Princess Honor was surprised by the smell.
She had heard about the smell of blood. However, her own experiences with it were in too limited amounts to really detect a noticeable odor but it definitely was it’s own thing. Rusty, salty, marshy and a bit metallic all at once. It was thick and redolent in the noon air.
Other smells were joining it now that the owners of the aforementioned blood no longer had any need any of it. It didn’t really improve things. The sensation of the odor was unpleasantly like the vague tingling feeling she would get right before a very bad lightening storm.
Honor’s first thought was, thank God Bryan is alright.
Her second thought was, I’m glad this didn’t happen in any of the rooms with good carpeting or furniture that anyone liked.
Her third thought was that her little brother Branadoc appeared to have been mortally wounded. But she wasn’t too worried about that. He would last for a few minutes longer and dying would keep him usefully occupied and out the way.
Probably for long enough to get a few needful things done.
She had been taking care or at least trying to take care of Branadoc since she was two. Her earliest memory was helpfully fetching diapers for his nursemaid and the nursemaid being screamed at by her gorgon of a sister Perseverance for letting Honor be in any was useful or helpful. Honor remembered continuing to fetch diapers on general principle after that, no matter how much the nursemaid pleaded with her not to.
It became less of an issue when Branadoc’s mother Queen Elizabeth intervened on her behalf.
The princess had no memories of her real mother. Queen Jayne had given her life bringing Honor into the world. That didn’t sit well in some quarters. Her first memory of Perservance, was her sister glaring at her with lips pulled back and her teeth bared, when her father had mentioned how Jayne had died. She remembered how frightened she had been but then Queen Elizabeth’s hand closed protectively over her own. The only mother Honor had ever had known was her father’s second wife. If loving Elizabeth like a mother also upset Perseverance, that was a very workable plus so far as Honor was concerned.
These days she had an effective working relationship with her sister. They were both big on royal responsibility. But there was nothing warmer than efficiency between them.
Bryan’s sword had ended up resting at an angle atop of the body of the detestable “Colonel” Ruyined. The good Banner Sergeant, hooked his boot under the haft and kicked it up to his empty hand, then he casually tossed the razor sharp weapon towards Bryan.
Honor’s heart was briefly in her throat but Bryan just as casually tossed a blood covered tomahawk towards the Banner Sergeant at about the same time. Both negligently and coolly caught their respective cutlery out of the air at about the same time.
Okay it did look impressive. Honor had to admit that. And yes just a little bit hot if you were very foolish about these things.
She went back to her first thought, she could see that Bryan was alright.
“Bryan, are you alright?” She asked anyway and felt stupid for doing it.
Bryan ignored her question. “We need to get Branadoc help, now!” Bryan said urgently moving to his brother’s side.
“That’s taken care of,” Honor said while glancing over at the young magician cleaning his dagger by the door.
Saluriman looked up sharply. “What?” He didn’t exactly ask, in a cold, flat and imperious tone that was not at all used to accepting orders from anyone at all. Particularly Royalty.
Honor, sympathized. She didn’t like taking orders from royalty either. None the less Branadoc clearly could not be saved by any earthly agency at this point, so she gave the magician her best stare accompanied with a decisively commanding arched twitch of her eyebrow. “Don’t dawdle Saluriman, this needs doing.”
“How did you know I’m Saluriman?” Sal asked in a high and worried voice.
“I… know,” Honor said firmly. She didn’t want to lower his estimation of her with tales of Women’s Intuition. Besides it was more like Women’s Deduction. The Magician’s companion was clearly and obviously in love with him. She had heard the companion introduce her self to the Good Banner Sergeant as Fannita and Fannita the Queen of the Temple Masseuses was famous for only loving one man one the Wide Earth. Therefore the repulsive, thin, circus freak was Saluriman. QED. “We don’t have time for this. Fix him!”
Saluriman glared at hard her. Then he clamped his eyes shut and took a deep breath committing himself to something disagreeable. Accepting anyone’s orders.
