This chapter is very raw and is going to have to be massaged quite a bit. But you will note it actually does exist. I am working on this. Consider it proof of life.
They were running down the gray marble stairs, leading away from the bloody horrors that lay in Bryan’s… Brandoc’s… The King’s chambers. Their heels making sharp echoing staccato raps that echoed down the winding staircase. Normally, they were just part of the background of life in the palace but now they seemed deafening. Each reverberating step made it feel more and more likely that they would be caught and surrounded.
Ceiling to floor banners of red, green against a background of white lined the night colored stone walls of the stairwell. They shimmered from the wisps of air the fugitives passing created, causing their eyes to dart to them in search of hidden assailants.
The sound of their heavy breathing resounded throughout the tower as they ran.
“I am assuming, Grod huffed respectfully to the Fallen Tyrant, “just assuming without prejudice. That being royalty with a decent grasp of political reality, you have a ‘just in case’ exfiltration plan.”
“Y-e-s,” Bryan said slowly and a bit too thoughtfully for Grod’s liking. Bryan glanced around looking for threats.
Grod considered a few worrying possibilities before asking, “how many of the escape routes does Perseverance know about?”
“All of them,” Honor gasped coolly as she skipped down the stairs. One hand on the rail and the other grasping Prince Brandoc’s belt, trying to take some of his magnificent weight of his still wobbly legs. Fannita was doing the same from Bran’s other side. Saluriman was guarding the six o’clock position. He had said, if something came up behind them, he wanted a clear field of fire. Which he probably meant literally.
“Terrific,” muttered Grod.
“Not all of them,” said Bryan. “When the Glass House Penal Barracks were being rebuilt, I had secret escape route built into the VIP quarters.”
“You never told me about that!” Princess Honor said.
“No,” the Royal fugitive was unapologetic.
“Good,” Honor said approvingly.” If you never told me, then you never told anyone.”
“Except whoever built it,” Grod pointed out the obvious security flaw.
“Ecclesiastical prisoners,” Bryan panted as they reached the ground floor at last. “Priests who had had their tongues cut out for the heresy of denying Wide Earth Cooling.”
They all instinctively rolled their eyes at that one. The summers had been getting longer and hotter for twenty years but if you were a priest who wanted to taste his dinner, say “hello,” and not be burned alive, you towed the line about how the Wide Earth would be frozen solid as a brick in a decade.
“In exchange for a quick beheading, they did the engineering, building and concealment,” Bryan said a little shame faced.
Honor looked at Bryan’s face and read his expression like a book. “You did execute them, right?”
“They did really good work,” Bryan didn’t quite whine. Bryan didn’t do whining.
“So, you let them go?” Honor asked in tired resignation.
“No, they used the tunnel and escaped,” Bryan shrugged.
“Good! We know it works,” Grod said. “Anyway, where does this tunnel go?”
“Down to a chamber in the catacombs,” Bryan sounded more in command now that he was on firmer footing . “There’s money, food, weapons, and the most powerful and expensive teleportation scroll I could afford to keep off the official books.”
“Is that what that was for?” asked Saluriman.
“You get what you pay for,” Bryan said, then added, “or at least we’d better.”
“Don’t worry,” Fannita breezed, “Sal always delivers.”
Saluriman preened a little at that.
“How far will it take us?” Grod wanted to plan ahead just a little.
“To any summoning circle within five hundred miles,” Saluriman smiled shark like.
Grod returned the smile, “and that puts us well inside the Orc military reservation.”
“This is going to be a very short rebellion,” Branadoc growled.
Grod was a little worried about the Prince’s optimism. Yeah, Bryan could round up Hoard Brigadier Rao and the rest of the Colonels, but he wasn’t so certain they’d be willing to fight for Brandadoc. If it was a choice between Perseverance and Bryan, no problem.
But if it was a choice between Branadoc and Perseverance… Well, that was going to be an issue. Perseverance had more than a few personal problems and would speed the fall of the kingdom in the long term. But Branadoc would be an immediate disaster. Rao wouldn’t raise the banners for him. No one would.
It’s not like the kid needs to be killed once we’re on the reservation, Grod reasoned to himself. He can be quietly tied up, knocked out and dropped off on some island like King ///Geoffery did to his own son.
Somewhere inside Grod knew he was lying to himself. No one would follow King ///Geoffery’s example because his errant son was Bryan the Great. He’d gotten a lift from his island exile by a passing fishing boat and returned to overthrow his father.
Someone is going to have to commit regicide. If this rebellion is going to have any rebels in it, he admitted to himself.
“Bryan,” Branadoc began, “you are certain that your handymen didn’t use your teleportation scroll? Those things are only good once.”
“They couldn’t have used it,” Saluriman said. “Blood magic keyed to his blood,” he pointed at Bryan. “Though it will work will a full sibling.”
“So, I can use it,” Branadoc followed the mental breadcrumbs, “but Honor can’t because she’s just Bryan’s half-sister.”
Honor tripped on the last step just as heard that and went sprawling wild eyed. Bryan caught her before she hit the ground.
“Here your Highness,” Grod offered Bryan a length of rope. The Orc had taken it off the body of one the Swamp Elves. Bryan nodded and crossed his wrists in front of him and waited while Grod loosely wrapped the ropes around them and then slipped the free ends in Bryan’s hands.
