. At that point I have no legal right to detain you and, as far as I am concerned, you will be free to go.”
“We will leave the Queen’s service,” Nendro said in a small voice.
Iain nodded and wheeled. “Colonel! Sir Carris! We still have a hike ahead of us and your troops are just sitting around!”
My lord, Eirian said through their bond. We have Adromallana Greenshadow and her son, Keidith. Interestingly, the maid wanted to come but Adromallana refused her. We will take them to the valley until you are ready for them.
Thank you. He looked at Traejon. “Your sister and your nephew have been taken to my clan’s valley. She will be well taken care of there until you and I can see her at the palace.”
“Thank you, sir. Should I join the march?”
“Yes. You can bring your horse in case we need it for something, but you march with the rest of us. Let’s get moving.”
Ninhursag Grey - Elfqueen & maharani
April Grey - Duelist & beta
Dominique Grey - Blessed Archmage
Pandora - Fiendish Archangel
Zareen - Nightmare
Sofia - Ria
Vanessa – Evangelion
Lucifer – Megami Sama
Ganieda – Snugglebunny Splice
Heather - Elfqueen
Marguerite – Unicorn
Scheherazade – Dread Wolf
Irena – Sanctuary Goth
Lynn – Dire Wolf
Rosemary – Mistoffeles
Dianthus – Elfqueen
Candace – Nurse Joy (kami)
Bellona – Dragonqueen
Elizabeth - Vampire
Golden Cloud – equine unicorn
Arianrhod -Fey Goblin Female
74 male Goblins
89 female Goblins
Queendom / Outer Clan
Dionne - Elfqueen
Adrianna - Elfqueen
Heltu - Wet Queen
14 Wet Elves
Eirian - Silver Dragoness
Aurum - Gold Dragoness
Skye - Blue Dragoness
Emerald - Green Dragoness
Beryl - Red Dragoness
Julia - human
Ling - Cheetit
Matilda - White Tigress
Liadan - Twau
Sorrel - Armsmistress
Natalie - Blazicunt
Maria – Slutton
Rhea Silvia – Chimera
Alabaster – Dragoness (white)
Onyx – Dragoness (black)
Lapis – Dragoness (blue)
Garnet – Dragoness (red)
Iolite – Dragoness (purple)
Malachite – Dragoness (green with white swirls)
Dabria (was Loviatar) – Dark Queen
Omisha (was Hel) – Demoness
Viersunuth great wyrm blue true dragoness
Talyl – drow commoner
Zarza – drow commoner
Sabrae – drow commoner
Sintree – drow commoner
Alyfaen Dinaen – drow, matron of House Dinaen
Phaerxae Dinaen – drow, former matron of House Dinaen, mother of Alyfaen
Selsharra of Evermeet
Myrna (Age 4)
Dorothy: Duelist (Age 3)
Olivia: Megami Sama (Age 6)
Seraphina: Megami Sama
Miram: Angel (Age 5)
Caltha: Nightmare (Age 0)
James: Jamie Harris kid (Age 2)