Bryan had opened his mouth about to add his very loud voice to hers but the Magician was already both interrupting and ignoring him. “Get those arrows out of him!” Sal snapped at no one in particular while he was searching through a pocket of his robes.
“Those cheap, shitty arrow heads will cause more harm coming out, then they did going in,” said exceptionally experienced Kevo-Grod.”
“It won’t matter,” Sal said distractedly, now he appeared to have found what he was looking for.
“Really?” Grod asked with mild sarcasm.
The magician looked at Grod and ended any lingering doubts anyone could have had about his identity. “It. Is. Magic,” stated Saluirman, Great and Terrible.
Honor saw the Good Banner Sergeant accept this with an orcish shrug and stepped over to Honor’s half-brother. He knelt down beside him. Grod said over his shoulder, “I’ve got this Your Grace.”
Honor saw that Bryan had been approaching with some idea of manfully getting in the way by helping his subordinate.
“Bryan we need to discuss one or two things.” Honor’s pitched her voice to convey just a smallish sense of urgency. We are currently on the wrong side of a coup after all. Just to keep you on track, dearest Bryan.
Bryan started to master himself at that rebuke, after that he began marshaling his intellect.
“First, what do we do about him?” Honor pointed to the one remaining Swamp Elf with the bleeding and destroyed knee.
“I’m very much open to bribery,” the Swamp Elf guard offered with wide hopeful eyes.
“I’m sure you are,” Princess Honor said with perfunctory courtesy. “We’ll be with you in a minute.”
“Okay, then,” the Swamp Elf said a bit more dejectedly.
Bryan took a breath, “Right. Palace Coup. And it caught me, mother and Branadoc by surprise. Although that last should not have been a surprise to him as he appears to have been an active participant.”
“Not my fault,” came the muffled groan from Branadoc followed by a less muffled scream as Grod started pulling an arrow out his back.
“He’s learning how to be a king already,” noted Honor sourly.
“Branadoc always had that gift,” muttered Bryan. “Anyway. Assets. One, we have not in fact been killed. This is in plus column.”
Honor nodded. “Unfortunately, that is an asset that is easily withdrawn.” Then she changed tacks. “How much planning went into this? Do you think murdering both of you was part of Persey’s desired endstate to begin with?” she pondered.
Bryan considered, then said, “no. King Perseverance…is that part true by the way.”
“I should have seen that one coming. The church is more of a Progressive social club, than a conservative religious organization these days. Anyway,” he continued, “King Perseverance, probably wouldn’t have minded a dab of fratricide but killing both of her half brothers is more of dollop.”
“About that,” Honor murmured looking down. She would have to tell him sooner or later. In fact sooner was better.
“Killing the Tyrant would be popular with her backers but it would be better if it could be presented as an unplanned and unfortunate incident,” Bryan pressed on ignoring her. “Her own side would cheer like rabid weasels no matter however I ended up dead but actually executing her own half-brother when her path to the Emerald Throne was so unprecedented… Her strongest supporters are more or less functionally insane but they are also her least useful.
Perseverance needs middle of the road support. And moderates are moderate, they don’t like piles of skulls appearing overnight. It upsets their sensibilities. It would weaken her politically when she was already pretty weak to start with. So quietly murdering me was probably optimal. But Branadoc is a different problem for her.”
The aforementioned problem moaned loudly as Grod started to work the second arrow out.
“Her most fervent backers are even more in his corner. They actually want him to reign but for her to rule. They view her husband’s regency as some kind of golden age. God knows why.”
“Because things were better off then, than they are now. Although that was all father’s doing. Earl was just riding his coat tails.
“And I was stuck riding Earl’s,” Bryan said a little resentfully. He didn’t often do that but the mess Earl had left him was a complete mess and neither Earl or Perseverance ever got credit for creating it. He went on, “also, killing Bran is Regicide at this point. That goes over badly everywhere.”
“Oh, we don’t mind that too much,” the sole representative of the orcs said distractedly while working on his miserable patient.
