“Siobhan,” Toot-Toot started softly as they walked together back to the outskirts of Avondale…softly because he was not really sure what her frame of mind was at the moment, and she was prone to angry outbursts at times…and this might be one of them, “couldn’t we have sorted out the Gilby thing in Avondale, killed the kobolds and then returned to New Avondale? Then we would be going back with a fleet of Bowerstone dwarfs.”
It was several steps before Siobhan inhaled deeply then let out a long sigh. “New Warrendale is floundering.” Two more steps, “floundering now.”
Toot-Toot thought about her reply for a bit. It did not always come naturally to him, but he was learning to think about verbal responses before he let them just pop out. Well…sometimes. Of course, Siobhan, for telling everybody that she is a diplomat by trade, has been known to spout off without thinking first. So, at least they have that in common. Especially when angry. But he wasn’t angry now. Just confused. She was going to bail on the team and try to make it back to Bowerstone on her own. With none of them to help protect her. As if her running skill would be all the protection that she needed. But he didn’t think she could outrun a warg. She might out distant one over the course of the day…but over a short course, she would be wolf kibble. Sometimes…well…almost all the time…she was more stubborn than even a glavian…and glavians are one of the most hard headed races Toot-Toot knew of. And he should know. He had glavian blood burning through him. “It would probably only take a couple of extra days. And the team is better with you on it than not.” A couple more steps. “And then we would have a fleet from Bowerstone.”
They continued on in silence. Toot-Toot could not tell if Siobhan was thinking about addressing his question, ignoring it, or trying to give him time to puzzle out the answer on his own.
It was nearly an hour later when Siobhan stepped off the path and straddled a fallen tree and sat down. She patted the area in front of her for him to sit. He straddled the log as well, and like her, tucked his kilt under him.
She looked him in the eyes…actually…it felt more like she was staring at him. Reading him. Almost peering into his soul. Siobhan, for being so open about so many things, would also surprise him and the rest from time to time with one secret or another that she pulled out of the closet. It wouldn’t surprise him if she could read souls. It would certainly give a diplomat an advantage in negotiations. He watched her in return. Her eyes…looked…tired…just tired. It almost seemed like he could feel the weariness radiating off of her. Maybe he could read auras and was just now discovering that.
“You remember the Hive Queen?”
Well…that came out of nowhere. He wondered if it was a trap question. “Yessss?” He did not mean for it to be a question…but that is the way it came out.
“You remember when it looked like we might fail? And possibly get overran?”
“Um…what’s this got to do with anything now?”
Her brow furrowed. This conversation had been going nice. Now, he could see the irritation starting to show. “Do…you… remember when it looked like we might fail?”
“Yes. But we didn’t…”
She cut him off, “do you remember planning your escape? And Theodosius planning his escape? And everybody trying to figure out which escape plan was best?”
“Yes. And you were a pain in the ass…”
“Stop!” She glared at him. “Stop right there. You just missed the boat.”
Now his brows furrowed. “What do you mean?” he asked, a little hesitantly. He still was not sure this was not a trap.
“When you told me were to go when it came time to escape…what did I tell you?”
“Well…as I recall,” he tried to sound composed, and wise, and unconcerned about a verbal trap, “you said something about not going. But that’s ok…I was going to drag you with us if I had to…”
“No! No you weren’t.” She glared at him. He could not tell if she actually was angry, or just intense at the moment. “You were probably willing to fight to make me go…”
“Because, you dumb ass,” now his annoyance was showing through, “I love you! Don’t you understand that?”
She glared at him. He glared back. “I would die for you! I wasn’t going to let the Hive Queen get you!” He thrust his finger against her sternum to emphasize the point. Why did she not get that? He was not sure if he ever cared for somebody more than her other than his adoptive mother. And did it not mean anything to her?
“You…” she poked him back in his sternum. He broke fingers for that in the past. He felt like she was challenging him. And he really did not like being challenged. It tended to rouse the glavian blood in him. “You…” she poked him again, “didn’t get it then…” poke, “and you…” poke, “don’t get it…” poke, “now,” poke…and then rested her finger firmly on his sternum.
