A single trumpet blew a few mournful notes, flat and somber, the sad little tune echoed off the ancient stone walls of Glass House Keep as the last glimmering orange-red of the days sunset dipped below the horizon.
This set off an explosion of frantic activity as servicemen dove indoors in a desperate attempt to avoid having to stand at attention and salute for Evening Colours. Some long term sergeants screamed at a few of the unlucky ones to get the hell back outside and lock their nasty little bodies.
The parade deck was a different matter. An evening formation had been called there for Colours each and every night since Crown Prince Branadoc had replaced his brother as the Guard’s Colonel. There they stood on the grinder at rigid, five ranks deep, in uniforms that had to be excruciatingly perfect because they were the Guard. This chopped hours out of their lives that could have been spent, training, working out, drinking or fucking their brains out. But no, because the new asshole who just fired their real boss had given the order, So, they were spending all that time polishing buttons and going over their uniforms with a fine tooth comb for stray threads.
Branadoc was certain that all of this standing at attention was great for morale. No one could figure why he felt that way, since on top of everything else it delayed the Guards liberty by about three hours during the long days of summer.
But the Crown Prince you got is, the Crown Prince you got.
Banner Sergeant Kevo-Grod stood ramrod straight, his fist covering his left heart in salute as the colors were lowered for the night.
Probably the last time he would have to do that, he thought cheerfully. Prisoners are usually kept indoors before their execution.
The little tune came to a close and the royal banner was folded. The entire assembly was straining at the leash, willing this to be over. Usually when the flag was off the pole the trumpeter would sound dismissed and everyone could get the hell on with their lives. But no, not with Prince Ponyboy running this show. Everyone stayed at the POA until the flag was properly and very, very s-l-o-w-l-y folded.
Teeth were gritted behind straight lips, fists that were supposed to be loosely, clenched so tightly they were nearly drawing blood and burning sweat continued to creep it’s way remorselessly into eyes that had to stay open.
Finally the detail near the flagpole stopped screwing around with the flag and returned to a motionless position of attention. A few more moments of pointlessly standing around and…
…”Ba-Pa-pa-pa-ba-PAAAaaa,” the trumpet sang.
“Hurrah!” Branadoc shouted. And the reply was indeed thunderous.
Grod closed his eyes and nearly shook his head. The silly fat little moron actually believed this WAS good for morale.
The assembly scattered to the winds instantly. They now had a whopping hour and twenty minutes until lights out, to enjoy their lives again.
Grod set out at a brisk pace for the prince.
Brandoc was smiling and shaking hands with mid level officers who had assured him that he was completely correct and all of this painting rocks, polishing brass and standing at attention had left spirits simply soaring.
Bran then caught sight of Grod and his smile broadened.
Grod’s broken nose throbbed in irritation as he closed in on his prey.
A short while later Grod was walking past the hallway that lead to Duke Bryan’s private chambers for the fourth time.
He hesitated again and then continued to walk aimlessly on. Grod wondered if he was going to try for five or perhaps even six times before he wandered down that hallway. He had Right of Access. Everyone knew it. Everyone resented it but everyone knew it. No one would question him.
He needed to see Bryan… And he couldn’t see Bryan.
Just from a tradecraft stand point he needed to say, “hi.” Because if he didn’t and Bryan found out about Grod’s “sparring session” with his baby brother tomorrow morning, he would know something was way off.
Grod needed to see Bryan just to keep everything looking normal.
Except nothing was normal. Grod’s specialty was reconnaissance. Sneak and peek, that was his job description. If the bad guys had seen him, he had fucked up, the intel was compromised and the mission was a fail. He wasn’t one of the Black Guards. His billet wasn’t built around eliminations.
Grod was hardly averse to killing. I mean what orc is? So long as Grod felt that he was justified, he could eat a Cthuloid with Peas and Noodles ration pouch right next to the body of a man he had just hacked to pieces and not feel anything more than the usual gas pains you got from MREs.
So long as Grod was certain he was doing the right thing, he could pretty much do the unthinkable.
But unfortunately he was thinking about the consequences of his own actions, which is never a good idea for an enlisted orc.
Technically, he knew that this was the right thing to do. The problem was that that was only on the intellectual side of things.
How the screaming, buggering hell could he sit down with Bryan, share a drink and have a cigar, when he knew perfectly well that he was going to murder the fuck out of Bryan’s little brother in a few hours?
And if Grod didn’t do exactly that, hundreds would die and perhaps thousands more might perish if things spun out of control as wars have a nasty habit of doing. Grod’s degree was in military history, he was literally an expert on this subject. The right assassination at the right time could save tens of thousands.
But it felt like the right thing to do was very much the wrong thing to do.
Enough, he decided, it’s over. Just face it. Now and then the only choice you have is the slightly less bad one . There simply isn’t a box marked, “good,” available.