“I stand corrected,” said Duke Bryan.
“Regardless,” Princess Honor raised her voice in a way that indicated she would prefer it if Good Banner Sergeant would concentrate on the task at hand, “you don’t think killing both of you was Persey’s plan.”
“No,” Bryan said firmly. “I think El Ruyined was supposed to kill me in the line of duty while I was escaping lawful arrest. Later he would take Branadoc into protective custody at Glass House, where he would be left to quietly rot, while Persey got him declared a bastard. But Ruyined found the two of us alone together and he improvised.”
“I wonder if Muhira pushed him in that direction,” Honor speculated.
“Quite possibly,” Bryan cocked his head considering the matter. “She already has plans to be the power behind the throne. On the other hand it could have been natural stupidity on Ruyined’s part.”
“Not that stupid, it almost worked.”
“I can’t argue with that,” said Bryan.
“Anyway,” Honor got the subject back on track. “Can we just sweep this under the carpet and act like nothing happened, while we strengthen our own position?”
“All we need is to get the real Guard battalions back here and on the clock. Thanks to…circumstances” he eyed the recombinant form of his brother. “The Guard has been so frazzled for two weeks that El Ruyined’s offer of a 96 hour liberty was snatched at greedily with both hands. Right now, the members of his Swamp Elf battalion are the only Guards in the palace.”
Bryan thought about that, “that’s actually good news. Swamp Elves are even more cast conscious than the orcs…”
“Yeah, right,” muttered the rather cast conscious Kevo-Grod.
“…There is no way in hell El Ruyined would have told his subordinates about his plans or any orders that he had been given. Duke Bryan concluded, “which means we can pretend. This didn’t happen while at the same time letting the right people know it did. That is now Plan A. We might be able to reverse this coup bloodlessly.” Bryan looked over at the remaining Swamp Elf and corrected himself, “relatively, bloodlessly.”
“The whole bribe thing?” The Swamp Elf reminded them, “I’m really quite reasonable about terms. I offer, zero down in fact.”
“Thank you,” Honor said dismissively. “That’s very good to know.”
“So the first thing…” Bryan was interrupted by an alarmed shout in Swamp Elvish from courtyard below. Bryan sighed, and closed his eyes in resignation “…is to now forget plan A.”
“What’s that all about?” Honor asked, looking out of the balcony window.
“That would be the newly discovered, body of the Swamp Elf I kicked off the balcony during the fight,” Bryan said sheepishly.
“I, rather wish you would have remembered that earlier Bryan,” Honor said. “I might have effected our plans just a little.”
“I lost track, okay. We just killed a bunch of guys. One of them was bound to slip through the cracks.
Honor did not care to be spoken to like that by Bryan. She turned curtly on her heel and faced the mage. “How long?”
Saluriman placed an intricately carved turquoise ring on his finger and held that hand out stretched over her half brother. The ring began to glow blue with unearthly light, as did Branadoc’s wounds. “Not long at all,” he replied distractedly as he concentrated on his art.
She nodded. Now it was time to deal with the last surviving Swamp Elf. She caught Grod’s eye and jerked her chin at the young almost solider gripping his damaged knee.
Banner-Sergeant Kevo-Grod, nodded with cold professionalism and rose. He advanced on the helpless Swamp Elf remorselessly. When he reached him, he grabbed the terrified creature firmly by the belt and flipped him around.
Grod then deftly extracted the standard issue field med kit from his belt and started dressing the startled Swamp Elf’s wounds.
Bryan said to Grod, “once you tie him up, you can leave him in the cupboard with the bed. It’s reasonably sound proof if he’s gagged.”
Honor shook her head in bewilderment. Military men and their sense of honor. Her father would not have left a living enemy behind him.
This was the last Song of Grod chapter I wrote. It is one of those dreaded exposition dumps. Necessary but boring. Although it does provide a needed break in the action, between the murder plot action beat and Grod and company making their daring escape.