He gently, but firmly…he was stronger than she was…and he had better leverage against her…moved her hand from his chest. ‘Leverage.’ He knew the word. A lot of people tended to think he was ‘dumb as an orc,’ but Siobhan would often talk to him about complex issues…as if he could follow those conversation. Which he could. But his ‘human’ vocabulary was expanding a lot. And he used to not even think such words, at least not for anything not to do with a crowbar.
“You were more important than they were…”
“No! That’s just it, Toot-Toot! No, I’m not. You’re not. None of us are or were.”
Toot-Toot knew she was wrong, but he was trying to figure out how to tell her that where she would understand it.
“There were around one hundred thousand people in The Warrens, and that many again in Lower Torvell. And if we failed, the infestation was going to spread to Upper Torvell. And at some point, they were going to export it to the mainland. It was a damned world ender, Toot-Toot. If we didn’t stop it in The Warrens, we were going to be parasite bait later. If we didn’t succeed, and succeed right there and then, we were dead. It wasn’t going to be a matter of if, but of when. Failure…was NOT a viable option! PLANNING OUR ESCAPE…was planning for failure, Toot-Toot.
“I get that you care about me…love me…and want to take care of me and save me…sometimes even from myself. Yeah, I get that.”
Her eyes flashed to one side. Toot-Toot shot a look over to see what she saw…and then realized her chain of thought simply changed course as she picked right back up where she left off from.
“And speaking of that…YOU were going to drag me kicking and screaming…whether I wanted to go or not?” It was phrased like a question, but he knew it was an accusation. “You were going to take the choice away from me? The choice to stay or go? Did I take the choice to negotiate with a fucking fiend away from you? No! I told you not to be a dumb ass, but you got to make the choice!”
That was a low blow. “I didn’t give you a chance to stop me! And you would have if you could have!”
Now they were both running hot.
“No! I wouldn’t have! It was your choice. I just let you know in no uncertain terms what a bad, fucking choice it was…”
“Do you lose your temper like this when talking in the courts of kings? Did they teach you that in Diplomatic Court?”
She stopped. Mouth still open. He was still angry, but smiled inside. He never saw her at a loss of words before. And then he watched as her temper just melted away. How did she do that? Just turn her temper on and off at will? He could tell she was reconnecting her thoughts.
And just like that, she was back on course, though he wished he know where she was going.
“My point is, Toot-Toot…” She leaned back upright instead of leaning forward like she was when they were both burning their tempers. “Is that New Warrendale…is not anybody’s primary concern.”
“Then what are we doing here?” His temper was still hot. It did not cool off as fast. But she wasn’t challenging him. And it was dissipating, even if it was much slower to cool down than Siobhan’s.
“Theo wants a cure for his wife…and temporal power. Gilby wants to be queen, and play, and rule, and go and do her own thing while not being bound by the responsibility of rulership. She wants all the privileges of the nobility without any of the responsibility of nobility. My sister, bless her, wants all of her essence back…and know her past. Dinar…he’s along for the ride right now. Galazarn is more interested in gaining wealth and magic and being a world renown prophet for Orn. And Pavel…the Dagda knows what he’s up to, but I have no clue. He only tries to help others when directed and then who knows what he does when nobody’s looking. You turn your head away for a moment and look back and he’s gone. ‘Where did you go?’ ‘Out,’ he says. ‘Where,’ we ask. ‘Nowhere, just out,’ he says. And McDewpipe…got himself killed on some side adventure. And you…”
Toot-Toot started to say something, but she lightly put her finger up against his lips to silence him.
“You want your Boom Boom, your God Wine, your Red Katana. You are here, in general, to gain temporal power. Not exclusively, but primarily. Listen before you try to explain how I’m wrong. None of us went to Queensland to liberate the masses or change the world or do anything other than seek adventure and fortune. Fine. At that time we were all pretty much equally motivated. But as we were given a task, it turned into something bigger. Something important on a scale none of us every dealt with before. But…even as a larger purpose was laid before the team, nobody was embracing it. Oh, yeah, we went along, because we accepted a mission. But for most of us…the mission was just there…filling space until something better came along. Get this magic item. Get that magic item. Get this wagon of gold. Get that wagon of gold. What can I buy now? And how do we get out of here with all our toys if the mission goes sideways?”
“I’m here with you now, Siobhan.”