He wouldn’t lie to Bryan. He’d just hope that Bryan wouldn’t hear about the practice sparring session that was now scheduled with Branadoc in the morning. Grod spun on his heel determined to walk completely past the Duke’s hallway for a final time, then down to the Career NCO club.
And had a repulsive little human bounce off his chest.
Grod’s lips peeled back from his teeth, once he got a good look at him. This one was quite the specimen. Skinny as a rail, ear expanders. Tribal tats all over the damn place. The younger orcs were into the tribal tats too but they at least had something of a right to them. This human certainly did not.
“Ah,” said the repulsive little twerp looking up at him, “Banner Sergeant Kevo-Grod! Just the orc, I was looking for!”
Grod looked at him for a moment and then looked at him for a moment more… Just to make his point… And then said, “you have my complete and undivided attention.” Grod continued, “allow me to assure you that that is not a good thing.”
The skinny twerp stepped back a pace or maybe two but not so many as Grod was anticipating. Whatever the hell he was, the threat of physical violence didn’t seem to leave the freak traumatized. Which set him completely apart from damn near every male of his generation.
There was a pelting of light footsteps behind him. Grod looked over his shoulder and it was only his innate desire to remain cool under any circumstances that kept him from dropping his jaw.
Jiggling up to the skinny dude was a girl that was a light years out of that kid’s league girl. Golden blonde hair and eyes of ice blue. Round in the right places and narrow to perfection in others. Her teeth were straight and shockingly white when she smiled at him. Her skin was an old fashioned kind of white that didn’t hint in the least of drug addiction. It actually looked healthy and sexually aristocratic.
That girl had more than just something going for her. She was the real deal whatever that deal was.
Grod didn’t have a lot of trouble with women, although he didn’t really know why. When lesser men asked him for advice on picking up girls, he had the unbelievably useless reply of, “just be yourself.” Which is great advice if you happen to be someone like Grod.
But if you were an average Joe, Grod may as well have been advising him to grow wings and fly. Grod could stir at least a little something in the 99% of women who liked men. But he knew he was utterly out of his league with this one, (except and this was the odd part), he felt he shouldn’t have been.
This girl had something close to magic going for her. She was near to shockingly beautiful but one look in her eyes and you knew you could talk to her. Even if you were the most average schmuck on the Wide Earth, you could really talk to her and it didn’t matter who you were. There was just a touch of vulnerability there too, as well as a little bit of insecurity. You could tell her all of your problems and she would understand. You could be the most utterly unexceptional, even undesirable man there ever was and you could still ask her out without the slightest fear of rejection. She was devastatingly beautiful and absolutely approachable.
“Damn it,” she said to the skinny guy while she threw her arms around his neck. “I thought I’d lost you in here.”
“Sorry love,” the dweeb replied distractedly. A little annoyed that she had interrupted his chance (?) meeting with Grod.
“You’re with him?” Kevo-Grod asked a little stunned by the concept. There was average Joe and then there was way below average Joe.
“Yes she is,” he said with astounding dismissiveness. Then the little jerk got back in Grod’s grill, “Look Banner Sergeant, I know I am about to ask a lot of you. I’m going to be asking that you trust me on a shitload of stuff and you aren’t going to want to believe me…”
“You’re right. I won’t” Grod barked. This was getting out of control and out of control rarely ended well for Grod.
“If I may?” The girl finally addressed him personally, her voice a warm and utterly enfolding contralto, “my name is Fannita and if you know anything about me at all then you know that I am so far out of your league that you need to find another sport entirely.”
Okay, that explains pretty much everything, Grod thought to himself.
“Now that said, if you listen to what the little dweeb has to say, I will give, in what will be under ten minutes time, the greatest and most intense physical pleasure you have ever had in your life,” She paused, her innocent blue eyes blinked slowly before adding, “no shit.”
“I rather envy you,” the dweeb said wistfully.
“You’ve got my attention,” Grod had heard of Fannita. He wasn’t committing himself into putting his dick into the unknown on the basis of that but the two of them had his attention. And at least it got his mind off his current problems.
But before that could go anywhere Grod heard even more footsteps dashing up to him from behind him. He spun around and this time was nearly knocked off his feet as another beautiful girl was throwing her arms around his… well if Grod actually had a neck it would be have been his neck.
This girl was strawberry blonde and rather trim with big brown eyes that had tears gushing from them.
Also he knew this one.
“Oh, Grod, I’d heard you were here! I was looking all over for you!” She said rather accusingly. “Where were you? Why couldn’t I find you?”
The demanding tone of voice coupled with the unreasonableness of said demand indicated royalty. Which indeed she was. In fact she was one of the only two members of the royal family that Grod could reasonably stand.
“Princess Honor,” Grod addressed Bryan’s youngest half sister. “What’s wrong?”
The girl looked up into Grod’s eyes in desperation.