“Alright,” Bryan said in his take-charge voice. “So, the plan is that Bran and I have been made arrest Princess Honor, with the assistance of Banner-Sergeant Grod here. We are being taken to Glass House for internment.”
“In the “escape proof,’ VIP cell, yes,” said Grod.
Brandoc nodded and held out his hands like Bryan had. Saluriman provided the illusion of securing them. “Alright,” Bryan said in his take-charge voice.
“Honor,” Bryan addressed the girl, “you take the lead our little party. Wear your haughtiest face. You are on important business and will clearly and obviously not suffer officious fools gladly.
Honor nodded thrust her chin into the air her eyes narrowed coldly to slits.
“Bran and I will walk side by side in the middle looking hang dog and beaten. Grod you are on Branadoc’s left,” Bryan ordered.
Grod nodded and took up position. He pulled Branadoc’s sheathed sword out of his baldric held it in his left hand, across his body and within easy reach of the recently deposed monarch’s ‘bound’ hands. Honor bobbed her head in understanding and took charge of Bryan’s sword, holding it in reverse in her right hand with the hilt aimed at ex-regent.
Fannita stepped to the rear and cast her gaze downward and clasped her hands. The very picture of a serving girl who’d been dragged into something she would rather not be a part of.
“Let’s go,” Bryan said.
They set out a quick pace, Honor’s skirts flapping as she kicked the front of them. Bryan and Branadoc trudging along behind, shoulders slumped and faces listless, their once fine clothes already torn and bloody. Grod smiling smugly, clearly an orc on his way up in the world.
There were furitive glances from servants who spotted the entourage and bolted out of whatever hall they were passing through. All of them knowing the sad truth, that when the mighty fall, it creates a splash that will drown anyone near them.
They moved onward toward the servant’s main gate of the palace.
A couple of ladies of higher and more secure station saw the prisoner’s cortege and stopped cold in their tracks. Grinning fiercely and whispering excitedly.
“Shut-up!” Honor’s words slashed at them. “You. Have. Seen. Nothing!” She hissed at the suddenly terrified courtiers.
Both women immediately went silent, curtsied obsequiously and then frantically took to their heels in wide eyed fright.
When they reached the gate, Honor snapped her fingers imperiously at the swamp elf guards slouching on either side of it. They jumped like puppets whose strings had been jerked and ripped the gates open then stood stock still with eyes locked frontward, refusing to see to anything going on around them.
“How long before Persey finds out?” Branadoc whispered to his brother.
“She’ll be told that we’ve been taken before we are anywhere near Glasshouse,” Bryan murmured. “She’ll have been expecting that.”
“But she was expecting us to have been taken prisoner by El Ruyined and his Swamp Elves.” Branadoc was no longer referring to them as the Mythosphian Peoples. It’s hard to view someone as oppressed when they’ve done a good job of oppressing you.
And speak of the Devil, Grod thought to himself in despair. A squad of twelve Swamp Elf Guardsmen were shambling through the courtyard just as they were passing through the middle of it. All of their eye’s lurched over to the little party. They came a staggering halt.
There was a moment of tense indecision.
Which was broken by Grod bellowing, “get your asses over here now! Right damn now! I don’t want to see a second of hesitation!”
The Swamp Elves stumbled into a run charging over to them.
“Get behind the prisoners and form two lines. Do it dipshits!” Grod quickly supervised the field expedient prisoner escort and camouflage into a pair of columns, while bewailing the gods about having sent him such sad, miserable, misbegotten, incompetent troops.
Less than two minutes later Grod roared, “No keep your mouths shut and don’t say a damn thing. Prisoners and escort, for-ward… wait for it!” They all tottered to a halt, the royals the wizard and the whore glaring at him. “March!”
They set out again.
Shortly, they were out of the courtyard and the barracks were coming in to view. In ten minutes they would be in jail and on their way to freedom.
There was a small tremor Grod felt through his boots as he heard the sound of what sounded like butt of ship’s mast slamming into the ground. With a sick feeling, Grod turned, knowing that what he had heard was an enormous hoof.
The minotaur towered over Grod at twelve feet tall, his horns were nearly as wide as the orc was tall, tatoos covered his torso and arms displaying scenes of revolting brutality and horror. The arms were as thick as a Dire-Bear’s legs. Foul breath blasted out it’s nostrils like jets of steam and it gave off a smell that was somewhere between a skunk and a rotting carcass. He also had two friends with him.
“Oh, Grod was ashamed to hear himself stammer, “how ya doing, Malic?”
“G-R-O-O-O-O-O-D,” man-beast growled sadistically. “WHERE ARE YOU GOING, G-R-O-O-O-O-O-D?” It rumbled.
“Uh just going to the stockade…” Grod was interutped.
“YOU NEVER SAID TRUER WORDS G-R-O-O-O-O-O-D,” Malic the other two minotaurs closed in on Grod in long fast, ground devouring strides. The tree like clubs in their hands swinging in merry anticipation.
“Fucking security contractors,” Grod muttered as he tossed Branadoc’s sword at him, while he drew his own tomahawk and gladius.