“Yeah. Because of New Warrendale? Or because you love me and you care about my well being?”
“Can’t it be both?”
“It could be. But it’s not. Is it? If I ignored the message and stayed with the team, would you be going back to New Warrendale?”
“Um…New Warrendale needs you, Siobhan. It really doesn’t need me.”
Siobhan sighed. “If I told you to leave me with the Team and to go to New Warrendale, would you have left me?”
They both knew what that answer was. But damned if he was going to let he make him say it. “Um, that is a hypothetical question. We cannot know the answer.”
She smiled at him. “Damned good reply.” He smiled back. “Even if we know it is wrong.”
“We know no such thing,” he smiled back.
She cocked an eyebrow at him as her smile turned into a smirk.
“Hey…I learned a semantic trick or two from Zola and Vonnie. You are not my only cultural teacher!”
“You are a smart man. You have a great capacity to learn. You just haven’t had a lot of teaching.”
“I have more education than you think.” He smirked back.
“Well…you make a lot of dumb decisions for a well educated man!”
“I’m smart. And educated. But…I guess I can be impulsive.”
“It narrows your field of vision when you get impulsive.”
“Maybe. Ok…yes. But still…”
“But still? But still this, Toot-Toot.” Her face turned serious. “You go out and cleave your enemies left and right. You regain your Boom Boom. You adorn yourself with God Armor, and a red God katana, and shoot fireballs from your eyes and satisfy women with just a glance and have more gold than Vont. So what?”
“What do you mean, ‘so what.’ So, what’s wrong with that. Sound pretty good to me.”
“In a hundred years, who will know? Who will care?”
“Who cares? Still sounds good to me.”
“OK…so I get that. But now, envision this. This world…it’s not really that different than where I come from…well, other than you can’t walk 10 paces without tripping over a magic item or wizard or spell. It’s ruled by kingdoms and empires. Petty and great. And the eldest child takes over once the king dies. And so on and so on for generations until somebody else comes along and takes it away. Can you imagine that world, Toot-Toot?”
“Yes, Siobhan. I’m not stupid. That’s this world. I was paying attention.”
“Well, quit letting your imagination stop there. Now, think of a new kingdom…but it’s not a kingdom, because there is no king. The citizens choose their leaders. And periodically, they reaffirm those leaders…or replace them…peacefully… through elections. Well…other nations cannot let that idea grow. So, the country needs to be able to protect itself. But it doesn’t have the resources to hire mercenaries. And everybody knows how well untrained levies do against professional mercenaries. So, what is a nation to do? It trains ALL their citizens how to fight. Maybe they are not as well trained as the mercenaries, but they are fighting for their homes. Their families. Their right to be free to choose their leaders. Their right to be a part of the governing process that oversees their lives. The right…not to be anybody’s god damned slave. Ever again. The right to be citizens. To hold their heads up high, even when nobility walks by. To not bend a knee to anybody other than the gods, family and loved ones. Motivated armies can overcome better trained and equipped armies. I’ve seen it happen. And it is not pretty for the vanquished. But…motivation will only take you so far as more and more nations get concerned about the power of self determination this new nation’s citizens have. So, at some point, they are going to have to have better trained forces. Mercenaries or home grown.
“A nation of humans and glavians and dwarfs and knockers, um gnomes. But, all the glavians belonged to a hated ruling house. Now, they are unbound. But un-trusted. And the glavians have lost their patron and have no direction, and are in a land where they cannot even talk to anybody else. And…nobody expects anything from the glavians except unbridled savagery…motivated only by hunger or greed or bloodlust. Who will help teach them the Common language so they can talk to the humans? And, who will teach the humans to speak glavians so that when new immigrants come in, they can be welcomed in their native language? And then, who is going to help teach the glavians how to be citizens and who is going to show the humans that glavians can be citizens? Good, law abiding, respectable, responsible citizens? And, who is going to teach the glavians to think in combat? And tactics other than, ‘Me Smash’? And when to fight? And when to chose not to be drawn into a fight they cannot win? Who will help turn glavians into full blown citizens of this new nation? And into a world class fighting force? Because now they are fierce, and smart, and restrained when needed, and then capable of unleashing unbridled violence when the time is right?
Coming Soon Pt 2.